Lavender Beach

By: Vickie McKeehan

Prologue



Eight weeks earlier

Bakersfield, California



After making the six-hour drive from Pelican Pointe to Bakersfield, Nick Harris and Cord Bennett sat inside a coffee shop across the street from a shabby two-story smokehouse—their eyes glued on anyone coming in or going out of the building.

The two men had gotten their first good look at the place at two that afternoon. They’d already been waiting around for several hours. It was nearly dark now and still no sign of the reason they’d made the trip.

Parked at a table near the window, they nursed cups of coffee neither man wanted. But it was the best spot to keep an eye on the rooming house where Eastlyn Parker lived.

They already knew Eastlyn’s no-nonsense landlady, a woman by the name of Clara Whitaker, owned the boarding house that sat two blocks north of the downtown area. It wasn’t the best part of town.

Since entering the coffee shop, Nick had seen hustlers, panhandlers, and shady characters, many of whom were prostitutes, working the block.

Although Clara had promised to call Nick the minute Eastlyn walked in, the men were taking no chances. Both men were equally anxious to get this encounter over with. So far, their plan to stake out the house had been a bust. But giving up wasn’t an option. They were too afraid they might somehow miss the former army helicopter pilot coming home.

“I don’t see how I can drink another drop of coffee,” Cord complained, pushing his cup away. “The stuff is making me sick.”

With a growth of day-old beard beginning to itch on his face, Nick grumbled, “I’m right there with you. Every swallow is beginning to remind me of how burned beans must taste.” He leveled a gaze at Cord and added, “Are you absolutely certain Ben Latham said this is where she lived?”

Cord nodded and glanced out the window. “Brent Cody verified the address with DMV. Plus, it’s the last known address the VA has for her. It’s also where she gets her disability checks. And it’s the same address she gave the people at rehab when she checked out. Let’s face it, Eastlyn Parker hasn’t been doing well at all, Nick. You ever wonder what she’ll say when she sees us?”

“I know exactly what she’ll say and how she’ll react. The same as you did when Jarrod Collins walked into that Houston jail several years back and bailed you out.”

Cord gave him a sheepish grin. “The result of booze and a bad attitude. God. Am I ever glad you sent Jarrod to Texas to bring me back to California. Best thing that ever happened to me. If not for that, I probably would’ve ended up serving time for assault and battery.”

“Yeah? But how long did it take you to figure that out? You weren’t exactly thanking me those first three months you got dumped in Pelican Pointe. I doubt Eastlyn will be overjoyed we’re planning this little intervention.”

“Sure. I get it. Strangers show up on her doorstep threatening to cart her off. Eastlyn’s bound to be pissed off.”

Nick scratched the stubble on his chin. “Anyone would be. Is there a chance she may not recall that day in Iraq? A lot of water under the bridge since then.”

“Who knows? It’s been years. So how do we handle this little tactical operation? Do we have a backup plan for when she puts up major resistance? Which you know she will.”

“We can’t exactly kidnap her, if that’s what you mean.”

“Why not? We’re here for her own good.”

“Yeah, but convincing her of that is a monumental uphill battle. That day back in Houston, how exactly did Jarrod get you to come with him without you punching him out? You never did tell me that part.”

Cord’s eyes danced with mischief. “Jarrod refused to give me my truck keys, said he should do the driving to get us out of there and back to my apartment since I’d spent several restless nights in lockup. He suggested I get in the truck and catch some shuteye. I was so worn out I fell asleep. All I remember is leaning my head back on the headrest and Jarrod taking off around the loop heading back to my apartment. At least I thought that’s what he planned to do. I trusted him to do what he said. Big mistake on my part. After spending three days in jail, my exhaustion took over and I conked out, slept like a baby. By the time I woke up, we were going down I-10 heading west, a hundred miles from El Paso, out in the middle of the Texas prairie. Since you and Ben had provided Jarrod his airplane ticket, he used my truck as his ride back to California, dragging me back with him.”

Nick chuckled at the way the plan had come together. “So, in a sense, Jarrod did kidnap you?”

“Hell, yes. Why do you think I was so furious and resentful those first few months? The thing is, I didn’t have any other place to go. So when Jarrod told me he was bringing me back to some town called Pelican Pointe, I thought I’d spend a couple days there and take off back down to San Diego. At least I’d be back where I started out. Problem is, I had no one there, either. Then once I met Keegan, my life completely changed. Now look at me, I’m an upstanding citizen, the town vet. Who would’ve believed that one-eighty turnaround, huh?”

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