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Carlene Rae Dater
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Jillian Bennett’s world falls apart when her fiancé dumps her. Then unexpectedly a mysterious aunt dies and leaves her a Victorian House on Amelia Island. Jillian pulls up stakes, vows to start a new life and moves to Florida to open a bed and breakfast, only to discover she’s inherited a dump. Jobless, near penniless and out of options, she has no choice but to stay.
Seth Falconer, a local cop, thinks the house is the hub of drug activity and suspects Jillian of being involved. His beloved sister died of an overdose at the house and he will do anything to find out who supplied her with drugs. Once his investigations prove Jillian’s innocence, they join forces, solve a mystery, find an unexpected treasure, and fall hopelessly in love.
Amelia Island, Florida, 1979
A vicious pain stabbed the woman’s side, making her slow to a walk. She was so intent on getting to the boat she nearly missed seeing the small form sitting in the middle of the vast lawn at the side of the house near the woods.
“Hey, Jilly-bean, what are you doing here by yourself?” Overhead the late afternoon clouds were gray and angry looking. There must be a storm heading inland. She had to hurry. “Why aren’t you at Alice Mae’s house?”
The tiny girl peered up from where she sat on the ground, shading her eyes against the hot Florida sun with her hand. “She won’t play with me no more, Mama.” Tears spilled down her cheeks. She sniffled, wiping her eyes with the back of a dirty fist. “You play with me, Mama?”
The woman glanced over her shoulder and bit her lip. Her long ebony hair whipped around in the freshening sea breeze. “I, ah, can’t right now, sweetie. I have to run an errand. I’ll walk you back to Alice Mae’s house.” She reached down and drew the child to a standing position.
“Can’t. Her mama said I should go home and not come back. I’m a bad girl.”
The woman squatted in front of the child, her eyes wide with confusion. “But why? What did you do?”
“Nothing, Mama. I promise. Alice said I’m bad ’cause I don’t have no daddy. Why don’t I have no daddy, Mama?” More wet tears wandered down chubby cheeks.
“Oh, baby, you had a daddy. Remember? We talked about it. He’s in heaven, helping the angels watch over little girls like you.” She knelt on the ground and gathered the child in her arms. “Don’t you ever let anyone say you’re less than perfect. Come on, Jilly-bean. I’ll walk you back to Auntie’s house so she can watch you for a couple of hours.”
She rose and took the child’s hand, pulling her across the wide expanse of lawn. They skirted the white latticework gazebo and followed a path through a flower garden blooming in riotous colors.
“Auntie told Alice Mae’s mama she going to Jacksonville. She said business.” Midnight curls jumped when the child nodded her head emphatically.
Indecision halted the woman in her tracks. Her searching eyes scanned the woods. How had they found her so fast? She inspected the vast expanse of lawn, from the big Victorian house to the forest surrounding it. “Doesn’t matter now, I’ll bring you with me. Come on, hurry. We’re going to go for a nice ride in Auntie’s boat. Won’t that be fun?” She started off across the grass toward the snowy expanse of the beach, dragging her child along.
“Mama, you’re going too fast. Carry me.”
“I can’t, honey. You’re too heavy. You’re a big girl now, almost four years old.”
The woman hurried toward the water, her daughter’s fingers clasped tightly in her own. The child’s pudgy legs pumped frantically to keep up. By the time they reached the dock, they were both sweating, panting, out of breath.
“Jump in, Jilly-bean.” She hoisted the child over the rail and placed her on the center seat of the dinghy. White caps flashed, rolling toward shore as the breeze grew stronger. Palm trees along the sandy beach swayed in the stiffening wind. The woman searched the horizon before lifting the rope off its mooring and clamoring into the boat. She wiped her sweaty palms along the sides of her cotton skirt and gnawed at her trembling lips.
This wasn’t the best idea with a storm brewing, but she didn’t have time to come up with a better plan. She had to get her daughter away from their pursuers.
“Here, sweetie, crawl into your life preserver.” The woman knelt awkwardly in front of her daughter in the rocking boat. She slid the girl’s arms into the orange life preserver. With a snap she fastened the straps.
Row after row of waves smashed the boat, ramming it into the dock. The woman fumbled under the seat then peered into the locker. Both of the spaces were empty.
“You wear a jacket too, Mama. Them’s the rules.” The child smiled, parroting her mother’s oft-repeated warning.
Book Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
No. of Pages: 264
Paper Weight (lb): 11.2
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