Sample: The High Tide Deception

The High Tide Deception

By Patti Larsen

Copyright © 2022 Patti Larsen


Who knew life at the beach could be so competitive—and deadly?


Chapter 1


You know how fun it is to go to the beach, get some sun, swim in the ocean, lounge back with a good book and a cold drink, and really settle into a hot, beautiful summer escape?

Not how my day was going.

When I’d taken the job as an infiltrate for a new sand sculpture competition, I have to admit, I jumped on it without looking into the actual position I’d accepted. See, I’d been working hard lately, doing what I’d only come to discover I did best—pretending to be someone else and spying on other people to make sure they toed the line for whoever paid me to rat on them.

Okay, I know how that sounds, but I honestly loved being a deception expert and aside from the few (yes, more than a few) bodies I’d stumbled over, the jobs I’d taken up until now had been relatively simple and an easy paycheck.

I swiped at the sweat making it through the bandana I’d wrapped around my head, scowling at the reminiscence of my second job working in a greenhouse. I’d sworn I never take another assignment like that one. Certainly hadn’t come here to Fairmile, Virginia, to lug, lift, heft and hurl mounds of sand into a giant pile for three days.

Which, I’m sure you’re now realizing from my rambling and unhappy mental state, was exactly what I ended up doing.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t opposed to physical labor or sunshine or sand or the ocean or anything to do with summer. It was the unique combination of those elements that had me knee-deep in a shifting pile, blisters long formed on my hands despite the gloves I wore, sweating out my weight in water as the late August sunshine had its way with me.

“No, no. I said more sand here.” I scowled sideways at the tall, silver-haired man who snapped orders like a career general, the target at least not me this time, but one of the other team members helping unload the last of the specially imported sand that would form the base of the giant creation he planned to erect before the end of competition on Sunday. He’d already assembled the wooden frames we now filled with—and then compacted—with sand. The sound of someone using a hand tamper nearby only added to my headache. Though it was more him than anything driving me toward a migraine. Since I was the newbie—grunt slave, in other words—I’d borne the brunt of his dissatisfaction since I showed up this morning. While Martin Littlefield might have been a world-renowned artist and sand sculptor, the man had an attitude like a beat-up old truck—loud and nasty.

I was this close, I have to admit, to dumping my shovel, forfeiting the payout and getting my fine behind back to Marigold before I did something I’d regret. Only the tenacious drive instilled by my Very Sparkly and Super Fantastic Special Agent dad, Andrew Walker, kept my stubborn self from telling Mr. High and Fighty Littlefield where he could shove his tons of precious sand. Instead, I grit my teeth and dug in while the sound of screaming, laughing children, the faintest breeze carrying scents of ice cream and pretzels and suntan lotion mixed with the matching sounds of exertion from the three others shifting piles of sand into various wooden shapes for our lord and master had me firmly deciding from now on, no matter how good the job sounded?

Research, Petal Morgan. Lots and lots of research.

Never mind I’d fallen head-first into most of my jobs so far. But I was past the point of needing money, which was a new thing and rather lovely, so taking this particular assignment without due diligence had only one person to blame.

Yup. All on me.

“Annette!” I straightened slowly at the sound of Martin’s voice calling my chosen name for this gig. While my artful and rather clever attempts to keep my fake personas relevant to the job rarely got a nod from those I met, I took great pride in creating them. And since Annette Kellerman, a fabulous Australian woman ahead of her time, if you asked me (I know you did just then), was arrested in Boston for having the utter temerity to wear a fitted bathing suit to the beach in 1907, I figured she was the perfect basis for my own weekend at the seashore.

Except, of course, that little vacation I thought I was taking? Took this turn for the holy heck I’m tired and it was barely noon.

“Put your back into it, girl, or find another sculptor to disappoint!” Oh, so yelling my name had just been the opening salvo. Gotcha. At least he kept it to one jab to my ego this time. Unless you count the fact he had already turned his back on me by the time he was done speaking.

You know what? My present employer and head of logistics for the event, Gerald St. Germaine, could keep his paycheck. I was so out of here it wasn’t funny.

But before I could toss my shovel into the back of Martin’s arrogant head—yes, I thought about it and you did too, so no judging—the only reason I’d stayed at all showed up at my side with a gleaming smile and her own face sheathed in sweat from hard work, red polka dot bandanna holding back her spiral curls from shining, dark skin. In fact, it was a spare out of Sylvie Ormond’s pocket I used to keep my blonde locks from my red face. She might have been introduced as Martin’s partner and close friend, but she was the exact opposite of her fellow sculptor, knee-deep in sand herself and slinging right along with the rest of us while keeping a kind attitude that had me feeling guilty I’d been about to bail.

“He’s just grumpy because the sand was late.” It had been, by a half-hour. Hardly a giant issue. “Come on, we’re almost done with this pile.” I’d watched her as she alternated since we started between setting up forms, filling them, running tamping machines and managing the water flow that would solidify the base of the sculpture sufficiently to bear the actual artistic creation once the structure was set. While her so-called partner seemed more interested in bossing people around, Sylvie’s passion was clearly with the physical side of the art. “As soon as we are, I’ll call a break.”

Sylvie had just saved him from a flying shovel maiming and not for the first time that morning. I nodded and went back to it, deciding all this manual labor would be good for my pent-up frustrations, not to mention my back, arms, shoulders and butt. No, I wasn’t getting flabby or anything, but the gym seemed to be last on my list these days, and a bit of hard work kind of felt good.

A bit, mind you. Grunt girl, I was not.

The other part keeping me here? Sheer pride. As I dug in and pulled my weight, shoulder-to-shoulder with Sylvie and falling into a rhythm she expertly set, I had to admit I would have walked long ago if this job hadn’t come to me through Simone Evans. Via her present boyfriend—and my ex-husband of, like, a minute—Raphael Van Dorn. Who, it turned out, was an old Marine training buddy of said Gerald St. Germaine. Don’t you love it when stupid ego makes you do things for all the wrong reasons?

Not that I had any need to want to impress said ex-husband or anything. He and Simone were very happy, and I personally adored the attractive, passionate, charismatic lawyer despite her being in love with the man I’d always regret letting go of. They looked good together, a dark goddess and a blond Adonis, as much as I hated to admit it. And they were clearly happy. Which made my single status rankle all the more, forcing me to cling to the professionalism I could present to the perfect pair as proof I was more than okay with everything.

I was just freaking peachy.

I know. None of the previous made any real logical sense, because what did me staying here and doing this manual labor neither one of them would ever witness and admire my tenacity for have to do with the fact I was still—and would always be—in love with Rafe and jealous of Simone while calling her one of the best friends I ever had?

Nothing. Not a darned thing, really. And yet, everything.

Sigh. How messed up was my life? No big change, though, so at least the feeling of being off-kilter was familiar enough it didn’t hurt too much. Nope, just enough. Thus my stubborn shoveling and wishing things were different. At least I had the sand to take it out on.

While someone else got to deal with Martin, to my satisfaction, Gerald’s furious face tight with rage as he stormed onto the staging area, towering physique still bearing the hallmarks of a man who’d lived a large part of his life in the military, deep skin tone almost glowing in the sunlight, bald head glossy as he waved a piece of paper in the smaller man’s smug face.

“We did not approve this load of sand,” Gerald snarled, towering over the sculptor. Oh, but to have the leverage to talk to him like that.

Apparently, Martin didn’t intimidate. “Then approve it now,” the sculptor snapped back, visibly unimpressed by the larger man, arms crossed over his narrow chest, sneer just creepy enough to make me scowl at the implication behind it. “Or I walk, St. Germaine, and you can say goodbye to your little competition and Carolyn’s bid to be Fairmile’s next mayor.”

Whoops.

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