I’ll Be Watching You
Love & Light, Book 8
Written Musings (November 21, 2011)
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A Love & Light Book – Romantic Suspense with a touch of Magical Realism
Her grandmother’s murder brings her back to the town she fled years ago to reclaim her home and unearth the truth … while a killer watches her every move.
Ten years ago, Kim testified against her rich stepfather in a local girl’s murder. When he was acquitted, the hostile and disbelieving residents forced her to leave town. Now, her grandmother’s mysterious death brings her back to her small Everglades town, where they’re happy to show her how unwelcome she is.
The last person she’d expect to protect her is Zell MacGregor, the sexy, laid-back son of the man against whom she testified. And Zell’s the last person she’d ever expect to fall for. But as they dig into the secrets of the past, their growing attraction makes their present much more dangerous.
Zell has a killer smile … but can he save her from a murderer?
Read an Excerpt
Elva Lyons closed Southern Comfort after the last customer pulled himself off his bar stool and left. She turned off the lighted beer signs and televisions and finally the overhead lights. After hours of music and conversation, even the silence was a wall of white noise humming in her brain.
“Ready to go home, Oscar?”
Oscar lifted his head and emitted an assenting grunt.
“I thought so.” After closing the front door, she and Oscar walked to her rusty truck where she helped hoist his large rear end in. “I’m getting too old for this. We’re going to have to install springs on your hooves.” She slid in next to her pot bellied pig and closed the door.
Oscar was a by-product of the last moneymaking scheme turned money-losing mistake. She’d given up on the pig breeding venture, but kept one of the babies. She reached over and scratched his head. Her “baby” weighed well over a hundred pounds now.
During the drive through the dark Everglades night, the warning she’d received earlier that day rang through her head: I got a bad feeling about you, Miss Elva. Please be careful.
“Ah, the kid’s strange.” Her friend Smitty swore Tullie Macgregor was psychic; she’d had spooky feelings since she could talk. And Elva had, after all, put herself in a precarious situation, even if she had taken precautions. Maybe that’s what the girl had picked up on. She patted her rifle. “Nothing’s going to happen to us while we got this, right, Oscar?”
She wouldn’t mention that the old Remington Fireball was really for varmints and small game. If necessary, she could shoot someone in the leg. She doubted she could bring herself to actually kill a person.
She remained in her truck long after pulling into her yard. She surveyed her small home tucked in the middle of a hammock that was far from screaming distance of anyone human. No shadows moved other than the ones she’d grown accustomed to. Just the normal sounds: crickets and frogs and maybe a raccoon sloshing through the water looking for dinner. Sounds she’d heard most of her life.
She got out of the truck, waited for Oscar to jump down, and walked quickly inside. She set the gun near her bedroom door and went about her nightly ablutions. She’d given in to the wrinkles and sagging body parts long ago. Still, there was no point in letting her skin get dry and cracked. After washing her face, she sat on the edge of her bed and smoothed on a lotion smelly enough to mask the cigarette smoke. Oscar settled onto his cushion next to the bed with a prolonged snort and seemed to drop right off. In ten minutes, Elva hoped she’d be in the same blissful state.
It was easy to see what Elva was doing from the shadows of the closet. She’d thrown her clothes in the hamper, and soon she would fill a glass with tap water and set it on her nightstand before slipping between the sheets. That seemed to be her routine. When Elva walked into the bathroom to fill her glass, it was time to slip from the shadows.
When Elva returned, she came to an abrupt stop and dropped the glass. It landed on the floor with a thunk. Water pooled and then seeped into the carpet. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I think you know.”
“But…how did you know it was me?” Elva stammered.
“Because I’m smarter than you, old woman.” Smart enough to wear rubber gloves.
“How’d you get in here?” Elva slid a glance to where she’d propped the rifle. It was gone.
“You never do check those windows in the second bedroom, do you? One’s been unlocked for weeks.”
Elva was trying-and failing-to look calm. “It’s the fair thing, you know, after what you did to my family-and his family.”
Nothing was fair in life, but there was no point in mentioning that. What was so damn fair about Elva buying a box of junk at the church fair and discovering a dead woman’s journal hidden at the bottom? A journal with one entry that could start up an old investigation. Luckily, Elva had been greedy and hadn’t turned it in. Yet.
“I suppose you want the journal,” Elva said, and had the nerve to let resignation color her voice.
“I have it.”
Elva’s eyes widened as they settled on the white journal with the pink rose on the cover.
“All right, so you found it. Go on then. You got what you wanted. It’s over.”
“Oh, no, it’s not over yet.”
Elva didn’t have time to move before the butt of her own rifle slammed her in the head.
“Kim, someday that attitude of yours is going to get you in trouble,” Ray said as he wiped the last margarita glass dry and set it in the rack.
It already had, but she wasn’t going to tell her boss that. “So I’m supposed to take everyone’s crap about here with a pleasant ‘Thank you, sir, may I have another?’ I never was good at getting down on my knees.”
He narrowed his beady eyes. “You better learn to kiss some ass. That’s what’ll get you promoted around here.”
“You’d have to be much better looking and pay me more before I’d even think about kissing your fat, pimply ass.” She added a smile to temper the words.
“If you weren’t such a damn good bartender-and you know it pains me to give you a compliment like that-I’d fire you six ways from Friday night.”
He would probably have to fire her before she ever quit. She called her stick-to-it-ness commitment and perseverance; her friend Becca called it too-chicken-to-step-out-of-your-comfort-zone. Kim liked her explanation better. She wiped down the copper-clad bar top until the muted lights picked up every indent. “I’m your best bartender, and you know it. You might hate it, but you know it. Speaking of promotions-”
“Yeah, I know, you finished your degree.”
This time her smile was more genuine. “You did promise me a management role when I got my BA in business.” Managing City Lights was a temporary goal. She really wanted to put all those classes at FSU to work by owning her own place someday.
“I know, I know. I’m working on getting enough nerve to let Carrie go without risking backlash.”
“Glad to hear it.” She tossed the rag in the bin. “I’m outta here. G’night.”
Ray’s voice followed her into the employees’ room. “And it wouldn’t hurt to unbutton that blouse a little, show more cleavage. Wouldn’t hurt at all. Bring in more tips that way.”
Her body went rigid, but she bit back two immediate responses. One was What cleavage? and the other was an unkind suggestion that was no doubt anatomically impossible. She wasn’t going to dress up like a bimbo-or more precisely, like the cocktail waitresses. City Lights’ policy was for the waitresses to wear skimpy black shorts and white dress shirts open nearly to the belly button. The guys didn’t have to bare skin, but that argument had gotten her exactly nowhere.
It wasn’t as though she was ashamed of her body. She’d finally gotten comfortable in her skin, accepting that she’d never fit into a size 7 or be petite. She’d starved herself for that image of petite perfection once and looked like a refugee from a war-torn country. At five nine, she was straight, straight, straight; not a curve to be found. Though she could stand to tone up, she wasn’t motivated to pursue a workout routine.
And damn him, she got more tips than anybody. Not that it mattered, since they all had to throw their tips into one jar and split them. Still, she took pride in the fact that she hadn’t had to show butt-cheek to get them.
Ray’s voice followed her as she walked across the lot to her car a few minutes later. “Park in the employees’ section, Lyons! And stop telling the other girls to park in the customers’ section.”
Telling him for the thousandth time about the lack of safe lighting hadn’t worked before, so she simply said, “Bite me.”
She ignored his rude gesture and closed her car door. The guy was a pain, but she gave as good as he did. He wasn’t the worst boss she’d ever had, the pay was decent, and the nightclub wasn’t far from where she lived. She went through this every night, when the lack of traffic gave her too much time to think about her life. The thought of getting another job didn’t relieve the heaviness in her chest. It wasn’t the job or working into the wee hours that dragged at her bones-and her spirit. Heck, she’d grown up in a bar.
That was a long time ago, kid. She ignored the hitch in her throat and pulled into her apartment complex. City life was getting to her, too. Tallahassee wasn’t the worst place to live; it just wasn’t her.
An old van had taken her designated parking spot. “Great. Thanks, again, bucko.” Apartment living was also dragging her down.
She hiked from the faraway spot she’d found to her upstairs apartment. Simon would be asleep. He had left the foyer light on for her, as always. She smiled at the thoughtful gesture, but her smile faded when she saw the bowl where she was to put her keys. Everything in its place or Simon would go off for twenty minutes about how simple it was to put her keys in the bowl when she came in so she wouldn’t have to undertake the daily key hunt. She figured, why mess with routine? He was the same with dirty dishes. God forbid one glass should rest in the sink.
Kim hadn’t really wanted to shack up with Simon, particularly without a marital commitment looming somewhere in the near future. But when he’d proposed it, he’d said the magic word: home. It had been a long time since she’d had a home.
Due to time constrictions, they’d ended up renting an apartment. She had the distinct feeling that Simon was giving their relationship a test run. He’d signed on for a year’s lease without balking. Since moving in together six months earlier, every time she brought up a stronger commitment, his beeper went off. Every single time.
Still, they were-all right, she’d say it-comfortable with each other. There was nothing wrong with predictability, was there? She knew Simon’s moods, both of them, and because of their disparate hours, they didn’t spend enough time together to get on each other’s nerves.
Becca’s lecture on her choices in men echoed through her mind. You choose emotionally safe men, Kim. Men who can’t give you their hearts, so you won’t be tempted to give them yours.
Ah, what did she know, Miss married-for-ten-years-to-the-perfect-guy?
A nightlight in the kitchen illuminated the anally neat place. Her memorabilia, neon Budweiser lizard sign, Everglades prints, and bottle of tequila she’d bought on a trip to Mexico, complete with the worm, were stashed in a closet with the rest of her “tacky” stuff. The place looked like something out of a catalog. Yuck.
She tiptoed through the bedroom to the bathroom, turned on the shower, and stripped out of her clothes. Her “chicken cutlets” bounced on the linoleum floor. She didn’t wear the cutlet-shaped boobie pads for the added cup size, though that wasn’t a bad benefit. They gave her an extra layer of padding so when someone brushed against her they weren’t actually touching her breasts.
She scrubbed the smoke off her hair and skin. She never dried her shoulder-length blond hair, because she didn’t want to wake Simon. After a brisk towel drying, she slid into bed.
“How was work?” he asked, surprising her that he was awake.
“Same as always. Though Ray did intimate he was getting ready to let Carrie go soon.”
“He’s said that before.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m afraid he’s going to keep stalling me.”
“Then get another job.”
She rolled onto her side facing him. “I want to open my own bar.”
“You still talking about that?” He traced circles around her nipples. “Think of the liability, the set up costs, obtaining a liquor license-and you know you’re not good at politics. You gotta schmooze for one of them babies.”
When his hand went lower, she placed her hand over it. “I wish you could see my grandma’s bar. Everyone went there; everything happened there, the whole town revolved around Southern Comfort.” When his other hand grabbed her breast, she said, “Simon, can we talk for a minute?”
He let out a huff of impatience. “You keep talking about these idyllic memories, but you were a kid then. It probably wasn’t as great as you remember, for one thing. For another, you won’t create anything like that here; this is a city. Besides, your hometown can’t have been that great. You haven’t been back in ten years other than your mother’s funeral.”
“But it was great.” Her voice trailed off. Cypress was still inside her, a bittersweet ache deep in her belly. Tucked in the Everglades wetlands, surrounded by the dangerous beauty of nature, the town still sang to her soul. She wanted to visit her grandma, who wouldn’t step foot out of the town limits since moving there in 1957. Kim wanted to soak in the smells of the wild orchids and feel the electricity in the air before a summer storm let loose. She wanted to see black, roiling sky behind a sunlit prairie. She’d never told Simon about the circumstances that made her leave the only town she’d ever known. The only town she’d ever loved.
His hands had come to life again. He couldn’t relate to dreams and memories. Sex was the only way he knew how to relate to a woman. She had to admit it was easier that way. Easier, but not necessarily satisfying.
They made love in the dark. Kim called it making love, because she did love him. Without eye contact, though, it always fell short. When she insisted on having the lights on, Simon chose a position that allowed no eye contact. In the one and a half years they’d been dating, he’d never once spoken an endearment to her during the act.
Within two minutes of finishing, Simon disengaged and got out of bed. She pulled up the covers and waited for the inevitable. The shower kicked on a second later. He told her it was just a thing with him. It wasn’t personal. But it was way personal. She pretended to be asleep when he returned to bed and knew something had to change.
Something changed the next morning when the phone jarred her out of sleep. Kim fumbled for the receiver. Simon had long ago gone to work.
Her voice sounded froggy when she answered, “Hello?”
“Is this Kim Lyons?” The voice sounded official, even with the southern accent.
She blinked the sleep out of her eyes and sat up. “Yes.”
“This is Samuel Wharton from Cypress. You may not remember me-”
“I remember you,” she said, her body going rigid. “You helped defend my stepfather.” He’d made a fool of her on the witness stand. Why was he calling her now, ten years later?
“Yes, I did,” he said, drawing out the words with pride. “But this doesn’t have nothing to do with him. This has to do with your granny.”
A stinging sensation burned across her skin. “What about her?”
“Well, now, she’s dead.”
He dropped the words like little bombs that shattered her insides. As much as she tried not to let Wharton know how his casual words had affected her, she could hear it in her voice. “That can’t be right. I spoke with her last month. She was fine.” She wanted to think this was a cruel joke.
“I’m afraid she’s not fine anymore.”
“Last week. She died in a way fittin’ of Elva Lyons. She took her skiff out late in the night, apparently tipped it over, and hit her head on a log or cypress knee. The official cause of death was accidental drowning. Everyone in town went to the memorial service.”
Her words stuttered out of her throat. “M-memorial service? It’s already happened?”
“Well now, we couldn’t track you down right away. It was right touchin’, too, with everybody in town wailing into their hankies. Elva was a good woman, and she’ll be missed something awful. Anyway, I called to tell you that your granny left you something in her will. She left you Southern Comfort, to be precise, with its land and inventory. She also left you her house, including twenty acres of swampland. You’re the sole heir.”
“The bar…she left me the bar?”
“Yes, indeedy. Now I know you ain’t gonna be coming down here to run the place, and I also know that no one here is gonna run it for you. So here’s what I’m proposin’: you sell the bar to a client of mine for thirty grand. It’s off your hands, and you got some cash to roll around in. I told my client-”
“Who’s your client?”
“He prefers to remain anonymous. But don’t you worry, he’ll treat the bar with the same respect your granny did. All the pictures will remain on the walls as a tribute to the history of the place.”
The pictures. She’d forgotten them, all those old photographs from way before her time that used to fascinate her. Pictures of her dad growing up, and the old-timers, and even herself. They were her history. Her legacy. So was the bar. She owed that much to her grandma, to not sell out to someone who was too chicken to own up to it. Her chest swelled with resolve and fear and grief. “I’m not selling it.”
“I don’t think you understand,” Wharton said as though he were talking to a child. “No one’s gonna run this bar for you. It’s gonna close up. Your granny sure wouldn’t want that, would she? Take the money and run. That’s what you did before, only there wasn’t any money. You just ran.”
His words, right that they were, jabbed at her. Leaving was the only choice a teenage girl had when most of the town hated her, even one with more attitude than two redneck boys put together. But she wasn’t that teenager anymore. She was a woman who longed for her home in the wetlands, who longed for a bar to call her own. The conflict between what she wanted and what she would have to go through to get it burned bitter in her mouth. “Who’s handling the place now?”
The rascally old fart who’d helped Grandma run the bar since Kim could remember.
“If you’re lucky, I may have a buyer for the house and land, too, though it ain’t in good shape.”
Her bar, her house, her land. It had been in her family for generations. Now her family had all but petered out, but she was still here.
“I’ll be down to meet with you. I’ll call later to make an appointment. Goodbye.” She hung up and dropped back on the bed. Her heart was racing; she could feel the pulse in her throat. Go back to Cypress. She’d never wanted and feared something so badly at the same time.
“Grandma, what do I do?” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I’m sorry I left. I’m sorry I didn’t visit.”
Tears filled her eyes and spilled down her temples. She had to say goodbye to her grandma, who had been there for her when her mother had betrayed Kim, and then when Kim had betrayed her mother. Even though she’d stayed neutral, Grandma had stood beside Kim during the trial and all the ugliness after that.
It was time to return home and face the ghosts and demons that waited there. It was time to see what else was there for her.
“You’re going to do what?” Simon asked when they met for lunch.
“I’ll only be gone for a week. I need to go down and see what’s what.”
“I can’t take that kind of time off without notice. Unless you can wait until”-he pulled his ever-present laptop computer closer and punched the keys-“the last week of September. Honestly, the thought of spending any time down in the swamps in the summer doesn’t appeal. Maybe in the fall.”
“I can’t wait that long. Don’t worry; it’s only a week.”
She wanted to think that he’d miss her. He might, but he wouldn’t tell her. They didn’t share that kind of thing. They loved each other; they didn’t have to say it regularly. That’s why they got along so well, she figured, because she didn’t need to hear it every day. There were plenty of ways to show affection besides throwing herself all over him; getting carried away by emotions….she reigned in her thoughts. Despite Becca’s know-it-allness, Simon was her perfect mate. At thirty-seven, he was settled professionally and mature, which was why she liked men who were at least ten years older.
She shoved her untouched Caesar salad around with her fork. “I didn’t expect you to come with me anyway. Ray’s got someone to cover for me at the club, so I’m heading out this afternoon.”
He stopped mid-chew and stared at her for a moment. “Isn’t there someone else who could take care of this for you?”
“There’s no one.” The words stuck in her throat. Maybe because that was true of her life. Her grandfather Pete also lived in Tallahassee. He was the reason she’d moved there when she’d left Cypress. As far as she knew, the two hadn’t spoke since he’d moved there in 1976. Even so, when she’d called him that morning, he’d sounded deeply affected by her death.
Simon set his silverware across his plate. “I’m sorry about your grandmother.” His brown eyes reflected sincerity, if not depth. He’d probably never loved someone so much it ripped your guts out when they left. She’d loved only two people with that intensity: Elva and her father.
His cell phone went off, and like always, he answered it immediately, no matter what they were doing. Yes, even then. She waited until he wrapped up his conversation about data security and apologized to her. “What were we talking about?”
She got to her feet. “I was saying goodbye. I’ll call you when I get to Cypress.”
Praise & Reviews
“Tina has unforgettable female protagonists and action-packed, almost haunting plotlines.” —Janet Evanovich New York Times bestselling author
“Tina Wainscott immerses us in the sleepy, steamy secrets of Cypress, Florida, with many twists that keep you guessing. With vivid characterizations and description, one feels they are right there experiencing the swamp, feeling the moist heat, knowing these people, their hopes, dreams, and secrets. A real page turner right to the end.” —Theresa Gallup for Fictional Pursuits
“Wainscott dives deep into the regional flavor and atmosphere of the Florida Everglades in this gritty new thriller.” —Jill Smith, RT Book Reviews
“The only fault that this reviewer could find with I’ll Be Watching You is that it had to end.” —Melissa Alvarez