Read Safe Harbor Online

Authors: Marie Ferrarella

Safe Harbor

BOOK: Safe Harbor
13.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

If he stays, she’s in danger. But if he leaves…

All Mike Ryan can tell her is his name. Revealing any more to this beautiful stranger would put her in danger. And he’s not willing to jeopardize Stevi Roman’s—or her family’s—safety any more than he already has. Why this angel has taken him in, nursed him and trusted him, he can’t fathom. But it has been the best few weeks he’s ever known. For the first time, Mike can imagine having a real life, a real identity, a real future. Stevi has done more than save him. She’s inspired him.

And that’s why he has to go. The safest thing he could do for all of them is to disappear….

Stevi’s eyes widened as she drew closer and closer to the form that had been washed ashore.

Her breath had somehow gotten stuck in her throat. There was no longer a question in her mind what she was looking at. The clump of seaweed had somehow managed to turn into the very real form of a man.

A man lying still and facedown in the sand.

She didn’t remember how the last fifteen feet were reduced to less than a foot. Couldn’t remember if she ran toward the prone body or if she approached it cautiously. Given her usual recklessness, she probably ran, Stevi thought.

But suddenly, there she was, standing over the immobile body of a man, wondering if he was dead or just unconscious.

“Mister?”

Dear Reader,

So, we meet again. This time, it’s for Stephanie’s story. Stevi is Richard’s third daughter, the artistic, creative one who, just possibly, has given him the most concern. As Stevi’s formal education comes to a close and she graduates college, she finds herself growing more and more restless. Still undecided where she will wind up going—New York City? Paris? Or…? She takes to channeling some of her energy into early morning runs along the beach. This particular early morning, she finds more than just a seashell in her path. She comes across a man who has washed up on the beach and is half dead, thanks to the wound in his chest.

Thinking only that she has to save this man’s life, Stevi enlists the help of the inn’s gardener, a man with a mysterious past who came to work for her father some fifteen years earlier. Silvio brings the unconscious man back to the inn and patches him up.

As she nurses her stranger back to health, Stevi finds herself more and more enamored with the man who claims to have no memory of the events that brought him to her beach. By the time he’s well enough to leave, she fervently hopes he doesn’t. But he is just as determined to go before his past catches up to him—and hurts the family he has come to care so much about.

I hope you stay to find out how it all turns out. And if you do, as always, I thank you for reading, and from the bottom of my heart, I wish you someone to love who loves you back.

All the best,

Marie Ferrarella

USA TODAY
Bestselling Author

Marie Ferrarella

Safe Harbor

MARIE FERRARELLA

is a
USA TODAY
bestselling and RITA® Award-winning author, and has written more than 240 books for Harlequin, some under the name Marie Nicole. As of January 2013, she has been published by Harlequin for 30 years. She earned a master’s degree in Shakespearean comedy and, perhaps as a result, her writing is distinguished by humor and natural dialogue. Her goal is to entertain and to make people laugh and feel good. Her romances are beloved by fans worldwide. Visit her website,
www.marieferrarella.com
.

A Selection of Books by Marie Ferrarella

HARLEQUIN HEARTWARMING

1—INNKEEPER’S DAUGHTER
27—A WEDDING FOR CHRISTMAS

HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE

1402—LASSOING THE [email protected]
1410—A BABY ON THE [email protected]
1426—A FOREVER [email protected]
1462—HIS FOREVER [email protected]
1478—THE COWBOY’S CHRISTMAS [email protected]

HARLEQUIN ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

1736—A WIDOW’S GUILTY SECRET
1751—CAVANAUGH ON DUTY*
1760—THE COLTON RANSOM%
1767—MISSION: CAVANAUGH BABY*
1612—CAVANAUGH JUDGMENT*
1616—COLTON BY MARRIAGE
1623—CAVANAUGH REUNION*
1644—IN HIS PROTECTIVE CUSTODY**

HARLEQUIN SPECIAL EDITION

2167—FORTUNE’S VALENTINE BRIDE‡
2192—ONCE UPON A MATCHMAKER(+)
2210—REAL VINTAGE MAVERICK-
2240—A PERFECTLY IMPERFECT MATCH(+)
2246—A SMALL FORTUNE***
2252—TEN YEARS LATER…(+)
2264—WISH UPON A MATCHMAKER(+)

*Cavanaugh Justice
**The Doctors Pulaski
(+)Matchmaking Mamas
@Forever, Texas
‡The Fortunes of Texas: Whirlwind Romance
-Montana Mavericks: Back in the Saddle
***The Fortunes of Texas: Southern Invasion
%The Coltons of Wyoming

To Victoria Curran for giving me a really great suggestion

PROLOGUE

T
HE
USUAL
J
UNE
-
GLOOM
weather was happily absent from the scene despite the fact that it was barely eight in the morning. A light breeze was drifting in from the ocean, bringing just a faint touch of moisture to the modest family cemetery.

Richard Roman had made his usual pilgrimage down the hill from Ladera-by-the-Sea, the family bed-and-breakfast inn he owned and ran, with the help of his daughters, to the small family cemetery where, among others, his wife and his best friend, Dan Taylor, were buried.

It was his custom to come here to share his thoughts, his feelings and any news that might be unfolding in the sedate, yet ever-changing world of the one-hundred-and-twenty-year-old inn.

Richard felt as if he were still in touch with his Amy and with Dan, if he came here, to stand between their headstones.

He dearly loved all four of his daughters and regarded Alex’s and Cris’s husbands, Wyatt and Shane, as if they were his own sons, but the two people he had felt closest to were both here, resting beneath the warm earth, waiting for the day when he could come and join them. The family he lived with at the inn had his heart, but Dan and especially Amy had his soul and he was never quite whole except when he was here, at the cemetery with them.

“Stevi graduated yesterday,” he announced, looking down at Amy’s white marble headstone. “I wish you could have been there, you would have been so proud. I would have loved to have held your hand in mine, actually
held
it, when Stevi marched across that stage to get her diploma.” He chuckled. “I half expected her to do a cartwheel across the stage. She’s been really dying to graduate.” He paused, reflecting sadly on that. “Now she says there’s nothing stopping her from going off and following her dreams.”

Richard sighed. “She’s talking about going to New York, Amy, or somewhere equally exciting.”

He looked down at Dan’s headstone. “You were always going somewhere, following the next story, the next lead. I always figured you were half journalist, half nomad. If it wasn’t for your summers here with Wyatt, I don’t think I would have seen you even half as much as I did.” He laughed, shaking his head. “This is the longest you’ve ever stayed put anywhere.”

He looked off toward the ocean, watching the waves rise and chase one another to the shore. It soothed him a little.

“Maybe I’m hopelessly old-fashioned, but I feel it’s different for a girl, different going off on her own. Sure, I’d also worry if this was my son, but you tend to want to protect a daughter, even if she has a scissor tongue and is pretty resourceful, like Stevi. If either of you two can come up with a way I can get her to stay here, I’d really appreciate it,” he said, spreading his arms helplessly.

“Oh, I almost forgot. Stevi has me all turned around,” he apologized. “Guess what?”

Holding on to his big news for a moment longer, Richard looked from one grave site to the other. “Okay, okay, I won’t torture you with this.” His grin grew twice as wide when he said, “Guess who’s going to be a grandparent?” His own words echoed back to him and he laughed. “I guess I didn’t really phrase that right because all three of us are.” He could barely contain his joy as he said, “Alex and Wyatt are expecting. It’ll be a Christmas baby unless I miscalculated. And if this new little person has half the energy that Alex had at that age, I’d say that Alex and Wyatt are in big trouble.”

He sat down on the rim of the seat that Shane, his other son-in-law, had built into the base of the pine tree overlooking these two graves.

“You have no idea what I wouldn’t give to be able to see you holding our second grandchild, Amy. Or you, for that matter,” he added with a laugh as he glanced over toward Dan’s grave. “I can still remember you with Wyatt. He was so little and you looked like a fish out of water. A big and awkward fish. But to your credit, you didn’t drop him, not once. Still, I think, if you were here and it was your turn to hold this new person on the way into our lives, I’d insist you sit down first—just in case.”

Richard glanced at his wristwatch—the one Amy had given him on their wedding day—and rose. “I’d better be getting back. It’s time to get things rolling. Alex is still running things, but I’m trying to get her to relax a little, make her realize that she has nothing to prove anymore. That’s our Alex, though. Always looking for challenges to vanquish.

“Don’t forget what I asked you two to do,” he said by way of parting. “Find a way—a
good
way, to get our Stevi to want to stay right here, close to home. We need her and even though she might not realize it, she needs us.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he promised. “You know I can hardly let a day go by without visiting with you two, unless something pressing keeps me away.”

With a smile curving the corners of his mouth, Richard squared his shoulders and headed back up the hill. The inn—and his family—were waiting for him.

It was nice, Richard couldn’t help thinking, to be needed.

CHAPTER ONE

S
HE
WAS
AWARE
of the dull ache in her calf muscles as they tensed with each footfall while she ran, for the most part, parallel to the shoreline.

Waves flowed in, then ebbed away, sometimes drenching her up to the ankles. Stephanie Roman hardly noticed. She kept her mind focused on her goal, reaching the sand dune whimsically shaped like a cave for vertically challenged elves.

Stevi, as her family had always called her, was fairly new to this concept of getting regular exercise. She’d undertaken running a few short months ago as a way of channeling her energy.

Once begun, however, she found this form of exercise addictive, a realization that took her completely by surprise. But even as she craved it, running to her was a chore, something she needed to mark off on her to-do checklist before she could continue, unobstructed, with the rest of her day.

She didn’t realize that she was addicted to it until, overwhelmed with work, she tried skipping a run and found herself feeling utterly out of sync with her own body.

Less than a month ago, she had been juggling classes, a part-time job—she helped out at the inn—and her artwork. She created many of the paintings that hung in the rooms in her family’s inn.

A select few of her works of art were on the walls of a local art gallery.

They represented her start.

Now that college and her classes were finally part of her past, with a degree in art to show for it, Stevi’s time was freed up somewhat. Except she was still out here, on the beach, running as fast as she was able to, at six in the morning.

Just her, the water and the seagulls.

One thing down, everything else to go.

Not that there was all that much to get done these days. After handling Alex’s and Cris’s weddings, she’d discovered she had a real knack for event planning. And while business at the inn was continuing at a steady, brisk pace, there were only a handful of dinner parties for her to put together for the guests. Stevi had suddenly found herself with next to nothing to do.

Without events to plan or classes to study for, she was feeling incredibly restless. It was only a week since graduation, but she was already bored to tears and dying for some sort of excitement.

Stevi accelerated her pace, pushing harder.

Oh, she was well aware that she should be grateful that her life was as good, as comfortable, as it was. There were no deep, dark secrets—or shallow, light ones for that matter—no family rifts. She had a wonderful family, she got along well with her father, her sisters and even her brothers-in-law.

Stevi blew out a breath. She supposed it was some kind of sin in the grand scheme of things to feel this dissatisfied when there wasn’t one single bad thing in her life to point a finger at.

But that didn’t change the fact that she desperately craved some excitement, something to inspire her art.

That was why, a year ago, she began considering the possibility of moving to New York City, at least for a while. New York City was everything that Ladera was not. It represented a complete change of pace. After all, New York City was the city that never slept.

New York was the home of the incredible Metropolitan Museum of Art. She felt herself growing excited just thinking of the Met.

New York represented the answer to her prayers.

The only thing stopping her from uprooting this second—as impetuous as that sounded, and she was nothing if not admittedly impetuous—was guilt. Stevi knew, even though he hadn’t said a word to her, that her father didn’t want her to move away, much less move to New York.

Her dad was a warm, loving man. He’d dealt with his share of sorrow and illnesses, but somehow he’d always managed to find a way to get up again after life had given him a devastating punch to the gut. How could she turn her back on a man like that? Her father was a man who thrived on having his family not just close by, but around him.

And so far, they all were.

Granted Alex and Wyatt had a house in Los Angeles, but that was mostly for Wyatt’s convenience so he had somewhere to stay when he was in the middle of selling one of his movie scripts. The rest of the time, Wyatt and Alex lived here at the inn.

By choice.

Wyatt had once told her that his fondest memories of his childhood—as well as of his father—were all created here at the inn, where he and Uncle Dan, as she and her sisters all thought of Wyatt’s father, spent their summers. And even Cris, who could have lived in a mini-mansion because of Shane’s construction skills, stayed at the inn, in the wing Shane had built after he finished the expansion that had brought him here in the first place.

Now Alex and Wyatt were going to have a baby and Cris’s five-year-old son, Ricky, was always with his grandfather, so it wasn’t as if she’d be abandoning her dad to a life of solitude if she left.

With her younger sister, Andy, rounding out their numbers, there were plenty of family on hand.

Despite that, the thought of leaving the inn made her feel really guilty.

Yet staying here might just drive her stir-crazy.

People came to Ladera-by-the-Sea and willingly paid top dollar to bask in its tranquility, in its soothing peacefulness—in all the things that were driving her away.

Maybe, Stevi tried to console herself, if she got away for a while, gave New York City an honest try, she might just get it out of her system. Maybe she’d discover that that sort of life really wasn’t for her and that what she had right here in her own backyard was what mattered.

But she knew that if she didn’t get the opportunity to contrast and compare the two ways of life, she was never really going to appreciate what she had.

Okay, Stevi decided, feeling determined. She had her course of action planned out.

She was going to tell her father that she was going to New York City on an extended vacation, to see the sights and take in the museums and the art galleries. Knowing her father, she was fairly certain he would object if she told him she was undertaking this New York adventure on her own, so she wouldn’t mention that part.

Right, and he wouldn’t ask who you were going with.

Stevi ran even faster. Her calves protested, threatening to cramp.

Maybe she’d ask one of her friends to come with her. Oh, not for as long as she planned on staying, but just long enough for her to find some temporary place to land. Maybe an apartment being sublet.

Too bad Wyatt no longer lived there, she thought. As a boy, after his parents had gotten divorced, his mother had taken Wyatt to live there.

But then, of course, if he’d never moved out here, he never would have become a screenplay writer, never would have married her sister.

Everything turned out for the best in the end. And it would again.

At least she fervently hoped so.

Her heart rate up, her calves aching, she glanced at her watch to see how long she had been at it.

Stevi frowned as she made out the numbers, then looked up and ahead.

Rather than being on her way back by now, she had just managed to reach the squat sand dune.

That meant she was only halfway finished with her run.

Stevi sighed. There was all that distance to run back. Or walk back if she was too tired, she thought, entertaining the possibility for exactly twenty seconds.

She was in far better shape than that, she reasoned, egging herself on to pick up her pace once again.

“C’mon, Stevi, you can do this. Show your stuff. Run like you mean it, not like some little old lady who can’t put one foot in front of the other.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw something in the distance, something bobbing up and down in the water.

Most likely, she reasoned as she continued running toward it, it was either a dead fish or, as it was nine times out of ten, a large clump of seaweed.

She and her sisters often came down to the beach to clear the seaweed away. Half the time, it smelled like rotten eggs.

She changed direction slightly, running to where she thought she had spotted the seaweed.

Her eyes widened as she drew closer to the debris that had been washed ashore. Her breath got stuck in her throat.

There was no longer a question in her mind what she was looking at. The clump of seaweed had somehow managed to turn into the very real form of a man.

A man lying very still and facedown in the sand.

She didn’t remember how the last fifteen feet were reduced to less than a foot. Couldn’t remember if she ran toward the prone body or if she approached it cautiously. Given her usual recklessness, she probably ran.

But suddenly, there she was, standing over the immobile body of a man, wondering if he was dead or just unconscious.

“Mister?” she addressed softly.

There was no indication that he had heard her.

“Mister?” she said a little louder this time.

Still no reaction.

She put her hand on his shoulder and gently shook him. Again, no response.

Was
he dead?

So far, in her world, death was something that occurred offstage, like her mother’s passing and Uncle Dan’s recent demise.

Her breath felt as if it had become solid and was backing up in her throat.

Drawing her courage to her like a shield, Stevi took hold of his shoulder again, rolling him to turn him faceup.

It wasn’t easy.

He was far from a small man. She wasn’t good at judging things like height, but he had to be well over six feet. And young. Those were sculpted muscles she was pulling on, hard even though they weren’t tensed.

When she finally got him on his back so that she could get a better look at him, Stevi’s breath caught in her throat.

She had to be looking down into the handsomest face she had ever seen, bar none. And—she was no expert when it came to this—she was fairly sure that was a bullet wound in his chest close to his shoulder.

Now that he was on his back, she saw that he was bleeding.

Tearing the bottom of her oversize T-shirt, she bunched it up into a huge wad and pressed it against the wound. She needed it to stay in place, but it wasn’t as though she came equipped with bandages or tape—or rope.

But she had a headband, she thought. Pulling it off, she looped it up his arm to his chest and then tied it as best she could.

Leaning in closer, Stevi tried to find some signs of life, some indication that he was still taking in air and that his heart was beating.

Just when she was inches away from his face, her attention focused on his chest, the man’s eyes suddenly flew open.

Stevi stifled a gasp.

“No police,” he said in a low, raspy voice, grasping her wrist.

The next second, his hold loosened, his fingers lax against her wrist.

He was unconscious again.

BOOK: Safe Harbor
13.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Heavy Metal Heart by Nico Rosso
Murder Carries a Torch by Anne George
Sweet Enemy by Diana Palmer
Killing Spree by Kevin O'Brien
If You Only Knew by Rachel Vail
La taberna by Émile Zola
One to Hold by Tia Louise
Caught in the Web by Laura Dower
A Chance at Destiny by London, Lilah K.
Rihanna by Sarah Oliver