Book Excerpt – Sweet Illusions
by Jeanette Lewis
©All Rights Reserved
The moon hung low and bright, bouncing off the sand and giving them more than enough light to hunt for shells. Arthur had stayed with Gina, but the rest of the children scampered ahead of Ben and Eva as they walked slowly up the beach. Ben had no idea where his shoes had ended up, and he was pleased to see Eva had slipped hers off too. They stayed on the edge of the water and every once in a while, a wave came boiling up the sand to swirl around their ankles before withdrawing again with a soft hiss.
“Man, I’ve missed it here,” he said, taking a deep breath.
“Jennifer said you’ve been in Atlanta?” Eva asked.
“Yeah. I was on the force there for six years.” His stomach knotted. What if she wanted to know why he’d come home? What if she’d heard about Griffin? Or maybe she already knew; she did live next door to Miss Lucille, after all.
“How do you like Indigo Bay?” he asked. Dumb question, but they had to start somewhere. He’d noticed how she tried to steer the conversation away from herself at dinner—a classic conversation tactic. Was she practicing Tinder’s Top Ten Tips for Dating, or was she merely a private person? And if so, how did he draw her out?
“It’s beautiful,” Eva said, and he remembered he’d asked her about Indigo Bay. “I love the ocean, and your parents’ house is amazing. I feel lucky to live here.”
“Yeah, that’s how I always felt too,” he said. Slightly ahead of them, three-year-old Ezra face-planted in the sand and Ben chuckled, watching as Abbie pulled him up and brushed him off.
“Do your brother and sister live around here too?” Eva asked.
“Tyler and Jennifer live closer to Hilton Head and Gina and Lee are about two hours inland,” Ben explained.
“Look at this one!” Jordan came running up, holding a small peach-colored shell.
“Calico scallop,” Ben told him. “Think you can find the other half?”
It would be nearly impossible to find a matched set of scallop shells, but the five-year-old took off running, his head moving back and forth as he eagerly searched the sand. Ben felt kind of bad sending him off on an impossible errand, but figured it was worth it to give him more alone time with Eva.
They walked past Miss Lucille’s house, rising three stories and ringed with balconies. Ben had never been inside, but when they were little, he and Gina had made up stories about Miss Lucille’s Fort of Surveillance. Inside would be set up like a crime lab from the movies—a dozen heavily muscled agents in black jackets sipping coffee in front of computer screens as they monitored everything that happened within a five-hundred-foot radius of the property; a helicopter waiting on the roof for a quick escape; three dozen cameras trained on the beach to keep an eye on the tourists; and a special forensics lab to determine exactly whose dog had pooped on the lawn.
Tonight, though, all the windows were dark except for one, where a small lamp burned on the lower level. Miss Lucille had mentioned setting him up with … was it her niece? He’d told her he planned to focus on work, but that had changed when he’d seen his mom coming across the sand with Eva.
He glanced sideways at her, noting how the moonlight kissed the bridge of her nose and the pale skin on her forehead. Her hair was so dark it blended into the shadows, but her enormous eyes glowed blue. He felt a stirring in his gut. She was reserved, but she’d laughed a few times at dinner and he’d found himself craving the sound, wanting to hear it again and especially wanting it to be because of him. He had an almost irrepressible urge to start showing off, like a teenager trying to impress a girl, wanting to be the source of her joy.
“Best thing about the chocolate shop—go,” Ben said.
“The chocolate, duh,” Eva said with a teasing lilt in her voice.
“And I’ll bet Miss Eulalie lets you eat as much as you can, right?”
“Of course,” Eva said. “We’ve got all the basic food groups covered: white in the morning, milk at lunch, and dark for dinner.”
He laughed. “Sounds like the perfect job.”
She threw him a quick smile, and he fought back a wild impulse to start doing push-ups.
“Actually, I like making them more than eating them. Is that weird? There’s something so satisfying about pulling the fondant out of the melted chocolate, putting a perfect little curl on the top.” She hesitated. “Sorry, that probably sounds lame.”
It didn’t sound lame at all. It made him want to watch her work, see her eyes come alight when she got the perfect curl.
“Uncle Ben, look at this!” It was Abbie this time. She extended her palm to reveal what looked like a small rock, only it was a matte green and gleamed in the moonlight.
“Sea glass,” Ben said. He plucked it from her hand and ran his thumb along the rounded edge. “Nice job, this is a good one.”
“Sea glass?” Eva asked.
Ben handed it to her and watched as she rubbed her delicate fingertips over it in fascination.
“It washes ashore from all over the world,” Abbie declared proudly. “Daddy says each piece could be hundreds of years old.”
“It’s really beautiful.” Eva held it up to let the moonlight shine through the frosty surface.
“Greens and browns are the most common; they’re usually from soda or beer bottles,” Ben said. “Or sometimes industrial glass like fishing floats. Most of it’s litter, but some comes from shipwrecks.”
Eva ran her nail along a small niche in the glass where the sand and salt hadn’t had time to completely obscure the shine. “It’s really neat,” she finally said, offering the glass back to Abbie.
“You can keep it,” Abbie offered.
“Are you sure? I mean, if it’s rare …”
Abbie shrugged. “I have a lot of green at home already.”
“Thank you.” Eva gave the girl a warm smile. “I love it.”
A whistle sounded above the waves, and Ben recognized it immediately, his dad’s call to muster the troops. The children heard it too; they did a one-eighty and charged back down the beach to where the embers of the fire hadn’t quite died out.
“Ben, can I ask you something?” Eva said as they followed the kids at a slower pace.
“Did … did I steal your apartment?”
She waved her hand toward the dunes, where the rooftop of his parents’ house was visible. “You could have had the apartment over the garage. Only now you can’t, because I’m there.”
Ben laughed. “Honestly, the thought never occurred to me.”
“You weren’t planning to stay there?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I love my family, but I don’t want to live at home again.”
“Your family is great,” Eva said with a slight defensive touch to her voice.
“True. But after being away for so long, I’m okay living across town from them. Don’t worry,” he added quickly, not wanting to worry her, “they’re a little intense sometimes, but way more Stark clan than Lannister.”
He’d been going for a laugh, but the look she gave him was totally blank. “Lannister?”
“Like in Game of Thrones? The Red Wedding, Rains of Castamere? We’re not into revenge killing. Though sometimes as kids Tyler and I would fight so much that—” He stopped when he saw the look on her face. The color had drained from her cheeks and her eyes were glazed, unfocused. “Are you okay?” Ben asked. He grabbed her arm, afraid she would faint, or something.
Eva shook her head as if to clear it. “Right, Game of Thrones.” Her voice shook. “Sorry, I got distracted for a second.” She threw a look to where the party was breaking up. “We should probably go help.” Before he could say another word, she hurried off, practically running down the beach away from him. During the chaos of cleaning up, she slipped away before he could tell her goodbye.
* * *
Eva closed the door and leaned against it, as if she could somehow shut out the past with her body. She turned the lock and dropped her shoes by the door, then dug the piece of sea glass from the pocket of her skirt. It was cool and smooth with indentations that fit against her fingertips perfectly, like a worry stone. She set it on the bookcase next to the lamp.
Worry was right. Clan. Revenge killing. He’d thrown those words around like they were nothing and sent her spiraling back into memories of dark days that were best forgotten.
She groaned. Of all the people in Indigo Bay to feel a spark with, she had to pick the cop? How long before he started digging into her past and showing up at her door wanting answers she couldn’t give?
Eva dropped her head into her hands as old fears and new combined to buzz at the base of her skull like a swarm of angry bees, trying to find a way in. Could she ever stop running?Get Sweet Illusions