#1 New York Times bestselling author Fern Michaels masterfully blends adventure, redemption, and rich emotion to explore all the ways that love can come to heal us…
Atlanta homicide detective Patrick “Tick” Kelly turned his back on the world the day his wife and children were murdered. Holed up in a beach shack on Mango Key, Florida, he drowned his grief in Jack Daniels. Now sober and a bestselling author, Tick would gladly stay a recluse forever if his brother Pete didn’t keep trying to drag him back to the land of the living.
After years of sacrificing her personal life in favor of her DEA job, special agent Kate Rush resigned and moved back to her native Miami. But the unofficial assignment that has just come her way is too intriguing to pass up. She and a fellow ex-agent are relocated to Mango Key to keep an eye on an imposing, mysterious fortress believed to be at the center of a human trafficking ring. At first, the Kelly brothers are suspected of involvement, but Kate is sure Tick poses no danger—except for the slow-burning gaze that makes her breath catch and her heart race…
“A page-turner...the perfect blend of mystery, adventure and romance.” —The Charleston Mercury
“[A] thrilling read ripped from today’s headlines.” —RT Book Reviews
Detective Patrick Kelly, Tick to his friends, signed out of his
precinct and headed to his car, an eight-year-old Saturn with
120,000 miles on it. It purred like a baby when he turned the key.
Then it sputtered and died. He’d given it too much gas and flooded
the engine. He knew the drill—wait five minutes, try again, and if
he was lucky, Lulu would get him home.
Sally, his wife, had named his car Lulu but never told him why.
She’d just giggle and say it was a lulu of a car. Sally drove a ten-yearold
Honda Civic. The only good thing about owning two old cars
was not having to make car payments. Everything was about cutting
corners, saving for college for the kids, and doing without.
Tick sighed, leaned back against the headrest, but didn’t close
his eyes because, if he did, he’d go to sleep. He’d worked a double
shift because Joe Rollins had a ruptured appendix, and he’d filled
in for him. He couldn’t wait to get home to Sally and the kids, take
a shower, maybe eat something Sally kept warm for him, and go to
sleep with her spooning into his back. When he felt his eyelids start
to droop, he turned the key, and, miracle of miracles, Lulu turned
over. He was on his way to his family, whom he loved more than
anything on earth. He loved them more than he loved his job, and
he dearly loved his job. There were days when he hated the job, but
the love always won out. He truly believed he made a difference.
Where his family was concerned, there was no doubt: He loved
them twenty-four/seven, unconditionally.
When he worked the late shift, he always let his thoughts go to
his wonderful little family as a way of unwinding on his way home.
He’d met Sally in the seventh grade, when she transferred from
out of state. He fell in love with her that day when she stood in
front of the class, and said, “My name is Sally Pritchard and I’m
new today.” He’d seen the sparkle of tears in her eyes and knew instinctively
that she was afraid. Afraid the kids wouldn’t like her,
afraid she’d make a mistake, and they’d laugh. He never did figure
out where or how he’d known that, he’d just known it. Then,
when he found out she had moved one street over from his own
street, and they would be walking to school at the same time, he’d
almost done cartwheels. Later, Sally said she didn’t fall in love with
him till they were in the eighth grade. He’d been heartbroken at
that news but covered it up well. She loved him, and that was all
Married for fifteen years now, and he loved her as much as he
did that day in the seventh grade when she introduced herself. He
hoped and prayed nightly that his two children would find mates as
wonderful as their mother when it was their time.
Sally Pritchard Kelly was the wind beneath his wings. She was
the reason he got up in the morning, the reason he was still sane
considering the fact that he was a homicide detective. Because of
Sally and the kids, he didn’t carry his work home with him. When
he walked in the front door of his mortgaged-to-the-hilt house, he
was in another world. Worn, comfortable furniture waited for
him. Sally always waited at the door for him, a smile on her face
and smelling of a summer day. Always. He couldn’t remember a
single day in all the years they were married that she hadn’t
greeted him with a smile and a kiss on the lips. A real kiss that said
she loved him, missed him, and now things were the way they
should be because he was home. There would always be a warm
meal in the oven if he was late. Didn’t matter how late he was.
Sally would curl up on the couch and wait. Sally was the constant
in his life.
Prettier than a picture, he always said. He loved the freckles that
danced across her nose, loved the crooked eyetooth she refused to
have straightened. There wasn’t one thing he didn’t love about his
wife because, in his eyes, she was perfect. At this point in his reverie,
even if he was so tired he couldn’t think straight, his eyes always
misted up. He’d just curl up and die if anything ever happened to
his beloved Sally. Well, that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon;
they had at least another fifty years to look forward to. Both he and
Sally came from families where longevity was the rule.
Tick could feel his eyes start to droop again, so he pressed the
stereo unit and turned up the volume. His and Sally’s favorite song
was burned on every inch of the CD, so he could play it over and
over. “Mustang Sally.” He started to sing along with Wilson Pickett at
the top of his lungs, “Ride, Sally, ride!”
He was two streets away from where he lived on David Court
when he saw the strobe lights shooting upward to the sky. Blue,
red, and white just like it was the Fourth of July. But it wasn’t the
Fourth of July. He knew what the lights meant. Good cop that he
was, he knew he was going to have to stop to offer any assistance if
needed. Sally, the kids, and sleep would have to wait just a bit
longer. He turned off the CD player and turned the corner, and his
world came to a screeching halt. He saw the barricade, the yellow
tape, the crazy arcing lights, the crowds of people, and too many
police cars to count.
All parked in front of his house, in the driveway, on the lawn and
sidewalk. He slammed on the brakes, threw open the door, and
lunged forward. He heard his name being called from all directions,
arms trying to reach him, someone trying to tackle him. He plowed
ahead, driven by an energy he didn’t know he possessed. And then
he was in a vise grip, unable to move. The more he fought and
struggled, the tighter the hold became. He looked up to see the
face of the man holding him and was stunned to see his captain,
tears rolling down his cheeks. “Easy, Tick, easy.”
Tick ground his teeth together. He had to show respect to the
captain. “Did someone rob my house? Where are Sally and the kids?
Captain, I asked you a question.”
Rising onto his toes, Tick reared upward, loosening the hold his
captain had on his arm. He sprinted forward as fellow officers rushed to prevent him from entering the house. He evaded all of
The house was deathly silent. The crime-scene personnel took
that moment to stop what they were doing and stare at the man
who looked like the wrath of God. “Where are they?”
Someone, he didn’t know who it was, pointed to the second
floor. Tick took the steps two at a time. It looked to him like there
were a hundred people in his small upstairs. He bolted down the
short hall to his bedroom. In his life he’d never seen so much
blood. He saw her then, his beloved Sally, lying in the doorway
leading to the bathroom. He knew it was her because of her nightgown
and robe. And her wedding ring. There was little left to her
face. How could that be gone? Those beautiful freckles dancing
across her pert little nose were gone. Her throat was a gaping hole.
Tick’s knees buckled. Strong hands held him upright. “Ride, Sally,
ride,” he blubbered.
“Get him out of here. Have the ME look at him.”
“Where are the kids?”
“Not now, Tick. Please,” his captain said.
“Where are my kids?” Tick roared.
“In their room. Tick, please, let us handle this. I’m begging you,
don’t go there.”
“Get the hell away from me . . .”
Tick found them huddled together in the closet, which was full
of toys and balls. There was blood everywhere. Too much blood for
two tiny little creatures who once carried his life’s blood. Now it
was a river on a hopscotch-patterned carpet. He wanted to bend
down, to scoop up his children, to hold them close, but they
wouldn’t let him. He wanted to run his hands through his daughter’s
curly hair, which was just like her mother’s, but it was matted
with blood, and he couldn’t see the curls. He looked at his son and
fainted dead away. He felt himself being carried someplace, heard
voices he couldn’t identify, then he felt something prick his arm.
Ride, Sally, riiiide.
The Governor’s Mansion
Thurman Lawrence Tyler checked himself in the mirror one last
time. He adjusted his Hermès tie, examined the crease on the
French cuffs of his custom-made shirt, brushed an imaginary piece
of lint from his imported Italian suit, inspected the shine on his
shoes, and smoothed a thick white errant hair in place before stepping
into the foyer, where Elizabeth waited. At six foot one, he had
an athletic build and sharp blue eyes that rarely missed a beat, and
she thought her husband still as handsome as the day she had met
him. Maybe even more so.
“Thurman, dear, you look as handsome as you did the day of our
wedding.” Elizabeth Tyler, his wife of forty-six years and right hand
of Governor Thurman Lawrence Tyler, looked every bit the elegant
wife of a dignitary. Perfectly coiffed blond hair, her grandmother’s
pearl earrings and necklace glowing next to her porcelain skin. A
pale blue Chanel suit brought out the cornflower blue of her eyes.
Both were tall, slim, and in excellent physical condition, and they
appeared almost perfect as they scrutinized one another.
“And you, my dear, look like the innocent that you were.” Thurman
studied his wife for a moment longer. She’d aged extremely
well, unlike many of her friends. Elizabeth was always careful to
protect herself from Florida’s punishing sun, never smoked, and
rarely drank anything more than an occasional glass of white wine.
She played tennis three times a week, had a facial once a week and
her hair touched up every third Thursday of the month. Of course,
he wasn’t supposed to know this, so he pretended her blond locks
were as natural as those of a newborn.
“You’re too kind,” she replied.
“Nonsense,” he responded.
Without another word, he escorted her to the elaborate dining
room where they had their breakfast. Each consumed two cups of
coffee, his with skim milk and hers black. Both had one-half of a
Florida ruby red grapefruit with one slice of homemade dry wheat
toast. After they’d consumed their meal, they took their daily doses
of vitamins with a bottle of mineral water imported from Switzerland.
Their morning routine was like clockwork and had been since
Thurman was elected governor of the fine state of Florida almost
eight years ago. With his second term coming to an end, both were
preparing for the next step of their career—president of the United
States. Yes, it was their career because Thurman never made a decision
without first consulting his dear wife.
When they finished their meal, the governor went to his office,
and Elizabeth went to hers, where she spent the morning going
over the menu for an upcoming gala they were hosting. With nothing
more on her agenda, she went to the personal living area that
connected their offices. Knowing her husband would be occupied
for the rest of the day with his lieutenant governor, she placed a
phone call to her son, Lawrence. Hanging up after several rings
went unanswered, Elizabeth called an old high school friend. They
made plans to have lunch soon. Free time was rare, and she decided
to take advantage of it and relax with a book. She’d spent her
life promoting literacy and was very involved with the public-library
system, but never once in all her years of reading had she told anyone
of her love of horror novels. Today she planned to read
Stephen King’s latest.
Settling into a Queen Anne chair next to the window overlooking
the garden, Elizabeth spent the next two hours immersed in her
novel. Later, when she heard Thurman shouting on the phone to
Carlton, she hid her book beneath the chair’s cushion and hurried
to the door, where she stood silently, listening to her husband’s private
She and Thurman had done everything in their power to see
that Lawrence never found out. It would ruin him and his father if
the public got wind of this. Elizabeth thought she had done the
right thing by keeping him. No, she had done the right thing. He
was her son, the only child she would ever have. Whatever it took
to ensure that he wasn’t ruined by her and Thurman’s past mistakes,
Elizabeth would do it. After all, she was his mother, and if he
couldn’t count on her, then poor Lawrence had no one.
Every hope and dream they had ever imagined was about to be
destroyed. They had worked too long and hard for this moment.
Elizabeth refused to allow anyone to ruin the future that was just
now within their reach.
She’d made numerous sacrifices throughout her life in order for
Thurman and Lawrence to be successful. Now that someone threatened
her life’s work, she wanted to fight back in anger; but that had
never been her way, and she would not start now.
She went to her private office and sat down. She removed a
sheet of creamy personalized paper from her desk. Lawrence
would have to know this someday. If neither she nor Thurman
were around to tell him, then a letter would suffice.
My Dearest Son,
If you’re reading this letter then you must know that
your father and I are no longer of this earth. There is
something I have wanted to tell you since you were a
little boy, but the time was never right. Then as you got
older I thought it would be a disservice not to tell you,
yet I could never find the right time. If you hate me or
your father after reading this, know that I will
understand and love you in spite of it. The first time I
laid eyes on your father, I fell madly in love . . .