Chapter One.

When death revealed a pale hand to Piper Harland she didn’t turn away, but kicked toward it and grabbed hold.

Sixty-five feet below Lake Tikitapu’s crystal blue water, she found the seventeen-year-old water-skier who’d disappeared yesterday evening. Now that they had pinpointed his location, Piper would return the boy to his grief-stricken family, huddled above on the shore of one of New Zealand’s most picturesque lakes.

Through her face mask she examined the body, while tugging on her swim-line to signal the rest of the squad that she’d found their objective. And right now she needed to be objective. Sucking air from the regulator, her gaze returned to the boy’s waxen skin. Her heart clenched, stuttered, and raced faster and faster. Under her neoprene wetsuit, an icy shiver skittered down her spine.

C’mon, Pipe. Forget the past. Don’t you dare lose it.

A movement to her left and her dive buddy, Senior Constable Tom Carpenter, finned to her side. His eyebrows lifted above steady brown eyes, his gloved thumb and forefinger forming a questioning “O.” She nodded, mirroring the signal.

She was okay, dammit.

Piper hadn’t made the elite Police National Dive Squad two years ago by allowing on-the-job stress to shake her, and she wasn’t a rookie freaking out on her first body recovery dive. She’d been trained to deal with the dead.

But the teen beside her bore a resemblance to a younger Ryan Westlake, her first love. She tried to shrug it off. She hadn’t thought of Ryan “West” Westlake in years. Well, maybe months. Okay, weeks.

Piper glanced again at the boy, his shaggy, dark hair waving in the current like fine strands of kelp. Blood thrummed thickly in her eardrums as the regulator rasped, and she inhaled a quick gulp of air. And then another.

No. She wouldn’t allow her mind to go there.

But the momentary bolt of panic was enough to reduce her smooth, coordinated kicks to fumbled thrashes of her fins as she struggled to remain neutrally buoyant. Sediment billowed behind her and swept forward over the body, momentarily obscuring its features.

Behind the face mask Tom’s gaze sharpened, and he pointed at the rapid belch of bubbles escaping from her regulator, a clear indication she was breathing in and out way too fast. He made a thumbs up, a mute instruction to ascend.

Crap. She wasn’t fooling anyone. Least of all herself.

The victim’s lifeless eyes, focused through the deep blue to the sky above, set her heart slamming against her ribs. Tom tapped her arm and signaled again, this time with more emphasis. She released her grip on the boy’s wrist, placing it in Tom’s capable hands.

She had to get out of there. Right now.

Relying solely on her years of training Piper followed the line upward, keeping a check on her dive computer. She made the mandatory three-minute safety stop sixteen feet below the lake’s sparkling surface. Seconds dragged as she attempted to steady her breathing. The mask dug into her face, the bottled air bitter on her tongue. For the first time she understood at a gut level the panic that drove some divers to risk the bends as they thrashed away from the claustrophobic depths.

Piper waited out her one hundred and eighty crawling seconds with her gaze fixated on the hull above, drawing on every hour of intensive training, every hard won skill, to remain static.

She was okay, dammit.

Bursting into bright sunshine she swam to the boat and didn’t look back.

 

Nearly twenty-four hours after returning to the city where she lived and worked, Piper remained trapped at Wellington’s Central Police Station. She collated a report for the coroner’s inquiry and then endured a dour-faced psychologist picking through her brain—because Tom’s suspicions had been aroused thanks to her near freak out. And worse? She couldn’t blame him. Her reaction could’ve jeopardized the whole team.

Piper slammed her locker door, glaring at it while buttoning her jeans. She adjusted her tee shirt and tugged on her battered leather jacket, feeling half clothed without her pressed uniform blues and heavy stab-resistant vest.

Her pocket vibrated, and she yanked out her phone. The text from her sister said, “Call me when you get home. IMPORTANT.”

Hell, what else could go wrong today?

She shoved the phone back in her pocket, snatched up her backpack and left the locker room.

 “Hey, Piper?” Tom strolled along the corridor toward her. “You ready to tell me what really happened at Tikitapu?”

She froze.

“You gave me the rose-colored version at yesterday’s debrief by the lake. Now I want the non-prettied up version.”

“Nothing happened. I’m fine.” She swung the backpack onto her shoulder and folded her arms across her diaphragm.

“Fisher the shrink doesn’t think so.” He leaned against the wall opposite, a six-foot-three chunk of solid muscle with a soft side few knew about—except perhaps his wife and twin baby girls. “How long have we worked together, kid? I know when you’re dodging bullets.”

“I’m not a kid—ah, crap.” She raked shaky fingers through her hair, pulling the short strands until her scalp stung. “Fisher stood me down from the squad today—effective for two weeks. Two weeks back to the normal daily grind of paperwork and patrol.”

Tom shoved his hands into the pockets of his regulation pants. “Well, you knew we were a part time squad when you applied. You did normal duties before you became a dive cop and you continue to do it daily unless we get a call out—be thankful we’re not pulling someone’s seventeen-year-old kid out of a lake every day.”

“Sound like a whiny cow, don’t I?” Piper grimaced.

He sighed. “Look, Fisher gave me a heads-up a few minutes ago that you’d failed the assessment and I hate to say he’s right—” his voice gentled “—but it’s not the first trouble you’ve had on a body recovery, is it?”

When she glared at him, he shrugged. “Look Piper, you work like a woman possessed, so why not treat this as a holiday. Even better, go south and see your relatives. It’s, what, eight years since you’ve been home?”

Home. Stewart Island. Bush-covered hills, cold azure ocean, and abundant birdlife.

A lump of hardened grief and loss amassed in her belly.

“Nine.” She planted her feet wide apart on the pitted linoleum floor. “But it’s not like I don’t keep in touch. I talk to Shaye and Mum all the time.” If she counted text messages and stilted phone conversations with her younger sister and mother as keeping in touch.

“Kid, you don’t talk, really talk, to anyone.” Her chin lifted higher and Tom tugged on his earlobe with a sigh. “It’s unnatural for a woman not to yatter on about her feelings.”

“Try saying that in front of your wife, boss.”

“Well, my ear’s here if you wanna use it. You got a little squirrelly, but we all do at one time or another. Still, you did good. We gave the boy back to his family.”

“I know.” She couldn’t meet his gaze as the old familiar ache rose in her chest.

She did what she’d been trained to do, achieving the goals she set as an eighteen-year-old cadet entering Police College. She recovered the dead this time, but nine years ago she’d been unable to return her own father to the family.

She fastened a fat, false smile on her lips. “Maybe I will take that holiday. Seats to the Gold Coast are on sale this week. See you 'round, boss.”

Tom shook his head as she sauntered past. “Not if I see you first.”

 

Off the southernmost tip of New Zealand, Piper clung to the ferry’s handrail as it wallowed across Foveaux Strait to her hometown, Oban, on Stewart Island. Sea spray splattered onto her face, salt stinging the corners of her slitted eyes.

She was about to throw up. Repeatedly throw up. And afterward she’d have to drag her weakened carcass under a bench and curl into a fetal ball to die. The manufacturers of useless seasickness pills had better watch out, because she’d be haunting their asses.

God, she hated this stretch of water.

Unpredictable and often dangerous, the churning grey waves of the Strait reflected the gathering storm clouds above. Another howling southerly squall on the way. Perfect. She could be sunning herself without a care on the Gold Coast, but instead she’d taken a call from her panicked sister two days ago and used up all her accumulated leave to head south. Now she endured a near-death experience to try and save her older brother Ben from losing his house and business—not that he’d thank her for it.

“Just six weeks,” she muttered as the ferry roiled into the small harbor, the anchored boats bobbing and tossing so violently she closed her eyes. “Anyone could do six weeks.”

Kind of made Fisher’s two weeks off squad duty almost look appealing.

The ferry docked with a bone-rattling thump. She peered at the town’s distant lights shimmering through the light rain as she stepped onto the wharf, though “town” was too big a word for the local pub/restaurant/hotel, the cluster of small stores, and the community hall.

Nothing changed. Time stood still here.

Piper tugged the baseball cap lower on her head and zipped her leather jacket shut. People swept by, surrounding her with a chatter of bright voices and the rattle of suitcase wheels along the planks. She hoisted her hiker’s backpack and strode off the wharf onto Oban’s main road.

Her stomach looped into a series of reef knots, each growing tighter the closer her steps carried her into the center of town. She stopped at the children’s playground opposite the Due South Bar and Restaurant. A grassy slope led to a jumble of rocks and a beach dotted with clumps of seaweed. Overturned dinghies framed a picture-perfect island scene—ruined only by spitting skies and the choppy grey waves surging across the sand.

Raucous laughter drifted through the open doors of the bar. Someone roared, “C’mon Gav—drink, drink, drink!” The locals claimed Friday night as their own and without a doubt her brother Ben would be there. She shoved her hands into the pockets of her jacket and hunched her shoulders against the chilly air. Watching from the outside, yet again.

Light spilled from the large windows of the double-story building. The Westlake family had owned and operated Due South for the last fifty years, and the watering hole was the hub and heart of the town. Cocooned behind the glass, secure and enfolded by the warmth of familiarity, men and women she’d grown up with drank beer and gossiped.

She had to go inside and face her brother, face them all.

Face Ryan Westlake.

West.

Piper’s pulse rate jetted into the stratosphere and she sucked in a gulp of sea air.

You’re stronger than this, Constable Harland. You’ve faced gang members and addicts high on methamphetamines spoiling for a fight in dark alleyways. Just do it already.

Willing steel into her spine, Piper strode across the road, dumped her bag under the shelter of the railed verandah overhang, and walked inside. The scents, smells, sights and sounds of Due South were a sly jab in the solar plexus, leaving her the village idiot frozen in the doorway.

A musty wet-wool smell assaulted her nose. The same old photos of fishing boats remained mounted on olive green walls. Ford Komeke, the island’s mechanic, sat on a bar stool to one side, strumming his guitar. Old Smitty was hunched at a table, emphasizing a point to his sidekick Laurie by poking Laurie’s belly with an unlit cigar.

Her gaze flicked away and circled the crowded room—there he was, in her father’s old spot by the corner. Slumped in a hard-backed chair, Ben stared at his empty beer glass.

One of the knots in her stomach contracted a fraction. Her gangly big brother with the easy grin and overdue-for-a-trim mop of sandy hair had changed into a broad-shouldered, short-haired, scowling stranger.

Piper adjusted her cap again, directing a quick glance at the guy working the bar. Not West, thank God. She ordered a bottle of imported lager, then impulsively held up two fingers when he returned.

Keeping her head angled down, she grabbed the beers and plunged into the crowd. The nape of her neck prickled and her cheeks stung hot as she weaved past table after table of familiar faces. She gave it, oh, two minutes before every Islander knew of her arrival.

Piper stood in front of her brother, since the bulk of his cast-covered ankle occupied the chair opposite. “Mum always said you’d break your neck on that mountain bike one day.”

Ben didn’t move but his fingers cinched almost imperceptibly around the glass. Five endless seconds stretched, his silence burned her to the bone. He rolled his shoulders under his woolen jersey and met her gaze with insolent slowness.

“Mum also said you’d always run toward trouble, not away from it.” The deep timbre of his voice scraped her nerves raw. Such a long time since they’d spoken. His gaze never wavered as he drained the beer dregs from his glass. “She was wrong about that too.”

Piper shrugged and put the bottles down. “Well, I’m here now.”

His glass settled on the table with a hollow clink. “So you are. And I suppose I’m the trouble you’re running to.”

“I bought you a beer.”

He turned the bottle around to read the label. “Only loopies drink this imported crap.”

Loopies, the Islanders’ affectionate but slightly derogative name for visitors and tourists. Piper’s eyes narrowed as she took a sip from the second bottle. “Is that so? I seem to remember when you were seventeen, you and your mates pinched a couple dozen and drank until you passed out under a tree.”

The corners of Ben’s mouth twitched, like the muscles there battled against a smile. He slumped further under the table lip and folded his arms. “Things have changed since those days.”

“Uh-huh. You were a lot more responsible back then.”

Ben winced as his foot jolted against the chair, and fired a scorching glare up at her. “Shaye told you about more than just my broken ankle, didn’t she?”

Piper took another swig of beer but made no move to sit. Ben hated anyone looking down at him. “Of course she did. She’s worried sick.”

All the fear and hurt and rejection exploded in her stomach, a shrapnel bomb of emotion. She slammed her bottle down, braced her clenched fists, and leaned in. “What the devil were you doing, risking your house to buy a bigger boat?”

“Butt out, Piper,” he growled.

“Not a chance. Just how much in debt are you?”

“I am not discussing it here.” His clipped tone brooked no argument. “It’s under control.”

She slanted a glance to her right. Conversation had dwindled to a low grumble and clusters of people now craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the unfolding drama. Super. This little reunion would fuel the gossip mills for months.

Her attention returned to Ben. “Bollocks. When Shaye mentions late payments, foreclosure, and Mum offering to take out a second mortgage to save your ass, that tells me you do not have things under control.”

“Shaye’s got a big mouth.”

“And you’ve got a fat head. Neither of which will save your house and Dad’s business.” She whipped around to glare at the now silent pub. Suddenly people discovered they had plenty to talk about, and the murmur of conversation and clink of glasses resumed.

Ben dropped his head back to grimace at the wood-paneled ceiling. “You’ve come a long way to rub salt in it.” Fine lines fanned out from the corners of his eyes and he rubbed a palm over at least a week’s worth of stubble.

She sighed and tugged her cap off, ran a quick hand through the flattened strands. Did he honestly believe she’d come to gloat? Temper vanishing, Piper squatted at the table edge and swallowed past the dry blockage in her throat. “I’m only here to help. I’ll run the dive tours until your leg heals.”

“It’s not that simple. I don’t just offer tours now. A lot of my business comes from cage dives. It’s why I bought the bigger boat.”

“Cage dives?”

“A shark cage. See the Stewart Island Great White sharks up close and personal. Loopies love it.”

“Oh, Ben.” Spidery tickles iced down her spine. “Not the sharks.”

“Don’t you go all holier-than-thou on me. While you’ve been up north living the dream I’ve done what I needed to survive.”

Someone brushed against her, and Piper leaned forward.

“’Scuse me.” Smitty’s gap-toothed grin leered above a huge plate of fried fish and chips. “Good to see you again, lass.” He winked and waddled off, stopping at the nearest group of men and muttering, “You fellas mind your own beeswax, ya hear?”

Piper lowered her gaze to the scuffed floor and took a deep breath. Old Smitty was the worst gossip of the lot, and even from his perch in the far corner, she’d bet a month’s wages he’d been eavesdropping.

Liquid glugged into a glass and she looked up. “Thought you didn’t drink that imported crap?”

“I’m not in a position to turn down a free beer when it’s offered.” Ben shifted in his seat and turned his face away to glower at the window.

Outside the wind had picked up, hammering sheets of rain against the glass in a blustery tantrum. She shivered, even though the temperature inside with so many bodies crammed together bordered on suffocating. “Listen, I’ve another idea we can try. When’s your next tour?”

He took a sip of his beer and wrinkled his nose. “Got a shark dive booked this Wednesday—why? You gonna swim with the big fishies, little sis?”

Piper shot him a cocky smile. “I’m meaner than anything that cruises the ocean around here. So what time do we leave?”

“We?” He hacked out a laugh. “There’s no we, Piper. Doc says I’m not allowed on a boat for at least five to six weeks, and I assume you haven’t got a commercial skipper’s license?”

Piper stood, rubbing her protesting thigh muscles with damp palms. License? Ah, no, she hadn’t considered who would skipper Ben’s boat. She just assumed he wouldn’t be able to dive. “No. No license. What about one of your mates?”

“It’s summer. No one has any spare hours to give me.” He reached for the crutches braced on the other side of the table. “I told you, it’s under control. We don’t need you here. Go back to the city.”

She lifted her chin, ignoring the small stab of hurt at the bitterness of his tone. “Not an option. So who’s skippering for you?”

“Me,” a voice grated directly behind her.

Her pulse exploded into chaos, but she controlled the tremble in her muscles as she half turned toward him. “Hello, West.” She moderated her tone so it was chilled with absolute politeness.

His voice remained the same, but the boyishness there at twenty had vanished now West had nearly hit thirty. His shoulders were broader, the cut of his business shirt hinting at the shape of his chest beneath, and his dress pants sat low on lean hips. His dark brown hair, once unkempt in sync with Ben’s, was stylishly trimmed and kept in line by some slick product. Bet the locals gave him hell about that.

Eyes the brittle blue of dried sea coral locked with hers. One assessing look shattered any doubt that he recalled each intense moment spent together when she was eighteen.

Bubbles of old, revived attraction fizzed through her veins, as potentially deadly as nitrogen collecting in her cells during a dive. Those feelings couldn’t be allowed to multiply. A fizz could turn into a trickle, the trickle to a cascade, and the cascade to a torrent. She wouldn’t go through the devastation of purging Ryan Westlake out of her system again.

Fool her once, and all that crap.

 

West smothered a grim smile as he scanned the length of her, from the leather biker jacket, down to black jeans emphasizing a pert ass, to grape-colored combat boots—a touch of pure Piper. Her shoulders stiffened to fence-post straight. So, she remembered more than just the sound of his voice.

Every cutting, snide comment he’d intended to use from the moment Ford had sidled into his office with a grunted, “Piper’s back,” evaporated into sea fog. He swallowed, unable to extract his gaze from her full mouth and creamy skin. Her hair, which in his rare poetic moments he’d thought of as burnished chestnut, should’ve flowed past her shoulders, but instead she’d cut it short, the fine strands curling in the humidity.

“You cut your hair.” Jeez, West, real smooth.

She twisted a lock around her finger, before tucking it behind her ear. “Too many drunks tried to grab me by it.”

He gripped the top of the nearest chair, then noticing his reaction, deliberately relaxed his hand again. What Piper chose to do with her life was irrelevant. “The perils of being a cop.”

Her head swung toward Ben, who clattered and fumbled to get his crutches from behind the table.

West took a step closer, trying to block the faint perfume of her skin from addling his brain even further. “I take it you’ve volunteered to run the diving part of Ben’s business.” The rigid line of her backbone betrayed her tension.

Her arrival and plans to work would solve some of Ben’s issues, but create a whole bunch of new ones for West. Back on the island, Piper became another pain-in-his-ass problem, a reminder of his youthful naivety. “So how does a cop plan to make nice to tourists and handle testosterone-fired guys on a shark cage dive?”

She slapped him with a deadpan stare. “I’ll handle it fine. I know how to deal with pushy, arrogant men.”

Score one for her. “Good for you, but Ben needs a qualified diver on his tours, not a hobbyist—”

“I’m a certified rescue diver and dive instructor. Probably more qualified for this than both of you combined,” she snapped.

West pulled a fast grin before smothering it. Was she now? Color crept up underneath the collar of her jacket, an old telltale sign he’d done a great job of either unsettling her or pissing her off.

“A lot of qualifications for a simple officer of the law. You’ve been busy.”

“Very busy.” She turned to Ben, who had wrestled himself to his feet. “So who was your dive guide before?”

At his sister’s words Ben’s face hardened into a stone mask. He could’ve warned her not to go there.

“No one you know.” Ben’s tone snipped the words into staccato bites. “And they left unexpectedly at the beginning of the season which is why I’m in this mess.”

“Why did—” She paused, eyebrows drawn in a sharp “v” as she stared down a nearby table of snickering girls. Once they’d returned nervously to their drinks she switched her intense gut-clenching gaze back to West. “Can the three of us go to your dad’s office and talk privately?”

“It’s my office now, but sure. After you.” West made a grand sweeping motion toward the bar. “We’ve also a small matter of reimbursement to discuss.”

The idea had popped into his head on a flash of devilish inspiration. If Piper was determined to stay here and make him suffer with her close proximity, he could damn well ensure she was miserable too.

Her jaw dropped. “Reimbursement?”

“Everything has a price, including me.”

Her gaze contained the lash of a stingray’s barb, full of venom and almost as painful. Luckily she didn’t have the ability to hurt him anymore with those beautiful hazel eyes.

Score one for him.

Ben made it across the pub to the polished wood bar before he stopped, leaning heavily on his crutches. “I’m exhausted and my ankle’s throbbing like a bitch. Can’t we hash the details out tomorrow?”

Piper shoved her fists into her leather jacket and sighed. “Go home then. We’ll talk in the morning.”

Ben crutch-hopped to the pub’s front doors. The cunning bastard, playing on Piper’s obvious concern. Pissed as a wet cat at her brother, she still knew when to push and when to leave him the hell alone. Pity that same savvy didn’t apply to him.

West walked ahead down the hallway that led to the restrooms and also connected the pub and restaurant to the kitchen at the building’s rear, not waiting to see if she followed. Flicking open his office door, which was just beyond the restrooms, he strode inside to sit behind his desk. Piper stalked in after him and slammed the door.

She ignored his gesture to sit and leaned against a file cabinet, a relic from when his dad, Bill, worked as Due South’s manager. Probably just as well she didn’t get comfy. He wanted her out before the crazy-good scent and sight of her made him say something stupid. Again.

“You’ve been running tours for Ben since he broke his ankle last week?” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“Only fishing charters and sightseeing.” He shrugged, picking up a pen and clicking the nib down. “We can’t run the cage dives without at least one qualified diver and a skipper aboard.”

“Well, thank you for helping him.”

“You don’t need to thank me, we’re a community here. We have each other’s backs.” He couldn’t keep the bite of acid from searing through his voice.

“I’m sure Mum and Shaye have already thanked you enough.”

“They have.” He consciously relaxed his hands, replacing the pen on his desk. “But the problem is we’re short staffed and there’s only so much Ben can do to take up the slack for me when I’m out on his boat.”

She cocked her head, but remained silent.

“He’s not a manager, I know he hates sitting behind my desk,” West said. “But Shaye moves well between sous chef and the day to day running of the hotel.”

“Shaye’s a smart cookie.”

No mistaking the pride in Piper’s tone over her younger sister.

“We need you to help out.”

“Ah. Kind of a ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’ scenario?”

“You always were a smart cookie.”

Her nose crinkled like she’d smelt something bad. “You want me to wait tables like I did as a teenager?”

“No. We’re trying to keep what customers we have, not scare them away by dumping water jugs over their heads.”

Her eyes widened then narrowed to hard slits. “Hey, that was one time when a revolting old man shoved his hand up my skirt.”

“I didn’t say your reaction wasn’t justified.” He laced his fingers behind his neck and tilted his chair back. “But no. I don’t want you as wait staff. You’re needed in the kitchen—”

“Are you serious? You’ve choked down my attempts at cooking, right?” She pushed off from the file cabinet and paced the short distance to the opposite wall.

For a moment he just watched her, all long legs, stiff spine and bucket-loads of attitude. Gone was the pretty hazel-eyed girl who looked at him like he was every superhero rolled into one. Now she was fifty percent cop, fifty percent stranger.

“I thought you were here for Ben?”

“I am,” she ground out between clenched teeth.

“Then if I’m prepared to reorganize my life to help out, don’t you think scrubbing pots and stacking dishes is a small price to pay?”

She froze halfway back to the file cabinet. “What? I thought you wanted me to help Bill—with prep or something.”

West barked out a laugh and smacked a hand on his desk. “You really think Dad will let you touch anything in his kitchen?”

The tiny darts of her gaze speared him from across the room.

“No. You’re on kitchen-hand duty.” He couldn’t resist adding a tight grin. “Starting tonight since your sister’s already done a full day’s work and is out there now clearing tables.”

“I’ll happily do my share.”

Happier if she could reach across the desk, rip off his arm and beat him to death with it judging by the razor edge in her voice.

“I’ll ring through to the kitchen and let Dad know you’re coming on board. Think you remember the way?”

“I remember.” She spun one-eighty and headed for the door, bristly as a porcupine. He caught a glimpse of her flushed cheek as she stalked from the room and yanked the door shut.

Well, well. Looked like she remembered more than just the layout of Due South after all.

 

 Piper studied the restaurant’s double kitchen doors as if they led to the bowels of hell. And they may well, since she’d agreed to work for the devil himself. She blasted another glare down the short corridor to West’s office and showed heroic restraint by not marching back to lodge her boot right where it would do permanent damage.

“Piper?”

She turned to see her sister coming out of the restaurant’s staff entrance, sagging under a huge tray of dirty dishes, with wisps of long brown hair floating around her face.

“Ohmigod, it really is you. You came!”

“I told you I’d sort something out.” Piper hurried toward her.

“I didn’t think you’d ever come back after, well—” Shaye’s voice trailed off to a whisper and her flush deepened. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Let me get those.” She avoided her sister’s earnest green eyes and hauled the heavy tray out of Shaye’s hands. “I’m gonna be stacking them from now on.”

“What? Why? Ford said you were taking over the dive tours for Ben.”

“Still faster than the speed of light, huh?”

“What is?”

“Gossip.” Piper chuckled and shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. Anyway, I’m the new kitchen-hand. It’s one of West’s conditions for skippering Ben’s boat.” She cocked her hip and prepared to bump the swing doors.

The door jerked open before she made contact. Bill Westlake scowled, his striped chef’s cap askew and a spatula tucked into the band of his apron like a gunslinger’s .44. “Listen you two, the hallway ain’t a place for chit-chat when my meals are getting cold. Shaye, run to table five. Piper, get your skinny backside in here, the pots won’t scrub themselves.” He disappeared back into the kitchen.

“He’s still a grumpy old fella but his bark’s worse than his bite.” Shaye retied her ponytail with deft movements. “I’d better get back to work.”

“Yeah. Buy you a beer later?”

“Long as it isn’t that imported rubbish.”

Piper choked back a laugh. “Oh, for Pete’s sake.”

“One more thing.” Shaye frowned. “What were the other conditions West had for helping us?”

Something in her sister’s tone made Piper squirm. “He didn’t say. But I imagine cleaning the toilets will soon be added to my list of duties.”

“Oh. Is that all?” Shaye sent her an astute look. “Well, thanks. I know being here isn’t easy.”

Piper nodded and nudged the doors open, her stomach once again tangling into snarls.

No one here knew what had happened between her and West just days before her father drowned, did they?

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