Beached in Retribution Bay (ebook)
Beached in Retribution Bay (ebook)
Aussie Heroes: Retribution Bay - Book 5
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She's a by-the-book park ranger. He's more of a cowboy. Will they ever see eye-to-eye?
Newly decommissioned soldier, Sam Hackett has his new life planned out — buy a tour boat, move to Retribution Bay, help his best friend. But his plans are beached when an overzealous park ranger suspends his tour licence on his first day.
Penelope Fraser plays by the rules, because if she bends them, they may break. She’s definitely not going to be swayed by a sexy ex-soldier who tries to convince her otherwise. But her concerns over Sam are forgotten when she catches poachers on the reef, and masses of dead fish wash up on the shore.
The unlikely pair are thrown together and find themselves embroiled in a crime ring which goes far deeper than dead fish.
Can they catch the criminals in time, or will they become the prey?
Beached in Retribution Bay is the fifth book in the Aussie Heroes: Retribution Bay series. If you like outback small towns, opposites attract romances, and intrigue, then you’ll love Sam and Penelope’s story.
Chapter 1 Look Inside
Chapter 1 Look Inside
Sam took one last look around his temporary office. After three months, it had grown familiar, but today represented an ending. Twelve years in the army led to a lot of memories, many of them good ones. He smiled as he picked up the photo of him and his team mates which they’d taken at the end of his last mission. He’d said goodbye to them in a big celebration just before they’d been deployed again. His gut wrenched as he remembered them flying off without him.
“Are you finished?” Major Hammond demanded.
The final lingering look also had the benefit of irritating the major. Sam rolled his eyes before he tucked the photo into his jacket pocket, turned and nodded. He followed the major from the building. The only thing Sam could think that warranted special attention from the man was that he was moving to Retribution Bay where the major’s estranged daughter now lived. Perhaps the major hoped Sam would put a good word in for him. If so, he was dreaming. Not after the way the major had treated Sherlock.
Sam handed over his security pass and then gave one last salute.
The end of an era.
As he drove off the base he slowed as if not wanting to leave. Part of him felt the elation of freedom, the opportunity to do what he wanted, when he wanted, but the other part felt like he’d been switched off life-support and was gasping for air.
The army had been his life since he’d left high school. He’d lived and breathed the rules, the structure, and it had been good for the rebellious eighteen-year-old he’d been. But now he wanted more. Their last mission had been his closest brush with death so far, and it had shaken him. He had other dreams, other goals he’d yet to fulfil, which was why he’d chosen not to sign up for another stint.
Sam drove through Perth towards the rehabilitation hospital where Sherlock currently resided. Arthur ‘Sherlock’ Hammond had been his teammate since the early days and it had taken Sam a while to come to terms with his methodical, structured personality. Hard to blame him when his father was Major Hammond, the most humourless and structured man in the army. Slowly the team had got Sherlock to open up, occasionally joke with them and go out after work. But it happened infrequently, as Sherlock regularly picked up new missions or extra tasks around base. It was one such mission that had landed him in hospital, and medically discharged from the army.
Sherlock wasn’t coping well.
Sam pulled into the parking lot and waved to the receptionist as he walked inside. “G’day, Kylie.”
“Sam, good to see you.” She smiled at him.
Sam walked along the grey corridor lined with noticeboards until he reached Sherlock’s room. Sherlock’s brown hair was a centimetre long, having grown out of the buzz cut since the accident. The dark bruises on his face were gone and most of the scratches from the bomb blast had healed. The plain white T-shirt he wore blended with the bed sheet pulled over his right leg, hiding the missing limb, and he stared out the window, not moving when Sam walked in.
“How’s it going, Sherlock?” Sam asked.
Frustration swelled in Sam. It had been over a month and Sherlock had grown more and more despondent. He’d never been the chattiest person, but now he took silence to a whole other level. Sam wanted a response from him, any kind of reaction to make sure he was still in there somewhere. “It was my last day today,” he said. “No longer in the army, just like you.”
A tiny flinch. Sam ignored the nausea in his stomach at being so mean. The army was the only thing Sherlock had ever known, his one focus, his one passion. It was over now and until Sherlock addressed it, he couldn’t move forward. If that meant ranting and raging at Sam, well, Sam was a big boy, he could take it. “Saw your dad. He accompanied me to my car. Probably wanted to make sure I wasn’t stealing anything.”
Sherlock’s fingers curled.
“He asked how you were doing.”
Sherlock’s head whipped around to stare at him. “Really?” The word was full of incredulity, but underlying it was a glimmer of hope. Sam was an absolute bastard.
“No, not really. I wanted to find out if you were actually listening.”
Sherlock’s eyes went dull and he turned away. No. They’d done it this way every day since the accident. Fed up, Sam grabbed him by the front of his shirt. “Look at me!”
“Why, so I can see how much better you are than me?” The words were bitter, but at least they were words. “You want me to be grateful to you for visiting every day?” Sherlock demanded. “Taking pity on the cripple?”
“You’re not a cripple,” Sam argued. “I’ve seen you walking on the prosthetic. Give it a bit of time and you’ll outrun me again.”
“Don’t be such a dumb ass,” Sam said. “I’m not saying the situation doesn’t suck, but how you deal with it is up to you.”
“You’ve got no idea,” Sherlock yelled, colour in his face for the first time in weeks. “I’ve lost my leg, my career and my father.”
“Your father’s not worth grieving over,” Sam countered. “He’s always been an asshole, using you. But you do have your sister and she wants to see you.”
Sherlock scowled. “I missed her wedding. She’s never gonna want to see me.”
“You might be surprised at how forgiving she is. She married Brandon after all.”
The tiniest hint of a smile crossed his face before Sherlock’s gaze went to the door and his whole expression shut down.
Sam turned. Their shouting had attracted a couple of nurses. At his scowl they scurried away, but it was too late, Sherlock was staring out the window again. Sam huffed, then moved around the other side of the bed so Sherlock had to look at him. His friend was stubborn enough not to turn his head again. “The nurses tell me you’re ready to be discharged,” he said. “Why don’t you come to Retribution Bay? There’s plenty of room at my new place.”
“It’s nicer weather, the ocean’s gorgeous, and you can get away from all your shit for a while.”
Still no response.
Sam sighed. “Think about it. There’s more to life than the army.” He’d had enough for the day. He stood. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He had to finish packing and maybe he’d pissed off Sherlock enough that he would do more than stare at the wall.
He could always hope.
Penelope Fraser wiped over her kitchen table and then thoroughly rinsed the cloth, squeezing it out and hanging it to dry. Her kitchen was spotless, as was the rest of her house. So what was she supposed to do now?
She checked her phone but there were no messages from work calling her in. Damn it.
She wandered through her sparsely furnished rental property. She’d let Gerard keep most of what they’d bought together. She owed him that much. She’d left him and her old inner city apartment far behind. This rental was single storey and built in the seventies, with the tiling to match, but at least that meant it was sturdy after surviving numerous cyclones. She sighed and flopped onto the couch. What was she doing here in Retribution Bay?
After her break-up, it seemed like a good idea to leave everything behind. Gerard had accused her of being a workaholic, obsessing over what needed to be done, and of not caring for him as much as he cared for her. The sad truth was, she now realised he was right on all points. After the accident, work had been her one outlet, her way of proving herself, her penance. She didn’t notice she was withdrawing from her relationship.
And before that, her sea snake research had taken her away for weeks or months at a time. Her partner, Emelia had been so passionate about the creatures, Penelope had barely missed Gerard while she’d been away.
That should have told her something if she’d bothered to consider it, but it had been easier not to.
She squeezed her eyes closed and pushed away the memory.
Six weeks in Retribution Bay wasn’t long enough to give up and run home.
She picked up her e-reader and flicked through the books. “Read it, read it, read it.” The only two left unread were ones she’d started and disliked. After reading only five books last year, she’d expected it would take her a whole lot longer to get through her to-be-read pile.
Perhaps she should sign up at the library. Maybe that would connect her with the community. There’d definitely been no welcome basket and friendly neighbours like she’d seen in so many movies.
To be fair, she had arrived in the middle of tourist season where the town’s population exploded to over twenty thousand. And she’d had coffee with her colleague, Georgie Stokes, a few times, even going on one of the girls’ nights Georgie had organised and meeting the local police officers and some other women around town. It had been nice even if she’d worried about saying the wrong thing. The accident had shattered her confidence in more ways than one.
Penelope sighed. Maybe she should call Georgie and ask if she wanted to go for coffee, but Georgie was in a new relationship and spent a lot of time with Matt. Penelope didn’t want to seem needy. She had tried joining the adult horse-riding classes run by Faith on a Saturday, however she didn’t like horses or the lack of control she felt being on one. She’d only been to one lesson before giving it up. Perhaps she should have given it more of a chance.
It wasn’t as if there weren’t things to do. She lived on the shores of the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef, which meant she had plenty of opportunities to snorkel or scuba dive just offshore. Penelope rubbed the goose bumps on her arms. Maybe not scuba dive.
She had an amazing job at Parks and Wildlife Services, but even that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, not like the twelve-hour days she’d put in with her research. Besides, she was supposed to be slowing down, getting back on track, rediscovering herself and her confidence.
Penelope stood and walked over to the window to look out at the quiet street. Across the road, kids laughed as they played chasey. They had no problems finding something to do.
With a sigh she picked up her knitting project from the coffee table, and stuck a finger through one of the many holes. What a failure. So much for making her best friend, Ceiveon, a blanket for her newborn baby. At the rate she was going, the child would be at high school before she was finished. She would have to unravel it and try again at some stage, but she had no desire today.
Her phone belted out Girls just wanna have fun and she grinned, lunging for it. “I was just thinking about you.”
“How’s the baby blanket going?” Ceiveon asked.
“Liar. Send me a photo.”
Crap. “Ah, the camera on my phone’s not working.”
“That bad, huh? Why don’t you watch some more YouTube videos?”
She grinned at the teasing, happy to hear her friend’s voice. “I think I’ll need a whole twelve-month course.” Penelope sat on the couch, pushing away the pile of knitting, and settled in for a chat. “What are you up to?”
“About to head out to lunch with Alex’s parents,” she said. “I had two hours’ sleep last night, Taris just vomited over her new dress and I feel like the worst mother in the world. Alex told me to call you while he changed Taris.”
Penelope smiled. “Glad he’s taking care of you.”
“He’s the best,” Ceiveon agreed. “Now tell me I’m a good mother.”
“You’re the best mother. I bet you drove a hundred laps of Perth to get Taris to sleep.”
“Two hundred,” Ceiveon replied. “I had to fill up with fuel.”
Penelope laughed. “Maybe I should have stayed there instead of moving to Retribution Bay. I could have helped you.”
“It’s nicer diving up there.”
Penelope stiffened. She hadn’t done any diving since the incident, Ceiveon knew that.
“How’s the job going?” Ceiveon continued.
She exhaled and shook off the tension. “It’s good. Different. Not quite so focused.” The sea snakes had always been Emelia’s passion more than Penelope’s.
“Great. Any handsome guys?”
Penelope rolled her eyes. “I’m not looking for handsome men—or any men,” she added, knowing how her friend would respond. “If Gerard couldn’t handle the way I changed, no one is going to.”
“Gerard was an idiot. I always told you he was too self-absorbed. He liked being with the scientist not the woman.”
Ceiveon might have been right, not that Penelope wanted to admit it.
Voices in the background. “Taris is ready to go,” Ceiveon said.
“You are an amazing mother,” Penelope said. “Ignore any comments your in-laws make. You look so put-together, they won’t even know you’ve barely slept.”
“You haven’t seen me.”
“But I know you,” Penelope argued. “You’ve got this. You have a beautiful baby, a husband who adores you, and a best friend who’s got your back.”
Ceiveon chuckled. “Thanks, Penelope. Gotta go. Love you.”
“Love you too.” She hung up and stared at the baby blanket. Ceiveon would be amazed if she received a beautiful baby’s blanket in the mail. Maybe she could buy one… no, it had to come from her, no matter what it looked like.
With renewed enthusiasm she ran a hand over the soft ball of multi-coloured yarn and then picked up the knitting needles. It took a couple of attempts to hold the needles correctly and then insert her needle into the first stitch. It was tight with almost not enough space for the needle, but she did one stitch, and then another. Just as she was feeling like she was getting somewhere, she dropped a stitch. Crap. She flinched, which only unravelled the knitting further, causing a line through the ten-centimetre blanket.
Penelope closed her eyes, frustration battering her. Perhaps it wasn’t as bad as she thought. When she opened them, it appeared even worse. There was no question about it. She would have to start again. But not now. Ceiveon would have to wait. She put the knitting back on the coffee table and scanned the room for something else to do.
This was ridiculous. She was a grown woman in her early thirties. Surely she could amuse herself. She could handle not working every second of the day. She’d moved here for a change of pace. Unfortunately, instead of the second gear she’d hoped for, she was idling in neutral.
Maybe she should go for a jog. It wasn’t quite midday yet but it wasn’t too hot. While she was out, she could go past the community noticeboard and check whether there were any knitting groups, or she could drop into the library and enquire there. She was clearly not getting this blanket done without a lot of help.
Penelope threaded her curly red ponytail through the back of her baseball cap, grabbed her sunglasses, and headed out. She’d jogged every street in town over the past six weeks. Today she headed for the marina. The development was fairly new, and it was the type of area she’d like to live in. The townhouses were a reasonable size and the water was right outside the back door. She could buy a boat and set out on an adventure any time she wanted to.
If she stayed.
And that was a big if. The quiet of the small town, the fewer drains on her time, the lack of family and friends were all things she had to learn to live with. She could admit to fewer headaches, the constant tension in her shoulders was now gone, and she’d had only one anxiety attack since she’d arrived, so that was something. Her new job as park ranger had her out and being active as well, rather than in an office doing paperwork, which is where she’d been relegated after the incident.
She’d promised Ceiveon she’d give it six months before she’d decide either way.
By the time she reached the marina, she wished she’d brought a bottle of water with her. The sun was hotter than she’d expected and sweat dripped down the back of her shirt. A big removal truck was parked out the front of one townhouse and two large men were hauling a bed frame inside. Someone new was in town. Would they be a permanent resident, or was this a holiday place for some rich city person?
It was then the blue hair of a woman coming out of the house caught her attention. Georgie. She hadn’t mentioned she was moving.
Penelope raised her hand in a wave. “Georgie!”
Georgie spotted her and grinned. “Hey, Pen. What brings you here?”
Penelope smiled at the casual nickname. No one had ever shortened Penelope. Her mother wouldn’t have stood for it when she was a child, and she’d got into the habit of automatically correcting people.
“I was going to ask you the same thing. You didn’t mention you were moving.”
Georgie laughed. “Not me. Matt and I can’t afford a place like this yet. It’s for a friend, Sam. I mentioned he’d bought Rob’s tour boat, right?”
“Yeah.” She recalled the conversation about Georgie’s brother’s best friend moving up and taking over Faith’s father’s whale shark tour business. She was still getting used to the idea that everybody knew or was related to everybody in this town.
“You look hot,” Georgie said. “Want a drink?”
Penelope glanced behind Georgie. “I don’t want to interrupt.”
Georgie grinned. “Please, interrupt. I’ve been hauling boxes all morning.”
Penelope laughed. “Well, as long as no one minds, I could do with a drink.”
“Take this.” Georgie handed her a box from the truck and then grabbed another one. “This way.” The town house was modern and bright, with pale tiles and light walls. From upstairs, the sounds of grunts and curses could be heard. Georgie laughed as she placed her box on the pile against one side of the main living area. “They’re dealing with the bed.”
Penelope placed her box next to it. “Is Matt with you?”
“No, he had work on the farm. Brandon and Sam are up there and Amy’s around here somewhere.”
At that moment Brandon’s wife, Amy, came in from one of the downstairs rooms. Penelope had met her at the girls’ night. “I thought I heard voices. Nice to see you again, Pen.”
Penelope smiled. “Likewise. I was walking past and saw Georgie.”
“Don’t stay long unless you want to get roped in,” Amy said.
Penelope glanced around. “I’m happy to help if you need it.” It would give her something to do. She’d enjoyed unpacking from her move and making sure everything had its place.
Georgie took a glass from the box on the bench and filled it with water, then handed it to Penelope. “We’re almost done, and I’m sure you’ve got better things to do with your day than helping to unpack.”
Penelope took a sip of water so she didn’t respond in the negative. How sad was it that she had nothing better to do?
Footsteps thumped down the stairs and two large men entered the room. Penelope hadn’t met Brandon, but she’d seen a photo at Georgie’s place, so she recognised the dark-haired man immediately. The other man though… Her hand clenched around the glass as she stared at him. He was slightly taller than Brandon and wore a tank top and board shorts, topping the beach look with a pair of thongs. Who wore thongs when moving furniture? The thought was fleeting as her gaze moved up his muscled body to his face. His short strawberry blond hair was mussed as if he’d just run his hand through it, and his eyes were a blue that reminded her of the clear ocean on the reef.
The man glanced at Georgie. “You inviting people to my house already?” The smile followed a beat too long after the words.
Penelope took a step back, mortified. What was she doing here? She placed the glass on the bench, debating whether she should wash it, and decided it would be better just to get out of there. “My apologies. I didn’t mean to intrude.” She moved towards the door. “Georgie was kind enough to offer me a drink. It’s hot today.” With her cheeks burning, she rushed out of the town house, ignoring Georgie’s call for her to come back. She never would have entered someone’s house without an invitation from the owner in Perth. She should have known not everybody was as welcoming as Georgie.
“Pen, wait up.” Georgie grabbed her arm as she reached the road.
Penelope slowed, but she didn’t stop.
“Sam was joking,” Georgie said.
She doubted it, but she forced a smile. “I know. I needed to go anyway, things to do.” Yeah right. If only. Then she realised she’d offered to help unpack, so Georgie knew it was a lie. At least she didn’t call Penelope on it.
“Do you want to do brunch tomorrow?” Georgie asked.
Penelope frowned. “With you and Matt?”
Georgie shook her head. “No, just the two of us. It’s been a while since we caught up outside of work.”
That would be a way to kill a couple of hours, and Penelope enjoyed spending time with the younger woman. She relaxed a little. “Yeah, that would be nice.”
“How about nine-thirty at Ningaloo Cafe?”
Penelope nodded. “See you then.” She waved as Georgie turned to go. Behind her, Sam stood in the doorway of his house. He lifted a hand in a wave.
The mortification flooded back, and Penelope nodded and scurried away.