Wrecked in Retribution Bay (ebook)
Wrecked in Retribution Bay (ebook)
Aussie Heroes: Retribution Bay - Book 7
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She needs to stop a crime syndicate. He wants to investigate the new shipwreck. However as their paths collide and secrets are uncovered, their future may depend on them trusting one another.
Sergeant Dot Campbell is having a terrible week. Her best friend is missing, and she’s exhausted trying to stop the crime consortium, Stonefish Enterprises from wreaking more havoc on her coastal town. The last thing she needs is for the man who shattered her heart ten years ago to waltz into town.
Oliver Anderson is ecstatic to work on a recently discovered shipwreck in Retribution Bay. The deal is sweetened with the opportunity to see Dot again, and finally put the ghost of their relationship behind him. However the moment he runs into his first love, his determination to put her in the past falters.
With rumours about the shipwreck spreading and treasure hunters closing in, Dot is forced to work with Oliver to protect the significant historical find. She can’t allow old feelings to surface and make her vulnerable again. Especially as Stonefish might be behind Oliver’s reappearance in her life.
As Oliver uncovers more recent secrets of the sea, he can’t escape the memory of the love he left behind. Can he navigate the murky waters of the past and convince Dot to give him a second chance before Stonefish strikes again?
Wrecked in Retribution Bay is the penultimate book in the Aussie Heroes: Retribution Bay series. Dive into this thrilling tale of love and redemption where nothing is quite as it seems, and trust is more valuable than treasure.
Buy Wrecked in Retribution Bay and enjoy this heart-wrenching second-chance romance today.
Chapter 1 Look Inside
Chapter 1 Look Inside
“You’ll regret arresting me.”
Sergeant Dot Campbell stared coolly at the short, tattooed man in handcuffs next to her. Kurt Webb’s threats were nothing she hadn’t heard before, though this man was further up the chain of the Stonefish crime syndicate than others she’d arrested. Maybe he had more sway, but right now she was too exhausted to care. Battling back her urge to collapse into the nearest seat, she turned to the officer in charge at the Carnarvon Police Station. “Do you need anything else from me?”
He shook his head. “We’ll take it from here.”
Dot nodded and walked outside, taking a deep breath of the warm afternoon air as she slid on her sunglasses. It did nothing to clear the heaviness in her eyes, or the fog from her brain.
What a day.
She tugged at her black hair, the fact that she could reminding her that she was overdue a haircut. It was no longer pixie short, more reminiscent of a messy yeti, and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a day off. She sighed as she checked her messages. They’d found the two boys Kurt had kidnapped, doctors had assessed both and the boys were safe at home. No news on her friend, Senior Constable Nhiari Roe, though. She’d taken a suspect into custody and Lee had overpowered her and take her hostage. Guilt filled Dot. She should have been with Nhiari, should have never let her go off with only civilians as backup. It didn’t matter that two of those civilians were ex-military.
Dot’s friend Georgie swore Lee was on their side, but Dot wasn’t convinced. Search and rescue were already mobilising to start the search of the ranges for Nhiari at first light tomorrow.
When would this end?
It had been six months of madness; sabotage, kidnapping, animal smuggling, poaching, and murder. What would be next? Frustration gnawed at her as she climbed into the police car. They had nothing but a name—Stonefish Enterprises. No one person to pin this on. Every time they got close, their lead was killed or disappeared. Stonefish was making a mockery of her and her town.
They hadn’t even apprehended the schoolteacher, Miss Simpson, who had hidden the fact that the boys had been kidnapped.
Maybe Dot had been away from the city too long. She’d honed her skills razor sharp there. She had hated living in Perth, but it had made her a damned good cop.
Or at least she’d thought it had.
Dot drove to the petrol station, which was on her way out of town. The three-hour drive back to Retribution Bay would give her plenty of thinking time. Perhaps she’d come up with something she had missed.
After she paid for her fuel and a corn jack to keep the hunger at bay, she headed outside. Waiting in line behind her police car were two more cars; a small, white hatchback, and behind it, a large four-wheel drive. Dot made eye contact with the driver of the hatchback, her hand raised in apology for the delay, and met the startled, wide-eyes of Myra Simpson.
Dot smiled. Finally, something had gone right today.
She strode around to the driver’s side window and waited for Myra to lower it. “Afternoon, Miss Simpson. Going somewhere?”
Myra swallowed audibly, her brown ponytail bobbing. “Ah, yeah. Just got news my mother is ill in hospital.” She dabbed at her mascara-smeared eyes.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Which hospital?”
“Ah, Royal Perth.”
“You’re driving all the way to Perth tonight?”
“Surely it would be quicker if you waited for the early morning flight.”
“I, ah, couldn’t get a ticket.”
Lie. When Dot had been to the airport yesterday to check on the supplies being flown in, someone had mentioned people had been cancelling their tickets to deal with the aftermath of the late season storm which had significantly damaged the town. “I need you to come to the station for questioning.”
Dot raised an eyebrow and Myra’s hands clenched the steering wheel, her gaze darting around, looking for an escape. Dot resisted reaching in and turning off the car. “We need to discuss what happened with your students, Jordan and Cody.”
Myra slumped back in her seat. “All right.” She seemed to have already forgotten about her sick mother.
The four-wheel drive behind them reversed, ready to move into the bay alongside, tired of waiting. Shit. “Pass me your keys.”
Myra hadn’t noticed the clear escape route behind her. She handed over the keys, and Dot exhaled as the cool metal hit her palm. “We’ll take my car.” She stood blocking the escape route behind them, but Myra could still choose to run for it. Not that there was anywhere to run to. Bush surrounded the petrol station and Myra wasn’t dressed for a sprint, still wearing the skirt, blouse and small heels she’d worn to school that morning.
Dot’s muscles tensed as Myra climbed out and walked to the police car. Dot opened the back door. “Hop in.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“No.” Not yet, but it was likely she’d be arrested for aiding and abetting.
When Myra was inside, Dot moved Myra’s car to a parking spot. She called the Retribution Bay station, but as Constable Colin Lipscombe answered, she had misgivings about telling him she’d found Myra. “Colin, can you track down Myra Simpson’s parents? They might be able to contact her.”
“Run a check on her as well. I want to know anything you find.”
Dot hung up and stared at the phone, unease filling her. This case had her seeing conspiracies all over the place and she hated it. She tugged at her hair. Her colleagues would find out she’d caught Myra soon enough, but she wanted to see what information they revealed. For the past month, she’d wondered whether perhaps there was a leak in her station. They’d missed too many opportunities for it to be a coincidence.
She drove back to the Carnarvon police station, and it wasn’t long before she was sitting in a plain, grey interview room with Myra, the plastic chair hard and uncomfortable. The young woman brushed wisps of her brown hair behind her ears and then clenched her hands together and sat straight, determination in her gaze as if she’d come up with a plan. “Why do you need to speak to me?”
Dot wanted to roll her eyes. This was how Myra wanted to play it? She pressed record on the recording machine and explained who was in the room and what was going to occur. “Two children from your class were kidnapped from school today. Why don’t you tell me what happened?”
“I didn’t kidnap them.”
“No, but I need to know what happened at the school. When did you discover they were missing?” She clicked her pen, ready to take notes.
“After lunch, when they didn’t come back to class.”
“None of the children mentioned it to you?”
Myra shifted in her chair. “The children had been talking nonsense about buried treasure all morning.”
Shit. One more headache she didn’t need. “What were they saying?”
“Natasha claimed Jordan had found buried treasure and was showing off a fake gold coin.”
Dot had had misgivings when she’d heard the children had seen the treasure. “Did you see the coin?”
“I confiscated it.”
Interesting. “And where is the coin now?”
Myra’s gaze shifted to the wall. “At the school.”
“Where exactly? I’ll get one of my officers to collect it for evidence.”
Her eyes flared briefly. “I think I left it in my desk drawer. In all the excitement, I don’t recall.”
Dot jotted a note to get Colin to check. She’d bet the coin was somewhere in Myra Simpson’s car.
“None of the children told you Jordan and Cody had been taken from the school?”
Myra blinked at the change of topic. “No.”
“Not even Lara Stokes?”
She glanced at Dot as if trying to figure out what she knew. “Lara has a fanciful imagination.”
That was a non-answer. “So she did mention it to you?”
“She might have.”
Dot flicked back a few pages in her notebook. “Lara says the moment the boys were taken, she ran to tell you, but you wouldn’t believe her.”
“The children had been pretending to be pirates all morning. I thought it was part of their games.”
“Does Lara normally lie about things?”
Myra ran her hands down her top, flattening out any wrinkles. “She is a wonderful storyteller.”
Dot smiled. “Does she lie?”
Myra pressed her lips together and Dot tried another tack. “How long have you known Kurt Webb?”
“A few weeks.” It took a split second for Myra to realise what she’d done. Her mouth dropped open and her skin paled.
Caught you. Satisfaction filled Dot. “Tell me about your relationship.”
“That’s none of your business.”
“It is my business when he kidnaps two boys, and it appears you helped him. That makes you an accessory, Miss Simpson, which, if convicted, would see you going to gaol for ten years.”
Myra hesitated for a moment before she whispered, “He has a right to see his son.”
Her voice carried very little conviction. Interesting. “What did he tell you?”
Myra stared at the table, running her fingers along a scratch in the vinyl. “Gretchen took Jordan away years ago and he only just tracked them down.” Her gaze was fixed on the table.
The woman would never win an Oscar. “What did he threaten you with?”
Her fearful gaze darted to Dot’s face. “What?”
“You don’t strike me as the type of person who would put her students in danger, and you don’t appear to be a woman in love. Am I wrong?”
Myra shook her head and picked at her cuticles.
“I can’t help you if you don’t tell me.”
“You said I’m going to gaol.” She glanced up, her eyes full of tears.
“We may be able to avoid it, but I need you to be honest with me.” Dot layered sympathy into her tone, though right now she just wanted answers, so she could get home. There was so much paperwork she still had to do.
Myra stared at Dot for a long moment. “What do you need to know?”
“How did you meet Kurt?”
“It was at the brewery a few weeks ago. He tried to chat me up.”
“Did it work?”
She shook her head. “There was something kind of intense about him. It creeped me out.”
“What did he do then?”
“He said he knew… something about me, and if I didn’t do as he asked, he’d make sure everyone knew.”
Dot filed that away to ask about later. “What did he ask you to do?”
“Initially, he wanted to know about Lara Stokes, what she said in class, if she talked about her family. It didn’t seem like a big deal.”
“How often did you have to report to him?”
“Daily, but there wasn’t much to say.”
Dot nodded with encouragement. “Then what happened?”
“Last week he added Jordan to the list, as well as Cody and Mischa—Jordan’s and Lara’s best friends.”
“Did he say why?”
“I didn’t ask. It wasn’t an issue until I heard Jordan whispering about treasure to Mischa.”
“You told Kurt?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t think it was true until he got demanding. Wanted me to talk about shipwrecks in the area during class and report on what they said.”
Dot held her pen over the notepad. “When was this?”
“Tuesday. Then there was the storm on Wednesday and school didn’t go back until today.”
“What happened today?”
“Jordan brought the coin to school. I rang Kurt at recess. I thought the information about the coin would be enough to make him go away. I didn’t think he would take the boys.” She leaned forward, eyes wide, pleading for Dot to understand.
“What did Kurt say?”
“That whatever happened, I shouldn’t call the police, or he would tell everyone.”
Dot raised an eyebrow.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what to do.”
“Then what happened?”
“I returned to class. At the beginning of lunch Lara came to me and said Jordan and Cody had been taken by a man that fit Kurt’s description.”
Dot waited for Myra to continue.
She was silent for a long moment and then she said, “I told her not to tell lies.”
“But you believed her?”
Myra hesitated and then nodded, her shoulders hunching.
Dot’s grip tightened on the pen but she kept her tone light. “And then?”
“She got upset. Wanted to find another teacher to speak to, but I wouldn’t let her. Kurt would have ruined my life if I had. When the bell rang, I told the principal the boys hadn’t returned.”
“So you gave Kurt a thirty-minute head-start.”
“What was Kurt blackmailing you with?” What could be so bad that she would risk the lives of two ten-year-old boys?
“I’d rather not say.”
“Without the full details, I can’t do you a deal.” Dot let that sit with her a moment before she asked, “After telling the principal, what did you do?”
“The principal asked me to ring Gretchen and ask her if Jordan was with her.”
“What did she say?” Dot knew what had happened from speaking with Gretchen earlier, but it would be interesting to see what Myra disclosed.
“She told me to call the police and asked to speak to Lara.” Myra shrugged. “I didn’t want to put Lara on, but Gretchen insisted.”
Dot waited for her to continue.
“Lara told her everything, then she handed the phone back.”
“What did Gretchen say to you?”
“She said Kurt was coming down the street. She gave me his licence plate number and told me to call the police.”
“And did you?”
She shook her head.
“Sorry, can you speak your answer so the machine can record it?”
“So even after two explicit pleas for help, you did nothing?” This woman was a piece of work. “Tell me what Kurt had on you.”
“Without any justification for your actions, no judge will be lenient with you. You wilfully endangered two children and then hindered their rescue. That’s accessory to kidnapping, hampering a police investigation, child endangerment. You’ll be lucky if ten years is all you get.”
Tears streamed down Myra’s face, but Dot wouldn’t let it sway her from getting the answers she needed. She leaned back, crossed her arms, and waited.
The clock ticked relentlessly. Myra sobbed and sniffed, and still Dot waited.
Dot’s phone buzzed. Can’t track down parents. Myra has little background information.
Interesting. “Your mother isn’t in hospital, is she?”
Myra shook her head.
“Where were you planning to go?”
“I don’t know. I panicked. After school, I packed some stuff and left.”
“What were you scared of?”
“Being exposed. Being arrested. Being killed.”
“Was your life threatened?”
“Kurt said bad things happened to people who crossed him.”
They weren’t getting anywhere. “When did you move to Retribution Bay?”
“January before the school term started.”
“Where did you work before?”
Myra flinched. “Ah…I took some time off last year and travelled.”
Dot stood. “I’ll be back in a minute.” It would give Myra time to stew, and Dot’s police senses were tingling. Whatever Kurt had over Myra had happened last year. The officer at the desk looked up. “You finished?”
Dot shook her head. “There’ll be one more in the lock up tonight, but I need to ensure Kurt Webb doesn’t see her.”
The man nodded. “We can arrange that. What else do you need?”
“A computer. I need to search for a couple of things.”
“This way. Some of the guys have gone home.”
Dot started by calling Colin. “What have you found on Myra?”
“She’s got no social media presence and the only mention of her online is on the school website.”
Very few people weren’t on social media. “Keep looking.” She searched for teacher scandal and then added Australia when the results were too broad. Far too many results still, but she opened a dozen windows to see what they were about. She closed any relating to men or incidents over five years ago. The last link contained the headline, Graduate teacher fired for sleeping with student. The photo of the female teacher had been taken from a social media site and Dot nearly closed it, but something in the woman’s eyes grabbed her. She enlarged it and visualised the woman with brown hair instead of blonde, a smaller nose, higher cheekbones, and larger breasts. It could be Myra Simpson. Stonefish had the resources to change a person’s identity.
Dot typed the teacher’s name into the police database and discovered she had skipped bail and hadn’t been seen for almost twelve months. She printed the photo and then returned to the interview room. Myra straightened her spine but didn’t look at Dot.
“Do you have anything you want to add to your statement?” Dot asked.
Dot compared the photo with the woman in front of her. Same hairline and skin tone, same jaw and lips, same eyes. When they fingerprinted her, they would get confirmation, but Dot was already convinced. “You must love teaching.”
Myra frowned. “I do. It’s my life’s work.”
“Why come back to Australia then? Why not work overseas?”
“My family is all here.”
Not a strong enough motivation. She’d know the police would watch her parents, waiting for her to contact them. “Stonefish ordered you here, didn’t they?”
She jerked at the name. “How—” She stared at Dot.
“Courtney, you need to tell me everything you know about Stonefish.”
Myra gasped at the use of her real name and then buried her head in her arms and cried.
It was almost nine o’clock before Dot left the Carnarvon police station. She’d considered spending the night in Carnarvon, but she wanted to be on hand when the search for Nhiari started tomorrow. It was pitch black after leaving the town’s outskirts and she put her high beams on to give herself more field of vision. The last thing she needed was to hit a kangaroo.
Fatigue pummelled her, and all she wanted to do was pull over at the next rest stop, but she kept going. She had to process the information Myra/Courtney had given her after she’d realised Dot knew everything.
She wound down the window and let the cool air flow over her face.
Courtney had had an affair with a year twelve student. When it had been exposed, the boy’s parents had been out for blood and Courtney had gone to a friend who could help her. In a matter of days, she had a fake passport and had travelled to Thailand to get plastic surgery.
When questioned about what she had to promise in return, Courtney said Stonefish had told her they liked helping people in need. She’d been too desperate to question it further.
So Courtney had changed her appearance, adopted the name of Myra Simpson and spent a year abroad while Stonefish had cemented her identity back in Australia. She kept swearing she’d done nothing wrong, that the relationship had been consensual, and she shouldn’t be punished for it.
Others Dot had come across who had been ensnared by Stonefish had been trapped trying to protect loved ones; Courtney was in it for self-gain. Much like Mark had been.
Dot ignored the dual stabs of guilt and grief at the thought of her brother. In the two months since his death, she still couldn’t shake the idea that she should have known, should have made more of an effort to find out what he was up to. Should have supported him better.
She exhaled and focused back on the road, slowing as eyes glowed on the side. The kangaroo watched her drive past but didn’t move.
Stonefish had arranged Myra’s job in Retribution Bay. She’d been told she needed to keep a low profile before she moved back to a city to resume her life. A punishment in her eyes. Then Kurt had started his demands, and she’d realised how trapped she was.
She wouldn’t be teaching again any time soon.
Dot sighed. Stonefish had contacts everywhere; Parks and Wildlife, the school, all over Australia and Singapore. How had they stayed under the radar for so long? The organised crime division had taken all the information Dot fed them but didn’t have people to spare to go to Retribution Bay. They were building a case with her data.
She turned the air-conditioning to high, hoping the air would help to refresh her.
Almost everything centred on Retribution Bay. Even if Stonefish were an international organisation, they had to have people based in town. She’d arrested Declan, the manager of Parks and Wildlife, over a month ago, but he refused to cooperate. His fear for his family was very real, and though Dot had offered to get them protection, Declan was unconvinced it would be enough.
Stonefish definitely had contacts in the police. She had known that for a few months, but she hadn’t known how widespread it was.
When she got home, she’d go through her mind map of those involved again, try to spot a connection somewhere. It had eluded her and Nhiari so far, despite the number of hours they’d spent on it.
Movement to the side caused Dot to slam on the brakes as half a dozen goats ran across the road. She narrowly missed the last one and took a moment for her heart rate to settle before she accelerated again. The feral nuisances had caused many an accident. Thankfully she hadn’t added to their tally tonight.
Pushing aside Stonefish for the moment, she concentrated on the road ahead, scanning the sides for movement, or glowing eyes. The number of dead carcasses on the side of the road attested to how dangerous this stretch could be, especially at night when the animals searched for food.
She passed the turn off to Retribution Ridge, her friends’ sheep station, and exhaled. Not too long now.
Just up ahead, her headlights illuminated a minivan on the side of the road. She slowed as a person moved onto the road, waving their hands.
Dot assessed the situation as she pulled to a stop behind the van. A couple of twenty-something males were sitting on the dirt outside the car, one who looked to have Indian heritage and the other south-east Asian, and at least one other person was inside. She checked her gun was in place and radioed dispatch. “A minivan appears to be in trouble about sixty ks south of Retribution Bay. Getting out now to check the situation.”
She kept her headlights on as she stepped out of the car. They looked like a group of uni students on a road trip, but why they’d be heading to Retribution Bay at the end of the season when the weather really heated up was beyond her. The male who had waved her down jogged over. His T-shirt had an image of Columbus on it, and his skinny jeans, canvas shoes and shaggy hair reminded her of her first years in Perth when she was that age. Freedom, independence, first love. Her gut clenched, but she forced a smile. “Run into some trouble?”
“Hit a ’roo. Destroyed the front of the van. We thought we’d be stuck out here all night. There’s no reception.”
She walked over to examine the car. Sure enough, the van had been caved in, and the bonnet had lifted, showing significant damage. “Anyone injured?”
“No, we’re fine. Our lecturer is walking to town to get help. He thought he might get phone reception closer to town.”
Not for at least another fifty kilometres, but he might catch the attention of a pack of dingoes who roamed the area. A sole person in the middle of the night was enticing. “When did he leave?”
“About an hour ago.”
Shit. “How many of you are there?”
They’d fit in her car, but the lecturer wouldn’t, unless he sat in the prisoner section of the paddy wagon. “All right. Lock up the van and I’ll take you into town. We can get a tow truck out to get the van in the morning.”
The man shook his head. “Our lecturer told us not to leave it. It’s got valuable equipment in it. We’re researchers, come to do work on the new wreck discovered in the gulf.”
Maritime archaeologists just like Oliver, the man who’d broken her heart. The thought made Dot’s thin thread of patience even weaker, and she held onto it with both hands. “It’s almost midnight. You’re in the middle of nowhere. No one has come along in the past hour—”
“He said he’d sack us if we left it,” the man interrupted.
The lecturer sounded like an idiot, probably one of the musty, old academics who were brilliant but lacked an ounce of common sense. Hopefully she wouldn’t have to deal with him, but she felt sorry for her friend, Sam, who had been contracted to take the researchers to the wreck site on his boat.
But thinking of Sam gave her an idea.
She radioed dispatch. “Can you contact John and ask if he can tow a Kia Carnival into town? Also contact Sam Hackett and tell him to bring his tour bus to pick these guys up. They’re in town to dive the new wreck. If Sam complains, tell him he owes me.”
She doubted Sam would complain. He was a decent guy. She turned to the student. “What’s your name?”
“Where did the kangaroo go?”
The man raised his eyebrows and gestured to the bush on the other side of the road. “That way.”
“Gather your friends and see if you can find it, but don’t approach it if you do.”
“Because it’s probably injured. Kangaroos can bound away from an accident, only to collapse later. And if the kangaroo is female and carrying a joey, then the joey will die as well.”
She walked over to the police car and took out a road lantern, placing it on the bonnet of the van. “Use your phone torches and don’t lose sight of the lantern. I don’t want to have to send a search party for you. Stay in teams of two. I’ll go pick up your lecturer.”
Two other men and a woman joined Tom on the road. “Isn’t it dangerous out there?” asked the man who had a moustache like from a bad seventies porno film.
“Stamping your feet will scare away any snakes but watch where you tread. If the kangaroo is hurt, it won’t have made it more than a hundred metres. If you find it, don’t approach it. I’ll deal with it when I return.”
She hoped if they found it, it was already dead. She didn’t want to put a bullet in it.
With reluctant agreement, the students spread out.
As Dot got back into her car, her radio squawked. “Tow truck and Sam are on their way.”
“Copy.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Another two hours and she should be able to crawl into bed, as long as nothing else went wrong. She accelerated away, keeping her speed low as she scanned the road for the lecturer. In an hour, he couldn’t have gone more than about five kilometres, unless he ran marathons in his spare time. All of Oliver’s university lecturers had been old and mentally sharp, but rather flabby in places.
She sighed. The discovery of the new shipwreck had uncovered a million memories she’d done her best to bury forever.
Ahead, a figure appeared in her light beams. Not old, grey and chubby. No, the man who turned as she slowed had strawberry blond hair, a fit swimmer’s build, and a smile that had once made her feel as if she was the most important person in the world.
The Fates were really messing with her today.
Of all the thousands of empty hectares of land in the country, he had to walk into hers.