Smoke on the Water Episode 1

Chapter 1: Hoyt

“You’re going to regret this.”

I ignored the warning in my brother Drew’s voice and grinned at the keys I now held to the two-story shingle-style house that was all mine. Or would be in another thirty years, when I finished making all the payments to the bank. “It’s going to be great.”

“I can’t believe you bought it without doing more than a video tour.”

“There’s not that much on the market in my price range. If I wanted to close as soon as I got back on-island, I had to move quickly or risk being forced to move back in with Mom and Dad while I looked.” While I loved my parents, after five years away, the last thing I needed was my well-intentioned mom smothering me now that I was home. So I’d come straight from the ferry to the lawyer’s office to sign the closing paperwork.

“If you think buying that house is gonna keep Mom out of your business, you’re sorely mistaken. It’s a shithole, Hoyt.”

“I concede it looks kinda rough.” Something I’d willfully overlooked when the realtor had sent me pictures while I was still in Raleigh. “But it’s got good bones. That kind of golden-age construction is worth preserving.”

“It’s a duplex. Are you planning on adding landlord as a secondary occupation?”

“No. I’m gonna turn it back into a single-family home.” It was why I’d come back to Sutter’s Ferry and Hatterwick. To sink some roots and start a family. Even though I hadn’t actually found the woman yet. I figured by the time I was done working on the house, she’d have turned up, and I’d be ready. “I don’t mind living in a construction zone, and with my 24-on, 48-off schedule, I ought to be able to do a solid amount of work on it. No way would I have been able to get that much square footage that close to the ocean without going for a fixer-upper. I was lucky to get this one, as is. The other interested party wanted to tear it down and build something else.” Probably more of the mega-mansions that were popping up like mushrooms around the island as Mother Nature cleared the way and locals lost out to mainland investors who had more capital to sink into such a project.

“I’m not sure whoever that was had the wrong idea. But if it makes you happy, who am I to judge?” Drew clapped me on the shoulder. “C’mon. Let’s get a celebratory drink. With that albatross, I suspect you’re gonna need one.”

“You buying?”

He heaved a put-upon sigh, but I didn’t miss the twinkle in his blue eyes. “I mean, since you just sank everything you have into a house, I guess I am.”

I swung an arm around shoulders that I’d swear had doubled in width since I left the island five years ago. “Good of you, little bro.”

We piled into my truck to make the drive across town from the lawyer’s office to the tavern. Nothing on Hatterwick was far, as the entire island was only thirteen miles long and less than three miles at its widest point. The only actual town was the village of Sutter’s Ferry, so named for the one way on or off the island. That ferry had been running for more than a hundred and fifty years, though it was no longer a Sutter at the helm, which many said was a damned shame. The heiress of that founding family had married some stuffed-shirt muckity-muck the third, who believed he was above the hard work of manual labor. But the senior Sutters still lived in the big house at the north end of the island. So far as I knew, they were still doing their best to support the island economy, such as it was. That had meant adding additional ferry service to nearby Ocracoke to bring in the tourists more easily. Apparently it had worked, because those tourist dollars had allowed the fire department to expand enough to hire me.

I’d been back to Hatterwick a couple times a year for family holidays, but those trips had been fast and focused on home. This was the first time I’d actually paid attention to the changes in the village. On the way through town proper, I spotted a sign at Hook, Line and Sinker, the fishing supply shop, announcing jet skis and paddleboat rentals. Beyond that, a shiny new sign announced the Pelican Point Beach Bistro and Bar, which had still been a construction site when I’d been back at Christmas. There was no sign anywhere of the unresolved tragedy that had shaken the bedrock of the community two years before. Pedestrian traffic filled the sidewalks, moving in and out of assorted boutique gift shops, and there were definitely more vehicles congesting the roads than those of the locals. But it wasn’t until I wheeled into the parking lot of the Tidewater Tavern and spotted a sign announcing OBX Brew House that I finally voiced the general “What the fuck?” that had been simmering in the back of my brain.

“Don’t worry. Ed still owns the place. But Bree convinced him to rename it and do a little spiffing up to appeal to the tourist crowd.”

Bree Cartwright had been the talk of the village gossip network when she’d been left with her grandfather as a skinny little eight-year-old. If anybody knew what became of her parents, it wasn’t common knowledge. She was Ed’s, so she belonged to Hatterwick. I vaguely recalled she’d been in Drew’s class, or maybe the one below. I guess that made her old enough to be working at the tavern now.

Seemed like her idea to appeal to the tourists had worked. The place was jumping when we stepped inside, with two-thirds of the tables already full at barely past five. Awning windows lined three sides of the bar, and all of them were propped open to take advantage of the cross breeze off Pamlico Sound. The whole place screamed beach rustic, as it always had, but small touches here and there elevated the decor in some way I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Fresh paint and fixtures maybe? It looked nice. Leveled up without being inaccessible to the locals. And Marv, the twelve-foot Marlin that was Ed’s pride and joy, was still mounted above the bar, framed in Christmas lights.

Nice to see they’d kept the heart of the place.

Under Marv’s watchful glass eyes, Bree herself—I assumed the tall, slim blonde with the take-no-shit attitude was Bree—moved behind the bar, filling glasses and chatting with locals, her grandfather at the other end doing the same.

We nabbed the last table by a window, and I plucked up a menu. “You wanna get an appetizer to go with our beers?”

“And risk Mom’s wrath if we don’t show up for dinner hungry? No, thank you.”

“Since when have we ever shown up for a meal not hungry?”

“Not the point. She’ll know. She always knows,” he intoned.

One of the perks and downfalls of living on an island this small? There was no doing anything without everybody knowing about it. Engage in shenanigans at your peril because somebody was inevitably gonna tell your parents. I thought back to when I was about thirteen and I’d been caught trying beer for the first time. My dad had been waiting at home that afternoon, a fresh six-pack in hand. He’d made me drink the whole damned thing, then watched as I’d suffered the inevitable consequences and sicked it all back up again. I never knew who’d ratted me out.

I reached to tuck the menu back between the condiments and napkin dispenser and that was when I saw another blast from my past.

She still had the same glossy dark brown hair I remembered from high school, but she didn’t hide behind it now. The mass of it was pulled up into one of those unaccountably sexy messy knots that left her neck and shoulders exposed. Little silver hoops winked in her ears, and the wash of sun off the sound lit her light brown skin with a golden glow. I itched to touch that skin, to see if my fingers came away covered in gold dust. And that smile. God. It wasn’t even aimed in my direction, and it hit me straight in the gut. My gaze slid down her compact form, taking in the full breasts encased in a Brew House T-shirt and the narrow waist with a small apron tied around it. Shapely legs extended from denim cut-offs that framed an exquisite heart-shaped ass she definitely hadn’t had in high school.

I’d always paid attention back then, watching out for her where I could because it was well known that her dad was a piece of shit and likely abusive. But I’d never seen anything actionable, and she’d been too young for me to do anything other than keep my distance.

She wasn’t young now.

Drew twisted in his chair to see what I was looking at. “Ah. Guess you haven’t seen her since she grew up.”

“No. No, I haven’t.” I wished desperately that I already had a glass of water to wet my suddenly parched throat. “How’s the family? I mean… after…?”

My question wiped the smirk off his face. “Not great. The police were never able to prove anything after Gwen disappeared. But the fact that Rios was the last person to see her alive means he’s persona non grata around town. Without someone else to blame, there are plenty of folks who are happy to lay everything at his feet.”

Rios. I remembered her brother. “He’s still on-island?”


“Why doesn’t he leave?”

“Doesn’t want to leave his sisters alone with Hector.”

Right. Hector Carrera had always been a bad-tempered fucker. To my mind, the fact that Rios wouldn’t leave his sisters unprotected was a weight on the side of his good character. But the public wanted a scapegoat. How had all that impacted the rest of them?

Before I could ask, a shadow fell over our table, and there she was. Damn if she wasn’t ten times prettier close up.

“Welcome to OBX Brew House. I’m—”



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