Smoke on the Water Epilogue

Smoke on the water header

Epilogue: Hoyt

As the gateway between Hatterwick and the mainland, the ferry dock was one of the busiest places on the island. With service running every two hours during the summer months, there were always tourists coming and going, and locals making their way to the mainland for business or services they couldn’t get on the island. Today was no exception. I automatically tucked Caroline closer to my side as people flowed around our group as we clustered outside the terminal.

Beyond the terminal, the wide dock stretched out towards the ferry, which was currently docked and loading. Cars lined up in neat rows, waiting to board, while foot passengers streamed towards the gangway. The scent of the sea was everywhere, mingled with the faint smell of diesel from the ferry. The loudspeaker periodically crackled to life, announcing boarding calls and safety instructions in a routine yet reassuring drone that was accented by the cry of seagulls and the distant hum of the ferry’s engines preparing for departure.

The building itself was a modest structure, painted in faded blues and whites, echoing the hues of the ocean and sky. Its large windows faced the water, offering a panoramic view of Pamlico Sound beyond. Inside, the waiting area was furnished with rows of simple benches currently occupied by travelers with their luggage, some looking forlorn at the end of their vacations, others eagerly looking ahead to home or new adventures.

Caroline, Rios, and I had already done this last week, when we’d moved Gabi to Chapel Hill for her new start at college. That had been a teary but happy goodbye. Now here we were again, this time for Rios and the rest of his friends. They’d all enlisted in the Navy and were expected at the Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois next week. They’d be road tripping for one last adventure together. For Rios and Sawyer, this would be the longest they’d ever been off-island. And it would be the first time Caroline had been away from both her siblings for any length of time. She’d been putting on a brave face, but I knew this transition would be tough on her.

“We’ve gotta load up, sis,” Rios announced.

Caroline looked around. “But this can’t be everyone. Where’s Bree? She wouldn’t want to miss this.”

Ford straightened from where he was hugging his moms, his expression going dark. “She’s not coming.”

“What? I know they’ve started repairs on the tavern, but surely she could get free?”

“We had a falling out. She’s pretty upset with me right now.”

“Oh, honey.” Caroline gave him a squeeze. “I’m sure everything will turn out okay.”

Ford’s moms exchanged a knowing look, but didn’t add any commentary. I wondered what they knew that we didn’t about what had gone down.

“I’m not so sure. I may have accidentally torpedoed a twelve-year friendship.” His big shoulders jerked in a shrug that did nothing to minimize the grief in his eyes. “No time to fix it now. We’ve gotta go.”

The flurry of last-minute hugs and handshakes started then. At the edge of the group, Willa and Jace said a strained goodbye. Jace hadn’t yet informed his parents that he wouldn’t be going back to finish out college. I knew he was worried about Willa being alone on the island.

I took the other man’s hand in a firm shake. “She’ll be fine. Caroline and I will keep an eye on her.”

“Appreciate that.”

Past him, I could see Willa embracing Sawyer. He closed his eyes, seeming to soak up her touch. I wondered if there was a kernel of something there. Maybe that was just my own happiness and Gabi’s romanticism rubbing off on me. But I would’ve sworn they both lingered a little longer than friends would before she firmly ordered him, “Don’t die, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Caroline and Rios hugged for a long time. There’d been a lot of healing that had happened in the last several weeks. All the bruises and the burns and visible signs of the attack had faded. The house had been professionally cleaned to remove all lingering traces of the fire, and Caroline and I had moved back in. I knew all three Carrera siblings would be dealing with the fallout from this summer for a long time. But they’d be safe. At least, from the threat that had haunted them for years. As for me, I’d had some nightmares about losing Caroline in the fire, but I hadn’t lost a wink over putting an end to that monster.

The PA crackled. “Final boarding call.”

Caroline wiped at the tears streaking her cheeks. “Okay, okay. I know y’all have to go. I love all of you, and be careful.

All four of them saluted. “Ma’am, yes, ma’am.”

With a laugh, she waved as they piled into Ford’s SUV and drove down to be loaded onto the ferry.

I pulled her into my side, and her arm looped around my waist.

“Do you mind if we stay through the launch?”

Knowing she’d want to stay, I’d cleared the rest of the day. “I’ve got nowhere else to be.”

So we stood at the railing watching as the staff finished loading the ferry. The horn sounded, and they cast off, slowly chugging away from the dock and the island. More tears streamed down Caroline’s face.


She nodded. “Yeah. I will be. I’m just so glad he’s going to have a chance to get away from everything here and really pursue something for himself. And I’m glad that he has his brothers with him. That makes me feel a whole lot better. They’ll watch each other’s backs.”

From what I’d observed this summer, that was what the Wayward Sons did.

I pressed a kiss to her temple. “Big changes.”

There’d been plenty for her, too. She’d been offered a job at Beachcomber Bargains by Connie Galloway, who’d fallen in love with some of Caroline’s ideas for upcycling products. She wanted to start a whole boutique section in the shop, which was giving Caroline the chance to pursue the exact thing she was interested in doing in a way that was no financial risk to her. It was a win-win situation for them both.

Caroline turned to look up at me. “How would you feel about some more big changes?”

Curiosity piqued, I gripped her hips. “What did you have in mind?”

“Maybe knocking out some walls.”

“Oh, yeah?” Where was she going with this?

“You bought that house to be a house, not a duplex. A single-family home for the life you want to build.” She looped her arms around my neck and smiled up at me. “I’m saying yes. To all of it.”

My smile spread slow and wide. “You’re not just saying that because of the head injury?”

Her answering grin lit up those eyes I loved so much. “The doctor said I’m fully healed from that and fully in my right mind. I love you, Hoyt. And I want everything you’re offering.”

On a whoop of joy, I scooped her up, twirling her in a circle before taking her mouth in a hard, dizzying kiss.

When we came up for air, I took her hand and began towing her toward my new truck.

“In a hurry to celebrate?” she laughed.

“Hell yeah. We gotta stop by the hardware store.”

Her step faltered. “The hardware store?”

“Yeah, we need sledgehammers to take out those walls.” I looked down at the woman who’d be my wife. “I wanna get started on that forever today.”

* * *

Thank you for joining me for this introduction to Hatterwick Island and the Wayward Sons! If you’d like to see a little more of Caroline and Hoyt’s HEA, you can grab the newsletter exclusive bonus epilogue here [Pssst! You’re gonna want to see how this leads directly into Book 1]: 

Pssst! It gives you a hint at who’s coming next! Because this book is the backstory prequel to a SERIES! Book 1 follows the first of the Wayward Sons to return to the island after his stint in the Navy. It releases September 6. Meanwhile, feel free to check out my alter ego, Kait Nolan, for the more heart-warming side of small-town romance.

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