Excerpt: Sun Kissed

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Sun Kissed by JoAnn Ross

Portland Police Bureau detective Donovan Quinn was not filled with what the residents of the neighboring Hawaiian Islands would call the Aloha spirit. He was hot, thirsty, tired, and cursing his decision to come to Orchid Island. Back in Oregon, the idea had made sense—a remote, tranquil place to escape the demons that had been haunting him. And worse yet, the sense of drifting, almost like those people who claimed to have near-death experiences, floating above their bodies, watching their lives and souls drifting away.

He’d talked with the department chaplain. With the shrink who’d offered to prescribe anti-depressants, which he wasn’t yet prepared to take. And he’d also gone out to dinner with his best friends, only to belatedly discover that they’d planned an intervention.

“You’ve been there,” Nate Breslin had reminded him over fried clam strips and shrimp po’boys at with him and Tess Lombardi at Bon Temps on the coast in Shelter Bay. “It’s a tropical paradise. Lush greenery, palm trees, sparkling beaches, turquoise waters, and the most beautiful women found anywhere on earth.”

The horror novelist had turned toward his fiancée and given her a quick kiss. “Present company excluded, of course.”

“Thank you, darling.” Her smile suggested that he’d be rewarded for that qualification once they got home to Sunset Point.

Then she’d turned back to Donovan, her expression turning serious. “When Nate took me  to the island to meet his family, I was tempted to stay. And I swear, within the first few hours of landing, I was more relaxed than I’ve ever been in my life.”

Given that the Multnomah County deputy district attorney had recently escaped a harrowing ordeal that had nearly cost Tess her life, that had been saying something.

“You’d probably be out of work,” he’d countered. Especially given her workaholic habits. Though he had noticed that she’d actually begun taking time for a personal life since falling for Nate. Even more so since returning from their Christmas trip to the Pacific island. “Given that there’s undoubtedly even less crime on Orchid Island than here in Shelter Bay.”

“That would probably be true.” She’d snagged a clam strip from her fiancé’s plate and dipped it into the restaurant’s signature comeback sauce. “But I was seriously tempted. And if you’re not going to go there for yourself, Donovan, please do it for me.” She reached across the table and put a hand on his. “Bad enough that you landed in the hospital because of me, you’ve recently been through a horrible personal experience. If you’re not going to stick with therapy, try the meds, or cancel that damn speech you agreed to give in Hawaii, the least you can do is steal some additional time for R&R.”

“I can’t cancel the speech because I gave my word.” Which had been nine months ago before his life had begun unraveling at the seams.

So, he was going to give the speech. But, as Tess had known he would, he’d caved in on taking a side trip to Nate’s home island.

He should have taken the three-hour flight delay before departure from PDX as a sign. The delay had him arriving on O’ahu with minutes to spare before giving a speech on Pacific Northwest serial killer clusters at a joint O’hau Police Department and FBI conference. The speech had been booked by the special agent in charge of the Portland FBI field office, who’d been actively recruiting him for the past year.

It would not only polish his credentials for the lengthy acceptance procedure, Donovan had been told, but hanging out with some agents in a social situation would allow him to get a feel for the type of men and women he could be working with.

His speech, centered on possible reasons for the high body count in an area of the country FBI profiler John Douglas had once referred to as “America’s killing fields,” had been well received. The “Cascades Killer,” had terrorized the mountainous region from southern Oregon up to the Canadian border for nearly a decade. Then last year, six months after he’d inherited the case after the original detective retired, Donovan had upped his professional profile by apprehending the serial killer by using methods he’d learned from the FBI Behavioral Research and Instruction Unit.

While all serial killers were heinous, this one had been particularly so, targeting entire families camping up and down the trail. Last month, his partner, a divorced father of three who hadn’t been able overcome the nightmares of all those other murdered children, had committed suicide, leaving Donovan with what both his shrink and police chaplain had diagnosed as survivor guilt.

Putting a name to his problem hadn’t done much to help, and while talking about those crimes as he’d forced his way through the speech, he’d wondered how many of the conference attendees in the standing-room only audience were concealing the same problem. Afterwards, feeling the walls closing in on him, Donovan had passed on the special agents’ invitation to have drinks in the bar, reluctantly agreeing to a rain check when he returned to Honolulu on his way back to the mainland.

Now, sixteen hours into an already over-long day, as his shoes filled with sand and he melted under the tropical sun, Donovan had come to the conclusion his mistake had been buying into Nate’s sales pitch that palm trees, sparkling beaches, turquoise waters, and stunning women were exactly what he needed to regain his mojo.

So far, except for the aerial view of lush green mountains from the commuter flight to the island, the only foliage Donovan had seen was the tall, tasseled sugarcane flanking the road the driver had turned onto soon after leaving the small, local airfield.

After what seemed an eternity of tearing along in a cloud of red dust, with the man apparently determined to hit every pothole in the dirt road, steam had started rising from beneath the hood of the ancient taxi. While the driver waited for whatever consisted of a motor club on Orchid Island to arrive to repair the radiator, Donovan began walking.

That had been twenty long, hot minutes ago and with his recently injured ankle aching like a son-of-a-bitch, he’d made the decision that if he didn’t reach Nate’s beach house within the next thirty seconds, he was going to throw himself, fully clothed, into the Pacific Ocean. Then, once he had cooled off, he was going to trudge back up that damn cane road, flag down the first car he saw, and beg, if necessary, a ride to the airport where he could catch a plane back to Honolulu, then another home to Portland.

It was then that he saw her.

At first Donovan wondered if the vision might be nothing but a mirage, the product of his heat-crazed mind. She was clad in a brilliantly flowered bikini top and cutoff jeans, her skin tanned to a warm, dark honey. Clouds of hair in sunlit strands of glistening copper, gold and bronze caressed her shoulders. If she had been perched on a rock jutting out of the water, instead of sitting atop the roof of the vine-covered house, Donovan could have easily believed that he had stumbled upon a mythical siren. If she wasn’t a hallucination, she was definitely a sign that things were looking up.