Excerpt: The Homecoming

Book 1 : Shelter Bay Series

The Homecoming (Shelter Bay) by JoAnn Ross

Sax Douchett had heard about people who didn’t dream.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t one of them. Sometimes he even dreamed while he was awake.

Like he might be doing now, as he felt a familiar prickling beneath his skin. Hair rose on his arms and at the back of his neck. A jolt of fight-or-flight adrenaline hit his bloodstream like a Patriot missile.

He bent over. Put his hands on his knees and drew in several deep breaths.

“You are not in the frigging Kush.” Sometimes saying the words out loud gave them more power.

The thick fog on this lonely stretch of beach he was walking on at sunset with his adopted dog turned ordinary things—seaweed, wind-bent cypress, stacks of driftwood—into shadowy objects of mystery. Unlike the placid blue waters of nearby Shelter Bay, the rocky Oregon coastline had claimed scores of ships and their crews over the centuries.

When he’d been trudging through the snow up a steep Afghan mountainside with bad guys blasting away at him and his SEAL teammates, memories of home had kept him putting one boot in front of the other.

When he’d spent another six days all alone on those desolate peaks in the Hindu Kush, wounded, half out of his mind and presumed dead, anticipation for the Dungeness crab jambalaya he intended to fill up on once he got stateside had kept him battling the Taliban assassins sent to finish him off.

And during that lost time when he’d been held prisoner in an enemy village, fantasies of sitting on the porch of the cliff house, an icy bottle of Doryman’s Dark Ale in his hand, listening to the rain on the roof, had kept him sane.

After a few frustrating weeks held prisoner again—this time in Bethesda Naval Hospital—like Odysseus, he’d finally made his way home. Physically healthy and, well, mostly sane.

And determined to put war behind him and get on with his life. Which was turning out to be a lot easier said than done. Especially with this weekend’s damn welcome-home parade the Shelter Bay council and local VFW chapter had planned.

Although everyone in town might have insisted on elevating him onto some gleaming marble pedestal, if there was one thing Sax knew he wasn’t, it was a hero.

“Maybe I’ll get to kiss me a beauty queen,” he said, trying to find something positive about the experience he knew would mean a lot to his parents. Which was the only reason he’d agreed to go along with a celebration that, if reports were true, and he feared they were, was threatening to outdo the annual Whale Watch Weekend and Kites and Crab Fest combined. “That might be cool.”

It had been an age since Sax had kissed any woman. Let alone a current Miss Shelter Bay, who’d been crowned during a Whale Watch Weekend he’d had to miss. Given that he’d been tied up. Literally.

Just happy to be along for her evening walk, the Irish wolfhound mix he’d named Velcro answered with an enthusiastic bark that startled a heron that had been wading along the tide line, causing the bird to disappear into the fog with a flurry of wide blue wings.

The home he’d grown up in—located over Bon Temps, his parents’ sprawling Cajun restaurant and dance hall—had taken a hit two years ago by a vicious winter ice storm. Two months later, it was given a knockout blow when hurricane-force winds triggered by a Pacific typhoon came barreling through. Which was when Maureen and Lucien Douchett had thrown in the towel and retired.

Sort of.

Currently they were running a bait shop on the harbor and seemed content with how things had turned out. Mostly, Sax thought, because they were so content with each other. They were also proud. And stubborn. It had taken every ounce of Sax’s considerable powers of persuasion to talk them into accepting the money to build a new house in town.

Meanwhile, when Sax had returned home, his grandparents moved in with his parents, giving him the keys to their house overlooking the sea, which had become too large for them to keep up. Although he was still toying with the idea, the thought of rebuilding Bon Temps was growing more and more appealing. A lot of people in Shelter Bay could use the work. Along with the opportunity to eat themselves a good meal, kick up their heels, and have some fun, which seemed in short supply these days.

In the distance, lightning flashed, turning the whitecapped water shimmering neon green. Although she didn’t seem afraid of storms, the dog suddenly took off like a shot down the beach, her strident barks being ripped away by the wind.

Velcro appeared to have made it her responsibility to rid the coast of the ubiquitous gulls.

“Good luck with that,” Sax said as he climbed the stone steps to the top of the cliff.

He’d just reached the house when she came racing back with what appeared to be a bleached-out piece of driftwood in her mouth.

She dropped it at his feet and began wiggling her fuzzy black butt—her canine way of letting him know it was time to play fetch. Having nothing vital to do at the moment, Sax bent to pick it up.

Since she hadn’t exactly gotten the idea of “fetch” down yet, she took off running again with her prize.

Finally, when she realized he wasn’t going to chase after her, she returned, dropped it beneath a nearby tree. Then barked an invitation.

After retrieving a flashlight from the house, Sax sauntered over.
Then paused.

“Hell,” he muttered.

He’d left the Navy and returned to Shelter Bay determined to put death behind him. Only to have feckless fate—and a clingy, ninety-five-pound mutt— deposit a human bone at his feet.