Saving Shadows Sneak Peek
Shadows Landing Book #1
Ellery St. John felt her heart beating so hard it might burst out of her chest. Fear. Panic. Death. They were all after her. She screamed, but it was only inside her head. For in her head, the incident was on a loop playing over and over again.
Night. Darkness. Rain. Terror. Ellery knew someone was going to kill her. She heard the sound of her high heels on the wet cobblestone as she ran for her car. She saw her reflection in the driver’s window when she reached for the handle. Time slowed.
Her hair was damp, there was rain dripping down her forehead and into her eyes. In one split second she knew she wasn’t going to make it. Her mouth opened as she screamed. She saw a hand rise behind her in the reflection of the window, tightly clenched around a hard object. Ellery tried to jump back as she pulled the handle, but it was too late. The scream fighting to get free was silenced as her world went black.
Ellery didn’t know how long it had been or how many times the loop of her attack played over and over in her head. Her body shivered. That had to mean she was alive. So she fought. She fought the darkness. She fought the fear. She fought the death trying to take her.
With monumental effort, she cracked an eyelid. The wind howled. The rain pummeled. All she saw was darkness. She felt as if she were being tossed back and forth. Her body listed to one side and slammed into something hard. Her head exploded at every jostle.
“Help.” That one word croaked from her lips. It took all her mental focus and all her body’s energy, but she finally managed the one word.
“It’s too late for help.”
A figure stood over her, cloaked in a long, hooded raincoat. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t make out if it was a man or a woman. The voice was covered by the thunder and hard pounding rain so she barely heard it. She couldn’t decipher if the voice was a man or woman. The figure approached as Ellery tried to fight back. She swung an arm, but it was limp as it slapped harmlessly against the arms reaching down for her.
“No,” she tried to yell as the hands gripped her. They pulled her up and pushed her against the hard wall, and then she was falling. Her breath was taken when she hit the water. Pain exploded in her head as her legs dropped like anchors into the ocean water. Her eyes closed as the pain called her into the darkness once again.
“Just let the water take you,” the voice called to her.
Ellery tried to open her eyes but couldn’t. She didn’t know where she was or how she’d gotten there. She struggled against the darkness trying to drag her under. For a split second, she only saw dark and dangerous clouds in the night sky as rain fell upon her. The choppy ocean waters covered her arms, her chest, and then finally her head. Her body didn’t, or couldn’t, react as the water dragged her into the darkness.
Gavin Faulkner looked out the back door of his kitchen and flipped on the light switch. Through the howling wind, rain, and darkness he saw the light at the end of the dock flicker. It was hard to make out, but he could see the boat he used for fishing, slamming into the dock through the narrow halo of light.
Gavin looked at his watch. It was three in the morning. He’d gone to bed thinking this was just another tropical storm, but the wind had woken him up. He checked his phone and saw it had been upgraded to a category one hurricane, which meant he probably needed to secure the boat unless he wanted to find it somewhere between Lake Moultrie and the ocean.
Shadows Landing, the small town where Gavin had been born and still resided as the town’s only doctor, was a thirty-minute boat ride from Charleston, and while they might get some flooding, a cat one hurricane wasn’t likely to do much damage.
“Damn,” Gavin muttered as he looked at his phone. The tide would be coming in right as the hurricane passed by Charleston a little ways out in the Atlantic Ocean. The surge would be big, which meant he really did need to secure his boat.
Flipping on the light to the kitchen, Gavin dug around the closet by the back door for his boots, raincoat, and flashlight. He stuffed his bare feet into the boots that reached his knees and zipped up his jacket. He could try the hood, but it would be a bigger pain to keep on than to just admit his head was going to get wet. He picked up the flashlight and unlocked his door. It flung open with the wind and Gavin trudged outside. The gusts ripped at his jacket as he used force to shut the door. The sustained winds were around seventy-five miles per hour, so it was barely at hurricane strength, but walking still presented a challenge.
Palmetto branches, some of his neighbors unsecured lawn chairs, and other debris rolled around the backyard as he battled his way down the grassy slope toward the dock. The water levels were already high, but his floating dock would be fine. His house was up a hill, so flooding wasn’t a major concern either. This was more of a pain in the ass than anything but the way his boat was slamming into his dock worried him. He needed to secure the boat better and then he’d go back to bed.
The wooded dock was slippery, and Gavin held out his arms to balance himself. It was as if he were walking on an old tilt-a-whirl ride as waves crashed around him. Using his flashlight, Gavin located the ropes that had given way. He opened the storage box built onto the dock that he used for seating and pulled out new ropes and two extra bumpers. He tied the bumpers to the dock and when the boat rocked away from him, he tossed the bumpers into the raging waters.
He was wet, tired, and aggravated he hadn’t tied the boat securely in the first place as he went to work. He’d taken the boat out fishing after a long day in the office, and when he’d gotten back he’d been too tired to do a proper job. Well, this sure as hell taught him to do it right the first time.
Lightning crashed in the distance toward Charleston, and Gavin turned to the oncoming storm. Wind and rain lashed against his face as the storm raged in the Atlantic Ocean. They wouldn’t take a direct hit, but it would be enough to send the ocean waters racing inland. Gavin was turning back to the house when something caught his eye. Something white stood out in the dark waters racing toward the end of his dock. It was probably someone’s overturned kayak, partially submerged. Gavin thought about leaving it as he looked at his warm, and more importantly, dry house. He was about to walk toward his house when he thought better of it. He’d want someone to rescue his boat if it broke free.
Gavin flashed his light on it again as he tried to gauge where the kayak would hit his dock so he could grab it. It was going to skirt by the edge, so he set his flashlight on the dock so the wind blew it against his storage container and not into the water. He lay on his stomach so he wouldn’t fall in and waited for the overturned kayak to come to him. Rain pelted him as streams of water caused his eyes to stay half closed. He blinked through the water and saw the small boat bob in the waves. It went under for a second and then popped back up. As it was pushed closer to him, Gavin narrowed his eyes and lifted a hand to shield them from the onslaught of rain. The boat wasn’t partially submerged like he thought.
Gavin’s heart sped up when he realized what he thought was the side of the kayak were really arms wrapped around a log. What he thought was the submerged end of a kayak was really a person’s legs underwater. And the white underbelly of the kayak was actually a raincoat on a body. A disturbingly still body.
“Hey!” Gavin yelled, but the body didn’t respond. All he could see was wet hair plastered to a head. From this distance he couldn’t tell if the body was a man or woman. He tried yelling again, but the howling wind ripped the words from his mouth as the waves carried the person up and down and sometimes under.
Medical school and his tour in the Charleston hospital only further instilled his desire to help people. His cousin Wade had joined the Coast Guard for the same reason. They’d talked about it when Wade had joined and while Gavin was in med school. They’d all grown up in Shadows Landing, and Gavin had swum these waters more times than he could count—even when they were rough. As the wind blew harder, the waves carried the person toward him, however, the direction indicated the body would stay out of reach.
Gavin pushed himself up and pulled off his boots. The wind yanked them from the dock and sent them flying against the storage box. He unlocked the lid, tossed in the boots and his raincoat and closed it before stepping to the end of the dock. It was still warm enough that he was comfortable in nothing but a pair of athletic shorts. The rain stung his body as if the drops were thousands of little needles pricking his skin.
The person went up a wave and then down again. When they were about to pass the dock, Gavin jumped. In the air, the wind pushed him to the left, but he’d calculated that when he’d made his move. He kicked with the waves and strong current, letting nature slam him against the unconscious person.
Gavin didn’t have time to do an assessment as the water crashed upon them, carrying them quickly past his property. He only had time to notice the figure was a woman as he wrapped an arm around her and the log and began kicking with all his might in a slow diagonal toward the shore. His lungs burned as he coughed up water. His legs shook, his abdominal muscles were tense, and his shoulders burned from the exertion, but then he was finally able to reach out with his right hand and grasp the ladder to his neighbor’s dock. The waters and winds did their best to rip the woman from his grasp as he hooked his leg and arm through the ladder. Leaning to the right he used his body weight to pull the woman against the current.
“Come on!” he yelled as nature worked against him. His left arm was under her arm and around her chest as he held on tightly to her side and pulled her free from the log. The log disappeared as he used all his strength to pull the woman up the three feet to the dock.
With his muscles fatigued and his body ready to give up, Gavin pulled as hard as he could. The woman rose with the wave and when the wave fell, he yanked her hard. Her limp, waterlogged body was pulled against his cold, shaking core. Gavin struggled to prop her onto the ladder as he climbed over and up the ladder before falling onto the deck in a seated position. He leaned over the edge and grabbed her hands that he’d tucked around one of the rungs of the ladder. He pulled her up toward him. His body fell backward, landing hard on the wooden dock as the woman’s body surged upward and partially onto the dock, ending with her head in his lap.
Gavin took deep breaths to refuel his body then reached for her neck. He pushed her hair aside and searched for a pulse. It was barely there, but her breathing was so shallow her lips had begun to turn blue. Gavin scooted back, dragging the woman with him until she lay flat on her back, and he began CPR. After some chest compressions and a deep breath blown into her cold lips, the woman’s eyes fluttered open a second before a whole gallon of ocean water was thrown up. She looked disappointed for a second before she groaned, her eyelids fluttered shut, and she passed back out. Gavin felt her pulse and tracked her breathing. Both were steadier now. “Thank goodness,” he whispered before he bent to pick her up.
He stretched her arms and legs out and then hefted her into a fireman’s carry position around his back. He held tight to her arm and leg as he began to battle the wind through his neighbor’s yard and then across the debris landmines in his own. By the time he kicked open his door, he was close to collapsing from nature’s best attempt at defeating him. But he refused to give up as he closed and locked the door. He rushed through the living room, turning left into the hallway, and pushing open the door that led to his office, the exam room, and then the surgical room.
When Gavin had bought the house, he’d turned the old formal greeting room into an exam room and a small surgical room. Then he’d turned the formal dining room into an office. His cousin Ridge was a builder and had done the conversion and had also built an entrance and waiting area to the side of the house.
Gavin sat the woman on the surgical table and began a quick exam. Her body temperature was low, her face was pale, and he found a gash on the back of her head. He needed to get her dry, warm, and hooked up to an IV quickly. He unzipped her white raincoat and gently removed it to expose a simple, yet elegant black dress. What was this woman doing in the ocean during a hurricane? As he undressed her, he felt along her body for any injuries. He was in full professional mode, not even noting her full breasts, flat stomach, and curved hips as he grabbed a towel and roughly dried her. Her skin began to pink with the increased circulation as he reached for an exam gown and slipped her arms through it to cover her before running into the living room for a blanket.
When he made it back into the room, the woman’s body was shivering, but color was returning to her lips. He tucked her in tight and moved efficiently, starting an IV and taking her vitals again. Her temperature was slowly rising. He hooked her up to a monitor and was relieved when both her blood pressure and pulse began to stabilize. Gavin didn’t want to leave her, but he needed to have her transported to Charleston Memorial Hospital for a head scan. To do that, he needed to get dressed and call into town.
Gavin rushed from the exam room, out into the hallway, and up the stairs to the master bedroom. He shoved off his soaking wet shorts and slid into sweatpants and a long sleeve T-shirt before grabbing his cell phone and racing back downstairs with a warm pair of socks in his hand. He entered the exam room, and even though he knew the likelihood was low, he hoped to be greeted by the woman’s open eyes. Instead, he found her completely unmoved and unchanged.
Gavin dialed the hospital’s ER desk number as he bent to put the thick socks on the woman’s tiny feet. A harried nurse answered briskly, “BethAnn here.”
“BethAnn, it’s Doctor Gavin Faulkner. I need a helicopter or an ambulance in Shadows Landing.”
“Hiya Doc. Status?” BethAnn asked, cutting to the chase. He knew most of the doctors and nurses at Charleston’s main hospital, and they’d be all hands on deck tonight.
“Unconscious woman with a head wound.”
“Bless your heart, Doc. You’re not going to get emergency services with a little ol’ thing like that. Not tonight. Besides, the road out of town is flooded, and we’re grounded until the wind calms down. As long as she’s not critical, as in about to die any second, she’s best to stay put with you.”
“It was worth a shot. I’ll monitor overnight and bring her in as soon as possible. Thanks BethAnn.”
“You can thank me by saying a prayer for us. A hurricane and a full moon. Someone done gone and pissed off a higher power. You stay dry, Doc,” BethAnn ordered before hanging up.
Gavin had one more shot at getting the woman into the hospital, and he’d give it a try. He pulled up his contacts and called his cousin Wade in the Coast Guard. Wade answered, but over his voice, Gavin heard the roar of waves and wind.
“I found a woman in the river. She’s unconscious with a head wound. Can you pick her up for a hospital transport?”
“Sorry Gav,” he barely heard Wade yell over the growing sound of helicopter blades. “I’m about to fly out to help a sinking fishing boat. We don’t have a single free bird tonight. If it’s not critical, stay put. The worst is over and the waters will start receding some when the tide moves out.”
“Stay safe,” Gavin yelled back and got a quick “Yup” before Wade hung up and went off with his crew for a rescue. Gavin turned and looked at the woman. Her shivering was lessening, so he pulled up a chair and slid his hand into hers. “You’re safe now,” he told her as he watched the steady beat of her heart on the monitor. When he deemed her stable, he stood up and gathered his supplies to suture her head wound. He rolled the woman onto her side and was rewarded with a low groan. “It’s okay. You’re safe, but you have a nasty cut on your head. I’m going to administer something to numb it. You’ll feel a prick and then a little bit of a burn, but you won’t feel a thing as I sew it up,” he said, talking to her as he did exactly what he told her he was going to do. He believed even unconscious people could hear what was going on. Now, they may not be able to process it, but his soothing voice might keep her calm.
Gavin pushed her hair from the wound as he cleaned it and grimaced. There were several gashes as if something hard and pointy had hit her head. It was amazing it hadn’t killed her. The wounds were deep, and he could see her skull in places. “Here we go. You’ll be good as new in no time.”
Gavin let out a breath as he pulled the medical gloves from his hands and threw them away. He placed the woman on her back but angled her head so she wouldn’t be lying on her wounds. Then he cleaned the small surgical room, dimmed the lights so they wouldn’t hurt her eyes when she woke, and took his seat next to her again.
“Come back to me,” Gavin said softly as he took her hand in his and leaned forward. “You’re safe now.”
He watched for any sign she heard him, but the woman did not wake while time went on and the winds and rain died down.