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About the author:
J.L. Berg is the USA Today bestselling author of the Ready series, the Walls series, the Lost & Found series and more. She is a California native living in the beautiful state of historic Virginia. Married to her high school sweetheart, they have two beautiful girls and two pups. When she's not writing, you will find her cuddled up, watching a movie with her family, obsessing over fandoms or devouring anything chocolate! J.L. Berg is represented by Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, LLC.
What inspired you to write your book?
Since moving to the East Coast, I've always been fascinated with the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Ocracoke Island is especially interesting because it's so isolated. I loved the idea of creating a small town series there, filled with wonderfully deep character I knew readers would fall in love with,
Here is a short sample from the book:
“It’s like riding a bicycle, isn’t it?” Dean said as he approached me.
I’d parked my rental and cut the engine like instructed before stepping out toward the railings. The air was a bit cooler than before when I’d touched down in Raleigh, and the humidity had drastically improved since the sun set.
“If the tourists can figure it out, I sure as hell can. Besides, it’s not like I forgot all those years we used to get out of summer chores to catch a ride to Hatteras.”
Dean grinned. “Man, we sure thought we had everyone fooled, didn’t we?”
“We did,” I answered adamantly.
He just shook his head. “No, we didn’t. My ma told me years ago that she knew exactly where we went. Yours did, too. They just chose to let it go, saying, What fun is youth if you can’t get away with a few things here and there?”
I was shocked. “So, you mean, all this time, they knew? Every covert getaway we planned, every success story?”
“All crap.” He laughed, both of us turning our attention back to the water.
“Well, I’ll be…”
“You know, your accent is becoming stronger, the closer we get to home.”
“It’s not my home,” I growled.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see his shoulder rise as he shrugged.
“Okay, whatever you say, but don’t be surprised when you start complaining about mainlanders and the price of coffee in a few days.”
I rolled my eyes. “Never gonna happen, my friend. I’m here for one thing and one thing only. To help transition my father’s practice, so it can soon become someone else’s problem.”
He turned to me, looking somber. “And that’s the only reason?”
A wisp of long blonde hair and a forgotten smile flashed across my mind. I could hear her laughter. Feel her body as she surrendered to mine.
“Yes,” I answered firmly, my jaw twitching as I willed the memories away. “It’s the only reason.”
Dean’s hands went up in a symbol of surrender. “Okay, just checking.”
I watched the white spray of water the ferry left in its wake as it sped towards the island. Sped was a relative word. A one-way trip between the mainland and Ocracoke was about an hour, but considering the lack of alternatives, it was an impressive feat. I remembered my grandmother telling me of the days before the ferries had become the standard around here. It’d made leaving the island a rare occasion, and that generation still talked nonstop about how wonderfully exclusive the island had been.
After my mom had died, it’d felt pretty much the same.
Like a tropical prison meant to cage me in forever.
“Listen,” Dean said hesitantly. I could hear the sudden distress in his tone, which immediately drew my attention sideways. The lines across his forehead that hadn’t been there the last time I saw him deepened as he grappled for the right words. “I wanted you to hear it from me first. Molly and I, we’re getting ma—”
A dreadful, deep boom sounded off behind us, instantly cutting off Dean’s words.
Turning around, we instinctively ducked as an explosion of fire ripped through the ferry. Flames burst through the engine room, engulfing it in a fiery plume. Utter mayhem followed.
“What the—” I cursed under my breath as Armageddon surrounded us.
Screams. Bloodcurdling, soul-ripping shrieks of pain ripped through the night, causing my body to leap into action. This was what I had been trained to do after all. It was what had been hardwired into my brain after years of residency and training.
Weaving through the maze of cars, I sprang into action. Dean followed suit. We ripped doors open, pulling injured people from their cars, away from the flying wreckage.
“Dean!” I yelled, pointing to a family of four who were scared stiff. “Get them out of here!”
He nodded, carrying the battered and bruised as well as the shaken to safety. The rest, however, were for me.
Grabbing anything and everything I could from the cars, I quickly made makeshift tourniquets for wounds that wouldn’t stop bleeding, I banged on chests and started CPR, as brave souls took over so I could attend to others. And I never stopped assuring them that everything would be okay.
When, in reality, I knew the opposite.
There had been an explosion on the ferry.
A ferry carrying dozens of cars.
Gallons of gasoline.
We were literally stuck in the middle of the ocean on a ticking time bomb.
It was only a matter of time before—
Another explosion sounded, making my ears ring and my heart race. Turning toward the sound of the blast, I saw complete horror.
Cars were flying through the air and into the darkness of the water.
God, I’d never forget the screams.
Especially one in particular.
“Jake!” Dean hollered, his voice standing out above the rest. “Jake, help!”
I finished assessing child’s small leg. “Don’t move, okay?” I said, turning my attention to his mother. “Keep pressure on his leg. Help will be here soon.”
But, even the blue-eyed child, covered in his own blood, knew that was a lie.
We were all going to die here.
But like hell I’d stop trying.
Jumping over a scrap of metal, I made my way to Dean’s cries of help. When I got there, it took everything I had not to lose my shit as my eyes took him in.
“Hey,” I said, analyzing the situation as I drew closer.
Dean’s arm had been nearly severed. How? I wasn’t sure, but I was guessing what remained of his pickup truck next to him was to blame.
Pulling the shirt off my own back, I did what I could. I tried to stop the bleeding, I checked for other wounds, and most importantly, I kept him awake, even when his dark expression told me it was the last thing he wanted to do.
I’d seen this look before.
Dozens of times in my days of working as a resident in the ER. The will to live was waning. Dean was giving up. His eyes began to look skyward as he reasoned with God.
“Hey,” I said, tightly pulling the scraps of fabric around his biceps.
His focus fell back on me.
“Remember when we were little, and Terri used to bust our hides for running off to the beach?”
He gave me a ghost of a smile as his eyes went glassy. “Yeah,” he choked out. “We never seemed to be able to do what we had been told.”
“Remember how we made fake pirate swords out of driftwood and practiced battling each other as the tide receded?”
“I bested you every time.”
“I wasn’t made for fighting, I recall.”
He coughed a strangled cough that made my insides burn. “No, you were always suited for something better. Something bigger. I’m glad you found it, and I’m fortunate I was able to see it before—”
“No,” I said. “Don’t you dare say it, Dean. You and I are going to get off this trash heap of a boat and walk into town as heroes, you hear me? You’ll be the talk of the entire island. Hell, you might even get laid.”
He laughed, and I could see the struggle in his gaze as he did so.
“Tell Molly I’m sorry.”
My eyebrows furrowed as I tried to decipher his words. “Tell Molly you’re sorry for what?” I asked, not knowing if he was still here with me or lost in a memory.
“Tell her I’m sorry for not being enough. For not being you. Take care of our Molly for me.”
I shook my head as I looked down at him, disbelief invading every molecule of my body.
“It was always you and her, Jake. Now everything will be as it should.”
His words swam around me like piranhas as I tried to make sense of it all. I looked into his eyes one last time, remembering the moment before the explosion.
Molly and I are getting ma—
My chest burned as I watched Dean’s eyes shut tight and I was left holding the limp body of my oldest friend.
The man who’d stolen the only woman I’d ever loved.