Both love and danger confront P. I. Lisa Womack on the Northern California coast as she searches for her dead father's past. She's attracted to the man living in the Keeper's cottage at the lighthouse, but why does Mark Trenton seem to know her, when she's never met him before? And how can she trust him when she knows he's hiding secrets?
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June 30, 2008
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Excerpt from The Dark Lighthouse by Jane Toombs
Lisa Womack walked briskly along the midnight-deserted street, shoulder bag swinging, heels clicking on the cement sidewalk, the sound echoing from the blank-faced apartment buildings. She'd fastened her long hair into a coil at her nape and wore a belted gabardine coat. Just common sense here in Manhattan not to leave loose hair or clothes that could be easily grabbed onto.
When she saw the dark trees of New York's Central Park a block ahead, she slowed her pace.
Lisa heard a car approaching from behind her. Being careful, she walked faster, being careful to look neither right nor left. The car, almost even with her now, matched her quickened pace. She glanced from the corner of her eye at the steps leading up to the glass doors of an apartment house to her right, measuring the distance in her mind.
In case the car brought danger.
"Ms!" The brusque voice came from the car.
Lisa looked toward the sound, letting out her breath in a sigh of relief when she saw the blue uniformed officer in a police squad car.
"Ms.," the patrolman said again. She had an impression of dark eyes scrutinizing her from a hawk-nosed face.
She slowed to a stop, turning toward the car and forcing a smile.
"I wouldn't walk here alone if I were you." The officer nodded to the dark trees less than a block away. "Not this near the park. Not after what's happened these last couple of months."
Paula knew only too well what he meant. Four young women had been attacked in this section of the park since March and three of them had been raped and beaten. One so badly she died. Only the fortuitous arrival of a mounted patrolman had saved the fourth. Despite an intensive manhunt, the assailant was still at large.
"You could call a cab from the lobby of the Hudson Co-op," the officer suggested. "It's around the corner to your right."
"Thank you," Lisa told him.
The radio in the squad car crackled. The driver listened, grunted, then revved the motor, screeched into a U- turn and roared away with his lights flashing. For a moment Lisa stood looking after the receding lights of the squad car before she turned and walked on,
As she neared the next cross street a cab eased around the corner and swung in her direction, a roaming gypsy prowling for business. The cab slowed, the driver glancing hopefully in Lisa's direction. When she shook her head he accelerated past her, leaving a wake of exhaust fumes to foul the cool May night.
From the street corner across from the park she looked to her right where the canopy of the Hudson Co-op extended over the sidewalk from the entrance of the converted nineteenth century mansion to Central Park West. A uniformed security guard stood vigil at the top of the steps with his hands clasped behind him.
After a moment's hesitation, Lisa straightened her shoulders and, raising her chin determinedly, crossed the street. As she stepped onto the far curb she heard a man's voice calling to her. Startled, she whirled around. The doorman, a square-faced man no older than she, had left his post and was waving to her from beneath the end of the canopy. "Lady, you ain't going into that park." It was more of a statement than a question.
"It's shorter this way," she told him.
He shook his head and, even from this distance she saw the concern on his face. She could well imagine what he was thinking: Why was such a vulnerable young woman here alone at this time of night? And why was she taking the risk of entering the dark and forbidding park?
"You from out of town, lady?" he asked.
Lisa almost smiled, knowing that, to a New Yorker, visitors were capable of untold acts of foolishness. She shook her head. "I live in the Village."
He turned from her with a shrug, the gesture saying he'd done his best so nobody could blame him for what might happen.
A path curved ahead of Lisa into the park, the way shrouded in darkness despite the feeble rays from a globed light a hundred feet ahead. Lisa walked purposefully past a bench but couldn't help glancing at the headline on a discarded Post that was all too clear even in the midnight gloom: NO CLUES IN PARK RAPIST HUNT.
No, she wouldn't think about the assailant who might be lurking in the park. Hiding in the midnight shadows of the trees. Waiting. Waiting for her. She refused to give in to the unease crawling along her spine, chilling her body with icy fingers of apprehension.
She shut away her fear as best she could and walked on. The glow from the great city surrounding the park reflected palely from clouds hovering overhead in the moonless sky but the light failed to penetrate to the path where Lisa walked beneath the over-reaching branches of trees and shrubs. This was an alien, rural world.
At least it was alien to her. She was a city person, much as her father had been. She loved the excitement of crowds, the pushing and shoving, the flowing masses of men and women rushing here and there. She reveled in the city's sounds, the strident clamor of taxi horns, the shouts of street vendors, the rumble of the subways. She enjoyed breathing the aromas of the metropolis, the sharp scents of food from the restaurants, even the fumes from the thousands of cars, trucks and buses.
Only when the wind came off the Atlantic and the tang of the eastern sea swept up the skyscraper-walled canyons did she feel an unease. It was then the haunting memory returned and again she saw the white blur of the lighthouse through the twilight fog while her father worked frantically to restart the boat's outboard motor. Beneath a glowering sky, the sea around them roiled into white-capped turmoil.
Lisa shook her head, impatient with herself. The past was over and done with. Pay attention to the here and now. The park wasn't really alien, it was a part of the city, a place where she'd played as a child, skating in the winter, riding along the bridle paths, feeding the pigeons. During the day. The only time she'd been here nights was sitting on the grass with many other New Yorkers at open air concerts during the summers. She'd never rowed on the lake, though, boats didn't appeal to her.
Tonight, though, was different. The path ahead of her darkened and she saw the next lamp was out. A low hill rose to her left, trees loomed on her right. Refusing to alter her steady pace, she walked on with the only sound in the warm night the distant murmur of city traffic. In the hush she became aware of the throbbing beat of her heart and the rasp of her breathing.
She heard footsteps behind her.
Was it the faint echo of her own steps? No, the sound of the footsteps didn't quite match hers, failing by a heartbeat every few paces, to anticipate or follow hers..
When Lisa hesitated for an instant, the sound of footfalls behind her pulsed plainly through the silence of the night. Fear uncoiled in her stomach. Someone was following her! She walked faster and veered onto a path to her left. The steps followed. She turned once more, to the right this time, increasing her pace until she was almost running.
From behind came a man's gloating laugh. Her breath caught in her throat.
Neither of them have any idea that her worst danger comes from her own past .
As their relationship heats up, Lisa becomes convinced someone is trying to stop her from learning anything about her father's past. Who? Mark has told her he thinks someone is watching her--truth? Or his cover-up?