“Daley’s characters come to life on the page. Her novels are filled with a little mystery and a little romance which makes for a murderous adventure.” – Tonya Kappes, USA Today Bestselling Author of Southern Fried
While on vacation in South Carolina, Tj Jensen receives a call that her father has been left in a coma after a devastating car crash. Back home in Paradise Lake, Tj learns the accident that killed family friend Judge Harper and left her father clinging to life wasn’t an accident at all—someone cut their brake lines. To make matters worse, her friend and police contact, Deputy Roy Fisher, is working with a new partner who has no intention of letting Tj anywhere near the case. Facing an investigation more explosive than the annual fireworks show, Tj enlists the help of her best friends to unravel the mystery, all the while navigating a new romance and the thought her father may never wake up.
Books in the Tj Jensen Mystery Series:
PUMPKINS IN PARADISE (#1)
SNOWMEN IN PARADISE (#2)
BIKINIS IN PARADISE (#3)
CHRISTMAS IN PARADISE (#4)
PUPPIES IN PARADISE (#5)
HALLOWEEN IN PARADISE (#6)
TREASURE IN PARADISE (#7)
FIREWORKS IN PARADISE (#8)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all.
Author Bio: USA Today bestselling author Kathi Daley lives in beautiful Lake Tahoe with her husband, Ken. When she isn’t writing, she likes spending time hiking the miles of desolate trails surrounding her home. She has authored more than seventy-five books in eight series including: Zoe Donovan Cozy Mysteries, Whales and Tails Island Mysteries, Sand and Sea Hawaiian Mysteries, Tj Jensen Paradise Lake Mysteries, Writer’s Retreat Southern Seashore Mysteries, Rescue Alaska Paranormal Mysteries, and Seacliff High Teen Mysteries. Find out more about her books at www.kathidaley.com.
Read an Excerpt
Thursday, June 29
"The captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign in preparation for our descent into Reno. Please turn off and store all electronic devices, secure your tray tables, and return your seats to their upright positions. The flight staff will be by to collect any trash you may have. We hope you have enjoyed your flight and will travel with us again. We should be on the ground in twenty minutes."
I glanced at the pretty blonde flight attendant announcing the pre-landing instructions. Normally I felt a sense of happy anticipation as the plane neared my home airport at the foot of the Paradise Mountains, but today I felt empty.
I looked up at the flight attendant standing next to my seat. "Yes, I'm Tj Jensen."
"I have a message for you from the ground support staff."
"Apparently you have a very persuasive boyfriend who has convinced the airline to let you leave the plane ahead of everyone else. There'll be someone to escort you to a car that will take you to your destination. Your luggage will be attended to."
"He's not my boyfriend."
The woman frowned at me.
"Kyle Donovan. The man who made the arrangements. We're just friends."
"Oh. I see." The flight attendant continued to stare at me. I could tell she was curious about my mysterious "friend" who seemed to wield so much power. Kyle wasn't an actor, singer, or politician. He wasn't the sort of man to grace magazine covers or be easily recognized in a crowded restaurant. What he was, though, was handsome and brilliant, sweet and charming, and Richie Rich rich. The perfect combination of attributes for talking people into doing anything, whether it butted up against standard procedures or not.
"Is there anything I can help you with prior to landing?" the flight attendant added.
"No. Thank you. I'm fine."
"Do you have items stored in the overhead compartment we can retrieve for you once we're on the ground?"
"No. In fact, just so you know, I don't have any luggage, so there's no need to worry about retrieving it."
The woman raised one eyebrow before continuing down the aisle to collect the last of the trash from the other passengers. I knew the flight staff had been whispering about me since I'd boarded the plane, and to be honest I didn't blame them. Not only had Kyle somehow managed to procure me a first-class seat on a sold-out flight, but he'd convinced the airline to delay takeoff for five minutes so I could make the flight in the first place. Kyle was a simple guy who tended to live well below his means, but when it came to a friend in need, he'd demonstrated on more than one occasion a willingness to do whatever it took to make things happen.
"I'm sorry if this inconveniences you," I said to the woman sitting next to me. We'd just shared a five-hour flight, and other than a cursory hello when I boarded, those were the first words I had spoken to her.
"I'm sure getting to wherever it is you're going must be an important matter."
"It's my father. He's been in an accident. At the time I boarded the plane the doctors were uncertain whether he'd make it or not."
"Oh, dear. I'm so sorry. No wonder you look as frantic as a deer caught in the headlights. What's your father's name?"
"Mike Jensen." I felt a tear travel down my cheek. "He's supposed to be married in the fall. Now ..."
The woman handed me a clean tissue from a package she pulled from her jacket pocket.
I thanked her and once again tried to rein in the emotions that had been threatening to suffocate me for the past twenty-seven hours. I glanced out the window at the miles upon miles of barren desert below as the plane circled to approach the city from the north.
"Best to sit back; it's going to be a bumpy landing," the flight attendant warned us all just before she took her jump seat and fastened her seat belt. She offered me a curious smile as we made our final descent.
Everything happened quickly once the plane was on the ground. An employee from the airline met me at the gate and escorted me to a limo that was waiting to take me home to Paradise Lake. When I slid into the backseat, I was overjoyed to see my best friend, Jenna Elston. She opened her arms and I slipped into them, letting out the flood of tears I had been struggling to control since I'd found out that one friend was dead and my father was clinging to life.
"Have you heard anything?" I eventually asked.
"I spoke to Hunter just as your plane was landing. He said your dad's condition is stable, although he still hasn't regained consciousness."
"Did Hunter think he would? Regain consciousness?"
"He's doing everything in his power to make sure that happens."
I let out a small sigh. Hunter Hanson was my good friend, my ex-boyfriend, and the town doctor. I trusted him with my life. More importantly, I trusted him with my father's life.
"This whole thing seems like a dream." I pulled away from Jenna and leaned back into the seat facing hers. "A very, very bad dream."
"I know, sweetie. I feel like someone punched me in the gut and sucked out all the air around me. I can't begin to imagine how you must feel."
I glanced out the window as the desert gave way to forest. It wouldn't be long before we arrived in Serenity. I found that I both wanted to hurry and delay. I'd been running on adrenaline ever since Kyle had thought to check the messages on his satellite phone while we were camping and searching for buried treasure. Hunter had called to inform him that my father had been in a terrible accident and I needed to return to Paradise Lake as soon as could be arranged. At that point Dad's survival was very uncertain. Kyle and I had gathered the family and friends who were with us and headed back to Gull Island via the boat we'd rented as fast as it could take us. Somehow Kyle had managed to book me onto a flight that was scheduled to take off at just about the same time we estimated we'd arrive in Charleston. I remembered the hug of comfort Kyle had offered as I headed toward Security. He'd promised to handle everything, and deep in my heart I knew he would.
"Are you okay?" Jenna asked.
"Not even a tiny bit."
"I know. I don't even know why I asked. Kyle called me half a dozen times, giving me suggestions on how to best help you deal with the situation. I know he's a good friend and wants to help, but some of the things he said were ridiculous. You and I both know there's nothing I can do or say to make you feel any better."
I offered Jenna a sad half smile. Had it really been just yesterday afternoon that I had kissed Kyle for the first time? It seemed like a lifetime ago. "Kyle is a doer. An organizer. I'm sure it's making him nuts that he can't be here to handle things."
"He does seem a bit frantic."
I looked up and met Jenna's eyes as the driver of the limo turned off the main highway that traversed the mountain and headed toward our small town of Serenity. "I kissed him. And not a brotherly peck on the lips."
Jenna smiled. She'd been convinced for months that Kyle and I were meant for each other. "How was it?"
"Wonderful and terrifying and confusing."
Jenna tilted her head but didn't reply. I knew she was waiting for additional details, but the limo had pulled onto the street where the hospital was located.
"We'll talk about it later," I said as we stopped outside the front entrance.
Jenna took my hand in hers as we entered through the double doors. "Your dad is in intensive care. We'll need a doctor's approval to see him since access to the third floor, where the ICU is located, is limited to hospital staff and cleared visitors. Hunter said to call him when we arrived."
I stood staring at nothing in particular while Jenna made the call. My heart pounded with fear as I waited for the hospital escort who would accompany us to the third floor. I had been trying desperately not to let my imagination get the better of me, intentionally blocking the images of my father clinging to life that had been threatening to destroy my last shred of sanity ever since the moment Kyle had received Hunter's frantic call.
When Hunter personally showed up to escort us upstairs my mind couldn't help but leap to the worst possible conclusion.
"Is he ...?" My throat closed with emotion before I could finish the sentence.
Hunter opened his arms and I walked into them. I willed my heartbeat to slow as he hugged me tightly and assured me that my father was very much alive.
"Can I see him?"
Hunter looked uncertain.
"Please. I need to see him with my own eyes."
Hunter took a step back and looked at me seriously. "Okay. But be warned: he's pretty beat up. It's going to be difficult to see him that way. Are you sure you're ready for it?"
I nodded as tears streamed down my face.
Hunter glanced at Jenna. "Maybe you should come with us."
Jenna took my hand in hers in silent agreement. Hunter grabbed my other hand and led me toward the elevator that would take us to the third floor. I felt a momentary wave of nausea and dizziness as the elevator doors closed behind us. Both Hunter and Jenna tightened their grip on my hands as I took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
I'm not sure how to describe what went through my mind when I walked into my father's room to find monitors of all types beeping and chiming all around him. He was covered by a sheet, so with the exception of one eye, which was swollen shut, and the bandage around his head, most of his injuries were hidden. My first thought was that he was just sleeping, but as I let the reality of the situation sink in I found my legs beginning to give out beneath me.
For the first time it hit me that the man I counted on to be there for me more than anyone in my life might actually die.
I couldn't breathe.
Hunter pulled my body toward his and put an arm around my shoulder in support. "Are you okay?"
I took several deep breaths as the room began to spin.
"Tj?" Hunter asked again.
He put a finger under my chin when I still didn't answer and turned my head ever so gently so I was looking at him. "Maybe you should take a break and come back later."
I shook my head. "No. I want to stay."
"Please. I need to stay."
"Okay, but only for a minute. You look exhausted. I may not be your doctor, but as a doctor, I'm prescribing at least twelve hours of sleep."
"Okay." I walked over to a chair that was positioned next to the bed. I sat down and took several deep breaths. It was terrifying to see my big, strong father looking so small and helpless. I gently took his hand in mine and willed him to open his eyes, to assure me that things were going to be okay.
"It looks like you really got yourself into a pickle this time." I tried for a light tone of voice I was far from feeling. "I know it seems pretty bad, but Hunter is here, and he's assured me you'll be getting VIP treatment during your stay."
I glanced at Hunter, who was watching me but not commenting. Jenna was standing next to him with tears streaming down her cheeks. I searched their faces for a sign of encouragement, but all I saw was sympathy.
I bit down hard on my lip to keep from breaking down completely. I turned back to my father and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. I needed to be strong for him the way he'd always been strong for me. "Hunter says you need your beauty sleep, and now that I've had a look at that eye I can see what he means." I reached out my hand and smoothed my dad's hair away from his eyes. It had gotten longer since I'd been away. "If I'm perfectly honest, I could use some beauty sleep as well. I'm going to go home for a while, but I'll be back. It would be really great if you were awake when I returned."
I closed my eyes and prayed. Please, God, let him live.
I stood up, leaned over, and kissed my dad on the forehead. Jenna took a step toward me. She wrapped me in her arms as I sobbed. When I had no tears left to expend, Hunter led Jenna and me to his office.
"Okay, tell me everything." I dug down deep for the strength and courage I knew I'd need to get through this.
"Your dad's injuries are extensive, but other than the head injury, none are life-threatening. He has a couple of broken ribs, a broken leg, multiple cuts and abrasions, and of course the swollen eye. All of this will heal in time. It's the head injury that's causing some concern."
I balled my hands into fists as I forced myself to ask the next question. "What are his chances of waking up and experiencing a full recovery?"
"Better than they were twenty-four hours ago."
"Okay. That's good, but it doesn't really answer my question." I forced myself to look Hunter in the eye. "I need a number. A percentage."
His face was soft with sympathy. "As of this moment, fifty-fifty."
It felt as if a lead ball had been dropped onto my chest. My heart raced as I struggled to find my breath. "Fifty-fifty?"
Hunter crossed the room. He knelt in front of the chair I was sitting in and took my hands in his. "I promise you I'll stay here until he's out of danger. I'll do everything in my power to return the father you know and love to you."
"Could he —" I choked. I took a deep breath, then continued. "Could he have brain damage?"
"It's a possibility. We won't know until the swelling in his brain decreases."
I glanced at Jenna, who was sitting in the chair next to me. I could see she was struggling to be strong for me, although based on the tears on her face, she was losing the battle just as I was.
"Go home," Hunter encouraged. "Get some sleep. If anything changes I'll call you. I promise."
"Rosalie?" Rosalie was my dad's fiancée. I was surprised she wasn't there.
"I sent her back to the resort to get some rest. She was hesitant to leave, but she said she was needed at the resort in your father's absence."
I realized the Fourth of July crowd would be arriving over the next day or two. Fourth of July week was the busiest one of the year at Maggie's Hideaway, the lakeside resort my father owned and operated. We had an excellent staff, but Rosalie would need help. Being needed, having something to do, somehow gave me strength.
"Okay. I'll go to the resort. But you'll call me the minute something changes?"
I looked at Jenna, who had managed to get her own emotions under control. "Is your car here?"
"Yeah. It's in the parking garage."
Jenna took my hand and led me out of the building. It was a beautiful sunny day, which seemed incongruent with the darkness in my heart. Fifty percent! Dad had a fifty percent chance of having a full recovery. What that actually meant, I realized, was that he had a fifty percent chance of not recovering.
I began to shiver as Jenna led me into the parking garage. It was covered, which provided shade against the heat of the sun, but it was a warm day, so the garage definitely shouldn't have been chilly. In spite of the fact that it had to be at least seventy degrees, I found I could not control the goosebumps that covered my arms.
"Are you cold?" Jenna asked, concern evident on her face.
"I have a sweater in the car," Jenna offered as she pressed the button on the elevator that would take us to the second level of the garage.
I didn't respond.
"Are you okay? You look a little pale."
I did feel dizzy. I supposed it was the shock setting in. I knew the last thing I had time for was a breakdown, so I took a deep breath, smiled at Jenna, and assured her I'd be fine. I focused on the pavement ahead of me as we made our way toward the second row where Jenna had left her car.
I checked my phone, which I'd turned off while I was in the hospital, as soon as I buckled myself into the front passenger seat of Jenna's car. There was a missed call from Kyle. I hit the Return Call button and waited while it rang.
"Hey," he answered at last.
"Did you make it home okay?"
"I'm in Serenity. At the hospital. Jenna is driving me home."
"And your dad?"
I glanced out the window at the passing scenery as Jenna pulled out of the garage and onto the highway. I put my fingers to my lips and pressed hard as if to hold back the cry of anguish demanding to be heard. "Alive," I whispered, as my voice broke with emotion.
Kyle responded in a tone that sounded forced, but I knew he meant to be supportive. "I spoke to Hunter earlier. He seemed to think your dad had a real chance at a full recovery."
"I hope so." I felt my throat close and the dizziness I'd felt before begin to return.
"I don't know what I'll do if he dies."
"He won't. He's strong. He'll get through this."
I wanted so badly to believe Kyle. He was a strong man who fought for what was important to him and, in the time I'd known him, had almost always won. Having Kyle and Hunter fighting with me usually gave me the confidence to do whatever it was I needed to do, but right now, in this moment, I felt so alone.
"Listen," Kyle added, "I managed to get your grandpa and the girls on a flight home tomorrow morning. I'll send a car, so you don't need to worry about picking them up at the airport."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fireworks in Paradise"
Copyright © 2017 Kathi Daley.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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