He made a point of going into the cafe every morning. A cup of coffee, a muffin, a few words. To Zack's way of thinking, she'd get used to seeing him, talking to him, and the next time he worked it around so they were alone together, she wouldn't feel compelled to check for running room.

He was perfectly aware that Nell wasn't the only one who noticed his new morning habit. Zack didn't mind the teasing comments, the sly winks and chuckles. Island life had a rhythm, and whenever anything new added a beat, everyone felt it.

He sipped Nell's truly excellent coffee while he stood on the dock listening to Carl Macey bitch about lobster poachers.

"Three blessed days this week trap's been empty, and they ain't troubling to close it after them, neither. I've got the suspicion it's them college boys renting the Boeing place. Ayah. " He spat. "That's who's doing it. I catch 'em at it, I'm gonna give them rich college brats something to remember. "

"Well, Carl, the fact is, it sounds like summer people, and sounds like kids on top of it. Why don't you let me have a talk with them?"

"Got no call interfering with a man's livelihood that way. "

"No, but they wouldn't be thinking of it like that. "

"They'd better start thinking. " The weathered face went grim. "I went up to see Mia Devlin, asked her to put a spell on my traps. "

Zack winced. "Now, Carl-"

"Better than me peppering their skinny white asses with buckshot now, ain't it? I swear that's next in line. "

"Let me handle this. "

"I'm telling you, ain't I?" Scowling, Carl bobbed his head. "No harm in covering all my bases. Besides,

I got a look at the new mainlander while I was up to the bookstore. " Carl's pug-homely, wrinkled face folded into a snicker. "See why you're such a regular customer there these days. Ayah. Big blue eyes like that sure start a man's day off on the right foot. "

"They can't hurt. You keep your shotgun in your gun cabinet, Carl. I'll take care of things. "

He headed back to the station house first, for his list of summer people. The Boeing place was an easy enough walk, but he decided to take the cruiser to make it more official.

The summer rental was a block back from the beach, with a generous screened porch on the side. Beach towels and swim trunks hung drooping from a nylon line strung inside the screen. The picnic table on the porch was heaped with beer cans and the remnants of last night's meal.

They hadn't had the sense, Zack thought with a shake of his head, to ditch the evidence. Scraped-out lobster shells lay upended on the table like giant insects. Zack dug his badge out of his pocket and pinned it on. Might as well get in their faces with it.

He knocked, and kept right on knocking until the door opened. The boy who opened the door was about twenty. Squinting against the sun, his hair a wild disarray, he wore brightly striped boxer shorts and a golden summer tan.

He said, "Ugh. "

"Sheriff Todd, Island Police. Mind if I come inside?"

"Whafor? Timzit?"

Hungover, big-time, Zack decided, and translated.

"To talk to you. It's about ten-thirty. Your friends around?"

"Somewhere? Problem? Christ. " The boy swallowed, winced, then stumbled through the living room past the breakfast counter and to the sink, where he turned the water on full. And stuck his head under the faucet.

"Some party, huh?" Zack said when he surfaced, dripping.

"Guess. " He snagged paper towels, rubbed his face dry. "We get too loud?"

"No complaints. What's your name, son?"

"Josh, Josh Tanner. "

"Well, Josh, why don't you rouse yo

ur pals? I don't want to take up a lot of your time. "

"Yeah, well. Okay. "

He waited, listened. There was some cursing, a few thuds, water running. A toilet flushed.

The three young men who trooped back in with Josh looked plenty the worse for wear. They stood, in various states of undress, until one flopped down on a chair and smirked.

"What's the deal?"

All attitude, Zack calculated. "And you'd be?"

"Steve Hickman. "

Boston accent, Zack concluded. Upper-class one, almost Kennedyesque. "Okay, Steve, here's the deal. Lobster poaching carries a thousand-dollar fine. Reason for that is that while it's a kick to sneak out and empty the traps, boil up a couple, some people depend on the catch for their living. An evening's entertainment to you is money out of their pocket. "

As he lectured, Zack saw the boys shift uncomfortably. The one who'd answered the door was flushing guiltily and keeping his eyes averted.

"What you had out there on the porch last night would've run you about forty down at the market. So you look up a man by the name of Carl Macey at the docks, give him forty, and that'll be the end of it. "

"I don't know what you're talking about. Does this Macey put a brand on his lobsters?" Steve smirked again, scratched his belly. "You can't prove we poached anything. "

"True enough. " Zack glanced around the room, skimmed faces. Nerves, a little shame. "This place rents for what, about twelve hundred a week in full season, and the boat you've rented puts another two-fifty onto that. Add entertainment, food, beer. You guys're shelling out 'round about a grand apiece for a week here. "

"And pumping it into the island economy," Steve said with a thin smile. "Pretty stupid to hassle us over a couple of allegedly poached lobsters. "

"Maybe. Even more stupid not to come up with ten bucks each to smooth things over. You think about that. It's a small island," Zack said as he started for the door. "Word gets around. "

"Is that a threat? Threatening civilians could result in a litigious action. "

Zack glanced back, shook his head. "I bet you're pre-law, aren't you?" He strolled out, back to his cruiser. It wouldn't take him long to hit the right spots in the village and make his point.


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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