• Grace A. Johnson

BTIS--Chapter 6

In this chapter, I introduced two characters: Detective Forrest Billingham and Cade's sister Keiri-Leigh Cannon. Believe it or not, these characters had previously existed in an idea for a lighthouse mystery as mystery-solving partners. Don't ask me when or why I decided to chunk them into Beyond the Inner Storm, but I'm so glad I did! They ended up becoming the main characters of the sequel, A Dream Fulfilled, which, of course, went bye-bye when I scratched BTIS. However, I've revived Kerri and Forrest both, giving them a Civil War-era murder mystery within a revised edition of my Darren/Cannon/Billingham world.

Although I can't be certain when I'll be able to finish Kerri and Forrest's currently untitled novel, I do hope that you'll enjoy reading a wee bit about their former selves. (Trust me, Forrest is now a much more interesting person, albeit slightly grumpy. So, never fear--he and Kerri both don't stay the same as they appear in these next few chapters. 😉)



Chapter 6

Forrest Billingham laid unconscious upstairs, Arielle was downstairs cooking dinner, and Cade was bored out of his mind.

After pacing the floor in the dining room for what was probably a half-hour, Cade walked up behind Arielle, who was standing over the stove, stirring something in a pot. “Boo!” he yelled into her ear, seeing as how Arielle was too immersed in her cooking to sense his presence.

“Ahh!” She jumped and dropped her spoon before turning around and slapping Cade’s cheek.

“Oww. What was that for?” he asked, rubbing his sore jaw, trying and failing to contain a smile.

“For sneaking up on me, you stinker.” She picked up her spoon and turned back to her cooking, shaking her head in disgust over his actions. “Twenty-six and he’s still acting like a child,” he could hear her mutter under her breath as though speaking to the pot.

“I’m bored, Mommy,” he playfully whined to bring truth to her words. He stuck his bottom lip out in a pout and heaved a sigh, slumping his shoulders.

Arielle poured the steaming concoction that she was cooking into a bowl. “Good, ‘cause I have a job for you.” She thrust the bowl out in front of him, sticking a spoon into it. “Go see if Mr. Billingham is awake. If he is, give him this,” she commanded, nodding her head towards the stairs.

“Yes, Mommy.” Cade took the bowl from her hands and bounded up the stairs to where Mr. Billingham rested in the attic. Slowly, he opened the door and peaked in, unsure if the man was awake.

Thankfully, Mr. Billingham sat up in his bed, wide awake, though he looked a little worse for wear, that was for sure. His dark brown hair was a mess, resembling a bird’s nest in all honesty, and the gray circles under his eyes made his skin seem even lighter. Poor man. But even still, a smile lit up his face. “Praise God,” he declared, waving his arms through the air. “Decent folk. For a second, I was afraid I had been taken in by pirates.” He laughed, then immediately winced at the pain the action caused. He’d probably bruised a few ribs in that tumble he’d taken.

Cade chuckled, crossing the threshold and walking towards his bedside. “Sorry, sir, no pirates here. Just me and my friend,” he replied, glad himself that their visitor seemed to be decent as well.

Forrest nodded, raising an eyebrow, the side of his mouth quirking into an odd line. “I’m guessing your friend’s a lady, eh?”

He grinned. “You guess quite well, Mr. Billingham.”

“Ahh, it’s my job. I’m a detective, though I’m guessing you already knew that, seeing as how you have my card over there.” He pointed to the side table where the soaked piece of paper Arielle had found in his pocket laid.

“Another good guess.” Cade walked up to the man. He laid the bowl on the table and extended his hand. “Cade Darren, the light keeper.”

Forrest firmly grasped his hand despite the pain he was in and shook it. “Detective Forrest Billingham, at your service,” he said. “Light keeper, eh? I figured as much. So, about this lady friend of yours, just a friend?”

“Ha, yes. We’ve only known each other a week,” Cade stated.

“Oh.”

Cade handed him the bowl of soup, and he started eating. “Your lady friend is a good cook,” Forrest commented. “Didn’t get much good food on that ship. Then again, it’s hard to find good food most anywhere.”

“Very true. Speaking of Arielle―that’s her name―I ought to let her know that you’re awake.”

Forrest nodded his head in acknowledgment.

Cade exited the room and made his way down the stairs. He was greeted by Arielle standing right in front of him at the bottom of the steps.

“He’s obviously awake, huh, Cadey?” she said, crossing her arms and attempting a stern glare.

“Yep, and I think he’d like to meet you,” he replied.

“Very well.” She started walking up the stairway but stopped halfway. “Hey, Cade. I need you to go into town and pick up some things. I have a list on the counter. Could you do that for me?” she asked, her voice sweet like honey, tossing the words over her shoulder.

“Anything for you, Ari,” he answered, not realizing just how much he meant those words. Yep, he’d do anything for that girl.

“We’ll see about that.” She hurried up the stairs to check on her patient.

***

Cade stopped and looked up at the sign above him, then looked down at the list in his hands. Good, he had finally found the general store. The list Arielle had given him took him all over the town, and multiple times he had gotten lost. It was a small town but a maze of one even still. She needed food, tools, and more paint, but only a certain kind of paint. Goodness, was she was awfully specific or what?

Cade swung open the door to the store, the cowbell that hung at the top of the door jingling, which was punctuated by a sharp scream as a little kid ran towards him, a doll clutched in his hands.

“Tommy! Give it back!” shouted a girl as she tugged on the kid’s shirt sleeve, jerking him away from where Cade stood.

The boy―probably her elder brother―wrenched away from her grip, then pulled the girl’s red braids. “Never!” he yelled.

The girl slapped him, and he shrieked in pain.

Afraid the children would ended up pulling his hair and tugging on his shirt, Cade slipped by the fighting siblings and made his way towards the back of the shop, past where the young’uns’ mother stood examining some rolls of fabric.

A tall man with graying hair stood behind the counter. “How canna be of service t’ ya?” the man asked with southern accent, resting his elbows on the counter top and leaning forward, an eyebrow lifted in question.

“I’m looking for acrylic paint. Would you happen to have any of that?” Cade inquired, glancing around the shop. Behind the man were shelves stocked with multiple items, paper, tools, flowerpots even.

“Yeah, I gotta couple sets. Gimme a second,” the man answered as he turned and reached under the counter. He pulled out two sets of paint. One had a few basic colors, while the other looked more like the one he had seen Arielle use, with more tints and shades.

Cade pointed to the second set. “That one, sir.”

“Alrighty. So, ya a painter?” the man asked.

Cade laughed. “No. I’m Cade Darren, the light keeper at the old lighthouse not far from here. The paints are for a friend,” he replied, not bothering to go into detail about his friend.

Before the man could answer, the annoying children’s mother―whom Cade recognized to be Mrs. Halstead ―turned from the fabric she was looking at and leaned in between the two men. “You know that old place is haunted, right?” she whispered into Cade's ear.

“Yes ma’am, Mrs. Halstead, I gathered that before I arrived that. But I’ve been there a week and I haven’t seen a ghost yet,” Cade answered, though he’d seen something much more interesting than a spirit.

“Oh, I’ve seen her,” she stated, raising her voice to it’s normal tone.

“Yep, creepy lookin’ thang, that ghost girl,” the store owner added, nodding his head.

“A girl, you say? Well, I will keep my eye out for her.” Not that he needed to.

“Yes, deary, a girl. She has long white hair and a ghost dog that follows her around. Beware of her, she might do harmful things to a poor young men like you,” Mrs. Halstead warned.

“But I thought she was a ghost?” Cade said, being careful not to reveal Arielle's true identity, knowing he’d get in big trouble if he did. Everyone believed her to have died, so she said, and if he mentioned her, it’d cause quite an uproar.

“You never know what a ghost can do.” Mrs. Halstead turned to her children. “Tommy, let go of Millie’s hair. Millie, put the toy back. Jamie, hand me the purple cloth”" she commanded her children.

Tommy dropped his hand from his sister’s hair at his mother’s command, and the girl with red hair, Millie placed a small doll back on the shelf behind her. The eldest child, Jamie handed his mother the cloth she had been looking at earlier.

Cade took the set of paint that laid on the counter, paid the man, and left the shop. After taking a few steps forward, a small flurry of brown and blue ran straight his chest. He caught the person by her forearms and steadied her, trying to extract himself from her, but the girl didn’t budge. Wonderful, he thought sarcastically, this town’s got silly flirts. Over the years he’d had his experience with young ladies that wouldn’t let go of his arm, or, if he happened to bump into them, the girl wouldn’t step back. Instead, they would just flutter those long lashes, just like the woman in his arms did.

“My, my. To what do I owe this handsome young man that caught me from a horrid fall?” the woman asked, her voice breathy and smooth, as though she’d made a habit of speaking those same words. Then she lifted her lashes, drawing her gaze from his chest his face, revealing familiar chocolate eyes.

Cade took a step back, releasing her shoulders. “Good heavens, Kerri-Leigh Darren Cannon. What are you doing flirting with your brother?” Cade teased after realizing the girl in his arms was his little sister. How long had it been? A year, maybe, since he had seen his baby sister. They’d made a habit of writing each other after he’d left home to work as a light-keeper. But seeing each other in person wasn’t an easy feat, not with that husband of hers.

His sister let her hands slide off Cade’s chest and smiled. “My, my, Cade. How was I supposed to know? I haven’t seen you in over two years. You look awfully handsome. Caught you a wife yet?” Kerri said, smoothing her deep sapphire dress, peeking up at him, her eyes probing for answer.

“One question at a time, silly. You shouldn’t flirt, brother or not; you’re married. I missed you, too. You look gorgeous yourself. And, no, I haven’t ‘caught’ a wife,” Cade quickly answered, having plenty of practice with Kerri’s quick talking. He crossed his arms over his chest and pasted on a scolding expression.

“Oh, married, shmarried. You know I didn’t chose to marry Marcus. Beside, he’s terrible. Always drinking and gambling. Now, why haven’t you gotten married yet? You’re the handsomest man in all of Michigan. Women should be flocking to you, Cade. What did you do? Run them off with your boorish talk of lighthouses?” Kerri continued her rambling, talking Cade’s ears off as usual.

Cade grabbed her hand, and they started walking through the town, Kerri endlessly chatting the whole time.

Cade finally got tired of her nonstop prattle and placed his hand over her mouth. “I tell you what. How about we go to the lighthouse? I’ve got a friend that would really enjoy listening to your blather,” he suggested. So, Arielle probably wouldn’t be able to stand his little sister’s chatter any more than he could, but it would help give his ears a rest. Then again, Forrest might enjoy listening to Kerri.

Kerri pulled his hand off her mouth. “That sounds wonderful. Marcus is off on another business trip, so I’m free. Which is exactly how I got to be here. You know, that man won’t let me leave the house for anything, that is, unless I’m with him. About this friend, a girl, right? Oh, is she pretty? Sweet? Where’s she from?” She continued asking questions about Arielle as Cade walked out of the town.

Before long, Cade and his sister made it to the lighthouse.

When Kerri saw the lighthouse, her mouth fell open and she stood motionless for a long moment. “Cade, this is the lighthouse?” she questioned.

“Is there something wrong, Kerri?” he inquired, turning to face her.

“You wrote to me a couple weeks ago that you were running an unfinished lighthouse. Not a gorgeous tower like this. This is even prettier than the last one. Is the light in? No, it probably wouldn’t be. Hmm, judging by the style, must’ve been built around a decade ago.” She pointed to the tall, white lighthouse that stood in front of them. Though she acted as though she despised lighthouses, she was constantly mentioning that fact, Cade knew she was obsessed. Once, she’d spent an entire evening telling him all about how to clean and replace the light. Only Cade knew just how much she liked them, even wanted to run her own one day. Though no one allowed women to do so, and Marcus wouldn’t let her read, much less run a lighthouse.

“Arielle and I have spent the past week fixing it up,” Cade stated.

“Arielle, huh? Your friend?” Kerri started walking up towards the keeper’s cabin. She politely knocked on the blue door and was greeted by Arielle, who was covered in flour and looked like the ghost she was thought to be.

Hallo, I’m Arielle. And you are?” Arielle said, smiling and wiping the flour off her face.

“I’m Kerri-Leigh Cannon, Cade’s little sister,” Kerri answered as Cade stepped up beside her. At Arielle’s motion towards the house, she walked inside, a gasp leaving her lips.

Cade walked up to Arielle. “I hope you don't mind more company. I ran into her in town and invited her.”

“That’s fine, Cadey. I’ve been wanting to meet your sister,” she replied with her normal sweetness.

They walked into the house to find that Kerri had already plopped down at the dinner table and struck up a conversation with Detective Billingham, who sat at the table enjoying fresh-baked muffins. Not that it took her long to begin talking.

“We’ve got our hands full, huh, Ari?” Cade asked.

“Definitely.”

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