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Picking Up the Pieces: Baytown Boys Series by Maryann Jordan (1)

1

The moon hung over the Chesapeake Bay, off the Eastern Shore of Virginia, creating shimmers of diamond sparkles across the undulating water as it sent wave after wave upon the shore. The inky water caught the moon’s reflection, but the night swallowed most of the illumination so even the ships anchored in the bay were only visible by the lights on their decks. The waterfowl were now silent, asleep on their perches, no longer searching for food. The waves cast seafoam, seaweed, and shells upon the shore as the tide rolled in.

And, the beach accepted the deposits of sea glass that the ocean deemed worthy to leave for whoever was lucky enough to discover the gifts.

Lance Greene might have appreciated the peaceful night, since sleep was elusive and his beachfront house had a perfect view of the bay. But, as usual on sleepless nights, he stayed inside in his spare room that he had turned into a studio.

The modest one-story home, nestled behind a large dune, sat on a slight hill overlooking the bay. He had been immediately drawn to the house, the wide windows allowing light to chase out the dark corners during the daytime. The cedar frame had turned grey with age, but the previous owners had painted it with a clear, weather-resistant stain making sure it would last against the forces of nature.

The front of the house faced the road, a small porch framing the front door, almost as an afterthought. Lance knew the heart of the house would be facing the bay and the sunsets, so the foyer would only be usable as an entrance, not a place to gather. But that hadn’t bothered him at the time…he had no one to welcome to his home anyway.

The realtor had wanted to show him other, more exclusive properties—code word for more expensive and larger—but Lance had walked away from the hawkish woman with his hand up, silencing her prattle. With a fierce glower sent her way, he noted she stayed outside while he had roamed inside by himself.

By himself—that was the way he liked most things. He found life was easier when he separated himself from others. Their needs, wants, desires no longer became his responsibility. Thoughts of his former self—before it all went to hell in Afghanistan—were pushed to the back of his mind.

Just as he suspected, the focus of the house was toward the back, facing the bay. And as he wandered through the empty rooms, he had no trouble visualizing what his life could be, in this nowhere place on the shore. The former owners had taken the smaller rooms and opened them to create a large area, containing both the long living room and dining room, which flowed into the kitchen. A few upgrades in there were fine with him. He was not a foodie and had no intentions of becoming one. Off the living room was a screened porch, large and accommodating.

The lines of the space were pleasing with vaulted ceilings and large windows allowing the sunlight to spear inside. He had sucked in a deep breath, feeling as though he might have finally found a place where he could breathe.

The master bedroom was wide enough for his king-sized bed and the adjoining bathroom had been upgraded as well. Not a small man, he appreciated the oversized, glass-walled shower. Nodding to himself, he discovered the other two bedrooms. One faced the side of the house, positioned so it received both morning and afternoon sun. The lighted space beckoned to him and he recognized it for what it was. An out-of-the-way perfect place to land.

He had walked back outside, after glancing into the other bedroom, hall bathroom, and laundry room, and stalked toward the realtor, ignoring her eyes widening as he approached. “I’ll take it.”

Her gaze had jumped from him to the house behind and with a wide smile, she said, “Lovely! Let’s go get the offer signed.”

Her curious questions about his reasons for moving to the Eastern Shore went unanswered. She had given up her inquisition as his stoic persona left her with nothing to do but focus on filling out the paperwork, not gaining information on the newest resident-to-be.

Now, a year later, bending over the table, he sat on his stool, peering through his tabletop, lighted, magnifying glass, his hands holding the delicate wire and shards of sea glass that he used in his artwork. The work was meticulous, but he relished the creative process from idea to design to completion. An exquisite piece.

As he finished drilling the tiny hole in the glass, he wove the gold wire through and around, occasionally testing his work against the design drawing in the notebook next to him on the table. Once satisfied with what he had accomplished, he leaned back, stretching the kinks out of his spine and neck. He preferred working in the daylight, but sleepless nights were put to use as well.

Standing, he headed toward the door, stopping to look at his newest artistic endeavor. A mosaic created out of perfectly fitted pieces of sea glass lay on another table. The play of light off the multi-colors caught his eye and a slight smile escaped as he appreciated the work. With a final sigh, he flipped the light switch, plunging the room into darkness before he made his way through the house. He passed by the living room, now furnished with a long, comfortable sofa and several deep-cushioned chairs facing a flat screen TV on an antique wooden stand. Some of his artwork hung about the room, the only nod to living on the beach. He shunned decorating in commercial beach—wooden signs painted with sayings about how life is better with your toes in the sand or shells strung in a fishing net. Instead, he opted for comfortable. Masculine. Private. Uncluttered. The way he liked his life to be.

Opening the refrigerator door, he pulled out a bottle of water, draining the entire contents while standing in his kitchen, his throat working as he swallowed the cold liquid. Tossing the bottle into the recycle bin, he glanced at the clock on the stove. 2:17 a.m. The time did not really matter to him as he had no place to be the next day. Or the day after that. Working from home afforded him the chance to create when the muse moved him and not worry about whether it was during the day or the middle of the night. Having no social calendar to contend with also made life simpler.

Simpler. That’s why I moved here. No expectations. No disappointments. No friends to lose in the middle of the desert. Removed from society, but with just a thread of connection.

Pushing aside thoughts of his time in the Army, he was assaulted by the more recent naggings from his mother.

Walking into his bedroom, he sat on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands, willing his memories to fade into the background. He had been a fool, opening his email earlier and reading the note from his mother, once more berating him for disappointing his father. “You know when your father is unhappy, he makes my life miserable. I would think you would care about me instead of being so selfish!”

Forcing her out of his mind, he thought of the upcoming American Legion meeting. Two of the reasons he moved to Baytown were the newly charted AL and the desire to be in the company of good men and women who understood the military life. He hoped some of their spirit of camaraderie would rub off on him…eventually.

Laying on his back, staring at the slow-moving ceiling fan, he thought of Mitch Evans, the police chief of the small town on the bay that he now called home and the president of the American Legion. Mitch had been a chance meeting on the far side of the world several years ago. A tentative friendship that grew to offer him a lifeline. Baytown was Mitch’s world, where he was raised and returned to take over when his father, the former chief, had to retire due to a heart attack.

Mitch had roots and, if Lance was honest with himself, he envied those roots. They grew deep into the land of the shore, connecting Mitch to his childhood friends who had also come back from military service. Connecting Mitch to the town that revered him. To the job that always called to him. To his family, that gave him the support he needed. And, back to the woman he left behind.

Lance had learned the reason for the name Baytown Boys—the group of men who had been fortunate enough to be raised on the shore, childhood friendships turning into sports teams in their adolescent years, military brothers after high school, and now adults creating their future. Grant, another police officer; Aiden and Brogan, brothers who owned the pub; Zac, the fire chief; and Callan, still with the Coast Guard.

Their ranks had increased with new blood—former military men and women needing a place to call home. True to his nature, Mitch had extended the hand of friendship to him, to include moving to Baytown to put down roots as well.

He had taken Mitch up on his offer, but knew that roots would not grow. It takes a healthy plant, with a good root system to begin with, and he surely lacked those qualifications. But he was here and had no desire to leave.

Rolling over in bed, he stretched out his long legs, grateful the room was large enough to easily accommodate his California king. There were few luxuries he desired, but his comfortable mattress was one of them. Anything he could do to tempt peaceful slumber.

Closing his eyes, willing sleep to finally come, he prayed the screams in the night would evade him for once.