Excerpt: Adrift

Excerpt: Adrift

Book 2: Tempest Island Series

Chapter One

 

Los Angeles, California

Eight years ago

 

Katarina Petras hurried out of the university library and down the sidewalk, glancing at the big clock tower as she went. She was going to be late for dinner again, which meant another lecture from her mother and days of disapproving frowns from her father. But once she’d started researching her term paper, she’d gotten wrapped up in the details and had lost track of time. The silver lining was that she had almost everything she needed to get started writing the paper.

Not that it would matter to her parents.

Her parents had immigrated from Czechoslovakia right after their marriage, looking for a better life for themselves and their future children, which had ultimately consisted only of Katarina. But they still clung hard to some of the old ways of the tiny village they were from, and one of those was the belief that their daughter needed a good husband, not a good education. Fortunately, Katarina had been an excellent student and an even better long-distance runner and had gotten scholarship money for college. Her parents wouldn’t pay, even though they could afford to, but at least they’d finally agreed to let her live at home while she attended school and worked part-time.

Of course, their ‘approval’ had come with stipulations. Curfew was still 10:00 p.m. weekdays and midnight on weekends, just like high school. Dinner at home every Sunday night at 6:00 p.m. was her mother’s additional stipulation, and it might as well have been carved in stone. Dating Josef Danek, son of her father’s boss, was her father’s implied request, even though her mother had voiced her disapproval of the idea more than once.

Her father hadn’t come straight out and said she was required to date Josef, but when her mother was out of earshot, he’d pushed his boss’s son so hard that Katarina realized dating him was probably the key to keeping her father happy. And she needed to keep her father happy. Especially since he was the one who brought home the money that paid for the house she needed to live in and the car she needed for school and work. Two more years, she kept telling herself. Two more years until freedom.

The enormous price of that freedom was dating Josef.

When her father had first started hinting, she’d lucked out as Josef had been seeing another woman. She’d managed almost two years of school before Josef and his girlfriend broke up and her father had managed to get Katarina on Josef’s radar. They’d gone out several times now—without her mother’s knowledge, per her father’s instruction—but Katarina was certain she would never have feelings for Josef. Not positive ones, anyway. If she was being honest, she didn’t like him all that much as a person, much less as a romantic interest.

His father, Ivan, was a wealthy businessman who spoiled Josef, giving him plenty of cash and not a lot of responsibility. At least, it appeared to Katarina that Josef had no shortage of money or free time. When she’d asked him about his work, he was so vague that she had to assume he didn’t have regular duties, much less a set work schedule. That also meant that he had plenty of time to pursue Katarina, and that was becoming a problem.

So far, she’d managed to avoid the most aggressive of his advances, and given that her father worked for Josef’s father, he hadn’t pushed as hard as he probably would have if there had been no business connections. But they were fast approaching a crossroads where Katarina was going to have to tell Josef she didn’t wish to see him any longer, and she was afraid of what that would do to her college plans.

She worked as much as she could at a local clothes shop and put back every dime she could to prepare for this eventuality, but she didn’t have enough to pay rent and living expenses in LA. To add to the pile, Josef’s father owned the store where she worked. And since her parents provided her car, that was one more thing she didn’t have the funds to replace. Public transportation was an option but not a great one, especially if she wanted to ensure she arrived at work and classes on time. Sometimes the schedules didn’t exactly line up with her committed hours. Like now, when her car was in for service, and she was minutes from missing the last bus.

“Katarina!” A woman’s voice sounded behind her, and she slowed to look back.

Another student, Amy, was hurrying to catch up, and Katarina held in a sigh. She liked Amy well enough, but the girl always needed help with something and right now, Katarina didn’t have time for whatever Amy’s latest crisis was.

“You’re practically running,” Amy said as she half jogged up, completely out of breath.

“I’m going to be late for dinner, and you know how my parents are,” Katarina said, picking up her pace again.

Amy’s face fell as she struggled to keep up. “Oh, then you don’t have time to chat.”

“Not today. Catch me tomorrow.”

“Okay. But I think you’re going to be fine on that dinner thing—at least where your father is concerned.”

“Huh?”

“I just saw him go into the practice field with another guy.”

My father?”

Amy nodded.

“Crap!” Katarina let out a string of cursing as the bus she’d been trying to catch pulled away from the stop.

“Was that your bus?” Amy asked.

“Yeah. I don’t suppose you’re driving today, are you?”

“No. Mom gave the car to my little sister. Like she has anything worthwhile to do. Probably sitting at the boardwalk with her useless friends. Maybe you can catch your father and get a ride with him. Your mom can’t complain if you come in late together, right?”

Katarina considered this and nodded. “That’s a good idea. I’ll see if I can catch him and if not, I guess I’ll be springing for an Uber and apologizing to my mother for a week. Thanks, Amy!”

Katarina shifted directions and jogged toward the practice field, wondering what business her father could possibly have at the college. Not that she really knew much about her father’s job. All he ever said was that Ivan had brought him over from the old country when he’d established his business in LA and that he was one of Ivan’s right-hand men. Ivan owned a bunch of different businesses—restaurants, bars, retail stores, dry cleaners, pawnshops, and commercial real estate. Including the store Katarina worked in, although she’d never seen him there. But she supposed that’s why he had people on payroll, like her father. To help oversee all his investments.

The stadium lights shut off at the practice field, and she cursed. If she didn’t catch a ride with her father, she was really going to pay for it. By the time she got an Uber home, she’d be at least thirty minutes late. She turned up her pace and was practically running by the time she slipped through the open gate and into the sports field. The night lights were on, of course, but didn’t illuminate much, and the storm brewing overhead had blocked any light that the moon might otherwise provide.

Since she couldn’t see well, she stopped to listen. A couple seconds later, voices carried past her with the gusts of wind from the upcoming storm and she headed for the field. She stopped at the edge of the bleachers and looked around. The little bit of moonlight that was coming through the storm clouds was just enough to let her know the field was empty, but the bleachers were too dark to see in most places. She scanned the sidelines, squinting, and finally spotted three shadows moving in a field entrance about fifty feet away.

She put her hand on the bleacher rail to guide her and made her way toward the figures, moving slowly since the moonlight had disappeared completely, and the area she was walking through was pitch-black. When she got closer, she recognized her father’s voice yelling about missing money. The other voice sounded like Coach Mayhern, the football coach. But that didn’t make any sense. What in the world could Coach Mayhern have to do with Ivan’s businesses?

She took a few cautious steps closer, and the moonlight came back just enough that she could finally make out the three figures. One was her father, Gustav, and one was indeed Coach Mayhern. She recognized the other as a man who also worked for Ivan but couldn’t remember his name. She’d only met him in person once.

“I just need some time,” Coach Mayhern said, his voice pleading.

“Time to what?” Gustav asked. “Put together the money you stole from Ivan? He supplied the product. He expects to be paid for it.”

“I swear, it was just to get me out of a pinch,” Coach Mayhern said. “It will never happen again.”

“No,” Gustav said. “It won’t.”

Everything appeared in slow motion as Katarina watched in horror as her father pulled out a pistol and pointed it directly at the coach. At first, she thought maybe he hadn’t fired because there wasn’t a loud bang, but Coach Mayhern screamed in pain and clutched his chest, and Katarina could see blood seeping between his fingers. After a couple seconds, he dropped onto the pavement.

Katarina covered her mouth with her hand, choking back a cry. This couldn’t be happening. Her father was a businessman. He wore custom-made suits and drove a Mercedes. They lived in a nice house in an upscale neighborhood. Her mother didn’t work. This was a scene out of a gangster movie. Not her life. Not her family.

But there her father stood, holding a pistol and staring down at a dying man, with an expression completely devoid of emotion.

“Cleanup should be here soon,” Gustav said to the other man. “I’m late for dinner. Take over.”

The other man nodded and Gustav started to walk away, but as he did, lightning flashed across the sky and he turned in Katarina’s direction. His eyes locked on hers and widened. As thunder ripped through the night sky, Katarina spun around and ran faster than she’d ever run before.

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