Sand Castle Bay (Ocean Breeze) - By Sherryl Woods


The television in Emily Castle’s Aspen, Colorado, hotel room was tuned to the Weather Channel, where there was minute-by-minute coverage of the hurricane aiming directly at North Carolina’s coast, the place that had been like a second home to her. Childhood summers there had been slow and lazy and sweet. The beach town her grandmother called home was where she’d ultimately experienced her first heartache, yet despite those painful memories and despite everything she had on her plate at the moment, it was where she needed to be.

Even before her cell phone rang, she was checking flight schedules on her laptop. She clicked on a connecting flight between Atlanta and Raleigh, North Carolina, just as she answered the incoming call.

“Already on it,” she told her sister Gabriella. “I should be able to get to Raleigh by sometime late tomorrow.”

“Not a chance,” Gabi argued. “Flights are going to be canceled up and down the East Coast for at least a day or two. You’re better off waiting until next week and booking for Monday, maybe even Tuesday. Avoid the craziness.”

“What’s Samantha doing?” Emily asked, referring to their older sister.

“She’s rented a car and is already on her way down from New York. She’ll be here later tonight, hopefully ahead of the storm. They’re predicting landfall overnight. We’re already getting some of the wind and rain bands clear over here.”

Of course Samantha would beat the storm! Emily couldn’t seem to stop herself from frowning. Though she’d never totally understood it, the odd competitiveness she’d always felt with her oldest sister kicked in with a vengeance. She supposed with three sisters, there were bound to be rivalries, but why with Samantha and not Gabi? Gabi was the driven, successful businesswoman, the one most like her in terms of ambition.

“I’m getting on a flight out of here tonight,” Emily said determinedly, motivated by Samantha’s plans. “If I have to drive from Atlanta, then that’s what I’ll do.”

Rather than admonishing her, Gabi chuckled. “Samantha said you were going to say that. From the time you understood the difference between winning and losing, you hated it when she beat you at anything. Okay, fine. Get here when you can. Just do it safely. This storm isn’t looking pretty. If it wobbles even the slightest bit to the west, Sand Castle Bay will take a direct hit. You can bet the road down to Hatteras will wash out again unless they were a lot smarter when they did the repairs after the last storm.”

“How’s Grandmother?” Cora Jane Castle was in her mid-seventies but still going strong and determined to continue operating the beachfront restaurant opened by her late husband even though no one in the family had demonstrated any interest in running it. In Emily’s view, she ought to sell it and enjoy her golden years, but the mere mention of such an idea was considered blasphemy.

“Stoic about the storm, but mad as a wet hen that Dad drove over and picked her up to bring her to Raleigh to ride out the hurricane,” Gabi assessed. “She’s in my kitchen cooking and muttering a few very bad words I had no idea she knew. I think that’s why Dad dropped her here, then took off. He didn’t want to be around when she got her hands on my knives.”

“Or it could be he had no idea what to say to her. That’s his way, isn’t it?” Emily said with a hint of bitterness. Under the best of conditions, her father, Sam, wasn’t communicative. Under the worst, he simply wasn’t around. Most of the time she’d made her peace with that, but on occasion simmering resentments rose to the surface.

“He has work to do,” Gabi said, immediately defensive, as always. “Important work. Do you know the kind of impact these biomedical studies at his company could have on people’s lives?”

“I wonder how many times he said exactly that to Mother when he went off and left her to cope with raising us.”

For once Gabi didn’t overreact. “It was a constant refrain, wasn’t it? Well, we’re all grown-up. We should be over all those missed school plays and recitals and soccer games by now.”

“Says the not-so-well-adjusted woman who’s doing her best to follow in his footsteps,” Emily taunted with good humor. “You know you’re no better than he is, Gabriella. You may not be a scientist, but you are a workaholic. That’s why you get so uptight when I criticize him.”

The silence that greeted her comment was deafening. “Gabi, I