Chapter 1

Matt Saunders bolted upright. A thick sheen of sweat covered his body. He gulped for air. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think.

Flinging the covers, he dropped to the floor. Push-up after push-up wasn’t enough to regulate his heartbeat. His biceps burned and his heart thundered as if it would leap straight through his chest. He rolled onto his back. Inhale, exhale. He crossed his arms against his chest. Up and down, up and down, up and down. He couldn’t rid his mind of the pictures replaying over and over from the day his whole world changed.

Letting out a frustrated growl, he grabbed a discarded T-shirt out of his hamper and pulled on jogging pants. He couldn’t get out fast enough. The apartment door slammed behind him as he took the stairs down two at a time.

He hit the pavement hard, pushing forward at top speed, wanting to run out of his own body. Conscious of every moving thing in his sight, his adrenaline became jet fuel, propelling him down East President Avenue. He continued over the Islands Expressway and turned off the road at the park. Finally able to stop, he bent in half, hands on his thighs, and exhaled slowly. He shook violently as he fought the body-racking sobs that threatened to overcome him. He raised his arms over his head and then across his torso, elbows bent, stretching his triceps. Still, he couldn’t calm his body or his thoughts.

Whatever had awakened him had triggered the instincts he’d trained for in combat. Pushing his body physically was the only way to fight the images that threatened his peace.

Up in the trees, a Carolina wren announced the new day with a pleasant song. Matt glanced up and wished he could appreciate the songbird’s innocence. Instead, he turned around and sprinted full speed out of the park for the two-mile run home.

An hour later, he could breathe again. Matt lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling, willing the terrible images out of his head.

Thursday, April 27, 2017. Slept with windows open. Big mistake. Woke to the smell of smoke. It brought it all back. Went for a run. Breathing again.

He’d been told it would get easier. The more he wrote it down in his journal, the less painful it would be. The problem was that the pain kept the memories of his friends alive, which he hadn’t been able to do on his own. The new medication allowed him to sleep most nights, but it didn’t stop the triggers.

Matt dropped his pen as the vibrating phone interrupted his journaling. His hand trembled as the name on the screen forced his heart to quicken again.

“Hello?”

“Saunders.” Bright flashes returned as Colonel Owens’s voice summoned him over the line. The smell of burning human flesh, the dark red blood of his comrades, the sound of the boom that had ripped up his leg.

“Sir?” Matt began to pace. His left hand squeezed his side, reminding him to stay upright and alert. The knuckles on his right hand turned white as he gripped the phone in earnest.

“I’m no longer your official superior.” The colonel paused. “Saunders, I have a job for you. My granddaughter was attacked last week. Subject is on the run. She’s recovering here for now. I want her to disappear for a while until we get this guy. How soon can you leave?”

Matt swallowed. He was no good to his brothers in arms overseas. He was possibly facing a medical retirement, which meant he may never again serve in an official capacity. This was his chance to do something, here and now. He was a protector, a soldier. Was it possible to keep his emotions and impulsivity under control well enough to keep the colonel’s granddaughter secure?

“Sir, no disrespect, but are you sure I’m the guy for this job?” Matt could barely take care of himself some days. It had been several months since the blast, but he was still in therapy, with no end in sight. His leg had healed almost completely, thanks to his dedication to the physical therapy and his willingness to push through the pain. His mental health was another story. He’d be fine for days at a time, even weeks occasionally, and then something would trigger a flare, like this morning, and he was right back in the hellhole that had destroyed his life’s purpose. Despair draped over him like a heavy cloak, engulfing him under its weight.

“You’re exactly the guy for this job. You are the toughest, most loyal, most thorough soldier available. I’m proud of you, son, and the way you’re working through your trauma. Your specific therapy was mandated for a reason, and I hear you’re doing exceptionally well. You’re on your way back, if that’s where you want to go. And if they retire you, contractors are constantly hiring guys like you to ensure the safety of our troops and supplies. You can do this. You’ll give it everything you’ve got. I wouldn’t expect any less, and I wouldn’t have called if I wasn’t confident. I wouldn’t trust my family to anyone but the
best. I want you. Lanie’s recovering and she’s traumatized. Maybe you can help her with that.”

“Yes, sir.” Matt swallowed deeply, forcing down the lump in his throat. He closed his eyes, willing his breaths to come slowly and evenly. “I can leave Saturday.”

“Good. I’ll be in touch with further instructions.”

Lanie Owens slumped against the plush pillows on the divan as her grandmother busied herself packing up the designer suitcase. Her eyes glazed over as the older woman chatted about the plan to go into hiding at a resort in Maine.

She closed her eyes. It had been over a week since she’d been attacked by her coworker. She’d always been polite and pleasant to him, but after she turned him down for a date, he began popping up everywhere. Her sister, Caroline, had warned her repeatedly not to be so friendly to him. I’ve got a bad feeling, Lanie, she’d told her. Caroline was always so dramatic, and Lanie had a heart for outsiders. She’d thought he just needed a friend. But a few weeks ago, she found him waiting outside her apartment door when she got home from work. When he got angry and refused to leave, she banged on her neighbor’s door across the hall and called the police. A restraining order was set up, she filed a formal complaint at work, and he was let go.

But it wasn’t enough.

He’d broken in during the night, determined to convince her they were meant to be together. She shuddered. Through the grace of God, she’d been able to fight him off, but not before he slashed at her neck and torso. The cuts were deep enough to require stitches, and she lost consciousness on the way to the hospital. Fear paralyzed her as she woke up to the beeping machines and a man’s hand on her arm. It had been her grandfather’s hand, but the panic resulting from his touch was enough for her to scream like she was being attacked all over again. I’m going to get my best guy to protect you, her grandfather had promised.

“Allaina,” Gran said firmly. Lanie snapped out of her reverie. “Are you even listening, dear?”

“Hmm?” She blinked and focused on her grandmother’s distraught expression. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. Tears welled in her eyes. She turned her head to the window, not wanting her grandmother to see the pain in her eyes.

Her grandmother placed the item she’d just folded into the suitcase and joined Lanie on the divan. She pulled her in close. “I know right now you feel your life may never return to normal. But it will. And we will do everything we can to make sure you’re never hurt again.” She pulled away and held Lanie’s chin in her hand. “Understand?”

Lanie nodded.

“Then let’s finish this up and get you to bed. Your Aunt Liza will be here at seven in the morning to remove those stitches before she goes into work at the pediatrician’s office. Your grandfather wants to be off bright and early to beat the traffic.”

“I still don’t understand why it’s necessary to go so far. Why can’t I stay here?”

Gran sighed. “We’ve been over this. The resort is far away and secluded. It makes sense to hide you away where you’ll be inaccessible, and after all you have been through, no one will be surprised that you wanted to go away to recover. You’ve never put anything less than one hundred percent into anything you’ve done. Why would your recovery be any different?”

“I guess it makes sense. But I still don’t want to go.”

Lanie stood up and went into the bathroom to gather her personal items. She shouldn’t be going away. She should be at the sportsplex, giving physical therapy to her patients, working on implementing the new programs and charity events she’d created, coaching and teaching her tween swimmers for their big meet on Saturday, and providing relief to her massage clients. She was letting everyone down.

Matt tapped impatiently on the steering wheel as he sat in the infamous Boston traffic on the Tobin Bridge late Sunday afternoon. He tried to will the cars ahead of him to move. Below him, the Mystic River twinkled in the sunlight. The crisp spring coastal air mingled with the exhaust fumes of seven lanes of traffic.

He’d declined the two-hour plane ride in favor of driving up the coast at his own leisure. The last time he’d been on a plane had tested every ounce of his self-control. The claustrophobic conditions he had felt onboard the aircraft months ago now resurfaced and pushed his every limit as he sat in the traffic.

He’d made good time on Saturday, getting through New York City before calling it a day. He’d planned to do some sightseeing in Boston before he headed up to Portland, where he would spend the night. He figured he could just drive around and stop wherever interested him, as tourists often did in Savannah. He had not been prepared for the congestion, lack of parking, and one-way streets of the bustling city. Hours passed and he hadn’t seen anything except traffic, tunnels, and bridges.

A chill traveled down his spine and beads of sweat formed at his hairline. His palms felt clammy as he gripped the wheel, his knuckles white as he held on. He was grateful for the cool breeze passing through the open windows. You are not trapped. Feel your right foot on the brake pedal. Your other foot is resting on the floor. Your hands are on the steering wheel at ten and two. You are safe. You are not in a war zone. You do not need an escape route. Your heart is beating at a normal rhythm. Your lungs are taking in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. You are very much alive.

Matt’s heartbeat began to slow. His palms loosened their death grip on the wheel. An involuntary shudder shook him as he forced his mind to overrule his body. Score another point for the therapist. As much as he’s resisted the therapy at first, he had to admit the tools he’d learned were useful. Self-talking made him feel ridiculous, but there was no doubt it was effective.

The traffic began to move as the wreck that had caused the backup was loaded onto a tow truck. He averted his eyes from the flashing lights of the rescue vehicles and willed his heartbeat to slow even further. Edging carefully past construction, he exited and merged onto I-95 North.

Finally free of the traffic, Matt felt the familiar rush of adrenaline. He pressed the gas pedal to the floor and shot out onto the highway, expertly navigating around an ancient Chrysler and a camper to get into the left lane. The road was clear as far as he could see.

You’re out. Slow it down. Matt eased off the gas and held it steady at 70 miles per hour. He could barely rein in his own anxiety; how was he going to help the colonel’s granddaughter with hers? The drive up the coast had drained him. He’d been lucky for the long stretches of light traffic, but it hadn’t been enough to push away the claustrophobia or the memory of a similar road trip years ago with his best friend, whom he failed to save.

Lanie stared through the passenger-side window at the Atlantic Ocean. Maine’s rocky cliffs looked appealing. She wondered how many people had stood atop the rocks and contemplated life. Stop it, Lanie. You’re being dramatic, like Caroline. Get a grip. Heaving a deep sigh, she tried once again to listen to her grandfather describe the man who was to be her bodyguard and the complicated security measures that would be put in place to ensure her safety. She shifted uncomfortably under the seatbelt. The skin at her neck where her aunt had removed the stitches earlier that morning felt raw and itchy.

“Matt’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever known. He went back in for the last man after the building was determined structurally unsound. They were both blown out of the building during a suicide bomber blast—the other guy didn’t make it. Matt took a lot of shrapnel to his right leg, so you might notice he favors it when it’s sore. But that doesn’t make him unfit in any way,” her grandfather assured her, glancing over uncertainly.

His fingers tightened on the steering wheel and he focused his eyes on the road ahead. His frustration was palpable in the confines of the car.

 Lanie felt she should say something. “Sounds great, Grandpa.” She shifted her gaze back to the window. “Thank you for setting this up until they find”— her voice broke—“that—”

“Someone had to,” he mumbled.

Lanie hung her head. Once again, her grandfather had stepped in when her father had come up short in the fathering department. The colonel’s son was everything he was not—entitled, indulgent, and completely unaware of everything outside his current periphery.

The police had been at a loss for where to even look for her attacker. Both she and her grandfather knew that her father was not about to spend extra money or time when he paid taxes for the police to do their job. Her dad had protested the Gulf War even while his own father was there risking his life. Her father had little use for authority, yet depended on the government to fix everything.

Lanie’s grandfather had zero patience for his son. Because of his own experience with the evilest people on the planet, he consistently reminded her that she had to protect herself. In a life-and-death situation, you didn’t have time to wait for help. You had to react and defend. It was the defensive techniques he’d taught her that had likely saved her life. If war was necessary, it was justified. He was as physically fit and sharp as a man less than half his age. He’d stayed in the army almost a decade past the usual retirement age on a special waiver, highly unusual and rare, but possible because of his effectiveness and likability. Though he’d recently traded in his uniform for khakis and polo shirts, he was still 100-percent soldier and saw himself as his family’s protector.

Colonel Owens could be tough, but Lanie knew he was warm on the inside. He still wore a fresh crew cut, despite only having a dusting of soft white fuzz remaining on his head. She wanted to reach over and give it a playful rub, as he’d ruffled the heads of all the grandkids when they were little.

Instead, she kept her hands in her lap, knowing he wouldn’t appreciate the distraction while he was driving. When Grandpa was serious, he was serious. And right now, he was serious about taking care of her.

Lanie thought about all he had done to ease her fear since the attack. In the last ten days, the colonel had reviewed the basic defense moves he’d taught her as a teenager, including how to break zip ties and fire a handgun. He’d given her a Life Alert necklace to wear around her neck in case of an imminent threat. She’d also been staying with him and Gran in their secure home, which was a mini-fortress compared to the weak security system her apartment building used.

The colonel turned right off Route 1 onto 186 and drove south toward Goldsboro. Driving through Summer Harbor, Lanie could see the larger city of Bar Harbor across Frenchman’s Bay. They drove in silence for some time. She stared out at the sea down below the cliffs. Whitecaps crashed with fury against the rocks. In other spots, waves caressed the pebbled beach before they pulled back out to sea. Based on the watermarks and seaweed on the rocks, high tide was approaching.

The harbor road wound through the pines, and Lanie lost herself in the tranquil scenery. Driveways framed by tall conifers led to homes deeper in the woods. She looked forward to the seclusion this façade of a vacation would offer.

Route 186 ended at Main Street and the little town of Winter Harbor displayed its charm. Her grandfather turned right onto Beach Street and merged onto Crane’s Cove Road. Up ahead, a small commercial center came into view.

Lanie sat up and took notice, mentally cataloging her surroundings as she had practiced with her grandfather. A large distressed wooden sign featuring a harbor seal bore the greeting “Crane’s Cove Welcomes You.” Just past the sign, a three-story brick building housed a town hall, post office, and a state police station. A single state-trooper vehicle was parked on the side of the building. Next door was a gas station with a mini-mart. A park with a duck pond and playground was a bit farther down. Across the street was a fire station, a diner, and a small strip mall with a hair salon, boating supply store, and daycare.

The colonel pulled into the Cliffside Diner and turned to his granddaughter. Lanie appraised the old train car that had been refurbished and remodeled into a restaurant. An addition had been built onto the back, and its sloped roof jutted proudly to the sky, prepared to expel the snow that would come in the colder months. The quaint structure endeared itself to Lanie because of her fondness for 1950s pop culture. Refusing to be afraid in this homey setting, she took a deep breath and reached for the door handle.

 “I realize meeting Matt in person in a public setting for the first time isn’t the best-case scenario, but this is a safe place. I know the owner, you can trust her. You’ve video chatted with Matt, so you’re not seeing him for the first time. Don’t let your nerves overpower you. You ready?”

“I’ve got to be,” Lanie said. She opened the door and carefully stepped out, conscious of the slight pulling and tugging of tight skin where she’d been wounded. She put on her sunglasses to hide what was left of the faint bruises on her face. They were light yellow now and thankfully almost gone. Another day, perhaps two, her aunt had said. She shifted uneasily, turning her body slowly to ease the discomfort. Grabbing her purse with one hand and pulling on the support handle with the other, she stood up, closed the door, and looked around.

The colonel had taught her to be observant. She scanned the parking lot, where only a black SUV was parked. Across the street, two women watched four toddlers at the playground. No one else was around. At two, it was too late for lunch and too early to pick up kids from school. Lanie flipped her hood up over her new blonde curls and adjusted the dark sunglasses. Head down, she walked quickly into the diner as her grandfather held the door.

In the back-corner booth, Matt pretended to stare at the menu as he watched the tall, athletic blonde enter with the colonel. Behind the overlarge sunglasses that framed her oval face, he noted Lanie’s medium-length curly blonde hair that cascaded out the front of her navy windbreaker. She’d had long chestnut waves when they video chatted.

He motioned over to Sadie, the waitress. She caught his signal, sauntered over to the table, and dropped off two more menus as they made their way toward him. She glanced at the colonel and raised an eyebrow. The colonel nodded at Sadie and she went back into the kitchen.

As they had planned, Matt stood up and allowed Lanie to sit on the inside of his side of the booth. The colonel slid in across from them. Matt put his arm around Lanie to give the appearance that they were together. She jerked away at his touch and glared at him. Concerned, he moved his arm to rest on the back of the booth. She shuddered, pressed her eyes closed, and inhaled deeply.

“I like your hair,” he said.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, her lips tight.

She slid her hood off and removed her glasses, revealing her fading bruises. Anger boiled deep in his belly, but he kept it in check. She was beautiful. What kind of deranged man would want to mar her perfect face? Her eyes, framed by long lashes and perfectly sculpted eyebrows, were as blue as the Atlantic at the base of the cliff. Her dainty nose was sprinkled with a dusting of light freckles, barely visible through the heavy makeup that coated her face. Her lips, pressed tightly together, shone with pink lip gloss. He studied her as she stared straight ahead at her grandfather intently, avoiding his gaze.

The colonel didn’t waste any time with pleasantries. “Let’s get right to the point, in case this restaurant is blessed with more patrons before we get a chance to talk.” The colonel sat up tall as he nodded behind him to the empty booths. “I’ve reserved a cabin for you at the Cliff Walk Resort for the next month. Hopefully, we won’t need all that time to find this scum. Sadie here is retired FBI and owns this diner. You can trust her if you need anything. I’ve hired a private detail out of a firm in Boston. His name’s Jack Dalton and he’s the new overnight security guard at the resort. Sadie knows the owners and set it up. They were told he is affiliated with the FBI and working undercover because of a homeland-security threat in the area. Since you live in a border town and that scumbag followed you across state lines and threatened you in New Hampshire, the FBI can work this case. Unfortunately, they won’t expel the resources to get an actual agent up here, so we are doing this on our own.”

Matt said, “We’ve been in contact. Jack checked in yesterday and has a room at the main lodge.”

The colonel nodded and looked sternly across the table at Lanie. “You have any trouble, you press that button on the necklace I gave you. Matt will protect you if there is an imminent threat, and he’ll set up a security system at the cabin to monitor activity around it at all times. You are never, under any circumstance, to leave his presence.”

“Yes, sir.” Lanie took a small bottle of lemon essential oil out of her purse, poured a few drops in her water glass, and took a sip. “If we’re supposed to be married, don’t we need rings?”

Matt took a small ring box out of his pocket. He opened it to reveal two silver bands, one inlaid with clear stones, the other plain. “It’s not much, just cubic Z and sterling silver. I hope you like it.” He flashed a grin.

Lanie cleared her throat. “It’s great, really.” She slid it on and wiggled her finger. “A little loose, but it probably won’t fall off.”

The colonel took an old-fashioned flip phone out of his jacket pocket and placed it in front of Lanie. “It’s time to trade cell phones. This phone is untraceable.” He looked at Matt. “We made it look as if Lanie left her apartment in a hurry to seek refuge. We planted a rumor that she’s left the state, headed to visit her dad in New Hampshire. Hopefully, that will throw that piece of garbage off the track for enough time so that we can get him, maybe even draw him out. I’ll retain her cell phone in case he tries to contact her. Any questions?”

Lanie stared down in disdain at the flip phone he’d placed in front of her. “Why the flip phone?”

“You’d be amazed what hackers can trace these days. And I don’t want you tempted to log into email or social media. We’re going to have your sister post that you’re going tech-free while you recover.”

Lanie frowned. 

Matt felt an urge to make her want to smile. He called up the southern charm he had prior to his military experiences. “I promise to keep you safe, darlin’, as long as you trust me,” he drawled. He winked at her and smiled as her cheeks reddened. Reluctantly, he tore his gaze from her distressed expression. “Colonel, you can count on me. Thanks for trusting me.” 

“I know I can. It’s a damn shame about that leg. There’s not a lot of guys like you left out there.” Matt let out a long, slow breath and looked out the window past Lanie. “Don’t I know it . . .”

 The colonel nodded at Matt. “Won’t be too much longer until you can be evaluated again. There’s plenty of work if you know where to look.” He shifted his eyes to Lanie. “We’re gonna get this SOB. Make no mistake. No one hurts my granddaughter and gets away with it.”

 Lanie gave a weak smile. “Thanks, Grandpa.” She shifted her body to face Matt. “Thank you for doing this. It couldn’t have been easy to just up and leave your life for who knows how long. I want you to know how much I appreciate it.”

 A dark shadow passed over his eyes. “I’d do anything this man asked me to do. Besides, I don’t have anything going on right now. And I may never get back out there at this rate. But hey, I’ll do whatever God calls me to do. If I’m of better use to Him here lookin’ after your pretty self, then I’m all for it.” He smiled again, flashing his teeth this time. Matt wondered if he might be laying it on too thick. He hoped Lanie couldn’t tell he was acting. He didn’t want to sound condescending or arrogant.

The colonel nodded. “Then it’s settled. Let’s eat.” He nodded to Sadie and she came over to take their orders.

The food arrived soon after, and Matt watched Lanie pick at her grilled chicken salad as he and the colonel reminisced about their time together in the Middle East.

“That last tour was pretty tough.” The colonel shifted his eyes toward Lanie. “A lot of units came together to support the mission after the blast took out some of your guys.”

Matt grimaced. He didn’t have much of a unit anymore. Just a couple of wounded warriors who were trying to heal well enough to get back out there. The rest had returned to civilian life. “I heard.”

 “We lost some fine soldiers on that mission.” The colonel looked at Lanie. “That was a tough one.”

 “Aren’t all tours tough? You risk your life every time you go out there, Grandpa. You risk leaving family and friends behind. You risk your future and the future of those who are depending on you to come back,” she said, a hint of pain in her voice.

It sounded to Matt like she knew this pain personally. “Did you lose someone out there?”

She nodded.

“It’s always tough to lose a friend. I lost my best buddy out there.”

Lanie breathed in slowly and closed her eyes. “I’m sorry. I know what you do is important, and necessary, and I’m grateful, I truly am. But please, let’s talk about something else.” Her tone closed the door to further discussion on the matter. Matt and the colonel exchanged a glance. The older man shrugged.

“So how are you liking retirement?” Matt asked the colonel.

“It’s different. Finding that I have to learn how to relax. I believe I’m driving the missus a little crazy trying to keep myself busy.” He grinned at Matt. “I’ve been gone as much as I’ve been home the last few decades, probably more if I were to keep track. I imagine I’m interrupting her groove.”

Matt and Lanie laughed and the bell above the diner door rang. He noticed that Lanie hurried to pull on her large sunglasses to cover her eyes. Matt decided to change the subject again as two older couples settled into the booth two down from theirs.

“Well, I’m sure looking forward to getting started on this honeymoon! What time is check-in again, darlin’?” He grinned at Lanie and squeezed her closer to him. “Just play along,” he whispered.

 “Any time after three, sweetie.”

Two booths down, a woman about the colonel’s age craned her neck and smiled. “Couldn’t help but overhear! Are you going to the Cliff Walk Resort?”

“Marge, mind your own business,” the man beside her grumbled. “Sorry, my wife here likes to make friends everywhere she goes.”

“Oh, Harry, shush! If I didn’t, we’d never have met Walter and Lil here.” She gestured to the other couple.

“Humph,” Harry said. He covered his face with the menu.

“We are,” Matt replied, amused. “Are y’all staying there, too? We’d love some tips.”

Marge beamed and made her way to their booth, her husband and friends looking on. She raised a brow at the colonel, who promptly slid over.

“Are you southerners? We live in the South now! Where are you from?”

Matt opened his mouth to respond, but she continued without pause.

“We love the Cliff Walk. This is our fifth year returning. Our first visit was our fortieth-wedding-anniversary trip, and we were blessed to meet Walter and Lil. We’ve been coming back every year since. There’s so much to do, or nothing at all. It’s so peaceful and nice to be away from the Florida heat. We’re originally from southern New England but retired to Florida several years ago. We’ve made it a tradition of sorts to spend a few weeks here before we settle in with the family on Cape Cod for the rest of the summer.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “We’re snowbirds.” She winked across the booths at her husband, who watched her with mild amusement. He had his arms crossed over his chest and one side of his mouth threatened to betray a smile. He never took his eyes off her.

“Walter and Lil are from Missouri. They say, ‘Mizoura.’ It’s a hoot! Where did you say you were from?” This time she paused long enough to let Matt answer.

“Georgia. We—”

“Oh, we love Savannah. And Atlanta. And Helen. Such a fun state. What brings you here?”

“It’s our honeymoon. We—”

Marge squealed. “Oh my, then I’ll leave you be when I see you about. Harry, they’re honeymooners! And who’s this fine gent?” She nodded at the colonel.

“Colonel Gerald Owens, just passing through.” He stuck out his hand.

Marge shook it graciously. “Very pleased to meet you. Harry! See? They’re friendly, just as I said. They invited this gent to join them for lunch. He’s just passing through.”

Behind the counter, Matt noticed Sadie trying to hide her laughter. She must know this group well. Their eyes met. Sadie coughed and hurried back into the kitchen.

Matt smiled at Marge and offered his hand. “Very pleased to meet you. Matt Saunders. My wife here is Lanie. We were just finishing up so we can check in. Long drive up and such . . . looking forward to relaxin’ with the missus,” he added meaningfully, looking Marge in the eye.

“Of course you are, sweetie. Well, it was great to meet you. I’m sure we’ll be seeing you around! And next time I want to see pictures of your big day. I bet they are all over Facebook!” She eyed Lanie’s ring. “Sweetheart, I bet you made a beautiful bride.”

Matt watched Marge rejoin her table and let out a deep breath. “Pictures?” he whispered to Lanie.

“Photoshop?”

“I’ll see if I can arrange something.” The colonel pulled out his phone to make a note.

Sadie reappeared from the kitchen with the check and dropped it on their table with a snort. Matt grabbed it and left two twenty dollar bills inside the vinyl folder.

Showtime.