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“This is nice,” Charlie said with a contented sigh. He leaned back against a large driftwood log and reeled in a few feet of line.
Billy grunted in agreement and poked his straw cowboy hat a little higher up his forehead. “Wrong time of day to be catching fish, ya know.”
“Welp.” Charlie grinned under the brim of his Seattle Mariners baseball cap. “It’s not raining, and even a bad day fishin’ is better than a good day at work.”
“Ha! You know you can quit the force any time and join me on the boat, Charlie. Could always use another good fisherman,” Billy said as he gave his friend a little wink.
“Yeah, I guess this is kind of a busman’s holiday for you.” Charlie shook his head. “As tempting as it is, can’t quit the force. Gotta protect and serve. Keep the peace. Defend the good citizens of Forks against evil doers.”
“That new moustache scare away evil doers?” Billy teased him, chuckling. Then he raised a questioning eyebrow at Charlie. “Frank Langley driving drunk again? Or was it Bob Wiseman’s boy stealing gas cans out of sheds?”
Charlie’s barking laugh echoed from the nearby cliff. “It was Frank. The bartender took his keys, but he was so drunk he thought he dropped them in the parking lot. He was still crawling around looking for them when I showed up. But you didn’t hear that from me.” He scratched at the faint hairs on his upper lip and shook a finger in warning at Billy. “The moustache is traditional. Oh, hey, you got a bite.”
Billy didn’t immediately jerk the line to set the hook, and Charlie realized he was completely oblivious to the twitching of the fiberglass pole. Aggravated, he twisted around to see what Billy was staring at and spotted two young women above them, near the edge of the low cliff. Both dressed in T-shirts and denim shorts, one was shaking out a blanket, and the other carried a large notebook or sketchpad and a little radio.
“Huh,” Charlie grunted, giving his gawking fishing buddy the side eye. “That’s that Sarah Wilde girl, right? Who’s that with her?”
Billy just sat there like a lump and didn’t answer, so Charlie swatted him on the shoulder. “Sarah, right? Who’s the girl with her?”
“Uh.” Billy blinked several times, his eyes flicked to Charlie and back to the girls. “Uh, that’s Sarah.”
Charlie’s eyes narrowed as he studied Billy’s awestruck demeanor. “Yeah, I know that’s Sarah. Who is the other girl?” he asked, enunciating each word as if Billy suddenly couldn’t understand English.
“Um, Barbara. I think.”
“She’s cute,” Charlie replied cautiously, still eyeing Billy warily.
Billy’s features softened into a half smile. “Yeah. Sarah is cute.”
Charlie snorted in disgust. Billy hadn’t heard a word he’d said. “I was talking about Bar—” He dropped his fishing pole and sat bolt upright. “You really like her, don’t ya?”
Billy’s sun and sea-weathered complexion darkened even further with a deep blush.
“You do!” Charlie crowed. He slapped his knee, and then retrieved his fishing pole from the sand. “Well, son of a gun. Have you asked her out yet?”
Eyes widening in fear, Billy shook his head.
Charlie decided his friend wasn’t so much awestruck as moonstruck, and he was being an idiot. “Why not?” He huffed in exasperation. “I think you’ve liked that girl since we were all in elementary school. Forget about catching fish! Go up there and ask her out.”
Eyebrows drawing together, Billy scowled at him. “I don’t see you going out with anybody. You’re here fishing with me!”
“I’m the famous ladies man.” Charlie drew himself up and proudly stroked his moustache. “I don’t want to tie myself—”
Charlie’s words were cut off by a spray of sand as Billy leapt to his feet, all signs of joking gone from his face.
“Leave us alone!”
Sarah’s pleading shout was closely followed by a contemptuous male laugh.
Charlie was up off the ground, all thoughts of teasing and fishing flew from his head. He was two steps behind Billy as they sprinted toward the cliff.
Charlie was amazed by how quickly Billy scaled the twenty, nearly-vertical feet of rock and scrub brush—faster than anyone he’d ever seen before. His wonder turned to horror in the next instant as he watched the strange man grab Sarah by the arm and yank her against his body.
“Roger! Let go of her!” Billy roared.
With a lip-curling sneer, Roger shoved the girl away and faced Billy, his hands curling into claws.
Sarah ran smack into Barbara, knocking her down. She then stumbled over the panic-stricken girl and went flailing toward the cliff’s edge. Barbara screamed and reached for her friend, trying to keep her from tipping over the edge and falling onto the rocky beach below, but missed her by a hair.
Billy forgot all about Roger as he scrambled and dove to catch the girl he’d been infatuated with since grade school. He vaulted over Barbara and caught Sarah by the arm, snatching her from the empty air and pulling her back to safety.
Behind them, the sounds of a rapid scuffle and pain-filled grunts made them all snap their heads back to Roger.
Billy, Sarah, and Barbara stood stock still as Charlie hoisted a protesting Roger up and slammed him down onto the ground, swiftly locking his arms behind his back. Charlie kneeled on the center of the man’s back, nodded in satisfaction, and looked up.
Impressed, Billy returned his nod. “Nice move.”
“Learned a couple things in the police academy. You girls all right?”
Barbara, eyes as big as saucers and hands over her mouth, managed to squeak out something that sounded like a “yes.” Charlie merely harrumphed at her and then his focus shifted to behind her.
Sarah, gaping up at her savior, her mouth hanging open, was pressed tightly to Billy’s chest, his arms wrapped snugly around her.
The edges of Billy’s mouth curved up and the corners of his eyes crinkled with the beginnings of a smile. “Sarah? Would you go out with me?”
“‘Bout damn time,” Charlie grumbled.
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