Salem Crossing #2


by Antonia Church

Sandcastles by Antonia Church

More sun, sand, surf, and sex

Nevada Noble has found love in her new home on the beautiful Atlantic coast. As she settles into her exciting life with her wonderful boyfriend, she learns that this paradise is built on a foundation of sand. The mysteries of Salem Crossing start closing in on Neve from all directions. Worst, she keeps a sinister secret from her new love—something that could ruin their relationship.

Political intrigue, new dangers, and multiple threats to her love life all keep Neve on her toes as she navigates the hot Florida beaches. Like sandcastles along the seashore, will the waves wash away everything Neve loves?

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Release Date: September 12, 2023
Genre: Contemporary Romance

~ A Red Satin Romance ~


Nevada Noble had been dreaming.

The details leaked away, but she kept her eyes closed as she gathered the main gist of the narrative. She and Bryce were pirates on a beautiful galleon ship flying a black flag with the skull-and-crossbones high overheard. They acted as co-captains, wearing huge pirate hats like something from a Johnny Depp movie. The cannons sounded, and the gnarly crew readied to board a beleaguered vessel. The other pirates were all Caesars—a bunch of Salem citizens all born on the same day twenty-six years ago and who had grown up as some sort of strange pseudo-siblings—the two Juliets, Sammy, Delilah, Ariel, and Naomi. They were all dressed as if attending a theme party of sexy swashbucklers, tight shirts and revealing skirts, thigh-high boots, and phallic swords in hand. Hadn’t Neve seen a porn movie called Buried Booty with less junk on display in the treasure trunk?

“Walk the plank,” Bryce commanded the man standing on the deck, hands tied behind his back. It was Jax, wearing nothing but a small pair of bikini trunks the size of an eyepatch, doing very little to conceal a whole lot. His face registered fear as he scooted bare feet out on the thin board, but his cock indicated Jax was as turned on as he was trepidatious.

“We’re going to rule the seven seas,” Bryce cried with his cutlass raised above his head. The crew cheered. He smiled at Neve, a curly mustache twitching flirtatiously across his top lip. He wore guyliner that brought out his dark eyes. The smell of sea salt and sweat and oiled wood made Neve swoon.

As Jax inched along the plank, the Caesar crew cried, “Booty! Booty!” and Bryce grabbed a handful of Neve’s ass. The pirate ship rammed into another vessel, and the gang of busty buccaneers leapt aboard the other boat. “Time to swab the deck,” Bryce said with a wink. He took his cutlass and slipped it under a clasp on her poufy blouse, cutting away buttons one after another. Her breasts bounced free. She hooked her knife carefully into Bryce’s waistband and quickly cut his pants down along the side, the bottoms falling away. He was ready for action. Bryce hiked up Neve’s skirts as he lowered her to the wooden deck.

Jax scooted to the edge of the plank, pausing to watch them move their naked bodies against each other on the deck. He balanced precariously at the end of the ledge as Bryce pushed Neve over the edge of pleasure. She looked over Bryce’s shoulder at Jax as she started to come. Jax lost his balance and fell off the plank. Both Neve and Jax caused quite the splash at precisely the same time.

Helluva dream.

Neve woke up. She felt warm despite the sea breeze coming through the open window of her bedroom. The lingering effects of the dream made her feel worked up. It was Saturday, and she didn’t have to go into the office today. Bryce had spent the night, but he’d been up and gone before dawn. All week. She’d hardly seen him since he’d decided to run for mayor. Only one other candidate had declared in the weeks since Juliet Zhang’s untimely—and only apparent—death, although Neve was one of only a few people who knew the Juliets had faked their demise. One who shared her secret was the same guy who Bryce had made walk the plank in her dream. Jax Montgomery was also running for mayor.

The only two men Neve had had intimate knowledge of since arriving in Salem Crossing were both running for office.

Bryce worked tirelessly on his candidacy to prepare for the special mayoral election next month. He’d hired Rebecca Ryan as his campaign manager and spent long days at the big house at the end of Palm Point where Rebecca lived. She’d turned her Florida room into Bryce’s campaign headquarters. The last time Neve had stopped in, they’d been surrounded by mockups for promotional posters and buried beneath brochures extolling the many virtues of Doctor Bryce Aaron Graham.

Neve wasn’t in the mood to stuff envelopes or listen to Bryce practice a canned speech on policy initiatives.

Neve had to channel the pent-up energy from her fantastic fantasy somewhere, so she got up and decided to take a run along the beach. She pulled on a sports bra and a pair of yoga shorts. She stretched before she opened the glass door leading right out onto the beach. Neve paused as her feet hit the sand, still a novelty for a girl from the Midwest. She bent down and scooped up a handful, letting the soft cool granules cascade between her fingers. She couldn’t help but smile ear to ear.


Neve knew who it was without looking up. Only one person in all SX called her that. It was an in-joke from the first time they’d met, right here along Salem Shores. That was before Neve had learned his last name was the same as the beachline. Alistair Salem was a scion of the most powerful family along the coast.

“Hey, Chip.” Neve played along. He was shirtless like usual, blond and stunning per tradition, with a white smile as bright as the morning sun. “Getting in your steps awfully early.”

“A lot is going on around SX,” Alistair said. “Aunt Tessa is keeping me busier than ever.”

“Lots of gophing?” She liked to tease Alistair about being a gopher for his powerful family.

“The death of Juliet Zhang caused quite the political power vacuum in SX,” Alistair said. His smile never wavered or changed. He’d make a pretty damn good politician himself. Was Alistair planning on running... “Aunt Tessa isn’t sure she likes the current crop of candidates. She’s never been partial to the Caesars.”

“Juliet Zhang was a Caesar.”

“Juliet Zhang was certainly not endorsed by Tessa Salem, Neve.”

“She won despite your aunt’s disfavor? I thought the Salems always got what they wanted.”

Alistair moved his eyes down her whole figure to her running shoes and then back up again. “Not always.”

“I can’t imagine a Salem endorsing Jackson Montgomery over Bryce,” Neve said with her black eyebrow raised on her forehead, ignoring his flirtation.

“There may be more candidates than only Jax and the doctor,” Alistair said. Then he shrugged his broad shoulders. “Anyway, I didn’t stop to talk politics. Are you going for a run?”

Neve smirked. “This isn’t what I wear to surf.”

“I can’t imagine you surfing, Iowa. You’d best be wearing kneepads and a helmet. And maybe double up on life vests.” He was pleased with himself. His cockiness was more cute than overbearing. Barely. “Want some company?”

They jogged side by side up the Point along Salem Shores. Some tourists were out early. The ladies and a few guys noted Alistair’s toned torso with appreciation. The guys who didn’t check out Alistair gawked over Neve as she passed—she was showing off a flat belly, long, lean legs, and a bounce beneath her sports bra. They were a striking pair and the envy of many a stranger. The occasional local on the stretch of sand merely nodded at the two runners, the whole town knowing the story of Nevada Noble and the infamous Alistair Salem. Bryce Graham had won her hand at the end of the day.

“Can I get insider information about this dark horse in the mayor’s race you alluded to?” Neve asked as they stopped for water and a pause.

Alistair flashed his stunning smile and shook his head. “It’s going to be a surprise. Let’s hope the doc has his shit together. He thinks he can easily beat Jax, but the ballot is about to get a little more crowded.”

“Are you running, Alistair?”

The blond beach boy shook his head. “Nah. Too many skeletons in my closet. That might not worry Jax, but I have a reputation to think about. Everyone already knows Jax is shady. The Salems have a more polished legacy to uphold.”

Neve smirked. “What kind of dirty little secrets are you keeping, Chip?”

Alistair gave her a wink. “You might’ve learned a few, but you made your choice, Dale. You’ll have to settle for what you can see out here in the light.”

Alistair flexed his pecs and posed like a bodybuilder, and Neve laughed. He was goofy and charming and absolutely full of himself. But she’d always felt like he wasn’t a schemer or so shallow as the other families always portrayed all the Salems. Alistair wasn’t a bad guy any more than Jax was. This town created enemies of one another, but Neve found something appealing about every family. Alistair didn’t understand that. Neither did Jax. But Bryce did. And that was why Bryce would be the next mayor of Salem Crossing.


* * *


Nevada Noble took a shower after getting back from her jog with Alistair. She’d left him where they paused, as he’d originally started from up there along the cluster of resort properties. Neve had run back along the ocean to her cottage near the south point of the beachline. She stood under the naturally lukewarm Florida water for a long time, bright sunlight making the window in her shower glow warmly. Paradise.

She dressed for a warm October day. She was still acclimating to a fall that felt more like summer. Iowan autumns were notoriously mercurial—one day may be the last gasp of warm summer while the next could be cold and blustery. Every day of October in Salem Crossing still felt hot and humid. The weather called for a light and breezy outfit.

Her wardrobe had changed a lot since she’d arrived. She’d packed her northern attire into boxes and filled her closet with thin fabrics and loose dresses, swimsuits, and short shorts, low-cut blouses, and baggy pants. She chose a white maxi dress with see-through panels showing off her arms, thighs, and calves with intricate patterns on the translucent lace. A drawstring around her middle gave her the hippie vibe she’d been rocking lately.

She strolled barefoot in the sand down the rest of the cape to Rebecca Ryan’s main house. The breeze felt fantastic off the ocean, her walk accompanied by the sound of shushing waves and squawking birds. Few tourists wandered this far down the Point, and the few young men who passed smiled at her. They might tell their friends back home about the exotic beauties of the Florida coast and think of Neve. She’d only arrived a few weeks ago, but Neve had already carved out her style niche in SX.

She’d strolled to Rebecca’s to find Bryce but was disappointed as she turned away from the sea and crossed the boardwalk over the dunes to the main house at the very tip of Palm Point. A wicked redhead sat on Rebecca’s deck and scowled at Neve as she approached. Delilah’s face rarely registered anything other than being perpetually pissed off. Neve wouldn’t have been surprised if Delilah had come out of the womb with a grimace.

Over her right shoulder stood a pasty young man overdressed for coastal October. He wore a beige jacket matching exactly his beige slacks. His hair was less fiery than the woman sitting beside him. Even his freckles were less prominent, blending blandly into his pasty complexion. The only thing exceptional about his appearance was his eyes—the color was of the sea, blue-green and frothy.

“Caleb,” Neve greeted the young man. He’d always been polite toward Neve, although more than a little strange. His sister, however... “Delilah.”

Delilah was another Caesar. One stormy night twenty-six years ago on March 15th—the Ides of March—seven births occurred on one evening. The six founding families of Salem Crossing had each added to their complex lineage that night. Bryce Graham, Sammy Montgomery, Juliet Zhang, Ariel Álvarez, Naomi and Juliet Salem, and Delilah Ryan had grown up together as semi-celebrities in the seashore city. Folks around town called them the Caesars because of the unique date of their mutual birthdays. They shared a connection, like siblings, that lasted until Bryce left SX at sixteen.

Now Bryce was back, and Neve could hardly experience any given day without bumping into one of the Caesars.

“Bryce inside?” Neve asked as she approached the steps up to the deck. She hoped to get by Delilah without too much conversation. Delilah couldn’t put more than two sentences together without insulting someone.

“He’s gone up to City Hall with Aunt Rebecca,” Caleb informed.

Neve frowned. “On a Saturday?”

“There’s trouble,” Delilah interjected with a growl. “There’s always trouble in fucking SX.”

Neve was worried. “Something’s wrong?”

“What do you expect? The mayor is dead, and the sharks smell blood in the water. Every asshole with aspirations for mediocrity is coming out to sniff around for power.”

“Only Bryce and Jax have declared their candidacy,” Neve said, frowning. She thought about what Alistair had mentioned about the field of candidates getting more crowded. “What’s happened?”

“Oh, you don’t know...,” Delilah quipped with a disturbing expression. She could somehow manage to grin while still frowning. If there was someone around SX who reminded Neve of a shark… “The boyfriend didn’t call you as soon as he heard, huh?”

At first, Neve bristled. Then she recovered quickly because she couldn’t be offended if Bryce hadn’t informed her of new developments. She was keeping a bigger secret than whatever Bryce had discovered today. The mayor, who was supposedly dead wasn’t dead at all. Neve had helped Juliet Zhang fake her death and escape with her true love, Juliet Salem. They were living in Iowa under assumed names. Only Neve and Jax knew the truth. She swore secrecy to the Juliets and couldn’t ever tell Bryce.

“Bryce and I aren’t attached at the hip, Delilah,” Neve snapped. “How about you quit acting like a six-year-old with a secret and tell me?”

Delilah’s face lost the grin and resumed 100% glower. Her face flared red. She might think of Bryce as a brother, but she would never consider Neve part of the family no matter where Bryce and Neve’s relationship led. The feeling was mutual.

“C’mon, Lilah. Can’t you two get along?” Caleb was resentful of the jealousy Delilah exhibited toward Neve. It wasn’t romantic jealousy for either of the Ryan siblings. Delilah coveted Bryce’s attention, and Caleb craved his sister’s. “Tell her.”

“Owen Zhang reached out to Bryce this morning. He’s going to resign. His excuse will be that he’s working on his marriage, but everyone in SX knows that relationship is going to hell in a handbasket.” Delilah curled her lip as if talking about Owen and Britney Zhang left a bad taste in her mouth. “Owen will make it official Monday, but he wanted to meet with Bryce first. The Zhangs don’t want to see the Montgomerys win either spot.”

“Bryce and Jax as co-mayors of Salem Crossing?” Neve asked. The two men in all SX with whom she’d slept. Things could get even more awkward. “That will be...”

“Uncomfortable as fuck for you, I bet,” Delilah quipped. It was no secret Neve had had a fling with Jax after she’d arrived in SX. Caleb frowned at his sister’s rude repertoire. More about the four-letter curse word than the inappropriate insinuation of Neve’s love life. “Owen’s disloyal dick is going to cause more trouble than a bro-brawl between your lovers.”

Neve bit her tongue. “Why does Owen’s resignation affect anything?”

“The only person with the balls to go against Doctor Bryce Graham is a Montgomery. Jax would always fight dirty, which might’ve given him a fighting chance. I mean, at least in his opinion. Rebecca believes there is zero chance Jax can beat Bryce. I agree. But now there’s an open position. Even if Bryce is a sure thing, there’s a second spot open. Candidates are going to come out of the woodwork. Get ready for some fucking Hunger Games shit.”

“You’re going to have to pray so hard at church tomorrow, Lilah,” Caleb mumbled under his breath.

“Who else would want to be mayor?” Neve asked.

“Oh, wait and see, outsider,” Delilah said. “The Montgomery family may run a second candidate to try and secure both spots in case Jax pulls off an upset against Bryce. They’ll try for double seats. Two Montgomerys taking over for two Zhangs. Scandal! Plus, you’ll have surprises. The ones you’ll never see coming. Maybe Grandame Graham will dust off her mothballs and throw her pillbox hat into the ring.”

“There’s already one candidate set to announce as soon as Owen resigns,” Caleb interjected conspiratorially, and Delilah shot him a glare that said he wasn’t supposed to say. Caleb cowered under her withering stare.

“So, you’re right. Out of the woodwork,” Neve said, hoping a little compliment would make Delilah a little more pliable. “Who thinks they can fill Owen’s shoes?”

“My mom could do a better job than Owen Zhang, and she’s been dead for twenty-six years,” Delilah drawled. “It doesn’t take Jesus Christ to perform a miracle and improve upon Owen’s goddamn record.”

Delilah’s ribald commentary made Caleb clutch his pearls again, but that wasn’t what struck Neve. She caught the reference to Delilah’s mother. She’d died the year the Caesars were born? Delilah never knew her mother? Damn.

Caleb spoke up, perhaps hoping to stop his sister’s vomitous profanity. “Owen and Juliet’s older brother returned to town for Juliet’s funeral. He’s been here since, helping his parents put Juliet’s affairs in order. Now, he plans to stay. Dalton Zhang will declare his candidacy to succeed his brother as soon as Owen resigns.”

“The Zhangs aren’t going to lay down and get fucked over by the Grahams and Montgomerys,” Delilah added. “The last thing Dalton Zhang wants to do is stay in SX, but his hellacious bitch of a mother won’t give him a choice. She won’t cede the legacy of the Zhangs in City Hall. Millie Zhang will do everything in her power to ensure someone from her family remains in office. Dalton is her only choice.”

Neve sighed. It wasn’t the only choice. If the families of SX could learn to get along, then the Juliets could return. Juliet Zhang might be able to return to the office and make Salem Crossing a more inclusive place. But the divisions were still far apart from ever getting along. And from what Delilah said, the mudslinging, backstabbing, ruthless race for the mayor would only drive the fractious families further apart.


* * *


Bryce arrived back at Neve’s place after noon. She didn’t ask any questions about politics as they made some lunch together. A plate of cheese wedges and a turkey sandwich for Neve, while Bryce opted for lettuce and tomato for a vegan offering. They took the food out onto the back lanai, where Neve could enjoy the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.

“There have been some developments in the campaign, Nevada,” Bryce said after his sandwich was gone.

“I ran into Delilah,” Neve said. “She mentioned it.”

“Ahh,” Bryce replied. “Yes, I’m sure Delilah delighted in gossiping about all the recent complications.”

“She’s not one I’d trust to keep secrets,” Neve agreed.

“Delilah has a different way of looking at things,” Bryce said. “She’s never had a steady influence in her life.”

“Her mother? Did she die when Delilah was a baby?”

Bryce nodded. “She died in childbirth. She died on our birthday.”

Neve sighed. “Shit.”

“Her dad took it hard. John Ryan was a mess after that. Rebecca tried to be a mentor to Delilah, but Delilah pushed her away. She resented anyone else trying to be her mother. The Caesars were a support system for her, but things started falling apart the older we got. I’m sure it didn’t help that I left when we were sixteen. After that, she only really had Caleb. And Caleb, well...”

“He’s different.”

Bryce nodded.

“Did Delilah tell you about Owen Zhang?”

“Yeah, she said he’s going to resign on Monday. Where does that leave the campaign?”

“That means we have two spots open. And candidates for the second spot will pop up everywhere. Everyone was content to watch me face off against Jackson. The drama of the returned son of the Graham family facing off mano-a-mano against a mischievous Montgomery was too juicy for anyone to interfere. But the second spot will be a free for all.”

“Delilah said Dalton Zhang will announce his candidacy to take Owen’s place.”

Bryce stared off into the distance in the direction of the ocean. Then he turned to Neve with a haunted look in his eye. Neve didn’t like the dark shadow of his gaze. He was usually so optimistic and joyful that any kind of seriousness was doubly disheartening when he displayed dour emotion.

“Have you heard of the Dark Summer?” Bryce asked.

Neve had heard the term in passing without any kind of connotation. She’d thought it was either a hurricane that’d hit SX long ago or some sort of drama between the founding families of Salem Crossing. It was one of a hundred references to the coastal turmoil she’d encountered since arriving in SX.

“I don’t know what it is,” she said.

“Something bad happened a long time ago. A bunch of kids disappeared. Kidnapped. They were missing for the whole summer. Their families believed they were dead by the time autumn approached. I was eleven at the time, and I remember the mood. Dark doesn’t even describe it. It was like the sun had gone out, and the whole town was slowly freezing.”

Neve remembered hearing something about such a story on the national news. She’d only been eight years old that summer and barely recalled the details. She could picture Mom standing in front of the television as it gave a special report on the Florida situation, tears running down her face. That had happened here? In bright and sunny Salem Crossing?

“The kids were found at the end of the summer. September the 1st. They’d been held captive on a small island off the coast. Some lunatic had a grudge against the town. They locked the kidnapper up for good. But the kids who’d been taken...they had a terrible experience. They would carry the horror of that summer with them for the rest of their lives.”

“Jesus. Poor kids,” Neve said. “But what does that have to do with the election?”

“Dalton Zhang was one of the kids kidnapped during the Dark Summer,” Bryce said. “Some victims bottled it up. Others went to therapy. Most of them still live in SX, and you’ve probably had a conversation with most of them. They got over it as much as possible and lived a normal life in SX. But Dalton Zhang has never gotten over it. He had a lot of issues after the Dark Summer. In high school, his family sent him away. He’s been gone ever since. He never wanted to come back to SX.”

“Until Juliet’s funeral brought him back,” Neve said.

Bryce nodded. “The prodigal son returned.”

“Now he’s running for mayor. Sounds like a familiar refrain,” Neve said.

“He’s not like me. He doesn’t want to be here. He doesn’t want to be mayor.”

“But Millie Zhang can’t relinquish the family name from the City Hall marquee.”

“She’s making him stay and run for office,” Bryce affirmed. “And there will be hell to pay if he doesn’t win.”

“It sounds like Dalton had already paid a hell of a lot in his life.”

“The man doesn’t deserve this.” Bryce pounded his fist on the bistro table on Neve’s lanai. “Another damn reason that Juliet shouldn’t have died.”

Tears bloomed in his eyes as the grief of losing Juliet washed over him. Neve got up and went to him, cradling his head against her bosom. He held her as he gradually calmed down, even as Neve’s ire increased. The lie between them was never sharper and more acute than when he was stricken over the loss of the Juliets.

“That’s not on Juliet,” Neve consoled. “It’s on Millie Zhang’s conscience. Along with a shitload of other things.”

Bryce stood up, walked to the lanai's edge, and dipped his toes in the sand. The breeze off the ocean tousled his hair and made the tail of his untucked shirt snap in the wind. He appeared so strong at the moment, and Neve could see a man destined to lead this town into a future where maybe the fractious families could work together. Perhaps he could make a future where the Juliets could come back...

“Dalton Zhang won’t be the only one running for the other open spot. Jackson will remain declared against me, but the Montgomerys won’t pass up the opportunity to run two candidates for office. Two separate chances to get to City Hall and a longshot opportunity to win both seats. Besides another Montgomery, there will be others. Probably quite a few others.”

What had Delilah said? Candidates would be coming out of the woodwork.

“As soon as the news breaks about Owen resigning in tomorrow morning’s Simmer Salem’s Scandal Sheet,” Bryce said, “it’s off to the races.”

Neve considered her mission in Salem Crossing. She had come here as a social worker and had done some excellent work alongside Bryce in helping the less fortunate citizens across the river in Old Matanzas. What did a complete change in the mayoral office mean for her mission? Would Jax be as supportive of her helping the outcasts of SX, or would he be spiteful against her for spurning his overtures in favor of Bryce Graham? Jax obviously still had a thing for her—how would that work if he became her boss?

What if Bryce wins and becomes her boss? How would that affect their relationship? What would happen if he ever found out she lied to him about the Juliets’ deaths? She loved her job and hated to think she could potentially lose it.

“What’s the plan?” Neve asked.

“The plan’s the same. I’m running to win. If I get into office, I can worry about who’s sharing the space after the election. Luckily, I’m a Graham. We’ve always mostly gotten along with the rest of the SX families. Although, I might not want anyone to find out I’m half Montgomery until after the election.”

“Your secret’s safe with me,” Neve said.

Yeah, she was good at keeping those.

Bryce walked over and scooped her in his arms, kissing her deeply. “Your heart is safe with me,” he whispered. She melted. Those were the words she wanted to hear. She kissed him back, and he took her inside.


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