EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Accused: Pacific Coast Justice #1 by Janice Cantore (Tyndale).

CHAPTER ONE

“I swear it’s as if my life is caught in a riptide, Joe.” Carly hated the whine in her voice, but the frustration in her life that started six months ago had lately built to a fever pitch. “I feel like there’s a current pulling me under, and every time I try to raise my head, I get buried by a wave.” Her angry strides pounded an uneven path across the damp beach.

“Don’t raise your head, then; you’ll just get water up your nose,” Joe responded. He walked alongside, dodging the sand Carly’s feet kicked up.

She shot him a glare. He laughed, and in spite of her mood she managed a half smile. “What would I do without you? You always try to cheer me up even when I bet you think I’m just whining.”

Matching her stride, Joe placed a calloused hand on her shoulder and said, “Hey, I know this isn’t you. Being wrongly accused sucks—doubly so when you can’t even defend yourself. I’m not sure I’d have handled the last six months as well as you have if I were in your shoes. If you need to vent, vent.”

Carly stopped a few feet from the surf and blew out a breath as tears threatened. Emotions a jumble, she was touched by Joe’s unwavering support. He’d been her partner on the force for three years—until the incident six months ago—and they’d been through car chases, foot pursuits, and fights together, developing a partnership that was as comfortable as her favorite pair of sweats. She knew, no matter what, she could count on Joe. She was lucky to have him, and he deserved better than her current bad attitude.

For a minute they were both silent, standing side by side watching the waves churn the salt water. The crash of the surf—a little rougher than she had expected—and the smell of the sea relaxed her a bit as the tableau soothed raw nerves.

Joe broke the silence. “Anyway, nothing will happen until all the facts are in and the litigation ends. Request your transfer back to patrol then. For right now, relax and be patient.”

Carly swallowed the tears and dropped her beach bag. “I’m a horrible bench sitter. You know me; when they handed out patience, I stood in the ice cream line.”

At that, Joe laughed and Carly was glad to hear it. One of the things that made them a good pair was the divergent way they looked at problems, Carly ready to kick the door in and Joe willing to wait hours if need be. Other officers teased them, labeling them Crash and Control. Carly would jump into things with both feet, while Joe would test the waters first with his big toe.

“I shouldn’t dump on you. I’m just frustrated.” Carly met his eyes and forced a smile.

“I don’t mind listening.” He shrugged. “That’s what partners are for. You’ve listened to me enough over the years. We’ll work together again.” Joe tossed his bag next to Carly’s.

Nodding, she bent to pull a towel out of her bag, biting down on her bottom lip, trying to swallow the frustration she felt and embrace the encouragement her partner gave.

“You sure you need to celebrate your birthday with a swim in this kind of weather?” Joe asked, hugging his arms to his chest. “Can’t I just buy you a milk shake?”

Glad for the subject change, she followed his gaze to the water. The Pacific was a stormy deep-green color, pinched by small but choppy swells, melding to a gray and overcast horizon. Far to the left, several surfers bobbed on their boards, riding the swells while waiting for a good wave. Though late February, Southern California’s mild water temperature made surfing and swimming possible. Dark, cloudy weather didn’t bother Carly; it simply mirrored her mood. And for her, water normally made things better—even when it was forbidding and cold.