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Davis Bunn | Exclusive Excerpt: BURDEN OF PROOF


Burden of Proof
Davis Bunn

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November 2020
On Sale: November 3, 2020
320 pages
ISBN: 0800727886
EAN: 9780800727888
Kindle: B087RTXYSZ
Paperback / e-Book
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Also by Davis Bunn:
The Cottage on Lighthouse Lane, May 2021
Burden of Proof, November 2020
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Tranquility Falls, April 2020
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Unscripted, October 2019

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Ethan was staring at the moon.

He sat up, gasping and choking. He rolled off the padding and clawed at the raw planks of the floor.

Then he heard the water.

A soft summer breeze blew up tiny waves. They splashed like cymbals against the pilings that rose to either side of where he lay. He gripped the nearest strut and forced himself to his feet. The night was utterly dark. He was dressed in a pair of raggedy cutoffs and a T-shirt. On his feet were leather sandals curled and cracked by salt and hard days. He was completely alone.

Ethan cried out, a choking sound wrenched from the terror and confusion that filled him.

He knew where he was.

What was more, he knew when.

The summer before his final year at the university, when he and his best friend had wrangled jobs at the Holiday Marina. The long pier ran back to the shore, every plank in place, the pilings straight as arrows. The marina’s unmistakable form was silhouetted by yellow streetlights. Four A-frames housed the sailing classes, the repair shop, the store, and the stockrooms.

An old canvas inflatable raft lay on the pier, with a towel for a cover. The dockhands rotated the task of hanging around until sunset and bringing in the day’s last rentals and hosing them down. The marina’s sixteen daysailers formed a floating perimeter to him now. The boats ducked and weaved in the gentle breeze, lashed to safety pilings, dimly visible in the moonlight. Nights like this were one of the reasons he had loved the job so much. When the last craft was in place and the gear stowed, Ethan often blew up the inflatable and ate a solitary sandwich and watched the sun set. Then he stretched out here, alone, and fell asleep to the cry of gulls and the liquid cymbals.

Back in a summer filled with impossible potential.

Now, as Ethan walked the lonely road, he knew flashes of very real terror, fearing it all might vanish and he’d find himself trapped on the gurney with electrodes zapping his brain. One thing was certain. This was not a dream. The reality was too, well, real.

The eighties version of Cocoa Beach was undergoing a drastic shift. The cheap motels thrown up in the early NASA heyday were being replaced by high-rise condos, luxury housing, elegant restaurants, and refined hotels. Here and there, however, a few remnants of the simpler world remained.

The Holiday Marina lay at the end of a hard-packed clay road. To Ethan’s right stood one of the last remaining orange groves within the Cocoa Beach city limits. The blossoms opened fully at night, and the fragrance was as powerful a confirmation as the body he occupied.

The year was 1985. Again.

He was twenty years old, with a youth’s ability to shrug off the fact that he had worked a ten-hour shift in the hot August sun, had slept maybe six hours on the end of a pier, and had not consumed a cup of coffee in forever. Back in the day, Ethan’s only caffeine kick came from the occasional Coke.

He arrived back at the rental cottage just as the first rose hues of dawn appeared in the east. He stood in the front yard, surrounded by everything he thought lost and gone forever. The unkempt yard was just as awful as he remembered. A line of surfboards flanked the cottage entrance. Leashes and board shorts and rash shirts littered the weeds and hung from the branches of two banana plants. Six plastic chairs stolen from some bar served as garden furniture. The house was squat and narrow and constructed of unpainted cinder blocks. There were no locks and nothing to steal inside.

A cold nose poked Ethan’s ankle as he opened the front door. He bent over and lifted the whining pup. His best buddy, Sawyer, had rescued it from the pound because he had fallen for a girl who volunteered there. Ethan and his buddies had named the pup Banzai, after the North Shore surf break. He had not thought of the dog in years.

He carried Banzai into the bathroom and shut the door. The house had a lot of serious flaws, but there were four closet-sized bedrooms and a huge screened rear porch that served as an indoor-outdoor kitchen. Ethan pulled the light cord, and there he was, staring back at himself from the cracked mirror over the sink.

When he groaned, Banzai responded by licking his face. Ethan watched his hand stroke the pup. His skin was tanned almost black. White-blond hair contrasted with his pale blue eyes. Scared eyes. Still, the face was definitely his. Staring at himself, Ethan had no choice but to accept what his reflection truly meant.

The transition, or whatever Delia and Sonya called it, had worked. He was four months from his twenty-first birthday. Again.

Ethan let the dog out, then showered and dressed in fresh shorts and T-shirt. He grabbed the all-too-familiar keys and surfer’s wallet from his dresser. As he started for the front door, a voice called from the next room, “Did you sleep on the dock again?”

Sawyer had married his childhood sweetheart and moved to Oregon. Four years ago he had been diagnosed with adult-onset type 1 diabetes. Ethan had not spoken with him in months. Now his best friend sounded so young Ethan could have wept.

“I did. Yeah.”

“Not sure that was a good idea. Ready for your big day?”

The question pushed Ethan faster out the door. He had no interest in staring any more mysteries in the face. “Absolutely not.”

****

Ethan’s car was a cast-off Jeep Wagoneer, with rusty springs and a wobbly ride and no gas mileage to speak of. The Jeep had been his brother’s since college. Earlier that summer, Adrian’s boss had ordered him to sell it, junk it, do whatever necessary so it never again stained the firm’s parking lot. Adrian had sold it to Ethan for the whopping sum of twenty-five cents.

Ethan drove the lonely dawn-streaked road on automatic pilot. He couldn’t listen to music because the radio had not worked in years. His two favorite boards were jammed between the seats. The smells assaulted him, ratty beach towels and melted surf wax and exhaust. Everything formed ingredients of a life he had assumed was lost and gone forever.

His destination was the Cocoa Beach pier, whose restaurant served a fishermen’s breakfast twenty-four hours a day. His stomach growled in anticipation. That was good for another empty grin. He had not eaten breakfast in six months. Longer.

Ethan pulled into the parking lot and braked hard. The lot was full for that time of day, and the reason shouted at him from three banners stretched above the pier’s main entrance. The top one read “Bash at the Beach.” Below that, the second banner read “Cocoa Beach O’Neill Pro-Am.” A third canvas standard had been lashed into place below the others. It had one word stamped in glittering letters: “FINALS!!”

Ethan’s stomach growled a second time. But he was no longer paying attention.

Bleachers rose on either side of the pier’s breakwater. Beside them loomed two walls of loudspeakers, ready to blare music and comments at a crowd that would eventually number over ten thousand.

An East Coast surf contest didn’t normally draw that sort of audience. This one was different. A hurricane had threatened to demolish the contest before it even got started, but at the last moment the storm had veered northeast, away from landfall.

The waves thrown up by the storm had arrived Saturday, just hours before the first heats. Legendary surf. Mountainous. The sort of waves that remained a marvel for decades.

Ethan saw the workers pausing now and then and staring out to sea. The surrounding structures blocked his own view. But he did not need to see the ocean to know what they were watching.

Pandemonium.

The sun rose over a crystal-blue sea and cloudless sky. There was not a breath of wind. The waves were huge. The biggest and most perfect conditions to hit the Florida coast in a generation. The local press was calling it fifteen feet, but at this size, such measurements were meaningless.

As Ethan rose slowly from his car, he heard the compressive crump of very big waves falling far out to sea. The ground beneath his feet shook slightly from the shorebreak’s constant roar. As he stood there, the first television van careened around the corner and skidded to a halt, and the crew spilled out with their equipment.

Remember, Sonya had begged him.

Ethan remembered every moment.

The adrenaline pumping through his veins, the spicy smell of the salt spray blown up by the massive surf, the place . . .

Ethan breathed the words aloud. “I’m back.”

(C) Davis Bunn, Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2020. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.  

BURDEN OF PROOF by Davis Bunn

Burden of Proof

Three weeks after his twenty-third birthday, Ethan missed the chance to save his brother's life when he was murdered on the steps of the courthouse in Jacksonville, Florida. Ever since that fateful day, Ethan has sensed a deep disconnect between the man he should have been and the one he has become. His days play out a beat too slow, his mind replaying the scene of his failure again and again.

But when his brother's widow appears, asking for his help in uncovering what was really behind his brother's death, Ethan is stunned to hear that she and her late husband were involved in a much larger case than he knew--one that threatens the global power structure. As Ethan joins the search for answers, he will enter into his own past--and discover a means of redeeming his future.

Bestselling and award-winning author Davis Bunn invites you into a world of intrigue as a man held captive by his failure learns how to move forward with hope.

Christian [Revell, On Sale: November 3, 2020, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780800727888 / eISBN: 9780800739041]

About Davis Bunn

Davis Bunn

Davis Bunn is a four-time Christy Award-winning, best-selling author who serves as writer-in-residence at Regent's Park College, the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom.

Defined by readers and reviewers as a "wise teacher," "gentleman adventurer," "consummate writer," and "Renaissance man," his work in business took him to over 40 countries around the world, and his books have sold more than seven million copies in sixteen languages.

Miramar Bay

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