Authors: Mariah Stewart
IHEARit’s going to go down to the thirties tonight. You might want to bring in some of that firewood from the back porch.
Jeez, way to dazzle with your wit, O’Connor. Could you have been any smoother than that?
What a dumb-ass.
He watched in the rearview mirror as Ellie leaned down to pick up something from the ground. There was no denying that she intrigued him on more than one level. He liked the way she looked, liked that she didn’t appear to fuss with herself too much. And that he was attracted to her … well, what guy wouldn’t be? Besides her good looks, there was a grace about her, in the way she moved and the way she gestured and spoke. She gave every indication of having been well educated, but poorly prepared for the task that she’d set for herself here in St. Dennis.
And that, to Cam’s mind, was just the start of where the problems came in.
Something just wasn’t quite right about Ellie Ryder.
The Long Way Homeis a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Ballantine Books eBook Edition
Copyright © 2013 by Marti RobbExcerpt fromAt the River’s Edgecopyright © 2013 by Marti Robb
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
BALLANTINEand colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming bookAt the River’s Edgeby Mariah Stewart. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
Cover art: Chris CocoazzaCover design: Scott Biel
PrologueChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21Chapter 22
Other Books by This Author
Excerpt fromAt the River’s Edge
When I was young and impatient and would say things like “I wish Christmas would hurry and get here!” or “I wish I were twelve already”—or fifteen, or eighteen, whatever the perceived magic age was at the time—Mother would always say, “Don’t wish your life away. Time passes quickly enough.” Another of her favorite expressions was “The older you get, the faster time flies.” The truth of the latter has been made clearer to me with each passing year.
It seems that only last week or so, my daughter was planning that first big wedding at the inn last winter, and now here we are, a year later, Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving only weeks away. I blinked, and we went from talking about Lucy coming home for the summer to staring down the barrel of winter all over again.
Another of Mother’s favorite expressions was “Be careful what you wish for.” On my last birthday, I made two wishes: I wished that my two wandering children would come home—come home and stay home. Well, half of that wish has come true with Lucy coming back … and joy! Making plans to marry Clay, just like I always knew she would do. Now if I could only wish Ford home as easily, I’d be the happiest woman on earth. Oh, I know I should count my blessings—and I do, every day. But with Fordinvolved in … well, who knows where he is or what he’s doing? Certainly not I. People ask me what UN Peacekeepers actually do, and sometimes I’m not even sure myself. I know he’s somewhere in Africa. He said if he told me exactly where, I’d worry too much and he’d rather not lie if he didn’t have to, and that he’s safe where he is, so I shouldn’t be anxious. But really. What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t worry after hearing that?
Sometimes I ache so much to have him home—to have all three of my babes safely under this roof with me. Even though they’re adults, they’re still my babes, and I still worry and fret over all of them.
Lucy thought she’d be having a wedding of her own this fall, but since word has spread that she’s the new event planner at the inn, business has gone through the roof and she hasn’t had time to plan her own wedding. She’s so good at what she does, transforming the inn into something different for every happy couple. I don’t know where she gets her ideas from. I just hope she saves something wonderful for herself!
Anyway, it’s nice to head into another holiday season. Lately, though, I’ve been sensing that something’s coming, something that’s about to change our world here in St.
Dennis—not in a significant way, but a change nonetheless, and I can’t quite get a handle on it, but I think I’ll know it when I see it.
I suppose I could consult the next world and see what my spirit friends have to say—Alicealwayshas something to say—but on the other hand, since the change doesn’t feel like a threat, perhaps it might be more fun to just wait and see what comes our way!
SOthis is St. Dennis.
Ellis Chapman drove slowly along Charles Street—slowly enough to earn her a few short polite beeps from the cars following her. At the top of the street, where she’d turned off the highway, there’d been an old farmhouse and an orchard on the left side of the road, and woods on the right. Where the farmland ended, a residential area began with a long block of lovely old homes set on nice lawns surrounded by old shade, mostly maples and oaks. The fallen leaves had blanketed many of those nice lawns with yellow and red and brown, all just waiting to be raked into irresistible piles into which the neighborhood children would surely jump.
The commercial district crept up gradually: it took a moment for Ellis to realize that the clapboard houses she’d passed were actually a restaurant, an antiques dealer, a bookstore, a gift shop, a children’s clothing store, and a candy store. The heart of the district had a handful of storefronts. There was a cupcake bakery, a women’s clothing store, another restaurantwith an upscale look about it, a coffee shop, a flower shop, and a small newsstand that apparently sold beverages, judging by its name, Sips.
Nice, she thought as she drove along.All the basics, but with a slightly trendy touch.
She continued on through the town, past a sign announcing a marina, yet another restaurant, and an ice-cream parlor.
Looks like the people around here like to eat.
“Works for me,” she murmured.
The drive from Massachusetts had taken longer than she’d anticipated, though she was still almost thirty minutes early for her appointment. She made a left turn and drove around the block. Once back onto Charles Street, she made a second pass through town, trying to decide how best to assuage her hunger. There was no time for a meal, but coffee and maybe a quick snack would be welcome. She parked across the street from the coffee shop—the sign readCUPPACHINOin a stylized script—and headed down against the wind, dodged the midafternoon traffic to cross to the other side.
She pushed open the coffee shop’s red door and rubbed her hands together to warm them while she glanced around for an empty table. She was just about to head for one when a little wave from the teenage boy at the counter caught her eye.
“I can take your order here,” he told her. He went on to explain, “We’re counter service only.”
“Oh. Well …” She squinted to read the handwritten menu on the chalkboard behind him.
“Take your time. No hurry.”
“I’d like a large regular coffee with whole milk.” She paused to survey the edibles. She really shouldn’t indulge, she told herself, right before she heard herself say, “And one of the vanilla cupcakes with the pink frosting.”
“Excellent choice.” The boy nodded his approval and poured her coffee into an oversize blue mug. “Cream and sweeteners are over on the cart there behind you.”
“Oh,” she said for the second time, and turned to locate the station.
She paid for the coffee and the cupcake and took both to a table that sat off by itself next to the wall, then carried the mug to the cart, where she added milk and a packet of raw sugar. She sat, sipped, and took a bite from the cupcake.
It was excellent, with tiny bits of strawberries in both the frosting and the cake. The coffee was equally good, and she sighed. If St. Dennis had nothing else to recommend it, at least there was great coffee and baked goods to be had.
The door opened and three chattering women entered the shop and went directly to the counter, where they were served coffee in mugs from what appeared to be a special shelf along the wall. Ellis watched surreptitiously while the ladies fixed their coffee at the station.
“… so really, Grace, what else could I have done?” one woman was saying as she added two pink packets of sweetener to her coffee.
“I don’t know that I would have done anythingdifferently, dear.” The oldest of the three—Grace, apparently—shook her head slightly. “Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.”
“My gut would have told me to smack her over the head with something,” the third woman said drily. “She’s lucky that you have more patience than I, because, really, Barbara …”
The voices trailed away as the women passed by. The woman called Grace, who had white hair tucked into a bun and a gentle face, turned to smile at Ellis.
“Hello, dear,” she said softly without breaking her stride.
Ellis returned the smile and felt an unexplainable lump form in her throat. She turned her attention back to the cupcake and her coffee. So far, it seemed that St. Dennis was much like her mother had described: a small welcoming town populated by nice people. For about the one-thousandth time, Ellis wished she’d accompanied her mother on at least one of her trips here, but for Ellis, there’d always been somewhere else to go.
“Why waste your summer in some little nowhere place,” her jet-setting father would say, “when you could be in London …?”
If not London, then Rome or Madrid, or on the small island they owned off the coast of Greece. There’d been summer classes in Cairo when she’d been majoring in archaeology, and another in Paris the year she’d thought about majoring in French. Her father would take Ellis anywhere she wanted to go, as long as it wasn’t St. Dennis, a place thatno onewho mattered had ever heard of. In retrospect, it seemedthat her father had been manipulating both her and her mother for more years than anyone realized.
Well, those days were gone—not just the travel, but the manipulation—along with her mother, and any chance Ellis might have had to see St. Dennis through her mother’s eyes.
She downed the last of the coffee and bused her table as she’d seen another customer do, before returning the plate and mug to the counter.
“Thanks,” the young man told her. “Come back again.”
“I’ll do that.” Ellis tossed her crumpled napkin into a nearby receptacle and started toward the door, stood back while other patrons entered, then stepped out into the sunshine. She was standing on the curb, waiting for the light to change, when she had the inexplicable feeling that she was being watched. She turned back to the shop, and saw the white-haired woman seated next to the front window. The woman raised her hand in a wave. Ellis waved back, then realizing that the light had changed, crossed and went directly to her car.
She slid behind the wheel and glanced back to the window. The woman had turned from the glass and appeared to be once again engaged in conversation with her companions, but there’d been something about the way she’d looked at Ellis, almost as if she knew her. Impossible, of course, Ellis reminded herself, since she’d never set foot in St. Dennis before today.
She pulled away from the curb and drove east, watching for the street where she’d make her turn.
The sign for Old St. Mary’s Church Road was larger than the others because it also sported a plaque that marked the historic district. She made a right and drove three blocks, made another right, and parked along the street, as per the instructions she’d been given. She got out of the car, locked it, and stood on the sidewalk reading the sign over the door on the brick Federal-style building.
ENRIGHT & ENRIGHT, ATTORNEYS-AT-LAW.
This would be the place.
Ellis took a deep breath and walked along the brick path to the front door, pushed it open, and stepped into a quiet, nicely furnished reception area where an elderly woman sat behind a handsome dark cherry desk. The woman looked up when she heard the door, glanced at Ellis, then did a double take.
“I’m El … Ellie Ryder. I have an appointment with Mr. Enright.”Ellie Ryder, she reminded herself. From now on, that was who she’d be, at least for as long as she stayed in St. Dennis, and possibly longer, depending on how much time it would take before the shit-storm subsided.
“I believe he’s expecting you.” The woman at the desk smiled warmly and got up from her chair. “I’ll let him know you’re here.”
The receptionist disappeared into a room across the hall and stood behind the half-closed door. A moment later, a man who appeared to be in his midthirties emerged and came directly into the reception area, his hand outstretched to her.
“Ms. Ryder, I’m Jesse Enright. How was your trip? Can we get you some coffee? Have you had lunch?”His hand folded around hers with warmth and strength, and Ellis—Ellie—felt herself relax for the first time in days.
Reminding herself that he already knew the story, she smiled as she stood.
“The trip was fine. I arrived here in town with time enough to spare for a stop at the coffee shop in the center of town,” she told him. “I had a great cup of coffee and a delicious cupcake.”
“Vanilla with strawberry frosting?” he asked.
Ellis nodded. “You had one, too?”
“One last night and another at lunch. My fiancée is the baker.” He patted his waist. “It’s good news and bad news.”
Jesse turned to the receptionist. “Violet, hold my calls, if you would.…”
He led Ellis to his office and closed the door behind them.
“So how do you really feel?” He held out a chair for her, and she sat.
“Strange. It’s strange to introduce myself as Ellie instead of Ellis. Ryder is my middle name, but I never use it, so that’s strange, too.”
“You don’t have to do this, you know.” Jesse sat behind his desk in a dark green leather chair. “I think you’ll find people here to be much less judgmental than you assume.”
“Over the past year, I’ve had more judgment passed on me than you could possibly imagine. Friends I thought for sure I could count on stopped returning my calls as soon as the news broke.” Her best effort not to sound bitter was failing her. “My father hadvery little family, but what he has turned their backs on me, as if somehow this whole thing was my fault. My home was confiscated, my car, my jewelry, my bank accounts—I lost everything I worked for. If not for the one friend who stuck by me, I wouldn’t even have had a car to drive down here.”
“The Mercedes you parked out front belongs to a friend?” Jesse raised an eyebrow.
When she nodded, he smiled. “Nice friend.”
“The best,” she agreed. “I don’t know where I’d have been this past year without her.”
“I understand that you’ve had a rough time these past ten months or so, but I’m asking you to keep an open mind as far as the people in St. Dennis are concerned. You’ll find them welcoming and friendly, if you let them.”
“I’m not here to make friends, and frankly, I hope I’m not here any longer than it will take to sell the house my mother left me.” She looked at him across the desk and added, “You don’t know what it’s like to have people judge you because of something your father did.”
“Oh, but I do.” Jesse leaned back in his chair. “My father was the black sheep of the Enright clan. Still is, actually. Suffice it to say, I had to earn my grandfather’s trust to join this firm, prove that I was good enough to call myself an Enright here in this town where Enrights have practiced law for close to two hundred years. So yes, I do know what it’s like to be judged because of something your father did. I overcame it, and so will you.”
“But you were still able to work as a lawyer somewhere, right?”
“In Ohio, before I came here, yes.”
“I can’t get anyone to even give me an interview or return my calls. I ran public relations for a major corporation for eight years, and I can’t get anyone to hire me. Granted, the company was owned by my father—hence the confiscation of my worldly goods, since everything was considered ‘fruit of the poison tree,’ as the FBI told me repeatedly—but still, I was very good at what I did. One of the investigators even said that one of the reasons the entire scheme came as such a shock to everyone was that I’d done such a good job creating the company’s image. So even though I had no hand in the fraud, I did have a hand in the public’s perception of CC Investments.” She blew out a breath. “When I think about all of the lives my father ruined, I get sick to my stomach. All the retired people who’d trusted him with their pensions, their mortgages, their futures …”
“What your father did was unconscionable, but you’re not responsible for the decisions he made. As I recall, both the FBI and the SEC have totally exonerated you from any involvement in your father’s scheme.”
“Intellectually, I do know that I’m not responsible. I do. But then I think about all the suffering he’s caused, and I just feel sick all over again.”
“I understand,” Jesse said. “But you’re here to pick up the pieces and put your life back together again. I want you to know that you can call on this firm for anything, anytime.”
“I appreciate that, Jesse. You’ve already done so much. My mother was wise to have entrusted the Enrights with her estate.”
“Actually, it was your mother’s great-aunt, Lilly Cavanaugh, who first came to us, as best I can determine from reading the file and from talking to Violet.”
“Violet?” Ellis tried not to panic. Someone other than Jesse knew …?
“My receptionist. You may have noticed she’s a bit … advanced in her years.”
“She knows who I am?”
“She knows that you are Lynley’s daughter, and that you’ve inherited the house, yes.” Jesse held up a hand. “There’s no way she wouldn’t have known. Violet’s been here forever—she worked for my grandfather for many years. She typed up the original wills. But she also knows there’s a confidentiality issue here, and she will not discuss it with anyone, I can assure you of that. That woman has kept more secrets than either of us will hear in a lifetime. Your identity is safe with her.”
“I trust you, so I will have to trust her, I suppose. Though the way she looked at me when I came in …” She paused, remembering the woman in the coffee shop. “There was another woman, one in the coffee shop, who greeted me as if she knew me—”
“Don’t let your imagination run away with you. I told you, it’s a friendly little town.”
“Still, I’d like to stick to the explanation we discussed on the phone.”
“That you purchased the house from Lynley Sebastian’s estate and you’re fixing it up to sell it?”
“You’re the client.” Jesse pulled a thick folder tothe center of the desk. “Now, I suppose you want to get on with the business at hand.”
He pulled a sheaf of documents from the folder, explained each, and showed her where to sign. Twenty-two minutes later, he handed her a small envelope with the address, 1 Bay View Road, written on the front in blue ink. She could feel the shape of keys inside, and her heart took an unexpected leap.
“The keys to your house,” he said. “I drove over this morning and turned up the thermostat, so it should be nice and cozy for you. There’s wood stacked outside if you feel like building a fire. The chimneys were all cleaned out four years ago, and to the best of my knowledge, none of the fireplaces have been used since. The bank accounts your mother set up years ago have paid the taxes and utilities and periodic repairs, and from time to time we’ve had the place checked inside to make sure that all was well, that the faucets weren’t leaking, that sort of thing. It’s been vacant for quite some time, you know. The house is fully furnished, everything just as it was the last time your mother saw it, I suppose. She had an alarm system installed but it kept shorting out, so I think it’s been deactivated.”
“I can’t thank you enough for looking out for the place all this time. I’m sure my mother appreciated it.”
“She was the one who made it possible. She set up the accounts a long time ago, with money she made during her modeling career. Once it was verified that she’d earned that money before she was married and that she’d set it aside before your father even startedup his business, the feds weren’t able to touch the account. Because your father’s fingerprints weren’t on any of it, you still have that money to work with. I never personally met your mother, but Violet spoke very highly of her.”
“Violet knew my mother?” It had taken a second or two for it to sink in that there were people in this town who had actuallyknownLynley. Ellis had been under the impression that the time her mother had spent in St. Dennis had been brief, and that she’d been very young.
“Sure. I imagine there are more than a few of the old-timers who knew her.”
“But she left so long ago, I didn’t think about people having known her.”
“I didn’t grow up here, so I can’t attest to how much time she spent here, but I assure you, I remember Lynley Sebastian. After all, she was one of the first supermodels. Back in the day, every boy on the planet had one of her posters in his room.” He smiled. “I know I did.”
“Let me guess. The one where she’s leaning on a fence and she’s wearing a very thin pale pink dress.”
“And the wind is whipping that long blond hair around her.” Jesse grinned. “The very one.”
“If I had a dime for every time someone brought that up to me …” She rolled her eyes.
“Speaking of money …” Jesse pulled another stack of papers front and center on the desk. “Here are the bank accounts I told you about. One savings, a separate account for checking. There’s not a fortune left at this point, but if you’re careful, I think youcan easily manage until the house is sold, and barring disaster, should have something left over.” He looked up at her. “You are still planning on selling the house?”
“Yes. The sooner the better. That’s why I’m here.”
“Well, keep in mind that it can’t be any sooner than six months. I probably don’t need to remind you that your mother’s will specified that you had to live in the house for a minimum of six months before you could sell it or any of the contents; otherwise, you forfeit everything and all the proceeds from the sale of the property will go to the charities she listed in her will.”
“I’ve read the will”—Ellie nodded—“and the lawyers in New York made that very clear.”
“I can put you in touch with a Realtor when you’re ready. Now, there might be some minor repairs that need to be done or perhaps some upgrades you might want to think about before you put it on the market. There’s been no real updating in maybe thirty years, so I’m sure it all looks very dated. I can send Cameron O’Connor over to talk to you about all that. He’s actually the one who’s been taking care of the place.”
“He’s the handyman?”
“You could call him that.” Jesse appeared to be suppressing a smile. “Now, here are the papers you need to take to the bank in order to have the accounts moved into your name.”
“But if I put my real name on the accounts, then the people at the bank will know …” She frowned. So much for her desire for anonymity.
Jesse tapped a pen on the desktop and appeared to be considering other options.
“We can do this: we can maintain the accounts as they are now, in the name of your mother’s estate. As executor, I’ve been signing the checks on behalf of the firm. I can continue to do so until the house is sold. You can submit any bills you have for repairs or whatever to me, and I’ll pay them. If you need cash, we can arrange that as well. We can work under the pretext that the estate has agreed to pay for any repairs to the property as part of your agreement of sale.”
“Perfect.” She sighed with relief.
Jesse gathered all of the papers, slid them into a brown legal envelope, and tied the strings to secure it.
“Here you go, Ms. Ryder.” He handed it over to her.
“It’s Ellie,” she told him.
“Ellie, I wish you all the best.” He paused, then added, “I hope you’ll think about what I said, and that you’ll give the folks around here a chance. Everyone isn’t out to hurt you.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind.” She rose, the large envelope under her arm. “Hopefully, I won’t be here long enough to find out. Well, no longer than six months, anyway.”
Jesse opened the door for her and led her into the foyer.
“If you need anything, anything at all, let us know and we’ll do whatever we can to help,” he told her.
“Thank you, Jesse. I can’t even put into words how much I appreciate everything you’ve done.”
“You’re welcome. Maybe we’ll run into you at Cuppachino for coffee one of these days. It’s the place where all the locals gather every morning.”
“I don’t know that I could handle one of those cupcakes every day.”
“They are lethal, but I’ll be sure to tell Brooke—she’s my fiancée—that you enjoyed it.”
“Please do.” Ellis craned her neck to see if Violet was at her desk so she could say good-bye, but the room was empty.
Jesse held the front door open and stepped outside with her. “Glad to see the sun came out. It’s been a little on the gloomy side the past couple of days.”
“It’s still chilly,” Ellis noted.
“November moving headfirst into winter,” he said. “Hope you brought some warm clothes.”
“I did, thanks.”
Jesse accompanied her to the end of the brick walk, his hands in his pocket. “Check in from time to time and let me know how things are going.”
“Will do. Thanks again for everything, Jesse.”
He nodded and waited at the sidewalk while she walked to her car, then waved before turning and going back into the building.
Nice guy, she told herself, and said a prayer of thanks that her mother’s family had selected such a firm to represent them. She was well aware that another attorney might have been willing to sell her out. She could see the headlines now:
Daughter of Clifford Chapman Found Living Under Assumed Name in Small Maryland Town!
King of Fraud’s daughter dumps his name, hides out on Eastern Shore!
Sad but true.
She slid behind the wheel and started the car. Following the directions Jesse had printed out for her, she drove around the square and made a left to head back to Charles Street. Once on Charles, she made another left and drove back through the center of town. Two blocks past the light, she took a right onto Bay View Road and drove all the way to its unpaved end. The number1was painted in dark green on a white mailbox that looked surprisingly new. She stopped in the middle of the street and stared at her inheritance.
The house seemed to have nothing in common with the others she’d passed on her travels through town, those imposing Colonial and Federal and Queen Anne styles that appeared on every block. This house was set at an odd angle to the road as if to gaze out upon the Bay and looked like an overgrown cottage, with misplaced gables here and there. The front porch didn’t look original but it was impossible to tell when it had been added. It stretched across the entire front of the house and sagged a little on one side. The white clapboard siding could use a new coat of paint and the shutters were faded. Three brick chimneys—one of which listed slightly to the side—protruded from the roof. At the end of the driveway—which was covered in what appeared to be crushed shells—stood an outbuilding, a garage or a carriage house, the windows of which had been painted black. The shades in every window of the house had been pulled down, making it look as if it had something to hide. Two sides of the property were bordered by some of thetallest trees she’d ever seen. All in all, the impression was far from inviting, and yet something about the scene felt oddly familiar.
Like it or not, this was home.
She eased the sedan into the driveway and sat for several long moments before bursting into tears.Chapter 2
EVENTUALLY, Ellie told herself, she was going to have to get out of the car.
“Why delay the pain any longer …?”
She opened the car door and walked across the crushed shells to a path that wound its way leisurely from the driveway to the front steps. Her fingers traced the shape of the key inside the envelope Jesse had given her as she approached the porch. She ripped open the envelope, took out the key, and stuck the paper into her pocket.
She fitted the key into the lock and turned it, pushed open the door, and stepped into a square foyer. The house was dark, as much because of the approaching dusk as because all the shades were pulled down to the windowsills. In spite of the chill outside, the house was warm—Thank you, Jesse—and very still, as if it had been holding its breath, waiting for her.
Ellie stood for a very long moment in the hushed foyer, her eyes adjusting to the dim light. The stairs to the second floor stood directly in front of her. Straight ahead to the left of the stairs was a long hall that ledclear through to the back door, which also had a shade tightly pulled. There was a room to her right and another to her left. The furniture in both was covered with white sheets, giving what she could see of the downstairs the appearance of a ghostly landscape.
“Well.” She spoke aloud to break the silence. What to do first, now that she was here?
After some deliberation, she walked into the room to her left and lifted the shades from the four windows—two facing front, one on either side of a fireplace. Paintings on the walls were draped with fabric and it took Ellie a moment to realize that the only things in the room that weren’t covered were the carpets and the andirons on the hearth. She backed out of the room as if afraid of disturbing it, and went across the hall, where she found more of the same. There was no way to disguise that this was the dining room. A crystal chandelier, its ovoid drops covered with dust, hung over a long flat surface that lay beneath the expected white sheet. Against one wall, furniture lay hidden beneath more sheeting, and a peek under the draping on two smaller shapes revealed a sideboard and a tea cart. Peeling back the thin quilt from the side of the tallest piece of furniture, she found an empty china cupboard, the former contents having left round marks in the dust on the shelves. The placement of the windows and the fireplace exactly mirrored the room across the hall. The architect, she thought, clearly appreciated symmetry.
A feeling of déjà vu swept over her, and was promptly dismissed. Her mother must have describedit all to her, she reasoned, and somehow she’d retained the images.
A door on the back wall swung open with a push and led to a butler’s pantry that had glass-doored cabinets on one wall, and an expanse of counter with a small soapstone sink on the other. The cabinets were crammed with dishes, plates and bowls, and cups and saucers, all stacked haphazardly on top of one other.
The kitchen, a large square room, lay behind the pantry. Ellie pulled up the shades and looked for a switch for the clumsy overhead light fixture. Near the back door were the controls for a security system that obviously wasn’t on, and the black push-button switch that served to turn on the light.
She wasn’t sure the room hadn’t looked better in the dark.
Chipped Formica in a truly terrible shade of yellow covered the counters. On the floor, there was dark linoleum of indeterminable age and a dreadful mustardy color. Wooden cabinets were built in along one long wall.
“I’ll bet there isn’t a thing in this room that isn’t older than I am.” She paused to consider the refrigerator, which looked much newer than everything else. “Well, maybethat. But not much else.”
She walked to the stove. It, too, appeared newer than she’d expected. Not brand-new, but not 1950s, either. Curious, she thought.
A table with four chairs stood against the side wall under the windows. When she raised the shade, the last bit of afternoon sun spilled across the floor, high-lightingthe cracks in the old linoleum and the faded paper and paint on the walls.
Ellie stood in the center of the room, her hands on her hips, feeling more than a little bewildered, and stared at the wallpaper, blue-and-white-patterned teacups on a background that was probably once white but was now yellowed with age. She’d seen that same paper—those same teacups—somewhere, but couldn’t remember where.
She went to the back door and unlocked the dead bolt, which looked relatively new compared to just about everything else she’d seen so far, then stepped outside onto a small porch where she found nothing but a stack of wood. Like the shutters and the downstairs rooms, the porch needed a fresh coat of paint.
The yard was much deeper and wider than it looked from the house. Remnants of garden beds ran along the porch, the right side of the property, and the outbuilding—carriage house? garage?—that faced the driveway. A large shed with a door flanked by a window on each side stood in the back corner. She’d leave investigating that for another day. And there were those trees, huge things with long bare branches.
Bare branches where there’d been leaves not too long ago—but where were the leaves? She stepped off the porch and walked the length of the yard. She thought of the lawns she’d passed on her way into town, where the fallen leaves had carpeted the ground. Not here, though. She looked up at the trees and wondered if they were dead. She reached up to break a twig from the closest maple, and found it supple, not dry as one might expect from a dead tree. So where were the leaves?
A trip around the yard revealed a thick layer covering the flower beds.
Birdseed on the ground under the feeders that hung from the branches of several dogwoods meant that someone had filled them.
Raked leaves. Filled bird feeders. Wood stacked near the back door.
She glanced at the house nervously. Could someone be inside, hiding, perhaps, on the second floor? A squatter, maybe, someone who knew the house was empty, had been empty for years?
There was an outside entrance to the basement, double wooden doors that were God knows how old. Maybe …
Ellie took a deep breath and walked to the doors and gave one a good yank—but they didn’t budge.
“Okay, locked is good.”
She went back up the steps and stared at the pile of wood. Must have been Jesse, she decided. Of course. Hadn’t he said they’d been looking out for the place? She hadn’t thought that would mean raking the leaves into the flower beds and keeping the bird feeders filled, but those were nice touches. She exhaled and went back inside, making certain she relocked the door.
She walked softly on leather-soled flats back to the foyer. At the bottom of the steps she stood, as if listening, waiting to see if there was any sound from the second floor. Convinced there were no squatters—surely Jesse would have noticed—she climbed the steps slowly, almost on tiptoe. At the top of the stairs was a landing and a hall that, much like the one below, led to the back of the house. She counted thedoors—there were five, all closed. Her hand paused at the one closest to her before grasping and turning it. She pushed it open and peered inside.
“More sheets. Where,” she wondered, “did they find so many sheets?”
The wallpaper was peeling from one corner, the flowers fading to the palest of yellows. She picked up a strip that had flaked off and fallen to the floor. The flowers, like the teacups on the paper in the kitchen, seemed to ring a very distant bell in her memory. She slipped the paper into her pocket and left the room.
One by one she opened the other doors, took a long studied look inside before closing them again. There were four good-size bedrooms and one large bath accessed from the hall. Two of the bedrooms had their own baths, all were fully furnished and had closets. Ellie resisted the temptation to open those doors, not sure of what she’d find hanging there.
She stood on the landing, looking at the doors she’d moments earlier opened then closed. She had to pick one to sleep in, and she needed to do that now so she could find sheets—no problem there—and hopefully, blankets. All of the bed linens would have to be washed, of course. Did this house have a washer and a dryer? She hadn’t seen one on the first floor. Perhaps in the basement.
The basement where the squatters were hiding.
“You’re being ridiculous. You’ve got the imagination of a ten-year-old,” Ellie chastised herself as she returned to the first bedroom on the left, opened the door, and turned on the light switch. She pulled the sheet off the double bed and was happy to see there were pillows with pillowcases already on them.She removed the cases, punched the pillows a few times. A couple of feathers fluttered out, but no discernible dust.
“Real feather pillows,” she noted.
She stripped the pale pink fitted sheet from the mattress and rolled it up with the top sheet and the pillowcases. On her way out of the room, she pulled up the shades and leaned on the sill to look out the window.
At the end of the street, a stone’s throw from the house, was a dune, where tall grasses swayed in the light breeze, and beyond the dune, the Bay rolled onto a narrow stretch of beach in easy waves. Ellie dropped the bedding onto the mattress and forced open a window. When she raised the sash, the scent of the Bay flowed in as gently as the water nudged the shore. It was salt and pine and something she couldn’t put her finger on, but the combination was pleasing and she smiled. Her mother had once mentioned how the Chesapeake smelled, and now here Ellie was, filling her lungs and experiencing the Bay much as Lynley had.
“You were right, Mom. It’s delicious. At least, tonight it is.” After a few minutes, the room grew cold, and she closed the window and locked it. “Not sure how it smells on a hot muggy day in August, but since I will be long gone by then, it won’t be my problem.”
She gathered up the bedding, turned off the light, and made her way back downstairs. She dropped her bundle on the floor, then went into the living room.
“Time for the big reveal,” she announced. “Let’s see what we’ve got hiding under all these covers.”
She found a vintage dark green mohair sofa underone sheet, three club chairs—one green, two maroon—under others. She ran her hand over the upholstery and traced her fingers over the plush fabric. It was soft and velvety and comforting. She sat for a moment, her head resting back against the cushions, and closed her eyes, feeling strangely at home.
She got up with a start and turned on the lamps—grateful to find they all still had bulbs—and removed all the protective coverings.
“Not bad, actually.” She nodded when she was finished. “Not my taste, but I do know that there’s a solid market for 1950s and sixties furnishings, so I should do all right here.”
The paintings on the wall were an odd mix: a few landscapes and a dark painting of the Bay. The tops of the wooden tables were bare, but the bookshelves that ran along one wall were filled to overflowing. Ellie figured she’d have plenty of time to peruse the family library, since there was no TV. She could watch on her phone, but really, with everything that had to be done in the house, who would have time for television?
She added the sheets from the living room to the items she’d brought downstairs and carried the whole pile to the basement door. She found it locked; the sliding bolt opened easily. There was a switch at the top of the steps, but when she turned it on, the light-bulb downstairs popped.
“Crap. No way am I going down there in total darkness.” She closed the door and relocked it. “Uh-uh.”
She paused to think. It hadn’t occurred to her to bring laundry soap, so she’d have to find a Laundromatanyway. Had she passed one in her travels today? She didn’t recall seeing one.
Her grumbling stomach reminded her that she had to find dinner as well. She didn’t know the lay of the land well enough to simply charge out the front door, so she consulted her phone. She discovered there was a Laundromat out on the highway and several restaurants and a food market nearby. Perfect. She could coordinate the washing/drying with grabbing some dinner and stocking up on some staples to take back to the house.
She followed the directions she got from her phone—so grateful for modern technology—and arrived at the Laundromat right before the sun set. She found the place empty except for an attendant who appeared to be in her late teens. Apparently Tuesday was not a big wash day in St. Dennis.
The young attendant extracted herself from the book she was reading long enough to make change so that Ellie could purchase a small packet of detergent. She loaded the nearest washer with the sheets and the required amount of cash and turned on the machine.
“Excuse me.” She approached the attendant again. “How long do the wash loads usually run?”
The girl shrugged and took a sip from an almost empty bottle of Diet Pepsi. “I dunno.”
“I need to do some food shopping at the market across the road. That’s why I’m asking. I need to know how much time I have.”
“Maybe thirty minutes?” The girl shrugged again. “I don’t usually pay attention. But we’re not busy. If you want to leave money for the dryer, I’ll put the stuff in for you when the washer’s done.”
“That would be so nice of you.” Ellie smiled gratefully. “Thanks so much. That would really be helpful.”
The girl shrugged.
“I noticed there are several restaurants right along the strip here.” Ellie paused near the door. “If I wanted to grab a quick dinner, which one would you recommend?”
The girl raised her head and appeared to think over the question.
“Real dinner or just like, you know, a sandwich or something?” she asked.
“I think real dinner.”
“The Crab Claw at the end of the shopping center has pretty good stuff. Not as good as what you get in town, like at Captain Walt’s or Lola’s, but okay, I guess.”
“Thanks. I’ll give it a try.”
Her itinerary set—market then pick up dinner then back to the Laundromat—Ellie drove across the road to the market. She hadn’t made a list, and hadn’t really thought too much about what she needed. Now that she was here and behind a cart, she felt overwhelmed.
Food staples first, she decided. Milk, eggs, bread, cereal, butter. Peanut butter. Maybe a can or two of tuna. Mayonnaise. She hadn’t seen a coffeepot in the kitchen and doubted she’d find one, and she could not abide instant coffee. Which meant that she’d be driving into Cuppachino in the morning for a large take-out coffee until she could purchase a coffeemaker. In the meantime, she tossed a box of tea bags into her cart.
Purchasing food turned out to be much easier than selecting cleaning supplies, something she hadn’t ever done before. There’d always been a housekeeper to dust and vacuum and clean the bathrooms and the kitchen—even when she was camped out at her friend’s Boston town house this past year. Scanning the seemingly endless rows of cleansers and plastic bottles threatened to give Ellie a headache until she decided to take the product that professed to be “all-purpose” at its word.
She hadn’t cleaned bathrooms since that summer camp she’d gone to when she was thirteen. The counselor in charge of their cabin took her duties very seriously, and required all of the girls to clean not only the cabin but the communal bathrooms as well. At the time they’d lamented their bad luck in having drawn Judy Wilson’s cabin, but in retrospect, at least Ellie had learned some lessons she’d never forgotten.
She picked up a second bottle. Who knew when the house had last been cleaned? She grabbed a jumbo pack of paper towels, cleanser, a large package of sponges, a sponge mop, and a plastic bucket.
That should pretty much cover everything.
She checked out, loaded up her car, drove back to the shopping center, and pulled in front of the Crab Claw, which seemed to be doing little more business than the Laundromat. She entered through a red door that had a giant crab painted on it. Inside the lighting was dim and the square wooden tables were set almost exclusively for four people. There were only a few parties scattered throughout the room and music played in the background. A plump waitress with shortcurly strawberry-blond hair and an overabundance of eyeliner approached with a menu.
“You gonna be meeting someone, hon?” the waitress asked.
“Ah, no. Actually, I was hoping for takeout,” Ellie replied.
“Anything on the menu can be made for takeout.” She handed Ellie the menu, a large slick number with a shiny picture of the same crab that graced the door.
“Thanks.” Ellie opened the menu and began to scan it.
“The burgers are really good here,” the waitress told her softly.
“I was hoping for more than a sandwich,” Ellie said without looking up.
“A baked potato can be substituted for french fries, you could get a side salad.” The waitress leaned a hand on a nearby chair and repeated pointedly, “Like I said, theburgersare real good.”
Ellie got the message.
“Thank you. I’ll have the burger, baked potato, side salad.”
“Good choice. Dressing for the salad?”
“I guess you could call it that.” The waitress smiled and wrote down the order. “Can I get you a cup of coffee or tea, or something while you wait?”
“I would love a good cup of coffee,” Ellie admitted.
“We’re not Starbucks but I’ll make a fresh pot.”
“Thank you.” Ellie took a seat at the closest table and checked out the decor. Crab traps hung from the ceiling and nets covered the walls.
A second waitress emerged from the kitchen with atray that she served to a party of six—two tables pushed together, Ellie noted—and a few moments later, Ellie’s waitress returned with the promised cup of coffee.
“Thank you,” Ellie said.
“So, you just passing through?” The waitress leaned on the back of the chair opposite Ellie.
“How can you tell?”
“If you were local, I’d know you.”
“Well, I guess I’m almost local. I inher—boughta place in St. Dennis and just arrived here today.”
“Oh, which house did you buy? There weren’t that many on the market, last I heard.”
“It’s on Bay View. An older place, needs a lot of work.”
The waitress nodded. “A fixer-upper, estate sale? Best way to buy, if you’re handy. St. Dennis is still a pretty hot ticket, draws a lot of visitors. ’Course, you probably already know that or you wouldn’t have bought here, right? Prices aren’t down here the way they are in other places. You should see this place in the summer.” She shook her head. “You can barely get a table. Some weekends, there’s a line out the door.”
The door opened and three women entered.
“I hope you got a good deal on it,” she told Ellie before she turned to greet the newcomers.
“Good for you, hon.” She patted Ellie on the shoulder as she walked past. “I wish you all the best luck with it.”
“Thank you,” Ellie whispered, suddenly a little choked up, though she couldn’t have put into words why. Maybe it was the kind words from this stranger,or the nice offer from the girl at the Laundromat, but after almost a year of feeling as if she’d been batted around by just about everyone she’d ever known, the unexpected goodwill she’d met with today made her feel like crying. It had been quite awhile since she’d felt this emotional.
Not that she’d cry in a public place, but still.
The waitress brought out a bag with her takeout, and Ellie followed her to the cash register.
“Anything else, hon?”
“No, I think I’m good,” Ellie told her. “Wait, yes. I’d like a Diet Pepsi.”
“I only have fountain. That okay?”
The waitress got the drink, added it to the bill, and Ellie handed over what she owed plus a tip.
“Oh, wait. You forgot to add the coffee,” Ellie told her.
“It’s on the house. Come back again when the rock-fish are running. The cook does a real nice job with the fresh fish. Off-season, the frozen … not so much. But the burgers are always top-notch.” She winked at Ellie and headed for the kitchen.
“Thanks …,” Ellie called after her, but the waitress had already disappeared through the door.
She carried the drink and the bag of food to the car, left the food, and took the drink into the Laundromat.
“Your stuff’s done.” The girl glanced up only long enough to see that it was Ellie.
“Thank you. I appreciate your help.” Ellie placed the tall container of soda on the girl’s small desk.
“What’s this?” the girl asked.
“I noticed your drink was getting low.” Ellie made her way to the block of dryers. “Which machine?”
“Oh. The third one from this end.” Clearly surprised, the girl was still staring at the drink Ellie’d brought her.
Ellie opened the dryer, folded the sheets, and closed the dryer door again. She waved to the girl as she was going to the door.
“Wait, I didn’t pay you for the soda,” the girl called after her.
“Hey, thanks. This was … nice. Really. You didn’t have to,” the girl told her.
“You didn’t have to put my stuff in the dryer.” Ellie opened the door. “See you.”
“Hey, come back anytime.”
Bet on that, Ellie thought as she loaded the clean laundry into the back of the car.
She drove back to the house and sat in the driveway for a few moments to watch the sun as it faded on the water.
She remembered the burger that was getting colder by the minute, and took the food into the house. She sat at the kitchen table and ate with the plastic fork the waitress had tucked into the bag, used the plastic knife to put a touch of butter onto the potato, poured dressing from a small plastic cup on the salad, and used the bag as a place mat. Who knew when the table was last cleaned, and what might have crawled over it since?
The thought made her shudder.
The burger was, as promised, delicious, and thebaked potato and salad just right. It was hardly the fare she’d been used to all her life, but she sensed that this was not a home where gourmet dinners had been prepared by master chefs. This was a place where comfort food had been prepared by loving hands, she felt certain.
Tonight she’d take the first steps to get the house cleaned up. She debated the merits of starting in the kitchen as opposed to starting in the bathroom. Before too long, she felt overwhelmed, so she finished eating and went back to the car to bring in her laundry and her purchases. At least she had clean sheets to sleep on, and she had enough food for the next few days.
She dug through the bags for one of the containers of cleaning product and a sponge. She was just about to head upstairs when her phone rang.
“Hey, you. How’s it going? How’s the new home?” Of course, Carly Summit, Ellie’s best friend—heronlyfriend, the friend who had opened her home to Ellie, loaned her a car and money, and stood by her when everyone else in her life vanished—would call to make sure everything was okay.
“It’s … different. Different from what I expected, but in a good way. I mean, it isn’t terrible.” Ellie walked into the living room, turned on two of the lamps, and sat in one of the club chairs that faced the Bay. “Actually, it’s quite charming in a shabby chic sort of way.”
“You sound upbeat. That’s good.”
“I am upbeat. I think with some elbow grease and some paint, this place will clean up quite nicely.” Ellie paused. “I’m talking a full crap load of elbow greaseand buckets of paint, but still, the end result should be fine.”
“Shades of Counselor Wilson at Camp Bedlam.” Their shared name for Camp Bedlingham in the Berkshires where they’d spent several summers.
“That’s exactly what I was thinking earlier. Though now I’m grateful for all those hours I spent scrubbing porcelain.”
“So do you have a game plan?”
“Of course. Tonight I’m going to clean the bathroom I’m using on the second floor, then put sheets on the bed, after which I will fall face-first into it. That’s all I’ve got so far. I’m exhausted.”
“Not so bad.”
“Look, Ellie, you know that if you need anything—I mean anything—all you have to do is call.”
“I know that, and I appreciate it. But you’ve already done so much for me. I’ll never be able to repay you for everything, Carly.” Once again, that pesky lump tightened Ellie’s throat.
“ ‘Pshaw,’ as my great-grandmother used to say. Have I done anything for you that you wouldn’t do for me, if the tables were turned?”
“Of course not.”
“Well, then, there you are. Who knows, someday, when things are super for you again, maybe I’ll be down on my luck and you can give me a hand.”
“Carly, you’ll never be down on your luck.”
“You never know. We’d have said the same about you two years ago.”
“True enough but …” Ellie paused. “Carly, is everything okay there?”
“Perfect, as always. I was just trying to make the point that friends do what they can. Right now you’re in a situation and I’m in a position to help out.”
“But you’d tell me, right?”
“Of course. Who else would I tell?”
They chatted a little longer, Carly exclaiming, “Ohhhh! Waterfront! Fabulous!” when Ellie told her that the house faced the Bay. “I may have to buzz on down there soon.”
“Anytime. Really. Please. I miss you,” Ellie told her.
“I miss you, too, El. I’ll fit in a trip when I get back to the East Coast. In the meantime, you can scrub up one of those bathrooms for me.”
“Now, tell me all about your new house and that little town.…”
After Ellie had told all and the call disconnected, she sat in the silent room, the phone still in her hand. Hearing Carly’s voice reminded her that regardless of how it felt sometimes, she wasn’t totally alone. Everyone else may have written her off, denied their friendship, and forgotten that she’d existed, but there was always Carly, and while Carly wasn’t physically with her, talking to her had cheered Ellie. Such was the power of friendship.
Ellie locked the front door and carried what she needed upstairs, where she turned on the light in the room she’d claimed as her bedroom and went into the bathroom. She turned on the faucet, and jumped back when a stream of rusty water coughed out.
“Seriously?” She watched it run down the drain in rusty swirls. After a while the color began to lighten, and a few minutes later, the water ran clear.
“That’s more like it.” With cleanser and a sponge and the “all-purpose” cleaner, she managed to get the bathroom in respectable order in a little less than an hour.
“Not bad.” She stood back to admire her work. “Not bad at all. Counselor Wilson, you’d be proud of me.”
She changed the sheets on the bed, then realized she hadn’t looked for blankets. She found a pile of old quilts in a chest in one of the other bedrooms and brought two of them into her room. One went onto the bed, the other she folded at the bottom. They smelled slightly of mothballs, but she decided it wasn’t so bad that she’d risk freezing. She turned off the lights on the first floor and lowered the thermostat, took a quick shower, got ready for bed, and crawled under the covers.
Flat on her back and looking up toward a ceiling she couldn’t see, Ellie relived the day, from leaving Carly’s town house to driving straight through to St. Dennis, to meeting Jesse Enright. Stepping for the first time into the house she now owned, navigating her way to find the things she needed. She thought about the waitress at the Crab Claw who’d given her coffee and steered her away from the fish that might not have been so good, and the young girl at the Laundromat who’d offered to put Ellie’s things in the dryer so that she could do her shopping and buy dinner.
“I told you, it’s a friendly little town,” Jesse had told her. And later, “I hope you’ll think about what I said and that you’ll give the folks around here a chance. Everyone isn’t out to hurt you.”
If everyone in St. Dennis were like the people she’d met that day, she’d concede that he was right. Of course, how kind everyone would be if they knew she was Clifford Chapman’s daughter—well, that would be the test, wouldn’t it?
Not a test anyone would be subjected to. When she’d told Jesse she wasn’t there to make friends, she wasn’t kidding. Friendship required honesty, trust, and Ellie knew she wasn’t going to go there.
She’d trusted Jesse because she had to, but she wouldn’t be hanging around St. Dennis long enough to find out who else she could trust. After she’d been burned so badly by the two people who should have most loved her—her father and her fiancé—trust was hard to come by these days.
Ellie still couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that her father—the same father who’d been her champion all her life and had always seemed to have put her, his only child, above everything else—was worse than a common thief because he didn’t steal out of necessity but out of a greed so out of control there had been no end to it. If he hadn’t been caught, she was certain he’d still be stealing the life savings and pensions of people who trusted him.
Ellie, too, had trusted him.
When the charges were first announced, she’d been blindsided. The moment when her father had looked her in the eyes and admitted that he—aided by Henry—was in fact guilty, that he had in fact done everything the FBI and the SEC said he’d done, Ellie had felt her entire world crack and shatter. That both her father and Henry—she’d planned on marrying that man!—had woven the tangled web in which thousands ofpeople lost everything they had, devastated Ellie. Carly had been in Paris but had flown home the second she heard the news, had stood by Ellie while she was grilled six ways to Sunday by one investigator after another. When the interrogations were over and Ellie had been cleared of any involvement, Carly had taken her home, where Ellie fought off the pain and shame for the next three months.
The entire past year had been totally surreal, had turned Ellie’s world inside out, and made her question everything she knew about herself, her life. What her father and Henry had done went beyond betrayal.
No, best to bury Ellis Chapman so that Ellie Ryder could get on with her life.Chapter 3
CAMERONO’Connor parked his aging Ford pickup at the corner of Old St. Mary’s Church Road and Cedar Lane, then walked the half block to the law offices of Enright & Enright. He didn’t have an appointment, but given the foul mood he was in, he’d muscle his way past Jesse’s elderly receptionist if he had to. He wasn’t a man who was quick to lose his temper, but today he wasthisclose.
He took a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself before he opened the firm’s front door. As usual, Violet Finneran sat like a sentry at her desk to the left of the foyer. Cam was tempted to ignore her and just walk into Jesse’s office, but better judgment prevailed.
“Miz Finneran?” he said from the foyer.
Apparently startled, the woman looked up from whatever it was she was reading, then a smile crossed her face.
“Cameron O’Connor, come in here and let me look at you,” she commanded.
Anger was no excuse for poor manners. Cam went into the reception area.
“How have you been, son? It seems like months since I’ve seen you.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m fine, thank you. How are you feeling?”
“I’m doing just fine, too. And your sister? She’s well?”
“Very well,” he replied. “Thanks for asking about her.”
“Of course. Please give her my best.” Violet Finneran lowered her glasses and gazed at Cam. “Were you hoping to see Jesse?”
Cam nodded. “If he has a minute …”
“Let me check on that for you, dear. Why not have a seat?” She stood and walked across the hall, where she knocked softly on the first door. After a second, she went into the office, and a moment later was followed back out by Jesse.
“Hey, buddy. What’s going on?” Jesse was his usual friendly self. “Missed you at the beer tasting the other night.”
“Got tied up with a project.” Cam could have added that he’d been working on a table he was making as a surprise gift for Jesse and his fiancée, but didn’t feel like getting into that right now. “Got a minute?”
“Sure. Come on in.” Jesse led the way back into the office, and Cam closed the door behind him.
“You finally getting around to writing that will, or are you—?” Jesse began as he seated himself behind his desk and pointed to one of the side chairs as an invitation for Cameron to sit.
“Is it true?” Cameron cut him off and ignored theoffer of the chair. “Has Lilly Cavanaugh’s house been sold?”
“Well, yeah.” Jesse looked uncomfortable. “Where’d you hear that?”
“I stopped at Cuppachino this morning and Grace Sinclair mentioned it. She said some woman from up north bought it and she’s—”
“Where did Grace hear about it?” Jesse asked.
“Someone saw lights on in the house and a car in the driveway a few nights ago and called the police. Beck stopped over to see what was what and was informed that the house had changed ownership.”
Jesse nodded. “It did.”
“Why didn’t anyone in town know it was on the market?” Cam folded his arms across his chest. “More specifically, why didn’tIknow it was for sale?”
Jesse stared at Cameron for a long moment, then said, “The previous owner had given instructions to her lawyer in New York for the disposition of the house. Everything was handled there.”
“By the previous owner, you mean Lynley Sebastian.”
“She’s been gone for how many years now? And the house is just now being sold? And sold so quickly that no one around here even knew it was on the market?”
“There may have been some entanglement with the investigation into her husband’s affairs. I don’t know the particulars because as I said, it was handled by the attorneys in New York who handled Lynley’s estate on behalf of her heir.”
“That would have been Lynley’s daughter? I remember she had a little girl.”
“I suppose.” Jesse shrugged. “Want to tell me why you’re so pissed off?”
“I would have liked to have had an opportunity to bid on the property.”
“You’ll still have that opportunity. The new owner is planning on doing some renovations before selling it.”
“From what I understand, she has no interest in staying in St. Dennis any longer than she has to. She just wants to clean the place up, make some necessary repairs, maybe spiff it up a little, then get what she can for it before moving on.”
“She a professional?”
“A professional what?” Jesse frowned.
“House flipper. You know, people who buy houses that are run-down or outdated or that have serious problems, fix them up, then sell them for a profit. Such as myself.”
“I didn’t get the impression that she’s done this sort of thing before.”
“So you’ve met her.”
Jessed nodded. “The firm still represents some interests of the estate.”
“What’s her name? The owner.”
“Ellie Ryder. She’s from—”
“Ryder?R-Y-D-E-R?” Cam felt a tickle on the back of his neck.
“I think so. Why?”
“Lilly Cavanaugh’s maiden name was Ryder, spelled just like that.”
“I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.” Jesse brushed off any possible significance with the wave of his hand.“But just out of curiosity, how would you know that?”
“I knew the Cavanaughs pretty well when I was a kid. It’s how I came to take care of the place,” Cam said, his voice softened. “We lived on Bay View for a while. Miss Lilly was … well, she was a special lady.”
“If you knew her, you must have known Lynley.” Jesse sat back in his chair, a thoughtful expression on his face.
Cam hesitated. “When she was in town, we’d exchange a few words about cutting the lawn and raking leaves, looking after Miss Lilly, that sort of thing. I don’t remember how old I was when I realized the connection between Miss Lilly’s niece and that pretty face that was on all those magazines.”
“Cam, if I’d known you had an interest in the property, that you had a history there, I’d have tried to help you out.” Jesse appeared to be choosing his words carefully. “However, the house has now changed hands. I’m sorry. I had no idea that you’d want it, but I’ll make certain that you know when the owner is getting ready to sell.”
“I’d appreciate it.”
Cameron felt his blood pressure lower. Of course, not having arrived in St. Dennis until last year, Jesse wouldn’t have known Cam’s family history. One of these days, Cam would have to tell him about the time he and his family lived on Bay View Road. But it wasn’t going to be today. Maybe some night, when he and Jesse were testing beer flavors for Clay Madison and Wade MacGregor, whose local brewery, MadMac Brews, was still in the start-up phase, he’d tell the story.
Then again, maybe not.
Clay, who’d lived in St. Dennis his entire life, surely knew, but he was a friend and he’d never brought it up. Wade was a little younger, and hadn’t really spent much time here—except summers—until he was in his teens, so he might not have heard. Funny, Cam thought, the things that are so monumental to you, the ones that you carry around inside you and think are always on everyone else’s mind, really aren’t a regular topic of conversation among other people. He knew, though wasn’t sure he totally believed, that if his family’s circumstances ever came up at all, it was in passing, and was either precipitated or followed by the words “… and yet Cam and his sister have turned out so well …”
Cam let go a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.
Of course, Jesse wouldn’t have known. And of course, Lynley’s New York lawyers would have been the front line, since surely efforts would have had to be made to keep the house out of the mess Lynley’s husband had made. He hadn’t followed the story all that closely—not much time these days to sit and read newspaper articles on issues that didn’t directly affect him, given his busy contracting business. He had little interest in the Internet aside from searching for materials for a job now and then, and rarely watched television, preferring to spend his spare hours winding down by building furniture—tables, mostly—from old barn boards. The reports of the Chapman scandal had held only a passing interest to him. Had Lynley still been alive when it broke, he would have paid much closer attention. There had been references toClifford Chapman’s late wife, of course, but her connection to St. Dennis was rarely mentioned. So with her gone, Cam had merely shaken his head and turned to the sports page.
“But I was going to call you,” Jesse was saying, “to ask if you’d pay a visit to the new owner and maybe help her figure out what needs to be done. I know she doesn’t have a lot of money to invest in the place and she’s planning on doing as much of the work as she can herself, but there will be things that should be checked out or repaired or whatever that she might not be aware of.”
Cam nodded. He’d been taking care of the property for years, long before Jesse arrived in St. Dennis. From the time he was eight or nine years old, the Cavanaughs paid him to help out around the yard, weeding the flower beds and assisting with the spring planting of the vegetable garden. Later, as a teenager, he’d cut the lawn with the old push mower that Mr. Cavanaugh had kept in a shed in the backyard. After her husband died and Miss Lilly was alone in the house, Cam stopped by every week to do whatever needed being done. As she aged, he found himself doing more and more for her, not that he ever minded one minute he’d spent helping her out. Then she passed away, and Lynley inherited the property, but he kept up with the yard and the flower beds that Miss Lilly had taken such pride in. Even after Lynley died, his stewardship continued, not because anyone had asked him to, but because he felt he owed it to Miss Lilly to keep an eye on things in return for all she’d done for him. But that, he reminded himself, was between him and Miss Lilly.
“Sure. I’ll stop over this afternoon, see what’s what.”
“Maybe given your interest in the property, you can come to a deal about the eventual sale. You know, maybe give her a hand here and there, in exchange for a slightly lower sale price. Who knows?” Jesse stood. “The idea might appeal to her, especially since she isn’t prepared to sink a fortune into the place. Of course, if she did, she’d be able to command a pretty steep price. St. Dennis real estate has more than held its own. And sitting right there on the Bay, we both know that place will be worth a nice chunk of change after it’s fixed up.”
“No argument there.” Cam opened the door and stepped into the hall.
Jesse glanced at his watch. “You have time to grab some lunch? It’s one o’clock already.”
“Sure. How ’bout I meet you down at the Crab Claw for a burger?”
“They do have great burgers, but it’s on the highway and I walked to work today.” Jesse leaned against the doorjamb. “Unless I can hop a ride with you, but that means you’d have to drive me back.”
“Sure. I have to come back into town to file for a permit for a kitchen remodel I’m doing over on Parson Middleton Road.”
Jesse told Mrs. Finneran he’d be gone for about an hour and asked if he could bring her something from the Crab Claw.
“No, thank you, Jesse. I already had a sandwich.” She waved from her desk. “Don’t be such a stranger, Cameron.”
“You take care, Miz Finneran.” Cam waved back. The drive to the restaurant took five minutes, duringwhich time the two men discussed next Sunday’s football games and the statistics relevant to each team. Cam was still extolling the merits of one of his favorite running backs as he pulled into the busy parking lot at the Crab Claw. A car was about to pull out at the end of the row, and Cam waited patiently while the driver strapped into his seat belt and prepared to back out.
“This guy made a first down damned near every time he touched the ball, so you’d think that someone would have figured out how to shut him down, and besides …”
Just then a woman walked out of the restaurant swinging what looked like a take-out bag. Of average height, she was lean in black leggings and a slouchy green sweatshirt and walked with an easy grace. A bright green scarf held back chestnut-brown hair, and her oversize glasses covered a good deal of her face. He wondered if the parts that were hidden looked as good as the parts he could see.
Cam momentarily lost his train of thought.
“Cam.” Jesse tapped him on the arm.
Cam turned to Jesse, who wore an expression of amusement as he pointed at the now-empty parking space.
Cameron pulled into the space.
“What?” he asked Jesse. “What are you smirking about?”
“That woman, the woman you were just all but drooling over …?”
“What about her? You know her?”
“That, my friend, was Ellie Ryder.”
Cam swung around in his seat to take another look,but the woman had already disappeared into what looked like a fairly new Mercedes sedan.
He turned back to Jesse. “I was under the impression that she wasn’t flush with cash. That’s no cheapie compact she’s driving. I’m guessing that sucker’s worth eighty, ninety thousand if it’s worth a penny.”
Jesse merely shrugged and got out of the car. Cam got out, too, and watched the big sedan exit the lot and head for the light. Once it made the left toward St. Dennis, he turned and followed Jesse into the restaurant. Right now he needed a fat burger and a cold drink. He’d catch up with Miss Ellie Ryder later.Chapter 4
FORthe fourth day in a row, Ellie headed toward the narrow beach when she needed a little bit of a break. She passed over the dune carefully so as to not disturb the sea grass that grew there and any little living thing that might be hidden beneath it.
The beach itself was an oddity to her, as beaches went. It was narrow and pebbly, unlike the beaches she’d sunned herself on in her old life, beaches that had miles of soft sugar-white sand with nary a stone in sight. Here, a large rock stood at the edge of the dune, and she’d taken to sitting on it with a mug of tea or coffee in the afternoons. The waves here were so gentle as they lapped at the shore, and the sunlight so soft, she almost wished she hadn’t given up painting years ago. Of course, she wasn’t sure she could replicate that pale light. It took on the most beautiful golden glow as it shimmered on the water.
Yesterday she walked along the shoreline until she came across the remains of what might have been a lighthouse. How tall had it been? When had it been built and what had happened to it?
The slamming of a car door shook her from hermental wanderings. Ellie stood and looked up Bay View Road and was surprised to see a pickup truck parked at the end of her driveway. She jogged back to the house and arrived just as a tall blond man was about to ring her doorbell.
“May I help you?” she called from the foot of the drive.
He turned, his hands on his hips. “I’m Cameron O’Connor.”
“And Jesse Enright asked me to stop by.” The man frowned. “I thought he’d told you.”
“You’re the handyman?” she asked.
His smile revealed a row of very white teeth. “Yeah. I’m the handyman.”
“I’m Ellie Ryder, the new owner. Jesse said maybe you could give me a few pointers about things that need to be done to the house.”
“Sure. How much work are you planning on doing here?”
“I haven’t decided.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I guess I need to see what the place needs most and what I can afford.”
“Well, how ’bout we take a look around the outside, then move inside to see what’s what?”
“That sounds like a plan.” Ellie met him halfway to the walk. “Things don’t look too bad out here.” She gestured to the front porch. “Well, except for the sag on the end there. Might need a little help with that. But the shutters look secure and in decent condition.”
“You might want to think about paint out here for … well, for pretty much everything. The porch,the shutters, the front door. Give it a little more curb appeal if you’re planning on selling the place.”
“I am going to sell it.” She paused. “What exactly did Jesse tell you?”
“Just that you purchased the house from Lynley Sebastian’s estate and you’d be looking to sell.”
“I will be, but of course, I want to maximize what I can get. So I want to do whatever I can to increase the value of the house without bankrupting myself.”
He turned and eyed her car in the driveway. She knew what he was thinking: why not sell that big old Benz and buy something a little smaller, less expensive, more economical? Which was exactly what she would do, if the car belonged to her; however, that was none of his or anyone else’s business. Besides, if she sold the house tomorrow and left St. Dennis—which, thanks to her mother’s will, she could not do—where would she go? She felt she’d relied on Carly’s friendship long enough. If she stayed here and worked through the winter, she could put the house up for sale in the spring. Six months would take her to May, and by then she would have had more time to figure out her next move. Right now she was completely at odds with no clear goal, no destination.
And of course, the house would have greater value if put on the market in the spring, when people were more likely to be looking for a place on the Bay.
“You might need a new roof,” Cam was saying as they looked up at the front of the house.
“It’s not leaking,” she hastened to tell him. “It’s rained twice since I’ve been here and it hasn’t leaked at all. I looked everywhere, even in the attic. The roof isn’t leaking.”
“Looks like it’s at the end of its life span, though.”
“There’s nothing in the budget for a roof.” She moved on around the side of the house with him. “That’s not on the gotta-do-to-sell-the-place list.”
“You will want to clean out those gutters, though, maybe have the downspout replaced.” He pointed up toward the roof. “The gutter’s filled with leaves and the water will just spill over instead of going down the downspout when it rains. Which it can’t do anyway because the downspout’s separated from the gutters. See here?” He pointed to the place where the two pieces disconnected and moved the downspout slightly. “I’m guessing all of the gutters are in the same condition.”
He walked around to the back of the house and she followed.
Cameron grabbed the back-porch railing and wiggled it. “This is an accident waiting to happen. The top rail is loose and could give out if anyone leans too hard on it. Plus there are some rotting floorboards there on the deck, and a few steps are a little weak.” He looked at her somewhat apologetically. “I meant to come back and replace that railing and it completely slipped my mind.”
“You were the one who raked the leaves. You filled the bird feeders and stacked wood near the back door.”
“Jesse said he was keeping an eye on the place. I thought he meant he was doing it himself. I guess he meant you were. Was the estate paying you?”
“No.” Cameron appeared slightly insulted.
“I knew Lilly Cavanaugh, a woman who used to live here. She was a very kind, sweet lady and she loved this house and her gardens. I figured the least I could do for her was keep up her place on the outside until someone decided to do something with it. She left the house to a niece who unfortunately never got to live here before she died.” He paused. “You must know that the niece was Lynley Sebastian, since you bought the house from her estate.”
Ellie nodded. “Did you ever meet her? Lynley Sebastian?”
“Sure. She spent some time here.”
“Really? What was she like?” Ellie’s heart skipped a beat.
“She was nice. Beautiful, even when she was sick.”
“Wait.” Ellie grabbed his arm. “She came here when she was sick?”
Cam nodded. “Not as much as she did before she got sick, but yeah. Why?”
“Just … curious, that’s all.” Ellie sought to recover. “I mean, you always saw her in magazines and on the society pages, but I don’t remember seeing pictures of her when she was sick.”
“Well, she came here, whether or not anyone was around to photograph her. I guess she didn’t publicize her comings and goings.”
Ellie tried to remember her mother leaving their home to go anywhere when she was being treated for the cancer that eventually took her life. Of course, Ellie was away at school much of the time, but still, would she have known if Lynley went away for a few days?
“Did she drive here on her own? How long did shestay?” The questions were out of her mouth before she could stop them.
Cam looked at her curiously. “She had a driver. He’d drop her off and she’d stay for … I don’t really know how long. What’s the difference?”
“She was a famous person and she owned the house I live in. It’s just natural to be curious.”
Cameron walked past her to the center of the yard. “The entire house needs a new paint job.” He turned to his right. “Now, the carriage house needs more than just paint. It needs some hefty repairs.”
She tucked thoughts of her mother aside and tried to focus on what he was saying. She stared at the old building and said, “Do you think maybe it should be taken down?”
“Are you crazy?” He turned and glared at her. “That’s a historic structure. That carriage house was built by the first lighthouse keeper when the lighthouse was built. You can’t just take it down.”
His vehemence blasted her back a step or two.
“Sorry. I had no idea this was sacred ground,” she said, no extra charge for the small amount of sarcasm.
“You can’t destroy something just because it’s inconvenient or shabby.”
“Okay, I get it. Really. I do. I’ve apologized. The lighthouse you’re referring to was out on that spit of land behind the trees?”
He nodded. “It was built in the early 1800s. Burned down twice and rebuilt each time. It came down for good in a hurricane in the 1940s.”
“But the remnants are still there,” she noted.
“Mostly just the old stone base, which no one’s had the heart to haul away. Technically, I guess it belongs to you.”
“The town doesn’t own it?”
“I think if you check your deed, you’ll see that that piece of ground is part of this tract. So yeah, it would belong to you now.”
“Wow. That’s …” She sought a word. When nothing better came, she said, “That’s very cool.”
“There used to be a dock there, too. It jutted out pretty far into the Bay, since the water is so shallow close to the beach.”
“A lighthouse and a dock. How ’bout that?” She couldn’t help but smile. It all sounded so … romanticsomehow.
“So anyway, you’re going to want to do something to shore up that carriage house, or make sure whoever you sell the place to understands its significance.”
“Is there a historical register here? A historical society?” Hadn’t she seen a sign somewhere for a historic district?
“Yes.” He nodded. “Someone there can probably give you whatever information you’re looking for.”
“If it’s all that historic, wouldn’t it alreadybeon the register?”
“Maybe. Probably.” He started toward the house. “Let’s take a look inside and see what she needs in there.”
Ellie hustled to keep up with his much longer legs. “I’ve been spending most of my time cleaning but I still have a long way to go.” She reached the back steps a second or two after he did. He stepped aside to permit her to take the stairs first.
“There was some sort of security system installed at one time.” She pointed to the control panel on the wall in the back hall. “It’s not working, though. Jesse said it was disconnected a few years ago.”
“Kept blowing fuses. The whole place needs to be rewired, brought up to code, given a little more juice.”
“Great,” she muttered.
“Beck keeps an eye on things, though, so you don’t need to worry about break-ins.”
“Beck’s the police chief.” She nodded, remembering his visit several nights ago when a neighbor had seen lights on, and suspecting a burglary in progress, called 911. “He said a patrol car passes by the house a couple of times throughout the night.”
“Has been for years. Miss Lilly was a popular lady in St. Dennis. There’s never been a problem here, as far as I know.”
“So this is the kitchen.” She stated the obvious as they entered the big square room.
“Where to start in here? New floor, new counter-tops, new cabinets, new—”
She held up a hand to stop him. “Unless something crazy happens—like I win the lottery—it’s getting paint on the walls and the cabinets, and that’s about all. Maybe a new floor if I can swing it, which frankly I’d love to do because that color is beyond heinous and I can barely stand to look at it.”
Cam nodded and they moved into the butler’s pantry.
“Likewise in here. Paint. A new light fixture would be great but it’s not in the budget.” She pointed to the floor. “More of the same from the kitchen. It’s like it seeped under the door.” She pretended to shiver.
Cam knelt down, opened one of the cabinet doors, and poked around on the floor for a moment with a penknife he’d taken from his pocket.
“What are you doing?” she asked
“Just looking at the floor in here. Unless I’m mistaken, there’s wood under the linoleum.”
“Wood?” Her eyes widened hopefully at the thought. “Nice wood?”
Cam nodded. “Looks like heart pine to me. Very ‘in’ right now.”
“Could I rip up the floor in here to find out?” She bit the inside of her cheek for a moment. “And if it’s pine in here, might it be pine in the kitchen as well?”
“No guarantees, because I can’t see through the linoleum, but that would be my guess.”
“I’m definitely adding ‘rip up kitchen and pantry floors’ to my list of things to do.”
“How ’bout you let me know before you start? There might be some old glue on the wood, and you’re going to need to remove that very carefully.”
“You know how to do that? You’d show me?”
“Sure.” A smile played at the corners of his mouth.
“Great. Thanks.” She made a mental note to call Jesse and thank him for sending Cameron over. He moved through the swinging door into the dining room and she went along with him.
“The wallpaper in here should come down.” He turned to her. “Have you ever removed wallpaper before?”
“I was planning on just painting over it. Taking it down would be so messy.”
Cam shook his head. “Painting over it is only going to make a bigger mess in the long run. The paper’sloose in places and I see there’s some old water damage up in that far right corner. See where it’s stained?” He pointed to the wall. “It’s all going to have to come down, Ellie.”
“So I’ll get a scraper and scrape away. It’ll give me something to do over the winter.”
“You’re going to have to spray the paper with water to loosen the old glue before you scrape. And it’s going to make a really big mess. You’re going to need to put tarps down on the floor or all those little sticky scraps of paper will be a real pain to pick up.”
“I have to do that in every room?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Ellie’s earlier enthusiasm was beginning to wane.
“I can loan you a ladder. And the sprayer, a tarp, and a scraper when the time comes.”
“Thanks,” she said more weakly than she’d intended.
He grinned and led the way across the hall to the living room.
“I always liked this room,” he said admiringly.
“I’m growing quite fond of it myself. I sit in here and read at night.” She gestured to the wall of bookshelves. “As you can see, there’s plenty of reading material to be had.”
He nodded, and for a moment, Ellie thought he was going to speak. When he did not, she added, “No TV, of course.”
“You probably have some sort of electronic device you can watch TV or movies on.”
“I do, but it’s not the same somehow as a nice big screen. Besides, there’s nothing that I watch on a regular basis andmustsee.” She shrugged. “Anyway, I’mfinding myself so tired by ten o’clock it’s an exercise just to get myself up the steps.”
“Not used to all the physical work?”
“Not by a long shot.”
“What did you do in New York, before you came here?” Cam asked.
Ellie paused before replying. “I worked in public relations.”
“Let me guess. You lost your job due to a corporate downsizing.”
“Something like that.”
“Yeah, I heard there was a lot of that going around.” She could feel his gaze on her face but couldn’t look at him. Her job was the last thing she wanted to talk about. Well, almost the last thing.
“Did you like your job?” he asked. “Were you good at it?”
“Yes, to both.”
“I figured. You don’t strike me as the type of person who’d do something you didn’t enjoy, at least not for too long. And I suspect you’d be very good at anything you decided to do.”
She tilted her head to one side, and he recognized the question in the gesture.
“Just judging by the job you’re taking on here.” His hand waved around the room to take it in. “All the furniture’s been uncovered and it looks like it’s been vacuumed. Everything’s been dusted and cleaned. It’s been a long time since this place looked like someone lived here.” He glanced at the fireplace, then did a double take. “And you found Ted Cavanaugh’s decoys. Damn, it’s been years since I’ve seen these things.” Hepicked one up to admire it. “They weren’t here last time I was in. Where’d you find these?”
“They were in a closet in the kitchen wrapped in newspaper.” She paused. “Wait. Did you say the last time you were in here? Does that mean you have a key?”
“Actually, I do have a key.” He glanced over his shoulder, the duck decoy still in his hand. “I have one, Jesse has one. But I’ll be glad to drop mine off in the morning so you don’t have to worry I’ll come in during the night to rob you blind. Or something else more sinister.”
She shook her head. “I don’t think that of you.”
“You don’t know me.” He replaced the duck on the mantel and picked up a different one. “Not that I’m inclined to do such things, but since I’m a stranger to you, you shouldn’t be so trusting.”
“Jesse sent you, though …”
“Do you know that for sure?” He turned to her. “Did you call him? Ask to see some sort of ID?”
She felt the blood drain from her head. She’d always been so cautious, and yet here she was, allowing a stranger into her house, one whose identity she’d not even questioned.
“I’m harmless, and I really am Cam O’Connor.” He pointed out the window. “See? Name’s right there on the truck. And now that I’ve spooked you—don’t try to deny it, you’re white as one of the sheets Miss Lilly used to cover her furniture with in the summer—I’m happy to show you my driver’s license and you can call Jesse.”
She peered out the window to the truck and saw that it did, indeed, haveCAMERON O’CONNOR, GENERALCONTRACTOR, painted on the passenger side door.
She exhaled. “I don’t need to call Jesse.”
He put the duck back. “I’d still ask to see the ID if I were you.”
She put out her hand and waited while he took out his wallet and held up his driver’s license.
“Thank you. I never thought to ask. I just figured … well, this is such a small sleepy town, and who else would know I was here and that Jesse said he’d be sending you over …” she rambled.
“By now, pretty much everyone knows you’re here. And by the way, small sleepy towns have their share of crime, too. Even St. Dennis.”
“What, stolen bikes, graffiti on the sidewalks, cars being egged on Mischief Night?”
“A couple of years back, a guy who lived in town was abducting, raping, and killing young women. His wife was one of the town’s police officers. He killed her, too.”
“Are you making that up just to scare me?”
He shook his head. “It really happened. The point’s not to scare you as much as to remind you to be careful. When you’re new in town, especially a town like St. Dennis, it’s easy to trust everyone because everyone is so friendly. All I’m saying is, be careful.”
“Good.” He went back to checking out the duck decoys. “These are just perfect.”
“They are pretty, aren’t they?” Ellie walked closer. “They look hand-carved.”
“Oh, they are,” he replied. “Miss Lilly’s husband carved them. Ted Cavanaugh was a legend aroundhere, won all sorts of awards for his decoys.” He turned over the duck he was holding. “See? TJC. Ted—I forget his middle name—Cavanaugh; 1943. This one’s a mallard. This one over here—” He picked up another and put the mallard down. “This is a ruddy duck. This one …” He pointed to a third. “This one’s a pintail.”
“How do you know all that?”
“I grew up on the Bay.” He shrugged as if that was explanation enough, and perhaps it was. “If you decide you want to sell them, I’d appreciate first dibs. I know they’re worth a lot of money. I’m not sure how much, but there’s a museum down in Salisbury that might be able to help figure it out. And Nita Perry—she owns Past Times, one of the antiques shops in town—probably has a handle on what they’re worth. She’s been in St. Dennis forever.” Cam smiled. “But if you contact the museum, don’t let them talk you into handing the ducks over. I know they already have a few Ted Cavanaughs and I’m sure they’d be happy to have a few more.”
“I promise I won’t do anything with them without letting you know first.”And certainly not before six months have expired.
“Say, have you thought about selling the house as is, before you put any work into it? Could be you’d save a lot of time and money.”
“I hadn’t thought about that, no.” Actually, she had, but she needed to do some fixing up for her own sake, since she’d be living there for at least six months and she’d go crazy from the dust and depressing decor. Besides, what else would she do for the next hundred and eighty days?
“You might want to give it some thought. I’d be interested myself.” To Ellie’s eye, he appeared to be trying too hard to be nonchalant. “Would you think about it and let me know?”
“Sure.”As if she could sell it now anyway.
“Thanks.” He glanced at his watch. “I’m going to have to head out. I have an appointment with a customer at five.” He reached into his pocket for his wallet. “Here’s my card. If there’s anything I can do to help you, call me, even if it’s just a question you have about something. When you’re ready to start on that wallpaper, or if you need a ladder, or you want to work on that linoleum—or you decide to chuck it all and sell it now—give me a call.”
“I will. Thanks.” She walked him to the door. “I’m sorry I can’t afford to hire you to do what I can do myself, but I appreciate the tips you’ve given me.”
“If you really want to do some of the work before you sell it, maybe we can work out some sort of arrangement for the tough stuff. Like a barter.” He stood in the doorway, looking down at her with dark blue eyes, and for a brief moment, she was afraid to ask what kind of barter he had in mind.
Cam must have read her expression, because he laughed out loud. “Not that kind of barter.” He pointed past her to the mantel, where the ducks were lined up at an angle. “That kind of barter.”
“Oh, right. Sure. That could work. If you’re sure.”
“I’m positive. You think about what you need, and I’ll figure out what it would cost—giving you the friends and family discount, of course—and then we’ll see what the job is worth in decoys. Unless, of course, you want to sell it to me right now. As is.”
“Ah, no. Not ready to do that.”
“Then we’re back to the ‘friends and family discount’ and the decoy barter.”
“I like it. Thanks.” She walked out front with him. The sun had almost set and the geese were settling in for the night at the wetlands around the bend from the remains of the old lighthouse. There was a strong scent of salt and something rotting over on the beach, but oddly enough, she found it appealing.
“Was that door unlocked the whole time you were outside?” Cam paused on his way to the truck.
“If someone walks in the front while you’re out back and walks away with those decoys, I’m going to be really pissed.” He went to the driver’s-side door and opened it. “You get too careless, it’s going to cost you. Like maybe a few days’ worth of pulling up gunky flooring or stripping down some sticky wallpaper.”
“Got it,” she replied. “I’ll be more diligent.”
He backed the truck out, then waved as he started to drive on.
“Thanks again, Cameron.”
He slowed the truck and looked back at her. “Anytime, Ellie …”
She stood at the end of the driveway and watched the truck wind around the first bend in the road and disappear. She turned back to the house, went inside, and locked all the doors. Seconds later, the coming night closed in and she was alone again.
She sat in the living room, still as a stone, and thought about Lynley. Did her mother come here to keep Lilly company, or to find comfort during her illness?Through the worst of her battle, did she know she would, in the end, lose? Did she walk the beach where Ellie walked, watched the sun set across the Bay, listen to the scolding screeches of the gulls as they circled above her? Did she take solace in these walls, find some strength here that she could not find elsewhere? Had she, Ellie, failed to offer enough support and encouragement that her mother had fled to this house in this tiny town to find what she needed? Or had she simply wanted a change in scenery, a vista to look out at that differed from the view from their penthouse apartment?
“Mom, if I failed you back then, I’m sorry,” Ellie whispered. “If there was something I should have done that I didn’t do, I’m sorry.…”
She thought about all the years her mother had spent traveling for photo shoots, for filming TV shows and the occasional movie while Ellie had been away at boarding school or college or holidays. In retrospect, it seemed they were rarely in the same place at the same time, and yet she had adored Lynley, with the same adoration a child might bestow on a beautiful fairy princess, one who was above the mere mortals who surrounded her. There were times when she’d see her mother’s face in a magazine and barely make the connection between herself and the woman on the page. Yet the times they were at home together, alone, there’d been a strong current of love that flowed between them, binding mother and daughter, and Ellie had clung to that in the last weeks of her mother’s illness. Even then, Lynley had been beautiful. Even then, her smile could light the room.
Ellie sat alone on the sofa, wondering if Lynley hadsat in that very room and worried about the daughter she would be leaving behind, if she’d brought her regrets and her sorrows here as well as her love for Lilly.
Ellie stared out the window at the Bay, and wondered if Lynley, in her day, had done the same.Chapter 5
HAVINGdone the math and figured out that if she continued to buy a cup of coffee every morning for the rest of the month, she’d have spent the equivalent of the cost of a modest coffeemaker, Ellie decided that this morning’s trip to Cuppachino would be her last. She’d become accustomed to the early morning trip into town and was pleased that the young man behind the counter now recognized her. Since she was alone almost all day every day, she found herself looking forward to that tiny bit of socializing in the morning. Of course, she told herself as she opened the now-familiar red door, there were other ways to socialize, if she were so inclined, that wouldn’t cost her anything at all. Like joining the library. Volunteering at the nursing home or the local animal shelter.
Of course, socializing with the locals would expose her to a scrutiny she was trying to avoid, and therefore was pretty much out. There would always be questions she’d hesitate to answer, and seeing her hesitate, sooner or later, someone would start to wonder.
Better to keep to myself.
If she needed to talk to someone, she could call Carly. If she was really desperate for companionship, she could stop in to see Jesse, which she would have to do soon enough anyway because she would be needing cash. And then there was Cameron. She had to admit he’d come as a surprise to her; he wasn’t at all the handyman she’d pictured in her mind. She’d expected a man somehow closer to fifty or sixty, with a little bit of a paunch, a receding hairline, and baggy pants.
Definitely not the tall, lanky blond guy—no bald spots as far as she’d seen, and no paunch, either—wearing well-fitting jeans and a really terrific smile who showed up on Bay View Road two days ago.
She walked to the counter and was greeted by the same young man—Josh, according to his name tag.
“Hey, good morning,” he called to her from the latte machine. “Your regular?”
Ellie smiled and nodded. “Please.”
Being recognized as a regular—albeit an anonymous one—made her feel just a tiny bit less alone, a little less like an outsider. Of course, she was an outsider—she knew that—but it felt nice to belong somewhere, even if only at the coffee shop, and only for a few minutes each day.
Josh delivered her coffee and she paid him, putting the change in the large white mug markedTIPSon the counter. She’d just fixed her coffee and snapped the lid on the take-out cup when she heard someone call her name.
“Ellie.” Cameron stood near the front windowtable, where a small group—mostly women of varying ages—had turned to look at her.
Ellie flushed at the scrutiny. Her first thought was that someone would remember her face from all of the newspaper and TV coverage last year. She’d done what she could to change her look, darkening her blond hair and cutting it short. And certainly, her style wasn’t that of a well-to-do Manhattan executive any longer. Gone were the designer suits and highticket shoes and accessories. She’d worn nothing but jeans and sweatshirts or sweaters since she arrived in St. Dennis. So chances were slim that anyone would connect her to the daughter of the King of Fraud.
Still, why take that chance?
She waved and smiled to Cameron, but headed toward the door all the same.
“Ellie, come here,” he persisted. “Come meet some of your fellow St. Dennis residents.”
Slapping a smile on her face, she walked to the table, where four faces peered up at her.
“Ellie, meet Grace Sinclair. Her family owns the big inn that sits out on the Bay not far from your house. Grace also owns the town newspaper, theSt. Dennis Gazette.”
The older woman who’d smiled at Ellie the first time Ellie stopped at Cuppachino smiled at her again now.
Swell. She owns the newspaper.
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Sinclair.” Ellie may have been on edge, but she did remember her manners.
“Lovely to meet you, dear, and please, it’sGrace.Cameron tells us you’re fixing up Lilly Cavanaugh’s old house. We can’t wait to hear your plans for the place.” Grace put out her hand and took Ellie’s to give it a squeeze. “Welcome to St. Dennis.”
“And this”—Cameron touched the shoulder of the pretty curly-haired woman who sat directly in front of him—“is Brooke Bowers. She owns the cupcake shop across the street.”
“The cupcake baker? You’re Jesse Enright’s fiancée?” Ellie asked.
“That would be me, yes.” Brooke offered her hand. “Jesse mentioned you’d been in to the office to pick up the keys to your new house.”
“Jesse’s been really helpful.” Ellie couldn’t help but wonder if Jesse had shared with Brooke just how helpful he’d been.
“Nita Perry.” Cameron indicated the woman in her late fifties who sat closest to the window. She had shiny black hair pulled back into a severe bun and wore large tortoiseshell glasses. “Nita has an antiques business here in town. I think I mentioned her to you.”
“You did.” To Nita, she said, “I’ll be calling on you when I get around to inventorying the contents of the house. I’m going to want to sell some things.”
“Oh, please do!” Nita’s face lit up. “I know that house is filled with some wonderful pieces. Lilly never did get rid of a thing, you know.”
“You’ll be the first person I call when I get to that point,” Ellie promised.
“I can’t wait.” Nita’s shoulders shivered slightly with anticipation.
“And this is Clay Madison, Brooke’s brother.” Cameron pointed to the lone male seated at the table. “He has that big farm on the left side of the road when you turn off the highway. Clay grows organic produce and is just starting up an organic brewery with another guy in town.”
“Organic beer?” Ellie raised an eyebrow.
Clay nodded. “Why not?”
“No reason, I guess.” Ellie smiled. “Sounds good to me, anyway.”
“We’ll put you on the list for the tasting when we’re ready for the big reveal,” Clay told her.
“Clay’s engaged to Miss Grace’s daughter, Lucy,” Cameron added.
“Congratulations.” Ellie felt like her face was frozen in the smile she was still wearing. She needed to get out of here before it became permanent.
“Ellie, can you join us?” Grace asked.
“Oh, no, I have some errands to run.” Ellie was grateful for an excuse to let the smile slide. “But thank you for offering.”
“Another morning, perhaps,” Grace replied.
“We’re here almost every day by eight,” Nita told her. “Please feel free to come in anytime and sit and chat with us for a while.”
“That sounds great, thanks.” Ellie turned to Cameron. “Good seeing you again, Cameron.” She turned back to the table. “It was nice to meet all of you.”
“We’re happy to welcome you to town, Ellie.” Nita turned in her chair.
“I’m happy to be here, thank you.” Ellie glanced around the table one more time, committing facesand names to memory in the event she’d run into any of them again, which was likely, given the size of the town and the length of her intended stay. “I’ll see you all again, I’m sure.”
“We’ll look forward to it,” Grace said.
Ellie forced her feet not to flee to the door. Once outside, she exhaled a long deep breath. She got into her car, which was parked three storefronts down from Cuppachino, and sighed. She put the key in the ignition and started the engine, her heart beating a little faster than normal.
“Fight or flight,” she muttered.
She stopped at the light and watched a pretty dark-haired woman push a baby stroller across the street, where she stopped at the door of a shop and unlocked the door. The shop’s windows were decorated for fall and held beautifully displayed clothing. The name of the shop—BLING—was painted across the front and side windows.
In another life, I shopped at places just like that, Ellie recalled.
These days, if Ellie shopped at all, it was for the things on her must-have list like cleaning products and sponges. She reminded herself that she needed to do exactly that. She made a left turn onto Cherry Street and drove around the block to reverse her direction on Charles. She headed toward the highway and the hardware store she’d passed on her way to St. Dennis, where she hoped to find that inexpensive coffeemaker.
Laden with a two-inch stack of paint-color brochures but no coffeemaker, Ellie returned to Bay ViewRoad and parked all the way up in the driveway. When she got out of the car, she tried to peer through the carriage house windows to see what was behind the glass, but every pane had been painted black. She was just going to have to keep looking for the key, she supposed, so that she could satisfy her curiosity.
She went into the house through the back door and dropped her bag and the paint brochures on the kitchen table. Her planned project for the day was the cupboards. She’d started emptying them a few days ago, but got distracted by the cache of duck decoys and hadn’t been able to resist taking them all out and placing them around the living room. Today she’d finish what she’d started.
The upper cupboards contained dishes that were stacked haphazardly, so she had a hard time knowing what was there. For two hours she emptied the shelves, then washed her findings. As she dried each piece, she sorted by pattern, and soon she realized that she had a complete set of Fiestaware, original, she was certain.
She knew she’d need to paint the shelves at some point—What do you think, Mom? A nice cream would show off the dishes quite nicely—but for now, she merely wiped them, permitting them time to dry before replacing the turquoise, green, yellow, and pink dishes. There were several pieces of mismatched china, and these she wrapped in the newspaper she’d found the decoys in, and put them in a box she’d found in one of the bedroom closets. Perhaps Nita, the antiques dealer she’d met that morning, mighthave some thoughts on the age and quality of those pieces.
Next, to vary the view, Ellie tackled the cupboards below the counter. There were several old pots and pans, none of which matched the others, but she supposed that the concept of matching sets of pots might have come at a date later than the one on which Miss Lilly’s housekeeping commenced. She set them all out on the counter to see what she had and what she might actually use. There was a large stockpot; maybe she’d make soup one of these days, so that was a keeper. She found several black cast-iron pans at the back of the top shelf, and while she wasn’t sure what she’d use them for, she knew that reproductions were very popular right now and sold in some of the better housewares stores, so they—along with a griddle—made the cut. Besides, she thought as she washed the smaller of the two cast-iron frying pans, they just looked cool and old-timey, as if they belonged in the old house.
Had her mother cooked when she was here? Ellie had vague recollections of Lynley making breakfast or dinner but only when her father was away. He liked having a professional cook live in, and once he’d hired someone, Lynley practically never made so much as a cup of tea when he was around. But when Clifford was away—that was a different story. Even now, if she closed her eyes she could taste—smell—grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade tomato soup.
Where had that memory come from?
There’d been a time when she was home on a schoolholiday—Christmas, maybe?—when Lynley arrived from her latest photo shoot two full days before Clifford returned from a business trip. Lynley had given the surprised cook those two extra days off and had spent what to Ellie’s mind had been forty-eight glorious hours at home, just the two of them. They’d baked Christmas cookies and drunk hot chocolate while watching a marathon of holiday movies together:The Muppets ChristmasandThe Christmas Toy, andMiracle on 34th Street. A Claymation ChristmasandA Christmas StoryandIt’s a Wonderful Life. Having two whole days with her mother had been the best present Ellie could have received, and she’d cherished the memory of Lynley singing along with Burl Ives whileRudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeerplayed on the TV that was built into the kitchen wall so the cook could watch her soaps in the afternoon.
Dear God, that seemed so long ago.Wasso long ago.
She wondered if her mother had baked cookies here, made hot chocolate and grilled cheese sandwiches to share with Lilly.
She pushed the past aside and forced herself to focus on the pots and pans that were in the cabinets.
There was a large pot that had a wire contraption that fit inside it and a lid. She had absolutely no idea what it could be used for. She added it to the closet where she’d stacked things to ask Nita about.
The doorbell rang, so she dried her hands and went tentatively to the front door. From the living room window she could see her visitor. Jesse Enright’sfiancée—Brooke?—stood on the step with something in her hands.
Ellie debated whether or not to answer the door. Finally, she opened it, feigning surprise to see Brooke.
“Hey, Brooke,” she said as pleasantly as she could.
“Ellie, I’m embarrassed that it took meeting you this morning to remind me that I hadn’t stopped over to welcome you to St. Dennis.” Brooke handed her a plate that was covered with aluminum foil.
“Oh, Brooke, you didn’t have to.…” Ellie protested even as she held the plate which could only contain cupcakes.
“I wanted to.”
Convention and manners dictated that Ellie invite Brooke in. It also occurred to her that she’d have an opportunity to perhaps determine just what Jesse had told Brooke about her and how she’d obtained the property.
“Do you have a minute to come in?” Ellie heard herself asking. She lifted one corner of the foil and glanced at the cupcakes. “Wow, these are gorgeous. You’re going to have to eat one of these. I don’t dare eat them all myself.”
She stood back so that Brooke could enter, then closed the door behind her.
“This was so nice of you,” Ellie said.
Brooke glanced past her into the living room.
“Wow, not much has changed.” She pointed into the room. “Except Mrs. Cavanaugh always had plants on that table near the window. She had tons of house-plants.”
“She did? Wait, you knew her, too?”
Brooke nodded. “Sure. Everyone knew her. She was a real sweetheart. No kid ever missed Cavanaughs’ on Halloween. She always had the best homemade caramel apples to give out. Sometimes she even dipped them in chocolate and rolled them in peanuts. I swear, she knew every kid in this town by name.” Brooke walked into the living room uninvited and gazed around. “She didn’t used to keep the decoys there, though. I think those were always on the bookcase.” She pointed to the wall of shelves.
“And by now, I’m sure you heard that her … niece? second cousin?—whatever—was Lynley Sebastian.”
Ellie nodded. “I did know that.”
“Oh, of course you would, since you bought the house from her estate. Crazy about her husband, though, right?”
“Did you ever meet her? Lynley?”
“No. Wish I had, though.” Brooke pointed to a chair that stood near the front window. “Supermodel, actress. I used to watch her in that TV show … I can’t remember the name of it now but I’m sure you know the one I mean …”
Ellie did but she didn’t volunteer the information.
“… and I’d daydream that she’d be in St. Dennis one day and we’d meet her and she’d be real friendly and she’d become friends with my mother.” Brooke laughed self-consciously. “Silly, huh?”
“You’re probably not the only person in town who wanted to meet her.”
“That’s for sure.” Brooke pointed to a chair near the front wall. “Mr. Cavanaugh used to sit in thischair and look out the window, the year he fell ill. He’d wave to all us kids when we went past to go crabbing off the old dock that used to be out there. It fell into the Bay after a big winter storm one year.” She smiled at the memory. “He was such a nice man. They never had kids of their own—I mean, I know they pretty much raised Lynley—but they were really nice to all the kids in town.”
Ellie’s ears perked up. “Wait, did you say they raised Lynley? Mr. and Mrs. Cavanaugh?”
Brooke nodded. “That’s my understanding.”
“Really.” Ellie was stunned. She’d never heard such a thing. She’d never met her maternal grandparents, who’d died in a boating accident before she was born. Her father had told her they had lived in California but she assumed that Lynley had lived with them.
“So Lynley lived here …? She went to school here?”
“At some point, but I don’t know how old she was when she arrived and I don’t know how old she was when she left. If you’re interested, you could ask someone like Grace Sinclair—you met her at Cuppachino this morning. She’s lived here forever, and her family’s owned that newspaper for longer than that. It’s the only newspaper St. Dennis ever had. If anyone knows the story, I’d expect it would be Grace.”
The two women had gravitated back toward the entry, and Ellie’s mind was racing a mile a minute.
“Can I offer you some tea?” she asked.
“Sure. That would be great. I have to watch my time, though. I left my mother in charge of the bakeryand told her I’d be back in an hour.” Brooke glanced at her watch. “Which gives me about twenty-five minutes, so sure. Tea would be nice.”
Ellie led the way to the kitchen, and once there, apologized for the mess.
“I started cleaning out the cupboards this morning. I don’t know what I was hoping to find. Except maybe a coffeemaker,” she added drily.
She ran water from the faucet into the ancient stainless-steel kettle and placed it on the stove.
“Why do you need a coffeemaker when you have the pot?” Brooke asked.
“This one.” Brooke picked up the old coffeepot and waved it.
“I thought that was a pitcher.” Ellie frowned.
Brooke popped off the lid and removed the basket and stem from inside.
“Coffee goes into this little basket with the holes in the bottom, basket sits upon stem. Water goes into the pot. Put it on the stove, boil the water, and let the coffee percolate.” Brooke demonstrated as she spoke. “When it stops perking—bubbling—it’s done.”
“I feel like an idiot. We always had those drip coffeemakers at home.…” Ellie could feel her cheeks start to burn. She could have added that she’d rarely had to make her own coffee at home but she let that pass.
“Do you have any ground coffee?” Brooke asked.
Ellie shook her head.
“Pick some up next time you’re out. These thingsmake great coffee. My dad always made his in one just like this.”
“Thanks. I’ll be off to the market later this afternoon and I’ll try it first thing in the morning.”
“So if we never see you at Cuppachino again, I guess it will be my fault for telling you how to make your own morning joe.”
“I doubt anyone would feel the loss.”
“Are you kidding?” Brooke’s eyebrows raised. “Everyone’s intrigued by the city girl who moved to St. Dennis to renovate the home of one of the town’s favorite ladies. Lilly Cavanaugh was very well liked and had an army of friends, and of course, Lynley was a legend. Like a goddess.”
“How do you know I’m a city girl?” Ellie turned the conversation from her mother and Lilly. “Is it that obvious?”
“No, but Jesse said you bought the house through a law firm in New York, so I just assumed …” Brooke confessed.
“I thought maybe my city roots were showing.” Ellie glossed over it. “I did live and work in New York for years.”
“How did you find out about the house being available?” Brooke pulled a chair out from under the table and sat.
“I’d worked with someone who knew someone at the law firm that represented Lynley Sebastian. My friend knew I’d lost my job in a corporate downsizing and had been thinking about investing in a property that might need some work that I could turn over for a profit, so she called me when the firm decided to sellthe place.” Ellie recited the story she’d known she’d need sooner or later.
“Oh, like a handyman’s special. I am addicted to those TV shows where people buy a run-down place, work miracles, then sell and make a killing.”
“I imagine the killings were a little bigger a few years ago.” The teakettle shrieked and Ellie turned it off. “Though everyone says St. Dennis is still a good market.”
Brooke nodded. “Without question. Plus, this house is so wonderful. Spacious and those high ceilings and all those windows and fireplaces.” She sighed. “It’s the house I’d like someday, but I guess there are a lot of people in town who feel that way.”
“I sure hope so, since I’ll be selling it.” Ellie was tempted to add that Cameron O’Connor had first dibs, but she didn’t know Brooke well enough to engage in what could be considered gossip. And for all she knew, Cameron wasn’t broadcasting his interest in the house.
Ellie prepared two cups of tea and placed one in front of Brooke, then took a seat across the table from her.
“So tell me what your plans are for the house.” Brooke blew across the top of her cup to cool the hot tea.
Ellie went over what she had in mind for the downstairs, and they pored over the paint-color brochures briefly, agreeing that a creamy wall color would be perfect in every room on the first floor.
“Except maybe the dining room,” Ellie said. “I really like a little drama in there. Maybe red …”
“Red dining rooms are fabulous.” Brooke turned her wrist to look at her watch. “Oops. My hour is up. Thanks so much for the tea and the conversation and for letting me sit and relax with you for a time. It’s been so nice.” She rose and Ellie did as well.
“Damn, I forgot about your cupcakes.” Ellie made a face. “We should have had them with our tea. I am so not a gracious hostess.”
“I’d have declined anyway, but thanks.” Brooke laughed. “I have to taste a little from each batch to make sure all’s well.”
“Wow. A real hardship job.” Ellie escorted Brooke to the front door.
“The hardship comes in keeping my work product off my hips.”
“You could probably get someone to help you with that.”
“Jesse and Clay are always happy to chow down. But when I’m experimenting with a new flavor, I need a more discerning palate, so I get together with the girls.…” Brooke opened the door and turned. “You’ll have to come to one of my cupcake-tasting nights which are really just an excuse to get together and kill a few bottles of wine. They’re always a good time.”
Before Ellie could respond, Brooke went on.
“Have you been to Scoop yet? One Scoop or Two, the ice-cream shop down near the marina?”
Ellie shook her head. “I saw the sign, but I haven’t been. Is it good?”
“Best ice cream you will ever eat. Steffie MacGregor owns the place and she makes all her own flavors.She’s been written up in magazines and she’s had ice-cream companies try to lure her away and offers to franchise her stuff.”
“But she’s declined?” When Brooke nodded, Ellie asked, “Why?”
“Because she says all she ever wanted was to live in St. Dennis and make the best ice cream ever and marry the love of her life and raise a family here.”
“How much of that has she done?”
“All of it, except raise the family. She just got married last year—to my brother’s partner in beer—so she’s working on that. Her best friend just had a baby a few months ago and I think it’s inspired Steffie.”
Brooke stepped outside and Ellie followed.
“Seriously, you need to come one night. Everyone’s really friendly. It’s a small group, but a dynamic one. Dallas MacGregor even comes sometimes.”
“Dallas MacGregor? The movie star?”
Brooke nodded. “She used to summer here as a kid, then moved back last year and married her old sweetheart. Who happens to be the brother of the previously mentioned Steffie.” Brooke continued to her car, which she’d parked on the street near the mailbox. “Steffie, to make things even more incestuous, is married to Dallas’s brother, Wade.”
Ellie nodded as if she’d followed, but in truth, she was thinking how drinking wine with a group of local women could be a disaster. Who knew what might slip out? Loose lips and all that.
“I’ll give you a call next time we get together. I promise, you’ll like everyone. They’re just regular girls, like you and me.” Brooke got into her car and turned it on.
“Thanks again for the cupcakes,” Ellie said. “I really appreciate it.”
“Enjoy them.” Brooke made a U-turn in the road and waved as she passed by.
Ellie checked the mailbox and pulled out a handful of junk mail, underneath which sat a plain white envelope with her name neatly printed on the bottom. Through the paper she could feel the shape of a key. Cameron must have dropped it off, she realized, without letting her know he’d been there. She ignored a twinge of disappointment and tried to focus on Brooke’s visit. She’d seemed very sincere and very nice, but Ellie couldn’t help but wonder if she’d stopped by for something more than simply a welcoming gesture. Something like what, Ellie didn’t know. She wasn’t used to small-town life and she wasn’t sure if the visit was exactly as it seemed, or an attempt by someone in the gossip chain to find out more about her purchase of the house. Ellie was pretty confident that Jesse’s lips had remained sealed, as he’d promised. She’d expected as much from him.
Well, if Brooke had been on a mission, she’d learned precious little. And the irony was that Ellie actually learned more from Brooke than Brooke had learned from her.
She walked back to the house, mindful more than ever of its connection to her mother. Ellie’d known that Lynley had spent time here when she was younger, but she’d assumed it had been with her parents. Why, she wondered, had her grandparents sent her mother to live here with a relative? And how long had Lynley stayed?
Unfortunately, it appeared that everyone who would know for certain—everyone directly involved—was gone, and had been gone, for a long time.
It seemed the more she learned about her mother’s life here in St. Dennis, the less she really knew.Chapter 6
HAVINGbecome increasingly tired of take-out burgers and fried chicken, Ellie resolved to start cooking for herself. Organizing the cupboards had helped galvanize her game plan. The few pots and pans she thought she might need were washed, dried, and back on their respective shelves, the remaining having been delegated to a box which she dragged into the closet by the back door. She doubted any of them would be of interest to Nita, but they could be donated to a thrift shop, if, in fact, St. Dennis had such a thing. She’d have to ask around.
She made a run to the grocery store late in the afternoon, and by seven was happily eating a piece of chicken she’d sautéed, a pile of green beans, and some organic sweet potato fries she found in the frozen food section. For dessert, she tackled one of Brooke’s cupcakes. Deciding which one had been the toughest decision she’d had to make all day.
Nothing at all like my old life, she reflected as she covered the remaining cupcakes and put them into the refrigerator.But satisfying in its own way.
Her corporate world had been a constant round ofmeetings, and luncheons and dinners at some of the finest restaurants in Manhattan with Henry, her fiancé. She’d never been without her BlackBerry and spent hours each day sending or responding to e-mails. The view from her home and office windows had been defined by concrete, steel, glass, and a bit of Central Park. There’d been someone to clean her apartment, someone to drive her wherever she wanted to go. Someone to shop for her food, prepare, and serve it to her. A personal assistant to handle all those little details of life she hadn’t time for: making her appointments, paying her bills, buying gifts for the significant people in her life, making her travel arrangements.
With her father’s downfall, all of those people had vanished from her life like vapors, as if they’d never really existed, like her beautiful apartment on Mahattan’s Upper East Side and the family’s homes on Martha’s Vineyard, in East Hampton and Vail, the town house in London, and the house she and Henry had bought two years ago on Martha’s Vineyard. Her father’s Greek island had been the first to go.
Sitting in the quiet of what had been Lilly Cavanaugh’s cozy living room, with the wind picking up off the Bay to rattle the windows every now and then, Ellie wondered if she’d been better off then than she was now. The contrast between her former and present lives was about as stark as it could be, and yet, with almost a year between her and the worst days of her life, she reflected on how much of that other life she really missed.
She studied her fingernails. In the old days, she’d never gone more than five days between manicures. Now she was hard-pressed to remember when thosenails had last been polished. Chipped and filed down with an emery board she’d picked up at the market, they were nails she barely recognized as her own.
Back then, she rarely gave much thought to money, because it was never an issue. From lunch to cars, jewelry, and homes, whatever she needed was always available. These days, she had to watch the price of everything she bought, and often found herself not buying at all.
And then there was Henry.
Henry, whom she’d loved, whom she’d planned on marrying and spending the rest of her life with. Ellis had thought that he’d loved her, too, until the house of cards he’d helped her father to build imploded. It hadn’t taken Ellie long to realize that what Henry really loved was the media tag “the son Clifford Chapman never had.” Even now, the truth still caused her cheeks to burn.
If she had to choose between then and there, here and now, would she go back to her old life? Well, maybe to the time when her mother was still alive, so that she could ask all those questions she wished she’d asked back then. And only if she could change things, like have her father develop a conscience and be something other than a criminal.
Other than those few things, given the choice, she just might choose to stay where she was.
While filled with ease and luxury, her entire life up until now had been built on fraud and lies. Since she arrived in St. Dennis, she’d done nothing but work. She’d had to learn to do things she’d never done because there’d always been someone else to do them for her. She had aches and pains in places she hadn’trealized she had muscles or nerve endings, and yet she felt more alive here than she had in a long time.
At least what I’m doing now isn’t hurting anyone. At least here life is more honest, and when someone offers you a hand in friendship, it isn’t because they want something from you or are trying to figure out how to use you, she told herself. Not that everyone in New York was like that, but most of the people in Ellie’s circle had proven to be disloyal and cowardly when it came to keeping up their friendship. Except, of course, Carly, who on general principles had promptly dropped anyone who’d dropped Ellie.
And at least here, no one pretended to be in love with her.
Her conscience made an attempt to remind her that, these days, she was the one doing the pretending, but she chose to ignore it.
When she laid her head upon her pillow, rather than lie awake worrying about the next day’s meetings or the next press release or media campaign, she fell into a deep sleep within minutes. She’d awaken the next morning as she had every day since she’d been in St. Dennis, not to the shriek of an alarm, but to the sound of branches from an evergreen lightly scraping across the bedroom window, and geese calling as they landed or took off from the nearby marsh.
A loud and eeriekronkhad awoken her early the previous morning, and she’d sat up in bed, eyes on the window, past which had flown a bird that looked positively Jurassic. When later that day she mentioned it to Linda, the waitress at the Crab Claw, Linda had laughed and said, “Oh, that’s a blue heron. Some have already fled south, but others might stickaround until it gets really cold. If we have a mild winter, a few might hang here straight through the season. As long as they’re still catching fish and the temperatures are still mild, they’ll stay.”
This morning, Ellie took her second cup of coffee—brewed as per Brooke’s instructions in the coffeepot she’d found—and wandered down to the beach before she started work for the day. The sun was bright and strong enough to have warmed the rock she often sat on, and she’d no sooner taken her seat than the heron passed overhead. She watched it land in the marsh and disappear among the reeds. She’d sighed with a contentment she hadn’t expected to feel, sipped the rest of her coffee, and went back to the house to work. After years of having chased herself without even realizing she’d been doing so, she was finding the change of pace refreshing.
The room on today’s list was the dining room. She’d started to dust the furniture two days ago, but organizing the kitchen had been more of a priority. She spent most of the morning polishing the mahogany table, sideboard, and china cupboard. She’d just stood back to admire her work when the doorbell rang.
Ellie held her breath for just a second. Unexpected company put her on edge lest she say something that might come back to haunt her. She peeked through the curtains and saw Grace Sinclair on the top step holding a basket in both hands.
Reluctantly, Ellie made her way to the front door. If the people she’d met were determined to be hospitable and welcoming, she just didn’t have the heart to leave them standing on the porch.
“Grace, nice to see you again.” Ellie opened the door and greeted her visitor. “Please, come in.”
“Thank you, dear.” Once inside, Grace handed the basket to Ellie. “The chef at the inn made some delicious beef stew last night and I thought perhaps you’d enjoy some.”
“You didn’t have to.…” Ellie checked herself. “But thank you so much. This is very thoughtful of you.”
“There’s also some bread that our new baker made earlier this morning, and some brownies they’re serving for dessert at lunch today. I ran into Brooke this morning and she told me how hard you’re working here and I thought you might like a home-cooked meal.” She smiled. “Our chef makes everything we serve from scratch, so technically, it’s home-cooked.”
“Oh, my goodness, it all smells so wonderful.” Ellie’s rumbling stomach reminded her that she’d only had a light breakfast, and that was hours ago. “I might not wait until dinner.”
“There’s more than enough there for several meals, so you enjoy.” Grace’s eyes flickered from left to right, from the living room to the dining room. “I heard this old place was starting to look like a home again. You know, it’s always been a happy place. Good people have lived here as far back as I can remember. I’m happy to see someone give it some love again.”
“Well, I know that I have to show it in its best light if I want to sell it for the maximum amount,” Ellie replied. “Right now I’m just at the cleaning and let’s-see-what-we-have-here stage.”
“What you have here are years’ worth of history.”Grace smiled and walked to the dining room doorway.
“Cameron mentioned that a previous owner was the light keeper.” Ellie pointed toward the place where she understood the lighthouse once stood. She’d been intrigued by the story Cameron had told and would have liked to hear more.
“Yes, but he was so much more. Benjamin Fray emigrated from Scotland as a boy of ten and was indentured to a local tobacco farmer who’d lost his only son to disease. The story goes that he took young Ben under his wing during the period of his indenture. So while Ben was working in the fields, he was learning everything there was to know about tobacco, from growing it to selling it. By the time his seven years were up, he’d amassed enough knowledge to start up his own business. His previous master sold him some acres on the outside of town, and he farmed until he was well into his forties, and was very successful. The farm, this house, and the lighthouse passed to his grandson, Eli, who in his later years was an active participant in the Underground Railroad.” Grace smiled.
“And then, of course, there were the pirates …”
“Oh yes, back in the day, more than one ship dropped anchor right out there in the cove. They’d come ashore for provisions—steal what they could and terrorize the locals a little while they were at it. But that’s a story of its own.”
“Who’d have guessed? The Underground Railroad and pirates, to boot. You certainly know your local history.”
“I was on the committee that researched some properties to be proposed for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. I got to know a lot about many of the places in town.”
“Is this property on the Register?”
“It’s still in the proposal stage, I’m afraid. We’ve had to go house by house to establish a historic district in the area of Old St. Mary’s Church Road, and that’s been very time-consuming. Once that project is completed, we’ll be starting on other properties in town. I’m sure that your house will qualify, though.”
“It does sound like it has quite a history.” Ellie thought for a moment. “So was the woman I bought the house from descended from Benjamin Fray?”
“No. The Ryders didn’t come into the picture until after the Civil War. Sometime in the 1870s. They purchased the house from Eli Fray’s widow. Eli died at Appomattox, fighting for the Confederacy, as some from around these parts did.”
Grace glanced around the room, her gaze pausing on the sideboard.
“Lilly always kept a pair of silver candelabras there on the sideboard. They were a wedding gift from Ted’s grandmother, and Lilly was very proud of them. She lit them every morning from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, then didn’t light them again until Easter Sunday.”
“You knew Mrs. Cavanaugh well?”
“Oh, quite well. Perhaps not as well as my older brother, who was in her year at school. He had quite the crush on her back then, though he never would admit it. Now, if you want to know more about Lilly, you might talk to Violet Finneran.”
“The woman who works for Jesse Enright?”
Grace nodded. “She and Lilly and Jesse’s grandmother, Rose, were inseparable when they were younger. The three blossoms, people called them. Lilly, Rose, and Violet.”
Ellie smiled. “I love that. I love the old-fashioned names.”
“Violet could most likely answer any questions you might have about Lilly and her family.” Grace paused, then added, “And you might want to speak with Berry Eberle as well. She lived next door to the Ryders at one time—that’s Lilly’s maiden name.” Grace tilted her head for a moment. “Interesting that your last name is Ryder, dear.”
“I’m sure it’s just one of those cosmic coincidences.” Ellie shrugged and changed the subject, all the while mentally kicking herself. For some reason, she’d always thought that Ryder had come down through her father’s family. “Who’s Berry … what did you say her last name was?”
“Eberle. She lives in that big Victorian place over on River Road. If you see it once, you won’t forget it. You might have heard of her by her stage name. Beryl Townsend.”
“The movie star from, what, the thirties? Forties? Fifties?”
Grace nodded. “Forties, fifties, sixties, and even later. She was born here, left town when she was, oh, seventeen or eighteen, thereabouts, to make her mark on the film industry. Her grandniece is Dallas MacGregor. I’m sure you’ve heard of her.”
“I’ve seen many of her films. Brooke stopped overyesterday and she mentioned that Dallas lived here, married a local boy.”
“She did. Grant Wyler is the local vet and has an animal rescue operation. If you’re thinking about adding a dog or cat—”
“I’m not,” Ellie said hastily. “No dogs, no cats. Maybe if I was staying longer, but I don’t know where I’ll be moving to, once the house is sold.”
“Well, it’s just a thought. Nice to have some furry companionship, especially on long winter nights. Always so nice to have a cat or a dog snuggled up next to you when you’re reading in front of a nice fire. We always had pets growing up, but nowadays, it seems every other person has some allergy, so living at the inn, we just can’t have animals anymore.” Grace glanced at her watch. “Oh, dear, I need to hustle. Today’s the day the ads come in for the newspaper and I’m running late. Do join us some morning for coffee. Everyone would love to get to know you better.”
“That’s very nice, but you know, I’m not going to be here very long.”And am so not interested in anyone knowing me better.
“That makes no difference, dear. Friends are where you find them, and sometimes you find them when you least suspect, in the oddest places at the strangest times.” Grace patted Ellie on the arm. “Perhaps one of these days, we’ll sit down together, you and I, and do an interview for my paper.”
Not while I breathe, Ellie thought. Aloud, she said, “I’m really not a very interesting person, Grace.”
“Everyone is interesting in their own way. Sometimes we just don’t recognize it in ourselves.” Grace opened the door, then stopped short. “Oh, for heaven’ssake, I almost forgot. In St. Dennis, we celebrate First Families Day. It’s always the third Sunday in November, and it’s to honor those determined folks who first settled here and stayed long enough to start the town. I hope you’ll join us for the little celebration.”
“What exactly do you do?” Ellie asked, curious in spite of her determination to remain detached.
“Oh, we have the obligatory speeches on the square down on Old St. Mary’s Church Road, there’s always a reenactment of some sort—last year we chose the attempted shelling of the town by the British during the War of 1812—and then we have a dinner at the Grange Hall. Everyone in town attends, but over the past few years, we see more and more ‘summer people’ coming back for the weekend. Which of course is good news for the inn and the B and Bs. You should join us. I think you’d find it to be an interesting day.”
“Thank you for mentioning it. I’ll certainly think about it.”
“Do. It would be especially fitting to have you with us this year.”
When Ellie raised a questioning eyebrow, Grace added, “Because this house has a connection to our early history, and to some people we were so fond of. It’s up to you, of course, if you’re free. I’ll have a ticket put aside for you, just in case you decide to join us.”
Grace hurried down the steps and onto the path that led to her car, waving over her shoulder as she went. Ellie waited until Grace’s car backed out of the driveway and passed by before closing the door. She’d been about to ask Grace about the Ryders’ connection to the town history while at the same time tryingto think of a way to politely decline the ticket, but the woman was gone before Ellie could get her mouth open.
I should have asked about my mother. I’ll bet Grace knew her. She seems to know everyone in town. And I should have asked more about the pirates. Ellie shook her head.Pirates indeed. Sounds like something Grace made up to sell newspapers.
She put Grace’s welcoming gifts in the kitchen then went back into the dining room and began to empty the sideboard, where she found some of what she assumed was Lilly Cavanaugh’s silver, though not the candelabras Grace had spoken of. Not surprisingly, every piece she uncovered needed a good polishing. Silver polish was one thing she hadn’t thought to pick up at the market, so she’d have to make a trip.
“Just as well,” she muttered. “I am getting a little stir-crazy here.”
She changed out of the sweatshirt she’d been cleaning in and slipped on a sweater that was a little more presentable and ran a brush through her hair. Her mother had always impressed upon her the importance of making a nice appearance.
“Even,” Lynley had told her, “when you don’t feel like it or you don’t think it will matter.”
Or, Ellie thought,even when you don’t know anyone who might possibly care what you look like.
Of course, her mother had been a natural beauty and the chances of Lynley making anything but a great appearance were pretty slim. She thought about Cameron’s remark, about how Lynley was beautiful even when she was ill, and the thought warmed her.
She stopped at the market and bought silver polishand a few other things she needed, then on her way back home, made an impulsive right turn onto Kelly’s Point Road and parked behind One Scoop or Two, the local ice-cream shop she’d heard so much about. A little change in routine would be nice, she told herself as she got out of the car. She’d get a cone and walk along the water, maybe go as far as the marina and look at the boats that were still in the water. It was a beautiful day with lots of sunshine and no breeze off the Bay, and who knew how many more such days there would be?
The shop appeared empty when she entered, but the ringing bell over the door brought a tall woman from the back. She wore a Baltimore Ravens cap over honey-blond hair and an old sweatshirt very similar to the one Ellie had changed out of.
“Hi,” the woman greeted Ellie. “What can I get for you?”
Ellie scanned the blackboard on which the day’s flavors were written.
“Gosh, I don’t know. There are so many choices.” Ellie read the list a second time. “You make all these yourself?”
The blonde nodded. “I do. All in my little back room here. Today’s new-flavor testing day.” She pulled at the front of her sweatshirt where a smear of chocolate and something red could be seen.
“I feel so silly.” Ellie laughed self-consciously. “I can’t make up my mind.”
“Want a taste of what I’m working on while you decide?” Without waiting for an answer, the woman disappeared into the back room, then came backholding a cardboard cup and a spoon. “Here. Try this.”
She loaded up the spoon and passed it over the counter to Ellie, who obediently ate it.
“Oh, wow. That’s amazing.” Ellie’s eyes widened. “What’s in it?”
“It’s a white chocolate ice-cream base, with cranberries and chocolate chunks.”
“This is truly amazing. I’ll buy a cone of this, if you have enough.”
“Finish what you have there in the dish, but I don’t really have enough to sell yet. Right now it’s still in the testing stage.”
“It’s so good,” Ellie told her, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“A good endorsement, thanks. I wanted something really special for the holidays.”
“I think you’ve got it.” Ellie finished off the small dish then went back to the board. “If that’s a sample of your work, I have to say, I’ve never had better ice cream.”
“Thanks.” The shop owner blushed modestly. “It’s really a labor of love.”
“I’m going to try the apple cinnamon raisin, I think.”
“Excellent choice. That’s a big favorite. One of the first ice creams I ever made.”
“What made you decide to make ice cream, if you don’t mind me asking?” Ellie watched as the woman scooped the selected ice cream into a dish.
“I don’t mind at all. When I was little, one of my grandmother’s cousins used to make ice cream for us in one of those old crank things?” She smiled at thememory. “He used to let me turn the crank. Then, as I got older, he let me add things, and it just went from there to me making up the flavors. It’s really all I ever wanted to do.” She handed Ellie the dish. “Oh, I should have asked you if you wanted a cone.”
“This is fine.” Ellie met her at the cash register and was counting out change when the bell over the door rang again.
“Oh, look who’s here!” The shopkeeper clapped her hands. “Aunt Steffie’s favorite baby girl and her mama.”
Ellie turned to see a pretty dark-haired woman struggling to get a stroller through the door. She left her dish and bag on the counter and went to help.
“Oh, thank you.” The baby’s mama flashed a smile. “The door doesn’t stay open long enough to get the stroller in.” She pulled the stroller over the threshold and parked it at the closest table, then turned it around.
Ellie looked down into the face of one of the prettiest babies she’d ever seen.
“With all that pink, I’m going out on a limb and guessing a girl,” Ellie said.
“I know, right?” The mother laughed good-naturedly. “Pink blanket, pink hat, pink clothes …”
“You’re such a girl, Vanessa.” The shop owner came around the counter and crouched in front of the stroller. “How’s Aunt Steffie’s doll baby today?”
“She’s teething.” The mother—Vanessa, apparently—settled into a chair. “She’s been a very unhappy girl for the past few days because of it.”
“Well, she certainly looks happy now. Because she loves her aunt Steffie best, isn’t that right, sweet pea?”Steffie unstrapped the baby’s restraints and lifted her from the stroller.
“What’s your baby’s name?” Ellie heard herself asking. She was still at the counter, waiting to pay for her ice cream, a fact that the shop owner apparently forgot.
“Penelope Jane, but we call her Poppy.” The baby’s mother turned to address Ellie.
“That’s adorable, and so is she.”
“Thank you. We’re pretty sure we’re going to keep her.”
“Aunt Steffie will keep her if you decide to the contrary.” The shopkeeper held the baby up in the air, and the baby laughed. “Poppy can’t wait until she’s old enough for ice cream. And when she is, she’ll have a flavor named just for her. We’ll call it … Poppy Pink. Which reminds, me, Ness, I have a new flavor for you to try.” She handed the baby to her mother, then gestured to Ellie and said, “We’ve had one big thumbs-up here so far.”
“It’s excellent,” Ellie said.
“Of course it is. All of Steffie’s ice creams are amazing. But sure,” the dark-haired woman said. “I’m always up for a new flavor. What’s this one called?”
“I don’t have a name for it yet.”
Before the shop owner could disappear into the back, Ellie said, “Excuse me, but I haven’t paid for my ice cream.”
“In one second.” She continued on her way into the back room, then a moment later returned with a small dish and spoon like the ones she’d given Ellie, and handed it to her friend. “I’m sorry,” she apologizedto Ellie. “I totally lose my head when Vanessa brings Poppy to see me.”
“Totally understandable,” Ellie assured her.
The bell rang again, and a stack of white boxes appeared a second before Brooke did.
“Let me help you with those.” Vanessa was out of her seat in a flash to grab the top box before it toppled off the pile.
“Thanks, Ness. I wanted to drop off what I have available now because for the rest of the week, I’ll be baking nonstop for Sunday, and I’m not sure if I’ll …” Brooke turned to close the door behind her and at the same time, saw Ellie. “Oh, Hey! Ellie! Good to see you again.”
The two other women turned to look questioningly at Ellie.
“Hi, Brooke. Nice to see you, too.”
Brooke turned to the other two women. “Have you met Ellie?”
“Not officially.” The shopkeeper stepped around from the back of the counter and extended a hand in Ellie’s direction, which necessitated Ellie’s putting down the spoon and meeting the tall blonde halfway. “I’m Steffie MacGregor. The pretty mama of the world’s most adorable girl is Vanessa Shields.”
“Ellie, nice to meet you.” Vanessa put down the boxes. “Any friend of Brooke’s, and all that.”
“Ellie just moved to St. Dennis,” Brooke went on to explain. “She bought Lilly Cavanaugh’s house and is fixing it up.”
“I didn’t know it was for sale. I love that house.” Steffie’s eyes lit up. “You’re so lucky!”
“It is a great house,” Ellie admitted.
“Which house is that?” Vanessa placed the white box on the counter.
“You know. The one I told you about. The one where the light keeper used to live out on Bay View Road.”
“The house the pirates tried to burn?” Vanessa asked.
Ellie laughed. “That’s the second time today someone mentioned pirates.”
“Pirates were a real problem on the Chesapeake in the 1700s, definitely not a laughing matter back then,” Brooke told her. “Even Blackbeard sailed the Bay.”
“Are you going to tell me that Blackbeard tried to burn my house down?”
“No, it wasn’t Blackbeard. It was that other one …” Steffie frowned. “Brooke, what was her name?”
“Her?” Ellie’s eyebrows rose.
Brooke nodded. “A woman who dressed like a man. Anne—no one really knows what her real last name was, but she called herself André Bonfille. She’d drop anchor out there in the harbor and she and some of her men would row to shore in small boats, terrorize the town until they were run out. They rarely actually hurt anyone, but they’d round up a bunch of the townspeople and then ransom them back to their families. Every few years they’d be back. No one knew this pirate was a woman until she was hanged down in North Carolina. But you’ll hear all about it on Sunday.” Brooke placed the rest of the boxes on the counter next to the cash register. “First Families Day.”
“Grace mentioned it,” Ellie told her.
“Oh, if you’re new in town, you have to come,” Vanessa said. “It’s so fun. The first year I was here, my brother made me go, even though I was thinking what a bore it would all be. But it was fun and I learned a lot. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Vanessa’s brother is Gabriel Beck, the chief of police here in town,” Steffie told Ellie.
“Oh, Chief Beck.” Ellie recalled the polite officer who knocked on her door the second night she was there. “We’ve met.”
“I’ve gone every year for as long as I can remember,” Steffie was saying, “and I wouldn’t miss it, either.”
“Me, too,” Brooke said. “Even after I moved away, I came back every year for First Families Day. It’s a little hokey small-townish, but we love it anyway.”
“I’ll try to make it.”
“You need a ticket for the dinner,” Steffie told her. “I have extras. You’re welcome to one. More, if you have someone you’d like to bring.”
“Thanks, Steffie, but Grace mentioned she was saving one for me.”
“Well, I guess we’ll see you on Sunday. Great. Look for us when you get to the square, okay? We all hang out together, so you should join us, unless you have other friends to go with.”
Ellie shook her head. “No other friends. And if I can make it, I’ll definitely look for you.”
“Great. We’ll probably be toward the right side of the square, toward the corner where Jesse’s law office is. You know where that is, right? Violet Finneran always has coffee on in the morning and sandwicheslater in the day. Brooke is bringing cupcakes, so we can sneak in and grab a snack.”
“Sounds like fun.” Ellie nodded noncommittally and ate the last bit of ice cream. She stood and pitched the cardboard bowl and plastic spoon into the trash receptacle near the door. She wanted out before the questions became more personal. “I’ll put it on the calendar.”
“Oh, do. I know there’s someone who’ll be happy if you show up,” Brooke teased.
Ellie tilted her head and asked, “What?”
“Jesse told me that Cam O’Connor thinks you’re hot.” Brooke grinned.
Ellie felt a flush creep up her neck to her hairline.
“Cam’s hot,” Steffie said. “Always has been.”
“Stop it. You’re married,” Vanessa admonished.
“He is what he is. Marriage has not made me blind, nor has it erased my memory,” Steffie replied.
Vanessa rolled her eyes and lifted her baby from the confines of the stroller. “Cam’s hotness aside, join us on Sunday. We’ll watch for you.”
“Thanks for the invitation.” Ellie turned to Brooke. “Great seeing you again.”
“See you.” Brooke went to the counter and Steffie met her there.
“Hey, Ellie, you should try one of Brooke’s cupcakes before you go,” Steffie called to her.
“I have a personal stash at home, thanks to Brooke. Best I ever tasted.” Ellie smiled and opened the door to leave, the bell tinkling overhead.
“I dropped off a few yesterday,” Ellie heard Brooke say as she closed the door behind her. “You know, a welcome to St. Dennis …”
Ellie walked to the edge of the wooden boardwalk that ran from Scoop to the marina. She mentally debated whether to take the time to walk its length or to go back to the house and polish silver. Because the sun was so warm and the afternoon so inviting, she continued past the boats, past the brown cedar-sided building that housed Captain Walt’s, home of the best seafood on the Eastern Shore, according to its sign, and all the way to the marina. Gulls circled overhead, scolding one another for who knew what infraction, and the air smelled faintly of salt and gasoline. She stood at the end of the dock, looking across the Bay, thinking she hadn’t realized how broad it was, how dark its waters. She watched the whitecaps, blown at a slight diagonal by the rising winds, and wondered what had brought those first settlers to this place, what they had found when they got here, and what hardships they’d faced in order to stay.
She thought of the pirates, and tried to imagine them coming up around the cove to drop anchor before they came ashore. How the people who lived in town must have shuddered when they saw the sails of those big ships billowing across the Bay.
For the first time that day, she began to consider the possibility of showing up on First Families Day after all, just for the hell of it.
Well, I was certainly right about something changing in our world but I couldn’t have guessed what was coming! After all these years, Lynley Sebastian’s little girl has come home.
Of course, she’s not a little girl anymore, and she has no idea that I know who she is. Why she’s calling herself Ellie Ryder, I can only guess that she fears that the sins of her father—and there have been many—have followed her and would cause folks to judge her in his light. She forgets that it’s her mother whom St. Dennis remembers, not that scoundrel her mother married. I hope that in time she discovers that we all remember her dear mother with much affection.
I recognized her the minute I laid eyes on her.
She’s fixing up Lilly’s house—plans to sell it, she says. I don’t know how Lilly or Lynley would feel about that. I think Lynley had hoped that one day her girl would find the same peace here that she herself found, the peace that kept bringing her back year after year. I do hope the girl gives us a chance. She’s clearly a child who needs a place to belong.
I remember how Lynley would come back to relax—never with the husband, though, and only rarely would she bring the girl. She was Ellis then, not Ellie, but what’s in aname? Lynley stopped bringing her when she was maybe three or four.
Back in those days, Lynley was still a celebrity. Sometimes she and Lilly would bring the girl to the inn for afternoon tea, and more often than not, Lucy and I would join them.
There are photographs somewhere—I should look.
Lynley Sebastian was a lovely woman—a very good woman who never forgot where she came from. From what I can see, in spite of all the terrible things her father has put her through, Ellis—Ellie—has rolled up her sleeves and set to work to do what needs to be done. I believe Lynley would be proud of the woman her daughter has become.
ELLIEturned on the faucet to fill the pot with water for her morning coffee when movement in the yard caught her eye. She leaned closer to the window and saw a man in a blue and brown flannel shirt ministering to one of the bird feeders. His shoulders were broad and the untucked shirttails hung over the back of his jeans in a nice curve. It was hard not to admire the view.
The thought occurred to her that she’d never seen her ex-fiancé, Henry, in a flannel shirt, doubted that he owned one. If he did, it surely wouldn’t be faded and worn like the one that fit Cameron’s frame so well. Henry’s flannel—should he ever have owned one—would have come from some high-end store and would have been pressed within an inch of its life so that not a wrinkle or fold showed. The colors would not have been faded because he’d wear it once—if he wore it at all—and it would have been tucked into neatly pressed khakis.
Of course, these days, Henry’s wardrobe consisted of orange jumpsuits, so the point of her mental meandering was pretty much moot.
Cameron turned to pick up the large bag of birdseed that he’d placed on the ground and hoisted it in one hand.
Real men, she decided then and there, wore well-worn flannel, and they never tucked it into their jeans.
Real men like Cameron, who, word had it, thought Ellie was pretty hot.
Likewise, my friend. Likewise …
Ellie hastily filled the coffeepot’s basket with fresh grounds and turned on the stove. Grabbing a sweater from a wall hook near the back door, she tossed it over her shoulders before stepping outside and leaning on the porch railing, which swayed in response.
“Hi,” she called. The morning was rich with scents from the Bay, brilliant sunshine, birdsong, and promise.
“Good morning.” He finished filling the feeder and walked toward the house, carrying the bag of birdseed, which he placed on the bottom step. His eyes were hidden behind dark glasses as he strode toward the porch. “I wouldn’t lean on that railing if I were you. I haven’t gotten around to fixing it yet.”
“It does have a bit of a sway to it.” She straightened up. “You’re up and out early.”
“Got a lot to do this morning.”
“Like driving around St. Dennis filling bird feeders?”
“Just these. Everyone else can fill their own.” He pushed his glasses on top of his head and fixed those blue eyes on her. “I put these feeders up a few years ago, and it’s become a habit to check on them, especially during the migration season and into the winter. I noticed they were getting low on seed when Iwas here the other day.” He stared up at her. “Does it bother you …?”
“Oh, no. No. I think it’s really nice of you. I just don’t want you to feel obligated.…”
“I don’t. Well, maybe to the birds. They become accustomed to finding food at certain places, so I want to make sure there’s seed here for them. I’d suggest you continue filling the feeders yourself, except that I’ve hung them for my height. You’d need a step-ladder to do the job. Of course, I suppose I could lower the feeders.”
“Would that confuse the birds?” she wondered.
“They’ll adapt, though the lower the feeder the easier it is for the squirrels to raid them.” Cam smiled. “So we can leave them where they are and I can stop over once or twice a week and refill them.”
“That’s up to you. In the meantime, I’ll pick up some birdseed. I saw some in the market the other day.”
“You want the kind that has a high percentage of thistle and sunflower seeds. Anderson’s out on the highway usually has the best prices for the good stuff.”
“Oh. Okay.”The good stuff?She hadn’t known there were different kinds.
“The cheaper varieties usually are heavy on the smaller seeds and really light on the stuff the birds need,” Cam went on to explain. Perhaps he sensed her ignorance on the matter.
“Like thistle and sunflower seeds.”
“Exactly.” He stood with his hands on his hips, his sleeves rolled almost to the elbow. “You want to buy the right food for the birds you have.”
“What kind of birds do I have?” She frowned. She’d seen several flitting around the backyard, but none close enough that she could tell robin from blue jay.
“This time of the year, you have chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, tufted titmice, cardinals. The usual suspects.”
“Oh, right.” She nodded as if she knew. Through the door wafted the smell of percolating coffee. On impulse, she invited him in.
“I’ve got a minute, thanks. I was going to grab some takeout from Cuppachino on my way to the job.” He followed her into the kitchen and looked around. “Someone’s been busy.”
“I’ve cleaned out all the cupboards and washed up just about everything in this room and the dining room.”
“It’s looking like someone really lives here now.”
“I know, right?” She poured two mugs of coffee and placed them on the table. She added two spoons, the sugar bowl, and a container of milk. “Help yourself,” she told him.
“Thanks.” Cam added a teaspoon of sugar and just enough milk to turn his coffee a few shades lighter. “So you think you might be almost ready to paint the first-floor rooms?”
“Not quite yet, but I’m close. I thought I’d wait until I got the upstairs in better shape and then paint everything at once.”
Cam raised an eyebrow. “You’re going to get awfully tired of painting if you try to go from one room to the next until they’re all done. The only way I’dever recommend that would be if you had a crew come in and paint for you.”
“What would you suggest?” She fixed her own coffee and leaned back against the counter.
“I’d do one room at a time.” He looked around the kitchen. “I’d start here, maybe. Paint the cabinets, the walls and woodwork.”
“After I do the floor,” she added.
“That’s a whole ’nother thing,” he reminded her, “since that old linoleum has to be pulled up and the floor sanded.”
“Maybe I should start that project before I get into anything else. Or maybe I’ll paint the dining room first. I think it will be easier.” She sighed. “After I strip off the wallpaper, of course.”
“Whichever room you decide, remember to wet the walls first and the paper should scrape right off, depending on the type of glue the paper hanger used. I was serious about loaning you a pressurized sprayer. It’ll make the job much easier.”
“With my luck, it will be the antique version of Super Glue.”
“Like I said, I’d complete one room at a time. If you want to start in the kitchen, start with the floor. Then when you have it stripped down, you can start taking down the wallpaper. Either way, call me first and I’ll come over and give you a hand.”
“I’d appreciate that, thanks.” Ellie turned to the counter and picked up a silver bowl that she’d polished the night before. “I found silver in the sideboard. I still can’t believe that this house has been vacant for all these years, and it hasn’t been broken into.”
“Like I said, a lot of people have been keeping an eye on the place.”
Before she asked if there was a reason for that, he’d finished his coffee in one long drink and placed the mug on the counter next to where she stood. “Thanks for the coffee.”
“Thanks for feeding the birds and the lesson on birdseed.”
She walked him out to his truck, which was parked across the end of her driveway.
“So I guess you’ve heard about First Families Day.” Cam opened the cab door but made no move to get in.
“From just about everyone I’ve run into over the past few days.”
“Are you going to go?”
“I’m thinking about it.”
“You should. It’s a fun event, involves the whole town.”
“I have to admit I’m curious. Mostly about the pirates.”
“Oh?” His mouth slid into a slow smile. “Curious about the pirates, are you?”
“How could I not be? I mean, I heard they burned down the house that originally stood here.”
“Not exactly where your house is standing now, but you can see part of the foundation for that first structure inside the carriage house.”
“Really?” She turned and looked down the driveway at the old building she’d yet to investigate.“Maybe I’ll get lucky and find the key. I’d hate to break a window to get in there.”
“Yeah, you don’t want to expose the interior to the elements,” he told her. “Especially with winter coming on. But who knows? Maybe the key will turn up.” He swung himself into the driver’s seat.
He started up the engine and rolled down the window. “I hear it’s going to go down to the thirties tonight,” he said right before he closed the door. “You might want to bring in some of that firewood from the back porch.”
He slammed the cab door and she waved before turning to go back to the house as he drove away.
I hear it’s going to go down to the thirties tonight. You might want to bring in some of that firewood from the back porch.
Jeez, way to dazzle with your wit, O’Connor. Could you have been any smoother than that?
What a dumb-ass.
He watched in the rearview mirror as Ellie leaned down to pick up something from the ground. There was no denying that she intrigued him on more than one level. He liked the way she looked, liked that she didn’t appear to fuss with herself too much. And that he was attracted to her … well, what guy wouldn’t be? Besides her good looks, there was a grace about her, in the way she moved and the way she gestured and spoke. She gave every indication of having been well educated, but poorly prepared for the task that she’d set for herself here in St. Dennis.
And that, to Cam’s mind, was just the start of where the problems came in.
Something just wasn’t quite right about Ellie Ryder.
There was something about her that just didn’t ring true. He’d tried—given it some thought after his visit the other day—but just couldn’t seem to put his finger on what it was about her that was off. Oh, there were the little things—like how she claimed to have little money for renovations but was driving that big Mercedes sedan. And, who, having no money to hire a contractor and admittedly no skills to do the work yourself, would buy a house that needed as much work as Lilly Cavanaugh’s house needed?
Of course, there was the possibility that she’d spent everything she had to buy the house and didn’t realize just how much work the place needed until she moved into it.
He’d give her that much, but the house itself was only half of what weighed on him where Ellie was concerned. Her hands were definitely not hands that had done much hard work in the past. They were soft and refined, not hardened by the type of tasks she was taking on, and who in their right mind would take on such a huge project without having some experience?
Then there was that feeling that they’d met before. There was something about her eyes, something familiar, and yet not. It really bugged him. He couldn’t imagine where they might have met in the past—certainly she didn’t give any sign of having met him before—and yet there it was. Every time he looked at her, he got that same feeling.
He slowed the truck in front of the vacant lot on the opposite side of the street and three houses down from the old Cavanaugh place. He just couldn’t seem to drive past without stopping, however briefly, to reflectand remember the house that once stood there, the family that had once lived there.
Of course, the house, like the family, was long gone.
He gunned the engine and continued on his way.
Cam turned into the drive that ran between Grant Wyler’s house and his veterinary clinic and parked behind a white pickup that was parked near the garage. He hopped out and waved to the plumber he’d called in to get an estimate on the work Grant and his wife, Dallas, wanted done on the house. New expanded kitchen, new bathrooms, new sunroom. Offices in the attic and a new four-car garage. It had all the makings of one very sweet job.
He’d have to put his curiosity about Ellie aside and focus on the task at hand. There’d be time enough to discover just what was what. In the meantime, the possibility that she’d be at the square on Sunday gave him a little something else to think about, his reservations about her having done little to diminish his attraction. The errant little thought he’d had earlier began to take on a life of its own.
If Ellie was intrigued by the pirate tales, he’d just have to make sure she’d have a ringside seat—or better—come Sunday afternoon.Chapter 8
EVENthe chilliest morning of the week couldn’t keep Ellie from heading toward the beach with her coffee, and this morning, a breakfast sandwich she’d made for herself. Modeled after something offered by a fast-food drive-through, it had a sausage patty topped with a scrambled egg topped with a slice of cheese on a toasted English muffin. She’d tried it out the day before and was so pleased with the results she couldn’t resist making another one. She sat on her rock, mug in one hand, sandwich wrapped in foil in the other, and took a deep breath. Despite the damp and the chill in the air—Ellie was thinking that life was pretty sweet in the here and now. Having decided that looking back at what used to be was pointless, she’d made a promise to herself to look at each new day as an opportunity to learn and to grow and to just enjoy and be grateful to be in this place.
She unwrapped her sandwich, balanced it on her knee, and watched a very large bird swoop low over the whitecaps out on the Bay, then rise up swiftly, and just as swiftly, dive headfirst into the water. Secondslater, the bird emerged, a struggling fish in its mouth. She’d seen the bird—or one like it—every day when she came to the beach, but she didn’t know what it was.
I should know what that bird is, she told herself.I will know. I will learn what that one is. I’ll find an app for my phone that has seabirds on it, and I’ll bring it with me when I—
Motion in the dune grass to her right caused her to freeze, the sandwich in her left hand almost to her mouth. She held her breath, wondering if the fox she’d seen a few days earlier had returned. It had poked out of the grass, and she was pretty sure that both she and the fox had been equally surprised to see the other. They’d both stopped in their tracks to stare, the moment suspended in time, before the fox flicked its tale and disappeared back into the grasses. It had been bigger than she’d supposed foxes to be, more like a medium-size dog.
Ellie sat still as a stone, wondering if she and the fox were about to have another face-to-face, but when she shifted her eyes to the right, she saw not the fox, but a small gray dog standing at the edge of the dune. It watched Ellie as she watched it before taking small, very tentative steps in her direction. Its little nose sniffed the air, and she realized it had been drawn by the scent of her sandwich.
At the sound of her voice, the dog cocked its head to one side. It paused for a moment, then took another few steps in Ellie’s direction. It was close enough for Ellie to see it had no collar.
“Are you a runaway? Got out the back door when the kids left for school? Chased the mailman? What’s your story?”
The dog came closer, and without thinking, Ellie broke off a piece of her sandwich and extended her hand in the dog’s direction.
“Are you hungry, pup?”
Its eyes downcast, the dog crept nearer until it was almost to the food. Then it raised its head and looked at her as if waiting for assurance that the morsel was truly meant for it.
“It’s okay. Take it. Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.” She leaned forward, her arm outstretched, and the dog took the food so gingerly that Ellie wasn’t sure it was actually gone. The dog sat at her feet, chewed and swallowed, then looked up at her hopefully.
“Another piece?” She broke off another bit of sandwich. The dog wagged its stub of a tale and waited patiently for her to offer it. “You have lovely manners, you know that? Someone has trained you very well.”
The dog’s tale wagged more, and Ellie couldn’t resist giving it another bite, and then another, until the sandwich was all gone.
“It’s okay,” she told the dog. “I can make myself another one.” She reached out her hand to touch the dog, and the dog met her halfway, nudging its head under her palm. What could she do but pet it? “You’re a cutie, but I’ll bet someone is out looking for you right at this very moment, so you should probably be on your way now.”
Ellie looked skyward as a breeze blew across the beach, almost flattening the grasses.
“It’s going to rain soon and it’s getting cooler. You should scoot along home now. You don’t want to get caught in the storm.”
Ellie rose and took her last sip of coffee. “Where’s your collar?” she asked. “If you had a collar with some tags on it, I could call your owner and let them know where you are.”
She walked over the dune and onto the road, the little dog at her heels.
“No, you can’t come with me. Go on home, now. And stay off the dunes, hear? You don’t want to run into that fox. He might think you look a little too much like lunch.”
Ellie kept walking, the dog trailing her at a distance. When she reached her driveway, she turned and told the dog, “Seriously. You need to go home. Someone is worried about you. I know I would be, if you were my little dog.”
She leaned down and patted the dog on the head one last time, then walked to her front door and went through it, leaving the dog at the foot of the driveway.
“It’ll go home now,” she told herself. “It was just waiting to see if there would be more food to mooch.”
Ellie was torn between starting on the kitchen or the dining room walls. They would all have to be scraped, she trusted Cameron on that, but which would be the best place to start?
Probably the kitchen, she decided. Getting the walls stripped down as well as the floor would be time-consuming and messy, maybe the messiest task.
Start with the floor, she reasoned. Cameron said there was nice wood under the old linoleum, so maybewe rip up a piece of the crappy floor and see what we can find.
Sounded like a plan.
She began in the butler’s pantry, working on the area where Cam had lifted the linoleum to reveal the pine floor. It took her all of the morning and part of the afternoon, but as it turned out, the old floor wasn’t so hard to remove after all. Surprisingly, the tiny black iron nails that held down the flooring popped mostly without resistance. By noon, the pantry floor was back to its original pine, in need of a good cleaning, but she could see the beauty of the wood. When she talked to Cameron again, she’d ask him the best way to clean that floor and she’d tell him that there’d been no glue used when the floor in the pantry had been put down. She hoped that proved true in the kitchen as well.
A clap of thunder caused her to jump nearly out of her skin, and she realized she’d been working in total silence. She found her iPod at the bottom of her bag and scrolled through her playlist until she found some tunes she could work to. She bundled the ripped-up flooring and put it out on the back porch. She’d call the town hall to find out how best to dispose of it, but for now, it could stay where she left it.
The rain was falling harder and slanted toward one side of the house. She was happy to close the door behind her and shivered as she returned to the warmth of the kitchen. She put on a pot of coffee, determined to take a little break, and went upstairs to grab a sweatshirt to pull over her turtleneck. On the way back downstairs, she paused and looked out throughthe front windows and was relieved to find the little dog gone from the lawn. She hoped it had made it home before the storm hit. It really had been a very cute little thing.
The mail truck came down the street and she walked to the door to see if it would pause at her mailbox. She stood watching for a moment, listening to the sounds of the storm outside, the howling of the wind and the pine branches scratching at the glass. She started to turn from the window when she looked down, and saw a gray mass huddled near the door.
“Oh, dear Lord,” she said aloud.
She reached for the doorknob, then hesitated for a second before she ran upstairs, taking the steps two at a time, and returned in a moment with a pile of towels. She opened the door and scooped up the shivering animal and brought it inside wrapped in a towel.
“I thought I told you to go home. I know that your people are worried about you. What were you thinking, taking off like that from wherever it was you came from?”
She rubbed the dog dry with the first towel, but the shivering didn’t stop.
“You’re cold right through, aren’t you.” She carried the dog into the kitchen and sat it on the floor next to the sink while she ran warm water. She lifted the little dog into the sink and ran warm water over its back. The water ran brown with dirt.
“No doggie shampoo here, so we’re going to have to go with the stuff I use for the dishes. Sorry, pal, but that’s all I’ve got.” She lathered up the dog’s fur, thenrinsed off the suds. Dark specks that did not look like dirt floated in the water. Ellie peered closer. Some of the specks appeared to be swimming.
“Fleas? Seriously? I bring you in from the cold and you bring me fleas?” Ellie grimaced. “Okay, we’re going to have to run through this routine again. Maybe there are more.…”
There were. She washed and rinsed several times more until no new culprits appeared in the water and all had been sent down the drain.
“Your owner is going to thank me for ridding her—or him—of those pesky little bloodsuckers. And you’re going to thank me, too, because you won’t be scratching.”
She picked up the dog, set it on a towel she’d placed on the floor, and dried it off with a second towel.
“Ah, you’re a little girl, I see. And your coat’s not so dark now that it’s clean. You’re really quite a lovely silvery color.” Ellie continued to dry the dog’s fur. “You’re a good little dog and very cute, but you have a home somewhere and we’re going to have to find it.” She bit her lip. “Not sure the best way to go about doing that.”
The dog leaned up and licked Ellie’s chin.
“Oh, you’re welcome. I’m glad you feel better. We’ll keep you warm and dry this afternoon, but then we’ll have to find your home.”
The dog licked her chin again.
Ellie piled the dry towels on the floor and placed the dog on top. She poured herself a cup of coffee and sat at the table.
“You can curl up right there while I drink my coffeeand call the police department and see if anyone reported a missing dog.”
She pulled up the town’s website on her iPhone, then punched in the numbers for the town hall. She was transferred twice before talking to someone who took her name and number and promised to call if anyone reported a missing dog, but so far, no one had.
“Maybe you sneaked out when your owner left for work and no one realized you’d gone.” Ellie turned to the dog, who sat up on the pile of towels. “In the meantime, I have a job to do, so you can just sit right there while I work on this floor.”
The dog whined.
“Sorry, I don’t have any more cooked sausage and I’m not giving it to you raw.” She watched the dog that was watching her and seemed to be waiting for something. “Are you thirsty? Would you like some water?”
The dog wagged its tale as if it understood.
“Water it is.” Ellie took a small bowl from the cupboard and filled it with cool water, then placed it on the floor. The dog drank until the bowl was empty.
The dog wagged its tail and returned to its nest atop the towels.
“How long were you out there, anyway?” Ellie knelt down next to the dog and smoothed the fur on the top of its head. “More than just today, I’m thinking.”
The dog curled up, closed its eyes, and went to sleep. Ellie finished her coffee, and encouraged by hersuccess that morning, went to work peeling up pieces of the kitchen floor.
By four in the afternoon, the rain had stopped, the wind died down, the sun came out, and the dog woke up.
“Good timing on your part,” Ellie told the dog. “You probably need to go out right about now.”
The dog followed Ellie to the back door and went down the steps into the grass.
“I wish I knew what to call you, friend,” Ellie murmured, and watched the dog run around the yard for several minutes. Her phone began to ring and she answered without looking at the ID. Maybe, she thought, someone called the police department about the dog.
“What’s cooking?” Carly asked when she heard Ellie’s voice. “How’s everything going?”
“Pretty good. Just spent the past two weeks working my little fingers to the bone trying to clean and organize this house. Lucky for me I’m not allergic to dust.” Ellie put her hand over the phone and whistled. The dog stopped sniffing the tall grass at the rear of the property, turned, looked toward the house, then ran full tilt to the porch. “What are you up to?”
“Just got back from a quick trip to London to look over some paintings the gallery was interested in. They were lovely, but upon close inspection, my expert eye recognized them to be fakes.”
“Good girl! What a good girl you are!” Ellie praised the little dog after she ran up the steps and sat at Ellie’s feet, wagging her tail happily.
“Why, yes. Yes, I am.” There was a pause on theline. “You know, you have an odd way of phrasing things sometimes.”
Ellie laughed. “Sorry, Carly. I was talking to the dog.”
“Dog? What dog?”
“The dog I found on the beach this morning that followed me home and waited on my front porch until I capitulated and took her in.”
“What kind of dog? What’s her name?”
“She’s … I don’t know, some sort of terrier maybe. Small and light gray, a little white on her chest. Little stubby tail and floppy ears. Cutest thing. No collar, no tags, so I have no idea what her name is.”
“Well, what are you calling her?”
“ ‘Girl’ is the closest I’ve come to calling her anything.”
“Well, that won’t do. She needs a name.”
“She’s got one, and somewhere, someone knows it. I’m not keeping her. She’s just staying here until I can find her owner.”
“Still, she needs to be called something. Where did you find her? On the beach?”
“She kinda appeared on the dune.”
“Dune, then. Call her Dune.”
“I think she knows ‘Girl.’ She wags her tail when I called her that.”
“She needs something better than that. Call her Dune.”
“Sure. Okay.” Ellie shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes. As if the dog would be there long enough to recognize Dune as her name. “Dune it is.”
“I can’t wait to see her. She sounds adorable.”
“Well, unless you expect to be here within the next twenty-four hours, you’re probably going to miss out. I called the police and left my number so that the owner can contact me. I’m sure whoever owns her is frantic to find her.”
“How long ago did you find her?”
“Around eight this morning.”
“And no one’s gotten frantic yet?”
“I’m thinking maybe she got out when her owner left for work this morning and hasn’t been missed yet.”
“I suppose that’s a possibility. But …”
“Maybe she doesn’t belong to anyone. Maybe she’s a stray.”
“No chance. This dog has been well trained. She has excellent manners. No, she belongs to someone who cared enough about her to teach her how to behave. Someone is missing her. This is a small town. Sooner or later, her owner will be looking for her.”
“In that case, don’t get too attached,” Carly warned. “You never had a dog before, so you don’t know how quickly they become part of your life, or how much you can love them.”
“I don’t expect to have her long enough to become attached.” Ellie paused and heard Carly yawn. “You sound really tired.”
“Beat to a pulp,” Carly admitted. “Too much travel, not enough days in between trips.”
“Maybe you should plan on taking some time off.”
“I’m taking off tomorrow, as a matter of fact.”
“Any special plans?”
“I’m visiting my BFF in her new home. That is, if she doesn’t have any plans of her own …”
“Really? You’re coming here? To St. Dennis?”
“I am. You know how my curiosity always gets the best of me. I can’t stand not seeing your new house or that idyllic little bayside town you’re calling home these days.”
“Yay! When will you get here? How long can you stay?”
“I think it’ll probably be sometime tomorrow afternoon by the time I get my act together and get on the road.”
“Oh, cool. You’ll be here for Sunday.”
“What’s happening on Sunday?”
“St. Dennis’s First Families Day. Sort of like founders’ day, from what I understand. I don’t know exactly what they do, but everyone I’ve met down here keeps telling me I have to go.”
“Cool. We’ll do it.”
“Want me to give you directions?”
“Right. So how long do you think you can stay?”
“Maybe till Monday. I have something tentatively scheduled for Tuesday in Philadelphia, but we’ll see. I’m hoping we can move that up so I can take a few extra days. Assuming it’s all right with you.”
“Of course. Stay as long as you can. I can’t wait to see you.”
“I can’t wait, either. I’m dying to see that fabulous little town—and of course, Miss Dune. You, too.”
“I doubt the dog will still be here. I totally expect someone to call tonight when they get home and find her missing and call the police department.”
“Well, I’m hoping they’re out of town for the weekend so I can meet her. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed having a dog since Bowser crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.”
“Is that a euphemism for …?”
“See, if you’d had a dog even once, you’d know. You’d know and you’d understand.”
“My father wouldn’t let us have a dog. He didn’t think animals belonged in the house.”
“Just goes to show what he knows.” Carly yawned. “Sorry.”
“Hang up and go right to bed, get lots of sleep so you can make the drive tomorrow without falling asleep at the wheel.”
“Good point. I’ll give you a call if I think I’ll be later than three tomorrow afternoon.”
“Great. Have a safe trip, Car.”
Ellie disconnected the call and left the phone on the coffee table.
“What should I do first?” she wondered aloud, then realized that she was talking to the dog.
“I’m talking to a dog.”
The newly christened Dune tilted her head to one side.
“I’ll bet that’s nothing new to you. I’ll bet your people talk to you all the time because you’re such a good listener.”
Ellie got up from the sofa and looked around the room. “Things look pretty good in here and in the dining room. The kitchen can wait until the morning. Of course, the floor in there is partially ripped up, butthat can’t be helped. So I’m thinking that now is a good time to get a room ready for Carly.” She started toward the stairs and the dog followed her. “Which room do you think? The one next to mine, or the one across the hall?”
Dune’s nails tapped on the hardwood as she kept up with Ellie.
“Right. The one across the hall. That’s what I was thinking, too. So she’ll have her own bathroom. Good choice.”
Ellie stripped the bed of its sheets and the faded green chenille bedspread and took the whole pile to the first floor, where she stuffed it all into a laundry basket that had spent the past who-knew-how-many years in a closet on the second floor, and left it near the front door. First thing in the morning, she’d make a run to the Laundromat. Maybe she’d even make a stop at the supermarket to pick up a small bouquet of flowers. She’d put them in one of the art pottery vases she found in the pantry and place them on the table next to the bed in the room she—and Dune—had selected for Carly.
Maybe, she thought as she checked the locks on the front, back, and basement doors, she’d look through that box of recipe cards she’d uncovered in a kitchen closet and actually attempt to bake something to share with her friend over tea tomorrow afternoon.
The important thing was that Carly was coming to visit. The one person—the only person—who’d stood by Ellie, who knew all of her secrets and all of her warts and loved her anyway, would be here tomorrow, and for just a few days, Ellie could drop the pretenseand the outright lies about who she was, where she came from, and where she was going.
She wondered how it would feel to be Ellis Chapman again.
It might be nice.Chapter 9
EARLYthe next morning, a thumping sound from the back of the house sent Dune barking and Ellie to investigate.
“I hope I didn’t wake you.” Cameron O’Connor stood at the top of the tall metal ladder that stretched all the way to the roof. He glanced over his shoulder at Ellie as he tossed a glob of leaves to the ground. “Don’t worry. I’ll clean that up before I leave.”
“What are you doing?” she asked from the porch.
“Cleaning your gutters. We’re in for one heck of a rain come Monday, if the meteorologists know what they’re talking about. Not that they always do, but why take a chance?” He held up another glob of wet leaves. “Your gutters are worse than I thought. I should have kept a closer eye on them.”
“What’s the problem?”
“The problem”—he started back down the ladder—“is that the gutters get clogged with leaves, then the water can’t get to the downspout, where it could just flow nicely to the ground. Instead, it overflows the sides of the gutters and can rot your siding eventually.”
He picked up the leaves he’d dropped and pitched them into a bucket near the base of the ladder.
“This is really very nice of you, but you know, you don’t have to.…”
“Actually, I do.” He smiled at her, then turned to move the ladder a few feet toward the end of the house.
Ellie leaned against the porch rail but straightened up when she felt it give a little. She watched Cameron climb the ladder, watched the way his sweatshirt stretched across his shoulders. There were worse ways a girl could spend a few minutes early on a Saturday morning.
“So when did you get the dog?” he asked without looking down.
“I didn’t get a dog. She followed me back from the dune yesterday and I couldn’t leave her outside in that storm. I called the police station and told them I had her in case her owner reported her missing but I haven’t heard back from them.”
“Cute little thing.”
“She is. And she’s very sweet. I know someone is missing her.”
“Maybe she’s one of Grant’s dogs.”
“Grant Wyler. The local vet. Good chance he’d recognize the dog if it’s local. He also runs a rescue shelter over at his clinic, gets dogs from kill shelters down south and tries to find homes for them.”
“Someone else mentioned him. I can’t imagine she’s a shelter dog, though. She’s very well trained.”
“Lots of rescue dogs are well trained. There are all sorts of reasons why dogs end up in shelters. Theirowners die or lose their jobs and can’t afford to take care of them, or they have to move and can’t have pets in their new place, or their kids are allergic, or they—”
“Stop.” Ellie put her hands over her ears. “It’s too sad. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to give up a pet that you loved.”
“When did you say you found this dog?” He turned and looked down at her.
“And you’re already this attached?”
“I’m not attached. It’s just sad, that’s all.”
“Right.” Cam went back to scooping handfuls of gook from the gutter. He dropped another handful of leaves. “Good luck.”
“Yes, well.” She watched him climb down the ladder. “Thanks again, Cameron. For …” She gestured toward the roof and the gutter.
“You’re welcome, but I should have done this back in September.”
“I appreciate that you’re doing it at all. I wouldn’t have known that it had to be done.”
“So I take it this is your first house.”
“First one I’ve been responsible for.”
“Always lived in apartments?” he asked.
“Yes.”Well, except for the several mansions I used to call home, but for the purpose of this conversation, they don’t count, because there was always a staff to handle whatever had to be done.
Ellie couldn’t remember her father ever asking about having the gutters cleaned in any of their former homes. Someone was always there to just do it.She wondered if her father even knew that such things had to be done.
Cameron was back on the ground and moving the ladder to the corner of the house.
“Can I offer you some coffee or something?” she asked.
“No, thanks. I need to get this done and get to a meeting.” He flashed a smile again. “I’ll take a rain check, though.”
He really has a pretty terrific smile, she thought as she watched him ascend the ladder once more.
“Sure.” She stuck her hands in the pockets of her jeans and thought about all the things she had to do between now and Carly’s arrival. “Well, I guess I’ll let you finish up so you can make your meeting.”
She called to the dog, who’d been sniffing at the clots of wet leaves that dotted the ground near the ladder, then opened the back door.
She turned back and looked up toward the roof, shielding her eyes from the early morning sun.
“There’s live music at Captain Walt’s tonight, down near the marina. Want to join me for some great Maryland seafood and some mediocre jazz?”
Surprised by the invitation, Ellie hesitated for a moment. “Thanks, Cameron, but I’m having company this weekend. Maybe another time?”
“Sure,” he replied from the top of the ladder. “See you tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?” She frowned. “Oh, you mean the First Families thing. I guess so.”
“Maybe we’ll bump into each other.”
She went back inside and Dune scooted after her.She washed the breakfast dishes and tried to decide how she felt about Cameron asking her out.
She searched for the to-do list she’d had in her hand when she came downstairs earlier. She found it and sat at the table to go over it. If she concentrated really hard, she could ignore the fact that a really great-looking guy was at that moment climbing around her house and cleaning her gutters, and that he’d just asked her out on a date. It had come so unexpectedly that she hadn’t had time to think much about a response. Of course, she’d been unable to accept, but if not for Carly’s visit, would she have?
Tough call, she thought.
On the one hand, seeing anyone socially could lead to complications. What if one date led to another, and that one to another still? Dating implied a relationship, and what kind of a relationship could you possibly have with someone you’re lying to about the most fundamental things? Like who you are and where you came from and how you really acquired the house you’re living in.
On the other hand, Cameron O’Connor seemed like a special kind of guy, a guy who was thoughtful and interesting and nice to be around, not to mention that he was pretty hot. If she were to date anyone in St. Dennis, he’d be the first guy she’d want to spend time with.
And then there was the fact that it might be nice to connect with someone here in St. Dennis who remembered—whoknew—her mother, even if he wasn’t aware of the relationship.
Interesting—curious, even—that he still felt such a strong sense of responsibility to this house and toLilly Cavanaugh. He’d said that he’d known her and that she was very kind and sweet, but surely there had to be more to it than just remembering a sweet, kindly old woman who’d been dead for many years.
All of her senses told her there was a story there that he wasn’t sharing. She thought back to a conversation she’d had with him a week or so ago. She’d shown him silver she’d found in the sideboard and had polished the night before.
“I still can’t believe that this house has been vacant for all these years and it hasn’t been broken into,”she’d said.
“Like I said, a lot of people have been keeping an eye on the place,”he’d told her.
She’d wanted to ask him at the time if there was any particular reason for his vigilance, but he’d polished off his coffee and headed out before she could inquire. Maybe if he asked her out again, she should go, if for no other reason than to find out why his attachment to this house was so strong.
Of course, the fact that the guy was very easy on the eyes would be merely a bonus.
A glance at the clock told her she was running behind her self-imposed schedule. She’d found a recipe for scones that looked pretty simple, and thought she’d mix up a batch of them so she’d have a snack to offer Carly when she arrived later this afternoon. She grabbed her bag, closed Dune in the kitchen, and went out through the front door. Cameron was still working on the gutters on the side of the house when she drove past. If he was still there when she returnedfrom running her errands, she’d take him coffee or a bottle of water, but she suspected he’d be long gone by the time she got back.
Sure enough, the pickup was no longer parked near her mailbox when she arrived home. The laundry had taken longer than she’d planned, and she’d been held up in the grocery store by Grace Sinclair, who insisted on introducing her to several other ladies, all of whom appeared to be of Grace’s era. But she did manage to pick up a copy of theSt. Dennis Gazette, Grace’s newspaper. Ellie tucked the paper into her shoulder bag, thinking that at some future date, she’d follow up with Grace to see what the older woman recalled about Lynley’s time in St. Dennis.
Once inside, Ellie cut the stems of the mixed bouquet she’d picked up at the market and arranged the flowers in a dark blue vase. She carried them up the stairs in one hand and the sheets for Carly’s room in the other. She made the bed, rearranged the flowers, and opened one of the windows to bring in some fresh air.
She got out the ingredients for the scones on the counter and turned on the oven to preheat it, then mixed the scones, which she baked on a cookie sheet she found in one of the cupboards. By the time she heard a car’s engine out front, the scones were cooling on a plate.
“Yay, Carly’s here.” Ellie grabbed a sweater from the back of a kitchen chair and dashed out the door, Dune at her heels. She slowed as she crossed the lawn, staring as her friend got out of the sleek sports car parked in the driveway. “Whoa, Carly! Those are some fancy wheels.”
“She’s something, isn’t she?” Carly tossed an oversize bag over her shoulder and slammed the door of the shiny silver Porsche 911. “I just picked her up yesterday. Thought I’d take her on a test run.”
“How’d she do?” Ellie met Carly with a hug near the front fender.
“She’s perfect.” Carly embraced Ellie in a bear hug, then stood at arm’s length to take a long look at her old friend. “You look fabulous. Working your fingers to the bone apparently agrees with you.”
Ellie laughed and held up her hands, which Carly grabbed and pretended to scrutinize.
“Girl, you weren’t kidding. When was your last manicure?”
“Too long ago to remember.” She gave Carly an extra squeeze before letting her go. “But strangely, I don’t miss my once-lovely nails.”
“Well, if I had to choose between this place and that old apartment of yours on Madison, I’d definitely choose to be here.” Carly stood back, her hands on her hips. “It’s a wonderful house, El. I can’t wait to see the inside. Come on.” She grabbed Ellie’s hand. “Show me everything.”
“Want to get your bags?” Ellie paused.
“Later. I’ll come back out and … oh, is that Dune?” Carly knelt down next to the little dog. “Oh, she’s so cute! Maybe you’ll get lucky and her owner won’t look for her.”
“I’m sure someone’s looking. How could they not? Maybe they just haven’t called the police station. I was thinking this morning that maybe they’re still looking around the neighborhood, or putting up posters or something. Or maybe they’re away.” It occurredto Ellie then that she’d forgotten to call the vet. “Cameron suggested I call the vet in town. Apparently he’s involved in some rescue dog group and—”
“Cameron?” Carly stood and fell in step with Ellie. “Who’s Cameron?”
“Oh, he’s … well, at first I thought he was sort of like a handyman because he was doing little things around here, but he’s really a contractor. At least that’s what it says on the side of his pickup.” Ellie opened the door and held it for Carly, who stepped inside, then paused, looking around.
“There’s just something about a guy with a pickup that—oh, Ellie! This is so cool. Look at your dining room. Was all this furniture here?” Carly pointed to the sideboard. “Oh, that’s so pretty. My grandmother had furniture something like that. And check out your living room. I love that sofa!”
Carly dropped her bag on the floor and went directly to one of the club chairs and sat. “Real mohair circa 1940. This stuff is in prime condition, El. And totally back in style. Dealers in Manhattan would kill for this stuff.”
“I know. I’ve been checking online.”
Carly ran her hand along the wooden insert in the chair’s arm. “You’re so lucky, you know that? Once you start selling off things, you should make out quite nicely.”
“I think so. I’m planning on having a dealer come in to look things over for me.”
“Excellent idea.” Carly stood and walked to the fireplace and ran her hand along the wood. “Yourmantel is beautiful. And look at these ducks.” She lifted one and turned to Ellie. “Decoys?”
Ellie nodded. “Lilly Cavenaugh’s husband, Ted, was a well-known carver. Cameron thinks they’re worth a lot of money.”
“There’s that name again.” Carly grinned. “Who is this person?”
“He’s been sort of looking after the house. You know, keeping the grass cut and just making sure that nothing was amiss. He knew Lilly, and for some reason that I’m not sure I understand, he’s felt obligated to keep up with things around here.”
“Maybe he had a crush on Lilly.”
“Lilly would be, oh, I suppose maybe around one hundred if she were still alive.”
“And how old is Cameron?”
“About our age. Midthirties.”
“May-December romance.” Carly shrugged.
“I think she probably died when he was in his teens.”
“You mean she’s been gone for twenty years?”
“I’m not really sure when she died. Easy enough to find out, I suppose. Everyone around here seems to have loved her.” Ellie sat on the arm of the sofa. “And there are people here who remember my mother.”
“Well, you’ve said she used to come here when she was little, right?”
“Even later than that. Cameron remembers her. He knew her, Carly. He said he remembered when she came here when she was sick.” Ellie felt her throat constrict. “I’m not sure that I even knew that she came here when she was sick. If I knew, I don’t remember.”
“Well, how old were we when your mother was first diagnosed? We were still in high school, weren’t we?”
“We were sixteen.”
“Sixteen and living at boarding school. It’s very possible that you don’t know a lot of what went on back then.”
“And from what I’m hearing, she even lived here for a while.”
“Here? In this house?”
Ellie nodded. “I was always under the impression that she just visited here sometimes, but now I’m hearing differently.”
“You said that people remember her. You can probably ask around and find out.”
“And if I were Ellis Chapman, I’d have reason to do that. As Ellie Ryder, though …” Ellie shrugged.
“Good point.” Carly bit her lip. “There must be someone you can trust.”
“I trust my attorney, but he didn’t grow up here, either, so he wouldn’t know. His secretary, who has to be in her eighties if she’s a day, knew Lilly and knew my mom. I’ve thought about asking her. I think she knows who I really am.”
“Well, then, ask her what she remembers.”
“And there’s Grace Sinclair. She owns the little newspaper in town.” Ellie got up, opened her bag, and pulled out the issue of theSt. Dennis Gazettethat she’d picked up earlier. “I can always call her, I guess. Her number’s in here.”
“I’d ask.” Carly nodded vigorously. “I’d definitely ask. El, you can’t be living in this house where your mother once lived andnot know.”
“I know. I keep thinking about it.”
“Too bad you can’t ask your father.”
“As if he would know.” Ellie made a face. The last thing she wanted was contact with her father. “He always acted as if this place didn’t exist. To hear him tell it, St. Dennis was just someplace that my mom passed through before she became famous and only stopped in now and then on her way to someplace else. I had no idea that she’d spent anything other than an occasional vacation here.”
Her voice dropped, remembering. “My father only wanted to go to places that he thought were important, places where the beautiful people went. St. Dennis wasn’t important, in his book, and the beautiful people never came here, so we never did, either.”
“You never came here with her?”
Ellie shook her head. “My dad always planned our vacations. My mom never had anything to say about it. Besides, she was always off someplace working. She almost never went with us. Usually she met up with us wherever we were going.”
“But she continued to come back here?”
“That’s the thing, I’m not really sure when. She talked about St. Dennis and about her aunt Lilly—her mother’s aunt, actually—and from what Cameron told me, she did come to visit when Lilly was still alive. But you’re right about me not knowing what my parents did while we were away at school. It never occurred to me to ask what they did while I was gone.”
“So she still had strong ties here, at least as long as her great-aunt was still alive.”
“I think she must have.”
“She was famous, people would have noticed.” Carly leaned forward, her elbows on her knees, her chin resting on her fists. “Maybe while you’re here, you can find the answers to all those questions I know you have.”
“I’m going to try.”
“Nothing like a good mystery,” Carly said. “I bet with a few well-directed questions to the right people, you can find out everything you need to know.”
“I haven’t had much time to think about it, to tell you the truth. I wasn’t kidding when I said I’ve been working my butt off here. I can’t even begin to tell you how tired I am at night. I hit that pillow, and I’m gone.”
“Totally worth it.” Carly looked around the room from the fireplace to the built-in bookcase that lined one entire wall. “I’ll bet your mom came here every chance she had. It’s a very comfortable house. I can see you snuggled up here with a glass of wine or a cup of something hot, a soft cozy throw, reading a good book, a fire blazing in the fireplace. Dune next to you on the sofa.” She smiled. “Don’t you have the feeling that others have done exactly that? Lilly, maybe even your mother. It seems like a happy house, for all it’s been vacant all these years. It feels like a house that’s been loved.”
“From everything I’ve been hearing, everyone loved Lilly and her husband. Even the neighborhood kids liked them.”
“As evidenced by the fact that people who knew them were watching over the house for many years after they were gone.”
Ellie nodded. “You know, it’s hard to explain, butI’ve felt at home since the first night. Maybe the fact that my mother lived here and spent time here over the years and came back when she was sick has something to do with it, I don’t know. But I think my mother must have loved this house. Otherwise, she would have sold it after Lilly died and she wouldn’t have arranged for its care and maintenance all these years. She wouldn’t have wanted to save it for me.”
“I think you’re right. And I think that sooner or later, you’ll find the answers to all the questions you have about her time here.” Carly stood. “Now, think of someplace you’d like to go to have dinner while you take me for a stroll around your property. I want to get some pictures while it’s still light.…”Chapter 10
“LOLA’Sreally is a lovely restaurant. The decor is charming and the food was delicious.” Ellie folded her napkin and placed it next to her now-empty coffee cup. “I’ve only been to one other restaurant in town since I arrived but I stopped going when I realized I was eating far too many take-out burgers.”
“You’re living on the Chesapeake Bay and you’re eating burgers every day?” Carly made atsk-tsksound. “With all the seafood they have on the menu here?”
“What can I say?” Ellie shrugged. “I was going for cheap.”
“Well, cheap was not on the menu tonight, since we’re celebrating your new home and dinner’s on my dad and mom,” Carly said. “They send their love and wanted you to know how much they miss you.”
“I love and miss them, too. I’ll never forget how kind they’ve been to me.”
Carly dismissed the comment with a wave of her hand. “You know they think of you as a second daughter. After all, we’ve been friends for a million years.”
“I’ll never stop being grateful for that, too, Car. You’ve been the best friend that anyone has ever had.”
“You’d do the same, and there’s not going to be any more discussion on that subject.” Carly finished the last of her wine.
“So let’s talk about you, then. How’s everything in your world? How’re things with Todd?”
Carly gave the thumbs-down sign. “Kaput.”
“It’s hard to explain.” She paused. “Oh, the obvious is easy to explain. I’m pretty sure he has a girlfriend in Toronto. He’s spending more time there than anywhere else.”
“Seems pretty straightforward. So where’s the hard-to-explain part?”
“Oh, that’s the part where for some reason, I don’t think I really care. My first reaction was more akin to relief than shock.”
“Then maybe the universe did you a favor by removing him from your life. That way, you don’t have to go through any sort of hassle to break up with him.”
“Exactly what I thought.” Carly nodded. “You’d think that after having been together for two years, it would have been shocking, devastating even. But no. I only felt relieved. It made me realize that I hadn’t been paying much attention to the relationship lately, if the breakup was that painless. In retrospect, I can’t blame him for finding someone else. If I were in his place, I might do the same thing.”
Ellie shook her head. “You’d do the breakup thing first. You wouldn’t cheat.”
“True enough. Anyway, that’s done.” Carly signaled the waiter for their check and handed him a credit card. “What? You want to say something. I know you do.”
“I never liked him,” Ellie whispered sheepishly.
“I know.” Carly sighed. “Neither did my parents, but they never mentioned it, either, until we broke up.”
“Don’t be. Water over the dam and all that.” Carly smiled. “Just promise me that next time you don’t like someone I’m dating—if there ever is a next time—you tell me straight out.”
“I promise.” Ellie crossed her heart with her index finger. “But you need to do the same.”
“I’ve always pretty much liked everyone you dated. Though there was that guy freshman year who was such a colossal jerk.”
“The sax player?”
Carly shook her head. “The football player.”
Ellie made a face. “After a while, I didn’t like him much, either.”
“Explains why it didn’t last very long.” Carly sighed. “You know, it’s been years since we were both single at the same time. It could be fun.”
“True enough. At least it could be if we were in the same place all the time.” Ellie nodded. “However, if I were to guess, I’d say I’ll be single for a lot longer than you will be.”
“How do you figure?”
“You’re going to be globe hopping and meeting all sorts of fabulous guys who will sweep you off your feet. I’ll be here in St. Dennis, scraping wallpaper anddripping Corsica White on my head as I attempt to paint the ceilings.”
“You’ll probably have more fun. Besides, must be some single men around. Watermen. Oyster fishermen. Boatbuilders. Manly types.”
Ellie thought about that flannel stretched across Cameron’s shoulders. “Contractor.”
Carly raised an eyebrow. “You mentioned a contractor earlier.”
“Cameron. He’s pretty hot.”
“He asked me out, so I guess he is.”
“When?” Carly signed the slip the waiter brought. “Ready?” she asked Ellie.
The two women stopped at the coatroom to pick up their wraps, then headed out into the evening air and to the parking lot.
Carly unlocked the doors, and once they were both inside the Porsche, turned to Ellie and said, “So finish. When did this guy ask you out?”
“This morning.” Ellie settled back into her seat and fought the urge to hold on as Carly peeled away from the curb.
“And I’m just hearing about this now because …?”
“It didn’t come up before now.” Ellie shrugged. “We’ve been talking about other things.”
“So when are you going out with the hottie with the hammer?”
“I’m not. First of all, the date was for tonight, which was out of the question for obvious reasons. And secondly, I don’t think I should go out with anyone while I’m here.”
“Because when you go out with someone, you talk. And the talk always turns to ‘So, where are you from? Where’d you go to school?’ and those questions beget other questions. Sooner or later, it comes down to lying or telling the truth, and I don’t want to do either to someone I like.”
“So you like this guy.”
“I mean, in a general sense, sure. What’s not to like? He’s good-looking and responsible—did I mention he’s been taking care of my house and property for years just because he liked Lynley’s great-aunt Lilly? Carly, turn at the next street.”
“But …” Carly put on her turn signal.
“But when you like people, you want to be honest with them and I can’t be. I don’t want to make friends that I have to lie to all the time. Especially since he knew my mother. I can’t even tell him that.”
“I understand. But you know, you’re going to get pretty darned lonely if you stay here long enough.”
“So I guess the solution is to not stay any longer than I have to. Which, as you know, is six months.”
“Six months can seem like an eternity when you’re alone.”
“I don’t have a choice about that.”
“Have you given any thought to where you’ll go from here?” Carly pulled into Ellie’s driveway and cut the engine.
“Not really.” Ellie released her seat belt. “Carly, this car is just amazing. I wish you tons of luck with it.” She opened the car door and got out.
“Thanks. She is a sleek little beast, isn’t she?” Carly emerged from the driver’s side, locked the car, andpatted the hood. “You can always stay with me, you know. I’d love the company when I’m home, and when I’m off on a trip, you’ll have the place to yourself.”
“Thanks, but sooner or later, I have to get a job.”
“Any idea what you might want to do?”
Ellie shook her head. “I have no options. I spent years doing a great job in PR, but that ship has sailed. The only company I ever worked for belonged to my father, so I have no references.”
“You have me. I could be your reference.”
“I never worked for you.”
“I could say you did. I know the quality of your work, I watched you for years. Besides, you were the one who gave me the ideas for several of our most productive marketing plans.”
“Still, I didn’t have a hand in implementing them and I wouldn’t ask you to lie.”
“You’re not asking me. I’m volunteering. If your future is on the line, I’d have no problem saying that you worked for Summit Galleries International. And please, no protests. You’d do the same for me.” Carly paused in the driveway. “Actually, I could hire you to do PR for the galleries.”
Ellie shook her head. “That would bring me right back into the world I left.”
“True. But think about it. We could set you up in a different city. Boston, maybe. You’ve always liked Boston.”
“Thanks, Carly, but I don’t know if I want to get back into that game again.”
“It’s up to you. Now let’s take a walk on your beach. There’s still some light left.”
“Give me a minute to get Dune. She should be ready for her walk right about now.”
Ellie disappeared into the house and emerged moments later, Dune on the end of a shiny red leather leash.
“I was afraid to walk her off the property without a leash and collar, so I picked these up at the grocery this morning. Honestly, the pet food options are just staggering. It took me twenty minutes to figure out what to buy, but she seems to like the organic chicken and rice.”
“I like organic chicken and rice, too,” Carly noted.
“Probably not the same stuff she eats.”
They walked the short distance to the dune and stopped to take off their shoes.
“Watch out for the grasses,” Ellie told her. “They’re trying to preserve the native plants along the Bay. I read about it on the town’s website.”
“I like your little beach.” Carly stood with her hands on her hips and gazed out across the Bay to the western shore, where the sun had all but disappeared.
“It’s not exactly the Riviera.”
“True. But it’s nice. Different, but nice.”
“The sand is really coarse along here, but you’re right. It’s a nice little beach.” Ellie sat on her rock. “I come here most mornings and drink my coffee and think about things.”
“What things?” Carly made Ellie scootch over so that they could share the rock.
“Well, lately, I’ve been thinking mostly about ripping up the kitchen floor.” Ellie smiled. “And pirates.”
“Pirates?” When Ellie nodded, Carly grinned. “I’ve always had a thing for pirates, ever sincePeter Pan.”
Ellie pointed out toward the Bay. “Back in the 1800s, pirates used to come up the Bay, drop anchor out there in the middle, then row ashore in small boats and terrorize the residents. They burned down a house that once stood on my property.”
“Any chance they buried some of their loot in your backyard?”
“Sadly, no. Apparently they just came into town to bully the populace until they were run back out to their ship by the locals.”
“Too bad. Pirate booty would come in handy right about now.”
They sat and watched the small waves unfurl quietly onto the sand.
Finally, Carly said, “You know, all things considered, you ended up in a really good place, a place that feels right. You have a great house that’s loaded with character. I know you feel connected to your mother’s spirit here, and that’s a good thing. I think you’ve needed that for a long time.”
“I have. I always adored my mother, but over the past few years I’ve come to realize how little I really knew her. Partly because she was always off someplace else, partly because when I was younger and so full of myself, it never occurred to me that I didn’t know her the way I should have. Being here does make me feel closer to her.”
“That’s a good thing, El.” Carly went on, “And when you’re ready to put the house on the market, I think you’re going to be surprised by how muchyou’ll get for it. The location couldn’t be more perfect.”
“I’ll do really well when the time comes,” Ellie agreed. “Assuming I can do the work that it needs to pass inspection.”
“You will. And you know, it’s good that you’re having time away from everything and everyone from the past, time to cleanse your palate, so to speak.”
“There’s no question that I need to put all of that behind me. This last year has been hellacious.”
“Do you hear from Henry?” Carly asked.
Ellie shook her head. “I hope I never do.”
“I think he cared about you, El. I really do.”
“He cared about me to the extent that he could gain access to my father. He cared about being ‘the son Clifford Chapman never had,’ as the newspapers called him. He didn’t so much care about me.” Ellie drew a circle in the sand with the toe of her shoe. “He never even apologized. He never said he was sorry for his part in the whole scam. It didn’t seem to register with him that he’d played a huge part in ruining a lot of lives. Mine was only one of them.”
Carly rubbed Ellie’s shoulder. “Well, he’s behind you now. Your life is far from ruined. And hey, there’s your contractor.…”
“He’s not my contractor,” Ellie protested.
“We’ll see.” Carly stood and pulled on Ellie’s hand. “Let’s go back to your house and make coffee and look through some of the books on those shelves in the living room. I’m dying to see what’s there.”
“Ice cream first.” Ellie tugged on Dune’s lead, and the dog trotted obediently, a piece of driftwood in her mouth. “I stopped at One Scoop or Two this afternoon.That’s the local ice-cream place where everything is handmade in small batches right there in the shop.”
“What flavor did you get?”
“Maple walnut surprise.”
“What’s the surprise?” Carly caught up with her.
“I guess we’ll find out.”
Ellie came into the living room with a tray that held two bowls of ice cream, two spoons, a pile of napkins, and a bowl of pretzels, Dune dancing behind her with joyful anticipation.
“I found out what the surprise is,” Ellie was saying. “It’s cranberries. I cheated and took a taste. It’s amazing.”
Carly stood with her back to the door, staring at one of the paintings on the wall. “Ellie, this painting …” she said without turning around.
“What about it?” Ellie placed the tray on the coffee table. Dune patiently stared down the bowl of pretzels.
“It’s signed Carolina Ellis.”
“I know. There’s a bunch of her stuff hanging throughout the house.”
Carly turned slowly. “There aremore?”
“A half dozen or so.”
“Ellie, do you know who Carolina Ellis is? Was?”
Ellie shrugged. “No. But it sounds as if you do.”
“You could say that. Carolina Ellis’s work was ‘discovered’ by the art world about twenty years ago, but she’s since been recognized as one of the more important women artists of the very early twentiethcentury. HerLife Along the Chesapeakehangs in the Met.”
Ellie tilted her head. “So, her work’s valuable?”
“The last painting to come up to auction sold for a bundle.”
Ellie frowned. “I wonder how Lilly came to own them.”
Ellie pointed to the opposite wall. “There’s another right there.”
“Holy crap.” Carly all but sprinted across the room and studied the painting for several minutes before asking, “Ellie, notice anything different between the two paintings?”
Ellie walked to the other side of the room and stood in front of the painting. “This one is darker than the other. In that one,” she pointed back to the first painting, “the colors are much lighter, the feel of the painting is lighter.”
“I’ve only seen one Carolina Ellis painting where the colors and the subject matter are this dark,” Carly told her. “The few that have come to auction over the past few years have all been painted during her lighter period.”
“The ones in the dining room and the ones upstairs are even darker.”
Carly put a hand over her heart as she crossed the foyer to the dining room. “I cannot believe this. I doubt anyone in the art world has any idea that these exist.”
Ellie joined her across the hall.
“Pinch me,” Carly said. “This is by far the largest example of her works that I’ve ever seen.”
“It is larger than the others,” Ellie conceded. “I take it that’s good.”
“Very good, as in very rare. This storm scene …” Carly shook her head. “The way the waves are swirling just like the sky … it’s beautiful. Just beautiful.” She turned to Ellie.
“You realize that one of these beauties could pay for the repairs and the renovations on this house.”
“Yes and no.” Ellie leaned on the back of one of the dining room chairs.
“What do you mean?” Carly frowned. “You inherited the house and the contents, right?”
“Well, first I’d need to see Lilly’s will to see if she bequeathed them to my mother. And there’s that pesky clause in Mom’s will that stipulates that nothing can be sold until I’ve lived here for six months. It hasn’t even been a month yet.”
“Maybe you can use them for collateral.”
“Assuming they belong to me. Can you appraise them?”
Carly nodded. “Of course. But I’ll want to have them cleaned and removed from their frames and run some tests on them first.”
“Don’t let me stand in your way.”
“I don’t have anything with me to work with. I’d have to take them back to my gallery.”
“So bring your tools and work here.”
“I might have to do that.” Carly stared at the painting on the wall, a smile on her face. “On second thought, I should take them to my house. I wouldn’t want word of this find to get out. I think I want to keep them under wraps, then, when they’ve all been cleaned and catalogued, we’ll do a fabulous exhibit.”
“Why the smile?”
“Oh, was I smiling?” Carly laughed. “I’m just imagining the stir these paintings will create when I announce that Summit Galleries has located a cache of hitherto unknown Carolina Ellis paintings.” She turned to Ellie. “You will let me display them all, right?”
“Of course. If they’re mine.”
The two women stared at the storm that was rising chaotically on the canvas in swirls of oils, shadows that went from dark to darker still.
“Ellie, it couldn’t be a coincidence that your first name and her last name is the same.”
“I was just thinking that same thing. It would be really cool to find out that I was named for a famous artist.”
“She wasn’t famous when you were named. She hadn’t been ‘discovered’ yet. And there’s still so little known about her.” Carly sighed. “This is blowing me away. I come to visit my best friend and look what I find.”
“You drove hours to visit an exiled friend,” Ellie draped an arm over Carly’s shoulder, “so it’s only right that you are rewarded in some way.”
“I want to see the others.”
“They can wait five minutes. Right now, our ice cream is melting, and trust me, you’re going to love every delicious bite.”
Carly looked torn.
“The ice cream is melting now. On the other hand, the paintings have been here for a very long time and most likely will still be here in ten more minutes.”
“You said the surprise was dried cranberries?” Carly raised an eyebrow.
Ellie nodded and pointed toward the door. “Just in time for the holidays.”
They each grabbed a bowl of softening ice cream and a spoon, and sat on either end of the sofa.
“Dune, give it up,” Ellie told the dog. “Those pretzels are salty and I don’t think salt is very good for dogs.”
Dune, who’d been eye-level with the bowl of pretzles, sunk to the floor with a soft groan.
“You know, if Carolina Ellis was an ancestor of yours, it explains why your mom’s great-aunt had so many of her paintings. They were probably kept in the family. Carolina’s work has become well known—what there is of it that’s hit the market—though as I said, not much is known about her.”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you there,” Ellie told her. “I don’t know anything about her either.”
“Oh, my. This is decadent. Oh, and there are shards of dark chocolate in there, too. Yum.”
“How did I miss chocolate?” Ellie frowned and dug for a dark shaving in her bowl.
“So how do you suppose Lilly would have been related to Carolina?”
Ellie thought for a moment. “Lilly was my great-grandfather’s sister. My grandmother’s aunt. So she would have been Carolina’s daughter.” She frowned. “Lilly’s maiden name was Ryder, so her mother’s last name would have been Ryder, too. Why wouldn’t she have signed her paintings,Carolina Ellis Ryder?”
“I’ll bet Grace Sinclair would know. She knows everything about everyone in St. Dennis.”
“Can you call her?”
“I don’t have her number but I’m pretty sure she lives at the inn that her family owns. It should be easy enough to get a number for it.”
It was. A quick search on her phone brought up an app for the Inn at Sinclair’s Point. She called the number and in minutes had been connected to Grace’s line. After a few preliminary niceties, Ellie cut to the chase.
“Grace, I’ve found some paintings in my house that were all done by the same artist, Carolina Ellis, and I’m curious about her. Would you happen to know …?”
“Of course, dear.” Grace cut her off. “Carolina Ellis was Lilly’s mother.”
Ellie gave a thumbs-up to Carly. “But I wonder why she didn’t sign them ‘Carolina Ellis Ryder.’ ”
“Oh, her husband wouldn’t have stood for that. He wasn’t at all pleased to learn belatedly that he’d married a serious artist,” Grace said. “For a time, he’d actually forbidden her to paint. Said she spent too much time locked away with her paints, that it was unhealthy. But it’s more likely that he was jealous of the time she devoted to her work. Less time devoted to him, you see. The story I heard was that she became so depressed, that he finally relented and allowed her to work again, but only if she never signed his family name to any of her paintings, and she wasn’t permitted to sell them.”
“So if she wanted to sign her paintings, she had to sign only her maiden name?”
“That’s the way I heard it from my grandmother.”
“Sounds as if he … her husband … had some real control issues.”
“Not particularly uncommon in the early part of the twentieth century. A woman’s place was in the home, you know. That meant taking care of the house and the children and the husband. Any other pursuits were not encouraged.” Grace laughed. “Thank God that’s all changed.”
“Interesting. Thank you, Grace. I appreciate the information.”
“I’m glad I could help,” Grace said before she hung up.
Ellie put her phone back into her pocket. “Carolina’s husband didn’t like the amount of time she spent on her work and forbade her to paint. She became depressed, he gave in, let her work again but she couldn’t sign her paintings with her married name and she wasn’t allowed to sell any of them.” Ellie paused. “That last part seems strange.…”
“Not when you consider the time. No husband of means wanted his wife’s hands to be sullied by currency, for heaven’s sake. That washisplace.”
“I guess, but it still seems silly.”
“It’s outrageous to us, but that was the way it was. If your wife worked, it meant that you couldn’t afford to support your family.”
“I feel very badly for Carolina—I mean, all this creative talent and to not be able to find an outlet for it must have been hell. No wonder she became depressed.”
“On the other hand, if she’d been able to sell her paintings,” Carly pointed at the paintings on thewalls, “these wouldn’t be hanging here now for you to sell.”
“An excellent point,” Ellie agreed.
“So barring any other bequests on Lilly’s part, the paintings could all belong to you outright through your mother.” Carly appeared thoughtful. “Any idea how you could get a copy of Lilly’s will?”
“The same law firm drew up Lilly’s and Mom’s wills, so I should be able to get a copy on Monday.”
“Great. Maybe you could give them a call first thing and ask.”
Carly sighed again.
“What?” Ellie asked.
“Every gallery owner dreams of finding some great work that no one’s seen before. Some work that, up until that time, had been unknown. And here there’s a whole collection of work that I doubt anyone even knows exists. It’s such a thrill for me … I don’t have words.”
“Don’t get too excited. Maybe no one will care.”
Carly laughed. “The art world will care. What a coup for Summit Galleries, to be able to display such treasures.” A dark cloud crossed her face. “Is there a security system in place here?”
“My mom had one installed but it hasn’t been updated in terms of the technology. It was pretty basic to begin with and hasn’t been on because it kept blowing fuses. But the locals keep an eye on the place, so the house has been surprisingly secure given how long it’s been vacant.”
“Now might be a good time to beef up the amps inthis place and have the security system updated. If someone breaks in and steals them …”
“Seriously, I doubt anyone knows they’re even here, Carly.” Ellie brushed her off. “People around here just think of this place as Lilly Cavanaugh’s old house, and the people in town who knew her have taken great pains to protect it.”
“You lucked out there.”
“I know. It was a bit of a shock to find some silver pieces in the sideboard and a few others here and there. And the duck decoys are worth something as well, from what I understand. No break-ins, no thefts.”
“Like I said, you’ve been very lucky, but I’m still not comfortable with all this incredible artwork at risk.” Carly finished the last of the ice cream in her bowl and plunked the spoon down inside it with aclunk. “Finish those last few bites or I’m taking off for the second floor without you.”
Ellie laughed. “You go on ahead. I’ll take these things back into the kitchen so that Dune doesn’t help herself to something she shouldn’t have, then I’ll join you.”
“How will I know where to look?” Carly paused in the doorway.
“Think of it as a scavenger hunt.”
Carly had already hit the top of the stairs. “Oh, my God. One, two, three … right here on the landing. I didn’t even notice them before. Oh, my God, Ellie …”
“Guess she found something she liked,” Ellie said to Dune. “Come on, girl. I’ll give you one of those little liver treats you like for being such a good girl.Then we have to find some smelling salts and take them up to Aunt Carly, because when she sees what’s hanging over the bed in that back bedroom, she’s going to—”
“Oh. My. God. Ellie …!”Chapter 11
“YOUmake the best pancakes ever.” Ellie leaned an elbow on the kitchen table and watched Carly at the stove.
“It’s true.” Carly flashed a grin over her shoulder. “I love to cook. I’ve missed it these past few weeks while I’ve been traveling. I was so happy to see the blueberries in your refrigerator this morning.”
“No accident there. I have to admit I had high hopes for those berries this morning.”
“They’re not bad for out of season.” Carly popped one into her mouth before pouring a measured amount of batter into the hot frying pan. “And I love using this old cast-iron pan to make them in.” She paused for a moment. “Remember when your parents’ cook taught us how to make these in sixth grade?”
“I remember she taught you how to make them. It all went right over my head. I wasn’t much interested in cooking back then.”
“Now I wish I’d paid more attention because a cook did not come with this house. Though a lot ofwhat my parents’ cook taught me is slowly coming back.”
“Cooking is easy,” Carly told her. “All you have to do is read and follow the directions.”
“I’m learning. I can now honestly say I know how to make something other than reservations.”
“You can make dinner tonight.”
“I’d planned on it. I found a recipe for chicken that uses red Thai curry paste and chickpeas that looks interesting.”
“Have you made it before?”
Ellie shook her head.
“You know you’re not supposed to try out a new dish on company, right?”
“Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“Left it in London.”
“And since when have you been company?”
Carly lifted out the first of the pancakes and stacked them on a plate. “What time do we have to get to this … what is it?”
“First Families Day.” Ellie twisted around so she could see the clock on the stove, which she’d found to be forty-three minutes slow. “Everyone said we need to be there by eleven if we want to hear the speeches and see the reenactment of whatever it is they’re doing this year.”
“No one said what they’re doing?”
Ellie shrugged. “I guess we’ll see when we get there.”
“And who’s ‘everyone’ who said to be early?”
“Just some people I met from town.” The coffeepot finished percolating and Ellie rose to fill their mugs.
“Cameron the contractor?”
“So maybe I’ll get to see this guy?” Carly wiggled her eyebrows.
“Maybe.” Ellie shrugged as if the prospect of running into him hadn’t occurred to her. “He mentioned that he’d be there.”
“Well, then. I suppose I should speed up this production.” Carly flipped a pancake onto the waiting plate. “I’d hate to miss an opportunity to meet him.”
“We’re going to take Dune with us.” Ellie changed the subject. “Maybe her owner will be there.”
“And if he or she isn’t?”
“Then we’ll bring her back and wait to hear from the police. I keep meaning to call the vet here in town to see if he recognizes the description of the dog, or if he’s gotten a call from anyone reporting her missing, but I keep forgetting.” Ellie watched the dog, which at that moment was standing on her hind legs and sniffing the air. “She’s thinking I should have bought bacon to go with those pancakes.”
“She’s right. But who needs the calories and the fat? I’d rather save up for more ice cream from that shop where you got last night’s entry for best ice cream ever.” Carly sighed and put several more pancakes on the plate. “It was certainly the best I ever had.”
“I’ve had the apple cinnamon raisin and it was phenomenal.”
“Perhaps we’ll have to stop there after the festivities.”
“An excellent idea. The weather forecast has promised us an unseasonably warm day.”
“Great.” Carly put the last pancake on the plate and brought it to the table along with the maple syrup that Ellie had heated.
Ellie poured more coffee and the two women sat and ate for a moment in silence.
“Delicious,” Ellie finally said.
“If I do say so myself,” Carly agreed. “You know, I’m almost tempted to stay here and spend the day going from painting to painting and just staring. I’m black-and-blue from pinching myself.”
“Maybe when we get back, we should look in the attic and see if there’s—”
Carly stood up and looked as if she were ready to bolt from the kitchen.
“Down, girl. I don’t know that there are any more in the house.”
“Can we go look now?”
Ellie glanced at the clock. “We need to leave here before eleven. How ’bout if we save the attic for later?”
“It’s always good to have something to look forward to, don’t you think?” Ellie grinned and helped herself to another pancake.
“The suspense may kill me.”
“Do you think there are any paintings up there?”
“I saw some landscapes and a couple of portraits when I was up there last week, but I didn’t check the signatures.”
“Carolina Ellis didn’t paint portraits,” Carly said, “and she isn’t known for landscapes, just seascapes and beachy paintings.”
“The ones that are up there are probably nothing, then.”
“We should still check,” Carly told her.
“And we will. Later. Right now we’re going to get dressed and go to the First Families Day whoop-de-do.” Ellie drained her coffee mug. “I doubt it’ll last more than an hour. It’s a small town. How long could it take for a couple of speeches, and I doubt there’s much to reenact.”
Cam rechecked the contents of his gym bag before closing it. The last thing he wanted to do today was to get into town and find he was missing some vital part of his costume for today’s reenactment. He tucked his hat under his arm and headed into the kitchen, where he washed down half a bowl of soggy cold cereal with the remaining mouthful of coffee in his mug. He’d been looking forward to this day since the idea for this year’s reenactment was first proposed by Clay Madison, and he didn’t want to be late.
He left his breakfast dishes in the sink and headed out to his pickup, his gym bag in one hand and his hat in the other. It had been a long time since he’d had a chance to play dress-up games with his friends. Last year he’d been laid up with a broken foot—dropped a table saw and didn’t get out of the way quickly enough—and he’d missed out on the reenactment of the War of 1812. The other guys got to shell the harbor with a fake cannon that was mounted on the bow of Hal Garrity’s cruiser. He’d had to watch from the dock while his buddies got to send those blastsof smoke out over the Bay. This year, he planned on being right in the middle of the action. They’d gotten the okay to use the cannon again, so that was cool. Any day a guy got to blow things up—even for pretend—was bound to be a good day.
He drove into town with a smile on his face, thinking about the role he’d be playing. Heh. Good times for sure.
Even the weather was cooperating. It was another sunny and warm November day, a day when a sweater was more appropriate than a jacket.
He drove along Charles Street, Clapton’s latest blues CD blaring and the windows down to coax in the sea air. He was tapping his fingers to the beat on the steering wheel when the two cars up ahead stopped while a very sexy silver Porsche attempted to parallel-park in what appeared to be the last spot on the street.
Sweet wheels. Very sweet. He watched as the driver struggled to fit the car into the minuscule spot. The passenger finally got out and tried to direct the driver. It took Cam only a second to recognize the woman on the sidewalk giving directions. Traffic being backed up, he sat back and just enjoyed the view.
Ellie Ryder was one good-looking woman. She was wearing dark jeans and a gray pullover, the same big round dark glasses she wore the first time he saw her, and her hair was in a ponytail that had been pulled through the back of a red baseball cap.
Traffic started moving once the sports car was tucked into the parking spot. Cam tried but couldn’t see inside the Porsche as he drove past. Must be the “friend” she had visiting for the weekend. He wonderedwho the lucky guy was who had not only the car Cam lusted after but the girl who’d caught his eye. Probably someone she knew before she moved here. Maybe someone from the city who wore a suit all day and rode a desk. He felt his mouth melt into a frown.
Jealousy wasn’t an emotion he recognized, and even if it was, he’d never admit to envying a guy over a car. The girl, on the other hand—that was something else.
He kept driving, and allowed himself one glance in the rearview mirror but was too far away at that point to see Ellie or her friend.
He had a moment or two to decide whether this friend of Ellie’s was going to result in a change of his plans.
Nah. He’d go with the script, and her friend was just going to have to live with it.
The entrance to Old St. Mary’s Church Road was blocked off with orange caution cones, so Cam slowed and rolled down his window.
“I’m one of the reenactors,” he called to Susan Alcott, the police officer who was directing traffic away from the street.
“So I heard,” she called back, and motioned for one of the men on the side of the street to remove the cones so that Cam could pass by. “Have fun.”
“I’m planning on it.” Cam waved a salute to her and to the officer who’d moved the cones and proceeded to the parking lot behind the library, where he left the pickup. The bells in the tower at the Episcopal church down the street chimed eleven. He had plentyof time to stroll through the crowd and see who was where. It would make everything easier later on.
There was a microphone in a stand on the front steps of the library, and to the left, a patch of lawn set off by rope tied from one sawhorse to another to form a square.
At one of the front corners, Clay Madison stood talking with Grace, his future mother-in-law, and Wade MacGregor.
“Are you the masterminds who constructed this?” Cam pointed to the square. “It looks like something you’d herd cattle into.”
“Hey, if you think you can do better, you can be our guest.” Wade crossed his arms over his chest.
“Yeah, I didn’t see you here early this morning trying to figure out how to make this thing work,” Clay said. “It’s as historically correct as we could make it.”
“It just looks dumb.” Cam shrugged his shoulders.
“Not much to argue about there,” Clay agreed. “But it’s for charity, so let’s just ignore how crappy the thing looks.”
The three men walked through the gathering crowd and made their way across the square to the far corner where Jesse Enright’s law office stood.
“You got your stuff?” Wade asked.
Cam held up his duffel bag. “Where’s yours?”
“Dropped it off early.” Wade pointed to Jesse’s office. “You might as well hang on to yours now since we’ll be going in to change soon enough.”
“We’ve got time.” Cam scanned the group gathered on Enright’s lawn.
“Looking for anyone in particular?” Clay asked.
“Maybe,” Cam replied.
“They’re all over there by the oak. Stef, Brooke, Lucy …” Wade pointed to a large tree that had yet to shed all its leaves. “Steffie wanted to be in the shade during the speeches in case they lasted too long so she wouldn’t get too hot standing in the sun.”
“Steffie just didn’t want to be so close to the speakers that she couldn’t gossip with her friends. I’m betting she couldn’t care less about hearing the First Families Day speeches again.” Clay added, “Let’s face it, we’ve all heard the same thing a hundred times.”
“Which is why the reenactments are important,” Cam told them as they joined the women under the tree. “It’s the only good part of the day.”
“You guys are all just grown-up little boys.” Brooke turned at their approach.
“You’re right.” Her brother nodded. “And boys just want to have fun.”
Steffie rolled her eyes. “Just don’t make such a fuss that you scare Poppy. Vanessa just took her inside to change her but she’ll be back before the festivities start.” Her eyes narrowed. “You make that baby cry and you will all answer to me.”
“I’m shaking,” Clay deadpanned. He turned to Cam. “You?”
“Leave me out of this. I’m married to her.” He gestured with his head in Steffie’s direction. “We’ll have to be quiet when we … well, you guys know what I mean, right?”
“Right.” Clay nodded.
Cam continued to scan the crowd, searching for the red baseball cap. Finally, he saw her moving along thesidewalk, the dog at the end of its leash. There were others walking his way and it was difficult to know for certain who she was with but she seemed to be talking to a short woman whose long blond hair was twisted up on top of her head in a tight knot.
Ellie looked up as they came closer to the tree, a smile of recognition lighting her face.
“Hey, Cam. Hi, Steffie. Brooke. Everyone.” She walked toward them, stopping once while Dune sniffed at a spot on the ground.
“Glad you made it, Ellie.”
“Oh, cute dog.”
Cameron looked around for the suit.
“This is Carly, my friend,” Ellie was saying. “She’s visiting for a few days.”
Cam’s first thought was,Great. No guy. His second was,That’s a lot of car for a small woman.
He knew better than to voice either.
“That’s the dog you found?” Steffie asked Ellie, who nodded in reply. “Did you call my brother? The vet?”
“It kept slipping my mind,” Ellie said. “But I thought I’d walk her around today and see if anyone recognized her.”
“We’ll show her to Grant and see if he knows who she belongs to,” Steffie told her. “She looks adorable and very well behaved.”
There was a lot of chatter as Vanessa and Grady Shields, her husband, joined the group with the stroller and the appropriate fuss was made over the baby at the same time others were welcoming Carly to St. Dennis and Ellie to her first First Families Day.Cam had no real opportunity for conversation with Ellie, but it was okay. He’d have a little one-on-one time with her later.
Grace Sinclair was testing the microphone, and moments later, introduced the mayor, Christina Pratt, who gave the welcoming address and began her annual First Families Day speech.
“This is the same speech she gave last year,” Vanessa said out of the corner of her mouth. “I remember the line about ‘and right where we stand now, the townspeople gathered to protest.…’ ”
“It was the same the year before, too,” Steffie added.
“Hey, there’s only so many ways you can describe how the settlers made their way up the Bay, fighting off mosquitoes and the elements and the natives,” Lucy noted.
“I think she just said what you said, about the settlers making their way up the Bay.…” Vanessa whispered.
Wade tapped Cam on the shoulder, and the two men, along with Clay, slipped quietly from the group and made their way into Jesse’s building, where they, along with several other reenactors, changed into their costumes.
“So how is this going to work, exactly?” Jesse joined them in the conference room, already dressed for his part. “How are we going to know when to go out onto the square?”
Cam pulled his sweatshirt over his head and reached for his duffel bag.
“When the mayor gets to the part in her speech where she says, ‘And the town was terrorized forthree days while the pirates held the women of St. Dennis hostage,’ Grant is going to call out to Hal Garrity on his boat, and he’s going to shoot off three rounds on the cannon. That’s our signal to invade the town.”
“Got it.” Jesse grinned. “I guess we can figure out who your hostage is going to be.”
“Anything for charity,” Cam replied.
Wade put his hat over his wig and straightened his beard. “I think I heard the cannon.”
Jesse opened the front door. “Yep. That was the second blast. You guys ready?”
“Yo-ho-ho.” Cam headed for the door and the motley band of pirates spilled out onto the lawn.
Those in the crowd who knew what to expect faked frightened cries and there was even a feigned faint or two.
“Good one, Barbara,” Cam complimented the bookshop owner on her graceful collapse to the ground.
“Thanks.” She opened one eye as he passed. “I’ve been practicing all week.”
Cam headed toward the oak. There his unsuspecting target stood, dog’s leash in hand, looking around the crowd and laughing as first one woman then another was swept up and carried across the lawn to the library.
She never saw him coming.
Ellie’s shriek was real when Cam scooped her up.
“Hand off the dog to your friend,” he told her as he tossed her over his shoulder.
“What? What are you—”
“Here, Ellie, I’ll take Dune.” Laughing, Carly reached out and grabbed the leash.
“What are you doing?” Ellie was struggling.
“Getting ready to ransom you off.” Cam hoisted her a little higher. “And could you work with me here and quit wiggling around so much? You’re making this harder than it needs to be. I’d hate to drop you on your head.”
“Cameron?” She went still and looked back over her shoulder.
“You were expecting Blackbeard?” He carried her to the library, lifted her over the ropes, and set her down with the other women who’d been carted off across the square and left inside the makeshift enclosure. If his hands rested on her arms a few seconds longer than necessary, it was only because they’d never been that close before, and he was reluctant to let her go.
“Now what happens?”
“First of all, you’re supposed to be terrified. You’ve just been carried off by a bloodthirsty pirate. Could you please have enough respect for us swashbucklers to try to look a little afraid?”God, but she smelled good.
“It’s tough to take you seriously when your beard is crooked like that.” Her eyes were smiling and she held his gaze. He could neither look away nor step away.
“It is?” He reached up to feel where it had shifted.
Ellie laughed and reached over the rope, straightened the beard so that it covered his face equally on both sides. “There. Now you look quite fearsome.”
“Thank you,” he said with as much dignity as he could muster under the circumstances. The spell broken, he let her go.
The last woman was deposited unceremoniously over the rope, and the pirates faded into the crowd.
Mayor Pratt returned to the microphone and took the stand again.
“Today, we recall those souls who came before us, those staunch men and women who braved not only the elements and the natives, but the pirates who invaded yearly to steal their women and ransom them back to their families. Those hardy folks who first made St. Dennis their homes in the wilderness …”
Her voice droned on for several more minutes before she ended with the announcement that the bidding would begin in ten minutes.
“Bidding?” Cam heard Ellie say as he turned to sprint back across the street to change back into his “civilian” clothes. “Bidding?”
Hal had already auctioned off two of the hostages by the time Cam and the others returned to the square. Fortunately, neither of them had been Ellie. Steffie was the first of their group to be led to the steps, and the bidding was lively between her father; her husband, Wade; and her brother, Grant. When Wade finally emerged successful, he thanked his in-laws for driving up the price.
“I’m worth every damn cent and you know it,” Steffie called back from the steps, and the crowd burst into laughter.
Brooke went next. Since no one bid against her fiancé, Jesse, Hal banged the gavel at what Brooke declared was an insultingly low amount and she refused to leave the steps until Jesse bid against himself until she was satisfied.
Ransom was paid for several other of the hostagesbefore Ellie was led to the steps. Hal was just about to start the bidding when he heard a woman’s voice from behind call out, “I’ll bid a thousand dollars.”
Cam turned and saw Carly approaching, Ellie’s dog trotting by her side.
“We have one thousand dollars.” Hal looked across the crowd. “A very respectable opening bid. Anyone else?”
“I’ll go eleven hundred.” Cam raised his hand.
“Fifteen hundred.” Carly immediately countered his bid.
“Cam? Back to you?” Hal asked.
“It’s for charity, right?” Carly asked as she stepped closer to Cam.
“Well, yeah, but, you see …” Cam sighed. How to explain …
“Oh, wait. You wanted to be the one to spring her.” Carly looked slightly abashed. “I’m sorry, it didn’t occur to me.…”
“It’s okay.” Cam turned back to Hal and raised the bid.
“Miss? You still in?” Hal asked.
Carly shook her head.
“The ransom will be paid by Cameron O’Connor,” Hal announced. He turned to Ellie. “You’re free to go.”
“Thanks.” Ellie smiled and made her way to where Cameron and Carly stood. “That was fun.”
“Probably more fun for you than Cameron”—Carly spoke before Cam could—“who is now out a considerable chunk of change, thanks to me driving up the price.”
“It’s okay,” he told them both. “It’s for a good cause.”
“What’s the charity?” Ellie asked.
“The women and children’s shelter out on the highway gets one half of the money and the library gets the other,” he told them.
“Looks like they raised quite a bit today,” Ellie noted.
Cam nodded. “Yeah, we did pretty well.”
“So what happens next?” Carly asked.
“Well, right about now we usually go into Jesse’s office, where there are snacks—sandwiches and drinks and some of Brooke’s cupcakes,” he replied.
“Yum.” Ellie turned to Carly. “I’ve had Brooke’s cupcakes. Fabulous.”
“Great. Let’s go.” Carly took a few steps then stopped. “Which way?”
Cam pointed to the red brick building on the corner.
“And are you sure it’s all right to bring extra people?”
“Positive,” Cam said. “I think everyone’s expecting you to stop in since we were all together earlier.”
“Actually, Brooke did mention it. But what about the dog?” Ellie looked pensive.
“She’ll be fine. And I know that Grant’s going to be there, so you can ask him if she looks familiar to him.” He added, “And you’ll get to meet Dallas MacGregor. Grant’s wife.”
“I’d love to meet Dallas MacGregor. She’s my favorite actress ever.” Carly’s eyes widened and she turned to Ellie. “Ellie.Dallas MacGregor.”
“Lead the way.” Ellie tugged on the dog’s leash and followed Cam across the lawn.
The conference room and kitchen at Enright & Enright, Attorneys-at-Law, were both packed, and Cam did his best not only to keep track of Ellie and Carly, but to make sure they were both introduced to as many people as possible. After Dune was stepped on twice, Ellie picked her up and carried her, which made it easy for her to show the dog to Grant Wyler.
“I figure she got away from someone here in town,” Ellie explained. “Someone’s taken good care of her, and she’s been well trained. I thought perhaps you’d recognize her as one of your patients.”
“I recognize the scamp all right,” he replied, “but not as a patient. She was on a transport from a shelter in South Carolina last week, and when they stopped here to exercise the dogs, this little monkey broke free and ran off. We looked for her for almost an hour before the van had to leave again.”
“What does that mean, exactly?” Ellie asked cautiously. “A transport from a shelter …”
“There are a lot of dogs and cats that are surrendered to shelters for whatever reason. There are some shelters—like the one I run here in St. Dennis—that will keep the animals until homes can be found for them, no matter how long that might take. There are others that are known as ‘high-kill’ shelters, which are just what they sound like. Seems to be a lot more of them in the southern states than there are up here. There are rescue groups, like Middle Mutts, for example, that transport animals from down south to the shelters up north, like mine, where, as I said, wemake every effort to find good homes for them. That’s what was happening when this little gal slipped away.” Grant stroked Dune’s back and the dog wagged her tail appreciatively. “Looks like you found a nice home after all, girl.”
“Oh. Well, no, I hadn’t planned on keeping her.” Ellie frowned. “I just thought I’d take care of her until we found her owner.”
“I think she did find her owner,” Carly said.
“I wasn’t planning on having a dog.” Ellie looked unsure.
“But you don’t really want to give her up, do you?” Cam had listened to the exchange.
“Not really. Still …”
“Why don’t you keep her until you decide what you want to do? If you find you really don’t want her, you can bring her into my shelter and we’ll keep her there until the next transport arrives. In the meantime, call my clinic tomorrow and make an appointment to bring her in this week so that we can check her out, make sure she’s healthy.”
“I’ll do that. Thanks.”
“Have you met my wife?” Grant asked as a beautiful woman with pale blond hair made her way through the crowded room. “Dallas, this is Ellie. She’s just bought a home in St. Dennis. And this is her friend … I didn’t catch your name.…”
To Cam’s eye, both Ellie and Carly looked starstruck. Well, who could blame them? Dallas was an A-list movie star, someone you don’t meet every day.
“Nice to meet you both.” Dallas turned to Ellie. “Isaw your ransom was paid earlier, and quite handsomely, too.” She poked Cam in the side.
He nodded and repeated what was beginning to sound like his mantra. “Anything for charity.”
The crowd began to thin and it was clear that Ellie was getting tired of holding Dune, so Cam walked outside with her and Carly.
“Where are all those people going?” Ellie indicated a steady stream of pedestrians ambling across the square.
“The Historical Society is open, and there’s a walking tour of St. Dennis,” he told them.
“Want to?” Ellie asked Carly.
“Sure.” Her friend nodded.
“I guess you’ve seen it all before.” Ellie turned to Cam.
“About a hundred times. But I wouldn’t mind another stroll through town.”
“Great.” Ellie looped her arm through Cam’s on one side and Carly did the same on the other. “Let’s do it.…”
It turned out to be a long day. Cam hadn’t thought about doing all the First Families Day events, but he couldn’t bring himself to give up a chance to spend the afternoon with Ellie, even if they were accompanied by her friend and her dog. They watched footraces at the park and toured the side streets, stopped at Scoop for ice cream, and sat at a small table outside and watched gulls circle over the Bay in large graceful swirls of wings. Cam had extra tickets for the dinner that night, and talked the two women into joining him. Ellie had to take the dog back home andCarly wanted to get her car, which she’d left parked on Charles Street all afternoon, but they agreed to meet him at six at the Grange Hall.
Cam had time for a quick shower and change of clothing before hopping into his pickup and heading for the Grange. Dinner was the same every year—baked ham, sweet potatoes, green beans, salad, and pumpkin pie—but everyone in town went and it was always noisy fun. The local ladies cooked and served and the guys cleaned up. It was the type of community dinner that could be found in just about any small town in any state in the country. But the routine never grew old, and Cam wouldn’t have missed it.
First Families Day was one of those annual events—like Christmas or Thanksgiving—that he looked forward to. It was part of his past, something that had remained the same for as long as he could remember, even when other things in his life changed so totally and so quickly—and so violently. Some years had been better than others—the years he’d gone with his family were a blur, though he had memories of his mother making a scene once. He’d been too young to understand what she was fussing at his father about, but he remembered how people at their table had looked away with embarrassment when she’d removed the flask from her bag and offered to pass it around. Then there were other years—better years—when he and his sister went with his aunt after she came to live with them. Most of those years, they’d sat at the table with Lilly and Ted Cavanaugh, and everyone in town knew that the O’Connor kids were going to be okay.
Tonight would be different because Ellie was there.He wanted to get to know her better, wanted to assure himself that those things about her that hadn’t been sitting right with him were all in his mind.
It had taken less than ten minutes for his suspicions to be reinforced.
He’d sat between Ellie and Carly at dinner, and at one point, when Ellie had been engaged in conversation with Clay on her left, Cam turned to Carly and asked, “So how long have you and Ellie been friends?”
“Forever.” Carly smiled. “We went all through school together.”
“Where did you go?” he’d asked, and her face had frozen.
“What?” she’d asked.
“You said you and Ellie went to school together. I asked where.”
She hesitated for a moment, and he’d said, “Was that a tough question?”
“Oh. No. Of course not.” She forced the smile back onto her face. “We went to Rushton-Graves in Massachusetts.”
“You grew up together, then?”
“You could say that.” Carly turned her attention back to her dinner, the smile still tightly fixed to her face.
“What do you do, by the way?” he’d asked.
“I manage an art gallery.” Carly had become visibly uncomfortable.
“It is.” She took a sip of her ice water.
And that was that, as far as Miss Carly Summit was concerned. She barely said two words for the rest ofthe night, and her “So nice to have met you” as she and Ellie left was more than a little on the cool side.
Cam wasn’t sure what was going on, but he was more convinced than ever that something about Ellie wasn’t adding up. It might take awhile, but one way or another, he was going to figure it out.Chapter 12
“THATwas fun,” Ellie said as she unlocked her front door. “I didn’t expect it to be so much fun. A little on the hokey side, but fun.”
“Of course you had fun. You got carried off by a hot pirate,” Carly reminded her. “Shiver me timbers.”
“You know, that whole thing was so silly, it’s hard to believe that an adult thought it up.” Ellie unfastened Dune’s leash and followed the dog to the kitchen. “Grown men dressing up like pirates, women being carted off like sacks of rice …”
Ellie nodded. “Best time I’ve had in a couple of years.”
“Silliness—laughter—can have that effect on the best of us.” Carly stood in the kitchen doorway while Ellie filled Dune’s water dish from the faucet. “Not to mention the effect of the aforementioned cute pirate.”
“Heispretty cute,” Ellie agreed.
“El, I might have said something to him that could backfire.” Carly looked uncomfortable.
“What are you talking about?”
“Cameron. He asked me how long we’d knowneach other and I said forever, that we went to school together.”
“So? All true.”
“The bad part came when he asked me where we went to school, and I didn’t know what you’d told him.”
“And I probably waited a little too long to answer him. I think he might have wondered why I couldn’t just answer such a simple question without having to think about it.” Carly looked uncharacteristically sheepish. “Actually, I know he did.”
“You told him Rushton-Graves?” Ellie leaned back against the counter.
Carly nodded. “Of course. But if he looks it up, he’ll know there’s money in your background, El.”
Ellie shrugged. “There are always ways to get around that. I can say a grandparent or a wealthy uncle paid my tuition.”
“I didn’t mean to complicate things for you. I’m really sorry.”
“You didn’t complicate anything.”
“Positive,” Ellie assured her even while the thought niggled that Cameron was probably too smart to have overlooked Carly’s hesitation.
“Good.” Carly straightened her back. “Let’s go up to the attic and look at paintings.”
“You have a one-track mind when it comes to that stuff.”
“Damn right. That’s why I am so good at what I do.” Carly started toward the steps. “That’s why in the world of art, Summit is a very highly respectedname. Soon to be the talk of that very same art world when I announce the discovery of all of those lovely Carolina Ellis paintings.”
Ellie caught up with her friend at the top of the steps, and opened the door to the attic. Carly needed no invitation to climb the stairs.
The attic was dimly lit, the contents covered with a thick layer of dust.
“I haven’t spent much time up here, as you can see,” Ellie said. “There’s been so much to do on the first two floors. I thought I’d save this to go through with one of the antique dealers in town. There’s a lot of furniture and trunks filled with who knows what.”
Carly had already pulled the drape off a group of paintings that were stacked against one wall. Ellie knelt down and began to study them, one by one. Every once in a while, she heard a quiet gasp, as if Carly’s breath had caught in her throat. Ellie busied herself looking through a trunk that she found to be loaded with hats. She took them out, one by one, and tried them on.
“Carly, tear yourself away for a moment and check out this hat.” Ellie plopped a wide-brimmed dove-gray felt number adorned with a trio of peacock feathers onto her head. She turned to show it off and realized that Carly was crying.
“Car? What’s wrong, honey?”
“This …” Carly pointed toward a painting she’d separated from the others and placed against the window wall.
“What’s wrong with it?” Ellie leaned closer to get a better look at the portrait of a very young woman.
“Remember I said Carolina Ellis never painted portraits?” Carly sniffed.
“I was wrong.” Carly turned to Ellie, her face wet with tears. “She painted this one. It’s her daughter.”
“Lilly?” Ellie’s eyes widened. “Why do you think that’s Lilly?”
Carly turned the painting around. A piece of vellum glued to the back of the canvas read,Lilly at sixteen.
“Oh, but she was pretty, wasn’t she.” Ellie knelt down in front of the painting. “Look how pretty she was.”
She looked back at Carly. “But I don’t understand why it’s making you cry.”
“Carolina Ellis is a woman whose works are just getting the recognition they deserve. Her landscapes are exquisite, but nothing she’s done comes close to this. It’s beautiful in every way.” Carly smiled. “You can tell she loved her daughter very much. And it’s something totally unexpected. I have never felt so overwhelmed in my life. It’s what Howard Carter must have felt when he looked into Tutankhamun’s tomb that first time.”
“So this is a real find, is what you’re saying.”
“My head is spinning.” Carly leaned against a nearby trunk. “And, Ellie, that’s not all. Lilly apparently inherited her mother’s talent. There are some lovely paintings here with her signature.”
“I want to see.” Ellie stood up and started toward the stack.
“There’s something else you should see.” Carly walked to the paintings and went through them one by one, searching for something. Her hand stoppedon a large painted frame. “You might want to sit down for this one.”
“Did you know your mother painted?”
“I know she dabbled in watercolors sometimes.” Ellie nodded. “But I don’t remember that she was ever very serious about it.”
“If she wasn’t, she should have been.” Carly lifted the painting and turned it around for Ellie to see.
A very young golden-haired child sat in the midst of a garden, tall white daisies and some low-growing pink flowers surrounding her.
“That looks like …” Ellie came closer, her eyes narrowed.
“Itisme.” Ellie momentarily struggled for words. “I’ve seen that dress before. I found it in a box with some other baby clothes that my mother must have saved. But how do you know for certain that she was the artist?”
“She signed it here, in the corner.” Carly pointed out the name in black print.
“Lynley Rose,” Ellie murmured. “Not Lynley Sebastian or Lynley Chapman. Just her first and middle names.” She smiled. “Years ago, a cosmetic company marketed a nail polish and lipstick called Lynley Rose. There was a big marketing campaign, magazine ads, billboards. I was only about five or six then, but I remember.”
She stared at the painting a moment longer. “I must have been two or three when she painted this.” She looked up at Carly. “I wonder why she didn’t sign her full name.”
“Maybe she was hoping to exhibit it someday and wanted to be judged by her talent alone, not her celebrity name,” Carly suggested.
“Ellie, didn’t you say that you’d never been here before?” Carly asked after studying the painting for another moment.
“As far as I know, I hadn’t been.” Ellie lifted the painting and brought it into better light. “But that’s the carriage house here in the background. And right over here is the corner of the back porch.” Ellie looked up. “She could have painted it from memory.”
“Maybe she brought you here and you just don’t remember.”
Ellie shook her head. “I don’t think my dad would have let her.”
“Maybe she did it when he was away on business. He used to travel a lot, as I remember,” Carly reminded her.
“That would explain a few things,” Ellie conceded. “Like why some of the wallpapers look vaguely familiar. Funny how she must have loved it here so much, and yet he could never understand the attraction it held for her.”
“Oh, yes. I do now, anyway. Back then, when I was younger, it was all glitz and glamour with my dad.” Ellie dusted the glass over the child’s face with her fingers. “Everywhere we went with him, it was like New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July and Christmas all at the same time. He always made St. Dennis sound like the last place in the world anyone would want to come to.”
“Your father was wrong about a lot of things.”
“So true.” Ellie held the painting. “Let’s take these downstairs and wash off the glass so we can see them better.”
“We’ll take them down but we’ll just dust with a dry cloth. I’d hate for any moisture to find its way under the glass and spoil a masterpiece.”
“I don’t think my mom’s dabbling would qualify as a masterpiece.”
“We’ll see what we see once we’re downstairs in better light.” Carly grabbed the portrait of Lilly and headed for the steps.
It took several trips, but soon all of the paintings from the attic had been brought into the living room. After they’d been propped up against the bookcases and dusted, Carly sat on the sofa and just stared at their findings.
Carly looked up when Ellie came into the room, carrying two mugs of tea.
“I made chamomile,” Ellie told her. “It’s supposed to soothe and relax.”
“It’s going to take more than tea to relax me tonight.” Carly wrapped her hands around the mug Ellie offered her. “This has been the most incredible weekend of my life.”
Ellie laughed. “I really doubt that.”
“It’s hard to explain what a find like this means to someone like me.” Carly took a sip of tea. “I’ve worked very hard to make Summit Galleries a respected name in the art world, and yet there are so many people who still consider me a lightweight because my parents funded the start-up. I always feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of the art world.”
“Your parents haven’t supported you or the gallery for years.”
“Absolutely true. But no one knows that. I can’t very well shout from the rooftops that yes, family money started me off but yay! Now I’m self-supporting.” Carly made a face. “It sounds like the lady protesteth too much.” She took another sip of tea. “But these paintings … this find …” She shook her head from side to side. “Maybe now people will take me a little more seriously.”
“You certainly deserve it,” Ellie agreed. “I’m so happy to have a small part in that.”
“A small part?” Carly laughed. “You own these paintings. At least, we’re assuming you do. For you to entrust them to me is huge.”
“There’s no one else I’d consider entrusting them to.”
“Thank you, sweetie. I promise to get as much for each of them as I can. When this is over, you’ll have enough money to start up a new business or go and do whatever you want.”
“That would be nice. I still don’t know where I’ll go or what I’ll do, but it’s nice to know I’ll have some options I hadn’t planned on.”
Carly returned her attention to the paintings while Ellie sat on the sofa, Dune curled up next to her, the dog’s head on her lap. For a few moments, the only sounds were the clock ticking on the mantel and the dog’s breathing.
“You used to paint, too,” Carly said. “I remember at school, you did some watercolors that were really pretty. I seem to recall the head of the art departmententered a couple of them in state and regional competitions.”
“I won a few of those.” Ellie smiled grimly. “The feds permitted me to keep the awards since I’d earned them before my father started robbing unsuspecting folks of their life savings.”
Several other minutes passed in silence before Carly said, “I have an idea.”
“Should I be frightened?”
Carly smiled. “I think you should write a book about these women. Your great-great-grandmother. Your great-aunt. Your mother. We’ll self-publish it if we have to, but it could be incredible. We could have pages of photographs of the paintings and release the book right before we put the paintings on display.” She turned shining eyes to Ellie. “The publicity will be phenomenal. Three generations of artists in the same family, written by their one common descendant. You have to do it, El.” Carly paused. “We could include a few of your works, too.”
“Forget that. I don’t have any ‘works.’ Just a few old amateur paintings and I don’t even know where they are. Besides, I was never serious about it and I really wasn’t that good.”
“That can be debated.” Carly looked pensive. “Well, what about your grandmother? Lynley’s mother? Did she paint as well?”
“I have no idea.” Ellie shook her head. “She and my grandfather moved to California before I was born. They died out there in a boating accident. I don’t know anything about them, really. Since I came to St. Dennis, I did learn that they more or less handedmy mother over to Lilly when Mom was just a child, but I don’t even know much about that.”
“Maybe someone in town can shed some light on all that, too. But it doesn’t matter. If we market this all the right way, when we finally send the paintings to auction, you’re going make a fortune.”
“The book is a fabulous idea, Car, except for one thing.” Ellie momentarily stopped petting the dog and Dune pawed at her to resume. “I know nothing about Carolina, very little about Lilly, and apparently I didn’t know my mother as well as I thought I did.”
“There are still people here in St. Dennis who remember Lilly. You could interview them.” Carly’s enthusiasm for the idea was growing. “And I’ll bet you could learn a lot about your mother’s life here at the same time.”
“I don’t know what I’d say to people. How can I interview people here as Ellie Ryder and then have this book written by Ellis Chapman, surrounded by all the publicity you’re talking about. Everyone will know what a liar I am.” Ellie got up and began to pace. “Everyone will know what a fraud I am.”
“Well, I guess that’s a choice you’re going to have to make,” Carly said slowly. “On the one hand, you can maximize what you’ll make on the paintings through the book and the publicity, which will reveal who you really are, or you can skip the book and continue to protect your identity, and make half—a third—of what you could have gotten for the paintings.”
Ellie felt her stomach churn with anxiety.
“I guess the real question is, do the people here mean so much to you that you’d forfeit making a potentialkilling? I mean, all along you’ve been planning on leaving and not looking back anyway, right? So what’s the difference what they think of you?”
Ellie thought about the look in Cam’s eyes when he set her on her feet after he’d carried her across the library’s lawn, about the feel of his hands on her arms and the way her heart had skipped a beat or two when she realized he was drawn to her as much as she was drawn to him.
“I don’t know,” she told Carly. “I think a book with my name on it might bring back the scandal all over again.”
“Maybe. But you have time to think it over. In the meantime, let’s get some cloths and start cleaning up these beauties. And then let’s go back upstairs and see if we missed any the first time around.…”
Cameron turned on his back-porch lights, stepped outside, and inhaled deeply. In the warm months, the nearby marsh was sometimes unpleasantly odoriferous. Now, in November, he caught whiffs of the very last of the sweet autumn clematis and the scent of drying cattails, but no decaying fish or rotting vegetation, for which he was grateful.
All in all, Cam had liked living here. In the daylight hours, he could watch the osprey and the hawks hunt and the red-winged blackbirds flit across the wetland area. Now, at night, the marsh wrapped in deep shadow, there was sound but no sight. Some small creature, a rabbit, most likely, shrieked in the darkness as the deadly talons of an owl sank in and carried it off. The owls were nesting now. He’d heardtheir calls back and forth from tree to tree over the past week, mate seeking mate. One night he’d even seen a pair sitting on the branch of a tree outside his bedroom window, their bodies silhouetted against the moonlit sky.
The bungalow that sat a long stone’s throw from the edge of the marsh was the latest in Cam’s home improvement projects. He’d watched the market closely and picked up the place for a song when the children of the former owners decided the house would require more work than they wanted to take on. So far, Cam had replaced the roof, the front and back porches, and two bathrooms. He’d stripped and repainted all the rooms and was partly through the kitchen renovation. Once he finished replacing the cabinets, floor, and installed new appliances, he’d be ready to sell and move on to his next project.
He already had a place in mind. But that house wouldn’t be flipped. That house—the Cavanaughs’ house—was meant to be his, pure and simple.
Why Ellie wouldn’t just sell it to him right now and spare herself the time and the money she’d have to put into it—well, that just didn’t make any sense at all.
Cam wouldn’t mind helping her out, of course. Whatever he did in the house now would be less he’d have to do later, and he’d be paid in Ted Cavanaugh’s duck decoys to boot. How sweet a deal was that? Cam meant to earn every one of them. They should stay in St. Dennis—preferably in that house.
Besides, he figured if he had a hand in the renovations, things would be done to his satisfaction and done right. Nothing worse than having to rip outsomeone else’s shoddy work. He’d been down that road more times than he could count, and he wasn’t about to let some hack muck up his house. If Ellie were left to her own devices, God only knew who she would end up hiring to do all those jobs she couldn’t do herself.
Which brought him right back to the question of why would she bother when she had a buyer right under her nose, willing to negotiate a fair sale price today.
He would miss the big garage here, though. The Cavanaugh house did have the carriage house, but it, too, needed a lot of work. The garage here not only housed the tools he needed for his contracting work, but provided space for his sideline, making furniture—mostly tables—from reclaimed barn boards. The entire second floor of the oversize garage was filled with boards he got from Clay when one of the old barns on the Madison farm was razed. Clay had offered Cameron all of the salvage wood in exchange for Cam helping to dismantle the building and for aiding in the construction of a hop barn where Clay and Wade could cure the hops they were growing to make their beer. Of course, Cameron had jumped at the chance; prime aged barn board was becoming increasingly scarce. His latest project was almost finished: a trestle table for Brooke and Jesse that was intended as a wedding gift. It was especially apropos, he’d decided, the wood being from a barn on Brooke’s family farm, and he’d been working on it for several months whenever he had a few minutes to spare.
He turned his wrist to look at his watch. It was later than he realized and he had an early day tomorrow.He went back into the house and locked the door, the thought heavy on his mind that if things had worked out the way he’d wanted them to, he wouldn’t be home alone at this hour. He’d hoped to spend some time with Ellie this evening, but she and Carly had opted to leave the Grange right after dessert was served. But even if they’d stayed, well, three’s a crowd.
There was no way to deny that he was becoming more and more attracted to Ellie. He liked everything about her—the way she looked, the way she smiled, the way she laughed, the way she’d felt when he’d carried her in his arms. But he still couldn’t put his finger on what exactly it was about her that bothered him. Something about her just didn’t add up.
So which was stronger, he wondered: his attraction or his curiosity?
His laptop was on the kitchen table, and he pulled up Magellan Express, his search engine of choice, and typed inEllie Ryder. When nothing relevant came up, he entered firstEllenthenEleanor Ryder—assuming that Ellie was short for something else—and hit search, but the links to the women that appeared were clearly not Ellie.
He deleted Ellie’s name and typed inCarly Summit.
He studied the screen that appeared for a moment, then whistled. Carly Summit, age thirty-two, was the only child of Patrick Summit of Summit Industries, and was the sole owner and CEO of the very upscale Summit Galleries International.
Cam snorted. “That’s some little art gallery youmanage.” According to the magazine article he skimmed, Carly owned the New York gallery outright, alongwith smaller galleries in Boston, London, and Istanbul.
So how did Ellie—who is so broke she has to do all the painting in her house herself because she can’t afford to hire someone to do the work—become best friends with someone who was obviously among the superwealthy? It occurred to him that perhaps Ellie wasn’t as bad off financially as she pretended. For one thing, there was the matter of that Benz.…
But why pretend? Why insist on doing all the work on the house herself—the type of work she’s obviously never done before? Grunt work. Nothing fun about pulling up floors and scraping layers of wallpaper.
Yeah. Something’s wrong with this picture.
He cleared the screen and typed inRushton-Graves.
The link for the school’s website pulled up immediately. Cam clicked on it and waited for the site to load.
“Wow,” he muttered when the home page pulled up.
The campus of the Rushton-Graves School in Massachusetts’s Berkshire Mountains took up most of the town of Endicott, a small village that appeared to exist solely to support the school. Rushton-Graves’s buildings were of brick construction in the Federal style, the lawns spacious and meticulously clipped, the student body neat and shiny and ridiculously preppy in their appearance, and the tuition, room, and board astronomically high.
How could Ellie Ryder afford to attend such a place?
He scanned idly through the website, only half payingattention to the photos, until he came to a page that posted pictures from an alumni field hockey game from ten years ago. There in living color, smiling, her arms around her teammates on either side, stood Carly Summit. On her left was a dark-haired girl identified as Megan Granville. On her right, a platinum blonde: Ellis Chapman.
The hair was different—blond instead of chestnut brown, long past her shoulders instead of the shorter style she now wore, but the smile was unmistakable.Ellis Ryder Chapman, the caption read.
It was Ellie, all right.
Cam stared at the picture for a long moment, then returned to the search engine and typed inEllis Chapman. This time, the results went on for pages.
“Oh, jeez,” he said aloud. “ThatEllis Chapman.”
The Ellis Chapman whose father had been named Villain of the Year last year.
The Ellis Chapman whose mother was Lynley Sebastian.
THAT Ellis Chapman.
It was all starting to make sense.
He read one article after another, most of which described her father’s crimes in excruciating detail. There were photos of Ellie—the blond Ellie—walking into the courthouse during her father’s trial accompanied by a dapper older man in a well-tailored suit who was identified as her personal attorney. Photos of her during the press conference in which the district attorney announced that Clifford Chapman had changed his plea to guilty in order to avoid a trial. Photos of her ducking into a limo, her eyes behind thedark glasses he now recognized. Photos of her and Carly in the hallway outside the courtroom where her father was sentenced. Photos of her dodging questions about her former fiancé.
Photos of the former fiancé himself. God but he looked like a tool. Cam wondered how a man—any man—could trade a chance for a lifetime with a woman like Ellie for something as fleeting as wealth.
All in all, Cam learned more about Ellie—Ellis—in that one hour than he had since the day he met her. The bottom line was that her father was the worst kind of crook and her ex-fiancé was the world’s biggest fool—and Ellie as much their victim as the thousands of people they’d defrauded.
He scrolled back to a photo that was taken of her seated in the courtroom at her father’s arraignment. Her face was a study in confusion and pain. It was clear even to Cameron that she’d been totally blindsided by his arrest. He pulled up pages of articles and the accompanying photographs to form a time line of the past year of her life, and found it telling that the only people in the photos with her were either her attorney, or Carly. No other family. No other friends.