Shadows Over Paradise [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Anne K. Edwards
eBook Category: Suspense/Thriller/Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: Shadows Over Paradise is the story of complicated characters intent on achieving their own ends, some heedless of the cost to others. Action and tension blended with a brooding house set on a volcanic island with soaring cliffs and few modern amenities, along with turbulent emotions offer a perfect catalyst for the storm that is about to break over the Mantuan Islands.
eBook Publisher: Twilight Times Books, Published: 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: July 2010
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1 Reader Ratings:
"Shadows Over Paradise is full of action, suspense and colorful descriptions of the characters and surroundings. The story is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. It's a roller coaster ride, as Julia fights for survival against some of the meanest villains I've read about in a long time. Some of the scenes can only be described as "white knuckle time." My hat is off to Anne K. Edwards for her vivid portrayal of a heroine in peril who manages to beat the odds and not only survive, but find love as well." -- Carol A. Guy, author of Spirit Lake and Night of the Canid
It never failed. Plan something and someone would try throwing a monkey wrench in the works. Like now.
Julia stared at Captain Martinez. "What do you mean, telling me that I shouldn't have come?" The audacity.
"I said, Miss Graye," the old sailor answered, "this is no time for visitors. There's trouble on Tiboo." He waved a hand in what was, she supposed, the general direction of her destination. "You might find the trip isn't worth it."
Unbelievable. He was supposed to deliver her to Tiboo and, instead, was trying to talk her into going home without seeing Suzanne. He certainly had a lot of nerve.
"What kind of trouble?" She spoke loudly to be heard over the babble of airport passengers and echoing announcements from hidden speakers.
"Political, Miss." His wide jaw tightened.
"How can the political situation in the Mantuan Islands have anything to do with Suzanne's wedding?" she demanded, impatiently shoving hair out of her eyes.
He put on his cap. "If you insist on staying, remember I warned you. Another time, I'd be the first to make you welcome."
"I won't be turned away without seeing her." His attitude was most irritating.
The captain ran a sun-darkened hand over his stubbled chin and shrugged.
He hailed a tall, scrawny porter who looked like he might break in two as he bent to pick up her bags. The man stacked them in his handcart with a flourish. Julia tagged along behind as he led them out through heavy glass doors into the muggy evening air. Taxis waited beneath a brightly lit mural of native Mantuans in the act of worshipping the island gods.
The porter set her luggage in the trunk of the nearest cab, an aged vehicle painted bright green. Motor idling loudly, it belched small clouds of blue smoke into the air. Peeling gold lettering on the doors spelled Moltani's Taxi. The interior smelled of mildew and dampness. Julia slid carefully onto the rear seat, hoping the grimy upholstery wouldn't soil her new blue suit. She sank into the rump-sprung seat with the sensation of being swallowed alive.
Captain Martinez tipped the porter, receiving a wolfish grin of thanks in return. Pulling the empty cart after him, the man disappeared into the crowd. The captain climbed in beside her and closed the door with an emphatic thud. With a roar and blue plume trailing, the taxi edged into a long line of bicycles and slow moving autos. In the background, the honking of horns beat out the rhythm of island traffic.
They rode in silence for several minutes until Julia could bear his obvious annoyance no longer. "Captain?"
"Yes?" He kept his gaze fixed on the passing scene, hands resting lightly on his knees.
"Could you tell me what's wrong?"
He shifted his weight and adjusted his cap, before looking at her. "Some of the locals don't want strangers on Tiboo." His deep-set brown eyes contained an expression she couldn't read.
The captain shook his head. "I've said enough, Miss. I didn't intend to alarm you. I thought it would be easier on the family if they didn't have to worry about a visitor right now."
Something in his demeanor made her wonder what lay behind his words. The suggestion that a wedding could involve local politics was a poor invention.
Julia had read about the growing movement in this Pacific Island paradise to attain statehood or their independence. Could that somehow be the problem? "I don't intend to get involved in anything other than Suzanne's wedding."
He nodded as if in understanding, returning his gaze to the window.
She sank into brooding. Why had Suzanne invited her to the wedding? Their infrequent letters had contained little on the progression of Suzanne's latest romance. Then, suddenly, came the news of her impending marriage. Julia accepted the invitation with enthusiasm. She eagerly looked forward to seeing her old friend and visiting the exotic Mantuan Islands she'd heard so much about.
She was certain many changes had occurred in Suzanne's life during the six years that had passed since their college days. Would they still be friends?
What she knew of Suzanne's family had been gleaned during their college days and from brief letters that contained little other than family news. Suzanne's father who Julia only knew by his last name--Allener--had died young. Her mother, now Margaret LaBoudrie, had remarried and moved them to the Mantuan Islands. The older sister, whose name Julia couldn't recall, died unexpectedly about three years ago. How full of sorrow that letter had been. There was a stepbrother, Beau, who'd given up his life at sea to run the family plantation when his father succumbed to cancer in the weeks before Suzanne's graduation. Julia remembered Lou, her friend's brother, on his visit to their school. In spite of his shyness, he'd worked up the courage to ask Julia out. She'd had to refuse because she had a steady.
Briefly, her thoughts touched on her old boyfriend. Steady? Charles? She tried to recall just why she'd been so attracted to him. His good looks had covered a flawed character--always taking the easy way out. He desired the good life and found it with Bitsy Warden, a pliant wife who provided luxury with her father's money. Poor girl didn't get a very good bargain.
Annoyed at herself for thinking of him, Julia closed her mind to those recollections. She had come to relax, not rehash a past she could do nothing about. Not that there weren't regrets.
Like Charles, her youthful hopes were just memories. The challenge of everyday life left little time to chase dreams. Her routine was dull and safe while she struggled to finish the one novel an agent would accept.
She gave herself a mental shake and thrust such thoughts back into the corner of her mind where they belonged. This was a vacation and she was determined to enjoy herself.
Her writer's eye turned to the passing traffic. Through her own reflection on the window, she watched as pedestrians and cyclists moved unhurriedly in the waning golden haze of sunset. How different Orinda was from her imaginings. As the capital of the Mantuan Islands, she'd thought it would bustle and hum like New York or San Francisco. Instead, the city had the introspective atmosphere of a small town that closed in on itself at night. If the capital was this quiet, how lonely the scattered plantations on the different islands must be. Apparently, the trouble on Tiboo hadn't spread to Marcora, the largest island of the Mantuas.
The cab discharged Julia and Captain Martinez on the waterfront where odors of oily brine, fish, and salt-seasoned wood perfumed the damp air. She wrinkled her nose in distaste at the stench of gasoline and diesel fuel coming from the dockside pumps. Stories and movies didn't portray the waterfront as it really was.
She peered closely at the boats tied to the dock as they danced slowly on their lines. One of them, a squat-bodied vessel, resembled a cross between the ocean-going tugs and converted fishing boats she'd seen on a trip to New York City harbor. Large old tires gently repelled the boat from the pilings as the watery slap-slap of the tide crept in. Scarred woodwork and peeling paint scarcely showed in the growing dark. Below deck, sturdy engines chugged softly, gurgling exhaust. In the gloom created by the dock lighting, Julia could see faded letters on the prow that read, The Flighty Maid.
The Maid shared the dock with several fishing boats and a charter boat that catered to tourists. An inter-island ferry was tying up for the night. Out in the deep water of the harbor, a brightly lit cruise ship was anchored. On shore, a few late tourists sought out straggling locals for authentic island flavor.
Near a pile of unmarked crates a greasy-haired, unshaven man in a torn shirt emerged from the shadows. He walked with a seaman's swagger, swinging his muscular torso and arms from side to side. This rolling gait gave him the appearance of being larger than he actually was.
Captain Martinez stiffened at Julia's side as the man approached. His small, close-set eyes raked her in bold appraisal as he gave her a broken-toothed grin of approval. She looked away with a grimace.
Removing a red-banded cigarette from his lips, he said, "I gotta have a word, Martinez." Thrusting hanging hair from his round face with dirty fingers, he peered down at the shorter man. "The boss wants you." He exhaled a cloud into the air, then took another draw.
The acrid smoke drifted into Julia's face. She sneezed.
"I don't want to see the boss, Long," the captain said quietly, his hand slipping into the sagging pocket of his black sea jacket. "You understand?"
Long tapped the rough leather knife sheath on his belt. "I get whatcha mean, but the boss ain't gonna like it none." His light blue eyes narrowed. "And that gun yer carryin' won't give you much pertection." He crushed the smoke under his worn boot.
"Make sure you tell your boss what I said," Captain Martinez growled, straightening his shoulders. "I carry the gun to use on vermin."
Long's coarse face hardened as he gave the old sailor a look of hatred. "One of these days we'll have a long chat about that." The words sounded like a threat.
Julia sidled behind the captain when the man cast another leer in her direction and strutted away. Captain Martinez waited until he vanished around the crates before starting for the ship with her close on his heels.
"Who was that awful man?" she asked in a low voice.
"Just someone who had something to say," he answered.
His curt manner stung, reminding her that she was an unwanted visitor.
The shadowy figure of another man lurked at the edge of the light beyond a pile of barrels. Tipping his dark cap to her, he departed behind Long.
At The Maid's berth, dockhands shifted cargo aboard. Julia trod carefully, her leather soles slippery on the aged wharf's wet surface. She envied Captain Martinez's surefootedness as he leaped aboard. He turned and stretched a hand toward her. "Easy now. Grab my hand."
Taking the gap between ship and pier in a jump, Julia landed clumsily at his side as the deck rose beneath her feet. She gripped his arm for support. The nearest dockside worker handed her luggage over the rail.
A tall sailor appeared from the hold as the laden cargo net swung out to hover above the open hatch. He quickly unloaded it, lowering boxes that looked heavy one at a time to unseen hands below. The captain watched for a moment, then said, "Beau'll stow your bags in the lounge. We'll be getting underway soon." He moved off to supervise the tying down of a large crate on deck.
Julia watched with interest as Beau emptied the net, slammed the hatch, and shoved the bolt home. Was he the stepbrother Suzanne had adored from afar during their college years?
He came forward wordlessly to pick up her baggage, disappearing with it through a narrow door on the port side marked "Lounge."
Rebuffed by the chilly reserve of her first contacts in Marcora, Julia felt very alone. Was her entire visit to be like this? She looked uncertainly at the dock as a second taxi stopped under the light. A black-haired woman in white got out and approached The Maid with obvious distaste. The cabbie followed to hand several bags and boxes aboard. He pushed them over the side at the captain who took them with poor grace.
"Andre?" The woman's throaty voice quavered slightly. She avoided Julia's curious gaze.
"Yes, Miss Isabelle." Captain Martinez set the parcels aside and extended a hand to her.
She came off the dock with a graceful movement, her white skirt flipping up to reveal long, shapely legs. Scanning the deck as if searching for someone, she spoke rapidly, before the captain could make introductions, "I'd like to go to the lounge. I've got a terrible headache." As she passed, Isabelle gave Julia a sly, malevolent glare.
Julia reacted instinctively to the hostility in those brown eyes. She turned away, head high, to show her contempt for such behavior. Why waste time trying to get acquainted?
Captain Martinez escorted Isabelle to the lounge with the courtesy due a queen, pausing to retrieve her bags and boxes. He reappeared in moments, muttering to himself, "That woman will drive us all crazy. Why I ever let myself get drawn into her schemes, I don't know."
He shook his head, growling orders to the dock hands to cast off the lines. Aggravation showed in the tautness of his prominent jaw as he spoke to Julia. "You should go in, Miss." He indicated the lounge. "The sea's rough and the spray'll ruin your nice clothes."
"I'd prefer to remain on deck," she told him. Being alone was better than sharing space with that snotty woman.
He nodded, touched his cap with a callused hand, and went up to the pilothouse.
The Maid was soon underway, engines murmuring farewell to Orinda. Once beyond the Marcora Harbor breakwater, the boat encountered wind-roughened seas. Spray coated the deck with a skin of greasy looking water. Clutching the dripping stern rail, Julia shivered as the wet penetrated her thin jacket. Her sightseeing guide had mentioned the rough currents around some of the islands, but she had never imagined this.
The lights of the city sank on the horizon. The Maid seemed pitifully small when measured against the waves. Julia desired nothing more than the feel of solid earth under her feet instead of pitching, wooden planking. Her stomach jerked in time to the movement of The Maid. The dark was all the more alarming because she could see nothing beyond the faint glow cast by the boat's running lights.
Julia's resolve to remain on deck weakened and died. Chilled by the wind, she was bested by nerves and weariness. With a death grip, she made her way hand over hand along the rail to climb the metal steps to the pilothouse where the captain stood behind the wheel.
"Captain, may I stay with you?" She tried to keep the tremor from her voice as she stepped uninvited through the doorway. His bluntness would be preferable to staying on deck or spending the trip confined with the woman he'd called Miss Isabelle.
His grunt was noncommittal as his eyes remained on the invisible horizon.
The motion of the boat caused the door to swing shut. "I'm sorry to be a bother," Julia apologized lamely, grabbing the rail in front of her as a surge staggered The Maid, "but I've never been on a boat at night."
"No matter," he said gruffly, drawing on his pipe as the engines resumed their even beat. "The current gets a bit rough at times."
"Please tell me about the islands." Anything to get her mind off those waves that could swallow the boat in one gulp.
The lines on his brow deepened thoughtfully. "When I sailed a small trader, we had a spiel for the tourists. That do?" He exhaled slowly and watched the smoke as it was pulled through the open window.
"Yes." She closed her eyes against another roll of her stomach.
"The Islands were discovered in the seventeen eighties by a trader out of India who got blowed off course. Didn't stay too long. Took on water and sailed away. Later, traders out of the Orient made contact with the natives, followed by whalers, explorers, and missionaries. Weren't many natives left after the visitors' diseases got spread around."
She wondered at the hint of anger as he spoke. Was he a native?
He continued, "They had a King Kaluma killed by a French pirate named Avenduc. He claimed the islands as his own and set up a government with himself as king."
"What happened to Avenduc?"
"Spanish came. Killed him. They was pirates too. Named the islands after some Spanish town, I think."
A wave passed under them. The Maid shuddered, seemed to hesitate, before plunging gamely on. Julia shut her eyes, waiting for her landlubber stomach to subside. She prayed they'd soon reach their destination.
Captain Martinez fell silent, his attention on The Maid broken only to relight his pipe. For several minutes he seemed oblivious to Julia's presence, his thoughts gone like the wind-grabbed smoke.
At last, unable to bear the sloshing of the waves any longer, she broke into his reverie. Returning to the subject of the islands, she hoped her interest sounded genuine. "When did the islands become a U.S. possession?"
"After World War Two. They're a tourist attraction these days. Lot of new hotels going up." His words were tinged with regret. "Time used to stand still in Mantua. Now we're being caught up in the rush to modernize. It is still a paradise, but that will disappear one day."
"How do the islanders make a living? Do they grow coconuts or pineapples?"
Her ignorance brought a wry smile to his lips. "We have pineapple and some sugar plantations. Many of us are fishermen or traders." He sucked on his pipe, then held it aloft, as if addressing it. "And there are the tourists. They're welcome but too many stay. They put pressure on the natives who sell their land without realizing they're betraying their children's heritage."
"When did the LaBoudries come to the islands?" She tried to think of other questions to keep him talking.
"Beau's grandfather came from France to take employment as manager of the Duchense plantation and married the owner's daughter." His eyes took on a faraway look as though remembering a time gone by.
Julia could see the captain didn't like the changes occurring in the islands. She understood, but that was the way of the world. Change. Sometimes it brought good and sometimes it didn't.
"Is Tiboo very big?" Suzanne's description of her island home came back in bits and pieces. Green mountains, few valleys, sparse population.
"Big enough." He gave the wheel a twist and suddenly she realized they had passed into much calmer water.
Julia breathed easier. She asked, "Is Ramon de Cordova from Mantua?" Suzanne's letter containing the invitation to share in the festivities had given no information about the groom.
Something like suspicion flickered across his face. "He comes from an old island family."
She sensed his skepticism. How, as a friend, could she not know about the man Suzanne intended to marry?
Captain Martinez withdrew into himself. The ensuing silence told her much. Judging by the rigid set of his jaw, he did not view the impending nuptials with favor any more than he approved of her visit.
"You don't think Suzanne should be getting married, do you?" His manner showed that he was uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken.
He raised a shoulder and let it fall, his darkened profile giving no clue to his private thoughts. His eyes were fixed on something she couldn't see outside the range of the boat's dim lights. She tried to follow his gaze and saw only the reflected glow of gauges, one of which blinked steadily like the beat of a heart.
Abruptly, the throb of the motors slowed as the distant light of a single beam reached toward the boat. The moon sank out of sight behind the dark shape of a tall, cone-shaped mountain as The Maid entered a harbor where glittering ripples performed a watery ballet of welcome.
Beau leaped onto the dock, his white shirt gleaming in the cloud-pocked light as the moon returned. He seized a line tossed by another sailor and made it fast. Julia watched his catlike quickness with admiration.
A pale wraith shrouded in blowing white, Isabelle glided on deck. Her black hair trailed in the wind as she swept imperiously by Julia, favoring her with a disdainful glance. To the captain, she said, "Andre, I'm ready to go ashore. You can send my things along."
He touched his cap with an automatic obeisance and removed the safety chain at the rail. Beau stepped up to help Isabelle over the side. He stepped onto the dock, then turned to lift her over.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, her rich voice taking on a caressing lilt as her feet found the dock. "It's good to be home."
"Yes, it is," Beau replied stiffly, letting his hands drop quickly from her waist.
Julia watched them with interest. He paid scant heed to Isabelle as she stood before him, peering up into his shadowed eyes. Isabelle drooped forlornly as he faced the boat again, then she slowly took the flight of steps to the ground where she paused to look back at him.
Eager to get ashore, Julia moved to the gap in the rail, her blue skirt rising in response to the wind. She jumped back in alarm as The Maid skittered coyly from the dock before settling back with a slighting gurgle. Reassured by the captain, she stepped forward again.
Beau caught her as Captain Martinez handed her off. As she looked into his dark eyes, she felt a little thrill surge through her tired body in answer to his masculinity. Immediately censuring herself for being like a silly schoolgirl, her 'thank you' was uncertain as he set her on the dock.
He nodded curtly. "You're welcome." His attention shifted immediately to The Maid.
Julia stared at him, nettled. What had Suzanne seen in such an abrupt man?
"Need any help aboard, Andre? Truck's ready to load." He had to raise his voice to be heard above the whine of the single winch.
The captain turned from supervising the offloading of a large, heavy crate. "You can take over after this box comes off. I'll drive Miss Graye to the house." He gestured seaward with his pipe. "Starting to build out there. Clouding up."
"Be a blow tonight," Beau agreed, hoisting a box to his shoulder. He carried it down the steps to the dinky parking lot and slid it onto the bed of a green truck.
She pushed windblown hair out of her face and glanced involuntarily to where Isabelle waited in a small gray car. The woman watched with narrowed eyes.
Further conversation among the men was restricted to occasional grunts that had meaning only to themselves as they shifted the cargo. After several trips up and down the steps, Beau took her luggage to the truck and deposited it with the boxes and crates.
She trailed behind, hanging onto the wooden handrail for support against the increasing wind. The bags landed in the battered bed with a thud. He turned to her. "Do you need some help?" He indicated the high step to the door.
Aware of Isabelle's eyes on them, Julia shook her head. She tried to pull herself up and nearly lost her grip on the clammy door handle. Reddening, she was about to make a second try when he put his hands around her waist and lifted her very neatly onto the seat. Face burning, she refused to look at him as he closed the door and walked away.
Captain Martinez got in beside her. "Ready to go, Miss?"
"Yes," she muttered through clenched teeth.
He looked at her with a puzzled expression, then inserted the key into the ignition. The motor grumbled to life as the gray car containing Isabelle and a man Julia couldn't see, pulled out ahead of them. The captain put the aged truck in motion and it rolled noisily out of the parking area onto the unpaved road.
Julia regretted her irritability, but it was unnerving to meet with constant rejection. "I'm sorry. I'm very tired."
"Figured as much."
She thought she heard a trace of sympathy in his voice.
Behind twin tracks of flickering yellow headlights, the truck bounced up the rutted road. She gripped the seat to keep her head from hitting the cab roof, gasping breathlessly, "Aren't the roads on Tiboo paved?"
"No. Not enough traffic."
Playfully, the gusting wind tugged at the truck. "Have you lived here long?"
"Yes." He pushed the gearshift forward, then back. The clutch grated as he released it.
They bounded over a few more soul-jarring bumps. The road banked to the right and the vertical grooves in the face of the mountain emerged on the driver's side. Julia shut her eyes to guard her jittery stomach from reacting to the drop into black nothingness that appeared without warning beside her. One little slip and... oblivion. Shuddering, she dug into the broken fabric of the seat cover seeking a tighter hold against the brutal bouncing.
Her nervousness drew the captain's attention. "Not much farther. The road's steep, but plenty wide. Two cars can pass if need be. Never been any accidents," he told her.
There's always a first time. If only it wasn't so dark. I hate riding in the mountains when there's no light.
The flickering of the headlights worsened as the vehicle lumbered up the steepening road. Suppose they failed. She deliberately turned her mind from such thoughts. "Does the family live at the top?" She peered up at the ragged outline of jungle blocking her view.
"No. Down a bit on the other side. This is the steep side of Mount Sestri. Other side's flatter. Sort of surprises you the first time you see it."
They rounded a bend and, lying in the broken moonlight before them, a gentle incline rose to vanish in the dark. Small squares of light shone faintly as the truck turned up a winding drive. Julia shivered as they passed into the shadow of overhanging trees at the gate. Seining the sea-dampened wind, their leafy tendrils reached for her and she felt a tingle of fear.
Julia looked eagerly toward the house through the spotty windshield. She expected something with the grace of a southern manor with tall white Corinthian columns, and had to hide her disappointment as the truck drew up before a huge pile of stones covered with vines.
The house loomed darkly against the encroaching storm, reminding her of the opening scene in a ghost story she'd seen recently on television. Twining flowers screened the porch that encircled the lower floor.
The place looks haunted.
Despite her first impressions, she felt quite important when three people came out to greet her. In stepping from her high seat, her foot came down hard on a small, pointed rock. A tall, angular man with light brown hair caught her as she automatically recoiled from the pain.
"Haven't gotten your land legs yet, eh, Julia?" He grinned crookedly, hazel eyes alight with pleasure.
"A stone..." She gathered her dignity, freeing herself from his arms with a smile. Her savior was Suzanne's brother, Lou. "I'm glad to finally be here," she said fervently, tugging her blue jacket into place.
"It's wonderful to see you." Suzanne hugged Julia. "I'm glad you could come for my wedding."
Julia received the display of affection in awkward surprise. Suzanne held her as though she might try to escape.
This was followed by an introduction to a handsome gray-haired woman in black. Julia couldn't help but notice the chilly reserve in Margaret LaBoudrie's green eyes. Except for those eyes and the fact that they were the same height, the resemblance between mother and daughter as slight.
Margaret took her hand with limp, cool fingers. "Welcome to Tiboo, Miss Graye. I hope you'll enjoy your stay." Her conventional greeting held little sincerity.
"Of course, she will, Mother. We'll see to it," Lou inserted into the conversation as he struggled by with her large bag.
Captain Martinez took his departure as the women followed Lou inside. He headed for the stairs with her bags. Julia compared his efforts to those of Beau. The cases were almost too heavy for Lou.
Suzanne pulled her into the foyer that opened onto a long, wide hall. Julia was shown into the first room on the right which proved to be a small parlor. Dark, polished tables burdened with small figurines and vases filled the corners. An overstuffed gray sofa and two flowered satin chairs set around a huge mahogany coffee table formed a pleasantly intimate grouping in the center of the room. Colorful cushions drew attention from the dimmer recesses. Out of the corner of her eye, Julia became aware of the painted curiosity of portraits hung high on pale walls.
Wearily sinking onto the sofa, she tugged her blue skirt into place over her bare knees. Mrs. LaBoudrie offered her a cup of coffee from a tray already set on a table beside her chair.
Julia smiled and accepted it with gratitude. The liquid's warmth spread outward comfortingly as she sipped.
Lou reappeared. Grinning, he sat beside her, as though eager to renew their acquaintance. "How was the flight?"
His mother handed him a cup of coffee. Julia noticed the woman's hand shook with this cup.
She answered Lou, "Rough and tedious. From Chicago to Mexico City, I sat with a girl who kept crying. It got very tiresome." She hid a yawn behind a hand, studying him. Lou's smile did have a certain boyish charm beneath the tracings of time on his forehead.
"You can relax now." Setting his cup aside, he leaned toward her, his eyes fixed on her face.
Blushing, she avoided meeting his gaze, finding his tendency to stare disconcerting. "A woman, Isabelle somebody, came with us. Do you know her?"
"Yes. Why?" Suzanne twisted a lock of chestnut hair between her fingers.
Julia couldn't help noticing how pale her friend was. "Nothing, really, but I found her very strange."
Glancing at her mother, Suzanne let her hand drop to her lap. "Don't worry about her. She goes to Orinda to see her doctor every week."
"She probably thinks you're going to chase after Beau," Lou put in, watching Julia intently. "She's very possessive of him and is paranoid about every pretty girl on Tiboo."
Julia shook her head in disbelief as she set her empty cup on the tray. "She sounds sick. I feel sorry for her."
"Isabelle does have problems." He made a face. "She thinks someone is trying to kill her."
She stared at Lou in astonishment. His expression was that of a cat watching a mouse. He seemed gladdened by the idea.
Before he could continue, Mrs. LaBoudrie mildly rebuked him, her words sandwiched between gasps, "Louis, you shouldn't speak ill of her. You know Isabelle is very sensitive." She picked up a piece of green crocheting. Her fingers trembled as she smoothed it on her knees. "Isabelle hasn't been sleeping well." Her eyes held a distinct warning to her children as she glanced at them.
Trying to hold back a yawn, Julia said, "The trip over that mountain is something else. I was scared silly of how narrow the road is."
"Sestri?" Lou broke in. "She's a good old girl. Protects us from eighty percent of the storms coming off the ocean."
"Oh," she answered with a fleeting smile.
"You can't monopolize Julia," Suzanne chided him. "We want to indulge in a bit of girl talk."
"Of course." He rose, bowing gallantly. "Ladies, I shall leave you."
"Good night," the friends chorused in unison.
Julia smothered her relief at his departure. "Where's the mysterious groom?" she asked between more yawns.
"Oh, he's due to come in early on Saturday, our wedding day," Suzanne responded without enthusiasm while giving her mother's bowed head a quick look.
"Well, tell me all. You still had a crush on..." She caught a look of alarm on her friend's face and let the sentence go unfinished. An undercurrent emanating from Mrs. LaBoudrie brought an abrupt end to the teasing.
"I was always in love with someone." With false brightness Suzanne covered the break. "Ramon is Isabelle's brother. He came to visit her last March and we started seeing each other. We'll live in San Francisco after the wedding."
Julia looked at her ringless finger.
Raising her left hand, Suzanne waggled her long, fine fingers experimentally. "I'm to get my ring just before the ceremony. Ramon wants to buy a set he saw on the mainland. He said the engagement ring was three carats."
"Wow. That's a lot of diamond. Will it be safe to wear something so expensive for everyday?"
Suzanne's laugh rang glassily. "Of course. I won't be going anyplace where it can be stolen." She looked again at her mother, then let her gaze fall.
Julia saw the play of strong emotions on the older woman's face and switched to another topic. "Remember Annette Snow in Public Speaking?"
"You mean the girl who wore those old fashioned clothes?"
"Yes. She married Jack Waters and hyphenated her last name. It's Snow-Waters."
At their laughter Mrs. LaBoudrie raised her eyes inquisitively from the crocheting spread over her lap. Her hand crept up to touch the dainty links of a gold chain around her neck.
"Oh, Mama. She always told us how terrible he dressed with his beads and sandals. Like a beatnik of the sixties. He's tall and skinny with black braids that he wraps around his head. Annette's very straight laced. What a pair they'll make," Suzanne explained with a giggle that was too shrill.
Her mother regarded her seriously. "We might say the same for you and Ramon. Really, I can't see why..." She broke off in midsentence to refocus on her handiwork, brushing what looked like a sleeve.
Briefly, resentment showed on Suzanne's face. She moved onto another subject, telling Julia, "Lou's awfully glad you've come." As soon as she spoke, uneasiness filled her eyes. She began twisting her fingers in the soft fabric of her pink dress.
The older woman finished her row and set aside her yarn and hook. She rose slowly and with effort. "It's getting late. Your guest is probably very tired." She started for the stairs.
Julia wondered at the coldness in her voice, so close to being open disapproval.
"Come on, Julia. I'll show you up." Suzanne got to her feet. "'Night, Mama." She kissed the wan cheek.
"Goodnight, my dear." Mrs. LaBoudrie looked from one to the other, adding, "Miss Graye." Gripping the broad banister for support, she made her way laboriously up the steps. She paused at the top to peer down at them, lines visible on her brow. Then, she vanished through the first door on the left.
Julia was uncomfortably aware that Margaret did not want her as a guest. She followed Suzanne up the old staircase, wishing she had taken the captain's admonition seriously. The polished rail offered relief to her tired legs. Tonight, sleep would come quickly in spite of the reception she'd gotten.
Suzanne led her to a hand-carved door facing the center of the hall and opened it. "This is your room. It was Eleana's. Our stepfather had this door made special for her eighteenth birthday. He was very fond of her." A wistful expression passed over her face. "The bathroom is at the end of the hall and breakfast is set out at seven."
Julia put a detaining hand on her arm. "Suzanne, is something wrong?"
Although Suzanne didn't move, a sense of increased distance came between them as her expression changed to one of wariness. She shook her head.
"I asked because you and your mother seem sort of... well, tense."
Suzanne looked close to tears. "I'd hoped you'd miss that. Everyone's on edge these days. Mother doesn't want me to get married, but calling the wedding off wouldn't solve our differences. All we do is argue. I haven't been able to enjoy one minute of planning it."
"If I can help, please let me."
"I need a fairy godmother to wave her magic wand and make everything all right." She grimaced, eyes clouding.
"I didn't mean to pry."
"You couldn't know. Now, I'd better let you get to bed." Suzanne stepped into the hall and drew the door shut.
Once alone, Julia slumped onto the flowered bedcover to pull off her shoes. "Peace at last."
Captain Martinez was right. The last thing the family needed was a visitor.
Ruefully, she forced herself up and made a fast trip to the bathroom to wash off her makeup and travel grime. Tomorrow morning would be the time for a shower.
On her return to her room she paused to admire the handiwork that extended to the inside of the door. Twining vines with blossoms, birds perched or flying among them, framed several rosebushes in full bloom. A work of art like this as a gift was true evidence of affection. Suzanne's sister must have been very special to her family.
With weariness nagging at her, Julia hastened to change for bed, dropping her clothes on a nearby chair. She lifted her large bag onto the luggage rack by the wall and opened it. Shaking the folds from a peach cotton nightgown, she slid it over her head.
Julia examined her reflection in the mirror, envious of its ebony frame. The blue eyes that gazed back at her were smudged with fatigue, her blonde hair as limp as she felt.
The mirror showed a room possessed of a warmth not found on the floor below. She turned to look at it. Large and airy, its creams and blues made one think of sunny days. The dark furniture was of the same Victorian style found in the parlor, but lost its formality here.
Above the carved dresser hung the portrait of a girl who seemed to watch her with mildly concerned eyes. Her oval face bore a strong resemblance to Suzanne with the same chestnut hair and wide green eyes. Julia liked her at once. She had the face of someone vividly in love with life. That thought followed Julia into sleep where she dreamed the portrait wept.