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"I've always loved a good thunderstorm," Missy Charms murmured as lightning crackled outside the front windows of her gift shop and thunder rumbled over the roof of the historic brick building. "There's nothing like early summer rain to settle the heat and wash away the dust and grime."
"So says the quintessential earth child." Sarah Marshik jumped as another bolt of lightning momentarily brightened the early evening sky. "Me? I can't stand 'em."
"I think they're cool." Brian, Sarah's young son, went to stand beside Missy near the front of the store.
Together, they peered through the droplet-spattered windows overlooking the center of Mirabelle Island's old-world quaintness. Other than an odd tourist or two caught unprepared in the sudden downpour and running from under one green-and-white awning to the next, the cobblestone streets were deserted. Slim, the black, short-haired cat Missy had rescued many years ago, rubbed against her leg, and she scooped him up.
Another bright and fiery flash lit the sky, and Brian grinned at Missy. "That was awesome!"
"Totally. It means we're going to have lots of wind tonight," she predicted, scratching the cat's ears. "And a hotter than normal summer."
"How do you know?" Brian asked, his eyes wide and round and oh, so innocent.
"I just know." She winked. Where would be the fun in explaining her predictions came straight from Zuni weather lore?
"Missy can predict the future," Sarah said, grinning.
"Tell my future!" Brian held out his hand. "Read my palm. Please, please, please!"
Missy glared good-naturedly at Sarah. Sarah may have beaten Missy to Mirabelle by a few months, but it seemed the two had been destined to become best friends. Not only were their businesses located side by side on Main Street, but, most important, they'd both seemed lost in the world. That is, before they'd found Mirabelle and each other.
"Bri, hon," Missy said, shaking her head, "no one can tell the future from someone's palm." She'd learned that the hard way.
"You can. I've heard you talking about it with Mom. There's a life line and a line that tells you how rich you're going to be and—"
"Okay, already." Missy laughed. Setting Slim back down, she took the little boy's hand and ran her fingers along his palm, pretending to concentrate. "I see…hmm, that's interesting."
"Oh, she's pretty."
"A girl? I don't want to know about girls." He cringed. "I wanna know if I'm going to be a pitcher for the Twins."
"Baseball?" She shook her head. "Trust me. Love's more important."
Brian pulled back his hand and rolled his eyes. "Nothing's more important than baseball."
"If only that would last." Sarah shook her head. "Do you want us to stay and visit with you while you eat?"
Given the bad weather, Sarah had only one or two customers shopping for flowers the entire day, so she'd closed up a little early to be with Brian. As the island wedding planner, Sarah was smack-dab in the middle of her busiest time of the year. Even so, knowing Missy was stuck alone in her store until closing, she'd dropped off a tomato moz-zarella salad from Duffy's Pub.
"You and Bri take off," Missy said. "I don't want you to be late for your movie."
"You'll be okay here?"
"It'll be quiet." She smiled. "A good night to get some things done."
She could make several chakra bracelets or dust a few shelves or simply sit and enjoy the thunderstorm with a cup of herbal tea. It would be lonely, but Missy had grown used to being alone. At least that's what she told herself every day. She glanced at Brian and the ache that had steadily grown stronger over the past several years pierced her heart like a jagged spear.
As if Sarah had read Missy's thoughts, she gently touched her son on the shoulder. "Brian, go use Missy's bathroom before we take off." After the little boy had dashed toward the rear of the store, Sarah cautiously asked, "Any news on the adoption front?"
More than anything in the world Missy wanted a child, but it seemed the one thing in the world she couldn't make happen. For now she'd have to settle for Slim. As if sensing her sudden turn of emotion, the cat wove himself around her legs. Slim may have had free rein of Mirabelle, running in and out of his kitty doors at will, but he usually chose to stick by her side.
"Actually." Missy picked up the cat again. Holding him, petting his soft fur, always calmed her. "Barbara called earlier today to tell me she's hopeful about a new match."
"That's great! Why didn't you say something earlier?"
Because Missy's representative at the adoption agency had been hopeful about the past five matches and they, too, had gone absolutely nowhere. Years ago, after the agency had explained that a stable, safe, supportive community would be essential, Missy had decided to settle here on the island. How could there be a better place on this earth to raise a child than Mirabelle? But, as it turned out, place hadn't been enough to tip the adoption scales in favor of a single young woman.
"I was afraid I'd jinx the deal by getting my hopes up," Missy said softly, unable to keep the disappointment from her voice.
"Maybe you should reconsider the alternatives?"
After a great deal of thought, Missy had decided to go the private adoption route. She'd finally found the right agency, filled out all the necessary applications and paperwork, and gone through the grueling home study process. "I'm not switching horses midstream."
"I'm talking about the old-fashioned route. You know. Man, woman, marriage, child."
"Not an option." Missy shook her head. "I met the one true love of my life, and we both know how that turned out." She believed in Fate changing lives, always had, but over the years she'd come to accept that every once in a while Fate managed to screw up.
"Well, there's a certain someone on the island who seems darned close to wanting you to reconsider."
Sean Griffin. Sarah had to be referring to the new doctor. "We're friends, Sarah. That's all."
"Well, if Natalie can do it," Sarah said, giving Missy a quick hug, "so can you."
Natalie, their friend who ran a summer camp for disad-vantaged kids on the northwest end of the island, had adopted four adolescents this past winter before she'd married Jamis. Although Missy preferring a baby or young child made her chances for adoption more difficult, their friend's success as a single woman had given Missy the first real hope she'd had in years.
Brian came running through the store. "Come on, Mom. Let's go."
Missy grabbed her raincoat from the back of the chair by the cash register and held it out toward Sarah. "Why don't you take my slicker?"
"You'll need it when you go home."
"I don't mind getting wet. Besides, I think it's supposed to clear up for a while before another band of storms comes through." As Missy held open the front door to her shop, she took in a deep lungful of air. And frowned.
Something wasn't right.
She glanced out the windows with a partial view of Lake Superior. Beyond the marina, waves crashed against the breakwater and sprayed into the air. Down the rocky coast, turbulent water hit the shoreline with damaging strength. The clouds in the early evening sky boiled and churned, shifted by an unseen but powerful force.
Sarah shrugged on the rain slicker and glanced at Missy. "You all right? You look like you've seen a ghost."
"I'm fine." Missy swallowed, trying to compose herself. "I'll be fine."
"Okay, then." Sarah stepped partway through the door and grabbed Brian's hand. "See you at lunch tomorrow." Then she took off down the wet sidewalk.
"Bye, Missy!" Brian called as he followed his mom.
"Bye, Bri!" Missy said absently as she watched the flower baskets hanging from the black lampposts swing and sway in the storm. The wind chimes hanging near her gift shop entrance jangled fiercely in a sudden gust, and an uneasy feeling settled in the pit of her stomach.
Something was in the air out there that had nothing to do with a cleansing rain, or a possible adoption match, or the droves of happy tourists already flocking daily to Mira-belle for long-awaited summer vacations and holidays. This was bitter and acidic. Unexpected. Fierce. And it was blowing Missy's way.
"You telling me I can't get to Mirabelle Island tonight?" Jonas Abel glared at the clerk on the other side of the locked glass door as lightning flared a short distance down the Lake Superior shoreline.
"That's not what I said."
It had been raining most of the day. Jonas's clothes were damp and cold and clinging to his skin and all he wanted was to be warm and dry. Entirely off the grid was the objective, but at the moment that appeared to be asking for too much.
"It isn't even eleven yet, and I missed the last ferry?" Jonas grumbled. "What kind of backwoods place is this?" On a few select streets in Chicago, he might've gotten away with pointing a gun at the old man's head, but not in this world.
"See there?" The old man motioned toward the schedule mounted on the outside of the ferry building. "During June, the last ferry to the island leaves Bayfield at 10 p.m. Won't be another one 'til morning. Now on the weekends, it's eleven. And during July—"
"I don't give a damn about July." He clenched his teeth against the intense pain in his side. "I need to get to Mira-belle tonight."
"No need to get huffy with me. Can't wait 'til morning, you can always hire a water taxi."
A car rolled into the wet parking lot, and Jonas instinctively drew his soggy hood over his head. As the vehicle cruised through a puddle and under the light of a nearby lamppost, he slipped his good hand inside his sweatshirt, gripping his gun, and studied the occupants.
Teenage boy. Girlfriend. In love.
Good luck with that.
He turned back toward the old man. "I need a water taxi." Leaning against the door frame, he struggled to stay alert. Although it was impossible anyone could've followed Jonas here, he'd do best to get out of sight. "Can you help me?"
Half an hour later, a sprinkling of rain stinging his cheeks, he was on a boat speeding across the choppy black waters of Lake Superior and closing in on the shoreline of what he assumed was Mirabelle. Lights twinkled in the darkness outlining a concentration of buildings near the marina, most likely houses dotting the hillside and what looked like a large hotel on the outskirts of town. By the time the boat docked at the dimly lit pier, it was so dark Jonas could barely tell water from shore.
"There you go." The taxi driver flipped his engine into neutral and glanced at Jonas. "You okay? You don't look so good."
"I'm fine." Somehow Jonas made it onto the dock. He dragged his heavy pack over his shoulder.
"Want me to wait to take you back to the mainland?"
"No." Jonas glanced toward the small village. "If I don't find who I'm looking for, I'll get a hotel room."
"Things close down here pretty early even during the tourist season."
So he'd heard.
"Even if there is a room at one of the hotels or bed-and-breakfasts, you might not find anything open this late."
Then he'd be sleeping—more likely passing out—in the woods. Although these wet clothes would make for an interesting night, he'd probably survive.
He took a few steps toward the village before he remembered his manners, something he hadn't had much use of during the past couple of years. Turning back, he handed the man a tip. "Thanks for the ride and the warning, but I'll be all right."
Jonas walked slowly down the pier to the drone of the boat motor behind him indicating the water taxi was heading out of the marina and back to the mainland. Soon even that sound dimmed. A few, thick drops spattered the ground, and the heavy clouds overhead threatened a nasty storm. Without a moon, the only light came from intermittent lampposts along the dock.
Gusts of wind whipped tree branches into a frenzy as he walked toward what appeared to be the central part of town. His shoes made barely a sound on the wet cobblestone. In the distance, a dog barked. He passed a blue-and-white restaurant, the Bayside Café, now closed and hit Main Street. Light from a place called Duffy's Pub spilled onto the sidewalk.
As he passed the bar, laughter and music emanated from inside, but he closed out the sound. Sometimes it was easier to forget that the world still housed polite, law-abiding people, going about living normal lives, raising normal families, working at normal jobs. Including him, once upon a long time ago.
That's when he'd met her. At a different bar with different music and different people. Had she changed? Most assuredly. It'd been years, not months. Years. He hesitated. No choice. The woods were sounding mighty cold and wet right about now.
Turning and crossing the street, he slowly climbed the steep hill several blocks off Main. With old, but well-kept single-family homes, this appeared to be the residential section of the tourist town. Instead of the Victorian mansions he'd halfway expected to see, these were average-size dwellings. He should've known she'd try to settle anonymously amidst the salt of the earth.
On hitting Oak Street, he turned and monitored the house numbers. Long ago, he'd memorized the address, wanting absolutely no paper trail for this place, and having studied the island map back at the ferry office, he knew he was close.
A few blocks later, he stopped in front of an ancient stone fence and glanced at the white Cape Cod with black shutters and a porch addition off the side. This modest home wasn't at all what he'd expected. The house was dark other than a stream of weak light glowing from the back. Her bedroom. She was still awake.
What did she look like? His dreams? His memories? Or had she shaken off the past and embraced change?
Time to find out.
Slowly, he trudged up the sidewalk, climbed the front steps and hesitated on reaching her porch as beads of sweat broke out on his brow. Quiet music sounded from inside, mixing with the damp night air as he leaned against a post and caught his breath.
This was a mistake. If she slammed the door in his face he couldn't blame her. After what he'd done, he unequivocally derserved it. Before he could turn away, the door burst open. A woman's figure, small but curvy stood in shadow, backlit by pale light. At first, he couldn't see her face, but then his eyes adjusted and her features cleared.