Read an Excerpt
The man on the cliff was watching Cassie again.
Fear made the muscles tense in Lily Deslin’s stomach. She stood on the deck of the beach house for only a few moments longer, then rushed down the steps, her pace quickening until she was running along the beach path toward Cassie’s small figure playing in the surf.
She was being foolish. The man presented no threat, Lily told herself. Though he had been there on the cliff every evening for the past three days, she was sure he had not attempted to speak to Cassie. He merely had sat on the boulder on the cliff and watched her daughter play on the deserted beach.
Waiting. It seemed he was just waiting.
No. She was blowing this all out of proportion. The man was no more than a dark silhouette against the blazing scarlet of the sky. She couldn’t even see his features, so how could she know that he had any purpose here other than to enjoy the spectacular view over the water of the Oregon sunset?
“Cassie!” Lily tried to keep the panic from her voice as she crossed the last few yards separating them. “Time for supper. Come along now.”
“In a minute, Mom.” Cassie kicked at the foam ruffling the waves. “It’s nice now. Sort of . . .” She hesitated. “Peaceful. Don’t you feel it?”
Lily forced a smile. “It will be just as nice in the morning. You’re going to be as pruney as the raisins in that crazy TV commercial if you don’t get out of the water.” She reached down and picked up Cassie’s crimson Peanuts beach towel, on which a moody Schroeder played his toy piano.
“Okay.” Cassie heaved a resigned sigh and turned and trudged toward the beach. “But it won’t be, you know.”
Lily quickly draped the towel around Cassie’s shoulders. The man was still watching. She could feel the force of his gaze as if it were a touch. “Won’t be what?” she asked as she lifted Cassie’s single brown braid free from the folds of the towel.
“Just as nice in the morning. You said that it would be just as nice then as it is now.”
“Sorry. I guess I lost my train of thought.” Lily gave her daughter a gentle push toward the path leading to the beach house and said jokingly, “Old age setting in, I reckon.”
Cassie’s brow creased in a thoughtful frown as she started toward the path. “I used to like mornings better here when we first came, but I don’t anymore. During the last week I decided that this time of day is best. It makes me feel . . . beautiful.”
Cassie was beautiful, Lily thought with a sudden rush of passionate tenderness. Oh, perhaps not picture-book pretty, but small and sturdy, endearingly freckled by the sun and gleaming with the golden sheen of childhood. Lily tugged teasingly at her daughter’s damp braid. “I guess you’re not so bad.”
Cassie shook her head. “No, inside. I feel beautiful inside. Warm and sort of glowing and filled with something”—she made a helpless gesture with one hand, as if reaching for words—“special. Kind of like when I play Brahms.”
“Sounds more like Mozart.”
Cassie made a face. “You’re making fun of me.”
Lily shook her head. “No way. Just trying to make you think in more precise terms. Mozart can be peaceful. Brahms has more sweep and power. Which is it?”
“Maybe a little of both.” Cassie nodded with satisfaction. “Yes, two parts Mozart and one part Brahms.”
Lily’s laughter pealed out. “Well, that’s precise enough.”
“I want to put it down on paper.”
Lily tried to hide a start of surprise. Cassie hadn’t done any type of composing since before the tour the year before, and Lily had begun to think she was rejecting creating anything new to avoid another onslaught of publicity such as the introduction of her first concerto had brought. “After supper,” she said firmly. “Shower, supper, dishes, piano. If it’s worthwhile, it will stay with you.”
“But I want to—” Cassie broke off as she glanced up at her mother’s face. “Shower, supper, piano,” she said as a counter-offer. “You do the dishes tonight, I’ll take your turn tomorrow.”
They walked in companionable silence while the blazing scarlet of the sky turned to smoky lavender.
“You’re not old,” Cassie said abruptly. “Why did you say that? You’ll never be old.”
“Everyone grows old, Cassie.”
“Not you.” Cassie’s clasp tightened on her hand. “You’re like a Bach fugue, strong and memorable, with every note crystal clear. You’ll always be like that.”
“Trust you to compare me to a fugue.” Lily tried to keep the throatiness from her voice. “Are you trying to get out of doing the dishes tomorrow, too, young lady?”
Cassie glanced up, her round face alight with mischief. “If it works. Does it?”
“What about if I compare you to Mozart?”
Lily shook her head.
“You’re pretty tough. Mozart sparkles like a diamond.”
Cassie sparkled with the same many-faceted appeal, alternating between the mischief of a child and the wisdom of an adult. A feeling of profound thanksgiving suddenly surged through Lily. What had she ever done to deserve a miracle like Cassie? “I have to be tough, with a con artist like you in the house.”
“I don’t try to con you.”
Lily raised a skeptical brow.
“No, really, I don’t,” Cassie insisted. “I’d never try to . . .” She giggled. “Well, almost never.”
“Almost and never?” Lily clucked reprovingly. “Precision, love.”
Cassie grimaced. “You’re as bad as Professor Kozeal. Precision is boring. I like the thundering flourishes better.”
“I know you do. But you have to have both in a piano concerto.” Lily paused. “And in life, Cassie.”
Cassie turned to look at her. “You don’t,” she said gravely. “You don’t have any thundering flourishes. Why don’t you do—”
“You provide quite enough flourishes for both of us,” Lily replied, interrupting quickly. “Maybe I’m more Rachmaninoff than you think, brat.”
Cassie shook her head positively. “Bach.” They were approaching the weathered cedar cottage on the rise when Cassie abruptly stopped. “Wait. I forgot to say good-bye.”
Cassie started to turn around. “I forgot to say good-bye to him.”
Lily stiffened. “Him?”
Cassie was waving at the shadowy figure on the cliff. As Lily watched, the man lifted his arm and waved in return. It was a casual gesture, free of any hint of menace, yet Lily felt the chill return. She kept her tone carelessly casual. “Who is he, Cassie? Has he ever spoken to you?”
“No.” Cassie waved again and turned away. “But he’s always there. Haven’t you noticed?”
“Yes.” Lily was silent a moment, trying to find the right words of caution that wouldn’t frighten. “Sometimes it’s not wise to be too friendly to strangers. If he ever tries to speak to you I’d like you to—”
“Oh, Mom, he’s not one of those creeps you told me about who tries to give candy to kids.” Cassie’s tone was impatient. “He’s okay.”
“You can’t be sure. It’s always better to be careful.”
“I’m sure.” Cassie frowned. “He . . . likes me.”
“For heaven’s sake, Cassie. You just said he’s never even spoken to you. How can you know that?”
Cassie’s jaw was set stubbornly. “He likes me.”
Lily knew she would get no further in trying to influence Cassie when her daughter’s characteristic obstinacy was in full bloom. She would have to drop the subject and approach it later from another angle. She smiled. “What’s not to like?”
A little of Cassie’s belligerence eased. “He’s not a creep.”
“If you say so.”
They walked in silence for a few moments, and they were climbing the steps when Cassie spoke again. “Andrew.”
Lily glanced at her inquiringly.
“You asked if I knew who he was. His name is Andrew.”
“How do you know?”
Cassie frowned in puzzlement. “I’m not sure.” Then her expression cleared. “I must have heard someone call his name sometime. Right?”
Lily nodded slowly. “That seems reasonable.”
But it was the middle of September, and this section of the beach was nearly deserted. Lily had never seen anyone else on the cliff. No one at all. She shivered as she threw open the door. “Shower,” she said as she gave Cassie a gentle nudge toward her room. “Then put on your pajamas and robe while I make supper. Fifteen minutes.”
Cassie nodded, and a minute later the door of her room slammed behind her.
Was he still there? Lily turned slowly and looked out over the rock-strewn dunes toward the cliff. Darkness had almost entirely enveloped the sky, but she could still discern the shadowy figure on the cliff. There was no sunset to enjoy any longer, so why the hell didn’t he go home?
As if in answer to her question, the man rose to his feet. He stood quite still for a moment, a slim, powerful figure staring down into the darkness. Then he turned and walked away.
Lily breathed a sigh of relief before tension gripped her again. Now that he was no longer in sight he could be doing anything, going anywhere. He could even be coming down the cliff path toward the beach . . . and their cottage.
Lily slammed the door and shot the lock and then immediately felt foolish. She was being incredibly stupid. The man was probably a bespectacled accountant renting one of the cottages down the beach; perhaps he climbed the cliff every evening to watch the sunset and to get away from his wife and kids. Togetherness could be overpowering in these postage-stamp-size cottages. Yes, it was only her imagination that was inflating that solitary shadow into a figure of power and mystery.
She turned and walked briskly toward the kitchen. The unknown was always frightening. The next evening she would march up the cliff path and introduce herself to the man. If he proved a decent sort, perhaps she’d invite him to the cottage for a cup of coffee. If he was some kind of weirdo she would handle that, too, even if it meant pushing the creep off the damn cliff.
Lily smiled with satisfaction as she opened the refrigerator door and began to riffle through the vegetable crisper for lettuce and tomatoes. Eliminate the mystery and any situation could usually be handled, and some of the mystery surrounding the man on the cliff was already beginning to be dispersed. The shadow had a name.