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'I'M VERY sorry, Dr Hayden, but your luggage seems to have gone missing without trace,' the baggage official informed Eloise as he looked up from the computer in front of him. 'There's no record of it even being loaded on your flight.'
'Missing?'; Eloise glared at the young man. 'What do you mean, it's missing? I was supposed to be in Cornwall twenty-four hours ago. I can't hang about here waiting for my things to arrive on another flight from Sydney. You'll have to send them on to me.'
'That won't be a problem, Dr Hayden,' the young man answered, reaching for a pen and the necessary documentation. 'The airline will pay for delivery under these cir-cumstances. Do you have the address of where you will be staying?'
Eloise suppressed a frustrated sigh and rummaged in her handbag for the name and address of the guest-house she had been booked into in Penhally Bay. As far as rating stars went, Trevallyn House looked like it was missing a few, but, then, that was the Australian Health Department budget for you, she thought cynically. Her superiors had told her a month in a Cornish seaside town should more than compensate for any discomfort from staying in a building that looked as if Captain Cook himself had dropped in on his way to Botany Bay in 1770.
She gave the man the brochure with the address on it, and also her own card, and tapped her foot impatiently as he took the relevant details. 'How soon do you think it will be located?' she asked as she took back the guest-house brochure.
The man gave a little shrug. 'It could be a day or two, maybe longer. It's hard to tell. It must have been put on the wrong flight in Sydney. It happens occasionally.'
Eloise mentally rolled her eyes. 'Well, it's nice to know my luggage gets to do a round-the-world tour, but I really would like you to do what you can to locate it and quickly. I've been in these clothes for close to thirty-six hours. I'm on official business so I need to have access to my luggage as soon as possible.'
'I'll do everything I can to speed things up but, as I said, it might take time,' he said. 'The increased security at airports has eased some problems but created others, as I am sure you will understand.'
Eloise gave him a small tight smile. 'Thank you for your help,' she said. 'I will look forward to hearing from you.'
She made her way out of the busy terminal to the hire-car pick-up area where after another long wait she was finally assigned to one of the tiniest cars she had ever seen.
'I'm going to kill you with my bare hands, so help me, God, Jack Innes and Co,' she said under her breath as she drove out of the parking lot. 'Just as well my luggage didn't arrive. Who knows where I would have put it.'
Penhally Bay was a typical Cornish village. There were picturesque houses and shops lining the streets overlooking the harbour and there were loads of tourists milling about, taking advantage of the warm summer weather. There was a lifeboat station at one end of the bay and a lighthouse at the other and as Eloise looked out to sea she could see several boats and their crews enjoying the calm conditions.
She found Trevallyn House on Harbour Road. It was similar to the other houses except it was slightly bigger, but what it made up for in space it clearly lacked in maintenance. The white paint was cracked in places and one of the shutters on the downstairs window was hanging lopsidedly by its rusty hinge.
She made her way to the front door with flagging spirits but before she could even search for the doorbell, the door opened with a loud creak and a round figure appeared in its frame.
'You must be Dr Hayden, the police doctor from Australia,' Mrs Trevallyn, the elderly guest-house owner, greeted her warmly. 'Welcome to Penhally Bay. I'm sorry things are in such a mess but one of my cleaning girls left me in the lurch a couple of days ago. I haven't found a replacement yet. I'll get Davey to take your luggage upstairs for you. I've put you in room seven. It has the best views of the bay.'
'Er.. .I actually haven't got my luggage with me just now,' Eloise said with a tiny grimace. 'It's coming later.'
'Oh wellvthen,' Mrs Trevallyn smiled cheerily. 'No bother. I expect you'll want to freshen up in any case. There's a bathroom on the landing. You have to be careful with the showerit can scald you if someone turns a tap on somewhere else.'
Just you wait, Jack Innes, Eloise thought as she made her way up to her room. However, she was pleasantly surprised when she opened the door of room seven. It was quaintly decorated in pink and cream and there was a vase of colourful summer flowers on the dressing-table, the heady fragrance of a single red rose in the centre of the arrangement drawing her like a magnet. She stood in front of the vase, and almost without realising she was doing it she reached out and touched one blood-red velvet petal with her finger. She slowly lifted her hand and looked at the end of her finger, her heart beginning to thud, her hand visibly shaking until she realised there was no trace of blood there.
Eloise stepped back from the flowers and gave herself a mental shake. 'You've been in forensics way too long, my girl,' she said, and went to the window overlooking the bay. She opened it, closed her eyes and breathed in the tangy salty air.
Chief Inspector Lachlan D'Ancey closed the folder with a little snap as he faced his junior colleague. 'I still believe this is going way over the top,' he said. 'I don't see why we need to have an Australian forensic pathologist coming to review something we've already dealt with. We handled this death as we would that any other high-profile person.'
Constable James Derrey gave a little nod of agreement. 'Yes, I know, but apart from the family it looks like someone else down under is asking a lot of questions about the death of this celebrity surfer, Chief. Ethan Jenson was expected to win the World Surfing Championship. The Aussies just don't accept that a surfer of his calibre could accidentally drown. I understand our orders to allow an external case review have come from very high up.'
Lachlan raked a hand through his dark brown, hair making it stick up at irregular angles. 'Yes, they have, but I just hope this forensic pathologist they're sending will see that we've done a first-rate investigation and just go back home and let us get on with doing our job.'
'Yes, sir, I couldn't agree more.'
Lachlan leaned back in his chair with a weary sigh. 'Going through this case file yet again is certainly not my preferred way to spend the next month.'
'Mine neither but this Australian woman will want you present for the whole review to answer questions, no doubt,' James said. 'Have you met her yet?'
Lachlan shook his head and glanced at his watch. 'She was supposed to be here yesterday but maybe something more important cropped up.' He suddenly looked up and grinned as he added, 'Or maybe she got lost. She's probably halfway to Scotland by now. You know what Aussies are likethey drive further for a litre of milk than we do for our annual holidays.'
James smiled back. 'And I bet she has a chip on her shoulder the size of Stonehenge. They always do. Remember that bird that came up from London that time? What is it about career-women anyway?'
There was an awkward little silence.
James had the grace to blush. 'Sorry, Chief,' he mumbled. 'That was in poor taste. I forgot about Margaret and the divorce and all.'
'Forget it, James,' Lachlan said. 'I'm over it. I admit it's been tough, but to tell you the truth we should have split up years ago. In fact, we shouldn't have got married in the first place but Poppy was on the way and, well.' He blew out another sigh and continued, 'I thought it was the right thing to do at the time.'
'How is your daughter?' James asked. 'I heard she was pretty upset about Jenson's death. She was a big fan of his,
Lachlan gave a wry smile. 'You know teenage girls, James, they're all celebrity crazy. There wouldn't be a woman under forty around here who doesn't go weak at the knees when a bronzed surfer with a six pack walks past.'
James got to his feet. 'Yeah, that's true enough. Well, I'd better get back on the job. I've got to check on a possible theft out at Henry Ryall's farm. He thinks some of his sheep are missing but it's more likely he wants some company for a cup of tea. You know what he's been like since Mary died.'
'Poor old chap,' Lachlan said. 'It's probably time he moved closer into town but I don't see that happening in the near future.'
'He'll die with his work boots on for sure,' James agreed. He moved to the door and added, 'Good luck with the foren-sics lady. You never know, she might be a bit of all right.'
Lachlan didn't answer. He waited until James had left before he opened the file again and looked down at the features of the dead man for a long moment, a small frown bringing his brows closer together.
Eloise found the local police station without too much trouble, although when she opened the front door she was a little surprised there was no one seated at the small front desk. Penhally Bay was so quiet she could hardly believe it had a police station and certainly not one where a chief inspector had been appointed.
She looked over the counter to find a bell or buzzer to push, located a small brass bell and gave it a tinkle. She hovered for another minute or two before she called out, 'Hello? Is anyone there?'
She gave the bell another rattle, feeling a little foolish as she did so. But then she had to admit she had never felt more ill prepared for a professional appointment in her life, let alone her first international assignment. It seemed ironic to have been so churned up with nerves only to find the station she had been assigned to work from was far from a high-tech law-enforcement agency.
She was glad now she hadn't wasted precious time trying to find somewhere to buy a new outfit. Somehow turning up in her well-worn jeans and close-fitting vest top with a cotton shirt over the top didn't seem quite so out of place now. Admittedly, there was a coffee stain on her top on her right breast, where the mid-air turbulence had caught both herself and the flight attendant off guard during dinner, and her jeans felt as if they could have stood up all by themselves. As for her face.. .well.. .what could she say about her face? At least it was cleanthe scalding blast of hot water in the shower a short time ago had not only lifted off thirty-six hours of make-up but what felt like the first layer of skin as well. Her fine blonde hair hadn't appreciated the detergent-like guest-house shampoo, and without her radial brushes and high-wattage hairdryer it was now lying about her scalp like a straw helmet instead of her usual softly styled bob.
She whooshed out a breath and raised her hand to the first door she could find, but before she could place her knuckles on the wood the door suddenly opened and a tall, rock-hard figure cannoned right into her.
'Oh.sorry,' a dark-haired man said as he looked down at her, his strong hands coming down on her arms to hold her upright. 'I didn't realise you were standing there. Did I hurt you?'
Eloise blinked a couple of times, her heart doing a funny little stumbling movement in her chest.
She swallowed and gave herself a mental shake. She was dazed by the sudden contact, that's what it was.
Of course it was, she insisted firmly.
It had nothing to do with intelligent brown eyes the colour of whisky and it had absolutely nothing to do with the feel of male hands on her arms for the first time in well, a very long time indeed.
'Um I'm er fine .' she said hesitantly. 'I rang the bell but no one answered. I was just about to knock when you opened the door.'
He gave her a smile that lifted the corners of his mouth, showing even white teeth, except for two on the bottom row that overlapped slightly, giving him a boyish look, even though Eloise calculated he had to be close to forty.
'I'm sorry the front desk is unattended,' he said. 'The constable on duty left on a call half an hour ago and the other constable is off sick. What can I do for you?'
Eloise ran her tongue over her lips in the sort of nervous, uncertain gesture she had thought she had long ago trained herself out of using, but without the armour of her clean-cut business suit and sensible shoes and carefully applied but understated make-up she suddenly felt like a shy teenager.
And it didn't help that he was so tall.
She decided she would definitely have to rethink the sensible shoes thing in future otherwise she would be seeing a physiotherapist weekly if she had to crane her neck to maintain eye contact with him all the time. He was six feet one or two at the very least, his shoulders were broad and his skin tanned, as if he made the most of the seaside environment.
'I'm Chief Inspector Lachlan D'Ancey,' he said offering her his hand.
Eloise's stomach did a complicated gymnastics routine as she blinked up at him in surprise. He was the chief inspector?
Somehow she'd been expecting an overweight, close-to-retirement balding man with a packet a day nicotine habit, not a man who looked like he could run two marathons back to back and not even break a sweat.