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"There is a pall cast over this town. Your destiny and the destiny of Raven's Cliff are entwined like lovers."
Amelia Hopkins tried to pull her hand away from the fortune-teller's red-tipped fingers, but the woman's grip was surprisingly strong.
"Maybe you haven't heard," Amelia said, "but the Seaside Strangler is dead and the poisoned fish are gone. Even the mayor's daughter, who's been missing for months, has been found alive. There is no pall."
As she talked, she studied the woman's face, trying to see beneath the layers of stage makeup. She was surprised that she didn't recognize her. She knew almost everyone in Raven's Cliff.
"I thought you were going to tell me about meeting the man of my dreams."
Her friends Carrie and Rita had come out of the fortune-teller's shadowy booth with promises of love and marriage, beautiful babies and happily-ever-after. No warnings of doom and gloom. No ominous, cryptic predictions.
Amelia had tried to refuse to have her fortune read. But her friends had insisted.
Fortune-tellers. Crystal balls. Palm reading. All woo-woo tricks designed to provide a moment's distraction and to part people from their hard-earned money.
Although she'd loaned the mayor's assistant her stage makeup case, which had seen years of use in the small dinner theater in town and had funded a large part of the boat festival, she'd refused to play fortune-teller.
She didn't have time for such nonsense. She had a business to run.
The fortune-teller's pale blue eyes sparkled in the flickering candlelight as she stared deeply into her crystal ball. She waved a hand near one of the candles and a faint scent of roses drifted past Amelia'snostrils.
"Okay, I give up," Amelia said. "Who are you? Are you in town just for the festival? Did the mayor hire you?"
The woman frowned at her before dropping her gaze back to the orb. "I am Tatiana. I do not know what you mean." She held a hand over the ball, closebut not touching it.
Amelia could imagine sparks of electricity arcing from the woman's hand to the crystal sphere. She was a good actress.
"Okay then, Tatiana. Hurry up and tell me about my soul mate. I've got to get home."
"Word in the town is that nobody is good enough for you, Amelia Hopkins. And yet I say, you will find your soul mate. It is part of your destiny. But he is not the man of your dreams" The fortune-teller paused. "For you, the journey to love will be a long one, and fraught with danger." She took Amelia's hand.
"You must prepare yourself, for death hovers over you as surely as it does over Raven's Cliff. Your only hope is your own wit. Take care whom you trust."
A sudden chill breeze sent shadows racing along the walls like bats and extinguished several candles. The smell of hot wax mingled with the aroma of roses.
Amelia tried to pull her hand away, but the woman's scarlet-tipped fingers held tight.
"Remember this, Amelia. Pay heed to a dark, mysterious stranger with eyes like storm clouds and a haunted past."
Oh, please. SureRaven's Cliff had experienced more than its share of tragedy, but the deadly summer was over. Autumn had arrived. Foggy mornings and crisp, clear afternoons were a refreshing change after the sweltering, awful summer.
"Appearances can be deceiving. Look not with your eyes but with your heart."
Amelia uttered a short laugh. That was more like it. Platitudes she could share with Carrie and Rita. "Right. Got it."
She stood and firmly pulled her hand away. "A mysterious stranger, a path fraught with danger and deceit. Great," she said wryly. "I can't wait."
Quelling the urge to wipe her hand on her jeans, she dug into her pocket and came up with a wad of twenties. Peeling off two, she dropped them onto the table.
"Nice special effects." She turned and reached for the heavy curtain that draped the front of the booth.
"Wait!" The dozens of bangles on the woman's wrists chimed. "That case on the table there, it's yours. You should take it with you. Keep it closeyou're going to need it."
So it was her makeup the fake fortune-teller had used. She grabbed up the case.
"And, Amelia Hopkins "
She pausedonly inches from freedom. "Aren't you done yet?"
"Remember. Nobody is good enough for you."
Amelia shook her head and pushed through the curtain, just in time to run into a solid wall of flesh.
"Oh, sorry," she muttered, putting out her hands to steady herself as the man grasped her waist.
She pushed against him, but he held on. "Let me go," she demanded, slightly alarmed by his unrelenting hold.
He loomed over her, dark and ominous. A few days' growth of beard darkened his square jaw. A black wool fisherman's cap shadowed the upper part of his face. But no shadows could hide the steely gray of his eyes.
Something flickered in those eyescuriosity? Recognition? Then he let go of her and held up his hands, palms out. He ducked his head, letting the brim of his cap shadow the upper part of his face. "Beg pardon, ma'am," he muttered.
Amelia pushed past him.
"Ma'am, you dropped this."
He knelt and picked up her makeup case. She must have dropped it when he collided with her.
He held it out.
She took it, but before she could thank him, he'd turned away, moving off through the crowd. His black leather jacket strained across his shoulders, and his long legs looked powerful in black wool pants. He was taller than most of the people around him, and yet he moved with the fluid grace of a big cat.
"Amelia," Carrie Singleton called, waving.
Amelia pulled her gaze away from the stranger's leather-clad shoulders in time to see Carrie duck around a clown who looked suspiciously like Hal Smith, the owner of the hardware store. He blew an obnoxiously loud whistle.
Rita Maxwell laughed as she followed Carrie.
"What did the fortune-teller say?" Carrie asked.
"You weren't in there long enough," Rita said, eyeing her suspiciously. "You just gave her some money and left, didn't you?"
"No." Amelia gestured down the street in the direction the stranger had gone. "Did you see the way that guy grabbed me?"
"A guy grabbed you?" Rita asked.
Amelia gestured, but he'd disappeared into the crowd. "You couldn't miss him. He grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I was about to scream for help."
Carrie glanced down the street and frowned.
Rita shook her head. "I saw you bump into someonetall guy with shoulders out to herebut you barely brushed each other."
"He's probably a sailor, docked here for Boat Fest," Rita added. "I'm sure you're the prettiest thing he's seen in six months."
Amelia stared at her two friends. "I'm telling you he wouldn't let go. And he didn't look like a sailor. He looked like a" A captain, she thought.
"Come on. Let's go get an Irish coffee. I want to hear what the fortune-teller told you." Carrie hooked her arm through Amelia's and pulled her in the direction of The Pubthe direction the stranger had gone.
Amelia glanced at her watch. "If I have a drink, I'll fall asleep standing up. I've been hawking yachts all day and my feet are killing me. I should be getting home. Dad and I have an early meeting tomorrow and we need to coordinate our talking points."
"It's not even ten o'clock. Honestly, you're like an old maid sometimes," Rita said.
"Yeah." Carrie guided Amelia through the weathered cherrywood doors of The Pub. "The richest, most gorgeous old maid on the entire coast. Not to mention the A-Number-One party pooper."
"Carrie, stop it." Amelia chuckled. "I'll have some coffeeregular, decaf coffee, but then I've got to go home. Hopkins Yachts doesn't run itself. Especially not during Boat Festand especially not this year." She didn't specify that the main reason she needed to be at home was to make sure her father got to bed by eleven o'clock.
"Did you get a lot of orders at the boat show?"
"Yes. Too many. That's what this meeting tomorrow is about. Some megacorporation wants to meet with Dad about a major contract."
"That's great," Carrie commented absently as they picked their way through the crowd.
The Seafarer Boat Fest attracted a lot of people tourists, sailors, yachting enthusiasts who came to see Hopkins's newest designs.
Amelia felt a faint prick of guilt. Hopkins's preview drawings for next year's designs were a myth. There was no inspired new Hopkins yacht for the coming year. Probably only a seasoned aficionado would notice, but Amelia still felt as if they were cheating their customers.
Since her father's heart attack a year ago, he hadn't created one new workable design. That was bad enough. But he'd insisted that no one know that this year's new designs were glossed-over versions from the past three years.
Even worse, this year's Boat Fest had drawn more people than usualmany of them curiosity-seekers who'd heard about all the trouble Raven's Cliff had experienced throughout the summer. But as was true every year, a lot were boaters looking for the latest fancy yacht.
Everywhere Amelia went, she steeled herself for the accusation she knew would come one dayReginald Hopkins has lost it. He's recycling old designs and calling them new.
As they pushed through the crowd toward the bar, the bartender, Seamus Hannigan, nodded a greeting. His eyes crinkled at the corners, which pulled at the scar that ran from his chin up his jawline. His gaze followed Carrie.
Amelia poked her friend in the ribs.
"Stop it." Carrie slapped at her hand.
"Seamus is looking your way. Wink at him and get us a table."
"I mean it, Amelia," Carrie said. "I'm totally not interested. I've never winked at a man and I'm sure not going to start now."
But even in the dim, smoky pub, Amelia didn't miss Carrie's flaming cheeks. She caught Rita's eye. "Let's sit at the bar then."
"There are only two seats," Carrie protested.
"I'll stand," Rita said.
"I won't be here long enough to sit," Amelia said at the same time.
They pushed through the crowd. Amelia guided Carrie to one empty chair and shot a look at Rita. With a shake of her blonde head, Rita sat next to Carrie.
"I'll have a decaf coffee," Amelia told Rita, and glanced around. The atmosphere in the pub was cheerfulalmost frantically so. Everyone was celebrating, and they had a right to, after the tragic summer.
The din of conversation occasionally yielded up a coherent sentence fragment, most involving the mayor. Amelia closed her eyes and listened.
"ought to be kicked out of office. He took kickbacks while people were dying from the fish poison."
"older folks are convinced the curse is back."
"got to admit he stepped up"
"then I said there's no such thing as ghosts"
"Well, I feel sorry for him. He almost lost his daughter."
Amelia's heart ached at the reminder that while the town was celebrating, her best friend Camille, Mayor Wells's daughter, was lying helpless in a coma.
No matter what the mayor had done, he loved his daughter. Amelia knew that. He'd just let his greed get the better of him.
The townsfolk were dividedeither condemning him for taking bribes or forgiving him because he'd done it for his only child.
He'd tried to make up for his actions. He'd worked hard to beef up Raven's Cliff's annual Seafarer Boat Fest to celebrate the end of the nightmarish summer.
The television mounted over the bar was tuned to the local news station. They were replaying Mayor Wells's speech from earlier in the evening. His face looked pale and drawn, and his smile seemed pasted on as he praised the townspeople for their bravery and expressed sorrow for the four lovely young women who had died at the hands of the Seaside Strangler.
As he mentioned their names, their photos flashed on the screen. Amelia hadn't known Rebecca Johnson or Cora McDonald, and had only met Angela Wheeler once, but Sofia Lagios was Detective Andrei Lagios's baby sister. Seeing her fresh, beautiful face sent a pang of sorrow through Amelia's heart.
As the mayor's prerecorded voice encouraged the townspeople to enjoy the fireworks show, Rita pressed a steaming mug topped with whipped cream into Amelia's hands.
A cheer rose above the low murmur of voices in The Pub. Quite a few people stood and raised their glasses to the TV.
Amelia followed suit then took a sip. Irish whiskey. She frowned. Rita had handed her the wrong mug.
At that moment a pair of stone-cold gray eyes caught her gaze.
Eyes like storm clouds. It was him. The stranger who'd run into her. He held a beer. Instead of raising his glass to the TV and the crowd, he saluted her.
She wanted to look awayignore him. But he was a man who could never be ignored. Her first impression of him still heldhe wasn't a sailor, not even a first mateif he were on a ship, he'd be a captain.