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She didn't travel well on water. Although the trip across the bay hadn't taken more than fifteen minutes, her stomach wasn't exactly rock solid these days, and she thought for a moment she might lose the salad she'd had for lunch.
Thank God for dry land.
Rachel had never been to Waterford Point before. Had never been to Penobscot Bay or farther north than Connecticut, for that matter. But the photos she'd seen on the internet had convinced her that this was where she needed to go. That Waterford Point was exactly the place she should be right now.
Her means of escape.
Her bastion of refuge.
An isolated fishing village-cum-tourist destination on an island off the coast of Maine, it was a place where she could forget about the chaos that had swirled around her in California and finally decide what to do with her life now that Dan was officially out of the picture.
As the ferry gate opened, she moved with the handful of homeward-bound commuters and rolled her suitcase onto the dock, looking out toward the village.
It was quite a bit larger than she had anticipated and she wasn't sure she wanted to spend her next few weeks here getting around on foot.
As the others moved toward their cars in the parking lot, Rachel turned to the dockworker who was manning the gate. He was an elderly man with a weathered, sunbaked face, and she had no doubt that he'd spent many years on a fishing boat.
"Is there a place around here I can rent a car?"
"Yes, ma'am." He pointed toward a cluster of wooden shacks to the right of the dock. "They're on the far side of that last building, just around the corner. You can't miss 'em. And they'll be glad to see you, too."
"Oh? Why's that?"
"Not too many visitors around here lately, what with all the commotion."
He shook his head then; he'd said too much.
"Nothing to be concerned about. You just enjoy yourself and be sure to spend lots of money."
He grinned, and Rachel felt compelled to push him further, but she resisted the urge.
She had come here to get her head together, not work. Work was the last thing she needed to be thinking about.
The car rental agency was an eight-by-ten office with an efficient-looking beanpole of a kid manning the counter.
The old guy at the dock had been right. Rachel's arrival seemed to be the high point of this young man's evening, and he cheerfully rented her a Ford compact, which was parked along the side of the building amidst a couple dozen identical cars.
Despite his cheerfulness, there was something off about the kid's demeanor. A nervousness behind the smile. He was trying too hard, Rachel thought, and she again found herself feeling the urge to ask about it.
But again she resisted.
He wasn't a witness to a crime, or a convict staring out from behind a Plexiglas wall. He was an overly enthusiastic rental clerk and she was letting her natural curiosity get the better of her. What was going on inside his head was really none of her business.
She needed to relax and forget who and what she was for a while.
For the sake of the baby, if nothing else.
Rachel's pregnancy had come as a complete shock.
One night of mechanical sex—protected sex at that—did not often have such stupefying consequences, and while bearing a child was something she had dreamed of for many years, she'd always shoved the thought aside in favor of her career.
But now that motherhood would soon be a reality, Rachel was overjoyed.
Unfortunately, Dan hadn't shared in that joy.
"You're what? " he'd said when she broke the news to him.
She had asked to meet him for dinner, but he'd opted for a cup of coffee instead. An entire meal was too much of a commitment.
They sat in a trendy roasting house in Hollywood on a busy Tuesday afternoon and despite the lunch-time chatter around them, Dan's voice cut straight through and hit her right in the gut.
"Pregnant," she repeated, feeling annoyed by his reaction. "You want me to spell it for you?"
But just as he'd made it clear that he no longer loved her, Dan made it equally clear that he had no interest whatsoever in being a father, and had flat-out refused to believe that it was his child growing inside her.
Rachel knew, of course, that the baby didn't belong to anyone else. She hadn't slept with another man since the divorce, hadn't even dated, for godsakes.
So whether he liked the idea or not, Dan was indeed the father.
She could easily convince him with a paternity test, but what was the point? If he had no interest in loving and caring for their child, no blood test in the world would change his mind.
Or, more importantly, his heart.
So she knew she was on her own. Not an ideal situation emotionally, but she was fairly thick-skinned and she'd done well enough in her profession not to have to worry about income for several years.
And while raising a child alone was not something she was thrilled about, she knew she could manage. Even if it meant putting her work on hold for a while.
Still, Rachel couldn't help feeling a little lost and lonely, and she sometimes wished she had a partner to share this joy with. A man who would love her, unconditionally, and welcome her child into the world with open arms.
Good luck with that one.
The drive to the Waterford Inn took her less than ten minutes.
A large, refurbished Victorian, it stood at the end of a long block that was bordered by a hillside studded with trees. It was late in the day, and everywhere Rachel looked, those trees seemed to be shrouded in mist.
Hopefully tomorrow would bring some sunshine.
The house itself stood in stark contrast, its freshly painted pastel-blue both homey and inviting. But as she stepped out of the car and locked her door, Rachel didn't feel welcome at all.
Sensing someone watching her, she turned to find two women staring at her from across the road as they walked together toward the center of town.
There was mistrust in their expressions, a look that made her feel instantly uneasy. Was this simply the usual locals-versus-tourist hostility, or something else altogether?
To Rachel's mind it looked more like suspicion.
Or even fear.
The two women looked away from her now, chattering quietly as they walked. She had no idea what they were saying and didn't really want to know.
It couldn't be anything good.
Ignoring them, she took her suitcase from the trunk and moved up the front steps of the inn.
A moment later she was inside a quaint, old-fashioned foyer with a small reception counter on one side and shelves full of books on the other. Beyond, through a wide doorway, was a dining parlor and a polished wooden staircase that led to the second floor.
Rachel heard a faint grunt and moved up to the counter. A woman in her mid-forties was crouched behind it, searching through a low drawer, all of her concentration centered on the task.
Rachel cleared her throat and the woman jerked her head up and sucked in a breath, touching her chest in surprise.
"Oh, my," she said. "You scared the bojangles out of me."
Rachel offered her a sympathetic smile. "I was hoping you heard me come in."
"I can't hear a thing when I'm concentrating." She gestured to the open drawer. "And I can't seem to find my scissors, either. You wouldn't happen to have a pair on you, would you?"
Rachel shook her head and smiled. "The one thing I forgot to pack."
"I don't know where they got to. Maybe in back, by my bed. I don't like to sleep without some kind of " She glanced at Rachel's suitcase and frowned. "Who exactly are you?"
It was Rachel's turn to be surprised. "Rachel Rachel Hudson. I have a reservation?"
The woman took a moment to make the connection, then raised her eyebrows. "You didn't get my message?"
"I told you not to bother coming, dearie. We're not taking in guests for a while."
The woman was about to respond when her gaze shifted to a spot behind the counter. "There they are!"
She reached forward and brought out a pair of sharp sewing shears.
"I didn't get any message," Rachel said. "And I need a place to stay."
The woman was holding the shears just below the handle now, her fingers wrapped around it as if it were a dagger. She made several practice stabbing motions in the air, her eyes fixed on the blades. She seemed to have forgotten about Rachel altogether.
The woman looked up sharply. "I know you came a long way," she said, sounding only slightly apologetic, "but if you had any sense in you, you'd turn around right now and go back home."
She lowered the scissors and leaned forward, gesturing for Rachel to come close.
Rachel hesitated, not sure the woman was all there. Then she did as she was asked and the woman whispered, "It's for your own good, my dear. This place isn't safe. She won't rest until we're all dead."
Rachel was confused. "She?"
The woman straightened again, forgetting all about the apparent need to whisper. "You haven't heard about her?"
"Weeping Willow, that's—"
"All right, Maddie, enough."
Rachel turned to find a guy in jeans and a work shirt coming down the stairs. He was about thirty-three and darkly handsome, with what looked like several drops of Native American blood in his veins. He was a good six foot two with broad shoulders, workingman's hands and startling brown eyes that, despite her better instincts, made Rachel's heart stutter.
"Quit scaring the guests," he said to Maddie. "How do you expect to make a living, chasing people away all the time?"
"She needs to know what's going on around here."
"There's nothing going on that a little tried-and-true police work won't fix." He held out a hand for Rachel to shake. "I'm Nick Chavaree, the local sheriff. I'm staying here while my house is being " He paused, frowned, withdrew the hand. "You look familiar to me. Do I know you?"
Rachel was pretty sure that if she'd seen him before she'd remember. He was that good-looking. "No, I don't think so."
"Wait," he said, then crossed to the bookshelves. He searched for a moment, then pulled down a worn paperback that Rachel knew all too well.
A Dangerous Mind.
Her first bestseller.
Flipping the book over, Chavaree studied the photo on the back—an old one that needed to be updated—then looked at Rachel. "Tell me this isn't you."
"Sometimes I wish I could."
Even after three books in the top ten, she still wasn't used to being recognized. Most writers remain anonymous their entire lives.
Posted August 7, 2012
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