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What Lies Beneath
By Anne Stuart
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMolly Ferrell pulled her car to a stop on the bluff overlooking the ocean, switching off the engine and putting the stick shift in first gear. She'd been sitting in her cramped little Honda for the better part of two days, and she was finally within sight of her destination. Hidden Harbor, Maine, was a small town halfway up the seacoast, nestled between two spits of land, and even in the bustling new millennium it still remained relatively secluded.
Of course, it wasn't high summer. Autumn had come, turning the leaves to shades of gold and brass and copper, the summer vacationers had departed, and most of the inns and bed-and-breakfasts had closed for the season. She'd been lucky to find a place to stay. There was always the larger town of Sanford some thirty miles away, but that wouldn't have been half as effective. She needed to live in Hidden Harbor itself. To find the answers she needed.
She'd had to make her reservation the old-fashioned way, by telephone, since the Internet had proven surprisingly unhelpful. Just when she was ready to give in and call the Sanford Holiday Inn, her luck had changed. The Harbor Inn was closed for repair and renovations, but the owner, Marjorie Twitchell, could offer her a room and not much else if she was willing torough it.
Molly would have pitched a tent on the town green if she had to. She'd managed to finagle three months leave to finish her research. By January she'd be back teaching at the huge educational factory that was Southern Michigan University, and she was going to have to work fast if she was at least going to have a decent outline for her book under her belt. Though deep in her heart of hearts she was hoping for a rough draft.
It was time to get on with her life. Time to put away childish things. Her near obsession for a long-dead writer was just that - a remnant from her dreamy-eyed adolescence. If she ever wanted to make tenure then she had to let go of the ghost of Michael O'Flannery. And she'd come to Hidden Harbor to do just that.
Why couldn't she have had a crush on someone normal, like an actor or a rock star instead of a relatively obscure poet? Michael O'Flannery had lived and died shrouded in mystery, and only the barest details had surfaced, most of them suspect. In the twenty years since he'd killed himself he'd been almost forgotten. One brilliant novel and a collection of gorgeous, morbid poetry could only carry a reputation so far. His mysterious death added to the allure, as had his youth, but even that had faded in the past few years, making O'Flannery nothing more than a literary footnote. And leaving a strange, impractical obsession that had started when she was an impressionable fifteen-year-old and still haunted her more than a decade later. She loved his words and his images, the quirky way his mind had worked. She loved everything about him, including his tragic fate.
If she could find the truth then maybe she could let go of him. Tear his short, brilliant life into little pieces to be examined and prodded and then packed away.
She was ready to move on, ready to turn past lost poets, past broken engagements, past dreamy vulnerability into hardheaded practicality.
It was time she grew up. Once she made tenure she wouldn't want to leave the university. Wouldn't dare to leave that kind of security. If she was going to have choices in her life she needed to do something about it now, before it was too late.
The town of Hidden Harbor looked peaceful from her vantage point. There were no fancy yachts moored in the harbor - only sturdy fishing boats. Lobster boats most likely. She knew from her research that lobstering was the major industry in the small town. Those who didn't work in the trade were pretty much destitute. Like Michael O'Flannery's drunken father.
None of his family had survived him - he'd had no siblings, no aunts or uncles, and his parents had died in a car accident before he'd killed himself. But there'd be neighbors. People who'd been there when he'd grown up, who'd have stories, memories. Who might know something that would lead to the truth about Michael O'Flannery. What demons had driven him to write such dark, haunted prose? And what had driven him to take a gun and walk into the woods, never to be seen again?
If she were really lucky she might even find a photograph of him. He'd been notoriously camera shy during his short time in the spotlight, and the only pictures that remained were shots of the back of his head. She'd spent years of her life fantasizing about someone and she didn't even know what he looked like.
In a way, that had been part of his appeal. He could be anything she wanted - tall, short, lean, muscle-bound, close-cropped dark hair or long blond curls. It was one more way she was able to convince herself she was in love with his words, not the man himself. How could you love someone you'd never even seen?
Excerpted from What Lies Beneath by Anne Stuart Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.