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By WENDY CORSI STAUB
Copyright © 1996
Wendy Corsi Staub
All right reserved.
The ferry isn't yet a far-off speck on the dusky horizon,
but he knows it's there, cutting toward Tide Island through
the choppy gray waters off the New England coast. Complete
darkness will fall well before it docks at the landing
down the road to release its load of weekend passengers.
In summer, the Friday-night ferry is always crowded with
commuting husbands and vacationing families, college students
who work as weekend waiters or lifeguards, couples
in love, sticky-faced children.
But now, in the shortest month of the year, when winter
is at its bleakest and the island offers nothing but silent,
chilly isolation, there won't be many people on board. Just
the few hardy nature-loving souls willing to brave the elements;
perhaps some island-dwellers returning with groceries
from the mainland; maybe a handful of summer house
owners coming out to inspect the damage December's
Nor'easter inflicted upon their property.
That's about it.
Except for them.
He knows they're on board-all three of them. Still
strangers to each other, but not to him.
He has been watching them for so long now.
A quiver of anticipation passes over him and he cautions
himself to relax. He has to maintain control at all times.
He can't afford to take any risks at this point, just when
it's all coming together at last.
After all these years ...
Soon enough, he assures himself. It won't be long now.
He casts his gaze back out over the water, giddy with
excitement. He'd heard on the radio a little while ago that
there's a growing likelihood this weekend might be stormy.
Wouldn't that be perfect?
Even at this moment, they're probably enjoying the brisk
twilight ride. He pictures them scattered in different corners
of the deck or cabin, lost in their own thoughts, thinking
about the weekend ahead, filled with excited expectations.
They aren't the only ones who are looking forward to it.
His features twist with mirth, and he stifles a giggle.
Very, very soon.
He lets the filmy lace curtain drop back into place and
turns away from the window.
He still has a lot to do before they arrive.
As the ferry leaves Crosswinds Bay and heads out into
the open Atlantic, Jennie turns her face into the cold, salty
wind and smiles.
What a relief to be leaving everything behind, if only for
a few days. Already, she can feel the chronic tension starting
to loosen its grip on her body. She takes a deep breath of
the sea air and lets it out on a satisfying sigh.
By the time she reached the ferry terminal twenty minutes
ago, her jaw ached from clenching and her neck and
back muscles had been a jumble of stress knots.
Knowing Friday night traffic out of Boston was always
bad, she'd left at three o'clock to beat it. Unfortunately, a
jackknifed tractor-trailer had rammed into a car on I-95 and
brought her to a standstill by three-fifteen. And she'd lost
an hour by the time she'd managed to creep by the accident
scene, ducking her head after a fleeting glimpse of the
emergency vehicles with their flashing red lights.
Spinning domed lights-and sirens-always bring her
back to that awful day three years ago.
So does the sight of blood, no matter how scant. Just two
days ago, she'd cut her finger on a paring knife and found
herself still trembling uncontrollably a half hour later.
Today, she had struggled to shake the disturbing memories
from her mind and concentrate on the road. She really
had to step on it to make the five o'clock ferry from
Crosswinds Bay on Rhode Island's southwestern coast.
As a rule, she hardly ever went more than five miles
above the speed limit, but she didn't really have a choice
if she wanted to get away for the weekend. And she was
determined to do that.
The cozy Bramble Rose Inn seemed to beckon silently
from miles away, promising refuge. She couldn't miss the
ferry-it was the last one tonight. She was willing to risk
a speeding ticket to catch it.
Besides, everyone else on the road seemed to be flying
by at eighty miles an hour anyway. Jennie had slid her small
red Hyundai out into the passing lane and let the speedometer
climb to seventy.
Just past Providence, she was stopped by a humorless
trooper who promptly slapped her with a speeding ticket.
Now, shaking her head at the thought of having to part
with a precious fifty dollars to pay the fine, she pulls her
black leather gloves out of the bag at her feet and slips
them over her winter-chapped hands. It's freezing on the
deck, but she doesn't want to go inside yet.
There's something cleansing about standing out here with
the fresh, fishy air whipping through her hair and stinging
her cheeks so that they feel swollen. A bell clangs on the
bridge somewhere above her, bidding a hollow farewell to
the shore they are rapidly leaving behind.
"Excuse me, do you know what time it is?"
Jennie turns toward the voice. A young woman stands
behind her, clutching the railing with one hand to keep her
balance as the boat rolls over the waves. She's so bundled
in a parka and scarf that all that's visible is a pair of pretty
brown eyes and a snub nose that looks bright red from the
Jennie pushes her glove up her wrist and peeks at her
watch. "It's almost a quarter after six." She practically has
to shout to be heard over the wind and crashing waves.
"Thanks. Do you know when the ferry is supposed to
"I think at around seven-thirty. At least, that's what the
"Good. I'm starving."
"Me, too." Jennie remembers that she hasn't eaten since
the half a blueberry muffin from Dunkin' Donuts that she'd
gulped down this morning in the car on the way to work.
She'd been too busy trying to wrap things up and make an
early getaway to even think about lunch.
The other woman reaches into her pocket and produces
a fat-free granola bar in one fuzzy-mittened hand. "Want
half? It'll tide you over."
Jennie hesitates. "Oh, that's all right, you don't have to-"
Abruptly, the woman snaps the bar in two and hands one
piece to Jennie with a grin. "Here. I'd feel guilty gobbling
the whole thing down myself. Besides, I'm on a diet."
"Thanks," Jenny says.
"Don't look so grateful. It's fat free and it tastes like
cardboard, so I'm not being as generous as you think."
Jennie smiles back at her and clumsily pushes the bar up
through the torn wrapper with gloved fingers before taking
For a moment, they stand side by side, crunching and
staring out at the water.
Then the other woman says brightly, "I'm Sandy Cavelli."
"Nice to meet you. I'm ... Laura. Laura Towne." Might
as well get into the habit now so she won't be as likely to
slip and say Jennie when she gets to the inn.
For another long moment, they both lean on the railing
and stare out at the darkening sky and sea, munching the
"Have you ever been to Tide Island before?" Sandy asks,
popping the last bite into her mouth. She crumples the
empty wrapper and shoves it into her pocket.
"No. Have you?"
"Once when I was younger, with my parents and brothers.
I don't remember much about it, except that we came
across some people skinny dipping one day when we were
trying to have a picnic on the beach. My parents freaked
Jennie smiles. "I bet."
"They didn't like the island much, anyway. They thought
it was overrun with hippies. That's what my father kept
"Tie-Dye Land," Jennie says, remembering. "That's what
people call the island, according to my sister."
"Well, the place is beautiful, from what I've heard."
"Yeah, and deserted at this time of year." Sandy shakes
her head. "I wasn't even going to tell my parents where I
was going for the weekend, but my mother overheard me
talking about it on the phone with my best friend. And she
asked me about it, and then she told my father, and he blew
up, as usual. But they can't stop me, you know? Even
though I live under their roof, I'm an adult." She lifts her
double chin stubbornly. "You know what I mean?"
Jennie nods, thinking she doesn't seem so sure of that as
she wants to be. She looks and sounds almost like a rebellious
Abruptly, Sandy changes the subject. "So how come
you're coming here, and not jetting off to St. Thomas or
something? I mean, isn't that what people do when they go
on vacation in the dead of winter?"
Jennie shrugs. "I don't know. The Caribbean is probably
so crowded when it's winter in the northeast."
Probably. Why'd you say that? You know it is.
But she doesn't want to remember her November trip to
Jamaica with Keegan.
"True." Sandy grins. "But I'll bet it's crowded with lots
of eligible guys."
"Unfortunately, yes. I was engaged once, but it didn't
work out. How about you?"
Jennie nods. She's on the verge of saying, "I just broke
up with someone," but catches herself. It isn't at all like
her to spill the details of her life to a complete stranger.
And of course, she would never tell this Sandy Cavelli her
whole painful, horrible story. The people she works with
don't even know about that.
"It's so hard to meet anyone halfway decent. I haven't
even had a date in two months," Sandy says wistfully. "How
Something about this woman is making Jennie uncharacteristically
tempted to confide in her, but again she holds
back. "Not really," she says simply.
"I'm meeting someone on the island," Sandy informs her.
Jennie assumes she just means that she's determined to
find a nice guy this weekend until Sandy goes on, "It's
kind of a blind date."
"Yeah. This was his idea. He has a house out here. He's
"A doctor-wow," Jennie comments because she knows
Sandy expects it.
"Wow is right."
"Where does he practice? On the island?"
"No, this is just where his weekend house is," Sandy
says a bit smugly. Then her expression grows a little embarrassed.
"I, uh, I'm not sure where his practice is. Like
I said, this is a blind date. I don't know much about him."
"Huh," Jennie says, nodding. "Sounds romantic."
"You're telling me. And it doesn't matter where he works,
because wherever it is, I'd move out there in a minute if
we hit it off. It would be a pleasure never to set foot in
Hartford again ... unless he happens to live there, too."
"That's where you're from?"
"Yeah. Actually, not Hartford. Near it, though ... a little
town called Greenbury." At Jennie's blank look, she nods.
"Never heard of it, huh? I'm not surprised. How about
"I live in Boston."
"What do you do?"
"I'm an antique dealer," Jennie says, before she remembers
that she's supposed to be Laura, and Laura is a salesclerk
at the Gap. Well, it's too late to take it back now.
Her expression must have revealed something, because
Sandy says, "Not all it's cracked up to be, huh?"
"No, it's not that, it's just ..."
It's just that every damn thing in my life reminds me of
Keegan, that's what.
"What don't you like about it?"
"Oh, I like it." Jennie tilts her face upward. "Did you
just feel a drop?"
"No, but I'm so bundled up a baseball-sized hailstone
wouldn't make me flinch. Is it raining?"
"Maybe it was just spray. But I think I'm going to go
inside anyway. My feet are starting to get numb."
"Okay. I'll stick around out here for a while longer. Maybe
I'll get windburn on my face. I look a lot better when I have
"Thanks for the granola."
"See you later." Jennie lets go of the railing and moves
toward the door on unsteady feet.
A blast of warm air rushes at her as she steps into the
cabin. The silence there is pronounced after the roar of the
wind outside. Jennie loosens the top button of her coat and
heads toward a vacant spot on the bench against the wall.
As she sits down, she notices that the striking blond
woman beside her is clutching her stomach, looking wan.
Still feeling the effects of Sandy's outgoing friendliness,
Jennie reaches into her pocket for the Tums she put there
earlier, just in case.
"Excuse me, but would you like one of these?" she asks
the stranger, holding out the roll.
The woman barely shakes her head, then closes her green
eyes abruptly, effectively shutting Jennie out.
I guess I wouldn't be very friendly if I felt seasick, either,
Jennie tells herself, slipping the Tums back into her pocket
and reaching into her bag for a magazine.
She settles back to read as the last streaks of pink fade
from the sky and the ferry chugs swiftly through the darkness
toward Tide Island.
Liza steps from the gangplank onto the old wooden pier
and looks around. There's nothing to see. Blackness is
everywhere-the water, the sky, the buildings a few hundred
feet away. The only light is on the boat deck behind her,
and even that casts a murky glow that only makes the place
She doesn't know what she'd expected. She'd known the
island wouldn't be hopping in the off-season, that there
wouldn't be many shops or restaurants open.
But this ... this is like a ghost town.
Across from the landing, through the wisps of fog that
hang in the air, she can make out the main street. She recognizes
it from a brochure she'd picked up at a travel agency
in her neighborhood. She'd been enchanted by the street in
the photograph, with its row of grand Victorian hotels and
Now their mansard roofs and gables loom in spooky silhouettes
against the night sky. They're obviously deserted,
the windows boarded with plywood against winter's harsh
Liza hesitates as other passengers disembark and scurry
toward a nearby parking lot. She can hear a few shouted
greetings; apparently some people are being met at the landing
by friends or relatives.
She glances around, wondering what happened to the
woman on the boat who had offered her the Tums. Apparently,
she'd thought Liza was seasick. She wasn't.
She had been thinking about Robert, a man she'd been
dating lately. He'd left at least twenty-five messages on her
home answering machine this week. Couldn't he take a
When the other woman had approached her on the boat,
Liza hadn't been in the mood for company. But those
friendly lilac-colored eyes would be beyond welcome right
There's no sign of her.
Feeling suddenly alone, Liza reaches for her gloves again.
She sets her Vuitton bag on the rough planks at her feet,
slips her hands into the cozy cashmere lining, and feels
She tries to figure out which direction she has to walk
in to find the inn.
Excerpted from DEARLY BELOVED
by WENDY CORSI STAUB
Copyright © 1996 by Wendy Corsi Staub.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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