It's summertime, and Lena and Camilla are busy working away while a town vandal runs amok. Things get even more complicated when Jane Wyland pays Camilla a not-so-friendly visit and gives her an ultimatum: reveal Camilla's husband James's family secret, or she will. Lena assures Camilla that nothing will come of the woman's threats, since the family has no secrets to hide.
When Jane Wyland is later found dead, they're convinced that whatever secret she was planning to expose led to her death. With Lena's assistance, Camilla is determined to solve the case before the finger points at her...
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At the risk of appearing melodramatic, I must tell you this: When I met you, I realized there were no other women in the world. Not for me.
-From the correspondence of
James Graham and Camilla Easton, 1971
Graham House was a respite from the late-June heat, especially in the air-conditioned office of my collaborator and hero, Camilla Graham. I was there now, sitting on the floor and telling an amused Camilla the story of my first date, which had involved much awkward conversation and an even more awkward attempt at a kiss, and I had reduced Camilla to a giggling fit more than once as the story progressed. It was amusing to both of us to contemplate my fifteen-year-old self, pretending to be a sophisticated woman while being scared to death. Camilla's German shepherds, pleased to see me at floor level, had immediately demanded petting, and Heathcliff was starting to lean on me as he relaxed into my massage. "Heathcliff, get off! You giant rug. You're making me hot. You, too, Rochester." They smiled at me with open, panting mouths, remaining exactly where they were.
Camilla laughed. "You've spoiled them, Lena. They get much more attention now that there are two of us in the house-double the walks and the petting. And now that I hired this little local girl to take them out sometimes, they have three devoted mistresses. Clearly they are smug about it."
I sniffed and looked into the brown eyes of each dog. "What's in it for me, you guys?"
They had no suggestions. A crash sounded from above us, followed by some loud swearing. "Oh no," I said. "That doesn't sound good."
Camilla stared up at the ceiling, as if trying to see through it. "I hope no one is hurt."
"I hope the air conditioners are still intact," I said, perhaps selfishly. Camilla had central air, but somehow it only cooled the ground floor of her big old house. When the heat wave began, Adam Rayburn, Camilla's steady boyfriend, enlisted the help of a group he called the "Three Amigos," namely Doug Heller, Sam West, and Cliff Blake, to install window units in the bedrooms upstairs. The younger men had spent a great deal of time together in the last month, and they did in fact seem to function well as a group of three-at least when they were doing "guy" things. At other times they invited me to join them, along with Doug's girlfriend, Belinda.
"It will be nice to have those window units," Camilla said. "They should make for better sleeping. Adam assured me that the machines are not loud."
"It will be wonderful. Up until this last week I never had a problem with the temperature. I slept with the window open and enjoyed the nice breeze. But now the air is just-stagnant. I thought it was always cooler by the lake."
Camilla nodded. "We mostly have mild summers, but we've been prone to heat waves in early July, which begins in just a few days, can you believe it?" She shook her head, apparently marveling at the rapid passage of time. "You're more of a fall person, aren't you? You do look a bit like a wilted flower there on the floor."
"I'll perk up now that I'm in here. But walking to town this morning wasn't a good idea. It's incredibly humid out there."
We heard loud footsteps descending the stairs, and Doug Heller's blond head poked into the room. "Camilla, where might I find a toolbox?"
Camilla pointed. "The closet in the kitchen hallway. Bottom shelf."
"Great, thanks!" he said, darting into the next room.
"Everything okay up there?" Camilla asked.
"Fine," Doug said. "A minor emergency, but we handled it."
"You taught me some new swear words," I called to him, winking at Camilla.
Doug appeared in the doorway, looking slightly guilty. "You heard that? It wasn't me, anyway, it was Cliff. Something fell on his toe."
"Oh my gosh! Is he okay?" I asked. The dogs became alert at my tone; their ears stood at attention.
"He's fine. He's looking forward to the cold beer Camilla promised."
"I'm chilling the glasses as we speak," Camilla said. She stood up behind her desk and moved toward the kitchen. She wore a light summer dress of pale pink and a pair of white sandals. "I'll go check on them."
Doug went in with her, and I was left alone with the dogs. "I mean it, you guys, that's enough petting. I'm too hot to be surrounded by fur." I gave them each a last pat and then pushed slightly on their flanks. They got the message and ambled over to Camilla's desk, under which they liked to sleep during the day.
The doorbell rang. I managed to pull myself upright, feeling languid still, and to walk to the entrance hall. I peered through the window to see an elderly woman on the steps, looking like a mirage in the hazy heat; I did not recognize her.
I opened the door. "Hello," I said.
She studied me for a moment. She was tall and thin, with a halo of white hair. She wore a black cotton dress that draped down to her ankles; it looked severe, almost punishing, considering the temperature. Her hazel eyes were narrowed with a quizzical expression. "I'm here to see Camilla," she said.
"May I ask your name?" I said. I had no idea if this woman were a friend or a determined fan-Camilla did get unwelcome visitors now and again.
She jutted out her chin. "Tell her it's Jane Wyland. She knows who I am. But it's been a long, long time." She didn't smile when she said this.
I knew it would be polite to invite her in, but I didn't want to admit anyone to Camilla's house unless I knew Camilla wanted them there. "Excuse me for just a moment," I said. I left the door slightly ajar, so it didn't seem as if I were closing it in her face, and then I jogged to the kitchen.
Camilla was peering into the freezer, where the glasses were nicely chilled and waiting to be filled with beer. Doug had apparently gone back upstairs. "Lena, can you call up to the boys and ask when they think they'll be down?"
The boys. This made me smile, but something about the woman at the door distracted me from my amusement. "Yes, I'll do that. I don't know if you heard the doorbell, but there's a woman here to see you."
She closed the freezer and turned, brows raised. "Oh? Who is it?"
"I don't know her. She said her name is Jane Wyland."
Camilla blinked at me. "Jane Wyland? I-my goodness. I haven't seen that woman in more than forty years."
"I'll talk to her. Thank you, Lena."
I lingered near the doorway and heard Camilla greet the visitor in a rather stiff voice. The woman said something, and Camilla said, "Why don't you come in? We can talk in my study." And then, in response to a question, "That was Lena. She is my friend and writing collaborator. She lives here with me, actually."
They were closer now, and I heard the woman named Jane Wyland say, "You probably didn't think you'd ever hear from me again, did you, Camilla?"
Camilla's voice was smooth, unruffled. "I confess I didn't imagine our paths would cross, but then again, life has a way of bringing us back to our origins."
They moved into Camilla's office, and Camilla closed the door.
A shadow moved on the wall, and I jumped when a pair of hands touched my shoulders. "Hey," said Sam West.
I turned and whispered, "Hey."
He leaned in to give me a warm kiss. "Hey," I said again, appreciatively.
"Why are you whispering?" he asked, smiling at me.
I spoke a bit louder, though still quietly. "Camilla has some woman in there. She hasn't seen her in decades, and they went in the office and closed the door."
"Do you think we should call the police?"
I poked him in the chest. "Very funny. But I got a weird vibe. And it's not like ominous things haven't happened around here before."
"That's for sure." He looked around the kitchen. "I'm supposed to make sure that beer is in the offing."
"Oh, right. I'll help you pour." We retrieved the chilled glasses from the freezer and I pulled three bottles of Corona from the fridge. As we worked, I asked, "Everything okay up there?"
He was pouring carefully, trying to avoid too much foam. "Your chamber shall be cool and pleasant, my queen."
"Oh, thank goodness. I just cannot sleep when it's that hot."
He took a sip of his drink. "If you were awake, you should have walked down the hill to your boyfriend's house and told him of your insomnia. He has all sorts of ideas for night activities."
I laughed. "I spend plenty of nights at Sam House, so I know all about your night activities, and I approve. But when I'm working and staying here, I need the kind of cool you have over there in your gorgeous modern marvel of a house." Sam had jokingly started referring to his place, right down the bluff from Graham House, as "Sam House," and those two buildings had become my two residences.
Doug and Cliff came in and practically dove on the refreshments. Sam said, "Do you guys have time to sit for a while?" They nodded, and our group of four moved to Camilla's sunroom.
I flopped into a chair near the window. "Thank you so much to all of you. I am not a creature who thrives in the heat. Camilla said I looked like a wilted flower, and I felt like one this past week."
"You need to go down and jump in the lake when it gets this hot," Doug said, shrugging. "Ned Purchase offered us full access to his private strip of beach-he's in New York until September. Belinda and I have been in the water constantly."
"You just want to see her in a bathing suit," I joked.
Doug grinned. "She has some great bathing suits, but we've also opted for the au naturel experience. She rocks that, too."
Sam's eyes met mine. "We should swim more, Lena."
Cliff sighed. "Have a heart. Some people at this table have no significant other."
I touched his arm. "Why is that? How does a handsome guy like you end up coming to Blue Lake all alone?"
Cliff took a swig of beer and sighed. "Sam has already heard this whole story. There was someone. Beth. We lived together for several years. It didn't work out, but we parted on good terms. I think she's married now." He looked out the window at the lake, which was still as glass on this windless day.
"Maybe she just wasn't the right one for you," I said.
Cliff shrugged. "I've always been a little too devoted to the job. And I was-kind of obsessing over Sam West in those years. Following up on every little thing I could learn about my little brother here. Beth told me to just contact him, but I was stubborn."
We thought about that for a while. Cliff had finally taken a job in Blue Lake just to be closer to Sam, who hadn't known he had a half brother.
Doug pointed at his fellow cop. "We've got to get this guy back into the dating pool. Lots of attractive women in this town."
I studied Cliff and had a sudden inspiration. "You know what, Cliff? I know someone I think you would really enjoy meeting. And I know she would like you. You meet several of her criteria for what makes a good man."
Sam laughed. "And how do you know this woman's criteria?"
"She went to high school with Allison and me. She graduated a couple years before we did; she pursued veterinary school, and she got a job at an animal hospital in Chicago, but they ended up reducing their staff. Allison's been trying to get her to Blue Lake-you know Allison. She wants all her friends to come here."
"It worked with you," Doug said. We exchanged a smile; we both recalled the day that I came to town, lured by a phone call from Allison Branch.
"Allison's been sending her clippings of job openings at animal hospitals in this area. Allie is hilarious in her enthusiasm, as always. But Isabelle really is considering coming out for some interviews."
"Isabelle," said Cliff appreciatively. "That's a pretty name."
"Yes." I studied him. "Isabelle's the whole package: smart, pretty, fun. Like you, she was with someone, but he ended up revealing his true character, and Isabelle dumped him."
"Good for her," Sam said.
Cliff shrugged. "Well, if she ever comes to town, I'd be happy to meet her. Meanwhile, I'm on duty in about an hour and I need to get home and put on the uniform."
Doug's face changed; he always looked serious when he thought about cop things. "I'm off today, and I have plans to take Belinda to Warrenville for a movie and dinner. But if you hear any more about our vandal, let me know."
"Blue Lake has a vandal?" I asked.
Doug and Cliff both took on that shuttered look that law enforcement people get when they can't share information. "Don't we always?" Doug said lightly. He stood up, and so did Cliff.
I turned to Sam. "I think your playmates are leaving."
Sam stood and joined the other two as they walked to the kitchen door. The men exchanged some of those hearty man-hugs and thumped one another loudly on the back. I darted in and hugged them all, too. "I appreciate your help, and I always love your company. Come back soon, and we'll play a board game in Camilla's nice cool house."
"Invite Isabelle, too," Cliff joked.
Doug put a hand on my shoulder. "Belinda wants to have a little get-together at her place soon. She's thinking maybe a Fourth of July party. She'll be contacting you."
"Okay! Sounds fun," I said.
I waved and watched from the kitchen doorway as Sam walked his friends to the front door and saw them out. He shut the door and turned to say something to me, but he was interrupted by a loud voice saying, "Of course you would protect him! You were in love with him!" Camilla's study door flew open and the woman named Jane Wyland came stalking out, her fists clenched at her sides. Camilla emerged as well, her face paler than I had ever seen it, her eyes desolate.
The Wyland woman moved to the front door without saying a word, but when she reached the place where Sam stood, she pointed at him and said, "The notorious Sam West. It figures he would be your friend. That says a lot about your family, doesn't it? The whole Graham family. I'll be back tomorrow, Camilla. So make your decision."