With three Donovan brothers and an Irish priest watching her, Emma Sharpe choked back her sample of the smoky single-malt Scotchher sixth and last tasting of the night. "Intense," she said, managing not to slam the tulip-shaped nosing glass on the table and grab the pitcher of water. Give it a few seconds. She was an FBI agent, after all. Tough as nails. She smiled at the four men. "People pay to drink this one, huh?"
"Dearly," Finian Bracken, the Irish priest, said. "You're not one for a heavily peated whiskey, I see."
Emma tried to distinguish the other flavors of the samplespices, fruits, whateverbut only tasted the peat. "I don't know if I'm one for a lightly peated whiskey, either."
A cold wind penetrated Hurley's thin walls and sprayed the old windows with salt water and rain. The restaurant, a fixture on the Rock Point harbor, was basically a shack that jutted out over the water. Now only a few lights penetrated the dark night and fog. Finian had organized the impromptu tasting, setting up on a back table away from what few diners were there on a windy, rainy late-October Friday. He and Michael, Andy and Kevin Donovan were already gathered over a half-dozen bottles of highend whiskey when Emma had arrived in southern Maine an hour ago, up from Boston and her job with a small, specialized FBI unit.
Only Colin, the second-born Donovan, wasn't in Rock Point. Mike was a Maine guide, Andy a lobster-man and Kevin a state marine patrol officer, but, like Emma, Colin was an FBI agent.
Not like me, she thought.
She specialized in art crimes. Colin was a deep-cover agent. He'd left his hometown a month ago, pretending to return to FBI headquarters in Washington. The true nature of his work was known to only a few even within the FBI, but his brothers had guessed that he didn't sit at a desk. Initially he'd kept in touch at least intermittently with his family and friendsand Emmabut for the past three weeks, no one had heard from him.
The silence was far too long, not just for his family and friends but for the FBI. And for Emma.
She felt the draft at her feet. She had come prepared for the conditions, dressed in jeans, black merino wool sweater, raincoat, wool socks and Frye boots. The Donovans were in a mix of flannel, canvas and denim, no sign they even noticed the cold and the damp. Finian had opted against his usual black suit and Roman collar and instead wore a dark gray Irish-knit sweater and black corduroy trousers. He was a sharp-featured, handsome Irishman in his late thirties who had arrived in the small Maine fishing village in June. He had run into Colin, home for a few days in the midst of a difficult, dangerous mission, and they quickly became unexpected friends.
Emma hadn't met Colin until September. She suspected his friendship with the Irish priest was less of a mystery to her than to his brothers. Finian Bracken was a fish out of water in Rock Point. He had no history with the town and little familiarity with the FBI. He also had a ready Irish wit, and he knew whiskey. He was objective, intelligent, toleranta safe friend for a federal agent with secrets.
Andy Donovan held his small glass to the light and examined the Scotch's deep caramel color, then swirled it and brought it to his nose. He raised his eyesthe same shade of gray as Colin'sto Finian. "Do you want me to tell you what I smell?"
"If you like," Finian said. "Just sniff. Don't inhale deeply. It's not a yoga class."
"As if you'd ever find one of us in a yoga class," Andy said, then shrugged. "It smells like peat."
Finian observed him with interest. "What else? Do you smell spices, fruitchocolate, maybe?"
"Nope. It smells like an expensive Scotch to me."
"Have a taste, then," the priest said with a sigh, his Irish Kerry accent more pronounced than usual.
"No problem." Andy tossed back the Scotch and made a face. "I'm with Emma. Too smoky for me."
It was the final whiskey of the evening. The Donovan brothers hadn't left so much as a drop in any of the specially designed glasses, one for each whiskey.
The glasses all had little hats, like Scottish tams, that concentrated the aromas of each sample. Finian had brought them from the rectory; Hurley's didn't have whiskey nosing glasses. Before turning to the priesthood six years ago, Finian and his twin brother, Declan, had founded and operated Bracken Distillers on the southwest Irish coast. Bracken 15 year old, an award-winning single malt and rare peated Irish whiskey, was one of the night's offeringsor "expressions," as Finian called his lineup of bottles.
Emma noticed Mike, the eldest Donovan, eyeing her from across the round table. He was down from the remote Bold Coast where he worked as an independent wilderness guide. "Special Agent Sharpe's a wine drinker. Aren't you, Emma?"
She couldn't detect any hint of criticism or sarcasm in his tone, but he still was looking at her as if she had done something wrong. "I like wine." She kept any de-fensiveness out of her voice. "How about you, Mike? Do you pack a nice Central Coast red in your canoe when you take tourists on moose-sighting excursions?"
Kevin and Andy both grinned. Mike ignored them and settled back in his chair. "I took a couple out on the river in August. They had a wicker picnic hamper stocked with real wineglasses, cloth napkins, silver cutlery, French cheese, a baguette, apples and pears and two bottles of fancy wine."
"Must have weighed down the canoe," Kevin, the marine patrol officer, said.
"Oh, yeah. They insisted on having a picnic on the riverbank but they didn't count on Maine mosquitoes. They lasted three minutes before we had to throw everything back in the canoe. We paddled straight back to their car."
"Don't tell me," Andy said, amused. "The next stop on their Maine tour was Heron's Cove."
"Couldn't wait to get there. I'm sure they enjoyed the quaint shops and fancy restaurants."
"Everyone does," Emma said.
"I don't care." Mike raised his as-yet untouched glass of the heavily peated Scotch; his eyes were lighter than those of his three younger brothers but no less intense. "Sldinte."
Finian winked at Emma but said nothing. She reached for the Inish Turk Beg, a clear, triple-distilled whiskey from an independent distillery on a small island off the west coast of Ireland. She splashed a little into a fresh glass, set down the distinctive tilted bottle, then held up her glass to Mike. "Sldinte."
He swallowed the Scotch and she sipped the Inish Turk Beg, one of Finian's favorites. He had explained that it was gentle on the palate, clean and fresh on the nose, with fruity aromas, flavors of apple and orange zest and a dry finish. Emma wasn't discriminating enough to go much beyond whether she could get a taste down with or without choking.
"Colin would have enjoyed tonight," said his eldest brother, still watching her.
Emma nodded. "He'll have that chance soon. Lots of whiskey left."
"Are you and your FBI friends any closer to finding him?"
"You're assuming he's missing"
"That's right. I am."
Her head spun and she wished she had skipped the extra taste of the Inish Turk Beg. "I can't discuss your brother's work with you."
Andy and Kevin were as serious now as Mike was. Even Kevin, a law enforcement officer himself, didn't have any information on his older brother's work as one of the FBI's most valuable ghosts. Emma had only a few details on his latest mission herself. It wasn't as if Colin couldn't handle himself in a dangerous situation. He was bold, aggressive and tough.
He was also sexy, she thought.
Incredibly sexy, in fact.
She kept that assessment to herself. "I'm sorry. I don't know why Colin hasn't been in touch."
"He's not a desk jockey in Washington." Mike got up abruptly, grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair. "You don't have to confirm or deny. We all know. He's always stuck his nose in dangerous situations. Even as kids, he'd be the one jumping into cold water and waves, chasing sharks. It's his way."
"I understand that," Emma said.
"Is it your way, Emma?"
She didn't respond at once. Aware of the four men watching her, she picked up one of the tiny tam-style hats and set it atop a glass. "Maybe Colin and I have more in common than you realize."
"You're a Sharpe," Mike said. "You were a nun."
"A novice. I never made my final vows." Emma kept her voice even, neutral. "I studied art history and art conservation during my time with the sisters. I come from a family of art detectives. That background helps in my work with the FBI."
Mike shrugged on his jacket. "I just think you have a knack for attracting trouble."
"And you're worried about your brother."
"Maybe I'm worried about you, too."
She let his comment slide. She had already said too much. "When do you go home?"
He grinned. "Not soon enough for you, I expect." The seriousness returned to his eyes as he looked down at her. "If you hear from Colin, you'll let us know, okay?"
It was more of an order than a request but Emma nodded. "I will, Mike."
He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "Take care of yourself." He shifted his gaze to Finian. "Thanks for the whiskey and the whiskey education, Father. Uisce beatha. 'The water of life.' I like that."
"We'll do it again when Colin's in town," Finian said.
"Yeah. We will." The eldest Donovan grinned suddenly. "I think I tasted chocolate in that last Scotch."
Kevin and Andy thanked Finian and said good-night to him and to Emma as they followed Mike out of the nearly empty restaurant. The late-October weather wouldn't faze them. They would take whatever weather northern New England threw at them in stride. Rain, snow, sleet, fog, wind. Wouldn't matter.
Once the brothers disappeared through the outer door, Finian sighed as he corked the Inish Turk Beg. "If you had information that could ease their worry, Emma, would you give it to them? Could you?"
"If I'd heard from Colin, I'd have said so."
"His story of an intense schedule in Washington has worn thin. I assume the FBI will be in touch with his family if need be."
Emma felt the whiskey burning in her throat. "The safety of an agentany agentis of paramount importance to the FBI. Colin's brothers know that."
"But you don't know where he is, do you?"
The look he gave her told her she didn't need to answer.
A strong gust of wind whistled, whipped more rain against the windows. The small, protected working harbor was lost in the dense, swirling fog. In September, Emma had gone on a boat ride with Colin, kayaked with him, picked apples with him. Laughed, made love. They had met over the horrific murder of a nun at the Sisters of the Joyful Heart, Emma's former convent. Until then, she hadn't realized another FBI agent had grown up just a few miles from her own home in Heron's Cove. They'd had a short time together before Colin was gone again, chasing illegal arms merchants.
He had the FBI behind him but, ultimately, he was alone. Emma understood he could go dark, but not like this. Not with no word for weeks.
His Irish friend's midnight eyes narrowed on her. "Colin's in trouble, isn't he, Emma? It's all right. You don't have to answer. I watched you tonight. I could see the answer for myself."
"He's good at working alone. All the Donovans are." She watched raindrops slide down the window. "Do you ever feel alone here?"
"I'm here for a reason. I have a purpose."
She glanced back at Finian. "That doesn't answer the question, does it?"
"It does for me."
She thought she understood what he meant. After the deaths of his wife and their two young daughters in a sailing accident, he had walked away from Bracken Distillers to enter the priesthood and follow his calling wherever it took him. In June, he had landed in Rock Point to serve struggling St. Patrick's parish while its priest, Father Callaghan, was in Ireland for a year.
Emma touched the elegant, distinctive gold label of the Bracken 15 year old. "Do you miss Ireland?"
"Every day. That doesn't mean I'm unhappy here. What about you, Emma? Are you happy?"
His question caught her off guard. "Right now?"
"In your life. In what you do. In where you are, at this moment."
A cold draft came through the thin walls and worn floorboards. "I don't miss the convent, Father, if that's what you're asking."
He smiled. "You only call me 'Father' when you think I'm speaking about your life as a religious sister."
"I suppose you're right," she said with a small laugh. "Yes, Fin, I'm happy. In my work, in my private life. I haven't known Colin long but our relationship feels like the real thing. I understand that I'm a new addition to his life, and that his brothers regard me as impermanent."
"Is that how you feel, Emma? Impermanent?"
"Colin and I are very different. I know that much."
"You're worried about him, too. And you miss him."
She helped herself to a couple of the Simple White Stonewall Kitchen crackers Finian had provided, and his Donovan tasters hadn't touched, then poured water from one of Hurley's plastic pitchers. Finian disapproved of adding ice or water to whiskey but he encouraged having water on the side to help counter the dehydrating effects of the alcohol. Only during a tasting did he tolerate, if reluctantly, adding a bit of room-temperature water to the whiskey, which arguably helped with "nosing" the aromas, but there'd been no takers tonight. Mike, Andy and Kevin had all stuck to whiskey, period. Emma had followed their lead, if, admittedly, in part because of their scrutiny.
Her head spun with whiskey, fatigue and tensionwith the uncertainty and frustration she felt at not knowing where Colin was, if he was safe. "He'll be back, Fin," she said in a half whisper.
Finian transferred the tasting glasses to a tray and took them to the empty bar. Hurley's would wash them and he would pick them up tomorrow. Emma ate the crackers and took a few sips of the water, thinking now that she should have stayed in Boston for the weekend instead of making the two-hour drive to southern Maine. She had become adept at avoiding lonely evenings, but tonight, she suspected, would be very lonely indeed.
Finian returned to the table and lined up bottles of Glenfiddich, Inish Turk Beg, Midleton, Lavagulin, Connemara and Talisker. Most of his choices for the evening were from his private stock. "No one over imbibed," he said.
"I'm still not fit to drive." Emma got to her feet and pulled on her raincoat, skipping buttons and just tying the belt loosely around her. "I can help carry stuff to your car."
"I walked here from the rectory. I'll come with the car to pick up everything in the morning."
"I left mine at Colin's house and walked down here, too. I made it before the rain started, but it looks as if it's letting up. We can walk back together if you'd like."
"That'd be good. Emma
" Finian touched her shoulder, none of his usual spark or humor in his eyes. "You must find Colin."
She nodded. "I know, Fin."
They headed out into the cool evening air, the fog breaking up, the breeze steady off the water, smelling of salt, sand and seaweed. She had enjoyed the evening, listening to Finian describe the different "expressions" of whiskeyor whisky, if it were Scotchand how each was made, dispelling myths and preconceptions in his Irish brogue. She had enjoyed being with Mike, Andy and Kevin as they had teased Finian Bracken, her, each other.
Even so, ultimately, she knew, her presence had reminded Colin's brothers and his Irish priest friend of what they were trying so hard not to think aboutthat Colin was an FBI agent who hadn't been in touch in far too long, and was likely in trouble.