Georgie, Lissa, and Bronwyn have been inseparable since dominating their college swim team; swimming has always been an escape from their own problems, but now their shared passion has turned deadly. How can it be true that Lissa, the strongest swimmer they know, drowned? Granted, there is something strange about Kanu Cove, where Lissa was last seen, swimming off the coast of the fabulous island resort she owned with her husband.
Lissa’s closest friends gather at the resort to honor her life, but Georgie and Bron can’t seem to stop looking over their shoulders. Danger lurks beneath the surface of the crystal-clear water, and even their luxurious private villas can’t help them feel safe. As the weather turns ominous, trapping the funeral guests together on the island, nobody knows who they can trust. Lissa’s death was only the beginning....
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
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The hotel is beautiful-of course it is; it topped the CondŽ Nast list of the best small hotels worldwide-but that barely registers with me because I'm late. Hideously, terribly late. It's not my fault: the plane was delayed, and it took forever for the luggage to be unloaded; but that hardly matters. All through the teeth-clenchingly slow two-hour journey from the airport I've been fervently hoping that something might have delayed the start, but now that I'm here, spilling out of the cool taxi into the hot, humid reception area-open on all sides to allow any breath of wind to waft through-I'm abruptly aware of how slim a hope that is. There's a smiling woman, local in appearance, waiting for me by the enormous bamboo sofa; there's a tray laid on the table in front of it with a moist towel and some kind of tropical drink complete with a cocktail umbrella. I cut off her welcome. "Has it started?"
"Oh." She's visibly startled. "You're here for the, um, you mean-Lissa?" I nod tersely. "But yes, it started already."
"Where? Where do I go?"
"Down to the beach," she says, pointing, her own gaze following her finger. Then she looks back at me, and her brow furrows in consternation. "But ma'am-"
I'm already rushing past her. "I'll check in after. Hold on to my bags, please," I call over my shoulder.
"But ma'am-" she calls after me. I don't stop, though, because I'm late. I'm late, I'm late, I'm terribly late.
The reception area is set up on a hill. I hurry down the (charming, but steep) stone steps, pushing my sunglasses back up my nose repeatedly and bemoaning my precarious wedge sandals, with barely a glance at the azure blue of the sea, shimmering in the late-afternoon sun. The path twists and turns as it picks its way through the tropical foliage. I can't see the beach that it's surely about to spit me out onto-but then I turn a corner, and the horseshoe-shaped cove is laid out before me. The cliffs near the mouth drop straight into the sea, but in the main belly of the cove, there's a beach, some thirty meters wide at this tide, and perhaps one hundred meters long. Set out in the middle of it are rows of chairs, with an aisle down the middle. Next to what I can only imagine is the priest, I see the unmistakable figure of Jem facing the sixty or so attendees, his sunglasses hooked on by one arm at the open neck of the white linen shirt he's wearing.
And then a breath of wind takes the skirt of the lightweight halter neck summer dress I'm wearing-black, but scattered with scarlet flowers-and streams it out sideways, as if a flag. Jem's head turns toward me, and after the merest of beats, he lifts his hand. It's a small gesture, but nevertheless, the priest tails off and most of the crowd turns reflexively, and I realize with dawning horror that every one of them is wearing white. White. All of them.
Jesus. It looks like a fucking wedding, not a funeral, I think. Jem could be a groom waiting for his bride. A wave of nausea swells inside me. I stamp it down ruthlessly; this is not the time to fall apart. I force my shoulders back against the weight of all these pairs of eyes and walk deliberately down the last few steps, ignoring the mutters I can already hear, my scandalous black and scarlet cutting a path straight down the aisle, which is thankfully paved by wooden slats. White linen shirts, white sundresses, white wide-legged beach trousers . . . How did I miss that detail? There are one or two pairs of pale beige tailored shorts, but other than that, everything is resolutely snowy. Behind my sunglasses I'm searching for Bronwyn, or Duncan, who will surely be near the front. I spot Duncan's height first, in the second row, with Bron's wayward chestnut curls next to him, barely reaching his shoulder. As I get closer, I see that Jem means to step forward to greet me before I can duck into the row, and I can't think of a single thing to say that is worth saying.
"You made it," he says, reaching out with both hands to clasp mine. I haven't seen him for months-actually, over a year; not since the last time all the gang got together for one of our regular swimming holidays. Except no, that wasn't the last time for everyone else: the last time was when Lissa drowned, but I wasn't there. For once he looks every second of his forty-plus years. His mouth is smiling, but there's no energy in it, and his pale green eyes look worn. It's as if he's pulled on the suit of his skin and found that he doesn't quite fill it anymore.
"The plane was delayed. I'm so sorry," I murmur inadequately.
"No matter, you're here. She would have wanted you here."
Hardly. Nobody wants their funeral at thirty-five; she wouldn't have wanted this at all. She would have wanted me to be there that night, to stop her from going for a swim, alone in the dark. But I wasn't. I squeeze his hands mutely, then let Duncan pull me into the row, my wedges sinking awkwardly in the sand. "Quite an entrance, as usual," he mutters as I squeeze past him to a chair next to Bron. Her eyes are puffy, but then, all of her seems puffy; I can feel the give in her waist as I slip an arm round her and pull her against me. There's been gradually more and more of Bron over the half of my lifetime I've known her, and less and less of Lissa. And now there's nothing left of Lissa at all.
Bron catches my eye as the priest starts up again. "Making a statement?" she murmurs quietly, gesturing at my dress.
What on earth would that statement be? "I didn't get the memo."
Her eyebrows lift briefly; I'm not sure she believes me. To her, I'll always be the girl she first met, or a mere step away from that. Careless, reckless-with myself and others; a bullet ricocheting. Maybe she's right; maybe I'm the one fooling myself. Perhaps one step is all it would take to fall back into that. Today, that step is perilously tempting.
Focus, I tell myself. This is not the time to fall apart. I have to hold up Bron. She is crying now, as silently as she can, one of my hands gripped tightly in hers. There's barely a breath of wind on this beach, and we are entirely exposed to the tropical sunshine. There's something extraordinarily wrong about this weather for a service like this. It should be cold, bone-piercingly so, but instead I can feel a dampness where Bron's forearm touches mine, and it's possible those behind me can see a sheen of sweat on my exposed back. I'm also starting to need the bathroom. How strange that Lissa can be dead but our bodies don't seem to know; they just continue on with their own petty concerns.
It was cold for Maddy's funeral. And for Graeme's.
I force myself to concentrate on the priest, but suddenly I can't hear what he's saying because I've caught sight of a large photograph of Lissa, displayed on an easel as if a painting. It's not one I've seen before, and it must be a professional shot: it's black-and-white and artfully lit so that her eyes stand out but the rest of her features are almost bleached away. She looks unfinished.
Lissa is dead. She's dead, she's dead, she's dead. How can she be dead? It's been a constant tattoo in my brain over these past three months, since Bron called to tell me, though she couldn't get the words out. Duncan had to take the phone off her.
There's been an accident, he said. His voice was raw but steady. She went for a swim the other night by herself, at Kanu Cove, and-
Wait-She? Who? Who went?
Lissa? But . . .
She's missing, Georgie. Lissa is missing; she didn't come back. They're still searching, but by now there's really no hope, he said. And the water at Kanu-you haven't seen it, but . . . Christ, I don't know what she could have been thinking. The police will record it as missing, presumed-
No. I wouldn't let him say it. I don't believe it. I didn't believe it then, and I don't know how to believe it now.
Duncan is nudging me; I belatedly realize everyone else has risen. I lurch to my feet, and my wedge sandals sink unevenly into the sand, tipping me awkwardly against Bron, who is still fixed to my side. I think of all the photos I have of the three of us: sixteen years of posing for the camera. Pictures from university-swimming galas, black-tie events and celebrations, pre-mobile-phone era-yielding to shots taken at weddings or christenings or on our numerous swimming holidays. In almost every one, I'm in the middle. There isn't a middle anymore.
I sense we're nearing the end, but I still can't make sense of the priest's words, not with the photo right there. It could be a painting that the artist has stepped away from for a moment, perhaps to give the model a cigarette break; he hasn't had time to paint in what she was thinking. I think of Duncan's words-I don't know what she could have been thinking-and the puzzlement in his voice. I don't know what she was thinking, either. None of this makes sense. Lissa is dead, and it doesn't make sense.
It seems to be over; Duncan is turning to me. I don't know what he sees in my face, half hidden as it is by my sunglasses, but he says, almost helplessly, "Oh, Georgie."
I shake my head abruptly, take a deep breath and pull Bron against my side. "No Ruby?" I say, to head him off.
He looks at me searchingly, as if he has something to say, but then he sighs and shakes his head. "She wanted to, but with the twins . . ." Duncan's twins can't be much more than seven months old. He looks like he's carrying all of those months in the lines on his face and in the slight paunch I can see beneath his loose shirt. "Maybe if it had been somewhere easier to get to . . ." It's true that many more family and friends would have been able to attend had the service been held in London. I glance back at the departing crowd. At a guess, the last few rows, perhaps even half of the congregation, were occupied by locals, many of whom are wearing staff uniforms. "It's not like you can build a holiday around a funeral."
"Memorial," I say. Duncan looks at me. "No body. Memorial." No body, but also no doubt. A teenager in some kind of light fishing craft hauled up a blond-haired corpse in a red swimsuit with his net a little over a month later. He was so shocked, he didn't actually get it on board, and it slipped back into the depths. It was the swimsuit that erased all doubt; he saw the logo. TYR. A swimmer's swimsuit, not the type of thing the average woman would be wearing on vacation.
TYR. Lissa's favorite brand. That Baywatch-red suit was familiar to us all. I wonder where she is now; I wonder what that red swimsuit looks like after months in the salt water. I don't want to think what Lissa might look like.
"Well, trust Lissa to demand a memorial on an exotic island in Southeast Asia," says Bron, in a valiant attempt to sound like her normal self.
"Demand?" I ask.
"It was in her will," Bron explains. "Jem said so. They got them done when they bought this place, and she put it in then."
"Jesus," I say. "That seems . . ." Prescient? Macabre, to be that specific at her age?
But Bron, ever practical, is thinking along different lines. "No, it was very sensible. You really ought to have a will, especially if you own property." She looks at me keenly. "Do you have one?"
"I rent." My words are heavily soaked in vinegar.
Duncan looks at me sharply. "Come on," he says quickly, either to forestall Bron from pressing me or to stop her quizzing him on the status of his own will and testament. "There's a thing now. Up at the main reception."
I glance back at the photo. One of the staff is preparing to lift it from the easel. It's not Lissa, or not my Lissa. I turn back to Duncan and Bron. There is nothing to be done but forge on with this awful day. "Yep. Let's go."
We are among the last to traipse back up the hill to the main reception, retracing the steps of my earlier mad dash. The sun is sinking hastily, without the fanfare of any dramatic colors; it will be dark in mere minutes. Lights hidden within the foliage that flanks the path are flickering into life. As we approach, I can see that the thing seems to involve a meal. There's a buffet laid out beneath the shade of the traditional wall-less pavilion, with staff behind multiple stations for different types of food that is being cooked on demand on the spot. I'm not in the least bit hungry.
"Georgie," says a voice behind me, in a soft Northern accent. Adam, I think; then, even as I'm turning, Surely not. But here he is.
"You came," I say, unable to hide the surprise.
"You thought I wouldn't?"
Yes. But I don't say it. He must have been here for a few days, as he has the start of what I know will become a mahogany tan, accentuated by his crisp white shirt. He looks like he always does, lean and efficient-there's never any excess to Adam-and moves to greet me with kisses on both cheeks. I feel absurdly self-conscious during the ritual.
He gestures at the buffet line. "Can I get you anything?"
"No thanks." I glance at my watch. 6:30 p.m., but it doesn't feel like it to me. "It's nowhere near dinnertime for me. How long have you been here?"
"Two days. I flew with Duncan and Bron."
It's stupid to feel a stab of jealousy at that-after all, I live in New York, and they all live in London, or thereabouts; of course I couldn't fly out with them-but nonetheless, I feel it prick at me. We are hovering at the edge of the covered pavilion, watching people lining up for food and settling at the white-clothed tables scattered through the space. Duncan is helping Bron at the salad buffet. Jem is deep in conversation with someone in a uniform. "Whose idea was it to set this thing up like a fucking wedding?" I mutter. Adam glances at me, and I feel myself blush defensively.