Nick travels to Summer Island, convinced the answer lies with Jennifer March, a lovely and elusive figure in Simone's past. But in order to find the truth, Nick must hide his real purpose from Jenniferearning her trust even as he betrays it. Now Nick is caught between his work and reputationand the woman he's fast coming to love
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LEANING AGAINST THE FERRY railing, Nick Lancaster squinted at the horizon and wondered if the faint outline of land ahead was Summer Island. His adrenaline surged, making him as lighthearted as a kid at Christmas.
If the island weren't so bloody remote, he would have been there sooner. But it had taken him more than a week to drive from New York City across the country, then over the border to Vancouver. Of course, he could have flown, but he hated flying and besides, he liked having his own vehicle. He'd bought his Land Rover with the royalties from his first book and there was an attachment there that amused his friends and family to no end.
Once in Vancouver, he'd caught the ferry and began the forty-minute crossing to his final destination—the vacation home of deceased jazz singer Simone DeRosier.
By now Nick knew almost everything there was to know about the musician: her early childhood in Hartford, Connecticut, her distant relationship with her professor father, her marriage to communication magnate Harrison Kincaid and all the details of her fabulously successful career.
Then there was her death. It had been reported as a suicide initially and that was what had initially attracted him to her story.
Why would a world-famous star with a doting husband and a young daughter take her own life?
Turned out she hadn't. She'd been killed. And with that turn of events, he'd been hooked. For the past twelve months he'd devoted himself to this project. Still there were unanswered questions.
Summer Island had to be the key. Simone had spent her vacations here, from when she was a teenager until the day of her death, three years ago. She'd met her best friends on Summer Island, the so-called forget-me-not friends she'd immortalized in her Grammy-winning song of the same name. Including Simone there'd been six of them at the beginning.
Now only four were still alive, and three of the four lived on the island. Nick intended to talk to them all, but one in particular had captured his interest.
The outside world didn't know much about Jennifer March. Somehow her friendship with the big star had escaped the media scrutiny of the others.
Nick had first gotten wind of her in an old article in Vanity Fair. Simone had mentioned a friend, Jennifer, whom she loved like a sister. Later, he'd found a photograph taken after one of Simone's New York City concerts. The star had her arm around a pretty blond woman. Usually Simone was photographed with men, so this was a real aberration.
The blonde hadn't been identified in the accompanying article, but Nick's curiosity had been roused as soon as he'd seen it. Could this be the Jennifer he'd been looking for?
It turned out his hunch had been right and his subsequent research had led him straight to Summer Island. He'd had a break when he discovered that Jennifer's family owned a bed-and-breakfast on the island. It had seemed like the perfect omen.
He'd asked his agent to book him a room at Lavender Farm for the month of September. Michele, of course, had been only too happy to oblige. She was as excited about this book as he was.
The little blob on the horizon was bigger now. Nick looked around the deck and noticed a man standing a few yards to his left. "Excuse me. Is that Summer Island?"
"That's what I thought," Nick said. "Thanks." He started to head below deck and as he passed by, the other man smiled. "I hope you enjoy your visit. Summer Island is a pretty special place."
"Yeah," Nick replied. "So I've heard."
There was something familiar about the man, but by the time Nick had gone to the washroom, then ordered a coffee, he'd forgotten all about him.
AFTER THE FERRY DOCKED, Nick drove his Rover from
the parking level, down the ramp and onto the main road. He stopped at a big sign. To the right lay the north end of the island where his bed-and-breakfast was. To the left was the island's only town, Cedar-brae.
Deciding he was hungry and needed a meal, Nick turned left.
Summer Island was a place of rocky shorelines and thick rain forests. Even in town the trees were massive. Mostly cedars, Nick guessed, though he knew from his research that some of these were also Douglas fir and oak. Occasionally he spotted the twisted shape and smooth red bark of the distinctive arbutus tree.
He felt a long way from New York City as he drove along the deserted road. He wondered how a person could live full-time in a place like this. So small and rural and isolated. He had nothing against the great outdoors. But he'd only been here a short while and already it felt as if his thoughts were echoing around in his head.
He needed people.
A sign pointed left and he turned again. Here was the town and it was small. Most of the amenities were on the main street, which ran parallel to the ocean.
In less than a minute he'd seen the whole place. He circled back to Derby's Diner, a white clapboard structure, with green-and-white awnings shading the windows. The almost-full parking lot seemed testament to a decent lunchtime menu, so Nick nosed his Rover into one of the few empty spaces and went inside.
Only two tables and one booth were available. He was headed for the smaller table, when he noticed a redhead across the room. He did a doubletake, at first disbelieving, then amazed, then intrigued.
Molly Springfield was on Summer Island?
And then he realized he shouldn't be surprised. It seemed that everywhere he went in his journey to learn about Simone DeRosier, Molly Springfield had been there first. He still didn't know who she was, exactly, or what she wanted. But clearly it was time he made a more concentrated effort to find out.
He checked out her luncheon companion, a tall, thin blond woman, older, probably in her late thirties like him. He experienced a second shock as he realized he was looking at Jennifer March.
From the photograph he'd seen, he'd known Jennifer was pretty. But in person, she had a wholesome, natural beauty that was totally disarming. He could picture her in a shampoo commercial with a garland on her head and a meadow of wildflowers at her feet.
Wow, where had that image come from? Teenaged memories of flipping through his mother's magazines hoping to spot a lingerie advertisement?
The fact that Jennifer was seated with Molly Springfield was an interesting development.
The first time he'd run into Molly he'd tried to question her. But as soon as she heard that he wanted to write Simone DeRosier's biography, she'd gone running. She hadn't let him get near her since.
At one point he'd speculated that she might be writing a book, too. But if so, it would be her first. She had no publishing history.
It couldn't be coincidence that she was on Summer Island, though. And chatting up one of the original forget-me-not friends. They sure did look cozy, like they'd been pals for a while.
Both were dressed in yoga pants and colorful, formfitting tank tops. Their hair was tied back from pink-tinged cheeks. All evidence pointed to the likelihood that they'd just come from an exercise class.
They were so engaged in their conversation, they didn't even notice him. Quickly Nick changed course, bypassing the table and choosing instead the booth directly behind Molly. She couldn't see him here unless she turned completely around in her seat. Even then, she'd only make out the back of his head.
He picked up a menu and pretended to read it while he focused on their conversation. At first the words were just a blur. He closed his eyes. Concentrated.
They were talking about Jennifer's mother...
"HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN SHE died?" Molly asked.
"Eighteen." The older Jennifer got, the more she realized how lucky she'd been to have such a happy, protected childhood. Good parents, close friends, a storybook life in the storybook setting of Summer Island.
All that had ended after her mother died though. "It's scary how fast your life can change."
"I know," Molly commiserated. She'd lost her mother a few years ago, too, which was why Jennifer felt comfortable confiding in her. "I'm not sure how I would have coped without my friends. They were all amazing. Harrison helped me deal with the lawyers and the financial mess left behind because Mom didn't have a will."
"He's a rock, Harrison," Molly agreed.
"Gabe took charge of the funeral arrangements and wrote the obituary for the Summer Chronicle, while Emerson arranged for his family landscaping business to handle all the gardening and yard work at the B and B for an entire month."
"They really rallied around you."
"Dad and I were such a mess. We needed the help. Aidan stepped in and canceled reservations and refunded deposits for the next few weeks so we had a chance to catch our breath. He even set us up on a computer system."
"What about Simone?"
Just the name brought a smile to Jennifer's face.
"She was the one who made me laugh and helped me believe that the future wasn't as bleak as it seemed right then."
"She was something, huh? So famous and yet she still made time for her old friends. I wish I could have met her."
Jennifer said nothing to that. She wasn't so sure Molly and Simone would have gotten along. Simone never had trouble making friends with men, but women were something else. Not many could put up with being in the other woman's shadow all the time. But Jennifer hadn't minded. The fun of having Simone as a friend had been worth it.
But she couldn't see Molly willingly taking the backseat to anyone...even a world-famous musician. Molly was flamboyant and confident in a way that Jennifer envied.
"What about you, Molly? You must still really miss your mom." She'd moved here to make a fresh start after her mother's death. Unlike Jennifer, Molly didn't have any other family.