Read an Excerpt
With an almost detached glance Rachel Chandler looked down to see her strong, pale hand grip the armrest of the 747 that was gleefully soaring through air pockets and the most godawful turbulence to the peaceful paradise of Hawaii. If I hold on tight enough, she thought in a controlled panic, then this ridiculously heavy piece of machinery won't fall out of the sky and into the vast, green-blue Pacific Ocean beneath us.
"First time you've flown?" a deep, sympathetic voice next to her inquired, and she shook her head. The last thing she wanted to do was to encourage the man beside her. She had had time to size him up through her initial wave of panic before the plane took off, long enough to assure herself that she wanted nothing in the world to do with him. He was dressed in a suit that had doubtless been tailored to his tall, muscular body; his handsome face was perfectly tanned, the blue eyes above the strong, aquiline nose calculatingly warm and flattering. He was just a little too perfect for Rachel's perverse tastes. She had had her fill of handsome, well-dressed, charming men like her ex-fiancé, Ralph Fowler, all surface charm and no depth at all, and the last thing she needed was to arrive in Hawaii with a man hanging over her.
Of course, she was probably having delusions of grandeur, she thought, deliberately trying to loosen her death grip on the armrest and keeping her face turned out into the clouds. She had no illusions about her looksshe knew just what he saw through those beautiful blue eyes. A woman in her late twenties, she had chestnut hair in a thick braid down one shoulder and dark brown eyes, cautiously curious. She wore a white linen-blend suit set off by an aqua-green silk blouse, the straight skirt with the slit halfway up her thigh providing her seatmate with a needless amount of slender, tanned leg. She should have worn jeans, she thought irritably as one of her seatmate's hands reached over to pat the clenched fist that rested nervously on one thigh. She had been in such a whirl of excitement and panic that she'd put on the first thing she could think of this morning, an outfit guaranteed to make her feel good about herself.
With a cool, deliberate stare, Rachel looked down at the encroaching hand. He had too much black hair on the back of his knuckles, and he wore a diamond pinky ring, which immediately rendered him harmless. How could anyone be seriously threatened by a lothario with a pinky ring? She looked up into his blue eyes, which were a trifle closer together than she had first noticed, smiled sweetly, and said, "Take your hand off me or I'll call the stewardess."
He moved his hand away as if burned, an affronted expression on his face. He probably hadn't been turned down in years, Rachel thought to herself, especially not by someone who in a crowd would be a definite second or third or even twelfth choice. A moment later he rose, navigating the aisles with practiced ease in his hurry to get away from her and seek out greener pastures. She had to admire his balance, though nothing would get her to unfasten her seat belt and leave the dubious haven of her seat.
Not even nature, which had been calling her quite adamantly for the last hour. There were three more hours left to the flight, but nothing, absolutely nothing, would entice her out of her seat to brave the dangers of the airborne rest room. Her bladder would simply have to suffer. Think of something else, she admonished herself as her body protested. Think of why you're doing such an incredibly suicidal thing like flying.
By the end of the day, for the first time in more than fifteen years, she was going to see her brother. After six months' time, countless private detectives, a concerted effort on Minnie Masterson's part to have him declared dead, and sheer panic on Rachel's part, Uncle Harris had suddenly, surprisingly, come up with the goods, confounding all the greedy relatives who had hoped to prove her brother long dead. Emmett Chandler had been found, still on the same island in Hawaii where he had last been seen in the late sixties.
Of course, Emmett being found wasn't as simple as it sounded, Rachel reflected. With Emmett it was never going to be that way. First off, there was his involvement sixteen years ago with a bomb factory in a town house in Cambridge. The town house no longer existed, thanks to the bomb factory, but various members of the radical group he'd been involved in still made occasional reappearances. Emmett had scarcely been a ringleader, and it was the accidental explosion that had sent him on the run to Hawaii, but the FBI had still made occasional inquiries of Ariel and Henry Emmett as recently as three years ago. The elderly couple who had raised two as-toundingly disparate grandchildren remained ignorant of his possible whereabouts.
It was a good thing only Rachel had known the next stop on his run. A postcard from the island of Kauai was the last direct word she'd heard from him. In retrospect she had little doubt what he'd been doing on the chiefly agricultural islandHawaii was famous for the potency of its marijuana and the ease of its cultivation. But apparently that wasn't the answer to his problems either, for a few months later Emmett William Chandler had disappeared. Henry Emmett sorrowfully assumed his grandson was dead; Ariel and Rachel refused to accept the fact. That was doubtless why Ariel had left almost all the money to him, Rachel had decided months ago. She'd known that Emmett had as little interest in the Chandler fortune as she had, but if Emmett was the heir to all those millions, someone would have to find him.
Perhaps Rachel had been wrong not to tell Ariel about the packages in the beginning. They began arriving the year Emmett left, regularly as clockwork, a few days before her birthday, postmarked Hong Kong, Macao, Rome, New Delhi, names to fill her imagination and set her mind at ease. There was never any note, but then, there didn't need to be. As long as she knew Emmett was well enough to think of her, to send her a birthday present from his exotic ports of call, then she knew he was all right. And the small porcelain butterfly would join her growing collection, a collection Emmett had started on her fourth birthday.
Henry Emmett had known, of course. Henry Emmett knew everything that went on in the vast mansion north of San Francisco. But he'd never questioned her, never said a word, merely smiled faintly each year when he handed her the well-traveled packages that arrived with strange postmarks and no return address.
And now she was finally going to see her brother again! She could hardly remember what he looked like, it had been so long. He'd seemed very tall to her when she was twelve, though she knew in retrospect that he was less than six feet. His long, sandy-colored hair had hung halfway down his shoulders, though he usually tied it back in a ponytail, and a full beard had obscured his face for three years prior to his disappearance. Would he still have that skinny awkward look? He'd be around forty by nowperhaps he'd be suave and slinky like the man who had sat beside her.
And would he be pleased to see her? Uncle Harris had decreed that none of the pack of ravenous relatives should even think of venturing out to Hawaii to welcome home the prodigal son until the various legal entanglements were settled. It wouldn't do to have the Chandler heir slapped in jail; it wouldn't do to have the Chandler fortune hit with lawsuits by the survivors of the town house blast. Even Aunt Minnie decided to wait, albeit with a great deal of grumbling and almost daily phone calls to Rachel, usually at work. The District Supervisor of the Department of Social Welfare hadn't been pleased with a junior caseworker spending so much time on personal business, but Aunt Minnie, with all the arrogant disdain of the Chandlers, had been unmoved.
Uncle Harris's warning had even extended to her, of course, though he hadn't felt it necessary to lay it on quite as thickly. After all, the entire family knew that Rachel didn't fly, that nothing short of a major earthquake could get her to leave northern California. But he hadn't counted on her lifelong love for her brother, her general feeling of bereavement at the sudden death of the grandparents who had brought her up from infancy, when her flighty mother had died in a plane crash. Emma had been on her way to a party, five weeks after Rachel was born without a father. She had abandoned Rachel's thirteen-year-old half brother, Emmett, to her parents years before. Despite the large difference in their ages, Rachel and Emmett were bonded closer than most siblings.
Uncle Harris also hadn't counted on the defection of the faithless Ralph, and her real, physical need to see her own flesh and blood after more than half her lifetime. She hesitated a full week, building up her courage, took a leave of absence from her job and disgruntled supervisor, and then yesterday morning called the airline.
And even when this sadistic mode of transportation landed in Oahu, her troubles would be far from over. She had to board still another airplane, no doubt smaller and far more dangerous, for interisland transport to the smaller island of Kauai, and then finding Emmett might prove quite a challenge. Uncle Harris was staying in a hotel on one side of the island. Emmett, he'd informed them, lived in a small cottage on the opposite side, on a stretch of land still belonging to the Chandlers, who once had owned huge tracts of the island. If she could manage it, she'd like to bypass Uncle Harris's well-meaning interference. She'd fantasized too long about finally seeing Emmett again to allow Uncle Harris's bleary interference to taint the beauty of the moment.
She could only be thankful her seatmate didn't rejoin her for the harrowing landing three long hours later. It was all she could do to concentrate on keeping her breathing steady, and her mind on Emmett at the end of this desperate journey. Even the bump that tossed her about as the huge plane finally touched down surprised only a quiet moan out of her. With trembling hands she gathered her purse, untouched crossword puzzle, hand luggage, and composure together and headed for an island bathroom.
It was a hot, sunny day, one of a thousand similar hot, sunny days, with the gentle trade winds providing just enough natural air conditioning to make it bearable. The man calling himself Emmett Chandler propped his long legs up on the railing of the cottage, his large feet encased in ratty-looking running shoes, and opened a beer. He squinted out at the ocean, at the wide expanse of white sand that was his alone, at least for the time being. Paradise had its points, he had to admit, even if its typically sunny, smiling weather reminded him of nothing so much as a simper. But he needed a simper, some warmth and sunshine and saccharine-sweet good weather, to mend the weariness that went bone deep. It had been a long time since he'd been able to sit on a porch in the sunshine, drinking a beer and being gloriously alone, and it was something he reveled in. Even if this entire complicated scam fell through, he would have salvaged something from it. Maybe just a small amount of his peace of mind, returned to him by the Hawaiian god of solitude.
He no longer wondered why he had contacted Harris Chandler, why he had agreed to this idiotic charade. He knew full well why he had done it, and he damn well didn't regret it. It was only at peaceful moments like this, on a silent afternoon with nothing but the sound of the birds and the ocean intruding, the rich salty sea smell and the tangy scent of hibiscus tickling his nose and warring with his beer, that he didn't feel any hurry to get on with the damned mess. He'd walk farther down the beach that evening, maybe make it all the way to the point and back. It was only a matter of days, a week at the most, before he would put the second part of his plan into action, and then there'd be no time for seaside walks, for sitting on the porch drinking beer and blotting out the unpleasant realities of life.
But for now there was nothing to stop him. He wondered for a moment whether he'd ever get his fill of the hot tropical sun. Even now, weeks after that cold gray prison pallor had darkened to a deep, dark tan, he felt his thirsty skin drink in the hot rays. Perhaps simper was the wrong word for it, he thought. Maybe it was the warm, friendly smile of a beckoning sea goddess, giving rest to a weary traveler. Tipping back the chair, he drained the Heineken, shut his eyes against the midday glare of the sun, and thought about the early days with Krissy.
The small plane that handled interisland travel nearly undid Rachel entirely. She could only be glad that passengers entered directly from the terminal, so she didn't have a chance to fully appreciate its flimsy size. By the time she was buckled into her seat belt by icy cold fingers and had turned to view her surroundings, it was too late. For a brief moment she considered knocking over the black-garbed priest who was making a great to do of settling across the aisle from her, then decided she could wait another moment until he was out of the way and still make her escape. Her early years of Catholic training kept her in place until the middle-aged priest was settled, and then her numb fingers fumbled with her seat belt. She could always swim to Kauai. Even with sharks the ocean was doubtless safer than this ridiculously small airplane.
Her hands were sweating so profusely that the seat belt proved impossibly stubborn. She was about to call the stewardess for help when she heard the warning bells with a sinking despair. The engines were rumbling, missing every now and then, and Rachel leaned back in her seat, prepared to meet her doom somewhere over the Pacific. At least there was a priest at handmaybe she could entice him to hear a final confession.