FULL NIGHT HAD FALLEN AND CLOUDS OBSCURED THE moon by the time they debarked the ferry at Orcas Island. Once past the lights of the landing’s tiny village, the darkness was absolute, and Lily’s first impression of the island was of a great mass of trees. Deciduous hard-and softwoods crowded the spaces between towering evergreens, which in turn soared overhead, their tangled branches meeting to form a tunnel over the road. Within the sweep of the Jeep’s headlights, their dark shapes gained color and texture, only to fade back into sooty shadows against the night sky like a multidimensional tone-on-tone onyx frieze.
She turned from the window and looked at Zach. His eyes were impenetrable pools in the glow from the dash, and his face was ail harsh angles. “We really should see if there are rooms available in Eastsound. It’s too late to just show up unannounced on David’s doorstep.”
He didn’t even take his gaze off the road, but merely said tersely, “Let it go, Morrisette. We’ve had this conversation before.”
And they had. They’d had it while he’d pored over the map of the island as they’d eaten Ivar’s clam chowder in the dining area on the boat’s upper deck. They’d had it while facing each other across bench seats as the ferry glided through narrow passages between dark islands. And they’d had it again while standing at the rail in the brisk early April breeze watching cars debark and load onto the boat at Lopez Island. When Lily had insisted one didn’t simply barge in on people at eleven o’clock at night, Zach had said watch me .
“Yes we have.” she agreed now. “And you’re still wrong.”
He didn’t flick so much as a glance her way, and her shoulders twitched irritably. She blew out an exasperated breath. “You are the stubbornest man I have ever met. And probably the rudest, too. I should have waited until tomorrow to give you the address.”
His mouth tightened. His voice was cool and uninvolved, though when he said, “But you didn’t. And I didn’t invite you on this junket, lady; I’d be more than happy to head over to Eastsound and dump you off.”
She made a rude noise. “Oh, right. Like I came all this way because I’m so fond of your jolly company.” She stared at him, willing him at least to glance at her, but not surprised when he didn’t. He’d been aloof since shortly after he’d caught her staring at his mouth in that brief moment of madness on the Anacortes ferry dock. Man , but she’d wanted to know what it would taste like—a momentary mania that was so far from smart she couldn’t believe it. Her face burned as it belatedly occurred to her that he might be acting this way to keep her from getting any funny ideas. She cleared her throat.
“Nice try. But I plan to be right by your side to lend whatever damage control I can when you start throwing your weight around.”
“Good.I’ll let you pass the tissues when Glynnie throws herself on my chest in gratitude for rescuing her from Trailer Town Tommy.”
She felt her mouth drop open. “My gawd. What a snob you are.” She probably shouldn’t be shocked by the discovery, but she was.
For the first time he took his gaze off the road long enough to look at her, and even in the murky light she could tell he was steamed. “It’s not snobbery, you little—” Cutting himself off, he gave her a strong look. “I’ve been through this shit before.”
“Get out! Glynnis has never taken off with another guy.” At least… had she?
“Did I say she had? But guess where the last guy she fancied herself in love with was waiting for his ship to come in when I tracked him down?”
“Oh, let me take a wild stab, here. A trailer park?”
“Damn right. And before you get on your high horse, I know living in a trailer park doesn’t automatically make a person trash, okay? I’m sure they’re filled with hard-working people, but this guy didn’t happen to be one of them. He maintained a few pieces of expensive clothing, but otherwise he lived like a pig. And he flat-out lied to Glynnis. Until I took her out there to see for herself, she fully believed the reason they’d always had to meet at her place was because his beach condo was being renovated.”
Poor Glynnis, Lily thought. But aloud she merely said, “David’s not like that. He loves her.”
Zach made a derisive sound and stepped on the gas.
Twenty minutes later he pulled up to a rural mailbox close to the entrance of a driveway. Rolling down the window, he aimed a flashlight on the address printed on its side. “This is it.”
Headlights from a car that had turned onto the road behind them swept the interior of the Jeep, then just as quickly disappeared, and Lily turned from staring at the thick stand of Douglas firs that provided the Beaumont property with privacy. She opened her mouth to try one last time to talk Zach out of descending on David’s family at this late hour, but before she could say a word, he put the Jeep in gear.
“I’m through debating this with you,” he said, as if she’d actually presented her argument, and wheeled the vehicle into the drive.
They drove down a long ribbon of asphalt that unfurled through dense woods. Then the surrounding trees gave way to an acre of meticulously maintained lawn. But it was the lodgings perched midway between the woods and a bluff overlooking the water that caught Lily’s attention, and a startled laugh escaped her.
“Oh, my.” She turned delighted eyes on Zach. “So much for your he-only-wants-my-sister-for-her-money theory.”
Far from the trailer of Zach’s imagination, David’s home was an estate. Built of fieldstone and weathered shingles, it looked more like a sprawling country inn than a single-family dwelling. Angled to face the cliff and the water below, it had stubby wings on either side of the main structure, several chimneys, and shutters that framed exquisitely crafted windows… every one of which was currently lit up.
Zach didn’t look the least bit embarrassed to have jumped to what was clearly a wrongheaded conclusion. He merely shrugged at her jibe, pulled the Jeep to a halt at the top of the circular drive, and killed the engine. He spared Lily a single glance before reaching for the door handle. “Yeah, but everyone appears to still be up. So I guess it’s not too late to come calling, after all.” He climbed out of the car.
Lily rolled her eyes as she, too, got out, but she couldn’t prevent a tiny smile from curling up the corners of her lips. Soldier Boy was wrong, wrong, wrong, and soon he’d be forced to eat his words. She did a little dance and promised herself a ringside seat for the occasion.
She was still smiling as she followed him to the front of the house, and they climbed the stone steps of a generously proportioned veranda. A minute later he rang the bell. When that didn’t garner a quick enough response to suit him, he raised a big fist and pounded on the solid portal.
“For heaven’s sake, Zach,” she remonstrated, but when the front door abruptly opened, pure shock clogged her throat as they found themselves looking down the business end of a double-barreled shotgun.
Whoa, shit! Holding his hands away from his body to demonstrate his harmlessness, Zach stepped in front of Lily. Not that putting himself between her and the shotgun would shield her from a helluva lot if the guy facing them decided to pull the trigger. At this range, two barrels worth of shot would rip a hole through him the size of a volleyball and plow right into her.
Voices rose within the house, most of them feminine, one of them perilously close to hysteria, but Zach didn’t take his eyes off the young man with the shotgun. Stowing away the brief regret of having packed his Marine-issue nine-millimeter in his duffel bag before leaving the campground this morning, he said calmly, “Hi. How ya doin’? I know it’s a little late to be dropping by, but even so, this is a bit excessive, don’t you think? Or is this how you always greet visitors?”
The man’s hands tightened on the stock of the gun. “Who the hell are you? And what the hell do you want?”
The guy was nervous, and he was an amateur, neither of which was a condition Zach appreciated in someone pointing a gun at him. Seeing the young man’s finger slide off the trigger to tap restlessly against the stock, Zach whipped out a hand and wrenched the shotgun sideways, relieving him of it with a single, supple twist of his wrist.
The man swore and made a grab for it in an attempt to regain possession.
Fending him off, Zach broke open the barrel, slid out the two rounds of shot, then snapped the barrels back into place and passed the shotgun back to the other man. “My name is Zachariah Taylor,” he said. “Master Sergeant, U.S. Marines,” he added, hoping the fact he had the authority of the United States government behind him would help to cool the other man’s jets. The guy looked as if he were about to jump out of his skin. “I’m here to see my sister Giynnis.”
He felt Lily unhook her fingers from his waistband where she’d anchored herself, and the warmth of her breasts dissipated as she peeled herself off his back. He barely had time to register the fact, however, before a woman in her late fifties materialized in the doorway.
“Oh my God, oh my God,” she said as tears trembled on her lower lashes and her pale, fine-boned hands systematically shredded a lace-and-lawn handkerchief between them. Then she bunched the hankie in one hand as she reached out and grasped his arm with the other. She tugged him into the foyer, then stared up at him hopefully as the young man closed the door behind them. “Have you heard from him, then? Have you news of my David?”
Damn. He didn’t like the sound of this. “No, ma’am.”
“Oh, no!” An unchecked noise escaped her, and he realized this was the voice he’d heard on the edge of hysteria.
“Take a deep breath, ma’am,” he ordered in the same I- will –be-obeyed tone he’d used throughout the years to get more than one green recruit over a hurdle of nerves. “Take nice, deep breaths and let them out slowly. Then tell me what’s going on here.”
She sucked in air but didn’t look appreciably steadier for her efforts once she’d exhaled it. Nevertheless, she drew in and exhaled another, then faced him as calmly as she was able. “They’ve been kidnapped,” she said, her chin immediately beginning to wobble. “Oh, God, oh, God. David and his little girlfriend have been kidnapped .”
Dios, it was cold. Miguel rubbed his hands up and down his arms and wished he had warmer clothing. He missed his beloved Colombia, where the heat sank into a man’s bones, and wondered in dissatisfaction if Master Sergeant Oh-Such-a-Big-Man Taylor and his anemic woman had finally reached the destination they’d been heading for ever since leaving California. He certainly-hoped so, because the sooner he accomplished his mission, the sooner he could reclaim his rightful status and return to his village with his pride intact.
He was tempted to gel out of the car and make his way down the driveway where the master sergeant had parked a short while ago, to see if that was where the marine was now. Except it was the dilemma last night at the campground all over again. He didn’t dare abandon his car for fear he’d be caught unprepared should the commander suddenly return. And he couldn’t park too close for the same reason that had kept him a respectable distance for two long days—an unwillingness to give the game away before he was ready to make his move. As it was, he’d practically driven right up the Jeep’s back bumper in his race to catch up earlier, when he’d feared he’d lost them and had instead came across the vehicle unexpectedly parked in the middle of the road. He’d wheeled into the first private drive he’d seen and waited until he’d heard their car drive away before pulling out again. Then he’d found a better place from which he could not only keep an eye on this road but screen his car from the casual glance.
As soon as he determined this was indeed the master sergeant’s final destination, he planned to make a quick trip to the nearest town to outfit himself properly for the climate. It wouldn’t be long now before the opportunity arose to grab the woman and get out of here, but he needed appropriate supplies while he waited. He pulled the thin blanket he’d found in the trunk around him and turned the car on for a short while to use the heater. The thought of the master sergeant’s face when he was relieved of his woman made Miguel smile. Soon, he promised himself. It would be very soon now.
But when he turned off the car’s engine to conserve his remaining petrol a moment later, the cold settled right back in his bones. And he knew it couldn’t be soon enough. For if he didn’t make his move before long, he was likely to freeze his buttocks off in this unaccustomed, inhospitable climate.
Zach felt as if he’d taken a direct hit to the gut, and he stared at the stylish matron in front of him. “Kidnapped?”
The young man who’d greeted them at the door with the shotgun stepped forward, sliding a supporting arm around the older woman’s shoulders. He flipped his shiny brown hair off his brow with a toss of his head that had the unconscious look of habit. “That was the reason for this,” he said, giving the now empty gun in his hand a small heft. “When you showed up practically on the heels of the note we received, we thought you must be them. I’m Richard Beaumont,” he added, thrusting out his hand. “David’s cousin. And this is David’s mother, Maureen.”
Two other women and a man came out of a connecting room to join them in the foyer, and Richard introduced them as his sisters Cassidy and Jessica, and Jessica’s husband Christopher.
Zach filed away his impression of a flashy brunette, a plain brunette, and a guy who could’ve stepped off the pages of Gentleman’s Quarterly to be examined later as Mrs. Beaumont said, “David called us several days ago. He said he’d met his future wife in California and was bringing her home to meet us. It seemed so sudden—we were concerned she’d turn out to be one of those awful, flashy, starlet types, or a golddigger who’d latched on to him for his money.” Then, obviously recalling the female in question was Zach’s sister, color flooded the older woman’s face.
Lily’s abrupt whoop of laughter echoed in the pocket of silence that followed, and shock rippled through the assembled group as everyone turned to look at her. Even after two solid days of travel, with most of her makeup worn off and her hair tousled and slightly flattened on one side, she still had that last-of-the-red-hot mamas look about her, and it occurred to Zach that she probably appeared to be the exact type the Beaumonts had feared his sister would be. As it was, Mrs. Beaumont regarded Lily as if she’d stepped directly out of Bimbo Central Casting, and if his stomach hadn’t been tied up in about ten kinds of knots, he might have gotten a real kick out of her predicament.
It was just as well he was in no mood, however, for it would have been premature anyway. Aside from that one brief moment this afternoon, he’d never seen Lily at a loss for words, and she wasn’t now. She directed a gentle smile at David’s mother
“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “That was terribly inappropriate, and I’m not making light of the situation. It’s just that Zach spent the entire drive from California fearing the exact same thing—that David was after his sister’s money,” she clarified when the older woman just stared at her blankly. “Glynnis is about to come into a considerable fortune of her own.”
Mrs. Beaumont blinked. “Oh,” she said. Then she turned pale. “Oh, dear. I wonder if the people who have them know that. You can’t stay here,” she said in a sudden panic, turning to Zach. She made agitated shooing motions with her hands. “You have to leave.”
Zach focused the full force of his attention on her. “I’m not going anywhere until I find my sister, ma’am,” he informed her levelly. He’d camp out on her lawn if he had to.
“You must!” She looked beside herself with fear as she stared up at him. “They’ll think we called you. and they said not to call the police if we want to see David again. What if they’re watching the house? If they see you. they’ll think we ignored their warning.
Not about to be run off before he knew the entire story—and probably not even then, since after one look at this crew he’d decided he was the best candidate for getting Glynnis and David back in one piece—Zach took Mrs. Beaumont’s restless hands between his own and stroked his thumbs over them as he said slowly and calmly, “That kind of threat is a common ploy intended to keep the victim off kilter, ma’am. Extortionists count on your emotions clouding your ability to reason, but it’s important that you use this time to think as rationally as you can. For instance, take a good, hard look at Lily. Can you honestly imagine anyone ever confusing her for a cop?”
Too late, he remembered Lily’s level-eyed way of meeting even the most disapproving scrutiny head on. But she played along as if she knew just how much he needed to stay here in order to exert some control over the situation. With every eye in the house turned on her, she stood with one hip cocked, studying her manicure as if she were alone in the foyer. Her jaw moved subtly, and if he hadn’t known better he would have sworn she was chewing gum.
When Zach saw Mrs. Beaumont relax marginally, he eased out a breath, and said, “I need you to tell me exactly what led you to believe your son and Glynnis were abducted.”
“We received a note about twenty minutes before you showed up.” She hesitated, then gestured toward the room the others had come out of a moment ago. “Let’s go in the parlor.”
The entire gathering trooped into a large room with a set of French doors and two windows that undoubtedly looked out over the water, although at the moment it was too dark to see beyond a grouping of wicker chairs out on the lighted veranda. The top third of the windows was comprised of leaded, beveled glass, lending them a richness that was echoed in the cool, sage-green, silk-covered walls. By contrast, the room’s couch, loveseat, and chairs were mostly homey overstuffed pieces upholstered in unbleached canvas and hunter green chintz. A fire crackled cozily in the stone fireplace on the north wall.
Mrs. Beaumont gestured for them to take a seat, but Zach remained standing. What he really wanted was to pace, but he stood at-ease as she turned to her nephew
“Show him the note, Richard “
Richard went to a built-in cupboard where he retrieved a piece of paper. He brought it over to Zach.
Looking down at it, Zach realized that until this moment, he hadn’t fully believed in the Beaumonts’ claim. In a far-flung corner of his mind he must have hoped they’d misunderstood or had somehow panicked over nothing. But this single sheet of paper with its three sentences formed of letters cut from magazines disabused him of the notion.
It was brief and to the point.
WE HAVE YOUR SON. IF YOU WANT TO SEE HIM AND HIS GIRLFRIEND AGAIN, YOU’LL AWAIT INSTRUCTIONS. CALL THE COPS AND THEY’RE DEAD.
Over the years, Zach had been point man with his friend Cooper Blackstock on numerous recon missions involving kidnap victims. He understood the value of fear. But he learned now that the greasy slide in his gut that kept him alert and cautious wasn’t nearly as easy to control when the hostages; under consideration included his baby sister. He sucked in quiet, even breaths to keep the feeling in check, and looked over at Maureen Beaumont, who was perched on the edge of a loveseat.
“Where was this found?”
“In the mailbox out on the road with the rest of the mail,'” she said. “Jessie offered to collect it earlier in the day, but I wanted the exercise. Then I got busy and didn’t walk up the drive until later.”
“You walked in the dark?”
“Yes, I quite often do. I’ve always felt safe on this island.” Then her face crumpled, and Zach knew she must be realizing she’d probably never recapture that feeling of absolute safety again. “Oh. God,” she said.
“Breathe,” he reminded her.
She inhaled and exhaled, and when she’d composed herself somewhat, she sat a little straighter in her seat and eyed him curiously. “How can you stay so calm?”
“I’ve spent eighteen years in a specialized unit—extracting kidnap victims is part of what I do. This is different, of course, because it involves my sister, and I don’t know where Glynnis and your son are being held, so I can’t simply slip in and get them out. But I will see to it that both of them get home safe and sound, ma’am. You can count on that.”
She nodded, then turned to the plain brunette seated next to her. “Master Sergeant Taylor and Miss”—she turned to Lily—”I’m sorry, I don’t know your last name.”
“Morrisette,” Lily said. “But please, Mrs. Beaumont, won’t you call me Lily?”
“And I’d be honored if you’d call me Zach, ma’am,” Zach agreed.
“Very well.” She turned back to the brunette, “Jessica, Zach and Lily will need rooms. Would you see about preparing them?”