Regan Reilly shivered as she padded around the kitchen of her in-laws’ summer home. Outside, the wind was howling. Sheets of rain pelted against the house. At the sink Regan stopped and stared out the window. As far as the eye could see, whitecaps churned in the waters of Cape Cod Bay.
Regan pulled her terry-cloth bathrobe more tightly around her waist and smiled. I love this weather, she thought. There’s nothing like riding out a storm in a house like this. She and her husband, Jack, had driven up from Manhattan the night before to spend a quiet weekend in celebration of their first wedding anniversary. Arriving just as the bad weather started, they’d lit a fire in the den, poured glasses of wine, and enjoyed the basket of sandwiches and fruit and cheese Regan had prepared for the trip. They relished being alone and just doing as they pleased for the next three days. The only big plans they had were to go out for dinner on Sunday night to an award-winning restaurant on the water that had been converted from an old captain’s house and served only twelve meals a night. Apparently the chef could get a little cranky if he was asked to cook a morsel more.
The coffeemaker on the counter hissed and sputtered, firing the last few drops of freshly brewed java into the waiting carafe. That sounds so loud, Regan thought. You’d never even hear it during the summer, when the house was overflowing with Jack’s brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and assorted family friends—there was so much activity. Conversation filled the air. Someone was always attempting to tell a story or a joke without interruption. Few were successful. The days were filled with swimming and waterskiing and firing up the grill. In the evenings, everyone would gather on the big deck to watch the sunset. Thirty-nine steps down from the deck was the beach where Jack and his brothers often anchored the powerboat that they’d brought over from its spot at the marina. What a difference, Regan mused. Except for the wind and the rain and the creaking of the house and the coffeepot, this place is so quiet!
Regan poured coffee into a mug, then reached for the refrigerator door and pulled it open. She grabbed the container of skim milk that Skip the caretaker had stocked for them. Jack’s mother was in regular contact with him. A few days ago she asked him to bring in milk and juice and butter and bread when he did his weekly check on the house. Just enough for Regan and Jack to have breakfast on their first morning. The coffee smells great, Regan thought. I can’t wait to sit in the den with this cup and watch the storm. She poured the milk into the mug and stared in horror as it curdled. What? How can that be? She checked the expiration date. The milk had expired two weeks ago. Did he bring this from home? Regan wondered as she woefully poured her coffee down the sink.
Jack, freshly showered, appeared in the kitchen. “I’ll run up to the market and get the papers,” he said.
Regan turned to him and smiled. He looked so handsome. Jack was six foot two, with hazel eyes and sandy hair. He was wearing jeans and a windbreaker. “Put milk on your list.”
“I thought Skip brought in milk for us.”
“He did. Only trouble is, he managed to produce a container that expired two weeks ago.”
Jack laughed. “That kid is unbelievable. I don’t know why my mother doesn’t fire him.”
“That’ll never happen,” Regan said. “His little-boy-lost quality has made your mother feel very maternal and protective of him.”
Jack shook his head, leaned down to give Regan a kiss, and put his arms around her. “I’ll pick up some muffins. I’m not trusting that anything he bought for us is edible.” He hugged Regan tight. “It’s so great to be here alone with you. No work to distract us.”
Jack was head of the NYPD Major Case Squad. Regan was a private investigator. They had both been busy with cases that thankfully wrapped up in the past few days.
“It is going to be a wonderful weekend,” Regan said as Jack released her. “I’ll jump in the shower and look forward to your return.”
Jack laughed. “What you really want is for me to hurry back with the milk so you can have your first cup of coffee.”
“You know me so well,” Regan murmured as Jack headed for the front door.
In the downstairs master bathroom, Regan turned on the shower. The hot water felt so good on her shoulders and back. A few minutes later she pulled a pair of jeans and a sweater out of her suitcase on the bedroom floor. I don’t think I’ve ever been alone in this house, she thought. So why don’t I feel alone? She dressed, brushed her dark hair, then started to apply makeup to her pale skin. With her blue eyes, she fell into the category of “Black Irish.”
It might not be sunny outside, but I need more light, Regan thought. She stepped over to the window, fumbled for the cord, then gave it a yank. The curtains flew open.
A man in a yellow hooded slicker had his nose pressed against the glass.
It was Skip. He stumbled back. “Sorry!” he yelled.
Regan couldn’t hear the rest of what he was saying. She turned the handle of the window, which opened out.
“Sorry!” Skip yelled again through the roaring wind. “I was just checking the drainpipes.”
I’ll bet, Regan thought. “You startled me,” she said, her heart beating wildly.
“I didn’t mean to. This storm caused a lot of damage on the Cape. I’d like to come in and check all the windows and the basement. Make sure there are no leaks or anything.” He smiled up at Regan. Curls of brown hair escaped from the hood of his rain gear.
His face was the picture of innocence, but Regan felt unnerved. “Okay,” she said, wanting to ask him how he managed to buy expired milk.
“I’ll check the other drainpipes then come on in,” Skip said, waving his hands. “You can’t be too careful, you know.”
“No you can’t,” Regan agreed as she cranked the window shut. Jack’s mother had joked that the minute Skip came into the house he never stopped talking. Months of living alone up here in the wintertime took its toll. When he finally got an audience, he never let them go. Well, Regan thought, her heart still racing, I’m sure Jack can handle it. I wish he were here right now.
The sound of the front door opening flooded her with relief. “Regan?” Jack called.
Thank God, Regan thought as she raced out of the bedroom and down the hall. “Jack, I’m so glad you’re back!”
When she got to the living room, she stopped short. The two gossipy women who lived in the house three doors down were standing with Jack. Regan couldn’t think of their names but knew that they were sisters. They were like a double dose of Mrs. Kravitz, the quintessential nosy neighbor on the old TV series Bewitched.
“Gee, you two are like newlyweds,” one of them cackled. “Look at the way you run and greet your husband when he only was gone a few minutes buying the newspaper.”
“Jack tells us it’s your first anniversary,” the other chimed in. “The way you act, it seems more like you got married yesterday.”
Regan managed a smile. “I was just worried with him being out in this storm. I understand it’s done quite a bit of damage.”
“Oh, you’re right about that, Regan,” the taller sister said. “A huge branch snapped off the big tree in our yard and came crashing through our front window. What a mess! We flagged Jack down when he was coming back from the market. He pulled the branch out of the way, then covered the hole with plastic. There’s glass all over our living room. We asked if we could stay at your place until things are back to normal. Ginny and I both feel as if we’re coming down with colds as it is. Now our house is a drafty mess. You don’t mind, do you? Jack’s mother has been such a dear to us over the years.”
I don’t believe this, Regan thought. This can’t be happening. All our weekend plans. “Of course I don’t mind,” she finally croaked, stealing a glance at Jack, who raised his eyebrows in despair. He looked as if he were about to go through the floor.
“You’re so kind, Regan. Thank you. There’s nothing like neighbors you can call on in a time of need.” She sniffed the air. “That coffee smells great to me. Did you make that yourself, Regan?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I wouldn’t mind a cup. But I only take it with skim milk. Doctor’s orders.”
“We’ve got plenty of skim milk,” Jack said, holding up the grocery bag as they headed to the kitchen.
“Wonderful. Ginny and I want to hear all about your married bliss. But first I’d like to use your phone. I was trying to reach the window company from our house but had no luck. Something tells me it’s going to take a good bit of time before we’re back to normal.”
Jack turned to Regan and mouthed one word: Bermuda.
It was the only other place they had considered going for their anniversary.
© 2010 Carol Higgins Clark
Regan and Jack had considered going to Bermuda, but instead they decide to spend four days at his parents’ beautiful beachfront home on Cape Cod, a wonderful spot where they’d never been alone. During the summer the house overflowed with Jack’s family, bubbling with activity from morning until night. But to be up there for a weekend in April, just the two of them, sounded like a perfect escape.
Arriving at the Cape late at night, Regan and Jack are just in time to experience the beginning of a major storm. The next morning, Cape Cod Bay is quite a sight, churning with whitecaps. The wind is howling ferociously. Sheets of rain are pelting the house. Regan is looking forward to settling in the den with Jack and watching the storm.
However, the best laid plans . . .
In the bedroom, Regan opens the curtains to find Skip, the Reillys’ young caretaker, pressing his nose against the glass, supposedly checking for leaks. A moment later, Jack arrives home from the market, two gossipy older women who live up the street in tow. A branch crashed through their living room window, and they need a place to stay. When Regan thought things couldn’t get any worse, Skip comes running into the house, distraught that he’d just discovered Adele Hopkins, the woman renting the house next door, in a heap at the bottom of her staircase to the beach. Regan and Jack run back down with him, but huge waves are crashing on the shore. Hopkins is gone, presumably swept out to sea.
Who was Adele Hopkins? No one knows. The sixty-ish loner, who moved in five months ago, shunned her neighbors. Even her landlords, friends of the Reillys, have no idea how to locate her next of kin. Discovered in her dining room are stacks of apology cards she’d not yet sent and bags of decorative pillows that are embroidered with the saying grudge me, grudge me not.
Regan and Jack begin an investigation to help their friends track down Hopkins’s family. They start by interviewing two young women who own the shop where Adele had bought the pillows. Pippy and Ellen opened Pillow Talk after they both lost their jobs. When a newspaper article revealing the terrible way the women had been treated by their former employers was posted on the Internet, business took off, they started to become well-known, and the Pillow Talk website became a place for people who had had similar experiences to vent their feelings.
Pippy and Ellen just received an anonymous e-mail from someone who spews venom about her former rowing coach—Adele Hopkins. Could she be the same Adele Hopkins?
Regan and Jack’s search for clues to this mysterious woman’s identity makes for an anniversary weekend they’ll never forget!
Novelist Carol Higgins Clark on WRECKED
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