This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Liliane DuBois lifted her head and gla nced through the windowpanes. The paddle-shaped leaves of the sea grape tree sla shed the dormer windows, striking with the fury of the gusting winds that twiste d the branches into contorted silhouettes. The gale whipped along the sandy beac h lashing the waters of the Gulf of Mexico into a roiling froth. Liliane lay at an unnatural angle on the canopied double bed in the presidential suite. Her hands clasped her stomach protectively, but beneath the slashed fing ers and amidst the shiny pattern of her paisley shawl glistened her entrails. Fr ancois, her husband, had been reading the New York Times while seated in the Mor ris chair. When the au pair had struck him from behind with the wood axe from th e Inn’s kitchen, he d fallen forward and lay spread-eagled across the September 10 , 1908 edition. Liliane understood that she was dying. She understood that Francois was already dead. Her prayer now was that the children would be spared. And although the au pair had grown increasingly moody in the past fortnight, Liliane knew she cared for the children. Liliane couldn’t see the children, which was an unintended blessing. Had she been able to see into the sitting room, she would have seen her daughter, Marguerite, lying sprawled on the carpet, her blood pooling to form a crimson aura around h er golden ringlets. The child’s blue eyes were wide with surprise, but they were m otionless. Liliane’s son, Henri, lay face down on the carpet, reaching, stretching toward the door connecting the sitting room with their parents’ bed chamber. Red gore formed a ruff encircling his neck and staining his corn silk hair and the w ooden stereopticon he’d been holding. His clenched fist and the scratches on the a u pair s face attested to the fierce struggle he d made to live and escape to hi s mother. The loss of blood was rendering her weak, but her senses were alert and in the n ext room she heard a reassuring sound. The au pair was crooning Henri’s favorite s ong, “When comrades seek sweet country haunt by twos and twos together, and count like misers hour by hour October s bright blue weather.” Liliane’s legs grew cold, but oddly the chill was not uncomfortable. As the au pai r’s sweet, young voice sang, “O sun and skies and flowers of June, Count all your bo asts together, Love loveth best of all the year October s bright blue weather,” Li liane slipped into her final slumber. During the night, a limb from an Australian pine smashed one of the windows. The keening wind invaded the suite and extinguished the lamps. Shortly before dawn, the storm abated. When rescue workers from the mainland arrived at the hotel tw o days later, it was deserted except for the four bodies. In the corridor, the w ould-be rescuers followed crimson footprints to the edge of the veranda where th e trail vanished. Steeling himself, one man re-entered the scene of the carnage. In the far corner of the sitting room, he noticed a clump of gore-stained rags. As he approached warily, a tiny hand pierced the clotting, glutinous tissue. He willed himself no t to throw up for lying amidst the torn placenta and other detritus of human bir th was a newborn babe — crying as if its world had not just begun, but had come to an end. 1 Wednesday - August 6 Isla de las Martyres off Florida in the Gulf of Mexico Quicker than the flutter of a hummingbird’s wing, Marisa fell. One second she was perched confidently on the sturdy pine ladder hanging the moss green draper ies in the Tarpon Inn s dining room. The next second the ladder tilted and she w
as clutching at empty air. A few feet away, Hap Forrester stood as if mesmerized, one ineffectual hand stre tched forward to prevent her fall. The interior designer groaned as she struck t he corner of a table and slid to the floor. The sound broke his spell. He hurrie d to her side, knelt and lifted the ladder. From the leg s contorted position, H ap could tell it was broken. "Marns," he ordered the black man standing just inside the door, "bring a pillow and a blanket and tell Alejandro to call Dr. Morse." Within minutes Marns returned, followed by Anne Hunt, the woman opening the bout ique off the lobby. She was wearing a décolleté black chiffon cocktail dress. He tri ed unsuccessfully to draw his eyes from the tanned breasts barely contained by t he ruffled vee of the neckline. "Got the doctor comin’," Marns said, handing him a pillow and a blanket. Anne sat on the floor next to him and brushed the hair back from Marisa s forehead. Marisa tried to shove the blanket away, but Hap ignored her protesting hands. "J ust a precaution. We don t want you going into shock." "Marisa," Anne said in a calm voice, "don t move. Doc Morse will be here in a fe w minutes." Scanning the dining room, Hap mused that the draperies Marisa had been hanging d rooped like the folds of a shroud. And the rain banging against the windows sou nded like a funeral dirge. Ordinarily this was the slow time since Florida’s high season didn’t begin until late October or even November, but he’d scheduled a soft o pening as a dress rehearsal for the Tarpon Inn’s formal reopening. The rain wasn’t h elping. Anxiety slammed his gut. This hotel had to make it or his career was was hed up. Enough of this bullshit thinking. It was the rain. And the opening was so close. And his six-year-old daughter was due to arrive within the hour. Damn Diana any way. Dropping Felicity in his lap this summer when he was fighting to get his c areer back on track. Marisa grunted with pain as she tried to shift her weight, drawing his attention to the crisis du jour. Anne took her hand. "Marisa," she instructed, "when it h urts, squeeze my hand. And hang in there, Doc ll be here any second." Dragging a ring of keys out of his pocket, he instructed, “Marns, get a bottle of brandy out of the liquor locker in the bar and some glasses." “Glad you’re here,” he said to Anne. In contrast to the soothing touch she used with M arisa, her expression when she looked at him was grim and angry. He knew what sh e d say if Marisa weren t lying there. She d call him an SOB for forcing her ope n her boutique at the Inn rather than downtown as she wanted.