Bar Harbor, 1913
The cliffs call to me. High and fierce and dangerously beautiful, they stand and beckon as seductively as a lover. In the morning, the air was as soft as the clouds that rode the sky to the west. Gulls wheeled and called, a lonely sound, like the distant ring of a buoy that carried up on the wind. It brought an image of a church bell tolling a birth. Or a death.
Like a mirage, other islands glinted and winked through the faint mist the sun had yet to burn from the water. Fishermen piloted their sturdy boats from the bay and out to the rolling sea.
Even knowing he would not be there, I couldn 't stay away.
I took the children. It can't be wrong to want to share with them some of the happiness that I always feel when I walk in the wild grass that leads to the tumbled rocks. I held Ethan's hand on one side, and Colleen's on the other. Nanny gripped little Sean's as he toddled through the grass after a yellow butterfly that fluttered just beyond his questing fingers.
The sound of their laughter–the sweetest sound a mother can hear–lifted through the air. They have such bright and depthless curiosity, such unquestioning trust. As yet, they are untouched by the worries of the world, of uprisings in Mexico, of unrest in Europe. Their world does not include betrayals or guilt or passions that sting the heart. Their needs, so simple, are immediate and have nothing to do with tomorrow. If I could keep them so innocent, so safe and so free, I would. Yet I know that one day they will face all of those churning adult emotions and worries.
But today there were wildflowers to be picked, questions to be answered And for me, dreams to be dreamed.
There is no doubt that Nanny understands why I walk here. She knows me too well not to see into my heart. She loves me too well to criticize. No one would be more aware than she that there is no love in my marriage. It is, as it has always been, a convenience to Fergus, a duty to me. If not for the children, we would have nothing in common. Even then, I fear he considers them worthwhile possessions, symbols of his success, such as our home in New York, or The Towers, the castlelike house he built for summers on the island. Or myself, the woman he took as wife, one whom he considers attractive enough, well–bred enough to share the Calhoun name, to grace his dinner table or adorn his arm when we walk into the society that is so important to him.
It sounds cold when I write it, yet I cannot pretend there has been warmth in my marriage to Fergus. Certainly there is no passion. I had hoped, when I followed my parents' wishes and married him, that there would be affection, which would deepen into love. But I was very young. There is courtesy, a hollow substitute for emotion.
A year ago perhaps, I could convince myself that I was content. I have a prosperous husband, children I adore, an enviable place in society and a circle of elegant friends. My wardrobe is crowded with beautiful clothes and jewelry. The emeralds Fergus gave me when Ethan was born are fit for a queen. My summer home is magnificent, again suited to royalty with its towers and turrets, its lofty walls papered in silk, its floors gleaming beneath the richest of carpets. ' What woman would not be content with all of this? What more could a dutiful wife ask for? Unless she asked for love.
It was love I found along these cliffs, in the artist who stood there, facing the sea, slicing those rocks and raging water onto canvas. Christian, his dark hair blowing in the wind, his gray eyes so dark, so intense, as they studied me. Perhaps if I had not met him I could have gone on pretending to be content. I could have gone on convincing myself that I did not yearn for love or sweet words or a quiet touch in the middle of the night.
Yet I did meet him, and my life has changed. I would not go back to that false contentment for a hundred emerald necklaces. With Christian I have found something so much more precious than all the gold Fergus so cleverly accumulates. It is not something I can hold in my hand or wear around my throat, but something I hold in my heart.
When I meet him on the cliffs, as I will this afternoon, I wilt not grieve for what we can't have, what we dare not take, but treasure the hours we've been given. When I feel his arms around me, taste his lips against mine, I'll know that Bianca is the luckiest woman in the world to have been loved so well.
A storm was waiting to happen. From the high curving window of the tower, Lilah could see the silver tongue of lightning licking at the black sky to the east. Thunder bellowed, bursting through the gathering clouds to send its drumbeat along the teeth of rock. An answering shudder coursed through her–not of fear, but of excitement.
Something was coming. She could feel it, not just in the thickening of the air but in the primitive beating of her own blood.
When she pressed her hand to the glass, she almost expected her fingers to sizzle, snapped with the power of the electricity building. But the glass was cool and smooth, and as black as the sky.
She smiled a little at the distant rumble of thunder and thought of her great–grandmother. Had Bianca ever stood here, watching a storm build, waiting for it to crash over the house and fill the tower with eerie light? Had she wished that her lover had stood beside her to share the power and the unleashed passion? Of course she had, Lilah thought. What woman wouldn't?
But Bianca had stood here alone, Lilah knew, just as she herself was standing alone now. Perhaps it had been the loneliness, the sheer ache of it, that had driven Bianca to throw herself out of that very window and onto the unforgiving rocks below.
Shaking her head, Lilah took her hand from the glass. She was letting herself get moody again, and it had to stop. Depression and dark thoughts were out of character for a woman who preferred to take life as it came–and who made it a policy to avoid its more strenuous burdens.
Lilah wasn't ashamed of the fact that she would rather sit than stand, would certainly rather walk than run and saw the value of long naps as opposed to exercise for keeping the body and mind in tune.
Not that she wasn't ambitious. It was simply that her ambitions ran to the notion that physical comfort had priority over physical accomplishments.
She didn't care for brooding and was annoyed with herself for falling into the habit over the past few weeks. If anything she should be happy. Her life was moving along at a steady if unhurried pace. Her home and her family, equally important as her own comfort, were safe and whole. In fact, both were expanding along very satisfactory lines.
Her youngest sister, C.C., was back from her honeymoon and glowing like a rose. Amanda, the most practical of the Calhoun sisters, was madly in love and planning her own wedding.
The two men in her sisters' lives met with Lilah's complete approval. Trenton St. James, her new brother–in–law, was a crafty businessman with a soft heart under a meticulously tailored suit. Sloan O'Riley, with his cowboy boots and Oklahoma drawl, had her admiration for digging beneath Amanda's prickly exterior.
Of course, having two of her beloved nieces attached to wonderful men made Aunt Coco delirious with happiness. Lilah laughed a little, thinking how her aunt was certain she'd all but arranged the love affairs herself. Now, naturally, the Calhoun sisters' long–time guardian was itching to provide the same service for Lilah and her older sister Suzanna.
Good luck, Lilah wished her aunt. After a traumatic divorce, and with two young children to care for– not to mention a business to run–Suzanna wasn't likely to cooperate. She'd been badly burned once, and a smart woman didn't let herself get pushed into the fire.
For herself, Lilah had been doing her best to fall in love, to hear that vibrant inner click that came when you knew you'd found the one person in the world who was fated for you. So far, that particular chamber of her heart had been stubbornly silent.
There was time for that, she reminded herself. She was twenty–seven, happy enough in her work, surrounded by family. A few months before, they had nearly lost The Towers, the Calhoun's crumbling and eccentric home that stood on the cliffs overlooking the sea. If it hadn't been for Trent, Lilah might not have been able to stand in the tower room she loved so much and look out at the gathering storm.
So she had her home, her family, a job that interested her and, she reminded herself, a mystery to solve. Great–Grandmama Bianca's emeralds, she thought. Though she had never seen them, she was able to visualize them perfectly just by closing her eyes.
Two dramatic tiers of grass–green stones accented with icy diamonds. The glint of gold in the fancy filigree work. And dripping from the bottom strand, that rich and glowing teardrop emerald. More than its financial or even aesthetic value, it represented to Lilah a direct link with an ancestor who fascinated her, and the hope of eternal love.
The legend said that Bianca, determined to end a loveless marriage, had packed a few of her treasured belongings, including the necklace, into a box. Hoping to find a way to join her lover, she had hidden it. Before she had been able to take it out and start a life with Christian, she had despaired and leaped from the tower window to her death.
A tragic end to a romance, Lilah thought, yet she didn't always feel sad when she thought of it. Bianca's spirit remained in The Towers, and in that high room where Bianca had spent so many hours longing for her lover, Lilah felt close to her.
They would find the emeralds, she promised herself. They were meant to.
It was true enough that the necklace had already caused its problems. The press had learned of its existence and had played endlessly on the hidden–treasure angle. So successfully, Lilah thought now, that the annoyance had gone beyond curious tourists and amateur treasure hunters, and had brought a ruthless thief into their home.
When she thought of how Amanda might have been killed protecting the family's papers, the risk she had taken trying to keep any clue to the emeralds out of the wrong hands, Lilah shuddered. Despite Amanda's heroics, the man who had called himself William Livingston had gotten away with a sackful. Lilah sincerely hoped he found nothing but old recipes and unpaid bills.
William Livingston, alias Peter Mitchell, alias a dozen other names wasn't going to get his greedy hands on the emeralds. Not if the Calhoun women had anything to do about it. As far as Lilah was concerned, that included Bianca, who was as much a part of The Towers as the cracked plaster and creaky boards.
Restless, she moved away from the window. She couldn't say why the emeralds and the woman who had owned them preyed so heavily on her mind tonight. But Lilah was a woman who believed in instinct, in premonition, as naturally as she believed the sun rose in the east.
Tonight, something was coming.
She glanced back toward the window. The storm was rolling closer, gathering force. She felt a driving need to be outside to meet it.
Max felt his stomach lurch along with the boat. Yacht, he reminded himself. A twenty–six–foot beauty with all the comforts of home. Certainly more than his own home, which consisted of a cramped apartment, carelessly furnished, near the campus of Cornell University. The trouble was, the twenty–six–foot beauty was sitting on top of a very cranky Atlantic, and the two seasickness pills in Max's system were no match for it.
He brushed the dark lock of hair away from his brow where, as always, it fell untidily back again. The reeling of the boat sent the brass lamp above his desk dancing. Max did his best to ignore it. He really had to concentrate on his job. American history professors weren't offered fascinating and lucrative summer employment every day. And there was a very good chance he could get a book out of it.
Being hired as researcher for an eccentric millionaire was the fodder of fiction. In this case, it was fact.
As the ship pitched, Max pressed a hand to his queasy stomach and tried three deep breaths. When that didn't work, he tried concentrating on his good fortune.
The letter from Ellis Caufield had come at a perfect time, just before Max had committed himself to a summer assignment. The offer had been both irresistible and flattering.