Authors: Elin Hilderbrand
Tags: #General Fiction
Critical Acclaim for
“What a perfect summer pleasure Elin Hilderbrand provides in
mixing the complexities of family life and friendship with suspense, romance, and moonlit Nantucket nights.”
—Nancy Thayer, author of
“Dips deep into
“Ms. Hilderbrand paints a picture of idyllic Nantucket life that slowly starts to unravel as the ugly underbelly is revealed. Hidden secrets, a mysterious disappearance, and the pain of betrayal form the basis for this haunting read.”
“The novel is fast-paced and suspenseful enough to keep readers interested. A likely candidate for summer-vacation reading.”
St. Martin’s Paperbacks Titles
by Elin Hilderbrand
The Beach Club
The Blue Bistro
St. Martin’s Paperbacks
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
Copyright © 2002 by Elin Hilderbrand.
copyright © 2003 by Elin Hilderbrand.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 2001058860
Printed in the United States of America
St. Martin’s Press hardcover edition / July 2002
St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / July 2003
St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth
Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
For my friends
Richard and Amanda Congdon,
who taught me what I know
of patience, devotion, and
the strength of the human spirit
It is December on Nantucket Island—a month of white skies and the first truly cold winds of the winter, a month made bearable by Christmas cheer. When Kayla stands next to the big Douglas fir in front of Pacific National Bank, she gazes down Main Street at the rows of trees with their fat colored lights, the snow flurries dusting the cobblestones, and the people she has lived amongst for twenty years, who are hurrying into the warm shops.
Kayla has shopping to do as well. At The Complete Kitchen, she buys an ice cream scoop for Luke’s teacher, and the woman behind the register offers her an hors d’oeuvre from a silver platter: smoked salmon on rye bread topped with caviar that looks like black pearls. At Nantucket Sleigh Ride, they’re handing out hot cider in paper cups. Kayla buys ornaments and a strand of scallop-shell lights. At Johnston’s of Elgin cashmere shop, Kayla splurges on a cherry red pashmina for a party she and Raoul have been invited to on the fifteenth. The salesgirl wraps the pashmina in cream-colored tissue paper, ties it up with red ribbon, and then slips it into a fancy shopping bag with silk cord handles. Walking back to her car, Kayla marvels at how, on the outside, everything in her life appears to be back to normal. And on a day like today, better than normal.
Antoinette has been missing for three months.
As Kayla walks into her house, the phone rings. She still can’t bring herself to answer the phone because she’s afraid.
“Afraid of what?”
Raoul asked her once.
Afraid of this very thing: She waits for the machine to pick up, and then she hears a voice.
“Kayla,” the voice says. “This is Paul Henry. I have news. Please call me.”
Kayla deletes the message and begins pacing the house, still clutching her shopping bags. She is grateful that she’s the only one home. No one else heard the message.
Afraid of what?
Afraid that everything is
back to normal. Antoinette, the woman whom Kayla once called her best friend, was swept off the coast of Great Point while swimming in the middle of the night on Labor Day weekend.
Was Antoinette dead? Alive? There was no way to know.
At two o’clock on the Friday of Labor Day weekend, the phone rang. Kayla was eating lunch: half a tomato sandwich and eight Lay’s potato chips. As she ate, she paged through the Dutch Gardens catalog, looking for spring bulbs.
Kayla plucked the phone off the kitchen wall. It was her friend Valerie Gluckstern’s secretary.
“Hold for Val,” the secretary said.
Twenty seconds later, it was Val herself. Kayla heard her shut the door to her office. Val always took her personal calls behind closed doors.
“Yes, Counselor,” Kayla said, licking salt off her fingers.
“Have you talked to Antoinette?”
“But we’re on for tonight? Eleven-thirty, and not a minute later? You’re driving?”
“God, I’m so happy, I could just burst. I have, like, sixteen closings this month, and I don’t care. John said something last night about running for selectman again in the spring, and even that didn’t bother me.”
“And tonight you’re going to tell us who’s making you so happy?” Kayla said. “The mystery man?”
“As promised,” Val said. “I’m bringing a bottle of champagne I picked up when I was in France. You bought cheese?”
“I’m going to the store this afternoon. When I talked to Antoinette last week I asked her to bring the lobsters, but I’ll call and remind her.”
“It’s a full moon tonight,” Val said. “Can you even believe the romance in that? Has there ever been a full moon for Night Swimmers before?”
“I don’t remember one.”
“So this is the first time in twenty years,” Val said. “Twenty years, can you believe it? God, we’re old.” She sucked in her breath and let out a long stream of air. It sounded like Val was smoking a cigarette, but Kayla knew better.
“Are you lifting your weights?” Kayla asked. “Twenty reps, bicep curl,” Val said. “You can fight age, you know.”
can fight age,” Kayla said. “It’s too late for me. I have to ration potato chips. Count them out, seal the bag, and hide it away.”
“I know what you mean,” Val said.
“You don’t know,” Kayla said. “Ms. Size Two.”
“I envy anyone over forty in the single digits,” Kayla said.
“You know this book I’m reading?” Val said. “By the Swiss therapist? She has a lot to say about Americans suffering from poor self-image, and she actually recommends having an affair. So for once in my life, I’m doing something right. Something European.” Kayla heard the weights clunk to the floor, and then Val said, “Whew! I don’t like to hear you getting sensitive about your weight.”
“I can’t help it,” Kayla said.
“Do you want to borrow the book?”
“When you have a book that deals with the potato chip syndrome, let me know,” Kayla said. She heard the other phone in Val’s office ring—no doubt, important business, money to be made. Kayla let her go. “I’ll see you tonight.”
Kayla clicked off the phone and returned to her lunch and the seventy varieties of daffodils, but her mind stayed on her conversation with Val. Val had spent the shimmering summer months having an affair. With someone they all knew, Val said, but she wouldn’t tell who. Kayla had been guessing all summer—Charlie, who owned the fish market; The baud, the chef at 21 Federal; Alan, the mail carrier. Nope, nope, nope, Val said. Kayla’s other best friend, Antoinette, refused to play guessing games.
“I have better things to do with my time than speculate about Valerie’s illicit sex life,” Antoinette said. “For example, I could be conducting an illicit sex life of my own.”
Kayla poured herself a glass of lemonade and drank it slowly. The house was quiet, and for just a minute she felt lonely, like the last housewife left in America. Her husband was building the biggest house in the history of Nantucket Island, her four children were out enjoying the final days of freedom before they had to go back to school, and her two best friends were conducting lives that brimmed with sexual energy—strangers’ hands running up the insides of their thighs, the electric sensation of a first kiss. These feelings were lost to Kayla, buried in her past. As far away as Europe.
Dutifully, she put her plate and glass in the dishwasher.
Although she occasionally felt sorry for herself, Kayla’s life wasn’t dull. True, Nantucket was small and stranded thirty miles off the coast of America, but it had endless stretches of beach, hundreds of acres of moors dotted with freshwater ponds, and a charming town of cobblestone streets, spired churches, and historic homes built with whaling fortunes in the nineteenth century. It was popular to believe that things only happened on Nantucket during the summer. Summer was a slice of heaven, but the same was true for the rest of the year on the island, and Kayla felt sorry for anyone who missed the days of October that were as red and crisp as an apple, or the snow silently blanketing Main Street on Christmas Eve, or the seals that lounged on the rocks of the jetty and flapped their fins at the people who rode the ferry into the icy harbor in winter. It was true, though, that most of the excitement on Nantucket arrived in summer, and such was definitely the case this year, even for a housewife like Kayla.
Back in June, Kayla’s husband, Raoul Montero, owner of Montero Construction, landed the biggest job ever on Nantucket—the Ting house out in Monomoy. Val had represented Pierre and Elisabeth Ting when they bought the vacant lot for six million dollars, and the house they wanted to build would cost another ten million. The day Raoul had found out the job was his, he came home on his lunch hour, something he rarely did. Kayla had been weeding the garden, wearing a bikini top and jeans shorts, her bare knees stained with dirt. Just before Raoul pulled into the driveway, she’d had a sense of glorious freedom. Her kids were all elsewhere: her oldest, Theo, worked part-time as a ramp attendant for Island Airlines; her girls, Jennifer and Cassidy B., had babysitting jobs; and her eight-year-old, Luke, was at camp every day until four. After nineteen years of marriage and eighteen years of child-rearing, she woke up to discover that it was summer and she had a day all to herself; she dug in the garden, inhaling the scent of rosemary and basil, listening to Cat Stevens sing “Oh Very Young” on the kitchen radio. Then Kayla saw Raoul’s red pickup pull into the driveway. She’d panicked at first—construction could be a dangerous business, people fell off roofs and high ladders—but when she saw Raoul’s face, she knew he had good news.
“I got Ting,” he said. He strode through the backyard to the garden and reached her before she could even stand up.
“Lucky, lucky man,” she said. “How did you get so lucky?”
“It’s not luck, baby; it’s skill,” he said. He took Kayla’s sweaty body in his arms. Raoul was not only lucky, but blessed, as well. He was tall and strong with Spanish coloring—dark hair, golden brown eyes, rosy lips. Their kids worshiped him. They ate the same things that Raoul ate—for breakfast, two banana muffins and a bowl of fruit; for lunch, egg salad on a sub roll. They all loved Chevy trucks, skiing, The Rolling Stones singing “Street Fighting Man,” Tom Brokaw, scary movies, coconut cream Easter eggs. It baffled Kayla at times—they’d had four children who were carbon copies of Raoul. Sometimes it was like she’d had nothing to do with their creation. Sometimes it was like she was just a visitor to their planet.