Read Rock Harbor Series - 01 - Without a Trace Online

Authors: Colleen Coble

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Suspense, #Mystery, #Adult, #ebook

Rock Harbor Series - 01 - Without a Trace (7 page)

BOOK: Rock Harbor Series - 01 - Without a Trace
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“Like you have to worry about your figure!” Bree eyed Anu’s lithe, long limbs with envy. She hated being short. If she could pick someone to look like, it would be Anu Nicholls. In fact, Bree wished she were like Anu in all ways. They had a lot in common even now, especially in love. They both had loved and lost. Anu’s husband had run out on her after five years of marriage, leaving her to raise Rob and Hilary alone. He’d never so much as written to let her know he was still
alive. The abandoned woman had never remarried, though not for lack of admirers.

Rob’s father never knew the way the town looked up to Rob. The night he was appointed fire chief, Bree and Rob had lain in bed and talked far into the night. Rob confessed he’d always worked hard in his profession so that maybe someday he could make his dad proud enough of him to come back. Bree had held him as he cried that night, and it made her hate Rob’s father for more than just abandoning Anu.

Anu had bounced back though. She’d opened Nicholls’s Finnish Imports nearly twenty years ago, and it had grown into one of the finest Finnish shops in the country. Bree loved to touch the shop’s beautiful items, treasures like Arabia china and colorful Marimekko linens. Working there was a joy, not a chore.

“Something has caused that long face, eh?”

Bree came back to earth and managed a smile. “Did you find anything new in Finland for the shop?” Bree said, knowing shop news should distract her.

Anu brightened. “Some lovely wool sweaters. And a new line of saunas I will carry.” She wagged her finger under Bree’s nose. “Do not change the subject. You were about to tell me what hides that lovely smile. And do not tell me ‘nothing.’ I know you too well.”

Hilary would be livid if she revealed something she didn’t want her mother to know. “I was with Hilary,” she began, trying to think of a way to deflect the question.

Anu held up a slim hand. “That is enough of an explanation. I suppose she was badgering you again. I’m sorry, my Bree. I have tried to talk with her, but she refuses to listen to reason.”

Bree took the invitation to drop the topic and switched to another. “I’m still having no luck finding any trace of the plane crash,” she admitted.

Anu was silent for a long moment, her gaze pensive, then her eyes
grew luminous with tears. “I spent much time thinking at the Puulan Lake cottage,” Anu said. “The time has come to let it go, Bree.” Anu’s blue-eyed gaze gently traveled over Bree’s face. “When Abe left me, I clung to the hope he would return. At holidays, the children’s birthdays, I was sure he would call or write, or show up at the door. I spent my life imagining how I would act, what I would say. Then one day I woke up and knew he wasn’t coming back. He was as dead to me as if he were buried in Rock Harbor Cemetery.” She rubbed her forehead.

“It is time we all faced facts. Rob and Davy are gone. It is time for you to move on with your life. We must cease asking the impossible of you. They are gone. Let them rest in peace.”

Bree’s throat clenched, and she felt the beginning flutters of a panic attack, an experience she hadn’t had in nearly six months. She couldn’t let go of Rob and Davy, not quite yet.

“Soon,” she whispered. “But not yet, Anu. Not yet.”

Anu laid a hand on Bree’s cheek. “I know it is hard,
kulta
. But you will grow stronger when you let go.”

Bree shook her head. “I’m giving myself until the first of the year. It seems appropriate, don’t you think?” Anu shrugged in acquiescence, and Bree wondered if she would give it up even then. The search was the only connection she had with her son and her husband, faithless though he was. Without that search to give her life meaning, what else was there?

4

B
ree dutifully made the rounds through the room, shaking hands, smiling until her face hurt, and garnering all the goodwill and votes she could manage for her sister-in-law. Most folks had heard of the latest rescue and congratulated her. In spite of such kindness, events like this emphasized her presence as an outsider even as she slogged on in her quest to be accepted.

One family, however, loved Bree in the way she craved. She spotted Palmer and Lily Chambers from across the room and went to join them. Their friendship was birthed in the context of misery loving company, since they were outsiders to Rock Harbor themselves. Lily and Palmer had opened a fitness center after Palmer’s stint as an airplane mechanic in the military was over. Today, two years later, the fitness center still barely limped along, a fact not too surprising, considering most of Rock Harbor’s residents believed true exercise could only be had outdoors. Fishing, swimming, hiking, hunting—all these were acceptable forms. The Chamberses’ high-tech machines were viewed with suspicion that was lifting only little by little.

Lily turned as Bree approached. Her round, homely face was wreathed in smiles of welcome. “Bree, I’ve been meaning to call and invite you to dinner. What are you doing tomorrow night? Or is that too late of a notice?”

“Let’s see, dinner at your home or macaroni and cheese from a box? That’s a no-brainer, I think.” Bree laughed. “What time, girlfriend?”

Lily turned to Palmer. “Six sound good?”

Palmer nodded. “I should be done with my meeting by five.” He hugged Bree with one arm around her shoulders. “You’ve been too much a stranger lately. Bring Samson; the girls have been yammering to see him.”

Slender with fine blond hair and green eyes, Palmer’s good looks seemed incongruous next to Lily’s plain features. The fact he’d seen beyond Lily’s plain exterior to her beautiful spirit endeared him to Bree. And she adored their two-year-old twins, Paige and Penelope.

“There are some darling puppies at the shelter,” Bree said. “Why don’t I pick up the girls one night next week and take them over to pick one out?”

Palmer wagged his finger at her. “I haven’t decided to get one yet.”

“Oh, Palmer, you know perfectly well you’ll give in sooner or later. You might as well do it gracefully now,” Lily put in.

“We’ll see,” Palmer said, smiling. “Now we’d better go. The sitter will need to get home.”

“We’ll see you tomorrow at six,” Lily reminded Bree.

Bree watched a moment as Palmer and Lily wove their way back through the crowd. A warm contentment settled in her bones. It was nice to have friends like that, friends who cared about her in tangible ways.

Around nine o’clock, her feet throbbing, Bree slipped into a corner and found a chair by the curtains that formed a small hallway between the main hall and a smaller room. Scooting her chair partially into the other room and away from the crowd, she eased out of her shoes and rubbed her feet. Another half an hour and she could go home. She’d look for Naomi next.

Moments later Fay joined her. She sat in the chair beside Bree then opened her purse and took out a cigarette. She lit it and blew a circle of smoke in the air.

“Smoking isn’t good for the baby,” Bree said, knowing Fay wouldn’t care if she spoke her mind.

“I’m not about to give up my life for this baby,” Fay said. Her gaze roamed the room.

Such disregard for her baby’s well-being made Bree want to get up and walk away. “Aren’t you happy about it?” she asked.

Fay shrugged. “I’m not sure yet. Ask me again after it’s here and I can tell whether the changes are good or bad.”

A movement across the empty room caught Bree’s attention. The side door opened, and a man stepped in. Bree had never seen him, though he reminded her of someone. Then she realized he looked like a younger version of the pictures she’d seen of Elvis before booze and drugs had marred his good looks. Though “the King” had died when Bree was a child, she’d been fascinated by articles she had read about him in old
Modern Screen
and
Photoplay
magazines she’d found in the back of her mother’s closet.

The same petulant expression crossed this man’s face as he scanned the room from his partially hidden position in the curtains. When his gaze settled on Fay, the smoldering look deepened, and he swaggered across the room toward Fay as though adoring fans screamed along the sidelines. Fay saw him approach and scowled. He stopped in front of her and stood with his hands on his hips, looking down at her.

“You said you’d meet me at nine.” The man made no attempt to lower his voice.

“What are you doing here, Eric?” Fay hissed. “Get out before Steve sees you. He’s already asking questions.”

“Then tell him the truth!”

“Don’t tell me what to do. We’re playing this my way.” Fay ground out her cigarette on the floor and stood to walk away.

Eric grabbed her arm. “You think you can snap your fingers and I’ll follow at your heels. Don’t make that mistake. I’m not a lap dog like your husband.”

“Take your hands off me.” She jerked her arm away, but he grabbed it again.

Bree rose, and Eric glared at her. An older man materialized from the main hall. Bree recognized him as Fay’s uncle, Lawrence Kukkari.

“This man bothering you, Fay?” he asked.

“No, he’s just leaving,” Fay said. “I’ll meet you later,” she said softly to Eric. “Now please leave before Steve comes looking for me.” She smiled prettily, but Eric’s scowl just deepened.

“I won’t wait forever, Fay.”

“I’ll meet you later,” Fay whispered. “Please, don’t make a scene.”

“One hour. Then I come looking for you again.” With a muttered oath, Eric spun on his heels and stalked away.

Bree’s gaze followed him as he made his way through the crowd. Kade Matthews put out a hand to intercept him, and Eric stopped to talk to him. Bree frowned as she saw them talking. Kade appeared to be as angry as Eric. At one point he stabbed his finger in Eric’s chest for emphasis. How did he know this guy?

Lawrence’s voice drew her attention back to Fay. “You know better than to get mixed up with him again.”

“Don’t start, Uncle.” Fay’s voice was soft with weariness. “I don’t meddle in your private life, and I don’t want you meddling in mine.”

The scowl on Lawrence’s face eased. “Very well. Have you thought any more about the new offer for the mine? Mr. Simpkins wants an answer.”

“I told you, I’ve already agreed to sell the mine to Palmer Chambers.”

“You’re throwing away a hundred thousand dollars!” Lawrence’s voice rose.

Bree looked around for a place to slink away. Being in the middle of someone else’s argument felt awkward. Unfortunately, Lawrence blocked her path to escape.

Lawrence glanced at Bree and lowered his voice as he continued to argue his case with his niece. “Take this offer, and you’ll have enough money to leave Steve and this hick town and start fresh.”

“I think you’re more concerned with your share than with my happiness,” Fay said. “Let’s not talk about this anymore. I don’t want to be mixed up with mobsters from New York, and I sure don’t want them traipsing around my mine. I don’t trust them, and I
do
trust Palmer.”

“If you force my hand, I’ll tell Steve everything.”

Fay laughed, but the tinkle was gone. “What will you tell him, Uncle Lawrence? That I married him for his money and now that it’s gone I’m splitting? He already knows why I married him. But in spite of your high opinion of me, I’m not leaving him. Not now. Things have changed. I’ve got a baby to think about.” She slung her purse over one shoulder and moved away.

“You can’t do this!” Lawrence shouted after her.

Fay just waved a hand over her head and kept going. Lawrence shook himself, his face a mask of bewilderment. He saw Bree staring at him and scowled then stalked off. “She’s going to get me killed,” he muttered.

Fay’s covert exchanges were too complicated for Bree to think about. She would find Naomi and head for home. Fay could work out her own problems.

The next morning Bree woke in time to watch the sun break free of the horizon. In Bree’s mind, Sunday morning should be time spent leisurely over a plate of eggs and bacon, but as she surveyed the contents of her refrigerator, she knew her kitchen couldn’t produce such a repast: a near-empty tub of margarine, half a bottle of water, a plate of week-old salmon patties covered in a suspicious moldy tint that could be seen even through the pink plastic wrap. The lone apple in the produce drawer looked more like a prune.

“Nothing fit to eat here, Samson. You want to go out for breakfast?” He barked and ran to the door. “I guess that’s a yes.” She slipped
into her jacket and hooked the leash to his collar. By the time she finished breakfast, Fay should be along for coffee.

Stepping outside into the cool morning air, she and Samson set off at an energetic clip toward Suomi Café, four blocks down Houghton Street. Two blocks in, she tugged on Samson’s leash and slowed their pace to enjoy the walk. No one was stirring this early, but Bree thought everyone should see the radiant blue of the sky. The fog bell out in the harbor was tolling, and the blue that was Lake Superior glinted briefly between the houses lining the water. Another altogether glorious day in paradise.

Some would laugh at her for describing snow country as paradise, but then they likely had never smelled the cold freshness of pollution-free air or watched a white blanket of snow cloak everything in clean, pristine beauty. Bree couldn’t imagine a better place on earth. A colorful autumn day like this offered a glimpse of perfection.

Rock Harbor, population twenty-five hundred if you counted Anu’s chickens, couldn’t be more picturesque. From the first moment Bree set foot on the volcanic soil of Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula, she knew she’d come home. The Victorian storefronts looked the same as they did in century-old photographs. That fact had always been a comfort to Bree, but especially in the previous year. She’d had too many changes in her life.

Nestled at the base of Quincy Hill, Rock Harbor’s three-block downtown area could have come straight from a child’s storybook. The town’s major businesses lined Houghton Street, which was intersected by Jack Pine Lane and Pepin Street. To stroll the village streets was to step back in time. Even the corner butcher showed a marked resemblance to Barney Fife. With the recent influx of tourists, many store owners were busy sprucing up and painting the storefronts with cheerful schemes that reminded Bree of San Francisco row houses. From her lighthouse tower, she could look down on the town and marvel at its perfection.

BOOK: Rock Harbor Series - 01 - Without a Trace
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