Authors: Colleen Coble
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Suspense, #Mystery, #Adult, #ebook
Emily’s stormy expression vanished. “I like to tell stories,” she said. “Maybe I’ll write books someday. But I did see a lady there.”
Bree sighed, but she smiled and took Emily’s hand. “I think we’d better go check on your brother.” Davy had had an active imagination too. Children were such a joy that way. It was better not to argue with them over their imaginary friends.
By the time Bree got home, it was one o’clock, so she fixed herself a peanut butter sandwich. The day could not be more perfect. The repair on the brick wouldn’t take long, if she could just convince herself to try it. This should be an easy fear to face. Little by little over the past year, she’d overcome the terrors that woke her in the night. Her fear of heights could be overcome too. But not if she didn’t try, if she didn’t get up and do something about it.
Bree forced herself to stand, then moved on leaden legs to the back patio where the mortar still waited. She mixed it then carried the bucket
up the curving iron steps of the light tower. She fastened the leather work belt around her waist and stepped out onto the metal catwalk that circled the tower of her lighthouse home like a tiara on the head of an aging beauty queen.
The wind freshened, bringing the scent of Lake Superior to her nose. The waves along the lake made a booming sound as they struck the buoy out in the cove. Her lighthouse home had stood for over a century on a thin slice of land that thrust itself into Superior’s waves with all the arrogance of a scepter extended to a penitent. But it would soon crumble around her if she didn’t marshal the courage to get this job done.
Looking over the railing, a wave of dizziness swept over her, and the ground tilted. Gripping the railing with tight fingers, she whispered, “I can do this.”
Fay had loaned her a rappelling harness weeks ago. Bree fastened it to the railing. Her heart raced. She knew the sturdy rope should hold her, but she couldn’t help imagining spiraling down the side of the tower and slamming against the grassy knoll far below. She squeezed her eyes shut. Had there been time enough for Rob and Davy to feel this fear that dried her mouth like the Sonoran desert?
Bree swallowed and tightly gripped the catwalk post and rail. She wedged the toe of her boot against the lower rail and swung around so her back was to Superior’s cold spray. Standing with one foot on the lower rail, she silently castigated herself. All she had to do was swing that other leg over the railing, and she’d be standing outside the catwalk. Why couldn’t she perform such a simple action?
With blood roaring in her ears like some Superior squall, Bree gripped the railing and told herself she could do it. The bag of mortar bumped against her thigh and startled her. She closed her eyes again and shuddered.
Just get it over with.
Still straddling the railing, she tested the strength of the rope again, more to delay the inevitable than anything else.
She was going to do this. Swinging her other leg over, she stood poised on the edge of the balcony.
all she had to do was step into space. The rope would hold her. The lead in her legs had turned to jelly, but she forced herself to go on. She could conquer this fear. She stepped away, and then she was walking along the vertical side of the lighthouse, rappelling down the tower. This was easier than she’d thought it would be.
Squinting against the harsh sun, she glanced up at the hook that snapped around the railing. Her eyes widened in spite of the glare. The railing was beginning to bend. Her stomach lurched. She had to get back up before it came loose.
She was going to die. Her breath came in short gasps. The railing wouldn’t hold long, and she would plummet to her death. She tried to shout for help, but only a squeak slipped past her tight throat.
“What are you doing?” Naomi poked her head over the edge of the balcony. “This is not a job for you. You get back inside right now.”
“I would if I could,” Bree whispered.
Naomi stepped onto the metal catwalk, and it shook a bit with her steps. Bree shuddered.
“Hold on.” Naomi grabbed the rope and began to wind it around her waist. In jerky movements, Bree began to rise to the balcony. She was afraid to move, afraid she would take Naomi down with her.
Naomi grunted with the exertion. “Almost there,” she panted.
Then Bree was at the top, and Naomi was helping her over the railing. Both women tumbled to the shaky deck and lay gasping.
Bree’s breathing began to return to normal, and she sat up. “I would have died if you hadn’t come. The railing was giving way.”
“I saw.” Naomi’s eyes were bright with tears. “Something inside, almost like a voice, told me you needed me. It had to be God,” she whispered.
Irritation flared up in place of Bree’s relief. Of course Naomi would give God the credit. Her gaze traveled to the misshapen rail
ing. She felt her annoyance wane. Could it be possible Naomi was right?
Naomi touched Bree’s shoulder in a comforting gesture. “You’re all right. Let’s get you inside.”
On wobbly legs, Bree managed to walk to the door and step through into the light tower. “That wasn’t pretty,” she said. “Thanks.” She attempted a smile. “I guess I’ll have to sell this and buy one of those new tract homes going up on Cottage Avenue. Look at all the money I’d make. People would be lining up at the door to buy a dilapidated lighthouse with a crumbling tower and mold in the basement.”
“Don’t joke. I know what it cost you to go out there. I think you’re very brave,” Naomi said.
Bree looked away. If Naomi only knew. “I need a cup of coffee,” she said.
Naomi nodded. “Want to join us for dinner?”
Bree didn’t want to face the pity in Naomi’s expression. She couldn’t face her own failure again. “I’m supposed to go to Lily and Palmer’s for dinner.” She squeezed her friend’s hand. “But thanks, Naomi.”
As Bree left the lighthouse, a hint of rain freshened the air. The wind began to blow across Lake Superior, kicking up scuds of white foam and flotsam onto the beach. What had happened to her perfect day? Bree tightened her jacket around her chest and bent against the wind. The rich aroma of espresso wafted through the door of The Coffee Place. Bree followed the fragrance like it was the Pied Piper. Caffeine was what she needed.
The bell on the door jingled, and she shut the door against the wind. “I’ll have a double espresso with whipped cream on top. Lots of whipped cream.”
The young woman behind the counter nodded. Bree didn’t recognize her. Probably new. Bree waved to her hairdresser, Sally Wilson,
and nodded to Steve Asters. He got up when he saw her and moved to join her at the counter.
“I’m glad to see you,” he said. A faint scratch ran across his right cheek.
“New at this shaving stuff, Steve?” Bree asked, teasing.
His hand went to his cheek and he flushed. “New razor,” he said. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” He gestured to a table in the corner.
The new girl put Bree’s espresso on the counter. “Sure.” Bree picked up her coffee and followed Steve.
He sat in the seat opposite her. “Fay hasn’t come home,” he whispered, glancing around to make sure they weren’t being overheard. “At first I didn’t think anything about it. She went climbing this morning. But we’re supposed to go to a dinner with the bank’s board of directors at six-thirty, and she still isn’t home.” Bree glanced at her watch. Nearly three. “She promised to be home by one.”
“I saw her this morning,” she admitted. “About eight. She was heading out to climb.”
Steve nodded. “I’m getting worried. It’s not like Fay. I tried calling her cell phone, but she never answered. I’d like you to look for her.”
“First things first. Have you contacted the sheriff?”
He shook his head. “That wouldn’t do me any good. It hasn’t been twenty-four hours yet.”
“Let’s call Mason. Since Fay is pregnant, he might bend the rules. I could meet him out there and take a look around.”
Steve’s eyes brightened and he nodded, taking his small fliptop cell phone from the inside pocket of his jacket. Bree sipped her espresso while Steve explained the situation to Mason.
“He’s on his way,” he said after closing the phone. “He’s in Houghton. Said he’d meet you at Rock River Gorge. I think that’s where she was going.” Steve put away his phone. “Can you take Samson up to the ridge to look around before he gets there? Just to see if maybe
she’s twisted her ankle or something? I could get you an article of clothing for the dog to scent from.”
An evening at Rock River Gorge was not nearly as appealing as her plans for dinner with the Chambers family, but she was needed. “I have to make a call,” she said. She took her own cell phone from her pocket and dialed Lily’s number. Her friend promised to keep dinner warm for her.
“I need to get Samson,” she told Steve.
Steve stood. “I’ll run by my place and get something of Fay’s for the dog. Maybe a sock?”
Bree nodded. “Pick up the item with your hand inside a paper bag, then turn the bag inside out so you don’t touch the scent article,” she instructed. “Then drop that bag into another paper bag before putting it all inside a plastic bag.”
He blinked and his mouth dropped open. “Can’t I just put it in a plastic bag?”
“Nope. Do it my way so we can keep the scent uncontaminated.”
Steve sighed and nodded then hurried out. Bree stayed a moment longer to make one more call. Maybe Naomi could join her.
By the time she got home and put Samson’s vest on him, the sky had darkened to pewter. The wind shrieked through the eaves and rattled the windows of her old lighthouse. The sound always made Bree think of Ojibwa Windigos, legendary Indian spirits who prowled for human flesh. The delightful autumn day had morphed to early winter without notice. Bree climbed into her insulated nylon jumpsuit and pulled the hood over her head. She grabbed a bag of pistachios and her ready-pack and went down the steps.
Samson followed her to the door, and they stepped outside as Steve pulled into the drive in his new Lexus. He was dressed in a suit and tie.
Bree frowned. “Aren’t you going with us?”
He shook his head. “Wish I could, but I’m expected at the dinner,” he shouted above the wind. “Here’s my cell phone number. Oh,
and one of Fay’s socks.” He handed Bree a slip of paper with his number written on it through the window, along with a plastic bag containing a sock encased in two paper bags. He began to back out.
Bree stuffed the paper in her pocket and tucked the bag under her arm. “Steve,” she began.
He braked and looked at her, and she shook her head. “Nothing,” she said. “I’ll let you know what I find.” He nodded and then sped away.
Bree couldn’t believe he would go to a bank dinner rather than help search for his pregnant wife. No wonder Fay had a brittle edge about her. It also explained Eric’s presence in her life.
Samson whined, and Bree waved at Naomi and Charley as they hurried across the yard toward the Jeep. Naomi wore her orange jumpsuit, and Charley had on his orange vest. Samson jumped into his kennel at the back of the Jeep then barked a welcome to Charley as Naomi steered her dog into the back also.
“Was that Steve leaving?” Naomi slid into the passenger seat and fastened her seat belt. She raked her fingers through her hair and quickly braided it. Her cheeks were pink from the wind.
“Yes. He had a fancy dinner to attend.” Bree didn’t bother to hide the disgust in her voice.
“He calls us out on a night like this then goes to a party?” Naomi’s voice lifted with indignation.
“Yep. If I were Fay, I’d be giving him a dose of his own medicine too.”
“You think that’s what this is?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. She didn’t seem to be her usual barracuda self this morning. I almost felt sorry for her.” Bree started the Jeep and drove down Houghton Street. Leaving the town behind them, she drove out to the gorge.
Bree loved the Rock River Gorge, with its rugged falls and rapids in beautiful forests of pine and hemlock. But tonight, the thick trees
deepened the gloom that had blown in with the clouds. Watching the wind whipping the trees and bending the shrubs and bushes over double brought a sense of unease to Bree’s throat. Why would Fay stay out in weather like this? Maybe something really was wrong.
She drove slowly through the area looking for Fay’s car and found it under the sweep of a blue spruce. Bree parked the Jeep, and she and Naomi got out. Rock River Gorge was just over the hill. It was a favorite place of Fay’s; they would check there first. Naomi released the dogs while Bree fetched their gear from the backseat.
Her ears ached from the cold, and she tugged the hood of her jacket a little tighter. She heard a rustling in the thicket. Peering through the vegetation, she tried to see if anything was there. Maybe it was just the wind. She hunched her chin into her jacket then jerked her head around again. There it was again.
“Is anyone there?” For a moment she thought about Emily’s witch in the woods. Then a tall figure encased in a tan uniform and a matching jacket stepped through the tangle of brush. Samson and Charley bounded to meet him. Naomi raised her hand in greeting.
“I thought that sounded like Samson and Charley.” Kade scratched the dogs on the head before walking toward Bree. “What are you doing here? Weather’s turning nasty.”
“Fay Asters is missing,” Bree said.
He processed this information in silence. “Anyone seen her today?”
Bree nodded. “I saw her this morning before she went climbing. She didn’t come home. I can’t imagine she’s still out here, but I promised Steve I’d look around.”
“Was she alone?”
The question seemed casual, but a muscle in Kade’s jaw twitched, and Bree remembered his argument with Eric at Hilary’s campaign party. She assumed Fay had been seeing Eric, but what was Kade’s connection to him?
She forced her inquisitive thoughts away. “As far as we know.”
Glancing around, she wondered where Mason was. She’d rather he got there before they started in case something really was wrong.
“Sounds like a wild-goose chase to me,” Kade said. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and pulled his coat around him. “I hear you went to see the O’Reilly youngsters today in the hospital.”