MORNING DAWNED, bright and cheerful. I had not slept well and had been troubled by unpleasant dreams, the details of which I could not recall upon waking. As I readied myself for the day in my warm, sunlit room, however, the events of the previous night seemed very far away. Perhaps things had not been as dire as I had imagined them. It was no secret that Gil and Rupert disagreed on the subject of Emmeline, after all. Their discussion might not have been of any special significance. By the time I went downstairs to meet Gil for breakfast, I had managed to recapture my feelings of optimism regarding our stay at the Brightwell.
I came down into the lobby and made my way to the breakfast room. It was at the south side of the hotel, a sunny, golden space that looked out over the terrace, with a sweeping view of the sea. The sky was a vibrant shade of blue, and our dining was accompanied by the sound of gulls and the waves on the rocks below. It was a lovely view for a lovely morning.
Gil stood and smiled as I approached his table. “Good morning. You’re looking fresh and lovely this morning.”
“Thank you.” I was pleased with the compliment. I wore a cheerful yellow silk dress that was in keeping with my attempt at good spirits. The color seemed to brighten my pale skin, which I was certain could benefit by a few days in the sun. Though naturally fair, I hoped to have time to improve my complexion a bit while here.
I filled my plate from the overflowing sideboard. The food was excellent, as it had been the night before. We were served the full spectrum of breakfast fare, including sausage, bacon, eggs, baked beans, an assortment of puddings, fried bread, kidney, kippers, tomato, mushrooms, and a variety of fruits. I ate more than could have conceivably been healthy.
I could not help but feel very much pleased with the Brightwell Hotel. I thought it was a place I should like to visit again, perhaps under less strenuous circumstances. For, despite the loveliness of the morning, there was still a tension that seemed to hover in the air.
As we ate, I noticed that a change had come over Gil since last evening. He looked as though he hadn’t slept well either. His eyes were tired, and there was a very definite tightness about his mouth that remained there even when he smiled. No doubt he was still troubled by his conversation with Rupert Howe. I decided that it would probably be best to avoid bringing up the fact that I had overheard the conversation. If he wished to tell me about, I had no doubt that he would do so in his own good time.
“You look as if a long walk along the beach would do you good,” I said as I pushed my plate away, unable to consume another mouthful.
He smiled, wearily it seemed. “As lovely as that sounds, I’m afraid I have things to attend to this morning. But soon. Soon I would like to have a walk and a long talk.”
“It will be all right, Gil.” I said. “I’m sure of it.”
He looked up at me, but there was something vague about his expression, as though his mind was not completely on our conversation. “Yes, I’m sure you’re right.”
I picked up the coffeepot and poured the steaming liquid, refilling his cup.
He held up his hand as I picked up the sugar tongs, preparing to give him two lumps. “Just milk, please.”
“Oh, yes. I had forgotten.”
Gil left me after breakfast, the air of preoccupation still hanging over him. I would have liked to help, but I could think of no way to prove useful at the moment. I was his partner in this, yes, but I was no longer his confidant as I once had been. The easiness that existed between us was fragile. Once again I contemplated how rottenly I had treated him. Happily, he seemed to have forgiven me, and I hoped that we could one day be real friends again.
With nothing to do for the moment but amuse myself, I went to my room and changed into my backless peach-colored maillot, over which I wore beach pyjamas of flowing white trousers and a loose crêpe de chine jacket with wide stripes of peach, white, and teal. I topped it off with a white straw hat and matching bag. A glance in the mirror confirmed that I looked suitably turned out, and I made my way downstairs. I exited the side entrance of the building, which wound around to the seaside terrace, from which the long flight of steps led down to the beach.
I reached the seaside terrace and saw Mrs. Hamilton sitting alone at a table, taking a cup of tea. There was something of the little lost girl about her, as though someone had forgotten her.
“Hello,” I said, stopping near her table.
“Hello.” When she smiled she seemed much less retiring, as though the simple upturning of her lips brought her confidence.
“It’s a lovely day.”
“Yes, quite.” Her eyes darted out toward the sea. “Though the sea seems rather rough today.”
The water did not seem overagitated to me, but perhaps the pronounced sound of the waves echoing up from the base of the cliff had given her that impression. I remembered what her husband had said about her dislike of the sea.
“You’re all alone here?” I asked.
“Nelson has gone down to the beach.” She nodded her head toward the stretch of ground below. I imagined that, by leaning slightly in her seat, she would be able to make out the guests there at the water’s edge. I wondered if she liked to keep an eye on her husband. “I don’t care for it myself. I thought tea on the terrace would be lovely. Then perhaps I shall find a nice quiet place to read. I’m told the hotel has a comfortable sitting room. I rather like to be alone.”
So I had surmised correctly that Larissa Hamilton was not enjoying her holiday at the seaside. No doubt her husband had convinced her to come. Nelson Hamilton was undoubtedly the decision maker in their marriage. And he seemed more than happy to indulge her in her proclivity for solitude.
As if she could read my thoughts, she smiled. “I don’t mind. Really. I’m happy to sit alone reading. I’ve the latest Warwick Deeping novel to keep me company.”
“Sometimes it’s rather nice to have a bit of time to oneself,” I agreed.
“Yes. I’ve been accused of being unfriendly, but it’s really just that I’m not very good with people, especially those I don’t know.”
“That’s perfectly understandable,” I told her.
Her smile returned, as though she was glad to have found someone who understood her. “Well, I hope you enjoy your time at the beach,” she said.
“And I hope you enjoy your tea and reading,” I said sincerely as I continued my journey toward the water.
A set of white wooden stairs at the end of the terrace led downward toward a little landing at the top of the cliff. From there two steps of staircases led ever downward, the steps on the right leading toward the path to the beach, the stairs on the left coming to the terrace partway down the cliff, the one about which Gil had told me yesterday.
I took the steps to the right, which led downward until they ended in a pebbled path that snaked its way down to the beach. There were other hotels, I supposed, that offered visitors easier access to the water. However, an establishment such as the Brightwell was not one to make apologies. Indeed, the private beach it offered its guests was well worth the slight inconvenience of access. The beach at the base of the cliff was cut off on either side by cliffs that extended farther into the water, creating its own secluded beachfront. There was no access except by the Brightwell steps or by boat.
A good number of Brightwell guests were at the beach, and I saw several members of our party. Emmeline sat in a chair not far from the path. Beyond her, Lionel Blake sat reading, his lips moving silently. I wondered absently if it was a script he was memorizing.
Veronica Carter lay in the sun, posing in a rather small bathing suit. She seemed to be tanning nicely, and I suspected that her red hair might not be natural; her skin tone was certainly not like that of most redheads I had known. Olive Henderson sat beneath an umbrella in striking green and blue printed beach pyjamas, looking out with disdain upon the proceedings.
Beyond them, I saw Nelson Hamilton talking to Anne Rodgers, who stood in her figure-hugging pink bathing suit, hands on her hips, bright blond hair shining in the sunlight. I wondered briefly where her husband might be but decided that he didn’t seem much the type to enjoy lounging by the sea.
The only other person I recognized was Yvonne Roland, who was walking along the surf much farther down the beach, her gaudy red robe flapping in the wind like a brilliant cape.
I stepped off the path and into the shingle beach, walking toward the others, enjoying the warm wind whipping at my hair beneath my hat. The walls of the cliff caught the sound of the sea, and the crash of the waves echoed around us.
Emmeline was alone for the moment, as Rupert was frolicking in the surf, trying to show off his good figure to the best advantage. She looked up as I approached. “Hello, Amory. Come and sit with me.” She indicated the empty striped beach chair beside her. “Unless you plan on going for a swim ...”
“Oh, not yet, I should think. I like to warm a bit before I plunge into that icy water.” I sank into the chair and, kicking off my shoes, pressed my toes into the warm pebbles.
A sudden burst of laughter turned our attention to where Rupert had been knocked down by a large wave. He stood, dripping, and wiped the water from his face.
Emmeline smiled, her eyes not leaving her fiancé. “Rupert’s very handsome, isn’t he?”
“Yes, very.” I decided for the direct route. “When I first met your Rupert, he reminded me of Milo.”
She seemed surprised. “Really? How so?”
“Dark good looks, easy charm, elegant manner, that sort of thing.”
She looked down at her hands. “I’m sorry to hear about your marriage ... It makes it somewhat awkward since I’m also happy to see you with Gil.”
“I should have thought you would both be angry with me after what happened.”
“Oh, no! Gil could never be angry with you, Amory. Not really.” She looked up at me then, sincerity shining in her face. “And I felt sorry for him ... but I was happy for you. I remember seeing you with Milo in London after things had ... had ended with Gil. You seemed so frightfully happy, so very much in love. And I would have sworn he adored you.”
I shrugged, scooping up a handful of small, round pebbles and then let them fall, one by one, through my fingers. “Perhaps he did, for a time. Such things don’t last.”
“No, I’m afraid not. You see, what men like Milo love most are themselves. Marriage was a diversion, and now the amusement has run its course.” I dropped the rest of the pebbles, brushing the last few clinging grains from my hands. How much of what I was saying was the truth, I wasn’t sure, but the words served my purpose. I had come not to contemplate my marriage but to cause Emmeline to contemplate hers.
Of course, I didn’t want to overdo it. I smiled. “But we needn’t dwell on the melancholy. The day is much too lovely.”
“Yes,” Emmeline agreed. I couldn’t help but notice that there was something in her eyes that hadn’t been there before when her gaze wandered back to Rupert.
We chatted lightly for a while after that, and then Rupert walked over.
“What are you ladies gossiping about?” he asked, wiping the water from his face and pulling on his robe.
I stood. “Just a feminine tête-à-tête, Mr. Howe. Nothing to interest you, I’m afraid. But I leave you to your fiancée. I think I shall take a stroll.”
“Have tea with us this afternoon, won’t you, Amory? On the cliff terrace,” Emmeline asked.
I looked up at the terrace high above us. “Of course. I shall see you then.”
I left them and began to walk along the shore.
Lionel Blake looked up from his book as I prepared to pass him, and he wished me good morning. His green eyes, accentuated by his surroundings, seemed almost to glow, like a cat’s eyes.
I smiled an unenthusiastic greeting at Olive and Veronica as I passed, neither of whom acknowledged me with more than a raised eyebrow or slightly upturned lip. The feeling, then, was mutual.
The next pair my path crossed was Nelson Hamilton and Anne Rodgers. His gaze traveled up and down me like a boat looking for a pleasant spot to land. “Mrs. Ames,” he said. “Care for a swim? Anne and I were just about to take a dip.”
“Thank you, no. I think I’ll just walk a bit.”
“Well, perhaps later,” he said with a wink.
Wretched man. The more I saw of him, the more I disliked him and pitied his wife.
I passed them all, somehow avoiding Yvonne Roland, and enjoyed a relaxing, solitary walk. I ambled along for a nice stretch, until the beach was cut off by the cliff extending into the water, and then I turned around. By now the sun was high and increasingly warm. I decided to cool myself with a swim. I removed my trousers and jacket and took a bathing cap from my bag. I pulled the cap on, tucking in a few loose strands of hair, and waded into the sea. The water was cold and very refreshing. By the time I had finished sea bathing, it was lunchtime and the beach was deserted.
I mounted the long white stairway back to the hotel. When I at last reached the top, I was thoroughly winded and quite sleepy from my exercise. Still full from breakfast, I decided to forgo lunch and take a brief rest in my room before meeting the others for tea.
A bit later, refreshed from my nap, I changed into a light dress in a pale floral print. I went to Gil’s door and knocked, thinking that perhaps he would join us for tea, but there was no answer at his door. I decided to see if perhaps he had already gone down.
When I exited the lift into the lobby, I caught sight of Emmeline. She waved and walked toward me, a slight frown creasing her brow.
“Rupert said he would meet me here twenty minutes ago,” she said. “But he hasn’t come down. I’ve rung his room, but he isn’t there.” She seemed more anxious than the situation warranted. Then again, I could sympathize. In the early days of my marriage, once I had discovered a thing or two about my husband, I had been anxious when he was out of my sight as well.
“Perhaps he’s already gone out to the terrace.”
“Perhaps, but he distinctly said he would meet me in the lobby.”
I refrained, of course, from commenting that men of Rupert Howe’s ilk often did not do as they said they would. It was an uncharitable thought, perhaps, but that didn’t make it any less true.
We crossed the lobby and exited to the terrace. Many of the tables were filled with hotel guests enjoying the afternoon sun, but Rupert was not among them.
I spotted Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton at one of the tables, and we approached them.
“Howe?” Mr. Hamilton replied in answer to our inquiry. “Haven’t seen the chap all afternoon. Neither has Larissa. Have you, dear?”
“I ... no,” she answered, softly. I clenched my teeth at the way the poor woman was barely given a chance to speak.
Lionel Blake, at a nearby table, confirmed that Rupert had not been seen by anyone currently on the hotel terrace. “I was here before anyone else came out for tea, and I have not seen Mr. Howe.”
“Well,” Emmeline said, “he may have gone down to the cliff terrace. He may have misunderstood and thought we would meet him there.”
“We can probably see from here,” I said, pointing to an overlook that allowed a sweeping view of the sea, and looked down upon the cliff terrace below.
We walked to the overlook, which had a waist-high stone wall that served as a barrier between the overlook and a very steep drop. The wind was strong this afternoon, and I doubted there would be anyone having tea on the cliff terrace. Backed against the rocks of the cliffs as it was, the area would be buffeted by the strong breezes that were rolling in off the sea.
Emmeline put her hand atop the wall and leaned, catching herself when the top stone wobbled beneath her hand. “Goodness. That could be a hazard.”
An ill feeling swept over me at that moment. Emmeline had backed slightly away from the wall. She had not looked over the barrier, but I had leaned over far enough to see the cliff terrace and the crumpled form that lay below.
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THE NEXT HOUR passed in a blur. I had taken Emmeline away from the overlook, and some of the hotel staff had rushed down to the cliff terrace. There was nothing to be done; Rupert Howe was dead. Emmeline, quite naturally, had gone to pieces, and a doctor had been called to see to her.
I went to the hotel’s sitting room to be alone until the authorities wished to hear my account of the accident, what little I knew of it. Rupert had, I supposed, leaned too far over the edge. A stone had probably given way, and he had tumbled down ...
The sitting room, decorated in calming shades of yellow, white, and green, did little to ease my troubled nerves. I was more than a little shaken by the experience. I had not particularly liked the man, but to see his body lying at the base of a cliff was not something I would have wished upon him in the worst of circumstances.
The news spread quickly, but I was mercifully left alone until Gil found me in the sitting room. “Amory, are you all right?” He reached out as if to embrace me, then seemed to think better of it and took my hand instead. I was surprised how much comfort I derived immediately from the simple warmth of his grip.
I drew in a breath. “It was awful, Gil,” I said, surprised by the steadiness of my voice when my insides were still trembling. “Quite the most terrible thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Let me order you a drink.”
I shook my head. “No. No, thank you. I’ll be all right.”
He sat down beside me on the sofa, his hand still holding mine. “Emmeline’s resting now. I’ve just come from there. The doctor’s given her something. Poor darling. She’s taken this very hard.”
“She loved him very much,” I answered softly. I couldn’t imagine what she must be feeling. I barely knew the man, and I still felt very shaken by it all.
“She’s better off,” Gil said, almost under his breath.
I hadn’t time to reply before my name was spoken from the doorway.
“Mrs. Ames?” A gentleman in a gray suit and hat entered the room. He was around fifty, of average height and build, with an air of confidence about him that was immediately noticeable, the sort of unassuming person to whom one’s eyes were unaccountably drawn.
I stood. “Yes.”
“I’m Detective Inspector Jones, CID.”
“CID?” I repeated, surprised. What on earth would the Criminal Investigation Department be doing here? To the best of my knowledge, they had never been much concerned with accidents.
“Yes,” he answered, then turned to Gil. “And you are, sir?”
“Gilmore Trent. My sister, Emmeline, was engaged to Mr. Howe.”
“Allow me to express my sympathies.”
“And now, I wonder, Mr. Trent, if you would mind my speaking to Mrs. Ames alone?” he asked, perfect politeness doing little to mask rather obvious authority.
This seemed to rub Gil the wrong way. “Is that really necessary, Inspector? Amory ... Mrs. Ames has had a bad shock.”
The inspector’s brown eyes flickered across my face in a searching glance and then returned to Gil. “She looks like she’ll hold up, Mr. Trent.”
I saw Gil’s mouth draw into a hard line, but I patted his hand. “It’s all right, Gil. Let me speak to the inspector, and I’ll come and find you. I could use a good strong cup of tea.”
The inspector offered him what was not a very warm smile. “I should like to speak to you later, Mr. Trent.”
“If you wish,” Gil answered.
He left the room without further comment, and I turned to the inspector. “Now, what may I do for you?”
He indicated the seat from which I had arisen. “Sit down, won’t you?”
I took a seat on the pale green sofa, and he sat in a chair opposite as he removed his hat, exposing dark hair that was turning silver, and pulled a notebook and a pencil from his coat pocket. “If you don’t mind, please tell me exactly what happened this afternoon.”
I related the events that had led to the discovery of Rupert’s body, from Emmeline’s expecting to see him in the lobby to my viewing his body from above. He let my story flow on, uninterrupted, as he jotted down notes.
“There was a loose stone on the wall,” I concluded. “I wonder if he might have lost his balance. It’s all so terrible.”
He looked up from his notebook, his eyes very mild and steady. “It’s more terrible than you think, Mrs. Ames. It appears that Mr. Howe was murdered.”
“Murdered?” The word was an unexpected jolt to my system. A feeling of denial swept through me, and something more ... fear. I sucked in a breath, trying to steady myself. I could sense the inspector’s calm gaze on my face. I had the feeling that he was gauging something in my reaction.
“I don’t understand, Inspector,” I said at last. “I ... it seemed to me that he fell.” Even as I spoke, I realized that I did not sound completely convinced, even to myself. Had there been something, in the back of my mind, that had made me wonder if it might not be an accident?
“Did you see his body? Up close, I mean.”
“No. I ...”
“Did you know Mr. Howe?”
“Not well, no.”
“And your impression of him?”
“Honestly?” I met the inspector’s gaze. “I didn’t care for him. Of course, I’m sorry that he’s dead.”
Inspector Jones inclined his head. “Honesty is always appreciated in my line of work. What was it about Mr. Howe that you found ... disagreeable?”
“Just that he did not seem a very nice sort of man,” I answered. “Nothing substantial. I thought he and Emmeline were ill suited. I ... I suppose it was none of my business.”
“Can you think of anyone who would have reason to hurt him?”
I realized that he was watching me very intently. There was something unnerving about the man, a quiet intensity.
He was, I imagined, very accomplished at instilling a sense of unease in the guilty. I felt vaguely on edge myself. His next question, phrased in the same almost uninterested tone, caught me by surprise.
“You are registered here under your own name. Your husband did not come with you?”
This I hadn’t expected. “I don’t see what that has to do with Mr. Howe’s death,” I answered, somewhat more tersely than was probably proper when being interviewed by a detective inspector with the CID.
His eyes met mine, and he was obviously unperturbed by my irritation. “I’m just trying to form an accurate picture of things, Mrs. Ames. Little flecks of paint make up the whole picture.”
I sighed. “No, Inspector. My husband is not here. In fact, since you have no doubt already ascertained as much, I came at the invitation of Mr. Trent.”
“I had, in fact, already ascertained that detail.” He seemed to me to be a very quick worker, this inspector. I wondered what else he might have learned. I did not have to wait long to find out.
“You’re staying in separate rooms, however.”
“Certainly,” I replied, less than civilly. There was, as far as I could see, no call for such intrusive and insinuating questions. “There is nothing untoward occurring between us.”
“And yet you don’t wear a wedding ring?”
I stiffened. “I’ve taken my rings off. I was sea bathing this afternoon.” These were both true, though unrelated, statements. I had been sea bathing, but that was not why I had removed my rings. I had not worn them to the Brightwell, though they were tucked away in my jewelry case upstairs. It hadn’t felt quite right to leave them at home.
“I see. But you and Mr. Trent are close friends.”
“We’ve known each other for years, yes.”
“And Mr. Howe? Were he and Mr. Trent close?”
I wondered, a bit uneasily, where these questions about Gil were leading. “I only just met Mr. Howe,” I answered carefully. “I didn’t have much chance to observe them together.”
“Indeed.” Something in his expression made me wonder if he knew I was being purposefully evasive. “And were you with Mr. Trent this afternoon?”
“I ... yes. That is, we parted ways after breakfast and intended to take tea together.”
“But you didn’t see him on the terrace when you and Miss Trent were searching for Mr. Howe.”
I hesitated for a fraction of a moment. “No, I didn’t.”
He scribbled something in the notebook and then flipped it closed. “I think that will be all for now, Mrs. Ames. I imagine you’ll be around if I should wish to speak with you again?”
“Of course.” I stood, and he followed suit, placing his hat back on his head.
“I’m only too happy to do all that I can,” I told him, wondering if I might possibly end up regretting my words.
He nodded and began to walk away, but I had to know. “Inspector?”
“You’re quite certain that it was murder?”
He hesitated for just a moment, as if determining how much information to share with me, and then spoke carefully. “Yes, Mrs. Ames. For one thing, someone made certain no one would go down to the terrace. A ‘closed for repair’ sign was placed where the steps veered off the landing. If it hadn’t been for you, the body might not have been discovered until sometime later.”
“There could be any number of reasons for that sign. An oversight, perhaps?”
He shook his head. “None of the staff knew anything about it.”
“But that, in itself, does not rule out an accident.”
“Correct. But you see, Mr. Howe fell straight to the terrace, landing on the stone floor and hitting the back of his head. The medical examiner seems to think his neck was broken, killing him almost immediately. There are no marks on his body to indicate that he hit the cliff at any point on the way down.”
Such dreadful information failed to enlighten me. “I still don’t see how that indicates he didn’t just slip and fall.”
“Because, if he fell, nothing accounts for the blow he received here” ∏— two fingers touched his left temple — “from what appears to be a blunt instrument.”
My lips parted, but nothing came from between them.
He tipped his hat. “Good day, Mrs. Ames. I trust we shall meet again.”
A heaviness had fallen over our party because of the tragedy among us, but, like the steady, resilient, upper-class we were, we all dressed and met for dinner. I wore a gown of dark gray silk with caplet sleeves. None of my more brightly colored gowns seemed appropriate somehow. We were all in attendance except Emmeline, who was still in her room. I had looked in on her earlier, but she had been asleep. Whatever the doctor had given her, it had put her clean out. I wondered if it was really the best thing for her. As dreadful as the truth was, perhaps it would be better for her to face it at once rather than in a lingering lethargy.
I sat beside Gil at the dinner table. He was quiet, his features solemn, but the calm steadiness I had always admired in him was still there, and I felt calmer myself because of it.
Olive Henderson looked as though she could have used a dose of something a bit stronger than the water she was sipping. Her face was colorless, and I noticed her trembling hands each time she raised her glass to her lips. Rupert had hinted at something between them; perhaps she had loved him as well. Lionel Blake, who sat beside her, seemed solicitous, speaking softly and even earning a smile once or twice. I hoped that it would do her good.
The meal was subdued, and, of course, none of our party danced. Watching other couples move about the floor, strangers untouched by our misfortune, I found it hard to believe that we had all been so carefree only the night before. The sensation caused by Rupert’s death had not been too heavy a blow upon the other Brightwell guests, and I assumed they had been fed an official line about an unfortunate accident. They had no doubt tut-tutted sympathetically and then went about their holidays relatively undisturbed.
The press was being kept away by a policeman left on the premises, and I hoped that rumors of a murder investigation would be kept quiet. I was not at all confident such a story could be concealed for long; I knew perfectly well how relentless the press could be.
For my part, I was still recovering from my own very trying day. The general ghastliness of Rupert’s death aside, I was still shocked by the inspector’s revelation. I had sat alone in my room all afternoon, a thousand questions swirling in my head. It seemed simply impossible that anyone would have wanted to murder Rupert Howe. People don’t kill one another while on holiday, I told myself stupidly. But apparently, they did.
I glanced around the table, trying to fathom the possibility that one of us might have done it. I didn’t even know if any among my own party was aware of the inspector’s suspicion that Rupert’s death had been murder. I hadn’t been asked to keep the information to myself, but for some reason I had not wanted to discuss it with anyone, not just now. I hadn’t even mentioned it to Gil, and then I had felt guilty for withholding it from him. What was more, I couldn’t help but feel as though I had failed in some illogical way. Gil had asked me here to help him, and things had turned out more horribly than any of us could have imagined.
Talking of Gil, I couldn’t seem to dismiss my uneasiness at the direction of the inspector’s questions concerning Gil’s relationship with Rupert. The two of them had certainly not been friends, and I suspected that fact wasn’t much of a secret. Had the inspector picked up on it, or was he merely fishing for information?
If I was honest with myself, I had to admit that the conversation I had overheard between Gil and Rupert the night before was very much on my mind. The plain fact of it was that they had argued, and now Rupert was dead. I could not for one moment suspect Gil of something so horrible as murdering Rupert Howe. Despite the time that had passed, I knew him too well for that. And yet the conversation nagged at me, and a vague sense of uneasiness hovered at the back of my thoughts.
My head began to throb, and I pressed my aching eyes with my fingers.
“Are you all right, Amory?” Gil whispered, his hand touching my arm beneath the table. “You don’t look well.”
“I don’t feel well,” I admitted. “The shock, I suppose. It’s been a horrid day.”
“Shall I escort you to your room?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think I could sleep. Not yet. And I don’t want to be alone at the moment.” It was true. My mind was tired of attempting to process my constantly churning thoughts; what I needed at the moment was the soothing comfort of familiar company.
“Shall we go for a walk on the terrace, then?”
“Yes,” I said. “I could use the air.”
We excused ourselves from the table and exited out one pair of the French doors that lined the wall of the dining room.
We were on the terrace that ran along the east side of the hotel. The night air was cool, and there was no one in sight. There was no view of the sea from this side unless one walked to the back of the terrace, and the moon had gone behind a cloud. Gil and I stepped out of the rectangle of light made by the doors, and we were alone, bathed in dark blue dimness.
I breathed deeply of the salty air and let the sound of the waves hitting the rocks wash over me. I found that there was something infinitely soothing about the sound of the sea, as though for just a moment everything was all right.
“I’m sorry you’re unwell,” Gil said, leaning against the balustrade beside me. Even in the dimness, I could see he was studying me closely.
I touched his arm. “I’m fine, Gil. Really. It’s just so wretched that something like this had to happen. I feel dreadfully for Emmeline.”
He was looking down at my hand on his arm. “I’m sorry you had to go through this, Amory.” The backs of his fingers moved to brush the top of my wrist. “But I will confess that I am glad you’re here.”
There was a noticeable change in the air as his fingers caressed my hand. I looked up at him, unable to take my eyes from his. “Are you, Gil?” I asked softly.
He nodded and reached up to brush a stray hair back behind my ear, his hand remaining on my cheek. “Very glad.”
He was very close to me now, looking down into my eyes. In the space of an instant, I knew he was going to kiss me, and I was still wondering if I would let him as he leaned closer.
His mouth was inches from mine. “Gil ...”
“Ah. Here you are.” The smooth, dry voice spoke from behind us as the moon appeared as if on cue from behind the clouds.
Gil dropped his hand from my face, and I turned, already knowing who had spoken.
“Milo.” I was gratified to find that my tone was completely calm, displaying none of the surprise I felt. “What on earth are you doing here?”