OUTSIDE, I WAS MET by a blast of warm, salty air that I was sure would carry away any lingering traces of Gil’s aftershave. I stood there for a moment, drinking in the sight of the sea that stretched into the distance and trying to ignore the sense of dissatisfaction I felt after my encounter with Milo.
The terrace was nearly empty, as it had been the morning before, with most of the hotel guests on the beach. Once again, Larissa Hamilton sat alone, a cup of tea before her, gazing out almost fearfully at the sea. As she was by herself, I thought it would be a good time to ask what Rupert had said to her about some sort of meeting on the terrace.
“Hello, Mrs. Hamilton,” I said.
She dragged her eyes away from the water to look at me. “Hello.”
I indicated the empty seat across from her. “Might I sit down?”
I did not imagine the briefest hesitation before she nodded. “Of course.”
As I sank into the chair, she glanced around, and it occurred to me that she might be worried her husband would see us. The fact that he was an intolerable boor was more than obvious. I wondered if the public boor might also be a private brute.
“The sea is very beautiful today,” I observed, glancing out at the water. Strange how the sea provided a sense of serenity, even in such circumstances.
Larissa Hamilton did not share my sentiments.
“If I am honest,” she answered, “I must say I don’t much care for it.” She smiled faintly, but the barest hint of warmth entered into her eyes. “I grew up near the forests and hill lands of Derbyshire,” she said. “Flat, open places feel foreign to me.”
I wondered why, then, she sat on the terrace for hours, staring out at the endless expanse of sea.
“I once visited Derbyshire as a young girl,” I said. “What I remember most is green, vibrant green every way one looked.”
She smiled then, the first genuine smile I had seen from her. “It’s beautiful. No place is so dear to my heart.” She glanced back toward the water, the smile fading from her lips. “So very unlike my home, this place. I’ve hated the sea, ever since ... ever since I was a child.”
“Well, it feels so good to get a moment’s peace out here,” I said, “after everything that has happened.”
“Yes, it’s all been so dreadful.”
“Did you know Rupert Howe well?” I asked.
She shook her head. “No. He was a friend of friends; you understand. My husband and I were thrown into his company quite often, but I ... we were not close.” Her eyes drifted back out toward the water. “I’m very sorry for Emmeline.”
“How did they meet, do you know?”
“I believe Emmeline said they met at a play in London. I don’t remember the details—some story about his rescuing her from a man who had set his sights on her. She would have done better, I think, to have avoided Rupert.” She looked suddenly rueful. “I suppose it’s not nice for me to say such things.”
“You didn’t think much of him, then?”
“It isn’t kind to speak against the dead,” she answered, and I recognized that the topic was closed, for the time being, in any event.
“Have you talked to the inspector who has been wandering about?” I asked, switching subjects.
She blinked, but her gaze remained on the sea. “Yes, he asked me a few questions about the accident.”
“Did you tell him what you told me earlier, about Rupert saying he was to meet someone?”
“Yes, I told him,” she said, and when her gaze met mine, I saw something unexpected: determination. Despite her meek appearance, there was an underlying strength to her that I had not seen until now. “Nelson hates terribly to get involved in things. He’d rather we just go on as if nothing happened ... but I didn’t think it right not to tell the inspector.”
“No,” I answered, “I think it was best that you did.” I understood very well what she meant. I, too, was finding it difficult to go on as normal after all that had happened.
“He seemed to think it of little consequence.”
I plunged ahead. “What was it that Rupert said?”
“He told me that he had an engagement on the terrace for that afternoon. He only said it in passing. I’m sure he meant tea with Emmeline.”
“At least, I feel quite sure that I took it at the time that he meant Emmeline. I think he may even have said as much. I do wish I could remember ...”
I weighed my options for just a moment. It would be best for me to tell her the truth. I could get her honest reaction, before she had time to hide her initial response to the news.
I leaned forward, hoping to convey a conspiratorial air. “The inspector says that he is certain that it was not an accident. In fact, he believes it was murder.”
She turned her eyes back to me, and there was some emotion in them that I didn’t know how to read. Was it fear? “Murder? Surely not.”
“That’s what I said, but he seems to be quite sure.”
“It seems a stupid way to kill someone,” she said, almost absently.
“But effective, nonetheless.” I noticed that she had not wondered who should like to kill Rupert; I wondered whom she suspected. There was one way to find out.
“Who could have done it, do you think?” I asked.
“I couldn’t venture to guess,” she said carefully, but there was something in her tone that made me feel a bit more prodding would result in her confidence.
“But one always has suspicions, doesn’t one?”
She seemed to be considering what to say next. When she spoke, it was with great hesitation. That streak of strength I had seen moments ago seemed to have faded back into wariness. “I ... I had wondered if perhaps it might not have been an accident ... Not a real accident, I mean ... but the result of a quarrel ...”
“Yes?” I urged her on.
She looked as if she would finally force out the words, but we were interrupted by her husband’s voice. “Larissa,” he called gruffly from the doorway.
She started and stood hastily. “Coming, dear.”
As he turned, she placed her hand on my arm and leaned in. Her hand was cold; I could feel it through my sleeve. Her voice was so faint, it was nearly torn away by the wind. “I don’t know who it might have been, Mrs. Ames. But I am not surprised it was murder,” she whispered. “Not surprised at all.”
With that interview behind me—or postponed, if I had anything to say about it—I weighed my options. I wondered whom it would be best to speak with next. I still was not certain what part I was intending to play in all of this. My innate practicality and a sense of decorum honed by years at stern boarding schools told me to heed Gil’s advice and leave the matter to the police. However, my instincts told me that there was more trouble on the horizon and that it might be judicious to take the offensive. Besides, there could be no harm in eliciting the impressions and opinions of the other guests. If nothing else, I might learn something of interest to tell that detective inspector when next he came prowling about the premises.
Lionel Blake spared me the trouble of deciding whom to speak with next, as he was the first person I encountered upon reentering the hotel.
“I’m going to the village, Mrs. Ames,” he said, after we had exchanged pleasantries. “Is there anything I can pick up for you?”
I didn’t hesitate, knowing this was the perfect opportunity to put my investigative inclinations to work. “Might I come with you?”
He smiled. “Of course. I would be delighted to have your company.”
“I’ll just run up and get my handbag.”
I made my way to my room and gathered up a handbag and a light jacket. There were clouds gathering in the distance, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see rain before the day’s end.
I was a bit afraid of encountering any members of the press as we left the hotel grounds, but it seemed the reporters had been dissuaded by the police and the lack of any further dramatic developments. We were undisturbed as we made our way to the hotel car.
As we found ourselves driving slowly down the hill toward the village, I took a moment to observe Lionel Blake. He had the quality—rare, I thought, for an actor—of being as good-looking close-up as he was from a distance. His was an easy sort of handsomeness, self-assured but lacking arrogance. In fact, he seemed to distinctly lack the sort of bluster and bravado I had come to associate with gentlemen of the theatrical profession. I realized, of course, that my assumptions were based on clichés, but I had known a fair share of actors, and many of them demonstrated decidedly stereotypical qualities.
“It’s nice to get away from the hotel for a bit,” I said at last, breaking into the comfortable silence. “Especially with this dreadful business of Rupert’s death.” It was not exactly a subtle approach, but I felt it was entirely within context.
“Yes,” he answered. “Poor Rupert. It was rather a shock to all of us, I think, to have something like that happen.”
“You were very good friends, weren’t you?” I asked. “It must be very hard for you.”
“We were friends, yes,” he answered. “Though I wouldn’t say that we were close. Rupert was a hard man to get to know.”
He hesitated. “I think the best way to describe it is that one could never be certain if he liked one or not. There was always the front of friendliness, but it could have been genuine or an act.” He smiled, a bit sadly I thought. “I don’t mean to speak against the dead.”
It was surprising how often people prefaced their disparaging comments about Rupert Howe with those words.
“You haven’t,” I answered. “I don’t mean to pry. I was just curious. It’s strange how when something like this happens, it makes you want to understand about the person, to get to know him ... now that it is too late.”
“Morbid curiosity, I suppose.”
“Yes, I suppose. I feel so sorry for Emmeline. She’s terribly upset.”
“I hope she will recover shortly. She is young; love will come for her again.”
It was a practical statement and probably true, but I was a bit surprised by the cool way in which he dismissed her love for Rupert.
“Some would say that one loves only once,” I said mildly.
He looked at me, and I sensed skepticism in his gaze. “Some people love many times,” he said, and I knew precisely what he was driving at.
“You mean Rupert? There were women, I understand,” I said carefully.
He shrugged noncommittally. “One hears things.”
I had heard, of course, about Olive Henderson and suspected it was common knowledge. Had there been others? He seemed disinclined to elaborate, and I could think of no conceivable way to ask such an indecorous question, so I shifted my focus.
“You were on the veranda when Emmeline and I came looking for Rupert, and you said you hadn’t seen him. How long had you been sitting there?”
He looked at me then, with his strange green eyes. “You are beginning to sound like that police inspector.”
I laughed. “Oh, dear.”
He smiled, but said nothing further.
The car stopped at the edge of the village, and Lionel got out and opened my door. “What time shall we drive back?” he asked me.
That fact that he had failed to answer my question was not lost on me. While he gave every appearance of amiability, I thought it odd that he should neglect to reply to the most innocent of inquiries. There was something evasive in his manner that roused my suspicions.
“I will be ready whenever you are,” I answered. “I really have no special reason for coming to the village. I just wanted to get away from the hotel for a while.”
“Would you care to accompany me, then?” he asked.
“I would love to.” I followed him around the car to the road. “Where are we going?”
“There’s a little theater up this way,” he said, and pointed at a street that ran off from the main thoroughfare. “Someone mentioned that it might be the ideal place to put on a small production.”
We started walking toward the side street he had indicated. The village was rather large, owing much of its success to the holiday trade. We passed a few of the more traditional enterprises: butcher, post office, apothecary, as well as businesses that appealed to seaside visitors. There were several people milling about, and the village had an air of busy leisure.
“What sort of production are you planning?” I asked.
“My friend, the backer, was considering taking our play on tour. He thought a seaside venue might be just right, and I told him I would look into it. I heard from a chap at the hotel that the local theater building might be just the thing.”
We had crossed the main street and had begun to wander up the street that he had indicated. We walked at a comfortable pace. It was a pleasant day, despite the clouds gathering in the distance, with a breeze off the sea. There were few people about on this road, and the noise from the village faded as we followed the path winding its way toward an edifice a good distance from the town.
We stopped as it came into view. The building, far from impressive, looked as if it had been a factory. In fact, it looked as though it was one still. It was large, square, and unappealing and had a few windows, darkened with wooden shutters. The grass surrounding it seemed long overdue for a trimming.
“Is that it?”
“Yes. Rather awkwardly situated, isn’t it? This fellow told me that it was some sort of factory during the war. A local philanthropist took it upon himself to have it renovated as a favor to the village. Doesn’t look as though they much appreciated it.”
Lionel Blake walked to the door and rattled the handle. “Locked.”
“Surely there’s a caretaker about somewhere.” I looked around for a nearby cottage or building, but there was nothing nearer than the village proper.
“Yes, I suppose.” He stepped back from the door, still surveying the building. “I shall have to find out the proper channel of enquiry.”
“If we ask at the village, I’m sure they will tell us.”
“Well, it seems there is no need for us to linger.” He walked back toward me and indicated the path. “Shall we?”
We began our return to the village, and I thought it was not my imagination that Lionel Blake seemed preoccupied.
“Do you think you will recommend it to your backer?” I asked nonchalantly.
“It depends, I suppose, on a number of things,” he replied absently.
“It’s not a very good location. I don’t see that it would be a terribly good investment.”
He stopped walking abruptly and turned to face me. “To be honest, he’s in something of a bad way financially. He was counting on a good venue ... quite desperately in need of it, in fact. It was his way of thinking that a cheap but well-placed venue might get him out of the mess he’s in. Of course, I would prefer it if you not mention this to anyone.”
We continued back to the village and reached the car just as a light rain began to fall.
“I was afraid it might rain,” I said as Lionel slid into the car and pulled the door shut behind him.
“Yes, I’m afraid we may be in for a spell of bad weather,” he remarked, looking out of the window. “I hope it clears up quickly. I don’t relish the idea of being stuck inside that hotel for days with only the Hamiltons and the Rodgerses for company.”
“Yes,” I sighed. “That does present a rather unappealing prospect.”
Back at the hotel, I wanted nothing more than to return to my room for a few moments of peace before dinner.
I was somewhat put out that my afternoon of inquiries had yielded so very little. Charming companion though Lionel Blake may be, there had been very little in his conversation that could have any bearing upon Rupert Howe’s murder. Surely someone must know something. At least dinner would be another chance to insert casual questions into the conversation.
I walked into the hotel and spotted Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers sitting together in the lobby. He was reading The Times and she was thumbing through an issue of Vogue. Despite the time we had spent together, I still could not help being struck by the contrast between them. They seemed such an unlikely pair, but I sensed solidarity in their relationship, as though they were really very devoted to one another. Perhaps opposites really do attract.
I had gleaned so little from Mr. Blake. I wondered if perhaps Mr. or Mrs. Rodgers might have a bit more information to offer. I walked to where they sat. “Good afternoon,” I said.
They both looked up, and he began to rise from his seat. “Don’t get up, please,” I said quickly. “I didn’t wish to disturb you. I only came by to say hello.”
“Looks like rain,” Mr. Rodgers said, by way of polite conversation, before picking up his newspaper again. Mrs. Rodgers seemed a bit more inclined to chat.
“You’ve just come back?” she asked, and I could tell she was curious where I might have been. Though they had been well mannered enough to conceal it for the most part, I knew my somewhat unorthodox relationship with Gil and Milo was the cause for much speculation among the members of our party.
“Yes. I took a ride with Mr. Blake to the village, just to get out for a bit.”
“Lionel’s such a dear. And so handsome, isn’t he?” she said. I noticed her husband did not look particularly concerned by her comment. In fact, his attention did not shift from his newspaper.
“Yes. He’s very nice,” I said.
“So many handsome men are here this weekend,” she went on. I sensed that this latest comment was for her husband’s benefit. Her way of teasing him, perhaps. I suddenly had the impression that, though Mrs. Rodgers enjoyed calling attention to her appearance for the benefit of assorted handsome gentlemen, she was very much in love with her husband.
“I ... hadn’t really thought about it,” I answered.
She laughed. “I suppose you’re accustomed to looking at that husband of yours, but he’s a feast for the eyes for the rest of us.”
“Really, Anne,” Mr. Rodgers said, folding his paper and looking sternly at his wife. “I think that’s not at all a polite thing to say.”
“I only meant it as a compliment,” she said innocently, but I detected a note of triumph in the fact that she had finally roused him from his reading.
“It’s all right,” I smiled. I turned my attention to Mr. Rodgers, hoping to shift the conversation in a more meaningful direction. “Anything interesting in The Times?”
“The usual things, I suppose. Talk of that American flyer, Amelia Earhart, the rising unemployment rates, and an abundance of politics and death. I had thought we’d escaped the last of those things, at least, coming down here. It seems I was wrong.”
“Yes,” I said. “Poor Mr. Howe. Were you very close to him?” It was by no means the smoothest transition of topic, but they did not seem to notice.
“I wouldn’t say so,” he answered flatly. “We’ve really come to accompany Nelson and Larissa,” Mrs. Rodgers said.
“We’ve known the Hamiltons for several years now, since just after they were married.”
“So you’ve not been long acquainted with the Trents or Mr. Howe?”
“No, though we knew them casually, of course. Gil is a dear, and Emmeline is such a sweet thing. She seems a fairly quiet girl, but she was so ... so very vibrant with Rupert.” She hesitated before pressing on. “Rupert was very charming and handsome, and I suppose she couldn’t help but fall in love with him. You can imagine how it was.”
“Yes.” I could imagine it very well.
“Rupert always seemed very pleasant,” she continued. “I had nothing to say against him.”
She said it as though I expected she would have.
“I’m very sorry for Emmeline,” I said.
Mrs. Rodgers hesitated ever so slightly. “Yes. I imagine she’s heartbroken.”
“She’s very young,” I said, picking up Mr. Blake’s line for the sake of moving the conversation along. “I expect, eventually, she will find love again, and it will help all of this fade. Love has a strange way of making one forget the past.”
Mr. Rodgers looked up at me then, his gaze suddenly shrewd. “I think you’re quite right about that, Mrs. Ames.”
The movement was so subtle, I almost didn’t notice it. Mrs. Rodgers’s hand slid from her lap and brushed her husband’s leg, ever so slightly. If it was a cue, he took it at once. He lifted his paper back up and began reading it.
“I’m sure we all wish Emmeline well,” Mrs. Rodgers said with a bright smile, and I sensed that it was the end of the conversation.
“Well, I suppose I had better go up and prepare for dinner,” I said, not wanting to outstay my welcome. “I shall see you both then?”
“Certainly. It’s been lovely chatting with you, Mrs. Ames.”
I left them and crossed the lobby toward the lift, wondering what that exchange had been about. There had been something behind Mr. Rodgers’s comment, but what ever it had been, his wife had not wanted him to elaborate. Curious. It seemed that every way I turned people were concealing things.
I entered the lift, and, as the doors closed, I cherished the moment of peaceful silence. Truth be told, I did not feel at all like dressing and spending the evening with these insipid people. I could hold up under the strain as well as anyone, I supposed, but the murder had shaken me more than I cared to admit.
I had always prided myself on my independence, but at that moment what I longed for was someone with whom I could talk and share my troubles. It was in moments like these that I felt the hollowness of my marriage the keenest. In those whirlwind days of my courtship, I had failed to take into account the fact that storms of life called for stronger stuff than the easy flow of smooth endearments and witty banter.
As was my habit with morose contemplation, I pushed the thoughts away for another time. I turned my thoughts from what I lacked to what I had, for I was not friendless by any means. A letter to my cousin Laurel, my closest friend and confidant, was long overdue, but at the moment I lacked the stamina that the task required.
The lift opened, and I stepped out onto the landing just as Veronica Carter approached. We exchanged cool pleasantries. I have never ceased to be amazed at the intuitive dislike that can arise with little or no provocation between two women. Perhaps I am of biased opinion, but there was something distinctly unpleasant about Miss Carter. It seemed to me that she carried about with her an icy disdain that radiated from her jaded gaze and smug little mouth. Aside from these unfortunate traits, she was admittedly very pretty.
I expect that in the time I was summing her up, she was doing the same to me. I had obviously impressed her even less than she had me. “You look all done in, Mrs. Ames,” she commented with false sympathy. “I expect finding Rupert as you did gave you quite a turn.”
“It was terribly shocking,” I said.
“It’s too bad, really, for his company was very enjoyable. I’m afraid I shall miss him.”
“You were close?”
“Not as close as I should have liked,” she said, and I wondered if she meant it the way it sounded. “I knew him before he met Emmeline and found him charming, but we were never much in one another’s company.”
“Oh,” I said casually, “then you’ve known him longer than Emmeline?”
She sighed, as though my question was immensely trying, but answered it anyway. “No, Emmeline and I were at school together, Olive too. That’s why we decided to come down here when we heard that the Trents and Rupert were coming.”
“I see. I was curious how everyone knew one another.”
She livened a bit at the chance to gossip, though she spoke with the same general lack of enthusiasm that I had come to expect from her. “I suppose the Trents had some business dealings with the Hamiltons and Mr. Hamilton attached himself to them. Rather a social climber, I’d say. I don’t have anything to do with them. I think he’s too horrid for words.”
So we did have something in common, after all.
“I believe Mr. Rodgers is some friend of Mr. Hamilton’s, so he tagged along as well.” That fit with what Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers had told me.
“And we picked Lionel up someplace quite some months ago,” she went on. “He’s become quite a pet. We invited him along when we knew we were all coming down. It sounded like rather a lark, our holiday. Of course, we couldn’t have known all this”—she waved her hand in a sweeping and disdainful gesture—“would take place.”
“It’s been especially hard on Emmeline,” I said.
“Yes. I went to look in on her earlier, but Gil has her practically under lock and key.”
“I believe the doctor has given her a sedative.”
I was certain that it was apathy I saw lurking in her china-blue eyes. “Oh? Well, perhaps it will do her good. Though things are so dull around here, I feel as though I’d had one. I’ve barely needed my sleeping tablets these past few days.” Then her eyes glinted with amusement. “At least until your charming husband arrived. I had forgotten how excessively amusing he is.”
“Yes, he’s a darling, isn’t he?”
Her smile faded as I once again failed to be baited. “In any event,” she went on, “Rupert’s death has ruined the entire week. I wish I had never come.”
How very careless of him to spoil your fun, I was tempted to say.
“I don’t know what he might have been doing before he fell. No doubt he slipped and went over,” she replied, absently examining her bloodred fingernails.
I decided to try my little experiment of surprise enlightenment once more. “Oh, didn’t you hear?” I asked casually. “The inspector says it was murder.”
She looked up at me, and, for the briefest of instants, I was sure I saw something other than that perpetual boredom in her expression. Was it surprise ... or had it been fear? Then the cool mask slipped back into place.
It was nearly the same reaction I had received from Mrs. Hamilton on the terrace, a flash of alarm that they both had quickly concealed. Could it be that both of these women knew something about which they were hesitant to speak?
“Murder? I don’t see how it could have been. Who would want to murder Rupert?”
“I imagine Detective Inspector Jones would give a great deal to know just that.”
“Well, this has all been fascinating,” she said lightly, touching her glossy red hair, “but I’m afraid I must go to my room and dress for dinner.”
She left me then and entered the lift. I had reached the door to my own room before I began to wonder what she had been doing on this floor if her room was elsewhere.
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DINNER PASSED MUCH as usual, despite the addition of Milo to our party. He sat at my table, playing the dutiful husband, but we had very little to say to one another. Veronica Carter seated herself across from him and engaged him in conversation whenever possible. No doubt he was amusing her excessively. Gil did not come down to dinner, and I found myself worrying over him as well as Emmeline.
Mr. Hamilton seemed to be doing his best to amuse me. “You look smashing to night, Mrs. Ames,” he said, his eyes moving over me in a disconcerting way. My bias-cut gown of ivory satin was not at all revealing, but I felt rather as though he were looking straight through it.
“Thank you,” I answered with all the politeness I could muster.
“I’ve half a mind to steal you away from that husband of yours,” he said in a false whisper. Larissa Hamilton looked about as amused as I felt.
“I hope Mr. Ames isn’t the jealous type,” he went on, in what seemed to be a progressively louder voice. He seemed to enjoy calling attention to himself.
“Not at all,” Milo said, as he cut into his fillet. He looked up at Mr. Hamilton and smiled. “I married Amory for her money. And she married me for mine.”
Mr. Hamilton laughed heartily. “From what I’ve heard, neither of you were disappointed! That’s the way to go about it.” He indicated his wife beside him with his fork. “Larissa here married me for my money, but she’d never admit it.”
“Nelson!” she whispered as her face flushed bright red. “I didn’t ...”
“Of course, she was a looker then,” he went on, oblivious to, or more likely uncaring of, his wife’s distress. “Well worth the price.”
I felt my jaw tighten at his completely inappropriate remarks, and poor Larissa Hamilton seemed on the verge of tears.
“What line of work are you in, Mr. Hamilton?” Milo asked, smoothly diverting the conversation. It was good of him to do so. I knew perfectly well that he had about as much interest in Nelson Hamilton’s line of work as I had in Veronica Carter’s dental history.
“Well, I’m a self-made man,” he began. Pleased to ramble on about himself, he let drop the subject of his marriage, and Larissa Hamilton’s flush gradually faded into her usual pallor.
Everyone was relieved, I think, by the change in topic. Mrs. Rodgers had been trying without much success to conceal a disapproving frown throughout the conversation, and she turned then to Mrs. Hamilton and began speaking animatedly. I still could not quite tell what the relationship between the two women was. Though Mrs. Rodgers said they had known each other for many years, their interactions thus far had not seemed to be those of very close friends. Nevertheless, they seemed at ease in one another’s company. I found myself hoping that Mrs. Hamilton might have a true friend in Mrs. Rodgers; she could certainly benefit from one.
“Perhaps you’d like to come up to my room for a drink after dinner, Larissa,” Anne Rodgers said. She reached out and squeezed her husband’s arm. “Edward has some tedious legal briefs to read, and I’m feeling like company to night. I’ve some new magazines we might read.”
“I should like that,” Mrs. Hamilton replied, and I noted with approval that she did not first ask her husband. “That is, if Mr. Rodgers doesn’t mind.”
“Edward doesn’t mind. Do you, darling?”
“Certainly not,” Mr. Rodgers said, and I noticed that his normally dry tone was friendlier than usual. It seemed as though he were acting on his wife’s unspoken instructions to be kind to Mrs. Hamilton. “We should both be glad of your company. Anne gets cross with me when I ignore her, and I find it difficult to concentrate when she prattles on at me.”
Anne Rodgers laughed, and Mrs. Hamilton smiled, that spark of warmth coming back into her eyes. The mood at the table seemed to have lightened considerably, despite the fact that Mr. Hamilton was still going on to Milo about some very astute business decisions on his part, his voice growing louder to drown out our conversation.
I was glad when the meal was over so I could escape to the hotel sitting room. It was unoccupied, as I had hoped it would be. Most of the guests, I had noticed, stayed in the dining room dancing long after dinner had ended.
The soft, cool colors of the room in the warm glow of the lamplight were soothing after the brightness and noise of dinner. I moved to the writing desk that sat against one wall. I pulled open the top drawer and found a neat stack of crisp ivory paper bearing the hotel’s name, along with a pile of envelopes.
I sat at the desk chair and pulled out a sheet of paper. I had been meaning to write my cousin Laurel, and now was as good a time as any. I could confide in her, and perhaps the organization of my thoughts on paper would be beneficial to me as well.
I was feeling overwhelmed by everything that had happened in the past few days. I had accepted Gil’s invitation to the Brightwell somewhat rashly and with little forethought, and now it was time to acknowledge that I may have gotten in over my head. It had never been my nature to give in easily, however. Perhaps that was why I had endured my obviously failing marriage for as long as I had ...
Who had murdered Rupert Howe? The question repeated itself over and over in my mind. I had learned little so far, except that the murdered man had not been very highly regarded by his friends and acquaintances. The carefully neutral answers of nearly everyone with whom I had discussed Rupert had spoken loudly. No one had liked him, not really.
It seemed only poor Emmeline had been blind to his faults. I felt very sorry for her. No matter what I or anyone else had thought of Rupert, she had loved him, and now he was gone. Despite Lionel Blake’s prognosis, it was going to take her time to recover from this tragedy.
My thoughts shifted to Gil. He knew more than he was saying, of that I was sure. But what? I suspected he would be horrified to learn that it had been his adamancy that I not ask questions that had provoked my determination to do just that.
That was not to say that I acted without misgivings. If I was honest with myself, I was forced to acknowledge that I was venturing into territory in which I had no business. Rupert Howe’s murder, however unfortunate, was really none of my concern. Detective Inspector Jones seemed extremely competent. Nevertheless, his leading questions regarding Gil’s whereabouts at the time of the murder had alarmed me. There was always the chance he might come to the wrong conclusion, and that was a risk I was unwilling to take. If there was some way I could help clear suspicion from Gil, then I would do it.
Of course, my motive posed its own problems. It was all very well to tell myself that I wanted to aid Gil, to be certain that he didn’t get swept up in the murder of his sister’s fiancé, but I had not confronted the reason I wanted to do so. What was Gil to me? A friend or something more? Even now, when I attempted to sort out my uncertain feelings toward him, I could come to no other conclusion than that I still wondered what might have been. Five years was a long time and much had changed, and yet some things still felt so very much the same ...
With a sigh, I set pen to paper and began my letter.
I promised to write to you, thinking my seaside excursion would produce very little that would prove to be newsworthy. How wrong I was. This trip has been more than I had bargained for. I am sure you have heard of the death of Rupert Howe, Emmeline Trent’s fiancé. This terrible news has been exacerbated by the fact that his death was nothing less than murder. It was I who discovered the body, and tomorrow I must attend the inquest. Knowing how you love a mystery, I am sure you will be envious. Do not be. Murder is not nearly as romantic in real life.
As if matters needed to be further complicated, Milo has arrived, swooping down upon us unannounced. I have no idea of his purpose for coming here, but I am certain no good can come of it. He and Gil already appear very cool to one another, and in the midst of an investigation does not seem the proper time to contemplate the state of our marriage.
A hurried set of steps alerted me to someone’s approach.
“Oh, excuse me.”
I looked up to see Olive Henderson standing in the doorway. I had seen little of her the past two days, and I had been surprised at dinner to see how wan she was. She looked even more distressed now, her face ghastly pale, save for her red-rimmed eyes.
“I didn’t mean to disturb you,” she said softly. Her eyes looked almost pleading, as if she longed for a confidant as much as I did. I was surprised she would choose me; she had never seemed very fond of my company before.
“You aren’t disturbing me at all,” I answered, folding my letter, to be finished later. “I would be glad of the company, in fact.”
She entered the room and sank into the sofa, her white hands clenched in her lap. “Things are perfectly ghastly here, aren’t they?” she said, almost to herself.
“It has been a rough couple of days.”
Without further provocation, she burst into tears. “I’m so dreadfully unhappy,” she said, sobbing into a handkerchief that had appeared from nowhere.
Having grown up in a reserved, emotionally distant family and subsequently being married to Milo, flagrant shows of emotion were foreign to me and, truthfully, somewhat uncomfortable. I moved to sit beside her on the sofa and did my best to affect a soothing manner.
“I’m sorry you’re distressed. Is there anything I can do?”
She shook her head. “No. You wouldn’t ...” She looked up at me suddenly, her gaze intense. “Have you ever been truly, madly in love?”
I hesitated only a moment. “I thought so once.”
“Then perhaps you know how it feels to lose someone ...”
Steps sounded outside the door, and I looked up to see Gil standing there. Olive stiffened beside me and dabbed her face rather aggressively with her handkerchief.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Gil said. “Shall I come back?”
“No,” Olive said, rising. “I was just leaving.”
Without a backward glance at either of us, she left the room. I couldn’t help but feel that her sudden and unexpected confidence had been surprising. I should have thought I would be the last person to whom she would unburden her heart, but perhaps there had been no one else.
It seemed obvious she was referring to Rupert. He had spoken of their past relationship with decided flippancy; obviously, Olive’s feelings had been much stronger. Had she loved him that desperately? If so, things could not have rested easily between them, not with his being engaged to Emmeline. I recalled her apparent sadness that first night at dinner. Might it have turned to anger? It was certainly something to consider.
Gil regarded me with raised brows. “She seemed upset.”
“I believe she was.” I didn’t elaborate. There would be plenty of time to think things over alone in my room to night. A bit of familiar company would be soothing just now. I indicated the sofa beside me. “Care to sit?”
He sat, leaned back, then sat forward again, turning to look at me. “I owe you an apology, Amory.”
“Yes, I was terse with you today, and there was no call for it. I asked for your help, and you were nothing but kind. And then, because things didn’t go as planned, I acted badly. I’m sorry.” He looked so forlorn, I fought the urge to embrace him.
“Think nothing of it. We’re all tense at the moment.”
“It isn’t just that. Your husband ... dash it all, Amory.” He sighed. “I think you should know that I ...”
“Gil,” I stopped him with my hand on his, longing to hear what he had to say but not wanting him to go on. “I don’t think now is the best time.”
He looked at me, his brown eyes serious yet warm and golden in the yellow light. “You’re probably right, but there may not be another time.”
“There’s plenty of time,” I said. I didn’t want to encourage him, to give him any sort of false hope. But at the moment I was so unsure of everything, and Gil was the closest thing to security I had ever known. I hadn’t known that when I threw it all away, but I realized it now and was hesitant to completely relinquish it, what ever my feelings for Milo might be. “When all this is over, Gil, we will talk. But I also think you should know that I ...”
It was his turn to squeeze my hand. “Don’t tell me now, Amory,” he said with a tired smile. “Let’s wait until this is all over.”