Page 2 of 21
Uncle Harris also hadn't counted on the defection of the faithless Ralph, and her real, physical need to see her own flesh and blood after more than half her lifetime. She hesitated a full week, building up her courage, took a leave of absence from her job and disgruntled supervisor, and then yesterday morning called the airline.
And even when this sadistic mode of transportation landed in Oahu, her troubles would be far from over. She had to board still another airplane, no doubt smaller and far more dangerous, for interisland transport to the smaller island of Kauai, and then finding Emmett might prove quite a challenge. Uncle Harris was staying in a hotel on one side of the island. Emmett, he'd informed them, lived in a small cottage on the opposite side, on a stretch of land still belonging to the Chandlers, who once had owned huge tracts of the island. If she could manage it, she'd like to bypass Uncle Harris's well-meaning interference. She'd fantasized too long about finally seeing Emmett again to allow Uncle Harris's bleary interference to taint the beauty of the moment.
She could only be thankful her seatmate didn't rejoin her for the harrowing landing three long hours later. It was all she could do to concentrate on keeping her breathing steady, and her mind on Emmett at the end of this desperate journey. Even the bump that tossed her about as the huge plane finally touched down surprised only a quiet moan out of her. With trembling hands she gathered her purse, untouched crossword puzzle, hand luggage, and composure together and headed for an island bathroom.
It was a hot, sunny day, one of a thousand similar hot, sunny days, with the gentle trade winds providing just enough natural air conditioning to make it bearable. The man calling himself Emmett Chandler propped his long legs up on the railing of the cottage, his large feet encased in ratty-looking running shoes, and opened a beer. He squinted out at the ocean, at the wide expanse of white sand that was his alone, at least for the time being. Paradise had its points, he had to admit, even if its typically sunny, smiling weather reminded him of nothing so much as a simper. But he needed a simper, some warmth and sunshine and saccharine-sweet good weather, to mend the weariness that went bone deep. It had been a long time since he'd been able to sit on a porch in the sunshine, drinking a beer and being gloriously alone, and it was something he reveled in. Even if this entire complicated scam fell through, he would have salvaged something from it. Maybe just a small amount of his peace of mind, returned to him by the Hawaiian god of solitude.
He no longer wondered why he had contacted Harris Chandler, why he had agreed to this idiotic charade. He knew full well why he had done it, and he damn well didn't regret it. It was only at peaceful moments like this, on a silent afternoon with nothing but the sound of the birds and the ocean intruding, the rich salty sea smell and the tangy scent of hibiscus tickling his nose and warring with his beer, that he didn't feel any hurry to get on with the damned mess. He'd walk farther down the beach that evening, maybe make it all the way to the point and back. It was only a matter of days, a week at the most, before he would put the second part of his plan into action, and then there'd be no time for seaside walks, for sitting on the porch drinking beer and blotting out the unpleasant realities of life.
But for now there was nothing to stop him. He wondered for a moment whether he'd ever get his fill of the hot tropical sun. Even now, weeks after that cold gray prison pallor had darkened to a deep, dark tan, he felt his thirsty skin drink in the hot rays. Perhaps simper was the wrong word for it, he thought. Maybe it was the warm, friendly smile of a beckoning sea goddess, giving rest to a weary traveler. Tipping back the chair, he drained the Heineken, shut his eyes against the midday glare of the sun, and thought about the early days with Krissy.
The small plane that handled interisland travel nearly undid Rachel entirely. She could only be glad that passengers entered directly from the terminal, so she didn't have a chance to fully appreciate its flimsy size. By the time she was buckled into her seat belt by icy cold fingers and had turned to view her surroundings, it was too late. For a brief moment she considered knocking over the black-garbed priest who was making a great to do of settling across the aisle from her, then decided she could wait another moment until he was out of the way and still make her escape. Her early years of Catholic training kept her in place until the middle-aged priest was settled, and then her numb fingers fumbled with her seat belt. She could always swim to Kauai. Even with sharks the ocean was doubtless safer than this ridiculously small airplane.
Her hands were sweating so profusely that the seat belt proved impossibly stubborn. She was about to call the stewardess for help when she heard the warning bells with a sinking despair. The engines were rambling, missing every now and then, and Rachel leaned back in her seat, prepared to meet her doom somewhere over the Pacific. At least there was a priest at hand—maybe she could entice him into the rest room to hear a final confession.
Takeoff passed in a blur of agony and hyperventilation. Rachel didn't dare open her eyes until she heard the small bells ring once again, signaling that smoking could resume and seat belts be dispensed with. Why in heaven's name had she given up cigarettes? They could provide such comfort to a condemned woman.
She felt the eyes on her almost immediately, knew instinctively they'd been watching her for quite a while now, only she'd been too caught up in her panic to notice. Not another swinger, she prayed.
She managed to sneak a quick glance to her right. Straight into the amused but sympathetic eyes of the priest who'd kept her from making her escape earlier.
"I take it you don't like to fly," he murmured as he unfastened the seat belt that stretched across his generous paunch.
"Not much," she admitted ruefully. "I try to avoid it whenever possible."
"I hope it was something good that made you attempt such a hazardous feat?" He had warm, hazel eyes that smiled across the aisle at her, and a balding head with a ring of gray hair that accentuated his monklike appearance, though Rachel could tell that nature, not religious preference, was responsible for his hairstyle. His face and hands were tanned a deep teak color, with paler laugh lines fanning out around his kind eyes, smiling mouth, and double chins, and he could have been anywhere between thirty and sixty. Rachel guessed he was somewhere in between, perhaps his midforties. He must have been in the islands a long time to be that color, she thought vaguely.
"The best," she confided with a reminiscent grin. "I'm going to see my brother."
The priest's cherubic face held an expression of mild interest. The plane was more than half empty, with only the two of them in the back section over the wings. Leaning across his empty seat toward her, he smiled. "How pleasant for you both. Has it been a long time since you've seen him?"
"Fifteen years," she replied. At his sudden arrested expression she hastened to explain. "Not through any fault of our own. Things just…got a little complicated with the family for a while. But now everything is going to be just fine," she added, more to herself than the politely interested priest.
"I don't mean to be so inquisitive, Miss—"
"Chandler," she supplied. "Rachel Chandler."
"Rachel Chandler," he echoed curiously. "We wondered whether you were going to show up."
"You did?" Without realizing it, she undid her seat belt, and slid across to the aisle seat.
"You're Emmett Chandler's sister, aren't you? Word had it that you'd tarn up sooner or later. But I didn't realize you were expected."
It was Rachel's tarn to be startled. "How did you know? Do you know my brother?"
"We haven't met yet, but we're bound to sooner or later. Kauai is in many ways a very small island and gossip travels fast. Your uncle's arrival, searching for the heir to several million dollars, took most people's fancy. And then, having Emmett show up out of the blue was most extraordinary. Most extraordinary. The papers have been full of his family background, including his younger sister. Oh, forgive me, I'm Father Frank Murphy. I've been on Kauai for four years now, and I must say your brother's appearance has been qu
ite a wonder."
"I can imagine."
"I've been meaning to call on him for the last few weeks, but I never seem to make it to that side of the island. Perhaps you'll tell him I'd like to visit?"
"Do you know where he lives?" Rachel asked hastily, immediately picking up on the most important part of the conversation.
"I believe so. He's staying on part of the old Chandler estate, isn't he? On the east side of the island. Haven't you ever been there, Miss Chandler?"
"Rachel," she corrected automatically. "I'm afraid not. I've never been to Hawaii before. You usually have to fly to get here." She made a small, self-deprecating face. "I never had a good enough reason to risk it before." She leaned forward in her seat. "I don't suppose you could give me directions to the place? I was hoping a taxi driver would know, but now I'm not so certain. I could ask my Uncle Harris, but I'd rather not have to see him first." For a moment she wondered why she was telling this affable priest more than she usually confided to her best friends, and then dismissed the worry. Priests were perfect confidants, and trained to be just that. And his sympathetic interest was just what she needed at the moment.
"He doesn't know you're coming?"
"Neither of them do. I thought I'd surprise them," she said ingenuously. "Except that I don't know how to get to Emmett's house."
"Oh, I imagine you'll surprise them," Father Frank mused, a small smile playing about the corners of his mouth. "And don't you worry, I'll drop you by your brother's on my way back home."
Doubt and relief warred within Rachel. "Are you sure it isn't out of your way?" His kind offer certainly would solve a great many of her problems, and even a friendly priest was preferable as a witness to her longed-for reunion than a no doubt slightly inebriated Uncle Harris.
Father Frank seemed to have been blessed with the ability to read her mind. "Not a bit. And I'll save my own visit for another time. I'm certain you don't want a stranger intruding on your reunion."
Rachel, usually a more reserved person, flashed a devastatingly sweet smile at Father Frank's dazed expression. "Father, you're a saint!" she cried happily.
Father Frank Murphy grinned with a touch of wryness. "Not quite, my friend. But I'm trying."
« ^ »
A light sheen of sweat covered the man's forehead and soaked through the khaki shirt that hung open around his narrow hips, running in rivulets down his spine. Where were the trade winds when you needed them? he wondered, squinting up toward the blinding late-afternoon sunlight. The sand was hot and shifting beneath his bare feet, and the man calling himself Emmett Chandler moved onward back down the beach. He still couldn't seem to get enough of the blazing sunshine, and wondered if he ever would. He might just have to do something to set things in motion, or he could get seduced into spending the rest of a slothful life in the islands. Not that he didn't deserve a few months of sloth, he thought grimly. But now wasn't the time. The itching in his palms, the edgy feeling to the airless afternoon, the restless nervousness that was making him smoke too many cigarettes and drink too much beer, were all signs that something was about to happen. He just hoped to God it would be soon.
Harris Chandler was no help, either, the man mused. That genial old rummy seemed perfectly content to let things take their natural course. "No rush, dear boy," he'd murmured that morning. "Everything in its own time."
But he had never been one to wait on an impersonal fate to decide his destiny. He'd been waiting long enough as it was. Fifteen years, to be exact. He was sick and tired of waiting.
He could feel the muscles in his legs begin to tighten up on him, and the familiar frustration washed over him. Frustration that his body would no longer do what he told it to, was only beginning to regain the strength and dexterity he used to consider his God-given right. It still amazed him, how fast a forty-year-old body could deteriorate during six months in a five-by-eight cell. And how damnably long it was taking to bring it back.
"There you are, dear boy." He could recognize Harris Chandler's portly figure on his front porch by the always immaculate white linen suit. No matter how warm it got, or how many rum and tonics Harris consumed, his attire was always spotless. Whereas the man known as Emmett always felt sweaty and rumpled, two minutes after a shower.
"I told you I didn't like unexpected visitors," Emmett drawled as he crossed the last few yards of beachfront and headed up the steps. They were new, sturdy steps—he'd replaced them last week, along with several of the rotten floorboards on the porch. "This place is off limits to you unless invited."
"Dear me, how inhospitable." Harris fanned his flushed face, dropping dispiritedly into an ancient wicker chair. "If you would bother to get a telephone, I could check whether or not I was welcome. As it is—"
"I thought we agreed a telephone at this point was ill-advised? We certainly don't want my devoted relatives phoning up to see how I am." Emmett glared at him before flinging his tired body into the hammock he'd rigged in the breeze-laden corner of the porch. There were nights when the walls of his bedroom seemed to be closing in on him, when he was back in that tiny cell once more, and he had to be out in the fresh air or he'd suffocate. No one knew of his night terrors, particularly not the sly and devious Harris Chandler, and he preferred it that way.
"Oh, I still agree. I'm just pointing out that you'll have to accept a few surprises every now and then," Harris replied affably, his faded blue eyes surprisingly astute as they surveyed his partner in crime. "I don't suppose you have anything to drink around here? It's a hellishly hot day."
"No trade winds," Emmett muttered, dropping his eyelids over tired hazel eyes that had seen too much in forty years. "There's beer in the icebox. Bring me one while you're at it."
"Beer." Harris shuddered, but Emmett was paying no attention. Sighing, Harris heaved his bulk upward out of the protesting chair, lumbered toward the kitchen, and came back bearing two tall green bottles. Eyes still closed, Emmett held out one well-shaped hand, and Harris slapped the bottle into it.
"You're a damnable man," Harris observed as he took his seat once more. "Beer is uncivilized."
"You mean the aristocratic Chandlers would never sink to such a working-class pleasure?" he drawled. "They're going to have to accept the fact that Emmett Chandler may have changed during the last fifteen years. Including developing a taste for good beer."
"Nothing Emmett does would surprise his family. At least beer is legal," Harris said morosely, staring at the figure draped in the hammock. "How are you feeling?" he added abruptly.
"Just fine, Harris. How are you?"
"Don't mock me, dear boy. I haven't got the energy to deal with it in this heat. Do you suppose you're ready for the next step in our little enterprise? Have you recovered enough from—"
"I'm great, Harris," Emmett snapped, ignoring the cramps that clenched at his calves. "I'm ready when you are."
Harris eyed him doubtfully. "Well, if you're sure…"
"I'm sure. The newspapers next?" Emmett opened his eyes to survey his half-empty beer bottle. For all Harris's complaints, his was already drained.
"Perhaps. I'll file the preliminary papers with the lawyers next week, and then we can decide who we'll tackle next. The entire island knows about your miraculous reappearance from the dead, and nothing's happened. I would think the news needs to be spread a little farther afield." He looked longingly into the dark, cool interior of the small house. "I may have time for just one more beer before I'm due back at the hotel. We're playing bridge this evening. If I win, I'll take you to dinner tomorrow."
"No more beer," Emmett said flatly. "And I thought we decided I shouldn't be seen any more than necessary in town?"
"I thought so too, but I gather you haven't been paying particular attention to that part of our agreement. The young lady at the Floating Lotus is very appealing, if you like that sort of thing…"
"I like that sort of thing," said Emmett. "Melea is none of your business."
nbsp; "As long as you understand your priorities, dear boy." Harris rose, mopping his brow with a perfectly laundered handkerchief.
A savage smile flitted briefly over Emmett's darkly tanned face. "Never doubt it, Uncle. Never doubt it."
"Is it always so airless, Father?" Rachel pushed a useless hand through the tendrils of damp hair that had escaped the one thick braid. The hot, humid air had assailed them when they disembarked from the small airplane, still miraculously intact. Rachel could only decide that God had chosen to spare the plane because one of his servants was on it.
Father Frank's round face was flushed and damp, the beads of sweat starting halfway up his bald dome and following a trail down to his double chin. "Not usually. That's the beauty of the tropics. We have natural air conditioning with the trade winds." The taxi smelled of old sweat and bubble gum, and the open windows brought little respite from the stifling heat. "It won't be long till we reach your brother's cottage. It's right on the ocean, so I expect a stray breeze will crop up."
"Has he lived there long?" The dampness of Rachel's palms couldn't be attributed to the weather—it was a cold sweat that started at her backbone and reached down to her fingers and toes. After so many years a sudden panic filled her, overshadowing the terror she had endured that day on the plane. What if he barely remembered her, what if he didn't want to see her? She had burned her bridges behind her, and nothing, not even the eruption of the various volcanoes that dotted the islands, would get her on an airplane for a long, long time.