Finding Amy

                    

Chapter 1

As if Sabrina wasn’t miserable enough sitting alone in her Chicago condo on a Saturday night, her father telephoned with bad news. "I’m afraid your grandfather has died."

She groaned. "Just what I didn’t need to hear right now."

"You were thinking of Peter again."

"So what else is new?"

"It’s time you stopped grieving for him."

"I have. I’m a strong person, never even glance at the gas oven."

He ignored her attempt at black humor. "Naturally the funeral is in London, and I think you ought to go."

"I haven’t visited since I was nine. I shouldn’t have waited so long." She sighed. In her experience, time had done a bang-up job of matching the speed of light.

"You must stop moping around feeling sorry for yourself."

"You‘re right, as usual. I’ll go." Better than lying awake listening to mice chatting to one another in the walls.

"You haven’t had a vacation in two years, not since your fiancé was killed in that car accident. Visit your cousins in England, go sightseeing. Look at this trip as a chance to renew your own life."

Of course, it was the worst possible time. Flying to London didn’t solve Sabrina’s business problem–to sell or not to sell: that was the question–and she doubted it would improve a life as dull as a mashed potato sandwich.

"Maybe you’ll meet someone over there."

"You’re way too anxious to become a grandfather yourself. If that old mansion Granddad lived in is as spooky as I remember, I’m more likely to meet a ghost."

* * *

Three days later, Sabrina stood in the library of Gilmore Manor, its size and prominence reminding her again of Rebecca. Author Daphne du Maurier replaced Shakespeare in her mind. Since reading the book as a teenager, she’d always envisioned Manderly as her father's ancestral home, with a mysterious, handsome Max de Winter.

Now, however, instead of Max de Winter, a different handsome man stared at her and smiled. His slender build seemed every inch of six feet tall. His face, beneath a thatch of sandy hair, resembled that of a blond Hugh Grant: fair complexion, straight nose, firm chin, and eyes so blue and large one could almost drown in them. Had her father been clairvoyant about her meeting someone?

He spoke in a BBC-terrific accent. "I don’t believe we’ve been introduced. I’m Hugh Pendleton."

She said the first thing that came to her mind. "Are you a cousin too? Did we play together as children?"

"No to both questions. I’m thankful we're not related."

Before she could discover what he meant by that remark, her cousin, Elmore Manville, ding-donged a little silver bell, her two widowed aunts pushed between her and Pendleton to take seats, and he moved to the end of the row of chairs in front of her.

Why did he not wish to be related to her? His smile assured her he hadn't meant it as an insult. In spite of running her business in Chicago, she'd skipped only a few Pilates exercises, let a professional cut her naturally-curly hair when necessary, and her face hadn't scared anyone since the mask she wore at a Halloween party.

Another thought surfaced. If not a relative, why had he come to the reading of the will? Just her luck if it turned out the estate owed him money, and she had to pony up her share. Or, her thoughts of Rebecca fresh in her mind, did he harbor some mysterious secret, like killing his wife?

As he read from the will, Elmore, obviously relishing the role of executor, droned monotonously, and she ignored him, remembering the last time she'd been in Gilmore Manor. The library took up a mere fraction of the three-story mansion nestling in a fold of the valley, and it brought back many memories. During that long-ago summer, she’d run across the broad, green lawns and waded, against Granddad’s rules, in the lily pond. With her girl cousins, she’d climbed over the stone cherubs, giggling about whether the boy cherub was anatomically correct.

"–and to my granddaughter Sabrina," Elmore read, "I leave the large blue trunk in the nursery."

That old blue trunk was her inheritance? As was becoming increasingly clear, her grandfather had died almost penniless. Gilmore Manor, apparently mortgaged clear up to its leaky third floor roof, now held only some furniture and the library's collection of books. They’d long since sold any objects of value.

Glancing again toward Hugh Pendleton, she caught him looking in her direction. As if embarrassed, he turned back toward Manville, but she’d detected a slight flush cross his face.

Elmore read a few more minor bequests from the will, thanked everyone for coming and stood up to mark the end of the proceedings. Chairs shuffled against the fading carpet, and everyone ambled toward the doors leading to the drawing room. A hum of conversations began, mainly on the lack of anything worthwhile to inherit. The mortgage company would take over the house. The relatives, many of whom had journeyed some distance to London—none however from as far away as Sabrina—must content themselves with only some personal mementoes of the eccentric, reclusive Richard Gilmore. She sighed and rose from her chair.

"I say." The voice startled her, and she turned. Although she stood five-feet-nine in her heels, Hugh Pendleton’s gaze lowered to look at her.

"I hope my remark earlier didn't offend you. I meant it as a compliment."

"That you'd rather not be a part of my family?"

He cleared his throat. "You have me at a disadvantage. I'm not saying this at all well. I meant I'd rather you weren't a cousin. That would be somewhat inhibiting."

Were all Englishmen so formal when starting an acquaintance with a woman? What a refreshing difference. Chicago men, at least many of those she'd met, were vastly different in that respect. Perhaps it explained her remaining single long after some of her friends were on their second, or third, marriages.

"What types of inhibitions are you concerned about?" She moved toward the Queen Anne desk.

He followed, circling the desk toward her. "Getting to know you better, of course." His smile revealed even, white teeth and made little crinkle lines at the corners of his eyes. "Mr. Manville indicated you're from America, and I wondered how you came to be a cousin."

"You said you wanted to know more about me, but it seems you're more interested in my bloodlines." She enjoyed teasing him and edged away, putting the desk between them.

"But you're wrong. And your lines—" His gaze traveled over her figure. "—speak for themselves."

A warm glow stole onto Sabrina’s cheeks, and she didn't answer. She noticed everyone else had already left the library, leaving them alone.

"I merely tried to get the polite generalities out of the way first," he continued, "and I have a natural curiosity besides, which is one of my better faults."

"You classify your faults?" She pretended to be shocked at the idea. "What are some of the worst ones, I wonder?"

"If I'm fortunate, there may be an opportunity to introduce you to one or two of those as well." He smiled again and continued his stroll around the desk.

Sabrina did the same and saw a twinkle flash in those electric-blue eyes. Contrary to what she’d heard, apparently not all Englishmen were stuffy and humorless.

"But you haven't answered my question." He edged his way around the desk.

Her pulse quickened. Yes, she was recovering from the death of her fiancé, and she not only liked Hugh Pendleton's looks, but loved mysteries. Yet, her two-week trip seemed inadequate for starting a new relationship.

"I'm the daughter of David Gilmore, Richard's youngest son. My father traveled to the United States where he met my mother and never lived in England again, although he visited from time to time. I visited by myself when I was nine."

"Weren't you a trifle young to travel so far alone?"

"My mother died, and father sent me here that summer while he put his life back together." Her throat choked for a moment. Her memory included the trauma of her own loss as well as the unfamiliarity of vastly different surroundings.

The smile left his face. "I'm most awfully sorry. How unfortunate. And your father–?"

"Never remarried, and is quite well, thank you." She went on quickly, to spare him the necessity of asking. "He came over for his father's funeral, but flew home yesterday to return to his job. I arrived this morning and am staying on until the tenth."

"I say, may we stop circling this desk? I shan't bite."

Sabrina realized with chagrin that she'd begun her third time around, always keeping the desk between them. She stopped moving and let him catch up. "I haven't been back since the summer I spent here."

"So long? What kept you from returning?"

"Life." She grinned. "You know, all those necessary evils: school, work." She moved away from him again, this time walking slowly about the library, looking upward along the shelves at the colorful bookbindings.

He followed her, the clean masculine scent of him mingling with the library's smell of furniture polish and old leather. "What work keeps you away?"

"I’m in business, and you don’t really want to know the boring details."

"But here you are visiting Gilmore Manor once more." He paused. "Yet you did inherit something. A trunk in the attic sounds positively mysterious."

"You mean I might find an old skeleton inside?"

"Let's hope not, but aren't you anxious to find out?"

"Not much. Elmore hasn't led me to expect the Crown Jewels."

What could she expect? The mystery of the blue trunk suddenly intrigued her. She wanted to know what lay inside.

At that moment, Elmore entered the hall, and she used his appearance to say, "Excuse me," to Pendleton and head for the stairway to the upper floors.

* * *

Hugh expected a conversation with Elmore, but the executor only nodded and continued on his way without a word. Shrugging, Hugh watched Sabrina cross the Great Hall with its swords, shields and battle-axes fastened to the walls and colorful pennants flying from the rafters. She climbed the staircase, holding onto the polished bannister, while he stayed a considerable distance behind, yet close enough to catch her should she fall. Such gallantry was an ancient rite, but one all good English schoolboys learned early on. Modern women pretended not to want such courtesies, but he'd noticed they usually accepted them readily enough. The ones who insisted he not treat them so politely often failed to measure up anyway. A few appeared to have the brains of earthworms and the enthusiasm of your average brick. However, Sabrina seemed everything at once: an intelligent business woman–or so he’d surmised–and exceedingly feminine as well.

Admiring the elegant, if somewhat shabby, furnishings of the mansion, he paused at the second-floor landing. Sabrina, apparently not realizing he’d followed her, continued upward another flight. He recalled Manville telling the guests they’d installed an elevator in the mansion a few years before, but he didn't know its whereabouts. In any event, he didn’t mind walking up.

Besides, it gave him such a striking view of Sabrina’s marvelous body, her trim waist, perfect hips, and legs that tapered to not-too-thin ankles. He'd never liked women whose legs seemed too spindly to support them.

He’d been attracted the moment he'd caught sight of her. Short hair curled all over her head like a cap, and its blue-black color made the grey eyes all the more surprising. Her rosy complexion, such a pleasant change from the pallor of many English women, together with a pert nose and generous mouth, made her absolutely delicious-looking.

He wanted to rush toward her but changed his mind. She might resent his following her without permission. She might wish to be alone while she perused her strange inheritance.

* * *

The nursery occupied the space at the end of the hall on the third floor, and the mere act of approaching it set Sabrina's heart ticking like a fast-paced metronome. What sweet memories it evoked, remaining just as she remembered it: the wide windows overlooking the kitchen garden, padded window seats covered in faded chintz, the fireplace with its heavy metal screen. She patted the wooden rocking horse in the corner, saw low, scarred wooden tables and chairs. The shelves that once held children's toys and books now stood empty.

She paused at the doorway, drinking it all in, fighting the urge to cry. Had it been only three months she'd spent there? How, then, had it managed to color her entire life?

She crossed to the windows and looked down. The kitchen garden looked cared for, perhaps the work of the one gardener she'd seen at the reading of the will. Grandfather left him something, she supposed. Or did the cook, also present, plant those rows of parsley and chives?

She moved away from the window and spotted the blue trunk, its color faded, in the corner. Kneeling on the threadbare carpet, she pulled up the hasp. Inside she saw stacks of children’s books and some old-fashioned clothes she’d once worn to play at being grown up. As she lifted a fringed shawl, she saw something in the bottom of the trunk. Amy! Her doll!

Tears sprang to her eyes. Her father had given her the doll when she started her solo journey to England as a child. But when she packed to return home three months later, she couldn’t find it. Back in Chicago the twice-searched suitcases yielded no missing doll. Now it had turned up at last in the trunk she’d just inherited.

She picked up the doll and examined her. Almost twenty years before, Amy eased the loneliness of the long trip to London and served as constant companion, which made it all the more painful to lose her. Now, miraculously returned, Amy still looked almost brand-new, hardly played with. Perhaps she always lay in the bottom of the trunk and no one else ever removed the old clothes that covered her.

Amy's cloth face, with embroidered-on eyes, nose and mouth, smiled up at her. A short white apron still covered her blue gingham dress and, at the bottom of her cotton-stuffed legs, appliqued black cloth substituted for shoes. She had been neither expensive nor particularly pretty, Sabrina realized, but she meant more than any dolls she’d owned before or after. Was it because the black yarn curls resembled Sabrina's own short curly hair, or because she mysteriously disappeared, never having a chance to wear out or lose her appeal?

Yet, she felt heavier than Sabrina remembered. How odd. A cloth doll ought not to weigh very much. Furthermore, a doll ought to have seemed heavier to her when she was a child than now as an adult. The same way your first-grade schoolroom dwindled in size after you grew up.

Sabrina turned the doll over and inspected the closure of her apron. Obviously sewn together by a careless seamstress, the stitches didn't even match in color. Why had she never noticed it before? Even at nine, she hadn't been that unobservant.

She pulled at the threads with her fingernail, and they came loose. The entire apron and dress opened. Beneath, on the cloth body of the doll, more clumsy stitches showed, and she tore those too, until Amy's back opened and her stuffing oozed forward. Sabrina probed inside, widening the opening. Something hard met her fingertips. She turned Amy upside down and the something dropped into her lap: an ornate jeweled necklace.

 

 
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Chapter 1

"I wouldn't ask Gary Pritchard to captain Southern Star if he were the last skipper left alive in the Bahamas!"

Marilee Shaw rarely put herself in the position of having to eat her own words, but as she walked quickly along the dock to where Southern Star lay tied at anchor, the challenge she uttered earlier lingered in her ears as well as on her tongue. So much for rash promises.

"That sounds vaguely familiar, except this morning it was the entire world." Jane Owens, who owned a catering service that supplied food for local charters, and who at sixty had the energy of most women at forty-five, hurried to keep up with Marilee's long-legged stride. "Now that you've changed your mind, let's not quibble over geography."

As she neared the yacht she had recently inherited, Marilee slowed her pace. The largest and most luxurious of the two dozen craft berthed in the marina, the Star swayed gently atop the water's surface.

"I wish I could think of one good reason, even two bad ones, why he should agree to take Southern Star out on this cruise." Her gaze swept the fifty-two foot length of the yacht. With a sigh, she climbed the gangplank, a red and white For Sale sign in one hand and a roll of tape in the other. Although the Star was listed with three brokers, one at Harbour Island there on Eleuthera, and two in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, it paid to be practical.

"He loved you once," Jane said from the deck below. "Men don't forget those things, although they like to pretend they do."

"Whatever he felt, that was eight years ago. Men don't stay in love that long." All he was likely to remember was how much she’d hurt him. "He'll say 'no'."

After securing the sign to the forward window of the saloon, Marilee turned quickly and, with Jane, left the yacht and dock behind, heading for the nearby cinder block building that housed her late father's office for South Wind Charters. As she made her way across the asphalt roadway and down the cement sidewalk, a crisp Atlantic breeze, carrying the fresh, clean scent of salt air, riffled through her hair. The sun felt warm on her skin and she would have liked to enjoy it further, but enjoyment of any kind had been pushed to somewhere below "read everything by Shakespeare" on her list of priorities.

She pushed open the office door and went to the desk where piles of invoices, outdated correspondence, and an unhealthy preponderance of bills greeted her. Having sorted through all that paper for the past three weeks, she wanted to sweep it into the trash and return home to California.

"I need a miracle," she said. "Only something tells me that Gary will not be the knight who rides to my rescue."

"Then why are you going all the way down to Governor's Harbour when you already know his answer?" Mischief danced in the depths of Jane's dark eyes.

"Because I'm a masochist." Marilee sank into the ancient swivel chair. "Because I have this overpowering urge to have him slam the door in my face. Because I believe in living dangerously. Take your pick."

"I like the last," Jane said.

"Unfortunately, I have few options. This is simple economics. Either I honor the last commitment Dad left on the books, or the bank will repossess the Star." She stared at the invoice confirming a ten-day charter for Tom Wellman and a party of four. The very fact of the cruise seemed an answer to her prayers. How else could she make even one payment to the bank?

"Dad put his entire life into the Star," she continued. "Now he’s left her to me, every gleaming, mortgaged foot of her. They'll sell her at auction for a fraction of what she's worth. I can't let them do that."

"You've convinced me," Jane said, "and you'll convince Gary. I think it a good sign he's come back to Eleuthera after all those years he lived away. As if he knew you were going to need him."

"That's one way of looking at it." Marilee had already decided she needed a second miracle, finding a skipper. She stood and picked up her keys. "But I still wish there was another way. Any other way. Taming lions would have to be a picnic compared to coaxing Gary into this assignment."

She remembered their last meeting vividly. Hurt had burned in his eyes and it had taken her the better part of two years to stop hating herself for what she believed, at the time, was the right decision.

"Don't feel you have to be overly scrupulous." Jane, never one to keep good advice to herself, pressed each point home with emphasis. "Play on his sense of fairness. Your father helped Gary get started in this business, made it possible for him to buy his first yacht. Loyalty and obligation are sentiments he'll understand."

"I'll try." Marilee paused at the door. "But will they work when he knows I've got a fifty-two-foot white elephant on my hands?"

"Gary Pritchard was like a son to your father. You might want to remind him of that, too."

They stepped out into the bright sunshine. "This sounds like a pep rally. You know, one up for our side." She laughed, but it came out sounding forced.

After saying goodbye to Jane, she climbed into the Jeep and, as she turned the key, its engine sprang to life. She felt a moment's hesitation, but before she allowed herself to think of the consequences, swung the Jeep onto the road and headed south toward Governor's Harbour.

Her memory was good and the area she sought was not too difficult to find. Eleuthera Island, less than 100 miles long and under five miles wide in many places, could be covered in less than three hours. In the past, she had explored every inch of it with her father, but that had been only after her parents divorced and he moved from Florida to the Bahamas, where he thought business would be better. She drove past old homes, lying on either side of the hill, half secluded by tropical shrubs, tranquil and quiet. That day, however, she had no time to slow and admire their quaint beauty. Then she was past the few shops, the supermarket, the bank, the church she had once attended and over the ridge where the road ran toward sandy beaches.

An hour later, she recognized Gary's house from Jane's brief description. She climbed out of the Jeep and walked slowly up the flagstone path. All smoked glass and wood and vaulted roof, the house was bordered on three sides by immaculately kept emerald lawns. Just beyond, across an expanse of pink sand dotted with lush green palms, the ocean rushed at the shore. In a swirl of sparkling turquoise, it inched up onto the beach only to be swept back out to sea. Almost mesmerized by the motion of the water, ebbing and flowing, rising on a high, sweet crest, only to crash and slip away, she realized her relationship with Gary had been like that.

If it was possible to love a man too much, to become totally captivated by the sight and sound of him, then that was how she had loved Gary Pritchard. But what she had felt for him in the beginning had become, at the end, too strong, too consuming, so that when he asked her to marry him, she knew without a moment's doubt that she could never share him with his mistress, the sea. She could never have become a part-time fixture in his life. Like her mother had been in her father's.

She pushed the bell. A chime sounded somewhere in the interior of the house, soft and muted. It died, and she waited, finally deciding, almost with a sense of relief, that no one was home. Before she had a chance to consider what plan to adopt next--leaving a note was out of the question--something furry brushed against her. With a small gasp, she looked down to find a fat orange and white striped cat looking up at her.

"Where did you come from?" she said aloud.

The cat examined Marilee, then strolled languorously to the door, where it stretched its front paws against the polished mahogany.

Surprised to find so tame an animal on the premises--a pair of Great Danes would have seemed more appropriate for the Gary Pritchard she remembered--Marilee said, "Don't tell me you belong here!"

"He doesn't. I gave him a hand-out once or twice and I haven't been able to get rid of him since. I call him Cat." The voice that came from directly behind Marilee was low and husky, familiar, and intensely masculine, like its owner. She straightened up and turned in that direction.

"Lee."

Except for the deeper lines etched into his brow and along the sides of his mouth, he had, in her view, changed very little. At thirty-two, he was still slim where it counted, the muscles finely toned in his long legs and upper arms. Dark hair fell carelessly in thick waves to frame his face, and his blue eyes were exactly as she remembered them, alive with a curiosity and zest for living that had once made him the most exciting man she had ever met.

"Hello, Gary." Her heartbeat shifted into high gear. She took a series of deep breaths. In, out, in, out, like a do-it-yourself mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

He took a half step toward her, then drew back. "Well." He sounded uncertain, which heightened Marilee's own nervousness.

"How are you, Gary?" There, she had managed to say his name twice without sounding like a breathy ingenue.

"Right this minute, surprised would be an understatement." After a moment, the uncertainty disappeared from his voice. "You look wonderful, Lee."

"You look well, too." It was her turn to understate. Dressed in denim cut-offs and navy blue tank top, he looked as vital, tanned and handsome as ever.

"I had no idea you were here on Eleuthera." A tiny smile flirted with the corners of his lips.

"I'm on temporary leave from my job." The cat brushed against Marilee, then leaped to its adopted owner, rubbing against his legs.

"Computers, isn't it?"

"Yes." Had her father told him that? Or had he asked about her? She wondered what else he knew of her life. "I'm with Visions Unlimited. I help businesses develop networking systems, use new software."

"You're a teacher. That's a good career for you, Lee."

"What makes you say that?" She laughed. "Have you pictured me as some outdated stereotype of a teacher, in stout shoes and frumpy dress, my hair pulled into a bun?"

"Hardly. And it would be a shame to hide that hair." His smile softened his rugged features. "But it's conservative, and predictable."

"Not the kind of work I do." She felt an urge to defend herself. "My territory takes in three states. I could be in San Diego one day and Seattle the next. There are times I have to catch a flight on less than four hours' notice. It's hectic, but it is not predictable."

"I'm glad." He smiled more broadly this time. "You've changed, then. That's good."

Oh, he was going to make this very difficult. Why had she allowed herself to hope otherwise? "I have less than a month left to sort out Dad's affairs. The business is in terrible shape. I... I suppose you heard."

He nodded, genuine sorrow flicking to the surface of his eyes. "I'm sorry, Lee. He was a good friend--the best--and I'll miss him. I was in Miami when he died. I didn't find out about it until last week."

He pushed open the door and reached toward her.

Her first instinct was to back away, but before she could act on the impulse, his long fingers brushed her arm. With the slightest pressure he guided her into the cool interior of the house.

"I appreciate your driving all this way to tell me."

Guilt washed over her momentarily, and she followed him into a large living room, but its simple beauty failed to register on her. Rattan chairs, glass topped tables, recessed lighting, woven straw rug, made only fleeting impressions. Her conscious mind was filled with the man, not his surroundings, and also of the fact that she was disturbed he could still have such an effect on her. On the drive down to his house, she felt convinced she had made peace with herself over Gary. Now, she wasn't so sure.

"Can I get you something? Club soda or coffee? I'm afraid that's all I can offer you just now."

She shook her head. How could she admit she had come, not to share her grief with him, but to offer him a proposition, yacht owner to yacht owner: that she had, in essence, materialized on his doorstep to offer him a job? "Gary... I..." She turned toward the tall sheets of glass that formed the side wall of the room. "I like your view." She wished again that she didn't need his help.

"I like the one I’m looking at." He came up behind her, and she felt vulnerable again, wished she hadn't come rushing down there wearing her yellow terry cloth shorts and top, as if she were still eighteen. Brief hot-weather clothes were usually all she had ever worn when she visited her father there. But now, at twenty-six, their encounter was to be strictly business. Had to be. But, with the mere sight of him warming her face and turning her hands clammy, surely that was merely wishful thinking.