Authors: Helen Brenna
Tags: #An Island To Remember
“Just for some time to figure out what went wrong with your stupid assignment?”
“You got it.”
“There it is. Still alive and kicking,” she said bitterly. “That blind and unwavering commitment to the job.” In the end, she’d been bested by the Bureau.
“You’ve never been more right.” He cocked his head at her. “Nothing’s changed. I
the job. I still
the job. So until I figure out what went wrong on my
I’m not leaving here.”
As they faced each other off, his gaze momentarily landed on her necklace. Last night, after he’d first fallen asleep in her bed, she’d flashed on the image of him naked and her skin had flushed with heat. Feeling the need for a shield, she’d snatched up the crystals along with a change of clothing.
“Those look suspiciously like Arabic letters.” He reached out and examined the pendant. “The Ayat al-Kursi,” he whispered. “Verse of the throne.” Jonas could not only read Arabic, he could speak a couple different dialects, along with German and Spanish. “What do you need protection from?” he murmured.
“Not what,” she said softly. “Who.”
Looking surprisingly offended, he dropped the crystals as if they’d singed his skin. “Still have those divorce papers?”
“Oddly enough,” she said, “I kept them.” She’d needed a reminder that a divorce is what she’d intended even before he died.
“Give me two, three weeks tops to heal and figure out who tried to kill me and why.” Looking entirely spent, he started back toward her bedroom. “Then I’ll sign your damned divorce papers and get the hell out of your life. This time for good.”
Four years, five months, one week and three days.
That’s how long it had been since Jonas had—supposedly—died. If necessary, she could calculate the passage of time down to the minute. The FBI had come to her house to tell her the helicopter had crashed at exactly 1:58 in the afternoon. He’d died on impact, they’d said. There was nothing anyone could’ve done. Still, she’d insisted on seeing his body and had fallen apart at the sight of what she’d believed were his charred remains.
Now where was that son of a bitch of a dead husband? Hanging out in her home, doing God only knows what. Simply imagining him in her private space, in the house she’d worked so hard to turn into a relaxed and comfortable haven, threw off her balance. She glanced around at the other tourist or two moseying around her shop and took a deep breath, hoping to clear her head.
“T-shirts?” the woman in front of her said, not a little irritated. “On sale?”
“I’m sorry. Just the rack in the corner is thirty percent off.”
The woman shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Then you should be more specific with your signage.”
Normally, Missy would’ve ignored the comment, but this morning was nowhere near normal. “Don’t like it?” she said, raising her eyebrows. “You can leave.”
The unrepentant comment had no sooner left her mouth, than she recognized it as having come from the old Missy. The spoiled, immature, reckless and rash Melissa Camden. The young woman who had unapologetically married Jonas less than three months after meeting him. The woman who had pouted—she had to be honest, at least with herself—when Jonas had had to work late or leave town for an assignment.
“Well, I never!” The woman roughly hung the shirt back on the rack and huffed out of the shop.
Missy glanced around.
One down. Two more to go.
Apparently, Jonas barging back into her life had somehow thrown Missy back in time, as if she’d lost the past four plus years of growing and maturing. She’d been only twenty-three when she’d met him and an immature twenty-three at that. But she’d known what she’d wanted back then. Him.
She’d been doing tarot readings, for fun, at the bar she was working at in Quantico, Virginia. To this day, she had no clue what had drawn her to that town, but back then she wasn’t questioning much. She’d broken free of her father and the last thing she’d wanted was structure or rules. She’d been letting her instincts and intuition drive her on the way to discovering this world.
What had driven her on the night she’d met Jonas had been her body. She’d wanted him, and she was going to have him. They’d made love in the back of his SUV, and from that moment on she’d believed she was supposed to spend the rest of her life with him.
How could Fate have been so wrong?
Missy pressed the inside of her left arm against her side, putting close to heart the chakra symbols she’d had tattooed there not long after Jonas had supposedly died.
Steady, Missy. Remember who you are. Remember who you’ve become.
Maybe Jonas dying had been the best thing that had ever happened to her. She’d been forced to find herself apart from who she was with him. Being on Mirabelle had helped her become Missy Charms, the responsible, respectful, albeit a bit flighty, woman who ran her own small business.
She paid her bills, mostly by the due dates, and she’d employed the same student for several summers in a row, helping the young woman, Gaia, make her way debt-free through college. Whimsy might not yet be breaking even, but she had the luxury of not having to worry about making a buck.
Not the typical, north woods, painted-fish-mailbox kind of gift shop, Missy inventoried, among other things, candles and incense burners, tarot cards and wind chimes, Buddha statues and water fountains, unique books and greeting cards made from recycled materials, clothing made from organic fabric and handmade jewelry, some of which Missy made herself.
In a place like Los Angeles, her wares would’ve likely flown off the shelves, but the Mirabelle residents had all thought she was crazy. Maybe she was. Maybe her gift shop never would break even. The important part was that all of her inventory came from either small U.S. businesses, more often than not owned by women trying to eke out a living, or foreign fair trade markets. There were more important things on her agenda than turning a profit.
Missy glanced around her shop and tried to shake off all her misgivings. Stretching out her neck to relax, she walked to the main desk, lit a stick of pine-scented incense and stuck it in a holder on the counter. The clean scent might go a long way in clearing her head and helping her dispel the negative energy she seemed to be carrying around with her since confronting Jonas that morning.
Slim sauntered into the store from the back room and Missy picked him up. “You’re even better than incense,” she whispered.
Since rescuing him as a tiny mewling kitten, the silky softness of Slim’s thick coat never ceased to take her to a calm, comfortable place. Of course, Missy spoiled him, but how could she not? He followed her everywhere, often walking with her down to the shop to hang for a few hours. Whenever he got bored, he’d simply climb out into the alley through his little door and find his own way home.
“Psst, Missy.” The quiet voice came from behind her.
She spun around to find Ron Setterberg, her neighbor and surrogate father as well as owner of the equipment rental shop a couple blocks away, peeking out of her back room. The cat had probably followed Ron here.
“Just thought I’d stop by and visit for a sec.” He usually visited once a day, either at her shop, or after work in the early evenings at home. “Jan has the day off, so I’m heading to the house to have lunch with her.”
Ron and his wife, Jan, the manager of the Mirabelle Island Inn, never had any children of their own, so they had pretty much adopted Missy since she’d moved to Mirabelle. Aside from Ron helping with repair work, he and Jan also invited Missy to their home for the occasional Sunday brunch and always for holiday meals.
“You got a sec?” Ron asked.
“Sure. Gaia?” Missy signaled to her helper. “You got things covered?”
Holding Slim in her arms, Missy followed Ron into the back room, stepping over boxes of inventory piled on the floor. She could never resist ordering more than she needed of almost everything. Putting food on needy tables took precedence over her storage issues. “What’s up?”
He glanced around and his gaze landed on the storage shelves he’d purchased for her months ago still sitting unassembled in their original boxes. “You know it wouldn’t take me long to put those together. I could have this storage room organized in a day.” He’d been offering his assistance off and on ever since Missy had first started renting this retail space from him and Jan.
“Getting organized implies the possibility of staying organized.” Missy grinned. “We both know there’s not much likelihood of that happening.” All she really cared about was making sure the cat door was free and clear so that Slim could get in and out whenever he liked.
“One of these days the bug’s going to bite you,” he said, slipping between a couple tall stands of boxes. “I repaired that display case for you and set it back here by the door.” He showed her how to work the key to open the lock.
“Thanks, this’ll be great for some of the more expensive jewelry,” she said. “How you feeling today?” He looked a little flushed.
“Blood pressure’s still acting up a bit. Sean’s got me on a new medication, so we’ll see.” He studied her face. “What’s your excuse? You don’t look so hot this morning.”
“You know what I mean.” He put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed. “Been eating right? Personally, I think you could use a nice juicy Delores burger.”
Ron never could quite accept Missy being a vegetarian. He was always wanting her to try one of Delores Kowalski’s cheeseburgers at the Bayside Café by the marina.
“I’m fine, Ron. Just didn’t sleep well last night.”
How was she going to hide Jonas’s presence from him and Jan? More important, what would the couple say if she told them the truth about herself? What would all the islanders do, say, think if they found out she was a Camden?
If Jonas had never forgiven her for keeping her Camden heritage from him, it was entirely possible Ron and Jan wouldn’t forgive her, either. How could they possibly understand where she’d come from, let alone her reasons for hiding from her past? At the very least, they might start treating her differently.
She recalled too many instances where people changed how they related to her simply because of her last name and the money behind it. On campus, teachers at college either expected too much from her or didn’t expect enough. Students were either jealous or bent over backward wanting to be her friend. Out shopping with her mother and sister, some of the most dreadful experiences of her life, store clerks would see them coming and turn their backs on the other clients just to please the Camdens. As long as Missy had waved the Camden flag, she’d no hope for honesty.
She hugged Slim tighter, nuzzled her nose in his neck. No, she couldn’t tell Ron and Jan. She couldn’t risk losing the relationship she had with them.
“Hey,” she said, putting aside all the negative thoughts as she set Slim down. “I’ve got something for you.” He’d been complaining of various ailments, so Missy had put together a box of homeopathic remedies, teas and vitamin supplements. “Here you go.” She held it out to him.
“Stuff to help you feel better.” She smiled. “It can’t hurt, anyway.”
“Well then, you’d better put together a care package for Jan, too.” He patted her cheek. “Neither one of us is getting any younger.” He’d be celebrating his sixty-fifth birthday soon with a backyard barbecue, but Missy refused to think about the possibility of them retiring and moving south.
“Hey, now that I think about it, I repaired your hair dryer,” he said, heading toward the door. “I’ll bring it on by the house sometime tonight.”
“No, that’s okay,” she said, not ready yet to explain Jonas. “I’ll come by and get it.” She’d told Jonas in no uncertain terms that he was not to leave her house, but she wasn’t going to be able to keep him secret for long.
Missy’s cell phone rang. She’d been expecting a call from a supplier with whom she’d been playing telephone tag, so she quickly glanced at the display. The adoption agency. What was going to happen when they found out about Jonas?
Ron noticed the name glowing on her phone. “That Barbara? Aren’t you going to answer it?”
Missy had been sharing her adoption trials and tribulations with Ron and Jan since she’d moved to Mirabelle. She couldn’t close him off now.
“Well, go on,” he said. “She might have good news.”
Missy answered the call. “Hi, Barbara. What’s up?”
“You ready for some exciting news?”
Ron heard the comment coming over the line and perked up.
“There’s a young pregnant woman who lives in Duluth looking for an open adoption for her child,” Barbara went on. “She’s already gone through your file, and she loves that you live on Mirabelle.”
Great. The timing for this couldn’t have been worse.
“Apparently, she vacationed with her family on the island when she was a little girl,” Barbara said. “Remembered it as being the most magical place she’s ever visited. She wants to meet you.”
“She does?” Missy glanced at Ron. No one had ever wanted to meet her before today. This was the closest she’d been to adopting a child since she’d begun the process.
Excited, Ron squeezed her shoulder and then did a little happy dance.
“Yep,” Barbara said. “She just came to me last week. After scouring through our files, you’re the only prospective parent she likes.”
Because of the agency’s extensive background check, Missy had been forced to come clean about her family, but they had promised absolute confidentiality and had agreed not to share Missy’s identity with anyone. She didn’t want her bank balance influencing this process.
“Why me?” Missy asked.
“Get this.” Barbara chuckled. “She’s a vegetarian, too.”
“She has no problem with me being a single parent?”
“Not at all. She seems to respect the fact that you’ve had to deal with the death of your husband.”
The real question was what was she going to think when she learned that Jonas was still alive,
they’d be filing for divorce?
“What’s your schedule like over the next couple weeks?”
Missy bit her lip. “Well, it’s kind of hectic here,” she said, stalling. “Tourist season has started.”
Confused by her reaction, Ron cocked his head at her.
“Missy, this is a critical time,” Barbara said. “You name the date, but can you come to Duluth?”
Missy tried formulating a better excuse for holding off, but nothing made sense.
“Missy, what’s going on—?”