Read Embers Online

Authors: Antoinette Stockenberg

Embers

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Embers

 

"A deft blend of mystery and romance … sure to win more kudos"

--
Publishers Weekly

 

An old secret, a new mystery, and dangerous passion buried in the ashes of an historic fire -- ashes that become embers, easily fanned into flames ....

To Meg Hazard, it seemed like a good idea at the time: squeezing her extended family into the back rooms of their rambling Victorian home and converting the rest of the house into a Bed and Breakfast in the coastal town of
Bar Harbor
,
Maine
. But that was before the leaky roof, the balky furnace, and the fuel oil spill in the basement. That was before the inheritance of an exquisite, museum-quality dollhouse with a haunting story of its own to tell. And that was before her much-loved, much-younger and very beautiful sister Allie fell in love with
Chicago
cop Tom Wyler, who was there simply to put himself back together physically and emotionally after a shattering episode of violence back home. Meg, the Responsible One, has complete sympathy for everyone. What she doesn't have is complete control over her emotions ....

 

 

"A well-written, engaging story of two caring people who have all but given up on finding love."

--
Library Journal

"All the ingredients that whisper 'best seller' ... reading
Embers
is a night of pure pleasure."

--
Gothic Journal

 

For Marge Stockenberg

Acknowledgments

My thanks to all those who helped me in the research of this book:
 
to Dr. Howard Browne, a veritable mine of medical data; to June Swan, Carol Reiff, and Police Chief Richard Blaisdell, all of Bar Harbor, for the local nitty-grit; to Fred Aleguas for his pharmaceutical input; to Barbara Schenck, a fellow writer, for her metaphysical expertise; to Martha Milot --
merci! --
 
and especially to my brother-in-law Richard Stevens, a copper and the real McCoy.
 
To my dad with his beloved Dutch Masters and total recall of the olden days -- thank you.
 
Readers who are interested in the 1947 fires that ravaged
Maine
will find Joyce Butler’s book on the subject an excellent source.

 

Chapter
1

 

Meg Hazard, shivering in the predawn chill, pulled the blanket up around her shoulders and said, "Money isn't everything, Allie."

Her sister laughed derisively. "Oh,
come
on." She threw her head back in a way that profiled her long neck and thick black hair to perfection. "The only ones who say that are those who have it and those who don't. And
I
say, both sides are lying through their teeth." She pulled her knees up closer to her chest.
"
God,
it's cold up here. Was it this cold when we were kids?"

"Of course. We're on top of a mountain. In
Maine
. In June. You know the saying: In Maine there are two seasons
—"

"—
winter and August. Mmm. I do know. Which is another reason I'll take a job anywhere but here. You can't make any real money in
Maine
, and meanwhile you freeze your buns off trying."

Meg smiled and held one end of her blanket open. "Park your buns under the blanket with me, then. I
told
you to bring something warm."

She glanced around at the dozens of tourists sharing the rocky summit with them. Some were murmuring; some were silent. All were waiting. "The sun will be up in precisely

four minutes," Meg said, peering at her watch.

The two sisters huddled together under the pale
pink sky, their breaths mingling, their minds in tune.

"Tell me
why
,
exactly, I let you talk me into this again?" Allie asked.

Meg laughed softly and said, "I was just thinking about that. You were five and I was seventeen when I brought you up here the first time. You were so excited, you forgot your Thermos of hot chocolate. I had to drive us back for it
—"

"—
and Dad woke up and said we were crazy and if Mom were alive she'd give us what for
—"

"—
and then, when we finally got up here, you were mad because we weren't the only ones on Cadillac Mountain, so how could we possibly be the first ones in the whole U.S. to see the sun that day?"

"You told me we would be, Meg. I distinctly remember."

"So you stood up and told all the other tourists to please close their eyes because
you
wanted to be first."

Allegra Atwells looked away with the same roguish smile that had melted every single male heart that had ever come within fifty feet of it.

And then she threw off her blanket, stood up, and shouted at the top of her lungs: "Would everyone please close their eyes so that I can
finally
be the first one to see the sun rise in the
United States
? I'm from
Bar Harbor
, folks. I
live
here."

Virtually every tourist there turned in surprise to gape at her. Meg groaned and buried her face in her hands, and when she looked up again, a thin sliver of bright gold had popped up into the now blood-red sky, casting the first of its rays across Frenchman's Bay below.

Allie Atwells had probably got her wish.

"Twenty-five, and still the same," Meg said, leaning back on the palms of her hands and looking up at her sister with a kind of rueful admiration.

Allie stood defiantly on the rocky outcrop with her hands on her hips. The rising wind whipped her long black hair across her face and pressed the white shirt she wore against her shapely breasts. Her face

even in the early morning sun, even without makeup, even after an all-nighter spent deep in gossip

was cover-girl gorgeous, the kind that modeling agencies would kill to represent.

"Of course I'm still the same! How can I be anything else?" Allie said, throwing her arms up melodramatically. "I've been stuck in this god- forsaken corner of the country all my life. I haven't
been
anywhere,
done
anything,
met
anyone
...
Thanks to your nagging, I've done nothing but work and study, work and study, work and study."

Meg laughed. "And now here you are, six years, four apartments, two majors, and eleven part-time
—"

"Twelve," Allie said with a wry look. "You forget -- I worked for a week at the front desk of the Budgetel before you talked me into coming home for the summer."

"I did that because finding a full-time job is a full-time job. Anyway,
twelve
part-time jobs later, and you have a degree. Think of it, Allie," Meg said, motioning to her to sit back down beside her. "A
degree."
She threw one arm around her sister and pressed her forehead to Allie's temple.

"The first one in the family; we're all so proud of you."

"Oh, Meg," the younger girl said modestly. "It's not as if it's from
Cornell's
hotel school. It's no big deal. I still have to start at a pathetic wage in an entry-level job. A degree doesn't make me any better than you or Lloyd. It only means I didn't marry young the way you two did."

"Yeah, and I know why," Meg said with an ironic smile. "Because the minute you say yes to someone, ninety-nine other men are sure to cut their throats, and you can't bear the thought of all that blood on your hands."

Allie's violet eyes turned a deeper shade of perfection. "That isn't why I've never married, Meg, you know that," she said in a soft voice. "I just haven't found the right one."

Meg sighed heavily and said, "Whereas I, on the other hand, married my one and only suitor

and then lost him."

Allie shook her head. "Paul wasn't the right one for you, Meg. You know he wasn't."

Meg's brow twitched in a frown, but then suddenly she smiled and said: "Was too."

"Was not."

"Was too!"

"Dammit, Meg!" Allie grabbed a short brown curl of her sister's hair and yanked it hard, then said in a voice endearingly wistful, "It's good to be back, Margaret Mary Atwells Hazard. I've missed you."

"And I," said Meg softly, "have missed you too, Allie-cat."

They sat there for a long moment without speaking, content to watch the kaleidoscope of reds and pinks that streaked across the morning sky. On a good morning

and this was one of them

the view of the sea from
Cadillac
Mountain
went on forever.

"Maybe you're right, Meg," Allie murmured at last. "Maybe money
isn't
everything."

Meg nodded thoughtfully, then stood up and stretched. "Let's go home, kiddo. We've got work to do."

****

Homicide Lieutenant Tom Wyler was stuck in a traffic jam as thick and wide as any he'd ever had to cut through back in
Chicago
. But at least
there
he had resources: a siren, a strobe, a hailer to warn people to get the hell out of his way. Here, creeping along the main drag through
Ellsworth
,
Maine
, he was just another tourist, without authority and without respect.

And without air conditioning. In a burst of economic caution he'd decided on Rent-a-Wreck instead of Hertz or Avis at the airport. The three- year-old Cutlass they gave him ran perfectly fine; if it were, say, January, he'd have no complaint. But he was dressed for the Arctic, which is roughly where he thought
Maine
was, and with the midday sun beating down on a dark gray roof on a hot June day, he felt like complaining plenty.

"Go heal somewhere else,"
his surgeon had advised him.
"Away from the bloodshed. Somewhere cool, somewhere quiet, somewhere where every citizen isn't armed up to his goddamned teeth."

Wyler was shell-shocked, and he knew
it.
He
needed time to think, time to heal, time to decide whether he even wanted to go back to the bloody fray. So he'd chosen a small, very small, resort town with a reputation for quiet evenings and grand scenery. He didn't need theme parks, topless beaches, casino gambling, or all-night discos. All he needed, all he wanted, was a little peace and quiet.

So why, having fled to this supposedly remote chunk of granite coast, was he feeling his blood pressure soar and his temples ache?

Because this isn't what it was supposed to be,
he realized, disappointed. Because he'd pictured the route to
Bar Harbor
as a quiet country road lined with gabled houses with big front porches, and laundry billowing from clotheslines out back. Instead, he found himself inching past a more familiar kind of
Americana
: Pizza Hut, Holiday Inn, Dairy Queen, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and McDonald's, all vying with one another for his tourist dollars

that is, if the fella on the curb selling Elvis-on-velvet paintings didn't get them first.

Shit.
He'd picked a tourist trap after all.

His disappointment lasted right through Ellsworth and over the causeway onto
Mount Desert Island
. The island, too, was pretty developed. The road that fed into
Bar Harbor
was lined with campgrounds and cabin rentals and, eventually, big motels perched high on a ridge to his right, presumably with views of the ocean he knew was somewhere to his left. The motels must be what had replaced the string of
Bar Harbor
summer mansions that he'd read were lost in the Great Maine Fire of 1947.

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