Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Paranormal
was painted on the white hull of the boat. The name of the business was accompanied by a logo depicting an orca leaping out of the waves. Images of the magnificent black-and-white killer whales that prowled the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest in pods were ubiquitous throughout the San Juans. Orcas graced signs above
bookstores, souvenir shops, real estate offices and restaurants. They decorated menus, greeting cards and calendars. Parents bought cute, cuddly stuffed orcas for their children.
Abby had grown up in the region. She understood the significance of orcas both culturally and historically. And they were certainly magnificent. There was nothing like the thrill of watching the sleek, powerful creatures launch their multi-ton bodies out of the depths and into the air and then plunge back beneath the surface. But in her opinion, most people tended to forget that orcas were anything but cute and cuddly. They were intelligent, powerful, top–of–the-food-chain predators.
Just ask a salmon,
“I’m here on business,” she said coolly. “I can assure you that the very last thing I care about is Mr. Coppersmith’s personal life.”
“That’s good,” Dixon said. He nodded once, satisfied. “Because the gossip about him being the one who murdered his fiancée six months ago is pure bullshit. Pardon my language.”
Okay, didn’t see that coming.
Abby’s pulse kicked up for a few beats. She had already figured out that Sam Coppersmith was probably somewhat eccentric, but that hadn’t bothered her. Eccentric collectors made up a good portion of her clientele. She had not, however, heard about the murdered fiancée. She’d taken time to run a quick background check on the Coppersmiths, but she had been in a hurry this morning. Maybe she should have done a little more research before coming to Legacy Island.
“Is that so?” she said politely, going for noncommittal.
“You know how it is when a woman dies under mysterious circumstances,” Dixon said. “The cops always look at the guy she was sleeping with and the one who finds the body. In this case, that man just happened to be one and the same.”
“Yeah. But the sheriff cleared him. It was those damn bloggers with their conspiracy theories who tried to stir things up. It was the Coppersmith name that got their attention. When your family operates a big business like Coppersmith Inc., there’s always folks who’ll suspect the worst. No one here on the island believed a single damn word of what they wrote about Sam, though.”
“I gather the Coppersmith family is respected here,” Abby said. She kept her tone politely neutral.
“Well, sure,” Dixon said. “But it’s more than that. The Coppersmiths have been a part of the local community for damn near forty years. That’s when Sam’s parents’ bought the old mansion out on the bluffs. Named it Copper Beach. There was hardly anyone else living on the island when they arrived. They pretty much founded the town. The first mayor and town council voted to name the town Copper Beach.”
“If no one lived on Legacy Island before the Coppersmiths arrived, who built the mansion you just mentioned?”
“Man named Xavier McClain. He made a fortune in shipping and lumber back in the early nineteen-hundreds. Bought the island and built the big house. According to the legend, he was downright strange.”
“Everyone has a different definition of strange,” Abby said politely.
Trust me, I know whereof I speak,
“The old stories say that McClain was really into the woo-woo stuff, you know?” Dixon aimed a forefinger at his temple and made a few circles. “He claimed he saw things other folks couldn’t see. There are a lot of tall tales around here about how he got up to some real weird shit, I mean stuff, in the basement of the old house.”
“What happened to Xavier McClain?” Abby asked.
“No one knows for sure. His body was found when it washed ashore in the cove below the big house. Most folks assume he fell from the bluff. Others say he jumped. A few think he was murdered. The kids
like to tell you that his ghost still walks the bluff on foggy nights, but I don’t hold with that nonsense. Anyhow, after McClain died, his descendants didn’t want the house, let alone the island. Way too expensive. They sold out to Elias Coppersmith.”
“Wait a minute. Are you telling me that the Coppersmith family
Legacy Island, not just a house?”
“Well, they don’t exactly own the town. They gave that property to the local residents. And folks around here own their own homes, of course, on account of Elias Coppersmith subdivided some of the land and sold it. But yeah, the family still owns most of the island. The only one who lives here year-round now is Sam, but the rest of the Coppersmiths are always coming or going. They’ve all got their own houses out there on the bluff now. Sam took the old house on account of no one else in the family wanted it. His mom never did like the place. Willow and Elias live down in Sedona; that’s where the main headquarters of the company is located.”
“Willow and Elias are Sam’s parents?”
“Right. They’ll be coming up here soon,” Dixon said. “They always show up for the R–and–D lab’s annual technical summit and staff family weekend. On the last night there’s a real fine barbecue. The locals are invited. It’s a big deal around here.”
Abby examined the boats in the marina slips. The majority appeared to be hardworking craft of one kind or another. Several were rigged for serious fishing. The green plants and the curtains in the windows of others spelled live-aboards, people who lived full-time on their boats. Unlike the marinas on some of the other islands that catered to summer tourists, there were no luxury yachts.
One sleek, clean-lined boat caught her attention. The name on the hull was
Dixon followed the direction of her gaze.
“That’s Sam’s boat.” He said. “I’m surprised he didn’t pick you up himself today. But he only leaves the island when he has to these days.”
“Is Sam involved in the family business?”
“Sort of. He and his brother run their own consulting firm, real high-tech stuff, you know? But they do a lot of their consulting for the family business so I guess you could say they are involved.”
She had learned a little about the family business in the course of her cursory online research this morning. The Coppersmith fortune had been built on the mining and research-and-development of so–called “rare earths,” the elements and metals that provided the sophisticated materials and crystals so vital to modern technology. Rare earths with unfamiliar names, such as lanthanum and cerium, were used in everything from computers and cell phones to X–ray machines and self-cleaning ovens.
“Sam was always a bit of a loner, even when he was a kid,” Dixon said. “But after he found his fiancée’s body he really started keeping to himself in the old Copper Beach house. Lot of folks, including my wife, swear that losing the love of his life about broke his heart. They say his family is worried about him. They think he might be depressed or something, you know?”
Abby thought. Thaddeus Webber had sent her all this way to hire a reclusive mad scientist with paranormal talents who was suffering from some form of depression due to the death of a fiancée he might or might not have killed. The long trip from Seattle today was looking more and more like a waste of time. She glanced at her watch, wondering if she should tell Dixon to turn the water taxi around and take her back to Anacortes, where she had left her car.
Dixon eased the boat against the dock. A gangly-looking boy in his teens trotted up to help with the lines. He gave Abby a curious once-over. She gave him a vague smile in return and turned to study the small cluster of weathered buildings that surrounded the marina. There were a few more structures along the short waterfront, but all in all there wasn’t a lot to the town of Copper Beach. It barely qualified
as a village. But that was typical of most of the remote communities scattered across the San Juans.
People moved to the islands for any number of reasons. Some sought privacy and a simpler, slower way of life. Others came looking for a serene environment that encouraged contemplation and meditation. The islands had been home to various cloistered orders, religious sects and assorted communes and marijuana entrepreneurs for years.
A lot of folks who chose to live in the San Juans arrived with one paramount objective in mind—to get off the grid altogether. Their goal was to get lost and stay lost. It was not all that hard to do, because in the islands people minded their own business. Outsiders were stonewalled if they got too curious. Which only made Dixon’s gossipy comments about Sam Coppersmith all the more intriguing, Abby thought. It was as if he felt some responsibility to defend Sam against the lurid rumors that had evidently circulated at the time of the woman’s death.
Dixon and the teen finished tying up the boat. Abby stepped cautiously off the gently bobbing craft onto the planked dock and looked around, wondering if she was supposed to walk to her destination.
“Can I pay someone to drive me to Coppersmith’s house?” she said to Dixon.
“You won’t need a lift,” Dixon said, angling his head. “Sam’s here to get you.”
A chill of awareness stirred the hairs on the back of her neck. Automatically, she raised her senses and turned to watch the man who was coming toward her along the dock. His dark hair was a little too long. A pair of black-framed sunglasses shielded his eyes, but the hard-edged planes and angles of his face told her a great deal about him.
It was the currents of raw power that burned in the atmosphere around Coppersmith that compelled her senses. She could literally feel the heat, both normal and paranormal, even from this distance. When he drew closer, she glimpsed a small spark of fire on his right hand.
She took another look and concluded that the flash of light had been caused by sunlight glinting off the stone of his ring.
Her initial shiver morphed into a charged thrill. She could not decide if she was more excited than she had ever been in her life or merely scared out of her wits. It was a classic fight–or–flight response. There was obviously more than one kind of top–of–the-line predator living here in the San Juans.
She looked at Dixon. “I have one question for you, Mr. Dixon.”
“Why are you and everyone else on the island so absolutely convinced that Sam Coppersmith did not murder that woman?”
“Simple,” Dixon said. He winked. “Coppersmiths are all real smart, and Sam is probably the smartest of the bunch. If he had killed that woman, there would have been nothing at all to link her death to him. He sure as freaking hell wouldn’t have left her body in his own lab. She would have flat-out disappeared. No problem making that happen here in the islands. Lot of deep water around these parts.”
“THADDEUS WEBBER INDICATED THAT YOU HAD SOME EXPERIENCE
with this sort of thing,” Abby said.
“Obsessed collectors who send online blackmail threats to innocent antiquarian book dealers?” Sam Coppersmith leaned back against his desk and folded his arms. “Can’t say that I have. But an extortionist is an extortionist. Shouldn’t be all that hard to find the one who is bothering you.”
“I’m glad you’re so optimistic,” Abby said. She drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair and glanced uneasily at her watch for the third or fourth time. “Personally, I’m getting a bad feeling about this meeting. I think there may have been some mistake. Thaddeus Webber must not have understood my problem.”
“Webber wouldn’t have sent you to me if he hadn’t thought you needed me.”
Sam had said very little during the short drive from town. But she had known that his senses were slightly jacked for the whole trip
because her own had been fizzing. They still were, for that matter. It was an unfamiliar sensation. She wondered if her intuition was trying to send her a warning. Or maybe she was simply sleep-deprived. Regardless, she was quite certain that Sam was assessing her, measuring her reactions, testing her in some way.
Her first view of the gray stone mansion that was the Copper Beach house had not been reassuring. The place was a true gothic monstrosity. It loomed, bleak and shadowed, in a small clearing on a bluff overlooking a cove and the dark waters of the San Juans. From the outside, the windows of the old house were obsidian mirrors.
She had concluded immediately that Sam and the house deserved each other. Both looked as if they belonged in another century, one in which it was considered normal for mysterious men to live in dark mansions that came equipped with attics and basements that held scary secrets.
Her sense of unease had deepened when she had gotten out of the SUV and walked to the front door with Sam. She had watched while he did something with his ring that unlocked the door.
“I’ve never seen a security system like that,” she said. “Some kind of variation on a card-key security system?”
“Something like that.” Sam opened the door. “My own invention.”
She had anticipated another tingle of alarm, or at the very least uncertainty, when he ushered her into the shadowy front hall. But to her astonishment, the ambient energy whispering in the atmosphere had given her a small, exciting little rush. She knew that Sam noticed.