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Authors: C. Michele Dorsey

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Permanent Sunset

BOOK: Permanent Sunset
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No Virgin Island

PERMANENT SUNSET
A Sabrina Salter Mystery

C. Michele Dorsey

NEW
YORK

This is a work of fiction. All of the names, characters, organizations, places, and events portrayed in this novel either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real or actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by C. Michele Dorsey

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Crooked Lane Books, an imprint of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC.

Crooked Lane Books and its logo are trademarks of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC.

Library of Congress Catalog-in-Publication data available upon request.

ISBN (hardcover): 978-1-62953-770-2

ISBN (ePub): 978-1-62953-795-5

ISBN (Kindle): 978-1-62953-796-2

ISBN (ePDF): 978-1-62953-797-9

Cover
design by Jennifer Canzone.

www.crookedlanebooks.com

Crooked Lane Books

34 West 27
th
St., 10
th
Floor

New York, NY 10001

First Edition: October 2016

For John Holmes and Victor Posada

Love is kind.

Chapter One

“Do you think she signed the prenup?” Henry asked Sabrina as she drove them through the early morning light toward Villa Nirvana on Ditleff Point in Fish Bay. A short morning rain shower, typical on the island of St. John in the Virgin Islands, had just finished. Sabrina hoped there would be no more precipitation that day, but on an island, you could never be sure. It could be pouring in Coral Bay, yet sunny and clear in Cruz Bay eight miles away. She hoped for one of St. John’s spectacular sunsets for the wedding at the villa, since the bride had insisted the ceremony be conducted precisely as the sun went down. But even in paradise, a sunset could occasionally fizzle.

“I don’t know. Do you think he’ll go through with the wedding if she doesn’t sign?” In less than twelve hours, about fifty of the island’s “rich and famous” were scheduled to attend the wedding of Sean Michael Keating and Elena Consuela Soto Rodriguez at Villa Nirvana—that is, if Elena decided to sign a prenuptial agreement. Sean had
apparently presented it to her weeks before. So far, she had not executed it.

Sabrina still wondered why she ever let Henry talk her into submitting a proposal to manage Villa Nirvana, St. John’s newest luxury villa. It made their business, Ten Villas, top-heavy with an eleventh. They had their first real fight as business partners over the decision.

“Nirvana is in such a different league than our other ten villas; I don’t see it as a good fit. I’m in favor of keeping it simple and uncomplicated.” Of course she was. Both Sabrina and Henry had fled Massachusetts a few years earlier, each escaping their own versions of unhappy endings. She had fled to St. John after being acquitted of murdering her husband on Nantucket. Henry’s career at an airline had tanked in public disgrace, sending him off to the island with Sabrina, his good friend. They had eased into a life of obscurity and simple contentment that had almost been destroyed a few months earlier when a guest had been murdered at one of their villas. The last thing Sabrina wanted now was to risk more attention and trouble. The kind of people who could afford to stay at Villa Nirvana seemed to be magnets for drama and notoriety.

But Henry’s arguments had prevailed. “We don’t have to live there, Sabrina. We only have to manage it. We will make oodles of money and prove ourselves as one of the top villa management companies on the island.” Since Sabrina’s objections came from her gut, hardly a
rational basis for a business decision, she had yielded to Henry’s logic.

The wedding was Villa Nirvana’s inaugural event, meticulously planned by the couple and other family members. Their fledgling company owned Villa Nirvana, the first luxury villa built by Keating Construction. Sean and Elena had been clear with Henry and Sabrina that the wedding needed to be perfect because the attendees were targeted clients. Sabrina knew that if the wedding got called off, there would be more than one business casualty.

After the rehearsal dinner last evening, when most of the other guests had gone, Sabrina and Henry and their very curious staff couldn’t help but overhear the family arguing in the vast and open great room.

“You’re a Harvard Business grad, for God’s sake. You know a prenup makes sense,” the groom’s brother, Gavin, had told Elena.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Elena said, erupting into a wail.

“It protects you, too,” her future father-in-law said.

“It protects the company but undermines the future of my marriage to your son, whom I adore,” Elena said, her howling escalating.

“Dear, all the Keating wives have signed prenups and have gone on to have enduring marriages,” Elena’s future mother-in-law said, trying to comfort and persuade her.

“Well, I am not yet a Keating wife and choose not to be one if this is how the family regards its women.”

Sabrina had noticed the only person not trying to convince Elena was her future husband.

Elena eventually tore out of the great room and retreated into the master bedroom, temporarily dubbed the bridal suite and reserved for her exclusive use. Various family members had continued to approach her as envoys, pleading with her to be “reasonable” and appreciate that it was “only business.”

When Henry and Sabrina had finally closed the kitchen after preparing for the extended brunch that would be served the next morning, Elena was still screaming.

“I will not be treated this way just because I come from a poor Puerto Rican family. You either love me and want me to be your wife or you don’t.” They had heard a door slam, but Sabrina knew that may not have been the end of the debate.

The following morning, Sabrina got out of the passenger seat to open the stately wrought-iron gate that secluded Ditleff Point from the rest of St. John. She recalled when Elena had given her and Henry the code to the keypad, along with a strict admonishment not to give it to anyone else, not even their “underlings.”

Villa Nirvana was built on the farthest point of a low-lying outcrop off Fish Bay. The outcrop rose at the end and was surrounded by cliffs upon which waves crashed relentlessly. Until last year when construction had started, Ditleff Point was just a long, undeveloped elbow of raw land extending from the coast, where people hiked
and deer frolicked. Sabrina had hiked it several times while on vacation before moving to St. John. She wished it hadn’t been developed.

Now Villa Nirvana was a sprawling 12,000-square-foot home built of native stone with an additional 5,000 square feet of outdoor living space. It had enough room to sleep twenty.

It was the first of six island homes to be built on Ditleff Point. Nirvana had a state-of-the-art kitchen, a bar, and a great room with an infinity pool outside. On the lower level, there was an underground media room, a separate commercial-grade kitchen, and a wine cellar. With solar panels and a helicopter pad, the home was so excessively luxurious, Sabrina felt repelled by it. Nirvana just didn’t mesh with Sabrina’s vision of the business she and Henry had grown from scratch. And if she was honest, she had to admit the villa reminded her just a tad of the massive stone waterfront home in Massachusetts where her mother had grown up and where her grandmother still lived—a home Sabrina had never entered.

They parked in a spot next to the service entrance to the kitchen, passing the beach/pool cabana, and entered the quiet house without speaking. Once in the kitchen, Sabrina spotted a figure sitting at the large stainless steel counter, hunched over a mug.

“Sean?” Sabrina spoke softly, not wanting to startle the normally animated young businessman. Before hiring Ten Villas, he and Elena had put Henry and Sabrina through
an interview process as thorough as if they were applying for a position at the White House.

The young man, still on the sunny side of forty, looked up at her with red-rimmed eyes, dark circles accentuating the grimness of his expression. His thick, dark hair fell on his forehead. Sabrina imagined he’d run his hands through it a thousand times during the night.

“Am I in your way here?” He started to rise from the sleek metal stool he was sitting on.

“No, we’re just here to set up coffee and beverages until the Triple B’s breakfast truck arrives,” Sabrina said, watching as Henry softly pushed the button to the commercial coffee maker they had set up the night before.

Sabrina appreciated that Sean had made some savvy choices for the weekend wedding celebration. He had seized the opportunity to ingratiate himself and his new luxury villa construction business with the existing St. John business community. He had chosen a funky gourmet breakfast truck to serve brunch from 8:00 until 1:00. Guests would then be taken on tours of the island in safari trucks driven by locals. The rehearsal dinner had been delectable Mediterranean tapas from the Little Olive food truck, served with fine wines from the Nirvana wine cellar. The juxtaposition of truck food with an opulent setting made a statement. Sean understood the two sides to St. John. Zeus, the premier restaurant on island, would cater the wedding dinner.

“Can I pour you a glass of fresh orange juice?” Henry asked, reaching into the Sub-Zero refrigerator. He and
Sabrina had squeezed a dozen containers of juices the night before while being entertained by the Keating clan screaming at each other. They had to be very careful not to smudge the thick vanilla frosting on the wedding cake when putting items in the refrigerator. It had so many flowers on it, it wouldn’t fit in a box. Just another thing to worry about, Sabrina had complained.

“No, I’ll get out of your way and wait for the coffee,” Sean said. Sabrina noticed he was wearing the same clothes as the night before.

“So, am I officiating at my first wedding today or not?” Henry asked.

Sabrina suppressed a gasp at his boldness. Sometimes Henry was more direct than she thought wise. She knew he was nervous. The Ministry of Matrimony had recently issued each of them impressive looking certificates, which proclaimed Henry and Sabrina were officially authorized to join two people in marriage, another part of Henry’s business plan. Sabrina hated the idea and hoped never to have to use it. But Henry was thrilled about performing weddings and had volunteered to officiate at Sean and Elena’s, which worked for Sean personally as it fit his own business plan: get the locals on your side.

“Yes, you will, Henry. Although I’m not sure whether my family will be attending. I need to go to Elena and let her know I don’t need a prenup, and if my family does, well, screw them. She was so upset last night. I’ve never seen her hysterical like that. She has to be exhausted. I’ve
been waiting for her to wake up to tell her I don’t care about a prenup.”

Henry slapped Sean on the back, again horrifying Sabrina.

“Good for you, Sean. You’re the one getting married to Elena, not your family. She might like it if you wake her up with the news. I’m sure she’ll be just as relieved as you are.”

Sabrina cringed. She wondered again if Henry was stepping over the line. Henry’s experience working for years as a first-class flight attendant seemed to help him gauge what were acceptable boundaries for people. Sabrina had no such frame of reference. She was always looking out for what was considered proper. After Sabrina’s mother had bolted when she was a toddler, she was left to learn social grace from her alcoholic father and a diner owner who became her mother figure. If it hadn’t been for self-help books, she wasn’t sure what she would have done.

But Sean didn’t seem offended and set off to find his bride, who Sabrina couldn’t help but note was not sharing the bridal suite quite yet with her husband-to-be. Sean had been given a room of his own. This state of affairs seemed very old-fashioned and not consistent with Sabrina’s image of Elena. The few times she had met the bride, Elena had been dressed in an Armani suit, wearing heels so high they reminded Sabrina of the shoes she had been forced to wear when she was a television meteorologist in Boston. Elena had that “well-put-together” look that Sabrina didn’t trust
after years of working with people so coated with veneer that she couldn’t recognize them without their perfect outfits and layers of makeup. Seeing Elena unraveled and behaving like a banshee the night before had made Sabrina curious about how many layers were hidden beneath her glossy surface.

She helped Henry load a cart with freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juices along with coffee, and Henry wheeled it out into a corner of the great room where guests could help themselves when they got up. Midmorning, buckets filled with ice and bottles of Prosecco and champagne would be added to the offerings.

Sabrina thought she heard the sound of the Triple B’s food truck arriving outside when Sean dashed back into the kitchen, wearing what could only be described as an anguished expression.

“She’s gone. I can’t find her. She must have left because of the prenup. I should have told my father and brother to drop it. I knew it.”

“Are all her things gone?” Sabrina asked, thinking Elena might have decided to take an early morning walk or run—the petite bride-to-be didn’t have an ounce of fat on her shapely body. And Sabrina doubted that Elena would be able to pack up and leave in the middle of the night with the extensive wardrobe she’d seen in the closet. There were a few rental vehicles, provided by Ten Villas for guests to use, parked by the service entrance. But
where would she go? You needed to take a ferry or have access to a private boat to get off the island.

“Her clothes are there, but I didn’t see her wedding dress. The big white plastic cover that was on it when she arrived is empty and sitting on the bed, which was still made,” Sean said.

“Maybe she went to talk to someone from her family staying elsewhere on island. Are there people you can call?” Sabrina saw the panic in Sean’s face. She couldn’t blame him. No one wanted to be left at the altar, and this was damn close to it. And frankly, the last thing she and Henry needed was for their first huge event at Nirvana to turn into a fiasco.

“That’s just it. She has no family. That’s why she was so excited to become part of mine and was so hurt when they all wanted her to sign the prenup like she was some gold digger.”

From outside, Sabrina heard the voices of Amy and Erin of the Triple B, which stood for “two babes on a bay.” The Triple B normally served breakfast on weekends in Coral Bay on the other, more remote side of St. John.

Soon the villa’s occupants would be rising, going for a run or a swim in the infinity pool. Wedding guests, who had been invited for a full day of celebration starting with breakfast, would begin arriving. It seemed important for life to look as normal as possible while they figured out where the missing bride was.

“Henry, could you please keep everything calm here while Sean and I do a casual search of the property? Elena may have just needed some time to herself after the drama last night.”

“Of course. I’m sure you’ll find that she’s just taken a stroll on the beach,” Henry said.

“You think she just might have wanted a little space from the pressure my family was putting on her?” Sean sounded desperate to believe that Elena was just off having a good pout or cry.

“When I peeked in on her just before we left last night, she had the wedding dress on and seemed pretty sad. She said she wasn’t sure she’d get to wear it tomorrow, so she was going to enjoy it while she could. I can’t imagine she went anywhere in that dress,” Henry said, looking at Sabrina, who didn’t try to hide her disapproving expression. She hadn’t known Henry went to counsel the bride before they left Villa Nirvana the night before. Sometimes it seemed what she lacked in social confidence, Henry had in excess.

BOOK: Permanent Sunset
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