The Mysterious Stranger (Triple Trouble)

BOOK: The Mysterious Stranger (Triple Trouble)
12.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

From the moment the gorgeous, sexy stranger washed up on shore, millionaire Jarret Wilkenson was suspicious. Since he was one of the most eligible bachelors around, women were forever using strange antics to propose. And while this captivating visitor’s amnesia routine was unique, he wasn’t going to let her beauty distract him…

Though Jarrett didn’t have much choice but to let the woman with no memory stay in his home until someone claimed her, he was going to keep his fortune and young niece far away from her. Yet as Jarrett observed her natural maternal instincts at work, he couldn’t help wondering about his mysterious guest’s past…and future…with him…

Table of Contents


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen



nna Jane touched the smooth wood of the study doors and sighed softly. She loved her uncle Jarrett. She knew she was a lucky girl to have someone to take care of her after her mother died. But sometimes she wished he didn’t try so hard to be her guardian. She wished it was easy for him to be with her and love her. She wished he could be her friend as well as a grown-up.

But he was busy, she reminded herself. Too busy. Uncle Jarrett had an empire to run. At least, that’s what her mother had always said when she’d talked about him.

“Uncle Jarrett was born to run the world, Anna Jane. That’s why he’s not coming for Christmas.” Or her birthday, or even her mother’s birthday. Uncle Jarrett had responsibilities, many of which were more important than one nine-year-old girl.

Anna Jane walked away from the study and headed up the stairs. Her sandals slapped against the cool marble flooring, the sounds coming closer and closer together as she raced to the second floor. Climbing the stairs made her nervous. The house was so big and so quiet. Sometimes she felt there were creatures ready to nip at her heels if she didn’t hurry.

She didn’t tell her uncle about her fears because she didn’t think he would understand. Men who ran empires probably didn’t worry about imaginary creatures nipping at anything.

She reached her room and closed the door behind her. The bedroom had been decorated with her comfort in mind. Swags of pale pink fabric hung over the canopy. Light-colored furniture filled the walls. She had a dresser, a desk, bookshelves and a big storage unit for her toys. Her clothes didn’t fill even a quarter of the rack space in the closet. Yet, in here, with the world shut out, she felt safe.

She crossed to the window and stared out at the deep blue of the Caribbean Sea. Waves rolled onto the shore. She liked the water and the beach, although she wasn’t allowed to go down to the ocean by herself. She liked the smells of the island, the warm sun, even though it was December. Sometimes she remembered that it would be snowing back home in New York. When she remembered, she missed her friends, her old room and Nana B.

Anna Jane squeezed her eyes tightly shut so she wouldn’t cry. Babies cried; she was nearly grown up. But it was hard to fight the loneliness. If only she had a friend here on the island. Someone she could play with and talk to. Someone to give her hugs and maybe even remember that Christmas was in two weeks. She didn’t think Uncle Jarrett was going to remember on his own, and she hadn’t figured out a way to remind him.

When the threat of tears faded, she opened her eyes and glanced around her room. Maybe she would feel better if she read a book. She walked to the shelves and looked at the pile of new stories. Nothing caught her attention and she found herself tracing the spines of books she’d already read. They weren’t exactly like having someone to talk to, but they were old friends who often kept her company. Her finger paused by a familiar title. She remembered that story. A young girl was held captive in a faraway land. She sent a message in a bottle, asking someone to help her escape.

Anna Jane smiled. Maybe she could do the same thing—send a message in a bottle and ask for a friend.

She hurried to her desk and quickly wrote a brief note. On the back she drew a rough outline of the island and put an X on the spot that marked the house. In her bathroom she studied the bottles of bath salts, picking up one before setting it down and reaching for the bottle on the end.

The container was tall and beautifully shaped, like a series of graduated bubbles sitting on top of each other. The bubbles were large at the bottom and got smaller and smaller toward the top. She pulled open the cork top and dumped the contents into a glass, then rolled the paper in a long cylinder and dropped it inside. She secured the cork in place and raced for the stairs.

Once at the front door, Anna Jane frowned. Though she wasn’t allowed down at the beach by herself, she didn’t want anyone else knowing about her bottle, either. Besides, the waves might push the glass up against the rocks and break it. There was a shallow pond that fed a stream on the far side of the house. She could let her bottle go there.

Ten minutes later Anna Jane watched her bottle bobbing in the water. It flowed with the slow current, lazily moving toward the bend that would take it out of sight. She clenched her hands tightly together and sent up a prayer that someone would find her note and want to be her friend….

Chapter One

allon Bedford stretched out on the lounge chair in front of her bungalow and tried to tell herself she was having a great time. The lie didn’t sit well on her usually clean conscience. The truth was, paradise for one wasn’t all she’d hoped it would be.

“You’re on vacation,” she told herself. “Relax.”

The command didn’t have a soothing effect. She pushed her sunglasses up on her nose and took a deep breath. The sun was warm on her skin, the sky was an impossibly vivid shade of blue. Next to her on the small table sat a fashion magazine and a tropical drink heavily laced with rum. Her goal had been to enjoy herself the entire day and not worry about anything. She’d made it all the way to 1:30 in the afternoon before boredom had struck.

Maybe it had been a mistake to come to the island so early. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. An odd quirk in the school calendar had ended the semester a full two weeks before Christmas. Rather than sit at home until her sisters and their husbands were ready to start their holiday vacation, she’d decided to strike out early. The bungalow they’d reserved had been available, so she’d simply moved up the reservation and flown out by herself. She had ten days alone to sun, surf and do whatever else people did in places like this.

Unfortunately it was 1:30 on day one, and she was already restless.

“You’re an ingrate,” she said out loud as she sat up. “Or maybe just not used to having free time.” The fifth graders kept her busy. Between the demands of her job, staying in touch with her two sisters and planning for her future, she hadn’t had much down time. In a couple of days it would be easier to do nothing. But for now she needed to give in to the antsy feeling and take a walk.

Fallon collected the brightly colored wrap that matched her bathing suit and tied it around her waist. The soft fabric fell to the middle of her calves. She grabbed her hat and room key, took a last sip of her drink, then headed for the path that would lead to the main hotel.

The resort was a combination of romantic getaway and tropical heaven. Although the Wilkenson hotel chain was known for exceptional facilities, here on the island of St. Alicia they’d outdone themselves.

Individual bungalows surrounded a five-acre lagoon at the east side of the property. The hotel itself was built in three wings, stretching nearly a half mile from end to end. The beach wrapped around the island, a string of white sand and private coves all outlined by warm blue water. Fallon had heard rumors that it was possible to circumnavigate the island by heading in one direction or the other on the beach. She’d decided against putting that rumor to the test. For one thing, St. Alicia was over five hundred square miles, and she had no desire to walk that far, at least not in her sandals.

A path wound around the lagoon, the smooth stones going right to the water’s edge. She strolled slowly, breathing in the tropical sweetness lacing the air. Birds called to each other as they darted from tree to tree. Bright flowers dotted the bushes and vines along the path. Little lizards dozed in shady spots on rocks.

As she rounded the curve in the lagoon, something in the water caught her attention. At first she thought it was a fish, but the shape was wrong and whatever it was didn’t disappear under the surface. She moved closer, bent and pulled out a glass bottle. Inside was a rolled piece of paper.

Fallon glanced around, half wondering if someone was playing a trick on her. A note in a bottle? Surely that didn’t happen in real life. Yet here it was. She moved to one of the stone benches set up around the path and sank onto the smooth, warm seat. After wiggling the cork free, she shook out the note, then spread it flat.

“My name is Anna Jane, and I’m nine years old. I live in a big house on the north end of the island. I don’t have anyone to play with. If you find this note, I hope you’ll come visit me and be my friend.”

At the bottom of the page was the word over. Fallon obediently turned the sheet and saw a hand drawn map with an X marking the little girl’s house.

“How sad,” Fallon murmured. While her family hadn’t been perfect, at least she’d been fortunate enough to grow up with two sisters who cared about her. Other children weren’t that lucky. In her classes she had some students who had been abandoned by loved ones. A divorce that forced one parent to leave, the death of a sibling, young mothers who could barely take care of themselves, let alone a child.

She studied the map. The shape of the island definitely looked like St. Alicia, so the house must be here, too. Maybe it wasn’t too far away. If the parents didn’t mind, she would like to visit this lonely little girl. They could help each other fill the time.

She took the paper with her as she made her way to the main hotel. Out by the pool was a long bar with a thatch awning. She took one of the stools and smiled when the bartender came to take her order.

She glanced at his name tag. “Joshua,” she said, putting the map on the bar and turning it toward him, “do you know where this house is?”

The man was in his early twenties, with dark good looks that probably tempted a fair number of the female guests. He studied the crude drawing. “It looks like the big house,” he said. “Mr. Wilkenson lives there.”

“The owner of the resort?”

Joshua nodded.

“So his daughter must have sent this,” she said, more to herself than the bartender. “Where’s his wife?”

Joshua frowned. “No wife. Mr. Wilkenson isn’t married. There’s no little girl, either.”

“But there must be.” She turned over the note and tapped it. “She wrote this.”

Joshua scanned the page. “I don’t know who she is.”

“How odd.” This really wasn’t any of her business, Fallon reminded herself. But she didn’t have anything else to do, and the girl sounded as if she really needed a friend. “Is there another house near Mr. Wilkenson’s property? Maybe they’re the ones with the child.”

“The boss doesn’t have any neighbors. You could find his place easy. Follow the beach north about four miles. You’ll know it when you see it. Be warned, Mr. Wilkenson doesn’t like company.”

“I’m not surprised.” The owner of the resort and the famous Wilkenson hotel chain was rumored to be a recluse. “I’m not interested in the man, just the little girl, if she even exists. Don’t worry. I won’t tell him you gave me directions.”

Joshua leaned toward her and smiled. “Good. I don’t want to have to go talk to Mr. Wilkenson. My shift is over in two hours and I’m going home for the holidays.”

“Where’s home?”

“Jamaica. I have five sisters and three brothers. This is our first Christmas together in four years.” He glanced at his watch. “The plane leaves at five.”

She slid off her stool. “When I see it fly overhead, I’ll wave.” She held the piece of paper. “Have a great holiday, Joshua. And thanks for the information.”

He gave her a smile, then turned toward a young couple stepping up to the bar.

Fallon studied the map. Four miles walking along the beach was going to be like a six-mile hike on a path. Sand was a killer. “Think of what it will do for your thighs,” she told herself, and glanced up at the sky. It was nearly two. There was no way to find the house and get back in the remaining daylight. She would rather not have to count on Jarrett Wilkenson’s hospitality for the night. She would go in the morning. She could get to the house, find out if there was a lonely little girl there or not, and be back at the hotel by sundown.

Having a plan and something to do lightened her spirits considerably. She circled the pool, nodding at the couples spread out there. For the first time since she’d arrived, she didn’t feel quite so alone.

BOOK: The Mysterious Stranger (Triple Trouble)
12.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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