Passion, romantic suspense, and down-to-earth characters in extraordinary circumstances are the hallmark of Carla Neggers's novels. She began writing as a youngster—when she'd grab pen and paper and climb a tree to spin her tales—and hasn’t stopped since. A stickler for accuracy, she can often trace the germination of a plot to the exact moment of inspiration. "For example, ona trip to the Netherlands some years ago, we did a tour of a canal-like waterway," she says. "I kept thinking-what would happen if a dead body floated by? What if it was an American? It's the way myt mind works—around me, everyone else was admiring the quaint countryside. I was devising murder."
That Night on Thistle Lane
Bumblebees hummed in the frothy catmint on the edge of the stone terrace, the only sound to disturb the hot New England summer afternoon. Phoebe O’Dunn watched a solo bee hover above a purple blossom, as if debating what to do, then dart past the green-painted bench where she was seated and disappear across the herb and flower gardens. None of its fellow bumblebees followed.
Phoebe had met on the terrace with her sister Maggie and her friend Olivia Frost to discuss the upcoming vintage fashion show at their small-town library, but inevitably talk had turned to the charity masquerade ball tomorrow night in Boston, two hours away. Maggie and Olivia were going. Phoebe wasn’t, but she just might be able to help with costumes.
The dresses would be perfect.
If she’d had any doubts, they’d been dispelled when Maggie and Olivia sank into their chairs at the round, natural-wood table across the terrace and said they were stumped. With just twenty-four hours before they had to leave Knights Bridge for Boston, they had no idea what to wear.
Phoebe did. She’d already had the dresses cleaned and now they were hanging in the back room at her little house on Thistle Lane, just off the Knights Bridge common. She hadn’t mentioned them yet because—well, she didn’t know why, except that she couldn’t help feeling as if she were handling someone else’s secrets. She’d discovered the dresses two weeks ago in a mysterious hidden room in the library attic. So far she hadn’t told anyone about them or the room.
“We should have figured this out sooner,” Maggie said from the shaded table. Like Phoebe, Maggie had wild strawberry-blond hair, hers a tone darker and four inches shorter. And they had freckles. Lots of freckles, Maggie especially.
“Dylan didn’t give us much notice,” Olivia said without a hint of criticism. Her fiancé, Dylan McCaffrey, had purchased tickets to the masquerade ball to support the cause, a neonatal intensive care unit at a Boston hospital. He’d handed them to Olivia just before he and several friends took off to the White Mountains for a few days of hiking. She added with a sigh, “I’ve never been to a masquerade.”
“Neither have I,” Maggie said. “We must know someone in Boston who can help with costumes.”
Phoebe listened to the bumblebees hard at work in the catmint. She and Maggie had been friends with Olivia since preschool. They were gathered in Olivia’s backyard. Fair-haired and pretty, she’d returned to Knights Bridge in the spring to convert her classic 1803 center-chimney house into The Farm at Carriage Hill. In the process, she’d met and fallen in love with Dylan, a former hockey player, now a wealthy San Diego businessman. His arrival in Knights Bridge had turned the out-of-the-way rural Massachusetts town on its head.
Pushing back stray curls, Phoebe got to her feet. She and Maggie both wore sundresses and sandals, but Olivia had on shorts and an old T-shirt after spending the morning in her gardens. When she’d left Boston, she’d put her graphic design skills and boundless energy to work in transforming her historic house into an idyllic spot for showers, meetings, girlfriend weekends and the occasional wedding—including her sister’s upcoming wedding in September and her own in December.
“You’ve been awfully quiet, Phoebe,” Olivia said. “Any ideas what we could wear?”
“I was just thinking…” Phoebe tried to sound casual. “What if you two dressed up as Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly?”
WITH THREE DONOVAN BROTHERS AND AN Irish priest watching her, Emma Sharpe choked back her sample of the smoky single-malt Scotch—her sixth and last tasting of the night. “Intense,” she said, managing not to slam the tulip-shaped nosing glass on the table and grab the pitcher of water. Give it a few seconds. She was an FBI agent, after all. Tough as nails. She smiled at the four men. “People pay to drink this one, huh?”
“Dearly,” Finian Bracken, the Irish priest, said. “You’re not one for a heavily peated whiskey, I see.”
Emma tried to distinguish the other flavors of the sample— spices, fruits, whatever—but only tasted the peat. “I don’t know if I’m one for a lightly peated whiskey, either.”
A cold wind penetrated Hurley’s thin walls and sprayed the old windows with salt water and rain. The restaurant, a fixture on the Rock Point harbor, was basically a shack that jutted out over the water. Now only a few lights penetrated the dark night and fog. Finian had organized the impromptu tasting, setting up on a back table away from what few diners were there on a windy, rainy late-October Friday. He and Michael, Andy and Kevin Donovan were already gathered over a half-dozen bottles of high-end whiskey when Emma had arrived in southern Maine an hour ago, up from Boston and her job with a small, specialized FBI unit.
Only Colin, the second-born Donovan, wasn’t in Rock Point. Mike was a Maine guide, Andy a lobsterman and Kevin a state marine patrol officer, but, like Emma, Colin was an FBI agent.
Not like me, she thought.
She specialized in art crimes. Colin was a deep-cover agent. He’d left his hometown a month ago, pretending to return to FBI headquarters in Washington. The true nature of his work was known to only a few even within the FBI, but his brothers had guessed that he didn’t sit at a desk. Initially he’d kept in touch at least intermittently with his family and friends—and Emma—but for the past three weeks, no one had heard from him.
The silence was far too long, not just for his family and friends but for the FBI.
And for Emma.
She felt the draft at her feet. She had come prepared for the conditions, dressed in jeans, black merino wool sweater, raincoat, wool socks and Frye boots. The Donovans were in a mix of flannel, canvas and denim, no sign they even noticed the cold and the damp. Finian had opted against his usual black suit and Roman collar and instead wore a dark gray Irish-knit sweater and black corduroy trousers.
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