It wasn't easy for an important, successful man to get away by himself for a few days. It was a complicated and tedious business to reschedule meetings, postpone appointments, inform clients, alert staff.
There was a whole world of people dependent upon him.
More tedious yet was making travel arrangements personally rather than using the services of an assistant.
But after careful thought, Evan decided there was nothing else to be done. No one was to know where he was, or what he was doing. Not his staff, not his clients, not the press. Naturally, he could be reached via cell phone if there was a crisis of any sort. Otherwise, until he'd done what he set out to do, he would remain incommunicado.
He had to know.
He hadn't been able to get the information his sister had so casually passed on to him out of his mind.
Helen's double. Helen's ghost.
He would wake up at night in a cold sweat from images of Helen, his Helen, walking along some picturesque beach. Alive. Laughing at him. Giving herself to any man who crooked his finger.
It couldn't be borne.
The terrible grief he'd felt upon her death was turning slowly, inexorably, into a cold and killing rage.
Had she tricked him? Had she somehow planned and executed the faking of her own death?
He hadn't thought her smart enough, certainly not brave enough, to try to leave him, much less succeed. She knew the consequences. He had made them perfectly clear.
Till death do us part.
Obviously she couldn't have done so alone. She'd had help. A man, a lover. A woman, especially a woman like Helen, could never have devised such a scheme on her own. How many times had she sneaked off to lie with some wife-stealing bastard, working out the details of her deception?
Laughing and fucking, plotting and planning.
Oh, there would be payment made.
He could calm himself again, continue about his business and his life without an outward ripple. He could nearly convince himself again that Pamela's claims were nonsense. She was, after all, a woman. And women, by nature, were given to flights of fancy and foolishness.
Ghosts didn't exist. And there was only one Helen Remington. The Helen who had been meant for him.
But at times in that big, glamorous house in Beverly Hills, he thought he heard ghosts whispering, or caught the bright sound of his dead wife's taunting laughter.
What if she wasn't dead?
He had to know. He had to be careful, and clever.
"Ferry's loading. "
His eyes, pale as water, blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
The ferry worker stopped blowing on his take-out cup of coffee and instinctively stepped back from that blank stare. It was, he would think later, like staring into an empty sea.
"Ferry's loading," he repeated. "You're going to Three Sisters, ain't ya?"
"Yes. " The smile that spread over the handsome face was worse than the eyes. "Yes, I am. "
According to legend, the one known as Air had left her island to go with the man who promised to love her, to care for her. And when he'd broken those promises and turned her life into a misery she had done nothing. She'd borne children in sorrow, raised them in fear. Had bowed, and had broken.
Her last act had been to send her children back to the Sisters for protection. But she had done nothing, even with her powers, to protect or save herself.
So the first link in the chain of a curse was forged.
Nell thought of the story again. Of the choices and mistakes, and of destiny. She kept it clear in her head as she walked down the street of what had become her home. What she intended to keep as her home.
When she walked in, Zack was delivering a blistering lecture to a young boy she didn't recognize. Automatically, she started to step out again, but Zack merely held up a finger and never broke rhythm.
"You're not only going straight over to Mrs. Demeara's and clean up every last scrap of pumpkin guts and apologize for being a moron, but you're going to pay a fine for possession of illegal explosives and willful destruction of property-five hundred dollars. "
"Five hundred dollars!" The boy, thirteen at the outside, Nell calculated, lifted a head that had been sunk low. "Jeez, Sheriff Todd, I ain't got five hundred dollars. My mom's going to kill me as is. "
Zack merely raised his eyebrows and looked merciless. "Did I say I was finished?"
"No, sir," the boy mumbled, and went back to looking so hangdog that Nell wanted to go pat his head.
"You can work off the fine by cleaning the station house. Twice a week, three dollars an hour. "
"Three? But it'll take me. . . " The boy had smartened up enough to shut up. "Yes, sir. You weren't finished. "
His lips wanted to twitch, but Zack kept them in a firm, hard line. "I've got some odd chores around my place, too. Saturdays. "
And oh, Zack thought, that one stung. There was no crueler fate than being imprisoned by chores on a Saturday.
"Same rate. You can start there this Saturday, and in here Monday after school. If I hear you're in any more trouble like this, your mother's going to have to stand in line to skin you. Clear?"
"Yes, Uncle Zack. . . um, I mean, yes, sir, Sheriff. "
"Beat it. "
He beat it, nearly spinning the air into a funnel as he raced past Nell.
"Second cousins, really. It's an honorary term. "
"What did he do to earn the hard labor?"
"Stuck an ash can, that's a firecracker, in his history teacher's pumpkin. It was a damn big pumpkin, too. Blew that shit all over hell and back again. "
"Now you're sounding proud of him. "
He pokered up, as best he could. "You're mistaken. Idiot boy could've blown his fingers off, which is what I nearly did at about the same age when I blew my science teacher's pumpkin to hell and back. Which is beside the point, especially when we'll be in for similar Halloween pranks tomorrow if I don't make an example now. "
"I think you did the job. " She walked over, sat down. "Have you got time for another matter, Sheriff?"
"I could probably carve out time. " It surprised him that she hadn't leaned over to kiss him, and that she sat so straight, so still, so solemn. "What's the matter?"
"I'm going to need some help, and some advice. On the law, I suppose. I've generated false identification, and I've put false information on official forms, signing them with a name that isn't legally mine. I think faking my own death is illegal, too. At least there must be something about life insurance fraud. There were probably policies. "
He didn't take his eyes off hers. "I think a lawyer would be able to handle that for you, and that when all facts are known, there'll be no charges brought. What are you telling me, Nell?"
"I want to marry you. I want to live my life with you, and make those children with you. To do that, I have to end this, so I will. I need to know what I'm going to have to do, and if I'll have to go to jail. "
"You're not going to jail. Do you think I'd let that happen?"
"It's not up to you, Zack. "
"The false papers and so on aren't going to put anyone's sense of justice up. The fact is. . . " He'd given this angle a great deal of thought. "The fact is, Nell, once you tell the story you're going to be a hero. "
"No. I'm no one's hero. "
"Do you know the statistics on spousal abuse?" He pulled open his bottom drawer, took out a file and dropped it on his desk. "I've put some data together on it. You might want to have a look at it sometime. "
"It was different for me. "
"It's different for everybody, every time. The fact that you came from a good home and you lived in a big, fancy house doesn't change anything. A lot of people who think it's different for them or that there's nothing they can do to change their situation are go
ing to look at you, hear what you did. Some of them might take a step they might not have taken because of you. That makes you a hero. "