Anticipation rushed heat through Lucien Cabot’s blood. He swiveled his desk chair in the shadowed room to stare at the winds already banging barren tree limbs against the windows, the sound of the wood scraping against the glass like the gnarled fingernails of a vengeful witch. It won’t be long now. Lucien closed his eyes and breathed. A hazel gaze haunted the darkness, making his chest constrict with debilitating tightness as powerful today as when he’d said good-bye seven years, eight months, and twelve days ago. Soon. Lucien once again made a promise to the specter shadowing his every thought and action. Soon you’ll be able to rest in peace.
“Do it,” Lucien ordered as he felt the other presence enter the study. “Make the call.”
“I advise you against this.” Magnus’s deep, rough voice resonated through the room. “I promise you are mistaken and this will not come to a good end.”
Lucien blinked and turned a hard stare on his best friend. Hell, his only friend. Certainly the only person he 100 percent trusted. “Issue the invitation.” Lucien’s tone brooked no argument. “If you cannot, someone else will. I will do this with or without your help.”
The man at the door grew thunderous and somehow more menacing in appearance, although most might wonder how such a feat was possible. His sheer strength and size, along with his shaved head and wine-colored birthmark that covered half his face, head, neck, intimidated and often frightened the hell out of most people. Lucien, however, was not most people.
“Do it,” Lucien repeated. “If you’re not in this with me, then you need to get the hell out now, before this begins.”
Storm clouds matching the ones brewing outdoors highlighted Magnus Larsen’s unusual violet eyes. “Make no mistake,” Magnus said. “I am here to make sure this doesn’t kill you, not to happily assist you in your vendetta.”
Lucien ignored the nasty twist in his gut. “As long as you make the call, I don’t care why you’re here.”
“You are a bastard.” Magnus glared at Lucien again as he picked up the phone. “You will regret this choice. And worse, you will end up hating yourself for it.”
“We shall see.” Lucien eyed Magnus’s finger poised on the phone’s keypad. “Make the call.”
Magnus punched the first number.
While picturing the young blonde woman who would answer on the other end, Lucien went instantly hard, the response out of his control.
* * * * *
Shoot. Sophie Emerson carefully put her phone back in the cradle. Snarling a bit, she made eye contact with the woman sitting on the other side of the desk. “He gave it to Timmons to produce,” Sophie shared. “Ronald gets to do the interview.”
Miranda -- a gorgeous redhead, who also happened to be a sharp as heck reporter -- frowned and cursed softly. “Hey” -- she suddenly brightened comically -- “maybe Bill will let you produce the next exclusive interview with the next mayor who is in the midst of a financial scandal. There’s bound to be another one next week, right?”
Sophie chuckled. “Yeah, I’ll produce your exclusive exposé when the deputy mayor takes over and flames out by next Friday.”
“It’s a deal.” Miranda reached across the desk, and they made an exaggerated shake on it.
“In the meantime,” Sophie added as she searched for her ringing cell phone under a pile of human-interest stories to pitch to her station manager, “Bill is bound to put us on some street corner when the weather gets nasty just in time for the evening broadcast, so I’ll start scouting a location now.” Ahh, there it is. Sophie pressed the appropriate button and put the phone to her ear. “Hello? This is Sophie Emerson.”
“Good morning, Ms. Emerson.” A deep, male voice filled Sophie’s ear. “My name is Magnus Larsen, and my employer understands you’ve expressed some interest in touring Raven Island and its home for a possible story.”
Sophie instantly sat up straight. “I have. I --”
“Mr. Cabot has time free this afternoon.”
Sophie ignored the rudeness of the man having cut her off. “Great.” Fantastic! A huge smile made her cheeks hurt, and she silently gave Miranda a thumbs-up signal. “I’ll get a camera crew and a reporter. We can take some preliminary shots --”
“No. You misunderstand. For today, Mr. Cabot would just like to speak to you. If he can’t come to an agreement about the angle of the story and how it will be produced, then he won’t agree to the interview.”
A funny feeling hit Sophie’s stomach, but she murmured, “All right. That would be fine.”
“Wonderful. You can meet me at the Maritime Marina around three this afternoon.”
Sophie’s red galoshes loomed big and bright on the floor by her cubicle entrance. “Wait a minute. There is a storm coming in soon. I’m not sure a boat ride today is the best plan.”
“Mr. Cabot has this afternoon available,” Mr. Larsen replied. “If that won’t work for you, then we can call someone else.”
“No!” If Sophie had capitulated any faster, she would have tripped over her tongue. “I’ll be at the marina at three.”
“Very good.” Mr. Larsen sounded exceedingly polite. “I’ll see you there. Good-bye.”
Sophie ended the call and then had to scrape her jaw up from her desk. What the heck was that? As she rubbed the chill bumps suddenly covering her arms, she took one glance at Miranda’s puzzled expression and sobered up enough to explain what had just transpired.
“I don’t know.” Miranda scrunched up her arresting features. “It sounds sketchy to me. We don’t know anything about this person who owns this island.”
“We now know his last name is Cabot,” Sophie shared.
“So what?” Miranda shrugged. “You can’t research someone in a half-dozen hours only knowing his last name. Beyond that, how in the hell did his employee get your personal phone number? Plus this recluse will only see you this afternoon in the midst of a storm coming in? What’s that about?”
Sophie’s mind spun, and she dropped her head into her hand. “I don’t know, but this could be our chance to have this place sit up and take notice of us.” She thought back over her two and a half years’ employment in this small Maine market, but then jumped ahead in her mind to the buzz that had charged the town with new life when some anonymous person had purchased Raven Island nearly two years ago. “Do you know how curious people are about who bought that island and what they’ve done with the rundown castle that was there? The story would be huge for this station, and for us, if we can secure it.”
Miranda smirked. “Or you could be walking into some crazy serial killer’s trap.”
Practicality nagged Sophie. She heard and understood her friend’s concern, and she couldn’t deny the extra warning of adrenaline rushing through her veins since hanging up the phone. Yet true excitement -- the first she’d experienced in ages -- buzzed on top of that rush and drowned out everything else.
“I don’t think it’s anything nefarious,” Sophie shared. “This guy sounded rough and formal but… I don’t know.” She gestured as if grasping for something that kept sliding out of her reach. “There was something about him that felt sincere.”
Miranda rolled her eyes. “Well as long as he sounded sincere, then we’re fine.”
There were times -- like now -- where Sophie wished she looked badass enough to effectively shoot someone the finger. But she didn’t. Oh well. At least she could discuss this job sensibly with Miranda. Lord knew if her brother called to check in on her, she would have to get creative with the facts. If Royce sensed even the perception of danger, he would get on the first plane out of Atlanta, fly to Maine, and swim to Raven Island himself to shield her from possible harm. Still, the concept of having a contingency plan made too much sense for Sophie to ignore.
“Okay, so how about this?” Sophie’s thoughts raced. “What if you come with me to the marina, just to meet this Magnus Larsen? Then he’ll know there’s somebody in this world who knows what he looks like, and that I’m getting on a boat with him. Then I’ll call you, text you, or e-mail you within two hours. If you don’t hear from me within that time frame, then you can call the cops and start a search party. We’ll make sure this guy knows I’m going to keep in touch with you the entire time I’m on his boss’s island. Will that work?”
Flattening her lips, Miranda said, “I still don’t like it, but I understand your desire to go meet this Mr. Cabot.” Her gray eyes flashed with mirth. “I’m kind of jealous he didn’t call me.”
Sophie grinned. “If I can make him comfortable, then you will get the on-air interview. When I go to Bill after I get a yes from this Mr. Cabot, I’ll make you a condition of the deal.”
“Okay.” Miranda pushed up from her seat. “I guess I need to go find myself another producer for my weather segment tonight.” Pausing at the cubicle entrance, she pointed at Sophie. “I’ll meet you back here at two thirty. Don’t leave without me.”
Once alone, Sophie sobered and started to think ahead to her meeting with one elusive island owner.
Mr. Cabot. She let the name roll around in her brain. Suspicions lingered in every corner, but questions about how someone had privately bought an island without his name ever appearing on paperwork, as well as to how he got to and from the island for two years without anyone photographing him, overrode her caution. Mr. Cabot, you are a mystery. If Sophie had one weakness, it was her love of solving puzzles. I can’t wait to meet you. …