Lillian exhaled deeply. “But it’s done and Private Arrangements is no longer in business.”
“Congratulations,” Nella said. “Feel good?”
“Yes, but I’ll feel even better after you assure me that Campbell Witley is not a serial killer.”
“He looks squeaky clean to me.” Nella glanced at some of her notes. “Witley was in the military at one time, as you guessed. He received an honorable discharge. After leaving the service he took over his father’s construction business and has been very successful. He was married for six years. Divorced. No children. No record of arrests, no outstanding warrants, no history of violence or abuse.”
“Just what I wanted to hear,” Lillian said.
“I also managed to get hold of his ex-wife. She said Witley was the domineering type and inclined to get a little loud at times, but she sounded shocked at the suggestion that he might turn violent. She said he was, and I quote, ‘harmless.’ ”
Nella closed the file and looked seriously at Lillian. “None of this means that he might not be dangerous under certain circumstances, you understand.”
“I know. But I suppose you could say that about any man.”
“True.” Nella pursed her lips. “This was a fairly superficial check. I didn’t have time to go deep. Want me to continue looking in the morning?”
“No, I don’t think it’s necessary. If his ex-wife vouched for him, I’m satisfied. Thanks, Nella. I really appreciate it. I’ll sleep better tonight.”
The sound of a key in the lock interrupted her.
Nella uncoiled from the chair. “That’ll be Charles. Time to pour the wine.”
Lillian twisted in the chair to give Nella’s husband a welcoming wave. Charles came through the door, a long paper sack with a loaf of bread peeking out of the top in one arm, a briefcase in his hand.
He was a slender black man with serious dark eyes framed by gold-rimmed glasses and the air of an academic. He kissed his wife and released the bread to her custody. She disappeared into the kitchen.
Charles turned his slow smile on Lillian while he removed his jacket. “I hear we’re celebrating the closure of Private Arrangements tonight.”
“Yep. I finally took the big step. I am now officially a full-time painter. Or officially unemployed, depending on your point of view.”
He nodded gravely. “This is going to put a dent in Nella’s business, but I’ve told you all along, that matchmaking business of yours was nothing but a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
Nella walked out of the kitchen with a tray of wine and cheese. She wrinkled her nose. “You’re a lawyer, Charles. To you, just walking down the street is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
“Dangerous places, streets.” Charles took one of the wineglasses off the tray and lifted it in a toast.
“Here’s to art.”
“I love what you’ve done with the guest rooms,” Lillian said. “Very spacious and airy.” She opened the French doors of the corner suite and stepped out onto the balcony. “Fabulous views, too. “
Her sister, Hannah, glanced around the suite with satisfaction and then followed Lillian outside into the chilly evening.
“It wasn’t cheap getting plumbing into all of the rooms,” she said. “And installing balcony doors in each one was a major project but I think it will be worth it. Considering what we plan to charge for an overnight stay here at Dreamscape, Rafe and I have to be able to provide our guests with privacy and a sense of luxury.”
Lillian wrapped one hand around the railing. “You and Rafe are going to do it, aren’t you? You’re going to make this inn and restaurant idea work.”
Hannah looked amused. “You had doubts?”
“No, not really. You’re both so committed to making a success of this venture that I knew you couldn’t fail.”
“We owe it all to Great-Aunt Isabel.” Hannah smiled. “Although I must admit that when I first learned that she had left a half-interest in Dreamscape to Rafe in her will, I didn’t feel quite so grateful.”
Lillian looked out across the bay. Night was closing in rapidly. The wind was picking up, bringing with it the unmistakable scent of rain off the sea. Another storm was approaching. She had always loved this time of year here on the rugged Oregon coast. The stark contrasts of the season appealed to the artist in her. The dark, blustery storms drove away the summer tourists, leaving the town to the locals.
The shops on the pier and the handful of small, casual eateries geared down for the long, quiet months.
In summer the establishments were crowded with vacationers from Portland and Seattle. But when you went out to dinner in winter, you usually knew the folks sitting at the next table. If you didn’t recognize them, they were probably students at nearby Chamberlain College or visitors attending a seminar at the Eclipse Bay Policy Studies Institute. The think tank and the school were both located on the hillside overlooking the tiny town.
When they blew ashore, the wind-driven rains of winter churned the waters of the bay, created boiling cauldrons in the coves and lashed the weather-beaten cottages on the cliffs. The squalls were often separated by periods of bright, chilly sunlight and crisp, intensely clear air. There was an energy in winter that was very different from the moody, atmospheric, fog-bound summers, she thought.
The evening was still clear. From her perch on the balcony she could see straight across the curving expanse of the semi-circular bay to where a cluster of lights marked the location of the small town and the marina. Another string of lights identified the pier.
The sweeping arc of Bayview Drive followed the edge of the rocky beach. The road started just outside of town near Hidden Cove, which marked the northern tip of the bay. It linked the tiny community to the beach houses and cottages scattered loosely about on the bluffs. It continued past her parents’ summer place and beyond Dreamscape, to terminate at Sundown Point, the bay’s southern boundary.
It was a familiar landscape, Lillian reflected, one she had known all of her life. She had not spent a lot of time here in recent years, but that did not affect the strong sense of connection that had swept through her earlier this afternoon when she drove into town.
For three generations Hartes had been a part of this community. Their roots went deep here; as deep as those of the Madison men.
She hugged herself against the brisk night air. “Aunt Isabel knew all along that you and Rafe were meant for each other.”