That was almost six months ago. Since then, I'd been back to Beacon only once, and stayed for less than three hours. Leo was away—a meeting in Amsterdam or something. I couldn't remember. I'd only returned to collect some of my things, and made certain I wouldn't have to face him again. Tears trickled down my cheeks now as I realized we'd never again have the opportunity to patch up our differences. David guided the car down the long gravel approach. The house towered before us, a huge crouching lioness, impervious to wind or weather. Gardens curled around a sleeping fountain. The flagpole stood stark against the night sky, its empty rope clanking out a rhythm in the steady breeze blowing in off Lake Michigan. The only signs of life were the lights pouring from the downstairs windows, and the floods that illuminated the circular approach and portions of the carport and garage. David pulled his aging Mercedes around in front of the steps and I glanced at him, wondering what he was thinking. His face was shadowed and expressionless. I gave a mental sigh. It was this very inscrutability that had attracted me to him in the first place. David was always a paradox; a tower of unreadable complexity; a challenge to my insatiable curiosity. However, after a nine-year relationship fraught with continuous power struggles and unresolved conflicts, I had somehow lost any desire to understand him. As much as I admired him and wished I could be like him, marriage to him would be a big mistake, and I knew I was wise to break off the engagement. Still, whenever I looked at him, I felt that dull ache of loss and wished again there was some way that we could make it work.
Feeling my eyes on him, he turned and half smiled. "Here we are. I'll let you off and look after your things. Colin and Alicia are inside with Grant. They wanted to wait up for you."
He held open the door, and I sighed and stepped out. My eyes found his and, for once, our thoughts found common ground. He took me into his arms and held me close. I squeezed my eyes shut to keep the tears back, wishing I could stay there forever, safe from the confrontations waiting inside.
His lips brushed my hair, then he put me away from him. "It'll be all right," he said. "You'll see."
I nodded acquiescence and took a deep breath to bolster my wavering courage.
The great sweeping veranda of Beacon spread out before me, skirted on all sides by gleaming white steps. I mounted them with leaden feet, conscious of the stone lions crouched beneath all ten of the slim white pillars, their malevolent eyes watching me. I shivered. The ponderous, solid oak door was adorned with another lion's head, this one gripping a huge iron knocker in its mouth. I tried not to look at it, fumbling in my purse for my keys.
Without warning, the door swung open and light streamed out blinding me.
"Suzanna, dear! I thought I heard David's car. It does make such a racket. It's just as well we don't have close neighbors. They'd certainly complain, don't you think? Oh, my, you must be simply devastated! All this is just too shocking!"
"Alicia," I managed to slip in as she drew a breath. "How are you?"
I endured her embrace accompanied by the inevitable clink and chink of a dozen bangles and the smell of heavy musk I guessed she bathed in daily. Stepping past her into the foyer, I scanned the familiar surroundings, ignoring her continuing prattle.
The entrance hall was impressive, to say the least. The floor was a mirror of onyx black tiles marbled with gold. The ceiling was vaulted and decorated to excess with coffers of plaster cherubs and nymphs, all delicately gilded and framed with twining grapevines or roses. A wide staircase, carpeted in immaculate, impractical white, swept up to the second floor gallery. Near me, against the wall, a rare Grecian urn was displayed on a marble pedestal. The roses in it were wilting, and a few petals lay scattered on the floor. If Leo were here, those roses would not have been allowed to reach such a state. It was tangible proof things weren't as they should be.
Sliding double doors opened off either side of the hall—to the left onto the living room, to the right onto what we grandly referred to as the ballroom.
"You must come into the library," Alicia was saying. "Grant and Colin are waiting. No one wants to go into the den. It's too close to where it happened. The police were here for hours!"
"Why, yes! Of course, they said it was all routine, but still, it was simply ghastly with all those strangers crawling around...and the questions! Why, it makes me dizzy. You must need a drink, love, to calm your nerves."
I accompanied her down the short spacious passage, marveling anew at the vast differences between Alicia and Colin. Her propensity for the dramatic was evident under any circumstances. Even her appearance screamed Hollywood glitz. She was tall and overly thin with golden-bronze hair that frizzed riotously to her shoulders.
Her eyes were almond-shaped and made very green with tinted contact lenses. The lashes, which most certainly weren't her own, fanned out from lids defined in shades of aqua and mauve. Her nose was small and straight over a kitten mouth, her lips carefully outlined and coated with a rich tangerine gloss. Her hands were dainty with fingers made much longer by perfectly manicured nails painted to match her lipstick. A collection of gold and diamond rings winked and gleamed as she gestured erratically.
My half-brother, Colin, had met Alicia on one of his jaunts to California in the days when he was trying to be a jet setter. She was a would-be actress doing bit roles in soap operas and TV commercials to pay the rent. I couldn't guess what kind of spell she cast over Colin, but after sharing her apartment for only a few months, they drove to Los Vegas and were hastily married.
Whether by choice or at Colin's insistence, Alicia gave up her acting career almost immediately and before the year was out, she was installed at Beacon. That same year, Colin and David hatched out a plan to open a chartered fishing business. Thrilled that Colin was finally making an effort to curb his irresponsible ways, Leo loaned them the capital to get the enterprise off the ground.
I don't know exactly when Alicia started to drink, but the alcohol was beginning to leave its marks on her fine features. The makeup she used no longer hid the smudges beneath her eyes or the tiny lines at the corners of her mouth. She seemed to be growing thinner by the day so her clothes, despite being the height of fashion, hung limply on her.
Colin and David were doing reasonably well with their business from what I could tell. They acquired two new cabin cruisers, and opened a sideline canoe rental for the Pere Marquette River. It meant nothing to Alicia, however. She still lived for the day when she could return to the stage.
Alicia's unpredictable moods and incessant chatter were tolerated by everyone more out of pity than any magnanimous feeling of goodwill. It was common knowledge that Colin was jealous and viewed her career as a threat. If she blamed him, though, she never said so. Instead, she invented her own little world to live in and ignored the hopelessness of her existence. I could almost empathize with her. I knew what it was like to live under the smothering influence of a domineering man.
"Everyone is positively strung out, Suzanna." she was saying. "Poor Colin is still suffering from the shock. It was Colin and David who found him, you know. He was just floating there in the pool. They thought he was dead already, but..." She glanced sideways at me. I didn't respond, but pushed open the mahogany doors and stepped into the library.
Colin stood gazing at the bookshelves, his hands thrust into his pockets, absently jangling coins and keys. His shirt was wrinkled at the back and his curly brown hair was matted on one side.
He was every inch his mother's son. Only his short, husky build belied his paternity. His nose was thick and slightly crooked from a break that happened during his school days. His complexion was pale with strain, accentuating the shadow of stubble on his chin. Though his eyes were wide-set and colored an indistinct hazel-brown, the thick fringe of lashes softened them and made them, in my opinion, his most endearing feature.
Across the room was Grant Fenton, my father's right-hand man. He leaned against the bar, one foot propped on the chrome rail that ringed its base. He wasn't a tall man, but was well-proportioned with a broad chest and tapered waist. He was dressed in faded denims and a burgundy shirt, and like Colin, hadn't shaved. His dark brown hair was sun-streaked with auburn and stood on end as though he'd been running his hands through it. His eyes, in contrast to his weathered complexion, were a startling marine blue, and despite the lines of fatigue creasing his face, they always lit with amusement when he looked at me. It was a reflex I resented deeply.
Now his gaze unnerved me and I felt an uncontrollable blush creep up my neck to my cheeks. It would be just like him to make some sarcastic remark. Instead, he merely sloshed a healthy portion of brandy into a snifter and extended it in my direction. "Here, Suzie, you look as though you could use this."
I crossed the room and accepted the drink with a polite murmur.
"We would've called you," Colin said, perching on the arm of a chair, "but I understand your little hideaway didn't provide the modern convenience of a phone. And your cell phone wasn't working." His voice was petulant.
"I turned it off," I replied. "I wanted it that way."
I knew Colin was baiting me. I felt defensive, but refused to be drawn into a quarrel at a time like this. It seemed as though everyone was accusing me—as though my absence had somehow caused Leo's accident. I gulped a bit of the brandy and grimaced as it burned its way down my throat.
"He was such a wonderful man," Alicia piped up. Reclining cat-like on the settee, she downed the remainder of her martini and waved the empty glass at Colin. "Darling, do be a love and fetch me another. I'm simply a nervous wreck."
Colin rose to accommodate her, more out of habit I guessed, than a sense of duty.
"I still don't understand how this could've happened," I said quietly.
"Why my dear, surely David told you?" Alicia warmed to the subject. "It was all a horrible accident. You know how your father loved to swim in the evenings? Well, he must've tripped on something and hit his head on the side of the pool—"
"Oh, shut up, Alicia," Colin barked. "Dad was drunk. We all know that. He was also fully clothed, so I doubt he intended to take a 'dip.'" He handed his wife the martini and sat down beside her, roughly shoving her sprawled legs aside. She shrugged, unperturbed.
Grant was silent, intent on swizzling his brandy, but I sensed an undercurrent. What are they hiding? I looked from one face to the next, but they avoided my eyes. I opened my mouth to demand an explanation, but was put off by as David appeared in the doorway.
"I've taken your bags to your room, Suzanna," he said, oblivious to the tension. "I'll have someone bring your car back tomorrow."
For once, I was grateful for his faultless practicality and appreciated the arm he dropped around my waist, leaning into it for support.