Prologue

Prologue

A chilling breeze rippled the waves, brushing the escaping tendrils of Miss Doyle's hair against her cool cheek. The last rays of sunshine disappeared behind the iron sea and plunged the deserted shore into a gray twilight. An orange sand bucket bobbed in the shallows, forgotten. The wind picked up again. Her navy cloak whipped around worn boots. It was a desolate place after dark, the seaside. She stood there, straight and rigid, unbending, waiting. Sharp eyes scanned the obscuring horizon. White bubbling foam left on the shoreline fizzled and cracked as the waves withdrew. The howling from the wind intensified, pounding the lone figure on the beach. She didn't waver, but wrapped her coarse cloak around tighter. The pale twilight passed into moonless night, all vestiges of warmth receded into the ether, leaving nothing but the cold and the damp. Pale lips set in a hard line exhaled puffs of steam, vanishing into the night air. The chill set in and like the dark, it blanketed the solitary woman. The waves crashed upon the shore, each second passed without movement. Suddenly, a blinding flash of light, she was bathed in warm yellow, her head jerked sharply to the left and it was gone. The speeding car vanished behind the curve in the road, leaving Miss Doyle in pitch black darkness, alone. She returned to her unyielding position, staring keenly at the horizon until her eyes readjusted to the gloom and she could make out the craggy rocks and white caps dotting the gray sea. It wasn't until many minutes later she heard the awaited sound of a cloak dragging across the sand. As it approached, she heard the wheezing breaths of an old man, and the unmistakable clanking of coins. Although she could make out the acute sounds over the thunderous waves she could not see the man's face as he fell to his knees in front of her. The tall, hooded figure beside the old man held out a gloved hand and introduced himself in a deep gravelly voice.

"Miss Doyle, I presume?"

She pulled her hand out from the warm depths of her cloak and shook the man's large hand, glowing skeletal white against the velvety black. Looking up at his obscured face she replied in a crisp voice, "Quite right. You are late."

The man's hands disappeared into his cloak for an instant, and he withdrew a small bundle the size of a cricket ball. He exchanged it for a square of paper. With the interaction over, she tightened her cloak and lifted her chin. Casting a cold look at the man crouched on the sand she asked, "Who's that?"

The dark man waited to for the wailing of the wind to subside before answering.

"A witness."

He grabbed the old man by the shirt and forced him up. She saw a flash of a pale, stubbly face worn thin before he turned to totter off. The tall man tipped his hat and stalked off, leaving her alone again. With the bundle safely stowed in the folds of her cloak, Stella Doyle began her brisk walk back to town. Her boots tapped smartly against the asphalt. Her cloak swished importantly with each step. As she entered the outskirts of the small seaside village she opened her cloak and rearranged her hair, loosening the bun. With each square of light reflected on the road, her stalk became more of a saunter, and her hardened face relaxed into a pleasant smile. Her demeanor changed so drastically that by the time she reached the small building with a small sign displaying the words "Madam Smith's Boarding House for Proper Young Women" one wouldn't have been able to identify her as the rigid figure standing alone on the seaside that night.

Chapter 1

A pleasant Saturday dawned bright and early in the town of Captain's Cove. The quaint seaside town was in full holiday swing. Carloads of young families came through everyday for a beach picnic, or relaxing walk about the village. Screaming children clad in pinstriped bathing suits splashed in the sparkling water while carefree mothers and fathers lounged on different colored towels along the beach. Melvin's Ice Cream Stand's red and white striped awning beckoned the fun loving crowd on particularly hot days. The giggling and laughing carried into the town, where young couples and holiday-makers shopped at Lady's Boutique and Cummings' Book Store. Hamilton's Hotel stood majestically at the end of Main Street. Each day, people checked in and out of the hotel, driving up in their Aston-Martins and toting their weekend carpet bags. The elegant lady guests wearing gleaming white frocks and ostentatious new hats would be kindly helped up the stairs by young Warren Beady or Martin Collins, while the bustling gray men would showily stow their keys and check the time before checking in for the two night stay with complementary breakfast. Such was the cycle of Captain's Cove. It was a relaxing retreat for the rich of the city; a quiet, seaside getaway for those who found life in the great urban towns too fast-paced to deal with on the weekends. People would check in, and check out, come and go. A holiday maker would never notice the residents of such a town. The residents in turn, would never care about the holiday makers. Life would continue uninterrupted by the flux of people. The single young ladies who worked at the restaurant, hotel, or stores lived at Madam Smith's Boarding House for Proper Young Women tucked towards the end of town. Their social engagements and calendars were just as full as the city girls who looked down upon them with disdain. The children of shopkeepers were bussed into the city for school each day, and learned just as much and were just as bright as the whining sons and daughters of the city folk.