From a New York Times –bestselling author: An island off the Georgia coast holds the memory of a broken heart and the secrets of a woman’s past. It’s been years since Lacey Ames last saw Hampton Island, where she grew up amid the sandy marshes with her childhood sweetheart, Giles Severn, and her cousin Elise—and where Elise had stolen the man Lacey loved. Lacey never forgot the hurt and betrayal she once suffered at Giles’s grand family home of Sea Oaks, but a curious and compelling summons from Elise prompts her return. Once Lacey arrives, she realizes how little has changed. Giles is still the handsome charmer she fell in love with, and Elise is still the wily seductress whose succession of lovers has risked a family scandal. But when a series of anonymous harmless pranks turns threatening, Lacey must finally confront the past—and a decade-old secret from one haunting summer at Sea Oaks.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media Romance|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Born in Yokohama, Japan, on September 9, 1903, Phyllis A. Whitney was a prolific author of award-winning adult and children’s fiction. Her sixty-year writing career and the publication of seventy-six books, which together sold over fifty million copies worldwide, established her as one of the most successful mystery and romantic suspense writers of the twentieth century and earned her the title “The Queen of the American Gothics.” Whitney resided in several places, including New Jersey. She traveled to every location mentioned in her books in order to better depict the settings of her stories. She earned the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award in 1988, the Agatha in 1990, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1995. Whitney was working on her autobiography at the time of her passing at the age of 104.
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In my dream I ran along the gray sands of Hampton Island. I was barefoot, and the sand hampered me at every step. Yet I fled in terror, trying to escape my cousin Elise who pursued me. She called my name: "Lacey! Lacey!" and in her hand she carried a flaming torch of driftwood.
I knew that if she caught me she would set my clothes on fire, and I ran on and on, sinking ever deeper in the sand, while Elise relentlessly followed. From somewhere far back I seemed to hear Giles's voice, and knew that he would save me if he could. But he was too far away. When it seemed that fire from burning driftwood would touch my very back, I gave a little cry and wakened myself.
I sat up in bed trembling, and wrapped the sheets about my body, clutching at their smooth surface for reassurance. A pervading sense of evil remained from the dream, though I reminded myself again and again that I was not on the beach, but safely in bed. Nevertheless I was once more on the island — that Southern island which haunted my dreams and had haunted my life. I was in a room at Sea Oaks, Giles Severn's big white house that crowned a slight rise above the silver-gray ocean. The house to which he had brought my cousin Elise when he married her ten years before. The house I had once dreamed of living in, before Elise had stepped between us, before I had run away.
From the windows I could hear the rushing sound of the Atlantic that always filled Sea Oaks, and it was the same sound that I remembered from my childhood. I could listen to it and count my slowing heartbeats. Out there in the moonlight the island lay shimmering blue in the spring night as it floated on its supporting waters of river, creek, and sea. From the mainland of Georgia a causeway ran across marshes to the bridge over the Malvern River, giving onto the sandy soil of the island. To the south and north other islands rose as separate entities, but to those who lived on Hampton they scarcely existed. The right-of-way of highway and bridge were out-of-bounds territory, to be used when needed, but ignored most of the time.
A small island, Hampton, with only a few square miles of acreage, but an island with a long, stirring history, belonging to the Hamptons since the days of early English settlers. Once it had boasted a fort, of which only ruined stones remained — a defense intended to hold off the Spanish. It had done its task well and the Spaniards had been beaten back in a famous battle. Known afterward only to friendly Indians, the island's few inhabitants had lived in peace. Now, centuries later, it harbored only two remaining families, joined for more than ten years in marriage. The island was beautiful and I loved it. But not possessively like my cousin Elise. The land was neither good nor evil, though it held all good and evil within the boundaries of its circling waters, and my dream had formed out of this knowledge.
But why should I dream of Elise in the role of vengeful pursuer? I tried to shake myself fully awake. After all, I was here beneath this roof at her urgent invitation. She feared me as little as that. I had come knowing that I must face Giles again, knowing that I must see his son, Richard. I had flown from New York to Atlanta, and then to Malvern on the mainland this Friday evening. Elise had met my plane and driven me across the causeway and bridge that made Hampton a stepping-stone to other, larger islands. I knew she must have a special reason for this invitation after so long a time, but she had not yet told me what it was. And I did not particularly care.
My own need to know many things had brought me — driven me! — here. There was no cause to think that whatever she wanted might harm me. There was no reason to think of her as a vengeful pursuer. Elise had always had it all her way. She had Giles and Richard. There was no need for pursuit — or for my agonized dream flight along a beach. I reached for the lamp beside my bed and turned it on. The time was a quarter to twelve, and moonlight pressed invitingly at my windows. I lay for a few minutes longer listening to the roar of the Atlantic. The wind rattled through palm branches, but the ocean surf had a more regular rhythm, like the persistent echo of my heart. It called to me.
I slipped out of bed and went to where I could look out toward the only other house left on the island — The Bitterns. The house was not close. The ruins of the old fort and the site of its burying ground lay between, but I could see the twinkle of lights where The Bitterns stood, across this point of land, overlooking not the ocean as Sea Oaks did but a wide stretch of marsh along the river.
From the direction of the stables a horse nickered and stamped a foot. A long-familiar sound on Hampton Island. How I'd dreaded those horses, as a child. The only thing I didn't like about the island was the riding — something Aunt Amalie and her two daughters did with that curious cavalier grace and daring that I could never quite emulate.
Judging by lighted windows, Amalie Hampton, my mother's sister, must still be awake. Or perhaps it was my cousin Floria, Elise's sister, reading late at night. I could not be sure of the room from this distance, for all that I knew the house so well.
There was a longing in me to see Aunt Amalie again. Though they had never seemed alike in appearance, there were many ways in which I could see my mother in her, and over the years she had often proved herself my friend and counselor. If what I had heard about Elise was true, I needed counseling now, and I knew she would give it to me generously, even though Elise was her daughter.
Aunt Amalie and my mother, Kitty Ainsley, had grown up together on the mainland in Malvern. Once they had both been in love with Charles Severn, Giles's father, though neither had married him. Amalie had married Judge Gaylord Hampton of Hampton Island, and she had come here to live at The Bitterns, while my mother had married my Yankee father, Larry Ames, and moved to Chicago.
My mother had loved the island she had visited often as a girl, and after I was born we visited Aunt Amalie nearly every year, staying for a month at a time at The Bitterns. Aunt Amalie's younger daughter, Elise, had been close to my age, and as first cousins we were thrown together during these visits to the island. I had wanted someone close to me, I had wanted to love my only cousin, but even then Elise made affection difficult.
The Bitterns was an old plantation house — older than Sea Oaks, but far less beautiful. I had loved its very plainness and reveled in wandering its creaky halls and cool gray gloom. Aunt Amalie's husband, Judge Hampton, had died years ago, and she had raised her two daughters there — Elise and Floria. Floria was the older by four years, yet oddly enough, one always mentioned Elise first. It seemed as though Elise was Hampton Island. Eventually she would inherit it, because that was what her father wished, since Floria had never cared anything about it. Perhaps Elise had grown up destined to marry Giles Severn of Sea Oaks and have everything she coveted — the land that meant more to her than breath, and the stunningly beautiful house.
I could still wince painfully when I thought of Giles. I had not seen him in years, and I was very happy in my work as associate editor at a publishing house in New York. I told myself so, often enough. Yet still — I remembered. How could I not remember so intensely young and hurtful a love? How could I ever forget — for one moment — the terrible consequences of that remembered joy?
I had come back to Hampton on this trip knowing that I would probably see Giles, and dreading the moment when I must meet him face to face. It had been a relief to discover that he was away just now, and no one knew exactly when he would be back. Probably I would be gone before his return and need not see him at all. I was counting on this rather desperately.
As a little girl I had admired my cousin Elise a great deal. I wanted more than anything to be like her. Because she was fair and my hair was only light brown, I wanted to be blond. Because she was beautiful, I wanted a perfect little nose, a smaller mouth, and eyes that were not so large that my face was lost in them. Yet in my childhood fantasies I had left Elise out. In my make-believe I was queen of the island, and Giles was king. It's not true that children don't fall in love. There's nothing so achingly painful as childhood longing for something not altogether understood. Even when she teased me about Giles, Elise never guessed the depth of my little-girl love for the tall young boy who was Giles Severn. Oh, I was ready for him by the time I was seventeen!
Yet I could not hate Elise when she came back to the island in all her young beauty to dazzle Giles. She was only being Elise. And it was I who had run away. In my pride I had not wanted to make claims upon him. If he wanted me enough he would follow me, I thought. I had been too young to see that he might think I'd only tired of a game.
I moved from the window, restless now, knowing that I would not sleep. I had not flown here merely obedient to Elise's summons. I had come for desperate purposes of my own. Partly I had come for — what could I call it? — exorcism? To drive out a spirit that was neither good nor evil but relentless. Long ago the island had laid a spell upon me, and I had never escaped. Now I knew I must escape at last. I must be able to live my own life. I must stop gauging every man I met by Giles's measure. I wanted to be free. I wanted to forget that delight of a single month every summer when my life had seemed perfect and complete. A month when I had run wild and unfettered in the island sun, following those playmates I admired more than any I met the rest of the year. And I wanted to get over those bruising summer days when I had been seventeen and had thought so mistakenly that all life was opening up for me.
The island had damaged me. Perhaps irreparably. It had made me unfit for other places, ill-equipped for a world less enclosed, less assured than this. I had sent down psychological roots here, where no roots could thrive, and now I must pull them up forever, however ruthlessly.
Perhaps it would have been different if the severing of island ties had been natural and gradual. It had not been. My mother had died when I was eleven, and my grieving, busy father cared nothing for the soft summers at Hampton Island. Though my Aunt Amalie invited me, the visits abruptly ended and my summers were otherwise spent. The injury went deep. Yet the memory of the young Giles lasted. He had been a gallant figure to my youthful eyes, with an unfailing kindness and consideration that won me to him. I was younger than the others, and sometimes they laughed at me. But Giles had never laughed. He had given me an affection that had a certain sweetness in it. Yet he could be angry at times and quick to bristle when opposed. Gentle with me, but not always with others.
Here I was dreaming again, which was no way to pull up roots and escape so curiously antique a spell. There was a grimmer, far more painful reason which had brought me back to Hampton. I had been hearing rumors about Elise and her escapades, hearing that her marriage to Giles was not all it should be. I told myself that this had no significance for me, except in one all-important sense. I had to know the truth about what was happening to the boy, Richard. I had to know the truth, not because of Giles, but because of his son. And mine. Yes, mine. The son I had never acknowledged, and whom I'd held in my arms so briefly at the beginning of his life. I had given him up so long ago that I had no right to care desperately about him now. Yet there it was — that feeling in me that would not be uprooted, would not be extinguished.
Roaming the room, I went to the closet and looked inside. Vinnie had unpacked for me. Vinnie Taylor, who was my old and dear friend. She had been with Aunt Amalie at The Bitterns when I had visited there as a small girl, and she had come with Elise to Sea Oaks when Elise had married. I found a pair of dark green slacks and a woolly brown pullover and got into them. The spring night would be cool. I slipped low-heeled buckled shoes on my feet and tied a soft green scarf around my short hair. I was ready for the moonlit night outdoors.
The hallway was quiet, with doors closed upon those who slept. All but one door. Across from mine the door stood open and when I went near and looked in, I could hear soft breathing. Moonlight streamed through windows and touched the sleeping boy. I could not see his face — it was turned toward shadow, but I could see the bright gilt of his hair. Light brown like my own, and gilded now by the moon.
There was a longing in my arms. There was an aching I could not stifle. I would have given anything to cross that room and touch him. I would have given anything to bend my head and kiss his cheek lightly. I could not. A taboo lay upon him. Not even Giles, his own father, knew that Richard was not Elise's son, but mine. As always, when I remembered, there was a tightening under my heart.
I was shivering when I turned toward the stairs. The carpeted steps made no sound under my feet as I stole down them, following their lovely curve to the wide hallway below, where a lamp still burned. Near the foot of the stairs stood the familiar glass case which displayed the Hampton-Severn treasures. They belonged to both families, but it had been agreed long ago that Sea Oaks made the best showcase for them.
In the center of the display case stood the golden, jewel-studded pirate goblet which had been unearthed near the burying ground more than a hundred years ago. There were a few Indian artifacts as well, a dagger with a jeweled hilt, and a small jeweled brooch — again pirate treasure. The small brooch was not the famous Stede Bonnet brooch which had once rested in this place and in whose disappearance my own mother had played some mysterious role.
Once the island had been the sole property of the Hamptons — a long-ago royal grant from England when these coastal lands and sea islands were first occupied in the name of the crown and given forever to certain loyal followers. At the same time that Georgia's Darien was being settled by Scots under the old name of New Inverness, Hamptons were settling this island, giving it their name. A name that had been preserved, retained throughout the years by a strange, proud custom — until the last Hampton marriage: even when the bloodline led to a daughter, her husband would adopt the name according to pre-marriage agreement. Giles had broken with tradition by refusing to take the name of Hampton. In this Elise had not had her way. But the child had been named Richard Hampton Severn, in the hope, perhaps, on Elise's part, that he would revert to the Hampton name when he was grown.
The library occupied the front corner of the house across from the parlor, and from its door a bar of amber light fell across the polished floor. I looked into the room. Charles Severn sat in his easy chair reading one of those thick books of nonfiction with which he spent so many hours. He had grayed a little since the last time I had seen him, and I knew that his wife Marian's death more than a year ago must have been hard for him to grow accustomed to. He was still handsome to an arresting extent. The years had been kind to him.
Giles resembled his father very little. Giles's eyes were green instead of blue, and his hair was a sooty black. But the difference went far deeper. There was steel in Giles, and none in his father. Charles had always been content to sit back and let Marian run things. Now that he was semi-retired, he went to his law office in Malvern two or three days a week, working in desultory fashion on those estate matters which were put into his hands. I think he never understood his son's drive, or his capabilities. He was gently benign and had lovely manners. I had always been fond of him.
"Hello, Lacey," he said, looking up from his book. "Can't you sleep?" "I'm wide awake," I said. "I thought I'd get up and go for a walk, pay my respects to the island."
Respects were not what I wanted to pay. My purpose was to look coldly, to withstand every spell — not to respect. But this truth would not serve with Charles.
"You're looking well," he said warmly. "As though New York must agree with you."
That New York should agree with me was, I knew, a mystery to Hampton Island. I laughed softly.
"Vinnie says I'm too skinny. She says she'd like a chance to fatten me up."
Charles chuckled. "Stay a while and give her that chance."
"I wish I could." I moved about the room, looking at objects I remembered.
Excerpted from "Lost Island"
Copyright © 1970 Phyllis A. Whitney.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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