Kelsey stood outside the family mausoleum she hadn’t seen since her mother’s funeral.
It was while they were there, with Liam not far from her, that she felt a strange touch.
It was a comforting touch, as if someone had reached out to stroke her cheek gently. She heard a voice speak softly.
“He rests in peace. He was a good man, and he has now entered into the final great adventure, where he will do well.”
She turned around, looking for the speaker who had given her the kind words. Liam was to her left, having just spoken softly to Katie. Sean O’Hara, Katie and Vanessa were just behind her, a respectful step back.
Katie, however, was frowning.
At someone who wasn’t there.
She found herself closing her eyes and trying to feel the air around her. Silly. There was nothing there, and she had imagined the words, or a friend had come close….
The service finished. She went to throw a rose on the grave, and others followed suit. Cutter Merlin’s coffin was carried into the mausoleum by representatives from the funeral home, Liam, David, Ted and Jonas.
The grave would be sealed later. People she knew, and people she didn’t know, came by to squeeze her hand and remark that Cutter had been an extraordinary human being. Jamie O’Hara was there, assuring his nephew and niece to take their time; he had others working, as they’d arranged for a good Irish sendoff for Cutter at O’Hara’s, a celebration of the life he had lived.
Alice and Esther Beckett came to her, supported by David and Liam.
“Oh, child! It was a wonderful service,” Alice said.
“Nonsense, my dear,” Esther told her. “Cutter was a blessed man, living all those years, and really living while he could. Too many old geezers—ah, well, hmm, like Alice and myself!—have given up on adventure. You be proud of Cutter, and all that he did!”
“I am very proud,” Kelsey assured them.
“And you come see us, dear, promise?” Esther asked.
Alice took her hands. “Oh, Kelsey, dear! You are just beautiful, even more beautiful than your sainted mother, may she rest in peace. Thank God you’ve come home to us. Liam, didn’t I tell you once? I knew that Kelsey would come home to us. Remember, dear, we must never live for the past. Only for the present, and a bit for the future.”
Esther grinned wickedly. “Right now, I’m believing in the present. At my age, dear, one doesn’t count on a future.”
“Oh, Esther, we all pray you’ll be with us much, much longer!” Liam said.
She smacked him sharply on the arm. “A few good years, my boy. Then you’ll gracefully let me go. Now, you two young people come to see us, you hear? Where is my dear Betsy? She’ll see us home.”
Betsy was the woman working for them. She was young, kind, had glossy dark skin and spoke with a beautiful and melodic Bahamian accent. She gave Kelsey condolences and led her charges away, Liam assisting them over the ground of the cemetery.
More people came to offer their sympathy and welcome, Joe Richter among them. He frowned, taking her hands. “Kelsey, I’ve heard about that guitarist fellow being found dead on the property. You might want to stay somewhere else while… Well, I just don’t know how safe that house is, young lady!”
“Why?” she asked him.
“Well—the fellow was dead, Kelsey!”
“I don’t know if I ever knew him, Mr. Richter. I doubt if it had anything to do with the house or me, really.”
He shook his head, unhappy. “It’s a strange place, Kelsey.”
She found herself remembering that he had said he hadn’t seen her grandfather in months while his secretary had said that he’d been out recently. She made a mental note to mention the fact to Liam.
It was right after Jamie O’Hara stopped by to give his condolences and kiss her cheek that she noticed Katie, David, Sean, Liam and Vanessa standing over by the Beckett mausoleum. They all seemed to be in the midst of a strange conversation, talking and yet not seeming to be looking at one another. It was bizarre, and she wanted to walk over, but others kept coming by, and she couldn’t be rude enough to ignore what seemed to be sincere sympathy.
Liam looked up, as if he knew she was watching him. He smiled and waved.
But they all looked so odd. As if they were talking to air.
It was a cemetery. Maybe they were talking to ghosts.
She thanked a stranger for his kind words and made her escape. But before she got across the cemetery to see them, she heard her name being called.
“Kelsey, Kelsey, my poor, dear girl!”
She turned around, stunned to see her partner, Avery Slater, tall, handsome, muscled and as well-dressed as ever, racing across the cemetery to her.
“Avery!” she managed.
He reached her, wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. He drew back, studying her face. “My poor, poor, Kelsey. I’m sorry I’m late. But I’m here now. And I’ll stand by you. Everything is going to be all right, my love. He passed in the right time. He had a long life.”
“Avery. You’re here,” she said.
“Well, of course, I’m here. You’re my partner,” he said.
Kelsey noticed the group over by the Beckett mausoleum. They were all staring at her, and it looked as if they had received a group Botox injection, they appeared so surprised.
“Come on, you need to meet some of my old friends,” she told him. She remembered to hug him, then reached up and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you. What you did was so sweet, so kind. But I’m really all right. Really, I’m all right. I do have friends here, Avery. Really good friends.”
“No!” he said, his dark eyes flashing. “I was by the Merlin house…your house. I saw all the crime tape. You may have friends, but now I’m here. The police wouldn’t let me near the property. They said a man was found dead on your beach today.”
“Yes, but…we don’t know what happened.”
“That house may be cursed!” he said.
“Avery, I don’t believe in houses being cursed.”
Liam reached them. He didn’t appear as stunned; he was still frowning, and obviously confused. He was followed by their entire contingent.
“You have a posse?” Avery whispered.
She began introductions. The group were wonderfully accepting and friendly—and obviously beyond curious and in awe. Well, Avery was beautiful. Simply beautiful, and because he was so perfectly sculpted, he looked rough and tough and rugged. There was no way she was going to make the announcement that she wasn’t sleeping with him to everyone close to her, that Avery was a dear friend and just that, and gay. Announcing his sexual preference was something she left to him, and he told those he chose to tell.
“So you came down to be with Kelsey now. That’s wonderful of you,” Katie said.
“She’s the best. She’s like a wife but with her own house, so I can go home if she gets in the mood to nag. And I watch out for her, of course. When we go out. You know, to bars and the like. Oh, not that she’s a boozer,” Avery said. He looked around the crowd and smiled at Liam. “So, you’re the cop. What’s going on with the body?”
“Too soon to know much. The crime-scene folk are still scouring the property, looking for any kind of murder weapon. There were a couple of break-ins at the house before Kelsey got here, but we’ve secured the house itself now. We’ll find out what happened,” Liam assured him. “Now, I believe, we should get over to O’Hara’s.”
“O’Hara’s?” Avery asked.
“My uncle’s friendly neighborhood pub,” Katie told Avery. “The reception.”
“Of course,” Avery said. He paused for a minute. “I have a car. Am I taking it?”
It was agreed that Avery could leave his car at the funeral home for the time being. Liam made the call, and then, in a group—since the other cars were parked legally around the cemetery—they began the four-block walk to O’Hara’s.
When they got there, another good family friend, Marty, had a group of his “pirate” friends playing together as a small band. They played quietly, and they mixed laments with sonnets and soft songs that seemed to fit the bill just right; they weren’t making the room fall apart, and yet, both the fact that it was a celebration of a good life and the mourning of a passing seemed to have been met perfectly.
Kelsey was sitting at the bar, Avery at her side, Sean telling her a story about Cutter giving drifters dollar bills and hamburgers, when Katie sidled into the chair next to her.
When the story was finished and Jamie had moved on, Katie whispered, “That is surely one of the most gorgeous men I have ever seen. This is really none of my business, but…well, yes, it is—Liam is a dear friend. Wait, he will be my cousin-in-law. Were you and Avery involved?”
Kelsey looked at her and smiled. “No. Never. I’m not his type.”
“And he’s not your type?” Katie asked.
Kelsey laughed. “No.”
Katie frowned and said softly, “He’s really—just the most stunning man I’ve ever seen.”
David had come up behind her and slipped his arms around her. “The most stunning?” he teased.
Katie winced. “Almost the most stunning,” she amended.
Kelsey decided to be merciful. “I’m not his orientation,” she said.
“Well, that is a relief!” David said.
Avery turned then, grinning. “Wish the guys I fell for thought I was the most gorgeous thing in the world,” he said.
“Hey, it’s none of our business,” David said.
“Oh, hell, yes, it is—we’re very nosy,” Katie said.
“Watch out—she’s already plotting,” David warned him. “Thinking of friends who would love to meet you.”
She wasn’t sure if Liam heard the remark or not, but he came up behind her then. “I have to go, but I’ll be back as soon as possible.”