LEXI TEMPLETON'S HANDS TREMBLED AS SHE READ THE letter. Sitting on the bed in her wedding dress, in what had once been her great-grandmother's bedroom, her quick mind began to race.
Think. You don't have much time.
What would Kate Blackwell have done?
At forty-one, Lexi Templeton was still a beautiful woman. Her lustrous blond hair was untouched by gray and her slim, petite figure showed no sign of her recent pregnancy. She'd been determined to get her killer body back before her wedding. She wanted to do justice to her vintage Monique Lhullier gown, a clinging column of the finest ivory-white lace. And she had.
Earlier, the hundred or so wedding guests gathered at Cedar Hill House, the Blackwell family's legendary Maine estate, had gasped when Lexi Templeton appeared on the lawn arm in arm with her father. Talk about Beauty and the Beast. Peter Templeton, Lexi's father, once an eminent psychiatrist and one of New York's most eligible bachelors, was now an old man. Frail, bent almost double with age and grief, Peter Templeton led his beautiful daughter toward the rose-covered altar.
He thought: I can go now. I can go to join my darling Alexandra. Our little girl is happy at last.
He was right. Lexi Templeton was happy. She knew she looked radiant. She was marrying the man she loved, surrounded by family and friends. Only one person was missing. That person would never witness another of Lexi's triumphs. He would never delight in another of her failures. His life and Lexi's had been intertwined since birth, like the tangled roots of a great tree. But now he was gone, never to return. Despite everything that had happened, Lexi missed him.
Can you see me, Max, darling? Are you watching? Are you sorry now?
For a moment, Lexi Templeton felt a pang of loss. Then she laid eyes on her husband-to-be, and all her regrets evaporated. Today was going to be perfect. The cliche. The fairy tale. The happiest day of her life.
The president of the United States was unable to make the wedding. There was a small matter of a war in the Middle East. But he sent a congratulatory telegram, which Lexi's brother, Robbie, read aloud when the newlyweds cut the cake. And everybody else was there. Captains of industry, prime ministers, kings, movie stars. As chairwoman of the mighty Kruger-Brent, Ltd., Lexi Templeton was American royalty. She looked like a queen because she was one. She had it all: great beauty, immense wealth and power that stretched to the four corners of the globe. Now, thanks to her new husband, she had love, too.
But she also had enemies. Powerful enemies. One of whom was determined to destroy her, even from beyond the grave.
Lexi read the letter again.
I know what you've done. I know everything.
The net was closing in. Lexi felt the fear churn in her stomach like curdled milk.
There must be a way out of this. There's always a way. I will not go to prison. I will not lose Kruger-Brent. I will not lose my family. Think!
A few hours earlier, the governor of Maine made a speech about Lexi at the reception.
"...a remarkable woman, from a remarkable family. Lexi Templeton's personal courage and integrity are known to all of us. Her spirit, her determination, her business acumen, her honesty..."
Honesty? If only they knew!
"...these make up the public face of Lexi Templeton. But today, we're here to celebrate something else. A very private joy. A very private love. And a love that those of us who know Lexi know she so richly deserves."
Lexi thought: None of you know me. Not even my husband. I don't "deserve" his love. But I fought for it, and I won it, and I'm damned if I'm going to let anyone take it away from me. Least of all you.
Now most of the guests had gone. Lexi's brother, Robbie and his partner were still downstairs. So was Lexi's baby daughter, Maxine, and the nanny. Any moment now Lexi's husband would come looking for her. It was time to leave for their honeymoon.
It was time...
Lexi Templeton walked over to the window. Beyond the formal lawns of Cedar Hill House she could see the closely huddled white roofs of Dark Harbor, and behind them the dark, brooding sea. This evening the roiling water looked unusually ominous.
It's waiting. One day it will swallow the island whole. A big wave will come and wipe everything out. As if none of this ever existed.
Two men in suits got out of a car and approached the security gate. Even before they pulled out their badges, Lexi Templeton knew who they were. It was just like it said in the letter: The police are on their way. You have no way out, Alexandra. Not this time.
Tears stung the back of Lexi's eyes. She could hear her aunt Eve's voice as clearly as if she were still alive, taunting her, laden with spite. Was she right? Was this really it? The end of the game? After all Lexi's struggles? She remembered a Dylan Thomas poem she'd learned at school: "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Damn right I'll rage. I'll not let that old witch beat me without a fight.
The cops were through the gate now. They were almost at the door.
Lexi Templeton took a deep breath and went downstairs to meet them.