Page 15

She opened her front door to step out and check the weather.

Sheer panic seized her.

She was staring at a face. At a woman her own height. She nearly screamed at the top of her lungs.

But she managed not to. Then she gritted her teeth, fury replacing abject fear.

The blond wig was slightly askew, the part somewhere over the ear. The dummy was arranged at an odd angle, one arm raised as if it were double jointed.

“Assholes,” she muttered. Then she said it more loudly, just in case the culprits were hanging around to catch her reaction. They were probably somewhere like a pack of adolescents, waiting for her to scream.

She swore, dragging the mannequin to the far side of the porch. “I hope it’s ruined, and I really hope whoever lent it to you charges you big bucks,” she said more loudly. “Are you guys out there?” she called. “Funny, very funny, ha-ha.”

She stood, tense and seething, for several seconds, then decided that Victor—it had to be Victor—and whoever had joined him in this prank had to pay. She dragged the dummy off the porch and across the sand, then dumped it into the water. She dusted her hands and returned to her cottage, irritated that no one seemed to have been waiting to watch her reaction. She had hoped Victor would come running from some hiding spot, alarm on his face when he saw she was about to destroy the mannequin.

In the cottage, a sense of satisfaction guiding her, she poured a cup of coffee and wandered back into the bedroom, planning to catch a bit of the morning news.

As she reached the near side of the bed, she came to a halt, a feeling of deep apprehension seeping into her.

She looked down at the rag rug that lay beside the bed and beneath her bare feet.

It was soaked. A glacial chill began to sweep through her. She closed her eyes. Don’t panic, she told herself. One of those idiots got in here, too. That’s all it is.

No. They couldn’t have known about her dream. They couldn’t have known she had seen the walking dead woman, heard her warning.


She groaned, sinking down on the bed.

It was then that she began to hear the shouts and the bloodcurdling scream. She raced outside, her fingers locked around her coffee cup.

From the cottage next to hers, Thor Thompson had emerged, as well.

He was looking down at the beach, a fierce frown knitting his brow.

“What the hell?” he breathed.

She looked over at him, then at the cluster of people down by the water, hovering around something she couldn’t quite make out.

Her heart sank. Bethany was down by the water. So were Marshall and Bert, the owner of the resort. Lizzie and Zach were there, too, staring down at the mysterious form.

“Call 911!” she heard Marshall bellow.

“What…?” Genevieve said.

“It’s a body,” Thor said, watching the shore, not even glancing her way. “They’ve found a body.”

“Oh, God! No, it’s not a real body. One of those idiots was playing a joke on me with a mannequin. I dumped it in the water.”

He glanced at her, his frown deepening.

“No. It’s a corpse.”

“It’s not, I’m telling you!”

He shook his head, as if he should have been aware before speaking that she wasn’t sane. Then he started to sprint toward the group by the water.

She set her cup on the porch railing and started toward the water herself, ready to point out to them that they were all victims of a cruel joke—just as she had been.

“Don’t you see—” she began, brushing impatiently by Bethany.

But then she saw for herself.

It was no mannequin lying on the shore, tiny crabs crawling over it, seaweed draping it.

It was a woman’s body.

Mottled, gray…eaten away in places. She lay faceup, her sightless eyes turned toward the cottages.


F or hours there was no discussion about anything other than the body found on the beach. They were horrified, saddened—and glad. The woman had been a stranger. She had been brought into their lives by her death, but they hadn’t known her in life.

By ten o’clock the body had been removed. Despite the excitement previously generated by finding the coin, they were breaking off operations for the day. The discovery of the body was a police matter. None of them had known the woman, and as yet, no one even knew who she was. Still, with detectives and forensic units combing the beach and the docks, yellow crime-scene tape everywhere, and the police struggling to keep curious tourists and locals at bay, there was too much confusion going on and no point trying to work.

Hours passed. None of them left the tiki bar unless they were asked to talk to Jay or one of his officers.

Jack—who had actually been the first one to see the body—had spoken with Jay Gonzalez the longest, while the others had provided what they could, which was pretty much nothing.

The woman had been in the water several days, at least, before she had washed up on the beach. Where she had gone in, no one knew. In the next few days, forensic techs and medical examiners would analyze clues on and in the body, as well as currents and tidal patterns, trying to discern just where she might have gone in to arrive on the beach where she had.

A computer image was already being created from a photograph of her face. It would be shown on the evening’s news, not just locally but all over Florida, and ultimately, around the country if necessary, and with luck they would soon know her identity.

Though the police hadn’t made any announcements as yet, Thor was pretty sure he knew part of her story. Ragged marks at her ankles indicated that she’d been tied to some kind of weight—alive or dead, he didn’t know. A medical examiner would be able to answer that question, however.

“Boy, and we all thought you were seeing things,” Jack said suddenly, looking at Genevieve.

She had been deep in thought and started when he spoke to her.


“Well, you saw a woman in the water. And there was a woman in the water,” Jack said.

Thor thought at first she would nod—not pleased, because who could be pleased by such a circumstance?—but at least glad she hadn’t been crazy.

But she just stared back at Jack.

“Though God knows, we all searched exactly where you had been, and we couldn’t find her,” Jack said.

“Maybe she lodged in the coral somewhere,” Victor said. “But I don’t see how.” He looked glum and quiet.

Genevieve hadn’t offered an opinion. She had turned toward the beach where police and bystanders were still milling. Only the little patch of sand where the body had actually lain was still cordoned off.

“Amazing,” Lizzie murmured.

Genevieve turned her attention back toward the group. “I wonder what happened to the mannequin,” she said, staring at Victor.

He flushed, then frowned. “Who told you what we were planning?” he asked, staring accusingly at Jack.

“Hey! I didn’t say a word,” Jack protested, adjusting his big skull-and-crossbones earring. “I thought we all decided not to do it.”

“We did,” Alex said.

“So how did you know what we were up to?” Victor asked. Thor was surprised to feel a sense of growing unease. So that was what she’d been talking about, spouting about a dummy when there was a pathetically dead woman lying on the beach.

Genevieve stared at him, shaking her head. “You asshole, Victor! When I woke up, there was a mannequin on my porch, right in front of the door, waiting to greet me. I threw it in the water.” She looked decidedly uncomfortable.

“She became real,” Bethany whispered.

“Oh, good God,” Marshall groaned. “What the hell is the matter with all of you? Victor, did you put a mannequin on Genevieve’s porch?”

“I swear to God, I didn’t,” Victor protested.

“Oh, yeah? Well she was there,” Genevieve said flatly.

“I didn’t do it,” Victor protested, staring at her. “Alex said it would be cruel. I just thought it would give you a jolt, make you laugh, get you over the whole thing.”

“Yeah, right. Get her over it,” Zach said, fingers curling around his wife’s as he gave her a grim smile. “It’s bizarre, though, isn’t it? Somehow, Genevieve saw a woman in the water, and now…”

“Damn,” Victor said, shaking his head. “I was diving with her and didn’t see her.”

“We all went into the water and didn’t find the…the woman,” Alex said.

“I sure as hell didn’t see anything,” Bethany agreed.

“The sea is amazing,” Lizzie reminded them. “What she can do—the secrets she can hide. But we should have been able to find that woman.”

“Hey, the police divers went in, too,” Zach pointed out. “The fact is, no matter how well we think we know it, the sea is huge, the coral is treacherous…things disappear. Hell, we’re looking for a ship that no one has seen in nearly two hundred years.”

“There you go,” Jack said to Genevieve. “And we all gave you such a hard time.”

She offered him a wisp of a smile. “Excuse me, you all. It looks like that reporter we’ve been dodging all morning is heading back in this direction. I’m going to get out of here. If we’re off for the day, I’ve got errands to run.”

She headed back for her cottage. Thor quickly rose, as well. “Yeah. It’s become a good day for errands.”

Marshall groaned, rubbing his bald head, a sure sign that he was irritated. “Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe we should be out on the water.”

“Aren’t we supposed to be listening to another one of Sheridan’s speeches?” Alex asked, grinning. “About ships. And how they break apart in the water. As if we’re all two-year-olds.”

“If you were going to steal a mannequin and put it on Genevieve’s porch, you all are like two-year-olds!” Marshall chastised.

“Hey, we didn’t do it!” Victor protested.