Regan Reilly shivered as she padded around the kitchen of her in-laws’ summer home. Outside, the wind was howling. Sheets of rain pelted against the house. At the sink Regan stopped and stared out the window. As far as the eye could see, whitecaps churned in the waters of Cape Cod Bay.
Regan pulled her terry-cloth bathrobe more tightly around her waist and smiled. I love this weather, she thought. There’s nothing like riding out a storm in a house like this. She and her husband, Jack, had driven up from Manhattan the night before to spend a quiet weekend in celebration of their first wedding anniversary. Arriving just as the bad weather started, they’d lit a fire in the den, poured glasses of wine, and enjoyed the basket of sandwiches and fruit and cheese Regan had prepared for the trip. They relished being alone and just doing as they pleased for the next three days. The only big plans they had were to go out for dinner on Sunday night to an award-winning restaurant on the water that had been converted from an old captain’s house and served only twelve meals a night. Apparently the chef could get a little cranky if he was asked to cook a morsel more.
The coffeemaker on the counter hissed and sputtered, firing the last few drops of freshly brewed java into the waiting carafe. That sounds so loud, Regan thought. You’d never even hear it during the summer, when the house was overflowing with Jack’s brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and assorted family friends—there was so much activity. Conversation filled the air. Someone was always attempting to tell a story or a joke without interruption. Few were successful. The days were filled with swimming and waterskiing and firing up the grill. In the evenings, everyone would gather on the big deck to watch the sunset. Thirty-nine steps down from the deck was the beach where Jack and his brothers often anchored the powerboat that they’d brought over from its spot at the marina. What a difference, Regan mused. Except for the wind and the rain and the creaking of the house and the coffeepot, this place is so quiet!
Regan poured coffee into a mug, then reached for the refrigerator door and pulled it open. She grabbed the container of skim milk that Skip the caretaker had stocked for them. Jack’s mother was in regular contact with him. A few days ago she asked him to bring in milk and juice and butter and bread when he did his weekly check on the house. Just enough for Regan and Jack to have breakfast on their first morning. The coffee smells great, Regan thought. I can’t wait to sit in the den with this cup and watch the storm. She poured the milk into the mug and stared in horror as it curdled. What? How can that be? She checked the expiration date. The milk had expired two weeks ago. Did he bring this from home? Regan wondered as she woefully poured her coffee down the sink.
Jack, freshly showered, appeared in the kitchen. “I’ll run up to the market and get the papers,” he said.
Regan turned to him and smiled. He looked so handsome. Jack was six foot two, with hazel eyes and sandy hair. He was wearing jeans and a windbreaker. “Put milk on your list.”
“I thought Skip brought in milk for us.”
“He did. Only trouble is, he managed to produce a container that expired two weeks ago.”
Jack laughed. “That kid is unbelievable. I don’t know why my mother doesn’t fire him.”
“That’ll never happen,” Regan said. “His little-boy-lost quality has made your mother feel very maternal and protective of him.”
Jack shook his head, leaned down to give Regan a kiss, and put his arms around her. “I’ll pick up some muffins. I’m not trusting that anything he bought for us is edible.” He hugged Regan tight. “It’s so great to be here alone with you. No work to distract us.”
Jack was head of the NYPD Major Case Squad. Regan was a private investigator. They had both been busy with cases that thankfully wrapped up in the past few days.
“It is going to be a wonderful weekend,” Regan said as Jack released her. “I’ll jump in the shower and look forward to your return.”
Jack laughed. “What you really want is for me to hurry back with the milk so you can have your first cup of coffee.”
“You know me so well,” Regan murmured as Jack headed for the front door.
In the downstairs master bathroom, Regan turned on the shower. The hot water felt so good on her shoulders and back. A few minutes later she pulled a pair of jeans and a sweater out of her suitcase on the bedroom floor. I don’t think I’ve ever been alone in this house, she thought. So why don’t I feel alone? She dressed, brushed her dark hair, then started to apply makeup to her pale skin. With her blue eyes, she fell into the category of “Black Irish.”
It might not be sunny outside, but I need more light, Regan thought. She stepped over to the window, fumbled for the cord, then gave it a yank. The curtains flew open.
A man in a yellow hooded slicker had his nose pressed against the glass.
It was Skip. He stumbled back. “Sorry!” he yelled.
Regan couldn’t hear the rest of what he was saying. She turned the handle of the window, which opened out.
“Sorry!” Skip yelled again through the roaring wind. “I was just checking the drainpi