A Chain of Pearls

by

Raemi A. Ray

The last thing she wants is to dig up the past…

When the body of a celebrated journalist is fished from the Edgartown Harbor, the official report rules his death accidental. But why was he alone on a senator’s yacht during a nor’easter? That’s only the first question London-based lawyer Kyra Gibson has when she arrives on the idyllic island of Martha’s Vineyard to settle her estranged father’s affairs.

She’s not looking for closure. She’s not seen him in decades since he left her with her aunt following her mother’s death. But as Kyra delves deeper into her father’s life, she learns he had many regrets and wasn’t as retired as she believed. The more Kyra discovers, the more questions she has. With the help of world-weary detective, Tarek Collins, they uncover a web of intrigue and corruption involving a powerful senator, a dubious energy company, and brutal murder.

As they chase down clues, Kyra and Tarek flirt with danger and race against time to solve the murders and uncover the dark secrets lurking beneath Martha’s Vineyard’s picturesque façade of old money wealth and privilege.

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Chapter One

Sunday

Kyra Gibson tightened her grip on the rails of the Island Home as it pulled into the harbor at Vineyard Haven. The ferry’s horn blared, notifying the passengers to return to their vehicles. Kyra hesitated, wanting a glimpse of the island her father had made his home nearly five years ago. The dock looked weather-beaten, the boarded-up, cedar-planked buildings just beyond, desolate under April’s gray afternoon sky. A chill snaked down her spine, and Kyra pulled her leather jacket tight around her shoulders. She descended into the belly of the ferry and returned to the warmth of her rented SUV. With a deep, steadying breath, Kyra prepared to disembark.

She guided the SUV off the boat and into a small village consisting mostly of closed shops and cafés. “Turn left onto Vineyard-Haven Edgartown Road,” her GPS barked. Deeper into the island, the town gave way to farms and spindly pine woods. The apprehension she’d been ignoring for weeks, resurfaced. Am I right to have come?

Make a U-turn!

Kyra cursed. She’d passed the turnoff. “How did he even find this friggin’ place?” she muttered. Looping back, she spotted the gravel drive and pulled up to a large house surrounded by a thicket of pine and brush. The house, a traditional New England colonial, was painted white with black trim. Empty flower boxes hung below shuttered windows. The garden beds were well cared for. Someone had spread fresh mulch and pruned back the rhododendrons and hydrangeas.

She parked next to a blue Range Rover. Taking a deep breath, she opened her door and stepped out from the safety of her rental car. The air was heavy with briny moisture. The damp clung to her hair and clothes. Kyra shivered. She gripped the key the lawyer had sent. Its spiny blade dug into her palm. She squared her shoulders and walked up the porch stairs, pausing before the door. Her breathing turned shallow.

She had never expected to be here. But she also thought she’d see him again. She’d thought she had time. Kyra unlocked the front door. It swung open, and she stepped into her dead father’s house.

In a stark contrast to the bleak weather, the interior of the house was bright and airy with tall ceilings and lots of glass. She scanned the open living space, her attention drawn to the wall of windows at the back. Kyra’s eyes went wide. The view was stunning. From her position just inside the entryway, she could see the sloping lawn and dark, swirling water below.

“Crackatuxet,” a voice piped up from behind her, and Kyra whirled around. A woman had appeared on the threshold, almost out of thin air. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. The pond down there, it’s called Crackatuxet Cove.” The woman held out her hand. “I’m Grace. Grace Chambers. I live next door. Mr. Entwistle, your father’s lawyer, said you’d be coming over on the ferry. He asked if I could check in on you.”

Kyra’s brow creased with confusion, as she stared at the woman. Kyra blinked, then accepted the offered hand.

“I’m Kyra. Umm, yes, the key worked. Thank you.” Grace’s handshake was firm, her smile warm.

Grace dropped her hand and pointed to the windows. “Beyond the cove to the south is the Atlantic. You’ll hear the waves and wind at night. It can get pretty rough this time of year. Don’t worry, though. Those are all hurricane panels and can withstand pretty much anything.”

“I didn’t see another house.” Kyra tried not to sound suspicious but wondered where Grace Chambers had come from.

“Oh, we’re just to the right, behind those scrub pines. There’s a little path through the trees.” Her voice had softened, and she gave Kyra a sympathetic look. “We were close friends of your dad’s and saw him often enough that we wore a shortcut between the houses. I’m so very sorry for your loss.”

Kyra nodded. Grace Chambers was probably in her sixties with a perfectly styled blond bob and dressed casually in designer trousers and a cashmere turtleneck under a down puffer vest that did not seem warm enough for the chilly weather.

Grace didn’t wait for a response and with another bright smile stepped into the house. “So, let me give you the tour. I can show you the thermostat, the fireplace, the water, and get you all acquainted.”

“You know about all of that?” Kyra asked, following Grace as she made her way through the living area and kitchen.

“Oh, sure.” Grace gave an emphatic nod. “My wife sold this property to your father, and we’ve been over hundreds of times over the years. We even helped Ed with the renovation.”

Kyra’s chest tightened. Grace was describing a familiar and warm relationship with a man she had barely known. Kyra’s face was a mask, concealing the tines of jealousy and irritation that pricked her whenever Ed Gibson was mentioned.

Grace opened a door in the kitchen. “Down here is the basement. There’s storage, the wine cellar, and the utility room.” Kyra followed Grace down the narrow staircase and along a hallway. “The maintenance team should have been here earlier this week to make sure the HVAC system was up and running. It still gets cold at night, so you may need the heat.” Grace tried the knob on a door at the end of the hall, but it wouldn’t move. She frowned and tried again. Locked. Grace gave Kyra a sheepish look. “That’s strange. I’ll let Char know, and we can get you the key. I’ll show you the rest of the house.

“The house has three bedrooms, all upstairs.” Grace pointed to the staircase on the other side of the house. “The primary suite is at the back. It has glass walls, like the living room. If the waves bother you, you may prefer one of the guestrooms. They’re quieter.” Grace strode through the living room and stopped in front of two doorways. “That door goes to the garage.” Grace pointed to a closed door. “And this…” Grace pushed open a set of French doors. “This was Ed’s study.”

Kyra followed Grace into her father’s study and looked around. Like the rest of the house, this room also had floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a view of the cove below, but unlike the other rooms’ white walls and sparse, contemporary furnishings, this room was filled with crap. Everywhere. Collected from Ed Gibson’s life as a news correspondent. Kyra recognized some of her father’s things from when they had shared a life years ago. Turkish rugs, Afghan bowls, a wooden elephant he’d brought back from a highway tourist shop in Tanzania. In the center of the room, facing the windows, sat the large desk her mother had found in an antique shop in a small village outside of Nimes, France. An armchair laden with papers was positioned in front of a stone hearth surrounded by built-in bookcases exploding with books. This was the Ed Gibson Kyra remembered. Chaotic and messy and full of life.

Her eyes fell to the desk, covered in papers and old issues of the Boston Globe, Washington Post, and New York Times. Among the clutter was a brightly colored, handmade, ceramic dish Kyra recognized as one of her art projects from when she was a child, maybe seven. She’d made it at school and gave it to her dad for Father’s Day. Her eyes lingered on the dish. It held more junk—key fobs, coins, paperclips, and a gold medallion about three inches in diameter, molded with the bust of Benjamin Franklin. Kyra pulled her eyes from the coin, realizing Grace was watching her. Her phone pinged with a text message, and she pulled it from her back pocket.

“Call me ASAP!”

“I’m sorry, it’s a work thing.” She gestured toward her phone.

“Oh, of course.” Grace pointed to the desk and the nest of wires coming from the wall. “The phone and internet should be on, so you should have no trouble there, though cell service on the island is spotty. Here’s our number. If you need anything at all, call us.” She grabbed a Post-It from a stack on the desk and jotted down her number. “And please come over to our house this evening for dinner. Char would love to meet you.”

Kyra protested, but Grace interrupted her. “No, please, I insist. We were so shocked and heartbroken when we heard about his accident. I can’t bear the thought of you in this big house alone on your first visit. Just come through the path, there.” She waved in the fireplace’s direction as if that clarified where a path would be. “We’ll expect you at six-ish.”

Kyra’s phone pinged again and another three times with more messages. Kyra glanced at her phone’s screen, then back at her neighbor.

Grace beamed. “Wonderful. We’ll see you at six,” she called over her shoulder and flittered out of the study.

When Kyra heard the front door latch closed, she dialed her office.

“Gibs!” a man answered on the first ring. Kyra grimaced at the nickname. “About bloody time. Where are you?”

“I’m in the States, Assaf. I’m here to settle my dad’s estate.”

Her boss went quiet, and Kyra could picture him frowning, trying to remember the conversation they’d had only last week.

“Right.” He cleared his throat, and Kyra heard him shuffling papers. “When’s the service? Should I have an arrangement sent?” What he meant was, when will you be back?

Kyra ignored his first question. “My flight back is booked the Thursday after next.” She walked behind Ed’s desk, taking in the disarray.

Assaf made a strangled voice in the back of his throat. “What about the Omega account?”

“It’s handled. We don’t expect anything to come in until the end of the month, and Loriann can reach me here if she needs me. She has my mobile.”

“Oh, it’s a working holiday?” Assaf’s voice brightened, and Kyra scowled. It is now.

“It’s not a holiday, Assaf, but yes, if you need anything, send it over.”

“Excellent. You’re tops, Gibs.” Assaf hung up.

Kyra slumped into her dad’s office chair and dropped her head in her hands.

Kyra stepped out of the shower and reached for the soft Turkish cotton towel hanging on a warming rack. She couldn’t help but smile. Dad appreciated the finer luxuries. After years working in the field as a respected correspondent, often living for months at a time among the people he was writing about—sometimes without power or running water, sleeping on a pallet on the floor—she supposed her father had earned the luxe linen bedsheets and soft down comforters piled high on each bed. The towel warmer might have been a bit much, but walking into the cold bedroom, she was grateful for the heated robe.

Kyra had chosen the southern guestroom toward the front of the house. It had been decorated in soft creams and ivories. An inviting peacock-blue velvet chaise was tucked under a large window overlooking the front yard. A thick rug covered the hardwood floors. Like Grace had said, from this room, unless Kyra really listened for it, she couldn’t hear the ocean. In what was clearly a theme throughout the house, and in character with her father, this room also held a bookcase chock full of books. Kyra scanned the titles on the bindings and was surprised it contained several she’d owned as a child—The Black Stallion, Nancy Drew, and even children’s books like The Velveteen Rabbit and Puff the Magic Dragon. She pulled The Complete Sherlock Holmes from the shelf and flipped it open. Her name was scrawled on the title page in the bubbly print of a twelve-year-old girl. She re-shelved it, her finger lingering on the spine. Seeing her childhood things carefully displayed was disorienting. She wasn’t sure what it meant or if it meant anything at all. Her father had cleaned out their apartment after her mother died, but she hadn’t known he’d kept any of her things.

She zipped open her suitcase and pulled on clean jeans and a thick sweater. She unpacked. From her bag, she pulled the papers she’d printed off before leaving London. She was here to arrange for the sale of Ed Gibson’s personal items, then the house itself. There were things she probably should give away to friends and family. If there’s anyone who cares enough to want anything. Her eyes fell on the bookcase. If Grace was evidence, though, it looked like her father had made a nice, comfortable life here. Kyra gritted her teeth, envisioning dinners filled with laughter, her father captivating Grace and her family with his animated storytelling in front of a warm fire or drinking sparkling wine on a crowded beach. She took a deep breath, making an effort to abate her anger and resentment. I can’t begrudge him for enjoying his retirement. She attempted diplomacy. He deserved it after his long and hard career. She just wished he’d paid her half as much attention as he had his retirement plan.

Kyra left her room to explore the house and found herself in the kitchen. Her stomach reminded her how hungry she was. She hadn’t eaten since she’d left London, rushing from the airport to the car-rental service and driving to the Woods Hole ferry terminal. She checked the fridge. To her surprise, it contained a bowl of fresh fruit and a small jar of cream. There was a Post-It note stuck on the bowl and in elegant cursive it read: Dinner at 6!  Grace. Kyra smiled despite herself. She’s relentless. The oven clock read 5:15 p.m. She drummed her fingers on the fridge door. Do I have enough time to start clearing out one of the rooms? She was surprised that she was actually considering going. I am hungry, she rationalized as she headed to Ed’s office.

She stopped in the doorway. It was a jarring experience, leaving the clean crisp lines of the modern living room and entering the dark, cluttered study. The room was chilly, and she turned on the gas fireplace. The flames leaped and danced around the faux logs, throwing off heat and giving a realistic-enough impression of a wood-burning fire. She sat at her father’s desk and shuffled through the papers. Besides the months’ old issues of national and local newspapers, the pile also contained copies of transcripts from what she thought might be investor calls from a company called Wetun Energy Industries. Rubbish.

She pushed the papers to the side and flipped through the stack of mail—bills, coupon mailers, catalogs, invitations to community events … junk mail. Where’s his laptop? His phone? She opened the drawers, shuffling the contents. Not there. She moved about the room, checking the side tables and various piles of bric-à-brac. Nothing. He probably had his phone on him when he had the accident, she thought, surveying the room. It might have been lost. But his computer? She racked her brain. Did anyone tell her about items they’d found on him? His wallet? She fetched her own laptop from her bag and booted it up, looking for the email from the lawyer.

Dear Ms. Gibson,

I regret to inform you that your father, Mr. Edward Gibson, has recently died in a tragic accident. My firm represents your father’s estate, and we have attempted to reach you via phone and at your office unsuccessfully. Please contact me at your earliest convenience to discuss the particulars.

Sincerely,

Augustin Entwistle, Esq.

She’d received the email three months ago, nearly a week after her father’s body had been found. She hadn’t noticed how businesslike and impersonal the tone of it was. Not unlike correspondence she’d written hundreds of times, herself. Detached. Efficient. Cold. When she had finally gotten in touch with Mr. Entwistle, the lawyer had been vague about the details of the accident. Her father, she learned, had drowned after falling from a boat docked in a Martha’s Vineyard harbor. Kyra hadn’t asked many, or any, questions. She’d convinced herself that boat accidents were the norm on an island, especially during the holidays.

Looking back, she knew she’d been, was still, irrationally angry. Last summer, he’d asked her to visit for the Christmas holidays. He’d texted her weekly for a month. She’d ignored him every time. Then he’d died. She didn’t know whether she was angry with her father or herself. Perhaps both.

Her subsequent conversations with the lawyer had been perfunctory. He provided her with Ed’s will, and in accordance with his wishes, there was no service, and Kyra was only contacted to finalize the bequest and the sale of the house—if she did not want it for herself. Mr. Entwistle had assured her she need not come to the island at all. That he could have everything arranged and would ship those items that were not to be sold or thrown away to her in London. Originally, she’d accepted the offer. It relieved her of the hassle of taking time off of work and traveling to a remote island off the coast of New England, but the judgmental looks, only thinly veiled by exclamations of concern from her friends and colleagues, eventually guilted her into calling Mr. Entwistle and seeing to the estate’s affairs herself.

She planned to help go through her father’s possessions, sign the papers to sell the house, and distribute the estate, then return to London as quickly as possible. Mr. Entwistle had sounded relieved when she’d notified him of her change in plans. He’d sent her an inventory of items her father had instructed to be packed and sent to her and her aunt but assured her she could make any additions or changes as, of course, this was all hers now.

The list of things her father had wanted her to have was eclectic, including various books she could have purchased anywhere, some of her mother’s jewelry, art pieces of questionable value, and other odds and ends. Conspicuously missing from the list of items her father thought she would cherish were the professional awards embodied in sculptures, plaques, and medallions he’d received throughout his decorated career. The deep-seated resentment of being virtually abandoned by her father so he could live and report on other people’s tragedies while his own daughter was left to grow up alone in England resurfaced. He’d prioritized his job, represented by those awards, above all else, and now, when that was all that was left of him and his legacy, he’d instructed them to be thrown away.

Kyra sucked in her cheeks and punched out an email to Mr. Entwistle, inquiring about her father’s laptop and asking for confirmation of various appointments over the next few days. She rubbed her knuckles against her chest. Her gaze wandered around her father’s study, and with a frustrated sigh, she snapped shut the computer.

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping April 9, 2024

A Chain of Pearls is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-961544-89-5

April 9, 2024

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