JOHN MERRIVALE TIGHTENED HIS SEAT BELT and closed his eyes as the six-seater, twin-engine plane shuddered its way up through the clouds. A nervous flier at the best of times, he was terrified of these little puddle jumpers. It was like trusting your life to a lawn mower.

"Don't worry." The woman next to him smiled amiably. "It's always bumpy first thing in the morning, before the sun burns through the clouds."

John Merrivale thought, Can sun burn through clouds?, then smiled at himself for being so philosophical, today of all days.

If the lawn mower didn't fail them, they would land in Boston in twenty-five minutes.

It was 6:15 A.M.

AT 8:15 A.M., ANDREW PRESTON TOOK his seat on a different airplane. The hundred-seater Fokker 100 was only two-thirds full. I guess not a lot of people fly to New York from Nantucket on a Tuesday morning. They all left yesterday.

He had mixed feelings when he got the call late last night, telling him he was needed urgently back at the office. Peter Finch, the head of the SEC investigative team looking into Quorum's accounts, wanted some "face time." Andrew dreaded the meeting. He could think of no good reason why Finch would summon him back to New York, and quite a few bad ones. On the other hand, being away from the office made him feel hideously out of control. He believed he'd covered his tracks, but these SEC bastards were like bloodhounds.

In any case, he needed to get out of Nantucket. That guest cottage was starting to feel like a prison. After her public humiliation at dinner last night, Maria had flown into a hysterical fury, swearing and screaming at Andrew, even attacking him physically. Rolling up his sleeve now, he could still see the livid red scratch marks from her nails.

"How dare you allow Lenny Brookstein to treat us like that! He made a complete fool of me, and you sat by and did nothing."

Andrew fought back the urge to tell Maria that it was she who had started it, by trying to make a fool of Grace. Instead, he said, "What would you have me do? He's my boss, Maria. He pays our bills."

"Barely! He pays you less than his goddamn cook. Didn't you hear what he said? Doesn't that bother you?"

Andrew had heard. And it did bother him. He was 90 percent sure that Lenny was joking. If the chef was making more than he was, she was certainly overpaid. But it wasn't unheard of for Lenny's generosity to prompt some peculiar decisions. He tried to reason with himself. Why should I care what Lenny pays somebody else? It's his money, after all. He can do what he likes with it. But it still rankled. Perhaps, on some subconscious level, it justified what Andrew had done.

Maria was passed out cold when he left her this morning, exhausted from her drunken rage. When she woke up, she'd have a horrific hangover. Andrew didn't want to be within a hundred miles of her when that happened. Now he wouldn't have to be.

"Cabin crew, please be seated for takeoff."

Closing his eyes, Andrew Preston tried to relax.

GRACE MET HER SISTERS FOR LUNCH at the Cliffside Beach Club.

After their awkward encounter the day before, Connie went out of her way to be solicitous to Grace, even presenting her with a beautiful guava-pink seashell she'd discovered on the beach that morning.

"I know it's not much, but I thought it would look pretty on your dressing table."

Grace was touched. She knew how difficult Connie found apologies. The shell said more than any words.

Honor asked, "Are Caroline and Maria joining us?"

In a cream J.Crew sundress that washed her out, with her hair scraped back in a ponytail, Honor looked exhausted. Grace wondered if she and Jack had fought last night after Jack stormed out of the dining room, but was too tactful to ask.

"I don't think so. Caroline's in town looking at a painting. And Maria's still asleep, I believe."

The sisters exchanged glances. "I wonder what she wears to bed?" Connie giggled. "Spun-gold Versace pajamas?"

It was a nice, light moment. Grace finally started to relax.

The waitress came and took their order. They were sitting at an outdoor table, right on the beach, but by the time their appetizers arrived, storm clouds had begun to gather.

The manager appeared. "Would you like to move indoors, Mrs. Brookstein? I have a lovely table by the window I can offer you ladies." At that instant a loud clap of thunder made everyone jump. Seconds later, the first heavy drops of rain began to splash onto the table.

"Yes, please," said Grace, laughing. She thought about Lenny, out on the boat. I hope he's safe and dry in the cabin, not out on deck catching his death of a cold.

IT WAS ALMOST FOUR BY THE time the three sisters arrived home. By that time, the storm was in full force. Michael Gray met them at the front door.

"Thank goodness you're back," he said, hugging Connie tightly.

"We only went for lunch at the club, honey." She laughed. "Why so panicked?"

"I didn't know where you were, that's all. I thought you might have gone sailing with Jack. The conditions are awful out there."

"Jack's gone sailing?" Honor's white face turned even whiter. "Are the girls with him?"

"No," said Michael. "Don't worry. Bobby and Rose are playing Chutes and Ladders with our boys in the kitchen. They're a little bored, but other than that, they're fine."

"And Jack? Has anyone heard from him?"

"His radio's down."

Honor's knees started shaking. Jack had been an avid sailor since his teens, but a storm like this would test anybody's skill, even his.

"It's okay," said Michael. "The coast guard thinks they've located him. We should hear more soon. It's been crazy out there, you can imagine, but they're trying to get everybody back to harbor. Come on in out of the rain."

"What about Lenny?"

Connie and Honor had moved inside, but Grace stood frozen on the front path. Rain dripped from her hair and the tip of her nose. She looked about twelve years old.

Michael Gray frowned. "Lenny? I thought he was at the golf club. That's what he told the staff here when he left this morning."

Because he wanted to be alone. He didn't want you or Jack to invite yourselves along.

"No." Grace was shaking. "He's on the boat."

"Did he take any crew?"

"No. I don't think so."

Michael tried to hide his concern. "Do you have any idea where he was going, Grace? What his plans were?"

Grace shook her head.

"All right, sweetheart. Don't worry, we'll find him. Come on in and I'll call the coast guard. Those guys are the best. He'll be back home in no time, you'll see."

JACK WARNER GOT TO THE HOUSE at six P.M., soaked to the skin and badly shaken.

"I've never known a storm to close in that fast. Never." Honor hugged him. Without thinking, Jack hugged her back.

Connie and Michael were upstairs, putting the children to bed. Downstairs in the kitchen, Grace, Honor, Caroline and a still-green-looking Maria Preston sat waiting for news. Lenny's yacht was still missing.

John Merrivale had gotten back from his business trip in Boston half an hour earlier. Walking over to Grace, he put his arm around her, ignoring Caroline's dagger stares.

"Try not to w-w-worry. Lenny's an experienced sailor."

Grace barely registered that he'd spoken. She was too busy praying.

I lost one father, Lord. Please, don't let me lose another.

AT 8:17 P.M. EXACTLY, THE PHONE RANG. Grace pounced on it.

"Hello?"

Ten seconds later, she hung up. Her teeth were chattering.

"Grace?" Caroline Merrivale moved toward her. "What is it? What did they say?"

"They've found the boat."

A chorus of "Thank Gods" and "I told you sos" echoed around the room. When they'd all stopped hugging her, Grace said softly, "Lenny wasn't on it."

Then she passed out.



----