The Last Bite

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Chapter One

 

Another wedding invitation?

The third one this week, Eve thought. And all from the same person.

She strode over to the fireplace and crouched down. The thick velum page with its beautiful golden script taunted her as she held it over the flames.

Rise above your circumstances, Eve.

You’re better than this.

No, I’m not, she couldn’t help thinking, her voice small, like a child’s.

“Oh, good. The mail’s arrived. I always get the loveliest cards from my fans. So unexpected.”

Eve shot to her feet and swung around, making sure to tuck the invitation into the back pocket of her jeans. “All set for a day of writing?” she asked her aunt.

“I’m in reading mode now,” Mira said.

Eve had gradually become acquainted with her aunt’s peculiar habit of hiding in her writing cave for days on end, working on her bestselling romance novels, and only emerging when she was satisfied with her day’s work. When she didn’t write, she read, and in-between she went on cruises.

“Aren’t you due for a trip?”

“I’ve postponed it for another month.” Mira looked up from the stack of envelopes. “Any chance of you coming along with me some day?”

Eve shrugged. “Possibly. Maybe. I’ve never been on a cruise.”

“We could go on a culinary cruise. You’d love that.”

“Is there such a thing?” When she’d sold her restaurant she’d thought she had put her cooking days behind her, but she’d since decided to embrace her natural talents and incorporate her management skills by opening up an inn on the island. It had now become her work in progress.

“There are cruises catering to all tastes. I was recently invited to do a reading on a book lovers’ cruise. I got all excited at first. Then I realized they wanted me to read the whole book.”

“In one go?”

Mira shook her head. “Spread over several days. Now that I think about it, the cruise had organized an author from each genre. I wouldn’t mind being read to. I might contact them. See if it’s not too late. And it would give me the opportunity of engaging with my readers.”

“Coffee?” Eve offered.

“Yes, please. Anyway, there are plenty of activities and pampering on cruises. Or you could always just relax and do absolutely nothing. It would be a nice change for you.”

Eve tilted her head in thought. A cruise didn’t sound at all bad. Everything would be at her fingertips. She’d never traveled, so it would be a brand new experience for her. If she didn’t do it now, she might not get the opportunity for a while. Her inn was in the planning stages, but it already demanded all her attention and would continue to do so. At least, until the business was up and running smoothly. Although, knowing herself as well as she did, she’d probably be reluctant to let go of the reins.

“I see you received another one.” Mira tapped Eve’s back pocket.

“What are you talking about?”

“The invitation.”

Eve sighed. “You never miss a thing.”

“I’m a writer. I notice everything. So who’s getting married?”

“No one.”

“I see.” Mira hummed. “It’s someone you don’t like.”

“I never said that.”

“The only person I can think of is Charlotte McLain. Your childhood nemesis.”

Eve crouched down to check the oven. Her aunt didn’t like her supply of cookies interrupted, so Eve made sure she always had some on hand.

“When you were young, every time you came here for the summer, you looked sullen. It always took you days to realize Charlotte McLain wouldn’t be around to shadow your every move and make your life miserable.”

“She was persistent and thorough.”

“It took me ages to get you to talk about her.”

Eve shrugged. “I was trying to avoid falling into her trap. She loved being the center of attention, even when she wasn’t around. Talking about her defeated the purpose of being on vacation.”

“So, she’s getting married and she’s sent you three invitations in one week. Doesn’t she trust the postal service?”

“She’s trying to wear me down.”

“I think she’s desperate for you to attend.”

“That’s because she wants to flaunt her fiancé.” What other reason could there be? Charlotte McLain had always enjoyed her laps of victory. Her entire life had been driven by them.

“And you’re not curious?”

“Not curious enough to travel. She’s probably having the wedding in some château or a tropical island. Charlotte never did anything by half measures. Hey…” Eve swung around.

Mira stepped back and held the invitation she’d snatched from her back pocket out of her reach. “You were wrong.” Her aunt’s eyebrows curved. “She’s getting married right here on the island.”

Eve’s mouth gaped open. She had to force herself to push the word out, “What?”

Charlotte Look-at-Me McLain… Getting married here? On the island.

“You didn’t bother to read it.”

“I only got as far as reading her name. That was enough.” Enough to resurrect her miserable time at boarding school, being forced to share a room with Charlotte who hadn’t gone a day without contriving an evil plot to make Eve suffer.

“You’ll have to RSVP.”

“Who says?”

“Common courtesy.”

“You know I don’t abide by rules.”

“Yes, and that usually lands you in a heap of trouble.” Mira smiled. “She sent you three invitations. At least, they’re the ones I saw. There might have been more. She’s coming close to begging you to attend.”

“She only wants me to go so she can… I don’t know. I’m sure she has a motive.”

“Sharing her happy moment, perhaps?”

Eve rolled her eyes. “Do I need to remind you what she’s like? Oh, look. I have new shoes. I must show Eve,” Eve mimicked, “She’s been making do with the same pair all year. Oh, my parents are taking me to Paris. I must tell Eve. She never sees her parents.” Eve huffed out a breath. “She somehow manipulated everyone into thinking she was a fairy godmother to me.”

“That was Charlotte at fifteen. She’s all grown up now,” Mira reasoned.

“I doubt she’s had a personality transplant. She’s more likely to be ten times worse.”

“And you’re ten times better. Isn’t it time you did a bit of flaunting?”

“How did we move from talking about a cruise to you pestering me to go to a wedding?”

“I was only biding my time, waiting to see if you’d mention it. As Jill would say, better out than in. Don’t you want to talk about the reasons why she’s been sending the invitations? It’s been years since you last saw her. Maybe she wants to make amends. You could think of it as a reunion. And for all you know, she might have let herself go.”

“That’s unlikely. If she has, I’d be the last person she’d want to see.”

“Oh, well. Perhaps it’s for the best. If you go, someone is bound to end up getting killed.”

“Mira! How can you say that?”

Mira’s eyebrows drew down. “To tell you the truth, I’m surprised I’m still alive.”

“Mira,” Eve shrieked and threw her hands up in the air. She’d already been accused of being a death knell. Several months before, her friend Jill had banned her from using any words associated with killing and death, saying every time those words tripped out of her mouth, someone met their end.

As if that could really happen.

Mira laughed. “I’m probably immune because I’m related to you.”

“Stop it. You’ll all have me believing it.”

“And Jill is immune too so maybe it only affects people you’re not close to. Now that I think about it, Charlotte is asking for trouble. You’re doing her a favor by not going.”

“I have a good mind to go just to prove you wrong. It’s nonsense.”

“Here’s Jill. We’ll see what she thinks.”

Jill strode in, her dogs, Mischief and Mr. Magoo, trailing behind her.

She looked up and frowned. “Should I go out and come back in again… at some other time?”

Both Mira and Eve started talking at once.

“Eve is afraid of going to a wedding.”

“I’m not going and that’s final.”

Jill held her hands up. “You’re squabbling? I’m shocked at you.”

Eve folded her arms across her chest. “I’m only saying I reserve the right to turn down an invitation, especially one that guarantees I will have the worst time of my life.”

“Mira? Is there something you wish to add?”

“I think Eve is now afraid if she goes, someone will end up dead.”

Jill tapped her chin. “That’s a fair observation. Eve, do you have something to say in your defense?”

“That’s enough from you two. I don’t like it when you join forces and amuse yourselves at my expense.”

“We should call Jack and ask his opinion,” Jill suggested.

“Don’t you dare. He has nothing to do with this.” Although, she couldn’t help wondering how he’d feel about accompanying her. Eve turned the oven off and set the tray of cookies on a cooling rack. She’d have to make Jill promise she wouldn’t talk about the wedding when Jack was around. They’d been dating for a few months now and Eve was in no hurry to start dropping hints or to have him think she’d started making plans…

“I assume the invitation includes a plus one. That means he does have a say in the matter. Don’t you agree, Mira?”

“I do.” Mira grinned.

“I’m going to pretend you’re not even here.”

Mira turned to Jill. “Do you know, she received three invitations and she hasn’t answered a single one.”

Jill wagged her finger at Eve. “There’s never an excuse for rudeness.”

“It’s refreshing to hear someone as young as you saying that.”

“Stop it,” Eve demanded.

Jill laughed. “What happened to pretending we’re not here?”

Eve turned her attention to sliding the cookies onto the cooling rack. Charlotte McLain had been tenacious enough to track her down to the island. Mira had been right in saying there had been more invitations. The first one had been addressed to her apartment in New York and redirected here. Somehow, she’d found out she was living with her aunt.

“Did either of you happen to notice the date on the invitation?” Eve asked as she bit into a cookie.

“Oh, well, that changes everything,” Mira said as she scanned the page, “It’s next week. That’s cutting it close.”

“It’s almost like a pity invite,” Jill said, “An afterthought.”

“An afterthought?” Eve mused. “Yes, I can just imagine Charlotte looking up from her meticulous… pedantic list of things to do for her wedding and realizing she’s forgotten something. Something essential. She would have gone through her list, ticking each item off as she went and then it would have hit her. Oh, yes. The entertainment. I can’t believe I’ve been so remiss, she would have said. Must invite Eve Lloyd.” She held up the platter of cookies. “Would anyone like a cookie?”

“Mm… smells good,” Jill said and helped herself to one.

“Cinnamon?” Mira asked.

“With honey and hazelnuts.” Eve wiped the counter and emptied the dishwasher. “Mira, do you mind if Mischief and Mr. Magoo stay here with you? Jill wanted to get some art supplies and I’m running low on chocolate.” She’d also been compiling a long list of must have items for her new inn. Nothing she needed to get straightaway. At the moment, she was open to inspiration.

“So long as they’re happy to sit by the fireplace. I intend spending my morning reading.”

“They’ve had their long walk,” Jill said and snatched a couple of cookies for the drive into town.

“Okay, I’m ready.” Eve grabbed a leather jacket she hadn’t worn in ages. The weather continued to cool down, which again made her wonder why Charlotte would pick this location for her nuptials. Shouldn’t she want somewhere warmer? Oh, how Eve wished Charlotte would change her mind. It wouldn’t take much effort. Charlotte could manage it at the blink of an eye. She’d always been a whirlpool of activity, organizing her social life, manipulating her friends into doing her bidding, trespassing on Eve’s peace of mind, always managing to find her, no matter where she hid…

“Are you taking the long way to town?” Jill asked as Eve drove off in the opposite direction.

“Something’s off about all this. Why would Charlotte McLain choose such an out of the way place for the most significant event of her life? I have to see the venue.” She handed Jill the invitation. “Look the address up for me, please.”

“You mean, the scene of the next crime?”

“Please don’t joke about it. I think we’ve had enough murder and mayhem to last us a lifetime. The odds of this shindig being uneventful are stacked in her favor. She’s in luck.”

“This is the Stevenson house. Rumor has it, they’re cash poor at the moment. Jason Stevenson has been having a run of bad luck with his investments and his wife has run through all the money she inherited, or so she says. It makes sense to hire out the house. You can’t miss it. It’s the largest on the island.”

“What do you mean, or so she says?”

“She comes from old money. The type that doesn’t run out. She’s probably stashed it away in some off-shore account, well out of her husband’s greedy reach.”

Eve frowned. “I don’t know who you are. Where’s this cynicism coming from?”

“I think I’ve been hanging around you for too long.” Jill looked up and pointed ahead. “Follow those catering trucks. They’re bound to be heading there.”

“How do you know they’re catering trucks?”

“You’re kidding. It’s right there in front of you. Mayflower Catering written in stylish script.”

“I was watching the road.”

Within minutes, the house… or rather, the estate came into view and then disappeared behind a copse of tall firs.

Eve bit her bottom lip. The house could be as grand as Buckingham Palace, it still didn’t make sense. A wedding at The Ritz London… Paris… anywhere but here, that was more Charlotte’s style. “Maybe the groom hails from around here.”

“The name doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Then there could be a connection with the Stevenson family. If you say she comes from old money, that’s something she has in common with Charlotte.” Or maybe, Mira was right and Charlotte had changed. Charlotte… or her circumstances.

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Copyright ©2016 Sonia Parin/All Rights Reserved

 

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