Little Death by the Sea

By: Susan Kiernan-Lewis

PART I

A Sea-Change





Chapter 1

1





Maggie nodded at the waiter and touched the rim of her bottle of Coca. She turned to stare out at the Mediterranean, her head pounding, her stomach lurching with worry and anticipation. If he didn’t come, she wasn’t sure what to do next, whom to contact or, God knows, how to. Her French was pathetic and she was aware of a certain amount of impatience from most of the people she’d tried to communicate with thus far: the concierge, the chambermaid (who’d brought a portable television set to her room instead of the extra bath towels she’d hoped she’d asked for), the waiter. And this was Cannes, for heaven’s sake. What happened when she was forced into the villages among people who were less accustomed to foreigners and their bad French? Her eye caught the waiter’s again and she smiled. Promptly, he turned his back to take another’s order. With a groan, her smile dissolved.

She wore a pair of black linen slacks with a gray silk shell top. Her dark hair cascaded down her back in a straight curtain. She had an almost elfin face, heart-shaped and perfect. Her mouth was small but sensuous and her large, green eyes missed very little. She had an unconscious beauty. It was the first thing people saw when they met her, but not the first thing they thought of when they described her. Her dramatic, dark looks were punctuated by the intelligent brow, the intense eyes. Yet her manner was relaxed and secure: the product of a happy childhood, and a privileged one.

From her seat in the Carlton Hotel patio, she could see the Promenade de la Croisette, its grand Royal palms lining the broad boulevard like Titans shading the procession of a monarch. The air smelled rich and sweet, yet light too. If her current situation and reason for being there had been different, Maggie knew the afternoon would’ve been magical. As it was, she felt woozy, like she’d been catapulted into a guest-starring role in somebody else’s dream.

“Have you been waiting long?” He appeared from behind her and was suddenly seated next to her, breathless yet cool in all this heat. The accent was English, crisp, and Oxbridge.

“Snarl-up in Nice, sorry,” he said brightly. “You’re Miss Newberry, right?”

Maggie nodded, a prick of relief coloring her face.

He was tall, he was dark, he was an absolute stranger to her. He was going to help her find her sister’s missing child.

“I thought so. Easy to spot from your father’s description,” he said pleasantly.

“I’m so glad to meet you. I wasn’t sure...is...is your French any good?” she asked, still clutching her empty soft drink bottle.

“Is anybody’s? I mean, unless one’s born here?”

He half-stood in order to flag down the waiter.

“Hey, you! Ass-hole!”

Maggie swallowed an ice cube and began choking. The waiter quietly retreated into the café. The man sat back down and gave Maggie a perfunctory clap on the back.

“Want to go someplace else?” he asked. “The Carlton seems a little crowded today.”

Maggie coughed painfully. “You are Mr. Bentley, aren’t you? I don’t even know that and I’ve traveled all this way and I...”

“Yes, yes, Roger Bentley, sorry. Look, old girl, I really can help, you know.”

Maggie nodded, suddenly miserable and unsure.

“Let’s just go,” she said, groping for her purse.

2 “How did you know my sister?”

She hunched toward him across the little café table situated in front of the Splendide Hotel. She could smell orange blossoms as she watched the Mediterranean Sea stretched out dramatically before them.

“I didn’t, in fact. Isn’t this a much better place? I should’ve suggested it in the beginning.”

“You didn’t know my sister?”

Maggie watched the man closely. His manner seemed careless to her, condescending. She found herself wanting very much to trust him, to believe him. Perhaps even in spite of the facts. He was, after all, all she had.

“Not really. Met her once or twice. See? It’s got a view every bit as nice as the Carlton’s.” He waved a hand at the vista from their table. Snowy whitecaps peaked periodically on the azure sea as they watched. “Even better if you take into consideration—“