Isabel MacKenna had a hundred things to do today. Killing someone wasn't one of them.
She had such high hopes this morning when she dragged herself out of bed at the ungodly hour of five a.m. She had made detailed plans for the day that lay ahead, and she would have sailed through them if two unfortunate incidents hadn't waylaid her. The first was an irritating inconvenience; the second, a terrifying nightmare.
Scheduled to take an early flight on a no-frills, but supercheap airline to Boston, she arrived at the airport in plenty of time to go through security. She was dressed for comfort in a pair of snug jeans and a light pink T-shirt. Her long blond hair was up in a ponytail, and she wore a Red Sox baseball cap her brother-in-law, Dylan, had given her. She checked her luggage, which was packed for a trip to Scotland the following week, and carried her backpack that held everything she would need for the next few days. It was so stuffed she was pretty sure it weighed more than she did. The first time she attempted to swing it over her shoulder she nearly did a backflip. Fortunately, once she was on the plane, another passenger helped her lift it into the overhead compartment.
She had been assigned a window seat, and she planned to go to sleep as soon as the plane took off. In hindsight, perhaps her expectations were naive. From past experience she had learned that there was never anything smooth or easy about flying, and today was no exception. Once she boarded, she was trapped, and a flight that should have taken a little under three hours ended up taking seven and a half, thanks to the fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants airline and the mechanical problems they were sure maintenance could fix in no time at all. The captain made the passengers sit on the plane for two full hours before they were allowed to go back into the terminal to continue their wait while repairs were completed. After another grueling hour passed, they were told a relief plane was being flown in to take them to Boston. Apparently, the fix-it-in-no-time-at-all plane couldn't be fixed.
It was a miserable flight. It began with Isabel plastered up against the window while two overly friendly college students in the seats next to her took turns hitting on her. They seemed to be in some sort of competition to hold her attention and get her phone number. One was in his seventh year at a college in Arizona. In the course of his monologue he sheepishly admitted he still didn't have enough credits to graduate. The other one was in his third year at Colorado State and had changed his major so many times he couldn't remember what it now was. Isabel thought maybe there was a little something extra baked into the cookies he was munching on. She was pretty sure he was stoned.
Being polite to the nonstop talkers took effort, for exhaustion was pressing down on her . . . and no wonder. She had gotten only three hours of sleep the night before, and the last several weeks had been brutal, with papers due and finals to study for, not to mention packing up almost everything she owned and shipping it back home to Silver Springs, South Carolina, leaving only some of her clothes and personal items. Finally, graduation. She had hoped both of her sisters would be there for the ceremony, but Kiera, the older of the two, was in the middle of a demanding medical residency and couldn't take time off from work to attend. Her other sister, Kate, and her husband, Dylan, were there to see her walk across the stage and get her diploma. She was on her way now to meet them at Nathan's Bay, Dylan's family home just outside Boston. Judge and Mrs. Buchanan, Dylan's parents, were celebrating their anniversary, and their big family was gathering for the occasion. Isabel was happy to be invited to the festivities. The Buchanans were so warm and welcoming, and she looked forward to a week of fun and relaxation.
Then she and Kate were off to Scotland to see Glen MacKenna, the property she would soon inherit from her crusty and-she had it on good authority-horribly mean great-uncle. The land was located in the Highlands, and Isabel was anxious to see it. Kate and Dylan had given her the trip as a graduation present.
After she returned from Scotland, her plans were uncertain. Maybe the trip would give her some insight into what her future would be.
Once the plane was in flight to Boston and the incessant chattering of her seatmates had died down, Isabel rested her head against the porthole window. She was feeling horrible. She had thrown up-a couple of times, as a matter of fact-as soon as she'd rolled out of bed, and now her head was pounding. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but the drummer banging away on the inside of her eyelids wouldn't let up.
She had no one but herself to blame for her misery. She shouldn't have gotten hammered last night. It was unlike her to overindulge, and yet, if she was being completely honest, it had been totally worth her aches and pains today. Leaning back against the headrest with her eyes still closed, she thought about how much fun she'd had with her friends at Finnegan's, their favorite hangout a couple of blocks from campus.
It had been a fantastic night. Damon, her friend since freshman year, had banged on her door at nine o'clock, and for once in her life she was ready. Since this was the last time she and all of her friends would be together, she had decided to get dressed up, and because she was in the mood to look sexy, she wore her new royal blue, V-neck dress that showed a little cleavage. Her only jewelry was a bracelet of stacked multicolored beads and a pair of gold hoop earrings. Instead of using hair clips to hold the thick curls away from her face, she had let them fall around her shoulders. No muss, no fuss.
She opened the door wide for Damon to enter. As usual he looked gorgeous. She often told him that he could be a model because of his perfect physique and profile. He was tall and lean with broad shoulders and enough muscles to fill out a T-shirt. When he smiled, women melted into pools of lust, and yet, as handsome as he was, Isabel had never felt a single spark of sexual attraction. As to that, she was beginning to think there might be an issue. In her four years at Winthrop College she had never gone head over heels for any of the men she'd dated. They were all fun to be with, and some were quite good-looking, but there was never any electricity. Without some kind of sexual connection, she had refused to go to bed with any of them, which earned her a couple of unflattering nicknames. None of them fazed her. Some, in fact, made her laugh.
Damon gave Isabel the once-over and nodded his approval. "I can't believe you're on time."
Isabel grabbed her phone and keys, tucked them into her bag, and said, "I'm always on time. You're just always early."
Laughing, he gently nudged her out the door. After making sure it was locked, he followed her outside to his car.
"Are we going to pick up Lexi and Owen?" she asked, referring to two of their closest friends.
"No, they're already at the club."
Once they were on their way, she turned and put her hand on his arm. "We're all going in different directions tomorrow. I'm really going to miss you, Damon. You've been such a good friend. I don't want you to forget me."
He shook his head. "That's not possible. You're unforgettable, Isabel."
She could feel the tears coming and didn't want to become melancholy tonight, so she rushed to talk about something else. "Want to hear a secret?"
"We've known each other for a long time, and I've never told you my real name. On my birth certificate I'm Grace Isabel MacKenna. I'm told my father won an argument. He wanted Grace, and Mother wanted Isabel. I was a baby when my father died, and that's when Mother started calling me Isabel."
"Grace is a beautiful name," Damon said, "but I like Isabel better."
"There's something else I've never mentioned. On my next birthday, which is coming up soon, I'm going to inherit land in Scotland from my great-uncle, Compton. A lot of land, I'm told. It's called Glen MacKenna, and I'm going to go see it next week."
"Land in Scotland! That's amazing. What are you going to do with land in Scotland?"
"I'm going to sell it."
"Maybe after you see it, you'll want to keep it."
"No, I won't. I'm going to sell it and use the money to do something good. I've already received several calls from a man who wants to buy the land. He's really persistent. He told me he represents the Patterson Group, and they'll pay a fair price. I'm not going to do anything until I see it, though. I will inherit it from my great-uncle on my birthday, and there are stipulations he would like me to follow."
"What are they?" he asked.
"I don't know. They're in a sealed envelope in the solicitor's office in Dunross, which is in the Highlands. I'm supposed to open the envelope in front of witnesses."
"On your birthday."
"Or after, but not before."
"Your great-uncle sounds eccentric."
"Not just eccentric. He was cruel and mean, and he's the reason I'm selling it. I would never keep anything from a man who treated my family the way he did. I was still a baby when my father died, but my aunt Nora told me later what my great-uncle had done to him and my mother. My father had a large inheritance, but Compton blocked it. He was furious that my father defied him by marrying my mother, who Compton thought was beneath him. He had chosen another woman for my father to marry. My parents didn't care about the money, and, according to Aunt Nora, they were very happy. Then the accident happened. My father was critically injured, and the medical bills piled up before he died. Compton refused to release any of the funds, which would have relieved the burden from my mother. So that's why I could never take anything from him now, unless I can do something good with it."
"I don't get it. If he hated your family, why did he leave you an inheritance?"
"It was in his will. He said he hadn't expected us to turn out well, but that he was surprised to discover we were well educated and cultured despite our mother. He also noted that all three of us had gone to private schools and were hard workers. I think he attributed our successes to his bloodline. Even the inheritance was a sign of his vanity."
"I'm surprised you've never mentioned this before. What other secrets do you have?"
She wondered how he would react if she told him her great-uncle had left a fortune worth well over a hundred million dollars to her sisters, Kate and Kiera, and that they gave it away to build a wing at the hospital where their mother spent her last days. The addition would have their mother's name on it, not exactly what their great-uncle had in mind.
"Nothing I want to talk about."
"You must have had it rough as a child."
"Quite the opposite. I had a happy childhood. I always felt safe and loved. We were a normal family. We still are, even though it's just my two older sisters, Kate and Kiera, my brother-in-law, Dylan, and me now."
"I'm not so sure you're normal," he teased.
"Yes, I am, and I'm not the only one with secrets. You have secrets, too."
"Yeah?" He glanced at her and said, "Name one."
His hand tightened on the steering wheel. "What about her? We dated for a while, then it was over and we moved on. No big secret there."
She shook her head. "Damon, I'm your friend. You can be honest with me."
"I am being honest with you."
"You know what I think? I think you're still in love with her."
"Maybe I was. I'm not anymore."
"Yes, you are." Before he could argue or get angry because she was pushing him to admit something he'd kept buried, she rushed on. "You could call her, take her out and apologize."
"Why would I apologize?"
"Because you were wrong."
"How do you know that?"
"A calculated guess."
Smiling, she said, "Based on the fact that you're a man."
The mood lightened with her outrageous remark. Damon laughed. "I love all women, Isabel. Especially you."
The drive to Finnegan's took longer than usual. The streets were filled with students in a celebratory mood after the end of the term. Damon turned and took another route through the campus to avoid the crowd.
"It's open mic night," he suddenly remembered. "Finnegan's is going to be packed."
"I hope Crowley isn't there. He's very nice, but he gets up onstage and tells his lame jokes, and it's almost impossible to get him to let someone else take a turn."
"He wants to be a professional stand-up comic."
"But he's terrible. I hope he has something to fall back on."
"The Trio's playing, too. They start at ten . . . if they can get Crowley off the stage."
Isabel had always thought the three graduate students' naming themselves the Trio was rather unoriginal, but who was she to judge? It worked for them. The three musicians would occasionally play backup for anyone courageous enough to get up in front of a crowd and sing. One played guitar; another played the keyboard, and the third played drums. They were quite talented and could pick up a melody quickly and play just about anything.
Isabel and all of her friends had been going to Finnegan's since freshman year. Isabel had used a fake ID at first. She didn't feel she was doing anything illegal because she didn't drink alcohol, and yet she knew in a court of law her reasoning wouldn't stand up. Dylan, who just happened to be the chief of police in Silver Springs, wouldn't approve, either, but then she wasn't about to tell him. Besides, once she'd turned twenty-one it really wasn't an issue.
In all the times she had been getting together with friends at Finnegan's she had never gotten up onstage. Damon and the others believed it was because she was shy and would be too embarrassed. It wasn't the truth, but she let them think it.