Read-a-Chapter: Shadows Over Paradise, by Anne K. Edwards

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the suspense novel, Shadows Over Paradise, by Anne K. Edwards. Enjoy!

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shadowsoverparadise_med1

Suspense

Available in ebook and paperback

Twilight Times Books

Shadows Over Paradise is peopled by complicated characters intent on achieving their own ends, some heedless of the cost to others. Action, excitement and tension galore, blended with a brooding house set on a volcanic island with soaring cliffs and few modern amenities, along with turbulent emotions offer a perfect catalyst for the storm that is about to break over the Mantuan Islands.

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Chapter One

The cab discharged Julia and Captain Martinez on the waterfront where odors of oily brine, fish, and salt-seasoned wood perfumed the damp air. She wrinkled her nose in distaste at the stench of gasoline and diesel fuel coming from the dockside pumps. Stories and movies didn’t portray the waterfront as it really was.

She peered closely at the boats tied to the dock as they danced slowly on their lines. One of them, a squat-bodied vessel, resembled a cross between the ocean-going tugs and converted fishing boats she’d seen on a trip to New York City harbor. Large old tires gently repelled the little ship from the pilings as the watery slap-slap of the tide crept in. Scarred woodwork and peeling paint scarcely showed in the growing dark. Below deck, sturdy engines chugged softly, gurgling exhaust. In the gloom created by the dock light, Julia could see faded letters on the prow “The Flighty Maid”.

The Maid shared the dock with a charter boat that catered to tourists and several fishing boats. An inter-island ferry was tying up for the night. Out in the deep water of the harbor, a brightly lit cruise ship was anchored. On shore, a few late tourists sought out straggling locals for authentic island flavor.

Near a pile of unmarked crates a greasy-haired, unshaven man in a torn shirt emerged from the shadows. He walked with a seaman’s swagger, swinging his muscular torso and arms from side to side. This rolling gait gave him the appearance of being larger than he actually was.

Captain Martinez stiffened at Julia’s side as the man approached. His small, close-set eyes raked her in bold appraisal as he gave her a broken-toothed grin of approval. She looked away with a grimace.

Removing a red-banded cigarette from his lips, he said, “I gotta have a word, Martinez.” Thrusting hanging hair from his round face with dirty fingers, he peered down at the shorter man. “The boss wants you.” He exhaled a cloud into the air, then took another draw.

The acrid smoke drifted into Julia’s face. She sneezed.

“I don’t want to see the boss, Long,” the captain said quietly, his hand slipping into the sagging pocket of his worn black leather jacket. “You understand?”

Long tapped the rough leather knife sheath on his belt. “I get whatcha mean, but the boss ain’t gonna like it none.” His light blue eyes narrowed. “And that gun yer carryin’ won’t give you much pertection.” He crushed the smoke under his worn boot.

“Make sure you tell your boss what I said,” Captain Martinez growled, straightening his shoulders. “I carry the gun to use on vermin.”

Long’s coarse face hardened as he gave the old sailor a look of hatred. “One of these days we’ll have a long chat about that.” The words sounded like a threat.

Julia sidled behind the captain when the man cast another leer in her direction and strutted away. Captain Martinez waited until he vanished around the crates before starting for the ship with her close on his heels.

“Who was that awful man?” she asked in a low voice.

“Just someone who had something to say,” he said.

His curt manner stung, reminding her that she was an unwanted visitor.

The shadowy figure of another man lurked at the edge of the light beyond a pile of barrels. Tipping his dark cap to her, he departed behind Long.

At The Maid’s berth, dockhands shifted cargo aboard. Julia trod carefully, her leather soles slippery on the aged wharf’s wet surface. She envied Captain Martinez’s surefootedness as he leaped aboard. He turned and stretched a hand toward her. “Easy now. Grab my hand.”

Taking the gap between ship and pier in a jump, Julia landed clumsily at his side as the deck rose beneath her feet. She gripped his arm for support. The nearest dockside worker handed her luggage over the rail.

A tall sailor appeared from the hold as the laden cargo net swung out to hover above the open hatch. He quickly unloaded it, lowering heavy boxes one at a time to unseen hands below. The captain watched for a moment, before speaking, “Beau’ll stow your bags in the passenger lounge. We’ll be getting underway soon.” Then, he moved off to supervise the tying down of a large crate on deck.

Julia watched with interest as Beau emptied the net, slammed the hatch, and shoved the bolt home. Was he the stepbrother Suzanne had adored from afar during their college years?

He came forward wordlessly to pick up her baggage, disappearing with it through a narrow door on the port side marked “Lounge“.

Rebuffed by the chilly reserve of her first contacts in Marcora, Julia looked longingly at the dock as a second taxi stopped under the light. A black-haired woman in white got out and approached The Maid with obvious distaste. The cabbie followed to hand bags and boxes aboard.

“Andre?” Her throaty voice quavered slightly. She avoided Julia’s curious gaze.

“Yes, Miss Isabelle.” Captain Martinez extended a hand to her.

She came off the dock with a graceful movement, her white skirt flipping up to reveal long, shapely legs. Scanning the deck as if searching for someone, she spoke rapidly, before the captain could make introductions, “I’d like to go to the lounge. I’ve got a terrible headache.” As she passed, Isabelle gave Julia a sly, malevolent glare.

Julia reacted instinctively to the hostility in those brown eyes. She turned away, head high, to show her contempt for such behavior. Why waste time trying to get acquainted?

Captain Martinez escorted Isabelle to the lounge with the courtesy due a queen. He reappeared in moments, muttering to himself, “That woman will drive us all crazy. Why I ever let myself get drawn into her schemes, I don’t know.”

He shook his head, growling orders to the dock hands to cast off the lines. Aggravation showed in the tautness of his prominent jaw as he spoke to Julia. “You should go inside, Miss. The sea’s rough and the spray’ll ruin your nice clothes.”

“I’d prefer to remain on deck,” she told him. Being alone was better than sharing the lounge with that snotty woman.

He nodded, touched his cap with a callused hand, and went up to the pilothouse.

The Maid was soon underway, engines murmuring farewell to Orinda. Once beyond the Marcora Harbor breakwater, the ship encountered rough seas. Windborne spray coated the deck with a skin of greasy-looking water. Clutching the dripping stern rail, Julia shivered as the wet penetrated her thin jacket. Her sightseeing guide had mentioned the rough currents around some of the islands, but she had never imagined this.

The lights of the city sank on the horizon. The Maid seemed pitifully small when measured against the waves. Julia desired nothing more than the feel of solid earth under her feet instead of pitching, wooden planking. Her stomach jerked in time to the movement of The Maid. The dark was all the more alarming because she could see nothing beyond the faint glow cast by the ship’s running lights.

Julia’s resolve to remain on deck weakened and died. Bested by nerves and weariness, chilled by the wind, she made her way hand over hand along the rail to climb the metal steps to the pilothouse where the captain stood behind the wheel.

“Captain, may I stay with you?” She tried to keep the tremor from her voice as she stepped uninvited through the doorway. His bluntness would be preferable to staying on deck or spending the trip confined with the woman he’d called Miss Isabelle.

His grunt was noncommittal as his eyes remained on the invisible horizon.

The motion of the ship caused the door to swing shut. “I’m sorry to be a bother,” Julia apologized lamely, grabbing the rail in front of her as a surge staggered The Maid, “but I’ve never been on a boat at night.”

“No matter,” he said gruffly, drawing on his pipe as The Maid’s engines resumed their even beat. “The current gets a bit rough at times.”

“Please tell me about the islands.” Anything to get her mind off those waves that could swallow the little boat in one gulp.

The lines on his brow deepened thoughtfully. “When I sailed a small trader, we had a spiel for the tourists. That do?” He exhaled slowly and watched the smoke be pulled through the open window.

“Yes.” She closed her eyes against another roll of her stomach.

“The Islands were discovered in the seventeen eighties by a trader out of India who got blowed off course. Didn’t stay too long. Took on water and sailed away. Later, traders out of the Orient made contact with the natives, followed by whalers, explorers, and missionaries. Weren’t many natives left after their diseases got spread around.”

She wondered at the hint of anger as he spoke. Was he a native?

He continued, “They had a King Kaluma killed by a French pirate named Avenduc. He claimed the islands as his own and set up a government with himself as king.”

“What happened to Avenduc?”

“Spanish came. Killed him. They was pirates too. Gave the islands their name.”

A wave passed under them. The Maid shuddered, seemed to hesitate, before plunging gamely on. Julia shut her eyes, waiting for her landlubber stomach to subside. She prayed the captain would soon tell her they’d reached their destination.

Captain Martinez fell silent, his attention on The Maid broken only to relight his pipe. For several minutes he seemed oblivious to Julia’s presence, his thoughts gone like the wind-grabbed smoke.

At last, unable to bear the water-filled stillness any longer, she broke into his reverie. Returning to the subject of the islands, she hoped her interest sounded genuine. “When did the islands become a U.S. possession?”

“After World War Two. They’re a tourist attraction these days. Lot of new hotels going up.” His words were tinged with regret. “Time used to stand still in Mantua. Now we’re being caught up in the rush to modernize. What was a paradise is going to disappear one day.”

“How do the islanders make a living? Do they grow coconuts or pineapples?”

She blushed as her ignorance brought a wry smile to his lips. “We have pineapple and some sugar plantations. Many of us are fishermen or traders.” He sucked on his pipe, then held it aloft, as if addressing it. “And there are the tourists. They’re welcome, but too many stay. They put pressure on the natives who sell out without realizing they’re betraying their children’s heritage.”

“When did the LaBoudries come to the islands?” She tried to think of other questions to keep him talking.

“Beau’s grandfather came from France to take employment as a manager of the Duchense plantation and married the owner’s daughter.” His eyes took on a faraway look as though remembering a time gone by.

Julia could see the captain didn’t like the changes occurring in the islands. She understood, but that was the way of the world. Change. Sometimes it brought good and sometimes, it didn’t.

“Is Tiboo very big?” Suzanne’s description of her island home came back in bits and pieces. Green mountains, few valleys, sparse population.

“Big enough.” He gave the wheel a twist and suddenly she realized they had passed into much calmer water.

Julia breathed easier. She asked, “Is Ramon de Cordova from Mantua?” Suzanne’s letter containing the invitation to share in the festivities had given no information about the groom.

Curiosity glinted in his eyes. “He comes from an old island family.”

She sensed his skepticism. How, as a friend, could she not know about the man Suzanne intended to marry?

Captain Martinez withdrew into himself.

The ensuing silence told her much. Judging by the rigid set of his jaw, he did not view the impending nuptials with favor any more than he approved of her visit.

“You don’t think Suzanne should be getting married, do you?” His manner showed that he was uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken.

He raised a shoulder and let it fall, his darkened profile giving no clue to his private thoughts. His eyes were fixed on something she couldn’t see outside the range of the boat’s dim lights. She tried to follow his gaze and saw only the reflected glow of gauges, one of which blinked steadily like the beat of a heart.

Abruptly, the throb of the motors slowed as the distant light of a single beam reached toward the ship. The moon sank out of sight behind the dark form of a tall, cone-shaped mountain as The Maid entered a harbor where glittering ripples performed a watery ballet of welcome.

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