The Inn at Angel Island

Chapter One

OF course, it was raining. Nothing about this trip was going to be easy. Liza Martin already knew that. Why should the weather cooperate?

The drive from Boston to the north shore was hard enough at the end of a workday, the traffic easily making it two hours or more. But the timing couldn’t be helped. A client emergency had erupted at four, just as Liza was heading out of the office, trying to beat the commuter crush and the dismal forecast.

So here she was, on a Tuesday night at the height of the rush hour, driving all the way up to Angel Island in steady rain. She had turned the wipers to high speed and slowed her car to a careful crawl. At least it isn’t snow, she reminded herself, which was not out of the question even in late March in New England.

She hoped the skies were clearer beyond the city. On a night like this, heavy rain and high surf could wash out the land bridge that connected the tiny island to the town of Cape Light, making it impossible to cross the harbor.

When Liza was a little girl, staying with her aunt Elizabeth and uncle Clive for the summer, visitors often came to the island for the day and were then stranded when a storm blew in. Aunt Elizabeth never paid much attention to weather forecasts and never failed to be delighted by these unexpected overnight guests. Those stormy summer nights, with so many interesting people milling around the old house, were among Liza’s fondest memories. Her aunt and uncle must have enjoyed it, too; Liza often thought those nights were what had inspired them to turn their rambling old house into an inn.

Liza slowed for a light, letting the sound of the storm outside bring back those rainy nights on the island when her uncle would play the piano and everyone would sing. They would even move back the furniture in the front parlor and dance when the mood was right, often by candlelight when the power went out or with Aunt Elizabeth shining a flashlight on the keyboard, swaying the beam to and fro in time to the rhythm. There would be card games and ghost stories and shadow shows on the big wall in the front parlor, her uncle’s specialty.

Liza recalled how she would always feel disappointed the next morning to see the sunshine and the clear blue sky. But other charms of the island would quickly distract her, like an early morning beach walk, where she would sift through the odd treasures the wild surf had tossed on the shoreline the night before. She and her brother, Peter, would race each other to the best shells, arguing over the vilest remains of some defunct sea creature. Her aunt would follow, laughing at them and playing judge and arbitrator with endless patience.

How did Aunt Elizabeth manage to put up with us, Liza wondered. And do it so cheerfully? It couldn’t have been easy, though her aunt and uncle always acted as if their season with Liza and Peter was the highlight of their year. They had no children of their own, so perhaps it really was, Liza reflected.

It was hard to believe her aunt would not be there tonight, waiting for her. It had been nearly two months since she had passed on. Liza had come up for the funeral and burial, of course. But she knew that the reality of the situation, the hard truth of it, had not yet sunk in. Some part of her still expected to see her aunt’s tall,