A message from the past
OLYVIA KNEW SHE'D MISSED SOMETHING. But what was it? She slowly crossed the compound to her own cabin, her mind on the man in number three. Something familiar about him, and it wasn't just the totally inappropriate way she responded to his powerful presence. There was something else there. Had she seen him before? Or maybe it wasn't so much the man, but his manner and actions that tickled a memory.
Or his movements.
Her confident stride faltered as she swung around and looked back at number three shimmering in the morning sun. Mike Wilson's firm posture minded her of her father. The same erect stance. The same confidence in his manner. That man was used to being in charge, giving orders, and expecting people to do what he said. Her father had been in the army in his youth, long before she was born. Her mother told her that he was well on his way to a career when her grandfather died and he resigned to take over the family business.
Mike Wilson carried himself with that same bearing. He is like her father, either the boss of a major organization, or a military man, or both.
Could the Baroski brothers have sent him?
Surely not! But the old unwanted memories made her weak in the knees. She'd spent years trying to erase the past. No, no, no. I'm just being paranoid. He must be a military man.
She trudged up the stairs to her cabin, identical to all the others, except for the tiny addition at the back where she kept her computer and batteries, charged by solar panels on the roof. It was her exception to the rough and ready forest life. She rarely used the satellite link to the internet, but it was nice to know it was there if she needed it, to contact Charley or Uncle Vinnie.
A long denied urge sent her across the room to a chest of drawers. Though she'd used the cabin for over a year, she had never done anything to fill the empty space. The top of the chest, the dresser, and the walls were bare. When she arrived here, she'd accepted the idea that these four walls were all she could ever expect from life and made no effort to spruce up her personal space.
She pulled a box of receipts from the top drawer, and from under that, picked up a small black picture album, and opened it to her past.
Her father, in the formal black suit he'd worn to her mother's funeral stared back at her. Both he and the red-haired, green-eyed little girl by his side, clearly wore their grief. They'd clung together in those first awful months after her mother died. From that day on, he had become her whole world.
She was Olyvia Martinelli in those days, Mario Martinelli's little girl and she lost the rest if her world when her father died. Thank God for Aunt Vivian and Uncle Vincent. With a deep breath, she stared at the photograph, remembering the night the policeman accused her father of being involved in a robbery at the Fort Knox ammunition depot. He'd laughed, but she was too frightened to laugh.
"If I was smart enough to get into Fort Knox," he had said. "I'd have taken the gold, not the guns. My guess is that there's nothing missing. You guys probably just screwed up the paperwork."
But, the FBI, local police, and men in green army uniforms buzzed around their home like flies, and in the end, swore that they had linked him to the thieves and to some illegal arms dealer she'd never heard of. Then, two days later, they came again. This time to tell her that her father had been gunned down, while on his way to meet with another gangster, and now, they treated her like she was the criminal. In the time it takes to pull a trigger, she had gone from suspect's daughter to prime suspect herself.
At five AM on the day after her father's death, the local police came banging on her door and hauled her away in handcuffs. The military investigators turned their attention on her, too. For fifteen hours, they cajoled, harangued, and insisted the same thing; that she had been in on the theft and that she knew where the loot was hidden. At twenty-two years old, utterly innocent, and terrified, she had no idea of what might happen next.
Olyvia's hands trembled as she thought back to that horrible experience. She knew nothing about her father's business. He never talked about it, and she was completely unprepared to be thrust into the center of national security intrigue. They told her that she was a terrorist—they could hold her as long as they wanted without charges; forever if need be. She believed them.
Her father had always tried to stay out of the public spotlight, but she never knew why. She knew nothing of the media's voracious appetite for scandal. But, she had learned, oh, yes, she had learned. In the days following her father's death and the brutal onslaught by the press, she had learned. Before she could be totally crushed by questions, demands, and broken promises, her mother's only brother, Vincent, spirited her away. He'd taken her home with him to California, helped her change her name, and helped her establish her beauty supply business.
Olyvia Martinelli died the day her uncle's lawyer got her released from jail. Olyvia Collins was born the minute she appeared at her uncle's California home.
She became a blond, thanks to Aunt Vivian's superb hairdresser. That California girl look, coupled with the determination she brought to the fashion world, guaranteed success. No one suspected a thing. She'd survived the trauma of accusations by becoming somebody else. It worked and it would have kept on working if not for Richard Austin and that awful night at the Gunderson Roadhouse. How many times could her world come apart?
Impatiently, she thrust the photo book back into the drawer and placed the box of receipts on top, refusing to torment herself further. Now, she was Olyvia O'Hara, owner, and operator of Hopeless Lodge. The blond, pixie haircut was gone, replaced by a longer, fuller style and her natural auburn. Her world was these four walls and the fishing lodge. Most days she never permitted herself to think about her family, her friends, or her former life. They were lost to her and she was lost to them. Why dredge up something she could not change?
But, work was one thing that kept her going. Today, Marcos had delivered supplies. To help bury those memories she put her mind to checking them in and confirming the reservations for the next batch of guests. That should keep her busy for the rest of the afternoon.
Squaring her shoulders, she walked briskly into the bathroom for a cold shower to shake herself out of her sluggish frame of mind. When she turned to the small medicine chest over the sink for soap and shampoo, she found it already open. Maybe, she'd forgotten to close it that morning, or maybe Jacque had brought by a new supply of toilet articles. She frowned as she inventoried the contents. Nothing had been touched, as far as she could see.
She swung back to the shower, snapping the medicine cabinet shut, and screamed.
The blood-red words scrawled across the mirror sent her trembling. She stepped toward it, one hand going to her lips, the other out as if to convince herself it was not real.
The message was short and chilling.
I know what you did before you came here.
"I DON'T LIKE IT." Tony glared at the message on the mirror, the metal hinges creaked when he closed one huge hand around the top of the cabinet door. "I don't like it one bit."
"I don't like it, either, Tony." Olyvia amazed herself by sounding so calm. "The point is, who wrote it? And why? Could someone have followed me from California?" Tony let his eyes linger for a moment on her fingers before shifting back to the mirror. "Eddie Welch was up early to go fishing. He and Henri left for the lake right after breakfast. He'd have come by here to pick up his gear."
"No." Olyvia shook her head, looking away from the blood-red lipstick, on the mirror. Somehow that stark red made the message more menacing. "I was in my room until nine o'clock. Eddie and Henri had already left by then."
She reached a finger out to touch the terrifying words. "The sheets have been changed. I checked. And all the towels are clean, so Jacque has been here, but he hadn't gotten back to replace the soap and shampoo. That means, whoever did this," she said, gesturing at the mirror, "did it sometime between nine and ten-thirty when I got back."
"Jacque could have—"
Olyvia sighed. "You know better than that."
Tony's eyebrows drew together. "No, I don't. And you don't either. Any one of these lumber-jack wannabes could have done it."