Nantucket Island was thirty miles out at sea, with no bridge or tunnel connecting it to the mainland. Often gale force winds cut it off from boats or planes, and even on mild summer days, fog could drift around the island, enclosing the small world in a shimmer that made Nantucket seem almost unreal, a fantasy made of salt air, mist, and dreams.
Most summer days were clear, bright, and beautiful. For a century, people had come to the island to enjoy the warm beaches, the sparkling ocean, and easy evenings under the stars, dining at restaurants with top-notch chefs.
The natives and the "washed-ashores" resided on the island year-round. Others came for the summer, filling Nantucket's guesthouses and hotels. The small town of Nantucket had a movie theater, library, amateur theater, classical concerts, and bookstores, all within walking distance from the hotels. A person could step off a ferry onto the cobblestones and walk to his hotel or house. In the 1990s, the super-rich summered on Nantucket, but no one knew who they were, because they didn't want to "stand out," considering it vulgar.
When first built in the seventies, a hotel named the Nantucket Palace towered in fake aristocratic grandeur at the corner of South Beach Street and Easton Street. Every islander knew that "the Nantucket Palace" was a ridiculous name for a hotel on an island settled by Quakers who believed in simplicity, but summer people flocked there because it was close to the shops, the yacht club, and the beaches.
In the nineties, the Palace was sold to an entrepreneur who wanted to make the hotel contemporary and cool. He hired Sharon Waters to deal with the paperwork. Sharon was a prim woman in her thirties who loved nothing more than adding figures on her desktop calculator. She had no problem working at a hotel that was in the middle of a renovation. Sharon had worked for the former owner. Now she was smoothly and happily dealing with the mounds of tedious paperwork for the new owners, who had demolished much of the hotel before being ordered to cease work until every form was signed, submitted, and approved. This fall and winter, the owners would build the new hotel and planned to name it Rockers. Sharon's office was just above the basement with its industrial-size laundry, four single bedrooms for staff, and one bathroom. Sharon was appointed to find tenants to rent the bedrooms in the basement of the one wing of the hotel that remained.
The word was out that there was summer money on Nantucket, and in the late spring, college graduates from near and far swarmed the island, looking for jobs and temporary living quarters. Of the many applicants, Sharon had awarded them to the four people she thought least likely to hold wild parties or destroy the rooms.
First, Ariel Spencer, who came from a good family, had just graduated from a good college, and lived in a pleasant Massachusetts suburb. Ariel had the quiet, sweet manner of a person who knows she's fortunate and wants you to be fortunate, too.
Second: Sheila Murphy. A good Catholic girl with bright red hair, she came from Ohio and had just graduated from Cleveland State University. Pretty but plump, Sheila was so shy Sharon Waters wanted to yell "Boo" at her for the pleasure of seeing her jump, but Sheila had worked as a maid at the Cleveland Renaissance and came with sterling recommendations.
Third: Wyatt Smith. Sharon took one look at him and thought: good guy. He looked reliable. Trustworthy. Sensible. A graduate of the University of Missouri in Columbia, he majored in geology, but he looked more like a runner than a geek. Lanky and tall, with tidy brown hair and nice blue eyes, he'd grown up in a small Missouri town. This summer he had a job at Cabot's Marine, repairing boats, selling parts. He was a quiet young man, respectful of Sharon, and she liked that.
Fourth, and a bit of a gamble, was Nicolas Volkov. With his curly black hair and sleepy amber eyes, he was more handsome than any guy should be, and obviously the kind who would flirt with anyone, probably to keep his skills sharp or maybe he just couldn't help himself. At his interview, he gave Sharon a sexy sleepy-eye look, even though Sharon was clearly in her thirties and not interested. He'd gone to Harvard, of course, and had a job at Fanshaw's, a new, posh men's clothing store run by a snobbish Brit. Nick was a descendant of an ancient aristocratic Russian family, he told Sharon, but they had fallen on hard times. His parents had had to sell their Fabergé Easter egg and some of their jewelry to afford his college tuition, which was why he was working this summer. Sharon gave him the final bedroom.
Ariel got to choose her room first simply because she arrived first. The four basement bedrooms were all dreary, with linoleum floors and small rectangular windows set high in knotty-pine-covered walls, but each had a closet, dresser, desk, chair, bedside table, and a bed that had an unstained mattress and clean sheets.
She'd brought her own sheets, actually, as well as her own pillow and quilt.
Ariel chose the bedroom farthest from the bathroom. Living in a dorm had presented her with more sounds of people vomiting than she'd ever expected to hear. She placed the small fuzzy teddy bear holding out a yellow silk flower on the bed in the room next to hers, hoping that a woman would take that room. Hoping that that woman would become a new friend.
It was the last day of May when Ariel entered her dull little bedroom, set her suitcases on the bed, and began to unpack. Her dresses and blouses were on quilted hangers brought from home. She wanted to look presentable at her job as receptionist at the real estate agency. She placed a large three-ring binder in the very center of her desk. Already it was filled with the beginning of a short story. She planned to write on weekends. She had been accepted into an MFA program at the University of Iowa. She would start this fall.
Someone knocked on her door, and Ariel turned to see a tall, slender, good-looking man standing on the threshold. "You're here early."
"Oh." For a moment, she could only stare. He was so unexpectedly, quietly attractive. She pulled herself together. "You're here early, too." Crossing the room, she held out her hand. "I'm Ariel Spencer."
"Wyatt Smith." Taking her hand in a brief, firm shake, he gave her a lopsided grin. "Looks like you'll have a female neighbor next door. She's marked her territory with a teddy bear."
Ariel blushed, caught out. "I put that there. It's not that I don't like men, I do. But they are . . . messier." She wanted to stand very close to Wyatt Smith. He had a double magnetism. Something about him made her feel safe . . . and sexy.