Passing Through Paradise

By: Susan Wiggs

“Were You And Victor Happy?”

“Let’s see.” Setting aside her glass, Sandra crossed her feet, clasping her hands behind her head. “Did I think I was happy? Absolutely. Did I love Victor?”

Mike regretted asking her about him. She was reciting the questions with the same unsettling cadence of a cross-examination.

She moved her hands to her lap. “With every bit of my heart,” she said, and he was disconcerted to hear a tremor of tears in her voice. She cleared her throat. “Did Victor love me? Ah, now there’s a puzzle. Can you ever know what’s in another person’s heart?”

Christ, what was she saying? That Victor hadn’t loved her? “What do you think now?”

“That I don’t know a thing.”

Leaning forward, Mike brushed a lock of hair away from her cheek. Just to see if it felt as silky as it looked. It did.

She gasped softly and pulled back. “Mike—”

“Shh,” he said. “I won’t hurt you.”

“Yes, you will.” She studied him intently, considering. “But I think it might not matter.”

Chapter 1

Journal Entry—January 4—Friday

Ten Tortures for Courtney Procter

1. Tell her she’s finally growing into her face.

2. Organize a boycott of her show’s sponsors.

3. Send her a silicon recall notice.

4. Get a convict to mail her fan letters from prison.

5. Tell everyone who she used to date—and why he dumped her.

“ . . . officially ruled an accident, but the sleepy coastal town of Paradise still holds one woman responsible for the tragedy that took prominent politician Victor Winslow — his beautiful young widow, Sandra. Despite last night’s ruling by the state medical examiner, unsettling questions persist.”

The bluish image flickered as the camera tightened its shot on the blond TV reporter. “Witnesses who last saw State Senator Winslow alive on the night of February ninth have testified that he was engaged in a heated argument with his wife. An anonymous caller reported that the Winslows’ car was traveling at a high rate of speed when it spun out of control on Sequonset Bridge and plunged into the Sound.

“Investigators later discovered a bullet embedded in the car’s dashboard. Traces of the victim’s blood were detected on Mrs. Winslow’s clothing.

“None of this was sufficient to satisfy the state’s burden of proof that a murder occurred, but this reporter promises to investigate further the trail leading to the late Senator Winslow ‘s wife, the sole beneficiary of a large life insurance policy . . .

“And so Sandra Winslow, known locally as the Black Widow of Blue Moon Beach, is left with only her conscience for company. This is Courtney Procter, WRIQ News.”

Sandra Winslow set down her journal and pen. Picking up the remote control, she aimed it at the morning news-caster’s taut, surgically enhanced face. “Bang,” she said, pressing the OFF button. “You’re dead. What part of ‘ruled an accident’ didn’t you get, Courtney Proctologist?”

She stood and walked to the broad, bow-front window, with her arms wrapped around the emptiness inside her. She savored a fragile sense of triumph—finally, the accident ruling had come through—but the local news report left the door open for trouble. No matter what the ME ruled, there were those who would always hold her responsible.

A harsh wind, on the leading edge of the coming storm, flattened the clacking dune grasses and churned the waters of the Sound into a froth. A handcrafted suncatcher in the shape of a bird vibrated against the windowpane, stirring memories she couldn’t escape.

Sandra felt so far away from the person she’d once been, and not just because she’d moved into the old beach house after being released from the hospital. Only a year ago, she’d sat at the head table of the Newport Marina ballroom, wearing a pink knitted suit with black trim and matching shoes, her gloved hands folded in her lap. With his trademark panache, her husband held forth from the podium, speaking with compelling eloquence of his commitment to the citizens who had just elected him to a second term. He’d spoken of service and gratitude and family. And love. When Victor spoke of love, he could make even the most jaded heart believe.

He’d singled Sandra out as his steady anchor in the shifting seas of politics. His family and friends surrounded her in a warm cocoon of affection, as if she were truly one of them. After the speech, she sipped coffee, shared small talk and smiles, held other women’s babies and stood proudly at the side of her famous husband.

The man who was missing, and now presumed dead.

She stared out the window, tucking ink-smudged hands into the back pockets of her jeans.

For Sandra, there was no “presumed” about Victor’s death. She knew.

The wounded morning sky, as lackluster as midwinter itself, grew duller rather than brighter with the coming day. Looking out over the gray-shadowed beach, she felt a piercing loneliness, so sharp and cold that she flinched and hugged the oversized sweater tighter around her.

Victor’s sweater.

She shut her eyes and inhaled with a shudder of emotion. It still smelled of him. Faintly spicy and clean and tinged with . . . him. Just him.

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