Biologist, Ned Fielding leaves the tattered remains of his marriage behind to spend six months on Winward Island, a property shared by SENCA, his land conservation group, and the reclusive, Widow Barlow. Dispatched to the island to study a rare species of carrion beetle, Ned finds himself much more interested in studying the island’s only other human, the beautiful, Addie Barlow, whose screams of terror awaken him in the dead of night.
A hurricane and near drowning throw the island’s two inhabitants together and they begin a smoldering love affair. The locals call the Widow Barlow a witch and enchantress. They claim she murdered her much older husband, the philanthropist, King Barlow, but Ned cannot quite believe the wild tales about the gentle woman he adores. Enchantress, maybe—with her closest companions, an osprey, dolphin and coyote – but murderess? Will Ned’s quest for the truth destroy their love and Addie’s heart?
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“You can’t send that nitwit Peterson to do the job. Jesus, Marty! The last census we sent him out on was so fucked up it had to be completely redone.”
“Then who do you suggest, Phil? Margot’s on Block Island ‘till August and Ray’s wife’d never cut him loose for that long; six months is a long time to be away from the family. That’s why Andy’d be so perfect. No wife, no kids, practically no friends, and…”
“Forget it. I’ll call Ned. He’s the best person for the job anyway.”
“Fielding—you gotta be kidding! Penny’d never let him out of his cage for six months!”
“Penny’s got nothin’ to do with it—they’re separated.”
“Too bad…I didn’t know. Not that it’s a surprise; mismatched couple of the century, if you ask me. Mrs. Society and Mr. Limpet. Geez, how’d they ever hook up in the first place?”
“Married when they were kids; baby already on the way. Some people grow up together in those kinda marriages. Some don’t. Anyway, Ned’d be glad of the chance to get away, I’ll bet. It’s been pretty nasty on the home front from what he tells me.”
“Still under the same roof? Thought you said separated?”
“He’s lookin’, but they’re still sharing the house. She’s away right now, I think, with orders for him to be gone before she gets back. His family’s house, you know. ‘Bout the only thing he brought to the marriage and Penny wants it. Sickening when you think of all the Pardington millions she has to throw around.”
“Good old Ned. Penny’s always been a bitch.”
“Marty, I haven’t got time for this right now,” the older man interrupted, feeling like a traitor for gossiping about his friend’s marriage. “I’ll call Ned and if he can’t go, better start packing. Someone’s gotta be on the Winward Island by the middle of the month. Nicrophorus americanus, if they’re there, will be emerging by then and we want a complete study covering the whole six months till dormancy.”
“I’ll be in Portsmouth if you need me. Later, Phil.”
Marty Robinson left his friend to sort through the disheveled mess on his desk. Phil couldn’t remember Ned Fielding’s phone number, didn’t keep a rolodex or an address book, and his blotter, where the number was jotted down, was buried under a mountain of papers. Shifting the pile back and forth several times, he peeked cautiously underneath each corner. As he moved towards the middle of the blotter, he started a landslide of bills, flyers and grant proposals. The pile picked up steam, scooping up an overburdened vertical file in a downward rush. “Shit!” he muttered, watching the last of the papers cascade over the floor, some coming to rest under the water cooler, others floating into an open aquarium. “Sorry Boris,” he said, lunging to remove a stack of Chace Point Bird Sanctuary brochures from the back of a baby snapping turtle, too startled by the sudden onslaught to snap at him.
Turning back to the desk, he spied Fielding’s number scribbled on the now-emptied blotter. He dialed. Busy. Leaning back, he closed his eyes for several minutes. It had been a hard year for SENCA, the Southeastern Natural Conservation Agency, of which he was president. The whole region was in a recession and state and federal funding had been slashed. The first thing to go had been Phil’s secretary, Edna, who had been with him since the beginning—almost twenty years. They’d been good years, he reflected. He missed Edna. Actually, she’d been ready to retire and he just hadn’t bothered to replace her. He could easily hire part-time help, but he figured he’d save money and besides, he hated to break in a new person and have her poking around in his and Edna’s stuff.
And SENCA was in better shape than most. They had a generous endowment—lots of folks remembered them in their wills and the money had been invested prudently. King Barlow’s gift alone would keep them in operation for twenty or thirty years. And, in addition to the money, he had bequeathed Winward Island—half of it anyway—to the agency in his will. The island had been the one holding they’d neglected, until now.
On an unauthorized day trip, a couple of college kids, SENCA volunteers, had discovered what they believed to be Giant Carrion beetles, nicrophorus americanus, on the island. A rare species of burying beetles, nicrophorus americanus had thought to be extinct until their discovery in recent years on Block Island. Now they might also be present on Winward—the importance of this study dictated that he must send a decent researcher. Ned Fielding was overqualified for this type of field study, but the only man within the agency whom Phil trusted to do the job right.
They hadn’t sent anyone to the island since its acquisition twelve years earlier. It was time to conduct a complete census of the plant and animal life, time to map it out and give the island the attention it deserved. Its location along the Atlantic Flyway alone made it an important, extremely valuable acquisition.
He tried Fielding again. This time the phone rang four times before Ned picked it up.
“Ned, hey, it’s Phil.”
“How are things going?”
“’Bout the same. You know about Penny and me, there’s not much more to say.”
“It’s been great having your help at Chace Point this spring. Wish we could pay you more, but…”
“Hey, I’ve enjoyed myself. Ray and I just got the nest platform up on the spit—East Marsh—and we’re lookin’ for a new project.”
“That’s the reason I’m calling. You got a place to live yet, buddy?”
“I think I’ve got a place out near Watuppa Pond—friend of a friend. Gonna rent for a while, ‘till I get things straightened out. Why?”
“Well, if you’re free to get away for awhile, I have a job for you. Winward Island. Ever heard of it?”
“Yeah, off the coast near Derryville. Barrier Island—we own it, don’t we? SENCA, I mean.”
“Yup—it’s one of our few undiscovered frontiers. We need a complete census, soil samples, beach study, and surveying. Giant Carrion beetles have been found out there, you know.”
“No, I didn’t. Wow! After Block Island, that should be…”
“Let me qualify my statement. Grad students may have found the beetles last summer. They took some pretty amazing photos, no samples though, just pictures. Only there a few hours. Typical. But listen, buddy, if they’re there, we could work with the Block Island people on a recovery plan to bring them back. We need you for that, Ned. What do you say—you game?”
“Sounds good. How much time you talking about?”
“At least six months, maybe more.”
“Phil, I’d love to, but…with the divorce and all, I’m not sure I could get away for that long. Can I get back to you later?”
“Sure. I can give you a couple of days, but don’t wait too long, buddy. Someone’s gotta be out there by the middle of the month, and I’ll have to get Peterson or Ray if you can’t.”
“I’ll let you know tomorrow. Thanks Phil.”
Lee lives in southeastern Massachusetts on a beautiful river, where she canoes, swims, and watches the incredible variety of wildlife passing by. Her passions revolve around family, yoga, meditation, swimming, walking, and of course, writing.
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