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Evil in Paradise
by Begin Again
| Category: || Mystery and Crime Fiction |
Posted:|| May 19, 2010 Views: 391|
Hidden from the unsuspecting eye, evil lurked in paradise.
The concrete city skyline shrouded in a mixture of fumes, oppressive heat, and noise faded away hours ago. A mosaic of green conifer pines, sugar maples, and dogwood trees amidst massive domes of granite boulders, lush foliage, and sporadic patches of wildflowers now provided a breathtaking view.
The steep, mountain highway wound its way skyward, toward the misty fog that cloaked the mountain tops. Not far from the roadside, sunlight kissed the rhododendrons and black-eyed susans growing peacefully at the edge of a silvery cascading waterfall.
During the first few hours of driving, Carrie's thoughts were crowded with James, her fiance. A dynamo executive with meticulous plans for the future, James rarely deviated from his routine. A high powered business meeting required his full attention in Atlanta, Georgia this week, the very reason Carrie and three of her sorority sisters chose the same week for their annual outing.
Knowing James had to work late last night, she'd planned an exquisite candle lit dinner for two, complete with champagne and his favorite filet mignon. The table was set on the balcony under the stars, bathed in the shimmer of moonlight. Everything was perfect, until she casually mentioned there had been a slight change in plans.
"Guess what?" Her soft blonde hair hung loosely around her shoulders. Her turquoise, silk sarong accented her sparkling blue eyes.
"What?" James, though ten years older than her, was a perfect male specimen. His physique, clothed or not, made her body tingle.
"Just guess." Giddy from champagne and moonlight, she playfully teased him, something she normally shied away from after one of his long days.
"I'm not interested in playing games, Carrie." His abruptness stunned her. He stood, carrying his drink to the balcony railing before speaking again, "Sorry, love, I'm tired. I have a big week ahead of me."
"I know. That's why I thought you'd be excited about the change in plans."
"Change in plans?" His eye brows pinched. "I don't like surprises, you know that. What's going on?"
The atmosphere was electrified, but not exactly how she'd imagined it. Losing her confidence, she nibbled on her lower lip, mulling over how she would approach the subject. The other girls had decided their significant others would join them at the Lodge at the end of the week. Carrie was thrilled at the thought of spending a weekend with James in the mountains, far away from ringing telephones and his demanding business.
"Well, spit it out. What's going on in that blond head of yours?"
"I was hoping, after your meetings, you might join me at the Lodge. We haven't spent much time together lately." She held her breath and waited, praying for a positive response.
"The business is growing by leaps and bounds. I have to stay on top of it or else someone else will." He slugged the remainder of his drink. "You knew what you were getting into, Carrie. I thought you were okay with it," he snapped.
"I was. I am, but I thought you could sneak away for the weekend, unwind from the stress." He ignored her plea. She didn't say anything else.
Turning away, he looked out over the city skyline. His silence grated on her nerves.
"Don't you want to spend time with me?" She knew she was whining, but she couldn't stop herself. Everyone else was excited about finishing off the vacation as couples. She couldn't fathom why James didn't feel the same.
When he turned to face her, the boyish grin she adored greeted her. A momentary sigh of relief washed over her. She'd been foolish to think he'd let her down. He brushed her lips with his before refilling their champagne glasses. Carrie could barely contain her excitement as she waited for his response.
"Honey, I'd love to spend the weekend with you and your friends at the Lodge."
Jumping out of her chair, she wrapped her arms around his neck, snuggling tight against his chest. "Oh, I can't wait. It'll be so much fun."
Unwinding her arms, he pushed her back a step or two, his dark brown eyes focused directly on her face. Dropping his arms to his side, he walked to the railing before speaking. "What I was trying to say-"
He cleared his throat, "I'd love to spend the weekend with you, but unfortunately, I made other plans."
"Other plans?" He could have thrown ice water in her face. "You didn't mention any other plans."
"It must have slipped my mind. Besides, you were going to be with your friends, I hardly thought it was necessary for me to explain how I was going to spend my time."
"No, of course not, but ..." Disappointment engulfed her. She let her thoughts trail off.
"I'm sorry. I had no idea you girls would decide to have men crash your party. I booked a golf outing in Myrtle Beach."
"Golfing? Are you meeting friends?" He hadn't played golf since she'd met him. "I didn't know you played golf." A nervous laugh escaped her lips.
"Haven't in years, but I've always wanted to play the Myrtle Beach course. Since I'll be in Atlanta, I thought I'd give it a try."
"I see." A tear glistened in the corner of her eye. "Couldn't you cancel ... for me?"
"It's a non-refundable package. If you'd told me earlier ..." He shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe next time." He leaned over and kissed her.
Unable to shake her disappointment, she sat silently on the balcony for awhile, and then, yawning, James kissed her goodbye, telling her to have a great time with the girls. She'd wept for hours.
She tried to call him in the morning, but he didn't answer. Unable to make amends, she'd loaded her suitcases into the rented car and left the city.
The spectacular scenery made it impossible to remain sad. With her favorite tunes blaring and the wind blowing through her hair, she slowly began to enjoy the trip.
A road sign indicated a scenic viewpoint was 500 feet ahead. Rounding the narrow curve, her breath escaped her. The majestic mountain view, the green valley below and the cascading waterfall was spectacular. Easing off the gas pedal, she pulled into the tiny parking lot and stopped.
Stepping out of the car, she inhaled deeply, sucking in the fresh mountain air. Cardinals and tiny yellow finches fluttered from tree to tree. Several black vultures circled high above, their huge wings spread as they glided round and round. Carrie stood mesmerized by their flight. Two of them swooped downward, disappearing into the heavy brush. She leaned over the rock wall, stretching but unable to see what carnage attracted them.
"Good day, Miss."
A deep baritone voice startled her, causing her to jump and fall against the car.
"Oh!" Righting herself, her eyes met the owner of the voice.
"Sorry, thought you heard me approach." A uniformed Park Ranger nodded at her.
"The scenery, it's breathtaking. I didn't hear your car." Carrie scanned the area. The only vehicle was her own. Bewildered, she looked back at him.
"Saw the vultures, too. Parked my jeep on an off-road, just a few feet back from here." He pointed toward the curve. "Can't take any chances in these hills, you know. Got to check out everything."
Carrie shivered beneath the scorching sun. She couldn't explain it, but the Ranger made her uncomfortable. Maybe it was the secluded area or his obvious appreciation of her short shorts, but something wasn't quite right. She stepped around him, opened the car door, and slid behind the steering wheel.
"Didn't mean to scare you off." He leaned in the window. She could feel his breath against her cheek. "Are you passing through or staying nearby?"
She hesitated before she answered, but mentally scolded herself. After all, he was law enforcement.
"Some friends and I are vacationing."
"Where abouts?" He shifted his vision from her face to her chest and then back to meet her eyes. "Be happy to give you directions if you need them."
"Thank you, but if my map is correct, the lodge should only be a few miles from here."
"That'd be Paradise Lodge." His smile broadened.
"Yes, that's the one."
"Well, I'll probably run into you again then. The Lodge sits right across from the Ranger Station."
"Really. Guess my friends and I won't have to be afraid of anything with all you rangers close at hand."
"You know what they say, never fear when a ranger's near." He stepped away from the car. "Take care. The road is mighty narrow at the top. Wouldn't want a pretty lady like you disappearing over the side. Probably take weeks to find you, that is if the bears don't get you first."
"Bears?" Carrie gulped. "Are there really bears out here?"
He laughed. "You city folk sure don't know nothing about these hills. There's plenty of bears roaming the forest. Heard last week that a hiker went missing near Willow Hollow. Haven't found a trace of her yet."
"Oh, gosh. That's horrible." She wondered if he was joking.
"Just keep close to the Lodge and you'll be fine." He saluted her and started walking down the hill.
Putting the car in gear, Carrie moved out onto the road. Glancing in the rearview mirror, she saw him lean over the wall. She couldn't help wondering what was down there. The missing hiker, perhaps? Swallowing hard, she pressed on the accelerator and the car headed upward toward the Lodge and her friends. She pushed thoughts of the hiker and James to the back of her mind. This was a weekend for fun.
The Park Ranger shaded his eyes and watched the red convertible disappear around the mountainside. He smiled.
Welcome to paradise.
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