Ashes and Bones: An Emma Fielding Mystery

Chapter 1

I SAT ON THE ROCK BY THE EDGE OF THE REDDISH clay path, watching the Aqua Velva water churning on the toothy black rocks below. The sharp salt air was tempered with the heavy freshness of the nearby forest, and that kept the bright sunshine from being excessively hot. Seabirds, not so different from the sandpipers and seagulls I was used to, wheeled and played on the updrafts far beneath me, while still being an easy hundred feet above the water. It would only take a subtle shift of weight, merely straightening my legs at the hip, and I would slide from my narrow perch and finally find out if all those falling nightmares I’d been having lived up to the real thing. Even if I didn’t hit one of those eager rocks, the impact on the water probably would break my back. I wondered if I would crash into one of the seabirds on the way down or if they would flap out of the way. But because I wasn’t really feeling suicidal, I allowed myself the shiver of vertigo for another moment or two, enjoying the thrill and the view, before I very carefully got up and picked my way back down to the picnic spot that Brian had chosen. Pity about the morbidity, I thought disinterestedly, particularly when things were so perfect.

I’m in what most people would call paradise, which on Earth is known as Kauai, with the man I love. I have everything I’ve always wanted: a tenured position, books with my name on the cover, plenty of students, hot sites to work on, and a livable if unfinished house, a genuine vacation, and I am about as much fun as a cold slate gravestone.

As a polite person, against my will I have developed into something of an adequate liar over the years, so convinced myself that I wasn’t spoiling my husband Brian’s vacation. He has a naturally happy disposition, particularly when the weather is warm; the booze, sex, idleness, and great food were a significant bonus. As far as our first real vacation since our honeymoon—a vacation that wasn’t wrapped around a conference or research trip—it was a smashing success.

The fact that I was miserable, however, was unrelated.

I found my way down the slope and crossed the sand along the water. The beach was nearly empty, not because it was a Thursday but because we’d outlasted the other tourists and the beach wasn’t any good for surfers. We could almost imagine that it was ours alone.

Physically, I felt great. I’d been catching up on my sleep. I had lost a little weight, but chalked it up to a stressful semester. No archaeologist field tan, elbow to fingers, here. I’d been super careful about the sun and could actually boast of having a tan that extended everywhere my bikini didn’t, and Brian claimed the freckles that came automatically with my dark red hair were cute. The bags under my eyes had faded and most of my bruises from my Krav Maga training were gone. I’d had just enough fieldwork before coming out so that my muscles were tolerably toned and I didn’t have the professorial slouch that seemed to settle in from October to May.

About twenty feet away from Brian and our towels, I remembered what was missing. I carefully smiled and waved at him. His dark brown hair was mussed from the wind and flaking out; his honey skin was glowing from the sun.

“You should have gone up,” I said, sitting down. “The view was great. I could see whales way out there.”

“All the views