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"Who was on the phone, dear?" Nana asked when I rejoined the group in the living room.
"Peter Blunt," I said, suppressing a pang of wistfulness. "He had the results of Claire Bellows's autopsy."
Silence descended. All eyes turned to me.
"I still bet she died of thirst," said Lucille.
"She died from deep vein thrombosis. That's what can happen when you sit in a cramped airplane seat for fifteen hours and don't exercise your legs. A blood clot can form and travel to your lungs. And it often happens to people who are over forty and have lost their youthful figures."
Awareness registered on everyone's face. Eyes shifted nervously. Mouths twitched in alarm.
"I told you we should travel first-cla.s.s," Helen Teig said as she thwacked d.i.c.k. "There's more legroom there."
"Do I look like I'm made of money, Helen?"
"A lot of good your bankroll will do if you're dead!"
Lucille brightened. "Of course, if he did die, Helen and I could room together and I wouldn't have to pay the extra charge for a single room anymore."
"The Aussies apparently wear compression stockings when they travel," I continued. "They promote circulation so clots won't form. Peter said you can buy them anywhere."
"Are they expensive?" asked d.i.c.k Stolee.
I went in for the kill. "They're a lot cheaper than a first-cla.s.s air ticket."
Juice got chugged. Plates got dumped on every hard surface. A little pushing and shoving, a slight bottleneck at the door, and they were gone.
I checked the second hand of my watch. Twenty seconds. Not bad. I smiled at the people who remained in the room. "Gee, that went well."
"Me and Tilly are going, too," said Nana. "You want we should pick you up a pair?"
"Sure, if there are any left."
Henry set down his plate and gla.s.s and peeked at the Polaroids Nana had dropped on the desk. "Did you shoot these, Marion?"
He leaned over for a closer look. "Do you mind if I ask where?"
"At that Twelve Apostles place."
He stared some more. "I'll be d.a.m.ned. Do you know what you have here?"
"No, it's much more than that. I know a thing or two about insicts, and what you've found here looks like a rare species of ant that hasn't been seen since the eighteen-eighties!"
Nana arched an eyebrow. "Sure, sure."
"Really! Marion, this is a significant discovery."
"We need to call someone. The state university. The government. You could become famous!"
"Uh-huh." Nana grabbed her pocketbook. "You ready, Til'?"
"You can't ignore this, Marion! You need to do something about it."
Nana picked up the photos, ripped them into shreds, and threw them in the wastebasket. "How's that?"
A horrified peep escaped Henry. Nana grabbed Tilly and headed out the door. "See you later, dear."
Henry stared helplessly at the wastebasket before scooping it off the floor. "Would you mind if I took this back to my room, Imily? I might be able to tape the pieces back togither."
"Knock yourself out."
Etienne leaned against the frame of the patio door and toasted me with his juice gla.s.s. "Another successful gathering, bella bella."
"You think?" I collapsed on the sofa. He sat down beside me and gathered me in his arms.
"You gave me the worst fright of my life yesterday, Emily. Please, don't ever do that again."
"If you thought you you were frightened, you should have been in my shoes." were frightened, you should have been in my shoes."
"I thought you'd drowned. When I grabbed Madelyn, I wanted to tear him apart with my bare hands." He twined his fingers with mine. "I wanted to kill him. If he had harmed you in any way, I would have."
I turned his hand over, wincing at his bruised knuckles before feathering a kiss on each one. "Your timing was impeccable."
"I'm Swiss. How does one live around so many clocks and stay unaffected?"
I felt that familiar hitch in my throat again. "Thank you for being there when I needed you most."
He kissed me gently. "Ti amo, bella," he whispered against my lips. "Ti voglio anima e cuore. Voglio restare con te per l'eternita."
I sighed. "What does that mean?"
He reached into his pants pocket and presented me with a small drawstringed pouch that was stamped with gold lettering.
"Rees and Benjamin?" I said, perplexed. Untying the strings, I upended the contents and quietly let out my breath, for there in my palm lay an elegant gold band in a lacy filigree pattern, quite the most beautiful ring I'd ever seen. "The ring from Sovereign Hill." My eyes welled with tears. "Oh, Etienne. How did you know?"
"I went back and asked the clerk what you'd been looking at. She showed this to me and said it fit you as if it had been made to order." He slid it on my finger. "Sposiamoci, Emily." He brought the ring to his lips and kissed it. "Will you marry me?" Emily." He brought the ring to his lips and kissed it. "Will you marry me?"
Unlike so many of life's challenging questions, there was only one answer to this one. "Okay!"
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