The air conditioner was broken at City
Hall, and the smell of warm salt air drifted through the
windows from the beach across the street. Morgan Cleary
fanned herself and wished she hadn't dressed up. She
might have known that no one else would. The mayor sat
in shorts and a T-shirt that advertised his favorite beer.
One of the city councilmen wore a Panama hat and flip-flops.
Sarah Williford, the newest member of the Cape
Refuge City Council, looked as if she'd come in from a
day of surfing and hadn't even bothered to stop by the
shower. She wore a spandex top that looked like a bathing
suit and a pair of cutoff jeans. Her long hair could have
used a brush.
The council members sat with relaxed arrogance,
rocking back and forth in the executive chairs they'd spent
too much money on. Their critics-which included almost
everyone in town-thought they should have used that
money to fix the potholes in the roads that threaded
through the island. But Morgan was glad the council was
comfortable. She didn't want them irritable when her parents
The mayor's nasal drone moved to the next item on the
agenda. "I was going to suggest jellyfish warning signs at some of
the more popular sites on the beach, but Doc Spencer tells me he
ain't seen too many patients from stings in the last week or so-"
"Wait, Fred," Sarah interrupted without the microphone.
"Just because they're not stinging this week doesn't mean they
won't be stinging next week. My sign shop would give the city a
good price on a design for a logo of some kind to put up on all the
beaches, warning people of possible jellyfish attacks."
"Jellyfish don't attack," the mayor said, his amplified voice
giving everyone a start.
"Well, I can see you never got stung by one."
"How you gonna draw a picture of 'em when you can't
hardly see 'em?"
Everyone laughed, and Sarah threw back some comment that
couldn't be heard over the noise.
Morgan leaned over Jonathan, her husband, and nudged her
sister. "Blair, what should we do?" she whispered. "We're coming
up on the agenda. Where are Mama and Pop?"
Blair tore her amused eyes from the sight at the front of the
room and checked her watch. "Somebody needs to go check on
them," she whispered. "Do you believe these people? I'm so proud
to have them serving as my elected officials."
"This is a waste of time," Jonathan said. He'd been angry
and stewing all day, mostly at Morgan's parents, but also at her.
His leather-tanned face was sunburned from the day's fishing, but
he was clean and freshly shaven. He hadn't slept much last night,
and the fatigue showed in the lines of his face.
"Just wait," she said, stroking his arm. "When Mama and
Pop get here, it'll be worth it."
He set his hand over hers-a silent affirmation that he was
putting the angry morning behind him-and got to his feet. "I'm
going to find them."
"Good idea," Morgan said. "Tell them to hurry."
"They don't need to hurry," Blair whispered. "We've got lots
of stuff to cover before they talk about shutting down our bed-and-breakfast.
Shoot, there's that stop sign down at Pine and
Mimosa. And Goodfellows Grocery has a lightbulb out in their
"Now, before we move on," Fred Hutchins, the mayor, said,
studying his notes as if broaching a matter of extreme importance,
"I'd like to mention that Chief Cade of the Cape Refuge Police
Department tells me he has several leads on the person or persons
who dumped that pile of gravel in my parking spot."
A chuckle rippled over the room, and the mayor scowled.
"The perpetrator will be prosecuted."
Blair spat out her suppressed laughter, and Morgan slapped
her arm. "Shhh," Morgan tried not to grin, "you're going to make
"I'm just picturing a statewide search for the fugitive with
the dump truck," Blair said, "on a gravel-dumping spree across
the whole state of Georgia."
Morgan saw the mayor's eyes fasten on her, and she punched
her sister again. Blair drew in a quick breath and tried to
"The Owenses still ain't here?" he asked.
While Morgan glanced back at the door, Blair shot to her
feet. "No, Fred, they're not here. Why don't you just move this
off the agenda and save it until next week? I'm sure something's
"Maybe they don't intend to come," the mayor said.
"Don't you wish," Blair fired back. "You're threatening to
shut down their business. They'll be here, all right."
"Well, I'm tired of waiting," the mayor said into the microphone,
causing feedback to squeal across the room. Everybody
covered their ears until Jason Manford got down on his knees and
fiddled with the knob. "We've moved it down the agenda twice
already tonight," the mayor went on. "If we ever want to get out
of here, I think we need to start arguin' this right now."
Morgan got up. "Mayor, there must be something wrong.
Jonathan went to see if he could find them. Please, if we could just
have a few more minutes."
"We're not waitin' any longer. Now if anybody from your
camp has somethin' to say ."
"What are you gonna do, Mayor?" Blair asked, pushing up
her sleeves and shuffling past the knees and feet on her row. "Shut
us down without a hearing? That's not even legal. You could find
yourself slapped with a lawsuit, and then you wouldn't even have
time to worry about jellyfish and gravel. Where would that leave
She marched defiantly past the standing-room-only crowd
against the wall to the microphone at the front of the room.
Morgan got a queasy feeling in her stomach. Blair wasn't the
most diplomatic of the Owens family. She was an impatient intellectual
who found her greatest fulfillment in the books of the
library she ran. People were something of a nuisance to her, and
she found their pettiness unforgivable.
Blair set her hands on her hips. "I've been wanting to give
you a piece of my mind for a long time now, Fred."
The people erupted into loud chatter, and the mayor banged
his gavel to silence them. "As you know, young lady, the city council
members and I have agreed that the publicity from the 20/20
show about Hanover House a few months ago brought a whole
new element to this town. The show portrayed your folks as
willin' to take in any ol' Joe with a past and even exposed some
things about one of your current tenants that made the people of
this town uncomfortable and afraid. We want to be a family-friendly
tourist town, not a refuge for every ex-con with a probation
officer. For that reason, we believe Hanover House is a
danger to this town and that it's in the city's best interest to close
it down under Zoning Ordinance number 503."
Blair waited patiently through the mayor's speech, her arms
crossed. "Before we address the absurdity of your pathetic attempts
to shut down Hanover House just because my parents refused to
help campaign for you-" Cheers rose again, and Blair forged on.
"Maybe I should remind you that Cape Refuge got its name because
of the work of the Hanovers who had that bed-and-breakfast before
my parents did. It was a refuge for those who were hurting and had
no place else to go. I think we have a whole lot more to fear from
an ex-con released from jail with a pocketful of change and no
prospects for a job or a home, than we do from the ones who have
jobs and housing and the support of people who care about them."
Morgan couldn't believe she was hearing these words come
out of her sister's mouth. Blair had never sympathized with her
parents' calling to help the needy, and she had little to do with the
bed-and-breakfast. To hear her talk now, one would think she was
on the frontlines in her parents' war against hopelessness.
"Hanover House is one of the oldest homes on this island,
and it's part of our heritage," Blair went on. "And I find it real
interesting that you'd be all offended by what they do there out in
the open, when Betty Jean's secret playhouse for men is still operating
without a hitch."
Again the crowd roared. Horrified, Morgan stood up.
Quickly trying to scoot out of her row, she whispered to those
around her, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I didn't know she was going
to say that. She didn't mean it, she just says whatever comes to
"Incidentally, Fred," Blair shouted, "I've noticed that you
don't have any trouble finding a parking spot at her place!" Blair
The mayor came out of his seat, his mouth hanging open
with stunned indignation. Morgan stepped on three feet, trying
to get to her sister. She fully expected Fred to find Blair in contempt-if
mayors did that sort of thing in city council meetings-and
order the Hanover House bulldozed before nightfall.
"She didn't mean that!" Morgan shouted over the crowd,
pushing toward the front. "I'm sure she's never seen your car at
Betty Jean's, have you, Blair? Mayor, please, if I may say a few
words ." She finally got to the front, her eyes rebuking Blair.
Blair wouldn't surrender the microphone. "And I might add,
Mayor, that your own parents were on this island because of Joe
and Miranda Hanover and that bed-and-breakfast. If I remember,
your daddy killed a man accidentally and came here to stay while
he was awaiting trial."
The veins in Fred's neck protruded, and his face was so red
that Morgan feared the top of his head would shoot right off. "My
daddy was never convicted!" he shouted. "And if you're suggesting
that he was the same type of criminal that flocks to Hanover
House, you are sadly mistaken!"
Morgan reached for the microphone again, her mind already
composing a damage-control speech, but her sister's grip was
"After my parents inherited the bed-and-breakfast from the
Hanovers," Blair said, "they continued their policy of never harboring
anybody illegally. You know that my father works with
these people while they're still in prison, and he only agrees to
house the ones he trusts, who are trying to turn their lives around.
Hanover House gives those people an opportunity to become
good people who can contribute to society . unlike some of
those serving on our city council."
Again, there was applause and laughter, and Morgan
grabbed Blair's arm and covered the microphone. "You're turning
this into a joke!" she whispered through her teeth. "Mama and
Pop are going to be mortified! You are not helping our cause!"
"I can handle this," Blair said, jerking it back.
Morgan forced herself between Blair and the microphone.
"Your honor . uh . Mr. Mayor . council members . I am
so sorry for my sister's outbursts. Really, I had no idea she would
say such things."
Blair stepped to her side, glaring at her as if she'd just
"But I think we've gotten a little off track here. The fact is
that Hanover House doesn't just house those who've gotten out
of jail. It also houses others who have no place to go."
Art Russell grabbed the mayor's microphone, sending feedback
reverberating over the room. "I don't think Cape Refuge is very well
served by a bunch of people who have no place else to go."
"Well, that's not up to you, is it, Art?" Blair asked, her voice
carrying over the speakers.
"If I may," Morgan said, trying to make her soft voice sound
steady, "the question here is whether there's something illegal
going on at Hanover House. And unless there is, you have no
grounds for closing us down."
The crowd applauded again, but Sarah, the swimsuit-clad
councilwoman, dragged the microphone across the table. The
cord wasn't quite long enough, so she leaned in. "If there aren't
any dangerous people staying at the bed-and-breakfast, then how
come 20/20 said Gus Hampton served time for armed robbery
and didn't even complete his sentence? And how come your husband
was at the dock fighting with your parents just this morning,
complaining about Hampton? I heard it myself. Jonathan
didn't want you working there around Hampton, and he said it
loud and clear."
Blair's eyes pierced Morgan. "Why didn't you tell me this?"
"It wasn't relevant," Morgan hissed back, "since I didn't
think you'd be the one speaking for us."
The council members all came to attention, their rocking
stopped, and they waited for an answer. "If there isn't any danger
at Hanover House," Sarah repeated, "then how come your own
family's fighting over it?"
Blair tried to rally. "Well, Sarah, when Jonathan gets back
here, you can ask him. But meanwhile, the question is simple. Do
you have the right to shut down Hanover House, and if you do try
to close it, are you financially able to handle the lawsuit that's
going to be leveled at this town . and maybe even at each of you
"They can't file a lawsuit," Fred said, his face still red.
"Watch us," she bit out. "And the chances of your reelection
would be slim at best, since the people of this town love my parents.
Most everybody in this town has benefited from their kindness
in one way or another."
The crowd applauded again, and cheers and whoops backed
up her words. But Morgan realized that it wasn't the cries of the
people that would decide the fate of Hanover House. It was those
angry members of the city council, sitting there with their hackles
up because Blair had insulted them.
"Some call that kindness, others call it naivete," the mayor
said. "They'll believe anything anybody tells them. Just because
some convict claims he wants to change, doesn't mean he will."
"Thank goodness they believed your daddy," Blair said, "or
you might not be sitting on this island in some overpriced chair!"
As the crowd expressed their enjoyment again, Morgan
pressed her fingertips against her temples and wondered where
her parents were. If they would just rush in right now and take
over the microphone, she knew they could turn this around.
While the mayor tried to get control of the crowd again,
Morgan looked fully at Blair, pleading for her to surrender the
mike and not do any more harm. But Blair's scathing look told
Morgan that her sister was in this to the end. The burn scar on the
right side of Blair's face was as red as the mayor's face. It always
got that way when she was upset, reminding Morgan of her sister's
one vulnerability. It was that imperfect half of her face that
kept her unmarried and alone-and it had a lot to do with the
hair-trigger temper she was displaying now.
"Order, now! Come on, people-order!" the mayor bellowed,
banging his gavel as if he were hammering a nail.
The sound of sirens rose over the crowd's noise, cutting
across the mayor's words and quieting the crowd. Those on the
east side of the building, where Morgan and Blair stood, craned
their necks to see out the open window, trying to figure out where
the fire trucks and police cars were heading.