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From the bestselling author of The Weekenders comes a delightful novel about new love, old secrets, and the kind of friendship that transcends generations.
When ninety-nine-year-old heiress Josephine Bettendorf Warrick summons Brooke Trappnell to Talisa Island, her 20,000-acre remote barrier island home, Brooke is puzzled. Everybody in the South has heard about the eccentric millionaire mistress of Talisa, but Brooke has never met her. Josephine’s cryptic note says she wants to discuss an important legal matter with Brooke, who is an attorney, but Brooke knows that Mrs. Warrick has long been a client of a prestigious Atlanta law firm.
Over a few meetings, the ailing Josephine spins a tale of old friendships at a time when World War II was looming; when secrets led to betrayal and a long-unsolved murder. She tells Brooke she is hiring her for two reasons: to protect her island and legacy from those who would despoil her land, and secondly, to help her make amends with the heirs of the long dead women who were her closest friends, the girls of The High Tide Club—so named because of their youthful skinny dipping escapades—Millie, Ruth and Varina.
Even at the end of her life, Josephine seems unwilling or unable to face her past, deliberately evading Brooke’s questions. When Josephine nears death with her secrets intact, Brooke is charged with contacting Josephine’s friends’ descendants and bringing them together on Talisa for a reunion of women who’ve actually never met. The High Tide Club is Mary Kay Andrews at her Queen of the Beach Reads best, a compelling and witty tale of romance thwarted, friendships renewed, justice delivered and true love found.
Brooke Trappnell rarely bothered to answer her office phone, especially when the caller ID registered “unknown number” because said caller was usually selling something she either didn’t need or couldn’t afford. But it was a slow day, and the office number actually was the one listed on her business cards, so just this once, she made an exception.
“Trappnell and Associates,” she said crisply.
“I’d like to speak to Miss Trappnell, please.” She was an older woman, with a high, quavery voice, and only a hint of the thick Southern accents that prevailed on this part of the Georgia coast.
“This is she.” Brooke grabbed a pen and a yellow legal pad, just in case she had a potential real, live client on the other end.
“Oh.” The woman seemed disappointed. Or maybe disoriented. “I see. Well, this is Josephine Warrick.”
The name sounded vaguely familiar, but Brooke didn’t know why. She quickly typed it into the search engine on her computer.
“Josephine Warrick on Talisa Island,” the woman said impatiently, as though that should mean something to Brooke.
“I see. What can I do for you today, Mrs. Warrick?” Brooke glanced at the computer screen and clicked on a four-year-old Southern Living magazine story with a headline that said “Josephine Bettendorf Warrick and Her Battle to Save Talisa Island.” She stared at the color photograph of a woman with a mane of wild white hair, standing defiantly in front of what looked like a pink wedding cake of a mansion. The woman wore a full-length fur coat and high-top sneakers and had a double-barreled shotgun tucked in the crook of her right arm.
“I’d like you to come over here and see me,” Mrs. Warrick said. “I can have my boat pick you up at the municipal marina at 11:00 A.M. tomorrow. All right?”
“Well, um, can you tell me what you’d like to talk to me about? Is this a legal matter?”
“Of course it’s a legal matter. You are a lawyer, are you not? Licensed to practice in the state of Georgia?”
“It’s too complicated to go into on the phone. Be at the marina right at eleven, you hear? C. D. will pick you up. Don’t worry about lunch. We’ll find something for you to eat.”
Her caller didn’t hear her objections because she’d already disconnected. And now Brooke had another call coming in.
She winced when she glanced at the caller ID. Dr. Himali Patel. Was the pediatric orthopedist already calling to dun her for Henry’s ruinous medical bills?
“Hello, Brooke. It’s Dr. Patel. Just following up to see how Henry’s physical therapy is coming.”
“He’s fine, thanks. His last appointment was this week.”
“I’m so glad,” Dr. Patel said. Dr. Himali Patel was the soft-spoken Indian American doctor who’d treated Henry’s broken arm. Brooke shuddered when she thought about the thousands she still owed for the surgery. She’d rolled the dice on an “affordable,” high-deductible health insurance policy and came up snake eyes when Henry fell from the jungle gym at the park and landed awkwardly on his arm, leading to a trip to the emergency room, surgery, and weeks’ worth of physical therapy.
“If he has any pain or his range of motion starts to seem limited, bring him back into the office. Other than that, he’s good to go.”
“Thanks, Doctor.” Good to go. Easy for her to say. Brooke still needed to call the hospital’s billing department to set up a payment plan.
* * *
The Southern Living magazine article was timed to coincide with Josephine Warrick’s ninety-fifth birthday. Which would make her ninety-nine now. Brooke reached for the glass of iced tea and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich she’d brought from home and read the article, and half a dozen others she’d found online, catching up with the colorful life and times of Josephine Bettendorf Warrick.
She already knew a little about Talisa, dating back to a brief, ill-fated Girl Scout camping expedition nearly twenty-five years earlier. Her memory of the place was hazy, because she’d gotten seasick on the boat ride across the river on the way to the island and then managed to get stung by a jellyfish and hike through a patch of poison ivy. The assistant troop leader had to arrange for a boat to take her back to the mainland a day early to await pickup by her parents, who were two hours away in Savannah. It had been Brooke’s first and last camping trip. The name Talisa called up memories of calamine lotion, burned marshmallows, and her sight line, from the backseat of the Cadillac, of her father’s neck, pink with barely suppressed anger at having to miss his Saturday golf game.
Brooke jotted notes as she read and chewed her sandwich. Talisa, she learned, was a twelve-thousand–acre barrier island a thirty-minute ferry ride from where she now lived in St. Ann’s, Georgia. It had been purchased as a winter retreat in 1912 by Samuel G. Bettendorf and two cousins, all of whom were in the shipping business together in Boston. In 1919, Samuel Bettendorf and his wife, Elsie, had built themselves a fifteen-room Mediterranean revival mansion, which they named Shellhaven.
In 1978, the cousins had sold their interest in Talisa to the State of Georgia for a wildlife refuge, which explained how Brooke’s Girl Scout troop had been allowed to camp there. Samuel Bettendorf had retained his property, which was on the southeast side of the island, facing the ocean.
And Samuel’s daughter and only living heir, Josephine Bettendorf Warrick, had been engaged in a lengthy court battle with the state, which had been trying, in vain, to buy up the remainder of the island for the past twenty years.
Was this why Mrs. Warrick wanted to see her? Brooke frowned. She’d spent the first three years of her career working at a white-shoe Savannah law firm, doing mostly corporate and civil work. But since fleeing to the coast as a runaway bride, she’d hung out a shingle as a solo practitioner. The and Associates part of Trappnell and Associates was pure fiction. There were no associates and only a very-part-time receptionist working in the one-story, wood-shingled office she rented downtown on Front Street. It was just thirty-four-year-old Brooke Marie Trappnell. In life, and in law, come to think of it. She did some divorce work, DUI, personal injury, and the occasional petty civil or criminal work. But she knew next to nothing about the highly specialized area of eminent domain law.
Which was what she’d tell Josephine Bettendorf Warrick. Tomorrow. And why not? She had a 9:00 A.M. appointment to see a client who’d been locked up for assault and battery in the Carter County Jail for a week, following a run-in with a clerk at the local KwikMart who’d tried to charge her ninety-nine cents for a cup of crushed ice. But the rest of her calendar was open. Not an unusual occurrence these days.
There were, by her count, nearly three dozen other attorneys practicing law in St. Ann’s, all of them long-term, well-established good ol’ boys, who gobbled up whatever lucrative legal work was to be done in this town of seventeen thousand souls. Brooke counted herself lucky to pick up whatever crumbs the big boys didn’t want.
If the weather app on her phone was to be trusted, tomorrow would be another sunny, breezy spring day. Why not take a boat ride to reacquaint herself with Talisa on her own terms and meet the legendary Josephine Warrick?
She heard the music blaring from within the office as soon as she parked the Volvo out front on Friday morning. Twangy guitar, heavy drumbeats, some kind of party-hearty country music. Brooke dug a can of Mace from her purse and quietly moved toward the door, which was slightly ajar.
She eased the door open with her foot and cautiously poked her head inside.
The intruder was so intent on her task, she never even looked up. She was seated with her bare feet propped up on the receptionist’s deck, her head bobbing, singing along with the radio. “Play it again, play it again, play it again,” she repeated, drumming the desktop for emphasis.
Brooke reached down and tapped the wireless speaker sitting atop the file cabinet.
The girl, startled, jerked upright.
“Jesus, Brooke!” she exclaimed, reaching for the bottle of nail polish she’d been applying to her toenails. “You scared the shit out of me!”
“And you almost gave me a heart attack when I drove up and heard that music and saw the door standing open,” Brooke said. She held up the can of Mace. “You’re lucky I didn’t spray first and ask questions later.”
“What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you were supposed to go see Brittni in the jailhouse this morning,” Farrah said, glancing at the clock that hung over the office’s sole bank of file cabinets.
“And I thought you were supposed to be in second-period English.”
Farrah Miles was a high school senior who also doubled as Henry’s babysitter. Brooke and Farrah had met in September after Brooke had given a career-day talk about law at the local high school. Most of the teenagers had napped or stared at their phones during her talk. But the next day, Farrah, a petite blonde with a tiny gold nostril stud, blue-green streaks in her hair, and a penchant for cowboy boots and supershort cutoff jeans, showed up at her office and proclaimed herself interested in the law and a job.
The girl was smart and efficient—when she wanted to be—so they’d struck a deal that Farrah would work five days a week after school and pinch-hit as a babysitter for three-year-old Henry, as needed.
Farrah sat down and resumed her pedicure, dabbing a bit of purple polish on her big toenail. “Mr. Barnhart’s a prick. We’ve only got two more weeks of class before graduation, and I’ve already got a solid A, but he still won’t exempt me from taking the final exam like my other teachers.”
“So you’re cutting class? Farrah, he could still flunk you. I thought we talked about this. You’ve got to keep your grades up if you want to get into Georgia.”
The girl scowled. “They wait-listed me, Brooke. I’m not gonna get in. I’ll just go to Community College like everybody else. It’s no biggie.”
Brooke rolled her desk chair over to Farrah’s desk and sat inches away from her. The girl lowered her head, pretending to concentrate on her toes. Brooke reached out and tilted Farrah’s chin, lifting it until they were eye to eye.
“Listen to me, Farrah Michele Miles. You still have a really good chance. You aced your SATs and your ACTs. You’ve got a solid 3.9 grade point average in mostly advanced placement classes, and plenty of extracurricular activities. You wrote amazing essays, and your teachers wrote you great recommendation letters. Do not screw this up. Please?”
“I’m not screwing anything up.” Farrah changed the subject. “So what happened this morning with Brittni?”
“I went over to the jail. Her stepfather still won’t post bail, and her court date’s not ’til next week, so there’s not much I could say except hang tight and try not to get in any more fights.”
Farrah shook her head. “I know she’s my cousin, but she is such a dumb bitch. She shoulda just paid the ninety-nine cents for the damn cup of ice. It’s not like she was broke!”
“I told her the same thing,” Brooke said, “but she says the KwikMart cashier was some kind of high school frenemy who thinks Brittni stole her boyfriend.”
“Right. That’s Kelsy Cotterell, and she hates Britt because she totes did steal Kelsy’s boyfriend. And also because Brittni had his name tattooed right across her chest, which is not even hot, despite that boob job of hers,” Farrah said. “She thinks because she used to be a cheerleader the whole world owes her something. Mama says she gets that and her lard butt from Aunt Charla.”
Brooke pressed her lips together to keep from laughing at Farrah’s dead-on assessment of her client and her client’s mother. “Okay. Enough about Brittni. As long as you’re here, you might as well get some work done. I need you to go online and do some research. See what you can find out about State of Georgia v. Josephine Warrick. Print out what you get and start a file.”
“Josephine Warrick? Is that the old lady who owns Talisa? What’s up with her?”
“She called me yesterday, wouldn’t say what it’s about. Just that she wants to see me about an unspecified legal matter. I’m headed over there in a few minutes.”
“Awesome. A new client. So that’s why you’re all dressed up today. You look nice, by the way.”
“Thanks,” Brooke said. “I kinda like that nail polish of yours too. What’s it called?”
“Violet Femmes,” Farrah said. She held up the bottle. “Want a hit?”
“No, thanks. I’ll stay with my Bubble Bath. Gotta look conservative in my line of business.”
Shunning her usual casual office attire, Brooke had reached to the back of her closet and brought out an expensive tailored navy pantsuit, which she wore with a white silk shell, pearl earrings, and a pair of black lizard-skin Tod’s loafers, throwbacks from her Savannah wardrobe, which rarely saw the light of day in St. Ann’s.
“That old lady’s, like, filthy rich, you know,” Farrah said.
“I doubt that she’ll end up hiring me. I don’t practice the kind of law it sounds like she needs.”
“You’re a lawyer, right? Why wouldn’t she hire you?”
“I’m a general practitioner, remember? From the little research I’ve done, it sounds like she needs somebody who does eminent domain law. But she seems like quite a character, so I’m gonna go see her anyway.”
“Text me some pictures of the house, okay? I’ve never actually been inside. Jaxson and I used to ride over to the island on his brother’s boat last summer to party at the top of that old lighthouse, but I hear she’s got an armed security guy roaming around now.”
“Talisa is private property. You and your friends had best stay away from there,” Brooke said, trying to look severe. “Unless you want to share a jail cell with your cousin.”
“Whatevs.” Farrah set the bottle of nail polish aside and turned the music on again.
Brooke promptly turned down the volume. “Who is that, anyway?”
The girl’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding, right? Seriously? You never heard Luke Bryan before?”
“These days my playlist mostly consists of Kidz Bop and the Wiggles,” Brooke replied.
“Girrrrrl, you need to get in the now,” Farrah said condescendingly, reeling off her current favorite country music acts before stopping abruptly. “Hey, I almost forgot to tell you the good news.”
“I might have gotten us a new client. Jaxson’s mom left his dad again this week, and she swears this time it’s for good. So I gave her your card. If she hires you for the divorce, do I get, like, a finder’s fee or something?”
Brooke laughed. “We’ve got to find a way to get you into UGA, kid. Someday, you’re gonna make somebody a hell of a lawyer.”
* * *
The municipal marina was quiet at midday. The tide was dead low, and most of the serious fishermen had set out earlier in the morning. Seagulls screeched and swooped for fiddler crabs scuttling across the exposed gray pluff mud of the riverbank. A couple of derelict-looking shrimp boats creaked at their moorings at the end of the wharf, along with a handful of the open, shallow-hulled center-console boats favored by local crabbers. There were seven or eight shiny new cabin cruisers and three sailboats scattered along the wharf too, but most of the larger, more expensive boats were to be found up the coast, on St. Simon’s Island, which was where really wealthy boaters congregated.
Brooke gazed along the length of the long wharf, wondering which of the boats belonged to Josephine Warrick.
She heard a sharp whistle and swung around to see who it was meant for.
Finally, she spotted a modest, faded-yellow craft bobbing at its mooring at the end of the dock. A lone man stood on the bow, waving at her. He cupped his hands around his mouth and called to her.
“Are you Brooke?”
She nodded and hurried toward the boat.
He was skinny, with thinning hair bound into a scraggly gray braid that hung down his neck, bow-legged and sun-bronzed, wearing an ancient green army fatigue shirt with the sleeves hacked off and unbuttoned to his bare bony chest, and cutoff jeans that had seen better days. Clipped to the belt of his shorts was a holster with a large pistol. Brooke wasn’t good with guns, but she was pretty sure it was a 9 mm.
His face was shaded by a sweat-stained ball cap, and his eyes were hidden behind cheap aviator sunglasses, but she felt the intensity of his stare.
“Are you C. D.? From Talisa?”
“That’s me,” he said, offering her a hand. “C. D. Anthony, in the flesh. Come aboard.”
He motioned for her to sit atop a cushioned bench at the stern and busied himself untying the boat.
“All set?” he asked, and without waiting for her reply, he gunned the motor and expertly backed the boat away from the wharf.
The man turned to look at her as the boat putted quietly through the marina’s no-wake zone.
“Nice day for a boat ride,” he said abruptly. “You ever been over to the island before?”
“A long time ago,” Brooke said.
“I don’t reckon it’s changed much, no matter how long ago it was,” he said. “You a friend of Miss Josephine’s?”
“Not really,” Brooke said.
“She don’t get a lot of visitors. So I reckon maybe you’ve got business over there?”
Brooke found herself squirming a little under his stare. “Something like that.”
He was sizing her up. “You a lawyer? You look like a lawyer to me.”
“Good guess,” Brooke said, keeping it light. “How about you? I assume you work for Mrs. Warrick? In what capacity?”
“Whatever needs doin’, I do,” C. D. said. “Run the boat, work on the vehicles a little. Fetch groceries and supplies from the mainland. Like that.”
“She ain’t in real good health. Took her to the doctors over in Jacksonville last month. She don’t say a lot, but I reckon they gave her bad news. Louette, she’s kinda the housekeeper, she says Josephine don’t eat much. Makes sense. She was pretty stout when I met her, but lately, she’s gotten real skinny. Eat up with cancer probably.”
Brooke wondered how Josephine Warrick would feel about one of her employees gossiping about her health with a total stranger.
“If that’s true, I’m sorry to hear it,” Brooke said politely.
She pivoted sideways, signaling their discussion was over, gazing back toward the mainland. She knew it was a five-mile crossing to Talisa, and she didn’t care to spend the trip chatting with this unnerving cornpone Popeye.
He took the hint and gunned the boat’s motor the minute they passed the last piling marking the no-wake zone. She gripped the seat with both hands and within minutes found herself being drenched with sea spray every time the small vessel crested one wave and bounced back into the water.
* * *
Eventually, Brooke saw a green swath appear on the horizon, and ten minutes after that, C. D. slowed the boat down and they glided into a narrow tidal creek. At the creek’s widening, she spotted a long dock jutting into the water. A sturdy black man stood at the end of the dock, his arms crossed over his chest. A child of about eight or nine sat at the edge of the dock, holding a cane fishing pole. Long, bead-wrapped dreadlocks reached to his shoulders.
“Hey, Lionel,” C.D. called. “Catching anything?”
The kid looked up and waved. “Ain’t no fish biting today. You take me for a boat ride?”
“Sorry, pal, maybe another time.”
As they approached the dock, C. D. put the boat in neutral, and the black man tossed them a thick line, which the captain knotted to a cleat on the bow.
“Hey,” the man said quietly, nodding politely at Brooke.
“This here’s Shug,” C. D. said. “He’ll drive you up to the house.” He busied himself fiddling with something on the boat’s console.
Shug bent down and gripped Brooke’s arm at the elbow, helping her make the two-foot leap from the boat’s deck to the dock.
“You okay?” Shug asked solicitously. “Got everything?”
“Oh,” Brooke said, pointing toward the bench on the stern. “Oh no. I left my briefcase.”
- D. grunted, picked up the briefcase, and slung it in the general direction of the dock. Shug reached out and snagged it, midair, before it could hit the water.
“You have a nice visit now, you hear?” C. D. said. “I’ll be around when you’re ready to go back.”
* * *
An ancient, rusted seafoam-green Ford pickup truck was parked at the end of the dock among a motley-looking assortment of junker cars.
Brooke patted the rounded front hood. “Wow. How old is this thing?”
“Mmm, I think it’s from around the late fifties,” Shug said, opening the passenger-side door. “I do know that Mr. Preiss Warrick bought it new way back when. He’s been gone a long time, but Miss Josephine, she don’t like to part with nothin’ that was his. Likes to keep everything just like it was before he passed.”
He turned the key in the ignition and pumped the gas pedal. The truck’s motor whined, then stalled. He shook his head, repeated the same motion twice before the engine finally caught. Moments later, they were bumping along the narrow crushed-shell roadway. Brooke poked her head halfway out the open window, marveling at the scenery.
Gnarled, moss-draped live oaks on both sides of the road met in the middle to form a dense, nearly impenetrable canopy of green overhead. Thick stands of palmetto, swamp myrtle, pines, and cedars were festooned with blossoming jasmine, whose heavy scent perfumed the air. As they rounded a bend in the road, she spotted a pair of blue herons intent on fishing for their lunch in a shallow ditch. Another turn revealed an expanse of marsh where patches of sun-bleached driftwood and cypress knees were host to dozens of large, brown nesting birds.
“Wood storks,” Shug said, pointing. He gave her a smile. He was a thickly built man, in his fifties, she guessed, with heavily muscled arms. He wore neatly pressed blue jeans and a short-sleeved blue work shirt. “We got lots of birds over here. Famous for it, I guess. Is this your first trip to Talisa?”
“Sort of,” Brooke said. “I was here for a Girl Scout campout years ago. It didn’t end well.”
“You must have been on the other end of the island,” Shug said. “Whole different world over here.”
“It’s beautiful,” Brooke said. “So … wild. And peaceful. Do you live on the island full-time?”
“We do now. Louette, that’s my wife, she was born and raised here. We moved to Brunswick a long time ago for work, but then our kids got grown and moved away, and I got laid off my job at the port. Right around that time, Louette’s sister, who still lives here, said Miss Josephine was looking for some help. We come over and talked to her, and we been here ever since. Eleven or twelve years now, I guess.”
“I didn’t realize anybody but the Bettendorfs or Warricks lived here,” Brooke said.
“Oh yeah. There’s a bunch of black folks been living at Oyster Bluff, since right after the Civil War. The whole island was part of a plantation that got burned down by the Yankees, because they thought the owners were blockade-runners. Later on, the government gave all these former slaves a little piece of land up at Oyster Bluff. Nobody else wanted it, because it was swampy and they were afraid of yellow fever. Those folks, they stayed and scratched out a living, farming and fishing and hunting. They’re what are called Geechee. Louette’s people, they’re all Geechee.”
“And do they still own their own land?” Brooke asked, fascinated by this chapter of Georgia history she knew so little about.
“Nope,” Shug said. “People moved off and sold their land to the Bettendorfs, or they had so many kids, and none of them wanted to stay here, so they just abandoned the houses. There’s not but ten or twelve families still living at Oyster Bluff now, and Miss Josephine owns all that land. She’s nice and all, don’t charge hardly anything for rent, but it’s still not the same thing as owning your own place, you know?”
“I know all too well,” she said wistfully, thinking of the modest two-bedroom concrete block cottage she rented at St. Ann’s, as opposed to the restored Italianate three-story town house in Savannah’s historic district that she’d walked away from when she broke her engagement to Harris Strayhorn.
The truck rounded another curve, and suddenly, a blanket of bright green lawn spread out before them. The grass was patchy and spotted with clumps of dandelions, wild garlic, and silver-dollar weed. Overgrown formal beds of bedraggled-looking azaleas and camellias were planted in tiers on the gently sloping lawn, and a line of palm trees announced that they were approaching the Bettendorf family compound.
“We’re here,” Shug said, slowing the truck to a stop so she could get out and take a look.
*SouthernLiving.com, Beach Books recommendation!*
“Perennial bestseller Andrews (The Weekenders, 2016) returns with what’s sure to be a popular beach read this summer…A compelling novel about the people and places that shape a life and the secrets that create ripples for generations. With a unique setting, mysterious flashbacks, romance, and a surprising twist, this book will not disappoint readers looking for juicy escape.”
“Andrews creates a story that is at turns suspenseful and hopeful with plenty of surprising twists. Her dialogue is natural and funny, and even her minor characters are fully drawn with unique voices. Another satisfying summer read from the queen of the beach.”
“Andrews has crafted a smart and wonderful beach read with a lot of rich Southern and historical details.”
—RT Book Reviews
“Nothing says the start of Summer like a new book from Mary Kay Andrews…An irresistible story of love, friendship, and skinny-dipping.”
—PopSugar, Best New Books for Spring