Check Excerpt

Check – Mr. Rook’s Island Series Book #3

All RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018. Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

CHAPTER ONE

Rook

“What do you mean ‘Stephanie left the island’?” I set my glass of scotch on the bar, unsure if I had heard my nephew, Luke, correctly over the loud music. Tonight, my open-air dinner club was noisy as hell and crammed with employees, who would depart our island in the morning. A final farewell. Two planeloads had already left, and only those who shared my secret, those I considered to be my “extended” family, would remain indefinitely.

“Several people spotted Stephanie boarding the first flight out about an hour ago,” said Luke, his hazel eyes filled with concern.

Fuck. An hour ago, she and I had been talking outside. She’d refused to marry me tonight, as I’d hoped, because she wanted more—a commitment that I’d do everything possible to live longer. I’d said yes, though my days were undeniably numbered. Maybe she knew. But why would she simply run off? I didn’t understand.

I tugged on one end of my bow tie to release it and sat at the long bar in the back of the restaurant, my weight suddenly too heavy for my knees. I’d already removed my dinner jacket due to the sweltering tropical heat. It seemed there wasn’t a breeze to be found anywhere on the island tonight.

“But she said she loved me,” I muttered under my breath. “I’m closing the resort to spend my final days with her.”

Luke grabbed my shoulder and squeezed, his eyes filled with pity. “Perhaps it was all too much.”

For an ordinary person, yes, but Stephanie was special. Strong, beautiful, and resourceful. I loved her. With everything a man could possibly love a woman.

I shook my head, sensing something wasn’t right. Of course something isn’t fucking right. You’re aging five years every day. You’ll be dead in a week. But she had said yes to staying until the bitter end. Yes to a child—if we should be so lucky—so that a part of me would live on after my time was up.

“I am sorry, Uncle. Truly. But perhaps it’s a sign that we shouldn’t throw in the towel on the lagoon just yet.” Luke, who looked to be in his mid-forties, was much older than he appeared, but not nearly as old as me at two hundred and thirty. He was my last living relative aside from my aunt, Amancia, who’d been with me since the very beginning. She was two hundred and fifty-two.

And how had we managed to live so long? In short, I believed that everyone had a destiny, and death didn’t always stop a determined soul. Specifically, one of the original inhabitants of this island: Father Rook. He had been a gifted healer, a leader, a devout monk, and my mentor as a boy. Tragically, however, when I was ten, he was murdered alongside his brethren and my family by men we refer to as pirates in today’s terminology. Back then, we simply called them animals. The things they did to those monks, my stepmother and her sister, and my father and older brother gave me nightmares to this day, but nothing would haunt me more than the look on Father Rook’s face as those monsters slit his throat and tossed him into our lagoon. It was the moment I vowed to carry on his work. He would live on as long as I remained alive—a sad consolation for having to witness his pregnant soul mate, my aunt Amancia, die violently before his eyes. Father Rook had renounced his vows two days prior, intending to marry her.

But Father Rook’s death wasn’t the end.

For him.

Or my aunt.

Or me, for that matter.

Immediately after he died, a part of my aunt’s body had been touching that lagoon, and it healed her. She still lost the baby, but that was how we discovered Father Rook’s miraculous gift of healing had somehow stayed alive in that water, though that wasn’t all he’d left behind. His rage, his need for revenge, and his hatred of the men remained, too. Our lagoon became a fountain of youth for most, able to restore anyone to their ideal age and state of health, but it became a death sentence for anyone unlucky enough to be related to those savage pirates. Revenge became the lagoon’s fuel for healing, and my vow to take Father Rook’s place as a monk was the glue that held it all together. I was the anchor between the world of the living and this man with a miraculous gift.

Until last week.

No more revenge. No more fountain of youth. Whatever hold that lagoon had in this world had been broken the moment I renounced my vows. Now, those who were the oldest were aging fastest. Like our sins, time was catching up.

“Please, Uncle,” Luke spoke quietly, for my ears only, “reconsider taking your vows again. You can restart the lagoon. We can go back to the way things were.”

“No,” I said, “with or without Stephanie, this has to end. It’s gone on far too long, caused too much pain.” My words sounded strong and rational, but on the inside my heart was in chaos. Why would she leave? Yes, I was a sinner. I had done unforgivable things. But my love for her changed me. From the moment we met, she opened my eyes to the dark price we were all paying for our youth.

“Our lagoon,” Luke argued, “has given thousands of people a second chance at life. In some cases, like yours, it’s given third or fourth chances. And I don’t know about you, but I feel we’ve done some good with those chances.”

I gave him a stern look and shook my head. We’d defied nature and every law of the universe by living so long. We had played god by deciding who, from the pool of those pirates’ descendants, would die and who would live.

“No. No more. It’s over.” I looked away.

“Then you’re a fool. Because you’re letting all of us—your family—die for a woman who did not love you.”

“I’m ending this because it’s wrong,” I snarled, feeling his sharp words cut deep. “I will not allow another innocent person to end up as accidental fodder for the lagoon simply because they share a bloodline with those vile murderers.”

“It wasn’t your fault that Stephanie’s sister died. The lagoon has a mind of its own.”

“That is exactly why it was my fault,” I said. “Because I knew that. And I failed to keep Cici safe.” Cici, Stephanie’s sister, had been a guest about five months ago. She had wandered into that water and was taken. But it was my job to know exactly who was on our island and ensure my staff properly screened everyone.

I failed.

I destroyed Stephanie’s life and lied to her about what had happened because I was a selfish bastard and didn’t want to risk having her hate me. “I am to blame because I am in charge. This is my goddamned island.”

“It was an oversight by a lazy employee. You cannot blame yourself for not knowing Cici and Stephanie are related to those fucking men.”

I looked away, choosing to guzzle down my drink instead of debating the point further. I fully understood the consequences of my choice to shut down the lagoon and hadn’t taken the decision lightly. It would impact everyone connected to it. We would all age, some a little faster than others, but everyone had still been given extra time beyond their natural lives. Just not as much time as they wanted. However, what was I to do? This couldn’t go on forever. It wasn’t right.

“Are you certain you won’t reconsider?” Luke asked.

No way in hell would I retake my vows and try to bring back the lagoon. “I am.”

“Then let us get on with the party.” Luke walked away, the festive crowd blind to our interaction. They only saw the illusions I’d created here on this island. The fantasies, the luxury, the wealthy guests engaging in the most sexual and romantic of experiences ever dreamt. But the few who truly knew what this place was and the sacrifices required, they were not celebrating tonight. Because the real party was over.

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