Home > Troubles in Paradise (Paradise #3)

Troubles in Paradise (Paradise #3)
Author: Elin Hilderbrand

Author’s Note

 


The Paradise series has come to an end. (And oh, how I hope all of you who are about to read this book are not only now realizing that it is the third one in a trilogy. If so, first go and read book 1, Winter in Paradise, and book 2, What Happens in Paradise, and then this one will make more sense!) I will dearly miss Irene, Huck, and the gang, and I hope you will too.

As many of you may realize, the hurricane described in this novel is fictional, though it is based on the all-too-real events of the fall of 2017, when Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria—both category 5 storms—hit the Virgin Islands. This is a case where real life is far stranger than fiction. I could never have ended this series with not one but two life-threatening storms rolling through the islands; no one would have believed it. As with the other books, the St. John portrayed in these pages is one that lives only in my imagination. The hurricanes hit a few months before I started writing this series, and, having nothing to draw on but my memories, I created an island that is half before-the-storms St. John and half after-the-storms St. John. The most important thing to know now is that the Virgin Islands have recovered; America’s Paradise is once again open for business, and it’s even better than it was because of what it has survived.

 

 

We’re just a sinner’s choir, singing a song for the saints.

—Kenny Chesney, “Song for the Saints”

 

 

St. John

 


The gossip recently has been as juicy as a papaya, one that gives just slightly under our fingertips and is fragrant on the inhale, the inside a brilliant coral color, bursting with seeds like so many ebony beads. If you don’t fancy papaya, think of a mango as we crosshatch the ripe flesh of the cheeks with a sharp knife or a freshly picked pineapple from the fertile fields of St. Croix, deep gold, its chunks sweeter than candy. Like these island fruits, the talk around here is irresistible.

The drama began on New Year’s Day with tragedy: a helicopter crash a few miles away, in British waters. One of our own was killed, Rosie Small, whom some of us remember back when she was in LeeAnn’s belly. Because LeeAnn’s first husband, Levi Small, left the island when Rosie was a toddler, we’d all had a hand in raising her. We sympathized with LeeAnn when the cute Rosie girl we doted on turned into the precocious Rosie teenager LeeAnn couldn’t quite control. At the tender age of fifteen, Rosie dated a fella named Oscar Cobb from St. Thomas who drove the Ducati that nearly ran our friend Rupert off Route 107 right into Coral Bay. We were all overjoyed when Oscar went to jail for stabbing his best friend. Good riddance! we said. Throw away the key! A group of us took LeeAnn out for celebratory drinks at Miss Lucy’s. We thought we’d dodged a bullet; Rosie would not waste her life on a good-for-nothing man with shady business dealings like Oscar Cobb.

The man Rosie ended up with was far more dangerous.

After LeeAnn died, five years ago now, Rosie took a secret lover. We called him the “Invisible Man” because none of us had ever caught more than a glimpse of him. But while Paulette Vickers was under the dryer at Dearie’s Beauty Shoppe, she let something slip about “Rosie Small’s gentleman.” Then Paulette clammed up and it was the clamming up that made us suspicious. Paulette was a little uppity because her parents had started the successful real estate agency Welcome to Paradise. She liked to talk. When she stopped talking, we started listening.

The Invisible Man’s name was Russell Steele. He was killed in the helicopter crash along with Rosie and the pilot, an attorney from the Caymans named Stephen Thompson. They were on their way to Anegada. The callous among us commented that they should have taken a boat like normal folk, especially since there were thunderstorms. The perceptive among us noted that, while there were thunderstorms on New Year’s morning, they were south and west of St. John, not northeast, which was the direction the helicopter would have been flying to get to Anegada.

Both Virgin Islands Search and Rescue and the FBI had reason to believe that the helicopter exploded. Maybe an accident—an electrical malfunction—or maybe something else.

If you think this is intriguing, imagine hearing of the arrival of the Invisible Man’s family. For, yes indeed, Russell Steele was married, with two grown sons and one grandchild. And did his wife and sons stroll right down the St. John ferry dock on January 3 and climb into the car belonging to Paulette Vickers, who then whisked them off to whatever grand, secluded villa Russell Steele owned?

Yes; yes, they did.

Would the family of Russell Steele find out about Rosie?

Yes; yes, they would.

It was one of the taxi drivers, Chauncey, who witnessed a determined-looking woman marching down the National Park Service dock calling for Captain Sam Powers (we all know him as Huck), LeeAnn’s devoted second husband and Rosie’s stepfather, and then talking herself right onto Huck’s boat, the Mississippi. Chauncey remembers whistling under his breath because he had seen women on a rampage like that before and they always got what they were after.

The two sons appeared out and about in Cruz Bay, going to the usual places tourists go—La Tapa to enjoy the mussels, High Tide for happy hour. We saw these young men (one tall and clean-cut with a dimple, one stocky with bushy blond hair) in the company of two young women we were all very fond of (charming and lovely Ayers Wilson, who had been Rosie’s best friend, and Tilda Payne, whose parents owned a villa in exclusive Peter Bay), and that set us speculating, even though we knew that beautiful young people find one another no matter what the circumstances.

When we learned that one of the sons, Baker Steele, took his child on a tour of the Gifft Hill School and that the other son, Cash Steele, had joined the crew of Treasure Island, we began to wonder: Were they staying?

When we discovered that the Invisible Man’s wife, Irene Steele, was working as the first mate on Huck’s fishing boat, we thought: What exactly is going on?

We couldn’t run into one another at Pine Peace Market or in line at the post office without asking in a whisper: You heard anything new?

Sadie, out in Coral Bay, was the one who learned that the FBI had come looking for Paulette and Douglas Vickers, but Paulette and Douglas had taken their six-year-old son, Windsor, and fled by the time the FBI arrived. They went to St. Croix to hide out with Douglas’s sister in Frederiksted. Did one of us tell the FBI where they were? No one knew for sure, but Paulette and Douglas were arrested the very next day.

We’d barely had time to recover from this shocking news when the FBI sent agents in four black cars along the North Shore Road to whatever secluded villa Russell Steele owned to inform Irene Steele that the villa and the entire hundred-and-forty-acre parcel we called Little Cinnamon was now the property of the U.S. government, since it had been purchased with dirty money.

Whew! We woke up the next morning feeling like we had gorged ourselves. We were plump with gossip. It was, almost, too much.

 

 

We feel compelled to mention that this kind of scandal isn’t typical of life here in the Virgin Islands.

What is typical?

“Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” or “Good evening” at the start of every conversation.

Sunshine, sometimes alternating with a soaking rain.

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