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Chapter One


Mystery Shores Island

Early September, 1893


Melina darted along the edge of the waves while she searched the sky for hunters.

     Did the fading light hide a late-diving killer?

     Ever since she'd arrived on the island, wonder embraced her when she spotted a bald eagle soaring overhead. But not on this evening. Tonight, before the last light faded, the eagles were her enemies.

     A movement caught her eye, and Melina dug her bare feet into the gritty sand to stop. High on a cliff, the last eagle spread his wings and lifted above the Mystery Shores Lighthouse. She tracked his flight until he disappeared toward the mainland.

     There's no excuse to put it off anymore.

     She hurried to a wooden crate and lifted a corner of the protective canvas. Inside the box, two pairs of eyes looked back at her. On this moonlit evening, very soon, she’d set the puffins free.

     The tufted puffins stretched to their full height and turned curious eyes to the sea.

     “No,” Melina’s best friend shouted. Christie caught up with her, breathless after checking the far end of the beach. “What if they’re not ready?”

     A gust of wind tossed Christie’s long hair into a wild shield across her face. She swiped it away, and her blue eyes grew darker. “It’s too soon to make them leave us.”

     The wind continued to swirl off the sea, carrying a message of change. A twist of air ruffled the puffins’ black feathers before whipping across Melina’s face.

     She reached for the crate. They could all change their minds and return to the safety of the lighthouse quarters together. She pulled back her hand.

     “I know, but it’s time.” Melina tried to sound confident. “They’ve passed all their swim and flying tests. And they know how to catch food.” Her friend still seemed unconvinced, and Melina began to doubt too.

     After saving the chicks from the nets of a human hunter, the puffins had burrowed deep into her heart. Melina had learned to recognize their personalities each time she’d fed and cared for them. One was bold and outgoing. The other puffin—her puffin—was quiet and observant. Just like her, the puffins had fought hard to survive.

     I can’t let my fear hold them back.

     Fear had followed her ever since her father’s accident. She gave the feeling an impatient shove away from the puffins. Melina grasped the canvas and tossed it aside. The salt-drenched air filled her senses, and she knew it called to the puffins.

     “I wish nature had asked me.” Christie crossed her arms. “It’s hard to watch the chicks when they leave the nests. They have to flutter down the cliff alone. It’s after dark, and their parents are nowhere around. It feels wrong.”

     Melina thought it sounded lonely. She remembered how enormous the city looked after her mother abandoned her. Papa’s accident tore apart their world, and her mother had blamed her.

     She’d last seen her Greek father working high on a building at the Chicago World’s Fair. When he fell from the scaffolding, two men pulled her away before she could run to help him. The men said she’d lost Papa forever.

     Melina still jerked awake from dreams—harsh ones playing out in the early morning hours. What had truly happened to her father? She sensed there were hunters at the Fair too, but she’d been unable to prove it. The strange circumstances led to questions with no answers.

     Christie turned in her direction, and Melina tried to adjust her expression. Understanding grew in her friend’s eyes.

     “You’re right. We need to let them go,” Christie said. “Let’s each take one.” She reached inside the crate. “It’s time for an adventure, you two.”

     Melina gently picked up the quiet puffin she’d tended the most. His heart beat in a quick rhythm against her fingers. As she held him close, the icy waves explored her feet when she stepped deeper into the ocean. Melina searched again for predators. It was clear.

     After giving the puffin momentum, she raised her arms and opened her fingers, releasing him to the sea. Christie mirrored her actions. The puffins looked back, as if expecting her to plunge in and join them. They finally turned away from the island. Moving together, the puffins vanished between the tall rocks guarding the beach. The tiny birds headed out to the unknown—their travels a mystery until they returned to the island in the faraway future.

     Lingering for a moment, Melina watched the breakers pound over the sand. Her friend paused nearby. Christie’s hand lifted and her fingers traced through the air, obviously capturing the feel of the puffins’ journey. Later, she suspected Christie would let those feelings loose on paper while drawing the scene by candlelight.

     Melina sent a last glance over the empty ocean. Only, it wasn’t empty. Something headed toward the island.

     A rowboat.

     “Who is it?” Melina struggled to glimpse the person in the boat.

     “Whoever it is, why is he rowing in so late?” Christie asked.

     The boat grew larger, rising and falling on the waves, avoiding the dangerous current snaking along the island. Melina narrowed her eyes to see.

     “It’s Ned Rowland.”

     The wiry storekeeper’s oars sliced through the water with powerful movements. A former mariner, he was at home in any type of craft. And yet, why had he traveled to the island now? He’d risked the trip while the light dimmed over the deep water. The rowboat looked as vulnerable as the puffins out on the ocean.

     Mr. Rowland raised an oar in greeting. Fighting the wind, he rowed into the shallows. With his long, brownish-gray hair blowing in every direction, he stepped out and dragged the boat onto the sand.

     Melina ran to him, calling out, “Is everything all right?”

     He held up a hand. Mr. Rowland reached into his jacket pocket and brought out a small object wrapped in oilskin. When he opened the package, she glimpsed a burst of yellow.

     “A telegram came for you,” he said. “If I waited until morning to deliver it, I’d be a cruel man.”

     Her stomach twisted. “A telegram?” She had a hard time imagining anyone sending her such an expensive message. All her friends lived on Mystery Shores Island, the Quinault Indian Reservation, or in the nearby village of Cedar Dance.

     “Here it is.” Mr. Rowland held out the envelope.

     Didn’t telegrams bring bad news? She hesitated a moment and then reached for it.

     “Do you need any help?” Christie asked in a low voice.

     Melina lifted the flap. Unfolding the telegram, she watched the letters dance over the paper. Mrs. Sinclair, the lighthouse keeper’s wife, had helped her learn the fascinating shapes of words. Now they all blurred together. She blinked and forced the letters to stay still.

     “It’s from the reporter who stayed around here during the summer,” she said. “Miss Ames.”

     “Is she still chasing a story at the Chicago World’s Fair?” Christie asked.

     “Yes, I think so.” Melina read on, her heart beating as fast as her puffin’s when he faced the ocean.

     Your father, new . . . Melina attempted to keep her hand steady when she showed the message to Christie. “What is this word?”

     “Evidence. It says, new evidence,” Christie answered. “About your father. After that, it says, things not what they seem . . . there is a chance . . .”

     Filled with an aching sense of hope, she’d tried looking for Papa after the accident. While she searched, she tried to pray on her own, unsure if she did it right. Then the gravestone she’d found in a weed-laced cemetery ended her search. Melina’s chest gave a painful stab as, in her mind’s eye, she traced Papa’s name, the date of his birth, and the other date on the rough stone.

     “What does it say next?” Mr. Rowland asked.

     Melina took back the telegram and focused on the words. “Miss Ames is in Seattle now. She wants to meet there, and then we’ll take the train to Chicago.”

     Her eyes followed the first beam of light sweeping over the ocean. Always, at a half-hour before sunset, the lighthouse began sending out its warning to guide ships. The telegram meant leaving all the reassuring rhythms of the island.

     After her mother abandoned her, she'd worked as a servant until this island offered her a home. At noon that day, she’d walked into the kitchen, and her new lighthouse family surprised her with a table full of gifts. They were handmade or from the sea. There were thirteen small presents to celebrate her thirteenth birthday.


     It still seemed as fragile as a bird’s wing. She felt as if someone had opened a hand and tossed her toward the ocean.

     “I’ll find a way,” Christie said, “to go with you.”

     The telegram crinkled under Melina’s fingers. Out of habit, she pushed away hope, yet a glimmer tangled itself in her heart. She longed to see her father’s weathered face and work-roughened hands again.

     Before the accident, those hands had brought wood to life in the shapes of Greece. On quiet evenings, he’d made for her the wise little owl of Athens, an entire herd of wild ponies from the island of Skyros, and a dolphin so real it looked ready to leap from the waves. 

     He’d glance up every once in a while. Then he’d tell her another chapter in a story—all about a playful dolphin and a shy young girl named Melina who became friends.

     Do I have enough courage to hope again? Could the gravestone be a lie?

(Spoiler Alert for those who have not yet read Book 1: Mystery Shores)

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