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THE WONDER PALACE

Published by James Hampton at Smashwords

Copyright © 2012 by James Hampton

All rights reserved.



Prologue


For decades to come, the last night of the year 1908 would hold a place of infamy in the chronicles of the Jekyll Island Club. Only one person attending the New Year’s Eve celebration held at the Club that night could imagine the notoriety it would achieve by next morning. But Louise North—shyly beautiful American-born star of the London stage—certainly wasn’t going to say anything beforehand. She would get only one chance to do this; if she failed, the consequences would be horrific. So secrecy was vital.

From inception the Jekyll Island Club had been a bastion of high living, fantastic wealth, and rugged yet somehow gracious entertainment off the Georgia coast. Hidden away on remote, largely forested Jekyll Island, it was a place for the leading business and political figures of the age to gather and enjoy the offerings of pristine coastal wilderness: a country of emerald marshlands, sapphire-colored tidal creeks, and regiments of sprawling, muscular live oaks holding up the sky like so many bark-skinned Atlases.

Louise, making her way through the main dining room of the Clubhouse, had not received an invitation to the festivities. But those who recognized her—most everybody here—welcomed her presence. No doubt they assumed she was the guest of one of the titans on the Club’s membership roster. For her part, Louise tried not to draw too much attention, but she was difficult to miss. Her oval face was framed by shining, chestnut-hued curls, and her black gown held fast to her long slender body, as if it were painted onto her bare flesh. Her eyes were her most striking feature, however: a dark blue native to that region of the sea where sunlight penetrates, but only just.

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