Bob Williamson

The Bride Wore A White Bikini - wherein we learn about Royal Summers, party planner to the rich and famous of Brighton Shores, Queen Victoria and her Vespa, a none-to-brave Newfoundland named Mary Poppins, furniture stealing ex-spouses, and reincarnation and the meaning of life.

Enjoy the introduction below.


The Bride Wore A White Bikini


C.P. Hudson



Illustrations by John Schmelzer

Photos by Bob Williamson



December 1923

John Paul Steele had 53 minutes to live.

He sat at his desk in the second floor study and opened Le Livre des Vies, the book Madeline had bought him in Paris. He took a Parker Duofold pen from his vest pocket and wrote his name on the flyleaf in his clear, steady hand. He blotted the deep blue ink and closed the cover. He’d enter the book into his inventory tomorrow and, with some rearranging, find a place for it on the crowded shelves behind him.

His servants had come to Brighton Shores a week earlier to decorate for Christmas. They had hung a giant holly wreath on the front door to welcome him and his new wife home from their long trip. The house smelled of the fresh cut pine boughs they had woven into the banister of the central foyer’s staircase. The tree in the parlor blazed with colored lights and delicate glass ornaments. Dozens of boxes with large bows spread out onto the hardwood floor under the tree. Johnny’s Lionel train circled it all.

John’s father, George Lambert Steele, Sr., a cotton trader, had bought the oak partners’ desk John now sat at on a business trip to New Orleans. John and his two brothers had inherited a fortune from their father. John had made another fortune working long hours at his father’s old desk.

He pushed away from his desk and walked across a Tabriz carpet to a tall window. The front lawn sloped down to Lambert Avenue. The wide sandy beach on the other side of Lambert was empty except for a few laughing gulls scavenging on the shoreline. The rainclouds above the Gulfstream were going from pink to gray in the fading winter light.

Steele filled his Meerschaum pipe with a fragrant burley tobacco, tamped it down, took a match, struck it, and drew the flame into the pipe’s bowl. He’d bought the pipe in Salzburg 25 years earlier during a Grand Tour of Europe with his first wife. She had conceived Johnny on that trip. On the way home they had stopped at Brighton in the south of England. He knew at once he had to have a home like the Royal Pavilion with its dazzling white exterior, onion dome roof, and minarets.

He didn’t care that everybody in Brighton Shores hated it. This was his town, he’d founded it with his two brothers, and he didn’t want his home to look like every other prissy Edwardian on the island. Three wives had come and three wives had gone as the house slowly rose on a knoll overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. When construction was done, he named his creation Babur, the “Tiger,” after the 16th century Persian conqueror of India whose Mughal style he had copied. Babur was his home, not Steele Away, the family’s winter home down at the south tip of the island, and certainly not that drafty old brick monstrosity his grandfather had built in Cleveland.

Steele found that morning’s West Brighton Shores Star, puffed on his pipe, and tried to distract himself. Though the Great War was five years in the past the stench of death lingered in Europe. He had left Madeline to her shopping in Paris, hired a car, and was driven to the Bois Belleau where Johnny, a Marine in the Second Corps, had died.

His chauffeur, an old man with a few unruly wisps of white hair, had lost all three of his sons to the trenches. The old man had been unable to leave the car when Steele had put flowers on a mass grave. Was this Johnny’s grave too? Where Johnny’s bones mingled with the bones of his driver’s sons?

Steele and the old man could not speak on the trip back to Paris.

Madeline had thoroughly enjoyed their honeymoon. She, much younger than John, had never been to the Middle East or Europe. For her the sights of Jerusalem, Cairo, Vienna, Rome, Paris and London were a great adventure. For Steele they brought back memories of times and places far in the past; times and places whose existence he struggled to deny.

He put another log on the fire. A thought had crossed his mind many times since he read Le Livre des Vies - The Book of Lives during the voyage home from Southhampton to New York on the Franconia; was Johnny’s death the price for his past sins? He went back to his desk, picked up the book, and opened it to a chapter he’d read again and again. Could that be him? He was about to throw the book into the fireplace when his butler knocked at the door and came in holding a bottle of claret. “I think this 1910 Pomerol should be ready, sir.”

“Yes, I would think so.”

“I’ll decant it.” The butler turned to leave. “Your wife’s maid said she is asking for you.”

Steele set the book back on his desk, went across the broad upstairs hall to Madeline’s dressing room, and knocked at her door.

“Is that you, John?”

The enchanting drawl of New Orleans still stirred him. “Yes, my dear.” He opened the door and slipped in.

His wife smiled and stood up from her dressing table. “You look so handsome in evening wear.” She straightened his white tie and let her hands run down the front of his starched white shirt.

She had just emerged from a bath to wash off the dusty ride home on Mr. Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad. The only towel she wore was around her long black hair.

Steele put his hand on her rounding belly. “And you look so beautiful wearing nothing at all.” He reached to pull her closer.

She gave him a playful shove away. “Go downstairs and cut some roses.” She patted her stomach. “Don’t you think you’ve done quite enough already?” A smile - so bewitching. A promise - not now my love, company will be here soon, but later.

Steele found hand pruning sheers and a wicker garden basket in the butler’s pantry. He went out the back door, down the steps, and across the lawn to his garden. A rapidly moving front had brought a badly needed afternoon rain and cool weather to South Florida.

Their guests would be arriving within the hour for a welcome home dinner party and a chance to see his new wife. Madeline had created a stir both in Cleveland and here in Brighton Shores. She was a young, beautiful woman, thirty years Steele’s junior, but that alone would not have been counted against her. Men of his class and age often had pretty young mistresses. They even occasionally divorced their wives and married these women. It was true that Madeline was his fourth wife, but the stir, the real scandal, was her dark golden skin, her long striking exotic face, her blazing black eyes.            

They whispered that she was not one of us.

The roses were still damp from the rain. They would look good in the tall Sèvres vase Madeline had found in a shop in the Latin Quarter on the Rue St. Jacques.

Though he loved his garden Steele grew annoyed as he worked. His gardener never trimmed the rose bushes correctly. His agent in Ireland had sent him a new variety only last year called Betty Uprichard. The flowers were a beautiful salmon pink, but if the man didn’t take better care, as hardy as they were, they might not survive another season. He would have to talk to his estate manager about this. Perhaps it was time to let the man go.

Steele selected the best flowers and carefully trimmed their stems. The wicker basket filled.

There was a garden shed at the back of his property. Steele hadn’t been able to resist the temptation of another poke at his conservative neighbors before Babur’s construction was complete. He had shoved his architect aside and personally designed the shed to look like a miniature Taj Mahal complete with an onion dome roof and a tiny pond in the front.

He didn’t hear the person coming from behind the shed. It was only when he caught a glint of light on the blade of an ax that he looked up. It happened so quickly he didn’t have time to raise his hand to defend himself. “It’s you again,” was all he could say before the blade tore into the left side of his neck. He collapsed onto a rose bush, blood flowing across his white shirt.


The Bride Wore A White Bikini - the first book in the Royal Summers, Party Planner and Private Eye Series