They rode back to Hollywood, barely talking with each other. The next day Charlotte had a hard time explaining why she had missed a day of filming. She told everyone she had gotten sick in Las Vas and felt sorry about missing work. The movie director, Eric Northland, and film crew didn’t believe her but there wasn’t much they could do about it. After all she was a star of the movie and one day wouldn’t hurt the tight schedule that much. The film production went on.

Mason still loved Charlotte but insisted she attend therapy with a licensed clinical psychologist for her gambling addiction. She was in denial that she had a problem and only went to see the therapist once. Then Mason gave up trying to convince her to go to therapy when Charlotte told him she would break off their relationship if he didn’t stop pressuring her to get help. He gave his lover space after she threatened to leave his mansion unless he relented. Life went on for a full month and they both tried to put the bad incident behind them. Charlotte worried about her fate and wasn’t looking forward to going back to Las Vegas for her trial.

By mid-October the cooler autumn weather had arrived in the Traverse City area. The leaves had changed from green to brilliant orange, red, and gold. It was a spectacular display of nature’s wonders.

One Wednesday night, after a grieving support group meeting at the Beacon Bar high in the Park Place Hotel, Albert sat across from Samantha at a table with a view. They were chatting. He suggested they go for a color tour to Mackinac Island in northern Michigan.

“I’ve never been to the island before,” said Samantha. “It sounds like a wonderful trip to see all the leaves changing colors. When can we go up there?”

“The peak summer tourist season is over and I bet you we could book a room at the Grand Hotel this weekend,”

“What a great idea for a mini-vacation,” said Samantha looking forward to the trip to the Upper Peninsula town of St. Ignace. They would have to ride in a ferry to the beautiful island.

Samantha boarded Prince out at the Sundog Kennel on East Bingham Road for the weekend. The clean kennel had been recommended to her by the owner of the PetSmart store. Prince seemed to like the other dogs and the staff treated him like royalty. Blue Birdie was taken care of by the maid, Ellen Baker, inside the Traverse City mansion. She didn’t dare let the parakeet fly in the home, fearing that Blue Birdie wouldn’t cooperate by getting back inside his bird cage.

That Friday at noon they left for Mackinac Island, traveling along US 31 through Petoskey. At Petoskey Albert steered his Buick to Harbor Springs for a side trip. They went along the Lake Michigan shoreline to a spot that had a canopy of bright colorful leaves over the road. It was like a golden tunnel. Then they made their way past Cross Village and turned onto US 31 again, taking it to highway I-75. After a few minutes, Samantha could see the huge Mackinac Bridge spanning across the eastern end of the Mackinac Straits over Lake Huron.

As they crossed over the “Big Mac” as it was named, Albert said, “This is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. In the 1980s a woman in a Yugo plunged over the railing of the bridge and was killed from the fall. The strong wind must have caused her small car to fly in the air. Because the bridge doesn’t allow pedestrians on it, suicides by jumpers are rare. Sometime, we will have to take the Labor Day walk on foot across the bridge between Mackinac City and St. Ignace.”

“Not me; I would be afraid to walk across the bridge. I’m scared of heights and it’s a long way down to the water. I would probably die trying to cross Big Mac on foot,” said Samantha, declining Albert’s suggestion.

“Okay, I hear you Samantha. I won’t bring up the idea again. You can see Mackinac Island in the distance on the right. The island was home to the Odawa Native Americans before European exploration in the seventeenth century. In the nineteenth century it became a popular tourist attraction and summer colony,” shared Albert.

“How do you know so much about the island?” asked Samantha.

“I study travel guides all the time,” he answered. “There really are three islands out in Lake Huron. The Mackinac Island is the one everyone in Michigan knows about. There is also Bois Blanc and Round Islands. Mackinac Island has a variety of architectural styles including the Victorian Grand Hotel where we will be staying at this weekend. There is a ban on motor vehicles except for snow machines in the winter. We will have to walk on foot, ride a bike, or take a horse-drawn carriage while we tour the island. There is a paved loop around the island hugging the shoreline that we can ride around the island. We can rent bicycles if you want.”

“I have a belly bump because I’m pregnant but I would enjoy a bike ride,” said Samantha, looking forward to the bicycle trip.

“Good. We will go around the island on the loop tomorrow,” said Albert.

A Shepler’s ferry shuttled them across the water to the island. It was a cool day on the deck of the ferry but they didn’t mind at all. The ferry floated through to blue water, making a plum of waves behind its stern. They both enjoyed the trip crossing the scenic Straits of Mackinac.

Once arriving at the island they stopped for some chocolate fudge at one of the many stores available to tourists. A horse-drawn carriage took them through the downtown area up a hill. The sound of the horseshoes hitting the pavement was loud as they clunked along. As they road in the carriage Albert asked, “Samantha, did you even see the movie Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour?”

“Maybe a long time ago,” she replied. “I can’t remember.”

“The movie was filmed here on Mackinac Island. It’s a great movie to watch. I want to see the romantic story again,” said Albert.

“I would like to see it,” said Samantha. “Christopher Reeve was one of my favorite actors. Too bad he became paralyzed after being thrown off a horse, and later died.”

“Yes, it was a tragic accident,” said Albert.

Approaching the Grand Hotel, they could see the world’s largest porch adorning the front of the Victorian-styled building. Albert told Samantha, “Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Ford, Bush, and Clinton have stayed at this historic hotel. Also, Thomas Edison and Mark Twain visited the tourist attraction in their time, enjoying the stay.”

            Once the carriage had stopped, they got out and Albert tipped the driver. A young bellhop carried their small two-night suitcases into the hotel’s lobby. After checking in at the lobby the bellboy showed them to their room. Albert tipped the bellboy the same amount of money as the carriage driver. He closed the door of their room.

“I want to see the Butterfly House I read about in the travel brochure,” said Samantha as she unpacked her suitcase and put her clothes away in the dresser drawer. The hotel room felt cozy and contained a small sized bed.

Albert also unpacked his suitcase. He said, “Good idea. I love the Butterfly House. Every time I go back inside it’s a unique experience. Let’s walk over there after lunch.”

Samantha and Albert ate at the lunch buffet, which had a selection of fruits, vegetables, meats, and desserts. The buffet located in the hotel’s Gate House Restaurant was impressive. They left the hotel and walked along a path to the nearby Butterfly House. Both of them went inside the glass-enclosed building. Hundreds of live butterflies from all over the world floated in the air. It was an impressive sight and full of colors. Some of the butterflies landed on their shoulders. After some time in the Butterfly House both of them walked to the gift shop. Albert bought Samantha a silver necklace with real butterfly wings. She treasured the jewelry gift from her boyfriend.

Next, Albert and Samantha rented bikes and rode around the island, stopping for a rest halfway along the shoreline. Getting off the bikes they sat down at a bench near the water. They looked at the beautiful Lake Huron’s blue waters before them. Albert thought it was a good time to spring some questions on Samantha while they rested. He asked, “Does Mason know you’re pregnant?”

“He doesn’t know yet. I want to tell him in person rather than on the phone or by email,” replied Samantha. “I’m sure he will be shocked when he sees me.”

“Will you divorce him and marry me?” asked Albert, hoping for a positive answer.

Samantha thought for a moment and then answered, “Yes, I’ll marry you, Albert. Our wedding can be arranged at special place after my divorce is finalized.”

“Great!” exclaimed Albert, happy to hear her positive response to his marital question. “I love you Samantha.”

“And I love you, Albert,” she told him without a doubt in her mind.

Albert and Samantha kissed, a long passionate kiss that lasted several seconds. The kiss made her feel blissful and a little dizzy. Then they hugged each other in a tight love embrace.

Albert is such a good, loving partner. He’s blessed me with the child that I always dreamt of having in my life. I never thought I would be so lucky to find a man like him. He knows how to turn me on that’s for sure. I’m so happy for once in a long time and feel fulfilled as a woman, Samantha thought to herself.

Once back in the Grand Hotel, Albert and Samantha had a candlelight dinner in the fancy Gate House Restaurant with chandeliers and china plates. They dined on gourmet food, had chocolate mousse for dessert, and drank red wine, toasting each other with their glasses. It was the best romantic episode of her life.

After dinner in their bedroom they made passionate love deep into the night. Samantha moaned as she climaxed hard twice. Albert climaxed inside her love nest.

            The exciting weekend spent on Mackinac Island was a memorable occasion for both of them. Samantha truly loved Albert with all her heart. She enjoyed the good time they’d spent together that weekend and remembered it dearly from that day forward.

Chapter Four

    One late afternoon following the shooting of the film, Mason and Charlotte took a ride in his yacht. After five hours out in the water the sun set and night arrived, spreading darkness across the Pacific Ocean. Charlotte took more than her usual number of Quaaludes and Mason was high on cocaine. An eastward wind came up with five-foot waves striking the walls of the yacht hard.

 “Charlotte, it’s storming. We have to turn back to the harbor. You should put on a lifejacket, dear,” Mason told his girlfriend.

            “No, I don’t want one. A lifejacket is too uncomfortable for me to wear,” said Charlotte. “Don’t worry about me.”

            Mason decided he wouldn’t complain about her lack of safety by not wearing a life jacket. He put on one, not caring if it uncomfortable. As The Love Affair was rocking to and fro in the waves, Charlotte passed out, completely stoned on Quaaludes.

            Mason was drifting in and out of consciousness himself at the wheel of the yacht. He forgot to turn on the boat’s lights. They made little headway in the wind and pounding waves. It was getting late to be out in the ocean. They were still far from the shore.

            Suddenly, there was a CRASHING sound and the yacht capsized. Another larger boat had struck Mason’s yacht broadside. The force of the collision threw Mason and Charlotte into the ocean. Mason blacked out from the accident. His lifejacket kept his head upright as The Love Affair sank into the depths of the Pacific Ocean. The other boat lisped to the starboard side and slowly drifted off into the dark night without any power.

Fifteen minutes later, Mason regained consciousness while floating in the water. He swam around in the darkness and called out, “Charlotte! Charlotte! Can you hear me?”

Mason was greeted with silence, except for the sound of the waves washing around him. Sharp pains ran up and down his left arm and he thought it might be broken again. He called out to Charlotte repeatedly but she did not answer. He kept trying to contact her with a loud voice across the ocean. It took over a half an hour in the water for a Coast Guard helicopter to arrive at the crash site. A search beam lit up the area where he was floating in the water. Mason waved his unbroken right hand in the air, trying to signal his location below the helicopter. Once he was seen the helicopter descended closer to him. The sound of the chopper blades was loud.

A Coast Guard rescuer jumped out of the helicopter wearing a scuba outfit. He swam over to Mason. A rope was lowered to the men in the water. The rescuer attached a harness over Mason’s shoulders being careful not to worsen his broken left arm. The rope lifted Mason out of the water. He was cold and in pain. Mason got inside the helicopter and the crew lifted the rescuer up out of the ocean. When they reached the helicopter one crew member wrapped Mason in a warm blanket. He was suffering from hydrophobia and shivered hard while the Coast Guard member checked his broken arm and put it into a sling.

“There is another person in the water,” yelled Mason over the helicopter noise. “My girlfriend out there. We’ve got to find her in the water.”

“Okay. I’ll tell the pilot we still have a missing person,” said the crew member, walking forward carefully to the cockpit.

The Coast Guard searched for Charlotte for two hours without success. Finally, the searchlight was turned off.

Then the pilot yelled out, “We’re low on fuel. We have to go back to the base.”

“Please, let’s search just a little bit longer,” Mason begged the pilot.

“No, we’ll come back later with more fuel to search the area again,” shouted the pilot.

Mason was desperately concerned about Charlotte being in the water so long. He began to cry and continued to plead with the crew to continue searching for Charlotte but they had nearly run out of fuel.

Once back at the Coast Guard base, a crew member gave Mason a dry jumpsuit to put on. While the helicopter refueled, a police officer came to the base.

“One more person is still missing,” the helicopter crew chief told the officer.

“What happened?” the police officer asked Mason.

“We were making little progress because of the high waves and another yacht broadsided us. My girlfriend, Charlotte Martin, is missing,” explained Mason, shaken up by the ordeal and still shivering from being exposed so long to the cold water.

“I’ll take you to the hospital to see if your arm is broken. Also, the hospital staff will give you a blood test to see if you have been drinking alcohol or were using drugs before the accident,” the police officer said.

Mason was led to the police car and put in the backseat for a ride to Hollywood Community Hospital. He sat in a private room, despondent over not finding Charlotte in the ocean. His lover was gone. Sunlight eventually appeared on the eastern horizon and the search for Charlotte continued without Mason aboard the helicopter.

At the hospital, a doctor set Mason’s left arm and put it into a cast. Mason wore a sling to hold his broken limb in place. A nurse took a blood sample from Mason’s good arm. The test showed he had a high dose of cocaine in his bloodstream.

When the police officer heard the test results, he read Mason his rights and arrested him for operating a watercraft under the influence of an illegal drug. Still dressed in the Coast Guard jumpsuit, Mason was taken to the Los Angeles County Jail. He called his agent, Paul Finch, to get him some dry clothes and Marc Evans his lawyer for help out of the mess. When Paul and Marc arrived, he changed into his own clothes and the police took Mason to the Beverly Hills Courthouse. In front of a judge he pleaded not guilty of operating a watercraft under the influence. Bail was set at $100,000.

His lawyer told Mason that a charge would probably result in a sentence of two years under probation. But he said if Mason was charged with operating a watercraft under the influence of an illegal drug, causing death, he was looking at some serious jail time. But there was always the chance of a plea bargain because he didn’t have a police record.

Mason was in denial that Charlotte had died in the accident until her dead body washed ashore that morning. He couldn’t believe that she had been killed in the accident. Paul and Mason identified her body at the Han Kook Mortuary on West Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. Mason wept openly, standing beside his dead girlfriend as she lay in a coffin.

“It’s my fault she’s dead. I should have insisted she wear a lifejacket,” Mason told Paul, rubbing the cast of his broken arm that itched.

“Charlotte made a bad choice and, as hard as it may be, you’re not the reason she drowned,” said Paul, trying to comfort his heartbroken friend.

Mason was later arrested and charged with operating a watercraft under the influence of an illegal drug causing a death. He pleaded not guilty in front of the same judge again. This time his bail was set at $1,000,000. Mason made arrangements to pay ten percent of the sum and got permission to travel back to Traverse City to address urgent business. His lawyer told him the trial would begin in about three months.

            Charlotte’s blood test for alcohol and drugs came up positive for Quaaludes in her bloodstream.

            The next morning USA Today ran a front-page story about Charlotte’s lifestyle and death. The headline read:

MOVIE STAR DROWNS

PLAYBOY SURVIVES

            When Mason got home to his mansion, several reporters and television vans were there to cover the story. Mason hurried inside through the back door, not talking to them. He did some more cocaine to deaden his negative emotions. His whole world was crashing down on him. Mason became suicidal and thought of taking his own life after losing what he considered to be his soul mate.

Maybe I could buy a gun and end it all, Mason thought to himself, despondent. Better yet I could hang myself and get it over with today. Either way, I would be dead and not in anguish anymore. I’ll just have to make a suicide plan and implement it soon.

Mason didn’t have guts enough to commit suicide and later dismissed the idea of killing himself as foolishness.

After reading the story in USA Today, Samantha was devastated. She tried to telephone Mason, but couldn’t get through. She thought reluctantly that now that there were enough problems with their marriage she would file paperwork to divorce her husband.

The next morning, Paul Finch came over to visit Mason at the mansion. When Mason opened the door, Paul had a troubled look on his face.

“Hello, Mason,” Paul said. “How is the arm doing?”

“Sore, come on in,” Mason told his agent.

Mason led Paul through the living room and back outside to the pool where sat down on lawn chairs. Cups of coffee were poured and they began talking seriously about The Love Affair,which had stopped filming due to Charlotte’s death.

“Mason, I have some more bad news for you this morning,” his agent said sipping coffee.

What else could go wrong? thought Mason.

Paul continued to talk, saying, “Due to their movie star dying, the studio has dropped the movie. They want to cut their losses. No more shooting. It’s over.”

Mason didn’t know Scott Welling had not lost any money. The entire film had been paid for by Mason. He was stunned, but managed to say, “I’ll sue the bastards.”

“You won’t win if you try to sue Scott Welling. Your contract with the studio has a clause that if they are unable to go on with the movie due to a death of a lead actor or actress they can stop it in its tracks,” Paul explained.

Mason was deeply shocked upon hearing about his loss of $70,000,000 on the movie project. “Won’t you help me?” he asked. “You’re my agent, after all. Maybe we can sue them together.”

“No way,” said Paul. “If I sued a movie company, I would be blacklisted from all the studios in Hollywood forever. You’re on your own, Mason. I can’t help you out of this mess. I’m sorry.”