Disa Odell had never been to Florida before. Why, then, did lonely Mound Key, the private island of the theatrical Loring family, seem so familiar - and so threatening? Why had her actress mother, Johanna, expressed reluctance about Disa's plan to visit Villa Vespero, the Lorings' 'House of the Evening Star,' an Italian-Renaissance-like structure with stately columned entrances? After all, Celia Loring, who operated an acting school on the estate, was Johanna Odell's best friend. And Ross Mitchell, Disa's lean, dark-haired fiancé, was employed at the school. "Cee" Loring had offered him a job after Disa introduced the two--something she now half regretted.
Disa had met Ross when she was a university student in California and he was working as an assistant producer in the same television studio that employed her actress mother. Their wedding plans were firm when Ross left for Florida with Cee, but lately his letters had been vague, and finally he had suggested they postpone their wedding until "certain problems" at Villa Vespero were resolved. Adding to Disa's confusion was Cee's invitation to visit at Vespero.
Uneasy--almost desperate-- about her impending confrontation with Ross, Disa was further unnerved when she narrowly avoided a head-on collision while driving to Mound Key. Arriving at the villa, she found the house shadowy and silent. But someone was there to greet her - an unkempt man holding a hatchet whose blade gleamed faintly in the last light of the dying day.