Authors: Heather Graham
Also by HEATHER GRAHAM
PICTURE ME DEAD
A SEASON OF MIRACLES
NIGHT OF THE BLACKBIRD
Watch for Heather Graham's next blockbuster
DEAD ON THE DANCE FLOOR
Available in hardcover March 2004
A different time, a different place
Darcy Tremayne hadn't expected her senior prom to be a dreamevening. But neither had she expected it to be the beginning of alifelong nightmare.
It started with Hunter being a total jerk.
She wasn't sure what started their argument, only that itescalated into him saying that he didn't intend to speak to heragain until she apologized. She told him he'd better not plan onspeaking to her again ever then, because she hadn't the leastintention of apologizing. She hadn't done anything, other thansuggest that despite the fact that he had been given an award indrama club, he hadn't needed to kiss his leading lady quite solong, or so deeply, in the auditorium, in front of the world. Ortheir small part of it anyway-the entire high school. When he lefther house that afternoon, she assumed that he'd call her and be theone to say that he was sorry.
The call never came. She heard the next morning that he hadinvited his leading lady, Cindy Lee, to the prom.
She avoided her friends, and allowed herself to indulge in somewell-earned tears. She argued with herself all afternoon.Hunter was going to head straight out to California aftergraduation and try to make it big in Hollywood. She was heading toNYU, and she had been ecstatic about her acceptance there and thesmall scholarship that would allow her to go. Eventually, livingacross the country from one another, she and Hunter would have mostprobably fallen apart. She should have accepted the fact long agothat Hunter had an eye for other girls. He was young. So was she.They should spend some time without commitment.
But she didn't really want to split. She had been in love withHunter since ninth grade. They had shared the years since. Verylong, good years, or so it had seemed.
In the end, Hunter did call her. He was so sorry. He'd ruinedeverything, but he couldn't get out of going to their prom withCindy Lee.
She accepted his apology with a maturity her mother assured herwas beyond her years. And it was her mother who suggested that sheask her friend, Josh.
"Josh!" she'd said with surprise.
But it was only momentary. Josh was a loner. He was a geniuswith computers, math, and science. He was painfully shyhimself, but delighted when she wanted to try out a song, a dancemove, or a monologue on him. They had lived down the street fromone another in their rather rural area for years, and had long agobecome friends. They didn't run in the same social circles, butDarcy had steadfastly maintained her friendship with him, no matterwhat anyone else thought. Over the years, some of her friends hadaccepted him.
And amazingly, Josh had been able to warn her about many of thepratfalls she might have encountered in life.Go with Huntertonight for ice cream,he had urged her once.Don't lethim go alone.And she had done so, and Cindy Lee had beenthere, flirting with Hunter, until she had realized that Darcy waswith him. There were other things. He'd made her stop her fatherfrom driving to the store one day when it turned out that hisbrakes were bad. Both her folks listened to Josh. She had learnedto do so, too.
Other people, she knew, were frightened by some of hispredictions. He had known when Mrs. Shumacher down the street wasabout to die of cancer. He had known when Brad Taylor was going tobreak his leg during a football game. A lot of the kids called hima freak. But despite her little spat with Hunter, she had alwaysheld her own in school. She could bring Josh to the prom, and he'dbe accepted, because he'd be with her. Oh, they'd talk abouther-and him-behind their backs, but what did she care? Hunter hadalready hurt her just about as badly as she could be hurt; she wascut right to her eighteen-year-old heart.
And besides, the whole high school thing was over. A new lifewas about to begin.
Josh hemmed and hawed at first, skeptical. "Darcy, I'll justlook like the geek you dressed up and brought along."
But she'd laughed and assured him, "Josh, honestly, you're agood-looking guy. Tall, lean, great eyes, and if you don't mind,we'll shop together. But if you'd feel uncomfortable, wewon't go. We'll just see a movie or something that night. Imean, if you're willing to keep me company."
He'd smiled at that. "I'd rather be in your company than anyoneelse's, that's for sure. But you don't have to take me. Half theschool would go with you."
"That's doubtful and it doesn't matter. If you don't want to go,I don't want to go."
At that, Josh had given her a strange smile. ' 'If you want togo to the prom with the class nerd, lady, I wouldn't dream ofstopping you."
To her amazement, the planning was fun. Although he usuallydressed like a couch potato himself, Josh had a good eye forclothes. Hand in hand they went shopping together. They ran into anumber of her friends at the mall, and she was delighted to seetheir eyes widen at first, and then seem to focus more deeply onJosh. He was able to help Cissy Miller with a math problem she'dbeen dragging around for days, and over tacos at the foodcourt, he found a new friend in Brenda Greeley, a really beautifulgirl, and the head cheerleader.
When they got back to shopping, he made Darcy try on a dress shehated on the rack, and loved once she slipped into it. It turnedout that one of Josh's computer buddies worked in the store, and hewas able to give her his employee discount, so she couldafford the gown. The young man's name was Riley O'Hare, and he toldDarcy he was actually in her auditorium class. She apologizedsincerely for never having met him, and when they left the shop,she thoughtfully told Josh that she had never known that she couldbe so rude or careless herself.
"Darcy, you? Never," he told her devoutly. "Rude and careless iswhen you don't acknowledge someone when they talk to you, when youcan't even lift your hand for a wave. Or when you push over a thinguy just 'cause he's not on the football team, or can't really joinin on a jam with a guitar. Darcy, you know that I love you, andit's one hell of an overused term, but you're a special kind ofgirl, you know?'' He looked embarrassed suddenly. ' 'Hey, come on,we've got to find something for me. I can't take out a girl likeyou looking the way I usually do."
So next came Josh's turn, and when she advised him on a shirtand suit, somewhat funky and retro, he, too was delighted, thinkingthat he looked something like a New Age Mozart.
There was only one fly in the ointment that day.
Mike Van Dam.
He was friends with Hunter, and dating Brenda. Darcy realizedlater that he must have seen them in the food court, and seenBrenda talking to Josh. When they were leaving the mall, the doorsuddenly swung back on Josh, who was carrying the bags filled withtheir purchases. Mike, broad shoulders thrusting forward, wassuddenly there, standing over Josh, who had wound up on the floor."Hey, there, geek-boy, having a problem standing?" He reached ahand down, which was accepted by Josh, except that as soon as Joshwas halfway up, Mike released him. Josh fell again, hard, on histailbone.
"Mike, what the hell is the matter with you?" Darcy demanded,infuriated, reaching down to give Josh a hand herself. Mike caughther by the shoulders, spinning her around.
"What the hell is the matter with you, Darcy? Trying to makefools of us all by taking up with the riffraff, the scum of theschool?''
She jerked free from him. "Mike, you idiot. What? Are you goingto live in your little high school tough-guy haven for the rest ofyour life? Scared for your future, because football star and all,you just might not get into college, and a decade from now, you'llstill be on the couch, an armchair quarterback, while Josh ismaking his way up the ladder in a top law firm?''
That got him, and she knew it did. Josh was on his feet by then.Mike stared at him furiously.
"I carry mace," Darcy warned softly.
Mike cocked his square-jawed head, blue eyes burning, croppedblond hair seeming to stand on edge. He made a clicking sound andpointed a finger at Josh. "You're a dead man," he told him.
Josh stared back at him, a strange smile of amusement and ironycurling his lips. "Maybe. But so are you," he said very softly.
Mike was about to go into another fit of rage. Darcy grabbed thebags and pushed Josh out the door. For a moment, they couldhear Mike raging behind them. "What's that supposed to mean,geek-boy? You'd better be careful, I'll-"
They never heard the rest of the threat. The door had swung shutonce again.
Darcy looked at Josh uneasily as she quickly led him to the car."What was that all about? You didn't have one of your littlepremonitions there, did you?"
Josh laughed and shook his head. "No, kid, no. But he doesn'tknow that."
Darcy laughed as well, delighted. Josh had probably managed toscare Mike through the next many nights.
The night of the prom came. As long as Darcy had known Josh, shebarely knew his father. His mom had died when he was an infant, andhis dad had almost never been around. All Josh had ever said abouthim was that he was the head of a company with offices in D.C.,which was why he had to spend so much time away from their smalltown in southern Pennsylvania. He was a nice enough man when Darcysaw him, though he had seemed ancient from the first day they hadmet. She hadn't realized, though, until Josh picked her up for theprom just how much money his dad must make. Josh's graduationpresent had been a brand-new Volvo, a sporty one at that.
Josh brought her the most beautiful corsage she had ever seen.Her mother fussed around the two of them, taking picture afterpicture while her father beamed.
Josh, she discovered that night, was also an amazing dancer.Flushing, he informed her that he'd had some experiencebecause bis father had brought him to cotillion classes when he'dbeen in junior high.
Her friends were good that night, especially Brenda, and eventhe guys had to toe the line somewhat, since then-dates seemed toaccept Josh. Hunter, however, never approached her once. Shesaw that he and Mike were watching them from a distance,however, and that Mike looked as if he were about to explode whenshe and Josh won the ' 'Wild and Wacky'' dance contest.
Hunter just looked sad.
Darcy smiled at Josh, and he looked at her, curiously arching abrow. "Thank you," she told him.
"Me? Thank you! I'm like a male Cinderella tonight.Prince-not-so-charming, feeling like the beau of the ball."
She shook her head. "No. You made me realize that my life wasn'tover without Hunter, and that there is a world ahead."
He caught both her hands, squeezing them tightly. "Don't youever forget that, Darcy, you hear? The world is out there, and it'syours. It's a beautiful world." He spoke urgently, staring intoDarcy's eyes. "Even when things don't seem quite right. Somepeople, just with a smile here and there, a kind word, make it alla better place for everyone around them. You're one of thosepeople. Remember that. There are times in life to be sad, to feelpain, but you're a giver. Don't ever let yourself be downed byfear, hardship, or even sorrow that's so deep, you may not feellike going on."
A chill swept into her. "Josh, you're scaring me."
"Sorry, Darcy." He seemed to return to himself again. "Hey, Idon't believe it. They're playing a Charleston! Want to tryit?"
"Why the hell not?"
In a while, she forgot his words, because they did just have somuch fun.
She was vaguely aware of the amount of drinking going on, thepunch being spiked, and even the drugs. Brenda was upset becauseshe was sure Mike was getting smashed. She was uneasy about theguys driving, but she had no control over any of it and decidedthat she was just going to enjoy the miracle that occurred; Hunterhad thrown her over just before their senior prom, and she wasstiff there, and having the best time of her life.
At last, it was time to go. Darcy had booked a room at me hotelwhere most of the kids were going after the prom, but she didn'twant to go. Josh agreed that a perfect end to the evening might bewatching a few movies, then seeing the sun come up. They werein his brand-new Volvo and heading out of the parking lot when thefirst warning that they were never going to make it occurred.
There was a tap against Josh's bumper. Just a tap. It barelyjerked them forward.
Josh turned around, swearing softly. "Too much alcohol in there,or kids who just can't drive."
With lights blaring around them, they really couldn't see whowas behind them.
Josh pulled out on the road.
"Care if I rifle through the CDs?" Darcy asked him.
"Be my guest."
She was oohing over his Beatles collection when the next tapagainst the bumper came. This one was harder, slamming against thecar.
"Dammit!" Josh swore.
"What the hell...?" Darcy said, looking back.
She didn't really need to look back. A car pulledalongside them. Mike was at the wheel, in his souped-up oldChevy. The car was a battle-ax with an engine that might have madethe grade at the Daytona 500. His window was down. He had a beer inhis hand while driving.
"Ass!" Darcy said.
Josh was quiet, staring ahead. He didn't seem frightened.Only...strangely resigned.
Mike was making signs for her to roll the window down.
"Might as well do it," Josh said.
"He's an idiot. Just drive," Darcy told him.
She looked straight ahead as well. To her amazement, Mikeslammed his Chevy's tank side right against the Volvo.
She was wearing her seat belt; still, she slammed against Josh.Amazed, she straightened as Josh deftly maneuvered to keep the caron me road.
"Josh, I'm so sorry!" she gasped, real fear starting to trickledown her spine. She'd known that Mike could be a real jerk. Shehadn't known that he could be this insane. She stared furiouslyover at the Chevy, still driving neck-and-neck with them.
The problem with small-town Pennsylvania, of course, could bethe roads. Miles and miles of them in almost total darkness, withno one around for help.
Mike knew that. She could tell the minute she saw the grin onhis face.
Then, to her great dismay, she saw that Hunter was sittingnext to him, in the passenger's seat.
She rolled her window down. Surely, Josh's father was going tohave a fit about the car. And someone was going to wind up reallyhurt.
"Stop it! You idiots!" she shouted.
"Ah, come on, you want to play with the geeks?" Mike calledback.
Wind was racing by them. Darcy was afraid her voice wouldn'tcarry. "Hunter! Make him stop this, now!"
Hunter leaned forward and she saw his face. He was as white as aghost. "Darcy, I'm trying!"
Mike laughed and slammed the car again. Darcy heard the terriblescreech of metal against metal.
"Stop! We'll just stop, Josh," she said. "Hunter won't let Mikehurt you. He's still sober, I can see."
Just as she finished speaking, the Chevy began to veer insanely.She grabbed hold of her seat with a death grip as the Volvo veeredaccordingly. There was a split second in which she saw Huntertrying to seize the Chevy's steering wheel.
Then it all went out of control. The Chevy jackknifed with aroaring vengeance against the nose of the Volvo. Then it flipped,and rolled over and over in front of them. Josh pumped the brakes,but simple physics sent them flying into the body of theChevy.
For a moment, Darcy felt the weightlessness of flight herself.An air bag suddenly exploded in her face. She felt a thud unlikeanything she had ever known before, and the world suddenly turnedto an absurd cartoon vision as stars in a field of black velvetswam before her eyes. Then, one by one, the stars twinkled out, andthere was nothing but an ebony darkness.
Ashes to ashes.
Dust to dust.
Darcy attended Josh's funeral with blackened eyes and heavybruises. They told her that it was only thanks to the integrity ofJosh's Volvo that she was still alive.
Mike wouldn't be buried for another two days. Somehow,again miraculously, Hunter had survived as well. Darcy thought thatshe must still be in shock, unable to really absorb what hadhappened because, as she stood by Josh's grave site, supported oneither side by her parents, she was able to look at Hunter. Shecould even think that, to his credit, he'd had the balls to comehere, and that he was weeping like an infant.
The accident had been a wake-up call for the entire school, shethought, for those who had shunned Josh for years had come. Hemight well have been amused, she thought. But again, every faceshowed shock and sorrow. Those who had thought themselves young andimmortal had discovered that life was fragile and death could comeat any time. Who, in their realm of experience, had ever imaginedthat taunting a nerd could come to such a tragic end?
Josh's father, grave, tall, ancient, and bowed, tenderly kissedthe coffin, and laid a flower upon it. His grief seemed beyondtears, and still, when the last words of the priest had faded intothe bizarre and beautiful blue beauty of the day, he came towardher. He managed a gentle smile, as if her pain could be as deep ashis own, and reached for her hand. She took it, let him lead her tothe coffin, where he offered her a flower to cast upon it.
It was a strange moment, for those who had attended seemed towant to come to him, to offer their condolences. Yet, he and Darcystood in their own little world, and people hesitated, then letthem be. Even Darcy's parents, loving, kind people, allowed themthat moment.
They stood in silence for the longest time. Oddly, Darcy becameaware of a bird chirping. At last, she found her voice. It wasbroken and trembling, but she managed the words she wanted. "I'm sosorry. So, so, sorry. I-I'm responsible. That can't help you any, Iknow," she babbled. "But he was my friend, truly, my bestfriend, always there, and oh, God, I didn't know...I...."
"Please," Josh's father said softly. "Darcy, you didnothing wrong. It's never wrong to be a real friend. He lovedyou. Not romantically, of course. You didn't love him that way,either. But he knew you really, truly cared about him. You were aspecial person to him. Incredibly so."
She looked up at the old man who seemed bowed with sorrow, andyet so accepting. She offered him a teary, rueful smile. "Please,you're trying to comfort me. You've lost your only child."
He looked back at her a long time. "I always knew that I would,"he said quietly. "And still, what a fine, bright boy! The love weshared will remain in this old heart as long as it ticks. I wasprivileged to have him as long as I did. Remember this, those welove do live forever in our hearts. You'll remember his voice. Thethings he said that made you laugh. I can't explain this,but...Josh wasn't really for this world."
"He has gone to a far better place," she whispered, wincing atthe way the words, sincerely meant, could sound so trite.
"He was different, Darcy. You must have known that."
"Smart, sweet, wonderful," she whispered.
Josh's father was still smiling. He reached into his wal-letsuddenly, producing a card. "I doubt if I'll be around the oldhomestead here much anymore. Please, take this. If you ever needhelp, if you ever need to just talk, call me. Come see me. You havegreat folks of your own, Darcy. I know they'll help you through.But if you're ever confused, lost...call me. Remember that Iam-was-his dad. I'll always be there for you. You were always therefor my boy." He hesitated. "And you may find that you need me.Remember this, please, I'll always be there."
He touched her head gently, then walked away, leaving her at thecoffin. She stood there for several seconds, feeling thebreeze touch her face, noting again the unbelievable blue ofthe sky. Down by the road, her parents were waiting. They wouldgive her all the time she needed.
She saw that Hunter, leaning on his crutches, was waitingas well.
She didn't think that she could bear to talk to him.
She knelt down in the earth at the head of the coffin, suddenlyoverwhelmed with bitterness. "Oh, Josh, I will never speak to himagain," she whispered softly, then shook her head. "God helpme!"
She closed her eyes. It seemed that Josh's voice entered herhead. "Darcy, hey, don't be so hard on Hunter. You know, herealized that Mike was being a homicidal jerk. He tried."
The voice was so real that her eyes flew open.
The day hadn't changed. The sky was still blue, the breeze stillsoft. The coffin still lay in the mechanism that would shortlybring it deep into the ground.
Tears welled in her eyes again. She closed them tightly, andprayed. Then she rose, kissed the coffin, and murmured."Josh, I will never forget you. And like your dad said, you willalways be in my heart. Always. If I live to be a hundred."
At last, she turned away. She started for the road where herparents, and Hunter, waited.
For a moment, the hate remained. She couldn't even look atHunter. Then she remembered Josh's words, so real in her mind.Don't be so hard on Hunter.
He was still crying. She managed to walk to him and place a handon his arm. "You tried," she said very softly.
"Oh, Darcy!" he whispered sickly.
"You tried," she repeated. "One day...one day, we can talkagain."
Amazingly, she felt better. And she knew that Hunter had tried.She knew, too, that his leg would heal. His heart never would. Hewould live with the night in which Josh and Mike had died all ofhis life. And he would fight the guilt in his soul just aslong.
Her mother was waiting with outstretched arms. Her father,too. She ran to them, and let them do all the right things theythought that they could do.
That night, her mother gave her a sleeping pill, since shehadn't really slept since the accident.
And it was the pill, she was convinced the following day, thatcaused her strange dreams.
She was back at the cemetery. It wasn't a blue day anymore. Itwasn't exactly gray, either. It seemed that there was a cast ofsilver, like a mist, over the day. Time had passed, and she walkedthrough the old gnarled trees, ancient graves, and newerones, that composed the cemetery. Josh had been buried beneath abeautiful old oak. She walked toward it, clad in black, bearing abouquet of flowers.
As she neared it, she saw a thin man standing by the old oak.Frowning, she came closer. And it was Josh.
He looked very handsome, dressed in the dark suit,tailored shirt, and crimson tie in which he had been buried.His dark hair was trimmed and brushed, as it had been for the prom.He was leaning against the tree, arms casually crossed, smiling asshe came.
For a moment, she was afraid. Only a moment.
"Darcy, poor Darcy," he said softly. His rueful smile remindedher of his father's when he had spoken to her over his son'scoffin. "Darcy, you've got to know. It's okay. Honestly, it'sokay."
"It's not okay, you're dead." She frowned, amazed to realizethat she was a little angry with him. "You knew it, Josh! You knewyou were going to die. The day that Mike threatened you...you saidthat maybe you'd be dead, but he'd be dead as well. And he is!"
"I know. I'm sorry. He was a true jerk, but I didn't really hatehim."
"I've got to go, Darcy. I just wanted you to know that I'm okay.I'm really okay. And you've got to go on."
"I will, Josh, but...I never knew how much I'd miss you," shewhispered.
He touched her hair. Except that...he wasn't real, and ofcourse, it was just a whisper of the breeze.
"I'll always be with you, Darcy. When you need me, just think ofme. Here." He laid his palm against his heart.
He was fading. Into the silver color of the day. Of course. Itwas a dream. A drug-induced dream.
He smiled. "You're special, Darcy. You'll need to be strong," hesaid softly.
And then he was gone.
It began the next day.
Her father had determined that he wasn't going into work;neither was her mother. They were going to spend the day with her,take a drive to the nearby mountains, and just spend time in thatquite and beautiful part of their state.
He couldn't find his Palm Pilot.
"You left it on the counter of your bath," she told him.
"How on earth would you know that? Were you in our room,sweetheart?" her dad asked.
"No," Darcy said, startled herself. "I just...well, I guess it'sa place you might have left it."
He went upstairs to his bathroom and returned with his PalmPilot, looking at her oddly. "Thanks. I guess you know your old manpretty well, huh, kid?"
Of course, that was it.
Little pieces of precognition began to come to her, now andthen. A few that summer, a few during her first years of college,more after that.
They were disturbing at first. Then she came to accept them. Shethought that they were maybe something that Josh had very strangelymanaged to leave her.
It wasn't until later that she decided it was time to callJosh's father.
When the ghosts came.
Jeannie Mason Thomas lay in the white expanse of the four-posterbed in the Lee room at Melody House in pure bliss.
Roger was snoring softly at her side. Men, she thoughtaffectionately. Bless 'em. Whatever came, they could sleep.
She could not. She had to keep playing over the day, minute byminute. Her wedding day.
There had been the usual hassles in the morning. Her mom hadgotten all teary every few minutes, and insisted on giving speechesabout sex and marriage that were totally unnecessary. Alice,her matron of honor, had clipped off two of her newly purchasedacrylic nails trying to fix Jeannie's train. Sandy, anotherbridesmaid, had gotten too looped on the champagne they had sharedwhile dressing for the service. The limo had been late. Heroriginal soprano had come down with a sore throat leavingJeannie desperately seeking a new singer at the last minute. Butshe'd managed to find an Irish tenor through the priest, FatherO'Hara, and once she had reached the Revolution-era church justoutside town, everything had gone perfectly.
Everyone claimed that it had been one of the mostbeautiful weddings they had ever seen. Roger had been tall,dark, and glorious in his tux. Her father had been stately, hermother beautiful. Her brother and sister, both part of the weddingceremony, had been well behaved, joking, laughing, and wonderful.Her first dance with her new husband had been magical, but it wasduring her dance with her father that she had realized she was oneof the luckiest human beings in the world with a tender, tightfamily,andan incredible groom.
The reception would be the talk of a number of counties formonths to come. The Irish tenor had joined with the band. The musichad gone from classical to rock and pop to theatrical. The food hadbeen delicious, the cake stupendous.
Then, after fully enjoying their own reception, they had takenoff at last for Melody House. And it hadn't been as if making lovehad been anything new for them, but making love as man andwife was new and therefore, somehow, more sensual, moreerotic, and so deeply satisfying. They'd been hot and heavy, they'dlaughed, they'd joked over getting out of clothing, slipping in theshower in their haste, rolling off the bed, and all sorts of littlefoibles. They'd had a great deal more champagne, finishing thebottle that had been left in the elegant little silver bucket onthe antique table set before the fireplace. They'd dined on thedelicious little snacks left for them, caviar, quiches,chocolate-dipped strawberries and more. Then they'd made loveagain, all lazy and slow, and it had been incredibly luxurious aswell. Melody House had offered everything they had wanted. In themorning, they could go downstairs and be served breakfast in thesunny little nook off the kitchen. They could spend a day indulgingin the heated pool-a recent addition to the colonial manor. Theycould ride the trails that meandered through miles of forest whenthe sun was just setting. They could have both privacy and service.Jeannie had every right to be entirely blissful, and also, patientwith the fact that her new husband could sleep, while she couldnot.
She rose, feeling as agile and luxuriously sinuous as a cat,naked in the coolness of the night. She stretched, thinking thatthe strenuous exercise program she had put herself through beforethe wedding had been well worth it-she didn't think that she couldbe more than five percent body fat at the moment, and Roger hadbeen delighted. She was glad, too, because she liked to thinkthat she had talked Matt Stone into allowing them to use theseldom-rented room for their wedding night because she had justbeen cute and charming. Stone was known to be something of ahard-ass.
Walking over to the open French doors that led to the balcony,Jeannie almost pouted, then grinned instead. Roger had told herthat Matt Stone had given in just because he knew the onlyway to keep Melody House as a private property had been to allowthe house itself to earn some of the upkeep money such an estate sodesperately needed. Roger had probably been right. But then again,maybe it had been a combination of Stone's needs andhercharm and persuasion. Whatever! It had all worked, and it had cometogether so beautifully. She was a lover of history, and tospend her wedding night in such an elegant and historic place waslike the most delicious icing in the world on the most wonderfulcake-her perfect wedding day. She parted the draperies, glad tofeel the breeze against her bare shin, and feeling sensual all overagain as it touched her. She was married now. She was Mrs. Thomas.She could slink right on back over to the bed, wake up her slightsnoringhusband,and live out her every fantasy.
Suddenly, the delicious feeling wasn't quite so deliciousanymore. She felt a sudden, quick, bone-numbing chill. She spunaround, and saw nothing in the dim night-light pouring out from thebathroom, or even from the faint glow of moonlight and propertylights that seeped in from the open French doors to the balcony,just hemmed in by the drifting draperies where she stood.
Fear. Deep and irrational. , She swallowed, stepping over toclose the French doors and lock them tightly. She glanced at Roger.He kept snoring. She tried to calm herself. If she wasfeeling a sudden and totally irrational fear, all she had to do wasrun back to the bed, jump in beside him, and he would cuddle andhold her and everything would be all right.
That was exactly what she was going to do.
But she didn't. She didn't move. Because she saw...
The silvery movement in the night.
She blinked, but it didn't go away. And it wasn't the darkness,or the reflection of the lights, or a combination of the two. Itwas something, vague in shape, silvery-white, hovering, moving. Itcame from the side of the bed, where she should have been sleeping,and it was coming toward her.
She panicked totally. Her vocal cords were frozen. She stared,breathing out desperate little choking sounds, since she could findno voice. It came closer and closer. She felt ice trickles intoblood and limbs and then...
It was almost touching her. She felt her hair move... pulled?Cold seemed to slap her right across the face. And she could havesworn that she heard a whisper, mocking, scornful. "Silly littlegirl! He'll only kill you!"
Then again...her hair...lifting. On its own, in the grip of thevague, silvery-white substance. A substance that whispered orplayed havoc with the breeze. There was no breeze. She had closedthe doors.
At last, she found voice, movement, and energy. She let out anhysterical, chilling scream, and ran.
She didn't run for the bed and Roger-she headed straight for thedoor out of the Lee room. Jeannie wrenched at the knob so hard shenearly ripped it from the wood. The door itself flew open, andbanged wickedly against the wall. This had no bearing on her. Shebarely heard it. She kept screaming, tore along the landing, anddown the elegant, curving masterpiece of a stairway to theground level below.
Matt Stone had chosen to stay in the caretaker's cottage, fiftyyards to the left of the main house. It had been his home for yearsbefore his grandfather had died, leaving Melody House-and theresponsibility for its upkeep-to him. He had only moved into themain house recently because it had become easier on theupkeep side, and, he had to admit, he had come to like it. Thegrand master suite he had chosen afforded a lot of comfort. Bigbedroom, dressing room, office or entertainment space, and itkept him right on top of whatever was going on with theproperty.
He liked the caretaker's cottage, too. Since it had been fallingapart so badly due to years of neglect he had rebuilt andrefurbished it with every modern convenience. In contrast tothe painstaking care they had used in keeping the main househistorical, the caretaker's house was far morestate-of-the-art.
When he had given in to allowing the Lee room to be used as ahoneymoon suite, he had opted to spend the night in his oldhaunts.
He had been sound asleep, however, when the scream brought himbolting from bed.
Despite the quiet tone of their small town, as sheriff ofStoneyville he was accustomed to being awakened in the dead ofnight. Therefore, he was up, into his jeans, and streaking acrossthe patch of lawn that separated the caretaker's cottage fromthe main house in a matter of seconds, the key to the huge oakfront door in his hands. He burst into the house less than twominutes from the time he had heard the scream.
There was a light on in the foyer; there always was. Just assoft lights eternally flooded the front porch. He was prepared foranything when he burst through the door.
Or, at least, he had thought that he was.
There was no apparent danger. Instead, thereshewas,the blushing bride, standing at the foot of the stairway, shakingand screaming in her altogether. Jeannie was a pretty girl,perfectly toned from months industriously spent at the gym in orderto look perfect for her wedding day. Hard not to look, but heforced his eyes to hers first, then cast his gaze anxiously around,scanning the area for any hidden threat that might be the reasonfor this scene. Seeing nothing, his mind working inmilliseconds, he wondered if the groom had somehow turned outto be a homicidal maniac or a simple wife-beater. Eitherchoice seemed doubtful.
"Jeannie?" he said, his voice deep with calm andauthority. Normally, he would have walked to her, set an armaround her shoulder, and patiently determined the cause of herdistress. But she was standing in his foyer stark naked andscreaming. "Jeannie, please, talk. What the hell...?"
By that time, her husband was rushing down the stairs as well.He was still half-asleep, and Matt would have sworn in any courtthat the young man appeared as bleary and stunned as anyone couldpossibly be. Certainly not fresh from a fight with his newbride.
"Jeannie!" Roger cried out in shock.
Matt crossed over one of the velvet cord barriers into theparlor and swept an antique throw from the fragile old love seat,striding across the room to cast it around Jeannie'sshoulders. She had stopped screaming, but she was still shakinglike a leaf, eyes wide, dilated.
Roger, still dazed, and definitely horrified, thanked himbriefly. Then he stared at his bride again, confusion once againreigning in his eyes.
' 'Jeannie, what is it?''
At last, she turned to focus on him, her expression blank atfirst, then filled with tension. "You didn't see it? You didn'tfeel it?"
"Jeannie, I was sound asleep! What are you talking about?"
By then, Penny Sawyer, in a terry robe, her graying hairfrizzled around her handsomely constructed face, arrived. She stoodin the frame of the front door, left open when Matt had comebursting in.
"What in the Lord's name...?" she queried.
Penny managed Melody House. She kept accounts, and ran thetours. She loved the place, probably more so than Matt himself. Shehad worked as an historian for Matt's grandfather, and slippedright into the role of managing the place after his death. She waslike an aunt to Matt, as well as being incredibly efficient, andall but married to the place.
There was only one area in which they disagreed. And Mattsilently grit his teeth then, certain that this episode was aboutto lead in that direction.
"Apparently, our bride has had a nightmare," Matt saidquietly.
"Nightmare!" Jeannie shrieked. She must have heard the shrilltone of her own voice because she fought to control it. "Iwasn'tsleeping."
"So what exactly was the problem?" Roger asked, an underlyingirritation rising beneath his concerned exterior.
"I think I should get some brandy," Penny said.
"I think Jeannie should get some clothes on!" Roger said, hisanger starting to crack through.
"Clothes?" Jeannie said. She stared down at herself and realizedthat she was covered in nothing but the antique quilt.
"I'll make tea with brandy," Penny said decisively.
"While she's making the tea, Jeannie, you can run up and getdressed. Then we can all sit down and you can explain just whatyou're doing," Roger said, a thread of anger in his voice.
"What I'm doing?" Jeannie repeated, frowning. "Roger Thomas, Iwas scared to death, don't you understand?"
"Scared enough to run around naked?"
Matt could have groaned aloud. He shouldn't have been swayed toallow the Lee Room to become a honeymoon hangout. He glared atPenny. She had talked him into it, reminding him that they neededthe money for Melody House.
Penny shrugged innocently, giving him one of her knowinglooks.
Melody House was reputed to be haunted. Matt always saw therumors as simply par for the course. The main house was well overtwo hundred years old. It had survived the American Revolution, theCivil War, and every manner of conflict in between. As he wellknew, nothing that old went without a certain kind of history. Andapparently, most of the world wanted to believe in things that wentbump in the night. People couldn't just look back on the personaltragedies of the past with sorrow-they just had to make somethingelse out of them.
Matt simply didn't believe in ghosts. He'd worked in the D.C.area long before he'd taken up working in his old home haunts, andhe knew that the things that living men and women did to oneanother could be so violent, barbarous, and cruel, that therewas simply no reason to worry about those who were long dead andburied.
"Go up and put clothes on!" Roger said, his voice almost aroar.
Jeannie, blue eyes still huge, stared at him in rebellion anddefiance.
"I amnot-get this straight!-notgoing back upto that room.Ever!There is a ghost up there, and it-itthreatened me."
Matt shook his head, praying for patience. He looked up at thebride and groom. Wow! How quickly there was trouble inParadise.
"Jeannie," he said patiently, "there are no such things asghosts. Hey, I've lived here most of my life. I've spent nights inthe place with no electricity, you know, in the pitch dark. Iswear, there are no ghosts. I would know."
He had tried to say the last lightly. He knew, however, that hisvoice had an edge. He was sick to death of the whole ghostthing.
"Look what you've done," Roger said to Jeannie. "Great. Reallygood honeymoon we're going to have here-you've just really pissedoff Matt Stone."
"Sorry, I'm not angry," Matt said quickly. "I just don't believein ghosts. Jeannie, it was a big day for you. I'm sure for youboth...I'm not saying that anyone is totally inebriated, but comeon, now, you both had a hell of a lot to drink. You're wired,Jeannie. Excited. Hey, it was the wedding of the century, huh? Youdon't have to go back into the room. We'll get your things. And youand Roger can finish out your honeymoon in the caretaker's cottage,how's that? I can clear it out in a matter of minutes, while Pennymakes tea."
Jeannie spun around again. She looked as if she wanted to runfrom Roger's side and come flying into his arms.
Don't do it, Jeannie, don't do it! He pleadedsilently.
"Not one of you has suggested coming up to see if there issomething in the room," Jeannie said indignantly.
Matt lifted his hands. "I'll go up to the room."
He strode past the newlywed couple on the stairs. As he nearedthe upper landing, he could hear Roger whispering angrily to hiswife. "Ghost, hell! You're a little exhibitionist. You've hada bit of a thing for Matt Stone your whole life, you know, Jeannie.What, you just had to have an excuse for him to see you naked?"
"Roger Thomas! How dare you suggest such a thing, you bastard!"she whispered back. Then her voice rose. "We don't need thecaretaker's house! I'm going home. Home-back to my family. They'renot a bunch of idiot jerks!"
"Hey, there!" Penny protested cheerfully. "You know, everyone isreally tired, but we'll get to the bottom of this. Matt, he's allhe-man practical and doesn't believe in ghosts, but I'm tellingyou, Roger, don't you go being hard on your new missus! Lots offolks believe that this house is more than a little haunted, I dotell you!"
Matt walked on into the Lee Room. As he suspected, there wasnothing there. The French doors to the balcony were open, and thedrapes were drifting in. They must have been what scared the newbride so badly. Either that, or she just wanted the place to behaunted so badly that she had made it so.
He found Jeannie's peignoir robe, men discarded it as being fartoo see-through for this situation. Her groom would not be happywith it, he was certain. Striding to the closet, he found a pair ofrobes with "Melody House" inscribed on the pockets-items Penny hadinsisted they needed to provide a real luxury touch for those fewtimes when he decided to rent the room. He pulled one from thehanger and headed back downstairs.
By then, Penny, Jeannie and Roger had headed into the kitchen.It was vast. The integrity of the historical aspects had beenmaintained with the massive hearth and the many copper pots andherbs that adorned wall mounts, but the huge refrigerator, sub-zerofreezer, and stainless steel stove were all necessary modernconveniences for the many social events, dinners, luncheons,and meetings that were held at the property.
The newlyweds were seated at the table with Penny. She hadapparently moved like lightning, microwaving water and hurriedlysupplying brandy, because they were all sipping out of hugeearthenware mugs already.
They had been joined there by several of the otherresidents of the property, probably all awakened by thescreaming. Matt's cousin Clint, who, like Penny, lived in one ofthe apartments above the stables, was seated at the table. Clint'seyes flashed with humor as they met Matt's. Sam Arden, thecaretaker, old, thin, and crusty, his white hair wild, was at thetable as well. He shook his head and rolled his eyes when he sawMatt. Rounding out the group was Carter Sutton. He was actually anold college friend of Clint's from the next town over. He owned alot of local property, and had just bought a house nearby. Since itwas still being held hostage by construction workers, he'd taken aroom over the stables as well. It worked well. Carter made hisliving off his investments, and was sometimes "paper rich andcash poor," so he was happy to look after the horses and serve asstable boy and trail guide when they rented out the horses.
Matt silently offered the robe, and walked around to take a seatat the end of the table. Penny was happily talking about ghosts.Roger was convincing his wife that there had been nothing there atall, other than the excitement of the day.
"And if there was a ghost, it was probably more scared thanyou," Clint assured the bride.
"Hell, there are ghosts," Sam said sagely, nodding his oldhead.
"Sam," Matt protested.
"She meant to hurt me!" Jeannie said with certainty.
"I don't think that ghosts are supposed to hurt people," Cartersaid. His mustache twitched. He was as bearded as a goat, since heenjoyed a high military position in the "Rebel" unit in which heparticipated in many battle re-enactments.
"She meant to hurt me," Jeannie repeated.
"I've slept in that room," Clint said, "and honestly, nothingever happened to me."
"I know the Lee Room like the back of my hand," Carter teased."It holds the fondest memories in my heart," he told the bride witha wink.
She flushed and laughed uneasily.
"Matt," Penny said, "There's a cup of strong tea for you rightthere, end of the table."
"Thanks," he said. "I'll reheat it in a bit. I'm going to get afew things out of the caretaker's cottage, so you two can slip onover when you want."
"Hey, Mr. Stone, I...I don't want to put you to any moretrouble," Roger said.
"I can't sleep in this house!" Jeannie wailed.
"It's no trouble," he assured them both.
All he wanted to do right then was get out-he didn't think hecould bear to hear another of Penny's speeches on ghosts. Heallowed her, on Friday and Saturday nights, to give a "Legends ofMelody House" tour, during which she liked to go on and on aboutvarious stories involving the house, and how it was rumored to behaunted by different characters, including historicalfigures.
He had adamantly refused to let her call it a ghost tour. Butsince she did attract dozens and dozens of paying tourists,people staying as diversely far away as Williamsburg, Richmond,Harpers Ferry, and even D.C., he had to allow the endeavor. Sheserved cider, tea, cookies, and pastries in the middle of the tour,and he knew that she was right- they paid a whole lot of billsthanks to those tours. He still didn't like them, or anything thatsuggested that Melody House wasreallyhaunted. However,he tolerated it all, for the sake of the house.
"Go on, Matt-we'll keep them entertained for you," Clint toldhim laconically. Matt arched a brow. Clint could be openlylascivious. He had surely enjoyed the spectacle of the bride,wrapped in the antique quilt and nothing more.
"Thanks," Matt said dryly, and left them all to their argumentson whether there was or wasn't a ghost.
An hour later, he was moved back into his room at the mainhouse, and he and Penny and Roger had packed up the newlyweds, whowere now happily settled in the caretaker's cottage. Pennyreturned to her apartment over the stables.
Matt had barely gotten back to sleep before he heard a ringingsound. He fumbled around to turn off his alarm, but it was thephone instead. One of his officers was on the other end, anxiouslyurging him to get moving; they had a domestic violence situationthreatening to turn explosive.
Matt hurriedly dressed, his thoughts half on the night gone by,and half on the day to come. There it was-the truth again. As hisdad had once told him, when he had shivered at the sight of an oldcemetery, the dead were the safest people around.
It was the living you had to watch out for.
That day was hell for Matt. He was so tired most of it, he couldhave toppled over. It began with the situation at the Creekmorehouse, old Harry threatening to kill his wife and kids, accusingher of sleeping around, claiming he didn't even know if the kidswere really his or not. Thayer had kept the situation under controluntil he got there. Matt had managed first to get Harry to let himin, then pretended to share most of a bottle of whiskey with him,convince him he could do DNA testing on his kids, finally get theshotgun, and haul Harry off to jail.
Somehow, he endured the rest of the week, staying in the mainhouse, hearing the honeymooners in the pool at all hours, day andnight.
Jeannie came to thank him personally for not throwing them out.Her honeymoon, between the pool and the horses and the incredibleJacuzzi in the caretaker's house, was bliss.
She had forgotten about the ghost. She admitted that she'd had alot to drink.
Penny kept insisting that there was a ghost, and he was being ablind fool to ignore it. Either something bad was going to happen,or-on the bright side!-were they to prove that a ghost existed,they could get so rich they'd never have to worry about the upkeepof the place again.
Finally the honeymooners departed and everything went back tonormal. Then, Penny started at him again. She wanted to have aseance.
He said no.
He begged her to leave him alone. He had too much work on hisplate at the moment.
At last, Penny backed off and contented herself with her tours.Matt thought that life was pleasantly back to routine.
Until she came to him with the letter from Adam Harrison,Harrison Investigations.
It was a month later that Clara Issy, one of the five daytimehousekeepers, stopped dead in her tracks.
It was a sunny morning. The beautiful old bedroom in MelodyHouse was as it always was. The bed she had just made with itsshiny four-poster and quilted cover sat against the right wall. Thepolished mahogany bureau held the modern touch of the entertainmentcenter within it. The television was off. The French doors to thebalcony and the wraparound porch were ajar because it was such anice day and the breeze was fresh and clean, causing the whitedraperies to stir and dance. That was natural, and she wasaccustomed to the smell and feel of fresh air. She loved it, andshe wasn't at all fond of the air-conditioning that ran through thesummer months. No, the room itself was just as it always was.
She stood near the open French doors, jaw agape, and stared.
Because she was alone in the room, yet something else wasmoving. Something that drifted from the bed. Something in ahazy form, something cold, something that felt threatening.
It approached Clara. She felt something touch her face, almostlike the stroke of fingers against her cheek. Very cold fingers.Dead fingers. She thought she heard a whispering. Scratchy,against her ear. Something that pleaded... or threatened.
Her hands were frozen in a vise around her broom handle.Her body felt as if it had jelled into ice. Fear raced up and downher spine.
The cold...wrapped around her. Tightly. More and moretightly.
At last, her jaw snapped shut. She broke the sensation ofterror. She screamed, not a bloodcurdling sound, but one thatbarely held a gasp of air.
Then she found life, and ran.
Out to the second floor landing; there was no one there. Downthe flight of stairs to the grand foyer, where again, the house wasempty. She headed toward the second doorway to the right ofthe sweeping stairway. Surely, for the love of God, someone wouldbe in the house office- Penny, a tiny bastion against anyone evil,but someone, at the least.
Clara breathed a sigh of relief. Matt was there. Bursting outthe doorway before she could reach it. He was in his work uniform,but he hadn't headed out for the station yet; it was still veryearly. Thank God.
He hurried toward her, as if he had heard her cry-being Matt, ofcourse, he had heard it!-and had been preparing to rush to herrescue. Except that she had fled the room upstairs with greaterspeed than a greyhound. And so she was here, spurting into bisarms.
"Clara! What is it?"
She was fifty-five. Twenty years older than Matt, at least. Buthe was Matt; solid as a rock. A tall man in his prime with a wayabout him that commanded respect which in turn offered her afeeling of security that allowed her to speak when her mouth wasstill all but completely contorted.
"I-I-quit!" she gasped out.
"Clara, what on earth?" he asked kindly, holding her atsomething of a distance from himself and searching out hereyes.
"Let me tell you, that bride was not crazy. There's a ghost inthat room!"
"Oh, Clara, please. We both know the silly stories about thisplace! We've both heard them since we were little kids. But comeon, we've also worked in this house, both of us, for years andyears. Clara, I feel like a broken record here, but believeme-ghosts don't really exist. People want them to exist sometimes.Penny is dying to have a few authentic ghosts to give the place agreater reputation. Seems like being an historical masterpiecedoesn't always cut it these days." He smiled, smoothing back hergraying hair.
"There's a ghost in the Lee room, and it just touched me." Claraplanted her hands on her hips. "How long have you known me?Forever? Haven't I always agreed with you, saying that it was justsilly airheads who felt they had to make up ghost stories? But youhave to believe me-there's something in that room. It threatenedme. Matt, it wasn't my imagination. It wasn't a memory of ghosttales told over and over. It was real. I could see it. Come up andsee for yourself!"
Matt sighed deeply. Still, there was concern for her in thedepths of his dark eyes. "All right, Clara, let's go take alook."
Clara edged behind him, then followed as he left the office andstrode with long footsteps through the foyer, up the stairs, and tothe Lee room.
Naturally, there was nothing there.
Clara walked over to her broom. "I was standing right here."
"Clara, maybe you saw the draperies drifting in. The Frenchdoors are open."
Clara indignantly straightened her five-foot-one frame. Shecould see that Matt felt as if he was living a repeat of a sillyperformance. He was trying to be patient; he felt like throwing hishands up as if the whole world had now gone insane. "I know thedifference between drapes and a ghost!"
Matt ran his fingers through his ink dark hair, shaking hishead. "Clara...I don't know what to say. There's nothing hereat all."
Clara sniffed. "Matt, it's gone now. But therewassomething here! Why can't you believe me? You should. It wasn't allthat long ago that we rented the room to the Thomases. She camerunning out of the room in the middle of the night, stark naked,and screaming! All right, I wasn't here when it happened, but Isure heard all about it." Clara paused, biting her lip. "Okay, Ilaughed like hell, I'll admit, but...Matt, there's somethinggoing on."
"Clara, Jeannie Thomas herself said later that she'd had a lotto drink that night. Her husband didn't see or hear a thing, andall it did was cause a big argument on the first night of theirmarriage. Clara, Jeannie drove me crazy and came here andspecifically asked for this room, having heard that it was haunted.Don't you see? The bride wanted there to be a ghost, and so therewas. History can be tragic, Clara. And there was some tragichistory associated with the place. But come on, now! You're asensible woman. In your heart, you know that you're just lettingyour imagination run riot."
"Matt, I quit."
She knew that he couldn't afford to lose another maid.
"How about this, Clara. You don't quit, but you don't clean thisroom. How's that?"
She reflected on his offer. ' 'Who is going to clean it?''
"We'll let Penny come in here and take care of this room. Pennythinks it's the greatest thing in the world that the place has areputation for being haunted."
"You know, Matt, I can't help it. I was definitely one of thoseto scoff at such absurdity, but I can tell you now- this house ishaunted!"
"Clara, maybe it's haunted, and maybe...hm."
' 'Maybe Penny is playing tricks, she wants the house to behaunted so badly. Or maybe someone is. . .I don't know. Breaking inhere. Making things happen."
"How?" Clara asked incredulously.
"Who knows," he murmured.
Clara again planted her hands on her hips, her eyesnarrowing. "Who the hell would break in here? Who would havethe balls-since it'syourplace-the town sheriff?"
"I don't know. But since you think there was someone in here, Iintend to find out."
Clara shook her head. "We're the ones who have been lying toourselves, Matt. The whole darned house may be haunted, but thisroom...this room is menacing!"
"Ghosts don't menace people, Clara."
She sniffed. "You don't believe in ghosts, so how do you knowwhat they do?''
"Clara, I don't believe in ghosts, but from everything I've seenand read, I've never heard of a ghost actually hurting anyone."
Clara shook her head again, appearing to be the one wise beyondall earthly knowledge. "Well, Mr. Matt, I'll have you know, thatisn't true at all! Haven't you ever heard of the Bell Witch inTennessee? They say that even old Andrew Jackson was afraid of her,that she pulled people's hair and threw the children aroundand even caused the death of the master of the house. You refuse toaccept anything that isn't cut-and-dried, and you're blind tothings going on in your own house!"
Matt leaned against the door frame, smiling. "Clara, once again,I believe that people can make things real with theirimaginations."
"You think old Andy Jackson was an imaginative guy?"
"You'd have to show me written proof that Andrew Jackson wasafraid of a ghost. And I don't mean any hearsay on aDiscovery program or even in a book of ghost stories."
Clara pointed a finger at him. "You'd better do something,before the stories about this house become so real that no one willpay for the tours. You can't keep this place up on a sheriff'ssalary alone."
"Thank you, Clara. I'll take that under advisement. But thenagain, you know, Penny is certain that a documented haunting wouldmake us as rich as Midas."
Clara was startled when Matt frowned suddenly and walked over toher. "What happened to your face?"
"To my face?" Clara frowned as well, and walked over to themirror. Her cheek was red and mottled, as if she'd been slapped,and slapped hard.
She turned and stared at him. "Ghosts don't menace people,huh?"
"Clara," Matt said. "Think about it! You must have run intosomething in your hurry to get out of the room!"
Clara eyed him sharply and shook her head. "Matt, the storieshave circulated for years. People have sworn that they've seensoldiers in the downstairs rooms. They've seen a lady in white,floating down the stairway. Ghosts that fit in with history. It'sonly been in recent years, since your grandfather died, that thingshave gotten really serious. Remember how Randy Gustav quit afterstaying a night in the Lee Room? He wouldn't even explain whathappened to you. It's only in the last few years that...that theghosts kind of threaten to get violent." "There are no such thingsas ghosts." "Oh, yeah? One just gave me a bruise!" With that, Claraindignantly walked out on him, calling back over her shoulder,"Matt, you're a hell of a man. That's why I'm staying. Believe itor don't, but you'd better do something about that particularghost-that doesn't exist in your mind."
That evening, having returned home very late from work, Matt satat the desk in his suite in the main house, going throughcorrespondence.
There was a tap at his door.
Penny stuck her head in. "Am I bothering you, Matt?"
"Not at all."
She walked in and sat on the corner of his desk. "Matt, you haveto do something over this latest episode with Clara."
"Oh?" He leaned back in his chair.
"Clara was hurt!"
"Penny, please. I'm sorry, I think the world of Clara, we'refriends from way back, and I gave her the rest of the day off withpay. She had to have run into something."
Penny shook her head.
He leaned forward suddenly, abruptly. "Penny, you wouldn't beplaying some kind of game up there, determined to convincethe rest of the world, if not me, that the place is haunted?"
She gaped at him in such affront that he was immediatelysorry.
"Matt, I wouldnever-"
"But maybe someone would."
"Maybe," Penny agreed grudgingly. She wagged a finger at him."You know, you are far too trusting at times. Too many people couldhave access to this place."
"Penny, I'm not too trusting. We're a fairly small town."
Penny shook her head decisively. "You're right, of course. Butyou've got to remember that even in our small town we have had afew pretty grisly murders. Why can't you just accept the fact thatsomething strange is going on?"
"Penny, you've wanted nothing more than a real ghost foryears."
Penny shook her head, suddenly troubled. "Ghosts... that cause acold spot, or breeze by, or...I don't think this is a good ghost,"she murmured.
She patted his desk, rummaging through the unopened letters."What about that letter you got from Harrison Investigations?Call Adam. You respect him. He was friends with your grandfatherlong ago."
"Please, Matt. You've suggested that maybe someone is breakingin, or doing something to make it appear that there are ghosts.Adam can tell you what's real, and what's not."
"What heperceivesas real," Matt muttered.
"Hey, I've followed some of what he's done. Last year, he andsome of his colleagues proved that the haunting of an old miningcamp was nothing more than two modern prospectors digging forgold."
"Great. I call in Ghostbusters and become thelaughingstock of the town. I might as well find a new placeto live."
Penny shook her head. "Matt, maybe they can just do the samething here.'' She hopped off the edge of the table. "Please,promise me you'll think about it, at least."
She left him, closing the door softly in her wake.
Matt walked to his own set of French doors out to the wraparoundbalcony. The moon was full. In the distance, he could see the vagueshape of the mountains, and the sweep of the valley. God, he lovedthis area. Loved the house, the stables, but mostly, just thenatural beauty of the area.
He returned to his desk, reflective. Clara's facehadbeen marked, as if she had been hit. He still didn't believe inghosts, but...
He reflected on the number of people who lived on the property.Penny, Sam, Clint, Carter, even Clara now and then, and through theyears gone by, various friends and relatives. Could someone haveset the place up so that it appeared haunted?
He strode to the Lee Room, searched under the bed, in thecloset, all around. Nothing.
He returned to his own suite, toyed with Adam Harrison'sletter for a moment, and picked up the phone. He dialed Harrison'snumber. They spoke briefly. "Matt, good to hear from you."
"You weren't certain that you would?" Matt queried dryly.
"Nope. Not this time."
"You know I don't believe in the supernatural in any way, shape,or form."
"I'm aware of that."
"If you come down here, I'm only having you because I thinkyou'll be able to prove that I don't have ghosts."
"Maybe," Adam agreed.
"When can you come?"
"My schedule is a bit of a mess, but...I'll arrange to see yousoon."
"And according to your letter, Adam,you'regoing topayme?"
"Yes. And like I said, Iamanxious. I'll arrangesomething as soon as possible."
"You can usually find me around lunchtime at the Way-sideInn."
"All right, my office manager will call, set a date."
"Good," Matt said. "Look forward to seeing you, Adam."
Adam Harrison was still talking when Matt hung up the phone. Hestared at it, already thinking that he had made one hell of amistake.
On the other end, Adam Harrison, too, stared at his phone. Hedid so with fond amusement. He'd always liked Matt. "My boy. You'reabout to learn a lesson. All the courage, brain power, and brawn inthe world can't cut it against a real ghost," he said softly. "Ah,well."
He had meant to warn Matt that he wasn't even sure he could comehimself right away, that he'd be sending his top-notch aide.
But he didn't want to call back. Matt Stone wasn't at allpleased with this arrangement, even though he was surely havingtrouble.
It would all be fine. Darcy could handle any man,living...
From the moment she walked into the bar, Darcy felt at adistinct disadvantage.
It was called the Wayside Inn. It should have been calledBubba's Back-then Barn.
She was nearly overcome by the wave of smoke that almost knockedher over when she opened the door; it sat like a fog over thedecades-old plastic booths and bar stools. There were two pooltables to the left, stuffed away from what might have been used, attimes, as a dance floor.
There were actually still a few spittoons for tobacco chewersscattered around.
When she stepped in and the door closed behind her, the placecame to a standstill. The four pool players and the broken-toothedwonders watching the games all stopped their play and stared ather. Behind the bar, a heavyset woman with teased red hair styledin something like a sixties beehive looked up from washing glasses.In what looked to be a dining area, the four men seated at one ofthe chipped wood tables also looked up.
She stood in the miasma of smoke and stared around, taking it inas her eyes adjusted from the sunlight. And she knew, instantly,that Adam was the one who should have come here. And he should haveworn jeans and an old plaid or denim work shirt. Of course, theconcept of Adam dressed that way was an amusing one, but Adam was adetermined man. And for some reason, he was determined thatthey were getting into Melody House.
She had come in a business suit, the same attire she usuallywore when conducting business, she reminded herself,defending her choice of clothing when she was so obviously out ofplace. But though she hadn't imagined the Wayside Inn to be afive-star restaurant, she hadn't thought that it would be quitethis...colloquial.
"Can I help you, honey?" the redhead called from behindthe bar. Her voice was warm and friendly, giving Darcy a bit ofencouragement. She smiled in return. But before she could reply,one of the men who'd been sitting at the table had risen.
He was tall, somewhat lanky, and when he smiled, she saw that hehad all his teeth, and a single dimple in his left cheek. Lightbrown eyes, and a pleasant way about him; he seemed to ooze accentand Southern charm with his single word.
"I'm looking for a man named Matt Stone. I was supposed tomeet him here." She hoped that one of the men knew Stone. Shedidn't think that he was among them. She'd already pictured him inher mind. He was the descendant of a man who was practicallya Founding Father. He would be tall, straight, and aging withincredible dignity. He might be one of the those fellows whosat around Revolutionary or Civil War round tables, rehashing thepast. He might have a certain attitude about him, but he'd still bean incredible old gentleman.
"Hey, honey, you can meet me!" one of the pool playerscalled out.
"Watch your manners, Carter!" one of the others said, andanother sniggered.
At the table, another of the men stood.
"Come in, have a seat," he said.
She had to admit, this fellow's jeans fit him well,hugging leans hips, strong legs, and some solid length. Hewas wearing shades, even inside, in the cloud of smoke- maybe hethought that they'd protect his eyes from the haze. He was wellover six feet, ebony hair a little too long, but apparently cleanand brushed. He was clean-shaven, maybe thirty, thirty-five.Strong, solid features. While the first fellow to approach her hadbeen polite and laid-back, bis face splitting instantly into aneasy grin in the first few seconds, this one looked as if he mighthave been chiseled on Mount Rushmore. Though he had stoodcourteously enough and asked her to sit, he looked as if he wereentirely impatient, more like a man about to suggest that shego jump in a lake.
She walked over to the table. The first man-he with the greatdimple-had drawn out a chair for her. She looked at the other twowho had been sitting at the table, now risen, as she approached.One was older, white-haired, white-bearded. She kept imagining himin a butternut and gray Confederate Army uniform. The fourth in theparty was somewhere around thirty as well, had a decent haircut,and was actually in a tailored shirt and chinos, and looked as ifhe might have a real job somewhere in a civilized town.
"What's your business here?" the tall, chiseled-face man askedabruptly, sitting as he did so. They all stared at her.
"My name is Darcy Tremayne. I had an appointment with MattStone. I was supposed to meet him here. I believe I'm in theright place. Do any of you know him?"
She spoke evenly and politely-she was here on business.But she felt as if hostility oozed around her. She longed to boltfrom the chair and fly out the door. She knew that everyone in thebar was still staring at her.
"Know him?" the tall, lanky fellow with the dimple said.
But he was interrupted. The man Darcy had mentally begun torefer to as Chisel-face cut him off. "Are you one of the psychics?"he asked.
Darcy arched a brow.Be pleasant with the locals, Adamhad told her.
All right, she could be friendly.
"I suppose you could say that. I'm with HarrisonInvestigations," she said. This was definitely a small town.Okay, so she had come from a fairly small town herself, but thisone seemed even more rural. Maybe that was because she'dspent so many years in New York, and had been living in the D.C.area for so long now. It seemed that any event regarding MelodyHouse was news in the area, and that everyone knew everyone else'sbusiness.
"A real live ghost buster?" the fellow with the dimpleteased.
"Ghost buster?" She ever so slightly hiked a brow once again,sitting back, determined that she would be cool, cordial, anddignified. "Harrison Investigations is actually a small, privatecompany, and what we do is investigate strange occurrences in oldhomes and the like." She smiled. "Most of the time, we find squeakyfloorboards and leaky plumbing, but when a place is as historicallyrelevant as Melody House, the history alone could create a very oldand spiritual feeling."
"Melody House is pretty damned cool," the dimpled man said,flashing another warm smile.
The old white-haired codger spoke up. "Ms. Tremayne, lots offolks have come wanting to set up cameras, tape machines, and allkinds of hocus-pocus stuff at Melody House. The owner has justflat-out told them no."
"Yes, well, that's why I'm anxious to meet Matt Stone. Mr.Harrison and he are well acquainted. Mr. Stone respects myemployer, and knows that we're not sensationalist in any way.We know history and architecture, and people, and naturally, we'revery discreet. I can understand any hesitation Mr. Stone has had inthe past. I'm sure that many people come ready to cash in on theghosts."
"I see," interrupted Chisel-face. "You're here toinvestigate some of the eerie stories associated with thehouse, but you'renottrying to cash in on ghosts?" Hisvoice was deep, the words were evenly spoken; somehow, they stilldripped scorn.
"No. I've just explained. We're investigators."
"Um," Chisel-face murmured. He stared at her hard. "You saidthat most of the time what you discovered was creaky floorboards orleaky plumping. What happens when it's not 'most of the time'?"
"We do our best to right matters," she said, wishing that she'dnever gotten into the conversation.
"And how do you do that? Without, of course, making a bid tofascinate people-or cash in on the ghosts."
She hesitated. She didn't really need to be having thisconversation with a skeptic; she was looking for Matt Stone. Butthey were indeed in a small town. And Adam had suggested that shedo her best to get along with the locals. In such a place, theywere usually full of information, and could be very helpful.She shrugged. Adam wanted it; she could try to be social.
"Some ghosts are actually a part of history, and it's thehistory that creates the legends that make them sofascinating to people. Some home owners and evencorporations-especially those with places as significant asMelody House-want to have a resident ghost rapping on wallsnow and then to attract their clientele. Watch television,and you'll know that there's a huge population out there interestedin being frightened. What we do is find out first if there actuallyis any inexplicable phenomena- or if someone is merely playinggames. If there is something beyond the ordinary, we find outwhy, and deal with it from that point," Darcy said, staring at theman, and returning all the attitude she was being given. AdamHarrison had already spoken with Matt Stone, and apparently,done so with enough dignity that he had agreed to the meeting.Actually, Stone had called Adam, after receiving his letter. Andwhether or not Stone wanted his property turned into a nationalcenter for the occult, he apparently could use the exorbitant feethat Adam had been willing to pay for his team to investigate thestories circulating about the house. She knew historic mansionswere incredibly hard to maintain. Especially when they werebeing held privately. She was suddenly angry with herself forhaving been intimidated by the good old boys in the bar. Hell.She'd spent enough years in a very similar environment, and thatshould have prepared her to deal with any form of male thatpretended to walk on two feet. She had also dealt with her fairshare of total, mocking skeptics. Usually, no manner of behaviorbothered her. She had her beliefs, and everyone else in the worldwas welcome to their own. People who really wanted help usuallycame and asked for it.
She'd been social enough, she decided.
"Excuse me, gentlemen, but my employer has already been incontact with Mr. Stone, and apparently, he is willing toallow us into Melody House. I'll make arrangements to meet him at alater date."
"I know you," Dimple-face said suddenly. He offered her his lazysmile once again. "I could swear I've seen your face before."
Darcy hesitated. All she needed to do was tell this pack thatshe'd been a model for a cosmetics company for several yearsduring and right after college and they'd never take her seriously.But then again, what the hell did she care? Her business was withStone.
"I'm sure we've never met," she murmured politely. "Thank youfor your time. And excuse me."
'"Original Sin'!" Dimple-face said triumphantly. He grinnedsheepishly. "I wound up buying the men's aftershave. Yourface has been on billboards all over the country."
Even in Hicksville?she was tempted to say, and thenshe was angry with herself, because she'd never felt that way aboutanything or anyone, her parents being really wonderful people whohad taught her continually that people were people, didn'tmatter where they came from, and everyone in any corner of thecountry or even on the earth deserved an open mind and respect.
"So...you're a model."
Chisel-face's statement might as well have been,So you're adumb blonde with boobs.Except that she was more of a redheadand certainly not overly-stacked.
"I worked for Original Sins cosmetics, yes," she said, againforcing her tone to be even. "I also have graduate degrees inAmerican history and sociology from NYU."
"I heard that Adam Harrison would be coming here himself,"Chisel-face said.
Darcy gritted her teeth. "Yes, Mr. Harrison will come down atsome time during the investigation. He's been delayed. At themoment, he is tied up with business in London." She stopped,irritated that she'd felt herself obliged to explain anything tothese men.
She was about to rise when the fourth member' of the party-theman with the decent haircut and store-bought clothing suddenlyleaned forward, extending a hand to her. "Sorry, we should haveintroduced ourselves, especially me, right away. I'm David Jenner,Jenner Equipment-and someone from your office approached me aboutrenting some recording and video equipment." He shrugged, flashinga glance across the table. "Should the project go forward."
"David, nice to meet you," she said. "Justin, our officemanager, told me that he had talked to you."
"You don't have your own equipment?" Chisel-face asked.
"Of course, we have some very specialized equipment,"Darcy forced herself to say politely. "But we like to rent videocameras and tape recorders from local facilities. That keepsanyone from suggesting that we've rigged anything. Mr. Stone knowshow we work and what we do-he was sent information on thecompany."
Chisel-face inclined his head, and she wished that the idiotwasn't wearing sunglasses in the middle of a smoky bar. "It's goodto hear that you think local facilities might offer you enough-youknow, equipment up to the par of your... investigativetechniques.''
"We've worked across the country-and abroad," she said coolly,"and we have always maintained excellent work relationships inevery area."
"That sounds mighty fine!"
Darcy was startled when the voice came from behind her. Sheturned to see that the pool player who had been called Carter hadcome up behind her. He was taller than she had realized; she wasfairly tall herself at five nine, and in her heels, she had anothertwo inches. He wore a beard and mustache, and had intense greeneyes. And beneath his worn flannel shirt, he seemed to be inexceptional condition. She did, however, feel as if she hadcompletely stepped back in time. Put a uniform on him, and he mighthave been the cavalry general Jeb Stuart, having stepped off hishorse and into the local tavern. He stared at her with a strangesincerity as he spoke. "Too many times, Yankees have come downSouth and thought themselves like almighty gods. But, hey, youknow, this just might be the right one. Ms. Tremayne, I've seenyour face all over on billboards, too. You just may be theone."
"Thanks," she murmured.Yankees had come south?She'ddone a lot of traveling, but she'd never felt a time warp such asthis before. "You know," she said quietly, "my company isn't reallyheadquartered more than two hours away."
"A popular face," Chisel-face murmured. "Forgive me-it justseems so strange. A model. Hm. Maybe they sent you down tomanipulate Matt Stone. Not a bad idea? I mean, could you possiblyreallybe the business end of this deal? You are anexceptionally fine-looking Yank- even with a packet of degrees fromNYU."
Darcy felt fury suddenly take root in every limb of her body.Get along with the locals! Like hell!She'd had it.Everything she'd learned in college, in business, and in life, fledher mind, and her temper kickedin.
"It's an excellent school," she said, rising. "And I'm afraid,gentlemen, that the rest of the world has entered the twenty-firstcentury. The Civil War was lost during the nineteenth. We're allone big country now, you might recall. WashingtonD.C.-where I'm based-is extremely close. Busy. The worldgoes on there."
"D.C," Chisel-face murmured, then grinned at his fellows. "I'llbet the old boys considered it just one and the same as this area,eh boys?"
She rose, hands planted firmly down on the table, and assessedhim coolly. Words seemed to spit from her before she took the timeto think them out. "You know, I did forget to return your ratherbackward compliment. Actually, you're not too bad-looking fora total asshole. You really will excuse me. In truth, none of this,me, my credentials, my job here-is any of your business. Ineed to discuss matters with Mr. Stone, and no one else." Sheallowed her gaze to sweep with disdain over the lot of them and sheturned and walked with crisply clicking heels to the door, whereshe turned back. "By the way, just for your information, the Southlostthe war. If any of you happen to see Mr. Stone,perhaps you'll be good enough to let him know that I did come tomeet him. I'll be calling."
As she stared at the men, they rose, staring back at her. Themost friendly of them, Dimple-face, began to smile.
"What?" she demanded.
"Oh," he said, "I think Matt Stone definitely knows you werehere."
"Really?" she grated. "And why is that."
Chisel-face spoke up. "Ms. Tremayne, I am Matt Stone."
Adam Harrison would have handled it all much better. He wouldhave found a way to be both dignified and smooth. But of course, ifAdam had felt that he'd cast himself into a den of testosterone, hewould have had managed to gain respect immediately, no matterwhat.
Darcy couldn't quite diffuse the steam rising in her.
"Well, I'm sorry that I can't say it's been a pleasure, sinceyou've done nothing but amuse yourself at my expense, Mr.Stone. And if you destroy this opportunity, it won't hurt me in theleast. My employer is the man who deems your house important."
With that, she turned, exited, and let the door closebehind her.
* * *
"Well, that was just great!" Mae said from behind me bar.
Matt set his sunglasses on top of his head and turned to Maewith a challenging look. "Mae, I didn't know who the hell she wasat first, and since it was my understanding Harrison was cominghimself, she made me somewhat wary. We don't need a bunch ofcrackpots thinking that they can come here and recreate a 'BlairWitch' scenario."
"He's right," Clint said, grinning in a way that made his dimpledeep, amusement lighting his eyes. "A goddess walks in-and he sendsher out as rudely as possible. Good going, Matt."
Clint was Matt's second cousin, but though he carried the familyname, his grandfather had been born on what they called the wrongside of the blanket. Probably a good thing; Clint's commitment toenjoying life was often entertaining, but Matt was prettycertain that, had the property gone down to Clint, it wasunlikely they'd be having this discussion now-the holding wouldhave been long gone. Not because the fields might have fallen preyto plight or disease, but rather to the plague of gambling debtthat never seemed to dampen Clint's spirits.
Matt looked from Mae to Clint, shaking his head. "Doesn't theconcept of dignity mean anything to the two of you?"
"Not a hell of a lot," Clint said cheerfully.
"Dignity? Do you think you allowed that poor girl to feel thatshe had any?'' Carter asked.
"She's accustomed to getting whatever she wants, I imagine,"Matt said with a shrug. "And don't you tell me about dignity,Carter." He admitted, only to himself, that he might have beenrude-only a bit. But at least with reason. Still, he felt obligedto remind his friend about some of his own behavior. "If I remembercorrectly, you were so rude to your friend, Catherine Angsley, inthis very bar, in front of far more people, that she left thecounty, never to be seen again."
Carter shrugged. "At least I knew her first."
Mae chuckled. "And you, young man," she said to Clint. "You sentthat beautiful Texan, what was her name? Salela Bennett, runningall the way back to Texas!"
"Sasha," Clint corrected.
"Sasha, that's right.Sasha.Why can't I ever rememberthat name?" Mae asked. "Oh! Maybe it's because no one couldpossibly keep track of the women who come and go through your everso charming lives!"
"Mae! We're just looking for true love," Clint said dryly.
"My foot! You're looking for the next great body. But I thinkthat the two of you could be left in the dust by this new visitor,"Mae informed them with a sagely spoken pleasure.
"Well, of course, because with Matt's brand of charm, she'll beheading straight back to Washington," Carter said with a sigh. Hearched a brow to Matt. "I can recall a few times when you mighthave been a little rough on Lavinia."
"At least he married her first," Mae said.
"I was never that rude to Lavinia-even in the midst of divorce,"Matt said, irritated with himself that he was still feelingdefensive, and now being reminded of his disastrousmarriage.
"See, Mae? You can't rush into marriage," Carter said. "Look atthe whole Lavinia thing. There she was-the most gorgeous thingbreathing on earth, and what a manipulative witch."
"We just didn't have the same concept of a life well lived,"Matt said, wondering why in the hell he should suddenly defend evenhis ex-wife. Simple fact, Lavinia had been a bitch. Rich, spoiled,and heedless of anyone around her.
"We're all missing the point here," old Anthony Larkin suddenlypointed out. "Mae, seems to me the world has changed a lot since Iwas a young man. Hell, yes, these young people should find out ifthey're going to make it in an affair before tying the knot.Divorces are too easy these days, and they're still hard as hell onpeople. Especially on their kids!"
"Well, thankfully, Matt and Lavinia didn't have kids. A devil'stail might have shown up on one of them,'' Clint said. "I thinkLavinia's had plastic surgery to get rid of hers, but genetically,it would have still been there."
"Lavinia is gone, and it's over," Matt said flatly.
"That Sibel, Shana, or Sheila girl Clint was dating wasn't abitch," Mae said with a sniff. "Opinionated, and intelligent, andready to take care of herself. But she wasn't a bitch."
Clint offered an exaggerated sigh. "Mae, her name was Sasha.Sasha Bennett. And the problem with our great affair was thatshe wanted me to move to Texas! And wait a minute-we're getting offthe subject here."
Anthony shook his white head in a way that made his beard rakeback and forth over his chest. "All right, here's my opinion froman old geezer, Matt. Let's forget about pasttransgressions-committed by the lot of you. Every woman isn't apotential affair. This one seems darned regal and intelligent. Shewas sent here to work. Matt, you're having trouble up at yourplace. You told me yourself, you called your grandfather's oldfriend Harrison after you received his letter. Key concepthere-youcalledhim.So- just why were you such ajerk to that girl?"
"She looks too much like Lavinia," Clint said.
"No, she doesn't," Carter argued. "She has the walk, themovement...kind of like a natural grace. That's all that's thesame."
Matt scowled at them both. "Hey, looks have nothing to do withanything, gentlemen."
"Gentlemen?" Mae said with a sniff.
"I'm unhappy about the whole thing, I suppose. And yes, I calledAdam after I got the letter, but that's the point-I expected AdamHarrison himself," Matt admitted ruefully. "And then again, maybeit all did have something to do with her appearance." He glared atClint and Carter. "Not that she resembles Lavinia in any way."
"She doesn't. She's really much prettier," Mae put in.
"But," Matt continued. "She doesn't look like any hard-coreinvestigator, does she?"
"Looks can be deceiving," Carter said.
"Hey, they say you're going to let Liz do a seance," AnthonyLarkin reminded him. "How hard-core would that be?"
"Liz was close with Gramps, too," Matt said. "A really greatnurse to him toward the end. I owe her." He shrugged. "She beggedwhen I told her that I had people coming down who were supposedlyghost experts. She wanted first crack at a seance, before anyout-of-towners took over. She also holds her Women's Town Meetingin the house once a month, and it's a big event that makes thehouse a good income."
Anthony shrugged. "Figured it had to be something like that. Iran into her down at the drugstore. She said that she'd beenpleading with you, just for herself, since she's so sure she feelsall that cold stuff, especially in the upstairs bedroom. Andshe said that the writer could come in, and the new guy from theChamber of Commerce. So...it's a crock if you're keeping out thatpretty girl because she's more about ghosts than finding outif something natural is going bump in the middle of thenight."
"And damn, but she is good-looking," Clint supplied.
Matt nodded slowly. They were all right-and he had been one hellof an ass to the woman. She had just hit a raw nerve with him, hesupposed, looking as if she had just stepped off a fashion page,heels clicking on the floor, manicured nails expressive in the airas she spoke, her face that of a sophisticated angel-or siren, oneor the other.
Redheads were always trouble.
"I'm just irritated, I guess. Maybe I do owe her an apol-
The phone rang stridently from the bar. He felt a surge ofanger. She was already calling. Mae picked up the phone.
"Hello...yes, Penny, he's here. He's got his cell phone turnedoff again, huh? Well, he's sitting here, sure as can be. Shouldn'thave that cell phone turned off, Matt, you know that," she said,her hand over the receiver.
"Shirley at the station knows where I am, and that's all thatmatters," Matt said.
"Penny knows you're here now, come on over and talk to her!Please!" Mae insisted, seeing the stubborn set to his jaw.
Matt cast Mae an evil eye, then rose to accept thereceiver from behind the bar. Penny came on the line.
"Matt, I heard you gave that girl from New York an absolutelywretched time!"
"Penny, I really did no such thing. And how did you hear sofast?"
Matt looked around. Sure enough, Marty Sawyer- Penny'snephew-who had been watching Carter's pool game was now nowhere tobe seen. He'd slunk out already.
"Matt Stone! There is so much good to be done here! PrincipalJoe from the grade school was telling me how much theschoolchildren just loved the living history productions wedid last summer, and you know as well as I do that you can't keepthat kind of program going if we don't make sure that the house isentirely safe. And you've already agreed that we can let the seancego on."
"Because even though I don't believe in such a thing as a'medium,' I like Elizabeth!" he said irritably.
"You're going to make a tiny percentage offElizabeth-compared to what Adam Harrison is paying toinvestigate your property. He usually charges people for hisservices. Now you know that I personally think that the ghosts arewonderful, but even I'm getting nervous here. Think about poorClara's face-and don't go telling me she bumped into a wall. Weneed our ghost stories, some of them are so great. Passion, spurnedlovers, murders, suicides! But...there's something not at all rightgoing on as well. Oh, Matt, please! If you really love the houseand our history and want to keep the place open, not to mention inthe family!-please let this girl come and get started on herinvestigations, no matter what it is, exactly, that she does."
He gazed back at the bar. Everyone was staring at them. Pennywas speaking loudly. They could all hear. "Penny-you're right.Murders and suicides. The woman in white who's been seen floatingaround the staircase. You know what? It isn't going to matter whatI do-the stories are going to circulate forever."
"I've seen the woman in white," Penny said stubbornly.
"Penny, you drank half the wine cellar that night," he remindedher.
"Nevertheless, this is important. Yes, we'll have stories, nomatter what. But you said yourself that you were suspiciousthat someone was causing some of the 'haunting.' How will you everknow, or prove anything?"
"Penny, I am the sheriff. I know a few things aboutinvestigating occurrences on my own."
"Matt, where's your patriotism?"
"What?" he said incredulously.
"The house is so important. What if someone really getshurt?"
He almost smiled. It was a new line of attack.
From the table, he heard the sound of David Jenner clearing histhroat. "You know, Matt, things haven't been that great. I couldreally use the work."
"Right. You know, we're not all rich, kind of famous, and bornwith absolutely legitimate names," Clint said, grinning with ashrug.
"Matt, maybe you could do us all some good," Carter toldhim.
"You won't have to do a thing," Penny's voice said from over thephone wire. ' 'Give Ms. Tremayne my number. And I'll handleeverything. You don't have to come anywhere near the house if youdon't want to while she's in it. But first, you go over right nowand get her out of that ramshackle hotel where's she staying."
Carter could obviously hear Penny. He owned the ramshacklehotel.
Again, Matt couldn't help but grin. "Hell, all right."
"Matt, honestly, you don't even have to be involved, I'll doeverything, I swear! Dammit, Matt,you'rethe one whocalled Adam Harrison, why are you balking now?''
"Because I expected Adam Harrison," he said, feeling like abroken record, his temper rising. Impatiently, he said, "I'll talkto her, Penny." Then he hung up.
Mae grinned like a kid with a candy bar. "This is so cool-MelodyHouse is getting real live ghost busters."
"They're not ghost busters, Mae," Matt said.
"I've got to go to that seance!" Mae said firmly.
"You all really did hear every single word of thatconversation," Matt said ruefully.
A circle of nods answered him. He shook his head. "Hell-I guessI will start answering my cell phone," he muttered.
' 'Well... ?" Clint drawled. "When are you going to bite thebullet, give that girl a call and convince her that she is welcomehere?"
"Soon. Butnotfrom here," he said. He slid hissunglasses back down over his eyes, and strode to the door,taking his hat from a peg on the wall. He twisted his jaw; hedidn't believe in ghosts, spirits, haunts, or the goddamnedEaster bunny, and he sure as hell didn't believe inpremonitions.
Still, he didn't like this.
He shook his head, speaking with his back to the others.
"There's an awful lot that's bad in that place's past," hesaid.
He walked back into the sunshine of the day, letting the doorslam behind him.
There was silence in his wake for several seconds. "He's goingto let it happen, Mae, don't worry, you'll get to go to a real liveseance," Clint assured the woman still standing behind the bar, andstill staring after Matt Stone.
"Yeah, well, it's not the whole thing with the house that makeshim so hostile,'' Mae said quietly.
"He just never should have married that bitch from New York,"Carter agreed.
"Redhead, too," David Jenner murmured.
"Well, living or dead, it's always people that haunt theliving!" Mae said sagely, offering a sad shake of her head. Thenshe brightened, sounding like a girl about to head for her firstdance. "And you bet your butts, gentlemen! I'm going to get to seea real live ghost!"
"Mae, if you see a ghost, the point is, it's not 'live,'" Clintsaid dryly. "But what the hell? Things could get darned interestingaround here."
Thirty minutes later, Darcy was back in her hotel room,listening to the voice on her cell phone.
"You want me to do what?" she said incredulously to Adam. "Notapologize,right?"
Darcy actually pulled the cell phone away from her ear to stareat it, despite the fact that on an intellectual level, she knew shecouldn't see her employer's face.
"Don't apologize, just rethink things." Adam, far away inLondon, was quiet for a minute. "Darcy, I have a vested interest inthe house. I'll explain when I get back into the country." Hesighed softly. "Darcy, mere's no one like you. I need you. Pleasedon't sound as if I've asked you to make peace with hostile aliensor some such thing."
Darcy winced. She knew that there was something about MelodyHouse that Adam hadn't shared with her yet. Had to be. She wasoften certain herself that Adam, despite his own apparent wealth,was funded as well by another source-possibly governmental. They'dquietly gone in and out of a number of Federal buildings inprevious cases. This was different. He really wanted in. Forpersonal reasons, so it seemed. Reasons he wasn't willing toshare, as yet.
"Adam, if this was so important, you should have been here."
"I know. But I had to be in London."
She didn't ask for an explanation, because he was a man whoalways kept business confidential, and even with her, informationwas shared on a need to know basis.
"Darcy, are you okay?"
"I've met a lot of skeptics," she said, "I've just never had toactually work with anyone so openly hostile."
"You can do it. I know you can," Adam said.
"But," she said quietly, "you don't really want me to call thisguy and apologize, do you?"
"I'd never ask you to do that."
"Let's let it lie for now. I'm willing to bet that you'll hearfrom him."
Darcy breathed out on a deep sigh. She hated the fact that shehadn't handled the situation well at all. Her affection forAdam was very deep and real.
"All right. So what exactly do I do now?"
"Just sit tight. Is the hotel okay?"
Darcy looked around the room. "Sure," she lied. As she did so,the hotel line began to ring. She stared at the phonedistastefully. It was dirtier than a pay phone outside a heavilyfrequented gas station.
"I've got another call," she told Adam.
"Any premonitions?" Adam said lightly. "I'm willing to bet thatit's Stone."
"We'll see. I'll give you a call back."
"Actually, you don't need to," he said, and hung up. Again,Darcy stared at her cell phone, shook her head, and forced herselfto pick up the hotel line.
"Ms. Tremayne, it's Matt Stone."
She was silent, waiting. Adam had been right.
Apparently, Matt Stone could be stubborn, too. The silencestretched on.
"Yes?" she said again. She could almost see his teeth grate inthe steel cage of his face.
"As you're aware, I own Melody House. I don't actuallylive in the main house all the time, though I stay now and then.However, I have a woman who manages the upkeep and the tours weallow through, and the events which are held there upon occasion.Her name is Penny Sawyer, and I'll put you in contact with her.She's incredibly anxious to have you and your companyin."
"But you're not."
"I did talk to Adam Harrison," he said, not agreeing ordisagreeing. "The house holds incredible historicalimportance," he said flatly.
"Look, Penny is supposed to handle everything. And she's greatwith the place, knows all about it, and can help you with whateveryou need. When you've got your plans down all pat, I'll be back inon it, though. It's still my place. And I want final approval onwhat you do."
"Naturally," Darcy said. She knew that it sounded as if herwords were a flatfuck you, guess I've got no choice.
"Penny has suggested that you move on over to the housenow."
"Oh, that's not necessary-"
"You need to be in the house to investigate it, right?"
"I just meant that there was probably no need for that kind ofhurry."
"Penny wants you there as soon as possible. She's very eager tohave you. Also, her office is in the house. We have all kinds ofdocuments there, so...you could get started."
Darcy looked around her hotel room. It was stretching it to evencall the place a hotel. She didn't flinch at the sight of bugs, butshe had gagged over the film of them she'd had to clean out of thebathtub before managing a quick shower.
Maybe Matt Stone was something of a psychic himself. His nextwords suggested that he had read her mind.
"Ms. Tremayne, I'm familiar with the hotel."
"Fine. I might as well get started. You're right."
"I'll be there for you in thirty minutes."
She opened her mouth to protest. She could have used a littlemore time just to survey the area before entering the house.
Too late. He'd hung up.
Swearing, she did the same. She looked around the small room.Not much to pick up-she'd been too afraid of getting creepy-crawlythings in her lingerie to unpack much. She fished her few personalarticles from the bathroom and folded the few pieces ofclothing she'd had out in less than ten minutes.
Which turned out to be good. Matt Stone's concept of time wasnot at all precise. She had barely made a quick run-through toassure herself she hadn't forgotten anything when there was a knockat her door.
She opened it. He stood there, sunglasses in place, a lock ofhis dark hair windblown and sprawling over his forehead. In herbusiness heels, she was just a shade under six feet. He stillseemed to tower. She didn't like the disadvantage, even ifheight didn't really mean a damned thing.
"Ready, Ms. Tremayne?"
She took a breath, forcing something of a grimace rather than asmile. "Mr. Stone, somehow you manage to drawl out a simple Ms. asif it were a word composed of one longz,and a filthy oneat that. My name is Darcy, and I'm accustomed to going by it."
He cocked his head slightly. She couldn't read his eyes becauseof the shades. "All right-Darcy. I'm glad you're capable of moving.I have to get back into the office so let's get going, you know,quickly. Where's your bag?"
"I can take it myself, thank you."
"Would you just show me the damned bag?"
She set her hands on her hips. "Someone ought to call the localcops on you. You may be some kind of a big landholder in these hereparts, bucko, but you're the rudest individual I've ever met."
"Sorry, but my time is limited. Please, Ms. Tremayne- sorry,Darcy, may I take your bag?'' he said sarcastically.
"Fine. Right there. It rolls-unless you'll feel that your machoimage will be marred and lessened by taking an easy route."
He offered her a dry grimace, grabbed the bag, and startedout
She followed him, exiting the spiderweb filled hallways of theplace, out to the parking lot.
She didn't see any regular cars-there were a few trucks, acode-enforcement vehicle, and a county cop car in the lot.
He had a really long stride, but had paused just outside thebuilding and removed his sunglasses, waiting for her to catch up.He saw that she was staring expectantly out at the parking lot.
"Oh, sorry," he told her flatly. "It's that one. I guesseveryone forgot to tell you. I'm the local sheriff. Guess Adamdidn't tell you, either. But then, since you're supposed tobe a psychic, you should have known." He stared at her, a light ofmockery in his eyes.
She smiled sweetly in return. "Mr. Stone, I'm not exactlya psychic. There are certain areas in which I can deduce things.There are certain things about people I don't know. But then again,there are things that people really don't want known that I candeduce very easily. I'm known for finding skeletons in closets, andI'm sure that there are dozens of them at Melody House."
Staring back at her, he was dead still men. His eyes were dark,not brown, but a deep gray. Disturbing. They seemed to pierce rightthrough her, and yet wear a protective veil that kept her fromreading anything within them. Still, it seemed that she had givenhim pause.
"Shall we go?" she said.
"Oh, yes. I'm just dying to see what bones you can dig up, Ms.Tremayne. Just dying."
"Great. Just..." "Just what?"
"Be prepared. Sometimes, people don't like the skeletonswe find."
"To me, it's simply one of the most incredible houses- andhistorical sites-on the face of the earth!" Penny saidenthusiastically.
Darcy smiled, thinking that she agreed-despite thedifficulty involved with the place, and that difficulty beingMatt Stone.
He had maintained something of a pleasant conversation on thedrive over, pointing out Civil War skirmish sites, and telling herthat at one point, on his way to battle, the great Southern generalRobert E. Lee had stayed at Melody House. Then they had reached thehouse, and though she couldn't say he had practically thrown herout of the car, he had delivered her to the front door and PennySawyer as quickly as possible, explaining simply that he was onduty.
Hm. She wondered if he'd been on duty while sprawling around atthe Wayside Tavern as well.
But Penny Sawyer was wonderful. Darcy couldn't quite determineher age. The woman was certainly somewhere between forty and sixty,which was quite a span. She was slender, about five-five, with anattractive shag type of short haircut in a natural salt and pepper,and had beautiful, bright blue eyes. She was also nicely dressed ina stylish pantsuit, and as friendly as her employer was rude.
"The house is quite incredible," Darcy said. "A number ofhistorical homes-usually those owned by preservationsocieties-have been restored with painstaking authenticity, butit's amazing to see the integrity of this house, especially whenit's been a family home all along."
"Ah, well, the old gentleman, Matt's grandfather, really lovedthe place. Treated the house like a baby. He wanted it to be a homewhile maintaining all that it had been. He was a remarkable oldfellow."
Penny gave her a funny little rueful smile. "Oddly enough,believe me, Matt is just as dedicated to the preservation ofthe house. He wants to maintain it himself, though-you know, hedoesn't want it going to any societies, no matter how goodthey might be, because he would lose control. He knows that househas to hold its own if he's going to hang on to it. Upkeep on theseplaces is staggering. And sheriffs just don't make that kind ofmoney. Oh! That didn't really sound the way it should- he's a manof incredible integrity. What I mean is, no matter how he loves theplace, he'd never do anything illegal. Of course, you didn'tsuggest such a thing!" Penny broke off with a laugh. "There wouldnever be such a thing as graft involved in Matt's life. He's agreat sheriff. The people love him. He can defuse the most ungodlysituations, speak to the youngsters around here and all...but whatit means is that he has to have tours going through here, and hehas to make the house pay. That's all. So! What kind of a feel doyou get from the place? Is it haunted?"
Darcy smiled again at the question, wondering how to answer."There's a tremendous feel of the past about the place, I can tellyou that."
"But you...well, youseeghosts, right?"
Darcy hesitated again. "For the most part, I would say that, sofar, the house actually has a warm feel to it. As if whateverremains of the distant past is mostly benign. But there is a feelto the house. That's natural when so much has occurred through somany years. Many people believe that since we-humans-are made up ofenergy, and energy cannot actually be destroyed-that trauma forcesthat energy to remain, when the soul should have gone on."
Penny arched a brow to her. "I know what most peoplefeelandthink.But you are a psychic. So-what doyouthink? Actually, no matter what you say, you won'tchange what I feel and believe. I know that ghosts exist. I've seenone."
Penny shrugged. They were in her office, a very nicely done roomon the ground floor, near to Matt's, as Penny had pointed out.
"I've seen the woman in the white peignoir who runs from the Leeroom and down the stairs. And I'm beginning to believe that she'snot a benign entity at all. Oh, don't get me wrong. I personallylove the ghost stories that abound around here. They'reimportant-they draw visitors to the house. But lately, theghost seems to be getting-physical."
"Exactly how so?"
"Well, not long ago we had a bride and groom staying in theroom. She woke up in the middle of the night and the ghost spoke toher, or pulled her hair, or something. She wasn't terribly clear.She came running down the stairs stark naked in the middle of thenight, and refused to go back to the room even to pack up herthings. Then, Clara Issy, one of the housekeepers, and a wonderfulwoman, came flying out because of the same thing happening.The ghost left a mark on her."
"What did Sheriff Stone have to say about that?" Darcyasked.
Penny waved a dismissive hand in the air. "He says he'sconvinced Clara ran into something. Matt simply refuses tobelieve in anything that doesn't have full dimensions.However, he has said that we can have a seance here. None of thisis making any sense to me. Matt may not know much about HarrisonInvestigations, but I do. Adam Harrison is supposed to be one ofthe most credible and influential investigators of psychicphenomena in the world! Matt knew that you all were coming-well,all right, he expected Adam himself-but he told Liz that she couldcarry on a seance. Go figure. Of course, he doesn't really believethat anyone will contact the spirits, so maybe he wanted to makeLiz happy, and annoy those who might have been able to make aspecial connection with whatever is going on."
"It will be interesting to take part in a seance here, no matterwho is acting as the medium," Darcy told her tactfully.
"Well, it's going to be tomorrow night," Penny told her. "I'msetting up in the parlor, since Elizabeth says we should be usingthe center of the house, the heart of it."
Darcy lifted her hands. "Sounds fine to me."
"Well, I'm relieved. After all-you'retheprofessional."
Darcy smiled. "I'm not so sure there is such a thing as aprofessional in this particular area. I'm sure Elizabeth will proveto be a fine medium." Darcy rose. "Mind if I take a walkaround?"
"Of course not, dear! Your bag has been taken up to the LeeRoom-where the phenomenon has occurred. I imagine that whereasothers might wake up in terror, you would wake up and try to talkto the ghost, right?''
"Something like that," Darcy agreed.
"Well, then, you just make yourself at home." She handed Darcy apamphlet. "These are, as you'll see, obviously for the tourgroups. But the little map will help you get your bearings, andthere are a few little tidbits of history about the house in thereas well."
"Terrific," Darcy said. "Thank you so much."
"My pleasure, and please, should you need anything, anything atall, don't hesitate to ask me. I'm delighted to have you."
Darcy took the little map and exited Penny's office. It was oneof two on the right side of the hall that connected the foyer andthe grand stairway.
For a moment, she paused. This was the most important part ofher work, as she saw it. Adam Harrison was excellent withmachinery. Gauges that registered temperature changes, recordersthat caught the slightest hint of sound. There were even gadgetsthat could record any rise or fall in a magnetic field. When hecame, he would work with a Trifield Meter, and measureelectromagnetic pollution. He also used a Trifield Natural EMmeter, which measured electric as well as magnetic fields-showingdisturbances where there should be none-and, as Adam was fond oftelling clients-it was also a great tool for finding out if yourmicrowave leaked or not. In his work, however, he knew that anykind of physical manifestation required a certain amount of energy,moving air, heat, cold, all and any changes that might take placein an area.
Adam worked from a seriously scientific point ofreference.
But for her, it was the feel of a place. It was getting to knowit.
And often, when she first arrived at a place reputed to behaunted, she would feel that Josh was with her. Ready to be besideher, vigilant, her guard in the strange world, perhaps.
She waited. But she didn't feel his presence. She waited severalminutes, dead still, making an effort to clear her mind, whichwasn't usually necessary. And still, she had no sense or feel ofhim, which was very unusual.
And yet the house seemed more alive with past energy than anyother place she had ever been.
She walked back first to the entry, or foyer, and stared at thelittle map, getting her bearings. Not that the house was thatcomplicated. From the wraparound porch, one entered the foyer, withthe superb staircase. The house had been built like many a colonialwith the hall-or what was really a massivebreezeway-immediately to the right of the stairs. It madea straight and direct path to the back doors. At one time, beforeair-conditioning, such a breeze-way allowed for the house to becooled in summer by the continual flow of air, since both front andback doors would have been left open for that precise purpose.
There was one room other than the offices on that side of thehouse, the library. Darcy took a quick peek in at the room. Shelveslined three of the walls while a fireplace with a handsome carvedhearth took up a majority of the fourth. The hardwood floor herewas covered with a very fine, probably antique, Persian carpet. Ahuge mahogany desk sat in the room, while overstuffed readingchairs sat by the fire. She wondered if Matt Stone was aware of thevalue of the many ancient tomes that filled the cases- along with alot of modern material as well.
The desk had a computer, printer, and seemed well set for anybusiness purpose. She assumed the arrangement of the equipment herewas for the convenience of the guests, since it had appeared thatPenny's office was supplied with all the technology she might needto run Melody House. Matt's office was probably equally as wellappointed.
Standing in the library, she closed her eyes for a moment andfeltthe room. The atmosphere was rich. A great deal ofpassion, emotion, and simple life had taken place within the room.But there was nothing here that seemed to hint of evil ormalignance. She opened her eyes and exited the library, headingback to the foyer.
The staircase seemed somewhat disturbing, which Darcy didn'tfind at all odd. She wondered how many men had walked down thatstairway, followed by wives, lovers, or children, only to ride awayto war, and perhaps never return.
The parlor was truly beautiful. She ignored the velvet ropesthat kept the area protected from the sticky fingers of visitingchildren, the abuse of too many feet, and the overall damage thatcould be caused by large groups coming through on a frequentbasis. Like the library, the parlor had a feel. When she closed hereyes, it drummed with the energy of the past. But again, she feltnothing evil.
Beyond the beautifully appointed parlor were the diningroom-elegantly set as if for a dinner party of twenty in themid-eighteen-hundreds-and the kitchen, kept entirely charming whilebeing in a state-of-the-art condition. She instantly loved theroom. There, the back door gave way to the wraparound porch. Theview from the porch was exquisite. It was a beautiful day and themountains could be seen in the distance in a riot of greens,violets, pinks, oranges and golds. The season was rich with flowersand foliage.
Darcy stepped back in. Rather than return to the foyer to takethe grand stairway to the second floor, she walked up thefar-less-spectacular servants' stairway, winding from the rear ofthe kitchen up to the back of the hall on the second story. Shegazed at her map again. Originally, there had been six bedrooms uphere. Now, there were five, since the master suite these daysconsisted of a second office or sitting room as well as themaster's-Matt's?- bedroom.
She assumed his personal area was off-limits to her. For thetime, at least.
The rooms had apparently all been named after Southern generals,the Lee Room, or course, being the most prominent andassumably elegant, with the Stuart, Longstreet, Beauregard, andAmistad rooms being a bit smaller, judging by the map. Darcyentered each of the rooms, noting that they were all period, andquite charming, clean as a whistle, and inviting. The crew herekept the place up beautifully.
At last, she stood in front of the Lee Room, and closed hereyes. The atmosphere was heavy, cloudlike, dense, wrapping aroundher instantly. She opened her eyes and entered the room.
French doors were open to the porch. The breeze swept in. Theroom was quiet, and touched by the sweetness of the breeze.
Deceptive, Darcy thought. An aura of tremendous turbulencelay just beneath the apparent peace and serenity.
She imagined trying to explain the sensations she felt to MattStone.
It was not a pretty picture.
She didn't think that there was any way she would ever be ableto explain her particular talents to Matt Stone. Adam wouldunderstand. He was an amazing man. He had some abilities, but histrue talent was in understanding that there were people in theworld with special senses. She might have gone mad, seeing andhearing what others didn't, except for Adam. First, he hadbelieved. In his belief, he afforded her great trust. Whilehe worked on a scientific level, proving different levels of heatand electricity, she worked purely through the visions andfeelings that came to her-whether she wanted them or not, most ofthe time. Adam had taught her how to channel the strange images andfeelings that came to her. And when she had thought herself amisfit who could live only in fear, he had taught her that shecould bring peace and relief to lost souls, and given herpurpose-as well as a very decent living that kept her feeling notonly sane, but tremendously useful.
In this room, the feelings and impressions of trauma rushedaround like a swirl of dark storm clouds.
However, it was incredible. Not a bad place to stay. Far, far,better than the hotel. Her bag was at the foot of the bed. Shebegan to unpack, humming as she did so, yet completely attuned allthe while for the slightest shift in the atmosphere.
All that touched her was the feel of the breeze and yet...
She was certain that she was watched. She could feel an uneasestreaking down her spine. It was as if the eyes ofsomeone-something-were intently upon her, creating atrickle of sensation. An unearthly gaze seemed to reach out andtouch her.
Feelings...intuitions. The hackles rising at her nape.
She paused for a moment.
There was nothing solid. Nothing whatsoever. But Darcy knew.
Whatever lay within the room would wait, observe, and bide itstime.
* * *
Summer hours kept the area light until well past eight in theevening.
Matt arrived home at about six and checked in at the house. Hewas certain that he'd find Penny and his visitor busily discussingthe many ghosts they had already discovered. Maybe they'deven have the Ouija board out.
But Penny was in the kitchen with Joe McGurdy, their chef. Matthadn't known that Joe was coming in that night; he usually arrivedonly when they had a function planned. Finding the two in thekitchen, he arched a brow at Penny while Joe greeted him with afriendly smile.
Penny stared at him reproachfully. "Well, of course, we'rehaving dinner!" she said.
"You, me, Darcy, Clint, and Carter."
"Of course. Eight-course meal?'' Matt asked dryly.
"Don't be ridiculous. But you didn't want me to servebeannie-weannies on her first night here, did you?"
"Goodness, of course not," Matt said. "Where is our guest?"
"Carter saddled up Nellie for her. She's taken a ride out to seesome of the country around here."
"Do we know that she can ride? There's some really thick forestif she headed west."
"Matt, she is an adult. She said she could ride."
"Maybe I'll take a ride out to find her anyway," he muttered,shaking his head at Penny. Great-they were already bringing thechef in and stretching out the welcome mat. He wondered whyCarter hadn't chosen to ride with their visitor.
When he'd changed to jeans and sweater and headed out to thestables, he found out why. Carter shrugged, watching Matt as he ledVernon, his quarter horse, from fats stall. "She said that shewanted to do some exploring alone, that it was important for herwork. Naturally, I offered to go with her. Are you kidding? Thewoman is one looker."
"One kooky looker," Matt reminded him, slipping a bridle overVernon's nose.
"Hey, everybody's got to make a living somehow, right?" Cartersaid.
Matt slung a saddle over Vernon's back. "I imagine she probablyhad a few other choices."
"Maybe she's for real," Carter said. He thoughtfully chewed ablade of hay, eyes amused as he watched Matt mount up. "You know, Ijust bought the old Reed place, next county over. If you don't wanther looking for your ghosts, I'll be happy to have her take a lookat mine."
"I'm sure you intend to have her looking for ghosts," Matt said,shaking his head. ' 'For the moment, just let me go make sure she'snot lying on a trail somewhere with a broken leg. Whateverpossessed you to let her just ride out alone?"
"Let's see-maybe the fact that she said she didn't wantcompany?"
"She doesn't own the place," Matt reminded him.
Carter shrugged, stroking his beard. "Hell. I don't own iteither, do I now?"
Matt urged Vernon on out of the stable. "Hey-don't be late fordinner!" Carter called. "Seems like Penny's got Joe cooking upsomething good."
Matt felt his resentment grow, and put a check on it. AdamHarrison had paid a fair price for coming in to do what he wasreferring to as "research." And so, hell, they had to feed thewoman. Joe would be in again tomorrow night to prepare a meal forthose attending the seance. It wasn't all that big a deal. And asto the horse...
He could just see lawsuits all over the place. She'dridden out alone. What if she couldn't really ride? She'd besuing over her injuries.
The logical course was across the vast field to the south of theproperty, leading into trails that veered to the west. Matt couldsee that his chosen trail had recently been traveled; hoofmarksdotted the dirt and as he reached the field, flattened grassesassured him his instincts had been right.
Matt crossed the field, and entered into the broad riding trailthat led westward, sloping upward from the valley toward themountains.
Another twenty minutes worth of riding and he came to the narrowlittle rivulet that meandered its way through the woods. The areawas much as it had been for hundreds of years-only the continualuse of the trails kept them in such sustained and clear condition.The air was cool, the scent of pine sweet.
When he saw Nellie, riderless, drinking by the stream, he felt atwinge of fear, wondering where the mare might have thrown herrider.
But even as he dismounted, a quick search of the area showed himthat he needn't have been so concerned-nor so certain that hisvisitor couldn't ride. Darcy was seated calmly on a fallen log,idly doodling in the dirt with a bonelike length of a brokenbranch. She watched him without welcome or rejection as heleft Vernon to join Nellie, drinking from the crisp, coolwater.
"Hello," he said, striding toward her.
There was still plenty of daylight, but in the forest, the thickcanopy of trees created strange slashes of darkness, shadow, andeerie green light. Her hair seemed to shine with an exceptionaldepth of red, while her eyes appeared a deeper forest shade thanthe trees themselves. Her complexion appeared paler here, andin her jeans and sweater, she might have been something of anelegant woods nymph. Except, of course, if she were to stand, heknew she would be far too tall to be any elfin creature. It struckhim again that what most irritated him about her was that tall,sinewy elegance of hers, the poise and calm that seemed to sitabout her shoulders like a cloak.
She clasped her hands around her knees, eyeing him with acertain dry hostility. "Hello, Sheriff. As you can see, I've notbroken my fool neck, raced your horse into the ground, or gottenlost in the depth of the forest."
"Did I ever suggest that such things might happen?"
"Only because you had no idea I might ask to ride about thearea."
"You might have mentioned your intentions."
"When? As you pushed me out of your car at the entrance toMelody House?"
"I did no such thing."
She shrugged, not deigning to reply. He felt the itch ofirritation again. He understood some of what he was feeling.She wasn't just tall and elegant, but almost absently sensual, hermovements smooth and sleek and feline. She seemed to hint ofsomething that smouldered, richly carnal, and yet on top, she wasall wrapped up like an ice princess, lips far too often drawn tightand prudish.
"I'd expected to find you exploring the house."
"I did explore the house." The green of her eyes restedcontemptuously on him.
"And you haven't found my malignant ghost as yet?"
She replied in an even, dismissive tone, eyes steady on him. "Iexplored the house, and then the grounds, and now, I'm exploringthe area."
"Ah," He took a seat on the log beside her. He stared throughthe trees towards the water, caught now in the sunlight, dazzlinglike a thousand gems. Then he looked back to her. "The woods aresupposed to be haunted, too, you know. And not because of MelodyHouse."
"That's good to hear," she said strangely. "Just what is thelegend associated with the forest here?"
"Ah, well, long ago-as far back as the late seventeen-hundreds,I believe, there was a family with a small farm a little closertoward the mountains. A father and mother, and a bucketful of kids.The oldest sister was plain, the youngest beautiful. The oldestsister's suitor fell madly in love with the younger sister. Thefellow had to head back east to take care of business, and when heleft, he kissed his dearly beloved, the younger sister, goodbye,and they were both deeply happy, because they would be wed as soonas he returned. Little did they know that the oldest sister was atotal psychotic-a scorned one, at that. She lured her youngersister into the woods, pretending they were walking to aneighbor's. She got her to lean down by the stream...and whap!"
' 'She killed her with a hatchet, nearly decapitating her. Andnow, the younger sister's ghost has been seen running through theforest, blood oozing from the gash in her throat, screaming interror," Darcy finished for him.
Matt lifted his hands. "Someone told you the legend!"
She didn't reply for a moment, then asked him, "What happened tothe older sister?"
"Well, the young man came back and hanged himself in misery,thwarting the hopes of the young murderess. I guess they didn'thave much evidence they could use at the time, so no one went totrial. But the older sister went completely insane. She was lockedup in the family barn until she died, an old woman of eighty,confessing in her later years, and spending many a day screamingthat her sister was coming after her in vengeance."
"Well, there you have what one might call a trulydysfunctional family," Darcy said pragmatically.
"Yes, I guess you could say that." He looked at her. The linesof her face were truly classical, yet her sculpted, porcelainbeauty seemed unique as well. She'd been a makeup model, hereminded himself, and she must have made some good money. Why giveit all up for this- especially if she was really so heavily ladenwith academic degrees?
"The body of the younger sister was uncovered by a local dogthat had been digging," Darcy said. "But they didn't find theskull, and it didn't receive a decent burial with the body. Ifsomeone finds the skull and buries it with the rest of the bones,the haunting in the forest will stop."
"How simple. How cut-and-dried and simple. Hell, we should allstart digging up the place to find a skull that may or may not bethere. Hm. Then again-where, oh where, do we start? If there weresuch a relic of humanity remaining from way back when, animalsmight have carted in anywhere. The stream might have washed it downto Florida by now. But what the hell-people love the ghost stories.So what if the poor ghost goes racing through the trees, screamingand bleeding?"
"Because it's pretty damned sad," Darcy told him.
' 'Well, when you have time, you feel free to dig around in theforest. It's county land, but we'll try to ignore the fact thatyou're bound and determined to dig it all up. Just don't leave anypotholes-lots of people use this area for riding, and we wouldn'twant a new ghost running around with its head dangling from abroken neck."
He stood impatiently.
He must have roused her somewhat from her continual, stiffpoise, because she leapt up immediately after him. "What is thematter with you? Why on earth do you have to be so hostile?"
"Because all you're going to do is feed into the idiots anddrunks who should behave intelligently but go all gaga over aghost story! History can be tragic. Tragic-but past. Let the deadlie, Darcy."
"You brought me here!"
"No. I told Adam Harrison that he could come here."
She planted her hands on her hips, head cast back, green eyes asdark and dangerous as the embers of a fire. "No- you signed acontract that allowed Harrison Investigations into your house. I amas much a part of Harrison Investigations as Adam."
He arched a brow slowly and was pleased to see the slightestsign of a flush entering her cheeks.
"Almostas much a part of the company as Adam ishimself. And very good at what I do. So-sinceyouhiredmeto do it, perhaps, just for a while, you could quitbeing such a macho jerk?''
He wanted to shout back, to put her in her place. He didn't havethe words, or the intelligent argument he needed. He threw up hishands. "We need to get back. Dinner will be ready."
He turned away, starting for his horse.
"You know, every redhead isn't a total bitch."
Startled, he turned back. His voice was far rougher than heintended. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about."
"Your ex-wife Lavinia Harper," she said simply.
"I see. You know this because you're psychic?"
"You dislike redheads. One doesn't need to be a psychic tosee that. Penny told me about Lavinia."
"Red hair can be bought in boxes for right around ten bucks. Iwould never dislike anyone for the color of their hair, skin, eyes,or anything else," he informed her, meaning to sound as calmand staid as a schoolmaster, displaying his angernevertheless.
She gave a stiff smile as she walked by him. "Sure. Sorry, then.Excuse me."
He let her pass him while he fought his simmering temper,wondering why the hell she could get such a rise out of him, whenhe was usually level, sane, and careful in any judgment orassumption. Tension rippled through his muscles; he got a handle onit and turned, determined that he would politely help her mountback up on Nellie.
But before he could do so, she was already in the processof easily swinging up on the mare.
By the time he mounted Vernon, she was headed back through theforest trail.
He followed her, staying slightly behind and noticing, just asthey left the forest trail, that dusk was falling at last.
Across the field, Melody House stood on its littlehillock, bathed in a strange and eerie glow of crimson andgold.
The brilliance of light lasted only a few seconds; the sundipped.
Night was coming in earnest, wrapped in shadow.
Despite Matt Stone, or maybe even because of him, dinnerat Melody House was an entertaining affair, and Darcy found herselflaughing a lot throughout the meal.
Matt and Penny didn't seem to agree on anything, but theaffection between them was visible and real. Penny wanted to telllegends. Matt wanted to correct her when her legends became toolurid, romantic, ortooanything.
"It was as if the entire Southern army was taking refuge atMelody House!" Penny said.
"The entire Southern army!" Matt snorted. "A company atbest. Twenty men, Penny."
Penny waved a hand in the air. "They were exquisite soldiers,"she said, shaking her head and dismissing Matt's correction. "Theymight as well have numbered thousands. They beat back theYankees-"
"What? The entire Northern force?" Matt queried, a sparklinglight in his eyes.
"There were at least one hundred!" Penny said, glaring back ather employer. "The point is, our boys wouldn't give up, and theysaved the day, but their leader, a young captain, was killed. Shotin the heart by a minnie ball that whizzed right through the parlorwindows. Now, he is said to be here, still guarding MelodyHouse."
Matt leaned low across the table, amusement in his eyes as theymet Darcy's. "And no one seems to have told him that the war isover, that the South lost. He's not at all fond of Yankeeaccents-so they say."
"Thank God, then, that I don't have one," Darcy told himsweetly. "All those years watching late-night shows seems to havepaid off."
"But you trained to be an actress-of course you can get rid ofan accent!" Carter applauded her admiringly.
"An actress, hm," Matt said.
"I wasgoingto study acting," she corrected. "I neverdid. Not in college, anyway."
"That's right. She majored in everything else," Matt said.
"You can't major in ghosts these days, can you?" Clintasked.
"Don't be silly!" Penny reprimanded.
Both Carter and Clint shrugged.
Dessert had been served. An exceptional baked Alaska. Darcy wascertain that at any moment, an immaculate butler was going towalk in and suggest that the ladies retire to one room, thegentlemen to another, for brandy and cigars.
But there was no butler-not tonight, anyway. They had all helpedto serve the meal.
"So?" Penny said excitedly, looking at Darcy expectantly.She had a feeling that she was going to hear the word "so" fromPenny a lot.
"So?" Darcy repeated, smiling.
"Do you see him?"
"The captain who saved Melody House from the maraudingYankees who were going to burn it down," Matt reminded herdryly.
Darcy shrugged. "I try just to get accustomed to a house thefirst few days I'm in it," she told Penny.
"Oh! Of course. Let all the vibrations get through to you,"Penny said, nodding sagely.
"Something like that," Darcy agreed.
"So, are there vibrations?" Matt asked, seeminglypolite.
She stared straight at them. "The place just trembles," shemurmured.
"With?" he prompted.
She widened her eyes. "Hostility."
Clint burst into laughter. "The living give out vibes, too,huh?"
Matt stared at Darcy, the flicker of a rueful smilecurving his lips. A remarkable transformation came over him.He was almost devastatingly appealing, when he looked so.
"If I'm giving out hostile vibes, it's not with intent ofmalice."
From him, Darcy decided, that was the best apology she was goingto get.
"Sometimes it's not easy to pinpoint just where vibes might becentered," she said, surprised to realize that she was smiling aswell.
And that Penny, Clint, and Carter were all staring at them.
She rose, her movement not as fluid and easy as she would haveliked. "It was a wonderful dinner. Thank you all very much. I'vejust realized how late it has gotten. If you'll forgive me, I thinkI'll turn in for the night."
Matt, Carter, and Clint stood as one. A certain amount ofcourtesy seemed to have been bred into these men; it was as naturalas breathing.
"You'll be fine," Carter told her. "I've slept in the Lee room.And I'm still here."
"He didn't even run down the stairs naked," Clint said with awink.
"Thank the good Lord for that!" Penny breathed.
"Hey!" Carter protested. "I look good naked."
Darcy laughed softly. "Well, I imagine I'll be all right."
She was startled to see that Matt looked just a littleconcerned. "I'm in the house tonight, if there is anytrouble, just scream."
"Ah, but you don't believe in ghosts!" Darcy reminded him.
He shrugged. "I believe in the power of men to do evil," hemurmured. For a moment, his strange deep gray eyes fell on hers."I'll be down the hall."
She nodded, bid them good-night, and headed out of the diningroom and for the stairs to the second floor. She walked slowly,thinking it somewhat amazing that Matt Stone couldn't feel a thingregarding his house. Penny had asked about vibes. The housethrobbed with them. Gentle, lost souls for the most part.
The only malice seemed to come from the Lee Room.
Upstairs, she decided on a quick shower, then brushed her teeth,and prepared for bed.
The room was cool, cooler than it should have been in summer.She ignored it, and the feeling of being watched.
She crawled into bed, somewhat exhausted. She fell asleep withthe television on, watching a program on the history ofBritain.
Deep into the night, she began to dream. She was herself,sleeping upon the bed, and yet she was not, for she moved, andmoved within another persona. Fear clutched the heart of hersleeping self for a moment, for from the moment she felt the comingof the Other, she sensed the anger, a fury that was deep anddangerous. And then...
She was the Other, seeing, feeling, knowing everything hedid.
A woman scorned... was a deadly one.
He came in deep thought and silence that evening,angry, but not at all sure, in his conscious mind,just what he intended. In the darkness, he stared at the house, andreflected on all that had been, and all that might come topass.
The house...the majestic house sat as always. A placewith as rich and deep a character as any living person. So ithad been from the moment they had first broken ground. Time did.nothing but add to the drama that must exist in such a place, as hewell knew.
She was there.
He knew that she was there.
And there were things that must be said. Things that must becleared, or ended, between them.
He stared at the house. And waited. He denied in his mindthat he had come with any malice as to his intent.
His heart felt like stone. Seeds of ideas played deep downwithin his soul, truth and the physical essence of what must bebanned from thought. What happened must happen.
At his sides, his hands flexed, eased, and flexedagain,as if already slipping around the throat of thelover he knew to be inside.
Because a woman scorned...
Just might as well be dead.
* * *
Darcy awoke with a start, shaking. She had felt the past, as ifit had entered into her. Felt not so much a person, but the furyand malevolence that had been part of a distant time.
She sat up in bed, and looked around the room, closed her eyesagain, and opened them.
Whatever had been with her, whatever remnant of emotion,was gone.
Something else was there.
Something, someone, quiet, stealthy.
"We all know why we've come." Elizabeth Holmes' voice, thoughfeminine, had a deep resonance. She wasn't exactly what Darcy hadbeen expecting when she had heard that a local novice-who had foundher dedication to the occult in the last year-had begged Matt Stoneto allow her to run a seance. She wasn't theatrical. There was noturban wrapped around her head, and her eyes weren't dark and deepset and heavily lined with makeup to add to a mystical image.Rather, the woman was about fifty-five or sixty, slender, tall,elegantly slim, with nicely styled silver-white hair and pleasant,powder blue eyes. She looked like a typical businesswoman.
Only her voice might have fit the image of the eerie Gypsyfortune teller.
It seemed to fill the dining room at Melody House with a strangetenor, as if the walls themselves were part of a state-of-the-artspeaker system.
And thankfully, the woman hadn't opted to rename herself.She wasn't going by Madame Zara, or anything like that. She wasElizabeth Holmes, a native of the northern Virginia area, and areal estate agent by day. Darcy had wondered at first if thismedium wouldn't prove to be a slightly crazy friend who wasconvinced that she needed only to dress the part to have thepowers. She seemed to be a very nice woman, and committed to whatshe was doing. Whether she really had any ESP or not remained to beseen.
And her opening was intriguing.
"Melody House. She has stood upon this hill since the year ofour Lord seventeen-seventeen. And she has, in her years, hostedboth joy and tragedy. She is one of the few such surviving grandold homes of our nation still owned by descendants of her originalbuilders. George Washington slept here!" Elizabeth paused,smiling at the group gathered around the dining room table in themuted candlelight. "George got around, it's a wonder Marthawasn't a great deal more upset! But I digress. Washington wasn'ther only well-known guest. The likes of Patrick Henry, ThomasJefferson, and others of tremendous renown who lived inRevolutionary times came here as well, and later, she was hostessto many great statesmen and generals of another sad period ofwar-Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jeb Stuart, and then,even Ulysses Grant and Abe Lincoln were thought to have taken restat this place. Bullets once riddled the walls, and many stillremain, from battles fought on the ground. Soldiers perished withinher walls. Naturally, there were other sad occurrences here, nothaving to do with the specific pain of battle. There is the case ofthe beautiful Melody herself, daughter of the builder, distraughtby her suitor's argument with her father. She is said to have beenrushing to his defense when she careened down the stairway, only todie in her lover's arms on the foyer floor, just feet from where wenow sit. There was Eliza, the daughter of General Stone, who mightwell have been poisoned by her rival, Sally Beauville, who was,when accosted, shot dead by the girl's father, who then faced thehangman's noose. Those are not all the stories. There are so manymore.
"Melody House has stood for nearly three hundred years, and inthat time, we can only imagine all the dramas that have beenlived-and the passions and dreams that have perished here as well.They say that we are energy. and energy cannot be destroyed. Justas they say that Melody House is haunted. If ghosts andspirits are those who remained, their energy still fiercely alivedue to trauma or tragedy, then there would be nothing more naturalthan fact that Melody House indeed be haunted! Throughout theyears, many have seen, or have believed they have seen, the ghostsof those tragic souls. In the early eighteen-hundreds, thecourageous Andrew Jackson, later to be president of the UnitedStates, once spent only half a night here, and mentioned to someonelater that he'd rather face the British army again than spendanother night at Melody House. Some swear there is a woman inwhite, still walking the halls. Others have seen soldiers,still, perhaps, fighting their long-lost battles." Elizabethpaused, something of a rueful smile on her face. ' 'So. Weshall all join hands, in the circle here created, and see whathaunts or specters might wish to appear, to convey last words,wishes, or needs."
Electricity had long ago come to Melody House, but tonight,other than the lights attached to the cameras, there was noillumination within the dining room except for a single candleburning in the center of the table.
Darcy had already felt the cold. Whether Elizabeth was able tocommunicate with any of the "energy'' remaining in the house ornot, Darcy again felt the sense of being watched. Whatever entityor entities remained at Melody House, they were watching. Acrossthe table, she saw Penny shiver.
Darcy felt herself nudged. Hands, yes, hold hands. She set hersupon the table. She was next to Jason Johnson, a local writer andhistorian, and, naturally, another friend of Matt's, and ClintStone. Carter was on Clint's other side. Clint covered her handwarmly with his own, and seemed both amused and curious, as if hemight have an open mind to the happenings. Matt was across thetable, seated next to Elizabeth. He wore a look of carefullyrestrained impatience on his hard-sculpted features. Mae, thewoman who had been welcoming to her when she had first walked intothe Wayside Inn, was there, attractively dressed and groomed, herround face split into a smile of excitement as she sat on Matt'sother side. To round out the group, a pretty young woman with theimprobable name of Delilah Dey, newly elected to the town council,sat between Jason Johnson and Mae.
David Jenner, of Jenner Electronics, also at the Wayside Innwhen Darcy had first arrived, stood a distance from the group, withvideo and audio running. Darcy had considered bringing downsome of her own equipment, but then had decided that this was notthe night for Harrison Investigations' high-tech "ghost buster"electronics.
"We have joined in a benign and caring circle," Liz said,addressing the spirits. "We wish to help with any problems, past orpresent. We have come in love and friendship, and wish tocommunicate with any presence in his house who desires a voice. Ourminds and hearts are open. If there is a presence here, please letyourself be known."
Darcy felt a breeze at her nape, and she closed her eyes.
The fear had never really left her. Josh, who had been born withhis unique perception, had not been afraid. But to Darcy, knowingthat a very strange door was open was still a frighteningexperience. She knew that she had to allow the sensations in, buteach time, it still seemed that cold fingers clutched her heart,and it was a fight to do what she knew she did well.
They were not alone.
Talk to me,she thought in silence.
But then her eyes popped open as she heard a rapping at thetable. She frowned, then felt a very physical force as the handsgrasping around the table all seemed to tighten as one. Elizabethspoke excitedly.
"We have made a communication! Rap again, please, if you arewith us."
A tap sounded.
Darcy looked around the table, doubting that any of the ghostswere tapping. Matt, too, was looking around the table.
The presence that had been so near Darcy and so apparentto her backed away. It didn't disappear; it simply receded.
"Are you the spirit we call the Lady in White?" Elizabethasked.
There was no response.
"Perhaps a soldier?"
There was another rapping.
Matt was staring at Darcy, a certain hostility apparent in hiseyes. Anger burst through her. He assumed that she was the onesomehow managing to tap the table.
"Did you live during Revolutionary Times," Elizabeth asked,earnest concern in her voice.
No response. Matt was still staring at Darcy.
"The Civil War?" Elizabeth asked softly.
"Yes! Yes!" Elizabeth said, her eyes closed, herconcentration intense. ' 'We believe we know your story. Youfought hard, so hard, for what you believed to be a just cause. Youdied here in this house. But you needn't stay and fight on. The waris over. Peace has come. And the outcome, in the end, was right.The only outcome that could be right, and the world has moved on.We seek now to offer true justice and equality for all men. You mayrest in peace. Do you understand me? Can my words help you findrest?"
Another rap, then a number of excited raps.
Penny whispered softly to Elizabeth. "We don't want our ghoststo go away! We just want them to be happy."
"They're only happy when they're at peace!" Carter said, staringat Penny with a strange smile.
"This is so exciting!" Mae whispered.
"Hush!" Elizabeth said, moaning softly. "We'll break me verytenuous thread that is linking us to the entity."
There was a sound at the table, one of total impatience.
"Please!" Elizabeth said. "Captain...you are a captain, right?"she said, addressing the ghost.
There was nothing.
"Let us know. We're here for you," Elizabeth said.
There was another rap.
"Yes, you're a captain. A true gentleman, still righting for hiscause!"
There was suddenly the sound of a shriek. The table jumped.
The sound had come from Delilah. "Someone... something touchedmy thigh!"
"The captain isn't such a gentleman," Clint suggested wryly.
The table jerked again.
Matt swore, and rose, breaking the circle. ' 'David, can youjust go ahead and hit the lights?" he asked.
The room was flooded with illumination. "Okay, who was touchingDelilah's legs?"
"Matt, we had contact, real contact," Elizabeth said,dismayed.
"Oh, please!" Matt said.
"By one horny ghost," Carter suggested, amused.
Matt glared at him. "Not me!" Carter protested.
All eyes naturally turned to Clint.
"Not on your life!" he protested.
"I'm telling you, we contacted a Civil War soldier," Elizabethsaid stubbornly.
"Absolutely," Penny agreed. "And one of you destroyed ourcommunication. Matt, you just can't have those two around the nexttime we have a seance. Delilah, we really have ghosts here."
Delilah shivered. "You do really believe that-that a captainfrom the Civil War was in this room with us?''
"I must say," Jason remarked, "Everyone's hands were on thetable." From the way he spoke, it was difficult to tell if he wasimpressed with the tapping, or merely curious as to how it mighthave been managed.
"We're ignoring our expert," David said, his video still runningas he turned the camera on Darcy. "What do you think?"
She answered slowly with a careful shrug. "I'm afraid we weren'tinto it long enough for me to really give an opinion."
Jason smiled at her. "But what do you think? Or feel, or intuit,whatever. Is Melody House haunted?"
"The house has a tremendous history," Darcy said. "Just being init makes you feel an affinity for the past. Maybe that, in itself,makes a place haunted."
Clint laughed. ' 'Boy, you can talk your way aroundanything, can't you, Darcy? What if this were one of thosegame shows and you had to give a yes or no answer?''
"But it's not a game show," Darcy said.
"I was excited!" Elizabeth said. "I know that I made contact.And we'll set up to do this again. We've only just begun. I don'tthink tonight would be good. I mean, I don't think we should tryagain so soon. Matt-"
"Forgive me, Elizabeth, but I don't want to set up any moredates right now. Bear with me. I'm sorry. My opinion is thatsomeone here managed to tap on the table-and snag Delilah's leg inthe process, whether on purpose or not."
"Matt, you are such a cynic!" Penny protested-
"Oh, my," Delilah said, and she had a half smile on her face asshe surveyed the men in the room.
"He's accusing either you or me," Carter told Clint, but with nomalice.
"Yes, actually, I am," Matt said sternly, but he didn't soundoverly angry, just impatient. He hadn't wanted anything to dowith a seance from the beginning.
"I think I'm going to step outside for a minute, if you'llexcuse me?" Darcy said.
"I'll get drinks and some snacks out," Penny told them.
"Drinks!" Carter said with pleasure.
"I'll give you a hand, Penny," Mae said. "I'm still alla-tingle! I'm certain as well that Elizabeth made contact. Couldn'tyou feel it? The room was so cold. Oh, yes, there was someone withus. Something. Definitely. And Matt, you must do this again,please? Oh, you must, you must, you must!"
Darcy heard the last as she slipped through the foyer and outthe front door. She felt a little guilty for not offering to helpPenny herself, but there were others there, and she'd had thestrangling sensation that she'd needed to get out.
Night could be so strange. The summer sky like velvet, and sonear the mountains, a million stars showing cleanly against thedarkness. She leaned against the porch rail for a minute, inhaleddeeply, and smelled the fragrant, flower-filled air that marked theseason.
Then she sat back in one of the rockers, closing her eyes andsavoring the soft, cleansing sweep of the breeze, and wonderingherself just who had done the tapping.
She was startled a minute later as she felt a presence next toher.
One that was very much alive, and carrying a low-key scent ofaftershave.
She opened her eyes to see that Matt had joined her, taking thechair at her side. He watched her for a moment without speaking.,
She turned back and stared at the night, not waiting for him tospeak. "No, I don't believe that the tapping was a ghost."
With peripheral vision, she saw that a slow rueful smile curledinto his lips.
"Thank God! I'd have lost all faith in you if you had saiddifferently."
"Oh? I didn't realize that you had faith in me to beginwith."
"That all remains to be seen."
"I've found that most people don't believe in the occult,"Darcy told him. "Yet just the same, most people have a little voiceof suspicion somewhere within them that suggests there might besomething more between the living and the dead."
"You mean they're open-minded?" he said.
"Maybe minds aren't all open, but there's often a crack theresomewhere."
He rocked thoughtfully for a minute. "We've always had amilitary tradition in my family. I went straight into militaryschools and served in the army for several years. The dead bodies Isaw all stayed that way. I first became a cop in the D.C. area, andthough much of the country might suggest that the main crimes thereare political, I can guarantee you, there were plenty of criminalsin the area who know how to kill. Death is usually ugly, but alwayscomplete. Then, again, I'm the direct heir to all those years ofhistory, tradition, murder, and mayhem that have gone on at MelodyHouse. If someone were to see something or have a link to the past,wouldn't it be me?"
Darcy laughed. ' 'Not when there's not even one of those cracksin your mind to allow the dead to try to speak to you."
He was silent again, rocking, then looked at her with one of thesmiles that suddenly sent a streak of warmth to quicken her limbswhether she wanted to admit it or not.
' 'When my dad died, I wanted him to speak to me somehowin the worst way. I was willing to do anything-I would have crawledinto the coffin to go with him, I loved him so much. It was justabout the same with my grandfather, except that I was olderthen, and more aware that he had lived his years, good years, andgone on."
The emotion with which he spoke touched her deeply. Then hesaid, almost scowling, "You weren't the one pulling off thattapping sound, were you?''
She stiffened, cold and indignant instantly. "No, I was not! Andcome to think of it, your words just now were quite interesting.You didn't mention your mother. Do you have something againstwomen, Matt?"
He turned to her, those strange dark gray eyes of his bearingsomething of a dangerous spark. "I like women just fine, Darcy.Especially the really honest ones, and yes, they are out there. Ididn't mention my mother because she died when I was a few monthsold, which didn't allow me a great deal of time to get to know herwell."
She turned back to the night. "Sorry."
"What about you?"
She gazed at him, and suddenly smiled despite herself. "I don'thave anything at all against other women."
"No, I meant, how did that crack in your mind turn into a gapinghole where the dead came rushing through to speak to you at alltimes?"
"Oh," she murmured.
"I was in a car crash with a really good friend. And hedied."
"And then he spoke to you?''
"Something like that." She thought that he was going to scoff ather again, but it seemed that he could be quite mercurial in hismanner. She was startled when his hand lay upon hers where itrested on the arm of the rocker and his words came out soft andgentle.
"Don't you think that sometimes people see people, or hear them,just because they so desperately want to hear that person speakagain?''
"But not with you?"
"I wish that was all that it had been," Darcy told him.
His eyes were almost affectionate, and he watched her with anappreciation that once again sent her heart thundering, herblood racing. And she was startled to realize that she hadn't beenso strongly, almost magnetically, attracted to anyone likethis in years. Maybe never. There was something in him beyond hisextraordinary looks, and even the sense of power and security thathe emitted. Something that made her want to crawl against his skin,stroke his face, and feel the warmth burst into sensations fargreater. She was almost afraid to hear him speak, because thetemptation to lean closer to him was so strong and aching. He wasabout to speak, and she was beyond fascinated to hear what he wasabout to say.
Except that words never left his mouth.
The great double doors at the front of the house flew open andDelilah came bursting out, full of smiles and charm.
"Aren't you all coming in to join us for a drink and somesnacks? I must say, Penny is just the most priceless human being inthe world. In a matter of minutes she's created the most delightfulspread in the kitchen!"
They both stared at her rather blankly for a minute.
Darcy had liked Delilah from the start. She was a nice woman,and seemed intelligent, and really concerned about her job for thecounty.
At that moment, though, she could have hit her.
Delilah continued, "Oh, Matty, please, don't be upset about thesilly tapping tonight. Penny and Liz are right- we did come closeto contact. Don't be angry with all of us!"
"I'm not angry," Matt said, rising and sounding only somewhatimpatient. "We'll join you."
Delilah started back into the house. Matt reached out a hand toDarcy. "Coming?"
She accepted his hand and rose. It was as if there were sparksin his fingers. At that moment though, she wasn't sure that henoticed in the least.
"Matty?" she said lightly, arching a brow.
"It's what happens when you've lived in a small town and knownpeople too long and too well."
"Ah," she murmured, wanting to ask,how well?
She refrained, and let him lead her on back into the house.
Pennyhadcreated quite a spread. Tea, coffee, mixeddrinks, chips and dips, buffalo wings, Southern pecan pie, andother little desserts that Darcy knew she had prepared earlier inthe day.
Darcy had never been less hungry, but since Penny had baked thepie herself, she toyed with a piece and opted for an Irishcoffee-made with decaf, Penny explained, so she wouldn't keepanyone up all night. Clint and Carter were in rare form, accusingone another of the tapping, Delilah was flirtatious, and Mae wasexcited, thanking Matt over and over again for letting her come,and begging to be invited if they tried a seance again. Liz scoldedthe boys for being silly when she was up to something important.Penny seemed a little quiet when she wasn't being the perfecthostess. David Jenner spoke about the different qualities of tapeand film, and asked Darcy her preferences for her work. As theypicked up the remnants of their meal, Delilah charmingly corneredMatt over a parking problem they were having near the townhall.
Darcy rinsed plates and put them into the dishwasher with Clintand Carter bringing in the used utensils and only half helping asthey flirted. She had grown to like them both, even though she didget a start, feeling as if she were speaking with a modern-day JebStuart every time she met Carter's eyes above the growth of hisbeard. Still, she was strangely keyed, and exhausted at the sametime. When she could, she left the two of them dealing with thedishwasher and excused herself to Penny, Mae, and Elizabethand escaped up the stairs to the Lee Room.
As she prepared for bed, she didn't feel a thing in the room.Not the slightest intuitive whisper of a presence. Not even thesense of being watched. Despite the fact that it was her businessto discover just what was going on, she was glad she was ready fora good night's rest.
She fell almost instantly and soundly into a deep sleep.
And that's when she was awakened.
Darcy's head jerked up, because a silent scream seemed to enterinto her mind, pierce through her subconscious, and seize herattention with a start. She looked around in the night as if shehad been rudely prodded by a fire poker.
And there she was, a woman in a silver nightgown, standing inthe doorway, hand to her throat in terror, issuing thatsilent scream.
Darcy saw the image in the dim and hazy light, saw the womantrying to bolt the door, but the force behind it, trying to enterfrom the hall, kept her from doing so. Then the woman came racingtoward the bed, and for a moment, her eyes met Darcy's. There was aterrible plea within them.Help me!
It was as if the woman saw her there as well, and the plea wasas silent as the scream, heard only in Darcy's head. But God, thatscream! It sounded again within her mind, and the woman's beautifullips moved, beseeching Darcy to hear her. But she couldn'tunderstand the words; she knew only that they were desperate.
Because this wraith was running from death.
The killer, Darcy sensed, was coming from behind the woman. Fromthe hallway. The bedroom door now burst open. Darcy could make outa hazy image of someone large and shadowy, shielded by the night,coming forward.
Toward the woman.
Then, above the woman's shoulder, she saw the flash of theknife, as clearly as if a spotlight hit the blade, and glinted fromit.
The scream sounded again...more terrible than ever.
And the knife...
The knife flashed above Darcy.
She wasn't easily frightened. She communicated with the deadafter all.
She sought them out.
But that night...
The malevolence was so strong, the danger seemed so real. Theblade...it was threatening her, and she knew it.
She struggled for calm, for sanity, trying to convince herselfthat she was seeing nothing but an image from the past. There wasno knife wielded by a dark and deadly murderer. Not now...what shesaw was nothing but an image from the past.
But it moved again, glinting, and...dripping.
And she was terrified suddenly that if it touched her...
Darcy sprang from the bed, screaming herself. The imagewasn't fading, it wasn't a whisper, a hint of what had happened. Itwas pure evil. And something deeper than her intuition, than heracceptance, than any peace or calm she might have garnered over theyears, deserted her completely. Terror, older and more basicthan any human emotion, lit into her. She raced beneath theimages, and tore out of the room, shrieking herself as she tore outof the room.
Darcy ran down the stairs, mindlessly fleeing.
She came to the landing and it was there that she heard her nameshouted. She had probably been called several times before thesound had made its way through to her conscious thought.
Darcy stopped dead still, sanity filling her mind as quickly asit had deserted it.
She could have kicked herself, thoroughly.
It was Matt Stone calling her name, rushing down the stairs. Hewas in boxers and a robe, haphazardly cast over his shoulders.
Even as she saw him appear at the top of the stairway, Penny,gray hair tousled, came rushing behind him in a pair ofpajamas.
The front door burst open as Carter, Clint slamming into hisback, appeared.
It was uncanny, almost as bizarre as the dream, orreality, she had just experienced, the way they all appearedso quickly, the entire household, within minutes. She almostfelt as threatened, watching as Matt and Penny came down, and Clintand Carter came forward, and they gathered in the foyer atthe foot of the stairs, alarmed, and then, as they saw her, sawthat she was fine, disgruntled.
Matt Stone's eyes were hard and suspicious.
"The Lee Room sent you racing out in a panic?" Matt said, anedge of derision in his tone. "I thought you were the great ghosthunter."
Clint was kinder. "Are you all right, Darcy?"
She stared at Matt. "Yes, and I'm terribly sorry. I must havehad a nightmare."
"Ghosts don't scare her-nightmares do," Matt murmured.
Penny was staring at her sagely. "You saw the lady inwhite."
Carter let out a long sniff. "Oh, Penny! I used to spend a lotof time in that room. I never saw any lady in white."
"I've seen her, Clara Issy has seen her, and she sent a briderunning out of that room naked as a jaybird!" Penny saidindignantly.
Matt stared hard at Penny, Carter, and Clint, one by one, thenturned around, starting up the stairs. "Tapping on a table is onething," he said irritably. "But if you two have rigged that roomsomehow..."
"Matt, jeez, dammit, I wouldn't do that!" Clint protestedangrily.
"I sure as hell wouldn't! I don't believe in the damned spooks!"Carter said.
"I believe in them wholeheartedly. They are here," Penny saidindignantly. Matt had already started up the stairs. Darcy watchedas the others all rushed back up the stairs behind him. Shefollowed, protesting.
"Look, I had a dream. A nightmare. I woke you all. I'msorry."
Matt didn't appear to hear her. He slammed against the door ofthe Lee Room, causing it to open all the way. He, Carter, and Clintwalked in. Where, of course, nothing was disturbed, and nothing atall was out of the ordinary.
Matt, however, appeared determined. He threw open the closetdoor and carelessly rummaged through her hung clothing, looking forwhat in the small space, she didn't know. He looked under the bed,then walked to the balcony doors, throwing them open as well.He walked out on the balcony, then came back in, arms crossed overhis chest as he stared at Darcy.
' 'Just exactly what did you see?''
"I didn't see anything," she lied. "I had a dream. That's all.And I'm sorry. Terribly sorry."
"I don't think you should sleep in here anymore."
She felt a flicker of the fear returning, but held herground.
"I need to sleep in here."
"Why? You can explore this room-or do whatever the bell it isthat you do-by day."
Darcy shook her head. "Look, once again, I'm really, reallysorry. This won't happen again. I swear it."
"Aw, Matt, you're just down the hall," Clint said, championingDarcy.
She flashed him a smile of gratitude, despite the fact that hiswords didn't seem to help any.
"No," Matt repeated stubbornly.
"Look, I swear to you, I'm really not a mincing little coward. Ihad a dream, and it gave me a terrible start. But I need to stay inthat room. All right, Matt, I disturbed you. And I realize thatyou're the sheriff and you have a day job, and I'm really, truly,sorry."
"Matt!" Penny put in.
"We can make a deal. If I come running out again, for anyreason, I'll bow to your decision and get out of the room," Darcysaid. She was pleading with a man who now wore a grim expression onhis face. She hated pleading with him.
She didn't intend to leave the Lee Room, though. Yes, she'd beenscared out of a few years of life, but that might have been theexact intention of the malignant presence. She had lived with hergift for a long time. She could still be frightened, but she knewher own strengths.
Shewouldn'tlet it happen again. She wouldn't give wayto the fright.
"Matt," Carter suggested sagely, "you're one stubborn cuss, butso is Miss Tremayne. If any one of us is going to get back tosleep, I suggest you let her go back to bed in the Lee Room.Remember, you're the one who doesn't believe in spooks."
"But I do believe in the ability of man to do evil," Matt said,staring at Darcy.
"You're right down the hall," she reminded him quietly."Actually, the next room, I believe. At least, the officepart of your suite."
"All I need is something to happen to you!" hemuttered.
"Bad for business?" she inquired sharply. "I assure you, I'm notgoing to become another ghost of Melody House," she assured him."And I'm adult, responsible to myself."
"Yes, bad for business. And not only that, but whether you likeit or not, I am responsible to Adam Harrison for you."
Just how well did he know Adam, Darcy wondered. "Adam sent me,"she reminded him, outraged. "He knows that I can deal with anythingthat happens."
"Um. Deal with it-by being terrorized and terrified?"
"It won't happen again," she repeated stubbornly. She wasdisturbed to realize that they had an audience for thisdiscussion,and she was beginning to feel as if she were achild having an argument with an adult.
But apparently, she was winning.
He threw up his hands and turned away. Clint gave her a grin anda thumbs-up sign. Carter, too, was smiling beneath his beard.Only Penny looked a little perplexed.
"You are sure you're going to be okay?" Penny asked softly.
"Absolutely," she assured the woman.
"Well, then, I'm going back to bed," Carter said. He gave Darcya wink. "I know the room well. It's brick and mortar, and nothingelse."
"Another true disbeliever," Penny muttered.
"Don't worry, ma'am," Clint teased, "You've got a threesome ofSouthern gentlemen here, not only offering charm, but all ourvaliant resources in whatever way you may need. We'll be happy tokick ghost butt for you at any time."
Penny let out a sound between a moan and groan. "Get out ofhere, go back to the stables and get to bed, both of you. You justwait until one of the ghosts does decide to make an appearancebefore you boys. You'll be sorry then!"
"Oooh!" Carter said.
It looked as if Penny was about to strike him.
"We're going, we're going," Clint said. He turned towardthe stairway, then told Darcy, "Seriously, if Matt doesn't make itto the rescue quickly enough, all you've got to do is whistle."
"Good night, then," Darcy said, smiling at Penny and eyeingMatt. "Honestly, I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
He nodded, and walked back into his own room.
Penny was left alone to stare at Darcy. "They are real, and Iknow it!" Penny told her.
Darcy smiled. ' 'We have to find out just what is going on." Shehesitated. "When the dead become violent or destructive, it'sbecause they want us to know something."
Penny shivered. "I'm here for you!" she said valiantly. But herwords came with a shiver.
"Honestly, I'm all right," Darcy assured her.
"It's getting worse and worse," Penny said. She glanced at theclosed door to Matt's room. "Maybe he's right. Perhaps you shouldsleep somewhere else, and spend time during the day in the LeeRoom."
"Penny, this is what I do!" she reminded the woman. "I was takenby surprise tonight. Startled by the force of...my dream. But it'sokay. Really."
Penny looked at her worriedly and sighed softly.
"I swear." Darcy gave Penny a little kiss on the cheek, andslipped back into her room.
She closed the door behind her and leaned against it. The room'stemperature seemed completely normal, the air as clear as amountain morning. She was certain that she'd experienced all shewas going to for one evening. And now that the fear had receded,she was all right. Stronger, more prepared. And more determined andangry.
Melody House held many haunting secrets. But it seemed evidentnow that the lady in white was a victim of a deadly violence in thepast, and the truth regarding her murder had never beendiscovered.
Darcy rinsed her face with cold water, surveyed hersurroundings once again, and lay back down.
She began to doze.
Then, once again, she bolted up, wide-awake.
Shefeltthe room, but there was nothing. And yet,something had awakened her.
She slipped from the bed. The doors to the balcony were open;the drapes drifted in a soft and eerie white wave. Standing verystill next to the bed, Darcy searched the shadows for an visions orapparitions.
She walked to the open doorway to the balcony, ran her handsover the drapes. As she started out to the balcony there was ashift in the breeze. The white gauzy fabric of the drapes wrappedaround her as she was seized by powerful and forceful arms,trapped in a vise of merciless strength.
As they climbed the stairs to the apartments above the stables,Carter looked at Clint suspiciously.
"How did you do it?" he asked.
Clint looked at him, startled. "Do what?"
"I wasn't doing the tapping. I thought it was you."
"Maybe the ghosts," Clint said lightly.
"You believe in the ghosts now?" Carter asked, amused.
Clint was silent a minute. "Penny," he saidthoughtfully.
"Penny!" Carter said.
"She's the one who wants to prove that Melody House has ghosts,"Clint reminded him.
"Yeah, but can you see Penny staging a bunch of tappingnoises?"
"Why not?" Carter asked with a shrug.
"There's Elizabeth-the medium," Clint suggested with a laugh."She needed to prove herself-especially with a real ghost buster inthe room."
"Um," Carter mused. "And what do you think of our ghost busterracing out in the middle of the night, just like the youngbride?"
Clint grinned slowly. "I think it's a shame she didn't race outnaked like the bride. That is one exciting woman."
"Mind your manners, son," Carter said, but he was amused aswell. He shrugged. "It just strikes me as strange, all this. DarcyTremayne is no flighty young bride. The woman is all coolsophistication-and yes, too bad she didn't come down in the buff,just like the bride. But there's got to be something going on."
"Youarestarting to believe in ghosts," Clint said,scoffing.
Carter shook his head. "Nope. I'm starting to agree with Mattthat someone is somehow playing tricks in the Lee Room. And I'ddamned well like to know why."
"Maybe people just feed off the fears and beliefs of others,"Clint said, impatient. He grinned. "You and I have both enjoyedthat room, a hell of a lot. Even Matt. Before the place was reallyopened up the way it is now, when Matt's granddad was still livingand went in and out of Washington all the time. Hell, I had some ofmy best nights there. Nothing like impressing a young woman with areal historical house, a seduction in pure luxury-with the threatof a ghost to make her all warm and cozy."
Carter nodded after a moment. "Yep, I've had my share of nightsthere."
"And no ghosts?"
"And no ghosts," Carter agreed.
"Hard to forget when we're hosting ghost busters."
Clint shrugged. "You know, I have to admit that, over time, I'veheard from plenty of people that they have seen things. Clara Issyis as rock-solid and sane a woman as you're ever going to find. Andshe saw something in the Lee Room. And I've heard other guestsswear that they've seen a soldier walk through the parlor."
Carter laughed. ' 'Yeah, I remember one occasion. And the coupledid see a Rebel soldier walk through the room-he was headed out totake part in a battle re-enactment at Cold Harbor. Hell, I dressedup one time for a Civil War forum and scared half the people Iknew."
"The point being?"
"There is usually a logical explanation for ghosts."
"All right, I grant you that. So?"
"So, I think someone is playing tricks. And if it's not you, andit's not me...then who? And why?" he asked.
"I don't know," Clint said. He hesitated. "But I'd damned surelike to find out just who and why myself."
With their guest in the house, Penny had taken upresidence in the Stuart Room. It was two doors down from theLee Room, in the ell on the left side of the house.
With both Matt and Darcy having returned to their rooms, Pennyfound herself standing indecisively in the hallway.
Might as well go back to bed. There was nothing else to do.
But she shook her head, staring at Matt's door. What on earthhad to happen for him to realize that he had something veryspecial in this house? Oh, he loved the house, and was a great onefor historical value, she gave him that.
But they had something even...better. And more unique.
Turning her attention to Darcy's door, she folded her arms overher chest and swore softly beneath her breath. Why wouldn't theyoung woman just say what had happened? There were ghosts inthis house. It was a fact. And certainly, it might be hard to proveit to the world, but there was no reason for Matt to fail tobelieve, to fail to use the experiments and happenings here toenrich the legends that already abounded. It would be sowonderful to be a real center of attention for a public that lovedsuch stories.
Just what on earth was she going to have to do to prove herpoint?
She sighed and walked down the hall to her own room, opened thedoor, and then hesitated once again.
"I'm here! I'm listening!" she said aloud. "Talk to me, whoever,whatever, you are. I'll get your story out!"
She waited, looking around the hall.
But the ghosts apparently had nothing to say to her.
"I don't care if you pull my hair-or if you want to slap me inthe face! Hey, leave the others alone. I'm ready. I'll helpyou."
Still, there was nothing. The hall remained silent.
All right, seriously, just what on earth was she going to haveto do?
With a disgusted sniff, she pressed the door open and went oninto bed.
Darcy was caught in a terrible grip, all but smothered in thehold and the voluminous wealth of gauzy drapes tangled around her.Instinctive fear had seized hold of her as well, and she was readyto struggle, fight, and scream.
But the sound never left her lips, because a familiar voiceinterrupted her thoughts.
"Who are you, and what the hell are you doing?"
The voice, deep and very low, and all the more menacingfor the quiet within it, cut into her mind like a knife.
And still, fear eased instantly.
She was silent and dead still for a minute, ruefullyrealizing her position.
Then she spoke.
"I'm your unwanted guest, and I was merely on my way out to thebalcony when a breeze blew, and suddenly I found myself ratherrudely accosted."
She felt the vise ease from around her. For a splitsecond, there was the simple warmth of Matt's hold, tautmuscles slackening, and a pleasant sense of just being held,of life and vibrance, masculine aftershave, and an essence ofsexuality that took her completely off guard. She swayed.
His arms were releasing her.
She quickly gathered her wits about her, and found steadiness onher feet while he worked to untangle her from the draperies.
She emerged facing him, flushed, hair tousled.
"Why are you sneaking around the balcony?" shedemanded.
Matt crossed his arms over his chest. "A, it's my balcony. B, Iwasn't sneaking around. Your turn. What the hell wereyoudoing, sneaking around on the balcony."
"I heard something."
"Apparently, you heard me."
"So-why were you out here?"
"I heard something-apparently you."
She shook her head. "I believe that I heard you first."
"I beg to differ."
"Oh, this is getting ridiculous."
He arched a brow to her, implying that the entiresituation of her being in his house was purelyridiculous.
She exhaled on a long sigh. ' 'Look, your night has beendisturbed enough. I really wasn't making any noise."
"Since there's no one on the balcony except for you and me, Ibelieve it would be safe for both of us to go back to sleep."
"The balcony doors do lock," he told her.
"Do you keep yours locked?'' she asked him.
He shook his head.
"Because I listen."
"In your sleep?"
"It's a talent," he said dryly. "But you should keep yourslocked."
She stared at him for a long while.
"Why should I?"
"Because someone is playing tricks with this room."
"So you believe the danger is coming from theoutside?"
"Why can't you believe that there's anything in the world thatisn't black or white, visible to the naked eye?" she askedsoftly.
"I believe in a great bigrealworld of gray," hesaid.
"If there is any danger in the house," she insistedquietly, ' 'I believe it comes from theinside.''
"But you want to stay in the Lee Room anyway?''
She lowered her head, praying for patience. "If you're such aserious skeptic, why did you agree to let the companyin?"
"Because I know Adam. And I know that he can find any kind ofsleight of hand out there."
"Adam also believes deeply in the occult. And in me," sheadded.
He shrugged, then brushed past her, entering the Lee Room again.For a moment, he stood with his back to her.
"I can't tell you how many nights I spent in this room as a kid.And...even in the last few years," he murmured. There was somethingbehind his words; she didn't know what. But then he swung around,staring at her again. "Lots and lots of nights. And nothing evermaterialized before me. Nothing whispered in the dark. Nothingfloated by."
She twisted her jaw slightly. "I didn't tell you thatanything materialized or floated by me. I merely said that Ihad a nightmare."
"Right. And the great ghost buster ran out screaming."
"It was a very bad nightmare."
He walked over to her and she was startled when he set his handson her shoulders, and his eyes, very dark in the shadows of night,were hard focused on her own. She was again aware of somethingevocative in the mere nearness of the man. He carried a richlymasculine and seductive scent, and the simple touch of his fingersseemed like a caress. She told herself that it had been a long timesince she had been this close to a man so vital and arresting, andso, it was natural that her senses should be jumping. It was a hardargument. They didn't jump that easily.
"Darcy, I do believe that something is going on. But somethingreal. And I don't want you hurt."
His words were honestly, sincerely spoken. The edge of hostilitywas gone between them, fallen off like a cloak.
She needed it back. She was standing in a bedroom in a flimsynightgown, body brushing that of a striking male in his prime, cladin no more than boxers and a robe. If she moved just a little bitcloser.. .half an inch, she'd know firsthand if she had an equaleffect upon him.
"I'm...I'm not going to get hurt," she assured him. Her voicewas thick.
It seemed as if eons passed in which he didn't reply. In whichthey just stood there. Her mind raced in a fury of thoughts. Hewasn't going to let her go. He was going to take that step closer.She should, of course, step away, but she wouldn't. She'd feel theforce of his arms enwrapping her again, but carefully this time,pressing her against his length. The palms of his hand would cometo her face, fingers would caress her chin. Then they'd be fusedtogether, tangled in a web of touch and taste and sensation,and-
He stepped back.
"I'm right next door. You didn't disturb my sleep. Feel free toscream at any time." He offered her a wry grimace, then tookanother step back. She wasn't sure his stride was as confident asusual.
Or maybe she just wanted him to be a bit shaky, too.
"Seriously, at the least disturbance, please, scream your heartout. I'll be right here." He smiled. Then his knuckles lightlybrushed her cheek; for a moment, time passed again, with endlesselectricity and thought.
Then he was gone.
Admittedly, Matt was tired.
Still didn't help the way that the morning completelysucked.
It started out with a desperate call from one of the area'sthree middle schools. The sheriff's department rushed in, preparedto deal with a possibly deadly, serious situation. It turned outthat Brad Middleton, tall, lanky, fighting a case of acne, butusually a decent kid, had come in to class saying that he had agun. Not a soul in the world was going to have a sense of humorabout such a situation these days, which Brad couldn't understand,since he had come in packing a water pistol. After a discussionwith the psychiatric counselor, the police counselor, theprincipal, and then his parents, he was shaking like a leaf by thetime he reached Matt, and Matt wasn't feeling much better about thesituation himself. The kid was going to have to go to court, andMatt didn't lie about the fact that he was facing consequences.Since Brad seemed truly repentant, he was certain that the boywould receive leniency, and he could make him feel somewhat better.But in the middle of his conversation with Brad, there was a holdupat one of the gas stations on the highway, and when they chaseddown the perp, he wasn't packing a water pistol. Still,surrounded by law enforcement vehicles, the man turnedhimself in. Thankfully, no one, including the perp, wasshot.
That was all before noon in a town where days could go by,totally uneventful.
He wondered why he had ever wanted to be elected sheriff in thefirst place. But he knew why. He was like one of the ancient oaksthat filled the forested area, born and bred to Stoneyville. Hefelt the responsibility of his family's claim to the place, almostas if he was rooted there as well.
And still, though he was worn and weary, he knew how to besheriff. He knew how to handle juveniles, gun-wielding thieves, andeven the older populace who complained that their neighborswere playing rock music or rap too loud.
What he didn't know how to handle was what he couldn't see,touch, hear, or stand up against, face-to-face. The other night haddisturbed him deeply.
Just as Darcy Tremayne disturbed him.
She could appear as unruffled as the most dignified queen, andyet last night, when he had first seen her after she'd fled the LeeRoom, she had been terrified. She had conquered her bout of fearquickly, and with a steely resolve that truly brooked noargument. Last night he had known that he wanted her out, far awaywhere no harm could come to her. And yet he had respected somethingabout her determination as well; hell, he was afraid every time hefaced a lethal weapon-he'd seen what they could do. Didn't alterthe fact that he meant to be just what he was, and be first in lineto face any situation that arose.
He didn't believe in ghosts. Didn't matter. Something had scaredher badly.
He'd be damned if he could figure out just what was going on, orwhowas causing it. The seance could be chalked up tochildish antics. As to the rest...
Pranks as well. Had to be. Or the imaginations of those who justwanted ghosts to exist so badly that they could create them. Thatworked with Penny and their streaking bride. But Clara? She was asdown to earth as could be.
Why worry about it so much?He taunted himself. Half ofhumanity wanted to believe in ghosts, in anything that gavecredence to a life after death. Let Melody House be haunted.
Ah, but there was the rub. Clara had either slammed herself intoa door, or been hurt somehow. But he still had to question how thehell someone was playing games in the house. He'd gone through theLee Room endlessly, and had found nothing. No wires, no taps,nothing.
He'd spent plenty of time in the Lee Room himself. Once, whenLavinia had been in love with the place. She considered the roomexciting, for reasons he'd never really fathomed. Clint, he knew,had taken a number of women to the house. Carter, too. Maybe forthe thrill of being intimate with a woman when there was an elementof fear. The point was, not one of them had ever been bothered byanything in the least amiss.
He realized he'd been sitting at his desk at the station,staring down at a form, pen in hand. He gave himself a mental shakeand concentrated. The true reason police forces lost so many goodcops. Paperwork.
He forced himself to finish up, then called out to his secretarythat he was calling it quits. It was well after six and he'd beenin for almost twelve hours.
He felt a sudden uneasiness.
It was too long to have been gone from Melody House.
Stoneyville might be a small town, but it had one of the mostimpressive and charming public libraries Darcy had ever seen.
Mrs. O'Hara, tiny as a wren, but sprightly and quick withbeautiful dark brown eyes peeping out from behind her bifocals,evidently loved books, and apparently felt a need to createcomfortable and aesthetic surroundings in which they might beenjoyed. Beautiful plants and flowers adorned the numerous tables,and she proudly told Darcy that she'd found the inviting,overstuffed chairs set about the library at various yard salesthroughout the county. The library was entirely user-friendly, withsigns to direct youngsters to their section, and adults to wherethey wanted to go as well. "A library should be educational, ofcourse," she told Darcy cheerfully. "But the point is that readingshould always be a pleasure, and when one learns to read and loveit, all kinds of knowledge just becomes available so easily.I do go on, but then, I do love books!" She wasn't obtrusive,however, and quickly brought Darcy to the section on localhistory.
Luckily, many local writers had been intrigued with chroniclingevents around them. In the 1870s, a woman named Murial Moore hadwritten about the sisters Darcy and Matt had discussed on her firstday at Melody House. The family had been the Claytons, and theirhome had been located just outside of town. A Barry Brewster hadbeen engaged first to marry Ophelia, the oldest of the brood, buthad fallen in love with young Amy, the baby of the family. Amy hadlast been seen with her sister Ophelia as they walked through theeast forest, ostensibly to visit neighbors on the far side. Amy hadnot been seen again alive. Barry had returned, and on the day thatthe majority of Amy's bones were discovered by a farmer walkingthrough the woods with his dog, Barry had hanged himself from atree near the brook. Ophelia had later gone insane, but lived outher life to the ripe old age of eighty-eight, prisoner of herfamily, kept in the barn. The barn, and family property, had burnedto the ground.
"How are you doing, young lady?"
Darcy started and looked up. Mrs. O'Hara was standing by herside. "I was about to make a cup of tea. Would you like some?"
This was definitely a different kind of library.
Darcy smiled, then glanced at her watch. She hadn't gotten verydeep into the history of the Stone family at all, but she felt asif she was carefully treading water between legends, truth, andexperience as it was. And she was anxious to get back to theforest.
"I'll take a rain check on the tea, Mrs. O'Hara, if I may,"Darcy told her. "I'll be back tomorrow."
She handed the book she'd been reading to the librarian. Such anold volume wasn't allowed out of the library.
Mrs. O'Hara assured her she was quite welcome, and told her thatshe'd go through some of their old books and see what she couldshow her that might be important regarding the history ofMelody House. "I warn you-any difficulty on research regardingMelody House and the area is not because there hasn't been a lotwritten. There are many, many books on the subject."
"Thanks so much for your help."
"Absolutely. I'm quite convinced myself that the area ishaunted. In fact, I have a friend you might want to talk to. Hername is Marcia Cuomo. She started working at Melody House rightafter Matt's grandfather died. And she quit in one day. She wasconvinced that she was grabbed and rousted about and nearly killedwhen she was thrown down a stairway."
"Oh?" Darcy said. She hadn't heard a word about MarciaCuomo.
Mrs. O'Hara was smiling wryly. "At the time, I'm afraid, she hada reputation for having a nip or two while working. She didn't wantMatt Stone thinking that she was drinking on the job, so she justtold Penny she'd had a fall. Apparently, when she tried to explainto a few people that there was a very physical ghost in the house,they didn't think her a credible witness in the least."
"I see. I'd love to talk to her." At the counter, Darcy wrotedown her cell phone number and gave it to Mrs. O'Hara. "Could youask Marcia to call me at her convenience?"
Darcy left the library and searched for the little Volvo she hadborrowed from Penny. Twenty minutes later, she was out at thestables. Sam, the old caretaker, was working there, and she assuredhim that she could manage saddling and bridling the horseherself.
Daylight still dappled through the trees, but with such a canopyof green, the forest trails and copses were dark and shadowy asearly evening came to pass. Darcy rode to the point where she haddismounted on her last ride out, left Nellie having a lazy sip ofwater at the brook, and returned to her perch upon the log.
She hugged her knees to her chest, always a little afraid. Sheclosed her eyes, concentrating on the sense of the past that hadnearly come clear to her before.
First, the cold. It settled over the forest like a blanket. Aninward voice, her own, called out in silent fear as the feelingwrapped around her. "Josh!"
It was the softest voice, or it was insanity. It was her ownmind, working on different circuits, a mechanism to keep her fromgoing mad.
She opened her eyes. The forest had darkened even further.She heard voices. One light, a girl's voice. She was laughing.Talking about the wedding, then apologizing. "Ophelia, you've beenso wonderful. He was to have been yours, but then, really, you'dnever met, and then we met, and Ophelia, I really do love him sovery much! We'll find the right man for you, I know it. Maybe notin this little town, but you'll travel with Barry and me, and itwill be wonderful."
She could see the sisters. They had come into view. Two ghosthorses had now joined Nellie at the brook. Nellie lifted her head,snorted, shied away uneasily, seemed to get ready to run.
Both girls had a wealth of brown hair, and were clad in simplecotton dresses, petticoats beneath, heavy boots on their feet.
Amy dismounted first.
"It will be wonderful," Ophelia agreed softly from her saddle.Then she, too, dismounted.
"Why did we stop here?" Amy asked, cupping her hands to create adipper so that she could draw a cool drink from the brook.
"Oh, I just wanted to show you something. It's in the water.You'll have to kneel down."
"I'll get soaked."
"It's summer, little goose. You'll dry."
And watching the past replay itself in her mind's eyes in thehaunted glen, Darcy wanted to cry out, to warn Amy, to help her.And instead, she sat frozen, in something of a trance, seeing thetime repeat itself in the images of what had been, aware that shecould onlysee,that there was nothing she could do.
"Something in the water?" Amy repeated.
"Yes, get down, you'll see!"
It was a classic execution, carried out badly, brutally foiled.Once Amy was down, Ophelia drew the heavy ax from the pouch at theback of her saddle. Her first blow merely dazed Amy, who screamedand fell sideways into the water. Ophelia instantly saw that shehad botched a clean kill. She began to work arduously, swinging thehatchet again and again while Amy screamed. The thudding ofthe blade against flesh, bone, muscle, and sinew seemed as loud inthe forest as a drumbeat.
The vision came to life far too vividly. And, watching from thelog, Darcy could bear it no longer. She began to scream as well.She forgot herself, running forward to the spot, thinking thatsomething had to stop the terror.
Neither the dying Amy nor the determined Ophelia noticed her inthe least. Time had come, and time had gone, and all that visioncould give was an echo of the past.
As Darcy burst upon the sisters, the images faded.Shaking, Darcy fell upon her knees in the water. Yet, as sheknelt there, shaking, horrified at Ophelia's vicious cruelty to herown sister, she saw the ghost.
Amy, headless, thrashing through the brush by an old oak, nottwenty feet away.
Slowly, Darcy rose.
When Matt reached the house, he saw that Clint and Carter wereout by the stables, arguing over Riley, a big buckskin quarterhorse. He strode over to the two of them.
"We have more horses," he reminded his cousin and theirfriend.
"Ah, but only one glorious redheaded guest," Clint said. Hecarried his usual joking tone, but there was a slight edge of steelto it.
"She's out riding again?" Matt asked.
' 'And I say I should be the one riding out just to make sureshe's doing all right," Carter said. He rubbed his beard andgrinned. ' 'You know, give her a real feel for the charm of the OldSouth."
"Hell-a beard gives you Southern charm?" Clint scoffed.
' 'Hey, I'm a land baron, and you're... a relation,'' Carterreminded him.
"Right. I belong at Melody House. You've got your own property.You just like to hang out here," Clint returned.
Matt ignored the two of them and took Riley's reins, thenquickly swung into the saddle. He looked down at the two of them."I'll go."
They frowned at each other. "That's just not fair," Cartersaid.
"And why not?"
"You're rude to her," Clint answered.
"And she doesn't really look a damned thing like Lavinia,"Carter said.
"Yeah, Lavinia is beautiful, but she's also got that pinchedterrier look, you know? Like a woman who always wants more," Clintagreed.
"While this one just seems to rise above it all," Cartersaid.
"Look damned good in a nightgown," Clint said.
"Too bad she doesn't sleep in the buff," Carter said, shakinghis head.
"Hey, the woman is working for me," Matt said irritably."Lay off-she's not a one-night conquest here for anyone'samusement."
"Who said anything about one night?" Clint demanded.
"Working for you?" Carter said, one eye half closed as hesquinted up at Matt in the dying summer sun. "Bull. You don'tbelieve in anything she's doing."
"Neither do you."
"No, but I sure am attracted to our guest. And I'mfascinated by her work, not at all ready to mock her-the waythat you are," Carter said.
"See you at dinner," Matt said, starting to turn Sam around.
"Hey!" Clint called to him.
He looked back at bis cousin. For a minute, Clint looked as hesometimes had when they were kids. Stubborn, and somewhatsullen.
Matt reined in, staring at him.
"She's no one-night stand for you either, Matt;"
"She's working for me," he repeated.
"Yeah. Like the air doesn't crackle when the two of you getclose."
True enough. But he'd be damned if he'd have these two knowinganything and taunting him about his attraction to the ghostbuster he didn't believe in.
"She's only here until she finds something...or until Adamarrives," he said curtly. Then he nudged Riley with his thighs andheaded out for the forest. He hadn't asked any questions aboutwhich way she'd ridden, nor did he look for any signs.
He was certain that he'd find her right where she'd been before,near the water, probably seated right on the same log.
"Communing" with the forest.
A surge of irritation filled him, and yet he was anxious toreach her, and suddenly, deeply glad as well that he'd reached thehouse when he had. There wasn't a damned thing wrong withClint-except that he was a spendthrift and a womanizer. He did havea way with the opposite sex, though. He was all smiles andcourtesy, and made many an easy conquest. Carter, too, seemed tomanage his share of affairs. And he hadn't seen either of them sodetermined in a long time. Hell, never determined enough toargue over one woman.
If she was interested in one of them...?
She was working for him. Or rather, come to think of it,Harrison Investigations had paid for their exploration andexamination of Melody House. It was his damned house. That gave himthe right to have a proprietary feeling.
Maybe it didn't.
Hell, he had one anyway.
He reached the copse, the brook, and the place where the fallenlog lay in the forest. Nellie, wide-eyed, stood in the brook. Thehorse wasn't drinking, just standing. She seemed to be in a strangetrance, swaying oddly in the water.
Matt looked hurriedly to the log. Darcy was not there.
Then he heard a sound. A grunting. His eyes were divertedclose to one of the old oaks. He stared incredulously,dismounting from his horse by rote, staring at Darcy.
She was on her hands and knees, digging furiously. Covered inmud. His austere, regal-looking guest was smudged with raw earthfrom head to toe, and she was totally oblivious to the fact that hewas there.
She'd dug a really big hole with only the help of a club-shapedlog and a sharp stone.
As he said her name softly, she gave out a cry oftriumph.
And in the eerie light of the dying day, she raised a humanskull high into the air.
She had found it!
Elation roared through Darcy.
Her name was called out so roughly that she nearly dropped theskull. She looked to see that Matt had come upon her in thewoods.
"Matt! I've found it!"
But one look at his face assured her that he didn't share herpleasure in the discovery.
"What the hell are you doing?" he demanded.
"Matt, it's her skull-the younger sister's skull. The story wastrue. History. We all knew that she had been murdered by her oldersister."
"Put it down immediately," he admonished harshly.
She stared at him, confused, frowning.
"Down, put it down!"
Slowly, she did so. "What on earth is the matter with you?" shedemanded. "Look, whether you believe in any of this or not, youdon't have to be such a jerk. I've found her skull. We can bury itwith her body. That would just be human decency."
He hunkered down by her, looking at the skull that now lay onthe freshly dug earth. He didn't touch it, but stared at her again."Keep your hands off it."
"You've got a human skull there. And I'm the sheriff."
She looked at him then in total disbelief. "But. . .this murdertook place well over a hundred years ago! What are you going to tryto do-arrest someone?''
"How do you know that?"
"What do you mean, how do I know that? We both know thestory."
He waved a hand in the air, dismissing her outrage. "Are you abone expert as well, Miss Tremayne?"
Anger took slow root in her, and, along with it, a sinking feelof desolation. Dammit, he knew it. He knew as well as she did thatthe skull had been in the earth for eons. And there was somethingabout the way he was hunkered down, near her, yet a million milesaway. He wasn't going to admit that she had found the skull, thatshe was right, and that she had somehow come upon it throughextrasensory perception. At the same time, he knew in his gutthat was just what she had done. He drew away. He didn't believe inher power, but he was still repulsed by it, maybe at someinstinctive level of his own.
"All right. There's your skull. What are you going to do aboutit?"
"I'm going to see that it's properly handled."
"It belongs to a poor, young, innocent girl who was brutallymurdered by someone she loved and trusted. To handle it properly,you merely need to get the records out and see that her head isburied with her body," Darcy said angrily.
"You can guarantee me, beyond a doubt, that this is her skull?"he said scornfully.
"Well, that's not the way the law works."
"You're being ridiculous."
"I'm doing my job."
Darcy stood up and dusted her hands on the sides of her jeans."Fine. You do what you have to do," she said, and started walkingaway from him.
She felt his hand fall upon her upper arm. Hard. When he swungher back, there was too much force to his touch. She stared at hishand, stared at his eyes. He released her instantly.
"Do you go around finding body parts all the time and justburying them because you're convinced they have to be ancient?"
"No to which?"
"We both know whose head this is!"
"Whether we do or not, human remains have to be handledproperly. Legally."
Her eyes fell. Maybe he was right on that. And maybe she wasjust dismayed by the horror she had seen in his eyes when he hadwatched her with the skull.
"All right, Sheriff. I bow to your very logical and legalreasoning. If you'll excuse me, though, I think I'll head back fora shower."
He nodded, those gray eyes still on her. She felt a strange hurtinside, and she was furious with herself. Matt Stone had been ahostile force from the very beginning. She'd been an idiot to letany measure of attraction form between mem. And yet... attractiondidn'tform.It existed. It existed right then as theystood in the woods, as they stared at one another. Something in theair, alive, electric, static. She'd never felt such an urge to comeclose to another person, press against him, feel his armswrap around her. She was certain that the sheer heat dancing in theair emitted from him. And she was equally certain that no matterwhat his raw desire, the static erupted from his mind, like a wildwind that pushed away, even as it pulled.
She suddenly wanted to shout that she wasn't a leper.
But in his mind, maybe she was.
She turned and walked away, striding to Nellie without lookingback. She mounted, turned the horse toward home, and never turnedher head.
Anger filled her. To anyone else, she might have just proventhat she did have certain psychic abilities. Not Matt. He wouldn'tbegin to understand her job. That yes, Harrison Investigationscould come in and prove if something wasn't right-if there wasindeed a fake, a trickster, creating ghosts or hauntings for theirown purposes-be it simple amusement or something illegal. But whenphenomena were real, they tried to find outwhy,what had happened, why ghosts couldn't move on. And then they triedto help them.
She'd helped Amy. And the idiot, Matt Stone, should realize thatit meant she could discover the truth about his house. And that itshouldbe discovered, because it was something evenstranger than she'd ever encountered before.
Something far more sinister.
And it didn't seem that even Josh could help her here, as he sooften could.
When she could solve a mystery and help heal a lost soul, sheloved what she did. Which was wonderful, because far toooften her work was frightening, and she felt such deep sympathy somany times that it was painful. And yet, a day like today was soincredibly rewarding!
Except that it had to come with a man like Matt Stone!
The great unbeliever.
She knew that he hadn't moved.
And he wouldn't move, not for a while.
He would watch after her long after Nellie took to thetrail.
It was late, but it didn't matter. Matt sat at his desk back atthe station, doing nothing.
He'd called out a few of his men, and the skull, and thesurrounding dirt, though disturbed, had been properly boxed forforensic study.
Because he'd known that Darcy was right about the identity ofthe skull, he'd had it taken straight to friends at the Smithsonianwho specialized in the field, and he knew that he'd get a reportback in the morning that the skull was well over a hundred yearsold.
So he found himself sitting in his office, doing nothing. Hisdoor was closed. At first, he'd pretended to be busy withpaperwork. Then, he'd given up all pretense, sat back in his chair,laced his fingers behind his head, and stared into space.
The image returned to him again and again.
Darcy with the skull.
Her cry of triumph.
It gave him the creeps.
But not really, and it should have. She was fucking weird. No.Yes.
She was, and it didn't matter. She was still inordinatelyattractive to him, arresting. More.Seductive.He shouldwant nothing to do with her. He wanted to be closer to her,instead. He wanted to talk to her, know what made her tick,understand her background. He loved the sound of her voice, theinflections in it. He was equally fascinated by every flick of hereyes, her slightest movement. She could have so much energy, moveso quickly and fluidly, and then show such cool poise and reservethat she was maddening.
If he stayed at work, he could keep some distance. He neededdistance. If anything was reallyhauntinglymysterious, it was the allure she seemed to hold for him. Soshe was good-looking-many women were. All right, so she wassinuous, sensual, and fluid as a cat. Other nearly-perfect peoplealso had such seductive quality.
Not like this woman.
Maybe it was the secrets, or the knowledge in her eyes.
Why the hell couldn't he be repulsed. Christ, she'd been diggingin the dirt like a gopher!
There was a rap on his door.
He pulled his feet off his desk top as he called out.
Deputy Harding, charged with the graveyard shift, opened hisdoor and peeked in. "Everything all right?"
Alan Harding was young. A good age to keep peace betweenmidnight and eight. Sandy-haired, blue eyed, nearly six-four, andcapable of controlling the occasional rowdy drunks who called forlaw enforcement at that hour.
"Yeah, everything is fine. Why?"
"Just...er, checking. You don't usually sit around in here thislate, that's all."
Matt arched a brow. "How late?"
"It's nearly two."
Harding grinned. "That is my shift."
"Yeah, sure." Matt scratched his cheek. "Yeah, I was justleaving."
He rose, taking his hat from the peg on the wall. ' 'Call meif-"
"If I need you, yessir," Alan said, a cleft in his chindeepening along with his smile. "Heard you found an old skull outin the woods today."
"I didn't find it."
"The psychic found it, huh?"
He stiffened. Why the hell did he hate it when people referredto Darcy as a psychic? That's what she claimed to be.
He didn't believe in psychics. Refused to believe inpsychics.
"Miss Tremayne, from Harrison Investigations, found the skull,if that's what you mean."
"She must be for real, huh?"
Matt settled his hat on his head. "She can read, and sheapparently likes libraries. That's why the name of thecompany has the wordinvestigationsin it,Alan."
"Sure-sir!" Alan said.
Matt shook his head and walked out, throwing over his shoulder,"Call me if-"
"If we need you," Harding finished for him again.
Matt muttered beneath his breath. When he exited the station, alow-lying fog sat on the ground. And despite himself, he suddenlyfelt an intuition of unease. What the hell had he been doing at thestation so late?
He should have been at Melody House for hours now.
His strides were long as he headed for his car. And he wasdamned glad that he was the sheriff right then because he farexceeded the speed limit as he headed home.
It should have been an entirely triumphant and peaceful nightfor Darcy. She knew that she had done well. And usually, to go withsome of the torture that her existence afforded her, she was ableto feel something like serenity and satisfied pleasure at a jobwell done.
But that night...
Dinner should have been fun. Penny, Clint, and Carter had allbeen excited about her find. Clint and Carter had vied for herattention, Penny had studied her like a wise old sage who had knownher stuff and was proud as a peacock herself for being the one toinsist that Harrison Investigations be called into the house. Evenold Sam Arden, caretaker, had seemed to eye her with a newrespect. It was almost as if she had become the accepted matriarchof a village, having proven her mettle. None of them seemed ill atease with her, though both Clint and Carter kept asking, indifferent ways, just how she had managed to do it. She refused toexplain exactly how, just saying that she had researched the storyat the library, and put two and two together. Clint, however, shookhis head.
"Two and two don't naturally add up to four in a forest! You'reamazing. Simply amazing. You do have a special and uniquegift."
"You've got to explain how you really found the skull," Cartertold her.
"Research," she told him. But she couldn't help a smile. "That'swhat we do-investigate."
"That ghost in the Lee Room is going to be sorry!" Pennycommented.
"Maybe you've really got to be careful," Clint said, somewhatworried and subdued then. "I mean, maybe it's a ghost that doesn'twant to be known, and it will be more violent, because it's afraidof you."
"What do you mean?" Carter had said, frowning.
"Ghosts only come out because they want to be discovered,"Sam Arden had surprised them all by saying. And when they hadstared at him, he had continued with, "Like serial killers. Theyalways taunt the police because somewhere, in their subconscious,they want to be caught."
There had been a few minutes of unease, but then Clint hadannounced that he had some special champagne. Darcy accepted herglass and slipped out to take a walk to the porch. Clint found herthere.
"You know," he'd told her softly, "he's only such a jerk becausehe's afraid."
"Matt. He's afraid."
"You've lost me. Matt is really afraid of ghosts?"
That brought Clint's devastating, deep-dimpled grin into playalong with a spate of laughter. "Matt? Afraid of ghosts? No. He'snot even afraid of whackos with guns and knives. He's afraid ofyou."
"Why would he be afraid of me?"
Clint had joined her against the rail. Tall, lean,charming. And very handsome. She wondered why she couldn'tfeel an almost painful physical draw to him.
He'd reached out to smooth down a stray strand of her hair.
"Because he really likes you-and respects you-but doesn't wantto. Because you're a beautiful redhead."
That had brought a smile from her. "Thank you. That's sweet.It's also bull."
Clint shook his head. "His wife was a total bitch. She wasinsane over him at first, but he couldn't be deterred from thehouse or his work, and she just wasn't the kind who could live longwithout playing hard-all over the globe. Then she started to thinkthat he had lost interest in her, and she tried to make himjealous. Wrong move with Matt. It just turned him off completely.But she did have her ways. So...when the marriage went all to hell,it left a nasty taste in his mouth."
"A certain kind of redhead."
"Great. I'm akindof redhead?"
"Cool. Smooth. Sophisticated."
' 'A kind of sophistication that no one can acquire if it isn'tjust natural. So...Matt is going to act like a jerk. That's why youshould forget all about him, and realize just how attractive Iam."
"You're very attractive."
"But you're just not interested. Still...you change your mind,I'm around. Ready to rush to your defense at any moment."
"Hopefully, I won't need any defenders."
"Don't crush my crusading spirit!"
"If I do need a defender, I'll be delighted that you're there.How's that?"
"A crumb!" Clint told her, but he was grinning, and he slippedan arm around her shoulder as he led her back into the house.
Penny had hot tea and scones prepared when they got inside. Whenit had hit eleven, Darcy had yawned, excused herself, and gone tobed. Her room had seemed cold and cavernous that night, despite thewarmth outside.
She'd opened the balcony door, certain herself thatnothing evil was coming from outside the room.
Whatever watched her had a place within.
She watched a late-night show on TV, giving it halfheartedattention.
Something waited within the room.
She did so herself.
Well after midnight, she was still certain that Matt hadn'treturned. And still, some time after that, she drifted tosleep.
Soon after, she began to dream again, entering into the world ofanother. Vaguely, in a subconscious place, she knew that shedreamed once again. This time as another...
Before, she had dreamed as a man, coming to the house.
This night, she entered the soul of the woman who hadwaited.
She'd not begun the evening with any great sense of fear orurgency. Indeed, she'd been angry herself, and ready to fight,argue, speak her mind-and change her life.She 'dnot thought a thing about going to bed that night.
She was certain that he would not come. All that ragedbetween them was too close, too tense, too passionate.
She was furious!
By the dim light, she sat down at her desk and began towrite. He could do what he wanted. She couldn't stophim.
But he was going to pay.
Yet, as she set out to write, pulling out a sheet ofstationery with her personal emblem, she paused. Itwas abeautiful night. Cloudless, allowing even thegibbous moonto cast a serene glow over the rolling hillsof the countryside beyond the window. For a moment, a senseof hesit-ance settled over her. There was so much here, somuchbetween them.
She had been betrayed. He had betrayed her.
She started to write. From somewhere near, she heardthe whinny of a horse. A dog began to howl and bark.Oblivious she set to her task, determined. The die hadbeencast.
Darcy awoke with a start. The sense of sharing another's dream,ofbeingthat person, reliving the past, fell from her asif she had doffed a cloak from her shoulders.
And yet, blinking in the shadowed room, she struggled to fathomwhat had awakened her. Had it been the sound she heard within thedream?
She listened, and was certain that she had heardsomething.
Out on the balcony.
Footsteps, slow, quiet, furtive.
She bit into her lower lip, silent and dead still for a moment.Then she slipped from beneath the covers, stepped out of the bedand rose, slowly, quietly. Her bare feet made no sound on the softPersian rug beneath the bed. She prayed that a floorboard wouldn'tcreak.
Carefully, she moved across the floor to the balcony. Standingbehind the softly billowing drapes, she looked out. Nothing.Nothing, but the moon in the sky, and a gentle breeze. She movedout, one slow step at a time, and still, nothing.
With a sigh, Darcy frowned and walked to the railing.
Then she heard it again. Something...just a sound, ascratch...from behind her. She started to turn.
She saw nothing but a whir of darkness. She felt the quick whackof something hard against her head like a bolt of lightning out ofthe blue.
Not hard enough to knock her out. Hard enough, however, tomake her stagger, fall to her knees, cry out.
And see nothing more...
She brought her hand to her head, more furious than hurt. Thewhack hadn't been at all deadly, and her head wasn't spinning. Asshe staggered up, the balcony doors next to her own burst open.
And there was Matt. Clad in Calvin Klein black knit boxers, andnothing more. Staring at her as if a lunatic had decided to knockon his door in the middle of the night.
"What the hell are you doing?" he demanded.
Perhaps it looked a little strange. She realized that she wasstanding directly in front of his French doors, disheveledand barely dressed. She'd opted for her favorite type of nightgownthat night rather than the long T-shirts she often wore to bed. Itwas white, diaphanous. Sleeveless, with Victorian lace around thebodice. Her hair was all over. She might have resembled the madLady of Shalott.
"I...there was something out here," she said.
He lifted a brow, leaned back slightly, and crossed his armsover his chest. ' 'The ghost is hanging around on the balcony?"
"I don't think so."
"You don't think so?"
He was mocking her, of course. Aggravated herself, she toocrossed her arms over her chest and tried for a look of dignity. "Iheard something out here. It woke me."
"Did it whisper in your ear?"
"Stop that, will you? I think that there was someone outhere."
"Alive or dead?"
He continued to stare at her skeptically, but then stepped pasther. She could hear him swearing beneath his breath, but he did atleast seem willing to take a look around. He walked the length ofthe balcony. When he disappeared around the corner, she felt astrange sense of loss and a chill invading her. Time seemed tostand on end, to stretch out, and the cold-despite the balmynight-to seep into her bones. How long could it take him to walkthe circumference of the wraparound balcony? Granted, it wasa big house, but....
She stared to the left, watching the corner where he haddisappeared. Hesitantly, she walked toward it herself, then nearlyscreamed to high heaven when she felt a touch upon hershoulder.
Jumping half a mile, she swirled around and saw that Matt wasback.
"I can't find anyone," he told her, his voice polite, and stillcurt.
"Wait a minute here," she said angrily, planting her hands onher hips. "You're the one so convinced that there aren't anyghosts, that some kind of real, outside force is causing the'haunting' here. So why are you so mad when I think that I've heardsomeone prowling around on the balcony?"
He had that chiseled stone expression one that she had learnedwhen she had first met him at the Wayside Iran. His arms were stillcrossed over the breadth of his chest.
"Sorry. But I didn't hear anything. And I have really sharpears."
"Even when you're sleeping?"
"Even when I'm sleeping."
"You still might have missed something."
"Anything is possible."
"Glad to hear you believe that."
' 'I think I told you to keep your balcony doors locked. If I'mnot mistaken,youseemed to be the one totallyoblivious to danger in the night."
For a moment she was still, locking her jaw as she stared athim.
"Someone hit me in the head!" she said, indignant.
' 'What?'' His attitude changed. He stepped forward,lifting her chin, searching out her eyes. ' 'You werehurt?''
She shook her head, still feeling his fingers against her cheekand chin. He was too close, but she didn't draw away. "I'mnot...hurt. But there was someone here, and...well, I don't...itwas just a way for the person to disappear."
"A real person?"
' 'Not like Clara. She said that a ghost struck her in the face.You didn't fall...trip...or bang your head another way?"
There was concern, and more. Maybe he was feeling a certaintriumph, as she had that afternoon. He didn't believe inghosts. Well, he had ghosts, whether he wanted them or not. Butthis time, he had been right. A real person had been on thebalcony.
"There was someone-flesh and blood-out here tonight," shesaid. He hadn't moved. The scent of his skin seemed very rich, andridiculously intoxicating. She didn't want to move. She wanted tolay her head against his bare chest.
He was closer, somehow.
His finger-feathered over her hair then, touched down gently onher temple. "Where...uh...were you struck?"
"I...uh...side of the head."
"Is there a bump?"
She shook her head. "I don't think so."
"Are you dizzy?"
"No." A lie, but her state of physical rubber had nothingto do with the knock on the head.
"You're all right? Really all right?"
His breath caressed her forehead. Her lips were dry. She nodded,still not moving. His hands still cradled around her head. Her lipscould almost brush his flesh.
Then he tilted her chin again, looked into her eyes. A hint offive o'clock shadow teased his cheeks. His dark hair wassleep-mussed. His body seemed to emit heat like a radiator, makingthe night chilly, and the length of him a beacon. Tension grippedhis muscles, appeared with his every breath. She could hear hisheart beat. And her own.
"This would be crazy," he whispered.
"You bet," she agreed, and yet, still, neither of them moved,and the breeze seemed to grow cooler, making the rise of tensionbetween them a delectable, taunting warmth.
Then the warmth of his breath touched her ear and just thetimbre of his voice created a cascade of hot blood rushing throughher veins.
"Are you feeling crazy?" he asked.
"Totally insane," she whispered back.
His hand molded around her chin again and a moment later, hismouth covered hers. It should have been a slow and gentle kiss, agetting-to-know-you kiss, and it started out that way. But the verymovement erupted almost instantly into something else, deep,consuming, passionate, ravaging. Maybe it was the way his armswrapped around her, or that last eighth of an inch between theirbodies was pressed away, the feel of the full length of his form,the sheerness of her clothing, the raw feel of the so nearly nakedman. Their mouths clung together, tongues became weapons ofseduction, and just standing in the night, a violent hunger seizedthem both, and the kiss was the most sweepingly carnal she had everexperienced, the very movement of his lips, teeth, and tongueseeming suggestive of everything that was to come. It wasn'ther, Darcy thought, realizing that she responded with blatanturgency, almost awed, wanting everything and more. Life didn'tusually offer her such a feast, and their exchange had been thetruth, for this was lunacy. But there was no thought abouttomorrow, what she did, what he did, thought, or believed. Tomorrowdid not exist, for as he held her, as his mouth seared her, as theforce of his arousal pressed and drummed and taunted, there wasnothing she could care about except for the culmination of thestorm of wonder that swept through her with such fantasticforce.
Darcy felt as if she melted against him, as simply as dewagainst the grass when the sun rose, and she was grateful for andalmost oblivious to the arms that held her, lifted her then, andcarried her through the balcony doors.Hisroom, not theLee Room, she noted vaguely, too aware of the feel of his sinew inhis arms, the cut of his face as he made his way to the bed. Thesurroundings didn't matter. The sheets were cool and cleanand smelled of fabric softener, and the mattress was deep andinviting, but not even that mattered; steel at her back wouldn'thave mattered because his lips had trailed from hers to herthroat, and she was still in the sheer gown, which seemed nobarrier. The feel of his mouth closing over her breasts, thesearing wetness over and through the fabric, and his tonguechaffing her nipple sent streaks of lightning ripping through thelength of her. Her fingers tore through her hair as he leanedagainst the bed, lowering himself against her, she was aware of hishands at her side, long, powerful, handsome hands, as arrestingas...
The feel of his mouth, almost agonizingly erotic over the fabricof her gown, lowering over her abdomen, lowering still. And thenthose hands, those glorious hands, slipping at last beneath thefabric, and his touch on her thighs, so intimate, too intimate, andyet all that they must be for this insanity, stroking and caressinginto the core of her. And then the touch of his tongue, blazingwith intensity, arresting every vein and muscle within her,creating fire within every fiber of her being. And at that moment,there wasn't the least surge of hesitance, of inhibition, withinher, not a thought that they were not seasoned lovers, thatthis kind of shattering contact should take time, knowing,caring....
There was simply response, for every action, a reaction, and shefollowed every law of physics, Spiraling, arching, twisting, andgasping with every electric jolt of lightning that filled andawakened her. She had to touch, stroke, taste, caress and evoke inreturn, and in minutes, they were tangled flesh and limb. Sheflourished, as if long accustomed to an arid life, her worldhad suddenly been filled with the thrill of a waterfall, and in theend, she wanted so much that it couldn't be, that a hoarse andgasped out cry of impatience ripped from his lungs, and they weretruly melded together. The shock of his body thrusting fully intoher own sent another wave of climactic ripples tearing through her,and then the night became nothing but movement, urgent, yearning,fast and spinning. Man and flesh, bed beneath, the world rocking,and vague impressions of the tension in his face, the fire inhis eyes, the hunger...and then...a catapult stiffness,ejaculation, and her climax, so violent, volatile, complete andalmost devastating that she cried out, shuddering like leavesblown in winter, again, ripples of aftermath sweeping over heragain and again until they subsided slowly to nothing more than thegasps of breath that still tore from her lungs.
The truth of shadows. The balcony doors, still open to thenight. The massive size of his bed, the books on the shelvesnearby, the very real feel of the person beside her, the one whohad mocked her, who didn't believe in ghosts, who had stared at herin such horror when she had found me skull.
She stared at a mote of shadow dust, almost like aminiature star, dancing in a pale ray of moonlight. Hestroked a hand through her hair, brushing it from her face, anddespite what she had always thought of as the honesty of her life,she curled against him with a soft groan, burying her face againsthis chest, far from the gray eyes that seemed to see far too muchwithin her, in daylight, shadow, and even darkness.
"Sh!" he murmured softly, and she realized that reality had comeback far more quickly to him, or perhaps, it had never lefthim.
"I think someone is downstairs."
"Someone...up to something?" she asked a little anxiously,and rose against him enough to see his face. He was smiling, aslow, lazy, rather self-satisfied smile. He cast an elbow behindhis head to rest againstit ashe studied her.
"Actually," he murmured politely, only a trace of amusement inhis tone, "I think that we might have awakened the living andthe dead."
Shadows could never hide the flood of crimson that came to hercheeks. "Lord! I'm sorry," she mumbled quickly, suddenly thinkingto escape.
His arm was around her. She wasn't moving.
"Are you?" he asked quietly. "I'm not." For a moment, hewas sincere, and there was something in his face and in his tonethat caught at her, heart and soul. But then he added, "Do youreally think we might have awakened the dead?"
And she knew that in his way, he still laughed at her.
She pushed away from him, meaning it, and he released her. Itwas frustrating to discover that she couldn't find her nightgown,it had become so entangled in the covers.
"Hey!" he said softly, drawing her back. And she was forced tomeet his face, and he asked,"Areyou sorry? Because, mostsincerely, I am not."
"You do think I'm a fake," she informed him, a frost of icecoming to her words.
He shook his head. "No. Never a fake."
She arched a brow. ' 'Are you referring to life-or sex?''
Again, that slow lazy smile that might have broken a hundredhearts. "Both, maybe."
"There's no future here," she said, somewhat primly.
"Does everything have to have a future?"
She shrugged. "No, maybe not. Could you move? You're on mynightgown."
She nodded firmly. "Back to the Lee Room."
"Then I'm coming with you."
She was startled, staring at him. He shifted, producing hergown. Then he rose, found the black knit boxers and a terry robe,and looked back at her. She stared at him, shimmied back into thegown.
"You don't have to-"
"Do you mind?"
"Then let's go."
"I'm not sure if this should be...a habit," she said.
He smiled. "Never thought of it as a habit."
"You're incredibly exasperating," she told him.
But he paused then, in front of the balcony doors, and again,his thumb and forefinger touched her chin.
"May I come with you to the Lee Room, if you find it soimportant to sleep there? We will, however, lock the balcony doors.I don't feel like entertaining any tricksters in the middle of thenight."
"Maybe you shouldn't come. Maybe I make great bait for thetrickster," she said.
Something hardened in his jaw. "You're not bait, and whateverthe hell you do, don't go thinking that way." He turned, drawingher with him. Inside, he locked the balcony doors.
"You left your balcony doors open," she pointed out.
He shrugged. "No one has ever disturbed anything in my room. Isimply don't want anyone in here. With us."
She was amazed to realize that just the sound of his voice madeher shiver again. Thrill throughout.
Then he walked toward her. "Trust me, no one will disturb ustonight."
She was drawn back into bis arms. "Darcy, let it go, please.Give us this. Let it be normal. Not normal. Incredible. Butstill...let tonight be. Just be...normal."
The feel of his lips.
And then everything that was raw and real and somehow stillmagic started all over again, and yet, this time, a thought creptinto the blindness of passion.
If only this could be a reality...
If only she reallywere...
The day was a surprise, Penny thought, sipping her coffee andstaring over the rim at Clint and Carter.
But then, all days were a bit different now, and she loved it.Darcy Tremayne had changed everything at Melody House. This,however, was amusing.
"How on earth do you think that she found that skull when no oneelse ever could?'' Clint said, shaking his head as he added jam tohis English muffin. "Creepy, huh? She must be for real."
Carter shrugged. "It's been out there for a long time. Maybeit's just that no one else ever really looked for it." Carterscratched his bearded chin. "Luck, maybe. Pure luck."
"Don't be ridiculous, gentlemen!" Penny protested. "She's thereal thing."
"Oh, come on, Penny. No one really has extrasensory perception,"Carter argued.
"She sure has a lot else," Clint murmured.
Carter offered a dry laugh. "But I think she's off-limits tous."
"He definitely has a thing for her," Clint agreed.
"Who?" Penny said.
They both stared at her as if she were totally blind.
"Matt," they said in unison.
"Oh," Penny said, settling back.
"And she's a redhead," Clint said, as if that made it all beyondcomprehension.
"Tall," Carter said.
"Really built," Clint said.
"Really, really, built!" Carter repeated.
Penny leaned closer to the table. "Well, boys, I do think thatyou're both out of luck. Because I think that she may have a bit ofa thing for Matt."
"But it's ridiculous," Carter said.
"Absolutely," Clint agreed.
"Why?" Penny demanded.
"Because she believes in ghosts," Clint explained, smilingbroadly. "Matt is like old Stone Mountain. He'll never accept theidea that she might be psychic. Now me, I'm charming-and I have anopen mind."
"Hell, the whole thing can't be real-can it?" Carter said,frowning. But then he forgot the main question. "Matt's still inlust, my friend," he advised Clint. "Lust can last a longtime."
"Yeah, it had to be lust with Lavinia."
"Hey, we were all in lust when she first showed up."
"Lavinia," Penny intervened, "was a bitch."
"Ah, but she had us all fooled," Clint teased.
"Me? Never," Penny assured him. "She didn't have what it took tohold on to Matt."
' 'Well, sleeping around never did make a marriage work realwell," Clint drawled sardonically.
"I don't think he cared by then," Penny said.
"Still, kind of uncanny-two redheads," Clint said.
"One a bitch-and one a psychic," Carter said amused. "Clint,surely, this field still has to be open to us."
"Matt will never really get involved with her," Clint agreed."I, on the other hand, would not care in the least if such a womancommuned with the ancients on a daily basis. I'd just thank heavenabove that she was mine."
"Clint Stone, that was a lovely thought, and quitesurprising from you," Penny applauded him.
"Yeah, and it's bullshit. You just think she's hot,"Carter said.
"Hey!" Clint argued.
"Well, let's face it. She may be smooth, intelligent, cool, andlovely, but Matt is in lust. She's really not his type," Cartersaid.
They were all startled by the voice that spoke from the kitchendoorway. Penny actually jumped up, nearly knocking her chairover. She hadn't looked out yet, but it was nine in the morning andMatt was usually long gone by then.
Carter had the grace to flush. He shrugged. "She's a psychic,"he said again, as if that explained his take on everything.
Penny, anxious to defuse a possible situation, broke in quickly."Matt! I thought you'd left for the office long ago. I've neverseen you home so late in the morning."
Clint looked down at his muffin. ' 'Darcy does resembleLavinia," he murmured.
"Not in any way, shape, or form," Matt said.
"Coffee?" Penny offered brightly.
"No, I'm late. I'm going in."
"Any word yet on the skull?" Carter asked.
"I'll find out when I get to the station."
"We all know that it belongs to our poor, decapitated miss ofeons past," Carter said.
"Most probably," Matt agreed. "It's still a human skull, andthere are laws regarding human remains."
"Of course," Carter said, looking at Matt. Then heshivered. "Scary, huh? Maybe Darcy knows things about all ofus that we would just as soon no one knew."
Matt turned around and walked out.
"That is scary," Clint murmured.
"Oh, come on, why?" Penny tsked.
"Because it's quite true, we all have skeletons in our closets,"Clint told her.
Shirley Jamison was, just like clockwork, at the front desk whenMatt walked into the sheriff's station. She smiled at him,apparently not at all curious as to why he was late. Apparently,everyone had known that he'd worked late hours the nightbefore.
"Hey!" She was a slim, attractive woman of about thirty-five,and truly pleasant. She loved her job, her husband, her twoperfect little children. She'd been born in Stoneyville, and neverhad the least temptation to move elsewhere. Her husband, Ray, was abuilding contractor, and just as pleasant as Shirley. Matt used towonder if there was something artificial about their constantcheer, but oddly enough they seemed to be a genuinely happycouple.
"I heard you were here until the wee hours," she said. "I didn'texpect you in so soon, but I was actually about to call you athome. Digger called."
Digger was actually Darrell Jordy, an exceptionalosteo-anthropologist who worked at the Smithsonian museum inD.C.
"And?" Digger was a busy guy. He was given bones to study bypolice agencies across the country, not to mention the FBI.Matt had never expected him to get to the skull the first thingwhen he had walked in that morning.
She shrugged. "Just what you thought. The skull carbon dated atabout a hundred and fifty years. He said he already told you itonce belonged to a young woman, between fifteen and twenty-fiveyears of age. Seems she fits right in with the old story about thejealous older sister who hacked up her younger sibling."
He shrugged. "Glad to hear it."
"They've already called from the newspaper, too. They want toknow when you're planning to see that the head gets buried with thebody."
"Exactly who called?"
Aubry would sensationalize the whole thing. Granted, they were asmall town. And thankfully, in the local paper, small events wereoften given headlines. He still dreaded the kind of attention theskull was going to receive.
"Oh, come on, Matt! It is a great story. Sad, but now with anending."
"Aubry will play up the ghost bit, then hone in on Darcy andHarrison Investigations."
He threw up his arms. Was the whole place ghost story crazy?
The word ricocheted in his head. He was definitely crazy.Inlust.Who the hell had said it, Carter or Cliff? Did itmatter? He wished that was the long and short of it. Every time helearned something new about her, he only wanted more. There was somuch about her that was an enigma, but then looking into her eyeshe could see the honesty, the fear, and most of all, the terriblewariness. As if any closeness was an enormous risk. Well, it was.She was...different. And he did have a guard up against her, itjust wasn't doing him much good. The second he had risen, he hadwanted nothing more than to he back down beside her, feel the coolsilk of her flesh, watch those eyes open, vulnerable if only for asecond. She was truly the most sensuous and incredible lover he'dever known, and maybe that had been half to do with him, becausebeing with her made him just want so much more, and to be so muchmore himself. His world had changed because of a ridiculous chancemeeting in the night.
A bizarre incident at that, because she was the ghost catcher,he was the rational man, and she had been convinced thatthere had been a real person out on the balcony, and he sure ashell hadn't found evidence of anyone when he had searched. Whenthey'd opened Melody House to the public, they'd had alarmsinstalled in the main house and the stables. Nuts. It was allsimply nuts, and getting worse. And it was going to get worse. Hesimply would not accept the kind of sensationalism the media wouldtry to put on this latest event. He could not accept that some kindof doorway to the dead had allowed her to find the skull.
But then, she had said that research had led her to it. Pray Godshe remembered that when talking to the papers. But he could seeagain the way she had looked, digging frantically, and thenproducing the skull. An image that had chilled him...
He should have thought of that before last night. But what thehell did either of them think that they were doing? It was sex inthe twenty-first century. Most adults indulged on a whim now andthen. He'd had his own share of too-casual relationships. Could beit was just another. Temptation and hormones and humaninstinct.
Except that it wasn't.
"I'll be in my office," he said, a bit too gruffly. Shirleylooked at him, puzzled. He couldn't explain.
Darcy woke at a quarter of eight, realized that Matt was gone,and tried to reflect on both the wonder and idiocy of the nightgone by. But thinking about it merely made her head hurt.
Granted, she didn't have much of what could be called a sociallife, and as far as a sex life went, it certainly had beennonexistent for a very long time. That had been mainly her choice.But her college years had made her feel somewhat punch-drunk, andsince she was afraid of the outcome of any involvement, it hadseemed prudent to be a very private person. She had a loving familyand good friends at Harrison Investigations, who understood what itwas like to be different. She had never imagined such anoverwhelming physical attraction to a man, and she had notenvisioned that she could feel such an emotional pull to someonelike Matt Stone.
The thought that last night had been a serious mistake came onlythis morning, when Darcy awoke. And along with it, of course, wasthe knowledge that she was going to get hurt, because she didn'tseem able to put the relationship in any kind of perspective. Shefelt a tremendous aching for what happened with Matt to besomething that could go on...and on. Amazing, when he had trulybeen such a jerk when they had met, how living in a man's house,knowing those who knew him well, could give so much insight to hisMe, and his true character. She hadn't felt this way since...well,maybe forever. And it was so foolish. She felt elated, havingpushed so much that could be incredible between a man and a womanto the back burners of her existence, and also miserable, because asimple night had created a fantasy, a new excitement, and it wassomething that she well knew could never really be. Her bed nowcontained the simple, subtle scent of the man within it, memoriesof warmth and fire, passion and a closeness that remainedstaggering in its brief intensity.
She started to rise, then decided to screw the notion. Shedidn't have to be anywhere-other than exactly where she was. Theday might look a little better and everything might make more senseif she just had a little sleep.
She would close her eyes for a few minutes more, and maybe get,at the least, just a bit more rest.
Yet even in a subconscious state, falling into a far deepersleep than she had imagined, she knew when the dream state came,when the actions and emotions of the past slipped into her, almostas if she slipped into the skin of another. And she knew instantly,on that distant plane, that she had now encountered two people.First, a man, then a woman, and now a man again. And that whattrauma had taken place between them had reached a heated pinnaclehere, in this room, where she slept. She could see herself, below,at the door, though she couldn't make out face or form, because shewas seeing fromhiseyes, as if the memories of long agohad entered her mind as completely as they had, at one time,touched his reality.
Staring up at the house, he knew that it was empty, exceptforher.And so he stepped inside, quietly closing thedoor behind him.
He knew the house. Knew those who usually peopled it,surrounded it, called it home, or laid a claim to the place. And heknew where they all were. Just as he was aware that she would havecome here, thinking she had the right to do so.
She didn't have the right.
She had no rights.
And what she might have imagined had come to her throughhim!
There was nothing that night to bar his entry. As he hadknown. He didn't care if she had heard the door close. She wouldknow he was there soon enough. He stood in the foyer, staring upthe stairs, hands rapping idly against his pockets. He felt thebulge in the one. Ah, yes, the item he had stuffed in it earlier. Astrip of leather from the stables. He pulled it from his pocket,stretched it out between his hands, tightened it until theleather was taut...
Easy to do. He was a strong man. Actually, quitestrong.
Stronger even than he appeared.
A protest echoed in his head. A protest againsthimself.
He gritted his teeth, and the whole of his body was as tautas the strip of leather between his hands.
He forced himself to relax.
And he looked to the stairs again....
"Darcy! Darcy! Are you all right dear?"
Jostled from the dream, Darcy winced, bolting up. The rapping onher door sounded like thunder, and she rued the interruption with adeep dismay. She'd begun to see so much so clearly. And if only,she thought, she could see these images through, she would have theanswers.
"Penny, I'm fine. Just overslept, that's all!" she calledout.
"Thank God! I thought that maybe the ghost of the Lee Roomhad...well, never mind. I don't mind telling you that it makes mequite nervous, you sleeping in there alone at night!"
Darcy stared blankly at the door, wondering if Penny would feelbetter if she realized that she hadn't actually been sleeping inthere alone last night.
"I-I'm fine," she repeated.
' 'Want me to bring you up a tray?'' Penny asked.
"No, no, I'll be right down, thanks."
' 'Darcy?'' Penny persisted beyond the door.
"I just had to tell you. You were so right-and soingenuous! The skull you found was the poor younger sister.You're incredible! Well, we assume it must be her, of course, Imean, I think that's the only story we have about a young girl ofthat age. We have some other female ghosts, of course, but they allhave their heads. You're amazing!"
"We'll get her buried-well, we'll get her head buried with herbody!-and she'll be able to rest in peace, or something like that,right?"
"Something like that, yes," Darcy called.
"Well, I'll be down in my office if you need me. I'll leavefresh coffee in the kitchen for whenever you want it."
She heard the housekeeper walk away as she closed her eyes. Sheopened them again. She wasn't going to be able to fall back asleep,and it wouldn't matter anyway, she didn't think. She had lost theslender cord of just exactly whatever it was that she couldsometimes hold.
Darcy looked around the room and held still.
The presence was there, but...
In the background. Watching. Not coming forward. Waiting?
Josh, where are you? Why can't you help me in here?Shethought.
No answer. She spoke aloud. "Josh?"
It wasn't that she'd ever had complete control of finding him.He was her spirit guide. John, a Shoshoni friend and another ofAdam's employees, had once tried to explain to her. There besideher, with her, because he had loved her so dearly as a friend whenhe had lived.
And because, somehow, with his death, he had passed his strangegift-or curse-on to her.
"Josh, you helped me in the forest, why not here?"
But she knew. The sense of violence and bitterness that lingeredin this room was too strong. Suddenly, she was anxious to get outherself.
Strange, Matt just being in the room had changed it somuch....
She wasn't here to feel secure and safe. She was here to solvethe puzzle.
She rose, unnerved, and wondering why. She had long agoaccustomed herself to ghosts.
It was the living who could hurt you!
She bad beard that often enough. And she had believed it, stillbelieved it.
But then again...
She had never experienced things quite the way they werehappening in the Lee Room.
There was no way not to talk to Max Aubry. Though Matt didn'treturn the call, Aubry caught him at one o'clock sharp, right whenhe was heading out to the Wayside Inn to get some lunch.
"Matt! Hey, I've been trying to get you on the phone."
"Yeah, sorry, I had a late night," Matt said. Aubryreminded him of a weasel. The guy was an inch or so tallerthan he was, which made him around six-four, but he was so skinnyhe appeared taller. Maybe because he couldn't seem to get an inchof either fat or muscle on his bones, he shaved his head for afiercer look. Didn't help. He just looked like a hungry ferret.
"Tell me about the skull."
"I'm just heading out for some lunch."
"Great. I'll join you."
Max stared at him.
"Business appointment, huh?" Aubry said. He knew Matt didn'tlike him. It wasn't really a personal thing. Matt just thought thatjournalists were supposed to report the news, and not make up whatthey'd like to be the story that went with it.
"Give me something. I'm going to head out and interviewthat young lady working for you. I just thought that you might wantto give me a word or two first."
"Sure." Matt stood still, feeling the summer sun. "Miss Tremayneis working for a firm called Harrison Investigations. Theylook into so-calledhauntings.They do research onan area-and reveal when those who call themselves psychicsare using fog machines to create ghostly images. We have a lot offolklore around here, which is usually based on fact. Everyschoolkid in the area has heard about the headless girl in theforest. Miss Tremayne made use of the library to investigate themurder, determined where it must have taken place, and foundthe missing skull."
"So the ghost will no longer haunt the forest, is that right,Sheriff?"
"I was never of the persuasion that a ghostdidhauntthe forest," he said firmly. "And if you write anything different,Aubry, you'll have a lawsuit on your hands."
"Ah, come on, Matt!"
"I mean it, Aubry. You caused a poison scare here when JulieCristopher had a stomachache one afternoon. The do-nut shop nearlyhad to shut down because you stated it was the last place she hadeaten."
"Itwasthe last place she had eaten."
"But she hadn't been poisoned! She told the doctor at thehospital that she'd drunk milk she probably shouldn't have becauseher brother had left it out on the table overnight!"
"Kids! What are you going to do?" Aubry said, brushing thecomplaint aside.
"I'm not a kid. And if you print a bunch of fiction, Aubry, I'llsee you in court."
"All right, all right! You sure have got some hang-ups, Sheriff.Ghosts are good for a place like Melody House."
"Why in hell does everyone believe that?"
"Because the rest of the world has a sense of romance! Butexcuse me, go have your lunch. I'm sure your Yankee investigatorwill be a lot nicer. Sheesh!"
Aubry turned and walked away. Matt was tempted to call him backand somehow tell him not to go after Darcy.
But he couldn't.
Aubry had every legal right in the world to interview whoever hewanted.
He watched Aubry go, damning himself. He should have given theman some time, given him a better story, and he might have leftDarcy alone. He considered calling Darcy to warn her. Tellher...what? Tell her that no matter what the hell she reallybelieved, she had to tell Aubry that she didn't believe inghosts?
Swearing, he headed for his car. As he slid into the driver'sseat, he was startled to feel a strange urge to head somewhere,other than the Wayside Inn.
His fingers froze around the keys in the ignition. He could havesworn that he heard the word as clearly as if someone had spokenout loud to him.
Matt groaned, leaning his head against the steering wheel. Theywere all going to make him crazy. Had to be something on the backburner of his mind coming forward. And now, for some stupid reason,he kept hearing it echo.
Hell, no, he wasn't getting caught up in all this.
Angry with himself, he started to drive toward the WaysideInn.
Darcy hadn't intended to go back to the library that day, butPenny was so determined to talk about the skull that she didn'tthink she could stay in the house. It wasn't that she didn't likePenny, and like her very much. She simply didn't want to try toexplain just what her "extrasensory" perceptions were. She didn'tunderstand it all herself- how on earth could she explain it all toanother person?
Then, as well, both Clint and Carter had been in the house. Andtheyhad wanted to talk. Clint had been charming,but too curious, winking and asking her if she could help him findthe cuff links he had lost last Christmas. Carter had simply wantedto talk, to know her past, what other mysteries she had unraveled.Both had seemed to want to probe her mind, and though she likedthem both so very much, she had wanted equally to escape.
She had enjoyed the library and Mrs. O'Hara, and decidedto take refuge there where she could research Amy Clayton's family.She was sure that someone in the area had to know where the familygraveyard could be found, but the library, she wascertain,would have local records.
She knew the minute she saw Mrs. O'Hara that the woman had heardshe had found the skull. It was a small town. News traveledquickly. But Mrs. O'Hara didn't question her, other than to ask ifshe wanted tea. Darcy decided to accept a cup. Mrs. O'Hara had anice sense of perception herself-she found the record book Darcywanted behind the desk, as if she'd searched for it as soon asshe'd heard the news.
"If you're looking for anything else local," Mrs. O'Hara toldher, "just head up to the loft level." She pointed to stairs whichled to the walkway that circled the perimeter of the upper floor.The intricately carved railings made it seem almost as if thelibrary had originally been built as a grand old home, rather thanas a public facility. Mrs. O'Hara grinned, seeing her look up andaround. "Originally, thiswas partof an old plantation.It belonged to a man named Geoffrey Huntington, and he was verygood friends with Thomas Jefferson, among other notable men. But hewas a Loyalist, and the main house was burned during theRevolution. Luckily, he had this structure planned as anoutbuilding, his own private retreat, and the furious Patriots werehappy to keep his book collection alive and well, since he wasforced out of the country. It's beautiful, isn't it? And everythingis original. Except for some of the books, of course. Thankfully,the place was very large, because over the years we've accumulatedmany fine collections of books.''
"It's an extraordinary library," Darcy told her sincerely.
"On the National Register of Historic Buildings," Mrs. O'Harasaid proudly. "We may have to add on soon, though."
"I imagine that it's far better for a library to have too manybooks than too few," Darcy said.
"Naturally!" Mrs. O'Hara agreed.
With her cup of tea and the old book Mrs. O'Hara had alreadyfound for her, Darcy curled up in one of the stuffed armchairs onthe ground floor and began to read.
The Clayton family had left the area in the late-eighteenhundreds. They had, however, arrived in the mid-seventeen hundreds,and had maintained a family plot in the Christ's Church burialground. The record book-a horribly boring tome-listed family names,occupations, marriages, baptisms, deaths, and little more,but it actually offered a plot map of Christ's Church and thesurrounding graveyard. It wasn't far from Melody House at all. Oncethe skull was deemed ancient by the proper authorities, Darcyassumed there would be no difficulty seeing that it was buriedalong with the rest of poor Amy Clayton.
She set the book down and looked up the stairway, notingagain just how exceptionally fine the building was. Naturally,since a wealthy and influential man-who had apparently lovedreading and books-had planned it for himself. But still, few townscould possibly have such a gem of a library. The stairway waswinding, the wood old and polished, and it appeared that even therunner on the stairs was as old as the facility.
She decided that it was time to set the record book aside andhead up to see what else she could find.
At the top of the stairway she discovered that theflooring of the loft was really little more than scaffolding.The runner extended only up the stairs, then curved into an arch atthe landing, while the flooring itself then became polishedwood, apparently very well tended.
Darcy began to peruse the different books. Some would be oflittle interest to anyone other than people who found their ownfamily names, and yet she thought that it was quite wonderful thatso many people from the area might come here and find out aboutancestors. There were books with nothing more than family names onthem, or titles that explained their contents exactly, such asMarriagesamong the Grangers of Stoneyville,andThe Murtons Who Attended Grace Church.She smiled,slipping out a volume now and then, and finding most to be veryold. It seemed that people hadn't kept such simple record books ina very long time. Or maybe, life just hadn't been that simple in avery long time.
A book on a high shelf caught her eye.The Stones ofMelody House.She was delighted to see it, and once again,touched by the people of decades past who had found every littledetail of life worthy of recording.
Deciding it was one volume she definitely needed to read, Darcystarted to reach up for it. She was tall but she really had tostretch.
As she balanced on both toes, she heard a sudden creakingsound from the boards under her feet. Even as she frowned, thefloorboard directly beneath her suddenly gave.
She grabbed frantically for the shelf in front of her. Too late,because it had all happened too quickly. For a second frozen intime, she staggered where she stood, knowing that the wood beneathher had failed, and that she was going to crash into a sheer drop.She was disbelieving, even as the simple rules of physics tore atthe weight of her body.
She cried out, a whoosh of air escaping from her lungs as shefelt herself suddenly plunge downward.
She grasped out desperately for any hold, all the whilewondering,How? Why? Mrs. O'Hara would never havesentanyone upstairs if it wasn't safe-
The sound of wood crashing to the floor below came to her earsjust as she managed to reach out and grasp hold of the nearestcrosswise support beam. Her downward impetus was so strongthat her desperate scramble for hold caused instant agony in hershoulder sockets, and yet, there was an instant of relief andincredulity when she realized that she had stopped herself.
For the moment.
For the moment, yes, only the moment, her grasp upon thecrossbeam was so tenuous, and it already seemed that her fingerswere slick with perspiration and slipping.
Another scream sounded, and not from her own lips.
It was Mrs. O'Hara, crying out from beneath her.
And it was then that she fully realized herself that she wasdangling from the crossbeam, her legs swinging a good twenty feetabove the floor below.
She rued the long-ago wealthy plantation owner who had designedsuch a library.
"Hang on! Hang on!" Mrs. O'Hara cried out to her. "I've called911. Books! I'll pile some books, the cushions from the chairs,just hold on dear, hold on!"
No other thought had occurred to Darcy, but even as the womancalled out, Darcy could feel the terrible pressure on herarms and shoulder blades. She hadn't really realized her ownimminent danger until that minute-she had only congratulatedherself on catching hold of the crossbeam.
But how long could she hold on?
Mrs. O'Hara had dialed 911. Darcy wasn't certain that help couldbe there momentarily. And still....
It had been seconds, surely. No more than minutes. Her armsached as if she had been stretched on a medieval rack. She wasn't atotal weakling, but neither was she ready for championshipwrestling.
"Darcy, oh, dear! Hang on, dear! There's help coming!"Mrs. O'Hara called to her.
Darcy looked down. She shouldn't have. The distance between herand the ground floor seemed gaping. Looking downward seemed tocreate a greater burden on her arms. She winced, grated her teeth,and began to fear that her fingers would slip no matter how shestrained to hang on.
"I can't imagine how this has happened!" Mrs. O'Hara criedanxiously. "Please, please...hang on." There had been no one elsein the small library at that time. Too early for theschoolchildren, and perhaps too late for any legal assistants orlocal researchers. Darcy felt faint, looking at the distancebetween her own dangling body and the puny little cushion Mrs.O'Hara was trying to arrange beneath her.
She closed her eyes, in agony, wondering if she would just breakmost of her bones if she gave up her hold, or if she'd break herneck and die as well. Despite the pain in her arms and the fearthat any second they were simply going to wrench from theirsockets, it seemed as if a haze of blackness was beginning to takeover. She wondered desperately if she still had the strength to tryto swing her legs upward and find a hold with her ankles and calveson the torn-up floor above her.
"Darcy?" Mrs. O'Hara called.
"I always knew I should have trained for Cirque du Soleil!"Darcy tossed back, wondering why she felt that she had to soundlight and okay even though she definitely wasn't. She looked up atthe hole in the floor. She'd have to kick through other boards toget back up. But if the one had given, then maybe...
Fingers, hands, and arms in anguish, she gave a swing, kickingat the boards above. She nearly broke her toes.
All the other floorboards were as tight as could be. The effortnearly cost her the tenuous hold she had on the crossbeam. Blackdots were forming before her eyes. She clenched her eyes tightly,knowing she would lose her grip any second.
She was startled to hear Matt's voice. So much so that shethought she was losing her grip on reality.
"Darcy, it's me, Matt. Just let go. I'm going to catch you.Trust me."
Trust him. Just let go.
"Darcy, I'm below you. Let go. I won't let you get hurt."
Trust him... it had nothing to do with trust. Shecouldn'thold on any longer.
Her fingers were too stiffly wound around the crossbeam,but it didn't matter. They were slipping. She never really letgo.
She simply fell, because her fingers lost their grasp.
And a scream of instinctive terror tore from her lips.
In the split second in which she fell, she anticipated her bonescrushing, her blood splattering across the floor, her head...
Matt didn't fall, but staggered back as Darcy fell into hisarms. The distance hadn't been so great, but she wasnaturally trying to resist the impetus of the fall upon herbody, and she flailed wildly, desperately grabbing him as he caughther.
For a moment, they wavered, then he lost his balance, even if hedid so with a certain amount of coordination. He went down upon hisknees, cradling her against him. For several seconds, she had adeath grip on him, and then her eyes met his, wide, those of astartled rabbit, and a shudder of relief went through her.
"You all right?" he asked quickly.
She nodded. Then her fingers went through his hair and shesmiled. "You're covered in dust."
"Your shirt is ripped and your arm is bleeding," he toldher.
"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!" Mrs. O'Hara said, hoveringover them both. They could hear a siren then. A car from thestation. "This was all so impossible! We have building inspectorsin regularly! I walk on that floor all the time and I know thatit's sound. Was sound. Oh, my God, I had thought that it was sound.The schoolchildren go up there when they're studying. Lord, itcould have been a child, a little boy or girl who couldn't get agrasp to save themselves...oh, Darcy! I am so sorry! Matt, thankGod that you arrived when you did."
Thank God that he had arrived when he did.
Strange chills ripped through him, and he stared at Darcy, stillin his tense grip as they both lay sprawled on the floor.
Darcy eased her hold from around Matt's neck, stumbling toher feet, offering him a hand to rise as well. He took her hand,but stood up on his own power. She was still shaking. She might besmiling, ready to make light of the whole thing, but it wasn't anincident that could be dismissed.
"Go ahead and put a Closed sign on the door, Mrs. O'Hara," Mattsaid.
"Yes, yes, of course," Mrs. O'Hara said, but still stood lookingat Darcy. "The police car is coming but we need an ambulance."
"No!" Darcy protested. "I'm fine."
"Your arm is bleeding," Matt informed her firmly.
"A scratch. I'm all right, honestly. I just hope I didn't breakany of your bones, falling on you as I did."
She, too, was covered in dust, or sawdust, whatever had givenwith the flooring. As he stared at her, Matt heard the car outsidescreech to a halt; Thayer Martin and Jimmy Tyson came bursting intothe library.
"It's all right!" Matt called out quickly, still staring atDarcy.But it wouldn't have been all right. By the time theywould have arrived, Darcy would have been on the floor. Maybe notdead, but surely, severely injured.
"What the hel-heck happened?" Thayer demanded, staring at Mattand Darcy and the debris, and then Mrs. O'Hara.
"Flooring collapsed," Matt said briefly. He turned to look athis two officers who were surveying the damage with amazement. ''Get the building inspector in here right away."
"Will do," Thayer told him, pulling out his radio. Matt wasdimly aware that Thayer was calling the situation in, and thatJimmy was walking carefully around the downed boards. He couldn'ttake his eyes off Darcy, and he was suddenly feeling chilled andstrange himself.What in God's name had suddenly convinced himthat he needed to come to the library? If he hadn't been here. Buthe had been. He never just drove to the library in the middle ofthe day. But despite being determined to head for the WaysideInn, he had come here.
Another siren, and then, Jenkins and Smith from fire rescue werecoming through the door. Thayer briefed them, and Smith headed forDarcy.
"We'll get you to the hospital, miss," Smith saidpolitely, looking her over with a trained eye.
"I don't need to go to the hospital, please!" sheinsisted.
"Show him your arm, Darcy," Matt said curtly. Too curtly. He sawher frown, but then she opted to turn with Smith and allow him totake a look at her.
"Let's get you into a chair and take a look," Smith said.Fifty-five, gray, bearded and bushy, Harry Smith was as competent aman as any to be found anywhere. He had a manner about him that wascalming under the worst of circumstances, and Darcy accepted hispressure on her arm, taking a chair by the library desk.
Matt could hear them speaking softly as he strode the stairs upto the loft himself to take a look at the spot where Darcy had gonethrough.
Moving carefully along the floorboards, he got down on his handsand knees as he neared the faulty area. It looked as if a sectionof the boards had rotted right through.Onlyasection.The library was hundreds of years old, hereminded himself.
So were half the buildings in the town. They were alsosound.
He walked carefully to the railing to looked down. Smith wasstaring up at him. "Miss Tremayne refuses to come to the hospital.She says she's fine. We're going to drive her back to Melody House.She wants to drive herself. Penny's car is here. Can someonetake it?"
Darcy had jumped up beside Smith. "I am fine!" she called up tohim. "Ifell onyou!"
"You're still shaken up," Smith informed her.
"Really, I'm just fine. My arm is just scratched!" Darcyprotested.
"I'll get Penny's car back," Matt said. "That's not a problem.Darcy, let them give you a ride. I'll be along in a bit. I want tobe here when the building inspector shows up." He offered her agrimace and a wave.
"Honestly, I can drive," Darcy protested.
"I'm sure you can. Humor us all," Matt told her.
Looking up at him, her shirt ripped, covered in sawdust, she wasstill stunning. Hair wild and eyes large, body stiff withindignity, she was more appealing to him than ever.
The girl is strange,he tried to remind himself.
She was ethical, dignified, beautiful, and often remote, aswell. There was something about her manner that cried out to him ina way that he had never known. Lust, sure. She was supple, sinuous,elegant, and entirely sensual in her every little movement.Somewhere under it all, she was also wounded.
He could only hurt her worse, he thought. And still...
He doubted that could keep him away.
"I'll be back to Melody House as soon as I can," he said.
She set her jaw out stubbornly, looked as if she'd protestagain, then accepted Smith's arm, thanking him for his care andconcern.
Penny waited anxiously at the door, having received a call fromMrs. O'Hara at the library. She raced out the moment she sawSmith's rescue vehicle pull up by the front door.
"You poor, poor dear!" she told Darcy, slipping an arm aroundher shoulders before she had quite managed to exit the car door."Come right in. We'll get you going in a nice hot bath. That willease your muscles. Then I'll make you some tea with whiskey-theIrish swear that it's a cure-all. Thank God you weren't hurt worse!It's a miracle. You might have broken your neck. Or every bone inyour body. My God! How could we have let such a thing happenin Stoneyville?"
Darcy smiled at her. "Penny, I keep telling everyone that I'mabsolutely fine, and no one wants to believe me."
Harry Smith had come around the front of the emergencyvehicle and stood in silence, watching the exchange. "Would youlike some coffee or tea?" Penny asked him. "You're on duty, so Ican't lace yours, of course," she said, disturbed that she soundedso prim. She bad always liked him. Such an incredibly kind man,always so calm and capable. Her heart had simply bled for him lastyear when his wife, just fifty-two, had succumbed to cancer.
"Thanks, Penny, I'm going on back. I left my partner at thelibrary to take a quick look at Matt. I've got to get him and getback to work."
"Matt is hurt?" Penny said anxiously.
"Not a bit. We just wanted to make sure."
"Thank you," Penny said, still standing there, her arm aroundDarcy.
"Well, see you both later," Harry said. "Miss Tremayne,you get a headache, anything out of the ordinary-"
"I never hit my head on anything, honestly," Darcy said.
He nodded, waved, walked around and got into the emergency van.Penny and Darcy watched him leave, then Penny collected herself."Poor thing! Up, up. Clara Issy even went into the Lee Room to getyour bath going. In fact," Penny added, looking at Darcy wryly,"she was up there yelling at the ghost."
"Yelling at the ghost?" Darcy said.
Penny hesitated, then said, "Yes, dear. We were both thinkingthat...well, we're thinking that the ghost should just be leftalone. We know that the ghost has violent urges, and we're afraid,that for some reason, the ghost is now out to get you."
Darcy shook her head. "The ghost is trying to tell us something,Penny. Not hurt me."
"Come in, let's get you out of all that dirt and sawdust,"Penny said. She looked Darcy over. Mussed, yes, daunted, no.
"Honestly," she said softly, leading Darcy into the house. "Idon't want you to take this the wrong way, but...I think you shouldleave."
"The ghost is supposed to be in the house, not thelibrary!" Darcy said.
"But maybe this ghost is so disturbed by you that it followedyou."
"And maybe the floorboards are just really old, and theygave."
"Well, go on up. Everything will certainly be more logicalonce we've all thought about it a bit," Penny said.
Darcy stopped at the foot of the stairs and stared at her."Penny, weren't you the one who wanted someone to come here-toprove to Matt that there were ghosts, I believe."
"Yes, I was. But that was then, and this is now." Penny wasexasperated. Darcy didn't seem to understand that she could reallybe in danger.
"Penny, honestly, I do believe there is a presence in the LeeRoom trying very hard to make itself known, and understood. Idon't believe it followed me to the library. What happened to mewas frightening, but I'm fine, and it might have happened toanyone. It could have been a child, and Matt might not have beenthere in time."
"Yes, that's strange, isn't it?" Penny mused. How had Mattmanaged to be there at just the right time?
"Strange, perhaps, but lucky," Darcy said. Penny was startledwhen Darcy suddenly put her hands on her shoulders, drew herclose, and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'm fine, Penny,and I'm not afraid of the ghost in the Lee Room. And I'm verydetermined. I'll run up and bathe, and be back down. That tea youwere talking about sounds great. But don't go treating me like aninvalid. I have a scratch on my arm, nothing more."
Darcy ran up the stairs and Penny watched her go. She stood inthe foyer on the first floor landing for a very long time, stillstaring long after Darcy had disappeared.
She shook her head.
It would be terrible if something were to happen to Darcy.
She really needed to talk her into leaving.
Dan Platt was the building inspector called into thelibrary. Naturally, and with Matt's full agreement andsupport, they were closing the library until a thoroughinspection could be made.
Still, Matt wanted a preliminary report.
Dan, midforties, with iron-gray hair and a muscledphysique, stood in his hard hat, hands on his hips. "Rightnow, it looks like the boards just gave."
"Why those boards?" Matt demanded.
"There are no leaks. I looked at the roof."
"Sometimes, leaks can slip down the walls and into floorswithout being evident. There are other possibilities."
"Something spilled there, maybe. Who knows? Maybe kids came inwith some kind of acidic drinks, spilled them, and were too chickento let Mrs. O'Hara know what had happened. A spilled drink thatwasn't wiped up would definitely damage this old wood. I'mnot sure, exactly, Matt. But it doesn't look as if there was anytampering, though why anyone would tamper with the library to beginwith is beyond me."
"I'd still like an analysis done on the boards that gaveout."
"Sure. If that's what you want."
"Definitely, it's what I want."
Dan looked at Matt as if he was going off the deep end, but hesaid, "We'll do a thorough investigation, and see that the rottenpieces are analyzed."
Matt nodded. "Great."
Dan started back up the stairs. Matt stood in the now emptyground floor, and waited. When Dan and his workers hadfinished, Matt headed back up the stairs himself. It wasn't that hedidn't have complete faith in Dan Platt. Nor did he have the leastsuspicion that Dan wouldn't do a thorough job.
He took an evidence bag from the pocket of his jacket andselected a piece of the rotten floorboard from the area beneath thelocal history sections.
Downstairs, he chose another.
At last, he exited the library, saw that the building waslocked, and that the notice that the facility was closed wasobviously displayed on the doors.
When he left, he didn't head home. He was taking a drive intoWashington. On the way, he put a call in to Shirley, letting herknow that he'd be out, but to call him on his cell in anemergency.
It wasn't a long drive. Still, the day would be gone by the timehe returned.
Darcy was sitting in the dining room with Penny, drinkingher whiskey-laced tea, when Clint came rushing in. She was touchedby the way he came to her instantly, hunched down and gave her asimple, but very warm hug. Then he backed away, his hands still onher arms, his eyes anxious. "Are you really okay?" he asked.
"Perfectly," she assured him.
"I've told her she should leave," Penny said firmly, lifting hercup for a long swallow of tea.
"Because of the library?" Clint said, straightening at last andstaring at Penny with a frown.
"I think the ghost is following her," Penny said.
"Following her?" Clint repeated incredulously, sliding into oneof the chairs at the table. "Penny, that's insane."
Clint let out a long breath. "I'm not convinced there is aghost."
"Then you're an idiot," Penny said primly.
Clint arched a brow to Darcy, smiling in amusement. "Penny, inthe old days, I spent many a night in that room. You know it."
"How old are you now, Clinton Stone? Over thirty, right?"
"You should have been married long ago, with a family of yourown."
Clint sat back, his brows raised in surprise. "Penny, somepeople just aren't the marrying kind."
She shook a finger at him. "Some people just aren't mature andresponsible!"
"Right. I should get married-like Matt did."
Penny looked abashed. "Lavinia seemed right for him at thetime."
Clint sniffed, then grinned at Darcy. "See, there's alwaysa way out of a tongue-lashing by Penny."
"Penny? Darcy? Where is everyone?" came a call from thefoyer.
Carter. The household was all arriving, so it seemed.
"Dining room!" Darcy called out.
Carter came striding in. Like Clint, he made his way straight toDarcy, bent down on a knee, and took her hand. He looked earnestlyinto her eyes. "Are you all right?"
She smiled. "I'm fine. And I'm going to take out an ad in thenewspaper soon, swearing that I'm fine." She looked at Penny andadded softly. "And that I'm not leaving."
"Leaving? Why should you leave?" Carter asked frowning.
"Penny thinks the ghost followed her to the library and pushedthe floorboards through."
Carter tried to hide a smile. "Why would the ghost do that? Ithought that she was here to talk to the ghost."
"Go ahead, make fun of me, you ruffians!" Penny saidindignantly.
Carter found a chair at the table as well. "Penny, I'm notmaking fun of you. My question is why? If there is a ghost, and I'mnot at all convinced myself, one would think that the ghost wantedto talk to someone. Clear the air. Be released from its terriblecurse of haunting, moaning, and chain dragging!"
"Our ghosts have never dragged chains around-or even moaned, forthat matter," Penny said, a hard edge in her voice.
Carter was trying very hard not to smile. "Penny, I'm sorry,honestly, I'm not mocking you. I just can't see any correlationbetween old floorboards giving out and a ghost that should berelegated to haunting a single place. I mean, what ghost have youever heard about that travels around the countryside hauntingdifferent places?"
She stared at him hard. "You want my opinion?"
"Well, not really," Clint murmured softly, playfully.
Penny cast him a baleful glance. "You two and Matt think that itwould be an unmanly-unmacho-thing to believe in ghosts,and therefore, you won't accept anything. Even though Darcyfound poor Amy's skull in a day when it had been missing for over ahundred years! She won't admit it, but I say that the ghost toldher where to find it."
"Didthe ghost tell you where to find it?" Clint askedDarcy.
Despite herself, Darcy felt a flush rising. Penny neededbacking, but she didn't want to get Clint and Carter going.
"Research, intuition, and maybe some energy from the past," shemurmured uncomfortably.
"So there!" Penny said.
"Yeah, so there. Darcy looked up the history behind the legend,"Carter said. "Penny, come on! Even Matt spent a lot of time in thatroom, remember? Lavinia was crazy about the place. She thought itwas so historic and fascinating."
"Yeah-he spent time with his charmingwife,'"Clintreminded Penny, smiling.
"I spent some really great days in that room, too," Cartersaid, grinning at Clint.
Penny glared at him.
"What?" Clint said, staring at Penny. "Doesn't Carter get atongue-lashing on his wild, womanizing ways as well?"
Penny set a hand on Carter's. "At least this poor boy was inlove with Susan Howell."
"Susan Howell?" Clint said. "What about Catherine Angsley, Tammywhat-ever-her-last-name-was, Gina Dan-son, and thatGlynnis-something woman?''
"Eh!" Carter said to Clint.
"He, at least, cared very deeply about Susan."
"Penny, the point here," Carter said, "is that all of usso-called longing-to-be-macho men stayed in the room manytimes-with nothing happening. A scared little bride who wanted theroom to be haunted panicked in the middle of the night. Clara Issyfreaked out while cleaning. And Darcy claims to be a ghost buster.Sorry, Darcy," he said quickly.
"Maybe it's a ghost who only dislikes women," Clint said,grinning. "You know, some horses are like that. Dogs too. They havedefinite preferences for male and female people. Rememberthat German shepherd we had years ago? Grade was her name. Sheabsolutely despised men, but became a kitten anytime a woman wasaround."
"Yeah!" Carter agreed. "And remember that little white mop thingLavinia had?''
"Lhasa Apso," Clint told him.
"Whatever. The dog was the cutest little pile of white fur inthe world-until a guy went to pet it. Then it was all teeth andobnoxious yaps," Carter recalled.
"Matt should have known not to marry her once he saw that dog,"Clint said.
"Ah, hell, we all thought she was the hottest thing since firehad been invented," Carter reminded him.
"You're getting off the subject," Penny said.
"I didn't realize we were really on a subject," Clint said.
"But, Penny, there you go, we were on the subject, we simplyfound a solution to the dilemma," Carter said with a laugh. "Wehave a ghost that isn't fond of women. Maybe it's a she, and she issimply jealous of good-looking girls."
"Clara Issy would be delighted that you called her agood-looking girl," Penny said tartly.
"Clara is adorable," Clint argued.
"But hardly a girl," Penny pointed out.
"It comes down to this, Penny," Carter said. "It's quiteridiculous to associate an accident in the library with a malignantghost from the house, should one exist."
"And it also comes down to this," Darcy interjected firmly. "I'mnot leaving. Unless I'm thrown out." She stood. "Thank you, all ofyou, for your concern. Penny, since the public library has nowbecome off-limits, may I crawl through some of the old houserecords?"
"Yes, dear, of course. Make my office your own," Penny told her.She looked at her wistfully as she rose. "I still wish that you'dleave."
Darcy smiled. "I'll be all right, Penny. I promise."
"Dinner at seven," Penny said.
"I'll be there," Darcy assured her, and headed for Penny'soffice.
The woman was a wonderful organizer, Darcy thought. As shestudied the bookshelves, Darcy saw that records, histories,legends, and books related to ghost stories were arranged firstchronologically, and then alphabetically. She sat in the chair infront of Penny's desk for several minutes, just studying theshelves and musing over what had happened at the library. Shedidn't believe that the entity haunting the Lee Room was trulymalevolent-merely frustrated. And Carter and Clint had made aninteresting point that afternoon-it had been all women whohad been troubled by the ghost.
She wasn't at all certain.
She needed to get moving.
She rose and selected a history that chronicled the early daysof Stoneyville. The first pages were dry and bland, recording agreat deal about building materials. Darcy skimmed the information.Then, there was the sad story about poor Melody, who had died inher lover's arms.
Melody was given a loving, Christian funeral. Her parentsmourned her loss until their dying days. The poor girl did not seema good candidate for such a haunting. Besides, she hadn'tslept in the Lee Room. The Jackson room had been hers.
Reading further, Darcy again skimmed a great deal of mundanematerial dealing with births, deaths, baptisms, and marriages.However, moving forward to 1777, she found mention of a strangemystery. Apparently, the Stones had done a fair amount ofprocreating outside the bonds of marriage. Arabella Latham, thegreat-granddaughter of the builder's brother, Malachi Stone,born on the wrong side of the blanket, was furious with herfamily's decision to side with the Patriots during theRevolution. Malachi Stone had died before the house had beenfinished, and it was said that he had loaned his brother large sumsto have the house completed. His heirs-legitimate andotherwise-were left penniless.
Arabella, however, had been engaged in a passionate affair withRegan Stone, a legitimate cousin of the current master of thehouse, Ryan Stone, and spent endless days there, basking inthe admiration of both cousins. Perhaps she had designs onthe legal heir to the house, and was using Regan to get close tohim. Ryan, however, was in love with a young beauty of the region,Mary Anderson, who defied her own family, strong Tories, to elopewith him.
Arabella, hearing of the wedding, was furious, but perhapsmore convinced that she must snag her errant lover into marriage.Ryan was heading off to battle, and against the British, no onebelieved that the pathetic little American army had a chance.To be close to her new husband, Mary followed him around thecountry as he went to war.
But somewhere in those days, the ambitious Arabella disappeared.Regan himself was finally drawn into the battle, and killedat Monmouth. Ryan Stone survived the war and returned with hisbeloved Mary who produced no fewer than eleven children for him,ten daughters and one son, who then proceeded to inherit the housein his turn.
"Arabella!" Darcy murmured aloud.
She closed her eyes, and waited, trying very hard to open hersenses and her mind. She thought of the dreams or visions that hadplagued her.
The man, outside the house, coming in.
The woman, waiting.
It would make sense, she thought. Since apparentlyArabella wanted marriage and legitimacy, and Regan Stonewanted nothing more than a mistress, they would have definitelyargued. If their affair was as passionate as claimed in thehistory, they would have argued with a fervor.
Arabella probably knew intimate secrets about her lover.
She could easily have become a burden to him.
A tap at the door made Darcy jump.
"Yes?" Darcy said, drawn from her musings.
Carter stuck his head in the door. ' 'Hey, you've been at it along time. Dinner is ready. And you've had a long day. A roughfall. Maybe it wasn't quite a Humpty Dumpty thing-you're not inpieces and you're certainly all together nicely-but still, you needa break."
"Thanks, Carter," she said. "And you're right. I'm coming.Dinner sounds great."
He waited for her at the door. When she rose, put the book back,and joined him, he slipped an arm around her in a brotherlyfashion.
"You're not scared off, are you?"
"Not in the least."
"Good. There's no way that a fall in the library had anything todo with a ghost here."
"No, of course not," Darcy agreed. "They were just oldfloorboards."
As they walked through the breezeway to the foyer, the frontdoor opened. Matt was back, in uniform. Darcy felt a bit strange,noticing the way he looked over her close proximity to Carter.Maybe Carter noticed Matt's look as well. His arm fell from hershoulders.
"Hey, hardworking lawman," Carter said. "You made it back justin time for dinner."
Matt nodded, glancing at Darcy. "You feeling all right?"
She made an effort not to grit her teeth. "I'm really feelingterrific. You were the one who hit the floor, remember?"
"Ah, yes, the valiant, manly man of a sheriff!" Carter teased,and yet, Darcy thought that there was just a slight edge to hisvoice." Of course, Darcy is fine. She fell on all that terrificmuscle and sinew, eh, Matt?"
"Something like that," Matt said dryly.
Penny appeared in the foyer. "Matt! Great. I'm so happy you'reback in time for a real dinner. Where did you get to? You weren'tanswering the cell, and Shirley said that you'd left thestation."
"I had some business out of the county," Matt said simply, stilllooking at Darcy. Then he turned to Penny at last. "Go on and startdinner without me. I'm going to take a quick shower and change. Ifyou'll all excuse me?"
It wasn't really a question; more of a statement. He headed upthe stairs.
"Well, ladies?" Carter said. He offered them both an arm.
Penny smiled and took one. "Honestly. You and Clint can be themost wretched young reprobates in history, but then, you can be themost darling men I know."
"We strive for 'darling'!" Carter said. "Come along." He lookedat Darcy, wiggling his free arm. "I'm working so hard on being'darling,' Darcy. Give me a hand here!"
She smiled and accepted his arm.
"You should shave, Carter," Penny told him.
"I've worked long and hard on this beard!" he told her.
"You're still such a handsome fellow without it," Pennyargued.
"But I don't look like Jeb Stuart without it!" Carterprotested.
Penny sighed and looked around him to tell Darcy, "They calledJeb Stuart 'Beauty' when he was at West Point, and not because ofhis good looks, but because they thought that he was ugly as sin.So he had to grow a beard! Carter, it's just the opposite with you.You have a great face. The beard should really go. What do you say,Darcy?"
Put on the spot, she shrugged. "I think he has to do what makeshim happy with himself," she said.
Carter studied her, slowly grinning. "That's the whole crust oflife, right in a nutshell, don't you think? We all have to do whatwe all have to do-to be happy with ourselves."
"While we're living-and when we're dead," Penny said. Sheshivered suddenly. "Oh, Darcy! I like you so very much, but I suredo wish that you'd leave. I'm so worried about you."
"Penny, there's an expression that's not very nice, but it fitsthe bill, I think," Darcy told her, then quoted, "It's nothappening. So five with it."
Penny grimaced. "That's just the point, Darcy," she said, andthere was a real shiver to her voice. ' 'I Want you to live!"
Clint came striding to the foyer from the dining room. "Excuseme, people, but dinner is served!"
Penny walked ahead, touching Clint's cheek. "We're coming! Butstalling a minute is fine, too. Matt's home, showering andchanging."
"Well, then, Ms. Penny, you come and tell that to the cook!"Clint said.
Clint and Penny moved on. Darcy started to follow.
Carter pulled her back. "Darcy, something there just gave mechills, and I don't believe in chills. Maybe you should think aboutthis."
"What are you talking about?" Darcy asked him.
' 'I don't know. Just a feeling of discomfort. I don't thinkthat I believe that a ghost could be after you. No, Idefinitely don't believe that. But still..."
"Still...what?" Darcy asked.
"There does seem to be some danger here for you," Carter said,his words slow, as if he was struggling to understand his ownfeeling. Then the look of worry left his face. "You're just toogorgeous. Which means, of course, we'd like to have you aroundforever. But not as a ghost! We want you to remain among theliving. Oh, what the hell am I saying? Come, my beauty! The dinnertable awaits."
Caught in his arm, Darcy walked with him toward the diningroom.
Then she was startled herself.
An icy chill suddenly swept up around her. Cold, so cold.
And she felt a strange tug....
As if someone was trying to get her away from Carter.
Keep her back.
Have her there...
"So, our skull proves to be that of poor Amy, who has beenrunning around the forest looking for her head for years," Clintsaid, helping himself to more mashed potatoes. "This means wehave to have a nice little ceremony and bury her skull, right?" Helooked at Matt.
"Oh, but of course!" Penny exclaimed, before Matt couldspeak.
Matt arched a brow to her.
"We should bury it quietly," he said. "If we have a ceremony,every idiot journalist from here to Alaska will be in the place,making a big deal out of it."
"Matt, really!" Penny said with disgust.
Matt might be exaggerating, but he also had a point. Peopleloved stories like this one; theNew York Timesmight notpounce on it, but small papers and sensationalist rags from allover would jump on that kind of a story.
"Actually," Carter said, "it wouldn't be so bad. It would be anice thing. A tidy end to the story. And the journalists would haveto write up the fact that the ghost had been put to rest. Once putto rest, there would be no more hauntings. Right, Darcy?"
Darcy set her fork down. "The skull should be buried with therest of the body. Having a minister officiate would be nice.Exactly what goes on other than that probably doesn't matter."
"None of it really matters anyway," Matt said. He soundedirritated. Naturally. He didn't believe in ghosts.
Darcy chose her words carefully. "Whether Amy's ghost everactually ran around the forest or not isn't the point. We burypeople out of respect for the lives they led, and for those lovedones left behind. Granted, Amy doesn't have any remaining relativesin the area-that we know about-but she was still a living,breathing human being. A pitiable one, considering the way that shewas murdered. In all due respect, we should see that her skull isburied with her body."
Matt hesitated, then said, "Her skull can go near her body. Shewas buried more than a century ago. God knows what shape she'd bein now. The coffin was probably simple wood, long sincedeteriorated. There are different laws regarding burial now. We cando our best-since I suppose you're right, that it would be proper."He looked around the table. "Go into any major museum, and you'llfind bones and skulls coming out of the woodwork. Dead is dead. Ifthere truly is life after death, I'd say it's pretty well confirmedthat we don't need our physical bodies once we get there."
"Matt, there's not a bit of the romantic in you!" Pennymoaned.
"What is romantic about a tragic murder?''
"The simple lightness of seeing that she is whole again, atleast in her final resting place," Penny said firmly.
Matt shrugged. "Penny, we'll see that the skull isinterred near the body, all right?"
"And we'll have a little ceremony?" Penny pleaded.
He threw up his hands. "Whatever you wish, Penny."
"Hey," Darcy asked, determined to change the subject. "Did anyof you all ever hear of a woman named Arabella?"
"Yes, there is a story about Arabella," Penny began. "She wassupposedly the bastard child of a far distant Stone who tried toseduce the legitimate heir, eons ago. Scheming, conniving, and all.But he married someone else. And she disappeared from the legend.Why? Were you reading about her?"
"Yes, just now."
Penny was excited. "There's no story about her dying a violentdeath."
"But she disappeared. Maybe she was murdered. She could be thehaunt in the Lee Room."
Matt pushed back his chair. ' 'Excuse me, ladies,gentlemen. I hear the night air calling to me."
"But Matt!" Penny said.
He didn't reply. He pushed his chair in, then looked at Darcy."You're sure you're all right?"
They had managed to go through the entire meal without referringto the episode in the library.
Darcy sighed. "I'm fine," she said.
"When you're tired, go up," he warned.
"Darcy, he's right," Clint said, looking at herworriedly.
"I'm fine," she persisted.
"I agree. You looked darned good to me," Carter saidlightly.
Matt turned and walked out of the dining room. Penny folded herhands and looked at Darcy excitedly again. "Arabella! I can seewhat you're thinking. She disappeared from the records andthe area-because she was dead. Murdered by her traitorous lover. Inthe Lee Room!"
"Something like that," Darcy said.
Carter groaned. "There wasn't a body."
"Oh, posh! A man who knew the area-years ago, beforeforensic sciences were so advanced-could easily dispose of abody," Penny said. She looked earnestly at Darcy. "I watch all theforensic shows, so I know about these things."
Darcy looked down, hiding a smile. Then she looked at Carter."I'm afraid that even today, with all the police work and forensictechnology available, lots of bodies still disappear, and manymurderers go unpunished."
"I suppose," Carter said. With a shrug he added. "I'll let youladies play,Murder, She Wrote.'' He stretched and yawned."If you'll excuse me. I think I'm going to head out to play somepool. Anyone want to join me?"
He looked hopefully around the table.
"Not tonight," Clint said.
"You sure?" Carter asked. "Darcy?"
She shook her head. "Thanks. Maybe tomorrow night."
Clint laughed. "Carter, you don't need to look like an oldhanged dog. I heard that our lovely new young city commissioner,Delilah, plays pool a lot of evenings. Ah, hm. I'll bet you knewthat. Makes the Wayside Inn so much more appealing, huh?"
"She may be there, she may not," Carter said.
"Why don't you just ask her out?" Darcy suggested.
"Well, since I'm barking up the wrong tree following you aroundlike a coonhound with his tongue on the ground, I might aswell."
Darcy smiled at him, certain that he was joking, but feelingjust a little bit uncomfortable anyway. But Carter's smile deepenedand he winked. "So I should just ask her out, huh?"
"Sounds like a plan to me," she said.
"I'll give it some real thought. Meanwhile, I'm going to go playpool and see if I run into her. Night, all."
With a wave, he left the room.
Penny stood. "Heavens. I forgot to make those fellows help cleanup!"
"I'd like a little busywork right now," Darcy told her. "We'llget this all picked up in a matter of minutes."
She stood, gathering plates. Clint rose with her. "I guess Ididn't run out fast enough," he said, moaning to Penny, givingDarcy a quick grimace.
"Young man, work is good for you."
"I'll have you know that I actually have lots of irons in thefire. I'm just not sharing my activities until I have somethingreally sound to say."
Penny eyed him skeptically. "Hm." Then she took a casseroleplate and moved on into the kitchen.
Darcy rinsed dishes while Clint put them into thedishwasher. He was amusing as they worked, finding a way tobreak into a song regarding every comment Penny made as she putleftovers into containers and then into the refrigerator.
By the time they had finished, Penny was groaning, Darcy waslaughing. And yet, Penny was very fond of Clint, and not half asdismayed by his antics as she tried to appear to be.
Matt didn't come back in.
When they finished, Darcy excused herself, anxious to get up tothe Lee Room.
She turned the light on as she closed the door behind her. Shelooked around the room, then closed her eyes, and tried to let anysensations ease into her.
The room seemed extraordinarily still and quiet. And empty.
' 'Arabella?'' she murmured softly aloud. ' 'If there was aninjustice, we can at least let it be known. There's no need to beso hostile. We're trying to help you."
No response. No whisper of a breeze, no hint of a voice on theair. No coldness. Nothing.
The ghost was lying dormant. Darcy didn't even get her usualchilling sense of being watched.
She hesitated a few minutes, then went out on the balcony,gripped the rail, and stared into the night. So beautiful.Surely, this area of Virginia was blessed.
After a few moments, she went back in.
She turned on the television, and was surprised to realize thatthe late-night talk shows had come on. Idly, she began to stripdown for bed, started to choose a T-shirt for sleep, thenhesitated.
Matt would come. She was certain.
She opted for a light-blue silk peignoir.
Seated upon the bed, she watched the television forseveral seconds, waiting. But that night, the Lee Room seemedto be giving her nothing.
"I don't understand at all," she said out loud. "You obviouslywant help. Let me help you. Or are you simply angry with the Stonesfor what happened to you, Arabella, and eager to hurt them? Theyare not the same people now. Matt Stone is not the man who did thisto you."
With a sigh, she turned around and curled up with herpillow.
Matt wasn't sure why he stayed out on the porch so late. Butthen again, there were times when he did just sit out there, doingnothing, feeling the light, watching the land beneath themoonlight. There was something calming and reaffirming about doingso. He did love Melody House. More than that, he loved Virginia,especially his county. It was as if the heritage and history wereingrained in him, and as if his love for the land returned to himsometimes on nights like this, strengthening.
Either that, or he didn't want to listen to any morenonsense from Penny.
Carter had gone to play pool. After a while, Clint, too, haddecided to head into town claiming he was feeling a little edgy andmight as well go to the Wayside Inn and play some pool.
Matt lingered outside a bit longer, then went in.
The house was silent. Those who hadn't headed outrabble-rousing had gone to bed.
He went to his own room first, but didn't stay more than a fewseconds. Walking out on the balcony, he paused a few minutes again,staring at Darcy's door. It was closed. She probably hadn't lockedit, though, and he didn't know if he'd be relieved or angry once hemade certain that he was right. She should be locking it.
But then again, maybe she had left it open for him.
He tried the door. Open.
He should go in and yell at her.
Matt stepped into Darcy's room, closed and locked the balconydoors behind him. For a few moments he stood where he was, thinkingthat she had been through a traumatic day. Except that anear-death experience hadn't seemed so traumatic to her.
He should leave.
He wasn't about to do so.
The television was on, but the lights had been dimmed. And Darcywas soundly sleeping.
He walked to the bed, treading softly.
She looked like a heroine of old, red hair splaying out like anelegant, fire-touched shawl. She was long and lean, slender legsvisible beneath the gauze of her nightgown, feet just peeking out.The way she slept...her position enhanced her cleavage. Andthe way her arms were curled around it...he wanted nothing morethan to be her pillow at that moment.
"Darcy?" he said softly.
She stirred, turning. Her eyes, heavy-lidded, opened slowly. Shestared at him, a slow, seductive smile curling her lips.
"Why, Sheriff Stone," she said softly.
"You left the balcony doors open," he said, sliding down to sitbeside her.
Her smile deepened. "Not to be too presumptuous, but...I assumedyou might arrive here," she said. Heavy with sleep, her voice washusky, the sound of it eliciting drumbeats in his veins that echoedinto his mind. And beyond.
"You're sure... you're fine? After today?" he queried.
Her smile deepened. She lifted her arms, curling them around hisshoulders as she halfway rose to him. Head cast back, throat at anincredible arch, voice richer than carnal sin itself, she assuredhim. "Really, truly, fine. Better than fine. Want me to proveit?"
She had come to him completely, hot breath of herwhispered words against his ear, causing the drumbeat toshudder down to a mambo in his groin. He wrapped his armsaround her, finding her lips, her mouth, depth and heat andwetness, and locking her into a kiss that seemed to fuse his bodyto hers. He had to press her back to struggle in his haste toremove his clothing. Bared to muscle and sinew and pure lust, herose above her, fingers finding the hem of the gauzy gown, draggingit up before he settled, flesh against flesh, arousal Spiralingwith the first brush of the senses. He could drown in the sweetaroma of her soap, perfume, and self. The feel and taste of herwere seductive, intoxicating, and he ran his palms over her fleshagain and again, savoring the feel, bringing his lips against hernext for a taste of the texture of her skin. The impact of theirbodies against one another created an arousal within him that hefought, not just for the desire to be a giving lover, but toprolong the excruciating promise of climax and pleasure.
Yet that night, she was the aggressor, pressing against him,pushing him away and forcing him to his knees, fingersradiating over his chest, a flutter of kisses and the tip of hertongue drawing exquisite lines against his flesh caused it to burn,chill, and burn again. Her hands aroused and caressed, encirclingthe fullness of his arousal, before her lips moved again, theliquid toe of her tongue creating an agony of hunger, the energywithin her a lightning storm that catapulted around him until itwas unbearable and she was in his arms again, bodies fused andfitted and moving in an ever increasing, staccato beat that droveever upward, wild, sweet, and all but blinding to every thing butthe needs of the senses, in the end, totally raw, and thenexplosive. The force of climax left them both breathless,veins still thundering, hearts pulsing, arms and limbs entwined. Heheld her against him, loathe to let her go even as satiation seepedthroughout him. There were things he wanted to say, and could not.In a distant corner of his mind, he longed not to be entangled,because his world was real, and she believed so fiercely in allthat was not.
Impossible. He harbored a fear of her. Not because she was anelegant redhead. Because there was something-
Something, perhaps, that challenged all his beliefs, andtherefore, his strengths.
He thought of all the lies that passed so easily between men andwomen. And she was far too fine to be told lies.
"It's all right, you don't need to say anything," she toldhim.
His muscles inadvertently flexed.
Shadow and light filled the room. "I've never expected forever,"she told him.
"It's all right."
"I'm telling you-"
"Don't. Don't tell me anything," he said, and added, "Just bewith me."
He cradled her against him. Neither tried to speak again.
In the dream, or somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind, sheknew she was someone else.
The woman in the room.
She had known the woman in the dream before, sat within herentity, and she had known the beginning of the scene from bothsides, for she had entered into the energy or entity of the maninvolved as well.
But tonight...she saw it all from the woman's eyes.
Felt the spasm of fear as she heard the sound.
Near. Within the house. A creaking of old floorboards.
The woman hesitated, straightening, listening, wonderingwhy an ordinary sound should elicit such an instinctive sense offear.
So often, the house was filled with people. Not that night. Andat first, she had been glad that it would be so empty.
She rose, exiting the room, hurrying to the second-floor landingof the staircase, and looking down. Her breath caught as her eyesfocused on the figure at the foot of the stairs.
He had entered the house. He had the right, in his own mind, atleast. He had the right to everything. She did not. Strange, he hadstood there, looking up at her, dozens of times before. Then, hehad smiled. Admired the way that moonlight played through the whitefabric of her nightgown. He had instilled within her anintoxicating sense of anticipation, pleasure.. .excitement. He wasso many things that a man should be, physically arresting, sensual,exuding a sense of power that was all but an aphrodisiac.
He did not smile.
They stared at one another for several long moments. Maybe aneternity.
She saw what he carried. What was in his hands. And the way thathe held it...she knew what he intended to do with it.
A scream rose to her throat; she held it back, for there wouldbe no one to hear. Then words, disjointed, tumbled from her lips,for she still couldn't believe what appeared to be his intent.
"You...you loved me," she murmured. "You must still...love me.Somewhat. You can't mean to...to...youcan't!"
The last was whispered. It was a plea. It was a tone that calledforth all that had come between them...before. All that had beenshared.
His eyes remained upon hers. He didn't reply.
He started up the stairs.
And she ran.
First, back to the room where she had been writing, setting downwords, her own revenge. But even as she attempted to close thedoor, she felt the force of his weight against it. As he burst in,she saw the metal bed warmer hanging on the wall, and she grabbedhold of it firmly, dashing him against the side of the head. Hecried out, staggering back.
She took flight, forcing her way past him, tearing down thestairs, her white gown trailing in a diaphanous cloud behindher.
Blackness, a cloud of shadows, arose around the vision.
Darcy's visions were often so crystal clear in dreams.Sometimes, the fact that they were fading awakened her. Andsometimes, the fact that she awakened ended the dream. Perhaps,some instinct inside caused her to awaken so that she wouldn'twitness too much. Maybe innate fear kicked in. But she didn't wantany natural defense mechanisms kicking in on her now.
She was losing it. Losing touch of the vision.Awakening.
No! She knew that she had to see the end. She cried out silentlyin fierce frustration, knowing she was close...so close...toknowing the end.
Knowing that she felt...what thewomanhad felt.
She fought both the fading of the dream, and the terror that waswashing over her. She leapt to her feet, crying out, racing to thedoor. She thought that it was opened. It was not. She slammedagainst it, woke completely, and stood, facing the door, shakingoff the aftereffects.
"Darcy?" She heard his voice, startled, deeplyconcerned.
She was aware that he was looking at her, though her back was tohim. A wave of misery swept over her; she was certain that therewould be revulsion in his eyes.
She turned quickly, grabbing her robe from the foot of the bed,slipping into it and heading out the balcony doors. She inhaleddeeply, breathing in the night air.
She was startled to feel his hands fall upon hershoulders, his presence, warm and strong behind her.
"Darcy, are you all right?" His voice was deep, resonant,husky, and deeply concerned. She wondered just what she had done inher sleep.
"Yes. Look, I'm really sorry-"
"Don't be. What-happened?" he asked. "What was it? The house? Asound?"
"No, nothing. Nothing at all. Just a dream."
"Tell me about it."
"I-can't," she lied. "It's faded already."
"Darcy, please, tell me-"
"I can't. It's gone."
"All right, then just-"
"You don't want anything to do with this...with me, and it's allright, honestly-"
"Honestly, Darcy, even knowing you as I do, seeing what I'veseen...I'm not sure what I believe. But I wish you'd try to tell memore about it."
She swung around, startled to see that the eyes sheexpected to be so filled with wary distaste held nothing butgentleness. Strangely, his manner made her a bit moredetermined to pull away. He really didn't understand the halfof it. He still didn't believe. If he really did, he would pullaway.
She lifted her hands. "It's very difficult to explain what youdon't understand yourself."
"All right. Let me help." He smoothed back a lock of hair thatthe night breeze had sent drifting over her forehead. "Didyou always...have visions?"
She shook her head. "No."
She had to turn away from him. She gripped the balcony. Inthe distance, the mountains were deeper indigo shadows against therich deep blue of the moonlit night sky. The entire world mighthave been at peace. The struggle was within herself.
"I was very good friends with Adam Harrison's son, Josh, when wewere in high school. He was bright, funny...charming. But most ofthe kids stayed away from him. They thought he was strange. Hedidn't run around giving out prophesies or anything, but there weremoments when it was a little eerie. He knew when it was going torain or snow, when the ponds had frozen over solidly, when the icewas going to break. There were other little things. He would becramming for a test when we weren't supposed to be having one, andthen we'd walk into a class to find out that we were having a popquiz. He knew when Mrs. Malone was going to be out for an extendedtime, because he had known when her husband was going to die. Hedidn't know everything-it wasn't as if he had a crystal ball thatoffered up any image he wanted to conjure. There were just timeswhen he did know things that there was really no earthly way heshould have."
"I think I did know that Adam had a son. He was actuallymy grandfather's friend. They were both tremendous history buffs,"Matt offered, his voice soft as he spoke behind her. "Where is hisson now? Does he work for Adam as well."
Darcy shook her head slowly. "Josh is dead."
"I'm sorry. Truly sorry." Then, a moment later, "Whathappened?"
Darcy shrugged and inhaled again. "We were in a car accident.I'd been dating someone in high school forever, but we had a hugebreakup just before senior prom. I asked Josh to go with me. He wasgreat, but Hunter had a real jerk of a friend, and he decided tochase after Josh and play chicken with the cars after the prom.Hunter's friend was killed as well. I survived. And..."
"And?" he said, prompting her after a moment.
She turned around at last, her eyes meeting his. "At thefuneral, I felt as if I was talking to Josh, as if I saw him. Andit had been very strange, because he had known he was going to die.But he told me that it was all right. After that.. .well, I beganto know the little things as well. Where something was when it hadbeen lost. At first, it wasn't so bad. There were just littlethings, the day-to-day things. Just the way it had been with Josh.And I thought-and even the therapist I went to thought-that I wascreating conversations with Josh in my mind as a way to accept hisdeath."
"But you weren't?" He was still soft-spoken, watching her withcurious eyes, and not those that as yet condemned and warily shuther out.
"But then, I started seeing other ghosts," she said flatly,watching for his reaction.
A slight smile twitched his lips, but he was making a seriouseffort not to mock her. "What ghosts?"
Again, she shrugged. "I went to NYU, as I told you."
Darcy kept watching him. "I was walking by one of the very oldEpiscopalian churches near my dorm and I ran into a woman in frontof the church. She was pacing, looking really nervous anddistraught, and," she added wryly, "though my folks had warned mewhen I went to school not to talk to strangers, she was so upsetthat I stopped and asked her if she was lost, or if there wasanything that I could do. She looked at me as if she had seen aghost, and said, 'You can see me?' I told her that yes, of course,I could see her. She touched my shoulders, and looked as if she wasabout to cry, and at the same time, she looked incredibly relieved.Then she said, '1 beg of you, find my granddaughter, Charisse, andtell her that the diamonds are in the Shirley Temple doll. Please,please, do this for me. She's in there now, in the church, and Ican't seem to reach her, no matter how hard I try. She just can'tsee me.' I thought then that she might be seriously unhinged and Itried to reassure her, to tell her that, of course, hergranddaughter could see her, and that she just needed to talkto her. But the woman shook her head violently, becoming sodistressed that I told her I would go in and tell Charisse that thediamonds were in the Shirley Temple doll, whatever thatmeant. I left her on the sidewalk and started to walk into thechurch. I turned around, and I couldn't see her anymore. When Iopened the door to the church, I saw that a funeral was takingplace. Since I felt like an intrusive fool, I walked back out andlooked for the woman again. I couldn't find her. I went back to mydorm. That night, when I was sleeping, I woke up to the sound ofsobbing. I nearly had a heart attack. The woman who had been infront of the church was sitting at the foot of my bed. I had chillsthat went straight into my bones, goose bumps broke out all over myflesh. I couldn't even scream, I was so scared. But then, the fearjust kind of locked in on me. She was sobbing in such horrible painthat I did manage to reach out and touch her. And she looked at meand said, 'You told me that you'd tell Charisse. You don'tunderstand, she supported me, and she had nothing, and I knewthat I was dying, but that it would be all right, because when Idied, she could sell the diamonds, and she and the children wouldbe okay. Please, she cared for an old woman when no one else cared,she with Ben dead in that awful train accident, with two jobs andthree children. You've got to help me, help her, you have to, shecan't hear me, though I try so hard.' I knew, I just knew then,that she was dead, that she was a ghost, and that I was somehowcommunicating with her just as if she were real, and sitting withme, talking to me, in the middle of the night."
"Perhaps you were dreaming," he said. His tone was logical andmatter-of-fact, but he wasn't looking at her as if she wereinsane.
"Perhaps I was. But it gets even better." She paused just amoment, watching him carefully. "You see, Josh was there again. Itwas as if he had come in behind the woman. And he seemed as naturalabout being there as if we were back in school, and he had met upwith me in the cafeteria. 'Darcy, please, she just needs a littlehelp. She can reach you, and she can't get through to hergranddaughter. Darcy, it's a little thing. Just find hergranddaughter,' he told me."
"So..." Matt said, and the word was elongated, betraying abint of doubt. "You told Josh that you would find the woman'sgranddaughter?"
She smiled. "No."
"I don't really remember. I woke in the morning, certain thatI'd had a dream myself. But I couldn't quite accept that. I wentback to the church, and I found the minister, and I asked if therehad been a funeral the day before that might have involved a womannamed Charisse. He said yes, that a young woman named CharisseWhittaker had been the one to make arrangements for the funeral ofher grandmother, Lanie Beacon. He asked if I was a friend ofCharisse's. I told him not exactly, but that I had known Lanie. Heseemed surprised, since apparently, Lanie had been very ill forsome time. I asked if he could get a note to Charisse for me, so Iwrote suggesting that she look in the Shirley Temple doll for thediamonds. He promised to get it to her for me."
"And he did?" Matt queried.
Darcy nodded. He wasn't touching her. He just leaned against thebalcony, listening, as if she was telling him about any event inher past.
She hesitated. "Three days later, Charisse called me. She waspractically hysterical with gratitude, she had been nearlydestitute, paying off her grandmother's bills. Though Lanie hadbeen sick for a long time, apparently, she hadn't been in her rightmind before she had died, and so she hadn't told Charisse much ofanything about her jewelry. She had known that her grandmother hada few pieces, and had hoped to sell them to be able to pay off thefuneral and medical bills. As it turned out, Lanie had actually hadquite a small fortune in jewelry, gifts her mother had given herfrom her family, who had been some kind of Russian nobility. At anyrate, Charisse was grateful to me, and sadder than ever aboutLanie, because her grandmother had been so careful to hold on tothe gems so that she might have them when Lanie died. She asked mehow I knew, and I told her the truth. She didn't seem to doubt meat all, she just kept saying thank you and asking me if I neededany financial help or if I wanted any kind of reward. I told herthat I was fine and that I hoped everything would go well for herand her children."
"She didn't want to meet you to say thanks?" Matt asked.
Darcy smiled wryly. "She couldn't have been nicer or moregrateful-on the phone. She expressed no desire to meet me. I thinkthe whole thing was quite...creepy for her."
"After that?" Matt asked.
"There were more...happenings. I was a theater major at thetime. When I first went to college, despite what had happened onprom night and after, I thought I had the perfect life. I was inschool in New York City. There was competition coming out of thewoodwork, but I was also in the land of opportunity. I hadwonderful film classes as well. An opportunity to work part-timefor MTV. And, yes, I had some work modeling and I was making reallydecent money for a student. Then, I dreamed one night that I was ata funeral with a friend whose brother had died. It was so real thatI told her how sorry I was the next day. She wanted to know why Iwas sorry. I realized that I had been dreaming, but then a weeklater her brother was killed in a boating accident. Naturally, Iwent to the funeral. And she accepted my condolences then, but Icould see in her eyes she didn't want me anywhere near her, it wasalmost as if...as if I had somehow caused it to happen. I wasseeing someone at the time too. Fairly seriously. We broke off thatnight. I felt terrible. As if I were some kind of a pariah. I wentout to Queens the next day, to the cemetery. And I didn't actuallysee Josh then, but it was as if I could hear him. I wasn't exactlysuicidal-but I was feeling fairly desperate. But while I was justsitting there, I felt as if Josh were by me, telling me that Ineeded to go and see his father. I remembered Adam, how very kindhe had been to me at Josh's funeral. While I was having thatthought, I could swear that I saw all kinds of ghosts walkingaround the cemetery. One man in particular. He was wearing somekind of a uniform, but I didn't know what it was. I walked over tothe gravestone where he was standing, and saw that he had died in1780. The gravestone was hard to read, it was broken and untended,but I finally made out the words 'Revolutionary Hero.' So...Istarted telling him how grateful the nation was for all that hadbeen done to give us our freedom, that we were far from perfect,but a truly great nation in the ideals for which they had foughtand died. Anyway, he smiled, and disappeared, and I didn't feelquite so terrible, and the next day, I looked up AdamHarrison."
"And he told you that you weren't ill, or insane, but that youhad a special gift?" Matt asked. She couldn't tell if there wasskepticism in his voice or not.
"Not that day," Darcy told him, smiling. "He broke down crying,and asked me about Josh, and I told him that Josh was just as hehad always been, kind and there to help. And he asked me, next timeI saw or heard his son, to tell him how much he had loved him, andcherished every day that he'd had him with him. Then he asked me tocome back. That's where we began. I did go back. I submitted to allkinds of tests, and I met other people who worked for him. Peoplewho experienced events the way that I had, and people withdifferent forms of...extrasensory perception. I wasn't goingto go back to school at first, but Adam suggested that I should,that we would keep close contact, and that he would be ready for mefull-time whenever I was ready to come back. My interests hadchanged, however. I wanted to study human psychology, to help medeal with the people who had a bad time dealing with me. AndI was fascinated then with history, architecture, oldhomes...." She paused, shrugging again. "And I'm a good student. Idon't think my IQ is off the board or anything, but I'd always hada good bent toward the academic. So I studied, acquired the degreesI wanted...and then went back to Adam. Full-time."
He was quiet, watching her, waiting, perhaps, for her to saymore. The night breeze continued to drift gently around them.
There was no more to say. And she was disturbed to realize justhow anxious she was for him to say something that would show hewasn't so disturbed by her that he would turn away. Not now,perhaps. He was, in his way, a true gentleman. Raised tocourtesy.
She didn't want to care. She knew better than to care. Sheshouldn't have gotten involved in any way with him, because she hadstudied so hard, learned so much about the human psyche. When shefrightened people, they turned away. By the nature of herexistence, she frightened people.
"So...?" she murmured, wishing she didn't sound quite sodesperate. She had longed to sound casual. Things were the way theywere. She couldn't change the way that she was-God knew, she wouldhave done so years ago were it possible.
"There must be a certain satisfaction in feeling that you'vehelped someone," he said. "Even if it does happen to be someonedead."
He sounded polite, courteous, and even gentle.
"Are you making fun of me?" she asked very quietly.
"But I know that you don't believe in ghosts, or the occult, inany way."
He smiled. "I can't say that I'm convinced. That I can suddenlyfall on my knees and say that I'm a true believer."
"I believe in you," he told her.
The breeze moved.
She must have heard him wrong.
"What?" she whispered.
He made a move toward her, taking her into his arms. His thumbstroked her chin in a way that made her incredibly warm. Hiseyes touched hers.
"You are quite different."