Darkness, heavy with the weight of secrets, settled about Phaedra Delaney as she entered the room. Unrelieved by light, shadows danced across the walls, flirting with stalwart curio cabinets and spindle-legged tables. In the darkness, there was silence. Phaedra paused on the threshold, momentarily thrown off her purpose by the complete absence of sound. This isn’t right, she thought as she pressed further into the room with its now sinister shadows taking on the distorted persona of antique furnishings. Shouldn’t there be some sort of noise coming from some area of the –
The noise that broke the silence then came from Phaedra herself. A rather undignified “Oomph!” as a shadow tripped her, casting her forward into a square table. The ‘oomph,’ was quickly followed by a short series of expletives as her hip caught a sharp corner. She slammed a hand down on the glossy wood surface to steady herself (and the offensive piece of furniture) and reeled in several deep breaths to calm her nerves as the shadow twisted about her ankles with a contented purr.
A frown drawing her brows together, Phaedra glanced down at the licorice-colored cat, which continued to make a figure eight about her legs. “Aristotle!” she whispered in an admonishing tone. “What’re you doing creeping about in the dark, hmm?” Reaching down, she scooped the sleek animal into her arms and gave him a vigorous scratching beneath his chin. She never could stay mad at the narcissistic feline for long. For one thing, he wouldn’t allow it. He had his ways of getting back in her good graces. They worked every time.
Phaedra glanced toward the backroom, the entrance to which was almost impossible to see from this vantage point. “What was your human thinking, shutting all the lights off? A little early to close up shop, isn’t it?”
No sooner did the words leave Phaedra’s mouth than the shop was flooded with light at the hands of a dignified older woman in a flowing, purple and blue-toned caftan. A woman who regarded Phaedra with a pinched expression and fire crackling in her dark eyes. Fiona Delaney, otherwise known as the family matriarch.
Oh, no. Gram does not look happy. Phaedra favored her grandmother with a watery smile and a half-hearted wave as she hugged Aristotle close as a barrier to her grandmother’s wrath. But the pesky feline had other ideas, squirming out of her hold to drop to the floor in a whisper. He promptly scuttled across the room to her grandmother and began circling that woman’s legs with an attention-seeking purr.
“Traitor!” Phaedra said to the cat before turning her attention to her disgruntled grandmother. “So what’s with the blackout? I didn’t know you had a reading tonight.”
“That’s funny,” Fiona Delaney said in a tone that belied the words, “I could have sworn that you did have a…thing…tonight.”
A thing, Phaedra thought with a smirk. Gram’s code for a ghost watch. Strange thing about Gram: Though she was the one who’d encouraged Phaedra to use her special ‘talents’ rather than letting them ‘go to waste,’ she didn’t like talking about them in venues where just anyone could overhear.
Like an antique shop where a customer waited in a back room for a tarot reading.
“I do,” Phaedra confirmed. “But I left some of my gear here.” She quickly turned the conversation back to her grandmother. “You know, you could leave a flashlight near the door for me so I can see through the dark when you shut the lights off for a reading.”
“And you could’ve called ahead to let me know you were on your way.”
“You’re psychic, Gram.” Phaedra couldn’t help but to smirk when she said the word psychic. “You should’ve seen I was coming.”
Fiona’s brows pinched together in an expression of disapproval. “You know, you could’ve used the backstairs to the apartment,” she said. “Just because you moved out doesn’t mean you have to come through the front door now.”
Her voice dripping sarcasm, Phaedra said, “Aw, but that would rob me of the joy of stumbling around the shop in the dark.” She gave her shin a quick rub in emphasis, cast a meaningful look around them. “Did you add more junk to the shop or did you just rearrange it to discourage thieves?”
Well, that got her, Phaedra thought as she noted the way her grandmother got all puffed up like a peacock.
“It is not junk,” was all Fiona could say before they were interrupted by a voice calling out to them from the backroom, albeit tremulously.
“Is everything okay out there?”
Fiona patted down her pixie cut hair as she always did when “performing.” And directed over a shoulder, “Oh, fine! Not to worry. Everything’s under control.”
“Are you sure?” The customer, a balding man with dark-rimmed glasses and a perpetually wrinkled suit, stumbled through the purple silk curtains into the showroom like an absent-minded magician. “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea, after all,” he decided as he scuttled by Fiona like a crab. He made straight for the shop door. “I’m not sure you even know what you’re doing.”
He slipped out the door before Fiona could say “cash or credit,” leaving the two women alone in the quaint shop. At which point Fiona turned her dismay on Phaedra.
“Well, there. Are you satisfied now?” Fiona demanded, scooping up Aristotle and retreating to the backroom. “You chased away another client.”
“Just trying to make an honest woman out of you!” Phaedra called after her, lingering in the show room as she decided upon her next action.
Should she go after the woman and risk her censure or run the other way as fast as she could, her gear be damned? The one course would save her from the verbal lashing she was sure to get if she stayed – but then she’d have to do her ‘thing’ without her best equipment. Dean would not be happy. But if she stayed, she’d get into it with her grandmother, which would make her late for the ‘thing.’ And Dean would not be happy. Well, either way, Dean wouldn’t be happy, so she might as well do the right thing.
Phaedra released a sigh more like a groan and followed her grandmother to the back room, despite the urge to run the other way. Gram would have her say, one way or the other, if not tonight, then another. Best to get this over with now, Phaedra thought, but the decision did not compel her to walk any faster. Indeed, she plodded along, still wanting to put off the inevitable for just a moment more. So by the time she entered the room, Gram was blowing out the candles she’d lit all about the cloth-draped table to set the mood for her reading.
“Sorry, Gram,” she said. “I didn’t mean to chase your guy away.”
“He was going to pay cash,” Fiona said in a way that implied Phaedra had committed a grievous sin.
Which, in a way, she had. She’d gotten in the way of her grandmother making a good bit of cash without a lot of effort. And in a family like the Delaney’s, that was a cardinal sin.
“What can I say?” Phaedra lifted her hands from her sides in a gesture of helplessness, let them fall back to her sides with a slap. “I already said I’m sorry, but I’ll say it again, if it makes any difference to you.” Still, Gram faced away from Phaedra. “Tell me what to do!”
“I’ll tell you what you can do.” Fiona whirled on her with such speed and suddenness, Phaedra stumbled back a step in surprise. “Start taking this more seriously.”
Oh, here it comes, Phaedra thought, recovering her composure. The talk.
“What?” Phaedra demanded, provoking. “The family ‘business’?”
“Don’t take that tone with me, girl.” Fiona’s voice brooked no argument. Nor did the finger she wagged in Phaedra’s face. “This is serious and the sooner you start treating it as such, the better it’ll be.”
“For who?” She knew she shouldn’t rise to the bait, rehash the old argument, but Phaedra couldn’t help herself. The night seemed to warrant it, somehow. “Certainly not me – I never wanted any part of this.”
“Yes, I know – we all know.” Fiona sighed dramatically and reached for her cards, prepared to put them away. But something stilled her hand. She just stood there, looking at them, as she spoke. “You’ve made no secret how you feel about your gift.”
“Why does everyone call it a gift?” Phaedra exclaimed. “It’s a damn nuisance, that’s what it is. I could be getting ready to go out with friends tonight, but instead, I’m going on a ghost hunt because you keep finding me opportunities to use my ‘gift.’ I wish you’d just stop.”
“Even if I stopped, the opportunities would still find you, Phaedra,” Fiona said in that mystical, fortune-telling voice she usually reserved for clients. “Your gift is true – probably more so than anyone else in the family’s – and it will find a way to be used whether you want it to or not.”
“You can cut it, Gram. I’m not a paying customer.”
“Whether you pay or not, it doesn’t matter. It was in the cards.”
Phaedra groaned as she dropped into the customer’s chair, defeated. This was going to take a while. “If I’d known it was going to habitually come back to haunt me,” she said, “I never would’ve let you read my cards when I was twelve.”
“I’ve been reading your cards since you were born.” Fiona sat down across from Phaedra, languorously shuffled her tarot cards. Her eyes never left Phaedra’s face. “They’ve basically said the same thing. You are –”
“Destined for great things,” Phaedra finished for her. “Yes, I know. You told me. Repeatedly.”
“The cards don’t lie, Phaedra.”
“Maybe not – but I’m not so sure about the person behind them.”
Fiona slammed the tarot deck face down on the table with such force, Phaedra jumped as if shot. Wow, she thought when she recovered her wits, never would’ve thought Gram capable of such disrespect for her precious tarot. Maybe that was proof the woman was something of a charlatan.
“You think I’m a liar?” Fiona asked in a voice of such calm it resonated through Phaedra like an electric current.
Oh, man, she was pissed.
“I think sometimes you twist the truth to serve your own purposes,” Phaedra hedged.
“And what purpose would I have for ‘twisting the truth’ about your abilities?”
“Oh, come on, Gram!” Phaedra scoffed, crossing her legs as she settled back against her chair in a deceptively casual pose. “I know it irritates the crap out of you that I don’t take money for my services.”
Fiona shuddered, picked up her tarot deck, and began to shuffle again, with great reverence. “I wish you wouldn’t talk about it like that,” she said.
“Like you’re a common whore selling your services on a street corner.”
“That would only apply if I actually were selling my services,” Phaedra pointed out. “Which I’m not.”
“Still,” Fiona said through pursed lips. “It’s distasteful.”
And that’s my cue. Uncrossing her legs, Phaedra prepared to rise, saying, “I better go grab my gear and head out. I’m already running late.”
“Why don’t you take your sister with you?” Fiona suggested.
Phaedra stopped short of the door to the backstairs up to her grandmother’s apartment. “Are you serious?”
Fiona continued what she was doing without pause. Shuffling, cutting the deck. Laying out the cards. She didn’t raise her head to acknowledge Phaedra’s words, but she did ask, “Why wouldn’t I be, dear?”
“Because staking out an old cemetery to see if a phantom ghost shows up isn’t exactly Delilah’s style.”
“Ask her anyway.”
Suspicion knifed through Phaedra and she returned to the small round table, draped in red and accented with a gold filigree runner that ended in huge (gaudy, Phaedra felt) gold-threaded tassels. “Why?’ she asked. “What’re you up to?”
“I just have a bad feeling about this vigil, Phaedra.” Oh, no. Not one of Gram’s so-called ‘feelings.’ “I’d feel much better if you took your sister along.”
“Why? So she can drop-kick a ghost?” Okay, that sounded snide, but she couldn’t help herself. It was rather daunting to realize her grandmother didn’t think she could take care of herself. “I don’t think tai chi will have much effect on spirits, Gram.”
“Your sarcasm is noted – and not appreciated, young lady.” Ugh, I hate it when she uses the ‘young lady’ on me. “But I’m not backing down on this. I just have a… feeling… something might happen tonight. I’ll feel much better if you took your sister along with you. I don’t want you driving alone at night.”
With a groan, Phaedra capitulated. She couldn’t afford to waste more time arguing with her grandmother, after all. Dean was already going to have much to say about her tardiness as it was, she didn’t need to add to it by dallying here, arguing. “Ugh, fine!” she said, once more turning toward the door. “Is she upstairs?”
“Last time I checked.”
“Well, since you already think so, at least let me draw your cards,” Fiona said in a way that would’ve been petulant – in someone fifty years her junior.
“At least one.”
Knowing she would never get out of there in a timely manner if she didn’t relent, Phaedra did so with a groan. “Just one,” she said, stepping back to the table. But she didn’t sit down. Instead, she hovered next to her grandmother’s chair as Fiona made a great show of turning over one of the cards she’d laid out.
With great dramatic flair and an air of portent, Fiona fell back against her seat as she pronounced, ‘The Death Card.’
Rather than shudder at the premonition – or rise to her grandmother’s bait – Phaedra smiled and placed a fond kiss on Fiona’s forehead. “It’s always the Death Card, Gram,” she said in a somewhat cavalier manner as she once again crossed to the door. “And now, I’ve really got to go.”
“You shouldn’t take this so lightly, Phaedra girl,” Fiona warned. “Big changes are coming. You must be prepared.”
“Speaking of prepared, I need to get my gear – and prepare for a ghost hunt.”
Phaedra didn’t linger after the salutation. To do so would only feed into her grandmother’s obsession with her tarot predictions, and Phaedra didn’t have time to spare for such nonsense. No, she had places to go, people to appease, and restless spirits to capture. She would indulge her grandmother and her flights of fancy another day, she promised herself. Preferably one where she wasn’t previously committed to something else. One thing about Fiona: She had a way of dominating one’s attention with her theatrics, and once she really sucked a person in, it was hard to get out. Phaedra knew this all too well – she’d been her grandmother’s captive audience many times over the past twenty-odd years.
But not tonight.
Tonight, the ghosts awaited.
As did her sister. And if she were half the psychic her family purported her to be, Phaedra decided, she would’ve known this ahead of time and wouldn’t have jumped back, startled by the sight of Delilah Delaney standing just inside the apartment with Phaedra’s gear bag held out before her. But she did. Embarrassed, Phaedra grabbed her bag from her sister with a little too much force and cast a critical eye upon her. Judging by the way Delilah was dressed (dark blue tee shirt, jeans, sneakers, her copper hair pulled back into a tight braid, much like Phaedra) she was already prepared to go on a hunt. But if that weren’t enough to confirm it, Delilah’s words did. “Ready to go?”
“What are you, psychic?”
Delilah smiled wide, her full lips tweaking her cheeks and making them dimple. “If only,” she said in a dreamy manner. “Actually, I heard you and Gram talking. Your voices carry through the vent, you know.”
Phaedra grimaced. “Oh, yeah, forgot about that.” Slinging her bag over a shoulder, she turned back to the still open door. “Ready to go kick some phantom ass, then?”
“Lead the way.”
“You sure you’re okay with this?”
“What, having to baby-sit my older sister on a ghost hunt because Gram has one of her ‘feelings’?” Delilah asked. “Beats the heck out of sitting around watching old reruns of the Twilight Zone while Gram drums up business and Mom finishes her shift.”
Phaedra thought about that for a moment. Yeah, if given the choice of the two options, she’d make the same one Delilah did. Better to hang out with her sister in a supposedly haunted cemetery than stay home alone watching television.
“Let’s go, then.”
As the night wore on, fog settled over the cracked, aged stones in great white tufts, looking more like clouds than mist. It undulated in a wild, impromptu dance about the stones, snaking around their bases, draping itself over their tops, sometimes masking the stones altogether. Beyond the fog the darkness was so thick, the beam of a flashlight could barely penetrate it. Indeed, the contrast the beam made against the fog was startling. And eerie.
With the fog came the cold. Not the bone-chilling cold of winter that could lead to hypothermia, but a different kind of cold. More of a goose-bump raising, this-could-be-paranormally-inspired kind of cold. An owl hooting in a distant corner of the cemetery didn’t help matters much. Nor did Delilah’s assessment.
“You know, this is the perfect setting for one of those Halloween-themed slasher movies.”
Phaedra cast her sister a disbelieving look. “Thanks so much – that makes this so much easier.”
Delilah, as usual, was unfazed by Phaedra’s discomfort. “Hey, just saying.” She literally shrugged it off. “Now I know why Gram wanted me to come. This place is seriously creeped out.”
“Well, what did you expect an ancient cemetery in New England to be like at two-thirty in the morning?” Phaedra couldn’t keep the sarcasm from dripping from her voice – not that she tried.
“See, that’s just it. I usually wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like this.”
“Seriously?” Phaedra stared at her sister, beyond shocked. “Did you even hear what you just said?”
“Wouldn’t be caught dead in,” Phaedra repeated Delilah’s words back to her. “You wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like this. You do realize this is a cemetery and one of these days you are –”
“Don’t say it!” Delilah was quick to change the eerie subject with, “You know, I don’t think your ghost guy’s showing up tonight.”
Sensing her sister’s discomfort with the whole situation, Phaedra decided to give her a break. “I tried to tell Dean that, but he wouldn’t listen. He insisted on coming here anyway. Just the slightest hint of anything being haunted and he has to go there.”
“Well, maybe he’s having better luck where he is.” Delilah’s cast her flashlight beam in the opposite direction of her sister’s as if in search of the intrepid team leader. “Maybe we should find him and pack it in,” she suggested.
“Yeah, you’re probably right.” Phaedra brought her beam home as she stooped to gather up the equipment she had laid out in a semi-circle about her feet. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice.” Before the last word left her mouth, Delilah turned away and started weaving through the crooked headstones toward the cement pathway. The beam of her flashlight cut a jagged path ahead of her. And left Phaedra with one less light source.
Phaedra tried not to let it bother her as she continued to gather her gear, eager herself to get out of there. She wasn’t necessarily afraid of the dark, but the fog was another thing. It really brought on the gooseflesh and for that she blamed John Carpenter and a certain movie Delilah forced her to watch some years prior on late night TV. After all this time, she was still bothered by the sight of heavy fog. Which was a detriment in her night job. Wherever she went, there always seemed to be some type of fog or fog-like substance wafting over the atmosphere.
With a shake of her head at her silliness, Phaedra prepared to shut off her mini voice recorder when a movement to her right (not the same way Delilah went) caught her attention. Keeping her light pointed at the ground (she didn’t want to scare away a potential spirit, after all) Phaedra turned toward the right, her movements slow, unthreatening. In her other hand, she held the recorder, still running.
The spirit materialized in a tendril of fog in a way that made it difficult to discern where the fog ended and the spirit began. As Phaedra watched, it took on the shape of a wizened old man with kind eyes and a balding head. It moved its mouth several times in an attempt to speak, its brow knotting up when the words wouldn’t come.
“It’s okay,” Phaedra said, raising a hand in an encouraging gesture. “Take your time. Don’t try to force it. Just tell me what you want.”
After several shaky attempts, the spirit finally managed to say, “You must be… careful.” The words came out garbled, hoarse, and gravelly with disuse. “The man… change… is coming.”
“Prepare for what? What change?”
“The man is the quest, the quest is the change,” the spirit said, as if she hadn’t spoken. “Find the quest and you find the man.”
A cool breeze rushed over them, sweeping the spirit back into the fog from which it was formed and leaving Phaedra alone amongst the headstones. Time to get the hell out of Dodge, she decided. But first, she had to check her recorder, had to know if it had picked up the spirit’s voice, its warning. Rewinding it to a point five minutes prior, she pushed Play, her breath held in anticipation of what she might (or might not) hear. Her breath came out in a whoosh when, sure enough, the specter’s voice came through loud and clear, and she heard his warning again. It was just as chilling (and confusing) the second time around as the first.
Shaking off the shivers that claimed her with the spirit’s words, Phaedra clicked off the recorder and stowed it in her jeans pocket (for easier access) then zipped up her bag and took off after her sister. In her haste to catch up with Delilah (and get the hell out of the cemetery, as she’d had enough of it for one night) Phaedra tripped over a tree root and landed with a thud across an old grave, her flashlight bouncing out of her grip in the process. It rolled to a stop in front of a headstone, the beam directed at the old chiseled face of it like a footlight on a stage. With a grumble, Phaedra reached for it. As she did, her attention was caught and arrested by the legend on the headstone.
Oliver Nathaniel Bentley
April 27, 1823 – March 15, 1856
If only I could bury my heart with my beloved,
For it beats for no one in this empty husk of a body ~
Yours in Death as in Life,
Retrieving her digital camera from her bag, Phaedra hastily took several shots of the inscription for later pondering. Then she gathered all of her things together and all but ran to catch up with her sister. In one instant, this night had gone from strange to downright eerie. She couldn’t wait to get to the safety of her home.
Allenby, Massachusetts – 1846
He was the man. ‘The Man with Everything,’ according to the article in the Allenby Beacon. Businessman. Philanthropist. Entrepreneur. And all at the ripe old age of twenty-three. Indeed, the only thing Oliver Bentley lacked, so it would seem, was a woman to share it all with. All he needed to make his life complete was to find ‘a good, God-fearing woman to bear him plenty of children.’ Also according to the article.
With a shake of his head and a tolerant chuckle, Oliver tucked the paper under his arm – a mere moment before he was nearly mowed down by a little whirlwind dressed in a pale green pinafore. He caught the confection up in his arms (thereby avoiding a disastrous collision) just as an absolute vision in pale pink with dark ringlets strode toward them with a look of determination and remorse on her doll-like face. She couldn’t have been more than fourteen at the oldest, but still, Oliver’s heart paused to take notice. And as he paused, the whirlwind in his arms wriggled free of his grasp, but her freedom was short-lived as the vision caught her by the wrist and hauled her in – all while staring Oliver down.
“You must excuse my sister, Mr. –” She began in a voice as sweet as sugar, but she hesitated to allow him to supply his name.
“Mr. Bentley.” The vision smiled, the action dimpling her full, apple cheeks – and resonating deep within him. Oh, Lord, this one is special. “I am so sorry, but you must forgive my sister.” She cast her captive an annoyed look before turning the full power of her smile back on Oliver, and his knees nearly went weak at the sight. “Sometimes, she runs a little wild and gets away from us – but what can you expect from someone we found along the side of the road like a wild animal?”
Well, that’s a rather unexpected thing to say!
Before Oliver could react to the vision’s bold words, her ‘sister’ pulled against her, veritably growling, “I’m not a wild animal.” Of course, her actions belied her words. Not that she seemed to notice. No, she was far too busy glaring at the sister she was trying to escape.
Oliver paid her little attention as he turned back to the vision, basked in the light of her glorious green eyes. Everyone else on the busy street faded away then, all sights, all sounds forgotten as he gloried in this thing of utter beauty standing before him. To her, he said, “Oh, no, it’s quite all right, Miss –”
The vision stuck out her hand to him in a surprisingly man-like gesture. “Marietta Markham,” she announced, taking his hand in a firm grasp and giving it a good shake. Like a proper little soldier, he thought with some amusement. “But I suppose you must call me ‘Miss Markham.’” She dropped her hand and glanced toward her companion. “This is my sister, Sybil Bancroft.” She turned back to Oliver with a naughty half-smile. “Well, my adopted sister, obviously – since we found her on the side of the road.”
“Stop saying that!” Sybil whined. And she actually stomped her foot in a fit of pique, showing her age of – ten, perhaps? Twelve at the oldest, Oliver guessed. She completed the picture of the offended, injured party by crossing her arms over her waist and sticking out her rather full bottom lip in a pout. The affect was not a positive one, which was really too bad. If not for the bad manners (and the misfortune of standing next to such an utter beauty as Marietta) Sybil might have been considered a blossoming beauty herself with her wide blue eyes and braids of gold. But, alas, it wasn’t the case.
Unmoved by her sister’s display, Marietta said, “Well, it’s true. Your own family cast you out – they’d rather you were raised by wolves.” She didn’t stop to think of the consequences as she added, “Indeed, I think you were, if one was to judge by your appalling manners. You are no better than a wild animal.”
Sybil shrieked, said, “That’s not true!” And promptly launched herself at Marietta.
Oliver stood to the side, a perplexed expression on his face, unsure what he should do. Should he step in and try to separate the girls? Or mind his own business and hurry away? No, he couldn’t do that; he wasn’t one to run away from anything. He always faced things full on, took up the challenge – and conquered. That was how he’d accomplished what he had in so short a time. But most of his opponents were men. He was at a loss as to how to deal with woman. Even pint-sized ones who were still in the schoolroom and short dresses.
As Oliver hesitated over the matter, it was taken out of his hands by the arrival on the scene of a stern-faced elder man with salt and pepper hair and his equally stern female counterpart. Had to be the parents, Oliver presumed.
The assumption was proven correct when the man jumped into the fray (verbally, at least) his booming voice cutting through the shrieks with ease. “Girls! Control yourselves this instant,” he yelled. “You are on a public street, for heaven’s sake.”
The woman added through pinched lips, “This is not the way the daughters of Judge Cyril Markham comport themselves.” To Sybil, she said, “For you, it is understandable, as you haven’t been with us long. But you.” She turned her full disapproval on Marietta. “You were born to the Judge. You have no excuse for this embarrassing display of woeful misconduct.” To both girls, “Go to the carriage now.”
Both girls murmured their assent, properly chastened, and moved off toward a waiting carriage just ahead. But as they prepared to step up into the vehicle with the aid of the coachman, Marietta Markham glanced back over her shoulder at Oliver – and winked at him!
It was then he knew that he was going to marry her.
Allenby, Massachusetts – Present Day
He had to get rid of the monstrosity.
Everything about the old house made him cringe and wish he were anywhere but there. It had always been so. He didn’t understand why, but ever since he was young, something about the house … bothered him. He hated everything about it. Hated the box-like shape so popular back in the late 1700s when it was likely built. Hated the flat roof with its Belvedere, multiple chimneys, and a balustrade that ran a perimeter of the roof. He hated the many ornamented windows, the maze of wings off-shooting from the sides and the back – even the panel door with its sidelights, half-circle fan light transom and triangular door pediment. The only part he liked was the front portico with its paired ionic columns, which like other aspects of the house such as the wings in the back, was added at a later date. But the quaint little porch did little to relieve the depression of the rest of the house.
To add to the creep factor, it sat back from the road on an expansive piece of property, on a slight incline that gave it the impression of sitting on a throne. The parquet walkway up to the house was lined with overgrown hydrangeas in varying shades of blue and purple. Rhododendrons circled the base of the structure (which was once painted a dignified white but now just looked dirty) like organic soldiers, keeping people out – or in?
And the gloomy interior…
A chill swept through Nate Bentley’s rugged body at the thought. He shuddered before he could check the gesture. The interior was more gothic than the exterior with its ornate furnishings and old paintings of dead relatives staring down from the vintage-papered walls.
He had to get rid of it.
If it was the last thing he did, he had to get rid of the bane of his existence: the Federal-style eyesore his family had called home for countless generations. And considering how the males of his family had the misfortune of meeting their end in their early thirties, it very well might be the last thing he did.
Nate smirked at his morbid thoughts, pushed back the sleeve on his Armani suit jacket to check his Rolex for the fourth time in as many minutes. And sighed. The realtor was late. Which wasn’t a point in her favor. If she truly wanted the commission for selling such a lucrative property as Bentley Manor, why would she risk it by being (he checked his watch again) twenty minutes late? He was sure he’d told her one o’clock, not one-thirty. Not very professional, Nate thought. Maybe it was time to look for a new realtor.
Just as the idea formed, a sleek black Audi pulled up behind his Infiniti and the harried realtor tumbled out onto the driveway in a heap of mussed hair and wrinkled power suit.
“I am so sorry I kept you waiting, Mr. Bentley,” she said, scurrying over to him in a way that reminded Nate of a crab in high heels. “There was an issue at another showing I had to resolve before I could leave and, well, you don’t really need to know the details, do you?” Her laugh rang hollow in the air. “Well, that’s real estate for you! You never know what’s going to happen.” Another hollow laugh. “Were you waiting long?”
“Forty minutes,” Nate pronounced, displeasure evident in his raspy voice. “I was early. I sent the assessor in to start without you.”