“Oh! I did hear about that!” Kelsey said. She stared at Liam. She had been so caught up in her own situation, she had forgotten that she had seen their names online, and one night on the news. Sean O’Hara and the Becketts had gotten involved with a film crew, recreating the situation in which two people had been brutally murdered on an uninhabited island. A documentary would air sometime the following year.
“And it’s over,” Vanessa said with a shudder. “Next week, I’m filming dolphins for a public-service feature. I’m much happier!”
“That sounds great,” Kelsey said.
“Okay, we’re really out of here,” Jaden said. “It’s wonderful to meet you,” she told Kelsey. “And thanks for letting us get in the place on Saturday.”
“My pleasure. If anyone is allergic to dust, they’re in trouble,” Kelsey warned as Ted and Jaden left.
It was a warm group, and she was apparently accepted.
Sean and Vanessa decided to brave the bouncing coeds and dance; Liam looked at Kelsey. “Want to try it?”
Dance. He was asking her to dance. Just dance. And yet…
“Do you remember grade school? Mrs. Miller insisted we have something like a cotillion!” she said, grinning.
“We can probably still manage.”
Clarinda was busy taking drink orders at another table; Jonas and David were deep in conversation. She still hesitated.
It was a dance, just a dance. She wasn’t being sucked back into this actually being her home.
“Sure,” she said with a shrug.
By the time they reached the floor, however, Katie was singing at the request of the coeds—she was doing a Shakira number, and Liam told her, “Salsa!”
“Oh, Lord!” she said.
“You’ve been gone too long. We have a major-league Cuban influence down here—everybody salsas. You’ll be fine!”
Oddly enough, it all kicked in. Maybe it was like riding a bike.
Liam knew what he doing. She remembered in ballroom dance, her job was to follow. He led well. And it was fun, exhilarating. She didn’t remember the last time she had been out like this.
By the end of the number, they had the floor. The bouncing coeds came over and hugged them enthusiastically, then decided to drip their inebriated adoration on Katie.
It was too easy to have too much fun. To feel his hands on hers, and his arms around her, and feel as if time had evaporated. They’d never taken a step past friendship, but then, they’d still been so young….
“This has been wonderful,” she said. “I think, though, Liam, if you don’t mind, I should get back home.”
“Hey, I can take you,” Jonas said. “I’m a stone’s throw from you.”
“Clarinda is still working,” David pointed out.
“I’m fine taking Kelsey home,” Liam said. “I want to walk around the place a bit, too.”
“The new locks are on, right?” David asked.
“Yes. I just want to take a walk around the place,” Liam repeated.
“Sure, but, Kelsey, don’t forget—the Salvage Inn, right across from you. Clarinda and I are in room one—it’s the left half of the house. Our breakfast chef and server are in at five-thirty in the morning, and we have a bartender at the tiki bar until two a.m., so if you’re ever nervous at all, someone is there. And, of course, don’t hesitate to wake us up!” He rose.
“Thanks,” Kelsey said. “That’s really nice. Especially since I was such a pain in the ass as a kid!”
He laughed. “Hey, David, tell Clarinda I’ll be back. I’m just going to go home and check on the B and B for a few minutes. Make sure we don’t have any calamities going on.”
“Will do,” David said.
When they walked out to Liam’s car, the coeds decided that they were all best friends, too. Kelsey endured a round of hugs from the cheerful cheerleaders and their bruiser dates.
At the cars, they waved good-night to Jonas.
Liam turned down Simonton rather than Duval, knowing that Duval would be filled with jaywalkers. It was seldom an easy street to traverse—except maybe at five in the morning.
But the backstreets could be quiet and pretty. There were so many fine Victorian houses, since the great age for Key West—when the city had boasted one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country during the age of wreckers—had occurred when building had been seen as artistry. There were bungalows, shotgun houses and many a grand dame in Old Town.
“Have you missed the place?” Liam asked her. He had apparently been watching her as she surveyed their surroundings.
“Of course, I’ve missed it. I mean, I think—unless a place were absolutely terrible—you’d miss it if you’d basically grown up there,” Kelsey told him.
“But you like where you live now,” he said.
“And you’re in Hollywood,” he said.
“Yes, but it’s not as… All right, well it can be plastic, but my neighborhood is great. My dad worked at UCLA, and so I went to UCLA, and they have a great school of art and animation.”
“I’ve seen your column. But you do gaming, too?”
“I don’t. My partner, Avery, does.”
When they pulled in front of a house, he turned off the car’s engine and sat staring up at it for several moments.
“My grandfather was not some kind of evil wizard who cursed the house and set a dozen demons loose in it,” she said, surprised that she sounded so resentful.
He flashed her a smile. “I wasn’t afraid of demons. I’m afraid of real people breaking in to steal things and not caring much if they take a human life in order to do so.”
“Liam, honestly, if there was some kind of really terrible thief who knew about the strange treasures that might be found here, they could have easily broken in while my grandfather was alive. He was an old man living alone.”
He was quiet, and that disturbed her.
“He died of a heart attack, right?”
“If you’re trying to unnerve me, it isn’t going to work. I grew up in that house,” she reminded him. Kelsey wasn’t sure why she was being so insistent. Maybe she felt that she had to stay there to honor her family in some way. No one in the world would ever understand Cutter Merlin the way that she had. If she didn’t stay in the house, she would just perpetuate all the rumors about it being evil and Cutter being some kind of a devil worshiper.
He lifted his hands. “I’m not trying to make you angry. I’ll come in and take a walk around the place, just because some kids and a couple of the barely employed were recently inside.”
“But the locks are new—and the entry over the washer and dryer is sealed now, right?” Kelsey said.
He nodded while exiting the car. She wasn’t sure if he meant to come around and open her door or not, but she hurriedly stepped out herself before he could do so. He was staring up at the house.
“Do you see something?” she asked.
He turned to look at her. “No.”
“There you go, see?”
She started walking toward the house. He followed her. She opened both locks and pushed the door in.
The house was just as she had left it. A gazelle—obtained at an auction of objects from an 1890s safari—stared down at her from the far wall, its glass eyes baleful.
“See?” she asked Liam.
He walked through to the dining room. She stood where she was in the parlor, halfway closing her eyes.
It had always been a beautiful house. Her mother had been a historian, a perfect daughter for Cutter Merlin, and her father had been an anthropologist. Her parents had met at a university function at Oxford, and her father, a California native, had been madly in love with her mother, and in awe of Cutter.
What had changed that? How had an accident on a stairway made her father so determined that he had to get her away? Or had it been, in truth, the insanity of grief?
Liam appeared again, coming through the family-room archway. “Okay, just the office—” He broke off, opening the door to Cutter’s library. He walked in, and she heard him moving about, shuffling boxes around. He reappeared. “The upstairs,” he said.
“Okay. Mind hauling my suitcase up while you’re at it?” she asked, smiling. He had no right to stop her from staying, and he knew it. But it wasn’t making him happy.
“My pleasure, Miss Donovan,” he said, but there wasn’t a lot of pleasure in his voice.
She’d brought only one bag, because it was Key West. One jacket was enough, a few pairs of jeans and shorts, two dresses and sandals. If she needed anything else for her time here, she could buy it in dozens of shops.
“This is all you brought?” he asked her.
“It does weigh a full fifty pounds,” she assured him.
He grunted, hefting the bag. “Yes, I believe it does.”
She followed him as he climbed the stairway without pausing. Of course, he knew the way to her room. The last time she had seen him before tonight had been in that room.
“You might have waited one night,” he said, entering through the doorway of her room. It faced south, toward Jonas’s Salvage Inn. There were two more rooms on that side of the hall, while the large master bedroom and another guest room were on the other side.
“Dust!” he said, and sneezed.
She laughed. “It’s okay. I’m really tired. I’ll fall asleep fast, and wake up and start with the cleaning. With any luck, the washer and dryer still work.”
She flicked the switch by the side of the door. Light flooded the room.
He set her bag down and looked around. “I’ll check the other rooms. One of the thieves who broke in said that the kids had used these rooms to smoke pot. I’ll just check them out.”
She laughed, and he turned back, frowning.