“I’m sorry. There’s a real fear—kids smoking pot!”
He wasn’t amused. He left her. As he did so, she walked to the closet. She was touched to see that Cutter had never gotten rid of her things. She would have to do so now. But she saw a set of clean sheets that had been sealed in a plastic zippered bag.
A little tremor touched her. Cutter had probably never stopped hoping that she and her father would return.
She had the bed halfway remade when Liam returned to the room. “Any evil weed smokers?” she asked him.
“No.” He helped her finish pulling the clean sheets onto the bed. “Where did you find these?”
“In the closet—the miracle of sealed zipper bags,” she told him.
When the bed was made, he stood looking across the room at her. “You have my number in your cell, if you need me—if you need anything.”
She smiled. “Yes, thanks.”
“All right, then. Hey, give me a call in the morning, all right?”
“Absolutely.” They stared at one another for a minute. She wondered if he remembered the last time they’d been there together. She’d been in so much pain. He’d been so compassionate. She found herself wondering what might have happened if she had stayed in Key West.
They might have become a couple. They might have even married young, and then, like so many people she knew, grown apart, either apathetic or hating one another….
They could have been divorced already, she thought dryly.
But she didn’t think so.
Something inside of her seemed to ache. All the could-have-beens.
“Come on and lock me out,” he said.
She nodded, following him back down the stairs. When they came to the front door, they both hesitated a moment.
Such a hugging group. He was probably going to hug her good-night.
But he didn’t. He seemed to need to keep a distance. That was good.
“All right, then. Good night, kid.”
He brushed her cheek. She was suddenly tempted to step closer, to hug him. To cling to him for all the amazing strength he offered. But he offered a great deal more now. He was incredibly tall and well-built, and his eyes were hypnotic, blue like her own but different: more like silver-gray. She suddenly felt an odd jealousy, wondering what had transpired in his life over the years, what women he had known—and how it was possible that he was able to still be such a friend to her.
He walked out the door.
She made sure to lock it quickly behind him so he heard the clicks.
She heard him walk across the porch, and then she didn’t hear his footsteps as he reached the overgrown lawn and driveway.
For a moment, she was tempted to throw open the door and beg him to come back in. She was tempted to actually ask him if he’d stay the night…ask if he wasn’t the least tempted to sleep with her.
Her cheeks burned with the thought. And with the remembered brush of his fingertips upon them.
She turned to look around the house. The things that seemed so scary to others were not so to her. She loved the mummy—it had given her such great stories, both those told to her by Cutter and those she made up to scare her friends. She smiled at the thought of her dream, because, as Liam had once said, the mummy was dead and gone, locked in its elegant sarcophagus. That, she decided, must go to a museum. Cutter would have a particular museum listed, she was certain.
It was actually three hours earlier in California, and she shouldn’t have been so tired. But she was exhausted.
She was going to go to bed and sleep, and in the morning, she’d start dealing with it all.
She started up the stairs and paused. She silently cursed all the rumors about the place.
Once again, she had the odd sensation of being watched.
With a shake of her head, she went up the steps and into her room. She fell down on the clean sheets without bothering to undress.
Cutter, forgive me, she thought.
He emerged from his special place, that place that not even Cutter Merlin had known about.
And he watched as the car drove away from the house, a sense of elation filling him.
They didn’t know; they just didn’t know. They didn’t see him, and they wouldn’t find him.
They didn’t understand. He was protected by the power within. They would never see him.
Old man Cutter had thought that he’d understood, but he never had, not until the very end.
Cutter’s daughter… She’d known, and she’d seen. And the granddaughter had the same gift, so it seemed.
He was elated. What he had thought was lost might now be found.
She was back!
She was going to stay at the house. He thought of all the things that he could do, but he knew that he would wait. He had to wait. Kelsey Donovan was the only one who could find the source of the power that he needed, the true relic and the true wealth.
People looked at the house, and they shivered, and they thought of horror movies, Psycho, House on Haunted Hill…
And, yes, the house could seem to breathe in the moonlight, but… Ah, yes. Power. It lay in wealth. And in the ability to haunt and tease the mind. There was no weapon as great as the mind!
To Kelsey…he would do no evil.
He needed her, but then…
Great power did demand great sacrifice.
Kelsey woke with a hint of sunlight streaking through her windows; the curtains hadn’t been fully closed. She lay for a minute, enjoying the dazzle of the light on the dust motes in the air. She smiled and stretched.
She’d slept beautifully. No dreams, no bumps in the night.
She rose slowly and searched the closet for towels. She found that a stack had been wrapped in plastic as well and thanked whoever had helped Cutter after she and her father had left.
The concept of a shower wasn’t quite as appetizing. A patina of dust was on everything, and in the end, she decided that it was best to scrub down the bathroom, get all hot and sweaty and dirty first and then relish a shower. Luckily, cleaning fluids didn’t seem to go bad.
Finally, refreshed and clad in shorts and tank top, she headed downstairs. The morning light pouring into the house gave her pause—the task ahead of her was daunting.
“Cutter, what were you doing?” she asked aloud.
She walked into the kitchen and winced. Before anything else, the kitchen had to be cleaned. Then she’d be able to brew coffee and buy food. The thought that she really wanted coffee put everything in order. Kitchen first, then a trip into town for a new coffeemaker and some groceries. Then dusting and vacuuming her room. Then she would delve into Cutter’s office and try to discover what was in some of the boxes. She wanted to go through Cutter’s things carefully. She didn’t want to discover that she’d thrown away what appeared to be junk and was really a precious relic belonging to an obscure religion.
The kitchen didn’t appear to be quite as bad as the rest of the house. Cutter had used the kitchen, whereas he probably hadn’t been in her room since she had left. Delving under the sink, she found sponges, scrubbers, dishwashing detergent and all kinds of cleaners. It took her about thirty minutes to do a thorough go-over, and then she was happy to find a coffeemaker, and some coffee in the refrigerator. She prepared a single cup in the little coffeemaker and enjoyed it without cream or sugar.
She started to make a list of things she would need for the next few weeks, then remembered that she was hosting a barbecue and added the items she assumed she’d need for her impromptu party. While she was mulling what the group would enjoy, her cell phone rang and she answered it.
“You’re all right?”
“Of course, I’m fine. I told you I’d be fine. You sound so distressed.”
“You were supposed to call me and tell me that you were fine,” he said.
She was disturbed by the flutter that teased inside. What was the matter with her? She hadn’t seen him in years, and yet those years had melted away. She’d naturally been attracted to several men throughout the years, and she’d had friends who’d made her laugh, who intrigued her with their interests and hobbies, but she’d never known someone who seemed to have such a physical pull, and who haunted her soul and mind, as well. Liam still cared, after all this time. She didn’t think that he’d spent his life waiting for her; he was an extremely attractive man physically, sensual, vital, honed, and she was sure he’d had his share of relationships. But he wasn’t in one now, unless she was imagining things and he was about to tell her that he was bringing his wife or his girlfriend to the barbecue.
Maybe he’d been a lot like her—meeting people, enjoying them, their company, and spending time, even making love, but never finding whatever it was that was needed to make it a real and total commitment.
Or maybe she was reading far too much into a friend’s concerned call.
“I’m sorry. But I slept great, and everything is fine,” she said.
“So, what’s on your agenda?”
“The grocery store, and a call to Joe Richter, and probably a drive over to his office. I was Cutter’s only living relative, and the only one mentioned in the will. But I knew even when I was a kid that he kept a log—he wanted a lot of his pieces in various museums. He trusted his family never to let greed get in the way of what he wanted, and he wasn’t all that fond of paperwork and lawyers. So…it’s good and it’s bad. I have a lot to figure out, trying to fulfill all his wishes. Anyway…that’s the agenda.”
“If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call.”
“I’ll see you later, then.”
Kelsey hung up. She hesitated, and then dialed him back on his cell phone. Later was a little too vague.
“Is everything all right?” he answered.
She hesitated again. Maybe he was just concerned about her welfare. But they had been friends once—sparring, perhaps, but close.
“How do you feel about dinner?” she asked.