My plans for the house have, that’s for certain. Even if the police let me back into Baneberry Hall to renovate it, I’m not sure I still want to. From a brutally practical standpoint, it’s foolish. That house will sell for a wisp of what it’s worth, if it can be sold at all after this new tragic development.
But I look at the project through a more human lens. Petra Ditmer had spent more than two decades rotting inside Baneberry Hall. A horrible fate. When I think about it that way, it’s easy to agree with Chief Alcott. Baneberry Hall should be reduced to rubble.
“I came here to learn the truth,” I tell Dane. “That’s still my goal. Even if I might not like what that truth turns out to be.”
“And the house?”
“I’ll be back there tomorrow.” I throw my arms open, gesturing to the sun-bleached wall and stained ceiling and shag carpet that smells of mildew. “But tonight, I get to live in the lap of luxury.”
Dane shifts on the edge of his bed until we’re facing each other, our knees almost touching. The mood in the room has changed. An electricity passes between us, tinged with heat. Only then do I realize my arms-wide gesture has thrown the blanket from my shoulders, leaving me sitting in just a towel.
“I can stay here with you,” Dane says, his voice husky. “If you want me to.”
God, it’s tempting. Especially with a quarter bottle of bourbon in me and Dane looking the way he does. My gaze keeps returning to that hole in his shirt and its tantalizing glimpse of flesh. It makes me want to see what he looks like without the shirt. It would be easy to make that happen. One tug of this towel is all it would take.
And then what? All my conflicting emotions and confusion will still be there in the morning, this time complicated further by the mixing of work and pleasure. Once you tie the two of them together, it’s nearly impossible to untangle them again.
“You should go,” I say as I pull the blanket back around my shoulders.
Dane nods once. No asking me if I’m absolutely, positively sure. No turning on the charm in the hope I’ll change my mind.
“See you tomorrow, then,” he says.
He takes the beer but leaves the bourbon. Another unwise companion to spend the night with. I want to finish off the bottle and pass out into sweet, drunken oblivion. Like sleeping with Dane, it would hurt more than help. So, with great reluctance, I tighten the blanket around me and take the bottle to the bathroom to pour the rest down the sink.
“Are you fucking with me?”
Even though I knew it was the worst possible way to greet my wife in the morning, I couldn’t help it. Discovering the record player back on the desk and playing that infernal song had put me in mood so dark that I’d spent the night tossing and turning, worried that as soon as I drifted off, the music would return.
When the thud from upstairs arrived at exactly 4:54, I knew sleep would never arrive.
My agitation was only heightened when I went down to the first floor and found the chandelier glowing as bright as the sun.
By the time Jess entered the kitchen, I couldn’t help but confront her.
“What are you talking about?” she said, her expression a mix of hurt and confusion.
“You know damn well what I’m talking about. The record player was on again last night.”
“In your study?”
I huffed out a frustrated sigh. “Yes, in my study. I put it in the closet, but last night there it was, back on my desk and playing that stupid song. So, if this is some sort of prank, I need you to know it’s not funny. Not anymore.”
Jess backed against the counter, shrinking into herself. “I don’t know why you think I had anything to do with it.”
“Because you’re the only person who could have done it.”
“You’re forgetting about our daughter.”
Upstairs, the doorbell chimed. I ignored it. Whoever it was could wait.
“Maggie’s not that crafty.”
“Really?” Jess said. “I know you think she’s Daddy’s little girl and can do no wrong, but she’s not as innocent as she looks. I’m pretty sure half of this imaginary-friend stuff is just to get your attention.”
I barked out a laugh so bitter it surprised even me. “Is that your excuse for this record-player bullshit?”
By then, I knew the fight was about more than just a record player. It was about everything that had happened since we moved to Baneberry Hall. Ten days of headaches and regrets and tension that had gone unaddressed until that moment. Now it was out, flaring up with the heat and speed of a wildfire.
“I didn’t touch your record player!” Jess shouted. “And if I did, it would have been justified, considering you’re the one who forced us to move into this godforsaken house.”
“I didn’t force you!” I yelled back. “You loved this house, too.”
“Not as much as you. I saw it on your face the moment we stepped inside. That this was the house you wanted.”
“You could have said—”
“No?” Jess said, cutting me off. “I tried, Ewan. It didn’t work. It never works. You debate and cajole until you get your way. Always. And Maggie and I have no choice but to go along with it. Now we’re in a house with a fucking graveyard out back and our daughter acting weirder than she’s ever acted before and then this goddamn ceiling—”