“Thor, think we should still head out? Sheridan canceled when he saw all the cop cars out there, but we could still dive,” Marshall said.
“No!” Alex protested. “You can’t give people a day off, then haul them back to work,” he argued.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Marshall agreed glumly.
“We’ll be fine starting up again Monday,” he said. “I guess.”
“Monday,” Thor said, and left them. He strode to his own cottage, certain Genevieve had yet to leave hers. He couldn’t shower and change and keep his eye on her cottage at the same time, but at least he could clean up quickly.
Hell. He was following her. Becoming obsessed. Why?
At the moment, he told himself, it was because she had behaved so strangely when Jack had connected the woman she had seen in the water with the corpse on the shore, which certainly seemed to have vindicated her.
Dressed, he stood in his living room, looking out the window.
Hell, he wasn’t just following her. He was becoming a damned stalker.
She came out of her cottage wearing a pale yellow halter dress that complemented the golden color of her skin and the rich, radiant darkness of her hair. She set off on foot, heading out of the resort.
He paused, gritting his teeth, then went after her.
One by one, the others had drifted away. Frowning, Victor noticed that only Bethany stayed. But then, it wasn’t usual for Genevieve to walk off without waiting to see if anyone had a plan or wanted to join in on whatever her plan might have been.
This was one weird day, he thought.
At last he got up and headed for his own cottage.
He strode in and paused, startled that the floor just inside the entry seemed to be wet. The watery trail led around the half wall to the bedroom area. He followed it.
Staring at the bed, he nearly let out a scream. He stopped himself in time.
There was a soaking-wet mannequin lying across his bed.
Sightless blue painted eyes stared up at him. A scraggly blond wig was soaked and askew. Plastic arms were lifted up toward him, as if pleading for his help.
What the hell…?
Victor felt a strange sense of panic. If he were caught with this thing in his cottage…when there had been a real dead woman on the shore…shit!
He had to get rid of the damned thing, and fast.
How? How the hell was he going to do that with no one seeing him?
He wondered how the hell someone had gotten it into his cottage in the first place.
Who had brought it?
She was heading south on Duval Street.
Since Genevieve seemed to be distracted, it wasn’t difficult to follow her. She greeted some of the shopkeepers she passed but didn’t pause to look at anything. At the La Concha Hotel, she ducked into the Starbucks. He held back, leaning against the building.
“It’s haunted,” a woman said, huge sun hat atop her head, dark glasses in place, tour book in her hands. “Herb, it’s haunted. It’s the tallest building in town. People have jumped from the roof.”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s haunted. Can we check in?” Herb asked. He was leading two large suitcases by their straps and wore a heavy backpack. He grimaced at Thor. Looked like a nice guy.
“Oh, Herb, I’m sorry,” his wife said, and Herb shrugged, still looking amused. The two looked as if they’d been together forever. Happily. Nice thought.
He gave Herb a thumbs-up sign, and Herb grinned and moved on.
Genevieve reappeared with a paper cup of coffee. She started south again. He followed.
Just a few blocks farther along the road, she made a sharp turn. He followed. The street was lined with old houses, all handsomely kept. A few advertised rooms for rent, or had signs announcing that they were bed-and-breakfasts. One dared to proclaim, “Best breakfast in Key West.” Genevieve went past, then turned up a walk. Three steps led to a handsome porch and a door that boasted a beautiful cut-glass window in the upper half.
She pulled a key chain from her pocket, opened the door, then let it swing closed behind her.
He stood on the street and surveyed the house, slowly walking closer. It was a striking Classical Revival mansion. It was two stories, with an arched attic, and had wraparound porches on both the first and second floors. There was Victorian gingerbread on the rails, and it looked as if Genevieve lovingly tended the place—the paint was fresh, the lawn mowed, and there wasn’t a flaw in sight. As he stood there, he was surprised to see the door fly open again.
She walked out on the porch, hands on her hips as she glared at him. Great. He wasn’t just a stalker. He was a stalker who had been caught.
“Were you just going to stare at the place, or did you want to come in?” she demanded.
“I know. You were just on a walking tour of Key West, right?” she said dryly.
He shook his head. “No. I followed you.”
“I was worried.”
She lifted her hands. “Why? I’m not crazy. There was a body in the water.”
“I was just worried,” he said, and added honestly, “because of your reaction.”
“We’re all human, and that kind of thing is…horrible. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been on a hundred search-and-recovery missions, or that we’ve all seen a human body turned into such a grisly mess before. It’s still horrible.”
“Yes, of course. It just seemed…as if you were disturbed beyond…never mind. You’re right. It was a tragic discovery.”
She stared at him for a long moment, then shrugged. “Do you want to see the house? Though I didn’t take you for the kind who’d know much about architecture or old buildings.”
He smiled, following the path to the house. “Sorry, you’re wrong. I like history. And this house has got to be one of the oldest in Key West.”
“Definitely not the oldest—the oldest house is a museum now. The Wreckers Museum. This house was built in 1858. My great-great-whatever-grandfather built it. He was a wrecker.” She grinned. “He almost lost the house and everything else when the Civil War rolled around. Fort Taylor stayed in Union hands, but most of the people were Confederate sympathizers. Grandpa Wallace decided he could best serve his country as a blockade runner. At the end, he was caught by a friend—a Yankee, stationed at Fort Zachary Taylor. Luckily his friend was a bit of an entrepreneur, as well. The two split the proceeds, my grandfather didn’t hang, and I still have the house today.”
He looked around the parlor area. The house had the typical southern breezeway—a hall that went straight from the front door to the back, allowing for the air to circulate and cool the rooms. The entry and parlor took up the front portion of the place; there was a Duncan Phyfe sofa beneath the window, a spinet piano, and upholstered chairs on a knit rug before the fire. A staircase to the left of the hall led up to the second story.
“Down here,” she said, starting down the hall, “is the library—once upon a time an office, when Gramps was in the wrecking business. And the kitchen. Originally it was a downstairs bedroom, and the kitchen was outside. The kitchen burned down in the late 1800s. But there’s still an outhouse back there. My grandmother had that made into a birdhouse,” she told him.
She was chatting nervously, he thought. Smoothly, charmingly—but nervously.
“A rude comment here,” he said, going along, “but this place must be worth a fortune in today’s market.”
“It is,” she agreed.
“Aren’t you glad I didn’t agree to let you use it as collateral in a bet?” he queried.
Her lashes fell; a grin twitched on her lips. “You know I really won that bet,” she told him lightly. “And I’ve been on The Seeker now. That boat must be worth a fortune, too.” She turned, heading back for the stairway. “There are four rooms upstairs, and an attic. There are definitely bigger places on the island. Have you been to Artist House? It’s an absolutely gorgeous bed-and-breakfast now. Once Robert, our very weird Key West doll, lived there. He took the blame for all the bad things that happened to his owner and now he takes the blame for all the bad things that happen in Key West. He’s in the East Martobello museum now, ruining the tourists’ film.”
They had come to the top of the stairs. “My office,” she said, pushing open a door that had been ajar. White eyelet drapes shaded the windows, and even her computer desk was antique. There were pictures on the walls, many of them. He didn’t need to be told which pictures were of a young Genevieve with her parents. The older Wallaces had been tall, as well; her mother had been the one with the full head of rich auburn hair.
“Hey, that’s Jack,” he said, eyeing a group of children with snorkel equipment standing around an older man.
“Yes, that’s Jack. About fifteen years ago. He was great. The PTA liked to hire him for special field trips. We believed he was really a pirate. He loved to tell stories.”
Thor walked closer to another of the pictures on the wall. It was Genevieve and the group from Deep Down Salvage. Marshall, bald head shielded by a straw hat, was in the center. Bethany and Alex were on one side of him, Genevieve and Victor were on the other. Genevieve had an arm around Marshall, while Victor had an arm across her shoulders. They looked like a happy, close-knit group, which it certainly seemed they were. Except….
Did it look like Victor was just a very good friend? Or was he a bit too possessive?
And what about Alex? Being from Key Largo made him an outsider. Was he really just the good old boy he pretended to be?
And why the hell was he suddenly wondering about all this? Because a body had been discovered on the beach, he answered himself.
“That’s actually my favorite piece in the house,” Genevieve said, pointing to a very old brocade daybed. “My grandmother called it a ‘fainting couch.’ She taught me all these things about the way young ladies behaved. She was actually the toughest thing I’ve come across in all my life.” She started out of the room.