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«The Carriage House», Carla Neggers

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The first book in the Texas Rangers series, 2001

To Robyn Carr



On the day Ike Grantham disappeared, he missed an appointment with Tess Haviland, a Boston graphic designer and one of the few women who didn't find him irresistible. She liked him, but over a year later, she still couldn't explain why. He was blond, handsome, a risk-taker, outgoing to a fault, egalitarian and very determined not to fit the stereo-type of the serious, philanthropic-minded heir to a New England industrial fortune. He was without guilt or ambition, and there were days Tess thought he was without morals, too. Especially where women were concerned.

Except for her. "Tess," he used to say, "you have too many men with guns in your life. I'm steering clear."

She had no men with guns in her life. It just seemed that way because she'd grown up in a work-ing-class neighborhood and her father owned a pub. Ike wasn't without stereotypes of his own.

He was on her mind not just because it had been over a year since he'd taken off without a word, but because she'd just received the real estate tax bill for the carriage house he'd given her in lieu of a check. It was an 1868 carriage house on a small lot practically across the street from the ocean, within walking distance of one of the prettiest villages on the North Shore. The structure itself wasn't much. The location was. This was reflected in the property's value-and in her tax bill.

Tess stared down at the Old Granary Burial Ground four floors beneath her Beacon Street office. Thin, old tombstones tilted in different directions, and tourists crept along the paths in the lush shade, the tall trees filled out with leaves now, the long hard Boston winter finally over.

It had been a nose-to-the-grindstone winter. She'd left a secure corporate job to go out on her own early last year, just before Ike had bowed out of her life as abruptly as he'd barged in. Sometimes she wondered if he'd infected her-not romantically, but in creating a sense of urgency in her, so that the "someday" she'd go out on her own became something she had to do now. She'd been doing work for his Beacon Historic Project on the side, and before she knew it, she was hanging out her shingle. She'd worked out of her apartment for the first six months. Then, last fall, she and Susanna Galway decided to rent an office together in a late-nineteenth-century building on Beacon Street, a prestigious address. They had one room on the fourth floor, overlooking the city's most famous cemetery.

Tess turned from the window and looked at her friend. Susanna was tall and willowy, as dark as Tess was fair, with porcelain skin and eyes as green as the springtime grass down in Old Granary. She was also a financial planner, and Tess had only just told her about the carriage house. Susanna was at her desk, Tess's tax bill laid out on her keyboard. Occasionally she'd emit a sigh that conveyed the utmost distress.

"This is why you're an artist," she said finally. "Damn, Tess. You always get paid in cash. It's Rule One. If I'd been around to advise the Indians, do you think I'd have let them take beads for Manhattan? Hell, no."

"I can sell it."

"Who would buy it? It's run-down. It's on the flipping historic register. It's on a minuscule lot. And, I might add-" She swiveled around in her expensive ergonomic chair, zeroing in on her office mate and friend with those piercing green eyes. "I might add that the place is haunted."

"That's just a rumor."

"And not haunted by Casper the Friendly Ghost. Your ghost is a convicted murderer."

Tess dropped into her own chair at her computer. She did a great deal of her work, but not all, by computer. She still had an easel, oil pastels, drawing pencils, watercolors. She liked to touch and feel what she created, not just see it on a computer screen. Her screen was blank now, her computer in sleep mode. Her U-shaped work area, stacked and overflowing with samples, files, invoices, work in progress, wasn't as tidy and uncluttered as Susanna's. They were yin and yang, she liked to tell her more artistic friends. That was why they could work in the same space without killing each other.

"It was a duel," Tess said. "It's just that it happened to take place in the carriage house. Benjamin Morse challenged Jedidiah Thorne to a duel after Jedidiah accused him of abusing his wife, Adelaide. Jedidiah killed him and went to prison because it just so happened that dueling was illegal in Massachusetts. If Benjamin had killed Jedidiah instead, he'd have gone to prison."

"You're splitting hairs. It was murder."

Whatever it was, it happened in the carriage house within a few weeks of its completion. Jedidiah Thorne never got to live in the estate he'd built in Beacon-by-the-Sea. The Thornes had been seamen on the North Shore for centuries, but he was the first to make any money, prospering in shipping in those first years following the Civil War. After serving five years in prison for killing Benjamin Morse, Jedidiah headed west, only to return, finally, to the East Coast just before his death. It was his ghost people said haunted the carriage house to this day. It was where he'd killed a man-it was where his spirit remained. Why, no one seemed to know.

"I don't believe in ghosts," Tess said. Susanna rocked back in her chair. She was dressed in smart, slim pants and a shirt-top, naturally graceful, her nails done, her makeup perfect. She'd left San Antonio for Boston late last summer, moving herself and her twin daughters in with her grandmother in Tess's old neighborhood. There was an ex-, or soon-to-be-ex-, husband back in Texas. Susanna didn't like talking about him.

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