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«The Carriage House», Carla Neggers

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Lauren continued to smile, but a coolness had come into her gray eyes, as if she was struggling to hide much stronger emotions. "No, I assume she's checking on her property. Isn't that right, Tess?"

Tess nodded. "I need to make some decisions."

At Lauren's side, Muriel Cookson was obviously confused. Lauren said briskly, "Before he left last year, Ike transferred ownership of the Thorne carriage house to Tess. I should have told you before now. It simply hasn't come up."

The elderly receptionist paled, but said nothing. She was a contrast to the tawny-haired Lauren and her expensive, tasteful clothes and easy manner. There was nothing naturally gracious or easy about Muriel Cookson, whom Ike used to describe to Tess in unflattering terms, taking the sting only partly out when he'd declare the project couldn't run without her. That the Beacon Historic Project interested him at all amazed Tess. Then again, Ike Grantham was a fixer-upper in his own way. It wasn't so much that he liked to help people for their sake as he believed totally in his ability to know what they needed. As arrogant and self-centered as he was, he had a charm, an energy about him, that inspired people. His enthusiasm for life and risk was contagious.

"Muriel wants to die at her desk, in her Rock-ports," he would tell Tess, "but Lauren wants Visionary Philanthropist written on her tombstone."

He'd said this sarcastically, the same day his younger sister had announced her engagement to Richard Montague, a domestic terrorism expert with the North Atlantic Strategic Studies Institute. Ike's ego knew no bounds. When he took off a week later, Tess half assumed he was miffed because he hadn't gotten to handpick his future brother-in-law and needed to nurse the wound to his ego. Lauren was totally dedicated to the Beacon Historic Project, wanting to take it in new directions. Ike didn't care. Tess had sensed he was bored with it, anxious to move on-and apparently he had. Lauren and Richard were married two months later, without Ike.

Lauren withdrew into the adjoining room at the back of the old, restored house. Tess waited in awkward silence with Muriel Cookson, who wouldn't like not knowing Ike had given away one of the proj-ect's properties, even if he'd done them a favor in dumping the carriage house. They'd bought it five years ago and, Ike had said, hadn't drawn up even the most preliminary plans of what to do with it. It had been one of his whims, he'd told Tess. A mistake he wanted to correct by transferring ownership to her.

Lauren returned, handing Tess a manila envelope. "There are two keys, both to the side door. There's no front-door key, I'm afraid, and no bulkhead key."

"Thank you."

"My pleasure. Let us know if there's anything we can do. We have a number of files on the carriage house's history in our archives upstairs."

Tess could feel the outline of the keys through the envelope. Her keys. Her carriage house. She was surprised at the sudden rush of excitement. If Ike came back tonight and said it was all a mistake, what would she do? She thanked Lauren, said goodbye to her and Mrs. Cookson and withdrew into the May sunshine. A cute shop across the street had a display of painted furniture in the window. Next to it was a chocolate store. Down the street, she could see boats in the harbor, bright buoys bobbing on the light surf. She breathed in the smell of the ocean and smiled. For the past year, she hadn't dared believe the carriage house was really hers. It had to be a mistake, never mind the papers she and Ike had signed. Maybe they weren't legitimate, wouldn't hold up in court if Lauren decided to contest the transfer. After all, Tess had promised Ike more work. As week after week went by without word from him, as she poured every minute, every dime she had, into her one-woman graphic design business, she had found herself completely paralyzed over what to do about the carriage house.

No more. At least not for the moment. She hopped into her car and headed out of the village along the ocean. The business district ended, houses thinned out. A rock-strewn beach stretched out on the ocean side of the road as it wound onto a narrow point. At the very tip of the point was the Thorne estate, a slate-blue clapboard house with gnarled apple trees, oaks and a huge shagbark hickory holding their own against the elements. The main road hooked around in front of it, intersecting with a narrow side street where the carriage house stood. Tess slowed, barely breathing, and made the turn.

The carriage house was exactly as she remembered it from last March, its narrow clapboards also painted a slate blue, its own gnarled apple tree out front. She pulled into its short, gravel driveway. Well, she thought as she stared at the small house, maybe it was a little more run-down than she remembered.

And in early spring, the lilacs weren't in bloom. They were now, the bushes growing in a thick, impenetrable border on the back and both sides of the carriage house's small lot, carving it out from the rest of Jedidiah Thorne's original estate. She could smell the lilacs through her open windows, their sweet scent mingling with the saltiness of the ocean.

She shut her eyes. "All right, so the place is haunted. What do you care? With your imagination, you'd probably invent a ghost on your own. This way, you don't have to."

But leave it to Ike Grantham to give her a haunted house-and her to take it.

Two

Andrew Thorne was not a happy man. He tried to convey this to Harley Beckett, his cousin and the one man on the planet Andrew would trust with his life- if he didn't kill him first.

"She's not in her tree house."

Harl grunted. "Then she's chasing after that damn cat."

He was flat on his back under a 1920s rolltop desk he was working on. Harl was the best furniture restorer on the North Shore, maybe in all of New England. His skills as chief Dolly-watcher, however, were currently under suspicion. Dolly was Andrew's six-year-old daughter, and when he'd come home from work-a long, aggravating day of things not going his way- he'd found her gone. And Harl oblivious.

Harl scooted out from under the rolltop and sat up on the spotless pine floor of the outbuilding where he lived and worked. He was particular. One stray dog hair or speck of mud, he maintained, could ruin a project, a touch of hyperbole few would dare point out to him. He was a Vietnam combat veteran and a retired police detective, and he'd never taken pains to make friends in Beacon-by-the-Sea. Neither had Andrew, but he got along with people better than Harl did. Which wasn't saying a lot.


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