Condemned – Chapter One: Pandora’s Box

The meager beam from the small Eveready wasn’t nearly enough to cut the gloom in the enormous storage area. It appeared that everything the Fotheringhams had owned had been tucked up here, organized into more or less neat rows with wide paths between them. In some places, wooden crates and leather steamer trunks were stacked over their heads.

“Oh hey, that’s handy,” she remarked, shining the light on the wall to their right.

“Yeah. What is it?”

“A freight elevator, operated on a pulley system. No electricity, so nothing but brute strength.” She caught his biceps between her thumb and forefinger and squeezed playfully. “Imagine how buff you’d be, Geoffrey, if you had to haul everything up here using that.”

“Are you saying I’m not buff now?” he rejoined, affronted.

“You’re put together very nicely, Windsor, but let’s not kid ourselves. You’re a businessman, and built like one.”

“So hard-bodied laborers are what sets you on fire, eh? Don’t tell that to Harris’s crew; you’ll be fending them off with a baseball bat.”

“Mmmm,” she replied, distracted already. “I’m not much into body builders. We really need the electricians to get some light up here. It will take an age to explore.”

“Which we don’t have,” he reminded her. “I have to meet with Harris and my accountant to go over some changes to the bid.”

“Oh, that should only take you a couple of hours. You can come back when you’re done. I should have found all kinds of interesting things by then.”

He raised a brow. “You’re not staying up here alone, Rachael. There will be plenty of time to explore the attic later.”

“Don’t be silly. I have a flashlight. I’ll be fine.” She flashed him a reassuring smile, which he did not return.

“It’s not you wandering around in a dark attic that concerns me most, although that’s reason enough, not only for me but for my insurers. But you’re the only woman on the job site, and it would be all too easy for someone to corner you, especially up here, and—” He broke off when she began to laugh.

“No one’s going to rape me.”

“Oh? You know all of those men downstairs?”

She shifted from foot to foot, uncomfortable. “Well, no, not exactly, but—”

“Then it’s settled. No wandering around the house without a trusted chaperone.”

“Trusted by you or by me?”

“Me. I’m the one paying the bills, remember?” His eyes gleamed at her crestfallen expression.

“I was afraid of that. Okay, let’s go.”

He was surprised that she gave in with such grace, but he offered no comment as she whirled around toward the exit. The flashlight cut an arc through the blackness of the room, illuminating the shadowy figure of a man. Geoffrey’s heart stopped for a long moment, and then galloped out of control with panic. He grabbed her hand.

“Wait!”

“What is it?”

He didn’t reply, just wrested the flashlight from her hand and shoved her roughly toward the door. “Go out, wait by the attic steps. I thought I saw something.”

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Character-driven fiction. Because characters matter.

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