“—leaves the last seaside bedroom and the attic,” Rachael concluded.

Belatedly tuning in, he discovered he had no clue what she meant. “Aahhh,” he said, stalling for time, but he needn’t have bothered. She sailed on as though not noticing his inattention.

“I think light and airy in the last bedroom. It’s very small and I’m concerned that dark wallpaper or paint will make it seem like a closet. There are some very nice gold-green toned reproduction wallpapers on the market now that would do nicely.”

“I’m sure whatever you find will be suitable, Rachael.” He was relieved she hadn’t noticed his wandering attention. “Just get some samples and we can look at them next time I’m on the Peninsula.”

She juggled her plan book and pencil to delve with one hand into the leather tote hanging from her shoulder. The hand came out with a daily planner bursting at the seams; it seemed that she carried her entire file cabinet of correspondence in it, attached to the pages with paperclips. She flipped through it to the current month and raised a brow at him expectantly.

“I should be back in a couple of weeks. First weekend in March,” he clarified further.

She scribbled the information into the appropriate space. He was glad to see she had penciled it in; he couldn’t guarantee he would make it, and less sure he wanted to oversee the progress on the Manor more than necessary—although he couldn’t deny the prospect of spending more time with Rachael sent an completely inappropriate thrill through him.

“Now we should have a look at the attic. God only knows what’s up there.”

God could keep on being the only one who knew what was in the attic for all Geoffrey cared. He patted his pocket and made a face.

“I don’t think I brought the key.” He had deliberately removed it from his key ring and left it in his suitcase, to be perfectly honest.

“No worries,” she said brightly, beaming a smile at him. She stuffed her daily planner and plan book back into the tote, and after a moment of rummaging produced a flashlight. “Harris made me a set of keys.”

He couldn’t hide his dismay as she patted her jeans pocket, and made a mental note to whack his general contractor with the nearest two-by-four next time he saw him. Rachael didn’t wait for him; she darted out into the hallway through the narrow beams of light slanting through the windows and open doors of the bedrooms; taking down the plywood coverings had been the first act of the construction crew. He followed reluctantly.

The attic entrance was at the end of the hallway, boasting the same style door and trim as the bedrooms. She had already slotted the key into the lock, grinning with excitement. It was no secret she was completely enamored of Bayview Manor. Her love of the mansion seemed to increase proportionately with his growing dislike of it.

She pushed the door open. The meager light from the hallway spilled into the entry, a murky pool of the golden light of a waning afternoon. Geoffrey reached forward automatically to stop her as she set down her bag and stepped out of the reach of the beams. Again, he needn’t have bothered; her flashlight lit the stairs from top to bottom with a warm glow.

He joined her on the risers, and she pressed the flashlight into his hand with an understanding smile before dashing upward. So much energy, tied up in such a delicate package. “Petite” didn’t come to mind when he looked at her; tall for a woman, she had slim curves that did wonderful things to the peg-leg jeans and pale yellow blouse she wore. With her dark hair pulled back into a claw-like clamp that looked more like a device of torture than a hair ornament, she appeared about sixteen years old. Lecherous old man, he chided himself, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying the view.

His pace was slower as he came up after her. The general contractor had assured him that the stairs throughout the house were more or less sound, but Geoffrey was taking no chances. The moist sea air—not to mention the dozens of storms the house had weathered over the last six decades—was bound to have taken its toll on the integrity of the wood.

But he found no soft spots, no sagging treads; only a squeaky step midway. Rachael waited for him just out of reach of the beam of light, her impatience manifesting in the staccato tap of her foot. When he was within her reach, she grasped his wrist, aiming the flashlight into the room.

The blueprints had shown only an open expanse and supporting pillars. Obviously the plywood wall they now faced, with its equally cheap plywood door secured with an ancient but formidable padlock—he didn’t have a key to that lock—had been added after the Fotheringhams had moved in. It appeared that they had been whitewashed long ago—too¬ long ago—in an attempt to brighten up the gloom.

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