Rachael turned, swinging him around with her. The beam bounced a jagged course across the dingy walls. The light did not so much banish the shadows as it drove them into retreat, sentient beings seeking anonymity in the darkness. The thought gave him no comfort.
“Oh, look!” she enthused, her eyes shining in the artificial glow as she stared down the dark hallway before them. “That must be the servants’ quarters.”
“I see Michael Fotheringham spared no expense,” Geoffrey muttered with barely veiled sarcasm.
Her grin widened. “It was a completely different era, Geoffrey. Servants were kept in their place—and in their poverty even while living in a splendiferous house.”
He couldn’t help his chuckle. “Splendiferous?”
She dragged him forward, and his tension ebbed as they moved away from the padlocked door. The servants quarters yielded nothing he found interesting, just several small iron bed frames, the mattresses gone long ago to whatever storage or dump site such things were relegated to back then. Plain tables with a single drawer stood between beds; one held an oil lamp, its hurricane shade long ago broken or recommissioned.
Even Rachael couldn’t find much to hold her interest, and it didn’t take long for her to urge him back to the small entry room, her fingers resting lightly on his wrist to guide the flashlight. He imagined he could feel every cell of her skin pressing against his in that minimal, innocent contact.
“What are you doing?” he demanded, startled, when she yanked the flashlight from his hand and marched across the room to the padlocked door.
“I’m breaking in. You obviously don’t have a key—or don’t want to admit you do—so I’m going to bust the lock.”
“With the flashlight?” he asked dumbly, unable to think of anything else to say.
“I am nothing if not resourceful.”
She knelt before the lock, raised the steel Eveready light, and brought it down on the lock. Geoffrey winced and backed a step toward the stairs when the light flickered.
“One more should do it,” she muttered. Another smart whack separated the hasp from the plywood, and the lock clinked to the floor. Rusted screws, stripped from their moorings, scattered across the floor. “Excellent!” she cried.
“Yeah. Excellent,” he echoed morosely. She sent him an amused glance over her shoulder. He opened his mouth to defend his aversion, but she spoke first.
“I don’t believe in ghosts, Geoffrey. I don’t believe houses are haunted. This one has its history, its tragedies, but that’s only to be expected with its age.”
Her gaze held steady. He felt foolish for stubbornly holding onto his fear of Bayview Manor, but he could find nothing to say to convince her. Rachael was blind to the danger, and Geoffrey was unable to define it. He wanted to grab her and shake her and tell her—
Tell her what? That he had an acute case of the creeps, which grew nearly unbearable near this door to the unknown? That the house had a history of swallowing people whole and never spitting them out? The list of the missing—or dead—stretched back to Michael Fotheringham’s occupation. Or perhaps he could really shoot himself in the foot by telling her that maybe ghosts didn’t haunt the house, per se, but something dwelt here that gave off an aura of evil straight from the pit of hell.
And then what? Listen to her to tell him he read too much Chambers and Poe and that he needed to stop listening to the local rumors, no doubt.
“I know you don’t want to go in here,” she said evenly, her eyes sympathetic but determined. “I won’t make you go in with me if you don’t want to. But just think of all the things we might find in there.”
Her eyes shone with excitement at the possibilities that awaited them in the attic—romantic possibilities, no doubt, born of her love of all things Gothic and Victorian: chests of historic clothes and trinkets; antique furniture just begging to be restored; journals and diaries and letters tucked between the pages of old books. The possibilities were endless, which neatly explained his apprehension.
“All right, let’s go.” It wasn’t what he intended to say, and it surprised him as much as it delighted her. She grinned so wide he feared the top of her head might fall off, and it was that grin that pulled him through the door after her.