Midnight Bayou Page 26

But as she turned back toward the door, something caught her attention, and she tiptoed to the window.

He saw, as she saw, the riders approaching through the grand oaks of the allйe. He felt, as she felt, a stumble of heart as her gaze locked on the man who rode a glossy chestnut. His hair was gold, and streamed as he galloped. Straight as a soldier in the saddle, with a gray coat over his broad shoulders and his black boots shining.

Her hand went to her throat, and she thought, quite clearly, Here is the prince come home to his castle.

She sighed, as girls sigh when they fall foolishly in love. He smiled, as if smiling at her, but she knew it was the house that caused that joy to fill his handsome face.

With her heart pounding, she hurried out of the room, back to the servants' door and into the maze.

The young master was home, she thought. And wondered what would happen next.

Declan woke with a jolt, in the dark, in the cold. He smelled damp and dust and felt the hard wood of the floor under him.

"What the hell?" Groggy, disgusted, he stretched out a hand and hit wall. Using it for reference, he got to his feet. He felt along, waiting to come to a corner, to a door. It took a moment to register that the wall wasn't papered.

He wasn't in his ghost room this time. He was in one of the servants' passageways, as the girl in his dream had been.

Somehow, he thought, he'd walked as she had walked.

The idea of stumbling around in the dark until he found a way out had little appeal, but slightly more than the idea of spending the next few hours in there, waiting for dawn.

He inched along. By the time he felt the seam of a door, he was drenched in sweat.

He shoved his way out, offered up a prayer of thanksgiving when he gulped in fresher air, saw in the faint light the shape of the second-level corridor.

There were cobwebs in his hair, his hands and feet were filthy.

If this kept up, he told himself, he was going to see a doctor and get some sleeping pills. Hoping the night's adventures were over, he went to wash, to chug down water for his burning throat. And to lock himself in the bedroom.

Declan took the load of books out of Effie's arms, then kissed her cheek. "You didn't have to come all this way to bring me these. I'd've come to you.”

"I didn't mind. I had a meeting cancel, and some time to spare. And the fact is …" Breathing slowly, she turned a circle. "I had to prove to myself I wouldn't just turn tail and run when I started to come in this place.”

"Doing okay?”

"Yeah." She let out one of those slow breaths, then nodded briskly. "Doing just fine." Then she frowned at the shadows dogging his eyes. "Now, you on the other hand look worn out.”

"Not sleeping so well." But he didn't want to talk about the dreams, the sleepwalking. The sounds that so often wakened him in the dead of night. "Come on back to the kitchen so I can show off. I've got some lemonade-not from actual lemons, but it's wet and it's cold.”

"All right." She touched his arm in a kind of silent acknowledgment and, because she understood, lightened her tone. "I've only got about half an hour, but I've got some information for you. Information and speculation. What's going on in here?”

She glanced into the front parlor. There were papers stacked on the floor, books spread open, a pile of paint and fabric samples.

"My next project. I thought I'd start on a room where people could actually sit down when it was finished. What kind of information?”

"On the Manets. Facts were easy enough," she said as they continued through the house. "Henri Manet married Josephine Delacroix. They both came from wealthy and prominent Creole families. Henri was active politically. It's rumored his father profited handsomely by running supplies during the War between the States. The family became staunch Republicans during Reconstruction, and again it's rumored they used their power and influence to buy votes and politicians. Oh my goodness, Dec, just look at this!”

She stepped into the kitchen and beamed at the base cabinets he'd installed. "Why, they're beautiful.”

He hooked his thumbs in his back pockets, and his grin was crooked. "You sound surprised.”

"Well, I am, but in a very complimentary sort of way. Remy can barely hammer a nail in the wall to hang a picture." She ran her hand over the wood, opened and closed a door. "These are really fine. You must be so proud.”

"I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Counter guys just left. I'm going with solid surface. It'll look like slate. Ordered this giant Sub-Zero refrigerator– for reasons I've yet to explain to myself-and a range, a dishwasher. I'm going to make panels so all you'll see is wood.”

He set the books down on a sheet of plywood he had over the top of the base cabinets. "Want that lemonade?”

"That'd be nice." She wandered into the dining room behind him. He had two of the top cupboards finished, and a third started. "My, aren't they going to be pretty. You must be working night and day.”

Losing weight, she thought. Getting a gaunt look in your face.

"Better than sleepwalking." He was jittery, and found himself dipping hands into his pockets again to keep them still. "Tell me more, Effie.”

"All right." She suppressed the urge to fuss over him and went back to the facts. "The original owners had lost most of their money during the war. They hung on, selling off parcels of land, or renting it out to sharecroppers. Their politics and the Manets' were in opposition. There was a fire, burned the house down to the ground. Wiped them out. The Manets bought the land, and had this place built. They had two sons, twins. Lucian and Julian. Both went to Tulane, where Lucian did very well and Julian majored, you could say, in drinking and gambling. Lucian was the heir, and was meant to run the family businesses. Most of the Manet money had dwindled, but Josephine had a considerable inheritance. Both sons died before their twenty-third birthday.”

Declan handed her a glass. "How?”

"Here we have rumors and speculation." She sipped. "The strongest speculation is they killed each other. No one seems to know why, family argument gone violent. It's said Lucian went into New Orleans, on his mother's orders, to fetch his brother back out of one of the brothels he frequented. Julian didn't want to be fetched, they argued, and one of them-odds are on Julian here-pulled a knife. They fought, struggled for the knife, were both wounded. Julian died on the spot. Lucian lingered about another week, then somehow got out of bed, wandered outside, and fell into the pond, where he drowned.”

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