Midnight Bayou Page 8

That sensation was immediately followed by bafflement. He could have sworn he smelled perfume. Flowers. Lilies. Weddings and funerals. And for an instant he imagined them, pure and white and somehow feral in a tall crystal vase.

His next feeling was irritation. He'd only sent a few pieces ahead, including his bedroom furniture. The movers had dumped it in the wrong room, and he'd been very specific. His room would be the master at the corner, overlooking the garden and pond at the rear, and the avenue of oaks from the side.

Now he'd have to settle for this room, or haul the damn stuff himself.

The scent of lilies was overpowering when he shoved the door all the way open. Almost dizzying. Confused, he realized it wasn't even his furniture. The bed was a full tester draped in deep blue silk. There was a carved chifforobe, a tall chest of drawers, all gleaming. He caught the scent of beeswax under the floral. Saw the lilies in that tall, crystal vase on a woman's vanity table, its legs curved like the necks of swans. The chair was delicate, its seat an intricate needlepoint pattern of blue and rose.

Silver-backed brushes, a brooch of gold wings with an enameled watch. Long blue draperies, ornate gaslight sconces set on a low, shimmering light. A woman's white robe tossed over the back of a blue chaise.

Candlesticks on the mantel, and a picture in a silver frame.

He saw it all, snapshot clear. Before his brain could process the how of it, he was staring into an empty room where rain streamed outside uncurtained windows.

"Jesus Christ." He gripped the doorjamb for balance. "What the hell?”

He drew in a breath. There was nothing in the air but must and dust.

Projecting, he told himself. Just projecting what the room might have looked like. He hadn't seen anything, or smelled anything. He'd just gotten caught up in the charm of the place, in the spirit of it.

But he couldn't make himself step over the threshold.

He closed the door again, walked directly down to the corner room. His furniture was there, as ordered, and the sight of it both relieved and steadied him.

The good, solid Chippendale bed with its headboard and footboard unadorned. The one point of agreement he'd had, always, with his mother was a love of antiques, the respect for the workmanship, the history.

He'd bought the bed after he and Jessica had called off the wedding. Okay, after he'd called it off, he admitted with the usual tug of guilt. He'd wanted to start fresh, and had searched out and purchased the pieces for his bedroom.

He'd chosen the bachelor's chest not only because it appeared he was going to remain one, but also because he'd liked the style of it, the double herringbone inlay, the secret compartments, the short, turned legs. He'd selected the armoire to conceal his television and stereo, and the sleek Deco lamps because he'd liked the mix of styles.

Seeing his things here in the spacious room with its handsome granite fireplace in dark green, the arched gallery doors, the gently faded wallpaper, the pitifully scarred floors, clicked him back into place again.

The adjoining dressing area made him smile. All he needed was a valet, and white tie and tails. The connecting bath, modernized from the look of it sometime in the woeful seventies, had him wincing at the avocado-green decor and yearning for a hot shower.

He'd take a quick walk through the third floor, he decided, do the same on the main level, then take the ugly green tub for a spin.

He headed up. The tune was playing in his head again. Around and around, like a waltz. He let it come. It was company of sorts until Remy showed up.

Many the hopes that have vanished, after the ball.

The staircase was narrower here. This level was for children and staff, neither of whom required fancy touches.

He'd save the servants' wing for later, he decided, and circled around toward what he assumed were nursery, storage, attics.

He reached for a doorknob, the brass dull with time and neglect. A draft, cold enough to pierce bone, swept down the corridor. He saw his breath puff out in surprise, watched it condense into a thin cloud.

As his hand closed over the knob, nausea rose up so fast, so sharp, it stole his breath again. Cold sweat pearled on his brow. His head spun. In an instant he knew a fear so huge, so great, he wanted to run screaming. Instead he stumbled back, braced himself against the wall while terror and dread choked him like murderous hands.

Don't go in there. Don't go in.

Wherever the voice in his head came from, he was inclined to listen to it. He knew the house was rumored to be haunted. He didn't mind such things.

Or thought he didn't mind them.

But the idea of opening that door to whatever was behind it, to whatever waited on the other side, was more than he cared to face alone. On an empty stomach. After a ten-hour drive.

"Just wasting time anyway," he said for the comfort of his own voice. "I should be unloading the car. So, I'm going to unload the car.”

"Who you talking to, cher?”

Declan jumped like a basketball center at the tip-off, and barely managed to turn a scream into a more acceptable masculine yelp. "God damn it, Remy. You scared the shit out of me.”

"You're the one up here talking to a door. I gave a few shouts on my way up. Guess you didn't hear.”

"Guess I didn't.”

Declan leaned back against the wall, sucked in air, and studied his friend.

Remy Payne had the cocky good looks of a con artist. He was tailor-made for the law, Declan thought. Slick, sharp, with cheerful blue eyes and a wide mouth that could, as it was now, stretch like rubber into a disarming smile that made you want to believe everything he said, even as you caught the distinctive whiff of bullshit.

He was on the skinny side, never had been able to bulk up despite owning the appetite of an elephant. In college he'd worn his deep-brown hair in a sleek mane over his collar. He'd shortened it now so it was almost Caesarean in style.

"I thought you said a couple hours.”

"Been that. Damn near two and a half. You okay there, Dec? Look a little peaky.”

"Long drive, I guess. God, it's good to see you.”

"'Bout time you mentioned that." With a laugh, he caught Declan in a bear hug. "Whoo, boy. You been working out. Turn around, lemme see your ass."

"You idiot." They slapped backs. "Tell me one thing," Declan remarked as he took a step back. "Am I out of my f**king mind?”

"'Course you are. Always have been. Let's go on down and have ourselves a drink.”

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