House of Secrets
Published by: eXtasy Books
Author : Carol A. Guy
Word Count :85000
Publication Date :2010-07-28
Series : Spirit Lake#4
Heat Level :
- Product Code: 978-1-55487-580-1
This one's not for the faint hearted.
It is spring in Spirit Lake and Erica Parkhurst, part owner of the very haunted Spirit Lake Bed & Breakfast, is looking forward to her June wedding to Park Ranger Joe Lakota. Erica’s best friend and co-owner of the inn, Paula Bascilla, is getting ready to move back to the inn with her fiancé, Cal Motega, as they await the birth of their first child. A former guest, Raymond Livingston, is also on hand to oversee the restoration of the rose garden, which was destroyed by fire last fall. The antique show at the community center has brought hundreds of bargain hunters to town so the inn is booked solid. For the first time in a while, Erica has a real sense of well being. Then tragedy strikes Cal and Paula, skeletons are unearthed in the garden, a rapist stalks the town’s women, a guest is murdered and Joe disappears. As Erica’s life spins out of control, she finds herself once again surrounded by secrets, lies and deception. All she wants its the truth, but will it be too much for her to handle?
Erica was crossing the foyer headed for the parlor when a tall, dark haired man wearing blue Dockers and an open neck yellow shirt stepped inside. He was tan and muscular. He removed a pair of expensive looking sunglasses and scanned the room. His eyes were the most amazing shade of turquoise she'd ever seen. To say he was good looking didn't begin to cover it. He was hot!
"I'm obviously in the right place. I recognize this foyer from the publicity shots on the website. I'm Andrew Harrington."
"Erica Parkhurst. Welcome to the Spirit Lake Inn. Thank you for agreeing to cancel your other reservation and stay with us on such short notice." She couldn't help but enjoy the view.
"Christine will be along. She's gone around back to take a look at that wonderful lake of yours."
Erica hoped poor Christine wasn't being treated to a view of the Richters making love, or worse yet, renewing their argument. Andrew Harrington seemed to be looking for something as he glanced around and even peeked into the parlor.
"I can give you the guided tour," Erica offered.
"No need. I'm sure we'll see it all in good time. I'll go get the bags, unless you have someone who takes care of that."
"Raymond is out overseeing the work being done in the garden, I'm afraid."
"That tall older man, yes I saw him. He has a dog with him. Don't bother him, I can manage."
Erica smiled. It would seem Mingo and Raymond were bonding after all. "I'm afraid you'll have to move the car, also."
"I figured as much. Just let me get the bags first. Where should I park it?"
Erica stepped around Andrew and went out onto the porch. In passing, she caught a whiff of his after shave--tangy, spicy, and sexy. The Harringtons were driving a sleek, black Corvette.
"You can park on the access road at the bottom of the hill, next to the driveway," she told him. "The workmen should be gone in a couple of hours. I'm sorry for the inconvenience. The rain threw things off schedule."
He smiled, exposing the most perfect teeth she'd ever seen. "You don't have to tell me. We drove through torrential downpours yesterday. Christine hates to fly."
Erica recalled that the Harringtons were from New York City. "Well, it's not that much of a drive. I lived in the Big Apple for many years."
Andrew Harrington's smile faded. "Do tell." His tone showed disinterest. "Oh, there's Christine, now."
The woman who came around the corner of the house was of medium height with short, stylishly cut auburn hair and deep brown eyes. A pair of oversize sunglasses rested on top of her head. She was wearing yellow slacks and a matching blouse. She looked crisp and cool in spite of the humidity.
"That lake is beautiful, Andy, you should look at it. Do you allow swimming?" Her gaze was now focused on Erica.
"No…there's an undertow," Erica said quickly. She never went into the real reason with guests.
"Pity," the woman said. "I'm Christine Harrington, by the way. And you are?" She joined her husband who was now taking two pieces of expensive looking luggage out of the trunk of the Corvette.
Erica introduced herself but didn't offer to shake the woman's hand. Somehow she could sense that Christine Harrington wasn't the type to welcome such an overture. Now that the Harringtons were standing side by side she could fully appreciate what a striking looking couple they were.
"It just feels good to stretch my legs. Why Andy insisted on bringing the two-seater on this trip, I'll never know," Christine said.
"Stop complaining, Chris. It has plenty of legroom and trunk space to boot. That why I like this model. Plus it is a convertible. What more could you want?"
Christine looked around. "Where's your bellman?"
"It's not the Hilton, Chris. We tote our own here," Andrew Harrington told her.
Erica noted that Christine Harrington's nose went up in the air just a little but that the space between her brows didn't move even though the rest of her face played at making a frown.
Botox. No doubt about it.
Just then the Richters rounded the corner of the house from the parking area. Erica was glad to see that things had settled down between them for the moment. At the same time, the cement workers headed down toward the dock, carrying their lunch pails.
Raymond joined Erica and her guests. Mingo was nowhere to be found.
When the Harringtons introduced themselves to the Richters, Erica was surprised to see that Pamela hung back, acting almost shy. Andrew Harrington, however, seemed to take a special interest in her. He was standing very close and even brushed a stray strand of her long black hair off her face when another sudden breeze ruffled it.
Christine Harrington, seemed to be cool with the attention her husband was lavishing on Pamela, but Erica could see that she was seething inside. Her soft brown eyes now had golden flecks dancing in them.
Erica decided it was time to move things along. Laying a hand on Andrew Harrington's arm she said, "Why don't I show you to your room? We have snacks available, nothing fancy, just sandwich makings and a veggie tray," She led the Harringtons inside. Raymond followed, carrying one of their bags.
Christine examined the foyer with a critical eye and insisted on taking the elevator. The men took the stairs.
When Erica opened the door to their room, Christine stood for a moment, surveying things. "It's certainly cozy. Isn't it, Andy?"
Andrew Harrington put his bag on the bed and indicated that Raymond should do the same with the one he carried. He then reached into his pocket and took out a ten dollar bill, thrusting it at Raymond, who backed up and flinched as though he'd been struck in the face. He then left the room without uttering a word.
Erica felt embarrassment color her cheeks. "He's also a guest. He's just helping out with the garden restoration. I'm sorry I didn't make that clear."
Christine Harrington raised an eyebrow. "So you put your guests to work? Maybe we should have checked in at the Hilton after all, Andy."
"It's a Hampton Inn, Chris," Andrew Harrington said idly, then asked Erica, "Tell, me, where's your co-owner?"
Erica turned around and faced him. "She's been ill. Why do you ask?"
"Just curious. The website mentions you both," He favored her with that perfect smile again.
Christine flung open the closet door and peered inside. "Where's the bathroom?"
"There are two, at the other end of the hall," Erica told the woman. She was beginning to like her even less than she liked Pamela Richter.
Christine sniffed with obvious disdain. "We have to share a bathroom with the other guests?"
"Is this your first visit to a bed and breakfast?" Erica shot back before she could stop herself.
Andrew laughed out loud. "Is it that obvious? This was my idea, I'm afraid."
Christine sniffed haughtily. "I'd never heard of this place. I didn't even know we were on the cancellation list until Andy informed me we'd be staying here instead of a real hotel." She opened a suitcase and began hanging things up in the closet.
Andrew sidled up to Erica, keeping his voice low. "Christine is more of a luxury hotel person, but I thought that it might be fun to do something different. Don't worry; she'll live right through it."
He kept moving, forcing Erica into the hallway. Before she could reply, the door was closed firmly in her face.
* * * *
After her unceremonious ouster from the Harrington's room, Erica returned to the first floor. Somewhat miffed by Andrew's abruptness, she decided to leave the food in the refrigerator. If they wanted something to eat, they could ask. She wandered out the back door in search of Mingo, only to find him digging in the freshly turned earth where the gazebo would sit. The workmen were gathered around the area, pointing and chattering like excited school children. Raymond was kneeling by the hole, using one hand to brush at the dirt. As she drew closer she could see that he'd uncovered something.
"What's going on?" she called, joining the group. Then she saw what the furor was about.
"It is a gun," one of the men said in a heavily accented voice.
Raymond pulled the object out of the dirt and held it up for all to see. "Indeed it is."
It was a revolver with a barrel Erica surmised was at least six inches long. The handgrip, although caked with mud, looked like wood.
Raymond stood up and examined his find. "I say, this is quite an antique. He brushed it off as best he could. "It's an old forty-five caliber Colt Peacekeeper. Six shot cylinder."
Erica took a good look at the weapon. "How can you tell? It's filthy."
Raymond turned the revolver over and over in his hands. "Guns have been a hobby of mine for a good many years. This baby was manufactured by Colt around 1873. Some call it the single action Army revolver."
Erica didn't like this one bit. What was a gun doing buried in the garden, especially under a cement slab? "Who do you suppose put it there, Raymond?"
By now the workmen had all closed in, wanting a better look at the weapon. Raymond held it away from them and turned to Erica. "I don't know, but we need to get it inside and clean it up. It looks like it's in good shape, in spite of some rust. The handgrip has held up well. I'd say it's been in the ground for a long, long time though."
"Should we report it to the authorities?" She looked nervously over her shoulder and was relieved to see that the Richters were no longer in the driveway. She assumed they'd gone back inside the inn.
"Look….the dog…" one of the workmen yelled, pointing to where Mingo now dug furiously a few feet away.
Erica rushed at the animal then took a sudden step back when she looked down and saw what he'd uncovered. Memories of July when he dragged a skeletal hand into Joe's cabin, and of December when she'd found him just sitting near this spot staring at the place where the gazebo once stood, came flooding back. "Oh God, Raymond, is that a--"
He finished the sentence for her. "Skull?" He knelt next to Mingo and brushed the rest of the dirt off the object. "Yes, it's a human skull."