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“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” –Wolfgang von Goethe
Maggie McCrae wandered around the house she had known all her life. Well, mansion really, but somehow it had always seemed comfortable and welcoming to her. So many memories…most of them wonderful and only a few that were not. It had been a good life.
Her great-grandparents had built this beautiful home on the cliffs overlooking Burrows Bay on Fidalgo Island. Part of the San Juan Islands north of Seattle, the views were amazing from almost every window. Tonight, she was out on the balcony that ran along the upstairs library. This is where she did her best thinking. And her most effective magic.
Maggie remembered being in this room with her grandmother, some seventy years earlier. She had taught her all about the plants and herbs, which formed the basis of their special powers. Maggie always said anyone could do what she did with enough study and effort. But tonight, she wondered if that were true. Could they learn? Would they be able to do it without her?
Too much pride! She chided herself yet again, for not reaching out to the girls earlier. They were grown women now. Not the young girls they should have been, when they learned how to use their powers. But it couldn’t be helped. She had foolishly thought they would have more time. Now, she realized even her abilities had limits as she had not seen this coming. The doctors had been very nice, but there was nothing to be done. Her days on this lovely island were almost over.
She watched the lights flashing out in the woods. They were just waiting. Waiting for her to die, so they could move in and bulldoze all that she loved…for money. The love of money was always the greatest evil, she believed. For four generations, her family had protected these woods and the cliffs overlooking the bay. If her girls were successful, they might yet save it. Her two lovely granddaughters, Gabriella and Moira. Cousins, who had spent so little time with each other and now, she was throwing them together. Sink or swim, she thought. There was no time for anything else.
She had taken care of all the legalities. Arthur, her oldest friend and solicitor, would be by in the morning. Bless him, she could always depend on Arthur especially at times like this. But there was one more thing she had to do. She’d put it off as long as she could, while she took one final day for herself. Thankful for the warm September weather, she had walked through the gardens and around the small vineyard, enjoyed her favorite views from the cliffs and finally, taken one last stroll through the woods. She’d come back to the house and prepared her favorite dinner, while playing the music that she and her beloved Patrick had listened to on their honeymoon. He’d been gone so long. She desperately hoped that she would see him on the other side. She smiled as she remembered the love of her life and how they had been everything to each other. She sighed and wished for one more night.
But there was simply no more time. She had to do it now. She hoped the Autumn Equinox would amplify her normal powers. The plants and herbs she had chosen from the garden were laid out on the table in front of her. As was the silver bowl. She said the words more for her own confidence than any actual benefits of the verse. They were from an old monk she had met near Tibet many years ago. It was the closest thing to a protection spell that she knew, and she prayed that it would work.
She placed the lavender and mint in the bowl, followed by the basil and rue, then the bit of tansy and other native plants that were written in the book. Finally, she added the sachet filled with spices collected by her grandmother. When all were carefully laid in the bowl, she took the wooden match and lit the candle. The vanilla fragrance filled the room and as she said the last line of the verse, the candle flared. Probably a draft, but she smiled at the drama of the moment. She would take it as a good sign.
She poured a bit of the wax on the herbs, then added the rum. She had forgotten the vodka, but the rum would have more meaning. She’d seen that in her mind’s eye and had decided to write it down in the book. They might enjoy that, when they discovered their heritage. At the last moment, she decided to take the bowl and candle out onto the balcony. The trespassers might appreciate the light show and she could use all the help she could get.
She waited until the herbs had wilted in the rum and then she took a breath as she readied herself. With a final look across the forest and bay, she began.
“This is for all who have come before and all who will come after,” she said, knowing these first words by heart. “For them and for myself, I ask that everything we love and everything we guard be protected by the ancient spirits of this island and the ancestors from our Scottish homeland.”
She looked up at the night sky and continued. “I offer all that I am and all that I will ever be to ensure that the children of my children find their way and be protected from the evils that walk the earth and dwell in the hearts of weaker beings.”
She took the candle and quickly lit the herbs, now soaked with rum. The flames jumped up and she took a step back, still watching the woods. “The evil that knows no limit, no fullness, only hunger. I ask that all that is good, light and helpful in this world watch over my children’s children and help them on their journey. Give them the time they need to learn, to grow and to become all they must to protect everything we know and love.”
As she spoke, she raised her arms out to her sides and then up to the sky. She could feel all her power, all her might, draining from her. But she kept going until the words were finished. As she watched, there was a glimmer in the night sky…or was it the final remnants of the aurora borealis that had shown itself this summer? She wasn’t sure, but she chose to believe it was a sign that the magic had worked. She hoped so. It had taken the last of her energy. She walked over to the chair by the fire, feeling her age for the first time. It had been a good life. A happy one, for the most part. She had regrets, but not many. And she had seen enough of the future to know there was a good chance it would all work out. She hoped it would. Too tired to go to bed, she put her feet on the ottoman, wrapped the throw around herself and slept.
The next morning, Arthur O’Reilly walked into the house, calling Maggie by name. “Come on, old girl, where are you? I thought you said coffee on the porch this morning?” He chuckled to himself, knowing she would give him grief about the old girl part. She was still lovely at seventy-four and he looked forward to calling on her. More a sister than anything, it was still a boost to the ego to be in her presence.
As he wandered upstairs, he correctly guessed she’d be in the library. It had always been her favorite room, not counting the conservatory. And she preferred the balcony upstairs, when it was nice enough to leave the doors open.
“Maggie, my dear, did you forget our breakfast date?” he joked as he walked into the room. Seeing her on the chair by the fire, he said, “No napping now, you’ve coffee to fix. It’s one of the main reasons I come to visit.”
As he came closer, he saw how pale she looked. Bending down, he grabbed her hand. “Maggie! Oh no. Maggie, talk to me. Talk to me!”
As she stirred, Arthur felt he could breathe again. “I can’t lose you, too. Not so soon after Lily,” he said, more to himself than to her. “Maggie, let me help you up.”
“No,” she said as she held out her hand. “I’m afraid I’m quite ill, Arthur. I should have told you sooner, but I knew you would only worry.”
“Just stay there, Maggie. I’ll get help.” He pulled out his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1, praying they would get there quickly.
“Arthur, my granddaughters…” Maggie looked up at her friend. “I should have contacted them sooner.”
As she started to fade, Arthur reached down and checked her pulse. “Maggie, don’t leave. Hang on, my girl, hang on!”
But it was too late. She was gone. Arthur wiped his eyes and heard the sirens far off in the distance. Too late, he thought. Too late! The breeze blew through the doors to the balcony and he could have sworn he heard faint bells, then a soft whisper. “Don’t worry old friend, this is not the end. Be a help to them. They will need you.”
He shook his head, clearing it of such fanciful thoughts and went down to meet the ambulance.
Moira Dunbar couldn’t believe she had wasted eight months of her life on Craig Johnson. She shook her head again, her hair falling well past her shoulders. She was quietly pretty with her medium brown hair and slender build. The typical girl next door except for those green eyes, which lit up if she became excited or upset.
Today, it was upset. She had actually expected Craig to propose this afternoon. He had said there was big news and she should come over right away. He had applied to some of the largest law firms in the country since passing his bar exam. She knew because she had helped him with his resume. She was a great sounding board or so he’d said. Now, she wondered if he’d ever seen her as anything else.
“No one marries their sounding board,” she said under her breath as she drove the car back to her apartment. How could she have been so clueless? He had the champagne poured, when she walked into his condo and music playing in the background.
“Oh good, you’re here,” he’d said as she walked in. “I have something important to tell you.” Accepting the glass of champagne that he handed her, she sat down and waited for him to continue. “I got it! Moira, I got it. The job in Charleston.”
He was so excited, she smiled. “I knew you would get one of them. You did so well on your exam.”
As he passed her chair, he crouched down next to her and said, “I couldn’t have done it without you. You were my…well, my sounding board. Anytime, I wasn’t sure about something, talking to you seemed to clarify the situation.”
Sounding board? Hmm…inspiration would have been more romantic, but she’d work on that, she told herself.
“I’m so glad. Are you sure this is the one you want?” She knew the job in New York had been his first choice.
“New York went with someone else as did Austin, but Charleston was my third choice and I think it’s a good fit for me.”
Not us, me. This wasn’t going so well. “When do you plan to leave?” she asked.
“Next week. I can’t wait to get out of Billings. I’m so sick of snow.” Rolling his eyes, he continued, “Maybe it’s a good thing New York fell through. What about you?”
“I could get used to a shorter winter,” she replied, smiling.
“Moira, there’s something I want to ask you,” Craig said, leaning down, his breath brushing her hair.
“Yes?” she asked. She wondered if this was it. Was he going to propose? They had talked around it for the past few months and now she wasn’t sure if she wanted him to or not.
“Moira,” he repeated. “Do you think I should wear the blue suit or the gray one?”
She stared at him. “Um, I think either would look fine.”
“Good, because I want to look great, when we go out on the town to celebrate. It’s Saturday night and we should make the most of it.” He started walking towards the bedroom.
Moira glanced past him to the mess in the room. Craig was not a tidy person, but she didn’t really mind. As she looked a little closer, she saw a dark blue, satin nightgown hanging off the foot of the bed.
“Craig,” she said, rising out of her chair, “who does that nightgown belong to?”
Craig tried a nonchalant laugh, but it came out more as a croak. “Well, Stacy stopped by last night just to compare notes on her resume….and one thing led to another.” He stopped, suddenly finding an overwhelming interest in the lamp shade next to him.
“She stopped by,” Moira repeated. “And one thing led to another?’ She shook her head and began walking toward the door.
“Moira, wait.” He started after her. “It’s no big deal. It’s not like we’re married or anything.” He saw the look she gave him and stopped talking.
“No, we’re not. And I’m very glad I found out what type of person you really are before investing any more time into this relationship.”
She started to walk out, then stopped. “By the way,” she said over her shoulder, “the gray suit makes you look fat.”
Moira marched out of the condo, down the sidewalk and got into her car. She drove away and managed to make it almost ten blocks before pulling over to have a good cry. What was wrong with her? Was it too much to want to find someone, who had the sense of honor and integrity that only seemed to exist in books and old movies? She wiped her eyes and finished the drive back to her apartment.
As she walked in, her phone was ringing. “I do not want to talk to that man ever again,” she said out loud as she checked her caller ID. But it wasn’t Craig. It was her cousin Gabriella, who never called. Something was wrong.
Picking up the phone, Moira asked, “What happened?”
Gabriella McCrae heard the frustration in Moira’s voice. “Nice to talk to you, too, cuz,” she said, haughtily.
“Sorry,” replied Moira, “rough day.”
“I just called to see if you’d checked your mail today,” stated Gabriella.
“No. Why? Is something wrong, Gabriella?” Moira hoped not. It had already been a long day.
“Why don’t you go get your mail and find out?” As an afterthought, she added, “And you know I hate the name Gabriella, so please call me Gabbi.”
“As you wish,” replied Moira. “I’ll be right back.”
Since she was still carrying her phone, Gabbi could hear her walking down the steps and over to the row of mailboxes for the apartment complex.
“There’s a big manila envelope,” Moira informed her, “and it seems to be from a law firm. O’Reilly and Finch, Solicitors in Anacortes according to the return address.”
“That’s the one,” Gabbi said. “Guess what? We just inherited a house. An actual house.”
“Gran?” Moira asked, walking back to her apartment. She hadn’t known her grandmother very well, but remembered her through the eyes of a six year-old as someone magical and intriguing. “I didn’t know she was back in the country.”
“Apparently, she got back in June,” said Gabbi. “According to the letter, that’s when she updated her will. She leaves everything to us, her grandchildren.”
“Let me read through this and I’ll call you back,” Moira said, suddenly very tired. “Are you going to be home tomorrow?”
“I’ll be here after five. I’m working the lunch rush and most of the afternoon. Talk to you tomorrow,” Gabbi said, then hung up.
Moira slid down onto a stool at the kitchen counter and laid her head on the granite. It felt cold and suddenly, so did Moira. She started to cry. For so many reasons, but she hoped as much for Gran as for herself.
The next day, she called Gabbi back. Moira had spent the morning going over the paperwork and it was very clear that they were both expected to go to Anacortes for the reading of the will. She looked around her apartment. There was nothing keeping her here. Her job selling advertising space for her parents’ newspaper would be here if she returned. She rather hoped she would find a reason not to come back.
The little town just outside of Billings, Montana had never been her dream location. Too much snow and the summers were too hot. She had traveled to so many places, when she was young, but once her parents bought the paper they were too busy to leave. Maybe an adventure and a new location were exactly what she needed. She was good at selling advertising and that was something she could do anywhere.
As Moira listened to Gabbi’s phone ring several times, she wondered if she should leave a message or call back in an hour. Just as she was about to hang up, Gabbi picked up the phone.
“What?” Gabbi demanded. “What is it?”
“Hi, it’s me. Moira. You said to call you back after five.” Moira hoped Gabbi wasn’t in a bad mood. Their relationship was difficult enough at the best of times.
Moira was surprised, when Gabbi said, “Just a minute. Hold on. It’s not you.”
“Okay,” Moira waited about ten seconds and when Gabbi came back, she was laughing. “I can’t believe I wasted my time on that loser!”
“Man troubles?” Moira asked.
“You could say that,” replied Gabbi. “Let me tell you what happened, when I came in the door this evening.”
Gabbi explained that she had come home after a long day at work to discover her boyfriend getting cozy with another woman. She had been letting Darryl stay on the couch, while he looked for a new apartment. Today, she told him to get out of her apartment and her life. When he just stared at her, she walked past him and started throwing his clothes out the second story window.
When Darryl said she’d be sorry to see him go, Gabbi responded by saying, “I won’t miss you or that permanent dent in my sofa.” She heard the front door slam and glanced out the window. She smiled as she watched him grab his clothes and throw them into his car. Gabbi admitted it was the first time she’d done anything like that, but she’d had enough of his freeloading. The last thing she saw was his car speeding away and a sock flying out the back window.
It felt good to laugh, thought Moira. And even better to laugh with her cousin. They had not done that in a long time.
“Today is Sunday. I can be there on Wednesday as that’s the day we’re supposed to meet with the attorney,” she told Gabbi. “I have to finish up a few things at work and then I can use my vacation time. I have two weeks saved up.”
“Don’t you still work for Mommy and Daddy?” Gabbi said in that voice Moira remembered all too well.
“Yes, I do,” she replied, “but work is the keyword in that sentence. As I said, I can fly over on Wednesday. Do you want to pick me up around ten in the morning or should I catch a flight to Anacortes?”
“I’ll pick you up,” replied Gabbi. “It will give us time to talk on the way. I have some ideas.”
Oh no, thought Moira. Gabbi’s ideas had gotten them both into trouble in the past. “Okay, I’ll see you, then. But it might be best not to spend the money until we actually see how much the house is worth.”
“Very funny,” Gabbi replied. As she hung up the phone, she wondered what Moira would say, when she found out that selling was the last thing she planned to do.
Gabriella was a little nervous about seeing Moira again. She could admit it to herself although, she’d never say it aloud. Moira got under her skin. She was too smart and always knew everything about, well everything. Too many books, Gabbi thought to herself.
As she paced around, waiting for the flight from Billings, Gabbi ran her hands through her long, dark brown hair. She usually felt very confident about her appearance, but seeing Moira always made her feel tall and gangly. Which was ridiculous. She wasn’t thirteen anymore.
Looking at the crowd of people, she realized a small part of her was secretly looking forward to seeing her cousin. They had never been close, but she was still family. Gabbi didn’t have many people she could count on and maybe she and Moira would finally find a way to bond. She’d always wanted a sister and this might be her chance.
Not a good idea, she thought. Don’t get your hopes up. The reality is…people always let you down.
In the middle of this inner argument, she looked over and saw Moira scanning the crowd. “Gabriella!” she called out, waving at her.
If Moira took a little time with her looks, she would be so pretty, Gabbi thought to herself. Another reason not to like her. Or who knew, maybe a reason to take her shopping and try that bonding.
Gabbi braced herself as Moira ran up and hugged her. “It’s so good to see you! How do you like being a chef? Do you still want to open your own restaurant? We have so much to talk about and I don’t even know where to start.” Moira slowly ran down, but the big smile remained.
Gabbi smiled back, in spite of herself. Moira had always been a sweet kid until they found a reason to argue. Shaking her head, she realized Moira wasn’t a kid anymore…but she was still two years younger than Gabbi, who was twenty-nine.
After slowly untangling herself from the hug, Gabbi said, “Okay, let’s go find your luggage. I imagine you brought several suitcases.”
“Oh no,” replied Moira. “Just three. The letter said we might have to stay for more than a few days, so I had to bring the essentials.”
“How many books?” inquired Gabbi, smirking. “If I recall, you don’t go anywhere without your books.” Moira had forgotten how Gabbi’s blue eyes turned almost amethyst at times especially, when she was teasing her.
“Oh, just a few tucked in here and there,” Moira said as she waved her hand vaguely. “I can always buy more clothes, but it’s difficult to find really good books.” She could tell it sounded a bit snobbish, but she didn’t want to admit that one suitcase was almost full of books.
“I imagine your Daddy gave you a large check just for shopping?” Gabbi asked her voice dripping with saccharine. “We all know he can afford it.”
“No, I brought my own money,” Moira responded, defensively. “I know we don’t talk very often, but I’ve been working for the last four years and I’ve managed to save quite a bit.”
She didn’t add it was almost enough to buy a house of her own. At least the down payment for something small and charming with lots of windows and a yard for a dog. Not like the apartment she had been living in. She’d always wanted animals, but her parents never made room for anything that took time away from their careers. Or anyone, a little voice added. Ignoring it, she glared at Gabriella.
“Don’t get upset. If there are less than twenty books, I’ll apologize.” Gabbi smiled at her cousin, knowingly.
“Okay, I brought more than twenty, but they are all very important.” Then, Moira laughed and shook her head. “Why do we always end up getting on each other’s nerves?”
“That’s what cousins do,” responded Gabbi. “Come on, let’s go get your luggage and see if we can lift it into my car.”
Moira watched Gabbi as she drove. She loved her cousin, but always felt so average in her presence. Where Moira was 5’6” and saw herself as the girl next door, Gabbi was 5’9” with wavy, almost black hair and curves in all the right places. Moira smiled, remembering the way they’d played dress up as little girls. Before either of them had thought about hair color or curves.
Moira decided she liked Gabbi’s car. Especially, since it was a convertible. They had talked about putting the top down, but decided against it. Gabbi said the top often stuck on her ’97 Jetta, when it started to rain. However, it was reliable, otherwise and the closest thing she could afford to her first love, a 1964 Corvette Stingray. At least the Jetta was red…and theoretically a convertible.
The traffic was crazy going through Seattle and Moira thought to herself she was quite happy to be the passenger. Nothing like this in Billings and she hadn’t really driven anywhere else. All the traveling she’d done with her parents had been when she was too young to drive. As an international correspondent and photographer, they made the perfect power couple and sometimes took her with them on assignment. Once they bought the newspaper, they were too busy to travel.
She’d decided to save money by going to the local university and staying at home. She had a talent for selling advertising. Her dad called it her “soft sell” and it was very effective. She had worked for the paper all through high school, college and full time since graduating. Montana State had a good program in marketing, but she’d spent more time in her history classes. She finally graduated with majors in both. One for her parents and one for herself. History was just like books. Wonderful stories about interesting people, living in exotic places…all having a more exciting life than she did. But it was fun to live through them if only for a little while.
Stop it, she told herself. This is the beginning of a new and exciting adventure. So for once, be the main character in your own story.
Turning to Gabbi, she said, “Have you ever been to Anacortes?”
Gabbi nodded her head. “A couple of times. They have some really interesting shops and a few great festivals. But when you live in Seattle, there’s not much reason to go anywhere else…except maybe down to California. San Francisco has some of the best restaurants in the world or so my father tells me.” When I see him, Gabbi thought to herself. Ouch, she shouldn’t have gone there. Do not think about Dad. Not today and not with Moira.
Moira knew that was a sore subject since Gabriella’s parents had divorced, when she was about thirteen. She tried to lighten the mood. “Hey, I know,” Moira forced more enthusiasm than she felt into her voice. “Let’s go explore Anacortes. We have five hours before the lawyer is going to meet with us. We can wander around the town and have lunch. It’ll be fun!”
Gabbi looked over and sensed what Moira was trying to do and she had to admit, it was pretty nice. “Okay, sounds like a plan. But you’re buying lunch since I’m paying for gas.”
“Way ahead of you,” replied Moira. “In fact, let’s splurge and eat somewhere right on the water.”
Almost an hour later, they were still heading north on interstate 5 with the Cascade Mountains off to their right and Mount Baker straight ahead. They would keep traveling north until they reached Mt. Vernon and then take the short cut over to Highway 20 and Anacortes. The scenery was amazing with the evergreens all around them and azure blue skies. No rain today and it was a lovely drive.
Moira kept commenting on the beauty, but Gabbi told her, “Wait until we get to the water.”
As they worked their way toward Puget Sound, Moira kept looking for the water, but there were too many trees blocking her view. As they drove across the Twin Bridges connecting Fidalgo Island with the mainland, it was suddenly laid out before her.
“Oh!” she put her hand up to her mouth. “It’s beautiful! Just beautiful. How wonderful to live in such a magical place.”
Gabbi smiled. It doesn’t always feel so magical, when I’m in Seattle, but you’re right…this is beautiful.”
They drove through Anacortes, then out to the harbor and parked. Walking along the shore, they looked across the channel to Guemes Island. Gabbi noted the ferries and smaller boats were out in force with everyone enjoying these last warm days.
“It’s almost the end of September and the weather is perfect,” Moira said, seeming to read Gabbi’s thoughts. “We couldn’t have asked for a better day to start our big adventure.”
She stopped for a minute as her gaze traveled right to Samish Island, then back to the left and Cyprus Island. Looking out at the water, the trees and the sky, Moira was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place.
“This was worth the trip,” she whispered to herself.
Gabbi smiled and punched her lightly in the arm. “There you go, cuz. Nice to see you enjoying something besides your books.”
Another reference to her books. Moira remembered how much Gabbi had teased her, when they were six and eight. She smiled. “Books can teach us a lot, but of course, you have to learn to read first. I imagine you mastered that some time ago.”
“Ouch!” Gabbi replied. “Kitty has claws.”
Moira turned back, “I should apologize…”
“No, you should not,” Gabbi said. “I think you’ve probably done that far too many times in your life, judging by that shapeless top you’re wearing.”
As Moira started to say something, Gabbi held up a hand. “I’m not saying that to be mean. Well not entirely, but you’re too pretty to wear that style. What I’m saying is let’s be honest with each other. If we are going to spend the next few days together, let’s start fresh. Not continue a fight we had over twenty years ago.”
Moira smiled and nodded. “Agreed. And you’re right. I do apologize too often, even when I’ve done nothing wrong. Standing here with this breathtaking view in front of me, I feel the need to say so.”
Gabbi looked at her for a moment, then smiled back. “Maybe there’s hope for you yet, cuz.”
“Let’s get something to eat,” suggested Moira. “I’m starving.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” replied Gabbi.
“How about there?” suggested Moira. “That restaurant has a spectacular view of the water.”
“Let’s just hope they have spectacular food,” muttered Gabbi, but she did have to admit the view was wonderful as they walked into the dining area.
“Something by the windows if you have it,” Moira told the pretty, young woman at the cash register.
She smiled at them. “You two just missed the rush, so sit wherever you like. I’ll be right over to take your order.”
They decided on prawn appetizers. How could they not? Moira thought to herself, smiling. She ordered garlic prawns, while Gabriella chose the spicy paprika prawns, which definitely suited her personality. They went back and forth on clam chowder, but decided on a light salad instead. If you can call any salad, buried under luscious Dungeness crab, light.
They debated about white wine, but settled on water with lemon.
“Are you gals up from Seattle?” asked the waitress. “We get a lot of tourists in the fall, who want to get out of the city and enjoy the last of the nice weather.”
Moira smiled and told her they were here on business. Gabbi tried not to pay attention, focusing on the ingredients in her prawn appetizer. She was pretty sure she could replicate it with a little trial and error.
“If you’re done with the welcoming committee, we should probably leave,” said Gabbi as the waitress went to check on her other tables. “We’re supposed to meet Gran’s lawyer in about twenty minutes.”
“Lead the way,” replied Moira.
Fifteen minutes later, they were sitting in the reception area of O’Reilly and Finch, Solicitors. They both stood up as Arthur O’Reilly came into the room. He was a tall man with gray hair and a casual air, despite his well-cut, blue suit.
“You must be Moira. You look so much like your mother,” he said, shaking her hand.
Moira liked the way his eyes lit up, when he smiled. “It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. O’Reilly.”
“Arthur, please,” he replied.
“And you must be Gabriella,” he said, turning to Gabbi. “You look like your grandmother at that age, except for her auburn hair.
“Nice to meet you, Arthur,” said Gabbi with a slow smile. “Just how well did you know our grandmother?”
Moira gave her a frustrated look, but Gabbi ignored it.
Arthur laughed. “Very well actually,” he replied. “We were good friends since we were six years old. I met Maggie in the first grade, when she asked to borrow my green crayon.”
Gabbi smiled and said, “Good answer.”
As they walked back into his office, Arthur informed them there were a few papers to sign, then they’d drive over to the MacInnes House.
“Your grandmother wanted her will read in the library,” he informed them. “It was a special place for her.” He decided not to tell them she’d died there. He tried to push that thought out of his mind and focus on the paperwork in front of him.
Gabbi and Moira followed Arthur’s BMW out of Anacortes as they headed towards the west side of the island. Moira had convinced Gabbi to finally put the top down on her Jetta convertible, so they could see the scenery.
Arthur had told them the MacInnes house was about five miles out of town, but they didn’t follow the water. They cut across the island taking the main road southwest.
“Look at all these houses,” commented Gabbi. “Every time I come up here, there seem to be more of them.”
“Did you visit Gran?” asked Moira.
“No,” replied Gabbi. “She was usually off seeing the world. I’ve driven up to Anacortes a few times just to get away for the weekend.”
“Did you come up here with a guy?” Moira smiled, batting her eyelashes.
Gabbi laughed. “I came up with friends the first time, but not the second time. I did meet a very interesting driftwood sculptor on one of the beaches.” She smiled devilishly. “He said my limbs were a wonder to behold. He didn’t get the opportunity to see what was under the leaves.”
“Gabbi!” Moira feigned shock. “I don’t know how you meet these men.”
“I have a talent,” Gabbi replied, smiling to herself.
“Oh well,” Moira giggled. “It’s a whole new adventure this time. And I’ll try to keep you away from the beachcombers. We’re landowners now.”
“Yes, we are,” Gabbi said, smiling slowly, “and I think this is some of our land just off to our right. You know, I’ve never driven out to the house. It didn’t seem right without an invitation.”
Arthur had turned and they followed him down a wide gravel drive, which cut through an open area bordered by heavy forest on the left. An overgrown vineyard was on the right with wild blackberries at the far end.
“Wow,” exclaimed Moira. “This is amazing.”
“More than I expected,” admitted Gabbi, “and we haven’t even seen the house. I hope it’s not in too bad a shape,” she added, thinking of her plans.
The long drive had been fairly straight, but now curved to the left, then started a slow half circle back to the right. Gabbi wondered if this was the grand entrance, meant to impress and awe the visitors.
Ever since they had turned off the main road, Moira had been going on and on about the old-growth forest, but all Gabbi could see were large evergreen trees and shaded undergrowth. She was starting to wonder how long a person could talk about trees and moss, when Moira suddenly got very quiet. Gabbi stopped the car and they both just stared. The MacInnes Mansion stood before them, absolutely beautiful and much larger than either of them had expected.
The house was built of dark red brick with a gray roof and lighter gray, fish-scale shingles on the third floor gable. The large, white porch ran across the front of the house and dead ended into the turret on the right. It continued around the turret on the left side and had all the Victorian gingerbread details one would expect. They could see the side of a long balcony on the second level that was also painted white. All the windows had dark green trim and were topped with stained-glass transoms. Directly above the peaked entry to the front porch was a half circle, stained-glass window.
The cousins just stared and Gabbi let out a low whistle. “I hope the third floor is all one, large space. What a view!”
Arthur had already parked and was now walking back to them. Smiling, he said, “As a matter of fact, it’s two huge bedrooms and a bath…and it has spectacular views.”
To the right, they could see a smaller version of the house, which was also brick. “That must be the carriage house,” Moira said, looking at Arthur.
“It is,” he agreed, nodding. “There’s an apartment above, which used to be servants’ quarters before it was converted into an artist loft back in the 1920s.”
The gravel drive continued past the front of the house, around to the carriage house and then looped back to the main drive. There was a fountain in the middle, topped by a sculpture of three women in a circle holding hands with one set of joined hands reaching toward the sky. Moira recognized it as ‘The Three Graces’ from Botticelli’s painting, Primavera. She’d never seen it as part of a fountain and it was lovely. Surrounding the fountain were short, green shrubs she thought might be boxwoods.
Gabbi and Moira walked up the path to the front steps and onto the porch that led to a huge mahogany door with leaded glass sidelights. They moved past the wicker chairs on the porch and around the left turret to south side of the house. The porch passed two sets of French doors, then ended at the side of a glass porch or conservatory.
There were steps to the left, down to a brick path that led to an octagonal white gazebo covered with pink climbing roses. The bricks made up the floor of the gazebo and continued through the other opening, directly across and down into the garden. There was also a path that wound through the garden, then led back to the walkway at the bottom of the stairs.
The garden was a bit overgrown, but many of the flowers were still blooming. On the other side of the garden was the old-growth forest and to the right, they could see glimpses of water between the trees. As they followed the brick path around the house, they found a stone terrace in back. They both gasped as they saw the view of Burrows Bay and the islands beyond.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” said Moira. “Just beautiful.”
“That’s the word for it,” agreed Gabbi. “Beautiful. And it’s all ours.”
“For now,” agreed Moira, quietly.
She saw the annoyed look Gabbi gave her, but ignored it. She was too busy thinking they couldn’t possibly afford to keep this insanely huge, lovely house. The maintenance alone would be more than she made in a year. But she would enjoy this week of exploring every bit of it, she promised herself.
Arthur had followed them around the back and smiled as he saw them. “It’s quite a view, isn’t it? You should see it from the upstairs balcony.”
They turned around and saw the back of the house was just as impressive as the front. There were balconies on the second and third floors and what appeared to be a cedar pergola covering part of the terrace. Wisteria vines wrapped around the beams, but it was too late in the season for any flowers.
To the left there was another turret, larger than the ones in the front. Seeming to read their thoughts, Arthur said, “That’s the breakfast nook. I’ve enjoyed many a fine cup of coffee in that room.” Then he looked down and cleared his throat. “We should probably go in. The library is upstairs.”
Gabbi and Moira glanced at each other. It was obvious, Arthur had been a good friend to Gran. Following him through the glass doors by the turret, they found themselves between the breakfast room and a large space that ended in the conservatory. There were decorative corbels, showing where the dividing wall would have been at one time, closing off the kitchen from this area. The entire space was amazing.
Arthur didn’t stop, so they followed him through an archway into a central hall. There was a huge dining room to the left and a stairway to the right.
Climbing the stairs, they reached another center hall. This was a twin to the one below with doors opening into what were probably bedrooms. Dark walnut paneling covered the lower part of the wall and old photographs hung above. They could see the window seat ahead with bookcases halfway up the wall, on both sides. Above it all, there was that lovely stained-glass window they’d seen outside.
The window would practically glow in the morning, Moira thought to herself, when the sun hit those vibrant shades of green, gold and red. The design seemed to be a family crest of some sort. Probably Scottish.
All this was a quick glimpse as Arthur led them through double doors to the right and they entered an impressive room. It was wrapped with bookcases on both sides of the doors and on either side of a huge fireplace, which was to their right. Across from the entrance were two sets of French doors, leading out to a balcony with more books between them. And to their left was a large window seat with the ever-present bookcases on the left side. To the right was one of the turrets they had seen as they walked up to the house.
Inside the turret, there were windows on six sides with a small desk and chair in the center. The view from this spot would look out onto the woods and the water. It was easy to picture Gran sitting there, watching over it all.
Moira smiled and sighed, contentedly. Of course, Moira would love this room, Gabbi thought, looking at the bookshelves from floor to ceiling. A huge library table sat in the middle of the space and two comfortable chairs and an ottoman were by the fireplace. Another large chair was to the left of the window seat with a few more chairs were pulled up to the library table. It was an amazing space.
“Oh, it’s…it’s unbelievable,” Moira said. She had just fallen in love and Gabbi could see it all over her face. Smiling, she turned to Arthur. “You’ll have to excuse my cousin. She’s never had a library of her own before.”
Arthur nodded and indicated they sit down around the library table. “Why don’t we have the reading of the will, then I’ll give you both a proper tour of the house.” He looked at Gabbi, adding, “When you see the storage in the kitchen, I think you might feel the same as Moira.”
“How did you know I like to cook?” Gabbi asked surprised.
“Oh, Maggie kept track of you. Of both of you,” he added, turning to include Moira. “She followed your progress in school and in your careers. Even when she was out of the country, she had her sources. She wanted to know everything about you. She always said that someday, her girls would come home.”
“Then, why didn’t she come to see us?” asked Gabbi before she could stop herself.
Moira looked over, but said nothing. She wondered the same thing.
Arthur had expected this. He looked at each of them, then slowly sat down. When they did the same, he continued. “Your grandmother thought she would have more time. We all do, don’t we?” He looked down for a moment. “When the doctors told her she was sick, she asked me to do something for her, but she didn’t tell me about her illness. She was a proud woman and wouldn’t want sympathy even from her closest friends.”
He cleared his throat. “When she….” He tried again. “When she asked me to update her will and told me about her wishes, I thought she was making changes because of her new plans for the vineyard.”
Waving his hand as he anticipated their questions, he said, “We’ll get to that later, but at the time, I thought that’s why she was looking for her son.”
Gabbi looked confused. “Gran knew Dad was in San Francisco. It’s never been a secret that he moved there after the divorce.”
“Not that son,” Arthur said, deciding the direct approach was probably best. “Your grandmother had a child before she married your grandfather. A little boy, whom she gave up for adoption, when she was nineteen.”
Gabbi and Moira looked stunned. As Gabbi started to say something, Arthur held up his hand.
“My father took care of the adoption. When Maggie told her father, he was furious. However, he soon realized that his little girl would have to make some very adult decisions. He took her away to have the baby, what with Anacortes being such a small town. They told everyone she went to visit a sick aunt in Olympia that spring and summer. She took a semester off from college and when she came back, the little boy had been placed with a family in Seattle.”
He got up and started to pace around the room. “All these years and we’d never discussed it. Not until she came to me a few months ago, asking me to help her find her son. She said she wanted to know if there were any grandchildren. When I asked her why, she simply smiled, saying it was important.”
“She wanted to include all of us,” Moira said, quietly. Gabbi looked over and rolled her eyes. She wasn’t happy about this new development.
Arthur looked down at the floor for a moment, then back up at the two women. “She became very serious, saying she didn’t have much time, so I should look into it right away. I thought she was talking about the vineyard not that anything…” Arthur dropped his arms to his sides.
Moira went up to Arthur and gave him a quick hug. “You miss her and I think that’s a very sweet and wonderful thing. I’ve never had a friend like that, man or woman.”
“Neither have I,” whispered Gabbi under her breath. Then, she said, “You seem to have been very fond of Gran.”
Arthur sat back down. “You’re right. She was a good friend. And for a short while, many years ago, I imagined I might be in love with her. But she said I was just too noble to let a girl deal with such a huge problem on her own.”
Smiling to himself, he continued. “She was an amazing woman. She told me I would find someone special within the year.” Looking down, he added, “And I met my darling Lily the next fall. She passed away a few years ago, but your grandmother knew she’d be the one. In fact, she introduced us right here in this house.”
He looked around, remembering. “Maggie went back to college that fall and brought home a friend for Thanksgiving break. Said her family was in Europe and she needed a good meal with friends. She called and asked me to bring some papers by for her father, knowing I’d be home for the holiday helping my Dad. I always wondered…” Arthur smiled. “As I said, your grandmother was an amazing woman.”
He cleared his throat. “Anyway, now that you know about the possibility of other grandchildren, I can read the will. Be sure to tell me if you have any questions and then we’ll take that tour.”
Gabbi and Moira were still in shock about everything that had happened in the past week. And now the will stated that the house was being left to her grandchildren, not granddaughters, but grandchildren to be divided equally between them. Arthur was given three months from the time of the reading of the will to find them. He stopped there, explaining that he already had a pair of investigators looking into it.
Then, he got to the really big surprise. Maggie was adamant that her granddaughters must live in the MacInnes house together for six months, beginning on the day of the reading of the will. They would be allowed to go home for up to one week to gather their possessions, then return. At the end of the six months, they would inherit the house and decide if they wanted to keep it or sell it. The majority ruled and a tie would mean they kept the house.
If any other grandchildren were found in the three months allowed, they would have to stay at the carriage house until the original six months were up. Not knowing them, she thought it best that they have their own space and be allowed to come and go as they pleased. The girls, she knew, might have a difficult time adjusting to each other, but they must both stay in the house. If they failed to do as she requested, the entire estate would revert to a trust for ten years, then be divided equally between them all.
“She was a smart one alright,” Gabbi admitted, grudgingly. She already anticipated my first question. What if we don’t want to play her little game?” She smiled. “If we don’t play, we don’t inherit for another decade.”
“You sound impressed!” accused Moira. “How can you be so cavalier? There’s no point to any of this. We couldn’t possibly afford to maintain this place, let alone have a choice as to whether to sell it or not.” She looked at Arthur. “Why insist on this, when she must have known we’d never be able to afford it?”
Arthur shook his head. “Your grandmother was many things, but never cruel. Didn’t you ever wonder how she maintained this place?”
The girls looked at each other. “I guess I always thought the Bed and Breakfast made good money, while she ran it,” Gabbi replied, “and she was living on the interest.”
Arthur smiled. “Maggie was always good with money and she had a way with her hunches. When she got the insurance settlement from your grandfather’s accident, she decided to invest it all in stock. Computer stock. She said she had a feeling about a particular company and wanted to be a part of it. That was thirty years ago and her initial investment would have been worth over a million dollars today.
Moira felt weak in the knees and Gabbi thought about jumping up and down. Arthur held up his hands. “Before you get too excited, she didn’t leave it all in the investment. She took out what she needed to keep the estate going, but there’s $350,000 left in trust for the estate. If you decide to sell, it will be split between you as will any profits from the sale.”
He smiled. “Of course, the more you improve the house, the more it will be worth. And I would imagine, it will take a good six months to get it all done.”
Moira shook her head. “Gran was a clever one. We either grow to love it or hate it, but either way the house gets a new lease on life and we get to know one another. I have to admit, it’s a good plan.”
Gabbi thought for a minute. She knew that half or worse, a third or even a quarter would never be enough to do what she hoped. And what if there were ten grandchildren? She pushed the thought out of her head. Instead, she asked, “Arthur, when are you going to show us the house?”
As they started to follow him out of the library, Moira came up and looked at Gabbi, thoughtfully. “Whatever you’re planning, just know that it has to make sense, financially and logically. No crazy ideas that may or may not work.”
Gabbi laughed. “Where’s your sense of adventure, cuz? Let’s go find out if there’s any food in this place.”
Moira shook her head, wondering what exactly Gran had gotten her into. Then, she smiled once more at the room full of books and followed Gabbi out of the library.
As it turned out, there was more food than they’d expected. Since Arthur had known what was in the will, he’d already had someone come in and clean the kitchen, breakfast room and conservatory downstairs as well as the library, two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs.
“I’m afraid these are the only rooms that are ready tonight, but I’m sure you’ll have your own ideas about the rest of the house.”
They decided against the tour. Gabbi insisted they go shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables to go with the basic pantry that had been stocked. They would not be getting any money for at least a week, but Arthur offered to lend them some, while they were waiting.
“No, but thank you, Arthur,” Moira said, shaking his hand. “Gabbi and I have enough to get started, but we appreciate the thought, don’t we Gabbi?” she asked, looking at her pointedly.
“Yeah, sure we do,” Gabbi replied, still looking around the kitchen. She was mentally measuring which appliances would go where and trying to decide if there was room for a wine fridge. “That reminds me, we should get some wine,” she said, absently to Moira.
As Arthur started to leave, he turned and smiled. “I almost forgot to tell you. There’s some wine downstairs in the cellar. Probably at least a few bottles that would meet with a chef’s approval.” Then he waved and walked out the front door, calling out, “My number is on the bottom of the paperwork if you need anything.”
“It’s going to be dark in a few hours,” said Moira. “If you want to shop in Anacortes, let’s get back in plenty of time to see if the lights are working.”
“Good idea,” replied Gabbi. “In fact, we may want to grab a few flashlights. Oh, that’s right, I don’t have any money.”
Moira laughed. “Well, I do. I’d be happy to loan you a couple of hundred for the next few days.”
“A couple of hundred?” repeated Gabbi. “Why didn’t you take Arthur up on his offer? The guy drives a BMW.”
“Gabbi,” Moira shook her head, “Gran wouldn’t have approved. And if you need more money, I can loan you up to a thousand. As long as you pay me back, when we can access the trust.”
“Never mind,” Gabbi smiled. “I’ll just let you buy tonight and I can go back down to Seattle tomorrow. You going to be okay here by yourself?” she asked as they walked down the porch steps and out to her car.
“Sure, but why do you have to go back?” asked Moira. “Can’t you just ask your bank to send you the money?”
“Probably.” Gabbi smiled. “But I doubt they’d want to send me my cats.”
“You have cats?” Moira asked as they pulled out of the drive onto the main road. “I’ve always wanted a cat. And a dog. And maybe even a horse.”
“Whoa, slow down,” Gabbi laughed, “no pun intended.
Moira smiled. “Very funny.”
“But let’s start with two cats,” Gabbi said, more seriously. “A dog is going to have to like the cats or it stays outside.”
“Fair enough,” agreed Moira. “Now, let’s go get some food. I’m starving.”
Gabbi laughed. “You’re always starving. Why don’t you check out the produce and I’ll look at the fish.”
“You just passed a grocery store,” Moira said, looking behind her.
“We aren’t going to a grocery store. There’s a market down by the water and it should be open until dark.”
They had more fun than Moira had expected, poking around the market and they found a wonderful selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. And the fish! Gabbi decided on salmon, but she had to look at everything else before committing.
“Let’s grab some wine,” Gabbi said, pointing towards a little shop off to the right. “See if they have any Pinot Grigio. From Washington State,” she added, “no California wine in the MacInnes home.”
Moira smiled. “I’ll do my best, but I’m not spending more than twenty dollars on a bottle of wine.”
Gabbi pretended to be shocked, but laughed as Moira made a face, then went into the shop. She came back out with a bottle and a big basket.
“Look!” Moira walked over. “Strawberries. Real strawberries and they’re wonderful. The woman said a customer brings them in to sell with the May Wine and a few other items. There’s enough for shortcake.”
“Forget the shortcake,” said Gabbi. “We’re making daiquiris. Go back and get some rum and I’ll meet you at the car.”
“Yes, Capitan,” Moira joked, “but I expect an excellent dinner after all this.”
Moira was not disappointed. Gabbi could definitely cook. The salmon was amazing, served with baby potatoes and green beans. And the Pinot Grigio was wonderful. Gabbi was particular, but she did know her wines.
When Moira started to refill her glass, Gabbi shook her head. “No more wine, we’re making daiquiris.”
“Tonight?” asked Moira. “I thought you were going to make those tomorrow.”
“Oh no, tonight. I think we need an icebreaker and daiquiris are perfect.” Gabbi smiled. “Have you ever had strawberry daiquiris…made with fresh strawberries?”
“No, I haven’t, but they sound wonderful,” said Moira.
Gabbi smiled again. “Oh, they’re wonderful. Come on, you can help.”
They tidied up the kitchen, which was large and dated, but Gabbi kept saying it had great potential. Moira preferred the breakfast nook. She couldn’t wait to see the views in the morning, since it was too dark to see anything tonight.
When Gabbi found the blender in the pantry, Moira looked at it doubtfully. “It seems a little old. Maybe we should stick with the wine.”
“Trust me,” Gabbi said with a smile. “If it doesn’t work, we can always go back to the wine.”
Twenty minutes later, they were sitting in the library, a pitcher of daiquiris between them and Moira was in heaven.
“This is the best drink I’ve ever had,” she declared. “And I don’t even care if there’s alcohol in it. This daiquiri tastes lovely.”
“Lovely?” asked Gabbi, laughing. “I think the alcohol is already having an effect.”
“Maybe so, but I still say it’s lovely,” said Moira, smiling. “Would you look at all these books? I love this room.”
“Speaking of love, how is your love life, cuz?” Gabbi asked. “Any boyfriends back home?”
“Oh, I had one,” Moira said, “but Craig turned out to be a cad.”
“A cad?” Gabbi laughed. “You read too many books, cuz.”
“Impossible,” Moira stated, looking quite serious. “I just can’t seem to find a guy, who reads enough. Or at least, not the same books I do.”
“That almost makes sense,” Gabbi said, smiling.
Moira took a sip of her drink. “He said she stopped by. Stopped by and just happened to have a dark blue, satin nightgown on under her sweats?”
“What?” asked Gabbi, sensing there was more of a story here than she’d imagined.
“Never mind. It doesn’t matter now,” Moira replied, looking into her glass.
“Nothing personal,” Gabbi stated, “but you look like you could use some help with your love life.”
“That is so not true,” Moira said, not wanting to admit how close it was to the truth.
“I mean, you’ve probably had a few boyfriends, but not anyone really amazing, right?” Gabbi couldn’t help teasing Moira a bit. “I’ll bet you’re more of a doormat. Step right up, walk all over me and I’ll just be grateful for any time or affection you happen to show me.”
Moira just shook her head and drank another sip of her daiquiri. “I don’t know why you always have to be so mean. Don’t you know any other way to get attention?”
“Oh, I know how to get attention,” replied Gabbi, smiling, “and I will tell you all about it. My last guy paid a lot of attention, but he ended up being a complete jerk. So, I had to kick him out.”
“The guy you threw out, when I called the other day?” asked Moira.
“That’s the one,” replied Gabbi.
“How did you meet him?” asked Moira. “You must have really liked him to have him move in with you.”
“He didn’t exactly move in with me. He just asked to stay on my sofa for a few days, which turned into a few weeks and probably would have been months if I hadn’t booted him out.” Gabbi laughed. “I think it might have turned into something more if he hadn’t ended up crashing on my sofa. I couldn’t really see myself getting serious with an unemployed musician…especially one with no desire to get a job or an apartment. But when we first met, he made a very good impression.”
Gabbi told Moira all about it, down to the last detail.
The weekend of Seattle’s Bumpershoot festival, Gabbi had found herself with two days off from work. She loved cooking, but this restaurant job seemed like a dead end. She decided to meet up with friends, get some food, drink a little wine and just relax in the sun.
Gabbi didn’t pay attention at first, when yet another local band walked out on stage, but the lead singer’s voice soon captivated her. He had long, dark hair that reminded her of an ‘80s rock star. She smiled and enjoyed the music, but when the band left the stage, she soon forgot about the singer.
When her friends wanted to leave, she decided to have one more glass of wine. As she stood in line at the wine garden, she heard a voice directly behind her say, “You are truly a vision of loveliness.”
“Why thank you.” Gabbi replied, smiling as she turned.
The singer from the band stood before her. He offered to buy her wine and she accepted. “I should introduce myself,” he began. “I’m Darryl Hooks, lead singer of …”
“Hooks and Harmony,” they said at the same time.
He smiled, “You’ve heard of us then?”
Gabbi laughed. “Yes, I’ve heard of you.”
She held out her hand, but her eyes never left his as they shook hands. “I’m Gabriella McCrae. My friends call me Gabbi.”
“Nice to meet you, Gabbi.” He looked her up and down. “Would you like to walk back to the fountain with me?”
Gabbi smiled. “That would be nice.”
They walked and drank their wine, discussing music and the Seattle night life. Eventually, they ended up at the Monorail platform.
“Well, it’s been great talking to you, but I need to go home and feed my cats.” Gabbi smiled, slowly. “So, I’m going to say good night.”
Darryl leaned towards her, his face so close to hers she could feel his breath. His cologne seemed intoxicating as she breathed it in. He looked into her eyes. “Are you sure I can’t convince you to spend a little more time with me?”
As she hesitated, he leaned forward and kissed her.
“It was a kiss that definitely got my attention, Gabbi said, smiling at Moira, “but the next one was even better.”
Moira’s eyes were wide as she stared at Gabbi. Not sure what to say, she finally decided on the truth. “I don’t have anything to share,” she admitted, “since that one evening sounds more exciting than the last eight months of my so-called romance.”
Gabbi smiled and shook her head. “Oh Moira, you have had some romance, haven’t you? Your love life can’t be that uneventful.”
Moira blushed a bit. “You’d be surprised. And I guess I’m not that sorry to see the last of Craig, when I think about it.” She tried out a small smile. “Maybe you’re right. I do have a tendency to be a doormat,” she said, thinking of that blue nightgown.
Looking at Moira, Gabbi felt bad about her earlier comment. Maybe it was the daiquiri, but she suddenly felt the need to say something nice to Moira. “Hey cuz, don’t worry. I’ll make sure you have more fun these next six months.” Surprising herself, she added, “I can teach you a few things, so you’re ready the next time an opportunity presents itself. Or himself.”
Moira almost spit out part of her daiquiri and had to laugh. “Um, I guess I should say I appreciate that…but truthfully, it kind of scares me.”
Gabbi smiled. “As it should. You have a lot to learn, but mainly, you need more confidence.”
Nodding her head, Moira was starting to see two or maybe three Gabriellas, sitting across from her. “I appreciate your, um, interest in my love life or lack thereof.” Then, she collapsed into a fit of giggles.
“I think that’s enough rum for you,” replied Gabbi, reaching over and taking her glass.
Moira was still smiling, but then jumped up and walked to one of the walls of books.
“You know if this were a movie, there would be some secret passage or chamber, where all the special and important items were kept.” She laughed and spun around, almost tipping over. “Okay, spinning is a bad idea,” she admitted. “But wouldn’t it be great if there was a secret compartment somewhere in a house this old?”
Gabbi laughed. “I think you could hide plenty under the dust in the downstairs ballroom.” But she was rather intrigued. “On the other hand, if you wanted to hide something, all these bookshelves would be the perfect place.”
Knowing they had to get an early start the next day, they decided to get some sleep and look for secret compartments tomorrow. Gabbi walked down to her room, thinking maybe it would be worth checking out the library more carefully…but tomorrow morning, she had to go back to Seattle to get her cats. She didn’t want to leave them alone for too long and she missed having them curled up next to her on the bed.
Lying down, she fluffed up the pillows and wondered if she’d be able to get any rest after such an exciting day. To her surprise, she fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Gabbi was up early the next morning. She walked into Moira’s room and had to laugh at the condition of her cousin’s hair. It seemed to stand up in spikes around her head.
“Oh, that’s a great look on you,” Gabbi commented with a smile. “You really should wear your hair up more often.”
Moira ignored her.
“Now, you have to promise not to look for any secret compartments without me,” Gabbi said as she walked over to the bed.
Moira groaned, deciding she was happy to do anything Gabbi asked if she would just stop yelling.
“I promise,” she replied. “I won’t go treasure hunting without you.”
Gabbi laughed. “Told you to slow down with those daiquiris.”
“I only had two, but you were also the one who made them with those fresh strawberries.” Moira cringed at the thought of the drink, but remembered there were still some strawberries downstairs in the kitchen. Maybe she should just stick to having them on her cereal.
Gabbi was saying something about her convertible. “I said,” she repeated, seeing Moira was not listening, “I finally got the top up last night. We are not putting it down again.”
Oh, the car. That’s what she’s talking about, thought Moira. “It’s fine. Whatever you want. Just drive carefully and bring your little kitties back safely.”
“They’re not little and I will drive carefully.” Gabbi had to smile. Moira was pretty sweet. “If you don’t feel better this afternoon, I’ll make you some soup.”
Food did not sound good at the moment, but Moira smiled. “Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll just lie here, hoping I feel better in a few hours.”
“Remember, no treasure hunting without me,” Gabbi said over her shoulder as she walked out of the room.
“I promise,” Moira muttered, pulling the covers back over her head.
Gabbi made good time on the freeway and got into Seattle during late morning traffic. She pulled up to her apartment, noticing how close the buildings were to each other. One day in a mansion and I’m totally spoiled, she thought to herself. Looking around, she realized the city had lost the allure it once had. At least for her.
Passing through the security door, she climbed the stairs to the second floor. Carol Monroe was coming out of her apartment, so Gabbi waved and asked her if she wanted some tea. Carol lived across the hall and was a free spirit. Her gray hair was always piled up on top of her head and she usually wore loose, flowy tunics over cropped pants. Unless she was painting. Then, it was old jeans and colorful t-shirts. She celebrated the bohemian lifestyle, but doted on Gabbi’s two seal-point Himalayans and had three cats of her own.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. This morning in the paper, I saw Pisces clashing with Virgo and Mars ascending.” She placed a hand on Gabbi’s arm. “You dumped that Darryl just in time.”
“That was apparent as soon as he became one with my sofa,” Gabbi replied. “The cats were happy to see him go, too.”
Carol nodded. “Cats before men, every time. I should have reminded myself of that, before I said yes to my third husband.”
Gabbi laughed. “I’ll have to remember that. I know you like herbal tea, but what about Earl Grey today? I could use the caffeine.” She looked at her watch. “I have to drive back up to Anacortes this afternoon.”
“I noticed you weren’t home last night, so I came to check on your fur babies.” Carol sat down at the small dining table as Gabbi came out of the kitchen with a tray and two cups. “Oh, you have cookies. No sugar, right?”
“Of course not,” Gabbi replied as she sat down.
“I’m not a fan of sugarless cookies, but it’s what I have to eat. When you bake them, they actually taste like real cookies.” Carol looked over her cup at Gabbi. “How did it go with the reading of the will?”
Gabbi brushed her hands through her hair. “I have inherited part of an estate and an actual mansion.”
“A mansion? Sounds intriguing. Are you right by the water?” asked Carol.
“No, we’re out on Agnes Point, but it overlooks the water and the islands. The house has been in my family for several generations, but I had no idea it was so big.” Gabbi took a cookie. “It’s called the MacInnes House.”
Carol almost spilled her tea. “The MacInnes House? I’ve been there. Almost fifty years ago, but I went up there for a couple of long weekends with an old boyfriend. It was more of an art commune back then. Very popular, especially with that view.”
Gabbi smiled. “It does have a great view. I haven’t really had a chance to see much of the house or the grounds. I didn’t want to leave the cats too long. My cousin Moira and I will have to live there together for six months and then we can decide if we want to sell or keep it.”
“Oh, you have to keep it,” replied Carol. “With a view like that, a chef with no talent would make a tidy profit. With your skills, you could make a fortune.”
“Thank you.” Gabbi gave her a big smile. “I’m off work through the weekend, but I’m tempted to call Monday and tell them I can’t make it back. Ever.”
Carol laughed. “That place has always been beneath you. And didn’t you say the owner has wandering hands.”
“Did have,” replied Gabbi. “Until I showed him how talented I am with a knife. He seems to like his fingers, so he backed off.”
“I knew you could handle it. You’re like me,” Carol said, patting Gabbi’s hand. “You know how to take care of yourself.”
Gabbi smiled. “Until the right man comes along, we can handle anything that comes our way.”
Carol nodded. “We sure can. I should get back, but you know how much I enjoy coming over to visit. And I just love your Angus and sweet Priscilla,” Carol said, nodding towards Angus on the sofa.
“And they love you,” Gabbi assured her. She had to smile as Priscilla was many things, but sweet was rarely one of them.
Carol stood up and started for the door. “Let me know if you need anything. Happy to get your mail and watch out for any men, wandering around with their hearts broken. Have fun in Anacortes and do me a favor. If you keep the house, invite me up next summer.”
As Carol walked out into the hall towards her own apartment, she turned. “Oh, I almost forgot. Priscilla didn’t finish her food this morning. She might be a little put out with Angus. You know how he teases her. Just thought you should know.” She waved and went into her apartment.
Gabbi glanced over at Angus. He was looking very pleased with himself. She wondered how much damage he’d done to her bathroom after leaving him alone all night. As she walked into the bedroom, she found sweet Priscilla, or Prissy as she called her, stretched out on the bed. Her Prissy Diva Princess looked up with those lovely blue eyes and seemed a little too quiet.
“Are you okay, baby?” Gabbi stroked her head and looked at her carefully. “Carol says you’re not eating. Let me check your temperature.” She gently touched Prissy’s nose to make sure it was cool and wet. “Well, no fever. But we’ll keep an eye on you just in case.”
She looked over as Angus strolled in. “That means be nice. And I’d better not see toilet paper all over the floor.” Angus ducked under the bed, which gave Gabbi a pretty good idea what the bathroom was going to look like.
“Alright, we need to pack anyway. I have a surprise for you two,” Gabbi said as she started taking her clothes out of the dresser and closet. “We are going to stay in a real life mansion. And you will both have a lot more space to run around.”
As she moved into the bathroom to pack her makeup, she saw the toilet paper pulled off the roll and a box of tissues knocked off the counter. “Angus,” she shook her head, “you have been a very bad boy.”
Angus came out from under the bed and rubbed against her leg, gazing up at her with that sweet, angelic face and those deep blue eyes. How could such a good boy be responsible for such a mess, he seemed to be saying.
Gabbi smiled. “Alright, I was gone for over twenty-four hours. I’ll give you a pass this time.”
As she finished packing her clothes, she took a final look at her view over Seattle. The rent on Queen Anne Hill was pretty steep, but the view at night was worth it. Of course, the view of the San Juan Islands was entirely different, but she knew it would be a lot quieter at the new place. And she was looking forward to the water view every morning, when she woke up.
“Oh well,” she confided to her cats, “hopefully, we’ll get to keep our mansion. Even if we do have to sell, we’ll have more money for a nicer place. Maybe a bistro instead of a restaurant, but still a place of our own. And that’s something your mom has wanted for a long time.” She smiled, reminding herself she wasn’t overly fond of children, but thought of the cats as her kids.
They were used to her packing for the occasional weekend trip with friends, so they didn’t pay much attention. And she knew better than to take out the cat carriers until the very last minute. As she looked around the room once more, she debated about her chaise. It was beautiful, comfortable and had been an unbelievably low price. She smiled, remembering when she found it at the thrift store. All lovely curves of dark mahogany, upholstered with soft gold brocade. More romantic than she was looking for, but she knew it was perfect the moment she saw it.
She’d worried about the cats, but it was the one piece of furniture they didn’t have any interest in. They ignored it, preferring the bed and her sofa. Maybe she should have the chaise sent up to Anacortes, she thought, along with some of her other furniture. She didn’t have much worth moving, but there was definitely room for it at the mansion.
No, she decided that might scare off Moira entirely. Better to wait until the end of October, since she’d already paid the month ahead. She would give Moira a few weeks to get used to the idea of living at the mansion before she started moving in furniture. However, she was going to take her favorite knives and some of her better pots and pans with her today.
As she looked at her watch, she realized the worst of the Seattle traffic was starting in about fifteen minutes. She debated for a moment, then decided to stay for a few more hours. She’d feed the cats, then make herself a late lunch and still make it back to the mansion before dark.
“Come on kids,” she said to the cats, “let’s enjoy one more meal in our old place.” The cats followed her into the kitchen and Gabbi started cooking.
A few hours later, everything was packed and loaded into her car. The cats started giving her a funny look. They’re on to me, she thought, smiling. “Alright, let’s get this over with,” she said as she took the cat carriers out of the hall closet. It was a fight to grab Angus and put him in, but Prissy only gave a half-hearted attempt to squirm out of her arms.
Gabbi got the carriers into the car and said, “Come on babies, let’s go see our new home.
Back at the mansion, Moira had taken her time getting out of bed. Two hours after Gabbi left, she finally decided it was time to try the shower in the bathroom and prayed the water was hot. Thankfully, there was plenty of it and after almost twenty minutes, she definitely felt better.
As she went downstairs to the kitchen, she found a note. ‘Coffee in the thermos and strawberries hidden in the fridge.’ Moira smiled. Gabbi had her moments and leaving her almost, hot coffee was definitely one of them.
She drank the coffee, then found some bread in the cupboard and made toast. Sitting at the table in the breakfast nook, she looked out at the view and realized she had fallen for the place. The view, the house, the grounds, everything. It was larger than she would have chosen for herself, but it definitely had the potential to be something grand. If only they could somehow bring it back to its former glory. Now, she sounded like Gabbi, she thought. And the reality was it would be a huge undertaking to renovate the estate, let alone find a way to maintain it.
Almost feeling normal after last night’s daiquiris, Moira considered going through each room of the house. Then, she remembered the promise she’d made to Gabbi. No treasure hunting without her! She laughed and decided to spend the day outside, exploring the estate. She went upstairs and quickly dressed, grabbing a sweater on her way out of the bedroom.
As she came down the stairs, someone was knocking on the front door. She didn’t expect Gabbi back so soon. Hoping there was nothing wrong with the car, she looked through the leaded glass sidelight by the front door. A very cute, blonde woman was outside with a large wicker basket.
Opening the door, Moira said, “Hello. May I help you?”
The woman smiled and held out a hand. “I’m Callie O’Reilly and Arthur asked me to check in on you. I’m married to one of his grandsons.”
Moira smiled. “I’m Moira Dunbar. Won’t you come in?” she asked.
“Sorry, I’d love to, but I’m late for work.” Callie handed her the basket. “I brought you and your cousin a few necessities.” She laughed. “There isn’t much in the way of entertainment out here, so I thought you might like a few DVDs and some snack foods.”
“Oh, how very nice of you,” replied Moira. “Gabbi went to Seattle to pick up her cats, but she should be back this afternoon.” Moira looked at the basket and added, “Oh! You brought some romantic comedies. They’re my favorite.”
“Mine, too,” said Callie with a laugh. She was about 5’2” with shoulder length blonde hair and big blue eyes. “I wish I could stay, but I’m a veterinarian down at Burrows Bay Animal Clinic. If I don’t get there soon, we’ll start out behind and won’t catch up for the rest of the day.”
“Thanks, again. And do stop by, when you have more time,” Moira waved as Callie ran to her car and headed back down the drive.
That was nice, thought Moira. Arthur was watching out for them. It made her feel like her grandmother was watching over them, too. She set the basket on the entry table and went outside. As she stood on the porch, she wondered where to start. There were one hundred and thirty acres according to the paperwork yesterday. She looked around and decided to start with the gardens.
Moira had seen the flower garden on the way up the drive. It seemed a bit neglected, but she was no expert. There was also a garden on the kitchen side of the house, which the path went past on its way to the carriage house. She walked around that side of the house and saw it was fairly overrun with weeds. It had a white picket fence surrounding it that could use a little paint and an arbor over the entrance. There was a vine growing over the arbor, but she had no idea what kind. Maybe they could do something with the garden next spring, but it looked too neglected to worry about this year.
She decided to look more closely at the flower garden on the other side of the house. Viewed from the conservatory, it appeared to be in slightly better shape. As she walked along the brick path past the gazebo, she could hear the names of the plants in her head. There’s the lavender for clarity of mind, healing and happiness. It ran along the edge of the path with the roses just behind it, which were for beauty, love and faithfulness. Behind them were the delphiniums, which were starting to die back, but she could see the dried blue and white flowers. They were for peace and stability, which seemed ironic to her since they often had to be staked.
She stopped. It had been so natural, she hadn’t even questioned it for almost a full minute. She knew very little about gardening. The roses she recognized, but how did she know the meanings of the plants? She supposed it could have been in one of her many books, but it didn’t seem familiar…yet it did. As if she’d recited it many times before.
Moira shook herself, then walked back up to the porch. Maybe she’d wait until Gabbi returned to see more of the gardens. If she couldn’t walk around the house or the gardens, it was going to be a long day. She decided to go upstairs and look through her books. Maybe there was something to explain her knowledge of the plants. As she started to open the front door, another car pulled up the drive. Still not Gabbi, she thought, noting the black sedan as it approached.
She waited as the car stopped and a man got out. He was about six feet tall with light brown hair and an athletic build. What surprised her was that he wore a light gray trench coat and a dark gray fedora. She thought both looked great on him and tried not to stare.
“Miss McCrae?” he asked, walking up to her.
“No, I’m her cousin, Moira Dunbar,” she replied. “May I help you?”
“Detective Jack Stewart, Anacortes P.D. If you don’t mind, I have a few questions.” As he walked towards her, she saw he had brown eyes that seemed to see right through her. He must be very good at interrogating people, she thought as she forced herself to look away.
Moira turned and gestured to the white wicker chairs on the porch. “Would you like to sit down?” she asked.
“No, thank you,” replied the detective. “I’m here because Maggie McCrae reported that she had trespassers in these woods on two different occasions.” He paused. “It was the week before she died. Have you seen any people or lights in the woods since you arrived?”
“My cousin and I drove up from Seattle yesterday and we were too tired to notice much last night. I wasn’t aware Gran had any problems with trespassers,” she added, a look of concern clouding her face.
Jack noticed the way her eyes changed, the green growing darker with her concern. He held her gaze adding, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Moira shook her head. “It’s all been so quick. Receiving the letter about the house and the grounds, finding out Gran was gone, realizing I’d never really get to know her the way I’d hoped, traveling here from Billings.” She stopped, realizing she was rambling. She did that whenever she was nervous. Taking a breath, she finished, “If I see anyone, I’ll be sure to let you know. Right away,” she added as his eyes locked with hers again.
“Why don’t I leave you my card,” he began, which was his standard response, but surprised himself by adding, “I can write my cell number on the back in case you can’t get through to the station.”
Moira watched him as he scribbled the number on the back. “Thank you,” she said. “These trespassers, do you suspect local kids or something else?” She looked around, wondering how long it would take Gabbi to return.
“We really don’t know. That’s one reason I came out here today.” He reached out and gave her his card.
She felt the spark as his hand brushed against hers. She caught her breath and looked into those brown eyes, wondering if he’d felt it, too.
He turned and walked down the steps. He paused at the bottom and looked back up at her. “Be sure to call if you see anyone or anything that seems suspicious.”
Moira nodded, then he turned and walked back to the black sedan.
Pretty young woman, Jack thought as he got into his car. Too bad about Maggie McCrae. She’d always been good to him and his family. He rubbed his hand absent-mindedly, but was still thinking about those dark green eyes, when he pulled out onto the main road.
Moira watched the car until it turned out of sight, then took a quick look around and went into the house, locking the door behind her. She decided to check the locks on all the doors as she waited for Gabbi. It was past time for lunch but too soon for dinner. She had enjoyed afternoon tea with her girlfriends back in Montana, so she went in and found some teabags and brewed a cup. Going back to the front entry, she picked up the basket and carried it to the breakfast table. She chose a chocolate chip cookie and had it with her tea.
A half hour later, she was done with her tea and still no sign of Gabbi. She didn’t want to call in case she was in heavy traffic. Also, she didn’t want Gabbi to think she was afraid to be by herself. Moira realized she had put off calling her parents all day. This seemed as good a time as any, so she walked upstairs to her room.
She took another look around, realizing she had chosen this room more for the hand-painted, green ivy tiles around the fireplace than anything else. Of course, the window seat and built-in bookcases were another benefit. The room looked out over the front drive rather than the water, but today that seemed like a good thing. She could watch for Gabbi and see part of the forest, too.
When her dad answered, she told him about the house, the required six month stay and the other stipulations of the will. She also told him she was going to be staying there with Gabbi and that there may or may not be other cousins involved.
“All this means I’m obviously going to need some time off,” Moira said, pacing back and forth. “I think Janet would be a good fit for the advertising as she knows all our clients after interning last spring. I saw her last week and she’s still working at the restaurant. I told her I’d let her know if anything opened up.”
Robert Dunbar laughed and Moira felt homesick for a moment. “Just like you, Moira. All this excitement and you’ve already got the details figured out.”
She thought about the police detective coming to the house and decided not to tell him anything about that. Not yet. He’d only worry and there was nothing he could do. She was twenty-seven years old and had to start looking out for herself.
“Okay, Dad. I love you. Tell Mom I’m sorry I missed her.” Moira hung up the phone and went over to the suitcase, grabbing the book on native plants and magical herbs. Not sure why she’d included it when she packed, she thought it might come in handy now. She could check and see if those names and uses matched the plants in the garden. If they did…well if they did that was something she and Gabbi would have to figure out together.
Moira checked the book once more. It was similar but not exact. What she had “heard” in her head was not what was listed in the book. Of course, she could have read it somewhere else, but she didn’t know much about gardening. She’d always wanted to learn. She just wasn’t sure how she knew the names of the plants or if they were even right.
Thinking about that, she checked the book once more for pictures of the plants. Without going outside again she couldn’t be sure, but they looked like the same ones.
This is silly, she thought to herself. I should just go out there and check for myself. I cannot and will not be afraid to walk around our own house!
As she got up from the window seat, she glanced outside and finally saw Gabbi’s Jetta coming slowly up the drive. She was probably tired, Moira thought, but she should at least know about the trespassers.
Moira was through the front door and half way down the steps by the time Gabbi got out of the car.
“Hi,” Gabbi said, a big smile on her face. “You’re just in time. Grab a cat carrier.”
Moira laughed. “I’m glad you’re back.” Reaching for the carrier, she asked, “Who am I picking up?”
“That is Sir Angus. He’s very particular about his toiletries.” As Moira looked confused, Gabbi just laughed. “If I leave him alone too long, he shreds the toilet paper.”
“They do that?” asked Moira and then laughed. “I didn’t know cats had so much personality.”
“Oh yes, they certainly do, right Prissy?” she said to the cat carrier she was holding. Prissy answered with a loud meow, which meant she wanted out of the carrier.
“Let’s get them upstairs,” Gabbi said, “before we have a revolt.”
Moira laughed and followed Gabbi up to her room. It was similar to Moira’s but with blue Delft tile around the fireplace and a view of the water. This bedroom was over the kitchen with French doors out to a small balcony. No window seat, but there was a chair and ottoman in the corner by the fireplace. It was a nice room, Moira thought, but she would rather see the trees. She’d loved fairytales as a child and had never seemed to outgrow her fascination with forests.
As they put the carriers on the floor, they started to rock back and forth. “Watch out!” Gabbi warned her as she opened the carriers. “They may run around the room like banshees or take a few steps and lie down and take a nap. You never know with these two.”
Moira watched as the one called Angus poked his head out, looking around the room, then made a mad dash for the bed and hid underneath it. The other cat, Prissy, just walked out like she was queen of all she surveyed and looked around as if this would be satisfactory. Then, she jumped on the bed and curled up on the pillow.
They both had lovely blue eyes and looked like fluffy Siamese cats. Moira had seen cats like these in movies and thought they were beautiful. “Where did you get them?” she asked.
Gabbi laughed. “From a friend, who bought them as kittens, then got transferred to Denver three weeks later. She couldn’t take them with her, so she gave them to me. They’re brother and sister, but they couldn’t be more different.” Glancing up from the cats, she stopped talking for a moment, looking at Moira more closely. “What’s wrong? You look a little off.”
“What do you mean?” asked Moira, innocently.
“Oh, now I know something is up. What did I miss?” Gabbi demanded.
“Where do I start?” replied Moira.
Gabbi laughed. “Let’s try the beginning, so I can get the overall feel for whatever has you so distracted. You didn’t go treasure hunting without me, did you?”
“No,” Moira replied, “but I did meet Arthur’s granddaughter or rather granddaughter-in-law. She’s married to his grandson.”
“Who is?” Gabbi asked.
“Callie O’Reilly. She’s very nice and the local veterinarian. She brought us a basket of DVD’s and snacks, which was very thoughtful.”
“I like her already,” Gabbi said, nodding approvingly. “Did she say where her place is?” She was still a little worried about Prissy.
“No, but she said it was called Burrows Bay Animal Clinic. We could look it up.” Moira hesitated.
“What else?” Gabbi prodded.
“Well, two things, but I think I want to explain them out of order. First, a police detective stopped by a few hours ago. Moira smiled, remembering.
“What’s with the smile? Oh, he was good-looking, wasn’t he?” Gabbi laughed.
“He was wearing a trench coat and a fedora and had these amazing brown eyes,” Moira stopped. “But we should get back to why he was here.”
“Oh, we will,” Gabbi replied, enthusiastically, “but first I want more details about this detective.”
“He was about six feet tall, had an athletic build and did I mention brown eyes?” Moira asked.
Gabbi smiled. “You did. He wears a fedora…I can totally see that working for you. Admit it, you’re a huge film noir fan. We could give you a great femme fatale look with those dark green eyes and long hair.”
Moira was shaking her head. “I do love those movies, but he’s younger and very handsome in a kind of serious way.”
“You sound smitten,” Gabbi said, smiling at her cousin, who was practically glowing. “I just hope there’s more than one handsome, single guy on this island.” Gabbi stopped and looked closely at Moira, “He is single, isn’t he?”
“I think so,” Moira considered, “I don’t remember seeing a ring, but I didn’t really look. When he handed me his card, I felt a shock and got distracted.”
“You felt a shock?” Gabbi was really enjoying this now. “He wears a fedora, he’s a detective and he gives you a jolt. You’d better hope he’s not married.”
Moira held up her hand. “Enough,” she said, trying not to laugh. “We really do have to discuss why he was here and then there’s the other thing.”
“What other thing? Okay, start with why he was here.” Gabbi sat on the edge of the bed.
“The detective said Gran called in twice to report lights moving in the woods and she was sure there were trespassers. He said he was concerned because her calls were only a week before she died.” Moira looked down. “It’s still difficult to say that. I just wish I’d known her better, you know what I mean?”
“I know exactly what you mean.” Gabbi cleared her throat and walked out of the room and into the hall. “Close the door behind you, so the cats stay in there tonight,” she instructed. “Let’s go out on the library balcony and see if we notice any of those lights.”
Moira followed her into the library and waited as Gabbi walked to the French doors. “It’s almost too dark to be in here without turning on a lamp, but I want to see if anyone is out there before we do.”
They went out onto the balcony and waited for their eyes to get used to the dusk. “No lights,” Gabbi whispered. “Do you hear anyone?”
“No,” Moira whispered back, “but I think I hear the water. Is that possible with Burrows Bay so far below us?” She was thinking of the cliffs that Arthur had told them about the day before. He’d warned them not to explore past the back fence until they got comfortable with the layout of the property. There was a winding path that led down to the water, but it needed some repairs before it was safe.
Gabbi thought about it. “I think it’s possible. It’s almost dark and sound carries further at night, especially with the humidity. We don’t have any traffic noises out here either.”
“Now, who’s the smart one?” Moira asked, poking her lightly in the arm. “Let’s go inside. I don’t think there’s anyone out here tonight.”
“Too bad,” Gabbi said quietly. “I’d like to find out who was bothering Gran.” She followed Moira back into the library. “Okay, what’s this other thing?”
Moira looked uncomfortable. “Well, it’s a little strange. I don’t want you to think I’m crazy or anything.”
“Already do,” Gabbi said, laughing, “so you have nothing to lose. Now spill.”
“I was walking down the path through the side garden by the forest. I couldn’t explore the house due to my promise.” Moira grimaced.
“Quit stalling,” Gabbi replied. “What happened?”
“Well, I was looking at the plants, thinking I’d like to learn more about gardening. I’d love to have a garden with climbing roses and magical herbs.” Moira paused as Gabbi gave her that look. “So, I was walking and thinking this, when a voice inside my head started naming the plants and what they meant. Or rather symbolized.”
“What do you mean a voice?” Gabbi asked, growing more interested.
“At first, it was like my own voice in my head, remembering something. Then, I realized I didn’t know any of this information and it got really strange.” Moira stopped. “Okay, it freaked me out. I was heading for the house, when the detective pulled up.”
“So, you hear strange voices in your head and then you see this handsome guy? Are you sure you didn’t drink more daiquiris, while I was gone?” Gabbi smiled, raising one eyebrow.
“No, I didn’t imagine it. And I can prove it. Here’s the card Jack gave me.” Moira reached into her pocket and handed her the card.
“Jack?” Gabbi repeated, still smiling. “Let me look at this. Detective Jack Stewart. And what’s this on the back?”
“His cell number in case I need to call him about the trespassers.” Moira smiled. “He wrote it down, so I reach call him if he wasn’t at the station.”
“He gave you his cell number?” Gabbi laughed. “For a trespassing case? He must have thought you were pretty wonderful, too.”
“You think so?” Moira asked doubtfully. “Maybe, I just looked worried.”
“Trust me, no man gives you his private number, not even a cop unless he hopes you’ll call.” Gabbi considered this for a moment. “We need to take you shopping tomorrow.”
“But, what about the plants?” Moira asked. “Don’t you think that’s strange?”
“Well, yes. For a normal person, but you’re a bookworm,” Gabbi said, smiling. “Bookworms read everything and probably retain all types of knowledge. You said you wanted to garden. Haven’t you read about gardens in all those books you have?”
“I guess I must have,” Moira said doubtfully, “but it was so clear.”
“Look, why don’t you start with the books here and I’ll take the ones over by the fireplace. We can search for more garden information, while we check for secret compartments. We’ll call it ‘The Case of the Talking Garden’ like something out of a mystery book.” Gabbi laughed, adding, “I always love mystery books with smart women and gorgeous men. See, I read books once in a while.”
Moira laughed. “Well, I know you can read a cookbook. Speaking of food…”
“I know. You’re starving, right?” Gabbi shook her head. “Okay, you look through the books and I’ll go throw something together. Come down to the kitchen in half an hour and we’ll eat. Then, we’ll come back up here with a glass of wine and look for secret compartments.” Gabbi wiggled her eyebrows and laughed as she walked out the door.
“It’s still strange,” Moira said to herself as she started looking through the garden books. Almost immediately, she came across some medicinal herb books, but none of them had the same uses for roses and lavender. Delphinium wasn’t listed. When she finally found a book on flowers, delphinium had a different meaning. Big-hearted and fun? That’s nothing like peace and stability.
The roses were divided by color, type and number, but none of them said faithfulness although love was mentioned many times. So a little similarity there. Beauty was implied rather than stated.
For lavender, she found love and devotion in the books. What she had “heard” in the garden was clarity of mind, healing and happiness. Maybe I just got them mixed up and I read something about flower meanings a long time ago, she thought. It did sound like something out a fairytale.
It was time to go down for dinner and she could smell something wonderful as she walked down the stairs. “What did you make?” she asked Gabbi, walking into the kitchen.
“Tonight, we are having salmon fettucine and a small salad left over from last night,” Gabbi replied. “And since I used the last of the Pinot Grigio in the sauce, we’ll have to go with this white wine I found in the fridge. Chablis will work in a pinch.”
Moira smiled. “I’m just glad you don’t mind cooking. I should have made something for you after all that driving, but I’m a lousy cook.”
Gabbi laughed. “I can show you a few quick recipes, guaranteed to impress a man on the first date. Make that the third date. Your detective should take you out to dinner and maybe dancing first.”
Moira didn’t say anything, just shook her head. She was too busy trying the fettuccine. “This is great!” she said a moment later. “It really is.”
“Don’t sound so surprised. I am a chef,” Gabbi replied. “It’s what I do.”
“I don’t think many chefs can do this. I mean it, this is amazing.” Moira decided not to care about niceties and dove into the pasta.
Gabbi was very glad of the compliment. She was used to people enjoying her food, but it meant even more when family said it. She realized her parents had never had her cook for them, professionally. She should do something about that.
“You know,” she said to Moira as she poured more wine, “I’m going to call my dad and invite him up here. He’s never seen me cook and I think it’s time.”
“What a good idea,” Moira replied, remembering her Uncle Montgomery. “He’s so much fun. I remember him playing with us…” Moira stopped.
“Don’t worry. I have decided not to be sad about the past. I am going to be more proactive with my present,” Gabbi stated, firmly. “If I want my Dad in my life, it’s high time I invited him up here. And you’re right, he was fun. I bet his still is.”
A half hour later they had cleaned up the kitchen and were back in the library. Moira told Gabbi that none of the books matched what she had ‘heard’ in the garden, but she’d only looked through the shelves on each side of the main doors.
“Why don’t I start on the fireplace shelves and you take the ones to the left of the window seat?” Gabbi offered. “I can also tap on walls and peek behind paintings.”
Moira laughed. “Don’t forget all those photographs in the hallway. Who knows what might be hidden behind those?”
Gabbi nodded. “It could take days to give this place a proper going over and there may not be any secret passages or hidden compartments.”
“Oh, that would be a shame,” Moira said, “when there are so many possibilities in an old mansion like this one.”
As she tapped along the wall above the fireplace, Gabbi was actually hoping to find something. This was Maggie’s favorite space according to Arthur. This and the conservatory, but with all those windows the library seemed a better choice.
“No compartments so far, but some lovely antique books on the second shelf from the bottom,” Moira said. “I wonder if there’s anything in the desk. The turret seems like a good place to keep something special. Maybe in a hidden drawer.” Moira laughed. “It does feel like we’re in a mystery book.”
Gabbi looked back to smile at Moira, when a small box fell off the shelf behind her. It was wooden with carvings on it and probably very old. It seemed rather Asian in design. No wait. Celtic, she thought, looking at it more closely.
“Hey bookworm, bring that brain of yours over here for a minute, will you?” she asked Moira. “What do you think this is?”
Moira came over and took the box, holding it up to the light. “I’d say some kind of Celtic carvings. See the cross on the top? Definitely Celtic. And the tree behind it. I’m no expert, but that looks like a Rowan tree.”
“What about these carvings on the sides?” Gabbi asked. “What do you make of those?”
Moira turned the box in her hands. “I’d say it’s some kind of story. See, here is what looks like a dragon. And this is a mermaid. Over here, do you think that’s a fox?”
“Could be,” Gabbi said as Moira handed the box back. “And this could be a horse. Or maybe a cow. What do you think it means?”
“I have no idea,” replied Moira. “These plants that look like ivy seem to wind all around the figures. Maybe, there’s a book in here somewhere that will tell us.”
“Let’s see if there’s anything in it.” Gabbi tried to open the box, but it felt like it was glued shut. “I don’t know how we’ll open this without breaking it.”
“Maybe the carvings are some kind of code. When we figure out the story, the box might open and we’ll see what’s inside.” Moira shrugged. “That’s the way it would happen in one of your mystery books, right?”
Gabbi smiled and put the box back on the shelf. As she started to walk over to the bookshelves on the other side, the box fell on the floor again.
“Look at that!” exclaimed Gabbi. “Good thing it keeps hitting the area rug or it might have broken.”
“Do you think that shelf is uneven?” Moira asked. “Maybe the box had something pushed against it, which held it in place…and it got moved while you were looking at the books.”
“I guess,” Gabbi began doubtfully as she ran her hand along the shelf. “Moira, come here! Look at this.”
Moira came back over and watched in amazement as Gabbi pushed on something towards the back of the bookcase.
“I think they’re opening!” Gabbi couldn’t believe they might have found something. But that’s why they were looking, right? “Help me, Moira. Try to pull it forward.”
“I think there might be another lever. It seems to be stuck on this side.” Moira felt down on the right side of the same shelf. “Here’s something, behind this horse statue.”
With another click, the second and third shelves moved out and then swung to the right. There was a hinge, which they could see now that it was open. Inside, there was a stack of books. Four leather bound journals. At least, the size seemed right for journals and two other books that were much larger. The first one was about half the size of the second with ‘Native Herbs and Plants of Fidalgo Island and Surrounding Areas’ written on the front in a very pretty cursive.
Gabbi gave Moira the journals, which she set down on the library table. Then, she handed Moira the first book and picked up the other one, which was much larger and had an older style writing on the front.
“Can you make this out?” Gabbi asked as she handed it to Moira.
“Let me see,” said Moira, studying it carefully. “It looks like ‘Herbal Elixirs and Receipts of Clan Christie’ with a few more words I can’t quite make out underneath.”
“I don’t think those are words,” replied Gabbi. “I think they might be dates.”
“They’re both!” Moira exclaimed. She had picked up the magnifying glass, lying on one of the end tables. “It says ‘Year of our Lord, 1827’ and if that’s true, then this book is almost 200 years old!”
“What are Elixirs and Receipts?” asked Gabbi since Moira seemed to know.
“Elixirs are like a tonic, while receipts is another word for recipes. This has to be some kind of herbal medicinal text. And by the look of it, probably worth quite a lot of money. This should really be in a museum.” Moira said the last part more to herself than Gabbi.
“This book was never meant for a museum,” Gabbi said. “Maggie wanted us to find this book. She kept it in that space for a reason. And that box didn’t fall by accident.”
“What are you saying?” asked Moira.
“I’m saying a box slipping off once might be an accident, but twice seems to indicate a purpose,” Gabbi replied.
“The box slipped off the shelf,” Moira stated, “because the lever was probably pushing against it, once it got moved from its usual spot.”
“Maybe,” said Gabbi, with less conviction that before, “but it was still hidden and Maggie could have donated it anytime she chose.”
“That’s a good point,” Moira began, then exclaimed, “Stop!” as Gabbi started to pick up the book. “Don’t open it.”
“What’s your problem?” asked Gabbi, clearly annoyed.
“You need gloves,” Moira explained. “Rare books require gloves so the oil on your hands doesn’t damage the pages. It’s a bookworm thing,” she added, smiling.
“Oh, okay then. You are our resident bookworm. What kind of gloves?” asked Gabbi.
“The kind we will have to go buy in Anacortes tomorrow,” said Moira, succinctly. “Which means no more exploring tonight. We should put these away for safe keeping.”
“Good idea,” Gabbi replied, placing the books back in the compartment and closing it. “It really does disappear, once you push the shelves back.”
“It’s a great hiding place,” Moira agreed, “and it means there may be others. Anyone, who put that much time and thought into a secret compartment, had to have made more than one.”
“I sure hope so,” Gabbi said, smiling. “Let’s go to bed and get an early start in the morning. I want to keep an eye on Prissy, too.”
“Is something wrong?” Moira asked. “She looked fine, but I’ve never had a cat.”
“She just seems a little off,” Gabbi said, shrugging her shoulders. “It’s difficult to explain.”
“Oh,” Moira said with a smile, “it’s a mom thing.”
“I guess you could say that,” Gabbi agreed. “I’ll feel better, when she’s back to her usual demanding, yet adorable self. She’s just a little too quiet.”
They both went back to their bedrooms and Moira thought about how much had happened in the past few days. Some of their experiences seemed almost magical…but as wonderful as that sounded, it just didn’t happen in real life.
The next morning, Moira was up early and went to check on Gabbi. She walked in and saw both cats piled on the bed with her cousin squished in the middle. Who knew she was such a cuddler? Moira smiled and knocked on the back of the door.
“Wake up sleepy head,” she said. There was a groan from under a pillow and one of the cats shifted to the right.
“What is it?” Gabbi asked, half asleep.
“It’s time to read the journals or I’m going to start exploring the house without you. I’m not wasting another day, when I could be looking through all these wonderful spaces.” Moira smiled, thinking that might get Gabbi up and out of bed.
It worked. Gabbi managed to push the cats over enough to sit up. “Okay. Give me fifteen minutes to grab a shower and get dressed. You can make me breakfast.”
Moir laughed. “You want me to cook?”
“I think you can handle cereal,” Gabbi replied. Then, with a wicked grin, she added, “We still have strawberries if you want some.”
Moira made a face and walked out of the room. She decided to put two small dishes of strawberries out on the table, one next to each bowl. She added a box of cereal and put the milk on the table. Then, she thought it might be nice to cut some flowers from the garden. It would still be a few minutes until Gabbi came down, so she headed out with some scissors to see what she could find.
As she walked out the front door, she decided to take another look at the roses and lavender. Maybe it would happen again or maybe not, but she wouldn’t be afraid to walk through their own garden.
She spent a good five minutes looking around and cut a small bouquet of pink roses. No voices this time, but she did see several birds and a few butterflies. She decided the garden was going to be a place she’d spend a lot more time exploring.
As she came back in the house, Gabbi walked down the stairs. Seeing the flowers, she couldn’t resist. “Any voices in your head this morning, cuz?”
“Only my own,” replied Moira, “and that garden is too lovely to worry about the occasional odd moment or two. I’ve decided I want to learn all I can about gardening.”
Gabbi was secretly relieved that whatever had happened in the garden, it was no longer an issue. Moira did not need another reason to think about selling, but Gabbi also didn’t like the worry she’d seen in her cousin’s eyes the night before.
“Come on,” Moira said, smiling. “You have to give me your opinion on breakfast, but wait until I add the flowers.”
Gabbi laughed. “Okay, I’ll walk slowly. I think there’s a vase or two in the back of the pantry.”
Moira was just setting the vase of roses on the breakfast table, when she heard Gabbi say from the front hall, “Don’t tell me this is your friend Callie. She doesn’t look like any veterinarian I’ve ever seen.”
Gabbi was looking out the sidelight by the front door. Moira joined her and they watched a pretty blonde wearing a fitted gray suit and four inch pink heels walk up the steps to their front porch.
Moira started to laugh. “No, that’s not Callie. This must be someone else welcoming us to the area.”
“Someone with a really interesting outlook on accessorizing,” said Gabbi as she turned the knob and opened the front door.
“Hello,” said the blonde. “My name is Marissa Sinclair. I’m a realtor with Anacortes Homes. How would you like to sell your house?”
Gabbi just stared as Moira walked around her cousin. “My name is Moira Dunbar. Thank you for stopping by. Won’t you come in and have a cup of coffee?” Moira gave Gabbi a look. “I just made some a few minutes ago.”
Gabbi raised her eyebrows behind the realtor’s back as Moira led her through the entry hall and into the breakfast nook.
“Wow, this is a really nice place,” Marissa said. “I had no idea it was so large.”
“We’re only starting to discover it ourselves,” Moira replied as Gabbi watched her pour another cup of coffee. “Would you like any cream or sugar?”
“No, black is just fine,” replied Marissa, smiling.
Gabbi felt like she was watching a coffee commercial, so she finally decided to say something. “Excuse me, but what possible reason could you have for coming here at,” she stopped and looked at her watch, “nine in the morning to ask us if we want to sell our home?”
Moira ignored her and asked Marissa, “Would you like to see the terrace? It’s really lovely with the view of the bay and the islands.” Turning, she gave Gabbi a look. “Tell me Marissa, have you ever heard of anyone walking though these woods at night?”
Oh, Gabbi thought, Moira wanted to find out if the realtor knew anything about those trespassers. She had to admit it was a good idea.
As Moira walked around with Marissa, she found out a few interesting things. One, there was no talk in town about trespassers and two, most kids didn’t come out to their woods at night since it was said they were haunted. She wondered about that until Marissa assured her the stories had been around for decades. Ever since some problems with the local Native-American tribes in the 1920s.
“Why would that have anything to do with our woods?” asked Moira.
Marissa looked around and replied, “It’s said that the witches made the Native people disappear, when some of the townsfolk came to take them off the island. It was not our finest hour as a town, but there were rumors of some kind of magic in your woods after that.” She paused. “The story is that the Native people turned themselves into wolves and ran through the forest, faster than the men could follow.”
“Witches and shapeshifting wolves?” Moira asked. “Surely, no one really believed in that type of thing. That was less than a hundred years ago.”
“If you ask some of the old-timers on the island, they’ll tell you strange things have happened out here ever since the house was built.” Marissa shrugged her shoulders. “That only adds to the mystery of the place and drives up the price if you decide to sell.”
She’d brought it right back, thought Moira. Despite the pink pumps and long blonde hair, this gal was smarter than most people probably realized.
Moira smiled brightly and patted Marissa’s arm. “Should my cousin and I decide to sell, you’ll be the first one we call. Do you have a card?”
“Yes, I do,” Marissa replied, pulling one out of her pink purse. “This has my home phone, cell, email, fax and social media information. Call me if you have any questions.”
“I will,” promised Moira. She walked with her around the house, past the garden and back to the front. As Marissa got into her car, Moira came up the steps to the porch. Gabbi was standing in the front doorway as they watched the dark blue Mercedes disappear around the corner of the drive.
“Do you realize that is the third person to show up here in the past twenty-four hours?” asked Moira. “We should be charging admission.”
Gabbi laughed. “Let’s go eat breakfast. After that, I’m taking you shopping.” When Moira started to object, Gabbi just held up a hand. “If we are going to attract this much attention, we might as well give them something to talk about.”
Moira laughed. “Alright, we do have to find some gloves to handle those books in the library. And I guess a new look might be in order now that we’re landowners.” She looked closely at Gabbi. “Just what do you have in mind?”
“Leave it to me,” Gabbi replied with a confident wave of her hand. “We are going to dazzle them.” As Moira walked around the corner, Gabbi said quietly, “Especially that detective.” Smiling, she followed her cousin back into the kitchen.
Read the rest of the story right now! https://books2read.com/u/ba06wv