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MacInnes Mansion, October 1900
From the outside, the house seemed almost finished. The front porch and balconies still needed a coat of white paint, but the brick work was done. The cedar fish-scale siding on the third floor would soon weather to a lovely shade of gray and all the stained-glass transoms were installed above the windows and French doors. Inside, the walls on the first and second floors were almost ready for plaster. All that remained unfinished was the third floor and deciding how best to use the space.
“Rory, I told you,” Agnes MacInnes said to her husband, “we do not need any servants living in the house.” She smiled up at him, her green eyes sparkling.
“Not even T’Eqwem?’ Rory asked, taking her hand. He loved the way her auburn hair caught the late afternoon light from the window.
“That’s not fair,” Agnes replied, trying not to laugh. “You know I don’t think of her as a servant. She’s more like a member of our family.” T’Eqwem was the young Native woman, who helped her with the children. She was also her best friend.
“Well, she still needs a place to live…and that means you owe me a dance.” Rory smiled as he took her hand and they waltzed slowly around the unfinished third floor. He was a big, strong man and a surprisingly good dancer.
“Alright, you win,” Agnes said, looking up at him, “but I do not think we need anyone else living up here.”
Rory spun her around once more, then gave her a quick kiss. “I believe we may need a few more people to help out with a house this large. It makes sense to use the space as the servants’ quarters.”
Agnes looked around. This was their seventh disagreement about the house this week and their fifth waltz. “We could make this an area for the servants,” she agreed, “but then, where will the boys play if it rains? In the library?”
Rory realized she had him there. “Alright, we’ll frame in a few rooms and leave one area open for the playroom.” He shook his head. “Do I really have to do the polka?”
“You know I’m always happy to trade my dance for more garden space,” Agnes replied with a smile.
“Aye, you and your gardens.” Rory leaned down to give her another quick kiss, but this one ended up being much longer than he’d planned. “I could take the rest of the afternoon off,” he murmured, thinking how lovely she looked with her hair down.
“We’ve got the architect arriving in half an hour,” Agnes reminded him. As she looked into those dark blue eyes, she added, “Afterwards, I’m sure T’Eqwem would be happy to watch the children for an hour…or maybe two.”
Rory smiled. “Let’s go down and see if John has any questions for the architect. I think he has the carriage house foundation almost finished.”
“We could put the servants’ quarters above the carriage house,” Agnes suggested.
“We could…but where would we put all those garden supplies?” Rory asked.
“There aren’t that many,” Agnes replied, “but we do need a place to relax and enjoy a view of the garden. Maybe we should add a gazebo.” She ran her hand up his arm. “They’re very romantic.”
“A gazebo,” Rory repeated. “Hmm…I think that would be a fine idea.” He took her hand and kissed it. “Maybe one large enough for a waltz?”
Agnes smiled. “I don’t see why not.” They were still holding hands as they went downstairs and out the front door.
MacInnes Mansion, Present day
Gabbi McCrae opened the door as George Bronson walked up the front steps. He was tall, Native American and very handsome. He was also the contractor, who had agreed to help Gabbi with her kitchen remodel. Being a chef, she had definite ideas about what she wanted in the space.
“Did you bring the cabinet?” Gabbi asked.
“Of course,” George replied, noticing her blue eyes turned almost lavender as she smiled. “It’s in the back of my truck. I just need some help unloading it.”
“I’ll go with you,” said one of the volunteers, who was helping to get the house ready for the Halloween party in two weeks. Gabbi and her cousin Moira Dunbar had agreed to host the party at the mansion for the local animal shelter after their original location was flooded.
“Thank you,” Gabbi replied, following the two men out to the truck. “This is perfect,” she added a few minutes later, rubbing her hand along the top of the cabinet as they set it down in the kitchen.
“I thought you might want pull-out shelves,” George said, “so I added two in the main cabinet, but there’s room for one more.”
“No, this is fine for my larger mixing bowls,” Gabbi replied. Taking a step towards him, she smiled. “Thank you, George.”
“My pleasure,” he said, smiling back. Gabbi was tall, only a few inches shorter than he was, with long dark hair that fell in waves down her back. Realizing he was staring, George quickly looked at his watch. “I have a few hours before my next meeting. Do you want to go look at appliances?”
“That would be great,” Gabbi replied. “I really need to find a range, then we can put in this cabinet.” She grabbed her jacket off a hook on the way out. “Let me tell Moira I’m leaving.”
As they walked past the kitchen garden and into the carriage house, they found Moira sitting on the floor next to Lucky, the dog she’d found in the woods the weekend before.
“How’s he doing?” George asked.
“Much better,” Moira replied. “Matthew is supposed to be stopping by to check on him any minute.”
“Handy having a veterinarian as your neighbor,” George observed.
“Well, we’re off to look at appliances,” Gabbi announced, trying her best to appear bored at the mention of Matthew Rogers. He lived a little too close for comfort in her opinion. Looking at Moira, she asked, “How much did you say I could spend on the range?”
Moira shook her head, trying not to laugh. “You know we have $50,000 for the entire remodel, so try not to spend it all today.”
George smiled. “I think we can find what you need and stay within the budget.”
“Great,” Gabbi replied. “We’ll be back pretty soon.” As she walked out the door, she added, “And cuz, it looks like a certain police detective is on his way to see you.”
“Moira jumped up and told Lucky to stay. She walked out to the drive as Detective Jack Stewart got out of his black sedan. “Hi, Jack.”
“Moira,” he replied, walking up to her, “you look beautiful today.” He was wearing his usual trench coat and fedora, which only added to his charm. The hat was pulled low, almost covering the brown eyes that could look right through a person or hold their gaze. A useful trait for a police detective.
Moira looked up into those eyes and smiled. “Thank you, but I’m pretty sure I have paint in my hair.”
“White paint,” Jack said. “A little on your collar, too,” he added, running his finger along the top of her shoulder.
Moira blushed, then took his hand. “Why don’t we check on Lucky? You haven’t seen him since dinner the other night.”
“About that,” Jack said, “I know we made plans for tomorrow, but I’m not going to be able to make it.” He followed Moira into the carriage house and closed the door. “I’m going to have to work late. What about Saturday?”
Moira smiled. “I can wait one more day.”
“Well, I can’t,” Jack replied, leaning down and kissing her. “I’ve been wanting to do that since I left Monday night.”
Moira wrapped her arms around him. “So have I,” she said, kissing him back.
He looked into those lovely green eyes and smiled. “We could do this all afternoon,” he replied, leaning down to kiss her once more.
After a few moments, Moira took a step back. “There’s someone else, who’d like to see you.”
Jack glanced over at the dog bed. “Where is Lucky?”
“Probably up in the apartment,” Moira replied, smiling. “He’s doing much better. Matthew said this will be the last day he’ll need to check on him.”
At the sound of his name, Lucky came trotting down the stairs. “There you are,” Jack said, leaning over to scratch the dog behind the ears. “What a good boy.” Turning to Moira, he added, “He looks great.”
“I know,” Moira agreed, her smile fading, “but that means it’s time for me to do something I’ve put off until now. I need to find out if anyone is looking for him.” She glanced down at the dog. “He’s so sweet. I can’t imagine anyone purposely dumping him in the woods.”
Jack put an arm around her. “I’m surprised no one has advertised…if they are looking for him.”
“That’s what Gabbi said,” Moira replied.
Gabbi walked around the range, raising one eyebrow as she checked the price. “Is this the only shop on the Island?” she asked George.
“There’s another one,” he replied, “but they usually don’t have as large a selection.”
“I guess I could go to Seattle,” Gabbi said, “but I’d like to get it installed before the party.” She looked around the room and shrugged. “Why don’t we try the other place?”
They walked back to his truck and ten minutes later they were at the next store. “What do you think?” George asked.
“There’s nothing here that says focal point,” Gabbi replied, glancing around the room. “I’ve been picturing something large, very efficient and preferably stainless steel.”
The saleswoman walked up as Gabbi stopped talking. “Did you say large?” she asked.
“Definitely,” Gabbi replied. “I’m a chef and I want something with at least six burners and two ovens.”
“Gas or electric?” the saleswoman asked.
“Both if you have it,” Gabbi replied. “I’d prefer a gas cooktop and electric ovens.”
“Then, I think I may have just the thing,” the woman said. “It’s been sitting in the back room for the past three days. I was planning to return it tomorrow.” She motioned for them to follow her.
Gabbi’s eyes grew huge as she saw the range. “This might work,” she said, trying to remain calm.
“We had a customer special order it from the catalog. When she found out it was far too large for her space, she brought it back.” The saleswoman paused and looked at Gabbi more closely. “Just how much room do you have?”
“Oh, I think we could rearrange a few things,” Gabbi said, glancing over at George, “depending on the price.”
“Well, this is an expensive range,” the woman replied, “but I could knock the price down a bit. We’d have to pay to return it.”
“And I’d guess the woman gave you a deposit before you agreed to order it,” George added.
“That’s true.” The woman looked from George to Gabbi. “Let me see what I can do.”
As the woman walked back to the front, Gabbi grabbed George’s arm. “It’s perfect!” she said.
“I know,” George replied. “Let’s see how low she’ll go. There’s probably a re-stocking fee, not to mention transportation costs. And I know this isn’t standard,” he added, pointing to the box next to it.
“Is that the hood?” Gabbi asked. “It must be six feet long.”
“It would have to be for a range this size,” George replied, then smiled. “She’s coming back.”
Gabbi took a deep breath and put on her best bored expression. “This is what I could do,” the woman said, handing Gabbi a piece of paper. It was almost one third of her budget.
“Does this include the hood?” Gabbi asked.
“No,” the woman replied, glancing over at George, “but if you want the range, I could add it.”
“What if I pay cash?” Gabbi said. “I’d want to pick it up tomorrow.
“Cashier’s check,” George suggested. “Much safer than carrying around that much cash.”
“You can pay it all up front?” the woman repeated, obviously surprised. “If you can pick it up tomorrow, I’ll give you the hood and knock another 5% off the price.
“Done,” Gabbi agreed, looking over at George.
He smiled and turned to the saleswoman. “Someone will be by tomorrow afternoon.”
Twenty minutes later, George dropped Gabbi off at the mansion. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said as they pulled up. “I’ve got to get going, but I’ll bring the range over around two.”
“Thank you, George.” Gabbi leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, then hopped out of the truck and waved as he drove off.
“Did you have a good time?” Moira asked, walking up with Emma. They were both smiling.
“I’m going to have to ask my brother,” Emma said, her eyes sparkling, “what he did to deserve a kiss on the cheek.” Emma was also a contractor and had spent the afternoon helping them get the mansion ready for the party.
“He helped me find the perfect range on the first day we looked,” Gabbi replied. “And he’s going to deliver it tomorrow.”
“The perfect range?” Moira asked, looking over at Emma. “And how much does this perfect range cost?”
Gabbi smiled. “So, how’s Jack?” she asked, hoping to change the subject.
“He’s fine,” replied Moira, “and I think you just answered my question.” She looked at Emma and shook her head. “Hopefully, we still have enough left for a new refrigerator.”
“Not to mention those granite countertops,” Emma reminded them.
When Gabbi said nothing, Moira added, “I think we may have just lost the island.”
“Alright, it wasn’t that bad,” Gabbi replied, trying not to smile. “Just wait until you see it.” Looking around, she added, “Where is everyone? I thought we were having daiquiris tonight.”
“We were,” Moira said, “but Callie had to leave early. She got a call from her mom and one of her little boys fell. He’ll be alright, but he has to have a few stitches.”
“So, instead of drinking daiquiris, she’s filling out insurance forms,” Gabbi said, quietly. “Not exactly the evening she had planned.”
“Well, I still have tomorrow morning off.” Emma looked over at Moira. “I’m guessing it might be nice to celebrate someone’s new range.”
Moira smiled. “I think that’s an excellent idea.”
“If we’re going to have daiquiris, I should probably make some snacks to go with them,” Gabbi offered, walking towards the house. “Let’s have them on the back terrace.”
As Gabbi went into the house, Emma turned to Moira. “So, how did things go with Jack? Are you still going out tomorrow night?”
“No, we had to postpone until Saturday,” Moira said, “but he’s taking me to dinner in Seattle.”
“Sounds like a special dinner date.” Emma smiled. “What are you going to wear?”
“Hopefully, the dress Opal is altering for me,” Moira replied. “We’re supposed to pick it up tomorrow at her vintage clothing store.” As they walked into the house, Moira added, “I have to go upstairs for a few minutes, so make yourself at home.”
“Thanks,” Emma said. “I’ll see if I can help Gabbi in the kitchen.”
Moira knew she had to make that call about Lucky, but as she walked up the stairs she had an idea. She went into her room and found the card Marissa Sinclair had given her. The realtor answered on the first ring.
“Hi, Marissa. What are you doing this evening?” Moira asked.
A few minutes later, Moira met Gabbi and Emma on the back terrace. The view of the islands was amazing anytime, but with the sun setting it was even more beautiful.
“This is the best!” Gabbi exclaimed, taking a sip of her strawberry daiquiri. “I never thought I’d have a view like this from my home.”
“I know,” Moira agreed, zipping her jacket. “It’s a little chilly but the view is wonderful. Just think how nice it’s going to be this summer.”
Gabbi turned to Emma. “I love it, when she says things like that.” Smiling at Moira, Gabbi added, “Do you really want to keep the mansion?”
“Yes, I do,” Moira replied. “It’s our heritage.” Looking at Emma, she added, “I don’t want to think about what would happen if we weren’t planning to keep it.”
“Land developers,” Emma said, knowingly. “They’ve been circling the place for years, trying to get Maggie to sell.”
“Gran would never do that,” Gabbi said, taking another sip. “Not even for little Miss Pink Heels.”
“Be nice,” Moira said, hiding a smile. “You know it’s Marissa’s job. She’s a realtor.”
“About that,” Gabbi said, glancing over at Emma. “Are you sure, she’s the third one of ‘the three’ or could it possibly be someone else?”
“Her grandmother, Judith Thomson, along with Maggie and my grandmother were the last three,” Emma replied, seriously. “We will have to talk to Marissa eventually.”
As the doorbell rang, Moira jumped up. “That might be sooner than you think.” At Gabbi’s look, she added, “Drink some more of your daiquiri. I’ll be right back.”
“She didn’t,” Gabbi said, looking at Emma.
“Oh, I think she did,” Emma replied, smiling.
“And I thought this was going to be a nice evening,” Gabbi said, shaking her head.
Moira opened the front door and walked out on the porch. “Thank you for coming over,” she said, indicating Marissa should follow her down the steps. A pretty blonde about the same height as Moira, Marissa seemed to live in gray suits and pastel heels. “I have the dog in the carriage house,” Moira added.
“No problem, I was on my way home,” Marissa replied, following her around the house. “I’m just surprised you didn’t ask Callie.”
Callie was a veterinarian and the one who had talked them into the Halloween party. She was also Jack’s sister. Moira thought for a moment, then said, “Actually, Matthew has been taking care of Lucky. I was hoping if I asked you, it would be less official than going through the animal shelter. If he has someone looking for him, then of course, we’ll return the dog. But if no one is…”
“Then, you’d like to keep him,” Marissa finished the sentence for her.
“Exactly.” Moira said, opening the door to the carriage house. “Matthew thinks Lucky is part husky and maybe part collie.”
Marissa followed her in and they found Lucky curled up on the sleeping bag they’d made into a dog’s bed. “He’s beautiful,” Marissa said, leaning down to let him smell her hand, then scratching his head softly. “What a nice boy.”
“He was half starved, when we found him,” Moira replied. “We’ve been taking care of him since Sunday.”
Marissa nodded. “You’ve done a wonderful job.” She looked up at Moira. “I checked with the shelter before I came over and no one has reported a dog that fits his description.” At Moira’s look, she smiled. “I call in a couple of times a week to see if any animals need homes or have been lost. I also help post flyers around town.”
Before she thought about what she was saying, Moira asked, “Why are you a realtor, Marissa, when you enjoy working with animals?” Catching herself, she added, “Not that it’s any of my business….”
Marissa looked down for a moment. “I thought about being a veterinarian, when I was a kid.” She looked up. “My friend cut her hand in high school and I almost passed out.” She blushed for a moment. “Not a good trait for a vet.”
“Probably not,” Moira agreed, “but you’re obviously good with animals. Lucky seems to like you. He’s almost fallen asleep, while you’ve been petting him.”
“I do have the gift of getting them to relax,” Marissa admitted, “and they often do what I tell them.” She smiled. “It kind of freaks out some of the volunteers at the shelter, so I don’t do it much in front of people.”
“Really?” Moira said, thinking about their grandmothers. “Well, it won’t bother me, so talk to him as much as you like.”
Marissa smiled. “Thank you. If you like, I can check with Diane tomorrow to see if anyone has contacted her directly about a dog fitting Lucky’s description.”
Diane Knox was the woman who ran the shelter. “I would appreciate that,” Moira said.
“You’re pretty attached to him,” Marissa said, looking at Lucky, “and I would guess the feeling is mutual.” She stood up, glancing at her watch. “I should get going.”
“If you’d like to stay, we’re having a girls’ night at the house,” Moira offered, smiling. “It’s the least I can do after asking you to drive all the way out here.”
Marissa thought about it for a moment, then smiled back. “I would like that. I don’t have any appointments until ten tomorrow morning.”
“We’re having strawberry daiquiris on the back terrace,” Moira said, leading Marissa out of the carriage house and past the kitchen garden.
As they walked up to the house, Marissa looked up. “This is such a beautiful home. I know you’re not selling it, but do you mind if I walk around and meet you out back? I’d love to take a closer look.”
“Of course,” Moira replied. “Let me get you a glass and I’ll see you on the terrace.”
Marissa nodded and started walking towards the front, while Moira stopped in the kitchen for a glass, then went outside to see Gabbi and Emma. “Marissa is going to join us for a daiquiri.” Moira said, “so be nice.”
Gabbi made a face, then said, “I’m always nice. Aren’t I, Emma?”
Emma tried not to laugh and almost choked on her daiquiri. “Sure, definitely a people person.”
Gabbi raised an eyebrow as Moira shook her head. “What?” Gabbi asked.
“Hi,” Moira said, looking past Gabbi as Marissa walked around the corner and joined them.
Marissa smiled as Moira poured a drink for her from the pitcher on the table. After glancing over at Gabbi and Emma, Marissa said, “Thank you for inviting me.”
“Sit down and enjoy the view,” Emma said. “The islands look amazing with the sun setting behind them.”
“It’s a great view,” agreed Gabbi, “but I wish we could sit out here without freezing.” She wrapped her coat more tightly around her.
“Drinking iced daiquiris probably isn’t helping,” Moira said, shaking her head. “Maybe we should make hot buttered rum next time.”
“Or we could build a fire pit,” Emma said, looking around the terrace. “There’s plenty of room for one.”
“A fire pit would be amazing!” Gabbi said, jumping up out of her chair. “Where do you think we should put it?”
“I’d say over there,” Emma replied, gesturing towards the end of the terrace. “It’s far enough from the pergola, but still not blocking your view from the turret.”
“Do you think we could have it finished for the party?” Gabbi asked.
“That would be perfect,” Moira agreed.
Marissa didn’t say much. She sipped her drink and listened to the others talk about the party. Gabbi was excited about the food and her new range, while Emma focused on the repairs. Moira did her best to include Marissa in the conversation and when she poured another drink for her, Marissa smiled. “I want to thank you again for asking me to join you. I don’t have many friends.”
“That’s a surprise,” Gabbi said without thinking. Seeing Moira’s look, she added, “I mean, with you having grown up here.”
Emma shook her head. “It’s not that easy. So many of the people we grew up with have moved away.”
“That’s true,” Marissa agreed. “I’ve thought about leaving, but my home is here.” She smiled and took another sip of her drink. “My grandmother says I’m the best realtor she has.”
Moira glanced at Gabbi, then turned to Marissa. “It must be nice to have such a close relationship with your grandmother. Gabbi and I didn’t have the chance to spend much time with ours.”
Emma nodded slightly. “I really miss my grandmother. We were close, too.”
“Oh, Grandmother and I aren’t what I’d call close.” Marissa blushed. “I mean…”
“Relax,” Emma said, smiling. “As Callie says, what happens at the mansion, stays at the mansion.”
“That’s good to know,” Marissa replied. “My grandmother is, well, she’s a very strong person if you know what I mean. She pushes herself to be the best and she expects the same from the rest of us.”
“She sounds like a…” Gabbi began.
“Very interesting person,” Moira said, cutting Gabbi off. “You know, why don’t we give you a tour of the house? You’ve seen the downstairs, but it might be fun to show you the second and third floors.”
“Especially the library,” Emma said, glancing over at Gabbi. “That room has a great view, too.”
“Fine,” Gabbi muttered under her breath. A little louder, she asked, “Does anyone want a refill before we start the tour? I plan to take my drink with me.”
“That might not be a bad idea,” Moira said. They refilled their drinks and started up the stairs.
Gabbi and Emma decided to wait in the library, while Moira showed Marissa the rest of the second floor. They looked at all the bedrooms, both bathrooms and finally, Moira showed Marissa her room. “I wanted you to see this last,” Moira said, smiling.
She walked over to the fireplace and touched one of the tiles in the surround. They were hand-painted ivy against a white background. She glanced back at Marissa, then carefully pulled the tile, turning it 90 degrees. There was a soft clicking sound and the wall to the right swung forward a few inches.
Intrigued, Marissa walked over and watched as Moira pulled the panel back and showed her the little turret room. “We found this a few days ago,” she said, moving out of the way. “You can see the shelves for books and toys. This would have been their playroom.”
“Whose playroom?” Marissa asked, looking inside. On the wall were written three names. Fiona, Violet and Sarah.
“Your great-great grandmother’s playroom…along with ours and Emma’s.” Moira said. “They all lived here at one time, according to what we’ve read in the journals we found.”
“Really?” Marissa replied. “I had no idea…”
“That they knew each other?” Moira said. “It’s goes far beyond that.” She waited for Marissa to step back, then closed the turret door. “Their mothers were all very close. In fact, they were The First Three.”
“The what?” Marissa asked.
“The First Three,” Moira repeated. “The first generation of The Three. Although, I have to admit I’m still not sure exactly what that means. Emma knows more about it than I do.”
Marissa took a step back. “Our families knew each other that long ago?”
“Let’s go into the library,” Moira said, turning and walking out of the room. Glancing back, she added, “There’s something else you need to see.”
As they walked across the hall to the library, Moira wondered if they were doing the right thing. Marissa might not want any part of what they were about to show her. Gabbi and Emma were sitting by the fireplace, when they walked in.
“So, how did you like the turret?” Gabbi asked. “Pretty neat way to hide a playroom, don’t you think?”
Marissa nodded. “It’s charming,” she replied, “but Moira said there was something else you wanted to show me.”
Gabbi stood up and walked over to the bookcases to the right of the fireplace. She reached behind a few items on the shelf and seemed to push on something. As she did, the shelves moved forward slightly. “We found this, not long after Moira and I moved into the mansion.”
Marissa watched as Gabbi opened the compartment and took out a stack of books and set them on the table in the middle of the room. There were several smaller volumes, along with a larger book. The last book Gabbi took out was even larger and looked very old. “What are they?” Marissa asked.
“The smaller ones are journals written by our great-great-great grandmother, Agnes MacInnes,” Moira replied. She walked over to the table. “This one,” she said, holding up one of the larger books, “is a record of the native plants on the Island. She and her friend, T’Eqwem, wrote down and illustrated everything in this book.” She looked over at Emma. “T’Eqwem was Emma’s great-great-great grandmother.”
“This one,” Gabbi said, sliding the largest book across the table towards Marissa, “won’t open. We don’t know what’s inside, but the cover says Herbal Elixirs and Receipts of Clan Christie.”
Moira put a magnifying glass on the table next to the book. “If you look, you can just make out the words underneath the title. As Marissa picked up the magnifying glass, Moira added, “It says, Year of our Lord 1827.”
Marissa looked at the book, then back up at Moira. “Why won’t it open?”
“We don’t know,” Gabbi replied. “It shocked us, when we tried to lift the cover.”
“It shocked you?” Marissa repeated. “How did it even do that?”
“There’s a very interesting question and so far, we have no answer,” Emma said. She got out of the chair and walked over to Marissa. “Have you heard about any of this from your grandmother?”
“No,” Marissa replied, standing up. “And why would she know anything about this?” Marissa shook her head. “Moira said it was my great-great grandmother that had her name written in the turret.”
“Why don’t we all sit down,” Emma suggested. “There’s something my grandmother told me a long time ago that I need to share with you.”
Gabbi gave Moira a look of surprise. She hadn’t expected Emma to be holding out on them. “So, why wait until now?” she asked, turning to Emma.
“It was something that needed to be said to all of you,” Emma replied. “It concerns The Three.”
“What exactly is this three?” Marissa asked.
“The Three started with our great-great-great grandmothers,” Emma said. “They were very close friends and raised their daughters in this house.” She looked around the room. “They were The First Three and when their daughters grew up, they were The Second Three.”
As Marissa started to say something, Emma held up a hand. “I don’t know that much about the Second Three, but I do know their children had no interest in continuing the tradition. When their children’s children got together, they became The Third Three.”
Emma looked at Moira, then Gabbi. “Maggie McCrae was Maggie Roberts back then. She moved back here with her parents, when she was in high school. Her two best friends were Rosalie Thornton, my grandmother and Judith Sayers.” She looked at Marissa. “Your grandmother.”
“Some of this story I heard from Maggie and some from my grandmother,” Emma continued. “They found the books and decided to bring The Three back into existence. It was wonderful at first, then something went terribly wrong. They wouldn’t tell me exactly what it was, but whatever happened it tore their friendship apart.” Emma looked at the others. “If we decide to open these books, we have to make sure we take responsibility for what we find.”
Marissa looked down for a moment, then cleared her throat. “Why are you telling me all this?” she asked, looking from Emma to Moira.
“We can’t open the book,” Moira replied, “and I think it’s because we need The Three to make it work.” She put a hand on Marissa’s arm. “And this is your heritage as much as it is ours. We either do this together or we don’t do it at all.”
Gabbi glanced at Moira, then looked at Mairssa. “My cousin is the bookworm. If she thinks we need your help, then it won’t do much good to try without you.”
“I agree,” said Emma. “Maggie was very clear. We need all of us working together if we want to learn more about our past. She told me the book would not open until the rift had been healed. Whatever happened in the past, it destroyed the bond between them. We have to figure out how to fix it and then decide what to do about all of this,” she added, looking down at the books.
“Alright,” Marissa said, glancing around the table, “I’m in. We’ll figure out how to open the book and then decide where we go from there.”
Gabbi nodded to Emma, then looked over at Moira. “Okay, cuz. What do we do now?”
Moira shook her head. “I don’t know. I guess we start with more research. We have the journals. Maybe there’s something in them about how to open this book.” She carefully brushed her hand over the cover of the oldest book.
“Research is your area,” Gabbi said, standing up. “I’ll start dinner and meet you all downstairs in about half an hour.”
Moira smiled. “Sounds like a great idea. Maybe Emma and Marissa would like to see the rest of the house.” She turned to Emma. “Did Gran show you the third floor?”
“Not very much of it,” Emma replied. “I think we went out on the balcony once, but I didn’t get to see the attic. I hear it’s filled with all kinds of treasures.”
“There’s a train,” Gabbi said as she walked out of the library.
“If you don’t mind, I’d love to see it. After all this,” Marissa glanced over at the books, “it would be nice to do something normal like explore the attic. I love antiques and used to go with my mom to estate sales. That’s one reason I got interested in old houses.”
“Really?” Moira asked as they started up to the third floor. “Do you sell a lot of older homes?”
“I wish,” Marissa replied. She looked at Emma and smiled. “You and your family do all those wonderful remodels. I’d love to get more homes like that. So many of our listings are contemporary houses and while they can be beautiful, they don’t have that same history.”
“I know what you mean,” Emma said, “but I bet they don’t have the electrical and plumbing issues either.”
“I didn’t think about that,” Marissa replied, “but I’d still prefer built-in bookcases and window seats to all the floor to ceiling windows. I love a good view, but a little charm is nice, too.”
“I agree,” Emma said as they reached the third floor. Looking around, she added, “This has a lot of potential. What do you plan to do with the space?”
“I’m not sure. So far, we’re still cleaning.” Moira showed them the armoire. “This was blocking the doorway, but when we moved it we found the attic.”
“Oh, this armoire is lovely!” Marissa exclaimed as she and Emma followed Moira through the doorway.
Moira walked over and turned on the light hanging from the attic ceiling. “That’s a little better. Gabbi and I only had a few minutes to look around the other day. This rocker is probably an antique.”
“There’s the train,” Emma said, “and look at all these trunks and boxes.”
“It’s amazing,” agreed Marissa. “Wouldn’t it be great to spend an entire afternoon up here?” She looked around, smiling. “I’ll bet there’s even more on the other side.”
“What other side?” asked Moira.
Marissa turned back towards the bedrooms. “You know, the attic space on the opposite side of the house.”
“As far as I know, there’s no attic on that side,” Moira replied. “Just the bathroom and two large bedrooms.”
“Why do you think there’s something over there?” Emma asked.
“There’s another gable on that end of the house,” Marissa replied. “I saw it, while I was walking around earlier. I’d say that attic space is slightly larger than this one.”
“I didn’t even look,” Emma admitted. “You can’t see that part of the house from the driveway or the forest. It never occurred to me that there might be another room.”
“It makes sense,” Moira agreed, nodding. “Wait until I get Gabbi,” she said as she started down the stairs. “She’ll never forgive us if we look around without her.”
As Moira walked into the kitchen, Gabbi was saying something under her breath. Sliding the glass dish into the oven, Gabbi turned around. “I will be so glad to get that new range tomorrow.”
Moira smiled. “I can see that. Everything alright?”
“Twenty minutes until the mac and cheese is warmed up. I knew it would be good to have something ready for Daiquiri Night.”
“Marissa thinks there might be another attic space on the third floor,” Moira said, waiting to see Gabbi’s response.
“Seriously?” Gabbi’s eyes lit up and she almost ran for the stairs. “Let’s go take a look.”
Moira followed her up the stairs and they found Emma and Marissa standing in the third floor hall.
“We waited for you,” Emma said.
“What makes you think there’s another attic space?” Gabbi asked Marissa.
“I noticed the rooflines on each side of the house, when I walked around tonight,” Marissa replied. “Since there’s an attic on this side, there should be something similar on the other side.”
Gabbi nodded and walked into the front bedroom. “Why don’t Moira and I look in here and you two take the back bedroom?”
“Sounds good,” Emma replied. “Yell if you find anything.”
“It would be on this wall.” Gabbi moved to the far side of the room. “Do you really think there’s another hidden room?”
“Well, we found the turret,” Moira said, tapping along the top of the wall.
“What do you think this space was, when they built the house?” Gabbi asked, leaning over and running her fingers along the baseboard.
“Probably servant’s quarters,” Moira replied. “They only had three children and there are plenty of bedrooms on the second floor.”
“Three that we know of,” Gabbi said, smiling. “We haven’t finished the journals and Rory was a pretty romantic guy.”
Moira started laughing. “That’s a good point. When they built the house, they only had three children.”
After ten more minutes, Gabbi sat down on the floor. “I give up. There are no built-in bookcases or fireplaces in this room. How would they access the space?”
Emma walked in and shook her head. “We didn’t find anything either. But you have a point about the fireplaces. How did they heat this level?”
“Heat rises,” Moira said, thoughtfully, “but they must have had something up here, when they first built the house.”
“Maybe they took the fireplaces out, when they remodeled for the bed and breakfast,” Emma suggested.
“Or maybe even earlier than that.” Moira looked around the room. “We know they made some changes in the 1920s and that might have included installing a furnace…which would have eliminated the need for fireplaces up here.”
“We’ll have to look during the day,” Gabbi said, glancing up at the overhead light. “It’s too dark right now to see much of anything.” She looked around. “Where’s Marissa?”
“She’s checking the bathroom,” Emma replied.
“What about the linen closet?” Gabbi asked.
“I’ve been in there a few times and it seems to be an old walk-in closet,” Moira replied. “We could look around tomorrow.”
“Nothing obvious in the bathroom,” Marissa said, walking out as they started for the stairs. “I thought I’d check the walls after seeing that tile in the bedroom.”
“I think we’ve done enough for tonight.” Moira looked at Gabbi and smiled. “Is dinner ready?”
“It should be,” Gabbi replied, glancing at her watch. “Let’s go downstairs.”
The search for the secret room was almost forgotten as they ate pasta and talked about the Halloween party.
“What are you going to wear?” Marissa asked Emma.
“You don’t want to know,” Emma replied, rolling her eyes.
“Now, I want to know,” Gabbi said, raising an eyebrow.
Emma shook her head. “My mom loves it when we all coordinate our costumes. This year, we’re going as a creepy family, who live in a haunted house and I got stuck wearing the short black dress. Oh, and did I mention the four ponytails?”
Moira tried to hide a smile, but Gabbi started to laugh. As Moira glanced at Marissa, they both started laughing, too.
“Thank you for your support,” Emma replied, sarcastically.
“If it’s so bad,” Gabbi asked, “why don’t you tell her you already have a costume?”
“She’d be disappointed.” Emma started laughing, too. “She’s a great mom and she loves dressing up. Every year we all dread it, but none of us can say no to her.”
“It doesn’t sound that bad,” Marissa said. “Actually, it sounds kind of fun.”
“Want to switch costumes?” Emma asked.
“Not really,” Marissa replied, giggling.
“Well, I have no idea what I’m going to wear,” Moira said, looking at Gabbi. “Do you have any ideas?”
“I’m hoping to find inspiration at Opal’s,” Gabbi replied. “We have to pick up your dress tomorrow.”
“Big date with Jack,” Emma said. She looked over at Marissa. “Moira is dating Jack Stewart.”
“Really?” Marissa replied. “How did you two meet? Through Callie?”
“No, he stopped by after we first moved in…and then asked me to coffee.” Moira glanced over at Gabbi, deciding to save the rest of the story for another night. “When do you want to look for that hidden room?”
“My dad gets back from San Francisco tomorrow night and I invited him over for dinner.” Gabbi smiled. “And obviously, Saturday is out because someone has a dinner date with a certain detective.”
“What about Sunday?” Emma asked. “Everyone is already planning to leave early, so we can paint the porch. Why not investigate then? It will still be light.”
“I was planning to volunteer on Sunday,” Marissa offered, “so that works for me.”
“Sunday, it is,” Moira replied. “After we finish the porch, we’ll look for the secret room.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Gabbi agreed. “Now, who wants dessert?”
“We get dessert?” Marissa asked, smiling. “It’s official. I love girls’ night.”
When they finished dessert, Emma looked at her watch. “I should get going. We have a big meeting tomorrow, but I’ll be over in the afternoon.” Turning to Marissa, she added, “Why don’t we go out together?”
“Good idea,” Marissa agreed. “Thanks again for inviting me.” She smiled at Moira, then Gabbi.
“We’ll walk you to the door,” Moira said. She and Gabbi watched to make sure they were in their cars and headed down the drive, then they locked the door and went back to the kitchen.
“I have to admit,” Gabbi said, “it was a good idea having Marissa over tonight.”
“She’s actually very nice.” Moira loaded the dishwasher as Gabbi washed off the counters and kitchen table. “And she seems to be sure there’s another attic space.”
“I know.” Gabbi stopped and smiled. “If there is another room, I wonder what’s in there?”
“Hopefully, we’ll find out on Sunday,” Moira replied.
They walked upstairs and as Gabbi turned to go to her room, Moira asked, “What do you want to wear to the Halloween party?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it before tonight,” Gabbi replied. “Let’s hope we find something at Opal’s.”
“I’m sure we can come up with something unique and very vintage.” Moira started for her room, then added, “At least, no one else will be wearing the same costume.”
“Very funny,” Gabbi said.
They were both asleep within minutes. Neither one of them noticed the soft music coming from the library, which slowly moved toward the stairwell and then faded away.
Gabbi and Moira were in the kitchen, when the doorbell rang the next morning. “I’ll get it,” Moira offered.
She smiled as she opened the door to Callie and two little boys. “Sorry to invade your home,” Callie said, flashing them a big smile. “I’ve got Shawn picking the boys up in an hour.”
“That’s perfect,” Moira replied, leading them back to the kitchen. “Just in time for breakfast. I hope you’re hungry.”
“Well, they had a bowl of cereal…” Callie began, then stopped. “You’re making waffles?”
Gabbi nodded. “That’s right. I’m sick of this range and I found the waffle iron in the panty this morning.” She turned and smiled at Callie. “Had to find some way to use the last of the strawberries and whipped cream.”
“Oh, you saved some from last night. You two are the best!” Callie exclaimed. Turning, she added, “I want you to meet my boys. This is Dillon and my little guy with the big bandage is Jamie.”
“Nice to meet you both,” Moira replied, bringing over two glasses of orange juice as Callie got them seated at the table.
“Want some coffee?” Gabbi asked. “The waffles should be ready in a few minutes.”
“Thank you,” Callie replied. Looking at the boys, she added, “This is Miss Dunbar and Miss McCrae.”
“You can call me Moira and that is my cousin, Gabbi.” Moira brought Callie some coffee and sat down.
“Jamie was very brave last night at the hospital and got six stitches,” Callie said, brushing her hand over his hair.
“I’m three,” Jamie informed them, holding up his right hand and showing them three fingers.
Moira laughed. “Nice to meet you, Jamie.” And how old are you, Dillon?”
“I’ll be five in January,” Dillon replied. “I get to go to kindergarten next year with the big kids.”
Callie nodded. “That’s right. He’s in preschool this year, but he has Fridays off.”
“Which explains why their dad is coming to get them,” Gabbi replied, turning towards the table and raising an eyebrow. “The dad, who is a fireman and has all those fireman friends, right?”
Callie laughed. “That’s the one. And they will definitely need help with the Christmas fundraiser this year if you’re interested.”
“Oh, I’m interested,” Gabbi replied.
Moira shook her head, then smiled at the boys. “After you two finish breakfast, I have a surprise to show you.” She glanced over at Callie, then back at the boys. “Do you like secret rooms?”
“Oh, they’ll love it,” Callie said. As Gabbi set down the plates, the boys’ eyes got huge. “Not that they need any incentive to eat waffles. It’s one of their favorites.”
“Mine has a face,” Dillon said, looking up at Gabbi and smiling.
“Mine, too,” Jamie agreed.
“I’m glad you like them,” Gabbi replied. She came back with plates for Moira and Callie. “You may have missed daiquiris last night, but we can get together next week.”
“That would be fun,” Callie said, “but Shawn’s working on Thursday. Could we make it next Friday instead?”
“Sure,” Gabbi replied.
After they finished their waffles, Moira and Gabbi took Callie and the boys upstairs to show them the secret room in the turret.
“You don’t even fit in there, do you?” asked Dillon.
“No, I don’t,” Moira agreed, smiling, “but I’d say this belonged to a little girl about your age a long time ago.”
“That’s cool,” Dillon replied.
Jamie nodded. “Yeah, cool,” he agreed.
Moira smiled as the boys moved past her to explore the hidden turret space. They looked out the windows and asked about the names on the wall.
“It says Fiona, Violet and Sarah,” Moira replied. “Fiona was my grandmother’s grandmother. She and her friends all lived in the house back then.”
“Mom, can we have one of these in our room?” Dillon asked, glancing at his brother. “We wouldn’t fight or anything.”
“No, we wouldn’t fight,” Jamie agreed.
Callie started laughing. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” she said. “Now, let’s go. Your dad should be here any minute.” The boys hurried towards the stairs and Callie added, “Don’t run,” as they raced down to the kitchen.
Moira and Gabbi laughed and they all followed the boys back down to the kitchen table. “How about some more coffee?” Gabbi offered.
“That would be great,” Callie replied.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Moira said, sitting down at the table with her coffee, “what are you wearing to the party?”
“Shawn is going as a gorilla,” Callie replied, smiling, “and I’m going as a platinum blonde in a white dress.”
Gabbi started laughing. “Sounds like fun.”
“We haven’t decided what to wear,” Moira admitted. “We’re hoping to find inspiration at Opal’s store.”
“That’s a good idea,” Callie agreed. “She has some lovely things, especially those vintage purses.”
The doorbell rang and Moira started to stand. “No, let me,” Gabbi said, heading for the front door. “I’m already up.”
As Gabbi followed the tall, muscular man back into the kitchen, she gave a ‘thumbs up’ to Callie. He was over 6’4” with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. “Dillon, you look just like your dad,” Gabbi said, smiling.
Dillon puffed himself up. “I’m going to be a fireman, too,” he announced.
“Not me,” Jamie said. “I’m going to be a vetera, a vetrinar…an animal doctor.”
Shawn came over and gave Callie a quick kiss, then grabbed a boy under each arm. “Let’s go, you little monsters.” He smiled at Moira and Gabbi. “Thanks for having the party. It’s going to be great,” he added, glancing around.
“Our pleasure,” Moira replied.
“Will all the fireman be at the party?” Gabbi asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Our chief is a big supporter of the animal clinic,” Shawn replied. “Everyone not on shift will be here.”
Callie followed them out, then came back and picked up her coffee cup. “The volunteers should be here any minute,” she said, glancing up at the clock. “It’s almost ten.”
“We have to go!” Gabbi said, grabbing her coat. “George is supposed to deliver my new range this afternoon.”
“New range?” Callie asked.
“Wait until you see it,” Gabbi replied, smiling.
“I’ve got to get my jacket upstairs,” Moira said, heading for the staircase. “I’ll meet you by the car.”
Gabbi and Callie walked outside as the first of the volunteers pulled up the drive. A few minutes later Moira joined them. “We’ll be back for lunch,” Moira said. “Do you want us to bring anything?”
“Oh, pizza would be great,” Callie replied.
“See you in a few hours,” Gabbi said as they got into the car.
As they headed down the drive, Moira stated, “I’ll be glad to get the porch painted. That white primer we used to cover up the message is starting to wear off.”
“At least, we don’t have to look at ‘Sell or Die’ every time we walk up to the front door.” Gabbi turned onto the main road. “I wish we knew who wrote that.”
Moira glanced over her shoulder back towards their property. “I’m glad your dad put in those security cameras.”
“Me, too.” Gabbi smiled. “And I’m glad he’s coming back tonight. Let’s get something special for dinner before we pick up the pizzas for the volunteers.”
Gabbi and Moira walked into Opal’s shop and looked around. It was decorated for Halloween and there were costumes displays on every wall.
“Look at all this!” Gabbi exclaimed, glancing around. “Just what we need.”
“We should be able to find something,” Moira said, looking at the masks and capes hanging from nylon fishing line along one wall. “Opal really goes all out for the holidays.”
“I certainly do,” agreed a voice behind them. They turned to see Opal with her red hair in its usual updo, but instead of a vintage suit she was wearing a long, purple dress with jagged hem that came down almost to her ankles in the back and just a little shorter in the front. Over the dress, she was wearing a black corset and had black boots laced up almost to her knees. A small hat that matched the outfit was perched on the top of her head, slightly to one side and black lace gloves completed the outfit. “I’m trying a new look today. Medieval witch meets Steampunk.”
Moira smiled. “It’s definitely you. I love the purple.”
“I love the corset,” Gabbi said, walking around Opal. “What does Harry say?”
Harry was one of her suppliers as well as her boyfriend, but Opal just shook her head. “He hasn’t seen this one yet. Think he’ll like it?”
Gabbi started laughing. “Oh, he’ll definitely like it.”
“I’m sure he will,” Moira agreed, smiling. “We came to pick up my dress and to find something to wear for Halloween.”
Opal nodded. “I’ll take 20 percent off anything in the store. You two are turning into regular customers and I always give my regulars a real nice discount.”
Gabbi and Moira looked around as Opal went into the back to get the dress she’d altered for Moira. When she came back, she asked Moira to try it on to make sure it fit.
“How’s it look?” Opal asked as Moira changed in the dressing room.
“It’s perfect,” Moira replied. Walking out of the dressing room, she smiled at Gabbi. “What do you think?”
Gabbi looked at the black vintage dress and said, “Jack isn’t going to know what hit him.”
Opal nodded in agreement. “You two keep shopping. I’ll get this packed up and have it ready, when you finish.”
Moira took off the dress and handed it back to Opal, then glanced over at Gabbi across the top of the dressing room door. “There really are a lot of costume ideas here. Do you see anything you like?”
“I see a few possibilities.” Gabbi watched Opal walk across the store, then said more quietly, “I love that outfit Opal has on, but I probably need to find something a little more family friendly for the party.”
“Probably a good idea,” Moira agreed.
“I like this ruffled skirt,” Gabbi said, indicating the turquoise and purple satin on the end of one rack. “I have no idea what I’d wear with it, but I like it.”
“That pirate costume,” Moira replied, pointing at the display on the wall. “Can you ask Opal if she can take it down?”
“You want to be a pirate?” Gabbi asked, wrinkling her nose. “That skirt is beyond tacky.”
Moira had finished dressing and shook her head as she walked out. “No, for you.” As Gabbi started to say something, Moira held up a hand. “Just trust me. Let’s go ask Opal.”
Gabbi followed her to the front and as Opal handed them the costume, Moira laughed. “Don’t look so worried.” Shaking her head, Moira added, “Come on, let’s have you try it on.”
“I am not going as a pirate,” Gabbi declared. “At least, not this one. That skirt is awful.”
“Yes, but the blouse and vest are not,” Moira explained as she stopped to get the purple and turquoise skirt. “Try it on, then slip this one over the top.”
Gabbi still wasn’t convinced, but tried them on. As she walked out, she was smiling. “How did you know this would work?” she asked.
“It’s a gift,” Moira replied. Scanning the rest of the store, she smiled. “That could work,” she said, walking towards the back wall.
Gabbi watched as Moira pulled something red from the coat rack. “Do you see any long black skirts?” Moira asked, glancing back at Gabbi.
“I think there was one by the windows that might fit,” Gabbi said. “This skirt is wonderful, but the vest is too big.”
“We can have Opal fix it,” Moira replied. “I’ll be right back.”
Gabbi walked out of the dressing room and spun around. “I love this skirt! And the blouse is perfect.”
Moira smiled and went back into the other dressing room. When she came back out, she was wearing the long black skirt and a simple white blouse with long sleeves.
“You look like a waitress in a long skirt,” Gabbi said, wrinkling her nose. “Not exactly memorable. And what’s with the…” She stopped and smiled as Moira put the red cloak on. “Oh, Little Red Riding Hood.”
“That’s the idea,” Moira agreed. “And I can bring Lucky as the wolf.”
“What about Jack?” Gabbi asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Very funny,” Moira replied. “Let’s go pay for these and get back to the mansion.”
After they changed back into their own clothes, they took the costumes to the register and Opal added up their purchases. “Are you coming to the Halloween party?’ Moira asked.
“I am,” Opal replied. “The animal shelter is one of my favorite charities. Is that everything for you two?” she added, putting the last item into a bag.
“I think so,” Gabbi said. “Unless you have a crystal ball lying around somewhere?”
“You know…” Opal smiled. “I have a friend that could probably get you one. She has a small boutique on the other side of town that specializes in crystals and jewelry. If anyone could find a crystal ball, Jackie would be the one.”
Gabbi smiled. “Now, that would be amazing. Thanks, Opal.”
“In fact, I’ll see her next week,” Opal continued. “Want me to call you if she has one?”
“Let me leave you my number…” Gabbi began.
Moira put a hand to her mouth. “Opal, we haven’t had you over to tea.” She glanced over at Gabbi. “We’ve been so busy getting ready for the party, I almost forgot. We promised you a tour of the house and you are family after all.”
“Just barely, but I appreciate that,” Opal replied. “My great-granddaddy used to say it was a beautiful place.”
“Are you free on Monday?” Gabbi asked, realizing Opal might know something about the other attic space…if they couldn’t find it on Sunday.
“I’ve got to drive over to Mount Vernon for an estate sale, but I could stop by Tuesday afternoon. Mondays and Tuesdays, my friend Berta watches the store for me.” Opal smiled. “This is real nice of both of you.”
“It’s our pleasure,” Moira said. “How about four o’clock?”
“I’ll see you then,” Opal agreed. “You gals have a nice afternoon.”
After they left Opal’s, they drove to the bank and then the appliance store to pay for the range. Gabbi asked Moira to wait in the car, since she wanted her to see it for the first time at the mansion.
“All taken care of,” Gabbi said as she back into the car. “Let’s stop and get some food for dinner tonight, then we’ll pick up the pizzas.
It was almost one by the time they got back to the mansion. “I hope the volunteers aren’t too hungry,” Moira said. “We’re almost an hour late with lunch.”
“It’s free pizza and we even got them dessert,” Gabbi replied, laughing. “That should make up for being a little late.”
As they drove up to the mansion, they saw George standing by his truck. “My range!” Gabbi exclaimed, jumping out of the car. “He’s early.”
“Hold on,” Moira replied, trying not to laugh. “You have to help me with all this food.”
“Forget the pizzas,” Gabbi said over one shoulder. “Wait until you see this range! You’re going to love it.”
“I’m sure I will,” Moira replied, shaking her had and smiling. Only a chef could get this excited about a kitchen appliance, she thought to herself.
After telling the volunteers lunch was in the car, Moira followed George and Gabbi into the kitchen. A few of the volunteers had already helped George move the range into place.
“You’ll need to have someone hook up the gas,” George said to Gabbi. “I have a friend who happens to be free this afternoon if you’d like me to call him.”
“Oh, George,” Gabbi replied, smiling, “that would be wonderful! I would love to show it to my dad tonight.”
George nodded and walked to the terrace, pulling out his cell phone. Moira came up and smiled. “It’s an amazing range…and so, um, shiny.”
Gabbi laughed. “Thanks, cuz. It is shiny and it’s going to help me create some wonderful meals. Starting tonight, if we can get the gas hooked up.”
“I’m sure Uncle Montgomery is going to love it as much as you do,” Moira said. “I’ll be right back. I have to bring in the rest of the things from the car.”
“I’ll get the food,” Gabbi offered, following her out the front door.
The volunteers were sitting on the porch and on the grass, eating pizza and drinking pop. Callie walked up and said, “Thanks for picking up lunch.”
“Sorry it was a little late,” Moira began.
“It worked out very well,” Callie assured them. “We just finished prepping the porch a few minutes before you drove up. There’s not much more to do out here until they paint on Sunday.”
“We’ll be repairing the ceiling in the sun room tomorrow,” Gabbi said, glancing back at the house. “After that, we’ll be able to do more inside.”
“I talked to my friend and he can hook up the range later this afternoon,” George announced, walking over to join them.
“That’s wonderful!” Gabbi exclaimed. “Callie, you have to come see this range. It’s amazing.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Callie replied, giggling. “I saw George take it in the house and it’s huge.”
“I know,” Gabbi agreed, smiling. “It’s going to be perfect for the party…and anything else we decide to do with the house.”
Moira glanced at her cousin, but she didn’t say anything. She knew Gabbi had something in mind, but decided to wait until everyone left to ask her.
Later that afternoon, Gabbi and Moira were having tea in the kitchen. Not only had they hooked up the gas line, Gabbi was thrilled that George and his friend has even installed the hood. Looking over at Moira, she said, “Dad should be here pretty soon. I can’t wait for him to see this.”
“Why did he have to go to San Francisco?” Moira asked. “You said he had to take care of something concerning the restaurant he used to own.”
“Apparently, there were some papers he had to sign and one more payout from the sale,” Gabbi replied, running her hand along the top of the range. “I still can’t believe I got all this for less than one third of our budget.”
Moira almost spilled her tea. “How much?” At Gabbi’s look, she held up a hand. “I gave you the budget, so whatever you decide to buy is up to you…just know we can’t go any higher.”
“It’s taken care of,” Gabbi said, confidently. Although truthfully, she had no idea if she could afford everything else. Hopefully, George had some ideas on how to save money for the rest of the remodel.
“As long as you have the numbers figured out,” Moira replied. Before she could say anything more, the doorbell rang.
“That must be Dad,” Gabbi said, rushing towards the front door.
A few minutes later, Montgomery followed his daughter into the kitchen. “How is my favorite niece?” he asked, giving Moira a big hug. “I understand you and my daughter have been buying appliances.”
“It was all Gabbi,” Moira said, giving her cousin a knowing look.
“Yes, and it’s amazing,” Gabbi said, leading her dad over to the range. “Isn’t it marvelous?”
Montgomery was impressed. “It’s a beautiful range,” he agreed. “Are you sure you don’t want me to help you with this remodel?” He glanced over at Moira and winked. “I got some more money on my trip and I’d love to donate something to my daughter’s dream kitchen.”
“No, Dad,” Gabbi said, seriously. “I told you if I do this, I want to do it on my own.” Then glancing over at Moira, she added, “On our own.”
“Whatever you say,” Montgomery replied. “So, is this ready to go? Can we cook on it tonight?”
“It’s all ready,” Gabbi said. “I could hardly wait for you to get here. I was about to try it out myself.”
“This is exactly what you’ll need if you decide to open that restaurant.” Montgomery smiled at his daughter, but Gabbi glanced over at Moira. She hadn’t really talked about her plans with her cousin yet and she wasn’t sure Moira would be on board with the idea.
Moira looked a little surprised, but didn’t say anything. Instead, she smiled and offered to get some wine from the cellar.
“Can you grab the Chenin Blanc we got last week?” Gabbi asked as Moira started down the stairs. “I can’t believe I forgot to buy wine today.”
Montgomery laughed. “That’s the whole point of having a wine cellar. You don’t have to stop and buy any.”
Moira poured wine for all of them and sat down to watch as they started chopping vegetables. The two chefs were soon cooking up several dishes and something that smelled heavenly in the oven, when the doorbell rang again.
“I’ll get it,” Moira offered. “One of the volunteers probably forgot something.”
She opened the door to find a young man standing there smiling. “Hiya, Moira,” he said. “Quite the house you have here.”
“Pete,” Moira replied. “What are you doing here?”
“Your dad wanted me to bring you your car and all your stuff,” Pete said, glancing back at the dusty blue Honda Civic now parked by Gabbi’s Jetta. “He offered to pay for gas and my time, so here I am.”
Moira laughed and gave Pete a quick hug. “It’s good to see you. How is everything at the newspaper?”
“Your dad says if I keep up the good work, he’ll offer me full time when I finish my internship,” Pete replied.
“Well that’s wonderful,” Moira said. “Why don’t you come in and have something to eat?”
“That would be great!” Pete followed her into the kitchen. “I haven’t had anything to eat in hours. At least two or three.”
Moira coughed over a laugh as they walked into the kitchen. “Pete, this is my Uncle Montgomery and my cousin, Gabbi.” She smiled and glanced back at Pete. “This is Pete, my dad’s intern…and he’s just delivered my car to me.”
“Really?” Gabbi said. “That’s perfect! Now, you can pick up pizza for the volunteers.”
“Um, it’s really nice to meet you,” Pete said, staring at Gabbi. When he stared a little too long, Montgomery cleared his throat. “And you too, sir.”
“Why don’t you sit down and have some…are you old enough to drink wine?” Montgomery asked, looking closely at Pete.
“Yes, sir,” Pete said, pulling at his collar a bit. “I just graduated from college a few months ago.”
“He’s not driving,” Moira said, smiling at Gabbi. “One of us will have to take him to a hotel.”
“I thought maybe I could stay here,” Pete said, smiling at Gabbi again.
Moira tried her best not to giggle as Montgomery raised an eyebrow. “You can come back to the hotel with me. “I’m sure we can get you a room for the night.”
“Did Dad get you a ticket for the trip home?” Moira asked.
“Oh sure. He said, there was an airport up here and I could get a flight to Seattle and then back to Billings.”
“I’ll drive you to the airport,” Montgomery said firmly. “Tomorrow morning.”
Pete didn’t seem to notice anything other than the food and Gabbi. He just smiled and stared at her, causing Moira to start coughing over another laugh.
“So, you’re a chef,” Pete said, “and you’re so pretty…um, pretty good at cooking.”
Gabbi smiled and glanced from her dad to Pete. “Why don’t you have some wine,” she said, setting a glass in front of Pete, “and tell us all about Uncle Robert’s newspaper.”
Despite the rocky beginning, Pete turned out to be very entertaining. He complimented them on all the food and told several funny stories about the paper. A few included Moira, but most were about the crazy situations he got into while working on a story. Some were in Billings, but many were in nearby towns.
“Who knew there was so much intrigue, when it comes to a dog show,” Gabbi said, glancing over at Moira. “Does this happen every year?”
“Only when the two sisters compete,” Moira replied. “It’s high drama and almost impossible to find a judge after last time.”
“I can see why,” Montgomery said, laughing at the thought of two women in their sixties fighting over best of show. “How did they ever decide?”
“Both of them were disqualified for throwing cake and they gave the prize to a twelve year-old girl.” Pete laughed. “It was the high point of the entire weekend.”
After dessert, they all walked out to Montgomery’s car. “I’ll get Pete a room, then drive him to the airport in the morning,” Montgomery said. “Do you need another volunteer tomorrow?”
“I could help,” Pete said, smiling at Gabbi. “I don’t have to be back to the paper until Monday.”
“I think…” Montgomery stopped talking and stared past Pete, looking towards the woods. “Did you see that?” he asked.
“It’s the lights!” Gabbi grabbed Moira’s arm. “Do you see them?”
“They’re heading towards the water,” Moira replied, quietly. “I’m going to call Jack.”
“Tell him to hurry,” Montgomery said. “If this is the same person, who painted that message on your porch…”
“I’d better go, too,” Pete said, looking over at Moira. “Whatever’s going on, he looks pretty steamed.”
“So am I.” Gabbi ran after her dad with Pete close behind.
Moira hurried back to the house and called Jack. When he asked about the intruders, Moira said, “I don’t know how many people are in the woods, but I’d say at least two from the movement of the lights.”
“I’ll be right over,” Jack assured her. “Tell everyone to wait in the house until we get there.”
“They’ve already gone after the trespassers,” Moira said.
She heard him mutter something under his breath. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Be careful.”
When he hung up, Moira went to the carriage house and got Lucky. “Come on, boy. We have some intruders to track.”
Lucky followed her towards the woods, but they met the others a few yards from the trees. “They got away,” Gabbi said. “They must have heard us because they ran through the woods, then cut back towards the road.”
“I thought I knew this area, but paths change in thirty years,” Montgomery said, rubbing a hand over his face. “What did Jack say?”
“He’s on his way.” Moira stopped as she heard the sounds of a car approaching. “Actually, I think he’s here.”
Jack’s black sedan pulled up with another car behind it. Jack got out and walked up to them, asking, “Are the trespassers down by the water?”
“They doubled back in the woods and we lost them,” Montgomery admitted.
“Probably for the best,” Jack stated. “This is a police matter and the last thing we need is civilians involved.” At Montgomery’s look, he added, “No offense.”
“No, you’re right,” Montgomery agreed. “We should let the police handle it, but in the meantime, I’m stepping up security. Tomorrow, we’re installing motion detectors along the main paths.”
“Dad, do you really think…” Gabbi trailed off, when she saw her dad’s expression.
“Yes, it is necessary,” Montgomery stated. “I will not have you two put in further danger. Mom may have underestimated the problem, when she left you the house. I plan to make sure you don’t have any more surprises.”
“I think Uncle Montgomery is right,” Moira said, surprising Gabbi. “We’ll have to find a way to keep the wildlife from triggering the motion detectors, but a little added security might be a good thing.”
Jack glanced back at the officers as they approached. “Looks like they’ve gone, but check around the buildings to make sure.” He looked over at Moira. “May I have a word with you?”
“Of course,” Moira replied. She walked with Jack back to his car as Lucky followed them.
“I don’t want to leave you two alone tonight,” he said, quietly. “Is your uncle planning to stay with you?”
“I’m sure he will after what happened.” She glanced over and saw Gabbi nodding as her dad talked. “I’d guess that’s what he’s telling Gabbi right now.”
“There’s not much we can do in the dark,” he said, “but tomorrow morning I’ll send over two officers to do a full sweep of the area. Hopefully, we’ll discover something that may tell us, who finds your woods so fascinating.”
“Jack, about dinner…”
“I think we’d better postpone it until next weekend,” he said.
“Exactly what I was thinking.” Moira shook her head. “What makes these woods so fascinating?”
Jack brushed her hair behind her shoulder, then leaned down and kissed her. After a few moments, he said, “I don’t know why they’re here, but I promise I’ll find out. In the meantime, make sure you lock all the doors and windows tonight.”
“I promise,” Moira replied, then reached up and put her hands on his face and gently pulled him back down to her, kissing him back. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Jack smiled, then scratched Lucky behind the ears. “Take good care of her, boy.” He got into his sedan and headed down the drive. Moira watched him until he disappeared around the curve, then walked back to the others.
“Pete and I will be staying at the house tonight,” Montgomery said.
“That would be very reassuring,” Moira replied, glancing over at Gabbi and ignoring the look she gave her. “I think we’ve had enough excitement for one night. Jack is going to have police officers check the grounds tomorrow morning.”
“When they’re done, I’ll install more security,” Montgomery stated. Turning to Pete, he added, “You sure you don’t mind staying one more day? I could use the help.”
“Not at all, sir,” Pete said. “I’m happy to help any way I can.”
“Let’s take Lucky back with us and I’ll put the cats in my room tonight,” Gabbi said, smiling at Moira. “He’s going to have to get used to being in the house before the party.”
Moira smiled. “That would be great.”
“And you can tell me what Jack said,” Gabbi whispered as they walked back to the carriage house to pick up his things.
“He said he’ll be back tomorrow,” Moira replied, thinking about that last kiss.
“Uh huh,” Gabbi said, smiling. “Took him a long time to tell you that, don’t you think?”
Moira blushed and Gabbi had to laugh. “You’ve got a good guy there, cuz. Are you still going to dinner?”
“We decided to postpone until next weekend,” Moira said as they walked into the kitchen. “He’ll be here tomorrow morning to look for clues.”
“I’m sure he will,” Gabbi said, smiling. “Hey, what about all the stuff in your car?”
“It will be fine out there until morning,” Moira replied. “Let’s go to bed and I’ll deal with it tomorrow.”
Moira and Gabbi went upstairs and Lucky stayed with the guys in the solarium. As Moira walked to her room, she turned to Gabbi. “The lights in the woods. Do you think it was the drug dealers?”
“I don’t know who else it would be,” Gabbi replied. “Get some sleep…you have a detective stopping by first thing tomorrow morning.”
Moira tried to go to sleep, but she kept wondering who else might be in the woods. If it wasn’t drug dealers, who else could it be? She finally fell asleep, but when the alarm went off the next morning, she didn’t hear it.
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