Read the prologue and first two chapters right now!
MacInnes Mansion, October 1900
From the outside, the house seemed almost finished. The front porch and balconies 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. All the stained-glass transoms were installed above the windows and the French doors. Inside, the first two floors were almost ready for plaster. All that remained was the third floor and 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 this 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 replied, “but 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 said, 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 then, where would we put all those garden supplies?” Rory asked.
“There aren’t that many,” Agnes replied, smiling, “but a garden does need a place to enjoy the view. 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?”
“I don’t see why not,” Agnes replied. They were still holding hands as they walked down the stairs 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 to help raise money for the local animal shelter.
“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 just fine for my large 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 a jacket off the hook on her 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 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 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 can’t 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,” she said.
“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, “and 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. “That 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 her.
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 said, 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 said.
“He has to drop off some paperwork,” Moira replied, “and asked me if I’d like to go with him and get dinner on the way back.”
“What are you going to wear?” Emma asked, smiling.
“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 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, which 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 this 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 in 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 here,” Emma replied. “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, but 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 ever heard 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 wanted to learn more about our past. She told me that 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 over her shoulder as she walked out of the library.
“If you don’t mind, I’d love to see it. After all this,” Marissa waved 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 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.”
Marissa laughed. “I didn’t think about that…oh, this is lovely!” she exclaimed as she and Emma followed Moira through the doorway into the attic.
“This has a lot of potential,” Emma said, looking around. “What do you plan to do with the space?”
“I’m not sure. So far, we’re still cleaning.” 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 said, 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 room 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 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 room?” 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 glanced 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. “Do you think dinner is 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 said. Then, she smiled. “And obviously, Saturday is out because someone has a big dinner 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 already planning to come over and volunteer on Sunday,” Marissa offered.
“Sunday, it is,” Moira replied. “We’ll finish the porch, then 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 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 creative.” 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.
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