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by Judy Moresi
Description: A shadowy figure seen lurking on the widow's walk is only the beginning of Laura's strange and frightening experiences in her creepy old house? Money reversals after Davis Chandler's death in a fiery plane crash force his widow Laura to move into a crumbling Victorian house she inherited and hopes to restore and sell. When she learns that Davis' first wife committed suicide there, and that his death might not have been an accident, Laura sees the strange things that have been happening in a more ominous light. Despite falling in love with the handsome country veterinarian who has befriended her, the young widow's life seems like a bad dream as she struggles to deal with a stalker, acerbic adult stepchildren, an unwanted suitor, a mother with Alzheimer's, and the rumor that her house is haunted. When she finds blood splashed on her front steps and a dead animal hanging from her chandelier, Laura realizes the bad dream has turned into a nightmare that could be the death of her.
eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, 2010 Spring, Texas
eBookwise Release Date: February 2010
8 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [290 KB]
Reading time: 171-239 min.
Davis was dead.
The words rattled around in Laura Chandler's head like dry bones in a coffin as she waited for the reading of her husband's will. His death in a plane crash after a short courtship and an even shorter marriage left her numb with shock. It was so unfair. Six months wasn't enough time to build memories or forge a lasting relationship.
She reached for the steaming cup of coffee that sat before her on the ebony conference table. Her hand shook as she raised the black ceramic mug to her lips, blew on its contents, then deeply inhaled its comforting aroma.
John Sloan, Davis' lawyer, cleared his throat. "I'm sorry for the delay. Davis left instructions that, under certain circumstances, his will was to be read to the heirs and his business partner together. Due to his untimely death, varying schedules, and the gathering of specific information, it took a few weeks to accommodate his request."
Pausing, Sloan removed his glasses and wiped them with a white handkerchief drawn from the breast pocket of his pinstriped suit. To Laura, the portly lawyer moved in slow motion, dragging out the seconds into agonizing minutes, the minutes into eons. She wanted to be done with the formalities and go home to grieve privately.
Sloan finished his apology. "Circumstances of which you'll soon be made aware."
Circumstances? What did he mean?
She glanced at Davis' adult children sitting across from her. Eric Chandler glared back with unveiled hatred, his brown hair disheveled, his suit jacket wrinkled as if he'd slept in it--or, as she had, tossed and turned through a month of sleepless nights since Davis' death. Eric's eyes locked on hers as he slipped a protective arm around his sister, Angela.
Angela Chandler, skin sallow and eyes vacant and swollen from crying, stared blankly ahead. Her long dark hair fell limp, her face devoid of makeup or emotion. Davis' death threatened to erase the months she'd spent in therapy recovering from her mother's death a year and a half ago. Laura longed to reach out to her troubled stepdaughter, to comfort her, and be comforted in return, but Eric's hostility prevented it.
Laura dropped her gaze to the ebony table and stared at her own reflection. Her black sheath dress lost in the depths of the shiny wood left Laura's face floating as though in a void, her blonde hair draped like a shroud across her shoulders. She felt as lost and alone as her disjointed image.
"To my son Eric," the lawyer read, "I leave the hunting lodge in which he now lives, the land surrounding it, and one third of my share of Chandler Land Development."
Sloan wiped his mouth with the handkerchief. He seemed ill at ease. "To Angela Chandler, my daughter. I leave her mother's jewelry, the apartment in which she lives, and one third of my share of Chandler Land Development."
The lawyer read on, his lips moving, but the sound fading as Laura's gaze continued down the conference table to Davis' business partner, Sanford Ellis. A gray Stetson propped on his crossed knee, the land developer lounged his six-foot frame in a leather wing chair. A smirk tugged at his mouth as he played with the diamond cufflinks peeking from the sleeve of his Pierre Cardin suit. When he caught Laura staring, he winked, then grinned as she turned away.
She'd had to practically fight Sanford off at Davis' funeral. Pretending sympathy, he'd hugged her to him and refused to let go. She let it pass, not wanting to cause a scene. She wondered if Davis had ever suspected his business partner, his good friend, attempted to seduce her every time they were alone. It irritated her that the thrice-married Lothario thought she'd consider an adulterous affair. To avoid upsetting Davis and shattering the two men's working relationship, she warned Sanford his amorous attentions were unwelcome. She struggled now to maintain her composure in the wake of his current flirtations.
"To my beautiful wife Laura," Sloan read, "I leave the country house in St. Mary's Crossing--"
"What!" Eric clutched the table's edge in white-knuckled protest.
Angela jerked to attention.
"And one third of my share of Chandler Land Development," Sloan added.
Laura's restraint wilted. She sat down her cup, the coffee losing its appeal. "I-I don't understand."
She expected to keep the apartment where she and Davis had lived, but certainly not a share in his company or any other properties. Those were owned by her husband before they met and rightfully belonged to his children.
Eric leaned closer, his face in hers, his breath reeking of alcohol. "What else do you want? My dead mother's jewelry?"
A hot fury replaced Laura's self-control.
So this is what they thought of her.
Refusing to be intimidated, she pushed forward in her chair. "Don't put words in my mouth. I didn't mean--"
"The house should be mine," Angela shouted. The woman's somber eyes flared into life. "Father promised!"
"Please," Sloan said. "Everyone, please calm down. Laura, Chandler Land Development owns the condo where you live. The only thing in Davis' name is the hunting lodge, Angela's apartment, and the country house."
He turned to Eric. "Before Barbara...before your mother died, your father planned to move the family to St. Mary's Crossing--once he cleared up problems with the house's former owner."
Eric ignored him, his handsome face contorted with rage. "Golddigger. My father's dead because of you. He'd never have flown home in that storm except to be with you."
Eric's words impaled Laura against her chair. She fought back indignant tears as she searched the other faces. Did they agree with Eric? Did they believe she was only interested in Davis' money?
Angela's accusing eyes held hers. What was it Laura saw there? Jealousy? Disgust? Loathing? She recoiled at the raw emotion directed at her. Something burned in her stepdaughter's eyes, something that unnerved Laura far more than Eric's hostility.
"Sit down, Eric." Angela's voice was bloodless.
A chill skittered down Laura's spine.
"There's something else." The lawyer cleared his throat again as if to be rid of the difficult words he had to say. "Before Davis died, as controlling partner, he ordered a secret audit of company records."
"What?" Ellis thundered.
Eric's gaze slipped to his sister, then quickly away, as if they shared some covert knowledge.
"Davis suspected someone of misappropriating money," Sloan pressed on. "But he wanted this kept quiet until the auditors finished their assessment. As his lawyer, he brought me into his confidence. He instructed me to complete the investigation before the distribution of company assets should anything happen to him. As it stands, the accountants have already found a discrepancy."
Sanford rose and spoke in a clipped tone. "What do you mean, a discrepancy?"
"The money's gone. The books have been doctored. All that remains is a life insurance policy on Davis, bought by the company. The beneficiary money will be held in escrow until the creditors are paid and this matter cleared up."
Eric bolted to his feet. His chair slammed against a bookcase, jarring the shelves' contents into a rattling cacophony. "What's going on? First this-this golddigger wangles her way into our lives, and now--"
"Eric, sit down," Angela demanded.
He spun toward his sister. "Can't you see what's happening? Sanford and Laura are taking everything. They're in this together."
Sanford's eyes narrowed into irate slits as he addressed Sloan. "Now that Davis is dead, how can you conduct an audit without my authorization?"
"Read the company bylaws. In the event of the death of one of the partners, an evaluation is automatically conducted by a third party...namely me. In as much as the review had already been initiated by Davis, I'm just continuing it."
For the first time, Eric looked ill at ease. He averted his eyes from Sanford. "You've been out of town. Closing the deal Dad was working on when...when he died." He raked shaky fingers across his brow. "The insurance company wouldn't release the escrow account without an investigation. We need that money to keep the company going...I handed over the rest of the records."
Sanford crammed the gray Stetson onto his head, marched to the office door and yanked it open. "I'm getting my own lawyer."
The door slammed behind him, tilting a framed law degree hanging on the office wall.
"That concludes the reading of the will," Sloan said with recovered authority.
The others rose and quietly followed Sanford through the outer office.
Laura filed out last.
Sloan pulled her aside. "I'm sorry, Laura, but the auditors want you to move out of the condo as soon as possible. It has to be sold to satisfy a heavily mortgaged loan." He paused, then added, "Of course, there's always the country house."
Was it Laura's imagination or had the lawyer blanched at his own suggestion?