Shadow on the Floor
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by Jane Toombs
Description: Ghosts from the long-ago past haunt the old Barker House, one locked away, the other only a shadow on the floor of one room. Old Charles Barker, occupying the house, runs an ad for a live-in house aide. Natasha Wycoff, using the alias Natalie West while she flees from an abusive husband, answers the ad. The old man watches her avoid stepping on the shadow, and decides she's the right person. When his nephew, lawyer Devlin Longridge, who comes to check on his uncle every day, meets her, he's not so sure.. Instincts honed from his time as a special ops officer make him wonder why this good-looking young women has taken a low-paying job in an isolated old house.. She's wary of Dev. Despite this, unwanted attraction flares between them. Meanwhile, the ex-husband, determined to locate and kill her, is tracing her flight. Only the ghosts, one a victim, the other a killer, are aware the explosion of violence to come will liberate them.?
eBook Publisher: Red Rose Publishing, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: January 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [73 KB]
Reading time: 40-56 min.
Natalie West drew her jacket closer around her before she lifted the heavy bronze door knocker and let it fall on the plate again. Chill wind for May--wasn't this supposed to be spring? Mr. Barker had told her he used a cane, but she'd expected the nephew he'd told her about would be with him when she arrived for the interview. Apparently not. She was reaching for the knocker one more time when the door opened.
"Thought maybe you'd changed your mind," the elderly man with the cane said. "Wouldn't blame you, not a bit, gal. I'm a cantankerous old fart."
At that, most of her trepidation left her. Charles Barker, her possible future employer, was not at all the helpless oldster she'd been expecting to see.
"Since you got here, you may as well come in." He stepped aside and she entered. He waved her on to a moderately disordered room to her right, saying. "My den," and followed her in. She avoided a dark spot on the parquet floor as she headed for a chair. When they both were seated, he asked, "Why in hell would you want to come to this old place out in nowhere to help me?"
She chose her words carefully, telling a part of the truth. "I don't have many skills, Mr. Barker, but I believe I'm able to cook, clean and help you with whatever you need done, as long as it doesn't involve nursing care. I've never been trained in that area."
He nodded. "That's just what I don't need. Some kind of nurse hovering over me, thinking she knows what's good for me better'n I do. So what d'you say we give it a try, Natalie? No need to be formal. Call me Charles. And you can start right now, far as I'm concerned."
What a relief. With barely any money left, she'd checked out of the motel, planning to sleep in her car if she had to. "My things are in the car, so I can move in, if that's all right."
He positively beamed. "Looks like I got me a winner on my first try. Never could stand wishy-washy gals. Go get your stuff and you can pick out any room you want upstairs. Except the master bedroom in the front of the house. Not that I use it--I can't even get up those damn stairs any more. Dev--he's my nephew--wanted to buy some contraption that'd slide me up and down the banister rail, but I vetoed that. Got a perfectly good bedroom down here."
"Makes sense to me."
"By the time you get settled in, I expect Dev'll be here. He insists on meeting whoever I hire, and there's no putting a lawyer off, is there? But I'm the one paying your salary, so you can be sure you've been hired, no matter what."
"On a trial basis."
"That's what we agreed, but I suspect I'll get along with you a damn sight easier than you'll get along with me."
Natalie grinned at him. She'd truly loved her grandfather and had been the only one he tolerated. Cantankerous Charles, she believed, would be no trouble at all. The bonus was that he lived in this isolated old mansion outside of the town. A perfect hideaway.
She rose to head for her car. As she started to cross the floor on her way out, she saw the dark spot she'd avoided was just a shadow, but she still hesitated to step on it, so detoured around again. Behind her, Charles said, "You're perceptive as well. Used to be a jeweler. Haven't lost the touch--still can spot a real gem from a fake one."
Natalie exited without replying. Was he referring to her avoidance of the shadow? She shrugged. So Charles might be a bit kooky. No problem. Grandpa Ivar had been, too.
After carrying her two suitcases and overnight bag upstairs, she settled on a spacious room next to the bathroom. All the furnishings were old fashioned, but in reasonably good condition. After hanging up the clothes that needed it on old wire hangers in a huge closet, and putting the rest in dresser drawers, she found clean bed coverings in a hall linen closet and made up the bed.
She'd heard a car arrive and someone enter the house, so she figured the lawyer nephew had arrived. Time to go back down and face him. She doubted he'd approve of her, but Charles had more or less said it didn't matter. Hoping that was true, because she'd run out of options, she took a deep breath and marched down the stairs.
"Here she is now," Charles said as she paused in the doorway. "Natalie West, meet my nephew Devlin Martin." With a wicked grin, he added, "You can call him Dev."
She made a polite acknowledgement of the introduction, gazing at the tall auburn-haired late thirties or so man standing by the windows. His jeans and sweatshirt showed an athlete's body, but seemed surprisingly casual for a lawyer type. Maybe he didn't work on Wednesdays. Since he wasn't seated, she remained standing. Always better to face the opposition eye to eye.
Dev assessed her. At least thirty, brown hair and eyes, slim, her loose shirt and baggy pants hiding any curves she might have. Pale lipstick, no other makeup, hair pulled back in a ponytail. Even then attractive, though it seemed obvious she'd done all she could to play it down. Why? One to keep an eye on.
He walked over to her, avoiding the shadow by long habit, and held out his hand. When she responded he clasped hers firmly and got the shock of his life. She broke the contact so fast he knew she'd felt the same jolt of--what was it?