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
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.
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."
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.
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?"
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."
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."
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."
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."
sense to me."
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
a trial basis."
what we agreed, but I suspect I’ll get along with you a damn sight easier than
you’ll get along with me."
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
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."
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,
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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?