Authors: Cathryn Fox
To Jan Meredith, for always being there for me.
Alexis Miller, aka Lex, shook her head in dismay and wondered what the heck she’d gone and gotten herself into. Here she was, stuck in the Podunk town known as Whispering Cove for thirty days now…
thirty whole days
, and had yet to accomplish a damn thing.
Her steel-toed work boots echoed in the silence of the attic as she spread her arms for balance. She picked her way along a dusty beam, doing a final count of the last few boxes and remaining pieces of antique furniture that had been collecting cobwebs for years.
When she’d purchased the century-old Victorian home in the coastal town of Maine a few months back, it had been with the intention of bringing in the crew she’d hired in Portland, flipping it within sixty days and having it sold by the first of July. Little did she know the old homestead had been deemed a heritage property. Which meant she had to have her plans approved by a restoration committee—one that moved at a snail’s pace—before she could so much as screw in a new light bulb.
Damn. Damn. Damn.
So much for patting herself on the back for being such a smart and savvy business woman, saving enough money and securing loans to convert the old house into a gorgeous, state of the art, twenty-first-century modern home before any one of her four, overbearing brothers found out. She could only imagine the looks on their faces if they ever discovered the mess she’d gone and gotten herself into. Instead of finally proving she could be a competent, contributing member who could flip houses with the best of them—in their “boys only” construction company—she’d end up being the laughing stock of the Miller clan. Cripes, as if it wasn’t hard enough being the youngest and only girl in a male-dominated family.
A low groan crawled out of her throat and when she lowered her head to shake it, she walked straight into a spider’s web. She slipped off the beam, let loose a little yelp, and brushed dirt and dead insects off her clothes as she stumbled backward, her long ponytail slapping against her heat-flushed cheeks. Good Lord, it had to be at least a gazillion degrees in the attic.
She turned around, flipped open the octagon vent and sneezed as she disturbed a decade’s worth of dust. At least while she waited for the proper permits to come in, and the town’s only restoration company to get back to her, she was able to keep herself busy by clearing out most of the attic and part of the basement. She’d already unloaded numerous pieces of furniture that looked to be about as old as the crazy old fella who’d been snooping around the place for weeks now.
She’d donated a few items to charity and had taken a few antique pieces to the local pawn shop. What wasn’t salvageable she dumped, all with the help of Jake Caan, a teenager who was more than happy to do odd jobs for cash.
Jake, nephew of Officer Leo Caan, was a nice kid, here for his uncle’s upcoming wedding to Skylar Wellington. He’d come in early with his Aunt Sahara, and his parents would be following later for the wedding. As far as Lex could tell, Jake was the only one in the tight-knit community who didn’t give her the big stink eye when she talked about making changes to the house. Probably because he wasn’t a local.
Cripes, the more she thought about it, the more she realized how caught up she’d gotten in the lives of everyone in town. Learning far more about the folks, their families, their kids and jobs than she ever intended, seeing as she was just passing through.
But the truth was, while most of the people were helpful and nice, they had also urged her to embrace and preserve the heritage in the old homestead instead of refurbishing from the ground up. Apparently the folk in Whispering Cove didn’t like change. Since the Miller construction business focused on modernization and installing the latest and greatest technology, she had no choice but to bring the house up to today’s standards. How else would she prove to her brothers, and maybe to herself, that she was good enough for their all-boys club?
She had a meeting with Devon Taylor tomorrow. Apparently the company he ran with Reece McGrath was the only one in town licensed to handle preservation work. She hoped that once she got the proper permits his company would be able to do the work, otherwise she had no idea where she’d turn. But she’d cross that bridge when she came to it, because the first thing she needed to do was secure the necessary permits.
“Uh oh, now you’ve gone and done it.”
The sound of a gravelly voice behind her had Lex spinning around. Speaking of the crazy old coot.
“Gone and done what?” she asked, as Errol Wilson, one of the locals who liked to pop by unannounced, waved his glass cane in her direction.
His cloudy eyes narrowed and he pinched his thin lips into a straight line as he held one hand out, palm toward her. “Can’t you feel it?”
She eyed him suspiciously. “Feel what?”
“That cold spot?”
Lex wiped the moisture from her brow. “It’s stifling up here, Errol.”
He gave a slow shake of his head, his gray brows furrowing as he made a
sound. “I’m afraid I knew this would happen.”
Deciding to humor him—after all, he really was a nice old man and she needed something to keep herself occupied with while she waited for the restoration company to call—she asked, “Okay, what happened, what have I gone and done?”
He waved his cane toward the boxes, then walked over to the small door leading to the rooftop and ladder outside—an access point to the lower deck that made roof maintenance much easier. He fussed with the lock, then jimmied the small door open and closed it before saying, “You went and disturbed Ol’ Lady Landry is what you’ve done, lassie.”
“Ol’ Lady Landry?”
“Meanest teacher in town.” He looked past her shoulders like he was remembering something. “If I had a nickel for every time she took her ruler to my knuckles.” He chuckled and added, “I probably deserved it, though. Especially when I put that rubber snake in her desk.” He laughed a little harder. “That woman did not like snakes.”
“Why are we talking about Ol’ Lady Landry?”
“Because this used to be her place and you’ve disturbed her rest with all the messing around ya been doing.”
Disturbed her rest?
“Ah, are you suggesting I have a ghost?” She eyed him carefully and considered putting a call in to Doc Jon Wilson—who she’d come to learn was Errol’s great-nephew—to find out if Errol had come off his meds. Or perhaps he’d been dipping into the rum a little too early on this beautiful June afternoon. Oh yeah, she’d heard all about the drinking habits of the gruesome threesome.
“Ain’t suggesting nothin’. Telling you straight up ya got yourself a ghost.” He gave a mock shiver and hugged himself. “A dang mean one too.” He took a step forward and felt the air. “Oh yeah, she’s here and she’s madder than a flounder caught in a trawler’s net with all this nonsense of modernizing the place.” He glanced at her. “You can’t tell me you don’t feel that?”
The only thing she was feeling was the beginning of a headache. “Errol…” she began, thinking that the cold spot in the room was between Errol’s ears.
He waved his cane, the beautiful colors catching in the stream of light shining through the attic’s open vent. “Don’t ‘Errol’ me, lassie.” He went quiet for a moment, like he was mulling something over, then his eyes lit with childlike excitement, making her think he wasn’t quite as crazy as she had originally thought. “What you need is someone to cleanse the place. Let Ol’ Lady Landry know you ain’t gonna mess with her homestead. That’ll get her settled back down.” He pursed his lips and nodded his head, looking rather pleased with himself. “And as luck would have it, I know just the guy to help.”
Real concern gnawed at Lex’s gut. Not wanting to insult him, but genuinely worried that something upstairs might not be firing correctly, she asked in a soft voice, “Errol, have you talked to Jon lately?”
He gave her an odd look. “Jon? What’s my great-nephew got to do with this? No, I’m talking about Sam Doherty, Jon’s best friend. He’s a ghost hunter, you know.”
“A ghost hunter. Errol I don’t believe—”
“Yup, down in New Mexico. And wouldn’t you know it, he’s home visiting for the month.” He frowned and added under his breath, “Damn time that boy grew up and came back for good too.” He pounded his cane into the old plank floor. Dust rained from the ceiling and the sound echoed around them as he leaned forward to put his weight on it. “I can send him your way.”
“I’m sure I don’t—”
A squeal outside caught her attention and her words fell off. She took a tiny step backward and glanced out the vent to see the waves of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean splash against the sandy shore. On the wide stretch of beach below, the townsfolk gathered in groups. With their arms filled with kids, and food and blow-up floaty toys, the women all huddled together in a circle, smiling and chatting loudly. Lex felt a little hitch in her heart as she watched them congregate, everyone filing from their houses and coming together on the massive expanse of shoreline like one big family.
Errol smiled. “That sounds like my little Katherine. She loves to play in the water, that one.” He crinkled his nose. “Don’t matter how dang cold it is, either.”
Lex noted the way his eyes lit when he talked about his great-granddaughter. It was easy to tell how much he liked being surrounded by his family. It had her thinking of her own family, and how much of an outcast she felt amongst them. She loved her brothers and father dearly, but when her mother ran out on them all, shortly after her fifth child was born, Lex always carried a sense of loss and responsibility. Even after her mother had finally gotten the baby girl she’d always wanted, it still wasn’t enough to keep her around.
wasn’t enough to keep her around.
Lex swallowed against the tightness in her throat. She’d had plenty of girlfriends over the years, of course—rarely a boyfriend for long since her brothers always scared them off—but she’d never had a real sense of belonging, of sisterhood.
Of being good enough.
“I best be going.” Errol turned to leave, then tossed his next words over his shoulder. “Ain’t ya coming?”
“To the beach party.” He moved toward the steep staircase. “It’s tradition, lassie. The whole town gathers at the beach to kick off the summer.”
Lex was about to ask if he needed help negotiating the steps, but bit her tongue. It was easy to tell Errol was a prideful man and she didn’t want to insult him by taking his arm. Instead she slipped ahead of him. If he fell, he’d land on her. She might be small-framed, but at least she’d help beak his fall.
When Errol reached the bottom step, she closed the attic hatch behind them. He poked his nose into her bedroom. “I see you’re sleeping in the back room. Nice view of the ocean. Makes ya feel right at home, don’t it?”
Even though she never really had a true sense of home or belonging, she nodded in agreement. Not wanting to talk about home and hearth anymore, she led him to the next set of stairs going down to the main level. Once they reached the hallway, she walked Errol to the door and opened it. As the cool breeze rushed up from the ocean it felt refreshing against her overheated body.
“Well, you comin’ or what?”
She looked at her oversized navy-blue coveralls. While they were heavy and uncomfortable, if she wanted to be taken seriously in a male-dominated field, she had to look, act and dress the part. “I don’t have a swimsuit.”
“You look to be about the same size as my Katy.” He paused and crinkled his nose as he perused her baggy clothes. “Although it’s hard to tell under all that dang material. But I’m sure my granddaughter, or any one of her friends, can rustle you up a suit.”
“No, it’s okay. I still have a lot to do.”
Errol tapped his cane on the floor. “Damn young’uns don’t know how to have any fun anymore.” Before he left, he shot her one last glance. He had an ominous look in his eyes, and his voice turned serious when he said, “Now you heed my warning, lassie. Don’t go messin’ with Ol’ Lady Landry.”
“Okay, Errol, I won’t,” she said, unable to keep the grin from her face.
“If she causes you any trouble, you let me know and I’ll get my boy Sam right on it.”
After Lex saw him out, keeping an eye on him as he hobbled down the sandy path leading to the water, she walked to the kitchen. Squeals of delight echoed through the big, empty house, and she couldn’t help but sneak a peek at the fun taking place on the beach just beyond her back veranda. She opened her back veranda door and walked out. She might have been in Whispering Cove for one whole month, but she was sure she’d never get used to the magnificent views. The place was a far cry from the concrete jungle she glimpsed through her condo window back in Portland.