Read The Taking Online

Authors: Erin McCarthy

The Taking (5 page)

Impulsive. Chris had always been impulsive, and now she had the right, the ability to be that way too. To do what she wanted, when she wanted.
“Produce a professional football player for me that has read
The Kite Runner
and I’ll take it back,” Chris said, dragging the chairs over to the French doors, making her wince.
Hardwood floors didn’t take kindly to wrought iron chair feet.
But a quick glance reassured her he hadn’t scratched the floors, and she told herself it didn’t matter anyway. No husband to yell about the ruined floors.
“For all you know,” she told Chris, “there’s an NFL book club. And I think I saw some commercial where football players were promoting a literacy-for-adults program. You hate it when people make generalizations about you for being gay—you shouldn’t do the same to an athlete.”
Though she had to admit, she seriously doubted locker room chatter involved literary fiction, but she could be wrong. She had definitely been wrong before. At least once. She glanced down at her empty ring finger and felt the urge to grin at its nudity.
Chris rolled his eyes. “Thanks, Oprah Pollyanna Winfrey. The trouble with being so damn PC all the time is that there’s nothing left to make fun of, and frankly, everyone needs a good laugh at someone else’s expense once in a while. It keeps people from bottling it up and going all Unabomber.”
Then he waved his hand as he abandoned the chairs in the doorway behind her and walked over to the chest of drawers that had been left in the house by the previous owners. “But it’s too early in the night to debate, it’s not even ten yet, for Chrissake, and the wine is still corked. Can we talk about something else? Like why are there just random pieces of furniture that don’t belong to you in the house you bought? This is the third thing I’ve seen, though it’s not as ugly as that bench downstairs. That waste of wood needs to be taken out back and put down.”
Regan squeezed around the chairs and moved over to stand by Chris, running her fingers over the smooth marble top of the chest of drawers. “Let’s just agree not to invite a football team to hold a book club in my bedroom, and I think we’re good. As for the furniture, these are pieces that have been in the house since it was built. The previous owners told me this bureau must have been brought in through the windows of this room before the glass was put in, because it’s too big to go through the doorway. I think when the movers come with my stuff tomorrow I’ll have them carry the bureau over to the exterior wall and put it between the two windows.”
She thought it was a beautiful piece and had been thrilled when the sellers indicated it had to stay with the house because removing it would risk damage to the chest of the drawers, or the house itself. The marquetry and the use of multiple woods fascinated her, the gilt bronze mounts and brass locks adding a drama to the already elaborate piece. But by far the most interesting feature was that the doors opened to reveal drawers, which pulled out and to the side, exposing mirrors at the back of the opening. There was absolutely no purpose to them, a whimsy added by the cabinetmaker.
Regan was ready for a little whimsy in her life.
Chris started opening the doors and drawers and peeking inside. “Well, you know this thing has to have a secret compartment somewhere.”
“Do you think so?” Regan opened the opposite door and stared at the drawers. They didn’t appear to be hiding anything to her, but she would love to find that the chest of drawers contained a trick, a little bit of mechanical magic. She had to admit that was her private hope, that somewhere in the huge house she’d bought that was way too big for one single woman, she’d find something of intrigue. Letters, old clothing, anything that spoke of the past. It was part of the lure of a two-hundred-year-old house—discovering what secrets its walls contained.
“Of course it has a hidden compartment. All of these antiques in big old Southern houses do. My grandmother Ebbe had one almost exactly like this, and she hid her hooch in the drawer behind a drawer.”
“Why does it not surprise me that your grandmother had a liquor stash?” Regan rubbed her hands on her dark trouser jeans. Secret drawer or not, the bureau was covered in a thick layer of dust. She had paid a service to clean the house after the previous owners had moved out three days earlier, but clearly they had made the decision that their job didn’t include furniture.
Not that it mattered, she reminded herself. The dust could layer up so high she could grow potatoes in it and it didn’t matter because there was no one to criticize.
“Everyone’s grandmother has a liquor stash. It’s the American way.” Chris was opening and closing doors and drawers and feeling along the grain of the wood.
“I know my grandmother doesn’t. You know how uptight she is.” Regan pictured her Chanel suit-wearing, churchgoing, etiquette aficionado grandmother sucking alcohol from a flask, and shook her head. It would never happen. She would at least use a glass.
“That’s exactly why she is wound so tight. She’s jonesing for the next drink whenever she’s with her family and can’t reach the gin bottle. Having to wait for the end of dinner so you all will get the hell out and she can take a swig makes her cranky.”
Regan laughed. “My grandmother would be horrified at such speculation. And our bottle of cheap pink wine.” Yet somehow, it gave her a childish glee to think that her proper, by-the-rules grandmother Henry, would need to hit the hooch to get through family night. Those nights were sometimes interminable—the same conversations, the same politeness, the same avoidance of anything controversial or relevant or emotional.
“I really think it’s ridiculous we had to buy a twenty-five pack of plastic cups just to get two to drink out of,” Chris said, still poking his fingers around the bureau. “We probably could have just bought two wineglasses somewhere in a souvenir shop instead. Then you could have had kitschy Mardi Gras wineglasses on display in the dining room of your eight-bajillion-dollar house.”
It never bothered Regan when Chris referenced her money. She had it, plain and simple, the result of an inheritance from her maternal grandparents, and he treated it as such. She hadn’t earned it, didn’t deserve it any more than any other human being, yet it was hers, and there was no envy from Chris. “The house cost
nine
bajillion dollars,” she joked. “And we’re so cool that we’re being chic with our plastic cups... we’re retro, not kitschy.” She ran her hands over the middle drawer, then for some reason felt compelled to pull it all the way out Except that it stuck, so she yanked harder.
“Exactly,” Chris said. “And if we really want to be pretentious, we can only drink like two sips out of each plastic cup, then get new ones.”
“That wouldn’t be—”
Regan cut short her forthcoming speech on environmental consciousness when she realized the drawer she had been tugging had swung to the right on a hinge. Behind it was another one.
“I found it! Look, I found a drawer behind a drawer.”
Chris abandoned his own search through the bureau and turned to see, looking more satisfied than surprised. “Told you so.”
“I’m glad you did.” Regan opened the drawer, which was a perfect replica of the one in front of it, swag design and all.
“Do you think it’s safe to drink one-hundred-year-old hooch?”
A shiver rolled over Regan as she peered into the dark depths of the secret compartment and spotted the shadow of an object. “We’re not going to find out tonight,” she murmured as she reached in and carefully pulled out the dusty item tucked away. “It’s not liquor at all, but a book. A journal actually, I think.”
It was black leather, about an inch thick, and the cover had the initials CAC embossed in gold foil on it. A faded pink ribbon was dangling out of the top, marking a spot midway through the book. As she carefully opened the first page, Regan’s anticipation increased. There was writing, spidery formal handwriting in black ink, the careful penmanship of centuries past.
“Oh, my God, it is someone’s journal. This is so cool.”
“What’s it say?”
“‘June 28, 1878. I received this journal for my twentieth birthday today as a gift from Mr. Tradd, the man my parents wish for me to marry. I imagine it will be so. I shall become Mrs. Tradd before the end of the year unless something unforeseen occurs.’”
Regan ran her finger down the yellowed page, immediately feeling sympathy for the long dead author. She knew what it was to feel parental pressure, to drift into marriage simply because it presented itself. “She doesn’t sound thrilled about getting engaged, does she?”
“Not particularly. What else does she say?”
“That’s it for that entry.” Regan turned the page. “ ‘June 29, 1878. I went to the hospital with Mother again today to give them the fresh linens the church has donated. I wore my emerald green dress with the black ribbons, newly arrived from Paris. This was an error in judgment as the streets were swollen with summer rain and I fear the hem will never recover.”’
“Well, someone leads an exciting life. The next page is probably a description of the cold cuts served for lunch.” Chris continued to fiddle with the bureau. “Maybe the booze is in another drawer.”
Regan smacked his arm and closed the book, pressing it against her chest. “Come on, let’s go outside and open the wine since you’re clearly your grandmother’s descendent and need alcohol. Maybe the journal gets more interesting as Mr. Tradd courts her.”
“Yeah, sure. ‘Went in the carriage. Saw a play. Had my underpaid servant put my hair up in the latest fashion.’” Chris rolled his eyes and followed her onto the balcony. “Flip to the middle while I open the wine. Look at what I do for you... chairs, cheap wine, plastic cups, and a corkscrew. Never say I didn’t give you anything.”
“And you’re always so humble about it. Thank you.” Regan sat down in the chair Chris had dragged out and tucked her straight hair behind her ear. The heels of her black sandals scraped across the wood floor as she stretched out, journal in her lap. She opened the book at random and started to read. “ ‘August 12, 1878. I tasted his nectar for the first time last night.’”
“Nectar?”
Chris said when she paused, frowning herself at the word. “Did she take up beekeeping for a hobby or is that implying something totally different?”
“She has to be talking about honey. I mean, she didn’t sound remotely sexual before.”
“Maybe someone stole her journal, or maybe she learned a trick or two from Mr. Tradd. Keep reading.”
Regan cleared her throat and focused on the tight, slanted writing. “‘It was not as I expected, rather salty and bitter, but I understand the principle behind swallowing his fluid—I consumed his sexual energy, took his magic inside me, and it was terribly exciting. I cannot wait to see him again, I must convince him to allow me to conduct my own spells ...”
Regan was so flabbergasted she stopped reading. “Hello. Wow. I really didn’t see that coming, even after the word nectar was dropped.”
Chris stared at her, the bottle between his legs, hands suspended in the act of twisting the corkscrew, eyes wide and mouth open. “And speaking of coming... it seems our little Victorian socialite was learning the art of fellatio between piano lessons and visits to the poor.”
“So much for the cold cuts,” Regan said. They looked at each other and started laughing. “I could totally make a bratwurst or Vienna sausage joke here, but I won’t.”
“I wish you would.” Chris went back to the cork and pulled it out. “But if you’re not going to, give me the next entry. This journal just got way more interesting.”
“Okay, okay.” Regan found her place again. “‘I must convince him to allow me to conduct my own spells, or if he proves uncooperative, perhaps I will do them on my own, without him. At times, he becomes too domineering, and he must understand I am no longer a naïve girl, but an angry woman.’”
“Uh-oh. Angry woman alert.”
Regan felt the edge of uneasiness. This didn’t even sound like the same person as the first few simplistic entries. She turned a few more pages and saw that the writing had grown sloppier, as if the author were writing faster, with no concern for appearance. There were notations in the margin, so spindly Regan couldn’t interpret them.
“‘Must get rid of Mr. Tradd, he has become nothing but a nuisance. F was happy to tell me how, because he knows if I ever marry Mr. Tradd, my money will belong to my husband, and he will surely curb both the time and money that is spent on my so-called heathen activities with my black lover.”’
Geez. That was no trip to the hospital for charity work. Those were the words of a defiant woman. Regan could understand if the author was in love with another man, the pain and heartbreak of being forced by her parents to marry a man of their choice, their station in life, but this didn’t sound like love. It sounded like... anger.
“Whoa. Our Victorian lady has some serious balls under her skirts,” Chris said. “I think I would have liked her.”
That was a courageous move for the late nineteenth century—having an interracial affair—but something seemed so off to Regan.
“But why is she angry?” she wondered. “Because she can’t be with him? I can’t say that she really sounds like a woman in love.”
“What does a woman in love sound like?” Chris asked.
“Happy.”
He snorted. “Oh, really. Love makes most people I know, men and women, neurotic, not happy.”
Regan really didn’t want to believe that was true, but in her own case, it had certainly been dead accurate. “That’s such a positive outlook. I’m sure Nelson—you remember who he is, the man you live with and are in love with—would be thrilled to hear it.”
Shrugging, he gave her a grin. “I’m happily neurotic.”
“Is that what we’re calling it?” Regan took a sip from her wine, smiling at the plastic cup. She could have as many glasses in whatever container she wanted and no one could disapprove. Setting the cup back down, she continued to read.

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