Did every woman go a little crazy when she hit thirty?
Blake Cartwright stood in what passed for a driveway, staring at the ramshackle two-story cape she now owned. What had looked quaint yet spacious on the internet was dingy and run-down up close. The sunny blue skies of the photos were nowhere to be seen, even though it was the middle of July. Dark spruces surrounded the place, their pointy spires disappearing in a ghostly mist that hung over everything. The rocky coastline that had seemed stunning a month ago looked threatening and unfriendly now. As for the lighthouse, she didn’t even want to contemplate the amount of money it was going to take to make it presentable.
What the hell had she been thinking?
She hadn’t been thinking. That was the problem. For twenty-nine years she had done things by the book and her life had been one long, picture-perfect Kodachrome moment. Up until six weeks ago she’d had the dream job, the dream apartment, the dream boyfriend. Then for the first time—after a teary night spent with her laptop and a couple of margaritas—she had trusted her emotions. For once she had allowed herself to stop planning and start imagining. She would open a thriving inn, one that would allow her to pursue her passion for cooking while freeing her from the insane hours she logged at her law firm. Even if she had to put some money into renovations, she could get the lighthouse for so little it would hardly dent her savings.
And this, she thought as she stood staring at the white clapboard house with its chipping paint and sagging roof, was the result.
Good call, Cartwright.
Shivering in the tank top and cut-off jeans she had thought would be appropriate for the middle of summer, Blake wondered just how cold it got in northern Maine. Did she even own a hooded sweatshirt? Overpriced Armani suits, check. Expensive Jimmy Choo pumps, check. Wool fishermen’s sweaters—not a one. She pulled the old-fashioned iron key out of the envelope she’d picked up from the realtor and tried to shake off the idea that she had just made a colossal mistake.
She took a tentative step onto the first porch stair and stopped. An icy certainty that something was wrong coursed through her, making her fingertips tingle. Much as she wanted to attribute it to the lack of proper clothing, she knew the sensation too well. She always got it when she met a client who was guilty, however much they might protest their innocence. Or when she was being watched.
Feeling like a fool, she looked over her shoulder at the solitary landscape. The lighthouse stood about fifty yards away, at the end of a barren headland that jutted out into the iron-gray sea. The tower rose out of the mist, its height dwarfing the massive boulders below. She peered up at the lantern room, half-expecting to see a shadowy form or the glint of binoculars, but its windows were dull with years of disuse. The only sound was the crash of the waves against the rocks.
Clearly, no one was there.
Quit jumping at shadows. Forcing herself to cross to the door, she inserted the key into the lock and turned it. The door actually creaked as it opened and when she stepped over the threshold she found herself enmeshed in a thick layer of cobwebs. With a sound of disgust, she pulled a few sticky strands out of her hair and peered inside.
The interior was shrouded in darkness, despite the fact that it was the middle of the afternoon. A ray of weak light seeped through a crack between drawn curtains on the other side of the room, illuminating a sliver of dust motes. As her eyes adjusted to the dimness, she could make out darker, bulkier shadows looming before her. She moved a few steps further into the room, ignoring the deepening sense that she wasn’t alone.
It’s only furniture, she told herself. So why did she suddenly feel like the lead in a bad horror flick? Edging sideways, she ran her hand along the wall until she found a light switch. She flicked it up, then down, then up again. Nothing happened. Cursing herself for not thinking to bring a flashlight, she made a mental note to see what she had to do to get the electricity back on. In the meantime, she needed more light. After fumbling around in her purse she triumphantly extracted a forgotten lighter and ran her thumb over its jagged tip. Its flame sprang to life, bathing the interior in wavering shadows.
She held up the lighter and looked around. To her right, a staircase disappeared into blackness. To the left was what had been a living room. Is a living room, she amended, forcing down the queasy feeling in her stomach. She was glad the place was furnished, but its stillness was more than a little eerie. Aside from the cobwebs and the thick layer of dust that had settled over every possible surface, the room looked as if whoever had been living there had simply gotten up and walked out, leaving everything just as it had been fifty or even a hundred years earlier. The coffee table was littered with old copies of National Geographic and there were even a few logs piled up in the fireplace. The faded wallpaper seemed to undulate in the flickering light and the mahogany bookcases that filled an entire side of the room threatened to topple over at any moment. Even from where she stood in the entryway, she could detect the musty smell of old books and stale air.
Home Sweet Home.