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Dark Dreamer: A Dark Vista Romance

By Roger Gray,2014-11-04 20:23
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Product `desc`riptionBest selling horror author Rowe Devlin has had two flops in a row and keeps falling in love with straight women. Seeking inspiration and a fresh start, she abandons life in Manhattan for an old Victorian house in Maine. But Dark Harbor Cottage is a far cry from the tranquil writing environment she envisioned. For a start, the place is haunted, and the ghost is none too friendly. To make life even more difficult, her neighbors are a huge distraction. The Temple twins, Phoebe and Cara, are identical and profoundly alluring, and Rowe is soon under their spell, unable to decide which of the two she is more in love with. Just when it seems things can't get any worse, she finds herself embroiled in a mystery more bizarre and frightening than anything she's ever wri Published by Bella Distribution on 2005/01/02

    Dark Dreamer Brought to you by

    E-Books from Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

     http://www.boldstrokesbooks.com Dark Dreamer by Jennifer Fulton 2007 Dark Dreamer ? 2007 By Jennifer Fulton. All? Rights Reserved. ISBN 10: 1-933110-74-0 ISBN 13: 978-1-933110-74-5 This trade paperback original is published by Bold Strokes Books, Inc., New York, USA First Edition: Regal Crest Enterprises, 2005. Second Edition: Bold Strokes Books, April 2007. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the

    author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or

    dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission. Credits Editor: Stacia Seaman Production Design: Stacia Seaman Cover Design By Sheri ( graphicartist2020@hotmail.com ) CHAPTER ONE “Last night I dreamed of Iris,” Phoebe said. “I promised her I would come.” Cara looked up from the morning paper. “Shall I call our friend?” Phoebe’s face fell into shadow. “Perhaps it was my imagination.” Cara took her twin’s hand. “You say that every time.” Where two paths crossed beneath the low silvery boughs of a huge birch tree, a woman lay on a

    quilt of brown and yellow leaves. Her hands were roped behind her back. Twigs and earth matted

    her honey-colored hair. She lifted her head as Phoebe knelt. “You found me. I knew you would.”

    Phoebe unfastened the rope and cradled her. Hot tears spilled down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry.I tried to come sooner.”

    “It’s okay. You’re here now.” The woman tried to smile, but her face was contorted withbruises.

    “Who did this to you?” Phoebe asked urgently.

    “I don’t know his name.” Her head grew heavy on Phoebe’s shoulder. “I’m so tired.”

    “No. Wait!” Phoebe shook her.

    “Tell my folks I love them.” She closed her eyes.

    “Iris!” Phoebe begged.

    The body in her arms felt like lead. She sank down on the leaves next to it and sobbeduncontrollably. The smell of earth and decay invaded her nostrils. A hand touched her shoulder.

    “Phoebe?” Cara’s voice. “Sweetheart?”

    Phoebe rolled over, blinking into the light.

    Her twin cupped a cool hand to her cheek. “Is this the place?”

    Phoebe nodded. Exhaustion drained the strength from her limbs. Her legs wobbled as Cara helpedher up.

    Standing a few yards from them, in suit and tie as always, Special Agent Vernell Jefferson puthis cell phone away. He looked awkward. Men like him folded their arms when their instinct wasto reach out.

    “Is she okay?” he asked Cara, as if Phoebe couldn’t speak for herself. That was nothingunusual. Most of the world preferred talking to Cara.

    The FBI agent drew a few steps closer, his keen brown eyes assessing the leafy site. A long,rectangular mound of earth corrupted the contours of the forest floor. Phoebe shivered. It wasnot the first time she had lain on someone’s shallow grave.

    Cara removed some tissues from her coat pocket and placed them in Phoebe’s hand. “We shouldget going,” she said.

    They walked back to the car in silence. Overhead, the sun was trying to come out. Until it did,the day would remain damp, the wind weak but biting. Within a couple of months this area wouldbe knee deep in snow. It was lucky they had found Iris before winter set in.

    “We really appreciate this,” Vernell said, opening the passenger door for Phoebe.

    She met his eyes and watched his pupils betray him. Vernell was much more excited than hisdemeanor suggested. In his line of work, the dead spoke through their physical remains. Clearlyhe was impatient to decipher those of Iris.

    “I have a message from her,” Phoebe said.

    His face quickened. “About him?”

    “I’m sorry.” She dispelled his hopes. “She just wants someone to tell her folks she lovesthem.”

    Vernell did a good job of masking his disappointment. “I’ll take care of it.” His eyes movedto Cara. “If you want to wait a while, I can have someone drive you to the airport.”

    “No. You folks have work to do.” Cara glanced up the forest road north. “And what do youknow? Here come the troops.”

    Phoebe followed the direction of her sister’s gaze. A convoy of police vehicles was closing inon them, lights flashing. Hastily she retreated into the car. Law enforcement didn’t know sheexisted. That was part of her deal with the FBI.

    Vernell walked Cara to the driver’s side and waited for her to get situated. “Don’t forgetwhat we talked about,” he said.

“I’ll be in touch.” Cara started the motor.

    Vernell thanked them again, then stepped back and slapped the car roof as if it were a horse’srump. Phoebe watched him in the side mirror as they accelerated away. He waved briefly beforeturning to face the approaching patrol cars. She wondered how he was going to explain chancingupon Iris Meicklejohn’s body miles from civilization, ten minutes’ hike into a dense forestnear Maidstone Lake in Vermont. Or did FBI men capitalize on their mystique at times like this?Vernell said local police tended to be in awe of the Bureau.

    “What did he mean?” she asked Cara. “What shouldn’t you forget?”

    “Routine stuff. Nothing you need to worry about.”

    Phoebe knew she should protest. It wasn’t fair that Cara always took responsibility for thepracticalities. But they had been through this a hundred times. Cara said they were identicaltwins, not clones. There was no reason for Phoebe to struggle over things her sister couldmanage easily, like computers and talking to strangers.

    It was Cara who had made their deal with the FBI. Phoebe would never have had the nerve toclaim she was a psychic, let alone expect to be hired for her services. Besides, she wasn’t areal psychic. She didn’t read minds or look into the future. She didn’t concentrate onpeople’s clothing and get images—not often, anyway. She dreamed, that was all.

    It hadn’t always been that way. Before the accident, she’d had the same garbled dreams aseveryone else. But head injuries and several months in a coma had changed everything. When shereturned to consciousness she was convinced that a woman called Samantha needed to talk withher and was waiting near a willow tree north of Liberty in the Catskills. Cara had indulgedher, and they drove to a spot on Route 47, then hiked for half an hour until Phoebe heardSamantha’s voice. A few yards off the track they found clothing and a body.

    Cara phoned 911, saying they were hikers who had stumbled on human remains. The wholeexperience had been straightforward, even rewarding. They gave statements to the authoritiesand received praise and gratitude. It turned out the local police had suspected SamanthaLewis’s boyfriend of killing her. Finding the body led to his conviction. It was Cara whotestified in court. The prosecutor said she was better on the stand than Phoebe, who spoke toosoftly and came across as kind of…“dreamy” was the word he’d used. Phoebe knew he reallymeant “flaky,” which was something no one would ever accuse Cara of being.

    When she had her second dream, nobody connected the two discoveries—they were in differentstates. Yet again, she and Cara were hikers who found a body.

    Then came the Sally Jorgensen kidnapping. The case was all over the television. A prominentPhiladelphia judge, Sally had vanished from her home, and her kidnapper demanded the release ofa prisoner in exchange for her life. By then Phoebe had already seen Sally in a dream and knewwhere her body was. This time, since the location was in the heart of the city, they could notpose as hikers. So Cara phoned the FBI and left a tip, declining to give her name. To Phoebe’ssurprise and dismay, Vernell Jefferson turned up on their doorstep a few days later.

    The African American agent had traced their call and connected the dots. He could accept thattwo grisly discoveries might be a creepy coincidence, but three? It looked suspiciously likethey had information not known to the authorities. After ruling them out as suspects, he hadasked point blank which one of them was the psychic. They’d been working with him ever since.

    At first, the arrangement was unofficial. The FBI does not employ psychics, and according toVernell, most people who claimed to have such powers were opportunists and attention-seekers.Only a few individuals were the real thing and, of these, Phoebe was in a league of her own.Her complete anonymity was a condition of their agreement.

    She had not asked for money, but after she’d led Vernell to several bodies, Cara arranged ameeting with him and his masters, and the FBI hired Phoebe officially. Awarded the phony titleof Consultant Forensic Botanist, she now earned fees that made it unnecessary for her to holddown her 9 to 5 admin job. Vernell said he wanted her free to travel anywhere, anytime. Carasaid Phoebe was his ticket to the top.

    Iris Meicklejohn had disappeared four weeks ago. It was not Vernell’s case, but it would benow. On their way to Vermont, he said Iris might be the latest victim of a serial killer now onthe radar. Phoebe wished she’d been able to tell him something that would help solve the case.But her dead visitors seldom wanted to discuss their killers. They were more interested insending messages to loved ones. That’s why they wanted their remains found. So the people whogrieved for them could have closure. Once they’d attained this, they no longer wanted to talk.

    Maybe she would try to reach Iris again. If she concentrated on her late at night, perhaps Iriswould visit. Or, if there were other women killed by the same monster, maybe one of them wouldinvade her sleep. Phoebe wished she had some control over the process. She had questions of herown.

    For a start, it would be nice to know if her visitors were in heaven. And if they were, wasJesus really God’s son who died to save us all, or just a guy far too liberal for his times?Also, could anyone explain why, if God was all powerful, he stood by while good people sufferedhideous fates? Phoebe couldn’t be the only one who wanted an answer to that.

    *

    Rowe Devlin did not believe in ghosts. She’d said as much to the realtor standing in front ofher. Not that it made any difference. Bunny Haskell ran busy fingers through her diligentlycorkscrewed platinum hair and continued her pitch.

    “This is the ballroom.” She flung open two wide decorative doors. “They say the daughter ofthe family can still be heard waltzing here in the dead of night.” Coyly, she arched heroverplucked eyebrows. “Right up your alley, I’m sure.”

    The room they entered was long and paneled in black oak. Ornately carved trim decorated a highplaster ceiling. At the far end, latticed windows and French doors faced onto vast front lawnsand a wide terrace. Rowe could imagine a happy throng spilling from the room on a longsummer’s eve, the tinkle of champagne flutes, laughter echoing into the night.

    Right now, drifts of red and yellow leaves swirled around the wrought-iron balustrades, servingnotice of the winter to come. And it looked like Dark Harbor Cottage hadn’t seen a glitteringparty in years.

    Rowe crossed the creaky hardwood floor and stood before the windows, picturing how it would beto walk her dogs in this corner of Maine. They wouldn’t know what to do with themselves,having spent their entire lives in a Manhattan apartment. She could see them now, careeningacross the huge meadow that extended from the cottage to the woods at the boundary of theproperty.

    This remote place was as picturesque as a scene from a jigsaw puzzle. Standing sentinel oneither side of a long driveway, hundred-year-old oak trees shimmered in their bronze foliage.To the east, a stand of birches glowed bright yellow against balsam and spruces, undaunted bythe late-October winds. Beyond these woods lay the ocean, serene and winter blue beneath amackerel sky.

    “Secluded enough for you?” Bunny inquired with the breathless confidence of an agent whocould smell a sale.

    “It needs some work,” Rowe said, trying not to sound like she would be willing to pay fullprice. “The kitchen’s in terrible shape.”

    Bunny waved a hand. “It’s a Victorian. You’d never get a fully restored property in thisarea for what this seller is asking.”

    “I’m amazed it hasn’t sold sooner. Is there something I should know?”

    Bunny laughed that off breezily. “What can I tell you? The market’s been slow. I’ve onlyshown the place to a few families, and they didn’t want to deal with the renovations.”

    Rowe thought about the turret room upstairs with its astonishing views of Penobscot Bay. It wasthe perfect place to write. “Tell me about the neighbors.”

    Bunny consulted her clipboard. “Well, you’re on six acres, so they’re not going to botheryou. To the north, there’s a cottage owned by a family from New York. It’s closed up for mostof the year—they’re only here for a few weeks each summer. And over there is a Shingle Stylehouse.” She pointed vaguely past the birches. “I believe two sisters live there. They keep tothemselves.”

    Rowe pictured a pair of maiden aunts in their seventies stitching quilts on their frontverandah. Who could ask for more? “Sounds ideal.”

    “I knew you were going to love the place!” Bunny ushered her back into the hall. “Want tosee upstairs again?”

    “Sure. Why not?”

    From the bottom of the grand cherrywood staircase, Rowe stared up. She could imagine howspectacular the entrance vestibule would look with the woodwork fully restored and the curvedstained-glass windows sparkling clean, shafts of tinted light beaming down. She wouldn’t beable to do everything at once. She didn’t have unlimited money. But she could start work onthe entrance and stairs right away.

    The second floor needed improvements, but it was not in bad shape. There were six bedrooms, oneof which had been converted in recent times to a master with its own half-decent bathroom.Above this, up a narrow spiral staircase, was the airy turret room Rowe had earmarked forwriting. She climbed the steep wooden steps to this retreat and crossed to the grimy bowedwindows.

    The view was surreal, the bay a netherworld that rose from the mists at dawn and glowed like ajewel as its gossamer cloak dissolved in the sunlight. Countless islands studded the seductivewaters, their rocky shores populated by black guillemots and puffins. Rowe had taken awindjammer tour of Penobscot Bay a few months earlier when she’d first thought aboutrelocating, and had fallen under its legendary spell. The bird life amazed her. Circlingsquadrons of gulls and razorbills tracked the lobstermen and schooners across the chill waters.Ospreys had made a comeback in recent years, even nesting occasionally on the roofs of homes inthis area.

    The turret room opened onto a widow’s walk that ran along the roofline. Rowe could see herselfpacing its length on a tranquil summer’s day, the extraordinary seascape shifting at her feet.This place was light-years away from Manhattan. In other words, perfect.

    Bunny chattered on about climbing values for the waterfront properties of Islesboro, about thesought-after position this one enjoyed with its cove frontage and privacy, its proximity toCamden, and the easy drive to Portland airport. All that, and a carriage house.

    Rowe listened with only half an ear. She felt remarkably contented in this room perched dizzilyatop the cottage. Of all the real estate she’d viewed in the past few months, this was thehome that instilled a sense of belonging, and more importantly, the feeling that she couldwrite within its walls.

    “Let’s talk price,” she said.

    *

    “We have new neighbors. Make that ‘neighbor,’ singular.” Cara dropped her hat and gloves onthe kitchen counter along with a couple of bags full of groceries. The pervasive aroma ofChinese food greeted her, and yet again she gave thanks that her sister loved to cook,otherwise they’d be living on Marie Callender frozen entrees. “I spoke with the movers,” shecontinued. “You’ll never guess who it is.”

    Phoebe glanced up from her wok. “Someone famous?”

    “Rowe Devlin, the author.”

    “The guy who writes those horror books?” Phoebe looked mildly dismayed.

    “Actually, it’s a woman.”

“A woman writes that stuff? I had no idea. She must be weird.”

    “They’re fiction,” Cara said. “She’s probably really normal.”

    “Well, I can talk.” Adopting a singsong tone, Phoebe proclaimed, “Hi, I’m Phoebe Temple. Isee dead people.”

    Cara laughed at this parody, relieved that Phoebe’s sense of humor was back. Her sister wasalways in the doldrums for a few weeks after a Dream. “Maybe stick to the forensic botanisthandle,” she suggested.

    “One of these days someone is going to ask me about plant spores or pollen signatures.”

    “And you’ll tell them palynology is a science so riveting you could talk about it for hours.They’ll change the subject.”

    “I’m counting on it.” Phoebe slid their stir-fry onto a serving plate and carried it to thekitchen table. Her cheeks were flushed from the heat of the wok, and she pushed a few fineebony curls away from her face as she sat down. “Do you have to go to L.A. next week?”

    “Put it this way.” Cara picked up her chopsticks. “If I don’t, they’re not going to hireme again.”

    Phoebe’s straight dark eyebrows drew together in consternation. “Did you stay home the pasttwo weeks because of me?”

    Cara avoided her sister’s moody gray eyes. “I had things to do.”

    “You and Vernell are up to something. What is it?” Phoebe slid the soy sauce across the tablebefore Cara could ask for it.

    Cara chewed slowly on a piece of broccoli and considered several ways she could respond. Optingfor the direct approach, she said, “He wants you to work more proactively.”

    “What does that mean?”

    “For a start, he’s wondering if there’s some way you could invite the process intentionally.You know, instead of waiting for the dreams to come along.”

    Phoebe looked alarmed. “How would I do that? I can’t control what happens when I’m asleep.”

    Carefully, Cara said, “Vernell thinks it might be a good idea for you to spend some time atQuantico in Virginia.” She steeled herself for the inevitable. Her sister wasn’t going tolike this idea one little bit.

    Silence of the Lambs?” Phoebe’s low, soft voice“The place where Jodie Foster trained in

    sounded strained.

    “Yes, training is part of what they do there.” Cara tried to sound reassuring as well asenthusiastic. “They also have a big forensic science research unit and you’d be working withprofilers and people like that.”

    “They’re going to think I’m a nut.”

    “No, they’re not. Vernell says everyone is hanging out to meet you.” Hearing a small,horrified gasp, she added hastily, “Everyone who knows, that is—just a handful of people,really. They even have a code name for you.”

    Phoebe calmed down a little, releasing her chopsticks from a death grip. “Like a spy name?”She seemed slightly tickled. “What is it?”

    “Golden.”

    Phoebe gave this some thought. “Is that a joke name?”

    “No. Nothing like that,” Cara hastily assured. Phoebe was hypersensitive about what shetermed her membership in Crazies Unlimited. “Vernell says it’s because you’re what theyalways dreamed of. Back in the 1980s the CIA tried to create people like you to spy on theRussians. They had a secret training program called Star Gate.”

    “Did it work?”

    “I don’t know.” Cara dripped extra soy sauce over her meal. “But some of the people theytrained are still around. Every now and then the FBI hires one for a case. They’re calledremote viewers.”

    Phoebe chewed reflectively. “Remote viewers. Yes…it is kind of like that.”

    Sensing she had secured her twin’s interest, Cara said, “I think you should do it. You have agift, and you can help people. It can’t hurt to see if there are other ways you could make itwork.”

    The FBI was also offering an astonishing amount of money, but Cara didn’t want to discussthat. It would only cause performance anxiety. Phoebe already worried that she was lettingeveryone down if she didn’t dream often enough.

    “How long will I have to stay there?” Phoebe asked.

    “Maybe a week or so.”

    “And you’ll be there, too?”

    Cara had known this was coming. “Of course.” Hopefully, within a couple of days Phoebe wouldfeel comfortable and she could escape and deal with the backlog of work that had piled up overthe past several weeks.

    Phoebe twiddled with her chopsticks. “I don’t want to feel like a circus freak.”

    “You know I would never let that happen.”

    “It wasn’t all that long ago they’d have burned me for being a witch, and now I’m hired bythe government and I have a spy name. Funny, isn’t it?”

    “Hilarious,” Cara said without smiling. “I’ll phone Vernell. We can leave as soon as I getback from L.A.”

    CHAPTER TWO

    Rowe buttoned her peacoat and braced herself for the rush of cold air as she hauled open herhuge oak front door and unlocked the security screen. Her Labradors, Jessie and Zoe, steppedout into the morning with the disbelief of dogs who had never seen an expanse of lawnunpopulated by people, other canines, and hot-dog carts.

    “Come on!” Rowe called and took a couple of tennis balls from her pockets. She hurled theseacross the dew-drenched meadow.

    It took less than ten seconds for her pals to get the picture. They lost their minds then,running and barking like a pair of inmates fresh out of the insane asylum. Rowe strode brisklytoward the birches that divided her property from that of the reclusive sisters. She hadconsidered calling on her new neighbors to introduce herself, but decided to leave that for aday when she was looking presentable and did not have two unruly dogs in tow.

    Jessie, the alpha female, briefly returned to Rowe’s side to check in before bounding deepinto the woods, her golden coat bright against the gloom. Zoe, seven years old, black, andbuilt like a brick house, could never keep pace with her taller, sleeker sister. All the same,she gave chase, her stumpy legs propelling her at double time. Rowe trailed after them,thankful her property had some kind of fencing, at least according to the realtor. The lastthing she needed was her cloddish dogs drooling all over the old ladies next door by way ofannouncing the new neighbor’s arrival.

    There was no sign of the panting pair by the time she reached the birch stand, so she whistleda few times, expecting yellow and black shapes to hurtle from the trees. Instead she heard ashrill bark, and a split second later an odd whimpering noise filtered through the woods.

    “Jessie?” Rowe broke into a jog. “Zoe!”

    Through the branches she could make out a sprawling Shingle Style house. Calling again, sheheaded toward it. There was a fence, just as the realtor had claimed, but it was no longerstanding. On the other side of the decaying wooden remnants lay her neighbors’ backyard, acarefully tended garden that would be superb in the summer. Dotted around the perimeter were

    mysterious shapes swathed in bright blue plastic tarpaulins. Rowe took these for a sign ofimpending winter in Maine. The Midcoast was littered with them.

    Hunkered down in the middle of a square of lawn, Jessie and Zoe were frozen on their haunches,intently watching a woman who stood on the back steps. Rowe found herself rooted to the spot aswell, transfixed by a pale face clouded with jet black hair that fell in narrow waves almost toits owner’s waist. Large, luminescent eyes dominated features that belonged to another time.Angled slightly toward the prone dogs, the woman’s head seemed almost too heavy for a neckunusually long and slender. She looked up, and a mouth Rossetti might have painted inched intoa remote smile.

    “Hello,” she said. Her eyes were on Rowe.

    At the sound of her voice, both Labradors whimpered and rolled onto their backs. Rowe couldrelate. Urging herself into motion, she followed a cobblestone path through what appeared to bean herb garden.

    As she neared the beautiful stranger, she said, “Good morning. I’m Rowe Devlin. I wasplanning on a more civilized introduction, but—”

    “Your dogs had other ideas?” Eyes the bruised purple-gray of storm clouds drew hers. “I’mPhoebe Temple. I live here with my sister.”

    , Rowe thought. The name suited her. So much for the two old ladies. This woman wasPhoebe

    probably in her late twenties, although her slight build made her seem younger. She wore asomewhat old-fashioned dress in a dusty rose color. Below the collar, a large baroque pearlrested on her chest suspended from a black ribbon. Its color was breathtaking, platinum with ahint of lavender.

    Rowe knew a good deal about pearls, having purchased some fine examples for her mother, wholoved them. This huge pear-shaped gem was natural, not cultured. It was the kind you were morelikely to find in a museum than around the neck of a woman living on an isle in New England.

    Phoebe bent and extended a narrow hand, patting Jessie and Zoe in turn. “Your dogs arebeautiful.”

    Instead of leaping to lick her face, the dogs remained on their haunches as if they wereobedience trained. Unable to account for this personality transplant, Rowe said, “You seem tohave a way with them.”

    “I’m lucky.” Phoebe straightened. “Animals are always civilized around me. Even wildlife.”

    “Wildlife?” Rowe tried to imagine what species there could be. Islesboro was not exactlyMadagascar.

    Phoebe pointed to a long, narrow barn east of the house. “We have deer. They’ve been in thesewoods for a hundred years. In winter, they come in to shelter and feed.”

    “That’s great.” Rowe could picture a fawn feeding from this woman’s hand. She moved ontothe lawn and optimistically slapped a hand against her thigh to signal Jessie and Zoe to heel.To her complete shock, they obeyed as if this were second nature.

    “Of course, your dogs are very well trained,” Phoebe observed. “I wish I had one of my own,but my sister and I are away too much. It wouldn’t be fair.”

    “You travel for your jobs?”

    “Yes. Cara makes music videos, the kind of thing you see on MTV. She left this morning forL.A.”

    “Are you in the music business as well?”

    “No.” A pause. “I’m with the FBI. I’m a forensic botanist.” Phoebe sounded embarrassed,even slightly ashamed.

    Rowe thought it must be quite interesting examining seeds and pods connected with a murder. Butsome people probably found her occupation distasteful. She hastened to take a positive line.“That must be fascinating.”

“Enormously.” Phoebe did not expand. No doubt she thought Rowe was just being polite.

    “I’d love to talk more about it sometime,” Rowe said, determined to emphasize her completecomfort with the topic. ???????

    Despite these efforts, Phoebe wrapped her slender arms around her body and changed the subject.“Forgive me for keeping you talking out here in the cold. Would you like to come in for somecoffee? I’m about to light the fires.”

    Rowe glanced uncertainly at the dogs.

    “They’re invited, too.”

    “Coffee sounds great. Thank you.”

    As she followed Phoebe indoors, Rowe knew she was being reckless, maybe even insane. She had

    If she’s a babe, run.made a rule for herself when she left Manhattan:

    *

    “You’re an author, aren’t you?” Phoebe asked a short time later as they sat before a logfire in a shabby-chic parlor with an incredible ocean view. “My sister told me. Horror novels,isn’t it?”

    ?“That’s right.”

    Rowe glimpsed a trace of dazed incomprehension before Phoebe lowered her eyes. It was not hergenre, that much was obvious. “I’m sure you know Stephen King lives not far from here, inBangor.”

    “I’m not in his league,” Rowe said. That was the truth. Even more so after her last dismaleffort.

    Phoebe seemed to be vacillating over a question. In a rush, she asked, “Do you believe in thesupernatural?”

    Rowe laughed, pleased to have the opportunity to let her captivating neighbor know that shewasn’t crazy. “God, no! It’s my market niche. That’s all.”

    “Oh, I see.” The light faded from Phoebe’s remarkable eyes and she prodded the fire.

    Wondering which way to jump, Rowe covered her bases. “Of course, I believe there are mysteriesnone of us can explain. Things beyond our present understanding. But my books are your basicschlock. Crap, really.”

    Phoebe turned toward her once more. In a sweetly reproachful tone, she said, “I’m surethey’re no such thing,” then asked Rowe if she wanted more coffee.

    Without waiting for a reply, she picked up their mugs and gracefully left the room. Rowe forcedherself not to stare after her, instead pondering her question about the supernatural. Perhaps,given her gruesome occupation, Phoebe needed to believe in comforting fantasies like ghosts andthe hereafter. If so, she was living in the right neck of the woods. From all accounts, Mainewas the paranormal portal for half the country.

    When Phoebe returned, she carried a tray of muffins as well as the coffee refills. Apparentlyshe wanted Rowe to stay a little longer. The dogs seemed fine with that. Both were stretchedout on their sides, sound asleep on a well-worn Persian rug behind Rowe’s chair.

    Rowe finished a muffin in short order. It was light and buttery, crammed with huge blueberries.She could have eaten five, but held back. Lately she’d been comforting herself with food, andit was showing in the beginnings of a spare tire. She’d also noticed more gray in her ashblond hair. Another legacy of Manhattan—aging before her time. She was only thirty-five.Surely it was way too soon for her to be seeing silver at her temples and frown lines betweenher eyes.

    Surreptitiously, she checked herself out in a large wood-framed mirror on the nearest wall. Notbad. But it had been a mistake to allow her usual short haircut to grow out over the last fewweeks. If it got any longer, people would think she wanted that Ellen Degeneres style.Depressed at how she had let herself go lately, she succumbed to another muffin, thinking, Too

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