A Rush of Cochineal Daily Lines Day Twenty

I took the weekend off! But here’s something from today. So much bad plot stuff, but I have extra time this year to work it out! Here goes:

 

Steve began to back out of the dining room, the three women approaching him like lionesses stalking a gazelle.

“Please, Laura,” he pleaded, “I didn’t even think of her till your housewarming. She was here with Gustav, he did the catering, remember? I saw her in the hallway, handing out canapes, and I had to have her.”

“And he did,” said Tiffany. “In that clunky bedroom your sister’s in now.”

“Once it started, I couldn’t stop!” said Steve. “It’s this damn house! It was her idea, scaring you. She thought you’d leave, and I could divorce you.”

“Oh, I see,” said Laura. “And since you divorced me, you’d get to keep everything.”

“Something like that,” said Steve, shaking his head. He took Laura’s hand. “Please, Laura, don’t screw me over on this. We can work something out.”

Laura grabbed her hand away from his. “You get both of us,” she said, “is that what you want?”

“I don’t know!” he replied. “I can’t think here! There’s too damn many women here! I’m going in to the office. Maybe I can think there.” He stormed out of the dining room. The three women stood in a circle staring at each other.

“You!” said Laura, pointing at Tiffany. “You can get out now.” Tiffany began to back away. “Wait,” she said, “where did you find those hankies? The ones with the initials.”

Tiffany made it to the swinging doors to the back stairs. “Attic,” she said, “it’s full of dusty old crap.” She turned and bolted, Laura and Sam hearing her footsteps pound up the steps.

“Your dinners weren’t half this entertaining in Devon,” said Samantha. “I’ve got a date with a stockbroker in an Armani suit.” She walked to the dining room door and paused. “At the Cupola. Don’t wait up for me.” Sam tossed her head, her hair swinging, and Laura was alone. Alone in her beautiful dining room, lavender silk draperies, mahogany paneling, gas fire blazing warmly.

A Rush of Cochineal Daily Lines Day Seventeen

Dex shivered, wiping the tears from her face. “Get me out of here, Claire,” she whispered. “I feel like I’ll never be happy again.”

“It’s too early for alcohol,” said Claire as she pulled Dex out of the tower, “so we’ll settle for a cup of coffee.” She turned to Laura. “Can you manage a cup of coffee?”

“No,” said Laura. “Tiffany’s done with breakfast, and the next time I talk to her, I’m firing her. She did this!”

Taking a deep breath, Dex said, “If you know who did it, why do you keep asking me? I’ve told you, there isn’t a ‘ghost’ here. There’s just sadness. So much sadness, and fear.” She shook herself like a dog.

“Let’s go,” she said turning to Claire. “We can get coffee on the way home.” Dex started down the hall, her rubber soled shoes silent on the marble tiles.

“What the hell, Laura,” asked Claire, “you’re not capable of making that poor girl a cup of coffee? Or tea? She’s spent hours researching that artist and your family, both of which you could have done yourself.” She saw that Dex was standing in front of the door to the drawing room, clenching her fists at her side. Claire ran down the hall to her friend.

“What’s wrong, Dex?” she asked, turning her head to look into the room, awash with morning light. She saw what Dex was seeing, the back of Mark’s head as he kissed Samantha, her sweater almost at her waist, her hands in his hair. Sam raised her head, and smiled at Dex.

“Mark?” asked Dex. “I thought you were heading to Pottstown this morning.” At his name, he raised his head, looked directly into the eyes of the portrait, and turned to Dex. He looked at her with no recognition at first, then shoved Sam away.

Dex walked slowly to the front door, and turned to Claire. “I think I finally understand the sadness in this house,” she said, looking at the black and white marble floor. “It’s all lust and betrayal.” She opened the door, and left the house, standing beside Claire’s car.

A Rush of Cochineal Daily Lines Day Sixteen

Samantha rolled over in bed, mumbling. Her hoopskirt was in the way, she thought in her dream, keeping her lover at arm’s length. His lips caressed the swell of her breasts above the lace at her neckline, moved upward to her neck, ending with gentle nibbling on her ear lobe, his teeth tinking quietly on the wires of her pearl and amethyst earrings. She moaned and pressed toward him, the bamboo circle of her largest hoop flipping up behind her, exposing the ruffled lace of her pantalets. Her lover ran his hand down the front of her bodice, pushing her away enough to drop the hoop. Samantha looked over his shoulder at the mirror, into the greedy eyes of Matilda Speakman and screamed, waking.

She jumped from her bed, to the six foot tall Victorian mirror above the marble topped vanity, looked at her own reflection with relief.

“Why?” she asked her image. “Why do I turn into her in my dreams?” She pulled open the top drawer, thinking it odd that the drawer was so shallow compared to the depth of the vanity. Sam looked at the solid pedestal for the mirror and tapped it. “Hm,” she thought, “that sounds hollow.” She pulled the top, with no result, then pressed inward on the front. Nothing. She pressed the left side, then the right and heard a soft click. The front panel slid down, revealing a hiding place inside the pedestal. “My ring!” she said, reaching inside. But there was only a small leather bound book, embossed in gold “My Diary.” She opened the book. “My darling husband has purchased a farm near West Chester,” read the opening lines. Sam sighed and tossed the diary in the drawer, slammed it shut, and closed the compartment. “I’ll read it later,” she thought, “maybe I’ll get that ring yet.”

A Rush of Cochineal Daily Lines Day Fifteen

“You have embarrassed me yet again,” he hissed. “Babbling at the dinner table about that pup Swayne. Do you not know what constitutes a suitable subject for dinner conversation? Did you learn nothing in your years at Miss Irwin’s school?”

He shook his head. “How many times did you meet him in the gatehouse. That artist. How many times?” Henry grabbed Emma by the shoulders and shook her, one of her curls slipping from the hairpin. “You ungrateful—” He glared at her. “Wench.” Emma gasped. “I am aware of what you have done with young Master Swayne.” Henry pushed her away from him, and shot his cuffs. “There will be consequences for Master Swayne,” he smiled, turning to her. “And for you. Clearly, you are unbalanced, only someone of unsound mind would turn her back on all of this!” He motioned around the opulent room.

“But, Henry,” Emma began, “I was never alone with Mr. Swayne outside the morning room.”

“You were observed walking in the garden with him,” said Henry. “Alone. Explain how your personal effects were found in the gatehouse.” He reached into his pocket and withdrew a short, kid glove. “This is yours, is it not?” He slapped it onto the table. “The second item of your apparel. I discovered this after Master Swayne vacated our premises this morning. And one of your daubings. How did that come to be there?”

“Give me your wedding ring,” Henry demanded. “You no longer deserve to wear a token of devotion.” He reached a hand to her. “You do not have it, do you? You chose not to wear it this evening.”

“You CHOSE not to wear it this evening,” he shouted.

“I did not think—” Emma began.

“Of course, you did not think,” he hissed. “You are not capable of thought. Do you know what becomes of faithless, unbalanced wives?”

A Rush of Cochineal, Daily Lines Day Thirteen

“Yeah, well, Steve has more than a million invested in the mansion’s renovations,” said Laura. “A half million on the construction, and another half in the decorating. Those custom doormats cost $500 a piece, when you add in what our logo cost.”

She pulled open the door to The Cupola, laughter from the bar audible. “So, I think he feels he owns part of it now, too.” I wish he owned whatever is dropping tiny hankies all over my house, she thought. Those were something she would never share with Samantha, not after that nightmare.

“What did you mean ‘good at first’?” asked Laura. Sam assessed the men at the bar, making note of those who turned their heads to look at her, and chose two seats, between a silver haired man in a beautifully tailored dark grey pinstripe and a Giorgio Armani closer to her own age. Neither was wearing a wedding ring, though she knew from experience how meaningless that was.

“At first?” asked Sam, smiling at the Armani she slid onto the bar stool. “Mezcal margarita,” she said to the bartender as he approached. “Just a coke for me,” said Laura. “I can’t afford another DUI.”

“Last night,” Laura sighed, “when you screamed? You said it was ‘good at first.’”

“Oh, right,” replied Sam. “At first, I was dreaming of Mark, I was wearing the red velvet dress in my portrait downstairs.” She shivered, remembering how his hands felt on her body. “Then I was wearing a black silk dress, and I turned into Matilda. That’s when I screamed.” She turned to the Armani and asked, “do you believe in ghosts?”

Armani smiled, glancing downward at the cleavage exposed by the unbuttoned two top buttons of her red leather sheath. “I do,” he said, “I’m Josh, and you are?”

Daily Lines, Day Twelve

Laura dropped the matching handkerchief into the drawer, where it covered the first, and closed the drawer slowly. She walked to a closed door near the bathroom, and flung it wide, an automatic light illuminating the interior of an enormous walk-in closet. Fully three sides of it contained her clothes, two large granite topped chests in a row down the centre holding her shoes. Steve’s clothes fit on the remaining fourth.

“Check this out,” she said to Samantha. “Norman has a closet guy, too.”

“Nice,” replied Samantha, still looking at the bath, a spa tub partially sunken, with two steps up to enter. Bubble bath, she thought, with Mark kneeling at those steps, warming to the idea. She really could not wait, she thought, I need to feel that guy inside me, and damn soon.

“How long did it take,” she asked. “From start to finish, I mean.”

“Oh, once we finalized the plans,” answered Laura, “about a week. There were a couple of special orders, but you’d be surprised how fast stuff gets delivered after Steve barks into the phone. Any one that supplies anything for construction comes to heel when he commands.”

“I want the plans for the gatehouse tomorrow,” said Samantha. “So I can move in in two weeks.”

“You don’t want much, do you?” asked Laura. “Any reason for the rush?”

“Two reasons,” said Sam. “The first is that my creative flow isn’t working in the morning room, I’m falling behind on the publisher’s schedule. The second is I need a place to entertain. Alone. Far from prying eyes.”

She unwrapped the towel and shook her hair, the wings that framed her face dropping into place as she smoothed it. “So what time are we meeting the shrimp’s ex?”

Daily Lines, Day Eleven

Samantha shrugged, tossing her hair, copper highlights glinting in the sun pouring in the morning room windows. “Bryan was beginning to be a bore,” she replied. “I thought it was better to get out of the city. The city was beginning to be a bore.”

She stared out at the trees, now almost completely golden. “Besides, I saw those pix of your party, and I found the talent pool out here more exciting than what I was experiencing in Wilmington.” Her brown eyes glinted avariciously.

“You mean you’d worked your way through all the reasonably attractive unmarried men in Wilmington,” said Laura.

Sam sighed. “Married men, too,” she said. “Who was the guy with dark hair you were sitting with? If I can’t pry that skinny shrimp’s fingers from Mark Wright, he might be fun.”

Laura laughed, “You’d make a habit of taking her cast-offs? That’s the guy she broke up with a year or so ago. He’s an artist. Painted the landscape beside the kitchen door, it’s our back meadow.”

“You’re kidding!” said Sam, finally moving her gaze from the trees and desolated garden outside to her sister. “Maybe she should move to Wilmington.” Her sister snorted. “She used to have six dogs, or so Pete told me. I pumped him about her, when I found that she was the woman Mark Wright was seeing.”

A smug smile passed quickly over Samantha’s lips. “Yes, but for how long is going to see her?” She sipped her coffee, the glint back in her brown eyes, a look that Laura knew all too well. Samantha wanted something, she was planning to get it, and Laura had a suspicion that something was Mark Wright. She sighed. As much as she liked Mark, she would never go further than a foot on his leg at parties, and she knew Sam was prepared to go much, much further.

“Has he ever been married?” asked Sam. Her silk wrapper fell open, exposing her cleavage in the fuchsia nightgown. “Domesticity?” she pondered. “Thrills? I wonder…”

“I don’t know,” said Laura, “he dodges every personal question I’ve thrown at him. You should start with Pete Werkhiser. Rebound him.”

Sam tapped her beautifully manicured finger on the table. “What time do you think Mark will be here?” she asked. “I want to be ready.” She rose from her chair, moving to the wall of windows, turning to look at Laura. “Let me know when he gets here, I’ll be up in my room, writing.” Sam watched trucks with a yellow diamond logo pull around the back of house, meeting her brother-in-law briefly, then move down the gravel to the gatehouse, a black Jeep Wrangler bringing up the rear. She smiled, mentally choosing the outfit that Mark might find most appealing. But he’s going to be involved there for hours, she thought, and I want him up here, in this house, much better setting.

“Where’s a good place to run into Pete Werkhiser?” asked Samantha. “Unless you can arrange an introduction.”

Laura didn’t answer immediately. “Well?” asked Sam. “Should I just wander around West Chester, and check out the locals, hoping to meet him?

“I’m thinking!” said Laura. “You want the meet-cute or the introduction? I can arrange both.”

“Introduction,” replied Sam, “those accidentally on purpose things have a way of biting me in the ass.” She thought of Mark Wright doing exactly that, and smiled, thinking ‘I’ll have to wait for that pleasure.’

Daily Lines, Day Seven

“What seems to be project for us, Laura,” asked Mark.

“Oh, I’ll show you,” said Laura, taking his arm, drawing him away from Dex.

“It’s outside, but there’s another issue, in the tower, the woodworking contractor thinks the railing isn’t up to code or something,” she stopped at the doorway to the morning room, flooded with cool northern light streaming in the wall of windows opening to the terrace that filled the fourth side of the house, light filtered only by the branches of leafless trees.

“What a perfect room for an artist,” said Dex.

“That’s what I’m hoping,” said the woman seated beside Ed at the dropleaf table off to the side of the room. She smiled, saying “and this must be Mark. I’ve heard so much about you, Laura thinks you’re a genius.” She raised her hand to Mark, who took hold with both hands. “I’m Samantha, but you can call me Sam.”

Dex inhaled sharply. The woman at the table was the twin of the woman in the drawing room portrait.

“My sister,” said Laura. “Younger sister,” said Sam, tilting down her head, looking at up at Mark through long, long lashes.

“So, Dex,” began Claire, “I think there may be a genetic link to our Lady of the Ruby Ring. Don’t you think?”

“Laura,” said Dex, “when I asked if you knew who the subject of that picture is, why did you say you didn’t know?”

Ed looked up from the table. “Oh yeah,” he said. “I see it now.”

“Now?” asked Dex.

“That picture’s been out for cleaning, it wasn’t hung till the day before you saw it,” said Laura. She shrugged. “I don’t know. There is some resemblance–”

Samantha laughed, one of those silvery, classic movie laughs, a Norma Shearer, Constance Bennett laugh, enchanting, charismatic, and calculatingly cold.

“Oh, Laura,” she said, “I’m sure Granny Speakman would be delighted to know that Philadelphia’s next best-selling author looks so much like her!”

“Maybe it is Granny Speakman,” said Laura, “but I wouldn’t be so happy about it, she came to a bad end. I think. Our family wasn’t big on genealogy. The portrait in the hall is definitely a relative, it’s identified.”

“Who’s the artist?” asked Dex, looking out at the tracks through the gardens left by heavy equipment, crushing the perennials and small shrubs.

“You’re a writer,” asked Mark, as Samantha stood, took his arm and began to draw him from the room.

“Maybe,” said Sam very softly, bending over to speak into Mark’s ear. “I’ve sent my manuscripts to several publishers. I think my series will be the next ‘Outlander’ or Debbie Macomber. Romance, liberally peppered with mystery.” She gave him another flash of brown eye from beneath lashes. “And sex. This is going to be my writing room, but I’ll be living in the gatehouse.” She took another step toward the door.

“But that’s a wreck!” said Claire, batting the third petit pain au chocolat from Ed’s hand.

“That’s why I wanted Mark here,” said Laura, looking pointedly at Dex. “Steve wants to know if it’s feasible to renovate. And if it’s not, a replacement plan. This is a historic property, and we want it done right. Maybe you could take some pictures or something, for Milton. There’s bound to be something you can do, since you’re so useless as a psychic.”

Dex looked at Mark, to see his reaction. She had the impression that the new project at Edgecombe Hall he described to her on the way over was a minor problem with the major work already in progress, not a whole new building.

Mark and Sam were gone. She looked out the wall of windows again, and there they were: walking arm in arm, heads together, toward the derelict gatehouse a quarter mile away, near the end of the old, disused drive.

Daily Lines, Day Six

“Is this not yours?” he glared at her.

“Yes, but–” she said.

“One of the workman discovered it at the top of the unfinished staircase. Would you care to explain how it came to be there?” Henry demanded.

“I do not know,” she whispered, her head beginning to spin. “I never—”

“You were at the top of the unfinished staircase, a dangerous place for a woman in your condition. I forbid you—again—from entering the Tower until construction is complete.”

He snatched the fabric square from the desk as Emma reached for it. “I shall call for Doctor Schaefer, I believe you have some condition affecting your intelligence. Be available this afternoon. Can you manage that? You will not wander off on the grounds. You will not bedevil Mr. Swayne in his studio with your ridiculous smears.”

Emma swallowed hard, trying to hold back the tears that would only serve to increase Henry’s annoyance with her. “Yes,” she said.

He pressed his lips together, and slapped his hand on the desk, making her jump.

“Yes, what?” he asked.

“Yes, Henry, my love,” she replied, a single tear fighting its way down her cheek. “Yes, my dear.”

Daily Lines, Day Five

“Voodoo girl?” asked Steve, “Is that what you call her? She does seem to have what’s his name in her spell.”

“She has Peter Werkhiser under her spell,” said Laura. “He poured his heart out to me last month at the Art Association opening.”

“That’s what you do at these things?” asked Steve. “You sit with some young guy, hold his hand, listen to his life story? Anything else I should know?”

Laura waved a beautifully manicured hand as though swishing away an unpleasant smell. “Oh, Steve,” she said, “you know you’re the only man for me.”

“I guess I know that,” said Steve. “But the only man for you is sick of this house. I don’t care how long it was in your family, let’s get the hell out.”

“Dinner is ready,” announced Tiffany, the housekeeper, making Laura jump. “We’ll discuss this later,” said Laura, clopping into the hallway.

Steve caught Tiffany’s eye and smiled. “Did she find it?” whispered the housekeeper. “Do you know how hard it is to get a Siamese cat to do something it doesn’t exactly want to do? Did she find it?”

“She had to,” said Steve. “She called that ghost woman from the Red Rose Inn.”

“Mark’s girlfriend,” said Tiffany. “I guess Laura thinks she can kill two birds with one stone.”

“Tiffany!” shouted Laura from the dining room. “I do prefer my hot food hot and  my cold food cold. Are you serving dinner this evening, or do I need to serve myself?”

“Better go,” said Steve, giving her a quick hug and a push toward the dining room. “See you later, sweetie,” replied Tiffany.