Daily Lines, Day Nine

Darcy was ecstatic to be freed from his mud room prison. After greeting Dex, jumping like a kangaroo on his hind legs, he turned to Mark, nailing him in his most sensitive area. Practice made Mark’s response automatic, and the dog hit his protective hands instead.

“Darcy! Not there! For god’s sake, not there,” Dex said, laughing. “I’ve got this down, now,” said Mark, opening the door to the yard. The whippet ran outside, making circles, decreasing in speed till he found just the right shrub. Mark stood behind Dex, his arms around her waist, nuzzling the back of her neck. “He’ll be all right outside for a bit, now, won’t he?” asked Mark. “Long enough,” replied Dex.

He kissed his way around her neck, turning her to him as he progressed, lifting her onto the washer. She raised her head, and she felt his kiss warm her down to her toes. “Oh, Mark,” she sighed. “Let’s go upstairs.”

“No, here,” he said, pulling his shirt over his. “Now.”

Daily Lines, Day Eight

“Where’s Mark?” asked Claire. “Out there,” replied Dex, pointing down the hill. “With Samantha.”

“Not done, Ed,” said Claire. “Let’s go look at the gatehouse!”

Laura sighed. “Really, isn’t Mark capable of assessing the project without a crowd?” she asked. “I thought you wanted to see that portrait again.”

Dex strode to the glass door, out onto the ravaged lawn, Claire on her heels. She hoped Dex could rein in her temper when she got to Mark, she worked hard to get those two together, and she wasn’t going to watch all that effort go up in the smoke from a Dex Cranford explosion, and from the look on Dex’s face, Mount Cranford was going to blow.

“Dex, wait,” she said, catching up, grabbing Dex’s arm. “Don’t be mad at Mark, from the minute that woman saw him, she was salivating like a dog at dinner time.”

“From the moment he saw that portrait in the drawing room, he was in another world,” said Dex. “And then he saw Samantha, who looks exactly like the portrait, and he’s off with her? I’d say he’s flattered that she’s that obviously attracted to him.”

“Laura will put a stop to that,” said Claire. “She’ll think she has a prior claim on Mark.”

“I have a prior claim on Mark,” said Dex. “Or I thought I did.”

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.

Daily Lines, Day Four

Laura stood in front of a landscape, flooded with light. Dex knew exactly what time of day that picture had been painted, she’d seen Chester County landscapes in precisely the same light and vague mist.

“Norman told us this was the best picture in the collection,” Laura said. “It’s a William Trost Richards, actually painted near here.”

“Lovely,” said Dex. “I’ve long been a fan of his, there are several pictures in the Museum.”

She could see through the open doors into the big parlor, admiring the purple curtains framing the almost floor to ceiling windows that looked out onto the porch. A woman’s portrait hung over the fireplace, and Dex walked into the room, leaving Laura and Claire behind in the hall.

“Dex?” asked Claire, following.

“Well!” huffed Laura. “I was going to show the other landscapes here in the hall, and there’s a Maud Earl I thought Claire would like to see.”

Claire found Dex staring at the three-quarter pose portrait. The subject was a thin woman, in clothes from a time when substantial women were the fashion; her dark hair was pulled tightly back from a center part and formed into a pile of ringlets atop her head that spilled down to her shoulders. She was wearing a deep red dress that seemed to reflect fiery highlights into her brilliant hazel eyes, brilliance that suggested the artist had captured her expression seconds before she burst into tears. The corners of her mouth seemed to hold back whatever emotion was exposed by her eyes, yet her face was beautiful, and the eyes riveting. Displayed prominently on her right hand which lay face down in her lap, the paleness of her arm acting as an arrow, was a ruby ring, the large red stone sparking crimson fire from its nest of diamonds.

Dex stood before the portrait, mesmerized. The woman in the portrait seemed uncomfortable in her sumptuous dress, adding a suggestion of being on the verge of panic. A skittish woman, likely to bolt at any moment.

“Who are you?” Dex whispered. “And why are you so sad?”