The whispered name pulled Kelly Hall out of her blissful sleep. At first she thought it was her husband calling to her. Husband. What an odd word. Married for mere hours as she was, it was going to take some getting used to. She smiled serenely, her eyes closed.
Her hand went to the other side of the bed, reaching for him, and found it empty. She forced her heavy eyelids open a slit, enough to see the illuminated numbers on the clock. Just minutes past four in the morning. Panic shot through her, setting every nerve ending on a razor’s edge. Where in the world could Michael be?
Her memory sported holes the size of baseballs, but not enough to keep her from remembering she was a married woman. Nothing short of brain damage could make her forget that.
She switched on the lamp and stared at the vacant side of the bed. There wasn’t even a telltale dip in the pillow to signify Michael had rested his head next to hers last night.
Her lips twisted into a grimace. Three generations of her family had lived in Moore House and not one had had a happy ending. She had been raised on stories of curses and doomed love. Everyone in the small town of Tinkerton, Kansas, knew about the legends of Moore House. Only the truly morbid and superstitious considered them fact.
Kelly didn’t believe the rumors surrounding her home. Michael hadn’t been carried off by a goblin in the dead of night. He was somewhere in the house, possibly the bathroom. Or maybe he was in the kitchen getting a snack.
She struggled to her feet in the enormous master bedroom, wobbling slightly. A wave of dizziness washed over her. Her stomach churned and her head throbbed painfully. Fearing she was about to be sick, Kelly headed for the master bath.
Halfway to her intended destination, she spotted her reflection in the vanity mirror out of the corner of her eye. A streamlined white satin-and-lace gown hugged her body like a mummy wrap. Why had she slept in her wedding dress?
She frowned as she struggled to recall going to bed, but her memory was a blank. She took a long look at the facts. Michael hadn’t made love to her. It didn’t make sense. He’d been so insistent they marry at once instead of next month as per the original plan. Why would he walk out on her, leaving her an untouched bride?
Who would want you?
She shoved the haunting words aside, knowing they must have come from a dream. Michael wouldn’t say such a hurtful thing to her.
Her rush to get to the bathroom forgotten, Kelly crossed the cold hardwood floor to the closet. She wanted to get out of her grandmother’s wedding gown, hang it up before it was ruined. Later, she would have it professionally packed once again.
She opened the door and reached for a hanger.
Michael was hiding in the closet like a ghoul ready to pounce.
Gasping in fright, she nearly jumped out of her own skin. “Michael! You almost gave me a heart attack!” Nervous laughter bubbled up in her throat.
Kelly moved closer and the other side of his face came into view.
Blood formed an intricate design on his cheek, around his eye. The red lines wove a pattern over the hard planes, starting deep in his hairline and ending at the base of his jaw. Droplets rained down on his blue chambray shirt.
She screamed and reached for him, grasping the front of his shirt in her desperation to hold him.
The body had been propped against the door but now it rocked as if disturbed by her outburst. He fell forward. Kelly jumped sideways to avoid the crashing body and tripped over the bottom of her dress.
Her head bounced against the hardwood. Pain shot from the back of her skull to the sensitive point just below her eyes. She wanted to scream, but only managed a small whimper.
A thousand thoughts raced through her mind, but she couldn’t isolate one long enough to focus on it.
Her husband was dead. She didn’t need to check his pulse to know for certain. His unblinking eyes confirmed what she felt in her gut.
He’d been murdered.
Kelly pressed her back against the wall, using it as leverage to raise herself up. Her eyes refused to blink or to stray from Michael’s body. Taking a deep breath, she bolted out of the bedroom, running as if the devil were on her heels.
The long hallway yawned before her, riddled with doors. Every bad nightmare she’d ever suffered sprang to mind, visions of killers hiding in the shadows and waiting for their next victims. What if the killer was in her house?
Her feet froze as if glued to the blood-red carpet that lined the several intersecting hallways. In her mind she saw the path she would take. She planned her route quickly, begging her legs to move. Fortunately, she knew the house, every inch of it, by heart. It didn’t matter that the corridor was windowless. She didn’t need the moon’s light to find her way out.
All she had to do was run down the hallway and turn left along another long, dark passageway. Eventually she would make it to the dual winding staircases that led up from the foyer, meeting on the second floor in front of an illuminated stained glass window.
Once she made it down the stairs, she would be safe.
Breathing hard, she silently screamed at her legs to move. They trembled beneath her, but she forced them to obey. Somehow she was going to make it to the front door.
She turned at the next hallway intersection and stopped again. A shadowy figure moved out of one of the rooms. It pulled the door shut. A flash of lightning escaped through the crack between wall and door, illuminating his features.
Michael’s ghost turned in her direction and started straight for her. His hands stretched out before him as if he wanted to choke her.
Blackness shrouded her. She fell and her eyes rolled back, seeking the darkness. Her body turned to vapor. She collapsed into a pair of strong arms.
KELLY WOKE SLOWLY, drifting through several layers from dream to reality until she was fully conscious. A horrible vision of Michael popped into her head. He was dead, then he was alive. She’d seen him in the hallway coming out of his bedroom. Her heart thundered like a dozen horses galloping down the homestretch.
Drawing a deep breath, she took a personal inventory of herself. She was under the covers in her own bed, wearing a T-shirt instead of a wedding gown. But her relief was short-lived. Michael wasn’t anywhere in sight. Fear clotted her throat as nightmarish images surfaced. Her eyes strayed to the closet door.
It was closed.
She struggled out of bed, holding on to the mattress until her feet were firmly on the ground. As if drawn by a magnetic force, she went to the closet door. Each step was a silent march into madness. Her fingers trembled on the cold knob. It turned slowly in her grasp. She held her breath and tugged, automatically preparing to scream.
The door opened to reveal her wardrobe. Nothing sinister, just a full rack of clothing and a line of shoes at the bottom. She took a moment to search for blood, but she didn’t look very hard—partly because she didn’t think she would find any, partly because she feared she might.
Kelly left her bedroom in a rush to find Michael. A small doubt would linger until she saw him for herself. Only then could she be sure he was safe.
She stopped at the top of the double staircase and glanced up at the stained glass, unable to avoid it. An angel towered over her, shielding two young children beneath her cloak. It was meant to signify protection. However, something about the depiction of the angel made Kelly uneasy. Its eyes were dark and stormy, filled with something akin to hatred.
Kelly tore her gaze away from the haunting picture. She glanced over the hand-carved banister to the massive foyer below. The floor was marble, a shiny, almost transparent stone that reflected light from the crystal chandelier. The double staircase curved up both sides of the semicircular room. There were cutaway arches descending with the stairs, arches that held statues of Greek gods and noblemen. The statues, like everything else in Moore House, were old and chipped. Small lights behind each statue illuminated them at night.
The foyer had four doors, one per wall, beginning with the sturdy entrance, a thick door with two deadbolt locks and an old-fashioned brass knob. The parlor was directly to the right and the kitchen to the left. Both rooms were connected to the hallways that led to various rooms such as the formal dining room, the study and the billiard room. All were sadly withering from lack of use.
Below the point at which the two staircases met, underneath the stained glass, a pair of doors blocked the entrance to the library. The library, Kelly’s favorite room, was designed by a genius in her opinion. The walls curved slightly, yet held reams of books along endless shelves to form a complete oval. The library was the largest room in the house, built on a grand scale that would have pleased the wealthiest of kings. It was the only ground level room that didn’t have a second floor above it. The ceilings reached high to form a dome. The stained glass angel, a mirror image of it, stood high above the doors with a lightbulb attached to the top, a light that glowed day and night.
The second floor mainly housed bedrooms and bathrooms. There were a few small exceptions, like the sewing room.