Michael held his hands up and she thought he was going to surrender, admit to the joke, but his words took her on a twisted detour. “Look at your hand. Where’s the ring? Where’s the dress? Where’s your proof?”
She glanced down at her left hand, finding the fingers completely bare. Another realization hit her. When she had looked inside the closet that morning, her gown hadn’t been there. In fact, she hadn’t seen it since the nightmare.
She stepped across the parlor and plopped down on the sofa, questioning her own sanity.
“This is not happening,” she mumbled. “I didn’t imagine getting married. It was real. I remember every detail.”
“Relax,” Michael said, hovering over her. “Nothing to get upset about. It was just a dream.”
“It wasn’t a dream, dammit!”
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting to all this?”
“Let me get this straight,” she said with a sigh. “We didn’t get married last night? We didn’t elope?”
“No,” he said with a firm shake of his head. He crossed his muscular arms over his chest. “But there’s got to be a logical explanation for your confusion. Did you drink any alcohol last night? Are you taking any medication?”
“I took a couple sleeping pills,” she admitted. “I haven’t been sleeping well lately.”
“You know why!” She glared at him. “The house has been making more noises than usual. It keeps me awake, and I was tired. I took the pills before you asked me to marry you.”
“Listen to yourself. Why would I ask you to marry me so late at night? And why would you say yes when you’d just downed a couple sleeping pills?”
“I don’t know,” Kelly said. He was right. She would have to be messed up to say yes to a proposal that late at night, and when she was so tired. But she remembered him pushing her to do so. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. “It seemed so real.”
“You suffered an unfortunate side effect from a drug. It happens.”
Could it be that simple? She grabbed on to the explanation, desperate to believe. Relief spread through her like rays of warm sunshine. She wasn’t losing her mind.
“Maybe your pills reacted with something else in your system,” he said. “It would also explain why you’re feeling poorly this morning.”
She felt silly. She would have to be more careful with medication in the future.
“I’m going to go upstairs and take a shower,” she announced. “I need to get dressed.”
“Okay.” Michael said, with a pleased smile on his handsome face. That smile lit up every corner of her heart. “I’m glad we cleared that up.”
“We’re still getting married, right?” She watched his expression carefully, looking for revulsion. “Next month? Like we planned?”
“Just like we planned.”
She was being a total idiot, doubting him when he hadn’t given her reason to. What sort of wife would she make if she couldn’t trust the man she was marrying?
“I’m sorry about the misunderstanding,” she said. “I feel like a big heel for jumping all over you.”
“Don’t give it another thought.” He smiled once again—a warmer smile this time. It almost reached his eyes. “Call me if you need anything.”
He walked off. She didn’t relish facing her bedroom alone. Knowing it had all been a dream didn’t evaporate the horrid feeling of spiraling out of control. It would take a long time for the images of Michael’s dead body to vanish completely.
She went upstairs.
Kelly entered her room and headed for the bureau. She needed to dress warmly. Moore House welcomed the chill of winter, holding on to the cold like a small child clinging to her favorite doll. Even in the summertime the house was cooler than most other places. It would cost a fortune to keep it warm, so she only heated the rooms she used on a regular basis.
She retrieved a pair of jeans and a light sweater. Kelly padded across the wood floor in her bare feet to the bathroom. Passing the closet, she purposely focused her eyes straight ahead. She would not look at the closed door again. It had been a dream. Michael wasn’t dead. Everything was great.
So why did she feel as if she were standing in quicksand and sinking fast?
KELLY DIDN”T GIVE a thought to the bathroom door until she’d been in the shower a good ten minutes. A noise startled her as she shampooed her hair. It sounded close by, close enough to be in the same room. She always left the door wide open when she showered, because the bedroom door was closed.
But it wasn’t locked.
Michael wouldn’t dare enter without invitation.
She peeked through squinted eyes, trying to see through the foggy shower glass. Shampoo dripped down her forehead, and her eyes burned painfully.
Kelly opened the shower door a few inches and stuck her hand out. A mental image of someone there, someone attempting to grab her arm, almost made her pull it back. Clutching a towel, she brought it inside far enough to wipe her face. Her eyes continued to sting. Closing them firmly, she rinsed the shampoo from her hair.
Another noise made her jump. She shut off the water and retrieved the discarded towel. Wrapping it securely around her wet body, she exited the shower. There was no one else in the steamy bathroom.
In a fit of panic she lunged at the door, slamming it shut. Kelly twisted the lock into place.
She laughed at herself, seeing humor in her sudden paranoia. The legend of Moore House was actually getting to her. What was next? Would she hear bumps in the night? Rattling chains at midnight moving down the hallway?
She had inherited Moore House from her father upon his early death. She had moved into it immediately, feeling instantly at home. She and Moore House shared common ground. The people in Tinkerton gossiped about them both, spreading nasty rumors and half-truths. They were both considered freaks. Somehow she felt as if Moore House accepted her, even wanted her.
Her home was miles from town. She savored the isolation, using Moore House to hide from prying eyes. Not many people were brave enough to step inside the black wrought-iron gates that led to the property. Very few would willingly approach the massive three-story, forty-seven room Victorian mansion. Hardly anyone dared to grasp the brass knocker shaped like a lion’s head long enough to use it.
They were afraid of ghosts.
The dead didn’t bother Kelly. She was more afraid of the living.
She turned toward the foggy mirror and reached for the blow dryer.
She froze instantly, terror shooting through her limbs.
Someone had penned a note for her, using a finger to write one word on her mirror. The three letters dripped water. They were already beginning to fade, but she could read the word clearly.
Kelly’s back hit the tiled wall and she screamed at the top of her lungs like a banshee. Once she started screaming, she couldn’t stop. One shriek after another vibrated through the large bathroom, bouncing off the walls.
She bolted from the room, fright leading to flight.
She rounded the corner on slippery feet and ran out the bedroom door.
Hands came out of nowhere. They grasped her wet shoulders in a steel grip.