“So what happened to him? How’d he end up in the water?” Renee asked.
Will sighed, shaking his head as he looked at her. “He was still in his car, so they figure he just drove too fast and wound up in the water. Not too hard to figure out.”
“Hey,” Renee protested. “Was he drunk? Had he been suicidal? Maybe someone was after him or something.”
“She’s right,” Caroline pointed out. “What does the coroner say? Maybe someone shot him and that’s why he drove off the road.”
“There’s no coroner’s report yet,” Will admitted, sounding slightly embarrassed, Caroline thought. “Who knows? He might have been drunk, though I don’t know if they’ll be able to figure that out this late in the game. The body…well, if you ask me, it was a lot creepier than anything in Sarah’s house. Let’s just say that on land, we eat the fish. But if you die in the water, the fish eat you.”
“Oh, Lord!” Caroline exclaimed. “I was going to order fish….”
“It’s not going to be the same fish that ate the corpse,” Barry said.
“And how do you know?” Caroline demanded.
“Good question,” Barry admitted. “Cheeseburger for me.”
“Getting back to Anderson, the guy is a little scary. I mean, he’s okay. I like him,” Will said. “But…he’s been here a day and he already found a body we missed for a year. And then all those bones are found at Sarah’s place and he just happens to show up? It’s pretty weird, don’t you think?”
Caroline moved even closer, and he hugged her more tightly to him.
“I don’t think it’s his fault that the bones showed up in Sarah’s walls,” Renee reminded him. “I mean, those skeletons have been there forever. Anyway, you said you liked the guy.”
“I do,” Will said.
“I sure liked him,” Caroline offered.
“Oh, yeah?” Will said teasingly. “You just think he’s hot.”
Caroline laughed. “He is hot. But you’re the only sizzling hunk of man flesh I’m interested in, mister. I’m thinking about Sarah.”
“Sarah?” Will echoed.
“Of course Sarah,” Caroline said.
“I’m not too sure about that. I mean, we really don’t know anything about him,” Will said.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea at all,” Barry agreed. “We’re going to have to check him out if we’re thinking about hooking him up with Sarah.”
Renee giggled. “What’s the matter with you guys? Sarah is an adult, and she’s not going to ask us who she can and can’t date!”
“Besides, she knows him at least as well as we do, even if they just met today,” Will said.
“Well, I think he’s a corpse magnet, and I don’t like it,” Barry said flatly.
They all stopped and stared at him. “Hey, we have to look out for our girl, right?” he asked defensively.
“Okay, I’ll ask around and see what I can find out about him,” Will promised. “And we’ll all try to get to know him—if he hangs around.”
“He seems like a decent guy. I hope he does hang around,” Caroline said.
“There you go again—you think he’s hot,” Will said, grinning.
“He’s an inferno,” she agreed. “And I’d really love a drink. Let’s hope we can get a table.” She shivered suddenly and looked at Will. “You know, with all this, we’re forgetting that a girl from here and now is still missing.”
“Well, your stud is on the case,” Will said. “Maybe he’ll find her.”
“Yeah, and hopefully alive,” Barry noted glumly.
“He’s actually here looking for a girl who disappeared a year ago,” Will said. “Her case was in the papers again today. The cops are wondering if there’s a connection between the two cases.”
“I saw the papers. I even showed the article to Sarah,” Caroline told him.
A horse-drawn carriage full of tourists clip-clopped by on the street. “A young woman committed suicide in that hotel, on the top floor,” the guide was telling his passengers. “They say her ghost still visits the room every new moon.”
They all went still as the carriage passed, their gazes turning involuntarily toward the top floor of the hotel.
“I need a drink now,” Renee announced, and hurried on ahead of them to Hunky Harry’s, just a couple of doors away.
Caroline found herself standing alone on the sidewalk for a moment as the others passed her and went inside. She suddenly felt a chill, and she realized that a frisson of fear was sweeping through her.
She’d lived here her entire life. She knew practically every restaurant owner, bartender and shopkeeper in the city. She knew the people who worked in the hotels and museums, and owned the local B&Bs.
And she was suddenly afraid.
Something new had come to the city.
Or maybe something old, very old—and very evil—had been awakened.
Caleb caught up to Sarah McKinley, who was staring at him with suspicion. Even so, she was a beautiful woman.
At that moment, she reminded him of a small but ferocious terrier.
He stopped walking and stood dead still on the sidewalk, staring at her in return.
“Were you speaking to me? If so, no, I’m not following you. I’m headed to my B and B,” he told her.
She blinked. A flush rose to her cheeks, and she winced. “Sorry. But…” She continued to stare at him suspiciously. “Where are you staying?”
“Roberta’s Tropic Breeze, over on Avila,” he said.
She closed her eyes, bit her lip lightly and let out a sigh.
“You’re kidding? Are you saying that’s where you’re staying, too?” he asked.
“Bertie is an old friend,” she told him. “There are dozens of B and Bs in this city,” she said. “I can’t believe you’re staying at the same one I am.”
“Hey, I made my reservation before I left home,” he told her. “I was definitely there first. And why are you staying there, anyway? You must have tons of friends in town.”
“Precisely,” she said.
He laughed. “Sorry, but I’m not checking out. I’d be delighted to help you with that bag, though.”
“I’m perfectly capable of dealing with my own suitcase.”
“I don’t doubt that for a second.”
She stared at him for a long moment.
“Okay, I won’t help you with your bag. Nice seeing you.”
She seemed to realize that she was being rude for no real reason and let out another sigh. “Sorry. Yes, thanks, I’d love the help.”
He lowered his head, whispering, though there was no need. “It’s okay—all the people who want to talk to you are still over on your street, staring at your house.”
“Yeah?” she said, her voice skeptical. “I took one step outside and everyone thought that I had all the answers since it’s my house. I have no clue as to how those bodies ended up in my walls.”
“It was a mortuary. The answer should be easy enough to find,” he told her, then looked at her quizzically, taking the bag as they walked. “You’re a historian, right?”
“Yes. I have my master’s degree in American history.”
“You must find this fascinating.”
“I would—if it wasn’t my house we’re talking about. I dreamed about buying that place when I was a kid. I love everything about it. Now I own it, but they have to hack into all the walls, and God knows when I’ll get back in,” she said.
“Oh, it won’t be that long,” he offered.
She glared at him. “Have you seen how the cops, not to mention all the experts, work?”
He laughed. “Okay, then think of it this way. Most people have a ghoulish streak. The value of your property is going to soar. People will be clamoring to take it off your hands.”
“But I don’t want to sell!” she protested. And then they were approaching Bertie’s place.
Caleb saw Roberta Larsen standing anxiously on the porch, and she hurried down the steps as soon as she saw them, too.
“Sarah, you poor dear. Come on inside. I’ve got a nice cup of tea ready for you. And of course you’re welcome to a cup, too, Mr. Anderson.” She kept talking as she ushered them up the steps and through the door. “Sarah, you’re right in here, first room behind the parlor. Mr. Anderson, if you’ll just drop that bag in the room for Sarah…? Sarah, come right into the parlor and catch your breath.”
Roberta Larsen was closing in on seventy, but she was still slim and beautiful, wrinkles and all. And she apparently knew Sarah well.
“Yes, ma’am,” Caleb said.
“He’s a Southern boy,” Roberta told Sarah.
“Northern Virginia,” he said.
“You can always tell the true Southern boys. They say ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am,’ Roberta assured Sarah. “Not that there’s anything wrong with Yankees. I just love it when those wonderful northerners come down to visit. But you can always tell a Southern boy.”
Caleb saw that Sarah was trying to hide a grin, and he was glad. She needed to smile. Then he smiled, too. It had been quite a while since anyone had called him a boy.
Roberta’s place was impeccably kept. The furniture was antique and polished to a high shine, and the parlor—where she served cookies, soda, wine and beer in the afternoon—was comfortable as well as beautiful, with coffee tables, plush sofas and wingback chairs, a fireplace, and rows and rows of books. Roberta had a full silver tea service set out on the central coffee table, though they seemed to be the only guests around at the moment, Caleb thought as he went to deposit Sarah’s bag in the first bedroom, as instructed. It was next to his, but her room didn’t have its own access to the outside the way his did, he noticed.