Shrouded in Darkness (Shrouded Series)

BOOK: Shrouded in Darkness (Shrouded Series)
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SHROUDED IN DARKNESS

H. D. THOMSON

BELLA MEDIA MANAGEMENT

PEORIA, ARIZONA

SHROUDED IN DARKNESS

By H. D. Thomson

Copyright © 2011 by H. D. Thomson

All rights reserved. No part of this E-book may be reproduced in whole or in part, scanned, photocopied, recorded, distributed in any printed or electronic form, or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or hereafter invented, without express written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Published by Bella Media Management

13-Digit ISBN: 978-0-9835121-4-1 First Edition eBook

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I’d like to thank the Three Musketeers for which this novel would not have been possible: Linda Andrews, Kerrie Droban and Kim Watters.

Fear of self is the greatest of all terrors, the deepest of all dread, the commonest of all mistakes. From it grows failure. Because of it, life is a mockery. Out of it comes despair. — David Seabury

CHAPTER 1

Margot Davenport should never have opened the front door. She should have just kept on getting slowly and thoroughly drunk that night. But the pounding on the door went on and on, reverberating throughout the house and inside her skull. Stumbling from the couch in the living room, Margot knocked over her glass and an empty wine bottle, and grabbed onto her throbbing head with a hand.

“Damn it!”

In the hall, she tripped over her calico cat, Marmaduke, who streaked past her and up the stairs. She swore again. The banging continued. The crazy fool outside had given up on the doorbell long ago.

“John! Come on. Open up! It’s me, Jake!”

At the mention of Johnny’s name, Margot’s stomach twisted and rolled with sudden nausea. “Okay! Okay! Give me a second.”

She groped for the light switch to the hall. Nothing happened.

“Damn, stupid thing!” That’s what she got for not replacing the house’s ancient wiring.

“John, I’m freezing my ass off!”

“What do you expect,” Margot muttered, wondering if this guy was playing some sick joke at her expense.

Margot hit the outside light switch and peered through the glass panel beside the door. A man stood on the front porch. She didn’t recognize him, but then again, the sheet of snow and the light’s glare against the night backdrop didn’t help matters.

A gun or pepper spray for protection sounded pretty nice right now, but Margot hated guns and had never expected the need, living on the outskirts of Greyson, Arizona. It wasn’t like this town up in the White Mountains was loaded with crime. The worst incident had been a case of disorderly conduct last winter, and that had been from a drunken tourist.

“Who is it?”

A pause on the other side followed—almost as if she’d surprised him.

“Margot? Is that you? It’s Jake Preston.”

Though muffled, his words were clear enough to make out. The name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t recall what Johnny had said about him.

Margot frowned and winced as pain cut across her temple, brow and the base of her skull. She should have stopped at one glass of wine. “How do you know Johnny?”

“I worked with him at Miltronics for several years on the outskirts of Boston.”

Margot debated about turning this Jake away as she watched him stamp his feet against the porch. He must be freezing—what with the wind and snow.

“I know it’s late, but I need to talk to John. Please. If you could just get him, you’ll see I’m harmless.”

The urgency in his voice made her decide. He obviously didn’t know about her brother. She sighed heavily. What she had to tell him wasn’t going to be easy.

Margot unlatched the lock and opened the door.

An angry gust of wind burst into the house, tearing the knob from her grasp. The door flew wide and crashed against the wall.

Gasping, she reeled back as snow flew in, stabbing her face with icy spikes.

“Here, let me.” He stepped inside and shoved the door closed with his shoulder. He turned his back against the light from the kitchen, casting his face in shadow. His baseball cap further shielded his features—along with sunglasses of all things.

How very odd. Sudden apprehension curled up her spine as Margot stepped away from Jake and the doorway. Topping a good six-feet, he appeared far larger than when he’d stood behind a locked door.

“What are the sunglasses for?” she asked.

“The light.”

“What?”

“My eyes. They’re sensitive to light. I injured both corneas as a child.”

“Oh.” She must have been staring at him like an idiot, but something about him made her uneasy. And it wasn’t just the glasses and pale complexion.

He must have sensed her disquiet, because he explained further, “It’s called traumatic iritis. It’s something I’ve had to live with for as long as I can remember.” He shrugged a large canvas backpack from his shoulder and placed it on the floor. “Can you get John for me?”

“He’s dead.”

Margot never intended the words to come out so abrupt and final, but...it hurt. Balling her hands into fists, she fought against the sudden tears that burned the back of her eyes. Please no. Not now. She couldn’t fall apart in front of this stranger.

“He can’t be. That’s impossible.”

“His—” Margot cleared her throat. “His funeral was today.”

He flinched, stumbled, and hit a shoulder against the front door. A muscle in his square jaw clenched and unclenched, and his ragged breathing magnified the tension filling the foyer. He said something under his breath she didn’t catch.

Goose bumps crawled along her spine. She needed another drink. Seeing how her brother’s death ate at this man was like witnessing her own pain.

“How did he die?” Jake finally asked.

Outside, a metallic crash resounded as a gust of wind hit the house. They both jumped, and Margot swallowed a scream. A faint clang immediately followed. Then nothing but the howling wind.

“I think that was a trash can,” she said, and tried to form her thoughts into something coherent. Then she realized her lack of manners and how she couldn’t thrust him back out in the storm without explaining more about Johnny, but she wasn’t about to bring him back into the living room and broadcast her drinking with an empty wine bottle and glass on the floor. “Why don’t you put your coat on the post behind you, then we can talk in the den.”

After he took off his down jacket, he removed his hat to reveal very dark, almost black, shoulder-length hair, a shade lighter than her own. He had a blunt nose, square jaw, and a strong, stubborn looking face. She wondered about his eyes, and if they were just as inflexible, but she saw only her face reflected in his lenses.

Margot led him across the hall and was about to hit the switch by the door of the den when Jake caught her wrist, his gloved fingers cool and smooth against her skin. “Don’t.”

At the harshness of his voice, her breath hissed into her lungs and her heart jerked inside her chest. He stood directly behind, so close the warmth of his breath whispered across the nape of her neck.

Only when she pulled away from the light switch did he release her wrist. “It looks like there’s a lamp on your desk,” he said in a smooth, warm baritone. “I’ll get it instead. It might be too bright otherwise.”

She exhaled, feeling a fool. There’d been no reason to act the neurotic. He’d just been concerned with his vision. Nodding, she folded her arms across her middle and followed him into the darkened room. He reached the desk and turned on the brass lamp, throwing the room into muted shadows.

Looking around, he slowly walked the length of the large room. “You must like to read.”

“I do, but not as much as it appears.” Books from ceiling to floor lined two walls. Along the third wall, more books filled every available space in the cherry wood shelves on either side of a deep red, brick fireplace. Other than the two chairs and sofa grouped to one side of the room, the only real relief, her desk, a Chippendale replica, sat facing a huge bay window bracketed by thick, forest green velvet drapes. Margot loved this room, the bold, rich colors, the faint musty smell of old books, the feeling of being surrounded by so much knowledge. “It’s my business—selling rare books over the Internet. At least it has been since I left the corporate world, but now with everything going electronic I’ve been forced to start looking into doing e-book conversions for authors.”

“John mentioned you had a store.”

Margot’s arms tightened around her middle. She didn’t know if she was up to discussing her brother with this stranger without cracking. Johnny’s death was still too fresh, too painful.

“Did you want a drink?” she asked. “I’m having wine.”

“Just water.”

Margot escaped into the kitchen. After she poured Jake’s water, she fixed herself a fresh glass of Merlot. She took a deep drink, savoring how the liquid, warm and full-bodied, slid over her tongue and down her throat. Oh, how it eased the pain and dulled the senses.

Finally gaining some control of her ragged emotions, Margot squared her shoulders and returned to the den to find Jake had moved to a book-lined wall.

“Here’s your water.”

“Thanks.” He took his drink, his black-gloved fingers flexing over the etched glass. The leather looked supple as it molded over the knuckles and tendons of his hand. Strange. But if he wanted to hide his hands, it was no business of hers. Still, she did wonder.

His hands might be scarred and ugly, but the rest of him looked anything but. A thick black belt wrapped around a pair of narrow hips encased in faded jeans. The material molded over his long, lean legs, while a long-sleeved, black turtleneck hugged his tight, muscular chest and stomach. Not many men could get away with such a shirt, but he could.

So he had a nice body. That didn’t mean she had to stare as if she hadn’t seen one in a long while.

“Please. Tell me more about John. How did he die?”

She walked over to the high-backed, wing chair in forest green velvet, but couldn’t bear to sit down. Instead, she moved to the window and turned away from the night sky and falling snow to find him facing her. The desk lamp behind Jake thrust him in deep shadow while his glasses, more effective than any imaginable shield, masked his expression.

She swallowed down the sudden tightness in her throat. “It was a car accident. It looked like he didn’t have the car under control when he hit the turn. He was going way too fast and couldn’t make it. The railing gave and he fell into the ravine. He didn’t stand a chance.”

“Do they know why the car went out of control?”

“No.”

“Did you talk to him that day? Did he seem upset?”

Clenching the glass to her chest, she raised her chin and straightened. “It wasn’t suicide.”

“Of course not,” Jake quickly assured. “He wasn’t the type.”

The stiffness in her fingers and spine eased. “Some people thought differently.”

“Then they didn’t know John.” The corners of his mouth dipped downward as he rested a hand against a bookshelf. “So he didn’t act odd before the accident?”

“I don’t know. I never got a chance to see him. He must have been on his way here. He was only a couple of miles from home when his car went off the road. Why do you want to know?”

“No reason in particular. Just thought he must have had his mind on something. He was a damn good driver.”

She stilled. Something in his tone didn’t ring true. He’d been asking a lot of questions. People asked questions for reasons, not out of a sense of politeness.

“John talked a lot about you.”

Heat fired into her cheeks. “Really? That doesn’t sound like Johnny.” What the hell had he told this—Jake?

“Yeah. I even have a photo of the two of you.” He pulled his wallet from his jeans pocket. After some difficulty, he slipped out a crinkled paper, walked over and showed her a picture.

BOOK: Shrouded in Darkness (Shrouded Series)
12.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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