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Authors: Tracey Smith

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A Summer Romance

BOOK: A Summer Romance
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A Summer Romance

Book One of the Devereaux Manor Mystery
Series

 

 

 

Tracey Smith

 

copyright 2014 by Tracey Smith

 

Smashwords Edition

 

This book is available in print at most
online retailers

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may
be reproduced in any manner without written permission, except by a
reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

 

All characters in this book are fictitious
and any resemblance to real persons is coincidental.

 

 

Dedicated to Braley’s Beauties
“We must be willing to
let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is
waiting for us.” - Joseph Campbell
~1~

 

Maggie could feel her anxiety building as
she turned onto Devereaux Lane. Why did she ever think this was a
good idea? What had she gotten herself into?

It had felt liberating to drive out of
Boston. Her spirits had been high as she sped down the highway
leaving her shattered life behind. She’d sung along with the radio,
tapping her hands on the wheel in rhythm to the music. It had
seemed like such a good idea then. But as she left the familiar
urban landscape and drove deeper into the unknown, her fears began
to overwhelm her.

What kind of person advertises the need for
a summer caretaker for a home that is over 1,000 miles away? What
kind of person answers that ad? Had Maggie been the only one?

At first she had been very confident that
this summer trip was exactly what she needed to regroup and figure
out her life. She had seen the flyer tacked to the corkboard in her
dorm hall as a life raft in the sea of confusion that she was
slowly and steadily drowning in. It had been a beacon of hope in
her darkest hour. In a moment of desperation she’d torn the paper
from the bulletin board, hugging it to her chest as she raced to
her room to answer the ad.

She’d typed the email with trembling
fingers, hoping beyond hope that this would give her the reprieve
she needed, the answer to her prayers. Then she waited anxiously as
the hours ticked by, obsessively checking her email while trying to
figure out a plan-B. Going back home wasn’t an option, it couldn’t
be. When the response came it was almost surreal. They had chosen
her! She’d been offered the job. She had an “out.” At the time that
was all that mattered.

It was somewhere around the Virginia
mountains that her enthusiasm had started to dwindle and she began
to consider the possible ramifications of her actions. She was
following directions given to her by a stranger, driving to an
unknown location, deep in the South, alone. This was the stuff
horror movies were made of.

Reality really began to sink in when she
decided to find a place to sleep for the night. She didn’t feel
like making the full seventeen hour drive in one stint. She figured
it would be best to have daylight on her side when she arrived at
her mysterious destination. Plus she worried that her old Toyota
Corolla might need a break. As she’d crossed into Maryland her
odometer had rolled over to 200,000 miles. It was quite the
accomplishment for Old Betty, and Maggie figured it was time to
start treating her more delicately. She’d recently begun making
some unsettling noises.

Deciding to find a place to sleep and
actually doing it however, were two entirely different things. She
hadn’t really thought this through, which was so unlike her. Maggie
had always been a planner. She’d had her entire life planned out
since the age of twelve, but it looked like the joke was on
her.

This trip had not been planned, not at all.
It had been spontaneous and impetuous, and as Maggie drove through
the small Virginia mining town she began to realize it might have
also been one of the stupidest things she’d ever done. Most of the
buildings she passed were boarded up. The entire town looked
abandoned. She considered driving through and searching for a more
promising pit stop but just at that moment her gas light came on,
reminding her of one more detail she hadn’t planned out for this
road trip. She held her breath and gripped the wheel tighter,
willing the gas in her tank to last until she found signs of
civilization.

To her utter relief, as she crested the top
of a hill she saw lights in the distance. The older part of town
slowly gave way to a slightly updated version. The buildings were
still several decades out of date, but at least they were lit.
Maggie pulled into a small gas station and breathed a sigh of
relief that she’d made it.

She stepped out of Old Betty and stretched
her sore muscles. The night air was cool but thick with the heavy
scent of earth and trees. Moths and beetles buzzed around the
flickering overhead lights. Maggie glanced through the large window
of the gas station and saw the attendant eyeing her warily. She
nodded nervously then turned to the old pump. Of course there was
no credit card service at the pump, so after filling her tank she
was required to enter the small, dingy gas station.

Once inside she scanned the store for some
supplies. The options were limited. She bought a bottled water and
a candy bar. It would have to do for dinner since she didn’t
imagine she would find much else. She really needed to use the
restroom but saw no obvious signs inside the store and there was no
way she’d be walking around back. She could hold it.

“Are there any hotels nearby?” Maggie asked
hopefully as she paid for her gas and snacks.

“There’s a Motel 6 about a mile that’a way.”
The attendant gestured with a nod over his shoulder.

Maggie smiled half-heartedly, gathered her
small rations, and hurried back to her car. Once inside she looked
over at the small potted fern that sat buckled on the passenger
seat.

“What have we gotten ourselves into, Fred?”
she asked the plant.

She had rescued the fern from a dumpster
outside her dorm hall about six months earlier. It was nearly dead
and had been left to be taken out with the trash. Something about
the sad-looking, spindly brown fern had tugged at her heart strings
and she’d scooped it up and carried it back to her room. She
researched how to care for ferns, since she’d never had a plant
before. Several websites she’d read had mentioned that plants grew
better if you talked to them. None had suggested naming the plant
per se, but Fred didn’t seem to mind.

Nursing the poor little fern back to health
had given Maggie something to focus on other than her intensive
studying. It became therapeutic for her to talk with Fred at the
end of her day, to vent her frustrations as she watered him and
dusted his leaves. When she’d packed up for this trip, Fred had
been the only necessity that absolutely couldn’t be left
behind.

The Motel 6 finally appeared a few blocks
later. It was dimly lit and just about as inviting as the gas
station had been, but Maggie was exhausted and it was apparently
her only option.

The room smelled of stale cigarettes and the
walls were stained yellow. But the water in the shower was hot and
soothed her aching muscles. She sat at the small table by the
window and ate her candy bar dinner, pouring the remainder of her
bottled water into Fred’s pot before climbing onto the bed. She
slept on top of the covers.

The next morning Maggie tried to regain the
excitement she’d begun this journey with, but it had escaped her.
She was relieved to pull away from the small dilapidated town but
the implications of what might lay ahead of her were heavy on her
mind.

All of those implications swirled in her
mind as her impulsive road trip came to its end. Savannah, Georgia
had been beautiful and promising, but it was several hours behind
her now. She was surrounded by nothing but dense forest and dirt
roads. Somehow she’d managed to come upon Devereaux Lane without
crossing through any sort of town. Surely this house didn’t exist
entirely in the middle of nowhere, did it?

Maggie’s breathing became shallow and her
heart began to race. She eased her foot off the gas and Old Betty
slowed to a crawl. She was suddenly, absolutely, and undeniably
terrified about what she would find at the end of this dirt road.
She broke into a cold sweat and her hands trembled on the wheel.
She couldn’t breathe. It felt as if a vice was squeezing down on
her chest. There was no air in the car. A sharp pain shot through
her chest and she hit the brakes, coming to a stop in the middle of
the road as she doubled over hugging her ribs. No one else was on
the road to be disturbed.

She closed her eyes tight and tried to
regulate her breathing.
Please not again!
she thought.
Images from the last time flitted through her mind; a broken pencil
in her clenched hand, a sea of faces swimming around her. She tried
to push the awful memories from her mind. She concentrated on each
breath. In. Out. She imagined Fred sitting next to her pumping good
clean oxygen into the car.
You. Are. Breathing.
she reminded
herself.

Gradually the pain eased and she was able to
open her eyes again. Seeing nothing but open forest was somehow a
relief, nothing like the oppressive lecture halls that she’d left
behind. She was free. That single thought was enough to pull her
out of her downward spiral and gave her the strength she needed to
ease her foot back on the gas and finally discover what waited for
her at the end of Devereaux Lane.

~2~

 

Maggie couldn’t believe her eyes as she
turned into the driveway. It felt as if she was driving through a
time warp as she crossed through the wrought iron gate.
Hundred-year-old oak trees loomed overhead creating a canopy that
shaded the drive. Wisteria vines hung from the trees dripping their
long, purple flowers down through the dappled sunlight. The light
filtering down through the trees was tinted green and gold. The
colors were so vibrant they didn’t seem real. Maggie could see a
bright glow up ahead and knew she was reaching the end of the tree
tunnel.

As she emerged from the shaded arch she was
momentarily blinded by the bright summer day. As her eyes adjusted
she could see the expanse of a large manicured lawn spread out in
front of her. The pebbled driveway split in two, creating a round
circle drive with a bubbling fountain as its centerpiece. Just
beyond that was the grandest Southern plantation home she’d ever
seen, complete with soaring columned porches, tall French windows
stacked in even rows along both floors, and a broad hipped roof
boasting three tall chimney stacks. An elegant rounded portico was
flanked on either side by long galleries that ran the length of the
first floor.

The sun gleamed off the white house so
brightly it almost appeared to be glowing. The dark green wooden
shutters framing the windows stood out in stark contrast against
the white. The lawn was a vibrant green and the azaleas that framed
the broad porch portrayed every color of the rainbow. Maggie’s
senses were overwhelmed by the brightness of everything; the scene
before her just didn’t seem real. She felt like Alice falling
through the rabbit hole and somehow landing right in the middle of
Gone with the Wind.
She imagined this is how Dorothy felt
arriving in Oz.

She pulled Old Betty around to park just at
the base of the wide stairs leading up to the grand entrance. She
sat a moment in her car staring at this magnificent house and
trying to wrap her head around the fact that for the next three
months she’d be calling this place home.

Finally she opened the door and stepped out
of her car. A wave of heat slammed into her so hard it nearly
knocked her back. It felt as if she’d opened an oven door and
jumped inside. The hot air was so thick with humidity she wondered
if it was possible to drown from simply breathing. Seriously, how
did people breathe in the South? A sheen of sweat had already
broken out across her forehead and she hadn’t even taken a step.
She briefly contemplated climbing back into the comforting air
conditioning of her car.

Shaking off the absurdity of that idea she
fumbled through her purse for the key as she climbed the front
steps. Her t-shirt was already clinging to her by the time she’d
reached the front door. She located the key that had been mailed to
her and tentatively inserted it into the lock. A part of her nearly
expected that the key wouldn’t fit, that she’d made some sort of
mistake and this wasn’t the right house.

However, the key turned in the lock
effortlessly and the heavy front door swung open. Immediately
Maggie felt the cool air beckoning to her from inside and she
hurried into the air conditioned foyer, all hesitation
forgotten.

Maggie found herself in a large, round room
with a high domed ceiling and gleaming wood floors. To each side
were sets of French doors with delicate lace curtains that covered
their paneled windows. A curved staircase wrapped around the room
spiraling up to the second floor. Several wide hallways extended
out from the main room like spokes on a wheel. It was going to take
her the full three months just to find her way around this
place!

BOOK: A Summer Romance
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