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Authors: Lynn LaFleur

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BOOK: ScandalandSin
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Alaina appreciated Rye’s warning, but she’d
never backed away from anyone. She wasn’t about to start now. She reached for
the door handle. “Let’s go have our audience with the queen.”

Rye placed his hand on the small of her
back to guide her up the stone steps to the front door. Alaina appreciated his
thoughtfulness. She liked everything she’d seen so far about Rye Coleman. He
was definitely a gentleman. The fact he wouldn’t go inside the old house
without permission proved he was honorable.

She’d almost told him her true identity,
but decided to wait. She had to know for sure Rye wouldn’t judge her by
something her family had done so long ago.

He dropped his hand from her back when he
rang the doorbell. Several moments passed before a very petite, dark-haired
woman opened the door. She couldn’t have been much taller than four-ten and
appeared to be in her early fifties.

Rye smiled. “Hi, Susan.” He leaned down and
kissed her cheek.

The maid blushed. “You are such a devil,
Rye Coleman.”

“I’d marry you in a second, Susan. Just say
the word.”

Her blush deepened as she opened the door
wider. “I’m old enough to be your mother.”

“Older women are sexy.”

She shook one finger at him. “You can still
be spanked.”

Rye growled playfully and grinned. “That
could be fun.”

Susan laughed, then turned toward the left.
“Mrs. Olinghouse is expecting you. She’s in the living room.”

He gave Alaina an I-told-you-so look. She
bit her bottom lip to keep from grinning.

Rye hadn’t exaggerated when he said Bella
Olinghouse would be sitting on a throne. The wide, tall-backed chair with gold
and purple accents looked like the perfect throne for a queen. The slim woman
with short white hair removed a pair of glasses when they walked into the room.
She didn’t smile. She might be in her late eighties, but she was still a lovely
woman. She’d be even lovelier if she smiled. “Mr. Coleman,” she said, looking
directly at Rye.

She said nothing to Alaina, or even
bothered to look at her. Alaina felt like a bug that Bella Olinghouse would
gladly order to be destroyed.

“Thank you for seeing us on such short
notice, Mrs. Olinghouse.”

“You said it was important.” After another
moment, she finally turned icy gray eyes on Alaina. “And you are…?”

“Alaina May.”

She closed the book that lay open on her
lap and laid it on the table next to her chair. “What can I do for you, Ms.
May?”

Alaina noticed Mrs. Olinghouse hadn’t
invited them to sit. The woman not only thought she was a queen, she was rude
too. But she was the answer to a dream, so Alaina had to be nice to the old
bat.

“I’m interested in looking at and possibly
purchasing a house you own.”

One perfectly shaped eyebrow rose. “Oh?
Which one?”

“Stevens House.”

Alaina thought she saw a flash of fear in
Bella Olinghouse’s eyes. It disappeared so quickly, she couldn’t be sure she
actually saw it. Mrs. Olinghouse looked at Rye for several moments before she
motioned toward the long couch across from her. “Sit down. Susan will be here
shortly with iced tea.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Alaina perched on the
edge of the couch. She didn’t think the queen would like it if she got too
comfortable.

“Why are you interested in my ancestors’
house, Ms. May?”

Alaina glanced at Rye. He sat with his
elbow propped on the arm of the couch, his fingers supporting his face. He
didn’t return her gaze, but looked straight at Mrs. Olinghouse. His blank
expression didn’t give her a hint to his thoughts.

He didn’t have to say anything. Alaina knew
he was thinking about the past and how much his family had suffered because of
something that happened inside Stevens House seventy-five years ago.

Susan arrived with a tray holding three
glasses of iced tea and a plate of shortbread cookies. She set the tray on the
coffee table before the couch. After placing two of the small cookies on a
saucer, she set it and a glass of tea on the table next to Mrs. Olinghouse’s
chair. With a nod toward her employer, she left the room as quietly as she’d
arrived.

“The tea is sweetened, Ms. May,” Mrs.
Olinghouse said. She daintily broke one cookie in two and nibbled on the half.
“If you prefer unsweetened, I’ll have Susan prepare a glass for you.”

“This is fine. Thank you.” She took a sip
of her tea to wet her dry throat. Mrs. Olinghouse’s words were polite, but
there wasn’t a trace of kindness in her tone. Alaina didn’t think she’d ever
been in the presence of such a formidable person.

“You didn’t answer my question, Ms. May.
Why do you want to purchase my house?”

“I want to turn it into a
bed-and-breakfast.”

“Do you have any experience running a
bed-and-breakfast?”

“No. But it’s been my dream for a long
time, and I have a lot of experience in the service industry. I was one of the
assistant managers at a large hotel in Dallas until a few weeks ago.”

Mrs. Olinghouse laid the rest of her cookie
back on the saucer. “How are you involved in this, Mr. Coleman?”

Rye leaned forward and clasped his hands
together between his wide-spread knees. “Alaina wants to hire Coleman
Construction to do the refurbishing.”

“I’m surprised you’d even consider such a
thing, after what happened there.”

Alaina saw Rye’s jaw clench, but his face
remained expressionless. “What happened there was a long time ago, ma’am. It
has nothing to do with what Alaina wants now.”

Mrs. Olinghouse remained silent for several
moments before speaking to Alaina again. “I’m not convinced I should sell the
house to you, Ms. May. As I said, it’s been in my family for a very long time.”

“And it’s falling down from neglect.”

Alaina swallowed when she saw that eyebrow
arch again. She’d probably spoken her mind too quickly. She did that more often
than she liked.

She’d gone this far. She might as well go
for everything.

“What good is it doing you, Mrs.
Olinghouse? It hasn’t been lived in for years. Let me buy it and turn it into
something beautiful, something people will enjoy.”

“Why do you want
my
house, Ms. May?
What is so special about it?”

Alaina wasn’t sure how to answer her
questions without revealing more than she wanted to. She decided to tell her
the truth, or as much of the truth as she was willing to share now. “It’s…a
feeling. The first time I looked at it, it called to me. I’m supposed to live
in that house, Mrs. Olinghouse. I’m supposed to remodel it and turn it back
into the beautiful house it was a century ago. Don’t you want that? Wouldn’t
you like to see your family house restored?”

Again, the long silence. Alaina decided
perhaps Mrs. Olinghouse needed some time to think about the sale. While she
wanted to start the renovations today, even before a contract was signed, she
understood giving up something that had been in her family for decades would be
hard for the older woman.

“Rye thinks the house can be refurbished
with no problem, but he’ll know for sure after looking at the inside. May we
have the keys to the padlocks?”

“You hardly need keys, Ms. May. Despite my
having the doors and windows boarded up several times, the local hoodlums
continue to break into the house. God knows what they do in there.”

“I told Alaina I won’t go into a locked
house, ma’am.”

Mrs. Olinghouse looked at Rye. Alaina saw a
hint of softening in her eyes. The older woman obviously liked Rye, even though
she wouldn’t show it to him.

She pressed a button on the table next to
her chair. The maid arrived in less than twenty seconds. “Susan, please get the
keys to Stevens House for Ms. May and Mr. Coleman.”

Surprise flashed in Susan’s eyes, but she
quickly controlled it. “Yes, ma’am.”

Two minutes later, Alaina’s heart pounded
as she clutched the keys in her hand. This was what she’d wanted for two years.
Her dream was about to come true.

“You may bring the keys back to me
tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Olinghouse.” Alaina stood
when Rye did. “I appreciate this so much.”

“I’m only agreeing for you to
look
at the house, Ms. May. I haven’t agreed to sell it.”

“I understand.”

Rye clasped Alaina’s elbow and urged her
toward the door. “Thank you again for seeing us, Mrs. Olinghouse.”

She inclined her head. “Mr. Coleman.”

Alaina waited until she and Rye had stepped
outside before she released a loud squeal. “Ohmigod, I’m so excited!”

“Don’t get too excited yet. She didn’t
agree to sell the house.”

She waved a hand in the air while
descending the steps. “Details, details. That house is mine. I know it.”

* * * * *

Bella pushed aside the curtain enough to
see the two young people climb into Rye’s pickup. She sighed. The Coleman
triplets favored Raymond so much, it hurt her heart to look at one of them.

“Raymond,” she whispered, tears filling her
eyes.

She quickly blinked away those tears.
Crying solved nothing. She’d had no choice all those years ago. She’d done what
she had to do.

She’d kept the truth locked inside her for
almost seventy-five years. Perhaps it was time for the truth to be revealed.
That young woman who wanted to buy her house could uncover the secret she’d
kept hidden for so long.

Then, perhaps Raymond would rest in peace.

Chapter Three

 

April 7, 1937

I tried to talk to Laura today and tell
her what I overheard the Sullivan sisters say. She told me I shouldn’t listen
to those two women. They’d lived their entire lives interfering in other
people’s business and were happiest when they could spread gossip.

When I told her I believe
he
was
the one who’d fathered Charlotte’s baby, she became angry. She told me I
shouldn’t talk that way about such a fine man. He was an outstanding member of
their town and always did whatever he could to help people. She’d never believe
he could ever intentionally hurt anyone, especially a woman.

I reminded her about the gossip that had
gone around last year, when Maria Campos suddenly left town. Her parents said
she’d gone to live with her aunt and uncle in Virginia to finish school. The
Sullivans said that Maria was pregnant and left Lanville so she wouldn’t
disgrace her family. I’d seen him talking to Maria several times in the store.
They always stood in a corner in the back and he would touch her shoulder, her
arm, her hair. She didn’t move away from him, but she never smiled. I don’t
think she liked him touching her.

Laura ordered me to stop talking about
him that way, that I was beginning to gossip as badly as the Sullivan sisters.

I have to come up with something to
prove to Laura that I’m right about him.

* * * * *

Rye shook his head and chuckled. He didn’t
think he’d ever seen anything as entertaining as Alaina flitting from room to
room while she oohed and aahed. The inside of Stevens House was a total
disaster, yet that didn’t seem to matter to her. She only saw the beauty.

He saw the beauty in
her
. The way
she tilted her head to the left when she studied something. The way she bit her
bottom lip and drew her eyebrows together when she was thinking. The way her
eyes sparkled like a kid’s on Christmas morning when she entered a new room in
the house.

Her eyes also flashed with desire when she
gazed at him. He’d caught her looking at his fly several times. She’d always
quickly glance away, but not before he could see her brown eyes flare with
heat.

She obviously wanted him as much as he
wanted her. Rye was trying to be a gentleman, trying to be professional. The
longer he was with Alaina, the more difficult it became to ignore the sparks
between them.

“Ohmigod, Rye, look at this fireplace.”

Rye followed her voice to the library. The
rock fireplace still stood, although several of the rocks were missing and
others had crumbled. Even with the physical evidence of age, he could see the
beauty of the craftsmanship.

It was the same everywhere he looked in the
old house. Time and destructive people had almost destroyed it, but he could
tell skilled people built the house.

Alaina turned in a circle, her eyes wide,
her mouth open. “This is more amazing than I imagined. It’ll be sooo beautiful
when everything is finished.”

“You realize the repairs will take months.”
He noted the water-stained ceiling, proof that the roof leaked. “More like
several
months.”

“I don’t care. However long it takes,
however much it costs, it’ll be worth it.”

Repairs this extensive would be very
expensive. He wondered how she planned to pay for them. “You have a banker in
your back pocket?”

BOOK: ScandalandSin
3.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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