Author: J. L. Addicoat
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
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Originally her dead husband’s dream, she feels it’s up to her to complete it in his memory. When she arrives, she realizes it’ll take more than a quick clean to put the dilapidated old Manor to rights.
While exploring the house, she feels as someone, or something, is watching her. Darting shadows and movements, seen from the corner of her eyes, seem to confirm sinister happenings at the Manor in the past. The discovery of an old diary hidden in a chest of drawers and the story it tells, lead Julia in a different direction than she originally thought she would be taking.
A sense of foreboding settled in Julia's stomach as she quickly returned to the car. She didn't know what it was about the manor, but each time she visited, the hair stood up on the back of her neck. It felt as if something or someone was watching her.
Starting the car's engine, she drove slowly down the weedy, rutted path, the car bouncing as its wheels sank into the potholes. Julia cringed at the jolts and scraping sounds coming from underneath the vehicle. "I should never have sold the Landcruiser. What was I thinking, bringing the Jag?" She knew what she had been thinking. She was the Mistress of the Manor now, and wanted to show off.
As she bumped along through the avenue of trees, the manor revealed itself. Grey stone blocks of the façade gave a haunting welcome. Julia swallowed a lump in her throat and tears pricked her eyes. It wasn't right. Richard should have been here with her. He'd wanted to restore the old mansion for a while. This was his dream house.
Instead, it had become his burial place.
She'd promised, while she knelt at his graveside, to restore the old manor in his memory. That had been two years ago. The memories of the time still haunted her. Grief and loneliness had held her back. Mentally, she felt stronger now, and able to accept having to carry on alone. "Get a grip on yourself Julia. It's an old house. It's bound to have a few creaks and groans."
Parking the Jag next to the front door, she unpacked, placing the bags in front of the massive wooden doors. The leering gargoyle face on the door knocker sent a shiver through her. Placing a hand over its face so she wouldn't have to look at it, Julia turned the door key in the lock and pushed the door open.
She'd never been inside the manor. Richard had gone inside, but she had stayed outside in the gardens. Just the look of the grey stone on the outside gave her an eerie feeling. The same feeling assailed her now. She glanced back. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. Something or someone was watching her. She was sure of it.
Get inside and shut the door. Then they won't be able to see you. Quickly picking up her bags she kicked a small bag forward with her foot, in an effort to get everything inside and shut the door. After closing it, she turned around and gasped. The entrance opened in front of her. Large marble tiles covered the floor, with the roof looming high above. A hand-carved wooden staircase in front of her wound its way to the first floor.
Oh, Richard. If you could only see this as I am now. I can see you running up the stairs, sliding your hands over the banisters and pulling up the carpet to see the wood underneath. I can see the delight in your eyes.
She ran her fingers over a nearby wall. Tracing the raised wallpaper patterns with her fingertips brought a sense of loss, a heaviness to her heart. She could feel the loneliness of the building. To her, it felt neglected, like it hadn't been loved for quite a while. Like her. Great, now you're associating yourself with a building. A moldy, musty stench emanated from the old, red, patterned carpet on the stairs, and she wrinkled her nose at the smell.
Once, people had walked up and down the rich, red-carpeted staircase. She could imagine children sliding down its curved railing, laughing as they reached the curled end, then running back up the stairs again for another trip. She smiled at the visualization it brought to her mind.
Now, the only footsteps it felt were from the mice chewing holes in its carpet, showing the bare wooden boards underneath. Yes, this is a very sad house indeed. As she turned left into what appeared to be the library, she caught a shadowy movement from the corner of her eye. She spun and glanced around, but nothing was there.
"Hello, is anyone there?" Silence was her answer. Maybe a bird had flown in through a broken window somewhere? She shook her head, chiding herself for being silly and so jumpy. She laughed to herself. I'll be seeing ghosts next. A cold shiver ran through her at the thought.
Turning back, she walked into the library. Stopping just inside the door, Julia closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. She could smell the books. Even if she had been blind, the aroma of the old paper would have told her exactly which room she was in. Bookcases lined the walls from the floor to the ceiling. They were full of dusty tomes, maps, and leather clad books. Lifting the dust covers off chairs and furniture as she walked around the room, she couldn't believe so much was still here. With a flick of her hand on a cloth, she uncovered a beautiful walnut sideboard. The glass was intact, as well. It'd look wonderful after she had given it a polish, she thought to herself. Old oil paintings hung in spaces on the walls, created just for them.
She stood in the center of the room and slowly turned in a circle. It dawned on her how much work was actually needed. Cleaning she could do, but she wouldn't be able to do it all herself. Help would have to be brought in, especially for the wiring and plumbing. Julia lowered herself into one of the chairs, realizing finally, the enormity of the job ahead of her.