Nearly Departed in Deadwood (8 page)

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
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      “I didn’t at first.”

      “But you do now.”

      “Your co-worker, Ray, informed me last week that the building owner enforces assigned spots and this one’s mine.”

      Jane owned the building. The only assigned spots were for her employees.

      “See you tomorrow.” Doc shut the passenger door.

      I sighed. One of these days, I was going to poison Ray’s orange juice.

 
       

     
Chapter Six

      The sight of Wolfgang’s house still made my eye twitch.

      “That’s it right there,” I said to Natalie as I pointed at the rundown Victorian. “You can park in the drive.”

      In the weakening glow of the late afternoon sun, the overgrown yard teemed with fat flies and gnat swarms. I dreaded wading through the tall weeds with Natalie and learning all of the house’s hidden trials and tribulations. The smell of a neighbor’s freshly mowed lawn drifted through the open pickup window, mocking me.

      “You’ve got to be shitting me,” Natalie parked and killed the engine. A lawnmower droned in the distance. “You didn’t tell me you were talking about the Hessler house.”

      I pushed open the passenger door. “Do you have a problem with working on Wolfgang Hessler’s house?”

      “No. It’s just a little weird, that’s all.”

      “Why weird?”

      Layne and then Addy squeezed out from behind the seat and leapt down onto the cobblestone next to me.

      Natalie shut her door and leaned on the bed of the pickup. “It’s like being asked to remodel a haunted house.” 

      “This is a haunted house?” Addy asked.

      “Awesome.” Layne whispered. “Let’s go check it out.” He took off up the drive. Addy raced after him.

      “Layne! Addy! Get back here!”

      They both disappeared around the back of the house.

      I growled in my throat and slammed the pickup door.

      “You okay?” Natalie asked while pulling her thick brown hair back in a ponytail. “Your eye keeps twitching.”

      I swiped at the sweat rolling down the side of my face. “I’m fine. Just hot and tired.” Not to mention frustrated with Addy about the two stray kittens I found hidden in her closet after work. I stared at Wolfgang’s house and noticed a shutter missing from a second floor window. “Please tell me this place doesn’t have a reputation for being haunted.”

      “Well, not officially. It’s not listed on the Ghosts of Deadwood tour or anything like that.”

      A big, bloated, unspoken “but” hung there between us. I fell back against the side of the pickup. “Wonderful. Not only is the place a wreck, it comes with a ‘haunted’ label, too.”

      “Nonsense. That’s just child’s play.” Natalie rounded the pickup, grabbed my forearm, and led me up the drive. “It was only a rumor that spread because of Mrs. Hessler’s long nose, pointy chin, and black hair. None of us really believed she was a witch. At least not in the daylight.”

      A witch and a haunted house. Even better.

      In the backyard, Layne and Addy were playing tag in the shin-high scraggly grass.

      Natalie shaded her eyes from the late afternoon sun and stared up at the house. She blew out a long, slow whistle.

      That didn’t sound good. “Nat, you can fix up this place in two-and-a-half weeks, right?”

      She spared me a shielded glance, but said nothing and swished through the grass toward the breakfast nook in which I’d eaten yesterday.

      I watched her brush over the peeling paint around the window casing, then pull her leather gloves from her back pocket, slip them on, squat, and start picking at the mortar in the exposed-stone foundation. The frown lines I could see on her normally smooth forehead made my chest tight, as if a boa constrictor was giving me a cozy hug.

      I turned my back to her and focused on the two hellions fighting over something Addy currently held in her cupped palms up out of Layne’s reach.

      “Hey, you two. That’s enough!” God, I hated it when I sounded like my mother.

      I strode toward them, my hand held out. “Give it to me.”

      Addy opened her cupped hands, and something warm and smooth fell into my palm.

      When my brain finally made sense of what I was looking at, I flinched. “Ewww!”

      “Be careful, Mom.” Addy leaned over the bald, limp, baby bird. “It’s still squeaking.”

      Layne moved in close to peek at it, too. “I found it over by the garage. What should we do with it?”

      I carried the baby bird toward the garage. “Show me where you found it. The nest might be nearby.”

      Layne zipped in front of me, leading the way. Addy crashed through the weeds behind me.

      “Mom?” Her voice was hesitant.

      So was mine. “Yeah?”

      “Can I spend the night at Kelly’s tomorrow?”

      I grimaced, keeping my back to her so I wouldn’t have to look her in the eyes. “You’ve only known her a couple of days, Addy. Isn’t it a little soon?”

      She sighed with the drama of a nine-year-old going on fifteen. “I knew you’d never let me.”

      Not if she kept up that tone. I took a deep breath before replying. “I’m not saying ‘never.’”

      “When, then?”

      “I don’t know.” Not until the police had whoever was snatching up little girls locked up tight behind bars. There was no way in hell my daughter’s face was going to be on a Missing Girl flyer.

      “When will you know?” Addy pressed.

      “I need to meet Kelly’s parents first.” I wanted to find out what kind of counseling she’s had. While I felt sorry for the girl, allowing Addy to spend more than an hour alone with the sad-eyed waif made the hair on the back of my neck prickle.

      “This is where I found it, Mom.” Layne stood near the back corner of the square, brick garage.

      We spread out and searched the overgrown lawn for a nest.

      “Hey, Mom,” Layne called out. “Where does this door in the ground go to?”

      “What door?” I glanced his way.

      “Layne!” Addy yelled from behind the garage. “Come look at what I found.”

      Layne tromped out of sight. I followed.

      “It was sticking out of the dirt over there.” Addy was pointing toward the garage’s back wall as I rounded it.

      “What is it?” I asked.

      Addy held out a small, metal toy train engine. “I wonder how old it is.”

      I leaned closer. “Is there anything on the bottom?”

      Layne took it and flipped it over. The bottom was bare except for rust and patchy remnants of black paint.

      “Hello, Violet,” a familiar male voice said from behind me.

      My breath caught. I spun around, my face burning, very aware that I was sweaty, dusty, and trespassing with my two kids in tow. “Hi, Wolfgang.”

      Sunshine spotlighted his wind-ruffled hair and emphasized the hard lines of his cheekbones. His white, button-up shirt allowed a peek of tanned chest, and his spicy cologne left me a little lightheaded, like I’d hung upside down on the monkey bars too long. Damn, the man knew how to crank up the sex appeal.

      His gaze fell on Addy, then Layne, a smile forming on his cheeks. “One has your hair, the other your eyes.”

      “These are my kids, Addy and Layne.”

      He held out his hand to Layne, “Nice to meet you.”

      Layne hesitated, casting a glance my way. Upon my nod, he shook Wolfgang’s hand.

      “Wow, that’s a strong grip.” Wolfgang turned to Addy and squatted down to her level. “I bet you’re the older twin.”

      Addy’s eyes widened. “How did you know?”

      “It’s written on your face.”

      I mentally rolled my eyes. Addy would be spending even more time in front of the mirror now.

      “Is your name really Wolfgang?” Layne asked, emphasizing the ‘wolf’ part. He grunted as Addy elbowed him.

      Wolfgang nodded. “Sure is.”

      I stepped between the kids as Layne made to hit Addy back. “Wolfgang used to live here, guys. That’s probably his train.”

      “What train?” Wolfgang asked, still eye level with the kids.

      Layne held out the rusted toy.

      “Layne and I found it.” Addy lifted her chin, using her more serious, older-sister tone. “Is it yours?”

      Wolfgang looked at it. “Hmmm, I don’t think so.”

      “Can I keep it, then?” Layne’s palm closed around the train, already taking ownership.

      “Layne,” I said, reprimanding. “You don’t—”

      “Sure, consider it yours.” Wolfgang stood and glanced down at my hand. “What did you find?”

      I’d forgotten about the bird. “We were searching for its nest, but not having much luck.”

      Wolfgang’s forehead creased slightly. “We could make a nest for now and stick it up high, out of reach of predators. If its parents are nearby, they’ll hear it crying.”

      The round-eyed look Addy bestowed upon Wolfgang mirrored one of those crazed, poodle-skirted Elvis fans of the late ‘50s. I couldn’t blame her. The way he was warming up to my twins had my bobby socks in a twist, too.

      “Violet?” Natalie rounded the back corner. “We have a little prob—” She noticed Wolfgang and her eyes practically bugged out of their sockets. She recovered in a blink, her lips curving into her trademark sex-kitten grin. “Well, well, well. Wolfgang Hessler, you’ve grown up.”

      Wolfgang’s gaze zeroed in on Natalie’s mouth before lifting to her eyes. “Do I know you?”

      Somehow, Natalie made slipping off her leather gloves an art akin to pole dancing. “Sixth period, study hall, your senior year. I was the freshman who sat in front of you.”

      “Ah, yes, your hair was shorter then.” Wolfgang rubbed his smooth-shaven jaw. “Natalie something.”

      “Beals.” Natalie held out her hand to shake. “You were a lot thinner back then.”

      Wolfgang shook it. “And you weren’t quite as curvy.”

      The jealousy bug nibbled on my ass. I shot Natalie a glare. “Nat, did you take a look under the back porch?”

      Natalie shook her head, her eyes still gobbling up Wolfgang’s gorgeous face, her hand still gripping his.

      “Well, then, maybe you need to go check for termites and remember your sabbatical vow.”

      The word “sabbatical” made her recoil. She sighed and let go of his hand. “Damn, I sure picked a bad time to quit men.”

      Wolfgang watched Natalie stomp around the side of the garage and out of sight, then turned to me, his brows raised. “Quit men?”

      I waved him off. “It’s complicated.”

      He caught my arm and didn’t let go, his smile mesmerizing. He must whiten his teeth. They couldn’t be that blinding naturally, could they? “You haven’t quit men, too, have you?”

      Was he flirting with me? “Um, no.” I’d just taken an involuntary layoff.

      “Good.” His thumb skimmed my wrist.

      Okay, he was definitely flirting. A little voice in my head chanted my mantra of not mixing clients and sex—until I taped its mouth shut. Maybe just this once. It’d been too long. I was just mortal, after all.

      I cleared my throat and pulled my arm free. “Addy. Why don’t you go see if Natalie has something in her pickup to make a nest with.” I handed Layne the baby bird and nudged him after his sister. “Take the bird and go help.”

      After they’d trudged off, I focused on Wolfgang again. “I hope you don’t mind that I brought my kids along. I couldn’t find a sitter.” Or hadn’t tried—almost the same thing.

      “They’re cute kids.” He shoved his hands in his pockets, leaned his shoulder against the garage wall. “I didn’t notice Natalie when I came around the house.”

      “She was probably down in the grass, inspecting your foundation. She’s the only contractor I could find on short notice. Natalie has been working with her hands since she was a teenager. Her grandpa owned a contracting business out of Nemo. He just recently retired and moved to Arizona.”

      Jesus, I was babbling. I wiped my damp palms on my shorts, took a deep breath, and clamped my teeth together to cage my tongue before it spilled all of my dirty secrets.

      “If you trust Natalie can do the job, then I’m a believer. My house is in your hands.”

      Wow, he knew just what to say to a girl. “Thanks.”

      “I’m planning on returning to San Francisco at the end of the month.”

      End of the month? Why so soon?

      “Do you think Natalie will be able to have the place ready to sell before then?”

     
No way in hell
. “Definitely.”

      “Good. What about inside?”

      Excellent question. One to which I had no answer. “I’m working on that.”

      “Let me know when you want me to hire a moving company to remove the furniture and boxes.”

      “Okay.” Wolfgang was all business now. I was beginning to wonder if I’d imagined that little flirting tango we’d danced a moment ago.

      “I need to make a quick trip to San Francisco for a couple of days next week, so you’ll have free rein of the house. You remember where the spare key is hidden, right?”

      “Yep.” After he’d signed the seller’s contract yesterday, he’d shown me the key’s hiding spot under a loose board on the bottom porch step. There was no need to get a lockbox for the place until I had it ready to show.

      “I’ll drop off a check tomorrow to cover initial costs.”

      “Sounds good.”

      “That leaves just one more thing.”

      “What’s that?”

      He reached out and tucked a stray curl behind my ear, his fingertips lingering on my jaw, his touch feather-light. Cobalt eyes locked onto my lips.

      Oh, boy! We were dancing again.
He’s a client
. The little voice was back.

      “Will you have dinner with me Friday night, Violet?”

      “To talk about your house?” I needed clarification. Should I spend the next two days preparing notes? Or trying on skimpy dresses?
He’s a client
.

      “I’d rather talk about you ... and me ... together.”

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
5.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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