I stopped moving. Hold on. What was happening? Everything seemed to be in perfect order. The imposing four-foot painting of Madd Mountain still hung above the fireplace. The snug upholstered window seat to my right looked as comfortable as ever. The galley kitchen beyond the breakfast bar was tidy. There was simply nothing to be afraid of. After a few frozen moments I muttered, "Grow up," and dashed back into the storm to get the rest of my stuff. Then I shut the door, locked it, and gave it a jiggle. There was nothing wrong with the mechanism that I could see. Somebody had just been very careless. How long had it been ajar?
I moved around the room pulling curtains. And I thought I probably should check the rest of the cabin. "Just because," as my mom used to say whenever I asked why I had to do something. There could be a window open. If someone had been inside, there could be a mess somewhere. Checking was a good idea. I grabbed the fireplace poker as I went by (explain that! I said to myself ).
Everything was fine. The three bedrooms were neat and empty. Likewise the two bathrooms. I opened the door behind the kitchen-end of the main room and stepped into the old enclosed porch. The windows along the rear were shining blank and black. Nothing could be seen beyond them. The ironing board leaned against the wall beside the washer and dryer. A tall freezer hummed away against one wall, barely heard over the storm racket outside. But there was nothing threatening there. I backed into the kitchen, closed the door, and stood still with my hand on the knob. Id just proved that there was nothing to be afraid of, so why was I still uneasy?
Wet clothes, I decided. The chill in the air. I put the poker away, turned up the furnace, and went to the bedroom to open my suitcase.
As I pulled on my robe, I heard the front door open again, felt the sudden draft, heard the stepped-up sound of rain and wind. Wait a minute! Id locked and tested that door. I knew it couldnt have opened by itself. Was it Jake? Who else would have a key? I didnt really want to find out. I eased toward the living room.
I heard the front door close as I went around the corner. Facing me was a tall, sandy-haired man with a gun.
I clutched the doorframe for support and we stared at each other. Rain hammered on the roof, wind shrieked, and I struggled to look calm. Hardest job Id ever had.
After a moment it occurred to me that he didnt look all that threatening. He was frowning, yes, and the gun didnt waver, but I thought that, from under the hood of his slicker, he was studying me as hard as I was studying him. His eyes were a piercing blue. His face had admirable bone structure. But his lips were pressed together in an altogether unattractive way. When he spoke his voice was forceful. Even so, I thought I detected an undertone of real interest. "What are you doing here?"
What was I doing here? Please! How backward could he get it? "I belong here. What are you doing here?"
We stared at each other while he considered my words. Then one corner of his mouth turned down. "If you dont follow the plan," he said, "you get what you deserve."
"Youre Maren OConnor." He let his gaze travel to my feet and back. "You fit the descriptiondark hair, pretty." He squinted in thought. "Not sure about the age though."
None of his business! "Who are you?"
"Owen Turner. I live across the road." Water dripped in a steady stream from his black raincoat onto the rug. "Jake said you were coming tomorrow, not today." It was plainly an accusation.
"I changed my mind." What did it have to do with him anyway? Now I was getting mad. "How did you get in here? The door was locked."
From The Madd Mountain Murders by Lana Waite. Copyright 2004 Lana Waite. All rights reserved.
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