Read an Excerpt
As Darkness Fell
By Joanna Wayne
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"There is one thing I should tell you, Miss Kimberly, 'cause you're gonna hear it from the neighbors, anyway," Barkley Billingham said, examining her signature on the one-year lease she'd just signed. "My grandmother claims this house has ghosts."
Caroline looked at him, sure he was going to follow the statement with some kind of joke. But the guy just stared at her in the same deadpan way he had for the past two hours while she'd looked at the house.
"Why does she think the house is haunted?"
"You know how old houses are. They make noises. Creaks and moans, stuff like that. And when the north wind's blowing, it catches the corner by the bedroom and sounds like a woman shrieking."
He folded the lease and tapped it against his arm.
Caroline sighed. She could live with that, especially in a grand old house like this one. In fact, she couldn't imagine anyone with the kind of roots Barkley had here ever wanting to live anywhere else. "Are you the owner of the house?"
"No, it's still in my grandmother's name, but she moved to Florida. Lives in one of those places for retired folks. She thought the house was too much work. She talks about selling it all the time, but nobody wants to pay the kind of money she's asking for it."
"Did you move out because you think the house is haunted?"
"I'd have stayed. I was living free here, but I moved in with my girlfriend. I wouldn't worry none about the place being haunted if I was you. The house survived the Yanks coming down and destroying half of Georgia. Hell, I figure it can survive a few ghosts."
"Is that one of your relatives?" she asked, pointing to a painting on the wall at the top of a winding double staircase that could have come right from the set of Gone with the Wind.
"That's Frederick Lee Billingham, my great-great-great-grandfather. He's the one who built the house, and my grandmother claims he's hung in that very spot ever since the house was finished. She says he put a curse on the portrait, and if it's ever moved, Frederick will come back from the grave and woe unto the one who removed him from his place of honor. My grandmother is kind of nuts like that."
"Then I guess I better leave the picture hanging. I'm not looking for any woe."
"Suit yourself. You can do whatever you want with it. Same with this furniture up here. You can use it or stick it in the basement with the other old junk."
"This isn't junk. I love the furniture up here, especially the sofa. I think the ghosts and I will get along just fine," she said, hoping she was right.
"Good." "Cause they're all yours, as long as you pay the rent on time. How come you moved here to Prentice, anyway? Most people I know who are under the age of ninety are trying to get out."
"I took a position with the Prentice Times."
"What kind of position?"
"I'm a reporter." Well, she wasn't, but she would be, starting on Monday. She'd been a teacher in Atlanta until they'd let her go just two weeks before she was to start the year that would have given her tenure. But a job was a job, even one as a grunt reporter. And she loved the house.
"Don't see how they even sell those papers. Nothing ever goes on around here to write about, unless you're interested in that dumb historic pageant they do every summer in Cedar Park. Or the Heritage Ball."
"I'm sure there'll be some news. They seemed eager to hire a reporter."
She stood at the top of the landing as Barkley let himself out the front door, then turned to the unsmiling face of Frederick Lee Billingham.
"Glad to meet you, sir. I'll be living here now, and neither you nor any other Billingham ghosts are running me off."
Actually, she couldn't leave even if she wanted to - not until next August. She had a one-year lease. And high hopes for a new life in the quiet, historic town of Prentice, Georgia.
* * *
Six months later
Caroline Kimberly swerved into the first available parking spot she saw, past the news van from the local TV channel and two police cars that showered the park and street with blinking red and blue lights. She grabbed her camera from the back seat, then scooted out from behind the wheel, slammed the door shut and cut across a grassy area. Big mistake, she decided as her high heels sank into the mud.
She jerked off her dangling earrings and stuffed them in her purse before she reached the cop standing guard over the gate. Unfortunately she couldn't do anything about the slinky red dress or the shoes. They'd been fine at her friend Becky Simpson's birthday party, but they were sorely out of place here. A jacket would be nice to cover her cleavage, but it was unseasonably warm for February and she didn't have one with her.
"Caroline Kimberly, the Prentice Times," she said, flashing her press ID.
The cop shone a beam of light at the card, then looked her over, letting his gaze linger longer than necessary on the low-cut neckline of the dress. "If I were you, I'd go back to the party - unless you have a very strong stomach."
"Somebody caught a touch of full-moon madness. Killed a young woman, cut her throat and gave her a bloody paint job."
"That's what I call it. Something about the moon and the blood rush pushes crazies over the edge."
She shuddered and longed to turn around and go back to the party. But she'd worked hard to leave the ranks of grunt reporter and get a chance to cover some real news. Writing about murders had to be more challenging than covering a continuous run of ladies' auxiliary meetings and garden teas. Of course, she hadn't expected to run across a freshly butchered body her first week.
She scanned the area. No sign of her photographer even though he'd said he'd meet her here. Good thing she always kept her camera in her car. This could be big. She was glad her boss had gotten hold of the story so quickly, though it would have been nice if she'd beaten the TV reporters here.
"Get these people out of here - now. You can start with the broad on stilts."
Caroline spun around to see who was barking orders and singling her out for his scorn. The guy was tall and brawny, dressed in faded jeans and a black T-shirt that had seen a couple of thousand washings.
"I'm a reporter with the Prentice Times and I have every right to be here," she shot back.
"Wrong. It's a crime scene. You have no rights."
Excerpted from As Darkness Fell by Joanna Wayne Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.