Read an Excerpt
She was late. All because she'd forgotten the necklace and had to go back. Reese Winslow parked her red Beamer convertible illegally, jumped out and raced through the studio doors.
A panicked-looking young woman with blond, spiky bangs, and wearing headphones, jogged toward her. "Dr. Winslow?"
Fingering the smooth jade pendant that hung around her neck, Reese nodded. It was a talisman more than a piece of jewelry, and she hated doing anything important without it.
The woman's relieved expression flirted with annoyance. "Seven minutes to airtime. Will you be ready?"
"I will." Reese pointed to the hall on the left. "This way to makeup, right?"
"Yep. Karla's waiting, but you gotta hurry."
Reese was tempted to pull off her four-inch high heels, but then she'd risk ruining her new hose. When she entered the dressing room, Karla already had a makeup brush in her hand.
"You don't look too bad." The redhead squinted at Reese over gold reading glasses. "I'll have you ready in no time."
"I've got about five minutes." Reese sat in the black leather chair facing the mirror.
Shaking her head, Karla threw a cape over the front of Reese's dress. "Your mother used to always be late, too."
"Oh, please, this is the first time I've been late." She was nothing like her mother, but she didn't want to go there. "I'll bet you a hot fudge sundae I'll be in my seat on time."
Karla snorted and gestured to her curvy right hip. "Do I look like I need a sundae?"
"Don't worry about it. You're losing the bet. Not that I need a sundae, either."
"Oh, brother." The woman shook her head but concentrated on working her magic. "Believe it or not, when I was your age I was a size four,too."
"The camera makes me look like a size twelve," Reese muttered, studying her reflection. "I should've worn my navy blue suit. This green dress makes me look washed out."
Karla exchanged the makeup brush she'd been using to apply blush for a smaller one, while eyeing Reese critically. "No, it brings out the green in your eyes." She went to work on touching up Reese's eye shadow. "Don't worry, honey, the camera loves you."
It was her nerves talking, Reese decided. Which was crazy. She'd been around movie sets her whole life. Before her parents had divorced, and twice as much after. No matter which one she and her sister, Ellie, had been shuttled to, either their mother or father invariably were starring in a movie.
She'd be okay once the camera rolled. Oddly, the last two times she'd been invited to join a panel of physicians, she'd immediately calmed down as soon as the on-the-air signal came. Needing to focus on the questions put before them had rid her of anxiety. Especially since the rest of the panelists were a collection of esteemed doctors a good two decades her senior.
Reese glanced at the large round wall clock. Too bad she didn't have a tenth of her mother's composure. Or her father's enviable charisma. Brad and Linea Winslow had been Hollywood royalty, the power couple of the seventies and eighties. Even now, close to sixty, they each enjoyed considerable success.
If Reese had wanted a career in show business, the doors would've swung wide open. But from the time she was ten, she wanted to be a doctor. And nothing had swayed her off the path. She'd been blessed with excellent tutors who accompanied her to her parents' sets. Blessed, too, with a scientific mind that had allowed her entrance into one of the best medical schools in the country. Before she'd completed her residency, she'd been invited to join the staff of a prestigious East Coast hospital. Everyone thought she had it made. In many ways she did have everything. At least to the naked eye.
The blonde briefly poked her head into the dressing room. "Two minutes, Dr. Winslow."
Reese breathed in deeply, counting to ten before she exhaled. She wished Ellie could've made it tonight. Her sister was the one constant in her life. The only person who understood her, who'd been by her side through their parents' messy, public divorce, through the holidays spent with their nanny, through the broken promises. Yet even Ellie didn't totally comprehend the depth of Reese's loneliness. How could she possibly complain, when her privileged life had extended into adulthood?
Oh, Ellie had had her successes, too. Including a fabulous modeling career, which she'd chosen to leave. But after that she'd seemed lost, unsure of what she wanted in life. Reese had never faltered from the golden path. She'd inherited her mother's fair looks, only twice suffered the indignation of receiving a grade below an A, and had enjoyed a short list of so-called perfect boyfriends.
Even the recent "celebrity doctor" moniker had come easy, largely due to her family name. She didn't delude herself about that point. But her education, ambition and looks sealed the deal. So how could anything be missing in her life?
Karla unsnapped and pulled off the black cape. "Better get out there, or they'll send in the dogs."
Reese smiled at the seasoned older woman, whom she'd gotten to know a little during the past few months, since she'd been making the health panel circuit. The makeup artist had crossed paths with Reese's mother over the years, and sadly, seemed to know more about Linea Winslow than Reese did. She enjoyed the stories about her parents, though, and after she got to her feet, gave the woman an impulsive hug.
Karla blinked, clearly surprised at the gesture. Her expression softened. "You're gonna do great, honey."
Unnerved by her own uncharacteristic display of affection, Reese pulled back her shoulders and nodded brusquely before heading out of the room. She didn't know what was wrong. Why the sudden melancholy. Maybe it was simply the dreaded chore that lay ahead for her and Ellie tomorrow. One they had put off for too long. Packing up Grandma Lily's house in South Dakota.
A year had already passed since her funeral and the reading of the will that left all of her possessions to Reese and Ellie, including the grand old house that had been in the Winslow family for over a hundred thirty years. Even when they were children the three-story house had seemed ancient, with its creaking doors and noisy hardwood floors.
With Grandma Lily having been moved to a retirement community nine years ago, Reese hadn't been back to the home since she was twenty. She didn't look forward to returning and not seeing Grandma Lily sitting on the wrap-around porch, rocking in her favorite faded, rust-colored chair. It was going to be strange and depressing, but the Realtor had called three times now with the same interested buyer, and it was foolish to allow the place to rot away.
With Ellie's upcoming photography show and Reese about to start her position at the hospital, the timing to clear out the old place would never be better than right now.
"Ready, Dr. Winslow?" A short, stocky young man with thinning brown hair gestured her toward the stage, where the rest of the panel members were already seated. Three men and one other woman with a staggering combined knowledge that should've humbled Reese.
And it did. To some extent. But she was no slouch, either. Straightening, she touched the jade that had been in the Winslow family for eons, smiled at the assistant and then took her place on stage.
Reese slowed the rental car, virtually stopping in shock before turning into the overgrown driveway.
Ellie gasped. "Oh, my God. I can't believe this mess. Maybe we should park on the street. The car is likely to get scratched."
"You're right." Reese slowly reversed, narrowly missing the wooden mailbox that sagged to the side. Guilt tugged at her heart. Where beautiful yellow and pink roses once followed the curve of the porch, weeds choked the life out of anything in their path. "I guess we shouldn't be too surprised."
"I am. The Realtor swore he'd keep the place maintained. We've sent him four checks."
Reese stopped the car just short of the brick sidewalk that led through the gate to the porch steps. "True. I can't believe he has a buyer."
"Maybe that's why he's let everything get run-down. Mr. Kent told me the man wants to tear the place down and build a bed-and-breakfast." Ellie shook her dark head as she reached for the handle and opened her door. "Still, this is awful."
Reese pulled the key from the ignition and stared at her sister. "He wants to tear it down?"
Ellie shrugged. "I'm pretty sure that's what Mr. Kent said. I was meeting with a client when he called."
Ellie frowned, her annoyance plain, and totally understandable. She'd received little help from Reese with the matter. "Can you imagine how much it would cost to restore just the house? Not to mention the garage and carriage house."
Reese didn't say anything. She had no right. It wasn't as if she was willing to step in and do anything with the old place. Her life was far removed from the Black Hills of South Dakota. In fact, not until she'd pulled up to the rickety, once-white picket fence did she feel the sentimental pull of the three summers she and Ellie had spent here in Deadwood.
No doubt there would've been many more summers, too, if Grandma Lily hadn't started with the strange haunted house stories that scared the living daylights out of two different nannies.
Both sisters got out of the car, and Ellie, reaching the gate first, gingerly lifted the metal catch. The peeling paint wasn't so bad, but the rotting wood was more than an eyesore, rendering the gate pretty useless. One of the slats fell off when she tugged a little too hard.
"Wow. This is scary. I hope the floorboards inside are okay," Reese said, her gaze going to the blue front door, which, oddly, looked freshly painted.
"Mr. Kent wouldn't have been able to show the house if it was unsafe."
"Yeah." Ellie's laugh was nervous. "Maybe we should've had someone else come pack up the house."
Reese glared at her. "Gee, that sounds familiar."
"I know. I know. That's what you wanted to do from the beginning. Too impersonal. Grandma deserved more than that."
Reese looked away. She refused to feel guilty about being rational. Her time was at a premium. Ellie, much more a free spirit, didn't always understand that.
"Anyway, we would've hated not knowing what was in those old trunks in the attic."
Sighing, Reese followed her up the front steps, which were surprisingly sturdy. "You're right. Besides, do you know how long it's been since we've gotten together? No parents. No photographers. No deadlines. Just us."
"Not my fault."
Reese made a face. "I know."
Ellie chuckled and nudged her with her shoulder. "I'm glad we're here, too."
Reese had the key and inserted it in the lock. At first it stuck, but after some wiggling, she opened the door, immediately greeted by the faint lingering scent of their grandmother's lavender and a collage of childhood memories. For a moment she was ten again, giddy with the memory of glorious months running barefoot and gorging herself with homemade chocolate chip cookies until she thought she'd be sick.
She slanted her sister a mischievous smile. "Race you to the back door."
Sensible Ellie's eyes widened. "But the floorboards"
"You are so going to lose." Laughing, Reese lurched over the threshold and into the dusty abyss.
Reese awoke the next morning in her old room, feeling more refreshed than she had in weeks. A little dusting, and fresh linens on the Victorian-style rosewood double bed, had made the place more comfy than the motel rooms they had reserved, so they'd canceled their reservations, grabbed dinner in town, picked up a few groceries and crashed early.
"About time you got up." Already dressed in jeans and a god-awful pink T-shirt, Ellie stood at the bottom of the stairs. "Coffee is ready."
"I smell it. Bless you." In her favourite sweats, Reese yawned, and carefully walked down the stairs. "You better not have gone to the attic yet."
Ellie snorted. "It would serve you right if I had. How can you get anything done sleeping in this late?"
No use explaining how brutal her schedule had been. That she hadn't slept past sunup in three years. Reese squinted at the grandfather clock sitting in the foyer, but of course it wasn't working. Too bad. It was an exceptionally nice piece that she hadn't appreciated until now.
She used the elastic band she'd snapped around her wrist to pull her hair back. The chin-length bob barely made it into a ponytail. "How long have you been up?"
Ellie grinned, a broom in one hand, a blue chipped mug in the other. "Half an hour."
Reese grunted as she passed her sister and headed toward the smell of coffee. "Where are we starting?"
"I think the parlor. The kitchen is too daunting for this early." Ellie frowned. "Every cabinet is jam-packed."
"I kind of remember that. Lots of mismatched china, huh?"
"Yep. I hope I ordered enough boxes and packing material. Mr. Kent had the stuff stacked in the dining room."
Reese blinked at her sister, and told her, gratefully, "I'm glad you thought to do that."
"No problem. You've been busy." Ellie had already set out an extra mug. She filled it with black coffee, just the way Reese liked it, and got herself a refill.
Reese smiled fondly. Steady, dependable Ellie. Always there to pick up the slack. "I'll make it up to you. I promise."
"Knock it off, silly. Come on," Ellie said, and led the way.
The parlor drapes had once been an attractive emerald-green, they decided after a brief argument, but time and dust had turned the fabric the color of pea soup. God only knew what sort of critters lived within the sateen folds. Ellie used the broom to stir things up and warn any potential inhabitants to vacate. Nothing scurried across the dusty floor, so Reese braved her way to the gold cords, which fortunately still worked. A few tugs and sunlight flooded the room.
Luckily, the antique Chippendale furnishings hadn't suffered much abuse and would likely fetch a nice price at auction. None of the area rugs were salvageable, but that was of no consequence since they were of the cheap braided country-style variety.
Ellie leaned the broom against a powder-blue-painted wall and stared at one of the Old West prints that hung over an ornate mahogany table with curved cabriole legs. "I think this is a Currier and Ives original."
"It has to be a print." Reese went to join her and stared at the peaceful farm scene. "An original would be worth a lot of money."
"It looks really old."
Reese peered closer. "Hmm. It does. When did they start making prints?"
"You're asking me?"
"You're the photographer."
"Not this kind of stuff."
Reese shook her head. "I'm not sure we should be doing this."
"Packing all this up and deciding what goes to charity and which pieces go to auction."
Ellie muttered in exasperation. "Come on, Reese, it has to be done."