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They were still there.
Brianna Forte blinked again, then rubbed her eyes, but nothing changed. They were still there, hundreds of them in the chilly room.
"Good Heavens," Brianna breathed, somehow unwilling to speak aloud. It was almost as if she were fearful of waking someone, but that was ridiculous. She and Mrs. Tazewell were the only two people in the house, and were likely to be the only ones until she called in the movers. As unbelievable as it seemed, Ralph and Bette were never coming back.
"Yes," said Mrs. Tazewell somewhat sourly. Brianna had guessed the other woman to be at least two generations older. Dressed in what had to be her Sunday best, she was stout and stiff in mind as well as body, and her resentment was as visible on her face as the large liver-colored mole hovering close to her mouth. "These things were their passion. I can't tell you how much they spent on them. Never bought anything lasting or worthwhile, just this dratted Timeless Innocents junk."
Trying to conceal her distaste at such exuberantly floral mass-market polyester, Brianna unconsciously smoothed the skirt of her own Paolucci silk suit and stepped hesitantly into the room. It was quiet in here, so quiet that any sound of her footfalls was swallowed by the thick carpet.
Her attention was consumed by the extent of the collection. She was vaguely familiar with the sort of sweet little figurines that some, usually grandmothers or small girls, regarded as so collectible. Most were of porcelain or vividly colored resin and portrayed either idealized little children or plump cherubs. All had sweet faces and simpering little smiles. Brianna herself owned one, a cherub that held a book and looked up at the world through soulful eyes that resembled those of a sick spaniel. Her grandmother had given it to her when she entered college and for that Brianna loved it, even though it had always been carefully packed away in the linen closet.
These figurines were similar in size and composition, but although Brianna could not quite put her finger on it, there was something about them that was thoroughly different. Something distasteful. Maybe it was their bright soulless gazes or their tight little smiles. Or maybe it was just that there were so many of them. Something.
"I never could understand Bette's fascination with these things," Mrs. Tazewell grumbled. "Don't care for them myself, but I would have seen they were well taken care of. Bette could have trusted me," she said, more than a hint of aggravation in her voice.
"I'm sure Ralph and Bette had their reasons for giving my father authority over their estate," Brianna said. "And since he's still in the hospital I'll do my best to take care of things just as he would have."
"But she was my sister, my blood," Mrs. Tazewell muttered, speaking more to the cosmos than to Brianna, who had moved from her side to the great bookcase where the collection was jammed willy-nilly onto the shelves.
"How many of these are there?" Brianna asked, picking up the closest of the little figurines at random and almost instantly dropping it. Where both porcelain and resin were firm and cool to the fingertips, especially in a room this chill, this little curly-headed boy was warm and yielding to the fingers, almost as if he had been sculpted from living flesh.