Vanish with the Rose by Barbara Michaels, Deborah lee Johnson
Fearing for the safety of her missing brother, lawyer Diana Reed will do anything to get to the truth. Taking a job as a landscape architect at the last place Brad was seen—the sprawling estate where he worked as a caretaker—she prowls the strange old house determined to unlock its secrets. But each mystery Diana uncovers is more unsettling than the last, as odd visions, scents, and sounds pervade an atmosphere of dread and barely suppressed violence. And in her zealous search for answers, she may have inadvertently opened a door to something frightening and deadly that can never be closed again.
Elizabeth Peters (writing as Barbara Michaels) was born and brought up in Illinois and earned her Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago's famed Oriental Institute. Peters was named Grandmaster at the inaugural Anthony Awards in 1986, Grandmaster by the Mystery Writers of America at the Edgar® Awards in 1998, and given The Lifetime Achievement Award at Malice Domestic in 2003. She lives in an historic farmhouse in western Maryland.
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Vanish with the Rose
The Plant of Roses, though it be a shrub full of prickles, yet it had been more fit and convenient to have placed it with the most glorious floures of the world than to insert the same among base and thorny shrubs. —Gerard's Herball (1597)
the approaching storm cast a tarnished metallic luster over the landscape. The restless, low-hanging clouds glowed greenish-gray, like verdigris on brass; in the fields along the road, the fresh spring growth looked sickly and rotten. Her hands were clenched tightly on the reins and her feet were braced against the floor, but still she was flung bruisingly from side to side as the wheels spun along the rutted road, rushing to reach shelter before the storm broke. It had been raining for three days. Boiling with foam, a stream of rusty water outstripped the racing wheels, rushing down to join the creek at the bottom of the hill. The road curved sharply there; she could see the bridge ahead, narrow and humped, rising out of a swirling pool that had overflowed the swollen streambed to flood the road. And beside it, half submerged . . . The horse was struggling to rise: its flailing hooves, unable to find purchase in the mud, sent up fountains of water over the still form that lay dangerously close to the iron-shod feet.
The approaching storm cast a tarnished metallic luster over the landscape. The restless, low-hanging clouds had a sickly glow, like verdigris on brass. Her hands were clenched on the wheel, but still she was flung from side to side as the car bounced along the rutted road. It had been raining for three days. Along the roada stream of water, boiling with foam, rushed down to meet . . .
Diana's foot slammed down on the brake. The wheels skidded sickeningly. Most of the gravel had been washed away; the muddy surface andrain-slicked weeds were as slippery as ice. Cursing, she brought the car to a stop before it slid off into the ditch. What had possessed her to do such a stupid thing? There was no obstruction on the road, not even a confused rabbit.
She negotiated the curve ahead even more slowly than she had intended. At the bottom of the slope a bridge rose out of a pool of water that had overflowed the stream and spread a brown stain across the road. Beside it, half submerged . . .
The driver had taken the turn too fast. The car had slid into the ditch and toppled onto its side. The door on the driver's side was under water. The other was closed. There was no sign of life.
Diana brought her own car to a smooth stop several yards short of the water's edge. As she flung the door open and scrambled out, lightning split the clouds and a cannonburst of thunder made her flinch back. For a moment she clung to the edge of the open door, feeling dizzy and disoriented. Why had she hit the brake several seconds before she saw the overturned car? It was as if she had been warned she would have to stop.
Déjà vu, second sight, clairvoyance—maybe X-ray vision, like that of Superman. Never mind, she told herself. She had no time to waste on theories. The driver might be unconscious, drowning.
Her running feet splashed through the water. It was deeper than she had thought, lapping at her shins as she stood on tiptoe and stretched to reach the door handle. It wasn't until her fingers closed over it that she recognized its unfamiliar shape and acknowledged other unusual details she had been too preoccupied to consider—the curve of the front fender, the elongated fin at the back. Tail fins, for God's sake! The car must be—vintage, was that the word? Bad news for her and the driver. The old carswere heavier, more sturdily built; she'd never be able to open and lift the door, straight up, from her present strained position. Her fingers slipped on the wet metal. How the hell did the damned thing work? Pull out, press in, turn up or down . . . What if it was locked?
As if in answer to prayer, the door opened, with a suddenness and force that sent her staggering back. She struggled to keep her balance, but her water-soaked shoes found no purchase in the mud. She sat down with a thud that sent a fountain of cold muddy water high into the air. Most of it fell back onto her. Gasping with shock, she stared openmouthed at the apparition rising out of the overturned vehicle. It was a dog. A large dog. A large green dog.
Paws dangling, face set in an expression of benign idiocy, it emerged in a series of jerks and jumps. She was beyond surprise; when she heard the voice she took it for granted that the dog was addressing her, though its manners left a great deal to be desired.
"Move it, you stupid bitch! Get your fat lazy bum out of there!"
The dog was white, not green. The strange light had given its snowy coat that appearance. It scrambled up onto the side of the car, sat down, and stared curiously at her. From the aperture of the open door came the head and shoulders of a man.
If he had been hurt, or even wet, she wouldn't have lost her temper. His hair was disheveled and his glasses hung slightly askew, but his rumpled shirt appeared to be perfectly dry. He didn't see her at first. Squinting past the dog at the half-submerged front end of the car, he looked as if he were about to burst into tears. "God damn it," he said feelingly. "Couldn't you have held together for another half mile?"
Lightning flashed, thunder crashed; the dog let out a howl and tried to force its way back into the car. A breathless, profane struggle ensued; when it ended the dog was wrapped around its presumed owner, clutching him with all four paws, its head buried against his chest; and Diana had recovered her breath, if not her temper.
Barbara Michaels has always been one of my favorites, and I leapt on Vanish with the Rose as if it were chocolate…This book and this writer are addictive. (Alexandra Ripley, New York Times best selling author of Scarlett)
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