Copyright © 2012 Dawn Brown
A devastating tragedy cost history professor Hillary Bennett her job and her marriage. Desperate to rebuild her life, she travels to the quaint Scottish village of Culcraig to research a legend and salvage her career. But when she arrives, she finds her hostess dead and her hopes for the future pinned to the woman’s black sheep heir—Caid Douglas.
The last thing Caid needs is a decrepit manor house to remind him of his estranged family, but he does need the money selling the house would bring to pay off his debts. When haunted, down-on-her-luck Hillary offers to pay him to stay at Glendon House and view his great grandfather’s journals, he sees a way out of his mess.
But Glendon House harbors a sinister secret behind its great stone walls. And a killer will stop at nothing to keep it.
The great stone manor rose up from the gloom, dark and forbidding, against the dreary gray sky. Ivy grew up one side of the old Victorian, bright, leafy, green. The large windows beneath the peaked roofline seemed to stare out like dark, soulless eyes.
Hillary clutched the cold handle of her suitcase, the hair on the back of her neck pricking, and forced her feet to move forward. The case’s wheels wobbled over the uneven ground behind her.
It’s an old house and a lot of fog, nothing more.
But that wasn’t entirely true. Inside, a crazy old woman waited to squeeze the last of Hillary’s savings from her bank account. Certainly explained the trepidation surging inside her.
Still, if Agnes had been telling the truth—and some of her claims had checked out—Roderick Douglas’s journals could be just what Hillary needed to piece together the tattered remnants of her life.
At the front door, she banged the brass knocker and waited. After a few moments without an answer, she tried again. Still nothing.
Trepidation exploded into full-blown fear.
What had she been thinking, to trust Agnes Douglas? The woman was clearly insane.
For the past month, Agnes had phoned her almost every day. Sometimes to remind her to bring boots and a warm jacket, other times to complain that someone was leaving dead animals in her garden. Then, for three days—nothing. Agnes hadn’t phoned, nor had she picked up when Hillary tried calling her.
And now, on the day of her arrival, Agnes was nowhere to be seen.
Hillary banged harder on the door. Still no answer. Maybe Agnes couldn’t hear her knocking. The woman was almost ninety, after all, and it was a big house.
Cautiously, she pressed the latch on the door. The hinges creaked as the heavy oak swung inward a few inches.
Now what? Should she just let herself in? Well, she hadn’t spent seven hours on a flight from Toronto to Glasgow followed by an hour’s drive on the wrong side of the road just to stand on some crazy lady’s front step.
“Agnes?” she called, through the narrow gap.
“Agnes?” she tried again, louder.
Maybe she wasn’t home. Then why was the door unlocked? Hillary sighed. Easy. Culcraig was a small village and probably didn’t have much in the way of crime.
But Glendon House stood away from the village, alone in countryside. Surrounded by a wide expanse of tangled grass on one side and hemmed in by woods just starting to green with spring on the other.
A sense of isolation wrapped around her like icy fingers, chilling her more than the damp air ever could.
“Pull it together,” she murmured. So what if the door was unlocked? Not everyone lived with same deep-rooted terror of home invasion that she did.
She pushed the door wider and moved inside, but the horrible smell of rot stopped her dead.
Her stomach gave an involuntary lurch as the sickly sweet odor enveloped her. Covering her mouth with both hands, she swallowed the bile bubbling up her throat and scanned the wide front hall, from the chipped cornices to the dust-coated wood paneling to the sweeping staircase. There, at the bottom, half tangled in the cast iron rail, the broken, twisted body of an old woman lay in a congealed puddle of blood.
Oh God, not again.
Cold sweat slicked her skin, the blood rushed from her face like a reverse tidal wave. For a moment, the whole thing seemed unreal, as if she were watching the scene play out from the back row of a movie theatre. Then reality returned, hitting her like a slap. Every muscle in her body clenched, her stomach heaved. She staggered back outside and threw up on the grass.