Page 13

 Kristen Ashley

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That was just a start.
And that would cost a small fortune.
The investigation notes said she’d been living there for near on three years. One of those years she’d been ill. Still, that left two others, and it looked like the place hadn’t been touched.
He set aside thoughts of her house, bent his head to his phone, texted Chace with In position, got back a Copy and he shoved his phone in his back pocket.
Five minutes later, he got a text that said Incoming, and a minute after that, the pimped-out Sierra made the approach, parked outside by Emme’s Bronco and McFarland climbed out.
Deck’s throat prickled as he watched the familiar way McFarland approached the house.
The prickle eased when he didn’t walk right in but knocked, waited, and Emme opened the door to him.
It came back when he watched McFarland round her waist with an arm, smile down at her and back her inside.
The door closed.
Deck instantly revised his schedule.
Emme would not be shot of this guy in a week.
He was thinking more like two days.
His phone vibrated and he got a text from Chace.
Man’s in.
Deck texted back, Saw that. Doing a perimeter check.
Chace sent back Copy and Deck moved stealthily around Emme’s property.
As he did, he began to see it. Why she picked this place. He’d even consider it, but only if he viewed it on a day when he felt like taking on a challenge.
There was an outbuilding, built after the main house and not well, and it looked like it was meant to store cars at one point but with Emme’s Bronco out front, it was not used for that now and he could see why. It was in worse shape than the house.
The back had a remarkable garden, terraced up the mountain, incorporating the aspen and pine, this leading down to a patio made of flagstone arrayed in an extraordinary starburst design. All this had been cleared, patio furniture on the flagstone that was probably very nice since it was now covered for the winter. She’d done work here. The garden looked good covered in snow. He figured it’d look amazing in spring and summer.
As he moved around the house he saw there were bay windows, turrets, attractive stone carvings in the façade, even gargoyles in the corners. It had personality. It had been made with a mind to craftsmanship and no expense spared.
But it was over a century old, the last five or six decades not well tended and it showed.
He made it back to position and saw only one light through the windows not boarded. Three floors in the house, second story, left of the front door.
The prickle came back because Deck reckoned it was her bedroom. Usually masters were at the back of the house to avoid street noise. But here, this house being the only one up her lane, no street noise, so the master would be at the front. This was because the back had a view to close-up mountain and trees. The back might have a spectacular garden as well but the front had a panorama of Rockies, the valley and Gnaw Bone. Anyone in their right mind would want that view from their bedroom window.
So they were in her bedroom.
He waited, he watched. They stayed in her bedroom, the light on.
His throat burned.
The light went out.
Deck took in a deep breath through his mouth, letting the cold mountain air ease the burn.
Two days, he’d get her shot of him.
No more.
Ten minutes later, the front door opened. Deck went alert, pulled out his phone and watched McFarland move to his truck.
He texted Man’s on the move to Chace.
Got it, Chace sent back.
McFarland drove through the circular forecourt of Emme’s house and away.
Deck’s eyes moved over the front of the house. No lights except the outside one. Not even a dim one coming from her bedroom.
He gave it time, not too much, that monstrosity, he’d need a lot of it to do a search and he had no idea if or when McFarland would be back.
The investigation notes said McFarland often took night trips to places unknown, leaving Emme but returning. This probably being one of those red flags Emme couldn’t quite put her finger on if McFarland was cagey about where he was going.
But Deck didn’t want to enter until he knew Emme was asleep.
He looked to his watch. She said she was at work early, left early. Which meant she’d go to sleep early. It was just past eleven.
Their dinner finished around ten. He was trekking up the mountain to her house after ten, talking to her on the phone. This meant McFarland came and left, the first probably in two ways, in under an hour.
Which made Deck wonder, even if he didn’t like wondering it, if McFarland had given himself enough time to give Emme what she needed.
That amount of time, he doubted it. A woman like Emme, unless you didn’t have the time and were forced to f**k fast, but good, you took your time.
And lots of it.
He pushed these thoughts aside, moved through the woods surrounding the house, made his approach and picked the lock at a back split farm door he figured would lead to the kitchen.
Turning his flashlight to low beam, he entered and was not surprised to find the kitchen an avocado nightmare. Clearly updated in the ’70s—poorly—it had been left that way, and even with the low beam, its sheer ugliness hurt his eyes.
That was all the ugliness to be found.
After searching the kitchen, as he moved through the house, Deck saw nothing but beauty.
Extreme beauty.
Seeing it, he finally got it, why she chose this place, what urged her to restore it, bring back that beauty, show this house it was loved.
It was not a mess in the middle of restoration. It needed work but it was clean, tidy, what seemed like acres of handsome wood glowing.
There was another starburst, this one spectacular and fashioned by varying woods in the floor of the massive circular entryway over which hung a huge chandelier and around the walls a sweeping rounded stairway.
She had work to do, definitely, and he saw she was in the middle of several projects.
But he was pleased to see long gaping holes in the walls that exposed she’d already had the entirety of the electrical rewired but hadn’t yet replastered. New light switches. New outlets. Dimmers.
She needed to do some sanding. Painting. Plastering. And he saw she was in the middle of cleaning the chandelier in the great room at the front. The floors, woodwork and walls had all been done, furniture covered in sheets, the chandelier all that was left to do. It was down, sitting on a sheet on a table, but the hundreds of crystals had been removed with great care, keeping their array intact even if they were arranged on another sheet on the floor. This so, after they were cleaned, she could reattach them where they were meant to be.