An Edge of Shadows Exclusive for #SampleSunday

Edge of Shadows is my first-born. It holds a special place in my heart because it is the story that has been with me the longest- the first iteration written in 2004. It went through the wringer for me. It was rewritten a million times, hacked apart and put together, and then last Fall it got a completely new ending (when I realized that Ellie’s story wasn’t over yet).

EoS started out as a haunted house story. It becomes a whole lot more as you read the series, but at it’s core, in this first book, the reader discovers the mysteries that lie beneath the lovely exterior of the Bradford mansion.

For my #SampleSunday feature, I’m giving you the exclusive first look at the mansion and  introducing you to Linda Jordan, who plays a key role later in the book. Enjoy!

CHAPTER TWO

The house had been empty for years. The “For Sale” sign creaked in the slight breeze coming off the lake. Joe Klein put his hand on the signpost to stop the movement, purposely keeping his back to the house. Between the creaky sign and the empty house behind him he was getting the creeps. He glanced at his watch for the tenth time since arriving at the house and getting out of his car. It was six p.m., less than a minute since the last time he looked. He felt foolish waiting on the lawn, but there was no way in hell he was going near the house alone.

There was a chill in the air. It was a cool spring evening, and Joe wondered if there would be a late season snowstorm. Minnesota weather was unpredictable, especially during the transition between seasons. He just wanted to get this showing over with. If Joe was honest with himself, he was the least successful agent in his office, which is how he drew the short stick to show the place when the call for a showing came that afternoon.

The Bradford mansion had been shown only a handful of times in the last ten years. It was bank-owned. The last owner had disappeared under “mysterious circumstances.” If the expected expense of renovating the place didn’t turn potential buyers away, the history of the place usually did. Joe glanced at the house behind him and then quickly looked back at the road. He felt like he was being watched, and goose bumps crawled up his arm.

Joe had grown up in the area, and he was intimately familiar with the stories that were whispered about the old Bradford mansion. He remembered riding past it on his bike with his buddies and being dared to go up and ring the doorbell. Joe had never been brave enough to do it. Even during the brief periods when the house had been occupied, it still had a high freaky factor. He was embarrassed that even now, in his mid-forties, the place still gave him the creeps.

He saw a car approach and breathed a sigh of relief as it slowed and turned into the circle driveway. The headlights illuminated the windows of the house as it pulled up the gentle slope of the driveway and stopped just shy of the path that led up to the front door. Over the roof of the car, he thought he saw a flicker of movement in the huge bay window that faced the front patio and his stomach did a flip-flop.

“You didn’t see anything. It’s all in your head,” he whispered to himself. He held back from making a sign of the cross. That would really give a bad first impression.

The car was a dark blue Jaguar with tinted windows. The driver’s window lowered two inches, and a slim hand emerged with the index finger straight up in the air. The fingernail was painted a deep red. Joe interpreted this as a sign that he was being told to wait and felt a tinge of annoyance. It was bad enough to be stuck with this assignment, but dealing with a rude client would make it even worse. He couldn’t see anything else in the darkened interior.

He shifted his feet slowly and rubbed the arms of his jacket, wishing he had thought to bring gloves. It seemed to be getting chillier by the minute. After what seemed like an eternity, the car door opened. A foot emerged, dressed in what he was sure was an expensive black leather heel. It was followed by a slim leg, and then the woman rose gracefully out of the car. Joe’s breath caught in his throat.

The lines on her face indicated she was older than Joe, but she was stunning. Blond hair was swept back into a tidy knot at the back of her neck, and she appeared dressed for a dinner party in a fitted black dress with a red wrap. She wore black driving gloves. Her lips matched her wrap, and as she approached him her hips swayed seductively. Even in heels she was still several inches shorter than Joe. Her skin was fair, and he could just detect a smattering of freckles across her nose. She put a cell phone into her clutch and looked up at Joe expectantly.

“Mr. Klein?” she said softly. Her tone was amused. “I’m Linda Jordan. I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”

Joe blushed as he realized he was staring. He had been married for twenty years, and he couldn’t remember the last time he had felt such an immediate rush of heat seeing a desirable woman. He shook his head slightly to clear his thoughts.

“Yes, yes, ma’am. Joe Klein, from Polson Realty.” He held out his hand. She looked at it for a moment before carefully sliding her hand into his for a small pump, and then she drew her hand away.

“I’m sure you are eager to get out of the chill and see the property. It is a lovely home that needs just the right owner,” Joe said, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt. “Would you like to step inside, Mrs. Jordan?” he asked, gesturing toward the wide front patio.

“Of course,” she said, but she didn’t move. Slowly she turned in a circle, taking in the house and grounds, finally settling on the view of the lake stretching out before them across the road. “I’m not from around here. This is quite a lovely area, yes?”

“This is a great area with lots of local history and culture,” Joe said, switching into sales mode. “I actually grew up in the neighborhood myself and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” Focusing on the job at hand helped keep his mind off the house and woman in front of him. He quickly reviewed some of the facts he had pulled from the file on the house that afternoon.

“The house was built in the early 19th century by an entrepreneur named Joseph Bradford. This area was the place for the well-to-do businessmen and industrialists who were looking for quiet living away from the city, but still close enough to the conveniences. There is a sense of exclusivity being so close to the water. Of course, the city grew up around the neighborhood, but it still maintains that solitary feel given all the properties that border the lake feel more like small estates.”

Mrs. Jordan nodded as she followed him up the concrete steps and onto the wide patio. It ran the entire length of the front of the house. She seemed entranced by the house, drinking in the architectural detail. She placed a hand on the stone railing and gently slid her fingertips up to the top. Joe thought he saw a small smile creep across her face, but when she looked at him again her face was still. He cleared his throat and continued.

“The Bradfords owned the home for only a couple of years when Joseph fell into some bad financial troubles. He was forced to sell the house to help pay off his debts. The house has passed through several owners since then. Given its rather impressive size, it drew interest from some local businesses. It was used for a time as both a home for orphaned children as well as an art school. The house has been vacant since the most recent owner relinquished it several years ago.” Joe didn’t add that other than the Bradfords, none of the subsequent occupancies lasted more than six months.

“I see,” Mrs. Jordan said. She was looking at the lake again.

“This would be a great patio for entertaining, almost like an Italian veranda, I think. I can easily picture a group of people here sipping wine and watching folks on the bike path or canoeing on the lake,” he said continuing on, hoping to draw attention away from any further commentary on the house’s history. Mrs. Jordan didn’t reply.

Joe studied the contours of her face for signs of her initial impressions as she looked out on the water. On the outside chance she would consider buying it, all of the less savory details would be disclosed later. One thing Joe knew from experience: if someone loved a house they were willing to overlook almost anything to have it. All that trouble happened so long ago that it shouldn’t matter now anyway. Of course, that didn’t ease Joe’s anxiety about being there one bit.

He wasn’t sure what to do next, but if she was interested in the view he thought it would be better with light. He slipped the key into the lock and pushed the tall glass doors open. They groaned in protest, and Joe wondered the last time someone had been in to clean up the place. As a matter of practice, the real estate office usually sent someone in to clean and dust once a month and before every showing since the house was unoccupied, but the call had come in so late in the day Joe was certain no one had a chance to get there before the appointment. He hoped that there weren’t rats or spider webs or anything else lurking in the corners.

He shivered as he stepped inside and flipped on the light switches next to the door. A chandelier above him flickered and then caught, lighting up the entryway; the lights on the porch went on as well. He was standing in a massive entry hall that led to a huge staircase. There were rooms on either side of the hall and a long hallway on both sides of the staircase that led into darkness. A plush rug covered the floor and was the only furnishing in the house that he could see aside from the window treatments.

Mrs. Jordan slowly walked into the house and stood next to him. He watched her face light up like a kid in front of a loaded-down Christmas tree. She took a deep breath and did another turn, gazing up at the opulent chandelier. He wasn’t the best sales guy out there, but he knew that expression. She was completely into the house.

Joe pulled out the file folder from under his arm and opened it. “There are four bedrooms on the second level, two on the third, and two small bedrooms in the back, so eight bedrooms total. There are nine bathrooms, two parlors, a library, a formal dining room, kitchen, and solarium leading out to the enclosed pathway to the garage. There’s also a small apartment above the garage. It’s a pretty big place,” Joe said. He looked up and saw that Mrs. Jordan was looking at him again and her blue eyes seemed to bore right into him.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. Joe was suddenly uncertain if she meant him or the house. The excitement in her voice made Joe’s heart start to pound. Her obvious delight was contagious, and he suddenly wondered if the commission on the sale of this house would be enough to pay his mortgage for a year. It could be his lucky day.

“Well, there is quite a bit of work to be done to bring it up to date,” he said quickly. He had to calm down and take it slow. He didn’t want to scare her away. The hope of a sale now balanced out the creepiness of being inside the house and Joe started to feel more confident.

Mrs. Jordan giggled like a schoolgirl and clasped her hands together. “Mr. Klein, I can’t tell you how long I’ve been looking for this house. I am thrilled.” She pulled off her gloves and slipped them into her clutch, and then wound her arm through his. “Let’s take a look at the rest of it, shall we?”

All thoughts of the house flew right out of Joe’s head as soon as she touched him. He found himself gazing down at her and nodding at everything she said with a huge grin on his face. She was beautiful and fascinating. He hadn’t felt so thoroughly charmed by a woman since he’d met his wife. He wasn’t sure he had even felt it then.

As they made their way around the first two floors, Mrs. Jordan kept up a constant dialogue about her charity work and her husband’s investment business that gave them their fabulous lifestyle. Her stories were witty, and Joe’s roars of laughter echoed off the walls of the huge empty rooms. Time seemed to stand still.

Joe thought that Mr. Jordan was a lucky man. Mrs. Jordan’s voice was mesmerizing, and he could smell her light perfume. He had to stop himself from leaning down and inhaling the scent of her hair. He felt lightheaded and drunk.

It was only after they reached the third floor, and she unwound her arm from his, that his mind started to clear. They were standing in front of two bay windows that took in an impressive view of the lake. Joe could see houses across the lake lighting up as dusk closed in. It was breathtaking. If he didn’t know the history of the Bradford mansion, at that moment he’d have mortgaged his soul to buy it. There was nowhere else he wanted to be except here in the twilight with this beautiful woman.

Mrs. Jordan sat down on the window seat and moved close to the glass. She traced her finger along an ornate design etched in the pane’s center. Then she slid closer still and looked out into the gathering darkness. The glass fogged up from her breath. She looked up at Joe with a sly smile on her face and patted the seat next to her. He sat down automatically.

“You’ve been too kind, Mr. Klein, coming out here on such short notice to show me this lovely house and listen to me prattle on and on.” Her voice was low. Now she slid her fingertip up his tie to the top of his collar.

He gulped as he felt the slightest prick of the point of her fingernail against his Adam’s apple. “It was my pleasure, Mrs. Jordan.” He felt lightheaded again, and he thought for sure his heart was going to burst right out of his chest.

“Please. Call me Linda,” she said as she inched closer to him.

Joe thought that it was possible she was going to kiss him. He was married, but he couldn’t even think of his wife’s name at that moment. He also knew he wouldn’t stop her. All he could think of was drowning himself in her blue eyes, and then her lips were crossing the small span between them.

Just as her lips brushed his, he heard a heavy, loud thump from somewhere at the back of the house. Joe jumped to his feet. Whatever spell had come over him was immediately broken, and reality came crashing back. He was inside the haunted Bradford mansion.

“What was that?” he said.

Mrs. Jordan remained seated. The expression on her face was unreadable. She sighed, and Joe thought he sensed frustration in it.

“I’m sure it was nothing. It’s an old house, right? Bumps and creaky boards are to be expected,” she said, sounding bored now.

Suddenly, Joe felt like he was suffocating. He grabbed at the collar of his shirt and peered at the back of the hall where he thought the noise had come from. The house was silent.

He didn’t know what to think. Nothing like this had ever happened to him. Being inside the house seemed like the only explanation for losing his sense of reality. The sooner he got this showing over the better so he switched back to salesman mode.

“I believe the Bradfords kept their master bedroom on this floor, and then the guest suite was across on the other side. These are the largest bedrooms and each has its own bathroom. It was quite luxurious back in the day as I’m sure you can imagine.” Joe had no desire to explore either room.

Relaying the information had given him the few moments he needed to collect himself, and he glanced at Mrs. Jordan. She just stared at him with those intense blue eyes, and he dragged his gaze back to the hallway and cleared his throat. He didn’t think he’d be able to resist her if she tried to kiss him again, and he had the crazy feeling that he would never be the same again if that happened.

“Another unique feature is right over there,” he continued, pointing at a small door off to the side at the end of the hallway. “That leads to a small circular staircase at the back of the house that goes down to the kitchen. It allowed for the servants to pass quickly between the service areas of the house and the bedrooms so that dirty dishes, linens, and things like that weren’t carried around out in the open.” This time he waited for a response.

There was a moment of silence, and then Mrs. Jordan nodded and the smile returned to her face. “Quite efficient.”

Joe’s heart skipped a beat. He didn’t know what was happening to him. He ran his hand across his forehead and realized he was sweating. His breath was coming in short gasps. He saw a look of concern on her face but recoiled when he saw her move to place her hand on his arm. He watched her face go still.

Before she could say anything, he covered, saying, “Well, that is the whole place. What do you think?” His voice sounded high and panicky to his ears.

Her eyes narrowed, and Joe felt a cold chill run down his spine. He didn’t know why, but this woman was dangerous; there was no doubt in his mind now about that. He needed to get away from her.

“Quite impressive,” Mrs. Jordan replied. She pulled the phone from her clutch. “I’d like to call my husband if you don’t mind, Mr. Klein. I’d also like to take a few pictures.”

Joe nodded and said a silent prayer of thanks.

“Of course, of course,” Joe replied. “I can meet you down by the front door if you’d like. Give you some time to take a second look.”

She nodded curtly and started pecking at the touch screen. Joe didn’t need the cue to tell him he had been dismissed and this time he didn’t mind the rude gesture. As he made his way down the stairs, he did mental calculations in his head of the commission to distract himself. Maybe he could take his wife to Hawaii for that second honeymoon she kept asking about, or maybe they could afford to buy their sixteen-year-old daughter a car.

He was standing at the front door a few moments later. Even with all the lights on in the house, there was a dreary feeling about the place. The magical mood he had felt ten minutes ago was totally gone.

He thought about stepping out onto the porch, but realized that would look strange. He hoped she turned off the lights as she made her way back to the entryway; that way he wouldn’t have to do it after she left. Joe had no desire to be in the house by himself with the night deepening outside.

Then he heard the thud again from the back of the house and his mouth went dry. He wanted to run out into the night, get in his car, and drive away as fast as he could, but instead he forced himself to step up a few steps on the staircase. It was open up to the third level, but he couldn’t see where he had left his client.

“Mrs. Jordan?” he called up into the empty air. “Everything okay up there?”

“Everything’s fine, Mr. Klein.”

Joe jumped and whirled around. Linda Jordan was standing behind him. She smiled apologetically at his startled expression.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Klein. I didn’t mean to startle you. I came down that back staircase you mentioned. I wanted to make sure that I saw the entire house,” she said as she slid her phone back into her clutch and put it under her arm.

Joe put his hand on his chest and willed himself to calm down and breathe normally. Then he blushed. She must think he was a foolish idiot the way he was jumping at the settling noises of an old house. That had to be what those noises were.

“I didn’t mean to jump. I thought I heard something again, but like you said, old houses…” he said lamely. “Did your husband have any questions?”

“I think we should go back to your office, Mr. Klein. I sent my husband some pictures and he is in perfect agreement with me. We are ready to make an offer.”

Joe was sure his jaw hit the floor. Was it really going to be that easy? The stupid grin returned to his face, but he couldn’t help it.

“Well, that is just great!” He automatically reached out to shake her hand. This time she took a step back and he jerked his hand back. There was something about touching her that made the thoughts in his head feel mushy.

“I know it is getting late, and I’m sure you want to get home to your family. I will follow you,” she said, sweeping out the front door.

Joe watched her leave, his jaw slack as he saw dollar signs dancing in the air in front of him. Then he realized that light duty was on him after all. He hummed to himself as he quickly went through the house turning off the lights. The big commission coming his way was enough to distract him, although he was almost running to complete the task as quickly as possible. He wasn’t sure if he should call his wife right away, or wait until the paperwork was officially signed.

Just as he reached the front hallway and had his finger on the light switch he heard something. Was that a moan?

“Hell, no,” he said out loud. He left the hallway light on as well as the porch lights. The cleaning crew could take care of it. He didn’t care. He quickly moved out the door, pulling it shut behind him and locking it. Mrs. Jordan was already down in her car with the engine running.

Joe hurried down the steps, and thought again that despite the noises and his strange reaction to the woman, this was the luckiest day of his life.

 

Linda Jordan watched with narrowed eyes as the real estate agent shuffled to his car as quickly as his feet would carry him. He waved at her with a smile as he got in. She closed her eyes and rested her head against the head rest for a moment as she waited for him to get settled.

It had been exhausting keeping up the charade with the man, and she had almost forgotten herself in her excitement at seeing the house through these eyes again. Plus he had been so close to her that it had been intoxicating. She was annoyed at the blatant interruption, but she knew it was only because she had overstepped her boundaries. She was out of practice, but she wouldn’t let it happen again. It was all about the end game, and things were just starting to heat up. She looked up at the house again and the smile returned to her face. Soon things would be exactly the way they should be again.

Want to read more? You can find Edge of Shadows at these fine retailers:

Amazon

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Kobo

Smashwords

 

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