The Scent of Heather

By: V. J. Banis

CHAPTER ONE


People believed Maggie Garrison loved her sister very much. They were wrong, but Maggie would never admit it, not even to herself. Ever since Rebecca was born they’d been inseparable, apart only long enough to enjoy short honeymoons with their respective husbands. They lived in adjoining apartments. They shared the common fate of childless marriages. They even shared a common sorrow when their husbands drowned while together on a fishing excursion.

But were the two men really dead? The bodies were never recovered. Although the insurance company was convinced that they were dead, Maggie continued to have her doubts.

There was something in the way her sister had accepted the news of their husbands’ deaths that made Maggie leery. Rebecca had accepted her loss so easily; but, then, Rebecca accepted everything easily.

* * * *

They had been driving for hours. When the large, rambling house loomed up before them Maggie tucked her knitting back into her bag and said, “Ah, at last. I thought we were going to have to drive off the end of the earth before getting here.”

“Gloomy looking place, isn’t it?” Rebecca said as she slowed the car and turned into the driveway.

“That’s what the real estate man meant when he said the place had character.”

“That must be his car parked under the portico.”

As Rebecca steered the Mercedes up the driveway a man got out of the parked car and waved. Rebecca pulled to a stop directly behind his sedan and leaned toward Maggie, eyeing the man standing in the driveway. “Now that’s what I call a good-looking hunk of man,” she said softly.

David McCloud walked toward them. He smiled at Rebecca and she felt a delicious little shiver run down her spine. David McCloud was rugged and square-jawed with romantic blue eyes and hair the color of burnished straw. His features were chiseled, the mouth full and sensuous. He was tall, well over six feet, with the physique of an athlete.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m David McCloud.” His voice was a beautiful complement to the rest of him. “You must be Mrs. Garrison and Mrs. Shepard.”

Rebecca extended her hand. “I’m Rebecca Shepard. This is my sister, Maggie Garrison.”

Maggie, too, felt a little shiver shoot through her when she shook hands with him. Rebecca was right, he was extremely good-looking.

“Well, here’s the house I leased for you. I hope you’ll like it,” David said. “It’s pretty large, as you may have surmised from the pictures I sent you, and the grounds go on forever.”

The three of them walked along a path leading off the driveway. There was a large, open patio completely surrounded on three sides by a horseshoe-shaped Spanish hacienda with a clay-tiled roof painted dusty rose. There were little cactus gardens spotted here and there, rocks, flaming hibiscus and droopy shade trees. A large, cup-shaped cactus dominated one corner of the garden; yucca stretched tall in clusters of bell-shaped flowers on tall stems; tiny rock plants forced their way between the neatly arranged rocks, spilling their lovely butter-yellow flowers against their surroundings. Avocado trees were strategically placed to give shade where it was needed. The rambling garden looked like a quiet refuge from a world of turmoil.

“It’s heavenly,” Maggie said, visibly enchanted.

“Sophie takes pride in the patio. She spends all her time keeping it tidy.”

“Sophie? Who’s Sophie?” inquired Maggie.

“She comes with the place. When you lease Heather House you automatically get Sophie in the bargain. She’s a strange little thing...not quite right in the head, but harmless as a fly.”

Rebecca arched an eyebrow. “Some flies are lethal.”

David smiled and shook his head. “Not Sophie. She’s just a child mentally and as hard a worker as you’ll find. She used to work for the Lamberts—they’re the owners—and according to Sophie’s way of thinking she still works for them.”

“Oh, yes,” Maggie said. “You mentioned the Lamberts in your letter.”

“Mr. Lambert disappeared some twenty years ago. His wife, Heather, died about a year or two ago.” David looked up at the house. “The place is in real good shape but I’m afraid the fields around it have fallen into wasteland now, with the exception of this garden, of course.”

Rebecca glanced back over her shoulder at the neglected land. “Just so long as there is plenty of privacy, that’s all we’re concerned about.”

“There’s plenty of that, have no fears,” David assured her. “Shall we have a look inside?”

Maggie’s eye wandered to a strange square tower tucked onto the westerly corner. It seemed out of character with the rest of the house. David followed her glance.

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