It had been surprisingly easy to slip a librarian into Mirror House. Deke, as the head of the Bethany Walker Endowment Fund, had simply informed the Eubanks College administration that the fund was willing to pay to have a professional librarian put the Mirror House library online. In memory of Bethany Walker.
College administrators never said no to money, even if they privately thought it was going down a drain.
Leonora made it through half of the coffee before she excused herself.
“Mind if I finish this upstairs?” She held up the mug of coffee. “I really should get to work. I want to do a survey of the collection. Get my bearings, as it were. I’ll return the cup later.”
“Of course. Run along and don’t worry about the cup.” Roberta waved her off. “And please don’t hesitate to let me know if there’s anything I can do. My door is always open.”
Half-full mug in hand, Leonora went down the long hall toward the grand staircase. There were a handful of offices on this floor. Roberta and Julie occupied two of them. A third was dark. The sign on the door read Eubanks College Alumni Fund Development. It was the office that Meredith had used during her short stint as a fund-raiser. Roberta had mentioned her only briefly during the tour.
Miss Spooner left on very short notice. Something about being offered a position in California. Fund-raisers are in huge demand these days, you know. We haven’t been able to replace her yet.
There was a lot of activity here on the first floor. The mansion’s large public rooms were being readied for the major event of the upcoming alumni weekend, a formal reception. Leonora had to dodge members of the cleaning crew and a man on a tall ladder, who was replacing light-bulbs in a massive chandelier.
Mirror House was well-named. Nearly every wall was covered with mirrors and antique looking glasses. But strangely, the enormous quantity of reflective surfaces did little to brighten the place. The interior of the old mansion, decorated in the heavy Victorian style with a strong emphasis on red velvet and dark woods, seemed drenched in perpetual twilight.
It got worse at the top of the staircase. Leonora came to a halt and looked down the long, shadowed hall on the second floor. The library was four doors down on the left. The scrolled and gilded looking glasses on the walls glittered malevolently. Beckoning her into the gloom? Or warning her to stay out of the darkness?
An inexplicable and almost overwhelming urge to turn and run swept through her. She gripped the carved banister until the sensation eased.
After a few seconds, she made herself walk down the corridor toward the library. She took refuge in the background research she had done before coming to Wing Cove. She knew there was a very logical reason why the mirrors and looking glasses that lined the walls were so dark and dim. They were all antiques, several of them dated from the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.
Vintage looking glasses lacked the brilliant optical properties of modern, contemporary mirrors. Their reflective surfaces had not been very bright to begin with because of the limitations of the technology of the eras in which they had been crafted. The old mirrors had continued to darken with age due to impurities in the original glass and the tarnishing of the various metals used to back them.
Okay, the mirrors were old and dark. But why did she get the disturbing sensation that the antique looking glasses here in this hall seemed to literally suck up the light rather than reflect it?
Wrench looked up from his water bowl when Thomas emerged from his workroom.
“Six o’clock.” Thomas went to the window and studied the view through the trees across the night-darkened cove. “Light’s on at her place. She’s home.”
Wrench did not appear to be impressed by that observation. He did, however, gaze hopefully in the direction of the front door.
“You’re right.” Thomas turned away from the window and crossed the front room to collect his jacket, a small flashlight and the leash. “We both need a little exercise. What do you say we go see how our new tenant is doing? Could be she needs a little maintenance work.”
Wrench needed no urging. He trotted happily out the front door and stood waiting patiently on the porch while Thomas locked up and attached the leash.
They went down the front steps and found the dark lane that led to the illuminated footpath.
Just a business conference, Thomas thought. He pulled up his collar against the damp night air. That’s all he was going for here. He just wanted to see how her first day at Mirror House had gone. Find out if she thought she might actually learn something useful. Compare notes. See if she had any plumbing issues. He hadn’t had much time to get the old cottage in shape for her. He had intended to start major remodeling work after the holidays.
There was only a light crowd on the footpath this evening. Thomas let Wrench forge a path for both of them through a flock of joggers. People tended to get out of Wrench’s way. For some reason, no one seemed to see him as a reincarnated miniature poodle.
They reached the footbridge and, as usual, had it to themselves. Serious fitness buffs rarely deigned to take the shortcut across the cove.
Thomas could not take his eyes off the warm glow that emanated from Leonora’s window. Images of bugs with very small brains drawn to hot lamps designed to fry them to a crisp danced in his head. He ignored them.
This was business.
It was a short walk, no more than fifteen minutes from his house to hers. Wrench gave him a curious look when they turned off the footpath to go along the lane that led to Leonora’s front porch, but he did not object.
They came to a halt at her front door. Wrench sat and did his tongue-lolling thing. Thomas knocked. He promised himself that no matter what happened he would not do the tongue-lolling thing.
The door opened almost immediately. Leonora stood in the opening. She wore a deep-purple corduroy shirt that skimmed her curves and a pair of black trousers. Her night-dark hair was brushed straight back from her face and caught with a black cord at the nape of her neck.
“Hello,” she said. Wary but polite.
“Evening,” Thomas said. Damn. The woman looks good. Very good. No tongue-lolling, he reminded himself.
Wrench pushed his nose against Leonora’s hand. She looked down at him and patted him gingerly on top of his head. He grinned.
She raised her eyes to Thomas. He wondered if she intended to pat him, too.
“Just thought I’d make sure you got settled in okay,” he said when it became obvious that she was not going to scratch him behind the ears.