Page 25 of Smoke in Mirrors

The bulging curve of the heavily framed looking glass reflected the corridor for a distance of several feet on either side. The shifting of light in the dark glass was a reflection of the hall to her right. As she watched, a section of the corridor wall swung open.

Two figures slipped out into the hall. One of them paused to make certain that the hidden door swung shut. Then they both turned and disappeared in the direction of the main staircase at the far end of the passage. There was more muffled laughter and soft conversation.

Julie Bromley and her boyfriend, Travis Todd. Julie had introduced him to Leonora that morning.

She waited until the two students had vanished downstairs and then walked to where she had seen them emerge from the wall. A narrow seam in the paneling was the only evidence of a door.

She pushed gently. Nothing happened. She pushed a little harder. The invisible door swung inward with a creak of rusty hinges.

There was just enough light coming from the hall behind her to reveal a narrow flight of steps that curved around itself. It led to the closed floor above.

An old-fashioned set of servants’ stairs, she thought. Julie and Travis were no doubt using a room on the third floor for a trysting spot.

Personally, she couldn’t see how anyone could get into a romantic mood in this grim house but maybe that was her age showing.

She let the door swing shut and continued along the shadowy hall toward the main staircase. The dark mirrors glittered unpleasantly on the walls. She glanced at one as she went past. The frame was made of wood, heavily carved with crests and scrolls. The design and workmanship were typical of mirrors from the end of the seventeen hundreds, according to what she had read.

She saw her own image reflected dimly back at her in the old glass. There was something wrong with her reflection. She stopped and examined it more closely.

There were two reflections, she realized. The second was a ghostly duplicate of the first, slightly off-center. The result was an eerie doppelganger effect that made her shiver.

You can’t sleep yet.

Where had that stray thought come from? It drifted through her mind, a ghostly whisper with no form or obvious source. Her heart pounded. Her hands went cold. Her breath felt tight in her lungs.

Stop it. Get a grip.

She quickly averted her gaze and hurried off down the hall.

There was no reason to be unnerved by the double image, she told herself. It was simply the result of deficiencies in the early manufacturing process. The techniques of mirror making had been closely guarded trade secrets in the old days. The results produced had been less than perfect by today’s standards.

But she knew, deep down, what had sent the chill through her. It was because, for just an instant, the second reflection imposed over her own had looked a lot like Meredith.

She went quickly down the stairs, relieved to be able to descend into the hubbub of activity on the first floor.

She made her way through a pile of electrical equipment and a maze of folded tables and rushed out into the parking lot. Outside, she was relieved to see that a crisp, chilled sunlight had, temporarily at least, driven off the fog. It also banished what was left of the strange panic that had welled up inside her when she had looked into the double-image mirror.

Chapter Eight

“You’re new around here, aren’t you? Welcome to Wing Cove.”

At the sound of the unfamiliar male voice directly behind her, Leonora jumped. She dropped the package of frozen soybean pods back onto the stack, straightened and turned away from the supermarket’s large, glass-walled freezer.

A strikingly good-looking man with aquiline features and riveting amber eyes stood in the aisle. His jet-black hair was combed straight back and tied in a ponytail at the nape of his neck.

Dressed in a black, ankle-length leather coat, black pants, a black turtleneck and black boots, he certainly stood out there in the grocery store aisle. She was willing to bet that all of the articles of clothing had designer labels inside.

“Sorry,” he said, managing to look both amused and apologetic at the same time. “Didn’t mean to startle you. My name is Alex Rhodes.”

“Leonora Hutton,” she said automatically.

She told herself she shouldn’t stare into his unusual eyes. Then again, what else was a person supposed to do when talking directly to someone except look into his eyes? The alternative was to stare at his chest and that didn’t seem like a socially correct option.

“You’re the librarian they brought in to catalog that collection of old books out at Mirror House, aren’t you?” Alex asked.

“How did you know?”

He smiled, displaying very white, near perfect teeth. “This is one very small town. Word gets around. I also hear that you had dinner with Thomas Walker the other evening.”

She became aware of a cold draft chilling her backside. Hastily she closed the freezer door. “Looks like you’ve got my life story in a nutshell.”

“Not all of it. Just the stuff that happened here in Wing Cove. Want to hear my story?”

She gave up trying to avoid his strange tiger-yellow eyes. Why bother to be polite? He wanted her to look at him. Probably would have been crushed if she had not found him fascinating.

His unabashed, darkly sensual style held a certain piquant charm. He knew how good he looked and he was accustomed to having people notice, especially women. He possessed a comfortable nonchalance that told her he was used to trading on his sexy appearance. A masculine version of Meredith, in that respect, she thought.

“Before I decide whether or not I want your life story,” she said, “maybe you should tell me why, out of all the grocery stores in all the world, you walked into this one and chose me to honor with your tale.”

His black brows rose. “Damn. The cautious type. I was afraid of that.”

“It’s an old habit I’m trying to break, but it kicks in once in a while in spite of all my good intentions.”

“Ah, yes.” He nodded with an air of grave wisdom. “I know all about old habits. You could say I’m something of an expert in the field.”

“Really? How did that happen?”

“I’m in the business of breaking old habits.” He drew a black-and-silver case out of his pocket, opened it and handed her one of the little white cards inside. “I’m a stress-reduction consultant. I specialize in helping people deal with the problems of modern life. That usually means getting rid of old habits. I do counseling and I sell a special nutritional formula designed to offset the metabolic effects of stress.”