Page 38 of Smoke in Mirrors

Crystalline silence descended. It lasted only a few seconds but that was more than enough time for him to realize how much he had given away. Deke wasn’t the only one taken by surprise.

“Sure, I understand,” Deke said. “Can’t be too careful around a guy with fake yellow eyes.”

He thinks I’m jealous. Thomas tightened his grip on the curtain. Hell, he’s right.

All he had been able to think about last night after leaving Leonora was how much he hadn’t wanted to leave her. When he had gotten back to the house he’d spent a couple of hours in his workshop, drilling holes in some boards he planned to use for shelving. The effort to distract himself from memories of the superheated kiss in her kitchen had been spectacularly unsuccessful.

When he had awakened this morning he had taken Wrench up into the woods on the bluffs where the dog could run free of the leash. The two of them had prowled through the dripping trees for over an hour while Thomas had come to terms with the new reality in his life.

He wanted Leonora more than he had wanted anything else in a very long time.

With acceptance came the need for planning and action. So, okay, he had control issues. So what? He worked damn hard at staying in control. He’d practiced diligently since the nights when he’d been a kid trapped in a bedroom with Deke, listening to the noise of their parents quarrelling, both of them afraid to go to sleep because they might wake up and discover that their father had moved out.

He had gotten so good at the control thing that when he was confronted with situations he could not control physically, he could at least control his own emotional reaction to the events.

Take his divorce, for instance. In the end, he’d been more annoyed by the dissolution of a perfectly good business partnership than he had the ruination of his marriage. Which probably didn’t say much for the marriage, but that was another matter.

The bottom line was that with Leonora he was, for the first time, conscious of feeling edgy and restless, not quite in full control. He needed to do something, anything.

Before coming here to Deke’s house, he’d rearranged the drawer in the nightstand beside his bed. It hadn’t been easy. He’d been forced to remove a flashlight, the remote, some electrical cables, a stack of financial magazines, a carton of tissues, three pens and a notebook to get at the box of condoms that had somehow worked its way to the rear of the drawer.

He had opened the box, removed two of the little packets and put them into his wallet. Then he had carefully placed the box back into the drawer. Right at the front, where he could find it again quickly. In the dark.

It wasn’t much in the way of concrete action, but it was something.

A man had to think positive.

She heard the muffled squeak behind the paneled wall just as she pulled out the C tray in the old wooden catalog. The faint noise was followed by the low murmur of voices. Julie Bromley and her boyfriend, Travis, were doing their lunch hour disappearing act again, taking the concealed flight of servant’s stairs to the third floor.

She gave them a few minutes to get where they were going, marking their progress by the creaks and groans of the hidden staircase. When the sounds ceased, she closed the catalog drawer, left the office and went to the door of the library to check the long, gloom-filled central hall.

The old looking glasses glimmered malevolently in the dim light. There was no sound of activity downstairs on the first floor of the mansion.

Satisfied that everyone was at lunch, she went to the narrow door set into the wooden paneling next to the library and pushed it open. She moved cautiously into the small space on the other side and let the panel swing shut behind her.

Julie’s and Travis’s voices filtered down from the floor above. Somewhere overhead another door opened and closed.

She removed the pencil-thin flashlight she had stashed in her pocket that morning and switched on the slim beam. The narrow ray revealed the twisted staircase that coiled around itself and disappeared into the shadows. The prints of Julie’s and Travis’s shoes were evident in the heavy coating of dust that covered the skinny treads. Judging from the heavy smudges in the thick grime it was obvious the pair made this hike to the forbidden third floor on a regular basis.

She started cautiously up the staircase. The treads were so narrow that her heels hung out over the edge of each step. How in the world had the servants of yesteryear, laden as they must have been with heavy silver platters and stacks of bedding, managed to navigate these treacherous steps? It was a wonder they had not fallen and broken their necks.

Halfway up the spiraling staircase one of the steps groaned loudly beneath her weight. That was the telltale sound she heard in the library when Julie and Travis made this trek, she thought.

At the top of the stairs she found another slender door inset in the wooden paneling.

She shut off the flashlight and pushed carefully against the panel. The door swung open on creaky hinges. She went through the opening and found herself in a cramped, unlit corridor that was much narrower than the hall on the floor below. In the old days this would have been the section of the house where the servants and less important guests had had their bedchambers. The only light came from the small windows at both ends of the passage.

There were no carpets up here, she noticed. The wooden floor had not been swept or polished in a very long time. It was easy to follow the footprints in the dust.

She went slowly down the hall. Rows of old mirrors hung on the walls, just as they did in every other section of the house. But unlike the well-kept looking glasses on the first two floors, these were all covered with a heavy accumulation of grime.

The metal frames were badly tarnished; the wooden ones were cracked in places. Corners were missing. The gilded finishes on the eagles and scrollwork were flaked and chipped.

There were hairline and spidery cracks in most of the reflective surfaces. In others, large shards of glass had fallen out, leaving jagged slivers of the original mirror in the frame. The layers of dirt on what was left of the glass were so thick that she could not see her own image in any of them as she went past.

Occasional blank spaces on the walls marked places where a mirror had been removed at some time in the past. Presumably the most valuable and interesting looking glasses had been taken downstairs to add to the main collection. The ones left up here were, for all intents and purposes, in long-term storage. She wondered if the odd mirror in Alex’s house had been stolen from this floor.

In addition to the mirrors several pieces of old, heavy, Victorian-style furniture had also been stashed up here. A pair of long, wooden tables loomed in the shadows on either side of the hall. At the far end of the corridor she could see a tall cabinet projecting out from the wall.