W. R. Haley
For disclaimers see Part 1
Feedback: Is welcomed and appreciated. Any constructive criticism will be embraced. I can be contacted at Ghswrtr8@aol.com Please enjoy!
Autumn moved through the day with Stephanie never far from her thoughts. She reached for the phone on numerous occasions wanting nothing more than to hear the other woman's voice. It was with sheer force of will that she refrained from it, at least until late afternoon. Autumn figured by then Stephanie would be winding down, having worked on her book during the morning hours. With a smile she quickly dialed the writer's number.
"Hey," she greeted her voice dropping to a husky whisper when Stephanie answered. She heard Stephanie's quick intake of breath, causing another smile.
"Hey you," she answered. Stephanie could feel the heat surge through her body at the sound of the other woman's voice. "I was just thinking about you."
"You were?" Autumn was pleased. "I was just thinking about you too."
"And what were you thinking?" Stephanie asked, her voice lowering to a seductive pitch. Autumn shifted in her chair, the writer's voice sending desire coursing through her.
"How I can't wait to see you, to touch you, to taste you," Autumn's voice was a hypnotic sound, fanning the already burning fire of desire.
"When can you get here?"
"I will be done here in an hour," came the laughing response.
"Okay, see you then," without waiting for a response Stephanie hung up the phone. Grinning Autumn followed suit.
When Stephanie opened the door an hour and half later no words were exchanged. They fell into an embrace and let their passion for each other do all the talking. It was much later before they laughingly exchanged greetings.
"God, I can't seem to get enough of you," Stephanie said in between the small kisses she was placing on Autumn's throat.
"I know what you mean," Autumn laughed. She pulled the woman close and kissed her. Stephanie snuggled down, happy in Autumn's arms.
"You know why I like this?" she asked.
"No why?" Autumn asked curious. Her fingers traced patterns on Stephanie's arm, her eyes watching the gooseflesh that rose at her touch.
"Well, there are a lot of reasons, but one of them is that there is no drama with you."
"No drama?" Autumn laughed.
"Yeah, you know drama. No psycho ex-girlfriends, no major baggage problems, you know."
"Yeah, I guess I can see your point in that," Autumn nodded. "What about you? Any psycho ex-girlfriends that I should be worried about?" she teased.
"No, she's a psycho all right, but she hasn't been around in a long time."
"Good, I wouldn't want to have to compete for your attention," Autumn whispered, moving so Stephanie was on her back.
"You would never have to compete for my attention."
"Good," was the last coherent word spoken for a while.
* * *
"I don't think I will ever walk again," moaned Autumn the next morning as she was gathering her things. She would have to hurry home to get ready for work.
"Yeah, but was it worth it?" grinned Stephanie as she lay in the bed watching Autumn move around the small room.
"You bet." Autumn kissed the blonde.
"You need to stop kissing me like that, or you may not leave."
"I can be late."
The week passed quickly for Autumn and Stephanie. They spent almost every evening together, not being able to get enough of each other. On Thursday morning Autumn reluctantly bid Stephanie goodbye. The writer had to go back to Chicago to meet with her publisher. She roamed around her house at a loss, not sure what she should be doing. Autumn missed the blonde writer already. With a sigh she set about cleaning up the rocking chair, deciding that it would look good in her living room.
Autumn woke with a start. She looked around disoriented, not sure for a moment where she was or what had woken her. She looked around her bedroom it was still dark. Looking at the clock she was surprised to see the time at 1:13am. Autumn had not been asleep for long. She had gone to bed around midnight, after having spoken with Stephanie for over an hour on the phone. Autumn got up and went to the kitchen for a glass of water. Vague images of a dream drifted to her, visions of an argument, of a fight, feelings of anger. As she walked back toward her bedroom a sound caught her attention. Footsteps. Frowning she turned around and looked back into the living room. Not seeing anyone she moved back into the darkened room. The sound of soft footsteps filled the room, before stopping suddenly. Autumn looked around the room carefully, with a disbelieving shake of her head she returned to her bedroom. She missed seeing the recently refinished rocking chair begin to slowly rock.
On Friday morning Autumn woke up still groggy. She had slept fitfully for the rest of the night. Her dreams had been haunted with the mysterious faceless woman, pleading, arguing with another person. Autumn didn't remember much of the dreams themselves but she was left with an unsettled feeling. A few times during the night she thought she had heard the sounds of footsteps in her room, almost as if someone was pacing in front of her bed.
"Maybe it really is haunted," Stephanie said that evening over the phone after Autumn had told her. Autumn snorted in disbelief.
"I doubt it, there are no such things as ghosts," she said firmly.
"But what about all the documented cases Autumn? Like that house in Amityville."
"Which they found was a hoax," Autumn pointed out in triumph.
"Okay what about the Bell Witch in Tennessee?" Stephanie tried another.
"Inconclusive and if you say the Blair Witch I am hanging up!" Autumn said with a laugh. Stephanie joined her.
"Okay, okay, I won't go there. But seriously, considering what happened in your house I would not be surprised if it was haunted."
"What happened in my house?" Autumn asked surprised sitting up from her reclining position on the couch.
"Didn't anyone ever tell you?" Stephanie was surprised; everyone knew what had happened at Harbour House.
"Well, it was built in the 1890's as you know, by the Harbour family. They had moved from Boston, actually they were one of the founding families of Mason. Well it was about I think 1924 and the owner of the house was Jane Harbour, I think that was her name, anyway she was murdered in the house. They never found her killer," Stephanie told her.
"No way! Are you serious?"
"Yeah, very serious. I'm surprised no one told you."
"I guess everyone thought I already knew about it," Autumn shrugged, her mind whirled with the new information. "So what time will you be home Sunday?"
"I'm not getting in till Tuesday now. I have to stay and go over some stuff here," Stephanie told her with real regret. "I miss you," she said suddenly.
"I miss you too Steph," answered Autumn, meaning it. "I wish you were here right now."
"There is no where else I would rather be," Stephanie told her in all seriousness. "I wish you were here!"
"Well, I guess we wish we were together," sighed Autumn, missing the other woman terribly.
"You got that right baby!"
"When you get back, uh, do you want to get together?" Autumn asked softy, almost shyly.
Stephanie's heart swelled. She had realized that she was hopelessly in love with the other woman and was hoping against hope that she felt the same way, but Stephanie felt it was too soon to be broaching that subject. The blonde didn't want to be the punch line in that U-Haul joke.
"Of course, I can't wait to get my hands on you."
"Just your hands?" asked Autumn with a teasing note in her voice.
"No, not just my hands," grinned Stephanie, her mind imagining all the things she wanted to do with the dark haired attorney. They spent the rest of the conversation talking of the things they each had in mind.
For the second night in a row Autumn woke with a start. Her eyes moved to the clock and she was surprised to see it was 1:13am again. She rubbed a hand through her disheveled hair before lying back down. Her eyes stared at the ceiling as she tried to fall back asleep. Her heart was thudding painfully in her chest, she felt fear, but of what she didn't know. With a groan she rolled over wishing not for the first time that Stephanie were there with her. Her mind on Stephanie, Autumn finally fell asleep.
Autumn felt Stephanie's hands on her body. She fought to wake up, vainly trying to get through the fog that surrounded her. Stephanie's hands became more insistent, teasing Autumn's already responsive flesh. She shivered deliciously as Stephanie's fingers slid effortlessly into her center.
Her lips began tracing a trail from Autumn's shoulder to her neck, chin and back down. Autumn moaned in her sleep. Suddenly, she could hold back no longer, her senses exploded, tearing a gasp from her as she sat up, wide awake.
"Wow," she managed her chest heaving. "That was some dream," she muttered looking at the clock. With a sigh, she realized that it was almost time to get up. She threw back the covers and with a slight smile padded to the bathroom.
As Autumn pulled out of her driveway she noticed a green pickup truck sitting opposite her driveway on the shoulder of the road. A dark haired man was sitting in the driver's seat. He was looking down at something in his hands as she turned toward town. Autumn looked up as she drove, in her rearview mirror she saw the truck, its driver staring intently ahead. With a frown she drove to her office, looking in the mirror every so often, the truck still behind her.
Pulling into a parking space in front of her office Autumn watched through the rear view mirror as the truck slowly drove passed. Once the truck had continued on, Autumn got out and made her way into the building. She was frowning slightly before chuckling ruefully to herself.
"This is Mason, Autumn, not Miami," she said to herself, shaking her head. She didn't notice as the truck drove slowly by the building, its driver staring intently at the door she had entered.
"So, how are things with the house?" Stephanie asked later that day. Autumn leaned back in her chair and held the phone close.
"Good, Nicky is out there today. I redid the rocking chair. It looks good in my living room."
"I can't wait to see it," Stephanie's voice was warm, sending chills down Autumn's spine.
"I have an idea, why don't you come to my house on Tuesday, I'll make dinner, that is if you want," Autumn asked shyly. Stephanie's smile grew as she pictured the dark haired attorney toying with a pencil or something trying to hide her nervousness.
"I want to, I'll be there," she answered softly.
"I can't wait to see you," Autumn sighed finally. "I miss you."
"I miss you too, baby. Tuesday is never going to get here." The two women talked for a few more minutes before reluctantly hanging up. Autumn with her mind still on Stephanie turned her attention back to her work.
* * *
Tuesday morning Autumn woke up grumpy. She had not slept well for the last few nights. Her dreams were filled with strange images, and sensations. Noises drifted to her each night. Autumn kept hearing footsteps and creaking floorboards. She had spent most of last night walking through the house searching for the source of the noises. Autumn left the house for the office a little earlier than normal having decided to go in early. She had a slight nagging headache from lack of sleep. Her frown deepened when she saw once again the green pickup parked across from her driveway. She stopped her car and opened the door, intent on confronting the driver who had followed her to work. The driver's eyes widened as she started toward him. Without delay he started his truck and drove off quickly leaving Autumn standing there watching. Finally she got in her car and drove off as well.
Once she got to the office Autumn's mood improved. Stephanie would be arriving home this afternoon and would be having dinner with her this evening. She settled down to the files in front of her, hoping to get through everything she needed to before her court appearance that morning.
* * *
Autumn was putting the finishing touches on the salad when a knock on the back door startled her. She turned down the baseball game, the radio behaving itself today. With a smile she opened the door to reveal Stephanie standing there. When the blonde caught sight of her a broad grin split her features. Autumn felt her heart start to pound. Grinning she pulled Stephanie into a tight embrace. In was a long moment before they moved apart. They shared a tender kiss, passion just beneath the surface.
"Hey," Autumn whispered her lips moving over Stephanie's.
"Hey," answered the blonde. She kissed Autumn deeply before stepping back. "Are you going to ask me in?" she asked with a grin.
"Oh," Autumn blushed deeply, stepping back. "I'm sorry, come in," she held the door open for Stephanie to enter. "How was your flight?"
"Long," Stephanie sighed.
"I'm sure, you want something to drink?" Autumn toyed with the hem of her tee shirt, suddenly shy.
She looked at the blonde from beneath her lashes. Stephanie smiled brightly as a surge of affection ripped through her. For all of her self-possession Autumn really was a vulnerable young girl underneath it all. With a small chuckle Stephanie launched herself into Autumn's arms, kissing her deeply, her hands intertwined in Autumn's dark hair. A loud squealing noise broke the contact. Two sets of eyes went to the radio on the counter as loud static interrupted the baseball game. Autumn frowned and went to the counter and turned the dial, bringing the game back.
"Bad reception," she shrugged. Stephanie moved into her arms again.
"I missed you," she whispered, her eyes on her Autumn's lips.
"Me too. I'm glad you are here."
"Something smells good."
"Thanks, I hope you are hungry," Autumn moved back to the stove and stirred the contents of the pan.
"Starving," Stephanie looked over Autumn's shoulder peering down into the pot. "I wish I could cook, but I have trouble boiling water." Autumn laughed.
"Well, I'll cook for you anytime."
"Deal," Stephanie kissed Autumn's cheek. "And I'll hold you to it. Can I do anything? Set the table?"
"Sure, that would be great. It'll be ready in just a few moments."
The two worked in companionable silence. Autumn could not help the small smile that played on her lips. There was something that felt so right about moving around her kitchen with Stephanie. She felt very comfortable which surprised her to no end. Autumn could not help but think about a future time when this would be an everyday occurrence.
"This looks good," Stephanie said as she looked down at the salad Autumn placed in front of her. Autumn smiled as she poured wine for the two of them.
"Thanks," Autumn sat down and took a sip of her wine.
Her eyes caught Stephanie's and their gazes locked with white-hot intensity. Stephanie's eyes darkened with desire and Autumn's lips twitched into a smile. Time was suspended as the two women looked at each other, as promises were made silently, and fulfilled, as past, present and future collided in just one look. A loud angry rapping on the front door broke the eye contact. With a frown, Autumn set her wine glass down.
"I wonder who that could be?" Autumn asked softly rising easily and heading toward the door. She turned on the front porch light and opened the door. Her frown deepened as she stepped out onto the empty porch. She looked around, seeing no one she went back inside. "No one was there," she told Stephanie sitting back down.
The two women settled into their meal, Autumn asking how things had gone in Chicago and Stephanie asking about the goings on in Mason. They had just finished their salads when the conversation was interrupted again by loud angry knocking. Autumn answered the door and once again the porch was empty. She stepped fully onto the porch looking for the guilty party.
"Who was it?" Stephanie asked when Autumn came back into the dining room.
"No one was there," Autumn told her.
She picked up their salad bowls and headed back to the kitchen. The radio was still on, but instead of the baseball game the soft strains of a Bach sonata drifted out. Muttering to herself she changed the station back to the baseball game.
"It's probably some kids," Stephanie said when Autumn rejoined her. She refilled the wine glasses as Autumn placed plates of shrimp scampi with angel hair pasta down. Stephanie took a deep appreciative breath taking in the heavy aroma of garlic. "Hmmm, smells great," she said with a large smile.
"Thanks, I hope it tastes as good as it smells," Autumn said sitting down.
"I know it does," grinned Stephanie, a mischievous smile on her face. Her eyes were twinkling as she looked at Autumn. The dark haired woman just shook her head and laughed. As they ate talk once more shifted to normal general conversation.
"That was wonderful," Stephanie groaned pushing her plate away. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, I'm glad you enjoyed it," Autumn answered before draining her wine glass. She set it down and leaned in, a smile toying with her lips. "Are you ready for dessert?" she asked. Stephanie, with a smile of her own, mimicked her move and the two were inches from each other.
"Depends on what it is," she answered, her voice pitched lower, its seductive edge sending a tingle down Autumn's spine. Autumn's eyes went to the lips that were tantalizing close.
"Well, I have carrot cake," she said her own voice low. "Or ice cream," she leaned in closer, their lips coming ever closer.
"Whipped cream?" Stephanie's lips were quirked in a smile.
"Maybe," whispered Autumn, the two moved ever closer, their lips almost touching.
"I hope so," Stephanie responded closing the distance between them.
Their lips met in a soft tender kiss. Neither woman deepened it, content just for the closeness. A sudden squealing noise from the radio and loud frantic rapping from the door pulled them apart. Autumn looked around, momentarily confused.
"I'll get the door," Stephanie said standing up. Autumn nodded and went back into the kitchen and snapped off the radio completely. She ran a hand through her hair, frowning as she looked around.
"No one?" Autumn asked when Stephanie joined her.
"No one," Stephanie answered. Autumn tried to quell the vaguely uneasy feeling that was developing in the pit of her stomach. "I'm sure it's kids."
"You're probably right," agreed Autumn. She smiled suddenly and pulled the other woman into a loose embrace. "Now where were we?"
"I think we were just about to do the dishes," quipped Stephanie. Autumn laughed and kissed the tip of Stephanie's nose.
"You're right," she stepped back. Stephanie's eyes snapped open and she chuckled ruefully. With good-natured teasing the two women cleared the table and made quick work of cleaning up. Afterwards they settled on the couch with refilled wine glasses.
"I can't believe how good that rocking chair looks," Stephanie said.
"Me either, it turned out great."
"The whole house looks good."
"Thanks," smiled Autumn, genuinely pleased. She looked around the living room. "It's coming along, there is still a lot more I want to do. There are a couple of windowsills that need to be replaced. And of course the baseboards."
"I think it's all coming along nicely," Stephanie said firmly. She snuggled closer to the taller woman. Stephanie smiled as she felt rather than heard Autumn's soft chuckle.
"Me too," Autumn said softly, not sure if she was talking about the house or the woman in her arms.
The two fell silent as they enjoyed the closeness, neither feeling the need to talk, just content to be with each other. It was much later when Autumn rose smoothly and held out a hand to the still seated woman. Her eyes never leaving Autumn's Stephanie took the offered hand and followed the woman down the hall and into her bedroom. Neither woman noticed as the rocking chair began to rock furiously.
The bedroom was dark; the occupants of the bed were snuggled close together, sleeping deeply. Their breath was even, in unison, as each slept content to be next to each other. Autumn moved closer to the other woman as a chill settled over the room. The blonde pulled the covers closer as the temperature continued to drop. Neither woman woke as their breath became visible in the room. The digital clock on the nightstand glowed softly. Its number changed silently to 1:13am.
Autumn knew she was dreaming. She saw herself lying on the bed snuggled up to Stephanie. Her dream self moved from the bedroom down the hall to the living room. She moved around the living room, touching things. A creak drew her attention. Autumn turned to see the recently refurbished rocking chair moving slowly. Rocking gently as if someone were sitting in it. As she watched it stopped rocking. Footsteps drifted to her. She followed them, finding herself back in her bedroom, lying on the bed, this time on her back, sitting up.
As she watched a figure entered the room and walked to the window. The figure began to pace aimlessly in front of the bed. Its face was in shadows, but Autumn could tell it was a woman. It was the woman from her earlier dreams. She was in a blue dress with a high linen collar. Her dark hair was tied back in a bun at the base of her slim neck. She seemed agitated. As she paced she would occasionally stop at the window, look out and resume her pacing. The woman seemed very worried about something, wringing her hands in front of her. Autumn felt a mist settle over the scene, giving an unreal quality to the dream. The figure continued to pace. She would often consult an unseen clock on the far wall.
After a few minutes Autumn saw her run for the window, an expectant smile on her angular face. She slid the window open and helped an unseen figure through. Autumn could make out a vague outline in the night. The woman began to talk rapidly; she seemed agitated and surprised to see this visitor. Autumn guessed she had been expecting someone else. The woman and the unseen figure talked furiously.
The conversation took a turn for the worse. They appeared to be arguing. The woman stepped away from the outline, in fear, pleading with her visitor. Suddenly she jerked back, her hands going to her stomach, blood seeped through her fingers. Again and again stab wounds appeared. The look of surprise on the woman's face turned to pain. Autumn struggled in her dream to help the woman. All she could do was lay there and watch, horrified as the scene played out.
The woman's body was suspended, facing the bed as if someone were holding her from behind. Her eyes were filled with terror and pain. Her eyes locked into Autumn's begging her to help her. Autumn reached out for the woman, her haunted eyes burning into Autumn's soul. Abruptly a red wound opened across the woman's throat, her eyes drained of life. She was roughly thrown to the floor, where more stab wounds were rained down upon her prone body. Then all went still, the outline went back to the window and quickly left.
Autumn awoke with a start. She was coated with sweat. Autumn looked around for signs of the violent struggle that she had just witnessed. There was no blood and no body. Stephanie lay sound asleep next to her.
"Just a dream," she whispered, lying back down. Her eyes missed the open window, the curtain moving slightly in the night breeze. She moved in behind Stephanie and fell back asleep.
* * *
The early morning sunlight streamed into the room, coating the bed with its beams. Autumn's eyelashes fluttered against her cheek, before opening. She lay there not moving, her eyes on the window, her mind on the vivid dream.
"Hey baby," came Stephanie's soft voice. Autumn looked over her shoulder and smiled at the woman as she crawled up the bed and over Autumn settling herself over her. She smiled down at the woman beneath her before kissing her.
"Good morning," Autumn said with a smile after the kiss was broken. "Did you sleep well?"
"Like a baby," Stephanie answered before kissing Autumn again. "I did get cold though last night. By the way, next time you want fresh air, turn off the air conditioner," Stephanie told her, her blue eyes twinkling merrily. She could feel the smile on her face but was helpless to stop it. She didn't know if she wanted to. Autumn frowned and turned to look at the window again.
"Huh," she said softly, still frowning. "I had the weirdest dream last night," she said softly.
"Oh yeah," Stephanie said softly, her lips tracing a trail down Autumn's throat. "Do you want to tell me about it?" she asked, her tongue now tracing patterns on Autumn's skin. The dark haired woman swallowed and tried to gather her scattered thoughts.
"Yes, maybe later though," she managed.
"Later?" Stephanie teased.
"Later," was the firm answer.
Stephanie giggled and squealed with delight as Autumn twisted and pinned her down on the bed. Autumn smiled and looked down at her. Studying the woman, she felt her heart swell with emotion. She knew she was in love. But instead of scaring her, it filled her with joy. A joy so full and complete that it threatened to spill out and flood the room. As her eyes roamed over Stephanie's face the blonde reached up and tentatively traced her mouth with her fingertip, her own eyes filled with emotion. Autumn's eyes fell on Stephanie's lips and she bent her head down and gently kissed her. Letting her emotion for the other woman pour out from her kiss. Stephanie kissed her back with equal emotion.
* * *
"I wish you didn't have to go," Stephanie said later as they stood next to Autumn's car. Autumn had driven the woman home before heading into town. Autumn smiled and took Stephanie's hand, brought it to her lips and placed a soft kiss on the back of it.
"Me too, but I have a case in court today. Old Ben Harris is suing his neighbor again," she told the other woman with a smile. Ben Harris and his neighbor Richard Bennett had been suing each other for the last thirty years. "With Ben as my client at least I know I'll have a steady income." Stephanie laughed. "Besides, I know you have some work to do yourself."
"I know I haven't got much done lately. I have trouble writing in Chicago anymore," Stephanie sighed and leaned against Autumn's car. "It's a new feeling."
"Maybe your heart isn't there anymore," Autumn said with a shrug. Stephanie looked up and her eyes bore into Autumn's.
"Maybe not," she agreed softly.
"Would you like to come to dinner again tonight?" Autumn asked suddenly.
"I would love to," Stephanie answered truthfully. She stepped closer to the taller woman. "Besides your bed is much more comfortable then mine," she told Autumn with a grin. Autumn threw her head back and laughed in delight.
"I'm glad you like it," she looked at the gold watch on her wrist and sighed. "I have to go. I should be home around 5:30. Come over any time after okay?"
"You bet," Stephanie told her before giving her a hug. She watched as the dark haired attorney drove off. Stephanie turned to go back inside, not seeing the battered green pickup truck that drove past, following Autumn's BMW into town.
* * *
"So she does live!" came an amused voice from the doorway. Stephanie looked up from her laptop and smiled. Michael laughed and came inside. Stephanie rose easily and gave him a hug. "How was Chicago?" he asked stepping back.
"Good, the same."
"I came by last night to see you but you weren't here," Michael's eyes twinkled and his grin was wide. "I wonder where you could have been?" he teased. Stephanie laughed and slapped him lightly on the arm.
"I went to Autumn's for dinner."
"I see, Autumn's for dinner," he repeated.
"Yes," Stephanie drawled out. She sat down on the couch and Michael followed suit.
"You got it bad," he commented.
"I think I'm love," she sighed. "No, I am in love."
"Steph!" he cried in surprise. "That's wonderful!" Stephanie looked up a bright smile on her face.
"It is. It's very wonderful. I don't think I have ever felt this good Michael. My heart is so full that at times I think it will burst."
"I am very happy for you baby," he leaned over and hugged her again. "Does she feel the same way?"
"I think so. We haven't talked about it yet. I think we actually have been afraid to. We have just been taking it easy, just enjoying being together. God, Michael, she's wonderful!"
Michael looked at her, his eyes shining with affection. Her face was flushed; her eyes were bright and full of life. Michael had known her for years, watched her go through a series of lovers, but never had he seen one make her so happy. He knew that this one was the one. With a laugh he pulled her into his arms and hugged her tight.
"Tell me everything," he demanded after he released her.
Autumn was whistling softly when she walked to her office that afternoon. Court was recessed for lunch and she wanted to work on some briefs. She had been pleasantly surprised at how busy her small firm had been. Her uncle had told her that it would be, but she didn't believe him. After all Mason was not a very large town. Granted most of it was small things, like drawing up wills or property disputes, but she did have two divorce cases and besides Ben Harris, one other personal suit. Life was good, she decided letting herself into her office.
Annie McCabe looked up from her computer screen when Autumn entered. She immediately stood, holding a small stack of pink message slips in her hand.
"Good afternoon Annie," Autumn practically sang stopping at Annie's desk.
"Afternoon, missy. Here are your messages, Mary Donnell has called four times, and you should call her first."
"All right. Is everything okay?"
"I think that no account Hank Donnell is bothering her," Annie said her face pinched. She had told Autumn in no uncertain terms what she thought about Mary's soon to be ex-husband.
"I wonder if a restraining order might help," Autumn mused as she looked through the messages. She knew that a restraining order usually wasn't worth the paper it was printed on, but it couldn't hurt. Annie snorted letting Autumn know what she thought.
"Do you want me to call Earl?" she asked naming the sheriff.
"Not yet, let me talk to Mary first," Autumn told her before moving toward the hallway, which would take her to her office.
"Oh, Miss Stephanie dropped by earlier," Annie said causing Autumn to skid to a halt. "She brought you lunch, it's on your desk."
"She did?" Autumn asked, inordinately pleased. She could feel the blush as it stole over her features. "Thank you." She turned and hurriedly walked to her office.
There on the desk was a brown paper bag. Smiling she opened it, pulling out a sandwich, some cheese slices and an apple. Her smile grew larger when she pulled out the folded piece of paper from the bag. Autumn read the note with a smile before carefully putting it away in her desk drawer. With a shake of her head she unwrapped the sandwich and slowly ate her lunch.
After speaking with Mary, calming and reassuring the distraught woman, Autumn settled down with a law book and a legal pad, intent on her research. She was making a note when her private office line rang. Smiling, thinking it was Stephanie, she answered quickly. Static greeted her.
"Hello?" the static grew louder. She thought she could hear a voice at the other end. "Hello?" the static grew to a loud squeal before being cut off. With a shrug Autumn hung up the phone and went back to her research. A few minutes later the phone rang again. More static greeted her.
"Hello? Who is this? I can't hear you!"
"Allison," came a voice through the worst of the crackle. "Allison," it said again. Autumn could not tell if the caller was a man or woman through the static.
"You have the wrong number, there is no Allison here," she said loudly, hoping to get through. She hung up. A few minutes later the phone rang for the third time.
"Allison," came the voice again, a little clearer. "Allison, please come."
"You have the wrong number!"
"Allison," the voice almost pleaded. "Please."
"There is no Allison here!" Autumn hung up the phone, shaking her head. It rang again almost immediately.
"I said there is no Allison here!" she snapped.
"Okay, good thing I'm not calling for Allison," came Stephanie's amused voice. Autumn's irritation vanished.
"Hey you," she greeted warmly. "Thanks for my lunch."
"I'm glad you liked it. I figured you would get too busy to eat." Autumn was touched and surprised that Stephanie seemed to know her so well. "Besides, it is very important that you keep up your strength," the blonde woman teased. Autumn laughed. The two chatted for a few moments before Autumn reluctantly realized that she had to get going.
"Oh yeah, before I forget, Michael has asked us to dinner tomorrow night. Are you interested?" Autumn felt a rush of heat at Stephanie's casual reference to them as us. She knew then beyond a shadow of a doubt that she loved the other woman.
"Sure, sounds like fun. Hey are you up to helping me in the barn this weekend?"
"Okay," Stephanie readily agreed. After a few more moments of conversation the two hung up. Her lips pulled into a goofy smile Autumn left the office shutting the door behind her. She did not hear the phone ringing angrily behind her.
"Annie, can you call Earl and see about getting the restraining order on Hank Donnell?" she asked her secretary.
"All right. Will you be back after court?"
"Depends," Autumn looked down at her watch. "It depends on what time we get out. I have plans this evening," she supplied with that goofy grin on her face again. She silently told herself to stop it but she didn't listen. Annie smiled back.
"There is a city council meeting Friday night, will you be attending?" Autumn thought a moment.
"Sure, it's probably a good idea," she answered. Annie nodded, agreeing with her. "Well, if I don't see you before you leave I'll see you in the morning." Autumn said and started toward the glass front door. Her heart sped up involuntarily at the sight of her name on the glass. Her thoughts on her good fortune Autumn stepped out in the August heat. Instantly the humidity fell over her like a damp cloak. She gripped her briefcase tighter and walked toward the courthouse.
* * *
The clock on the bedside table turned to 1:13am. The taller of the two women in the bed tossed restlessly, her eyes fluttering behind her closed lids. A mist settled over the room as the temperature plunged down. Footsteps came down the hall and the bedroom door creaked open. The woman on the bed turned over. The floorboards in front of the bed groaned as the woman in the blue gown paced. She glanced at the unseen clock, her hands wringing in front of her. The woman rushed to the window, opening it, letting in another person, who was yet again only an outline against the dark night. An argument broke out and suddenly the woman was riddled with stab wounds. She was thrown to the floor where more wounds appeared. The vague outline moved to the window and left.
Autumn woke with a start; her eyes wildly searched the room. She ran a ragged hand through her hair. Her eyes once more searched the room and fell unbelieving on the open bedroom window. She pushed the covers back and padded carefully over to the window. Autumn knew she had not opened it. She quickly shut and locked the window. She started to close the curtains when something outside caught her eye. A small light bobbing in the night, heading toward the dock. Frowning Autumn closed the curtains and left the room.
Autumn grabbed a flashlight from the kitchen, slipped her feet into the worn canvas boat shoes by the backdoor and let herself out. The night air, while cooler than the afternoon still was thick with the summer humidity. Autumn absently brushed away a mosquito, her eyes searching the dark for the light she had seen from her bedroom. She had almost decided she had been seeing things when she caught the glint of a soft light. Autumn moved away from the house.
A soft breeze blew through the trees, filling the night with a sighing sound. Crickets and other night creatures sang their songs entertaining each other. Autumn moved quickly, following the light. It had stopped moving. Autumn frowned when she realized it had stopped at the dock. As she got closer she could make out a figure standing at the end of the dock. The figure was dressed in a long white nightgown.
"Hello," she called out when she was about 10 feet away. She could make out the back of a slight young girl with long dark hair that cascaded down her back. The girl turned at the sound of Autumn's voice. There was a profound look of grief and longing on her face. Autumn almost dropped her flashlight and took an involuntary step back. Her eyes widened in alarm and disbelief as she stared at the familiar features. Her mouth opened to speak, but no words came out.
The color of the girl's eyes, the shape of her mouth, the tilt of her head. It was all very familiar to Autumn. It was the face she saw every morning in the mirror. Autumn backed away in fright, her mind screaming at the impossibility. She watched in horror, shaded with grief as the girl stepped off the edge of the dock and soundlessly disappeared into the dark water. Autumn, her eyes wide with horror, stumbled onto the dock and rushed to the edge, her eyes frantically searching the calm water, looking for the girl. Nothing disturbed the water.
"Autumn?" the dark haired woman jumped, startled. She whirled around her eyes wide with fright. Stephanie stood there, looking at her with bewilderment evident in her gaze.
"Did you see? Did you see her?" she asked the blonde. Stephanie frowned.
"Who? Did I see who?" Autumn twisted back to face the water.
"The girl. The girl in the nightgown, she was standing right here and then she stepped into the water," Autumn moved to the edge of the dock, looking down. She scanned the water with her flashlight. The water remained still.
"Autumn, I didn't see anyone," Stephanie said gently.
"But, she was right here, you had to have seen her!" Autumn insisted. She kicked off her shoes, intent on jumping into the water. She was surprised when she felt a firm grip on her arm. "I have to save her Stephanie," she practically sobbed.
"Autumn, I followed you from the house, there was no one here. It's a dream baby," Stephanie moved closer to Autumn, talking in soft tones to the disturbed woman. "Come on, let's go back to bed baby, it was just a dream." Autumn allowed herself to be lead back toward the house.
"Yes, a dream, that's what it was, a dream," she said softly to herself.
Autumn docilely followed Stephanie back to bed. Stephanie pulled the covers over them both before pulling Autumn into her arms. She held Autumn as the dark haired woman fell asleep. In the living room the rocking chair rocked gently, the sound of knitting needles clicking together gently filled the air.
Autumn woke up with a headache. Her dreams had been filled with death. Brett Lawson had run through her dreams, his evil laugh sinking into her soul. The girl in white drowning followed visions of the woman in the gown being stabbed, each retelling growing more horrible. She dreamed that she was running through the woods behind her house, a man following her. The dream had moved to her driving through town, racing down the highway, a green Ford pickup following close behind her.
"Baby, are you okay?" Stephanie asked softly, her breath tickling Autumn's ear. She was leaning over Autumn's shoulder, her hand gently rubbing Autumn's arm. Autumn's eyes were staring, unseeing at the far wall.
"Yeah, I just have a headache. I didn't sleep very well," she said rolling over on her back. Stephanie brushed aside a lock of hair. Her eyes were filled with concern. She looked at the dark circles under Autumn's gray eyes.
"I know, you tossed and turned and kept mumbling in your sleep."
"I'm sorry," Autumn told her.
"Don't be," Stephanie said before gently kissing her. She held Autumn tight, her heart aching for the pain she saw in her friend's eyes.
Autumn sat in her car outside the library. Her eyes traveled the length of the street. Every time she came into town she was thrown back in time. The main street always reminded her of an old fifties sitcom. It looked as if the town had not built anything new since 1920. She almost expected a car with Aunt Bee and Opie in it to pull up in front of the library. She couldn't help but smile as she saw the small group of men sitting in chairs outside the barbershop watching the passersby. They were lazily talking and two were enjoying a heated game of checkers. A man in ragged overalls and a straw hat strolled down the street. He politely tipped his hat as he passed her car.
She frowned slightly as she looked at the building in front of her. A half formed thought had brought her here after checking in at her office. Autumn wasn't sure what she was going to look for when she got in there. With a sigh she picked up an empty legal pad and headed for the doors. The early morning sun was bright as it shone down on her. She did not see the battered green pickup truck as it slowly drove past her, the driver's eyes intently on her.
* * *
Autumn slowly turned the page of a yellowed newspaper bound in a hard cover. Small towns did not believe in microfilm she thought wryly as she looked at the stacks of bound newspapers in front of her. The librarian helped her locate the dates she was interested in.
It was a small town newspaper all right and it was filled with local items that only the residents of this fair town would be interested in. Who was dating whom, what they wore, who got married to whom, what they wore, who got divorced, what they wore, who's pig won first prize at the fair, what they wore. She chuckled softly as she read some of the articles. She was down to the last bound stack of papers when she saw a picture of her house.
"Tragedy at Harbour House," the bold headline read.
"Early this morning the body of Miss Jane Harbour was found in the bedroom of her home by a maid. She had been stabbed numerous times. The killer apparently escaped from an open window in the bedroom.
"Clues are scarce at this time. Sheriff Kinsey will be conducting the investigation and is expected to interview the neighbors soon."
The article went on to explain how the Harbour family had moved to the small town from Boston, in the early 1800's. It stated how they were one of the premier families in the town and pillars of local society. The Harbour's were involved in all the right issues and donated large amounts of money to the fledgling town. Jane was the only child of Stanley and Greta Harbour. Stanley was a direct descendant of the first Stanley Harbour who had originally come to the small Florida town. Her parents, the article read, had died tragically in a boating accident a few years prior to Jane's murder. The funeral arrangements and town reaction took up the remaining space on the front page. The article was continued on page 3.
Autumn eagerly turned the pages. Her blood ran cold and the hair on the back of her neck tingled. Her eyes burned into the picture. The caption identified the woman in the picture as Jane Harbour. A chill swept down her spine as she recognized the woman from her dreams, the woman in the blue gown. Her gaze remained locked on the black and white photo. The blood rushing to her ears drowned out all other sounds. The photo loomed large in front of her eyes. Her hands trembled. Even though she had half expected this, she still nonetheless was taken aback.
"Excuse me," a soft voice said to Autumn. She jumped, startled.
The librarian stood surprised, looking down at the suddenly pale woman in front of her. She was concerned at the pasty look of Autumn's skin. Autumn's eyes were huge and frightened. Her breathing was ragged and shallow.
"Are you ill?" she asked concerned.
"No, no I'm fine," Autumn managed her voice slightly husky.
"I came to see if you were done with these," she pointed to the stack of bound papers to the side of Autumn. "I have a gentleman who would like to see them." She indicated an elderly gentleman shuffling toward a nearby table. Autumn looked at the stack, her mind refusing to function.
"Do you mind?" the librarian asked pointing to the stack again.
"Uh, no, I'm done with those," Autumn mumbled pulling the bound newspaper book in her hands closer, as if afraid the librarian would take it from her. Her eyes went back once more to the picture of Jane Harbour. She missed the concerned look the librarian gave her before she picked up the books and moved away.
"How could this be?" Autumn thought to herself as she looked at the grainy photograph.
How could she have been dreaming about a woman she had never seen? Her reverie was broken by a wet cough from the elderly gentleman at the next table. Autumn looked at her watch; visibly collecting herself she gathered her things together. Straightening her shoulders she stood and strode arrogantly to the front desk. The librarian looked at her with a slight frown. Autumn's eyes still held a wild look. Most of her color though had returned, but she couldn't quite hide the bewilderment.
"Excuse me, could you tell me where your copier is?" she asked. The woman pointed to the wall on the opposite side of the building. "Thank you. I also need any books you have on the first families of Mason, particularly the Harbours and also anything you may have about the murder of Jane Harbour," she told the startled woman. Autumn went to the copier while the woman began searching for titles that met her requirements.
"Excuse me sir, may I sit down?" Autumn asked the elderly man. He looked up; his faded brown eyes were watery behind the thick glasses he wore.
"Certainly, miss, be my guest," he gallantly offered. Autumn sank down; her legs still a bit unsteady. "It sure is a pretty day today," the man said after a few moments of silence. He was curious as to what this beautiful young lady would want with an old geezer like himself.
"It most certainly is. Sir, my name is Autumn Flanagan," she began, extending her hand, knowing that this old school southern gentleman would not offer until she did.
"How do you do Miss Flanagan," the man shook her hand. "I am John Kinsey," Autumn was startled by his name.
"Kinsey? Any relation to Sheriff Kinsey?" she asked. John Kinsey chuckled.
"My father, Eli Kinsey. You've heard of us?" he asked amused.
"I recently moved here," she started.
"You bought the old Harbour House."
"Yes, I did," she leaned in closer. "They say my house is haunted."
"A lot of strange things go on in that house," John said guardedly.
Autumn looked at the elderly man across from her. His watery eyes watched her curiously, intelligence and life still burned deep in them. His hair was thin and she could see his pink scalp beneath the white wisps of hair. She was trying to decide what to say. She had come over on a whim and now was unsure.
"I never believed in ghosts Mr. Kinsey," Autumn stated firmly. The newspaper article though had shattered her beliefs earlier.
"You don't have to believe girl. Lots of folks here about do believe," he answered just as firmly. His bushy white eyebrows scrunched over his eyes.
"Your father was the sheriff here when Jane Harbour was murdered right?" she asked suddenly.
"Sure was, he was the Sheriff here until his death in 1941," John said proudly.
"Did he ever talk to you about the case?"
"Not much. I was about nine when it happened," he began, his eyes on the past, remembering a time when the mere thought of the age he was now was greeted with disbelief. He had never thought he would be this old before. "I think I was just discovering girls that spring," he chuckled fondly. "I had started to walk Sally Ann Jenkins home from church. She was a beautiful girl, blonde, with the biggest blue eyes you ever did see. We got married the day after she turned seventeen. Sally Ann and I had a good many years together. I do miss her terribly," John's voice grew hoarse with grief and his watery eyes filled with tears at the thought of his beloved wife, dead these past six years. Autumn let him gather his thoughts.
"Can you tell me anything about it?" she asked after a moment.
"It was all anyone could talk about. Horrible thing that was. Jane Harbour was a wonderful woman, never would hurt a fly, the nicest person you could ever meet. The whole town liked her. Awful thing," he regretfully shook his head.
Autumn watched as he silently went over his memories of the woman who had died in her house. She could see the pain in his face as he thought of her losing her life in such a horrible way. He quickly told her what he knew, which was what was in the newspaper.
"The whole town was shocked, they couldn't believe that such a thing could happen, especially here," he said after a moment.
"Did they ever catch the murderer?"
"No, no they never did," he sighed. "Oh we all had an idea who did it, but there was no solid evidence," he paused. "I think that is what killed my dad. The only case he never solved. It was one of our greatest mysteries."
"Who were the suspects?"
"Well, the gardener for one, he was not from around here," John began. "He started working for the Harbour's about a year before the murder and he left not long after, in the dead of night no less."
"Do you remember his name?" Autumn asked ready to write it down.
"It was a German name. Hans something or another, I can't remember," Autumn hid her disappointment.
"Who else was a suspect?"
"The whole town for a while," John answered with a touch of indignation. "But that didn't last long. There was some talk of the neighbor, but nothing came of that."
"The neighbor?" Autumn asked looking up from her notes. John looked at her; Autumn could see he was struggling with whether or not to tell town secrets.
"Yes, but there was no concrete evidence," John leaned back in his chair, breathing heavy. Apparently he had not done this much talking in awhile; he coughed wetly into his handkerchief.
"So, Miss Flanagan, you noticed anything strange in your house?" he asked after putting his handkerchief away. Autumn was surprised but kept her face unconcerned.
"No," she answered after a moment. John smiled as if he knew she was lying.
"Strange things go on in that house girl. When no one lived there, lights would be on and there would be shadows moving around."
"Maybe it was a drifter," she suggested. Even to her own ears, it sounded lame.
"One night I stayed there, what I saw made my blood run cold and I have not been back there since," he said his voice tight.
"What did you see?" Autumn asked. John looked at her, his eyes looking deep into her own.
"I saw the murder."
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