Olivia owned Highcliff!
I hadn’t had a chance to find out who the “money lady” and Lydia’s aunt actually was.
I bit into a chunk of lobster, chewed but swallowed without thinking since the bombshell Jagger had just set off took all my attention.
In seconds I couldn’t breathe and grabbed at my throat-the universal sign of choking. Jagger flew out of his seat, grasped me from behind and did the Heimlich maneuver. The piece of buttery lobster popped out of my mouth and onto my dish.
Thank goodness it didn’t land on Jagger’s or I’d have been so embarrassed.
I’d gotten pretty used to being humiliated in front of him (actually by him), so having it on my dish and having my life spared was no big deal.
I pushed at his hands before he cracked a rib and breathlessly said, “I’m fine. Thanks. I owe you one.”
He sat down and looked at me then grinned again.
I had to see if the adult ed classes back in Hope Valley offered a quick course on reading body language. Because in my book that look said “sex,” but probably in Jagger’s it was more like “you’re going to have to wash my laundry” or some stupid guy thing to do with housework in order to pay him back.
I took a sip of water this time and gently pushed the wineglass away. One episode of near-death per night was my limit. “Okay. How do you…is she really? Mrs. Wheaton-Chandler is? Is the owner of Highcliff? Lydia didn’t say…I mean she would know that-”
Jagger touched my lips.
I chose to “read” it as sensual; however, my logical mind knew it was out of exasperation to shut me up. Forget the course. I was going to read him how I wanted, or I’d never be able to work with him, knowing the truth.
“She owns it,” he said, very matter-of-fact. He lifted his fork and stabbed at the tail end of his lobster, recovering a gigantic piece. Jagger didn’t even dip it in butter, which didn’t surprise me-however, it did annoy me.
I would probably gain anywhere from ten to thirteen pounds at this one meal tonight. Oh well, at least I was sticking Jagger with the bill. That gave me some justification for all the calories.
After my chocolate mousse dessert-with whipped cream-I decided we-at least I-needed to walk a bit. No, a lot.
“It’s such a nice night, let’s take a walk,” Jagger said.
Amazing, yet not surprising. The guy had some kind of power to read minds. My mind, that was. I only hoped he hadn’t suggested the exercise because he’d noted I’d already started to gain a few pounds.
At the end of the wharf area we had to wait for the light to change before we could cross the street. America’s Cup Avenue was always busy with fast-moving traffic. I turned toward a lamp pole and noticed a sign.
He swung around-looking very much like he thought he was going to have to do some kind of emergency procedure on me yet again. “What the hell?”
I waved at him. “I’m fine. That sign. Can we take it?”
“You want to take the sign?”
I groaned. “No, silly. What it says. Can we sign up for it? We have about six minutes before it starts.”
He looked at the pole and remained silent a few seconds too long.
Made me start to get nervous. “Jagger?”
“I’m not going on some goddamn ghost tour around Newport. I can tell you all you want to know for free.” With that he started to cross the street, leaving me, with my mouth agape, in his wake.
“Oh no you don’t, buddy,” I said, hurrying after him. Normally I was a jogger, but after three glasses of chardonnay, I wouldn’t make it a mile. Thank goodness I didn’t stumble as a Maserati sped past me and Jagger turned to yank me up onto the curb.
“Damn it, Sherlock. You wanna get yourself killed?”
Not while you’re holding my arm like that, I thought. Yikes. Then I pulled away. “You walked away from me, and why can’t we take the tour? I’ll bet it’s a hoot.”
His chocolate eyes melted into me. Wow. Before I knew it I was on the other side of the street, standing on the sidewalk of Thames Street in front of the old Trinity Church. Tall white steeple. Set on the hill and very New Englandlike.
I poked at Jagger’s chest. “Come on, Jagger. Live a little.”
He growled at me. “Walking around Newport looking for ghosts is not living, Sherlock.” With that he swung an arm around me, pulled me closer, leaned me backward and pressed his lips on mine.
“This,” he murmured, “is living.”
Then I never want to die.
If I thought three glasses of wine made my knees weak, they’d actually been like steel compared to how this guy made me feel. In a few seconds he had me upright and our lips were no longer in contact, but the feelings surging throughout me kept right up-thank goodness.
“Now, walk.” He’d said it as if nothing happened.
I stood speechless and, yes, still savoring the world-stopping kiss as I ran my finger around and around my lips. Ghosts schmosts, I thought.
Jagger was nearly up the small hill to the church when he turned and looked at me.
I yanked my hand from my face and sucked in a huge breath, which I let out very slowly all the way up the sidewalk-as if that would help me walk better.
We headed up Mary Street past the Vanderbilt Hall Hotel, an imposing brick mansion that sat on the hillside. Lamplights flickered in the darkness, and Jagger walked close enough so that our shoulders touched-why the hell he didn’t put his arm around me I had no idea.
But, believe me, I was sending mental telepathy suggestions to him nonstop and to no avail.
We rounded the corner and made a circle, ending back up where we started, at the base of the hill of the Trinity Church. It wasn’t a very long walk, but Jagger had been leading the way, and since I wasn’t familiar with the area, I couldn’t complain.
Well, I could, but found out a long time ago that complaining to Jagger was like talking into the wind. Your words merely flew back at you unanswered.
Since we’d remained silent the entire walk, I decided I’d had enough. “Okay, Jagger, spill about the ghosts. Are you talking Samuel here?”
He stopped mid-stride, turned and gave me a look that had me shiver. Yikes.
“Don’t go messing with this one, Pauline.”
Oh, boy. When Jagger used my real name, he meant business. And most of the time-well, all of the time-I’d listen.
But there were those damn glasses of wine that just made me not myself. So I said, “Messing with a ghost?” I laughed. “Come on, Jagger. Even you don’t believe-no, especially you don’t believe-in ghosts or spirits or anything woo woo.”
“What the hell is woo woo?”
“You know,” I leaned closer. “Woo woo. Spiritual stuff. Horoscope stuff. Anything that sounds woo woo.”
He shook his head, but thankfully only once. “I believe that we shouldn’t be so self-absorbed on this earth to think we are the only ones here. I believe there are spirits out there.” He looked into my eyes. “And they don’t like to be messed with.”
The ride back to the lodge was pretty dull. Jagger kept his eye on the road and played a Tim McGraw CD while I looked out the window, fascinated by the historic houses in Newport, by how I could peek inside ones whose lights were on and the fact that Jagger really believed in ghosts.
Who would have thought?
I might have found that hysterical if it weren’t for the fact that I actually felt someone or something push me into his arms earlier. A shiver chased up my spine and I gasped.
“What?” he asked, not even looking.
“Oh. Nothing. Just cold,” I lied and kept looking out the window. I had to switch my thoughts from imaginary beings, so I let myself remember The Kiss. I gasped again-only this time it was followed by an “Ah.”
“Jesus, Sherlock. If you keep up those orgasmic noises I won’t be able to drive.”
My face had to be redder than the damn lobsters we’d devoured for dinner. But my memories were fun to relive-and, okay, not far off from delicious Jagger’s accusations.
We pulled into the parking lot. I looked up to where my room was and noticed the light on. Maybe the innkeeper’s helpers were turning down my bed and leaving me chocolate. One could only hope!
I said good-night to Jagger. Gave him a quick peck on the cheek since I was chicken to take his face into my hands and give him a real kiss on the lips-even though I really, really, really wanted to.
He mumbled something akin to “Good night” and turned toward the kitchen. Certainly he wasn’t hungry.
Deciding to ignore Jagger and get some sleep to work on my case tomorrow-since now I needed to find out a hell of a lot more about Olivia Wheaton-Chandler-I walked up the carpeted staircase.
My door was locked, so I fished around in my pants pocket for my key. Old places like this still used real metal keys and not the key cards of the more modern hotels. After jiggling the key in the lock, I pushed my shoulder into the door to get it to open.
And I gasped again.
A maid would not have left my room in such disarray. Someone had been in here looking. Looking for what? A cool gust of air flew into my face. I tried to scream but nothing came out. As if it were swirling around me, I reached my hands up to my face.
“Sam…u…el?” I asked as meekly as Dorothy speaking to the Wizard. “Is…that…you?”
Although my heart was in tachycardia (speeding like a demon) I eased my hands from my face, pulled my shoulders straight and said, “I am not afraid of you.” But inside my head I was the lion saying, I do believe in ghosts. I do believe in ghosts. I do. I do. I do.
The curtains flew toward me. I stepped back ready to die. Then I noticed that behind them the window was open. “Great, Sokol. There’s your ghost.” I walked to the window, tucked the curtains back and pushed the frame until it closed out the night and the sea breeze pretending to be a spirit.
“Thank goodness no one saw me,” I mumbled and laughed-more out of relief than humor. I decided to relive the earlier part of the evening and ignore my recent visitor.
Tonight was wonderful having dinner with Jagger. Fabulous food. Delicious wine (which now had my head pounding) and, well, the company, the kiss.
Still, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, someone had been in there. Someone had opened the window. And someone had opened my drawers. Couldn’t have been the maid.
Right about then I’d love to have known that it actually was a ghost’s shenanigans. I wouldn’t mention someone being in my room though because it might tip the culprit off that I was investigating the fraud.
It took some doing, but I was beginning to convince myself that I couldn’t let threats and a sense of danger interfere-and paralyze me from my job.
I had work to do so I slipped off my shoes and jeans and thought I’d forgo a shower until the morning. When I unbuttoned my shirt, took it off and left on the camisole, I decided I at least needed to wash up. I turned toward the bathroom and walked into the doorway-and screamed.