Jewels of the Past (Part One) by Kerri Carpenter

After all of the heartache she’d been through in the last six months, Molly thought she could handle anything. Unfortunately, nothing prepared her to walk into the attic and find herself staring into the dark barrel of a gun.

The fact that the gun was being held by the man she just realized she loved didn’t help matters.

“Chance, what are you doing?” Her heart began to race.

“Don’t move.” His grip on the gun tightened.

Her mind raced to figure out what the hell was happening. Only a short time earlier, they’d shared the most amazing moment of her life. Chance told her he loved her.

She looked up now and saw the anger in his eyes.

Had it all been some kind of trap? After all, she’d only known him for a short time.

Her breath rasped out in uneven bursts as she wondered what a bullet ripping through her body would feel like. Surely not as bad as the sensation of her heart shattering into a million pieces. If only she’d never been sent to this house in the first place….

 

Two weeks earlier…

 

Molly Martin felt the full force of her punishment as she brought her car to a stop in front of the old mansion. She’d been exiled to this remote house by her boss and mentor.

Things could be worse. The interior design firm where she worked had been hired to restore and renovate this historic estate in a rural part of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Molly would be staying here for the next month as the main designer and point-of-contact. Since it once belonged to the Carnegie family, she supposed it was good enough for her too.

As she got out of the car, a movement caught her eye. She looked up to the third floor window. The curtain seemed to shift and she breathed a sigh of relief. Her boss mentioned that someone would be there to greet her.

Even if she was unhappy about being banished from her city life in Pittsburgh, Molly had to admit the house was gorgeous. A large Victorian set on acres of lush land, the Carnegie family’s old summer house was infamous with historians, architects and designers alike.

Besides, she’d deserved to be sent away.

At least the exterior seemed to be in good working order. Admiring the intricate carvings of the banister on the large wrap-around porch, she had the distinct feeling she was being watched. Dismissing it, she pushed open the front door.

A strong musty aroma greeted her as dust bunnies formed an army around her. Number one priority became airing out the place. She walked toward a large sitting room but not before taking in the high ceilings of the foyer and the beautiful stain-glass window on the front door. She thought she spotted solid hard-wood floors but she would need to clean out the place to be sure.

In the sitting room, she lifted the windows up after a couple hard tries. She wondered how long they’d been shut. Molly knew the house had sat empty for decades after one of the Carnegie sisters shocked high society by abruptly ending her engagement. Even after her grandmother had bought her a priceless ruby necklace as an early wedding gift.

Poor baby. Molly rolled her eyes as she continued to wonder through room after room filled with sheet-covered furniture. She couldn’t wait to start uncovering it.

Suddenly, a scent caught her off-guard. Wind Song perfume. At the recognition, her stomach clenched and she felt the familiar lump in her throat. Her grandmother used to wear that perfume. As it always did, the thought of her Granny’s recent passing overwhelmed her as the powdery smell continued to assault her senses.

Unable to ignore it, she followed the scent through the house until she reached the kitchen. Another thing that reminded her of Granny, the kitchen. How many wrongs had been righted with homemade buns and buttered noodles.

A rattling noise sounded from a tall pantry door. Molly worried her lip. Please don’t be a rat. 

She grabbed the first thing she could find for defense, a large skillet. Then she took a deep breath, closed one eye and yanked the pantry door open.

Before she could whack any rodents, she let out a scream as a large man tumbled out and fell on top of her.

#

Chance Sullivan still didn’t understand how he’d ended up locked in the damn pantry. He’d heard a noise and went off to investigate. Next thing he knew, he somehow got stuck.

Trying to regain his wits, he looked down at the person who had broken his fall. His breath whooshed out of his lungs as he stared down into the most beautiful blue eyes he’d ever seen. Large and rimmed with thick dark lashes, they stood out in her pale face as thick brown hair surrounded her like a halo.

He shifted, taking his body weight off of her, noticing the cast iron skillet a moment too late. Next thing he knew a pain burst on the side of his head and he fell forward into darkness.

#

“Son of a bitch,” Chance ground out, reaching for his head. He felt the knot and swore again. “Did you just hit me with a frying pan?”

“Yes, and I’ll do it again if you give me any problems. I called 911 as well.”

Chance looked up and saw that she was sitting at the table, legs delicately crossed, as she continued to clutch the pan in one hand and her cell phone in another. Even though her expression emanated fear and distrust, her hand was steady and she didn’t break eye contact.

Impressive.

“The police are on their way?” He raised an eyebrow which only hurt.

“Actually, they asked if I could identify you. I looked in your wallet and saw you’re from Sullivan Security.”

Chance made it into a sitting position. “So you realized I’m here to protect you.” He ran a hand through his black hair.

She finally put the pan down on the table. “Some job you’re doing. What kind of security expert gets himself locked in a pantry?” Her chin tilted upward in a dare.

“I did not get myself locked in a pantry.” He stood but at her stoic stare relented. “Okay, I got locked in the pantry but I’m not sure how.” He tested the pantry door and the lock seemed fine. “Anyway, I’m out now. Quite an arm on you. I’m Chance Sullivan, your bodyguard for the next month. Which must make you Margaret Martin.”

“Call me Molly.”

“You weren’t supposed to arrive until tomorrow, Molly.” He said it with a disdainful look at her weapon of choice.

“Change of plans,” she spit back. “Are you going to stay here in this house? With me?”

“Apparently. I’m supposed to keep you and the property safe.”

Chance noticed that she had a perfectly shaped mouth with full pink lips. She opened it to speak but her words were drowned out by a loud sound on the next floor.

“What was that?” She stood, pushing the chair back abruptly.

“Sounds like a door slammed. That’s weird,” he thought aloud.

“Maybe it’s whoever is on the third floor.”

This chick was going to make him crazy. “No one is on the third floor and as far as I know no one’s been up there in years.”

“But I thought I saw someone when I arrived. You?”

He shook his head but banked the knowledge. He’d do a sweep of the entire place later. “Come on.”

Reluctantly she followed him. While she toured the house, peeking into rooms and sighing over prissy-looking furniture he kept an eye out for any kind of break-in or disturbance.

As they finished looking through the third floor, he pointed out the attic door to her. “Seems like everything’s fine. That noise was probably just the house settling or a squirrel in the attic.”

She bit her lip, again drawing his attention there. “If you say so.”

“Hey, you have to trust me. We’re going to be here together for the next month.” He meant to touch her arm in a show of trust. He didn’t expect the jolt of awareness that shot straight to his gut. Looking in her now wide blue eyes, he could tell she’d felt it too.

She coughed delicately, stepping away. “It’s been a long day.”

Chance nodded but could tell there was more going on with her than exhaustion. He decided to let it go for now. “You must be excited to work on this place.” He imagined this house with all the cluttered furniture, paintings and knickknacks would be an interior designer’s wet dream.

She smiled. “It’s going to be a lot of work to go through everything but there is so much history here. I’m so happy the historical society was able to save this house. Once they start doing tours, I think a lot of people will enjoy it.”

“That’ll be better than the tomb it is now.”

They continued down one floor and he stopped beside the door at the end of the hallway.

“Your suite, my lady.” He grinned when she rolled her eyes at his sarcasm. “I’m right down the hall.” He pointed to his own room.

He had to admit he wanted to know more about her and not just because she was a total knockout. There was a sadness in her eyes and he didn’t suspect she was the perpetually depressed type.

Not that he didn’t understand. Hadn’t he been through some dark times himself? His last job left him raw. He’d promised to protect and serve a family and of course that hadn’t turned out as he’d planned. The family forgave him but he didn’t forgive himself.

Chance said goodnight to Molly and went to his own room, his past weighing heavily on him. Sure, they’d found the kidnapper in the end and their son was fine. But Chance would never let himself forget those long twenty-four hours when he thought the kid was gone forever.

He’d made a promise to himself then and there that he would never fail another client again.

 Come back tomorrow for part two of Jewels of the Past by Kerri Carpenter.