Heroes Are My Weakness(10)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

“Everybody was sorry to hear about your mother,” Barbara said. “We’re going to miss her. She brought culture to the island, along with famous people.”

“Thank you.” At first Annie thought it was a trick of the light. She blinked, but there it was. A pale oval gazing down at her from an upstairs window.

“After Booker gets your car out, he’ll show you how to take care of your furnace and generator.” Barbara paused. “Have you seen Theo Harp yet?”

As quickly as it had appeared, the face disappeared. Annie was too far away to have made out the features, but they didn’t belong to Theo. A woman? A child? The lunatic wife he’d locked away?

“Only briefly.” Annie stared at the empty window. “Did Theo bring anyone with him?”

“No, he came alone. You might not’ve heard, but his wife died last year.”

Had she? Annie drew her gaze away from the window before she let her imagination take over again. She thanked Barbara for her help and started the return trek to Moonraker Cottage.

Despite the cold, the pain in her lungs, and the eeriness of the face she’d seen, her spirits had lifted a little. Soon she’d have her car back, along with heat and electricity. Then she could start to search in earnest for whatever Mariah had left her. The cottage was small. It shouldn’t be that hard to find.

Once again, she wished she could sell the place, but everything connected with Mariah and Elliott Harp had always been complicated. She stopped to rest. Elliott’s grandfather had built Harp House at the dawn of the twentieth century, and Elliott had acquired the surrounding property, including Moonraker Cottage. For some reason, Mariah had loved the cottage, and during their divorce proceedings, she’d demanded Elliott give it to her. He’d refused, but by the time the final divorce decree had been drawn up, they’d reached a compromise. The cottage was hers as long as she occupied it for sixty consecutive days each year. Otherwise, it reverted back to the Harp family. No breaks. No do-overs. If she left before the sixty days were up, she couldn’t come back and start again.

Mariah was a city creature, and Elliott thought he’d gotten the best of her. If she left the island during that two-month period, even for a night, she’d lose the place forever. But to his consternation, the arrangement suited Mariah. She loved the island, if not Elliott, and since she couldn’t see her friends, she invited them to stay with her. Some were well-established artists, others new talents she wanted to encourage. All of them welcomed the chance to paint, to write, to create in the cottage’s studio. Mariah had nurtured the artists much better than she’d ever nurtured her own daughter.

Annie huddled into the cloak and started walking again. She’d inherited the cottage, along with the same terms her mother had agreed to. Sixty consecutive days spent here, or the cottage once again belonged to the Harp family. But unlike her mother, Annie hated the island. Right now, though, she had nowhere else to go—as long as she didn’t count the moth-eaten futon in the storage room of the coffeehouse where she’d worked. Between her mother’s illness and her own, she hadn’t been able to keep up with her jobs, and she didn’t have the strength or money to find another place to stay.

By the time she’d reached the frozen marsh, her legs were rebelling. She distracted herself by practicing variations on her eerie moans. Something almost like a laugh squeezed out of her. She might be a failure as an actress, but not as a ventriloquist.

And Theo Harp hadn’t suspected a thing.

BY HER SECOND MORNING, ANNIE had water, electricity, and a house that was chilly but livable. Thanks to Barbara Rose’s garrulous husband, Booker, Annie learned that the return of Theo Harp was the talk of the island. “Tragedy what happened to his wife,” Booker said, after he’d taught Annie how to keep the pipes from freezing up, operate the generator, and conserve her propane. “We all feel real bad for the boy. He was an odd one, but he spent a lot of summers here. Did you read his book?”

She hated admitting she had, so she gave a noncommittal shrug.

“It gave my wife nightmares worse than Stephen King,” Booker said. “Can’t imagine where he got his imagination.”

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