Heroes Are My Weakness(6)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips



Above the jagged roofline of Harp House, storm clouds raced across the moon, their journey as wild as the flight of the horse and rider who’d charged across the road. Her skin turned to gooseflesh, not from the cold but from her own imagination. She turned away from the window and glanced over at Leo.

Heavy-lidded eyes . . . Thin-lipped sneer . . . The perfect villain. She could have avoided so much pain if she hadn’t romanticized those brooding men she’d fallen in love with, imagining them as fantasy heroes instead of realizing one was a cheater and the other a narcissist. Leo, however, was a different story. She’d created him herself out of cloth and yarn. She controlled him.

That’s what you think, he whispered.

She shivered and retreated to the bedroom. But even as she slipped back under the covers, she couldn’t shake off the dark vision of the house on the cliff.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .


SHE WASN’T HUNGRY WHEN SHE awakened the next morning, but she made herself eat a handful of stale granola. The cottage was frigid, the day gloomy, and all she wanted to do was go back to bed. But she couldn’t live in the cottage without heat or running water, and the more she thought about her absent caretaker, the angrier she grew. She dug out the only phone number she had, one for the island’s combination town hall, post office, and library, but although her phone was charged, she couldn’t get a signal. She sank down on the pink velvet couch and dropped her head in her hands. She’d have to go after Will Shaw herself, and that meant making the climb to Harp House. Back to the place she’d sworn she’d never again go near.

She pulled on as many layers of warm clothes as she could find, then wrapped herself in her mother’s red cloak and knotted an ancient Hermès scarf under her chin. Summoning all her energy and willpower, she set out. The day was as gray as her future, the salt air frigid, and the distance between the cottage and the house at the top of the cliff insurmountable.

I’ll carry you every step of the way, Peter announced.

Scamp blew him a raspberry.

It was low tide, but the icy rocks along the shoreline were too hazardous to walk on at this time of year, so she had to take the longer route around the saltwater marsh. But it wasn’t just the distance that filled her with dread.

Dilly tried to give her courage. It’s been eighteen years since you made the climb to Harp House. The ghosts and goblins are long gone.

Annie pressed the edge of the cloak over her nose and mouth.

Don’t worry, Peter said. I’ll watch out for you.

Peter and Dilly were doing their jobs. They were the ones responsible for untangling Scamp’s scrapes and stepping in when Leo bullied. They were the ones who delivered antidrug messages, reminded kids to eat their vegetables, take care of their teeth, and not let anyone touch their private parts.

But it’ll feel so good, Leo sneered, then snickered.

Sometimes she wished she’d never created him, but he was such a perfect villain. He was the bully, the drug pusher, the junk food king, and the stranger who tried to lure children away from playgrounds.

Come with me, little kiddies, and I’ll give you all the candy you want.

Stop it, Annie, Dilly said. No one in the Harp family ever comes to the island until summer. Only the caretaker lives there.

Leo refused to leave Annie alone. I have Skittles, M&M’s, Twizzlers . . . and reminders of all your failures. How’s that precious acting career working out?

She hunched into her shoulders. She needed to start meditating or practicing yoga, doing something that would teach her to discipline her mind instead of letting it wander wherever it wanted—or didn’t want—to go. So what if her acting dreams hadn’t worked out the way she’d intended. Kids loved her puppet shows.

Her boots crunched in the snow. Dead cattails and hollow reeds poked their battered heads through the frozen crust of the sleeping marsh. In summer, the marsh teemed with life, but now all was bleak, gray, and as quiet as her hopes.

She stopped to rest once again as she neared the bottom of the freshly plowed gravel drive that led up the cliff to Harp House. If Shaw could plow, he could get her car out. She dragged herself on. Before the pneumonia, she could have charged uphill, but by the time she finally reached the top, her lungs were on fire and she’d started to wheeze. Far below, the cottage looked like a neglected toy left to fend for itself against the pounding sea and rugged Maine shoreline. Dragging more fire into her lungs, she made herself lift her head.

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