Heroes Are My Weakness(9)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

“Stand up straight, Antoinette. Look people in the eye. How do you expect anyone to respect you?”

Even worse, “Give me that book. You’re not reading any more drivel. Only the novels I give you.”

Annie had hated every one of those novels. Others might fall in love with Melville, Proust, Joyce, and Tolstoy, but Annie wanted books that depicted courageous heroines who stood their ground instead of throwing themselves under a train.

Theo Harp ran his thumb along the edge of the phone, the dueling pistol still dangling from his other hand as he studied her improvised bag-lady attire—the red cloak, the old head scarf, her worn brown suede boots. She’d fallen into a nightmare. The pistol? His bizarre outfit? Why did the house look as though it had regressed two centuries? And why had he once tried to kill her?

“He’s more than a bully, Elliott,” her mother had told her then husband. “There’s something seriously wrong with your son.”

Annie understood now what hadn’t been clear that summer. Theo Harp was mentally ill—a psychopath. The lies, the manipulations, the cruelties . . . The incidents his father Elliott had tried to dismiss as boyish mischief hadn’t been mischief at all.

Her stomach refused to settle. She hated being so frightened. He transferred the dueling pistol from his left hand to his right. “Annie, don’t come up here again.”

Once again, he was getting the best of her, and she hated it.

From nowhere, a ghostly moan crept into the hallway. She whipped around to find its source. “What’s that?”

She looked back at him and saw he’d been taken by surprise. He quickly recovered. “It’s an old house.”

“That didn’t sound like a house noise to me.”

“It’s not your concern.”

He was right. Nothing about him concerned her any longer. She was more than ready to leave, but she’d barely taken half a dozen steps before the sound repeated, a softer moan this time, even eerier than the first moan and coming from a different direction. She stared back at him. His frown had deepened, his shoulders tensed.

“Crazy wife in the attic?” she managed.

“Wind,” he said, daring her to refute him.

She curled her hand around the soft wool of her mother’s cloak. “If I were you, I’d leave the lights on.”

She kept her head up long enough to pass through the foyer into the back hallway, but when she reached the kitchen, she stopped and hugged the red cloak around her. An Eggo frozen waffle box, an empty bag of Goldfish crackers, and a ketchup bottle were visible in the overflow of the trash bin in the corner. Theo Harp was crazy. Not the funny crazy of a man who tells bad jokes, but the bad crazy of someone who keeps dead bodies stacked in the cellar. This time as she stepped out into the arctic air, it was more than the cold that made her shiver. It was despair.

She stood straighter. Theo’s smartphone . . . There must be reception in the house. Was it possible to get it out here, too? She retrieved her dinosaur of a cell phone from her pocket, found a sheltered place near the deserted gazebo, and turned it on. Within seconds, she had a signal. Her hands shook as she called the number for the island’s so-called town hall.

A woman who identified herself as Barbara Rose answered. “Will Shaw left the island last month with his family,” she said. “A couple of days before Theo Harp got here.”

Annie’s heart sank.

“That’s what young people do,” Barbara went on. “They leave. The lobstering hasn’t been good for the past few years.”

At least now Annie understood why he hadn’t answered her e-mail. She licked her lips. “I wonder . . . How much would someone charge to come out and help me?” She outlined the problem with her car, as well as her ignorance of how to work the small pellet furnace and generator.

“I’ll send my husband out as soon as he gets back,” Barbara said briskly. “That’s the way we do things on the island. We help each other out. Shouldn’t be more than an hour.”

“Really? That’d be . . . That’s really nice.” Annie heard a soft whinny from inside the stable. The summer she’d lived here, the building had been painted a soft gray. Now it was a dark maroon, just like the nearby gazebo. She gazed toward the house.

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