The Iron Tiara:A Nine Minutes Spin-Off Novel(9)

By: Beth Flynn

Clutching her bag tightly, she made her way upstairs, purposely avoiding the portraits that graced the walls of the stately home. The air smelled like moth balls and alcohol. Her stomach lurched, and she felt an instant wave of dizziness. She leaned against the wall to steady herself until the feeling passed. The aspirin she'd taken that morning wasn't even putting a dent in her headache. She touched her forehead and realized she'd broken out in a cold sweat. She didn't know if it was from nerves or if she was coming down with something. Either way, it didn't matter. She was on a mission and time alone in the house was a precious commodity she didn’t plan to waste.

She could see the double doors at the end of the hallway that led to the master suite. They were partially ajar, and upon reaching them, she cautiously pushed them open.

The shades were drawn, and the room was almost pitch black except for a thin sliver of light that peeked through the master bathroom door. She flipped the light switch and was almost blinded by the chandelier that hung over Vivian's neatly made four poster bed, not an oversized ruffle out of place.

She slowly walked around the room dragging her fingers lightly over the furniture. She stopped and looked at her fingertips. They were dusty. This room hasn't been cleaned, she thought. She felt a stab of pain when she thought about Litzy, the part-time maid and Christy's childhood nanny, and the heartache the woman had endured because of the Chapmans.

She caught sight of a picture on Vivian's dressing table and picked it up. A twelve-year-old Christy, her older brother, Richard, Van, and Vivian all smiled at the camera from their seats at the Captain's table on a luxury cruise ship. She should've been able to conjure up warm memories of that cruise, but she couldn't. There was nothing happy about that trip, and she wished she could have warned the unsuspecting child who had her head leaned against her big brother's shoulder. The picture was taken eight years ago, but it might as well have been a lifetime.

Setting the photo back down, Christy smiled when she thought of how her brother’s life had recently turned around for the better thanks to a woman named Nadine. Nadine was the widowed mother of a toddler named Cody. Before Nadine came along, Richard had barely been able to hold a job and usually survived by hopping from bed to bed, imposing too long on the women that took him in. Women that naively assumed they could get their greedy hooks into the future heir of Bobbi Bowen's Luxury Autos of the Gulf Coast. Richard normally wore out his welcome at about the same time his girl-of-the-month realized he'd been disinherited. He'd also managed to find himself in minor scrapes with the law. Christy shuddered when she thought about Richard's past troubles, but she was grateful for Nadine's sake that Richard had turned his life around. He'd held a full-time job for almost a year now and Nadine had recently given birth to a baby boy. They’d named him Zachary. She owed them a visit and would stop in as soon as she was finished with her current task.

Realizing that she'd wasted a good ten minutes daydreaming, she let out an audible sigh. Time to get this show on the road, she thought to herself. Taking a deep breath and adjusting the bag on her arm, she decided that she would start with what used to be Van's walk-in closet. With renewed determination, she spun around and walked right into a wall of white. The walls in Vivian's bedroom were a deep peach.

It took her a split second to regain her composure. It wasn't a wall of white. It was a chest. A rock-hard, wide chest. He was in the house. He was in her mother's bedroom. She willed herself to replace the instant fear with another emotion. An emotion she knew all too well and normally regretted letting it rear its ugly head.

Straightening her shoulders, she slowly looked up. It seemed like it took forever before her bright blue eyes clashed with his dark, brooding ones. She would do her best to show no fear this time. There would be no shaking. Who did he think he was, letting himself into her family's home? She tried to take a calming breath. C'mon, Christy, she told herself. Don't let him know you're afraid. Get mad!

Who was she kidding? Her insides ignored her mental denial, and she felt her stomach roil as a rush of saliva flowed through her mouth. She was terrified. His eyes resembled hot coals as their intensity burned into her own.

"You're trespassing. Get out," she said in a low voice, praying he couldn't detect her false bravado. "Or else."

"Or else what?" Anthony asked, never breaking from her stare. If he wasn't so mad at her father for skipping out on paying him, he might've found her mildly amusing. Like a family pet.

She stepped back and took a more assertive stance. She didn't take her eyes off his face as her left hand slowly found its way to Vivian's sterling silver hair brush that was resting on the dresser beside her.

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