Little secrets, p.1
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       Little Secrets, p.1

           Megan Hart
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Little Secrets


  They’re not alone in the house.

  With a baby on the way and a brand new house, it seems Ginny and her husband, Sean, are on their way to a fresh start. But strange occurrences and financial strain seem determined to keep Ginny and Sean stuck in the past. Ginny begins to believe the house may be haunted…or that her husband might be trying to trick her into thinking so. As Ginny researches the house’s former owner and the tragedy that happened there, it becomes clearer than ever that something is in the house with them. The question is, who…or what…is it?

  Little Secrets

  Megan Hart

  Dedication

  This book is for the ventriloquist dummy sitting on my office shelf. Please don’t come to life and kill me in my sleep.

  Chapter One

  A fresh start.

  That’s what they needed. A new house, new jobs, new hobbies, new friends. Even her haircut was new, shorn to the shoulders instead of hanging halfway down her back. And her body was certainly getting newer all the time.

  Ginny Bohn stepped out of her old car into her new driveway. She put her hand on the roof for a minute, the metal chilly under her fingertips, and looked at the house. Brick with black shutters. There’d been a garage at one time, according to the realtor who’d sold them the house, but a fire had destroyed it years ago, and the previous owner had never rebuilt. It had been replaced with a small fenced garden, bare now, but Ginny could easily imagine it filled with flowers—assuming she became the sort of woman who took the time to plant seeds and make things grow.

  “Honey, just got a call from the movers. They’ll be here in about half an hour.” Sean had pulled up next to her and was out of his car. He stretched, cracking his back and neck in the way that always made her cringe. He came around the front of his car to hold out his hand to her. “Careful. The walk’s a little wet. It could be slippery.”

  It was sweet, his hesitation, his desire to make her something fragile. It almost made Ginny want to grab his arm and have him guide her along the slightly buckled sidewalk as though she were somehow incapable of navigating it without his help. Almost.

  She did take his hand, though, linking their fingers. They kissed matter-of-factly. That’s how it had always been with them. Matter-of-fact, familiar kisses they shared almost every time they were close enough for their lips to meet. This time, she put her arms around his waist when he tried to get away and hooked her fingertips into his belt loops. Ginny held her husband closer, just for a moment, her head tipped back so he could kiss her more thoroughly, though Sean was too busy laughing to really do justice to the smooch.

  “You want to give the neighbors a show, huh?”

  Ginny smiled, not giving a damn about the neighbors, just wanting to feel the pressure of his mouth on hers again. Taste him. Feel his breath on her face and maybe the beat of his heart against her. She stroked the fringes of hair that always fell in front of his ears, no matter how he had it cut. His bangs were longer now too, but she kept herself from ruffling them because she knew it irritated him when she messed with his hair. “I love you.”

  “Love you too.” His kiss lingered this time, not as long as she’d have liked, but with a little more heat. His hands fit against her hips. He nuzzled her nose with his, a gesture she’d told him a hundred times she hated, but that he never seemed to remember.

  From the backseat came a sudden, irritated yowl. Sean ducked to look through the back window. “Noodles sounds pissed.”

  Ginny sighed. “She doesn’t like the carrier. Can you grab the litter pan and stuff? I’m going to put her in the upstairs bathroom until we can get everything settled.”

  Sean nodded and got them from the trunk as Ginny pulled out the carrier and looked at Noodles’s furious, furry face. “Shhh. You act like you’re getting killed in there.”

  Noodles, unimpressed with Ginny’s scolding and Ginny in general, yowled again. Ginny balanced the carrier, which rocked in her arms as Noodles shifted, and followed Sean up the curving brick path to the cute-as-a-button front porch with its white-painted railing and double swing hung on chains from the roof. The front door was black, sober, the gold handle surprisingly ornate and old-fashioned, compared to the rest of the outside decor. It was the kind of handle that looked as though it used a fancy skeleton-type key, not the small and freshly cut generic silver sort they’d copied from the equally small but tarnished key the realtor had given them.

  A fresh key for their fresh start.

  It slipped into the lock with a faint clinking sound, and Sean glanced at her over his shoulder before he twisted his wrist. The click was louder this time, but the door didn’t open. Sean took the key out. Blew on it, which made Ginny laugh. Tried again. Waiting, the carrier too heavy, she set it down and held out her hand. Noodles yowled from inside, then went quiet.

  “Want me to try?”

  Sean handed her the key, which slipped into the lock without effort. The handle creaked when she turned it, and then the door was opening with a squeal of hinges. Before she could step inside, Sean put out an arm to stop her.

  Ginny had no time to protest or even prepare herself before Sean bent to sweep her into his arms, one beneath her legs and the other around her back. She let out a startled squeak and clung to him. He took two normal steps over the threshold before his foot hit a throw rug that had been placed a little too far away from the threshold. It started to skid out from under him.

  For a sickening moment, Ginny was sure they were going to fall. Her body tensed, muscles going tight in anticipation of the pain. She bit her tongue and let out a yelp. Her hands slipped on Sean’s back as he grappled and kept her from toppling onto the floor…just barely. He put her down, stepping on her foot as the pair of them stumbled forward another few steps, dancing to some routine neither had practiced.

  Heart pounding, breath catching sharp in the back of her throat, Ginny ended up straddling the errant throw rug, one of her hands on the wall and the other still clutching at the back of Sean’s shirt. Her nails dug so deeply into the plaster they’d have broken if she still kept them long, but she’d given up her manicures months ago. It was the first time she’d looked at her hands with clipped nails and been grateful for it.

  “You okay?” Sean laughed nervously. His hand shifted on her waist, and he looked over his shoulder at the rug. “We should throw that away. It could be dangerous.”

  Ginny took a slow, calming breath and rubbed the toe of her ballet flat along the polished wood floor. She found her balance, caught her breath. “It’s ugly anyway.”

  It was. Hideous, in fact. Fluffy yarn of alternating green and brown and orange stripes, with a contrasting flowery border. Nothing like she’d ever have chosen. Now that she looked around the hall, she saw a lot of things she didn’t recognize, including an ugly telephone table. “I thought Bonnie said she was going to have someone come and get rid of all this stuff, except what we specifically requested to be left in the contract.”

  George Miller, the former owner, had died—in the hospital, thank God. Ginny didn’t consider herself superstitious, but she wasn’t sure she’d have been able to get past the idea of someone actually expiring in her house. They’d never met his son, Brendan, who’d inherited the house but whose lawyer had handled all the details. Brendan Miller had offered to let them take anything they wanted. Everything in the house, as a matter of fact. She’d asked only to keep the ugly but still serviceable barstools in the kitchen, a few of the lighting fixtures and the custom-made drapes in all the rooms, which were as hideous as the throw rug but better than the nothing she owned to replace them with.

  “Yeah…she was supposed to.”

  The rug and the
telephone table hadn’t been on the list, Ginny knew that for sure. She tugged the small handle on a drawer meant to hold a pen and paper or a phone book and found instead a jumble of junk. Coins, paper clips, a bunch of old buttons, some tiny carved wooden figures. She lifted one, a thick wooden peg in a vaguely female shape without a face or limbs, the hash marks from the whittling knife still cutting deep into the wood. George Miller had been a carpenter. She tossed the peg back into the drawer. Cell phones and cordless handsets made tables like this irrelevant and unnecessary, though Ginny could vividly remember one similar to this that had been in her grandparents’ front hallway. Different phones over the years, but that same table. With her finger, she pushed against the wood and the table rocked, one leg slightly shorter than the others.

  “You okay?”

  Ginny looked up at Sean. Found a smile that quirked her lips without much true humor. “Fine. Just a little shaky.”

  Maybe it was from almost being squished within the first five minutes of entering her new home. More likely it was because she hadn’t eaten in a few hours. Low blood sugar. She couldn’t decide if she was hungry or on the verge of nausea.

  “Do you feel sick? Should I get you something to eat? Some saltines? Shit. I don’t think we have any.”

  There was that sweet concern again. In the first weeks of her pregnancy she’d spent more time hunched over the toilet than anywhere else, and Sean had been right there with her, holding her hair. Rubbing her back. Bringing her flat ginger ale and crackers and wet cloths to press along the back of her neck. He’d meant his concern as comfort, though she’d told him over and over that she hated any kind of attention on her when she was sick, and had suffered it only because it had taken too much energy to keep asking him to leave her alone.

  “No.” She shook her head. The dizziness wasn’t fading, and the thick, throat-closing nausea was rising. “I just need to sit down. Get a drink and something to eat. I’ll be fine.”

  He hovered over her all the way down the hall and into the kitchen, where she let him ease her onto one of the barstools she had wanted to keep. She let him chafe her hands too. But beyond that, there wasn’t much Sean could do to help her since the brand-new fridge they’d already had delivered was empty and so were the cupboards.

  Sean opened one anyway and pulled out a vintage Looney Tunes glass adorned with Tweety Bird. “Hey. Look at this? You want some ice water, honey? I think the fridge’s hooked up.”

  Their old fridge had an ice maker but not one that dispensed through the door. The new one had both cubed and crushed ice, and also filtered water. They’d really splurged. Sean rinsed the glass at the sink, then pressed it against the dispenser. Nothing happened.

  “Shit.” He opened the fridge to reveal an empty interior, shadowed without the automatic light to illuminate it. “Damn it.”

  He flicked the switch on the wall on and off a couple times, then looked at her. “I thought you said you’d handled the electricity.”

  If her head hadn’t been spinning, Ginny would’ve shaken it. As it was, all she could do was blink. “I did. I called and told them we’d be moving in today, and that everything should be turned on.”

  He flicked the switch again, then once more. “Well. They didn’t. Are you sure you talked to the right person?”

  She could argue with him about it, or she could keep her lunch in her stomach. Ginny chose the latter. She breathed slowly in through her nose and out through her mouth, closing her eyes to push away the dizziness. She heard running water and looked up to see Sean at the sink.

  He gave her a triumphant look, then offered the glass with a flourish. “At least we have running water. Walla.”

  The term was actually voilà, but Ginny didn’t point that out. She just took the glass of water and sipped it, grateful for the way the liquid slipped down the back of her throat, nice and cool. This house had a well and septic system, not like the city water and sewer at their old place, and the water actually had a flavor.

  Sean rubbed her shoulder briefly. “Be right back. I’ll grab you a snack from the car.”

  “Oh! Bring Noodles too!”

  She was a lucky woman. Sean was a good husband. She breathed slowly, fighting another wave of sickness. She should get up, call the electric company and figure out what happened with the power. But for now, all Ginny could manage was to sit and sip the water her husband had poured for her.

  Sean came in again with a handful of granola bars and the cat carrier. “Where do you want her?”

  She took one of the snacks from him and tore it open, eyeing the carrier in which the cat was now growling. “Oh Lord. She’s going to pee on everything. Can you put her in the upstairs bathroom, with the litter box, and the door closed? And oh, put a sign on it so nobody opens it. I’ll take care of getting her set up later.”

  Ginny heard the sound of a big vehicle in the drive. The movers must’ve arrived early. She’d have to get up in a minute to greet them herself, direct them where to put the boxes and furniture. “I hear a truck, good. I was thinking we wouldn’t be finished before it got dark, and I really want to at least get our bedroom set up before night.”

  “Yeah,” he said. “Especially since we won’t have any lights.”

  It wasn’t her fault, Ginny wanted to say. She’d spoken to the power company and made the arrangements for the electricity to be turned on today. Cable television, phone and Internet too. Trash next week. She had all the information in a folder still in the car, with the dates and times she’d called, the names of the customer service reps she’d spoken to. It was not her fault that someone, somewhere, had forgotten to do their job and flip a switch.

  She said nothing, biting her tongue and hiding her grimace with another sip of water.

  Sean started toward the stairs with the carrier. “I’ll get them started. You sit.”

  She did for another few minutes, not out of laziness or some sort of Lady of the Manor attitude, but simply because pushing herself off the barstool still required more of an effort than she felt capable of making. Her head still threatened to keep spinning if she didn’t take some deep breaths, and she wasn’t certain she wouldn’t puke. And no wonder, she thought as she nodded and smiled at the first of the movers who brought in a box of dishes and settled it on the counter before heading back out for another load. She was exhausted, operating on little to no sleep over the past few days as she’d fretted over the final details of the sale that had seemed too good to be true. She’d stayed up late packing and making lists, paying bills, making sure everything in their new life was going as smoothly as possible. No sleep, not enough to eat… Her hands went protectively to her belly for a minute.

  The doctor had assured her that a history of miscarriage didn’t necessarily mean she couldn’t carry to term. That everything about this pregnancy looked healthy and normal, no cause for alarm. Still, Ginny thought of the almost fall and the subsequent dizziness, and she forced herself to nibble away on the granola bar and sip water until it passed.

  By five o’clock the truck was unloaded, the movers paid and tipped and sent on their way. The electricity had been restored, the culprit a blown circuit breaker, as it turned out, which Ginny discovered when she called the power company and was told that, indeed, their house was supposed to be fully supplied. Sean hadn’t apologized for doubting her, but he had gone into the basement to fiddle with the fuse box, and the fact they had lights was enough to make it easy for Ginny to forget that she’d been angry. Noodles had been petted and loved up and generally soothed with a can of fancy cat food and fresh litter, though she was still confined to the bathroom until Ginny could get more of the house arranged and find a place to put the litter box.

  Pizza was ordered and delivered. Ginny flipped open the cardboard box and breathed in the pepperoni-scented steam as Sean popped the top on a can of caffeine-free cola for her, a beer for him. She’d found a c
andelabra that had been a wedding gift, never used, along with a set of semi-melted red candles and a half-dozen votive holders. They were eating on paper plates since she hadn’t yet unpacked the dishes, but Sean had discovered another couple of those Looney Tunes glasses in the cupboard.

  “Cheers.” Sean tipped his glass to hers. “To our first, but not last, romantic dinner in our new house.”

  “Salut.” Ginny sipped bubbly cola, relishing the sting of the carbonation in the back of her throat and the sweetly spreading glow of sugar. It would’ve been even better with caffeine, but Sean had read an article that said pregnant women shouldn’t touch it.

  Even with the candles, it was far from the most elegant dinner they’d ever had. No flowers in crystal vases, no glittering silverware or gold-rimmed china. But he was right, it was romantic. Ginny downed a third slice of pizza without guilt over calories and listened to Sean wax philosophical on the benefits of hiring a landscaping service in the spring versus trying to get the yard in decent shape all by themselves. He was making plans for the future, she thought. And that was good.

  All of this was good.

  Chapter Two

  All of this was bad.

  Ginny woke, eyes wide, heart pounding, coughing at the sting of bile in her throat. She swallowed hard and pressed a fist between her breasts in a futile attempt to relieve some of the pressure as she sat up against the headboard. She’d gone to bed in a soft flannel granny gown, the house chilly enough to warrant the heavier pajamas since she’d been unable to find the boxes containing either the extra blanket or the flannel sheets. Slick sweat coated her now. She tossed back the comforter and let the cool air cover her instead.

  Heartburn. Nobody to blame but herself since she’d been the one to shove that third slice of pizza down her gullet. Ginny pressed her fist harder against her chest. Beside her, Sean slept the sleep of the guiltless, arms akimbo and one leg hooked outside the blankets. Despite the sweat still running rivers between her breasts and down her spine, Ginny was now cold. Her teeth chattered a few times as she forced herself to swallow, then again, hoping to at least get rid of some of the burning taste at the back of her throat.

 

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