After Dark

By: Wendy Etherington
1





SLOAN CALDWELL yanked at the hem of her little black dress, then lifted the worn brass knocker on the big oak door. The resulting tapping noise sounded like a series of gunshots, echoing in the misty, dark night.



Every small town in the South had a crumbling, spooky old mansion on a hill, and hers didn’t disappoint—though their hill was more of a dune. To think, they now had a genuinely dark, eccentric and notorious owner to go with it.

It was spine-tingling stuff for Palmer’s Island, South Carolina.



As a barrier island just over three miles wide, with five restaurants, one bar, no high-rise hotels, one public park that was beach-accessible and its largest house—the one she was standing on the porch of—not backing up to the beach, the island itself was considered a bit eccentric. But the residents who lived there and the tourists who visited liked it that way.



After several long minutes, the door was flung open. The tall, dim shadow of a broad-shouldered man filled the frame. “What do you—” He stopped, cocking his head. “Who are you?”



Sloan really wished she could see his face, specifically his eyes—though she knew from the TV, newspaper and Internet how gorgeous he was—but the lack of light on the porch or in the foyer left most of the details about him to her memory and imagination.



She swallowed and held out her hand. “I’m Sloan Caldwell, Director of the Palmer’s Island Historical Preservation Society.”



“You’re a society matron?” he asked, his disbelieving tone clear.



Like blue hair was a requirement for social awareness. “Miss, actually.” She tried a smile and put her hand on her hip. She had nice hips. Men usually noticed. “May I come in?”



He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the door frame. “No.”



“No?”



“I’m busy at the moment. Come back another time.” He started to turn away.



She reached into the briefcase hitched on her shoulder and pulled out a file folder, which she handed him. “But you contacted me. About the renovations to the house?” she added when he remained silent.



Sighing audibly, he reached behind him and flipped a switch, which turned out to belong to a small desk lamp sitting on a sawhorse in the foyer. “My lawyer sent this,” he said, staring at the papers in the file, then flicking his gaze to hers. “I didn’t contact you.”



Silver. His eyes were a cool and piercing silver.



Again, she’d known this both from his recent notoriety courtesy of twenty-four-hour cable news and from the research she’d done on him. But the images hadn’t done him justice. The pictures weren’t full of annoyance and sensual power. Nor had she been prepared for the breath-stealing impact of having that gaze focused on her. Not to mention the fact that those eyes were surrounded by a lean face, the sculpted jaw shadowed by dark stubble and tons of tousled, wavy black hair.



She shivered. And not in a bad way.



Clearing her throat, she tried to remember she was there on business. “As your lawyer is no doubt aware—even if you aren’t—all renovations to Batherton House must be approved by the committee before any work can be done.”



“So?”



“Your neighbors heard hammering.”



“What neighbors? The property encompasses three acres.”



“But past the intimidating, spooky and overgrown bushes and trees, there are houses on either side of you. You just can’t see them.” She smiled in the face of his frustration. “Sound tends to echo out here on the island.” She accepted the documents he thrust back into her hand. “I thought I should come out here personally and take a look at your plans.”



She could practically see the wheels in his brain spinning, striving desperately to find a way to get rid of her. She found his efforts surprising and interesting. Very few men had the urge to slam the door in her face.



And not just because she was the sheriff’s only daughter.



“Do you always come to business meetings at nearly nine at night, dressed like that?” he asked, drawing his eyebrows together.



“I preserve the past, Mr. Kendrick,” she said huskily, stepping closer, so that their bodies nearly touched. “But I live very much in the present.”



His eyes shone with interest for a split second, then he stepped back.



She walked past him, the faint scent of whiskey brushing by her nose. Drinking alone in a dark old house? Aidan Kendrick certainly lived up to his eccentric reputation.



“I bet you were surprised by the working electrical system,” she said, walking across the foyer’s wood floors and into the parlor, where she flipped on the switch for the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. “Old Doc Marcus replaced it about twenty years ago.”

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