Port Chatham, Washington June, present day Jordan Marsh stood in the middle of the street, staring aghast at her new home. Across twelve feet of uneven pavement and a weed-choked patch of lawn sat Longren House, the nineteenth-century Queen Anne she’d bought on what could only be described as—though she normally tried to avoid the term—an insane whim.
Crisp air, washed clean from last night’s rain, brought into sharp relief decorative tracery hanging askew from the domed turret. Bright sun highlighted chunks of paint peeling from the columns of the wraparound porch that—she tilted her head—sagged. Behind a railing missing every third baluster, a broken swing had been shoved against the front bay window, which sported an ugly crack running diagonally its entire length.
Holy God. I don’t even own a hammer.
While she’d been going through the inevitable hassles of closing down her therapy practice in Los Angeles and packing to move, Longren House had been a daily reminder of the new life she’d planned for herself. A simpler, quieter life—an antidote to the hell she’d lived through for the last year. A fantasy of peaceful, solitary days spent wallpapering a few rooms, perhaps rehanging the porch swing she’d always dreamed of owning.
What on earth had she been thinking? That watching a few reruns of This Old House qualified her to handle a historic-home remodel?
She counted the faded colors gracing the exterior, punctuating each numeral with a fingertip pointed mid?air at a section of siding, or what was left of it. “Thirteen goddamn colors of paint!” Just the thought of matching such a color scheme in modern paints had her light-headed.
A huge, shaggy dog lying in front of the door raised its head and grinned at her, tail thumping, looking for all the world as if it belonged there. And for a brief moment, she could envision the house as she’d dreamed it would look after it was refurbished. “Like a real home,” she murmured. “With a front porch swing for visiting neighbors and a friendly dog.”
A door slammed down the block, and a dark-haired man wearing a cable-knit sweater and jeans jogged down the front steps of the house on the corner. Zeroing in on the tray of coffee cups he balanced in one hand, she recalled that in her haste to hit the road, she hadn’t stopped for her requisite morning cup.
Local Man Assaulted by Caffeine-Deprived Lunatic
If she gave in to impulse, that’s what tomorrow morning’s newspaper headlines would read. Not, she reminded herself firmly, that she was a person who typically gave in to impulses.
Caffeinated beverages notwithstanding, though, he looked . . . interesting. Broad shoulders, and a confident, ground-eating stride. Definitely . . .
She gave herself a shake. Nope. Gazing was not in the cards. According to her Four-Point Plan for Personal Renewal, gazing was on hold for at least six months. Then she could look but not touch for another six. She’d laid it all out, written it all down. She had a plan, and she was sticking to it. Remodel first.
As soon as she bought a hammer. And a paintbrush or three.
She forced her attention back to her house. Leaning forward on her toes, she squinted to see whether lack of focus improved it. The driver of an approaching car tapped its horn, evidently afraid she would fling herself into its oncoming path.
The idea had merit.
Okay, so the house needed a little work. But she’d fallen in love with that crazy witch’s cap perched atop the turret, the arched entryway and the gingerbread trim, the utter wackiness of its architecture. She didn’t care whether it tumbled down around her—for the first time in her life, she had a real home.
Complete with a dog, it seemed.
Her head whipped around. Her new neighbor stood just a few feet away.
He gestured with the tray. “The house,” he clarified in a deep baritone, smiling slightly, his blue eyes crinkling at the corners. “One of the few examples of stick-built Queen Anne architecture left standing in Port Chatham. She’s a real beauty, isn’t she?”
Jordan frowned. Even with the aid of fuzzy focus, the house wasn’t yet close to a “beauty.” But, hey, maybe he was an architect who recognized potential.
The aroma of fresh-roasted coffee and steamed milk wafted over her, and her eyes crossed.
“Can I ask what your interest is in her?” he asked.
“What? Oh.” Jordan cleared her throat. “I bought her.”
“Ah.” He looked squarely at Jordan, not concealing his curiosity. Up close, his face was rugged and lived-in . . . and appealing. “You must be the psychologist from Los Angeles.”
Her surprise must have shown on her face.
“Sorry.” He shrugged, smiling sheepishly. “Small towns and all that.” He extended a hand. “Jase Cunningham.”
“Jordan Marsh.” His grip was warm and firm.
“So you’ll be setting up shop here in town?”
“No, at least, not right away.” Perhaps not ever, though she wasn’t admitting that yet, even to herself. “I’m taking a year off to work on the house.”
“You’re planning to fix her up?”
“I need to buy a hammer,” she blurted out.
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “The purchase of a hammer is a symbolic act. It is not to be taken lightly.”
She narrowed her gaze. Okay, scratch architect. Maybe he was one of those artisans who worked on historic homes. Maybe he had a lot of hammers. Maybe he named them.
He came to some kind of conclusion with a nod. “Talk to Ed at Renovation Hardware out on the highway, and tell him I sent you. He’ll get you set up properly.”
He pried one of the cups from its holder and handed it to her. She clutched it with both hands, giving him a look of such profound gratitude that he grinned. “You seem a little shell-shocked—it’s the least I can do. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
He waved a hand as he started down the street.
“Hey,” she yelled, and he turned back, raising an eyebrow. “Do you know who owns the dog?”
“Nope. Never seen him before.”
* * *
Jordan watched for a moment longer, then shook her head. Four-Point Plan for Personal Renewal. Time to review the salient points.
As she walked over to her Toyota Prius, she took a sip of the coffee, which she discovered was an excellent latte. The man obviously knew his java. Shifting the cup to her left hand, she opened the trunk and hauled out her bag.
The hairs on the back of her neck suddenly rose, and she glanced around. The neighborhood of turn-of-the-twentieth-century homes seemed unusually deserted, the street empty and desolate with its cracked pavement and faded markings. Why weren’t more people outside, taking advantage of the fine summer day?
She studied the vacant windows of the surrounding houses, keeping her expression nonchalant. No doubt a neighbor was watching her from inside one of them. After all, this was a small town—people were bound to be curious about the recently widowed psychologist moving to their neighborhood.
From the foliage of the maple tree, a songbird trilled enthusiastically, mocking her uneasiness. Shrugging, she gripped the handle of her bag and rolled it across the uneven lawn, banging it up the front steps.
The dog scrambled to its feet, ears perked. It had the black and tan coloring of a German shepherd, but its blocky build and thick, shaggy hair reminded her of a much larger breed. Definitely a classic mutt. A very large male mutt. She held out her hand for him to sniff.
Setting her bag down, she hunted through her pockets for the key the real estate agent had given her. After several tries, the lock gave with a screech and the beveled-glass door swung inward.
She looked down at the dog. “Excuse me.”
He cocked his head.
“Shoo?” She wiggled her fingers, and when that had no effect, she managed to look stern. “Go home!”
He didn’t budge.
She sighed. “I absolutely cannot get attached to you—someone owns you, I’m sure of it. I’m not letting you inside.”
Excerpted from Haunting Jordan by P. J. Alderman. Copyright © 2009 by P. J. Alderman. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.