He was a self-made millionaire, but it was his young son who mattered most to Blake Monroe. So when a beautiful teacher appeared on his rainy doorstep, her car overfl owing with her every worldly possession, and immediately bonded with the boy, Blake hired Madeline Douglas on the spot. Under Madeline's care, the child thrived. And in her presence, Blake's defenses crumbled like the walls of the manor he'd been hired to redesign. But something sinister lurked along the foggy cliffs of this remote village, and suddenly Blake had his hands full protecting his ready-made family. Was it the curse that had pervaded the town...or had his own tortured past finally come back to haunt him?
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July 07, 2008
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Excerpt from In the Manor with the Millionaire by Cassie Miles
"One, two, three..." Duncan Monroe counted the steps as he climbed the stairs, not touching the banister or the wall. "...four, five, six."
That was how old he was. Six years old.
"Seven, eight, nine."
Here was where the staircase made a corner, and he could see to the top. Daddy had turned on the light in his bedroom, but there were shadows. Dark, scary shadows. Outside the rain came down and rattled against the windows.
Duncan shivered. Even though this was the middle of summertime, he felt cold on the inside. So cold it made his tummy hurt. Sometimes, when he touched people or things, he got creepy feelings like spider legs running up and down his arms. And he saw stuff. Bad stuff.
But he wasn't touching anything. His feet were in sneakers. He had on jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt. He shouldn't be scared.
"Duncan." His dad called to him. "Are you getting ready for bed?"
"No." He hadn't meant to yell. His voice was too loud.
He covered his open mouth with both hands. His fingers pushed hard, holding back an even louder yell. His skin tasted like salt. Usually he wore gloves to keep from feeling things.
"Duncan, are you all right?"
His dad hated when Duncan was inappropriate. That's what his teacher used to call it. Inappropriate behavior. The doctors had other words for him. Trauma. Autism. Hyper-something. They all meant the same thing. He was a freak.
He yanked his hands down to his sides. "I'm okay."
"Get into your pajamas, buddy. I'll be there in a minute."
The shadow at the top of the stairs was as big as a T-Rex with giant, pointy teeth. Duncan wasn't going there. He turned around on the stairs and quietly counted backward. "Nine, eight, seven..."
He was at the front door of the big house they had just moved into. Though he didn't like touching doorknobs, he grabbed it and pulled.
Outside, the rain wasn't too bad. Big, fat drops splashed on the flat stones leading up to the front door. He stuck out his hand to catch them.
He walked out into it. Five steps. Then ten.
The light by the front door didn't reach very far into the dark. The thunder went boom. He heard the ocean smashing on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.
He turned around and stared at the big house. On the first floor were four windows and one door, exactly in the middle. Five windows, all exactly the same size, on top. All exactly balanced. He liked that. What he didn't like was the big, old, wrecked-up tower that Daddy said used to be a lighthouse.
He looked toward it and saw a girl in a long dress and a red cape. She skipped toward the trees in the forest.
She giggled. Not the kind of mean laugh that kids used when they pointed at his gloves and called him Dunk the Skunk. She waved to him as though she wanted to play.
He heard her singing. "She sells seashells by the seashore."
Madeline Douglas gripped the steering wheel with both hands and squinted through her glasses at the narrow road winding through the thick Maine forest. Her headlights barely penetrated the rain and fog that had turned the summer night into a dense black shroud.
She opened her window to disperse the condensation on her windshield; the defroster in her ancient Volkswagen station wagon had quit working. This cranky old rattletrap always chose the worst possible moment to be temperamental. If the skies had been clear--the way normal weather in July ought to be--the defrost would have been fine.
How much farther? The man at the service station in Raven's Cliff where she'd spent her last ten bucks on gas told her that this road led to Beacon Manor. "Can't miss it," he'd said.
"We'll see about that," she muttered. Thus far, everything about her drive from Boston to this remote fishing village in Maine had gone wrong. An accident with a logging truck had clogged the highway. Then, she'd missed the turnoff and had to backtrack several miles. Then, her cell phone died. And now, the weather from hell.
At five minutes past eight o'clock, she was more than half an hour late for her interview with world-famous architect Blake Monroe. Not to mention that she was a mess. Her green-patterned blouse didn't go with the bright red cardigan she'd dragged out of her suitcase when the rain started. Her khaki skirt was creased with wrinkles. Her black hair, pulled up in a knot on top of her head, had to be a frizz mop.
Somehow, she had to pull herself together and convince Blake Monroe to hire her as a tutor for his six-year-old son, Duncan, who had been diagnosed with a form of high-functioning autism. Though she had no formal training in handling kids with special needs, Madeline had been a substitute teacher for the past two years in Boston's inner-city schools. She had first-hand experience with a wide range of behaviors.
She'd convince him. She had to.
If Blake Monroe didn't hire her, she had a serious problem. With her meager supply of cash spent and her credit cards maxed, she couldn't even afford a cheap motel room for tonight.