Happy St. Patricks Day! I thought today we could celebrate all things Cullen O'Kelley.
Area of Expertise: Castle Restoration
Hair Colour: Ginger
Excerpt from Chapter Twenty-Two
Curse of the Purple Delhi Sapphire
Shivering, I started up the stone path to our front door. I’d loved Cullen’s Tudor-style house from the first visit—it reminded me of Snow White’s cottage with its steeply pitched roof and massive chimney thrusting skyward. My favorite part was the diamond-paned windows, all of which were dark now, except Cullen’s study, which seemed to emit a faint red glow. I quickened my pace, focusing on the lighted window. He was home. He must have been dropped off, though, since his Landrover wasn’t in the drive. Probably one too many pints. My stomach tightened the moment I shut the door and called for him… Only silence answered. I took out my cell and quickly shot him a You home? message. Eyeballing the bottle of shiraz on the counter, I slipped off my shoes and pulled the French doors open, taking in the scent of sweet vanilla and honeysuckle from the gardens. No more bad thoughts. I was letting my imagination run away with me. I needed to get ready for my dinner date—an entire evening alone with Cullen. My heart leapt at the thought.
I stopped by the study, which was on the way to the bedroom. Cullen loved this room. It was decorated with masculine oil paintings of ships and battle scenes. Bookshelves lined the back wall behind his desk, surrounding a large marble fireplace which shed a dying glow. So that was why it seemed a little brighter than the rest. Cullen must have left in a hurry today.
I switched on the desk lamp and gazed across the room at his shelf full of books. Vehicles, mechanics, architecture: all things that reminded me of Cullen. All except for one on spirituality. This was an odd coincidence. How had Ann’s book gotten here? Had Cullen unpacked my box? I walked over to the shelf and picked it up, running my hand along the cover before opening it. The edges were earmarked and smudged. This wasn’t my copy.
Why would Cullen have a book written by Ann Switzer? Had he come across it and saved it for me? I tried to think of whether we’d ever talked about Ann and how my uncle Velte had attacked and murdered her grandmother at the Switzer farm. I couldn’t recall the discussion ever happening.
I put it back and turned away, looking at Cullen’s desk; it was massive and dark, like my feelings at the moment. I hated to invade his privacy, but I couldn't ignore my intuition.
The drawers extended down both sides, almost—but not quite—reaching the clawed feet. The top was clean, unlike the surface of my old desk—which was always piled high with papers and half-drunk cups of coffee. I grasped the knob on the top left-hand drawer. Locking drawers now, are we?
My eyes darted back to the bookshelf, then wandered along the walls which were painted a pale, buttery yellow. This room which I normally found cheerful and pleasant felt like it was closing in on me. My heart sped up. Maybe it was time to open Nick’s letter. I tried the next drawer down. Inside, there was nothing but a notebook and a few pens. I was stalling. I moved the notebook and—bingo—found a letter opener but as I reached for it, the hair on my arms prickled.
A familiar address stood out to me, written on a little blue matchbook. Gripping the desk’s lip to steady myself, hands shaking, I pulled the memorable little matchbook out. I closed my eyes, banishing the sight of Nick’s flat number from my mind.
“It’s not possible,” I whispered numbly, shaking my head. I reached into my purse and pulled out Nick’s envelope, grabbed the opener, and tore in. My stomach churned and my hands shook.
I know you told me to stay away and you’re probably rolling your eyes right now but please leave Ireland. I swear I’m not writing this to fight with you or to be spiteful. You’re being fooled and if you don’t wake up before it’s too late, you’ll be dead. I realize I’m the last person you want to hear this from, but it’s true. I hired a private investigator and this is what he found…
My tears spilled onto the page as I glanced at the investigator’s notes scrawled below. I could make out key words like mentally unstable. It was so messy, I could hardly focus. Handwriting was clearly a lost art, but then again I was crying so hard my vision was blurred.
“Sophia? Ye home?” Cullen’s voice floated up the stairs and down the hall.
My heart was pounding violently. Desperately I tried to control my tears as I made quick work of folding the paper in half but not before noticing the words raped and accused of murder. I used my sleeves to dry my tears.
“Yes,” I called back, trying to make my voice sound as normal as possible. “You didn’t respond to my text.”
I looked down at my phone, blinking, and felt completely caught off guard.
“I’m just on the phone in the study.”
“It’s almost dinner time. Shouldn’t ye be after gettin’ ready?”
“Yep, I will in just a moment.”
Cullen’s footsteps receded. The house was suddenly very still. I let out my breath and reached for the phone.
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