Sneak Peek Always Play the Dark Horse

May 1946

A dark and stormy night. What a cliché! Actually, it was more a night of fog and cold than flashes of jagged lightning, pelting rain, and lashing wind. Nevertheless, the dark lantern barely illuminated a foot in front of her on the wet lawn, her rain coat and kerchief scarcely fending off the teeth-chattering rawness from the ocean roaring ominously some distance behind, past the lawn and down the beach.

But she knew her way. She knew it too well, whether crossing the grass toward Cameron House in the brilliant morning to teach a class or slipping through the night for more clandestine, less savory, even dangerous, encounters with the secret amoré she was meeting tonight.

The Chapman Lighthouse down the coast let off one of its periodic mournful calls as she reached a set of French doors. The ring of keys jingled in her shaky hands. She ought to have found the right one easily after all this time, but knowing how different this rendezvous promised to be made her nervous. No, afraid. The exhilaration of forbidden passion had morphed into something that shook her—but not with the old, delicious pleasure. No, hope and anticipation had become something tired, almost hopeless. Almost. But love, hope, passion had never really died, or she wouldn’t have answered his note by coming here. She’d take one more chance, not quite daring to believe that this elusive love would finally be hers, but not daring to let slip any possibility to make it so.

She shut the glass doors behind her in the darkness, her lantern now closed, and slid the kerchief off her head. If there had been any light, a peeper into the reception hall would have seen a young woman of about thirty. Soft brown hair was parted in the middle, a braid coiled in a band holding back tresses curling almost to her shoulders. Her cheekbones were high and her cheeks rounded. Her mouth was full and lipsticked a tasteful red; eyes large, brown, intelligent. But she wasn’t sure now how intelligent she’d been since getting into this mess. What had she been thinking? About tonight? About the last six months? Was this really what she wanted?

The woman moved slightly to her left, her hand resting on the intricate carvings of the great fireplace’s tall mahogany mantle. She’d always been early. Always the first one to arrive. Too eager, too eager. But was she eager tonight? The note had promised so much. Promised what she’d pressed for—for so long. It was what she craved, especially after the subtle, then more palpable falling off from him. So why wasn’t she excited? Ecstatic? What felt wrong?

A buoy clanged warningly. Rough seas. Rough seas all around. The fog horn moaned again. Many nights, she had moaned with it, alone in her cottage after he’d left. Worse, when he’d no longer come as often, there or to their secret place. She shook herself. No, tonight she wouldn’t have to lament, to ache for what couldn’t be, for promises gone sour. Still, would her conscience let her enjoy this prize? Could she have what she’d grieved over for so long, without having to sell her soul? And there were his connections to fear. But hadn’t the note promised that, yes, he had found a way for them to be happy together?

So where was he? That was when she heard the familiar creaking across the Great Hall of the faux china closet with its enormous scallop-shell headpiece. It led to a tiny room and a back pantry. She knew those hideaways oh too well.

“I’m here!” she whispered into the darkness, happily, hopefully anyway. “By the hearth!”
He needn’t have hidden on a Sunday night. No one would have seen him slip in–but it was just like him to spice everything with a dash of mystery. Perhaps that’s why his letter had sounded just a bit off, to unsettle her so he could sweep away all her doubts and play the gallant. A flash of the adventurous, the forbidden zest with which he’d conquered her good sense, her conscience, took hold again. The thrill of forbidden passions stolen in forbidden places. The sweetness of its return swept away almost all the ache of recent frustrations, doubts, fears–almost.

She started eagerly forward, toward their secret lair, now as dark as the great room encompassing them, as cloaked as the fogged-in lawns, campus, ocean. No, of course he wouldn’t say anything to her–the silence was part of the mystery, the excitement. She knew her way so well. Blackness was no impediment to reaching him.

So, when the flashlight blazed her into blindness, she fumbled, shocked, surprised. But she had no time to be scared, never seeing the pistol raised and firing a shot perfectly timed to be drowned in the wail of the fog horn. Her lifeless drop to the floor was muffled within the walls of Cameron House by the silent fog and the thundering assault and retreat of the Atlantic.

Always Play the Dark Horse
Jessica Minton Mysteries


Dark lantern image
Lighthouse Image:  Michael Hotaling,,_CT_01.jpg
Olivia DeHavilland eyes”