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house held secrets.  Secrets that wafted
through rotting window sashes on the winter wind.  Secrets that spiders wove into webs anchored
between the ceiling and walls. Secrets that scuttled on the feet of cockroaches
across stained kitchen linoleum and scurried into its cracks. Secrets that
peered from holes in the baseboard from glinting mouse eyes. This house held
the secrets close to its bosom where they had slept for decades. No one had
disturbed these secrets in all the years the house sat decaying from neglect.
There was no reason to, and there was no desire.

June 1968
might be the biggest mistake I’ve made yet,
thought Jesse Graham.
She climbed out
of her three-year-old yellow 1965 Volkswagen Beetle and waded through tall
grass and weeds that scratched at her sandal-clad feet. Looming before her, the
two-story house—her house—hovered, insinuating more height than it could actually
claim. Wrapped in chipped and peeling greenish-yellow paint, the house looked
weary, and the once-red front door had faded to a dull russet. The roof sagged,
and the tiny porch appeared to be giving up the fight to support the small roof
above it. She stared at the house, and the windows stared back, blank. Above
the front door, two windows mirrored her dismay as the wood trim above them
bowed down. In her twenty-eight years, she had never seen a sadder looking
“Oh my God, what have I done?” she
Mustering her courage, she pulled the
fabric off the sofa. She shrieked as a flurry of grey shapes scattered in all
directions—one straight toward her. She panicked as paws scurried across her sandaled
foot. Mice! Goosebumps prickled her skin and adrenalin shot though her body. Heart
pounding, she ran out the front door, off the porch and bolted to her car. Her
knees gave out and she collapsed, trembling.
“Are you okay?”
Grabbing the door handle, she pulled
herself up and looked around for the voice’s owner.
“I’m over here,” he said.
She looked toward the road and saw a
blue pickup truck at the end of the driveway. Leaning out the driver’s-side
window was a man about her age, with tousled red hair. Humor lit up his mouth
and softened his strong jawline and rugged face.
“Are you okay?” he repeated as he climbed
out of his truck and started toward her.
Jesse brushed herself off and ran her
fingers through her hair.
“Oh, yes, I’m fine,” she said.
She saw his hazel eyes twinkle with
“I can see that. In a hurry to get somewhere?
I noticed your quick exit.”
She looked at her watch and gasped.  It was after 2 p.m. If she were going to get
any utilities started, she needed to get to town.
“I need to get my utilities started.”
that sounded intelligent.
She was a little off balance, and
not just because of the mice encounter; this man’s gaze was warm and unsettling.
He chuckled.
“Well, I would never want to keep a
woman from that.”
“What I mean is…”
He held out his hand.
“Joe Riley.” 

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