Finally the ear-piercing, ringing noise of the telephone stopped. She let out the breath she’d been unconsciously holding. With the silence came release and motion was restored to her body. Katrina returned to the door and checked the deadbolt. Then she locked the handle and slid home the chain. Turning her back to the outside world, Katrina sagged against the door with a sigh. She was safely locked in.
It was an automatic reflex now...close and bolt the doors even during the day.
She’d learned the hard way to bolt doors behind her. Even after six years she’d been unable to overcome that part of the fear. It was just one of the scars left over from her 'marriage' to…how had Mr. Browning put it? Oh, yes. 'One Charleston Werner Beardsley'. Well, he was one of a kind, that was for sure.
Katrina shuddered simply from thinking about him, goose bumps peppering her arms. Her knees turning to jelly with the re-emergence of the old fears, she forced herself to walk to the couch and sit down before her legs gave out completely. Numbly she stared, not seeing the radio, the table or anything else in the house. Her mind was busy with different images; pictures from the past. Nightmarish flashes of what life had been like with Charleston for a husband.
Husband. What a joke. And the joke was strictly on her. She sighed. If only she hadn't been in such a rush to get married. If only her grandparents had given her counsel, or said she was too young, or too naive, or too...something. Anything! But they had been in as much of a hurry as she, if not more so. If only….
“Stop it, Katrina,” She spoke aloud. “You've been over all the 'if only's’ and ‘what if’s' so many times and it doesn't change anything. So forget it, and forget him!" The sound of her voice broke her daze and she roused herself.
She had no idea how long she had been sifting through the painful memories of her marriage, but as she moved from the couch, she noticed the room was dark.
Katrina walked over to the lamp and switched it on. As the light flooded the room, there was a knock at the door. She froze in fear.
The knock came again, a little louder this time, sounding impatient. Katrina wasn’t expecting anyone. She held her breath, praying it would stop.
The door now reverberated with the pounding and the sound startled Katrina so much that she was galvanized into action.
She stepped quickly to the window, moved the curtain a fraction of an inch, and peered out with dread, her chest heaving.
Illuminated in the porch light was the most magnificent specimen of a man she had ever seen. Dark hair waved gently back from a high forehead. A well-trimmed mustache hovered just above full, sensuous lips.
His clothes were rich-looking and well-tailored. Katrina knew she’d never seen this man at work; she would definitely have remembered him. He certainly looked like someone she wanted to know.
"I need to talk to you. Open this door, Katrina!" The command was imperious, and against her better judgment Katrina obeyed the order.
She flipped the locks and yanked open the thick wood as far as the heavy chain allowed.
His presence was overpowering even through a four-inch opening. Handsome, noble, princely; the words flowing into her mind were woefully inadequate. Her eyes finally met his, and with a start she realized they were smoldering. She trembled as she noticed he was not smiling.
They stood staring at each other for a long moment, electricity flickering between them. Finally, Katrina asked, "What…what do you want?"
The man peered at her through the thin opening. “I’m not accustomed to doing business through a four-inch crack.”
“Tough. I don’t open my door people I don’t know,” Katrina stated flatly.
The hunk smiled, his wicked grin bringing into play two rather deep dimples in his cheeks.
Katrina’s knees turned to water.
“I am Gavin Browning. I am a lawyer investigating some matters concerning Charleston Werner Beardsley. If you are indeed Katrina Lee McSwayne, I have some questions I need you to answer.”
With a sinking feeling, Katrina knew this was the man who had called her on the telephone earlier. The one she had hung up on. Twice.