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"I bet they made love in here. They'd finish dessert and he'd lift her up on the sink counter."
"And in walks a servant," Tess said, pointing out this was absurd. "Besides, they'd never eat in a kitchen."
"Mm, true. Why here, when you have the ballroom. The gazebo. The billiard table."
"Maeve." Tess glanced around.
"There's no one here, Tess."
Sliding back her chair, Tess got up to make more tea. Oh yes, her sister could be crude. But it was really just bluntness, practicality taken to extremes. This realization had come to her a decade ago in the apartment Maeve rented on her earlier (ridiculously brief) return home. The trash bin had been overflowing, and Maeve had scooped up her small son, holding him up as he stomped down cereal boxes and egg cartons. A proficient, living trash compactor.
"What's really crazy," Maeve went on, "is the way they have that blood dripping down, sizzling on the stove and all. I mean, it's tin, isn't it?"
"The ceiling." Maeve pointed overhead at the lace-patterned squares. "Tin, not plaster."
Yes, tin, Tess nodded. She knew firsthand, of course, having restored the house. "So?"
"So no blood would seep through. A body would have to sit there for weeks."
"Maeve-‘no one was murdered here. Ashton Locksley never murdered anyone."
"Well, not so anyone noticed."
"Maeve-‘no one even died here, except of old age." Tess clunked the kettle on the stove, turned the flame up blue. "For godsake, the Locksleys were real people. If someone goes to the trouble of making them into a movie, why not tell the truth?"
If there was one thing she knew, it was the Locksleys, the couple who'd built her house back in the 1870's. The film in question was their 1940's makeover. Just reissued on DVD-‘a double-disk "commemorative" edition, mind you-‘the Hollywood Classics channel had been running it on cable all week.
Tess wasn't about to watch it. Digitally re-mastered or not, it was still the same travesty. The way they'd tarted-up the house, all pillared verandas Ã la Gone With The Wind, hoop-skirted starlets posing like ruffled layer-cakes. It was shameless when the real house was a Second Empire masterpiece.
"Almost forgot." Maeve rummaged in her carryall. "For you."
A manila envelope slid across the table. One look and Tess knew what it was. Sighing, she considered letting it sit there, collecting crumbs and tea stains until it could be thrown away. But no use prolonging agony.
LOCKSLEY HALL ~ It's Not Just Any Old House! was printed in purple font across the mockup brochure she found inside. VICTORIAN ERA VALHALLA! Romantic RETREAT of a NOTORIOUS ROBBER BARON and his CELEBRATED WIFE! it shouted, spliced between pictures of her house labeled front and side like mug shots.
There was also a contract, Strategies for the Sale of Your Home. Touching it, Tess pictured the realtor's mouth curling up like a jack-o'-lantern's, and what she meant as a small shove sent envelope and all scudding to the floor.
Leaning down, Maeve fished up the papers. "Victorian Era Valhalla…" Eyebrows rose. "Locksley has Vikings?"
Tess sighed. "Ridiculous."
"True. No one would spend eternity in Ohio. Anyway, I told you. Sell it yourself. Why let Odious Realty siphon off seven percent?"
"Odin Realty." The nerve of them. How many times had she said she wasn't interested?
"Either way, you make a fortune."
"I don't want a fortune."
"That's because you have one."
Tess sighed. She had blisters from sighing. "If I had money, Maeve, I wouldn't need to sell my house."