You walk into your bedroom and find someone going through your lingerie drawer.
HE WAS AT it again.
Caroline watched from the doorway. The dark room, lit only by a dim bedside table lamp, nearly hid him as he examined the contents of her lingerie drawer. He was so intent on his visual examination, that he hadn’t noticed her.
Stepping into the room, she flipped on the overhead lights.
Richard jumped back, startled, his hands fluttered to his chest as guilt settled on his face. “I wasn’t touching. I promise. I told you I wouldn’t touch, and I wasn’t.”
She closed the distance between them and shut the open drawer. “We’ve talked about this, Richard.”
“I was just looking, Caroline. Really. There’s no harm in looking. I . . .” He towered over her, big and hulking, but at the same time small and inconsequential.
“I told you my bedroom was off limits.”
“You said not to touch. I wasn’t—”
She cut him off with a raised hand. “I will not stand for this.”
“I can’t . . .” How could such a large man have such a wheedling, little-girl voice? “I can’t help it.”
And she suspected that was true. That didn’t mean . . .
Pushing past him, she reopened the drawer she’d just closed, grabbed a handful of its silky contents, and started back toward the door. Several items slipped from her grasp, but she didn’t stop to retrieve them. Only after she’d reach the hallway did she pause to look back at him and say, “Come with me.”
She didn’t wait to see if he’d follow. She knew he would.
The solution had come to her in a snap of insight—she wondered why she hadn’t thought of it before. It would mean giving up her favorite guest room, but if it kept Richard away from her things, it would be worth the sacrifice.
She led him down the long hallway of the east wing, across the gallery overlooking the grand staircase and foyer, and into the west wing.
Six months earlier, her mother’s sister, Della, had died, leaving Carolina the estate and the money to care for it. The only stipulation had been that she also take charge and care for Richard, Della’s son, an overgrown mama’s boy without the capacity to manage his mother’s fortune. How could she have refused? She loved this old mansion, now expensively restored, and she loved the money that went with it. Richard was a small enough price to pay.
Except for his obsession with women’s lingerie—her lingerie.
She stopped outside a room at the end of the hall, and then pushed open the door. Inside, bright sunlight met creams and pale peach tones, drenching the room with a warm feminine feel.
After dropping the handful of garments onto the bed, she turned to him. He stood hesitantly in the open doorway. “Okay, Cousin, here’s the deal. This”—she gestured to the gorgeous room—“is all yours.”
He took a wary step into the room.
“I’ll fill the dresser with lingerie,” she said, nodding toward the graceful antique. “And the armoire as well. You can start with these.” She gestured to the pile on the bed. “Tomorrow, I’ll order more.”
He looked doubtful. “What do you want?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m tired of finding you in my rooms, handling my things.”
He glanced around, moving farther from the door, inspecting this new space.
“I have two conditions,” she said, drawing his attention back to her. “First, you stay out of my rooms. I don’t want to find you in there again. Ever.”
“You’ll give me things to look at in here. They’ll be mine.”
“It will be your personal space. I won’t disturb it.”
He seemed to consider her offer, then said, “And the second condition?”
“I want you to stay in the room,”—she held up a hand to stop his immediate objection—“when I have guests.” She was tired of explaining away his pranks and thoughtless behavior.
Again, he didn’t respond right away. Maybe he wasn’t as slow as she’d always thought. “You know, you can’t keep me in here.”
“Maybe not, but there are other measures I could take.” Sell the house. Travel extensively. Leaving him here alone. “But let’s not even think about that. All I’m requiring is that stay in this room whenever I have guests.”
He glanced at the graceful armoire, empty now. “What kind of things will you order for me?”
She had him. “Whatever you want. I’ll even order new items occasionally.”
“Say . . . once a month.”
“So, except for your rooms and when you have guests, I still have full access to the house.”
“That’s the deal.” She headed back toward the doorway. “Should I have one of the maids bring the rest of my things in here? It will hold you until your order comes it.” And she no longer wanted to touch the items he’d been pawing.
“You won’t try and trick me? Mother said—”
She swung around to face him. “Your mother has moved on. Which”—another pause—“you should consider.”
He brushed that suggestion aside with a flip of his hand. “What fun would there be in that? Besides,” he shrugged, “I’ve had enough of mother for a while. So, I think I’ll stick around.”
“Suit yourself. But if you stay, those are my conditions. Deal with them . . . or else.”
She left him standing in the room and went to look for one of the maids. She’d think it was odd that Carolina wanted her lingerie moved into one of the guestrooms, but the girl would do as instructed. And no doubt Richard would do something outlandish to scare her when she entered his room. But, there was nothing to be done about that. It would add to the mystery of this old place, another ghost story to spread in the village. More great table talk for her dinner parties. She could hear it now, the whispers about how she managed to live in a place haunted by her dead relatives.
She laughed and shook her head.
Well, it was only one dead relative, and as long as he stayed out of her bedroom, she could deal with him.
From Pat: I had so much fun with this story. It’s was totally different from what I normally write — I mean, I don’t usually right “light” stories. I had to fight the urge to make it dark or suspenseful or romantic. Thus, the fun of it.