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Officer Next Door(5)

By:Ranae Rose

Much like the incident when she’d woken to see a figure at the end of her bed, Alicia hoped she’d only imagined it.

Back outside, she strolled down the pathway, walking at a leisurely pace despite her appointment. The canopy of wisteria-swathed branches was so beautiful it demanded that she slow down a little, imagining that she existed in a different time. That was the real Southern charm she’d quickly become addicted to: natural beauty, and taking the time to savor it.

She rounded the front of the plantation house – a stately structure if there ever was one, complete with crisp white siding and tall columns that supported two porches, one on the first and second story each. She was about to climb the set of stairs that led up to the first-story porch when something caught her eye.

To the right, around the corner of the house, stood a woman. Alicia’s attention was snared by the sight of her ivory-colored skirt – one of the long, maxi-styled ones she’d always loved for their comfort-factor – flapping in the breeze.

She veered to the right, heading for the stretch of perfectly-manicured lawn beside the house. Tours didn’t start for another half hour, so chances were the woman was the bride Alicia was supposed to be meeting with.

The light breeze rolled over the plantation yard, carrying the earthy, slightly damp scent of Spanish moss. She closed her eyes and inhaled, sighing a moment later. There was no question about it: she loved her new job. It beat working in the city as a hotel event coordinator hands down. The atmosphere was simply without comparison.

Sure, she missed the convenience of the city – there, anything and everything had been available 24/7, while in Riley, most things were closed by 9 or 10 – but the peace and beauty of small town life made up for it.

“Isn’t the wisteria beautiful?” she called as she navigated a little bend in the pathway, reaching the yard around the side of the house.

There was no saying whether the bride-to-be was equally charmed by the grounds, because she was no longer there.

Blinking, Alicia looked from side to side, searching for any sign of the woman in the ivory skirt. “Hello?”

Only silence met her greeting, and she began to feel foolish. The woman had been there just moments ago, she was sure of it. Where the hell had she gone?

Scanning the yard again, she saw no sign of a human presence, only a big, dark lump a dozen yards away, on the bank of the creek that ran behind the house.

Despite the heat, she shivered. There was still one thing she hadn’t gotten used to: seeing alligators in the wild. Before she’d moved to Riley County, she’d only ever seen them in zoos and aquariums. Here, they were native and roamed wherever they liked. Even from a distance, she was able to identify the reptile lounging in mottled sunlight that filtered through the branches of a cypress tree.

His name was Brutus. Or at least, that was what everyone at Wisteria called him. Covered in tough blackish hide that inspired thoughts of dinosaurs, he was a good nine feet long, maybe ten. According to Sasha, he’d probably grow even bigger. And for some reason, he loved the creek behind Wisteria.

Making a mental note to avoid the area whenever she gave the bride-to-be a tour of the grounds, Alicia turned around and headed for the house. The sight of Brutus bothered her almost as much as the fact that a woman had all but disappeared before her eyes. When she stepped into the foyer, she looked around for the bride, intent on asking her how she’d done it.#p#分页标题#e#

But she wasn’t there, either. Alicia had her cell phone number on file, and briefly considered calling to ask where on the grounds the woman was. Before she could do so, someone walked through the door.

“Hi,” a tall woman in cropped jeans and a red shell top said, shifting her purse strap on her shoulder. “I’m here for a tour of the wedding facilities?”

“You must be Sheila,” Alicia said, pasting on her brightest smile even though something wasn’t adding up. If this woman was the one she was scheduled to meet with, who was the shorter woman she’d seen outside?

A guest, possibly. Or maybe she really was going crazy.

“That’s right.” Sheila held out a hand.

Alicia shook it. “I’m Alicia Dalton, special events coordinator. If you’re considering Wisteria for your wedding, the first thing you should see is…”

She spent a good forty-five minutes showing Sheila around, carefully avoiding Brutus as she showed off the grounds and buildings, explaining Wisteria’s history and the options available for a marriage ceremony. By the time she finished, the bride was talking positively about the possibilities, even mentioning how her chosen wedding colors would complement the blooming wisteria.