It was a sound so familiar Lucas almost didn’t stop reading. Who was in the house? His eyes burned from deciphering the faint writing in fading daylight. He returned the book to the chest and then dropped down the through the trapdoor and hurried to the entry hall.
“Hello!” Lucas called. He was sure the front door was locked, but didn’t remember checking it.
“Hello?” A woman’s voice answered from the stairway. Lucas stopped at the foot. A stunning pale face peered down at him from the first landing. “Who are you?” she demanded.
“Who am I? This is my house. Who are you?” Lucas rested one foot on the first stair, ready to climb.
The woman skipped down the stairs to stand in front of him. Her sleek black hair was sculpted like marble.
“I’m Sloan,” she reached out her hand. Lucas shook the tiny white hand that felt like a kitten paw inside his own rough palm. She smelled like ripe pear. “You must be Lucas. Hey, great! I’m so glad you’re here, now we can get things moving.” Sloan scanned Lucas’ tall frame. “You don’t look much like your brother.”
“That’s true,” Lucas agreed.
Sloan laughed and her eyes glittered. “I’d say so. You two are nothing alike.” She looked him up and down. “Hey, love the dreadlocks, Lucas, very ‘90s, very ironic.”
Lucas felt himself flush. His cheeks burned. What right did this stranger have walking into Nana’s house through the locked door?
“How did you get in?” Lucas gripped the bannister.
Sloan took a step back and held up her phone case. A keychain dangled from the ring attached to it.
“Mark hired me to sell the house. I’m the realtor. I work the coast market, usually Seaside to Cannon Beach, so this is a bit of a push. But what a great property! Cannon Beach can be very lucrative, but Astoria is a dice roll. This house will bring loads of offers.” Sloan studied the hardwood floors and original wainscoting, nodding her approval as she scanned the architecture. “I’ll need to take a look around, give it a walkthrough. Then I’ll work up comps.”
“Where did you get the key?” Lucas cracked his knuckles. Sloan opened her phone and started typing.
“I picked it up from the attorney’s office,” she didn’t look up.
Sloan glanced up at Lucas but kept typing.
“Your probate attorney, Chad Walker, he’s the one handling the estate. I’m texting him right now.”
Lucas realized there would be paperwork when Nana died, but didn’t consider there would be lawyers involved, or a trespassing real estate agent, however attractive.
“Look,” Lucas paused a moment to wonder how much authority a realtor might have over him. “Give me back the key. I’ll see the lawyer tomorrow. I’m here now. I don’t want you, or anyone else, just coming in whenever you feel like it.”
Sloan swung her chiseled hair and shrugged as she finished her text.
“How about this, Lucas: since I’m already here, you show me around. I need to take some photos. I can’t give the key to you. I signed for it at Walker’s office. I’ll drop it off there tomorrow. You can pick it up when you meet with him, although that will be inconvenient going forward for everyone. How does that sound?”
Lucas scratched at his chest.
“OK, I guess. We can start upstairs.”
The tour concluded in the kitchen at the back of the house. Outside it was growing dark and the windows mirrored their movements through the rooms. Sloan peered down into the cellar but didn’t care to descend the stone steps, asking only a few questions about its construction and whether it stayed dry in winter. She stopped at the narrow stairway leading up to the attic.
“Where does that go?”
Sloan took hold of the doorknob, but Lucas stretched his arm across the jamb. Sloan tugged at the door.
“Lucas, I need to see it too. I need to check for leaks, see the view. I know there are windows, some potential, maybe renovated into a loft, or raise these ceilings.”
“Too dark, not tonight,” Lucas shook his head. “I need to replace the light bulb up there. It’s rickety.”
Sloan backed away to the center of the kitchen. She swiped through the gallery of photographs she’d taken.
“Okay, I have most of the shots I need. A few of these might need better light, but they’re mostly good. I already have shots from outside. Maybe I can come by tomorrow and check-out the attic?”
“Maybe,” Lucas wondered how he would keep Sloan out of the attic. He wanted to go back and open the chest, continue reading Verity’s story. He didn’t want Sloan prying.
Sloan waited for Lucas to say more, but he was watching his own watery reflection in the darkened window.
“Well, give me your phone number, Lucas, and I’ll give you mine. We’re going to be working together, so that would be helpful.”
“I thought you were working for Mark?” Lucas finally looked away from the window and back to Sloan.
“Mark hired me, but technically, I work for you.” Sloan cocked her head and studied Lucas. “Your Grandmother made you executor of the estate. You make the final decisions.”
“No shit,” Lucas laughed and then shivered. He shook his head. It seemed a ghostly joke Nana was playing. He shivered again and thought of the chest in the attic he’d opened just hours ago.
When Sloan finally drove away in her black Escalade, Lucas rummaged in the mud room. He found a light bulb and climbed up the narrow stairs to the attic.