The Dark Triangle Chapter One

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Prologue

Waking from a light sleep, Rachel Harris sat up in the bed and hoped that her ears had deceived her. Not only had she thought she heard a loud thud, but it was coming from downstairs and not the room next door, where her boss, Samuel Murphy, was supposed to be convalescing after bypass surgery days earlier.

Everything seemed quiet from his room, but breaking through the silence, she could hear the muffled sounds of conversation happening below.

Was it Mattie, the maid, who was supposed to be sleeping in the room on the other side of Rachel’s?

There was only one way to find out.

Rachel got up, and without disturbing Mattie, who was asleep in her room next door, she went to the connecting door to the spare room where Mr. Murphy had agreed to stay during his recovery instead of his third-floor master suite.

But when she opened the door, Mr. Murphy was not in his bed. Rachel let out a heavy sigh. He hadn’t been the worst patient and only slightly difficult, but being up in the middle of the night was not something she recommended, especially if he was in the kitchen having a late-night snack.

Rachel didn’t know if Mattie was up with him or not. She decided not to bother her in case she wasn’t, and instead of cutting through the woman’s room to the servant’s stairs that went directly to the kitchen, Rachel used the main stairs.

Mr. Murphy’s voice became clearer as she approached the main floor, and the tone that he used shocked her.

“I don’t give a damn what you say! I don’t care, even if it is true. You’re not getting one red cent from me! Everything I have is going to Lucas. You remember him, don’t you?”

She froze in her tracks as a chill crept down her neck. The tone was one she had never heard from her boss in the short time she had known him. Rachel realized the closer she got to his study at the front of the house that Mr. Murphy was on the phone. There was never any response to his anger that she could hear, and whoever it was had him quite angry. She breathed a slight sigh of relief that someone hadn’t shown up in the night.

“You heard me. Don’t contact me again!” The glow from the phone moved to his side as Rachel came into the room. The full moon shining through the window behind him outlined his shadowy form.

She turned on a lamp, which only proved she was right about his anger.

Mr. Murphy’s chest was rising and falling quickly, and his nose was broad from the flaring of his nostrils.

His brown eyes were shadowed by heavy, pinched brows, and his hair, more salt than pepper, stuck up on top of his head as if he had tried to pull it out.

“Are you okay?” she asked. There was no way that kind of anger was good for him in his condition.

He shook his head and shrugged and spoke in a much calmer voice. “Yes, I’m fine.”

“Did something happen?”

“Just some old chickens coming home to roost, that’s all.” He waved his hand dismissively, and she understood that it was best to let the subject drop. “Nothing to worry about.”

“I’m worried about you,” she said, walking over to help him. “I should get you back upstairs to bed. You need your rest. And this is not going to help anything.”

“I’ll go without a fight, but let me sit a minute first, would you?” He walked over and plopped down in his brown leather chair.

The study was one of his favorite places to be, but Rachel had tried to keep him as far away from work as possible, given his condition.

“Just for a minute while you calm down.” She sat down across the room on a small matching sofa.  “If I thought you might be making upsetting calls at all hours of the night, I would have suggested you stay at the hospital another day.”

Mr. Murphy picked the pipe up from his desk and held it tightly in his palm. His knuckles turned white he squeezed it so hard.

“Don’t you even think about it,” she said.

He gave her a look that reminded her to give him some credit.  “Have you ever seen me smoke anything?”

“I’m only saying that so you don’t go getting any ideas.” The man was always full of surprises.

“Yes, ma’am.” He let out a heavy sigh and looked at the pipe. “This is a special pipe, you know? It comes with a lot of history. I hold it as a reminder.”

“That tobacco kills?” She cocked her brow.

He chuckled more heartily. “Do you know what this pipe is made of?” he asked.

Rachel shrugged. “I have no clue. Cancer?” She hoped to improve his mood and help him settle.

Slightly amused, he shook his head. “No. It’s briarwood.” He held it out so she could see the rich, dark wood.

“Briarwood? Like the town?” she asked. “I didn’t know that was a real thing. I just thought someone liked the name. Is it a tree?”

“Technically, it refers to the root of one, but it is really hard and heat resistant, so they make pipes out of it.”

“So, this town is named for a smoking pipe?” She shook her head. “Who thought that was a good idea?”

“Well, it makes sense. You do know that Fox Nettle Farm here used to be Fox Nettle Plantation, don’t you?”

“Yes, I’m aware.” The antebellum home was beloved by the entire town. “I’m told there is a lot of history here, of both the pleasant and not-so-pleasant kind.”

“True. But what do you think was grown on said plantation?”

“I never really gave it any thought.” She shrugged. “I guess lots of things. Different crops.”

Mr. Murphy shook his head. “No. Just one crop. Tobacco. As far as the eye could see. And year by year, several generations back, The Foxes sold off their property, and the town of Briarwood was formed.”

“So, it really is named for a smoking pipe?” she asked with a soft laugh. “That is fitting.”

“But not just any smoking pipe. This smoking pipe,” he said, tapping his finger against it.

“Really? That very one?”

He gave a slight nod. “Yes. I inherited it from the Fox daughter, who inherited it from her father, who sadly passed away from lung cancer years earlier. His father and his grandfather before that all passed away from the same thing. She saw it as a generational curse of sorts and payback for all the terrible health her family put out on the world.”

“That is terrible.” She couldn’t imagine losing so many to such a horrible illness.

“Yes, it is, which is why the daughter, who was well in her seventies when she finally parted with this place, didn’t want to pass the pipe and its legacy to any of her sons. I hold it from time to time when I want to think.”

“As long as you don’t get the urge to smoke it, I guess there are worse habits.” She was thankful he didn’t have many terrible habits. Stress and fatty foods had contributed to his heart issues, but he never smoked. And the only time she had witnessed him drinking was when the occasion called for it.

He gave her a reassuring look. “I won’t. I’ve always thought that was an ugly habit. But you see, I’m the first person outside of the family to own the estate who wasn’t in the Fox family. I hold this and feel, somehow, even more connected to this place and to my wife, who loved it so much. I bought it for her, you know? It was a surprise of sorts. She thought I was going to close on a different home, one I tricked her into thinking was more practical. She had never been so happy when I brought her here.”

“I never knew that.” She had only known that his wife had passed away many years earlier.

“Oh yes. She fell in love with it the minute she saw it. We were passing through one evening, got lost, and ended up passing this place. The realtor was just putting out the for-sale sign. And she told me I should act fast.”

“I bet you did, too.”

“We had already been looking at another place. But I saw the look on her face. We stopped and asked if we could take a look, and I had never seen my wife’s eyes lit with such amazement at how lovely the place was.”

“And you knew she had to have it.”

There was a twinkle in his eyes as he told the story. “She knew it too. I let her try to talk me into it, but I pushed back. All the while, I was making the deal behind her back. When the movers came and we drove out, she was halfway to Briarwood before she realized where we were going.”

“That’s so romantic. I bet she was so happy.”

“Oh, she was. She had so many plans for this place, and I hadn’t seen her so alive as she was those first years here. She wanted to throw big parties and fill the place with kids. But the latter wasn’t in the cards for us.”

“I’m sorry. You must miss her terribly.” She knew it was a sore spot with him, and he didn’t bring her up often.

“Well, yes. But I feel that she’s still here with me. Every time I watch the sunset off the porch or see how nicely the roses are blooming, I think of how much she would love them, and I feel that she’s still with me.”

“I think she is. And you’ve done a good job filling this place with happiness by sharing it with others.” He had given many people from Briarwood access to Fox Nettle Farms for various events through the years. “I’m sure she’s really proud of you and all of your efforts of generosity.”

“That’s nice of you to say. She was really something. You would have loved her. And she would have loved you. You know, I always wanted a daughter of my own. I suspect if I had one, she would be a lot like you. Kind and compassionate, just like my Beth was.”

“Well, you can pretend I am your daughter if you like. My own father wasn’t around most of my life. He left my mother and moved halfway across the world to get away from us. I always wondered what it would have been like to have him around.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. He’s a damned fool. And you’re a credit to your mother who raised you. And I’m awfully glad that she made you go to nursing school. I’m glad you’re here to take care of me.”  

“Me too. Now, I should get you back upstairs and to bed. The night is still young, but you’re not.”

“Ouch. Telling it like it is.”

“I see it as a part of my job. You need your rest. And if I’m honest, it would be nice to be curled up in my bed asleep as well.”

He gave her an apologetic look. “Fair enough. I should stop being selfish.”

“You’re never that.” She got up and offered some support for him to stand. “We have to get you well.”

“I’ll heal,” he said. “I guess the good Lord wasn’t done with me yet.”

“He knows how much you mean to everyone you meet. And he gave us sleep to restore, so sleep can help you heal.”

“I hear ya,” he said as they walked to the stairs.

When they reached the first step, she looked at him. “Let’s take these slow. Doctor’s orders.”

“Do you think this place will be my legacy?” he asked.

“Better this place than that old pipe. But I think so. I think you will be remembered for many things when the time comes. Let’s hope it’s a long time from now.”

“You know, I am going to make sure you’re taken care of if anything does happen to me.”

“That’s sweet but unnecessary. I’m sure you have family who is more deserving of your inheritance.”

“If I did, wouldn’t they be here? I mean, Lucas, of course, but he’s been so busy with work. And you know he’s called me every day since I fell ill.”

“I also know that you told him not to come.” She didn’t understand why he hadn’t wanted him to come out. But he had this thing about not bothering the young man who was busy running his own company.

He waved his free hand dismissively. “There is plenty of time to come out here. Besides, I just saw him when I went out to visit him last month. No need for him to uproot everything to come see me like this. That’s no fun.”

“Well, I know how much he means to you. So, get better for him.”

“He’s the only one. I have sisters, you know? Did they call? And after all I’ve done for them.” He shook hie head. “I’ve given them down payments for their homes. I even sent their kids to special schools. No, not even a call. You know, come to think of it, I need to get a few things in order. Things that will seal my legacy for sure. Like my will.”

She stopped him, hearing that he was winded. “Take it easy. We’ll work on all that tomorrow.”

“I have to make sure it’s done right. You’ll make sure of it, won’t you? When I’m gone. You’ll see to it that it’s all taken care of. You will be the executrix of my will, won’t you?”

“What? I don’t even know what that word means.” Rachel shook her head.

“It’s just a lawyer word for the person who makes sure my wishes are followed. You’re the only one who could, with your knowledge of the place.”

“Yes, I will. Of course. But let’s worry about that when the time comes, which will hopefully be many years from now.”

“You know me. I’m too stubborn to die just yet.”

Rachel chuckled, knowing that was the truth.

She helped him back to bed and turned in, happy that his anger had subsided and hoping that nothing could come of it.

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