The Relatives

The Relatives by Christina Dodd

Book: The Relatives by Christina Dodd Read Free Book Online
Authors: Christina Dodd
 
    Day One
    “We do ask that you watch your step and use the handrails.” Gwen Ricci indicated the stairway leading up to the guest cottage and the broad ironwood porch. “We added traction strips to each tread because … you know the Pacific Northwest! Always raining, especially here in Washington, and we don’t want our guests to fall.” She smiled back at Mario’s cousins from Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Also, Cecily, please be careful with those heels that they don’t slip between the boards!” Gwen found herself mentally adding, Stupid inappropriate heels.
    Funny. Gwen was already talking to herself. Usually it took three days of unrelenting company before she was adding sarcastic mental asides. With Cecily and Landon, it had taken less than thirty minutes.
    “I didn’t realize there would be so many steps.” Cecily paused halfway up the stairs and put a hand on her richly endowed chest.
    Gwen paused, too. “Do you have a heart problem?”
    “No. No, I don’t think so, although my mother died at an early age of a heart attack, so that’s always a concern.”
    “What a relief!” Gwen started up the stairs again.
    “My father died of an accident when I was only sixteen, leaving me an orphan.”
    “I’m sorry for your loss.” Why were they talking about her father? It looked like sixteen was quite a few years back for Cecily.
    “And I do have a joint disease that makes all this climbing tragically difficult.” Cecily took a long, martyred breath. “But don’t pay a bit of attention to me. I can handle the pain.”
    Okay, I won’t. Yet Gwen kept her tone encouraging as she said, “Once you get inside the guest cottage, you’ll decide that it’s all worthwhile.” She reached the porch, turned and waited while Cecily continued her laborious trek up the stairs.
    Mario, honey, what were you thinking? He had located his cousins through a genealogical service and emailed with them for a month; then one day the phone rang. It was Landon Ricci, accepting an invitation to stay with Mario and Gwen; an invitation Mario swore he had not extended. But Mario, being Mario—tall, handsome, expansive, hospitable, and Italian to his bones—had assured them they were welcome.
    Then Mario—being the owner of an expanding electrical firm with locations from Portland to the Canadian border—had an emergency call this morning, leaving Gwen to welcome his guests.
    Yep. When Mario got home, Gwen was going to kill him.
    Cecily managed to get to the porch. She clutched the handrail and pulled in deep breaths of air. She looked back along the gravel path that they had just traversed—past the goldfish pond, the bubbling fountain, the hot tub, and the lush green lawn to the main house—and said, “Your house … you say you designed it yourself?”
    As always when Gwen viewed their tall, narrow Venetian-style home, she smiled. “We did design it ourselves. Mario and I took a tiny one-story built in the thirties and remodeled it. Of course we needed more room, so we deliberately built up three and a half levels to keep the same footprint and reduce the environmental impact. That is so imperative in a fragile ecological area like the Olympic Peninsula, don’t you think?”
    Most people were impressed, or at least pretended to be, by the Riccis’ care for the ecosystem.
    Cecily said, “That explains why it looks out of balance.”
    You’re one to talk. Gwen’s mental sarcasm was getting louder.
    Cecily was a tall woman, architecturally top heavy; strip off her top and bra and she could pose as the figurehead on the bow of a ship. Her tiny waist flared out at the hips, giving her an extreme hourglass figure. She wore a low-cut button-up white shirt that showed eight long inches of cleavage and a tight black skirt.
    And those heels. Gwen didn’t remember the last time she’d seen stiletto heels outside of a Hollywood awards show. They were a rare sight anywhere in Washington and almost nonexistent in the nearby

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