He paused on the landing while he tried to decide which of the many closed doors to kick open first. She must have put her foot through a rotten floor board and fallen, he thought, his heart racing. Or had the ceiling fallen in on her?
"Crystal, for God's sake answer me!"
"Up here." Weak and shaky, her voice came from the attic.
Cody charged up the steps. What the devil was claustrophobic Crystal doing up there? Something must be really wrong.
"Are you okay?" He glanced around the dimly lit space. His flashlight lay beside the freezer, two floors below. He blinked in an effort to adjust his vision.
"I-I'm okay, I guess."
She sounded close to tears. Cody cursed under his breath. He couldn't handle Crystal if she was crying. He'd lose his detachment and make a complete fool of himself.
"Where are you?"
"Over here. In the corner."
He found her crouching beside a large object on the floor. Relief flooded him, along with anger. She should never have gone up there alone. She could have endangered herself and him, too.
"What are you doin'?" He grabbed her arm and hauled her to her feet. "You screamed so loud, I thought you were hurt."
For once, she didn't try to shake him off. In fact, she collapsed against him, her shoulders quivering under the thin cotton blouse.
"I-I opened the closet and something fell on top of me. I don't know what it was, but it ... it felt ... hideous."
Against his better judgment, Cody held her. He didn't care about unidentified objects falling out of closets. In fact, he was absurdly grateful to whatever had frightened Crystal. She'd kept her distance until now, suddenly and miraculously, she was in his arms.
He was treading on very dangerous ground, but he couldn't help himself. The clean, fresh scent of her dazzled his senses. The warmth of her body next to his stirred a familiar ache. He buried his face in her hair and allowed his memories to seep out of their hiding place deep inside him. He'd held her in just such a way all those years before. He remembered the sweetness and closed his eyes, resting his cheek against the top of her head.
"It'll be okay." His hands soothed her, stilling her tremors with their touch.
Crystal burrowed against his chest and sighed. "I was so scared," she whispered. "I heard a crash and came up here looking for Jackson."
"You should have called me."
"I know. I thought he'd gone into one of the guest's rooms and broken something. Then I heard him barking up here." She pulled away, sniffling. "Pretty stupid, huh?"
"We all make mistakes. I'm just glad you're okay."
He hated the way she'd broken contact. His arms felt empty. The old gnawing filled his gut. He thought he'd conquered that feeling, only to find it resurrected the moment he touched her again.
"Thanks for coming to save me." She patted his arm awkwardly.
Cody felt a glimmer of hope at her touch, but he forced himself not to push his advantage. Step by small step, he reminded himself. Win back her trust first.
"I think we'd better find out what fell on me," Crystal said.
"Then we need some more light. There's a flashlight in my tool kit."
"You'd better get it, then."
Did he imagine it, or was her voice husky? He thought again of her claustrophobia. "You want to come with me?"
"No thanks. I'm okay now."
Still he hesitated, unwilling to leave her alone in the darkness, the dust and the cobwebs.
"Really," she said. "I'll wait here."
Cody used the time he was gone to compose himself, and figured Crystal stayed in the attic to do the same thing. When he returned, they discovered the object was a rolled up maroon blanket.
"Is that all?" He breathed a sigh of relief.
"There's something in it." Crystal grabbed the flashlight from him. She sounded indignant. "It felt really heavy, and it knocked me over."
"A good gust of wind would knock you down," Cody said. "You're just as skinny now as you used to be."
"Don't be ridiculous. And don't be so rude, either, calling me skinny."
"It's easy to let your imagination run away with you when you're frightened," he reasoned.
"I'm not going to get thrown to the floor by a rolled up blanket," she snapped, their moment of shared intimacy suddenly no more than a memory. "Open it up." She kicked the blanket with her foot, but then stepped back. "Go ahead." She waved the flashlight at him. "You do it. You're the man around here, as you keep reminding me. Just be careful there aren't any scorpions or snakes in there."
Cody felt like shaking her until her teeth rattled. There she went again--ordering him around like he was the hired help instead of her partner. "Fine." He squatted down. "Leave all the dirty jobs for me." He shook his head at her. "You're startin' to believe all those ghost stories and tall tales, Miss Crystal. What do you think's in there ... a body?"