Liv looked out the window again. She sighed. Brody was still handing out tickets. The blonde woman moved back to the fireplace and examined the large oil painting of a dog.
All the while Kayla sat quietly.
"Im bored," Liv said, a little embarrassed by how juvenile the words sounded once she said them aloud. Then her face lit up. "Wanna neck while we wait for Mr. Cobb?" she asked hopefully, flopping down on the far end of the sofa then scampering across it to Kayla.
Kayla tapped her index finger against her chin and pretended to seriously consider the question. "What if someone catches us?"
"What if they dont?" Liv countered, her gaze dropping to Kaylas full lips. She inched a little closer to the object of her desire.
"What if they do?"
Liv idly fingered the neck of Kaylas sweater. "They might not," she reminded insistently. One hand slid beneath soft hair, letting the thick strands slide between its fingers before finding its way to the back of Kaylas neck.
Quite without her permission, Kaylas gaze fixed itself on Livs mouth. And refused to move. She licked her lips and leaned forward. "But"
"They wont," Liv promised, closing her eyes just as their lips
"Oh, yes they will," a deep Scottish voice boomed from the doorway.
Kayla flew off the couch, nearly knocking Liv over in the process. "I I " Her eyes darted wildly from Liv to the man.
He began to laugh heartily, the movement causing his bulky form to shake. He held up a placating hand. "No need to get upset, lassies."
Liv scowled at Kayla. "Or dump your girlfriend on her ass," she mumbled.
Aw, shit. Kayla offered Liv a contrite look. "Sorry. I uh." Her mouth snapped shut. "Just sorry," she finally said, wincing. She extended her hand and hauled Liv to her feetThe mans eyes shifted back and forth between the women. He smiled indulgently. "Hello, ladies. Welcome to Cobb Manor." Like Brodys, his voice was bright and cheerful, but with an even heavier brogue. "Theres no need for introductions," he assured them. "My friends call me Badger. Have done ever since I was a wee bairn. But thats another story." With a confident air, he walked right past them both and sat down in the recliner in front of the sofa. "Sylla explained what you wanted to know. Im only sorry I kept you waiting. "
"Not a problem." Kayla blinked a few times. She wasnt expecting Syllas husband to be quite so old. Robust, however, was the word that came to mind when she looked at him. His clear eyes, spry step, and engaging manner indicated he was in good health and better spirits. Not bad for someone who was easily in his middle sixties.
"Did Sylla, The Sullen, scare you?" He laughed again, low and deep. "Shes been telling that nasty story to anyone who will listen. I personally think its more gross than frightening." He put his finger over his lips. "Shhh But thats my little secret."
Taking their cue from Badger, Liv and Kayla both sat back down.
He looked at them both for a long moment, saying nothing. But Kayla didnt experience the unnerving feeling that often accompanied such scrutiny. It was, she decided, comfortable.
There was a gentleness and intensity in his pale eyes that Liv instantly found appealing and she found herself relaxing. Or maybe I just have a thing for blue eyes, she admitted privately.
Badgers thick hair and full beard stood out against his ruddy skin and were as white as new snow. Even the patch of curly chest hair that showed in the opening of his shirt was white. He wore a kilt and shirt that matched Brodys, and by the way he moved, she could tell he was more comfortable in them than the younger Cobb. A couple of inches shorter than Kaylas five feet eleven, he was sturdily built, with thick forearms and calves and a chest like a tree trunk. When he smiled, Liv couldnt help but smile back. He looked a lot Santa Claus if Santa were willing to go to a local pub with you and toss a few back.
The mans face suddenly turned a little sheepish. "Im sorry for startling you. That was a little mean." But there was an undisguised twinkle in his eyes that kept his apology from being too sincere.
"Apology accepted," Liv said readily.
"Good." Badger nodded approvingly. Every couple had to have a peacemaker. And in this case it was obviously the pretty, green-eyed lass. "I understand from Sylla that you only have a couple of hours before you need to return to town." He pulled his pipe from the well-worn, badger-pelt sporran at his waist and held it up for their inspection. "Do you mind?"
Kayla shook her head. "Not at all."
He grinned and lit it. A few puffs later and the sweet aroma of pipe tobacco filled the room. "I dont know if I can tell you Faylinn Cobbs whole story in just two hours," he warned, closing his eyes in pleasure as he drew in a deep, smoke-filled breath. "She was an interesting woman and I dont like stopping a tale too many times once Ive started." He pulled the pipe from between his teeth. "Stops the flow of the story."
Kaylas worked her jaw. God, is everyone in this family a wanna-be actor? "We could come back," she supplied somewhat reluctantly. "Later in the week maybe."
"Aye, you could tomorrow?"
Blue eyes narrowed. "Maybe."
Liv patted Kaylas knee. She would come back as many times as it took. Assuming she could still walk after consuming all that shortbread. Now that her appetite was back she felt ravenous.
"Excellent! Tomorrow it is then. Now tell me what you already know."
Kayla shifted uncomfortably, feeling a little guilty for even being related to Faylinns husband. "We know she lived in London for a time, but mostly here. At least until she married Cyril Redding and moved to the Colonies."
He continued to puff his pipe contentedly. "All true. Go on."
"Cyril um " Kaylas gaze flicked to Liv then back, where it stayed. "He died under mysterious circumstances on Cobb Island." She was unwilling to accuse Faylinn of his murder despite the fact that she believed thats what happened. "Faylinn, who had recently lost their two-year-old son to a fever, disappeared after that. And was never heard from again." She wondered if her host knew about Cyrils sister, Bridget, and the intimate, if not consummated, relationship she had with Faylinn. If he didnt, she certainly wasnt going to tell him.
Mr. Cobb began choking on his own smoke. "Never heard from again? Och! What crap. Maybe not for a while. But she certainly didnt disappear for good."
"I assumed there was more to the story," Kayla informed him dryly. "Otherwise, you wouldnt have anything to tell us, now would you?"
"No." A tiny smile twitched at his lips. Kayla reminded him of someone he loved very much. "I suppose I wouldnt. All right then, sit back, lassies, and Ill tell you all I know." His face grew serious. "But be warned, this yarn is not some glorified version of the truth, like Sylla spins. This was real. Sometimes its harsh in the tellin." He stroked his beard thoughtfully. "There are folks who might be more comfortable not knowing exactly what happened on Cobb Island and after..."
Kayla looked him dead in the eye. "But we wouldnt be among them."
Liv nodded firmly. "What she said."
Mr. Cobb chuckled softly. "Why am I not surprised?"
The crouched figure worked quietly as she tended the small, smoking fire. The heat wasnt nearly enough and her fingers felt cold and clumsy. She used a stick to stoke the fragile flames and blew at the fires base, trying to feed the flames. After several moments of hissing and sputtering, the wet wood began to burn in earnest, filling the room with the sweet smell of hickory and casting it in jagged shadows.
A loud clap of thunder shook the rafters and rattled windows barely covered by slightly warped, wooden shutters. The endless, icy rain that had pelted the Virginia Coast all autumn continued to come down in sheets, making everything miserable.
The young, fair-haired woman tossed the stick into the fireplace and put her hand on her thighs to push herself up. Still wearing her damp cloak, she wrapped it tighter around her slender body in mute comfort. A mirthless laugh bubbled up from inside her and she was powerless to stop it.
She was, she knew, on the verge of sheer hysteria. In shock. How could she not be? She covered her face with shaking hands to avoid the sight of the bloodied rags that lay on the small table by the bed. Her impulse had been to throw them into the burgeoning flame, but she didnt. The cloth might come in handy later. Still, her stomach roiled at the thought of washing it out.
A quiet knock on her door caused her head to snap up. Hesitating for only a moment, she padded slowly to the door, not bothering to lift the skirts dragging across the wooden slats that served as a floor. "Yes?" she called out warily.
"Mrs. Redding, its only me, Wilfred. Ive some fresh linen from my wife." The door creaked open and a man of medium height, who smelled of wood-smoke and livestock, strode into the room. He appeared to be in his late thirties, with pock-marked skin and a large, slightly crooked nose.
"Can I see her?"
He shook his head. "Not yet." Wilfred Beynons heavy brow furrowed. "Why are you sitting it the dark, Mrs?"
"Faylinn," she interrupted softly. "My name is Faylinn." His manner was rough and impatient. She hoped she could trust him. I dont have a choice.
He nodded once, a little surprised that a woman of her social standing would offer her first name to the likes of him, a pig farmer. The Reddings were a powerful family. Everyone knew that. And though hed heard talk of Cyrils marriage, and how Mr. Redding came to own Cobb Island, hed never actually seen Cyrils young wife before today. He studied Faylinn carefully, and wondered how such a miserable man had managed to take such a pretty bride.
"Im Will then." He quirked an eyebrow remembering their mostly unpleasant encounter of a few minutes earlier. "We were never really introduced." He pulled hard and the swollen shutters closed more tightly, stopping the rain from draining down the wall. "Damn things." He pulled a large, cold torch from its holder and lit it in the fireplace before sliding it back into place. "We dont have call for many guests, so I dont come in here often. I didnt know the wood box was bein rained on. I know its not what a lady like you is used to"
Faylinn held up her hand. "Please. Its more than I could have hoped for." Her eyes strayed to the door. "Thank you," she added absently.
He frowned at the slight brogue that peeked out from beneath her upper-class English accent. "Scottish, are ya?"
"Yes " She gave her head a little shake. "Well, no, not technically, I suppose. I was born in London." Faylinns eyes never left the door.
"Good." He crossed his massive arms over his chest. "Theyre drunkards and thieves, the lot of them."
Faylinn pushed damp blonde bangs off her forehead. "No theyre not," she disagreed gently. "I spent most of my childhood in Edinburgh and my" She was about to say family but her mind flooded with images of the son shed recently lost and she felt a stabbing sensation in her guts. Oh, God.
Will continued to stare at her, wondering if she was going to continue.
After a full minute, Faylinn swallowed and muttered, "My people are Scots, Mr. Benyon."
"Too bad." He unceremoniously yanked the dusty quilt from the narrow bed and stripped the old linens. "I was born in Radnorshire myself, but have been here in the colonies for nearly twenty years. Virginia for the past five, after I worked off my indenture," he said proudly. He debated his words for a moment then pointed a thumb at his chest as he worked. "My life is my own now." He finished tugging on the clean sheets. "Its a wonderful thing to be free."
Faylinn turned her head very slowly until her eyes locked with his. In an instant she knew that he knew, and the blood drained from her face. Her heart began to thump wildly and she stumbled backwards a step. "I I "
He smiled reassuringly. "If youre running away from Cyril Redding, even though hes your lawful husband, youll get no censure from me. Its Gods place to judge. Not mine."
Faylinn exhaled shakily. He doesnt know about Cyril then.
Wills face darkened. "But what he did to his own kin, to his own sister. " He spat into the fire as though merely talking about Cyril had left a vile taste in his mouth. "The filthy, no good " He suddenly stopped and realized who he was talking to. A contrite look transformed his features to those of a child about to be scolded. "If youll pardon my blunt words, maam."
"No need to apologize. Its not as though I havent thought worse myself," she admitted honestly before her attention turned back to the door.
Will wished that his wife was in the room with this girl instead of him. She would be even worse at this than he was. But, then, that would be his wifes problem, wouldnt it? "Ill be back soon."
He took a step to leave but feared the girl would drop dead from fretting and holding her breath as she watched the door. Approaching her slowly, he slid the wet cloak from her shoulders and carefully hung it to dry on a hook near the fireplace. "Sit." He pointed to the stool that stood near to the flames. "And dry off before you catch your death." He softened his normally gruff voice in an attempt to ease the young womans worries. "Ill come for you as soon as I know anything. Its in Gods hands now."
On his way out of the room, Will grabbed the blood-soaked bandages, grunting his approval of the fact that Faylinn hadnt burned them. Cloth could be re-used.
Faylinns mind was spinning. She barely heard the sound of the closing of the door. She clenched her fists in frustration, digging short nails into her palms. "Send me away like a child," she muttered to herself. "Of all the stupid ."
Ignoring Wills instructions, she stalked past the stool to the bed and stripped off her sodden, torn skirts, blouse, petticoat, and shoes, letting them fall to the floor. She peered down at her sleeveless shift and gave a passing thought to taking it off as well. It was wet and itched, but, with a small shake of her head, she decided against it. She didnt know these people. And just because they seemed kind, didnt mean that they were. Her lips formed a thin line. Shed learned that lesson on her wedding night.
Her body trembled when the cool air hit the bare skin of her arms and she rubbed her hands up and down them briskly, trying to chase away the goose bumps. "I shouldnt be in here." Faylinns heart felt as though it was trapped in a vise. "I cant help in here," she anguished. She stood there, listening to the rain, wind, and the constant hum of muffled the voices. The urge to bolt from the room was nearly overwhelming. But she continued to wait. Numb.
Green eyes flew open and her sagging head snapped up. She was falling asleep standing up. Slightly disoriented, she climbed into bed and snuggled down beneath the thin quilt, sinking deeply into the straw mattress, shivering.
Faylinn closed her eyes tightly. They still burned from the sting of salty seawater. How we made it here from the island in this weather Ill never know. Shed had to row the entire way herself.
Wills words repeated in her mind. Its in Gods hands. She exhaled raggedly, her entire body aching with a bone-weary exhaustion the likes of which shed never known. Maybe if I sleep, the time will pass more quickly and everything will be all right. Her heart lurched, and she pulled the musty quilt up to her chin, saying a prayer to the God
she wasnt sure existed at all. Not for herself, but for someone she loved.
Her last thoughts before she drifted into a deep slumber were of Bridget and the amazing happenings of Cobb Island. Had it all happened in the past two days? It seemed like weeks. She drifted back, hazy images running together in her mind .
Banging furiously on the bedroom door. "Judith! Where have they taken Bridget? Where, Judith? Dammit! Open the door! Please!"
The sound of a bolt being
thrown and the door opening slowly. The guilty, frightened eyes of her stepdaughter
causing her blood to run cold. "Shes to be executed as a witch."
Feeling dizzy. Sick. "Wh What?"
"Youve got to hurry. You dont have much time. Shes at the cliffs on the other side of the island. Run, Faylinn."
A frantic ride on a high-strung, white stallion, through the pouring rain Thunder booming and the sky opening up all around her.
Seeing her. Shock. Theyre going to burn you at the stake? A flash of lightning showing marred, bloody flesh and weary blue eyes, one nearly swollen shut. My God, Bridget, what have they done to you?
Flying into her arms
The only kiss that ever mattered.
Pressing a sharp dagger into her hands. "Please live!"
A timeless moment. I love you! being screamed louder than the rolling thunder, without a single word being spoken.
The cliff? She cant Not for me. Not for anything! Dont, Bridget. "No, Bridget. Nooo!!"
Faylinn bolted upright and the quilt and rough linens pooled at her waist. Her heart was pounding. "My God." She lifted a shaky hand to her face and willed herself to start breathing normally.
Once shed caught her breath, green eyes shifted sideways. The fire was still burning brightly and had managed to knock the chill out of the air. By the looks of the torch on the wall, she couldnt have been asleep for more than an hour or two.
Her head was still throbbing but she wasnt as miserably cold as shed been earlier. I just have to be patient, she chanted inwardly. I could have stayed and helped I could do do something. She laid back down in a huff but soon her eyelids began to grow heavy.
Giving in to the insistent demands of her body, she tightened her grip on the covers, wishing she could disappear beneath their safety. Nothing could touch her there, she knew. Her mother had promised her. You were right, Mother. The monsters didnt get me.
Faylinns hazy mind roamed freely as her grip on the bedding loosened.
Soon she was softly crooning a lullaby to her son, smiling at his sleepy face. Then she was laughing with Bridget on the shore as a large, unexpected wave washed over them as they dug for clams. In the blink of an eye, the surf at Cobb Island was replaced by the rocky beach of the mainland. "Just a little further. God, wont this rain ever stop? Wait. A farm?" Squinting through the pouring rain. "Yes, thats smoke from the houses chimney. Keep walking. Move!"
"Bridget," she muttered fuzzily as the spare room that had been built onto the Beynons barn faded into another room... a secret place hidden deep within the walls of the house on Cobb Island.
Cyril jerked open the door and stared dazedly at his bride, who, after several years marriage, was still just shy of twenty. "My son is dead," he garbled, his sword clanking against the furniture as he staggered around the room.
"How nice of you to finally notice," Faylinn shot back coldly. She couldnt stand the sight of him and turned away in disgust.
Cyril laughed without a hint of humor as he drew his blade, the sound of ripping fabric mixing with his words as he wildly slashed apart the beds expensive canopy. "No longer resigned to your fate, I see. What a pity. I rather preferred you with your mouth closed."
He quickly grew bored and let his sword fall from his hand onto the bed.
"How nice of you to finally notice. Now come here," he commanded, his voice dripping with anger.
Faylinn stood her ground, not moving an inch, leveling such a brutally cold stare on the man shed come to despise that he actually took a step backwards. He cocked his head to the side and regarded her in utter silence, seeing something he hadnt thought the girl capable ofa hatred so pristine in its form that his drunken mind could only marvel at its perfection.
Then the room exploded into shouting.
Cyrils face contorted in rage. His eyes bored into Faylinns and she could see, even beneath the drink, hed already gone mad. "Shut your mouth, bitch!" He nearly fell when he lunged for her, but she managed to evade his grasp. With effort, he straightened, flinging his long black curls over his shoulder. "I will have a male heir," Cyril slurred harshly.
Faylinn began to laugh. Then she couldnt stop. Bridget was dead. Her son was dead. She had nothing to lose. Everything she cared about was gone. Everything .
Cyril took another step towards her and she suddenly quieted. An icy rage filled her, sweeping away her anguish and cutting through her hysterics. "I will die before I sleep with you, you murdering pig! I would sooner lay with Lucifer himself. You can go straight to" Her words were cut off when a large, cold hand wrapped around her throat and her head was slammed back against the wall. Bright stars invaded her vision and her knees buckled.
Cyril thrust himself against her, pinned her slumping body to the wall with his hips and grabbed her by her wrists. "I thought I told you to shut up!"
Faylinn closed her eyes and jerked her face away from his harsh breath. Fuzzily, she could feel his excitement growing; pressing into her lower abdomen. She began to fight frantically as her stomach churned.
"Did you fight my sister like this, slut? Did she enjoy it?" Cyril grunted against her neck. His voice dropped to the quietest of whispers and he pressed his mouth to her ear so that his thin mustache tickled her. "The way Ive always enjoyed it." Then, on impulse, he dragged his tongue from her ear to the base of her throat, where he placed a sloppy, vicious kiss.
Her vision instantly cleared and she hissed in pure revulsion, her entire body convulsing. "Get... get off me." She brought her knee up hard, slamming it into Cyrils swollen groin and sending him down on one knee, his eyes bulging in agony.
Spittle flew from his mouth and his chest heaved as he fought to stay conscious. A low groan that began in his chest spilled out, making him sound like a wounded beast. He choked back his own vomit.
Faylinn made for the door but a hand shot out and grabbed her skirts as she tried to bolt past him. The sudden stop tore the material grasped in his fist and sent her sprawling to the ground. Then she was back in his arms as he yanked her up by her hair and pulled her close. She struggled wildly, pawing and kicking. Faylinn could smell the rancid odor of liquor mixed with stomach acid on his breath and he forced his mouth onto hers, ramming his hot tongue between her lips and making her gag.
The door flew open and the world stopped as Cyril whirled around to see who had interrupted his pleasure. For several seconds no one dared even breathe.
"Oh, my God!" Faylinns eyes went as wide as saucers and she staggered forward several steps. She blinked rapidly, part of her wanting to clear away the beautiful, ghastly vision before her, the other part deathly afraid that if she did, her heart would shatter all over again.
Standing in doorway, the outline of her tall, imposing form unmistakable even in the dim light, was Bridget Redding. Her thick, drenched hair was matted with mud and blood and hung wildly about her shoulders, several tangles sticking to her blood-streaked cheeks and neck. Her filthy clothes hung from her tall frame in tatters and skin that normally radiated a healthy glow was an eerie, chalky white.
Cyril gaped as his mind reeled. This couldnt be happening. She was already dead! "Die, bitch!" he howled insanely, his voice unnaturally high as he dove for his sword.
In a wide arc, Cyrils blade slashed towards Bridget. He was drunk enough to be uncoordinated, but still had the wherewithal to be deadly. His strike missed her by a hairsbreadth when she flung her body sideways. He cried out in frustration, swinging erratically and striking the walls and furniture in his attempts to obliterate his sister.
Bridget ducked the next blow, feeling the quick whoosh of air against her head as the sword whizzed over it. Her jump from the cliff and the days of beatings shed endured before it had left her body shattered and weak. Every movement caused a fiery bolt of pain in her belly as her guts twisted sharply. Her left arm hung crookedly at her side, useless. And blood still sluggishly leaked from the cuts that peppered her broken body, its salty warmth soaking into her stinking clothes.
It was only a matter of time before Cyril got lucky.
Then several things happened at once.
Bridget slipped on the spot where Cyril had spat earlier. She hit the floor with a solid thump, too tired to even cry out.
Her brother smiled wickedly and raised the sword high overhead for the killing blow.
Faylinn howled, "Nooo!" and without thought, bolted across the room to put herself between the blade and Bridget.
As the sword sped towards Bridgets head, the tall woman pulled the dagger Faylinn had given her on the cliff from the folds of her cloak. She lunged upward with the last of her energy, thrusting with all her might just as Faylinns body collided with Cyrils and knocked the blade from his hand, sending it clattering to the floor.
His gray eyes went impossibly wide and he groaned piteously at the sight of his own knife, protruding from his chest, a dark stain blossoming on his white shirt. Then he looked down at Bridget and smiled. He opened his mouth to say something but instead of words came a thin trickle of crimson blood.
He crumbled to the floor.
Bridget shakily stood, falling backwards several steps as spots swam before her eyes. She looked up into Faylinns fear-filled eyes and slowly extended a trembling hand.
Faylinn felt her heart clench painfully in her chest. She put her hand over her quivering lips as she choked back a sob. But it was no use. There was no stopping the outburst of raw emotion that sprang from her grief mixed with overwhelming joy and relief. The blonde woman rushed across the room, flying into Bridgets waiting embrace. "Youre not a ghost," she cried softly, her words muffled by Bridgets damp cloak. Hot tears coursed down her cheeks as she wept. "Youre alive." She clutched at the taller woman helplessly, still unwilling to believe what was before her eyes in her arms.
"Im here," Bridget pressed her cheek against Faylinns fair hair. Her heart threatened to pound out of her chest and she was shaking. I must think, she told herself desperately. I cannot fall apart now or pass out.
A wave of dizziness assaulted her and Bridget grabbed Faylinns hand. She took a moment to press it to her lips, then pulled her out of the room, stumbling a little. She consciously didnt look back at the body lying in the center of the room, its lifeless, gray eyes glittering dully in the candlelight.
There was no time to lose.
They limped down the dark corridor and turned several corners before stopping. "Weve got to hurry. Elizabeth " Bridget paused, a stabbing pain in her belly robbing her of speech.
"What is it?" Faylinn worriedly grabbed Bridgets twisted arm, and the dark-haired woman bit her lip and moaned, her eyes widening. Faylinn yanked her hand away as though it had been burned and took just a second to examine Bridgets arm, then her face. She felt compelled to state the obvious. "Youre hurt." Badly hurt, her mind whispered.
Bridget nodded quickly. "I know. Theres something wrong " she laid her good hand across her midsection, "inside "
Panic tinged Faylinns eyes. "Lets go back. Afia"
"No," Bridget cut her off.
"She cant know what happened. Afia
she must know nothing or
surely that evil brat Elizabeth will read her mind. The less the slaves
know the better. For their own safety."
"Come away with me " Bridget pleaded, tears forming in her eyes. "Off the island. Away from this place forever I I "
Faylinn placed two fingers gently against Bridgets cracked lips. "Anywhere. Anywhere as long as were together."
Bridget swallowed hard. "We wont have money or"
"Ill have everything I need," Faylinn interrupted seriously. She wrapped Bridgets arm around her shoulder for support again, needing to do something to help. "I cant believe youre here. I must be dreaming," she whispered.
Bridget clenched her teeth at the shift in positions, but was instantly grateful to have something to lean against. She quickly assured Faylinn that her presence was very much real and then warned, "But we need to go. Not in a few days or hours, but now, before everyone awakens."
"Ill get my cloak." Faylinn made a quick inventory of the jewelry she could stuff in her pockets while in her room. Theyd need to sell it.
"Good idea. Im afraid its raining." Her words were full of regret. "Im sorry youll get wet." Bridget smiled weakly and Faylinn burst into tears again.
"I dont care about the weather, Bridget!" she sobbed. "Youre alive." But Faylinn knew Bridgets injuries were serious. She could feel the heat pouring off the taller womans skin and was unerringly reminded of Henry and the fever that had so recently stolen his life. She closed her eyes tightly, increasing her hold on Bridget, refusing to let her go.
The younger womans grip grew desperately tight.
"Faylinn," Bridget repeated patiently. "We have to go, dearest. And it must be now."
Faylinn sniffed and wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand. "Yes. You need a physician."
The blondes tone was unyielding. "That wasnt a question, Bridget. I wont lose you again. We can pay for his silence."
Bridget nodded, choosing not to argue with Faylinn at this moment. The nearest physician was a half-day by boat. They would never make that in this weather. She pressed her lips into Faylinns soft blonde hair. "I do love you."
Faylinn looked up and gave Bridget a hopeful, watery smile. "And I you." But as confident as the words were, Bridget could hear the fear behind them.
"It will be all right," she cooed, her fingers stroking the soft, damp skin of Faylinns cheeks.
Faylinns throat closed tightly and her jaw worked several times before she could speak. She allowed her need to show in her voice. "It has to be," she whispered.
And the women disappeared into the darkness.
Faylinn began to stir as a faint noise that lingered just outside her consciousness grew louder and louder until finally it was a pounding. Dazedly, she sat up, and glanced at the shaking door. "Yes?" she called warily, not at all sure that she was ready for the news she would hear.
"Faylinn, are you decent?" It was Will Beynon. The door began to open.
"Wait." Her eyes darted to the pile of soaking, dirty clothes on the floor. "My clothes, they"
The door creaked open again, but only enough for a hand holding a pair of dark-gray trousers and soft, russet-colored cotton shirt to appear. "You wont be wanting to put back on your wet skirts, I suspect."
A gust of wind rattled the shutters.
Sick with fear, Faylinn rushed across the floor and grabbed the clothes, holding them up to herself to cover her nearly naked body. The door closed and she spoke through it. "Thank you. Can I see her now? Please, Will!"
"As soon as youre dressed Ill bring her in. I didnt think a small thing like you could wear my Katies spare dress. So I brought these. They were our sons." Wills tone was nostalgic. "He was tall but slender as a reed. They should ."
Faylinn didnt even hear the rest of what he was saying. She discarded her shift and quickly tugged on the oft-mended cotton shirt; its long tails hung to her knees. Next were a pair of mens woolen knee-britches that came to her ankles and had thick leather patches sewn on both knees. It took her a moment to push the long shirttail into the waist of the pants.
Shed never worn mens clothing before, except for a wide-brimmed hat that Bridget had loaned her for riding on sunny afternoons. But even then, shed only dared wear it when she was well away from the house and Cyrils judgmental eyes. She ran her hands down her thighs out of pure habit, the way she always did with her dresses. "Come," she called hastily, stepping away from the door.
Faylinn heard a grunt and the shuffle of feet before the door swung open and in came Will, breathing heavily as he hefted Bridgets limp form. She was naked save for a thick coarse, blanket that carried with it the scent of horseflesh.
Faylinn stared at Bridget in shock and her hand froze on the shirtsleeve she was rolling up. The last time shed seen Bridget she was conscious and cursing. "No, no, no." Faylinn shook head erratically. She cant be! "Shes not," she stopped when her throat closed around the words and the blood drained from her face.
"Shes only sleeping," Will assured her. He carefully laid Bridget on the bed, taking great care not to jostle the arm that was sporting a splint made from what looked like two sawed off floor boards.
Correctly interpreting Faylinns pasty face he said, "Dont throw up again. Ill not clean it up twice in one night." The words were gruff and he was still a little angry that his wife had refused to help clean up that particular mess.
Faylinns cheeks colored as she was reminded of exactly why shed been banished to the back room despite her vehement protests. Shed plainly told Will to go to hell, that she was staying with Bridget. But when Wills wife, Katie, had threatened to turn Bridget out into the rain unless Faylinn let her check her injuries in peace, she agreed to go quietly, though the separation, especially now, had torn at her soul. "Im sorry about before." She couldnt meet his soft, dark eyes. "I well ."
Will shrugged good-naturedly. "No harm done. If Katie didnt call me a worthless bastard at least once a day I might think Id come home to the wrong house." Now it was Wills turn to be embarrassed. "Im sorry for accusing Bridget of being a ghost. I saw her at an auction last spring and shes not the sort of woman a man is likely to forget. Yesterday, some sailors in Their Majesties Royal Navy spoke of her trial for witchcraft and the sentence, and how before they could execute her she " he stopped, sensing the young womans growing distress.
Jumped, Faylinns mind supplied sullenly. She wouldnt have believed it herself if she hadnt seen the nightmare come to life before her very eyes. But she couldnt think of Bridgets death. Not now. Not when that was still so close to being true. "It appears shes not as easy to kill as theyd hoped," Faylinn said quietly. "When I first saw her I thought she was a ghost too." Come to haunt me.
Will smiled sympathetically at Faylinn and found himself liking her, despite the fact that shed been married to that slave-running son of a bitch, Cyril Redding. Or maybe it was just the way she looked in his sons clothes.
Glassy green eyes fixed on Bridgets face. "She looks so pale." Will fetched the torch from the wall and brought it closer to the bed so Faylinn could examine her friend. The flickering glow from the flame cast distorted shadows across Bridgets face, deepening the already angular planes and making her appear gaunt. The light highlighted in sickening detail the recent abuse shed suffered.
Swallowing hard, Faylinn dropped to her knees at the head of the bed and took Bridgets hand in hers. She gently rubbed the small calluses at the base of long fingers. Her frown grew more severe when she noticed a jagged cut just below the dark-haired womans collarbone. The wound disappeared behind the roughhewn blanket.
Curious, Faylinn peeled back Bridgets blanket, deciding it was foolish to be modest in front of Will, who, with his wife, had cut away Bridgets clothes and tried to treat her wounds.
"Do you think it would hurt her if I take these off for a moment?" She gave a small tug to the linen bandages that were wrapped loosely around Bridgets upper body. "Just so I can tighten them?"
Will scratched his jaw. The bandages had come loose when hed carried Bridget in. He wasnt going to fiddle with them until they needed changing. But he found himself unwilling to deny Faylinns request. "I dont suppose it will do any harm. The bleeding has mostly stopped." He visibly shivered. "But its not a pretty sight."
"No. I dont suppose it will be," Faylinn agreed grimly. Carefully she slid gentle hands under Bridgets shoulders and undid a small knot.
Will brought the torch closer and Faylinn gathered up the last of the cloth. Her eyes went round and her hands formed trembling fists as she saw for the first time the brutal price Bridgets body had paid for Cyrils deceit. "Sweet Jesus," she muttered, her stomach clenching painfully despite Wills earlier warning.
Cuts and scratches criss-crossed Bridgets breasts and shoulders. Several so deep theyd required sewing. The stitches were crudely done, but Bridget had been wiped clean and even the small wounds showed signs of care. "Thank you," Faylinn said again, wishing there was more she could say that would convey her heart-felt gratitude.
Green eyes were drawn to a small cut in the valley between Bridgets breasts. It had jagged red streaks shooting from it and oozed an unhealthy discharge. Faylinn sighed. Infected. But more troubling still, was a black and purple bruise that covered Bridgets entire abdomen. She laid a hand atop the mottled, swollen, flesh, finding it hot to the touch. Her heart sank. Even Faylinn knew enough to know Bridget was bleeding inside. A dark rage grabbed hold of her and shook her to the core. I should have run you through myself, Cyril, you bastard!
Faylinn felt more tears coming and she bit her lip to ward off their flow.
Wills tone softened and he felt a stab of pity for this slip of a girl in his sons old clothes. "Take heart, Faylinn. Shes not dead yet." At least, not yet. "She looks like a strong one. She was heavy as a sow."
Faylinn blinked at Wills choice of words but chose not to comment. Wordlessly, she re-wrapped the bandages, putting the knot on top this time so Bridget wouldnt be lying on it. She handed Will back what she suspected was a horse blanket and maneuvered the quilt until Bridget was safely underneath. "How could someone do this to you?" She hadnt realized shed said the words out loud until Will answered her.
"So she would confess to bein a witch, of course," he supplied conversationally. "Those cuts on her chest and shoulders were no accident. As for the scratches, who knows." He drew his thick eyebrows together in contemplation. "Looks like she fought with a tree or a bobcat."
"Or a cliff." Her voice was the barest of whispers as she swept a tangle of dark hair off Bridgets forehead. She let her fingers linger in the soft but dirty hair. How could you have jumped? How could you have lived? How could I have heard your sweet words inside me own head, as though I was saying them? Maybe Im going mad.
Will stepped away from the bed, feeling very much like he was intruding upon a private moment between the women. "My wife set the arm as best she could. Shes got a talent for doctoring. My Katie gave her a good dose of sleeping tonic for the pain. We couldnt set the arm till she was asleep. She kept fighting us." He studied his shoes. "Im sorry I threw you out. I know you didnt mean to"
"Im sorry I got sick. IIve been under a lot of stress this past week. The sight and smell ."
Will squared his shoulders. "I
heard some of what happened on Cobb Island in town yesterday morning as I was
Faylinn looked at him frankly. "Im sure it was more than enough."
"It was. We dont believe in witches in this house." The corner of his mouth curved upward. "Or barn."
She managed a tiny smile.
He leaned against the wall by the bed. "Shes already got a fever."
"I know. Ill stay with her. We wont be much trouble. And well leave as soon as we can. In my dress I have a bracelet"
Will snorted loudly. "We dont want your baubles or filthy slave-trader money."
Afraid shed offended him, Faylinn began a rambling apology that was stopped abruptly when he asked, "Can you read?"
She nodded slowly, confused. "Yes, of cour " Her cheeks tinted. "Yes, I can."
Her slip of the tongue hadnt gone unnoticed. But Will decided it meant far less than the fact that the young woman was kind enough to try to cover it up. "Then well take payment in the form of you reading the Bible to us." He looked a little embarrassed, but pressed on. "Is it a deal?"
"Absolutely." She regarded him curiously. "I wish I could do more."
He kicked at the floor awkwardly and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "That will make Katie happy. So its enough." When he glanced up, Will was surprised to be looking into green eyes swimming with tears.
In that simple gesture, Faylinn Cobb had just witnessed more love for one spouse by the other than all her years prior. "Whenever you want me to read, just ask. No matter what it is. No matter when."
"The Bible will be enough. Were not Puritans, mind you, but Katie, at least, is still a good Christian."
Bridgets soft moan interrupted them and Faylinn shifted closer, searching her face for any clue as to how she could make her more comfortable. When her eyes dropped to bruised lips she had the strongest urge to bend over and softly kiss God, what am I going to do? That she loved Bridget was clear. That she loved her the way a man could love a woman with a longing and passion that caused her heart to skip frequent beats was almost as frightening as it was compelling.
Pushing the thought away as unmanageable, Faylinn lifted her hand and tenderly traced the red, angry skin alongside a stitched gash that ran from just above Bridgets eye all the way to her jawbone.
Will sighed. "Im thinkin it will scar." He winced inwardly. Mores the pity. She could have had her pick of husbands. "There was nothing to be done but clean and stitch it. A bandage wont hold on there."
Faylinn took Bridgets limp hand in her own. "Doesnt matter if it scars" she murmured. Her gaze turned fond. "Shell always be beautiful."
A small smile edged its way onto Wills face. "Ill leave you to rest then." He jerked his chin towards the window. "Its past sunrise, though you wouldnt know it by the looks of it. Ill bring you some food once youve had a chance to rest." He laughed when Faylinn jumped up and began situating herself next to Bridget on the small bed.
The man extinguished the torch in the cool ashes along the edge of the fireplace, then tossed in another round of oak onto the coals. It was going to be cold today. He could feel it in his bones.
Faylinn didnt even realize when he crept out of the room.
After sitting for nearly three hours listening to Badger weave the tale, Kayla and Liv decided to have their taxi drop them off at the bottom of the Royal Mile, near the Palace of Holyrood House, Queen Elizabeths official Edinburgh residence. The idea of fresh air and a brisk walk appealed to both of them. The afternoon breeze was still cool and strong enough to tousle their hair and turn their cheeks rosy, but not so cold as to be uncomfortable. It carried with it the scent of wet sidewalks, car exhaust, and the sea.
Kayla had been silent all the way back into town. Then a rapid stream of words burst from her. "I cant believe he did that. I cant believe he just stopped!"
Liv was a little startled by her reticent friends outburst. "What did you expect, Kayla?" she chided gently. "Badger is an old man, and hed been going non-stop for quite a while. His voice was bound to give out eventually."
"Well, sure. But," Kayla let out a grumpy breath, "I wanna know what happened, I guess." She threw her hands in the air, not sure how to process things. She was used to having an insatiable curiosity when it came to her work, but never with something personal. "He could have skipped all the melodrama and just cut to the chase, right?"
Liv assumed the question was rhetorical so she waited.
Kayla began ticking off on her fingers. "We know Bridget killed her brother. But we dont know how she survived her fall from the cliff, or how she and Faylinn made it to the mainland, or whether Bridget ultimately survived her injuries, or"
"Whether they ended up together," Liv finished. "Im dying to know that myself."
"Exactly." Kayla gave her an aggrieved look. She was desperate to know that someone in her family was able to make a relationship work in spite of their paranormal abilities. Her fathers talents were on the very low end of the scale and it hadnt ever seemed to be an issue for her parents. But it had always, always been an issue for her.
Liv smiled, thinking that Kayla looked impossibly cute when she pouted. Of course, she wasnt going to share that thought with the nearly six feet of moody baby next to her, but it was true nonetheless.
Kayla stopped walking and turned to face Liv. Her hands flew to her hips and she spoke sharply. "I am not moody! And Im certainly not a baby."
Liv stopped as well, then stepped backwards so that several people who were scurrying up the street could pass between them. She pinned Kayla with a glare. "I didnt say you were."
The scowl on Kaylas face was replaced by a tense, worried look. Oh, shit. "I uh I just "
"You read my mind," Liv said evenly.
Kayla cringed. "Im so sorry. I didnt mean to." Her heartbeat sped up. This is where things go all to hell and I get accused of spying on her thoughts. Ive got to learn better control! I "I was just walking along and the thought popped into my head."
Liv chewed the inside of her cheek for a moment, fighting the urge to get good and pissed off. Then her better judgment took over and she sighed. "Did you do it on purpose?" she asked, already fairly certain of the answer and hating the poorly veiled anxiety she saw in Kaylas eyes.
"No!" Kayla moved forward in reflex, needing to close the gap between her and Liv. She looked around self-consciously to see if anyone was staring. "No," she repeated a little more quietly as her eyes met and held Livs. "I swear."
There was an intensity to Kaylas answer that made Livs heart ache and she gentled her gaze. Time to start working on this. For both our sakes. She reached out and took Kaylas hand. "Relax, will ya? Im not mad."
The dark-haired woman remained warily silent.
Liv sighed again. "You might need to remind me of this every once in a while, but I really shouldnt get mad at you for something you didnt intentionally do. Okay?"
Kayla blinked dumbly at Liv. She couldnt have heard her right. "You-you shouldnt?"
"No," she told her seriously, "I shouldnt." Who did this to you? "Honey, Im not going to blame you for something out of your control." A smile tugged at her lips when she saw Kaylas face begin to relax. Thats it, love. "Unless I have PMS." She grinned recklessly. "Then youre screwed." Livs words where greeted with a tiny burst of laughter from Kayla that was equal parts happiness and relief.
I am so lucky. Id better not fuck this up. Kayla looked at Liv with utter affection "Thank you," she said simply, still a little dumbfounded, but not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"Youre welcome." Youre not going to get rid of me that easily. Were going to talk about this just not in the middle of the sidewalk.
"So," Liv deftly steered the conversation in another direction as they began walking again, "were you surprised that Bridget was still alive?"
Kayla willingly allowed herself to be distracted and her brows knitted as she thought. "I guess not," she finally decided. "I know its all fantastic, nearly too much to believe. "But deep down inside I had this niggling suspicion that their story wasnt quite over yet."
Liv tucked an errant lock of fair hair behind her ear. "Mmm," she acknowledged with a small nod.
Kayla carefully guided them around a tall postcard stand and a pack of student tourists. "You?"
Liv took several steps before answering. "Oh Well, the same as you, I guess." She didnt feel comfortable sharing with Kayla that her stomach had been in knots until Badger made it very clear that Bridget had survived the cliff. There was something indefinable about Bridget Redding that reminded her of Kayla. It went beyond the obvious physical similarities, touching on subtle, emotional elements that Liv found undeniably interesting as well as attractive. She thought about that for a moment and Kaylas over reaction a few minutes ago. Maybe there is something about this story that stirs something in us both. Maybe.
Liv and Kayla turned off the Royal Mile and began winding their way through the Gothic streets of Old Town. Within a few moments they were standing in front of the Keith House, a tall, narrow three-story structure that had clearly undergone recent renovations. The centuries of chimney smoke that stained so many buildings from that time period, and added significantly to their eerie mystique, had been scrubbed clean.
Though Liv would always associate Gothic architecture with the Adams Family and consider it classic horror film spooky, the Keith House, at least its exterior, already had a less haunting feel than many others shed seen. It retained the beauty of the era without the foreboding. Which was odd, Liv considered. Since this was the house they were about to investigate for She couldnt remember what Kayla had called it exactly, but it had some long, technical name that had to do with blood and the paranormal. Not that it mattered. Livs mind had already settled on some seriously spooky shit.
There was no sign of the press and so Kayla eagerly trotted up the steps to the front door and inserted the key Glen had given her the day before. "Time to earn some money." Her excitement was clear and Liv tried to grasp hold of that and make it her own, disregarding some of the nervousness that had been building since they turned off the main road onto this lonely street. This was the start of a new career and she was bound and determined to push past her own silly fears and be of real use to Kayla.
The door to the Keith House was heavy but it opened without a sound.
They walked inside into a large foyer with high ceilings and freshly painted walls. Liv spun in a circle, taking in her surroundings openmouthed. "Wow."
Kayla nodded. "Wow. Not exactly what I was expecting."
The house was completely empty. No furniture. No rugs. No paintings. Nothing.
Liv carefully crept a few paces deeper into the foyer. "Looks like Mr. Keith is going to do a little all right, a lot of redecorating before his grand opening." Her quiet words sounded unusually loud in the hollow room. She poked her head around a corner, finding nothing but vacuous space. It was only early evening, but the houses interior was already cast in long gray shadows that seemed to move with Liv as she walked. But more than that, it was deathly quiet. Silent as a grave. Okay, this I dont like.
"See anything interesting?"
"Yaaaaaaah!" Liv jumped at the low voice right by her ear. "Jesus, Kayla!" She whirled around to face her tormentor, laying her palm across her own chest and feeling the pounding heart. "Are you trying to kill me?"
Kayla bit back a smile and jerked her thumb towards herself. "Who me?" Puppy dog eyes blinked at her.
"Oh, no!" Livs eyes turned to slits. "Dont give me that Im-too-cute-to-do-something-mean face. "
"Cute?" Kayla managed to sound mildly insulted at the idea. But her lips continued to twitch.
"Youre trying not to laugh, arent you?"
Think disgusting thoughts. I. Will. Not. Laugh. "Of course not." The words were said soberly, but Kaylas quivering chin betrayed her.
"Im Im " Kayla dissolved into laughter.
Liv crossed her arms over her chest and whined, "Its not funny, Kayla! You know Im not used to this creepy stuff yet."
"Sure it is." Kayla continued to laugh, not stopping when Liv gave her a plastic smile. "Okay, okay," she conceded reluctantly. She grabbed hold of Liv before she could stalk out of the room. "Im sorry."
Liv arched an eyebrow. "No, youre not."
Kayla crossed her heart and held up three fingers. "I am. Honest."
Now Liv was holding back her own grin, delighted at the appearance of Kaylas more playful side. "You know Ill get you back," she informed her haughtily.
Two dark eyebrows shot skyward. "You can try, Liv."
Liv pinched Kaylas flat stomach. "Ooo, I know when Ive been challenged. Dont think Ill forget."
Kayla rolled her eyes, feeling very comfortable in her own environment. She loved her job. "I live in fear."
"Funny." But Liv smiled and stood on tiptoe to give Kayla a quick peck on the lips.
Kaylas face turned serious and she slowly grasped Liv by the shoulders as though she was going to shake her. She didnt. Instead, she held her firm. "I need to give you your first lesson in paranormal research." Her voice dropped an octave. "This is very important."
Livs ears perked up and in the blink of an eye she was mirroring Kaylas serious expression. "Okay, Im listening."
"This will help you in almost any circumstance, no matter what youre doing. I cant tell you how many times this tip has gotten me out of deep, dark situations that make me shudder just to remember."
Eyes wide, Liv gulped.
"Its something I dont want you to ever forget." Kayla paused meaningfully. "Understand?"
A fiery blue gaze burned into Liv and the older woman promised solemnly, "I wont forget."
"Good." Unexpectedly, Kayla let go of Livs shoulders, turned on her heel, and purposefully strode across the floor. When she reached the doorway, her arm shot out and with a tiny click the room was cast in a warm, buttery glow. She spoke without turning around, her unseen, crooked grin a mile wide. "Turn on the lights."
Liv blinked. "Son of a"
Kaylas shoulders started to shake with silent laughter and then she was gone, off to find the equipment that was supposedly waiting for her.
Liv could hear the smug chuckles growing more distant as Kayla padded deeper into the house. Ooo, I am so going to get her for smokin my butt that way, she mused, with more than a hint of admiration. "I hate you, ghostbuster," she called out.
"No, you dont," came the sure reply.
Liv smiled to herself. "No. I guess I dont," she muttered dreamily. She looked around again, almost casually at first. Then, she began to notice that with Kaylas absence, the rooms silence had somehow become a little unsettling. Not too much. But enough that Livs gaze flickered around the room as she sought to reassure herself that everything was all right. That she was, indeed, alone.
She forced herself to relax and take a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "Get a grip, Liv."
Suddenly, she felt a cool rush of air that sent chills skittering across her skin, lifting the hairs on her arms as if a tiny current of electricity had shot through her. Then, as quickly as it had come, it disappeared. "Oh, boy." She shivered in pure reaction and began inching towards the door. "Hey, um Kayla?" Liv picked up her pace. "Wait up!"
"Okay, another one in that corner." Kayla pointed, while Liv fished another infrared motion detector from the metal trunk and headed across the room.
She bit her tongue and her eyes narrowed slightly as she considered its exact placement. I wonder . "Kayla?"
"Mmm?" Kaylas eyes remained trained on the detector in her hands. She gave it a little shake and the green activation light popped on. "Piece of"
"What if I put it here instead?" Liv stepped sideways three long paces and put the small device on the ground, angling it between the doorway and where Kayla was crouched. "Then the beam should not only cross with yours but the one shooting in from the hall. We can avoid that gap you were complaining about before."
Kayla glanced up at the doorway to the hallway. She cocked her head slightly as she gauged the distance and angle. Her face broke into a proud grin. "Yeah, that should work." She gave a satisfied nod. "Great idea. I was just going to lay down another detector. Now well have a spare for upstairs." The house had more rooms than Kayla had anticipated and she wasnt pleased with the spotty coverage she was going to have to settle for in some places.
Liv grinned. "Cool." She stood up and dusted her hands off on her jeans. Theyd been placing motion detectors, and video and sound recorders, around the large house for nearly three hours. It was pitch black outside and Liv could hear Kaylas stomach growling from where she was standing. But they still had one final room to set up in before they were done for evening, the room where Mr. Keith had awoken to strange noises and a very gruesome sight.
Kayla stretched her arms high over her head. "I need to do some thermal readings next," she began idly. "But I think Ill wait until tomorrow morning and see if we pick up anything strange tonight." She yawned. "This place is huge and hopefully it will focus us on where we need to test." Kayla grabbed the last three motion detectors and the rest of her video cameras. "Ready?"
Liv gave herself a quick, silent pep talk, then nodded. "Ready."
The Keith Houses master bedroom was enormous, taking up a full third of the second floor. The taller womans nose twitched as she entered the empty room and flicked on the light.
Again Liv was surprised. This room was not just empty, it was antiseptic. "Fresh paint." Even the door appeared new.
Kaylas eyes darkened as she approached the mysterious wall, her sneakers silent on the bare floor. She had expected to see lurid streaks on the walls Not this. "Dammit, Glen!" she exploded. "What the hell am I supposed to do now?" Liv joined her and lay a calming hand between her shoulder blades. Heat was radiating through her sweater.
"How does this change things, Kayla?" Liv slapped away a fly that was buzzing around her head.
"The place has been scoured. Shit," Kayla muttered. She turned towards Liv, consciously tamping down her irritation. "I needed to test to see whether the blood was human, animal, or some other substance altogether."
"And now you cant," Liv surmised.
Kayla sighed and rubbed her temple. "We might still be able to tell whether it was blood or ketchup or something. But not whether its human. Luminol"
"Thats used by the police on crime scenes, right?"
Kayla looked a little surprised.
Liv shrugged. "I saw it on Americas Most Wanted the first night I was back from Africa. Sorry. Go on."
"Sokay." Kayla smirked at her lover. "Anyway Luminol, as you may already know"
Green eyes rolled.
"is a chemical that can show the presence of trace blood evidence even under paint. But the test to determine whether the substance is human or not requires more than a bare trace. Were limited by our equipment."
Liv nodded her understanding. "You could send it to a big lab someplace "
"But it would take weeks to get the results," Kayla finished unhappily.
"We can still run the other tests, right?"
"Yeah," Kayla grunted. "We still can." Her face grew pensive. Something didnt feel right about this whole thing. Something was niggling at the back of her mind, just out of reach. Her eyes shifted downward and she saw Liv studying her intently. Her lover was trying to puzzle out what was going on with her and it reminded Kayla that she was going to have to voice her thoughts more often, something that had never been a concern in the past. She had been, and to a large extent still was, very content to live inside her own head. "I have a weird feeling about this job, Liv," she confided uneasily.
Livs brows drew inward and she snorted softly. "Is there ever something not weird about this job?" Kaylas sudden stillness told Liv shed gone too far. She winced inwardly. "Hey," Liv curled her fingers around Kaylas wrist, feeling the strong pulse, "I was just teasing. Im sorry."
"Dont worry about it," Kayla said brusquely as she moved to set out the video equipment.
But Liv didnt relinquish the hold on her wrist. "Kayla," her voice was low and apologetic. "Please."
Kayla exhaled loudly. Stop being so sensitive. "What?"
"I didnt mean to hurt your feelings." Damn that was stupid. I forgot how sensitive she is about this job and her abilities.
Kayla gave herself a kick in the ass and purposely lightened her tone. "Sokay. Its not you. Its me."
Liv pursed her lips but decided not to pursue things. Theyd barely skirted an argument earlier that afternoon and now it was happening again. Part of it, she knew, was that they were still tired from their travels. And she knew by her partners body language that she was hungry. "How about this? How about I let you set up this room while I go get something to eat and bring it back to our Bed and Breakfast?" A little time apart, wouldnt be a bad idea either. "Then we can chow down there and hit the sack early."
A relieved look washed across Kaylas face. "Thats a great idea."
"I thought so." Liv smiled tentatively. "But before I forget, what is it that seems odd about this job? Since I havent ever been on one before, I dont have anything to compare it to."
"When Glen meets with potential client theres a list of information she always gets from them, as well as a set of instructions she gives them if she accepts the case on my behalf." Kayla reached out and drew her finger along the pristine, white walls.
"Kayla?" Liv prompted after a moment.
"Oh, sorry. One of those instructions is to never mess with something the client believes has been in contact with or has anything to do with the supernatural."
Liv began to gesture as she worked things through in her head. "Some people dont wait though, they go ahead and clean up if theres been a mess. It probably freaks them out so they move to fix it right away."
"Sometimes that does happen." Keep going .
"And he saw the blood about three weeks ago, when we were on Cobb Island." Glen had phoned Kayla and asked that she cut her vacation short in order to come to Edinburgh. Instead, Kayla had insisted Mr. Keith be put off for a few weeks. Shed surprised Liv by telling Glen that if he couldnt wait he could find himself another researcher. The women had used the extra precious time to get to know each other, spending part of it at Kaylas grandmothers ranch in West Virginia and the other part in Washington, D.C.
"Yes, again." Kayla grinned. Now put it together.
"So he didnt get all creeped out by the blood and hurry up to paint it. He waited until after he was told not to and then did it right before we arrived in Edinburgh." Liv looked at Kayla for confirmation.
"Wow, I knew all those Nancy Drew mysteries would pay off someday." Liv stood a little straighter, proud of herself for reasoning that out. "Of course, I was really only thinking about kissing Nancy but something must have rubbed off."
Kayla groaned dramatically. "Figures."
"I can see why that doesnt seem right. It doesnt fit with the man we met yesterday who really seemed liked he wanted us to get to the bottom of this."
Kayla set her jaw. "Hes going to get his wish."
Liv nodded slowly. "I dont doubt that at all, Kayla." Their eyes met and they shared a moment of profound determination, which was rudely interrupted by the rumbling of Kaylas stomach. Liv laughed. "Okay, okay, Im going."
Kayla ducked her head sheepishly. "I am hungry. And," her head swayed back and forth for a moment. "Im sorry about before. I get really moody when I havent eaten." She glanced up and was met with understanding eyes.
"Me too." Liv mentally added a grocery store to her stops. I wont be caught again without some trail mix or something.
Kayla handed Liv her cell phone. "No walking around at night alone, okay."
"Noooo problem. I was planning on calling a cab." Liv leaned forward for a little kiss. "Mmm." She smacked her lips happily when they parted. "See you in an hour or two?" She had already learned that Kayla was meticulous about setting up her equipment and she correctly assumed that once she left the lanky woman alone, Kaylas natural anal retentiveness would take over and shed feel the need to check everything one more time.
Kayla fondly cupped her cheek. "Two would be great." You already know me too well, dont you? Then she found herself unconsciously holding her breath as she watched Livs eyes flutter closed and a look of concentration overtake her face.
A few heartbeats later and Liv blinked, a little startled. Then she let out a slightly nervous laugh. She hadnt been expecting that and though she hadnt exactly heard the words, she somehow knew what Kayla had been thinking. She turned and kissed the warm palm still resting on her cheek. Then she winked. "Darn right I do. See you in two."
Kaylas eyebrows lifted as Liv walked happily out of the room. "Oh, boy." She shook her head but couldnt manage to feel anything other than wonderful. "I am in so much trouble."
Kayla had just locked her equipment trunk when she heard soft footsteps behind her. "Found a take-out place around here, did ya?"
"No. But if youre hungry Im sure that something can be arranged."
Startled, she whirled around at the unexpected voice. "Glen." Kayla straightened and took a long look at the petite woman, who was, as always, dressed immaculately. She was also carrying an expensive black leather briefcase. "I thought you were"
Pale blue eyes went a little icy. "Its Liv."
Glen cocked her head to the side and spoke casually, completely unfazed by Kaylas stony gaze. "Ah, yes. Thats right. She was," the Asian woman stepped closer to Kayla, bringing with her the strong, musky smell of her perfume, "a surprise."
Kayla wrinkled her nose and stuffed her hands into her jean pockets, thinking that couldnt be the same perfume Glen had worn during their brief relationship. "I know. I probably should have said something."
A perfectly manicured, black eyebrow lifted in censure. "Probably?"
"Dont do this, Glen. Im not in the mood."
"Since when do you need another partner?"
"Shes not another partner, shes my only partner," Kayla corrected her flatly. "You are paid on commission for your services by me. Were not business partners or any other type of partner for that matter. And never have been."
Glens grip on her briefcase tightened convulsively. "You can be a real bitch, Kayla. You know that?"
Kayla chuckled wearily. "Remind me, Glen, why it didnt work out between us. I seem to have forgotten."
That earned her a small smile. "Yes, well, my memory on that subject tends to fade a little when youre this close to me." Glen reached out to touch Kaylas arm.
Kayla stopped her with a quick hand; giving Glens fingers a quick squeeze before letting them go. They were soft and warm and despite herself, Kayla was reminded of at least one thing shed found attractive in Glen.
"Maybe we werent partners but I was still your mentor." Glen could feel herself growing angry, and a slight flush began to work its way up her neck. "It was me who showed you the ropes in this business. So dont act as though Im some hired hand!"
"And then it was you that decided to only handle the business end of things," Kayla reminded her pointedly. "How many other researchers hire you to do the same thing I do?"
Glen gathered hold of her emotions again and straightened the corner of her dark silk blazer. "My other business affairs arent important." She tapped her briefcase impatiently with her index finger. "Do you have some results that I can pass along to Mr. Keith yet?"
"What?" Kayla looked at her as if she was insane. "I havent even started yet!"
"Jesus Christ, Kayla, whats there to start? This was obviously some ridiculous delusion. Do a quick run through and be done with it." Why must you always be so difficult?
"Cut the bullshit and tell me why Im here, Glen," Kayla ordered unceremoniously.
The angry flush returned to Glens neck. "Youre here because youre a big name in the field." Because of me. "And when you say there is nothing out of the ordinary going on, people will believe it and then Mr. Keith will pay us very handsomely."
Kayla looked hard into Glens eyes. "I want to see the contract."
Glen looked shocked. "What?"
"You heard me, Glen. I want to see the total fee you negotiated and the terms."
Ruby lips twisted into a snarl. "Are you implying Ill take more than my commission?"
"No. Im not implying a damn thing, other than I want every scrap of paper having to do with this job and I want it now."
Glen stiffened. "I see." She closed her eyes briefly, before refocusing on Kayla. There was nothing she could do. If Kayla quit now, Mr. Keiths trust in her would be shattered. She had no choice. "Youll have it tomorrow."
God, Im already tired of this. "Thank you." Kayla breathed an inward sigh of relief. "And as far as my report for the house, youll get as soon as its finished. Just like always."
Glen swallowed her anger and ducked her head. "Of course."
Kayla made a conscious effort to soften her tone. "Do you have the other files I asked for?" She gestured towards the briefcase.
The small woman held up it up in front of Kaylas face, her brightly painted nails standing out against the dark leather. "The interviews with the housekeeper and her daughter are all here. Though Ive already briefed you on what youll find. Time is of the essence. Thats why I conducted them while you were off play" she paused and swallowed, "while you were still in the States."
"Dont I always?"
Kayla fought the urge to smile. "Youve always done right by me, Glen. I dont want you to think Im hinting otherwise. But theres something odd here "
Glens pulse quickened. "Odd? How?"
"I dont know," Kayla replied honestly. "But I do know that we need to talk."
"Sadly, I cant stay." But her coal-black eyes didnt reflect a hint of disappointment. "I have a late dinner appointment."
"Youre going to be late, Glen."
Glen could hear the challenge in Kaylas voice and wisely backed off. For now. "I guess theyll have to wait." She glanced around the empty room. "Theres a pub down the street. And Im hardly dressed to sit on the floor. Okay?"
Kayla glanced at her watch. "Yeah. Lets go."
Liv sat on a soft blanket on the beach, listening to the waves roll in. The lights from the houses lining the sea and the soft twinkle of stars above provided enough light so that she felt safe in her surroundings. When shed asked Mrs. Thicke, their B&B proprietress for a blanket she could use, the woman was only too happy to oblige her. She also gave her a thermos of mulled apple cider to ward off the chill.
The linguist took a long sip of the sweet liquid, letting it slide down her throat and warm her guts. Then two long arms wrapped around her, heating her from within in ways the cider never could. Soft, warm lips landed on her throat and kissed her tenderly before nudging Livs chin upward for better access. Her skin was slightly salty and cold from ocean spray.
Liv reached up and threaded her hand through thick, dark hair. "Mmm Thats nice. But youd better hurry up, my girlfriend was due here an hour ago." The lips stilled for a long, charged second, then dipped playfully, biting Livs throat. She squealed and laughed, but didnt try to dislodge her phantom attacker.
"Your girlfriend is a very lucky woman." Kayla plopped down alongside Liv so that they were facing each other. "Are you sure I cant convince you to forget about her?"
Liv looked into eyes that shone silver in the moonlight. "What girlfriend?" she mumbled dreamily.
Kayla snorted. "Ill have to remember that." She leaned forward and brushed her lips against Livs, tasting the spicy tang of the cider. "Mmm. That makes me even more hungry," she growled, moving to deepen the kiss. A hand on her chest stopped her.
"Hold your horses."
Kayla froze immediately and Liv grinned, letting her know this was no rejection. "Im glad youre hungry," Liv said. "Because Ive got tons of food up in our room that is getting cold." She reached up and tugged on a strand of Kaylas gently blowing hair. "I was starting to worry."
"Sorry about that. I had an unexpected visitor about an hour after you left."
Livs eyebrows disappeared behind wind-blown bangs. "A ghost?"
"Hardly," Kayla scoffed. "Glen."
"Oh." Liv made a face and Kayla chuckled. "I know shes your friend and all, Kayla. And Ill be nice to her out of respect for that. But I gotta tell you, she didnt impress me too much yesterday."
Kayla let out a long, slow breath. "She didnt impress me too much either. We went to a pub tonight and I got a few questions answered about this case."
"Ahhh " Liv nodded knowingly and traced the edge of Kaylas wire-rimmed glasses. "You had to read."
"Oh." Kayla quickly pulled them off and clasped them in her hand. "I forgot I was still wearing them." She only needed the glasses when her eyes were strained or she was very tired. "I swear," Kayla said, her Southern accent drawing out the word, "Glen is using smaller print just so Ill have to drag these out and"
"You look beautiful in them." Liv gazed at her fondly.
Kayla swallowed and her cheeks burned. "I-I do?"
"Uh huh." She nodded without hesitation. "You sure do."
Livs youthful, easy smile made Kayla fall in love with her all over again. "Cmon." She pushed herself to her feet and extended a hand to her lover. "Lets have dinner and Ill tell you what I found out. I think Im going to need your help."
Liv gathered up the blanket and thermos and let Kayla tug her to her feet.
Kayla wrapped her arm around Livs shoulder as they walked. "Whered you get this?" She used blunt nails to loudly scratch the thick material beneath her fingertips. "It looks nice."
Over Livs sweater she wore a dark-navy jacket that fell to mid-thigh. The lining was a tartan print wool and the shell was an oiled, heavy canvas that was waterproof. "Do you know how many shops I passed on the way from Old Town to Portobello?"
"Hmm. Many." They continued to march through the packed sand. "I like it."
"Good." Liv gave Kayla self-satisfied smirk. "You have a black one waiting for you in our room."
Bemused, Kayla shook her head. "Nobody has dressed me since I was a child, Liv."
The fair-haired woman stopped and turned so that she was facing Kayla dead on. She wrapped her arms loosely around Kaylas waist and spoke in a low, sure voice that wound its way around her partners heart. "Maybe nobody has loved you as much as I do." Liv pulled her close and hugged her tightly, burying her face in the crook of Kaylas neck.
Kayla tilted her head back and caught a quick glimpse of the stars before she squeezed shut her eyes. "I love you, Liv," she offered so softly the words were nearly swept away in the breeze.
But Liv didnt really need to hear them to know exactly what had been said. She gently kissed Kaylas throat and removed the remnants of a tiny, hot tear that had made its way down from the cheek above it. Waves of emotion were pouring off Kayla and Liv simply held on for the ride. "I love you too."
She allowed Kayla a moment to pull herself together before she backed away slightly and took her hand. "Cmon, lets go eat. Weve got mysteries to solve tomorrow."
Kayla twined their fingers together and they resumed their walk. Yeah, we sure do.
part 3 of 6