Lion of Caledonia(6)

By: Caro LaFever

She needed to get a good night’s sleep.

After a quick wash and slipping on her favorite old flannel nightgown, she slid into the cool sheets and sighed with relief.

She’d done it. She’d gotten the job.

The rest should be easy. Transcribing would be no problem. She’d merely put on her headphones and type away. Once she got her daily allotment of work completed, she’d have all the time in the world to find the ring.

Within a few days, her grandfather would be satisfied.

Within a few days, she’d be back in her pleasant life.

Within a few days, this would seem like a bad dream.

Her eyes fluttered shut, the whistling wind and the crackle of the remaining fire the last things she remembered…

A low cry leached into her dreams, making her twist in her bed.

The cry came again, louder and more piercing. She flopped on her other side, pulling the pillow closer.

Another cry, this one too high-pitched and shrill to ignore.

Her eyes popped open.

The cry came once more, filled with a fierce mix of anger and fear.

She lurched up. The fire had died down to ash, and the small window by the bathroom scattered the muted moonlight on the hand-knotted rug covering the floor of the suite.

Another cry.

Her heart pounded in response. Part anxiety and part compassion. A hurt flowed through her for this poor person. Who was in such misery they’d cry like that? Where were they?

She scooted to the edge of the bed and stepped on the cold wooden floor. Shivering, she tiptoed to the door. She rattled the old knob. Opening a small crack, she peeked out.

The hallway held no ghostly apparitions or haunting phantoms. Silent and shadowed, it gave nothing away.

Jen waited, waited, waited.

Only the harsh whip of the wind outside made any noise.

Only the faint light of the moon streaked over one side of the hall.

After several minutes, she pulled herself back into her cozy den and closed the door. The old clock standing on the mantle chimed a low clang only once.

So much for a good night’s sleep. She was wide awake.

With a snort, she walked to the window and peered out.

The full moon fought with the misty clouds, managing to light the extensive grounds with only a hazy gloom. The gardens rolled down to the loch where the moonlight flickered over the roiling water. A wicked March wind thrashed the bare tree limbs to and fro.

Jen took in a deep breath.

He stood at the edge of the water, his broad back already familiar to her. His hands fisted at his side as if he argued with the wild waves. The way he held himself, tight and taut, made her heart hurt.

For the second time tonight.

Chapter 2

Jen wasn’t an early bird, unless it meant being out in the morning sun in one of her gardens. Transcription didn’t elicit the same sort of excitement.

Yawning, she stumbled to a halt in front of the closed library doors.

She’d finally fallen asleep again around three a.m., to the best of her recollections. When her trusty mobile phone beeped an alarm an hour ago, she’d barely been able to drag herself from the cozy bed and into the shower. Even a long, hot blast of water and two cups of tea hadn’t managed to pry her eyes open much past halfway.

No big deal.

Once she got her assignment, she’d nod her agreement to any of his instructions, and take the work back to her room. She typed fast; she could afford a small nap before digging into the work.

She stared at the intricate carving on the double door. Sheaves of wheat swirled around finches and grouse. In the middle of the door, the face of a leering court jester poked out in high relief.

The sneer on his face made her shudder.

This whole place, including the residents, made her shudder.

Find the ring, Jennet, find the ring.

A good thing to remember. As soon as she found the bloody ring, she’d return to her peaceful, predictable place, never having to confront roaring employers, daft housekeepers or leering doors again.

A low grumbling answered her hesitant knock. She took that to mean she should go in.

“You’re late.”

He stood in the murky light of one of two window bays. He still wore all black, though she thought the jumper was a different one than he’d worn yesterday. His hair still lay messily on his head, as if he’d spent the night running his hands through it. And he still had those predator eyes pinned on her.

Did the man sleep? She didn’t detect any hazy drowsiness in those eyes, even though he’d been up as late as she had. At least as late. No, instead, they were sharp and alert.

“Nothing to say?” His voice went from a deep grumble to a muted roar.

She’d grown up with this kind of man. Best to draw some lines of defense early on. “I’m here to gather the work.”

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