Read After Midnight Online

Authors: Colleen Faulkner

After Midnight (6 page)

"Gordon, what is it? What's wrong?"

The pain in his chest gripped like a vise. The twilight sky spun faster overhead. The sea roared in his ears. Gordon felt his knees buckle and Emily's strong grip on his arm as he went down. Then there was nothing but blackness… and relief from his tortured soul.

 

Emily turned the page of her book and glanced up at Gordon, who still slept. It was past midnight. Twice, Angus had come up to the tower bedchamber to suggest she turn in for the night. He promised he would sit with his master, but she wanted to stay. She needed to stay.

Emily stared at the pages of Irish poetry but didn't see the words. She was sick with worry over Gordon.

She didn't know what had happened down on the beach, but she feared his heart was infirm. He'd been standing there on the shore smiling at her when she'd turned around, and then his face had gone pale. Suddenly he appeared to be in agony. He had lifted his right hand to his chest as if it were his heart that pained him. By the time that she reached his side, his knees were already buckling.

Emily had broken his fall and dragged him out of the surf. Then she'd run all the way up the cliff, around the winding path to Fraser Castle, to fetch Angus. By the time she, Angus, and Ruth had reached Gordon, his face had relaxed, he seemed no longer in pain, but in a deep sleep.

The hulking Angus had carried his unconscious master on one shoulder, up the steep cliff, up three flights of winding stairs to the tower bedchamber. Here Gordon had slept, without waking, for more than six hours.

Angus insisted his master had no history of heart trouble and suggested it might have something to do with his coming anniversary. Emily had gotten so angry, she'd wanted to scream at the manservant and pummel him with her fists. Despite all her reasoning, both men still doggedly insisted Gordon Fraser was a vampire. Even with his master ill, Angus refused to change his story.

Gordon moved in the massive four poster bed hung with ivory and blue brocade bedcurtains, and she glanced up from her book expectantly. He still slept.

"Please let him be all right," she whispered softly. Then she smiled. "Even if he does think he's a vampire."

In the past days Emily had come to know Gordon Fraser better than she knew anyone—even Ruth. She and the Scotsman had so much in common. He was easy to talk to, so fascinating. He was unlike any man she had known. Despite his opulent wealth, he was generous. One of her satchels was already full of books he had insisted she accept as gifts. And despite his education, he was completely unpretentious. He swore he had not attended any of the fine colleges in Edinburgh or London, but was self-educated.

Emily gazed at Gordon. His dark, silky hair fell over one cheek and splashed onto his pillow. Her hand ached to reach out and brush the hair from his face. She'd come to crave his touch. A brush of fingertips here, a tug of her hand there. It was completely innocent, of course. She was a respectable woman who knew how she must behave if she expected to continue to work in a man's world. But secretly, she wondered just how respectable she would be if Gordon made an advance toward her. What would it be like to share a kiss?

"No," she said aloud, her own echo startling her. "I won't take that path."

When she had decided to support herself restoring books, she had abandoned the possibility of having a husband and a family. Even with her father deceased three years, his bitter words still rang in her head.
A working woman who goes from house to house, strange man to strange man. No decent, God-fearing man will have you as a wife. The best you'll be able to do for yourself is become some rich man's mistress
, he'd scoffed.

It had been a difficult decision for Emily to choose between family and a career. But her father had forced her to choose when she'd been invited to France to study art. She wondered now if she had chosen the career just out of spite. That, and because her own mother had been so unhappy in marriage.

Emily's mother, Abigail, had been an actress when she and Emily's father had met. They'd fallen in love, married, and William MacDougal had put an end to the stage career his wife loved. Abigail had given birth to Emily, but even a child had not filled that void left in her life. She'd died when Emily was six, some said of a broken heart.

None of this had mattered to Emily until she met Gordon. She was getting as bad as Ruth with all these silly romantic ideas. What made her think Gordon Fraser was interested in a bookworm like her?

He stirred again. Emily set the oil lamp on the table at his bedside. "Gordon," she said softly. "Can you hear me?"

His eyes fluttered open and she was rewarded with a smile. "Must be a dream," he said, his voice weak. "Miss E. Bruce MacDougal in my bedchamber."

He reached out with his hand and it seemed only natural that she take it.

"What happened?" he asked.

She scooted on the edge of the chair so that he wouldn't have to wear himself out talking louder. His hand, joined with hers, was warm and strong. "You don't remember?"

He closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose with his free hand. "I remember walking on the beach… seeing ye… then this pain… in my chest." He brushed the coverlet where it touched his heart.

"Has this ever happened before?"

He opened his eyes. "It's nay my heart, if that's what you're thinking. I'm as strong as a Highland bull."

"Then what happened?"

He shook his head. "You wouldn't understand." There was a sadness in his tone.

"Try me."

His gaze met hers.

For a moment there was no one in the world but the two of them. Then she moaned and rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Not the vampire stuff again, Gordon." She withdrew her hand from his to fold her arms over her chest. "You know, I have to tell you, I'm growing a little impatient with that nonsense."

"We don't have to talk about this."

"We do have to talk about it. You and I have been so honest with each other in a world that's not always honest. That's what's been so special about our friendship." She heard her voice quaver. "Gordon, the vampire story is getting old."

He laughed wryly, looking up at the bed canopy overhead. "Old for ye in a fortnight. Think how old it is for me—six centuries."

She pushed back in her chair, trying hard to be understanding rather than just exasperated. "You really think you're a vampire, don't you?" It sounded so ludicrous to her, just saying it.

"Emily…" Gordon sat up in the bed.

It was of course completely inappropriate that she should be in his bedchamber now that he was conscious again, but propriety seemed of little consequence right now. She wanted to understand Gordon and this delusion of his. She needed to understand. "Yes?" she said simply.

"In a fortnight you'll have to go." He reached out and took her hand again. "I hope I'm not too forward in saying that I've come to… care for you a great deal. And I think you feel the same way about me."

She felt her heart flutter beneath her breast.

"Let's just enjoy what time we have left together."

Her gaze locked with his and she saw that his eyes were moist.

He did care for her.

The word
love
floated in her head.

"I could stay longer," she heard herself say, before she had time to consider her words. "I've no further engagement. I could repair the Shakespearean book of sonnets, if you like." She didn't know what made her so bold except that the thought of leaving Fraser Castle suddenly seemed an impossibility. She didn't want to leave. Not ever. "Without charge, of course," she added, feeling foolish.

He held her hand with one of his and smoothed it with the other. "I wish that you could stay, but you canna. Ye mustn't."

"That's right," she conceded, hiding her hurt with sarcasm. "Your anniversary. I wouldn't want you to drink my blood or chew the bones from my flesh with your canines."

The pain that she saw flash in his dark eyes made her wish she'd not said that. The truth was that it didn't matter what she believed.
He
believed he was a vampire, and more importantly, he believed she would be in danger if she stayed. He thought he was protecting her by sending her away.

"I told ye, I do not eat human flesh," he said, his voice barely a whisper.

She wanted to argue the point, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Maybe Ruth was right. Maybe believing one was a vampire
was
a minor transgression in such a fine man. If only his belief was not so strong that it threatened to keep them apart. But perhaps there was still time to change that. "All right. You're right," she said, listening to her heart instead of her head for once. "So I have to go in two weeks. We can enjoy each other's company until then."

"A fortnight," he said huskily, lifting her hand to his lips.

She watched, mesmerized. He didn't kiss her hand, just drew his warm lips over the back of it. A tremor of what could only be sexual desire ran through her. She wished that he would kiss her hand… her mouth.

Emily pulled her hand away, suddenly unsure of herself. Of Gordon. What
was
that strange light in his eyes?

Gordon lay back on the feather bolster and pressed his hand to his forehead. "Ye should return to your chamber; it's late."

She rose from the chair, feeling a little unsteady on her feet. A chill overtook her that she couldn't shake.

She grabbed her book. For the first time since she came to Fraser Castle she wondered if she should be afraid.

"Angus said that if you need anything, just ring." She pointed to the bell that rested beside his bed as she made her retreat.

"Good night."

She had just reached the open door when he called her name. She turned slowly. He sat on the edge of the bed in his nightshirt, casting a strange shadow against the wall that didn't seem to quite match his position.

"Emily, you needna fear me."

She gripped the book to her chest, her heart pounding in her ears. "I don't."

But he must have heard the tremor in her voice.

"I wouldna harm ye, or Ruth, or even Angus. I will see myself dead first."

 

Emily retired to her bedchamber and the bed that she shared with Ruth, but she couldn't sleep. For more than an hour she tossed and turned; she couldn't get the image of Gordon's face out of her mind. She couldn't stop thinking of his inference that there could have been something more to their relationship than their friendship. She couldn't stop thinking of the way he'd held her hand and the strange light that illuminated his eyes.

Finally Emily surrendered to her restlessness and climbed out of bed. She put on Ruth's frilly white night robe and a pair of woolen stockings and took an oil lamp to light her way. There was only one place to go when she was restless, only one haven: the library.

Emily was not frightened by the dark cold castle, or the shadows cast from her lamp, as she descended the staircase. Inside the library with its stacks of books and crates piled everywhere, she lit several more lamps and began to peruse the shelves. Perhaps one of Gordon's books would take her mind from her troubled thoughts.

She ran her finger along the leather bindings, studying the tides and authors. In the last few days she had become as familiar with Gordon's collection as she was with her own back in Philadelphia.

Nothing caught her eye immediately, so she pulled out a stair-step on wheels and, after lifting her night-clothes, climbed the steps. Perhaps she'd overlooked a book that would interest her.

On the higher shelves, Gordon placed books he read infrequently. There were Russian poets, Greek myths, essays by American patriots. Always fascinated by American literature, she retrieved a stack of original pamphlets featuring the writings of Thomas Jefferson. When she pulled them from the shelf, she was surprised to find a palm-size book behind them.

Curious, she retrieved the book and replaced Tom Jefferson on the shelf. She ran her hand over the crude brown leather binding in fascination. This book was old, very old. It smelled of disintegrating leather and paper and time.

Emily sat down on the top step of the rolling ladder and drew the book closer to the lamplight. The cover was embossed with faded gilt lettering across its front.

The book was written in what could only be ancient Pictish.

She flipped open the cover. Bits of paper dust filtered through her fingers. The book's pages were so thin they were transparent. It had not been type-set, but hand-written in scrolls. Much of the ink was faded beyond recognition. Pages were stuck together.

Though Emily couldn't read Pictish, she recognized the book's form. It seemed to be some sort of instruction book.

Instructions? Instructions on what? she wondered excitedly. She always loved a challenge. Perhaps the book couldn't be saved, but maybe the information inside could be. She wondered if Gordon read Pictish.

Filled with a sense of excitement, Emily carefully turned the pages. As careful as she was, some of the pages splintered when she touched them.

"No, no," she whispered. "Why did he keep you hidden? Why did he let you die like this?"

In the center were hand-sketched ink illustrations. A castle on a cliff. Fraser Castle? A circle of standing stones.

She turned the page.

What Emily saw made her blood run cold.

The last sketch was of a dark-haired man in a cloak. He was a handsome man with dark eyes and an aquiline face.

A man with bloody red fangs.

Chapter Five

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