Authors: Lillian Stewart Carl
Tags: #suspense, #ghosts, #history, #scotland, #skye, #castle, #mystery series, #psychic detective, #historic preservation, #clan societies, #stately home
“Hullo!” called a man’s voice, and the two
dim shapes squeaked across the shingle, the occasional raindrop
like a nano-comet streaking down through the beacons of their
Yes, the man in the lead was burly Rab
Finlay. His tweed cap was pulled down low and his gray-shot black
beard bristled upward, so that his cheeks reddened by weather and
nose reddened by the weather’s antidote—anti-freeze, Tina had
said—seemed squashed between. He tucked his flashlight beneath his
arm, thrust his hands deep into his pockets, and bellowed, “Can a
man not sit at peace by his own fireside without being called out
in the cauld and wet?”
“The man’s hardly got himself murdered just
to be troubling your evening,” Thomson said.
“Murder?” repeated Rab, the r’s rolling into
the darkness like cannonballs down a staircase. “No guid will come
Young Dakota Krum, thought Jean, would
probably have added “
She less than cleverly deduced that the other
man was Dr. Irvine. But she could make out very little of him
beyond a wizened form wrapped in a raincoat, with two bright eyes
and a nose sharp as a hatchet beneath a floppy-brimmed hat.
“What have we here?” he asked. “A corpse, is
it? And an Aussie corpse at that, Rab’s telling me. You’re thinking
it’s foul play? Well now, let’s have a look.” He knelt down,
positioned his flashlight, and opened his bag.
Again Jean stepped back, and this time stayed
back and partially turned aside while Alasdair introduced himself,
gave Irvine her name without designating her as partner, intended,
or thorn in the side, and proceeded with as much chapter and verse
as was available.
“Well,” said Irvine, “the man’s dead, I’ll
testify to that—and will, I expect—and I agree that a stab wound’s
the likely cause. But under these conditions even the pathologist
would be hard put to tell you more.”
“Right.” Alasdair began issuing orders.
“Fetch a tarpaulin to cover the body, if you please, Rab,” the
even if you don’t please
implicit in his tone. “Doctor, I’d
be obliged if you’d take as many photos as possible, allowing for
“I’ve got no cam—” Irvine began.
Alasdair pulled his own small camera from his
pocket. “Here you are.”
“Very good then.” The doctor trained his
flashlight on the camera, assessing the buttons.
“P.C. Thomson, stay with the doctor just now,
please. A team from Portree’s on its way, but they’ll not be here
soon. Sooner than Gilnockie and his team from Inverness, though,
lest they come by helicopter, and in this murk . . . Well, in any
event, we’re in for a long night.”
Momentarily, Jean flashed back to Glendessary
House, how she’d spent an eternity waiting for the police to come.
Waiting for Alasdair to walk into her life, had she but known, and
“Aye, sir.” Thomson peered into the heaving
shadow that was the ocean. “There might be marks at the waterline,
the scrape of a boat, footprints, or the like. I’ll have a keek,
“Good idea,” said Alasdair. “Well done.”
Thomson grinned, then quickly reversed his
expression back to somber.
“Oh, and Thomson,” Alasdair added, “we’ve got
no time for a lesson in public relations. Suffice it to say, the
media will be following the police like the night the day. Mind how
“The media,” repeated Thomson, and despite
the dim light, Jean could swear he paled. “Aye, sir. Just the
facts. Courteous but firm. No worries.” He started slowly off
across the shingle, illuminating each step.
Alasdair rubbed his hands together, perhaps
less to warm them than in pleasure at finding a disciple. Turning
away from the sea, he spotted Rab still contemplating the body, his
breath a vapor of steam and beer. “Rab, the tarpaulin?”
Wordlessly, grasping his flashlight in a
gnarled hand, Rab turned back toward the castle. His profile in the
gloom was that of a troll searching for a bridge to live under. But
his little light went on across the footbridge without establishing
residence and vanished over the hill.
The flash of the camera seemed like an
explosion. Jean stepped back even further and tucked the thermos up
against her chest, but its exterior was no more than lukewarm.
That’s why it was a thermos.
If she felt cold, Alasdair was half-frozen.
He’d been out here all this time. But then, he was Highland-born
and bred, unfazed by chill. And he was a cop, unfazed by—or at
least, undemonstrative at—sudden death.
That she’d seen too much sudden death over
the last year wasn’t his fault. Together they had dealt with
criminals exploiting the romance of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the
pseudo-science of the Loch Ness monster, the claims made by a
bestselling novel about Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel, and tales of
witchcraft in colonial Virginia.
The mist thickened into a mizzle, droplets
gathering on Irvine’s and Alasdair’s shoulders to glint in the
lights the way the diamond in her ring had glinted.
She supposed Tina had a diamond ring, too.
And a wedding band. Maybe she and Greg had matching ones, engraved
like the ones waiting for Jean and Alasdair with their initials and
the date of their wedding.
To wed. To join. To espouse. To unite in a
knot that could be cut abruptly asunder.
An hour ago Greg had been laughing,
complaining about his wife’s shopping, asking about a
two-centuries-old murder and anticipating exploring the ancestral
ground. Now he was a cold slab of meat lying on that ancestral
ground, pawed over by hands that would infinitely rather be holding
cups and glasses of holiday cheer.
An hour ago Tina had been anticipating a
drink and a Hogmanay party. Now she was alone and bereft, an entire
planet between her and home.
To fall in love was to risk everything.
She jumped, jerked back to the scene, lights
puny against a dark sky and a dark land joined by a dark sea,
Alasdair’s voice in her ear and his presence at her shoulder.
“Let’s you and me be getting ourselves back
to the house,” he said.
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s going to be a long
Jean paced up and down in front of the
fireplace in the sitting room of the Bonnie Prince Charlie suite,
the best in the house, Fergie had assured them.
At least Charlie really had set foot on Skye,
conducted by the intrepid Flora MacDonald. Who was probably no
relation to Fergie—MacDonalds were thick on the ground here. But,
with the other interesting ancestries turning up this evening, why
Taken together, the suite’s rooms—living,
bed, dressing, and bath complete with tub, shower, and toilet—had
almost the square footage of Jean’s flat in Edinburgh. Since August
she’d been sharing that space not just with her cat but with
Alasdair. None of them had particularly sharp elbows, but still,
independent spirits demanded room of their own. Hence their
purchase of the recently vacated flat next door. Add the expense to
that of combining the two dwellings into one, and neither Alasdair
nor Jean had any grounds to criticize Fergie’s spending habits.
He might be investing in his estate, but
we’re investing in the state of our matrimony.
Fergie and Diana hadn’t gone overboard fixing
up this suite. While the fabrics were fresh and cheery and a
brand-new clock radio sat by the bed, every surface and wall was
decorated with the sort of flea-market stuff dealers called
collectibles—vases and figurines, a peeling set of Walter Scott
novels, stuffed birds, horse brasses, and wicker baskets.
Likewise, the furniture was a miscellany
gleaned from the recesses of the house. It ranged from a curlicued
Georgian desk to a heavy Victorian wardrobe that—Jean had
checked—did not open onto Narnia, to a single Louis some-teenth
chair spun out of sugar and gilt that had been claimed by Dougie
since neither of the humans dared sit on it.
The little gray cat was now disguised as a
tea cozy, paws and tail tucked, whiskers furled. His iridescent
golden eyes watched Jean.
“Don’t ask,” Jean told him. She’d already
answered Alasdair’s questions on the way back from the beach,
despite nothing much having happened at the house in his absence.
But then, like the non-barking dog in the Sherlock Holmes story,
even absence was evidence.
Feeling every year of her accumulated forty,
Jean turned the back of her lap toward the electric fire whose
three glowing bars were giving their all. The appliance looked like
an alien crouching in the interior of the four-hundred-year-old
stone fireplace. But places like Dunasheen no longer housed more
servants than guests, including maids whose purpose in life was to
lay coal fires and set them alight when the gentry returned from
gallivanting across the moor.
Her hands and feet tingled in the heat. Her
head fizzed, thoughts rising and popping like bubbles in a flat
soda—motive unknown, opportunity a very narrow window, means a
knife in the dark.
When Alasdair walked through the doorway from
the bedroom, she could tell from the vertical furrow between his
eyebrows that he was ticking off the same list.
She knew his expressions, his face, and his
form as well as her own. His short-cropped hair, a ripple of golden
grain tipped by frost. His regular, unremarkable features, planes
and angles assembled like a geometry proof, rational and elegant.
His armor of reserve, claiming privacy rather than secrecy, that
had once fooled her into thinking he felt no emotion. His broad
shoulders, slender hips, strong hands, compacted into a relatively
small frame. The angle of his head, tilted in consideration of a
Fergus MacDonald painting over the mantel, and the solidity of his
tread. Some men sagged into middle age. Alasdair stood all the
straighter, especially when facing trouble.
“Well,” she said.
“Well,” he returned.
“I’ve almost had a feeling of foreboding all
day, although I thought it was just the darkness. Or even wedding
“You’re having second thoughts, are you now?”
He spoke more wearily than warily.
“You know me. I’m down to twentieth thoughts,
maybe thirtieth, not that any of them are going to make me back
out. We’ve not only reserved a priest, we’ve filled out all the
That drew a smile from his taut lips,
restoring their curve.
“I just want, well, dang it, I want to live
happily ever after. Even though that’s an aspiration based more on
hope than experience.”
“We’ll muddle through this one, too,
“This one. Yeah. It’s like together we make
some sort of critical mass and generate sudden death. Not just
sudden death. Murders.”
“We met because of a murder.”
“Sure, but it’s hardly fair that someone had
to die for us to meet.”
“We’ve beaten the odds a bit, oh aye. But
maybe the odds are turning the other way and we’ll soon be getting
that ‘ever after,’ ‘happily’ to be defined later.”
That drew a smile from her. She wrapped her
arms around his chest and nestled her face into the angle of his
shoulder. Sparring partner, best friend, lover. Betrothed.
He held her close, the slight prickle of his
jaw against her cheek, his hands still radiating cold through her
sweater and into her flesh, his body humming with subtle
electricity that was anything but cold.
The chill lingered in his sweater and jeans,
and the scent of soap with which he’d washed his hands of blood and
dirt. And something else, a whiff of a rich, tropical fragrance,
gardenia or lotus, maybe. “What’s that . . . oh. Tina’s perfume.
You had your arm around her.”
Gently, with a light kiss on her cheek, he
extricated himself from the embrace and extended his hands toward
the fire. Personal interlude over, time for work. “It took some
doing convincing her to leave the scene, ’til I thought to tell her
that every step she took—and she was taking more than a few,
trotting to and fro wringing her hands and moaning, poor woman—was
destroying a bit of the crime scene.”
I’d be moaning,
. “Could she answer any questions? Did she say anything
about Greg meeting with someone at the church?”
“She blethered on about his genealogy
studies, and how foolish they were, a waste of time, energy, money.
And she was saying how they’d made a gamble coming here.”
He shook his head. “She was not giving me
context. Their holiday has likely overextended their budget.”
“He blamed that on her shopping spree in
London.” Jean’s idea of a shopping spree was a bookstore crawl from
the glossy covers at Waterstone’s to the dusty, cracked bindings at
an antiquarian’s. “Do they have children? Other relatives back in
“A son, I got that much, how he’d not be
coming here to help, not with two small children. And there’s a
brother as well, though I could not make out if he’s hers or
Greg’s. ‘How can I tell Kenneth,’ she kept saying.”
“Well, there’s someone who needs to be
notified. Is she up to making a call?”
“Fergie’s saying no, not just now. He’s asked
Irvine to see to her. Kenneth will be hearing the bad news soon
enough, I reckon.”
As though certain the matter was well in
hand, Dougie lay down his head and dozed off. Jean strolled over to
her favorite feature of the room, a bay window with a padded seat
running along its length. That would be a great place to sit and
read on a sunny afternoon, assuming they had sunny afternoons. Now
Jean could see nothing but, again, her own reflection in the
No. Through her own image, she saw the lights
not of Kinlochroy but of a set of headlamps coming up Dunasheen’s
driveway, past the garden wall. “They made good time.”