The Rousing: A Celtic in the Blood Novella (3 page)

BOOK: The Rousing: A Celtic in the Blood Novella
6.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“No,” I replied, raising my voice against the wind, “I think you brought this weather with you. There’s always a stiff breeze along the coast, but I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

"You're a local then?" he asked, still wearing that disarming smile.

I nodded. "Yeah. What part of the States do you hail from? My brother said you flew in from the Big Apple?"

"I live in New York, but I'm Irish. You could say I'm a local too."

Oh here we go
, I thought.
This is the part where he claims nationality on the back of some great-great-third cousin called Philup McGroin who crossed the Atlantic on a Famine ship
. These guys were all the same. They thought they could buy themselves an Irish identity.

My client, Jack, no surname given, fell silent for a moment. "It’s been a very long time,” he said rather mysteriously. “Did you know the previous owner?" he asked.

"Lady Pembroke? Yeah, she was nice enough. Lonely, all on her own in the big old house. She had no family."

A dark look crossed the American’s eyes, but I put it down to the storm clouds brewing above our heads.

"She kept to herself mostly,” I went on, “Bronach is in a very isolated spot and she was crotchety. People didn't feel welcome here."

He said nothing, just cast his gaze over the rambling house with its moss-covered, granite walls, skeletal wisteria and shuttered-up windows. Closed up like this, it resembled a mausoleum, as uninviting as its occupant had been. If he wanted a good price for the place, I’d need to rectify that. The right photo could make or break this kind of sale.

"I didn't think your sort liked to get into personal details," I said eventually, breaking the uncomfortable silence.

"My sort?" He turned to me, lifting a brow. "What sort is that?"

"The international property magnate sort."

"I'm not a property developer."

"Weren't you sent by Lady Pembroke's legal team to liquidate her assets?"

"No,” he replied. “I'm the named executor of her last will and testament."

"Oh. What is it you do in New York then?"

"I own a publishing house."

"Seriously?” my face lit up like a break in the clouds. “Maybe, when we're done here, you could let me pitch to you? I have this great idea for a novel ..."

His face went so
stony, you could have sparked flint off his jaw.

"Gotcha," I laughed, swatting his upper arm. “I can barely write a check, let alone a novel.”

Relief softened his expression a little. “I suppose I deserved that,” he said tightly.

"Yes, you did. You get propositioned a lot then?” I asked.

A devilish lift shaped the corners of his mouth.

“By writers, I mean." Crap, there went the wind burn again.

“All the time,” he drawled.

"Something you should know about the Irish,” I said. “Power and celebrity don't impress us much. We don't
fan girl, and we don't kiss ass. Ever. We’d rather sit in the dark feeling sorry for ourselves, than ever lower ourselves to ask someone else for help."

"I’ll remember that," he said, with a smile that creased the corners of his eyes and made my insides quiver.

Damn it. Maybe Liam had a point. I was clearly deprived.

"What else can you tell me about Kathleen Pembroke?" he asked.

"She was quite the local character,” I said, leaping on the chance to change the subject from my propositioning of tall, dark and American. “Rumour has it she murdered her husband.”

The wind howled around us, growing in intensity. He wrapped his coat tighter to his body and I found myself mirroring the action.

“I was just a little kid when it happened,” I explained, raising my voice above the gale “but, apparently, one night, - the stormiest on record for this part of the world - Lord Pembroke disappeared off the face of the earth, never to be seen again. The police suspected his wife, of course, but without a trace of evidence and no body, they eventually left her to her eccentric, reclusive life. Some said she kept the body hidden in the house, and that she was involved in the dark arts." I offered him my best creepy smile. Americans ate up this supernatural crap, after all.

"She was my mother," he said flatly.

"What? Oh very funny. Another joke, right?" I laughed awkwardly. He was kidding. Had to be.

“No joke. Lady Kathleen Pembroke was my mother,” he said, deadly serious.

My face fell into shock. “That’s not possible. Her son died of fever, or measles or something, when he was five years old. I should know. He used to tease me at kindergarten, and his name was John, not Jack.”

I frowned. Hang on. Wasn’t Jack a common nickname for John? Like JFK. Oh no ...

“I’m afraid the rumours of my tragic death were vastly exaggerated. After we lost my father, my mother sent me away to boarding school, and I haven’t gone by John in a very long time.”

Oh God. I’d just pronounced his recently deceased mother a murderer and a witch.

A rash of mortification crawled up my throat and inflamed my cheeks. "I’m so sorry. I was out of line to speak ill of the dead,” I said, flustered.
But how was I to have known?
“You weren't at the funeral," I countered defensively.

"No, I wasn't."

That’s all he said. I was dying of embarrassment and he was utterly unmoved. We could still have been discussing the weird weather, for all he was affected.

Realisation clicked into place.

“But you’re here now,” I said drily. Like some vulture, picking over a lonely old lady's possessions. My gut instinct hadn't deserted me, then, even if my hormones had decided this guy was a prime candidate for the pants-off dance-off. “You couldn't make time to go to the funeral, but now you've seen the size of her estate and got dollar signs in your eyes. I get it.”
To paraphrase the Bard: An asshole by any other name would still smell like a piece of crap.

His jaw visibly tightened, but he didn’t speak a word.

“I'm sorry,” I exhaled. “That was out of line, not to mention unprofessional.”

“I’m a busy man. Don't we have a job to do here, Miss … ?”

“McShane, Darcy McShane. You’re right, we should get this over with, before the storm hits,” I said. “Do you have keys? I’ll need to take some interior shots and measurements, and we should open the shutters, make the place look a little less sinister for the brochure.”

“Of course,” he said, his tone aloof as he fished a chunky set of rusted keys from a brown envelope. He walked up the short gravel drive to the hall door and I followed after, scowling at his broad back. “I’ve heard the locals tell more colourful tales about what happened to my father," he said, turning the ancient locks. He opened the door wide and motioned for me to enter. “Ladies first,” he said.

Determined not to be impressed by his show of chivalry, I swept past him into the dark hallway and began hunting the wall for a light switch. "They say this land is cursed," I explained, “that, long ago, a beautiful girl was married off to a sadistic lord who abused her horribly. It’s said she took her own life here and was buried overlooking the sea. Legend has it she rose from her shallow grave, bloodthirsty for vengeance on her evil husband. They called her the Dearg Due: the drinker of red blood."

“Like a vampire,” he said, those green eyes gleaming with curiosity in the half-light.

“Yes, Jack,” I breathed, “like a vampire.”

I felt a pang of guilt, playing up the folklore for the tourist, but given he hadn't had the decency to show up at his own mother's wake, and now was blatantly cashing in on the land, I couldn’t muster more than that, a pang.

What a creep.

“Fascinating,” he said, smiling. “You must tell me more.”

“There really is no more to tell.”

I finally spotted a row of old-style
Bakelite light-switches on the wall and flipped each of them in turn. Nothing happened. “I think the power's been disconnected,” I said. “I’ll need more than natural light to get any decent interior shots of the house.”

“Maybe there’s a generator,” he said. “I can check the basement, unless you’d rather stand in the dark than accept my offer of help?”

“Touché,” I said drolly and he smirked. Irritating man. “Knock yourself out, boy scout.”
Preferably by falling head over heels down that dark, rickety stairwell
, I thought, returning his smirk.

The American pulled out his cell-phone, switched it into snazzy flashlight-mode and disappeared down the steps, while I went through into the drawing room and worked my way along the huge bay windows, folding back the internal shutters as I went. Grey light flooded the dusty, cobwebbed space with its sun-faded antique furnishings and I marvelled at how quickly an empty house could develop that musted atmosphere of abandonment.

Do I smell like that? I wondered, resisting the urge to sniff myself as I glanced around.

Old family portraits lined the damask-covered walls: dark, handsome, green-eyed men, attesting to Jack Pembroke’s claims to his wealthy Irish lineage.

As I pulled back the final shutters, the windows rattled, the wind whistling through their joints. The sea-view here was truly breathtaking, the power of nature unleashed in the swollen waves that crashed into foam on the slippery rocks below. The sunset on the horizon cast everything in a purple hue. That vista alone would double the asking-price for the house. I whipped out my camera and searched the view-finder for the perfect shot, wanting to include the cairn of rocks up on the hill. That ancient, man-made pile of stones was what started the myth of the Dearg-Due. Old Irish tradition dictated that rocks be heaped over a grave-site to prevent its occupant rising from the dead. Legend said the abused girl, driven by desperation to take her own life, was given no cairn of stones to house her soul, and so came back to wreak her vengeance on mankind.

Rich Americans would go crazy for the folklore attached to the property. They might wipe their gym-toned asses with hundred dollar bills, but they also believed in leprechauns, and in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In my experience, those things were oil and water: incompatible. The vagaries of life rarely granted you the freedom to pursue true happiness.

And there I went again, bitter and twisted, just like Jack Pembroke’s jilted mother. I knew what it was like to be stared at and pitied in a small place like Crooke, just as she had. No doubt I’d end my days alone and crabby in some tumbledown house as she had, with rent-a-crowd mourners at my grave.

I pressed the zoom button and the camera’s lens whirred, bringing the cairn into clearer focus. “Oh my God,” I breathed. “I don’t fucking believe this.”






On my way out, I heard Jack calling, asking if everything was ok, but the wind slammed the front door shut behind me before I could answer. Oblivious to the weather, I trudged across the grass and mounted the hill. The heels of my shoes squelched, sinking into the marshy ground and making me fight for every step. “Goddamn teenagers,” I growled, stepping up to the scattered rocks. The ancient cairn lay in ruins, with broken beer bottles strewn through the rubble. I swore into the wind. “Who would do a thing like this? Defiling a burial site. No bloody respect.” I dropped to my knees and started re-piling stones as best I could. That’s when I saw it: a blue
Argyle sweater, smelling of sheep-dip and body odour. “What the ...?” I picked it up, saw the blood, and screamed.

“Darcy, are you ok?” I heard Jack running up the hill behind me but I was frozen, my breath coming too fast to reply, and then I didn’t need to. He saw what I was seeing. “What happened? Oh shit, what is that? Is that blood?”

It was everywhere, not just on the sweater. Reddish brown puddles had formed on the ground and streaked the grass like rust on wire. They seemed to lead a path towards the headland. Together, with dread in our steps, we followed that path to the edge of the cliff. I had to force myself to look down. On the rocks below, John-Joe’s naked body lay crushed and bloody, misted in the spray of the waves.

I felt dizzy, nausea roiling in my stomach like the sea-swell far below.

BOOK: The Rousing: A Celtic in the Blood Novella
6.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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