The Glenncailty Ghosts, Book 4
Biting her lip, Melissa pushed through the pain. Her biceps strained, her elbow creaked and her fingers shook. With a little hiss of frustration, she dropped the soup can. The innocuous can hit the floor and rolled under the vanity in the little guest room of her grandmother’s house.
Trembling from the effort, Melissa gingerly sat back on the bed. Unfortunately, that put her level with her own reflection in the mirror. Her face was flushed and there were tears in her eyes. Irritated with herself, she wiped them away with her right hand while her left lay limp on the bed.
She was wearing a thin sleeveless undershirt, and the mirror showed the long, jagged scars that started midway down her upper left arm, coated her elbow and stopped mid-forearm. Besides the scars, her arm looked skinny and weak, the muscles atrophied after months with her arm braced to her side. The physical therapy was helping, though it was humiliating that she found a simple soup can so hard to lift.
Her grandmother’s voice snapped her from her brown study. She grabbed an embroidered hip-length jacket she’d bought in China and pulled it on. The long sleeves hid her scars. She carefully bent her left arm, feeling her elbow creak as she slid the knotted buttons through the loops. Her mangled arm didn’t bother her grandmother, but Melissa was more comfortable with it covered up.
Bouncing to her feet she left the little room on the second floor of the terraced Dublin house and bounded down the stairs, taking them two at a time just to prove her legs still worked. Granny waited in the wood-paneled hallway at the bottom.
Her normally smiling grandmother looked grim.
Melissa pulled up short. “Granny?”
The older woman reached out for Melissa’s arm, but pulled her hand back. “Follow me.”
A lump forming in her stomach, Melissa shuffled behind her grandmother through the small, twisting halls of the two-hundred-year-old house until they reached the kitchen. It had been remodeled and enlarged in the ’70s, and there was just enough space for a table. Her grandmother shooed her into a seat, then took one herself.
“I need to ask you a question, and I’m very serious about this.”
“Very well,” Melissa said, no idea what this could be about. Up until the time that she went away to university, Melissa had spent almost every summer in Dublin with her grandmother and loved her ferociously. Returning to London each August had been heartbreaking, and for weeks she’d wander her parent’s house with an affected Irish accent quite unlike her own public-school British one. She’d finally gotten a chance to stay here more permanently when she’d come to live with her grandmother to attend University College Dublin, where she’d gotten a degree in Archaeology before the discovery of the bog bodies had shifted her interest to Forensic Anthropology.
“A man from the Garda Síochána called, and he was looking for you.”
“The…oh, the police. Why?”
“That’s what I need to know.” Bracing her elbows on the table, Bridget Ferguson leaned forward. “Did you steal a body, or maybe just some bones? Something you thought was interesting to study but might actually be the bones of a royal family somewhere, bones that would prove that the current rulers are impostors?” The older woman’s gaze was hard and focused.
“Wha… What bones? What ruling family?” Melissa stared at her grandmother in total confusion. They had the same hazel eyes, but Melissa had gotten her father’s fair hair, not the black of her mother and grandmother—though she’d seen a dye box in the bathroom, confirming her suspicion that her grandmother’s hair was no longer naturally dark.
“Or maybe you found something, a piece of jewelry, a letter, a trinket of some kind.”
Melissa narrowed her eyes. “Granny, have you been watching those crime shows again?”
“Well, of course I have. I have to know what my favorite granddaughter is doing while she’s running around all corners of Christendom.”
Melissa’s lips twitched. “Granny, I’ve told you, I’m not like the lady on the TV show. I don’t solve crimes. They usually know who did it before I get there.”
“And you’re sure that you didn’t accidentally bring back some mysterious bones?”
She looked so hopeful that Melissa hated to say, “No.”
“Ah, well then.” Her grandmother sat back with a little sigh of disappointment.
“Did the police actually call?”
“As if I’d make up something like that,” she humphed. “They did call, and they said something about some bones.”
As a forensic anthropologist Melissa wasn’t like the character on the crime dramas her grandma watched, but she did travel all over the world looking for human remains. She’d gone out with the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, called CILHI, to help identify remains from the Korean War and Vietnam conflict, spent some time in South America helping to sort through the warehouses of remains that the state-run laboratories were holding but didn’t have time to work with, and then most recently had been in Bosnia and Africa to help process mass graves.
She rarely solved crimes. Usually she was the one confirming for the authorities that a crime had been committed.
“Did the policem—”
“Pardon me, the Guard, did they give you a number I could call?”
“The detective sergeant is coming around in a few minutes, so we’d best prepare for company. Do you know where the nice teapot is?”
“I do. I don’t think it’s ever moved.”
“And why would it?”
Melissa took the pretty china teapot out of one of the high glass-fronted cabinets with her right hand. “If you thought I had dangerous skeletal remains in my luggage, why did you invite the Guard for tea?”
“And how could I not? It would be highly suspicious if I didn’t. Highly. But don’t worry, I had an escape plan for you.”
“You did?” Melissa put the pot on the table and grabbed a tray.
She laughed as her grandmother outlined the escape plan. It was good to laugh. It was good to be home.
* * * *
“Dr. Heavey?” The detective sergeant wiped his feet before crossing the threshold into the house. He was a heavy-set man with a pronounced brow ridge and high cheekbones in an overall flat face. He had the fair coloring common in Ireland, but his eyes were brown. Melissa stared at him. Though he probably looked normal to anyone else, his face intrigued her.
“You have a very vertical chin and no maxillary prognathism, but fair coloring.” Melissa examined each feature, mentally stripping away flesh to reveal bone. “You have a grandparent who is Asian.”
“Uh, well, no. My grandmother was Indian.”
“As I said, Asian. You have a few distinctly Mongoloid features.”
There was a loud “AHEM” from the front room. Melissa jumped and remembered her manners.
“I’m Dr. Melissa Heavey. How do you do, Sergeant?”
“I’m well, thank you for having me.” He was looking at her oddly and speaking with deliberate care. “The name’s Detective Sergeant Oren.”
“And please, call me Melissa.” She added her best, most normal, smile.
Melissa led the sergeant into the formal front room. She’d only been in it a handful of times, as it was reserved for special guests. A detective sergeant come to talk about bones was certainly on that list. Melissa had changed from her jeans and Chinese jacket into black trousers and a green sweater. Her grandmother had changed too, into brown wool slacks, a cream sweater and her good gold jewelry.
“Detective Sergeant Oren, this is my grandmother, Bridget Ferguson.”
“It’s a pleasure, ma’am.”
Her grandmother nodded as if she were the Queen welcoming someone to her palace. Melissa took a seat by her, and after a quick look around, the detective sergeant chose the chair across from them.
“Tea, Detective Sergeant?”
Her grandmother poured the tea, adding milk and sugar to specification and passing cups.
Melissa bit down on her curiosity. Beside her, she could feel her grandmother vibrating with the need to know.
She’d grown up hearing “you need to know this” or “you’ve no need to know that”. That need to know, which was clearly a family trait, had driven her academic interests, leading to a career where she addressed other people’s need to know—”I need to know if my brother/father/son is there, if he’s dead.”
“You mentioned something to my grandmother about bones?” Melissa asked after they’d all taken a sip of tea.
“Ah yes, you see, we have a bit of an unusual case, and we were hoping you might help us.”
Melissa opened her mouth, but her grandmother beat her to it. “My granddaughter is here resting and recuperating after nearly being killed doing important humanitarian work.”
Melissa wanted to both hug and shush the older woman.
The detective sergeant looked startled. “Ah, well then.”
“May I ask who recommended me?” Melissa said.
“Adam O’Connell—he’s the state pathologist.”
“Of course, I’ve met him several times. Did he need a consult?”
“No, and there’s our problem. Based on the photos, he thinks the bodies are at least seventy years old, so even if he had the time or money, he might not handle the case.”
“He looked at photos?” Photos were rarely enough to go on with bones that hadn’t been cleaned.
“We found bones in a hotel out in the countryside. A place called Glenncailty.”
“Valley of the Lost,” Bridget translated.
“It’s more than my department can handle, and we’ve plenty of things that need investigation. I was hoping Dublin could help, but they too have more urgent matters.”
“That’s understandable,” Melissa said when the detective sergeant paused.
“What could be more important than laying someone to rest?” Bridget humphed. “It seems the Dublin Gardaí don’t have their priorities straight.”
Before Detective Sergeant Oren could say anything, Melissa spoke up. “Very few governments have the kind of forensic manpower it takes to sort through human remains, and people are always surprised at how often a body too old or too decomposed for the pathologist to work with turns up.” She turned back to the detective. “But why isn’t the National Museum handling this? If the bones are old, they should go to the museum.”
“The museum has been hurt by the budget. They said they might be able to send someone out in a few months.”
If the museum planned to examine the bones, Melissa wasn’t sure why Oren was here. “I spent some time at the National Museum and I’m sure they’ll do a wonderful job.”
The detective sergeant shifted, setting his cup down. “I didn’t realize you were on holidays. I shouldn’t have bothered you.”
Bridget clicked her tongue. “You don’t want to wait for the museum people.” She set her cup down and rubbed her hands together. “There’s something special about these, isn’t there? Something that means it can’t wait.”
He looked uncomfortable and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. The owner of the place where they were found has asked that this be taken care of right away. He offered to pay for the investigation himself.”
Melissa and Bridget exchanged a look. This owner must be politically connected in order to get the Gardaí and museum to agree to this. And he clearly wanted these bones dealt with ASAP.
Melissa looked back at the detective sergeant. “If the bones are very old, you may need an archaeologist, not an anthropologist.”
“No, the bones aren’t so old as that—one of them has on a green dress, and the furniture is like something you’d see now.”
“The furniture?” Melissa sat back. “Where exactly were these bones found?”
He looked down, cleared his throat and then said, “The bodies were in a room that had been bricked shut. It was a nursery—we think it’s a woman and two children.”
In unison Melissa and her grandmother sucked in a breath.
“When do you want her there?” Bridget said. “I’ll help her pack.”
* * * *
Melissa checked the directions she’d printed off the hotel’s website, then turned left off the main road. She was well out of Dublin in the Irish countryside. The road was lined with old trees and stone fences. Everything was green and soft after the hard, gray edges of London and Dublin. The road descended into a little valley, switchbacking its way down. She came around a corner and caught sight of the castle, which she recognized from the pictures on the website. The stones seemed as much a part of the landscape as the trees that lined the walls of the valley. Golden afternoon light gilded the windows.
Behind and around the main structure she saw several smaller buildings. It had said on the website that Glenncailty Castle was actually an old fortified manor home, which had once served as the seat of the English lord sent to rule this area before the Republic of Ireland won its independence. It was now owned by a local family and had only recently been reopened to the public. The structures around it were probably accessory buildings that had once been part of the estate.
From the look of the place it was certainly old enough to have some secrets. As she reached the bottom of the valley, she saw that long shadows covered half the glen, the dark patches a deep, velvety green-black, while the sun-drenched parts were a happy kelly green. She shivered a little as she followed the signs toward the castle and slowed as the curved drive took her past the wide front steps and iron-bound double doors. There were three main buildings, the center one appearing to be at least three stories, with smaller wings on either side, connected by covered glass hallways.
She headed into the parking area, which was hidden by trees. Grabbing her equipment kit, she hopped out and headed for the front doors, ignoring the little shiver of unease that went through her. She’d been to far worse and more dangerous places than this. Her kit was in her left hand—she’d grabbed it from the passenger seat out of habit. She hadn’t made it more than a few steps before pain from the weight of what she carried made her elbow and shoulder ache. She switched hands, flexing her left arm as she started up the steps.
The doors proved a challenge, too heavy for her weak left arm to manage. Hooking her arm through the pull, she used her body weight to heave it open, then slid inside, leading with her right shoulder. It would have been simpler to put the toolbox down or to ring the bell above the plaque that said “Céad Mile Fáilte, Please Ring Bell For Assistance,” but it wasn’t about easy, it was about proving to herself that she could still do everything she’d been able to do before the injury.
She was standing in a lovely foyer. Though the outside of the building looked almost medieval, the inside was decorated and furnished in a style she associated with some of the stately homes of England. The floor was a check pattern. Unlike floors found in modern dwellings, the blocks of black and white were actual stones, not facing or tile. The walls were mint green with white wainscoting and the ceiling was at least two stories up, with high windows letting in the light.
Directly across from the doors was a grand wood staircase. The wood was dark and polished to a high sheen, the carpet runner understated. She examined it the way she would a jumble of bones, trying to pinpoint the things that broke pattern.
“Dr. Heavey? I’m Sorcha—”
“The floors are original, the stairs have been rebuilt.” She turned to look at the redheaded woman that waited by a desk on the left-hand side of the foyer. “Am I right?”
“Yes, you are. These stone floors are original.” The redhead continued to smile, her expression both bland and welcoming. She had classically Caucasian bone structure—nose, chin and forehead all curved, and with the slightest hint of an overbite. “The structure had been neglected for many years and almost all the wood detailing had to be replaced, including the grand stairs. We did reclaim some doors, such as the main doors you just came through, and a few others. I will provide you with a castle map that includes the history of the building and of Glenncailty.”
Melissa held out her hand. “I’m Melissa Heavey. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Sorcha Kerrigan, guest relations manager here at Glenncailty.” The redhead took her hand. “We’re pleased and honored to have you with us.”
“I doubt that. I’m here because you found human remains when you weren’t looking for them. You weren’t, were you?” She’d been under the impression that this was an unhappy—to them—accident. But maybe they, like so many people Melissa had met over the years, were looking for someone, both dreading and hoping that they’d find the remains.
“I assure you our discovery was accidental rather than deliberate.” She was smiling, but her brows drew together slightly, as if she were troubled, which was understandable. “If you’ll follow me, we can discuss your accommodation options.”
“It’s better to find them by accident,” she assured the other woman, hoping to ease her frown. “It’s worse when you’re looking for a body you can’t find.”
“Of course,” Sorcha agreed, so readily that Melissa was sure she only said it to humor her. “I have several options for accommodation—”
“I’m not worried about that.” Melissa set her heavy black case on the registration desk to give her right arm a break. “Where are the bones?”
“Detective Sergeant Oren called. He’s busy at the moment but said he’ll stop by at the end of his shift, which will be about six o’clock. Until then I’m afraid I can’t show you to the…” Sorcha’s pleasant smile faded, and for a moment there was terrible sadness on her face. She licked her lips, before finishing, “…the bones.”
From the way Sorcha spoke, Melissa was sure she’d seen them. Most people found dead bodies gruesome but fascinating until they got up close to one or touched one. There was always a moment when their intellect wasn’t able to shield them from the reality that what they were looking at had once been a person no different from them. Once that intellectual filter came down, curiosity was usually replaced by horror.
She needed to get started. “But I’m here now.” She stared at Sorcha. Experience and experimentation had taught her that steady, unwavering eye contact made people uncomfortable and usually resulted in Melissa getting exactly what she wanted.
“I’m aware of that.” Sorcha stared back at her, her face once more a calm mask.
There was a moment of silence.
“I have to wait to see the bones, don’t I?” Melissa said, disgruntled that her plan hadn’t worked.
“Yes, Dr. Heavey, you do.”
She sighed. “Very well then, I’ll research between now and then. Can I have that map you mentioned?” She’d read through everything she could find online about the castle and the area, but details would mean more now that she was actually here.
“First let me check you in.” Sorcha went around behind the desk and pulled out a key. “The only available room is in our west wing. We’ve relocated other guests due to those rooms’ proximity to the remains. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of being so close, I can recommend someplace in Cailtytown, the village at the other end of the glen.”
So they’d had to close down part of the hotel and move people, which cost money. No wonder they’d decided to pay her to be here rather than wait. “I’d rather be by the bones.” Sleeping in a hotel room near a few old bones couldn’t be worse than sleeping in a tent only feet from a mass grave in Africa.
“Very well.” They went through some paperwork before Melissa was given a key. “The room is not available at this time, but I can show you to either our library or—”
“Is there someplace quiet I could get a bite to eat while I read?” She’d been researching and hunting down equipment for the past day and had only stopped to eat when her grandmother put food in front of her, and even then she usually got distracted.
“Our pub is open but is not known for being quiet. Our award-winning restaurant doesn’t open until five, but I could show you to a table, and perhaps you could order from the pub.”
“That will work.” She hefted the case, tucking the key into the Nepalese butterfly pants she was wearing. “I’m ready.”
Sorcha led her to a doorway on the right side of the foyer, which opened onto the end of a long hall. Midway down the hall was a beautiful wood and glass door. Gold script on the door said only The Restaurant. Sorcha had to speak to someone through her radio before the doors were unlocked from the inside.
The suit-clad maître d’ spoke with Sorcha for a moment before leading Melissa to a secluded table in a front corner of the beautiful high-ceilinged restaurant. It was a little dim, and cold radiated off the stone wall at her back, but she was well away from the other tables, the only thing near her a small server’s station.
The maître d’ approached. “Mademoiselle, welcome to The Restaurant at Glenncailty. I regret that at this time the kitchen isn’t open. Perhaps I could offer you a complementary apéritif until it does.” He had a slight French accent, and everything about him said tasteful elegance.
The last thing she needed was a drink. “I thought the woman who showed me here mentioned that you had a pub. Would it be possible for me to see the pub menu? I promise that after that I won’t be any trouble. I was only hoping to get a little supper and some quiet before I…” She trailed off, not sure who knew about what had been found in the building. “Before I get to work.”
The maître d’ left, and Melissa pushed aside the napkin, glass and silverware, unfolding the Glenncailty Castle brochure.
Out of the corner of his eye Tristan saw Kris slide down one of the busy kitchen aisles. The maître d’s mouth was pursed, which was as close as the elegant man came to having a tantrum.
He turned away from the salmon fillets en papillote they were preparing for that night’s special.
“Kris,” he called out, and the other man turned. “What’s wrong?” he asked in French.
Kris shrugged. That wasn’t a good sign. With a curse, Tristan put a piece of plastic wrap and a damp towel over the dough he was working with, heading to a quieter corner of the kitchen where Kris met him.
“There’s a woman in the restaurant,” Kris said.
“We’re not open. Throw her out.”
“I cannot. Sorcha brought her here, and the woman, she says she needed a quiet place to work.”
“Then she can go to the library.” Tristan liked and respected the guest relations manager, but the restaurant and the kitchen were his domain.
“I think she came about the bones.”
The bones. Tristan cursed. He was sick unto death of hearing about these bones. The Irish were so dramatic, getting upset over a few ghosts and bones. They should go to Paris—the whole city sat atop bones and the French weren’t thrown into a tizzy by it. But the police, the Gardaí, had closed the west wing until they were dealt with, and that risked the whole hotel and what he was trying to build here.
“Then let her stay, put her out of the way.”
“I did, but she’s hungry.” Kris drew in a long breath through his nose. “She wants to see a menu from the pub.”
“Non. If she wants to eat pub food, then she will go there.” Tristan suddenly understood Kris’s ire. No one seemed to understand that the ambiance of dining was as important as the food, and that meant a beautiful room with well-appointed tables, candlelight and the aroma of fine wine, truffles and fresh herbs—not the stench of chips and meaty stew.
“Give that to me.” At his order, Kris handed over the pub menu, a laminated sheet of uninspired—though delicious, because if Tristan had to serve fish and chips, it was the best fish and chips ever cooked—pub fare.
Tristan stormed out of the kitchen into the restaurant. He took only a moment to appreciate the crystal chandeliers, cozy private areas created by half-walls and high-backed chairs, and headed for the darkest corner, a lost space where Kris seated those who wanted the utmost privacy or who weren’t dressed nicely.
Tristan’s brows rose in surprise when he saw who was seated there. A pretty blonde woman no older than thirty sat with her head bent over a castle map. She wore a tunic embroidered with geometric shapes in bold earth tones over a simple white turtleneck. A heavy brass medallion hung from a cord around her neck, and she toyed with it as she read. Her hair was straight, falling to just above her shoulder. She was lightly tanned, and when she looked up her eyes were a beautiful hazel rather than the blue he was so used to seeing.
She studied him, her gaze lingering on his face, but he could tell it wasn’t sexual—it was almost clinical.
“Hello,” she said, “I’m Dr. Melissa Heavey. You’re…” She did a second once-over. “…either the head chef or the poissonnier.” She was English and well-educated, from the sound of her accent.
Tristan stopped, taken by surprise. “I am the chef de cuisine.” He used the proper name for head chef.
“And you’re French. That explains the western European Caucasian bone structure but Mediterranean coloring.”
Tristan tilted his head to the side. “You’re a doctor?’
“A Doctor of Philosophy, yes. I’m a forensic anthropologist.”
“And you are here for the bones.”
“So you do know about them. I wasn’t sure if the staff had been told.”
“I am not staff. I am the chef.”
“Of course, my apologies. I did a research project on the social stratification within kitchens while I was at university. It’s very structured, almost caste-like, but with huge potential for upward mobility.”
“And that is how you know poissonnier.” Despite his irritation, Tristan smiled. The pretty English woman was intriguing.
“The fish chef, yes. You have the air of command necessary for a head chef, but you smell a little like raw fish and there is something shiny on your apron, which I assume is scales.”
Tristan’s gaze narrowed. “You are a detective.”
“No, of course not. I’m a scientist.”
Tristan shrugged. She sounded like a detective. “As you say.” Down to business. He held up the pub menu. “If you want to eat this food, you must go to the pub.”
“I need quiet. I won’t be here long.”
“Then you may stay, but you will not eat.”
“But I’m hungry.”
“Then go to the pub.” She was arguing with him. No one argued with him—no matter how beautiful they were. He wanted to shake her. Then kiss her.
“I want to eat here.”
“And I will not serve bangers and mash—” The inelegant words made his lips curl. “—in my beautiful restaurant.”
She tilted her head, hair swinging. “You’re quite serious.”
She sighed, folded the brochure she’d spread out on the table. She then carefully replaced the silverware, napkin and glasses back in their proper spots and grabbed an ugly black case off the floor. She brushed past him.
Tristan nodded in satisfaction that he’d maintained the rules he’d set for his restaurant but was a little sad to see the interesting woman go. She wore loose pants that tied at the hips, and they were just tight enough across the derrière that he got the feeling that under the loose tunic top was a nice body. It had been a long time since he’d been drawn to a woman the way he was drawn to her. And it wasn’t just physical attraction—she was intelligent and strong.
He was so distracted by her derrière and his unexpected reaction to her that it took him a moment to realize that she wasn’t headed for the front door, but deeper into the restaurant.
“Mademoiselle,” he said, jogging a few steps to keep up with her. “Where are you going?”
“I’m hungry.” She stopped for a moment, looked around and then headed for the kitchen.
Tristan darted ahead of her, positioning himself in front of the swinging doors. He folded his arms. Pretty or not, intriguing or not, she wasn’t going to interfere with his dinner prep.
“This is my kitchen.”
“I can tell. I’m excited to see it.”
She tried to push past him, and he grabbed her upper arms. She made a little noise, and her eyes widened with pain. The case she carried fell from her hand.
Tristan released her. He’d barely touched her, yet it seemed he’d caused her pain.
“I’m sorry, did I hurt you?”
“I…have a bruise there.”
Tristan raised a brow. “From another chef whose kitchen you tried to disrupt?”
“The result of killing the last man who tried to come between me and my dinner.”
Her expression was so deadly serious that Tristan had a moment of real worry. Then she smiled and laughed. It changed her whole face, making her seem less serious and disconnected—more warm and approachable.
“You looked quite alarmed,” she said as her laugh faded.
“I do not understand English humor.”
“Too bad, I’m quite funny.” With a smile, she grabbed her case and slid past him into the kitchen.
Cursing, Tristan followed her.
The busy sounds of the kitchen stopped as everyone looked up at the strange blonde woman standing in the doorway. “My name is Melissa Heavey and I’m hungry. Is there someone here who might be able to—”
Tristan grabbed her around the waist and hauled her back out through the doors.
“You are…crazy,” he said as he set her down. He was too surprised to be really angry.
“You’re not the first to mention that.”
Resigned, Tristan threw his hands in the air, then planted them on his hips. “Fine, I will bring you food. You will have stew, fresh bread, a salad.” That was as far as he was willing to relent.
“That sounds lovely.” She stooped and picked up her case. “Thank you very much…?”
“Tristan, Tristan Fontaine.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tristan.” She held out her hand. “As I said, I’m Melissa.”
Rather than shaking, he took her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Enchanté, mademoiselle.”
He was both surprised and pleased when she blushed. He’d expected her to laugh.
“Enchanté, monsieur,” she replied.
He held her hand for a moment longer than was casual. When she pulled back, he let her go, watching her walk to her table with a smile. Tristan was looking forward to learning more about Dr. Melissa Heavey.
* * * *
A very somber-looking Sorcha let Melissa and Detective Sergeant Oren into the west wing. They’d locked down the whole building, ensuring that no one disturbed the remains any more than they’d already been disturbed. Melissa rolled her shoulders, trying to shake off the lethargy the truly delicious food had brought on.
“I’ll leave the door unlocked. Please let the front desk know when you’re done here, Dr. Heavey.” Sorcha finished unlocking the door at the entrance to the west wing. They were standing in the glass hallway that connected it to the castle, and though it was only just past six, clouds had gathered, hiding the evening light.
“Thank you,” Melissa said absently to Sorcha as the door closed behind them. She took a moment to look around the nice if unremarkable hotel hallway. The only distinctive features on the first floor of the west wing were the exposed stone walls at either end. Other than that, it was a simple hallway of hotel doors.
“It’s up here,” Oren told her.
She followed him up. White dust had been tracked down the stairs, and in some places she could make out distinct boot prints.
As they mounted the last few steps, she saw more hotel doors, as nondescript as what was below them, but once at the top it was clear that something was very wrong here.
Midway down the hall, the debris started. There were chunks of plaster and splinters of wood leading up to a stone wall with an arched doorway in the middle. The door was half closed, and a pile of bricks was stacked to one side.
“Tell me what happened here,” Melissa said. She pulled out a small camera and took pictures. For an archaeologist, pictures and diagrams were key, because it was all about the context around a find or body. In her field, there was rarely any context to work with—a pit full of jumbled bones had no context other than horror and war.
But Melissa’s first love had been archaeology, and that was what her bachelor’s degree was in. In the ’70s and ’80s they’d discovered some truly amazing archaeological finds in Ireland. The bog bodies, as they were affectionately known, had taken the nation’s imagination by storm. By the time she was in university, the bodies had been studied and photographed, but she’d been lucky enough to be part of a team that took one of the bog people to be X-rayed and studied using new, more sensitive, equipment. After that, she’d been all about the bones and pursued her PhD in forensic anthropology rather than archaeology.
There were times she wished she’d stuck with archaeology—all these years later she’d seen more human bones than she cared to think about.
Though capturing the context of a body was not part of her field, based on what little she knew about what she was here to see, context was most likely important.
“It seems this room was closed up, sealed off if you will. Those bricks there were covering the door. No one got in, no one got out.” Oren rocked back on his heels, his voice grim.
“And no one has any idea how long ago that was done?” Melissa flexed her bad left arm out of habit, the familiar ache barely registering as she surveyed the destruction.
“Glenncailty was ready to fall down around us until Seamus O’Muircheartaigh—that’s the owner—decided to turn it into this fancy hotel a few years ago. There are stories about the castle, legends even, and I’d maybe heard that there was a doorway that had been bricked it.”
She’d read about the renovations on the website and had looked at the before pictures. “Why wasn’t this room opened when the castle was renovated?”
“For that you’d have to ask Seamus. I could only speculate.” Oren rocked back and forth on his heels, as if he was having trouble keeping from saying more.
“And what is your speculation?”
“That Seamus knew he was tempting fate herself by letting people in here and didn’t want to make it worse.”
Melissa frowned. “What do you mean?”
Oren looked at her. “Glenncailty is haunted.”
Melissa waited for the rest of the statement, or for him to laugh, but it appeared that he was quite serious.
“Someone saw a ghost?”
“Not someone, many people, and not just one ghost.”
Melissa nodded, accepting that, though she didn’t believe in ghosts.
“You think that the owner—Seamus, was it?—knew that there was something bad in there, and that opening it might cause there to be more ghosts.”
“He knew that no one would have done such a thing without reason. Or at least that’s what I think, but I’m sure I couldn’t say.”
“So why was it opened now?”
“Well, that part of the story I’m still working on, but I’ll tell you that Séan Donnovan, a farmer in the area, came to the castle and he’s the one who took it down.” Oren gestured to the remnants of plaster and wood on the floor.
“So this—” she gestured, “—was a wall erected to hide the stone and the door?”
“And did he say why he took it down?”
“He said a few things, but none of them made much sense.”
There was definitely something that Oren wasn’t telling her, but Melissa let it go for now. She was anxious to get into the room.
She took a few steps forward, until she was beside the partially open door, and set down her case. She wouldn’t take it inside, so as to minimize her impact to the scene—plus, that freed up her good right hand. “As far as the police are concerned, what needs to happen?”
“We need to know what we’re looking at. If it’s something natural or something unnatural.”
“You mean how they died.”
“Yes, and we need to know how old the bodies…bones are.”
“Are you prepared for this to become a police matter if they’re more recent than you think?”
“There’s plenty of sadness in our history, and so if the bones are very old, they’ll be blessed and buried, no matter how they died. If they’re recent, we’ll open an investigation.”
From the tone of his voice, it was clear that he didn’t want to open an investigation. Squatting, she opened her case and took out a small, lightweight torch.
“I don’t want to disappoint you, but I may not be able to give you a clear answer as to date of death based only on the skeletons. A human decomposes down to the bone at any point between a few months to a year after death. We can use teeth for radio carbon dating, but that’s only accurate for remains older than 500 years and anyone alive after 1955, because the radiocarbon levels worldwide doubled around then due to nuclear testing.
“So if your remains are between, say, seventy and 500 years old, carbon-14 won’t work.”
“Ah, well then.” Oren rubbed the side of his nose.
“Don’t give up yet,” Melissa said as she pulled on gloves and took a mask out of its plastic package. “I’ll gather samples for other tests that might be able to tell us more about when they lived rather than died. We’ll test for polonium-201 and uranium-243. I’ll need you to take the samples to Dublin. The National Museum has agreed to test them, though it may take a while.”
“But they said they didn’t have time for this case.”
“Don’t worry, Sergeant, they know they’re coming.” She’d had to name-drop like mad and call in a few favors, but she’d gotten the museum to agree to run tests.
“So you think you’ll be able to tell me something?” He was taking notes as she spoke, and Melissa had worked with enough law enforcement or military personnel to know that while they might not always understand what she was saying, they liked to put it all into reports.
“With the trace element tests I should be able to at least date the remains to before or after 1900. Anything more precise than that and we’ll be using forensic archeology, not anthropology, because we’ll use the context and artifacts to date, rather than the bones alone.”
Oren grinned. “So you will give me a date.”
“Yes, I will, but it will be an educated guess, based on multiple factors,” she warned.
“How about I put down that you will give me a date?”
Melissa gave in, now anxious to get started. She put the mask on. “Sergeant, are you joining me?” she asked, voice muffled.
“No, I’ve seen enough for now.” He stopped outside the door, clearly reluctant to go in. “If you need anything or feel anything strange, I want you to call out.”
“Thank you, but I doubt that will be necessary.”
Torch in her left hand, camera in her right, Melissa went in.
She’d set the camera to record. It had a function that would allow her to pull good quality stills from the video. If she were lucky, she’d be able to produce a 3D rendering of the room. She’d purchased several software programs that did renderings after seeing a presentation on the process at conference, but as of yet had only used it a few times.
She was thinking about that—the photos, the modeling, what she would do with the bones—as she stepped over the threshold.
Those thoughts died away as she looked around.
How terribly, terribly sad.
It was a large, bright room, with windows on three walls. The clouds had parted and the setting sun lit the room, but even the golden light couldn’t hide the destruction and sadness here. The walls weren’t exposed stone. They sported what had once been white wainscoting and pale blue patterned wallpaper. The furniture was Victorian in style and well made, though the room was a mess. Only a few pieces were upright, and many looked broken.
The air in the room was close and smelled of decay and dust. There were bits of rotted cloth and broken lumber carpeting the wood floors. Melissa was glad for the mask.
A modest four-poster bed sat near the door on the right-hand wall. On the other side of that, within arms-reach of the bed, was a lovely wood crib. Tattered lace was draped over the railings and dust coated it, but the delicate lines of the wood indicated that it was bought for a child who was loved.
Melissa had seen shocking things, horrifying things, and even disgusting things, but this abandoned nursery was the saddest. At first glance it was melancholy rather than gruesome. Or at least it would have been if she didn’t already know there were bodies in here.
There were other, smaller beds on the other side of the crib. The larger bed must have been for the nurse. Shredded white cloth hung from the ceiling over each bed—the remnants of pretty canopies. The scrolled sleigh-style bed frames were beautiful. The mattresses were pulled off, half fallen to the floor, and one was ripped open and leaking horse hair.
The walls were decorated with framed panes of glass with pressed flowers between them, shadow boxes opaque with dust, and delicate illustrations of Bible stories suitable for a nursery—Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the whale, and Christ kneeling among children.
A tipped-over rocking horse lay on a rug in the center of the room. A small table waited there, a vase of long-dead flowers sitting atop it, strangely untouched by the chaos around it.
Across from the beds was a fireplace. It was massive and made of heavy stone, more in keeping with the original structure than this Victorian decor. A fireplace screen was half fallen over, the glass insets broken out.
Beyond the little play area there was a swath of clean floor. A path in the dust and debris showed the dark wood of the floor and led from near the beds across the room to beside the fireplace. Melissa flicked on her torch, examining the clear area. Dark brown dots stained the wood. She crouched and examined them. Without testing there was no way to know what it was, and even that may prove inconclusive.
The beam of her torch followed the path toward the fireplace. Drops and smears of dark brown marked the wood, ending in one larger, massive stain. Beside it was a perfect handprint.
Melissa blew out a breath.
She was willing to make an educated guess that the stains on the floor were blood, and that whoever had been bleeding staggered to this point before dropping or being knocked to the ground.
Melissa held the torch between her shoulder and chin, transferred the camera to her left hand and carefully lay her gloved palm over the handprint to gauge its size. The hand was smaller than hers, but not by much. Given historical skeletal sizing, it was fair to say the handprint could have been made either by a woman or a pubescent male.
There was a thick trail leading away from the main pool of blood. Walking in a crouch, Melissa followed the trail, identifying a second handprint, the lines smudged as if the hand had slid sideways.
At the end of the trail, half-hidden by a mounded blanket, were the bodies. Straightening to her full height, Melissa surveyed them.
Three skulls, three bodies—one adult, one juvenile and one infant. The adult skeleton wasn’t fully visible, as it was covered in bits of stained green fabric. The garment was ripped or torn, so ribs and bits of arm bone and pelvis were visible.
Both the juvenile and infant wore white night dresses, which obscured all but the skull, hands and feet.
Melissa had seen enough for now. She knew what she was dealing with and could start on the actual examination in the morning. After getting a close up of each skull and the adult’s pelvic bone, she turned and headed for the door.
Oren was leaning against a wall, his chin dropped to his chest.
He looked up. “Done so soon?”
“Barely begun, but at this time I can definitively tell you that it’s three bodies. Based on the pelvic bone and the less pronounced brow of the skull, one is an adult female. The smaller two are a juvenile approximately age nine and an infant, no older than six months.”
“That’s terrible.” He shook his head. “Terrible isn’t the word. The poor children. And how did they die?”
“I’m not prepared to say until I clean the bones, but right now my best guess is that the adult’s death wasn’t natural.”
Oren shook his head glumly. “I was afraid of that. And the age?”
“Based on environmental and context evidence, I’d say they died sometime between 1790 and 1860. And even that is only an estimate and could change.”
“That’s good enough. They’re at least 140 years old, too old to be a real police matter.”
“And too young to involve the museum.” Melissa pulled off her mask and closed the door to the nursery before removing her gloves. “I’ll get you more information as soon as I can, Detective Sergeant.”
“I’m plenty happy for now.” Together they took the stairs to the first floor. Melissa pulled out the key Sorcha had given her. She opened the door to her room and set her case inside.
Oren was looking at her in alarm. “You’re staying here, just below that?” He jerked his head at the ceiling.
“I’ve stayed in far worse places.” She was more tired than she’d realized, and though it was still early, she wanted to lie down for a few hours. Then she’d get her bags, write up her notes and email off some photos to people who might be able to help her. “And they’re beyond hurting now. I’m sure they won’t mind if I stay.”
“It’s not you hurting them that I’m worried about.”
Rolling his shoulders, Tristan pulled the bandanna from his forehead and scrubbed his scalp with his fingertips. It had been a good dinner service. The specials had sold out early, and one of the newer chefs had acquitted herself well. It had taken nearly two years, but now the kitchen was running the way he wanted and was truly his.
His dream had been a restaurant of his own in Paris, but for now a restaurant in this pretty part of Ireland would do, at least until he figured out where he’d go next, since Paris was not an option.
He said goodnight to the chefs working clean up, confident that they would have the kitchen spotless and ready before he arrived tomorrow. Though he had shared office space in another part of the hotel, he preferred to keep his things here, where his staff did. Going to the back wall, he stripped off his chef’s coat and put it in the bin to be laundered by the same company that processed the linens. Pulling the bin labeled “Tristan” from one of the shelves that served as makeshift lockers, he retrieved his jacket, scarf, wallet and keys.
Once he was ready for the street, he said one final goodbye and slipped out through the restaurant. It was quicker to exit out the kitchen’s side door into the gardens and take the path that led around the pub to the parking lot, but if the volume of orders was any indication, the pub was plenty busy tonight, and he didn’t want to deal with the noise and people right now. He made his way to the foyer, nodding to the sleepy-looking evening clerk who sat behind the antique registration desk.
Sorcha, the guest relations manager, appeared from the hallway on the other side of the foyer. She was pulling on a jacket and Tristan waited, opening the heavy front door for her.
“Thank you, Tristan. How was dinner service?”
“Bien. The specials did well, and wine service was up.”
“That’s wonderful, did the curry…”
Her voice trailed off and Tristan followed her gaze. At the foot of the steps was Glenncailty’s long curved drive, which led past the front door to the parking area. On the other side of the drive was a wild garden of roses, tall grass and old trees. It was made to look as if the forest that surrounded the castle came right up to the front door, though in reality the area was maintained by the gardener.
There was a pretty stone bench just across from the steps. Sitting on it was Séan Donnovan. Tristan looked between the beautiful redhead beside him and the strong, quiet farmer who raised the beef and lamb he served in the restaurant.
It was painfully obvious that Séan was madly in love with Sorcha.
At least it was obvious to Tristan.
Hanging back a step, Tristan grinned and winked at Séan. The other man looked at him briefly before transferring his attention back to Sorcha. It was probably Tristan’s imagination, but he thought Séan blushed.
Moving as quietly as possible, he peeled away from Sorcha and headed for the parking lot. He was tempted to stay, to see if there was something he could do to push the two stubborn Irish people into each other’s arms. It had been painful watching Séan pine after Sorcha for the past few years.
And speaking of stubborn…
The pretty blonde doctor from earlier was walking out of the parking area toward him, a large pack on her back and a smaller bag held in her right hand. Her face was more serious than it had been earlier, with a small line of worry or confusion between her brows. Tristan wanted to see her smile or laugh, as she had earlier. Anticipation had him quickening his step as he moved to intercept her.
“You’re here to stay? I will put a lock on my kitchen doors.”
She looked up at his words. Her hair was silvery in the moonlight, her face a study in cool blue tones.
“Chef Tristan. I must thank you again, your food was exceptional.”
“Bien sur. Next time come when the restaurant is open and I will show you what I can really do.”
“I’ll do that.”
“And soon, it seems.” He gestured to the bags she carried.
“Yes, I’ll be staying through the duration of my examination and testing.”
Tristan nodded. “The bones.” It seemed hard to believe that such a pretty woman had such a sad job, but there was strength in her, and intelligence so fierce it practically radiated off her. “You’ve been to see them?”
“Yes, have you?”
“No. I do not need to see them.”
“That’s surprising.” She started walking toward the castle. Tristan considered stopping her to give Séan and Sorcha time, but it was late and she was probably tired. Instead he turned around and walked with her. He took the bag she held in her right hand.
“You’re welcome. Why do you think it’s surprising I don’t want to see the bones?”
“Most people are curious about human remains. It’s natural—expected, even. I’d assumed that despite the police—I mean, Garda—presence, most people who worked here would have snuck in at some point.”
“Some did,” Tristan said with a shrug. As they neared the front doors, there was no sign of Sorcha or Séan. “I care nothing for bones. All of Paris rests on bones.”
“That’s very true, and has always been an interesting anthropological study.”
“I’ve been in the catacomb passages many times with my…” Tristan forced a smile. “When I was young and foolish.”
“But you didn’t sneak in here.”
“What did they say they saw?” she asked. “The people who went in.”
“A mother and her children.”
“A very good guess, one I’d say is possible, and maybe even probable.”
“C’est vrai?” Tristan shook his head. “I am sorry for them.”
“Yes, it’s tragic, but they are at peace.”
“Really?” Tristan opened the door for her. She nodded in thanks as she entered. “How do you know they are at peace?”
“Because they’re dead and have been for at least 140 years.”
“Death is no guarantee of peace.”
She stopped in her tracks and looked at him. “Of course it is.”
Tristan smiled. “And who told you that?”
“No one told me. I don’t need to be told that once the body dies any consciousness or personhood dies with it. There is no more pain, no more suffering.”
“Life and death are not so simple as that. The soul is greater than both.”
She blinked several times. “You actually believe that.”
“And do you believe in ghosts?”
“Believe in them?” He considered her question.
Ghosts were very real, and this place was most definitely haunted.
“I do not ‘believe in’ them,” he said. She smiled a little and started walking again, headed for the west wing. “I know they are real.”
“For goodness sake,” she said on a sigh.
“I take it you do not ‘believe’.”
“No, I do not. Let me clarify—I will not. I’ve seen bones marked by the suffering of life, picked pieces of people from pits where they’d been thrown like garbage. Putting aside the fact that ghosts have no basis in science, I refuse to believe that death didn’t bring an end to that suffering.”
Tristan, who’d been walking beside her, slowed his pace, watching her pull ahead as they moved through the covered hallway between the main and west wings. Who was she that she’d done these things, seen these things? He’d assumed she was some professor or academic. There’d been grim conviction in her voice, as if she needed her words to be true.
He ran to catch up.
“I’m sorry, sometimes the things I say do not translate well to English. I’m sure you are right, death ends all suffering.”
There were two big lies in there—he’d taken English since he was five and was a fluent speaker.
The second lie became horrifyingly apparent when they entered the west wing.
A woman stood at the bottom of the stairs. She was only a pale outline the color of parchment paper, but he could just make out the hint of the chains that draped her and of the bucket she held in one hand. At the far end of the hall there was another woman, who seemed to be wearing a long dress, her hair piled up on top of her head. A massive ghost dog prowled down the hall toward him.
One by one Tristan looked at each ghost, acknowledging it. Their images wavered, as if they were trying to gather the power or strength to interact with him.
But nothing happened. The ghosts faded away.
Tristan looked over his shoulder. There was still one ghostly outline there, but this one’s features were familiar. The ghost smiled slightly at Tristan, then looked at Melissa, who was unlocking her door, before looking back to Tristan. That was odd, he didn’t normally acknowledge the presence of any other live people.
“Merci, mon frère,” Tristan whispered.
The ghost of his brother smiled before he too faded away.
* * * *
Melissa was up before dawn. She checked her urge to jump into action, instead taking time to run through her physical therapy exercises, using a bottle of water since she didn’t have a soup can. Her arm wasn’t as sore as she thought it would be after yesterday’s activities.
She took a quick shower, braiding her hair to keep it out of the way. It was just past seven when she left her room, making her way up to the second floor of the west wing. Before she entered, she put on a protective suit and gloves. Though she’d done an initial examination with minimal protective gear, today she intended to be very by-the-book. The reality was that she rarely got to take the kind of precautions or time that she’d like to. In the quiet dawn light, the scene before her was almost peaceful. She knew most people wouldn’t see it that way—the once-pretty room, a scene of destruction around the bones that lay in a pool of shadow, was not most people’s idea of peace.
But for Melissa it was. Now that the first wave of emotion was gone—the sadness she’d felt yesterday—she could view this place objectively. The bones were just bits of carbon—the last remains of a collection of biological and chemical elements that made up the human body. When that body stopped functioning, the consciousness ceased to exist. Its exit was instantaneous, while the body lingered, slowly breaking apart into chemicals and organic compounds.
Humming to herself, Melissa took out her camera and did another complete video of the scene. When she was satisfied that she had a good record, she carefully cleared away the area around the bodies. She shifted broken furniture, moved bits of glass and pushed aside tattered fabric that crumbled at the slightest touch.
She knelt beside the bones of the woman—enough of the pelvis was visible that she was sure it was female—though the green dress she’d died in made that identification fairly obvious.
Taking out a tarp, tissues and some acid-free paper, Melissa laid the tarp on the ground and set up panels of tissue before she started removing the dress. There were slashes and rips edged in black—old blood. Starting at the hem, she cut the fabric up each side, then started removing the front of the dress in sections.
It was stuck to the bones in several places. When gentle tugging didn’t remove the fabric from the femur, she moved on. When the skeleton was revealed, the bones lying in perfect order, Melissa stopped for more photos. The back of the dress was nearly all black, dyed and glued to the bones by the slurry of liquid the body released post-death and during decomposition.
When she was satisfied that she had enough photos, Melissa moved on to the other bodies, repeating the process of removing the upper layer of fabric and then photographing.
It wasn’t until she removed the infant’s long dress-style garment and saw the diaper still wrapped around the pelvis that her heart clenched.
“You were loved.” Seeing the care with which the baby was dressed made it more difficult to see the remains as merely physical remnants of life instead of a baby. Melissa leaned forward, peering at the infant’s neck bones. “Maybe I was wrong.”
There was damage to the base of the skull and vertebrae C1 and C2. The infant’s neck was broken—he had been strangled.
Melissa finished pulling away the clothing. She laid the pieces of the garments out on the acid-free paper then carefully added more tissue and thin padding before folding the packets up, labeling them and putting them to the side.
She needed to get a better look at the bones, but the only way to do that was to strip and clean them.
Though she’d brought some equipment, she hadn’t brought bins. Rising, she flexed her left arm, which was starting to ache. She was surprised to see that she’d been working for nearly three hours.
She stripped off her protective suit at the door, then set up a red biohazard trash bag by the door, dropping her gloves into it. She needed bins for the bodies and boiling water.
Stopping by her room long enough to plug in her camera, Melissa then made her way to the Glenncailty kitchen.
* * * *
Tristan stared at the pot of water on the stove.
“Who did this?”
“None of us did, Chef,” the rôtisseur answered. “I was in the garden for ten minutes—it must have happened then.”
“While you were picking herbs, someone came in here, dumped out the bread and put a pot of water on the stove?”
The chefs looked nervously at each other, then ducked their heads, going back to their various tasks with a single-minded determination that would be admirable if it wasn’t fueled by desire not to face Tristan’s anger. Tristan occasionally had trouble keeping a lid on his emotions. If he was angry or frustrated, he saw no reason not to express those feelings, but it seemed to freak out the Irish.
Taking a deep breath, Tristan exhaled. “You think the ghosts did this?”
The words were faint, echoing slightly. Tristan waved his hand to the side, ignoring his brother’s amused comment.
“No, Chef,” several of his staff murmured.
“Is there a vandal in my kitchen?” he asked the room.
Jim, the friturier or “fry chef” as the inelegant called him, looked up from where he was cutting potatoes. “Maybe, Chef. Do you want me to call Sorcha?”
Tristan waved his hand again. Hopefully Sorcha was still with Séan Donnovan—James, the butcher, had made the meat delivery this morning, not Séan, which Tristan saw as a hopeful sign.
“She’s not working right now. She stopped by this morning and asked me to put together some breakfast to-go.” The pastry chef opened the oven doors and slid in a tray of tart cups.
“Bien.” Hopefully she was sharing breakfast with Séan. “We will deal with this ourselves.” He turned back to the large pot of water. Someone had snuck into the kitchen, dumped the fresh-baked bread out of the large plastic bins they kept it in and put his largest stock pot on to boil.
“Perhaps the servers have lost their minds and decided to interfere with my kitchen.” Stripping off his apron, Tristan went to the staircase that led down to the underground hallway that connected the kitchen and the pub. As he descended, he heard someone say, “God help them, the poor bastards.”
A quick interrogation of the bartenders and servers who were prepping the pub revealed nothing. When he was satisfied that no one was lying to him, Tristan exited through the pub’s front doors. The morning light was bright after the dim interior. Holding his hand up to shield his eyes, he stepped away from the building, letting the sunlight sink through his clothes to his skin.
“Give up already?”
Tristan looked over his shoulder at the shimmering outline of a figure that stood there. His brother’s ghost was barely visible in the sunlight.
“No, just thinking.”
“Is it cold here?” his brother asked.
“Only a bit colder than Paris.”
Tristan crossed the drive and took a seat on the stone bench across from the main doors. Once in the shadow of the trees, his brother was much more visible. He wore the clothes he’d died in—designer jeans and a trim button-down shirt. Jacques had always been a stylish dresser.
“I know who did it.” Jacques grinned.
“And you won’t tell me,” Tristan grumbled. His brother was no more helpful dead than he had been alive.
Tristan rolled his eyes, ready to say something more. A car came around the corner, following the drive to the parking area. Tristan closed his mouth, waving casually.
Jacques looked sad. “You don’t want them to know you’re talking to me.”
“They can’t know about you. We talked about this, mon frère.” Tristan hated the look on his brother’s face. There had been such sadness in Jacques when he was alive. Tristan’s brother had been brilliant, funny, mischievous and troubled. Nothing had changed after his death.
“It can’t be like in Paris.”
“No, it can’t be like in Paris,” Tristan agreed. He didn’t like to think about what had happened, what he’d done, after his brother’s death.
Morning light drenched the stones of the castle, making them pale, pearly gray. The glass of the hallways that connected the east and west wings to the main castle sparkled. The east wing was coming alive as the pub opened for those who wanted an early lunch. Above it, a few of the hotel rooms had the windows thrown open. Though the castle was climate controlled, the breeze carried the scent of the glen, and it was hard to resist letting that sweet smell in.
A flash of something dark caught Tristan’s eye. A figure walked between the now-closed west wing and the main castle. For a moment, Tristan assumed it was one of the many ghosts that haunted this place, but it was moving too fast and was strangely bulky. Tristan narrowed his eyes and caught a glimpse of blonde hair though the glass. It was the pretty English woman, the scientist, who seemed to be carrying something. Tristan snorted. She was probably looking for breakfast. If she thought she’d bully him into letting her eat in his restaurant before it opened for the evening, she was mistaken. It wouldn’t happen again.
Just before she passed into the main castle building, he saw that she was carrying large plastic tubs—the kind he kept bread in.
“Non,” he said, blinking. “She would not.”
Jacques laughed in delight. “Oui, oui.”
“Merde.” Tristan jumped up and raced for the front doors.
Kristina, a pretty blonde woman wearing a trim suit and gold nametag, was in the lobby at the registration desk. “Good morning, Chef Fontaine. How are—”
“The English woman?” Tristan said.
“Um, she went that way.” Kristina pointed toward the restaurant.
Tristan bolted down the hall, sighing in relief when he found the restaurant doors locked. As he was walking away, Kris opened the doors from the inside.
“Kris. Is the English woman here?”
His maître d’s lips thinned. “She knocked and demanded to be let in. At least she’s in the kitchen and not messing up my dining room.”
Tristan bolted into the restaurant and raced between the tables, leaving a startled Kris in his wake. He burst through the kitchen doors.
A scene of horror greeted him.
Melissa had commandeered the counter beside the gas range on which the pot was now boiling cheerfully. The missing bread tubs were neatly stacked on the floor. Heavy gloves, tongs, small round dishes and bags were laid out on the counter. A large sheet of plastic was draped over shelves at her back, creating a makeshift barrier between where she stood and the rest of the kitchen. Melissa lifted one of the bread tubs onto the counter and popped the top off.
“What are you doing?” Tristan shouted.
She didn’t even pause. Her gloved hands reached in to the tub and withdrew two long bones. She turned and lowered them into the pot.
There was a moment of stunned silence. The pastry chef whispered, “Are those human bones?” voicing what they were all thinking.
Tristan was shocked—not by the fact that she was making broth out of human bones, but by her audacity in invading his kitchen.
“You.” He stalked toward her, ignoring how pretty she looked with her hair pulled back and her trim body revealed in the simple jeans and long-sleeved T-shirt she wore. “You will take this out of my kitchen.”
“Don’t worry, I wiped everything down with alcohol first. I can put up more plastic sheeting. I’m not familiar with health code standards.”
“Health standards do not allow for the cooking of human remains in a kitchen.” Tristan motioned to Jim. “Get more plastic up. Throw away anything that is out on a counter and clean this place. Tell the pub we can’t take food orders for now, but don’t tell them why. We’ll have to start again.”
No one grumbled, despite that it meant they’d lost a morning’s work. Melissa didn’t even acknowledge the order. She dipped tongs into the water, lifted a bone out and then used long tweezers to pick at the tattered bits of black that dangled from the bone.
“Is that human flesh?” Tristan asked. He wasn’t squeamish—if time allowed, he’d prefer to kill and butcher the animals he cooked, just to assure himself of their treatment and quality—but there was something very disturbing about a human femur boiling in the pot he used to make soups.
“No, the flesh has been gone for years. This is the remains of the clothing they wore. The fabric is adhered to the bones. I need to clean them off in order to get a better look at them.” She took the clean, white leg bones out, laid them on the table and then picked the ribs out of the box, carefully setting them in the water.
“And why are you doing this in my kitchen?”
“I needed boiling water.”
“This is a kitchen, not a scientist’s lab.”
“There’s not a large difference in the basic set up.”
She still hadn’t looked at him, and seemed to have no idea how close he was to strangling her. “Non? We prepare food here. Food for people to eat. Dead things have no place in a kitchen.”
She paused, looked at him. “That’s stupid. The meat and vegetables you cook are all, by default, dead.”
“A dead cow is different than a dead person.”
“This isn’t really a dead person, it’s just their bones.”
Tristan sucked in a breath through his nose, then cursed in French.
Melissa took the rib bones out one by one, then said, “I’m not a crazy bitch.”
“You speak French.”
“Then I will apologize for my language.” He turned off the burner under the pot. “I’m sorry. Now, get out.”
“What are you doing?” She reached for the knob, but he kept his hand on it. She tugged at his wrist with her left hand.
“You cannot cook humans in my kitchen.”
“I’m not cooking humans. I’m sorry if it’s caused you trouble, but look, now it’s all sectioned off.” She motioned behind them where the other kitchen staff had used clamps and heavy plastic to isolate this wall of the kitchen.
“You soiled my bread, made me throw away a morning’s worth of food, and you took my best pot.”
“I set the bread neatly on a counter—you can still use it. These containers were perfect.”
“Perfect for bread.”
“I’ll be done in an hour, tops.”
“And you think people want to come here to eat food made in a place where a crazy scientist is cooking bones?”
“I guess crazy scientist is better than crazy bitch.”
“The common element is crazy.”
“I’m hardly crazy.”
“It’s true, she’s not.” Jacques peered over Tristan’s shoulder into the pot.
Tristan bit his lip to keep from responding to his brother. “This is a place of business. There’s an event this evening that we need to cook for.”
“You will take these bones and leave.”
“Then I will remove them, and you.” She was still tugging on his hand. He grabbed her left forearm, forcing her to release him.
Melissa hissed, right hand grabbing her left arm just above where he held her. Tristan released her, frowning.
“I did not mean to hurt you.” It was the second time she’d flinched when he touched her.
“She’s hurt,” Jacques said.
“I’m fine. Let me finish and then I’ll be out of your way.” The words were pushed out between her clenched teeth.
“What’s wrong with your arm?”
Tristan tsked. Taking her left hand in his, he gently pushed her sleeve up. Halfway up her forearm was the start of a horrible, thick scar. “Mon dieu,” he whispered when he had the sleeve up to her elbow. “What happened?”
Melissa was holding very still, watching him as he looked at her arm. Her face was shuttered. “I was hurt on my last job.”
“It’s a long story.”
“I don’t care. Tell me.”
“No, not now. If you won’t let me finish this here, I’ll need to take the bones and find another place to work.”
Tristan pulled her sleeve down. “Ask me.”
“Ask you what?”
He raised one brow. “This is my kitchen. Ask.”
She looked between the pot and him. “Chef Fontaine, may I please use your kitchen to do some work on the bones?”
“Seriously?” she said, face scrunched up with indignation.
He smiled. “Fine. You have already ruined this morning’s work. But you only have thirty minutes.”
“I can have it done in thirty minutes if you help me.”
Tristan looked into the pot—the water was murky, with bits of stuff floating in it. “You have an hour.” He turned the burner on.
“Thank you, Tristan.”
“You are welcome, Dr. Heavey.”
Rory Mac Gabhann burst into the shared office Tristan used to plan and place orders. “There’s a blonde woman cooking human bones in the kitchen.”
“Oui.” Tristan examined next week’s menu of modern takes on classic English and Irish dishes. Good, but boring. He needed to try something new.
“No, not ‘oui’. You’ve to say something more than that when I say someone is cooking human bones in your kitchen.”
“It’s the scientist Seamus hired to deal with the dead bodies from the secret room.” Maybe something classically French—duck à l’orange, perhaps.
Rory, the acting special events manager as long as Caera Cassidy was on leave, ran his hand through his hair. “But we have an event.”
“And the food will be ready.”
“You’re not going to cook the food while she’s doing that?”
“No. She has—” he looked at the clock, “—ten more minutes.”
“Are you going to ask her about her arm?” Jacques said. He was hovering half-in and half-out of the wall.
Rory frowned, looking around. “Did you…never mind. So you’re sure we’ll be okay for the event? We already had to move everyone out of their rooms in the west wing. I don’t want anything else to go wrong.” With Caera gone touring with her American boyfriend, Rory bore a heavy workload, but he was determined to do it alone and hadn’t let Elizabeth, the general manager, hire anyone else.
“Nothing else will go wrong. The food will be glorious.”
“I don’t think she believes in ghosts.” Jacques was clearly bored—he hated it when Tristan did paperwork, and didn’t care if Tristan was having a conversation with another live person.
Tristan bit down on the urge to tell Jacques to shut up.
Rory sat forward. “Do you hear something?”
Tristan’s head snapped up, his heart hammering in his chest. He examined the other man’s face. “Do you?” Could Rory hear Jacques?
Rory shook his head. “I’m imagining things. The mood around here is strange ever since Séan went nuts and took down the wall.”
Tristan still had trouble believing that the mild-mannered and quiet Séan, who seemed happier with his animals than with people and who rarely entered Glenncailty, had ripped down the wall hiding the bricked-over nursery door with his bare hands. From what Elizabeth had said, it seemed Séan had been possessed. Tristan knew ghosts were real, but possession?
“I’d better get back to work,” Rory said, rising.
“I will see you later,” Tristan said. After Rory left, Tristan turned to Jacques. “Could he hear you?”
Jacques was looking at the door. “I don’t know.”
* * * *
“Um, Chef Fontaine? She’s back.” The sous chef’s voice was tinged with alarm.
Tristan looked up from the tray of desserts he was putting the finishing touches on. They were nearly done with the event food and had done all the prep they could. Everything else was being cooked at food stations in front of the guests or started once the guests began arriving. Tristan himself was done after this. He did not enjoy working directly with the public. All in his world was back under his control. The pub’s lunch service was underway, and they’d changed up the dinner menu to reflect the morning’s loss of both food and time.
“Who is back?” he asked without looking up.
“The scientist—she’s cooking something again.”
Tristan’s head jerked up—he handed off the bag of white chocolate mousse. “I’ll deal with her.”
Pushing through the wall of plastic that they’d left up, he saw Melissa dripping something onto a scrap of fabric she held with tweezers. She touched the fabric to the flame of a lit burner. The fabric burned purple, letting off a truly horrifying smell. Tristan grabbed a towel and held it over his face before reaching up and turning the extractor fan on to max.
“What is that? It’s terrible.”
“Just needed to confirm something.” She smiled widely.
“It smells like rotten meat and old milk.”
“Oh yeah, sorry about that.”
The rest of the kitchen staff were coughing and turning on fans.
“Out, out!” Tristan shouted.
Melissa threw her supplies into a plastic box—was that a silverware caddy?—and hurried away.
“I’m not done with you,” he said, following her. “You cannot invade my kitchen.”
“I was only in there for two minutes.”
“And you stank up the place.”
“You could light a candle.”
Tristan felt ridiculous arguing with her as he followed her across the dining room, but the infuriating, pretty woman was not going to get away from him until she got a piece of his mind.
They stalked across the lobby, still arguing. Tristan followed her to the west wing.
“You called me Melissa before.”
“Melissa, stop and face me.”
She was halfway up the stairs when she turned. He was one step below her, bringing their faces even.
“You have classically Caucasian features.”
“Your face.” She touched his forehead, then his cheeks. “Caucasian.”
Tristan sucked in a breath—he wanted her. As soon as she touched him, the attraction he had for her, which he’d tried to mask under his irritation, roared to life.
She pulled her fingers back, looking uncertain, then turned and bolted up the stairs.
“I don’t think so,” he muttered.
* * * *
Melissa tried to ignore the butterflies in her belly. She shouldn’t have touched Tristan. The man was devastatingly handsome. It was ridiculous. No one should have such a well-balanced face, good body and sexy accent. She knew that her attraction to him was genetic—his features were nearly perfectly symmetrical, and he had the air of command and dominance that made him a desirable mating partner. Still, knowing why she found him so attractive didn’t lessen the feeling or account for her enjoyment in their verbal sparring matches. If she were being completely honest, she’d admit that she liked him being irritated at her—he was even sexier when he was annoyed.
As she stared down the hall, she saw two people at the entrance to the nursery room. She flipped from flustered to concerned—she didn’t want morbid tourists messing up the scene.
“Excuse me, what are you doing?”
“We are not done talking!” Tristan said as he followed her.
“Dr. Heavey.” As she got closer, Melissa realized that the female was Sorcha. “This is Séan Donnovan. We were able to go through some old records, and we think we know who the children are.”
“You do?” Melissa brushed by them, checking to be sure they hadn’t moved anything and deposited her box of samples on top of a tarp. “That may help answer some questions about who murdered them.”
“Murder?” Sorcha said in a thin voice.
“All of them were murdered? Even the children?” Séan asked. He had a thick Irish accent.
“Yes.” Melissa pulled out her laptop, which she’d brought up to the nursery so she wouldn’t have to keep running downstairs. “The adult female’s leg was broken shortly before death. Ribs and most of her phalanges were also broken, indicating some sort of aggressive physical altercation. The children both had fractures to the upper vertebrae. If they were older their hyoid bones would be broken.” Melissa paused, reluctant to say the words. It was so much easier to discuss bone trauma than it was to explain what that trauma meant in terms of human suffering. “They were strangled. Strangled with enough force that their necks broke.”
Sorcha whispered, “But, but he was only a baby.”
Melissa didn’t want to tell them how severe the marks were—it was enough they knew it was murder. The fact that the strangulation had been brutal wasn’t necessary for them to know. “Yes, it is a rather grim—”
“Stop,” Tristan said.
Tristan couldn’t bring himself to enter the room. His heart was pounding in his chest, his blood full of fire. Even in the hall he could feel the cold that emanated from the room. The sun had disappeared and raindrops splattered against the windows of the nursery. It was the first time he’d seen this hidden room, and it was worse than he could have imagined. Not just the real physical space, with its sad, broken pieces, but the cold, hate and sadness that saturated the air.
“Don’t. Move,” he told Séan, Sorcha and Melissa.
Séan grabbed Sorcha, holding her still. He didn’t question Tristan’s order.
“I told you already.” Melissa got to her feet. “I’m sorry about your kitchen.”
She stopped talking, both eyebrows going up. She looked around, then focused on Tristan.
“She can’t see them,” Jacques said.
“What is it?” Séan asked quietly.
“There are ghosts all around you,” Tristan answered.
“This is preposterous.” Melissa bent to her boxes. “You all need to leave, not because there are ghosts but because you’re destroying my context clues.”
“You don’t believe, but that doesn’t make the ghosts any less real,” Tristan told her. He was focusing on the people who were alive, trying not to see the ghosts that filled the room like dancers on a stage.
“Can’t you feel it?” Sorcha asked Melissa. “Look how dark it is, how cold.”
“That’s a good point.” Melissa looked around, then grabbed two work lights from the corner of the room. She fiddled with them, but they wouldn’t turn on. “The battery must have run down.”
“Tristan, what do you see?” Séan asked.
Now that he’d been asked directly, he had no choice but to look, to interpret. These weren’t just still, transparent figures. It was as if he were watching video clips on endless repeat. The room was full of moving figures, but they weren’t distinct people, rather the same few in different places, doing different things. The most common one was a redheaded woman in a green dress.
“There’s a man and a woman. They’re fighting,” he told the others. He watched as the male figure slapped the woman to the ground, then kicked her viciously.
“This is ridiculous,” Melissa said.
The beating continued, and though Tristan knew the events had happened long ago he winced. “He’s killing her. She cannot survive.”
“I…I saw it too,” Sorcha said, voice shaking. “When I touched the blood on the floor.”
Tristan looked at her. “You see it now?”
She watched with interest as the rest of them succumbed to a shared delusion.
“Séan,” Sorcha asked the bearded man who was holding her, “do you see anything, over there behind Melissa?”
Melissa looked over her shoulder. There was absolutely nothing there.
It was dark in the room now that it was seriously raining. The lights from the hall provided some illumination, but the shadows were long and eerie, so she could excuse the rest of them for imagining things. She did find it interesting that they were all “seeing” the same thing. It wasn’t far different from people who went to psychics and then convinced themselves of psychic power by reading in to every strange word the “psychic” said.
Séan and Sorcha ran for the door, knocking over a broken chair. Melissa gritted her teeth—there was no reason for them to be in here, making a mess.
Tristan stopped them at the door. “You cannot come out here,” he said to Séan. “He’s waiting.”
“I don’t know, but he’s waiting for you, reaching for you. He’s tried to enter the room, but he can’t. He’s waiting for you to come out.”
“It must be the man who possessed you before,” Sorcha said. “The brother.”
Melissa made her way over, not wanting to miss a word of this strange drama. “Whose brother?” she asked.
“There are old parish records at Séan’s house, because it used to be the parochial house.” Sorcha’s face, already pale, seemed nearly translucent. She was genuinely scared.
“We went through them,” Séan said, his voice low and lilting. “We found three boys who had no last names. In the parish records their births were there, but not their baptisms, and there was no father listed.”
Melissa frowned. “That’s unusual. I presume that the parish isn’t large, so it would be odd that the priest didn’t know the children’s origins.”
“They were the bastard children of the Lord of Glenncailty,” Séan said.
Melissa looked over her shoulder, then nodded. “That would make sense if they went to the local school, though usually the children of a landed and titled man, even if they were bastards, would have been taught by a private tutor. In this case, a tutor from England, since no Englishman would allow his children to be taught by an Irish person.”
“Glenncailty isn’t easy to get to, even today,” Sorcha said.
Melissa considered what they said, ignoring the way they were all twitching and staring suspiciously at the shadows. “So the records indicate that there were children who may have been the children of the English landlord. They were enrolled in the parochial school, though they were not baptized in that church. That supports the theory since the Lord of Glenncailty would have wanted them baptized in the Anglican church.”
“We found three names. There are only two children’s bodies,” Séan said.
“The infant is too young to be in the parochial record.”
“But that means there are two children unaccounted for,” Sorcha whispered.
“We’re missing bodies.” Melissa looked around, tensed. There was nothing worse than missing bodies. Though she didn’t put any sentimental value on them, she did believe that death deserved notice. Most of the time death could only be confirmed with a body. “We’ll need to do a full excavation of this room and—”
A strong gust knocked a branch into one of the windows. It shattered, and wet wind whipped around the room. The plastic box containing the infant fell to the floor, the little bones rolling out.
Sorcha, who until then had seemed relatively sane, ran toward the remains, knocking Melissa out of her way.
“I’m here, my sweet baby,” she said.
“Oh dear,” Melissa sighed. Some people were overcome when faced with death and sadness—it seemed that Sorcha was one of them.
“Your bastard father killed your brothers,” Sorcha mumbled. “I thought that I could protect my family—after all, he wouldn’t dare hurt them, not when I’d been so good to him, not when he loved me.” Sorcha’s accent had gotten so thick Melissa could barely understand her.
“Sorcha!” Séan picked her up, and she struggled, laughing maniacally. Melissa had some chloroform in her kit—if Sorcha didn’t calm down soon, she would use it.
Séan carried Sorcha toward the door. At the threshold, Tristan stopped him.
“No, don’t come out here. He’s waiting for you. Give her to me.”
Melissa was more than a little alarmed—it seemed Tristan was as wrapped up in the delusion as poor Sorcha was. There was no one in the hall, no reason Séan couldn’t leave.
Sorcha screamed, thrashing so much that she fell from Séan’s arms. She was ranting in Irish, the words coming so fast that though Melissa spoke a few words of the language, she couldn’t make out anything. Melissa ran to her, putting one hand on her head. “Hold still.” It was chloroform time.
“He can see them,” Sorcha said dreamily.
For a minute Melissa shivered—the atmosphere was getting to her. The wind howled through the broken window, the shadows wavered as the lights in the hall flickered. Sorcha, with her pale skin, waves of red hair and eerily distant stare, looked like the kind of woman you would expect to see whispering about ghosts while standing in the rain. The only thing she was missing was a billowing white dress.
“Tristan can see the ghosts.” Sorcha blinked and seemed to come back into herself. “God protect us.”
Tristan’s face was grim, deep furrows bracketing his mouth. “You see them?” he asked Sorcha.
“I did. I think I was inside her, the mother, or she was inside me.”
“We know.” Séan touched her arm. “You were…talking.”
“Did you understand her?” Melissa asked Séan. “I didn’t get it all.” Though she didn’t believe the other woman had been possessed, which is what Sorcha was implying, it was interesting.
“What did I say?” Sorcha asked.
It was Séan who answered. “You said…that you had to kill them, your children, to hurt him.”
Tears filled Sorcha’s eyes, and she nodded. “The father, the Lord of Glenncailty, killed the oldest boy because he looked and acted Irish. She was angry, so angry.” Sorcha rubbed her arms.
“He kills one child, she kills two, and then he kills her.” Tristan shook his head. “That pain, that rage… They are not ghosts.”
“I saw them, I felt them. What can they be if not ghosts?” Sorcha asked desperately.
The mother of all collective hallucinations. Melissa kept that theory to herself.
“Memories.” Tristan’s gaze scanned the room, and for a moment Melissa believed that he could see something. “They are memories so strong that they left a mark. Ghosts are souls, left wandering because they cannot leave. These are not true ghosts, they are moments of history that even time cannot erase.”
“We can’t…we can’t make them go away?” Sorcha asked.
“We need to leave, run.”
“I…can’t.” Tristan said, his voice filled with both horror and resignation.
Melissa had had enough. She wouldn’t let this go on any longer. Since Sorcha now seemed relatively normal, she went to Tristan. Taking his wrist in her right hand, she took his pulse—it was racing. Whatever he thought was going on, it was having a true physical effect on him. “All right, I believe you believe there’s something going on here.”
Tristan laughed, but it was a sad sound. “You don’t trust what you can’t see?”
“I’ve seen more dead bodies, graves and horrifying things than most people,” Melissa told him quietly. “Trust me, if there were ghosts, I’d know about it.”
It was time to end this. Leaving Tristan in the doorway, she went to her kit and pulled out a few things she always carried with her. “Ghosts, or memories, or whatever you want to call them, don’t exist, but people’s reactions are very real. That I can help with.” She took two road flares and an emergency horn out of the bottom of the kit.
“Most major religions have exorcism rituals,” she said. She’d found that explaining often helped people snap out of it. “They are called a variety of things. I’m not a cultural anthropologist, so I wouldn’t be able to tell you what the exact commonalities and differences are, but I know there are similar elements used in most. The first is fire.”
She popped the caps from the flares. There was a hiss and then red flame sputtered to life. She turned in a circle, moving slowly and solemnly. There was no mocking in what she did—her belief in the supernatural was non-existent. Her belief in the human mind and the need for ritual was ironclad.
“The second common element is sound.” Holding up the emergency beacon, she braced herself and pressed the button. The siren was so loud it was nearly physically painful. Sorcha and Séan both bolted from the room, hands clapped over their ears.
Melissa released the button. The sound stopped, the silence almost as deafening as the siren. She focused on Tristan.
“They’re gone,” he said. “That worked. The memories are gone.”
* * * *
They were avoiding her.
Melissa couldn’t blame them, but it still hurt. It had been two days, and she was almost done with the bones. Ever since they’d suffered from a collective delusion, Tristan and Sorcha had given her a wide berth. They were friendly when she saw them—Sorcha in the lobby and Tristan in the parking lot when he was on his way out to the car and she was on her way in again after a trip to Dublin for supplies.
She’d left a message with the front desk, asking Sorcha if she’d supply Melissa with the documents she and Séan had found. The papers had been waiting for her at the door to her room a few hours later. She had a meeting in the morning with Seamus O’Muircheartaigh, the owner of Glenncailty, and Elizabeth Jefferies, the general manager.
She’d give them a verbal report on what she knew, provide them with a written report, a CD of the 3D rendering she’d made, as well as all the photos she’d taken. The bones were neatly boxed up. Jurisdiction over them was up to Detective Sargent Oren, whom she’d called. He couldn’t be there for the meeting in the morning, but she’d agreed to forward him all of her findings.
Her back hurt from being bent over her computer, and her left forearm was aching from typing. The sun was just starting to set. Changing from slippers to socks and boots, she grabbed her jacket and headed out for a walk.
She took the exit at the end of the hall, following the path that led away from the castle deep into the gardens. They were expansive and a beautiful mix of manicured perfection and wild vegetation. Her purposeful walk slowed until she was simply wandering, occasionally touching the flowers she passed. The garden was banded on three sides by high stone walls, the fourth being the castle itself. Beyond the back wall of the castle there were several buildings, one of which she guessed was a church. When she ran across a gate in the wall, her curiosity got the better of her and she slipped through it. A pretty little church, its yard overgrown, was surrounded by tall grass. Beside it was a stone cottage with a low ironwork fence, the yard inside it neatly kept. There was a light on in the windows of the cottage.
Respecting the privacy of whoever lived there, she headed for the church. The wooden door was half-rotted, half-petrified. She poked her head in, looking at the cross that still hung on the wall. The wind picked up, cutting through the fabric of her pants. Melissa shivered and backed up, planning to return to the castle.
The ground beside the church caught her eye. Unlike the castle gardens, or even the area around the stone cottage, the land here was lumpy, the tall grass not enough to hide the tightly grouped mounds.
Melissa blew out a breath. Stepping carefully, she walked the area, drawing a topographical map in her mind. It was too uneven to be natural, especially in the floor of a valley. There was something under here.
One of her best friends and travel buddies was an archaeologist. She could scan a landscape and point out places where there was something under the soil—what to Melissa would look like a little hill or natural valley would, to her friend, scream out “dig me up!”
Melissa could do the same thing—with graveyards.
She picked the highest mound and started ripping up grass. It took her half an hour, and the light was nearly gone before she hit stone. Using her phone as a torch, Melissa looked at the small area she’d excavated. There was stone six inches under the soil—probably a gravestone that had been knocked over.
A forgotten graveyard wasn’t unheard of. The church beside it clearly wasn’t functioning anymore, meaning there was no one to care for or maintain the cemetery. Melissa touched the stone, running her fingers over it—part of it was smooth, the other part of it strangely rough. She brought her phone closer. There was a date, but it was so badly damaged she had trouble making it out. It looked like 1632, but she might be wrong. The space above that, where there should have been a name, had been hacked away.
“This isn’t forgotten,” she whispered into the wind. “It was desecrated.”
Shivering not with the cold but with horror at the realization, she stood. Beyond the wall the main and east wings of the castle were bright with light. A hidden room with bodies, a graveyard that had been desecrated and forgotten.
There was something black in the history of this place.
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