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Authors: Janet B. Taylor

Into the Dim (6 page)

BOOK: Into the Dim
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I realized I was just standing there, gaping at him like a moron, while his lips turned blue with cold.

“Oh.” I held out a hand. “Yeah, okay.”

He took it, pulling himself to his feet. Strong fingers squeezed mine as he bobbled, then steadied. My eyes were level with his chin. I focused on that, instead of his eyes.

Back on dry land, I noticed blood pulsing in a steady stream down his neck, staining the collar of his jacket. I hurried over to Ethel and retrieved a scarf I'd tied to her saddle.

“Here. You're bleeding.”

Looking up into his odd eyes, once again the disturbing sensation of familiarity rolled over me. When I stumbled, Bran steadied me before I could tumble headlong into the river.

I was blinking too fast, trying to rid myself of the bizarre feeling, when he said, “I'm sorry, but did you tell me your name?”

“Hope,” I managed. “My . . . I mean, I'm Hope Walton. And I've got to go.” I eased out of his grip and quickly moved to untie Ethel's reins from the brush.

“I don't mean to be a bother,” he called, “but earlier you said you knew me from somewhere.” When I turned, he was close. Right beside me. “Do you?”

“Do I what?” I edged away, nervous at the intense look on his face.

“Know me.”

“No.” The word tasted like a lie, though I couldn't explain why. “But then again, I'm not one of those slutty St. Sebastian girls.”

He laughed out loud at that. Then groaned as he pressed the scarf against his head.

“Actually,” I said, “I just got here last night, so we couldn't have met. I-I've barely been out of my hometown before. See, it's my first time overseas. I'm here visiting my aunt, and . . .”

Shut up, Walton. Why are you babbling like an idiot to this stranger?

I shoved the reins over Ethel's head and tried to mount, but my knees felt shaky, and my wet foot slipped from the stirrup. Ethel took a nervous step, confused at my signals. Bran grabbed her bridle, and when I glanced over to thank him, I saw that his lingering smile had vanished.

“Your aunt,” he said flatly. “Yes, of course. Lady Lucinda Carlyle.”

“You know her?”

He didn't answer, and the blinding grin he turned on me seemed forced. I managed to make it onto Ethel's back, but I didn't leave.

“I want to thank you for rescuing me, Hope Walton,” Bran said. “And, no, I am not acquainted with your aunt. I only know that this is her land.” He reached up and tugged on a thin leather cord around his neck. A silver medallion popped out from beneath his collar, which he absently brushed against his lips. “Say, might I ask a favor? I realize rescuing me from certain death is enough of an imposition, but I should like to ask anyway.”

Still uneasy, I shrugged. “I guess?”

“Would you mind terribly keeping our running into each other today to yourself? You see, this is private property, and I should hate very much to be fined for trespassing.”

“I won't say anything.”

“Brilliant.” Bran pressed the wad of purple fabric to the side of his head with a hiss. “And. This might be utterly presumptuous of me, considering the circumstances,” he said, “but would you care to go for a proper ride sometime? I'm not a native, of course, but I've spent time in these parts. And I know some breathtaking spots you simply must see. Before you say no,” he said, raising a hand in oath, “I solemnly swear
not
to brain myself on a river rock. Or sneak photographs without your express permission.”

“Oh,” I said, “I don't . . .”

His rueful expression was so exaggerated, a giggle bubbled up from my chest. It felt creaky and rusty from disuse as it passed my lips.

A sudden crack of thunder split the sky and echoed down the valley toward us. Ethel quivered and pranced beneath me.

I glanced up to where Christopher Manor crouched at the head of the valley. Ominous gray clouds rolled in over the mountain behind it, pulsing with bursts of lightning. Unlit against the odd, stark light of a purpling dusk, the manor appeared dark and somehow menacing. I shivered as I turned back to Bran, the wind cold against my back.

Thunder rumbled again from the dark clouds, making Ethel strain against her bit, eager to be off. I wondered idly what Moira would think about me sneaking off to meet some trespassing stranger. I decided I didn't care.

“Okay,” I said. “That would be . . . I mean . . . yes, okay.”

This time, Bran's smile was genuine. “Then I shall look forward to it.
If
that cantankerous beast over there doesn't throw me again and break my neck . . .” He made a face at the gelding, now peacefully grazing several yards away. “I will be here the same time each afternoon.” He executed a funny, formal bow. Till then, Mistress Walton. I must say, it was surprisingly pleasant to meet you.” His lovely, mismatched eyes widened a bit. “Surprising considering the
situation
, I mean.”

I nodded, biting back a grin as the mare took off like a shot.

Under a crack of thunder, I thought I heard a shout. “See you soon, Hope Walton.”

The heavens opened as Ethel and I raced back toward the stable. Pebbles of rain drilled into me, stinging my face. My thighs chafed against the inside of damp jeans as I held on tight.

I should have been miserable. But I barely felt it.

Chapter 6

J
ET LAG BLOWS.

At least it was morning. Sort of, though according to the bedside clock it was hours till daylight. But Lucinda would be back today. I'd finally get some answers, which was good, 'cause I was really tired of all the secrecy.

The night before, Phoebe had obviously still been banished, since only Mac, Moira, and I shared the quiet dinner of lamb, curried peas, and something called Spotted Dick, which sounded horrifying but was actually a delicious, rich cake filled with currants and covered in a thick custard.

I'd expected to crash hard, to sleep off the wearying hours of flight and disappointment. My brain apparently had a different agenda, however, and I only managed a few fitful hours of sleep. As I flipped and flopped in the ridiculously lavish bed, my thoughts drifted to the boy from the river. Bran Cameron. I'd kept my promise. Hadn't told a soul about his trespassing. He wasn't hurting anyone, after all.

And he wants to see you again.
I twisted over and buried my face in the down pillow.
Let's just hope he forgets the way you stared like a moron when you saw his eyes.

What the hell was
that
about, anyway?

The antique bedframe creaked as I flopped back over. Staring up at the deep blue canopy, I wondered how long it had been since someone inspected the aging wood that supported all those yards of heavy velvet.

I scrambled out of the high bed as if it were on fire and wrenched on my ratty flannel bathrobe. I needed a good old, dry history book. That's just the ticket to take my mind off things.

As I crept downstairs in the quiet of predawn, a step groaned beneath my weight. When no one emerged to order me back to my room, I went on, keeping to the edge of the steps. Generations of grumpy-looking Carlyles and MacPhersons glared at me from their gilded frames as I descended.

“Problem?” I challenged a snooty matron with a poofy bun and squinty eyes. When she didn't answer, I flicked her painted nose. “That's what I thought.”

Only two lamps now illuminated the once-cheery library. Shutting the doors behind me, I reached for the nearest bookshelf, then froze.

Is that . . . music?

I skirted back and forth across the room, pausing occasionally to listen. Still barely audible, the music seemed to grow a bit louder as I weaved my way toward the rear wall. Next to a faded tapestry, I leaned in and placed my palm against a bare spot on the wall. Through the heavy wood paneling, I felt the definite thump of bass notes.

A puff of air that smelled like dirt and wet stone whiffed across my bare legs, ruffling the hanging's embroidered sheep in their woven pasture.

I grinned, and peeled the weighty fabric aside, revealing the hidden door behind it. It stood slightly ajar, held open by a bronze spaniel someone had placed in the crack as a doorstop. An enormous padlock splayed open and dangled from its hasp.

Please.
I prayed as I grasped the crystal doorknob.
Please don't let this be the room where they hide the deformed cannibal cousin. 'Cause it's just too damn early for that.

I jerked the door open to find . . . brooms. Nothing inside the deep closet but exactly what you'd expect. Brooms and mops and, oh—how thrilling—a shelf of dusting supplies. I let my head roll back to stare at the ceiling. Nothing but a stupid, ordinary broom closet.

Disgusted, I started to ease the door shut, then hesitated, certain my senses were playing tricks. Nope. The music was definitely louder here. And, at the very back corner, a thin strip of yellow marred the perfect darkness.

Using my new buddy “Brassy the Wonderdog,” I propped the door open, then reached in and tentatively poked at a slick, wooden broom handle. It didn't move. Didn't budge, in fact. I began to tug on one after the other, until I realized they were—each and every one—fastened to the back wall. Bolted, as if they were only a display.

Then I saw it. The stray cotton strand of an upside-down mop that was pinned, snagged in the seam of light. When I yanked hard on the knotted thread, the entire thing—brooms and all—opened noiselessly toward me. Music poured over me, washing up a set of wooden steps that led downward into the shadows.

I grinned. “Gotcha.”

One seemingly endless flight down, I emerged into what appeared to be the manor's cellar. The space was enormous. A low, barrel-vaulted ceiling was supported by a row of stone pillars that curved away into a shadowy darkness.

I shivered in the chill. My slippered feet whispered on the paving stones as I wove through the detritus left behind by two centuries of Carlyles and MacPhersons. Modern light fixtures mounted at intervals to the rough brick wall cast shadows on the swept-clean path. Muscles tense, I breathed in musty air and the rich, mineral smell of earth.

All right, I'm under the ground. Under. The. Ground. Those pillars probably hold the weight of the entire house on their shoulders. What if they collapse? What if it—

I shut that thought down before it could fully form. Forcing myself not to turn and flee back up the stairs, I moved along the wall, following the music. At a modern doorway, an odd, alien light filtered out from beneath, glowing green on the stones. It was quickly muted when I opened the unlocked door and a series of fluorescent bulbs buzzed to life overhead.

If the library was all dusty rugs, antique lamps, and the solace of old books and leather, this room was its polar opposite. The gleaming, white-tiled floor showed not a speck of dirt. Towering ultramodern glass-doored cabinets ran along the entire length of the left wall, directly across from three large, curtained booths.

Here, the music—that I now recognized as heavy metal—battered at my eardrums. Bracing my hands over my ears, I approached a department-store-quality mirror. Three pale, wild-haired reflections glared back at me.

Yeesh.

Snatching the tartan stretchie I found in the bathroom off my wrist, I raked my medusa curls back into a high pony­tail and searched for the source of the punishing sound.

The eerie glow had come from the far side of the room, where the biggest monitor I'd ever seen was mounted to the wall, connected to a series of massive computers. I quickly reached out and flipped down the volume on a set of huge desk speakers.

My ears rang in the glorious silence. Finally able to think straight, I stepped back and stared up. Hundreds of green lines streaked across the screen from one side to the other, all of them intersecting only in the very center. Every so often, a line flashed from green to red in a pattern I couldn't begin to interpret.

The curved desk was littered with empty cups and dirty dishes. An executive chair was pushed back as though someone had left in a hurry. The screen saver on the lone desktop monitor shifted. A slide show of the blue-haired Phoebe. First grinning and backlit by the sun. Then looking down, her gaze gone soft and sweet as she held a newborn lamb in her arms.

Either she liked to look at herself—a
lot
—or whoever ran this operation had a major thing for her. When I touched the mouse, her image faded to reveal an Excel spreadsheet with thousands of numerical notations.

A piece of paper was taped to the edge of a shelf just above the desktop. Handwritten on it were the words
“The universe is big. It's vast and complicated and ridiculous. And sometimes—very rarely—impossible things just happen and we call them miracles.”
The Doctor.

Doctor? My gaze flicked to the picture beside it that showed a plain-faced, floppy-haired guy sporting a bow tie. He didn't look like any doctor I'd ever heard of.

Shrugging, I checked out the other taped-up printouts. Pictures of Einstein. Steven Hawking. Isaac Newton. Leonardo da Vinci. In the center hung a large glossy photo of a young Nikola Tesla.

Alongside the wall monitor was a large rectangular black board. On it, digital lines of yellow text flipped by so fast, even I barely had time to commit them to memory.

 

Antwerp 111713.21

Istanbul 041099.12

Brighton 071817.07

Vienna 111938.18

Boston 011788.06

 

I studied the strange panel for a long moment. I'd seen one for the first time only two days before.

“An airport arrival and departure board?” I whispered, frowning as the letters unscrambled and replaced themselves with astounding speed. “Why? What is it tracking?”

Some of the lines changed more slowly than others. One, near the bottom, reappeared again and again.

BOOK: Into the Dim
13.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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