The adventure comes to a close as Abigail and her mate confront their foes on their own ground. Intrigue and danger lurk around every corner as they try to prove the guilt of their venerable hosts. Fortunately, they have Moray’s intelligence and Abigail’s bravery, but matters are complicated when plans are moved up. Time runs short before all comes crashing down and the world of the werewolves changes forever.
My life these last few weeks had been filled with more adventure and excitement than I ever dared dream, or feared, but I felt the time was coming when the daring portion of my life would come to an end. There was little to of such a thing from the view outside the carriage window.
Lord Moray, my husband and mate, and I were seated inside his carriage, and through the windows we glimpsed a passing countryside covered in soft, white snow. Winter was now fully upon the land of Scotland. The trees were ghostly images of their green selves, and the roads were either encased in ice or mixed the brown mud with the pure snow. The weak sun behind the gray clouds would set in three hours and bring night in its stead.
Though I was wrapped in many coverings of blankets and skins, the chill in the air made me shudder. Moray, or Ken, as I had come to call him, wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me close to his side. I leaned my head against his shoulder and sighed.
“Is it much farther?” I asked him.
He chuckled. I found the sound both vexing and adorable. “Not very far.”
“How far are we from Edinburgh?” I wondered.
“I would say we are a fifty miles,” he told me.
“It is a wonder they have so much influence to murder us from such a distance,” I commented.
Ken’s voice took on a more serious tone. “Influence travels as far as money allows, and the Laird and Lady Stewart have a great deal of wealth.”
It was to their home that we traveled on such a wintry day, and had for two dreary days. We had bidden our farewells to our friend, Caelan MacLain, and Ken’s servant, McKenna six days before. Our plan was to ingratiate ourselves into the household of the very people who sought to kill Ken for his wealth, and see what might come for proving their sins to the rest of the world.
“Is their wealth as great as yours?” I asked him.
He shook his head. “No. If it was I question whether they would have sought money so viciously.”
“But not foolishly,” I pointed out.
Ken leaned back against the cushioned leather and sighed. “No. They have not often been imprudent. We will be hard put to prove to the council our knowledge, but they may be more careless in their own domain, surrounded as they are by loyal servants.”
“And if we do not play our parts well, and arouse their suspicion?” I wondered.
He stared ahead and pursed his lips. “Then I hope God will be on our side.”
I shuddered. This was no mere matter of facing those who wished our deaths and forcing a confession. Ken glanced down at me and smiled.
“You needn’t fear your acting skills too much,” he assured me.
“I wish I had your faith in my abilities,” I returned.
“It will merely be a matter of forsaking your love for me,” he teased.
I frowned at him. “No easy matter when you stare at me so.”
“Would you rather I glare?” he suggested.
“I would rather McKenna were in my place,” I told him.
“Would you leave your mate to face death alone?” he pointed out.
I sighed and shook my head. “No, but must death be so terrifying?”
“You need only use that fear and channel it into your words against me,” he instructed me.
I opened my mouth to speak more of my doubts, but the carriage slowed. Ken released me and leaned out the window. His eyebrows crashed down.
“What is the matter?” I asked him.
“It seems we have arrived.”
I joined him at the window for my first glimpse of the abode of the Lord and Lady Stewart. Their abode was a large, square stone house with four floors. The front of the house was covered by a tall portico of columns that ended on either side with granite stairs. The grounds around the house were a myriad of circular garden beds that bordered both the home and the short gravel driveway. A small stable sat to the right of the house and abutted the driveway. Behind the house and to its left was a small, dark woods, and beyond that were many open fields punctuated by the occasional stone wall or wooden fence.
The right side of the grounds was fields for a short distance before the grass grew more wild and rocky. The ground disappeared over rounded hills, and only reappeared as crags of stone and wild grass in the distance. I studied the wilderness for a while before I shuddered and turned away.
“The moors have a strange aura around them,” Ken commented.
I glanced from the wilderness to him. “Is that what those are?”
He grimly nodded. “Aye. I would ask that you not venture onto them without me present. The fog from them can lead on to be lost, and there are other dangers.”
I was unable to ask what dangers before the carriage sidled up to the staircase on the left. Ken helped me out as our hosts hurried from the centered from doors. They strode across the portico and stopped at the head of the stairs.
“Laird Moray!” Lord Stewart exclaimed.
Ken smiled and bowed at the waist to him. “Good evening, my laird.”
“Moray, you rascal!” the lady scolded him as she hurried down the steps. She flew into his arms and tilted her head back to smile at him. “What has brought you to our doorstep?”
“A visit, if we may be so bold as to request one,” he explained.
“A visit? You did not write that you wished for one,” Lord Stewart commented as he came up behind his wife.
Ken released the lady and bowed his head. “I am sorry. To be perfectly honest, it was my wife who demanded we come.”
All eyes fell on me, and I fidgeted beneath such intense attention. “I am afraid it is true. I did wish to see Lady Stewart once more.”
“How sweet of you to miss me so!” the lady cooed as she enveloped me in a tight hug that showed off a hint of her werewolf strength. “She pulled me to arm’s length and looked me over. “And what a wonderful dress. Wherever did you find such beautiful fabric?”
“We have only just come from Edinburgh,” Ken told her.
Lady Stewart wrinkled her nose. “Edinburgh is such a dirty city. I would much prefer the country.”
“Except when you wish for new clothes yourself,” her husband spoke up.
She shot him a glare that informed me the pretended animosity show would still be performed. I had to admit their act was very impressive, and believable.
“A lady must have fine dresses if her friends and acquaintances have fine things,” the lady snapped at him.
Lord Stewart pursed his lips and frowned down his nose at her. “I only wish women were not such damn fools for such expensive fineries.”
Lady Stewart took my hand in her own and tugged me towards the steps. “And I wish men would not be so ignorant of the importance of status in clothes.”
We swept past the men, but not before I caught the lord’s response.
“Why did we ever get married, my laird?” he asked Ken.
“A question many men have asked them,” Ken returned.
Lady Stewart led me down the portico to the open front doors. I was swept into the lobby, a large, portrait-filled entrance with a few old tapestries, and up the stairs on the left to the second floor.
“I would show you the house, but as you can see my husband has a dreary sense of fashion,” she commented.
“It is very interesting,” I agreed as we rushed past ancient, weathered oak tables with thick legs.
The walls of the hall through which we hurried were paneled in a dark, depressing wood. The windows to our right were dark with age and I shivered at the breeze that swept through their leaky frames. Lady Stewart waved her free hand to the walls and windows as we passed.
“See in what prison I bear my unburden?” she bemoaned.
“It is rather gloomy,” I agreed.
We reached the last door on the second floor and the lady swept me inside. It was a deep but comfortable chamber with windows that faced the rear of the house. There was a tall, four-post bed, a large hearth, and a small table with two chairs. Rugs dampened the echoing of sound and warmed the feet from the chilly wood floors.
I noticed the grounds behind the house were as wild in appearance as the moor, and there were many gray mounds in the far distance just before the ground changed into fields that I assumed were piles of stones.
Lady Stewart seated herself in one of the chairs at the table and sighed. “You haven’t any clue how glad I am to see a smiling face. My husband has been nothing but bitter to me since our row at Castle Moray.”
I took a seat in the other chair and my hands fidgeted in my lap. “I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied.
“My dear Abigail, whatever is the matter? You look pale,” she commented.
I bit my lip and looked down at my lip. “I’m afraid our reason for coming is more than just a friendly visit. I. . .I broke the vial you gave to me.”
Lady Stewart stiffened and her eyes narrowed. “That was very careless of you, and that glass was very hard. How did it happen to break?” she sharply asked me.
I cringed. “I. . .I was careless of its packing in my purse, and when I stepped from the carriage it fell to the ground and broke atop a stone.”
She relaxed. “I see. What will you do now?” she wondered.
“I. . .I wish to have a new one,” I pleaded.
A smile slipped onto Lady Stewart’s lips and her eyes lit up with a strange sparkle. Never did I behold a more predatory look in a human face.
“Then you wish to join us?”