Monday, June 21, 2010

MY MEMORY PROJECT - First chapter of a book!

I am going out of my mind trying to download the first chapter of my historical romance novel, tentatively titled: ONE FOR SORROW. TWO FOR JOY.

ONE FOR SORROW. TWO FOR JOY

Copyright Anita Birt

CHAPTER ONE

Wales and Scotland, 1820

"Can we no' go into town, lass, I'm that weary, my bones ache. Let us find lodgings for the night, the constables will no' find us here."

Ailsa MacDonald tucked a wool blanket around her father's gaunt frame. He shivered. His eyes, bright with fever, searched hers.

"Tomorrow, father, the sun is well down the sky. Soon it will be dark and the rooms all taken. 'Tis a beautiful evening, we'll do better here in God's good fresh air than a stuffy room at an inn."

He sighed and rested a thin hand on Ailsa's arm. "What money do we have left?"

"Pennies, father, enough for a night or two's lodging. We'll stay awhile in the town until you're well enough to travel."

"Then we'll be away to Bristol and board a ship to..." His voice trailed away and his eyes closed.

Dreaming their dream, Ailsa thought. Their dream of taking ship to Canada to escape from the terror they had left behind in Scotland.

Sunlight filtered through the trees overhead and warmth of the July day lingered in the spinney where they'd sheltered. From a nearby field the scent of newly mown hay drifted on the summer air

Ailsa blinked back tears and gazed at the town across the river. Tomorrow they'd cross the bridge into Usk and seek help. Without nourishing food, her father would weaken further, except for a loaf of bread they had eaten nothing for two days.

He had forbidden her to spend the gold sovereign sewn into her jacket until they reached Bristol but soon she'd have to tell him their quest was hopeless. The sovereign would sustain them until he regained his health and she found employment.

Bending down she brushed a kiss across his cheek. "I'll be off to fetch something for supper, rest until I return." His eyes opened and Ailsa forced a smile. "I'll take my bundle with me. If there's no one about, I'll bathe in the river and wash off the dust from the road."

Her father nodded and raised his hand. "Away then and take your time. You're my bonny lass. I'm not so hungry I can't wait for you to bathe before fetching our supper."

Ailsa's heart sank into her shabby boots. If she was lucky, supper would be two or three eggs stolen from an unguarded coop or strawberries plucked from a farm wife's garden.

She hurried across the road and struck out along the path by the river. Walking quickly she left the town behind on the far side. At a bend in the river well out of sight of passersby on the road, Ailsa paused. A magpie screeched from the top of a nearby tree.

"One for sorrow," she murmured and glanced around hoping to see its mate.

Two for joy? It was a silly childish superstition. If joy were to come to her and her father it would not come from seeing two magpies at the same time, but she had wished for two and smiled at her foolishness.

Tempted to bathe before going on, she dropped to her knees on the river bank and peered into a quiet pool shaded by an overhanging willow. The river was in flood and she longed to strip off her worn clothing and slide into the water.

A flickering movement caught her eye. Salmon! She smothered a peal of laughter. Dame fortune had taken pity on her.

Elated at her discovery she studied the fish. It was a goodly size and would revive her father. Tonight they'd eat well and face the morrow with full stomachs.

A trout jumped farther out and sun-sparkled ripples disturbed the smooth surface of the water. Ailsa's reflection shimmered and stilled. Her dirt-smudged face stared up at her. A boy's scruffy cap hid her tightly braided hair.

Careful not to disturb the salmon with a sudden movement she crept backwards up the bank and wasting no time lest it swim away, shoved her shawl-wrapped bundle out of sight under a shrub. Thieves prowled everywhere. Long months on the road had taught her caution. Trust no one.

She dragged off her boots and socks, draped her shabby tweed jacket on a tree branch, hitched up her britches and tightened the frayed rope around her waist.

Shirtsleeves rolled above her elbows, she stretched face down on the bank and wriggled toward the river. At the pool, she anchored her legs and feet around the roots of the willow and hung head first over the riverbank.

She slithered her arms into the cold water. The river soon chilled her. Steadfastly ignoring the numbness creeping into her bones she fluttered her fingers in the crystal clear pool. The salmon approached to investigate.

"Thig thugam eisg mhoir," she whispered in Gaelic.

"Come big fish. Come for a nice wee guddle."

Ailsa curved her hand over the salmon and trailed her fingertips, butterfly-light, along its sides. Its tail fanned slowly, gills opened and closed.

"Now," she murmured and lightning quick thrust her fingers under the gills, flipped the fish clear of the water and landed it beside her.

Squirming away from the river with the salmon thrashing wildly in her hand, she inched up the bank to safety and sat down. Breathless, she dug her father's clasp knife from her pocket, flicked open the blade, slashed deep behind the gills and killed the fish. Blood spattered over her hands.

"What do you think you're doing, boy?" A loud bullying voice stunned Ailsa into shocked silence.

"I spoke to you, boy. Stealing fish, are you? Answer before I take my whip to you.

The man's heavy boot slammed into her ribs. Teeth clamped tight Ailsa scrambled to her feet and prayed he wouldn't see through her disguise. It had been her only protection on the long, difficult journey from Scotland.

Shoulders hunched, the salmon twitching in her hands, she glanced up at the man's dark, scowling face. His pale gray eyes bored into hers. Afraid to let him look too closely, Ailsa bowed her head. Heart thudding against her bruised ribs, knees shaking, she braved it out.

"I'm sorry, sir. I'm very hungry and didn't know this fish belonged to anyone."

"Hungry you may be but this stretch of the river belongs to Lord Rhadyr. He doesn't take kindly to thieving poachers stealing his salmon."

He seized her shirt. "Poaching is a crime in Wales, a very serious crime. I'll take the evidence to show his lordship. He'll thank me for this and then decide what to do with you." The man hefted the salmon and dropped it into a leather sack slung over his shoulder.

"Please sir, may I put on my boots?" She'd run, or jump in the river and swim across. She had to escape and return to her father.

"Be quick. I don't have all day."

Fearing another blow, Ailsa sat down to put on her socks and broken boots.

"Don't try any tricks." He picked up her knife, wiped it on his sleeve, sheathed the blade and and stuck it in his belt. "Stole this too, I wager, too good for the likes of you." He aimed another kick at her. The toe of his boot stabbed the end of her spine. Excruciating pain radiated up her back.

Frightened and dazed by his brutal kicks, Ailsa dragged on her socks and boots, jumped up and plucked her shabby jacket from the tree. The wet sleeves of her shirt clung to her arms as she thrust them into the rough jacket. Snatching up her bundle, she clutched it against her heaving chest.

The man's strong fingers gouged into her skin-and-bones shoulders as he half-led, half-dragged her along the river path. Leaving the river behind, they headed into a densely wooded forest. Weak from hunger and fatigue, Ailsa floundered beside him and fell.

He yanked her to her feet. "Stand up, boy. We've a way to go then you'll be for it. Off to the hulks for the likes of you and away to Australia on one of them convict ships with other thieving rogues."

Convict! Australia! Numb with pain, unable to think clearly, the hate-filled words swamped her senses. Stumbling along beside him she lost track of time. It was dark under the trees. Had night fallen?

As suddenly as they'd entered it they emerged from the forest. Ailsa blinked in the late afternoon sunlight. Ahead was a great sweep of lawn, magnificent formal gardens and a towering mansion that dominated the landscape. Transfixed, she stared at the building.

Two great wings angled away from a central core. Mullioned windows recessed into weathered stone walls reflected the last rays of the setting sun. Golden light shimmered on the glass like eyes empty of life. An ominous quiet loomed over the waning day.

Terrified at what faced her behind those forbidding walls, Ailsa fell to her knees. "Please, sir, don't make me go in there. Whip me and let me go. I'll never go near your river again."

He pulled her up and smacked the side of her head. Stunned from the blow, she fell against him. Tears spilled down her cheeks. With her free hand, she swiped them away with the sleeve of her jacket.

Don't cry. She told herself. Boys don't cry.

The man led her to the rear of the building and shoved her down on a bench beside a closed door.

"Dare to move and I'll have the dogs on you." He whistled and two huge mastiffs bounded across the cobblestone courtyard. He jabbed a finger at Ailsa. "See he stays there." Teeth bared the dogs growled deep in their throats. The man entered the house and closed the door.

Ailsa hugged her bundle, tucked her feet under the bench and some of her panic seeped away. The dangerous animals, stiff hackles ridged along their backs, didn't frighten her. She examined them under lowered lashes careful not to make them nervous with eye contact.

She relaxed, raised her head briefly and risked a smile. The huge dogs examined her. Ailsa breathed deeply and whispered. "I had a dog like you back home. He pretended to be fierce but really wasn't. He was gentle as a lamb just like you."

Her voice, lulling soft, calmed them. Their deep throated growls ceased. Their hackles flattened. Mindful not to alarm them Ailsa put out one hand, palm up, and leaned towards them.

"My name is Ailsa. I wish I knew yours then we'd be friends. That man caught me guddling a salmon. I'm sure no one would miss one fish. What do you think?"

The dogs cocked their heads seeming to puzzle over the question.

"I want you to lie down." Ailsa spoke firmly, raised her hand and signaled. "Lie down."

They flopped at her feet. Someone had trained them well. "That's much better, now I can pat you and we'll be friends."

"How lovely you are." She crooned and rubbed their shaggy heads. "I knew you weren't fierce. I could tell by your eyes but I have to go before that man comes back."

Ailsa stretched and stood. "Stay." She commanded. Tongues lolling, the dogs gazed at her and remained motionless.

The sound of boots rapping sharply on the cobblestones startled her. Frozen to the spot she watched a young man stride across the courtyard towards her. Fearing the worst, Ailsa cowered down on the bench and plucked nervously at the twine holding her bundle together.

The man was tall, taller than the other one, taller than her father. She spied a riding crop in his hand and icy shivers squeezed her chest. Head bent submissively she closed her eyes waiting for him to close in and strike her.

Ailsa's captor threw open the door. "Come here, you young ruffian. The master will see to you." He twisted her arm and dragged her off the bench.

Glowering at the animals lying at her feet, he lashed out with his boot. "Forgot what I told you. I'll fix that!" The dogs sprang out of reach and slunk off, whining.

"What is this about, Morgan? What has the boy done?"

Ailsa stared at the leather crop and the braided thongs swishing idly against shining black riding boots. Hands clenched, she waited dumbly for the blow to fall.

Morgan doffed his cap. "Caught him poaching salmon, milord. Your father will see to him. You know how strict he is about poaching. He'd sooner lose a pheasant or two than a salmon. Likely this rascal will go to the magistrate for sentencing."

The man in the shining boots spoke to Ailsa. "Look at me, lad. Have you been poaching?"

Fearing to disobey, she raised her head. His voice came from far away. From a distant place. It was gentle. Different from the other. Not loud or harsh.

His eyes held hers. Mesmerizing eyes. Above the open collar of his white shirt, his face and strongly muscled neck were deeply tanned. She forced herself to look away.

Timeless seconds passed. A familiar tingling swept up her spine. Ailsa dreaded the gift her great grandmother Elspeth MacDonald had bestowed on her. A fearful premonition overwhelmed her. She had to escape from this place. Away from this man whose dark eyes searched hers, in his questioning gaze danger lurked. Danger to her. Danger to him.

Conscious thought gave way to a future unfolding behind her eyes. In a brilliantly lighted ballroom she whirled around the floor in the arms of the dark-eyed man, laughing up at him but a menacing shadow edged the scene. Evil lurked there. Waiting for her.

Panic seized her. She struggled to breathe. What had she to do with this man?

"Didn't you hear, boy? Lord Colwyn spoke to you. Answer him!" Morgan wrenched her shoulder.

Ailsa winced and gulped in air. Pain shot through her bruised ribs. Eyes downcast, she nodded. "Yes sir, I stole a fish." She peeked up at him from under her cap. His mouth curved in a slight smile.

"Have the boy treated leniently, Morgan. There are plenty of salmon in the river." He rested his hand lightly on Ailsa's trembling shoulder. If he gazed into her eyes again he would surely see through her disguise.

"No more poaching, lad." He turned on his heel, walked a few paces, paused and turned back. "Speak to my father, Morgan. A warning is all the boy needs."

He tapped the riding crop on his boots, frowned slightly, studied Ailsa for several seconds then walked slowly to the whitewashed, stone buildings on the far side of the courtyard.

A glimmer of hope flickered in Ailsa's heart. The touch of Lord Colwyn's hand on her shoulder and his comforting words calmed her worst fears. Morgan pushed her into the house shut the door. The walls closed in.

"Warning indeed," he hissed through clenched teeth. "You'll not get away with poaching while I'm gamekeeper here."

He led her through a labyrinth of passageways. Mouth watering smells drifted through an open kitchen door. Ailsa's nose twitched. Hunger gnawed at her empty stomach.

A few steps past the kitchen, she glanced into a large pantry. Shelves were laden with earthenware crocks. On the floor close by a window baskets brimmed with fruits and vegetables. Hams hung from the ceiling alongside strings of onions and dried herbs.

Staggering in Morgan's tight-fisted grasp she tried desperately to fix an escape route in her mind but terror dimmed her memory. Trapped like an animal by the gamekeeper she was hopelessly lost.

Suddenly Morgan flung open a door. Ailsa paused at the threshold of a vast, lavishly appointed rectangular hall soaring two stories high. Cherubs draped in leafy marble adorned each corner. The last light of day filtered through the beveled glass of a vestibule door. Beyond it, a brass-studded outer door stood open leading to a wide terrace.

Morgan shook her. "Move! Lord Rhadyr wants a look at you before sending you to the magistrate."

Ailsa's footsteps echoed on the white and black marble floor. Opulence surrounded her. Rich tapestries draped the walls. Burnished sconces gleamed beside closed doors. In every sconce were fresh, unlit candles. A wide carpeted staircase swept up to the second floor.

A long-case clock chimed the half-hour its brass pendulum swinging back and forth marking time. Doomed by her crime Ailsa clattered across the floor. Out of harmony with the silvery chime of the clock her last few seconds of freedom ticked away.

Morgan knocked on a door, opened it with a flourish and shoved Ailsa ahead of him. Her broken boots tangled on the thick carpet and she stumbled into the presence of Lord Rhadyr. Rigid with fear, she struggled to her feet and faced the enemy.

CHAPTER ONE

Wales and Scotland, 1820

"Can we no' go into town, lass, I'm that weary, my bones ache. Let us find lodgings for the night, the constables will no' find us here."

Ailsa MacDonald tucked a wool blanket around her father's gaunt frame. He shivered. His eyes, bright with fever, searched hers.

"Tomorrow, father, the sun is well down the sky. Soon it will be dark and the rooms all taken. 'Tis a beautiful evening, we'll do better here in God's good fresh air than a stuffy room at an inn."

He sighed and rested a thin hand on Ailsa's arm. "What money do we have left?"

"Pennies, father, enough for a night or two's lodging. We'll stay awhile in the town until you're well enough to travel."

"Then we'll be away to Bristol and board a ship to..." His voice trailed away and his eyes closed.

Dreaming their dream, Ailsa thought. Their dream of taking ship to Canada to escape from the terror they had left behind in Scotland.

Sunlight filtered through the trees overhead and warmth of the July day lingered in the spinney where they'd sheltered. From a nearby field the scent of newly mown hay drifted on the summer air

Ailsa blinked back tears and gazed at the town across the river. Tomorrow they'd cross the bridge into Usk and seek help. Without nourishing food, her father would weaken further, except for a loaf of bread they had eaten nothing for two days.

He had forbidden her to spend the gold sovereign sewn into her jacket until they reached Bristol but soon she'd have to tell him their quest was hopeless. The sovereign would sustain them until he regained his health and she found employment.

Bending down she brushed a kiss across his cheek. "I'll be off to fetch something for supper, rest until I return." His eyes opened and Ailsa forced a smile. "I'll take my bundle with me. If there's no one about, I'll bathe in the river and wash off the dust from the road."

Her father nodded and raised his hand. "Away then and take your time. You're my bonny lass. I'm not so hungry I can't wait for you to bathe before fetching our supper."

Ailsa's heart sank into her shabby boots. If she was lucky, supper would be two or three eggs stolen from an unguarded coop or strawberries plucked from a farm wife's garden.

She hurried across the road and struck out along the path by the river. Walking quickly she left the town behind on the far side. At a bend in the river well out of sight of passersby on the road, Ailsa paused. A magpie screeched from the top of a nearby tree.

"One for sorrow," she murmured and glanced around hoping to see its mate.

Two for joy? It was a silly childish superstition. If joy were to come to her and her father it would not come from seeing two magpies at the same time, but she had wished for two and smiled at her foolishness.

Tempted to bathe before going on, she dropped to her knees on the river bank and peered into a quiet pool shaded by an overhanging willow. The river was in flood and she longed to strip off her worn clothing and slide into the water.

A flickering movement caught her eye. Salmon! She smothered a peal of laughter. Dame fortune had taken pity on her.

Elated at her discovery she studied the fish. It was a goodly size and would revive her father. Tonight they'd eat well and face the morrow with full stomachs.

A trout jumped farther out and sun-sparkled ripples disturbed the smooth surface of the water. Ailsa's reflection shimmered and stilled. Her dirt-smudged face stared up at her. A boy's scruffy cap hid her tightly braided hair.

Careful not to disturb the salmon with a sudden movement she crept backwards up the bank and wasting no time lest it swim away, shoved her shawl-wrapped bundle out of sight under a shrub. Thieves prowled everywhere. Long months on the road had taught her caution. Trust no one.

She dragged off her boots and socks, draped her shabby tweed jacket on a tree branch, hitched up her britches and tightened the frayed rope around her waist.

Shirtsleeves rolled above her elbows, she stretched face down on the bank and wriggled toward the river. At the pool, she anchored her legs and feet around the roots of the willow and hung head first over the riverbank.

She slithered her arms into the cold water. The river soon chilled her. Steadfastly ignoring the numbness creeping into her bones she fluttered her fingers in the crystal clear pool. The salmon approached to investigate.

"Thig thugam eisg mhoir," she whispered in Gaelic.

"Come big fish. Come for a nice wee guddle."

Ailsa curved her hand over the salmon and trailed her fingertips, butterfly-light, along its sides. Its tail fanned slowly, gills opened and closed.

"Now," she murmured and lightning quick thrust her fingers under the gills, flipped the fish clear of the water and landed it beside her.

Squirming away from the river with the salmon thrashing wildly in her hand, she inched up the bank to safety and sat down. Breathless, she dug her father's clasp knife from her pocket, flicked open the blade, slashed deep behind the gills and killed the fish. Blood spattered over her hands.

"What do you think you're doing, boy?" A loud bullying voice stunned Ailsa into shocked silence.

"I spoke to you, boy. Stealing fish, are you? Answer before I take my whip to you.

The man's heavy boot slammed into her ribs. Teeth clamped tight Ailsa scrambled to her feet and prayed he wouldn't see through her disguise. It had been her only protection on the long, difficult journey from Scotland.

Shoulders hunched, the salmon twitching in her hands, she glanced up at the man's dark, scowling face. His pale gray eyes bored into hers. Afraid to let him look too closely, Ailsa bowed her head. Heart thudding against her bruised ribs, knees shaking, she braved it out.

"I'm sorry, sir. I'm very hungry and didn't know this fish belonged to anyone."

"Hungry you may be but this stretch of the river belongs to Lord Rhadyr. He doesn't take kindly to thieving poachers stealing his salmon."

He seized her shirt. "Poaching is a crime in Wales, a very serious crime. I'll take the evidence to show his lordship. He'll thank me for this and then decide what to do with you." The man hefted the salmon and dropped it into a leather sack slung over his shoulder.

"Please sir, may I put on my boots?" She'd run, or jump in the river and swim across. She had to escape and return to her father.

"Be quick. I don't have all day."

Fearing another blow, Ailsa sat down to put on her socks and broken boots.

"Don't try any tricks." He picked up her knife, wiped it on his sleeve, sheathed the blade and and stuck it in his belt. "Stole this too, I wager, too good for the likes of you." He aimed another kick at her. The toe of his boot stabbed the end of her spine. Excruciating pain radiated up her back.

Frightened and dazed by his brutal kicks, Ailsa dragged on her socks and boots, jumped up and plucked her shabby jacket from the tree. The wet sleeves of her shirt clung to her arms as she thrust them into the rough jacket. Snatching up her bundle, she clutched it against her heaving chest.

The man's strong fingers gouged into her skin-and-bones shoulders as he half-led, half-dragged her along the river path. Leaving the river behind, they headed into a densely wooded forest. Weak from hunger and fatigue, Ailsa floundered beside him and fell.

He yanked her to her feet. "Stand up, boy. We've a way to go then you'll be for it. Off to the hulks for the likes of you and away to Australia on one of them convict ships with other thieving rogues."

Convict! Australia! Numb with pain, unable to think clearly, the hate-filled words swamped her senses. Stumbling along beside him she lost track of time. It was dark under the trees. Had night fallen?

As suddenly as they'd entered it they emerged from the forest. Ailsa blinked in the late afternoon sunlight. Ahead was a great sweep of lawn, magnificent formal gardens and a towering mansion that dominated the landscape. Transfixed, she stared at the building.

Two great wings angled away from a central core. Mullioned windows recessed into weathered stone walls reflected the last rays of the setting sun. Golden light shimmered on the glass like eyes empty of life. An ominous quiet loomed over the waning day.

Terrified at what faced her behind those forbidding walls, Ailsa fell to her knees. "Please, sir, don't make me go in there. Whip me and let me go. I'll never go near your river again."

He pulled her up and smacked the side of her head. Stunned from the blow, she fell against him. Tears spilled down her cheeks. With her free hand, she swiped them away with the sleeve of her jacket.

Don't cry. She told herself. Boys don't cry.

The man led her to the rear of the building and shoved her down on a bench beside a closed door.

"Dare to move and I'll have the dogs on you." He whistled and two huge mastiffs bounded across the cobblestone courtyard. He jabbed a finger at Ailsa. "See he stays there." Teeth bared the dogs growled deep in their throats. The man entered the house and closed the door.

Ailsa hugged her bundle, tucked her feet under the bench and some of her panic seeped away. The dangerous animals, stiff hackles ridged along their backs, didn't frighten her. She examined them under lowered lashes careful not to make them nervous with eye contact.

She relaxed, raised her head briefly and risked a smile. The huge dogs examined her. Ailsa breathed deeply and whispered. "I had a dog like you back home. He pretended to be fierce but really wasn't. He was gentle as a lamb just like you."

Her voice, lulling soft, calmed them. Their deep throated growls ceased. Their hackles flattened. Mindful not to alarm them Ailsa put out one hand, palm up, and leaned towards them.

"My name is Ailsa. I wish I knew yours then we'd be friends. That man caught me guddling a salmon. I'm sure no one would miss one fish. What do you think?"

The dogs cocked their heads seeming to puzzle over the question.

"I want you to lie down." Ailsa spoke firmly, raised her hand and signaled. "Lie down."

They flopped at her feet. Someone had trained them well. "That's much better, now I can pat you and we'll be friends."

"How lovely you are." She crooned and rubbed their shaggy heads. "I knew you weren't fierce. I could tell by your eyes but I have to go before that man comes back."

Ailsa stretched and stood. "Stay." She commanded. Tongues lolling, the dogs gazed at her and remained motionless.

The sound of boots rapping sharply on the cobblestones startled her. Frozen to the spot she watched a young man stride across the courtyard towards her. Fearing the worst, Ailsa cowered down on the bench and plucked nervously at the twine holding her bundle together.

The man was tall, taller than the other one, taller than her father. She spied a riding crop in his hand and icy shivers squeezed her chest. Head bent submissively she closed her eyes waiting for him to close in and strike her.

Ailsa's captor threw open the door. "Come here, you young ruffian. The master will see to you." He twisted her arm and dragged her off the bench.

Glowering at the animals lying at her feet, he lashed out with his boot. "Forgot what I told you. I'll fix that!" The dogs sprang out of reach and slunk off, whining.

"What is this about, Morgan? What has the boy done?"

Ailsa stared at the leather crop and the braided thongs swishing idly against shining black riding boots. Hands clenched, she waited dumbly for the blow to fall.

Morgan doffed his cap. "Caught him poaching salmon, milord. Your father will see to him. You know how strict he is about poaching. He'd sooner lose a pheasant or two than a salmon. Likely this rascal will go to the magistrate for sentencing."

The man in the shining boots spoke to Ailsa. "Look at me, lad. Have you been poaching?"

Fearing to disobey, she raised her head. His voice came from far away. From a distant place. It was gentle. Different from the other. Not loud or harsh.

His eyes held hers. Mesmerizing eyes. Above the open collar of his white shirt, his face and strongly muscled neck were deeply tanned. She forced herself to look away.

Timeless seconds passed. A familiar tingling swept up her spine. Ailsa dreaded the gift her great grandmother Elspeth MacDonald had bestowed on her. A fearful premonition overwhelmed her. She had to escape from this place. Away from this man whose dark eyes searched hers, in his questioning gaze danger lurked. Danger to her. Danger to him.

Conscious thought gave way to a future unfolding behind her eyes. In a brilliantly lighted ballroom she whirled around the floor in the arms of the dark-eyed man, laughing up at him but a menacing shadow edged the scene. Evil lurked there. Waiting for her.

Panic seized her. She struggled to breathe. What had she to do with this man?

"Didn't you hear, boy? Lord Colwyn spoke to you. Answer him!" Morgan wrenched her shoulder.

Ailsa winced and gulped in air. Pain shot through her bruised ribs. Eyes downcast, she nodded. "Yes sir, I stole a fish." She peeked up at him from under her cap. His mouth curved in a slight smile.

"Have the boy treated leniently, Morgan. There are plenty of salmon in the river." He rested his hand lightly on Ailsa's trembling shoulder. If he gazed into her eyes again he would surely see through her disguise.

"No more poaching, lad." He turned on his heel, walked a few paces, paused and turned back. "Speak to my father, Morgan. A warning is all the boy needs."

He tapped the riding crop on his boots, frowned slightly, studied Ailsa for several seconds then walked slowly to the whitewashed, stone buildings on the far side of the courtyard.

A glimmer of hope flickered in Ailsa's heart. The touch of Lord Colwyn's hand on her shoulder and his comforting words calmed her worst fears. Morgan pushed her into the house shut the door. The walls closed in.

"Warning indeed," he hissed through clenched teeth. "You'll not get away with poaching while I'm gamekeeper here."

He led her through a labyrinth of passageways. Mouth watering smells drifted through an open kitchen door. Ailsa's nose twitched. Hunger gnawed at her empty stomach.

A few steps past the kitchen, she glanced into a large pantry. Shelves were laden with earthenware crocks. On the floor close by a window baskets brimmed with fruits and vegetables. Hams hung from the ceiling alongside strings of onions and dried herbs.

Staggering in Morgan's tight-fisted grasp she tried desperately to fix an escape route in her mind but terror dimmed her memory. Trapped like an animal by the gamekeeper she was hopelessly lost.

Suddenly Morgan flung open a door. Ailsa paused at the threshold of a vast, lavishly appointed rectangular hall soaring two stories high. Cherubs draped in leafy marble adorned each corner. The last light of day filtered through the beveled glass of a vestibule door. Beyond it, a brass-studded outer door stood open leading to a wide terrace.

Morgan shook her. "Move! Lord Rhadyr wants a look at you before sending you to the magistrate."

Ailsa's footsteps echoed on the white and black marble floor. Opulence surrounded her. Rich tapestries draped the walls. Burnished sconces gleamed beside closed doors. In every sconce were fresh, unlit candles. A wide carpeted staircase swept up to the second floor.

A long-case clock chimed the half-hour its brass pendulum swinging back and forth marking time. Doomed by her crime Ailsa clattered across the floor. Out of harmony with the silvery chime of the clock her last few seconds of freedom ticked away.

Morgan knocked on a door, opened it with a flourish and shoved Ailsa ahead of him. Her broken boots tangled on the thick carpet and she stumbled into the presence of Lord Rhadyr. Rigid with fear, she struggled to her feet and faced the enemy.


Sorry about the print size. This may work but I doubt it.


Anita Birt


4 comments: