“I don’t want your book of secrets, Mr. C.” Lydia Wystan brushed aside her employer’s long white beard and gently pried the aging volume from his gnarled hands. “I simply want you to sleep so I won’t worry you’ve killed yourself when you make noises like that.”
She helped him from the chair by his tower window. He muttered crankily, but since the apoplexy, his words were lost. The Librarian had so very many words in his head. . .
Lydia shook off her sorrow—and fear. She didn’t have the ability to fix Mr. Cadwallader any more than she could fix the crumbling castle—or her life, what little there was of it.
He was still muttering and gesturing for his book when she tucked him between the covers. He had a manservant, but Lloyd was entitled to the occasional night off. It was just her luck that it was one of the nights Mr. C felt well enough to get up on his own. She wrapped his arms around the book.
She wished she could see inside her employer’s journal, but Malcolm journals were private as long as the owner was alive. Having to wait until he died to learn if he knew the next librarian. . . Worried her beyond measure.
Mr. C had been reticent even when he could speak. She was barely his secretary, after all, a stranger who had arrived on his doorstep one summer day and never left. He had no reason to trust her or anyone.
Once assured her scholarly employer was settled, Lydia wondered what had drawn Mr. C from his bed. They didn’t usually have night skies this clear in mid-summer. Had he been studying the stars? The crisp fresh scent of the open air drew her to the mullioned casement window.
The tower was ancient and almost certainly had possessed only arrow slits at one time. But over the centuries, modern conveniences had been added throughout Calder Castle. Windows were among them.
The skies were beautiful at this hour before dawn, with just a rosy tint in the distance. But a wind had picked up. She reached out to swing in the panes and glanced downward.
She drew in her breath in shock.
A dead body lay spread-eagled on the lawn. A very large one.
Oh, no, she couldn’t go through this again. Her knees melted, and she almost sank into Mr. C’s chair. This must have been what had him agitated. If she closed her eyes, could she make it go away?
The only dead body she’d ever seen had been her father’s, after he’d fallen off the roof attempting to repair it himself. Vicars should not repair roofs. The pain of that day affected her every decision—she did nothing without worrying over consequences.
She doubted the man below was a vicar, however. Anglicans were few and far between in rural Scotland.
Shaken by the painful memories, Lydia pulled on one of Mr. C’s old cloaks, hoping the image would fade with the dew. The castle seldom had visitors. Neither she nor Mr. C had friends or family here. Their servants were, by necessity, limited. And they were too far from the city and up in the hills for travelers to stumble upon them by accident. The lane to this ancient, isolated fortress was torturous.
She glanced out again. The body lay flat on his back, as if he’d actually fallen from a roof. Why else would anyone sprawl on the rocky damp ground like that? From up here, the man appeared reasonably young, if she were to judge by his thick, wavy, dark hair. No horrid mustache marred what appeared to be broad square cheeks and jaw. Was his nose maybe just a little large. . . ?
Ives men often had Roman noses. And dark wavy hair. A missing Ives had recently requested aid. . .
Swallowing hard, Lydia pulled up the hood on the cloak. She was taller than Mr. C, taller than most men, so the cloak didn’t drag as she ran down the narrow tower stairs.
If this was Lady Agnes’s missing son. . . Oh, please, don’t let him be dead!
The dew-drenched yard soaked her shabby slippers as she hurried through the unmown weeds that served as lawn. The gardeners had been let go after Mr. C’s apoplexy. She had no way to pay them.
Keeping the cloak pulled tight against the morning chill, Lydia halted a few feet from the still figure. He seemed much larger from down here—taller than her by half a foot or more, which was to say very tall indeed. And several stone heavier—a giant of a man.
He was breathing. Thank all the heavens, he was alive! There was no blood. There had been a lot of blood when her father had fallen.
She stepped closer. She could almost swear he was asleep. On the lawn, in the dew. He didn’t smell of gin. He smelled of raw male and a faint hint of bay rum.
She took another moment to wipe out her horrid memories and compose her stammering pulse. She was quite certain she’d never seen this man before. His bones were too square and solid for handsomeness, but he had curved, sensual lips and laugh lines—and a very large nose, all with a weathered, sun-bronzed coloring rarely seen in these cool climes. She wasn’t usually given to unmaidenly desires but if anyone could stir them, it would be a man who looked as if he were forged in steel.
She almost hated to wake him and discover he was as small-minded and venal as most men.
His eyes suddenly popped open, and Lydia stepped back in surprise.
“Ah, Mr. Cadwallader,” he said in an amiable baritone. “I heeded your call, at last. Did you know your tower is leaning?”