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Lion of Caledonia(9)

By: Caro LaFever



Ignoring her, Mrs. Rivers huffed before disappearing through the arch of the door, but she felt as if the older woman was lingering, watching. Okay. She wouldn’t search here first. That didn’t mean she was going to let herself be regulated to her tiny bedroom.

Walking into the great hall, she glanced around and wasn’t surprised when silence was the only thing she got from the Steinway and the suits of armor. Mrs. Rivers had an eerie way of disappearing. The woman matched this eerie place. It didn’t matter. She’d grab a sandwich upstairs before starting her search somewhere other than the library and the hall.

By the time she’d had a spot of tea and her delivered lunch, she was ready to go.

Find the ring, Jennet, and sneak away.

As she walked down to the first floor again, she found herself lingering by one wide window that looked out on the gardens. In the daylight, she saw what she’d missed last night. The vast length of the lawn rolling to the loch was filled with overgrown hedges and flower beds filled with old, dead weeds.

Every one of her gardener instincts rose in instant objection. Sure, it was March, but these beds should be cleared and ready for spring. Those hedges should have been cut back in the fall.

Find the ring.

Shaking herself, she stomped down the last of the stars, reviewing her plan. This was a monster of a house, yet there were only so many places a ring could be stored. She’d start on the first floor and with luck, find the prize there. If not there, then she’d have to get sneaky and take on the second floor—the family quarters.

Be smart, that was all she had to do.

Where would Cameron Steward store the ring he’d put on the cover of his last bestseller? The ring he’d labeled The Blood Ring? The ring her grandfather had given to his lost love forty years ago?

Not the great hall, she bet.

So, where?

She strode to the doors of the drawing room, but then shook her head. Not there, either.

Wandering past the dining room, she walked over to another set of double doors. Why not see what was in here?

The door opened with a creak, and she poked her head in.

And gasped.

Unlike the rest of the muted light in the mansion, this room was lit from one end to another with a string of bright, beaming modern fixtures. The long, narrow room’s walls were painted a brilliant crimson that highlighted the steel and silver and mahogany strewn across the surface.

Guns.

Swords.

Bows and arrows.

More guns.

Jen hated big and she hated violence. All she saw on these walls were big, ugly instruments of war and hunting. She wanted nothing to do with any of this. Right before she pulled her head out of the room, though, her gaze landed on a small wooden case. Something glittered.

The ring? Could he store the ring in here?

She tugged the door a bit wider.

The lights blazed down on the something twinkling in that cabinet.

As usual, she saw nothing and no one who would protest at her curiosity. Sliding inside, she closed the door behind her.

A half-dozen great blunderbusses hung in a line above the object that had caught her interest.

Creeping nearer, she peered through the glass.

Not a ring, but some kind of decorative item. A curved, sterling-silver crest and three matching tassels with a leather pouch behind it. Beside the item lay a long sword and short knife. All of the items were locked in the glass cabinet, but lying on top of the glass was a distinctive black and silver sheathed knife. Or she figured it was a knife. The weapon lay on the edge of the case as if someone had just laid it down.

“What are ye doing in here?”

Cameron Steward’s voice boomed from the doorway, and she whipped around to stare at her employer. “I’m…I’m…”

He prowled into the room, his gaze never leaving hers. “You’re…you’re…”

His mocking tone straightened her spine. “I’m—”

“I’d think a little mouse like ye would be afraid of all these big, bad guns.” The mocking tone deepened his voice to a rich molasses.

Little mouse? Her spine snapped to complete attention. He might be a big lion of a man, but she was no mouse. Not anymore. A flare of unfamiliar anger swept through her.

Grabbing the first thing she found, she shook it in front of her. “I’m looking for something to use in the garden.”

Her words landed between them and his long legs stopped. Those odd eyes glittered with instant humor. “With that?”

She gulped in a breath and stared at the weapon in her hands. True, it didn’t look like a shovel, but it didn’t look like a regular knife, either. It was too broad. “Yes.”

Humor went from his eyes to his mouth. A glint of white flashed when he smiled. “That’s a 17th-century antique called a Sgian-dubh.”

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