St. Giles Cathedral
“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.”
Late October, 2018
Riley Blackthorne compared her seat number to the row numbers above the seats. Confused, she shot a look behind her, toward the area of the airplane designated for Coach Class. She should be back there, right?
There has to be a mistake.
As Denver Beck fled down the three flights of stairs to the main floor of the two-century old manor house, he nearly collided with the housekeeper. He didn’t slow long enough to apologize, worry driving him forward as he jogged along the hallway. Once he reached the grand master’s door, he pounded on it. While he waited for a reply, Beck paced, muscles knotted and heart racing.
The drive to Edinburgh had been two and a half hours of hell. About an hour in, Beck had stopped calling Riley’s cell phone, knowing it was useless. It’d taken all of his control not to hurl his own phone out of the car window in frustration.
What if she’s hurt? What if she’s . . . ?
“Don’t go borrowin’ trouble, lad,” MacTavish said, as if he’d read his mind.
“Miss?” a man called out. “What happened here? Are ya hurt?”
It took Riley a moment to figure out what the cop had said, his Scottish accent was so thick.
“Ah, yeah, but not bad.” At least she hoped that was the case since her back was screaming in agony and her arm as well. Still, she wasn’t dead and that counted for a lot when you went up against an Archfiend.
The police station was noisy and crowded. Apparently it didn’t matter what country you were in, everybody had problems, some nastier than others. A few people stared at Riley as she was escorted to an interview room. She could imagine what they thought had happened to her, and almost all of those guesses would be wrong. The cops stared as well — they would know the truth — and some pointedly moved out of her way.
That’s me, the Riley of Mass Destruction.
When Riley woke, the clock on the nightstand indicated it was ten-thirty. She rolled over and fought down a groan. Her arm was aching, as was most her body; she had to be one massive bruise. Riley kicked off the covers, too warm from the toxins the demon wounds had set loose. At least this time she wasn’t as sick as when she’d tangled with a Grade Three demon and nearly died.
To get her mind off her pains, Riley checked out the room. The space was bigger than she’d expected, with a desk, a wardrobe, a couch and a couple of chairs.
I’m in Scotland. How cool is that?
Not as cool as she’d planned after the previous night’s disaster.
After Riley had taken a long nap, they’d wandered around for another couple of hours as Beck showed her hidden spots in the city — leave it to him to do a complete reconnaissance of a town. She’d been surprised the first time he’d paused to drop a few coins in the paper cup of a homeless person.
When he rejoined her, he murmured, “I got a lot to thankful for. Those guys remind me of that every day.” After that, she knew to slow down as he stopped by each of them, wishing them well and leaving behind a bit of money.
When Riley woke, the room was in twilight, the heavy curtains pulled closed once again. For a moment she thought she’d slept the entire day. A glance at the clock proved it was closer to nine in the morning.
She’d woken up once overnight, and out of habit had treated her deepest wounds and bandaged them. Beck had slumbered on, without knowing she’d gotten out of bed.
Now she heard a faint voice through the door to the bathroom; he was talking to Stewart about her.
Reporting back to your masters?
Riley hastily repacked her suitcase after Beck had grumpily rousted her out of bed at eight. He insisted they leave within the hour.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“To the manor.”
“I thought we were going up there later this week.”
“We were. Now we’re goin’ today.”
“Orders from your boss?” she said, glaring at him.
“Yeah. Get movin’.”
Despite all the drama, MacTavish wasn’t waiting for them in the library. Riley barely noticed as she gasped the moment she stepped inside the room. It was like a Victorian dream come true; two stories tall with circular iron stairway that led to a second floor catwalk. A small dome rose in the very center of the ceiling, shedding soft light beneath it. Tables and padded chairs sat in discreet niches to allow for privacy. Reading lamps were dotted here and there, most with ornate stained glass shades. A fireplace sat at one end of the room, cozy flames warming the space. The room smelled of old paper and readily available knowledge. Just inhaling the scent seemed to ease some of the ache in her heart.
“Can I just move in here? This is like heaven.”
The shower brought Riley back to life, and after mussing with her hair and makeup, she tugged on a pair of heavy tights, then her new dress from the secondhand shop. It was soft emerald green wool and its hem ended just a few inches above her knees. Its long sleeves were a prudent choice as the manor was drafty. Even better, it fit her perfectly, its color doing lovely things for her complexion. Riley tugged the zipper up, adjusted the neckline and then put on the earrings Beck had bought her in Edinburgh.
She did a twirl in front of the mirror. Hey, look at me!
Once the guests were gone, Riley and Beck joined the two masters in a cozy sitting room. She snuggled next to her guy on a leather sofa, utilizing Beck’s furnace feature to warm herself. As much as she loved Scotland, she really missed Atlanta’s warmer climate.
MacTavish lit a pipe, filling the air with a rich caramel aroma. That reminded her of Master Stewart, how every evening they’d share how their day went. She missed him, wished he was here. He’d know how to make things right again.
“That’s right. Just keep moving.”
Riley was outdoors, Brennan holding tight to her arm. In his other hand was a knife, the one that had convinced her to not fight him, at least not yet.
It’d been her fault; she really hadn’t been paying attention when he’d had accosted her in the downstairs hall. Now she cursed herself for not sensing the danger before he’d pulled the knife and told her to keep silent.
As they climbed the hill behind the manor house her mind raced with questions. How she misread this guy all along?
Where the hell are they?
Beck shivered involuntarily in the cold night air as he and MacTavish stood outside the manor house. Frantic with worry, he hadn’t bothered to grab a coat, and now the wind was playing havoc with the kilt and his thin dress jacket.
“All the cars are still here,” Kepler said as he joined them.
Which meant Brennan had taken Riley somewhere on the grounds.
After giving Riley his jacket, Beck had no choice but to help Brennan, whose shoulder wound was bleeding heavily. While MacTavish kept a stern eye on the necromancer, Beck stripped off his waistcoat and shirt. The wind immediately bit at him, making him shiver. He slipped back on the waistcoat, though it was next to useless in terms of warmth.
“This is gonna hurt,” Beck said, then pressed the shirt into Brennan’s shoulder wound to slow the bleeding. His anger found its focus. “Ya know, I should let you bleed out for what you did to Riley.”
It was late in the morning when Riley finally roused. There hadn’t been much sleep, not with Beck eager to “welcome her to Scotland” more than once. There was no way she regretted the lost sleep. It was like she’d dreamed — the two of them together, loving.
Beck was in her shower, singing one of Carrie Underwood’s songs with that resonant voice of his. He sounded truly happy, and it filled her heart with so much joy she thought it would burst. This is what she wanted to hear every morning for the rest of her life. But would he be brave enough to ask her that question again?
She frowned. If he doesn’t, I’ll ask him. One way or another, we’re together.
It was later in the afternoon, after another long stressed-induced snooze, that Riley awoke, groggy. Sometime during the nap Beck had crawled in next to her and was asleep, just as worn out as she was. Fighting off evil necromancers had that effect.
When the time came, Riley and Beck’s farewell at the airport was bittersweet. She really wanted to stay with the guy she loved, but she needed to go home where there were apprentices to train, Latin classes to attend, friends missing her. That push-pull meant one moment there were tears, the next, homesickness.
Right before Riley entered the security line, she hesitated. “I wish you were coming home with me.”
“Only a few more weeks,” Beck said, brushing a strand of hair off her face. “Then we’ll have more time together. Well, until I have come back here again. But soon I’ll be home full time, you’ll see.”
Not soon enough.