“Where did I put the stupid charger?” Amy Weaver slammed the drawer shut and picked up the paper that had fallen to the floor. Another murder, a single woman living alone. What was the world coming to?
It was good to be out of the city. Safe. She’d searched the cozy cottage top to bottom twice and still no sign of the dratted thing. Three deep breaths helped calm her down enough to think. When had she seen it last? Come to think of it, she’d been borrowing Emily’s or Colin’s for a while, so most likely it was still packed in one of the few remaining unopened boxes. How did she even have unopened boxes after three months? She was turning into a sloth. Other than teaching, she didn’t have the heart to do anything but sit in a chair and read the same paragraph over and over while staring out the window turning over every conversation, replaying it on an endless loop. If she was feeling particularly ambitious, she might walk along the rocky beach. “Damn you, Monroe.” At least get a cat or dog so you don’t sound completely mad. Great. Now she was holding conversations with herself. A wisp of hair tickled her face. She reached up to tuck the errant strand behind her ear. Why didn’t she keep the phone charger in a designated drawer or some other logical place where it could be found when needed? Hands on hips, she blew overlong bangs of out her eyes and gave up. A cup of tea would help make sense of the scattered thoughts darting through her weary brain. The comfy chair by the window beckoned, and Amy sank into it, the contours conforming to her body, sipping the honey-sweetened brew. Time. How was it possible for time to slow down, stretching like warm taffy before snapping back and speeding forward like a racecar? Three months of moping, which, depending on her frame of mind, lately felt more like three years. She’d quit her jobs, and no sooner had she hung up the phone than it seemed her tiny Edinburgh flat was overrun by big, burly men. Five of Colin’s men showed up, with Colin’s wife Emily bossing everyone around. Amy adored Emily. An American. Southern born and bred, from Charleston, and she had the best expressions. They’d packed up Amy’s belongings in two hours, and before she could process the events, she was unpacked in a cozy cottage overlooking the sea, a few hours’ drive from Edinburgh. Living on the grounds of Ravensmore castle. Colin and Emily’s home. Now serving as a home for unwanted children. She still couldn’t believe it. Not the job helping out with the kids, not living in a place of her own with a tiny garden and view of the sea. And especially not the ghosts. Who would have ever suspected ghosts were real? Not only real, but able to take physical form, as solid as she was, and they had all kinds of wicked powers. A small part of her brain told her she’d known these things forever, but she dismissed the thought before it could take root and flower. It was a typical day in June, the North Sea a silvery gray. The pewter clouds hung low in the sky, stretching down to merge with the sea. The patter of rain on the roof matched her melancholy mood. The sound of waves and rain usually soothed her tumultuous thoughts, but not today. She was like a shell tossed about in the waves, never finding solid ground, tumbling end over end, scraped raw on the sand, battered and broken against the rocks. Why did Monroe have to be so bloody stubborn? A headache pounded out the same song over and over again on the left side of her head. Was he still drinking? She’d heard from Robert that he’d been working nonstop. Had he been thinking about her, or was their slowly blooming relationship a figment of her overactive imagination? Ever since she’d almost lost her brother, Amy imagined the worst-case scenario whenever the smallest thing happened. A paper cut? It would get infected and she’d die. Emily was late to meet for tea? She’d been in a horrible accident or taken by the nasty Day Walkers. You are being a complete idiot. Well, it could happen. The mug gave off a comforting warmth as she rolled it back and forth between her hands. Neither one of them had ever discussed their feelings. Both too cowardly to bring up the topic. But she’d come to care for the grumpy investigator. A great deal. If she were honest, she’d admit her feelings were growing into something more. Something she’d hoped they’d explore before things went to pot. But not that. She wouldn’t use that four-letter word. The tea trickled a path of warmth down to her belly as she stared unseeing out the window. Wasting time thinking about Monroe didn’t do any good. Her feelings would go away over time… It was over before it had truly begun. The phone beeped, letting her know the battery was down to ten percent. Amy uncurled her legs from the chair, washed out the mug, and decided to buy another charger the next time someone went to town. She stuck her tongue out at the phone, left it on the counter, and walked to the castle in the misting rain to check on her younger brother, Mark. The rooms for the school were located in the north wing of Ravensmore. Colin and Emily took in orphans and set up a makeshift school to teach them, since there wasn’t a school close by and none of them trusted the local schools or foster care, given the rash of missing kids. Not to mention what had happened with the farms. She shuddered. Amy stepped into the corridor and inhaled deeply. She loved the scent of chalk and new books. Made her think of new beginnings. There were always sounds of kids running through the hallways or fighting with wooden swords out in the lists. It could be worse—she could be living at Gwrych with Robert and Maggie and that crazy zoo they had for the kids. Imagine waking to the sound of elephants every morning! And she’d thought the rooster was annoying. She ducked into one of the classrooms and sneezed. “Are the kids finished with lunch yet?” The rugged Scotsman grinned at her, the smile crinkling his brown eyes. He was one of the other teachers, and a distant relation to Colin. There were four teachers, not counting the big Highlander and his men. He taught the kids to fight with swords…among other things. Liam handed her a tissue. “Sorry. We were chewing juniper berries.” Seeing her look, he elaborated: “So they can find them in the wild. Good for cleansing the palate.” A finger reached up and scratched the stubble on his cheek. “Aye. They’ve a lesson on knife throwing after. I’m on my way to lunch just now. Join me?” Her whole middle rumbled. “I think my stomach spoke for me.” He chuckled and held the door for her. They walked down the corridors discussing the lessons for the week, but they were drowned out by a wave of noise rolling over them. “Amy!” Mark ran toward her, hugging her tightly. “We’re going to learn to throw a knife and make it stick in the target, isn’t that dead brilliant!” She smiled and held him in a tight embrace before he wriggled out. With a wave, he ran down the hall with his friends, eager to play with knives. How was it possible he’d be thirteen later this year? Before long, he wouldn’t hug her at all. He probably would have stopped already, except he saw the other boys accepting hugs. These kids were so starved for attention that they liked to be hugged and fussed over, even at their age. The economic downturn, combined with the war between Shadow and Day Walkers spilling over into everyday life, had the side effect of creating more and more homeless. And of reducing the population in general. She cringed, thinking of being drained to nothing more than a shell by a Day Walker. According to Emily, a person had to have died and come back to see the Walkers. As far as she knew, that had never happened to her. Nor to Mark. So she assumed the Shadow Walkers made themselves visible on purpose, and the Day Walkers…she hadn’t had the pleasure yet and hoped to never run into one of them. The day passed quickly. She and Mark stayed to eat dinner with everyone in the great hall. The sound of the kids’ chatter washed over her, bumping up against the ragged edges of her heart. It was growing late. On the walk back, she thought of the little girl today, the one who finally grasped her numbers and smiled. Seeing the knowledge spread across the girl’s face made Amy feel like she was making a difference. That she was useful. Could help these unwanted children. Amy turned out the lights in the cottage, and for a moment swore she saw pointed ears in the reflection staring back at her from the window. Startled, she reached up to touch each ear. Nope. Still the same ears she’d always had. Shaken, she chalked it up to exhaustion and her damn imagination. After looking in on Mark, who was fast asleep, a smile on his sweet face, no doubt dreaming of throwing knives at some unknown enemy, she gently closed the door. The chair by the window beckoned like an old friend. She loved to sit in the dark, staring out the window, entranced by the moonlight casting shadows on the ground. The sea looked like a vast black sheet of glass tonight. The gentle sounds of the sea lapping against the shore lulled her into that place where you imagine fantastical things. She pictured a wood filled with trees made of copper, silver, and gold. The forest seemed so real, more a memory than a conjured image of her imagination. Like déjà vu. A woman screamed, the hair on Amy’s arms stood up, and she peered out the window, heart beating double time. A sense of loss flooded her veins. There was no one there. Was she completely losing touch with reality?