Authors: Marie Laval
Dancing for the Devil
Rose Saintclair's tale begins in
The Dream Catcher
, the first part of the
Dancing for the Devil
The story so farâ¦
Cape Wrath, Scotland, November 1847.
Rose is travelling to meet her new husband when her ship is caught in a terrifying storm off the far north of Scotland. Her first glimpse of Wrath Lodge, makes Rose think of the gateway to hell and her encounter with Wrath's laird Bruce McGunn does nothing to reassure her. A reckless officer discharged from the army, McGunn holds a bitter grudge against her husband's family, the wealthy McRaes, and Rose is soon horrified to find out that he means to hold her to ransom in order to save his estate from financial ruin.
Bruce's health is failing and, with terrifying hallucinations tormenting him every night, he fears he is descending into madness. Soon other things are keeping him awake â a growing attraction for his feisty and exotic captive, and the gruesome discovery of two women's bodies washed ashore near the castle. One of them, Rose's childhood friend Malika, she last saw in Algiers the day before her marriage to McRae. How the women died, who killed them and disposed of their bodies is a mystery Bruce now has to solve.
Determined not to miss the ball where her darling Cameron promised to announce their secret wedding, Rose manages to escape dark, gloomy Wrath. She takes with her a posy of pine sprigs she believes was given to her by the Dark Lady, Wrath's resident ghost, and confused feelings for Wrath's brutal and tormented master â the man she calls
âYou think I was doing what?' Bruce shot Kilroy a disbelieving glance.
The doctor shuffled his papers and piled them up in a precarious pyramid on his desk.
âSleepwalking,' he answered without looking up. âHow else can you explain what happened last night? You said yourself you couldn't remember much.'
Bruce shook his head.
âMaybe I wasn't the one sleepwalking.'
He took a deep breath and raked his fingers in his hair. âThe thing is, it's happened before, with Rose McRae I mean.'
This time, Kilroy looked up.
âYou mean she's already been in your room in the middle of the night?'
Bruce smiled. âActually, she was in my bed the night she arrived.'
Kilroy sat down heavily on his padded leather chair, folded his hands on his stomach, and narrowed his eyes.
âYou got her into bed the very first night? You work fast, my friend. I'm glad to see the old “claymore devil” hasn't lost any of his sharp edges.'
Bruce shook his head. âIt wasn't like that. I mean, I didn'tâ¦we didn'tâ¦ She kind of stumbled into it.'
Kilroy chuckled. âHow can she stumble into your bed when your room is up a tower at the other end of the Lodge?'
Bruce didn't answer but turned and pressed his forehead against the cool window pane. He had spent the whole afternoon at Morag's bedside and hadn't even noticed how late it was. It was evening now, and people would be rushing home or pushing the door to the Old Norse's Inn for a quiet pint of ale or a game of dominoes near the peat fire.
âShe was chasing after a ghost,' Bruce said in a low voice.
âWhat ghost? You talk in riddles, McGunn.'
Bruce sighed and turned to face his friend. âIt doesn't matter. Anyway, I don't sleepwalk. I would know if I did it, after years bivouacking and sleeping in army barracks.'
âYou may have only just started doing it. The unusual symptoms you've experienced lately, the memory loss, nightmares and vivid dreams you mentioned, all go hand in hand with sleepwalking.'
âBut don't worry,' Kilroy added quickly, âsomnambulism isn't that serious. The trick is to prevent you from getting injured. From now on, you must lock your door or put some piece of furniture to block your stairs at night to make sure you don't wander on, or off, the cliff.'
âI'll soon have more pressing things to worry me than the need to drag cupboards across my staircase,' Bruce retorted grimly. âI have bankers and their bailiffs to ward off, a killer to catch, and I may have a duel on my hands before long â if McRae is brave enough to face me.'
Kilroy cocked his eyebrow. âA duel?'
Bruce drew in a deep, long breath.
âHalf my household saw Rose McRae asleep in my arms this morning.'
âAh. That's unfortunate.'
âUnfortunate? It's a bloody disaster!' Bruce thundered. âThe woman doesn't remember a thing. She has no idea her reputation is â or will soon be â in tatters and her husband may cast her off for adultery. How the hell do I tell her?'
Kilroy toyed with a bronze letter-opener.
âMaybe you won't have to. Maybe your people won't talk. With the bad weather coming our way again, there won't be much travelling between here and Thurso or Westmore in the next few days.'
âYou know as well as I do that the weather won't stop tongues from wagging. Gossip always finds a way, especially that kind of gossip.'
Kilroy stabbed a pile of letters with his letter-opener. âYou may be right. I wonderâ¦'
He paused and reclined on the back of his seat.
âIt does strike me as odd that neither of you remember much about last night. It's as if you were both struck by some kind of amnesia.'
âPerhaps it was the curse of the Northern Lights,' Bruce replied with a shrug. âIt's late. I'd better go,' he went on. âAre you sure Morag is going to be all right tonight? She seems very weak.'
The woman had clutched at his hand, refusing to let him leave her side and asking for forgiveness again and again. Every time he asked what he should forgive, she'd turned her head to the wall without answering.
Kilroy stood up. âHer heart is in bad shape and she is frail, but for now she'll be comfortable enough in my spare room. Don't worry. I'll keep an eye on her throughout the night.'
Bruce slipped his riding coat on and walked to the front door.
âHow long before you travel to Westmore?' Kilroy asked.
âTwo or three days, at most.'
Kilroy swayed back and forth on the balls of his feet, and coughed to clear his throat.
âI hope that what MacBoyd was telling me last night in the public house isn't true.'
âWhat was that?'
The doctor leant closer and lowered his voice. âThat you intend to keep Rose McRae here as some kind of guarantee against her husband and his business associates.'
Bruce silently promised to give MacBoyd a terse telling off. He had no right talking to Kilroy, or anyone else, about his plans.
âWhat I'm doing with Lady McRae is nobody's business, not even yours.'
Shock registered on the doctor's face.
âSo it's true! And I thought McBoyd had had too much ale. These aren't the old days of the clan wars, McGunn. You can't keep a woman locked up in your tower and hold her to ransom.'
âI'll do what I must to protect my estate and my people against McRae and his bankers. Not that I have to justify myself to you.'
Kilroy looked sharply at McGunn but he must have thought better than to insist because he shook his head and added with a resigned smile, âWell, you know best, I suppose.'
He opened the door. Bruce stepped outside and breathed in a lungful of icy wind. There was more snow on the way but for now the half, butter-yellow moon played hide and seek with black clouds.
âI'll drop by in the morning to check on Morag.'
The two men shook hands and Bruce made his way to the stables behind Kilroy's house. A short while later he was riding back to Wrath Lodge, the man and the horse darker than the night on the deserted cliff path.
The loud sounding of the horn woke Rose with a start and she bumped her head against the side panel inside the coach.
âBy Old Ibrahim's Beard, what was that terrible racket?' she gasped, rubbing the forehead with her fingers.
âOnly the post-guard warning the coaching inn of our arrival. We're stopping for the night,' the man sitting next to her replied.
As the carriage lurched around a bend in the road, he shifted on the seat and Rose caught wafts of wet dog from his pelisse and horse manure from his boots. Queasy once more, she searched her pocket for a handkerchief but only found the sprig of pine tied with the faded pink ribbon. That was strange, she didn't remember taking it with her that morning.
The man moved again, and this time the smells of dung and dog hair were so strong Rose heaved. She was going to be sick.
âThe window,' she gasped, âplease open the window. Quick.'
âI am sorry but I can't,' the man replied, gesturing to a lock at the top of the window. âThey're locked.'
In desperation, she buried her face into the sprig of pine, and took deep, long, calming breaths, hoping that the fresh scent of pine would stave off her nausea. Doctor Kilroy had been right about travelling in a post-coach. It was a nightmare.
When she was sure she wasn't going to be sick, she put the sprig of pine back inside her pocket and looked outside. It was pitch black with only a half moon watching over like a large yellow eye.
âWhere are we?'
âWe just passed Tongue.'
âAre we still on Lord McGunn's land?'
He shook his head. âNo, my lady, we're on McRae land.'
She closed her eyes to hide her relief. She was safe. Lord McGunn wouldn't come chasing after her now.
âI fear we'll have more snow before the morning,' the man carried on. âI can feel it in my creakin' old bones. Lucky for me, I'm not too far from home now.'
He went on to explain that he would get off the coach the following morning at Borgie, talked about his business, his wife and bevy of children whilst Rose nodded politely.
The horn rang again. The horse's hooves rumbled on a cobbled courtyard and the coach shuddered and rattled to a halt.
âLady and gentleman, time for a hot meal and a well-earned rest,' the post-guard announced with flourish as he opened the door.
He held out his hand to help Rose get down, taking hold of her elbow and giving it a little squeeze. Rose shivered as she walked across the courtyard towards the two-storey stone building. Lights glowed behind the steamed-up windows, giving it a warm, welcoming appearance. It would be so nice to sit by the fire and enjoy a hot meal, then sleep in a warm, comfortable bedâ¦
She stopped in her tracks and turned to the post-guard.
âI can't go in.'
âWhy is that, my lady?' He leant towards her, a puzzled look in his small, beady eyes.
âI have no money. Unless I can pay for food and lodgings with another necklace? What do you think?'
He flicked his hand in a dismissive gesture. âDon't you worry about that. I'll settle the cost of your lodgings for you. Weâll sort everything out later.'
âThank you, you're very kind,' she told him with a sigh of relief. At least she wouldn't have to spend the night in the coach in the inn's stables.
He patted her arm and leaned closer.
âThat's no problem. I couldn't leave a lovely young lady out in the cold, could I?' For a second, his eyes glittered with something other than bonhomie â something sinister and threatening â then it was gone and he smiled again.
Less than an hour later, Rose was getting undressed in her small bedroom on the first floor. She had gulped down a bowl of hot stew and two fat slices of bread before retiring for the night, leaving her travelling companions to their pints of ale, tumblers of whisky and game of cards.
The raucous noise of men's laughter and conversations from below drifted up through the floorboards. Shivering again, she hastily washed her face and hands in a bowl of lukewarm water before unpinning her hair, removing her boots and dress and slipping her nightdress on over her chemise.
The shawl she wrapped tightly around her shoulders didn't ward off the chill, so she spread her cloak over the blankets, and thought longingly about Lord McGunn's thick plaid and socks. If only she had them with her now, she wouldn't be so cold.
She held her breath, and her chest tightened.
By now he must know she had escaped.
She pictured his face as clearly as if he was there in front of her. His grey eyes, dark and stormy, his mouth unsmiling and the thick, dark stubble on his cheeks and long black hair which made him look like some warrior from a violent past. Never had a man deserved his nickname more than Lord McGunn, and even though she'd never seen him fight, she sensed that his nickname of âclaymore devil' suited him like a glove.