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on about the Keep’s gory history and its ghosts. Mrs. Driver,
the elderly housekeeper, warning her to always lock her door
at night. Patience, the mad old woman at the Green Lady
inn, with her singsong predictions of danger. And then . . .
she’d been caught up with St John and his friends. From the
moment she’d accessed their weird Hidden History website,
they’d tracked her, trapped her, and she’d mistaken it for
friendship. She’d mistaken it for love. They were glamorous,
seductive, and St John was irresistible. Beauty is Cruel, Cru
elty is Beautiful. . . .
She put down her mug, pulled the duvet over her head.
She was remembering how it had all finished. In her
head she was back in the dungeon again.
She saw the black candles cast their lurid light on the
low brick ceiling; she felt the smothering miasma of fear and
evil. She heard Flora taunting her, saw Abigail terrified
and bleeding, and Marcus and Petra like automatons, obeying St John. People she’d thought were her friends, the boy
she’d thought was in love with her . . . she’d just been their
key to Morton’s Keep. St John’s face was gloating, triumphant, as he goaded her for falling for him, for liking his
vampire kisses. She heard him claim ancestry with the sadistic Sir Simeon Lingwall, claiming the house and its ancient,
dark power for himself. . . .
She rolled herself tighter in her duvet, willed herself to
see Ethan appearing, hurling the flaming torch, launching
himself at St John, and knocking him out cold as the ravenous fire took hold. . . .
Fire. She saw fire scorching through the dungeon, and
felt calmer imagining its heat. Her nightmare was wrong.
There was safety in fire. Ethan was with the fire festival
men and he’d told her they were watchers over Morton’s
Keep, and somehow their fires kept it safe. Although no one
was clear what was myth, what was real, it was all shrouded
in a thousand years of uncertainty. . . .
It’s over, she told herself. Whatever it all meant, what
was real, what was unreal — it’s finished. I’m safe.
But she couldn’t get back to sleep.
Dawn was breaking as Rayne, her short coat over her pajamas and her wellies pulled on her bare feet, walked out into
the medieval garden. She locked the Old Sty door behind
her and pocketed the huge iron key.
The birds hadn’t started singing yet. She wandered
through the trees, toward Morton’s Keep. The ancient mansion house seemed to crouch like a great beast behind the
woods, its two towers looming.
She stopped in a clearing made by a tree felled in one of
the recent storms, half sawed up for firewood, and with a
catch to the throat recognized where she’d sat last night,
with Ethan. She sank down onto a log, where last night
she’d sat half-facing him. She felt like crying.
It had started out so right, with her sudden sense that
Ethan liked her, wanted her, with him agreeing to come
back to the Old Sty for coffee.
And then it had all gone so wrong.
She covered her eyes with her hands, remembering.
asked. “Or — actually — I think there’s a couple of beers in
the fridge. . . .”
“Yeah? I’d love a beer. Or tea.”
She went into the cubbyhole kitchen at the back of the
room, yanked open the fridge, and was relieved to see three
bottles of Budweiser lined up behind the eggs. She decapped
two of them, and hovered undecided over a large bag of
chips lying on the counter. She could tip them in that pretty
blue bowl, she thought, put it between them on the table . . .
no, that was pathetic, too trying-too-hard.
She marched back to the main room. Her breathing was
coming too fast, it was making her ner vous. “Beer,” she
“Great,” said Ethan. He was sitting at the table now,
looking out of the window at the dark trees as they swayed
and shushed in the wind. She handed him a bottle and sat
down opposite him, but his eyes wouldn’t meet hers. Why is
this so hard? she thought. Extraordinary, cosmic events linked
the two of them. They’d triumphed together; they’d kept
Morton’s Keep safe. It had been a long fight, ending in
the hateful, hidden dungeon of the ancient house. Where
he’d . . . she thought the word carefully . . . saved her. On
more than one level, Ethan had saved her.
And in the dark woods earlier, they’d had so much to
say, they’d fallen over their words, but now . . .
“So,” she said at last, “do you think it’s over? Now that
Lingwall’s dungeon’s going to be filled up with concrete?”
Ethan shrugged. “Even if Lingwall’s been burned out, it
won’t transform Morton’s Keep into some kind of holy
shrine. If the stories are true, that the house is built on a site
of ancient evil . . .” He trailed off, took a gulp of beer, and
said, “Sir Simeon Lingwall managed to make something
uniquely nasty out of the energy here, but people say the
walls of Morton’s Keep have always run with blood.”
“Shut up,” she laughed. “I have to live here!”
He smiled back at her, looking at her at last. “You’ll be
all right. You’re protected, aren’t you?”
She knew he meant the green lady, that strange spirit
of the woods who skirled through old stories and halfremembered folklore in these parts. Who’d shown herself to
Rayne — in leaves, in birds. Who had an old local inn named
after her and whose presence Rayne had felt, absolutely. But
she couldn’t bring herself to talk about all that anymore. It
seemed insubstantial, silly even — as if it was all slipping
away from her.
There was a long silence, the awkwardness between
them growing by the second. Rayne looked at him, at his
profile half-turned away from her again, and something
inside her seized up with how much she liked his face, liked
him. She had to get through to him again — she had to get
close. Almost in a panic she scrambled to her feet, saying,
“D’you want some chips?”
Ethan stood up too. He came round the table toward
her and made a kind of lunge for her, getting hold of her
arms. Then he kissed her, fast, before she could even
focus on his face, but the minute she felt his mouth a
violent shudder ran through her, and she wrenched herself away.
“God,” breathed Ethan, “sorry . . . hey, what’s wrong?”
She was still shuddering, her breath coming in spasms,
her legs shaking so much that her whole body trembled.
“Rayne, I’m sorry. Shit, I’m sorry. You asked me back
here — I thought —”
She raised her hands to apologize, to reassure him. She
didn’t trust herself to speak.
“You OK?” he asked desperately. His hands were hovering, wanting to touch her, not daring to. “You’ve gone white.
Look, sit down. I’ll get you a drink of water —”
“God, I’m sorry,” she gasped at last, through chattering
teeth, “I’m being an idiot —”
“You’re not. It’s me who’s the idiot. It’s too soon — it’s too
soon after every thing that happened. . . . Look, sit down.
Before you fall down. I’ll get you that water.”
He hurried off to the kitchen and Rayne sat down and
tried to calm her breathing, but her hands were jumping on
the table, her legs were shaking still. She felt full of anguish.
What would he think of her now? That she was some kind
of freak who flipped out at a kiss —
He was standing in front of her with the glass of water.
She looked up at him and tried to smile. “Any better?” he
“Yes. Shit, I’m so sorry —”
“It’s OK.” He put the glass down on the table warily, to
one side of her, as though he was terrified to touch her again.
“Listen, I’m gonna go. You should get some sleep.” He was
acting like he couldn’t wait to get away from her, and she
couldn’t blame him. She wanted to ask him to stay, but
she couldn’t say the words. She just nodded, smiling, over
the rim of the water glass. “I’ll call you, OK?” he said. “I’ll
call you and see how you are.”
Then he turned, and almost bolted out through the door
into the night.
Oh, brilliant, thought Rayne. You get him to come back here,
then you freak out. You wanted him to kiss you. Ever since you
first saw him, if you’re honest, you’ve wanted that. So why act
like he’s shoved a million volts through you? Shit. Shit!
The shaking had stopped. She wasn’t even trembling
now. She stood up and went over to the door and looked out
into the wild, moon-washed garden. It was silent — he’d
long gone. In her mind she replayed him saying “I’ll call
you, OK? I’ll call you and see how you are” and she told herself it would all work out, she’d see him again. But then she
remembered the way he’d practically run out of the door,
and she felt awful again.
He was right, though, it was all too soon. Too soon after
somebody else’s kisses.
St John’s kisses.
The birds were singing now; the sun was growing stronger.
It was going to be another mellow autumn day. Rayne felt
calmer, somehow, for reliving, for facing what had happened
the night before, but she was chilled to the bone. She scrambled up from the log and hurried back to the Old Sty.
She kicked off her wellies, then, still with her coat on, she
climbed under her duvet, telling herself she’d snatch a few
hours’ sleep before work. Sleep, she hoped, without nightmares this time.
She lay there listening to the new-day birds, drifting off
into a doze, and as she did, she lifted a finger to her mouth,
and pressed her lips where Ethan’s had been.
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