There were gaps on the walls, and pictures sat around the floors of many rooms for Ayda to pore over before announcing they were in no need of repair. Each night she wrote up more notes than she ever would have if she had just kept to slowly cleaning.
“Hi, Ayda.” Duncan called running in to the workroom. She had hardly seen the boy, so it was a bit of a surprise. He was in preschool during the days, and he seemed to be attached to Charlie’s hip when he was in the castle.
“Can I help?” he asked, peering up at her with big green eyes.
Her blood ran cold; she was working on a painting worth a hundred thousand pounds.
“Umm. Can you hold the swabs right there until I need them?” she blurted out, trying to think of the most harmless thing around.
“Sure.” His eyes sparkled as he picked up the pile, she could see he was trying his hardest not to drop them.
“Am I going to get to meet your mom soon?” Ayda asked as she took one from him.
“She left on a long trip and we won’t see her anymore.”
Suddenly Ayda knew exactly what the incident at the pub was about. “When he wakes up, remind him his sister didn’t do anything she didn’t want to do. The woman was old enough to leave,” Hunter had whispered. Looking at the boy, she should have recognized the red hair before. So, the red head was Duncan’s uncle and warned her about ending up a Sinclair whore. Not an amicable split by the sound of it.
“Duncan!” Hunter could be heard yelling from the hall. The boy jumped at being caught. “Now why are you hiding? Mary made a cake and she needs help cleaning the frosting bowl.”
Duncan thrust the swabs back at her and vanished out of the room. Ayda was laughing until Hunter appeared, wet and shirtless, with the squirming Duncan under his arm. “Thought you got away, didn’t you? This is what you get when you push me in, you little stinker.” He started tickling the boy, and laughter echoed through the stone halls until Charlie took him away.
Hunter was behind her, seeing what she was doing. She had a clear view of his chest in the reflection on the magnifying lens. A tattoo graced one shoulder but she was too distracted to see of what. “Oh, God.”
“What was that?”
Hell, she had said it out loud. “Keep back, this one can’t afford to get wet from you drying off like a dog,” she snapped as he shook his head. Ayda almost groaned when he moved out of view of the reflection. “How long ago did Duncan’s mother leave you?” she muttered, finally trying to change the subject.
“Duncan’s not mine.” Surprised, she spun around on the stool and regretted it. He stood closer than she thought. Images of him next to her in bed ran through her head. “Lorne, the youngest, and the sister of that bastard I hit had been together since early secondary school. The summer after he graduated military academy, they had a little accident. They hadn’t gotten married yet, but he took her with him to his first posting.” Hunter’s jaw tightened. “Duncan was nine months old when she just walked out the door. Left him there alone. No one’s sure how many hours Duncan sat there crying, wondering why she never came, until Lorne got home. She’s never been seen since, probably because there’s an outstanding warrant against her for endangering a child. He’s in the Royal Marines. Instead of Duncan being raised by a stranger, he brought him here. He’s with him every leave he can get. Two years now. Every time her brother sees one of us, he acts as if Lorne destroyed her life. She was twenty-one when she got pregnant, not what you’d call an innocent virgin. Lorne didn’t just get her pregnant; he worshipped the ground she walked on. They were to be married in three months, and she would have been a lady, had an apartment in the castle, wanted for nothing, but for her it wasn’t enough.”
Ayda hadn’t been able to keep her jaw from dropping. “Wasn’t enough? Was the woman mad?”
Then he ran a finger along her cheek and she just about lost it. Take me now please.
“Not all women are art sluts. Alice was a fisherman’s daughter. The only explanation we can come up with was it was too much for her. Lorne’s learned to live with her choice, but he’ll never forgive her for leaving Duncan like she did. She could have left without endangering him.”
“If your brother looks anything like you, she’d have to be mad.” Oh, god, had she just said that out loud?
The corner of Hunter’s mouth turned up. “With that look in your eyes, I guess I should go get another shirt on before you have me for dinner.”
“Leave it off. I’ll just hang you up on the wall for inspiration while I work.”
Biting his lip, Hunter never the less was laughing. “Surest way to get lucky with you, it sounds like. However, while I would love to become the decoration for you, Duncan’s getting a bath as we have guests coming in an hour. The fifteen-year-old girl would be rather amused to see me up on the wall, I would imagine. You’ll probably want to keep in here. It will be dull to no end; you at least can escape the torment.”
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya a few years back I traveled quite a bit and now I just wish I was. A lot of the places I've written about I've been to, a lot of them I haven't. Rafting on the Nile in Uganda, living in a Montana ghost town, Puerto Rican beaches, African safaris, Mayan ruins, European youth hostels, the Black Hills of South Dakota all fill my scrapbooks. Now a daughter takes up most of those pages, but I still travel in my head every time I write.