If books could kill, p.15

If Books Could Kill, page 15

 

If Books Could Kill
 


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  “Makes no sense a’tall,” said the third man, shaking his head.

  The driver nodded. “Aye, Rabbie was a great lover, but he would’ve drawn the line at a snooty English royal.”

  “Och, aye, he was a lover, he was,” Tommy agreed, chuckling. “He loved many a lass.”

  The third man laughed. “Aye, that’s our boy Rabbie.”

  The laughter stopped abruptly as the driver wrenched the wheel. The cab lurched to the side of the road and stopped. The two men beside me tensed up, and I started to panic as the driver maneuvered himself around to face me.

  “Understand, miss,” he said. “Robert Burns was a Freemason, a well-known dissenter who supported both the French resistance and your own American Revolution. He was a Scottish nationalist and a harsh critic of the Church of England. He never would’ve consorted with the auld enemy, and that goes double for the royal family. This you must believe.”

  “All right,” I said, talking slowly as I nodded. “I see your point. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m not very familiar with the history of your country, so I appreciate your patience with me.” I would’ve said anything at that moment to get back to the hotel. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that the legend of Robert Burns and the princess was too good to be true.

  “Do you mean it, miss?” the driver said.

  “Absolutely,” I said. “And I want to apologize for upsetting you. I didn’t realize that what I was saying might be so offensive.”

  “Ah, see there?” said the third man, slapping the back of the driver’s seat. “She didn’t realize what she was saying.”

  “I didn’t,” I said promptly. “I swear. I’m so glad you’ve enlightened me. And now that I know the truth, please believe I’ll never again say anything contradictory to the facts.”

  “There’s a fine lass,” Tommy said, patting my knee fondly.

  “Thank you,” I said, determined to make eye contact with each of them. “I really appreciate knowing the truth.”

  The driver breathed a sigh of relief. “We’ll thank you as well, then. We didn’t know what else to do when we heard you were spinning tales but try to appeal to your higher principles.”

  By kidnapping me? I thought, but resisted saying it, instead asking, “How did you hear about me?”

  “Anonymous phone call,” the driver said with a shrug. He settled back behind the wheel and started the car, leaving me to wonder who had made that anonymous phone call. It could’ve been anyone attending my workshop, but my money was on Perry McDougall.

  We drove the five miles back to the Royal Mile in silence. When they reached the drive in front of my hotel, Tommy turned and faced me.

  “We’ll come in with you and spring for a pint to celebrate.”

  “Oh, no!” Dear God, just let me go in peace, I thought. But I squeezed out a smile and said, “I would love to, but I injured my ankle earlier and should probably soak it in Epsom salts.”

  “You’re injured, miss?” the third man said.

  “It’s probably nothing serious, but I should take care of it.”

  “Are you sure it’s not serious?” Tommy said. “Harry’s a doctor.”

  I gaped at the third man.

  “Aye, I am,” Harry said, then glared at his partner. “Did Tommy push you too hard?”

  Good grief, thoughtful kidnappers. Only in Scotland. And a doctor among them? I was truly going mad.

  “Uh, no, it happened earlier today,” I said, waving a hand in dismissal. “It’ll be fine tomorrow.”

  “If you’re sure.”

  “Walk her to the door, Harry,” the driver prompted.

  “Aye.” Harry the doctor whipped out of the car and held his hand out for me. I had no choice but to allow him to help me. My ankle throbbed and my back was stiff. I swayed once before steadying myself.

  “There, see?” I said, giving Harry my best smile. “I’m fine.”

  “If you’re sure.”

  “Absolutely.”

  “We’ll take a rain check then,” the driver said as we passed by his open window.

  “Perfect,” I said.

  Harry dug into his pocket and pulled out a business card. “You’ll call if you have any problems while you’re in town.”

  I glanced at the card and I prayed my eyes didn’t bug out of my head. HARRISON MCFARLAND, MD. It was true, then. One of the men who’d kidnapped me was a doctor. Maybe Tommy the gunman was a lawyer.

  “Are you sure you’ll be all right?”

  I stared at him. “Absolutely. Thanks.”

  “Go inside and rest, miss. You’ve had a day.”

  “Thanks for making it more interesting.” I waved good-bye to my new Freemason friends and hobbled to the door.

  The first person I saw when I entered the lobby was Derek Stone, and I almost wept with relief. And hunger. Dear God, I was hungry to the point of starvation.

  He saw me and sauntered over. “Where did you run off to?”

  “Ah, where to begin?” I said. “But first, I need food. Do you want to come with me?”

  He threaded my arm through his. “While it’s always entertaining to watch you consume food, I must run an errand first. I was hoping you’d come with me.”

  I rubbed my stomach.

  He smirked but took hold of my arm and we walked back outside. “I believe this short detour will be worth your while, and I promise to feed you afterward.”

  “I hate to remind you, but when we last spent quality time together, I ended up hiding in a closet and finding another dead body.”

  He leaned in close. “Are you too much of a coward to give it another try?”

  “Coward?” I said, insulted and excited all at once. “Lead the way, Jack.”

  A black Bentley limousine pulled up. The driver hopped out and opened the door for us. When we were ensconced in the backseat and the driver made his way out to the Royal Mile, I turned to Derek. “Where are we going?”

  “To the palace.”

  “What?”

  Within minutes we’d left the High Street behind and I could see rugged Arthur’s Seat rising up to stand sentry over the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Then, within moments, we were actually driving onto the stately grounds of the palace.

  Wow.

  I turned to Derek. “What are we doing here?”

  “Just picking something up,” he said cryptically.

  The driver opened the door and Derek led me to a side entrance away from the public tour area. Before I could get over my shock, we were met at the door by an older woman in a slim blue dress. She escorted us to an elegantly appointed sitting room, where a well-dressed man in his early forties was waiting.

  “Ah, Mr. Stone,” the man said. “Here you are, right on time.”

  “Hello, Jones,” Derek said. “This is Brooklyn Wainwright, the book restoration expert I was telling you about.”

  “Lovely,” he said with a slight nod.

  “ Brooklyn,” Derek continued, “this is Phillip Pickering-Jones, personal secretary to the royal highnesses.”

  The royal highnesses?

  “Nice to meet you, Mr. Pickering-Jones.”

  “Delighted,” he said, extending his hand to shake mine. “And just ‘Jones’ is fine. His Highness is quite delighted at the thought of your doing the work. He asks only that you ship the parcel back within a month, in time for the young lady’s birthday.”

  His Highness?

  Were we talking about the prince? Like, the real freaking prince? Was it the cute one? Or the other cute one? Or the much older, not-so-cute one? Did it matter? I looked from Jones to Derek. “What am I working on?”

  “Ah, you haven’t informed her, then?” Jones asked Derek.

  “No,” Derek said with a slight smile. “I thought you might do that.”

  “With pleasure, sir.” He walked to a small, elegant pale green desk set against the wall under a portrait of some distinguished lord of something or other. He picked up a brown-paper
-wrapped parcel and handed it to me.

  “It’s a favorite childhood book belonging to a dear friend of His Highness,” Jones explained. “Now tattered and torn, as you’ll see. We would be most appreciative if you would work your magic to transform it into a gift of beauty for his lady friend’s birthday.”

  I took the parcel and found the seal. “May I?”

  He nodded regally. “Of course.”

  I unwrapped the package. It was a leather-bound version of what I assumed was a British children’s book I’d never heard of: A Flat Iron for a Farthing, by Juliana Horatia Ewing. I turned it over in my hand. It was fraying at the edges and torn through to the boards in spots. My brain went into bookbinder mode, cataloging the book itself and the work required: original green leather binding so faded it appeared light gray. Title embossed in gold on spine. Faded. Masking tape residue on front hinge. I resisted shivering in disgust.

  The front and back boards had come loose from the spine. The paper was thick and in decent condition, with only a bit of insect damage and foxing on several pages. The signatures had begun to unravel from the tapes. It would need new tapes, new flyleaves and a complete new binding.

  “It’s charming,” I said, and it was, despite its disrepair-and the masking tape. Ugh. I opened the book to the title page and noted its printing date: 1910. “Do you know what type of binding His, er, Highness would prefer?”

  “Leather, of course,” Jones said, waving his hand theatrically.

  “Of course.”

  “Something elegant and pretty, perhaps somewhat close to the original green.”

  “Sounds perfect.”

  I turned the book over and studied the back board. Forest green morocco would be pretty. “Would he prefer gilding or heat stamping? Raised cord spine?”

  He gave me a deferential nod. “I was told that the details were to be handled at your discretion, Miss Wainwright.”

  “And you’ll need it back within a month?”

  “Yes, miss.”

  I nodded. “I can do that.”

  “Excellent.” He bowed. “Thank you, miss.”

  “Thank you,” I said. “It’ll be my pleasure.”

  He handed me a small white shopping bag with the royal crest imprinted on it in black, and explained that inside the bag was a card with instructions as well as a preaddressed overnight mailing packet for my convenience.

  Then he walked with us back along the wide gallery, allowing us a brief glance at the library and identifying the subjects of a number of different paintings. He stopped to allow us to admire a huge set of Sèvres urns that were particular favorites of Queen Victoria. Farther along, he proudly pointed out the impressive silver tea service on display that had been a gift from Lord Wellington.

  When he bade us farewell at the limousine, I didn’t know whether to curtsy or bow, so I just shook hands with him.

  Once inside the car, I turned to Derek. “Oh, my God, I’m working for His Highness. Whichever highness it is, it totally rocks. You rock. Thank you.”

  I kissed him, then sat back. “Wow, this is so cool. I really-”

  “Come here.” He drew me back into his arms and proceeded to finish the kiss properly. Before my eyebrows singed and I turned into a yearning puddle of need, the chauffeur had stopped the car.

  “That’s a short drive,” I mumbled.

  “You’re welcome,” Derek said.

  Once inside, we made tracks straight to the restaurant, where the hostess led the way to a corner booth. I scooted in on one side and met Derek in the middle. He ordered a cup of coffee and I went with the ploughman’s platter and a pint of pale ale.

  “Platter’s enough for two,” the waitress said as she wrote the order.

  “Yes, we’ll have two plates,” Derek said with a smile.

  The waitress returned his smile, looked at me and patted her heart, then walked away.

  I grinned, then remembered he’d asked for two plates. “I thought you already ate.”

  “I did,” he said. “And no, I’m not going to take your food.”

  “I’d like to see you try.”

  “I’d rather keep my skin intact.”

  The waitress delivered his coffee and my beer. He took a sip and whispered, “I asked for two plates because I didn’t want our waitress to fret about your eating issues.”

  “I have no eating issues.”

  “I know that, but she doesn’t.”

  “Oh, I get it. You were being thoughtful.”

  “Yes, I was.”

  “That’s such a gift.” I smiled and leaned back against the cushioned booth. I was exhausted and achy. I needed a nap and a massage, not necessarily in that order. But I had my royal assignment, and that made me feel all rosy inside.

  “Thank you again,” I said.

  “You’re more than welcome,” he said. “I know you’ll do a good job.”

  “Well, of course I will, but…”

  He was staring.

  “What’s wrong?” I asked.

  He moved closer and brushed my bangs off my forehead. “You’ve got a bump and a bruise.”

  “I do?” Before I could touch my forehead, he pulled my hand away.

  “It looks painful.”

  “Now that you mention it, I do have a slight headache.” I’d forgotten all about it, thanks to the distraction of our little errand to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

  He stared at my palm. “And you’ve scraped your hand.” Without warning, he kissed my wrist. I almost moaned as my system went to code red. My arm tingled, my heart raced and all the breath in my body got caught in my throat. With my luck, these were the first symptoms of a heart attack.

  I eased my hand away and reached for the beer. “I had a little mishap at the library.”

  “Define mishap.”

  I sighed. “I think someone was trying to kill me.”

  “Do tell,” he said calmly, but his eyes were narrowed and his mouth was a thin, grim line.

  I took off my jacket and laid it on the seat, then told him the whole story about the genealogy room and the bookshelf falling on me.

  “And you didn’t see anyone?” he asked when I’d finished. “Hear anyone?”

  “Not really. I heard the door open and shut once, and I heard some scuffing sound, but I brushed it off. The shelves were wood, so they made lots of settling, groaning noises. I chalked the other noises up to that. I never saw anyone.”

  “And this bookshelf just toppled? Aren’t they bracketed together or bolted to the floor?”

  “As a matter of fact, I checked while I was lying flat on my face, and yes, the shelves were bolted to the floor but not to one another.”

  He shook his head, concern etched on his face. “You’re lucky you only turned your ankle.”

  “Lucky seems to be my middle name.”

  “So you were on your way back from the library when I saw you?” he asked.

  Before I could respond, the waitress brought my ploughman’s platter. And okay, yes, it probably was big enough for two, but I knew I would have no problem finishing the whole thing. I made myself a sandwich from two thick slices of bread, some fresh ham, two chunks of cheese, a tomato slice and various condiments.

  After savoring a few luscious bites, I finally lost the debate with myself and related the whole story of my improbable kidnappers.

  Derek listened with outward patience, then said adamantly, “Let me see the business card.”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Did those men frighten you?”

  I pursed my lips, considering whether to answer or not, but finally relented. “Yes, they did at first. I was terrified. But after a few minutes of driving around and talking, they seemed more like my three brothers than any thugs I’ve ever seen. They were cute, too.”

  Derek frowned and I waved that statement away. “Never mind. Anyway, I realized they just needed to talk.”

  “By dragging you off the street and kidnapping you?”

 
; “Well, when you put it like that…” I dabbed my mouth with my napkin. “But I was never in any danger.”

  “You didn’t know that,” he said.

  “I admit I experienced a minute or two of terror.”

  “May I see the card, please?”

  “I don’t want to press charges,” I insisted, spreading mayonnaise on another slice of bread. “They made their point and I appreciated it.”

  “Fine,” he said, holding out his hand. “But if I need a doctor, I want to know who not to call.”

  “Good point.” I would probably regret it, but I pulled the card out of my pocket and handed it to him.

  He rubbed his thumb against the grain. “Good quality,” he mused.

  “I thought the same thing.”

  “Yes, you would,” he said absently. “An MD with the Royal College of Surgeons. What’s a surgeon doing terrorizing young ladies on the streets of Edinburgh?”

  “Just making his case, I guess.”

  He put the card in his pocket. “I’ll hold on to this.”

  I waved my fork at him. “If I find out you sicced the police on them, I’ll be very put out with you.”

  He folded his arms across his chest. “I’ll have to live with that.”

  I took a bite of pickle, then shook my head. “Can’t trust anyone.”

  “It’s a sad truth,” he said, moving close to wrap his arm around my shoulder. I closed my eyes and leaned against him for a long moment. I could’ve stayed there all day, but he’d pulled his cell phone out with his free hand.

  “Finish your lunch,” he murmured, then pressed a button on the phone. I wasn’t surprised when he greeted Angus MacLeod, told him about my library mishap, and asked him to meet us right away.

  “Don’t you dare tell him about the Freemasons,” I warned when he ended the call.

  “They’re the least of your worries, darling.”

  “Perry McDougall has an alibi,” MacLeod said. “He’s been working in his booth at the fair all day.”

  So Perry wasn’t my library attacker.

  My shoulders fell. “Are you sure?”

  MacLeod had arrived only minutes ago to interview me in Derek’s elegant penthouse suite. That’s right, Derek had rented the penthouse suite. The man had quite the expense account. Of course, since he owned his own security company, it probably wasn’t a problem convincing the boss he needed all this space.

 
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