I waited until we were alone before exploding into agitated whispers. "George! What the hell is going on here?"
She was listening at the door to the hall and put her finger to her lips. I paced back and forth from the bed to the closet, first checking it to see what might be in there. Some wooden hangers were all that hung on the rod and I mentally decided what needed to be hung up when we unpacked. If we unpacked?
Warm arms slid around me and I turned into George's hug with one of my own. "I think that we've found another mystery, sweetness. Sabrina was practically a basket case by the time we got here. She and her father were arguing up a storm when they left us. Sir Thomas' voice wasn't raised but it sounded like a near thing."
"It has to do with Ned. I believe in love at first sight but that was ridiculous. She couldn't talk of anything but him the whole drive." I shook my head and felt one of George's hands caressing my neck.
"I don't think its love, Nancy." Her dark eyes were focused over my shoulder. She had her thinking face on and I impulsively kissed those slightly pursed lips. She chuckled into the kiss and I giggled when her other hand cupped my breast, squeezing lightly. Setting me back from her, she shook her finger at me. "None of that, young lady, we need to get to the bottom of this quickly. The one thing I did hear was Sir Thomas saying something about two days until the . . . something. They'd moved far enough away that I couldn't hear what that was."
Catching the serious look on her face, I thought a moment. "You think there's some kind of danger and it might be directed at Ned?"
George shrugged. "It's a distinct possibility. I don't want to take the chance. What we need to do is unpack and take a quick look around before Sabrina comes back to get us for dinner. I've got the feeling that some of the clues we need are around us. She said something about a portrait before her father cut her off."
I nodded and we quickly unpacked just enough things for tonight and the next day. Then we split up to canvas the manor house. I went up to the third floor, where the rooms for servants could be found. They were empty and barren except for one room that was locked up tight. I knew those lessons in lock picking with Slippery Al would come in handy some day. Using a bobby pin, I tripped the lock and opened the door.
Well, that was interesting. It appeared to be a chapel ... or something. The walls were covered with lush black velvet and the ... altar was long and broad enough to hold a person. I was getting seriously bad vibrations from the whole place so I stayed on the threshold. The black candles on the altar and the scent of something copper smelling solidified the feeling of nastiness that came in waves. I shut the door softly and retripped the lock. Shaking a little, I went through the rest of the rooms quickly then hurried back to the second floor. The door to our room was slightly ajar so I pushed it open the rest of the way and checked first to see who was inside.
Okay, this was getting spookier by the minute. Doors don't just open and close by themselves. Well, normal doors didn't but this whole place was starting to give me the creeps. A hand on my shoulder made me jump a foot and almost scream.
"Sweetness, what's wrong?" George had come in while I was gingerly checking out the room. "You found something."
I rested my head on her shoulder and held her almost as tightly as she was holding me. I described the room in detail to her. That was a game that we'd begun playing at about the age of ten, 'I spy'. It's why we're both so good at detecting things. Paying attention to our surroundings had become second nature. The act of retelling brought up a few things that I hadn't remembered that I'd seen.
Other items that were on the altar; an obsidian bowl; a silver knife with dark stains on it; and the lock of light hair suspended in a delicate wire mesh that gleamed in the dim light.
George nodded slowly. "Could be they're just playing at black magic. I know a couple of kids back home who are into that. We'll see if there are any other signs while we go through the rest of the house."
"What did you find?" Burying my nose in her soft black hair and taking a deep breath of lovely George-scent, I held her inside and outside of me.
"A long hall of portraits that seem to stretch back a thousand years or more." Her hands were like an electric blanket on my back, leaving heat everywhere they stroked. "And I'd say fully half of them are Ned's twin."
I raised my head and looked into her dark brown eyes. The same nameless worry I had was reflected straight back to me. "Ned's twin? We need to talk to him and Dad. Something is wrong and we have to figure it out before this creepy feeling gets worse."
And that's when the knock at the door came.
Dinner was pretty quiet. Carson kept sneaking little worried peeks at me and I couldn't figure out why. But when we left for a walk after dinner, I made sure that I kept touching him, nothing overt just a hand on his arm or a quick lean into him when I saw something he'd like in a store window. He seemed a little calmer when we walked to the cathedral, commenting on the sound of the bells for evensong and the soaring spire that we'd been able to see all the way out to Stonehenge.
Thinking about the stones, I felt again that yearning towards them. If it hadn't been so late, I'd have loved to watch the sunset from the circle. Suddenly, I realized that that same tug was turning me towards a cobblestone lane. "Carson, let's see what's down here."
"Whatever you wish, Ned." His smile lit up the dusk that was slowly overtaking the light. "Oh look, it's the Wiltshire County Museum ... and they're open for another half hour. Why don't we see if they have an expert on Stonehenge?"
Something inside of me sighed and said, yes. "Sounds great. Even if they don't, I'll bet that they've got a book in the museum shop that we can buy. I could read it aloud to help you go to sleep."
He let his hand on my back slip down to my ass, leaning in and whispering in my ear. "I can think of something better than reading to help me sleep."
I wiggled just a little and opened my eyes really wide. "Really? Better than a bedtime story?"
"Much better, Ned, although I think several of the bedtime stories I used to read to Nancy could be ... rewritten on more adult lines." He said softly before smiling at the girl who was sitting by the door, reading a thick book and taking notes. She took our money and said that she'd see if the Curator were still in the building.
The museum had to have once been a house because it was divided up into small rooms. We followed the exhibits down one side through several doorways. Each room was a different time period and they got older the further in we walked. The tingling was back and I could hardly wait to see the items excavated from that powerful spot. The lights were dimmer in the last room except for the spotlights that highlighted the dioramas they'd created.
Glass displays were everywhere and I felt like a kid in a candy shop, not sure where to look first. But Carson had that figured out and was bent over a table top tableau of what the Salisbury Plains must have looked like when the Ancients began to build the circles of stone. What drew me to that case was a cluster of stone tools that my hands itched to hold. They were primitive but I could see how each one had been used in dressing the stones, digging the holes, scraping deer hides for clothing, even a bronze needle for sewing their garments.
Odd, but I could name each and every one of them and was doing so to Carson when someone joined us. Looking up, I saw what appeared to be a gnome dressed in baggy pants and sweater. I blinked and realized that he was beaming at us as if we were long lost relatives.
"Good evening, gentlemen. I see you found one of my favorite displays. Young man, you seem to know your tools. Are you an archaeologist, too?" The deep bass voice went very oddly with his short stature. He couldn't be more than 5'4" but he sounded more like seven foot tall.
"Um, no. I'm an architect." I almost stammered.
Carson introduced us and we shook hands with Avery Tattersole, the museum curator. He began to answer Carson's questions while I listened and watched his hands talk above the glass. His words seemed to open up memories inside my mind and I found myself naming something before he could. It got to be a game at each display for him to give a brief summary then look at me while I named the items inside the case.
In a corner of my mind, I wondered how I knew all this. That same corner could see the little frown between Carson's eyes and feel his uncertainty but I couldn't seem to stop myself. Mr. Tattersole led us to the other side of the room and a darkened case that came to life at the touch of a button. And I leaned forward with a choked cry.
The bones of a young man lay curled around an obsidian knife that had obviously ended his life. They were brown and brittle with age but for some reason I felt like I knew him. He couldn't have been much taller than the curator was when he lived and my mind's eye painted him in strong sure colors with tan skin, blond hair that lay on broad shoulders and blue eyes. I could see his smile turn into a pained grimace as the knife sheathed itself in his heart.
"Ned!" Carson's voice finally got through to me and I found myself sitting on the floor while he knelt in front of me, chafing my hands.
"Carson? What happened?" I was shivering with cold.
"Young man, it appears that you experienced a flashback to the time of your ancestors." Mr. Tattersole's voice was calming and I looked into green eyes very like my own. "I think that we should adjourn to my office for a nice hot cup of tea while you tell me about yourselves. I very much doubt that your coming here at this time of year is a coincidence. It's July 29 and we don't have much time."
He turned rather imperiously and Carson stood, pulling me to my feet and leaving one arm around my waist. I needed his support at that moment. What did the date have to do with anything?
Tea was odd to say the least. Everybody talked around the hidden emotions that seemed to fill the drawing room while we ate dainty cakes and scones with clotted cream. My eyes kept going to the painting above the fireplace, drawn to the handsome young man who smiled into the room. He was Ned's twin in every way and I felt the hair on the back of my neck keep trying to rise up. Finally I couldn't take the politeness any longer and I barely waited to let Sir Thomas finish his sentence before blurting out my question.
"Whose portrait is that, Sir?"
His eyes went cold for a heartbeat while Sabrina bit her lip and darted quick looks between us. "My son, Marcus. It was painted shortly before his death in a car accident."
"I'm sorry to bring up a sad memory, Sir Thomas. He looks very much like an old friend of mine who is traveling with us." I kept my hand from trembling with some of that iron will that I inherited from Dad.
"Yes, Sabrina mentioned a resemblance. Perhaps he and your father would like to join us for dinner tonight?"
"Sorry, but they're already out sightseeing." George smiled at him.
"Tomorrow then," he returned her smile with one of his own. "We can go through the family history and see if the Wentons and the Nickersons might be related. My late wife was very fond of genealogy and compiled all the family documents into a family tree that goes back to before the Norman Conquest."
"That sounds fascinating, I'd love to see them. America seems very young when I look around at your lovely home."
He nodded. "Part of this manor house was built before your Revolution. I've found that American visitors love these ancient buildings since you have none of your own."
I kept a smile on my face while fuming inside. "Oh, we have a few back home. The Anasazi Indians left some wonderful monuments. There's a Medicine Wheel made of stone that's rather like your Stonehenge although not quite as old."
He quirked an eyebrow at me. "Aboriginal work is indeed fascinating. Tomorrow, I'll drive you all over to Stonehenge and give you my famous lecture on the stones."
"Dad!" Sabrina rolled her eyes at him but George quickly accepted his invitation.
However, that led to a tour of the house and a walk through the portrait gallery. It was eerie to see Ned in all the different costumes from Edwardian times back to Henry II. I had the feeling that all their eyes were following me and I was seriously inclined to freak out but George kept a hand on my back to keep me calm. Sir Thomas was so proud of his ancestors that it shone from him.
All I could think about was how odd that 90% of the portraits were of the men in the family. Where were the women ancestors? I was beginning to think that the Wentons were serious misogynists. After the tour, we made our excuses and went back to our room. Sabrina told us that some of their friends would be coming for dinner at eight and we assured her that we'd brought something dressy to change into.
As soon as we closed the door behind us, I went straight into George's arms. "Hold me, Georgie."
"Always, Nancy, I'll always hold you." She hugged me close before drawing me over to the bed and coaxing me down onto the pretty green duvet. Tugging my shoes off, she slipped hers off too and joined me.
I loved it when she blanketed me like that with her warmth. She kissed me slowly but surely, her tongue slightly raspy against mine. We tasted of tea and cake but under that was just us. Rolling back and forth, we finally got undressed so we were skin to skin. She nursed at my breast while I sighed and gave her a scalp massage that had her purring.
We took our time and loved each other almost into passing out. I know that I almost shook her off the bed with the force of my climax. Only her weight over me kept me in place while her fingers teased me to new heights. My breasts were so sensitive that I kept having little aftershocks whenever she kissed the swollen nipples. I had a leg between hers and she started to rock when I slid my fingers inside of her, heading for the spot that made us both tingle.
She buried her cry of completion in the hollow of my throat and it was my turn to hold her tight and murmur sweet nothings in her ear. We napped for an hour before getting up to get ready for dinner. Since it was formal, George got out one of her dresses and I got to watch her turn into the sexiest woman in the room. Seeing her in the crimson silk dress that Dad had brought her from China always made me hotter than hot.
And she knew it if her teasing look was any indication. The mandarin collar of the short-sleeved dress played up her sleek black pageboy and velvet dark eyes. She was wearing her garter belt with the sheer silk stockings and the side slit almost showed their tops. I had itchy fingers almost immediately but she was zipping me up into my own blue silk so I had to keep my hands to myself.
"Let's go see if we can find out a little more about this family." She kissed my hand and went to unlock the door. "Then we'll come back here and you can undress me with more than just your eyes."
I laughed and went first through the door. She was going to get so loved tonight.
I was a little bewildered by the thoughts racing through my head. The curator had asked us to call him Avery and he'd put the electric kettle on in his office before going out to lock up the museum. Carson held both my hands between his and their warmth was welcome. It felt like I was in shock but there was no reason for me to be. I'd seen skeletons before in biology class but this one had felt personal.
Like I'd known him.
Avery returned right before the teakettle whistled shrilly. He quickly made tea and set the big white pot on top of a book while he looked for three cups. "Now, I have a few questions before I do some explaining. All right?" He shot us an inquiring look over the tops of his glasses before continuing. "Good. I can tell that you're American and not blood relatives. Do you know Sir Thomas Wenton?"
Carson started and leaned forward. "My daughter and her friend have been pen-pals with young Sabrina for almost two years. They're staying with her right now."
"Really?" Avery absentmindedly stroked the handle of the teapot and I realized that it was a dragon's tail. In fact the entire pot was a dragon from the spout, which was his mouth to the handle. It even had little clawed feet that kept it raised above the book cover. "Well Ned, you've told me that you're an architect. Carson, what is your profession?"
"I'm a lawyer. Is there something wrong with the Wentons? Should we get Nancy and George away from them?" Carson's voice was worried.
"Not just yet, Carson. They're not the ones in danger." Avery poured tea into the three cups.
"But Ned is." Carson said quietly, taking the cup offered him.
"Yes, I'm afraid so." Avery handed me a steaming cup and I nodded silent thanks. I don't think I could have said anything right then to save my life. "Are the two of you lovers? I need to know but it will go no further."
How did he know that just by looking at us? I took a gulp of tea and almost scalded my tongue. Warmth spread throughout my whole body, leaving me feeling like I'd just submerged myself in a hot bath. The pale green tea contrasted with the white china and I found that I'd drunk the entire cup without realizing it. Coming back to the conversation, I heard Carson tell him that we did love each other. That could still amaze me sometimes, that he could say that out loud.
"Good, that will be helpful. Do either of you practice Wiccan rituals? Lughnassad mean anything to either of you?" He took in our no's with a sigh. "Well, we can't have everything."
This was getting weirder by the minute.
"Have you been out to Stonehenge yet?" This time we could say yes. He perked up and motioned for me to hold out my cup so he could refill it. "Excellent, now tell me, Ned, exactly what you felt and saw or heard while you were there."
I exchanged a look with Carson but he nodded his approval so I went over the feelings that had taken over me the moment that I stepped foot on Salisbury Plain soil. He asked quiet questions that seemed to have no point but he nodded several times so I kept talking until I got to my odd reaction to the skeleton.
"What picture rose in your mind when you saw him?" He asked and I described him. "That's what I thought. I have always been uneasy about that exhibit. Something told me that he was a sacramental kill and not battle dead. We'll have to tend to that after we figure out how to save young Ned here from a similar fate."
"Ritual sacrifice in this day and age?" Carson said in amazement. "That's absurd."
I swallowed hard and reached for Carson at the same moment he reached for me. Holding tight, I tried not to believe but feared it was a losing battle. Avery didn't look much like a joker, his authoritative voice sounded much too sure for this to be some kind of elaborate hoax.
"I dearly wish it was but unfortunately it is still practiced in these modern times. When young Marcus Wenton was killed seven months ago in a car accident, Sir Thomas was left without a family sacrifice to Lugh. My coven felt a seeking spell two months ago and now we know what he was seeking, a cadet branch of the Wenton family. Blood will out."
The end of chapter two