fiona-excerpt

Links go live as the book goes live THIS WEEK!
Red Button = Not Live Yet
Green Button = LIVE!

FIONA: ORIGINS
by Maggie Shayne

CHAPTER ONE

When I came home after a night of partying with my friends that beautiful spring morn, the last thing I expected to see was my parents lying on the floor of our cottage. I ran to my father first, as he was the nearer. But he was cool to the touch, chalk white, eyes closed, still in his nightclothes.

Dead. My da was dead.

“No!” I fell to my knees beside him, pressed my fingers to his neck in search of his pulse, but instead I felt, and then saw, two small dark wounds. I gasped and drew my hand away, but my gaze stuck fast. The punctures were swollen and red; there was not a drop of blood to be found, not even on his skin.

We’d argued the night before. My last words to him had been unkind. “Oh, Da, I’m sorry. If you want to move away, we’ll move away. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Da. I’m sorry.”

“Fiona,” Ma whispered.

“Ma?” She was alive! I scuttled to her side. She lay face up on the floor, still wearing her nightgown and her soft fleece robe.

I pressed her cheeks with my palms, searched her neck, fear making my eyes widen and my heart race. I turned her head gently, to check both sides. There were no wounds there, only her tears dripping onto the backs of my hands.

“It’s my heart, darlin’. It broke to bits when I found yer da like that. Oh, my sweet Michael!”

“I’ve got you, Ma.” I was already fumbling for my phone in my handbag, somehow still hanging from one shoulder. I tapped out 999. They answered quick. I said, “My father’s… my folks were attacked during the night. My mother’s having chest pains. Please hurry.”

“It’ll do no good, child,” Ma said. “I’m not long for this world. I so hate to leave ye alone. But we’ve little time left, and there are things ye must know.”

Her burr was heavy, her voice weak as she lay dying on the rag rug she’d braided herself. Beyond our windows, Loch Ness sparkled in the morning sun as if nothing horrible was happening along its green shore. It kept winking in my eyes.

I stroked Ma’s face. It was pale and cool. “I never should’ve stayed the night away. I was just so angry, him wanting to up and move away from here. Away from the loch.”

There’d been a bonfire with my schoolmates, and plenty of drink to celebrate our final day at university. I hadn’t planned to take part, but with Da acting so crazed, I’d left in a huff. We’d drunk ourselves foolish and camped out overnight. And look what I’d come home to.

I never should’ve gone.

I rung off, dropped the phone, and gathered Ma’s head onto my lap so I could hold her. “Help’s on the way, Ma”

She shook her head in the cradle of my arm. “Listen to me, Fiona. We were livin’ in the States back then. There was a fire in the research center, beyond the village. Dark place. Secretive. There were a dozen theories as to what went on there, but no one knew for sure. It burnt to the ground.”

“Save your strength, Ma, please.”

She pressed her lips, shook her faded red curls, and raised her voice. “Listen to me, daughter!”

Ma never raised her voice. It startled me. “All right, I’m listening.” My own burr had once been as heavy as hers, but I’d been learning to soften it at college. To succeed in the world, Professor McKenzie said, one first needed to be understood by the world. And she’d harped on us to pronounce our Ts and use diction.

The life lessons of Professor McKenzie were likely going to prove more valuable to me than my liberal arts degree ever would.

“We were out for a drive the night of that fire, yer father and me. We saw the glow of flames up ahead, and suddenly there you were in the middle of the road all alone, yer face covered in soot.”

I frowned at her and wondered if she was losing her reason. “What do you mean, there I was?”

“Oh, Fiona, my dear sweet lassie. I dinnae give birth to ye. But I couldnae love you more if I had.”

“You—you’re not my—”

“You wore a hospital gown, a disposable nappy, and a plastic bracelet.” She paused there, took a few shallow breaths. “Subject 92751, it said.” Her cornflower eyes were dull, their shine all but gone.

I was stunned to my bones. Hot tears escaped my eyes and spilled onto my cheeks.

“I’d been prayin’ for a child, and you were God’s answer, Fiona. We sold our business and brought ye home to Scotland the verra next day, so they’d never know ye survived.”

She closed her eyes, rested her head on my arms. Her story had shaken me, but not as much as finding her and Da on the floor of our home. A home that had known only love and laughter for my entire life. Up until recently, with Da’s mad insistence we must move away.

Had he known somehow, that this might happen?

I heard sirens in the distance at last. “They’re comin’, Ma. Hold on.”

“Be safe, my sweet girl.”

The medics were at the door. I shouted “Come!” before they even knocked. More men than I'd expected crowded in, two of them coming to my mother. I moved aside, reluctantly surrendering her care to them.

Two others had gone to check on my father. I looked that way, knowing what they'd find.

“He’s already gone,” one whispered.

“Aye, but do ye see the marks on his neck?”

The two men locked eyes. There was fear in them. I read it easily. Ma always said I had an uncanny knack for reading people.

Death, murder, fear. These sorts of things were strangers in our home. Secrets were, too, or so I’d always believed. But there'd been a very big secret after all, one my parents had kept from me for my entire life.

I felt like a wee, frightened child as they carried her to the ambulance. I ran alongside, holding her hand. There was sunshine and a late spring breeze, and yet, it was the darkest day I’d ever known.

“Follow behind in the car,” one of the medics said. I knew him. The son of a local farmer. We’d played together as children.

I drove in silence, tears blurring my vision, pulled into a parking spot all cockeyed and ran to where the ambulance had stopped. They opened the rear doors to take my mother out again. But she was different. Every wrinkle had vanished from her face. She looked like a peaceful, sleeping angel. And I knew she’d gone to join Da.

The medics ran inside, pushing the gurney ahead of them, shouting for a crash cart, but she was gone. I felt it as surely as the sun on my face. She was gone, and Da was gone. I was alone in the world, and now with no idea who I truly was.

Everything about my life had been a lie. Everything I knew about myself, about my world, had been stripped away.


The cottage was emptier that it had ever been when I returned home that afternoon. I stood on the threshold, looking inside, but was somehow unable to make myself enter. I could only stand there, staring, wondering whether they’d still be alive, had I only stayed home.

Who’d done this to my family?

I heard a vehicle pull up and, in a few seconds, Constable Wallace put a hand on my shoulder. “Darlin’ lassie,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you.” I lifted my chin up then, looked at him over my shoulder. “It was a vampire, did this, Constable.”

His nostrils flared with his pupils. “It was no such thing, child. The coroner says yer da likely fell down the stairs.”

“The autopsy will show otherwise,” I said.

“I see no need for an autopsy. Ye donnae want yer da to be treated that way, now, do ye?”

“Aye, if it means capturing the monster that did this to him. To them.”

“Yer ma died of a heart attack,” he said.

“Aye, a heart attack caused by the sight of her husband lying dead of a vampire attack.”

“It wasnae—”

“It was! Did you not even see the punctures in his neck?”

“Ye go spreading this nonsense ‘round, ye’ll cause a panic, Fiona.”

“Maybe there ought to be a wee panic, sir. There’s a monster loose in Foyers.”

“I came to get yer official statement, lass.”

“I came home from spending the night away with my friends, to find my father dead of a vampire’s bite, and my ma dying of a heart attack. I called 999. That’s all there is to tell you.”

He nodded. “I’ll need to verify with these friends—”

“Why’s that now? Do you think Iput those marks in Da’s neck?”

He took a deep breath, then lowered his head and said, “I’m going to leave ye to grieve. We can talk tomorrow.”

“Nothing I say will be different tomorrow.”

He turned and walked back to his car. I made myself step inside, at least long enough to slam the door. And then I stayed put, right there at the threshold, wondering what to do.

At length, I pulled out my cell and rung up Jerry McGuinness, my da’s solicitor.

It took him four rings to answer “Aye, what is it now?”

“Mr. McGuinness, it’s Fiona Fairweather calling.”

“Fiona, I’ve only just received the tragic news. I’m sorry, lass. And stunned. And broken hearted. Are ye all right? I was just on my way to ye, love.”

“There’s no need to come.” I didn’t want anyone to come. I’d things to think about tonight. “I just—it was a vampire. A vampire killed my father. And the constable denies it, calls it an accident.”

Jerry was quiet for a long moment. So long I was compelled to speak again. “Did ye know my da wanted to move away?”

“He wanted to move away?” Jerry sounded as shocked as I’d been when I’d first heard the notion. "Why?"

I sighed heavily. “I was hoping you could tell me.”

“This is the first I’ve heard of it, lass. Where was he wantin’ to go?”

“It’s unimportant. Can you make the constable admit the truth and find my da’s killer? Is there some lawyerly thing you can do?”

“It would be a waste of time,” he said softly. “Wallace couldnae tell a vampire from an umpire. But… I know of some people who do this sort of thing. In the States where my nephew Aaron lives. I can make a call.”

I nodded slowly. “Aye. All right, you do that. I’ll see what I can do here.”

“What do ye mean, lass?”

“Nothing. I mean… Goodnight, Jerry.” I disconnected, put the phone back into my purse, and heeled off my shoes. Then I walked through, real slow, looking hard for anything off kilter. There was no furniture askew. Even the vase of roses from Ma’s garden was still upright on the wee stand near the window.

Was that blood on the carpet there?

I went into the kitchen, taking as few steps as possible, stopping at the cabinet where Ma kept the zipper bags. Then I rummaged through the junk drawer, locating a box cutter blade, a marking pen and a pair of tweezers. I took the big magnifying glass off Da’s reading table as I went back through the living room.

At university, I’d changed my mind a dozen times about what to study. I’d thought trying many things might help me find my calling. I never had. But I’d taken a semester of law enforcement classes my second year before deciding that was not for me. One of the classes had been on gathering evidence from a crime scene, and I was straining my mind to remember the details now.

The vampire had been in this house. He must’ve left a trace.

I moved to the spot where my father’s body had been lying, and crouched to search with the magnifying glass. I found those few drops of blood I’d seen on the carpet. My stomach convulsed. But I swallowed hard, took out the sharp blade, and cut those sections of the carpet out, then put each one into its own zipper bag. I also located a stray hair that was neither my ma’s red, my own copper, nor Da’s silver-gray. It was black as the soul of a killer. I put it into a bag as well.

I went through the entire living room, and the areas near both the front and back doors. I photographed a footprint, near the back, just on the top step, and then collected some of the dirt that had formed it.

By the time I finished, it was dark outside.

I’d been too busy to hurt for a wee part of the day. But as soon as there was no more to do, the pain came back in waves. I told myself to go upstairs to bed, but I was too afraid to sleep in this place.

I donned a fresh nightgown, took my pillow from my bed and an extra pillow case. Into that case, I dropped the box cutter knife, the crucifix from Ma’s bedroom wall, and a few cloves of garlic from the vegetable bin. Before leaving the kitchen, I took up Ma’s broomstick and broke it over my knee. And then I took the broken end, my pillow case full of supplies, and all those zipper bags out to the car. I’d lock myself in and sleep there, where a vampire might not expect me to be.


Three Days Later…

Boleskine Burial Grounds overlooked the southern shore of the loch. The wind coming up off the water tousled my hair the way my da used to do. My folks’ bodies lay in two shiny wood boxes, suspended above a pair of holes in the ground. They’d lined the open grave in green fabric, for the moment. The mourners mustn’t see bare soil, all tangled with roots and worms, after all.

My parents had made their arrangements themselves, years ago, so there was little for me to do. Even their modest headstone had been ready and waiting for them, standing so long that patches of bright green moss had already begun to creep over its edges. Their names and birthdates were pre-chiseled into its face. The stonecutter would return after I’d gone, I supposed, to add the date of their deaths.

The mourners had all gone, but even before they’d left, I’d been alone. I would always be alone now.

And then suddenly, I wasn’t.

I felt him before I saw him. His shadow fell over me, blocking out the sun, but also buffeting the wind.

I turned to see who was there. The tall, dark-haired man was a stranger to me. A stranger with eyes the same gray-blue as the loch right before a storm.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Miss Fairweather. How are you holding up?”

“You’re American.” The accent was unexpected enough to reach through my grief. But only briefly. “You knew my parents?” I asked, minding my diction. “Ma said they’d lived there once, when I was…a child.”

“No. I’m sorry to say I didn’t know them. We’re here because of the way they died.”

“And what do you know about that?” I was suddenly wary.

He kept looking at me, then away. Kept starting to speak and stopping again. “I’m sorry,” he finally said, and looked at something near my feet instead. “I’m handling this badly. My name is Quinn Collins. I’m with the United States Division of Paranormal Investigations. Better known as DPI and um--”

“Jerry McGuinness is an old friend,” another man said.

He was a few yards behind Quinn Collins. Odd that I’d missed him. He was so tall his back curved ‘round him. His hair was as gray as old steel. He came closer, reached out to take my hand. “I’m Chief Lester Mayhew. I head up the Byram Field Office.”

“Of the…DPI,” I said.

“Yes. You’ve heard of us?”

Since I thought he’d be insulted if I said no, I said nothing at all, only turned my attention to the spray of lilies atop the caskets. Ma’s were orange with velvety brown dots and yellow streaks, tiger lilies, for she’d loved how they grew wild wherever they pleased. Da's were blue, for the loch he loved. Who knew there were such things as blue lilies?

“I gathered up some evidence,” I said softly. “Since the constable couldnae—couldn’t—be bothered. It’s in the car.” I held out my keys. “In the boot, a canvas sack. I’m not um…I’m not yet ready to leave, but you can take it on your way.”

“Evidence?” The handsome one asked. “You gathered evidence?” He was looking at me as if he’d never seen my like, and his boss was looking at him looking at me.

Then Chief Mayhew took the keys from my hand. “Wait here, Collins. I’ll get it.” He walked away, up toward the car.

“So, you know how to gather evidence,” Quinn Collins said.

“I took a course in college during a brief surrey into the study of law enforcement. Heaven knows if I remembered correctly. But I did what I could.” I looked at him, got stuck trying to read his expressions. He was very good at hiding his feelings, I thought. “If you think I missed anything, you’re welcome to go over the place again. No one’s been inside since… Other than the medics, that is.”

“They haven’t? Where have you been staying, Miss Fairweather?”

“My car, mostly.”

“That’s not much safer than the house, if it was a vampire who murdered your father.”

“I just can’t bear to stay inside. It’s where my da died, you know? And it wasa vampire.” I watched him to see if he believed me.

To my surprise, there wasn’t as much as a flicker of doubt in his eyes. “You dobelieve me, don’t you?”

“I do. Why wouldn’t I?”

I shrugged. “Constable Wallace didn’t, or refused to. Folks ‘round here don’t believe in such things,” I said, pronouncing my t. It wasn't precisely true. We'd never seensuch things, but we knew of them. We had the Internet. There were vampires in many parts of the world. But not in Scotland.

“And how about you, Miss Fairweather? Do youbelieve in such things?”

“I've been keeping a crucifix and a wood stake under my pillow in the car.”

“Going to kill a rogue vampire, are you?”

“Aye. If he returns. Aye.”

His eyes were dark and full of secrets, but he believed me, and he was impressed by me, in spite of himself. That much showed clear, before he shuttered his face again.

He seemed to be searching my eyes in return, and I wondered what he was thinking, but then he looked away, to gaze out at the loch. “It’s a beautiful spot they chose.”

“Ma chose it long ago, and not for its folklore, though there’s lore a'plenty.”

“There is," he agreed.

“That burnt-out foundation up there?” I pointed. “That’s the remains of Boleskine House. Burnt just before my nineteenth Christmas. It once belonged to the occultist Alleister Crowley. They say he summoned hordes of demons right here among the headstones. Some claim they linger still.”

We were both looking up at the charred remains of Boleskine House. And he said, "Before that, way before, there was a church, wasn't there?”

I snapped my head his way. “Aye. A tenth-century kirk that also burned.”

“With all the congregation trapped inside.”

“You know your folklore, Mr. Collins."

“It’s part of my job.”

"Part of your job? To know about lore and fairytales?"

He nodded. "There's way more truth in them than you'd think."

Chief Mayhew had returned, carrying my makeshift evidence bags three to a hand. “You’re remarkable, Miss Fairweather. She’s remarkable,” he said to Quinn Collins. “Look at this.”

Quinn looked, but there was the merest hint of a knit in his brow.

“Why didn’t you stick with law enforcement in college?” the chief asked. His face was friendly, but there was something off. He was looking pleased, but I’d no idea with what.

A cloud passed over the sun. “How do you know about that?”

He smiled easily. “We don’t begin an investigation without a thorough background check of everyone involved,” he said.

Quinn Collins’ frown deepened. He was not fully in the know. And his boss, I sensed, was performing for me.

Why?

Collins said, “We really didn’t come here to intrude on your…time. To say goodbye.”

“No, no, of course not,” the chief agreed. “But we do need to sit down with you, Miss Fairweather. And time is short. Could we meet with you tonight, do you think?”

“I donnae—don’t know—”

“We can make it a dinner meeting,” the chief said. “You look like you could use a good meal. That pub, on the corner?”

“Tomorrow night.” Quinn Collins looked at his boss. “She’s burying her parents, Chief.”

I lowered my head, grateful for his concern, but irritated at his assumption that I couldn’t speak for myself. “I was about to say that tomorrow would be better. Tonight, half the town will be in and out, bringing food, drink and condolences. Speaking of which, if you do want to inspect the crime scene, you’ll need to hurry. Jerry’s holding them off until five, he said.”

“I think we have plenty to go on with what you brought us,” the chief said. “And if we’re putting it off until morning, let’s make it a breakfast meeting.”

“Aye, all right. Only the pub’s not open in the forenoon.”

“We can come to you, if it’s easier,” Quinn Collins said. “We can even bring the breakfast. What time will you be up and around?”

“Earlier than you,” I told him.

He accepted the challenge, a little spark of amusement in his eyes, and with a nod, they turned and walked off. He rolled his right shoulder as if it ached, on his way to the car.

I watched them go. The chief was talking most of the way. I heard, “She’s something, isn’t she? At a time like this, to have the presence of mind to gather evidence…” His voice trailed off as they walked further.

Quinn Collins turned to look back at me, and I got the feeling he was trying for all the world to puzzle me out.


CHAPTER TWO

The locals came with food and drink, some of them half pished, some stone sober, all of them grieving hard, for my folks had been loved in Foyers. Lifelong residents. None, I reckoned, aware of Da’s sudden yen to leave. Jerry was Da’s best friend. If he’d told anyone, it would’ve been Jerry.

I accepted hugs and kisses and listened to tales of days gone by in good grace, but I truly just wanted the lot of them to leave. I needed solitude here, with their memory. Or their ghosts, or whatever wee trace of them remained.

When at long last the locals cleared out, and I was alone in the house, I wished some of them had lingered.

Aye, the memory of my folks lived here, faint and useless. And so did the memory of their deaths. Their murders. The horrors of what had happened that night, witnessed only by the walls and ceilings, but present all the same. It felt stronger to me than the memory of us together.

I’d likely not spend the night under my own roof, much as I wanted to.

I cleaned up a bit, as Ma would’ve wanted. I took a shower, and donned my nightclothes, and went to my bedroom. My furry red wolf pup sat on the bed, looking at me from her sightless eyes. “As if you’ll do me any good in case of vampire attack,” I told her, but I scooped her up all the same, and hugged her to me.

I carried her to the bedroom window to gaze down at my car. Last night’s bedding was still on the back seat.

My cell phone, lying on the nightstand, made the sound of harp strings. Frowning, I picked it up.

A text from an unknown caller. It said, Chief wants me to watch the house overnight. I’m across the road, near the mailbox.

Frowning, I looked out the window again, and I saw him there. Quinn Collins, in the golden glow that spilt from the house. Not a single light had I switched off.

I texted back, Lawn chairs in back. More comfy than a boulder.

Too comfy. Can’t fall asleep. But you can.

Maybe.

Nothing will get past me. I’ll be more effective than a stuffed dog.

Startled at how clearly he must be able to see me, I moved to one side. I must seem like a little child to him, hugging a ratty old toy, too afraid to go to bed.

Wolf, not dog, I corrected, and then added, Thank you.

Hugging Red to me, I crawled into my bed and fell back in time to the day I’d found the silly stuffed animal. Ma's voice echoed from the dusty corners of my memory.

Snatched the wee snarlin' thing off the shelf. An’ och, how she wailed when I tried to put it back. Aye, o' course I bought it for her. I cannae ken why she acted so.

Da had tousled my hair. Who knows what goes on in that wee curly heid of yers, aye, Fiona?

I hugged Red and thought I’d never fall asleep. And then I did.


The loch called me awake. She whispered my name in the sloshing of waves against stone, and I got up and went out to greet her.

Quinn Collins had gone. It was 8 a.m. and the sun had been up for nigh on two hours. I never slept this late.

I left my bed, glad I’d slept in it, and walked down to the shore, and there stood gazing out at the loch. She was moody this morn', dark with choppy white caps, baring her teeth at the sky.

"Aye, I'm good and angry, too," I told her. "Best people ever to grace your shores, they were.” I gazed into her depths, beyond the foam edged waves. “You were here that night. You saw it all. I wish you could tell me.”

The wind blew harder. Her waves reached higher, then fell again, splashing water on my skin. As if she was telling me. Maybe she was.

Then I felt him there, same as I had before, and thought, as I turned, how odd that was. Quinn Collins was standing beside my house, looking at me. I lowered my head, holding my hair with one hand. The wind had been having her way with my red tangles the better part of an hour. I headed for the house, crossing my other arm over my chest for modesty’s sake.

"You don't get up earlier than me after all," he said. He might've been joking or making an observation. Impossible to tell.

"I slept hard and slept late.”

“You needed it. Did it help any? Not that anything really co—”

“It helped. I feel stronger. Even a wee hungry.”

"I brought breakfast, as instructed." He held up a white paper sack from Cobbs. “The only thing I didn't bring is coffee. You...dohave coffee, don't you?"

"Coffee? That's sort of like tea, only black and so bitter, one is forced to cover the taste by adding copious amounts of cream and sugar, aye?"

He frowned until I rolled my eyes and said, "Aye, I have coffee. I love coffee—and Ma makes the most disgusted faces at me every time I drink it.” I bit my lip and reached past him to open the door.

Their absence was like a black cloud lingering in the house. Every time I walked out and came back in, it hit me anew. I got only a few steps past the threshold when I had to stop, press a hand to my chest, and remind myself to breathe.

"It takes time," he said, awkward and stiff in the face of such strong emotion. "Um, I can make the coffee if you want to...you know, change.”

I look down at my night shift. "Good idea. I should be decent before the chief arrives. I expected he’d be with you." I led him into the kitchen.

“He and Jerry are riding together. I guess they had catching up to do.”

"Oh, aye. There's the brewer, there. Beans are in the fridge. Grinder's..." I frowned, opened three cabinets before I found it and set it on the counter. "Right here."

"Perfect."

As I went upstairs for a shower, I wondered what would happen if Quinn Collins ever learned that I had not been born Fiona Fairweather. That I’d escaped from some sort of research lab, where I’d been what? A guinea pig?

All I knew of the US DPI was that it was like the FBI of things that go bump in the night. Anything deemed supernatural—extra-human was the currently PC term. Whatever, they were law enforcement. Quinn Collins was a law enforcer.

And living under a false identity my whole life, I’d likely broken a law or two.

What if he found out about my true past?

What if he already knew?

My heart tripped over itself at that new idea. Might he already know? What a frightening notion.

I hurried, no longer keen on leaving him alone downstairs. I’d no idea what sorts of papers Ma might have lying around. She’d have hidden anything about my true past, sure, but she was too sentimental to have thrown a scrap of it away.

She ought to have burned every trace.

A five-minute shower, a sundress and sandals, a white elastic headband to keep my towel-dried curls out of my eyes. I was back downstairs in time to hear the brewer gurgling out its final few drops.

In the kitchen, Quinn Collins filled two cups. He’d taken off his jacket, wore a light blue shirt. I watched the flex and motion of his back and shoulders. Then he carried the mugs to the living room, over to the little table near the loch-facing windows. Ma had put the white wrought iron table and its two matching chairs right there. The garden set belonged out of doors, but were dead perfect, Ma had said, for her morning tea. She'd made the cushions; white with pink roses, tufted with buttons she’d covered in the same fabric.

Quinn Collins had spread kitchen towels on the table to catch our crumbs. He was neat, wasn’t he? The pastries were stacked perfectly on one of Ma’s platters. Cream and sugar were ready and waiting.

“Your pupils dilated when you mentioned cream and sugar." Then he picked up a cube with Ma's tiny tongs. "Sugar?"

I held up two fingers. “That’s quite impressive. You must be a very good…whatever you are.” I slid onto my chair as he dropped two cubes into my cup.

I added cream and stirred absently while perusing the stack of muffins and traycakes. At length, I chose a triple chocolate muffin—and reckoned my pupils dilated when I did. It had always been my favorite. I decided I'd take a bite or two, just to see if it still was. Just to see if things could still taste good to me or would ever again.

"Do you and the chief know each other?" He asked it without any kind of lead-in or warning.

I felt accused of something. "Not in the least. Why do you ask?”

"No particular reason.” He held up his blueberry muffin. “This is fantastic.”

“Aye, Cobbs is known 'round the world.”

“They should be.”

I bit into my own and marveled that my ability to savor a treat had returned. It was the first thing that had tasted good to me in days.

Then I noted the look in his eyes. He was studying me. He was trying to see inside me. Watching for the telltale dilation of a pupil, or perhaps a nostril flare. He was a detective, and he was detecting right then. I felt a sudden need to guard my every move, expression, breath.

There was a knock, and then the door opened and Chief Mayhew walked right in, not awaiting an invitation. Jerry McGuinness lingered in the doorway until I gave him a nod. He looked tired, as though his pale, freckled head was too much for his neck to bear. Aye, he’d lost his best friend. My grief wasn’t mine alone.

“Morning, Miss Fairweather.” The chief seemed oblivious to Jerry’s pain, which didn’t say much for their friendship. “You’re looking much better today.”

“Aye, I slept well. It was thoughtful of you to send Mr. Collins to watch over the place last night.”

“He was glad to do it. But how are you gonna sleep once we’re gone?” He looked around quickly. “I smell coffee.”

I started to get up, but Quinn Collins said, “I left cups on the counter. The kettle’s hot, too, Mr. McGuinness, if you prefer tea. I set out the canister.”

Both men fixed their preferred beverages and then joined us in the living room, choosing muffins from the stack. The chief, who walked with a stoop as very tall men often do, took Da’s easy chair. I almost winced when he did. Jerry sat in Ma's rocker, on the edge of its seat, saucer on his knee, teacup in his hand.

The chief ate his muffin for a moment, his compliments in the blissful look on his face, and the occasional mmm. Then he took a big sip of coffee and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Miss Fairweather, the vampire who murdered your father has left Scotland. My sources say he’s in the northeastern United States.”

Coffee sloshed onto my hand. I set my cup down. “You know who he is, then?”

“We don’t have a name yet.”

“Why didn’t youtell me this?” I looked at Quinn Collins just in time to catch the expression he sent his boss. It was a look that could best be interpreted as, WTF? But he schooled it back into that unreadable mask of his, and said, “I didn't tell you because I didn’t know.”

“You were out all night, watching the place,” Chief Mayhew said to his man. “I haven’t had the chance to fill you in until now.” He set his cup on the end table without a coaster and clapped his hands to his thighs. “Fortunately, this rogue vamp has landed in my territory,” he said. “Our territory. We’re going back to our headquarters in Byram, Miss Fairweather, because it’s the best possible place from which to track a rogue vampire in the northeastern USA.”

I sighed in relief, but the breath locked in place when he said, “I’d like you to come with us.”

My eyes slid to Quinn’s. His brows were arched high but came down quick as a guillotine when he caught me looking. He cleared his throat, looked at something off to his left.

The chief brushed crumbs from his lap and got to his feet. He was so tall, he’d hit the light fixture if he walked under it. “Fiona, you have a knack for reading people—”

“How do you know that?”

“--and you obviously have an interest in law enforcement. You started to study it.”

“Only long enough to decide I didn'thave an interest in it.”

“I think you could help us get him. And the thing is, I can’t share information about an active case with a civilian. Butif you worked for DPI—”

I sprang to my feet, jostling the table. “Work for DPI?” My wide eyes went back to Quinn’s but he was ready for me this time, mask in place. “I’ve a liberal arts degree, Chief Mayhew. I've never been out of Scotland."

“You’d only be office help. You’d make coffee, organize emails, answer messages and phone calls, keep my schedule, that sort of thing. You’re over qualified, to be honest.”

I looked over at Jerry. He was still perched on the edge of the rocking chair. I don’t think he’d moved since he’d sat down, other than to sip the tea. “Did you discuss this, you and the chief, on your way here?”

“Aye,” Jerry said. “I told him you’d refuse.”

“Well of course I refuse. My life is here. Right here in Foyers.”

“Is it, Fiona?” Old Jerry asked softly. “It was, that’s sure. Has always been. In all yer life, you’ve gone but thirty kilometers from home. But college has ended and your folks are gone. What’s keepin’ ye here, lass?”

Quinn was watching me so closely that it angered me. So I widened my eyes and leaned over him. "Go on, then, check my pupil dilation. See how I feel about this mad notion." I walked away from him, threw my hands in the iar. "Going to the States. Och! Where would I even stay?"

Jerry set his cup and saucer down, got up and took my hands. "My nephew Aaron has a place for you, love. An apartment all your own.”

I sat down again, my mind spinning. This was all so unexpected, and so…wrong. Something was terribly wrong about all of this.

“Miss Fairweather,” the chief said, still relaxed and easy. He wandered to the table and took a second muffin. “If you’re a DPI employee, you get a security clearance. Minimal, but still enough for me to discuss your father's case with you. There are things that might come back to you, things you might not even realize are connected.

“Aye,” I said softly, my mind clearing suddenly. “Aye, already I’m wondering whether my da’s odd behavior was somehow a clue.”

“Odd behavior?” Quinn asked.

“Aye, he was possessed of the sudden notion to move house. Wanted to sell the cottage and leave Foyers.” He frowned. “For him to act that way so suddenly, to tell not even his best friend in all the world, Jerry, here, and then to die within a few weeks cannae be coincidence.”

“That’s so sad.” Mayhew sat down again, lowered his head. “Reminds me of my own father, when the dementia first kicked in. He seemed fine, and then all the sudden he was acting crazy, spouting things that didn’t make sense. He’d get all laser focused on some asinine idea and drive the family crazy for weeks. And then he’d forget about it. Like it never happened. Until the next round.” He blew a heavy sigh, lifted his head to touch my eyes with his from behind a layer of tears. Tears! “If there’s any silver lining here, it might be that your father was spared having to live that way.”

I tilted my head very slightly to one side. The man was acting. Putting on a show for me. Those were crocodile tears. What was he about?

I slanted my eyes to Jerry, but he was staring intently into his teacup. And then I looked to Quinn who was, I thought, doing exactly what I was doing—trying to figure out what was going on here.

“Jerry says you’ll need time to get your affairs settled,” Chief Mayhew said.

Jerry’s head came up at the mention of his name. “Aye, yer folks’ estate still needs settling. And the cottage here, that’ll need closing up or leasing out. Ye’ll want to find storage for yer car—”

“Jerry, you cannae think I’m goin'!” I bit my lip, my burr had been full on just then.

“Just think about it,” the chief said. “While all the red tape surrounding your folks’ passing gets settled, just think about it. I’ve got a good feeling about you, Miss Fairweather. And I never ignore my feelings.”