Home > Frostfire (Kyndred #3)

Frostfire (Kyndred #3)
Author: Lynn Viehl

PART ONE

Hunger Moon

September 29, 2008

Surrey History Centre

Woking, Surrey, U.K.

As the door to her office opened, Marla Wilkes looked up from the catalog she was perusing. The stunning good looks of the man who came in made her straighten in her chair and touch a hand to the curls of her new perm. “May I help you?”

His voice coiled around her ears like velvet ribbons. “I need to find some records.”

“Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place.” She glanced at the clock, and sighed. “But I’m afraid you’re a bit late. The reference department closes at five.” She picked up her pencil. “If you’d care to give me the information, I can leave it on the archive clerk’s desk for first thing in the morning.”

He came around her desk and pulled her out of her chair, so quickly that she hardly had time to blink. “You will find them for me.”

Something burned her nose, and then spread down her throat, expanding into her chest. “Yes. I will find them.”

Marla floated down the hall with him, feeling as light as the duck feathers on her best Sunday hat, and happier than a hungry schoolgirl with a basket of lardy cakes. Magician that he was, he opened all the locked doors and cabinets without using a single key. She smiled dreamily at him as he told her what he wanted, and sighed as she went to work looking for it.

“I have it,” she piped up as she took a huge folder from the eighteenth-century records. “The original copy of ‘The Church of St. Edward King and Confessor.’ It contains all the transcripts and registers that were saved from Sutton Place.”

It took an hour of slowly sorting through the crumbling pages before she found the list of names he wanted. “Here we are. A copy of the census of twelve ninety-nine. My goodness. That must have been a dreadful year. There are more than a hundred names here.”

He told her which name to find, and while the old, tiny script proved difficult to make out, she read until she found the entry.

“I’ve got it.” She ran her finger along the line. “Born twelve sixty-four, died twelve eighty-two. Victim of the plague.” She squinted at the final notation, and then smiled up at him. “Fantastic news. It’s right here in Surrey.”

He stared at the record page for a long time. “You will take me there.”

Marla retrieved her purse from her office and led him out to her Mini, and from there drove him to the ruins. She tried to chat him up along the way, but he only stared out at the passing countryside.

When they arrived at the ruins, Marla felt a bit embarrassed. Teenagers had sprayed the stone walls with some very rude words, and left behind an appalling amount of garbage. She kicked it out of his path and guided him to the back of the old sanctuary, where part of the floor remained intact under a thin layer of moss.

“It should be here somewhere. I read about it in school.” She walked along the rows of stones and bent now and then to pull back some weeds. “I think this could be it. Have a look?”

He knelt beside her, first peering at the stone and then digging his hands into it. The ancient plaque broke in two as he wrenched it out of the ground, along with great handfuls of dirt.

Marla sat on her bum and watched him work. He was beautiful when he dug, and when he plunged his hand into the hole he’d made and wrestled an odd-shaped ball from it, she clapped her hands.

“You’ve found it.” She didn’t know why he was holding the dirty old thing like that, or why it didn’t make him happy. Seeing his face made her shiver a little. “That is what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” He kissed the top of the ball before he carefully placed it back into the hole, and covered it over again, and fitted the broken plaque over it. “That is all I ever wanted.” He stood. “All I wanted to forget.” He walked away.

Marla scrambled up, hurrying after him, but as soon as she emerged from the ruins, he had gone. She turned around slowly, frowning as her happiness began to fade. After a few moments she looked at her dirty hands and then at her car. She was at the old church, which she recognized, but the last thing she remembered was being in her office.

“Good Lord.” She brushed her hands off on her skirt, adding dark streaks over the odd green stains. “How did I get here?”

Marla never received any answers to her questions, but when she returned to work, she saw the caretaker talking to a constable, and hurried over to them.

“What is it?” she asked. “What’s happened?”

“Oh, Miss Wilkes, I thought you’d gone for the day.” The caretaker grimaced. “Someone broke into the old archives. Busted every lock on the doors and the cabinets back there, too. Helped themselves to them old registries that they sent over from Aberdeen. Don’t look like they nicked anything, though.”

Marla frowned. “I should think not. Why on earth would anyone want to steal old church records?”

SEARCH FOR RUNAWAY TEEN HEIRESS CONTINUES

10/01/99

SANTA LUCIA, CA—Santa Lucia police and fire rescue teamed up with local volunteers to continue the search today for sixteen-year-old Lillian Emerson, who went missing from her family’s estate on September 29. The horse Lillian was riding at the time of her disappearance was recovered yesterday from a neighboring property.

“He sustained some minor lacerations, but he’ll be fine,” Chief of Police Ormond Teller said during last night’s press conference. “We confirmed the saddle he was still wearing belongs to Miss Emerson.”

Teller also reacted strongly to speculation the missing teen had not run away from home, as her mother had reported to police, but instead had been attacked during her outing and abducted. “There is not one shred of evidence to indicate this was anything more than an impulsive act by a thoughtless kid who likely got thrown from her horse. We’re moving up into the hills at first light, and the rangers tell me that there are plenty of nooks and caves up there where Lillian could have taken shelter. I expect that’s where we’ll find her.”

Evelyn Emerson was not among the volunteers out searching for her daughter, as she left the state some twelve hours after her daughter’s disappearance. Wallace Bridger, Mrs. Emerson’s attorney, confirmed his client had traveled to an undisclosed location in order to receive counseling from a person identified only as “a lifelong spiritual advisor.”

Bridger also indicated that the nationally renowned interior designer felt compelled to leave in order to escape unwanted media attention, not to avoid being questioned by police for the role she may have played in Lillian’s disappearance.

“Evelyn would never do anything to harm her child,” Bridger told reporters. “She is a wonderful mother, a devout Christian, and has secluded herself to receive the comfort and support she so desperately needs during this difficult time.”

After the death of Robert Rinehart Emerson III in 1982, Evelyn Emerson took her father’s place as chief executive officer of Emerson Interiors. She has been credited with transforming the corporation from a conservative furnishings manufacturer into the highly successful parent company of such lucrative interior-decor franchises as Hearth and Home, Private Sanctuaries, and A Lady’s Touch. Ms. Emerson has also personally designed the interiors of dozens of homes for important political figures, high-profile business leaders, and powerhouse celebrities, and is considered an industry leader in establishing the hottest trends in home fashions. However, little is known about Emerson’s relationship with her only daughter, whom she adopted in 1982 and has since kept out of the spotlight.

Neil Huntley, Evelyn Emerson’s former stable manager and an experienced rider, has been leading a group of local men up into the hills as part of the search efforts. He refused to speak to reporters or share any details as to the reason why he was fired by Emerson on the night of September 29. A source at the police department has acknowledged that Huntley was the last person to see Lillian Emerson alive, but he was seen in town at the time of the teenager’s disappearance, and is not considered a person of interest in the case.

Lillian Emerson is 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighs 130 pounds, and has bright red shoulder-length hair and hazel eyes. She was last seen wearing her school uniform, a white blouse embroidered with the St. Catherine’s School for Girls logo, a black and blue plaid skirt, white knee-high socks, and black loafers. Anyone with information as to Lillian’s current whereabouts should contact the Santa Lucia Police Department or the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office.

Chapter 1

November 30, 2009

Lake Gem, Florida

Albert Brewer had a weak chin, a low forehead, and a hooked nose, and he usually smelled like an Italian sub with too many onions on it. His petty-tyrant personality was as offensive as his insistence that everyone call him “Big Al” or “sir,” but that wasn’t why everyone avoided him.

It was the dandruff, Lilah Devereaux decided. Big Al had such a perpetual case of it that it lay like snowflakes in his sandy hair and on the shoulders of his shirts, and even speckled his bushy eyebrows. Whenever she stood near him, she always felt a terrible urge to itch her own clean scalp.

Today she simply stared at him, for once oblivious to his flakiness as she tried to process what he’d just told her. “I’m what?”

“You’re fired, Lil,” he repeated in a voice so loud it seemed to echo through the utter silence of the office. He dropped a small cardboard box on top of Lilah’s desk. “I’m giving you fifteen minutes to clear out your personal belongings before I call security to escort you off the premises.”

His soft brown eyes, which Lilah had always considered his only redeeming feature, shifted from her face to her br**sts before he realized what he was doing and looked past her. With her earth-mother body, she’d grown accustomed to being ogled, but around her Big Al Brewer behaved like a pimpled freshman who’d just found his daddy’s secret stash of p**n magazines.

Maybe that was the problem. No matter how conservatively Lilah dressed, she couldn’t camouflage her collection of curves. Maybe her supervisor couldn’t stand having an employee who looked more like a forties pinup girl than an animal control officer.

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