London forensic anthropologist Melissa Heavey isn’t anything like the characters in her grandmother’s beloved television crime dramas. Especially since an accident left her crippled and weary. While in Dublin to rest and recuperate, she’s asked to help the local Garda Síochána identify bones found in a rural luxury hotel.
Curiosity-seeking bone gawkers were not the clients Tristan Fontaine anticipated when he took over the Glenncailty Castle restaurant. And a scientist taking over part of his kitchen for her lab? He’s having none of it. Yet she’s not backing down…and his pulse won’t stop speeding up when she’s near.
As their attraction flares, Melissa soon discovers why Tristan is so dismissive of the bones—he’s been talking to the ghosts themselves. But the bones aren’t Glenncailty’s only secret, and Tristan is hiding a tragedy in his past more frightening than what’s lurking inside the castle walls.
Copyright © 2014 Lila Dubois
Biting her lip, Melissa pushed through the pain. Her biceps strained, her elbow creaked and her fingers shook. With a little hiss of frustration, she dropped the soup can. The innocuous can hit the floor and rolled under the vanity in the little guest room of her grandmother’s house.
Trembling from the effort, Melissa gingerly sat back on the bed. Unfortunately, that put her level with her own reflection in the mirror. Her face was flushed and there were tears in her eyes. Irritated with herself, she wiped them away with her right hand while her left lay limp on the bed.
She was wearing a thin sleeveless undershirt, and the mirror showed the long, jagged scars that started midway down her upper left arm, coated her elbow and stopped mid-forearm. Besides the scars, her arm looked skinny and weak, the muscles atrophied after months with her arm braced to her side. The physical therapy was helping, though it was humiliating that she found a simple soup can so hard to lift.
Her grandmother’s voice snapped her from her brown study. She grabbed an embroidered hip-length jacket she’d bought in China and pulled it on. The long sleeves hid her scars. She carefully bent her left arm, feeling her elbow creak as she slid the knotted buttons through the loops. Her mangled arm didn’t bother her grandmother, but Melissa was more comfortable with it covered up.
Bouncing to her feet she left the little room on the second floor of the terraced Dublin house and bounded down the stairs, taking them two at a time just to prove her legs still worked. Granny waited in the wood-paneled hallway at the bottom.
Her normally smiling grandmother looked grim.
Melissa pulled up short. “Granny?”
The older woman reached out for Melissa’s arm, but pulled her hand back. “Follow me.”
A lump forming in her stomach, Melissa shuffled behind her grandmother through the small, twisting halls of the two-hundred-year-old house until they reached the kitchen. It had been remodeled and enlarged in the ’70s, and there was just enough space for a table. Her grandmother shooed her into a seat, then took one herself.
“I need to ask you a question, and I’m very serious about this.”
“Very well,” Melissa said, no idea what this could be about. Up until the time that she went away to university, Melissa had spent almost every summer in Dublin with her grandmother and loved her ferociously. Returning to London each August had been heartbreaking, and for weeks she’d wander her parent’s house with an affected Irish accent quite unlike her own public-school British one. She’d finally gotten a chance to stay here more permanently when she’d come to live with her grandmother to attend University College Dublin, where she’d gotten a degree in Archaeology before the discovery of the bog bodies had shifted her interest to Forensic Anthropology.
“A man from the Garda Síochána called, and he was looking for you.”
“The…oh, the police. Why?”
“That’s what I need to know.” Bracing her elbows on the table, Bridget Ferguson leaned forward. “Did you steal a body, or maybe just some bones? Something you thought was interesting to study but might actually be the bones of a royal family somewhere, bones that would prove that the current rulers are impostors?” The older woman’s gaze was hard and focused.
“Wha… What bones? What ruling family?” Melissa stared at her grandmother in total confusion. They had the same hazel eyes, but Melissa had gotten her father’s fair hair, not the black of her mother and grandmother—though she’d seen a dye box in the bathroom, confirming her suspicion that her grandmother’s hair was no longer naturally dark.
“Or maybe you found something, a piece of jewelry, a letter, a trinket of some kind.”
Melissa narrowed her eyes. “Granny, have you been watching those crime shows again?”
“Well, of course I have. I have to know what my favorite granddaughter is doing while she’s running around all corners of Christendom.”
Melissa’s lips twitched. “Granny, I’ve told you, I’m not like the lady on the TV show. I don’t solve crimes. They usually know who did it before I get there.”
“And you’re sure that you didn’t accidentally bring back some mysterious bones?”
She looked so hopeful that Melissa hated to say, “No.”
“Ah, well then.” Her grandmother sat back with a little sigh of disappointment.
“Did the police actually call?”
“As if I’d make up something like that,” she humphed. “They did call, and they said something about some bones.”
As a forensic anthropologist Melissa wasn’t like the character on the crime dramas her grandma watched, but she did travel all over the world looking for human remains. She’d gone out with the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, called CILHI, to help identify remains from the Korean War and Vietnam conflict, spent some time in South America helping to sort through the warehouses of remains that the state-run laboratories were holding but didn’t have time to work with, and then most recently had been in Bosnia and Africa to help process mass graves.
She rarely solved crimes. Usually she was the one confirming for the authorities that a crime had been committed.
“Did the policem—”
“Pardon me, the Guard, did they give you a number I could call?”
“The detective sergeant is coming around in a few minutes, so we’d best prepare for company. Do you know where the nice teapot is?”
“I do. I don’t think it’s ever moved.”
“And why would it?”
Melissa took the pretty china teapot out of one of the high glass-fronted cabinets with her right hand. “If you thought I had dangerous skeletal remains in my luggage, why did you invite the Guard for tea?”
“And how could I not? It would be highly suspicious if I didn’t. Highly. But don’t worry, I had an escape plan for you.”
“You did?” Melissa put the pot on the table and grabbed a tray.
She laughed as her grandmother outlined the escape plan. It was good to laugh. It was good to be home.
“Dr. Heavey?” The detective sergeant wiped his feet before crossing the threshold into the house. He was a heavy-set man with a pronounced brow ridge and high cheekbones in an overall flat face. He had the fair coloring common in Ireland, but his eyes were brown. Melissa stared at him. Though he probably looked normal to anyone else, his face intrigued her.
“You have a very vertical chin and no maxillary prognathism, but fair coloring.” Melissa examined each feature, mentally stripping away flesh to reveal bone. “You have a grandparent who is Asian.”
“Uh, well, no. My grandmother was Indian.”
“As I said, Asian. You have a few distinctly Mongoloid features.”
There was a loud “AHEM” from the front room. Melissa jumped and remembered her manners.
“I’m Dr. Melissa Heavey. How do you do, Sergeant?”
“I’m well, thank you for having me.” He was looking at her oddly and speaking with deliberate care. “The name’s Detective Sergeant Oren.”
“And please, call me Melissa.” She added her best, most normal, smile.
Melissa led the sergeant into the formal front room. She’d only been in it a handful of times, as it was reserved for special guests. A detective sergeant come to talk about bones was certainly on that list. Melissa had changed from her jeans and Chinese jacket into black trousers and a green sweater. Her grandmother had changed too, into brown wool slacks, a cream sweater and her good gold jewelry.
“Detective Sergeant Oren, this is my grandmother, Bridget Ferguson.”
“It’s a pleasure, ma’am.”
Her grandmother nodded as if she were the Queen welcoming someone to her palace. Melissa took a seat by her, and after a quick look around, the detective sergeant chose the chair across from them.
“Tea, Detective Sergeant?”
Her grandmother poured the tea, adding milk and sugar to specification and passing cups.
Melissa bit down on her curiosity. Beside her, she could feel her grandmother vibrating with the need to know.
She’d grown up hearing “you need to know this” or “you’ve no need to know that”. That need to know, which was clearly a family trait, had driven her academic interests, leading to a career where she addressed other people’s need to know—“I need to know if my brother/father/son is there, if he’s dead.”
“You mentioned something to my grandmother about bones?” Melissa asked after they’d all taken a sip of tea.
“Ah yes, you see, we have a bit of an unusual case, and we were hoping you might help us.”
Melissa opened her mouth, but her grandmother beat her to it. “My granddaughter is here resting and recuperating after nearly being killed doing important humanitarian work.”
Melissa wanted to both hug and shush the older woman.
The detective sergeant looked startled. “Ah, well then.”
“May I ask who recommended me?” Melissa said.
“Adam O’Connell—he’s the state pathologist.”
“Of course, I’ve met him several times. Did he need a consult?”
“No, and there’s our problem. Based on the photos, he thinks the bodies are at least seventy years old, so even if he had the time or money, he might not handle the case.”
“He looked at photos?” Photos were rarely enough to go on with bones that hadn’t been cleaned.
“We found bones in a hotel out in the countryside. A place called Glenncailty.”
“Valley of the Lost,” Bridget translated.
“It’s more than my department can handle, and we’ve plenty of things that need investigation. I was hoping Dublin could help, but they too have more urgent matters.”
“That’s understandable,” Melissa said when the detective sergeant paused.
“What could be more important than laying someone to rest?” Bridget humphed. “It seems the Dublin Gardaí don’t have their priorities straight.”
Before Detective Sergeant Oren could say anything, Melissa spoke up. “Very few governments have the kind of forensic manpower it takes to sort through human remains, and people are always surprised at how often a body too old or too decomposed for the pathologist to work with turns up.” She turned back to the detective. “But why isn’t the National Museum handling this? If the bones are old, they should go to the museum.”
“The museum has been hurt by the budget. They said they might be able to send someone out in a few months.”
If the museum planned to examine the bones, Melissa wasn’t sure why Oren was here. “I spent some time at the National Museum and I’m sure they’ll do a wonderful job.”
The detective sergeant shifted, setting his cup down. “I didn’t realize you were on holidays. I shouldn’t have bothered you.”
Bridget clicked her tongue. “You don’t want to wait for the museum people.” She set her cup down and rubbed her hands together. “There’s something special about these, isn’t there? Something that means it can’t wait.”
He looked uncomfortable and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. The owner of the place where they were found has asked that this be taken care of right away. He offered to pay for the investigation himself.”
Melissa and Bridget exchanged a look. This owner must be politically connected in order to get the Gardaí and museum to agree to this. And he clearly wanted these bones dealt with ASAP.
Melissa looked back at the detective sergeant. “If the bones are very old, you may need an archaeologist, not an anthropologist.”
“No, the bones aren’t so old as that—one of them has on a green dress, and the furniture is like something you’d see now.”
“The furniture?” Melissa sat back. “Where exactly were these bones found?”
He looked down, cleared his throat and then said, “The bodies were in a room that had been bricked shut. It was a nursery—we think it’s a woman and two children.”
In unison Melissa and her grandmother sucked in a breath.
“When do you want her there?” Bridget said. “I’ll help her pack.”
Melissa checked the directions she’d printed off the hotel’s website, then turned left off the main road. She was well out of Dublin in the Irish countryside. The road was lined with old trees and stone fences. Everything was green and soft after the hard, gray edges of London and Dublin. The road descended into a little valley, switchbacking its way down. She came around a corner and caught sight of the castle, which she recognized from the pictures on the website. The stones seemed as much a part of the landscape as the trees that lined the walls of the valley. Golden afternoon light gilded the windows.
Behind and around the main structure she saw several smaller buildings. It had said on the website that Glenncailty Castle was actually an old fortified manor home, which had once served as the seat of the English lord sent to rule this area before the Republic of Ireland won its independence. It was now owned by a local family and had only recently been reopened to the public. The structures around it were probably accessory buildings that had once been part of the estate.
From the look of the place it was certainly old enough to have some secrets. As she reached the bottom of the valley, she saw that long shadows covered half the glen, the dark patches a deep, velvety green-black, while the sun-drenched parts were a happy kelly green. She shivered a little as she followed the signs toward the castle and slowed as the curved drive took her past the wide front steps and iron-bound double doors. There were three main buildings, the center one appearing to be at least three stories, with smaller wings on either side, connected by covered glass hallways.
She headed into the parking area, which was hidden by trees. Grabbing her equipment kit, she hopped out and headed for the front doors, ignoring the little shiver of unease that went through her. She’d been to far worse and more dangerous places than this. Her kit was in her left hand—she’d grabbed it from the passenger seat out of habit. She hadn’t made it more than a few steps before pain from the weight of what she carried made her elbow and shoulder ache. She switched hands, flexing her left arm as she started up the steps.
The doors proved a challenge, too heavy for her weak left arm to manage. Hooking her arm through the pull, she used her body weight to heave it open, then slid inside, leading with her right shoulder. It would have been simpler to put the toolbox down or to ring the bell above the plaque that said “Céad Mile Fáilte, Please Ring Bell For Assistance,” but it wasn’t about easy, it was about proving to herself that she could still do everything she’d been able to do before the injury.
She was standing in a lovely foyer. Though the outside of the building looked almost medieval, the inside was decorated and furnished in a style she associated with some of the stately homes of England. The floor was a check pattern. Unlike floors found in modern dwellings, the blocks of black and white were actual stones, not facing or tile. The walls were mint green with white wainscoting and the ceiling was at least two stories up, with high windows letting in the light.
Directly across from the doors was a grand wood staircase. The wood was dark and polished to a high sheen, the carpet runner understated. She examined it the way she would a jumble of bones, trying to pinpoint the things that broke pattern.
“Dr. Heavey? I’m Sorcha—”
“The floors are original, the stairs have been rebuilt.” She turned to look at the redheaded woman that waited by a desk on the left-hand side of the foyer. “Am I right?”
“Yes, you are. These stone floors are original.” The redhead continued to smile, her expression both bland and welcoming. She had classically Caucasian bone structure—nose, chin and forehead all curved, and with the slightest hint of an overbite. “The structure had been neglected for many years and almost all the wood detailing had to be replaced, including the grand stairs. We did reclaim some doors, such as the main doors you just came through, and a few others. I will provide you with a castle map that includes the history of the building and of Glenncailty.”
Melissa held out her hand. “I’m Melissa Heavey. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Sorcha Kerrigan, guest relations manager here at Glenncailty.” The redhead took her hand. “We’re pleased and honored to have you with us.”
“I doubt that. I’m here because you found human remains when you weren’t looking for them. You weren’t, were you?” She’d been under the impression that this was an unhappy—to them—accident. But maybe they, like so many people Melissa had met over the years, were looking for someone, both dreading and hoping that they’d find the remains.
“I assure you our discovery was accidental rather than deliberate.” She was smiling, but her brows drew together slightly, as if she were troubled, which was understandable. “If you’ll follow me, we can discuss your accommodation options.”
“It’s better to find them by accident,” she assured the other woman, hoping to ease her frown. “It’s worse when you’re looking for a body you can’t find.”
“Of course,” Sorcha agreed, so readily that Melissa was sure she only said it to humor her. “I have several options for accommodation—”
“I’m not worried about that.” Melissa set her heavy black case on the registration desk to give her right arm a break. “Where are the bones?”
“Detective Sergeant Oren called. He’s busy at the moment but said he’ll stop by at the end of his shift, which will be about six o’clock. Until then I’m afraid I can’t show you to the…” Sorcha’s pleasant smile faded, and for a moment there was terrible sadness on her face. She licked her lips, before finishing, “…the bones.”
From the way Sorcha spoke, Melissa was sure she’d seen them. Most people found dead bodies gruesome but fascinating until they got up close to one or touched one. There was always a moment when their intellect wasn’t able to shield them from the reality that what they were looking at had once been a person no different from them. Once that intellectual filter came down, curiosity was usually replaced by horror.
She needed to get started. “But I’m here now.” She stared at Sorcha. Experience and experimentation had taught her that steady, unwavering eye contact made people uncomfortable and usually resulted in Melissa getting exactly what she wanted.
“I’m aware of that.” Sorcha stared back at her, her face once more a calm mask.
There was a moment of silence.
“I have to wait to see the bones, don’t I?” Melissa said, disgruntled that her plan hadn’t worked.
“Yes, Dr. Heavey, you do.”
She sighed. “Very well then, I’ll research between now and then. Can I have that map you mentioned?” She’d read through everything she could find online about the castle and the area, but details would mean more now that she was actually here.
“First let me check you in.” Sorcha went around behind the desk and pulled out a key. “The only available room is in our west wing. We’ve relocated other guests due to those rooms’ proximity to the remains. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of being so close, I can recommend someplace in Cailtytown, the village at the other end of the glen.”
So they’d had to close down part of the hotel and move people, which cost money. No wonder they’d decided to pay her to be here rather than wait. “I’d rather be by the bones.” Sleeping in a hotel room near a few old bones couldn’t be worse than sleeping in a tent only feet from a mass grave in Africa.
“Very well.” They went through some paperwork before Melissa was given a key. “The room is not available at this time, but I can show you to either our library or—”
“Is there someplace quiet I could get a bite to eat while I read?” She’d been researching and hunting down equipment for the past day and had only stopped to eat when her grandmother put food in front of her, and even then she usually got distracted.
“Our pub is open but is not known for being quiet. Our award-winning restaurant doesn’t open until five, but I could show you to a table, and perhaps you could order from the pub.”
“That will work.” She hefted the case, tucking the key into the Nepalese butterfly pants she was wearing. “I’m ready.”
Sorcha led her to a doorway on the right side of the foyer, which opened onto the end of a long hall. Midway down the hall was a beautiful wood and glass door. Gold script on the door said only The Restaurant. Sorcha had to speak to someone through her radio before the doors were unlocked from the inside.
The suit-clad maître d’ spoke with Sorcha for a moment before leading Melissa to a secluded table in a front corner of the beautiful high-ceilinged restaurant. It was a little dim, and cold radiated off the stone wall at her back, but she was well away from the other tables, the only thing near her a small server’s station.
The maître d’ approached. “Mademoiselle, welcome to The Restaurant at Glenncailty. I regret that at this time the kitchen isn’t open. Perhaps I could offer you a complementary apéritif until it does.” He had a slight French accent, and everything about him said tasteful elegance.
The last thing she needed was a drink. “I thought the woman who showed me here mentioned that you had a pub. Would it be possible for me to see the pub menu? I promise that after that I won’t be any trouble. I was only hoping to get a little supper and some quiet before I…” She trailed off, not sure who knew about what had been found in the building. “Before I get to work.”
The maître d’ left, and Melissa pushed aside the napkin, glass and silverware, unfolding the Glenncailty Castle brochure.
Out of the corner of his eye Tristan saw Kris slide down one of the busy kitchen aisles. The maître d’s mouth was pursed, which was as close as the elegant man came to having a tantrum.
He turned away from the salmon fillets en papillote they were preparing for that night’s special.
“Kris,” he called out, and the other man turned. “What’s wrong?” he asked in French.
Kris shrugged. That wasn’t a good sign. With a curse, Tristan put a piece of plastic wrap and a damp towel over the dough he was working with, heading to a quieter corner of the kitchen where Kris met him.
“There’s a woman in the restaurant,” Kris said.
“We’re not open. Throw her out.”
“I cannot. Sorcha brought her here, and the woman, she says she needed a quiet place to work.”
“Then she can go to the library.” Tristan liked and respected the guest relations manager, but the restaurant and the kitchen were his domain.
“I think she came about the bones.”
The bones. Tristan cursed. He was sick unto death of hearing about these bones. The Irish were so dramatic, getting upset over a few ghosts and bones. They should go to Paris—the whole city sat atop bones and the French weren’t thrown into a tizzy by it. But the police, the Gardaí, had closed the west wing until they were dealt with, and that risked the whole hotel and what he was trying to build here.
“Then let her stay, put her out of the way.”
“I did, but she’s hungry.” Kris drew in a long breath through his nose. “She wants to see a menu from the pub.”
“Non. If she wants to eat pub food, then she will go there.” Tristan suddenly understood Kris’s ire. No one seemed to understand that the ambiance of dining was as important as the food, and that meant a beautiful room with well-appointed tables, candlelight and the aroma of fine wine, truffles and fresh herbs—not the stench of chips and meaty stew.
“Give that to me.” At his order, Kris handed over the pub menu, a laminated sheet of uninspired—though delicious, because if Tristan had to serve fish and chips, it was the best fish and chips ever cooked—pub fare.
Tristan stormed out of the kitchen into the restaurant. He took only a moment to appreciate the crystal chandeliers, cozy private areas created by half-walls and high-backed chairs, and headed for the darkest corner, a lost space where Kris seated those who wanted the utmost privacy or who weren’t dressed nicely.
Tristan’s brows rose in surprise when he saw who was seated there. A pretty blonde woman no older than thirty sat with her head bent over a castle map. She wore a tunic embroidered with geometric shapes in bold earth tones over a simple white turtleneck. A heavy brass medallion hung from a cord around her neck, and she toyed with it as she read. Her hair was straight, falling to just above her shoulder. She was lightly tanned, and when she looked up her eyes were a beautiful hazel rather than the blue he was so used to seeing.
She studied him, her gaze lingering on his face, but he could tell it wasn’t sexual—it was almost clinical.
“Hello,” she said, “I’m Dr. Melissa Heavey. You’re…” She did a second once-over. “…either the head chef or the poissonnier.” She was English and well-educated, from the sound of her accent.
Tristan stopped, taken by surprise. “I am the chef de cuisine.” He used the proper name for head chef.
“And you’re French. That explains the western European Caucasian bone structure but Mediterranean coloring.”
Tristan tilted his head to the side. “You’re a doctor?’
“A Doctor of Philosophy, yes. I’m a forensic anthropologist.”
“And you are here for the bones.”
“So you do know about them. I wasn’t sure if the staff had been told.”
“I am not staff. I am the chef.”
“Of course, my apologies. I did a research project on the social stratification within kitchens while I was at university. It’s very structured, almost caste-like, but with huge potential for upward mobility.”
“And that is how you know poissonnier.” Despite his irritation, Tristan smiled. The pretty English woman was intriguing.
“The fish chef, yes. You have the air of command necessary for a head chef, but you smell a little like raw fish and there is something shiny on your apron, which I assume is scales.”
Tristan’s gaze narrowed. “You are a detective.”
“No, of course not. I’m a scientist.”
Tristan shrugged. She sounded like a detective. “As you say.” Down to business. He held up the pub menu. “If you want to eat this food, you must go to the pub.”
“I need quiet. I won’t be here long.”
“Then you may stay, but you will not eat.”
“But I’m hungry.”
“Then go to the pub.” She was arguing with him. No one argued with him—no matter how beautiful they were. He wanted to shake her. Then kiss her.
“I want to eat here.”
“And I will not serve bangers and mash—” The inelegant words made his lips curl. “—in my beautiful restaurant.”
She tilted her head, hair swinging. “You’re quite serious.”
She sighed, folded the brochure she’d spread out on the table. She then carefully replaced the silverware, napkin and glasses back in their proper spots and grabbed an ugly black case off the floor. She brushed past him.
Tristan nodded in satisfaction that he’d maintained the rules he’d set for his restaurant but was a little sad to see the interesting woman go. She wore loose pants that tied at the hips, and they were just tight enough across the derrière that he got the feeling that under the loose tunic top was a nice body. It had been a long time since he’d been drawn to a woman the way he was drawn to her. And it wasn’t just physical attraction—she was intelligent and strong.
He was so distracted by her derrière and his unexpected reaction to her that it took him a moment to realize that she wasn’t headed for the front door, but deeper into the restaurant.
“Mademoiselle,” he said, jogging a few steps to keep up with her. “Where are you going?”
“I’m hungry.” She stopped for a moment, looked around and then headed for the kitchen.
Tristan darted ahead of her, positioning himself in front of the swinging doors. He folded his arms. Pretty or not, intriguing or not, she wasn’t going to interfere with his dinner prep.
“This is my kitchen.”
“I can tell. I’m excited to see it.”
She tried to push past him, and he grabbed her upper arms. She made a little noise, and her eyes widened with pain. The case she carried fell from her hand.
Tristan released her. He’d barely touched her, yet it seemed he’d caused her pain.
“I’m sorry, did I hurt you?”
“I…have a bruise there.”
Tristan raised a brow. “From another chef whose kitchen you tried to disrupt?”
“The result of killing the last man who tried to come between me and my dinner.”
Her expression was so deadly serious that Tristan had a moment of real worry. Then she smiled and laughed. It changed her whole face, making her seem less serious and disconnected—more warm and approachable.
“You looked quite alarmed,” she said as her laugh faded.
“I do not understand English humor.”
“Too bad, I’m quite funny.” With a smile, she grabbed her case and slid past him into the kitchen.
Cursing, Tristan followed her.
The busy sounds of the kitchen stopped as everyone looked up at the strange blonde woman standing in the doorway. “My name is Melissa Heavey and I’m hungry. Is there someone here who might be able to—”
Tristan grabbed her around the waist and hauled her back out through the doors.
“You are…crazy,” he said as he set her down. He was too surprised to be really angry.
“You’re not the first to mention that.”
Resigned, Tristan threw his hands in the air, then planted them on his hips. “Fine, I will bring you food. You will have stew, fresh bread, a salad.” That was as far as he was willing to relent.
“That sounds lovely.” She stooped and picked up her case. “Thank you very much…?”
“Tristan, Tristan Fontaine.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tristan.” She held out her hand. “As I said, I’m Melissa.”
Rather than shaking, he took her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Enchanté, mademoiselle.”
He was both surprised and pleased when she blushed. He’d expected her to laugh.
“Enchanté, monsieur,” she replied.
He held her hand for a moment longer than was casual. When she pulled back, he let her go, watching her walk to her table with a smile. Tristan was looking forward to learning more about Dr. Melissa Heavey.
A very somber-looking Sorcha let Melissa and Detective Sergeant Oren into the west wing. They’d locked down the whole building, ensuring that no one disturbed the remains any more than they’d already been disturbed. Melissa rolled her shoulders, trying to shake off the lethargy the truly delicious food had brought on.
“I’ll leave the door unlocked. Please let the front desk know when you’re done here, Dr. Heavey.” Sorcha finished unlocking the door at the entrance to the west wing. They were standing in the glass hallway that connected it to the castle, and though it was only just past six, clouds had gathered, hiding the evening light.
“Thank you,” Melissa said absently to Sorcha as the door closed behind them. She took a moment to look around the nice if unremarkable hotel hallway. The only distinctive features on the first floor of the west wing were the exposed stone walls at either end. Other than that, it was a simple hallway of hotel doors.
“It’s up here,” Oren told her.
She followed him up. White dust had been tracked down the stairs, and in some places she could make out distinct boot prints.
As they mounted the last few steps, she saw more hotel doors, as nondescript as what was below them, but once at the top it was clear that something was very wrong here.
Midway down the hall, the debris started. There were chunks of plaster and splinters of wood leading up to a stone wall with an arched doorway in the middle. The door was half closed, and a pile of bricks was stacked to one side.
“Tell me what happened here,” Melissa said. She pulled out a small camera and took pictures. For an archaeologist, pictures and diagrams were key, because it was all about the context around a find or body. In her field, there was rarely any context to work with—a pit full of jumbled bones had no context other than horror and war.
But Melissa’s first love had been archaeology, and that was what her bachelor’s degree was in. In the ’70s and ’80s they’d discovered some truly amazing archaeological finds in Ireland. The bog bodies, as they were affectionately known, had taken the nation’s imagination by storm. By the time she was in university, the bodies had been studied and photographed, but she’d been lucky enough to be part of a team that took one of the bog people to be X-rayed and studied using new, more sensitive, equipment. After that, she’d been all about the bones and pursued her PhD in forensic anthropology rather than archaeology.
There were times she wished she’d stuck with archaeology—all these years later she’d seen more human bones than she cared to think about.
Though capturing the context of a body was not part of her field, based on what little she knew about what she was here to see, context was most likely important.
“It seems this room was closed up, sealed off if you will. Those bricks there were covering the door. No one got in, no one got out.” Oren rocked back on his heels, his voice grim.
“And no one has any idea how long ago that was done?” Melissa flexed her bad left arm out of habit, the familiar ache barely registering as she surveyed the destruction.
“Glenncailty was ready to fall down around us until Seamus O’Muircheartaigh—that’s the owner—decided to turn it into this fancy hotel a few years ago. There are stories about the castle, legends even, and I’d maybe heard that there was a doorway that had been bricked it.”
She’d read about the renovations on the website and had looked at the before pictures. “Why wasn’t this room opened when the castle was renovated?”
“For that you’d have to ask Seamus. I could only speculate.” Oren rocked back and forth on his heels, as if he was having trouble keeping from saying more.
“And what is your speculation?”
“That Seamus knew he was tempting fate herself by letting people in here and didn’t want to make it worse.”
Melissa frowned. “What do you mean?”
Oren looked at her. “Glenncailty is haunted.”
Melissa waited for the rest of the statement, or for him to laugh, but it appeared that he was quite serious.
“Someone saw a ghost?”
“Not someone, many people, and not just one ghost.”
Melissa nodded, accepting that, though she didn’t believe in ghosts.
“You think that the owner—Seamus, was it?—knew that there was something bad in there, and that opening it might cause there to be more ghosts.”
“He knew that no one would have done such a thing without reason. Or at least that’s what I think, but I’m sure I couldn’t say.”
“So why was it opened now?”
“Well, that part of the story I’m still working on, but I’ll tell you that Séan Donnovan, a farmer in the area, came to the castle and he’s the one who took it down.” Oren gestured to the remnants of plaster and wood on the floor.
“So this—” she gestured, “—was a wall erected to hide the stone and the door?”
“And did he say why he took it down?”
“He said a few things, but none of them made much sense.”
There was definitely something that Oren wasn’t telling her, but Melissa let it go for now. She was anxious to get into the room.
She took a few steps forward, until she was beside the partially open door, and set down her case. She wouldn’t take it inside, so as to minimize her impact to the scene—plus, that freed up her good right hand. “As far as the police are concerned, what needs to happen?”
“We need to know what we’re looking at. If it’s something natural or something unnatural.”
“You mean how they died.”
“Yes, and we need to know how old the bodies…bones are.”
“Are you prepared for this to become a police matter if they’re more recent than you think?”
“There’s plenty of sadness in our history, and so if the bones are very old, they’ll be blessed and buried, no matter how they died. If they’re recent, we’ll open an investigation.”
From the tone of his voice, it was clear that he didn’t want to open an investigation. Squatting, she opened her case and took out a small, lightweight torch.
“I don’t want to disappoint you, but I may not be able to give you a clear answer as to date of death based only on the skeletons. A human decomposes down to the bone at any point between a few months to a year after death. We can use teeth for radio carbon dating, but that’s only accurate for remains older than 500 years and anyone alive after 1955, because the radiocarbon levels worldwide doubled around then due to nuclear testing.
“So if your remains are between, say, seventy and 500 years old, carbon-14 won’t work.”
“Ah, well then.” Oren rubbed the side of his nose.
“Don’t give up yet,” Melissa said as she pulled on gloves and took a mask out of its plastic package. “I’ll gather samples for other tests that might be able to tell us more about when they lived rather than died. We’ll test for polonium-201 and uranium-243. I’ll need you to take the samples to Dublin. The National Museum has agreed to test them, though it may take a while.”
“But they said they didn’t have time for this case.”
“Don’t worry, Sergeant, they know they’re coming.” She’d had to name-drop like mad and call in a few favors, but she’d gotten the museum to agree to run tests.
“So you think you’ll be able to tell me something?” He was taking notes as she spoke, and Melissa had worked with enough law enforcement or military personnel to know that while they might not always understand what she was saying, they liked to put it all into reports.
“With the trace element tests I should be able to at least date the remains to before or after 1900. Anything more precise than that and we’ll be using forensic archeology, not anthropology, because we’ll use the context and artifacts to date, rather than the bones alone.”
Oren grinned. “So you will give me a date.”
“Yes, I will, but it will be an educated guess, based on multiple factors,” she warned.
“How about I put down that you will give me a date?”
Melissa gave in, now anxious to get started. She put the mask on. “Sergeant, are you joining me?” she asked, voice muffled.
“No, I’ve seen enough for now.” He stopped outside the door, clearly reluctant to go in. “If you need anything or feel anything strange, I want you to call out.”
“Thank you, but I doubt that will be necessary.”
Torch in her left hand, camera in her right, Melissa went in.
She’d set the camera to record. It had a function that would allow her to pull good quality stills from the video. If she were lucky, she’d be able to produce a 3D rendering of the room. She’d purchased several software programs that did renderings after seeing a presentation on the process at conference, but as of yet had only used it a few times.
She was thinking about that—the photos, the modeling, what she would do with the bones—as she stepped over the threshold.
Those thoughts died away as she looked around.
How terribly, terribly sad.
It was a large, bright room, with windows on three walls. The clouds had parted and the setting sun lit the room, but even the golden light couldn’t hide the destruction and sadness here. The walls weren’t exposed stone. They sported what had once been white wainscoting and pale blue patterned wallpaper. The furniture was Victorian in style and well made, though the room was a mess. Only a few pieces were upright, and many looked broken.
The air in the room was close and smelled of decay and dust. There were bits of rotted cloth and broken lumber carpeting the wood floors. Melissa was glad for the mask.
A modest four-poster bed sat near the door on the right hand wall. On the other side of that, within arms-reach of the bed, was a lovely wood crib. Tattered lace was draped over the railings and dust coated it, but the delicate lines of the wood indicated that it was bought for a child who was loved.
Melissa had seen shocking things, horrifying things, and even disgusting things, but this abandoned nursery was the saddest. At first glance it was melancholy rather than gruesome. Or at least it would have been if she didn’t already know there were bodies in here.
There were other, smaller beds on the other side of the crib. The larger bed must have been for the nurse. Shredded white cloth hung from the ceiling over each bed—the remnants of pretty canopies. The scrolled sleigh-style bed frames were beautiful. The mattresses were pulled off, half fallen to the floor, and one was ripped open and leaking horse hair.
The walls were decorated with framed panes of glass with pressed flowers between them, shadow boxes opaque with dust, and delicate illustrations of Bible stories suitable for a nursery—Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the whale, and Christ kneeling among children.
A tipped-over rocking horse lay on a rug in the center of the room. A small table waited there, a vase of long-dead flowers sitting atop it, strangely untouched by the chaos around it.
Across from the beds was a fireplace. It was massive and made of heavy stone, more in keeping with the original structure than this Victorian decor. A fireplace screen was half fallen over, the glass insets broken out.
Beyond the little play area there was a swath of clean floor. A path in the dust and debris showed the dark wood of the floor and led from near the beds across the room to beside the fireplace. Melissa flicked on her torch, examining the clear area. Dark brown dots stained the wood. She crouched and examined them. Without testing there was no way to know what it was, and even that may prove inconclusive.
The beam of her torch followed the path toward the fireplace. Drops and smears of dark brown marked the wood, ending in one larger, massive stain. Beside it was a perfect handprint.
Melissa blew out a breath.
She was willing to make an educated guess that the stains on the floor were blood, and that whoever had been bleeding staggered to this point before dropping or being knocked to the ground.
Melissa held the torch between her shoulder and chin, transferred the camera to her left hand and carefully lay her gloved palm over the handprint to gauge its size. The hand was smaller than hers, but not by much. Given historical skeletal sizing, it was fair to say the handprint could have been made either by a woman or a pubescent male.
There was a thick trail leading away from the main pool of blood. Walking in a crouch, Melissa followed the trail, identifying a second handprint, the lines smudged as if the hand had slid sideways.
At the end of the trail, half-hidden by a mounded blanket, were the bodies. Straightening to her full height, Melissa surveyed them.
Three skulls, three bodies—one adult, one juvenile and one infant. The adult skeleton wasn’t fully visible, as it was covered in bits of stained green fabric. The garment was ripped or torn, so ribs and bits of arm bone and pelvis were visible.
Both the juvenile and infant wore white night dresses, which obscured all but the skull, hands and feet.
Melissa had seen enough for now. She knew what she was dealing with and could start on the actual examination in the morning. After getting a close up of each skull and the adult’s pelvic bone, she turned and headed for the door.
Oren was leaning against a wall, his chin dropped to his chest.
He looked up. “Done so soon?”
“Barely begun, but at this time I can definitively tell you that it’s three bodies. Based on the pelvic bone and the less pronounced brow of the skull, one is an adult female. The smaller two are a juvenile approximately age nine and an infant, no older than six months.”
“That’s terrible.” He shook his head. “Terrible isn’t the word. The poor children. And how did they die?”
“I’m not prepared to say until I clean the bones, but right now my best guess is that the adult’s death wasn’t natural.”
Oren shook his head glumly. “I was afraid of that. And the age?”
“Based on environmental and context evidence, I’d say they died sometime between 1790 and 1860. And even that is only an estimate and could change.”
“That’s good enough. They’re at least 140 years old, too old to be a real police matter.”
“And too young to involve the museum.” Melissa pulled off her mask and closed the door to the nursery before removing her gloves. “I’ll get you more information as soon as I can, Detective Sergeant.”
“I’m plenty happy for now.” Together they took the stairs to the first down. Melissa pulled out the key Sorcha had given her. She opened the door to her room and set her case inside.
Oren was looking at her in alarm. “You’re staying here, just below that?” He jerked his head at the ceiling.
“I’ve stayed in far worse places.” She was more tired than she’d realized, and though it was still early, she wanted to lie down for a few hours. Then she’d get her bags, write up her notes and email off some photos to people who might be able to help her. “And they’re beyond hurting now. I’m sure they won’t mind if I stay.”
“It’s not you hurting them that I’m worried about.”
Glenncailty Series Chronological Reading Order:
The Harp and the Fiddle
The Irish Lover (expanded and rereleased in February, 2014)
The Fire and the Earth
The Shadow and the Night