Friday Spotlight: Jennifer Mueller

Excerpt from Footnotes to History

A few doors down from her bedroom Rowanne found a beautiful sitting room to admire before she headed for breakfast. Painted a pale over-saturated blue with plaster cameo medallions set between each window, the room might have been an overgrown Wedgwood plate, but the plaid carpet kept it from being stuffy. Across the hall as she came out there was no missing Duncan jumping on the bed in Lorne’s room.

“Duncan stop it now!” Lorne’s yell carried down the hall, loud. “Go find your uncle Hunter and get the bag he picked up for me yesterday and one of Mary’s scones.” Duncan just kept jumping. Lorne looked ready to grab the boy and throttle him.

“Duncan, go get what your dad asked and then have Lorne show you the tunnel we found last night,” she called.

“Tunnel?” He was up in the air when he turned suddenly, barely hitting the bed he scrambled off and was gone.

Rowanne expected him to say thank you, but he just lay there. “Are you all right?”

Just a growl of a noise. “No.”

He might as well have been a stranger, she met him yesterday, but she walked in. Something just said it had to be bad if he actually said there was something wrong.

“Are you sick?”

“No.”

Thunder outside rattled the windows and she looked back down at the man. A man that could snap her in two if he wanted. Wearing only a pair of boxers, Lorne Sinclair wore a tattoo on one shoulder, the Sinclair crest, no both, the other held the Marine crest. Just like Hunter. Ayda had said only his was the RAF crest, a good guess that Broderick had them as well only substituting the Navy.

“Arthritis acting up with the storm.” She said it quietly. It wasn’t a question. Somehow that’s all it could be. “You said you broke your back.”

He opened his eyes at that for a moment staring before they closed again. “Three months in traction, I’d hardly seen her more than a few times and Ayda sat there with me every day. 3 months pregnant, she wrote her thesis on a laptop next to me. Yelling at me to stop tormenting the nurses, reading, and god did we flirt. Even when Hunter was in the room. She just told Hunter to get the distillery built, and she saw him on weekends when he brought Duncan to see me. She got her paper done without Hunter taking her to bed, he got the building done without her taking him to bed. You have to watch those two, knock before you go in a room looking for them. First time I was really out moving on my own was for her graduation and their wedding.” He let out a deep breath. “Ayda was family the day she came in and started giving me hell to take my mind off of it, not because she married Hunter. That just makes us related.”

Duncan ran in finally, the pills rattling in the bottle as he jumped up on the bed again. Lorne’s jaw clenched and Rowanne grabbed hold of the boy. Taking the bag and scone, she all but tossed him out. He didn’t even notice he was being dumped as he ran off yelling to see the tunnel. Without asking, she went and found a glass in the bathroom before handing it all over. It was painful watching as it took him minutes to sit up. A man looking like he could pose for any statue, Greek, Roman, renaissance, a master had created every muscle, and now that master had created pain as well. Not gulping the pills though, he ate first.

Finished eating, finally he downed several pills and leaned back. “Go work on the room, there’s no need to put up with me being a pain in the ass.”

Rowanne did something she never thought she would do. She was distracted from the find of the century, not to mention the mystery of how someone from the Holy Lands ended up in Scotland. She sat down on the bed instead and leaned back against the bedpost facing him. “Then flirt with me, who knows, by the time the storm is passed and you’re not a pain in the ass I might just be swept off my feet. I’m no man’s fiancée like Ayda, or have you forgotten how to flirt with a woman that isn’t married.”

“Very possibly.” Lorne grimaced. “So what is this I hear about a tunnel?”

“After you vanished Hunter returned late last night and he seems to be quite the lock pick. He had the door open in moments. Just like the book said there was a well and an opening hidden on a small beach for escape. Hunter said because the well is outside the main castle in case the sea wall was breached.”

“It’s a wonder they blocked it off then.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. Ayda and I have all the pottery dated last night and it would seem nothing is newer than 1300-1310 even the local pieces. There was definitely the need for the protection still.”

For a moment Lorne lay there silent, his deep breaths forcing back the pain all that broke the silence. “Perhaps that is why it was forgotten.”

“What do you mean?”

“The castle was forfeit to the English only a few years later, if I was in charge and knowing the enemy could be here in the mean time I wouldn’t leave those defenses to be found out. You’d have to check but I think the Duke died in that time, maybe the secret was never passed on before that generation died. I’d think the man that used the room would have opened it back up too, if he was alive.”

Rowanne shook her head. “There is nothing wrong with your mind even if you’re incapacitated. That is the first thing I’ve heard that makes sense, all my own ramblings started sounding more like a romance novel than what could have actually happened. How long was it forfeit?”

“1305 to 1328. You read romances do you?”

It was Rowanne’s chance to laugh as she fingered the curtains hanging on the bed. Dark green wool as soft as silk. “I like reading the historicals to see how much they get wrong.”

“I should hate to think you hold any of our cooks’ tales to a history book. They are amusements not meant to be scrutinized.”

A knock at the door and Ayda came in. “Entertaining in all your glory I see. The Sinclair men always were the best art in the house.” Ayda let out a sigh. “I should have known when you vanished yesterday. Like you ever went to bed early.”

Lorne smiled wide. “I do all the time if I have someone to entertain in my bed. For sleep never.”

“Do you have classes to teach in the village or did I hear wrong last night?” Rowanne asked.

“I’m on my way now. I’ll have Mary bring you both breakfast on my way out. Hunter has Brendan and Duncan with him, Gemma called, the house in Edinburgh has a roof leak. He took them with him to play with their cousins while he sees to the repairs. I’m afraid you’re stuck with getting over jet lag unless you want to spend your day alone in the dank dungeon.”

“I think I’ll keep Lorne company, with the date of 1300 or so, he wonders if the room was closed up so no one knew of the entrance when the English took it over and then those that did it died before they could return without telling.” The medicine must have been getting to work, for there was an actual smile on Lorne’s face without any sign of a grimace.

“Very likely.”

Rowanne looked over at Lorne to find him staring not at Ayda but her. Not leering just looking. “If I can convince Lorne with the idea could I move some paintings about? Scottish landscapes. If he’s stuck in his room he can at least see the countryside.”

Ayda’s smile said far too much as if she knew that Rowanne’s eye kept drifting toward the chiseled bare chest opposite her. “If you can convince him you have my approval, but you have to convince him.”

“No woman’s changing my life around unless I get anything out of it. When you see paintings moving about, Ayda you won’t have to ask what’s happened.”

Ayda was laughing as she left. When Rowanne turned back to him, her breath stopped for a moment. Damn it how could a man be so damn good looking? “Now you can go change what ever you want, just no frilly dresses.” The burr to his voice rolled over her slowly and her breathing started back up.

“Of course you’d say that now.”

Lorne smiled, but there was no laugh.

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya a few years back I traveled quite a bit and now I just wish I was. A lot of the places I’ve written about I’ve been to, a lot of them I haven’t. Rafting on the Nile in Uganda, living in a Montana ghost town, Puerto Rican beaches, African safaris, Mayan ruins, European youth hostels, the Black Hills of South Dakota all fill my scrapbooks. Now a daughter takes up most of those pages, but I still travel in my head every time I write.

Comments

  1. Yes, I must have this book, too. I loved the excerpt.

    Thanks,
    Tracey D

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