“I was taught to believe in evil since good could not truly exist without its counterpart,” Sarina said cuddling close to her husband’s warmth in bed. “But I believed the devil nothing more than myth, the epitome of what evil could be if it took form.
Dagon tucked his wife closer glad she enjoyed sleeping naked and cuddled against him. No matter when he woke, in the middle of the night or early morning, she was always wrapped around him and he loved it, loved the feel of her and loved her beyond reason.
“Do you still believe that after what Beatrice had to say?” he asked.
“Beatrice repeated what she has heard, but she admits that she has seen no proof of McDevin Manor being a gateway for the devil.”
“But the forest fairies know their home better than anyone,” Dagon argued. “So wouldn’t they know if such a gateway existed?”
“Perhaps,” she tapped his chest, “but you have lived here a long time and nothing out of the ordinary has ever occurred at McDevin Manor, right?”
“The place has been empty for years.”
“When it was occupied was there any problems?”
“Not that I recall, though I can’t say I ever truly got to know any of the owners. It seemed that the manor was never a prime residence. It was a holiday home or brief retreat. I don’t remember anyone residing there for any extended period of time. Come to think of it, I didn’t give the place thought after awhile. It was almost as if it didn’t exist.”
“I can see how easily that could happen,” Sarina said. “The forest has gown around it until the manor has become invisible. Perhaps the new owner will change things and bring light and laughter to the Devil’s Den.”
Dagon grabbed his wife around her slim waist and hoisted her up over him so that they were face to face. “And you, of course, are going to see if you can help with that?”
“It’s only neighborly of me to go and welcome our new neighbor with some of Margaret’s delicious cookies and also see if we can be of any help.”
Dagon kissed her gently. “I won’t stop you from going.”
Her brow went up and her body tensed.
“While your powers surpass mine don’t think I couldn’t stop you from doing something that could possibly put you in danger.” Sarina went to say something and he stopped her with a kiss before saying, “And I know full well your exceptional talent of seeing and sensing things before they happen, but I still worry over you. I can’t help it; I love you so very much.”
She wondered if her stomach would ever stop fluttering when he expressed his love, though she was quite sure her passion for him would never fade. She simply melted at his touch and when they finished this discussion she intended to melt completely.
“Ali and I —”
“Now you’re really in danger.”
Sarina laughed. “Ali can manage to get into some difficult situations.”
“It’s a given with her, so do be careful and promise me that if you sense any threat or danger, even the slightest that you’ll come home immediately and tell me,” he said and then brought her close to nuzzle at her neck.
She sighed with pleasure. “Promise.”
“No more talk,” she demanded in a whisper. “There is only one thing I want from you now.”
Dagon grinned, slipped his arm around her waist and with a gentle twist had her beneath him in a flash and then he reached over and turned off the light.
“This place more resembles a castle than a manor house,” Ali said securing her off-white wool wrap over her shoulder, “and embraced by this horrid fog makes one think that its nickname may be relevant.”
Sarina had to agree. The massive gray stone loins that flanked the top steps along with the large loin knocker on the weathered and scarred front door gave one pause before going any further. The tall, narrow windows with their heavy drapes drawn didn’t help either.
“I’m glad we transported here,” —Ali shivered— “this way we can make a quick escape if necessary.”
Sarina again had to agree, though she didn’t sense the presence of any malevolent force. “When or if I feel any danger I’ll let you know immediately.”
Ali smiled. “Bless your fantastic clairvoyant abilities.”
The two women climbed the few steps slowing as they past the stone loins.
“The eyes look so real,” Ali said with a shiver.
Sarina nodded. “It looks like the sculptor used black marble for the eyes.”
When they reached the door, Ali gave her hair a pat and adjusted her wrap. Sarina didn’t know how the woman managed to always look so stunning. Her long blond hair fell in gorgeous waves down her back and the off-white knit dress she wore clung to every perfect curve of her slim body. Off-white ankle boots and silver jewelry finished her outfit off to perfection and had Sarina glancing with judgmental eyes over her own ensemble.
Long gray knit skirt, white cashmere sweater and black sweater jacket with a bare hint of silver jewelry and long dark hair she left to its own devises didn’t exactly scream sexy.
“Don’t worry,” Ali said. “Dagon loves you just the way you are.” She grinned. “Besides I’m one of those rare women who look good no matter what she wears.”
Sarina laughed softly and shook her head as she reached for the lion door knocker.
The door swung open before her hand touched the metal circle. She and Ali jumped back startled.
“May I help you?”
Sarina and Ali stared at the staunch older woman, her wide shoulders drawn back, her aged bosoms confined in a black dress that more resembled a servant’s outfit from the 1800s. And her gray hair was severely drawn up in a tight bun at the top of her head.
Sarina rarely used her title, Dagon having forgone it years ago but she somehow thought that now it could work to her advantage. “I am Lady Sarina Rasmus here to welcome and pay respects to my new neighbor and new lord of McDevin Castle.”
It worked. The woman gave a courteous bow of her head and stepped to the side as she opened the door for them to enter. She took them to a front parlor that contained dated furniture and threadbare rugs, though there was a welcoming fire in the mahogany and marble insert fireplace.
“Lord McDevin will be with you in a moment,” the woman said and with another gracious bow left the room sliding the pocket doors closed behind her.
Sarina placed the tray of cookies on the mahogany table that sat between two dark green velvet settees.
Ali went to the fireplace and held her hands out to warm them. “I keep forgetting how damp and chilly the Highlands can be. I’m relieved that at least we’re offered the warmth of this room, though the furnishings leave a lot to be desired.”
“Many of the older castles have fallen on difficult times,” Sarina said. “It’s costly to maintain them.”
Ali cast a curious glance around the room. “You’re right, of course, but look… portraits as usual and of course staunch expressions on everyone of their faces. Didn’t any ancestor ever smile? And I don’t see even a hint of a personal touch.” She turned wide eyes and a smile on Sarina. “You don’t sense that we should be concerned, do you? If not, perhaps we should explore a little before lord McDevin joins us.
“There’s no time,” Sarina said and with a start turned toward the door.
The two women stared open-mouthed at the man who entered.
He was not just handsome, he was… gorgeous. His features captured the eye so much that it was impossible to look away. There was something mesmerizing about him and not just his face. His stature alone spoke volumes. That he was an aristocrat was obvious. He held himself with such distinction that you would think he had stepped out of one of the portraits, out of history and into the present. But his black wool trousers, black knit sweater, stylish haircut and charming smile clearly defined him as a modern man.
“How delightful,” he said stepping into the room and reaching for Ali’s hand to kiss and then turning to Sarina, though he hesitated slightly when he reached for her hand and held it longer than he had Ali’s, “to have two beautiful women in my front parlor.”
His hand was warm and pleasant and Sarina smiled at his charming nature. “It wouldn’t do for me to not greet our new neighbor.”
“You are Lady Sarina of Rasmus Castle?” he asked.
“Yes, and this is an old friend of my husband and now a dear friend of mine… Ali Wainwright from America.”
“Of Wainwright Security?” he asked.
Ali beamed with pride. “My husband’s company. And you are?”
Leave it to Ali to remind him that he hadn’t introduced himself, though Sarina was pleased that she had. She sensed that he was attempting to distract them, but why?
“Adam Lottimer of McDevin Manor at your service my ladies,” he said with a gracious bow that few nowadays knew how to execute properly.
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Ali said in a voice that dripped with sweetness. She then proceeded to slip her arm around his. “And can I be so bold as to tempt you to show us at least the first floor of this old manor. I so love touring old castles and manor houses.”
Sarina caught his hesitation though it was brief and the slight slip of his smile, but he remained the gentleman.”
“I would be delighted, though I’m afraid the rooms that are being worked on are off limits.”
“Show us what you can,” Ali encouraged and walked to the door leaving him no choice.”
Adam had certainly been busy restoring the manor… the dining room being the most impressive. And one that he seemed to take great pride in.
“The Jacobean-style ceiling is believed to be the oldest surviving ceiling in the manor, circa 1580 or possibly earlier than that. The chairs date to the eve of Waterloo and as you can see the claret-colored walls serve as a stunning backdrop to the gold-framed family portraits.”
A twinge of apprehension hit Sarina. Had it something to do with the portraits?
“It’s stunning,” Ali gushed. “But I must ask you why you gave the dining room so much attention first?” She smiled. “Are you planning a party?”
“You are most perceptive, Ali. I am having a small intimate dinner party for close friends.”
It wasn’t lost on Sarina or Ali how he empathized close. It was clear that he had no intentions of inviting them.”
“And do tell,” Ali said boldly stepping closer to him as if she wanted to hear a secret. “Will you be hosting it on All Hallows Eve?”
The pain stabbed Sarina like a knife sending her to her knees as she grabbed her stomach.
Ali went to her side going down on her knees beside her.
“Get me home to Dagon,” Sarina whispered.
Adam hunched down beside them. “She’s obviously in great pain. Let’s get her to a bedroom where she can rest while you go get her husband.”
Ali turned a generous smile on him. “Not necessary. It’s that nasty time of the month.”
Adam was taken aback by Ali’s bluntness, which had been intentional.
“I told you that we should have waited a few days before welcoming the new neighbor,” Ali admonished as she forced Sarina to her feet. “You’re much too stubborn for your own good.”
Sarina could barely get her breath, the pain was so great.
Ali practically dragged her to the front door, Adam protesting all the way. And when he opened the door and saw that no car waited for them he moved in front blocking their exit.
“Where is your ride?” he demanded.
“In the fog,” Ali said and gave him a nudge with her shoulder.
“I’ll help you get her to the car,” Adam offered.
Ali shook her head. “Not necessary. We’ll be fine.” And she hurried forward.
Sarina looked to the fog; never had she welcomed it more. Once in it Ali could transport them back to Rasmus Castle, back to Dagon.
Sarina turned to take one last look at McDevin Castle, hoping she’d get a hint as to what was causing her pain. What she saw stole her breath.
Adam was hurrying down the steps toward them and on the top step in front of the open door stood… a fiery red demon.