‘Won’t you join us for breakfast?’ Tarquin enquired. ‘You’re more than welcome, and there’s plenty on hand.’
‘Oh, no thank you,’ Helen said. ‘I won’t intrude. I’m not hungry, at any rate. The gatekeeper was kind enough to fix me a cup of tea and a boiled egg.’
‘Kind? That’s not a word one usually associates with Colm Mackenzie,’ Wren observed, and exchanged an amused glance with Tarquin. ‘He’s avowedly antisocial.’
‘Yes,’ Tarquin agreed. ‘Not a very friendly chap, and he keeps to himself; but he’s a hard worker, for all that.’
‘He wasn’t very forthcoming,’ Helen agreed, ‘but he let me in last night after I got lost. I was wandering out in the blizzard, terrified and half frozen. I locked myself out of my hire car, you see,’ she added ruefully.
‘What rotten luck,’ Tarquin observed.
‘At least you got a hire car,’ Dominic muttered. ‘Bloody Max. I’m giving him the sack when we get back to London.’
‘Well,’ Tark observed, ‘if it had to happen, I’m glad it happened here, with Draemar castle near at hand.’
‘Not half so glad as I am,’ Helen murmured as she cast Dominic and Gemma a thoughtful glance, ‘believe me.’
‘If I can’t persuade you to join us for breakfast, then let me show you to the telephone, so you can make your call,’ he offered, and with another bright smile and a nod, Helen followed him out of the dining room.
‘What shall we do today?’ Natalie wondered a few minutes later, and glanced around the dining room table as she took up her napkin and spread it on her lap.
‘I thought I’d give you the grand tour,’ Tarquin offered as he returned to take his place at the head of the table beside Wren. ‘If you like.’
‘Can’t wait,’ Rhys said, and helped himself to scrambled eggs from the platter the footman held out. ‘I imagine it must take all day to show the entire castle.’
‘Nearly,’ Tark agreed. ‘Especially if we visit the dungeons.’
‘Dungeons!’ Gemma exclaimed, wide eyed. ‘Really?’
‘Yes. Many a prisoner was held captive here. The stories these walls could tell...’ his voice trailed off. ‘Afterwards,’ he added, ‘we’ll have lunch, and the gentlemen can indulge in a smoke and play a few hands of cards, or shoot billiards.’
‘Whilst us ladies adjourn to the drawing room for tea and gossip?’ Natalie teased.
‘How boring!’ Wren said, and grimaced. ‘No. We’ll go up to the screening room and drink wine and munch on popcorn and watch – what is it you call them? ‒ chick flicks all afternoon.’
‘Now that sounds more like it,’ Gemma approved.
In the entrance hallway, Helen perched on a loveseat next to the telephone table and placed her call.
As she waited for Top Towing to answer, she studied her surroundings with curiosity. Portraits of Campbell family forebears, most dressed in tartan, lined the walls and marched along the length of the gallery above; a few were hung at intervals along the curved wall of the staircase.
Like Tarquin, they had long noses, reddish-brown hair, and serious expressions. But then, Helen supposed, sitting for one’s portrait in the Campbell clan tartan was a very big deal. How strange, she mused, to think that Tarquin’s predecessors, all long dead, were on view on these castle walls, and that his own portrait would one day join them...
The requisite castle décor, consisting of suits of armour and medieval implements of war, held pride of place in the odd nook and cranny – maces, battle-axes, halberds, pikes, and swords, among other unnamed but equally menacing weapons. It was a gruesome yet fascinating display.
‘You want it towed out today, you say?’ the voice on the other end of the telephone asked doubtfully.
‘I’m that sorry, but we’ve dozens of calls already. It’ll be tomorrow at the soonest afore we can send a truck out to Draemar.’
‘Tomorrow!’ Helen echoed, dismayed. The prospect of spending another night at the gatehouse with Colm was too much to bear.
‘Aye, and it might be even later,’ the despatcher informed her cheerfully. ‘They’re sayin’ another foot of snow’s headed our way tonight.’
She glanced out the window. With the sun currently sparkling on the drifts of snow outside, and birds darting back and forth in flashes of brown and blue, the prospect of more snow seemed unlikely.
But then again, this was Scotland, and in the dead of bloody winter...
‘Just make sure I’m at the top of the list,’ Helen snapped, and rang off.
Now what was she to do? She couldn’t bear the thought of another minute spent in the company of that miserable, tight-lipped Scotsman who acted as if her very existence was a personal affront.
Still, she reflected as she hung up, for once events had conspired to her advantage. After all, she was sharing a roof – and quite a vast roof it was, too – with Dominic Heath and his fiancée, Gemma.
She couldn’t have arranged a better set of circumstances if she’d tried.
The sound of footsteps and low voices approaching echoed across the hallway. Helen risked a peek around the corner as Dominic and his girlfriend emerged from the dining room and made their way towards the stairs. She ducked her head back. They hadn’t seen her, thank God.
‘…glad you finally agree with me on this, Dom,’ Gemma was saying, her voice low but distinct.
‘I told you, babes, I want kids just as much as you do,’ he replied. ‘The time has to be right, that’s all.’
‘Well, then,’ she pointed out, ‘good thing we’re getting married in a few weeks’ time. A Christmas wedding in Northton Grange will be incredibly romantic, don’t you think? Even if we practically had to elope to manage it.’
Helen hardly dared to breathe. It would be embarrassing – not to mention awkward ‒ to reveal her presence now. She only hoped that they didn’t see her sitting here, blatantly eavesdropping...
‘We can’t have the paparazzi bollocksing everything up, can we?’ Dominic replied.
‘No, of course not. I want a proper wedding, with all the trimmings – and no bloody paps,’ Gemma said firmly. ‘I want bridesmaids in tartan gowns, and groomsmen in kilts, and a horse-drawn sleigh, and—’
‘And a Prada wedding gown,’ Dominic finished. ‘Yeah, I know, Gems. You’ve told me often enough. But if it were up to me, we really would elope. Or get married in a chapel at Gretna Green.’
‘Gretna Green?’ she demanded, and came to a halt, just yards from where Helen sat. ‘Have you lost your mind, Dominic? A girl only gets married once in her life, and her wedding should be perfect.’
‘Yes, of course it should! But damn it, babes, be reasonable!’ Dominic hissed. ‘Christmas is less than a month away. There’s no time to put a massive wedding together – not the kind of over-the-top wedding you fancy, at any rate – in a few weeks!’
‘Oh, very well. I’ll scale it back, then. I’ll only have six bridesmaids, instead of twelve. And I suppose I can make do without groomsmen in kilts...although I fancied having at least two, to hold the crossed swords over our heads as we exit the castle to leave on our honeymoon.’