"So you want to be scared, eh? Really scared? Then it's darker, deeper, into the bowels of the earth!" the tour guide exclaimed, dramatically sweeping a section of his black cloak over his shoulder. He had a pleasant, cultured Edinburgh accent. R s that rolled. Clean enunciation. "Yes. Deeper. For those of you who scoff at the ghosts of simple murderers, at the haunting mewlings of their victims, we will go onward."
"Can't hardly wait!" intoned Jeff Dean, a dark-haired, good-looking college kid.
"Yes, onward, lead us onward, for heaven's sake-I'm just shaking in my pants!" his date, Sally Adams, added. She was a pretty blonde who managed to ruin the effect of her youth and beauty with a skintight blouse and short, short skirt. Her lipstick was way too red for her coloring and covered more of her face than just her lips. She pretended to be bored, but she was hanging on to Jeff's arm.
"For heaven's sake, yes, please do something scary!"
That came from another of their companions, a tall, skinny, red-haired boy-man named Sam Spinder.
His attitude was bored and taunting as well.
Jade MacGregor had come with the three of them and six other college-age visitors. She had met up with the group earlier while touring the castle; they had suggested the night excursion. Though they were a younger group- rich kids visiting Europe on their folks' money-and she was a brand-new publisher and writer, working on a travel piece about medieval lifestyles, she had found the thought of the tour intriguing, and important to her work, so she had joined the group. She had come to Scotland on her own, something she had wanted to do, but touring a foreign country alone could be quite lonely. The young people in the group were twenty-one and twenty-two to her twenty-five-not such a great distance in age-but she was already feeling as if she were fifty and they were living in a perpetual realm of adolescent football, fraternities, drugs, and rock and roll. She'd been dismayed to discover the extent of this group's recreational drug taking-they had come with an arsenal of pills and a variety of things to smoke. That they took such chances in a foreign country seemed exceptionally worrisome to her, and they had razzed her about not joining in.
Still, the tour was proving to be fun and entertaining. The night was beautiful, a full moon rising. It was fall, and the commercial significance of Halloween had touched Edinburgh along with ancient superstitions. The streets were dressed for autumn and for Halloween; ghoulies and ghosties adorned shop windows. It was a good night to be out.
Her companions, however, were somewhat wild.
They were proving to be rude as well.
She wasn't quite sure what they were on tonight, but it was making them bold and brash-and insultingly cruel.
They were enjoying heckling the tour guide, who seemed to have the ability to take it all in stride.
"I'm shaking in my boots already!" Jeff said, faking a shiver. "Where did you get that spiel, that accent-that look? High school drama? Ooh, I do shake!"
The sarcasm directed at the hardworking tour guide was unfair, Jade thought. Their guide was good-thirtyish, tall, lean, and yes, dramatic, perhaps a would-be Hamlet who had found his living as a tour historian, adding pathos to his recitations about the long-ago evil that had plagued the streets of Scotland. He had taken great relish and delight in extolling the inhumanity of man, explaining deaths by plague, by execution, and by murder most foul. They had gone underground, where the modern city had grown up over ancient closes, roadways that once housed homes, shops, taverns, and the everyday life of a people. No more. Now, by night, the underground was empty- except for the tours. Ghosts were introduced in different rooms; grisly murders were described in detail. This was, after all, the city of Hare and Burke, royal murder and espionage, and the utmost butchery imaginable-and unimaginable-in the medieval world. The tour guide's grasp of history was very good, Jade knew, because she had studied much of it.
The guide had led them from the rear of Saint Giles- where children were hanged once upon a time for so much as stealing a loaf of bread-around dark and shadowy streets, and then down into the closes.
An older couple with them had appreciably oohed and aahed at the proper places; a young couple with boys of about nine and ten had asked questions and received answers, totally enjoying the tour. There was a single man on the tour, older than the college crowd, but by how much, Jade couldn't exactly say.
He was extremely good-looking, with fascinating dark eyes, the kind that could seem ebony one minute, then suddenly lighter the next, a curious brown shade, even ... red. He was tall, very tall, perhaps six-foot-three, and because of his height, he appeared lean, but having stood behind or near him at various stops along the tour, Jade knew that his shoulders were very broad and that beneath the fabric of his well-cut suit coat, he was probably nicely muscled. He watched the tour guide with interest
. He hadn't jumped at all, or oohed or aahed, but he had listened to all the tour guide had to say with a respectful silence. He had kept somewhat to the rear of the group, in the shadows, never speaking.
Actually, only the college crowd-nine in the group-had hissed and mocked and heckled. The young couple and their children had been totally intrigued.
"Where are we going?" Tony, another of the boys, asked. He'd been among the worst of the hecklers, a football player with a shaved head and shoulders the size of Cleveland and no neck between them. He seemed to consider himself too tough for the concept of fear. He and Jeff had already agreed to be volunteers. Pretending to be men branded as traitors, they had been lightly flogged with the guide's cat-o'-nine-tails, and had turned their backs on the crowd for a pretend disembowelment and hanging.
They had made a huge joke of the proceedings, but the guide had gone along with all their foolery.
"Maybe we're not supposed to ask," Marianne, Tony's girlfriend and, oddly enough, the shyest and sweetest in the group, suggested hesitantly.
"Don't be ridiculous," said Ann, a tall, thin redhead with the impatient air of a bored scholar. "If you don't ask ..." Her voice trailed; she lifted her palms.
"You don't get to find out," Marianne said.
"And know if you really want to go or not," Ann said sagely.
"Hey!" Tony repeated. "Come on, she's right. Just where is it that we're going?"
"You said you wanted to be scared," the tour guide reminded them.
"Yeah, damned right, better than what we've seen so far," Jeff said. "So tell us, where are we going?"
"Down to the dead," the tour guide told them dramatically.
"Down to the dead!" Jeff repeated, using his best Boris Karloff imitation.
Jade happened to notice that the tall, silent man on the tour frowned slightly. He seemed to realize she was watching him. His eyes caught hers. They were dark, incredibly dark. Black as the night. No ...
lighter again, weather eyes, every-changing eyes. They were brown again. A brown touched by fire. For a moment she felt as if she couldn't turn away. A strange sense of warmth filled her. It wasn't just a feeling; she couldn't turn away. Or was she simply doing this to herself?
"And where is that?" Sally, the blonde with the skintight blouse, asked loudly, breaking the strange sense Jade had experienced of being like a moth drawn to a flame.
Yes, a moth to flame. The flame was in his eyes. Now they were amber eyes ... fire eyes, the eyes of a wolf at night. Arresting.
Sexy! she thought.
A stranger in a strange land, she reminded herself, uncomfortable suddenly with the way she had felt about a stranger. Hey, she warned herself. She was smart and savvy. Intelligent, friendly, but streetwise and careful. Not the type to fall for a total stranger under strange circumstances. Still ... he was compelling.
Very sexy. Not just good-looking, sensual, sexy.
Those eyes . . .
Um, those eyes. They caught hers. Yes, she was watching him.
He knew it. Did it amuse him? Perhaps not.
For yes, he was watching her as well.
"You'll see. First we're for a stop at Ye Olde Hangman's Tavern-for a wee bit o' Scots whiskey-or an ale, or a gin and tonic, or even a swallow of fine wine, if ye've a mind, mum!" the tour guide said to Sally. Sally sniffed, indicating her doubt that Ye Olde Hangman's Tavern might have wine that she would consider drinking, much less enjoy. Sally turned away. Jade, still watching their tour guide, was slightly unnerved to see the way he looked at Sally.
Chilling. And odd. Throughout the tour, he had handled the heckling well, appearing hurt and wounded rather than insulted by the jibes cast his way. He didn't look exactly angry now. No, the look was more
Like a hunter stalking prey.
"Follow me!" he said.
Jade gave herself a mental shake. His smile was back in place.
As they walked, Jade saw the tall, amber-eyed man talk to the couple with the young boys, warning them that the graveyards could be unsettling. The woman started to argue, telling him, "Oh, the boys are fine. They know myth from history, the present from the past-" She broke off, looking at the man. Then she told her husband, "Peter! We're leaving the tour here."
"Mary! This will be the best part-"
"A big tankard of ale will be the best part for you, Peter," Mary replied. "After that, we take the boys back to the Balmoral Hotel!"
They reached the tavern, easy access off the Royal Mile. The tavernkeeper, seeing their guide, nodded and called to one of his girls to see that they were quickly served. Jake chose an ale on draft. Sally and Jeff sat across from her at a dingy bar table in the center of the tavern. "Think he can scare us 'among the dead'?" Sally queried, giggling. Still, Jade thought, she sounded a little uncomfortable.
"He's nothing but a pile of hokey baloney," Jeff said disdainfully. "No doubt we'll see a few old tombstones. And maybe the statue of that little dog."