Sample text for High rhymes and misdemeanors : A poetic death mystery / Diana Killian.


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Chapter 1

The stream chattered merrily over the rocks, undeterred by the motionless form of the man lying facedown in the shallow water.

It seemed to Grace that she had been standing there for an eternity, not moving, not even breathing, trying to focus and telling herself it was a trick of the light.

But though the tall copper beeches cast long, sinister shadows, turning grass and water black, this was no illusion of the lingering English twilight. Nor was this a figment of her own active imagination. There really was a body lying in Grace Hollister's path.

As the realization slowly sank in, it seemed to Grace that all the world hushed and paused, waiting, waiting...Only the burble of the stream and Grace's own harsh breathing met her ears, and unexpectedly a feeling of light-headedness crept over her.

Impatiently she blinked back the weakness, forcing herself to focus on impersonal details. The body was male; a tall, graceful body ungracefully sprawled in the rocks and mud. It -- he -- wore Levis and a white shirt. His thick pale hair ruffled in the breeze revealing a sickening dark patch on the back of his skull.

Grace's stomach rose in protest. She recognized him; it was Mr. Fox, a fellow guest at the inn where Grace was staying. Only that evening Grace had observed him in the dining room -- or rather, observed the two young waitresses observing him. Mr. Fox with his copy of Punch, and his odd, not quite handsome face.

The lax, long-fingered hands moved delicately, feeling nothing as the stream rippled through them. Beneath the water Grace could see the second hand of his watch still methodically ticking away.

Only seconds had passed since Grace came upon the scene in the woods; it took far longer to describe than live those unreal, intense moments before she stumbled forward, clutching at the inert, sodden mass, dragging the body back out of the water and stones and mud.

Though he was a tall man and a dead weight, and Grace was only a medium-sized woman in average shape, adrenaline gave her extra strength. She hauled with all her might; the body of Mr. Fox slithered forward, the stream releasing him with a squelch.

Grace rocked back on her haunches, landing in the mud. Panting, sweating, she crawled over to the drowned man, rolling him onto his back. His head lolled, face white and wet in the gloom.

He looked dead, no doubt about it. He wasn't breathing, and there was no telling how long he had been underwater. Grace hadn't spotted Mr. Fox during her twilight ramble through the woods; he could have been soaking there since dinner.

So much for my nice, restful vacation in jolly old England, Grace thought, ripping open the dripping shirt and pressing her ear to a broad and clammy chest. Sparse golden hair tickled her cheek. There was no sound beneath her ear. At least nothing Grace could hear over her own thundering pulse. She stared and stared but could detect no rise and fall of his chest.

Pushing away the thought that it was already too late, Grace tipped back Mr. Fox's heavy head. Face close to his, she listened intently.

Nothing.

Not a flicker.

Feeling the wet silk of his hair beneath her fingers, Grace stared down at the death mask of a face wiped clean of all intelligence, all emotion, all life. It was a strange face: high-boned and clever, a reckless slash of black brows, a wide, mocking mouth. It was a strange moment; Grace knew she would never forget it. Never forget Mr. Fox.

Accepting this, accepting that it was too late, still Grace went through the motions, pinching shut the man's nostrils, taking a deep breath and covering his slack mouth with her own.

As Grace exhaled strongly she felt a faint resistance. This was so different from practice with dummies in a noisy gymnasium.

Between snatches of air, Grace breathed forcefully into Mr. Fox's unresponsive lungs four times. Then she paused, feeling for the pulse in his throat with uncertain fingers.

It had grown too dark to see; dusk's slow retreat falling back beneath the night which swallowed the green woods and fells, the mountains and dales of the Lake District. Feverishly Grace labored under the black tracery of leaves blotting out the first faint stars.

Still nothing? Not even a twitch?

Grace shifted around on her knees. Mr. Fox was all long, strong bone and muscle, no excess flesh as she felt cautiously over his rib cage, brushing over a hard, flat abdomen, finding the place where ribs met breastbone.

To pick the wrong place meant risking injury to the ribs and chest wall. Like it matters at this point, a pessimistic little voice whispered in Grace's ear. She shrugged off the voice of doom. Surely a strong man like Mr. Fox wouldn't give up his life so easily.

She placed the heel of one hand on Mr. Fox's chest, the other hand on top. Locking elbows, Grace began compressing, at first tentatively, then more strongly. She counted, her voice sounding loud and fierce in the darkness.

"One and two and three and four and five."

How many minutes did it take before the effects of drowning were irreversible? She couldn't remember. It didn't matter. She had no idea how long Mr. Fox had been in the water.

Down and up, down and up. Finding her rhythm Grace leaned into Mr. Fox's body and relaxed. It was like squeezing a giant, sodden sponge. Grace worked over the body till her arms began to ache.

And then, just as she was giving up hope, Grace was startled to hear a great rattling cough. The corpse became a man again, suddenly giving up the stream water he had swallowed.

Grace had never heard a more beautiful sound.

Mr. Fox's chest heaved beneath her palms, and she heard him gulp in huge lungfuls of the night air. Amazed at herself, at what she had just accomplished, Grace rested on her heels, her teeth chattering with reaction while Mr. Fox coughed and spluttered and continued to catch at gusts of air like a landed fish.

It was like a miracle. Heck, it was a miracle. One minute he had been a drowned thing. Dead. Ended. Finished. And the next, he was alive. Grace hugged herself against the cold, offering a silent prayer of thanks to the distant stars above.

"What...happened...?" Mr. Fox's rusty voice trailed uncertainly. He made an effort to push himself up.

Grace bent over him reassuringly. "It's all right. You're going to be fine. Just rest here. I'm going for help." She patted the long fingers that clutched weakly at her wrist.

"Wait -- " Mr. Fox broke off to shiver convulsively.

Shock and the damp could undo all that she had fought for. Gently Grace freed herself, rising from her cramped position. "I'll be right back," she promised. "Just take it easy."

Picking her way blindly over the roots and grass, Grace at last found the path and started back to the inn. She walked as quickly as she dared over the uncertain terrain, back toward warmth and light and people.

But a few yards down the trail a feeling of alarm swept over Grace. It wasn't logical, it wasn't even something she could explain, but she plunged back the way she had come, feet pounding the dirt, dropping to her knees once more beside Mr. Fox.

Tentatively she touched him. He was still breathing; she wasn't sure if he was conscious or not. Grace chewed her lip, trying to decide what to do. Intently she listened. Nightfall pressed in on them from all sides.

It was too silent. There was the sound of the stream chuckling away, the sound of their own soft breathing, but nothing else. Not a cricket. Not a bird. Not a leaf stirring. To Grace's overwrought nerves it seemed like the night was listening.

It was silly. She tried to shake off her unease, but at a tiny crackling sound she felt the small hairs on the back of her neck rise. Something was out there. Something stood in the trees beyond her range of vision, something that watched and waited.

Waited for what?

For Grace to leave.

But that was nonsense! While she sat here imagining things, Mr. Fox was probably catching pneumonia. She needed to go. Now.

Still, she waited.

So intensely did Grace listen to the sounds of the night that she nearly jumped out of her skin when Mr. Fox spoke.

"What is it?" he mumbled.

"Nothing. I..."

Mr. Fox's hand went to the back of his bloody head. "What happened?" he questioned again, more forcefully.

"You fell in the stream."

"Fell in the..." His voice dwindled away. "Like hell," he said suddenly.

In the gloom Grace could just make out his eyes blinking up at her. Irrelevantly she wondered what color they were.

Watching Mr. Fox slowly assessing the damage to himself, Grace wondered how a man who fell facedown in a stream managed to hit himself on the back of his head?

As this sinister discrepancy trickled through her brain Grace heard the hoot of an owl some distance away. Abruptly the night seemed alive with sound: crickets, frogs, rustlings in the undergrowth. She knew with certainty that whoever had watched and waited was now gone.

Probably a tramp, she told herself.

Mr. Fox made an effort to rise. He sank back. Grace slid a sturdy arm behind his shoulders. He leaned heavily into her and swore.

Her arms full of damp, long-limbed man, Grace experienced a confused rush of sensations. The body pressing into hers was all hard angles. He smelled of water and earth and something uniquely, cleanly male. His breath filtered through the loose cotton of her sweater, warming her skin. It was...sort of intimate in a weird way.

Mr. Fox reached behind, once more checking the back of his skull. He brought his hand away and stared at his blood-smeared fingers. Grace craned her neck trying to see. She knew head injuries bled a lot. The fact that he was alive and conscious had to be a plus.

"It probably looks worse than it is," she offered by way of comfort.

Mr. Fox muttered something unintelligible and likely unprintable, and peered into Grace's face, trying to focus.

"Do I know you?" Though gravelly, his voice was stronger. Grace thought that they should probably stop clinging to each other, but didn't like to withdraw support first.

"I'm staying at the Tinker's Dam, too."

"Are you?" He sounded vague, searching his memory. "The American girl with the hair?"

"Well," Grace admitted, "I'm American and I have hair."

At the moment Mr. Fox had his face pressed into her neck and the aforementioned hair. He was a heavy weight in Grace's arms and on her breasts as he continued to rest against her, apparently at ease. His complete lack of self-consciousness confirmed Grace's initial impression, which had been formed in the inn's dining room while observing the waitresses engaged in a Laurel and Hardy routine of sideswipes, narrow misses and dropped plates whilst trying to catch Mr. Fox's preoccupied gaze.

"That's an intriguing fragrance you're wearing," he mumbled after another spell.

"Eau de stream water."

Mr. Fox snorted, a sound that Grace recognized for a laugh. She felt his muscles bunch as he gathered himself to rise. Standing with him she watched suspiciously as he wavered and then steadied himself.

It seemed that he was going to walk away from what should have been his death scene. The man had incredible luck -- stamina -- or both.

On his feet and feeling in control of the situation once more, Mr. Fox offered Grace his hand.

"Miss -- or is it Mrs.?"

Grace shook hands firmly. "Ms. Hollister. And I already know that you are Mr. Fox."

"Peter, please," Mr. Fox corrected. "I can hardly stand on ceremony with the lady who fished me out of the stream. My thanks, Miss Hollister."

Why the pointed "Miss," she wondered? What was he, some kind of throwback? And then, to Grace's amusement -- and confirming her suspicions -- he raised her hand and kissed it.

It was so smoothly done, so clearly practiced, that it should have been corny. Instead, the sensation of Peter's warm lips against her skin sent a frisson down Grace's spine.

She said feebly, "You're welcome, Peter."

He patted down his Levis, checking his wallet. "Nothing seems to be missing," he murmured, thumbing through the bills. "I don't suppose you saw who coshed me?"

At Grace's silence he glanced up attentively. "Did you see something?"

"N-no, not exactly." Grace was nonplussed at the way Peter instantly assumed he had been attacked. Was that the normal conclusion to draw? Apparently Peter could put two and two together faster than most.

He turned and started down the path. Grace followed. Their feet sounded dully on the hard-packed earth. After a moment Grace sucked in a deep breath and said, "There is something. Whoever hit you put your head under the water deliberately."

If she had expected protest, or even a reaction, Grace didn't get it. There was simply an unusually long pause before Mr. Fox said calmly, "Why should you say that?"

"If you had slipped -- "

"I never slipped," he interrupted flatly.

That Grace could believe. Even now he moved with cat-footed confidence, although Grace suspected it took all his energy and concentration to do so.

"If you had slipped," Grace continued, "you would have put your hands out to catch yourself, but your arms were at your sides as though someone had dragged you over and left you there. Besides, if you had fallen forward you wouldn't have cut the back of your head."

"But why should someone want to murder me?" He sounded more interested than perturbed.

Murder. No mincing words with Mr. Fox.

"Is that question rhetorical?" Grace asked in her best professorial manner, trying to match Peter Fox's dispassionate tone.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Grace shrugged. "You must know if you have enemies."

It seemed a strange conversation to be having, but then Grace's vacation had definitely take a strange turn from the moment she stumbled across Mr. Peter Fox bobbing for stream pebbles.

"Your Yank candor is so refreshing," Peter bit out. "Mind if we stop for a minute?" He dropped down on the grassy verge, resting his head on his folded arms. He took slow, deep breaths.

"Do you want me to run ahead and get help?" Grace hovered indecisively.

"No, I do not." The vehemence of this was lessened by the fact that he had his head between his knees. "Damn, damn, damn it to hell..."

Men, Grace thought sardonically. It didn't matter how old they were -- and she guessed Peter Fox was somewhere in his late thirties -- when it came to the male ego they were all sensitive boys.

Patiently Grace waited while Mr. Fox continued his deep breathing exercises. The night air tasted of approaching autumn, wood smoke and the bite of moldering fennel and mint. Grace kept her ears pricked for anything out of the ordinary, but there was nothing to hear but the chirp of crickets.

"What did you say your Christian name was?" Peter asked, his voice muffled.

"Grace."

"Grace," he repeated. "Saving Grace in this case." Even half fainting he had a flip way of speaking that reminded Grace of those drawling rakes in the Regency novels to which she was secretly addicted. No one really talked like that; probably not even Regency rakes, but Peter was certainly lifelike in all other aspects. Grace could feel the heat of him emanating through his wet clothing, and she could recall what his hard male body had briefly felt like in her arms.

"My mouth tastes as though I'd been sucking the bottom of the streambed." He wiped his hand over his mouth and then pushed himself upright once more with a less than fluid movement.

He walked on and Grace followed.

The narrow path gave way to a dirt road which Peter and Grace followed across a humpback bridge, at last putting the woods safely behind them. Ahead stretched a meadow, colorless in the moonlight.

"What exactly were you doing out here by yourself?" Peter inquired, his voice sounding stronger.

"Walking. Enjoying the scenery." Through the trees Grace spied the lights of the Tinker's Dam. Laughter and voices carried across the meadow. Moonlight gleamed on the cars in the crowded car park. A weathered sign painted in fading colors portraying a skinny gray mare hitched to a gypsy caravan hung above a lighted doorway.

Peter had no comment to Grace's answer, and in silence they crossed the meadow and walked up to the inn.

"Do me a favor," Fox said, his hand on Grace's arm as she moved toward the entrance of the pub. "Have a drink with me."

"A drink?" Alcohol and concussion was a bad mix, she was thinking, but no doubt Peter Fox had been around enough to know that.

"Yes." He rubbed his solar plexus absently. "It's beginning to sink in that you...er...probably saved my life. The least I can do is stand you a drink."

"Oh well, that's not..." What was she saying? A goodlooking, intriguing man was asking her to have a drink. "I mean, happy to oblige, as you British say."

Peter Fox's wide mouth twitched humorously at this. He said only, "I'll run upstairs, have a wash and join you in a couple of minutes."

"Aren't you going to call the police?"

The slanted brows rose. "The police? No."

"But someone tried to kill you!"

"There's no point involving the police."

Grace realized she was gaping. She quit gaping and said, "And you Brits talk about Americans' blase; attitude toward crime!"

"My dear woman," Peter said patiently, "the police will simply think I slipped and then rolled over in a semiconscious state. Even if they believe your story, the tramp or juvenile delinquent who hit me has long since scarpered. What's the point then wasting the rest of our evening chatting with the local constabulary?"

"Aren't you at least going to have a doctor look at your head?"

Peter Fox smiled. His long, thin fingers caressed and yet seemed to warn as he pushed Grace toward the doorway.

"I'll be down in ten." As an afterthought he added, "Keep your eye on the door. I want to know who comes in after us."

Grace went inside the smoky, crowded pub. It was a comfortable room with dark wood paneling and mullion windows. There were hunting and fishing prints on the wall. The Tinker's Dam had been serving pints since before America was a colony. It was the kind of place Grace adored.

Squelching across the polished wood floor, she decided on a dash upstairs to change out of her muddy things. After all, her travels had not abounded with handsome, intriguing men inviting her for drinks; she might as well make the most of this.

It was quiet in her room; the genial hubbub of the bar was muffled beneath the thick floorboards. The old-fashioned lamp cast an amber light as Grace ran a brush through her hair and quickly dabbed her mouth with lipstick. Even as she made these cursory preparations she shook her head. She prided herself on being "serious-minded" (as Ms. Wintersmith, the principal at St. Anne's Academy for Girls, would put it). She was not a woman to get thrown into a flutter by a good-looking (and probably aware of it) man. She was not strictly on vacation, after all. Well, she was, but her vacation did have a higher purpose -- and that higher purpose did not include meeting men. (Although, in her friend and traveling companion Monica's case, it had.)

Grace pulled on clean slacks and a fresh shirt. Refusing to reexamine her reflection -- or her thoughts of Peter Fox -- she headed downstairs to the taproom.

She ordered a lager and lime and sat down in a high-backed booth facing the door. Sipping her drink, Grace studied the room. Everyone in the pub looked as though they belonged -- or at least, had been there all evening. A couple of men were playing darts by the fireplace. At an oak table a group of ruddy-faced men in tweed caps were discussing sheep. At another booth sat a younger group, hikers and rock climbers, laughing about the day's exploits.

If anyone was out of place, it was herself, the eccentric American "professor" tracking down the haunts of long dead Romantic poets.

Peter Fox sat down on the bench across from Grace, startling her out of her speculations. He had showered and changed into a black turtleneck sweater and jeans faded almost white.

"What are you drinking?"

Now that she had a good look at him in the light, Grace was struck by the odd attractiveness of his face: elegant bones, thin yet sensual lips and heavy-lidded eyes of an arresting blue beneath the black V of his eyebrows. His hair, damp from the shower, fell across his forehead in straight golden strands. The contrast of blond hair and dark brows was unusual but not unappealing.

Realizing that Peter was waiting for her reply, Grace made a negative gesture. "I'm fine."

Peter headed for the bar with its gleaming brass fixtures and rosy-cheeked barmaid, who he immediately engaged in smiling banter.

Grace skeptically studied the neat white strip of adhesive behind his ear. Obviously the man was able to take care of himself. By rights he should be in a hospital bed, not chatting up giggling barmaids.

Peter returned to the booth with what looked like a strong one.

"Cheers." Touching his glass to Grace's, he took a long swallow, then leaned back. "So tell me all about yourself, Miss Grace Hollister from America. Where in America exactly? The West Coast?"

Grace nodded. She thought it was interesting that Peter did not ask whether anyone had entered the bar. He seemed prepared to forget all about his close call.

"There's not much to tell," she said slowly. "I'm thirty-three, single. I teach English literature at St. Anne's Academy for Girls. I'm working on my doctorate." She shrugged. "This is my first trip to Britain."

"Then this is a business trip?"

Grace grinned. "To be honest, I could do my research in the States but it wouldn't be nearly as interesting. Or as much fun."

"And what brings you to this particular neck of the woods?" Beneath hooded lids Peter's eyes were as intent as a cat scoping a mouse hole.

"The Romantics are my period. Wordsworth, Coleridge...so naturally I wanted to visit the Lake District." Actually it was Byron, Shelley, and Keats who fascinated Grace, but it sounded too unintellectual to confess a secret passion for the bad boys of poetry.

"Ah." Peter smiled enigmatically and quoted, "That blended holiness of earth and sky."

As Peter's rather husky voice unself-consciously quoted Wordsworth, a strange emotion fluttered through Grace. If he had quoted Shelley or Keats she probably would have fallen in love on the spot.

"That's it exactly," she said, leaning forward in her eagerness. "I've never been anywhere quite so...romantic. Even the names of the places are poetic: Windermere, Seathwaite, Derwent Water."

Peter smiled again and sipped his brandy. "You're traveling alone?"

"Yes. Well, not exactly. I came over with a friend of mine, Monica Gabbana. We both teach at St. Anne's. Monica was here years ago as an exchange student. Anyway, we were staying in Surrey when we ran into an old friend -- actually, a college don of hers." Grace laughed and made a face. "You know what they say, two's company, three's a crowd? So I'm seeing the Lake District on my own."

"I take it the friendly old college don was male?"

"Yes. They realized they had some unfinished business."

"'Unfinished business.' My God, what an American way of putting it."

"How would you put it?"

Peter smiled a slow, deliberate smile that was as seductive as a kiss.

Remembering the feel of his soft lips on her bare skin, Grace blinked.

"Anyway," she continued at random, dragging her eyes away from the peculiar pull of Peter's, "it's been a great trip so far. Yesterday I saw Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth lived for several years. He was so poor at the time he had to line the walls with newspaper to stay warm." She shook her head a little at the thought. "The garden is so lovely and the museum has one of the greatest collections of manuscripts, books and paintings relating to British Romanticism. But it's the cottage that I found amazing. It's just as it was in Wordsworth's time. His spectacles are still lying there just waiting for him to walk in and slip them on."

"Yes?"

"And I saw Rydal Mount where he lived when he was poet laureate. Oh, and I saw St. Oswald's churchyard where he's buried."

"All the high spots, in fact."

No doubt it sounded pretty tame to Peter Fox. He did not look like the academic type. Who would have thought twenty-four hours ago, when Grace had finally resigned herself to spending the remainder of her vacation alone, that tonight she would be having drinks with a devastatingly attractive man who could quote the Romantic poets?

Peter drained his glass. "Ever tried something called a Gypsy Queen?" he queried.

"I don't think so."

"Let me see if they can make one up." He quirked one brow. "You look a bit like a gypsy with all that red gold hair and those sparkling earrings." He rose once more and made his way to the bar.

Grace contemplated her half-empty glass and tried to decide whether she was being seduced. Either way, things were definitely livening up. She was still smiling when Peter returned with their drinks.

"Something funny?"

"I don't know if it's particularly funny. I was just thinking what a strange evening this is turning into."

"Mmm." Peter nodded as Grace took a cautious sip. Her eyes widened. "How's the drink?" he inquired.

"Wow. What's in this thing?"

"Four parts vodka, one part Benedictine, a dash of orange bitters."

The door to the pub opened with a sudden gust of cold night air. Two men made their way through the room to a small table near the fireplace. Something told Grace they were strangers to this quiet agricultural community.

Watching Grace's face, Fox grew alert. "Who's just come in?" He continued to turn his glass in one tanned, well-shaped hand.

"Two men."

"Describe them."

Grace tried to study the pair without being obvious.

"They're both...um...Caucasian. One's small, middle-aged. Kind of wizened looking. Bottlebrush mustache. The other's taller, younger. He's got a sad sort of face. Big mournful eyes."

From the way Fox's expressive brows drew together Grace gathered that none of this sounded familiar. "What are Mutt and Jeff doing?"

"Who?"

"Mutt and -- " He cocked an eyebrow. "You sheltered academic types. It's an American comic strip from the 1920s."

"A little before my time, thank you very much." She peeked once more at the men across the room. "They're arguing, I think."

The smaller man spoke out of the side of his mouth in an aside to his partner who grew even more lugubrious.

Peter said with decision, "I'm going to the bar. Watch for their reaction."

Sliding out of the booth, Peter made his way yet again to the crowded bar. He was a tall man, a man with presence; people edged out of his way. Mutt and Jeff noticed him immediately.

Their reaction was instantaneous. Mutt knocked over his ashtray. His gnomish face puckered like a perturbed monkey's. He hissed a warning to his companion. Jeff, however, had already spotted Fox. He was staring, mouth ajar, eyes enormous.

Mutt muttered another something out of the corner of his mouth, tugging the bill of his tweed cap low. Jeff was already sidling out of his chair.

The door closed behind them just as Fox turned away from the bar.

"They've gone," Grace informed him as he set their drinks down on the polished tabletop.

"Yes. Cheers, Esmerelda." He touched his glass to hers.

"Queen of the Gypsies?" Grace bit back a laugh. Maybe it was the drinks but she felt as young and carefree as one of her own pupils. Adventurous. Not at all like the mature career woman she was. Suddenly she didn't care that Mr. Peter Fox was apparently

trying to get her drunk. She didn't care that some-thing fishy was going on. She didn't care that Peter Fox was not what he seemed...not that she had quite worked out what he seemed.

"Your hair is quite lovely," he informed her. "The color of firelight." He seemed to be settling down to some routine flirtation. Grace was not so easily distracted.

"Do you know those men?"

"No."

"They know you."

"It does look that way."

"They were certainly surprised to see you alive and kicking."

"Were they?" The subject appeared to have lost interest for Peter.

Grace considered her companion. "So, Peter, what is it that you do?"

"That I do? I do a number of things." And all of them quite well, his tone implied.

"For a living." She somehow couldn't imagine him working a nine to five job; perhaps he was indepen-dently wealthy.

Peter said vaguely, "A little of this, a little of that." It wasn't so much that he seemed rude as preoccupied.

Surprising herself, Grace persisted. "You live around here?" She would have liked to ask whether he was married, but there really was no way of asking that without sounding personally interested in the response.

His restless gaze lit briefly on her own. "Yes." His eyes flickered. "No. That is, I live in South Cumbria."

"Oh, South Cumbria!" Grace was enthusiastic. "I was hoping to stop by the Abbots Reading Farm Museum, but I understand that's no longer open. But there's still Levens Hall with its topiary garden. And Furness Abbey, of course."

"And the Laurel and Hardy museum."

She couldn't tell from his tone whether he was mocking her or not.

"And bookshops!" she exclaimed. "Lots and lots of lovely bookshops. I'm almost afraid to give in to the temptation."

He opened his mouth, seemed about to say something, then changed his mind.

"And it's not just the books and the writers," Grace went on, reaching for her glass once more. "The Lake District is famous for so many things. Um, Carr's Biscuits, Kendal Mint Cake, Grasmere gingerbread."

"Would you like me to order something to eat?" Peter offered. He glanced toward the bar.

Grace chuckled. "No, I had a wonderful dinner. People always say British food is so bland, but the beef is terrific!" She had another long draw on her Gypsy Queen. When she came up for air, Peter was eyeing her with that private amusement.

"Tasty stuff?" he suggested.

"Yes indeedy." Grace thought perhaps she had better slow down, and replaced her glass on the table.

"Besides your traveling companion, have you friends in this country?"

"No. I don't know anyone. Well, you. You and Monica."

"And you're staying how long?"

"Another..." Grace glanced at her watch. "Nine, no eight days. School starts the fifth, but we, the staff, I mean, have got to be back early to prepare." This time she let herself drink from her glass.

Peter said lazily, "You know, the Chinese believe that when you save someone's life you ever after become responsible for it."

Grace choked on her drink.

Copyright © 2003 by D. L. Browne




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