~~~Chapter 3 concluded~~~
By the time he got to the turnoff from A92 to the castle, Alex was a nervous wreck. Feeling the sweat building between his shoulder blades, he wiped his palms one by one on the worn denims and settled his features into his most non-committal cop face before pulling up to the guard shack, the small structure where visitors usually ignored the printed instructions to call the castle personnel for admittance.
Meeting at the guard house had become a ritual for them. Whenever Alex had been gone several hours—on the long days he biked his beat along the Montrose promontory—both of them wanted to reunite in privacy. For Rory, of course, it was his soccer-field bed. For Alex, it was Hunter’s Point. The little guard house was a convenient compromise, and the cot inside was merely someone’s jest.
Today there would be no searching kisses and groping hands hidden from the giggling household staff. Alex already knew that the rare times when Ken Drummond called a meeting, his attitude was “late was five minutes ago.”
His heart quickened at the sight of the big Scot in his tight Levi’s striding to the Jeep. Rory’s longish russet hair escaped from under the jaunty stetson, frisking and jumping in the wind. He’d rolled the sleeves of the plaid shirt to the elbow and unbuttoned it just far enough to show an expanse of ginger on his chest, as though undressing as he walked. Alex saw visions of mustangs and Nevada high desert, wild nights in a tiny tent, antlered mulies, memories of the hunt…
Without bothering to get out, he leaned from the open window and let Rory search his mouth with his busy tongue. He sucked it, cursing his hard-on, and tried to speak.
“Meeting first, okay?”
“I missed you.” Rory drew a line around his bottom lip with the meat of his thumb.
“You sure you don’t know what your father wants?”
“Nae. And if Mother has a clue, she’s not saying.”
“Let me out then, big guy. We’ll shower together after the meeting.”
Rory tucked one side of his mustache into the corner of his mouth, his signature pout, but he moved away from the door. Laughing, Alex jumped out of the Jeep, silently blessing the looseness of his own Levi’s. “I’ll get the bike later.”
“Much later, Alejo. Come on. The sooner we see Father, the sooner we can get naked.”
Holding hands, they walked up the wide stone driveway to the castle entrance.
“Och, if you call it riding. Looking for a garden plot for Mother. Maybe later we’ll saddle up Cloudy too and let all of them run with the wind.”
That would be Duffy, Cloudy, and Thistle. And Alex.
“I’d love that, Rory. A long run is just what I need too.”
Rory stopped, forcing them both to pause in front of the main door. “Why, Alejo? Is everything okay?”
Alex tamped down his nerves enough to lie reasonably well. “Seguro. I just need to let loose a little.”
“And biking all day didn’t do it? Wait till I get you in bed.”
Laughing, they entered the castle and headed toward Kenneth Drummond’s office-library-man cave.
Before Rory had a chance to knock, Kenneth opened the door. Half-smiling—with an air of distraction, Alex thought—he gestured to the chairs in front of his large desk.
Alex had been in this hideaway only once, not long after he arrived in Scotland, when Rory had left on some errand or other. Back then, awed at the opulence and fearful he’d break something precious, Alex remembered being nervous as a feral cat. But Kenneth had calmed him, sat him in one of his moroccan leather chairs near the fireplace, handed him a snifter of brandy, and proceeded to disarm him totally.
In short, Kenneth recognized him as a serious friend of his son, someone who might finally have slipped under the tough skin of his wayward progeny and maybe even inside his restless soul. The man looked so much like Rory…and his down-to-earth sincerity was so infectious…it was easy to like him immediately. It was safe to say, after Kenneth had been a third musketeer in one of their more dangerous chases, the man—and Kathleen Drummond too—had entered the realm of “beloved.”
These days, Alex had begun to feel subtly different. Not because Kenneth had changed…but because Alex knew his own insecurities and had begun to build a palisade around his heart. Sitting upright in a stiff leather chair, not the more comfortable one where he’d gotten damn near shit-faced several months ago, he felt every nerve prickling along the length of his spine.
Trying not to show his unease, Alex looked over at the fireplace, where he saw a sheared-off helicopter blade mounted over the mantel. He also noticed a display of photos collaged in frames, and he itched to see them closer. One was a picture of Kathleen with a snapshot of a baby…no, that tyke was not his Rory—was it?
Another almost shabby frame held a collage that looked like old war photos. He vaguely remembered that Kenneth Drummond had fought in some long-ago skirmish, somewhere far away, probably before Alex was born.
Rory slouched next to him, letting his denim-covered knee brush his own. For some reason, that small gesture calmed him a little.
Instead of sitting behind the desk, Kenneth lounged in front of them, his butt resting on the marble surface, his arms crossed. “Alan should be here any minute, and then—ah, that must be the man himself.”
Kenneth strode to the door to answer a dry knock, and he heard a familiar voice behind the high-backed swivel chair he sat in.
“Hello, all. Kenneth, where do you want me?”
“Just pull up a chair next to Rory.”
Alex rose to shake the man’s hand. Rory’s close ally, and the family’s castle steward-cum-friend, Alan Cameron was another reason to love this family. He was the one who’d set Alex up at Hunter’s Point, somehow understanding his fumbling need for independence, reassuring him that everyone would understand—even, some day, his lover Rory.
He noticed that Alan was not carrying a briefcase, or even a sheaf of papers. Along his backbone, a small frisson of tension began to ease. But he steepled his fingers in front of himself, disguising a tremble he thought someone would notice for sure.
Kenneth wasted no time.
“I called you here, gentlemen, because I’m worried. Not just a little, but a lot.”
He and Rory exchanged looks of astonishment before Alex flicked his gaze back to Kenneth.
“In brief, someone is missing. Not just someone. An old war comrade, a man who’s been watching over one of our properties for the past ten years, or more. Hell, closer to fifteen. Rory, do you remember Andrew MacCullem—the man I call Dand—red hair out to here, shaggy eyebrows, a little overweight, and funny, and talk your ear off Andrew?”
“I do, Father. Not clearly. But you brought me out to Gleann Cu once, right before I started at Academy Scotland. Maybe fifteen years ago.”
“Well, Alan told me a few days ago—his monthly Status of Grounds report is more than a week late. I let it go until today. What a fool. I should have panicked the next day, not the next week. Dand is never late, never.”
Alan leaned forward with a frown. “I honestly thought he’d gone to visit a relative, or a friend.”
Ken shook his head. “I’ve been calling everyone all day. Including the Perthshire P.S. No one has seen him, or his car. He never married, has no children. No one to visit, Alan. Something’s wrong.”
Alex strained forward the same as Alan. “You called Police Scotland. Did you ask about their missing person’s bulletins?”
“Aye. They see no reason to panic. No one has alerted them. As far as they’re concerned, he’s an elder citizen who may have forgotten to check back with friends, from a pub somewhere in Braemar. Elder—hmmphf. Ten years my senior is not elder. Anyway, lads, I need a meeting of minds.”
Rory spoke for the first time. “What you need is Alex and me to look for him.”
His father’s brows lifted to his hairline. “You have read my mind.”
“Father. Here sit two of Scotlasnd’s finest. Her best bloodhound and her best goddamn unpaid cop. If we can’t find Dand, he can’t be found. Right, lad?”
Alex felt as though someone had punched him in the solar plexus. He’d been ready to stand and fight for his right to demand nothing of this wealthy family—and suddenly he wanted to do everything he possibly could for all of them.
“Yes. God yes, Kenneth. I just have to talk to Inspector Finley. Get a—a leave of absence, or whatever they call it here.”
“So? Just call her, lad.”
He shook his head at Rory. “It’s not like asking for a day off, Rory. Or calling in sick. I need to talk to her in person.”
Rory stood up. “ˇThen what’re ye waitin for, lad? Let’s get on the foogin road.”
Alex rose to his feet, almost dizzy with excitement. “You really think I should go too?”
Kenneth took a step away from his desk and put both hands on his shoulders. “I agree with my son”…his mustache lifted in an ironic twitch…”for once. We’re lucky to have you, Alex. You’re an excellent detective. I could ask for no finer son-in-law, or policeman either. Find Dand for me. Please.”
This concludes the first three chapters, 7000 words, of Sleeping with Danger. They are listed on the right panel of this blog, under Pages archives.
The four novels of the Nevada Highlander series are on one convenient Kindle series link:
The “guard shack” shown at the top is actually an old guard house at the entrance to Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. Hook em Horns!