AWAKENING MACBETH: Part 14

Brodie felt herself blush a little.  “Your card surprised me,” she said.

“Why is that?” Joe asked.

“Two reasons really.”  Brodie ate a bite of fruit as she considered how to frame her thoughts.  “First, your company name is Birnam Wood.  That’s quite a coincidence, don’t you think?”

“I’m the Birnam,” Joe said.  “My cousin Marty is the Wood.  Is there something unusual about that?”

“But my name is Macbeth and in Shakespeare’s play the prophecy is that Macbeth is safe until Birnam Wood comes to his castle.”  Brodie put down her fork and pointed at Joe.  “Macbeth is destroyed when the army comes disguised with the foliage of Birnam Wood.  It’s a real place, you know.  Birnam’s a village not too far from here.”

“Damn.”  Joe leaned back in his chair.  “That’s not good.  Do you think we’re caught in some bizarre Shakespearean alternate universe?”

“I hope not.”  Brodie found herself smiling.

“Would it help if I told you the name is Dutch, not Scottish?  As in van der Birnam.”

“Your family is Dutch?”

“My dad’s from this little town in upstate New York called Barneveld,” Joe said.  “Everybody up there is Dutch.  Stuyvesant or de Groot or der Garry.  My grandfather dropped the first part of the name during the Depression.  Said a simpler name made it easier to find work.  So I don’t think the Shakespearean thing really applies.”

“That’s a relief,” Brodie said and ate another bite.

“But you said my card surprised you for two reasons,” Joe said.  He laid his fork across his empty dessert plate.  “What’s the other?”

“Well, you do custom cabinetry and I think I might need to hire you.”  Brodie knew she was flirting outrageously and it felt great.  “I’m moving into my dad’s house and the kitchen is all original.  Soapstone counters, about two feet of cupboard space, and a sink the size of Alaska.”

“You live with your father?” Joe asked.

“He died in February.  Suicide.”

The words came out before Brodie knew it.  She was suddenly appalled to find that she was shaking and blinking back tears.  She dropped her fork and put her hands in her lap.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Joe said.

“No note, no nothing,” Brodie said, unable to stop herself.

“It’s all right to cry,” Joe said quietly and reached across the table to touch her arm.

“Macbeths don’t cry,” Brodie said tightly.  “We keep it all inside and then jump out of windows.”

It was awful.  Her throat was a solid leaden lump and her eyes burned and she was afraid to say another word lest she start sobbing like a little kid.  As she fought for control Brodie kept her eyes across the room, on a family that had come into the restaurant a few minutes ago.  The parents were probably in their mid-40’s, with a boy and a girl who both looked to be 11 or 12.  Every time one of them held up an index finger they all dissolved into laughter.  It was a private family joke.  Brodie wondered if the Birnam family had been like that.  She and her father certainly had never been.

She was dimly aware of Joe signing for the check.  They sat in silence until Brodie felt strong enough to speak.

“I’m sorry for ruining your evening,” she managed.

“It’s not ruined at all,” Joe said.  His eyes were knowing and sympathetic.  “How about that evening ramble now?”

“Thank you,” Brodie said gratefully.

“No thanks needed.”  Joe stood up and helped Brodie on with her coat.  By chance or design his thumb touched her cheek and she knew that he’d brushed away a tear.  She looked up and their eyes met and it was the most intimate moment she’d ever shared with a man.

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense by Carmen Amato. Episodes are released on carmenamato.net, Pinterest, and Facebook on Tuesdays and Fridays. Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon and include THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY as well as the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS. Please use the link below to sign up for the Mystery Monthly mailing list for exclusive excerpts, book release news, and sales alerts.

AWAKENING MACBETH: Part 13

The clubhouse décor was devoted to golf, not surprisingly, with antique clubs and old prints of golfers in plus fours adorning the wall.  The lights were low but not dim; this was a setting for families and sportsmen.  Candles and champagne were reserved for the formal restaurant in the main building.  The waitress obviously recognized Joe from previous meals.  As she led them to a table other diners’ heads turned and Brodie was conscious that she and Joe made a very striking couple.

The menu was a mix of French, Italian, and non-denominational modern fare.

“What do you recommend?” Brodie asked.

“Well, I can recommend the Shrimp alla Diavolo,” Joe said.  “Or the Chicken Saltimbocca.  It’s almost as good as mine.”

“You cook?” Brodie asked, putting down her menu.

“It’s a hobby,” Joe said.  “Now and then I run off to Italy.  Hang out with Paolo and take a cooking class.”

Brodie absorbed this fact.  Joe Birnam was an intriguing man.

They ended up ordering the fried calamari appetizer to share and the two main courses he’d recommended.  Joe selected a red wine and the waitress smiled and said she’d bring it right away.

“I owe you an apology,” Joe said.  “I sat next to you for eight hours on that damned plane and didn’t recognize you as the author of George and Martha.”

“That’s quite all right,” Brodie said.  “Most people don’t.”

“I thought the book was terrific,” Joe said.  “I usually read military history, but my dad sent George and Martha for my birthday.  I liked it so much I gave it to about six people for Christmas.”

“So you were the spike in holiday sales,” Brodie said laughingly.

The waitress returned with the wine, hors d’oeuvre plates, and a platter piled high with crisp circles of golden calamari framed by fat lemon quarters.  Joe tasted the wine and pronounced it “just fine.”  The waitress beamed, poured them each a glass, and left.

Slainte,” Joe said holding up his glass and tipping it toward Brodie.

She touched her glass to his.  “Slainte.”

The blue eyes twinkled above the rim of his glass as Joe drank.  The wine helped sooth Brodie’s nerves but she was still tautly aware of everything about Joe Birnam and how attracted she was to him.  In a starched white button-down shirt, Joe was a masculine, exciting presence across the table.  His neck was muscular inside the open collar.  The big, dexterous hands made the flatware on the table look small.  The sapphire-and-cross earring was there again, glinting in the light.

“Little did I know I’d be having dinner with the author in person,” Joe said.  He picked up a lemon wedge, deftly squeezed juice over the calamari, then heaped the small hors d’oeuvre plate in front of Brodie with the fried golden circles.  “Although I have to say you look nothing like the picture on the back cover.”

“It was old,” Brodie said apologetically.  She’d been photographed in profile sitting at a desk with her hair in a bun and wearing a severe black suit.

“I remember thinking that the picture didn’t fit with my image of the writer.”  Joe served himself some calamari.

Brodie put down her fork.  “How’s that?”

“You wrote history from the point of view of a relationship,” Joe said.  “It was real.  They had problems.  The people were vulnerable.”  He put his fork down, too.  “You must be a very empathetic person to understand relationships that well.”

“No.”  Brodie shook her head, trying to hide how surprised she was by his words.  “I’m just a college teacher who tried to look at a historical figure in a way that I thought my students could relate to.”

“And did they?”

“I have no idea.”  Brodie sighed and dipped a circle of calamari in cocktail sauce.  “None of my books are required reading.  The kids that read them are usually just gunning for extra credit.”

Joe chuckled, then shook his head.  The earring caught the light.  “I don’t think you just write for your students.  I think you write because it’s something you love to do.”

“Guilty as charged,” Brodie said, feeling as if her mind was open to him to read.  It was an odd but not uncomfortable sensation.  “I like finding odds and ends of history that don’t mean anything by themselves.  Like putting together a puzzle.”

“Or a mystery,” Joe said.  He topped up her wineglass.  “Always love a good mystery.”

“Let me get this straight.”  Brodie realized she’d finished her calamari.  “Wodehouse, military history, and mysteries.  That’s a pretty eclectic reading list.”

“Yep.”  Joe picked up his wineglass.  “My perfect book would be a P.G. Wodehouse murder mystery set in wartime.”

“Already been done,” Brodie observed.  “Colonel Mustard in the drawing room with the knife.”

Joe had been in the middle of drinking wine and he sputtered it back into the glass.  They both started to laugh and the last bits of new relationship awkwardness melted away.

The main courses came and they ate and talked and talked and ate.  Books segued into movies and movies segued into travel.  Brodie considered herself well traveled but Joe had been just about everywhere.

His father’s diplomatic career had started in Sweden where he’d met and married Joe’s mother.  The globe-trotting Birnam family had lived in Peru, India, and Spain where Joe had gone to elementary school with his older brother and younger sister.  There were a few years in the United States, then when Joe was eleven the family moved to London and from there to Athens.  He’d enlisted in the Marine Corps right after high school.  Joe told her some funny stories about his early days as a Marine Security Guard at embassies in Mexico City, Cairo, and Tokyo but skimmed over his wartime experiences in Kuwait and Iraq.

The candle in its little glass holder was burning low as the waitress took away their dinner plates and brought coffee and fruit tart.  Brodie felt totally relaxed.  She’d eaten her entire dinner without so much as one nervous stomach twinge.  Joe Birnam was smart, funny, and easy to talk to.

“I’m really glad you gave me your card with the number here written on it,” Joe said, pouring cream into his coffee.  “I’m glad we didn’t have to wait until we were back in the States to do this.”

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense by Carmen Amato. Episodes are released on carmenamato.net, Pinterest, and Facebook on Tuesdays and Fridays. Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon and include THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY as well as the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS. Please use the link below to sign up for the Mystery Monthly mailing list for exclusive excerpts, book release news, and sales alerts.

 

AWAKENING MACBETH: Part 12

The taxi passed a small church off to the side.  It was sheltered by a break in the soaring, leafy trees that lined the private road leading to the Dingerhoy.

I don’t know how to do this, Brodie thought to herself in the back seat of the taxi and wiped sweaty palms on the knees of her pants.  Her heart was thumping from a mixture of excitement and terror.  It had been years since she’d had a real date and now she was going to a man’s hotel.  She and Stanton had just fallen into each other’s company at university events and eventually had become a couple.  But Joe Birnam was different.

The view widened and there was the Dingerhoy.  The main hotel was a large Georgian house that had been tastefully expanded with additions that kept to the same architectural style.  The front lawn was deep and sweeping and the sprawling golf clubhouse was nestled behind a grove a trees.

Joe Birnam was right where he said he’d be.  As the taxi crunched over the long, curving gravel drive to the Dingerhoy’s ornate front entrance Brodie saw him in the center of a small knot of men.  He was the tallest, standing out in the tan suede barn coat and some baggy gray corduroy trousers, and again she thought that he looked like an advertisement for an outdoor clothing catalog.

The men were in some animated conversation, laughing and gesturing, but when Joe saw her in the back of the taxi he moved away from them.  Their eyes met as the taxi slowed.  Joe grinned broadly and Brodie couldn’t help but grin back.  The driver said something that she didn’t hear.

Joe opened the taxi door as soon as the vehicle came to a stop.  Before Brodie could open her purse he’d paid the driver and asked the man to wait; his friends wanted to use the taxi to go into town.

He introduced her to them; Richard, a thin and serious bespectacled Swede; Paolo, the Italian who chided Joe for not sharing Brodie’s company; and Oscar, the Brazilian who was a diplomat and who had come to Edinburgh from his country’s embassy in Paris.  They were intelligent, interesting men in their mid-40’s, joking about playing golf badly and attributing it to recent discoveries of various brands of Scotch.  They were going on the Edinburgh ghost tour, after a downtown dinner.  Brodie found herself smiling and laughing as they asked her for advice on restaurants along the Royal Mile and she told them about the streetside restaurant near St. Giles and laughingly warned them about Gypsies.

They finally shook hands all around then Richard, Paolo, and Oscar got into the taxi and it rumbled down the gravel drive.  Brodie and Joe were left smiling at each other by the entrance door.

“Thank you for coming,” he said, the blue eyes more unnerving than ever.

“Thank you for inviting me,” Brodie said.  There was a moment of mutual appraisal, and she knew they both liked what they saw.

“We’d decided on the clubhouse, did we not?” Joe asked.

“Casual, we said,” Brodie reminded him.

“That’s right,” Joe said.  “Although I must say you look much too nice for casual.”

“Thank you,” Brodie said.  She had gone back to Karen Millen that morning and bought the window display; white cashmere sweater, simple black pants, cheetah print loafers.  She’d topped the outfit with a cherry pink trench coat and a small cheetah print purse just big enough for her wallet, a new toothbrush, and a clean pair of panties.

Joe put a hand on Brodie’s arm to turn her towards the clubhouse on the other end of the resort and Brodie’s heart thumped.

She felt like a freshman, out on a date with the captain of the football team.

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense by Carmen Amato. Episodes are released on carmenamato.net, Pinterest, and Facebook on Tuesdays and Fridays. Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon and include THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY as well as the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS. Please use the link below to sign up for the Mystery Monthly mailing list for exclusive excerpts, book release news, and sales alerts.

AWAKENING MACBETH: Part 11

Betty, Kay’s housekeeper, met them at the door as they walked in with their shopping bags.  “There’s a call for Miss Brodie,” she said knowingly.  “An American.”

Stanton, Brodie thought and groaned inwardly.

Betty led her through the hall and into the living room, smirking the whole way.  Short and stout and gray, Betty had been Kay’s housekeeper for twenty years, watching Brodie grow from tomboy to professor.  She’d complained every summer about howling American music as a teenaged Brodie played Kenny Rogers and Tanya Tucker albums.

The receiver was lying on the desk.  Brodie picked it up.  Betty hovered, wiping her hands on her flowered apron, curiosity radiating out of her in waves.

“Thank you, Betty,” Brodie said and looked at her significantly.

Betty winked and sidled out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Brodie squared her shoulders and put the phone to her ear.  “Hello?”

“Brodie?”  The voice was a gravelly baritone.  “This is Joe Birnam.”

“Joe.”  Brodie’s knees got mushy.  He had the sexiest phone voice in the world.  She sank into Kay’s leather desk chair.  “Hello.  How’s the golf?”

“Pretty terrible.”  He laughed, a gruff chuckle.  “All that yelling on the plane.  I’m pretty sure that’s why my game is so bad.”

“This is what the professionals call deferred blame, you know.”  Brodie found herself grinning into the telephone.  She leaned back in the chair and put her feet up on Kay’s desk.

“Absolutely.”  Joe sounded the way a lion would if a lion talked; deep, masculine, dangerous.  “I was hoping I could make you feel guilty enough to have dinner with me tonight.”

He’d called for a date.  Brodie swung her feet to the floor and jumped up in excitement, then froze.  “Tonight?  I’m so sorry.  I’m going to a poetry reading with my aunt tonight at the Writer’s Museum.”

“Ah,” Joe said slowly.  “A poetry reading.”

“One of my aunt’s friends is the author,” Brodie explained in a rush.  “I’m sure it’ll be terrible but I’ve promised her I’ll go.  Trying to fill those empty seats.”  But tomorrow Kay had her usual Friday night date with Keith.  Brodie had been planning to spend the night with the BBC.  She took a breath and crossed her fingers.  “Would the invitation carry over to tomorrow night?”

“Most certainly,” Joe said, then paused.  “Maybe you’d like to come out here to the Dingerhoy?”

Joe’s blue eyes, broad shoulders, and thick blonde hair rose up in her mind’s eye.  Brodie’s imagination danced through the implications of an invitation to dinner at a resort . . . hotel.  “Yes,” she said, trying to keep her voice level.  “I hear it’s lovely.”

“There’s a very elegant restaurant in the main hotel,” he said.  “Or we could go casual in the clubhouse.”

“Casual,” Brodie said.  “This is vacation time, after all.”

“The clubhouse restaurant then,” Joe said.  “Good food, just a little more relaxed.”

“That would be fine.”  Brodie sank into the desk chair again.

“There are some nice trails around here.  Maybe a walk through the hills afterwards?”

“An evening ramble?  Yes, I’d like that.”  Brodie clamped her free hand to her head to keep herself from flying apart.  Every nerve she had was singing, just because some man she hardly knew had asked her to dinner.

“An evening ramble,” Joe repeated.  “Now why didn’t I say that?”

“Stay in Scotland long enough and you’ll pick up lots of quirky expressions.”

“Just yesterday I aft gang agley,” Joe said.

“Right on the golf course?  You devil,” Brodie flashed back and they both laughed.  Joe had been imitating the Wodehouse character who often misquoted and mangled Scottish poet Robert Burns.

“Shall we say seven?” Joe asked.  “Do you know how to get here?”

“I’ll take a taxi.”

“They pull up right at the main entrance.  I’ll meet you there.”

“Tomorrow night, then.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Joe said.

They said goodbye.  Brodie replaced the receiver, jumped up, and did a crazy two-step around the room.  Kay’s theories and scary dreams and crazy fortune tellers were temporarily forgotten in a rush of girlish happiness.

The dance took her past the Campbell Mackay landscape painting her father had left to Kay.  It was of a lavender field in Provence.  Kay had hung it over the loveseat.

The landscape was lush with many many pale flowers.

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense by Carmen Amato. Episodes are released on carmenamato.net, Pinterest, and Facebook on Tuesdays and Fridays. Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon and include THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY as well as the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS. Please use the link below to sign up for the Mystery Monthly mailing list for exclusive excerpts, book release news, and sales alerts.

AWAKENING MACBETH: Part 10

“Now, Brodie.”  Kay pulled her chair closer to the table as the rattle of the tambourine neared.  “It would really help if you saw someone.”

“I told you,” Brodie said, her eyes still on the happy couple exclaiming over a teacup.  “I’m fine.”

“So what would it hurt to get that validated?”  Kay put her Chanel purse on the table, pulled out a tiny address book and began to thumb through it.

“What?”  Brodie saw the young man hand the Gypsy woman five pounds.  She tucked the bill into her voluminous skirts and said one last thing that made the couple laugh.

“Here he is.”  Kay put the open address book flat on the table and tapped a page.  “Simon Proctor.  Just the person.  I’m sure he’ll see you as a favor to me.”

“Um.”  It had been a day of fun for that couple.  Maybe they were tourists.  See the castle, have high tea, get your fortune told in an Edinburgh streetside café.  Kiss in public.  You don’t care who sees because you’re in love.

“He’s really excellent, Brodie.  Consults in criminal cases all over the world.  He specializes in serial killers.”

“Serial killers?” Brodie echoed, her attention pulled back to her own table.  She realized Kay had a cell phone in her hand.  “Kay, I’m not talking to some axe murderer expert.”

“Really, Brodie,” Kay said reprovingly.  “You need to talk to someone.”

“There are loads of people I can talk to,” Brodie insisted.  The tambourine rattled loudly but she ignored it.  “Diana.  Even her husband Ray.  Friends in the department–.”

“Tell your fortune.”

Brodie and Kay both looked up to see the dark-haired Gypsy woman who’d been reading tea leaves standing by their table.

“Okay,” Brodie said immediately, mentally thanking the woman for interrupting.

“Really, dear, these people are simply dreadful,” Kay whispered, her hand protectively on her purse.  “They smell.”

“Don’t be a snob, Kay,” Brodie whispered back.  She dug money out of her wallet and pointed it at Kay.  “Five pounds for both.  Her first.”

The woman  was older than she’d looked from a distance, with wary dark eyes rimmed with thick black lashes.  She was wearing a red print skirt, black boots, and a black sweater, with several shirts layered underneath.  The skirt came to her ankles.  “Yes, first,” she said and deftly palmed the note.

“Good heavens,” Kay said but she put away the cell phone and address book.  “You’re wasting your money, Brodie.”

The woman picked up Kay’s empty tea cup and spat into it.

Kay flinched.

“You were done, weren’t you?” Brodie murmured, suppressing a grin.

She got a frozen glare in return.

The woman swirled the saliva around the dregs of tea, then tipped the cup so that first Kay, then Brodie, could see inside.  Bits of brown chard clung to the sides of the china in small meaningless clumps.

“Nice,” the Gypsy said to Kay.  “You have wealth.  Order.  Success.”

“All true,” Brodie said and gave Kay a significant look.

The Gypsy woman held the cup up to the light in an obvious bit of showmanship.  “You look at a field of flowers.  You look at it with someone special.”

“Flowers,” Kay said sarcastically.  “How trenchant.”

The Gypsy nodded.  “Many many pale flowers.  ”  She put the cup back on the saucer with a flourish, making her bracelets jangle.

“What else?” Brodie asked.

“Many many pale flowers,” the woman repeated.

Brodie lifted her eyebrows in a question.  That wasn’t much of a fortune.

“Special,” the woman said to Kay.  “This is special thing for you.”

Kay’s lips compressed into a thin line of disapproval.

“You like flowers,” Brodie said, trying not to laugh.

The Gypsy woman went through the spitting and swirling routine with Brodie’s cup, then stared into it with a sharp intake of breath.  “You look for answers,” she said softly.

“I guess,” Brodie said.  “I’m a history professor.”

“You look for answers,” the woman repeated and her dark eyes blinked rapidly.  “You go to the dreams.  I see it.”

“I’ve had dreams,” Brodie said slowly.  Images from the Globe Theater flitted through her head.

The Gypsy woman’s eyes widened and she dropped the cup back onto the saucer.  There was a sharp crack of china against china and the cup broke, making both Brodie and Kay jump.  Slimy dregs of tea oozed over the sharp edges of porcelain and onto the saucer.

The woman grabbed Brodie’s left hand by the fingers and flexed her hand so that the palm was arched upwards.  Brodie could feel her knuckles grinding together painfully and her wrist was strained but she didn’t pull back.

“You have two,” the Gypsy woman gasped.  “Two lines of life.”

“You’re part cat,” Kay said tartly.

But Brodie barely heard her aunt.  The Gypsy woman had an iron grip on her fingers.  A thumb pushed against the back of her hand so that the palm stayed taut.  Brodie suddenly felt on the brink of discovering something important, something crucial to her very existence.

“Two lines,” the Gypsy woman repeated.  She stared into Brodie’s face and Brodie stared back, unblinking, caught, poised on the cliff edge, waiting for the revelation.  The woman’s eyes were dark and unfathomable.

“Death walks here.”  The woman pushed a finger into Brodie’s palm, imprisoning it between her own hands.  “Death is very close to you.”

“You’re talking about my father,” Brodie said.

“Death.”  The woman’s voice dropped to a frantic whisper.  “You talk to death.  Someone you know is not what you think.”  She dropped Brodie’s hand.

The tambourine rattled in Brodie’s ear and then the woman was gone.  The restaurant was suddenly silent.

“Charlatans,” Kay sniffed.  “You wasted your money.”

Brodie sat back in her chair, massaging her hand.  Her knuckles ached from being squeezed so hard.  Her heart must have been pounding because she could feel the effect as it slowed.  “Don’t you think it was odd the way she asked me about dreams?” she said.

The waiter came and swiftly removed the broken cup.

“A fortune teller talking about dreams,” Kay said wryly.  “How original.”

“Well.”  Brodie felt oddly disappointed.  There was no revelation waiting for her.  She’d merely had her fortune told about three months too late.  “A little behind the time curve but still, to say that Dad–.”

“One scary fortune, one happy fortune,” Kay interrupted.  “It’s a formula.  The woman is a charlatan.”

“But your field of flowers.”  Brodie peered at the sludge in Kay’s teacup.  “Maybe she was talking about your vacation with Keith in June.”

“We’re going to Morocco,” Kay said.

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense by Carmen Amato. Episodes are released on carmenamato.net, Pinterest, and Facebook on Tuesdays and Fridays. Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon and include THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY as well as the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS. Please use the link below to sign up for the Mystery Monthly mailing list for exclusive excerpts, book release news, and sales alerts.

AWAKENING MACBETH: Part 9

“About Stanton, Kay,” Brodie started, then stopped herself as Kay looked at her expectantly.  “Well, um, we’ll go into that later.  What you’re saying now is that Dad decided that I was set so he gave in to a thirty-five year bout of depression?”

“Yes.”  Kay twisted the chain handle of her Chanel bag into a knot, betraying how emotionally difficult the conversation was for her, too.  “When your mother died Wallace lost a part of himself.  He and Elizabeth had been having some trouble, I think.  Then one day she’s dead and they never got to fix whatever was wrong.”

“They were having some sort of marital trouble?”  Brodie had never heard that before.  Her father had always portrayed Elizabeth Macbeth as a saint.  He’d met his wife at the University of Edinburgh.  He was a junior professor in the history department and she was studying economics.

“The real tragedy was how she died,” Kay said, her gray eyes suspiciously watery.  “A brain aneurysm at age twenty-seven.  By the time Wallace woke up she’d been dead in the bed next to him for several hours.  It was a horrible thing for him to have lain next to a dead body and never known she was gone.  He was never the same.  I think he wandered in the twilight until he knew that you were safe and then he walked over that balcony.”

Brodie clamped her elbows to her sides, her hands curled into fists in her pockets.  That wasn’t the father she’d known; some tortured soul mooning over his wife’s death until he finally killed himself over it.  She let the silence hang in the crisp air as Kay blew her nose and regained her composure, then turned to her aunt.  “He never once said anything like that to me.”

“Don’t be naïve, Brodie.”  Kay leaned forward, her moment of weakness over.  “You were his priceless treasure, the one thing he’d do anything to protect.  Do you really think he’d tell you something like that?”

Brodie looked away, suddenly unbearably sad.  There were a lot of students in the Gardens; young people in jeans and sweaters with backpacks full of books.  On the flat, a couple was playing Frisbee.  The girl couldn’t catch the disc if her life depended on it but her boyfriend was laughing; she could do no wrong in his eyes.

Kay reached over and took Brodie’s hand.  “Have you seen a counselor?”

“You mean like a therapist?” Brodie asked.  “A shrink?”

“A grief counselor.”

“No.”  Brodie could not imagine sitting and pouring out her feelings to some stranger.  Her stomach clenched anew at the thought.

“You are experiencing grief,” Kay said.  “And that’s something the Macbeths don’t handle well.  Are you having crying jags, bouts of indecision, sleepless nights?”

Brodie felt her face flush.  “Nightmares,” she admitted, feeling foolish.

She’d had another dream about Elizabethan England just last night.  She’d been back at the Globe Theater searching for her father when Shakespeare had appeared, an unremarkable man except for the hideous, corroded white eyes.  They’d talked, more incomprehensible questions and mocking words that her father’s death had been murder rather than suicide because Wallace had cheated and what was his secret, until Brodie ran away.  As before she couldn’t wake up.  She’d spent a terrifying night walking London’s streets and woken when the alarm clock rang, exhausted and covered in cold sweat.

“About your father?”

“Sort of.”  Brodie gave an involuntary shiver.  “I’m in London and I think I’ll see Dad, so he can tell me why he . . . killed himself, but someone else talks to me about him.”

“Go on,” Kay said.

Brodie shook her head.  “It’s just that . . . they say that Dad was murdered.”

“You know that’s just denial,” Kay said gently.

“Did Dad ever tell you some big secret?” Brodie blurted.  She clenched her fists.  “Something so fundamental and important it would change the way we live?”

“This is connected to a nightmare?”

“It just . . . I mean,” Brodie faltered.  “I wonder if there was something I should have known.”

“You’re having a normal reaction to intense and untreated grief,” Kay said.  She cleared her throat, the Macbeth mask of formality back in place.  “It’s not something you can resolve on your own.  Tell me you’ll see someone.  I can make some calls for you, see if any of my colleagues here can recommend someone in the States.”

Brodie shook her head.  The last thing she wanted was everyone in Edinburgh thinking that Kay Macbeth’s American niece was going crazy.  In some ways Edinburgh was as small as Charlottesville.  An intimate city, as local writer Alexander McCall Smith once described it.

“I’m fine,” Brodie said brightly.  She stood up abruptly, having had enough.  “Let’s find that tea.”

*          *          *

They ended up on the front terrace of a small restaurant behind the church of Saint Giles.  There was an awning that protected them from the breeze, a view of the ornate church, and a never-ending pot of loose-leaf Darjeeling.

“So, have I told you about this year’s music and politics symposium?” Brodie asked as soon as the tea was poured.  Kay looked vaguely startled at the choice of topic but didn’t object, so for the next thirty minutes Brodie babbled furiously about the symposium and her students and the University of Virginia women’s basketball team.  Anything, really to keep Kay from talking about things that should just be left alone.

Nightmares about your father?  This is just denial.  Have you seen a counselor?

Kay was on her third cup of tea and her eyes were starting to glaze over when a group of dark-haired Gypsies started to wind their way around the tables on the restaurant terrace.  Two women in layers of blouses and full skirts held out tarot cards while a man with a huge black moustache panhandled with an upside down tambourine.  Several children of undertermined parentage with runny noses and the furtive looks of pickpockets-in-training trailed behind.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Kay muttered, interrupting Brodie’s spiel about Diana’s coaching record.  “Edinburgh is getting more beggars every day.  They’re all from Romania.  Or Bulgaria.  The European Union is getting entirely too lax.”

“Fortune tellers,” Brodie said.  One of the women had stopped by a young couple and was reading their tea leaves.  The woman’s face lit up and the man kissed her.  The Gypsy woman nodded vigorously and the couple laughed excitedly, clearly delighted with what the woman was saying.  Brodie’s chest tightened with jealousy.

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense by Carmen Amato. Episodes are released on carmenamato.net, Pinterest, and Facebook on Tuesdays and Fridays. Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon and include THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY as well as the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS. Please use the link below to sign up for the Mystery Monthly mailing list for exclusive excerpts, book release news, and sales alerts.

AWAKENING MACBETH: Part 8

“We could go to the Balmoral for a late lunch,” Kay said.  She smoothed the front of her camel-colored Burberry trench coat and crossed her legs.  Her shoes were camel suede loafers.  The quilted Chanel bag on her lap matched the rest of her ensemble.

“Too fancy,” Brodie said, as she set her shopping bags on the ground.  “I’m just wearing jeans.”

“I’m not having a plowman’s lunch in a pub,” Kay warned.

Brodie grinned and settled on the park bench.  She and her aunt had spent the first half of the week in Edinburgh in law offices and banks, signing papers and transferring assets from Scotland to Virginia.  Now it was Thursday and she and Kay were celebrating the end of legal hassles with an all-day shopping spree.  Brodie tipped back her head and let the breezy sunshine play on her face.  Today was the first day she’d felt completely relaxed in a very long time.

They’d walked from Kay’s house on Moray Place in Edinburgh’s New Town to the shops on George Street and from there to the more popular Princes Street.  The squash of tourists gawking at the dark spires of the High Kirk of St. Giles and the Scott Monument had led them to the lush grassy slopes of the Princes Street Gardens.  From where they were sitting they could see Edinburgh Castle looming over the Old Town, a magnificent pile of stone and history that dominated the Edinburgh skyline.  As if to help their mood, Edinburgh’s often overcast sky had given way to a rare, sparkling afternoon.

“How about tea at the Gunston House?” Brodie suggested.

“I’d like to talk for a few minutes first,” Kay said.

Something in her aunt’s tone wasn’t right.  Brodie rolled her head to look at Kay.  “Is everything all right with you and Keith?” she asked hesitantly.  “He hasn’t come by all week.”

At sixty, Dr. Katherine Macbeth was still a crisp, haughty beauty; tall and trim with the Macbeth family’s gray eyes.  She’d never married but for the past twenty years had maintained a relationship with a medical colleague, Dr. Keith McNeish.

“Keith’s fine,” Kay said.  “I’d like to talk about how you’re handling your father’s death.”

Brodie blinked.  Kay was dangerously close to violating the Macbeth family’s unspoken moratorium on discussing serious emotional issues.

“You really didn’t say much when I came for the funeral,” Kay went on.  “Keith was there.  All those university people.  So tell me.  How are you?”

“I’m good,” Brodie said brightly.  “Just fine.  Really.”

Kay raised her eyebrows, prompting Brodie to go on.  And . . .

Brodie gave an artificially cheerful Yep, that’s it nod.

“Well,” Kay said.  “You’ve certainly never been a crybaby.”

Brodie shrugged, still trying to look cheerful.  There really wasn’t anything to say.  Her father had stepped off a balcony and turned himself into a crumpled dead shell.  So she could have his Great Seal of Virginia license plates and a couple of million dollars.

“Your father didn’t leave a note, did he?” Kay asked.

“I would have told you at the funeral.”  Brodie bent down and fiddled with her shopping bags to signal that the topic was closed.  Diana would be proud of her.  She’d bought a lot of new clothes, including a short cherry-red trenchcoat from the Karen Millen store window to wear to some literary event she and Kay were attending tonight.

“Do you know why he did it?” Kay asked bluntly.

Brodie took a deep breath.  “Kay,” she said.  “There’s no use in discussing it.  What’s done is done.  Today was supposed to be our fun day.  God knows we earned it.”

“I need to talk about it,” Kay said simply and Brodie’s stomach clenched.

The Princes Street Gardens were like a long rectangular bowl.  The sides of the bowl were grassy slopes where couples went to find some rare Edinburgh sunshine, where kids played on the grass, where students sat on blankets and discussed literature and science.  Kay wanted to talk but the beautiful Gardens wasn’t a place for discussing her father’s suicide.  In fact, there was no good place for discussing her father’s suicide.

Kay looks old, Brodie thought suddenly.  For years Kay had looked the same; elegant, statuesque, intellectual, ageless.  But now her face was strained and lined with sorrow and Brodie’s father was to blame.

“Okay,” Brodie said awkwardly.  She slumped against the back of the bench and jammed her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket.  “Why do you think he did it?”

“You know, your father was my big brother, not my best friend,” Kay said, looking away.  “He was absorbed in his own affairs.  I saw him once a year.  We talked less than once a month and generally the conversation was about you.  Your grades when you were in school, things that you were writing, when he was putting you on a plane to Edinburgh.  He loved you very much.  Too much, I sometimes thought.  He wasn’t demonstrative but he always wanted to protect you, shield you from too much real life.”

Brodie nodded, surprised at Kay’s intensity.

“But he never talked much about himself.”

“Sure he did . . .” Brodie trailed off as she realized Kay was right, in a way.  She recalled countless Wednesday night dinners.  “He talked about his work, his students.  All the time.  But never what was going on inside his head.  Is that what you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

“But I know he never got over your mother’s death,” Kay said.

“That was thirty-five years ago,” Brodie exclaimed.

“No one is strong forever.”  Kay turned back to Brodie and her eyes were sad.  “Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

“Dad killed himself now because his wife died thirty-five years ago?”  Brodie shook her head.  “I don’t see it.  If Dad was that distraught he would have done it then.”

“He had a baby to take care of,” Kay pointed out.

“So he waited thirty-five years?”

“He knew he could go,” Kay said.  “You were ready to handle life without him.  You had money, a career, success.”

“This is because of me?”  Brodie’s stomach clenched hard again.

“And then you have Stanton,” Kay continued approvingly.  “He told me he knew you were safe with Stanton.”

“Safe with Stanton?” Brodie echoed.  It seemed an odd choice of words.  Established maybe, or professionally suited.  But safe?

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense by Carmen Amato. Episodes are released on carmenamato.net, Pinterest, and Facebook on Tuesdays and Fridays. Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon and include THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY as well as the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS. Please use the link below to sign up for the Mystery Monthly mailing list for exclusive excerpts, book release news, and sales alerts.

AWAKENING MACBETH: Part 7

Joe cleared his throat.  “We’re probably on the same flight,” he said.  He reached into the storage pocket in front of him and pulled out an airline ticket.  “Let’s see.  Are you on the ten o’clock connecting flight?”

“Yes,” Brodie said.

“Well, how about that,” he said.

Brodie took a big gulp of Scotch.  “So you’re going all the way to Edinburgh for golf,” she said leadingly.

“With every expectation of disaster,” Joe said.  He smiled quickly, a wry sideways grin, and rumpled his hand through his hair again.  The earring twinkled.  “This is a reunion trip.  There are four of us and every few years we get together and do something none of us is good at.”

Brodie found herself smiling back.  “College reunion?”

“No, I’m not a college man.  These are my high school buddies.”

“Really?”  Brodie absorbed the fact that she was semi-flirting with a man who hadn’t been to college.  This was a first.

“Yeah,” Joe said.  “I went to high school in Athens.  Greece is nuts about soccer and the four of us were the guys who didn’t play.  We were really tight and I guess we’ve stayed that way through the years.”

Brodie cocked her head.  “What were you doing in Greece?”

“My father was in the State Department and we moved all over.  Ended up in Athens for high school.  My buddies were diplomat kids, too.”

“And they’re in Edinburgh now?”

“No.  Edinburgh just seemed about equal travel time for all of us.  I’m the only American in the bunch and the only one in the States.  Paolo is Italian and he’s in business in Malta.  Richard is Swedish.  He lives in Stockholm now and works for a pharmaceutical company.  Oscar followed his dad into Chile’s diplomatic service.  He’s at their embassy in Paris.”

“That’s quite a story,” Brodie marveled.  “How long have you been doing this?”

He thought for a moment.  “Every three or four years.  We skipped a time there when I was in Iraq so I guess this is our eighth time in twenty-five years.  Tells you how old I am.”

“Iraq?” Brodie asked.

“Retired Marine Corps,” Joe said.

Dinner was served on china with sterling silver flatware.  A choice of wine was presented.  Both Brodie and Joe accepted a glass of red.  The lights dimmed in the first class cabin and there was the contented click of rich people eating.

Brodie and Joe chatted sporadically as they ate.  Joe asked her about Edinburgh and Brodie talked about the castle, the Royal Mile shopping district, and the need to get away from the touristy areas and find a real pub.  Joe was staying at the Dingerhoy golf resort outside Edinburgh.  Brodie had never been there but knew it had two courses, a famous spa, and miles of nature trails.  If Joe could afford a first class flight and the Dingerhoy, he was financially very well off.

The flight attendant cleared away dinner and brought coffee and cheesecake.  The lights dimmed further and most people put on earphones.

“Movie time,” Brodie said.

Joe punched the button for his overhead light, pulled out the entertainment magazine, and shared the list of movies.  His shoulder briefly rubbed Brodie’s before he pulled back.  They decided to watch the same comedy film.

Joe turned out both overhead lights.  Brodie slipped on her earphones, trying to ignore the fact that she was sitting in the dark with an incredibly attractive man.

The cabin was quiet as passengers either watched movies or slept.  Brodie fidgeted; the movie was innocuous and not terribly funny.

Joe tapped Brodie on the arm.  She lifted an earpad to hear him.

“Is it just me or is this movie pretty bad?” he whispered.

“It’s pretty bad,” Brodie whispered back.  She felt like they were telling secrets in church.

“Do you play chess?” Joe asked, keeping his voice low.

“Yes, I do,” Brodie said, unaccountably pleased.

“Excellent,” he said and pulled out a small wooden travel chess set.

Wallace Macbeth had taught Brodie to be a good chess player; precise and methodical.  But the man next to her was aggressive and gave no quarter.  Brodie fought hard for every piece of his that she took off the board.  They were each down to a handful before he was able to take her queen and surround her king.

“Checkmate,” he said.

“Damn,” Brodie muttered.  She scanned the small board but there was no way out.  She should have not played so defensively, but it was no use now.

“Best two out of three?” Joe asked, grinning.

“You’re on,” Brodie replied.

She won the next and lost the third just as the lights came up in the cabin and the attendant came to serve breakfast.  The coffee was dark and rich and Brodie sipped it slowly, feeling the caffeine ripple through her bones.

The flight arrived in London right on time.  When the plane had taxied to the gate and the seat belt light turned off, Brodie found her leather jacket and put it on.  London and Edinburgh would be much cooler than Charlottesville.

Joe took a gray hooded sweatshirt and a tan suede barn jacket out of the overhead compartment and layered them on, flipping the hood over the collar of the jacket.  He looked like a model in an outdoor outfitter’s big and tall man’s catalogue and Brodie had to hitch her jaw up before he saw her gaping at him.  Even with her shoes back on he was at least six inches taller than she was.  In the jacket his shoulders jutted like sandy cliffs.

They stayed together as the passengers filed out of the plane and into Heathrow, following the signs for connecting flights.  Joe walked slowly, with a slightly rolling gait.

“Need to unkink.”  He flashed that rueful sideways grin as if he’d known she’d noticed the way he was walking.  “Even first class isn’t made for people my size.”

They passed through passport control and were close to the security checkpoint for the flight to Edinburgh when Joe stopped and gestured toward a restroom sign.  “I’ll see you on the other side.”

They were not seated near each other on the plane to Edinburgh.  Brodie spent the short flight tapping one of her university business cards against her thumbnail, wondering if she should give it to him after the flight.  She’d written Kay’s telephone number on the back.

Maybe Joe was not interested in anything beyond a conversation and a chess game to ward off the boredom of a flight.  Maybe he was just a friendly person.  Maybe he was married and had six children.  Maybe she’d be making a fool of herself.

Joe found her as she waited at the baggage carousel.

“Need some help?”  He had a golf bag over his shoulder and a large rolling suitcase with the handle extended as far as it would go.

“No, thanks.  I just have this.”  Still holding the package containing the small landscape painting, Brodie snagged her suitcase off the conveyor and pulled up the telescoping handle.  They started toward the exit.

“How are you getting to your aunt’s?” Joe asked.  “Do you need a ride?”

“No,” Brodie said.  “But thanks.  My aunt is picking me up.”

There was a small knot of drivers in the concourse looking for their clients.  One was holding up a sign reading DINGERHOY.

“Well that seems to be for me.”  Joe introduced himself to the driver, then surrendered the rolling suitcase and golf bag.  He turned back to Brodie.  “It was nice meeting you, Brodie.  Enjoy your vacation.”  He extended a small white card.  “If you ever need your kitchen remodeled, here’s my number.”

Brodie produced her own card, hoping it wasn’t limp with sweat.  “If you ever get to Charlottesville, I’d be glad to show you around.”

Joe took the card, shook her hand, then followed the DIngerhoy driver out the exit.  Brodie watched him go through the big plate glass windows.  He was still walking stiffly.

She glanced at the card Joe had given her.

BIRNAM WOOD

Bespoke Cabinetry

Joseph M. Birnam, Master Carpenter

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense by Carmen Amato. Episodes are released on carmenamato.net, Pinterest, and Facebook on Tuesdays and Fridays. Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon and include THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY as well as the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS. Please use the link below to sign up for the Mystery Monthly mailing list for exclusive excerpts, book release news, and sales alerts.

AWAKENING MACBETH: Part 6

“Excuse me,” the crone said in a gravelly baritone.  “If I could just get by . . .”

Brodie struggled against a painful feeling of being turned inside out.  The dream swirled and buffeted her.  Rage thundered through her body, blotting out her thoughts and making her heart race.  Blood pounded in her ears.

“Excuse me,” the strange voice said again.

Disoriented and furious, Brodie forced her eyes open.  A pair of enormous blue eyes stared into hers.

Who the hell are you?” Brodie shouted.

Squint lines at the corners of the eyes crinkled in amusement.  “The guy in the window seat who needs to go to the head.”

A soft ripple of laughter circled around her.  Brodie forced herself past the last visions of the nightmare and found herself back in her plush seat in the first class aircraft cabin.  A tall man was standing beside her, stooping a little because of the curvature of the cabin ceiling.  Brodie sucked in air as the anger receded, trying to reconcile the place she was in now with where she’d been just a second ago.

“Sorry to wake you,” the man said.  He had thick blonde hair and a trim country music goatee.  Both were streaked with the brassiness associated with spending a lot of time in chlorinated water.  “I had a big latte before getting on the plane.  So if you wouldn’t mind . . .”

Brodie blinked and her heart slowed.  The man was obviously trying to move from the window seat on her right to the aisle on her left.  She was blocking his way with legs, discarded shoes, rolling water bottle, and dropped book.

“Oh, God,” Brodie said.  Her fingers felt cold and clumsy as she gathered up the things on the floor then pulled in her feet.  “I’m so sorry.” she said as he eased past her to the aisle.

“No problem,” he said and headed up the aisle, one hand on the ceiling to balance himself against the gentle motion of the aircraft.

Clutching her stuff, Brodie watched the man as he made his way toward the lavatories at the front of the first class cabin.  He was wearing a long sleeved maroon shirt, faded wide-legged jeans, and a woven leather belt.  His shoulders were extremely wide and tapered to an excellent butt.  He had the look of a heavyweight boxer or professional football player; at once both lean and heavily muscled.

An elderly woman slid out of the first row of seats and slipped into the lavatory ahead of him.

The big blonde man stopped at the top of the aisle and turned around as if he’d known Brodie was watching him.  He looked straight at her, crossed his eyes, and grimaced at the lavatory door as if he was in dire straits.

Without thinking, Brodie leaned forward and mimed comic tears back at him.

He grinned and Brodie found herself grinning back.  Their gaze held down the length of the cabin until the lavatory door opened and the elderly woman came out.

The man turned away from Brodie and she had another glimpse of his extremely excellent butt before he went into the lavatory.  She sat back in the seat, still holding her book and shoes, and her mind tricked her into imagining herself with him in a honkytonk bar.  She’d slip her hands into the back pockets of those jeans as they slow danced to Lonestar playing “Amazed” from the jukebox.

Except that full professors do not go to honkytonk bars.  Brodie gave herself a shake.  One strange nightmare and she no longer had any mental discipline.  She put her stuff away, even as the strange dream replayed itself in her thoughts.  It made no sense but had certainly been the most frightening dream she’d ever had.  She exhaled hard a couple of times and focused on staring out the window at the sight of clouds and sunset.

Below the window, an expensive but worn leather knapsack was on the floor.  There was an oversized paperback book on the empty seat.  The volume was a compendium by British humorist P.G. Wodehouse, one of a numbered series published in Great Britain.  Surprised, Brodie turned the book to read the back cover.  She loved Wodehouse, but the author was relatively unknown in the United States.

“Sorry, but I never lend out my Wodehouse.”

Brodie looked up guiltily and her mouth went dry.  If anything, the man was wider and taller and better looking than before.  His shoulders were so vast he blocked her view of the seats on the other side of the aisle.

“I’m sorry,” Brodie said and felt her cheeks flame.

He eased past her to his own seat, the excellent butt inches away from Brodie’s nose.  Lonestar started playing in her head.

“Are you a Wodehouse fan?” he asked as he fastened his safety belt.

“Yes,” Brodie said over the music.  “That’s a wonderful edition.  Where did you get it?”

“Great place in London called Hatchard’s.  On Piccadilly.”

“I’ve been there,” Brodie exclaimed.  “It’s one of my favorite bookstores anywhere.”

“It’s old,” the man said, turning the book over.  His hands were large and tanned and powerful with long, dexterous, big-knuckled fingers.  No rings.  “Probably bought the set about ten years ago.”

“Are you planning to go back on this trip?” Brodie asked.  Her mind raced, wondering who he was, what did he do, where he was from, why was he on this flight . . . was he married.

“Probably not.  I’m just passing through Heathrow.”  He rifled a hand through his hair.  His temples revealed a few gray hairs mixed with the blonde.  There was a sapphire stud earring in his left ear with a tiny gold cross dangling below it.  “Going to Edinburgh to play golf,” he said.

“Oh,” Brodie said.  A warmth joined with Lonestar to create a pleasant tingle of excitement and attraction.  “I’m heading to Edinburgh myself.”

“For the golf?”  He smiled and white teeth glinted inside the trim beard.  The squint lines crinkled.

Kay had taken Brodie to Oslo the summer she was sixteen.  The man’s eyes were the same color as the sky over the fjord.  It was like a deep, brilliant lacquer created from layers and layers of sea-swept Nordic light.

“No,” Brodie said weakly.  “Going to see my aunt.  She lives in Edinburgh.”

“Hmmm.”  The man pretended to think, showing the same easy humor as before.  Brodie found herself torn between lust and laughter for no apparent reason.  “I see a plump matron,” he said.  “She makes shortbread on Saturdays and calls you her ‘wee bairn.’”

“Hardly.”  Brodie grinned.  “She’s an elegant orthopedic surgeon who teaches at the medical school.  But I’m very impressed with your command of Scottish phraseology.”

“Unfortunately you just got my entire repertoire.”

The flight attendant came by to deliver menus and take before-dinner drink orders.  Brodie ordered a Famous Grouse.

“Famous Grouse?” the man asked.

“It’s a blended Scotch,” Brodie said.  “Very smooth.”

“Do you mind if I follow your lead?” he asked.  “I’m not usually a Scotch drinker but seeing as I’m going to Scotland it seems the thing to do.”

“Absolutely,” Brodie said.  It was either say that or giggle like a nervous freshman who’d just met the captain of the football team.

The flight attendant flipped down their tray tables, covered them with white linen placemats, and went off to get their drinks.

Brodie opened Shakespeare again.  She hardly wanted to read but she was unsure if the conversation was over or not.  She was conscious of the big blonde man shifting in his seat.

The attendant brought their drinks and small spinach quiche appetizers.  Brodie saw the man raise his glass and inhale appreciatively.  He turned to her and nodded.  “I think you picked a winner,” he said.

Slainte,” Brodie said and raised her glass.  “To your success on the links.”

“Is that the right thing to say?  Slainte?”  He touched her glass with his own and the crystal chimed.  He sipped his Scotch.  “Yes, that’s very nice.”

Brodie watched in a sort of stunned fascination as the man’s muscular hand swirled the Scotch, making it coat the sides of the tumbler.

And then one of those hands was in the air in front of her.  “I’m Joe.”

“Brodie,” she said.  His grip was firm and dry and swallowed her hand.

“That’s an unusual name,” he said.  “Brodie.”

“My mother’s clan,” Brodie said.  “She was a Brodie from Forres.”

“So I take it you’ve been to Scotland before,” he said.

“Yes.” Brodie caught herself staring at him and covered by taking another sip of Scotch.  The eyes were just so blue.  “My family’s originally from Edinburgh but my dad and I moved to the States when I was one.”

“Where in the States?”

“Charlottesville.  I still live there.”

“I’m in Alexandria myself,” he said.

The flight attendant came by to take their dinner orders.  They both ordered the chicken.

Brodie fiddled again with the heavy book in her lap, not wanting to push herself on him or seem desperate.  Women probably threw themselves at him in relays.

WAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense by Carmen Amato. Episodes are released on carmenamato.net, Pinterest, and Facebook on Tuesdays and Fridays. Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon and include THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY as well as the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS. Please use the link below to sign up for episodes. You’ll also get the Mystery Monthly with exclusive excerpts, book release news, and sales alerts.

AWAKENING MACBETH: Part 5

Brodie turned to look at the men on the stage.  One had a fabric horse head under his arm.  No, not a horse head, a donkey head.  “Is this A Midsummer Night’s Dream?” she asked.  “Are you rehearsing the play?”

“You’d be rehearsing it, too, if you weren’t being so bloody daft,” one of the men grumbled.

Brodie turned away impatiently.  “Dad,” she called again.  “Dad!”

“Burbage, you daft bugger,” a man complained.

“Tha’ doxy down ta Pig and Whistle in Hog Lane,” another hooted.  “She’s fair addled his head.”

Dad,” Brodie shouted.

One of the men grabbed her arm.

She swung her gaze to him in distracted irritation and recoiled in horror.

His eyes were white and diseased.  The man wasn’t blind, however; the cankered irises registered amusement and impatience at Brodie’s reaction.

“Welcome to the game,” he said.

“Shit,” Brodie gasped, trying to pull back.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked, not letting go.  He was in his mid-30’s with flat brown hair and a trim beard.  An unremarkable man except for the vile eyes and a grip like the bite of a horse.

“You’re . . . you’re Shakespeare,” Brodie stammered.

He smiled icily.  The effect made Brodie want to vomit.  “Wouldn’t it have been ironic if we’d been rehearsing Macbeth?” he asked.

“You know my name?” Brodie blurted.

“I know everything,” the man said.  The white eyes glinted in the yellow light of the grease lamps and he licked his lips.  “Everything except what he told you.”

“Let go of me,” Brodie said and strained to pull away.

He hung on but his face tightened.  The white eyes assessed her with a glazed, predatory quality.  “You’re staying in the game until I get my answer.  You might get your answers, too, but I really don’t care about that.”

“The game?”  Brodie looked around wildly for help but the actors on the stage ignored her.

“Let me put it simply so you can grasp a simple concept,” the man said, tightlipped against the effort of holding onto her.  “Your father knew something about me and I’d like to know what it was.  Because it helped him cheat the game.  I had to take him out of the game because he cheated.”

“What?” Brodie asked in utter confusion.”

“He made a sort of whistling sound as he fell.”  The man grinned, the white eyes full of an evil humor.  “Twenty stories, wasn’t it?”

Brodie stopped pulling against his grip, too stunned to resist.  “What?”

“Suicide, right?’  The man licked his lips.  “Not murder at all.”

“Are you saying my father was murdered?” Brodie rasped.

He cheated me,” the man shouted unexpectedly.  “For too long.  And you know how.”

Let go!” Brodie screamed.  She heaved away from him, finally breaking his hold.  She spilled over the edge of the stage, and ran across the empty pit where people paid a penny to stand and watch the plays, fear and confusion driving her feet.

You’re going to tell me, bitch,” the man howled after her.  “Or I’ll take you out, too.

Brodie flew through the theater, the cloak streaming out behind her as the other men on the stage shouted for Burbage to return and finish the rehearsal.  She found the door and shot out into a dank London evening.

The smell of the Southwark district hit her hard; urine and manure and a too densely packed population.  Brodie’s heart pounded and her boots made a smucking sound as she headed for the river and the venerable section of Mayfair where she’d stayed a dozen times, the map of modern London in her head at variance with the scene in front of her.  Shops and alehouses and stables and smithies and more shops lined the narrow streets.  She was jostled by women in flounced dresses, apprentices in blue, children in rags, and men in doublet and hose or leather breeches.  The sound of the city was like the raucous hum of bees; the rattle of wagons, the clop of hooves, the squalls of street vendors, and the murmur of beggars.  Brodie reeled from the sensory input.

Passersby frequently greeted her by tugging a forelock and saying “Burbage.”  The men in the theater had called her that, too, and she realized people were taking her for Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s fellow actor and part owner of the Globe.

Evening lapsed into solid night.  Brodie was scared and cold and lost in a London from the pages of history.  The compunction that her father was near had gone.  Over and over, Brodie tried to make herself wake up, to no avail.  She walked the filthy streets for what seemed like hours, feeling trapped, her desperation growing.

She found herself on the banks of the Thames, under the trestle of a bridge.  There were a few other people there, thieves and beggars and the destitute and they looked at her sullenly.  But Brodie was too exhausted to go on.  She curled into a ball on the ground with the rough cloak around her legs.  Several ragged people came toward her and she prayed they’d leave her alone.  They passed, but then an old crone darted forward and grabbed the pin closing Brodie’s cloak.  Stunned, Brodie snatched at the woman’s hand and suddenly they were rolling on the ground, locked together with the cloak twisting tighter and tighter around Brodie’s neck.  The woman’s eyes were the same white as Shakespeare’s.  Fear surged through Brodie’s veins and she fought back with all the strength she could muster, even as her breath was being choked off and the mud sucked at her, threatening to pull them both into the river.

The malevolence of the beggars and thieves watching the fight was like a tangible thing.

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense by Carmen Amato. Episodes are released on carmenamato.net, Pinterest, and Facebook on Tuesdays and Fridays. Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon and include THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY as well as the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS. Please use the link below to sign up for episodes. You’ll also get the Mystery Monthly with exclusive excerpts, book release news, and sales alerts.