Forest Grange, Colgate, England - 6th November 1991

The group of people gathered in the library ascended from the silence which they had sat in through the trickle of the last few minutes to laugh and applaud. Anthony Tavers, the man in front of the fire, bowed and smiled and accepted the compliments offered to him with elegant arrogance. Grace whispered a few words to Toby who nodded and smiled in a way that a father may nod and smile at a child when they demand that the light be left on while they fall asleep. He got to his feet and crossed the room to stand by Anthony's side.

"A fantastic story you have there, Anthony."

"Yes it is," replied the other man with a smile: "But it's not a story, I assure you. It is the absolute and honest truth."

The room rippled with entertained, good-natured laughter, then fell into a gentle, comfortable silence as everyone waited to see what he had to say next.

"I swear to you all," Anthony went on with a broad smile, spreading his arms and attempting to look as honest as possible. "That girl, Beth Winters turned up here a year ago today. Ice cold she was, and bleeding from half a dozen puncture wounds to the shoulder, when I finally got her to go to the hospital, they pulled enough lead shot out of her to weight a line or two down at Whitevane, let me tell you."

"And what about the boyfriend?" Toby asked, his hand rested on Anthony's shoulder, chuckling to himself.

"Police found him the next day, right where she said she'd left him. Dead in the back of his dad's '68 Cadillac, a flintlock pistol blast right to the head, point blank."

Anthony mimed putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger, the room sparkled with laughter again. Grace frowned and looked up from where she was sat, cross-legged on the rug.

"So who was he?"

"Who?" Anthony asked with a frown, taking a step forward and looking down at her: "The boyfriend?"

She could see Toby sighing and shaking his head, no doubt disgusted or petrified of being embarrassed yet again by his odd-ball girlfriend. Screw him, Grace thought, and snorted. I don't care what he thinks, and I sure as hell don't care what his friends think.

"No." Grace shook her head and frowned: "The highwayman. McMills."

"Ahhhhh," Anthony said, pressing his fingers to his chin thoughtfully and nodding with the feigned thoughtfulness of an actor. After a moment he broke his trance and spread his arms, his voice glittering with irrepressible charm and wit: "Well that's another story entirely, my dear, and one I will be quite happy to tell you a little later on."

The people milling in the room and sipping their wine laughed again; a gentle, crisp sound like dropping glasses, Grace scowled.

"Now if you'll all follow me," Anthony went on, shepherding his guests out of the room with a dramatic sweep of his hands: "Dinner should just about be ready."

Grace sighed and got to her feet, straightening her dress and looking down at the Persian rug beneath her feet. She felt Toby's fingers tighten on her arm and looked up at him.

"Come along, Gracey," he hissed in a voice that pretended to be good-natured but wasn't: "Hurry up."

Anthony turned from where he was stood in the doorway, and shifted to let them pass, while at the same time reaching out to touch Toby's arm.

"Toby, I don't suppose you could do me a favour could you?"

Toby paused. "Sure, what is it?"

"I just need a quick opinion on what Diane's done with the old study, do you mind?"

"No," Toby shook his head and smiled: "No, not at all, Tony."

"Excellent. You head on down, I'll be right with you. I just need to check that blasted cook of mine hasn't set fire to the whole house yet."

Toby laughed lightly and stepped out into the corridor, leaving Grace behind without so much as a glance over his shoulder. Anthony swung the library door shut and took a step forward, sandwiching against the wall. Grace smiled and looked up at him, and when he leaned against her a little more, pressing her tightly back against it and kissing her furiously, she didn't resist. Anthony ran his fingers through her deep chestnut hair and smiled, kissing her cheek and jaw-line lightly and whispering softly in her ear.

"I'll tell you the rest of the story later, I swear. Just as soon as we've gotten rid of that damned fiancé of yours, right?"

Grace smiled ruefully up at him: "And that damned wife of yours, you mean?"



After dinner, Grace was wandering around the grand old house while the others drank and smoked and stroked one another's egos in the dining room. She stood at the foot of the huge wooden staircase and stared up for a long moment. Her mind was drifting as it often did just after a meal or late into the night, and the heavy, dusky smell of wood polish was only making her worse and lending a kind of tipping, dizzied feeling to her reverie.

In fact, she was so lost in her own thoughts that she didn't hear the young girl in the crisply turned-out black skirt and white blouse as she opened the door from the dining room and passed through the corridor, stopping just behind her.

"E-excuse me, ma'am," the girl said softly, stepping backwards quickly, the glasses on the tray she held rattling and sliding across the silver as Grace started sharply and whipped around.

"Oh God, I'm so sorry," Grace began with a flicker of a nervous smile at the girl as she helped her right the empty glasses: "I didn't hear you coming, you scared the life out of me."

The girl smiled softly offering Grace a flash of her dark eyes and a strange twist in the timbre of her voice when she spoke: "Too many ghosts on your mind?"

Grace stalled for a moment and frowned, then brushed the words aside and laughed it off, turning her eyes back to the staircase behind her.

"Something like that, yeah."

The girl nodded a little and hurried down the rest of the length of the corridor, swinging the door to the kitchen open and stepping deftly inside. Grace watched her go and frowned, shaking her head as she tried to place what she found so unnerving about the girl, and wondering as she often did when she had these feelings whether her over-active imagination was playing tricks on her. Making her think things that had no foundation in reality like Toby seemed to think.

"Hello again," Anthony said smoothly behind her, slipping an arm around her waist.
Yet again Grace started violently, the breath catching in the back of her throat and every muscle in her body tensing and tightening, forcing herself away from the thing that had sneaked up behind her. As she turned around to face him, she must have looked a sight; her hair loosening, her body tense, her eyes wild, because Anthony stepped back from her and raised the palms of his hands to her in a gesture of parley.

"Grace," He gasped, almost catching his breath, infected with the fear that had so suddenly gripped her: "It's only me. Relax."

Grace drew a deep breath and shivered, her wide, wild eyes still fixed on the man stood before her, his hands held up in defeat.

"Anthony," she snapped: "You should know better than to sneak up on me."

Anthony lowered his hands with a warm, supremely self-confident smile and took a step forward again, resting his hand on her shivering shoulder.

"I'm sorry, I thought you'd heard me. What were you looking at down there?"

He nodded down the corridor behind her and Grace turned to look too, her gaze brushing the wax-darkened wood, the low, golden lights, the heavy oaken doors.

"Oh," she stalled. "There was a girl."


"I don't know. She looked like one of your staff, very young girl, dark hair, dark eyes, isn't she too young to be working here?"

Anthony nodded a little and started walking down the corridor towards the kitchen, for a moment, Grace thought he was about to show her in and confront the girl, but instead, he kept walking, pushing open the door to the library which stood at the very end of the corridor and walking inside. He flicked the lights on, drenching the room in soft, gold light, heavy and fragrant like the waxed-wood of the ornately carved ceiling.

Grace followed him in, closing the door behind her and walking to the centre of the room. Kneeling down on the rough, patterned rug, she rolled over onto her back and linked her hands behind her head, staring up at that ceiling as Anthony went through the routine of shutting the curtains that looked out over the crackling gravel drive.

When they'd first started seeing one another behind their partner's backs, Anthony had tried to persuade her to use one of the spare bedrooms on the third floor. One of the massive, cavernous spaces that had been a dormitory back when the building was still a boarding school. But Grace had never liked those rooms much, they worried her with what she thought she saw in the shifting darkness, and what she thought she may have heard amidst the shadows.

Next he had tried to convince her to sleep with him in one of the small, self-contained apartments where a married couple that taught at the school had lived with their three cats while they worked there. But it always seemed to Grace that the apartment was in the very oldest part of the building, and with all its furniture covered in white sheets and the whole place smelling of dust and memories, she started refusing to go there too, and so they would come to the library.

Grace liked it in the library; it was one of the few places in this massive old house where she actually felt safe. Situated right at the end of the mansion's East Wing with only a few old rooms behind it that had once been used by the kitchen staff that worked at the school, but were now almost utterly disused but for the stacks of dust sheets and building materials scattered around. But then, there wasn't anything unusual in that, these days almost every spare bit of space in the massive old building was taken up by paint, plaster and wood.

Anthony had only got the house at the last minute when the guy who was supposed to be taking the job on had dropped out. His wife had died or something, Grace couldn't quite remember. One of the finest property developers in the southeast of England, Anthony had been charged with converting the grand, unsellable house into a number of luxury apartments to appeal to the rich middle classes that were just beginning to buy and live down here, risking the long commute to London every day or just looking for a place to retreat to at weekends.

Still, ever since Anthony had moved in here six months ago, he'd been treating the house as if he owned the place, and his bosses were beginning to wonder if he'd ever get the job done at all. Still, they trusted him, and he convinced them with his compelling talk, and they gave him extensions, gave him pay rises, gave him extra grants of funds to get the job done properly.

But then, that was just like Anthony, supremely self-confident, pride-filled, arrogant, but so charming and polite and such a gripping speaker that people couldn't help but believe him. Couldn't help but bend to his will.

Still, despite all of this, he was never harsh, rarely lost his temper, was never anything but cordial and enchanting to everyone he met. That was why Grace liked him so much. Living with Toby all the time meant that once in a while it was nice to be with someone who never said a harsh word against you, never mocked you or was embarrassed by you. Showered you with adoration and sweet words no matter how many other women he had visiting his bed.

Grace turned her eyes back to Anthony, he was almost done closing the curtains, she realised that he'd been talking to her while her mind had been wandering, her gaze lost against the carefully carved oak leaves showered with birds and butterflies on the ceiling about her. She frowned, thought hard and listened intently to catch up with what he was saying. A few months ago she wouldn't have bothered, she would have just waited until he was done speaking, then ask him to say it all again, smiling ruefully at the giggles from her companions as they realised she hadn't been listening to a word they'd said.

But six months into her engagement to Toby and she'd come to associate that with sharp words and mockery, not laugher and good-natured jokes about her being a daydreamer. She didn't mind those jokes so much, it used to make her feel good when people told her she was a dreamer, used to make her feel like she was different, like her imagination was too massive to be contained in one tiny mortal mind.

But she never heard those jokes anymore, all she heard was scolding as Toby rolled his eyes and told her she was unbearable and he didn't know why he was still with her. The first few times that had made her smile, but now she was beginning to believe it. And she didn't like that, she didn't like that at all.

"Juliette's been here since I first turned up," he was saying: "I know she looks young, but the other women assure me that she's eighteen. I guess some girls are just like that, always looking younger than they are. You used to be like that too, Grace. Do you remember?"

Grace smiled and pushed herself up onto her elbows as Anthony turned the key in the door and came to stand by her side.

"Of course I do. It wasn't so many months ago." She paused for a moment and laughed: "Are you saying I look old these days, Anthony?"

He smiled warmly and sat down beside her, looping an arm about her shoulders. As he spoke, Grace's eyes wandered over the massive, wood-mantled fireplace that stood against the far wall, cold and empty, and a strange feeling of sadness washed over her.

"No, darling, not at all. You just look so tired, so often these days, as if life's wearing you down."

Grace shook her head and brushed away the rain cloud thoughts and teardrop feelings washing over her in the same whimsical way she brushed everything aside when it got a little too close, hoping that if she pushed it away and acted like it didn't hurt, maybe in time, it wouldn't.

"No not at all," she said with a flash of a smile, resting her head on his shoulder.

"Relationships are just hard. I'm sure you know how that goes, you've been married for the last ten years. I just... I've never been very good at holding a relationship down, Toby's the first one that's lasted over two months, and it just... well it isn't easy. That's all."

Anthony nodded solemnly: "I've seen the way he treats you, Grace. It's not right, if he keeps doing it he's going to break your spirit and that would be the greatest tragedy I would ever have had the misfortune to witness. Do you want me to have a word with him?"

Grace started.

"What? No!" She drew a deep breath and sighed, resting back on her elbows and looking up at the ceiling, imagining all the little bugs and butterflies amidst the wood-carved leaves wriggling themselves free and falling to the floor. She was unable to suppress the light giggle that welled up inside her, and she was glad for it, it washed away the sudden wave of anger she felt towards Anthony. Why did he always have to drag her down when she was trying to ignore something? Didn't he realise that it 'broke her spirit' every bit as much as Toby's sharp words and razor-edged insults. Her laughter subsided and she felt more comfortable, glancing up at Anthony's dark eyes that were holding her in them with a flicker of curiosity.

"Really, Tony," she said, sitting up and resting her hand on his shoulder: "I'm fine. Just been a bit tired, that's all."

She paused for a moment and drew a deep breath, felt his lips brush against her throat.

"Ok," Anthony purred, slipping his arm about her waist and drawing her closer: "If you insist."

Grace tipped her head to one side, let his lips slide over her flesh, fighting hard not to laugh as his tongue shivered against her flesh. She'd found in the past that men didn't really like being laughed at when they were licking you. She put it down to the fact that they had no sense of humour. She felt his fingers creep over the top of her leg, brushing over the light cotton of her skirt, slipping down to the hem and sliding over her bare calf. She smiled to herself and let her mind drift as his hand slid up her thigh, resting between her legs, his fingers rough and firm. She frowned a little and turned her head to face him, drawing away a little and poking him in the chest.

"Hey, not yet, remember?"

Anthony frowned, but there was no trace of disdain at being pushed away in his warm, dark eyes or in the twist of his lips, Grace smiled to herself again and ran her fingers through the short, loose curls of his walnut-brown hair.

"Remember what? Toby's busy in the other room hobnobbing with all my 'chump friends' as you have so eloquently put it in the past, Diane's gone up to bed with one of her 'migraines' and there's no one else in the whole wing apart from the kitchen staff who are too busy with the rattle of the dishwasher and the latest edition of Cosmo to give a damn."

Grace laughed delightedly and let her fingers slide from the twists of his hair over the front of his shirt, loosening the top few buttons about his open collar.

"I didn't mean any of that," she sniggered: "I meant your story."

"Story?" Anthony asked with a confused look on his face. After a moment, it was replaced by a roll of the eyes and an extravagant wave of the arms: "Oh it's nothing. It's not very interesting anyway. You'd hate it."

His lips twisted into a wicked smile and his fingers crept back over her leg. Grace laughed loudly and pushed him away just hard enough to force him onto his back on the faded carpets.

"I want to hear it!" She protested with a delighted tone in her voice.

Anthony chuckled and pushed himself back up, resting back with the palms of his hands flat against the rug behind him.

"Ok . . . ok," he conceded.

Grace smiled and settled back down a little, jumping slightly when Anthony whispered "After" in her ear and pushed her down against the rug, sliding himself on top of her.

"Anthony!" Grace protested, struggling and wrinkling her nose up at him as he tried to kiss her although the smile never faded from her lips: "I mean it. I want to hear. Won't you tell me? Please?"

He looked down at her and brushed a lock of dark hair away from her cheek then sighed, rolled his eyes and drew away, getting to his feet.

"Alright, alright. Whatever the lady wants."

"That's more like it."

Anthony's smile faded a little, his face furrowing with thought as he walked to the cold blackness of the fireplace where the wind whispered and murmured down the chimney. He rested his hands on the mantle and stared blankly at the wall for a moment before glancing over his shoulder and catching Grace's eye where she sat in the centre of the room studying him.

"Where was I?"

"Ummmm," she thought for a moment and drew her eyes away from him, forcing herself to focus her thoughts a little more: "You were talking about the highwayman," she said wistfully. "McMills." And then with a little more conviction as the memories of the conversation earlier in the evening came trickling back into her mind, "You were going to tell me who he was."

"Ahhhhhhh," Anthony purred with a curt nod, turning his gaze back to the mantle, to the gold-edged picture frame that housed an impressive oil painting over the fireplace: "Yes, so I was."

He paused for a moment and turned around, taking a step to the side and twisting his arms behind him to take hold of the mahogany picture rail that ran about the room. His eyes glinted viciously like a wild thing closing in on its prey as the tiny creature writhed and struggled in the snare he had set for it. The light flickered eerily on his skin and there was a moment of silence as Grace stiffened and waited for him to begin and he relished the feeling of anticipation, of expectancy, of attentiveness flowing from her.

"Well..." he stated at length, Grace smiled at him as he lapped up the attention she was feeding him: "I believe it began on a night much like this one. There was a little more rain perhaps, but it was cold and dark as the end of the world, the ground was beginning to freeze as the breath of winter brushed it and autumn was fading fast ..."