This fic was inspired by one of two books given to me by my Secret Brig a year or so ago entitled "Life in a Castle". So you can either thank her or blame her, your choice!!! Personally I want to thank her. Thank her for paying such close attention to my interests to come up with such a wonderful gift. Youre the greatest!
Disclaimer: I wish I owned them, Id like to own them, but alas I dont.
"I'm looking for Master Vincent Tanner."
JD looked up at the sound of the British accent. The man before him was gray haired and dressed in a conservative black suit with a top coat over it and shoes so shiny you could see yourself in them.
"Master Vince ? Oh! You mean Vin! Umm, well he's in a meeting right now. If you want to sit in that chair over there I'll let him know he has someone waiting for him. Maybe they can wrap things up." JD watched the man turn to the plastic chair and sit, his back ramrod straight. He sat the briefcase he carried by his feet, folded his hands in his lap, and waited. JD stood and moved over to Chris Larabee's door, knocking before entering.
"Hey Vin, there's some guy with an accent out here to see you," the young agent said after he had closed the door behind him.
"What kinda accent?" Vin asked as he looked up from the plans and diagrams he and Chris were working on.
"Yeah. Like in FROM England. You know British."
Chris and Vin exchanged curious glances and the three men moved out of the office, Vin heading straight toward the stranger. Chris and JD lagged behind but stood watching as the other members of Denver's elite ATF Team 7 moved up behind them.
"I understand yer looking for me? Name's Vin Tanner."
The man seemed to flinch at the sound of Vin's accent but quickly recovered. "My name is Broderick Fitzsimmons, Esquire," he said handing Vin a business card. "And I represent the late William Tanner of Woodhaven, England."
Vin's head snapped up at the name, his expression one of confusion. Chris stepped up and snagged the business card from numb fingers, glancing at it and passing it on to the other men.
"William was my father's name," the sharpshooter said quietly. "Or so I been told. Never knew the man."
"I'm sorry to bring you such news," Fitzsimmons said.
"Never knew where he was. Never even knew he was still alive." Vin ran his hand through his long hair nervously before shoving his hands into his pockets to still their movements. "Figured him fer dead fore I was born."
"Im afraid he passed away just last week. But he personally told me how proud he was of you and what you had become."
"He knew about me? Knew where I was?" Vin's eyes had widened in shock, then narrowed, as he tried to register what had just been said. "He KNEW where I was?"
"Well, yes, he managed to re-locate you about three years ago. But by then his illness had overcome him. He felt it best that he not contact you."
"He felt it was best " Vin began to pace. Chris watched his friend before speaking up.
"What happened to him? And why are you here now?"
"He succumbed to cancer. A very slow moving cancer in his bones." Fitzsimmons replied. "And I am here to settle his estate. You are his heir."
"Heir? Estate?" Vin said turning to face the elderly man, anger clouding his features. "He ain't got anythin' I need er want."
"There are certain assets that need a decision, property that needs to be looked out for. I am prepared to purchase flight tickets for you and whoever else you would like to accompany you to England."
"No. I don't need ta go ta England. Ya kin do whatever ya want with his stuff. Jest take care a it. I got work ta do here."
"Now Mr. Tanner," Ezra interjected. "You might not want to be so quick about turning down a free vacation."
"Yeah Vin. A free trip to England. Could be fun." JD added.
"Ain't goin' nowhere 'cept back ta work." And with that Vin walked back to Chris' office and the paperwork waiting there.
"London, England. The home of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and some of the finest nightlife outside of Paris." Ezra's commentary reached the ears of his teammates.
"Shut up Ezra," six voices told him.
The seven men disembarked and made their way to the carousel to pick up their luggage. After clearing customs they headed out of the airport into a light rain. Waiting just outside with a van large enough to carry them all was Fitzsimmons.
"I'm so glad you decided to come Master Tanner."
"Ain't so sure I am." Vin's voice sounded a bit sluggish, a result of the Valium Nathan had given him to combat claustrophobia and more than a little anger on the long plane ride. Fitzsimmons seemed not to notice.
"I have rooms for you here in London for tonight. Tomorrow we will make the trip to the estate. Gentlemen," Fitzsimmons motioned toward the van and the men stowed their luggage in the back and climbed inside.
JD and Vin climbed into the very back seat and Vin immediately slouched down. He hated long plane trips, hated the feeling of coming down off the pills it sometimes took to get him through the flight. What he wanted right now was to wake up and find out he was still in Denver instead of across a huge ocean in a strange town. He hated the uneasy feeling that big cities brought on him.
He had refused to come, not wanting to make such a trip, not wanting to deal with the property of the man who had known where he was but had refused to contact him while there was a chance for Vin to get to know him, dieing or not. But the others had worked on him until he caved in, agreeing to go only as long as they came with him. If he was going to suffer through readings of a will and sorting through the possessions of a man now dead, then so were the ones that convinced him to do so. Surprising to Vin, Fitzsimmons hadn't even blinked at the cost of seven tickets versus one or two.
Fitzsimmons got them checked into their hotel, two adjoining suites, then offered to show the men London. Vin reluctantly went along through the tour of the historical aspects of London followed by a heavy meal at what Ezra called one of the best five star restaurants in England. They were finally dropped off at the hotel late that evening, JD, Buck, Josiah and Nathan taking one suite, Chris, Ezra and Vin heading into the other. Vin and Ezra took one room, leaving Chris to take the second. Ezra quickly checked over the unpacking job the hotel staff had done while Vin changed into sweats and lay down on his bed.
"Mr. Tanner, it's still early. Are you sure you would not join me in a libation or two? Perhaps find a bit of nightlife?"
"Nah, I'm jest gonna try'n sleep. Been a long day."
Ezra knew what the meds did to Vin, understood the slight embarrassment the sharpshooter had about taking them, yet also knew how much more embarrassed he would be if his claustrophobia had been allowed to overcome him mid-flight.
"Very well. I'll see if Misters Dunne and Wilmington are up for some club hopping."
"Thanks Ez. Jest don't ferget we're leavin' right after breakfast."
"I would assume that breakfast will be held at what most consider the normal hour in the," Ezra let out a dramatic sigh and continued with a shudder in his voice, bringing a smile to Vin's face, "morning?"
"Then I shall endeavor to keep the evening short and rise at the dawn with a smile on my face and a song in my heart."
Vin threw a pillow at Ezra, hitting the man square in the face. "Go have fun Ez." Vin said as he rolled over onto his stomach.
"I will try Mr. Tanner, I will try. Good night, Vin." Ezra gave a little two-fingered salute and moved through the suite.
Vin tried to sleep. He knew he was tired, always was after taking those damn pills, not to mention the fact that they had been up far too long this day, but Vin couldn't sleep. His mind raced in total confusion. His father had known where he was. Fitzsimmons had said that the man had RE-located him, meaning he had known where he was at some point in time before. Vin hadn't asked, was afraid of the answer. Had the man known where he was the whole time he was bouncing around foster care, losing track of him when he had run off and taken to the streets? Or had he lost track of him clear back when his mother had died? Or maybe when he had joined the Rangers?
With a growl, Vin threw back the covers, the baggy sweats riding low on his hips, and padded out into the living area of the suite. Dropping down onto the sofa, he picked up the remote and clicked on the TV, turning the volume down so it wouldn't disturb Chris in the other room.
Chris heard his friend moving around and quietly got up and cracked open his door. He thought about joining Vin, see if he'd talk or if he just wanted company, but instead closed his door once more. Vin needed to come to terms with these new demons. Chris knew that when Vin was ready, he'd seek him out and talk.
When Ezra came in several hours later, he found Vin asleep on the couch. Smiling to himself he went into the bedroom and pulled the blanket off of Vin's bed. Returning to the living area, Ezra gently lifted Vin's legs off the coffee table and moved them toward the couch. Vin's sleeping body adjusted to the movement, slipping down onto the cushions and shifting until comfortable.
"Good night Vin," Ezra said as he slipped the blanket over his friend.
"G'night Ez," came a sleepy voice in reply.
All seven men had a hard time waking the next morning, even Vin, who was normally up with the birds. Everyone showered, dressed for travel, and repacked then headed downstairs for breakfast. Fitzsimmons arrived when they were halfway through their meal and ordered a cup of tea while they finished eating and checked out of the hotel. Moments later they were once again ensconced in the van and driving through busy London streets.
JD and Buck, from the very back seat, treated everyone to the tales of their night on the town with Ezra. The undercover agent, for his part, tried to avoid conversation and return to sleep in his seat next to Vin, so he neither denied nor collaborated the stories they told. Vin sat staring out the window watching, but not seeing, the passing scenery. He barely noticed as the city turned to more of a suburban area, then into rambling countryside with scattered country cottages. The others remarked on the scenery, Josiah and Nathan asking about the history of the area, but Vin remained silent, commenting only when a statement was directed to him. No one thought different of it, understanding the quiet, very private man that was their friend.
"We haven't much further now," Fitzsimmons told them as they passed through a small village, which he identified as Woodhaven, and began following a road that paralled the ocean. Another fifteen minutes passed before anyone else made a comment.
"Is that a castle?" JD asked. Six pairs of eyes turned toward the sight. A massive stone structure loomed along the oceanfront with several towers and a stonewall surrounding it.
"That is Woodhaven Manor. It was built in the late 12th century with changes and additions in the 13th and 14th centuries. Only the living quarters have been modernized, and those only minimally," Fitzsimmons supplied.
"Minimally?" Buck asked.
"Fireplaces are used for the heating system like they were when it was first built. The stone structure itself keeps it cool in summertime. Electricity has been added as well as indoor plumbing. However, as many of the original furnishings and fixtures are still used as possible."
"And people still live there?" JD inquired, intrigued by the age and history of such a building.
"Oh yes indeed. The family opens it up to tourists as a bed and breakfast to help pay the upkeep, and there is a full staff in residence."
"Wow. It would be fun staying in a place like that!" JD said exuberantly. "Can you imagine roaming the halls where Knights and Lords once walked?"
"Well, I'm glad you feel that way Master Dunne, fore that is where you will be staying the next few days."
"Oh I thought we were going to Vin's father's house." Vin winced slightly at the words.
"You are. This is the family home of William Tanner."
Vin's eyes went wide as six voices yelled at once. "What?!?"
Fitzsimmons finally had Vin's attention. He leaned over Ezra to take a look at the structure. As they approached more details of the structure could be seen. There were four visible towers and Vin thought possibly a fifth on the seaward side. Two were at least 4 stories high, judging from the weapon slot type windows in the outer walls. A larger, rectangular structure sat inside the stone walls with a mix of stained glass and clear glass windows. The surrounding walls with towers stretched the length of three football fields and at least one field wide. Some of the towers looked in disrepair, but others looked sturdy and well built.
The van turned onto the road leading towards the castle and eventually into a graveled parking area on the seaward side of the structure, out of view of the main road and therefore protecting the view of the castle. The men piled out of the van. Vin stared at the structure, slowly, as if in shock, moving away from the group to take in more of the sight. The others looked it over, and then retrieved their luggage, Chris grabbing up Vin's and moving to his friend's side.
"Jesus, Chris," Vin didn't look his way but kept staring upward at the tower he now stood in front of.
"Something else isn't it?" Vin nodded agreement. "Come on Pard, let's go check this place out." Chris handed Vin his large duffle and placed a comforting hand on the younger man's shoulder, steering him towards where Fitzsimmons waited to escort them inside.
The group moved through a tunnel-like opening in the wall the size of a very tall double door and emerged onto a large, grassy field. Immediately to their right, and in the center of the seaside walled area, was the large rectangular building they had made out from the road. Vin moved out into the field as Fitzsimmons explained that the grassy area was known as the greater bailey. Looking down the field Vin saw yet another wall with two towers where the wall joined the outer walls, and beyond that two more towers and more of the tall outer wall. He turned and followed the others, who were being led toward a set of stone steps and a large wooden double door on the second story in the four story rectangular structure, the Great Hall as Fitzsimmons was telling them.
As they climbed, the doors opened and a gentleman dressed in a black butler's suit greeted them.
"Master Fitzsimmons, good to see you again sir."
"Malcolm. I trust things are running smoothly?"
"Indeed they are sir. And might I welcome Master Vincent and his friends?" The butler turned and was facing Ezra, assuming the well-dressed man to be the new heir.
"I'm afraid you're mistaken. My name is Ezra P. Standish, one of Master Vincent's friends. This," Ezra reached behind him, latching on to Vin's arm and pulling the reluctant man forward, "is Master Vincent Tanner."
The butler assumed a look of surprise and distaste before putting on a poker face Ezra could be proud of, his eyes doing a quick run up and down Vin's t-shirt, jeans and worn leather jacket clad form. "Master Vincent, I apologize sir. Of course you're Master William's son. You have his eyes. Please come in. Penelope has prepared rooms for each of you and Cook will have luncheon ready in half the hour."
Seven pairs of eyes were moving around the entry hall. Portraits on the wall were scrutinized, centuries old furniture touched and caressed. Vin stood stock still, staring up three stories. Each level of the house had a balcony that opened and overlooked the entry hall and tapestries hung from the railings.
"Master Vincent? This way sir and we'll get you settled in." Vin stepped forward, following Malcolm toward the stairway at the end of the entry hall. He glanced at the portraits along the way, faces from ages ago, growing progressively more modern looking as they drew closer to the stairs. Vin stopped suddenly to study the last portrait. It was obviously the most recent of the collection. Looking back at Vin were eyes the color of his own, the nose similar, the jaw line so close to the same as to be eerie. Chris joined him.
"Master William," Malcolm said then began climbing the stairs. "He had that painted twenty years ago."
"You all right?" Chris asked quietly. Vin nodded then followed Malcolm upward; his friends trailing behind as each paused long enough to look at the portrait of Vin's father.
The room Vin was given overlooked the ocean. The furnishings were old, the wood dark but well polished. A huge stone fireplace took up a good part of one wall. The bed, located directly across from the fireplace for warmth, was a four-poster with a feather tick mattress, the bedside chairs heavy wood. Light came from lantern-looking sconces on the wall and heavy drapes puddled along the floor. Behind a screen, between the fireplace and outside wall, was a massive metal bathtub. Toilet facilities were located behind a door hidden by the screen.
Vin was standing at the window, trying to shake the feeling of being watched, when Chris knocked then entered. The sky outside was gray and a light mist had begun, matching Vin's mood.
Vin turned away, moving further into the room, meeting Chris half way.
"It's all so unreal There's no way this kin be happenin."
"But it is Pard. This is the Tanner family home."
"Some home. More like a museum. And I feel like Im on display."
"Well, you can learn a lot in a museum. Like the answers to all those questions you grew up wondering about. Who your father was, what your family was like. This place has all the answers to your heritage."
Vin looked up, meeting Chris' green eyes. One side of his mouth curled up in a half smile. "Yer right. Want ta come explore with me?"
"Thought you'd never ask."
The two men made their way down the stairs from their rooms on the third floor to the main floor. They had been told that the very bottom floor was used as storage. Vin stopped once more to study the portrait of his father, then moved on. The friends studied each portrait they came to, entered the few rooms along the way- a pantry of sorts, an office- and looked it over. They found the dining room, where a woman in a maid's uniform was setting the table.
"Gentlemen, welcome to Woodhaven Manor," the woman said demurely, stopping her work.
"Thank you, ma'am," Vin answered.
"Luncheon will be served in five minutes. Might I get you anything in the mean time?"
"No thanks," Chris replied. "We'll get the others." They began to walk out of the room when Chris paused. "I'm sorry, we didn't catch your name."
"Monica, my name's Chris. Chris Larabee. This is Vin Tanner."
"Master Vincent? I should have known. You resemble your father."
"Could ya jest call me Vin? I ain't used ta this Master and Mister stuff."
"Why Master Vincent, that wouldn't be proper!"
"Could ya try?"
"Well I'll ask Malcolm and see if he would approve "
"Monica? Are there guests here right now?" Chris asked.
"Good." Chris grinned at Vin, who nodded understanding, a grin of his own splitting his face. The sharpshooter stepped out into the entry hall, placed two fingers to his lips and let loose a piercing whistle. The noise echoed throughout the hall, bouncing off the walls. Moments later the two men could hear the sounds of their friends as they left their rooms and made their way to the stairs.
It also drew the perplexed attention of Fitzsimmons and Malcolm, who stepped out of a room further down the hall, uncertain of what had caused the noise.
"Jest callin' my friends fer lunch." Vin shrugged at them. Chris grinned. Vins sense of humor was back. "Shall we head in? Avery nice woman name a Monica said lunch is about ready."
It was all Buck could do to keep from laughing at the expression on the two Englishmen's faces as he reached the bottom step. He decided to play along.
"Well what more can a man ask for a very nice woman named Monica and strapping on the ole feedbag. A match made in heaven."
"Now Buck, you shouldn't think about taking advantage of the women here. I mean, it's only a little ways into town. Maybe you ought to use your animal maggotism there instead of on the women that work here." JD said from Buck's side.
"Thats magnetism, JD." Josiah and Nathan just laughed as Buck took a careful swipe at JD's head.
"You'll have to forgive my friends," Ezra said as he descended the stairs, checking his manicure as he did. "They're heathens, each and every one of them. Now, did I hear that the noon repast is being served?"
The men trooped through the large arched entrance into the dining hall. Each took the time to look around. The hall was massive, the walls solid stone with tapestries hanging on each. There were fireplaces on each end with huge paintings hanging above. A massive table sat in the middle of the room and a banquet sat along the wall nearest what must be a door to the kitchen area. As the men mingled about, Monica appeared through the doorway with platters of food. Almost immediately Josiah and Nathan took the platters from her.
"But but sirs this isn't proper!"
"Ah hell ma'am, we aren't guests. Why, we're practically family!" Buck exclaimed.
"I well I "
"It's all right Monica," Fitzsimmons said as he entered the room. "Please continue what you were doing. If Master Vincent's friends wish to help, it's fine. Gentlemen, please take a seat. Master Vincent, you should take the seat at the head of the table."
Vin stopped where he was pulling out a chair between Chris and Ezra. He looked around the table, then reluctantly moved to the head as instructed, pulling out the heavy wooden chair.
"Mr. Fitzsimmons, my name is Vin. Ain't never been called Master'n only Ezra here calls me Mister. I ain't comfortable being called Master Vincent."
"It would not be appropriate for the servants to address the heir to the manor in such a familiar manner."
Vin just sighed as he accepted a platter of meat from Chris. If he couldn't get them to change then he figured he could put up with it for the few days he'd be here.
"When exactly is the reading of the will?" Ezra asked as he helped himself to a serving of potatoes.
"In two days. This evening the cousins will come to get acquainted."
"Cousins? I have cousins?"
"Oh yes. Two, who are, in truth, your father's cousins. One acts as the family historian. The other helps out here by booking guests and the like. They have five children between them. I believe they will all be here."
"Any other family members you ain't told me about?" Vin asked as he took a bite of thick bread.
"Well, there is your grandmother I suppose."
Nathan stood and pounded Vin on the back as the younger man choked on the food.
"Grandmother?" he coughed out when he could catch his breath.
"Yes, well she hasn't exactly been here of late. In fact, it's been at least twenty-five years. She moved to Paris before your grandfather passed on. We, of course, notified her on the death of your father and again when we knew you would be coming. But I wouldn't expect her to come."
Vin tried to shake off the knowledge that the whole time he bounced from foster home to foster home, hed had living family members. His appetite lost, Vin pushed his plate away, waiting until the others were done and tea had been served.
The meal finished, Ezra, Nathan, and Josiah headed to the library to explore the many books there while Chris, JD, Buck and Vin went outside. They moved along the front of the Great Hall heading down the greater bailey towards the shorter stone wall. As they neared the corner of the Hall a man dressed in tweed and carrying a rifle rounded the corner. Four guns were immediately trained on him.
"Dont shoot!" the man said as he dropped the field dressed rabbits he had gathered in one hand. His hands and the rifle immediately went into the air.
"Who are you?" Buck asked, none of the men taking their eyes off the man.
"Names Maurice Bennet. Im groundskeeper here. And you are ?"
"Gentlemen? Its all right. He is an employee here," Fitzsimmons voice was heard from behind them. With a degree of caution the men lowered their weapons, slipping them back into holsters. "Maurice, this is Master Tanner and his friends. Perhaps you could show them around the grounds?"
"Certainly, Master Fitzsimmons. I would be more than happy to do so. Let me take these to Cook and Ill be right out. Pardon me, Master Tanner, gentlemen."
"Maurice has been with the family since he was a child. His father was groundskeeper before him. Im certain he knows more about this land than Master William did," Fitzsimmons said as the man walked away.
"Can we go into those towers?" JD asked, his excitement at exploring a castle barely contained.
"One or two are still safe. Maurice will be able to tell you better." Fitzsimmons gestured across the bailey to a shorter building. "Those are the stables. Beyond is the Lesser Bailey. Maurice will explain it to you more fully," he added as the groundskeeper returned.
"This way gentlemen," and with that Maurice lead them off on a tour.
The four men spent the balance of the afternoon with Maurice Bennet, wandering over the grounds. They explored the stables and climbed the towers, walking along the balustrade where soldiers would position themselves in defense of the castle, and ending up walking through the wooded grounds on one side of the castle, then down along the beach, before returning to the Great Hall to prepare for the evening meal.
Ezra entered the room to see Vin standing before a mirror, fighting with the tie Ezra had loaned him. Vin caught sight of his visitor in the reflection. "Aw hell, Ez, this just aint me," he said, pulling the tie from around his neck and tossing it on the bed. "Theyre jest gonna have ta take me as I am."
Ezra looked Vin up and down, taking in the pressed tan pants, tan jacket and deep sapphire blue shirt. "Mr. Tanner, the man I see before me is more than suitable. But perhaps this is more to your liking." Ezra produced a gem button cover, which he fastened over the button at the neck of Vins shirt. "Yes," Ezra said, "This is much more your style. Shall we?" and he motioned toward the door, just as Chris opened it.
Chris looked at the two men and smiled as Vin fidgeted under his gaze. "You clean up real nice, Cowboy."
"Rather be in my jeans n boots."
"I have to admit, I would be too," Chris said. "You ready for this?"
"Too bad. Come on, the boys are waiting outside." Chris turned and opened the door, allowing Vin and Ezra to exit before following them out into the hall. The rest of the team waited there for them, each dressed in a suit or jackets and slacks. Waiting a moment to see if Vin took the lead, Chris started for the stairs, with Vin hanging back comfortably behind him. As he reached the top of the stairs, he moved aside, forcing Vin to take the lead of their group. Chris thought it looked as though Vin were walking to his execution as they all moved down the stairs and noise from the library could be heard.
As they reached the bottom of the stairs, the men fanned out around Vin, herding him toward the library doorway. Vin stepped into the doorway, and immediately stepped back again, bumping into the mountain that was Josiah who was blocking his means of escape. The once buzzing room grew immediately silent with his appearance as all eyes turned to stare at the men
"Master Tanner," Fitzsimmons said, coming up to Vin and taking his arm. "Please, allow me to make introductions." And with that he whisked Vin off and into the throng of people.
"Gentlemen, would anyone like to place a wager on how long it will be before Mr. Tanner manages to escape all these well meaning relatives?" Ezra asked as he observed one over fifty woman after another pat Vins cheek, stroke his arm, or oooh and aww over his Tanner blue eyes.
"Ill take a piece of that."
The men could do little more than watch and mingle as their friend endured what each man knew was akin to torture for the young man. Vins presence was demanded by one well-meaning relative after another with Fitzsimmons supplying names and family history for each person. Even when the evening meal was announced, Vin could not find a way to return to the security of his friends, as Fitzsimmons escorted Vin and the group into the dining hall, making sure that Vin took the seat at the head of the table and settling himself to Vins right. Chris managed to slip into the seat to Vins left and received a grateful smile from Vin for the effort. Ezra snagged the seat next to Fitzsimmons, in hopes of distracting the lawyer and any relative so that Vin might have a few moments peace.
The meal was served and Vin made an attempt at eating, watching Ezra to know which of the many eating utensils before him to use. Once the evening meal was complete, Vin found himself once more in the library, where brandy and tea was served. After trying to make conversation for the next two hours, Vin was finally relieved to see the relatives begin to leave.
After showing the last of the relatives out, Fitzsimmons returned to the library to see a worn out looking Vin slumped into a chair, his friends taking positions around him and Chris handing him a glass of what looked to be whiskey, which Vin downed in one swallow. Then the young man stood and walked past the lawyer muttering, "Im goin ta bed," as he passed, the others close on his heels.
Vins eyes popped open. Without moving he carefully scanned the room, looking for the source of whatever it had been that had awakened him. Finding nothing, he shifted in the bed, propping one arm behind his head and studied the fire burning low in the hearth. He couldnt get over the feeling that someone was watching him. This had been the third time this night he had awakened suddenly. With a sigh, he settled in once more, hoping to drift off to sleep, contributing his uneasiness to unfamiliar sounds of a settling building.
Morning found a very tired looking Vin slouched in a chair in the dining hall with a cup of strong black coffee in hand as his friends entered for breakfast. Chris stopped and poured a cup of coffee before taking a seat next to Vin.
"You sleep at all last night?" he asked softly.
" Nough I reckon."
"Doesnt look like enough to me. Whats up?"
Vin shrugged. "Kept hearin noises. Felt like someone was watchin me. Must be the different sounds here." Vin forced a smile as a plate of eggs with a hollandaise sauce and sausages were placed before him. A bowl of thick porridge was placed next to it, already topped with milk and honey.
"Could be," Chris agreed as a similar meal was placed in front of him. The other five men took seats and their meals were brought to them. "So what needs done today?" Chris asked as he took a bite of food.
"I guess one a the cousins is comin back. She wants ta tell me about the family history er somethin. N Fitzsimmons says we need ta start goin over the books. Was hopin ya might be there fer that Ez."
"Fitzsimmons said he could have Bennet take yall inta town today if ya wanted. Or theres some horses in the stable. But the saddles is them fancy English ones."
"I heard tell there was an old Abbey within walking distance. I thought maybe Id go over and take a look around," Josiah said between sips of coffee.
"Town sounds good to me. What do ya think JD?"
"I think the women in town better look out!"
"Nathan?" Chris asked.
"Figured maybe I better go with the two children. Protect the town."
Vin couldnt shake the feeling of being watched. He was alone for the first time since breakfast, waiting in the library for the others to return. Fitzsimmons had taken a business call in the office, Ezra had gone in search of tea and Chris had gone up to his room to retrieve some aspirin for the headache he knew Vin had to have. After spending three hours going over financial records he had one and was certain that Vin must also.
Vin moved up and down the rows of books, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end the whole time. At one point he even turned suddenly, swearing he had caught some movement out of the corner of his eye. But there was nothing there. Shivering despite the warmth of the nearby fire, Vin turned back to looking over the titles of the books until the other men returned and they continued going over records.
The evening meal went on without incident. Buck and JD told tales of their trip to town, JD speculating on some of the ghost stories he had heard in the local tavern, Josiah sat quietly, at peace after his trip to the Abbey and Ezra tried to explain some of the details of the Manors financials in laymens terms to a tuned out Vin. After the meal the men retired to the library and tried to find things to keep them occupied until bedtime. Josiah and Nathan began a chess game while Ezra enticed the others into a round of poker. Vin played half heartedly, his eyes constantly studying the walls and windows, certain that someone was watching.
Maybe it was one of JDs ghosts.
Vin ran practiced hands over wall panels and along baseboards. He wasnt sure what he was looking for, he just knew he was looking for something.
He had awoken for the third time that night, feeling eyes on him. He had finally given up trying to return to sleep and had begun searching the room.
Nothing. Maybe there really were ghosts.
Vin was awake with the birds, dressed and needing some air. Slipping out of the Hall as quietly as possible, he headed down to the beach for a long run. The mists still enshrouded the sandy beach and Vin breathed in deeply of the moist air. This wasnt like running in Denver.
An hour later he was back inside the Great Hall. He looked into the dining room as he went past and saw his friends already sitting down for breakfast.
"Vin? Everything okay?" Chris asked, moving towards the doorway, noting the dark circles forming under his friends eyes.
"Yeah. Jest needed a run. Ill go wash up. Be back down in jest a few."
Chris nodded and watched his friend run up the stairs.
"Hes not sleepin well is he?" Nathan said from behind him. Chris answered with a shake of his head. "Hell crash soon."
"Yeah, he always does," Chris replied, then took his seat at the breakfast table.
Meanwhile Vin entered his room, stripping off the damp sweatshirt before the door even closed behind him. But a slight sound had him stopping in his tracks. He was positive he had heard a click, like a latch falling into place, that hadnt come from the door he had just entered the room from. Tossing the shirt aside, his eyes scanned the room.
Methodically he searched the room, checking under the bed and in the water closet.
Shaking his head he ran water for a hot bath, hoping the others werent waiting breakfast on him.
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