A stair creaked under Rosalyn’s foot. She froze, waiting for a door to open and flood the staircase with light. It was then she remembered Cookie had said not to take the backstairs, adding to her nervousness. At the second landing, she could see a line of light under the door and felt around for the handle. Opening it a crack, she saw a well-lit carpeted hallway, and four men standing along the wall holding torches. She ducked back behind the door to calm herself before taking a second look. Slowly peering around the door, she saw no men after all, but arm-shaped brackets holding gas lamps made to look like glowing torches. She wasn’t sure if it was artistic or eerie. However, with eight of these torches lining the walls and a peach-coloured plush carpet, it was nothing like the spooky hallway of her dream.
A stair creaked under Rosalyn’s foot. She froze, waiting for a door to open and flood the staircase with light. It was then she remembered Cookie had said not to take the backstairs, adding to her nervousness. At the second landing, she could see a line of light under the door and felt around for the handle. Opening it a crack, she saw a well-lit carpeted hallway, and four men standing along the wall holding torches. She ducked back behind the door to calm herself before taking a second look. Slowly peering around the door, she saw no men, after all, but arm-shaped brackets holding gas lamps made to look like glowing torches. She wasn’t sure if it was artistic or eerie. However, with eight of these torches lining the walls and a peach-coloured plush carpet, it was nothing like the spooky hallway of her dream.
The door to her left was ajar and she could see only faint light from within. She opened it an inch or two farther and slipped inside. The moon shone feebly through white drapes covering a pair of tall windows on the rear wall of the house. The room was silent and cool and the canopied four poster bed was empty.
She tried the door across the hall, which squeaked slightly. Eyes wide, she looked back over her shoulder and strained to hear footsteps coming to check on the unusual sounds. This room was dark and empty, too, save for a mound of glowing embers in a manteled fireplace, and looked more like an office than a bedroom. A large desk sat before the window and a chaise longue and two chairs were grouped opposite. Leaving the door open in case it squeaked again, she crossed the hall to the third door which opened into a smaller room, with a fire burning in the fireplace that cast a shadowy glow on a high bed, with steps on the left. There was someone in this bed, but it was too high for Rosalyn to see. She crept to the steps and tiptoed up, holding her breath, hoping she wouldn’t startle a light sleeper. At the top, she could see the the lumpy form of a child, and pulling back the covers slightly, she saw the familiar blond head and sleep-flushed cheeks of her little brother. She let out a deep breath and leaned over the bed to hug him and shake him awake. “Jason!” she whispered as loud as she dared. “I’m here! Time to go home.”
“Mmmm,” he moaned.
“Wake up, sleepy,” she said a little louder, right into his ear. “We don’t have much time.”
His eyes stayed firmly shut.
Rosalyn pulled back the blankets. Jason was wearing a pair of long blue and grey striped pyjamas, nothing like his stretchy superhero shirt and shorts he wore at home. She tried to lift him into a sitting position, but he flopped back down like a dead weight. “Come on, Jason!” she urged, frustrated and anxious. “Wake up!”
“Nooo,” he murmured.
She tried again to slide him over toward her so she could carry him downstairs.
“Nooo,” he protested again, without opening his eyes.
Rosalyn lugged Jason’s limp body into a sitting position and was about to try to swing his legs toward her and hoist him over her shoulder when a sneering voice behind her said, “Oh, a visitor, how touching.”
Grabbing Jason to her chest, she half-turned around to see the same young man who had opened the door to Robert leaning agains the door frame and spinning a black revolver in his hand.
“You must be the dear sister we’ve heard so much about. His Excellency’s been hoping you’d pay us a visit. He’s got a plan for your brother, and a quite different one for you,” he smirked.
Eyes on the gun, Rosalyn let Jason’s legs rest on the bed. He weighed a ton. She lowered his warm torso back down on the bed and he sighed and rolled away from her. She slowly turned to face the man barring the door, her heart racing.
He looked back at her, the corners of his mouth curving upward in an unpleasant grin. “Right into our hands,” he said. “We didn’t even have to go looking for you.”
Her mouth so dry she could hardly speak, Rosalyn managed to croak, “What have you done to him?”
“Nothing that would harm one blond hair on his head.”
“Why won’t he wake up?”
“He must be as committed as we are to the success of our plan.” He looked down at the gun in his hand and rubbed his thumb on its smooth black handle. “And, to make sure he had a good night’s sleep before his big day tomorrow, he had a little help.”
A hot swirl of fury erupted in her chest. “You drugged him! How dare you! He’s not your…your pawn!”
The main raised his eyebrows and held the gun at arms’ length, aiming at one of the wooden spindles just to Rosalyn’s left. “Now she’s finally talking,” he approved. “I hoped she at least would wake up. No fun with a passive captive.”
“A captive?” Her voice sounded faint and the blood was ringing in her ears. Where was Robert? Her legs went trembly and she reached for Jason’s hand and sat beside his sleeping body on the high bed. If she couldn’t leave wit him, she would stay with him and wouldn’t let anything or anyone separate them. Her jaw set, she fixed her eyes on the bed covering and tried to ignore the man’s eyes boring into the side of her head.
“That’s more sensible,” he said, still mocking. “You and little brother have a nice reunion and I’ll be back with reinforcements.” He emphasized the last word sarcastically. Rosalyn’s stomach turned over, but she kept looking straight at the white coverlet.
The man closed the door and Rosalyn heard the sharp click of a key turning in the lock. There went that plan, to slip out when he was gone. She should have known he would do something like that. She slid off the bed and tried to open the windows, but whether they were locked or merely too heavy for her to raise, she realized it was no route of escape. Besides, with the height of each storey, it was at least a thirty foot drop to a gravel courtyard below. She perceived a flickering light and a shadowy figure holding a torch waved at her. It ws the young man, not Robert. Her heart sank.
The only other door opened into a closet filled with mens’ jackets and stacks of shoes, reeking of leather, smoke and stale cologne. Even if she could hide in there, the smell was repulsive and they would find her sooner or later, anyway.
She tried the door again, just to be sure. The door knob turned, but she could feel the resistance where the bolt rested firmly in the frame of the door. She felt like the white rats she had seen at the pet store, running from side to side in their glass cages, standing on their hind legs against the corners, sniffing high and low, looking for a weakness in the walls, desperate to get out, small and vulnerable and trapped.
There was to be nothing to do but wait. That was all she’d been able to do the last three days. At least at the Manor and castle she had been waiting in hope, not dread. She climbed back up on the bed and took hold of Jason’s warm hand. Tears slid down her cheeks, but she wiped them away. She did not want that horrible yellow-stockinged man to see her looking weak since she sensed it would whet his appetite for cruelty instead of moving him to compassion.
She wondred if she should shout for Robert, but she couldn’t hear voices from anywhere, above or below. Had he been discovered by the young man, too? Had he realized that their plan had gone completely pear-shaped? Was she unable to hear him because he had been silenced somehow or because he was simply too far away? If she couldn’t hear him, then, would he be able to hear her?
The lock clicked and she jumped. She hadn’t heard anyone coming up the hall. The young man entered, pocketing the key. He patted his other pocket that bulged with the revolver. “Don’t think I left it behind, sister dear.”
Rosalyn moved closer to Jason.
“His Excellency’s going to be so pleased at the present I’m going to offer him.” He was untying a coil of rope hanging over his arm. “But he’ll be so much happier if it comes gift-wrapped, don’t you think?”
Before she could even react, Rosalyn found her arms pinned to her side by a lasso of scratchy rope. She cried out in shock and fear.
“Now do I have to pull you, or will you come to me by yourself?”
Rosalyn struggled to push the rope up her arms, to move her arms away from her body, but the young man pulled the rope tighter and yanked, forcing her to let go of Jason’s hand to keep from falling headlong off the bed.
“Come along. I’ve got the perfect seat for you. Best seat in the house.”
Without her arms for balance and with the unrelenting pulling of the rope, Rosalyn had no choice but to stumble toward the hateful footman or fall smack on her face. He brought her near to him then grabbed her shoulder and pushed her into a hard wooden chair. He wrapped the rope around her several times and secured her hands together behind her back. The rope burned her skin and she tried shifting to relieve the pressure on her ribcage and wrists.
“Hold still,” he said, giving her hair a vicious pull.
She held still. She wanted to say, “Robert is going to rescue me any moment now, you big bully,” but she didn’t know if she even believed it herself. If she sat just so, the ropes didn’t dig in too badly. For an hour or two, she could put up with it and by then Robert and everyone would know that something had gone terribly wrong.
Her captor stood in front of her and whipped a handkerchief out his pocket, flapping it like a grubby white flag. “In the absence of wrapping paper, this will have to do.” He rolled it along the diagonal to make a narrow band. His large hand reached forward and his thumb and middle finger pinched Rosalyn hard under her cheekbones, forcing her jaw open. He pulled the handkerchief across her mouth and knotted it tight.
The cloth instantly dried out her already parched tongue and dug into the sides of her mouth. She tried to say, “It’s too tight!” but could only manage “Aah ooh ai.”
“Any more of that, and I’ll stuff your mouth with my other handkerchief, the dirty one.” He narrowed his eyes appraisingly. “Very nice wrapping job, if I do say so myself. He’ll be delighted.”
Rosalyn’s wrists were stinging, her jaw ached, her throat was so dry she thought it would crack. Furious, she swung her leg out and clipped him in the shin. He stepped back and a cloud of anger passed over his face. Why did I do that, she thought. I’ve probably sealed my doom. She was tied up and he could do whatever he wanted to get back at her. With the gag she couldn’t even pretend to be sorry and say, “My leg slipped.” Her heart raced and legs were trembling uncontrolalbly. She was sure he would retaliate and hurt her even worse than he had already.
But his mouth only curled in contempt. “Lucky for you I don’t hit people who are fixed.” Then, turning to leave, he said, “Well, Present, you’ll just have to wait here until it’s party time.” The key clicked in the lock again, though Rosalyn was sure that was overkill.