He growled at the defiant light in her eyes and all at once the sound of every door and window locking sounded in the spacious hotel room. He bent down to kiss her firmly and before their lips could separate, he was gone.
It wasn't exactly a lie that he'd known the man who haunted the castle. Eons ago, it seemed, he served his own two hundred years in this place. The thing needed work. He rolled up his sleeves and got to it, stacking the brick walls back into place and modernizing everything from the heat to the lighting to the furniture.
He left much of the gothic charm of the place. Tapestries were hung and restored of unicorns, massive serpents, the lady of the house. He flipped the latter off as he walked by, half expecting her to criticize his work from the portrait. It took two days, but he was finally satisfied that the place was livable. Most of her new clothes were summoned at one point and they hung neatly in his wife's new wardrobe in the West wing.
Now, to convince her to come home.
Two days. That smarmy bastard left her locked up in this pretty, gilded cage for two days. All she could access was the bathroom and the main room. The halls and elevator were off-limits. Anything she ordered over the phone for room service appeared on a silver tray at the table without anyone ever coming to knock and deliver. If ever she lifted the phone from the receiver with intent to call the front desk to conduct a rescue mission, it was as though the line could read her thoughts and went dead before she ever got the chance to utter help.
She was incensed. Outraged. Lydia had half a mind to throw everything he gave her in the jacuzzi out of sheer spite– or better yet, out the window. In the end, she was glad she didn't. Otherwise, the only entertainment she would have had was the television. Still, she didn't need any of this shit. She didn't need a structured roof over her head or fun toys. She definitely didn't need him.
Toward the end of the first day, all of her new clothes up and disappeared, leaving her with the Morticia gown, several terry cloth robes, and the defunct items squashed into her backpack to wear. Maybe the laptop and camera would simply poof away, too. Maybe the entire goddamn hotel would just disintegrate beneath her feet until she splattered on the concrete below.
He couldn't tell when he came back, but she was pissed. Solitary isolation sometimes had that effect on people. The reason he couldn't tell was that she was asleep; nestled dead center in the large bed that encompassed their honeymoon suite, every muscle lax and sweet, seemingly without a care in the world.
He was somewhat relieved that she was asleep when he got back, dozing peacefully and sweet in the king bed as though he'd never left.
He kicked off his boots and delicately climbed in behind her, wrapping his arm around her waist to gently kiss her awake. He started with her shoulder, working his way up her neck until he could nuzzle in behind her ear, humming softly.
"Wake up, beautiful. I'm sure sorry I was gone so long, but the keep was in worse condition than I thought. Had to make sure it was ready for ya. How ya feelin', hmm? You're so warm… 's nice…."
A gritty male voice delved through the haze to drag her back to consciousness, bites of cold in the form of soft kisses dappled across her shoulder and neck aiding him in this endeavor. As soon as she was back to a semi-cognizant state and aware of her surroundings, any peace or tranquility vanished with the scowl she aimed over her shoulder at his too-happy face.
Ignoring what he had to say completely, she turned back around to bury her face and neck beneath a pillow and guard the sensitive flesh against his frigid touch.
"And you're cold."
Apparently, Lydia didn't give a good God damn about his work in Ireland, still sore that he'd locked her up here for so long.
"You don't get to tell me where I can and can't go."
She didn't waste any time in correcting him on his bullshit, her tone riding the natural morning aggression of the average individual who was woken rudely and prematurely.
"You don't get to just lock me in a room and disappear for days. I won't... I won't stay if you treat me like that. I'll run away."
Oh. So she was mad.
"I'm sorry, babes. Promise it won't happen again. I'll tell ya exactly how long I think I'll be gone and then you'll know."
He glazed over the "trapped in a room" part, not wanting to promise too much that he couldn't follow through on.
"Come on, kitten… look at me. Just for a second… I missed those big beautiful eyes."
He rubbed her back in slow, gentle circles. If she was anything like the other women he'd known it would take her hours to be ready to leave. He checked one of his watches. Morning. A steaming cup of coffee appeared on the nightstand closest to her, the aroma floating invitingly through the room.
"Yer clothes are all set up in yer closet back in Cork. Wanna go see it?"
She never could hold a grudge.
Lydia was sharp, but not enough to notice the way he pointedly avoided acknowledging that he locked her up like a criminal. All she heard was an apology floating amidst a sea of pretty compliments. It had been a lonely two days. Her better senses were dulled by the pull of physical and emotional comfort he promised.
All senses except smell. His petting drew her out from the blanket long enough to let him hug and kiss on her properly, but the scent of the coffee pulled her crawling to the other side of the large bed where the liquid gold sat steaming.
"Cork is a silly name for a town," she announced not judgmentally, musing into her coffee. "Not as romantic as Winter River."
It wasn't a no.
"Why are you banned from Japan? What did you do?"
Again, without any disdain or judgment, she called it like she saw it with cold, innocent honesty.
"You're a bad man. You've killed people. What else have you done?"
"Japan? Ya don't wanna know."
He followed her, crawling after her to settle her on one knee with her coffee. He kept up the circles on her back, keeping a close eye on her in case she lashed out for any reason. She had been a two-sided coin since he brought her here.
You're a bad man.
That much was true. He hadn't been a good man even in life. What had he done? What hadn't he? It was a complicated question, and not one he was ready to answer here.
"Again. Ya don't wanna know."
He kissed her cheek gently. "Come on, kid. Let's go check out yer new castle. A palace for my princess."
Full of nothing but suspicion, she glared at his nickname and the things he was saying. Princess. She wanted to cut his throat. This was the con, wasn't it? He was going to take her off to this fort she couldn't remember the name of and therefore couldn't google, and it was going to be remodeled completely in pastels.
"So you just get to know everything about me for no logical reason, and I don't get to know anything about you?"
For the time being, she tolerated his closeness, but he was being unfair.
"By the way, why is it you know everything about me?"
If this question was brushed off as well, he would have a temper tantrum on his hands. But for now, she was calm, placated by gourmet coffee and his rhythmic petting.
"You can know about me. Just gotta ask more specific questions."
He nuzzled into her hair, breathing deep. He had missed her, which was strange and new territory for him. He never missed people. There was no time to dwell on it.
"Why do I know about ya? Let's see…. could have somethin' to do with bein' trapped in yer attic for almost a year. Could have to do with ya bein' my wife…. take yer pick."
He was quickly getting tired of her brattiness. It was cute at first, but she needed to remember who was in charge.
"Finish yer coffee and we're goin' home."
A year? A whole year?! Suddenly, two days didn't seem that bad. Being trapped in that little plastic town for that long, no one's company but his own was unimaginable. Guilty over the fit she'd thrown, suddenly less righteous, she retreated into her coffee at the revelation, drinking even faster when he ordered her to do so.
After the guilt was good and settled in her gut, a heavy wave of shame crashed down to join it when she remembered how many times she used to retreat to that room in particular. Comforted by what she had thought was solitude, she escaped up there for anything and everything; reading, singing, dancing, photography, whatever fleeting impulse nagged at her.
He had seen so much. He saw… God, he saw when she read Macbeth aloud, start to finish, playing every character... with feeling. Her cheeks could not have been any redder.
"I'm ready," she swallowed, feeling even warmer from the speedy coffee intake.
With the words leaving her mouth, they were gone. The couple and all of Lydia's belongings were transported to the scene of his hard work, the devices and such banished to her chambers while he took her arm out on the front path.
It was just barely mid-afternoon in Ireland, the sun high and bright sparkling over the sea that crashed against the cliffs beneath their property. Gulls and other seabirds were chatting loudly as they flitted about over the water, the light catching on the ends of their wings.
There was a border of red rosebushes lining the front walkway, their vines and branches so entangled with time that it was impossible to tell just how many bushes had started out. They'd climbed up an arched trellis, providing shade from the hot sun.
He brought her hand up to his lips and kissed the back of it gently. "Well? Go on. Have fun exploring."
Finally, the way he had been wanting it to, her breath caught in her throat. It was far too lovely. He wasn't just fucking with her when he called this place a palace. The only kingdoms she had ever seen were made of concrete and steel. This was a monument of marble and cobblestone, ancient and all-commanding in its beauty.
The nightgown he left for her, slept in once‒ she slept naked the first night in a ploy to tempt him to return‒ was beyond common things like wrinkles. It flowed along like ink in water as she followed the path, Betelgeuse trailing just behind her like la bete giving la belle the very first tour of her prison.
Despite the bright sunlight, it was cold in Ireland this time of year, painting her snowy cheeks pink as she hurried along the path of rebelliously healthy blooming roses. The closer she got to the entrance, the larger she realized this place really was. This wasn't even the main entrance! This was a courtyard on the side of the castle, the double doors leading inside actually light enough for her to handle pushing one of them open.
They were meant to be attended to by guards, after all.
He smiled as she took in the sights of her new home, her cheeks a pretty shade of pink that nearly matched the roses. Appearing on the other side of the door when she pushed it, he held it open for her and waving her through like a valet.
"M'lady. Welcome home."
He chuckled to himself, pleased with the reaction he garnered from his little wife. Kissing her cheek as she passed, he wrapped his arm around her waist as they ventured further into the palace. They had entered onto the corridor for the West Wing, the area he carefully maintained to be used by Lydia exclusively. There was a sweeping staircase to the left and heavy oak doors to the right.
He pulled her there, grinning as he pushed open the doors to her private library and parlor. "Tah dah!"
There was a portrait hanging over the fireplace, the former Lady of the Manor. She was dressed in the style of a long-gone century, a squared-off neckline gown embroidered heavily in green and silver was topped by a French mantle, her hair hidden from view.
He remembered it well, though. It was long and fiery red. He pointed at it with a soft smile. "That is Saoirse Miriam Betelgeuse. She was the one who had this place built."
He smiled and patted her back gently. "My grandmother. She was an incredible woman. You'd have loved her."
Not quite able to believe that this palace was her "home", Lydia allowed him to guide her this way and that, jaw slack as her mind tried to imprint each exquisite detail that crossed her gaze.
"This place is enormous, Betelgeuse…"
Forgetting herself, she slipped up and said his name, but if he was saying it, everything must have been copasetic on that front. Just once was probably okay.
"I could haunt here for two-hundred years and I'd never see every room."
After this library, she didn't need to see any more rooms. It was dark and medieval, the books filed away in polished wooden cabinets with intricately carved metal grating over the doors to allow colorful spines to peek through. The only windows in the room were up high toward the ceiling, stained glass shading any incoming light in cool hues that contrasted with the lush, vividly red seating lining the center of the hall.
The tables and desks were every bit as lovely as the bookshelves, made of the same type of wood with matching iron detailing on the corners and feet. This was a room where important meetings were meant to take place, classes taught, great learning accomplished– not a hangout spot for an immature teenage brat to read fairytales.
Lydia felt quite small indeed, even more so under the tapestry of his powerful grandmother. This wasn't just some random castle he had bullied the inhabitants out of. This was his castle, in name and propriety, likely the place he was born and raised. Why had she assumed he came from the gutter?
It was probably all the mold.
He smiled and nodded.
"She was my favorite person in the world."
Memories of his childhood floated around for a moment. His grandmother was only thirty-six when he was born, and thus had plenty of energy to keep up with her grandson. She had been the one person he trusted as his world changed. He rubbed Lydia's back in the slow, comforting circles he'd picked up and looked between the two women with a smile.
"She passed when I was sixteen. She was old for the time, but her hair was still mostly red when she passed. I remember that… She was a spitfire for sure."
He pulled her out of the study and toward the bedchambers connected to the library by a servant's corridor which he showed her how to open out of the molding in her bedroom wall.
"These connect the whole house. I used to sneak through them to visit Nana, n' later visit the girls who came t'stay with my Ma for finishin' school."
He chuckled and went to the wardrobe. "All yer clothes are here, n' the jewelry in the jewelry box is some I got fer you n' some that's been in my family. Ya don't gotta wear any of it, o'course, but…"
It was odd seeing this side of him. He was surprisingly human, not just a striped monstrosity spat out of Hell's asscrack.
Secret doors. Lydia was enchanted. Who knew how many fun little hidey-holes there were to explore in this place? It would be easy to get lost. They had only been walking around for a few minutes and she had already forgotten how to get back to the courtyard.
The bedroom which was to be hers was just as cultivated to her style as the clothing was, with a massive bed propped up on a pedestal several steps above the rest of the room. Its pillows and dressings were all in pristine white crushed velvet and satin melting into a frame of dark, polished wood. Black gossamer curtains were suspended from each poster, providing a luxurious, sheer contrast to the purity of the sheets.
Cold cobblestone made up the rest of the floor, but the steps leading up to the bed area were covered with cozy cream carpet that was impossibly deep and lush on her still-bare feet. There was a fireplace in this room too, its design appropriately matching the rest of the decor, unique from the one in the library. A set of curtained glass French doors led out to a spacious balcony, while another set of wooden French doors brought them to a walk-in closet that housed the clothing and jewelry he was currently showcasing.
Throughout the tour, Lydia remained mostly silent, awed by the grandiosity. This was more opulence that she had ever seen at once, even when she was living the life of a spoiled Manhattanite Princess.
"I'll wear it," she promised as he held up a stunning antique cameo loose in the box of treasures. It would look lovely attached to a lace choker.
"Who were you?" She asked in the past tense, as he certainly wasn't this castle-dwelling princely figure anymore. "Were you really important? Like a Lord? Is your name in a history book somewhere?"
"I was Lutheran. Know that. Definitely remember that… the Holy Roman came and wiped us out. That's how I ended up Stateside."
He ran his hand up the bedpost and shrugged. "Think I'm on a census. Charles was King when I was alive n' workin', I know that, too. 'Bout all I got for ya, kid."
He sighed and forced a smile. "This place was still in the family. Great-great-somethin' nephew. He didn't even realize the deed was gone. Eighty-eight. Cancer. His kids were gonna sell it anyway… can you imagine?"
"You have living descendants?"
It made sense but was still strange to think about. It was even stranger thinking about what it might be like to actually want to sell this palace. If this was hers, she would never let it go.
It was hers, wasn't it? At least half.
"I like my room."
Bashful, she tugged at a wavy lock of hair fallen over her shoulder, still unsure at how she was supposed to behave in response to all these gifts and luxuries. The new laptop and camera were sitting atop a coffee table in the sitting area near the fireplace.
"Show me the rest! I want to see it all, until I can't walk anymore. Where's your room? Do you have one? Since you don't need sleep? I guess that's no reason to not have a bedroom…"
He chuckled at her sudden excitement. He wrapped his arm around her waist once more and kissed her cheek.
"I like seein' ya this happy, Lyds. Makes me almost happy."
He led her to another servant's exit beside her wardrobe. With two rights and a left, they were opening another door onto the master bedroom. He hadn't bothered with fixing up his own chambers. Someone had come through and cleaned since after he died but probably not since. There was a large four-post bed with deep emerald drapes tied back to reveal the bare feather mattress.
The wardrobe was missing a door. He'd looked it up. It was in a museum somewhere, sold to them by a generous benefactor. He suspected the nephew, or else his parents. Surprisingly, his arms were still there. A collection of swords hanging from the wall in a neat line.
"This is it. Ain't much to look at. Think some of my underwear's still in the wardrobe, but bear in mind that just means the shirts. We didn't fuck with panties or boxers in my day. You could just hike a skirt, drop trou, n' get to work. Good times."
There was a potential for majesty in this room, but it was in obvious disrepair, dusty and misused. Perfect for her unhygienic husband. It seemed a touch larger than her room, but that might have been because his was bereft of furniture. The swords made her "ooooh" and reach out to touch, swiping a dainty finger across the dusty, flat surface of the blade.
Still energized, Lydia flitted away once her curiosity was sated; peaking through a random door to find his bathing chamber, then another that led to an unexplored towering hall.
"Which way is the kitchen? I love cooking. Is it enormous and full of everything? Like the ones in movies? Big enough to cook a feast?"
The idea of having a kitchen that impressive at her disposal was supremely attractive, even though she knew she would never use it at its full capacity. The stone floors were cold on her still bare feet, and she tugged at his sleeve when he caught up to request very politely;
"Uhm, BJ? You know the thing you do where you just make stuff poof out of nowhere? Would you poof me some slippers, please? It's cold."
He chuckled as she bounced around the room. He could get her slippers…. or…
He scooped her up and onto his shoulder, settling her skinny hip in the curve of his neck. The requested slippers were summoned, though he made no move to set her down as he headed for the kitchens. He wandered down the required staircase and as soon as they entered a fire sprang to life in the massive fireplace. There was a spit hanging over it and ancient iron kettles waiting to boil.
"Here's yer kitchen, babes. Not much to it. Tables. A pantry. That's it…"
Lydia squeaked when he elevated her through the air so suddenly, but settled easily as he began walking at a faster pace than she possibly could with his long stride. The ride was made more comfortable by the plush fuzzy cat slippers he materialized around her cold feet.
Not much to it.
Was he blind?! Immediately, she wriggled down from his shoulder to explore and touch things in this room as well. Lydia had never seen a kitchen with a fireplace in her life! Only in movies. One wall held all manner of different types of pots and pans hanging up, polished copper gleaming as though it had never been used. There was a smaller fireplace that serviced a brick oven connected to the larger one, shelves and shelves and shelves of seasonings above a stove with a dozen burners and then some, wooden barrels and burlap sacks filling up the pantry with mystery goods– likely flour and other staples.
Not a single package of Ramen to be found.
Several hanging planters were suspended before a large window above a farm-sized double sink, flourishing herbs growing out past the lip just as healthy and robust as the roses in the courtyard. She reached up to tear off a sprig of rosemary, just for the pleasure of smelling it and imagining all the different meals she could cook here.
"It's amazing. What's your favorite meal? I'm going to cook it whenever I get the chance. I'm a good cook, so I promise it won't be bad."
"I don't eat, kid. Remember?"
He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly as she thrilled over the kitchen. Maybe he should have started to tour here. She seemed enamored by all of it. He picked himself a sprig of mint and popped it into his mouth to chew on, settling in a stool near the door that led out to the vegetable garden.
"My favorite meal's gonna be the one my wife cooks for me. How 'bout that? I do like savory pies though. Pasties, steak 'n ale pie… Shepherds. Any o' those." He opened the door and gestured her close. "C'mere and lemme carry ya through this next part. Don't want yer slippers gettin' dirty…"
There was every imaginable plant out there to cook with. Lettuce, chard, and other greens all shared one raised planter while another was bursting with squash and peppers. The potatoes looked nearly dead from the cold, but he knew there were tubers just waiting for Lydia to dig them up.
A trellis against one of the stone walls boasted thriving pea tendrils on one end and grapes on another. Massive, unattended fruit trees bordered the greenhouse, and he took his time remembering what they all were.
"Apple, Orange, pomegranate… that one's a peach, I think. Lemon. Oh, n' that guy grows pecans."
The room he carried her through to despite her pouting– she was much too excitable and energized to be robbed of the right to walk and explore at her leisure– was a sort of greenhouse with brick walls, a rickety wooden door that led out to an orchard bordering the courtyard, and a pointed glass ceiling. It was designed so that any rainwater would roll down the slides and trickle through slotted gutters to nourish plants growing on the walls while what was leftover was directed through an irrigation system that watered the rest of the garden.
A hose connected to an internal pipe was hung up on the wall near the door, likely in case of a drought. Lydia longed to jump down and inspect the bounty, but his hold on her was tight, and she didn't really want to get her new slippers all muddy. They were cute and warm.
"Pecans!" She bounced on his shoulder as though she was about to hop down and runoff. "I love pecan pie! And peach cobbler! Are you hungry? I'm hungry. Let me cook something!"
He couldn't help the grin that spread over him as she bounced on his shoulder. She was finally getting back to the Lydia he remembered from Connecticut, if not even happier.
"Okay, okay. Ain't really good food in that kitchen so tell me what ya need and I'll poof it."
He walked back to the kitchen and set her on the counter, pressing a kiss to her jaw gently, just because he could.
He left her there to decide on a recipe as he stoked the fire. He'd always dreamed of having a lady restored to this old place. Of course, when he was alive, he imagined a wealthy heiress too finicky to cook her own meals.
As he watched Lydia explore her new domain, he found he didn't mind the change of plans.