A Christmas Escape

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Authors: Anne Perry
the volcano’s anger, we should go up and look. If it is safe, we should make our way down to the sea.”
    “How?” Isla asked with a frown. “The pony and trap went back down once it had brought us here.”
    “We will walk, signora
” Stefano answered. “It is not so very far. It will take us a few hours, but we can rest on the way.”
    Isla looked aghast at the idea.
    “We’ll walk together,” Candace said quickly. “We’ll all help one another. Don’t worry…”
    There was a sound of wood banging somewhere above them, and then the hatch opened and daylight shone on the steps. A moment later the hatch closed and they heard feet on the steps.
    “Walker?” Isla rose to her feet, relief flooding her face.
    Charles could not help wondering if she really was pleased to see him, or if she was wise enough to act as if she were. If she failed to show what he considered the appropriate reactions, she might pay for it for a long time. He wondered how anyone endured such a marriage. Perhaps she believed that she had given her word in church, and only death would release her from it.
    But it was not Bailey who reached the bottom of the steps and came into the light of the nearest lantern, it was Quinn, carrying several folded blankets.
    “There are some nasty bits of rock flying around, and some of it is actual lava, hot as hell. Sets fire to the grass.” He sat down a couple of feet away from Isla.
    “Did you see Bailey?” Charles asked him.
    Quinn raised his eyebrows. “I couldn’t find him. I stopped to get these.” He gestured to the blankets with a slight shrug. “I expect he’ll be here any moment.” He dismissed the subject and turned to Stefano. “How long do you think this will go on for? It doesn’t look too bad up there. I suppose you have to be careful; we are more or less your responsibility. I can see that. But surely in an hour or two…” He stopped because another volley of sound cut him off. Even here, as far below the ground as they were, they could hear the noise and feel a tremor in the earth around them as another shower of rocks, or bombs, struck close to where they were.
    Stefano crossed himself and closed his eyes.
    Charles felt deeply sorry for him. It must be one of his worst nightmares, to be stuck in the cellar with a group of frightened and largely thankless guests, while the volcano bombarded his home, the house his ancestors had built, probably been born in and died in. He wondered for an instant if the chickens had gone.
    Stefano rose to his feet. It clearly cost him some effort.
    “What is it?” Quinn demanded. “Can we go out now?”
    “No, Signor Quinn, you cannot,” Stefano replied. “We all stay here until there is no more explosions. Then we will go down to the sea.”
    “Ridiculous!” Quinn said tartly. “You’re making too much of it, man. The cellar is fine. When was the last time it ever caved in, I ask you!”
    “We will go down to the sea,” Stefano repeated, not even looking at Quinn. “Now I must go to find Mr. Bailey. It is not safe up there.” He walked toward the bottom of the cellar steps.
    “Wait!” Charles stood up also. “Do it in half the time with two of us. And it will be safer.”
    “Not very logical,” Quinn commented. “If you go separately, you’re no help, and if you go together, you won’t be any faster.”
    Charles swung round angrily and glared at Quinn. “And if you had brought Bailey down instead of watching him from a distance, it wouldn’t be necessary. Now sit still and shut up!” He followed Stefano up the steps without turning back to see how Quinn had dealt with the verbal attack. Frankly, he did not care.
    Stefano opened the hatch and went out, Charles on his heels.
    Outside he stared around in amazement. The towers of ash in the sky were far larger, billowing as he watched them, growing, roiling as if they were almost solid, great whirlpools, folding in on themselves and then swelling outward again as if

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