Shades of the Past

Free Shades of the Past by Kathleen Kirkwood

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Authors: Kathleen Kirkwood
    It wasn't just that he loved that dear woman, or that it was his place as head of the Marrable family to have done so.  But more, he was the reason she'd lived in self-imposed exile these past years.  It remained an open wound in his heart.  He knew Aunt Gwen had stayed away from Sherringham specifically to keep her distance from him.
    Passing through the twin gatehouses that marked the entrance to Sherringham, Adrian headed along the road that led through Herefordshire's rolling hillside and stretched toward the city.  In the far distance to the west loomed the Black Mountains of Wales.  The sight of their rugged outline jerked his thoughts back to Scotland and to Glengyle.
     Cameron Kincaid was to have joined the fishing party in the Highlands but was delayed at the Yard.  The delay proved providential, however.  For a third time since their disappearance, one of the Marrable jewels had surfaced.  This time the piece appeared not far from the Yard itself, in the posh section of Kensington High Street.  On receiving Cameron's news in Glengyle, Adrian had wired immediately to Lawrence and then departed for London.
    So many wires, he thought grimly—his, Lawrence's, Cameron's, Mrs. Wynters.  It was not surprising they'd crossed, that he'd not received word of his aunt's death for so many days.  He had to accept Lawrence owned no fault in the matter, though a devil in him wished to find a place to lay the blame. 
    Adrian hardened his jaw.  Guilt rode him.  That was at the root of his anger, he knew.  Though he'd tried, he had never gotten a chance to see his aunt again after those fateful days surrounding Olivia's death.
    At the time, Aunt Gwen had been overcome by the tragedy.  She was doubly stricken when he was accused of his viscountess' death, of tampering with her carriage which led to the fiery accident. 
    Had Aunt Gwen heard their violent argument earlier that night?  Did she believe the accusations even for an instant?  But soon, it wasn't Olivia's death alone that shadowed him.  The accusations triggered suspicions about the death of his first wife, Clairissa.
    People believed what they wished, he reflected bitterly, slowing his horse as the road began to wind downward.
    After Olivia's accident and the subsequent investigation surrounding him, Aunt Gwen decided to travel awhile, saying she needed a change after so much distress.  Privately, the doctor agreed.  It would be therapeutic for her to get away from Sherringham where both the viscountesses' tragedies had taken place.
    Adrian gave in to her wishes and increased her personal allowance so she might experience not a moment's worry in that regard.  A maiden lady, thirty some odd years old and seemingly stable, served as her companion.  But, to his understanding, the woman proved shockingly unreliable when she eloped across the Scots border with one of his aunt's poet friends. 
    He learned through his sister that their aunt had found another lady to accompany her, this one younger than her last companion but quite acceptable.  That was Mrs. Vanessa Wynters.  Somehow, he was sure Cissy failed to mention the "Mrs." part.
    Neither he, nor his siblings, expected their aunt to stay away from Sherringham entirely.  But then, hadn't he stayed away as well?  Perhaps they were both fleeing, unable to bear the memories.
    If anything, Sherringham clung to her memories, of that he was sure.  Even last night, as he lay abed in his room for the first time in years, he could still hear Olivia's voice, haranguing him.  Clairissa's too.  Would he never cease to hear her screams?
    Closing upon a sharp bend in the road, Adrian reined in the stallion.
    Dismounting, he walked with the horse to the road's edge, halting at the place where Olivia's carriage had hurtled off the side, tumbling down the ravine and bursting into flames from the lamps and coal heaters. 
    He stood unmoving for a long moment, scanning the rocky landscape below.  Then

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