“Have you seen Hardy this morning?”
“Lost him again, have ye?” Grant’s mouth twitched in a wry grin, sympathetic with Ellie’s plight. He looked exceptionally tired in the bright light of the dawn, and she assumed he was in pain as well, if the fine trembling of his hand against his thigh was any indication. “He’s always had a habit o’ disappearing without a word.”
“To my everlasting frustration,” Ellie said with a roll of her eyes.
The grin deepened ever so slightly. “He’s not here this morning-- he left with Chelsea earlier.”
“Left? Left where?” The bafflement was clear to be heard, her gaze automatically seeking out the nearest window and its beautiful-- if secluded-- view.
The grin had turned into a full smile now. “It’s Sunday morning,” he said simply. “They left for kirk.”
“Kirk? What’s--? Oh, you mean church.” A beat, and she shook her head, mildly incredulous. “Hardy goes to church? Willingly? Without a suspect to watch for, I mean?”
He chuckled, taking a drink of his tea. It was just the two of them at the moment for breakfast, but Ellie was sure that others would show up-- the house was stirring, and more socializing would begin all too soon. She filled her plate and decided on coffee this morning, feeling the effects of the whisky she had imbibed last night. “Alec has never been one to say no to Chelsea-- what she wants, she gets.” He sat in quiet contemplation for a moment. “Why d’ye insist on calling him by that name, Ellie? He’s a Wallace, through and through-- he’s no a Hardy at all.”
Her gaze was distinctly cool when she met his eye. “I call him that because he insisted on it since the beginning,” she said bluntly. “He put that line down very early on, and I haven’t crossed it-- because that’s what he wants.” She put her cup down on the table with a delicate thump, not looking away from him. “He said specifically he’s never liked the name Alec. Hearing the way William says it, I’m not surprised.”
He colored ever so slightly, a faint flush creeping up his neck, but his face was carefully expressionless-- very much like Hardy himself was when interrogating a suspect. She had seen that same look peering back at her the night she had first dared to ask Hardy about Sandbrook, and it was mildly disconcerting to see it now on his father. Grant was a man holding onto a secret-- a devastating one, or so it seemed to her.
Could it be him who had left the journal in her room? She was prepared to ask him that, but instinct stopped her at the last instant. From all intents and purposes, Grant Wallace had unpersoned his dead wife-- so why would he leave such a personal item for Ellie to purposely find?
“Will and I had words about what had happened last night,” he said now, his expression grim. “He’ll no be so disrespectful again.”
“Good,” she said shortly, in no mood to forgive what Will had said last night. “Because if he disrespects Danny again, I can’t promise I won’t tear into him.”
“That’s what I told him,” he said with a nod. “Ye’re more than capable to do it, and ye’d be in the right.”
She couldn’t help her smirk. “I knew there was a reason I liked you.” Her coffee finished, she started in on the meal, startled by the faint sense of camaraderie she felt with him. “But I suppose he’s safe from me-- as long as he keeps his mouth shut.”
“I’ll let him ken that.” He was silent for a long time then and they finished their respective meals with only the clanking of utensils to accompany them. “Ye realize how rare it is, Ellie?” he asked suddenly, and she paused as she stood from the table. “To find someone who won’t be bought off, or be a friend merely for the sake of friendship? For us, I mean?”
Ellie sat back down carefully, her heart twisting with pity. “I can imagine,” she said simply. “When we were on the train coming here, Hardy, he-- he asked me if he still irked me.” She smiled lopsidedly at his look of startlement. “It’s a bit of an inside joke, I suppose. And he does, and I told him so. Can you imagine how relieved that made him?” She shook her head at the memory. “At the time I just thought it was another one of his quirks, or maybe something to do with his apparent inability to even act human on some days… but then I came here, and saw everything he was born into, and I don’t imagine he had an easy time making true friends at all.”
“He didna tell Tess about his standing until they were marrit, did ye ken?” His own mouth twisted in a wry way. “She wasna happy at all to find he had given it all up-- she’s a proud woman, and no a very generous one at that. I suppose that’s one of the reasons their marriage didna work out.”
“Did you--?” She found she couldn’t finish the question, ashamed at the last second to be so nosy.
“Did I pay her off, then?” he asked bluntly. “That is one small thing in her favor-- she turned me down flat. But a good many of his friends and potential loves did not-- and none of them stayed by his side long after that.”
“Until he moved out, I’m guessing, at which point he had already learned people would be after his money and standing before they would be interested in being truly friends with him.” She shook her head, bemused and disheartened by the realization. “Christ, what a childhood.”
A shadow crossed his face at those words, and Ellie's heart twisted even more realizing the inadvertent insult she had handed him. She couldn’t take them back, though-- Hardy was proof enough about her statement, and her loyalty was to him above anyone else of his family. There was something else, though, some dark shadow in his eyes that had her instincts stretching tight and her detective’s sense raising its head, and began to ask,
“Oh, there ye two are! Everyone else is in the main dining room, and here ye’re sneakin’ quality time!”
The raised voice made Ellie turn more quickly in her seat than normal, and looking round she saw it was a dark-haired woman standing in the doorway, impeccably dressed and looking like she was ready for a photoshoot. She looked vaguely familiar, but Ellie had no idea how having met so many new people the previous night. The woman smiled at her, the red of her lipstick standing out beautifully against the black of her hair and the white of her skin, and thrust out a hand to shake.
“Una McNab,” she said brightly. “We met last night, but only for a moment.”
“Erm-- Ellie Miller.” She shook hands for a moment and saved herself from awkwardness by offering a cuppa, which was graciously accepted. “I met quite a few people last night, I’ll admit, so you’ll have to excuse me if I need my memory refreshed…?”
“Una is Will’s fiance,” Grant said softly, pouring the tea for Ellie to pass over. “They’re to be wed in the spring.”
Now she remembered; Will had begun the party with Una hanging onto his arm, she dressed in a floor-length gown of green silk that shimmered in the light. Owing to her dislike of Will, Ellie had spent the minimum of time saying hello to them both and then made her hasty departure for Hardy’s neutral company. Una had not been anywhere to be seen during her altercation with Will, though, which hadn’t occurred to her until now.
“Oh, I’d had to use the ladies,” Una said when asked about this. She waved a self-deprecating hand as she continued. “I’m afraid that champagne always goes straight through me, I’m off every hour! But I will say,” and here her expression sobered grimly, “that Will and I had words yesterday about it. There’s no need to go after either you or his brother like that-- especially by bringing up that poor boy.”
Ellie wasn’t sure if she felt grateful or annoyed with her, and settled for a generic smile and a murmur in her empty mug; she caught the wry look on Grant’s face as she did so and knew that he was not fooled in the least. “Well, it’s been a pleasure to be reacquainted with you, Una, but I’m going to go and take my dishes to the kitchen--”
“But ye dinna have to do that-- what do ye suppose the servants are here for?”
“Mrs. Miller was raised differently than us, Una,” Grant said hastily, seeing the darkening of Ellie’s expression. “I must say, it’s been refreshing seeing her helping the servants out as much as possible-- so many people forget to do that, aye?”
Una looked at him blankly for a moment. “Oh. Ah- indeed, Grant. I meant no offense, Mrs. Miller--”
“None taken,” she hastened to reassure her. “If you’ll excuse me--”
“If ye’d like the company, I’ll come with ye. I’ve never been to the kitchens before; it sounds rather exciting.”
There was very little less exciting than the kitchens at this time of the day, but Una’s expression was so earnest that Ellie almost laughed. Grant motioned her on with a sharp jerk of his chin, amusement warring with irritation, and she gave in. “All right. Come on then.”
She didn’t think she had ever seen someone so out of place in her life as Una in the kitchens, with her dress and perfect makeup amongst the clean yet plain tables and stoves and still-sooty fireplace. Her high heels clicked against the stone floor dimly as she bent and fawned over the quaintness of her surroundings.
“But there’s so much history here! Can ye even imagine what it was like two hundred, or even three hundred years ago when every meal had to be prepared over the flames? They would have had what plants that could be dried hung up in bunches up here--” and she waved a hand at the low hanging archways, “or stashed away in the root cellar to be used in the winter months. Milk would have been used daily, since they didna have a way to keep it cold for long; ice boxes didna exist until the 1800s, ye ken.”
“I-- didn’t know that, no.” Ellie felt fairly bowled over by the excitable stream of words washing over her; did some people really care so much for such inane detail? Apparently so, because the evidence was standing in front of her gushing over the archways in the ceiling. “So, ah-- what do you do for a living, then, Una?”
Will’s fiancé turned from her excitable talk as if the last few minutes had not happened. “Oh, I’m a museum curator; our focus is on Scottish history, of course, and its differences from the British. So many people only ken about the famous kings and queens-- ye ken, like Henry VIII or Elizabeth I, or Richard III-- and they forget that Scotland has its own long and rich history with our own kings and queens and battles. Most people today still dinna ken much about it; otherwise we would’ve chosen to break from Britain at long last during the independence referendum back in 2014.”
Ellie did remember that happenstance; who in Britain hadn’t been aware of that? She had been tempted to ask Hardy his opinion of it, seeing as it was his nationality voting, but Sandbrook had been distracting enough she never had. Considering the fact that he never showed any sign of being attached at all to Scotland, she doubted he even cared about the vote. “I’m afraid I don’t have much of a head for history,” she said with a self-deprecating smile and a shrug. “I was always more interested in mysteries and forensics.”
May 12th, 1972
Alec held the baby today-- with Grant’s help, of course. He’s such a good older brother right now, so helpful. Seeing the three of them together on the sofa made my heart twist, and I wanted so badly to believe it was with happiness; but I am not a fool, and I know I’m simply resentful. For two years Grant hasn’t given me the time of day but for the occasional moment in bed, or the odd day out without his precious job intervening. And even those are interrupted by someone needing him for his opinion, or his help, and he leaves me with Alec and now Willie too.
Oh well. I suppose I’ve got my revenge-- Alec calls me ‘Mam’ now, and he rarely calls Grant ‘Da’ at all. I’m the most important person in his life, and I will happily brag about that, and Willie will undoubtedly be the same way.
Anyway, I had to leave the room amidst their giggling before I said something I would regret. Not that I wouldn’t mean it, but it would only lead to me and Grant arguing again. What’s happened to the understanding young man I married? He doesn’t care about my visits to the psychiatrist, besides that he doesn’t want it to be heralded in the papers that I’m a basket case, and he frequently rolls his eyes and asks what a pill is supposed to do to help me with my mood swings.
I’ll have to organize a trip to London soon, to go and help with the charities. If I cannot alleviate my own suffering, perhaps I can help others with their own.
Ellie closed the journal with more force than she had intended, deeply uneasy by the direction of Mairi Wallace’s entries. She knew the ending of the woman’s story already but it was entirely different now, since she had had time to get to know her, and pity was building in her chest the farther she got in the book.
She had her own burgeoning suspicions about the circumstances into Mairi’s death, too, which had only deepened with her earlier talk with Grant at breakfast. Seeing as she was too far away from her usual resources to check into anything, though, she would need to call in outside help, and with a deep breath she picked her phone up.
She only had to wait for it to ring once before it was answered. “Hello, petal. How are things in Scotland, then?”
“How did you--? No, never mind, I can guess. How’s the vlogging going, Maggie?”
She heard the dry rasp of Maggie’s laugh; she could picture her sitting in Jocelyn’s living room looking at the incredible view of the beach from the front door. “Oh, better than I could have hoped for. I’ll be going to London in a week to join Jocelyn in celebration, so I’m getting my walking in now. What do you need, then, Ellie?”
She hesitated for a moment, wondering if Hardy would count this as a betrayal. “I need your help looking into a car accident that took place about forty years ago.”
“Oh, a cold case, is it? What’s the name I’m looking for?”
“Not so much a cold case, no, just… something’s not adding up. The woman’s name was Maira Wallace… nee Hardy.” The scratch of pencil on paper stopped abruptly on Maggie’s end of the line, and Ellie took a deep breath.
“Ah,” Maggie said softly. “And does your boss have any idea you’re looking into this?”
“No,” Ellie said shortly, “and anything you learn looking into this remains between us. Anything at all. Let me know when you find something.”
“I’m frankly amazed you allowed Chelsea to drag you anywhere, Hardy.” Smirking now, she outright laughed at the flush that reddened his face. They were once again amidst the bustle of a crowd of the many Wallace relatives, for one last get together before they all dispersed for their own homes, and she was determined to make him as uncomfortable as possible just for the hell of it. “Usually it’s you who strongholds someone into doing what you want.”
“Well, what Chelsea wants, Chelsea gets,” he muttered into his cup; water tonight, or so she thought. His pacemaker had settled the heart arrythmia, but he still watched his alcohol intake and eating habits. Ellie snorted now hearing his response.
“Your dad said exactly the same thing, you know.”
He rolled his eyes at that but didn’t speak. Ellie sighed and decided she would have pity on him.
“Did you know that ice boxes weren’t invented until the late 1800s?”
He side-eyed her like she was something deranged. “No, and I don’t think I care. Where the hell did you pick that piece of information up?”
“Una,” she said simply, and he shook his head.
“Should have known. She talks about useless trivia all the time.” He nodded at a passing cousin, but didn’t speak to them at all; the noise and the press of bodies was wearing at him, and she could see it clearly even if no one else did. Ellie sighed and gave up the game, taking the glass from him.
“Go on and leave, then. You need a break.”
He looked first so taken aback and then so grateful to her she felt a warm glow in the pit of her stomach. He didn’t linger at all, but turned on his heel and left out one of the side doors out into the corridor, and ultimately outside where the sun was setting and the air was cooling from the heat of the day.
Later on, Ellie would try to figure out what instinct it was that made her hesitate for a fraction of an instant, and then follow him. Perhaps it was simply that she had no interest in socializing with his family without him there; maybe it was her detective’s instincts, a thread of tension that she was not consciously aware of but realized it was there. More than anything, though, she thought it was likely the mother’s instinct, awakened by the absence of her own son’s and stirred up from reading Mairi’s troubling journal entries, that urge to protect and look after.
Regardless of reason, as it turned out it was Ellie who ultimately saved his life. Her instincts, already stretched taut to their limits, were enough to follow after him, careful to remain unseen in case he noticed her. It appeared that whatever tension she was feeling had not been wholly her own—as soon as Hardy had walked hallway across to the barns, she saw the slope of his shoulders slump with lost tension. He paused then, hands restlessly opening and closing, head tilted upwards so that he could look up at the open starlit sky; similar posture that she had seen several times during his various trips up and down Dorset’s cliffs. The sight sent an unexpected pang of homesickness shooting through Ellie’s gut, and her breath caught in her throat.
But then the moment passed, and he shook himself free of whatever thoughts were plaguing him. His long legs ate the distance of the field much easier than Ellie’s shorter ones, and she was nearly trotting to keep him in sight before she realized the direction he was heading—the family graveyard. His mum, she realized with a different sort of pang to the heart now. He’s going to speak to his mum.
Realizing the intense privacy of the moment she was about to intrude on, she began to veer off and head back to the house, instincts be damned—and due to this saw a lithe shadow detach itself from its fellows and race across the path. Before she could open her mouth to shout aloud a warning, the figure had reached Hardy’s side; he had appeared to have heard something at least, half-turned towards his attacker—and attacker it was, because the cry stuck in Ellie’s throat when he suddenly lurched, stumbled, and fell.
She was sprinting before her mind could fully process what she had just seen—déjà vu was a horrible feeling, and all she could see now was Briar Cliff five years ago. At that time of course it had been his heart that dropped him and left him choking on the ground, and there was an absurd moment that she was sure that the same thing had happened now. The attacker heard her approach—she saw a knife glint wetly in the fading sunlight before whoever they were turned and ran for the forest line; by the time she had reached Hardy’s side, they were halfway to it. Adrenaline made her muscles bunch in preparation for pursuit even as she knew she had to make Hardy her priority—
“Don’t, Miller,” he growled through clenched teeth; his hands were curled into his side and pressing down at the wound, white-faced with the pain but reassuringly alert. “Don’t follow them.”
She was already kneeling beside him, gently pulling up one of his hands to look at the wound. His shirt was already staining red, and she muttered a vicious curse under her breath. “Shit. Here—press down on this, Hardy!” She tore off her long-sleeve shirt and bunched it up tightly against his side, replacing his hands and placing her on top of his own. She felt absurdly level-headed for the situation—likely because he was awake and able to talk to her; if he were to pass out on her, it would be another story. “They’re getting away, you know.”
“Forest,” Hardy said through gritted teeth.
Fumbling one-handed with her phone, she glared down at him. “I know it’s a forest! What has that got to do with anything? They can’t possibly get far in the dark.”
He inhaled sharply at a sudden stab of pain. “How well would you travel a forest at night, Miller? Specifically one you don’t know at all?” he demanded snidely, and let his head fall back with a strangled groan as she pressed down hard on the wound. “Bloody fucking hell, this hurts!”
“So stop moving around so much, you knob!” Ellie snapped, worried and trying not to show it. She lifted the very edge of the jacket, pausing for a moment, and her voice was softer when she spoke next. “I don’t think it’s hit anything vital—but you’re not allowed to die on me anyway.”
“I didn’t ask to be stabbed!”
Her phone vibrated as it called 999, and she managed a shaky laugh at his indignation. “Well, clearly someone felt you deserved it. Now shut up and let me call an ambulance here.”