Chapter 1: Part 1
Scotland, Ellie found, was really nothing at all like Dorset—both in the good and bad ways. Of course, part of that mixed bag stemmed from the fact that she was finding out more about Alec Hardy than she had ever thought she would get to.
The air was crisp and settled deeply in her lungs as she stepped outside; fog was still clinging to the fields and wide lawn spread out around her, the sun only just beginning to rise for the day. The object of her search and the current direction of her thoughts was seated on the porch watching the sky change color, still in his jammies and wrapped in a tartan blanket.
The family tartan, he had explained to her in low tones a couple of days previous. Every Scottish clan had one—this one was a particular shade of deep green, a stripe of light green, and red.
She stopped beside the seat Hardy had claimed as his and sat down beside him, her breath pluming in the air, desperately trying to think of a way to start a conversation. It turned out, though, that she didn’t have to.
“Go ahead, Miller,” Hardy muttered, drinking from a cup that was what she presumed was tea. “Ask your questions. Lord knows you’ll never leave me alone otherwise.”
He had never given her such an opening before, and Ellie was automatically wary of it. She could tell he was uncomfortable and overwhelmed, prone to be more snappish and grumpy because of it, and she had no desire to be his proverbial punching bag. She settled for the generic. “How’d you sleep?”
He side-eyed her, his wry expression letting her know she was fooling no one, but to her surprise a hint of a grin pulled at his mouth. “Should be askin’ you the same thing,” he said, “seeing as you slept in a dungeon last night.” Maybe there was more than just tea in that mug. “Didn’t really sleep, no.” The dark circles under his eyes confirmed that all too well. “Didn’t really expect to, either—never did. Always preferred the house in Glasgow.”
His birth certificate said he was born in Glasgow; his police files stated that Glasgow was his childhood city. Hell, even his accent was distinct Glaswegian. “You didn’t spend much time here, I take it,” she said dryly.
“Could say that. This house was always too big growing up. Still is.” He buried his face and that confession deep in his mug; somewhere behind them they could hear the quiet murmur of voices in the kitchen, the rumble of laughter in conversation. Ellie gazed out at the spread of the grounds that surrounded the old house, the Hardy family home for over three hundred years and felt a little awed despite herself. “Stop that, Miller.”
She jumped slightly. “Stop what?” she demanded, glaring over at him.
“You know what. That reaction is the reason why I never told anyone.”
Ellie thought about that—really thought about it—and deflated. “Suppose it’d be a bit hard,” she admitted quietly, “never knowing whether someone was being a genuine friend or just trying to get the perks.”
Hardy snorted, setting his now-empty mug aside. “Not many perks to the family name anymore. Hasn’t been since me Gran’s days.”
“Not much--? Hardy, are we even looking at the same land right now? This whole place is a perk for someone who hasn’t been raised in it! A twenty-bedroom manor with a stables, grove, and over five hundred acres of land? You’re really telling me that that’s not much?”
“Aye, and since the upheaval of Scottish land titles and classes there’s very little use for an aristocracy.” Disdain dripped from that last word. “Gran told me stories of entertaining Elizabeth II. Her mum, George V. This whole estate is falling into disrepair—or haven’t you noticed?” That last question was said with a hint of snideness.
Ellie bristled again. “Of course I noticed, and don’t knock my detective skills just because you’re angry at your dad. Go and have a row with him if you’re so bloody keen.”
He could make no response to that, not truly; not when she was right. His dad was the only reason why Ellie had discovered anything about his heritage, the titles he kept so tightly under wraps, and despite his tendency to lash out when cornered, this time he had a better target.
It had started when Hardy kept on getting calls from an unknown number—that, and the secretive bastard became even more closed-mouthed about it all than normal. Ellie had asked him about the calls exactly once, curious about the way he seemed to blatantly ignoring those attempts to talk with him—she had seen him pick up a call from Tess, after all, so who did Hardy dislike even more that he would ignore them? Her singular attempt was met with an icy glare the likes of which she hadn’t been the recipient of since Danny’s murder investigation, and she hadn’t dared to ask him about it again. Not yet.
Anyway. It didn’t seem that she needed to inquire about it now because the answer was quite smugly and calmly sitting in Hardy’s living room. Ellie had stopped by at the Hardy’s residence on the way home from work to ask about some paperwork and seen that the sliding glass door was partially open and the quick sharp retorts of an argument grew louder the closer to it she got. Concerned, she had knocked on the glass and when there was no pause in the argument she had let herself in.
“—it’s selfishness that’s driving you, Alec, just like always! He’s asked for you specifically--!” An unknown male’s voice, but with a Scottish accent that was even thicker than Hardy’s.
“And if you understood anything about Dad’s agreement with me,” came Hardy’s sharp retort, “you’d realize the only selfish one here is him!” Oh, he was definitely angry, maybe the angriest she’d ever heard him yet, and even she cringed at how savage he sounded.
Her quiet voice stopped the argument dead in its tracks, voices cut off in mid-sentence, and Hardy came around the corner of the kitchen into view, his hair standing on end the way it did when he ran his fingers through it in agitation. “What, Miller?” he barked, scowling furiously at her.
“Oh, very nice, Hardy,” she snapped, crossing her arms and returning his glare with interest. “I came over to see if you had those files to look over and saw your door open. I wanted to make sure no one had come and murdered you after being insulted one too many times. Sir.”
To his credit, Hardy did look rather shame-faced at the explanation, which was more than he usually gave as apology, anyway. Before he could speak up, his visitor did so for him from over his shoulder. “I think I like her, Alec. Anyone willing to call you out on your shite is fine in my book.” The man stepped into view was just as tall and thin as Hardy, with the same reddish-brown hair, but he had ice blue eyes instead of brown. The family resemblance was definitely there, and she could only stare at him in taken aback silence.
Hardy sighed and rolled his eyes. “Leave it, will you? Will, this is Ellie Miller—Miller, this is my younger brother William. Who was just leaving.” He directed his glare to said brother, but Will ignored him completely and sat down on the sofa instead.
“I’ll do no such thing, Alec, not until you say you’re going to do what Dad asks and come down for a visit.” His smile was far too feral to be genuine, and Ellie’s instincts raised their heads, analyzing and observing this stranger even as she navigated the information that Hardy had siblings. A sibling, at least. “And you know me too well to take that as an idle threat.”
Hardy looked ready to kill, which was truly concerning. He only grew outright hostile to those he hated, after all, and she found herself tensing automatically in case she needed to intercede. “Fine,” he ground out. “Call the bastard and tell him I’ll be there when my schedule allows it.”
Will shook his head. “Not happening. I know you, brother dear—I’m telling Dad you’re coming in a week. No exceptions.” His pale eyes flitted briefly to Ellie. “And you’ll bring your partner, too. Dad will very much want to meet her, after all.” And with that final, rather ominous, remark he stood, brushed off his coat, and left the house as if he had never been there at all-- leaving the door open behind him.
The frightening aspect of Will's remark, Ellie thought a week later on the train, was the fact that Hardy hadn’t attempted to fight it. As someone who fought tooth and nail to hide all view of his personal life, she had feared that Will’s order would lead to a full on eruption on his part—certainly Ellie herself had wanted to protest it, but she’d been effectively shut down by Hardy’s silent headshake. He’d merely led the way outside so they could talk in the cooling evening air about the paperwork.
“What the hell was that, Hardy?” She hadn’t hesitated to lay into him, though, even if his brother was off limits. “I shouldn’t have to be told where to go or what to do—especially not by a stuck-up prick like your brother! Why in the hell do I need to go to Scotland, anyway?”
“It’s Will’s idea of a joke,” he had growled in reply, his hands clenched deeply into his pockets as he paced. “He’s the only one who’ll laugh at it, o’ course, but he’s never cared about that.”
“Well, I care,” Ellie snarled. “And you can just go and tell him that I have a prior engagement and I can’t go—”
Years ago she had bitten out an invitation for Hardy to join her and Joe for dinner and seen the alarm of it freeze his expression into utter incomprehension; the look on his face now was very much the same. “You can’t just—” He cut himself off abruptly and took a deep breath. “Miller, you’re not going to be able to back out. Will’s already put your coming on the table.”
“I’m not going to be your bloody buffer against your dad, Hardy—”
“No, Miller, you don’t get it. To turn down that invitation is an insult.” At Ellie’s uncomprehending silence, he shook his head again but with rather more helplessness. “That’s the joke, see? Will knew you wouldn’t know that, so he decided to be a dick to me—not to you.” He looked genuinely sorry as he glanced over at her. “You’ll have to request time off with Jenkinson.”
“But—” She scrabbled desperately for an excuse, any reason why not, “but the station can’t be without both the DI and the DS at the same time—”
“Miller, this is bloody Broadchurch, not London. Or even Glasgow, for that matter. The station isn’t going to fall to pieces without us here for a bit. We wouldn’t be all that long—a week at most.”
“How are you going to convince Jenkinson we both need to go?”
“She won’t need convincing, Miller. I’ll simply tell her.”
And frighteningly enough, Jenkinson did just that without a word of protest, confirming instead that Ellie and Hardy would be on impromptu leave for at least the next week. When Ellie had expressed her amazement it was unduly ignored by him—no surprise there—but even Jenkinson was rather closed-mouthed about it all.
“It’s his place to tell you, Ellie. All I will say on the matter is that he hasn’t paid me off, and there has been no underhanded manipulating going on. Alec and I had this arrangement settled when I first hired him five years ago—I was prepared for this.”
What everyone seemed to be conveniently forgetting, however, was the fact that Ellie was not prepared for this—whatever ‘this’ turned out to be, and she was short-tempered about it for the entire week leading up to their day of departure. At least until she realized that Hardy wasn’t furious about this visit to Scotland; no, he was nervous.
The anxiety wasn’t for the reason she’d assumed, either. Halfway to their destination, he fidgeted with his belt before suddenly turning to her. “I still irk you, right, Miller?”
She gaped at him. “What the hell is that question? Of course you do, you great bloody bastard. Wouldn’t have it any other way, either, in case you were afraid of that changing.” Because that was the biggest shock here, wasn’t it? He was anxious about Ellie herself, and her possible reaction to whatever it was they were to see in Scotland. “What aren’t you telling me, Hardy?”
“’S nothing, Miller.”
“It’s not nothing, though, is it? Look, you mentioned something about my turning down this offer would be an insult. And maybe you could have just explained that away as your family simply being weird—but then Jenkinson didn’t so much as bat an eye over both of her highest-ranking detectives going on an extended visit to Scotland. That only comes from a family name, a family with connections. I’m right, aren’t I?”
He sat in stillness for a long moment, his expression distant as he watched the passing scenery. There was a sharpness to his eyes that told her he was merely ruminating, though, and she was content to wait for him to speak in this circumstance. “My mum’s maiden name,” he finally said softly, “is Hardy. I haven’t used my dad’s since I was thirteen, and as soon as I was able to, I changed it legally. My dad’s family name is Wallace.”
Ellie looked at him blankly for a moment. “Like- like William Wallace? The bloke killed for striving for Scotland’s independence? That Wallace?”
He snorted. “William Wallace was only one in many of the family name, and he's not a direct ancestor—but, aye, that William Wallace.” A wry note of humor marked his reply, and she snorted in turn as his brother’s name registered, and he turned to look at her with something approaching a grin. “Mum always had a peculiar sense of humor.” The amusement was very quickly gone, however, as he looked away from her again and back to the passing countryside. “The various families—still called clans in some cases—still have enough power amongst themselves that we can get our way in most circumstances, though—hence the forced invitation. If you’d insisted on turning that down, Will could have made you lose your job out of spite.”
“He’d really do that?” She couldn’t help how troubled her voice was; in reality she was thinking more along the lines that maybe Hardy wasn’t as much of a knob as she had originally thought he was.
Hardy nodded. “He would. He’s done it before.” He grimaced. “He’ll continue to try and trip you up more, too, so be watchful for that.”
“What, once wasn’t enough for him?” Now she was simply sarcastic, and bitingly so, unimpressed by such childish antics.
She was taken aback when he turned back to her then, more serious than she had seen him in a very long time. “Miller, if there’s one thing you need to know about why he’d do that, it’s because of this: you’re my colleague. A trusted colleague.”
Struck temporarily speechless by this admission, she found that all she could do was turn back to the window and watch the passing countryside—now leaving the closed-quartered gardens and sheltered houses of towns and moving into the wide expanse of wild countryside.
She expected their final stop to be somewhere in Glasgow, but the train was only part of their journey; Hardy led the way to a car rental down the street from the station and loaded their bags as Ellie went to purchase a snack for them both. He didn’t touch what she had purchased, of course, but again she thought his unwillingness to eat was not from mere pickiness this time but nervousness.
And that was the real clincher, wasn’t it? Hardy being nervous was not a good sign for anyone, and the fact that it was this family meeting he was so uptight about was even worse.
“Did you and William never get along, Hardy?” she finally asked when they were out of Glasgow. It had been stiflingly silent in the car for too long, and she was growing restless. She needed more information to meet his family and not be wrong-footed.
He glanced over at her briefly, and she saw the walls were coming up behind his eyes, higher than they had been since Sandbrook. “I don’t remember.” Clearly he wanted to leave it at that, but she continued staring at him with raised eyebrows, and with a low growl of frustration he suddenly pulled over. “I told you my mum died,” he said bluntly, and she nodded, feeling a pang deep inside; he had told her that, of course, the morning that Joe was arrested for Danny’s murder. “Car crash when I was eleven. It was an accident, but she didn’t have a seatbelt on and she went through the windshield; I was told she died on impact.”
Ellie swallowed. “I’m sorry, Hardy.”
He shrugged, feigning indifference. “It was a long time ago now. But ever since then, my dad—well, he changed. They fought all the time, and there were things thrown around that Will and I could hear shatter against walls and the floor from our rooms, and he was a right bastard most of the time. Critical and demanding. But when Mum died, he- well, he blamed himself for her dying, I think. It was after one of their arguments, after all, that she left the house and took the car—he must have discovered a conscience because of that,” he said bitterly.
“And Will?” she asked tentatively.
He sat in silence for another long moment, his gaze far away. “I was the favorite. Dad’s, anyway. Maybe it’s because I was the firstborn, I dunno—but whatever the reason, Dad always preferred me even if he tried not to show it. As soon as Will was old enough to realize that, he resented it… and me. We never have gotten back to even ground.”
Ellie allowed the silence to grow again as she puzzled out his explanation, and felt her heart twist with something a lot like sympathy. “My parents always favored me,” she admitted lowly. “Lucy was wild, liked to party. I was the one my dad always said would make something of herself.”
He snorted, a corner of his mouth twisting wryly. “I can’t imagine why he’d say that.”
Ellie stiffened. “That was low,” she said coldly, “even for you, sir.”
Startled by her tone, he turned to look at her and realized what he had just said. “Aye,” he agreed quietly. “Suppose I’m more like my dad than I’d like to think.” He started down the road again, and the silence between them was more stifling than it had been since they had worked to solve Sandbrook. Ellie was more than ready to let him brood, still not ready to forgive the knock on her sister—even though, she thought guiltily, she had had the sentiment more than once in her life.
The passing scenery made her lose all sense of anger or offense eventually, and she found herself staring at the distant mountains with a sense of awe. The cliffs of Dorset were a tourist attraction of understandable proportions, but the wilderness of Scotland was just as breath-taking. She had been to Scotland once or twice for trips, but she had only ever been in the big cities.
Had this been a normal view for him? Ellie glanced at him out of the corner of her eye—he looked out at the same view with no sense of the same awe or even appreciation, all of his focus instead on the road. She was taken aback by the stab of jealousy she felt and hastily looked away again. She had known from what little he’d told her that his childhood had not been the easiest to deal with, and his recent explanation had merely confirmed it—it was likely he had a negative reaction to seeing the places here that so awed Ellie.
She stifled a sudden urge to ask him if he was okay and sat back in her seat for the rest of the trip—at least until he turned on a side road that led to a large estate.
The grandness of the buildings could not hide a certain extent of decay and neglect, but it was still an impressive sight to lay eyes on. A looming manor with acres of neatly-cut and kept grass stood like a fortress at the other end of the drive, surrounded on one side by the forest that crept close to the rear of the building. Ellie shut her mouth and very carefully did not look over at Hardy, almost nervous about seeing the look on his own face; the way he white-knuckled the steering wheel was answer enough of his feelings.
He didn’t say a word until he had parked the car, and only glanced over at her briefly. The walls were all the way up, and she felt like she was sitting with the Hardy of five years ago, an unwanted stranger who didn’t belong.
But he saw the thought cross her face, and she was grateful when his expression softened ever so slightly. The worry of what she might think of him was prevalent, and on impulse she grabbed hold of his sleeve. “If your dad is as big a knob as you are,” she said evenly, “I’m sure I’ll dislike him on sight.”
He outright barked a laugh at that, startling them both. The walls in his eyes had fallen a little and stayed that way as he opened the door to climb out. “I’ll count on that, Miller.”
I spent a fair amount of time researching the various Lowland clans of Scotland for this, deciding which one I would have Alec be a part of. As far as I could tell from maps, Glasgow borders where the Highlands end, or is very close to where they end, anyway-- but it's still considered Lowland, so I needed to find a clan that exists either in or around it that was Lowland. I was leaning towards a distant branch of the Boyds of Scotland since they seem to have some presence in Glasgow, but then I came across the Wallace's and they seemed to fit what I needed best. Hopefully this all doesn't seem too outside the realm of possibility.
(The William Wallace name-pun likely had something to do with it, too. I couldn't resist.)
Chapter 3: Part III
Ellie’s first glance of the inside of the manor was of a wide open space and handsome arching walls of stained dark oak, well-lit and warmly inviting. Then her attention was diverted by the sound of approaching footsteps down the hallway, and her vision was suddenly filled with the sight of a woman’s green skirts and white blouse.
“Alec-me-lad! We’ve been waitin’ for ye to come for some time now—ye’ve nearly missed dinner.”
Ellie was witness to a softening of Hardy’s expression that she had very rarely seen before—he even smiled. “As if you’d ever let me starve, Millie,” he said with a wry grin, and pulled the old woman into an embrace.
Ellie hastily closed her mouth and shook her head sharply, smoothing her expression of incredulous surprise out before the woman, laughing, pulled back from Hardy’s arms and turned now to Ellie herself. Her smile now was professional enough, but it lacked the warmth of a moment ago—a switch that most wouldn’t pick up on. “And I take it ye’re the latest of Alec’s colleagues, ma’am?” she asked genially, and Ellie heard it as the challenge it was.
“Millie,” Hardy said quietly, softly chiding. “Drop the act, aye? This is Ellie Miller.”
The change in the so-named Millie’s disposition was instantaneous; the detached professionalism vanished abruptly into genuine pleasure and welcome. “Ah, so this is who helped ye solve Sandbrook, then!” she exclaimed, and claimed Ellie’s hands in her own wizened ones. “I’ve dearly wanted to meet ye, Mrs. Miller—Alec’s told me ye’re one of the best he’s worked with!”
Ellie’s eyebrows shot up, and she shot Hardy a look. “Really?” she asked slyly, and he rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably as he stepped away. “I’m flattered, sir—now if you could say that during my evaluation, I would appreciate it even more; it’d be on record that way.” She turned back to the waiting Millie, her own expression considerably warmer than even a moment before. “I’m pleased to meet you, too—though I’m afraid you’ve caught me at a disadvantage, Mrs—?”
“Brannan,” Millie said decisively. “Millie Brannan, but ye can call me Millie.” She didn’t wait for Ellie’s answer, then, but turned smartly on her heel and strode off, talking all the way. Hardy half-grinned at Ellie’s look of surprise and hoisted his duffel in a tighter grip to follow her down the hall. Feeling half in a daze, Ellie did as well, Millie’s running commentary passing in and out of her conscious hearing as she looked around at her surroundings. “—needed someone new for the kitchens, as Auld Gary finally decided to up and die on us a month ago—”
“Gary’s died? I thought the old bastard was going to live forever.”
“Aye, that’s what we all thought, ye ken. Fell down dead of a stroke right after dinner, and left a sink full of dishes, too—!”
Just as it had on the outside, the inside of the house was grand, handsomely built—just enough to hide at the first few glances the marked deterioration that prevailed over it all. It was still livable by all means, and so much more than anything that Ellie had ever seen in Dorset before, but the ghost of what this manor had to have been before still lingered. She was hard-pressed not to openly gawk at everything, and she found it especially hard not to keep looking at Hardy’s back as she walked behind him. He had grown up here, amidst all this grandeur and pomp; undoubtedly played along these halls and eaten at the grand table that she glimpsed in one of the dining rooms. Perhaps broken one or more of the objects on display on the side tables and glass cabinets.
“We’ll get ye both settled before we go to Himself,” Millie was saying when Ellie came back to the present. “He’s been wanting to see ye for quite some time, Alec.”
“I know,” he said gruffly, and Ellie felt suddenly comforted by the fact that he was still his short, impatient self. “Will made that that very clear when he came up to Broadchurch. What does Dad need now? Another appearance by the eldest son at a banquet?”
“None of that, lad,” Millie said with a sharp look back at him. “Ye’re back in the family home now, and ye’ll show yer father due respect. At least until he opens his mouth and starts his usual spiel.”
Ellie’s respect of this woman shot upwards at an increasing rate; of course, dealing with this family that was basically Hardy times three would take someone of a steel spine. She would have to hear some pointers on how to diffuse Hardy’s temper so easily, too, because rather than become indignant or ignore the telling-off, he merely made a dubious sound deep in his throat and shook his head.
They walked in silence for a time, then, until Millie paused at the foot of a staircase. “Are ye going to settle in now, then, Alec, or did ye want to wait? Yer room is ready, and I’ve put new sheets on the bed.”
He shrugged. “I’ll peek in but I want to see to Dad before dinner. Less chance of thrown dishes that way.”
Ellie snorted, then blushed when both of them looked at her. “And here I thought my family dinners were tense,” she joked, and Millie laughed outright.
“Tense isn’t the word, dear—the kitchen staff use the cheapest dinnerware when the family is together because something is always broken when they sit for gatherings.”
Ellie wasn’t sure whether to laugh or not hearing that, even if Millie’s expression was light-hearted. Luckily, it didn’t appear she needed to respond to that because again the latter was moving on without waiting. “We’ll let ye o on ahead, then, and I’ll show Mrs. Miller her own room.”
“Call me Ellie, please,” she said quietly as they walked. “I’ve never really cared for the last-name basis habit.”
The assessing look that Millie gave her was a short one, but startlingly effective. “No,” she said quietly, as she stopped in front of a closed door halfway down the hall. “I don’t suppose ye like it at that. This here’s where ye’ll be staying, Ellie. Same as I told Alec—it’s cleaned and ready, and fresh sheets on the bed for when ye need to rest.”
“How much has he told you?” Ellie found herself asking bluntly. She would feel mortified by her distinct lack of manners later, but right now she was struggling with a sense of fury and shame that Hardy would have aired her dirty laundry out to this woman.
Millie, for her credit, didn’t feign ignorance or surprise at the question. Meeting her gaze steadily, she simply let one grey eyebrow sidle upwards. “Enough,” she said quietly, and waved Ellie through the doorway. “Now, place yer things where ye want them, and meet Alec at the foot of the staircase. Himself is waiting.”
As it turned out, Himself wasn’t waiting for them—or at least he wasn’t in the room that Hardy led them to. Millie had disappeared as effectively as she had first appeared, and Ellie was feeling distinctly wrong-footed again, and grumpy because of it. “How many more surprises am I going to have to find out about today, Hardy?” she asked as he closed the door behind them. If this room wasn’t an audience chamber, she would eat her orange parka.
“Not many more. At least for today.”
She glared at him. “You bastard, you like this, don’t you?” she demanded. “Seeing me off-guard, out of my depth—”
“As if you don’t still laugh at me when we’re at Broadchurch,” he retorted lightly, hands shoved deep in his pockets. “Or did you forget the, ‘You’re barely on the water’ bit when I first showed up there?”
That stopped her for a moment, because he had a point. She did still laugh at him when he showed that despite over three years of living in a small town he didn’t understand it. Of course, she realized, looking at her surroundings now she was beginning to suspect he likely had a good excuse for that.
“I didn’t spend a lot of time here, Miller.”
She started. “Would you stop that? It’s like you’re reading my mind, and it’s bloody freaky!”
He didn’t smile, but there was definitely amusement there in his gaze. “I can’t help it if your expression is so bloody open,” he retorted smoothly. “You’re making it easy to know what you’re thinking right now, what with your gaping at everything.”
“I’m not gaping,” she muttered, crossing her arms and intensifying her glare to hide the blush that wanted to bloom on her face. “Where did you spend your time, then, if not here?”
“Gran’s. She had a small house in Glasgow.”
That, of course, told her nothing. Seeing the size of this manor, she truly didn’t know what he constituted as small—although he had seemed comfortable enough in the little blue bungalow during his first stay in Broadchurch. So maybe the house really had been small. She decided to leave that alone and instead filed away the fact that he had had a grandmother and apparently one he was close to, if he had chosen to live with her. She wasn’t sure if she was discomfited or triumphant that she was finally learning more about his past, even if it hadn’t been his idea.
Probably discomfited. He hadn’t chosen to tell her about this, after all.
The deep voice behind them made her start again and spin on her heel, surprised that she hadn’t heard the approach of footsteps. Then she finished her turn and saw why; the man who had spoken was seated in a wheelchair. He had once been a tall man—taller than Hardy, who was no slouch in that department—and clearly powerfully built, but both atrophy and age had wizened him into a former husk of his former presence, and a quick glance at Hardy showed her the stricken look on his face, quickly smoothed away into studied indifference. Clearly this man’s condition had worsened since the last time he had seen him.
“Dad.” She was positive that only she picked up the slight tremor to his voice as he spoke. Otherwise it sounded like he was addressing a stranger.
The old man’s face creased in a half-smile, pleased and rueful at once as he looked Hardy up and down slowly. “Ye look healthier than the last time I saw ye, son.”
“You don’t,” Hardy said bluntly, stone-still. “Will didn’t tell me your condition’s worsened.”
“It’s done more than worsened. Doctor’s given me six months.”
The bluntness of that statement took even Ellie’s breath away, and she stared in consternation at him. What the hell kind of greeting was that? It was then that she finally noticed the challenging look in the man’s eyes, and the answering response in Hardy’s own stance, and she wondered who would break first.
“Six months too long, if you ask me,” Hardy said smoothly, and Ellie’s own sense of propriety snapped.
“Sir!” Her exclamation was much louder in this wide expanse of room than she would have expected. It did grab the attention of both of the men, which she was pleased to see. “You,” she pushed on fiercely, “are a knob. Don’t be an arsehole, too.”
Vulgar, she knew, but it did the trick to stop him in his tracks; it also unfortunately drew the man’s attention to her. His eyes were the same brown as Hardy’s, and just as shrewd and calculating. “So this is the famous Ellie Miller,” he said quietly. “I saw ye solved Sandbrook a few years ago, when Alec asked ye for help. I’m sorry about yer husband.”
Ellie had grown used to the remarks about Joe, both the innocent, well-meaning, and the snide—but she still felt like she’d been punched in the gut by this man’s words. She fortified her suddenly tight stomach and wet her dry mouth. “I am, too.”
She was surprised when his expression softened ever-so-slightly. “I have ye at a disadvantage. I’m Grant Wallace, Alec and William’s father and lord of this estate. I’m pleased to see ye here.”
Ellie opened her mouth to say that she didn’t really have a say in the matter, then caught Hardy’s eye and hastily cleared her throat. “I’m honored I was invited here,” she said instead, smiling widely at him, and saw how some of the tension left Hardy’s shoulders. Clearly there was a test she had just passed, because the now-named Grant Wallace nodded and glanced swiftly at his son. Something sad seemed to flicker there deep in his eyes, but then it was gone.
“I’m only sorry it was because of Will’s machinations that it happened. Ye’ll be handsomely compensated, of course, for the time ye’ll be here—”
“There’s no need, really—”
“She’ll be just fine with that, Dad,” Hardy interrupted her firmly, glaring at her briefly before turning his attention to Grant. “And she’ll appreciate it, too—won’t you, Miller?”
She had been about to slip up again; turn down an offer she couldn’t refuse. She saw the amusement in Grant’s eyes and felt a brief flare of fury at the sight—the smug bastard was laughing about it! She swallowed down an angry retort and spoke through another fixed smile. “Very much so, thank you, sir.”
This time, Grant laughed outright. “Ye’re not a good liar,” he said genially, “but I thank ye for the attempt anyway. Now—” And just like that he was on to other topics, maneuvering his wheelchair around so that he faced Hardy again, “I had Will bring ye back for a visit for the simple matter of settling the estate. And who will secede me here.”
The silence that fell immediately afterwards was chilling. Ellie felt her arms prickle with it, the sense of sudden danger too great to ignore, and she was afraid to glance over at Hardy. His stilted breath was enough answer all in its own.
When he actually spoke, his voice was strangled with fury: “You haven’t changed at all, have you, you bastard?”
With hands clenched at his sides, he turned and stalked off without another word, leaving Ellie to scramble after him. If she had felt wrong-footed before, it was nothing to how she felt now, and she was hard-pressed to dig her heels in and demand to know when the hell she had entered a family daytime drama.
‘Elaine is upping my pay after this,’ she thought grimly as the door swung shut behind them, but while Hardy kept walking on, she was in no way prepared to talk to him. He would simply lash out in frustration; better to let him walk it off, which by the direction he was going—the side door—he was clearly planning on doing.
So that left Ellie to do—what, exactly? She paused in the middle of the hallway and breathed through her own mounting frustration. She was hundreds of miles away from her home, her sons, and everything familiar, and thrust into a situation that she didn’t know how to navigate. And the only one who could help her through it was currently throwing himself a fit.
“I’m going to kill him,” she muttered to herself.
“Alec tends to have that affect on people, ye ken.” Millie Brannan looked a bit sorry when Ellie jumped, but she didn’t apologize. The truly sympathetic look on her face was enough to soothe her irritation over the unintentional fright, anyway. Millie came over from where she had stood in the shadows and sighed. “It’s verra rare any family gathering goes smoothly here, and with Himself so ill… it’s no going to be easy now, either. Now, ye go and get changed into a different set of clothes and sit for a while, dear; dinner will be ready in about thirty minutes, and ye’ll need to be ready for it.”
“What about Hardy?” she found herself asking, glancing back at the outside door. “He usually goes walking for hours.”
“Dinna worry about that,” Millie said with an odd sort of grim satisfaction. “There hasna been a day of that lad’s life I havena been able to make him listen.”
“Have you always been an employee here, then?” Ellie asked curiously.
Millie’s mouth twitched, but it wasn’t with amusement. “Since before the lad was a twinkle in his parents’ eyes.”
Chapter 4: Part IV
Dinner, surprisingly enough, had not turned out to be a debacle; it was debatable how it would have gone if William had been there with them, but luckily the arrogant sod was on a trip to Edinburgh and wouldn’t be back for another day. Hardy was not the only one to breathe a sigh of relief hearing that, and luckily Grant Wallace mentioned nothing more over dinner about estates and wills; he was fascinated enough with hearing about her’s and Hardy’s lives in Broadchurch.
“It’s been some time since I’ve seen the ocean,” he said, and she thought he sounded a bit wistful. “And I’ve never seen those cliffs.”
She ended up speaking about her life, mostly—Hardy stayed stubbornly quiet and closed-mouthed about it all, doing his best to ignore his father. Grant seemed unperturbed by his childish behavior and listened with fascination about the latest case of larceny the station had dealt with—and of the whale that ended up beached beneath the cliffs last summer during a seasonal storm.
All in all, the dinner was a success; no dishes were thrown or broken, and both father and son were at least civil when they did speak to each other. Despite this, Ellie felt drained and on edge and excused herself early from any further engagement, and it was with a grateful sigh of relief that she shut the door to her room behind her.
It was a spacious one, if a bit weirdly laid out—a shallow staircase of five steps led the way into a room of warm brick and lush carpet; a fireplace, stained with centuries of soot, sat on the outside wall and the seven-foot-long windows showed a breathtaking view of the mountains in the far distance. A built-in bookshelf was on the other wall, and full of tomes of various sizes and thickness, taller than what she was comfortably able to reach.
There was age to this house, and she had the particular sense that this room had received a lot of attention from the current Wallace family, let alone all of their ancestors. Hit again by the enormity of Hardy’s revelations, she shook her head and let herself feel it, trying to work it out of her system.
Broadchurch was by all accounts a small community; a single road led and out of it, and only a few thousand people inhabited its borders. (There were the few American tourists who scoffed at that, stating they had been raised in towns that literally had less than five hundred people living there.) Its inhabitants were an ancient breed of mariners and sea-dwellers, descendants of the people who thousands of years before had dug their heels into the sand of Dorset’s coast and carved out a life for themselves. Ellie herself was one such person, born and bred. She had ancestors who had fought for England; there were those who had died in the War of 1777, when America fought for its independence.
But she had never really met anyone personally of any sort of true notoriety; there were no truly remarkable bloodlines to be found in such a small town. To know that her boss belonged to one of the oldest families of Scotland—one that had created such notoriety for itself—was, if she was absolutely honest, a bit awing.
She was going to have to watch that—she knew, better than most, she was sure, how little Hardy liked that sort of attention.
She changed into her pajamas gratefully and slid under the covers of the large bed with a groan of relief; then she picked up her mobile and called her boys. Of course, this meant she had to put up with several minutes of small talk with her dad, but it was worth it hearing Tom’s voice—even if her teenager did sound stereotypically teenagery. “How are things with Grandad, then, Tom?”
“Okay, I guess,” came his noncommittal reply. “I’ve been up in my room, mainly. Fred stuck a lego up his nose and gave himself a nosebleed, so that was pretty cool.”
“Oh god,” she groaned, face in her hand in resignation. “How was it?”
“Well, Grandad called Mrs. Latimer in a panic because Fred was crying and wouldn’t stop, and nothing was stopping him. So Mrs. Latimer walked over with Lizzie and checked him over, and said he was fine, just freaked out. It was hardly bleeding, anyway, and Fred and Lizzie played together afterwards and were fine.”
Well, that was good—she hadn’t left her house to suffer imminent destruction, after all. Which reminded her: “And how’s Daisy, then?”
“Daisy? Oh, DI Hardy’s daughter.” He sounded far too casual, too careful, and Ellie rolled her eyes; he seemed to have a bit of a crush. “She’s good, too, as far as I know. She’s hanging out with Chloe a lot.”
Well, that was good to hear, too. Daisy’s remaining in Broadchurch had been a short-lived topic earlier in the day when Grant had asked if she would be joining them. Hardy’s expression hadn’t twitched when he replied. ‘She’s busy with school, but she’ll come down if there’s a need.'
Ellie had felt those words like a knife to her own heart, and she had not been able to suppress the pity she had felt seeing Grant’s hopeful expression fall. The man was dying, after all, and he wanted to see his granddaughter. When she brought that up to Hardy, however, she received nothing but disdain.
‘See that phone, Miller?’ He paused in the middle of the hall to point at another side table, where—sure enough—a phone sat by innocently. ‘All these years, he could’ve reached out and attempted to know her. The most she ever gets is a Christmas card in the mail every year.’
‘And what about coming and visiting here? You’ve had to come back occasionally. Why not bring her along?’
He’d rolled his eyes. ‘She’s met both my dad and Will before. She doesn’t like it here anymore than I do, and I don’t force her to come if she doesn’t want to.’
Ellie had contemplated that for a long, silent moment; then, half-afraid of his reaction, she’d asked, ‘And what about Tess? What did she make of them when you were married? Of.. all of this?’
The way his expression had closed off was answer enough, and she had felt a stab of guilt then for bringing it up. Clearly, she had stumbled upon one of his hidden landmines—there were still topics that even now he felt she had no business treading on, even after seeing for herself what he was like. She didn’t suppose she wanted to know, after all, if Tess had been arrogant enough to assume she could convince her husband to take up the name and estate he had left behind—but knowing the woman the way she did, Ellie wasn’t hopeful of that possibility.
So where did that leave poor Daisy?
Reminded of such, Ellie found herself unable from holding back from asking Tom, “Sweetheart, your dad and I… did we ever make you feel less loved when Fred was born? Or that we were playing favorites?”
The silence on the other end of the phone was so absolute that she was afraid of exactly that; but then she heard him shifting and his breathing continue its steady rhythm, and she realized he had merely been thinking critically about the question. “Not really, no,” he said quietly. “I think… I think there was a period of time right after he was born that I felt jealous of all the attention he was getting. But then I talked to Ollie, and he told me that Fred wasn’t your new favorite kid, just more helpless, and that he needed more things done for him and more time spent taking care of him than I did, since I was so much older—and more independent.”
This last rejoiner was said with wry humor, and Ellie laughed. “Independent, indeed,” she said with the same tone. “Well, I’m glad your cousin can make some sense.” She was silent for another long moment, then, "But you’d tell me, right? If I ever started playing favorites between the two of you?”
“Is it that bad there?” Now he simply sounded startled, and Ellie wanted to suddenly cry at the reminder that Tom was no longer a child.
“Whatever Jenkinson told me, this is not a vacation. I think I’m playing referee.”
The self-help and parenting books all said never to unburden oneself to your child, but Tom was at least a good sport about it—he had asked, after all. That was all she said about the entire messed up situation, but she was sure that he understood, having known Hardy and his ways first-hand since Danny’s case. She felt calmer and less overwhelmed when she said goodnight and hung up, reminding herself she was only going to be here for a week, and that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as she was fearing this visit would be.
The morning proved her wrong. She slept surprisingly soundly for being in such an unfamiliar place, and her talk with Hardy watching the sunrise was not unpleasant either. She joined him in the kitchens for breakfast, sitting across from one another at the sturdy table that also served as the servants’ eating quarters, and while neither of them talked as they ate it still wasn’t a wholly unpleasant business either. Various staff came and went, wishing them a good morning, and one of the older staff came up to tell Hardy how grateful he was that he had come for a visit.
Hardy, for his part, had not dismissed the old man but had greeted him warmly enough. “How’re things, then, Frank? Is Mary still going for treatments, or is her cancer in remission?”
The old man looked frankly delighted at the inquiry, nodding his head decisively. “She’s been in remission for six months, sir. Still too thin, and she’s always cold, but we’re building her back up. We’ve been very fortunate.”
He bowed his head respectfully and left then, but Ellie thought over his and Hardy’s interaction carefully before she lowered her fork. Hardy caught her staring and one eyebrow shot up. “Wha’, Miller?”
“So you changed your name from Wallace to Hardy the first chance you got, and you left this estate as soon as you could—but the staff all still treat you like you’ve never left. And you’ve still got influence and money, or you wouldn’t have been able to do half the things you do. I’d always wondered how you were able to keep Claire in that cottage for so long without hurting for money.”
His mouth twitched. “I gave up my titles a long time ago—so you can’t call me Lord Anything, sorry, Miller. But you can’t easily give up the influences or connections that come with the position, and I never seriously tried to. I’m glad I didn’t—otherwise Sandbrook wouldn’t have been solved at all.” He sat back in his seat, holding another cup of steaming tea. “The money is my inheritance—most of it will go to Daisy, but there are times when I dipped into it.”
“And how much are you worth, then, sir?” This she said with a smirk, and luckily he took it as such.
“Dunno. I seem to conveniently forget when I’m asked.”
“That’s all right—I’ll just ask Jocelyn.” The smirk broadened when she caught the look of surprise on his face. “She overheard me and Maggie talking about you making it through your surgery all right, and she implied that you were concerned you wouldn’t.” Her voice quieted. “I bullied her into talking about it, really, but I was still pissed off about the text you sent me—and all she would say was that only days before the surgery, you showed up at her door asking her to draw up your will.” Her smile was a lot more forced then, and she knew he could see it. “That almost made me ring you up and call you a fucking arsehole, that you thought you had to go through it alone.”
There were times when his expression went blank, as if his brain had short-circuited—usually when talking about the possibility he could be cared for in any capacity. Now that she had an idea of how his childhood was like, this wasn’t funny to her anymore. Seeing the same uncomprehending look on his face at this given moment, she thought suddenly of her discussion with Tom about favorites and was mortified to realize she was ready to cry.
Had no one ever stood up for him?
“All you’d do was sit and wait,’ he said, startling her. “And you had more important things to be thinking of, if you remember.”
“I do,” she said coldly. “But Sandbrook was pretty damn important, too-- and if you’d died on me halfway through it, I wouldn’t have spoken kindly about it at your funeral.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Their breakfast had finished up without incident, and so Ellie foolishly let her guard down at little, hopeful that maybe everything would go smoothly.
Two hours later, she cringed when she heard the shouts come from Grant’s study, where he and Hardy had gone to discuss the estate. “Ye’re a selfish, foolish child, Alec, and ye’ll ken it when I’m gone!”
There was the worrying sound of something crashing onto the floor, the scrape of shattered glass loud even amidst Hardy’s answering shout, accent suddenly harsh and grating. “The only thing I’ll ken when ye’re gone is that I’ll be bloody fucking glad of it!” Then the door swung open and he strode out into view, looking frankly dangerous, and Grant wheeled out after him with a similar expression.
“Dinna ignore me, Alec! Ye canna ignore this, and yer brother--”
“I said no!” Hardy didn’t even bother to look back, his long legs lending him a speed that neither Ellie nor Grant could hope to match. “I’d had my fill of yer games when I was thirteen, and I’m no’ going to allow ye that control again!” Then he had turned the corner and was gone, leaving the corridor echoing and tense with their fight. Grant threw up his hands in utter frustration and then ran them vigorously through his grey hair-- a habit that Hardy himself had, Ellie realized with a slight shock. He didn’t go back to the study, but turned his wheelchair around and went down the hall to another hallway.
Ellie wavered from wanting to leave or going into the study to pick up whatever was broken, but then Millie materialized quite suddenly to do the cleaning-up. She didn’t glance in Ellie’s direction, didn’t even acknowledge her presence, but Ellie had the sense Millie knew she was there regardless. Curiosity won out; she walked up to the doorway and peered inside, seeing a space smaller than she would have initially suspected, also of dark oak and dominated by a long window. Millie was bent over sweeping up what might have been an ash tray-- she could smell the lingering acrid scent of old cigarettes.
“This happens often, ye ken,” Millie said, straightening up and meeting Ellie’s eye. “Every time Alec comes home, there’s at least one thing broken before he leaves again.”
“It sounded like that fight was Hardy’s fault,” Ellie said, surprising herself. She owed nothing to Grant Wallace, after all, so why was she standing up for him?
Millie’s expression didn’t twitch. “Dinna let one fight settle yer mind for ye, Ellie. Grant Wallace isna innocent in this.”
“Hardy told me he played favorites between him and William.”
“I couldna tell ye that.”
“No? You just told me yesterday you’ve been employed here since before Hardy was born. I would think you would be in a prime position to know.”
Millie’s mouth quirked. “Alec’s taught ye well, hasn’t he?” she asked wryly, and outright smiled at the look on Ellie’s face. “Ach, the way ye solved Sandbrook proves ye’re a competent detective, but that tactic ye just used is all Alec’s. He’s always gone for the jugular. Follow me, dearie-- I’ll answer yer question while we walk. I’ve got a question for ye, as well.”
“I suppose you deserve to go first, then, seeing as I've been so rudely dropped in your lap.”
“Ye showing up now is no a problem, Ellie. Lord kens servants love to gossip, and ye’ve given them plenty to discuss.” Now Ellie was sure that she was being laughed at. Millie led them through the maze of hallways and various staircases, until they ended up coming out of a back door that led to the trash receptacles sitting outside near the kitchens. “Ye’ve worked several cases with Alec now, or so he’s told me. What d’ye make of him?”
“What do I make of Hardy? He’s a knob,” Ellie said immediately. “He has no social grace to speak of, he’s rude and short tempered most days, and I’ve frequently thought about shoving him off the pier at Broadchurch.” She paused, then, and when she spoke next her voice was significantly softer. “But he cares, too. Cares very much about the victims and families of the crimes we solve, cares about the safety of his coworkers, and he loves Daisy to pieces. He’d say otherwise, but he’s a good man underneath it all, I think.”
“Hmm.” Millie threw the glass shards away, but instead of heading back inside, she put the dust bin down and headed around the corner of the house, towards the open field nearest the line of trees. It was a fair distance to see, but Ellie thought she could see Hardy’s tall figure out there. “The family graveyard is there, where he is. The lad goes and talks to his mother a lot after Grant makes him angry.”
“So you knew his mother well, too, I imagine.”
“Oh, aye,” Millie said matter-of-factly. “Verra much so. William takes after her much more than Alec does, and that’s a fact. The lads lost her when they were both verra young, though, and Grant doesna speak of her.”
“Heartbroken?” Ellie knew she shouldn’t pry, but curiosity was winning out over propriety.
Millie glanced over at her, her gaze steady. “Oh, aye,” she said mildly. “Ye might say that.”
‘It was after one of their fights, after all, that she took the car and left.’
“And what part did Grant play in her death?” she asked, not breaking eye contact with her.
Millie’s expression was opaque, a servant’s mask. “None,” she said bluntly, but Ellie was sure she was hiding strong emotion. “What she did, she did herself.”
When William arrived, it was surprisingly without fanfare; Ellie had been prepared for a red carpet rolled out and trumpets blaring his return, and maybe the servants standing in a row down it greeting him. But in the end it turned out that she stumbled upon him as he was reading through a book in Grant’s study and looking so much like Hardy that she actually had to double-take.
He noticed her, of course, and his smirk was decidedly not his brother. Nor were the blue eyes-- that may have come from his mother. “Well, here’s the illustrious Ellie Miller. How’re ye liking Scotland, then? I’m sure Alec is making it as miserable as possible, of course-- he always does.”
It would not do, she realized suddenly, to show him anything; not if she didn’t want it used against her later. So she stopped her automatic stiffening, both at the jab and in irritation, and merely gazed at him coolly. “I’ve noticed it’s wet here,” she said evenly, “seeing as it’s rained every day so far.”
“Verra good detecting skills, that, picking up when it rains a lot.” He set the book down and came around the corner of the desk, leaning his lanky frame against it. “I’m sure ye get this much rain in Broadchurch, though, so it canna be that surprising. Do ye like it there? Broadchurch? Solving cases with my brother?”
His own gaze was direct and piercing, and Ellie’s temper wanted to raise its head. She forced it down with difficulty-- it wouldn’t do to reveal her hand too soon, after all, and the only ones who knew just how much she and Hardy knew about and trusted each other were the two of them. instead of snapping at him, she met his gaze squarely. “The only thing I like about working with your brother,” she lied smoothly, “is solving the cases.”
“But ye went over to his house, remember?” Now the arrogant fuckwit thought he was being clever, what with his tone and sly smile. “Why would ye bother to care where he lives if ye were only colleagues?”
She mentally rolled her eyes. I’m the detective, here, sweetheart-- why don’t you let me prove it? “That’s no secret,” she said with a genial smile. “Everyone knows where Hardy lives. It was the talk of the month when he moved back and actually planned to stay.”
Now he faltered, unprepared for her quick answer. His gaze flickered uncertainly for just a moment, a thin line quirking between his brows as he frowned. “But that’s-” Oh, she could definitely see the family resemblance between him and Hardy now; her boss frequently sported the same bewildered look when faced with the reality of Broadchurch. “Why do ye ken that?”
Her smile sharpened at the edges. “It’s a small town,” she said with the same cheerful tone, letting the implied ‘you fuckwit’ shine through. “Everyone knows where everybody lives.” And turning smartly on her heel, she walked out of the room, smirking now that he couldn’t see her face.
She really didn’t like him. The one thing she could confidently say about this trip was that it was showing her that Hardy could have been so much worse when he first came to Broadchurch.
Perhaps it was the drift of her thoughts that led her, but she mindlessly drifted down the length of the manor’s many corridors, curious enough now to look around. There weren’t many pictures or photos to see, but there were the relics of olden days set up proudly on the walls; old swords and plaques glinted in specially-made cases, and she even saw the remnants of an old flag hanging in a darkened corner.
The family crest was in a spot of honor near the front foyer; she looked in interest at the armoured arm raised with sword in hand, encircled with a coronet. Along the upper curve she saw two words in latin, Pro Libertate. For Liberty. She wondered briefly what liberty it was that the family Wallace had fought for that had led to their motto-- the same liberty from England that the famous William Wallace had fought and died for so long ago?
‘This house is yours for as long as ye’re here, lass,’ Grant had said the day before. ‘Feel free to look around, aye?’
Her sightseeing led her to aside room, open and airy with comfortable sofas and a table to rest in. It was here that she found what photo albums the family had, and feeling only a little guilty she found the latest one, very worn by frequent handling. There were few photos from recent years, but she caught sight of William and a dark-haired woman standing together in front of a car, smiling at each other. On another page she saw a much younger Grant sitting beside a lit Christmas tree, his dark hair and full beard making her again double-take at the resemblance with Hardy.
That was who was missing: Hardy himself. She had to go far back into the album to find him at all, and there were missing places in its pages like some of the photos were missing. The only question was who had removed them; Hardy himself, or Grant?
The photo she found that finally included him was old and faded, crinkled with age but still quite clear; seven different faces peered up at her, four girls and three boys, all of various ages but no younger than four or five. Pulling it gently from its cover she peered at the date and realized that he would be one of the older boys. Turning it back over, she scanned the different smiling faces-- and there he was. The familial resemblance to both his father and brother was even more pronounced in the photo, with his hair a more vibrant auburn than it was now, and of course there was no carpet of dark beard hiding a lot of his face anyway. His smile in the photo seemed to take over his entire face, and she felt a peculiar pang of sadness realizing she had never seen that in all the time she had known him.
“The various cousins.”
Grant’s soft voice made her jump guiltily, and she turned in her seat to find he had wheeled himself quietly into the room beside her while she was occupied. His expression was a peculiar blend of fond and sad as he looked at the photo. “Sir?”
He nodded at it. “They had just finished a play about the tale The Dracae-- where women and young lassies are lured to the depths of a river by water spirits to live in servitude for seven years. They frequently did that growing up when they met up for a family gathering-- they would spend all day practicing their various roles, rehearsing, and then after dinner they would perform it for us adults.”
“They did this.. often, then?” Looking closer she found that they were all dressed in various costumes, the girls draped in skirts and their hair pulled back, and the boys all wearing robes to hide their features. One of the girls had bright green makeup on her face drawn like scales, and another had blue.
“Whenever the family gathered, aye. It was a different play each time, too, they never did the same one twice.” He pointed at the oldest girl, a redhead with dark eyes. “That’s Marcie, my sister’s eldest. Beside her--” The girl with the green face, “is Chelsea, her younger sister. She was the unlucky lass lured into the water that day. Then the lad beside them is Bram, my brother’s child. He was one of the hags that dwells beneath the waters. The two girls sitting beside him are Theresa and Tiffany-- twins, my younger sister’s. And of course, ye already ken my Alec and William.”
Her gaze drifted again to the Hardy in the picture-- Alec, she corrected herself, because whatever he had told her about taking up his mother’s name at thirteen, in the photo he was Tom’s age. And genuinely happy, to boot, at least in that moment at least. “It’s odd,” she confessed quietly. “For a long time, I didn’t think he even knew how to smile.”
Grant’s expression shifted then, something dark and grieving and gone so fast she wasn’t sure she hadn’t imagined it. “Alec always was a quiet child, somber, and he watched more than he spoke. But whatever griefs he had wi’ me and Will, he always made sure to come to the family gatherings-- he loved seeing the lassies, and they him.” He looked at her for a long moment, gauging, then said, “If ye’re agreeable to it, Ellie, I’d like to invite them over to meet ye. It’s been too long since they’ve seen Alec, and I think ye’d serve nicely to keep him calm.”
Ellie’s mouth tightened. “It’s not my job to play referee for your son, sir,” she said a mite coldly. “I wouldn’t be here at all, except for William’s apparent idea of a joke.”
“Ye think that Will acted on his own, lass? I spent my time looking into yer history, and I instructed him to invite ye along if he were to run into ye while in Broadchurch. I didna think Alec would be so stupid as to pick another woman like Tess to work with.”
On another day, she might have become angry at the clear jab at her character, but now she was too much on guard to do anything but laugh. “Now I know where Hardy’s habit of lashing out comes from. If you think I’m going to be manipulated that way, you’d better rethink your strategy.”
“Would payment be a better option, then?” he asked smoothly. “Or has Alec already taken care of that?”
His words didn’t register for a moment, and she gaped stupidly at him until they did. Fury choked her. “How dare you! How dare you, to suggest such a- such a-- do you really think I’m so easily bought? That I can be bought at all?” She found herself on her feet without recalling jumping up, the photo album spilled messily onto the floor between them. Her voice shook with fury. “Go ahead and do whatever you want, sir-- I’ll be heading home tomorrow.” She turned on her heel and made to leave, but froze when he spoke up quietly behind her.
“Ye’ll find yer job lost when ye get back to Broadchurch, then, Mrs. Miller, if ye do leave tomorrow.”
He sounded so off hand, so callous, that she felt a genuine thrill of dread down her spine. She gritted her teeth anyway and refused to back down. “I’d like to see you try and make that happen.”
“Ye think I canna do it? Or that I wilna? The Wallace family has a lot of influence, ye ken.”
“So I’ve been told.” Her heart was flying in her chest. “But what about Hardy?”
For the first time, Grant seemed surprised. “What about Alec?”
She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, feeling like she was about to plunge into deep unknown waters. “So we work together. Have done for several years now, and on a lot of cases. What would he say if I mysteriously up and left my job?”
He waved a hand derisively, and she wanted nothing more than to slap him for it. “My son doesna work well wi’ others, Mrs. Miller, and anyone will do for a colleague. He’ll find the next DS perfectly suitable, I’m sure.”
She swung back around. “Are you sure about that?” she demanded, and she advanced on him. To his credit, he stood his ground, unperturbed by her anger. “Just for that, sir, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do: your son is an adult, and he can bloody well play kindly with others on his own volition. I’ll stay after all, and meet your bloody family, but I won’t be helping you, sir-- I’ll be helping him. Watching his back so that his family doesn’t fucking stab him in it.” And giving him the coldest smile she could, she turned to leave again-- before pausing and looking back. “And he may not have many colleagues he’s worked well with, but you’ll recall he asked me to help him solve Sandbrook. Think on that before you start playing your games, yeah?”
It was a good five minutes later that reaction set in, and she realized exactly what she had said to whom. Her hands were shaking and she stuffed them into her pockets to hide it.
We’re colleagues, she thought fiercely, squeezing her eyes shut as she paused in the hallway. That’s it. Colleagues.
She and Hardy were not friends. They still fought like the dickens every chance they had, she still wanted to hit him upside the head with a shovel every other day, and he clearly felt the same about her.
So when had she suddenly felt so damn protective of the annoying bastard?
A mother’s instinct, she supposed; during Danny’s case, her interactions with him made her think she was the exasperated mother to his unruly child, and she had not been pleased with the illustration. There were days she still felt that way.
But then on the other scale there was Sandbrook, and his telling her about finding Pippa. There was the night in his hotel room, when he had been the softest she had ever seen him, his damaged heart breaking for her. There were the moments now where he asked her about parenting, when they could discuss their children like any proud parents should. Cups of tea brought to work in the mornings, dinners bought and eaten at his desk on a late night, and their bench to sit on watching the sun set some evenings after wrapping up a case.
No pubs, yet, but she would wear him down eventually.
She jumped about a mile. “Christ, Hardy, don’t do that!”
The knob actually looked amused. She was going to take back every nice thought she had had of him and kick him in the knee for good measure. But then, this was one of the first times she had seen him approach anything like humor since arriving in Scotland, so she supposed he could be given a reprieve. “You shouldn’t be so distracted, then,” he said simply, and then he paused when he realized how she looked. “What’s happened?”
“Why did you choose me to help you with Sandbrook?” The question slipped out without thought, and she was just as taken aback by it as he so clearly was. “Was it just because I was convenient, and close enough that you could stronghold me into doing what you wanted?”
A shadow crossed his face. “Dad’s been talking to you, hasn’t he?”
“What makes you think that?”
He scoffed. “I’ve put up with him for decades, Miller-- I know how he works. What did he say to you?”
She hesitated, and the shadow deepened in his expression. Before she could speak, he was turning on his heel and striding down the hallway, pausing only briefly when Ellie tried to reason him out of confronting his father. “It was nothing, Hardy, he was just being an arse--”
“He doesn’t have to stick his nose into everything, Miller, and I won’t have him doing it now--” He turned into the room Ellie had left Grant in and she very nearly walked into him when he stopped abruptly. Peering over his shoulder she realized that Grant had been unable to pick up the fallen photo album, and its pages lay half-crumpled and smiling up at the ceiling. The picture of all the children was partially hidden by the sofa, and she watched Hardy’s expression soften as he looked down at it.
“He told me you all had performed a play,” she said quietly. “That you did that often, growing up.”
His gaze didn’t leave the photo. “We did,” he said, just as quietly. “Before we all grew up, and grew apart. After Granddad died-- Dad’s dad, I never knew my mum’s-- we all just… drifted apart. The only one I ever keep in regular contact with is Chelsea.”
“Why is that? I mean, I… Lucy and I, we don’t have cousins or aunts and uncles. I would think families would stick together if there were so many members.”
Picking up the album, he placed the photo carefully in its slot and smoothed out the page. “You’d think,” he agreed softly. “But Granddad and Grandma were the people who held us all together. After they were gone, we never met up for holidays or the like anymore. And after the accident…”
Ellie’s ears pricked. “What accident?”
He looked annoyed at the slip-up, but knew she wasn’t going to give up her questions. “I don’t have many memories before the age of twelve,” he explained, horribly offhand, and her stomach twisted. “A head injury, or so I was told. I don’t remember anything about it-- but it’s hard to keep up relationships if you don’t recall them, you know?”
The silence was stifling. “I’m sorry,” Ellie finally said, feeling it inadequate.
His mouth twisted. “Don’t be,” he said shortly, and flipped the album shut with a snap. He stood and turned to look her in the eyes. “I wanted your help with Sandbrook at first because I wanted to distract you,” he confessed without shame. “I didn’t think you would become so invested in it, but you surprised me. In a-- lot of ways. You’re a fine detective, Miller, and solving Sandbrook-- that only cemented it. I was… proud to have your help, I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Yes, well,” she said with an uncomfortable twitch of her shoulders, “not bad for a rural copper, yeah?”
He outright smiled at that, albeit ruefully. “Should’ve known you wouldn’t forget that.”
“I didn’t,” she said primly, smiling herself, but she sobered quickly. “For what it’s worth, I’m glad I helped you solve it, knocks on my abilities aside.”
And just like that, they were on point again-- which still wasn’t the best of prospects, considering it was his father they were discussing. “He threatened my job,” she finally confessed when he kept pushing the issue, and continued hurriedly on when his expression darkened again. “He wanted me to play your referee when your family comes visiting, and I was tired of being manipulated, so I- I threatened to leave early, in the morning.”
Now he merely looked frustrated. “Miller! I told you what to expect when we came here, didn’t I? What the hell were you thinking, saying that to him?”
“You told me that William would make me lose my job,” she said tartly, stung. “You never said anything about your dad pulling the same trick.”
“Aye, well, Will had to have learned it from somewhere.” This was said with no small amount of asperity. “So what did you do, then? After he threatened you?”
“Well, you came up in the discussion, we shared some-- ah, some back and forth, you know, and then I finally told him I’d stay after all… if only to watch your back.” This she said so hurriedly it came out as a rush, and it took a very long moment for him to fully compute what she had just said. “I know I shouldn’t have said it, so don’t bite my nose off, Hardy, I want to kick myself for giving them any idea about what we’re like--”
“You think Dad doesn’t already know? Miller, he had a pretty good idea when he found out I had gone back to Broadchurch the second time.” It was his turn to shrug uncomfortably at her incredulous look. “He was right, the old bastard-- I don’t work well with others, and I’ve never gone back to a job and a colleague after I’ve already left them once. You should’ve seen the look on his face when I confirmed I was moving back to Broadchurch.”
“Hysterical, I’m sure-- but I thought you didn’t come here often? How did your dad find out about your various-- er, activities?”
He rolled his eyes. “I came down to recuperate,” he said irritably, but she thought it was from memories and not her actual question. “Will was off in London for his charitable work, and this place is usually big enough for me to avoid Dad if I really want to. ‘Sides, Millie’s here, and she’s a good ally to have at your back.”
“It also helped you stay out of the limelight when the news of Sandbrook broke,” she said with a raised brow. She’d wondered at the time why there had never been more than one statement from him following its closure, but she supposed hiding in a large manor house in the middle of Scotland would do the trick of keeping the papers from asking him too many questions. “How long were you here for, then?”
“A month. I left as soon as Will came home; we fight worse than me and Dad, if you can believe it. So I went back to Sandbrook-- like I told you before-- to try and fix things for the family. And you know how that went already.”
She did; the day they had sat together on the wall discussing Trish Winterman’s case had been an enlightening one, on many fronts, and it had not been a moment she had taken lightly. “I suppose it was too broken to fix,” she said before she could stop herself, and flushed in mortification. “Oh my god, I did not mean how that sounded, Hardy!”
He merely sighed. “Suppose you’re right. I’d hoped…”
He didn’t finish the thought, but the direction of it was all too clear; surrounded by his childhood home and its memories, how could it not be? “How much of that wanting,” she asked quietly, “was because of your own parents’ failed marriage?”
His gaze was sharp when he looked at her, but he didn’t speak immediately. Instead, he stood and went over to the mantel of the fireplace and took down a framed picture of an older kind, an older stern woman peering out at them. This picture he removed from its spot to draw out a second one, this one much more recent and colorized. He handed it over and Ellie looked at it in silence, almost afraid to touch it. “My mum,” he said unnecessarily, because of course Ellie already knew that.
The woman looking up at her was not quite smiling, but there was a gentling of her expression and the lift of her brow that suggested good humor; her plaited hair was a deep auburn, her eyes the same shade of blue as William’s. And Daisy’s, she realized suddenly. She saw a lot of Daisy in her, in fact, the family resemblance undeniable between grandmother and granddaughter. She was also, Ellie thought with a soft pang, quite young.
“She was fourteen when she married Dad.” Hardy’s voice was quiet as he spoke, his expression twisted with something she couldn’t name as he looked at the photo. Ellie’s head jerked up to meet his gaze, aghast, and his mouth wrenched bitterly. “Aye, I know. Millie says she lied about her age to get Dad to marry her, and he didn’t know the truth until a few years later. By that time, they’d already had me, and Dad wouldn’t hear of divorcing her. I suppose they cared for each other in the beginning, but… they fought. Screamed. Threw things at each other. And afterwards, Mum would find me and William where we had sat and listened to it all and tell us everything was fine. That she and Dad had only had a disagreement.” He was silent for a long moment then. “The final night I was in Sandbrook before coming to Broadchurch, Tess and I fought badly. I don’t remember what it was about, but afterwards I walked down the hallway to find Daisy listening at the door-- and I told her everything was fine, and her mum and I had only had a disagreement.”
Ellie drew a breath in sharply; she couldn’t help it. The bitterness of his expression grew, and he took the photo back, looking down at that innocent visage, still several years from her tragic ending.
“I suppose I have Mum to thank for coming to my senses then,” he said, and Ellie found she couldn’t speak. “She taught me the cost of staying in a loveless marriage, and damned if I was going to let history repeat itself.”
He put the photo back where it had been, and Ellie sat in troubled silence for a long time before she finally shook herself. “Does Daisy know about her? Your mum?” she finally asked.
“Besides the fact that she’s dead?” he said bluntly. “No. She’s never bothered asking, and I don’t plan on telling her anything unless she does. She’s dealt with her own broken family-- she doesn’t need to know the details about mine.”
I might have been a bit influenced by Mycroft Holmes's first appearance in BBC Sherlock while writing Ellie's talk with Grant. Oops?
I'm warming up to Grant the more I write him. William, not so much.
Chapter 6: Part VI
There was definitely underhanded dealings going on with the Wallace family-- where Ellie had been assured of this visit only being a week, this so-called last minute family gathering was put together suspiciously quickly. Within a day, the date and time was put down and sent out to the various family members, and the responses took hardly any time at all to come back, affirming their attendance.
Grant Wallace was clearly more conniving than she had first estimated-- and it seemed he planned for everything.
Having such a control freak for a father, she decided, must have had as much of an impression on Hardy’s psyche as his parents’ fights did; she could see how restless and uncomfortable he was as time went on, and the day of the family gathering grew nearer. When he finally disappeared altogether after dinner a couple of evenings before the family’s arrival, Ellie assumed he had gone to the family cemetery again, or was out wandering the groves of trees that flanked the great house. When dusk came and the house started to settle for the night, there was still no sign of him, and Elie felt uneasy enough by it that she slipped her shoes on and went searching for him.
It fell to the elderly servant Frank to point her in the right direction. “He’ll be in the stables, ma’am,” he said quietly as he passed her in the hallway. Ellie allowed herself one moment to pause and wonder what the hell he was doing there, and then she turned smartly on her heel and went in the opposite direction. The outside air was cool, the smell of fresh pine invigorating, and she breathed deeply as she went, wondering what was going on in the stables that Hardy would find them a refuge.
Not a refuge, she discovered after a moment; at least not completely. At first she thought that Frank had told her wrongly-- there was no sign of anyone there, but then she heard the low discomfited groans of an animal and she made her way down the aisle to one of the corner stalls. A heavily pregnant mare lay on her side in a bed of thick hay, swelled belly rippling with a contraction, grumbling her pain; Hardy sat in the corner of the stall, watching the mare carefully.
He knew she was there. “Miller.” His voice was soft and drowsy, and not loud enough to even startle the mare; clearly unbothered by what he was seeing. “Why aren’t you in bed?”
“I was making sure you hadn’t made a run for it,” she said with some bite-- she was tired, after all, and of course he was costing her sleep even if they weren’t on a bloody job. She jerked her head towards the groaning mare. “How’d you get stuck with this job, then?”
He shifted slightly in the hay, but only to brace himself more comfortably against the stall. “Ewan needed a couple hour’s sleep-- Merry’s been laboring for a while now, and he’d been with her the whole time. I sent him off for a break.”
Ellie’s stomach tightened with sympathy and remembered pain as a particularly prolonged contraction made the mare shudder. She eyed him critically. “Do you even have experience with this sort of stuff, Hardy?”
“I’ve never given birth, no.” This was said so dryly that Ellie couldn’t help but grin. “Granddad had trained thoroughbreds for racing, though, and I spent some time in the stables with him. Birthing mares was a regular occurrence.” His gaze drifted back to the said mare, who was lying quietly in preparation of the next contraction. “I’d forgotten what it was like.”
“What,” Ellie said with equal dryness, “hot, agonizing, and messy?”
“You’re the one who’s gone through it. Why don’t you tell me?”
She rolled her eyes and let herself into the stall, being careful not to disturb the resting mare as she slid down the wall to join him. “Knob. If you weren’t busy already, I’d smack you.”
One of his rare grins crossed his face as he glanced over at her again. “I’ll make sure to stand still, then, so you’ll be sure you can hit me.”
She really did slap his arm for that, amusement and irritation both warring to show itself—the amusement won this time, though, and she chuckled despite herself. The longer she sat there, the more she began to understand why he had taken up the job of watching over the said Merry; the birthing was clearly some time away still, and in the meantime the silence was a comfort.
Hardy preferred silence to a lot of noise; not only did he frequently go on walks along trails that were usually empty of tourists, but he was not one to listen to music at home, either, or have the telly on very often even as background noise. Whether he had always been like that or if he had had to learn to enjoy it through the chaos of the job she didn’t know, but she could appreciate it nonetheless.
“I don’t think I’ve been surrounded by so much silence since before Tom was born,” she remarked with some surprise.
Now it was his turn to chuckle, a dry rough sound from disuse. “And then you decided to add to the noise by having another one.”
She sat in the quiet for a long moment, trying to ignore the pang in her heart. “It was Joe, really,” she said quietly. “He had been an only child, and he always said how he’d always wanted a sibling growing up. I-… I’d suffered a miscarriage three years after Tom was born. Six months in.” Her voice was rough and flat. “We’d been so afraid to attempt any more after that, but there was always that want there, the desire to have another one. I’d thought we’d missed our chance by the time Fred came along.”
His attention was squarely on her again. “I didn’t know that,” he said softly.
Her smile was slight and bitter. “Miscarriage isn’t something most women are going to parade around, you know?” She sighed. “But it happens a lot more than anyone really thinks about… and it hurt for a long time afterward to even think about attempting pregnancy again. Fred was a difficult birth, and the doctor warned me the outcome next time would not likely end up so well, but to see him sleeping in my arms, still all pink and wrinkly… it was all worth it. All of it.”
He was still looking at her, his gaze remote and far away from the here and now. “Do you… think most women think that way? That having children is worth it?”
“I’d like to think so,” she said slowly after a long moment. “Plenty of abandoned and neglected children to say otherwise, though.” It was a sobering thought, and she sat in troubled silence as she thought about it. How often did she hear about that through friends in the job, and on the news? Then she realized what he likely meant by his question-- Daisy was an only child, after all. “Are you-- are you talking about Tess?”
It was his turn to look away. “She never wanted more than Daisy. And whatever else she is, Tess is a good mother-- but she didn’t like the pregnancy, and swore that our daughter was the only one she’d ever have. I didn’t fight her on it-- I’d always been afraid that if Daisy had a brother or sister, they’d be like me and Will, bickering and fighting amongst themselves. I’ve always thought that being an only child would be a good thing.”
“Siblings are overrated,” Ellie said dryly, by way of benediction, and had the pleasure of hearing him laugh quietly again. They were silent for another long moment, then she spoke again. “Do you and Will ever get along, Hardy?”
“After we’ve had a few drinks, aye.”
Ellie straightened abruptly against the door, realization clicking into place. ‘That’s why you’re so relaxed right now!” she exclaimed accusingly. “You’ve been drinking, haven’t you?”
“Took you that long to catch on, eh?” With another slow grin, he reached to the far corner of the stall and withdrew a bottle of whiskey, which he handed over to her. It was still quite full; clearly he hadn’t been at it for awhile, which was somewhat of a relief.
“Drinking on the job, sir?” she asked wryly, and took the cap off to take a swig of it herself.
“I’m allowed to. I’m on vacation.”
The whisky was smooth and finely aged, with the singular oaky taste to it that identified it as genuine Scottish drink, and her eyes widened with surprised pleasure. When she surfaced it was to his raised brow and a full-blown smirk on his face. She coughed into her fist, feeling the heat of the drink settle in her stomach and sear her throat. “I can see why.”
He laughed again freely, and she thought with a pang that seeing him a bit squiffed was endearing. Certainly he was a lot easier to deal with being so than his usual brusque and aloof self. “You’ve never woken up with a hangover from it yet.”
“And I take it you have.”
He scoffed. “Please. Scots don’t get drunk.”
Ellie took another drink and then passed it back over to him. “I can only imagine the family gatherings with this involved.”
“It’s the only thing that doesn’t get thrown against the walls.”
It was Ellie’s turn to laugh then, the warmth of the whisky still pleasantly thrumming in her stomach, and settled in more comfortably against the door to watch over the mare with him.
When she finally made it back to her room and bed, stiff and flushed from the whisky she had imbibed, she didn’t immediately notice the book until its jagged edge pinched her leg. Startled, she jumped up again with a cry thinking it a spider of some kind before seeing its dark cover partially hidden by the blanket. Frowning, she bent down and picked it up, trying to remember whether or not she had fallen asleep reading the previous night.
She hadn’t. And when flipping the pages open, she realized that the words she was seeing were handwritten. A fair hand, but thin and at times meandering, like the person writing had had a hard time concentrating on their words. Ellie didn’t truly think anything of great significance about what she was looking at until she noticed the names springing out at her: Grant, and Alec. With an unpleasant twist to her stomach, she flipped to the front page and found the name of this journal’s owner scrawled there: Mairi Elizabeth Hardy.
Ellie’s throat was tight, and she stared down at the book with a mix of amazement and consternation. Her first thought was to go and find Hardy and show him what she had in front of her-- but he already knew about this, surely? Maybe that was where the journal had come from-- maybe he wanted her to know more about his mother.
She should have felt more guilty about opening the first page to read, but a single fact stood out above all for the justification: someone had clearly meant for her to see it and read its contents.
Whatever else I may be, the first entry said, I am not a writer. I have no interest in a career of professional writing, and nor do I wish for my life to be read aloud by hundreds upon thousands of people. I have trouble keeping track of my thoughts as they come and go, and perhaps putting them to paper will help me in my endeavor to be more organized. So there will likely be a lot of punctuation mistakes and the like mixed in while I’m writing this-- but I don’t need an editor, so I’m not concerned.
Ellie grinned despite herself; she could almost hear the dry Scottish drawl in her ear as she read, the wit so readily apparent even in these slightly-faded words. Glancing at the date, she saw that Mairi Hardy had written this in June of 1965.
Roughly four years before Hardy himself was born, then. Ellie flipped back to where she had left off reading with the mental note in the back of her mind, her fascination only growing.
Mum will likely never realize that her writing lessons have paid off-- but that’s alright, too, as she merely has faith that they have and doesn’t ask me to show her proof. We must make a good impression in the world-- and literacy is a very important part of that. It proves you are not a dunce.
Or so she tells me.
But dunce or not, I still have no serious interest in writing. This is merely an exercise, an attempt to collect my thoughts and make me understand how I work. I hope it’s not considered selfish or arrogant to speak of oneself in one’s own journal, but there is no one besides God who knows a person’s heart better than the one who lives with it every day.
Ellie dropped the book in her lap and felt a sudden shiver down her spine. ‘You can never really know what goes on inside somebody else’s heart.’ Would Mairi Hardy have found it poetic that her son would say such similar words some forty years later? To Ellie herself, in fact, and the memories of that horrific night following Joe’s arrest came back with such vivid force she very nearly had the wind knocked out of her.
She put the journal carefully on the side table, suddenly afraid to touch it, and did not fall asleep until after she heard the clock in the hallway strike three.
Chapter 7: Part VII
January 17th, 1966
Today I met the handsomest man I’ve ever seen. He was observing the horse races just as Father and I were, himself in the company of his own father. My questions led to his name: Grant Wallace, of the famous clan (could there be any other?), and potential lord of his family’s estate.
He really, truly is very handsome. Brown hair and eyes, just like most of England’s population, but very unique shades of brown nonetheless, I think. His hair is, anyway. I haven’t gotten close enough to see his eyes, but I’m sure they’re beautiful. He’s so tall, too!
Ellie paused in her reading to think about the shrunken frame of the man she was familiar with, and felt a pang in her stomach at the comparison. She didn’t know the story of how and why Hardy’s father was in a wheelchair now besides his nameless fatal condition, but it was somehow tragic nonetheless to read about his vibrancy while young. Mairi’s voice was growing stronger to her the longer she read, an entire person all to herself, and Ellie felt an even stronger pang of loss knowing that all of her wit and humor and realness was gone, too, and had been so for over thirty years.
This journal entry was short, but Ellie could imagine the teenaged Mairi Hardy giggling with her friends about the cute boys they’d seen-- maybe sneaking the dirty bits from magazines when their parents weren’t looking, like she and Beth had reminisced about and laughed over together not so long ago.
The clock struck eleven in the hallway, and Ellie shut the journal gently to put it away. It would be time for lunch soon, and the Wallace family would be coming for their visit shortly, and Ellie wanted to make sure that Hardy was ready for it.
Hell, she needed to make sure she was ready for it.
The first person she ran into after leaving her room was Will, who luckily didn’t seem inclined to talk, and he passed her by with a mere nod. He was already dressed in an impeccable shirt and wrinkleless trousers and dress shoes, as if he were going to a gala instead of a mere family gathering. She rolled her eyes and continued on her way, heading to the porch to see if Hardy was there; halfway there, she ran into Millie. The old maid was always flittering about like a hummingbird, and now was no exception, but she still took the time to ask how Ellie was doing.
“Good, thank you,” Ellie said with a grin, fond of this older woman and her no-nonsense ways. “You?”
“Ach, ye ken how it is,” Millie said with a shake of her head. “The meal is begun for dinner, and I’ve just finished putting up all the breakables for when the family comes.”
“They’re all toddlers, aren’t they?” Ellie asked dryly, and it was Millie’s turn to laugh.
“It does seem that way, doesna it? No, they’re just a family of hot tempers, the lot o’ them, and ye’ve got to let them tire themselves out. Doesna do to interrupt them before they’re done screaming.”
Ellie shook her head, unamused. “At least I can shut my son Fred in his room if he throws a big enough tantrum.”
Millie turned a gimlet eye her way. “I’d done the same for the lads growing up, several times. Willie especially.”
“He wasn’t very talkative today. Do you think he’s preparing a grand speech for when the family comes?”
Ellie meant it entirely as a joke, and she was therefore taken aback when Millie’s gaze sharpened like hawk’s sighting prey. “Ye saw him? Just now? Where?”
“Ah- down the corridor towards the back door, closest to the gardens. I think he went outside.” Her surprise deepened when the old maid swung around on her heel and strode down the hallway in the direction indicated, leaving Ellie to scramble along in her wake. “What’s wrong? Why are you looking for him?”
Millie didn’t pause in her walking, didn’t even glance at her. “It doesna concern ye, Ellie, but I thank ye anyway. I’ll take it from here.”
Ellie stopped mid step and had to stop her jaw from dropping. She’d never heard the old maid sound so short before, nor so grave, and her instincts prickled with unease. What could be so concerning about Will that had Millie so suddenly secretive?
Manners told her to leave it alone, that it wasn’t any of her business. But she still harboured a sense of indignation towards the entirety of the Wallace family for their easy high-handed use of power, and her propriety was not at its best right now. With only the slightest hesitation, she followed after Millie to the back gardens; the door didn’t make a sound as it opened, and she made sure it clicked shut behind her quietly. She could hear voices already, and they quickly became more apparent the closer she walked to the wide expanse of lush green plants and bushes and flowers.
“-ken ye’re having a rough time of it, lad,” Millie was saying gently, “but ye ken the importance of taking it.”
“But what’s the point, Millie? It doesna do anything!”
“That’s the depression talking, lad, and ye ken that as well. Did ye keep up with taking yer prescription while in London?”
His voice was oddly muffled, like he was running his hand down his face. “I did, but I’ve misplaced the bottle.”
“When was the last time ye took it, lad?”
“I dinna ken.” He sounded clearer, but genuinely puzzled. “What day of the week is it?”
Millie made a low noise in her throat. “Come on back into the house-- I found the bottle today, lost in the laundry. Ye’ll feel better when ye’re back on track.”
“Aye,” Will said, as bitter as Ellie had ever heard him before, “made normal only because I take pills like clockwork, and if I miss one I’m a fucking basketcase.”
Her stomach twisted hearing that, and she refused to admit that it was pity. Millie’s voice was still gentle, but with an edge to it. “None of that now, William. Ye’re no basketcase, and ye never were. Dinna let what ye’re feeling now convince ye otherwise, because let me tell ye, lad-- there’s no such thing as normal.”
The words were another dull blow to Ellie’s stomach, realizing how right she was. It had been something she had concluded for herself when she went to counseling during her exile from Broadchurch, the fact that even the calmest and most ideal life held some dark secrets, and that the happiest person could in fact be fighting thoughts of suicide.
She hadn’t been prepared to entertain the thought that Will could be harboring something like that, though. Telling herself off for a heel, she kicked herself mentally and backed away, knowing that she really had stumbled across something she shouldn’t have. The door luckily reopened as quietly as it had a minute before, and she slipped back inside and fairly ran down the hallway in her haste to get away.
Ellie watched Will furtively out of the corner of her eye that evening, but he seemed perfectly all right now; of course, in the bustle of people and the growing noise she didn’t suppose he could have a meltdown in front of everyone. Standing where she was close to Hardy’s side, she allowed her attention to drift elsewhere and tried to stay as out of the way as possible, amazed at how a crowd completely changed the feel of the large manor house. Staff and servants went to and fro seeing to everyone’s comforts, and the smell of cooking meat and vegetables from the kitchen made Ellie’s mouth water in anticipation. Dinner was still a while to go, however, and she was in the midst of a group of strangers with not even a drink to keep her company.
It still stood that Ellie Miller was a social creature; she genuinely loved greeting new people and making friends-- which made it so difficult for her now, since she would always have to live with the shadow of Joe hovering over her. These people, whoever they all may be behind closed doors, did not look at Ellie like she was the depraved ex-wife of a child murderer and that was enough for her to greet them all with a wide grin and a cheery greeting, making her way through the crowd making small talk before eventually making it back to Hardy’s side. He was the most carefully groomed she had ever seen him before, and certainly the tidiest, with his beard cut close and his dark hair swept back from his face. Still wearing a godforsaken suit, but this one was more expensive than she was sure the rest of his wardrobe was put together, and it was more form-fitting than what he usually wore. She had already snuck some photos, to show Beth later. And he wore it like it was nothing so special.
Ellie herself felt much more self-conscious in her own outfit; having been so shortly notified about this impromptu trip, she had had little time to prepare for it, and the dress she had grabbed from the few remaining that she had was not up to par with even a simple family gathering. Millie had taken one look at it where she had laid it on the bed and directed one of the maid’s to find a fitting dress. What Ellie had been brought was nothing short of a gown, a navy blue so dark it looked black, with off the shoulder elbow-length sleeves and a floor-length skirt that was carefully bunched along one hip and then fell away in a smooth wave. It was certainly the most expensive thing she had ever worn, and the fact that Millie told her it was hers to keep was discomfiting.
“How can I keep it?” she had demanded, wide-eyed and unable to believe it. “I didn’t pay for it!”
“Aye, and who d’ye think did, Ellie?” came the easy response. “And he’ll no be pleased to hear ye talking of returning it, so hush yer gob and wear it.”
She glanced over at Hardy now; he had barely glanced at her appearance all night, but there had been a moment when she had stepped into sight and his expression had been so smug she’d been tempted to take her shoe off and throw it at him.
She wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or disturbed about the fact that he knew what her dress size was, but knowing him if she brought it up she would scar him for life. Better to let the bastard have his moment-- lord knew he wouldn’t have that amongst this group.
He wasn’t treated as a pariah by any stretch, but she had still had the sense of strain whenever he was greeted by the odd family member, the inability to immediately know how to navigate greetings and conversations. She could tell who truly disliked Hardy easily enough, though-- their covert glances as they mingled reminded her uncomfortably of the same looks she and her coworkers had given him during Danny’s murder investigation.
“If looks were daggers,” she said quietly to him now, “I think you’d be dead right now.”
A corner of his mouth twitched at a dry smile. “Aye, but they’ll not say anything about it. I’m still Grant Wallace’s firstborn,” he said in lieu of her confused look, “and that means I’m heir to the estate when he’s gone. They aren’t going to risk antagonizing the future head of the family.”
That floored her, and she stood in silence as she let that sink in. The revelation of Hardy’s background was still truly hard for her to grasp, still aweing in its fact, and still he would say something so blase like that and throw her even more off-kilter-- and this was by the far the most troubling.
She was surprised by the panic this revelation brought. When Grant did die, would Hardy leave Broadchurch again to live here?
“Ellie-- there you are!”
The delighted exclamation drew her rudely from her thoughts, and she startled as she turned to look for who had spoken. The woman who had said it was standing on her other side, looking vaguely startled herself at Ellie’s abrupt movement, and then she chuckled ruefully. “Ah-- I’ve done it again,” she said apologetically. “I’ve a habit of sneaking up on people-- completely not on purpose, you know--” here Hardy, who hadn’t been at all surprised by her appearance, snorted, and she turned a mock-glare to him, “and don’t listen to anything Alec says about me, because it will all be true.” She held out a glass for Ellie to take, which she did with a small nod of thanks.
“That traumatizing, are you?” Ellie asked as she took a sip of the drink.
The woman laughed outright at that, thoroughly amused. Perhaps a bit of that came from how much she’d had to drink already, but she wasn’t at all insulted. “I’m Chelsea Wallace, Alec’s cousin.”
“I know,” Ellie said bluntly. “He told me.”
One ruddy eyebrow shot up as she turned to look at Hardy speculatively. “Did he, now? He’s told me a bit about you as well. We’ll have to compare notes.” She held out a hand suddenly to shake. “Pleased to finally put a voice to the face.”
“Oh?” This Ellie said with a raised brow as she took another drink, already knowing where this was going.
“Aye. Couldn’t keep up with Alec’s doings in Broadchurch without seeing you alongside.” Her expression sobered, and her voice was quiet when she spoke next. “I am truly sorry for what happened.”
It had been nearly five years, but the reminder of Joe’s betrayal was still enough to leave her breathless sometimes, as it did now. Where William’s veiled nods to her family was meant to hurt, Chelsea’s was genuine regret-- and Ellie wanted to know just how much about it all that Hardy had told her. She settled instead for a nod and a muttered ‘thank you’, and didn’t miss the way Hardy relaxed slightly, as if he had been afraid she would fly off the handle.
She covered her annoyance by finishing off her drink, so she wouldn’t be tempted to say something she would come to regret. When she came back up for air, she found both Hardy and Chelsea staring at her. “What?” she demanded, and Hardy was opening his mouth to reply--
“Didna ken ye hang out with sots, Alec.”
Will’s snide remark made her stiffen automatically, but before she could speak Chelsea had beaten her to it. “Didn’t ken you cared, Will,” she said smoothly. “Or do you think none of us know about the flask you hide in your room?”
He flushed a mottled red. “Been sneaking into places ye shouldna be, I see,” he retorted. “Always sticking yer nose where it doesn’t belong.” His sharp gaze flickered briefly to Ellie, flat and calculating, and she felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. “Both of ye. Ye’d be a perfect match for my brother, Ellie-- were the rumors true, then? Were ye both fucking during that boy’s murder investigation, setting up yer husband to take the fall?”
The room tilted suddenly. Ellie only realized that she had moved at all when Hardy’s hand was suddenly holding her wrist in a crushing grip, her hand only inches from Will’s face. His expression was as remote and icy as she had ever seen it before as he stared his younger brother down-- ultimately, it was Will who looked away first, the challenging alpha wolf stepping down. “You shouldn’t be spouting off rumors you don’t even believe to be true, William-- and that boy’s name was Danny. Maybe you should be human enough to remember that.”
The flush deepened, and Will didn’t look up to meet Hardy’s gaze again, barely even glancing at Ellie. “I’m… sorry,” he muttered, and if there was perhaps a note of genuine regret there she had no intention of acknowledging it. She found she was trembling, her breath coming in short gasps, and her chest felt tight, and even though the bustle around them had not lessened she felt as if every eye was upon her. She clenched her jaw and glared at him until he finally turned and walked away.
Chelsea was looking at her with deepened admiration and sympathy; Hardy hadn’t glanced her way at all. The tightening in her chest grew worse. “Air,” she gasped out, and shoved her empty glass into Chelsea’s free hand to stumble off.
She found herself outside minutes later, seated at one of the tables overlooking the south garden, far enough away from the bustle of the party that she couldn’t hear it. Her phone sat in front of her, reflecting the pale sky in its face, her conversation with Tom and Fred long over with.
Talking with her boys had calmed her, their voices exactly what she needed to hear, and she was fiercely grateful that it would only be a couple days and then she would be back in Broadchurch. She and Hardy could go back to their normal selves, and she could forget this ever happened.
She’d heard his approaching footsteps and hadn’t needed to guess who it was-- she was merely grateful it was him and no one else. “Hardy,” she sighed, leaning back in her seat tiredly. “I’m sorry for running-- it doesn’t help with that whole proper etiquette image you told me about.”
“Damn the etiquette.” His voice was clipped and harsh, rough with barely suppressed anger, and she turned in her seat at the same time he handed her a full glass of what appeared to be more whisky. He took a seat beside her and stretched his long legs out underneath the table, glaring out in the distance as she sipped at her drink. “I’m sorry I dragged you into this.”
“Good,” she said bluntly. “You should be.” The silence was stifling between them, until finally she shook her head and spoke again. “But it’s not your fault, not really. I can see why you spent so much time at your Gran’s house rather than here.” She tilted the glass back and forth on the table as she thought of what to say next, grasping desperately for something that wasn’t going to upset them both even more. “And I’m not angry at you, Hardy.”
“Oh, good,” he said sarcastically. “I’m glad it’s not me this time.”
“Thank you.” The words slipped out unbidden, but she didn’t try to take them back. He turned to look at her in amazement, and she met his gaze squarely. “For sticking up for Danny.”
His expression softened slightly after hearing that. Danny’s absence was still keenly felt amidst the tight-knit group of Broadchurch; even though Hardy had never met him while alive, he had seen first-hand the grief and the holes his death had ripped into everyday life. The dead suffered no ill-word-- and that was especially true for children. “You’re welcome.”
They sat in the peaceful quiet for a long time, until finally he shook himself and stood. Ellie’s glass was empty, which she saw him grin at, and then he was helping her to her feet. “C’mon. We only have to make it a couple more days, and then we’ll go back home.”
It was most likely the drink making her feel generous, but she beamed up at him with real affection. “I like the way you think.”
December 27th, 1969
Marriage isn’t what I imagined it to be. And being a mother is a lot harder than I had ever been told about. If I'm not feeding the baby, he's crying, or needing changed, or not settling down for a nap. Grant is busy with the estate every day, helping his father with their accounts, or else he’s out at the race track with his friends. I have M. to help me with the baby, but why can’t I have my husband with me to do that? It’s not proper-- or so my mother-in-law tells me. ‘The man leads the household,’ she told me today. ‘The woman’s job is to maintain it.’
Aren’t those two things mutually inclusive? What’s the point of having a life together if we’re never together? At this rate, Grant will never know Alec at all, and I’m so angry about that. All he seems to care about is his precious family name being continued on through a son.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It started shortly after I turned fifteen, and I can’t figure it out. All my thoughts are ugly and dark, and I have so little energy to do anything anymore. I want to spend time with Alec, I want to play with him and show him I really truly love him, but I can only handle doing so for a little while, and then I feel listless and drifting again. The idea of trying to maintain a house this size is frightening to me.
January 17th, 1970
I’ve just reread my last journal entry, and I can’t believe how badly I sounded! I don’t know what was the matter with me, but it appears to have finally lifted, thank God! I have so much more energy back, and Grant and I have spent so much more time together in the last week than we have for the last six months. I’d forgotten how much I loved him, and how wise he is. When I told him about how I’d been feeling just yesterday, he chuckled and kissed me. ‘Oh, that’s all in your head, my love. Give it time, and such feelings will pass.’
How could I live without him?
“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.”
One plot twist down. I'm likely going to tear some hearts out with the second one.