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Rated: 13+ · Other · Mystery · #2012710
Kington discovers Livia in a crumbling mansion.She's beautiful, mysterious & captivating.

‘Mother died last winter.’ She lowered her eyes, as if fearful to show any weakness.

‘I’m sorry...What about your father?’

‘There has never been a father.’ She said the word father as if it were alien to her.

‘You live here alone - in this house – just the three of you?’

Bethany returned to the room, casting a hesitant glace to them both. She wanted to say something, it was worrying her, but she walked to the range to tend to the food.

Livia looked to her as if to say, I have started and look - I am still here, I’m still alive. 

Bethany looked unconvinced. ‘I think... perhaps you should not.’ she ventured, eyes searching Livia’s. 

Livia looked back to Kington with serious resolve, as if trying to calculate the risk from his eyes. ‘Not always,’ she began. ‘Raglan was here.’

‘Who’s Raglan?’

As if finally deciding she would now have to face a flood of questions for her indecision, she seemed to relax. ‘Raglan owns the house. Mother worked for him.’

‘Where is Raglan now?’


There was something about her. He had never felt such an attraction to anyone or anything.  Was hypothermia biting?  Had he hit his head in the blow out?  He found himself asking another question. ‘What work did your mother do for Raglan?’

‘Housekeeping, it was meant to be the garden, she was hired for the garden, but the house is too big.’

‘Who taught you to fix bones?’

‘Mother taught me.’

‘Was she a doctor?’

‘…. She had to learn to heal because she couldn’t go out, and no one could come here.’

‘Why could no one come here?’

She looked uncomfortable.

‘If you don’t want to talk about her it’s okay.’

Her eyes bulged with surprise. ‘Is it?’

‘Of course.’

She was relieved, so much so that she kissed his leg affectionately, the sort of kiss for a grazed knee, a treasure trove of gentle emotion and childish passion. It was such a profoundly pure gesture; he could only stare at her in wonder. She was weaving a spell with those eyes and that smile and it was fascinating to watch, an instinctive way to court pleasure, like a cat arching its back and purring its way along his leg. She was purring, waiting to be petted.

Bethany interrupted with a faltering, ‘The food is ready.’

The spell was broken. 

‘You will stay and eat with us?’ from Livia it was a statement. Not a request.

Did she know what she was doing? He suspected not. Sensed it was a deep-rooted instinct for survival. She was watching him all the while and learning.  All thoughts of a 5 star hotel, a log fire, and a gourmet dinner were quickly dispelled. It could be an interesting evening....A very interesting evening.

Chapter 3

Kington was alone in a bedroom twenty-foot square with a vaulted ceiling he was sure must be hung with icicles. Propped up in several monstrously lumpy pillows in the midst of an enormous oak four-poster bed, there was enough room for a rugby team and he wished one might be available to generate some much needed body heat. Fully dressed, complete with thick cashmere overcoat. The scratchy rags that were supposed to be blankets weighed a ton, yet gave little protection from the biting cold. His breath smoked in the gauzy air and the heavy tapestry curtains at the window billowed in the draughts as if mere tissue.

The evening had been more than interesting, an out of body experience he was, even now, not sure he’d survived. Sitting there, in flickering candlelight, at a grubby pine table, where a leg had been splinted with sticks and wrapped in dirty bandages, with the most beautiful women he had ever seen. But they weren’t women, they were girls, girls that seemed as morbidly fascinated by him as he was with them. They had absolutely no idea how to behave in company. Why would they?  The food had been barely edible. Fish, god knows what species, and chunks of bread. That was it. No cutlery, they used their fingers. He made an excuse, just eaten. They seemed relieved and quickly shared his plate between them, obviously ravenous. One minute he was marvelling at how lovely they were to look at, positively angelic. The next, uncomfortably aware they were undoubtedly wild, feral, they ate like wolves, disarmingly attractive wolves, with those tumbling manes of hair and hungry eyes that read you to the bone.

The conversation was short and awkward; they were too busy devouring the fish. The second the food was finished, Livia announced it was time for bed, informing him he could have Raglan’s room.  He resisted, fancied that he would use the excuse of collecting his case from the car then inexplicably disappear.

But Livia was dubious. ‘The woods are thick and the moon is weak tonight. You need light to leave. You will never find your car.’ It sounded like a threat. Then she smiled in that way of hers that would have been teasing, if she had known how to tease, ‘I will take you to it,‘ she said, offering her small, cold hand.

It was a dark, silent walk, through trees that watched and whispered. She unhooked a rusty chain from an immense set of iron gates and they were out along a deserted road. It was more real now, more eerily stark and still. 

There it was, covered in snow. He would have liked to have seen her expression, his £200,000 AMG usually made an impression. Then he realised that it would mean nothing to her, and the thought crystallised with the ice in the air and the sharp flint sparks of her eyes and he found that he didn’t want to leave. He would stay the night... he would feel different in the morning.

It seemed a ridiculous hour to be in bed. 21-30. He was attempting to write in a diary, struggling with the feeble light of a single candle. Only one for night, Livia had insisted. The diary was leather bound with plain white parchment.  He wrote slowly and methodically, toying occasionally with the elegant silver fountain pen. His handwriting was large intricate script, exquisitely formed and written entirely in French.

    … It’s freezing cold; there’s more ice inside the windows than out, yet they are walking around the house half-undressed, oblivious to the cold as if it were as essential as breath. They are curious but cautious, so finely aware of each other’s senses that at times they appear almost as one.  Untouched by any notion of how they should behave, they are simply making it up as they go along, watching the watcher. It’s strange, but rather than be the intruder, it feels the other way round…. That they are intruding on me.

Kington woke the next morning to find Livia sitting on the side of the bed watching him. How long had she been there? From her studious expression possibly all night? ‘What time is it?’ he gasped, surely it was the crack of dawn?
She shrugged and motioned to a tray laid on the bed beside him. ‘I have brought you some food.’ 
He had no option other than struggle up in the bed. Punching the heavy pillows into shape, he graciously accepted the offering.

Livia launched herself on the bed beside him, positioning herself closely along the line of his form in order to inspect him properly. It was a little too close for Kington, but what could he do?  The tray weighed a ton, coupled with the crushing wad of blankets pinning his lower body, he was pretty much trapped for the moment.

She gazed at his crumpled white shirt, the way it hung open at the neck. She strained closer, not the least bit embarrassed.

He didn’t like it. She had this habit of breaching the boundaries. ‘Have you not eaten?’

She wasn’t sure of the question and it was enough to trick her of the scent for a second. ‘Do you like it?’ She gestured to the breakfast set out before him.

He looked down at the slab of bullion. It looked suspiciously like solid silver; it had that dull burnished mottling favoured by antique hunters the world over.  There was a large chipped plate with a chunk of bread, no butter, just a thin scraping of watery black jam. Beside the plate stood a cup of something that looked astonishingly like wine. He picked it up and sniffed it, looking to Livia in surprise.

‘Wine for breakfast?’  He was impressed. It had a certain decadent charm.

She smiled. ‘It will warm you.’

‘I have no doubt. I seem to recall it also renders you unconscious.’

‘Only Bryony, she drinks it too slowly, you have to drink it fast.’  She did an animated impression of someone slugging down medicine and shivering in revulsion. Then she smiled, her eyes conveying profound knowledge of the usefulness of knowing such things, numbing pain and keeping warm.

‘How is the little acrobat?’

The word obviously made no sense to her. Her eyes searched his for inspiration.

‘Bryony, how is she?’

‘She is well. Bethany helped me carry her down.’

God, they were all up already. He glanced to the window; there was a white glow outside, but it could be ice covering the windows. He noticed the curtains were now open; she must have opened them. He was hungry, but decided to pass on the breakfast in favour of a cigarette.

He lit and inhaled, noticed the look of shock on her face. What? The cigarette, hadn’t she seen a cigarette before? She looked like she hadn’t, but she could cope with that. It was the bit before, the click that captured her attention. He followed her eyes back to the lighter in his hand.

‘This?’ he offered it out to her.  He flicked the lighter and ignited the flame.  Her eyes absorbed the procedure with the hushed reverence of a miracle.

The flame safely extinguished. ‘Here - take it.’

She was looking at it as if it was some kind of magic.

He demonstrated. ‘Look, off, on, off. It’s simple,’ gesturing for her to try it.

Curiosity got the better of her and she accepted the lighter for immediate appraisal, studying it carefully.

‘You click that piece.’ 

She looked to him unsure.

‘It doesn’t bite...just singes,’ he added, realising she could conceivably burn the house down with it, so a little caution - perhaps.

She clicked and it burst into life before her. She stuck her finger in the flame and pulled back instantly, face crumpling with pain, but the sound that should have accompanied the action didn’t happen.  He re-ran it, sudden pain, shock, but no ouch, not even a tiny gasp. Complete silence. Just like Bryony. Did they have some inherent gene, some mute button that pain pushed?  How did they do that? Why did they do that?

‘Did that hurt?’

‘Was it meant to?’

‘No – you’re not supposed to put your finger in a flame; I thought you might know that.’

‘I didn’t think it was real fire.’

‘Well, now you know it is,’ he said, searching for something to use as an ashtray. ‘Is it OK to use the plate?’

Livia noticing the precarious stump of ash and cupped her hands underneath to catch it.

‘It’s hot!’ Was she mad? 

Dutifully removing the chunk of bread from the plate she offered him back the lighter.

‘Keep it.’

She stared at him in disbelief. ‘Keep it?’

‘Now you know the flame is real you won’t be testing it on your sister’s hair will you?’

‘No.  I know it is real now.’ She seemed anxious to assure him that she wouldn’t.

‘I should have asked. Do you smoke?’ he offered her the open cigarette pack.

She shook her head, but she was looking at the cigarettes, strangely tempted. ‘Are they clean?’

‘Of course their clean, they’re the same as ordinary cigarettes, just black. If you want one, take one.’

She shook her head and smiled, and he realised that she had wanted to know what they were called and now she knew. 

Didn’t she know what a cigarette was? How was that possible?  How could you live in such seclusion, away from the world, away from everything?

‘Those ointments you use, where do you get them from?’

‘Mother made them, but I know how to.’

‘What’s in them?’

‘Lots of things... herbs, roots...’

‘Do they work?’

‘Always, mother grew special plants for healing ….  She used to... not now….’ her voice trailed off...

‘Well, you should sell them. If they work as you say they do it would be a good way to make some money. New Age Herbalism is very In.’

She looked perplexed.

‘You could sell them online. There must be an internet connection somewhere around here. Where’s the nearest village?’

He could sense the pressure she felt to pick the right words.

‘We don’t go to the village.’

‘Why not?’

She studied her shiny new lighter, but he wouldn’t be deflected.  ‘Why don’t you go to the village?’

‘It’s not allowed,’ she mumbled.  There was an invisible mark on the lighter that needed careful polishing with the hem of her dress.

Kington found such subterfuge intriguing. ‘I thought you lived here on your own? Who doesn’t allow it?’

She fidgeted, toying with the lighter, evaluating the questions as the price perhaps for such a pretty present.

He eked out her face from behind her hair, she was well hidden, but his forefinger caught on her chin and lifted her face to his. ‘Who doesn’t allow it?’

‘It’s just not allowed. It’s never been allowed.’ She made to move, leaving the lighter behind, but he wasn’t giving up so easily.

He snatched at her hand and held it down on the bed between them. He felt a shock, just a second, but it stung his fingers like an ice burn.

Their eyes locked. ‘Livia, tell me why it’s not allowed.’

She looked to where his hand held hers, then back to him with an eerily calm acceptance. ‘We have never left this house; we have never been to the village.’

‘Is it too far?  How far is it?’

‘I don’t know. Mother said that it was a few hours walk, but she couldn’t leave the house either.’ The memory visibly saddened her.

‘So you haven’t left this house for over a year, not since your mother died?’ He didn’t like to mention her mother again, but he was having trouble comprehending it all.

‘We have never left this house.’


She looked to him solemnly, as if trusting him with her life.  ‘No one must know of us.  No one knows we are here and no one must ever know we are here.’

‘I know you’re here,’ he said, and he instantly regretted it. He could tell from her face that was a huge problem.  ‘Why must no one know you are here?’

‘We are not here,’ she said, as if explaining it.

‘If your mother has been dead for over a year, and you have never been out. What do you do for food?’ 

‘We have stores.’

‘But they can’t last a year. What about fresh food, milk and bread?’

‘We make bread.’

‘But the flour must be a year old.’

‘It’s older than that. Raglan would have all the main stores delivered once a year.’

‘Once a year?’

‘Yes, everything came before the roads froze.  We had to hide all day. It was hateful. But we had the food then,’ she brightened at the memory. ‘Cheese, I could eat cheese all day. There was never very much, Raglan wasn’t partial, and we weren’t supposed to have it.  I had to steal tiny bits from the mice. But even then it only lasted until spring.’

He had a sudden horrifying thought. ‘How long has Raglan been dead?’ He glanced down to the untouched tray, the chunk of bread with the thin watery jam.

‘Four winters.’

Kington was relieved he hadn’t touched it. Four-year-old flour, rats, weevils and God knows what else ferreting away in those grey, mildewed sacks. The thought made him queasy. But Livia looked healthy enough. Thin yes, and pale, but everyone was pale in Scotland, it was the national dress. But her skin was incredible, translucent porcelain, so clear and fresh it glowed - and that must be health, he doubted she had ever heard of foundation with light reflecting particles - let alone possessed any. He couldn’t recall the last time he had seen a truly naked woman; he didn’t mix in circles of fresh-faced sporty types... but then she wasn’t a woman; he had to stop himself thinking like that. She was young, probably very young.

‘How old are you?’

‘I don’t know.’ Her forehead furrowed. It was something that obviously bothered her.

Kington was an expert on deception; he cut his teeth on lies. But Livia was different. He couldn’t imagine her lying, couldn’t imagine the face, what the eyes would do. Where they would run? For they couldn’t possibly hold on like they did, that wouldn’t be possible.

‘Do you know?’  She asked, hopeful and expectant, stiffening her spine and jutting her shoulders back, as if to add to her years.

‘Possibly seventeen... eighteen.’ Her face and body were young, but her eyes were fearless, with a knowing challenge he found distracting.  ‘I see an old soul in a young body,’ he added, smiling. 

She smiled to join him.

‘So, you don’t know how old you are.’ That he wasn’t questioning.  ‘Do you know how old your sisters are?’ 

She shook her head.  ‘I am the oldest.’  She knew that much.

He continued with the facts. ‘You live here alone, and you have all your food delivered once a year, but the last delivery was four years ago.’ He looked to her to check she was keeping up.

She nodded.

‘So, this morning, before I leave, I shall take you to the nearest mystery village and you can get some fresh food. You can get some of that cheese you’re so obviously fond of.’

‘No, I won’t go, I can’t go!’

He couldn’t understand her reaction. ‘Look, if it is the money, it’s not a problem. The going rate for a hotel will easily cover it.’

She stared, puzzled.

‘You put me up for the night, it's the least I can do.’ He wasn’t being generous, just practical.

‘You don’t understand.’

‘No I don’t.’ 

‘This is not our house. The house belongs to Raglan, the house and everything in it. The food we eat, the beds we sleep in, everything is his.’

‘But you said that Raglan was dead.’

‘Yes - but we are still here. We are not meant to be here.  When he died we stayed on with mother. If people came we hid as we had always done. Then people stopped coming. Mother said that someone might come one day looking for her, and if they did we must hide and stay hidden, no matter what they did, even if they took her away. We had to stay hidden until they were gone.’

‘Who would come looking for your mother?’

‘Her past,’ she said dramatically, ‘wickedness has a high price.’

‘What wickedness?’

‘Mortal sin.’

He wanted to laugh, but she looked so serious.

‘They never came. No one ever came. As long as we were quiet then no one would find us. But mother was sick. I tried to heal her, but she would cough all the time. It was the devils breath inside her and she had to cough it out. I could only help her sleep.’

She seemed so sad that he thought he ought to stop her, but he couldn’t, he was fascinated.

‘Passionflower and wine, passionflowers weren’t allowed, no flowers were allowed, but we grew it in secret in the woods.’ 
She looked to him, guilt and sadness brimming in her huge still eyes.

‘It wasn’t your fault.’

‘I should have been able to heal her.’  She rose from the bed and walked to the window, it was white outside, biting white, a harsh glare that bleached her face and burnt her hair to ash around it.

‘The snow has stopped for you,’ she whispered, as if offering him escape.  He would leave now, melt into the snow and be gone forever.

Kington was quite comfortable where he was, the subtle combination of nicotine and frost in his lungs was quite bracing, and the view was spectacular. He realised he could see through her dress, just slightly. He didn’t know if he was supposed to find it arousing, it was the age thing; how old was she?

‘So what do you do now?’ he asked. She didn’t answer. Perhaps she hadn’t heard? She was far away across the room. ‘I mean for money, how will you live?’

‘We manage.’

‘What on fish and nettle tea?  You’ve got no electricity, no lights or heating. You’ll freeze to death up here alone. What food have you got?  How long will it last if you never go out?’

She rounded on him defensively.  ‘We have enough food; we have lots of some things, little of others, but it’s enough. There has never been enough food, even when mother was with us. We had different food, but it was never enough.’   

‘Bryony might have a deficiency….that could be why her bones break so easily.’

‘Defis.in..cies? What is deficiencies?’  She was desperate to know what could cause her sister to break so easily.

‘It’s when you don’t have enough of certain things in your diet; you must all be suffering from a lack of something.’ She looked scared now. Good, he thought he ought to scare her a little.  ‘You can’t go on living here indefinitely… You must realize that.
Do you have any friends?’


‘What about school friends?’

‘I don’t go to school.’

‘Well your sisters?’


‘None of you go to school?’

‘I told you, we have never left this house.’

‘Can you read and write?’

‘Yes… Mother taught us everything.  She taught us how to keep quiet and small and invisible. If we kept away from sin we wouldn’t cough… Mother saved us.’

He beckoned her to him.  ‘Come here.’

She walked back to him as if drawn by an invisible thread.

‘How did you learn to read?’

‘Mother had some books on plants, and I found some more. They were Raglans. They were in a room that we couldn’t go in, it was always locked….But I can open anything.’

It sounded like the greatest lure in the world to her - a locked door.

He patted the bed beside him. She was enchanting, like a doll, a delicate china doll with a perfect face and tiny features, tiny hands, tiny feet. He could fit her in his pocket.

She was standing beside the bed, but she didn’t sit where he directed. She had something serious to ask him first.  ‘You won’t tell of us will you?’ 

‘It’s no big deal.’ 

She appeared confused by the terminology.

‘It’s not important. What is important is that you get some decent food and warm clothes and find a way to earn some money and get somewhere else to live.’

‘We will never leave this house,’

‘Livia, it’s falling down.’

‘Then it will fall down around us. We will never leave. Never.  You must never tell. You must swear. You must forget all about us. You have never seen us. You must swear, now.’ She was so insistent he could only reel in the force of her outburst.

‘I won’t tell,’ he said, holding his hands up in mock surrender.

‘Cross your heart and hope to die.’

He laughed now, couldn’t help himself. He studied her face and she meant it.

‘Say it,” she urged. “Cross my heart and hope to die. Say it!’

‘I don’t have a heart.’ 

Her eyes narrowed shrewdly, as if digesting it as a possible excuse. ‘Everyone has a heart.’ 

‘Not me,’ he confessed, teasing her serious expression. ‘Don’t look so worried.  I won’t tell.’

‘Say it.’  It was obviously very important to her.

He sighed. ‘Cross my heart and hope to die. Happy now?’ 

‘We are different from outside,’ she explained, her voice low and serious.  ‘We have to stay hidden or we will be lost, lost in the blink of an eye.  We have to keep small and still, away from lies, away from prying eyes and stealing hands.  It is sin we live in, mortal sin.’

‘I'd say you’d been watching too many movies, but you’ve probably never seen a movie,’ he added, trying to jolt her to reality. ‘I don’t mean to mock you. It’s just a little hard to take in, but I’m trying,’ he smiled his most potent smile, but she didn’t respond. ‘Mortal sin Livia, tell me about mortal sin.’

‘I can’t.’ She looked like she wanted to but couldn’t. Carefully extricating her hand she slipped from the bed, but her eyes held on to his, conveying innocence and knowing in one long slow glance.   

There was something inside those cool watchful eyes, something dark and impossible to predict. He felt it so strongly the hairs on the back of his neck froze. 

‘I have things to do.’ she whispered, and was gone.

Chapter 4

10 30 am, it felt like the middle of the night.  He felt exhausted, strangely dulled, five cigarettes and still barely awake. The absence of coffee, that must be it, but no-way was he ingesting anything from that rat infested kitchen.  He still had to change a tyre and navigate his way back into the 21st century before he could even begin the excruciating monotony of a 10 hour drive.  Where was his edge, his relentless energy? He felt drained. Had he had any sleep? Was it all a dream, some strange walk in fairy- tale that he was about to walk out of?

He stood in the lower hallway about to leave.  Bryony sat before him on the wide lower stairs with her heavily bandaged leg resting on the threadbare treads. She eyed him covetously, as if he were a new toy now cruelly returning to its previous owner. 

Bethany waited in the front doorway trying not to look at him too closely for fear she would self-destruct. The effect of him, a man within touching distance, caused her to shrivel as if stung.

Dust hovered in the freezing white light like millions of floating silver eyes.

Livia stood beside him, trying to conceal her desperation he was leaving, but such coy deception seemed an impossible task.

He smiled and stroked her cheek, couldn’t help himself. He had probably never done anything so effortlessly kind and afterwards it felt strange and unnatural, the touch of her skin lingered, cool and smooth like glass.

He took one last look at the ever watchful girls with their sad smiles and haunting eyes, and he could taste it, breathe its intensity. The potent lure of solitude and mystery and the suffocating silence of longing.

He was going and Livia was fearful. ‘Remember your promise.’  She had to believe in him, in his promise.

He put his hand to his chest in mock pain, feigning a heart attack, and she smiled her smile, that delicate balance between fear and fascination.

He smiled back, decanting that intoxicating mixture for future reference... then it was lost to the icy wind.

They watched him leave from the gloom of the cavernous hallway; six hungry eyes jealously watched as he walked down the wide front steps and out into the startling blindness of snow.

Chapter 5

A dull grey drizzle in London, 7 degrees, it felt almost tropical. James Kington was thawing out, ensconced in his office, his tasteful inner sanctum of sharp monochrome elegance.
Outside was equally impressive. Three sweeping floors of English heritage white, a cornerstone of age-old respectability and understated grandeur, centrally expensive and screened from the seething metropolis and its milling masses by towering trees and gracious Georgian squares.

There was a small silver plaque on the wall.

Kington Publishers
Specialists in Horror & Fantasy

Inside the open plan foyer, beside the scarlet padded lifts and the generously carpeted black stairs, there was an area devoted to several large publicity photographs and accompanying glowing reviews of the new Best Seller. ‘Blood Loss’, penned by the ‘Master of the Macabre’ Chris Barnes. Various blood-curdling passages were graphically streaked across the blown up cover photograph of the young, fair haired, good looking author. ‘Britain’s brightest hope in Horror’ looking about as threatening as a boy scout.

If you took the lift, it took two seconds to reach the top. If you took the stairs it took four years
to run through all the amazing, incredible, unbelievable ‘Firsts’ that Kingdom Publishing had achieved, the walls were thick with risk and dripping with success.

James Kington was at the very top with a full time security guard at the bottom. No one, but no one, got to see him. Ninety per cent of his business was conducted on the phone and the personal ten per cent with ruthless efficiency. He disliked small talk, shunned photographers and reporters with savage retorts and silken refusals, but if you were patient you might sometimes get a few choice comments. Few had the patience, so they made it up, heavy on rumour and supposition, very light on facts. But who needed facts, not when the subject was so rich with contradictions and rife with speculation. No one knew where he came from; he had no family, no traceable background. Reportedly early thirties, but his brittle intensity made him appear older, with one slow sweeping glance he conveyed such a depth of experience and wealth of intellect it was patently obvious he was either insanely intelligent or obscenely rich.  James Kington was both. How many languages could he speak? How many were there? And if he was seriously rich before he started, what must he be worth now? Tall, lean and divinely sensual he oozed a mesmerising androgynous sexuality that both bewildered and beguiled. People intrigued him, nothing more, playthings that he soon tired of.  He was never impressed enough with anyone to warrant more than a fleeting interest, a dismissive glance and a slow wry smile, as if to reassure the world that he was nowhere near discovering what it took to keep him even vaguely interested. No, facts went out the window when James Kington walked in; with those eyes... anything was possible.
A newspaper lay open on the desk before him with a headline and a 2 inch column run. 

.......James Kington, the brains behind the rapidly expanding publishing empire known as Kington’s Kingdom, seems unstoppable in his is bid to achieve world domination. Well known for his formidable intellect and stunning business acumen as well as his startling good looks, Kington has turned his mysterious reclusiveness into something of a coo as he emerges as this country’s most startling player in the round up of this year’s highest earners.
First off the starting block in the feeding frenzy for the film rights to Jake Wright’s new blockbuster Kington is said to have settled the deal before most of the competition had even……                    

Kington sighed, more drivel. He tossed the paper aside and relaxed back in the leather chair. What to do? He was distracted; had been for days. He couldn’t concentrate on anything except the image, the idea… 
He had made some checks and it would seem they didn’t exist, the strange girl and her sisters. Raglan existed, well several Raglans, Charles, Edmond, Samuel, and then Jacob, the last in the line. There were various housekeepers, but nothing recent, all many years ago. In fact it appeared that everything that ever happened at Raglan Hall happened many years ago. It was an icon in its time. Raglan Hall parties were the invitation of the year, drawing die hard glitterati from all over the globe.  Not just the glitterati, politicians, scientists, philosophers, it was the place where things happened and everyone who was anyone in their day had been there. It peaked early twenties, Samuel’s era, when his parents, heads of the hierarchy of darling young intellectuals, died inexplicably in a tragic accident, and he inherited young, very young. Suddenly free and monstrously rich he took the opportunity to indulge the feckless playboy, causing fluttering hearts far and wide until he met Sarah Fortune and was lost. Sarah was rich, educated and stunningly beautiful. He married her within a month, joking she was losing her fortune to his. Blissfully happy, they partied for Scotland, not only Scotland - The world. Raglan Hall was heaving with staff, cooks, butlers, maids, chauffeurs, gardeners, gamekeepers. It had started to slide by the end of the twenties, staff left and weren’t replaced; there were fewer parties, less glamour and shameless frivolity. There was still the money, shrewd investments ensured that, and Samuel and Sarah were still doyens of society, but they had discovered that money could not buy them everything they wanted and were less and less inclined to celebrate. Then it all stopped abruptly in 1936, with the birth of Jacob Raglan came the sudden death of Raglan Hall.

Sarah died in childbirth, after several miscarriages and two stillbirths; there was a live child but a dead mother. Life stopped that day at Raglan Hall. Samuel Raglan was so distraught at his young wife’s death he let everyone go, staff that had been with him for years and had served his father before him, all told to pack their bags and go. Samuel Raglan died that day with his wife. He retained the barest minimum staff, a housekeeper for the house and a nanny for the child that he apparently couldn’t bear to look at.

Samuel Raglan became a virtual recluse, mourning his dead wife and shunning the child. The years passed and with it a succession of housekeepers and nannies, none lasting more than a year…
Information then became patchy and unsubstantiated and virtually non-existent.  There was no record of anyone other than Samuel and Jacob Raglan living or working at Raglan Hall after the last nanny left in 1946, when Jacob Raglan was 10 years old.  There was a tutor, John Taylor, but he didn’t live in, he had a wife and child in a local village and would cycle up to the house daily.  The last record of him was in 1959, when Jacob Raglan was twenty–three.  He must have been a good tutor, or perhaps he was a friend, the only friend the boy had, because a substantial payment to John Taylor was authorised by Jacob Raglan on April 16th 1959. It was duly noted for it was unusual in the fact that it was the first payment from the estate authorised by Jacob Raglan and not his father Samuel, who by all intent and purpose was unofficially dead as he hadn’t been seen in public for over twenty years.

So Jacob Raglan took over the estate at the age of twenty three, whether consensual or not, there was no record of his father contesting it. There was no record of his father at all after that until his death in 1981 aged 81. That was a long time to mourn, a long time to live half dead.

In 1981 Jacob Raglan was forty five, forty five years living with a father that loathed him spent in a decaying house that was shrine to his dead mother, a mother he had killed.  It must have been painfully austere, no childhood to speak of, no other children to play with, no one to talk to but a paid tutor. Suddenly he was alone in a house choking with memories, a damp musty mausoleum that was falling apart around him.

He lived at Raglan Hall until his death in 2009 aged 73.  He was unmarried, childless.  What did he do for all those years alone in that house…………

Outside his meticulously soundproofed office a sublimely cool and efficient Nina fielded the banks of urgent calls.  ‘I’m sorry Mr Kington is in conference, I cannot obtain authorization at the moment.  Yes, of course I will inform him of your call.’

Chapter 6

An hour after sunrise, the house stood silent and forbidding, a gothic masterpiece of true inspiration. White, as if fashioned out of very snow it rose from so resplendently, it looked down on all below with a chilling air of contempt.  So incredible and strange, wonderful and unexpected, a vast castellated roof pierced the sky with turrets and cathedral spires, high arched windows peaked in glorious stained glass mosaics, shimmering in the low winter sun.

Surrounding the house, guarding its open doors and broken windows lay a glistening moat of virgin snow, forming a visible barrier between the house and the dense encroaching forest.

Inside the house sparkling breath hovered at the top of the stairs…. it froze.

The double front doors opened inwards. It was James Kington; dressed head to foot in black, long leather coat, gloves, scarf and dark glasses.  Looking around slowly he removed his glasses to adjust his eyes to the gloom.

A sudden shriek; he looked up to see Bryony hurtling down the banister towards him. He didn’t lurch out of the way or instinctively try to catch her, he stood his ground, cool, calm and perfectly in control.

She landed at his feet in a crumpled heap and a cloud of dust.

‘Are we going for a matching pair?’ He enquired, distinctly unimpressed.

She struggled to get up to but realised exasperatedly that she couldn’t. ‘I can’t get up. My leg won’t bend yet.’  She poked at the thick, dirty bandage, spoiling all her fun and offered her arms up to him for assistance.

He wasn’t having any of it. ‘I should make you stay there for stupidity.’

Her eyes blinked pathetically, he wasn’t serious, was he?

He considered her slowly before offering out an arm for her to catch on to. She hauled herself up, grinning wildly.

‘You’ve come back. I knew you would…. I heard you coming, I heard you at the gate… I knew you would come…I must tell Livie!’  She hobbled off along the corridor to find her sisters.

The gate, that wonderful rusted monstrosity, riddled with ornate wrought iron botanical specimens climbing its lofty heights. It hadn’t been locked; the chain was merely wrapped around itself several times and hooked over some convenient Ivy barbs. He figured it made a good alarm, but she couldn’t have heard him from the gate; it was at least half a mile from the house.  She must have heard the car; he had parked it outside - where a drive would be if you could see a road - that must be what she meant. But he had that feeling again, that they knew what he was thinking before he did.

Kington entered the kitchen after Bryony. Bethany and Livia were making wine and the place was a huge mess. They both stared open mouthed and wide eyed; unable to move due to precariously balanced siphon tubes and funnels. Livia’s look held his with perfect pitch, hunger and hope. She had to finish pouring – but soon, very soon….
They were up and working already, but they would be. Wake with the light and sleep with the dark, fundamentally practical, saved candles.

Bryony seemed oblivious to the chaos; scuttling around excitedly knocking over bottles and pans left all over the floor.

‘I see your legs are in full working order,’ he observed.

‘Nearly as good as new, look.’ She performed an ungainly pirouette and then proceeded to jump up and down on the spot.

Livia extricated herself and joined him. With the wonder of a child she touched his cheek, as if to reassure herself that he was real and there before her, in her house, in her kitchen, so close she could feel his breath.  She drew closer, letting it dance over her eyelashes and she placed her fingers to her face as if absorbing the chill of his skin through hers. Her eyes were bright and brimming with expectation.  She wanted so much she couldn’t begin to tell him.

He sensed it, wanted to believe that was why he had come.

‘I want to talk…. I have to talk to you,’ he said.

‘Is something wrong? Is it our secret?’  She looked fearful of what he might say.

He was aware of the other girl’s watchful stares. Bethany was snatching surreptitious glances but Bryony had squeezed in between them and was gazing up in bemused silence at the closeness of their bodies. She could barely fit and she fidgeted for space.

‘Bryony you’re on my foot,’ he growled.

Bryony looked down at her grubby stump wedged on his shiny black boot. ‘Sorry, I can’t feel it.’

Kington fixed on Livia. It was important. ‘Can we go somewhere else?’

‘Pick a room, we have lots.’

The bedroom was dank and dreary. Had he imagined that it wouldn’t be, that she would have a special place all fluffy white sheets and pink pillows? 

Sitting on the sagging bed he looked around.

‘It’s mother’s room.’

He silently noted it. What was he supposed to say? It’s very nice. It wasn’t.

Livia perched beside him on the bed. She was wearing a thin faded floral dress several sizes too big for her and a short blue cardigan. The colour made her eyes seem ghostly pale in comparison. He noticed she was shivering. 

‘You’re cold.’

‘Always,’ she shrugged. It was nothing.

He opened his coat and without a seconds hesitation she snuggled up inside. ‘Don’t you have any warm clothes?’

‘I am used to it. The warm clothes take too long to dry.  I have three things on though, look.’ She opened the buttons on the front of her dress to reveal another similar floral print underneath.  ‘If you’re cold I can light a fire. There’s not been a fire in here for a long time, that’s why it’s so damp.’

‘It is freezing everywhere in this house,’ he complained.

She snuggled deeper in his warmth. ‘Is it not cold where you come from?’ she rubbed her hands briskly up and down his chest to generate some warmth for him. She was giggling and trying to make him smile, ‘Warmer now?’

He was distracted, her face, her eyes...‘I want to ask you something,’ he started. It was a perfect image and he didn’t want to spoil it, but he was pretty sure he was in imminent danger of destroying it completely.  Somehow it seemed better not to know, to just imagine it… But he had to know, it was driving him crazy, plaguing him to the point of obsession. He caught her for a second when her eyes were directly on his, and he pinned her down to pinpoint accuracy. ‘What do you know about the world outside?’  He was tentative, anticipating, waiting for her to shatter the illusion. 

Livia’s eyes narrowed as she slowly read his. It was a strange experience for Kington to be read. No one ever got that close - until now. Now she wasn't close enough. That second she was a dream, an impossible vision of hope. ‘I know it is big and it’s full of everything, everything you can ever think of… some good, and some bad ...and the outside people are not kind.’ She added. It was a memory, it had been told to her and now she was telling it to him.  Was that enough? Did she know enough?

‘Aren’t you curious?’ 

‘It is dangerous to be curious. Mother was curious, that why she was unwanted when she came here. No one would take her in. Hundreds of people and no one would take her. Her sin followed her. It had its claws in her flesh.  It would never leave her.’
He had been here before but she seemed different now, less evasive. ‘What sin?’ 

‘Three children and not a husband,’ she confessed, as if confessing to genocide. I was four when we came here, Bethany a year younger and Bryony a baby in her arms no bigger than a kitten.  It would be a baby every year unless she got away from men. She had to get away from London, far away where no one would know her.  It was a place for us, for all of us.  If we were small and quiet, so small and quiet we would disappear, then it could be our place.  Raglan let her stay here because she was clever and strong and could work hard. He wanted someone to cook and clean the house, but not us.  If anyone ever found out about us we would have to go, all of us, and no no-one would take us in. We are bad blood.’ 

She was so serious that he almost believed her. ‘So you have been here since you were four and not been outside this house since then?’


‘So you know nothing at all about the outside world.’

‘We have our own world here, we are happy here.’ 

‘What do you know about politics?’

She shrugged.

‘Geography? Do you know about other countries?’

‘I know there are other countries. Mother said that people are different colours if they live in different countries…’  her voice trailed off, realising that he wasn’t her sisters, eager for anything to shock and delight.

Kington started reeling off words. ‘Satellites, genetic engineering, Holocaust, Hezbollah, wars, famine…..’

Livia’s face remained impassive. She shook her head, eager to be free of the words, and the more they came the quicker she shook her head.

Kington shook his head with her, growing more amazed and more inspired. He had hoped for it, imagined it. It was such a glorious image, but he hadn’t imagined quite how glorious.  ‘Religion,’ he said, and her face changed instantly. That word was something to fear.

‘I know religion. That is why we have no place. Why no one would take us in.’

‘Was your mother religious?’

‘No religion would take her, she was dammed!’

‘Dammed - I think that is possibly a little melodramatic.’

‘She was dammed, I know she was… and we are dammed too!’

‘You can’t be dammed. You’ve never left the house. How can you be dammed?’

‘That is why we can’t leave the house. Mother was wicked. She brought shame on any place she stayed. We were the rats that run his house, stealing food from his table and the sleep from his eyes. Mother could stay as long as she worked hard, and she did, she worked all the time. There was no one else and the house is so big. I helped her as soon as I was strong enough; I got the wood and the water and kept the little B’s out of sight. We must never let his eyes fall on us. He would wring our necks like scrawny chickens.’ 

‘So you think Raglan would have killed you?’

‘He wanted to,’ she enthused. ‘He said we were the devils spawn.’

‘God, the guy sounds like a right head case.’

‘Mother was cursed with us, so we are all cursed, dammed for all eternity.’ 

‘That’s rubbish. You have no comprehension of what you are saying.’

‘It’s true.’

‘No – It’s not true. You have no idea what you are talking about.’

Livia’s eyes had a nervous quiver, but the need to convince him overwhelmed her reluctance. ‘There are lots of babies here’ she whispered darkly, ‘dead babies... we are the lucky ones.’ She looked so genuinely fearful that he believed her. That gleam in her eyes was scary. She knew everything about such things and he knew nothing. She was warning him off. He had seen that look before. You are from outside. Your blood will be ice.  Was he sure that he wanted to go on?

That second he wasn’t.

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