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Someone held a knife to his throat.
Ian Fairchild snapped out of his deep slumber and held himself perfectly still, eyes closed and breathing even in a parody of sleep.
Someone held a knife to his throat, and it wasn't the first time, but this time he'd been caught by surprise. He hadn't had time to make enemies in Scotland. He'd arrived only today, and had found his father, the only person here who would gladly kill him, too sick to leave his bed.
So who was who had slipped into his bed chamber as the hour struck midnight? Carefully he opened his eyes a slitand stared into the face of a ghost.
A lovely, feminine, fiercely determined ghost, if her expression was anything to go by.
His eyes widened. "You're an idiot, Ian." He spoke aloud, seeing no harm in addressing a phantom and finding the sound of his own voice vastly reassuring. "It's only a dream." And he tried to move to prove it.
He couldn't. The ghost sat on his chest, the dream held him in thrall, and he couldn't bloody move.
A normal turn of events in a dream, he supposed. If only that steel pressed against his windpipe didn't feel so cold and so real. If only he didn't feel so . . . odd. More than sleepy, he was drifting, illogically relaxed beneath the threat of violence.
He blinked, bringing the phantom into focus. Wisps of hair sprang defiantly from her hairline. Her features were angular: square jawline, sharp cheekbones, wide mouth. Her eyes slanted up, her brows slanted up, her snub nose rose to a little point. A fascinating face, one filled with character and lively convictions. Not ghostly at all. "I know who you are.You're dead. You're Lady Alanna."
Both of her hands gripped that knife. He could see them in his peripheral vision, and they shook a little at the sound of her name.
Fear cleared his brain for one brief moment. The tip of that imaginary blade seemed so very honed. "Careful, there. We wouldn't want a bloody accident."
"No accident at all." Her voice was husky, touched by a defiant Scottish accent, and it sounded real, too.
This was the most vivid dream he'd ever had. "Lady Alanna. I didn't think I'd get to meet you. You're prettier than your portrait."
"A compliment from a Fairchild." The dream knife nudged close to his jugular. "I value that as it deserves.
Sharp-tongued and prudent as well as pretty. The portrait had portrayed her as a girl balanced on the cusp of maturity, looking eagerly toward the day she would inherit Fionnaway Manor. But she had disappeared on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, never to be seen again.
In a bit of dream magic, she now appeared to him all grown up. The night candle in the head board illuminated her piquant features and her generous curves. It found a companion flame in the red of her hair, and her large eyes were the color of the sea before an encroaching storm.
Yet she watched him as cautiously as one watches a trapped wolf.
With justification. He could be a dangerous man, but she didn't know that. Her wariness came from having known his father, and from the Fairchilds' well reserved reputation. His family were as famous as the Borgias, and for much the same reasons. The desire for money and power ruled them; no crime was too heinous when committed in the name of the Fairchild pocketbook.
Everyone he had met this day had watched him, waiting for his pleasant facade to peel away and show him to be as despicable as his father. For to day, at least, he had managed to recall the values his mother had taught him. But Lady Alanna and the residents of Fionnaway were right to treat him gingerly; sometimes the Fairchild blood prevailed.
For instance, right now the temptation to shout "boo" was almost irresistible. Only that nervous, two-handed grip on the knife stopped him. "You seem worried. What's wrong, sweet lady?"
"You weren't supposed to be awake."
"I'm a light sleeper."
"Yes, but the smoke was supposed to . . ."
"To what?" His mind suddenly sharpened, and he noted the haze around her figure. He noted, also, an odor he had not smelled since India. Hashish. Someone had tried to drug him.
He considered the woman leaning one knee on his chest. She had tried to drug him, and she had done a very good job. He was drugged.
Copyright ) 1998 by Christina Dodd