Dark Whispers

Dr. Greer has a problem. She hears Dark Whispers--the voices of murder victims--who control her life. But can they help her and Lord Camberton find the killer who wants them dead?

 

Published: 08/2014
Length: Category
Word Count: 45,410
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Rating: Sensual
Available formats: PDF, RTF, Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)  

MAD110614

 

 

Dark Whispers

By

Fiona Neal

Copyright by Fiona Neal,  2013

Cover art by Jenny Dixon, August 2014

ISBN 978-1-60394-630-8

New Concepts Publishing

Lake Park, GA 31636

www.newconceptspublishing.com

This is a work of fiction. All persons, places, and events are strictly the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, and events is coincidental.

Chapter One

Gloucestershire, England

“Wake up, Greer!” the Dark Whispers commanded.

Startled from a sound sleep, Greer Graham jolted upright in bed in the dim room.   No matter how many times over the years the Dark Whispers—the voices of undiscovered murder victims—woke her, the deep-seated sensation of dread always filled her, for this was no dream.

“Ready yourself,” the whispers chanted. “The murderer must be caught and brought to justice.”

“I know.” Heart hammering, Greer flung back the bedcovers. As she stood, the cold floor of the rented cottage chilled her bare soles.

Max, her German shepherd and certified cadaver dog, growled, the way he always did when the whispers manifested themselves. 

“I know it’s creepy, boy, but we’ve been through this routine enough times over the years. We should be used to the drill by now.”

But they weren’t. Being guided to the hidden grave site of a long-dead murder victim by the Dark Whispers always amounted to the grisly task of exhuming human remains.

Keeping the supernatural voices a secret taxed Greer’s ingenuity. Still, if she mentioned them to anyone, she’d be dragged off to the nearest psychiatric hospital and medicated with powerful mind-altering drugs, like her poor Aunt Janet. Well, anyone would think she was psychotic if she told them about the Dark Whispers—but she wasn’t.

Fortunately, Greer’s career choice served as a cover for her secret and put her psychic powers to good use without arousing suspicion. As a forensic anthropologist, she worked with the police, gathering evidence to put murderers who escaped justice for years behind bars. The job saved her freedom and sanity.

To avoid blowing her cover, she went through the motions, following procedure, until she compiled enough facts to back up her testimony to the police.

“Move,” the Dark Whispers commanded.

In the murky darkness, Greer shed her pajamas and made a pit stop. It seemed senseless to bathe when she’d soon dig up a grave, so she quickly pulled on her of khaki slacks, shirt, thick socks, and work boots.  Hurrying to the dresser, she twisted an elastic band around her blonde hair and then jammed on her cloche hat.

Turning from the mirror, she checked the contents of her field pack. Now wasn’t the time to forget anything. Her bag of small tools, sterile suit, surgical gloves, battery-operated lantern, notepad, disposable camera, cell phone, evidence bags, and a bottle of water were all there. Stuffing her purse into the pack, she descended the cottage steps and dashed out into the misty night, Max dutifully at her side.

“Leave the village. Go to the archaeological site,” the Dark Whispers urged.

The fog floating about her, she stashed her equipment in her car, obediently complying.

Since young adulthood, the Dark Whispers had controlled her life, and she had no choice but to follow their instructions. Still, she’d been reluctant to embark on this latest venture. For a reason she couldn’t fathom, the whole endeavor gave her a gut-deep sense of foreboding. But the ceaseless laments of the Dark Whispers gave her no peace. So Greer relented. Taking a sabbatical from her job with the Boston Police, she accepted the invitation to join Lord Camberton’s international archaeological project here in England, for she also held a degree in biological archaeology as well as forensic anthropology.

Now, she drove through the sleeping Cotswolds village to the archaeological site—a working farm where the farmer, Mr. Blake, found a horde of Saxon coins while plowing his field.

Once there, the Dark Whispers said, “Follow the trail into the wooded area to the back road and walk to the dry-stone wall bordering neighboring farm.”

The part of the farm the archaeological team was excavating bordered the next farmstead, so she had just a short distance to walk. Greer was grateful for that fact because her field pack weighed heavily and she also had to carry a shovel.

Greer left the car and slipped her keys into her pocket. Taking her equipment from the trunk, she trudged along the path to the stone wall where a deserted dirt road snaked toward another wooded area.

The Dark Whispers ordered, “Dig here, and let justice be done.”

Setting down her burden, she took the camera from her field pack and snapped pictures of the gravesite for the police before she dug the grave.

Meanwhile, Max went into work mode. He pawed the ground then sat. The animal had a tremendous record for accuracy. According to the literature she’d read, some cadaver dogs could unearth human bones that were twenty-five years old. Although she didn’t need his help, he served as part of her cover. More importantly, he’d become her beloved pet.

Returning the camera to her field pack, Greer picked up her spade and thrust it into the ground. The forest floor, moist and soft from a recent rain, turned easily. She continued to excavate the victim’s burial place, until the fog cleared, and dawn splashed a profusion of rose-gold color across the eastern sky. Although the autumn chill kept the temperature cool, the exertion made her hot and sweaty.  

By now, hunger growled in her stomach, and thirst parched her throat. Still, she continued to dig, until the light caught something white. She dropped the shovel, and took her brush from the bag of small tools within the field pack. Kneeling, she carefully brushed more earth from the object, and Greer recognized a woman’s high-heel shoe.

As always when she found a murder victim, the sensations of horror and the desperation of the person’s final moments engulfed Greer. She called these experiences revelations because they revealed the victim’s last torment.

The brush dropped from her hand. Greer sat, bracing herself against the mound of earth she’d dug from the shallow grave. She sucked in heavy a breath when she heard the crunch of a fractured jaw and the fatal snap of a neck. A wave of nausea crashed over her. The surrounding English countryside, bathed in the light of dawn, swirled into a blur of green. Gasping, Greer closed her eyes to control the vertigo while the cold sweat of terror bathed her. Then, as suddenly as it began, the revelation ended.

But the Dark Whispers wailed, “Find the killer. Avenge the victim.”

“I’ll do my best,” she murmured on short breath. 

A disquieting silence settled over the scene, and Max licked her face.

“I’m okay, boy.” Stroking his furry head, she gazed into his sympathetic amber eyes.  

Greer took a moment to regain her composure and then clambered up. She took wipes from her purse and sanitized her hands.  She opened the bottle of water and drank deeply, wishing she had a cup of coffee or tea and a scone. After she disinfected her hands a second time, she removed her sterile suit and gloves from their packages. She then slipped them on to prevent contaminating the evidence inside the grave.

Sweating under the suit and surgical gloves, Greer placed the white shoe in a clear plastic bag. Then she retrieved her brush and cleared away more soil. Working feverishly for some time, she uncovered a bone—a femur, to be exact.  She worked without pause, progressing up the bones of the skeleton. The soil moved easily, and the work went quickly as she found the broken neck and fractured jaw in the shallow grave.

The task done, Greer wiped her gritty surgical gloves on a disposable wipe and withdrew her note pad. Ordinarily, she would have keyed this information into her laptop, but she used a pad and pen, so she could give the information to the police when they arrived.

Greer picked up her ruler. Barely three feet of soil covered the bones. She also measured the femur with her calipers and recorded the numbers.

She now had enough information to call the police, but when the sun gleamed off another object in the grave, she reached for the camera, but her arm became paralyzed.

“No,” the Dark Whispers insisted.

“But I have to.” This was a murder scene. The object might be pertinent to the investigation. Suppression of evidence was a crime.

Greer tried to lift the camera again, but she couldn’t move her arm, and the Dark Whispers cautioned her once more. The supernatural voices always had good reasons for their advice. So she took up her pointed trowel and carefully probed. Some earth fell away, and the bright glint turned out to be the clasp of a purse. Maybe she’d find some identification inside. Greer opened the stained white vinyl purse. Unfortunately, she found nothing but a fake plaster facsimile of a Saxon pectoral cross.

Greer had seen an original cross in a museum in London, and the beauty of the authentic artifact had mesmerized her. She recalled a large golden coin, called a solidus, had lain at the center of the cross. Slivered garnets, shaped like pieces of a puzzle, nestled into the golden arms of the cross and the rim of the solidus. The whole creation formed a small amulet to be suspended from a chain and worn around the neck.    

Although this garish imitation weighed like precious metal in her palm, it was obviously fabricated of some other material, like plaster, and it was painted garishly. She’d seen similar cheap souvenir in gifts shops in Cirencester. All tourist places had similar things. Shop owners in Egypt sold plaster masks of King Tut.

She was sure of one thing.  No one would kill for this worthless piece of junk. There had to be a stronger motive for the brutal murder.

Greer marked the spot where she’d discovered the purse and then stored the white vinyl accessory in an evidence bag. But when she tried to do likewise with the fake amulet, her arm froze again, and the Dark Whispers said, “Hide the artifact now.”

Why did the Dark Whispers want her to keep this cheap fake? Reporting the find was a must. It was part of a murder scene.

“No,” the whispers warned, reading her thoughts. “You must keep the artifact.”

Greer unzipped her sterile suit and slipped the cross into her large pocket of her khaki slacks. She refastened the outer garb, got her cell phone from her purse, and contacted the police.

She’d just finished the call when someone asked in a plummy British accent, “Would you please explain what is going on here?”  

Startled, Greer whirled around.

Kent, Lord Camberton, the leader of the archaeological project, strode toward her, accompanied by a stout man with gray hair and a complexion that indicated he spent a great deal of time outdoors. Deeply engrossed in her conversation with the police, she hadn’t heard them approach.

She certainly was aware of them now—especially Lord Camberton. Tall and muscular, with black hair and startling dark eyes, his looks rivaled any movie star’s. She’d been attracted to him the moment she saw him—more so than to any man she’d ever known.

But that wasn’t all. Greer felt a strong psychic connection with him—as if she knew him, and they shared something profound. She dismissed the notion. She’d never seen Lord Camberton before she accepted his written invitation to join the archaeological dig. Yet…she could not set aside the feeling.

Nevertheless, her life belonged to the Dark Whispers and the work destiny had for her. No matter how drawn she was to Camberton, she had no room in her life for him or for any man.

“Dr. Graham, are you all right?” Lord Camberton wore a concerned frown on his face.

“Uh, yes, of course.” Greer nodded. He had such a disturbing affect on her she hadn’t responded to his first comment. His sexy accent and the baritone timbre of his voice disrupted her emotional equilibrium even more.

“Are you aware you’re digging outside the designated area?”

“Yes,” she answered. No one could mistake the boundaries of archaeological site. The area was marked off in a grid pattern consisting of one meter squares.

“Mr. Smithson here is the proprietor of this farm,” Lord Camberton continued, keeping his tone quiet and civil. In fact, he seemed more perplexed than annoyed by her actions. “He’d like to know the reason you’re trespassing, and so would I.”

“That’s right,” Mr. Smithson emphasized his words with a sharp nod. “This is my land, not Blake’s.”

Greer turned toward the middle-aged man. “I apologize for the unauthorized digging, but I wasn’t looking for artifacts. This is a crime scene.”

Lord Camberton’s hypnotic dark eyes widened, and Smithson’s jaw dropped.

“Are you sure?” Smithson asked.

“Look for yourself.” Greer motioned toward the shallow grave, just as the police drove up the narrow dirt road and stopped.

Two men in plain clothes and several uniformed officers walked toward them.

“Good morning, Lord Camberton, Smithson,” the older of the two men in plain clothes nodded.

Obviously, the police knew Smithson and Camberton. Camberton Hall was a stately home about two miles from here. Greer had read that the Cambertons had lived on this property since before the Norman invasion.

“Good morning, Detective Chief Inspector Townsend, Sergeant Gordon,” Camberton returned the greeting as Smithson nodded.

“I assume you’re Dr. Greer Graham, the person who phoned in the report.” DCI Townsend directed his attention to Greer.

“Yes,” she replied. “As you can see, the crime scene is over there.” She tilted her head toward the shallow grave a few feet away.  

“How did you know the grave was here?” DCI Townsend asked.

“Max found it. He’s a cadaver dog.” Geer nodded toward the canine. “We went for a walk off the site last night. He ran to this spot and sat. That’s a signal he found something. So I went back to my cottage, got my equipment, and started to dig.” She hated lying, but there was no help for it.

“But you’re an archaeologist,” Sergeant Gordon stated. “How do you know this is a crime scene and not an ancient archaeological grave?”

“In addition to having a degree in bio-archaeology, Dr. Graham is a forensic anthropologist. She specializes in investigating old crimes scenes where bodies are hidden,” Lord Camberton explained. “In the States, she works with the police and lectures at the university.”

Greer appreciated Camberton’s coming to her defense, but aside from her strong sexual attraction to him, she suddenly became aware that Lord Camberton possessed another disquieting attribute—danger. Greer felt it all around him, and she had the premonition the peril could spill onto her. It amounted to another compelling reason to keep her distance from him.   

“And I doubt any ancient person would be wearing those.” She nodded toward the bagged shoes and purse.

“Why didn’t you call the authorities before you started to dig?” Smithson asked.

“If Max had made a mistake, I’d have wasted their time. He’s quite reliable, but no dog is perfect,” Greer answered, although the canine had never made a mistake in his career. But she was good at making up excuses. Years of practice had honed her skills, but it was necessary to her survival.  “But Max was right,” she added.

“Unfortunately,” Smithson remarked, looking upset. “I’ve never had anything like this happen to me. It’s disturbing to think about some poor soul lying in an unconsecrated grave.”

Greer understood the man’s sentiments.

“Perhaps you’d like to go home,” Townsend suggested. “If necessary, we’ll call around later to ask you a few questions.”

“I’d appreciate that,” the farmer responded.

“We’ll see you later then,” Townsend told him.

“Good morning.” Smithson turned and walked toward his quaint farmhouse.

Greer’s gaze met Camberton’s, and the feeling that she knew him—in the most intimate way—swept over her, and desire engulfed her. She swallowed hard and turned toward the grave, hoping to distract herself from her intense emotions.

“Uh… shall I tell you what I know about the deceased, Detective Chief Inspector?” she asked.

“I’d find that enlightening,” Townsend answered. 

Greer knelt by the remains. “From the condition of the bones, I estimate the woman has been in this grave for a few years.”

“The victim was a female?” Sergeant Gordon asked.

“Yes,” Greer answered. “The pelvis is configured like a bowl. Notice the broad sciatic notch and wider pubic arch. The bones are lighter and less dense than a male’s. ” She pointed to it. “Males have narrower sciatic notch.

“The size of her bones, the muscle marks on them, and the delicate eyebrow ridge, all indicate the deceased was a female. And from the fractures on the jaw, I’d say the assailant used a tremendous force, like a punch, to render her unconscious, and then broke her neck.”  She traced the fracture in the jaw with her gloved finger. “It was probably the cause of death.” She pointed to the clean break. “I’ve seen this kind of sever several times before. The perpetrator was a serial killer who’d once been a commando. Now that the flesh has fallen away you can see the skull is completely separated from the spinal column.”

Greer bent and looked at the skeleton’s teeth. “Her wisdom teeth have erupted, and she had plenty of fillings. You may be able to identify her from her dental records.”

“There was a young girl who disappeared from Cirencester about three years ago. Her name was Pamela Morton,” Chief Inspector Townsend revealed. “She could be the victim.”

“I remember that,” Camberton remarked. “The story of her disappearance was in all the papers.”

“That’s right,” Townsend affirmed.

“She vanished shortly after my uncle, the old earl, died,” Camberton continued. “She worked in a bookshop, was it?”

“Gift shop,” Sergeant Gordon corrected him. “They sold garish imitations of ancient Roman and early Saxon artifacts. I’m sure you know, Dr. Graham, that Cirencester was a Roman settlement in ancient times.”

“Yes,” Greer said, knowing it was once called Corinium.

“At the time of her disappearance, we thought the merchandise was rubbish, and most of it was,” Gordon added. “Several months later, the place was implicated in an international smuggling operation. It seems the owner of the shop had connections to private dealers and collectors, although he swore to the end he had no such dealings. An employee would travel to different parts of the world to buy antiquities illegally. Then they’d cover the real artifacts with a protective coating of a rubbery silicone substance. They’d coat the silicone with plaster and paint to make the piece look like the kind of souvenirs tourists buy, and they’d sail through customs or they’d mail it with no problems. When the contraband arrived, they would contact the collectors and make a deal. They’d break the cheap plaster, peel away the silicone, and they’d sell the artifacts. Of course, most of the keepsakes they sold to tourists really were cheap plaster fakes.”

Greer’s heart broke into a gallop. Did plaster and silicone cover the amulet she had?  She desperately wanted to give it to Townsend, but the Dark Whispers hissed, and her whole body suddenly became paralyzed. She couldn’t even speak.

What was going on?  Had the Dark Whispers suddenly turned her into an agent of evil?  The thought made her frantic. But how could that be?  In the past, they’d always helped her find the guilty party. This time, too, they’d commanded her to do so.

Gordon turned to Greer. “It was quite a coincidence you found that grave so near the excavation site.”

“There was no excavation site when that woman was killed.” Greer knew luck had nothing to do with the discovery. The Dark Whispers made sure she’d come to England and directed her to its location, but she couldn’t tell the police that.

Greer picked up her ruler and calipers and measured the femur bones. “She was probably about five feet, four inches tall. From the length of her face bones and face depth, my bet is the victim is Caucasian. The marks left by her muscles indicate the victim was fairly athletic, and she was left-handed. There were no defensive fractures on her arms. The murderer probably surprised her with a strike to her jaw, and she didn’t have the chance to fight back.”

Greer pointed to the humerus bone and inspected the end. “As for age, I’d say she was over seventeen, but not yet twenty-five because this bone had not completely fused.

“That fits Pamela’s description, but we’ll have to conduct tests to be sure,” DCI Townsend remarked.

“Of course,” Greer said. “I didn’t find any clothes, except for the shoes and the purse. The cloth likely deteriorated.”

Greer held up the inexpensive vinyl bag. “I thought there might still be some I.D. in it, but that would have been too easy. I took soil samples and a cocoon from the grave.”  She nodded toward the containers by the grave. “Your paleobotanist may be able to determine from the samples what time of year the victim died.” 

Greer gazed up into Camberton’s dark eyes. The impression she knew him had nothing to do with carnality this time, and the feeling was so potent that it overwhelmed her.

But for the first time, Camberton appeared shaken, and he said, “I’ve never worked on a dig where we found a body less than five hundred years old. I’ve uncovered the remains of mortally wounded soldiers on battlefields, but to my knowledge, I haven’t discovered a murder victim. It’s disturbing.”

“I’ve been investigating homicides for fifteen years.” DCI Townsend concurred. “One never gets accustomed to seeing this sort of thing.”

Greer empathized. No matter how many decomposed bodies she examined, and she’d discovered many, the experience always left her chilled to the bone. Contemporary crimes of violence took things from the detached, inquiring realm of academia and made them up close and personal, even if a person had to maintain a professional objectivity.

“I’d appreciate it if no one says anything specific about the evidence to the press,” DCI Townsend said. “Of course we can’t suppress the news that a homicide took place, but we find that keeping certain information to ourselves helps the investigation.”

“Of course,” Camberton assured him.

A group of archaeologists and their student interns, who were doing their field training, were walking to them. Among the senior archaeologists was Lady Sybil, the beautiful redheaded daughter of Sir Richard Blair. Sir Richard was Lord Camberton’s collaborator. The handsome, wealthy Clive Alderthorp was not an archaeologist, but Greer had heard he was Camberton’s close friend. Nevertheless, she suspected Clive visited the site because of Sybil. He seemed besotted with her. 

Though Greer had no logical reason, Sir Richard, Clive and Sybil made her uncomfortable. She did her best to avoid them.  

“Are they your colleagues?”DCI Townsend asked.

“Yes, and some are student interns,” Camberton replied. “Mr. Smithson visited the site earlier and complained in a rather loud voice about unauthorized digging on his property. Everyone on the dig is excited. They assume we found ancient artifacts.”

When the crowd arrived, Camberton address it. “This is not an archaeological find,” he announced. “It’s a crime scene, so I suggest you leave. We don’t want to inadvertently destroy or taint any evidence.”

Gasps rose from the crowd.

“We wouldn’t dream of impeding the investigation,” Sir Richard agreed.

As the group left, Clive Alderthorp wrapped his arm around Sybil’s waist.  

Feeling drained, Greer wiped the perspiration from her forehead with a tissue.  Because the temperature had risen, she felt the need to get out of the sterile suit. Stripping off her gloves, she unzipped the protective garb and removed it, carefully concealing the fake amulet in the pocket of her khaki slacks. Folding the suit and gloves, she put them in a plastic bag, tucking it into the field pack.

Why had the Dark Whispers insisted she keep the fake artifact?  The amulet should be examined as evidence in a murder investigation. Maybe the girl was part of the smuggling ring and had been killed by a greedy partner.

Greer had never carried out this kind of a deception, and it weighed on her conscience.

Furthermore, after working hard all night and into the morning, she was exhausted—not to mention the physical and emotional drain of the intense revelation.  She wanted nothing more than to get to her cottage, take a hot shower, and a long nap.

“I’ve record my findings. I also snapped pictures of the crime scene before and after I began to dig.” She took the disposable camera and notes from the field pack and handed them to Townsend. “Your forensics person may find them useful. If you need to ask me any questions, you can find me at the archaeological site.”

“Brilliant.”  Smiling, DCI Townsend accepted her offerings.

Greer returned his smile.  She wanted to give him the fake amulet, but the Dark Whispers refused to allow it.  “I hope you find her murderer soon.  Perhaps a check of the local dental records will turn up a match. You should be able to extract DNA from her teeth and bones.”

“You’ve been a tremendous help, Dr. Graham. Thank you,” DCI Townsend said.  

He and Sergeant Gordon left, and the uniformed constables put yellow tape around the gravesite. Their forensic team would arrive soon to remove the skeleton.

Greer knelt, putting her tools in her field pack, and Camberton helped her. When they stood, she rose too quickly, and Greer felt the blood leave her head. For a moment, everything went gray. Dizzy, she swayed, but felt a pair of strong arms around her.

She inhaled deeply, and the scent of his aftershave smelled delightful. His embrace felt wonderful…and so familiar, as if Camberton had held her close before—many times. Still lightheaded, she wanted to stay near him forever, but she couldn’t.

He gazed at her, a stunned expression on his face.

“I’m sorry, Lord Camberton. I didn’t mean to shock you. My blood pressure is low, and sometimes when I stand too fast, I get dizzy.”

“Are you sure that’s all it is?”

“Very sure,” she answered, and slowly, reluctantly disengaged.

“You’ve worked all night. You should go home and get some sleep.”

“I could use a rest.”

“And something to eat, I’ll wager,” he remarked, looking at his watch. “It’s close to ten.”

“Last night’s dinner does seem like a distant memory.” Actually, she was starving. “It’s also long past Max’s breakfast time.”

He pulled out his cell phone, opened it, probably hitting speed dial. “Brown, put on the kettle and warm some scones. I’ll be at the caravan in about ten minutes. Dr. Graham and her canine partner are my guests.” He closed the phone.

“That’s kind of you, Lord Camberton,” she said, “but we don’t want to be a bother. We can go home.”

Besides needing to keep her distance from him, she must hide the cross, and she seldom socialized with coworkers. It was too easy for things to get complicated, especially with such a handsome man. And by staying alone, Greer found it less of an effort to keep the Dark Whispers a secret.

“By now, Brown has put the scones in the oven to warm. We can’t disappoint him.”

“Thank you, Lord Camberton.” She really wished he hadn’t, but she couldn’t be ungracious to him.

“Why don’t we drop the formalities?  Most people call me Camberton or Cam.”

Brits rarely, if ever, addressed members of the nobility by their first names. Instead, they used the title.

“If you call me Greer,” she said as they began their trek to the archaeological site.

“I believe I can manage that.”

He smiled again, and Greer heard harp music—as clearly as if a harpist were playing right next to them. The haunting melody shook her. On gut-deep level, she sensed she’d heard the tune before, but she couldn’t recall when or where. Why would she hear it now? She remembered to return his smile and then quickly broke eye contact.

“Are you enjoying your stay here in England?” he asked.

“Yes, the Cotswold area has so many beautiful villages, and the people are nice.” 

“Which villages have you seen?”

“Mostly the ones here in Gloucestershire, like Stanton, Snowshill, Boureton-On-The-Water, and Bibury,” she replied.

“Those are some of the most beautiful. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite.”

As Camberton and she approached the dig, a group of men and woman were picketing the site, carrying signs that read: Down with the peerage.

“I’ve never seen them here. Who are they?” Greer asked.

“Charles Wyndham and his cohorts,” Camberton answered. “He’s an anti-monarchist, and he wants to end the monarchy and the peerage, of course.”

“Why is he harassing you?”

“I suppose I’m just the latest target on his list. He’s beleaguered a host of my titled colleagues.”

“Are these people violent?” she asked.

“Not so far.”

Greer’s anxiety heightened as the group came closer and blocked their progress.

“Your days of privilege are numbered, Camberton,” a tall, thin man with a thatch of unruly black hair and a bushy beard declared.

Greer felt threatened, and her heartbeat quickened.

“Thank you for that information,” Camberton replied. “Now please allow us to proceed.”

Talk about British cool and keeping a stiff upper lip, Greer thought. Camberton certainly did both.

“We’ll let you go this time, but your easy living will end sooner than you think,” Wyndham snarled.

“They’re menacing, Camberton,” she said when they moved out of earshot. “Why don’t you get a restraining order?”

“That will give him more ammunition for his cause. As long as he and his group remain peaceful and don’t break any laws, I have no quarrel with their exercising their free speech.”

“That’s tolerant of you,” she said.

“I’ve learned to pick my battles.”

They reached the site and walked around the grid, where their colleagues were working, to the semicircle of trailers, which the Brits called caravans. The trailers served as temporary offices and labs. Camberton’s was the largest.

When they arrived, she said, “Sit, Max, and stay.”

“If it’s all right with you, Max may come inside.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Absolutely sure,” he affirmed. “I like dogs. I have two ten-year-old beagles at home. They visit the site, so I have a supply of dog food.”

So he was a dog lover. She liked that a lot. “Come here, Max.”

When they entered the trailer, a slim, middle-aged man met them. “Everything is ready, my lord.” He nodded toward a table in front of a window. And I’ve put bowls of food and water in the kitchen for the canine.”

“Good man, Brown,” Camberton said.

“If you don’t need anything else, my lord, I’ll be off to the village for more supplies.”

“Right,” Camberton replied.

Brown took her field pack, set it on the sofa, and left.

“Is there a place where I can freshen up?” she asked Camberton. “I’ve been in a grave all night.” Even though she’d worn a suit and sterile gloves, she felt grimy and sweaty.

“It’s down the hall on your right. Meanwhile, I’ll see Max get his breakfast.”

“Thanks on both counts,” she said.

Greer found her way to the bathroom and scrubbed her hands and arms, working up a thick lather. After she rinsed the suds, she washed her face and inspected her reflection in the mirror. She looked paler than usual, but she didn’t have lipstick or blush with her. Stray wisps of pale hair trailed from under her hat. Of course, last night when the Dark Whispers had called on her, she had no idea Lord Camberton would arrive on the scene. She’d planned to find the grave, call the police, and go back to her cottage. Applying makeup was not on the agenda.

When she was home in the States, the Dark Voices didn’t often order her to dig the grave. They’d tell her where it was, and she’d give the police an anonymous call or mail an unsigned letter. When they found the crime scene, of course, they’d call her in, and she’d do the examination. When the police did a search for a missing person, she would accompany them. The Dark Whispers led her to the spot, but she always credited Max with the discovery.

This time, though, the supernatural beings ordered her to dig the grave herself. Was that because they wanted her to keep the fake artifact? But why did they want her to do that? 

She also wondered why the Dark Whispers allowed Camberton or anyone else other than the police on the crime scene. They were very powerful beings who could either prevent things or make them happen.

Staring at her frightful appearance, Greer shook her head. Still, it was just as well she looked so unattractive.  Even if the Dark Whispers weren’t in her life, British earls didn’t have relationships with poor women like her.  Not that it was any of her business, but Greer wondered if Camberton had a love interest, as she turned from her image and made her way to the table.

She found Camberton sitting at the table with Max by his side.

Camberton stood, nailing her with his seductive gaze. “Feeling better?”

“Yes, thanks,” she said, sitting in the chair he pulled out for her. “Max thanks you too.”

He chuckled. “He was hungry and thirsty.”

“I’ll bet he downed his food in seconds.”

“Almost as fast as Button and Buttercup.”

“I suppose they’re your beagles.”

He nodded.  

Greer admired the broad sweep of his shoulders and length of his legs as he moved into his seat.

Camberton removed the blue and white quilted cozy from the teapot. The rest of the tea service was of fine ivory colored china and probably cost a bundle. Yet, he was using it in a caravan. As a peer of the realm, he undoubtedly was accustomed to the best of everything under all circumstances.

“Cream and sugar?” he asked.

“Just cream please,” she answered.

He poured with a masculine grace and confidence that Greer found intriguing. His gaze met hers, but she looked away. Maintaining eye contact was tempting fate.

“This is a pleasant caravan,” she said, hoping to get her mind off of the potent attraction she felt towards him.    

“It’s a comfortable place to take refuge and catch up on paperwork when it rains, which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, happens often here.”

“Yes, but it rains fairly often in Boston too.”

Furthermore, the trailer was light years better than the one she’d lived in until she left for college. The memories of deprivation sent a chill through her. She reached for the cup of hot tea to warm the coldness inside. Greer savored the warm liquid as it traveled down her gullet to her empty stomach.

He offered her the plate of scones, and she took one. As she slathered it with clotted cream and strawberry jam, she wondered what to say. She was horrible at small talk. With the Dark Whispers ruling her life, and working hard to escape the grinding poverty of her childhood, she had little opportunity for socializing. In high school, when other girls were attending parties, and dances, Greer was studying, so she could win scholarships and have a chance at a better life.  

She finished the scone and blotted her lips.

“So…besides the villages, have you have time to see any more of the country?” Camberton asked.

“I took a tour of London after I arrived there. I did the usual touristy things, like the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, the museums, and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. It’s an exciting city.” 

“I know you work in Boston, but we’re you born there?” he asked, pouring more tea.

“No, I’m from a small town in rural Maine, close to the Canadian border.”

Greer hoped he wouldn’t question her about her family life. She didn’t want to discuss how her mother and father died in an auto accident, leaving her and Aunt Janet without a cent of insurance money. She didn’t even want to think about how her aunt worked as a waitress in the local diner, hoping to have enough money to heat their trailer during the brutal New England winters. Somehow, they managed, but just when Greer won her scholarship and went off to college, her poor aunt was hauled off to an insane asylum and died soon after.

Greer breathed a sigh of relief when he said, “Why did you earn a master’s degree in bio-archaeology as well as a doctorate in forensic anthropology?”

Lots of people had asked her that question. Greer couldn’t tell them that the Dark Whispers had instructed her to earn a second degree, so she gave him the pat answer. “I wanted to expand my knowledge beyond the human, physical, and legal spheres of forensic anthropology to the historical and cultural aspects of archaeology. She smiled. “Besides, if I hadn’t received that second degree and published several articles, you wouldn’t have invited me to work on this project.”

The sudden appearance of a helicopter attracted their attention.

That’s unusual,” he said, peering at the hovering aircraft through the window.

The sound of the engine got progressively louder, and the helicopter landed in the fallow field just beyond the site.

“Now I’m curious,” he said. 

“Could be a friend dropping in on Mr. Blake,” she speculated.

“Very possibly,” he said. “Blake has had a lot of company since he found the horde. I don’t have to tell you the discovery caused quite a stir and prompted the excavation.  The media and writers from various archaeological magazines call on him and us quite a lot.”

“The academic community is certainly excited,” she said.

“So is the general public.”

His phone interrupted their conversation. He answered and then said, “Just a moment and I’ll inform her.” He covered the phone and directed his gaze at her. “Someone leaked the story about the grave to the press. That helicopter transported media people from Oxford.”

“They didn’t waste time getting here,” she said.

“No, but we’re not far from Oxford. They want to talk to you, and they won’t be the last. This story will sweep across the whole country. It’ll be on every news station and all over the Internet, especially since the remains were found on a farm adjacent to the site.”

“DCI Townsend said we shouldn’t talk about the specific evidence,” Greer remarked.

“He also said they couldn’t suppress the news that you discovered the grave.”

“I’m not up to an interview,” she said. After working all night and talking to the police, if she didn’t get some rest, she’d collapse.  

“Tell them she isn’t available for comment at this time.” Camberton said into the phone and then closed it and put it in his pocket. “We have to get out of here.”

“They’re likely to spot us on our way to our cars, Camberton.”

“You’ll have to leave your car here. My vehicle is in back of the caravan, and there’s a back road on this farm,” he replied.

“Then I’ll hide in Dove Cottage until they leave.”

“It won’t take five minutes for them to find your place of residence, and they won’t leave until they have a statement. Camberton Hall is your only option. They can’t get beyond the walls. You can spend the night there and deal with them tomorrow. ”

She had to hide the cross, and going to his home was getting too personal with him. Not that she’d object to that under other circumstances, but a relationship with him was too dangerous, no matter how much she wanted him. In fact, she still felt danger all around him.

“Uh, I appreciate the offer, but I rarely mix my social life with my professional life. Please don’t take this personally, but spending the night in your home just isn’t proper. Maybe if I went to Bibury—”

“You’re professionalism is perfectly safe with me. I’m offering an escape from the press for a few hours. I am in no way propositioning you.” His tone was matter of fact as he took his car keys from his pocket. “And we’re wasting time.”

“But they’ll follow us,” she objected.

“Only if they see us, which they won’t if we leave now,” he said, lifting her field bag. “As I told you, they can’t get beyond the manor house gates, and they don’t know about the secret lane in the back of the estate. So let’s go, or they’ll trap you here.”

“Come on, Max,” he said, taking her arm.

Suddenly, he stopped and stiffened. Greer looked up at him, wondering why he’d halted so abruptly when he’d just urged her to hurry. In fact, he seemed visibly shaken. “Camberton, are you all right?”

“Uh, yes, quite; why shouldn’t I be?” he asked as they continued on their way, but he did not take her arm again.

“I don’t know, but you look as if you were shocked with a cattle prod,” she replied as he helped her into the car. And it was the second time he looked so surprised. The first happened earlier today when he caught her and kept her from falling.