Catherine Mulvany
Catherine Mulvany

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SHADOWS ALL AROUND HER
© 2005 Catherine Mulvany

Dominic had been cooling his heels in the Edinburgh airport for the last forty minutes, waiting for the flight from London. Delayed by fog, according to the airline representative he’d spoken to. But his wait was nearly over; the plane had hit the tarmac ten minutes ago.

The big challenge now was picking Caitlin O’Shaughnessy and her friend out of the crowd. The only picture Wallace had been able to find was of twelve-year-old Caitlin posing in her softball uniform, face shadowed by the brim of her cap, brown hair confined in an untidy plait. Even if Dominic had been able to see her features clearly, the photo probably wouldn’t have been much help since she’d no doubt changed a good bit in the intervening years. He couldn’t even count on the brown hair, given current trends in creative hair coloring. He might be looking for a blonde, a redhead, or even a blue.

As for the friend, all Wallace knew about Bree Thatcher was that she owned an art gallery and did some painting herself. “A bohemian type, I expect,” he’d said. “Draped in scarves and tatty jewelry.”

Travelers had been straggling into the terminal for the past few minutes, but so far no one had fit the bill.

Dominic yawned. Damn Janus anyway for sticking him with this assignment. The last thing he wanted to do was baby-sit some American.

Just then a tall, slender young woman in low-slung jeans and a snug pink pullover sauntered past, rucksack slung over one shoulder. Caitlin? Dominic wondered, comparing the fashionable young beauty to the faded photograph of the pre-teen softball player. The hair was the same color, a deep chocolate brown. But if this was Caitlin—oh, please, God, let this be Caitlin—where was her friend?

He realized then that the young woman wasn’t alone. Accompanying her was a middle-aged couple with graying hair. Her parents? he wondered, searching in vain for some family resemblance. In contrast to the frumpy faded pair, the girl’s skin was pale, her bone structure delicate but distinctive. The thick dark hair fell past her shoulders in a silky shimmer. Even at this distance, it was obvious she was a looker.

The trio paused in the middle of the broad corridor. The girl glanced back, as if searching for someone, then leaned toward the couple, smiling at something the woman said. She murmured a few words, then gestured toward the public facilities. The woman nodded, shook the girl’s hand—therefore, probably not the girl’s parent—and hustled off. The man, burdened by assorted carry-on luggage, followed more slowly.

The young woman stood still, an island of youthful perfection in a crowd of harried businessmen and rumpled, travel-worn tourists, most with the shell-shocked look of people who’ve crossed too many time zones in too few hours. Once again she glanced back toward the gate, as if searching for a familiar face.

“Caitlin!”

He jerked his head around to see who’d spoken. A chic brunette gamine with big dark eyes waved an arm above the sea of humanity and shouted again. “Caitlin! Over here!” This was Bree Thatcher, Wallace’s “bohemian type”?

“Bree!” someone called and he turned to see the young woman in the pink pullover—yes, there was a God!—waving back at the brunette.

Suddenly a nondescript man surged through the crowd, coming up fast behind Caitlin.

“Hey!” Dominic shouted a warning just the man sideswiped her. She fell to one knee and the man grabbed her rucksack.

Dominic leapt to his feet to go to her rescue, a good Samaritan impulse wasted on Ms. O’Shaughnessy, who launched herself at the thief in a flying tackle. The man went down hard but recovered quickly, kicking free and scrambling to his feet.

“Stop! Thief!” Caitlin shoved herself upright and took off in pursuit.

People stared, but few seemed to grasp what was going on. The security people at the checkpoint, some distance away, glanced up to see what all the shouting was about, but no one moved to intercept the thief.

“Stop him! He’s got my bag!” Caitlin yelled.

Never let it be said the days of chivalry were over.

Dominic stuck out a foot as the man ran past. The thief tripped and went sprawling again. Dominic hooked the strap of the stolen rucksack with the handle of his umbrella and flipped it out of the man’s reach just as Caitlin O’Shaughnessy pounded to a halt.

Dominic stood. “Missing something?” 

“Oh, thank you. Thank you!” She smiled up at him, and his heart stopped beating for a solid five count.

Belatedly, he realized his mouth was hanging open—a bloody miracle he wasn’t drooling—and shut it. But damned if the woman didn’t have the most gorgeous eyes he’d ever seen, a clear blue-green, the exact color of the water in the shallow coves along Calix’s northern coastline. And if that weren’t distraction enough, factor in a smile that was two parts sweetness to one part mischief.

Taking advantage of Dominic’s preoccupation, the thief cut his losses and took off. Dominic let him go.

He lifted the rucksack off the end of his umbrella and presented it to her with a flourish. “Yours, I believe.”

She slid the strap over her shoulder. “And again, thank you.”

“My pleasure.” He wished he could think of something more original to say, something that would coax another smile from her.

“No, I mean it. If you hadn’t intervened... You’re a prince,” she said and smiled again.

Struck speechless, all he could do was stare.

Bree Thatcher came rushing up and broke the awkward silence. “Are you all right?” she asked her friend.

“Fine,” Caitlin said. “And still in possession of my backpack, thanks to this gentleman.”

“Dominic Fortune,” he told Bree. “At your service.” 

“Wallace Armstrong’s nephew?”

“Great-nephew,” he said. “By marriage.”

“But what a remarkable coincidence! I’m—”

“Bree Thatcher and”—he smiled at Caitlin—“this is your friend, Caitlin O’Shaughnessy,” he said. “Frankly, coincidence had nothing to do with it. Wallace sent me. I’m to drive you to Firth House.”

A faint furrow appeared between Caitlin’s eyebrows. “You recognized us? How?”

“Recognized? No.” He showed her the soccer picture. “Not from this. I didn’t realize who you were until I heard your friend call your name.”

“Just before that jerk grabbed my backpack.” Her frown deepened. “So maybe the attempted theft wasn’t coincidental. Maybe he targeted me on purpose.”

Bree shot her a sharp look.

“But why?” Dominic asked. “Are you carrying large sums of cash?”

“No.” Caitlin frowned.

“Any news of Caitlin’s stepfather?” Bree asked.

“None. Wallace spoke to the officer in charge of the case. The authorities are treating his disappearance as a missing person’s case, but Wallace got the distinct impression that Inspector Logan thought Magnus had gone off of his own accord, caught up in the throes of a midlife crisis.”

“That’s bullshit,” Caitlin said.

Dominic nodded. “Precisely what Wallace told the man.”

 

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