Spanish Shadows in ScarletDust to Dust

Dust to Dust
Book 2, the Ashes to Ashes series

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ISBN-13: 978-1461106920

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The photo on the cover of Dust to Dust is Melrose Abbey, not only very similar to the story's Rudesburn Priory, but just up the road from it.

The sequel to Ashes to Ashes. After months of long-distance phone calls, Rebecca Reid is thrilled to be working with Michael Campbell again, this time on a dig at Rudesburn Priory in the Scottish Borders. It’s rumored that Robert the Bruce's heart was buried there, and that the abbey's last prioress, Anne Douglas, still haunts its ruins. Michael and Rebecca have to work with a self-important archaeologist, Jeremy Kleinfelter, whose reputation is on the line after he was accused of salting his previous dig.

They also have to deal with the townspeople, who want the dig to be successful--and who don't know about Jeremy's shady past--and four volunteers working on the dig, loose cannons, every one, each with a secret in his or her past. Then Sheila Fitzgerald, Michael's ex-girlfriend, appears, intent on filming a documentary about the dig. Uncovering a medieval murder mystery makes the tense situation at the dig even tenser. It's the very fresh body in a very old grave that blows it wide open--and tests their relationship for once and for all. For despite ghosts, music, and mayhem, the dig must go on.


"...Carl shows herself to be quite a skillful practitioner of the Gothic romance...this has everything. --Timothy Lane, Fosfax

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Note: Dust to Dust is my first, but not my last, book set in Scotland. While Rudesburn and its priory don't actually exist, the site most certainly does. As do the delightful voices of the local inhabitants.

Chapter One

Rebecca’s ancestors had crossed the Atlantic from Scotland to America in steerage. For her, going back in an economy seat in a DC-10 was somewhat better. The torture lasted only during those few hours stretched between New York and Europe.

She closed her eyes and tried to convince herself she was sleepy. The tendons in her neck and shoulders were tight with tension. With a sigh she opened her eyes. Her contact lenses felt like cockleburs against her pupils.

Beside her Adele breathed tiny ladylike snores, deep in the sleep of a person with a clear conscience. Across the aisle, Dennis was a blanketed cocoon, his mouth open, his snores anything but delicate. The sleep of the—well no, Rebecca decided generously, not the dumb but the innocent. She had just met the two students, it was premature to be passing judgment on either of them. She simply wasn’t in a very generous mood. She’d slept only fitfully for a week, and now, so close to Scotland at last, she abandoned all hope of sleeping now. Her feelings ricocheted from anticipation to apprehension and back.

Michael, Rebecca said silently, his name a kiss on her lips. Six months ago he’d asked her to return to Scotland with him. She’d replied that she couldn’t; she didn’t want to blame him if she never got her doctorate.

She’d submitted her dissertation at the beginning of June. It would be September before the degree she’d struggled toward these many years would be granted or denied. Now she was spending six weeks of those months shepherding a group of students to the excavations at Rudesburn Priory. The job didn’t pay much, but it would be an important asset to her resume, and she would once again be living and working with Michael.

If everything went well at the dig, maybe she could find a job and launch a career. Then they could afford to marry. If they wanted to marry. If she wanted to stay in Scotland.

An American professor of British history searching for a job in Edinburgh would give new meaning to the expression “coals to Newcastle”. Of course Michael already had a job, a toehold on the career ladder, as a curator at the National Museums of Scotland.

If only she hadn’t heard those rumors about the excavation—she needed that excavation to be successful. . . .As if she didn’t have enough to worry about without worrying over the dig itself. Body, mind and soul, love and money. She squirmed, her mind still trapped by the random strands of thought. For a 28-year-old, she was feeling very immature.

Rebecca sensed rather than heard the change in the timbre of the engines. She glanced at her watch which she’d set to Greenwich time while the plane was taxiing for take-off. Six a.m. The plane was scheduled to land at Prestwick at seven. To Rebecca’s internal chronometer, as crumpled as her sweater and khaki pants, it was barely past midnight. But she’d grown very familiar with this wide-eyed weariness in the last few months.

She raised the blind on the window and peered out. Dawn. The sky was an impressionist painting, pale blue lavished with gold. Far below was a green coastline frilled with white breakers—Ireland. Ahead lay the peninsula of Kintyre, and Scotland. Rebecca’s heart swelled; she was coming home, even though she’d been here only twice before.

The lights flickered on in the cabin, bringing groans of protest from the huddled masses wrapped like corpses after a battle. Adele stirred, brushed at her no-nonsense sheaf of gray hair, and looked up. “Are we almost there?”

“Terra firma Scotia is on the horizon.”

“Good.” Adele polished her glasses, adjusted her double-knit jacket, and applied her only concession to make-up, a bit of lip balm. Her pale blue eyes were as bright if she’d spent eight hours asleep in her own bed.

Rebecca was vaguely embarrassed at finding herself with a student twenty years older than she. But if Adele chose to go back to school after being widowed, more power to her. When the flight attendant came down the aisle doling out coffee and sweet rolls, Adele told her, “I don’t drink caffeine or eat sugar. I’ll just take some juice.”

Across the aisle, Dennis wriggled against the confines of his seat, yawned, and asked Adele, “If you don’t want your roll, can I have it?”

Rebecca drank her own cup of caffeine, wishing she could take it intravenously, and choked down the sugary flour and preservative patty the attendant optimistically called food. She picked up her purse, dug her toothbrush out of her carry-on bag, and eyed the line waiting for the lavatory.

Adele asked, “Your young man will be at the airport?”

“My young man?” Adele made it sound as if she and Michael had courted discreetly in the front parlor under the watchful eye of a chaperone. “He said he’d be there ‘to collect me’. I can see myself chloroformed and poured into a bottle labeled ‘American Historian’.”

“How appropriate, to study British history all your life and then find yourself a nice British boy.”

“Yes.” Rebecca scrambled into the aisle, adding to herself, maybe just a little bit too appropriate. What if she only loved him because of his accent? If he got laryngitis, the relationship would fall apart.

She hated the fluorescent light in airplane lavatories. Her complexion was tinted green, and the circles below her dark, faintly crazed eyes were purple bruises. Yesterday her brown hair had been combed into a tidy Princess Diana; now it was cowlicked from leaning against the seat, looking more like Bride of Frankenstein. Rebecca tried applying a little blush to the hollows in her cheeks. Michael’s discerning eye would notice immediately that she’d lost weight she hadn’t needed to lose. Well, it was his own fault she’d eaten soup and crackers for dinner so often. Trans-Atlantic phone calls weren’t cheap.

She squeezed her way down the aisle, picked up Dennis’s napkin from the floor and gave it back to him. He gazed at her quizzically and stuffed it into the seat pocket. Despite his twenty or so years, she thought, Dennis was just like her ten-year-old nephew, not quite domesticated.

Adele was looking through the stack of books and papers with which Rebecca had tried to while away the night. “Have you ever been to Rudesburn?”

“No, I haven’t. That’s why I’ve been reading up on it.” Rebecca packed the books away. “This one’s a pretty good account of Scottish monasticism—did you know Rudesburn’s one of the few medieval convents in the country? And this one on folk customs tells about the Lammas Fair, the August Borders Festival the village development group is reviving.”

Adele indicated a third book, a paperback illustrated with a ghostly figure looming over a castle that owed more to Disney than to defense. “That one says the fair-goers would avoid the ruins of the priory, because the ghost of a sixteenth century prioress puts a curse on lovers.”

So that’s where I’m going with my lover, Rebecca thought. She shook her head. “There’re a dozen versions of that story, applied to half the ruins in the country. Ghosties and ghoulies, clanking knights and spectral nuns, buried treasures and magical artifacts. Typical.”

“But the priory might be haunted,” Adele insisted. “Sometimes people can’t make the transition into the other world; they stay behind because of an unresolved need. Guilt, or to guard something, or to avenge their murder.”

Tell me about it. Rebecca quirked a brow at Adele. “Most of the time it’s only legend.”

“It wasn’t legend at Dun Iain, was it?”

It was uncanny how the woman knew what she was thinking. Rebecca’s other brow shot up. “The problems there were caused by human beings. I’m surprised you heard about it.”

“When I heard from the University Archeological Network that you were going to be our instructor, I recognized your name. I live in Pittsburgh, we get the news from Ohio, and I was fascinated by what happened at Dun Iain last winter. Of course, if you don’t want to talk about it. . .” She paused both discreetly and expectantly.

Rebecca turned back to her bag, wedging the sheaf of photocopies Michael had sent from the Museum between the books. “I’d prefer not to, if you don’t mind. It was. . .” She groped for a word, remembering moments of terror, of exhilaration, of farce, and settled on the innocuous “. . . demanding.” She was biting her lip. She stopped it, telling herself she had nothing to hide. What had begun as a straightforward job helping to catalog the artifacts in an old house had become a desperate struggle to save not only the house and artifacts but also her life. And the life of her temperamental Scottish co-worker. Funny, how at first she and Michael had barely tolerated each other.

“I’m sorry,” Adele said. “I’m not trying to pry. It’s just that it’s so seldom you get a parapsychological manifestation, a survival of consciousness, that can’t be explained away.”

“There were ghosts, or whatever you want to call them, at Dun Iain. But they went away—to wherever it is we all go eventually.” Rebecca turned and looked out the window again, hoping Adele would take the hint. She’d known the older woman was studying religion, but she’d expected a more conventional one.

“Maybe there are vibrations of a life force at Rudesburn Priory,” Adele said, so quietly Rebecca hardly heard her. “Some poor lost soul who needs help in finding the door to the other side.”

Rebecca laid her forehead against the cold glass of the window. The plane was gliding over Ailsa Craig, the sharply pointed island puncturing the blue of the Irish Sea. Ahead was the coast of Scotland and a tiny white town nestled against the beach. The plane banked steeply to the left and the early morning sunlight, diffused by gauzy cloud, glinted in Rebecca’s eyes. Squinting, she looked down past the coping of the window like a poor woman looking greedily through the glass of a jewelry store. Streams and small lakes shone like diamond necklaces against green velvet hills that faded imperceptibly into blue horizon. Rebecca wondered if it were the magical light or her weariness that made land and sky seem so insubstantial, like the shimmering and yet distorted images of a dream.

The “Fasten Seat Belt” sign came on. Rebecca buckled up without taking her eyes from the window. As the plane lost altitude, the ground solidified. Gray stone fences and sheep like tiny cumulous clouds made patterns on that transcendent green. Then she saw a road, cars, light standards, and felt the thunk of the wheels hitting the runway.

Rebecca stepped out of the door of the plane onto the top of the staircase a few minutes later and inhaled the cool, moist wind. She herded Dennis and Adele into a long, low building and down a corridor into customs. The agent stamped their documents with a flourish, lingering over Rebecca’s. “Reid—there’s a good Scottish name. You’ve been here before, then? Well, welcome home to you.”

Rebecca beamed at the man. He sounded like Michael. She and the students claimed their suitcases and passed through customs. Through wide automatic doors was the lobby: no Scottish vernacular architecture, not a portcullis in sight, just an expanse of linoleum dotted with plastic chairs and rent-a-car booths.

Rebecca’s steps slowed. She looked around eagerly for a tall, lanky, jeans-and-sweatshirt clad body. Michael had said he’d be here. He’d called her last week to check on her arrival time. He had said, “It’s damned expensive courtin’ via trunk call, lass. You’d best be gettin’ yoursel’ ower here.”

So we can have it out right and proper, Rebecca added to herself.

Dennis paused by a video game and looked suspiciously at his handful of British coins. Adele strolled over to the information booth and gazed at their display of maps. Rebecca kept on walking. Well, it was barely past seven. He’d had to drive the fifty miles from Edinburgh—maybe the traffic was bad. He’d said he’d be here. Her thoughts shifted painfully from worry to doubt.

Then any thought at all vanished, as Michael’s voice, his real voice, not an electronically transmitted facsimile, called her name.

She stopped dead, causing other travelers to bump into her back. He was standing in front of the window of the gift shop, his image repeated in the glass. No wonder she hadn’t recognized him. It wasn’t that he was wearing the intricate but nicely rational fisherman’s sweater his mother had made for him; she’d seen that. Below the sweater he wore a kilt of blue-green tartan, complete with sporran and tall socks. Above the top of one peeped the black handle of the traditional small dagger, a sgian dubh.

She’d seen a photo of him in a kilt—he’d played in a pipe band. But this vision was up close and personal. Rebecca’s cheeks flushed and her eyes crossed. Michael, enjoying this effect, unleashed his most dazzling grin.

She flew into his arms without ever taking a step. “I’m impressed,” she exhaled into the collar of his shirt, and inhaled his scent of soap and clean wool.

“I thought a cheap thrill would wake you up,” he said into her ear. “You’ve never seen me outwith my jeans, have you?”

“Sure I have, buck naked.”

Michael laughed. Something flashed in the corner of Rebecca’s eye, and she looked up. A middle-aged couple from her flight had taken a picture of them. Of Michael, rather, their first bit of local color.

Michael smiled graciously, dropped the tourists a curtsey, and drew Rebecca back against the window of the shop. “Dr. Reid, I presume?”

“I don’t know yet. They’re going to write me.”

“But you did hand in your dissertation, Mary, Queen of Scots, and all?”

“Mary, Queen of Scots, and all. It was a strange few months—I haven’t studied full time since I was a freshman. But if I’d gotten yet another teaching job it would’ve taken me forever to finish.” She didn’t have to add, “And that would’ve meant all the more time we’d have been hugging telephone receivers instead of each other.”

He gave her a discreet peck on the cheek, and said over her shoulder, “How do you do. I’m Michael Campbell.”

“Adele Garrity, Dr. Campbell,” returned the woman’s voice.

Rebecca remembered her duties and peeled herself off Michael’s chest. Dennis was standing at her elbow. “And this is Dennis Tucker,” she said.

 His appraising glance fell to Michael’s lower half and stalled there, hung up somewhere between surprise and indignation. Then he noticed Michael’s extended right hand. “Oh, hello.” He was somewhat shorter than Michael, and almost twice as broad.

Adele hoisted her massive overnight bag with surprising ease, considering that she was as slender as Rebecca—probably from years of jogging and eating tofu rather than years turning over academic compost heaps. “I understand there’s a bus to Glasgow,” she said. “And I can get a train from there to Newton Stewart, can’t I? Would there be a bus or something, do you think, to take me on to Whithorn and St. Ninian’s Kirk?”

“Oh aye,” Michael replied. “That’s a well-traveled route. There’re some fine stone circles in that area, if you’ve a taste for such.”

“I’m going to visit the shrine. King Robert the Bruce went there just before he died. I’m going to pray for Christopher, he was always fond of Robert—such a dashing figure.”

“I’m partial to him mysel’,” said Michael. “My dissertation was on the Bruce and the Wars of Independence.”

“Sorry,” Rebecca said, confused. “I thought your husband was Harvey.”

Adele’s pale eyes didn’t blink. “Christopher was my son. He died last year, too.”

Rebecca stammered something. Michael’s brows tightened. Dennis asked, “Who’s Robert the Bruce?”

The boy was woefully unprepared, Rebecca thought. She answered, “He was only Scotland’s most famous king. Won the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.”

“Turfed oot the English and kept them oot,” added Michael. “We could’ve used a few more like him.”

“Well,” said Dennis, with a sideways glance from the kilt to Rebecca to Adele, “all I’m going to do tonight is check out a few pubs. Thought I’d try some of that warm beer. What would you recommend, Mike?”

Michael flinched at the shortening of his name. “McEwen’s Export is quite guid. At room temperature. Our rooms are just a wee bit cooler than yours.”

Dennis nodded. Adele smiled brightly.

“There’ll be a bus in Galashiels tomorrow afternoon,” Rebecca reminded them both. “Sunday. To take you to Rudesburn. See you there!”

Michael took her elbow and steered her across the driveway into the parking area. “Where’d you find that lot?”

“They found me. They’ve paid for the privilege of mucking about in medieval Scottish mud, remember. Don’t criticize. Even if Dennis is only here because he needs a liberal arts course to get his bachelor’s in business.”

“Business graduates get higher salaries than we poor sods of historians do,” Michael conceded. “Just as long as he can use a trowel.”

“The other two students might not be as—er—startling. But I’ve never met them before, either. They’ll be here tomorrow.”

“We’ll let the morn take care of itsel’.” Michael stopped by a red Fiat with a “Made in Czechoslovakia” sticker on the windshield and opened the trunk. Boot, it was called here. Wellies, calf-high rubber boots. She had to get a pair for that medieval mud.

Her mind was still a jumble. Rebecca yawned, her jaw creaking. Now I get sleepy, that figures. But it’s all right now, I’m here, Michael’s here, everything’s okay, I can rest. . . . I have to warn him about the dig, she reminded herself, she reminded herself. It’s American gossip, he won’t have heard.

She stowed her overnight bag, opened the car door, and confronted a steering wheel. Oh, of course—they drive on the left here. With a chuckle, Michael escorted her to the passenger side, tucked her in, and climbed behind the wheel. They regarded each other gravely, alone at last.

Tomorrow, Rebecca told herself, swimming a lazy backstroke in the deep blue of his eyes. We’ll talk business tomorrow.

“I missed you,” he said. His forefinger touched her cheek.

She tilted her face against his hand. “I missed you, especially when I was working with copies from the Dun Iain collection.”

“There I was, unpackin’ the artifacts I’d brought back, and I’d catch mysel’ holdin’ something and thinkin’, ah, Rebecca packed this.” He mimed Hamlet considering the skull of Yorick.” I’ve been makin’ a proper gowk oot of mysel’ ower you.”

“If I had a nickel for every time I caught myself staring at my typewriter and seeing you, I’d have had enough to buy myself a first class ticket.” She leaned over the gearshift to kiss him.

A tentative nibble, and then a firm kiss, and then an exploratory expedition that made Rebecca glad she’d brushed her teeth. She came up for air. No doubt about it, it was a lifetime of burred ‘r’s and rounded vowels had made his lips and tongue wonderfully flexible.

His face swam, not quite focused, before her. She’d never known a man who could steam up her contact lenses. As her vision cleared she saw, several yards beyond Michael’s back, the parking lot attendant leaning on his windowsill and taking in the sights with a broad grin.

“Worked yoursel’ to a bone,” Michael said disapprovingly and released her rib cage. He started the car and caught the eye of the attendant. His brows saluted cheerfully. The man laughed, and when they pulled alongside his booth he waved them on without accepting payment.

The Fiat swung out of the parking lot onto the main road just as another car swung in. Rebecca gasped, certain it was going to hit them headlong. But it passed by smoothly to their right. With a sigh of relief, she settled against the seat. The tendons in her neck and shoulders were slowly unknotting, and her eyelashes were gaining weight. She watched bemusedly as the streets of first Prestwick and then Ayr unfurled themselves, lined with sturdy stone buildings. Only the passing cars, the advertisements, and the dress of the pedestrians—an occasional punk strutting like a peacock among pigeons—assured her that she hadn’t dropped into some time warp where the last two centuries co-existed.

To her right she caught a glimpse of the sea, shining blue gray in the full light of the sun. A pretty day—how fitting. She sighed happily. “And where are you taking me, young Lochinvar?”

“To a hotel in Ayr. A B&B would’ve been cheaper, but less private.”

She turned her head against the headrest and looked appreciatively at his profile. His features were even, unremarkable except for the animation of mouth and brows. Thank goodness he hadn’t altered his bravado haircut, short brown strands framing his face, long ones down the back of his neck. He looked like a rock star, an intellectual, and a swashbuckler all in one.

“I booked a room wi’ two beds,” he went on, “if you dinna want to start quite where we left it last winter.”

They’d been colleagues for three months, lovers for only a week. It was almost a matter of starting over. “I intend to start where we left off. But if I don’t get some sleep soon, you’ll be starting without me.”

“Oh, take a snooze, by all means. I dinna have a taste for necrophilia.” He shifted gears. The car plunged into a traffic circle, which in the morning rush hour resembled a miniature version of the chariot race from “Ben Hur”. Flung by some kind of centrifugal force, the car whizzed out the other side right under the fender of a huge truck.

Rebecca blanched. She’d have to learn to drive all over again.

Unperturbed, Michael shifted again. His wrist caught the hem of his kilt and flipped it up his thigh.

“Just a quick nap,” said Rebecca with a slow smile.

He glanced at her expression, down at his leg, and laughed. The car followed a residential street to the driveway of a sprawling red sandstone building that had been new in Victoria’s reign. “Here we are.”

Rebecca hovered, firmly convinced she’d left something behind. She counted her two suitcases and overnight bag, his suitcase and garment bag, a battered attache case that looked as if he’d used it as a football and a long tartan bag with a handle. Golf clubs? He didn’t play golf. Then she realized he’d brought his bagpipes. All right! It was Michael’s music that had first touched her heart.

At the registration desk Rebecca declined breakfast with a polite mutter. She sleepwalked up the stairs, then into a large bedroom and across it to a dressing table, where she plopped down and took out her contact lenses. That was better, even if she did see the garden below the broad bay window as a smear of green, pink, and yellow.

Michael was looking at her indulgently. “I’ll do some shoppin’ whilst you evolve yoursel’ back into a higher species.”

“Something higher than a slime slug, anyway,” she said with a laugh.

He ruffled her hair, kissed the tip of her nose, and left.

Rebecca stood basking in the lingering heat of his smile, still mesmerized by the swing and sway of the kilt above his knees, its movement like the lilt in his voice. Then, with a wry smile at herself, she washed and pulled on a flannel nightgown and a pair of socks—it might be June, but it was also Scotland. She crawled beneath the covers of one of the beds, reached behind her and pulled one of the thick pillows like a sack of cement from beneath her head. There. She could sleep now. Sleep.

The plaster dadoes surrounding the ceiling light reminded her of the ceilings of Dun Iain, plastered as intricately as wedding cakes. What if she woke up and discovered she was still there, that she’d dreamed the intervening six months, that Michael was leaving for Scotland tomorrow and their ordeal by separation was still ahead of them. . . .

The roar of the jet engines reverberated in her bones. Her body felt weightless, pressed into the bed by the heavy covers. She was in the airplane, ensconced regally in first class, watching the attendant spread a tablecloth over her tray table. No, she was lying across the table. Michael approached. The sgian dubh glittered smooth and hard in his hand. . . .

Rebecca jerked back into wakefulness. Good grief, Dr Freud, I’m not that nervous about seeing him again! Thank you Adele, for talking about ghosts and murders.

With a snort she turned and burrowed into the covers. She would deal with Adele and Rudesburn and their ghosties and ghoulies tomorrow. Tomorrow would be sufficient unto the evil thereof, or however that phrase went.  Rebecca smiled. Today was sufficient unto joy.

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