Today's Reading

"Where should I have your things put?" she asked in a flat tone.

Ramsay realized she was asking if he wanted to take over the laird's rooms upstairs. No. Not while his grandfather still lived. Maybe never. "If my old room is available, that will be fine. If not, any room will do."

"Your old room, then. It's been empty since the last time you left for university."

Expression grim, Ramsay gave a short nod and headed through the house. The library was spacious and in a corner of the house, so there were windows on two sides. Bookcases rose to the ceiling; the size and quality of the library had always been a point of pride for the lairds of Thorsay.

But the long oak worktable was gone, replaced by a bed and a new bedside table that held medicines, books, a lamp, and a huge gray cat with one eye and ragged ears. As the cat glared at him, Ramsay tried to conceal his flinching from the sickroom smells of medicine and a deteriorating body. Duncan Ramsay had been a tall, powerfully built man, and the bony, painfully thin shape under the covers on the massive bed was shocking. For a horrific moment Ramsay feared the old laird was already dead.

Then his grandfather turned his head, the pale blue eyes flickering open. "So you made it home, Kai," he said in a labored whisper. "You look like something a dolphin coughed up."

"It's a long journey from Constantinople, and the last sail up from Dundee was one squall after another." Smiling a little, Ramsay pulled a chair over to the bedside and sat where he could see his grandfather's face. "I'm glad you're still here. It would be a pity to come so far and not be greeted by any insults."

The laird laughed, then began to cough as if his lungs were failing. Ramsay froze, wondering if he should call for help, but the coughing stopped and his grandfather said in a rasping voice, "Pour me some of that whisky."

"Is that allowed?" Ramsay asked as he stood and moved to the table to obey.

"Why the hell would I stop? Fear that it will kill me?"

"Hard to argue with that." Ramsay moved to the table to get the whisky, and the gray cat swatted him with an annoyed paw. He pulled his hand back, smiling. His grandfather had always liked cats. "Who's your one-eyed friend?"

"Odin, of course. The one-eyed chief god of the Norsemen." The laird stretched out a thin hand and scratched the cat's neck, receiving a thunderous purr in return. "This Odin isn't a god, but he does rule all the cats in the area."

Ramsay used the distraction to collect the whisky bottle and a pair of tumblers. "Does he get whisky as well?"

"Only if it's splashed into cream."

"I'm glad to learn that Skellig House is maintaining its reputation for splendid eccentricity." Ramsay poured two fingers of whisky into one tumbler and the same for himself in the other.

His grandfather received the drink with a shaking hand but didn't spill any as he drank half the whisky in one long swallow. "Didn't think you'd come back. Thought you'd choose Constantinople and your damned old stones."

Ramsay felt a tangle of emotions: annoyance, amusement, and relief that the old devil was still himself despite his failing body. "When have you known me to break my word?"

"Never, but you must have been tempted."

"Very briefly." Ramsay sipped his drink cautiously; some forms of the local spirits could etch iron. But this was Callan's, the islands' best—a smooth, well-aged whisky with the taste of Thorsay smoke and peat. The taste of home. He took a larger sip. "But I knew Grandmother would haunt me if I didn't return."

"Aye, she would," Duncan said with a snort of laughter. "Caitlin is waiting for me on the other side, tapping her foot with impatience because I haven't joined her yet."

Ramsay smiled wistfully at the image. After the deaths of his parents, he'd been raised by his grandparents. His grandmother Caitlin had been a true Thorsayian woman—strong, beautiful, and fiercely independent. "I'm sure you're right, and that you're equally anxious to see her."
...

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