Chapter Eight

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"Archer!" A pregnant woman with a long flow of red hair called out, and in response, the little boy fled the scene.

Beckett reached for Danielle's hand once again and they made their way toward the woman who waited for them.

Trimmed green lawn cascaded and sloped over the land that skirted the castle like a moat. Then beyond that man-made, sweet-smelling moat, were thin swipes of white birch trees packed tightly together, soaring high and surrounding the place, making it feel protected and private. At the base of the trees were thick green shrubs with feathered edges, making one consider that the castle's army may be hiding in wait, ready to ambush anyone who dare intrude.

And the nearby lake added freshness to the wooded scents and cool, ancient feel of the castle.

The helicopter quieted as they reached the woman who looked like a pregnant Irish mermaid, Danielle thought. Flowing, glowing, and gorgeous.

"Please excuse the shout. My son put strawberries in a slingshot and used my white lampshades as target tunnels, as he calls them. Little devil."

"Sounds genius to me," Beckett told her.

"Yes, I've heard stories about your troublemaking ways. And if you show him any new tricks, I'll skin your hide and hang it above the fireplace for all to see."

"A hide in plain sight. That's what you should call it." Mischievous wrinkles burst around his eyes.

The woman attempted to send Beckett an evil eye, but instead she bit down on the smile that curved at the corners of her mouth. "Clearly I'm not the first person to tell you that you're a troublemaker."

"Probably won't be the last either."

"You're obviously Beckett." Her narrowed look of annoyed amusement lifted, revealing warm and welcoming hazel eyes. "And you must be Danielle. I'm Emerson. So glad you made it. We've heard so much about you from Kara." She embraced each of them, pulling them into swift hugs.

Cursing that, because she hadn't planned on coming at the last minute, she didn't have a pretty bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine or some sort of hostess gift to offer, Danielle wondered what the heck she was doing. No clothes, no manners. And really, all she wanted to do was escape with Beckett so they could talk alone. The burning questions that singed her mind propelled her to want to be rude and pull him aside to chat privately, but her ironclad manners kept her smiling politely and making her way through the initial rounds of pleasantries.

"Everyone's inside, follow me. Well, not everyone. William--Liam and Kara's brother--was supposed to come but his wife surprised him at the last minute and they're headed to Scotland for vacation. The Isle of Skye. Was the flight okay?" Emerson asked as she led them toward the castle's grand entrance. "I hate to fly and avoid it as much as possible." She pulled open the wide door.

Letting Beckett take the lead in responding to Emerson, Danielle took in the space, studying the heights and depths that were well beyond any home she'd seen in her life.

The outer spread of stone that made up the castle was massive, imposing, and almost cruel looking. The inside, however, managed to feel homey, with cave-like tunnels between rooms, soaring ceilings, fireplaces tall enough to stand in, and colorful bursts of toys—Archer's toys, she imagined—splayed around.

Her mind reeling in the land of practicality, Danielle knew that even if she worked every day of her entire life, she would never make the kind of money it took to build a castle. It required a great deal of risk to make money like the famed Liam Wyatt made, and she wasn't one to dream that big. Instead she was good at thinking, considering, organizing, at meticulously getting things done as they should be done. She wasn't a "let's go that way" kind of person, but rather a "here's how we'll get there" kind of person.

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