Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8)(12)

by Abigail Roux

Deuce and Ty burst out laughing, and Livi covered her mouth like she was embarrassed for making fun. Amelia giggled, even though she didn’t know why. Zane glanced sideways to see Nick pursing his lips and nodding like he was trying to hide a smile.

“Everyone’s a comedian,” he finally muttered, turning back around and shaking his head.

“I still love you, babe,” Kelly said to him, patting him on the knee.

“Shut up.”

Livi finally got control of her laughter and continued talking. “I have to apologize, when Ty told us you were bringing a date, we just assumed . . . the room you have has one queen-sized bed.”

“That’s fine,” Nick said. “We’ve shared before.”

“You’re sure? We could probably do some creative switching, maybe find you two twins.”

“No, we’re good,” Kelly insisted. “Thank you, though. He brought me for a free week in Scotland. Least I can do is put out.”

“You damn right you will,” Nick said. They both laughed.

It took another few minutes to reach the house, and even Zane’s eyes widened at the sight of the place. It was a Gothic revival mansion, with spires and gables and ancient windowpanes that sparkled in the weak sunlight, all of it made of aged stone and dark brick.

They sat and stared at it as Deuce and Livi clambered out of the cart. Kelly leaned forward to peer up at the structure, then turned to Nick grimly. “You’re going to die in Scotland.”

Nick just nodded, his mouth gaping open.

“Jesus Christ,” Ty whispered.

Four porters appeared to retrieve their luggage, leaving them free to gawk at the house as Livi led them toward the intimidating front entry. Zane instinctively clutched Amelia closer as they stepped under the front archway and through the massive wooden door.

The inside of the house was pleasantly light and airy, though, with none of the doom and gloom of the exterior. The wooden floors were a light gray color, covered with cream-colored fiber rugs to soften their appearance. The walls had all been plastered over and painted in cool colors, with the exception of the occasional artful patch of stone showing through to remind visitors of the age of the stately home. The light fixtures were all glittering centerpieces hanging high above their heads, illuminating surprisingly modern décor with comfortable-looking furniture and family photos dotted throughout, rather than deer heads or family crests like Zane had half expected.

Livi stood in the foyer, extending her arms. “Welcome to Stanton Hall. I can give you the grand tour now, take you right to the kitchen for some snacks, or show you where your rooms are so you can rest.”

Kelly and Nick both raised their hands, and said almost in unison, “Rest, please.”

Livi laughed and nodded. She took Amelia from Zane, rubbing her nose against the baby’s cheek. “I’ll show you to your room.”

Nick and Kelly trailed after her, still checking out the massive house as they climbed the grand staircase.

“I wouldn’t mind a bite to eat,” Zane said. “Maybe some coffee.”

Ty took a step and craned his head, watching Nick and Kelly as they disappeared onto the second level. “I’d like a tour.”

Deuce took Ty’s arm in his to lean on him as he walked. “I’ll lead Zane to the kitchen and give you a halfass tour, how about that?”

“Where is everyone?” Zane asked.

“Guests won’t arrive until the day of the ceremony. Until then, it’s just family and the wedding party.”

“Jesus, Deacon, what the hell have you gotten yourself into?” Ty hissed.

Deuce lowered his voice, trying not to laugh. “I was just going for the hot yoga girl, okay?”

Zane cackled as he followed after them.

Deuce led them through the great hall, pointing out different rooms as they passed. There was a gentleman’s study and a billiards room, a living room and a parlor, an office with the door closed, a sitting room, a morning room and a dining room, and a hallway that led off toward even more rooms, which Deuce claimed included a pool and a theater.

The kitchen was located at the bottom of a flight of curved stairs. Zane had to duck.

A white-haired, cherubic little woman was bustling around the kitchen, humming softly as she prepared what looked like a simple, huge dinner. She stopped and smiled when she noticed them.

“Gentlemen, this is Mrs. Aileen Boyd. Stanton Hall’s cook,” Deuce told them. “Mrs. Boyd, this is my brother Ty and his partner Zane.”

Aileen came over to greet them. She had a splotch of flour on her cheek. She was holding a large knife in one rubber-gloved hand. Ty discreetly leaned away from it. “Lovely to meet you both,” she said, her smile genuine and warm. “You’ve come for food, have you?”

Zane glanced around the kitchen and shook his head. “You’re so busy here, we wouldn’t dare bother you.”

“Oh, don’t be silly!” Aileen said with a wave of her hand that coated Ty in a fine mist of flour. “You’ve been traveling, and big boys need big food. Here, you just take whatever you need.” She headed back to her work station, offering up the entirety of the kitchen to them.

Ty gave Deuce a hesitant glance, and Deuce shrugged. They made themselves small plates of food to tide them over until dinner. Zane found himself admiring the pristine kitchen. There were four ovens, two glass-fronted refrigerators, a large stainless steel walk-in freezer, and what seemed like miles of counter space full of pots, pans, appliances, and food. The walls were made of stone, decorated with carved figures. It seemed supremely odd that a kitchen would be covered with carved angels, but he swiftly realized a subterranean room this expansive could only have begun life as one thing: a chapel.

“We’ll get out of your hair now, Mrs. Boyd,” Deuce called. She waved cheerily, and they took their plates with them and headed back up the winding stairwell to the main hall.

Deuce led them toward what he called the morning room, and there they found several small tables set up for dining. At one of them, a man was polishing a brass candlestick with a blue cloth. He startled when they appeared, then put a hand to his chest and smiled at them. “Gave me a bit of a jump.”

“I’m sorry, Hamish,” Deuce offered. “I’m giving my brother and his partner a little tour. Guys, this is Hamish Boyd, the house manager. Hamish, this is Ty and Zane.”