The Spaniard's Cross
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A romantic suspense set in Cornwall, England
The Spaniard, a young Armada survivor, pledged his love for a beautiful English maiden with a gold and ruby cross. Now the cross is a modern Spaniard's obsession, and Ellie and Trev are forced into a deadly game for the heirloom...a game that ends in a smugglers secret passage and an abandoned tin mine deep beneath Cornwall.
CORNWALL SHOOK OFF the soft spring day like a cat vibrating a wet paw. Low clouds pushed in from the sea, bullying from the horizon the last rays of April sun. Under the threat of rain, the wind moaned to itself.
Limping, Ellie retraced her steps along the pea-gravel pathway that skirted Penwith. It had brought her in orderly fashion from the stone house's carved oak front door to its lead-paned kitchen door. Because she wasn't expected, her knocks went unanswered at both.
She glanced down to see if the plump black cat who'd picked her up at a pub still dogged her every step. Whether or not Traveller the cat appreciated that mental observation and comparison, she reinforced it by following close on Ellie's heels. Uneasiness, which Ellie blamed on second thoughts as much as she blamed the impending storm, settled over her like a heavy cloak. Unable to stop herself, she looked over her shoulder.
Penwith sat at the narrow head of a V-shaped valley. The rent in the fabric of the southern Cornish peninsula rendered the land at Penwith's back into a seamless yet improbable blending of headland meadow and moor. A spindly hedge did little to separate tame, civilized Penwith from the green, tan, yellow, and gray-green expanse. It rippled away into shadows and mist, just as Trev had described it in his letters. She caught a gray-blue glimmer, the small lake where the swans lived.
But something else lingered out there, making itself known to her first on the wind then in her bones. A chill climbed hand over hand up her spine and across her shoulders as whispers of ancient, primeval deeds known only to the moorland reached a place of secret understanding within her. They spoke of old gods and dark misdeeds.
She shivered. "I'd better jot this stuff down," she muttered to Traveller, with more bravado than she felt. "Save it for the Penwith brochures. It sets just the right tone, don't you think?"
Turning away, she hurried around the protective corner of the house, black cat in tow.
Deep, resonant, and laden with a potent mixture of surprise, anger, and fear, the voice came from above her-and got through her pain pill-induced doze.
Ellie's eyes popped open to confusion and a heart-pounding panic. Denied a waking moment, she had trouble focusing on the even-featured face hanging over her, blue eyes agog. A thick mass of too-long blond hair topped the sleek, light brown brows and vaguely familiar features.
His gaze fastened on hers. "Oh, thank heaven," he declared, closing those beautiful eyes and bowing his head for an instant.
She used the opportunity to grasp the black thorn walking stick she'd found with her left shoulder in her napping place, the sofa in Penwith's sitting room. She brought its silver handle down with a healthy whack on that cushion of light hair.
Too late she noticed that her attacker was leaning well over and that he was tall. Stunned by the blow, he folded over the high back of the sofa and slithered down onto her, full length, forcing the air from her lungs in a whoosh.
Traveller, who had dibs on the other end of the long sofa, growled and went elsewhere.
Ellie, unfortunately, could not. She froze, fighting for her next breath. When he raised his head to groggily peer at her, she heard herself whimper. The sound roused him into awareness.
He came up onto his elbows, gingerly probing his hair with the long, slim fingers of one hand. "Bloody hell!" he repeated with feeling.
His voice jolted her out of her terror-induced paralysis. If she were being attacked, then she would go down fighting. The rest of the way down, she amended. She hefted the walking stick again, aiming to show this Englishman what American women were made of.
His hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. "What do you think you're doing, Ellie?" he inquired, tossing her weapon of opportunity just out of her reach. "Is this an American greeting custom you never shared in your letters?"
His voice saying her name told her she had probably misunderstood what was happening here. "Er, defending myself? Trev?" she asked, still woozy from the pills but heartily relieved. "Oh, I'm so glad it's you."
"Really? At this point I'd much rather someone else had been on the receiving end of that walking stick." His voice changed as anger crept in. "So help me, Ellie, if you'd come to Penwith to kill yourself, I'd-I'd-"
"Kill myself?" She worked hard to focus on his face at such close quarters. "Why would I come all the way to England, the trip of a lifetime, to kill myself? What makes you think that?"
She followed his glanced to the low table beside them where she'd set down her pill bottle and empty glass beside the whiskey bottle and the soda bottle already in residence.
"The whiskey. The pills." He paused. "The accident."
Her eyes widened in understanding. "Oh. No, I only took two. With some soda. For my leg. And I'm coming to terms with the a-accident. Really."
She was babbling, so she closed her mouth and took a deep, steadying breath. In this expansion process she noted that the body of her pen pal of 18 years nested quite well with hers, curve to hollow, hollow to curve. Disconcertingly well. Meanwhile, she was aware that his gaze followed the contours of her face, coming to rest on her mouth.
"I'm glad you're finally here, Ellie, but why didn't you tell me you were coming?"
"I wasn't sure when I'd arrive." She was conscious that he watched her lips as she spoke. "Now that I'm at Penwith, may I stay awhile? I can do PR for the tours and the bed and breakfast."
His gaze shot up to meet hers. "Of course you can stay. As long as you like. It's a standing invitation, plus you're an investor. My only investor, by the way. I'd appreciate the PR help, though," he added with a little smile.
"Thanks. Now, could we..."
He tested a strand of her hair between his fingers, judging its silkiness. She watched out of the corner of her eye.
His next words accompanied a look of distracted concern. "Well timed, Ellie. I might need your help with something else. A difficult guest. What do you know about Spaniards?"
She wondered briefly what this foreign guest had done. "Er, they're from Spain? Don't you think-"
The head of a large gnome hove into view above the back of the sofa. She screamed in Trev's face, unable to look away from the creature. When its mouth split in a grin, it changed before her eyes into the wizened features of a small man.
"Evening, guv. Sorry I'm so late. Who's your friend?" He stared down at Ellie with delight evident on his face.
"Reilly, this is my pen friend, Ellie Jaymes, from the States. Ellie, this is Reilly, Penwith's cook."
Trev's tone made her sound like a blue-ribbon show-and-tell exhibit, and that's exactly what she was beginning to feel like. She wondered, as she awkwardly grasped and shook the hand Reilly reached down to her, who else might belly up to the back of the sofa to casually observe them in this compromising position. The difficult guest seemed to be the only one missing.
Reilly's face was wreathed in smiles. "Oh, right." To her he said, still pumping her hand, "Pleased to meet you." To Trev, he commented, "Friendly, these Americans, aren't they?"
Ellie, her face flooding with heat, raised her voice above their casual conversation. "Do you think we could possibly continue this discussion in an upright position, Trev?"
He looked down at her in surprise. "Oh. Sorry, Ellie. Although this was your fault, if you'll recall." His devilish and formidable grin revealed even white teeth and brought glints to the dark blue streaks in his azure eyes.
He removed himself from both her body and the sofa in one graceful move, while asking Reilly to find them something to eat. She sat up and shot backwards into the corner where the sofa arm and back met. With a glance at the walking stick on the floor near her end of the sofa, Trev settled himself in the opposite corner, recently vacated by the cat.
"Was that Traveller? From the pub outside Avallen?" He asked his questions as though everything that had happened so far was perfectly normal.
She gamely ignored her Alice-through-the-looking-glass feeling. "Yes, I stopped there to ask directions to Penwith. She climbed into the car and refused to get out again."
"Ah, kittens," he said, as if that explained everything.
"Kittens," she repeated faintly. "The man at the pub said she'd come back there in her own good time."
Trev snorted. "Oh, she will. I'll bet Josh didn't tell you that Traveller only roams when she's about to deliver, did he? Her progeny are spread all over south Cornwall." He paused then flashed her a devastating smile. "But where have my manners gone? Welcome to Penwith, Ellie."
She blinked, hesitating while she gathered in her straying thoughts. His smile had sent them scuttling in a different direction. "Thank you, Trev. It's beautiful, the little I've seen of it. When nobody answered my hellos, I came straight in here and didn't roam around. I hope you don't mind my making myself at home like this. I didn't want to stay in the car in the storm."
He held her gaze with his own. "Mi casa, su casa, Ellie. You know that."
She did know. She'd felt the house welcome her when she had mustered up the courage to open the massive oak front door and venture inside.
She studied him, processing the sound of his voice and adapting to a three-dimensional Trev. She'd met her childhood pen pal only on paper, online, and in photographs until this moment.
"I'm sorry about what I thought was happening just now, and for not recognizing you at first. I'll blame it on the pain pills and on waking too quickly. I take them only when I have to. The drive down from London nearly did me in, with help from a lorry or two."
She had meant to make a slow journey to the West Country of England, more of a sedate meander toward Cornwall, one where she would call ahead and prepare herself for this meeting. But when her feet touched British soil, they had attached themselves to the clutch and gas pedal of a small rental car and brought her in an undignified, headlong rush to Penwith and Trev, unannounced.
He smiled again and she felt herself relax. "Your reaction was understandable under the circumstances. I'm sorry I frightened you. If I'd known you were coming, I'd have given you a proper welcome."
"Oh, this one was memorable," she said around a grin.
He sent her a warm look. "It was indeed. I'm really glad you're here, Ellie." Then the warmth left his face. "Unfortunately, that guest I mentioned is arriving soon, plus I invited an old school chum down to help out in the gardens. We won't have the place to ourselves."
She hurried to reassure him. "I didn't come to Penwith to be entertained, Trev. We'll find time to talk, that's all I need. I'll help with the difficult guest. In fact, I'll put my hand to whatever I can, including kitchen duty, if Reilly will have me. Just as long as you're sure my being here isn't a problem." Her heart did a slow and not very graceful dive to her feet at the look on his face.
"It's certainly not a problem," he protested. "It's just...I would have prepared myself emotionally, if I'd known. I've looked forward to a visit from you for so long." He cocked his head and gave her a lopsided grin. "Does that make sense?"
It made a lot of sense. It was difficult for her to adjust in person to this stranger she understood so well on paper. Their years of words did nothing to prepare her for this moment. "It makes sense. I'm feeling the strangeness of it myself."
Trev was a handsome man, no doubt about it. From their brief but intimate contact, she knew that long, lean body, half-reclining with loose-limbed grace on the opposite end of the sofa, was healthy, discreet muscle, nicely covered tonight by well-worn jeans and an Irish wool sweater. And those two-tone blue eyes....
His gaze moved from her denim-clad legs to her face. "So, how are you, Ellie, and what finally brought you to Penwith?"
That brought her back to reality. She looked away a moment before answering. "I don't have a clue how I am. Really. And that's why I'm here. All I know is that I can't settle down to my old life, and it's been more than a year since the a-accident." She paused, amazed that eight letters could hold so much horror and pain, and that she still stumbled over the word.
"I needed to get away from everything for a while, and Penwith was where I wanted to be. So, I took a leave of absence from the library and here I am, ready to work. My leg has healed. I need to walk a lot to strengthen it. It's a little painful tonight from the long drive and your English spring weather."
Spying the whiskey bottle, he asked, "Do you mind?" He poured a small measure into her used glass and tipped it down. "This has been a strange day. Our first guest is arriving tomorrow, I was delayed in Treborne, and Reilly stayed longer than expected at his friend's cottage. I'm sorry you arrived to an empty house."
"You didn't expect me. But with that storm out there, I was grateful the door wasn't locked."
He set down the glass. "It's clear now. You know Cornwall. A shower every day and two on Sunday. I realize you're probably exhausted and just want your bed, but you should eat a bite. I'm sure Reilly has something ready by now. Are you game?"
"Yes, please. My nap revived me and now I'm hungry. May I take a quick shower and change my clothes first?"
"My manners have apparently deserted me. Of course you'll want to get out of your traveling clothes. The food is probably something cold anyway."
She looked away from his warm, unwavering observation and caught a glimpse of her former weapon. "I'm really sorry about the walking stick, Trev. Did I hurt you?"
He stood up then pulled her gently to her feet. "No, it brought back fond memories."
He led the way into the hall where she'd dropped her bags beside the front door. She followed more slowly, appreciating the way he moved, walking to a beat only he could hear.
"My dear old maiden aunt used to wield that very stick in much the same manner upon my young head." He bent over to heft her bags and looked up at her, his eyes asking if she remembered that letter.
She did. "So that's Great-Aunt Fiona's walking stick?" She ended with a husky laugh.
She watched him blink then swallow as the sound echoed into the hall behind him. Then he turned with his load to switch on the strong entrance hall chandelier. In its exquisite gleam, Traveller stared down at them with indignant yellow eyes from the top of the stairs while Ellie looked around with delight. Trev seemed pleased with the approving sounds she made.
Penwith wasn't a huge manor house but it had grace and character. She followed him up the polished, graceful wooden staircase that swept upward then split, leading to halls on the right and left on the next floor. White fan vaulting soared above the main hall. The ceiling between was painted a soft blue to highlight its delicate curves. The wide blue and gold patterned carpet runner on the floor and stairs picked up the color in the ceiling but in a darker tone.
A small gallery, with a carved handrail and banisters in dark wood, swept across the top of the staircase. The halls, leading to the wings of the U-shaped house, were mere shadows on each side of it. Trev turned to the right-hand stairs then led her down the right wing hall to a pretty room.
By that time, she understood and heartily agreed with Trev's decision to use light, bright colors to offset the dark, carved wood paneling throughout the house. This large room's accents, draperies, and bed covering were in a cream cabbage rose-pattern with touches of pink and sage, with a cream and sage Aubusson carpet underfoot. The effect was relaxing, yet formal.
He put her small bags on the floor beside the bed and the large one on a luggage rack against the wall. Traveller hopped onto the bed covering, turned around once, then settled down in a furry apostrophe. She was so black that she became a featureless shadow when she closed her eyes.
Trev indicated the cat. "Do you mind?"
"Not if you don't. I've enjoyed her company." She looked around again. "This is a lovely room, Trev."
"I imagined you staying in this room the whole time I worked on it. It's the first one I renovated."
Her mouth opened in surprise at his words and at the gentle color flowing beneath his skin. She spoke into the awkward silence. "You say you have a guest arriving. A paying guest?"
A frown creased his brow. "Oh, he's paying all right. We're not officially open as a bed and breakfast, yet this Spaniard insists on staying here and using us as a hotel. He'll be attending an estate sale near Treborne in a few days."
She sat down on the tufted bench at the foot of the bed. "He insists? Is that why you say he's difficult?"
"He's been very pushy and stubborn about staying at Penwith." He jammed his hands into his jeans pockets. "I quoted an exorbitant rate to put him off. He didn't even pause before he paid it. In advance. I'm trying to be gracious. At the price he's paying, we're including lunch and dinner for his convenience."
"But how did he hear about Penwith?" She frowned in puzzlement. "Have you done any advertising?"
"Not yet. Maybe he heard about us by word of mouth. We've already received a few reservations that way for our official opening at the end of next month. That's why I'm putting on the push now. I have six weeks to get the final touches in place. We're almost there."
"I can see that. Since I'll be doing your PR, I'll find out from him how he heard about us, er, Penwith."
"I've just realized that I've never spoken with him. I dealt with his personal assistant throughout." He shrugged. "Maybe he'll turn out to be all right once I meet him. He's probably a frail, elderly little man. Maybe an executive fighting retirement and accustomed to getting his way." The heavy frown was back. "I hope that's all he is."
He moved away as he continued to speak. "There's a door in the paneling where this hall intersects with the gallery. Behind it are stairs that will bring you directly to the kitchen. I'll see you shortly." With a brief smile, he was gone.
Ellie stared after him before she moved to the tall, thick wooden door he'd just closed. Trev had added a modern lock, which probably meant a spare key or master key downstairs somewhere. Mindlessly, she toyed with the ancient slide bolt. It moved soundlessly and smoothly, despite its age.
She sighed and turned toward her bags. Instead of opening them, however, she sat down on the bed and reached out to touch the cat. She hadn't taken any liberties thus far, but Traveller's shining black fur made an inviting, pretty contrast against the light tones of the bed covering.
Her furry traveling companion was at Penwith now because earlier that day Ellie had forgotten in a pub car park that she was in the British Isles. She had opened the left-side door to climb in. The black cat had brushed past her, sat down on the passenger seat, and refused to get out again.
When Ellie recovered, she had gone back inside to ask about the cat. The owner told her that Traveller belonged to no one and, when the mood was on her, climbed into a vehicle of her choosing for a look at some new country. Eventually she would return to the vicinity of the pub, in her own good time. He offered to remove her, but by that time Ellie was delighted with the story and pleased that she had been chosen. She had welcomed her feline passenger on the last leg of her journey.
She snapped out of her reverie when she caught a glimpse of herself in the dressing table mirror across the room. "Oh, no! This is how Trev first saw me?" She moaned softly at the realization. No wonder he had studied her so intently when she wanted a shower and a change of clothes.
Her brandy-colored eyes returned her horrified stare through a curtain of red spider webs. Some eye drops were definitely in order. Her pale oval face was framed by thick, straight brown hair badly in need of attention and a brush. Her rumpled clothing bore stains from meals she'd shared with rough, friendly lorry drivers during her rest stops. She'd developed a soft spot for truck drivers after the accident.
"I wanted the moment, and me, to be perfect for our first meeting, and look at me." She paused, stroking the cat. "What am I going to do, Traveller, now that I know for sure? Any suggestions?"
Ellie reconsidered the two reasons she had come to Penwith and found both were still sound. First, whatever Trev had to offer her was essential for her to heal and move on. She was certain of that. No compromises, no explanations, no embarrassment. When she thought she was dying, she had wanted Trev, she had called out for Trev.
Second, coming here was an act of faith. All her life she'd been a firm believer that the farthest distance between any two points was between the head and the heart. That's what made this confirmed truth so hard to accept, shaking her to her very core. She reeled under the knowledge that she, Ellie Jaymes, mild-mannered librarian closing in on 30, was in love with a man she knew only through his written words.
The cat addressed Ellie's question by rolling over and presenting her round belly for rubbing. "Ah, kittens," Ellie repeated Trev's words, then she obliged.
During the soothing interlude, Ellie mentally answered her own question. She would find out if Trev had romantic feelings for her, without letting him know her feelings for him, in case they were one-sided. Her tired brain reeled under the convoluted thought.
One thing was clear. She wouldn't risk losing Trev's friendship. He meant too much to her. If he didn't love her, or didn't fall in love with her, then she'd return to her apartment and to the library where she worked. It would be time to get serious about a man on her side of the Atlantic Ocean.
She dragged herself upright through sheer will power. If she showered now, she would probably drown. The nap had definitely been a temporary fix. She stole another look at herself in the mirror and decided to risk it.
The stinging cascade of hot water revived her. Standing in it, she reviewed the dizzying moment more than a year ago when she suspected she was in love with her pen pal of 18 years, a man she'd never met.
It had been one of those special days when she looked her best, felt her best, and the world had dealt her its best. From the blue airmail envelope from England in her mailbox to a parking space right in front of the library, everything had gone her way.
She was in a playful mood when Alan, a publisher's sales rep, picked her up for dinner. She reviewed her satisfying day for him and added, "'Bad rice, bad rice,'" the deceive-the-jealous-gods line from Han Suyin's A Many-Splendored Thing, invoked so the gods wouldn't snatch away her happiness.
She and Trev had shared the quote with each other years before. They needed only those four words to convey a wealth of meaning about thankfulness, good luck, and being blessed in some way. Alan had simply stared at her in the candlelight, suspecting the wine had gone to her head. And she had encouraged his misgivings by owlishly looking back at him. In that instant of time, she guessed. Trev?
Then, before she had gathered enough courage to accept Trev's invitation to come to England, a chain reaction pile-up on a foggy highway laid her up, mentally and physically, for seven months. Trev's almost-daily letters and her nightly dreams of him and Penwith were the only things that made the pain and the memories bearable.
Now, tonight, she had met the man of her dreams in the flesh. Tonight, the Penwith that had welcomed her in her dreams welcomed her within its ancient walls. Trev and Penwith were everything she wanted and needed them to be. And so much more.
And, as dreams went, they both looked like keepers.
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beautifully with mystery, adventure, and romance in this richly detailed
book. ... The characters are delightful.... Another delicious attraction to
this story was the addition of Cornish recipes for Damask Cream and
Pasties...now readers can continue their 'stay'...by using these authentic
recipes." Joyce, Love Romances
"The cliffs of Cornwall, old legends, secret passages, fiery gold and
blazing rubies, and a hint of past lives and loves coming together again,
all play their parts in this interesting tale." Kris, A Romance Review
"...Ms. Garner weaves an unforgettable and suspenseful story with excellent
descriptions of Cornwall and the Penwith estate, as well as an outstanding
characterization of Trevor and Ellie. The love...is breathtaking in its
intensity and emotion. Readers will be on the edge of their seats with the
plot's unexpected twists and turns. ...will keep you guessing until the very
end, be sure not to miss THE SPANIARD'S CROSS." Edith Morrison, Romance
...a beautifully written book. Her dialogue is quick and witty, the emotions
of two long-lost lovers are heartfelt and poignant, and the mystery and
suspense...shines through loud and clear." Romance Junkies, Jennifer
"This novel kept me entertained from the first page to the last. Ms. Garner
is an excellent writer and her characters were strong and believable.... The
plot is an unusual one and keeps the reader intrigued for the final outcome.
I would recommend Ms. Garner to any romance or mystery buff. I am looking
forward to reading anything else that she may publish." - Mariah, The
Romance Studio - 4 Hearts
ABOUT THE SPANIARD'S CROSS ON AUDIOCASSETTES:
You'll see them for sale everywhere online, but this story
on tape is not the same as the story published as a novel
by Hard Shell Word Factory. Many moons ago I wrote
SC as a novella; yes, I wrote both but they're not the
same. For Hard Shell and the large print edition, the
story needed to become a novel. So I
cannibalized the novella's setting, hero, heroine, and the
cross to create the novel. In so doing, I saw how I had
grown as a writer and how I could make the book so
much better than the novella. There are ghosts of
the novella in the novel but the two are not the same.
Please, buy the novel. It's so much better.