Hounded:A Steamy Shifter Mystery

By: Tasha Black

He didn’t have the British accent she’d half-expected.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Wenderly,” Dulcie said, giving him a warm smile. She reached out empathically, and got nothing aggressive from him.

He smiled back at last.

“Henry has been looking forward to meeting you, Miss Alette,” he said, leading them inside.

They entered a marble center hall overlooked by a large portrait of Rudolph Barrymore. His pale blue eyes gazed down kindly, his face framed by an unruly mane of white hair and long beard that not even the artist seemed able to tame.

Wenderly led them back to a vast dining room.

One side of the table was laden with crystal and silver that was probably worth more than Dulcie made in a year.

The other side of the table looked as if it had been hastily cleared. The tablecloth was pushed back and a laptop and a sheaf of papers had been placed directly on its polished mahogany surface.

A young man with rumpled blond hair sat behind the laptop. Like Wenderly, he was dressed nicely, but his tie was askew, and his shirt wrinkled.

Henry Barrymore.

He did not look like the picture on his book jacket. She was especially struck by his pale blue eyes. The recently deceased Rudolph Barrymore’s eyes had been precisely the same shade, but combined with Henry’s younger, more handsome face, and the square set of his action-hero jaw, they were positively striking.

“Miss Alette,” he said, standing and extending his hand. “I’m so glad you could come.”

“It’s nice to meet you Mr. Barrymore, please call me Dulcie,” she said, noting that his handshake was firm but not threatening. Nearly visible waves of anguish came off him, but Dulcie imagined he might be distraught about his great-uncle’s death.

“And I’m Henry, of course. Please have a seat,” he indicated the one beside him.

Dulcie sat immediately, and tried not to notice the cloud of jealousy shimmering on Van as he took the seat on the other side of her.

“This is a client of mine, his name is Van. He’s quite perceptive and I thought he might be able to help,” she heard herself say.

“Good to meet you,” Henry said to Van, who nodded back politely, but didn’t speak.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Dulcie said immediately.

“Thank you. I know it will sound silly, but in spite of his age, this was quite unexpected. Uncle Rudolph was a man of habit. He walked for miles every day. That’s likely why he hadn’t finalized a will,” Henry explained.

“Are you his next of kin?” Seth asked tactlessly.

Dulcie tried not to roll her eyes.

“Uncle Rudolph had a cousin, Percival,” Henry explained. “He traveled to South America when they were younger. But no one’s heard from him in decades, and he was a good deal older than my great-uncle.”

He cleared his throat.

“It would appear,” Henry continued, “by all accounts, that not only am I the next of kin. I’m the only kin. The last Barrymore.”

“Fortunately,” he said, “I know what my Uncle Rudolph’s plans were for his assets. Though I don’t know the exact percentages he had in mind, he was clear that almost everything would go to the town, and I agree that’s best. I’m trying to work through his financial documents now so that we can begin making gifts as soon as the attorney allows. Dulcie, perhaps you could help me understand more about the town’s needs when we get through all of this. If we get through it.”

“What do you mean, ‘if’?” Dulcie asked.

Henry paused and a strange expression crossed his face.

“Henry, I’ll bring tea for your guests,” Wenderly offered from the doorway.

“Thank you, Jack, that would be most kind,” Henry replied gratefully.

Once the gentleman had gone, Henry leaned in intimately.

“Poor Jack was so close to my great-uncle, I don’t think he can bear to hear all this again.

As you know, Uncle Rudolph was found in the preserve. His expression was… sheer terror. But more importantly, the body was surrounded by large paw prints. Do you know the legend of the Barrymores?” he asked.

Dulcie frowned and shook her head.

Henry nodded and continued.

“My grandfather, Hugo, was a farmer. He was a very ambitious man. In spite of his efforts to bring gold out of the land, bad years and equipment failure always spoiled his attempts to buy his children into high society.

Then one year everything went right. After that he made money hand over fist. Even during years when other farms weren’t producing.”

“That’s lucky,” Dulcie commented.

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Henry mused. “But as a matter of fact, legend holds it that Hugo bought his luck from an evil spirit—”

“Ha!” Seth laughed loudly. He looked around to see that everyone was staring at him. “Sorry, please go on.”

“He bought his luck from an evil spirit,” Henry continued. “Hugo agreed that the owner of the Barrymore Estate would owe his soul to a ghostly white hound. But in exchange the Barrymore heirs would enjoy great wealth and success. The family did and still does enjoy tremendous success, and Hugo did ultimately die under mysterious circumstances. Indeed, a ghostly hound was said to have been involved. It all seems to have gone according to Hugo’s plan. But can you see the flaw in the arrangement?” Henry asked.

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