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by Pat McDermott

Neil Boru visits his wife, Princess Talty, in her office at Tara Hall—an office she suspects is haunted.

* * * * *

Muffled thuds whacked the wall on the other side of the door to Talty’s office. Neil cringed at the sound. “How long has she been at it this time, Denis?”

“Not long, sir. Go right in. You’ll be safe enough if you don’t distract her. Shall I call the kitchen for tea?” From his chair behind his paper-strewn desk, Talty’s ever-smiling assistant spoke cheerfully, as if the strange activity on the other side of the door was the most natural thing in the world.

Neil supposed it was, for Talty. “Tea for three, coffee for one, please. Colonel Gale and Major Tomasi are on their way up.”

Neil twisted the bronze doorknob and stole into the room. Talty stood on the far side of her office, her back to him, her right arm rocking, her fingers gripping the glinting blade of a throwing knife. The round red bull’s eye on the wall before her looked like a numberless clock with three black-handled knives set at three, six, and nine. A heart-stopping blur later, a fourth juddering knife neatly filled the twelve o’clock spot.

Neil could throw a blade well enough, had learned it as part of his Fian training. Talty had mastered the skill, and many other martial arts, during her Japanese sojourn several years before. He was proud of her, and more than a little in awe of her Shurikendo proficiency.

These knives, a set of four ten-inch carbon steel blades, had been a Christmas gift from her samurai mentor. She claimed that throwing them not only kept her eye keen and relieved stress, it had also helped her regain her sleek, thoroughbred, pre-baby shape.

“So,” she said, still facing the target. “Are you enjoying the show?”

“Always, darlin’.”

She turned so fast he nearly ducked. “Neil! I didn’t…I’m…How are you?”

If she hadn’t known he was there, to whom had she been speaking? He crossed the room and kissed her. “Having a tough day, love?”

“Tough? Of course not.” She plucked the knives from the target, set them on the table, and prepared to throw them again. “I thought my father being back would help lighten my schedule. So I can see my son before he—” Thwack! The first knife pierced the target dead center. “—forgets who I am. And where is my father? In his office with his tailor, looking over swatches of material for new suits. ‘We’re still on vacation, Tal,’ he says. I couldn’t stand that hot sun anymore,’ he says. ‘So I’m taking your mother—’” Thwack! “‘—to Scotland for a week!’” Thwack! Thwack! The knives quivered on the target in a neat vertical row.

Neil stared in admiration. He knew from stolen ISF reports that Talty’s deadly aim had saved more than one life. “Did you tell Uncle-Dad about our submarine outing next Wednesday?”

Again, she pulled the knives from the target, this time carrying them to the wall safe where she kept them. “Yes. He said it was a great idea. Said it’s about time I learned to manage my schedule.”

“He’s right.”

She stopped. “What? You know very well this isn’t my normal schedule!” Her tone was indignant, her face flushed.

Quickly closing the gap between them, Neil caressed her soft auburn hair. “Tal, what if, God forbid, something happened to your father and it was your normal schedule?”

She met his gaze and sighed. “Then I’d make some serious adjustments. But I’m thinking, Neily. We shouldn’t go on this submarine cruise Wednesday. We should spend the day with the baby.”

“We’ve already agreed to go. It’s only for a few hours. Donal is perfectly safe with Nanny Maude.”

“He’ll think Maude is his mother. He won’t remember me!”

“Hell, you’re so busy, I don’t even remember you.” He’d said it to make her laugh, but she looked as if she’d either start crying or tossing those knives at him. Hustling to derail either development, he squeezed her shoulders and kissed her. “We both grew up with nannies, Tal. It did us no harm, and we both love our parents.”

In true Boru fashion, her tiny pout curved into a spectacular smile. She placed the weapons in the wall safe. As she shut the hinged portrait of some medieval Boru prince over the safe, she spoke to the oil painting: “What are you looking at?”

“Tal, are you all right? How long have you been tossing knives?”

Still smiling, she turned from the portrait. “For years, Neily.”

“I know that! I meant today. You’re talking to people who aren’t here, darlin’.”

“Am I?” She returned to the bull’s eye and closed the small double doors that concealed it. When she’d first found the old dartboard hidden in the paneling, Neil had helped her transform the secret recess into a training target. Besides himself and Talty, only Denis knew her elegant office housed the setup.

“I’ve been practicing about fifteen minutes,” she said. “Not long enough.” She approached him with one side of her mouth turned up in a provocative smile he knew well. “Did you have some substitute activity in mind?”

His arms slid around her, and hers around him. Her thigh-pressing hug left him struggling to remember why he’d come to see her. “And they call us poor fellas rascals.”



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