Mrs. Bucannon appeared to be a sensible person. She wore a simple gown and tasteful jewelry. If she wore makeup, I couldn't tell. She was a blond version of Grace, and her icy blue eyes were looking at me strangely.
A pair of screaming females met Grace at the entrance to the parlor and whisked her off for girl talk. I breathed a sigh of relief as they left the room. Contrary to popular belief, being in a room full of women is not a dream come true, especially after a botched wedding. A wedding I technically ruined.
Mr. Bucannon was getting changed, and for the moment dealing with him would have been preferable. Mrs. Bucannon's stare was soft and investigative at the same time. It was as if she knew something I did not. It didn't exactly make me feel comfortable.
"Mrs. Bucannon, is something wrong?"
Mrs. Bucannon sat on a luxurious sofa and patted the cushion next to her. I stood in front of her but refused to sit. "Please sit, I have a story to tell, l maybe it will sound familiar."
Ok, this is getting interesting. The air smelled sweeter as my posterior found the soft cushion beneath it. Mrs, Bucannon was smiling now as she gingerly sipped from a drinking glass. Her eyes never left mine, a feeling of nervousness crept in. It is not a familiar feeling, and one I do not care for in the least.
"My silence is your cue."
"We went to Canada once. Vancouver, to be exact. Mr. Bucannon had some business and decided to bring us with him. Grace got taken by some sickos looking to make a quick buck. She was fourteen at the time," She said softly.
The Vancouver days were... strange times, to say the least. I was homeless, living off of gangster money. I owned Hastings, and more than a few low-level operators found out they were not welcome in my territory.
"Sounds like the worst day of your life, Mrs. Bucannon."
Another sip and a simple nod. "Indeed it was Mr. Tagma. She was not missing for long. The city police found her at one of their stations safe and unharmed."
What is with her staring? Does she know something I don't?
"A miraculous turn of events by any standard." Why is this making me so uncomfortable? Those days are behind me, and it's not like I ever hurt anyone innocent.
Mrs. Bucannon gently put her hand on mine. "She told us a story about a wild young man who saved her. Grace said he burst in, knocked out her kidnappers, and escorted her to safety. Her father, God bless his heart, asked what he wanted. Grace said his only desire was to see her reunited with her family."
The story was beginning to sound familiar. Then again, it sounded like a lot of days on the streets. "Mrs. Bucannon, what does this have to do with me?"
Mrs. Bucannon slid the drawer of the oak coffee table open and produced a faded copy of the Vancouver Sun. The headline read, 'Hastings Vigilante Breaks Human Traffickers'.
"It was you who saved her then. Even if you don't remember," her finger tapped the paper as she spoke. "She spoke endlessly about you until the memory faded a year later. She needed someone to save her again, and imagine my surprise when you appeared once more."
"To be fair, Mrs. Bucannon, I was on another job. I was not expecting a wedding party to be in attendance. Dead people are bad for the image."
"Was sacrificing yourself part of the plan? Men in your line of work tend to think of their skins first."
"Mrs. Bucannon, I am still a human being at the heart of it all. Grace didn't deserve to die at the altar, especially after the groom flaked on her. I won in the end, it's what matters."
Mrs. Bucannon looked at me with soft eyes and tucked the paper back into the drawer. "I see. You have no intentions with Grace, do you?"
What an odd question. "I intend to find the source of the attack and put an end to it."
"What will you do if she remembers who you are?"
Another strange question. It wouldn't change anything, would it? It was so long ago, and if I didn't remember, chances are she didn't either. So why was Mrs. Bucannon so stuck on it?
"Mrs. Bucannon, why does this matter so much to you?"
She drained the glass and placed it back on the wooden coaster. "Grace has all sorts of admirers. Some are decent enough, and some are just looking to take advantage of her. You only ask to find her attacker, nothing else."
What was she getting at? "By helping your family, maybe a few extra jobs come my way. Good for you and my business, everyone wins. I can't see a downside to getting involved." My heart was now pounding in my head. This whole conversation was completely unsettling.
She was about to answer when Mr. Bucannon came into the parlor, his leather-soled shoes shuffling against the stone floor. The brown eyes studied me, and his thick hands adjusted the tan suit.
"I hope my Charity has not talked your ear off. Once that woman gets to talk..." he trailed off under the dour stare of his wife, "it's quite pleasant."
It never ceases to amaze me, the power wives have over their husbands. A small spike of envy crept in. Trust is a luxury in my world. Place it in the wrong person and you're dead. What the Bucannons had was the holy grail.
"Beauford, meet Cyrus Tagma, the man who saved our daughter's life," Mrs. Bucannon said, gesturing to me in a sweet voice.
Beauford's bushy eyebrows knitted together in worry, as he shook my hand. "So tell me Mr. Tagma, what are your intentions with my daughter?"
"Now, Beauford, you can relax, Mr. Tagma is only interested in Grace's attacker. He even offered his services free of charge," she said, hugging and kissing him.
Mrs. Bucannon left out her little story. It was a point of curiosity because there was no reason for her to do that. She was up to something, but what?
Beauford eyed me suspiciously, as he poured himself a drink from a small cart near the fireplace. "Are you the best man for the job? Why should I trust my daughter with a Yankee?"
The Yankee comment stung a little. "I am a Canadian national, Mr. Bucannon. Not a single drop of Yankee blood flows through these veins."
Mrs. Bucannon left the room. She said something about checking on Grace. The coffee table drawer was open, and the paper was missing. What the hell was she doing?
I knew exactly how to get this proud man to heel. "Test me against the best you can muster. If I win, the job is mine, and if not, you have a southern boy watching over her."
Beauford drained the glass. "You are smarter than you look, using my southern pride against me like that. Give me a couple of hours to get it all set up."
Mr. Bucannon almost wound up on the couch over the whole deal. I covered for him, saying the whole thing was my idea, which technically it was. Grace and her friends were quite put out with me.
A red-haired girl walked up to me and asked, "Why are you breaking your promise to Grace?"
A woman with raven locks joined in, "What kind of gentleman are you?"
Grace glowered at me, with her arms crossed. I found myself enjoying it. As if this day couldn't get any stranger. I need to finish this job quickly and get things back to what passes for normal.
"I believe I chose you. Daddy, did you have something to do with this?" Grace shouted in an imperious tone.
Mr. Bucannon went white under the withering stares of wife, daughter, and friends. The pocket square now in trembling hands mopped the sweat from his brow. I almost felt sorry for him.
"That's not fair. I am just looking out for our little girl..." he trailed off as the gazes intensified. He fought it so hard, but once Grace gave him a doe-eyed look, his defense fell apart. "Y'all don't play fair," he said in a bitter tone.
Beauford's trouble was far from over as the woman sat him down on the sofa. They lined up with Mrs. Bucannon. I decided to take the time to call Whisper and let Mr. Bucannon take his lumps.
I sat in a chair out in the foyer, watching the old grandfather clock. Whisper answered after several rings.
"You called sooner than I expected. What is the story?"
"I hate you, Whisper. This job just got more complicated."
Whisper sighed heavily. "What did you do?"
"Mrs. Bucannon remembered me from the Vancouver days."
Whisper was silent for several moments. "How do you know she is for real?"
"She has an old issue of the Vancouver Sun. The headline is about the vigilante of Hastings. She recognized me at the church."
"How is that possible?" Whisper sounded like she was in disbelief.
"I am not sure, but it has a certain magical air about it."
"You don't think she is responsible for the attack, do you?"
"Everyone is a suspect until proven otherwise."
"Do you need me to come down?" she asked.
"Well, I can't chase down leads and protect the girl at the same time. Even with a missing leg, you still kick ass."
Whisper sounded flattered, "In that case, I should be there by tomorrow. Take care until then."
The call ended, and it was time to see how things were going in the parlor now. Mrs. Bucannon was sitting beside Mr. Bucannon, and the girls were sprawled out in the love seat and easy chairs.
Mrs. Bucannon was elbowing poor Beauford in the ribs. He glared at her for a moment and then turned to me.
My family and I have decided to let you stay here, while you hunt down the bastard who attacked my daughter." The man was choking on his own words.
Normally such offers are pushed aside. However, with Whisper coming down now, I wanted her to be as comfortable as possible, "Whisper is on her way down. I was hoping she could stay here too?"
Mr. Bucannon raised his hand index finger pointing upward, only to have Mrs. Bucannon butt in before any words could escape his lips.
"Of course, I expect she and I have a lot to discuss. I should plan a meal for her. Supper is at seven by the way," she said, heading to the kitchen.
Mr. Bucannon rose and headed to his office, muttering under his breath about women. The girls were quiet, too quiet. Grace kept staring at me with the same look her mother had.
The redhead marched up to me, red curls bouncing off her shoulders, with a strange smile on her face, and mischief in her eyes. The other two watched her in awe.
"Do you dress like this all the time?" She tapped the armor several times and reached for the revolver on my right side.
Unfortunately for her, instinct took over, and the redhead was now in a painful armbar. "Are you always this stupid?"
"Owww, I'm sorry, let me go," redhead shouted, face contorted in agony, her free arm was waving frantically.
"Stop struggling and breath through the pain. If I let you go now, you will be kissing the floor. Didn't your parents teach you to ask for permission?" Honestly, you don't see me messing up their makeup bags or going through their panty drawers.
"What kind of a man are you? How could you treat poor Amber like that? Am I right, Grace?" blondie said with vehemence.
"You are right Cassidy. A southern boy wouldn't even dream of it." the pair comforted Amber after her harrowing experience.
Grace looked up. "What kind of a monster are you?"
Deep breaths, she is just another ignorant spoiled brat. "She went for my pistol. In the mercenary world, you never let a stranger touch your gear."
Amber looked up, her green eyes focused on me. "How come?"
The other two followed suit and waited for my response. The story was not one to tell at the dinner table. I suppose now was as good a time as any.
"Having a weapon turned on you is embarrassing. It happened once before I got the spellbinders. Whisper and I were hired to help on a raid in Edmonton."
Cassidy sat down on the sofa, "I reckon things went wrong."
"There was a mole in the department at the time, feeding intel to the enemy. We walked straight into a trap and got captured. Our target didn't waste any time, he shot me in the arm with my gun, and shot Whisper several times in the leg." The hatred churned deep inside my mind. Anger boiled the blood, and rage added flavor to the mix.
Grace looked horrified, her hands over her mouth. "Did you win?"
"I don't exactly call it a win. Four officers died, Whisper lost her leg, and the target escaped into Castle Downs. I practically destroyed the area, trying to catch the bastard."
Amber gave me a sympathetic look. She took a seat beside her friends. "Is that why you are so serious all the time?"
"No, that is another story altogether."
Grace sat up and motioned me to continue. "I want to hear it."
Cassidy joined in, "Me too."
Amber just stared with this expectant look on her face. At this moment, I regretted saying anything at all.
"No, if you weren't there, it would be hard to understand."
The girls looked at the time and went off to change for dinner. I followed them up the spiral staircase to the second floor. Grace turned around. "Cyrus, why are you following me?"
"I planned on waiting outside the door after checking the room." I hate protection details. Determined people get creative in the nastiest ways, making it impossible to relax.
Grace rolled her eyes. "Honestly we are getting changed, what could happen?" She and her friends giggled.
A revolver left its holster and now rested in my hands. "I did some work for Celeste Desands..."
All of the girls were now staring at me with shocked expressions. Amber was the first to regain her voice, "Seriously? You were her bodyguard?"
Cassidy looked impressed. "Did she write, 'A Lancelot of My Own' for you? That song is my favorite."
"I don't listen to her music. So I wouldn't know if she did or not..." I should have just kept my mouth shut.
Grace interrupted, "I think it is. My silent knight, who didn't seem to care. When trouble came, he didn't leave me in despair. Standing up for what's right, he doesn't back down from a fight," she sang.
Amber and Cassidy clapped as Grace bowed. My fingers were now massaging my temples. "Anyway, I would check her dressing room before and after her shows. She never thought anyone could get to her too. Until the day I found a crazed fan in her closet."
The girls stopped joking around, and Grace searched my eyes to see if I was lying. "What happened?"
"He had a gun. He planned on kidnapping her the moment Celeste was alone." I left out the part where we discovered several bodies buried in his backyard, all of them young singers.
Grace stopped at a rose-colored door. "Could you check?" she asked, a shyness to her voice now. It was understandable. A stranger was about to go through her room.
Nothing under the bed, and what is the deal with all the monograms? It smells nice at least, how many pairs of shoes does she need? Just about everything has lace or frills. Grace certainly likes to be organized. Nothing in the closet, on to the bathroom. Holy hair products, is she running a private salon or something?
I removed a pair of reading glasses from the vest. "Nocht draíochta." The lenses allowed me to see any magic in the area. There was nothing to find. Relief always follows a clean inspection.
Grace seemed different as I emerged from her room. "Something wrong?"
Cassidy and Amber said something about plucking eyebrows, leaving us alone in the hall. Grace shook her head, "Thank you for taking your job seriously, and for not hitting on my friends. You are more of a gentleman than I gave you credit for."
"I try to be as professional as possible. I will be just outside the door if you need me."
Her eyes softened. "I will keep that in mind."
The door closed, and I pulled up a chair. I was probably going to be here for a while. An hour later, the trio emerged and headed downstairs to eat.
Just as Grace and her friends made it down the stairs, the doorbell rang. I pushed the maid aside and drew a revolver carefully opening the door. There was scream followed by the thump of a body.