Devil's Cove (Tortured Souls)(3)

By: R.C. Matthews

“Begging your pardon, Captain,” a man sitting at a nearby table said, lowering his gaze to his clenched hands. “There’s not a soul that’ll go near the mansion, sir, even at the risk of your wrath.” He licked his lips and glanced up. “We beg for your mercy.”

Devlin gulped the rest of his ale and glared at the spineless man who dared to beg for mercy in front of the entire establishment. While his reputation as the Devil was well-known among sailors, he had hoped to pass himself off as a wealthy privateer among the good people of Devil’s Cove. Tension crackled between the hunched bodies as they awaited his response.

An elderly woman at the far end of the tavern suddenly stood and called out in a strong voice, “My husband and I will take you to Devil’s Cove Manor.”

The woman’s blond hair was streaked through with gray, yet the loose bun atop her head softened her square face and gave her a youthful air. Her delicate features stood out in stark contrast against her mate’s salt-and-pepper cropped mane and austere sideburns.

After several moments, the diners released a collective sigh and resumed their chattering, returning the tavern to its normal state of chaotic noise.

“Wait here,” Devlin said under his breath to his companions. “Don’t want to scare away our only hope of reaching the mansion tonight.”

He weaved through the tables and studied the grim faces of the couple awaiting him. Of all the people present tonight, they were the last ones he would’ve imagined would stick their necks out and accept his offer. What was their motivation?

“Good evening, I’m Captain Devlin Limmerick,” he said, bowing and gesturing to the empty bench across from them. “May I?”

“Of course, Captain,” the man said with a nod. “You’re a bit of a legend. It’s an honor to meet you. This is my wife, Abigail Stevens, and I’m Samuel. Welcome to Devil’s Cove.”

Devlin clasped his hands and rested them on the table. “Thank you. It’s been a long day, so I’m going to get straight to business. Are you interested in my generous offer to escort my small party to Devil’s Cove Manor?”

“Yes, Captain,” Mr. Stevens said, clearing his throat. “But under two conditions.” The slight squeak in his voice betrayed him but didn’t deter him from his intended path.

Devlin cocked his head and regarded the older man closely, intrigued by such courage in making demands. Courageous, indeed, considering his towering height and fierce reputation. “And those are?”

“First, you must hire my wife as your cook and I as your stableman, with one year of wages paid in advance.”

Although Devlin had no intention of remaining in the manor for a full year, that minor detail wouldn’t prevent him from accepting the terms. He was anxious to restore the mansion to its former glory and search every room for signs of the existence of the gatekeeper to Hell. Both were paramount to attaining his goals, and he would do anything to get what he wanted. Money was not a concern.

Devlin nodded. “Done. And your second condition?”

Mrs. Stevens’s mouth dropped open, and she stared at her husband a moment, confusion lighting in her eyes. She returned her gaze to Devlin. “But we haven’t named a wage.”

Leaning forward, he rested his forearms on the table. “I’m certain we can come to agreeable terms. Now, tell me your second condition, Mrs. Stevens.”

“Call me Abigail,” she said, her eyes softening.

Devlin nodded. “Abigail, your second condition?”

She swallowed hard. “You must hire a medium to exorcise evil spirits from the mansion.”

Devlin folded his arms over his chest as he settled back against the wood booth. “What utter nonsense! If you’re terrified of ghosts, then why have you agreed to work for me?”

The woman’s brow furrowed, and a disgruntled huff exploded from her nostrils. “It doesn’t matter what I believe. You heard the man earlier; this entire village believes Devil’s Cove Manor is haunted. You’ll not find dedicated servants unless you ease their fears. So do you want to be right, or do you want servants?”

A reluctant smile tugged at the corner of Devlin’s mouth as he regarded Abigail with an ounce of respect. He most certainly wanted servants, at almost any cost. Yet he was shocked to discover this old woman didn’t quake at the thought of entering the manor.

“You’ve agreed to work for me,” Devlin countered. “Why aren’t you terrified of the manor?”

She worried her bottom lip with her teeth and then sighed. “What makes you think I’m not afraid?”

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