Someone was in her room. And not the duppy her maid had prophesied, either. By Rhiannon’s understanding, weightless apparitions did not cause floor boards to groan.
Feigning sleep, she breathed a soft sigh and rolled to her stomach, snaking her right hand beneath her pillow until she touched the smooth glass bottle. She wrapped her fingers around its neck, her grip strong and sure. As well it should be; she’d practiced the move countless times in the light of day.
The temptation to open her eyes was strong. She resisted. Instead, she listened.
She heard the candle’s spitting hiss as the sea breeze bent its flame into a hot pool of melting wax—the candle she had snuffed hours ago.
She heard the buzz of mosquitoes hovering outside her bed net and the soft sound they made when they encountered its resistance.
She heard the insistent rhythm of drums. Not on Fain Hill, but in the distance. The far distance, perhaps so far as Paradise Plantation. Her heart rate quickened at the sound, keeping pace with that of the drums. Lord, how she wished the planters would not allow their Negroes to drum.
She heard nothing else. Nothing, not even a reassuring snore from Albert’s room across the hall. Tightening her grip, she sprang up and whipped around, swinging the bottle high. There was no one there.
She swiveled her head to the wardrobe and its propped open doors, studying the lay of its contents. No one. It stood empty of all but her gowns. No one crouched beneath her dressing table either. Its skirt was still swept up, and she had an unobstructed view of the floor beneath it.
The bottle wobbled as she took inventory of the room. She had chosen the heaviest she could find for the purpose, and while she had practiced her swing, she hadn’t practiced holding it aloft for any length of time. Lowering it to her lap, she kept her grip tight.
There was still the space beneath the bed to examine. She scooted to the bed’s edge to peer into the looking glass. It was gone. The looking glass was gone. She hadn’t forgotten to put it in place; she was certain she hadn’t. It was the last step of her ritual. Move the looking glass from the dressing table to the floor, and then climb into bed to check that it was positioned properly before snuffing the candle. It was an important step. She hadn’t forgotten to do it. Had she?
Frantically, her gaze swept the floor. She had placed it on the floor to the left of her bedside table, right where the—there it was. Facedown . . . it lay facedown. Perhaps a rat had toppled it. She hadn’t heard it fall, but it seemed it had. Either that or someone had set it facedown. Regardless, it offered no view of the space beneath her bed.
No one is under there, Rhiannon Wynne Ross. No one. Whoever lit that candle has run. If you weren’t such a coward, you’d climb off this bed and see for yourself.
Yes, that was one alternative. Another was to wake Albert. Perhaps this time he’d do more than stumble half-asleep into her room and cast about a quick glance that ended pointedly at her empty decanter. Still another alternative was to stay alert and wait until sunrise.
She’d take the latter. Sunrise might be near, and her maid, Quaminah, might be in to wake her soon. Albert had promised an excursion at sunrise.
Had she relit that candle herself? Had she forgotten to snuff it?
Eyeing the glass of watered rum she’d poured earlier, she grabbed it and drained it, then wiped her sweat-dampened palms down her shift. Curling on her side, she cuddled her weapon close and watched the candle burn.