Calypso backed away from the door, holding the dress bag off the floor and clutching the envelope in her other hand. Looking around for options, she shuffled into the sitting room and lay the bag across one of the sofas before dropping the envelope onto the coffee table and going back out to close the door.
Job done, she returned to the living room and reluctantly lifted the clothing bag. There was no way this was going to end well.
She hooked the hanger of the top of the door to the hallway and pulled down the zip, then eased the plain muslin dress template free of its covering.
The bodice, simply cut, with a plunging neckline and tight, full-length sleeves, was a patchwork of muslin scraps, some plain, some scribbled with colour or simple shapes. It should have been a mess. Instead, it was intriguing.
The plain pieces grew and merged as the bodice became the skirt and cascaded to what would be the floor on her in an uninterrupted flow of fine white cotton.
There was a pouch dangling from the hanger and Calypso reached up to untie the ribbon holding it there.
It contained a series of sketches and product listings for shoes, jewellery, underwear and even a shawl. The note wrapped around the pictures was from Arachne.
“I am making this dress for you, which means it needs to fit. Have Jason or Hercules check it before you come back to London, then leave this, with any alterations noted, in the bedroom cupboard. The real dress will be ready for fitting next month.
The accessories will no doubt be delivered at a point when that courier can make the most trouble. See attached to make sure he gives you the RIGHT ones.
I don’t think you know, I’m another of the ones trapped by Z Corp after a business deal went wrong. I was pulled into the web by Athena and am thoroughly ensnared now. I have found satisfaction in what I do, but being able to choose makes a difference. Fly free for both of us. Arachne.”
Calypso rubbed her forehead. Stared again at the dress, then sighed, shook her head and tucked it back into the bag, re-tying the pouch to the hanger.
She did not need this complication, and now she felt somehow responsible to Arachne as well.
She took the dress upstairs, hanging it in the bedroom cupboard and wondering if she could ‘forget’ about the fitting session when she left the following Saturday.
Only a week left and no idea what to do next.
What had Hermes said was in there?
She hurried back down the stairs and retrieved it, then headed through to the kitchen to read over a cup of tea.
It was a list of job leads. Compiled by the couriers and delivery runners she’d worked with. Many of them included specific names to contact and notes of recommendation.
There were so many. Most people seemed to have contributed more than one, and a florist she’d been friendly with had put in a list of about ten headed ‘These People Need You – Seriously’.
It was too much; she was going to cry again. Instead, she slid the pile of papers back into the envelope and took it upstairs to the sitting room. She’d set up a workspace at the desk under the window and she left it there, on top of the computer, for proper review the next day.
Then she took herself out for a walk.
After a few days of finer weather, she decided to take a chance on the state of the fields and headed out of the back gate to see if the old folly was still hiding in the woods on the opposite slope.
It was, although the hill up to it seemed steeper and longer, and the folly itself seemed smaller and tattier. It had lost the magical aura that had turned it into her faerie tower, or storm-ridden lighthouse, or mysterious jungle hide-out all those years ago.
Still, it was nice to know it had survived and was doubtless providing adventure to other children in their turn.
She’d been lucky with the mud; the problem areas had been avoidable. She was less lucky with the cow pat just outside her gate on the way back. She was trying to scrape it off on a tuft of grass when the male voice from the previous week made her wish again for a convenient sinkhole.
“You look better than last week, but you’re probably going to need a hose on that shoe.”
She turned, and nearly tipped over backwards as two dogs, each higher than her waist, bounded towards her.
Whoever this man was, he could move fast. Before she fell, he had grabbed her forearm, pulling her forward enough to regain her balance. Once she was steady again, he stepped back, releasing her arm and she looked up to thank him.
He frowned. “Is something wrong?”
“No I’m sorry, I’m just being silly.”
She focused on the dogs, a perfect distraction from the colour of his eyes, identical to those of the owl in the garden. They were both sitting now, quietly watching her. Even seated, they were incredibly tall, with rough, shaggy coats in a rich, rusty brown. He followed her look.
“They’re deerhounds, and normally not remotely interested in people.”
She smiled and held out a hand towards the nearest one. “I can understand that.”
The dog sniffed gently at her fingers, then ducked its head under Calypso’s hand for a pat. The second dog shuffled closer, also wanting attention, and she laughed as the two of them tipped their heads this way and that, to hit exactly the right spots for a scratch.
“Looks like they’re good judges in this case, although I’m still curious about what had you so startled earlier.”
She cast about for something to deflect what would come out as an incredibly awkward and quite possibly creepy explanation when his gaze shifted past her and he lifted his arm to one side. He was wearing a leather gauntlet that covered his half his forearm and Calypso had her second near-heart attack of the evening when her owl swooped past her and landed on the man’s arm, then turned to look at her, blinking slowly.
“That’s the owl from my garden. You have the same colour eyes.”
She closed her own eyes, feeling the flush wash up her face.
He laughed. “So you’re the one who’s had Owlbert so curious all week.”
She opened her eyes. “Owlbert?”
He shrugged. “He needed a name and it fit him rather better when he was little. He’s stuck with it now.”
She looked down at the dogs and he answered her unspoken question. “Holly and Ivy. And I’m Herne.”
“Oh, sorry, I’m Calypso, it’s nice to meet you all.”
Could she ever stop sounding like an idiot? What was it about him that had her so unsettled? He was maybe a little older than her, tall and strongly built, although not to the extremes of Hercules. His hair, the colour of polished cedar, was a shade too long and looked like it had been combed with his fingers, then styled by the wind. He was rough edges and comfort in a world where all the men she knew were polished and poised.
“So have you moved down here, or just visiting?”
She wrenched her mind back to the stuttering conversation. “Just visiting. But I actually lived in this house as a child. It’s been rather strange coming back to it.”
“That goes some way to explaining our first encounter.”
She focused on fussing over the dogs again. “The stone I was next to is the memorial I made for my dog when she died. It brought things back.”
“So why the big return after so many years?”
“It wasn’t actually intentional. A friend of a friend kindly lent me their cottage for a couple of weeks and it turned out to be this one.”
She risked a glance up at him, he was watching her closely, a faint frown in place.
She ducked her head back down again. “I really should be going. As you say, this shoe is going to take more than some grass to sort it out, although I’m hoping the dry off and flake off method will work instead. I’m not sure these will hold up to serious water any more.”