Victor Crenshaw unloaded the leather bag and immediately fell into the gravel. The Jaguar was a rental while his own car was getting serviced, but the low profile and the high lip of the foot well caught his boot and sent him face-first into the ground. The bag flew out of his hand and slid into the feet of Mr. Primrose, the Sykes family butler. Or caretaker. Or valet. Crenshaw never really knew the appropriate title for Primrose. He was a fastidious little man that always seemed around, taking care of one of the most storied families in Scotland. As he righted himself, the doctor brushed dirt and dust from his arms and face. ‘No blood,’ he thought, looking at his hands.
“Wouldn’t do to greet the Lord with a bloody face, would it, sir,” Primrose said, handing the leather bag back to Crenshaw. That was another oddity about Primrose, the way he seemed to be in conversation with your thoughts, to the point you questioned what you said aloud and what you kept to yourself. Primrose may not be the most dangerous entity at Dunfeur, he was surely the most curious. But Crenshaw’s responsibilities lay elsewhere. He followed the little man into the service gate, where all tradesmen entered the castle.
“Good morning, Dr. Crenshaw,” cooed Mrs. Hopkins. She was micromanaging a staff of three kitchen helpers who apparently failed at everything while covered in flour. “If I could just find a girl who can make a decent loaf,” she commiserated, shaking her head. “Can I get you some tea? Have you had breakfast?”
Crenshaw nodded. “Tea would be great. Thank you.”
The woman beamed. “Coming up. Go make yourself comfortable over by young Baron and I’ll bring it right over.”
Mrs. Hopkins busied herself about the tea, barking the occasional order over her shoulder. Crenshaw pulled out a chair at the long table in the kitchen. The young man seated opposite was finishing up what looked like a full English breakfast. Crenshaw assumed he was one of Anderson’s lads that worked the grounds. He was young, tan, and muscular in a way that was the result of work instead of working out. His auburn hair stood up in odd swoops all over his head and he wore a neon green tank top that read “Surf’s Up, Baby.” The doctor introduced himself.
“Good morning, lad. I’m Victor Crenshaw. You one of Anderson’s men?”
Baron shoved the last spoonful of beans into his mouth and stared at the man. He chewed, swallowed, wiped his mouth, all while searching Crenshaw’s face. His eyes widened. “Ah, you’re the doctor.” He smiled and the whiteness of his teeth seemed impossible. “It’s so weird that you come to the house,” he continued, gathering up his plates. “I guess you make house calls if they’re castle calls, right?”
Crenshaw had a few things to process: one, the American accent; two, his amiable personality; three, the second set of incisors in his white smile; and four, that the young man knew he was coming. ‘An American member of the family,’ he thought, watching Baron interact with Mrs. Hopkins.
“He’s a new member of the family,” Primrose said, appearing behind him. Crenshaw jumped, making such a racket with his chair that the ensemble of the kitchen stopped to look at him.
He bowed his head. “Apologies,” he said, and looked up at Primrose.
“Lord Sykes is in his office ready to see you.” Primrose held out a hand as if to say, “your tea can wait.”
“Ah,” said Baron, fighting with Mrs. Hopkins over washing his breakfast dishes. “Wait, I’ll come with you.” He turned back to the woman. “You leave these for me. I can do my own clean-up.”
Her eyes narrowed and, placing her hands on her hips she conceded, “fine, young master. I’ll allow you to wash your own dishes.”
“Good,” he said and fell in beside Crenshaw as they followed Primrose to the main floor of the castle.
Crenshaw watched him from his periphery. The lad looked all around him, taking in as much of the architecture and furniture and decor as a tourist. Perhaps, in a way, he was. Though Dunfeur had not had this kind of American tourist in a couple of centuries. In fact, if his ancestor’s records were right, the last time an American set foot in this castle, he didn’t make it out. He turned toward Baron. “You know, there’s no way Mrs. Hopkins will let those dishes sit in her sink waiting for you.”
The lad sulked. “What? She promised!” He half turned to go back down the stairs, but Crenshaw stopped him.
“Don’t think of it as service. It’s her kitchen and no matter how friendly you are or how often you eat there, we’re interlopers.” He watched the young man’s struggle with class stratification and guilt play out on his face. “You more than me, I expect.”
“You’re a doctor though,” Baron said.
Crenshaw shrugged. “I’m a jack-of-all trades, you may say. Sometimes a doctor, sometimes a counselor, sometimes a v–“
“Doctor Crenshaw,” Primrose interrupted. They had exited near the main stairway and the doors to Lord Sykes office stood open. A young staff woman stood in the doorway holding the hand of a little boy.
“Caleb wanted to say hello to his grandfather before playing.”
“Of course,” called Lord Sykes. As he and Baron approached, they saw the patriarch emerge from behind his desk and crouch on the ground. He caught the running child and swooped him up in his arms. “Ah you’re getting so big. I have to get Mrs. Hopkins to stop feeding you!” The boy giggled, enjoying the feeling of being swung around the room.
When Lord Sykes noticed the two men behind Daisy, he nodded and lowered the child. “I expect you to listen to Miss Daisy all day and have as much fun as possible. Can you do that?”
The child hugged the man’s leg. “Yup, Paw-Paw.”
Lord Sykes laughed and ruffled the boy’s mop of hair. “You and I will get ice cream this afternoon. Just us men. We’ll have a good long talk. OK?”
He patted the boy on the back and nodded to Daisy, who took the boy’s hand and led him out of the office. Still smiling, Lord Sykes waved the two men into the room. “Crenshaw. Good to see you. As you can see, I’m fit and fine. Not too many men my age can swing a five-year-old around like that.”
“You’ll be feeling it later, Lord Sykes,” he replied, “though you won’t admit it.” Crenshaw sat in the larger chair opposite the lord’s desk. Baron, looking unsure, remained standing. Primrose closed the doors.
The doctor wasted no time. “How did you find the American?”
“My son did. They finally came home yesterday.”
Crenshaw nodded, realizing he was talking about his middle son. The oldest lived in country with a manor and family of his own. Connor was a dutiful and caring son, if dull, and he would naturally take over Dunfeur when it was his time. Though, looking at Lord Sykes, that would be a long time from now. “Shall I examine him after Lydia?”
“Wait a minute,” Baron said, seating himself beside Crenshaw in the smaller chair. “I’m in the room, you know.”
Lord Sykes smiled and looked at the doctor. Crenshaw assumed that everything had been discussed before he arrived. When Primrose asked him to come earlier due to a new family member, he at first assumed Connor had another child. Connor’s wife had her own physician, but the special nature of the Sykes family demanded that Crenshaw have a look from time to time. Victor sat at the end of a long line of Crenshaws that looked after the even longer line of Sykes. He thought of his only child, Katherine, working in the financial district in Glasgow and hoped she’d marry a doctor. Or a–“
“You’re a vet too?” Baron said, smiling at Crenshaw and removing all sense of discretion from the conversation. “I’ve been to a few regular doctors in my time. But I moved around a lot. Never had a permanent place to live until recently. A doctor was just someone to stitch me up. You’re something different.”
Crenshaw nodded. “The particular physiology of people like you needs attention. The ability to change puts a special stress on your body at the cellular level. I just keep an eye on things.”
Baron stared at the doctor for another moment and then turned to Lord Sykes. Crenshaw could easily attribute his lack of deference to being American, but there was something else forging a close bond between the two men. He was starting to understand the relationship between Baron and the younger Sykes. The lord must be thrilled his son was no longer alone.
“You should have told me,” he said, then added, “sir. I’m fine with it, but I think decisions about me should have me involved. Right?”
Lord Sykes smiled. “Absolutely, son, and I apologize. But Dr. Crenshaw was already making a visit this morning to care for my wife. I naturally asked him to see you as well.”
Baron looked down. “He wants me to meet her, but I can tell he’s scared of seeing her himself. Is it that bad?”
Crenshaw looked from the lord to Baron and back again. Lord Sykes said, “I am always hopeful when it comes to Lydia. She has never not been astonishing. But he hasn’t seen her for years and it will be a shock.”
Baron stood up and put a hand on Crenshaw’s shoulder. Warmth and kindness seemed to stream from the young man’s palm into Crenshaw’s arm and chest. He felt soothed. “Please let me know when you’re through and she’s ready. I’ll go with him. It’s important. My check-up can wait.” He looked back at Lord Sykes and bowed his head. Primrose opened the door for the lad and closed it behind him.
Crenshaw sat dazed, unsure of where to look. He was half impressed with Baron’s confidence, and half-embarrassed for Lord Sykes to have someone dictate instead of him. He took a furtive glance up into the beautifully lined face of Lord Gladstone Sykes. His heart skipped a beat.
The smile on the man’s face showed such pride that Crenshaw stifled an urge to kneel. “Lord?” he said, asking all the questions in a single word.
“Whatever the boy wants,” he said, standing. “Now, shall we visit my wife?”
Crenshaw rose and picked up his leather bag, following the tall man out of the office. At the bottom of the stairs he heard the soft click of the office doors and turned to see Primrose in the hallway. The little man nodded, clasped his hands behind his back and headed back toward the kitchen entrance. Crenshaw thought of the tea he never received and hoped he could stretch this visit out until lunch time. Mrs. Hopkins was a fine cook and he hoped for a chance to speak more with Baron.
The staircase was wide and long, and Crenshaw wasn’t sure what he’d find at the top.