The drawing room - Kaz

The castle is bloody mint. A little rough around the edges maybe but the roaring fire is doing wonders to chase away the note of damp. The drawing room looks just like the pictures, massive stone fireplace big enough for an entire person to stand up in. The sofas are plush and touches of tartan adorn the room. I make a mental note to send flowers to my editor Lucy, she was the one who suggested this place. I don’t think there’s a better place to celebrate my new novel making the bestseller list

We’ve shed our detritus in the hall and are now sitting bedraggled but cosy almost swallowed by the plush sofas. Douglas is at the bar on one side of the room busying himself with glasses. He’s shed his outerwear to reveal a casual navy shirt and trousers.

He sets down a tray of cut glasses on the ottoman in the middle of the room. ’12 year old Macallan.’

He arranges the glasses out like he’s going to be mother and pour but I can’t wait for the heat in my belly. I need to banish the cold that’s set into my bones now the adrenaline high of the boat ride has receded.

I snatch it off him to pour myself glass and then slump back into the nest of cushion. I wink at him, ‘Age before beauty.’ I’m being provocative but I’m sure there’s only a couple of years between us. Mind you pre and post 35 feel like a big deal these days with my fortieth looming. Douglas looks like he keeps fit, not any of that crossfit rubbish but I can imagine him going hunting and throwing a deer round his shoulders with practised ease. I watch him throw logs on the fire and imagine those strong arms doing something else. There’s a pleasant warmth through my body that I’m not sure is all to do with the whiskey. I’m looking forward to the puzzles of course but we’re on an island so it would be nice to have alternative entertainment.

Douglas raised his eyebrows at me and smiles, ‘You do you. The only rules here are that you should enjoy yourself. That’s why I’m here.’ He poured whisky in the rest of the glasses to a chorus of murmured assents. Emily and Ritchie are sitting together on the large chesterfield, Sephy is cross-legged on the floor near the fire and I’ve nabbed the loveseat the other side of the fireplace.

Douglas stokes the fire with a long hot poker sending sparks shimmering in the grate and then turns to face the expectant group. He looks around us all with an air of theatre and then begins to pace in front of the fire.

‘I know all your secrets.’ He lets a ripple of silence echo through the group letting it linger to the very edge of comfort. He looks us all in the eyes individually. It’s intense and when I lock eyes with him it briefly feels like maybe he does know our secrets, or at least mine.

He breaks the atmosphere with a swig from his glass. ‘I know all about your group. Childhood friends. Obsessive about puzzles. Always looking for the next bigger and better challenge. Well - this is it.’

‘Welcome - officially - to Scathrum.’ I sit up straighter recognising quality when I see it. A man of many talents it seems and a storyteller to boot. I can almost feel the tension lift in the room as he goes on to talk about the game. Ritchie had been stroking his beard and Sephy uncrosses the legs that were curled beneath her.

‘You’ve signed the disclaimers and completed the emergency contact forms. Now onto the real stuff. Phones please. It’s non-negotiable. You’ll get them back when you leave tomorrow.’

He holds out his hand. There’s a suprised bark of laughter and I realise it’s me.

Sephy is looking up at me, ‘Kaz, you didn’t say anything about…’

I’m sure there was nothing about this when booking. ‘Douglas - I’ve paid a lot of money for this experience. Trust me, none of us are going to be cheating.’ I flash him a winning smile but his hand stays outstretched.

‘It’s part of the rules. You’ll have agreed when you booked.’

Sephy stands now and steps closer to entreat with him, ‘I need to be able to call my daughter or to receive phone calls in an emergency. Please, she’s only seven.’

His resolve seems to crack a little at the mention of her age but he’s unmoved, ‘That’s important to be sure but I’ll be taking your phone all the same. You can give them the landline phone here at the house in case there is any emergency they need to get hold of you for.’

He reels off the number and Sephy messages her mum, her fingers and thumbs flying over the tiny keys of her mobile.

Emily and Ritchie give theirs up with minimal grunts but I give it one last go. ‘You know I’m famous right? I could give this place some really good PR. Do you have someone for that?’

Douglas is waiting patiently in front of her, ’For that? No. And yes it would be great if you could review us on-.’

‘But I’ll need my phone to livestream and stuff.’

’No, I’m afraid like the others you’ll have to just live without it until morning.If you want to help us the best way is to have an authentic experience to be able to gush about later.’

I roll my eyes at this but pass my phone over to him. I’m about to make a sexy pun with the work gush but think better of it. It’s a truth that should be universally acknowledged that there’s a fine line between forward and vulgar.

He locks the phones in a little metal box, it reminds me of something my grandad use to have packed lunches in except this has a small padlock set dead in the centre. Douglas puts this back on the mantelpiece and spins around to face us once again. ‘And now I’ll tell you about the legend of Sgáthach…’