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The drive through the late October countryside was singularly dreary. The rain had started as Olivia left her London motel room and it seemed to thicken the further she drove into the rural fields of the south. She had her maps and the excellent sense of direction a former military career had given her, but the numerous narrow lanes and unmarked roads gave even a seasoned map-reader like her seem navigationally challenged.
Just when she was about to give up, the road took a turn and there it was.
It was just like Olivia had pictured it. The Lion's Mouth sat like an old, squat codger awaiting another hand of poker. The old carriage inn was straight out of a Dickens novel, with its thick thatched roof and yellowed stucco sides and mullioned windows set deep within its timber-trussed walls. The old oaks and hornbeams that embraced the inn had already shed their leafs, their black skeletal limbs clutching at the drizzly late afternoon sky. It was just what she had fantasized and feared about as she stared at it through her windshield wipers.
Olivia had first heard mention of The Lion's Mouth completely by accident while doing some research. It took time to puzzle the pieces together from the faint references whispered in web logs and chat rooms, but finally she tracked down a few women that had actually experienced the ethereal occurrences within the inn and was convinced of their authenticity. Olivia wanted to become a member of that very exclusive club.
She glanced up into the rearview mirror to take stock of herself. At 34, she was still a very attractive person, with long dark hair and hazel brown eyes that seemed invite everyone to get to know her better. Olivia's morning jogs kept her fit and her sport bras seemed to keep her ample breasts from a sagging fate. Over all, she knew she could still attract a man's attention and a woman's jealousy and that was fine with her.
A clap of thunder startled Olivia and she steeled herself to get out of the rental car and out into the cold rain.
It was a short dash from the parking lot to the front door of the inn and the brunette felt absolutely sodden as she opened the ancient oak door and stepped inside. The pub portion of the Lion's Mouth was filled with smoke and hushed laughter. A few of the patrons turned to look at her out of curiosity, but no stares accusing her of any carnal or perverse thoughts; No one looking through her, telling her 'I know why you are here, lass.'
The man pulling the pints behind the bar was not how Olivia pictured the innkeeper to be. Tall, well-built with a shock of blonde hair, he couldn't be more than a few years older than she. His blue eyes were absolutely full of schoolboy charm as they locked onto hers when she stepped up to the bar.
"You must be Miss Howard," the innkeeper smiled.
"Does my American show through that much?" Olivia quipped.
"Not at all, my dear. Who else could you be on a rainy day like today? Actually, you are our last guest to make an appearance this evening and since I know the rest of these sots, I concluded in Sherlockian fashion that you must be our much anticipated Olivia Howard."
Olivia smiled, "How astute of you, detective ah..."
"John Stevenson," the innkeeper sat the glass he was filling down and proffered his hand, "proprietor of this august establishment. You can set your bag down there in the corner and as soon as I get these pints properly served, I will show you to your resting place for this evening."
The brunette settled onto a barstool and took time to look around a bit. Olivia was a people watcher, enjoying making up stories about strangers she saw on her lunch breaks and shopping trips. The patronage of The Lion's Mouth tonight was a delightful smorgasbord for her imagination. There were several older men hunched over their half-filled glasses joking in loud guffaws and hissing snickers. One of them, a tall gaunt looking man will a full gray beard and eyes to match, kept glancing over at her and mentally peeking under her dress. There was a younger couple, resplendent in leathers and piercings, having a heated discussion about local current affairs. A tall and not unattractive blonde sat alone, sipping on a glass of wine and watching the rain paint impressions on the window. Altogether too many good stories to knit Olivia didn't know where to start.
"Ready, Miss Howard?" John asked, scooping up her bag.
"Please," she said, following the innkeeper up a narrow flight of stairs to an equally narrow hallway.
"The Lion's Mouth isn't like your Mariotts or Hiltons, so you are going to have to share a washroom with your fellow guests. The one for the fairer sex is to the left here. Good news, there is not very many guests to compete with tonight, so there should be plenty of hot water for a shower."
The hallway took a right into one of the wings of the old inn. She imagined that below would have been the stables. The wood floors in the hall were worn to polish and creaked with every step as if in protest to yet another foot stepping on them.
"Here you are, Miss Howard, the room you requested," John opened the door and handed the key to Olivia, "Are you sure you want this room? As I have said, we have plenty of others that are just as comfortable."
"Yes," Olivia said, feeling herself almost blush, "this will do."
"I assume you have heard about the room's reputation then?"
"Yes, I have," Olivia smiled a slight smile, "That is why I am here. I am investigating whether your ghost is for real or just another way of getting a few more pounds out of your guests."
"Miss Howard," John said sternly, "First, I charge the same for all the rooms here at The Lion's Mouth. Secondly, I wanted to make sure for your welfare. There has been some incidents and I didn't want to see any harm come to you. But I see you are well armed with a healthy dose of skepticism, so I bid you good night and pray that you have a good nights rest."
With that, John placed her bag on the bed and brusquely left her in the room by herself.
The room was small and cozy, just what she had expected from a centuries old inn. The bed was an old Victorian brass bed with a feather down comforter neatly tucked in. A vintage oak wardrobe and chest of drawers filled in what little space there was left in the room. The only other piece of furniture was a small rocking chair with a wool blanket folded over the back. Two standing lamps filled the room with a warm, yellow light.
Olivia felt bad about lying to John about the reason she was here. Oh, she knew about the history of this room. She knew about the past innkeeper's fair daughter and the would-be gentleman rapist that met his demise on the end of a soldiers bayonet. The man, a squire and a rogue by the name of Bartholomew Swyver, enjoyed robbing coaches of their wealth and maidens of their maidenhood. According to the tale, he spied the innkeeper's daughter one night while taking in a mug of ale and he knew he had to have her beauty as well as all her charms. He crept through the window of what was then the inn's private chambers and stripped the blonde daughter and bound her to the bed. He was about to consummate the coupling when a soldier of King Georges Army crashed through the door and thrust a bayonet through Bartholomew's back.
Thus a ghost was born.
As the tale went, the ghost of the rogue still thirsts for his bound victim. That is why Olivia was really here, to see if the ghost could slack his thirst upon her as well.
.... There is more of this story ...