Saturday, December 16, 2017

Her Muse, His Grace (Muses #4)

Fresh from the Caribbean, Mark Easton, the new Duke of Roxburg, returns to London to secure a bride. It’s expected of his new station, after all. Unfortunately, he knows just what will meet him once his presence in Town is known. Sycophantic and cloying debutantes at every turn and matchmaking mamas behind every potted palm. If only there was a way to know the true nature of each girl beforehand. Then brilliance strikes! Masquerading as a lowly dancing master before the season begins should give him a very clear picture of London’s eligible ladies.

Bianca Valentine has never been under the illusion that any decent man would look past her family’s secrets. So a life of independence is her best shot for a happy future. If she can provide for herself, she won’t have to be a burden on her aunt and uncle any longer. After an advertisement for an accompanist at a dancing school catches her eye, Bianca finds herself enjoying more freedom than she’s known, but it’s the new dancing master that takes her breath away and inspires the most beautiful music she’s ever written.

Her music first enchanted him, but her smile and kindness captured his heart. A masquerading duke and an accompanist is scandalous enough, but will Bianca’s secrets be too much to overcome? 

Amazon     iBooks     Google Play     BN/Nook     Kobo     Smashwords

Her Muse, His Grace
Copyright © 2016 Jane Charles

London - March, 1816
“Bloody hell!” Mark Easton, the Duke of Roxburg, tossed the gossip rag onto the table and lifted his tankard of ale. The Season hadn’t even begun and there was already speculation as to whether he would return and do his duty and marry.
He pulled his greatcoat tight and wondered if he would ever get warm again. The damp air of London shot through him, right to his bones and he’d give anything to be back in Barbados, on his sugar plantation or walking the beaches. Not only was it warmer in the Caribbean, but the sun shined most of the time too.
And, it didn’t stink.
“I’m ready to board the next ship headed back to the Caribbean.” Lord Samuel Storm rubbed his hands together. “I don’t think I’ll be warm until I get there.”
A barmaid placed two more tankards in front of them, bending low enough for them to see down her bodice. As tempting as it would be to find warmth between her thighs, Mark didn’t have the luxury at the moment.
“Why the bloody hell did we come back here?” he asked Samuel after the barmaid left them be. The two had been living peacefully in Barbados until recently. Both managing their separate sugar plantations and enjoying the freedom of being wealthy bachelors on an island filled with beautiful women. Both had left accommodating mistresses behind, breaking from them as they weren’t sure when they’d return, but not before a proper send off and expensive baubles to remember them by.
“We are here because you have a duty and didn’t want to face it alone,” Samuel ground out. “Though, why you needed me is the question. Thorn is here and if anyone can navigate society and remain free, it’s him.”
“We heard Thorn married, remember?”
Samuel frowned. “Won’t believe it until I hear it from the gentleman directly.”
“Yet, you believe your brother, Benjamin married.”
Samuel frowned. “From what I understand, he didn’t have much choice. Not with our Great Uncle insisting on seeing as many of his grandchildren and great nieces and nephews leg-shackled before he kicks up his toes.” He took a deep drink of ale.
Mark grinned. “Does this mean you will not be calling on His Grace, the Duke of Danby?”
Sam shot him a look that would kill a lesser man.
As neither one of them wanted anyone to know they’d returned to London, they’d taken rooms above this tavern. Nobody would ever dream that the new Duke of Roxburg or Lord Samuel Storm, the brother to Marquess of Kenley, were living along the waterfront, which suited their purposes perfectly.
But, Mark couldn’t remain in hiding forever. He needed to put his plan into place. One that would keep him from being hounded by matchmaking mamas and debutantes alike.
“Maybe I’ll take the pretty one back up to my room.” Sam nodded to the dark haired barmaid. “Send for me when Thorn arrives.”
 “I’ll not be able to pull you from bed if you do.”
“If he doesn’t show shortly, I’m going to find a way to keep warm,” Samuel warned. “And those generous hips are sure to heat everything.”
Mark ignored Sam. As much as he’d like the pleasure of tossing up the skirts of an eager woman, he had more pressing matters to consider. He hadn’t been in London for five years, but he assumed nothing had changed. What he needed was a wife before the Season ever started, or at least, an idea of who he wanted to marry, so he wouldn’t have to waste endless evenings at functions being fawned over.
He hated all the bowing, scraping and flattery all because he was titled. As if he deserved it when he hadn’t done anything spectacular except just being born to the right parents.
The door of the tavern opened and Mark looked up. Finally!
David Thorn stepped inside and glanced around, then smiled when he spotted Mark and Samuel at their corner table.
Thorn took a seat, leaned back and grinned at him. The barmaid appeared almost instantly, her bodice barely containing her assets, which she practically shoved in Thorn’s face.
“Bring a pitcher and another mug, would you, dear?” Thorn smiled up at the young woman.
She fluttered her eyelashes and gave him a wink before sauntering off to do his bidding.
Some things never changed no matter how long Mark had been gone. Women were still drawn to Thorn like a moth to a flame.
“Where’s Chetwey and Delaney?” Mark asked.
“Still rusticating with their wives. They’ll be along eventually, I’m sure. Chetwey’s little witch is not too keen on being absent during the spring plantings for a second year in a row.”
The barmaid returned, leaning over Thorn, her breasts practically pressed against his face  as she placed the pitcher and mug on the table.
Thorn turned his head and muttered a thank you. Disappointed in not getting a reaction, or an offer, the woman slouched away.
“What do these people have against bathing?” He poured the dark ale into his mug and sat back.
“So, it is true,” Sam laughed. “You married. The David Thorn I know would never turn his face away from such a bountiful display.”
“Happily leg-shackled, I assure you.” He grinned.
Mark could only stare at Thorn. “Did you just call Chetwey’s wife a witch?” Did the gentleman know Thorn thought this? He couldn’t imagine Thorn surviving such a comment, not that Mark knew the woman, but one did not call his friend’s wife a witch, not if one wished to keep the friendship.
Thorn blinked up at him and alarm flashed in his eyes before he laughed. “I mean it with utmost respect and affection. Brighid is a healer of sorts, concocting all kinds of medicines from her herbs and plants.” He grinned. “It’s quite endearing, by the way.”
“Does Chetwey still have spells from the malaria? I brought cinchona bark since I doubt it is easy to come by in these parts.”
“He has, and Brighid has been able to help him through. I’m sure she’ll appreciate having the bark.” He took a drink of his ale. “Right now Chetwey is cozy at his estate with his wife and Delaney’s at his with Laura, though I hope they can bring themselves to London.” He frowned, “Anna would appreciate having their wives about this Season as she’s never participated in one herself.” Then he shrugged and took another drink. “Though, I suspect her cousins will be here as well.”
Mark didn’t really care if Thorn’s wife was comfortable or not. He had more pressing matters.
“Anna was living with her uncle and two cousins when I met her. The oldest cousin, Lila Southward, married Lord Quentin Post. The younger, Matilda, married Sidney Garrick”
“Bloody hell,” Samuel exclaimed. “First Delany, Chetwey, Bradenham and Wolverly were caught in the parson’s trap. Now You, Post and Garrick have as well!” He took a deep drink. “It’s not safe in this country.”
Thorn only laughed. “It’s well worth being caught, if it’s by the right woman.” He took a drink and leaned back in the wooden chair. “When did you get in? I’ve been watching the house to see if you’d show.”
“You and all of London,” Mark grumbled.
Thorn laughed and poured ale into the mug.
“They are going to hound me, aren’t they?” Mark asked.
“Think rather highly of yourself, do you?”
Mark glared at him. “Not me! The bloody title. That, and I won’t be thirty until this summer, have all my teeth, not suffering from gout, and am bloody rich. Just a couple of those is enough to draw the attention. The combination is lethal to any bachelor.”
“Well, there isn’t much you can do. I suggest you enjoy it.” Thorn grinned and raised his mug in a toast.
“Yes, there is,” Mark answered, much more serious than Thorn was finding the situation. “I intend to find my wife before the Season begins.”
Thorn arched an eyebrow in humor. “Exactly how are you going to accomplish that?”
Mark tossed the newssheet on the table. “What do you know of the Mirabelle School of Dance?”
Bianca Valentine stared out the window of the carriage as it entered London. She hadn’t been here since she was a child. Not that she remembered living in Seven Dials, which was far different than the Mayfair home her brother-in-law owned. She’d only been about two when Vicar Grant saved her and her nine siblings from a life of poverty, thievery, work houses and quite possibly prostitution, once she was older. She shivered, just thinking how different, and horrible, her life could have turned out if not for him. She may call him uncle, but in her heart, Uncle Osborn was her father, and Aunt Mary, was her mother. Bianca had no memories of the woman who actually gave birth to her, even though that woman raised her the first two years of her life. Or, at least she was alive the first two years, but Bianca suspected it was Demetrius and Benedick, her oldest brothers, who really took care of her.
She rarely saw her brothers after they went off to school and then settled into their professions in London, but now that she would be living in London for the Season, she might be able to visit with them more often. Something she was very much looking forward to.
But first, she needed to find a position. Her sister, Rosalind, Lady Felding, insisted on Bianca and their two sisters, Isabella and Perdita, coming to London for the Season. All three had agreed, but none of them intended on being involved in Society. They simply did not belong, even if their sister was a marchioness.
While she’d enjoyed the kindness of her sister, the real reason Bianca was in London was to find work. At five and twenty, she could not continue to live off the charity of Uncle Osborn and Aunt Mary. They were getting on in years and it was time she supported herself. Bianca hated the idea of being a burden any more than she already had been. They’d already given her so much. Much more than she could ever possibly repay. Nor did she wish to become a burden to her older brothers once her aunt and uncle passed. As a female, she had but two options available to keep that from happening: Marry or work, and since she could never consider marriage, it was time to find a position.  
Lord Felding might have been able to overlook her family’s background when he married Rosalind, but most gentlemen would not feel the same. Not that Bianca would ever dream of setting her sights on a lord. But even a respectable man of trade would have misgivings about marrying the bastard of a whore.
“You are just going to love it here,” Rosalind said from beside her. “I thought I’d hate it when Noah insisted I attend the Season after we married, but that wasn’t the case.”
Felding could probably put Rosalind in a tent in the middle of the desert and call it home and her sister would be quite happy. All she really required was to be with her husband. Bianca wasn’t so hopeful that she’d love London as much as her sister. But, as long as she found a position, it really didn’t matter where she lived.
“I can’t wait to introduce you to some of my friends.”
Bianca, Isabella and Perdita stiffened and looked over at their sister. Surely she wasn’t expecting her to go about with the ladies her sister now called friends. Did she forget who they were? Where they’d come from?
“We’ve decided to host a ball at the beginning of the Season and we must get you properly outfitted.”
Bianca glanced at Felding, her brother-in-law. He just shook his head and smiled before glancing back out the window.
“I don’t think it’s right or proper that I attend functions.” Bianca refocused on her sister. “Isabella and I are to keep you company while Felding attends Parliament, or whatever else he does, while Perdita watches over Henry.” Henry was a year old, but Rosalind couldn’t bring herself to leave her son in the country. Bianca also didn’t dare tell her sister the real reason for coming to London. Well, at least not until she had found employment.
“Of course you will.” Rosalind smiled. 
“It’s not right that we go into society, you know that as well as we do,” Isabella argued.
Rosalind arched an eyebrow. “Then I should not be there either.”
“That’s different. You’re married to Felding now,” Perdita reminded her. “It gives you respectability. We cannot claim the same.”
Rosalind turned and grabbed Bianca’s hand. “You mustn’t think that.” Then glanced at her other two sisters. “None of you. You’ll meet all manner of gentlemen in London. You might very well fall in love.”
She couldn’t believe what her sister was saying. If they were to have had the same conversation a few years ago, they would have agreed to remain spinsters and not dream of love or marriage. It was why Rosalind became a nursery maid in the first place, and ended up taking care of Felding’s sister’s children. Rosalind had changed so much since marrying Felding. But, just because Rosalind found a lord to love her, despite the circumstances of her birth, did not mean the same would happen for Bianca or their sisters. “If any man wished to marry me, he’d need to know the truth of my birth first. That should send him running so I don’t wish to put myself in a position to be humiliated.”
“A man of character would not care,” Felding nearly growled.
Did he believe she just insulted him? That was not the case. “Few gentlemen are of your character, Lord Felding, so I will not hold out hope that I might meet one of them.”
The carriage rolled to a stop and Bianca looked out the window, and up at the four story townhouse. Her home for the next four months.
After being escorted into the house, Rosalind led Bianca and her sisters into the parlor to take tea while they waited for their belongings to be brought in and unpacked. It was odd having servants do so much for her and Bianca wasn’t sure if it was something she could become accustomed to. At home, each of the children did their part at the vicarage: preparing meals, tending the garden, cleaning the house, doing the laundry and anything that was required. The only staff employed was a housekeeper who also cooked for them. The task was too large for one woman and the girls learned at an early age how to prepare meals for the family. If she were at home, she would probably be helping prepare luncheon right now. Instead, she was taking tea with her sisters while a servant unpacked their trunks.
“The first thing we must do is visit a modiste.”
“It is lovely how your husband likes to keep you in fine dresses.” Perdita smiled. “I can’t wait to see how you look when turned out for a ball.”
None of them had beautiful gowns growing up, nor did they need them. Bianca had always been happy with her serviceable wardrobe and one nice Sunday dress.
“It’s for you too,” Rosalind insisted.
“We don’t have the funds,” Isabella reminded her.
“That is not a concern,” she dismissed her sister’s comment away with a wave of her hand. “Felding has offered and I’m not about to turn him down. Penelope and Patience shall be arriving in a few days and we shall all go shopping together.” Penelope and Patience were two of Felding’s younger sisters. Neither had married much to his irritation.
“What did I offer?” Felding asked as he came through the door, carrying newssheets.
“To help outfit Bianca, Isabella and Perdita for the Season.”
Felding smiled and nodded. “I’m happy to do so.” He took a seat beside his wife while she poured him a cup of tea.
“It is not necessary, Felding,” Bianca insisted. She already owed her aunt and uncle so much. She did not wish to owe her brother-in-law as well. Besides, it was a waste when she had no intention of wearing the fine dresses.
“My wife would like the three of you to participate in the Season. It would make her happy.” He turned and smiled lovingly at Rosalind. “And, as her happiness is my only concern, you shall be dressed for all imaginable occasions.”
Since Bianca couldn’t argue with Felding under his own roof, she fully intended to argue with her sister later. If that didn’t work, she’d simply refuse to be fitted. That should put a halt to all of Rosalind’s plans.
“Is there anything interesting in the newssheets?” Rosalind asked.
“I haven’t begun to read them yet.” He took the top newssheet and put the rest on the table. “Enjoy, ladies, I’m sure there is something about fashion, or perhaps gossip, that you will find of interest.”
None of them had ever enjoyed gossip. She and her sisters were of the opinion that if they didn’t gossip about others, hopefully others would not gossip about them. Heaven knew they had enough secrets that they didn’t want discovered. Even if they were lying about who their actual parents were, at least the four oldest, Demetrius, Benedick, Orland and Mercutio, had comfort in the knowledge that Mother had been married to their father. It was after he was killed that their mother had to find another means to support her young family and gained five illegitimate children in the process. It didn’t matter that they only shared a mother because Bianca loved each of her siblings equally and with all of her heart.
“Well, that’s interesting?” Felding said before taking a sip of his tea.
“What?” Rosalind asked her husband with interest.
“A school chum, who I haven’t seen in years, has inherited.” Felding paused and looked up. “I had forgotten that his uncle died last summer and his cousin a few months ago. Mark wasn’t ever to have gained the title.”
“I thought it was the women who were interested in the gossip?” Rosalind teased.
Felding lowered the newssheet just enough to see his eyes, which he narrowed on his wife.
“Which title would that be?” Rosalind asked.
“The Duke of Roxburg.”
Bianca choked on her tea. Felding had a friend that was a duke and just called him by his first name. Her brother-in-law had loftier connections than she ever imagined. And, all the more reason she must find a position. Felding certainly would never consider introducing her to a duke, would he? That would be beyond the pale.
Instead of saying anything, however, Bianca picked up one of the newssheets. She skipped over fashion and other titillating tales and went right to the advertisements. She was beginning to become discouraged until she read the last newssheet and her heart began to pound when she found a position that was perfect for her.

Her Muse, Her David (Muses #3)

When Mr. David Thorn returns to Marisdùn Castle for another haunted Samhain masquerade, he hopes to encounter the elusive artist who sketched him the year before disappearing into the night. But finding her might be difficult, especially if she’s one of the many ghosts who haunt the castle and its grounds.

Miss Anna Southward would give anything leave her uncle and the sleepy village of Ravenglass behind her to travel the continent as she had as a child. Stuck near the seaside in Cumberland, she dreams of the day she can return to Florence to once again gaze upon the statue of David, and she dreams about a certain gentleman she encountered at the previous year’s masquerade. When the gentleman in question stumbles upon her, Anna is certain her luck is about to change.

But when a powerful entity is accidentally released inside the castle walls, all bets are off and Anna fears not only for herself, but for the handsome gentleman she sketched a year ago.

*This story originally appeared in the One More Haunted Evening anthology. The single contains scenes previously omitted from the anthology.*

Amazon     iBooks     Google Play     BN/Nook     Kobo     Smashwords

October 1816 ~ Torrington Abbey, Cumberland

“Who is she?” David Thorn demanded of Brighid, wife of his good friend Blake Chetwey. It’s the same question he’d asked the few times he’d seen her in the past year, never getting a satisfied answer.
Instead of going straight to Marisdùn Castle, where David planned on staying for the next sennight to attend the Samhain masquerade, he’d ridden to Torrington Abbey. Though he did wish to visit his good friend, David was more interested in interrogating Brighid. It was all he could do to get through the pleasantries and sip tea before he asked her the question that’d been plaguing him.
The witch merely blinked up at him. “Whom?”
“You know bloody well,” Thorn growled.
“You are speaking to my wife,” Chetwey warned. “She’s of a delicate condition and a lady.”
Brighid smiled and patted her large belly. He shouldn’t even be seeing her in this condition, but he was the one who’d come into her home. He remembered learning that she was expecting, but hadn’t really thought beyond the news and wishing his friend congratulations. Now that he’d seen her, heavy with child, David realized that it had been months since he’d first been told and he hadn’t seen Brighid since the end of the Season. She looked as if she could deliver any moment or possibly should have by now. Not that he had any experience being around ladies in an interesting condition since they were always hidden from society as if it was something to be ashamed of.
He probably should also think twice before angering this powerful witch, too. Especially right now.
To think he didn’t believe in spirits, witches and thought it all nonsense until a year ago. But, after watching her banish an evil spirit, working tirelessly to find a way to bring Callie Bradenham back from the other side, there was no doubt in David’s mind that there was a good deal of magic in this world and things beyond his comprehension.
Chetwey was one lucky bastard and this wasn’t the first time David wished he was in his Chetwey’s shoes. Not married to Brighid, of course. That would never work, but to have a wife who looked at him the way Brighid looked at Chetwey. A woman he could love the way Blake did her. A wife, growing large with his child.
Not that he would ever, in a million years, admit those thoughts to anyone. It wouldn’t be pleasant becoming the brunt of jokes from his friends. Even worse, for the ladies in Society to get wind of his thoughts. They’d never give him a moment’s rest. Reforming the rake and all that nonsense. Besides, if ladies were wise, they wouldn’t want their husbands to be completely reformed, especially in the privacy of a bedchamber.
Just the thought of ladies and their mamas hounding him through London sent shivers down his spine. It was scarier than returning to Marisdùn Castle with its variety of ghosts.
“I just don’t see why she can’t tell me who the Italian artist is. I know Brighid knows.”
“I don’t know any Italians,” Brighid answered innocently.
Perhaps the sketching fairy only spoke with an Italian accent to hide her identity. It was a masquerade after all. “I am sure you know a few artists.” David glared at her.
She smiled sweetly at him. “Maybe.”
“Do you know who sketched my portrait at the Samhain party?”
Brighid simply shrugged.
It’s the same response he’d gotten before.  “Why won’t you tell me?” David raked his fingers through his hair and practically jumped to his feet before he started pacing. Irritating and frustrating witch!
“If she wished for you to know who she is, I assumed she would have remained.”
“Ah ha!” He wheeled around and wagged a finger at her. “So, you do know. It’s taken me nearly a year, but finally we are getting somewhere.”
“I find it hard to believe you’ve been yearning for the artist all this time.” Chetwey chuckled from his seat beside his wife.
“I’m sure it’s only because she got away. Our dear Mr. Thorn is not used to such a predicament,” Brighid teased.
The same thoughts had crossed his own mind. Was it simply because the masked artist disappeared before he could get to know her better? Her voice had entranced him, and not just the Italian accent, which may or may not have been real, but that smile. Full, red lips, and the only part of her face he could see. Her laugh was soft and gentle, with a rich tone that went straight to his nether regions. When she approached him, sketch book in hand, and asked him to sit, Thorn automatically complied without thought. All she had to do was touch his arm with her delicate hand and he followed her without question.
That was so out of character for him. The purpose of the party, originally anyway, was to find ladies without drawers and have a decadent good time. Of course, he did wonder if she was wearing any drawers and how they might better come to know one another while she sketched him, but he hadn’t even attempted to kiss her or discourage her from drawing his features. It was a party, the ale was flowing, and people were dancing while he sat for a bloody portrait.
Had she bewitched him somehow? Was it the magic of that special night?
That had to be it because he could think of no other reason he acted so out of character.
He’d barely met the golden haired fairy who wore a blasted half-mask that revealed only her full, ruby lips.  Even though nearly a year passed, he still could not put the artist from his mind, and she had ruined his pursuit of every other female since. It was her fault he was having such uncharacteristic thoughts like marriage and babies and such.
Maybe she was a ghost.
David wasn’t sure if that possibility was helpful. If she was of another world, any future was certainly impossible. Well, until he died too, but he wasn’t so foolish as to take such a drastic action just to be with her. He’d just need to find a substitute among the living and make the best of it.
Bloody hell! All these aberrant thoughts over a woman he’d spent only a few hours with were driving him mad. What the blazes was wrong with him? “Maybe she’s a witch too.” That would certainly explain everything.
 “I can assure you she is not.” Brighid grinned at him. “And, maybe she’ll be at the masquerade this year.”
“I’d prefer to meet her before so I’m not chasing after an otherworldly woman like Quent.”
“Other-worldly?” Chetwey asked.
“Braden’s convinced the woman he kissed was a ghost.”
“It is possible,” Brighid suggested before lifting her cup of tea.
Thorn refused to believe the woman he sat for was a spirit. By the time Quentin Post had kissed his angel, he had been into his cups. Thorn had been sober. Another oddity of that night.
Blake set his glass aside and smiled sympathetically at his friend. “Why don’t we play a game of billiards? It’ll take your mind off of your mysterious lady.”
Like trouncing Chetwey would make him forget about the woman who had been haunting his dreams for a year. “Might as well since your wife isn’t going to be of any help.”
“If she wanted to be found, she would have stayed around,” Brighid called after them as they sauntered from the room.
David ignored her and followed Chetwey down the hall into a dark paneled room, a billiards table set up in the center, and leather chairs set up around the perimeter. This was a gentleman’s room and the witch probably never came in here. Not that she could even play billiards right now. Not with the way she’d increased. But she sure was beautiful.
“Do you know that Garrick actually had the audacity to suggest I’m losing my touch?”
Chetwey choked back laughter. “I’m sure that isn’t it. Maybe your heart isn’t in the chase any longer.”
David took a pool cue from the rack on the wall. “It hasn’t been for a very long time, my friend.”
David straightened, his eyes bored into Chetwey’s. “If you tell a single soul, I’ll deny it with every breath.” Taking the cue, he lined up the end with the ball. “I do have a reputation to protect.”

* * *

Anna Southward hurried as quickly as she could to Torrington Abbey after retrieving the plants, seeds and roots Brighid requested from the herbarium in Marisdùn Castle and the garden just outside of it. To think Lord Quentin Post had returned along with his three sisters, and that Bradenham and Callie would really arrive tomorrow. Finally, there would be excitement in this sleepy village.
Not that she saw the Post family, but she overheard the kitchen staff talking about their arrival as she gathered the herbs. Hardly anything of interest ever happened in Ravenglass and she feared she’d grow mad with boredom before she ever grew old. Thank goodness fascinating gentlemen inherited the castle. At least they’d arrive on occasion to make things a bit more exciting.
Her closest friend was sitting on the settee, drinking tea, and thankfully her husband wasn’t around. Anna liked Chetwey well enough, but he’d been hovering a bit too much lately. The closer Brighid’s time came, the nearer he stuck by Brighid’s side. It was sweet, really, but babies made an appearance every day. Her condition wasn’t at all unusual for a married lady of her age. Besides, Brighid was a healer and a witch. If anyone could make sure everything worked out as it should, it was her.
“Would you like some tea?”
“Yes, please.” Anna plopped down in the chair across from her friend. “They’ve arrived.”
“The owners of Marisdùn.” She could barely keep the grin off of her face. “They are going to have another masquerade, aren’t they?” Ever since Brighid said it was a distinct possibility, Anna had been on edge with anticipation. This year, she was going, and she was staying late, and nobody was going to stop her. Not even her unreasonable and unpleasant Uncle Walter.
“Will all of them be there?” Anna asked as she poured herself a cup of tea, instead of waiting for Brighid to awkwardly lean forward and try and pour it for her.
“All of whom?”
“The unmarried gentlemen,” Anna hissed. “You know exactly who I mean.”
“Mr. Garrick, Mr. Thorn and Lord Quentin?”
“Yes! Those three.” Three of the six friends who arrived last year had married girls from the district and had probably settled into a boring existence with their wives. Three bachelors remained, which gave Anna hope that the masquerade would be even more rousing than last year, since they didn’t have to worry about an evil spirit and bringing Callie back from the other side this time.
Then she stilled. Just because they hadn’t been married last year did not mean they weren’t this year. Brighid would have mentioned if one of them being wed, wouldn’t she have?
Brighid chuckled and leaned back against her seat. “Are you hoping one of them will take you away, like Bradenham rescued Callie from this place?”
Brighid was about the only person content to live here. Of course, she also went to London this past year, twice, and enjoyed the Season. It was a lot more excitement than Anna had seen since she’d come to live with her uncle and cousins after her parents died six years ago.
“I don’t dare hope to have such luck, but I can’t wait to sketch one of them again.”
The corner of Brighid’s mouth turned up. “The same one, or do you wish to sketch a different gentleman of my husband’s acquaintance? Or does it even matter?”
She could feel her cheeks warming. “The same one.” He was so handsome, with chiseled cheekbones, a strong jaw, an aquiline nose, the way his thick, dark hair fell across his forehead, and those intense brown eyes. The sketches she had of him, safely hidden away of course, did not begin to do justice to his handsome features. She didn’t dare show them to anyone, and she’d kept them safely hidden away with the exception of one, which was always with her.
“One is in line to be an earl, did you know?”
Why did Brighid have to go and ruin her dream? Not that she actually thought the handsome gentleman would fall in love with her and take her away from this place to sail around the world, but she did like to dream. An earl didn’t just up and travel. They had duties to attend to. Or, at least that’s what she’d been told. “I’m not looking to marry him. I just want to sketch him again.” It was a partial truth. And she’d been kicking herself for nearly a year for running away when he went to retrieve punch. She might not have left the masquerade at all if Lila hadn’t reminded her of the time, so they could be back before the vicar ever learned they’d snuck out in the first place.
Such an unpleasant man, her uncle. So unlike her loving and gregarious father. How were the two even brothers? Her father, and mother, had a sense of adventure, wanting to explore and discover new things. Whereas her uncle was firmly settled in the scriptures and how one should live their life, and was perfectly content to never leave Ravenglass. Not that she had anything against the scriptures, and even when her parents were alive they went to church wherever they happened to be. But her uncle just didn’t understand there was a whole world out there she had yet to see. Or that Florence continued to call to her.
Oh, to be there again and cast her eyes on Michelangelo’s David.
With a sigh, she put the thought from her mind. She’d probably never see it again, or ever have a chance to sculpt her own David. Instead, she should focus on the small boons her uncle granted her, instead of hoping for what might never be. “Uncle has finally agreed to let me visit the coast to sketch and paint tomorrow.”
Brighid brightened. “That would be wonderful. I know how you chafe at being ordered to remain close to the vicarage.”
It was rare that Anna was granted enough time to be away so that she could sneak through the woods to see Brighid. Usually her uncle only allowed her so much time to go off with her sketchbook before she was to return to her duties within the house, or prayer, or reading her Bible.
“Where is Chetwey this afternoon?” she asked as she began to sketch the pictures from the books so she’d know what to look for.
“He’s playing billiards with a friend.”
“Oh?” Anna’s heartbeat increased. Could one of the other bachelors already have arrived? Were all three here already and what chance did she have of encountering them? Drat, she knew the names, but didn’t know which one of the gentlemen she had sketched, David Thorn or Sidney Garrick.
“David Thorn. One of the three bachelors you wish to sketch.”
Anna glanced up to meet her friend’s eyes. “Is he the one?”
“How would I know? You’ve never shown me your sketches.”
Anna studied her friend. There was mischief in her silver eyes. Brighid knew something she was not saying. Just as she was about to ask for this David Thorn’s description and take the year old sketch from her satchel, the clock in the hallway chimed, making Anna jump. “Goodness, it’s late.”
“Would you like to take the carriage?” Brighid asked, growing alarmed. They both knew she wasn’t supposed to be here.
“No, I should make it in time, if I hurry. I can’t afford to miss dinner and make my uncle unhappy or he might cancel my outing tomorrow.”
Brighid pulled herself from the settee. “When do you think you’ll be there? At the coast.”
“As early as possible. I hope to catch the sunrise on the water.”
“Well, enjoy your day.”
Anna barely said goodbye before she was running down the lane and onto the path through the woods. She couldn’t be late. Worse, her uncle could not know with whom she’d been visiting. She’d been told time and time again to stay away from the healer and Brighid was unnatural and a bad influence, but Anna continued to ignore him. Brighid was her dearest friend – she understood her when a lot of people didn’t. Maybe because they were both a bit odd. 
Sprinting the last bit of the way, she made it to the house and slipped in the back door just as Lila was putting the last plate on the table. Thank goodness she made it in time.
Her cousins, Lila and Tilly, both relaxed, as if they were afraid she wouldn’t make it back in time either. After getting her breathing under control, she let her satchel slip silently to the floor and joined her cousins at the table, just as Uncle Walter came into the dining room.
He looked sterner tonight than normal, which did not bode well. With concentrated effort, Anna did her best not to draw attention to herself, speak out of turn, or say anything at all. She could not risk upsetting her uncle or he’d take away her outing.
What were the chances that David Thorn was the man in her sketches? To think, she might be drawn to a gentleman named David. Until now, there’d only been one David she admired, but he was a statue, glorious in detail.
Even if his name was David, that wouldn’t mean he’d remember her. What if he didn’t want to sit for her again?
Blast! She hadn’t considered that possibility. All she could think about was seeing him again and capturing his likeness once more. And, maybe this time, dancing too.
Tomorrow, or the day after, she was going to show Brighid her sketches so her friend could give her a name to go with the features. Dare she hope his name was David?
Then again, maybe she didn’t want him to have a name, just like she wished she didn’t know one of them might be an earl one day. Perhaps it’d be easier for him to simply be the handsome gentleman she looked at each night before falling asleep, and the first face she saw in the morning, even though it was a only a sketch.
Besides, a future earl would never have an interest in her.
With an inward sigh, she pushed the food around on her plate so her uncle thought she was eating when in truth, her appetite had disappeared.
She’d just need to make the best of this year’s masquerade, so she’d have memories to get her through her boring existence in this backwater town.
“We might visit the Roman ruins tomorrow,” Lila announced, drawing Anna from her thoughts. “Lord Quentin Post has arrived with his sisters.”
“That should be nice,” Anna answered absently, wishing she could visit the ruins as well, but the ones in Rome. And then she could travel up to Florence and gaze at Michelangelo’s David once again. Her hands practically itched to sculpt something similar, to feel the clay move through her fingers. That David was made of marble, which she could never carve. But clay was easy enough to manage and she had a good deal of it stored, just waiting to have something created from it. Unfortunately, she lacked an appropriate model.

Her Muse, Her Magic (Muses #2)

Brighid Glace is not a witch, no matter how many times Blake Chetwey has called her one. She's a healer and he should be quite grateful she is too. Without her abilities, he might not survive his holiday at haunted Marisdùn Castle when another bout of Malaria hits him. But should anything terrible ever befall Blake, Brighid would never forgive herself if she didn't do all she could to save him. Her heart would never survive otherwise. 

After years of denying that Brighid’s mere presence affects him in ways he can't understand, Blake's future is now in her hands. She is lovely, and enchanting, and only a witch could make him feel such things. Was his fevered state causing him to see her in a different light or could he no longer deny what he has tried to ignore? And would he now lose her to a friend?

** This novella originally appeared in “One Haunted Evening”, an anthology.

Amazon     iBooks     Google Play     BN/Nook     Kobo     Smashwords

Her Muse, Her Magic
 Copyright © 2015 by Jane Charles

Blake Chetwey pulled his greatcoat close around him and clenched his jaw to keep his teeth from rattling together. With each bump in the road, his body protested in pain. Bloody hell! Now was not the time for another episode. Not that there was ever a good time, but he had been looking forward to the coming weeks and the party his hosts were planning. What healthy gentleman did not look forward to a celebration where young ladies might not wear undergarments?
He groaned. He was far from healthy at the moment and could only pray that this episode was of a short duration. Malaria! That is what the doctor in Barbados had called it and warned him that he would most likely have recurrent attacks, without warning and for no apparent reason, in the coming years before the disease had purged itself from his body.
Blake turned his head to look out the window at the passing scenery. He should have had the driver take the road to Tolbright a few miles back. Beyond the small town was Torrington Abbey, his home for a good portion of his life, and the estate he would one day inherit from his uncle, the Earl of Torrington.
He preferred to suffer through this episode in his own bed instead of the haunted Marisdùn Castle. Not that the Abbey wasn’t haunted. Well, at least it was for a short time, but Blake never saw evidence of the rumored ghost to be roaming the halls either. And could he really consider the last haunting to be an actual haunting?
“Do you really believe Marisdùn Castle to be haunted?” David Thorn asked from across the carriage.
Had the man been reading his mind? Blake assumed Thorn was thinking about ladies without drawers. It was a favorite pastime of his. Blake simply shrugged. Who was he to decide if a place was haunted or not? A year ago he would have scoffed at the idea. Not any longer.
“And, is it true that Patrick Delaney once haunted Torrington Abbey?” Thorn continued. “Or did you invent the entire story?”
Blake groaned and glanced at his friend from the corner of his eye. He should never have told Thorn or the others about what Delaney and his sister, Laura, believed. If he hadn’t been in his cups following the races, he would never have breathed a word of their story, of how Delany had hovered between life and death after being attacked and left for dead, and how his spirit left his body and had gone to Laura to what they assume was to deliver the message that was intended for her, though he couldn’t recall what the message was until he awoke, alive, and in his own body. Blake didn’t understand it all; and doubted that he ever would. It was Brighid’s explanation that when Patrick hovered closer to death, his spirit was set free and not chained to his body. Though nobody could ever explain why Laura had been the only living person able to see Patrick, even though he’d been in the presences of Blake’s aunt and uncle, as well as servants and other guests at Torrington Abbey. Brighid believed it was because Patrick sought only Laura as she is who Delany was on his to see. 
He snorted and returned his gaze out the window. Brighid Glace is a charming yet odd young woman. If Patrick had haunted Torrington for a bit, then Brighid truly was a witch, as he always accused her of being. However, he was certain there was a reasonable explanation for what Patrick experienced. He simply hadn’t discovered them yet.
“Well, did you?”
Oh yes, he had forgotten to answer Thorn. Why was he having such a difficult time concentrating? Could it be because he was so cold, or maybe it was the headache he could no longer ignore? “You’ll have to ask Delaney.”
“I’ll make sure Braden sends an invitation so I can find out for myself.” Thorn glanced out the window as the carriage began to slow. “I believe we are here.”
Blake didn’t rise to see for himself. He knew what Marisdùn Castle looked like. As long as it had a warm room and soft bed he didn’t care if it was haunted by two dozen ghosts. They just needed to leave him alone so he could rest until this episode passed.
The carriage rolled to a stop, and a moment later the driver opened the door. Blake jerked away from the bright light that flooded the interior of the carriage.
“You don’t look so well,” Thorn observed.
Blake waved him away. “I just need rest.” He pushed himself to the end of the seat and tried to stand. His legs protested and his body screamed in pain.
“Are you having an episode?” Thorn’s brow was marred with concern.
He could only give a slow nod before letting his head rest against the squabs.

* * *
Brighid Glace tied the strings of her bonnet beneath her chin. “I shan’t be long, grandmother.”
“Where are you off to?” the older woman asked from her chair beside the fire.
“I told you.” She offered the woman a loving smile. “I am to go into Ravenglass.”
“I don’t know why you can’t go into Tolbright,” grandmother grumbled. She never liked Ravenglass, and Brighid never understood why, except grandmother always claimed the people had strange ideas and superstitions.
Brighid grinned. “We can’t get Daphne Alcott’s rum butter in Tolbright, and I promised to bring Spikenard, Monk’s-Hood, and Horehound to Mrs. Small at Marisdùn Castle. They have none of their own left.” She paused in thought. “I should really see about harvesting the remaining herbs before winter sets in.” 
The older woman frowned deeply. “I don’t see why they can’t gather their own herbs. Besides, Ravenglass boasts a fine doctor.”
 “The servants don’t have the time to tend the garden, nor anyone who has learned the use and preparation of medicinals since the Widow Wythe passed.” Brighid chastised. “Besides, they don’t wish to send for Dr. Alcott each time one of them has a slight cough or minor injury, and our family were the healers at Marisdùn Castle long ago. It is only right we continue to help when asked.”
“Maybe you should teach someone so you aren’t running off there so often.”
Brighid bent to pick up her basket full of herbs. “That is exactly what I intend to do, if someone will agree.” Since the Widow Wythe passed on, Brighid had seen to the care of the medicinal garden nestled behind the kitchens and herbarium. It wasn’t part of the vast, carefully manicured and well-tended gardens on the rest of the grounds but a purposeful array of plants with no thought to color. They served to heal not to be viewed for their beauty. That isn’t to say it wasn’t a pretty garden. She loved sitting in the middle of it, on the flat, dark, round stone. There were a few benches at the edge, but she rarely sat there. For the oddest reason, the stone always warmed her, even on the coolest days.
“Just like your mother, off and about, nursing the sick when you should be tending your family,” her grandmother grumbled.
Brighid pursed her lips together to keep from responding. Her mother had been a healer. With only one doctor in the area, sometimes she had been needed to treat the ill and act as a midwife until the physician could arrive. It was just a shame that the one person her mother had been unable to help was her own husband. Her mother had not been the same after she could not cure the illness that caused father’s death and soon followed him to the grave. Brighid suspected it was more from a broken heart than anything else.
Besides, her grandmother did not need tending. The woman may be getting on in years, but she was strong, healthy, active, and possessed all her faculties, even if she could be unpleasant at times. It was she who did the cooking and most of the cleaning in their house. Her brother, Cavan, was home only long enough to eat and sleep. If he wasn’t working the land and dairy, he was in Torrington with his friends.
“Just don’t be long,” her grandmother insisted.
Brighid paused at the door and stared down into her basket.  She should take Wormwood. Had Mrs. Small requested this medicinal herb as well? She couldn’t recall but knew she needed to take it anyway. Brighid no longer questioned these odd sensations or thoughts. Her mother termed them a gift, and she listened to them every time.

Her Muse, Lord Patrick (Muses #1)

Lord Patrick Delaney promised to deliver an important message to his best friend’s sister, but promises are hard to keep when one becomes a ghost. After Patrick is attacked in the forest and tossed into a river, he is surprised to wake at the country estate where the lovely Miss Laura Chetwey is mourning the loss of her brother. Even more surprising, she seems to be the only person who can see or hear him, which should make his mission easy to complete… if only he could remember the message he is supposed to deliver. 

Laura’s brother has been missing for four months and she has come to believe he perished at sea. Taking refuge at her uncle’s estate, she tries to escape her grief by immersing herself in the imaginary world of fiction by penning a horrid novel. But the line between reality and make-believe becomes hard to distinguish when a handsome ghost arrives at Torrington Abbey to protect her and steals her heart in the process.

Trapped between the span of life and death, Patrick fears he will vanish forever once he remembers the news of Laura's brother. Will they ever have a chance to be together, or is the opportunity for love lost to them forever?

 Amazon     iBooks     Google Play     BN/Nook     Kobo     Smashwords

Her Muse, Lord Patrick
Copyright © 2014 by Jane Charles

February, 1815, Cumberland, England
Lord Patrick Delaney glanced up through the forest of trees to the darkening sky. He must reach Torrington Abbey before nightfall. The woods were treacherous enough in the light of day. The last thing he needed was his horse twisting a leg on an overgrown root. The further he traveled, the thicker the forest became until he could barely make out the sky above through the twisted arms of bare trees. If this were summer, or even spring, it would be nearly impossible to find what remained of the path. As it was, layer upon layer of dead, brown leaves carpeted the ground. Fog was moving in, and it was becoming difficult to see much beyond the trees closest to him. The rest were misted in white.
Patrick pulled his greatcoat tight and shivered. It wasn’t so much cold as it was damp, and this forest wasn’t the least bit comforting. In hindsight, the road would have been quicker, even if it added additional miles, but Patrick had a message to deliver and this path was more expedient to his destination.  
At least it should have been. What happened to the trail? It had been well-used and wide when he was last here. Were there no longer hunts at Torrington Abbey? The area was overrun with deer, rabbit, and pheasant. “A virtual hunter’s paradise.” 
A rustling ahead drew his attention. It was probably another animal.
His horse shied, and Patrick reached forward, patting her neck. Something spooked the old gel. He straightened, turned in his seat, and strained to see beyond the darkness and mist, listening for sounds that may not belong in a forest. He slipped a hand to the inside pocket of his jacket. The trusted knife was in place and he resumed holding the reins with both hands.
A chuckle escaped. He was being foolish and was no longer a lad, easily scared by a story of the ghost of Mad Marcus Miller roaming these woods. Those childhood fears, leftover from the days when he visited his best friend, Blake Chetwey, were what put him in this state. Everyone knew there was no such thing as a ghost. He was a grown man, and there was very little, if anything, he feared these days.
Cautiously he continued toward his destination. A deer shot out in front of him and his horse reared. Patrick tightly grasped the reins and held his seat. As the horse’s hooves thumped back against the ground, Patrick let out a nervous laugh. Heart pounding, he nudged the mare forward. One would think after his sea voyage that had been plagued with storms, illnesses, and general bad luck, natural forest noises wouldn’t raise the hair on the back of his neck.     
He was simply tired. He hadn’t rested once the ship had docked in Liverpool but had hired a horse and started the journey immediately, only to learn that Miss Laura Chetwey, Blake’s younger sister, was no longer at the family home in Cheshire but residing at Torrington Abbey in Cumberland, with her aunt and uncle. He had been traveling for three days, sleeping only when necessary and for short periods of time. The urgency of this trip couldn’t be ignored. Blake’s sister needed to be told what had happened to her brother.
It was strange that, in all the years he and Blake had been friends, Patrick had never met Miss Chetwey. That would be rectified tonight.
An owl hooted above, and there was rustling in the leaves to the left. At the snap of a branch from behind, Patrick sat straighter in his saddle. He pulled up when a bearded man appeared on the path in front of him, a tree limb clutched in his right hand. Patrick reached inside his jacket, but before he could grab the knife he was struck from behind. The crack against bone sent pain shooting through his left arm and deep into his shoulder. Patrick clenched his jaw against the searing pain and held tightly to the reins as his horse danced and bucked. He peered down at a third filthy attacker who was brandishing a make-shift weapon. The first weapon-bearing imbecile ran toward him.
Patrick fought to hold his seat while they struck him from all directions and landed blows against his back, thighs and arms. His mare just needed an opening to bolt from this madness. Instead, the mare reared again. Patrick lost his grip and slid from the back of the animal, landing on his arse. Despite the dizzying blows, he struggled to his feet and pulled the knife from his pocket while backing away from the three bearded and unkempt miscreants. His mare shot off in the direction he had just ridden and left him with no means of a quick escape. At the last moment, he turned and ran. He was not in a position to take on all three and suspected his left arm was broken from the earlier blow.   
His feet were sure and steady as he raced away, jumping logs, avoiding roots, and gritting his teeth against the sharp, jabbing pain in his arm and shoulder each time his booted foot slammed against the ground. The rushing river appeared before him, and he stopped short, almost toppling face forward in the churning water.   
“Bollocks.” Normally it was an easy swim, and he could have made it with one arm, but the recent rain had left the river swollen and treacherous. Patrick didn’t dare chance it now. He tested his arm by lifting it. Pain sliced through the bicep after just a few inches. He would never be able to fight the current.
He turned back and glanced to his left then his right, trying to determine which way to go. The brigands emerged from the forest to block all options of escape.   
Patrick brandished the knife before him. The battle may be lost but he was not going out without a fight.    
All three men rushed him at once. A branch connected with his gut then his other shoulder, jarring the knife from his hand, before another limb was slammed against his skull.  
Patrick crumbled and fought the waves of darkness that threatened to engulf him as he was kicked in the belly, back, and head. Two of the brigands searched his pockets while the third removed his boots and then his greatcoat. When they were finished taking what they wanted, the three lifted Patrick and tossed him in the river. Cold, wet darkness engulfed him.

* * *
“I do wish you would join us at the assembly, dear.” 
Miss Laura Chetwey glanced up at her loving aunt, a small woman of five and forty, gentle smile, and black hair with just a few wisps of gray. “You know it isn’t right that I participate in a public event, especially an assembly.”
Aunt Ivy pursed her lips then sighed. “We do not know what has become of your brother.”
“His ship was due four months ago.” Laura stood and paced before the large fireplace in the library of Torrington Abbey. “And there has been absolutely no news.”
“That doesn’t mean.  .  .”
Laura wheeled around. “Then I should expect my parents to walk through the front door any day as well. Perhaps they simply stopped somewhere on their way home from Ireland for five year long visit.”
Tears formed in her aunt’s eyes, and Laura immediately regretted her tone. “I’m sorry, Aunt Ivy.”
“We know their ship sank in a storm. Others witnessed it,” her aunt gently reminded her.
Laura allowed her shoulders to slump, and she looked down at the gold and red carpet. “I know.” Her words were barely a whisper.
“But you go on as if Blake is dead. You’ve been wearing half-morning since Christmas.”
“It should be full mourning. I only bowed to your wishes in that.”
“Until there is news there should be no mourning at all.” There was firmness in her aunt’s tone that Laura rarely heard, but she could not give in on this argument. Wearing any other color was disrespectful to her brother. It wasn’t right to go on as if all was as it should be, or wear pretty dresses and dance. If her brother wasn’t dead, he would have arrived in London in October as scheduled, or at the very least, sent a letter explaining his delay. But he hadn’t. There was nothing – not a word from him. “I will remain in gray and lavender until I know for certain one way or the other,” Laura insisted.
“Your brother will not be happy to learn you’re avoiding society.”
Laura fisted a hand against her aching heart in remembrance of Blake’s last letter, sent a month prior to his scheduled departure from Barbados. I expect you to have settled on a gentleman when I return, and he should be anxiously waiting to ask permission for your hand. I will not support you forever. He was teasing, in this she knew. Before he left there had been offers of marriage. Blake could have married her off to any of the gentlemen, but he was concerned that she be happy as well.   
“I’ll discuss it with him when he returns, and perhaps he will learn to be more diligent in his correspondence.” A rush of tears came to her eyes. Blake wasn’t going to come back, and the only family left was her aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Torrington. Two months ago, her uncle had assumed guardianship because at the age of twenty she was not at liberty to make her own decisions, and Uncle Edmond refused to allow Laura to remain in her family home in Cheshire with only servants and a companion to watch over her. Laura had rarely visited Torrington Abbey. However, Blake had been practically raised here in preparation of inheriting the earldom from his uncle one day. As her aunt and uncle had not been blessed with children of their own, Blake was the heir. Unlike Blake, Laura did not like this place. It was far too dark, dreary, and damp for her taste.
“Are we ready to depart? We need to be finished with the drive before it grows dark. ”
Laura glanced at her uncle as he came through the door. He’d aged twenty years in the last five, ever since his younger brother and sister-in-law died. His hair was completely white, and wrinkles ran deep on his gaunt face. His health had declined as well, and Laura knew he feared Blake was dead, even if he never admitted so to her.   
He took in Laura’s appearance. “Lavender!” he grumbled, whirled, and stalked out the door. Uncle Edmond probably wanted to marry her off, before official word of her brother’s death arrived, so she wouldn’t have to remain here an additional six months to a year. She expected his sudden interest in taking up her guardianship was to force her to London in April to enjoy the Season.
“Have a pleasant evening, dear.” Aunt Ivy leaned forward and brushed her lips across Laura’s cheek. “Don’t stay up late. We will return in the morning. ”
The door clicked behind her aunt, and Laura turned and studied the room. What to do now? She glided over to the bookshelves and began reading titles, again. She had read the spines so often these past few weeks that they were practically memorized, but she was still hopeful there was one book among them she had not read.   
Treatises would bore her but came in handy when she couldn’t sleep. The same could be said for poetry. Though Keats wrote lovely prose, it wasn’t her choice for enjoyable reading.   What she needed was another horrid novel. Her aunt and uncle had so few, and she had already read them. There was little excitement in reading a novel when one knew the ending.
With a sigh she spun from the bookshelf and made her way to the window overlooking the gardens sheltered by three walls of the U-shaped sixteenth century abbey. Lights were lit on the upper floors of the west wing, where the servants resided. The floor below housed the family apartments where Laura had been given a set of rooms. In stark contrast, the upper floors of the east wing were completely black, void of any light or movement. Did her aunt and uncle close off the wing because only the two of them lived here and had so few visitors? 
If this abbey were in a horrid novel then a specter would surely wander about the vacant chambers. Perhaps she should investigate. Why, there could be a poor soul trapped inside who had the answers to all the secrets, such as what became of her brother.    
Laura sighed and turned away from the window. Even if there was a ghost trapped inside, he or she would have no knowledge of her brother since they had been, well, trapped.  
There was a scratch at the door before it slowly opened. Laura held her breath. Her imaginings of ghosts had her waiting for an apparition to float through the opening. Instead, it was Mildred, the young housemaid, quiet as a mouse and slow as a tortoise, carrying a tray with tea and cakes.
“Good evening, miss.” Mildred bobbed a curtsey The china rattled on the silver tray at the slight tilt but settled once placed upon the small table.   
“Mildred,” Laura began. “Is there anything of interest in the east wing?”
The maid’s brown eyes grew wide for a moment. “No, miss.”
“Why is it kept shut?” Laura settled into one of the velvet upholstered Elizabethan chairs before the table.
 “The…, um…draft.” Mildred busied her hands straightening a napkin that didn’t need to be folded.  
Laura’s lips quirked into a smile. Why didn’t Mildred simply tell her the family was too small, or it was too much upkeep for the staff, or something reasonable? But drafty? “I think I would like to explore.”
All color drained from the maid’s face. “Oh, no, miss. That’s not a good idea. ”
“Why ever not?” Laura chuckled. “What horrible secrets are hidden in the east wing?”
Mildred narrowed her eyes and looked about as if to make sure nobody was listening, which was rather odd since it was just the two of them in the room, before she leaned over and whispered. “It is haunted, miss.”
Laura burst out laughing. “Have you been reading my uncle’s horrid novels?”
The maid slumped and lowered her chin. “I can’t read, Miss Chetwey, but I’m telling you the truth,” she whispered earnestly.
“Have you seen this ghost, or is there more than one?” Laura tried to be serious, but the idea of a real ghost was ridiculous. Everyone knew there was no such thing. Not even in a century’s old abbey such as Torrington. They existed only within the pages of horrid novels and fanciful imaginations.
“No, but I’ve heard.”
“Gossip or stories made up to keep people entertained. The Abbey does have a rich history of unexplained deaths, murder, and disappearances.”
“There is a ghost,” Mildred insisted.
“Then who does the ghost belong to?” Laura bit her upper lip to keep from smiling. She didn’t wish Mildred to think she was laughing at her, but truthfully the idea was ridiculous.
Again, Mildred looked around the room as if she expected someone else to be there, before she sank into the opposite seat and leaned forward. “They say it is the third earl of Torrington,” she whispered.
As her uncle was the seventh earl, that would be four generations ago, approximately from the seventeenth century. Laura had never been good with remembering the years each earl had been alive.
“He was killed by Mad Marcus Miller,” Mildred anxiously continued in a hushed tone.
Laura remembered hearing about Mad Marcus when she was a child.   
“Stabbed the earl, he did, in the east wing then ran into the forest.”
The story was coming back to her now. The king’s men hunted Mad Marcus Miller down, killed him, cut him to pieces, then scattered his body among the trees. He’s been haunting the woods ever since.
“So, we have a ghost in the east wing and another in the forest?”
Mildred nodded, eyes wide, face pale with fright.   
This was ridiculous. “When did anyone last see the ghost in the east wing?”
Mildred straightened and blinked. “I don’t know, miss. The wing has been closed for nigh on a hundred years.”
“So, he may be gone.” Laura slapped her hands down on her thighs.
The maid’s head flinched back. “Where would he have gone?”
“To the ever after.” Laura raised an eyebrow and pointed up, then gestured toward the floor, and shrugged. “Whichever it may be.”
“Do you really think so, Miss Chetwey?” Mildred asked anxiously.
“Why don’t we investigate and see if he is still with us?” 
Any color the maid may have regained in the last few moments disappeared. Mildred stood hastily, twisting the apron with her hands. “I don’t think that is a very good idea.”
“Come on, Mildred.” Laura jumped to her feet and grinned. “It will be grand fun.”
Mildred backed away, edging toward the door. “I have work to do, miss.” She turned and bolted out of the room as if the hounds of hell were at her heels. Laura hadn’t thought Mildred had it in her to move so quickly.
A chuckle escaped her and she leaned forward to pour herself a cup of tea. “Haunted indeed.”
She glanced toward the window again and sipped her tea. The east wing intrigued her.  What might she find hidden away for the past one hundred years? As the west wing where the family resided was in sturdy condition, Laura reasoned the east wing would not be in disrepair.  If it were, wouldn’t the walls be crumbling by now?
She wandered to the window and studied the structure. Not even a window was broken, and the roof was level and even as it should be. She drank the tea and set the cup back on the table. “Why not see if the old earl is still roaming about?” 
After lifting a smaller lamp, Laura walked into the hall and up the long stairway before continuing down the corridor leading to the east wing. A dark, wide door blocked the entrance. With a deep breath she reached forward and turned the handle.
Her heart hammered as the door creaked open. The hinges probably hadn’t been oiled in years either. 
Laura took a step inside. Cool air enveloped her almost immediately. She shivered. Raising the lamp, she set her trepidation aside and walked forward. As with the west wing, it began with a short corridor of paintings, long enough for a large bedroom before one reached the end and turned onto a longer hall.  She paused at the end and held her lamp higher. Darkness and silence waited for her beyond the reach of the pool of illumination.  
What lay down the corridor and behind the doors? Had the rooms remained untouched for several decades because the servants and families were afraid to come in here? Or, were they simply stories and the reason the wing was shut up was because only a husband and wife resided at the Abbey?
It didn’t matter and Laura couldn’t wait to explore. She started with the rooms opposite the garden and opened them one by one. There was nothing but bedchambers, eight to be exact, all arranged similarly to the west wing. The only difference was this bedding had been removed, the furniture covered in cloths, and curtains shut against any sun. Laura stopped at the end of the hall and looked back. No light shone from where she’d come. She paused and listened. Not a sound. She was quite alone in this wing of the house. Apparently the former earl had vacated, or he was very quiet and didn’t mind her invading his wing. “If I had been locked up for nigh on a hundred years, I wouldn’t mind company either.” 
She crossed the hall and opened another door. Instead of a bedroom, a set of stone steps curved down. They probably would take her to the ground floor of this wing. Laura pulled the door closed and moved onto the next room. It was another bedchamber. And so it continued until she came to the fourth door. The room was smaller and did not have a bed. She stepped inside to investigate. The shadow of a candle fell across the desk, which she lit from her lamp. Another sat on a table by the door and soon Laura had enough light to see the room more clearly than the others. It was an office. A small one for a lady, judging by the delicacy of the desk. A shelf of books rested on the far wall and a thick layer of dust covered the entire room. Cobwebs laced between corners and from ledges to the floor. Under the window was what she assumed to be a settee, given the draping of the cloth and a small fireplace took up the center inside wall.   
Laura continued her examination of the room and ideas formed, one after the other. She pulled the chair out and settled at the desk. Both were of a perfect height, and she couldn’t stop her smile.