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.*
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.