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Authors: Karolyn Cairns

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BOOK: The Ghost Who Loved Me
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Percy crawled from beneath the table and crept back towards the chair, looking around in alarm, ready to run in all haste, staring at the throw pillows suspiciously. Elizabeth gave James a warning look as the man once more took his seat.

“Now, we must search the castle,” Elizabeth began, tempted to swat James who mimicked her voice in falsetto. “There are many clues here that I already found. Somewhere in them lies the key to him being free of this place. You will have ample time to acquaint yourselves with the grounds. If you have any questions or reservations, voice them now, gentlemen.”

Daniel cleared his throat, looking at her strangely. “How could you possibly know what this ghost wants, Your Grace?”

“Because James speaks to me,” Elizabeth said simply to the man’s incredulous look. “And I can see him.”

“You can see him now?” Arthur looked prepared to dive back under the table. “He’s here, right now, you say?”

Elizabeth pointed in front of her to where James now stood glowering at her. “He’s right there. And you have nothing at all to fear. He won’t harm you. I promise you that you are safe. He needs our help. You won’t hurt them, will you James?” She regarded him with a slight scowl. “If you mean to say no, put the pillow back where it goes.” Elizabeth smiled in pleasure as the toss pillow floated back to where it belonged, next to Daniel, who jumped as it was placed at his side. She ignored both men’s dumbstruck expressions and calmly sipped her tea. “Thank you, James.”

~ ~ ~

“How much do you plan to tell them about what happened to me?” James regarded her with a scowl as he reclined on her bed while she sat brushing her long sable curls before retiring that night. “I thought you meant to keep the fact that Westerleigh is in the hands of an imposter a secret?”

Elizabeth met his troubled gaze in the mirror and paused in her brushing, setting the brush aside on her vanity table. “I will tell them as little as I have to, but enough to help us. Daniel can be trusted. I don’t know Mr. Percy well enough. For that, I think we should maintain you died in 1564 as all think, don’t you agree?”

“They might find nothing down there.”

She smiled sadly at his forlorn expression. “What can it hurt to allow them to try? Already they are set to explore the caves tomorrow.”

James scowled at her reminder. “I cannot go down there. Do you wonder at the possible reason for it?”

Elizabeth shivered slightly, fear entering her eyes. “You said there were no other ghosts here?”

“No other that I know of,” James interjected darkly. “I can’t protect you down there, Elizabeth. Don’t go with them. I beg you.”

“I think we can agree the three of us are far better off than those two alone, James. I’m not afraid.”

James stood and moved, floating before her, his silver eyes filled with unease as he reached out to touch her cheek, making the fine hairs on her neck bristle. “If anything should happen to you, I would gladly be damned here for eternity.”

“We have to go down there, James. If some force in this castle is keeping you out it is for a reason. We have to try.”

“The passages are difficult to navigate, if memory serves,” James told her quietly. “I used to play in them when I was a boy. They are a maze. Always turn to the right on the way in, and to the left going out. You could become hopelessly lost if not. All lead in different directions and some dead end.”

“What were they used for?”

“It was a dungeon in my time. Later, it was an escape route used during enemy attacks. The passages were closed off centuries ago. The men will need hammers to take down all of the brick walls blocking the openings.”

“What do you think we will find down there?” Elizabeth was wide-eyed, her imagination working over in her mind.

“I don’t know, Elizabeth. What I do know is that I read of Isabelle’s grandson going down there once and came up very quickly. He was very distraught and demanded the tunnels be closed off immediately. I never learned what the man saw or found down there. He claimed to his wife it was unsafe. The servants blocked it off after that.”

Elizabeth stifled her reservations to open the catacombs the following morning, shaking off the fear she felt inside. “We have little choice in it. We found nothing more in the tower to explain what Isabelle did to you that night. Whatever is down there might unlock this mystery.”

James stared at her with an inscrutable expression. “Or you may just let out whatever could be imprisoned down there. Have you thought of that?”

“I’m doing this for you, James, to finally right this wrong,” Elizabeth said in a confidant tone despite her inner turmoil. “I refuse to allow fear to keep me from getting to the truth.”

“Fear might be all there is to keep you alive, Elizabeth,” James replied coldly making her flinch. “What do you think holds this castle captive? What holds me here? I can assure you that monster is not at all like me. I haven’t the power to do as it does.”

Elizabeth grew paler at his harsh words. “Percy has studied the Welsh legends at length. He says we have no way of knowing what demon Isabelle might have summoned that night. She might not have known! And I hardly think it was Satan, as Father Brannigan believes. We have to try!”

James glared down at her. “You will have Lenore’s lock of hair on your person at all times. I can only hope it might allow you to see what is down there. If I’m right you have some advantage over it. It can’t control the living as far as I can tell.”

“You believe there is some other presence down there, don’t you?” Elizabeth saw his face become grim and swallowed hard.

“I could be wrong in what I think is down there. I don’t think I am. It all makes sense.”

“What do you mean?”

“One of your husband’s ancestors awakened me nearly a hundred years after that night. It was during the excavation for the wine cellar he wanted built,” James explained grimly. “It stands to reason something else was also awakened.”

“But how could that be? I don’t understand. You died in the clearing. Your heart was placed in the tower.” She stared at him searchingly. “You think your body is buried down there don’t you?”

“All I know is that I died horribly in one moment. The next moment I wake up as if from a dream to find strangers living in my home. I knew none of them. I then learn they are Isabelle’s grandchildren. She was long dead, the imposter along with her. I can’t tell you where I was all those missing years. I can only tell you whatever force resides in this castle with us is as restrained as I am since we were both awoken.”

“Why can it not move about the rest of the castle as you do?”

“For the same reason I cannot go into the east tower or the passages below. It is trapped. It shows its strength by controlling every other facet of this castle, but as yet I’ve never seen it have any power over the living.”

“But it may be able to harm us if we go below,” Elizabeth concluded with a shuddering breath. “But if that is true, why didn’t it try to harm me in the tower?”

James eyed her gravely. “That I don’t know. I think whatever Isabelle’s grandson did while he was down there keeps it where it is, as it keeps me. If you free me, you free it as well, Elizabeth. That is my only fear should you run into peril. I’ll not be able to get to you. You will have only that bumbling pair of idiots for your safety.”

“I will take care, James,” Elizabeth promised, tears gleaming in her eyes. “I spoke with Mrs. Abbot and ordered a private supper in my room tomorrow night. I asked her to make all of your favorites. I retrieved your favorite wine from the cellar.”

“I need only you,” James assured her gruffly. “Can you not put off exploring the tunnels for another time?”

Elizabeth smiled tearfully. “Nothing will keep me from sharing those hours with you.”

James smiled gently down at her, the power of his gaze sliding her nightgown strap off one shoulder and then the other. The garment fell to her feet. His silver gaze burned with an intensity she never saw before. His hands shook with the longing to touch her nakedness as they reached out, the ghostly appendages encircling her instead.

James took Elizabeth to her bed and lay down next to her. She stared into his solemn face, her eyes clinging to his. No words were necessary as his ghostly lips sought hers.

Chapter Fifteen

 

Percy and Daniel met her in the wine cellar the next morning, both dressed in old clothes and armed with heavy sledge hammers. The footmen agreed to help knock down the first wall barring the passage.

Elizabeth took pity on them and allowed them the choice to accompany them any further inside. She wasn’t surprised when they all declined to go, all white-faced with fear.

James was watching their progress with a furrowed brow, pacing back and forth in the wine cellar. His eyes were filled with concern as they met hers, the loud sounds of hammering filling the air as the bricks were chipped away at.

The footmen easily knocked down the first obstacle in under an hour. The three of them took oil lanterns with them inside and lit them, coughing from the heavy dust blanketing the air.

James stood at the threshold, his heart in his eyes as they met hers. “Take no chances with yourself, Elizabeth. Your life is more important than some bloody clue.”

His expression was grim as he watched her retreat with Daniel and Percy further inside the passage. They walked nearly a hundred yards and came to another brick barrier.

Elizabeth watched with a scarf covering her nose and mouth. The pair of them beat furiously at the wall, all the while her heart hammered within her chest, fear making her gaze about in every dark crevice of the tunnel. They easily knocked through it after a few moments. The aged bricks crumbled into dust at their feet.

Elizabeth followed them deeper inside, reminding them to keep to the right at all times on the way in as James instructed her. They went deeper, going further underground, the air becoming thinner. They all coughed and covered their mouths with handkerchiefs as they turned down twisting, winding passages.

They found one more barrier and made short work of it. Elizabeth saw both men seemed less enthusiastic now. Percy was notably quiet, his eyes darting around at the least little sound.

She forced herself to not turn around and run as they heard the scurrying sounds echoing within the catacombs. She drew a ragged gasp as she felt something run across her booted foot, feeling faint to know it was indeed a rat.

“After we go inside this last passage, you might wish to turn back, Your Ladyship,” Daniel said as he held up his lantern, illuminating his own growing unease. “Your grandmother scares me more than anything down here should some harm befall you.”

“Nonsense,” Elizabeth assured him. “We will all stay together. Let’s go. Stay to the right all the way down. Should we become separated, you stay to the left all the way back up.”

“Daniel is right, Lady Westerleigh,” Percy interjected gruffly. “We cannot in all conscience allow you to come any further with us. We will do the rest of the evidence gathering. You can wait for us here or go back up.”

“I’m coming with you!” Elizabeth regarded them both huffily. “I’m not some ninny who would faint dead away at the first sign of trouble, I assure you! May I remind you, it was I who brought you here? We do this together or not at all.”

“Take this then,” Percy insisted and handed her a small drawstring bag. “It contains rock salt. If you become cornered or are chased, you need only put down a thin barrier of salt around you. The demon will retreat.”

Elizabeth eyed the bag skeptically as she accepted it. “Does that truly work?”

Percy swallowed hard. “I haven’t tested the theory. It’s in all the old writings I’ve read. Another substance ghosts and demons despise is gunpowder. They cannot cross such a barrier.”

“Perhaps we need not have to use it at all,” Elizabeth replied and gulped, putting the salt into her apron pocket. “What else offends them? I would know before we go any deeper.”

“Crucifixes don’t hold them off as the church might think. That is just a myth,” Percy told her as he warmed to his subject as they continued their progress downward. “But it all depends on your particular demon. They’re all quite gullible, you see. I also brought holy water in small vials just as a precaution. The ghoul need never know it came from the wash room pitcher. You can trick them in that way. They also lie quite dreadfully, M’lady. Do not believe anything the demon says or shows you. They can play tricks on your mind.”

“And how many demons have you dealt with before now, Percy?” Elizabeth was grateful for the conversation for it took her mind off spiders, rats, and other creepy crawling things around them.

“This qualifies as just my first case,” Percy admitted and ducked his head and continued walking.

Daniel made a disgusted noise behind him. “You said you were an expert at this!”

“Who can ever be a bloody expert at this, Daniel?” Percy turned back and rolled his eyes in disgust. “Until now, I thought it all superstitious folklore. But who shall be the expert after this day?” He grinned and poked his thin chest proudly. “You’re looking at him!”

Elizabeth gritted her teeth, not feeling the least bit reassured by him. She followed the two men deeper into the passage, holding her lantern aloft to see Daniel painstakingly dropping something at his feet with every step he took.

“What are you doing there?”

Daniel held up a small bag of fresh hay from the barn. “Just in case we get lost I leave us a trail. I take no chances with your safety, M’lady. Lady Eldora can be as frightening as any demon when she is crossed. Lady Margot is no easier.”

Elizabeth smiled at the mention of her grandmother and mother, reminded of the information she requested from him in Yorkshire.

“Now that James isn’t about to hear us, what did you learn of Lenore Hampton in your research?”

Daniel looked away from her searching gaze and cleared his throat uncomfortably. “It was not a happy ending as we hoped for, I fear. I also had no luck in finding out who her parents were. That can only mean one thing. I suspect she was of royal blood.”

“You are certain of it?”

Daniel nodded quickly. “The very fact she grew up in King Henry’s household all of her life tells me she was his child by one of his many mistresses. And he did arrange her marriage to the Earl of Huntingdon, a girl with no great family name or inheritance? That was the way of it back then with a royal by-blow. I doubt she was ever told the truth.” Daniel appeared uneasy to tell the rest of the tale.

“What became of her after that? I must know.”

Daniel stopped walking, forcing Percy to stop. “She married Huntingdon in November of 1546. Six months later she gave birth to a son. Francis Hastings became enraged to know she carried another man’s child when they wed. It was said he beat her to death in a drunken rage soon after the child was born. Huntingdon was held in the Tower of London for a few months but acquitted of murder when it was learned of her apparent adultery as they were pre-contracted to marry. She refused to ever admit who the father was. He married another woman rather quickly on the heels of this. Lenore’s son was fostered out to a family. It was all kept quiet. I have yet to find out what became of the child. I can already tell you that will be impossible. It isn’t happy news I bring you. I thought it best to avoid saying such in a letter.”

They continued walking ahead of her, soon forcing Elizabeth to catch up as she lingered there in shock. She felt a pang of sadness to know Lenore fared no better in her life than James, dying so tragically and so young. Their son was lost to them. She bit her lip, feeling tears burning behind her eyes, deciding not to tell him this terrible news.

It was better to say Daniel had no success in finding out what happened to Lenore at all to lessen the blow. To know James’ son was discarded to strangers would enrage him and no doubt hurt him far worse than he already had been. It was too late to change the past. The truth would only torment him more.

~ ~ ~

James heard all that was said below, feeling like he received a hard kick to his midsection. Elizabeth often forgot he could hear everything said within the castle walls. A fine sheen of moisture blinded his eyes for a moment to learn of Lenore’s sad fate and that of their son.

Fury filled him to think of Francis Hastings beating Lenore to death in one of his notorious drunken rages, making the bottles of wine on the racks next to him begin to rattle and shake warningly. The fact King Henry gave Lenore to a powerful earl alone made him question her parentage at once.

His eyes filled with bitterness to realize Henry would have never consented for them to wed. Making a foundling a duchess was unheard of. That would have only made those who questioned the girl’s mysterious origins ask the very same question of who fathered her.

Sir William might have only been only a baron, but his wife was Katherine Parr’s closest friend. His marrying Isabelle was never called into question. Lenore was quite another matter.

But if she was indeed Henry’s daughter, she would have merited a noble match. Huntingdon was new to his title and likely agreed when pressured by his king, never asking the obvious question of who she was.

The hurt James felt was nothing next to the anger, the helpless rage to know he completely failed Lenore that fateful day. Another torment was to know they conceived a child that summer, one that was cast off in shame, as Lenore herself was cast off onto the queen’s household long ago.

The sorrow that accompanied such news made him sink to his knees, having no strength to remain upright any longer. Lenore would have only been twenty years of age when she died, the sting of such an injustice made him want to rage the castle down around him.

By the time all of this tragedy took place, King Henry was already dead, thinking his beloved illegitimate daughter was well-provided for. He likely made no provisions for Lenore in his will, nor would he have ever shared such a secret with any of his other children, or even Thomas Cramner for that matter.

Edward Seymour was appointed Protector of the Realm until his nephew came of age. He likely saw Huntingdon as an ally for himself at Court and pressured for his acquittal at the trial.

And his son? What became of him?

Rage made his silver eyes darken like storm clouds to think of his son fostered in some unknown household, treated like a servant his whole life, never knowing who his parents were.

The unfairness of it all made him shake, his ghostly image rippling. He was forced to remind himself it was far too late for this burning regret that boiled and festered within his soul.

James shook uncontrollably to accept he could never turn his horse around that fateful day and go back to her, damning all of the consequences to do what his heart commanded. That part of his life was irrevocably over. It was destroyed forever by the evil that was Isabelle.

~ ~ ~  

Simon read the letter and cursed under his breath. The others were growing impatient. The demand that he and Edward go to Westerleigh and finish this was made very clear. He knew were he to go through with Edward’s plan, this would never end.

The only reason his partners in this were held off all of these months was because of this very fact. Without an heir, Edward would lose Westerleigh. It would happen in less than two years and they would have nothing on which to blackmail him for. Simon thought such news would stop the plan to extort Edward.

No, it had quite the exact opposite effect.

His partners arrived at the very same conclusion. Elizabeth Carlisle needed to have a child and soon. When she failed to take lovers or give in to Wakefield they came back to the only solution.

He would have to sire her child.

Simon stood at the window of his room at Carlisle Place and felt fury, balling the letter into his fist. At the very least, he could confess his own guilt in this to Edward and let all happen as it would, but a part of him couldn’t allow his lover to learn of his betrayal.

The illness was progressing just as the doctor said it would. Now Edward’s body was becoming seriously affected. Edward could no more summon the energy for his morning walks as he could to get up the stairs at times.

His hands very definitely shook, a sign the wasting of his limbs was happening rapidly. Soon, he would be bedridden, unable to even feed himself.

Simon knew if he went through with this plan to father Edward’s heir, Elizabeth would be paying his partners off for the rest of her days, and her child, if it were a son, even longer. There seemed to be no way of avoiding going to Westerleigh.

He smiled sadly to think Edward had already forgotten about their travel plans. He manipulated his companion to believe they planned to go abroad for a time. Edward forgot about all of it just as Simon knew he would.

This very definite threat, coming from the other players in this prompted him to go to Westerleigh, but he would do nothing to further their cause. Edward was failing faster than the doctor predicted. Soon, Edward would remember nothing. Simon could avoid seeing the pain he caused before Edward forgot him too.

~ ~ ~

Elizabeth followed Daniel and Percy for nearly an hour, wondering how deep these catacombs went when they arrived to a large round opening at the end of the shaft. They all held their lanterns aloft. Elizabeth muttered a prayer under her breath, covering her mouth in silent horror.

Forged into the walls were hundreds of human skulls and bones. They all looked in dismay to see a rock slab in the center of the room, with rusted chains where Isabelle performed her sacrifices was present. The old bones left there to rot still lay there.

BOOK: The Ghost Who Loved Me
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