Read The Ghost Who Loved Me Online

Authors: Karolyn Cairns

The Ghost Who Loved Me (3 page)

BOOK: The Ghost Who Loved Me
5.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“I don’t believe you! You are mean and cruel and only want to hurt me!” Tears sprang into her eyes, her heart seized with a sudden fierce pain.

Edward eyed her pityingly. “Say what you will of Mr. Ives, but at least I have no doubt of his loyalty and affection for me, while you’ve ruined yourself for some grubbing fortune hunter, Elizabeth. Dry your ridiculous tears. We wouldn’t want the servants to talk any more than they already have today. Go home and see to your packing. And if you think to cross me in some way, think well about your family and Mr. Wakefield’s reputations. I can destroy them all with a word.”

Elizabeth left the study in a flurry of skirts, rushing passed Mr. Phipps as he opened the front door for her. She was blinded by a veil of tears as she went down the stone steps and into her waiting coach. She held her composure until the conveyance drew away from the curb to burst into desolate sobs.

~ ~ ~

The maid eyed her mistress in concern and set down the tea tray on a table in front of the fireplace, closing the door to her bedchamber, stepping passed the many trunks and boxes to reach her side. She held a folded note in her hands.

“Mr. Wakefield sent another note after he was refused at the door once more today, Your Ladyship,” Annie began softly, her face wreathed in concern in the face of her lady’s obvious grief. “What do you wish me to do?”

Elizabeth rolled over in her bed, clothed only in a cotton shift, her pretty face puffy and red from crying. “Tear up the note at once! I don’t wish to read it! If he comes back again, tell him I’ve gone out and you do not know when I’ll return.”

“Are you sure of this, Your Ladyship?” Annie appeared uncertain, the outstretched note clutched in her hand.

Elizabeth bit her lip, squeezing her eyes shut tightly. “Just do it, Annie! We depart tomorrow. I see no need to make a scene before we leave.”

Annie walked to her bedside in determination. “My lady, I’d never think it my place to be saying it, but Mr. Wakefield deserves better than to be ignored at a time like this. Won’t ye even speak to the man and hear him out?”

“What do I say to him?” Elizabeth wailed and rolled over, clutching a sodden handkerchief. “His Lordship has seen to it whatever we could have had is now over. I’ll not let him ruin Anthony’s life by provoking an action we would all come to regret. If it is true Mr. Wakefield is to marry soon, I see no need to stand in his way. It is for the best we part.”

“But it is you he loves, my lady, and you him,” Annie replied earnestly, reaching out to pat her hand. “Won’t ye just see him before we leave? I like Mr. Wakefield. He’s a decent man, my lady. Ye can’t just listen to His Lordship in this! Look where the man sends us! And all over some foul scheme of that bounder of a footman working for Lady Grifford.”

“It would do no good to inform Edward that Mr. Wakefield wasn’t even at Lady Grifford’s home,” Elizabeth said sorrowfully, wiping away her tears and blowing her nose. “We have been seen enough about town in one another’s company. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t true and I went to bed quite alone that night. Mr. Wakefield and I are guilty of association, I fear. It is I who is at fault for encouraging him these last few months.”

“But you love him, my lady!”

“Don’t you see it is hopeless, Annie? We cannot be together! I am married and he must marry as well! I don’t wish to discuss it further!”

“Why is His Lordship doing this to you, my lady?” Annie stared at her with a fearful look. “I’ve heard what they say of Westerleigh! They tell of ghosts clamoring in the halls at all hours! It’s haunted by the ghost of James Carlisle, they say.”  Her voice lowered to a mere whisper then. “They even say his ghost roams the hall in the night, that he seduces every lady who has ever lain under its roof!”

Elizabeth sniffled at the girl’s hysterical outburst. “That is utter nonsense, Annie. What rubbish is this? Who told you such ghastly tales? I warrant it only to scare you half to death. There are no such things as ghosts. Westerleigh Castle is quite old but it is hardly haunted by its former master. I have read all of the histories and accounts of these ghost stories. I think it all just talk and silly superstition.”

“Mrs. Fergus, the housekeeper who works at Carlisle Place, once served at Westerleigh when she was just a girl, my lady,” Annie insisted worriedly and bit her lip in dismay. “She said it’s all true, that the ghost preys upon virtuous ladies in the night. Many a female in the household over the years has received a visit from the ghost. He had his way with them! She said he makes trouble for all those who come and seek to stay. He drives them mad until they leave. Why do you think His Lordship means to sell the place?”

Elizabeth’s head swiveled sharply at her words. “His Lordship means to sell Westerleigh? How do you know of this?”

Annie fidgeted nervously under her prompting stare. “I can’t tell you how I know because I swore not to say. It was overheard at Carlisle Place. That awful Mr. Ives told His Lordship the estates were naught but a burden. His Lordship was talking of a price with a man, an agent fellow handling the sale. His Lordship was in quite a state of excitement after the man left.”

“These silly tales won’t likely help His Lordship if he means to sell Westerleigh, Annie. And besides, he cannot sell Westerleigh. The castle is entailed with the title.” Elizabeth got up and allowed her maid to help her slide on a silk robe. “There will be no more talk of ghostly seducers in the night or neither of us will sleep a wink, is that clear? Are you all packed?” The girl shook her head. “I suggest you see to that. I rang Elsie to attend to my bath. You are free to go to see to your own packing and make your final farewells to the rest of the staff.”

“There is something more, my lady,” the maid ventured timidly. “Poor Miss Weathers was denied a proper reference from His Lordship. She has no place to go when the house is closed. Without a decent reference she won’t find another position. Can ye do nothing for her at all?”

Elizabeth grimaced, forgetting all about her paid companion getting sacked in her own present sorrow. “Tell her I shall write her a glowing reference before she leaves. She can stay on until she finds other employment. Tell her I think it best she seek a position out of the city so His Lordship doesn’t learn of it.”

Annie looked relieved. “The woman has been fearfully low since His Lordship dismissed her. She has no family but her poor sick mother, my lady. Ye might not have cared for her overmuch when ye thought she was in His Lordship’s pocket, but she was good to us all just the same.”

Elizabeth refused to mention her spinster companion Miss Weathers was a spy hired by her husband years ago to keep tabs upon his estranged wife. Miss Weathers was hardly blameless in her own demise. She was the one who mentioned her mistress was seeing Anthony Wakefield these last few months to Edward in exchange for extra wages.

Elizabeth discovered her companion’s betrayal upon accident, seeing Miss Weathers on the walkway in front of Carlisle Place as she passed by in a friend’s carriage on their way to a teahouse. She saw Mr. Phipps hand the woman an envelope before she hastened away.

Later that day while Miss Weathers was sent to the market on some bogus errand, Elizabeth stole into her companion’s room and found the envelope in her bureau drawer. It was filled with more money than the woman could have ever made in one year’s time.

Elizabeth owed Miss Weathers nothing but decided to be generous, knowing her servant had an ailing mother in the city. It was likely that alone which tempted her to betray her.

Annie left her and she sat at her vanity table, gazing at her own puffy, reddened complexion in the mirror, shivering by all her maid said of Westerleigh. She heard the tales and laughed them off over the years when it came up at parties or a friend added more fodder to the illustrious ghost’s misdeeds.

Elizabeth didn’t believe in such things but it dismayed her to be sent there just the same, in the middle of nowhere. The closest town was Tregaron, a tiny village really, surrounded by mines and sheep farms. The thought of being at Edward and Simon’s mercy come spring made her shudder with distaste.

Edward hadn’t stepped foot inside the castle since he was a young man, shortly after his father died and it was expected that he toured his holdings. He never went back, she recalled him saying, seeing a strange look on his face when he courted her at Camden Downs.

Her mother asked of the place during dinner. Edward refused to speak of what transpired at Westerleigh, saying all of the tales over the years of the ghost’s antics exaggerated and disappointing her mother to no end.

Was it true?

Was the place truly haunted by the ghost of James Carlisle?

Fear curdled in her middle at the thought. She pushed away her silly thoughts, telling herself she let her maid’s absurd tales get to her unduly. She sighed in disgust and regarded her long tangled sable hair in dismay.

Ghosts! Really? There was no such thing as ghosts!

Chapter Two

 

Simon stood back and admired the periwinkle suit coat in the full-length dressing mirror, turning this way and that under Edward’s indulgent smile. He lounged nearby on a divan, watching his companion model the new wardrobe delivered from the tailor that afternoon.

Simon stayed in luxurious rooms rented under an assumed name to hide the connection between them. He enjoyed being kept by the Duke of Westerleigh, and lived in opulent splendor here for the last year.

Simon met Edward’s blue eyes in the mirror as he removed the coat and tried on another. “Does she agree to your plan? What have you threatened the lady with now? It’s dreadful the way you torment the poor creature, Edward.”

Edward rolled his eyes, taking a pinch of snuff from a silver case. “Elizabeth will do as she is told. Just get her with child quickly so we can settle all of this and be gone from here.”

“And you will not mind me going to her bed? Won’t you be jealous to know I stick my cock into her and not into you?” Simon stared at him in the mirror, his handsome face filled with mockery. “I shudder to even think of it.”

Edward smiled fondly. “When my heir is born, we will leave England and travel the world to our leisure, Simon. We will have more money than we know what to do with. We will be free of this place. But it is my obligation. Mama insists I beget an heir before I do anything rash. For that alone we must see this through. I’ll not give my dead father the satisfaction of allowing Cousin William to inherit my title.”

“Why must it be me to bed the bloody woman?” Simon made a face of disgust in the mirror as he tugged the coat off and selected another. “Her Ladyship has little fondness for me, I should think. And I’ve not lain with a female in years. I quite forgot how to do the deed, come to think on it. Do not blame me if I fail to rise to the occasion.”

“Who else can I trust to sire my heir? Who else would not seek to blackmail me for the rest of my days?” Edward wore a pained expression. “I could not manage it. Even on my wedding night I couldn’t do it, as lovely as she is. I see no other solution in sight or we are done for.”

“Certainly, I will do my best. But what if Lady Elizabeth makes trouble? What if she accuses me of defiling her? I would be clapped into prison for what you ask!”

“She can do nothing but allow it,” Edward informed him coldly. “She thinks her family and her lover’s futures depend upon her silence. The little fool believes everything she is told. Her father is no more a thief than mine was. The man makes his money in common trade. He hides it from his wife. Lady Camden is a dreadful snob who abhors the idea of her husband dirtying his hands. She was overheard by my mother questioning the many crates of liquor Lord Camden kept stored in the stables. They weren’t on the list the butler was checking. Mama jumped to the wrong conclusion but it gave me an idea. Elizabeth has always been naïve. She believed every word I said of that, without ever confronting her father. She will stay silent of this, I’m sure.”

Simon turned this way and that, admiring the coat’s fit. “Is Wakefield truly engaged to an American heiress or did you make that up too? Your Elizabeth is starting to sound more the twit by the moment. If it were me, I would have seen through you in an instant, my love.”

Edward rolled his eyes and chuckled at his lover’s jest. “I don’t wish to test Wakefield’s affections for Elizabeth. While it’s true he meets with a Boston banker and I learned the wife and daughter are travelling with the man, it is not as she thinks. Wakefield is merely investing his inheritance. That is all it is about.”

“How do you come by such information? I find it fascinating how a man who never goes out in society knows all of what goes on.”

Edward shrugged his narrow shoulders. “My wife’s servant is fast friends with Lady Wakefield’s maid. She informs for me on occasion. The lady talks too much. She bragged of her third son becoming rich with his successful investments in America. The maid overheard Lady Wakefield telling the Viscount their son was meeting the Boston banker at Lady Merriman’s dinner party tonight to talk of more investment opportunities. She mentioned the daughter was quite lovely and desperately hoped her son would take note, if only to pry him away from Elizabeth. Do you not see how easy it was, Simon? We can thank Wakefield’s mother for that. It was quite useful in getting my wife to comply.”

“You are brilliant, my love,” Simon concluded, his eyes filled with admiration. “The lady will find out where Wakefield dines and with whom, and she will look no further after you discredit him in her eyes.”

“Elizabeth may prove to be difficult. I make her out to be a mouse but she can be quite the cat when she wants to be. I expect her to fight this when we arrive at Westerleigh,” Edward warned grimly. “I can get away no sooner with the pending sales of the estates. If she will not come to you, you have my permission to do what needs to be done.”

Simon raised a sandy eyebrow, his hazel eyes narrowing. “You would have me force myself upon the lady? That is truly cold, Edward, even for you.”

“If it comes to that, you will do it for me,” Edward shot back crossly. “Do I have to remind you what is at stake, Simon? All that is left to me is the estates! The only money I have to my name is the bloody rents each month from the tenants! I have no real money of my own! All of that is in trust and goes to my son when he is born. It was the way my father wrote his will. He did it deliberately knowing what I was and favored Cousin William. All I can do is sell the estates and pray you give me a son to give us the future we want.”

“What of the castle? It must be worth a veritable fortune.” Simon frowned critically at his image in the salmon-colored waistcoat he now wore.

“Westerleigh is entailed by the title and in trust for my heir. I cannot sell it as much as I’d like to. I will let it go back to the Crown for the outstanding taxes. My solicitor is handling the matter. Mr. Hobbs doubts he can break the will. The other holdings will sell quickly just as the agent predicts.”

“I’m starting to believe this will all never happen, Edward. How much longer do I wait for you? How long has it been? Over a year!  I still hear the same bloody wishful talk from you!” Simon’s handsome face was wreathed in bitterness. “I will be an old man before we are ever truly free to be together.”

“By this time next year, we will be basking in the sun and drinking wine by the seaside. Don’t you understand? I do this for us, you bloody fool! So we might be together! I am sick of hiding from the world in these rooms and pretending as much as you are!” Edward stared pleadingly at his lover in the mirror, begging him to understand.

“No, I realize all quite well,” Simon replied tightly, avoiding his searching gaze. “We are not free to be together until you have your heir of Elizabeth. What I don’t understand is why it should be me to father the brat! Why not just let Wakefield do the deed, if he hasn’t already?”

Edward rose and went to him, his hand going to his lover’s rugged cheek to stroke it fondly. “I would adore having your child as my heir, Simon. That is why I must insist it be you. Do not be angry with me. I can do nothing else for us.”

“You ask far too much of me this time, Edward,” Simon said coolly and pushed his hand away from him stiffly. “You ask me to rape your wife to get her with child. While I understand and sympathize with your plight over money, please realize I have no desire to hurt the woman. I give you fair warning, I’ll not force her.”

“Elizabeth will do her duty. You will see. If only to protect her family from any hint of scandal. She’s dreadfully loyal to a fault,” Edward informed him in a soothing tone. “When she returns to London she will likely pick back up with Wakefield. By then it will be too late to raise any outcry against you. She would never want her lover to know the truth.”

“You think you can predict her so well, Edward,” Simon said crossly and flung off the coat and grabbed up a scarlet vest, letting the garment fall to the floor. “You cannot be sure!”

“Elizabeth will think of the child’s best interests, naturally. She will never accuse you of anything.”

“You don’t reassure me I won’t wind up in a prison cell. While you think you know the woman’s mind so well, something could go very wrong in this plan of yours.”

“What are you so worried about? I would protect you with my life. Being a duke does have some privilege. The authorities would take my word over hers. We have nothing to worry about, you will see.”

Simon picked a suit coat in a glaring shade of chartreuse that clashed violently with the scarlet vest. He ignored his lover’s comforting words, slipping on the garment before the dressing room mirror.

“What do you think of this one? Do you think it brings out my eyes better than the last?”

~ ~ ~ 

Elizabeth was brought up short from reading the newspaper in the dining room at breakfast the following morning when Mrs. Canter arrived. The housekeeper informed her Anthony Wakefield forced his way inside. He waited for her in the salon. She thanked the servant and debated how she would handle this interview.

She stiffened, her dark blue eyes growing colder by the moment.

Elizabeth gave in to Annie’s meddling the night before. She sent the girl to Anthony’s flat on a mission. Her maid was told by Mr. Wakefield’s valet that his employer was dining at Lady Merriman’s that evening, confirming all her husband said that day.

Elizabeth had to know the truth. She sent a note that same evening to Lady Merriman’s butler to find out if an American banker was in attendance. The answer came back within the hour.

A man by the name of Augustus Fennimore was on the lady’s guest list, his seating arrangement placing him right next to Anthony Wakefield for the evening.

Her heart plummeted in denial to realize what was said was all true. As much as Elizabeth wished to disprove Edward’s hateful words, she could not make any excuses for Anthony.

Pride and hurt made her quick to refuse to acknowledge his deceit and call him on it to save face, thinking of their last passionate meeting at his flat. The intimate touching and breathless kisses they exchanged made her seethe inwardly with a curl of scornful anger growing in her middle.

For many weeks Elizabeth struggled to follow her heart and take Anthony as her lover, and all the while he was looking for a wealthy wife across the ocean in America.

The hurt and pain she felt was nothing next to her fury to be used by someone she trusted most. She was often accused of being gullible and far too kind but there was a definite limit to her tolerance.

Elizabeth squared her shoulders and eyed the mantle clock. They left for Westerleigh within the hour. She must make this painless and quick. When she was gone, Anthony wouldn’t be told where she went.

The servants were all gone except for Mrs. Canter and Miss Weathers. They would both be gone by month’s end too. She felt the burn of Anthony’s betrayal but she would have the very last word if only to feel some bit of dignity restored.

Anthony stood at the mantle looking up at a portrait of her painted the year she married Edward. He was tall, standing at well over six feet in height. He was an avid sportsman and outdoorsmen, his body hard and fit under his fine tweed suit.

Anthony turned as he sensed her arrival, his green eyes holding a hint of worry in them as she approached. His wheat-colored blond hair fell in lush waves to his shoulders. He never failed to make her sigh in appreciation, so handsome was he to look upon.

“Why didn’t you receive me or return any of my notes, Elizabeth?” Anthony came forward and stared down at her, taking both of her small hands in his, his green eyes meeting hers intently. “You had me worried sick! I barely slept at all!”

“You need not have worried over me, Mr. Wakefield,” Elizabeth said crisply making him stare down at her in confusion at her formal, imperious tone and how deftly she removed her hands from his. “I don’t believe I have to inform you of my every movement, do I? Was your business with the Boston banker at the Merriman’s a successful one last night?”

Anthony stared down at her in surprise. “But how did you know—?”

“I sent Annie over to your flat. Your valet steered her to Lady Merriman’s and to your business there,” Elizabeth cut him off in an emotionless voice. “I asked you if your evening was a success.”

Anthony looked even more confused. “Yes, it was very successful. But why are you being so cross with me, Elizabeth? What have I done? Has Westerleigh threatened you? If he has, I shall beat that mincing popinjay within an inch of his life!”

Elizabeth refused to give in to her instincts to upbraid him. “It appears our relationship has finally come to His Lordship’s attention. He is concerned for my reputation. Before a scandal comes of it, he sends me on a holiday to restore me to my senses. I quite agree with him there. It shall do me good to get away for a time and forget.”

“And that is all it shall take? You need only a holiday to forget me, Elizabeth?” Anthony appeared angrier than she had ever seen him before, his eyes narrowing at her thoughtless words. “I thought you cared for me! Did you at all? Or did you just use me to pass the time, Your Ladyship?”

Elizabeth ignored her overwhelming desire to rage at him in turn, her chin rising defiantly. “May I remind you that I am a married woman, Mr. Wakefield? We are and always have been merely friends in my eyes. I can no longer invite scandal upon myself or my husband by prolonging our association. The duke has done nothing but avoid unnecessary unpleasantness by reminding me of my duty. I ask you to leave. Forget whatever thoughts you might have had. We cannot entertain such. It was absurd to think we could, even as a lark.”

BOOK: The Ghost Who Loved Me
5.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Vampire's Kiss by Amarinda Jones
Grave Doubts by John Moss
Lovers & Liars by Joachim, Jean C.
Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Hard Landing by Thomas Petzinger Jr.
The Case of the Stinky Socks by Lewis B. Montgomery