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Authors: Karolyn Cairns

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BOOK: The Ghost Who Loved Me
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“You thought it some lark these last months we spent together? You nearly came to my bed the last time we were at my flat! Or was that just your way of playing with my feelings for your own enjoyment, my lady?” Anthony stood away from her, looking white-faced as though struck. “I told you I loved you! You thought it some game we played at, Lady Westerleigh? How cruel of you to throw such back in my face! How stupid of me to not see it! You needn’t worry. I won’t further damage your reputation, Your Grace. Good day to you,” and with a click of his heels and a formal bow, he strode angrily away.

Elizabeth brushed away her tears that fell, refusing to call him back. It was done and in a way that soothed her injured pride if not her aching heart. She was a fool to think anything might have come of their relationship.

She blushed to recall her near surrender to Anthony at his flat days ago, of how nearly she allowed him to take her to his bed. Some sense of sanity was restored. Perhaps it was her mother’s disapproving face that intervened? Whatever the cause of her hesitation, it made her pull away at the very last to refuse him. She had to believe she knew in her heart it was wrong.

Elizabeth refused to think of how wonderful it felt to be with Anthony, how natural to be in his arms. It was all so very perfect for a time and now just a damnable lie made to break her heart in two once realized.

She staggered to sit at the edge of a settee with a dust cover draped over it, covering her mouth with her hand to keep from crying out in agony, closing her eyes tightly to bear the pain of hearing the door slam resoundingly in the hallway beyond to know he was gone forever.

~ ~ ~

Anthony was in a fury all the way back to his rooms, tossing a coin to the hackney driver and going up to his modest flat. He looked about the depressive room, choking on his own bitter anger. He removed a small black velvet box from his suit coat, flipping it open to stare at the large diamond ring within.

She was leaving.

Elizabeth also appeared to have little interest in fighting the matter of her departure. Anthony was frustrated by her easy acceptance of it all.

Anthony only followed Edward for a day or two and discovered where he kept his companion and lover Simon Ives, a former stage actor who lived in rooms under an assumed name. He gnashed his teeth to know she had no interest in using her husband’s illicit dealings to her own advantage.

The lady who minded the desk of the residence swore to testify she thought the men far more than just friends, claiming His Lordship often stayed the night and the two men spent hours alone in the flat.

A maid claimed she went in to clean one morning and saw both men nude and abed together. The duke paid her to stay silent of it. He got both of their names and sworn statements that would hold up in any court.

Armed with such truths, Elizabeth could secure her freedom from Edward and never have to do battle inside a court. Only she was too fearful to do it. Anthony was determined to help free Elizabeth from her marriage.

The lady thought her situation hopeless and told him it was out of the question when he began to suggest divorce. She was resigned to stay with her selfish husband, denying herself a life, if only to maintain the illusion the Duke of Westerleigh demanded of her when he married her.

Anthony’s eyes filled with fury as he chucked the velvet box across the room, cursing under his breath at how wrong he must have been from the start. His initial misgivings about Elizabeth’s willingness to see this through to the end were proven to be right.

She would not fight this.

His room was overdue for rent, his coffers bleeding to maintain the illusion of a cultured gentleman he tried to project, unwilling to admit his parents had long since cut him off. His austere father had the temerity to suggest he seek employment the last time he asked for a loan.

His mother tried to pacify him for a time, passing him her own allowance under her husband’s watchful nose. A rich wife was what he needed, his lady mother reminded often, but he had other thoughts.

The funds he recently acquired would keep him in good stead if he invested them wisely. This short fall of cash he was experiencing was albeit temporary until the returns from his investments came in.

For reasons of pride, Anthony rejected giving up. He prayed he knew Elizabeth’s heart better than she did. He would discover all he might about Edward and his kept companion. Elizabeth would see reason when she returned from her holiday, he prayed.

Anthony ignored her cold words, knowing she couldn’t possibly have meant what she said. To remember the feel of her lips against his in shared passion, of what they felt in those stolen moments, what they talked about these last weeks, made him bristle in frustration.

Elizabeth’s unreasonable sense of duty so infuriated him at times he wanted to shake her. She owed Edward Carlisle nothing. The man albeit blackmailed her into marriage to cover his homosexual lifestyle. He kept her imprisoned there so he could have his own happiness at her expense.

Anthony made discreet inquiries to conclude the Earl of Camden was no thief as Edward claimed him to be but a merchant. He hid such from his family knowing his dabbling in trade would be frowned upon by many of their class. He did it to save the struggling estate.

Somehow Edward used some foul leverage to force Elizabeth to say such things to send him on his way. He knew her heart in this. She wanted to be free of her husband. She wanted children one day, not likely with Edward Carlisle, given his proclivities with men.

No, Elizabeth did not lie of how she felt for him. For whatever reason, she was leaving town for a time to appease Edward. He had to remain true and steadfast. She would come back.

Anthony was determined to wait to convince her all that they wanted was possible. She could destroy Edward with what she knew of him. Her husband would give her whatever she wanted to not let this get out publically.

They could leave England for America and start a new life there. She had the means to free herself from Edward Carlisle if she would but use it. He was determined she would see his way in this

Anthony would gain all the proof needed to seek a divorce for her if it was the last thing he did. If she chose to ignore the only key to her prison out of society’s narrow dictates, he could say he tried.

The last time they were alone at his flat made him sigh in remembrance, recalling how close they nearly came to making love. Elizabeth pulled away at the last, refusing him, unable to see that they belonged together.

He watched her leave, frustrated he always met with such a wall whenever he pushed for more. She would overcome her hesitation soon, he knew, relishing when she surrendered to him at last.

Anthony questioned the sanity in having luncheon with the Fennimore’s next week. With all the money he recently invested with Augustus, he could hardly refuse the man.

Perhaps the attentions of a beautiful woman like the man’s daughter Jane Fennimore, who was unafraid of taking what she wanted, would dull the anger of Elizabeth’s breaking off with him so cruelly.

Chapter Three

 

Annie dozed in the seat across from her during the journey. The rocking motion of the coach never failed to jar Elizabeth awake as she contemplated her arrival to her new home. Westerleigh would be her prison for years unless she gave Edward what he demanded.

Elizabeth avoided thinking of lying with Simon Ives to achieve such a goal, nauseated to allow him such liberties with her person. Simon was quite handsome to look upon, she gave him that much. With his sandy brown hair and rugged good looks it was no wonder what appealed to Edward.

Edward surrounded himself with such types. All of his house boys and footmen all had the same look, nauseating her to see their smirks when she was at Carlisle House the other morning. All knew very well why she lived apart from their employer.

The mere thought of allowing Edward’s lover into her bed to get her with child was repugnant to her. It was so inherently wrong what Edward asked of her, she wished she had the strength to stand up to him and flee this impossible situation.

Her eyes filled with tears, knowing she could not hope to find amnesty at Camden Downs if she fled there. Her mother would only send her back out of her own strict sense of propriety. She would lecture her daughter sternly on her duty, perhaps engage the Dowager’s aid to persuade her, but in the end they would send her back.

Anthony was her only champion in this. And he betrayed her due to his own dismal financial circumstances. He was no doubt inviting his fiancée for a visit to England to meet his family.

To think of Anthony marrying another was far too painful to imagine. She pushed such depressive thoughts away. It did no good to wish and want for things.

This is to be my life, Elizabeth thought is dismay.

From the moment Edward discovered how her father earned his living, the die was cast. She was prepared to refuse his marriage proposal that last night at Camden Downs while she waited for him in the gardens.

Even if the estate was struggling and she needed to marry well, she couldn’t bring herself to accept Edward’s suit. She disliked him on sight. She never imagined what he would use to force her to marry him.

Elizabeth went down to the stables that night to learn the truth. She saw the many crates of liquor and contraband stored there, of all the other high-end foreign goods, all proclaiming her father’s guilt as a thief. She had no choice but to accept Edward’s proposal or face her family being ruined.

The financial disaster happening around her was kept from her all of her life. The Surrey family would lose their home if she did not consent to wed the Duke of Westerleigh. Her mother finally told her the truth when she saw her daughter’s reluctance. Her father’s pride made him refuse to influence his daughter’s decision. The countess took matters into her own hands.

Elizabeth married Edward in the end for the good of all, choking on every smile she gave to the hundreds of guests in the ballroom at Camden Downs, feigning a joy she didn’t feel inside.

The night they arrived in Edinburg for a brief honeymoon, Edward came to her reeking of wine. She avoided looking at his slender, pale unremarkable body as he tossed the robe aside and joined her in the huge bed. She closed her eyes as he began to touch her, fighting the urge to be ill.

What happened next made her let out a whimper of denial, horrified to recall what Edward did when he became frustrated by his inability to make love to his wife. To remember how he finally forced her to turn over in the bed made her cringe and squeeze her eyes shut, fighting the bile rising in the back of her throat. 

The pain and degradation of what he did made her grow lightheaded, her fingers digging into the plush seat cushion. The humiliation of her wedding night made her weep long after Edward staggered from the bed to seek his own.

The following morning Edward acted as if nothing untoward happened. She was traumatized in both body and spirit with bruised puffy eyes. He succinctly explained between bites of his breakfast what her role would be in his life. He would return to his current lover and companion in London, he informed her. She would have her own house, her own servants, and trouble him no more until it was time to have their heir.

His current plaything was a man by the name of Wesley Renstadt.

Wesley worked as Edward’s footman and had for years. He was just one of many men her husband was acquainted with. She was free to seek her own pleasures until he approved of a man to sire his heir, he told her without preamble.

Elizabeth listened to all numbly, a sense of disbelief this was happening, feeling hollow and broken inside by what he had done to her the night before, her girlish dreams shattered in an instant.

Seeing Wesley’s leering face as he came to their table to inform her husband his coach was waiting outside made her flinch. It reminded her of how little she mattered to her new husband. She watched Edward get up and leave without another word to her.

Knowing her husband’s footman entertained him the rest of their wedding trip made her cringe in disbelief, seeing the many dirty trays of food and drink left outside his suite in the passing of the next few days.

They spent three more days there, avoiding each other’s company until it was time to travel back to London. She took the train and he went by way of coach, the two separating without a word. She was relieved to see the back of him when her own footman accompanied her and her maid to the train station.

Elizabeth never spoke of that night or told of its lasting impact upon her mind. And now, for the first time in years, she wanted a man to touch her again.

Anthony was the first man she ever considered being intimate with. She had many flirtations over the years but that was all they were. She took none of them seriously until now.

Until she met Anthony nearly six months before, she never believed being with a man would not make her feel anything but disgust. He showed her how wrong she was. For that alone she didn’t consider their time together a complete waste.

The hesitant kisses they shared became more heated. She allowed him more liberties than she dared as his hands drifted under her gown, urging her silk drawers aside. She felt dismay to feel shame as she recalled his fingers touching her intimately, of her own wanton response.

Elizabeth wanted him to take her there in an instant and be done with her chastity and her fears. Anthony had her pinned beneath him on the settee, his hands undoing the fastenings of his belt before she wrenched herself away at the last moment.

She went to Lady Grifford’s that weekend to think on her deepening relationship with Anthony, disturbed by how she had nearly surrendered herself to him. And then Edward learned of them meeting secretly, told by Weathers she met him at his flat without her.

Her husband would laugh if he knew she was still a virgin after spending months in Anthony’s acquaintance. Edward would roll on the floor in mirth if she admitted to him it wasn’t as easy for her to take a lover as it was for him. She held Anthony off for months, indecisive if that was what she truly wanted. Her husband would likely roll his eyes and say she was a fool for passing on such an opportunity.

Edward was twisted, made so by denying what he was all of his life, being forced to hide it and feel shame. She felt pity for him to know his father despised him, seeing him as weak. She no more resented his feelings for Mr. Ives than he should hers for Anthony.

But Edward wouldn’t relent in getting his heir. It was a means to smite his austere father who so often belittled him as a child. She would find no measure of happiness in her life until she gave Edward what he wanted.

Only then would she be free of him.

Anthony talked of divorce as the last resort. Elizabeth was properly shocked into silence. Such was unheard of in polite society. She doubted she had the mettle or the resolve to endure years of costly legal battles.

In the end, they would be shunned by all of their friends and family. It seemed too high a price for her to see the man she loved ruined even for them to be together.

Elizabeth had to be honest. Though she believed in her heart she truly loved Anthony, she couldn’t go through with such a dreadful public display, even for her own happiness.

Anthony claimed not to care what people thought of him while she couldn’t bear societies censure, ashamed by her own feelings that she never made fully clear to him.

Anthony went even further to suggest she could threaten her husband with exposure to secure a divorce, making her feel slightly annoyed that somehow money was at the heart of the matter.

While it was true, Anthony had little of his own money she adamantly refused to do such a thing. Elizabeth thought of her family first. She couldn’t do it. She wanted more for Anthony than to be an outcast even if it meant giving him up.

Was it fair to any of them for her to be so selfish in her desires?

After hours of depressive thought and painful contemplation, she believed not. She wasn’t the sort of woman to do what Anthony asked of her. He would get over what they shared when he married the American heiress.

~ ~ ~

The thirty servants all gathered below stairs awaiting Mr. Pettigrew. The butler at Westerleigh ordered them all to assemble at promptly six. All sat and muttered about the table wondering what news he had to give.

Mr. Pettigrew arrived and all stood up quickly. The man eyed them all gravely and sat. The servants sat and waited for him to speak.

Mr. Pettigrew was in his early fifties, a robust man with a modicum of grey at his temples. His dark liveried uniform was pressed and starched to perfection, and as always, nary a hint of lint was seen upon his pristine coat sleeves.

Even here in this remote district many miles outside of Tregaron in the wilds of Wales, he demanded the servants uphold to the tradition of wearing liveried uniforms and the keeping up of appearances.

Why? They all often wondered.

Most grumbled as they went about polishing the silver or some other menial task. None was ever there to appreciate it but them. Mr. Pettigrew was an exacting man. He refused to see any slack in the care of the castle.

They rarely saw any visitors at Westerleigh. Once in a great while some unwary traveler would seek accommodation at the castle until a repair was made to a carriage wheel.

It was customary they also accept the peers of His Lordship that were passing through even though the duke was never in attendance. To do so would have been a serious affront to the Duke of Westerleigh’s hospitality.

Mr. Pettigrew cleared his throat to gain their attention. “I just received a letter from His Grace, the duke. It seems Her Ladyship is coming here to stay for a time, an indefinite period he said.”

Pettigrew paused and eyed the five upstairs house maids meaningfully. “You will all see to opening Her Grace’s apartments and preparing for her imminent arrival.” He looked to the housekeeper then. “Mrs. Gates, you will see that adequate food stores are increased in the larders in case Her Ladyship means to entertain. Order whatever is needed from the grocers in Tregaron and the village. Spare no expense for the lady’s comfort.”

The servants all looked properly stunned.

All but the cook, that is.

Mrs. Abbot worked at Westerleigh all of her life and appeared eager to be able to test her culinary skills upon an appreciative audience. The portly little woman’s florid face was aglow under her starched white mobcap. She was preening in pleasure at the prospect.

“Don’t look so bloody happy o’ it, Mrs. Abbot,” a handsome surly footman named Tom said derisively. “She won’t be ‘ere for long! None of them are, not after meeting—”

“That’s enough, Thomas!” Mr. Pettigrew eyed him sternly. “We will make no mention of him! Under no circumstances are we to perpetuate any hysteria in regard to the presence in the castle while Lady Westerleigh is in residence.”

“Why don’t ye tell His Lordship that,” a cheeky kitchen maid named Edie added with a dimpled grin. “I think ye know better than that, Mr. Pettigrew. It’s his bloody house! When does he not make his presence known?” Several servants chuckled at that and sobered at Mr. Pettigrew’s growing scowl.

“Mind your tongue, missy!” Mr. Pettigrew gazed about with a stern look at the others. “We all know what he will do. What he always does. But under no circumstance do we interfere. Is that clear? There are rules here at Westerleigh. You only invite his wrath upon you if you don’t adhere to them. I have little doubt Lady Westerleigh won’t be here long. With that in mind, you will say nothing to her if you wish to remain on. His Lordship leaves us all be, and for that we can be grateful.”

“I almost feel sorry for her,” Mrs. Gates said with a subtle tightening of her lips. “You have to wonder how she displeased her husband to be sent here of all places.”

“Mrs. Gates! I’m shocked at such unkind words coming from you!” Mr. Pettigrew glared at her. “And there will be no speculation of why she is coming. Is that clear to all of you? The fact she comes at all is not for us to gossip about.”

“But ye must have wondered on it yourself, Mr. Pettigrew,” Mrs. Abbot remarked thoughtfully in defense of the housekeeper, earning a grateful smile from Mrs. Gates. “We haven’t seen one member of the Carlisle family since the young lord visited here years ago. Do you realize how long that was, sir?”

BOOK: The Ghost Who Loved Me
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