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Authors: Karolyn Cairns

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BOOK: The Ghost Who Loved Me
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She shivered to stare up into his handsome, unsmiling face, feeling speared by his remarkable silver eyes. They were so pale in color, standing out startlingly in his sun-darkened visage. The artist did a realistic likeness of the man. She couldn’t discredit the similarity of the man she caught skulking about the west wing.

Little was said of James Carlisle in history. He became a recluse after his marriage and never left Westerleigh Castle after 1546.

Elizabeth frowned to think something didn’t sound quite right. She went to her bureau and opened it, pulling out the book she purchased in London. She leafed through it and read about all of James Carlisle’s grandfather’s extraordinary military accomplishments, his father’s heroic deeds, and a few of his own brief successes during the northern uprisings and war with Italy.

James Carlisle had a significant military career from the start. He was one of King Henry VIII’s most promising new military leaders, a popular courtier at Hampton Court, and considered to have a bright future.

But in the midst of his popularity, James Carlisle vanished into obscurity at the very prime of his life.  She frowned to know he wasn’t much older than her when he faded from public life.  

Elizabeth leafed further through the book. She thought it rather odd James Carlisle did nothing of import after 1546. It didn’t quite ring true with his noble character.

He was from a long line of brilliant decorated men and heroes. A man like him didn’t just settle down into domestic bliss at a castle and sire five children in quick succession and do nothing else in his life.

Elizabeth read another accounting.

It suggested James Carlisle might have fallen ill when he returned home from the Italian campaign and that is why he never returned to court to serve his king.

Her eyes widened to read he didn’t even attend King Henry’s funeral just three months later or Edward Tudor’s coronation. Such would have been considered a serious affront to the royal family.

The Carlisle family owed much to the Tudors for their success. The first Duke of Westerleigh was a mere knight before he helped win Henry Tudor’s crown in the War of the Roses.

He was rewarded for his bravery, given the small duchy of Westerleigh in Wales for his loyal service. It didn’t seem likely the funeral of Henry VIII and Edward Tudor’s coronation would have been ignored by James Carlisle or his wife.

It might have been illness that kept James Carlisle away from London but the fact that he quickly sired so many children between 1547 and 1555 discounted that theory. They nearly had a child every other year after that.

The Duchess of Westerleigh, Lady Isabelle Carlisle, would have gone to the royal funeral in her husband’s stead if he were too ill. There was no record of even the duchess attending either the funeral or the coronation.

Elizabeth flipped through the book and found nothing in it about James Carlisle’s wife. Lady Isabelle must have shared her husband’s reclusive nature, she assumed.

Their children were all sponsored by Sir William Gordon’s niece at court and presented first to Edward Tudor, then years later, to his older sister Mary. The five went on to lead highly dull, inglorious lives.

Not one of them favored their father in looks. She saw their portraits in the gallery. They all appeared rather pale next to James Carlisle. Not one of them had his midnight dark hair or strange-colored eyes.

Elizabeth failed to see two splintered logs placed by an unseen hand onto the dwindling fire. The impressions of footprints left upon the carpet where the ghost remained standing also evaded her notice, as well as the spoon that stirred her tea at the table at her side.

Elizabeth found it difficult to believe James Carlisle abandoned his ailing king unless he had a very good reason. The book didn’t give her any more facts. The heirs of James Carlisle went on to make vast improvements to the castle, but none ever achieved anything to stand out in history from then on.

The ladies of the Carlisle family all favored their mother in beauty and made advantageous marriages, furthering the family dynasty and adding to their vast holdings. Both of the sons died rather young, the first without issue, allowing the second to inherit the dukedom.

The remaining son sired four boys and two girls, of which only three children survived to adulthood with the onset of a plague. His remaining son died before he was thirty, making his six year-old son his only heir.

Elizabeth yawned tiredly some time later. She closed the book and placed it on her bedside table. She slipped back into bed, dousing the oil lamp.

Soon, sleep came, and with it, the dreams of a dark-haired sixteenth-century nobleman with an arresting face and mocking silver eyes.

~ ~ ~

Elizabeth woke in the wee hours with a scream lodged in her throat, feeling pinned to her bed. She was unable to move. She stared above her and saw nothing there, fighting against an unseen force. Tears filled her eyes as she struggled against invisible bonds, crying out.

She sobbed and flailed futilely as her nightdress slid upward, cringing in denial as her body was exposed to an unseen stare. Her mind fought the fact that she was being violated by the infamous ghost of Westerleigh in those horrifying moments.

Her breasts began to ache, the nipples cold suddenly and tightening, as if stroked by an icy finger. She twisted and shrank in horror to get away.

“No! Please! You must stop!” She fought valiantly against the force that held her down, kicking and pushing to get away.

Elizabeth felt a weight descend upon her, closing her eyes shut tightly in terror, whimpering in dread before she felt an icy chill pervade her senses, twisting away from it in dismay.

She gasped as she felt the insidious pleasure invading her body, no longer struggling as shards of desire gnawed at her insides. Her head rolled helplessly upon the pillows, her eyes frantic to see the presence above her.

Her body sunk into the mattress as the ghost made his presence known to her. A sense of terror filled her, making her sob as her knees were yanked apart.

Elizabeth was startled when suddenly all stopped.

The weight upon her was gone. The presence left her. She was able to move freely. She sat up quickly, eyes darting about and scooted to the edge of her bed. She looked around warily with a shaking hand held at her throat.

Outraged anger filled her in waves, knowing the ghost assumed his rights to her body without a thought to her consent. She remained thus for nearly an hour, looking in every corner for some sign of the ghost.

  It was a long time until Elizabeth finally got back to sleep, jumping at every shadow and sound. When exhaustion overcame her, she slept; not seeing the comforter lifted and covered her still form.

~ ~ ~

James stared down at the sleeping woman with a deepening frown. The pleasurable evening he imagined did not end up as he would have liked it. Despite the desire he felt to touch her at last, he had little satisfaction forcing the issue.

Taking the woman against her will had little appeal to him. He wanted only to purge his thoughts of Elizabeth Carlisle once and for all. She hardly asked for his lustful attentions, fighting him tooth and nail.

Whatever made him stop tonight had never been the case before. He attributed it to his need to speak to her, of gaining her help. He was morose to know he possibly alienated her further by intruding upon her in such a forceful way.

He was so overwhelmed by his own sorrow and her likeness to Lenore he lost all control. He grew despondent she couldn’t see or hear him now, angry and wanting her to acknowledge him.

James smiled when he noticed the book on her bedside table. It was a history of the Carlisle family, or the lies that were put forth as truth and history knew no better. She would have to dig much deeper if she wanted to find out what really happened to him.

He despaired she would refuse to help him now, angry he came to her.

James frowned as he stepped away from her bed and contemplated why she couldn’t see him or hear him. He thought it unlikely it was the room in the west wing that allowed him to communicate with her. He never had such happen before with countless others who strayed into his domain.

What happened in there?

James recalled her dropping the box from the wardrobe and spilling its contents onto the floor, of finding the favor made for him by Lenore. She put the braid of hair into her skirt fold.

James went back to the bed, seeing she was now clothed in her nightgown. He looked about for the braid of hair on her vanity table, used his power to open the drawers to search for it. He saw it nowhere.

What did she do with it?

The more James thought on it, the more he thought it likely the braid of hair the cause. All of the other objects in the castle were inanimate and manmade. The braid of hair was something that was once living. The castle couldn’t control that as it did everything else.

His eyes flared with annoyance.

What did the wench do with it?

James felt panic as he went into her sitting room, finding the dress she was wearing earlier lying over the back of a chair left for the laundress. He elevated the dress and shook it out roughly. The braid fell to the floor and rolled under the chair.

Ah! There it is!

James tried to pick it up and he couldn’t after much effort. He was frustrated to know he couldn’t handle it or place it where the woman would easily find it tomorrow. 

James could only hope the maids didn’t find it first and throw it out in the rubbish during their cleaning. He was overwhelmed with this newest discovery, and disturbed by his reaction to this woman. For the first time in three hundred years, he felt the barest surge of hope.

Chapter Six

 

The days passed with no further incident. There were no ghostly encounters in the night. Elizabeth was relieved the ghost left her alone, though still outraged James Carlisle assumed such was his right.

Elizabeth refused to look too closely at the disturbing incident, unable to conceive such was even possible. She was shaken and felt deeply violated but also felt a vague sense of fascination by the encounter.

Recalling how it felt when the ghost touched her made her blush to her hairline and avoid her own eyes in the mirror the next day. In those harrowing few minutes, she recalled how intense sensations were felt inside her body, and how she could hardly bear it.

Elizabeth dreaded the nights those first few days, terrified as she lay in bed with her comforter up to her eyes, waiting for another visit from her lustful ghostly companion. She was relieved after a week and the ghost didn’t return.

She chose to ignore it happened altogether now for her own peace of mind. She spent her time exploring the castle, getting the house keys from a grudging Mrs. Gates to go room to room and acquaint herself with her home.

Elizabeth was disappointed when she found the door boarded up to the second tower room on the east side of the castle. Mrs. Gates merely shrugged when she brought it to her attention. The east tower room was off limits, she was told by the woman, but not why.

The housekeeper claimed the tower was unsafe, the door boarded up many years ago to keep the unwary out for their own safety. Elizabeth was determined to get inside the tower room despite such obstacles.

Elizabeth expected to be dreadfully bored after her first month at Westerleigh but the opposite was true. She spent her time wandering the vast grounds, inspecting the cottages and hunting lodge, unaware of the presence of James Carlisle who followed her everywhere.

Elizabeth received a letter from her brother that day. The news was worse than she expected. Their father wouldn’t recover, he wrote to her, bedridden now and under a doctor’s care. He implored her to come home; implying time was of the necessity.

Edward never wrote back to give his permission, so she planned to travel to Yorkshire at week’s end.

Elizabeth returned to her room and watched as Annie lit the fire and left tea for her on the table. Her maid left her and she contemplated George’s letter with a heartfelt sigh as she sat, a lone tear streaming down her cheek.

Her father had a weak heart, her brother told her in the letter. The stress of trying to keep all together at Camden Downs didn’t help his deteriorating condition. He collapsed recently. The doctor indicated the need for the family to gather and prepare for the worst.

Elizabeth knew the trip would take two days by coach to London and from there another few hours by train. George and Marian would pick her up at the station on Sunday. She prayed she arrived in time.

Elizabeth was so caught up in her own sorrows she failed to see the book on her bedside table floating away or the sitting room door open on its own. The loud sound from the sitting room as the book was dropped on the tile floor brought her out of her musings, sitting up with a start in the chair.

~ ~ ~

James smiled in satisfaction to have finally devised a means for the woman to reclaim the braid of hair that fell under the chair. It was still there, blessedly overlooked by the maids in the weeks since he discovered it.

It was imperative he speak to the woman at once.

James had been patient, doing nothing to scare her further. He realized tormenting the woman would get him nowhere. He must handle her carefully lest she flee and take what little means he had to free himself with her.

James watched her rise, her eyes wide with fear. She put a trembling hand to her mouth as she stepped towards the sitting room.

“Yes that’s it come closer. Come investigate the noise, my dear. We have much to discuss and little time for these games.”

Elizabeth walked into the sitting room, wide-eyed and looking around, failing to see the book on the floor. James snorted with disgust as she walked passed it, looking everywhere but down at the floor.

“Will you only look down, you silly woman?” James shook his dark head and stared at the book, moving it quickly with his mind, making it snake out and slap her smartly in the foot. She jumped and let out a squeal of fright. He placed the book back where it was, just jutting out from under the chair.

Elizabeth stared down at the book, her cerulean blue gaze filled with uncertainty. She shook her head, her eyes filled with fear.

“Go on now! Pick it up! We haven’t time for this nonsense!”

She knelt down tentatively. She reached out to pull the book out from under the chair and hesitated at the last minute.

“For the love of God, woman! If I could only kick you, I would!” James paced in frustration as he watched her indecisively debate picking the book up.

Elizabeth bit her lip and reached forward again, her hand grasping the book. She straightened suddenly, her eyes falling upon the braid of hair lying near it. She ignored the book now and picked up the braid instead.

“Finally! I thought you would never find it!” James spoke in a condescending bark, causing her to jump with a cry of terror as she saw him standing in the doorway. “And don’t you bloody scream! We both know you can see me and hear me! That braid of hair you hold in your hand is what allows you to do so. We have to talk, my lady.”

“You’re not real,” Elizabeth muttered hoarsely under her breath, backing away, clutching the braid in her hand fearfully. “This can’t be happening!”

James rolled his eyes in annoyance, scoffing at her hysterical words. “I can assure you I’m quite real and this is most assuredly happening, Lady Westerleigh. You are not losing your mind, madam. Come now, we must talk. I’ve waited centuries to speak to someone.”

“What do you want of me?” Elizabeth looked around desperately for an avenue to flee, realizing his ghostly image blocked her only means of escape.

“You’re going to scream, aren’t you?” James rolled his eyes in disgust as he saw her prepare to do just that. “It won’t help matters, but by all means, do what you must, madam. I’ll give you a moment to engage in your hysterics.”

Elizabeth froze, seeing he appeared to be waiting, arms crossed across his massive chest. “Do you intend to hurt me?”

“I need your help, woman. I don’t intend to hurt you,” James replied coolly, his silver eyes contemptuous. “I am trapped here at Westerleigh and have been for three hundred years. You must discover why. More to the point, you must discover who murdered me.”

“Murder? But…but…but you died of a fever in 1564. I read of it.” Elizabeth backed farther away in the room, her hand going to her throat nervously as he bore down upon her.

James barked with derisive laughter making her jump with fright. “Hardly! I died after I arrived here. An imposter then stole my life. You must find out who he was. I believe it’s the only way to free myself from Westerleigh.”

Elizabeth stared at him incredulously as it dawned upon her. “You are James Carlisle?”

“It’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! Are you not listening to me?” James shook his dark head in annoyance. “Somewhere in this castle lies the secret. You must find it.”

“But what can I do to help you? I wouldn’t know where to look,” Elizabeth protested weakly as she backed further into the room, running into the far wall now.

James glared at her and approached, floating closer to see her jump farther back, hitting the wall behind her. “I will tell you where to look. You must start with the east tower room. I cannot go in there. For some reason the castle won’t allow me inside to see what is there.”

“The castle won’t allow it? What do you mean?”

James eyed her with a bit more patience. “The castle is also held under some sort of a curse. It acts of its own accord to protect itself. It’s not me who is doing it, I assure you. There are no other ghosts here with me that I know of.”

Elizabeth looked relieved to know that. “And if I do this for you, will you go away finally?”

“It’s my bloody home!” James all but shouted down at her, making her flinch. “I could say the same of you, wench!”

“You will kindly not speak to me in such a rude manner, sir! You ask for my help and in the very next, you insult me!” Elizabeth regarded him huffily. “I had no hand in whatever happened to you! You will kindly remember that or I’ll not help you at all!”

James nodded shortly, his silver eyes narrowing. “Apologies for my outburst, my lady. Do forgive me for pointing out you reside here enjoying the hospitality of my home. Your weakling of a husband is remiss in not beating you for your insolence. I shall forgive you this once. I think you more capable of beating him, come to think of it.”

Elizabeth eyed him in exasperation. “You said an imposter stole your life. How is that possible?”

James shrugged his broad shoulders dismissively. “That is what you must find out. The man had his gall. He actually managed it. None ever discovered his foul crime. I must know what happened here. I think it the only way I’m ever to be released from here.”

She stared down at the braid. “Who does this belong to?”

James smiled tightly, his eyes falling to the braid of hair in her hand. “A lady I once knew long ago. Why the castle cannot control it and I cannot touch it is also a mystery. I believe it has given us the means to communicate, though I cannot be certain.”

Elizabeth dropped the braid to the floor. The ghost disappeared from her sight. She sighed and bent to retrieve it, seeing him standing once more before her.

“You are right. It’s this piece of hair that makes me able to see and hear you.”

“Will you help me?” The ghost stared at her, his handsome face filled with apprehension.

“I will, but there are rules, sir,” Elizabeth maintained in an imperious tone. “For one, you will allow me my privacy while I’m in my room. No more do you come and go, and skulk about as you please or touch me. Is that clear?”

“I’ve already seen you in all manner of undress, my dear,” James informed her dryly with a low seductive chuckle. “You have a lovely derriere, my lady. Your breasts are beautiful and—”

“You will not come in here unless otherwise invited.” She cut him off, shaking in outrage, her face flaming red with embarrassment.

“Many a lady has welcomed me coming to them in the past. You enjoyed my attentions well enough until I stopped.” James smiled wolfishly down at her.

“I am not one of them! And I did not enjoy it!” Elizabeth glared up at him, shaking in outrage. “You will behave as a gentleman in that regard, sir, or I’ll not help you any further. And another rule before we go forward. You will cease to terrorize the staff. Shame on you! They’ve done nothing at all to deserve your ill treatment of them. You will be mindful of yourself in the castle and leave them be.”

James scowled darkly at her terms. “Is that all?”

Elizabeth tilted her head and pursed her lips. “I believe that is all. For now.”

“Why did your husband send you here?” James changed the subject, taking her off guard. “The servants whisper of it. I can hear them talking down below. They think you are losing your mind after the way you behaved in the west wing.”

“That is none of your affair!” Elizabeth shot back defensively. “And how is it you can hear them from so far away?”

James smiled mockingly. “I don’t know how I can hear them. I just can. It’s one of the many skills I’ve discovered over time. But back to what I asked you. Why are you here? Your husband hasn’t been here in years. After what happened the last time I can only assume you are not well liked by him if he sent you here.”

Elizabeth stiffened at his mention of Edward and his last visit. “What happened then? Did you torment him as you have all of the others in the past?”

“I think Edward more than gave me a reason,” James replied with a smirk, unrepentant in the least. “You do know he prefers the company of men?”

“Yes, I’m fully aware.” Elizabeth cringed from his ensuing laughter at her look of discomfort.

“Well, I simply couldn’t resist, coming upon him in the stables engaged with a footman in what I can only call an act unfit for a lady’s ears,” James recalled with a grimace of disgust. “And he was a horrid little man, unkind to all to say the least. He deserved all he got.”

“What did you do to him? He won’t speak of it.”

James grinned in delighted relish. “I don’t imagine he would speak of it. Alright, I shall tell you. I came upon him cruelly upbraiding a housemaid in the west wing. She failed to press his clothing to his satisfaction. The little peacock did like his fancy trappings. The girl was in tears. He threatened to dismiss her if she did it again. After she left the room, I threw everything hanging in his wardrobe and chests at him. You should have seen the look on his face.” James paused and grinned widely in remembered relish. “Positively terrified, he was, and whining as a girl might. Then, he started to scream for his mother. The lady arrived and found him lying on the floor amidst all of his finery. He seemed to have also pissed himself. And that was it. They left early the next morning. I’ve not seen the sniveling little sodomite since! Good riddance!”

BOOK: The Ghost Who Loved Me
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