Authors: Lila Dubois
Melissa looked at each of them, then at the chair Tristan had shooed her off of. “I guess this would be a bad time to mention the desecrated graveyard on the other side of the garden wall?”
Melissa stared at the glass of wine and debated downing it in one gulp. One thing she’d never say about her life was that it was boring—it was at times tedious, dangerous, relaxing and frustrating, but never boring. Though having a whole room of people talking to thin air, while insisting there was someone there who Melissa just couldn’t see, was new.
.” Tristan waved over their server.
“Is there a problem with the wine?”
“No, but it is not enough. Two Belvedere martinis, very cold, slightly wet.”
Melissa looked across the table at Tristan. It was early evening, and instead of cooking dinner for other people in his restaurant, Tristan had whisked her off to Trim. They were in a nice little place with waiters in suits and linen napkins. Melissa had the vague feeling that it was the kind of place she would normally enjoy, if she were able to get out of her own head and look around.
“You look like you could use it,” he said by way of explanation.
“I can. It sounds like you know your martinis.”
“The only way to get a martini that is acceptable is to order it well.”
“Then I’m glad you’re here. My order would have made that poor guy cry.”
Tristan’s lips twitched. One lock of hair was dangling over his forehead. She wanted to push it out of the way and then kiss him.
Where had that wildly inappropriate thought come from?
“What would you say to make him cry?”
“I would have ordered a beer.”
“Beer? A local microbrew is a good choice. We carry a few in the pub and they might have them also. I can change the order to beer.”
“I wouldn’t have ordered nice beer. I would have just asked for whatever they had. Don’t change the order.”
“You don’t strike me as someone who would enjoy beer.”
“Bottled beer is easy to get almost anywhere in the world and is usually safe to drink.”
“Ah, you travel.”
“I do, for work.”
“Where have you gone?”
They paused the conversation as the martinis were delivered. Tristan raised his glass.
“What are we toasting to?” she asked as she did the same.
“To the unexpected.”
For the first time in hours, Melissa smiled. “To the unexpected.”
The martini was perfect, the wine delicious. When the waiter returned a moment later to take their order, Melissa was about to say that she hadn’t even looked at the menu when Tristan ordered for both of them. He rattled off a list of items, then handed over his menu. When she ordered at restaurants, it usually turned into a game of twenty questions as the server asked her about what she wanted on the side or how she wanted things cooked. Tristan’s order had included all that information, and the server was there and gone in the time that it would have taken her to ask for bread.
“I’ve never seen someone do that before,” she said.
“Order everything all at once, and include all the information so the server didn’t have to ask anything.”
“I take food very seriously.”
“I could tell—you’re a little protective of that kitchen.”
He muttered something in French and took a sip of his martini.
“Another new thing.” Three sips in and Melissa was feeling the vodka. “You ordered for me. No one has ever done that before.”
Tristan raised a brow. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have done it?”
“No, it’s okay. You probably picked something better than I would have.”
“I was taught that it was good manners to place the order for your companion.” He lifted the cloth off the breadbasket that had appeared on their table, cut off a piece of crumbly Irish brown bread and placed it on her plate. “My grandfather was a true gentleman. When my cousin Analise told him he should not do things like open doors for women or place the order for everyone at the table because it was sexist, it was my Grand-Mère who told her not to be ridiculous. She was an artist, a fierce woman who did not follow any rules, except maybe her own. She said that she would not still be married to my grandfather if he opened doors for her because he believed she was weak or unable.” One corner of his mouth kicked up in a smile. “She told my cousin that a gentleman will hold doors not because a woman can’t but because she shouldn’t have to.”
“They sound like remarkable people, your grandparents. Though part of me suspects that you ordered for me because you
think I’m incapable.”
“Incapable of placing an order with a server? No, I am sure you could do that.” He grinned.
“Oh I see, it’s not that you think that I couldn’t place the order, it’s that you think I wouldn’t have ordered the right thing.”
“Your gentleman grandfather would be horrified.”
“I would not let my grandfather order either. When it comes to food, I trust myself most of all.”
“So it’s simple arrogance.”
He raised one eyebrow. “You’ve tasted my food.”
At that he laughed. “My Grand-Mère always said, ‘
L’orgueil est un des sept péchés capitaux
.’ She warned me that my arrogance was dangerous, yet she taught me to cook.”
“Your grandmother was such a feminist that she’s post-feminist.”
“I will have to tell her that next time I talk to her.”
“Your grandparents are still alive?” Melissa popped a bit of buttered bread into her mouth. It was rich and nutty, and the butter creamy and sweet. Somehow just being in his presence made her more aware of the food, and made her appreciate it.
“Grand-Mère, yes. My grandfather died five years ago. My father’s parents died before I was born. I didn’t know them.”
“I’m sorry about your grandfather. And what about the rest of your family?”
Tristan paused, his hand hovering over his glass. He didn’t look at her as he said, “You’re asking if they’re dead?”
“What? Oh, no, that’s not what I meant.” Melissa pushed her half-finished martini away. “No more vodka for me. I was just asking about your family—where are they, do you have siblings?”
He slid the martini back toward her. “Enough about me, let’s talk about you.”
“Why would we talk about you? Because I want to know more about you.”
“I’m hardly the interesting one here. You’re the one who sees ghosts.”
Their appetizers arrived. Melissa wasn’t even sure what it was—it was something inside puff pastry with pale-green sauce under it, but it tasted like cream and happiness.
“Oh my God, this is good.”
Tristan smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Melissa put down her fork.
“You don’t believe in ghosts.”
She took a sip of wine before responding. “No. I don’t. Tristan, I didn’t mean to ruin the mood. I shouldn’t have said what I did.”
“You don’t believe in them and you don’t see them.”
“I wish I could say that
they do exist, but I don’t believe that either.”
“Elizabeth Jefferies hired me. She was the one who called me to come and interview for the job. I shook her hand when I started. I’ve seen her and touched her. She is as real to me as you are.”
“I don’t know what I can say—there were five people in that room this morning. You and I, Sorcha and Séan, and Seamus. The chair where you said she was sitting in was empty.”
“When you sat down, she disappeared, as if she’d never been there.”
Because she hadn’t
, Melissa thought.
Tristan looked away, focusing on something behind her.
“I don’t doubt that there’s something going on at Glenncailty Castle,” Melissa said. “The existence of a room with bodies in it is disturbing; that one of those bodies was a child and another a baby makes it worse.”
“But you think there was nothing more there—that I didn’t see anything, that Sorcha wasn’t possessed.”
“Yes, that is what I think. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real to you.”
He snorted and sat back. “It’s all in my mind?”
“No, that’s not what I mean. I do believe there are explanations to what is happening. There have been a variety of studies that examine common physical factors in places that are reported to be haunted. The one I lend the most credence to is sound. One study found that there’s a particular frequency, too low to be heard, that causes a feeling of unease that many attribute to ghosts or haunting.”
“A strange sound has made me and everyone else in Glenncailty see the same woman? If you asked any of my staff, they would describe her the same way—Elizabeth was part of all the kitchen staff interviews. It’s only you who can’t see her.”
“I understand that you think you saw her—”
“I touched her. Do you remember that? I saw you looking at her, but it seemed that you didn’t see her. I leaned forward and touched her shoulder. She was real, she was solid.”
That had been troubling Melissa, because she had seen Tristan reach forward. His hand had stopped in midair, and yet his flesh had seemed to flatten as if it was pressed against something.
Perhaps his belief was so strong that it had tricked her into seeing something. The power of suggestion couldn’t be underestimated.
“Perhaps nothing. Elizabeth is real.”
“Tristan, she’s not. There was no one there.”
Their entrées came. Melissa looked at her food but wasn’t hungry. Her stomach was churning. She wanted Tristan to laugh at how strange it was that he’d once again been tricked by atmosphere and suggestive history. What she didn’t want was for him to sit there and insist that some ghost-person everyone but her claimed to have seen was real.
“Literature, art, history—there are ghosts in each. Everyone sees her. Everyone but you. You can’t imagine that maybe ghosts are real? Not a trick of light or sound, but people whose bodies are gone while their souls remain.”
“No.” The word was harsh, and Melissa had to grip the side of the table to keep her feelings in check. “Let’s stop talking about this.”
Tristan shook his head, but rather than speak he picked up his fork.
Melissa methodically cut her chicken into pieces and put them in her mouth, but now it was just routine—the lovely food was ashy on her tongue. Ten minutes passed, and though her dark thoughts distracted her from the tastes, Melissa finished her food—and her martini.
Tristan smiled slightly and the tension eased from her shoulders. Melissa rarely cared what others thought of her. She knew most people considered her odd. But she liked Tristan—he was interesting and passionate, and his opinion mattered. Seeing him smile at her, even a little, felt like a step forward.
“Did you enjoy your food?”
“I did. What was it?”
“Duck à l’orange.”
“I thought it was chicken.”
“You mistook duck for chicken? Philistine.”
“At least I knew it was poultry.”
Their plates were cleared, and the server appeared with dessert menus. Tristan eyed her, then said, “No dessert. We have somewhere to go.”
Melissa’s heart pounded and she willed the server to bring the check so they could leave. She wasn’t sure what he meant, but wherever it was he wanted to go, she was willing to go with him.
“A walk? You want to go for a walk?” Melissa blinked at him.
“There are lights in the gardens, but we do not have to.” Tristan matched his steps to hers as they left Glenncailty’s gravel parking lot and skirted the side of the pub to get to the back of the castle and the gardens.
Lights lined the main paths closest to the building and lit up a few of the most mature trees. There hadn’t always been lights, but after Caera, the castle’s absent event manager, had encountered a dangerous ghost in the gardens, Seamus had started adding lighting back here.
She doesn’t want to go for a walk. She wants to have sex.
Tristan ignored his brother, who was walking with them. Jacques had been showing up at inconvenient times, usually appearing when Tristan was with other people and therefore unable to ask him about Elizabeth. Jacques had been protecting Tristan from the other ghosts since they arrived. Tristan didn’t believe he was in danger from them, but the fact that he could hear and see them meant that they were able to distract him, which caused a variety of annoyances and problems. Jacques’ presence usually kept them at bay. Yet Jacques had never said anything about Elizabeth being a ghost.
Melissa let out a sigh, and Tristan wondered about Jacques’ words. There was no doubt that he and Melissa were attracted to each other, but he couldn’t imagine that after what had happened today Melissa was thinking about sex. She was probably trying to decide who she should call about the mad staff of Glenncailty Castle.