Even in candlelight this was obviously a bedchamber, not a stairwell. Eve turned and found the door had closed silently behind her. Mist swirled. Strange, it must have been wood smoke drifting from the open fire.
Eve tugged at the handle. It stuck. ‘Oh, for goodness sake.’ She fought the impulse to hammer on the heavy panels: there would be a phone by the bed, just as there was in her room, she’d ring down and someone would come. She walked across the bare boards into the wash of firelight. ‘Aagh!’
‘I am sorry, Mistress. I startled you.’ The man who had been sprawled in one of the great oak chairs before the hearth stood, rising to a familiar six foot plus of broad-shouldered male.
‘Oh, Sebastian! You scared the living daylights out of me. Sebastian?‘
‘You mistake me for my brother, Mistress.’ The man bowed with a courtly elegance. ‘Rafe Daubenay, your servant.’
‘He did not tell me he had a brother.’ Surely this man was older, a little, than Sebastian. There was a honed edge to him that spoke of more than assiduous attendance at the gym. ‘Are you a soldier?’ It was a guess, but she could visualise him with a weapon in his hand. Then she realised that there was one at his side: a sword. A sword?
‘Of course I am a soldier.’ His mouth hardened. ‘And in the rightful army, that of our sovereign lord, the king. Sebastian skulks at home, dithering over which side to take when Charles needs every sword at his side. Especially now.’ The fierce anger in his voice ebbed and suddenly she saw he was beyond tired. Deep lines bracketed the familiar mouth, there were shadows under the blue eyes.
His hair was long, curling to his collar. His broad lace collar. Eve made herself focus on something other than his face. White, wide-sleeved shirt, soiled and ripped, buckskin beeches, high black boots. A re-enactor, of course. She pulled a deep breath down to her diaphragm. Honestly, you’ll be imagining ghosts next. She had surprised one of the family rehearsing for an English Civil War re-enactment, that was all. They got very deeply into character, she knew from a friend, an Anglo-Saxon warrior in a local group.
‘Which re-enactment group are you with?’ she asked and wished her heart would stop thumping quite so hard. Anyone would think something was wrong. But it is. The house smelled wrong – of beeswax, wood smoke, lavender. It sounded wrong, a deep silence, when before the faint music from the Great Hall had penetrated everywhere. The air was cool as though the central heating had been off for hours
‘Re-enactment?’ He seemed baffled.
‘Or perhaps you have been to a masquerade?’ Eve persisted, desperate now for a logical explanation. He was the perfect Cavalier. There was a plumed hat on the table, a coat with deep buttoned cuffs on the foot of the four-poster bed.
‘A masque?’ His laugh was harsh. ‘A slaughter… all too real.’ He swayed and Eve realised the stains on his sleeve were dried blood. ‘The bloody field of Naseby, the end of the kingdom if we cannot rally and fight on.’
‘You are hurt.’ She caught at his arm, solid and warm through the fine linen, and realised that she had half expected her hand to go right through. ‘You are not a ghost.’ She said it out loud and he stared as he fell back into the chair, pulling her down to kneel by his side. She could not drag her eyes from that intense blue stare.
‘No, I am not. But you are, I think. I never believed in the Lady in Green before. They say every heir sees her, that she wears the Meryngham emeralds.’ One long finger traced the necklace at her throat and Eve trembled, even as her mind reeled. Rafe is real? He had just fought at the battle of Naseby. Her mind scrabbled for the date. Sixteen forty… 1645.
His touch felt… right. She laid her hand on his knee to steady herself and felt the force of attraction lance through her. ‘I am real, as real as you.’
Rafe reached out and pulled her towards him. She smelt black powder, sweat, the metallic tang of blood, leather and horse. It was shockingly male. Eve swayed forwards.
‘They say she comes twice and that if there is a third time, she will stay. No-one knows if she ever has.’ His mouth found hers, arrogant, demanding. Then he lifted his head and said simply, ‘Stay. Stay with me now.’
‘Yes… No!’ The heat of him, the taste… This was insane, she was dreaming, she must be. Eve shot to her feet, backed away until her spine met the carved door panels with a painful reality. She wrenched at the handle and then she was in the corridor, dizzy, shaking. All the doors were closed. Which one had it been?
Lousie Allen is the auhtor of more than forty historical romances.
Scandal in the Regency Ballroom -
Out in April in a special two-in-one edition - two of my favourite novels, both with heroines outside the world of the ton. In No Place for a Lady Bree Mallory helps run the family stage coach company – as did many real women in the late Georgian period – so when she attracts the attention of Nonesuch whip Max Dysart, Earl of Penrith, it can hardly be her eligibility for marriage that draws him to her!
Lily France is a very wealthy heiress with a fortune derived from trade and a family with humble origins. In Not Quie a Lady Lily, who has more money than taste, a love of shopping and no experience at all of not getting her own way, is determined to fulfil her late father’s dream that his grandsons would bear titles. What Lily needs is an impoverished nobleman. What impoverished nobleman Jack Lovell, Earl of Allerton needs is an investor for his mines, not to humble his pride by marrying money. When Lily proposes to him the sparks really begin to fly!