by Elaine Golden
Well, this was just ridiculous. Impossible. Delusional.
Eve stood in the hallway, trembling. Stuck in this short corridor with no way out but the neat row of doors on either side. She didn't recall entering through one, but the sad fact remained that she could only exit that way. Thrice she had attempted to find the staircase, and each time she had ended up... somewhere else. With a stranger.
‘Sebastian?’ she called in a voice that warbled.
A thud and a raised voice that sounded just like him drew her attention to the third door, and she rushed forward, wrenched it open, and stepped across the threshold. ‘Sebastian!’
The glow of an oil lamp bathed the bedroom in warm golden light, revealing yet another bedroom. A high tester bed filled one side of the room and a luxurious rose velvet fainting couch sprawled in front of the gallery of windows that glowed like black jet in the moonlight.
The low, mournful note of a violin swallowed the room like a living thing, enfolding her in a rich melody. But it was the sight of the tall man that drew her up short. Dressed in tan slacks and a burgundy smoking jacket, he cradled the whiskey-colored instrument like a cherished infant, chin tucked into the rest and horsehair bow carefully coaxing the sound from the spruce-topped instrument.
When he paused and looked up, her heart wrenched at the loss of that incredible sound. Instead, the tinny strains of an old-fashioned phonograph filled the room. He had been playing along with the muffled echo of a full orchestra captured on the wax cylinder record.
‘You’re not Sebastian.’
‘Indeed not, miss.’ He actually clicked his heels and bowed slightly. ‘I am Meryngham, of course. And you are…?’
‘Of course you are. Which one?’
‘I beg your pardon?’
She sighed and rubbed her brow to ease the beginnings of a headache. ‘I’m Eve Wells, sir. My apologies for the interruption. I’ll just be going—’
‘Wait a moment.’ He set aside his instrument and studied her with narrowed eyes that reminded her too much of Sebastian. ‘How did you get into my home? It’s the servants’ half-day, so who let you in?’
‘I didn’t… that is to say, I… does ‘Lady in Green’ mean anything to you?’ It felt foolish to say it, to play along with the fantasy. And each of the other men had reacted… possessive when they thought it of her. Would he? She looked at his full lips, now curling into a slight smile, and wondered how he would taste.
Eve placed one foot behind the other until she bumped into the closed door and fumbled for the crystal doorknob. ‘Oh, never mind. It’s not worth the bother.’
‘Don’t be frightened, dame en vert. I’m Thomas, the 12th Earl. I know who you are, and I won’t try to detain you.’ He moved toward her slowly as one would approach a skittish animal. ‘Just promise to visit again, sometime?’
‘Why should I do such a thing?’
He reached out and clasped her hand, the tip of one finger gently stroking the delicate skin of her inner wrist. Soothing.
‘How else can you make your choice?’ He kissed her fingertips, his breath a warm caress. The collar of his shirt was loose under the robe and parted, revealing the tanned pulse point at the base of his throat.
The trembling began again, but this time it wasn’t from fear. How could she react like this? She had been so certain of Sebastian, but now… now she was tempted by a series of impossibly handsome strangers. This was madness.
The door latch gave way and Eve pulled her hand from his, but hesitated once again. ‘Won’t that mean I’d have to stay?’
‘No, my dear. Not until the third visit, that’s your choice.’
‘Well, then.’ Could she really return? Did she want to? ‘Perhaps.’
More confused than ever, Eve slipped back out into the hallway and pulled the door firmly behind her.
|Who will Eve meet next? Come back tomorrow for Chapter Six.|