By Meredith Bond
Genre: sweet Regency
She only wanted to save his soul. He needed to save her life.
Laia Grace wasn’t raised in society, and besides meeting men was so much fun! But when the naive Regency miss introduces herself to the wrong person, her father decides that it’s time she grew up. If only he knew that the house he was sending her to had a ghost in residence.
Marcus is haunting his own home, living in the secret passages and priest holes while he tries to deal with the horrific events that led to his brother’s death. But when an angel shows up and coaxes him into telling her his story, he discovers a reason to live.
Will he be willing to risk both his own life and his heart to save her?
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I tried to focus on the books in front of me. I tried to be interested in the latest novel from Minerva Press, but there were so many people walking by on the street just outside Hatchard’s Bookshop window, I just couldn’t concentrate.
Maybe if I looked at the non-fiction. My sister, Rose, had told me there was a new book out by Christian Thomsen, the Dutch archeologist. It sounded interesting. Of course, our father would have already bought a copy, but that just meant I wouldn’t even get a peek at it until he had finished with it. Father hated when a book he was reading disappeared before he had read it from cover to cover.
I turned to look for the book, but out of the corner of my eye, I spied the most handsome man outside the window
Without a thought, I slipped between two other patrons, escaping the notice of my maid, Sally, and darted out the door of the bookshop—straight into the chest of Mr. Handsome. Completely unintentional, I assure you! Oh, but he smelled good! I just loved the smell of men—that combination of leather, something slightly spicy, and man. I took a deep breath.
“Oh! I am so sorry!” I exclaimed. “I am much too clumsy, not watching where I’m going. I do beg your pardon.” I lowered my eyes demurely while glancing up at him through my eyelashes. A niggling thought teased the back of my mind. My father was going to kill me. I’d been told so many times in the past three years that I shouldn’t introduce myself to men as I used to when we lived in Greece. I just couldn’t help myself. Men were so fascinating!
“Not at all, Miss,” the gentleman said with a slight bow. “Entirely my fault, I’m sure.”
I cocked my head and looked up at his lovely green eyes and tousled blond curls, ignoring the people squeezing past on the busy pathway. “Are you new in town? Oh, no, wait, I’m certain I saw you at Lady Sambourne’s soiree the other night,” I said, lying outright. I hadn’t been to Lady Sambourne’s. I hadn’t been anywhere. I wouldn’t be presented to society for another six months. I had only turned eighteen a month ago, but I looked older than I truly was and took advantage of the fact.
“Er, no,” the gentleman admitted, gently guiding me closer to the side of the building so that I wouldn’t get knocked against. He was clearly a thoughtful, kind gentleman. I liked him already. “I only arrived a few days ago. Just a quick visit to the city before I return to University in a few weeks, you know.”
“Oh, yes, of course. I’m Aglaia Grace.” I held out my hand.
Mr. Handsome looked at it for a moment. “I beg your pardon?”
“Aglaia Grace. That’s my name, although I am simply called Laia by my family. Aglaia, as I’m sure you know, is one of the graces from ancient Greek mythology. My father’s an archeologist with a sense of humor.” I smiled, inviting him to laugh at my funny name. Happily, he did with a lovely, deep little chuckle.
I couldn’t blame him for being confused at first. Proper young ladies did not introduce themselves to gentlemen. My older sister Rose had added her voice to our father’s, trying to break me of this horrid habit, especially since she’d gotten married and become “respectable.” But there was no one else around who could make the introduction, and I did so want to meet him. Surely, no one would find out. He would be leaving town again very soon, he’d just told me as much.
“Oh!” He looked down at the hand I was still holding out to him. He pulled himself together and took it, a smile slowly growing on his face as he bowed. “Reginald Swithin, Viscount Yardley, at your service.”
Viscount Yardley. Why did that name sound vaguely familiar? I searched my memory but came up with nothing. “I’m so happy to—”
“Yardley, there you are,” an older woman said, coming out of the bookshop behind me. Uh oh!
“Sorry, Mother, I have just been introduced to this charming young lady,” Lord Yardley answered.
The tall woman looked about, clearly searching for the person who had presented me to him.
“Er... Well, actually I introduced myself,” I admitted sheepishly. At least I was honest, if not properly behaved.
“Oh, yes. That wasn’t clear from what I said, was it?” Yardley laughed.
The woman’s eyebrows rose in surprise. Her chin lifted as she took advantage of her height to stare down her nose at me. Before she could utter a word, however, Sally popped out of the bookshop, squeezing around Viscount Yardley’s mother, who was still blocking the doorway. “Miss Grace! There you are,” Sally said. She stopped abruptly upon seeing that I was engaged in conversation. “We, um, we really should be going, Miss. Your father will be wondering where you are,” she stammered, looking from Lord Yardley to his mother and back again.
“Yes. Thank you, Sally.” I gave a quick curtsy to Yardley and his mother, and then preceded Sally down the street.
Never had I wished for my father’s carriage so much as I did just then. It would have looked so much better if I’d had it that day.
It wasn’t so much that I wanted to impress Lord Yardley, although that would have been nice. But honestly, the way his mother had looked down her nose at me made my hackles rise. Just who did she think she was?
* * * * *
Excerpt Two (1580 words)
I awoke with a start. Where was I?
The pale glow of the moon reflected off pink walls. Ah, right, Marshfield.
I was about to close my eyes once more, when I heard what must have woken me up in the first place. A creaking sound and then the slam of a door. Moans were followed by the sound of someone sobbing.
I sat up, listening carefully. Was that Sally? I threw back the cover, ready to go to my maid. The poor girl had not been happy when we’d arrived, but she’d seemed better after dinner thanks to the kindness of the Barkers. But no, wait. I stopped, listening again.
The cries weren’t coming from Sally’s room. And they were too low in pitch. Yes, they were definitely being made by a man.
But where were these cries coming from, and from whom?
Mr. Barker was the only man in the house, but I didn’t think this sounded like his voice.
The sounds seemed to be, at one moment, coming from above, and then shift and sound as if they were coming from the room next door. The one Mrs. Barker had said was the master’s chamber. But there could be no one there; there was no master aside from my own father, and he, I knew, was safe and sound in London.
I got up. Grateful for the moonlight, I managed to find and light my bedside candle. Donning my robe, I crept to the connecting door. Putting my ear to the door, I listened closely.
Alternate moans and sobs mixed with wails of pure despair. Gooseflesh covered my arms.
Very slowly, I turned the handle. The door wasn’t locked.
It opened inward. Hesitantly, I stepped into a room bigger than my own, dominated by a large four-poster bed. Dark red curtains were drawn around the bed. I hesitated before approaching it, especially as another cry seemed to come from either within or just above it, if that were possible.
Taking a deep but quiet breath in, I tiptoed toward the bed. My hand hesitated at the curtain’s edge. Slowly I grasped hold of the heavy fabric and began to inch it open, trying to peer inside.
“NO!” the man’s voice yelled from behind.
I jumped with a scream and very nearly dropped my candle as I spun around.
Holding the meager light out before me, I searched the room for the source of the voice. But there was no one there.
Still the moans continued, broken by the occasional sob.
I turned back to the bed and this time moved more quickly at opening the curtain, although, I have to admit I was not quite so fearless as to just throw it open.
I peered through, but the bed was empty just as it should have been. What was exceedingly odd, however, was that the coverlet had been neatly folded back, as if waiting for its owner to climb in at any moment. The pillows were fluffed and ready, but there was no one there.
I must have stood there for a full minute, staring into the empty bed and wondering where the cries were coming from, when I noticed that the sound was moving off. It was as if the person making them was walking away from the room—without the sound of a footfall.
Never in my life had I the urge to wander abroad in the middle of the night. In fact, my two sisters teased me mercilessly at how deep a sleeper I was. But these moans and groans were so odd that I found myself following the sounds with an ever-growing curiosity.
As I slipped nearly silently along the passageway back toward the main stair, I was tempted to laugh at myself for my midnight walk. It almost seemed like a game or a trick one of my sisters would play on me.
That made me pause. Could it be Rose or Thalia playing a trick… no. That didn’t make sense. I was here because I had been too bold and outgoing. My sisters wouldn’t tease me in this way when I was being punished, would they?
Could it be possible that it was some sort of test on my father’s part? Testing to see if I would be so bold as to follow the sounds or simply cower in my bed as any other right-minded female would?
I came very close to turning around and returning straight away to my room, but a loud thump and more wails kept me moving forward. No. My father was punishing me, not testing me. And besides, how would he have even asked anyone to play such a trick on me? He wouldn’t and he couldn’t have.
I continued on, slipping down the stairs on silent, bare feet. I paused as I neared the entry hall. The sounds seemed to have disappeared. Could they have gone a different way?
I turned around, went back up, and then stood in indecision looking down the hallway toward my room. The sound hadn’t gone that way. It had most certainly gone toward the other wing of the house—but how?
In the glow of my candle shone two pale brass handholds set into the wall of the alcove to my left.
Doors! The “wall” was in fact two pocket doors, which slid to either side. I verified this by opening one, with quite a bit of difficulty. It seemed as if these doors hadn’t been opened for some time, they were so stiff. But I managed to slide one open just enough to slip through.
I walked into a gallery. It was the hall that connected the two wings of the house.
A very impressive-looking man of armor stood at the entrance. For possibly thirty feet, there was portrait after portrait lining either wall, interspersed with upholstered benches along the window side, and occasional busts on pedestals on the other.
Slowly I made my way down the hall, raising my candle up so that I could look at the portraits. Some were of families looking kindly down at me, others were of intimidating gentlemen in old-fashioned clothing, staring down as if accusing me of invading their privacy. Occasionally, there was a severe-looking woman peering down her nose at me, very much like the Duchess of Bromfield. Just the thought of that woman made me shiver with fright.
A fresh bout of groans and a growling shout reminded me why I was there. I turned from a previous Lady Bolingbrook to peer down the length of gallery. It was nearly pitch black, as all of the curtains along the outside wall were closed, so I held my candle aloft and slowly made my way toward the sounds.
Glancing left and right, I passed by many generations of Lords and Ladies Bolingbrook depicted in both oil and an occasional plaster bust.
About two thirds of the way down the room, a particularly loud shout made me stop in my tracks. To my left, a man stared at me from yet another painting. His deep green eyes seemed to take me in, in a way that if he had been flesh and blood, I would have said was rather rude. I felt bared before him; he looked so deeply into my soul. His painted eyes seemed to see all that I kept secret, things I shared with no one, not even my sisters… not even with myself.
“LEAVE! NOW!” The words seemed to come from all around me. They reverberated down the hall and back again.
This time when I jumped, I did drop my candle.
Luckily, it extinguished itself quickly. Or perhaps that was unlucky, because I was now left in the pitch black of the gallery. Not a speck of light came from anywhere. I couldn’t even see where my candle had fallen, let alone anything else.
“Who are you?” I called out into the dark. “Where are you?”
“LEAVE NOW!” the voice said again, getting louder as it reached the end of the command.
I didn’t wait for him to tell me a third time. I turned in what I thought was the right direction and sped directly into the wall.
“Ow.” I stepped back, certain I would be seeing stars if I could see anything at all.
I took a deep breath trying to get my bearings.
“GET OUT!” the voice screamed.
“I can’t find my way,” I cried, trying to hold on to the tears that pricked at my eyes. I was trembling so fiercely, my teeth were nearly chattering. My heart thumped within my chest, and a cold sweat pebbled on my skin.
The voice, while fascinating as it had led me to this god-awful gallery of portraits, had become increasingly threatening the closer I got. Now I was more than willing to do as he said—if only I could find my way.
A crack of light appeared to my right as the door at the end of the gallery silently slid open, just a touch. I didn’t know how that had happened, or possibly who had done it. I didn’t care. I wasn’t about to stop to investigate the sounds of heavy breathing, almost a growl. Like a tickle in my ear, I could almost hear him draw breath to begin yelling again. My legs suddenly found the strength to propel me to the end of the gallery and out the door.
Meredith Bond's books straddle that beautiful line between historical romance and fantasy. An award-winning author, she writes fun traditional Regency romances, medieval Arthurian romances, and Regency romances with a touch of magic. Known for her characters “who slip readily into one’s heart,” Merry loves to take her readers on a journey they won't soon forget.
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