Every Monday and Thursday brings two more free chapters of my exciting historical paranormal romance novel, Return to Rhonan (that’s four chapters each week). Set mainly in the Scottish Highlands, the reader will find much to enjoy on this mysterious well researched journey.
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:
Return to Rhonan: Chapters 21 & 22
Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Jess spoke hesitantly, ‘It’s good of you to check the room, but honestly, I feel a bit stupid now. It was, after all, only a dream. I panicked at the thought of an exorcism being carried out – shades of the Exorcist. I’m scared stiff of seeing any ghosts.’ The room looked innocent, the lights enhancing the blue silk-covered walls, the gilt on the chairs glinting.
Douglas smiled. ‘You had every right to be frightened – especially with Lucy talking about the exorcism, it would scare anyone.’
‘Come in – sorry I haven’t unpacked properly yet.’
She gasped as Douglas caught hold of her arm, swinging her round to him. He bent, brushing her lips, his hands stroking her back, pulling her closer. Her mouth opened to the soft tip of his tongue, her body quivering as she felt the hardness of him, the thigh muscles tensing against her.
Hearing her soft groan, his arms tightened around her, his tongue tasting the sweetness of her mouth, as he swiftly unzipped the back of her dress. She pulled back, lightly slapping his shoulder. ‘Hey, this is a bit fast.’
He loosed her immediately unrepentant and stood back, running his fingers through her tangled curls. ‘I’ve wanted to do that since I first saw you. God, you’re beautiful.’
Jess grinned, ‘I thought you’d come to search the room. So, if you’d zip me up, I’ll get you a drink, what would you like?’
Before doing so, Douglas could not resist stroking the curve of her spine, only to feel her shudder in response. ‘Oh, God, don’t do that. I’m trying to resist you.’
Douglas laughed, ‘So I’ve found your weak spot. I’ll know what to do next time.’
Going to the drinks’ cabinet, she said, ‘Brandy?’
‘Yeah, thank you, just a snifter.’ He walked through to the sitting room, his eyes glancing over to the escritoire. She’d obviously been working on it, as the lid was down with her laptop resting on top. Beside it were some papers and a jeweled Parker pen. Although the priest had been quite insistent that it was haunted, it looked innocent enough, especially with the addition of a computer. How could an inanimate object have any powers or influence? He didn’t believe in that nonsense anyway. Jess interrupted his thoughts as she handed him the brandy. To his disappointment, she sat in one of the chairs to the side of him.
‘It’s good of you to be so concerned, Douglas. It’s just I’ve always had this horror of physically seeing a ghost. The dream I could cope with, but not the idea of an exorcism.’
‘So tell me more about the dream.’
‘I don’t know about that, you seem so touchy on the subject of Murial and Duncan.’
‘I promise I won’t be. It’s just there are a few things I haven’t explained – personal things. But go on, tell me.’
She sipped at the brandy. ‘Do you really want to know?’
‘Of course. I’ve got all night.’
Jess grinned, ‘You wish.’
Douglas sipped the brandy and raised his eyebrows. ‘Well, you get what you wish for.’
‘Ouch, what a cliché.’ She decided to recount the route to the small lake that she often took in her dreams. ‘The dreams always start in fragments, then it becomes clearer. I‘m walking through trees, there’s a ditch and some kind of open ground. I pass some long-haired and very shaggy cows with huge horns, which terrify me, and then I’m struggling through muddy hassocks….’
Douglas felt the skin on his arms crawl. She hadn’t been at the Manor long enough to scout the grounds. She’d described the way to the lake, the trees by the Orangery, the ditch in the Ha-Ha, the field, and the boggy ground.
His heart quickened, as she said, ‘The bank rises some distance from the lake, there are stones and a circle of small rocks nearby. Sometimes they would shelter in the hut. Duncan built it with stones and mud from the bog – you could say the hut was their love nest.’ She stopped a flush rising up her throat. ‘Err … it’s sexy.’
Douglas grinned, ‘Now I am interested.’ Even as he joked, his throat felt dry. She was describing his hideaway precisely.
‘The lake is surrounded by bulrushes and then clumps of reeds, so it’s quite difficult to wade or swim there I should think, although the couple in my dream loved it. They always raced to the Willow tree on the other side, but first, they had to wade through the bulrushes. It’s always so vivid. I can see it in my mind now, as I talk. The willow tree is huge, hundreds of years old, well, at least in my dream. It’s surrounded with silver birch with clumps of rhododendrons, the ancient copper beech trees leading into the forest.’
He said quickly, ‘You know, not only have you described somewhere where I go for a bit of privacy and time out, it’s a place that’s difficult to reach, so it’s quite deserted. Now with you dreaming about the names and that particular spot, it could have been the perfect place for Murial and Duncan – seeing as they were lovers.’
‘Not lovers exactly, although very near it. But, you did tell me about Duncan before I had the nap, so I could have just included it.’
‘Hmm – one thing that puzzles me. If you’re a psychic artist, why the fear of ghosts?’
Jessie bit her lip. ‘It’s alright thinking about it or drawing it, just so long as I don’t see it in the flesh.’
‘Yeah, I guess that goes for a lot of people. So the psychic art? Have you always had visions of ghosts?’
‘Yes, from a child. I also have premonitions of the future. I used to frighten the family quite a lot as I would draw someone – always with a small angel floating beside them. I would tell my aunt or uncle that the angel was taking this person to heaven. Trouble was, they would find out that person had really died and recently.’
‘So, it’s like a gift or something. I don’t want to be rude, Jess, but I’m a skeptic – yet, open-minded about it all. Have you ever seen anything physically?’
‘No – thank God, and neither do I want to.’
‘But why do the art if you have this fear surely it would be better not to have anything to do with it?
‘It’s not that easy. The visions will come wherever I am or whatever I am doing. They are spontaneous. Generally, it’s through dreams, or inner visions, which I draw or paint. One day I remember clearly, I was on the beach and drew some gravestones in the sand. My aunt asked who they were for, and I said for they were for her and my uncle. As I was often right, they asked how long in the future. They told me I said, “Oh, years yet –when I’m ten.” I was about six or seven at the time.’ She laughed lightly. ‘Much to their relief that did not come true.’
Douglas laughed with her. ‘Scary. Your aunt and uncle seem nice people.’ Really he was wondering why she never mentioned her parents.
‘Ah yes, well, my step-mother was my aunt, my mother’s sister. Her name was Prissy; she brought me up along with my uncle, who was my aunt’s brother, Uncle Tim. Err ….’ She paused, taking a tight breath. ‘My mother died when I was two months old. My father died in a hunting accident when I was three. My aunt moved around. She had homes in Canada and America. After she died, I moved back to America. I was born there, went to Harvard, made lots of friends, so it seemed the right thing to do. I set up a practice with Dinah in Bedford-Stuyvesant.’
‘You’ve had it tough.’
Looking at the sudden pallor in her cheeks, the stillness of her body, Douglas went across to her. Kneeling by her side, he took her small hands in his as he said, ‘How about you and I go exploring tomorrow. I’ll show you the lake and bring your bikini and towel; they say it’s going to be a scorcher.’
‘That would be wonderful. Thank you. But look, I’m beat; I really do have to go to bed.’
‘Sure, I don’t have any pajamas, but I’m wearing boxer shorts.”
She giggled. ‘I need to sleep. Time you left.’
He grinned. ‘That’s the furthest thing from my mind. But, look just one thing.” He rose to his feet, lifting her with him. Clasping her in his arms, he felt the soft roundness of her breasts, the curved angle of her hip against him. He warily held her buttocks, pulling her in closer as he nuzzled her neck. ‘Just an appetizer.’ Finding her lips, he pushed his tongue through, flicking the inside of her cheek. God she tasted so sweet. He felt her shudder, her body tense. Maybe, there was just the chance that he would be carrying her to the bed. However, her hands gently pushed him away.
‘No – let’s take this slowly, okay?’
He growled sexily as he smiled, ‘No, it’s not okay, but I can wait.’ He left reluctantly. She was enchanting, intriguing. He tried to lay his suspicions to rest. She was a millionaire, no way did she show any hint of wanting to take over Rhonan. She was an idealist committed to her vocation and also deeply passionate about her art.
Locking the door behind him, Jess wandered over to the dressing table, taking out a small silk bundle. Carefully peeling away the silk, she looked at the blue velvet box aged with yellow and brown spots. Lifting the lid, she gazed down at the locket, old gold embellished with the same intricate design as the one Murial wore in the portrait. Could it be the one? Was this a key to that lost ancestor?
Opening the locket, she looked at the miniature painting of a young aristocrat, his face fit for any Grecian sculpture, the full lower lip, that faintly menacing look. It could be mistaken for Douglas in Regency dress. From another purse, she took out two fragments of paper tattered and flocked with age, some of the writing was obliterated. The first a narrow strip held the letters Mur…. born October 1792… R – The second, female … Mor … at sea 1811… definitely part of a birth certificate, of course, her ancestor Morag. That much she did know. It was carefully treasured, handed down from generation to generation.
Nothing was known of Morag’s history before the shack in America. But, she had to find out, after all, that was really the purpose of her visit to Scotland to find her ancestors. She wanted to feel whole, to be part of something. With the death of both her parents, she could never rid herself of feeling so isolated, leading a liminal existence on the edge of society.
Awful tiredness crept into in her eyes, spreading to the muscles of her body. What was it? She’d slept heavily in the afternoon. Maybe she was going down with summer flu or something. Leaning forward, she examined her eyes in the mirror, unaware of a still figure on the balcony watching her through the window. Silently, the wraith pressed her face to the glass as she clutched the small bundle to her breast.
Fighting almost overwhelming tiredness, Jessie tried to undress. Stepping out of her dress, she collapsed across the duvet, slipping into kaleidoscopic pieces of dreams, images rising, flying across the screen of her mind. She did not see the figure pass through the window into the room and stop for a few seconds watching her. Silently, the woman floated onto the bed, settling down by Jessie, stretching out a skeletal hand to stroke her bright hair.
The Countess Flavia languidly pushed a stray ringlet from her cheek as she lay on the chaise longue of embroidered blue silk. A King Charles Spaniel snuggling among the muslin folds of her dress. Yawning, she said, ‘Murial, you look a wreck as usual, and you smell like a rank reed. Why oh why do you insist on bathing in that filthy lake of yours.’
Murial stiffened. That was the first time she’d complained about the lake. Was she suspicious? Had someone spied on them? But how could they? Duncan had a special shortcut through the bog. Her aunt could not possibly follow; neither would she instruct a servant to spy on them. The news would spread like wildfire. ‘Aunt Flavia, it’s healthy – I love it.’
‘The stuff of childhood. Hmm, well go bathe and dress becomingly; the Earl of Whitney will soon be here with his Mama to pay you his attentions. I am sure he is going to offer for you. ’
‘Oh, Aunt, he’s as limp as a lettuce leaf and equally as boring.’
‘His fortune is not boring, and it is high time you were wed. What is wrong with you? He is heir to vast estates.’
‘He is ugly – shorter than me with tiny eyes and no chin.’
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake girl, good looks won’t bring you a mansion, maids, dresses, and a fine carriage in your drive. You can have your lovers after you marry – just be very discreet. That is the way of it. Now bring the face screen over here. That fire is too fierce today, my makeup is dripping.’
Murial looked at the thick paste of lead and beeswax masking the lovely face of the Countess. Most women in the district used it, as they suffered from bad skin due to the pox, measles, or just too rich a diet. It looked quite horrific when the paste started to melt.
‘Really, Aunt, I have other aspirations than marriage. I am caught up in helping the tenants.’
‘Tis not our affair.’
‘Aunt, I cannot possibly think of marriage with all the suffering going on. I need time to help – and besides, I would choose my own husband. I want to marry for love – not wealth. And, I certainly do not wish for lovers after I marry. What a shallow life. No love, only lust.’
‘Don’t be such a romantic you have been reading those silly romance novels again. Murial, your marriage will ensure your future – look, you are a penniless girl. But, because of your beauty, you have some serious suitors vying to offer for you. Their offers would include a sizeable sum settled on this estate. It would help your uncle and me enormously. Now enough. Pray, bring me the face screen.’
‘For your information, Aunt, I am reading some political essays by the admirable Edward Ellice.’
‘Oh, for goodness sake, girl – stop arguing and fetch me the screen.’
Tutting, Murial carried the small oval screen on a carved mahogany stand to the Countess, who yawned again, delicately stretching out her hands in front of her? “We have those ghastly ladies coming tomorrow to do some stitching.”
‘Aunt, it is good of you to arrange it. It will help the tenants so much. We must try to ease their suffering.’
‘I know you have great regard for them Murial, but I don’t want you going near the cottars. God knows what diseases you could pick up. Besides, you could bring it back to the Manor, and then where would we be?’
Murial rejoined with some asperity. ‘Some of those peasants, as you call them, are descendants of the Scottish Chieftains. Look at poor Robbie McGregor; he can trace his ancestry back to Domnall Breac, King of Dairaida.
‘Oh,, really Murial, not another tirade. That is history; you cannot dwell on the past.’
The Countess’s eyes held a faint menace as she said, ‘Have you heard the news? Duncan met a ravishing girl the other evening, at the drum. I hear he is quite besotted. Stood up for every dance with her, even fetched her some ratife and sweetmeats.’
Murial felt her heart leap. ‘Really, I have not heard of it. Who is she?’
‘The daughter of Lord and Lady De Beauville. They are renting a Mansion near the sea renovated in the Palladian style, no less.’
‘Honestly, all this money flowing like water and our tenants starve. Aunt, can’t you persuade Papa to waive the rents? He’s now talking of evicting them. How can he? Please speak to him.’
‘Oh la, you and your good works. The situation will right itself, you see. Now, as I was saying, Duncan paid such attention to this vision – nearly came to blows with another young blood who sought her attentions. I fear he is smitten. She is of good family, so there could be a match.’
‘What does she look like?’
The Countess narrowed her eyes. ‘La, she has the largest cornflower blue eyes and golden hair. She is an Aphrodite, they say – a vision. Tis high time Duncan married. She will visit with her Grandmamma in London, who quite dotes on her. I am of a mind to send Duncan to oversee our house in Grosvenor Square at the same time. It would be an ideal way for them to meet. You shall see her soon enough. I have invited her here for the stitching with her Mama.’
Murial sat down quite abruptly, her stomach quite tense. Surely, he would not betray her? Hot tears threatened to fall as the Countess said silkily, ‘Why Murial, what is the matter? You look quite affrighted. Pray, what irks you?’
Pulling out her kerchief, she held it to her cheek, ‘Just dizzy, that’s all. I’ll have to go and lie down.’
‘I will ring for Bicks to bring the brandy.’ As the Countess rang for the abigail, the door slammed open, and Duncan strode in, his frockcoat unbuttoned and riding crop at his waist.
Instantly aware of Murial’s pallor, he almost ran to her. ‘Murial darling, what is it?’
The Countess noting his anxiety, the way his arms crept around the girl, said quietly, ‘Tis the vapors – I have rung for brandy. Here give her some vinaigrette.’
Taking the sponge from the maid, Duncan held it under Murial’s nose. Squeezing her eyes at the strong smell of hart’s horn, Murial glared at him. ‘I need to go to my room. I would be grateful for your assistance.’
Duncan swept her off her feet, hefting her up on his chest he strode from the room calling to the abigail, ‘Becky come with me, attend your Mistress.’
No part of this book may be stored, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: