The Haunting of a Duke

By: Chasity Bowlin

The little girl smiled. “I'm Melisande. But I don't want to hear a story, I want to tell one." Her voice had a slight lilt to it, the singsong pattern of a child with a secret.

She was a bit odd, but she was a pretty child and had an amiable nature.

Emme nodded. “I think I would like to hear it very much."

The little girl seated herself on the grass and cocked her head to the side, and then began to speak.

"There was a princess who lived here, in this house. But the princess was very unhappy. She was forced to marry a man she didn't love. He was a kind man though, or tried to be, but the princess was angry at having to marry him, when her own love was so close by. She met her love in secret. But the princess had loved unwisely, and her love had a price. A very dear price."

Emme shivered. It was not a story, at all. It was thinly veiled gossip about the duke. “That isn't a very nice story, Melisande."

The little girl nodded. “Not every story can be nice, Emme."

A chill swept Emme's body. “I didn't tell you my name. Who are you?"

The little girl smiled again and her eyes were knowing as she met Emme's startled gaze. “You never have to tell us your name. We always know who you are."

Gooseflesh raised on her arms, Emme looked at the apparition before her. It had never happened when she was awake; it had never been so clear. She looked to be flesh and blood, but Emme had no doubt the child before her was a spirit.





The Haunting of a Duke

by

Chasity Bowlin






Dedication

To Denise and Tracy.

I couldn't have asked for better cheerleaders.







Chapter One

Emme Walters emerged from the dark, damp dungeons of Briarwood Hall in a state of dishabille that would send her aunt into apoplexy if she saw it. Thankfully, it was well into the wee hours of the morning and most people at the small country gathering had found their own beds, or someone else's, to occupy for the remainder of the night. Noting that the corridor appeared to be deserted, Emme sighed in relief. The dungeon undoubtedly contained endless horrors of mice and spiders, and she wanted desperately to be free of it. She shuddered a bit and gave the door a push. Having freed herself, albeit clumsily; she stepped further into the hall.

Unfortunately, the door was closing much more freely than it had opened, and in a panic, she grasped it to prevent it from banging shut, managing only to smash her fingers. She uttered a mild oath, though it was the strongest one she knew, and clasped her battered fingers to her chest. It would be an interesting addition to the cadre of other scrapes and bruises that she had accrued during the night. Her nocturnal wanderings usually resulted in at least a few injuries that her maid would have to work diligently to camouflage.

There was a candle on the table, but the shadows provided some protection for her. Sleepwalking, or spells, or whatever one chose to call it, would be the ruin of her. She ducked into an alcove, molding herself to the wall, before peering out to be certain that no one was about. The corridor remained deserted and she uttered a quick prayer of thanks before making her way to the next shadowy recess. The last thing she needed was to be found in such a compromising position. It was all well and good for people to call her a medium or mystic, and to speculate about her and her strange ways, but to be caught outside of her room in such a state—wearing only her night rail, her hair disheveled and various scrapes and bruises covering her body—her reputation would soon be as tattered as her appearance.

Shoving those thoughts forcefully from her mind, she stepped forward and her hip bumped the edge of a small table. It teetered ominously, but she managed to right it. The noise, to her ears at least, was deafening. When no one rushed forward to brand her a thief or a woman of loose morals, Emme continued toward the guest wing of the ducal estate, or rather in the direction she believed the wing to be. In truth, she had no idea where she was or how she'd come to be there. Briarwood Hall was massive, and though she'd only been there for a single day, she'd already been lost several times. Her aunt, the imperious and glacial Lady Isabella Harding, had already taken her to task for it.

With the thought of her aunt's glaring disapproval in mind, she forced herself to move, to continue the trek back toward her room. Her bare feet were silent on the marble floors as she crept along the hallway. Her heart thundered in her chest and she trembled. The fear of being discovered was so intense, it left her weak. She tried to calm herself, to reassure herself, that most of the servants were abed, and the guests as well. There were a few stragglers still roaming the halls, and of course there were the romantic assignations that were the very reason for house parties. She was attuned to every noise, every creak as she made her way toward the stairs and she wished fervently that she knew the house better and knew where the servants’ stairs were located, as they would greatly decrease her chance of discovery.

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