From the London Times: Do you believe in ghosts? Mrs. Marguerite
Greeley was found murdered and robbed last night in her Berkley Square
townhouse, in a crime identical to the robbery and murder of Lady Ratherstone
only last week. Mrs. Greeley’s butler reported hearing eerie moaning sounds
coming from her private sitting room where her jewel box was located. Upon
entering the room, the butler discovered the body and missing jewels and stated
that all the windows and doors were locked from the inside. Similar sounds and
locked windows and doors were reported at Lady Ratherstone’s home. It seems
clear Mrs. Greeley is the latest victim of Mayfair’s cleverest, most diabolical,
seemingly invisible, and thus far uncatchable criminal. Which begs two
questions all of London is asking: could the thief indeed be a ghost? And who
After making certain she wasn’t observed, Lady Julianne Bradley
slipped from the crowded drawing room and walked down the candlelit corridor.
Although her heart pounded in anticipation, urging her to hurry, she forced her
feet to keep a sedate pace. She had no wish to call undo attention to herself
should she happen upon anyone.
Music and laughter, the hum of conversation and the tinkling of crystal faded as
she made her way further from the center of Lord and Lady Daltry’s elegant
soiree. She turned a corner then counted the rooms as she passed...one,
two...she slowed as she approached the third door.
The feeling that she was being watched suddenly flooded through her. A heated
flush, the sort that always stained her pale skin a telltale red whenever she
experienced any sort of nervousness, whooshed upward from her neck, flaming her
She turned, scanning the area. And saw nothing amiss. She was alone. Your
imagination is running amok with itself as usual.
Hoping she didn’t look as furtive as she felt, she took one last glance around,
then opened the third door. She stepped quickly into the room, closing the door
“It’s about time you arrived.”
The whisper came from directly beside her and Julianne barely squelched the
startled cry that rose to her lips. Leaning back against the oak panel, she
looked around the shadowed library, illuminated in a curtain of dull gold from
the low burning fire glowing in the grate. Three pairs of eyes scrutinized
“We were beginning to think you weren’t going to come,” said Lady Emily
Stapleford, impatiently pulling Julianne away from the door. “At best we have
only a few minutes together before someone notes our absence from the party.
What on earth detained you?”
“It was difficult to escape Mother,” Julianne said. As she did at every soiree,
the Countess of Gatesbourne took her duty of advantageously placing her only
daughter in the path of every eligible titled gentleman in attendance very
seriously. Such contrivances only served to render Julianne more shy than
usual, a fact which greatly displeased her mother. Who was not shy about
voicing her displeasure.
Julianne’s three friends exchanged a glance then gave an understanding nod.
They well knew the countess’s overbearing nature.
“Well, we’re just glad you’re here,” said Carolyn Sutton, Countess Surbrooke
with a smile. “For a moment I thought perhaps a ghost absconded with you.”
Julianne glanced at the beautiful newlywed who’d returned to London two days ago
after a fortnight long wedding trip to the Continent with her new husband.
Carolyn was practically glowing with obvious happiness. Julianne’s admiration
for her friend’s calm efficiency and serene composure knew no bounds.
“Botheration, Carolyn, not you, too,” said Sarah Devenport, Marchioness
Langston, in her usual no-nonsense manner--another trait Julianne wished she
herself possessed. Sarah shoved her spectacles higher on her nose and frowned
at her sister. “You’re nearly as bad as The Times, not to mention many guests
at this party. You can’t possibly believe that a ghost is responsible for the
recent rash of robberies.”
Emily’s mouth curved upward in the mischievous grin that so often
touched her lips. “Unless he’s like the ghost in our latest book selection. Of
course, in The Ghost of Devonshire Manor there the only thing stolen was a
lady’s innocence. The story was so deliciously real--“
“Which is why I called for this meeting of the Ladies Literary
Society now,” interrupted Julianne. “The timing of a ghost robber is perfect.
I think we should hold a séance, similar to the one in the book, to discover who
this thief is.”
“I think perhaps the Devonshire Manor ghost has addled your wits,”
“Perhaps,” Julianne conceded. “I must admit I haven’t been quite
the same since I read it.” Indeed, the book had ignited a restlessness within
her she’d been unable to squelch. “The story affected me strongly. It was
“As a ghost story should be,” Emily interrupted with a grin.
“Yes, but more than anything, you can’t deny it was extremely...”
Julianne cleared her throat then lowered her voice. “...sensual as well.”
“It was indeed,” agreed Sarah. “A more apt title might have been
might have The Haunting of Lady Elaine.”
“By the Very Delicious Maxwell,” added Emily, fanning her hand in front of her
“Yes,” said Carolyn. “Maxwell was...oh, my...”
Her words trailed off into a vaporous sigh and Julianne, Emily, and Sarah all
nodded and murmured in agreement. Based on the fact that the Ladies Literary
Society’s reading selections were far more scandalous than their group’s name
would suggest--which was no accident--Julianne had known their ghost story would
be more than a simple tale of spirits flitting about in graveyards. Yet she
hadn’t anticipated its deeply sensual protagonist Maxwell, who was a ghost--a
fact that didn’t stop him from seducing the lovely Lady Elaine. Over and over
again. In some very inventive ways.
“If only such a man existed in real life,” Emily said. “So strong and brave.
Masculine and romantic and--“
“Passionate.” The word slipped from Julianne’s lips before she could stop it.
“He does exist,” Carolyn and Sarah said in unison. “I married him.” The
sisters looked at each other and shared a smile.
Julianne’s gaze dropped to Sarah’s midsection which was just starting to show
signs of swelling with the baby she carried. Her happiness for her friends,
both of whom had fallen in love and married in the last several months, mingled
with undeniable envy. She’d never have the love, joy, and passion that Sarah
and Carolyn shared with their husbands.
No, there would be no love match for her. She’d long ago accepted the
inevitable--that her father would arrange her marriage, his choice based solely
on the advantageous considerations of property, titles, and money. As she’d
been reminded practically from the cradle, she had no say in the matter, and
complying without complaint to her father’s wishes was the least she could do
since she’d had neither the decency nor the sense to be born a boy. After
overhearing her parents’ conversation earlier today, Julianne feared her
arranged marriage was closer than ever.
Still her heart dreamed of falling in love. Of passion. Of a man who would
want her in those same ways and not merely as the product of a business
arrangement. A man who would have fire in his eyes when he looked at her...
Even as Julianne tried to erase his image from her memory, a mental picture rose
in her mind. Of a tall man with stark features, ebony hair, and dark eyes
filled with secrets and mystery. A man surrounded by a veil of tempting,
enticing danger. A man forbidden to her.
His name whispered through her mind, a silent sigh of longing.
He had fire in his eyes when he looked at her--one that made her burn to know
more, to know everything about him.
“Yes, you both married fabulous, dashing men,” Emily said, pulling Julianne from
her wayward thoughts, “and very selfishly I might add, leaving nothing but
nincompoops for Julianne and I. No other such magnificent men exist, and alas,
Maxwell is but a figment of fiction.”
He existed, Julianne knew.
But he could never be hers.
Lady Elaine had suffered the same dilemma regarding her ghostly lover Maxwell in
The Ghost of Devonshire Manor and Julianne vividly understood the hopelessness
of the other woman’s impossible feelings.
“The things that Maxwell did to Lady Elaine...” Sarah gushed out a sigh. “Good
heavens, no wonder she never wanted to leave her home.”
Julianne bit back a groan as a flash of heat tingled through her body. The
story’s sensual nature had conjured all manner of fantasies featuring Gideon
Mayne, images she couldn’t dispel from her mind.
“My favorite parts of the book were when Maxwell scared off Lady Elaine’s
various suitors,” Carolyn said. “He was quite devilish. And ingenious.”
“Very,” agreed Sarah. “I especially laughed when he made the vicar’s duck
entrée dance and quack on his plate.”
“Maxwell did those things because he didn’t want another man to have the woman
he loved and desired so deeply,” Julianne said softly. “His pain was so
palpable, I could feel it, and my heart broke for him. They both knew that in
spite of their feelings their circumstances rendered them unable to truly be
Yes, circumstances no less impossible and insolvable than those between her and
the man she could not stop thinking about.
In an effort to banish thoughts of that which she could not have, Julianne
sought to change the subject back to her séance idea of catching the robber.
“Certainly if one is going to be haunted by a ghost, Maxwell is the sort to
“Oh, I agree,” interjected Emily. “Much preferable to the ghost that haunts my
Aunt Agatha’s Surrey estate. His name is Gregory. According to Aunt Agatha
he’s old, paunchy, suffers from the gout, and is wholly unpleasant.”
“What makes your aunt believe she has a ghost?” Sarah asked in a
dubious tone, pushing her spectacles higher on her nose.
“She’s seen him,” Emily responded. “And heard him. He groans a
great deal. She calls him Gregory the Groaner.”
“But how could she hear him?” Julianne asked. “Your Aunt Agatha,
although a dear lady, is deaf as a tree stump.”
“Apparently Gregory flits about in the corridors, complaining of his
aches and pains, loudly enough for even Aunt Agatha to hear.”
“Have you seen Gregory?” asked Carolyn.
Emily shook her head. “No, but I did hear some odd groaning sounds
the last time I visited.”
“Hearing groaning sounds, seeing ghosts, that’s one of the things I
wanted to discuss,” Julianne said. “Based on our book selection, I think we
should conduct a séance, similar to the one Lady Elaine held. Only instead of
trying to conjure a lover, we’ll attempt to summon this Mayfair ghost.”
Emily’s eyes sparkled with immediate interest. “An excellent
suggestion. Of course we won’t be successful, but it should prove an
interesting diversion. When and where do you suggest?”
“I could host it, tomorrow evening,” Julianne said. “Could you all
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Emily said without hesitation. “Who knows
what sort of ghost might be summoned or secrets revealed in the dark?”
“I wouldn’t miss it either,” said Sarah. “Of course, convincing
Matthew to allow me out of his sight for an entire evening will present a
challenge. He thinks that because I’m expecting I’ve turned into delicate spun
glass--although I can’t deny that his constant attention is flattering and
quite, um, titillating.” She turned to Carolyn. “I imagine your bridegroom
won’t be anxious to spend an evening without you.”
“Hopefully not.” An impish grin touched the corners of Carolyn’s
mouth. “But I’m certain Daniel and Matthew won’t object to spending a few hours
together at their club. It will be good for them to miss us.”
A wave of pent-up emotions washed over Julianne and she looked
down. The gloomy shadows swallowing her feet in the dimly lit room seemed the
personification of the future looming before her.
“You’re both so fortunate to have husbands who love you so much,” she whispered,
unable to keep the hitch of wistfulness from her voice.
“Are you all right, Julianne?”
Carolyn’s question, along with her gentle touch on Julianne’s sleeve, pulled her
gaze upward. “I’m fine,” she said, offering what she hoped was a reassuring
Emily frowned. “I don’t believe you. You seem out of sorts. And preoccupied.”
am. By the same thing that has haunted me for weeks...thoughts of something,
someone, I can never have.
Yet she couldn’t admit the truth, not even to her closest friends. They’d be
shocked, and warn her to turn her romantic inclinations toward someone
suitable. Advice anyone would give an earl’s daughter harboring an impossible
fascination for a man whose circumstances were so far removed from her own.
“Has your mother said something to upset you?” asked Sarah.
Julianne grasped onto the excuse and shot her conscience an inward frown. After
all, when didn’t her formidable mother say something upsetting? Indeed, she’d
done so only a few hours ago, and on a topic she could discuss with her
friends. And one that brought reality back with a thump.
“Actually, yes,” Julianne admitted. “I overheard her and Father talking earlier
this evening about their plans for my future. Apparently the Duke of Eastling
expressed interest in me.”
“Eastling?” repeated Emily, her expression reflecting the same wide-eyed dismay
Julianne felt at the name. “But he’s...so...so...not young.”
“He’s only just turned forty,” Carolyn said.
“Which is only several years younger than my father,” Emily retorted. “Besides,
Eastling’s already been married. And what did he do? Dragged his wife off to
Cornwall, that’s what. Which is no doubt where he’d want to drag Julianne as
well.” She turned distressed eyes toward Julianne. “Heavens, you cannot live
in Cornwall. We’d never see you!”
“His wife died,” Julianne said, “a year and half ago. He’s ready to remarry.”
“I thought something like this might be in the wind when I saw your mother
speaking to him just before he asked you to waltz,” Sarah said.
“As did I,” Carolyn agreed. “He’s very eligible. And rich. And handsome.”
“Yes,” Julianne agreed. Indeed most women found the duke, with his blonde hair
and light blue eyes, very attractive. But to Julianne, his good looks didn’t
matter. Not when he exuded the same icy, remote, uncompromising demeanor she’d
been subjected to her entire life from her father. A shudder ran through her at
the thought, and her father’s stern voice seemed to echo in her ears, the mantra
she’d heard countless times, The only thing a worthless daughter can do is marry
to the advantage of her family. She longed for warmth and passion. Not chilly
politeness and indifference.
“You are one of the loveliest, most sought-after young women in the ton,”
Carolyn said in a soothing tone, giving her hand a squeeze. “Your father will
be entertaining many offers for you. I noted you shared a dance with Lord
Haverly. He’s a decent gentlemen.”
“And as exciting as beige spots on a beige wall,” Julianne said with a sigh.
“He bears the same expression whether he’s ecstatic or livid. Indeed, the only
way to which one he might be is if he’s forthcoming enough to say, ‘I’m
ecstatic’ or ‘I’m livid.’ He spoke of nothing but the new cutaway jacket he
just purchased. He waxed poetic about every stitch. I thought I would doze off
during our waltz. Besides which, he’s bald.”
“Not completely,” said Emily. “He’s just rather thin on top.”
“What about Lord Penniwick?” Sarah asked. “You danced with him as
well, and he’s quite handsome. And has a full head of hair.”
“Yes. But unfortunately his full head of hair only comes up to my chin. He
doesn’t speak to me--he speaks to my bosom.”
“An affliction that affects many men, I’m afraid, regardless of their height,”
“Yes, but there is a lasciviousness to Penniwick’s expression that makes my skin
crawl. Every time he looks at me I fear he’s about to lick his chops. Then
“Drooling is definitely bad,” Emily said, wrinkling her nose. “What about Lord
Beechmore? He’s extremely handsome and tall.”
Julianne shrugged. “And is very well aware of his exceptional looks. I cannot
see him falling in love with any woman when he is so completely enamored of
himself. He’s also very aloof.”
“People have said you’re aloof, Julianne,” Emily pointed out with her usual
brutal honesty, “when you’re actually just shy. Perhaps the same can be said
about Lord Beechmore.”
“Perhaps,” Julianne conceded. “But there is no mistaking his conceit.”
“Don’t forget Logan Jennsen,” Sarah interjected. “You danced with him as well.
He’s incredibly handsome, incredibly tall, and not the least bit aloof. And
he’s fabulously wealthy.”
Julianne shook her head. “I agree Mr. Jennsen is all those things, but it
doesn’t matter. Father would never consider him as he’s a commoner, not to
mention an American.”
“Lord Walston has called upon you several times,” Carolyn reminded her. “He’s
attractive and seems quite nice.”
“I suppose. But he’s just so...” She searched for a word to adequately
describe the viscount who was, as Carolyn said, quite nice. They’d shared a
pleasant conversation, but in spite of his obvious intelligence and kindness, he
hadn’t lit the slightest spark of interest within her.
“Dry,” she finally finished. “He’s like unbuttered toast.”
“Well, he’s the best of the lot, so slather a bit of butter and jam on him,”
Emily said with a hint of impatience in her voice. “Unless...” Her eyes
narrowed and filled with speculation, an expression that snaked a fissure of
unease through Julianne. “You’re finding fault with gentlemen who, while
perhaps not perfect, are certainly acceptable--and certainly far preferable to
drag-you-off-to-Cornwall Eastling. The only reason I can fathom why you would
do that is because your interest lies elsewhere.”
flaming flush scorched her cheeks and she gave a silent prayer of thanks for the
dim lighting. How had their conversation floated into this perilous water?
“My interest lies in conducting a séance,” she said firmly.
“I meant that your interest lies in a different man,” Emily stated just as
firmly. “One we haven’t mentioned.”
Botheration, of course Emily, whom she’d known since childhood, would see
through her diversionary tactic.
“Who is it?” Sarah asked, her face alight with curiosity.
Someone I can never, ever have. Someone who made every other gentleman
mentioned pale in comparison. “No one.” No one I can discuss with you. “I’m
just feeling unsettled because I suspect Father will be making his decision
within the next year, and all the gentlemen he’s considering are so
very...civil.” The word seemed to burst from her, opening the floodgates to her
frustrations. “I’m so tired of polite and restrained civility. I want a man
who is interested in what I have to say and who will discuss more than fashion,
the weather, and other trivialities with me. I don’t want to merely exist--I
want to live. I want passion. Feelings. Fire.” Her words sounded desperate
even to her own ears, yet how could they not when desperation was all she felt?
Sarah reached out and clasped Julianne’s hand. Behind her spectacles, Sarah’s
eyes brimmed with a combination of sympathy and concern. “As someone who is
extremely fortunate to have those things you want, I completely understand your
desire. You deserve that happiness--every happiness--and I dearly hope it comes
“Here, here,” seconded Emily, and Carolyn nodded her agreement.
Tears pooled behind Julianne’s eyes. For the show of compassion and loyalty.
And because she knew the things she truly wanted were, by virtue of her
circumstances, out of her reach.
Not wanting to dwell on such a depressing subject, Julianne said, “Thank you.
Perhaps all of us hoping will insure a favorable result. As for tomorrow night,
shall we say nine o’clock?”
“Perfect,” Sarah agreed, while Carolyn and Emily nodded. “But now I
think we’d best return to the party. Matthew is no doubt craning his neck
about, looking for me, worried that something’s amiss. Good heavens, by the
time the baby is actually due to arrive I fear his hair will be standing up
straight on end--all of it that he hasn’t yanked out--and he’ll teeter on the
edge of panic.”
Julianne smiled briefly at the picture Sarah’s words painted of her
normally calm, level-headed husband. Clearly love could make one act in very
Just then she heard a soft click. She turned quickly and stared at
the closed door. “Did you hear that?” she whispered.
“What?” responded a trio of whispers.
“It sounded like a door being softly shut.” She hurried over to the
door and opened it a crack. Peeked into the corridor. And found it empty.
Relieved, she drew a deep breath, and detected a hint of...something. Something
elusive she couldn’t place other than to know it pleased her.
She turned back to her friends. “Clearly I’m imagining things.”
“Or perhaps my aunt’s ghost is flitting about,” Emily said with a
grin. “Regardless, it’s time we returned to the party.”
Julianne again peeked into the corridor, and upon finding it empty,
she silently motioned for her friends to follow her. They made their way back
to the party, the sounds of merriment increasing as they approached.