CHAPTER ONE

 

October 1816 ~ Torrington Abbey, Cumberland

 

    “Who is she?” David Thorn demanded of Brighid, wife of his good friend Blake Chetwey. It’s the same question he’d asked the few times he’d seen her in the past year, never getting a satisfied answer.

    Instead of going straight to Marisdùn Castle, where David planned on staying for the next sennight to attend the Samhain masquerade, he’d ridden to Torrington Abbey. Though he did wish to visit his good friend, David was more interested in interrogating Brighid. It was all he could do to get through the pleasantries and sip tea before he asked her the question that’d been plaguing him.

    The witch merely blinked up at him. “Whom?”

    “You know bloody well,” Thorn growled.

    “You are speaking to my wife,” Chetwey warned. “She’s of a delicate condition and a lady.”

    Brighid smiled and patted her large belly. He shouldn’t even be seeing her in this condition, but he was the one who’d come into her home. He remembered learning that she was expecting, but hadn’t really thought beyond the news and wishing his friend congratulations. Now that he’d seen her, heavy with child, David realized that it had been months since he’d first been told and he hadn’t seen Brighid since the end of the Season. She looked as if she could deliver any moment or possibly should have by now. Not that he had any experience being around ladies in an interesting condition since they were always hidden from society as if it was something to be ashamed of.

    He probably should also think twice before angering this powerful witch, too. Especially right now.

    To think he didn’t believe in spirits, witches and thought it all nonsense until a year ago. But, after watching her banish an evil spirit, working tirelessly to find a way to bring Callie Bradenham back from the other side, there was no doubt in David’s mind that there was a good deal of magic in this world and things beyond his comprehension.

    Chetwey was one lucky bastard and this wasn’t the first time David wished he was in his Chetwey’s shoes. Not married to Brighid, of course. That would never work, but to have a wife who looked at him the way Brighid looked at Chetwey. A woman he could love the way Blake did her. A wife, growing large with his child.

    Not that he would ever, in a million years, admit those thoughts to anyone. It wouldn’t be pleasant becoming the brunt of jokes from his friends. Even worse, for the ladies in Society to get wind of his thoughts. They’d never give him a moment’s rest. Reforming the rake and all that nonsense. Besides, if ladies were wise, they wouldn’t want their husbands to be completely reformed, especially in the privacy of a bedchamber.

    Just the thought of ladies and their mamas hounding him through London sent shivers down his spine. It was scarier than returning to Marisdùn Castle with its variety of ghosts.

    “I just don’t see why she can’t tell me who the Italian artist is. I know Brighid knows.”

    “I don’t know any Italians,” Brighid answered innocently.

    Perhaps the sketching fairy only spoke with an Italian accent to hide her identity. It was a masquerade after all. “I am sure you know a few artists.” David glared at her.

    She smiled sweetly at him. “Maybe.”

    “Do you know who sketched my portrait at the Samhain party?”

    Brighid simply shrugged.

    It’s the same response he’d gotten before.  “Why won’t you tell me?” David raked his fingers through his hair and practically jumped to his feet before he started pacing. Irritating and frustrating witch!

    “If she wished for you to know who she is, I assumed she would have remained.”

    “Ah ha!” He wheeled around and wagged a finger at her. “So, you do know. It’s taken me nearly a year, but finally we are getting somewhere.”

    “I find it hard to believe you’ve been yearning for the artist all this time.” Chetwey chuckled from his seat beside his wife.

    “I’m sure it’s only because she got away. Our dear Mr. Thorn is not used to such a predicament,” Brighid teased.

    The same thoughts had crossed his own mind. Was it simply because the masked artist disappeared before he could get to know her better? Her voice had entranced him, and not just the Italian accent, which may or may not have been real, but that smile. Full, red lips, and the only part of her face he could see. Her laugh was soft and gentle, with a rich tone that went straight to his nether regions. When she approached him, sketch book in hand, and asked him to sit, Thorn automatically complied without thought. All she had to do was touch his arm with her delicate hand and he followed her without question.

    That was so out of character for him. The purpose of the party, originally anyway, was to find ladies without drawers and have a decadent good time. Of course, he did wonder if she was wearing any drawers and how they might better come to know one another while she sketched him, but he hadn’t even attempted to kiss her or discourage her from drawing his features. It was a party, the ale was flowing, and people were dancing while he sat for a bloody portrait.

Had she bewitched him somehow? Was it the magic of that special night?

    That had to be it because he could think of no other reason he acted so out of character.

He’d barely met the golden haired fairy who wore a blasted half-mask that revealed only her full, ruby lips.  Even though nearly a year passed, he still could not put the artist from his mind, and she had ruined his pursuit of every other female since. It was her fault he was having such uncharacteristic thoughts like marriage and babies and such.

    Maybe she was a ghost.

    David wasn’t sure if that possibility was helpful. If she was of another world, any future was certainly impossible. Well, until he died too, but he wasn’t so foolish as to take such a drastic action just to be with her. He’d just need to find a substitute among the living and make the best of it.

    Bloody hell! All these aberrant thoughts over a woman he’d spent only a few hours with were driving him mad. What the blazes was wrong with him? “Maybe she’s a witch too.” That would certainly explain everything.

    “I can assure you she is not.” Brighid grinned at him. “And, maybe she’ll be at the masquerade this year.”

    “I’d prefer to meet her before so I’m not chasing after an otherworldly woman like Quent.”

    “Other-worldly?” Chetwey asked.

    “Braden’s convinced the woman he kissed was a ghost.”

    “It is possible,” Brighid suggested before lifting her cup of tea.

    Thorn refused to believe the woman he sat for was a spirit. By the time Quentin Post had kissed his angel, he had been into his cups. Thorn had been sober. Another oddity of that night.

Blake set his glass aside and smiled sympathetically at his friend. “Why don’t we play a game of billiards? It’ll take your mind off of your mysterious lady.”

    Like trouncing Chetwey would make him forget about the woman who had been haunting his dreams for a year. “Might as well since your wife isn’t going to be of any help.”

    “If she wanted to be found, she would have stayed around,” Brighid called after them as they sauntered from the room.

    David ignored her and followed Chetwey down the hall into a dark paneled room, a billiards table set up in the center, and leather chairs set up around the perimeter. This was a gentleman’s room and the witch probably never came in here. Not that she could even play billiards right now. Not with the way she’d increased. But she sure was beautiful.

    “Do you know that Garrick actually had the audacity to suggest I’m losing my touch?”

    Chetwey choked back laughter. “I’m sure that isn’t it. Maybe your heart isn’t in the chase any longer.”

    David took a pool cue from the rack on the wall. “It hasn’t been for a very long time, my friend.”

    “What?”

    David straightened, his eyes bored into Chetwey’s. “If you tell a single soul, I’ll deny it with every breath.” Taking the cue, he lined up the end with the ball. “I do have a reputation to protect.”

 

 

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