WISTERIA COTTAGE

By Atonia Walpole

(Picture creations also by Atonia)

Part 1

The road couldn’t be called a road. There were faint traces but the surrounding forest had encroached on the grounds. Trees sprouted up in the oddest places. She drove in as far as sensible and got out to walk the rest of the way, leaving her car in the last vestiges of a drive. Brianna Miller, Bree to her friends, had come to claim her inheritance.

The house, if there were indeed a house still standing, was the dowager house connected to the Hamilton Estate, Ravenwing.  The Dowager was a clear deed to her great - great- great grandmother and as far as Bree knew no one in the family had been there since she passed away. Her mother’s family moved to America and never returned. Everyone in her family had urged her to sell and to sell sight unseen. Bree had never owned anything except her little car back in North Carolina and to give up something she’d never even seen was just not something she was going to do. Her mother hadn’t sold it so why should she?

The farther in she walked the more shaded it became. Older trees here with broad canopies let only a thin veil of light through the leaves. She watched where she walked on the thick carpet of leaves. Bracken was pungent in the air and the sound of birdsong up in the trees was the only sound around. A fox darted out from the undergrowth and nearly stopped her heart. She turned around and wiped her brow. The car was no longer visible. She was glad now that she’d brought her backpack.

It was early April and the vines were leafing out in the forest.  She began to think about children’s fairy tale books and how sinister forests seemed to twine around with branches reaching down to grab you. There was a scent in the air. She stopped and inhaled deeply. Oh, what was it? It was something she’d smelled before, floral but clean and fresh. She looked up and the sky was a bit more visible here and the tree tops were in bloom. Wisteria.

Of course! That was the name of the house. Wisteria Cottage.

Spurred on by the scent, she picked up her pace and soon began seeing signs of a residence. A stone wall. A dried up fish pond half full of debris. Stone benches some whole and some crumbling. A gate finally stood between her and the great lump of a house. She grasped the wrought iron gate in her hands and looked through it. There was a vague shape of a tall house, maybe wings flung out to each side. The whole structure was covered in wisteria with roof tiles visible higher up. She pulled at the gate and it opened, creaking on its rusty hinges.

“Oh!” she said aloud with her hand to her mouth. The blooms hung down nearly a foot in length and danced in the breeze. Their scent was intoxicating. “How beautiful you are,” she murmured.

As if in answer, a roof tile fell to the ground and broke in two.

“Oh dear!” She picked her way over to the front of the house. The vines had snaked across the top of the ground toward the trees and as she looked back it was claiming them one by one. Wisteria was beautiful when in bloom but left unchecked this is what you got. It was aggressive and destructive, attaching itself to the house and sending its feelers into the mortar.  Some of the vines were as big as tree trunks.

“Don’t fall down on me,” she said aloud and tried the double front doors. She had to give it a shove but the door came open. She could hear her brother’s voice in her head saying, ‘Don’t go in there, Bree. It’s not safe and you don’t know what’s there.’ But he wasn’t here to stop her and she crossed the threshold.

The house was dark inside with the vines covering the windows. She felt in her bag and brought out a small flashlight. Peeling wallpaper lay in clumps on the floor. She was standing in the entry way, a square room with a flight of stairs going up the right and a room off to her left and one off to her right. The floor looked to be marble. Slowly and carefully she moved from room to room. The house was unfurnished and smelled of damp. She made herself go upstairs and look around. Birds were in the house and with tiles falling off, she expected holes in the ceilings. She found none during her quick inspection but a window was out in one of the bedrooms, of which there were three.

Back downstairs she opened the back door. It wasn’t so bad out the back. This was the north side of the house. The ground sloped down from the back of the house to a line of trees but over the top of the trees was a line of blue green. The English Channel. She was pretty high up and thought there had to be a steep cliff somewhere down there.

Turning back to the house, she felt better now. It was only a house fallen to ruin. Only a house. The inspection wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been dark. She chuckled a little at herself. What had she expected to find? She noticed there were closed shutters on the back of the house and thought she might open them to let in some light. There was a small kitchen and scullery and another empty room whose purpose she didn’t know.

First things first. She must call Mr. Treadaway and let him know she was in. He was the solicitor she’d seen in London.

“Summer house? No, sir, I’ve not found it yet. Thank you, I will.” She closed her phone and walked around the back garden. It was terraced downward and on the second level off to the left was another structure. Mr. Treadaway called it a summer house. The roof was sound and the stone structure was in better condition than the house. Here only roses tumbled over the roof and down the sides. There were no glass windows, only shutters and she opened them, letting in the light. The floor was slate and the walls bead board paneled. It was unfurnished except for a wooden bench that she sat on. The summer house was divided into two rooms, one for sleeping and one for eating and cooking. There was a fireplace and an old wood stove.

“Happy,” she said aloud. “This is a happy place. Good things happened here.” She opened her back pack and took out a bottle of water and a sandwich.

When she left London she wasn’t sure what she would find and she came prepared to spend the night. She thought it probably would get cold in the night and left the summer house to look for some firewood. Tomorrow she would hike out and bring in some more provisions.

When darkness finally came it was a total darkness with only the stars above and the moon and the firelight.  She pulled her sleeping bag near the fireplace and lay listening to the fire crackle and the night sounds outside

He waited until she was asleep before he came out.  He wanted to see her without being seen. Crouching quietly beside her, he gently lifted a lock of her hair. This was the one he’d been waiting for.

He was perched on the bench when she began to stir the next morning. He quickly retired to the other room. It was too soon to reveal himself and he wanted to get to know her a little.

Bree sat on in the doorway of the summer house having a breakfast bar and a bottle of water. If she was going to camp here then she would have to do a little better than this. There had been running water here and so there was a well and a pump somewhere. But without electricity the pump wouldn’t run. She wondered about the electricity, would it even be safe to turn it on. From what she could determine, the summer house had not been wired for electricity.

Mr. Treadaway had been most helpful and she had only to ask for it but she wanted to experience the place for herself before having a contractor in. His assessment of the house may have been correct. He said it was a tear-down. However, if there was a way to save it, she would. She looked up at the house and could see from this angle that the side wings were porches.

She hauled her backpack and sleeping bag back up to the house and found a way into one of the porches through the wisteria. In the silence she heard a distant roar of a motor and walking to the front she waited to see what might be coming. It was a motorcycle. The man circled around the front of the house and to the back. She kept herself concealed in the vines. The motor quit and she couldn’t see what he was doing down the back. “Probably messing about my summer house,” she thought. The noisy motor began again and he rode back up to the house and parked.

She had a look at him now. His sunglasses off, he stood with his legs apart and hands on his hips looking at the back of the house. He was squinting in the sun or maybe it was a scowl, either way he didn’t look too happy. She wondered why he’d come and from where?

“Hello,” he called out. "Anyone here?”

Bree kept silent.

He went over to the door and walked thought the house. Bree made a face; she’d forgotten to lock up.

“Miss Miller?” he called out again.

She took a quick breath. How did he know who she was? Ah, the car. All her paperwork for renting the car was left in the glove box and she hadn’t locked the car.

He came out of the front door and looked around. She held her breath while he walked around her end of the porch. He stopped once and looked toward the porch then moved on to his bike. The noise was deafening, disrupting every peaceful thing about her. He roared around to the front and took off the way he’d come.

Now silent peace settled about her like a blanket. The porch floor was covered in flower petals. She scooped them up and threw them in the air. It was snowing petals. How dare he come and intrude on her paradise? It never occurred to her that she might not be alone.

Part 2

The closest town was Lyme Regis. Once she got to her car she studied her map and turned around and drove out. Turning left, she drove along a wall here and there covered in wisteria. It seemed to go on forever and as the road dipped and rose she caught site of the house. Nestled amongst some tall trees, you could only see a bit of the roof from the road. She thought that might be Ravenwing. Soon she saw a sign cut into the wall, but only briefly as she drove by.

She completed her shopping in Lyme Regis and enjoyed a hot meal before setting off with her car full of cartons and bags. This time she was determined to drive her car closer in.  However she stopped about where she’d been parked before. There was a police car there. She got out and walked over, finding it empty.

“Now what?” She locked her car this time and walked in, making better time because she knew where she was going.

He stood up near the house beside his hulking bike. An officer was with him and another down the terrace going through the summer house.

Bree walked up, angry that he’d come back. What right did he have on her property?

“Hello, are you looking for me?” she asked.

Both the man and the officer turned quickly around. “Miss Miller?” the officer asked.

“Yes. May I ask why you are here on my property?”

The officer turned to the man.

He looked at her a moment through his sunglasses. “I saw the smoke early this morning and then found your car. You didn’t seem to be around and I thought something might have gone amiss.”

“Nothing has gone amiss. I stayed in the summer house last night and built a fire. This is my property. You seem to have the advantage…who are you?”

“Colin Hamilton.”

“Ravenwing?”

“Yes.” He turned to the officer. “Sorry to have called you out here for nothing. I thought there might have been a poacher or some transient building fires.”

“That’s quite all right, Mr. Hamilton.” The officer stepped down the hill to get his partner.

Colin turned to Bree. “You might have let someone know you were coming.”

His eyes flashed and she stepped back a step. He emanated energy; vitality whirled around him like a mist. He moved like a tightly coiled spring, controlled, but the power was there. He upset her, clashed with her world.

“I didn’t know I had to have your permission to visit my own house.”

His lips formed a line. “You didn’t need my permission. How long do you plan to be here?”

“I don’t know yet, maybe forever.” She flung the words at him and then bit her lip. He brought out the worst in her. She couldn’t even be civil to him. She hadn’t stopped to wonder why, for he hadn’t done a thing to upset her.

“It’s not habitable. There’s no electrics, gas or water.”

“I’m well aware of that. I’ve got some camping gear in my car and I plan to stay in the summer house until I decide what to do about the house.”

“There’s only one thing to do, tear it down. Have you found the lake?”

“No.”

“If you’re going to be here for awhile…you might find it useful.”  He turned and mounted his bike. The police were walking around to the front of the house. He waited until they were out of sight.

“Where’s your car?”

“Same place it was yesterday. I had intended to drive it in until I saw the police here.”

He gunned his motor, shattering the silence around them. “I’ll give you a ride back then.”

She didn’t want to get on the back of his bike with him. All that electric energy he sparked might burn.

“Well?”

She did and tried her best not to touch him but her thighs betrayed her clamping onto his hips as the bike began to move. He didn’t take her around the house but down the terraced back. She closed her eyes, afraid he was going to dump them over. He followed the line of the trees dipping downward and then out to a grassy area and the lake. Grasses were thick around the edges. He rode all the way around it and showed her the spillway.

“Goes down and eventually empties into the channel. It’s not a natural lake.”

He slowed again where the remains of a dock still showed above the water. “It’s easy to access here; there are stones under the water.”

“I don’t remember seeing this on the plat I was shown.”

“It’s not officially part of the property. The line stops up there where that rock outcropping begins.”

“Then why are you showing it to me?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” He gunned the motor. “I forgot you were an American. You probably don’t bathe.” With that he took off, bouncing across the landscape.

Thoughts of boxing his ears left her while she held on for dear life. He brought her up to her car and stopped. Bree shakily got off the back of his bike and turned on him. “That was unnecessary and done for pure spite."

“Sorry.” He rode a circle around her car and left.

She jerked her car door open. He wasn’t sorry. He was horrible and…and…

By the time she got all her things carried from the car and down the summer house she was exhausted. The adrenalin rush she’d had earlier, fueled in part by her anger, burnt away. Too tired to unpack and arrange her new home, she went outside to the garden. Bees were busy in the roses. She dragged the folding chair she’d bought out in the garden and sat down, leaning her head back. The sun was playing through the trees, now you see me now you don’t. She felt all the tension leaving her body. She closed her eyes and tried empting her mind.

Her lips curved in a smile. Of all things…music. What was it…the name of it?

“Moonlight Serenade…Glen Miller.”

“Oh, yes…I know it.” It was almost as though she was waiting for the next thing. The music continued.

“I saw him.”

Her eyes flew open, the music faded and she sat up straight in her chair. She was alone. “Hello?” She said it softly, not really wanting to hear an answer, not wanting anyone to be there. But she couldn’t deny the music and the voice she’d heard.  She listened to the silence, insect sounds, and a rustle in the leaves. “Who’s there?” she asked again.

He was in the summer house looking out of the door, doing something he’d done since he was a kid, smoking. “I saw him in London during the blitz.”

“Where…who?” She stood up and caught a whiff of cigarette smoke. She backed toward the summer house, looking left and right. “Come out…where are you?” She backed up the steps.

He backed up, too. Once inside, she slammed the door and locked it. The shutters were pulled in and hooked. While she was running about he moved with her, even tugging at a shutter to make sure it was hooked.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw flashes of light but it was the smoke that frightened her. From inside her secured haven she yelled out through a crack in the shutter, “This is not funny, Colin Hamilton!”

“Why are you calling him?”

“Because he…oh.” Who was she talking to? Okay, Bree, settle down and figure this out. Logical…explanation…tricks of sunlight…overactive imagination…She settled on the bench.

“Is someone here?” she asked quietly.

“Yes,” he answered.

“Who, who are you?”

“Allen.”

“Allen?”

“Allen Hamilton and you are Brianna Miller.”

“How do you know?”

“You introduced yourself to him.”

“Why are you here?”

“I was happy here.” He walked over to the fireplace and ran a hand over the stones. “I wasn’t finished. I came home.”

“This was your home?”

“This, no. Ravenwing was home. This is where I was happiest.”

“You, you’re a ghost?”

“If you like.” He flicked the cigarette into the fireplace. She saw the smoke and the lit end as it hit the ashes.

“Uh, I didn’t know ghosts could smoke.” Bree didn’t know for sure whether she should be afraid or not.

“I’ve always smoked. Some things don’t change.”

“Will I see you?”

“Do you want to?”

She took a breath. “Yes.”

“You are not frightened of me?”

“No.  I don’t feel you mean me any harm.”

“Quite the contrary.” He spoke softly and sat down on the bench beside her.

She felt him beside her. His weight on the bench caused it to move slightly. She moistened her lips, waiting. He quite simply appeared next to her. “Allen…”

“Brianna.”

She swallowed. “It’s, um, Bree. I’m called Bree.” He was very handsome. His eyes were green and his hair a light chestnut brown. Curls rejected the strict work of his comb. He was dressed in a white shirt, sleeves rolled up and a pair of light colored slacks.

“You aren’t going to scream, are you?”

“Quite the contrary,” she repeated.

Part 3

Bree had always known she had that sixth sense or whatever it was that allowed her to feel and see things others didn’t. He wasn’t the first ghost in her life but certainly he was the most solid one she’d ever encountered.

“What happened to you…how?”

“Ah, you want all that, do you? I was shot out of the sky over the Channel. Went out in a blaze of glory. Did my father proud.”

“You were a pilot?”

“RAF, yes.”

“I’m sorry I was curious. I don’t mean to bring up sadness.”

“There wasn’t any sadness, at least for me. At least not then. It all happened too quickly. No…the sadness came when I got home. My father suffered a stroke and died. Shortly after I came here but they were all gone. Grandmother was dead and my uncle took the girls to America.

“One of those girls was my great, great grandmother.”

He looked at her for a moment. “They were adopted. Did you know that?”
 

“No.”

“I was in love with Marlene. I used to spend a great deal of time here with her.”

“She was awfully young.”

“Seventeen. Their family was sent to a concentration camp. The father was a diplomat in Paris.”

“I didn’t know they were Jewish.”

“He was though he tried to hide it. Anyway, my Grandmother knew the mother and that’s how they were smuggled across the Channel.”

“I was always told they were twins. Were they?”

“They were fraternal twins.”

“I have a twin brother.”

“Do you? It’s going to be swell getting to know you.”

Bree smiled slightly. “So basically the family died out. Is that right, is that how my mother was able to inherit this house?”

“Ah, this house. Do you know what a dowager house is?”

“Yes, built for the wife’s relative.”

“Sometimes it’s for the man’s relative. When he takes a wife he moves his mother to the dowager house. It was her wish that the property stay with the female line. She adopted the two girls and so they were hers. My father had no daughters. When my grandfather passed he deeded the house to his mother.”

“I’m glad it’s still standing.”

“It needs…much care.”

She thought about her shopping. “I think I’ll make some tea. I don’t suppose you...?”

“No,” he smiled. “I do miss tea.”

She had a little propane stove and a pot for boiling water. All this she placed on top of the wood stove. “Was this summer house ever wired for electricity?”

“We used candles and lanterns.”

“I like that idea, too. Where did the music come from?”

“We used to have a record player here. Marlene liked Glen Miller. We had all the latest songs.”

“Did she know you saw him in London?”

“Yes.”

Bree was glad to hear that. She didn’t want him to think SHE was Marlene. He was a fountain of information about the house and the people.

He disappeared when she went to bed in her sleeping bag but he didn’t go far. He watched over her while she slept.

The stone floor did not make a comfortable bed, no matter how many down feathers beneath you. She woke the next morning with a backache. She opened the shutters and the door, letting in the light and fresh air. Taking her cup of tea to the door, she looked up at the house. Today she would see about getting the back shutters opened and take another look inside. While she was contemplating this she heard a motor. This wasn’t the ear rumbling motorcycle. She climbed the path and went around to the front of the house. Back in the trees was a tractor working.

It was Colin, scraping her road. Well…

She walked to the gate and he stopped the motor.

“If you’ll move your car, I’ll get the rest of it.”

“Oh, okay.” Her keys were down at the summer house. “I’ll get my keys.”

She pulled her car to the gate.

He was down off his machine and walking toward her. “Are you okay in the summer house?”

“Yes, I’m fine down there.”

He looked away for a moment. “We have many outbuildings at Ravenwing. Somewhere in one of them are the original furnishings for the house and the summer house.”

Bree’s mouth dropped open. “Oh…is there a way I might be able to have them?”

“The summer house?”

“Yes, yes, that would be wonderful.”

“I’ll send a lorry over with what I find.”

“Thank you.”

“The road’s not perfect but you can get in and out now. Have you got a phone?”

“Yes, I charged it up with my car.”

“Good.”

His blue-green look seemed to penetrate her eyes and get down inside her somewhere deep. Never a smile, just an arrogant gaze. He was all business again, moving back to his tractor. He threw over his shoulder, “If the lake is too cold, I’ve got about fifteen bathrooms. Just don’t come Thursday through Saturday. That’s tour day.”  He climbed up on his tractor and started the motor.

He’d done a nice thing for her with the road and the furnishings to come. Why did he have to be so arrogant and cold? He wasn’t likeable at all. He disturbed her atmosphere and she was glad to see the back of him and his tractor disappearing in the trees. The lake would NOT be too cold.

She went back to the summer house and paused. “Allen?” He wasn’t there. She could almost believe she’d dreamed the whole episode the night before. With her toiletries she walked down to the lake. It didn’t take her long. The water was freezing. She made her way, shivering and shaking and blue, back to the summer house and some clean clothes.

She sat in her chair in the sun, warming and drying her hair.

She had the back shutters open on the house and light flooded the rooms. She could make out the wallpaper pattern now and the side windows were not covered in vines but old threadbare rotten drapes that fell in a heap when she pulled on them. French doors led out onto the porch she’d hidden on the day before.

The kitchen was a period piece from the 1930’s. She thought it was charming but not practical. There was nothing really practical here but it was hers.  As long as it was structurally sound, it could be restored. She would talk to Treadaway about the contractor.

It was late in the evening when the old lorry came rumbling down the newly-scraped road. Two men got out and came into the house where she was sweeping out a pile of dirt and debris.

“Oh, it goes down the hill in the summer house…not in here.” She put down her broom and went out to see what they had.

Two beds, tables, chairs, two old sofas, rugs, oil lamps and candle holders. A trunk full of linens. Another trunk full of what appeared to be junk. An old record player and a box of records.

“Mr. Hamilton reckons that’s the lot from the summer house.” The man tipped his cap to her and he and his helper left her with the house.

Bree was excited and pulled out her box of candles now that she had something to plug them into. The beds were set-up and she made them with the old linens and feather pillows. She was still getting the bedroom situated when the music started.

Allen was standing by the record player with a record in his hand.

“You started it up?”

“Do you like this?”

“Yes…it’s nice.”

The record player had been moved to a table. The men had left it on the floor by the sofa. “Is this where it used to sit?” she asked.

“The phonograph? Yes.” He turned the record over. “The sofas aren’t right and the chairs are out of place but we’ll get it put right.

“You can, um, move things about?”

“I can do anything.” He looked up at her through a fringe of hair fallen across his brow.

“Oh…well, good. Except eat and drink…” She could almost believe he was alive.

“I don’t seem to need that anymore.” He changed the record. “Dance with me?”

“I…uh…okay.”  This was the first time she’d touched him. Not cold and not warm, either. He was room temperature. There wasn’t room to dance with the furniture at sixes and sevens. Still he moved with the rhythm. He was a good dancer. He had a hand at her waist and held her other hand in his.

“You dance very well.”

“I was just thinking the same thing about you.” She looked up at him and he held her a little closer. “It’s been a long time since I’ve waltzed. In fact I’m not sure I ever have…not like this. Who taught you?” she asked.

“I had a dancing instructor. All young gentlemen are taught to dance.”

She tilted her head and smiled. “What a great idea. It’s a shame it still isn’t practiced. We could use a few more gentlemen today.”

“Have you got a boyfriend?”

“No…no, I haven’t. I had one but we broke up. It wasn’t going to work for us."

“Why?”

“He was going on to medical school and said how nice it would be for me to work and help him out. That was an eye opener for me. I didn’t know at the time what I wanted to do but slaving while he went to school wasn’t it. That was a year ago. My mother became ill and passed away. Brian and I, that’s my brother, just finished settling her estate. He got the money and I got the house. That’s not true really.  I had a trust fund from my father.”

He reached over and took the needle off the record. “So you’re an orphan, then?”

“Yes…a 22 year old orphan.”

“I’m glad you’ve come at last.” He placed his hands on her shoulders and leaned in and kissed her softly and chastely. “Good night, Bree.”

Part 4

It was Wednesday and Bree couldn’t face another dip in the lake. She’d been working in the house and the summer house and frankly needed a real bath. With a change of clothes in her bag she drove through the gates of Ravenwing. He had extended the invitation, however rudely, and now she was going to take him up on it.

She was let in by a butler and shown into a room to wait for Mr. Hamilton. Bree felt dirty and out of place. The room looked like a museum.  She heard his voice in the hall talking quietly with someone.

“Well, if it isn’t my neighbor.” He entered smiling and it gave him an entirely different look.

“Mr. Hamilton.”

“To what do I owe the pleasure? Please, sit down.”

“No…I,” she swallowed. “I’ve come about a bath. You said I might use one of your bathrooms.”

He looked her up and down insolently. “Ah, you’ve been in the lake.”

“It’s raining, Mr. Hamilton. I suppose if I stood out in it long enough…” She was very conscious of her dark blond hair roped into a ponytail and the grime under her nails.

He grinned, adding to her embarrassment. “I’ll have someone show you to the bath.” He turned to leave and paused. “Miss Miller, you’ll stay for lunch.” He left the room

She felt the heat rise in her face. He brought her claws out every time she was around him. A woman in a twinset and an ancient tweed skirt appeared and led her up the stairs to the third floor, down a wide hallway and into one of the guest rooms. The bath was huge and ornately fitted. She turned on the taps and stripped. There was no need to use her own soaps and shampoos. A variety was at hand along with a thick fluffy robe. This was luxury, pure luxury, and she indulged.

Lunch was served in the conservatory, a huge glassed-in room at the back of the house. The plants were huge and trees were growing inside enormous pots. She was shown to the table and stood by her chair nervously. She was thinking she should have slipped out of the front door when he appeared. He was a handsome man she had to admit but he was a lot of other things, too, she reminded herself as he held her chair and sat down opposite her at the round table.

“A good way to enjoy a rainy day, don’t you think,” he smiled and picked up his wine glass. High above them a chandelier cast a glow. The rain splattered glass ceiling hardly mattered.

“Thank you for letting me use your bath. It was quite a luxury.”

“You’re roughing it and you’re not used to that, are you?”

“No, not really. Camping as a child, but nothing recent.”

“Why didn’t you book a room in Lyme Regis?”

His voice was a purr, deep and seductive. “I wanted to experience the house. It’s been handed down now for four generations and I’m the first to actually see it.”

“Marlene and Charlene…the twins. Which one are you descended from?”

“Charlene.”

“We’re not related, you know.”

“I know. They were adopted.”

Lunch arrived, delicious and filling. Bree hadn’t realized how hungry she was. Her provisions were mostly tins of beans and bread and cheese. He was quite entertaining, talking about the properties. His and hers.

“I’m the last of the direct line unless I manage to produce an heir someday. I’ll take you on a tour if you’d like.”

“I‘d like to see the house.”

As civil as he was and as careful as she was, the tension between them was almost visible. She couldn’t think where it came from.

“If you’re busy, I can come back on tour day.”

“Ah, but I’m not going to do that tour. I’ll show you where I actually live in this museum.”

His tour began down on the main level. He had his office there and a private library. “There’s another library, of course, as all great country houses have. Books lined from floor to ceiling bought and added over time, mostly to impress visitors. This is mine.” He opened the door to a cozy room with bookshelves lining three walls. The fourth held a large window with a view out on to the lawn. The bestsellers and reference books still in their dust jackets told of a man who liked to read for the pleasure of it.

He lived in the west wing of the house. He had a media room with wide screen TVs and comfortable seating. A reception room, he called it, with doors leading out onto a wide terrace. Out on the lawn she caught sight of a pool and a pool house.

Upstairs he paused before a door. “This is my bedroom…if you’d care to see it.”

“I don’t believe so.” She looked away from his dark eyes.

“This one was my father’s room.” He opened another door and she walked through. Photographs lined the mantle and she was drawn to them. “That was my father.”

She glanced at him and smiled. “This was my grandfather…me when I was a lad…my mother…my great grandfather…great uncle.”

She stopped at the great uncle and looked closely at the picture. He was in uniform. “World War II.”

“Um, yes. That was great uncle Allen. His plane was shot down over the Channel. Not far from here, actually.”

“A very handsome family. Thank you for showing me around.”

“I’m sure I bored you to death.” He stood by the door as she passed through.

She turned and met his look. “No, you didn’t. I would have told you if I thought you were boring.”

A smile played about his lips and eyes. “I believe you would.”

“Do you live alone here?” She had seen nothing feminine to suggest a woman’s presence.

“Yes, except for the occasional wandering cousin. I am alone.”

He walked her down to the great hall. “Come again now that you know the way.”

“I may make use of your bathroom again. I have a contractor coming later this week.”

“A contractor. Surely you are not thinking about restoring that heap? My dear, the vines have wrecked it. They are in the foundation, embedded in the mortar. If you cut them away the house will tumble.”

“We’ll see about that when a professional has inspected it. Mr. Treadaway has contacted a highly respected and well known firm to do the assessment.” She held her chin up.

“Is that so? May I ask whom he has contracted?”

“Um…oh…ah, Agatha Christie…you know the pie?” She desperately searched for the name.

His face gave nothing away. “Blackbirds?”

“That’s it. Blackbird Builders Ltd.”

“I see. Well, lucky you.” He smiled and opened the door.

“Thank you again.” She paused and made the mistake of looking into his eyes. There was a light there; was it amusement? Had she provided him with a little amusement on this cool, rainy day? She was about to say something sarcastic.

“Thank you for coming.” He meant it and she knew it.

She pulled up in front of her wisteria-covered house and sat in the car for a moment. What a strange man he was. Colin could be arrogant to the point of being cruel and yet…ohhhhh.  She used her umbrella on the way to the cottage.

With candles lit and an oil lamp burning, Bree opened the trunk full of junk. However it wasn’t junk at all. Books, notebooks, photos, bric-a-brac. She looked at the photos, some were framed and some loose as if they might have been stuck in the corner of something. There was Allen and another man she recognized as his brother, yhe twins and an elderly lady.

“That was my grandmother.” He leaned over her shoulder.

“I didn’t know you were here.”

“That’s Marlene. I carried a copy of that picture with me.”

“She’s very beautiful here. You really loved her, didn’t you?”

“As much as a young man can love. It was a different time. The war was all over us. That was taken the last summer I was here. Those were desperate times. We had to wring what we could out of life.”

“I saw a photo of you at Ravenwing.”

“The one my father kept on his dresser. Yes. I was the second son and I never excelled in much of anything. I liked playing cricket for fun, sailing for fun. I spent too much time in the libraries at school. These are my notebooks. I brought them over for Marlene to read and never got around to taking them home.”

“Had you planned to marry Marlene?”

“I wanted to…I wanted to very much.”

“There wasn’t time…?”

“It would never have been permitted.” He reached into the trunk and pulled out a notebook.

She turned to look at him. He was very close and she wished he wasn’t a ghost. She was attracted to him. He leaned against the back of the sofa and placed the notebook on his knees.

“Shall I read to you?”

“Yes, do.” She leaned against the trunk facing him with her legs stretched out underneath the sofa.

He had a lovely voice with which to read his own poetry. Before long she was in tears. This beautiful young man…oh. How sad.

He finished the poem and looked up. “Don’t cry.” He reached over and wiped her tears with his hand.

“I can’t help it,” she sniffed. “It’s beautiful.” He was a gentle, sensitive soul and very talented.

He took her hand and tugged her over to him, leaning her across his chest in his arms like a baby then picked up the notebook again and turned a page.  She closed her eyes, listening to him read his work. Turning her face into his chest…there was no heartbeat. At first it alarmed her but the flow of his words were reassuring and comforting and filled with longing.

When he finished, “You’re very talented,” she whispered.

He closed the notebook, took her face in his hand and kissed her. There was nothing chaste about this kiss. Her arm went around his neck. He didn’t feel strange to her because she’d gotten used to him.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.” He pulled away and righted her in the floor.

“No…it was all right,”  she replied.

“It isn’t right at all.” He took her hand and kissed it. “You don’t realize what you’re getting into with me.”

“You kissed me. Do you care for me?”

“More than I can possibly tell you. You’re the one I’ve been waiting for.”

She was in his arms again, savoring his kiss. The improbability of what she was doing escaped her. The kisses became more passionate and his hands began to explore. She wanted him to…to do whatever he wanted to her. She was past the point of thinking clearly. They were up and in the bedroom; her clothes were coming off and so were his.

He knew exactly what to do with her, how to touch her and how to bring her to the point of no return. The rain had had turned into a thunderstorm and as the lightning flashed and the thunder shook the foundations of the summer house, he took her.

 

ON TO CHAPTER 5

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