As promised, here is the next episode for my Paranormal Victorian Romance.
Victoria’s limbs shook as she stared at the opened door, now empty of the powerful presence that had stood in her room earlier.
Was it a dream, or had her imagination gotten the best of her? She pinched her arm, and then grimaced at the small pain on her skin. No. She was awake, which meant she had talked to someone.
The ghost from the East Wing? Not likely. The intruder who’d entered her room not too long ago was not the ghost, but someone trying to frighten her away from the manor, and from discovering secrets.
If a servant was behind this, she’d make certain Jonathan had them dismissed immediately. What if the presence had not been one of the staff? Could it have been Mr. Maitland or even Jonathan? And how in heaven’s name did he get into her room? The intruder had left through the door, but he definitely didn’t enter that way.
If she could assure herself this was a servant’s prank, she’d be able to rest more soundly. But why would anyone want her to leave? And why would they tell her she was in danger?
Taking a deep breath, she slowly calmed her quaking body. She’d find out who had the nerve to sneak into her room and nearly scare her to death.
Victoria slid her feet to the floor and into her slippers. She rushed out of the bedroom, pulling on her wrapper. If she remembered correctly, when her night visitor left, he’d turned toward the long hallway heading to the east of the manor.
Her feet padded on the hardwood floor as she hurried toward what she’d hope would bring her answers. Nothing made sense.
An echo of mumbling made her pause on the stairs leading to the third floor. A man and woman’s voices floated through the air.
Her heart slammed against her ribs. She glanced around the darkened hall for a place to hide. The pounding of footsteps grew closer, and she skirted behind the stairs and flattened against the wall. She held her breath, praying she didn’t make a sound.
A man wearing a dark dressing robe descended the marbled steps and passed close by her. Roderick. Marching next to him, grumbling in distaste was his wife.
“You treat me like an unruly child,” he snapped.
Bethany’s arms were folded across her bosom, her lips curled up in disdain. “If you’d stop acting like one, I wouldn’t have to scold you so often.”
When they turned the corner of the hallway and walked away from Victoria, she released her breath in a loud gush. The scene had been almost comical, serving to diffuse a bit of her tension.
But she knew something now. Even in the darkness, she could tell Roderick wasn’t the man who’d visited her earlier. His shoulders were not wide enough, and he wasn’t as tall.
It was all very strange. Didn’t anyone sleep in this house after midnight?
On shaky legs, she took two steps at a time to the top floor and the servant’s rooms. It looked as if her prankster was indeed someone who worked in the manor. But who?
Inky shadows, longer than seemed natural in the dim light of the hall, stretched in forlorn warning before Victoria. Needing answers, she refused to turn back. The intricately carved mahogany doors marched ahead of her as tall soldiers guiding the way toward the forbidden East Wing. She pressed an ear to each polished frame, stemming the trembling in her hands as she progressed from one lonely door to the next…to the next.
When she reached the end of the hall she frowned. A dead end.
Heaving a sigh, she ran her fingers through her hair, massaging her scalp. Whoever played this trick on her would certainly try again. Perhaps she should return to her room and wait for them tomorrow night. She’d be better prepared then.
A draft swept across her feet. With a frown, she glanced at the corner of the hall. Since no windows or doors were nearby, where had the cool air emerged?
Edging her way in that direction, she tapped her toes on the floor. Within seconds, she stood in front of a potted plant. Cautiously, she touched the leaves then reached behind it to the wall. It felt like an ordinary wall. She slid her hand along the wall then stopped. A seam sprouted from the ceiling and extended to the floor. With both hands, she pushed. The wall moved slightly.
Jumping back, she covered her mouth, stifling a scream.
The East Wing.
Her heartbeat thundered in her chest. Her cold palms moistened. Dare she continue? She must. How else would her questions be answered?
From somewhere behind the wall came the howling of a wolf. She sucked in a cry of panic, turned and hurried back to her room. She didn’t stop until she reached her door. Her throat was dry and scratchy. She clicked the lock tight and rushed back into her warm bed, pulling the blankets up to her chin. Staring at the shadows in the room, she listened for any signs that someone might have followed her.
Nothing. The room remained silent.
She dared not close her eyes. Not yet. Would her night visitor return again this evening? Probably not, but tomorrow was a different day. If she stayed at the manor instead of heeding his warning, she suspected he would indeed visit her again.
Recalling the wolf howl, she exhaled. Where had that animal come from? It couldn’t have been a wolf. Perhaps it was a wild dog, but the Maitlands wouldn’t have allowed an animal inside their manor. That chilling cry was like nothing she’d heard before. The sound had tugged at her heart as if he was injured or in pain.
She shook off the thought and settled deeper into her bed, forcing herself to relax. Her eyelids grew heavy and cuddling her knees onto her stomach, she curled on her side. She closed her eyes and willed herself to fall asleep.
From outside the night’s sounds crept into her room. The hoot of an owl. The branches scratching against the window with the rhythm of the wind.
And the howling of a wolf.
She opened her eyes. The animal was now outside. Nothing made sense anymore.
Bits of the conversation she had with her maid came back to her. Could there really be a cursed white wolf that roamed the grounds? Could he be looking for another woman to kill tonight?
Shivering, she bundled the covers closer around her body. She silently cursed her wayward thoughts. From now on, she would instruct Francine to keep her old wives’ tales to herself. Victoria wouldn’t listen to them any longer.
As promised, here is the next Episode to my Historical Paranormal Suspense, "Haunting Secrets".
A chill shivered across Victoria's skin. “Hush, Francine. You’re talking nonsense.” Even so,
she glanced up the winding stairs to
the second level. The sun from the window above sparked off the crystals of the
large chandelier, spattering rainbows across the vast walls. The brilliant
colors were hardly ghostlike, and she tried to shrug off the prickles of
awareness dancing over her body. “My father may have written a few ghost
stories in his lifetime, but I was never one to believe.”
The butler opened the double doors to the drawing
room and made a sweeping gesture with his arm. “You may enter, Miss Fawson.”
She nodded to Francine to remain in the hallway. Victoria
stepped across the Persian rug to the black and white checkered marbled parlor
Her gaze immediately fell to the handsome man
standing by the fireplace. No more than thirty, if that, he held a brandy
snifter and flashed her a dazzling smile, his dark hair gleamed in the sunlight
peeking through the window, and his eyes roved the length of her. Victoria
gulped, suppressing the urge to squirm. To the gentleman’s right, sat the
lovely woman Victoria had met in Exeter a few weeks ago. Bethany Maitland’s red
hair was wound fashionably atop her head with wispy tendrils decorating her
forehead and ears—the vision of every woman’s envy—she appeared more refined
perched in her winged-back chair than she had during their meeting on the
Bethany settled a porcelain teacup on the small
table beside her and swept an assessing gaze over Victoria. “My dear, Miss Fawson.
It’s so lovely to see you again.” She motioned to the man by the fireplace.
“May I present my husband, Roderick Maitland.”
Victoria bobbled an uncertain curtsy. “A pleasure
to make your acquaintance, sir.”
The older woman indicated to the chair next to
her. “Please sit with me, my dear.”
Through quaky nerves, Victoria put on her best
smile and sat in what she prayed was a delicate, ladylike fashion.
Mrs. Maitland patted Victoria’s cold hand. “We
shall have such a wonderful time together, you and I. Earlier I told my husband
what a joy you were when we met.”
Victoria arched her brow. “Indeed? I’m surprised
you found me so interesting. We didn’t converse for very long that day.”
The other woman laughed, the sound forced and dry.
“Nonsense. I found our brief conversation extremely delightful.”
Uncomfortably Victoria smiled in return. “As did
I, Mrs. Maitland.”
Still lingering near the fire, Mr. Maitland
chuckled. “Bethany, you were correct about Miss Fawson. She’s charming.”
For some reason, Mr. Maitland’s cheerfulness
seemed forced as if he was struggling to be nice. Still, it bothered Victoria
to think Bethany Maitland would suggest matching Victoria and Jonathan in the
first place. According to society’s rules Victoria was considered at a highly
unmarriageable age. Being the daughter of an adventurous American novelist kept
her living a life most men did not agree with. That, and most men didn’t want a
woman who possessed the ability to think for herself.
Victoria shouldn’t be fickle. If her upbringing
didn’t keep men away, her daring personality would. Her uncle couldn’t wait to
get her married off and out of his household, so when he heard about Victoria’s
visit to Maitland Manor, it was the first time she could remember that her
relative looked excited.
Apparently, she wasn’t the only person in need of
help in the marriage market. Why else would the Maitlands seek available women
for Roderick’s youngest brother, Jonathan? Why couldn’t he find a suitable
bride for himself? Perhaps he was deformed or severely obese. Inadvertently Victoria
shuddered. Or did it have something to do with the family’s secrets? Gossip
from the Maitland family’s past boasted of dark shadows, and Victoria’s
inquisitive mind couldn’t put them to rest; neither could she ignore the teeming
questions surrounding her father’s relationship with Justin Maitland.
Where is Justin
Maitland anyway? She could hardly blurt out the question seeing as she’d
come to the manor to court his brother. Surely, Justin would make an appearance
before long. According to her father, Justin served as Master of the house and
was indeed, a fine man.
“How was your journey, my dear?” Roderick Maitland’s
melodious voice brought her out of her thoughts. She startled. He’d moved
across the room to stand directly in front of her.
“Splendid.” She shifted back in her chair. “I was
surprised at how far away your estate is from Exeter. Quite a bumpy ride, I’ll
“Yes, that’s the inconvenience of living so far
from civilization,” Bethany said. “Would you like to see your room now?”
Victoria smiled. “Do you not want me to meet Mr.
“In due time, my dear.” Roderick helped her stand
then hooked her hand over his arm and pressed it against his side. “My brother
is still out riding and probably won’t return for several more hours. I’ll have
Horace take you to Mrs. White, who’ll show you to your room.”
“Before I go, may I ask a question?”
“But of course, my dear.”
“Is there a chance I could meet Justin Maitland?”
Her host’s eyes widened and his wife sucked in a
Their reaction brought a flush to Victoria’s
cheeks. “I—I’m sorry. Is something wrong?”
“Oh, my dear Miss Fawson,” Roderick said. “I
thought you knew…but my brother died in a house fire a little over a year ago.”
Her heart sank with such force her chest ached. No! Justin Maitland could not be
dead. She needed him to be
alive. He alone held the answers she so desperately sought. He was her sole
reason for traveling to the manor. How else could she discuss her father? Tears
stung her eyes. No wonder he had never returned her letters.
She swallowed hard. “Please forgive me for
speaking of such a painful subject. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Tell me, Miss Fawson.” Bethany scooted to the
edge of her chair, eyes bright with curiosity. “How did you know Justin?”
Victoria shrugged. “I didn’t. My father knew him
and spoke so highly of Justin that I’d hoped to meet him.” She shifted her gaze
from Bethany to Roderick. “Again, I apologize for mentioning your late
Roderick patted the hand still hooked over his
arm. “Quite all right, my dear Miss Fawson. May I offer my condolences for your
She nodded and looked away, the agony which must
be painted on her face was real, but hardly for the reason the Maitlands would
suspect. Victoria sucked in a cleansing breath, pondering her dilemma. With or
without Justin she had a mystery to solve. She couldn’t leave. Someone besides Justin
had to know about her father. “Did you know my father, Mr. Maitland?”
“By reputation only,” he replied without looking at
her. “Horace?” Roderick motioned his butler.
“Kindly show Miss Fawson and her maid to their
quarters. See to it that their needs are met with the utmost haste.”
“As you wish.” Horace looked at Victoria. “Miss,
would you follow me, please?”
As Victoria followed the butler, her maid walked
beside Victoria. Francine’s face was a touch pinker than earlier, and as she
glanced around the hall, her eyes grew wide.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Victoria whispered.
Francine smiled. “Extremely lovely. I’ve never
seen anything so grand.”
A woman with a curvy figure bustled in from one of
the side rooms, her smile stretching from ear to ear. She wore the crisp gray
dress and white apron of a housekeeper. Perhaps in her late forties, the woman
still held a bit of her youth even through the silver streaks lightly touching
her dark hair.
“Good morning.” The woman bobbed in a curtsy. “I’m
Mrs. White, the housekeeper.”
Victoria nodded. “Good day.” Mrs. White surprised Victoria.
Housekeepers were supposed to be pleasantly plump and old…at least the ones Victoria
“Miss Fawson, please follow me and I’ll show you
and your maid to your quarters.”
Mrs. White hurried down the long corridor,
stopping in front of a closed door where she withdrew a thick set of keys from
her apron pocket and opened the door. “If you need anything or have a problem,
please don’t hesitate to ask me.” She nodded up the hall. “I’ll show your maid
to the attic dormitory where the other servants reside.”
“Oh, no!” Victoria touched the housekeeper’s arm.
“I must have Francine in the room next to me, if at all possible.”
The older servants’ eyes clouded, her expression
blank for several tense moments. Finally she gave a curt nod. “As you wish. The
room next door is vacant.”
Victoria forced a smile to ease the apparent
tension. “Thank you.”
Mrs. White rushed inside, straight to the closest
window. She pulled the tassel cord and opened the green velvet curtains.
Sunlight spilled into the room and Victoria squinted against the sudden
Such beautiful chambers. Much better than the room
in her uncle’s little cottage. The bed reminded her of the one she had as a
child, nearly fit for a queen with many pillows and white silk hangings around
the posts. An armoire and two chests of drawers stood along the walls. A small
sofa and reading table sat next to the largest window, and a separate bathing
chamber adjoined the room.
Mrs. White turned from the last window. “You may
rest for a few hours, then I’m quite certain Master Roderick and his wife would
enjoy your company for tea this afternoon. I’ll fetch you then. Mistress
Bethany is hoping Mr. Jonathan will also be there.”
Victoria ran her hand over the downy comforter. “I
look forward to meeting him.”
Mrs. White released a heavy sigh and shuffled nervously,
clasping and unclasping her hands.
Victoria arched her brow. “Is something wrong?”
Mrs. White smiled. “The whole household has been
aflutter, hoping you and Mr. Jonathan will make a fine match, but…”
Mrs. White took a step closer. “There’s something
I must tell you,” she whispered, her dull brown eyes narrow with warning.
“Neither you or your maid are allowed in the East Wing. Under no circumstances
should you wander to that side of the manor. If you’re found there, Mistress
Bethany will dispatch you home with all haste. Do you understand, Miss Fawson?”
Victoria’s mouth fell agape. The Maitlands were hiding something. Determination
to find out what surged like fire in her veins—she was her father’s daughter
after all—she’d search the household from top to bottom after everyone retired.
It's getting closer to Halloween, and my daughter is trying to get me in the holiday spirit, which isn't working. So I thought I'd help things along by posting little excerpts of my Halloween story and give you a free read. So from now until Halloween, I hope you enjoy my historical paranormal suspense, "Haunting Secrets".
A place between heaven and hell really did exist.
Justin Maitland knew this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Hidden amongst the trees outside Maitland Manor—a place no longer his home but his prison—he gazed upon the smiling, carefree visage of his brother, Jonathan. No doubt courting yet another comely lass. A stab of longing sliced through Justin, and wistfully he stared down at his hands. Five fingers, five fingernails, all very human in appearance . . . but he knew better.
Was he in Purgatory?
Perhaps. But this Purgatory was not so much a place as an altered state of being . . . a curse with no hope of redemption.
Justin’s thoughts often drifted to the moment he’d been cast into this Devil’s existence—lost his humanity and become a beast to be loathed—a moment he simply called the lighting. It was a space in time when all of life’s purposes and regrets swirled to a single point of clarity. All that could have been no longer wavering in indecision, but perfectly clear, like the sky after a blistering rainstorm. To suddenly realize all that he wanted from life, and know it would never again be within his grasp was a fate worse than death. In truth, death would be a blessing.
Instead, his destiny was to wander the earth not quite a man, nor amongst the living. Trapped for eternity as an entity to be feared.
North Devon, England 1890
No turning back now.
Victoria Fawson gripped the plush edge of the coach seat and stared anxiously through the window as the landscape whisked past her. The village of Exmoor brought shivers to her as it was, but when she spotted Maitland Manor looming ominously ahead, chills rushed up her spine as the whispered secrets of this place whirled through her mind.
Victoria’s every instinct screamed to turn tail and run, but her heart told her the answers to her father’s murder lay here.
She glanced across the coach at her French maid, Francine. The younger woman sat ramrod straight with her lips pulled tight, her gaze aimed out the window. As Maitland Manor came more fully into view the color slowly drained from the maid’s face.
“We are almost there.” Victoria managed a tight smile, twisting her hands in her lap, a nervous habit she’d never managed to break.
Francine took an unsteady breath. “Are you certain this is what you want, Mademoiselle?” A slight tremor shook her. “After all, Maitland Manor is haunted.”
Nervously Victoria laughed. “Don’t tell me you believe all those silly ghost stories.”
“Oui. They are true.”
Victoria arched an eyebrow, suppressing her own trepidations, and taking hold of logic. “Do you have firsthand knowledge?”
With a flick of the wrist, Victoria brushed the maid’s concerns away. “I think the stories are told to keep people away.”
Francine nodded. “It’s working rather well, if you ask me. There aren’t many women who volunteer to stay there.”
“I have no other choice,” Victoria grumbled as helplessness filled her. “According to my father’s journals, Justin Maitland was the last man to visit him. I need Mr. Maitland’s help if I’m to discover the murderer’s identity.”
“I understand, Mademoiselle, but there has to be another way.” Francine peeked out the window and shivered.
“When I met Mrs. Maitland in the marketplace the other day,” Victoria continued, “and she invited me to the manor to meet her brother-in-law, Jonathan, I knew this was the only way I could get inside to ask questions.”
“Doesn’t Mademoiselle Maitland think you’re coming to court Mr. Jonathan?”
“Yes, and she must continue to believe that.” Victoria adjusted the cloak over her traveling gown. “My father was a close friend with Justin, who is the oldest brother. I’ve tried to contact him, but the letters I’ve sent over the past year have gone unanswered. The Maitland family is purposely keeping secrets. I feel it. Getting inside the manor is the only way to find what I’m searching for.”
“Then I pray you find what you need quickly. I cannot bear the thought of staying longer than a week in such a haun—” Francine flicked her gaze toward Victoria, “um, I mean dreary place.”
The vehicle slowed as it neared the house. Silence expanded inside the vehicle as Victoria leaned against the seat, trying to collect her wits. If only she felt as brave as the front she had presented to her maid. Victoria bunched her fingers in the folds of her velvet traveling dress and nibbled her lower lip. She must do this to discover the truth. She prayed she’d be able to accomplish her goal.
The vehicle jerked to stop and her uncle’s footman, Jeffries, opened the door. The older servant helped her down, and as soon as her feet touched the pebbled ground, she glanced up at the towering Maitland Manor. Trepidation clutched her throat.
“I’m not afraid,” she whispered, taking her first step toward the dark, foreboding structure. “And I absolutely do not believe in ghosts.”
For one fleeting moment, the shuffling of the maid’s footsteps fell into rhythm with Victoria’s. Her nerves eased slightly knowing she wasn’t in this alone. Francine would help her through thick and thin. Maid or not, the other woman was Victoria’s friend. Jeffries waddled closely behind them.
The morning air settled around them as still as death. Autumn leaves of red and brown littered the walkway and crunched beneath Victoria’s feet. North Devon’s chilly air nipped at her cheeks and she pulled the bonnet ties more tightly around her ears. The scent of burning fields hung thick as area landowners prepared for another planting season.
The place where she would find answers lay straight ahead, creeping closer with each step. As she walked from beneath the shade of the trees into the sunlight, the estate rose above her in a crescendo of magnitude. She stopped and sucked in her breath in awe.
The red-bricked manor rose with breathtaking splendor into the sky. The distinctive turrets and pinnacles masterfully structured. The manor looked out over acres of parklands, gardens, lakes, and woods. Francine’s gasp overrode Victoria’s. Two large rock columns cornered the house, and at least three sections sprawled from the structure. Only a few curtains hung open at the many windows, but most were hidden behind closed draperies. Her curiosity piqued. What secrets did the draperies conceal?
She stood still for several minutes, marveling at the glory before her. Yet a strange eeriness settled around the place. Darkness lurked in the East Wing as if a silent storm cloud resided.
As she studied each window on the left side, her interest grew. The curtains of one window moved. She squinted and stepped closer but was too far away to see anything or anyone.
Slowly she continued toward the mansion, gooseflesh rising on her arms with each step. The nape of her neck tingled and Victoria would swear she could feel someone’s eyes upon her.
The bitter cold seeped through her cloak as she moved into the house’s shadow, and the loss of the sun added to the eerie sensations assailing her body. Her heartbeat quickened, and her palms grew moist in the folds of her dress.
With her maid following close behind, Victoria hurried to the front door and rapped on the hard oak.
Jeffries cleared his throat. “Miss Fawson, permit me to do that if you will.”
She flipped her hand through the air. “I’ve never been waited on in my life, and I’m not about to start now.”
“Nevertheless, you must. Your uncle would insist, I assure you. And what of the Maitlands? They’re expecting a gentle-bred lady.”
She shrugged. “If they wanted a gentle-bred lady, then why did they ask me to come?” Everyone in town knew she was born and raised in America, practically a heathen in their opinion. Only after her father earned fame from his novels had they moved to England to live more isolated.
The footman’s eyes widened and his mouth gaped from her comment, but he remained silent.
She squared her shoulders, focusing on the door as she waited for entrance. Uncle Edward was sure to hear about her less-than-genteel approach. Maybe an apology was in order. She smoothed her dress. “Forgive me, Jeffries. From now on, I shall try to act accordingly.”
Even if it was ludicrous.
The door creaked open. A stooped, thin, gray-haired man dressed in black butler attire walked into the light.
Jeffries stepped in front of Victoria and faced the other servant, handing him Victoria’s card. “Good day, sir. May I present Miss Victoria Fawson, daughter of the renowned American novelist, Peter Fawson. Mr. Roderick Maitland and his wife are expecting her.”
The butler nodded and opened the door wider. “Please, come in.”
The inside of the manor didn’t reflect the dreariness of the outside façade. Instead, the marbled floors gleamed to perfection, and the dark-wood furniture held a fresh-waxed glint. The Persian rugs reminded her of those she’d had as a child when her mother was alive. Lovely shining chandeliers, silver and gold candlestick holders, and colorful tapestries brought a heavy sadness to her chest.
This place almost felt like home.
After her mother’s passing, Father had lost all ability to cope and ignored his debts. The collectors had come and, over time, confiscated everything they’d had. Now Victoria lived off a small inheritance from her maternal grandmother.
The butler took their cloaks, bidding them to wait in the hall while he shuffled into the parlor to announce her arrival.
“Mademoiselle,” Francine whispered urgently. “Can you feel it? There are ghosts here.”