Lady Bell invited Mr. Tilson to tea not because she likes him, but to hear about a ghost. I had learned a little about the specter from friends in Carlisle, and she wanted to know more. Unfortunately, Mr. Tilson didn’t want to discuss ghosts. He preferred to backbite about living people.
“All the Warrens are scandalous, absolutely scandalous,” Mr. Tilson told us. “From Lord Garrison to his sister to his cousins, they’re simply dreadful. It’s in their blood.”
There is a certain amount of truth to this. Lord Garrison and his kinfolk do tend to live by their own rules, but they are also far more fun than most people with whom I’m acquainted.
“Surely not.” Lady Bell motioned to me to pour Mr. Tilson a second cup of tea. “Thomasina Warren is a charming girl, so perfectly behaved that she is known as The One Good Warren. She would have made you an excellent wife.”
“So I thought.” Mr. Tilson heaved a sigh redolent of the seed cake with which he had stuffed himself. “But when I questioned her sternly with the full force of my manly intellect, Miss Warren herself admitted to the taint.” He took a breath. “In fact, she confessed to an uncontrollable urge to sin.”
I ask you, how likely is that?
Her ladyship glowered at him. “What nonsense. No innocent maiden would say anything of the kind.”
Particularly to a stodgy sort like Tilson.
“I do beg your pardon,” he murmured. “It was the truth, but I shouldn’t have mentioned something so unsavory in the presence of ladies.”
He sighed again, and I moved as far as possible from him on the sofa. I like seed cake, but not at second hand.
“I have heard that Miss Warren doesn’t wish to marry,” I said.
“Nonsense, my dear Clara,” Lady Bell said. “Every young woman wishes to do so.” She simply will not accept the fact that I have never been tempted to exchange my comfortable single state for submission to some tedious male.
“Miss Warren knows full well that she is unmarriageable,” Mr. Tilson said. “Her conniving father tried to trap me into wedding her. Much as I pity her, I was fortunate to escape before I found myself tied to her forever.” He was enjoying himself, which is in frightfully bad taste. How vile to denigrate the former object of his affection!
It was obvious to me that Miss Warren was the one who had escaped. What’s worse, now he gazed at me with a warm expression in his eyes.
Lady Bell gave a smug little smile. Good God, was she thinking I might like to wed this bore?
Time to change the subject. I assumed an expression of trepidatious inquiry. “Earlier, her ladyship mentioned something about a ghost at Hearth House.”
Lady Bell set down her teacup. She is an enthusiastic believer in the supernatural. “Yes, a Roman soldier who patrols Hadrian’s Wall. He carries a spear and threatens anyone who comes near.” She paused, twinkling. “Except courting couples of whom he approves.”
“Now, now, my lady,” Mr. Tilson said. “You will have your little jest, but ghosts do not exist. Old houses like Hearth House tend to creak and groan, especially in cold weather.”
I put on an innocent face. “I was told that you made banishing the ghost a condition of marrying Miss Warren—but how can one drive away something that isn’t real?”
Mr. Tilson reddened, hastening to explain. “To calm her, so she need not fear for the safety of our future children.” What a lie that was! I knew from other sources that it was he who’d been afraid. Imagine refusing to marry a girl because of a ghost!
“Why should she fear?” I asked. “By what I’ve heard, she likes the ghost. It protects her from unwanted suitors.”
Mr. T glared. I must confess, I enjoyed witnessing his attempt to summon his manly intellect and produce an explanation that made him look fearless, noble, self-sacrificing, and so on.
“That only goes to show,” he said, “that sin is not the only taint in her family. There’s madness, too.” He paused dramatically and lowered his voice to a hush. “I saw her talking to the ghost.”
Heavens! “You saw the ghost?”
He huffed. “No, I saw her talking to thin air, which is a well-known trait of the insane. It gave me quite a turn. Thank God for that pleasant young man who was visiting Hearth House and kindly warned me away.”
Hmm…. I wonder now, who is the pleasant young man, and what was his reason for getting rid of Mr. Tilson? I can think of several possibilities. I believe I shall pay a visit to Hearth House and find out!
About the Book
Faced with the intolerable suitors her father approves, Thomasina Warren resolves never to marry, and decides to lose her virginity so that no respectable man will have her. Who better to ruin her than handsome, charming James Blakely? But James is an honorable man and refuses point-blank. Humiliated, she resorts to outright refusal to wed, with the help of a ghost who scares her suitors away. But four years later, her father has arranged her marriage to a stodgy gentlemen whose only condition is that the ghost must be banished forever.
James Blakely never forgot the lovely girl who asked him to ruin her, and when he offers to get rid of the ghost, he thinks he’ll be doing a good deed. Instead, he is faced with the hostile Thomasina, her cowardly suitor, pigheaded father, lecherous cousin, an exorcist monk, and a ghost who warns of danger and deadly peril—and a few short days in which to convince Thomasina that with the right man, she might just want to marry after all.
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F71SZD6/
Amazon Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07F71SZD6/
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07F71SZD6/
Amazon Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07F71SZD6/
About the Author
Award-winning author Barbara Monajem wrote her first story at eight years old about apple tree gnomes. She published a middle-grade fantasy when her children were young, then moved on to paranormal mysteries and Regency romances with intrepid heroines and long-suffering heroes (or vice versa). She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.