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The Legacy Of Croft Castle
By Jean Barrett
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHad their home become a place of evil?
It was certainly not a pleasant question to ask yourself. But Lady Danely found herself doing just that as she huddled in the chair, her gaze on the pair of stone gargoyles that supported the hood of the sitting room's fireplace. She had never liked them. They had always struck her as chilling in their grotesqueness. At this moment the gargoyles seemed particularly malevolent.
She supposed her sudden shudder of foreboding was under-standable, considering all that had been happening in the ancient castle. The trouble was, it was getting worse. Much worse. And now -
Lady Danely cast her anxious gaze in the direction of the closed door to the bedroom. What was taking them so long? She couldn't bear much more of this waiting.
Orders or no orders, she was on her feet and prepared to invade the bedroom when the door opened and the youthful figure of Dr. Finch emerged, medical bag in hand.
"He's getting dressed."
"Is he -"
"He's all right, Judith."
"This time," Dr. Finch added severely, his warning implying that the next time Guy had an attack it could be something far more serious. "That angina of his is a problem. He's under far too much stress with it."
He knows about our troubles here, Lady Danely thought. It wasn't surprising. Dr. Finch's sister would have told him all about them. He had been visiting his sister when Guy suffered his attack. Judith had blessed both his presence on the island and his prompt arrival at the castle.
What Dr. Finch didn't know, unless Guy had confided it during his examination, and Lady Danely doubted her proud husband would have done so, was the awful scene that had triggered his attack.
Judith could still hear them - the thumps and thuds in one of the guest rooms overhead, the crash of overturned furniture, the shatter of glass. All of it had been followed by the terrified shriek of Mrs. Forbes-Walsh fleeing from her room. Guy had rushed toward the stairs and paid the penalty for his alarm with a seizure.
The horror had been the latest in the series of ghostly happenings that seemed determined to destroy them. She and Guy couldn't go on like this, Judith thought. Not now when this force, whatever it was, threatened her husband's life.
"I told Guy," Dr. Finch said, "that he's to ring up my surgery and make an appointment at the earliest opportunity. I want to do a complete workup on him. If there are any other incidents before then, you have old Dr. Merrick here on the island. Retired or not, the man is still capable in an emergency."
Judith thanked him and he departed. Her husband, Lord Danely, appeared from the bedroom, tucking the folds of his shirt into his trousers.
"You ought to be resting."
"Sorry to give you a scare like that, old girl, but the spasms have completely passed. I'm fine now."
He wasn't fine, and Judith knew that. Although they were both in their early fifties, she was still a slim, handsome woman with an unlined face beneath a cap of silver hair. But no matter what Guy pretended, the last few weeks had aged him. She could see it in the slump of his shoulders. Could swear that the ginger hair on his head, already on the scant side, had thinned even more and that the grooves on either side of his carefully trimmed mustache had deepened.
"Was that the phone I heard while Finch was checking me over?"
Judith had hoped he wouldn't have been aware of its ring from the other side of the closed bedroom door. She hated having to share more bad news with him. On the other hand, if there was any hope of relieving the stress that was endangering his health, he needed to understand that something must be done.
"It was another cancellation, I'm afraid. Of course she had some excuse about an illness in the family. None of them want to admit the actual reason for canceling their reservations. They're all scared."
I'm beginning to think that I am, too. But Judith didn't relate her thought to Guy. He would be deeply troubled by such an admission. Instead, she went to him, placing an earnest hand on his arm.
"Darling, this is getting serious. It's May already. We should be fully booked. Instead of which, with Mrs. Forbes-Walsh refusing to spend another night in the castle, we're empty."
"It's all a lot of mischief. Whoever is responsible for it will get bored soon and quit."
Whatever his certainty, Judith didn't miss the bleak note in his voice. It was just short of desperation. There was so much at stake for them.
"Guy, I think we have to face at least the possibility that Croft Castle is haunted, and that we need professional help. There must be some specialist who -"
"A ghost hunter?" He snorted in disgust. "All a lot of rubbish."
Judith had lived in this country for over twenty years, and she had yet to understand its people. They were supposed to be proud of the ghosts that haunted their stately homes. Yet here was her own husband - thoroughly British - refusing to consider, in the face of growing evidence, that they might be suffering from an evil intent on destroying them. While she, his practical, American-born wife, was ironically prepared to believe just that.
It was Guy's family pride, of course. He feared that the rumors might turn into widespread publicity if they were to call in any investigator, that Croft Castle would become a target for jests.
"No, love," he said, "if it comes to the worst, we'll let the police handle it."
Judith gazed at him in helpless despair. There had to be some way to convince him of the urgency of their situation. That he was risking not just their future, but his very life if they didn't -
Her head turned as the door to their private apartment burst open. The tall, rawboned figure of Croft Castle's cook rushed into the sitting room. Her hands and arms were covered with flour to her elbows, a smudge of it on one ruddy cheek. The stuff drifted down on the Persian rug.
Oh, dear, thought Judith, I suppose she's left a trail all the way from the kitchen. "What is it, Imogen?"
"Turn on the telly!" the cook commanded with the brusque-ness she never failed to use, whether it be with maid or employer. Except this time, Judith detected a genuine excitement in her tone. "The Derek Manners program up in London! Not that he has any."
"Imogen, why -"
"Miss it if you don't look lively! And this is one you don't want to miss! Said as much to myself when I caught it on the set in the kitchen. Right. I'll just get on with it then, shall I?"
Not expecting an answer, the cook retreated, pulling the door shut behind her. It wasn't like Imogen to be mysterious, thought Judith, reaching for the remote. After all that had been happening, she was almost afraid to turn on the set. But she did.
The screen came to life on the close-up of a young woman's face. Judith stared at the image in shocked recognition.
Excerpted from The Legacy Of Croft Castle by Jean Barrett Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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