Readers looking for a good 19th-century ghost story need look no further than this latest charmer from prolific Camp (The Hidden Heart, etc.). Lord Stephen St. Leger is at his wit's end over his mother's obsession with Madame Valenskaya, a medium with more tricks up her sleeve than the Artful Dodger. In an attempt to expose the medium as the fraud he knows she is, he employs the services of Miss Olivia Q. Moreland, Investigator of Psychic Phenomena. Olivia joins Stephen and his family at Blackhope, Stephen's medieval country estate outside London, where Madame Valenskaya is setting up s ances to supposedly communicate with Stephen's deceased brother. Upon her arrival, Olivia senses she's been to Blackhope before. Through a series of dreams, she and Stephen discover that they share a psychic connection with 12th-century lovers Lady Alys and Sir John, who may have died a horrific death at the hands of Lady Alys's evil husband. To put the 700-year-old spirits to rest, they must learn the truth about the couple's fate. Hidden rooms, a secret treasure, murder, demonic possession and treachery are just a few of the ingredients that make up this lively tale. Add a fine romance with likeable characters, and you have a truly enjoyable read. (Oct.) Forecast: Unlike many romance authors who have latched onto the coattails of the fast-growing paranormal romance niche, Camp has the wit and skill to make a name for herself in the field. This offering should increase her visibility, as will ads in Romantic Times. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"[Camp] is renowned as a storyteller who touches the hearts of her readers time and time again."
-RT Book Reviews
"From its delicious beginning to its satisfying ending, Camp's delectable paranormal offers a double helping of romance."
"Camp's newest Matchmaker novel features her usual vivid characterization, touches of subtle humor and plenty of misunderstandings, guilt and passion. You won't want to miss this poignant and charming tale."
-RT Book Reviews on The Courtship Dance
"Delightful...Camp is firmly at home here, enlivening the romantic quest between her engaging lovers with a set of believable and colorful secondaries."
-Publishers Weekly on The Wedding Challenge
"A beautifully crafted, poignant love story."
-RT Book Reviews on The Wedding Challenge
"Lively and energetic secondaries round out the formidable leads...assuring readers a surprise ending well worth waiting for."
-Publishers Weekly on The Bridal Quest
"A clever mystery adds intrigue to this lively and gently humorous tale, which simmers with well-handled sexual tension."
-Library Journal on A Dangerous Man
"The talented Camp has deftly mixed romance and intrigue to create another highly enjoyable Regency romance."
-Booklist on An Independent Woman
"A smart, fun-filled romp."
-Publishers Weekly on Impetuous
Read an Excerpt
The oil lamp in the center of the long table was turned low, eerily lighting the faces of the people around it, throwing eyes and hair into deep shadows and dancing along the sharp lines of brow and cheekbone, making the silent attendees look gaunt and mysterious. All eyes turned toward the large wooden box a few feet from the table, dark and looming. There was no sound from inside it.
Then the lamp went out, and one of the women gasped. Blackness enveloped them. Hands turned cold, and pulses sped up. Everyone waited. There, in the dark hush, it was easy to imagine a ghostly finger trailing coldly across one's shoulders, to think, with a heart-pounding combination of fear and anticipation, that someone might speak from across the black void of death.
Even Olivia Moreland, despite the fact that she was there for a far different purpose, could not help but feel a little thrill dart up her back. But it was not enough to keep her from her business. Slowly, carefully, using the tricks she had learned from the very people she intended to expose, she eased backward, shielded by the blackness surrounding her, and separated herself from the ring of people around the table.
She paused for a moment, giving her eyes a chance to adjust to the lack of light; then she started forward slowly. It was still difficult to see, as the only light in the room was the glow from the hallway creeping in around the door. She did not want to alert anyone to the fact that she was up and walking. It had to be a surprise to everyone when she reached the medium's cabinet. All her attention was on the dark box before her; every nerve in her body seemed to quiver, tense with expectation. She was almost there
A hand lashed out and wrapped around her arm, fingers digging painfully into her flesh.
Olivia shrieked and jumped. A deep masculine voice cried out, "There! I have you!"
All around the table, women echoed Olivia's shriek, and there was the clatter of a chair overturning and a general hubbub of voices and movements.
Whatever instinctual, primitive fear had flooded Olivia at the sudden grasping of her arm, it subsided at the sound of a very real and human voice.
"Let go of me!" she snapped, trying to pull her arm away.
"I think not-until you have explained yourself."
She continued to struggle, hissing, "Stop! You are ruining everything!"
"No doubt I am," he replied in a faintly amused tone. "It is always so unpleasant to have one's duplicity revealed."
As the two of them exchanged words, there was the sound of a thud, followed by a muttered curse, and at last a match flared into life at the table. A moment later, someone lit the oil lamp and there was light in the room. Olivia found herself staring down into the cool gray eyes of her captor.
A faint shock passed through her, a feeling almost of recognition, though she realized immediately that she had never seen this man before. She was certain that, if she had, she would have remembered him.
He was seated at the table, his chair pushed a little away from those on either side of him, and he was half-turned and leaning back in order to grasp Olivia's arm. His shoulders were broad, and Olivia could well attest to the strength of his hands and arms. His face was lean, with high, wide cheekbones so sharp they looked as if they could have cut paper. It was a hard face, a look emphasized by the cold intensity of his eyes. Only his mouth-wide, with a full lower lip-would have softened his face, but it was at the moment pulled into a thin line. His hair, thick and dark, nearly black, was shaggily cut, as if someone had taken a pair of scissors to it-or, perhaps, a knife. The ungentlemanly appearance of his hair was echoed in his clothes-made of clearly fine materials, but just as clearly sewn by someone other than one of the well-known London tailors, as well as being a trifle out-of-date. She would have thought him foreign on an initial glance, except that his voice had been unmistakably that of an upper-class Englishman.
There was a moment of silence as everyone else in the room stared at the tableau.
"I don't have to explain myself to you!" Olivia retorted, desperately searching for a good reason for her to have been walking about. She twitched at her skirts, which had managed to become twisted, showing an entirely inappropriate ruffle of her petticoat on one side. There was a lock of hair that had escaped from her neat bun, as well; she could feel it curling down beside her face. She realized that her appearance put her at a disadvantage, and she was made even more uncomfortable by that steady silver-gray gaze on her face. But she refused to let this man cow her. Olivia was quite aware that she was small and unremarkable in appearance-a little brown wren of a woman, she had more than once thought of herself, especially when compared to the other, more peacocklike members of her family. But she had learned to counter that impression with a steady and stubborn refusal to be intimidated.
She cast a disdainful look down at the stranger's hand, curled around her upper arm. "I demand that you cease this bullying at once."
"I think you have to explain yourself to the company in general," he countered, but he relaxed his grip enough that it was no longer actually painful. "Exactly what were you doing sneaking about the room? Were you about to manifest yourself as a 'visitor from beyond'?" His deep voice was laced with cynicism.
"Of course not!" Color flared in Olivia's cheeks. She was painfully aware of the gazes of everyone else in the room fixed on her. "How dare you?"
"Sir, this is scarcely the behavior of a gentleman." One of the other men in the room spoke up, a portly fellow with a great curling mustache and plentiful mut-tonchop sideburns-such hirsute magnificence grown, Olivia suspected, to compensate for the man's shiny bald pate.
Olivia's tormentor did not so much as even glance at the other man; he simply continued to look straight into Olivia's face. "Well? Why were you tiptoeing about the room?"
Another guest chimed in. "It is odd, Miss
dreadfully sorry, but I am afraid that I cannot remember your name."
Unfortunately, neither could Olivia, or, at least, she could not remember the name she had given these people tonight when she had arrived. It had not been her own, of course. She knew that what she called her nondescript appearance was a blessing in that regard, allowing her to pass unknown through these gatherings as long as she used an assumed name. It was sheer bad luck that the excitement of the past few minutes had driven her evening's nom de guerre right out of her head.
"Comstock," she blurted out, the name coming back to her suddenly, but she could see by the expressions on the others' faces that her hesitation had been too long. They would not believe her now.
"How convincing," the man who still held her arm drawled sarcastically. "Now, Miss 'Comstock,' why don't you tell us about your plans to-what, put a sheet over your head? Or were you simply going to make piteous moans?"
"I say," said one of the men thunderously, rising to his feet. "What the devil are you saying, man? Are you implying that I would allow some
some damnable chicanery in my house?" He turned immediately toward the woman at his side. "Pardon me, my dear. Ladies. I forgot myself in the heat of my indignation."
" the man who was sitting beside Olivia's captor said with distress, "whatever are you doing?" He turned toward their host, who was standing and staring with grim dislike at the man holding Olivia's arm. "Colonel, I beg your pardon, Lord St. Leger meant no disrespect, I'm sure."
"Of course not," Lord St. Leger said shortly, glancing toward the colonel. "No doubt you were being duped, as well."
"Duped!" squawked the colonel's wife, her eyes bulging.
From inside the large box there came a moan, rising in volume when no one responded. The colonel's wife let out another noise, this one more a bleat, and jumped to her feet. "Mrs. Terhune! Mercy! How could we have forgotten about you?"
One of the men rushed to open the door of the medium's cabinet. There sat the gray-haired Mrs. Terhune on a stool, hands and feet bound just as they had been minutes earlier when they had closed the medium inside the box. The colonel's lady and the man who had opened the cabinet rushed to untie her. Olivia watched with a cynical eye as the ropes fell easily away. She felt sure that the medium had herself untied the ropes, then hastily retied them when she heard the hubbub break out in the room. But, of course, she could not prove that now.
"There! You see what you've done!" Olivia snapped at Lord St. Leger. He turned toward her, his eyebrows rising lazily.
"What I have done?" he repeated.
"Yes! You've ruined everything."
He smiled then, and it was astonishing to see the change it wrought in the man's face. Looking at him, Olivia felt as if her stomach had just fallen to her feet, and she drew an involuntary breath.
"No doubt I have," he agreed. "I apologize for interrupting you, Miss
Comstock. I should have let you play out your masquerade before I exposed you."
"You didn't expose anything, you dolt!" Olivia bit back, too disappointed and angry to worry about manners. "I was about to prove-"
"Who are these people?" the medium asked in a die-away voice that somehow brought everyone's attention back to her. "I feel
so strange. I was deep in a trance, then these angry voices pulled me back. It makes me feel quite tired. Did I speak? Did the spirits come?"
"No," barked the colonel, casting a flashing look toward Olivia and Lord St. Leger. "There was no visitation, no words from beyond. Nothing but these two people disrupting the séance."
"Disrupting-" St. Leger gaped at the man. "I caught these people about to perpetrate a fraud upon you and all of us here, and all you can say is that I disrupted this little farce?"
"Farce?" The colonel's face turned an alarming shade of red.
"Oh, dear," moaned the man beside St. Leger, hastening to say, "Colonel, please, forgive him. Lord St. Leger has been living in America for years. I'm afraid that he has forgotten his manners." The man turned and cast Lord St. Leger a significant look. "I am sure that he meant no insult."
"Of course I didn't mean any insult," St. Leger replied. "You have been hoodwinked by this so-called medium and her partner, Miss 'Comstock.'"
"I am not her partner!" Olivia cried.
"Sir, I assure you, I have never seen this woman before in my life," Mrs. Terhune said, looking at Olivia blankly.
"Then what was she doing walking about during the séance?" St. Leger asked.
"I have no idea," Mrs. Terhune returned calmly. She fixed a stern gaze on Olivia. "Miss, I specifically told everyone not to leave the table. It is very important. Our friends from the other side are very particular about such things."
"Yes, no doubt they are," Olivia replied dryly. She wondered if there was any hope of somehow managing to pass this off as her having to get up because of an unmentionable emergency.
But at that moment, one of the other women at the table said suddenly, "Wait, I know you. You aren't Miss Comstock at all. You are that woman who dislikes mediums. My brother was telling me all about some symposium he attended-"
"Good Gad!" the colonel exploded. "The two of you came here purposely to cause a disruption! How dare you enter my house under false pretenses? I've a good mind to thrash you, sir."
St. Leger released Olivia's arm and rose to face the other man, his height and the breadth of his shoulders rendering the colonel's threat rather empty. "Don't trouble yourself, sir," he said coolly. "I will leave now. It is clear that everyone here would prefer to retain their delusions."
He strode from the room, and, as the colonel started toward Olivia, she decided it was best to follow St. Leger rather than be forcibly escorted from the house. The host was on her heels, calling for his servants. A stone-faced footman handed them their coats and hats and swept the door open, closing it with a snap as soon as they were outside.
St. Leger stopped abruptly on the stoop, and Olivia bumped into his back, letting out an annoyed "Oof."
He turned and met her glance. She glared at him, but she knew the look was rendered ineffective by the fact that she was struggling to hold her bonnet and put on her cloak at the same time.
St. Leger took in the struggle over her cloak, which had inexplicably gotten turned inside out, and a smile tugged briefly at the corners of his mouth. Naturally he had already popped on his top hat and shrugged into his light coat.
"Allow me," he said, reaching out and taking the cloak from Olivia's fingers. A quick shake straightened it out, and he placed it around her shoulders. His fingertips brushed over her shoulders, and even through the cloth of her cloak, the touch sent a shiver down Olivia's spine.
When he reached for the ribbons of her cloak, as if to tie them, she grabbed them herself, saying, "I can do that myself. You have done quite enough already."
He raised an eyebrow, then said, "Is it true what that woman said? You are an enemy of mediums?"
"I am an exposer of charlatans," Olivia responded tartly. "I stand ready to believe anyone who can prove to my satisfaction that they have contacted the otherworld, but as I haven't yet found a medium in London who can do that, I cannot label them as anything but frauds."
"So you were not helping out Mrs. Terhune tonight?"
"Of course not!"
"Then why were you sneaking about in the dark?"
"I was not 'sneaking.' I was walking quietly and carefully," Olivia corrected with a haughty look, "to the medium's cabinet to expose Mrs. Terhune, untied and about to hold up this silly daguerrotype that she displays over the top of the cabinet door and pretends is a spirit. I had a sulfur match ready to strike."
She sighed at the thought of the opportunity lost, and Lord St. Leger looked slightly abashed. "I beg your pardon. I thought I had caught a conspirator."
" She turned and gestured, and a carriage down the street began to roll forward.
Olivia started to descend the steps, and St. Leger followed her. "Tell me, do you do this sort of thing often?"
"Get into séances and try to expose their frauds?" Olivia sighed again. "No, unfortunately. If a medium knows me, they will not let me attend. My 'lack of belief' disturbs the spirits. And few people hire me," she admitted candidly. "I find that almost no one wishes to 'let go of their delusions,' as you pointed out tonight."
He stared at her. "Hire you? What do you mean?"
"I have a business," Olivia told him, reaching into her reticule and pulling out one of her cards. She was rather proud of them, really, and never failed to hand one out, though the response she received was more often one of shocked disapproval than admiration.