The love for her swarmed through him and raveled with his amity for Ann. At this point he could not determine which woman captivated him more, however, Ann could not detect him. He nestled against Isabelle once more. With his antsy hands he removed her dark cloak, and slid down the shoulders of her gown. How can this be, he thought. His breath awakened as he ran his pleasing fingers along her breastbone, continuing toward her splendid, round bosom. He could not feel her heart beat against his palm, but she could, as his touch aroused her more. He pushed her hair off of her shoulders with his fingers. Gently, he caressed her, smoothing his lips along her soft neck, and continuing on.
“Oh William,” Isabelle whispered, convinced this was meant to be, hoping so.
With a sweep of his strong arms, he lifted her up, and placed her on the bed softly. He pressed his lanky frame against hers, aiming to please, longing for his own pleasure. Their bodies were dull, invisible to the naked eye, but in this heated moment, they felt very much alive. Yet, William could not reject his thoughts of Ann, the yearning he felt for her. He hadn’t been dead that long. How could he forget the way she had made him feel, the power she had over him?
Suddenly, the wretched screams of the crowd downstairs surprised them both. Isabelle flinched, as though someone had fired a shot toward her and missed.
“What on earth is going on?”
“I declare,” Isabella said, rising to her feet, straightening her gown. “They cannot see us. Why must we be troubled by them?”
William looked distraught, wishing he could not hear the living, hoping the treacherous noise would subside. It didn’t. He could hear women shouting and crying, as though, a war had broken out, a bloody invasion perhaps.
“What are they screaming at?” William questioned, withdrawing himself from Isabelle’s placid grip. “I must find out, my love.”
She straightened her arms to him. “No. Please don’t.”
“I shall return my love.”
He fixed his wondrous eyes on the shadowy doorway as the dreadful shouting grew closer. He turned to face Isabelle. “I must say. I think they’re coming up here.”
“Not to worry. They can’t see you,” she told him, inching her way to the shadows.
William stuck his head out, firing a glance toward the ruckus. He was automatically surprised to find Bolshie leading a boisterous crowd straight toward him. They were charging in his direction, screaming and shouting, carrying an unconscious man upstairs.
“Do not drop him,” one man shouted.
“Hurry, before he bleeds to death,” another man exclaimed.
William’s mouth fell open. Had he heard them correctly? Henry swiftly pushed passed him, grabbing for his coat, hoping there was enough time left to hide him.
“Come Sir. Hurry!” Henry exclaimed. His eyes wide with fright.
“I demand to know what is happening here.”
“Lord Whitman, you must come out of the light at once. There are those sensitive among us.”
“What in heaven’s name?”
Tugging at William’s coat, Henry finally persuaded him to join Isabelle in the corner, as Bolshie lit the brightest candles in the Duke’s bedroom. William skittered his eyes across the room, resting them on the four anxious men carrying a limp body, a blood drenched body. They placed him on the bed, where William and Isabella had planned to spend the evening, where the quilt Jillian hand stitched for him was spread out. William done a bit of craning, hoping to get a better look at this poor man who’d been the cause for alarm. Isabella sighed.
“Henry,” William whispered, as if he feared he’d be detected. “I can’t see him. Who is this man? What’s happened to him?”
“We will know soon, Sir.”
William fixed the guests with a level stare. He took a few bold steps forth, enough to see better. Then he aimed his gaze at the wounded man. The boots, they were familiar. The trousers, though torn, he’d seen them before, except, they were bloody now. Then. Something in his mind awoke. It was reality, switching on the power to his brain, opening his shady eyes. William gasped, a heavy inhalation of fright. This man was no stranger in his bed. This was his body, his boots, his bloody clothing.
“Henry,” he said in a raspy tone. “It is…”
“I know Sir,” Henry interrupted. He seemed astonished as well. “They have found your body.”
William felt a trifle less carefree than before, when he first encountered Isabella. Now he showed concern and his curiosity bit him like a snake. He advanced closer, taking small steps, reluctant to view his own face, but anxious to know what, exactly had happened to him.
“Sir,” Henry attempted a whisper to him, hoping he’d accept his warning. “You mustn’t let them know you’re here. They’ll have us removed.”
William trilled halfway to face him. “Nonsense old man. We’re dead. Right? How could they see me?”
“Lady Pennington, Sir. She is sensitive. She can feel your presence here.”
William could not prevent his overwhelming need to investigate. He ignored Henry’s words and continued to the foot of the bed, however, the worried crowd prevented a clear viewing. Two women wiped his bleeding face and another pressed a cloth into his wounded chest. The room was now congested with concerned guests. William smirked.
He uttered beneath his breath. “I don’t know why they bother. I’m already dead.”
Isabella remained silent in the murky corner as she had many times over the years. She listened, wishing the crowd would disappear. Then, William heard the devastating cries of a soft, familiar voice. Lady Ann Windsor entered the room, looking petrified. She scrunched the base of her gown in her hands to lift the hem and rushed to see him.
She scanned him well. His face, knotted, almost unrecognizable, and certainly bruised. His black hair tangled messily behind the ear, the eyes were a bit swollen. But, she would have found him attractive if his face had been ripped clean off. It is his heart that matters, she thought, his wounds can be mended. The amity for him sizzled within her and twisted deeply with fright. It was obvious.
“If only you could open your eyes to me,” she said, focusing on his breath.
Her tears fell like the summer rain and for the first time William could sense her desperation for him. Feeling responsible for her sadness, he stepped aside, allowing her a place at the bed beside him. She cuffed her hands over her moist face to continue weeping.
“My dear William,” she said in a low, whimpering voice. “If only you could hear me. Please be alright.”
William folded all other thoughts inside. Had he been hearing things, or was she implying that there may be a chance for his survival? What would be the need for her words otherwise? He could only wonder now. Surely, and especially since he had seen his own lifeless body before him, this idea wasn’t possible. Was it? Abandoning the thought, he attempted to stroke Ann’s long hair with a soft, wavering motion of his hand.
“Ann,” he whispered. “Oh Ann. You did care for me. Didn’t you?”
Isabella fired a worried gaze at Henry. “Who is this Ann? Why is he concerned with her?”
“Shh,” he reminded. His finger to his lips.
A man poked his head in. “Doctor Templeton has been sent for my lady. He should arrive no later than early morning.”’
“Thank you,” Ann said, still sobbing. Her sorrowful eyes shifted to the women who’d swiped the blood from William’s face. “Leave me please. I wish to sit alone with him now. She’d lain her hand upon his, hoping her touch might alert him.”
“Certainly,” they agreed.
When the women had gone, Henry and Isabella advanced to the center of the room to meet William, yet Henry’s fear of being discovered overwhelmed him. He mostly feared the wretched lady Pennington, who was climbing the stairs that very minute. He had sensed her just as she could feel his presence in a room. He tapped William’s shoulder.
“We will be retreating to a more private bedchamber, sir. It might be wise of you to join us.”
With a slow shake of his head, William refused. “I must stay for a while. You two go ahead.”
“Very well then,” Henry smirked.
Isabella shot a jealous eye at Ann. A spike of resentment caused her heart to race. I may be dead but he belongs to me, she thought. She turned her attention to William, cuffing his wrist with her hand. “Please come with us my love. There is nothing to be done here, no reason to watch this irascible scene any longer.”
She had always been willful, charming, yet prone to teary sulks. Frozen now at thirty, she would never age, a fact he admired. It was the thought of death that troubled him most. He worried that he would not be as patient as Isabella, that he would not find satisfaction amongst the shadows, and in confinement of the house.
“I must stay dear,” he told her. His stare was limp against hers.
“I suspect you will find me later then?” She raised a sharp brow to him.
With a simple nod he promised.
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