Returning To The Manor
By Mavis Applewater
For disclaimers see part one.
Check out the cover created by Calli at http://surf.to/calli
A very special thank you goes out to my beta reader Mary.
As always this is for Heather.
Stewart, Massachusetts 1912
Anna wiped the tears from her son’s eyes. “I don’t want to go away again.” The boy pleaded.
“I know.” Anna’s voice trembled as she spoke. “I don’t want you to leave. But Father says it is for the best.”
“Why?” The boy pleaded once again.
‘Why indeed?’ Anna wondered as she gathered up her son’s belongings while her husband shouted for her to ‘bring the boy down!’ The boy, not our son, Anna internally fumed. ‘Of course he isn’t a son to you is he? Just another possession like myself.’ Anna’s weary mind thought as she escorted her only child down the staircase. Anna had long ago accepted her fate that had begun on that rainy night when her father awoke her and her sisters and lined them up in the family room for the great Horatio Stratton. ‘That one.’ The old man grunted as he pointed to the helpless Anna. He had selected her as his wife with no more interest than he would exert in selecting a pair of socks.
Before she had a chance to realize the gravity of the situation, Anna was a married woman. She had been sold off, wed, and taken away from the only home she had ever known in less than two days. Her wedding night was not the magical event she had read about. It was a horrendous nightmare with Horatio lying on top of her puffing and grunting like a hog that needed to be fed.
The only bright spot in her dreary existence was her son. Thankfully her husband ignored the child. Yet, he insisted on sending him away for his education, fearful that somehow Anna would spoil the child. ‘How can I spoil him when I am barely allowed to speak to my own son?’ Before her son’s blessed birth, the only thing Anna looked forward to was her trips into town and an early death.
Anna ushered her still whimpering child down the staircase and handed him over to her husband. “Stop that sniveling!” Horatio barked as he backhanded his son. Anna flinched in horror as she watched her son’s head snap back. “I will be returning after I deposit the boy.” Horatio dictated with a scowl. “The spinster is coming to stay with us.”
Anna was confused until she realized her husband was referring to his younger sister. She possessed very little knowledge of the woman, only that she was unmarried. “Another mouth to feed.” Horatio spat out bitterly. Anna wondered if Miss Stratton would provide at least companionship for her lonely days or would she prove to be a bitter and cold as her husband.
“Yes, Husband.” Anna responded dutifully as she patted her son’s head.
While her husband was leaving her son at the train station, Anna busied herself by preparing the small room on the third floor for her sister in-law. “I don’t even know her name.” She muttered softly as she placed a small vase filled with asters from her flower garden. The small flower garden was the one joy besides her son Anna was allowed to indulge in.
“Catherine.” A sultry voice said from behind her.
Anna almost knocked over the vase as she spun around. Her breathing caught when she spotted the tall elegant blonde standing in the doorway. “My name is Catherine.” The woman continued with a shy smile.
“Anna.” The small redhead responded with a tremble as she fought to control her breathing. Anna tore her gaze away unable to understand why she had been staring or why her body was quivering. She took several quick breaths in an effort to calm her body. “Welcome to Whispering Pines.” The younger woman finally managed to choke out as she forced her gaze to remain on the tiny vase.
“Thank you for welcoming me into your home.” Catherine offered in a gentle tone. Anna was truly surprised by the older woman’s gentle demeanor. Her eyes snapped up and once again she felt a shiver.
“Where are my manners?” Anna babbled on as she approached the taller woman. “Please allow me to assist you with your belongings.”
“Thank you.” Catherine accepted in the same gentle tone as they carried her meager belongings into the small bedroom.
“Wife!” Horatio bellowed from the main floor.
“If you will excuse me?” Anna offered shyly not missing the way her sister in-law’s lips curled into a sneer.
‘Perhaps we shall become friends after all?’ Anna pondered gleefully as she hurried to answer her husband’s summons.
“Husband?” She greeted her husband respectfully as she lowered her head and kept her eyes locked on the floor. She had spent so many hours over the years diverting her gaze that she was now fully acquainted with every scuffmark, nail and board in the flooring of the house.
“I am going into town.” He curtly informed her. “While I am gone try to find something for her to do.”
Anna glanced up and followed his icy gaze to the staircase. Her breathing caught as she spied Catherine standing at the top landing with a defiant gaze. “Yes, Husband.” Anna meekly agreed her eyes never straying from the tall blonde. Horatio grunted in response. Anna didn’t move as the slamming of the door echoed throughout the house. Catherine flinched at the loud banging. Her brown eyes drifted down towards Anna. She opened her mouth to speak. Anna pressed her fingers to her lips cautioning the tall woman to remain silent. Anna listened carefully; she did not need to look out to the front porch to know that her husband was still lurking around.
Catherine watched her curiously as Anna listened until she heard his heavy footsteps pounding down the gravel walkway. She released a tense breath as Miranda the downstairs maid passed by. “Miss Wilkins?” Anna called to the young servant. “Once Miss Stratton is settled bring her to the parlor for afternoon tea.” Anna instructed the girl without ever looking at her. The small redhead’s focus remained glued on Catherine.
“Certainly, Mrs. Stratton.” Miranda dutifully responded.
Anna nodded to her sister in-law and went about her morning chores. Horatio expected her to tend to her duties regardless if he was away at sea or right under her feet. She had no relief since she was well aware that he paid the servants a little extra to keep a watchful eye on her. The only respite she would receive was when he was away and she was alone for the evening. After the servants left for the day she would simply retire to her bedchambers and enjoy the quiet, or time with Richard back when he was younger before Horatio had banished him to school.
Every morning Anna awoke and said a silent prayer that she would find her husband’s travel bag sitting in the foyer. It was the only way she knew when he planned a trip. Of course many times he only pretended to travel so he could sneak back and catch her doing something she shouldn’t be. Anna often wondered if her husband was disappointed by her obedience and fidelity. ‘If you wish to strike me you evil sod then just do it, I will not add kindling to the fire.’
By early afternoon Anna sat in the parlor working on her needlepoint as she waited for her guest to join her. She smiled as Catherine breezed into the room like a breath of fresh air. “Do sit, Sister.” Anna greeted her with a smile.
“Thank you, Sister.” Catherine returned her greeting as she took her place on the small settee.
Just as Catherine took her seat Miranda entered with the silver tea service. “My apologies. Miss Wilkins I believe the Captain would prefer we use the every day china.” She quickly corrected the young girl. She knew that Horatio would be displeased if they entertained his sister with the good service. Miranda turned slightly pale as she nodded and returned to the kitchen. “Please do not be offended, Sister.” Anna apologized as she continued to neatly stitch the pattern she had been working on. “The Captain is very particular when it comes to running the household.”
“I can see that.” Catherine dryly responded. “The maid came so quickly it was almost as if she knew we were waiting.”
“She did.” Anna flatly explained as their eyes met. Anna shivered once again as she gazed into Catherine’s soft brown eyes. She had the same eyes as her brother, yet Anna could see and feel warmth that was vacant from her husband’s gaze. There was something else lingering in Catherine’s eyes that Anna could not place.
“They watch you?” Catherine questioned her with concern.
“Yes.” Anna calmly explained as she gave her sister in-law a warning glance. “Perhaps after tea you will join me in the garden?” Anna suggested just as Miranda reentered the room with the proper tea service. “Thank you Miss Wilkins.” Anna said politely as the tea was placed on the table.
Miranda nodded and quickly left the room. Anna served the tea as Catherine watched her. “I understand I have a nephew.” Catherine said with a smile as she accepted her tea.
“Yes, Richard.” Anna smiled as she carefully prepared her own cup of tea.
“Where is he?” Catherine inquired with enthusiasm.
“School.” Anna sadly responded.
“Oh?” Catherine said with a hint of confusion. “I look forward to meeting him later today.”
“He is away at school.” Anna clarified.
“Isn’t he much too young for that?” Catherine blurted out.
“The garden really is lovely this time of year.” Anna continued as if nothing was amiss. “I look forward to showing it to you.” She said a silent prayer that Catherine would understand it was the only place that would allow them the privacy to speak freely.
“The tea was lovely.” Catherine exclaimed as she set her cup down. “I truly wish to see the garden as quickly as possible.”
Anna set her cup down with a smile as she realized that Catherine understood. She led the taller woman out the front door and linked her arm around her sister in-law’s and began to point out each flower she had painstakingly planted as they walked around the house. “Anna it is beautiful.” Catherine sighed as they stepped around the back just past the garage and stable.
Anna’s pride and joy was spread out before them, just a short walk away from the main house. Once they were in the garden, Anna looked around to ensure that no one had followed them. Anna inhaled the soft fragrance of the autumn blooms as she relaxed into the feel of her arm resting in Catherine’s.
A strange, delightful warmth spread through Anna as she felt Catherine’s thumb absently brushing against her arm. “I finally understand what my mother tried to tell me.” Catherine absently said as they stepped carefully through the garden.
“What is that?” Anna asked.
“The only thing worse than being an unmarried Stratton woman was being a married Stratton woman.” Catherine bitterly explained. “You are a prisoner here.”
“Yes.” Anna conceded without emotion since she had long ago accepted her fate. “My garden and my son are my solace.”
“Richard can’t be more than a child.” Catherine noted with disgust.
“He will be six next month.” Anna explained. “Thankfully God gave him to me early in my marriage.”
“He is far too young to be sent to boarding school.” Catherine scowled.
“I know.” Anna agreed. “We should head back, The Captain will be returning soon.”
“Our other brother paid Horatio to take me in.” Catherine explained as they headed back towards the house. “So it seems that I will be joining you in captivity. Perhaps I can add to your solace?”
“I would like that.” Anna agreed with a smile as she saw her husband rushing into the house.
“Where is he going?” Catherine asked.
“My bedchambers.” Anna responded as she guided Catherine towards the kitchen entrance.
“And what does he think he will find there?” Catherine muttered.
“A man.” Anna flatly retorted.
“Have you ever given him cause to suspect there might be a man hiding in your bedroom?” Catherine asked.
“Never.” Anna answered her as they stepped into the kitchen and began to prepare the evening meal.
“How often does he search for your phantom lover?” Catherine asked.
“Every time he leaves the house since the day we were married.” Anna coldly explained as she wrapped an apron around her charcoal dress.
New York City, 2003
Every inch of Faith Charles’ body ached. ‘It is good to be home.’ She thought as she looked down the bustling New York City sidewalk. ‘Now I just need to find out if I’m still welcomed.’ She sighed as the last conversation she had with Shawn replayed in her mind. ‘What was I suppose to do?’ Faith silently questioned as she shouldered her bag and headed towards the hotel she would be staying in while she tried to track down the quirky little ghost hunter.
After the Halloween special that had brought them together, Faith’s career as a debunker was finished. She had been on camera and co-wrote a book with Shawn swearing that the old mansion was haunted. When the opportunity arose to actually get back into real reporting she jumped at the chance. She neglected to inform her new lover until after she accepted the offer. Of course the new assignment sent her back into a war zone, something she had vowed she would never do again. It also took her away from Shawn. Basically walking out on their fledgling romance had pissed the little psychic off. By the time Faith was leaving for Afghanistan they weren’t on speaking terms.
“Salvation.” She said with smile as she neared the hotel. Visions of a hot bath and a comfortable bed filled her weary mind.
“Miss Charles?” A voice called out to her just as the doorman was opening the door for her.
Faith turned to find a dark hair woman approaching her. “Yes?” Faith responded with curiosity.
“Faith Charles?” The brunette questioned her eagerly.
“Are you with the network?” Faith asked.
“No.” The woman responded.
“You don’t have a summons do you?” Faith demanded.
“No.” The woman laughed. “I’m not a process server.”
“Stalker?” Faith quipped.
“No, Miss Charles.” The woman chuckled. “As charming as you probably think you are, you aren’t my type. “
“Well, what do you want?” Faith demanded eager to end the conversation and check into the hotel.
“My name is Delia St. James.” The brunette explained.
“And?” Faith grumbled.
“I’m one of the owners of Whispering Pines and I’d like to talk to you.” Delia explained as Faith’s body trembled with fear.
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