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CHAPTER 5

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I didn’t believe in ghosts. All the same, I avoided the downstairs drawing room the next morning and didn’t linger in my room. Just in case. The rest of the guests had been arriving all morning, the carriages clogging the drive and the stable boys run off their feet. The footmen carrying heavy trunks made a constant parade, and the maids all looked out of breath. Mrs. Harris was the only one who seemed to march her way through the controlled chaos without a hair out of place, the keys on her chatelaine rattling. It was all very normal and comforting. Clearly, I’d been overtired last night. And the stress of our first sitting here had frayed my nerves. That was all. “Quickly!” Elizabeth pounced out at me from behind the ferns outside the breakfast room. “My mother’s looking for me.”

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“What for?” “Does it matter?” We rushed out a little-used door near the conservatory. Elizabeth’s mother was rather imposing and stern. And she was determined to make a good match for Elizabeth after her debut, which involved a lot of lectures on proper posture and how to address a duke’s son. I knew for a fact that she’d made Elizabeth memorize the names and holdings of every eligible bachelor of good breeding, not just the ones our age but for two generations past as well. We ended up outside, walking between two willow trees and then around the rosebushes along the side of the mansion. It was so large and gray, I felt like a fairy under the hulking shadow of an ogre. “Elizabeth, there you are.” A girl about our age interrupted from where she’d been sulking over by the pink globes of a hydrangea bush. The sun gleamed blindingly on the pond in the distance behind her. On one of the benches a woman with dark blond hair in a plain bun watched us disapprovingly. “Miss Donovan, her governess,” Elizabeth whispered to me, making a pinched face. The girl sniffed. “She is not my governess. I’m far too old for a governess,” she insisted. She might have seemed delicate if it wasn’t for the stony glint in her eyes. Her long hair was perfectly curled and the exact shade of pale daffodils. She seemed familiar in a vague way that irritated, like a toothache. She wore a pristine white dress, not a grass stain or mud spot in sight. “It’s frightfully dull here. Everyone’s too young or too old.”

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“I know,” Elizabeth agreed. “Tabitha Wentworth, this is Violet Willoughby. Tabitha lives in the white house on the hill there, with her uncle Wentworth.” “Sir Wentworth,” the governess corrected primly from her stone perch. Elizabeth rolled her eyes. Tabitha speared me with her gaze. “Is your mother Celeste Willoughby? The medium?” I nodded. “I don’t believe in ghosts and all that Spiritualist rot,” she scoffed. “Tabitha.” Elizabeth frowned. I just shrugged and didn’t bother defending myself. I might have hated doing it, but I kept our secret as faithfully as my mother did. What else was I to do? How would ruining myself and my family help us in any way? No one would understand. Least of all Xavier. He would never forgive me. Perhaps if he truly did offer for me as Mother was convinced he would, I could leave all of this behind, all of the pretty, sneering girls like Tabitha, who looked down their noses at me. I would never have to take part in another séance again. I just had to remind myself of that every time I felt the urge to confess everything to Lord Jasper. The light flashed off the water behind Tabitha. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, except that suddenly my eyes felt painfully focused. My perspective stretched, then narrowed just as abruptly. It was the oddest thing. I shivered as goose bumps rose on my skin like a lawn of new grass poking out of the ground at springtime.

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More distressing yet was the fact that Tabitha seemed to waver, as if she were standing in the oppressive heat of India instead of a perfectly pleasant English summer day. She wavered again and became two Tabithas, with the one on the left as pale as almond cream. I suddenly knew why I had thought Tabitha looked familiar. And I didn’t like it one bit. “Violet!” I could hear Elizabeth’s worried voice, but it seemed to be coming from very far away. “Why is she staring at me like that?” Tabitha snapped. “Is she having some sort of a fit?” If only. The other Tabitha opened her mouth and water streamed out, soaking into her already waterlogged dress and creating a puddle under her bare feet. There were lilies and long grasses caught in her hair. It was the same girl I had seen in the parlor last night. And she was identical to Tabitha. Except, of course, she was transparent. So much for pretending none of this was actually happening to me. I could see the outline of the decorative yew hedge behind Tabitha’s double and, faintly, the distant pond. She reached out to touch Tabitha but her hand passed right through her shoulder. I flinched, waiting for the shrieking to begin. There was nothing but the starlings singing from the rooftop. Tabitha didn’t so much as twitch, though I did notice

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gooseflesh on her neck. I stared at Elizabeth. She came from a Spiritualist family; surely she realized what was going on. Elizabeth just stared back at me, quizzically. “Miss Wentworth,” I finally croaked. “Do you have a twin sister?” I don’t know who was paler, Tabitha or the suddenly excited spirit at her side. “Excuse me?” Her tone was positively frigid, but I barely noticed. I was starting to feel faint. The governess made a strangled sound and rose to her feet. “She drowned, didn’t she?” I paused, thinking of the water that had inexplicably filled my room last night and then just as inexplicably disappeared. Around her wrists were bruises like jet beads. “No,” I whispered, finally realizing what I was seeing. “She didn’t just drown. She was murdered.” I swayed slightly and had to grip Elizabeth’s arm to keep from falling. Tabitha made an odd sound of fury and fear, like a wet cat. The girl beside her looked sad and then vanished. Completely. Only Tabitha remained, glaring at me with seething hatred. “Stay away from me,” she hissed before turning on her heel and marching away. I couldn’t be sure but I thought there were tears on her cheeks. She pulled a small tin out of her pocket with trembling fingers, but I couldn’t see what it was. “Oh, Violet.” Elizabeth sighed as I sank onto a stone bench. My head felt rather peculiar, my limbs weak. “What just happened?” I asked.

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She sat next to me, warily. “How did you know about Rowena?” “Who’s Rowena?” “Tabitha’s twin sister.” My stomach dropped clear into my shoes as she continued. “She died last year. Drowned.” I suppressed the violent shiver currently attacking my spine. “But I overheard Uncle Jasper wondering aloud if it really was an accident, because who goes swimming in the middle of the night? He’s forbidden me to visit Whitestone Manor at all, but he won’t say anything else about it. And Tabitha is rarely allowed to leave the grounds. She hasn’t been in London since it happened.” Ghosts were bad. Mysterious ghosts were so much worse. “What about her parents?” I asked. “Her father was in India at the time and still hasn’t returned. He’s always been a bit of a rakehell, gambling and traveling all over the world. He’s already spent all of the twins’ dowry money, and most of the Wentworth fortune. That’s why he travels so much, to avoid the creditors. Some families won’t even receive them anymore, can you believe it?” she added in hushed, scandalized tones. “Whitestone Manor is all that’s left. Technically Rowena would have inherited it as she was three minutes older, but now it goes to Tabitha. She’s frightfully rich because of it, despite everything else.” “What about their mother?” “She died of consumption years ago, when we were barely

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in pigtails. Whitestone was in her family, which is why it goes to the girls, and their father couldn’t lose it on a roll of dice. Their uncle has taken care of them for ages now, but he’s become a little overprotective. He worries about fortune hunters. Tabitha’s been begging for a Season in town but so far to no avail. She’ll have to make do with a country coming-out ball, and it’s made her even more cross than usual.” “Oh.” “You didn’t know? Truly?” I shook my head. “How could I?” “And you really saw Rowena?” She sounded excited, curious, and a little afraid. “Perhaps you have the same gifts as your mother. How exciting, Violet!” “I’m sure it’s just a coincidence,” I insisted. “A one-time aberration. A reaction to the sun, maybe. Or bad marmalade.” I couldn’t very well tell her the truth, which was that I had seen a ghostly Rowena, but that wasn’t the real problem. The real problem was that I didn’t actually believe in ghosts. But they clearly believed in me.

R I waited until everyone had retired to their rooms for an afternoon rest or were otherwise occupied in the stables. I needed to think. Mother was lying down with a cold rosewater compress over her eyes and was not to be disturbed. I felt disturbed enough for us both. I snuck around the back of the house, through the herb garden and into the door leading to the kitchen. I shouldn’t be

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back here, and I shouldn’t be using the servants’ door since I was pretending to be a lady. If Mother found out, she’d have a fit. But I really needed the comforting chaos of the kitchen. I was the one who did the cooking and the baking at home, and I missed the smell of warm bread, the crackle of the hearth, and the dangling iron and copper utensils. Hopefully, Marjorie was taking this rare moment for a rest and wouldn’t be at the table. She was too timid and felt too indebted to my mother to keep secrets. I felt the heat of the stoves in the doorway, blasting the scents of roasting meat and boiling plum puddings. Sugar and flour drifted in the air like snow. Lord Jasper’s French cook was a fantastically fat man with a walrus mustache. I liked him immediately, even though he was bellowing. There was a long wooden table set in the back corner. It looked like a lovely place to sit. I didn’t even make it over the threshold. “What are you doing?” Colin said from behind me. He pulled me back out of the warm kitchen. His eyes were the color of the sea in the sunlight. “I just wanted some tea.” I scowled at him. “Don’t be such a fidget.” He just shook his head. “Violet, you can’t sit in the kitchens. No polite lady would ever set foot down here. Servants domain, in’it?” “I know,” I said glumly. “I might hate it at home but right now it seems so cozy. I can’t perch daintily on the edge of an

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uncomfortable chair and smile like a nitwit for the rest of the day, Colin. I’ll bite someone.” “Savage.” He sounded more appreciative than condemning. I bared my teeth. “Yes.” He nudged me back. “Go on and hide in the herb gardens. There’s a stone bench on the other side of the rosemary topiary. I’ll bring you some tea.” I beamed at him. “You are not annoying at all today.” He just snorted. In the garden, I picked my way around the thyme and sorrel and found the bench behind the rosemary. There was a small patch of grass under an apple tree, near the mint, that looked far more inviting. I was arranging myself so my corset bones didn’t poke me in the ribs when Colin found me. He had a brown ceramic pot and two earthenware mugs. He passed me one of the mugs and I cradled it gratefully. “Finally, a real mug,” I approved, inhaling the lemon he’d added to my tea. We never got lemons at home; they were far too dear. And the delicate cups in the manor house were all fluted edges and gilt paint and I was constantly terrified I’d snap the handle right off. “Your mother will fly into the boughs if you get grass stains on your skirt,” he remarked, sitting next to me. I just shrugged. He handed me a spoon. “What’s this for?” “Strawberry ice cream.” He pushed the ceramic crockery pot between us. “The dairy maid’s sweet on me, so she saved

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me the scrapings from the ice cream she made for your supper tonight.” “You’re sweet on the dairy maid?” “I didn’t say that, did I?” He winked. “I said she’s sweet on me.” Oh. The thought of Colin kissing the dairy maid made me feel queer inside. He leaned on his elbow while I told myself it was ridiculous to feel cross. “Maybe I’ll run away with the dairy maid and live in a cottage and eat ice cream all day long and you’ll live in London with your prince and drink out of gold teacups.” “Gold cups wouldn’t be at all practical,” I felt the need to point out. He grinned. His black hair fell into his eye, as it always did. He could never be bothered to use pomade to sleek it back like the fashionable gentlemen did, and he was more handsome for it. His sleeves were rolled up, revealing strong wrists and muscular arms. He sprawled, utterly comfortable and utterly confident. I could see how the dairy maid might think he was a bit of all right. I concentrated on scraping the pink ice cream at the bottom of the pot. It was cold and sweet on my tongue, melting away as it slid down my throat. I nearly purred. Colin cleared his throat. “Like the ice cream then?” I opened my eyes. I hadn’t even realized I’d closed them. “Heavenly.” “Thought you might.”

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We ate in a companionable silence. A honeybee drifted between us. A warm breeze ruffled the mint. Birds sang in the hedgerows and someone was playing one of the pianofortes in the house. I refused to think about the ghost in the parlor, the water in my room, or Tabitha. I wasn’t going to spoil this moment. I was sitting in grass with ants crawling over my boots and sticky ice cream on my lips and I was happier than in my best dress under the crystal chandeliers. It was the first time I’d felt myself since we’d left London. I wondered if there really was something wrong with me.

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Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey