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Authors: Nina Coombs Pykare

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BOOK: The Haunting of Grey Cliffs
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'Too bad," Uncle Phillip repeated. "You have to die too. Robert's boys, they're all right. But Ned has to go."

I could feel Edward tensing at the thought of Ned in jeopardy. I tightened my hold on my husband's arm. The room was small. At such a short distance Uncle Phillip wasn't likely to miss.

And then to my complete astonishment I saw a thin line of light appear under the door. Since Uncle Phillip stood with his back to it, he didn't see the light, but Edward saw it. I felt the slow relaxation of the muscles in the arm my fingers clutched.

Thank God! We were not facing this madman alone. Someone was on the other side of that door!

"I cannot believe that you would kill a child," I said. "Have you no fear of divine retribution?"

Uncle Phillip laughed. "There is no God," he said. "No devil either. I should know, I've tried to call him up enough times. And with what I've done, he should answer me."

"But the ghost," I went on. "Aren't you afraid of your brother's ghost?"

'There aren't any ghosts either."

"Then that was you I heard in the oak grove the other day," I said. "And you I saw in the portrait gallery last Tuesday." And I went on to name many days and places where I had seen the ghost. Of course I had not seen him—or anything else—but Uncle Phillip couldn't know that.

Every time, he nodded, signifying that he had indeed been the one I'd seen. But in the feeble light of the candle his face was growing even paler. I knew I was reaching him, frightening him, but would it be enough? And who was outside the door? Why didn't they come to our help?

"I still should think you'd be afraid," I cried. "If I murdered someone,
I
would be afraid."

"I told you," he said with a mad kind of patience. "There are no ghosts. No one will suspect me."

And the next moment, from outside the door, came the most horrifying moan. Then a ghostly voice wailed, "Phil-lip. Why?"

Uncle Phillip paled still further, but the pistol remained pointed at us
.
Beside me, Edward seemed to be holding his breath.

Please God,
I prayed silently.
Help us.

Another moan sounded from outside the door. Uncle Phillip groaned and whirled, throwing it open. A white shape loomed in the darkness there.

Edward hurtled past me, throwing himself at Uncle Phillip's back. The pistol went clattering across the room to land against the wall. On hands and knees I scrambled to grab it.

Edward hauled Uncle Phillip to his feet. Without his pistol, the little man looked dazed, almost pitiful. To think that he had killed his brother—and had meant to kill us!

The ghostly shape spoke. "Hester, are you all right?"

"Ned? Ned, is that you?"

I stared as the sheet fell away, revealing Ned perched on Paul's shoulders.

"Yes," Ned cried, jumping down. "It's me." He ran to hug me and Paul followed.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, giving the pistol to Edward and gathering them close.

"I got so scared," Ned said, squeezing me even tighter. "I heard you praying and I knew something was wrong. So I woke up the twins."

I swallowed. That little prayer over Ned had very likely saved our lives.

"We hurried and followed you," Ned went on. "We saw you go in the passageway."

Paul nodded. "But just when we were going to follow, Uncle Phillip came along."

"So Peter went for his father," Ned went on. "And Paul and I came after you. We heard what you were saying and so we decided to try to scare him."

Edward chuckled. "You certainly did that. You're some brave boys."

"But the sheet—" I began.

Ned looked down at the floor, his expression sheepish. "We—we had it in the passageway, Hester. Sometimes—" He looked to Paul.

Paul took a deep breath and looked me in the eye. "Sometimes we used it to scare the servants."

"But we won't anymore," Ned promised with a look to his father. "Not ever."

"I should hope not," Edward said, and I thought I detected a note of laughter in his voice.

"Paul? Ned?" Robert's voice came echoing down the passageway. "Where are you?"

"In here, Papa," Paul called, his face alight.

Robert came barreling in, Peter at his heels. To my complete surprise Edward's brother fell to his knees and clasped his son to him. "Paul! Thank God you're all right. And Ned?"

"I'm fine. Uncle Robert." Ned's face glowed with boyish pride. "We made a ghost. And we saved Papa and Hes— And Mama."

My heart swelled up in my throat. Ned had called me Mama.

But Robert didn't notice. He got to his feet and looked to Edward in confusion. "What happened here? What’s wrong with Uncle Phillip? And why the pistol?"

Edward sighed. "It’s a long story, but the upshot of it is that Uncle Phillip killed our father."

"Killed?" Robert repeated, stunned.

"Yes," Edward said. "Fed him anise pudding laced with laudanum and then arranged the suicide."

"It’s mine," Uncle Phillip murmured. "Everything is mine. You can't have it."

"He meant to kill us," Edward went on. "Then arrange accidents for Ned and you, and eventually he would become the earl."

Peter ran to hug his father. "It’s all right, Papa. He won't hurt you now."

Nodding, Robert pulled him closer. In his disheveled nightclothes, with his arms around his sons, Robert looked more the man than I had ever seen him.

He took the pistol from Edward. "I'll take Uncle Phillip. You'd better attend to Hester. She's not looking very well. Boys, you come with me."

Robert led Uncle Phillip out and the boys followed, leaving us with a single candle on the table. Edward took me in his arms. "Oh, Hester, to think I almost lost you!"

Close against his chest I gave silent thanksgiving for our rescue. And for the knowledge that my husband had had nothing to do with his father's death or the attacks on me.

"Dear God, Hester," Edward was saying. "I love you so much. But it was wrong of me to bring you here. I suspected, nay, I feared, foul play in my father's death. But I never thought
you
would be in danger."

"You married me so Ned would have someone to care for him," I said. "Because you feared for your own life."

He nodded. "Yes, but I didn't dare tell you. At first because I needed you so badly for the boy's sake—and later because I knew you loved me. And if you thought I was in danger you would certainly persist in your efforts to find my father's killer. And put yourself in more danger. I couldn't stand that."

I raised my face for his kiss. Afterward he said, "But why didn't you tell me about these other attacks on you?"

I didn't know what to say and so I remained silent.

He waited, then his face went pale. "Hester, you suspected me!"

I could not deny it. I wanted no more deception between us. "Sometimes," I admitted. "But always I loved you. And when I woke and found the note, I had to come, to try to save you."

He hugged me close. "My darling. At last we can lead a normal life. Wait, Hester, what letters was he talking about?"

"The dog dug up a box in the garden. It contained letters to your father, from Cousin Julia when she was young. She—ah—apparently—"

"They were lovers," Edward said. "And then he discarded her. I suspected as much. Uncle Phillip no doubt meant to use the letters to cast suspicion her way."

"But how did he get you to come here?" I asked, looking around the dark little room.

"I got a note that said someone would give me information about my father's death. I was to meet Uncle Phillip in the portrait gallery. He led me to the priest hole. And when I wasn't looking, he struck me down."

"Then he must have returned to leave me the note."

"Yes." Edward took my hand. "But that’s enough talk.. We are safe now. Let’s leave this place."

* * * *

The days that followed were busy ones. Uncle Phillip was taken away. Cousin Julia, content that the old earl's killer had been brought to justice, gave up trying to contact the spirits.

When quarter day arrived, Robert returned to London. But in two weeks time he was back, announcing that he meant to make his home in Cornwall with his joyful sons.

The boys have become the best of friends and have promised to look out for their new little sister/cousin.

Yes, God has blessed us with a new little life, a sweet girl baby with Edward's dark hair and eyes. Cousin Julia dotes on her and has become almost a new woman because of the child.

The castle has become the place of laughter and joy that I once hoped to make it. And Edward and I give thanks for a family that is now truly united by love.

 

 

 

 

For my mother, who taught me about love

 

 

 

Copyright © 1992 by Nina Pykare

Originally published by Diamond/Berkley (ISBN 1557738300)

Electronically published in 2009 by Belgrave House/Regency

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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

No portion of this book may be reprinted in whole or in part, by printing, faxing, E-mail, copying electronically or by any other means without permission of the publisher. For more information, contact Belgrave House, 190 Belgrave Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94117-4228

 

     http://www.RegencyReads.com

     Electronic sales: [email protected]

 

This is a work of fiction. All names in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to any person living or dead is coincidental.

BOOK: The Haunting of Grey Cliffs
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