Once Upon a Moonlit Path
Click on image to enlarge.
by Cheri Valmont
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: All her life, Fi Carmichael has harbored serious doubts about her family's curse, and the dire consequences she'd suffer if she ever fell in love. Scotsman Hugh MacFarlane has been roaming the garden of Mirkheath Manor for over a century, awaiting the second chance promised to him on the night of his death. Just days from being forced into a loveless marriage, Fi's chance encounter with the mysterious Hugh in the garden of her family's ancestral home stirs forbidden feelings inside her and has her rethinking her doubts. She soon realizes that in order for her to have her heart's desire, she must first break the curse. Determined to have a future together, Hugh and Fi race against time, searching the manor for clues on how to regain her freedom to love and his to live. They discover that love, forgiveness, and a promise of a future began once upon a moonlit path? [Erotic Historical Paranormal Romance. Warning: Contains graphic sexual content and adult language.]
eBook Publisher: Siren-BookStrand, Inc./Siren Classic, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
8 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [111 KB]
Reading time: 65-91 min.
"5 CHERRIES: This is my first story by Ms. Valmont, and I know it will not be my last. She is a talented author who seamlessly delivers an ethereal atmosphere with endearing characters and delightful sensual interludes. And who doesn't love a Scottish hero whose brogue alone kicks up the heat level several degrees!! Thanks for a wonderful read Ms. Valmont!"--Queen Anne's Lace, Whipped Cream Reviews
Fi Carmichael sucked in a deep breath, doing her best to still her pounding heart as she stood gazing through the conservatory window at her bickering parents. Her left hand accidentally brushed against the damp ivy encasing the slick stone walls of Mirkheath Manor like a living tomb. She shivered and tried to rub the residual moisture off on the skirt of her gown, refocusing her gaze on her parents once again. She'd spent the better part of an hour listening to them arguing with each other. About her.
She despised them for making her feel this way. As if she were such a disappointment to them because of her determination to choose a suitor that she could love before consenting to marriage. At age ten and nine and with two unsuccessful seasons behind her, Fi was considered almost past her prime for the marriage mart. Her parents had left her in no doubt as to their feelings about that sad fact.
Despite her displeasure with her parents, Fi's annoyance did not begin to reach the obvious contempt her parents felt for each other.
The curse. That was what had her in her current situation. Supposedly the curse had plagued her family and Mirkheath Manor, her ancestral home nestled in Yorkshire, England, for generations. The place really did raise her hackles. The medieval architecture of the old place seemed to whisper of chilly intrigue, and dare she admit horror? Fi had never encountered any other place like it. She had no doubt any horror author would certainly be proud to use it for inspiration for a setting. But there had been something about it that drew her from the moment their carriage whisked them up the long tree-lined drive. This place had been loved once. Her heart told her so. Not recently, because now the old trees stood like lonely sentinels guarding the entrance to the massive ivy-covered manor. She'd felt sad at her first glimpse of its forlorn appearance. Her overactive imagination and sentimental heart had been sure that had the solitary home had a voice it would have whispered, "Love me, please..."
Shaking her head to clear it of her fanciful thoughts, Fi tried to change her position to get a better angle to see into the room her parents occupied without being discovered. Frustrated that despite the heatedness of the discussion going on within the house, she had yet to make out a single word passing between her father and mother.
Fi's life had been spent in London. But for some reason that Fi did not understand, her father and mother had decided to return to Mirkheath during the height of the season.
A social butterfly, her mother Margaret had to be in attendance at whatever grand social event or house party she deemed worthy of her attention, insisting Fi join her whether she cared to or not. Knowing this about her mother, Fi could not help feeling surprised at her parents' abrupt decision to return to her father's family home, which Fi could not remember visiting during her lifetime.
Although she'd heard her parents speak of Mirkheath from time to time, she'd assumed it lay vacant and unused, certainly not a place that her parents would consider to entertain guests. A wild, unkempt beauty surrounded Yorkshire and the journey there not one to be taken lightly.
It had been a bone-jarring jaunt to be sure and despite the sturdiness of their conveyance, they had had to endure the nauseating swaying for miles on end. Fi had given up looking out of the carriage window. At times, especially at night, her imagination could easily conjure a vision of them edging toward a precipice over which a stumble would send them hurtling to their death. The perplexing thought of why they would choose this remote and, though lovely in its own wild way, unlived-in manor as a setting for midseason entertainment, Fi just couldn't understand. What rational person would leave the bustling ballrooms of London to descend upon this chilly place? Unless what they expected to find here was worth the exhausting trip.
Fi and her mother were exact opposites when it came to socializing. Fi preferred to read or putter around their London garden. Had it not been for the supposed 'curse', Mirkheath Manor would be the perfect place for Fi to enjoy--remote, intriguing, and with countless nooks and crannies she might investigate at her leisure.
Not that she believed in the curse, of course. But her skepticism aside, what better place than this desperately lonely manor house to convince her it might be true?
She really had to stop letting her thoughts get in the way of her investigation of the truth. Moving her head to the side to get a better look, she peeked inside to see her parents still arguing. Her father was standing, his ruddy cheeks quivering with indignation and rotund body dressed in the latest fashion that did nothing to complement him. If only she could put her ear against the pane to make out their words. But they would certainly see her if she got that close to the door which led from the room out onto the stone terrace she stood upon. Fi did remember when her father might have been considered dashing, but time and his continual unhappiness had not treated him kindly.
Although Fi had inherited her father's dark hair, she had her mother's height and willowy build. Her mother looked to be her father's exact opposite, with her lovely blond hair pulled up into an elegant coiffure and dressed, as always, in a gown that would serve her well at any respectable social function, be it ballroom or parlor. Her mother's usual circumspect demeanor had gone by the wayside tonight and she gazed at her husband with the disdain and contempt in which she regarded him.
Fi had always wondered what had ever drawn them together when they had courted. Whatever mutual interest they had once shared no longer existed.
It was of no use. She couldn't hear a word they were saying. Turning away from the window, Fi moved across the stone terrace and down one of the dual set of stone stairs that connected the walled garden and the terrace.
Before Fi stepped off the last stone stair, she looked over her shoulder toward the dim light illuminating the windows of the conservatory. She was torn between wanting to redouble her efforts and find out what else her parents were saying about her or being alone with her thoughts.
A shiver raced up Fi's spine as she heard the crunch of gravel next to her. Whirling around, she faced whatever unknown thing made the eerie noise.
"Who...who's there?" Fi croaked. She almost choked on her tongue when she noticed the apparition moving through the partially manicured shrubs. Something deep within her seemed to guide her feet off the safety of the stairs and into the possible danger of the moonlit garden.
"Perhaps I maun ask you the same question, lassie," the figure retorted with a heavy Scottish brogue.
Was he a gardener? Fi's mind grasped for a logical reason why this unknown man would be in their garden at this time of night. She'd heard the gardeners sent up from London to prepare the estate prior to their arrival had been frightened off by something before completing their task--the ghost said to haunt the place, a fairytale Fi refused to believe.
Despite her doubt, she felt goose flesh raise the skin of her arms beneath her sleeves, making her instinctively rub them briskly. Her heart beat so fast that she had difficulty swallowing to relieve the sudden dryness in her mouth.
For the first time, she thought he just might be the ghost said to haunt these gardens, but he looked very real to her. No incandescent shimmering or translucent qualities to this man.
The stranger stood tall with broad shoulders and wore a loose fitting shirt with a kilt. She had to admit she was a tad shocked at the way he was dressed. By the light of the full moon that peeked out from behind the dark clouds suddenly, she could easily make out the definition of his handsome features, right down to the forehead partially covered with attractively mussed dark auburn hair, a nose with the hint of a bump he likely obtained in a fight, scraggly facial hair above his sensually defined top lip and the shadow of a beard covering his strong jaw.
He didn't look very pleased. The slash of his dark brows rode low over eyes that seemed to have an otherworldly glow about them.
Fi had the strongest desire to see the color of his eyes in the light.
"May I be of assistance, sir? Or my lord?" Since she had no clue as to the visitor's identity, she had no idea how to address him.
"Aye, leave my garden is what ye maun do." The stranger seemed very irate at her intrusion into--his garden? The way he gazed at her left her in no doubt of his feelings. His eyes narrowed and a glower appeared on his face.
"Beg pardon, eh...sir, might I inquire as to your name?" she asked. Fi's first response of fear and uncertainty turned to outrage at this intruder's audacity to persist in his claim of her family's garden as his own. Despite her show of bravado, the sliver of unease with the fact that she was alone with this man in a partially wild garden with only moonlight as illumination still remained.
Would anyone hear her if she called for help?
"I be Hugh MacFarlane," the man announced with pride, standing to his full intimidating height. "You be trespassing in me garden, lassie. If ye insist on staying, I willna stand for it."
"How can you claim to be the owner of this garden when my family has owned it for generations?" Fi asked indignantly.
That question got the intruder's attention. "Ye be Elizabeth's lass?"
Elizabeth? Who was Elizabeth? Fi's brows furrowed. "No, my mother's name is Margaret, not Elizabeth."
Now the man gazed at her with an intent expression. "Ye have Lizzie's comely face and bonnie figure," he stated matter-of-factly. "Ye maun be related to her, I trow." Hugh moved across the graveled path, but stopped short of the very edge where she stood.
Heat shot into Fi's face at the man's offhanded compliment. A strange tingling sensation skittered along her body at his nearness. Why did this man have to be so appealing to her? She never thought she'd consider a male dressed in a kilt so attractive. He had a muscular figure, legs bulging with strength--and a sporran.
Eyes flaring wide, she realized she'd been ogling him. Fi turned to leave.
"Nay, dinna go..." Hugh himself sounded surprised at his words, and he stepped back sharply when he accidentally moved over the edge of the path. "I...I hadna done that in a while," his words not as strong as they had been. He seemed bewildered by the fact that he'd crossed the edge of the path.
"What have you not done in a while?" Fi looked down at his feet. He wore some type of boots that strapped up to right below his knees.
"Set foot off the path," he replied.
"Dinna ye realize who I am?" Hugh asked her as if he thought she should do so.
Fi felt unease at his question. "No, should I?"
Indignant, Hugh puffed his chest out. Had there been enough light to see, she was sure his eyes would be flashing with ire. "Aye, ye should. I'm the ghost cursed to this walled in garden for all eternity."
God in heaven! Was the man mad? He was as real as any man she'd ever seen. Fi shivered. "How ridiculous! You are no more of a ghost than I am!"
Hugh looked angry now then his expression changed. "You can see me?"
"Of course, I can see you," Fi snapped irritably. "Do you propose I would stand idle conversing with a person I cannot see?" * * * *
The girl's response surprised Hugh. Raising one hand, he gazed at the callused solidity of his palm. How could this be? And how could he have carried on this conversation for so long without having thought about the fact that the lass could obviously see and hear him? As if he'd been returned to the physical plane once again. Alas, the last time he'd felt 'real' was the eve of his death, here in this very garden. What in his plight had changed from yester eve to this one? Except for the arrival of the girl and her family.
Hugh's gaze transferred back to girl. "Who might ye be, lass?" His hand fell to his side. She and her family must somehow be involved in the curse.
The girl looked around as if suddenly unsure of the advisability of conversing with a stranger in a moonlit garden. "I have not been properly introduced to you, Mr. MacFarlane. It would be unseemly for us to converse as familiars."
"Maun ye be so disagreeable, lass?" Hugh moved closer to her, but not close enough to frighten her.
The girl frowned at his question. "I do not mean to be disagreeable, sir. But had I been your sister, would you expect me to act so familiar with a man I just met?"
"Aye, ye are right in that. I would have trounced any male who acted in such a way with a sister of mine own." Hugh inclined his head. "How do ye suggest we remedy such a slight?"
She really was a bonnie lass. Most of her dark hair was pulled atop her head, with the exception of some curls framing the creamy-skinned perfection of her face. She bore a striking resemblance to Lizzie, as she had been when he first met her, before misery and the curse had drained all joy of life from her. Just a measure taller than her ancestor, the graceful line of her neck and obvious darkness of her eyes tempted him beyond what he ever thought to feel again.
"My only suggestion is that you make yourself known to my father by the usual means." Gingerly, she moved to turn away from him, as if seeking escape.
"I dinna think that would be wise," Hugh informed her. He grinned at her as he turned to stroll beside her. "How do you suppose yer Da would respond to meeting a ghost?"
She stopped short and whirled to face him. "You are mad," she pronounced with a disapproving frown. "Are you a servant here? Come with the ones sent to air the manor? One of the gardeners, perchance?" The girl pounced on the idea like a mouser would its favorite tasty treat. Anything to reason away the chance that he might truly be what he portended himself to be.
Hugh knew the manor had been in sore need of an airing. Looking around at his garden, with only half of the shrubs trimmed and the other half still looking like a wild brush, he could just imagine the girl's thoughts. One of his favorite haunts, the small Gothic summer cottage, lay hidden through the dark depths of the wild side of the garden. He'd scared away the gardeners who had attempted to tame the unruly vines and shrubs.
The last time he'd noticed any inhabitants within, this girl would have only been a bairn. He'd watched the servants she spoke of through the windows of the parlor and the grand room, the only two rooms the curse allowed him to view from his garden, pulling the linens from the furniture and dusting the cobwebs away.
"Nay, know ye not of the curse on this place?" He lengthened his stride to match her quickening footsteps.
"How do you know about the curse, Mr. MacFarlane?"
Obviously, the lass dinna believe his admission that he was the ghost who haunted this garden. When she moved to walk through the arch leading out of the garden and to the side of the estate, Hugh paused. This was one of the barriers that had kept him forever from the outside world. What would happen to him if he stepped out of his garden? Would he disappear? Vanish as the mythical fairy folk were purported to do?
"Dinna go," he implored her. He did not want her to leave. What if he could not follow and talk to her as was his wont to do? "I canna go with you."
The girl stopped walking and turned to face him again. "Why not?" One dark quizzical brow rose. It was an elegant brow, one he had a mind on which to press a kiss. He'd never seen the like of the costume she wore. The square neckline of her gown, cut lower than the women of his day wore, left the soft skin of her neck and chest visible for his perusal. The sleeves of the light garment tapered down to her slender wrists. The fabric of her skirt flowed from a high waistline to the ground without giving much indication of curves until she walked.
"The curse forbids it."
Hugh felt the girl's intent gaze running over him as he refused to move farther. Had he convinced her? To his surprise, the girl reached a hand toward him and touched him on the forearm. He suppressed a groan as his muscles tensed in response to her tentative touch, a touch that sent a sensation akin to sharp tingles shooting through his body to settle in the area of his cock. So shocked by the intensity of his unfamiliar response, he stepped back sharply, severing the intimate contact.
"You are no ghost, sir," the girl pronounced indignantly. "You are as real as any person I have ever met. How cruel of you to taunt me about my family's curse."
"I dinna jest, lassie. I know not how I came to be flesh and blood again." This time Hugh reached out to touch her sleeve, keeping his brute strength hidden from her. "It maun have something to do with ye. For it dinna occur until you strolled into my garden."
She looked skeptical at his pronouncement. "I have no time for this amusement at my expense, sir. I bid you good eve." With that, the girl bolted out of his garden and toward the side of the manor.