Michael Westin peered out the dirty smudged window at the young man and older woman below getting out of a compact car.
“It appears we have visitors again, Sabin,” he announced to his companion.
Sabin’s ears flattened back and he rose from his nap on a nearby chair, his black fur rumpled. He began licking his paws to give himself a bath.
“I told Mrs. Livingston and Mrs. Bartley not to allow anymore guests.” Michael sighed and turned from the window. “They deliberately ignored me.”
He strode from the room and quickly down the stairs. The objects of his ire were behind a tall counter whereupon a guestbook and pen sat. He gritted his teeth.
“Who are they?” he demanded, gesturing to the people outside.
Mrs. Livingston jumped. “Mr. Westin…we didn’t see you there. Are you sneaking around again?”
“Never mind that,” he snapped. “Why do those two have bags with them? They aren’t guests are they?”
Mrs. Bartley, the older and shorter of the two middle-aged women who’d taken over his house, smiled. “Well, of course they are.”
Mrs. Livingston cast her a worried frown. “What Mrs. Bartley means to say is that they are not guests from London. Didn’t you say you wanted no more snotty, cigarette smoking tradition bashing youths from London invading your house?”
“If they are not from London, then where?” He looked through the front bay window. “Do not tell me they are Scots!”
“Would we do that you? No, Mr. Westin, they are American visitors,” Mrs. Bartley said smoothly.
Michael turned to gape at them. “Americans? Here? Devil take it. Except that I lack the power, I would sack the two of you in an instant.”
“Now, now, everything will be fine. Our guests are a widowed romance writer and her nephew. They won’t bother you at all,” Mrs. Livingston assured him.
“No loud rock music or demands for televisions,” Mrs. Bartley concurred. “You won’t even notice them. Nor they you, hopefully.”
Mrs. Livingston came out from behind the counter and hurried to the window. “They’ll be coming to the door soon. You’d better make yourself scarce.”
“Well, this is rustic, isn’t it?” Henry Porter frowned at the faded old house. The battered sign swinging in the breeze in front of the gate clearly said “Haverly Inn” in washed out black paint.
He debated getting back into the rental car and driving right back out of the English village called Dragon’s Point. The happily expectant look on his Aunt May’s face made him hoist his bag over his shoulder instead.
“I think it looks cozy,” his aunt announced, reaching down for her own suitcase.
“Cozy.” Henry blew out a breath and briefly leaned on the car. Well, he supposed if she really planned to write a romance set in England she couldn’t ask for better atmosphere.
Tucking a flyaway blond hair behind his left ear, he eyed the two-story inn. Hadn’t the website said it was once some titled Englishman’s country estate? Easy to see why he abandoned it. The cracked and peeling ocean blue paint gave testament to the fact the owners of the inn didn’t do much upkeep.
“At least it smells nice,” he commented as a gust of wind blew the scent of wildflowers toward them.
“There you see. We’ll have a wonderful time,” Aunt May said cheerfully. “Dragon’s Point is supposed to be the second most haunted village in England.”
“You promised to have an open mind, dear.”
“To the ghosts. You didn’t say anything about the accommodations.”
Henry once more studied the inn. It might have been nice once. But those days were definitely long past. The small white gate leading to the path that would take them to the front door of the house rested on only one hinge. The shutters on the windows were half on and half off. Well, perhaps more off. The hole-ridden screen covering the front door banged in the wind.
When his widowed aunt asked Henry to accompany her on this Haunted England trip, he’d decided the vacation would help him twofold. Aunt May would be happy, a rare event since the death of Uncle Charlie; and Henry could finally take time off his job as a corporate lawyer. He hadn’t had any real vacation in five years. And he could get away, at least physically, from the painful breakup with Tad.
Henry pulled up the handle on his other suitcase and started wheeling it toward the gate.
Aunt May moved in front of Henry and pushed the wooden gate aside. It creaked and then crashed to the ground.
“Oops.” Aunt May shrugged sheepishly.
Henry rolled his eyes and followed his aunt to the front door. “You know, I’ve been meaning to ask you. Why are we visiting the second most haunted village?”
“Pluckley is far too touristy, dear. Everyone goes there. The people from Pluckley themselves admit they don’t really have any spirits.” Aunt May sniffed derisively. “I’m looking for something more authentic.”
He didn’t have to remind his aunt he did not believe in ghosts. They’d had the discussion numerous times. Which was why he’d promised to have an open mind. Sort of.
“I hope this place has indoor plumbing,” he said only half-joking.
“Of course it does. The website said so, didn’t it?”
Henry grimaced and opened the door. “The place doesn’t exactly look like it does in the website. The Hyatt, it’s not.”
Aunt May patted his arm. “Thank God for that. Who needs one of those stuffy hotels anyway?”
She moved through the door briskly. Henry entered the dark hallway at a slower pace. Noticing the light bulb hanging from the ceiling with a single chain, he reached up and pulled it. Dim light lit the formerly dark hall.
Shaking his head, Henry reached for the handles of the suitcases once more. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught movement to his right. Glancing up quickly she saw a man standing just outside the hall. A very handsome man with dark curly hair dressed all in black except for a snow white scarf at his throat.
He took a moment to study his clothes more closely. The pants were tight fitting, as though tailor made, and on his feet were highly polished black shoes. His coat was short, but also looked expensive and the snow white shirt matched the scarf. No, not a scarf. A cravat, wasn’t that its name? His attire was straight out of a PBS production of Pride and Prejudice.
Someone dressed for a theater production? Perhaps for the Historical Festival? He could not make out the color of his eyes in the dimly lit hall but they were staring at him, assessing him.
"You startled me." Henry laughed and raised a hand to his chest.
The man's lips curved up at the corners just a tad. "Your pardon. It was not my intent."
He had an English accent, very proper sounding, and he wondered if it was part of his act.
"Henry, are you coming?" Aunt May asked from further into the house.
"Well," Henry said, smiling. "I guess I'd better go. I hope I will see you later."
He inclined his head but made no remark, and then stepped aside to let him pass.
Henry entered what was obviously the lobby of the inn. Directly in front of him was a tattered Queen Anne sofa with the stuffing coming out. In front of the sofa was a small coffee table.
In the furthest corner was a tall counter, in front of which, Aunt May stood. Behind the counter was a woman wearing glasses roughly the same age as Henry’s aunt, which was in her mid-fifties. The woman behind the counter was slender to Aunt May’s plump.
“This is Mrs. Livingston, dear,” Aunt May called.
Henry left the suitcases where they were and approached the counter.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Porter.” Mrs. Livingston shook his hand warmly. “Welcome to Haverly Inn.”
“Thank you. My aunt and I are excited to be here.”
“Oh yes.” Mrs. Livingston beamed. “It’s a very popular time of year for tourists. Spring is quite lovely here.”
Henry signed the registry Mrs. Livingston pushed toward her. “We’re looking forward to the Historical Festival in Dragon’s Point Town Square. How long have they been having it?”
Mrs. Livingston cleared her throat and took the registry. She turned away from her guests and dug through a drawer in a desk behind her.
“Well, actually,” the woman said blushing, “this is the first year we’ve ever had it.”
Henry blinked. Next to him Aunt May stiffened ever so slightly.
“But your website said it was an annual event,” Aunt May interjected.
Mrs. Livingston smiled. “We mean to make it so.”
Henry gritted his teeth. “I see.”
“Anyway, it has been very popular so far.” Mrs. Livingston pushed two actual keys at them.
Henry glanced down and saw the numbers 202 and 210 on the keys. “Our rooms were supposed to be adjoining.”
“The inn has very few rooms converted to guest quarters,” Mrs. Livingston explained. “We weren’t able to accommodate adjoining rooms.”
Aunt May touched his sleeve. “It’ll be fine, dear.”
Henry nodded. Tempted as he was to make a fuss, this was Aunt May’s dream vacation that she wanted to take with Uncle Charlie for years. He wouldn’t spoil it anymore than it had been by the fact Henry was here instead of Charlie.
“Okay.” He smiled.
“Now, then. Your stay has already been paid for. You’re staying for a full week, is that right?” Mrs. Livingston asked.
“Right,” Aunt May said. “I plan on doing a lot of ghost hunting.”
“Splendid, splendid. I am sure that you will run across hundreds of ghosts.” Mrs. Livingston scribbled a note down on a pad of paper, then looked up at them. “As I am sure you will recall, the Historical Festival is two nights and it begins tonight at seven.”
“I think I already saw one of the gentleman attending,” Henry remarked.
“Oh?” Mrs. Livingston and Aunt May asked at once.
“In the hallway.” Henry gestured over his shoulder. “Nice costume, too. Pride and Prejudice.”
“Oh, I am sure you’ll see many people in costume wandering around here.” Mrs. Livingston averted her eyes for a moment, then flashed them an even brighter smile.
“I’m going as Marie Antoinette,” Aunt May confided to their hostess. “Before she lost her head, of course.”
Mrs. Livingston laughed. “Of course. And you, Mr. Lincoln?”
“A sorcerer,” Henry announced with no little satisfaction. “You know like Merlin from King Arthur?”
“Merlin? Tsk, tsk. A handsome man, like you?” Mrs. Livingston frowned her disapproval.
Henry held up the two keys. “Room 202 or 210, Aunt May?”
Aunt May glanced at Mrs. Livingston. “Which one is closer to the bathroom?”
“Wait a minute.” Henry’s stomach dropped. “Closer to the bathroom? I…aren’t they in the rooms?”
Aunt May patted his arm again. “No, dear. I thought I told you about that.”
“This is an old manor, Mr. Porter. There’s one lavatory on each floor.”
“Cozy,” Aunt May repeated her initial impression of the inn.
“Rustic,” Henry repeated his.