With your arm wrapped over the top of the gentleman ghost’s, you stride across the threshold of the mansion. A plaque sits by the door declaring this to be Waining Manor, but a stain’s dripped from the ceiling, blotting away the gold until it reads as Wailing Manor. You glance around, fearing to discover a banshee or spirit shrieking at you.
What you find is a grand staircase with railings carved to mimic the vines circling the property. A faded, dull-red carpet clings to the mahogany stairs rising to a second floor. You can only make out a hint of rooms above, wallpaper peeling from its base and darkness oozing down the halls.
“The grand dame has sadly seen better seasons,” Claremont muses before he jerks a finger to the chandeliers above. Fire springs to life, dancing above the moth-eaten candles little more than piles of wax. The unnaturally red flame moves as one, fading through the cobwebs stretched across the chains and scones of the chandelier.
A great howl shatters the air, rocking the chandeliers, though the flames remain in place. Leaping in surprise, you crash straight into Claremont’s hungry arms. A tingle rises through your body but you cling tighter to him, your eyes whipping around for the monster prowling the moors.
“What was that?” you ask, the tremble rising.
“Don’t worry about that fool. He’s more bark than brains,” Claremont whispers. Even though his lips are nearly pressed to your cheek you feel no breath and no warmth. But the indelicate smile and dart of his eyes down your body causes you to curl your toes in your shoes.
“While a tour would be proper, would you be aghast at retiring to my favorite room in the manor?” Claremont finishes by taking your hand in his and bringing your knuckles to his lips. The kiss buzzes over your skin, causing your palm to tickle.
“Let me guess, the bedroom?”
The man snickers. “Mine boasts a four poster bed, incredibly sturdy, with real silks from China that slither over the skin. But no, that can be saved for later. Come along.”
He takes both your hands in his and walks backward. You pass under an archway, leaving the foyer. As you go, the lights in the chandelier all wink out. A hallway waits before you, straining deeper into the house on the right. It’s to the left that Claremont tugs you, the smile rising even as he stares only at you.
Or is that why he’s smiling?
You blush and shake your head, scattering your hair over your face. Dropping one of your hands, Claremont reaches over to tuck your stray hair back. “A face this beautiful must never be obscured,” he whispers before turning away from you and cracking open the door.
“My lady, welcome to my refuge from the world.”
The old oak door creaks open into a parlor. Massive windows etched with vines and bearing cuts of green and yellow glass fill the North side. To the South is a couch—one that looks as if, should someone sit to the right, they’d fall directly into the lap of the person on the left.
A fireplace of black onyx rests between two chairs pivoted not together but away from each other. Atop the mantle sits a carriage clock, the hands stuck at midnight. A sprightly green and yellow wallpaper struggles to fight against the gloom of the parlor. The rug below is dingy from age and yellowed to that of bones left in the desert.
Claremont waves a finger at the fireplace, lighting flames inside the black stones. “How do you find it?” he asks.
You turn to take in the paintings lining the wall. One is of a man half submerged in a jungle’s swamp, a machete just out of reach. Another shows a different young man with a shock of black hair gleefully leaning almost off the edge of a cliff. The last looks to be the manor itself with a woman standing in front, but the head has been scraped off the canvas leaving only a hole behind.
Raising a hand, you’re about to ask of the strange woman, when Claremont floats to the final piece of furniture in the room, no doubt the entire reason the room was built. A massive piano decorated with baroque carvings around the whole of the body rests before the stained glass windows. By early morning light it has to glow like molten gold. But even in the dark of the decrepit parlor, it’s a wonder.
The wooden music stand looks like a piece of ornamental lace, every swirl leading back to the middle where a man stands with arms outstretched. An angelic woman is carved into the tops of all three of the legs, her skirts swooping out to form the steadying buttresses. And across the keyboard dust cover is a latin phrase carved in wedding worthy calligraphy: Vita Mors Est.
“Do you play?” you ask, your fingers aching to sweep across the still keys.
Claremont chuckles. He slides onto the bench and, with a flourish, hefts the tails of his coat up so they flutter back. Cracking his fingers, he winks at you and pulls open the dust cover to reveal the piano is in poor shape. White and black keys are missing, some sunken in, others pitted and broken as if a monster tried to take a bite.
But Claremont doesn’t even pause. He points to the candelabra nestled on the piano’s body, casting an intimate glow around you, and places his fingers to the keys.
Heavenly music glides from the piano. It’s not out of tune, nor tinny from years of neglect. This sound could come from a symphony hall. You’ve never heard the song before, but it sings to you, your eyes closing as you dance to the music flowing like water gurgling through a mountain stream. The tune isn’t a mournful dirge for the dead man. Nor is it bright and cheery to welcome a long lost soul back to his manor.
You sway, your hips finding the beat and your heart throbbing in time with the romantic notes spinning in the air. “In my living life, I would sit here for hours playing. Widows and respectable ladies traveled miles through the forests for one of my very private concerts,” Claremont says.
Watching him, his eyes closed, his body drifting as if it too is lost in the music, the tingle returns through you. “It’s beautiful,” you whisper.
He chuckles. “It’s acceptable. You are beautiful. No, that is too pedestrian a word to describe you. There is no angel in heaven to match your grace, and no devil to compete with your temptation.”
You sit on the edge of the bench beside Claremont. He shifts, letting you slide closer to him without dropping a note. The edge of his arm glides up and down the side of your chest, every touch causing you to gasp. There’s no denying his handsome face, nor the charm dripping from every pore in his body.
“How many women did you seduce in here?” you ask.
To your surprise, the ghost blushes. “Seduce is a strong word. Enrapture? Many. Often the delight of the chase is enough to whet the appetite for more fun at a later date.”
“Are you all talk?” you ask.
Claremont laughs and shakes his head. Suddenly, his hand cups your cheek and the ghost pulls you to him. The tingle of his ethereal body shoots down your skin to pool in your thighs. You lean closer, lost in the tender touch of his lips. He keeps them soft, pliant, a gentlemen’s kiss. But as you open your mouth, letting the tip of your tongue taste the ghostly lip, the gentleman makes his move.
With a dangerous dexterity, Claremont’s tongue sweeps into your mouth. His taste is unexplainable. Frostbite on Christmas. The burn of alcohol on the first sip. Smoke from fireworks bursting over the sky. All of that and more in one kiss.
You moan, hoping for his hands to travel lower, but Claremont slips away. Though he caresses the swell of your cheek with his thumb. “Best be careful what you wish for, my lady.”
“Because I might get it?” you ask, your eyes shining.
Claremont laughs, and you realize it’s in time with the music. Even though he’s holding you, the piano continues to play. Keys press and rise on their own. “It is the night of All Hallow’s Eve. I daresay I owe my liberator a dance.” He holds a hand out to you and together you rise from the piano.
With one hand nestled on the small of your back, Claremont takes your other in his. This is no careful waltz done before dowager’s disagreeing eyes. Claremont pulls you so close, his hips glance against yours.
“You’re quite good at this,” you say, your veins bubbling as if champagne flows through them.
“What use is a man incapable of dancing? He may as well declare himself a eunuch in front of the entire congregation on Sunday morn.”
His smile is wide, but the edge of his eyes are dipping in a painful sadness. “Is something wrong?” you ask.
“Only weighing how little time remains. Once the sun rises, I too will return to my untimely slumber in the graveyard.”
You didn’t realize he had just one night to move, and speak, and…touch. Your hips continue to sway even as your feet pause. Claremont’s body stills and you draw the back of your hand up his jaw. “Then why are we wasting time dancing?”
His gray eyes burn to a nearly icy blue. Claremont catches your wrist roughing over his pristine skin. With eyes closed he places your palm to his lips along with a shuddering kiss. “My lady, to lie with you would be a treasure beyond anything in heaven.”
Your question lingers in the air. The man who couldn’t cease flirting, with ample opportunity, and a willing participant seems hesitant.
Claremont opens his eyes and you find red swirling on the edges. “The cad of Waining manor, the boy who inherited the wealth of generations to spend it on the sport of chasing ankles, is once bitten and twice shy.”
“The very cause of my demise. I thought her a princess, my good fortune paid out in one throw of the dice. I was a fool and did not realize her true machinations until the whole of the cup was finished.”
He rests his forehead upon yours, his eyes beaming into you as if he’s trying to find the same poisonous scheming woman inside. You reach your hands around his waist and pull him to you for an embrace. “I wish we had more time,” you say. “That I could…prove to you I am not her.”
“You will never be her, my lady. Already I see your heart glows with a purity that even in my heights of love-drunk foolishness I could not find in her. I too wish that…” Claremont says before turning his head to the mantle.
“Of course,” he declares, abandoning his hold of you. Reaching the fireplace, he tugs off the back of the carriage clock and reveals a small book hidden inside. Holding the old, leather bound tome open in his hand, Claremont speeds through the pages until revealing one in Latin.
“With this we can be together.”
“Beyond tonight?” you ask, staring at the book.
“Beyond eternity,” Claremont declares.
“It will bind me to you. I can see you, speak with you, touch you whenever you wish. We can even leave this infernal place. See the world and how it’s turned.”
Take Claremont with you back into the world beyond?
“What do you say, my Lady?”
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