Is there the ghost of a chance their marriage can be saved?
Set on the romantic Isles of Scilly this short story tells of a marriage that almost ended on the wedding night. Emily Heywood married for convenience but in the hope of love. Her husband, Blake, leaves on a military mission, abandoning Emily on the threshold of her new home. She yearns for him, and hopes for both his safety and his love, but when she sees what she thinks is a ghost on the battlements of the Star Castle she fears the worst.
Emily felt her legs tremble. Her breath came short and then she realised it was not only fear she was feeling through the shock and disbelief, it was an aching longing for the dark figure, an elemental recognition. Her lips parted, she knew she ran her tongue across them. Her body felt hot and her palms, as she clenched her fingers tightly into them, were damp. A dream… But her nails cut painfully into her skin, she could smell the salt from the sea on the breeze, hear the distant call of the sentry down by the Governor’s house. She was awake.
Her leg muscles tensed of their own accord, ready for movement, but not for flight. She was about to step across the flag stones, into the arms of… what? Some ancient, mouldering spectre? She felt fear then, fear because of her own reckless, inexplicable yearning. Terror that she was seeing things.
The breeze freshened, the moonlight dimmed and, suddenly, it was dark. Emily glanced up, saw the thick cloud banked across the moon, and looked back to the dimly visible outline of the guard post. Nothing stirred, there was no sound, no figure. It… he had gone. She crept backwards, her hands tight on the rail, treading silently until she reached the door, as though a figment of her imagination could hear her steps, her pounding heart.
It was a figment, an illusion. It had to be. The studs in the oak-planked door bit into her shoulders, her groping hand found the rusty latch and she clung to it, a link to reality, as she strove for rational thought. She had been tired, unsettled in a strange room, her imagination stirred by the ghostly tale, that was all it was. The moonlight made strange, unearthly shadows and her mind had conjured up the cloaked man.
But why had she not been afraid of him? And why had she felt such strong attraction that even now her pulse still raced and her heart yearned?
Because I was already aroused, she told herself. I was thinking about Blake, wanting Blake, and that, with the foolish story, made a ghost out of my desire.
She was an adult, rational woman. She did not believe in phantoms and she would get to the bottom of this, now. If she scuttled back to her room and buried her head under the blankets she was nothing but a foolish chit and she would always wonder if there really had been some rational explanation. Ignoring the butterflies in her stomach Emily squared her shoulders, walked back across the wooden bridge and looked around. The cloud was shredded across the moon now, but there was enough light to see that the whole broad expanse of flagstones were quite empty of anything living. There was not even a bat flitting above her head.
Then the shadows by the sentry box shifted, reformed, became a man, and the moon came out fully as he lifted a hand to his hat and she saw his face clear in the cold light. His very familiar face, as bone white and stark as death in the chill moonlight.
Blake. The blood seemed to drain from her head. ‘No!’ Emily threw up a hand in denial as he moved towards her. She tried to turn and run back to the door, but her legs had lost all their strength and she felt herself falling as his hands reached out. The world spun dizzily, her eyes lost their focus and then there was nothing.