SOMEWHERE MY LOVE (Coming soon to the Wild Rose Press!)
By Beth Trissel
“He was Captain Wentworth, but we call him Cole.”
His name sent a shiver pulsing through Julia Morrow like a ripple from the past. Perhaps it was only her awe of Foxleigh, one of the most exquisite old homes along the James River in Virginia. Julia felt out of place among the Persian carpets and sumptuous mahogany pieces in her white sandals and pink-floral sundress. Foxleigh had been intended for satin slippers and ball gowns with sweeping skirts that swirled around her ankles.
Covered in goosebumps, she eyed the tour guide.
Mrs. Hensley’s round face was flushed beneath a white cap, her plump figure swaddled in a shapeless blue gown and checked petticoat that looked straight out of Colonial Williamsburg. Pale blue eyes alight, she laid her dimpled hand over an ample chest. “Such a gallant gentleman he was and handsome. Cole’s portrait makes my old heart flutter.”
Cole. The odd tremble inside Julia only grew.
Despite the air conditioning, Mrs. Hensley plucked a handkerchief out from under her white apron and mopped her beaded forehead. “His room’s just ahead.”
A mounting sense of expectation quickened Julia’s steps down the wide hall and she forced herself to slow in order to accommodate Mrs. Hensley’s waddle. Already intrigued by the prospect of a summer working at Foxleigh, home to the Wentworth family for eight generations, her wonder was enhanced by a sudden, almost aching need to throw open the bedroom door.
“Go on and open it, dear,” Mrs. Hensley said, catching up to her with a wheeze. “You’ll see we keep it like a shrine. But it’s such a lovely room. Mind you don’t lean on the walls. The paint was recently touched up.”
Julia closed her fingers around the white marble knob. A strange tingle coursed through her hand. Giving a small gasp, she drew back. “Is the wiring sound in here?”
“We had the electricity checked out for insurance last month. Why?”
“I felt a sort of current in the knob.”
Mrs. Hensley’s puckered creases relaxed in a smile. “You’re just more connected than most.”
She looked pointedly at Julia. “To the people who’ve gone before you, of course. The departed.”
Julia quivered with another prickling shiver. “I’ve always been a bit clairvoyant.”
Mrs. Hensley studied her closely. “Is this second sight what led you to Foxleigh?”
“Perhaps. But I see only in part.”
“The glass is cloudy, eh?”
Julia nodded and dropped her eyes from the mature woman’s scrutiny. She stared hard at the amber door. The wood was darkened with age and a slashing scar marred the oak. She slid her fingers over the deep scratch, more of a groove, really. A black one, at that. Some malevolence had scored the wood like an ancient burn.
“There’s a story in that mark,” Mrs. Hensley said. “In everything, it seems. These old homes accumulate tales. Come in and I’ll tell you Cole’s.” She grasped the doorknob, opening it without a qualm, and stepped inside.
Suspecting her life would never be the same, Julia walked in behind her. The deep-set window had been cracked open to chase away the lingering odor of paint. Bees hummed outside in white-flowering hydrangeas. Sunshine slanted through the wavy antiquated glass and washed mellow light over the colonial furnishings.
Along one nutmeg-colored wall, Julia saw a magnificent four-poster bed overhung with an ivory canopy. The counterpane covering the box mattress was a tapestry of blue and crimson flowers patiently embroidered by fingers long since idle. An inexplicable urge stirred in her to lie on that bed as if to keep a long held appointment.
Stranger still, was the faint scent of spice, like the whiff of a man’s cologne. She had breathed in this tantalizing fragrance before, but couldn’t remember when, or tell where it came from. Seeking the source, she drifted past a heavily carved armoire.
“There he is,” Mrs. Hensley said with whispery reverence as she gestured at the full-length portrait on the wall across from the bed. “Painted shortly before his death. His father, Charles Wentworth, was married to Lady Pembrook, the daughter of a British Earl. And Mr. Cole looks a true nobleman, doesn’t he?”
Julia halted. His presence was a soft breath on her neck that warmed and chilled her at the same time. The current running through her strengthened tenfold as she looked up at the young man and his gaze projected eerily back as if he knew she were there.
The artist had captured the intensity in Cole’s dark brown eyes allowing the force of his personality to shine through. His smooth forehead, slightly long nose, and clean-shaven chin balanced the three elements perfectly. He even had a small cleft in his chin as she’d imagined a nobleman would and his mouth was captivating, full, yet not too full.
Wavy chestnut hair met the white cravat circling his neck and made her want to reach out and touch it. She felt like a schoolgirl sighing at the poster of a film star, only this was so much more than that. Her awe at the house paled in comparison to the wonder rising in her as she ran her eyes down the length of the masterful portrait.
She couldn’t be certain of Cole’s height, but he appeared tall standing beside a splendid thoroughbred, his stunning figure clothed in an elegant scarlet coat fitted across his broad shoulders and cut away in front to reveal creamy white breeches molded to his thighs and long legs. He held a plaited leather whip with a crooked handle of carved ivory or bone like a stag’s horn and the thong looped in his left hand. The reins were casually circled around the tapered fingers of his right.
Maybe it was the sheltered life Julia had led, but it seemed to her that Cole embodied everything a man should.
“I see his appeal’s not lost on you,” her companion said.
She’d nearly forgotten the woman was there. “No. Cole Wentworth is––was––remarkable. What do you know of him?”
“He was passionate about horses and unbeatable in a race.” Mrs. Hensley nodded her capped head at several smaller gilt frames displaying portraits of hunting dogs and horses so beautifully done they appeared lifelike. “He was a gifted artist, as well. We have other paintings by him in the house, but most are here, where he was killed. Tragic.”
A cold finger laid its icy touch on Julia and ran down the length of her spine. “How did it happen?”
“He’s said to have been run through by the very man who made that mark on the door. A Mr. Cameron. Scottish fellow he was, back in...” Mrs. Hensley pursed her thin lips, blue eyes distant. “Ah, yes, 1806. Some fuss over a woman.”
“How dreadful. What about Mr. Cameron?”
“The friend of a neighbor, I believe. He escaped and was never found. No justice was ever done in the matter.”
Julia hesitated, then asked, “And the woman?”
“Heartbroken, poor thing. She returned to England. She was a guest of the Wentworth family and greatly enamored of Cole. All the young ladies were, but he had a particular fascination with this girl.”
“Why was she so special?”
“Apart from her legendary beauty? She had an angelic quality about her. Or so the story goes.”
An irrational jealousy twanged a jarring note in Julia. In the space of a few short minutes she’d fallen in love with the man in the portrait––typical of her impractical nature and unlikely to advance her nonexistent love life. And yet, she couldn’t help plunging into this sweet madness.
She tore her eyes from the portrait. “Do you recall the lady’s name?”
Mrs. Hensley gave a little laugh. She tapped a finger to her furrowed forehead. “Isn’t that odd? It was Julia something...hmmmm.”
Was Mrs. Hensley teasing her? She had to know.
“I’ve got it. Julia Maury,” the guide continued and arched graying brows. “You’re from England, aren’t you, Miss Morrow? Tread with care here, my girl. We don’t want you stirring up any ghosts. Foxleigh has enough already.”
“No,” Julia said, reaching out to the dresser to steady herself. Without meaning to, she suspected she’d already stirred up some force beyond her understanding.
A man spoke from the hall. “Charlotte, I need to speak to you about the new staff. Ah––I see she’s arrived.”
Julia startled at the low, uncannily familiar voice and whirled around to find none other than Cole Wentworth poised in the doorway.
SOMEWHERE MY LOVE (Coming soon to the Wild Rose Press!)