WARNING: Mild sexual content.
It might not be only Field House that is haunted…
Hastings – 1844
Wilkins had arranged rooms for everyone but the children had other ideas. When we arrived at the manor they decided a fun game would be to run from bedroom to bedroom shouting ‘this is my room’ and jumping on the beds. It turned out there was a ridiculous number of bedrooms in Josef’s house, but at least they’d sleep well.
Bran had disappeared so I left the children with Josef and Veronica and went to find him. It was rarely good when he disappeared without a word.
He was standing in one of the bedrooms the children had abandoned.
I leaned against the doorframe. ‘Are you still feeling guilty about not getting anything for Mary’s stomach?’
His gaze passed slowly over the room ‘I was thinking about the last time I was here. It was with Elizabeth, we stayed in this room.’
‘She was perfectly charming when Josef was around,’ he murmured. ‘Or seemed it.’
It was a particular skill to appear charming to everyone else while needling someone, I wasn’t surprised Bran’s former mistress had employed it. A woman who chipped away at her own daughter’s confidence would do it to anyone.
‘I didn’t think it would bother me, bad memories follow me everywhere,’ he said. ‘Then I came in this room.’
I shut the door and locked it.
Bran tensed, his heart accelerated.
I stayed near the door. ‘Do you want me to unlock it?’
He looked over his shoulder at me. ‘No.’
I pressed against his back and wrapped my arms around him. ‘You’re safe.’
He took deep breaths but his heart didn’t slow. ‘Still a coward.’
‘You were never a coward.’ I caressed his stomach with my thumb.
He put his hands over mine. ‘Josef threw her out and wouldn’t let her back in the house. When I left he shouted at me that I should stay with him and not go to her, but I went.’ He sighed. ‘I don’t know what’s sillier, that I went or that I thought he’d sleep with her.’
I rested my head against his back. ‘It’s not silly. She manipulated your weaknesses.’ Suddenly I understood why Josef had never thought to tell Bran he hadn’t slept with Bran’s lovers.
‘Sometimes it feels like I’m nothing but weaknesses,’ he whispered.
‘You’re stronger than you think.’
He rubbed the back of my hand absent-mindedly. ‘I want to… do something.’ He stepped out of my arms. ‘Could you sit down, please?’
I resisted the temptation to tease and perched on the edge of the bed.
He glanced at the locked door then started unbuttoning his clothes. I loved the pop of his buttons through buttonholes. ‘I want to make some better memories.’ He shrugged off his waistcoat, dropped his braces and cravat then tugged his shirt over his head and tossed it aside.
I leaned back and rested my hands on the mattress. ‘Hm, what might you be thinking?’
He grinned, bent over me and kissed me deeply. I grabbed him by the rear and ran my hands up his gnarled back, scars laid over scars.
‘You’re so beautiful,’ I whispered and kissed a scar on his chest. ‘I’ll do things to you so wicked you won’t be able to think about anything else.’
He drew in a shuddery breath.
I grinned and bit his shoulder, fangs scraping but not breaking skin. He hissed. I swung him onto the bed and straddled him.
‘Comfortable?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ he murmured. ‘More.’
He tilted his head and I pressed my tongue to his pulse. It was tempting to bite hard and drink deep, my mouth watered at the thought. I kissed instead and nipped his ear.
I grabbed his wrists and pinned them to the bed. ‘I’m going to make you beg.’
His heart accelerated, a sharp note panic pulled his taunt muscles and clenched his hands. I waited. He wasn’t going to tell me to stop, he should’ve.
I got off him, knelt, and raised my hands. ‘You’re safe.’
He got off the bed, snapped the lock on the door and walked out. I picked up his clothes and followed.
He was leaning against the wall opposite with his back to the door and his forehead against the wood panelling. ‘I’ve ruined it.’
I pulled the door shut and jiggled the handle. ‘Nah, I can put it back together.’
When he didn’t say anything I turned around and caressed his back. ‘You didn’t.’
He took my hand and drew me against him. ‘I… I remembered…’ He shook his head and rubbed his face.
Elizabeth and I existed on opposite sides of a line between making someone beg for mercy and making someone beg for satisfaction. I put my arm around him and rested my face against his back.
‘Sorry,’ he murmured.
‘You know the rules, Bran. Everyone enjoys it or no-one does.’ I kissed his back. ‘This isn’t home. It’s not your safe space. But you are safe. Do you want to talk about it?’
‘I can’t say anything that hasn’t been said before.’ He sighed.
‘I’ll keep listening.’
He turned around. ‘Do you ever wonder if the worst ghosts aren’t the real ones? Josef says he regrets the things he forgets, sometimes I wonder if it isn’t better that way.’
I considered him. ‘There are things I’d like to forget but I don’t think I could forget, even if I had the ability.’ I sucked my teeth. ‘To be honest, when you’re asking about forgetting I’m really the wrong person.’
He chuckled and caressed my face.
I drew him down and touched my nose to his. ‘I need it, Bran,’ I whispered. ‘I need to remember every name and every face. If I forget the things I’ve done, then what if it ceases to matter what I do, for what reason and to who? I don’t know if the ability to forget is always good.’
He kissed me softly and I pressed his shirt to his chest.
He took the shirt. ‘Is that some way of saying I wouldn’t be the man I am if I forgot?’
‘It’s some way of saying “I don’t know”. There are things I don’t remember from before my ability manifested but I remember so much that I just don’t have an answer for you.’
‘Not sleepy!’ Edward bellowed on the other side of the house. ‘Not!’
‘There’s a distraction.’ I tilted my head in the direction of Edward’s crying. ‘When a child throws a tantrum the apocalypse could happen and you wouldn’t notice.’
Bran laughed and pulled his shirt on.
‘Cocoa and cuddles could be just what you need.’ I slapped his backside lightly.
He smiled. ‘They are bestest.’
I put my arm around his waist. ‘Edward would be proud.’
‘Not. Sleepy,’ Edward shrieked and started wail-crying.
‘He’s definitely sleepy,’ Bran said, walking a little quicker.
I suppressed a grin. We couldn’t run, it might suggest Josef and Veronica weren’t capable.
I ran, as well as I could in a fashionable dress. ‘Too slow, old man.’
He blurred past me a few feet. He couldn’t do it as well or as far as Josef.
‘That’s still cheating,’ I called after him.
‘Too slow, youngster.’
He may have had a point.