Touch not the cat bot a glove…
The MacPherson family crest above the door gives Rachael de Young, genealogist and psychic, an unexpected chill. She doesn't know that by crossing the threshold, her life will change forever. Because the MacPhersons are a family cursed by jealousy, betrayal, and fire….
Rachael grows closer to the truth even as she grows closer to the ghost of Jordan MacPherson, who died in the tragic fire…and could very well be the person sabotaging her research. But she must trust Jordan's love in order to find the strength to face her own fears, break her one cardinal rule, and top a madman before he can kill again.
What Beck'ning Ghost is an atmospheric modern gothic romance from Dayle A. Dermatis.
Bestselling writer Dayle A. Dermatic never ceases to amaze me with her range and skills as a storyteller, which is why she has been called one of the best writers working today. In this bundle is What Beck'ning Ghost, an adventure into the wonderful fantasy world of gothic romance. Describing this book as an atmospheric modern gothic doesn't begin to do this wonderful novel justice. It will grip you and not let you stop reading. You can see the wide range of Dayle's incredible talents at dayledermatis.com – Dean Wesley Smith
"Dayle Dermatis writes some of my favorite romance fiction."– Kristine Kathryn Rusch/Kristine Grayson, RT Book Review Reviewers Choice Award Winner
DESPITE HER PRECAUTIONARY SWEATER, Rachael found the cellared chill taking its toll; even as she felt the sneeze building she was scrabbling in the pocket of her worn jeans for a tissue. Tucking her clipboard under her arm, she blew, dislodging an errant spiral of black hair from the ribbon at the nape of her neck. She'd tied her long mane back for convenience, but it never fully responded to her taming attempts. She poised her pen over the clipboard again.
Monsieur LaFayette was gone.
Rachael muttered a minor curse under her breath, not really angry. She was used to the curator's self-absorption when it came to "his treasures."
Part of the Musée des Arts charm was that it was housed in an historic château buried deep in France's wine country. The catacombing wine cellars that ranged beneath served as storage for most of the artifacts not presently on display, walls and floors now carefully sealed to lock out damaging moisture. Fluorescent track lighting provided an unearthly glow. Crates and boxes of assorted sizes, although stacked neatly and efficiently, made each underground room a maze in itself.
"I still should've left a trail of breadcrumbs," she said aloud, propping one ink-stained hand on her hip and leaning against a towering crate marked Full Suit of Armour, circa 14th Century; left gauntlet dented.
As if in response, something seemed to rattle within the crate. Rachael gasped and jumped away, imagining the side of the crate swinging open and a metal-covered arm silently dragging her in next to the missing man. Still, she moved closer and peered around it, and spied the half-hidden doorway through which Monsieur LaFayette must have gone. Resisting the urge to make a notation on the wall to help her find her way back, she ducked through the low stone opening. At five-nine, she had swiftly and painfully learned to duck when she went through old doorways.
She found the rotund curator standing before a cabinet, his head barely peeking over the open door, bald skin glinting between the carefully arranged strands of sparse hair. In the cabinet were individual drawers, each labeled in the man's precise handwriting.
"Mademoiselle is not coming down with a cold, one hopes?" he asked, not looking up. His voice reflected the concern he couldn't display while he was intent on his work.
Rachael smiled, ever amused by his formal speech. If it was the last thing she did at the Musée, she was going to get him to address her by her first name.
"I'm fine," she replied honestly. The chill really didn't bother her. Her year-long study in France—and her Master's in French History—completed, she had been ecstatic to get the plum opportunity to be apprenticed to a museum curator. She'd grown to love the small Musée. What it lacked in size, it made up for with some extraordinarily rare and unique pieces of art and artifact.
In the two months she'd been there, with another month and a half to go, she'd learned nearly every facet of directing and running a museum. She felt as if she unearthed buried treasure with every artifact they systematically categorized as they moved through the storage rooms.
Monsieur LaFayette began examining each piece of jewelry in the cabinet to ensure it was undamaged. Rachael dutifully marked them down, adding notations as to what would be done with each object: remain in storage or be put on display, and in the latter case, where it might go.
"This one would go perfectly with the green velvet evening dress," Rachael said, marveling at the intricacy of a delicate silver chain studded with glinting emeralds.
"Oui, mademoiselle—that is a lovely idea," Monsieur LaFayette said, carefully replacing the necklace in its slot. "Please write that down. We will finish here today, and tomorrow we shall begin on the top floor."
The top floor was where the more perishable objects—clothing and documents—were housed. Rachael made the note on her clipboard and returned her attention to the case of jewelry.
"Gold brooch, cross-shaped, set with 4-carat, 36-point topaz," Monsieur LaFayette knelt and read off the next label, the first on the lowest row of drawers.
"That sounds like a royal jewel," Rachael commented, as he jingled his heavy set of small keys until he found the right one.
"We believe, well…" He shrugged. "It was possibly owned by Marie Antoinette," he finished softly, and sighed.
"Possib—really?!" Rachael couldn't contain the excitement that leapt in her belly like a frightened hare. "What's wrong?" she asked quickly, as she saw the look on the man's ruddy face.
"We believe it was given to her by a friend just after the Cardinal of Rohan was acquitted of wrongdoing in the Diamond Necklace Affair in Versailles in 1786…but we have no documented proof," he finished sadly. "This could be the piéce de résistance of the Musée's collection, but we will never know."
"May I see it?" Rachael asked softly.
Monsieur LaFayette sat back on his haunches and smiled up at her. "Of course, mademoiselle," he said. "The brooch is quite beautiful. It is still a treasure—no matter who owned it." He slid the drawer open and, almost devoutly, brought out the carefully wrapped pouch. Rachael took it from him with solicitous hands.
As she did, she felt a chill prickle and twitch its way up her spine, a chill not caused by her current underground location. She had seen and touched many a historic object in her studies, but this one affected her differently. Could it have belonged to Marie Antoinette?
Holding her breath, she let the brooch slip from the velvet bag and cradled it in her palm. The curator was right: It was beautiful.
It was shaped like a cross, one long piece bisected by a shorter piece, each end flaring out into three scallops. Smaller pieces overlapped, ended in points halfway up the longer pieces. An oval band looped under all four ends, connecting them. Delicate carvings covered each piece's gold surface. The gold and topaz glimmered in the fitful fluorescent light. Rachael reverently traced a fingertip over the design. Around her, the room began to shimmer, fade at the edges.
The woman sat awkwardly in the ornate chair, her swollen belly preventing her from pulling herself close to the small writing table. The room was hot and cloying, the heat from the fireplace making Rachael's face flush. The scent of flowery potpourri was thick, almost overwhelming.
Years of study made Rachael automatically identify the woman's garments as eighteenth-century French court garb. Awed, she realized she recognized the woman from numerous portraits. Even without that, the flowery signature—"Marie Antonia"—gave no question as to the woman's identity.
"June 1, 1786," she had written. "Yolande: Come and weep with me, come and console your friend. The judgment that has just been pronounced is an atrocious insult. I am bathed in tears of grief and despair." On the envelope, she carefully printed "Comtesse de Polignac." She stretched uncomfortably across the desk for the sealing wax.
Rachael fought off dizziness.
The scene changed. The woman, her figure now slim, sat very still, holding a small baby on her lap. The brooch clung to the fabric at her throat.
"T'was a gift to cheer me," she said to the painter, who had commented on the pin's beauty. Her lips thinned at the memory of why she had needed to be cheered. She forced a smile. "And to welcome Sophie Hélène Beatrice," she added, juggling the baby, who gurgled appreciatively.
Rachael shuddered, and instinctively closed her hand over the ornate pin. The images intensified.
Now the woman was gaunt, dressed in plain black, no jewels. She tried to remain regal, but her pale blue eyes revealed her fear as she was led to the guillotine. Blood red hazed the view.
Rachael pressed her hand against her mouth, muffling her own screams….
"Mademoiselle? Are you unwell? Mademoiselle de Young? Rachael!"
Shaking her head, Rachael pulled herself away from the images, half-reluctant to detach herself from the seductive vision. She clutched the gold-and-topaz brooch in her fist, feeling a desperate need to protect it, hide it. Monsieur LaFayette gently pried her fingers apart and replaced the jeweled pin in its case.
"I—I'm fine, Monsieur," she said, staring at her hand. A pinpoint of blood initialed the spot where the pin's clasp had pricked her skin. She curled her hand into a fist again, hiding the crimson dot that reminded her of the wash of blood that had darkened her vision. A vision that had seemed—felt, smelled, sounded—entirely real.
"Monsieur LaFayette, doesn't the Musée have Marie Antoinette's diaries and letters on file?" she asked, remembering what she had seen.
"We have them on microfiche, oui."
"May I look at them?"
"By all means, Mademoiselle."
Rachael rubbed the spot at the small of her back that ached interminably. She'd been studying the microfiche of Marie's writings all evening, but had only found the letter Marie had written to Yolande. At first she'd been startled, almost frightened to find something that confirmed her vision. But then she rationalized: Surely in her studies she'd come across the letter before, and simply forgotten until her subconscious regurgitated it.
In all the 'fiches, she'd found no mention of the brooch. She'd hallucinated everything, of course. She hadn't eaten much that day; hell, she hadn't eaten much since becoming a starving student in France. Bread and cheese had become her usual sustenance. There was no way she could have seen Marie Antoinette and those events. The thrill of seeing and holding the brooch had sparked an already overactive imagination.
She arched her back, purring with pleasure as her vertebrae untwisted. Her mind, however, remained twisted around what happened, and yet couldn't have happened. The images had seemed so real, though; and not just images—all her senses had been violently, acutely involved. She glared at the microfiche reader, wishing she could lay the blame on it for not divulging the information she needed.
She'd started reading the diaries on the day the Cardinal was acquitted of wrongdoing in the Diamond Necklace Affair—a twist of fate that had stunned and angered Marie, Rachael knew—and worked her way forward, day by day. The going was slow; though she knew French well enough to get by during her stay here, the unfamiliar spelling and grammar of the language in the eighteenth century hampered her progress.
There must be some other way…. Rachael snapped off the machine and turned on the small reading lamp that squeezed a place for itself on the desk next to the machine. She flipped open the spiral notebook on her lap. She'd scribbled down everything she could remember about the brooch and her hallucination after she and Monsieur LaFayette had finished the inventory. Almost without thinking, she began to sketch the pin on the opposite page. Her hand seemed to work independently of her brain—a line here, a curve here, delicate shading there to give the illusion of facets in the jewel. The tiny flowers and curves of the etched design blossomed and swirled beneath the tip of her pen….
Rachael stared at the sketch, awed and a little frightened. She'd never been able to draw much more than stick figures, but the brooch seemed to glimmer from its place on the page. Perhaps it was the dim light? She leaned forward, somehow realizing that if she'd kept going, Marie would have come to life beneath her pen as well, soul flowing out with the ink to stain the paper with sorrow.
Maybe she'd been going about this the wrong way. A slow, tingling realization infused her. Shutting the book, she crossed the hall and stuck her head into the curator's office.
"Monsieur, was there a portrait done of Marie Antoinette to commemorate the birth of her daughter Sophie?"
The small man looked up from his paperwork and frowned thoughtfully, squinting as if to visualize the picture about which she asked.
"There was a small one commissioned when Sophie was three months old, Mademoiselle," he said. "The birth of a daughter was not a momentous occasion, of course, and the portrait is relatively insignificant. I have never seen it, and I am unsure of its exact date. If you think that is the one you mean, try the catalogues from the Musée de France—that is where the portrait of which I am thinking is hung."
Rachael gathered up the heavy catalogues from the bookcase and carried them, pressed possessively to her breast, back to the other room. She set the stack on the floor and settled the first one on her lap, tucking one leg beneath her as she sank into the chair. She leaned forward, trying to make the most of the light from the straining lamp.
Three catalogues to find it. Then, there it was: Marie, skin pale, dress blood-red as if to symbolize the blood that would someday spill. And at her throat, what had to be, despite the size of the reproduction, the brooch. She sat, one hand half-lifted to the jewel, a small smile on her lips, but a haunted, distant look in her eyes that had once been described as "imperial blue."
Rachael gripped the catalogue in suddenly sweat-slick hands, the chill down her back belying the moisture on her palms.
The picture proved nothing. It was too small to conclusively say the brooch was the one tucked away in the cabinet in the wine cellar, a masterpiece of topaz and gold languishing away in anonymity for simple lack of proof. The portrait itself would clinch it, but that was away in Paris, and she had to know now. Now.
Then she read the description next to the picture.
Of course. Portraits took more than a few days. She had to look in the diaries four months after Sophie's birth….
"I wore the lovely brooch from Yolande for the portrait sitting today. The painter commented on its beauty. Yolande was a dear to give it to me, but it will always remind me of the Cardinal and his forever unpunished treachery."
Searching back, Rachael found the entry where Marie spoke of receiving a brooch—a topaz-and-gold cross, described exactly like the one in the cellars—from her friend.
So it had really happened. She dropped the catalogue on the floor and drew her legs up into the chair, hugging her knees and rocking, ever so slightly, back and forth. Somehow, when she'd held the brooch, she'd been able to see the past, see directly into moments in its history.
One thought rose above the growing belief, the faint shock-fear and the swirling implications:
Would it happen again?