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Into the Night - Lord Craven's Desire

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Clara Stewart never knew the cost of passion until it smiled at her from the other side of a garden gate. Ghosts, Murder, Secrets, Insanity, and Desire. An erotic adventure following a young woman and her captivated Lord - Gabriel Craven. Pressed down under the thumb of a heartless Aunt, the motherless Stewart sisters (an inseparable trio) find themselves thrown into the harsh life of 1899. What was meant to be a seasonal fling with a few English Lords, turns into a dark tale that will take the reader from a cozy family home, straight into the merciless arms of an insane asylum. What price will the fire-filled Clara be willing to pay for her freedom?

Chapter 1

October: Maine - 1899…

Clara Stewart wanted to be a free woman her whole life. To live each day as an adventure. To chase the sun into the night and never stop running.

Clara and Mary gaped over the banister at the hopping form of their Aunt Margaret. For their ages, 18 and 20, neither of them had ever seen her act so ridiculously. They would have been properly thumped on their backsides with her discipline stick if she had ever encountered such peacock nonsense from either of them. The sisters watched her for only a moment longer before slipping back down the dark hallways to their study room, their bare feet moving as silently as shadows.

Anna, the youngest Stewart daughter, who had just turned 13, giggled wickedly but hadn’t dared to follow her older sisters to the pantry for a snack. Unfortunately, with all the wiggling about, the young girl’s spectacles slid off her nose and sat lopsided upon her freckled cheeks. She was just about to readjust them when their Aunt flung herself into the room. Of course, the woman’s sudden appearance made all three jump in surprise, Anna with her hands frozen just mere inches from her face.

Margaret scowled at her youngest niece, her plump features sagging ever so lightly as she shuffled up to the child and yanked the 'offending' glasses back into their place. “Honestly, I cannot part from your side for even a few moments or you come undone, child.”

Clara frowned at her mother’s sister, the dreaded woman who made the youngest Stewart cry late into the night at least once a week. She loved Anna with all her heart, but could not say the same for the large menace who made herself at home within unwelcome halls. Clara would have bit back in her sister's defense had Mary not given her a warning look. The girl automatically knew that the eldest Stewart was right to stop her, any words that Clara said would result in more horrible behavior toward Anna.

Margaret continued to frown as she fluttered her way to the front of the room, “Though my hopes of finding young Anna a husband continue to dwindle every day, I feel optimistic for the two of you.” Her eyes finally drifted away from the child, “Due to recent news I have reason to believe that your marriage prospects have finally risen to a more acceptable measure.”

Clara couldn’t help the grimace that settled on her face - Her mother had passed when Anna was only a year old. For twelve long years, their father had never even mentioned marriage. Upon the sudden (and unplanned) arrival of Aunt Margaret a year ago, the topic constantly loomed over their supper table. The sisters were not stupid enough not to guess why - Their Aunt had been made a widow recently and was now living on minimal funds. It was the old woman's hope to attach herself to one of her sister’s children and proceed to live under their ‘good graces’.

If only the wretched crone knew how much they had grown to hate her company.

Sitting upward in her seat, Clara folded her arms over her desk, “Aunt?”

Margaret beamed, a hand settling over her extremely large belly, “My darling Clara…”

Within her ‘visit,’ Margaret had never referred to Clara as ‘Darling’... Devil - Yes. Impossible - Most Certainly. Trouble - Every day. Clara’s green eyes flashed with further detest. Once more for Anna's sake, she had to bite down on her tongue rather roughly to avoid saying something that her sister would have to pay for later. It was an action that became extraordinarily painful as her Aunt moved closer, even running a hand through the girl's Auburn locks.

“Honestly, my dear, I do wish you would take the time to brush through your hair. It is a mess of curls once more…" With a sigh, the old woman managed to freshen up her smile, "No matter - I am sure there will be a suitable gentleman for you as well. Now, Mary…” Margaret turned toward the eldest sister.

Clara took no offense, she knew her sister’s beauty would always outmatch her own. Mary was blonde with the most beautiful ocean-blue eyes. Her smile was always soft. As was her majestic voice. Clara was her opposite - Fire hair, wild eyes, and unable to keep her temper down for long. Anna looked a lot like her, but with the sweetest of freckles, the brightest of eyes, and the merriest of laughter.

Mary perked up, “Please, Aunt Margaret, would you tell us what has happened?”

Margaret could contain her excitement no longer, “My darling girls! I have just received a message from our dear neighbor, Mrs. Bloom. Due to Mayor Bloom's wonderful hospitality toward foreign visitors, their family has been sought after to house two wealthy brothers from England, by the name of Craven. They will be bringing a small party with them. I do believe one member will be their mother but the others could be potential suitors.”

Clara dropped her gaze back down to her book of poetry, her interest in this conversation had shifted and she was no longer listening. She could tell that her Aunt was still rattling on, but the girl let her concentration fall on the elegant words before her. Clara had no intention of leaving home anytime soon, and her father was in no rush to see them away. There would be plenty of time for marriage later when she felt like it.

“We must have your Father send for new dresses,” Aunt Margaret loudly declared, giving her hands a small clap as she stormed out of the room.

Clara only looked up once she was sure that the old woman had gone, her eyes shifting to little Anna. “She better have plans for us all to have new dresses.” Her younger sister turned to her with a hopeful look in her soft green gaze. Their Aunt Margaret often treated Anna like a second thought, describing the young girl as plain, not something a husband would look for, and better to be a spinster. Clara rose from her seat, moving to stand behind the youngest Stewart girl, and quickly began twining her sister’s hair into a perfect braid. “I wonder,” she muttered quietly as she worked, “What would our Aunt think if we simply went to Mrs. Bloom and gave a small greeting to her guest on our own? Why wait for dresses?”

Mary shook her head with gentle grace, looking painfully every bit like the mother they had lost. “Aunt Margaret would never let us hear the end of it. We would have more of a chance of gaining her approval if we threw out our bodices and stood on the terrace in our undergarments.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Clara grinned, already giving Anna a small tug up. “How about you, my little love, want to come have some fun with your elder sister?” Anna’s eyes grew with excitement as she gave a quick nod. This was all the encouragement that Clara needed.

“Clara, no,” Mary said more firmly, rising up so that she was at eye level with her sister, “Aunt Margaret…”

Clara’s hands flew to either side of Anna’s head, covering the girl's ears so that she could cut into her sister’s speech with, “Aunt Margaret is an egregious b*tch.” Those words silenced Mary for good, she even stepped aside and stood silently waiting for her sister to lead the way. Clara hated speaking harshly to her family members but she felt it was time someone put an end to Aunt Margaret’s reign of terror.

The girls moved silently through the halls, quietly rushing down the stairs as they slipped out the door through the kitchen. At first, Mary had tried to stop them for shoes but Clara knew Mrs. Bloom would be in her garden at that moment and that footwear would not be necessary.

The crisp grass rushed the sisters along to the white gate that separated their yard from the Bloom’s property. Just as she had hoped, Clara could see Mrs. Bloom speaking with one of their servants by her prized rose bushes; the merry woman gave a small wave as they approached.

“Darling girls,” Mrs. Bloom swept up to the gate to greet them, “I am so happy to see you on this fine afternoon. I trust your Father is well?”

“Wonderfully well,” Clara replied kindly. She loved the Bloom family as if they were her own. Mrs. Bloom was the most cheerful woman the girl had ever had the pleasure of meeting. Though slightly aged, her neighbor moved about as if she were in her prime.  The Stewart sisters also very much loved the flora scent that enveloped them whenever they were hugged. “We heard that you have interesting new house guests.”

Mrs. Bloom nodded, “They have just arrived this morning, I had meant to give word to your Aunt sooner, but was incredibly busy preparing for our Fall festivities. I do believe the sounds I hear is them approaching, let me investigate…”

Clara gave Mary a sideways grin, as this was going exactly as she had hoped. Wiggling her toes into the grass, the girl stopped to accept the beautiful daisy that Mrs. Bloom’s gardener, Elaine, offered to her. She slipped it into her hair with a wink, her smile growing wider as Mrs. Bloom returned with three young men flocked about.

“And here are the young ladies now,” Mrs. Bloom chuckled, “Are they not simply the most beautiful women you have ever laid your eyes on? No flower in my garden can compete.”

Mary ducked her head quickly, her eyes drifting to the back of the gate. “You are too kind, Mrs. Bloom.”

The older woman laughed, “Sweetest Mary - This is the eldest Ms. Stewart and you cannot leave the country without hearing her sing. Next, we have the darling Ms. Clara, the sharpest mind I’ve ever met. Lastly, that little love over there is Ms. Anna - I’ve grown a belly from her pies.”

The gentlemen nodded their heads politely, which Clara found amusing beyond measure. They dressed as she had expected Englishmen to, with frills and frocks, and many dark colors. They also wore large golden buttons that would get them teased in the company she kept. Finally, the most exquisitely dressed, one with hair the color of hay, which swept down to his shoulders, and eyes like warm oak, took a step in their direction. “Good evening, ladies, my name is Gabriel Craven. Mrs. Bloom did not exaggerate in her description of the Stewart sisters - You are all extremely lovely.”

Now it was Anna’s turn to look down with a blush. The little one had spent many hours hearing from her Aunt Margaret about how frail she looked. The Lord's compliment was unexpected.

A taller man, one in black from his hair to his boots, cleared his throat. Gabriel made a teasing grin that only Clara could see, “This fine fellow is my dearest older brother, Alexander.” 

The last man remained silent and looked nervously about, his spectacles, which were very similar to Anna’s, made his worried eyes appear rather large. Unlike the others, his attire was a little softer, as was his brown hair and wide gaze. 

“And this is my oldest friend, Edgar, a fantastic Doctor.”

Clara immediately felt the same need to comfort this man as she did for her youngest sister on many occasions. She wanted to say something, anything to help put him at ease, but before a single word could escape her lips the kitchen door flew open with a loud bang. She quickly turned to face it, even though the girl knew who she would find there.

Aunt Margaret looked furiously from one niece to another. She stormed out into the yard with the ferocity of an angry cloud across a clear sky. “My dear girls,” the woman exclaimed, attempting to smooth out her voice like it were a nasty wrinkle on satin. “I had no idea you chose to begin your outdoor time early today. Good evening, Mrs. Bloom.” Aunt Margaret’s eyes shifted to the men, clearly trying to determine which were the Lord Cravens.

“Evening to you as well, Margaret,” Mrs. Bloom responded cheerfully, “Did you receive my invitation to tomorrow’s supper? I hope the young ladies are prepared for dancing.”

“Yes,” Lord Craven agreed, “I imagine it shall be a wonderful gathering.”

Aunt Margaret’s eyes swept to the young man’s face, “Would his Lordship be so kind as to save a dance for Mary and Clara?”

Even as the words were racing from the odious woman's mouth, Clara placed a hand on Anna’s shoulder, biting down on her bottom lip to avoid calling her Aunt a horrible word in front of Mrs. Bloom. She could feel her younger sister’s shoulder begin to shake, a small indication that her feelings had been hurt.

Lord Craven frowned, “I would care for a dance from all your lovely nieces… So long as Ms. Anna does not object?”

In her chest, Clara’s heart did a small jump of joy as Anna looked up with excitement and quickly nodded to show her acceptance to the offer. It no longer mattered to Clara who this gentleman was, or where he came from, he would be someone she had nothing but warm feelings toward. She wrapped her arm around Anna, “Our youngest sister is a most excellent dancer, sir. I look forward to tomorrow's gathering. Thank you, Mrs. Bloom.”

The kind lady gave a little twinkling of fingers by way of saying ‘goodnight’ and the sisters turned back toward their kitchen entrance.

~~~~~

That evening the family dined around the supper table, Mr. Stewart entertaining everyone with stories about his day. First at the gentleman’s club and then with his time in the office. Coffee Beans were what helped Mr. Stewart to add to his family’s wealth. Clara smiled across the table at her Father, waiting for the precious moment that Aunt Margaret would attempt to bring marriage into the conversation, which she did most nights.

The week before last, their Aunt had enraged their Father so much that he had slammed a fist onto the table. Of course, Mr. Stewart wholeheartedly apologized to his daughters later that evening, even cradling little Anna on his lap as he whispered his regrets over losing his temper in front of her. Anna had never seen her father that angry before.

Tonight, Clara felt excitement over the prospects of how her Aunt would manage to slip in the details that the very gentlemen she wanted her nieces to marry, were currently in the house next to theirs, dining with the Mayor and his wife.

The evening ticked away and it was finally time for some of Anna’s delicious cherry pie. Clara watched as her Aunt accepted her piece, but did not quickly take a bite as she usually did when it came to sweets. The girl was certain the 'blessed' hour had finally come and she was very correct…

“Anthony,” Margaret began, “I have such wonderful news that has escaped my mind until now.”

Mr. Stewart had already taken a bite of his dessert and was smiling at Anna as he chewed. “You did something different with this one, my dear, and I love the change. You must run one to Mrs. Bloom.”

“Yes, Mrs. Bloom,” Margaret tried once more, “She would like for our family to join her tomorrow evening for a small gathering.”

This news interested Mr. Stewart, “That is very kind of her. Our dear neighbors are wonderful people. How have we been so blessed to have them as friends?”

Clara and Mary nodded, though they were both sitting at the very edges of their seats now.

“They have visitors from England,” Margaret continued, “A Lord Cravens, brothers, and their companions…”

With Margaret no longer speaking of his friends, Mr. Stewart went back to enjoying his pie. After a few more hearty bites he looked to Clara, “What did you three do to keep busy today?”

The girl did her best at giving her father a dainty smile, though inside she could feel a burst of laughter attempting to stay hidden. “We did our lessons, as instructed by our Aunt… We had a lovely tea time… Of course, we also saw Mrs. Bloom today and were introduced to her guests. They seem to be wonderful gentlemen and one of them even offered to dance with Anna tomorrow.”

Mr. Stewart nodded as he listened, “Then I look forward to getting acquainted with them tomorrow evening.”

Clara hastily took a very large spoon of pie, she needed something to stop more words from escaping her mouth. She often loved how her Father never hid his feelings of displeasure about Aunt Margaret. Were she not the sister to his beloved late wife, Clara knew he would have thrown her out after she had outstayed her welcome. Mr. Stewart was a kind man with a youthful face, despite his age, and the same red hair and green eyes as two of his daughters. He gave charity without a second thought - But even he had his limits when it came to Aunt Margaret.

The large woman would not be ignored, “Did I mention that the Craven brothers were unwed?”

~~~~~

That night a storm had begun and Clara fell backward on her bed, chuckles still racing from her lips as she recalled every wicked detail over the end of supper.

“It wasn’t that funny,” Mary scolded quietly. “Poor Father looked as if he wanted to toss his plate at Aunt Margaret. I wish she would cease all conversation concerning marriage.”

Clara rolled onto her stomach and faced her sister. Mary was sitting before the mirror running a brush through her golden locks. Watching her sister for a few moments, the girl lifted her feet behind her and began swaying them back and forth. “I don’t desire marriage soon, but I would not be opposed to passion.”

The eldest Stewart immediately stopped brushing and turned to face her sister with a worried look, “That sounds like a sin.”

Clara shrugged, “Call me a sinner then. I simply want kisses with no attachment, hand-holding without the worry of commitment, and soft strokes without consequences.” As she spoke, the girl ran the back of her right hand slowly down her left cheek, pausing it just under her chin. “Marriage is so final. What if the person you have sworn yourself to does not give you the passion you seek? Wouldn’t it be better to practice for a while until you are certain they are meant to be your one and only?”

Mary took a deep breath and turned back to her nightly rituals, “Such acts would make one undesirable. You would have no choice but to commit to the partner who had performed them. Why not simply accept the person whom fate has sealed you to and be happy regardless if they know how to stroke one’s cheek properly?”

Clara sighed and rolled onto her back once more, “I think Lord Craven is quite a character, is he not?”

“I agree,” Mary whispered. “And I would like to get to know him a little better.”

“A little better?” Clara jested. “Have you set your gaze upon him, Mary? This would please our Aunt tremendously.”

“I do believe I can find feelings for him,” The elder sister confessed. “But we shall see tomorrow.”

“Goodnight then,” Clara replied, listening as the other girl left her room. It was not until the bedroom door had closed that she allowed herself to frown. She did not want Mary to suddenly be swept off by a Lord and taken back to England. Yes, it would relieve her of her Aunt Margaret, but it would also mean leaving her all the same. They had an incredible bond that could never be broken, not even by distance, but the girl knew that she would miss Mary every day. Attempting to shake away the sadness, Clara listened to the sounds of the night. That was how she was able to pick up on a soft noise that would have been, otherwise, unheard.

A cry from down the hall. Rising urgently, the sister raced to Anna’s room. 

As of that last year, upon the arrival of their Aunt, the tiny girl had begun to develop horrible dreams. It was often Clara who heard her sister's little cries and would come to hold her until the youngest Stewart was able to fall back to sleep. Tonight Clara discovered that she was not the only one whom Anna had woken. Mr. Stewart was already at his daughter’s bedside, his soft voice singing a gentle lullaby to the frightened child.

Clara relaxed and went to lie next to her sister, wrapping an arm around her little waist. Mr. Stewart tucked them both in and continued with his soft whispered songs, stroking at Anna’s hair until her broken cries ceased.

When the youngest was, at last, breathing softly, he took up a seat in the armchair closest to her bed. There was a long moment of silence until the older man knew it was alright to speak without waking the child. “Strange business, these visitors from England. Your Aunt seems convinced that one of you shall marry at least one of them.”

Clara continued to hold Anna as she whispered back, “Which of us would you prefer the Lords to marry, Father?” She meant her question as a jest but was answered with a serious silence. “Father?”

Mr. Stewart replied back gravely, “If it mattered what I wanted, I would have you all home forever on… But I am a practical man. I know that one day you will find love and be cared for by a gentleman who deserves you. And I shall, likewise, adore him too. Any man who can treat my daughters with love and respect will always find a home here. Just give me that blessing, it is my only true wish as your Father.”

Clara smiled into Anna’s hair, “I promise you, I will give my heart to only the kindest man.”

There was another extended period of silence. Finally, Mr. Stewart rose up and stretched, “That is all my old ears needed to hear. Sleep well, my Clara.”

“Sleep well, Father.”

The older sister stayed with Anna for several more moments before going back to her own bedroom. She would have stayed all night, and had before, but tonight she wanted some time to daydream about her neighbor’s guests. The halls were dark as Clara attempted to move through them without a sound. A breeze lifted at the hems of her dress as the girl finally stopped just outside of her bedroom door. Her hand reaching for the knob slowly…

Something felt amiss.

On such nights, the girl knew she needed to tame her imagination, but some feelings felt too real to not be true. At that very moment, Clara was thoroughly convinced that she was being watched and worried that, by turning around, she would find hollow eyes upon her. Her breath caught as she held tight to the cold metal, urging herself not to scream for fear of what would be found just behind her. The beating of the girl’s heart was loud enough to be heard by anyone passing by, it worried her enough that Clara began to hold her breath. The thought of ghosts often excited this Stewart girl. She could speak of them for hours, even reading about them by candlelight late into the night… But this evening she feared the undead had come calling, and that she was ill-prepared. Counting quickly to three, Clara threw open her bedroom door and retreated into the safety of her room. She shut it behind her as hastily, but as quietly, as she could, and stood back to breathe.

It wasn’t until she was able to light a candle on her bedside table, that the girl felt a little better. Pulling a comforter over her shaking body, she tried to tell herself once more that it was simply the storm that had spooked her. When, at last, Clara was at ease again, she savored the feeling of being alone and left to imagine what tomorrow evening would bring. She knew the actions in her mind would not reflect the girl's true actions at the actual gathering. Mary had made it very clear she would be looking for Gabriel Craven’s attention for herself, but in one’s mind, it is a sacred place in which dark thoughts could be buried safely. Clara laid back against her pillow and fell into a deep slumber of secret whispers and forbidden passions.

Chapter 2

To Clara’s surprise, her Aunt Margaret did not wake her in the early morning with her usual chiding that too much sleep would idle the mind. She stretched in bed and rose slowly, padding to the door so that she could peer out and seek her Aunt’s plump form. The halls were empty, and even a bit dark. Outside she could hear the tapping of rain and the roaring of thunder, as the storm continued to make its sweet music. Cautiously the girl began her descent down the stairs, lifting the hems of her nightgown so that she would not trip on them. She could hear sounds from the drawing room, which was fairly befuddling as their morning would typically be filled with lessons, and then sewing time.

Attempting to avoid making a single sound, she peeked into the lamp-lit room and spied her sisters standing in the center of it. Her Aunt Margaret fluttered about them like a bird caught in a fast waltz, she was barking orders at two seamstresses who were working with haste.

“What are we

Heroes

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