Into the Night: Book Two - Lady Craven's Desire
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American girl, Clara Stewart, is on the hunt and nothing will stop her. After the mysterious death of her sister Mary, she is determined to find answers - No matter what it takes. Torn between her feelings for Gabriel Craven, haunted by spirits who have tragic stories to tell, and driven by her desire to be in control of her own fate. Clara is reaching the end of the year 1899 while venturing into murky waters. In a new 'world' far different from her own, can this fiery girl survive English society and put her sister's story to rest? Follow Clara Stewart into the night...
The Atlantic Ocean - November - 1899:
Clara Stewart stared over the edge of the ship, sighing in frustration at the mist. She had hoped her trip to England would be more exciting, but it had grown rather dull after the storm. In her race to escape from Maine, Clara had managed to stop by the bank and retrieve a small amount of money from her father’s account. Thankfully the bankers, Molly and Jacob, hadn’t heard about Clara’s admittance into the asylum. They shared their condolences over her father’s death and gave Clara what she needed. She hadn’t expected her escape to go without problems. It was almost a relief when a storm rolled in and gave the ship some grief that the girl was able to get a little excited about..
Sadly the weather had only lasted for three days and they were back to smooth sailing. In all of the adventure books she had read, Clara often observed that the journeys were supposed to be difficult. Such trials helped the hero to grow stronger - Something that the Stewart girl felt she desperately needed. It was true that her real work would begin upon her arrival in England, but a little tribulation along the way would have at least given Clara something to be proud of.
For her first stop, Clara knew that she needed to get to Craven Manor and ‘visit’ Alexander Craven concerning the whereabouts of her sister during the time of her death. The older Lord Craven had not revealed the location of their honeymoon to anyone, which was why it had taken so long for his family to even discover they were missing. The girl clenched her teeth… That ridiculous man. She hadn't been fond of him from the start and was still incredibly shocked that Mary had accepted his hand in marriage.
According to the ship’s Captain, Marcus Drake, they would be arriving in England by tomorrow evening, so long as they did not run into any more trouble. Clara smiled at the thought of him, Captain Drake had been the best part of the trip. He was strong and manly, and had almost helped Clara to forget about an English Lord she had left back in Maine. Though the Captain and Clara were only able to spend time together during supper, she looked forward to the evening meal every day. Mostly so that she could watch that stubbled face smile beam at her from across the table. His arms were her favorite part of him to look at. The muscles on them were so big that she couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to embrace him or be pinned against a flat surface by them. That was her cozy thought at the end of the day. The dream that helped her to stay warm at sea.
A whistle sounded - It was time to eat once more. Eating and pacing - Clara’s two daily activities thanks to the fact that she could not find a single piece of reading material onboard. There had been a wonderful library back home, unfortunately Clara had not had time to grab anything from it before fleeing.
She followed everyone below, eerily remembering being herded along down cold halls in a sinister asylum. The cold, the smells, and the constant wails… She quickly pushed the thought from her mind as she joined the others around a long table. A feeling of excitement returned when the Captain waved her over to sit at his right side again. He was pouring her a drink as Clara approached.
“Good evening, Ms. Stewart,” Captain Drake greeted, his voice deep and warm.
“And you as well, Captain,” Clara replied back, accepting the offered beverage. “It is getting rather misty outside, is it not?”
Marcus nodded, “It’ll get worse the closer we get to England. I swear the darkness is unsettling there.” He turned and poured a drink for his younger brother, Andrew, who was no more than 15. Clara watched him with his adorable golden locks, which he was constantly brushing out of his face. He reminded the girl of her youngest sister, Anna, who would have instantly taken to sea life.
Andrew's blue eyes fixed on her.
“Clara,” the young man grew excited, “I can’t wait until we get to England. I am going to purchase some books for the ship and start a library.”
Captain Drake chuckled, “This small vessel barely gets to be called a ship, and now you want to load her with books? Clara Stewart, you have given my little brother a terrible idea.”
“It’s a wonderful idea,” Andrew insisted.
The Captain signed, “Very well. If it keeps you out from under my heels, I see nothing truly wrong with it.” He accepted a bowl of potatoes from the boy and heaped some onto his plate, “You must be very happy this trip is coming to an end, Ms. Stewart.”
Clara nodded, “Though I will certainly miss the company, I have a great deal that I need to do.”
Andrew perked up, “I wish I could go on an adventure like you, Clara. I love sailing, but sometimes it can get a little boring out here.” He eyed his brother cautiously, as if worried he might offend his Captain, but Marcus winked.
“I know sailing has its bad weathers, Andrew. Just grant me a few more years of your company and then we shall see about finding you your own feet to stand on.”
As the brothers shared a caring look something in Clara ripped. It was a wound that was constantly being reopened: The death of one sister and the parting from another. The moment between the Captain and the boy was one she knew well because Clara had shared that look for 18 years. First with Mary, and then with Anna as well. It still pained her not to have been able to give either sister a proper goodbye.
The girl clenched her left hand around her fork and tried to busy herself with eating. Using that hand was a bit difficult, as Clara preferred her right, but she had broken it three weeks ago and was still having many problems. The ship’s Doctor, Finnish, had tried to ease some of Clara’s pain, but an ache remained.
The girl finished her meal quickly after that and excused herself to take a walk on the deck. As she emerged from the ship, the sky above her head was a beautiful, star-filled, night. The air tasted of salt and freedom, just as she had always imagined it would. Clara filled her lungs with it, trying to steady the shaking that came whenever the girl thought of her old life.
Wrapping her green shawl around her bare arms, she shuffled to the back of the ship. There had been a small pause in New York, in which Clara had been able to purchase three suitable gowns. She had never seen herself purchasing a dress with so little sleeves, barely enough to cover her shoulders, but the woman at the dress store had insisted that it was becoming a popular fashion choice in England. To Clara it made her feel colder than her dress at the asylum had, though the color was certainly a prettier one.
She looked back at where the ship had been coming from, knowing that farther in that direction she would find Anna. Clara wondered what her little sister would be doing at that moment, but found comfort in knowing that Edgar and Abram were with her through it all. The girl held a hand to her heart as she thought of the three of them having their own little adventures throughout Maine. They were a perfect little family, she knew it. It was enough to lift her spirits once more… Until she felt an eerie presence and knew she was no longer alone. Clara held her breath as she turned, the small hairs on her arm rising with apprehension.
Just as she had feared, the spectral that was watching her was not a living one. “Again?” Clara groaned, having thought the ghosts would leave her alone once she left America. “Well… What do you want?” The spirit was a woman in a long white dress. She watched Clara with wide eyes, ones that expressed both shock and fear. Though the girl couldn’t even begin to guess what a ghost would be afraid of considering they could not die again, she still felt slightly sorry for the spirit. The visitor’s hair was wrapped around her head in the same regal fashion that Clara had seen Widow Lady Craven wear hers, only the ghost had a literal small crown wrapped into her locks. She raised an arm, one Clara could see through and pointed in the direction that the girl had come from.
“You want me to go back?” She sighed, her emerald eyes drifting to the ocean before her, “I am sorry to say, that is not possible. Not only do I have things to do in England, but I am going to be wanted for Murder if I return.” She looked up in case the ghost wanted to say more, but it was already gone. “Oh… Good talk then.”
“Clara,” a kind voice called from somewhere on the deck.
“I am over here, Captain,” The girl replied back.
“There you are,” Captain Drake observed with relief, “You looked a bit not yourself at the table and I thought I would come to check on you. Is everything alright?”
“Very,” Clara answered cheerfully, “I just needed a little air.”
Marcus nodded with understanding, “I know it isn’t the brightest of lifestyles, but I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
Clara patted the ship’s railing, an invitation for the Captain to join her. “I wish my life were as steady as yours. You are happy with what you do and it is a rather exciting adventure never knowing the people you are going to meet next.”
“Yes,” Captain Drake agreed, “I love every moment of it.” He smiled back at her, but his gaze quickly shifted to the water, “We have a couple of positions that need filling, should you like to stay aboard. The pay may not be at its finest but there will always be food and a safe place to lay your head.”
Clara hated how hopeful he sounded, as well as how perfect his offer was. She frowned as she answered, “I honestly wish I could accept your offer, Captain. Alas, I really must continue on my journey.”
Marcus nodded, though he continued to look a little put out. “I understand the need to finish what one starts. I shall keep my offer open though, should you like to accept it at a later time.”
Clara reached out and took the Captain’s hand, holding it into her left one, “Thank you.”
Marcus Drake held Clara’s hand back, the two of them just standing awhile under the star-filled sky until he finally gave a sigh. “I should get down below and make sure my crew is behaving themselves.”
“I’ll join in a moment,” Clara promised, releasing the Captain’s hand at last. She watched him retreat smiling. She was smiling too, and though she knew there was a chance she could never accept his offer, it still warmed her to know there were other good people in the world. Not just the ones she left back at home. If she continued to meet others like the Captain and his brother, it would mean her journey wouldn’t feel so incredibly cold…
So incredibly lonely…
Clara was a mix of emotions when the lights from England became visible through the fog. Her water journey had finally come to an end and the next leg would begin - But that did mean saying goodbye to the ship that had been her home those last few weeks. She stood beside Andrew Drake, who cheered as they moved closer to land. In no time at all the girl was stepping onto the docks, her small traveling bag held tightly in her grip. Though the streets were alive with noises and song, she knew it would be foolish to let her guard down. She had set up a plan to find cozy accommodations and then set out for Craven Manor first thing in the morning. Her conversation with Gabriel aboard a train had proven to be enough detail to locate the Manor by a map that Captain Drake had loaned her aboard the ship. Thinking of Marcus once more, Clara turned to look for him and spied the man waving her over.
“Clara,” he motioned toward a shorter girl with rosy apple cheeks, “This is my sister, Martha. She owns the Inn ‘The Sea Rat’. Come stay the evening with my family, we can see you off safely in the morning."
Martha beamed with a set of doe eyes that were filled with light. “My goodness, you have the most beautiful hair. Andrew began babbling my two ears off about you the moment he saw me, and I simply knew I should love to speak with the lady who had the stomach to travel with both of these two wild men.”
Clara couldn’t object to such an invitation, she accepted Captain Drake’s arm and allowed him to lead her to an inn that was alive with people. Her nose lifted to the air as they entered, the most amazing smells were coaxing her in further.
Marcus laughed fondly, “That will be Martha’s cooking. She makes the most delicious breads and biscuits. Silly woman doesn’t know how to close her doors, though. I have yet to ever see the Inn empty, even if it is just company coming in for food and drink. No worries, it will be quieter upstairs.” He motioned toward a set of stairs in the back, Martha was already several steps up.
Clara followed the smaller woman up two flights, the noise growing softer as they continued upward. She was relieved when Martha finally opened a door and ushered everyone inside. There was a small table in the center of the room that was set up with soup and biscuits. Martha had quite obviously been waiting eagerly for her brother's arrival. The hostess quickly set a bowl in front of Clara and began ladling a good helping into it.
“I can’t even imagine how tired you must both be - Nights at sea in the middle of the storm. I sent Andrew right up to Sally’s room, our poor sister was worried sick when your ship didn’t arrive two days ago as we had expected.”
Marcus sighed, “A small storm, nothing more. Sally needs to stop her panicking.” He smiled at his sister and accepted his filled bowl. Taking a few hearty bites, his face fell slightly as the man continued the conversation, “I am afraid our delay means we can only rest for two days.”
“Two days?” Martha frowned, “But the rest of the family won’t be returned for at least another week. Poor Mama…”
The Captain nodded sadly, “Should the weather not give us any grief, we will have more time after the next return.”
Clara listened to the siblings talk, their meal conversation was not that much different from the warmth she would have found around her own table back home. When their father had to go away on trips, the girls would often beg him for stories upon his return. Clara took a deep breath, chasing away the sadness that was attempting to race through her heart.
Martha turned to her suddenly, the woman’s eyes drifting to the girl’s wrapped-up hand, “That looks like a story. What happened?”
Clara bit her bottom lip, debating on how much she could tell of that dark venture without ruining Martha's pleasant mood. “I found myself in a very sinister place and didn’t mind the stairs.” That was as close to the truth she could get, thankfully that was enough for the woman, who realized she had been away from her post long enough and needed to return. With a new bout of excitement, Martha fled the room, leaving Clara and Marcus to eat.
“I always look forward to my meals at home,” The Captain remarked, already half-done with his bowl. “Of course, you are always welcome here whenever you are passing by… Or if you should like to take up my offer from the other night. Martha is always looking for help here in case the ocean life doesn’t sound right to you.”
Clara’s mind raced with images of making a home in this very Inn. Sitting with Martha as they waited for Marcus’s ship to return and then racing to the docks with excitement as she walked him home. It was a life that would always be warm and filled with laughter… A place she could bring Anna to… But then she thought of Mary and knew she couldn’t just stop here, no matter how much she wanted.
When she looked up from her empty bowl, Clara realized the Captain was watching her, waiting for an answer. “Perhaps,” she heard herself mutter, even though she hated herself for it. Perhaps had been his answer - And now she was thinking of golden hair again.
Marcus nodded, not deterred. The big man stretched out in his chair and yawned, “We best get some sleep.” He stood up and reached out a hand to Clara once more, surprising her as he pulled the girl into a tight embrace. It was warm and perfect, promising Clara things she had never realized she wanted until those very promises had been pulled from her grasp several weeks back. The hug ended too soon and just as quickly, Marcus was leaving Clara’s room to go bid his family a goodnight.
The girl sat back on her borrowed bed with a heavy sigh. It was comfortable here, every bit like the Stewart home had once been. She let her head fall back with the memory, landing against a feathered pillow, and breathed in the sweet smell of cinnamon that seemed to rest in the air. There was still a soft hum of laughter echoing down the halls, but Clara found it very soothing.
She was about to finally shut her eyes when the girl felt the horrible foreboding presence that usually came before a spirit arrived. She sat up, ready to face the undead with the same professional manner she gave to each ghostly visitor. They were all just lost souls, she had long concluded, who simply needed warmth and care… At least that was how she felt until she was facing the one that was now in front of her.
“God damn it!” Clara muttered, “Why the hell are you here?”
The girl had never, in her life, ever planned on killing anyone, but as of three weeks ago, she had found it necessary. Now her one, and only victim, Margaret, stood before Clara with her usual sour expression.
“Please tell me this is some kind of joke?” The girl growled at the ghost, “Out of all the people who could be haunting me right now, why does it have to be you? Did my killing you not make it clear enough that I never wanted to see you again?”
The ghost frowned and then moved across the room to take a seat in a regal fashion.
“I don’t think so!” Clara snarled, “Don’t get comfortable! You will not be staying long. Now tell me what you want me to know and get out of here.”
The girl had expected her Aunt to have already begun rattling away demands in the same way she had done while alive, but the ghost remained silent.
“Please don’t pretend you can’t talk. I have heard ghosts talk before when they have the will power and you, Madame, were a stone-cold bitch with a will of iron.”
More silence, and glares, followed.
With a sigh, the girl fell back against her pillows once more, “I don’t feel very much like teaching you how to communicate tonight, Aunt Margaret. I have an early day tomorrow and need to set out at first light. I have to go find out what happened to Mary before she died.”
Clara lifted her head ever so slightly, preparing a small speech about how this was all Margaret’s fault, but she found the ghost was no longer there. That fact alone did not bother the girl, but the sneaky hunch that she would be seeing her Aunt again did. She rolled to her side and curled her arms around one of her pillows, picturing Captain Marcus Drake the way she had during the icy nights of her voyage. His warm arms held her tightly more vividly now that she knew how they truly felt. She gripped more desperately, picturing her face snuggling into his warm chest. Her dress would be slipping down around her, bare skin to bare skin, until his lips moved to find hers. Clara pressed into the kiss anxiously, only breaking away for air. Her green eyes opened to look deep into his, but they were not the Captain’s eyes… They were the color of autumn. A soft brown that promised passion and adventure… They were Gabriel Craven’s warm eyes.
Clara woke with a start, a hand rushing to her chest as she took several breaths. At some point, she had fallen asleep and dreamt of Gabriel Craven, the English Lord that had almost stolen her heart. She hadn’t had a dream about him in several weeks and was very grateful for it until now... When she found herself aching all over again. Quickly she dressed, determined to start her day while it was young. In truth, the girl knew the sooner she solved the case of what happened to Mary, the sooner she would be able to put the Cravens behind her for good.
Racing down to the lower levels of the Inn, Clara was surprised to see Martha and Marcus were already up. They eyed her with their own startled looks, which quickly warmed.
“Off to continue your adventure already?” Marcus observed.
“I am sorry,” The girl quickly explained, “There is a mystery that has been eating me up for weeks. I need answers quickly or I may go mad.”
Martha listened as she busied about wrappin
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