"What's wrong with my dress?" Addie asked, peeved. Though she knew he wasn't truly there—that he was dead—he still had the ability to irritate her, even in her imagination.
"It's far too flimsy and sheer and short. I can practically see your nipples if I squint hard enough. I admit you do have lovely legs, but everyone and his brother doesn't have to see them. Your father would not be pleased."
"My father is dead." Panicked, she looked around her bedroom. "My God, he's not going to turn up too, is he?"
"Only one ghost at a time, I believe. I'm still not entirely conversant with the rules. It's been a confusing few months."
"It's the very latest style," Addie said to herself—and only to herself—tugging down the beaded skirt. It really could have been much shorter. She'd had it sent over from Paris after a flurry of letters and telegrams back and forth from Charles Frederick Worth's grandson Jacques, who had recently taken over the famous fashion house. Addie had sketched the initial design herself, not that she had any pretensions to become a couturier. A marquess' daughter was
supposed to be decorative, and possibly witty and wise, but never work.
"I don't like it, but then so little appeals to me nowadays. Ennui is my middle name, but I hope this little visit changes things up. Who have you put in my room? That bounder Waring?"
"I understand it takes one to know one. Lucas is not a bounder, as you must know. Why am I talking? You are not here."
Lucas was, in fact, assigned a bedroom across the hall. Addie didn't trust a mere connecting door to stay shut all night long, and in her well-run household, servants were apt to be scurrying down the corridor at any moment at a guest's whim, discouraging all attempts of Addie's to be naughty herself. She was not ready to be a merry widow anyway, despite Lucas' tentative blandishments. Rupert wasn't cold in his grave.
Apparently, Rupert wasn't in his grave.
Rupert smiled ruefully. Could an apparition be rueful? Or was Addie really unconscious, perhaps on her deathbed, suffering from heat stroke or a regular stroke or some kind of tea-induced hallucination? Cook could easily have put poisonous leaves in the pot in retaliation for the menu adjustments. She was set in her ways, and had been at Compton Chase since the dawn of time.
Addie had only just turned thirty-one, much too young to die in the usual course of things. However, the past few months had been more than difficult for her too, even apart from Rupert's death.
"I admit I bounded in my time. Poor Addie. I wasn't much of a husband, was I?"
"Please go away. I haven't time for this." In ten minutes, there would be a dozen houseguests downstairs in the Great Hall admiring its two-story, multi-paned window and having cocktails without her, and Lord knows, she needed one. Or three. She bent over, picked up the pin and stuck it behind an ear.
"Tut. Let me help you with that." Before she could say a word, she felt his hands in her hair. Cold hands. Really quite icy. He moved the diamonds over a few inches, and she began to see spots dance the tarantella before her eyes.
Good. She was going to faint and stop all this. Addie knew how to faint like a champion—her mother, the Dowager Marchioness of Broughton, a short but formidable woman, had indoctrinated both her daughters in all the ladylike accomplishments. She slid with ease off her slipper chair to the thick carpet and waited to black out, knowing her limbs to be in perfect order, and the hem of her dress where it should be, not riding up to show Rupert her French silk knickers.
Not that he'd care.
"Dash it, Addie! You have more spine than this! I recognize the situation is hardly ideal, but you're stuck with me for the foreseeable future, so buck up, my girl. I'll leave you alone for now, but look for me before bedtime for a little chat. No finky-diddling with that Waring chap, no matter how much he bats those baby-blues in your direction. I know what he's up to—you're a rich and attractive widow, ripe for the fuc—um, plucking. Don't fall for his innocent act."
"I've known Lucas since I was six years old. He is innocent," Addie said from the floor. You couldn't find a nicer man than Lucas, not that she'd tried. No, she'd allowed herself to be lured away by Major Rupert Charles Cressleigh Compton of Compton Chase, an ancient Jacobean pile in dire need of restoration. The house, not Rupert. Rupert had been unbearably handsome and fit and had shone with good health and bonhomie. If he could live through the horrors of the Great War, he should have lived forever, were it not for too many French 75 cocktails, unnecessary speed, and that Cotswold stone wall.
"That's what he wants you to believe. All men are the same, perfect hounds."