For the first time in years, more then he cared to remember, Edward Gracey felt unsettlingly nervous. His hands shook slightly, his stomach fluttered with anxiety, altogether stirring up the cobwebs that were strewn across his heart. Waiting for her there had been torture, but that moment when the doors to the library opened and he heard the soft fall of her footsteps gracefully bringing her to him, he felt as if he couldn’t breathe. The harmony of her voice when she responded to Ramsley, caused him to bring his hand cautiously up to his mouth, as if he feared uttering a sound that might reveal his presence too soon. He still had his reserves on Ramsley’s assurance that she would come to him to like this, after all, was she not living by this other name, had she not referred to that man who held the title that only he deserved, bringing him up more than once during their time here together? But then there it was, her gentle voice calling out to him, just as it had every night from his dreams. But this time it was real, and it was soft, and thankful…for him.
“Darling, you’re here. I’m so glad you were able to find me.” With those words, he felt her relief, the same shared relief he now knew from so many years of searching for her. Yes, yes he had found her at last, and as his heart reached out for her as her words had for him, he swore he would never let her go.
He rose from the couch and turned to face her, catching for the briefest of moments that radiance of love in her eyes that for a time he had almost feared had been forgotten. But it was not to last. For as their gaze settled upon one another, her warmth seemed to suddenly pull away, dimmed once again by a look of mistaken surprise.
Her eyes clouded with confusion and fear as she suddenly stepped backwards. He had but a moment to see her heal catch the corner of a stack of books behind her before she tripped. But Edward Gracey was there before she could hit the ground. Like a breath of wind he was by her side, wrapping his arms around her and softly bringing her to a stop. Their bodies were held closely together as he cradled her in his arms, his eyes alight with worry and searching her distant expression for any sign that she was hurt.
Sarah had fainted and, as she hazily came to she realized, rather embarrassingly so. More fuzzy images danced mischievously from her mind, leaving her to stare wide-eyed and quite the fool in the arms of her host. When Sarah realized what had happened she quickly tried to straighten herself, but found it rather difficult in the strong protective embrace that Master Gracey still held her in.
“Whoa whoa whoa, easy there Sarah, don’t move so quickly. You’ll black out again.” Carefully he eased her up into a sitting position. Crouching beside her he kept close, resting a gentle yet reassuring hand upon her back to keep her balanced. Sarah’s face was flushed with embarrassment, the memory of the master’s concerned face suddenly being only inches from her own made her hands feel numb; a funny tingling sensation she had only really felt with Jim before.
“What happened?” she asked, her voice slightly alarmed. A rush of dizziness came over her and Sarah winced as she put her shaking hand to her forehead. “Oh dear… Mr. Gracey I’m terribly sorry, I don’t know what came over me.” He gently rubbed her back, still looking at her with slight concern.
“Don’t be sorry my dear, it’s quite alright. I’m just glad you weren’t hurt… are you feeling ok?” Sarah lowered her hand to meet his worrying gaze. She was embarrassed by her weak behavior, but oddly felt completely at ease while in Mr. Gracey’s close and caring presence. And with everything she had been seeing lately, this too caused her to wonder. What was happening to her?
“Um…yes thank you I’m fine. I, I’m just a little dizzy that’s all.” Her voice was slightly hushed now, her eyes again looking deeply into his own. Mr. Gracey’s smile returned, and nodding he placed a hand securely on her side.
“Well that’s good to hear.” He held their gaze a little longer before he readjusted and started to help her to stand. “My dear, let’s get you off the floor and somewhere more comfortable. Here on the sofa should be alright.” Sarah blinked away the dreamy thoughts that were swimming inside her mind and nodded.
“Yes, that would be just fine, thank you.” Sitting down she remembered where exactly she was and whose company she was in. The embarrassed blush of what had happened still played on the corner of her cheeks as she fixed her lopsided jacket and patted her hair. It took her a minute before she looked up at Mr. Gracey again, he standing like a gentleman as his guest recomposed herself.
Sarah looked up at him, and for a moment tried to think of something to say to explain. But when she couldn’t she just laughed.
“I-I’m so sorry that’s never happened to me before. I promise I’m not the fainting type.” He smiled.
“Well thankfully for both of us, I appear to be the catching type.” She laughed again and this time he joined her. Motioning to the couch he asked if she’d mind if he sat down. Sarah moved over to make room.
“I think I was just shocked. You see I was expecting my husband and when I saw you standing there, I don’t know, I…”
“There’s no need to explain. In fact many men would take a woman fainting in their presence to be a compliment, so if anything I am greatly flattered.” He spoke with a refreshing amount of charm and Sarah shook her head in almost disbelief of it. But chucking softly she pinched the bridge of her nose and turned away from his more than appealing gaze.
“Well I’m glad that you are. Though I warn you, you won’t have that pleasure again.” Master Gracey smiled to himself as she looked at him from the corner of her eye. Was there a teasing light in her stare? He rather fancied that there was. And it made him glad that her little fall hadn’t put a damper on her spirits. Leaning forward he put a hand on her knee.
“Don’t be so certain,” he said in an equally teasing voice, “I’ve been known to be quite the charmer.” With a wink and a pat he stood up again, and walked over to a table that was adorned in crystal bottles of brandy. Picking out two drinking glasses he poured a little of the amber liquid into each.
Sarah watched as the liquor was poured. What are you getting yourself into, Sarah? You’re a professional, so… keep this professional. But even as she thought this, Sarah couldn’t help but notice the strong form of Edward Gracey’s back. No doubt he was quite toned under all that fancy attire. But wait, what was she thinking? Sarah shook her head and repeated to herself ‘employer, employer, employer’ over and over again.
As Mr. Gracey turned she quickly smiled and snapped her gaze up to his, finding the man’s kind and handsome face once again. He handed one of the glasses to her.
“To steady your nerves.” He said, and she gratefully took it. Sipping the old brandy she wasn’t altogether surprised to find its taste to be rich and perfectly aged. That was the kind of place this was, to have everything practically dripping in ancient refinement, even down to the drinks apparently. Still, Sarah had some experience with wines and liqueurs, and this had to be the best aged brandy she had ever tasted.
Sarah looked up at him with amazement. He read her expression and smiled knowingly behind the rim of his glass.
“Do you like it?” he asked, though he already knew the answer.
“Of Course I do. I mean the rich, almost oaky aroma, and the consistency… what vintage is this?” Sarah stared into her glass as she swished the golden drink around, admiring it through the light.
She still knows her liqueurs, good. And I’m certain her knowledge on all other things refined and cultured are all just as keen. Time it seems has not taken that from her.
“It’s dated 1815, a favorite of the household.” Sarah nearly spit out her drink when she heard what he said. Managing to swallow what she had she looked at him with shock,
“You mean to tell me that we’re drinking nearly 200 year old brandy? I don’t know if that’s even possible.” He chuckled at the disbelief in her eyes and leaned against the grand piano. Taking another sip he asked her,
“Well, what do your taste buds tell you?” Sarah shook her head and looked back into her glass.
“That my little dizzy spell isn’t worth this…200 year old brandy, my god.” Mumbling the last part to herself she buried her nose in the glass and downed the last drop. 200 years or not, it was damn good brandy, and she needed a drink tonight.
Master Gracey looked at his guest from his place against the piano. She was still just as elegant and beautiful as before, but there was a new sort of spunk to his… Sarah, that hadn’t been there before. He couldn’t say he didn’t like it. In fact he found her new little quirks to be amusing and very engaging. What more interesting layers to his love were there to be discovered that time had dotted upon her during her absence. Much, he assumed, and all that he would be more than happy to explore with her. But alas, she wasn’t his quite yet. It seemed that through their separation she had retained much of what he had loved in her, but her memories, more importantly her memories of him and their devotion to one another, still seemed to be lost. And as he looked upon her now, sitting before him with such ease, and yet still with a distant air of one who was but a guest and not the rightful mistress to this, her home, their home, why it nearly broke his heart.
But this loss was unbeknownst to Sarah and he saw that in her kind and eager eyes as she looked at him from her empty drink. Do not fret Edward, he reminded himself, this is why she is here. She just needs to be reminded. And remind her I shall. Edward nodded mentally to himself and set his glass down. Where to begin?
“Sarah,” he asked, “how are you enjoying my home?” the mention of the mansion brought a sort of light to Sarah’s eyes. Now that she was away from the dark and drafty hallways and once again surrounded in the estate’s more lush and inspiring décor, she could relax and again allow herself to be mesmerized by it all.
“It’s beautiful. I don’t really know if anything I can say could sum up just how incredible this home is. Mr. Gracey, you have such art and history here, why do you want to sell it?” Edward Gracey looked away from her then, sorting through the countless horrors that this mansion had inflicted upon him…since her passing. Every beautiful memory that its walls revoked were like a dagger to his heart, reminding him only that she was no longer there, and bringing back the torment of that horrible night when the tragedy had ripped them apart.
He took on a more solemn tone as he picked up a nearby book, running his fingers slowly over its warn and tattered cover.
“This house… holds so many memories. Some of them, have come to be unbearable. You see this place has never been the same, since she left her mark here.” At these words he looked up to her, almost expectantly, cautiously waiting to see how she would respond.
Sarah’s interest was piqued. That certainly wasn’t the answer she was expecting. And how odd his expression was, as if he was almost expecting her to tell the next part of whatever ghost story he was trying to reveal.
“Who, Mr. Gracey?” she asked, genuinely intrigued. But he did not meet her with the same generosity. In fact Sarah was surprised to see Mr. Gracey appear almost pained by her question. His eyes searched hers as if he thought she was kidding, looking for the answer that he desperately hoped simply lie hidden but not forgot. But she did not have the answer he sought, though she wished she had, if only to ease whatever disappointment she had brought him by not knowing.
How could she not know? And not even her own name? My God, could this be all for not! And do I even dare speak it to her. After all this time, I fear I couldn’t, lest I be wrong and she does not respond to it. My heart might break.
He hesitated before answering, his voice almost shuttering as he spoke the name that had haunted his very soul all these countless years.
Edward Gracey waited, but there was no response from her. Nothing in her eyes or movements registered as having any sort of hint of recognition to it. Oh my poor lost angel, why do you not remember? Edward wanted to cry out to her, to take her in his arms in any hope that his touch would bring her memories back. But he restrained his shaking hand and steadied his breath.
He had known it would be difficult; a lost soul is a hard thing to regain. And though he looked at her now, the image and light of his Elizabeth, and yet could not love and claim her as his own, he knew it was only the final test, as all these years had been. Edward Gracey was a worn and withered soul, beaten along by the mockery of time. He had come this far for her, and he’d be damned if he stopped now.
The best thing to do, he decided, was to tell her the story, her story, and hope that somewhere along the way she would find herself again.
Without a word, Edward Gracey came to her, and taking Sarah’s arm in his he led her to the large greenhouse window at the end of the library. She was surprised by his sudden yet gentle control over her, but Sarah let it be, and simply allowed Mr. Gracey to show her around, curious as to what he would go on to say.
“Hers is the story that haunts these halls,” his rich voice continued, giving Grace a slight chill with its new, more eerie tone, “and is the shadow under which the house has been forever cast.” He looked intently at Sarah as she stood by his side, and she couldn’t help but feel some of the passion in what he was telling her.
“What happened here, Mr. Gracey?” she asked, a very true and genuine compassion sounding sweetly in her voice.
She does care, he thought, the love and desire is still inside her and she can feel that, she just needs help to find the missing pieces that tie her to it all. A slight feeling of relief came over Master Gracey. His almost Elizabeth was standing by his side, and it all would take was a story, to bring her back to him where she belonged.
The smile returning to his eyes, he paused with a sort of contemplative air.
“I think, in order to explain, I really must show you.” And he offered her his arm. Sarah looked uncertain. So many odd things had already happened tonight, and all she had wanted was to talk about a house. But they had long since moved past the topic of real estate, and Sarah had to admit she was intrigued. But was indulging her eccentrically charming host on this ghostly escapade really the best idea right now? What about all the strange ‘visions’ she had been having since she got here? That was certainly a concern that wasn’t far from her mind. And what about Jim? Sarah had to wait for him, he was still on his way. But before she could voice any of these concerns, Mr. Gracey’s voice stopped her.
“Don’t be afraid, I assure you it’s quite safe.” He looked at her with his deep brown eyes and reawakened something in Sarah that she couldn’t quite understand. There again was that odd haunting sense of familiarity, this time echoing around his words as if she had heard them before. Sarah didn’t know why but there was a comfort in what he said, a reassurance from which she suddenly felt she had been severely deprived. The Idea saddened Sarah, and she realized that hadn’t been comforted in ages… by anyone. With her running the family and her own life, who was there to look out for her?
With these thoughts running through her mind and Master Gracey standing beside her now gracefully offering her his arm and protection, Sarah couldn’t help but reach out to him and take comfort in it. Wrapping her slender hand around the strength of his arm she stepped closer to him. In his presence, Sarah felt a calming sort of warmth wash over her, the same warmth she noticed that was reflected in the light of his eyes.
Master Gracey put his hand over hers and still looking at her turned them around to face the grand library.
“We’ll start here, where just as before on that night so long ago, everything began.”