Excerpt – CINDERELLA AND THE GHOST
All at once, Ella remembered standing in front of the long-case clock, precisely like this. But how could that be? She must have repressed memories from her visit here as a child. Yet, she couldn’t explain the vision of herself dancing with the handsome man.
Once she confirmed that a life-sized painting wasn’t hanging in the ballroom, she made her way up the grand staircase. Inexplicably, she felt drawn to where she was going. When she reached the second floor of the house, she studied a wall of faded frescoes depicting late seventeenth century life. When something told her to go on, she padded to the third floor landing.
A palpable hush filled the corridor ahead of her. Then a charged stream of energy rushed forward. Since all the curtains were drawn over the arched windows, the hallway sat in darkness and shadow. Ella should be doing so many things. Unpacking. Cleaning. Deciding which bedroom would be hers. But a sense of urgency prompted her feet to continue.
What will I find in this part of the house? Glimpses of the valiant but very dead Jean-Daniel Girard?
Gulping, she opened door after door and peeked in each one. She finally came to a storage space, with an additional staircase leading up to an attic. Creeping up those stairs, she surveyed the articles on the landing. Broken mirrors and articles of furniture draped in white sheets lay strewn about. Tangled strings of cobwebs swathed the wood paneling.
A glowing beam of sunlight angled into the room. Ella’s pulse sped. In the corner, she spotted an item covered with a black cloth. The object reclined against the far wall—and appeared to be larger than she was. Pushing the curtains open, she allowed more sunlight to bathe the space. Hands quivering, she moved back to the draped item and pulled away the black cloth.
The painting’s gilded frame was stunning. On it, Ella located a nameplate.
Jean-Daniel Girard—Viscount de Maincy
Slowly, as though her life was being altered with every centimeter, her stare ascended to the nobleman’s astonishing face and instantly, the world fell into a compelling silence.
Jean-Daniel Girard was tall, muscular, and inarguably handsome. In fact, his striking good looks affected Ella so deeply that she could barely breathe as she gazed upon them. More than that, she knew she’d seen the viscount’s face somewhere before. While she racked her brain about where she’d seen it, her gaze roamed over Jean-Daniel’s sold body, penetrating aquamarine eyes, and angular features. He could be described as classically handsome. The epitome of male beauty, really. And thankfully, that classic quality helped him transcend the fanciful clothing and wig he wore.
Ella took a step in and studied him some more. True to subjects painted in that era, he wasn’t smiling. Rather, he seemed a pensive and a bit melancholy. However, she could tell from the laugh lines bracketing his generous mouth that he grinned often.
Incredibly lifelike, the nobleman seemed capable of emerging from the painting right then and there. Ella’s skin tingled.
Her gaze drifted to the adorable dog sitting at the viscount’s feet. A splendid example of a hound, it possessed a gleaming brown-and-white coated, an open mouth, and a protruding tongue. Oddly, the dog seemed to be smiling.
“I can tell you loved your master,” she murmured.
Mesmerized by the man in the painting, Ella stared at his image for what felt like hours. The more she analyzed it, the more she noticed its “lost soul” quality. She crossed her arms. No, that wasn’t it. Instead, there seemed to be something underlying the viscount’s solemn face. As if he weren’t solemn at all. As if he possessed a sense of unfinished business.
To die so young…