Lionel Meadows had been dead thirteen years.
His murder had been a ghastly one, and for a viscount, and future marquess, an unlikely one at that. The assault which had seen Lionel killed had taken place in the roughest end of London. Upon visiting the rooms of a courtesan, he’d taken a jagged blade to his stomach; that fatal wound had been compliments of a street thief who’d been hiding there, waiting to divest Lionel’s young, foolish, fat-pocketed self of his money…and timepiece; that gift given him by his father when he’d gone off to Eton.
In the heart of the moment, to Lionel, holding on to that gift had seemed like the most important thing in the world.
And with that instant of impulsivity, his end had come fast; the unpleasantness of it shockingly quick.
In fact, that had been the last thought he’d carried—awe at just how swift it had all unfolded. Lionel had gone from living; attempting to suck air into his lungs one moment, and in the next breathless, with such a rapidity, there hadn’t even been time for regrets and sorrow for the parents and sister and friends he’d been about to leave behind. Or the life he’d never know.
It was however, everything that had unfolded after the night of Lionel’s vicious murder that had proven, agonizing.
Yes, he’d quickly learned, there were any number of miseries that shredded a man, in death.
Witnessing one’s family in the grips of sorrow and despair, after one passed.
And then, watching that same family…move on; their lives continuing, while one remained in a perpetual state of rest.
But even that pain, invariably…eased. For there was also a peace that came in seeing one’s family smile again. And find love. And grow, in numbers.
Nay, for Lionel Meadows, the Earl of Feversham, the greatest of all suffering in death was decidedly Lady Aburthnott’s daughter committing a murder of a different sort—that upon her violin.
This had to be the worst, most grueling misery of them all…at least, in recent memory.
That shrill, high-pitched wail of the violin soared over a pair of street cats currently battling for whatever scraps they’d managed to find.
Sprawled on his back, staring up at the star-studded London sky. Lionel clamped his hands over his ears. “For the love of all that is holy,” he muttered. Alas, she, like her sister before her, and her sister before her, hadn’t learned what Lionel had years earlier—they were never going to improve their skills upon that damned instrument.
Lionel groaned. If there’d ever been a doubt he was being punished for the sins that had led him to visit that gaming hell the night he was killed, this was decidedly it.
He knocked his head upon the cobblestones; in a knock that did not land. Climbing to his feet, he waved his hands frantically at Lord and Lady Aburthnott’s townhouse. “Would you cease already?” he pleaded.
And just like any other time he spoke aloud, only silence met him.
The carriages continued rumbling by with guests on their way to some ton affair or another. That family happily clustered around the latest one of their daughters to pick up the violin continued attending her as if she were Luigi Borghi himself returned from the dead to perform.
So why of all the townhouses that he’d wandered past over the years, did he continue to return to this one? Something about this family compelled him.
Through the long crystal windows of Lord Aburthnott’s Mayfair residence, Lionel’s gaze caught upon the parents and eldest daughter hovering around a younger girl. Mayhap, he endured the insufferable noise coming from within, because he was able to witness a loving family; but also people who were also strangers to him. There always came a warmth from being here, while also keeping him free of the hungering that ofttimes gripped him when he saw his own family. Here, he was just a voyeur. With his mother and Daisy and Auric and Marcus, he was something worse—invisible.
He looked squarely at himself within the panel; his shadowy visage reflected back in that glass.
The first moment he’d caught sight of himself within a window, he’d been standing outside his friend Auric there’d been a moment of euphoria. He was visible. His friend, Auric—now the Duke of Crawford—could see him.
Except, he’d gathered all too quickly—the blankness in the other man’s eyes. That sightless stare trained out, but not really on anything…or anyone.
He smiled sadly at himself. He’d visited and revisited so many windows, of so many people whom time had begun to change…at least outwardly. Whereas, Lionel? From his close-cropped dark hair on to the slight muscle of his six-feet frame…he remained unaltered.
Just then, the chit hit another god awful screech, and he flinched. Oh, this was really enough.
Laying once more upon the cobblestones, he turned his frustration loose on this latest Caldecott sister. “Quit already,” he shouted; never more regretting the absolute absence of sound from his lips. “You are hopeless. You are not getting better. Not now. Not ever.” She, however, just like her sister, and the sister before her, would never hear his pleadings, and they’d continue on torturing both him, and the poor lords and ladies who’d inevitably be forced to assemble to listen for that musically un-gifted family’s annual musicale.
A hiss cut through the quiet night air. “How dare you?”
A rock came flying; that little shrapnel rolling out onto the cobblestones; knocking into the side of a passing gentleman’s boot; which sent the missile hopping like the stones Lionel had once used to skip with his sister, Daisy; before the tiny object skidded, and then collided with the heel of Lionel’s boot…and stopped.
A passing gentleman glanced about, and then muttering to himself, he adjusted the folds of his cloak, and then continued on his way.
There’d been a time whenever he’d seen a living, breathing lord near in age to his that he’d been besieged solely by a vicious resentment; a hungering to return to the world he’d left too quickly. That sentiment had eased, but never completely faded. It was always there for one who was cut down too young. Or mayhap it was there, no matter how old a person was when they passed.
This time, however, it was not resentment that consumed Lionel.
Sprawled as he was still, shock kept Lionel immobile; absolutely motionless.
For, surely that furious question hadn’t been directed at…him.
Surely that missile that had sailed through the air and collided with a still-living fellow, had been a product of the living.
Lionel slowly pushed himself up onto his elbows. Elbows that touched the jagged, uneven cobblestones. Impossible. His gaze went to the sizable stone that touched his shoe. That slight weight as noticeable as the stone pavement under him; when he’d felt…nothing in all these years since he’d been stabbed.
Nay, it simply wasn’t real.
Because he didn’t feel anything anymore, for the simple fact that he wasn’t anything anymore. He was a shadow of a spirit, paler than a London fog, invisible to all.
Back when he’d first died; taking his last breath in that smoke-filled room in East London, and he’d found himself trapped in whatever in-between he found himself, Lionel had waited to wake up. He’d waited to open his eyes, and find that every hellish moment to befall him after he joined Auric and Marcus at that club had been a nightmare and nothing more. Except, he’d lift his arm, and gone was the solid flesh of a living, breathing man. So that all remained was a shadowy hint of flesh; an aura of white.
Now, Lionel brought an unsteady arm up before his face; perhaps this was the nightmare he’d at last awaken from.
His gaze collided with the same shadowy whisper that had met Lionel since that long ago night. He briefly closed his eyes.
Still as dead as he’d been; incapable of feeling and—
Just then, another shadow flickered through the night sky, and he followed its trajectory…too late. A small stone struck him square between the eyebrows, and with a grunt, Lionel reeled; his back collided hard with the cobblestones; ringing a gasp from him.
And he lay there; staring straight up at the sky overhead; his mind reeling.
Yes, it had been real. He had felt. Something. Granted, it had been sharp and unpleasant but—
He looked up, just as a shadow blotted out the moon’s faint glow; even as it cast a whispery soft shadow around the figure clad in voluminous white skirts; trimmed with pearls and lace. And had fire not been burning from the depths of her blue eyes, by the voluminous shimmery white garments she wore alone, he would have taken her for an angel. Granted, with her wide hips and generous breasts, she’d more the look of a tempting Eve in the garden of Eden. The young lady’s thick, dark curls hung about proudly erect shoulders. “You,” she seethed.
He blinked slowly.
Except, that didn’t make sense, either. The fact that this silken clad lady was glaring at him, or addressing Lionel for that matter. No. He was mistaken.
Lionel glanced about for the unlucky fellow responsible for earning the wrath of this snarling spitfire before him.
A delicate slippered foot landed in the middle of his chest; effectively knocking Lionel back to the ground.
He grunted; as the roadway dug sharply into his back; cutting through fabric that…apparently could be cut through, after all.
The young lady leaned down; her crimson lips flat in a hard angry line. “Yes, I’m talking to you, you miserable, sorry excuse for a gentleman.”
Lionel widened his eyes.
My god, she can see me.
To be continued