The Last Wicked Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 5)(24) by Lorraine Heath
“But how can that be?” Winnie asked.
Mrs. Ponsby folded her hands on the table and looked at Winnie through kind eyes. “The only possible explanation is that he isn’t dead.”
Graves watched as all the blood drained from Winnie’s face. Although only a candle provided light, within the dancing shadows she was starkly white. He didn’t know what kind of game the medium was playing. She seemed so earnest, so honest. It made no sense.
“That’s utterly ridiculous,” he barked.
“Quite so,” Claybourne said sternly. “He died in a fire at my ancestral estate. There can no doubt.”
“But I must doubt,” Mrs. Ponsby stated serenely, “as I don’t sense his spirit in the afterworld.”
It occurred to Graves that perhaps Avendale had gotten to the woman, paid her for this little performance in order to unsettle Winnie more. She was a fraud. All conjurers of the spirit world were frauds. He had to ensure that Winnie didn’t begin to doubt her husband’s death. He had to discredit the woman in some way.
“You’re saying that you always manage to contact the spirits?” Catherine asked, lacing her voice with a healthy dose of skepticism.
“Indeed I do. This failure is a first for me and I am as baffled as the duchess. I can think of no other explanation.”
“Perhaps the spirits are simply laying low tonight,” Graves suggested.
“I think that unlikely. However, I am more than willing to try to contact someone else in an attempt to prove I’m not a fraud as I can sense from your demeanor that you believe I am up to no good. I assure you that I seek more to put the living to rest than the dead. As a physician, Dr. Graves, I’m sure you’ve seen more than your share of death. Is there someone you have lost with whom you would like to speak?”
For a heartbeat, a solitary heartbeat, he believed that she could do as she claimed. He thought of his father, of how he wanted to know what had happened to him, why he had left Graves all those nights ago. But for all he knew, the man was still alive. No, he needed someone who was very dead. “My mother.”
“Have you an object that belongs to her?”
Reaching beneath his collar, he took hold of a pewter chain, slowly pulled it over his head. He placed it and the cross with the raised vines woven over it in Mrs. Ponsby’s outstretched hand.
“Your mother was a religious woman,” she mused.
“Very. She spent most of her time striving to beat the devil out of me.”
“Those with strong religious convictions are the easiest to reach. Her name?”
He’d not thought it in years. “Flora Littleton.”
He wasn’t certain what his face showed, but he felt Winnie squeeze his hand where it sat fisted on the table. For a moment he’d forgotten that anyone else was there. It was Mrs. Ponsby’s damn eyes. One brown, one blue. They drew a person in and held him enthralled.
“All right then,” she said in a melodic voice. “We shall all join hands again and strive to make contact with Flora.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Claybourne asked.
Graves held Mrs. Ponsby’s gaze. “Yes, but I will not be convinced she’s truly made contact unless my mother tells her something that only I know. Otherwise, it’s cheap parlor tricks and she’ll return to the duchess every ha’penny she took from her for tonight’s entertainment.”
“We have a bargain,” she replied, and he was left with the sense that he’d made it with the devil’s own mistress.
After they took hands, the medium dropped her head back, closed her eyes, and began to chant, “Flora Littleton come to us. Your son wishes to have words. He wants to reconnect with you. He wants you here.”
Her voice drifted into a musical hum. He could almost sense a charge in the air; the hairs on his arms rose. Mrs. Ponsby went silent, then fell forward onto the table like a child’s cloth doll. He started to reach for her, but Winnie clutched his hand.
“Mustn’t break the circle,” she whispered.
Inhaling a deep breath, Mrs. Ponsby rolled her back until she sitting straight up. Her pupils were completely dilated. Something was wrong. He broke free of Winnie’s grasp, scraped back his chair—
“Your mother doesn’t believe you want to speak with her,” Mrs. Ponsby said calmly, “but she wants you to know that she forgives you for killing her.”
Within the library, Graves poured himself a whiskey, tossed back his head, and downed it all. The medium’s performance made no sense to him. Could it be that she was actually capable of communing with the dead? If she were a charlatan, why hadn’t she pretended to contact Avendale? Her reputation, the amount of payment she could demand, was dependent upon her success at reaching the spirits.
And how the bloody hell had she known that he’d been responsible for his mother’s death?
Downing an additional glass of whiskey, he felt another fissure of anger rip through him. After Mrs. Ponsby revealed his mother’s supposed message, he’d come up out of the chair with a vengeance, knocking it over in the process. He wasn’t exactly certain what he’d planned to do or say. He knew only that he’d needed to throw something, to walk from the room, to escape the demons of his past.
But Winnie had flinched and cowed, damn her.
“I wouldn’t have struck you,” he said now, hating the way his voice seethed with emotions. He felt as though he were four years old, being battered by his mother again.
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