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Whispering Shadows



ABIGAIL CARTER clicked her tongue with exasperation as she peered through the viewfinder of her new folding pocket Kodak at the wavering image of her sister.

‘Will you please stop fidgeting, Polly? How shall I ever get a good photograph if you will keep prinking and preening at your hair? You are quite the vainest person I know.’

Polly wriggled some more so that the wide neck of her summer dress slipped further down her bare arms where she had pulled it in an attempt to show off the sloping white curve of her shoulders. She consoled herself that if her sixteen-year-old chest did not quite match Abigail’s fine bosom at least the cascade of golden curls that floated so delectably in the soft summer breeze was infinitely superior to her older sister’s chestnut locks, which was a perfectly boring colour in Polly’s estimation.

Unimpressed by this display of youthful beauty, Abigail let out a great sigh, marched over to her sister, and pulled the cream spotted net unceremoniously upwards in an attempt to restore decorum. Allowing Polly to wear this most revealing of gowns had clearly been a mistake. But then most of Abigail’s efforts to control her wayward sister met with similar lack of success. Why her parents had thought she could succeed where they had failed, heaven alone knew.

Abigail had always been well aware that she would require employment of some sort. Her father did well enough, she supposed, in his ironmongery shop, for their standard of living had always been good and her mama most particular about whom her two young daughters consorted with, a task easier to impose upon the more sensible Abigail than the recalcitrant Polly. And at gone twenty-five there was little hope now of marriage snaring her, not that Abigail cared one way or the other. She felt perfectly well able to take care of herself and was far more interested in her beloved photography than any young man she had ever seen come tapping on her father’s door. No, she had been willing enough to accept the post of companion to Mrs Emilia Goodenough, an elderly lady of private means, at least until something more exciting turned up. Particularly since the lady already had one household servant so there was no question of Abigail being coerced into emptying ash cans or washing out linens. But to be expected to take Polly along with her had come as something of a blow.

Abigail wanted, most desperately, to travel, and was constantly scanning the small advertisements of the local newspaper for the right opportunity to present itself. But what would become of Polly then?

The object of Abigail’s study now gave a loudly exaggerated sigh and smoothed out the sash of her dress with pettish fingers. ‘My back is positively aching from sitting so long. I thought this was supposed to be a modern camera which took simple snapshots at the press of a button. I have been sitting here forever.’

‘It does,’ said Abigail rather sharply, taking her eye from the viewfinder to fix it sternly upon the sitter. ‘But the light must be just right and the subject must undertake to keep still. Now, are you ready?’

Polly gave a little wriggle and then a surprised hiccup of laughter, but Abigail did not notice as she had turned her attention to studying a suspiciously mobile grey cloud that threatened to block the sun out at any moment. Polly could be great fun, and an absolute dear if one was depressed or unwell or whatever. Her heart, as they said, was in the right place despite her frivolous nature, childlike vanity and downright wilfulness at times. And the child knew, of course, that however grumpy Abigail might sound, and however much she might scold Polly, there was never any doubt but that she loved her.

‘Keep absolutely still. Hold your breath.’ Abigail was likewise holding hers. Having carefully framed her delightfully pretty sister in exactly the right pose, the sunshine glinting perfectly on her blond hair, even the tilt of Polly’s head beguilingly sweet and appealing, the blue eyes open and trusting, Abigail was anxious to capture the image for all time on this most magic of cameras. ‘Hold it . . .’ And as Abigail’s finger sank the button and the shutter blinked slowly across the aperture the pretty pink and cream picture vanished, replaced by a dark head, round glittering eyes and a leering gargoyle grin. So startled was Abigail by this monstrous vision that she very nearly dropped the precious camera upon the stone driveway. ‘What on earth. . .?

‘Sorry. Did I make you jump?’ The interloper was laughingly stripping off huge goggles and gauntlet driving gloves. No wonder he had unnerved her, peering into the lens of her camera in that get-up. What effrontery, and she would tell him so, at once.

Had Abigail been able at that juncture to think of some quick rejoinder she would have made it. But her mind was filled with only red hot fury and her tongue stilled by a freezing paralysis the moment the mask was torn away. Far from being that of a gargoyle, the smile on the face before her was positively beatific. Slightly crooked, admittedly, with a touch of sardonic humour at the corner, but wide and apparently genuine beneath a classically straight nose and assessing dark eyes with a swoop of soot black lashes that flicked lazily up at the tips.

Not wishing him to see how he had startled her, Abigail met his gaze candidly, with frank and open speculation, not dropping her own eyes nor even a curtsy, as might have been appropriate for a young woman in her humble station before what was evidently a gentleman of some means come calling upon her employer. But the new century was seven years old and such niceties did not appeal to Abigail.

The smile deepened as he became aware of her scrutiny, penetrating right to the heart of her, a heart that was behaving in an exceedingly odd way were she to pay credence to it, which of course she did not.

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Abigail Carter feels stifled as companion to Emilia Goodenough, and the responsibility of her wayward sister Polly. Then Emilia's nephew, Carl Montegne, sweeps the ladies off to Italy to help him search for the long lost family fortune. But even a romantic castello doesn't stem the friction between them - until the quest suddenly turns to danger, and Abigail discovers the extent of her feelings.