The Curse of Winford Manor
by Loc Glin
Genre: Mainstream Romance
Heat Rating: SENSUAL
Word Count: 44,821
Categories: Historical Paranormal Romance (MF), Time Travel, HEA
Leslie Braddock feels responsible for her husband’s death. She is having trouble reentering the dating scene. Leslie travels back in time where she meets Sir James.
Sir James Winford is a three-time widower. He believes he is cursed, and is certain death to any woman he loves. He has vowed never to love again.
Emily, the ghost of Sir James's first wife has unfinished business, and still lingers at Winford Manor. She wants to see her husband happy, and she wants to bring her murderer to justice.
Rose has loved Sir James since childhood. She must live with the unspeakable things she has done trying to make James see her as more than a child. She believes she is close to achieving that goal when Leslie shows up.
Leslie and Sir James share the experience of losing a loved one. Will Leslie be the woman to break the curse? Or will she be just another victim.
“Sit down, dear. I trust you slept well last night.”
Leslie put her coffee next to her plate. “Well, actually, something woke me in the middle of the night. Is this house haunted?” She slipped into the chair and settled in next to Margaret.
Margaret almost choked on her toast. She took a swallow of tea to wash it down. “I don’t think so, dear,” she lied.
“Are you okay?” Leslie asked.
“I’m fine, dear. Your question just caught me off guard, that’s all.”
“You believe in ghosts, Leslie?” Rose smiled a malicious smile. “They don’t exist, you know,” she said in a superior tone.
“Not exactly, but I do believe there are things in this world that can’t be explained. Who’s to say what is or isn’t so.”
“Quite right,” Sir James agreed.
Rose frowned and shot a look of pure hatred at Leslie.
“Well, if there are ghosts, I certainly hope they’re friendly.” Margaret winked at Emily.
“He always was a freethinker,” Emily said.
“Yes, I know,” Margaret agreed.
“What was that, Mother?”
“Oh nothing, dear, just thinking out loud.”
“You do quite a bit of that lately,” Rose said snidely.
“We all have our bad habits,” Margaret said. She looked at Rose. I wish I could prove what you’ve done. She took a sip of tea to drown the words she longed to say and to cover her annoyance.
James was standing by the table looking out the window. “Mother, it’s a lovely day. Would you like to go for a drive and maybe a picnic?”
“That’s a nice idea, dear, but Rose and I are going to town today.”
“Then I shall go riding.”
“Horseback riding?” Leslie asked. Excitement filled her voice.
“Of course, dear, what else would he ride?”
“I love horseback riding,” Leslie said.
“Would you like to join me? We could make a day of it. I haven’t had company on a ride in a long time. It would be a pleasant change.” Her brown eyes were sparkling and her cheeks dimpled slightly as she answered.
“Could I? I’d love that.” Leslie smiled.
Rose pressed her lips together. “Excuse me,” she said.
“Margaret, I will see you in a little while.” Rose moved past James and to the door. “Be careful, James, riding can be dangerous. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to our guest.” She paused and waited for his reply.
“Don’t worry, Rose, I will take good care of Leslie. You and Mother have a nice day.” He spared only a moment for a casual smile before returning his attention to Leslie. “I shall meet you in the stables. Will an hour give you enough time to dress?”
“More than enough.” Leslie looked first to Rose and then to James. She could see the jealousy all over Rose’s face. She could see Rose fighting to control her temper. She looked at Margaret. It appeared that no one else noticed.
Margaret watched Rose turn and leave in a snit.
“This girl will be good for him, Margaret,” Emily said.
“Do you think so?” Margaret whispered into her teacup.
* * * *
Leslie looked at the riding habit the maid just handed her. “I’m supposed to wear this?” She made a face showing her dislike.
“Even the hat?” She looked at the maid hopefully.
The maid concealed a smile. She shrugged and curtsied as she left the room.
Leslie was sure it was comfortable enough. Christ, the seat of the pants was padded. But look at the size of the hips. They would stick out a mile. She would wear the blouse, the jacket, the boots, the gloves, and the hat if she had to, but the pants were out.
A few minutes later she was rushing down the stairs and out of the house.
Leslie waved as she hurried across the yard.
Those blue pants stopped James dead in his tracks. The horse bumped him from behind.
She was breathing deeply. “I didn’t want to be late.”
“You didn’t have to run.”
“That wasn’t running.” She tucked a loose strand of hair under the ridiculous hat. She adjusted the hat on her head.
“I would have waited.” He held the halter and rubbed the horse’s nose.
“Thank you for that. Where’s my horse? I’m ready to saddle him.” She almost rubbed her hands together in her excitement.
“You don’t have to saddle your horse. Why would you think that?”
“I’m used to it. I always saddled Corky.”
“The horse my father let me ride as a kid.”
“You have ridden a lot, then?”
“Not so much in recent years. But I did my fair share back then.”
The groom was bringing out her mount, a docile little mare. She frowned when she saw it.
“You don’t like Lady?” James asked.
“Lady is fine, but I was hoping for something more challenging. If you are riding that”—Leslie nodded toward the beautiful Bay—“I will be hard pressed to keep up on her.”
“Can you jump?” James asked.
“And you’d like a mount with some spirit?”
“I probably shouldn’t do this. The Colonel’s horse is a handful. But now that you’ve gotten me thinking about it, I would enjoy a good run,” he said. “Evers, saddle Spartacus,” he called to the groom.
“Spartacus?” she repeated.
“Spartacus is a bit feisty. He doesn’t belong to me, but I’m sure the Colonel won’t mind. Evers has a hard time handling him, so he doesn’t get much exercise. You may ride my mount, Kadin.”
“Spartacus will do just fine. If he lives up to his name, we will do well together.”
“You are familiar with the story of the Roman slave Spartacus?”
“A little bit, and I liked the movie.”
“Movie? You do have an odd way of speaking, Miss Leslie.”
Oh shit, she did it again. She really had to watch herself. “Well, I’m not from around here, and please, call me Leslie.”
“What is a—” The groom was bringing Spartacus out of the stable. Spartacus was prancing and agitated. James moved to take the reins. Spartacus rose up onto his hind legs, not much, just enough to make James falter.
“Here, let me have those,” Leslie said. She took the reins before James could protest. “Easy boy,” she comforted the horse. “It’s okay,” she said, rubbing his nose. “We’re going to have a wonderful run together. You can work off all that energy there.” She patted his neck. Spartacus bobbed and snorted agreement.
“That’s amazing,” Evers said. He removed his cap and ran his hand over his balding head.
“It certainly is,” James agreed. “You seem to have a knack with horses.”
“Yeah, I love them.” She patted Spartacus’s neck.
“Shall we mount then?” James smiled. “I’m looking forward to this ride.”
“Let me give you a hand up.” He cupped his hands for her foot.
She looked at the English saddle. She was used to Western-style. The English didn’t have a horn, so she decided to take him up on his offer. “Thank you.” She grabbed the saddle and put her booted foot into his hand.
He helped her up, and then mounted Kadin. “Bobby, be a good lad and get the gate for us.” Bobby ran ahead and opened the gate.
Opening the gate was harder than closing it. Leslie looked back as she heard it creak. The joy she saw on Bobby’s face as he jumped on and rode the gate until it clicked closed made her smile. She remembered doing the same thing as a child.
“I sent Evers to look for your car…cart,” he amended.
“I don’t think he’ll find it. I was really very lost by the time you found me.”
“What had you out in that kind of weather?”
“I was going to visit the Gypsies. When I started out there was no fog.”
“You like to have your fortune read?”
“It is poppycock, you know. The last time I saw her she told me I would meet someone from the future. How can someone travel back in time?”
“That’s what I would like to know,” she whispered.
“The Gypsy said the woman would lighten my heart.”
“You have a heavy heart? What did she mean by that?”
“I suppose she was referring to my wives. I’ve had three, you know.”
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