After rubbing some lotion on, Katie slipped into a clean pair of boy-shorts and pulled a t-shirt over her head. With her hair wrapped in a towel, she padded out to the bedroom. As soon as she had a clear view of the four-poster bed she skidded to a stop, stunned by the sight of a strange man lounging against the headboard.
“Excuse me, but what are you doing?” Katie demanded.
The man continued to stare up at the ceiling with his hands behind his head as if he hadn’t heard her. He appeared to be deep in thought.
Katie was distracted from her irritation by the sight of his wide shoulders. Her mouth went dry as she ogled the stranger. Even through the linen shirt she could see he did more than computer programming or living a life of luxury. He had a rugged look to him that said he knew how to work with his hands and his body. Her eyes were drawn to the patch of bare skin exposed by the open V of his shirt then down to the waistband of his trousers. His tan pants looked as if they were part of a period costume but fit his long, muscular legs nicely.
The way he lounged on her bed with his legs spread across the coverlet made her think that he had no plans to leave anytime soon.
She mentally shook herself back to the situation. There was a man, although a very masculine and, well, let’s face it, a downright yummy man, in her room. She didn’t know him and she certainly hadn’t invited him in.
“Uh, hello?” she said a little louder, trying to position herself behind the nearest chair, hoping to hide the fact that she wore very few clothes.
The man didn’t even twitch.
“Hey! You there.” Katie watched the man closely, looking for any kind of response but only saw a slight twitch in one foot. “Can you hear me?”
Either the man was deaf or he had earphones in. His reddish-blond hair had been tied back, giving her a clear view of one ear. There were no cords hanging down. Perhaps he had a wireless device? She hated to draw attention to herself given her lack of clothing but didn’t believe she had another option since she had left her cell phone on the bedside table right next to the hotel phone.
She checked the area around her for something to toss onto the bed. If she could get the man’s attention she’d simply point out he had entered the wrong room and he needed to leave. There were a few breakable trinkets on the bookshelf behind her along with, obviously, books. She spotted a small metal dish within reach. Since she wasn’t sure how valuable any of the items were, she opted for the item least likely to break.
The bed was only fifteen or twenty feet away. Surely she could Frisbee the dish onto the bed? Maybe even make it land right next to the man. That should be enough to get his notice.
“Hey, Mr. Hunky Irishman! You need to get out of my room!” Katie said in a much louder voice. Still no response.
Okay. Katie stepped to the side of the tall-backed chair so she could leverage the dish properly. Here goes nothing.
The tarnished silver dish sailed across the span and landed on the foot of the bed as she planned. Thanks to the flat, smooth bottom, the dish skimmed across the bedspread and into the man lying on the bed.
Into the man. She blinked mutely.
Not up next to him.
Not bounced off.
Into the man.
Katie gaped at him, unsure of what she had seen. He looked real. He appeared to be corporeal. He didn’t have the hazy, semi-transparent body that she associated with most spirits. But the dish had passed through him.
What the hell was he then?
As she stared, he turned his head and looked at her. Their eyes met. Katie’s chest ached at the loneliness she saw in the depths of his gaze. Before she realized what she was doing she had stepped around the chair and moved toward him.
He sat up suddenly and asked, “You can see me, can’t you?”
His native accent lent even more appeal to his deep, baritone voice. Even though she heard the faint echoey sound she associated with spirits, she had a very physical reaction. This was one of those rare men she would gladly listen to as he read stereo instructions.
Katie gave a slight, hesitant nod. She didn’t like revealing her gift but figured her face and her reactions had already given her away.
The man jumped up and crossed the room quicker than she’d anticipated. With a squeak of alarm she darted behind the chair when he came to stand right in front of her.
“Who are you? And what are you doing in my room?” she demanded, pulling her courage around her like a cloak.
“Ah, lass, you have nothing to fear from me.” He spread his hands out in front of him in a placating manner.
“I’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.”
He tipped his head. “I apologize for startling you. It’s been a good many years since someone other than the local specters could see or hear me. My excitement got the better of me.”
“Yeah, well…” Katie stammered. “I can kinda understand that.” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “So, who are you?”
“Seamus MacDonhnaill.” He made a short bow. “Formerly of the County Donegal MacDonhnaills.”
“Formerly? Does that mean you got kicked out of that county or that family?”
He chuckled. The deep, rich sound sent ripples of warmth down to her core.
“Neither, actually.” He cocked his head to one side and regarded her. “I have simply considered myself a resident of Tullamore Castle for some time now.”
“Ah.” The way he said resident make Katie think he did more than live here. She cleared her throat nervously. “I, uh… I don’t want to be rude or anything, but I’m not comfortable standing here talking with someone I don’t know when I’m only half- dressed.”
Seamus’ eyes quickly glanced down at the chair she had been using to keeping her modesty in place.
“Would you mind stepping out for a moment while I dig out a pair of jeans or something?” Katie asked. Seamus raised an eyebrow in question but Katie rushed on, “I know it’s silly with you being…” Words failed her. Was Seamus a ghost? If so, he was unlike any she had come across before. “Uh, not quite solid, but I have a rule about being fully dressed when I meet new people.”
Katie forced a smile on her face, even though she knew she had turned bright-pink from embarrassment.
To his credit, Seamus didn’t laugh but he did a poor job of hiding his smirk. “Very well. When you’re comfortable, simply open your door.” Seamus moved to the door then paused and turned to look at her. With a mischievous grin he added, “I look forward to meeting you properly.”
Katie frowned at Seamus’ back as he passed through the closed door and disappeared from her sight.
She scampered to her suitcase and pulled out a clean pair of jeans. As she zipped them up it occurred to her that while she had demanded to know Seamus’ name, she hadn’t given him hers.
That had been very rude! Mom would have been appalled.
Shaking her head in disgust over her lack of manners, Katie dug in the pocket on the lid of her suitcase for a bra. She looked over her shoulder to where she’s last seen Seamus, just to make sure he hadn’t floated back in. Reassured that she still had the room to herself, Katie unwound the towel from around her hair and head then quickly pulled her shirt up and put her bra on.
Part of her wondered why she even bothered. After all, as a spirit, Seamus wouldn’t be able to do anything other than look. A flash of warmth zipped down her spine at the thought that he would look.
Too bad he wasn’t flesh and bone. She’d actually consider taking Jenny’s advice if Seamus was the “hunky Irishman”.
Now that she was fully dressed she felt less exposed. She went into the bathroom, grabbed her brush then she sat on the edge of the bed and debated the wisdom of inviting Seamus back in as she brushed the tangles from her hair. Yes, he knew she could see him but didn’t know the extent of her gift. If he had an ounce of sense he’d ask, however. And right now, she didn’t know what she’d tell him.
Why did Seamus appear different than other ghosts she had encountered? If that dish hadn’t passed through him she wouldn’t have realized he was a spirit. She needed to find out what he really was.
A picture of Seamus’ face when he first looked at her popped into her mind’s eye. In those brief seconds she had seen a loneliness so deep it created a knot in her chest when she recalled it. Had he really not talked with anyone other than a few ghosts in a long time?
She couldn’t turn him away.
Besides, it wasn’t as if he were pox-ridden with weeping sores or anything else disgusting. As a matter of fact, she found him a little too easy to look at.
Katie took a deep breath and released it. Her mind made up, she went to the door and swung it open. Disappointment rippled through her when she didn’t find him waiting there.
She stepped out into the hallway and looked in both directions. The only thing she saw was a full set of armor standing guard a little ways down the hall, across from her room.
“Seamus?” Katie called quietly. She didn’t hear a response or spot him anywhere. Where would he have gone? She shrugged and stepped back into her room, leaving the door ajar to let Seamus know he could come in if he returned.
With her head down, she didn’t notice Seamus standing in the middle of the room until she practically ran into him.
“Jesus!” She jumped back in alarm. “Don’t do that!”
“Do what?” Seamus asked even though a smiled played across his lips.
“Just… Just…” Katie shook her open hand in his direction to indicate she meant all of him. “Just show up like that. Can’t you knock or something?”
“Oh, never mind,” she said, exasperated. Her heart raced from the startle and she struggled to get it under control. “I know you can’t knock but you should announce yourself instead of just poofing in. Sheesh.”
“Poofing? I don’t think I have ever poofed in to anything.” Seamus sounded somewhat insulted.
“Oh you know what I mean.” Katie stomped over to the couch. “One minute you’re not there and suddenly you are.” She dropped onto her chosen seat then waved in Seamus’ direction. “Poof.”
“Ah. I see.” He followed her to the sitting area and took a seat at the other end of the couch. “I’m guessing that I don’t always manifest this state in a way that you can see me.”
“Before I answer your obvious question, I believe that you owe me an introduction.”
“Oh my God.” Katie sat up straight on the couch. “I’m so sorry. I’m normally not that rude. My name is Katherine, well, Katie, to my friends, Ward. From America.”
“Katherine Ward.” Seamus smiled. “I had deduced by your accent that you are from the Americas. What brings you to Tullamore?”
Katie pulled her feet up under her. “I’m bringing my mother’s ashes home.”
Seamus dipped his head. “I’m sorry for your loss. Did she recently pass?”
“No. Actually she died about three years ago.” At the questioning look in his eye she added, “I wasn’t told of her request to be brought home to Ireland until a couple of weeks ago.”
“Then I’m doubly sorry for your loss.” He regarded her for a moment. “Your mother was Irish then.” It was a statement more than a question.
“You do look like a daughter of Ireland.” A frown creased his forehead as he continued to study her.
Katie squirmed nervously. “Did I suddenly sprout horns out of the top of my head?” she finally asked, uncomfortable with the way Seamus looked at her.
“You look like someone I’ve seen before.” He absently rubbed his chin as he got lost in his thoughts once again. Then he shook his head as if to clear it and said, “I’ll think of it later.”
“If you say so,” Katie mumbled. “So,” she said brightly, changing the subject. “How did you come to be a spirit at Tullamore? Were you mortally wounded in battle on the castle grounds? Or did you fall off one of the castle walls during a siege? Or anything like that?”
Seamus’ face darkened. Katie instinctively leaned back, away from the rage and disgust she saw in his eyes.
“I was cursed by a whore pretending to be a lady.”