The Enemy's Daughter(2)By: Anne Marie Winston
Her father's voice cut through the memory. "And it's not spying. All I want you to do is keep your ears open for anything I should know about the Danforth campaign. Danforth can't possibly be as squeaky clean as he appears."
"He isn't," she pointed out. "But he's honest about his mistakes—"
"Right." Her father sneered. "Everyone knows he was forced to welcome that illegitimate Vietnamese daughter into the family but he managed to turn it into political gold. And before you came home there was an enormous brouhaha when his nanny's kid's body was found right there on his estate. That one almost sank him, but the authorities swear he had nothing to do with it." He snorted. "I wish I had his spin doctors."
Selene sighed. Her arguments fell on deaf ears and in moments she found herself bundled into a car, headed for the Danforth political fund-raiser. Fine, she thought rebelliously. You can make me attend, Father, but you can't make me spy for you.
The dinner-dance was held at the historic Twin Oaks Hotel in downtown Savannah. Selene entered just behind a group of other guests and quickly took stock of the room. Lovely French doors opened onto extensive gardens at the rear of the hotel, while dancers created graceful patterns on the polished wooden dance floor. Other guests mingled around the tables throughout the room.
She quietly headed toward the doors at the back of the room. It would be hot outside, but that was good. No one else was crazy enough to come out in the humid evening air; she could stay ten minutes and then leave.
So there, Father. I've attended the fund-raiser, and gee, so sorry, I didn't hear anything.
As she moved around the edge of the room, she passed the ladies room and decided to freshen up. When she entered the lounge area, she found a young teenage girl crying there. Selene and another young woman each attempted to comfort her. The child appeared to be having parent troubles, and her distress tore at Selene's all-too-sympathetic heart. Selene knew, however, that she couldn't afford to get involved in the young stranger's problems. After all, she wasn't even on the guest list and she doubted anyone would be thrilled to find a Van Gelder at a Danforth fund-raiser. After a few moments, she slipped out of the restroom and made for the gardens.
She had just taken a seat on a stone bench out of sight of the ballroom doors when a deep, masculine voice said, "You're not a ghost, are you?"
She turned with a startled laugh. "You sound disappointed."
A man materialized from the darkness. He was elegant in a dark tux with an equally dark collarless shirt, and the moonlight glanced off his dark hair. Her first thought was that he wore the clothing awfully well for an American. She immediately scoffed at herself. Just because she'd gotten used to Continental men, many of whom were pickier than women about their wardrobes and their facelifts, didn't mean she should be an equal snob. Still, this man had been born to wear a tux.
He said, "I am disappointed. I saw you flitting about the garden a few minutes ago in your white dress and I was sure you were the Twin Oaks ghost."
"Sorry." She shrugged, smiling. "I'm ordinary old flesh and blood."
"I wouldn't, by any stretch, call you ordinary," the man said.
His tone was warm and admiring and she was glad for the darkness because she felt herself blushing. She'd never been good at flirting, or the small talk men and women shared. Her deportment instructors had despaired of her socially. Her only saving grace was that she could dance like an angel.
She cleared her throat. "Were you making that up about the ghost?" She'd said it to divert him, but she really was interested.
"Absolutely not. May I join you?"
When she nodded, he straddled the bench on which she sat, facing her with an easy air. "Well over a hundred years ago, a young woman was kidnapped from her family's suite and ravished by a blackguard on the third floor of the hotel. She threw herself from the window and was killed. Legend has it that on a clear night, you can see her walking through the gardens, crying for her lost virtue."
Selene was fascinated. "And is there any truth to substantiate the legend?"
He nodded. "The hotel's records give her name and the date of her death, which has been confirmed with U.S. census records of the time. She's buried in a local cemetery."
"Do you know anyone who's ever seen her?" She cast a quick look around, not out of fear but curiosity.
"My paternal great-grandfather supposedly did. He was at a ball here in the nineteen-forties and he came out to the garden to wait for a girl who'd agreed to meet him there. He heard a woman's voice behind him but when he turned, he clearly saw what he described as "the shade of a young girl."
"'Shade' is a dated word for ghost," Selene mused.
"Exactly." Her storyteller nodded, his deep voice animated. "He wrote down the whole account, with a great many more details and it's still in our family today. It's only one of about a dozen alleged sightings of the young lady."
"No wonder you were disappointed," she said.
Perfect white teeth flashed as he smiled. "Could I possibly retract those words? I'm not usually so gauche."
She was charmed. "Consider them erased."
He pantomimed relief. Then he tipped his head to one side, studying her. "You don't seem the least bit unnerved by that story."
"You said she's sad, not dangerous," she pointed out. "I'm sensible that way. Now if you were to take me to Bavaria, there's a certain castle you couldn't pay me to enter. The spirit who haunts the place was killed defending his family from a neighboring kingdom's warriors, and he's chased any number of visitors through the halls. One woman fell down the stairs and broke an ankle, and she swears she was pushed."
He was nodding at her story. "Vindictive ghosts are fairly common. Your accent isn't German," he said thoughtfully, "but I'm willing to bet you've spent quite a bit of time in Europe?"
She smiled. "You'd win the pot. I lived in Switzerland most of my youth before attending university in the UK."
"So you're British."
"Oh, no, I'm American," she said. "Although I've only been home for five days."
His smile was wide and direct, his eyes too dark to name their color in the moonlight, but filled with an interest she couldn't miss. "And will you be staying for a while?"
"Yes." She returned the smile. If she'd ever met a man with such charisma before, she couldn't recall it.
There was a brief moment of silence while he held her gaze. She was aware of the singing insects around them, the sweet strains of orchestral music filtering from the ballroom.
"My flower garden ghost," he said in a husky tone. He rose and offered her a hand. "Would you like to dance?"
In response, Selene put her hand in his, feeling the strength in his fingers as he lifted her to her feet, the hard muscles of his arms as they went around her, the warm promise of his big body so close to hers. Clouds of butterflies rose in her stomach, making her hand tremble in his.
"Are you cold?" His voice was a rumble in his chest, his breath stirred the silky tendrils of hair near her temple. She realized that all she had to do was turn her head and lift her chin and his lips would be on hers.
It took all the willpower she had to prevent herself from doing exactly that.
* * *
"It was heavenly," she told Guillemette. "We danced for nearly an hour. We talked. He loves folklore, ghosts and local legends and such. He was just fascinating. And handsome, and so sweet…"
"So who is he? And what's happened since then?" Guillemette prodded her. "You said that was two months ago."
Suddenly, the pleasure drained from the day. "It was. And nothing's happened since."
"What? Why?" Her friend began to sputter in French, and if she hadn't been so upset, Selene would have laughed.
"Willi," she said, "don't you want to know what his name is?"
"Oui." Her friend's voice grew wary.
"Who's Adam Danforth?" Guillemette's response reflected her lack of comprehension.
"His father is running against mine for the senate," Selene told her. "My father would be furious if I got involved with his rival's son."
"Why?" Guillemette seemed to take it in stride.
"Because…" She floundered, unprepared for the question. "Because Father's very competitive. His political career means everything to him. He's constantly looking for scandal that he can leak about the Danforth family. He isn't—isn't always very nice." That was difficult for her to admit.
Guillemette's silence spoke volumes. Finally, she said, "Does this Adam know who you are?"
"Oh, yes. He sent me flowers the next day." The memory made her smile. "A beautiful arrangement with a note thanking me for the evening."
"Sent him a thank-you note, of course," she said. "But you must see why I shouldn't see him again."
"I see nothing of the sort," her friend said, more than a little heat in her voice. "Selene, there is no rational reason why your father should mind you going out with this man. This is the twenty-first century, not the Middle Ages!"
"They don't exactly have a friendly rivalry," she said in a defensive voice as she recalled some of the more offensive tactics her father had resorted to recently. "It just wouldn't be that easy, Willi."