The tour guide had touted the Chateaux as one of the most haunted places in western Europe. Samantha Lancaster felt a delightful shiver skate down her spine as she studied the ancient chateaux. Her mother would've loved it.
A wave of loss washed over her at the thought. Swallowing against the emotion that clogged her throat, she resolutely dismissed the threatening tide of grief. The two of them had planned the trip together. She was determined she was going to enjoy it to the fullest for both of them. She knew in her heart that her mother would've wanted it that way. Her mother had spent most of her adult life yearning to visit Europe, to track down family roots, if possible, but more importantly, to visit every reputedly haunted site on the continent.
The Chateaux du Beauchamp had topped her list.
A sense of excitement replaced her melancholy as she studied the stone building in the fading light almost with a sense of awe. It never failed to amaze her that people had managed to build such masterpieces of architecture centuries ago with the most primitive of tools.
The closing of a door drew her attention from her study of the gargoyles that guarded the chateaux's roof top. She turned to look toward the front door of the chateaux. A young man, dressed in what looked to be authentic late medieval clothing, was striding rapidly toward her. He stopped beside the car and Samantha rolled her window down, looking up at him questioningly as he said something to her and gestured toward the side of the building. She hadn't a clue of what he'd said, but the language and accent sent a thrill of pleasure through her. She hadn't been in France a full day and she still wasn't used to finding herself in a world where no one spoke her language. She'd found she didn't particularly care, though. She loved the French tongue. They could say shit and it still sounded beautiful.
"I'm sorry," she said apologetically. "I don't speak French." She'd studied French in high school, but that had been almost ten years ago. She hadn't used it since she graduated and she didn't remember enough to do her much good.
He pointed to the narrow driveway that wound around toward the back of the chateaux. "You must leave the automobile in back. I will take your luggage, if you like."
Samantha smiled at him gratefully and got out so that he could reach the luggage she'd piled in the back seat. He grunted as he unloaded it, straining much as she had when she'd loaded the suitcases in.
Packing light wasn't her forte'. She hadn't been tempted to change her ways when she was traveling all the way to Europe. Nothing, she thought, could be worse than arriving at one's destination and discovering one had forgotten something really important.
Finally, he had all of the bags out and stacked. "I see you brought everything," he commented, keeping his voice carefully neutral.
She supposed she should have been insulted, but she couldn't help but laugh. "Believe it or not, I probably missed a few things."
Climbing back into the rental car, she started it up again and pulled around to the back of the chateaux. A gravel parking area had been added just beyond the cobblestone courtyard that stretched from the back of the chateaux to what must have once been the stables. She pulled the tiny car into a space between a sports car and another compact like the one she was driving and got out.
The chateaux was almost as beautiful from the back as it was from the front, she decided appreciatively. Glancing around at the outbuildings, she saw with a twinge of disappointment that it was going to be too late by the time she registered and settled in her room to do any exploring until the following day.
Heaving a sigh, she crossed the cobblestone courtyard and climbed a set of stone steps that led up onto a verandah. Several French doors let out onto the verandah where tables were scattered here and there for outdoor dining. The glass-paned doors undoubtedly led into the dining room, she decided, and turned toward the only wooden paneled door, more than half expecting to find it locked. It opened easily, however, onto a dim hallway lit only by a couple of wall sconces.
She ran smack into the man just inside the dim interior, a gentle collision that nevertheless plastered her full length against a hard, muscular body. Embarrassed, she took a step back. "Excuse me," she muttered, barely glancing at the man as she rushed past him.
To her relief, she found that the corridor led to the front desk.
The man at the desk looked at her in surprise as she appeared out of the darkened corridor. "Sorry. I guess I was supposed to go around to the front?"