In a remote village in the west of Ireland, a light mist rose from the lake behind Hennessy Castle. The afternoon was becoming increasingly gray and brooding as clouds gathered and the skies turned threatening. Inside the castle the fireplaces were lit, providing a cheery warmth for the guests who were already anticipating a wonderful evening meal in the elegant eighteenth-century dining room.
The massive front doors of the castle opened slowly, and newlyweds Regan and Jack Reilly stepped out onto the driveway in their jogging clothes. They'd arrived on an overnight flight from New York, slept for several hours, and decided a quick jog might help alleviate the inevitable jet lag.
Jack looked at his thirty-one-year-old bride, touched her hair, and smiled. "We're in our native land, Mrs. Reilly. Our Irish roots lie before us."
Anyone who saw the handsome couple wouldn't have questioned those roots. Jack was six foot two, with sandy hair, hazel eyes, a firm jaw, and a winning smile. Regan had blue eyes, fair skin, and dark hair -- she was one of the black Irish.
"Well, it certainly is green around here," Regan observed as she glanced around at the lush gardens, wooded trails, and rolling lawn. "Everything is so still and quiet."
"After last week, still and quiet sounds good to me," Jack said. "Let's go."
Together they broke into a jog and crossed a pedestrian bridge that traversed a stream in front of the castle. They turned left and headed down an isolated country road that the concierge told them led right into the village. The only sound was their sneakers hitting the pavement. At a curve in the road they passed an old stone church that looked deserted.
Regan pointed toward the steepled building. "I'd love to take a look in there tomorrow."
Jack nodded. "We will." He glanced up at the sky. "I think that rain is coming in faster than we expected. This jog is going to be quick."
But when the road ended at the tiny village, a graveyard with darkened gravestones proved irresistible to Regan. A set of stone steps to their left led up to a courtyard where a broken stone wall surrounded the cemetery. "Jack, let's take a quick look."
"The funeral director's daughter," Jack said affectionately. "You never met a graveyard you didn't like."
Regan smiled. "Those tombstones must be centuries old."
They hurried up the steps, turned right, and stopped in their tracks. The first tombstone they spotted said reilly.
"This is a good omen," Jack muttered.
Regan leaned forward. "May Reilly. Born in 1760 and died in 1822. There don't seem to be any other Reillys here with her."
"Just as long as there aren't any named Regan or Jack."
Regan was deep in thought. "You know that joke my father always tells? The one about how an Irishman proposes?"
"You want to be buried with my mother?"
"That's the one. It looks like poor May didn't have anyone, not even a mother-in-law."
"Some people would consider that a good thing." Jack grabbed Regan's hand as large drops of rain started to come down. "Tomorrow we'll spend as much time as you want here figuring out what went wrong in these people's lives. Come on."
Regan smiled. "I can't help it. I'm an investigator."
"So am I."
They didn't encounter a single soul as they ran through the tiny village, which consisted of a pharmacy, two pubs, a souvenir shop, and a butcher. They wound around and jogged back to the castle where they showered and changed.
At 7:30 they went down to dinner and were seated at a table by a large window overlooking the garden. The rain had stopped, and the night was peaceful. Their waiter greeted them warmly.
"Welcome to Hennessy Castle. I trust you're enjoying yourselves so far."
"We certainly are," Regan answered. "But we stopped by the graveyard in town, and the first tombstone we saw had our name on it."
The waiter whistled softly. "You were looking at old May Reilly's grave. She was a talented lacemaker who supposedly haunts the castle, but we haven't heard from her for a while."
"She haunts this place?" Regan asked.
"Apparently May was always complaining that she wasn't appreciated. One of her lace tablecloths is in a display case upstairs in the memorabilia room. She made it for a special banquet of dignitaries who were visiting the Hennessy family, but May got sick and died before they paid her. Legend is that she keeps coming back for her money."
"Sounds like one of my cousins," Jack said.
"I don't blame her," Regan protested. "She should have been paid."
At 4:00 a.m. Regan woke with a start. Jack was sleeping peacefully beside her. The rain had started up again and sounded as if it was coming down harder than before. Regan slipped out of bed and crossed the spacious room to close the window. As she pulled back the curtain, a flash of lightning streaked across the sky. Regan looked down and in the distance saw the figure of a woman dressed in a long black coat, standing on the back lawn in front of the lake. She was staring up at Regan and shaking her fists. One hand was clenching a piece of white material. Could that be lace? Regan wondered.
"Regan, are you all right?" Jack asked.
Regan quickly turned her head away from the window, then just as quickly turned it back. Another bolt of lightning lit up the sky.
The woman was gone.
Jack flicked on the light. "Regan, you look as if you just spotted a ghost."
Before she could answer, the smell of smoke filled their nostrils. A moment later the fire alarm went off.
"So much for peace and quiet," Jack said quickly. "Let's throw on some clothes and get out of here!"
Copyright © 2007 by Carol Higgins Clark