“Turn around slowly, with your hands where I can see them,” Bamforth ordered.
Henry’s heart pounded in his throat as he complied. Bamforth stood at the top of the tower stairs, his pistol trained on them. His face was pale, but his mouth was set in a determined line. Snow swirled around him, clinging to the cold iron of the barrel.
“Move away from the door,” Bamforth said, motioning with the gun. Not knowing what else to do, Henry complied. Vincent stood, still in the passage. Was he frozen in shock, or did he weigh his chances of escape?
If the thought had occurred to him, he didn’t act on it. He followed Henry, but slowly, putting space between them. Making it harder for Bamforth to aim at them both at once.
“Hurry it up, redskin,” Bamforth snapped.
Fear tightened Henry’s throat, and his mind raced wildly. Of all those he’d suspected, Bamforth had never been a serious candidate. “Bamforth?” he asked past the icy lump in his chest. “You were the one trying to frighten us? You tried to kill me with the chandelier?”
“Of course. It was your fault Mr. Gladfield wouldn’t leave.” Bamforth moved to the parapet, where he could more easily train the gun on them both. Snowflakes swirled down, sticking to the shoulders of his coat. “The mediums were done with this place, and if you’d refused to continue, Mr. Gladfield would have had no choice but to give up. A few months from now, I would return, load up the gold, and disappear. But you and your stupid insistence on ‘fixing’ things wrecked my plan.”
“How did you know?” Vincent’s voice was almost casual, as if they spoke in front of the fire in the grand hall. “About the passageways, I mean.”
Bamforth’s attention fixed on Vincent. Hoping he wasn’t about to get them both killed, Henry edged slowly to his left. If they could only get into position to flank Bamforth, perhaps they stood a chance.
“I already told you—my aunt was the children’s tutor,” Bamforth said. “She learned of the secret passages by accident. Reyer would have killed her if she’d spoken of them while he lived, but in later years the bottle loosened her tongue. I was always her favorite, so she told me about them. It didn’t take a great leap of reasoning to imagine they might hold the secret to his missing fortune. After coming into Mr. Gladfield’s employ, I did my best to encourage him to do something with the property. When he sent me ahead to prepare it for the contest, you can imagine I spent every spare moment searching for the fortune. As soon as I found it, I scared away the silly women I’d hired to help clean, to add to the mystique of the place.”
“Why try to frighten us into leaving? Were you afraid one of us would find the treasure as well?” Vincent asked. He didn’t glance at Henry, who continued to edge further and further left.
“In part,” Bamforth admitted. “And if you succeeded in ridding this place of ghosts, Gladfield would have had a crew here in a matter of days, renovating it for his grand scheme. I needed time to come back and retrieve the gold. Convincing everyone the place wasn’t worth the trouble seemed the safest bet. If you had just left...but you didn’t, and now I’m forced to kill you.”
The gun swung around, and Henry found himself staring into the black bore. A single snowflake clung to the cold metal. “And don’t think I haven’t noticed what you’re doing, Strauss. Hold. Still.”
Damn. “What about the others?” Henry asked hurriedly. “How did you get away from them?”
“I didn’t.” Bamforth smiled grimly. “I served them coffee.”
Oh God. “You poisoned them.” Not Jo, please, not Jo.
“Damn you,” Vincent growled. Bamforth pointed the pistol at him again.
“Don’t be dramatic. I sedated them and left them safely in the schoolroom. I’ll have plenty of time to see to them once I’m done with the two of you.” Bamforth grinned. “Miss Prandle in particular—so high and mighty. She thinks she’s above me. Maybe once I’m done with her, I’ll have a turn with the nig—”
Henry hurled himself at Bamforth with a howl of rage. His hands closed on Bamforth’s arm, yanking it back to keep the gun pointed away from Vincent. Vincent dove at Bamforth as well, and the three of them struggled, feet slipping in the skim of ice and snow on the floor. Henry clung doggedly to Bamforth’s wrist. How dare he threaten Jo, how dare—
Bamforth abruptly stopped struggling. As Henry was still tugging on his arm, it had the effect of yanking Bamforth’s wrist violently toward him. The butt of the gun impacted his forehead, and Henry’s grip loosened.
Just as Bamforth had no doubt intended. Bamforth wrenched his arm free. Vincent grunted as the man kicked him in the belly. The medium’s feet slipped, and he went to the floor, crying out. His mouth twisted into an ugly expression, Bamforth brought his gun to bear on Vincent once again.
“Die, you filthy redskin.”
Henry caught Bamforth about the waist in a flying tackle. His weight and momentum shoved Bamforth heavily back against the parapet. Bamforth’s eyes widened in alarm, arms windmilling to keep himself from going over.
Two things happened at once. Bamforth’s foot slipped on the ice, and he toppled back, his body plunging into the swirl of the blizzard with a strangled scream.
And pain exploded in Henry’s shoulder as the gun went off.
~ * ~
“Henry!” The scream ripped free of Vincent’s throat, competing with the fading roar of the gun as Henry slumped against the parapet. Blood reddened the shoulder of his coat and dripped onto the snow-covered floor.
Vincent went to his knees by Henry, barely catching him from collapsing entirely onto the icy stones. “V-Vincent?” Henry mumbled. His pupils were wide, his gaze unfocused. “It hurts.”
“I know.” Damn Bamforth. If any soul was doomed to suffer here with Reyer forever, it ought to be his.
But none of it—Reyer or the trapped souls or the coming sunset—seemed half as important as the bleeding man in his arms.
“You have to get up,” he said urgently. “We need to get you inside, where we can bind the wound.”
Henry moaned, and the sound wrung Vincent’s heart. Hoping he wasn’t causing Henry even more pain, he managed to get the other man to his feet. “That’s it,” Vincent murmured, half carrying Henry toward the stairs. “W-we’ll get you patched up in no time. You’ll be fine.”
The last light of the sun vanished, plunging them into darkness except for the lantern.
The flame instantly turned blue. At the same moment, the taste of rusty iron nails flooded Vincent’s mouth.
Reyer had come.
They’d lost. There was no time left. Nowhere to flee, and no protection from the evil coming for them.
Vincent’s foot connected with something in the rapidly accumulating snow, and he almost fell. Glancing down, he saw a half-buried pole from Henry’s phantom fence.
Not allowing himself to think, Vincent dragged Henry into the protective circle, hefting him bodily over the wires. As the air around them grew colder and colder, he let Henry slump into the snow while he scrabbled for the ends of the wires. Where were they? The battery?
A dark shape emerged from the open door of the secret passageway.
There—his shaking hands found first one wire, then the other, beneath the snow. Glowing eyes fixed on him, and corrupted ectoplasm coalesced as the ghost rushed toward them.
Vincent hooked the leads to the battery, and the fence came to life.
Reyer’s ghost recoiled. A howl of fury echoed in the rafters above them.
“It worked,” Vincent gasped through chattering teeth. “Look, Henry—your fence worked.”
Henry made no reply. He lay on his side in the gathering snow, skin chalky white and shoulder red with blood.
No. No, this couldn’t be happening. Henry would sit up at any moment and laugh, proclaim he’d known all along science would save them at the last.
But he didn’t.
Vincent dragged Henry’s limp form half into his lap. “Your fence worked,” he said again. “I’ve got you. We’re safe in here.”
Henry shivered against him, eyes fluttering open. “I’m cold,” he whispered.
Vincent swallowed, and his throat ached, from cold or fear or grief, he didn’t know. “It’s going to be all right,” he lied.
Henry licked pale lips. “Do you promise?”
How could he? Reyer prowled just outside the fence. Henry’s survival—their survival—meant getting back inside. Past the ghost and into the warmth.
But he had no way of accomplishing that.
The astringent taste of lavender joined the tang of rusty nails.
Reyer growled again, a low, animal sound. The snow swirled madly, and in its shifting curtain, Vincent just made out a woman’s form standing on the other side of the fence. “I told you to leave,” she said to him sadly.
Of course. It wasn’t just Reyer’s death anniversary, after all. It was Martha’s as well.
“I can’t defeat him alone,” she said as if hearing Vincent’s thoughts. “I’m stronger than I have been in a long time, but it isn’t enough.”
“That’s right.” Reyer’s voice was like the scrape of metal on stone, grating and ugly. “You’re mine. All mine. As is everyone in this house.”
Including Henry, unless...
Unless Martha had another source of strength to draw from, to give her enough energy to defeat her husband.
Such as the energy of a medium.
For a moment, his entire body felt numb, as if his flesh couldn’t bear even the thought. Then Henry shifted slightly in his lap, eyes squinting in confusion behind the lenses of his spectacles. “Vincent?”
“Who are you?” Lizzie had asked him the day she’d received the letter from Gladfield. But he’d been too afraid at the time to answer her.
The numbness faded. He’d failed Dunne. Failed himself.
But he’d be damned if he’d fail Henry.
Vincent gently shifted Henry off his lap. Bending down, he kissed Henry’s cold lips with all the tenderness he could muster. “Yes, Henry,” he whispered. “I promise.”
He stood up and faced the two ghosts. Even as Martha turned toward him, he ripped the amulet free from his neck. For the first time in six months, he let it fall to the floor.
“My name is Vincent Night,” he told her. “And I’m the best damned medium on the East Coast.”
Vincent stepped over the perimeter of the fence, opening his mental barriers wide. Martha rushed toward him—
And then she was him.
~ * ~
Rage and grief swirled through Vincent, but it belonged to someone else.
Wasted life. Wasted years of torment in this house, before and after death. Accusations and screams: “Whose are they? Who have you slept with, whore?”
“No one, no one! The children are yours!”
“They will be.”
Vincent’s eyes opened—or rather, Martha opened them. In her sight, Reyer was a blotch of darkness on the world, but no longer featureless as a shadow. He’d not been a handsome man in life, and death had made him into something terrible. His mouth gaped into a maw lined with rusted iron nails, and jagged spikes of metal erupted from his arms and legs. Glass and stone formed both clothing and flesh, the house around them a part of him, or he a part of it.
Hungry, glowing eyes fixed on Vincent—no, on Martha. “You think to hide inside his skin?” her husband asked, nail-teeth clattering. “But in truth, you only make it all the easier to reach you.”
Reyer lunged at them, his hands tipped with jagged glass claws, but Martha was ready. Vincent’s body was her puppet; as if from a distance, he felt her lift his left hand. Ectoplasm flowed free, leached from his body, coiling in long, sticky strands around Reyer’s arms.
The spirit let out a roar of outrage and tried to pull away. Never hesitating, Martha grasped the ghost grounder with Vincent’s right hand, bringing it up and stabbing it like a sword directly into her husband’s heart.
~ * ~
“Vincent!” Henry cried even as Vincent stepped out over the fence. But his lover was long past hearing him.
Henry hurt, his entire existence centered around the blaze of agony replacing his left shoulder. A terrible thirst gripped him, his mouth and throat parched as a desert. No strength seemed to remain in any limb, and a numb cold had set in, soaking all the way to his bones.
But Vincent was in danger—that much he understood. He forced his head up just in time to see the spirit of Martha Reyer step toward Vincent...and vanish into him.
Vincent’s body jerked like a glove with a hand thrust into it. Henry caught sight of his eyes rolled so far back in his head only the whites showed.
“No,” Henry whispered and tried to lever himself up out of the snow. But no strength remained in either arm. He collapsed against the icy stones with a whimper.
The writhing black shadow, which must have been Reyer, rushed at Vincent. For a horrible moment Henry wondered if it was possible for both spirits to possess the medium at once. Then Vincent’s hand snapped out.
Writhing tendrils of glowing ectoplasm unfurled, lashing around Reyer. Binding him in place just long enough for Vincent to scoop up the ghost grounder from where Henry had left it.
A subsonic roar rattled Henry’s teeth as Vincent, or the spirit possessing him, impaled Reyer on the copper rod. The blizzard became a hurricane, wind blasting the snow into icy slivers, scouring flesh and stone alike. Henry fought the urge to curl up on himself, to hoard what little heat he had left in his body.
The ghost grounder seemed to be working, the black mass growing less and less substantial. A shimmering haze sprang up around Vincent. “No,” the medium said, not in his voice, but a woman’s. “This ends now!”
Her ectoplasmic coils appeared to grow weaker. Was the copper rod draining Martha as well? Not as rapidly, perhaps, if she had Vincent’s energy to draw from, but fast enough. If she couldn’t hold Reyer, if he escaped again, they would have lost their final chance to stop him.
Henry had to do something. Even his brain felt numb, but he fought against his sluggish thoughts. There had to be some weapon, some tactic. Blinking rapidly, he willed his eyes to focus.
The bag of salt still sat beside the uncovered battery.
Forcing himself to move, even though the pain made him dizzy, Henry fumbled at the wires connecting the battery to the fence. They came loose easily.
The field was down. Nothing now stood between Reyer and the batteries.
Reyer seemed to sense the change. Spotting the same energy source he’d used so easily before, the dark mass tore free of the last coils of ectoplasm and rushed eagerly toward the battery.
Henry used the last of his strength to fling the entire bag of salt onto the ghost.
Reyer’s misty form shredded into a dozen strands. Vincent and Martha pounced from behind, taking advantage of the injury the salt had dealt. Ectoplasmic coils caught hold of Reyer’s form just as it began to coalesce.
And jerked it back. Into Vincent.
Vincent’s body arched, going up on his toes, back curving like a contortionist. There came a flash of light that Henry sensed more than saw with his physical eyes.
Vincent collapsed to the floor and lay there unmoving.
“Vincent?” Henry whispered.
No response. No movement.
It took most of Henry’s remaining strength to drag himself to Vincent’s side. “Vincent?” he asked, his voice cracking. It couldn’t end like this, could it? Dying here together atop the tower?
He touched his fingers to Vincent’s cheek, but his own skin was so numb from the cold he couldn’t tell whether or not Vincent was warm. “Please don’t. Don’t leave me here. Not when I’ve just found you.”
Vincent’s eyelids fluttered.
Henry gasped, hardly daring to believe his senses. Vincent blinked again and turned his head with a moan. For a moment, his black eyes didn’t seem to register Henry at all. Then they widened.
“Henry!” Vincent sat up—or tried to. Bracing himself on one elbow, he winced. “I’m a bit on the weak side. Just give me a moment. Are you all right?”
Henry laughed even though it wasn’t funny. “Do you mean other than having a hole through my shoulder and being scared to death for you?”
“We have to get you inside immediately.” This time, Vincent managed to get to his feet. “Here. Let me help you.”
Vincent more carried him than anything else, but somehow, they made it to the stairwell. “Is Reyer gone?” Henry asked to distract himself from the pain in his shoulder. “Truly gone?”
“Yes. Martha weakened him enough to drag him into the otherworld with her. Without a summoning from this side, he’s gone for good.” Vincent pressed a kiss to the side of Henry’s face, his lips hot against Henry’s chilled skin. “The spirits he kept trapped here will be able to move on as well. Thanks to you. If you hadn’t thought to use the salt, I don’t think we could have defeated him.”
Despite everything, a certain warmth fought its way through the haze of exhaustion and pain. “I’m just glad it worked,” Henry said, leaning his head against the solidity of Vincent’s shoulder. “Now let’s get down the stairs before I pass out.”