A Knight in Shining Armor: Chapter 10

The long black car made its way south through the beautiful English countryside. In the backseat Nicholas looked across at Dougless. She was sitting stiffly upright. Her lovely, thick auburn hair was pulled tightly back to the nape of her neck and put in what she told him was called a bun. Since this morning she had not smiled or laughed or made any comment except, “Yes, sir,” or “No, sir.”

“Dougless,” he said. “I—”

She cut him off. “I believe, Lord Stafford, we have already discussed this. I am Miss Montgomery—not Mistress Montgomery—your secretary, no more, no less. If you will remember that, sir, it will prevent people from thinking that I am more to you than I am.”

Turning away, he sighed. He could think of nothing to say to her, and actually, he knew this attitude was the better way, but already, he missed her.

Moments later his attention was caught by the tower of Thornwyck Castle, and he found his heart beginning to beat a little faster. He had designed this place. He had taken what he knew and loved of every house he’d ever seen, improved on every idea, and created this beautiful house. It had taken four years to cut the stone and to ship the marble from Italy. Among his many ideas, in the inner courtyard he had built towers with curved glass in them.

Thornwyck Castle had been only half finished when he was arrested, but the half that was completed had been as beautiful as any building in the land.

Nicholas frowned as the driver turned into the drive. Now, his house looked so old. Just a month ago he had been here, and then it had been new and perfect. Now the chimney pots were crumbling, there were broken places along the roof, and some of his windows had been bricked in.

“It’s beautiful,” Dougless whispered, then straightened, “sir.”

“It is crumbling,” Nicholas said in anger. “And were the western towers never completed? I drew the plans. Did no one see them?”

When the car stopped, Nicholas got out and looked around. To his mind, it was a sad place, the unfinished half in ruins, the other half looking hundreds of years old—which it was, he thought with dismay.

When he turned back, Dougless had already entered the hotel lobby, two boys behind her carrying their luggage. “Lord Stafford will want early tea at eight A.M.,” she was telling the desk clerk. “And he takes luncheon promptly at noon, but I must be given a menu beforehand.” She turned to him. “Would you like to sign the register, my lord, or should I?”

Nicholas gave her a quelling look, warning her with his eyes to stop her pompous behavior. He’d seen enough of the modern world to know that she was acting strangely. But Dougless turned away, acting as though she hadn’t seen his look. Nicholas quickly signed the guest book in an unreadable scrawl; then the clerk led them to their suite.

The room was beautiful, with dark rose-colored wallpaper and a four-poster bed hung with rose and yellow chintz. A little couch in yellow and pale green sat at the foot of the bed on a rose-colored carpet. Through an arched-top doorway was a small sitting room decorated in shades of rose and pale green.

“I will need a cot put in here,” Dougless said, indicating the sitting room.

“A cot?” the clerk asked.

“Of course. For me to sleep on. You did not think that I would sleep in his lordship’s chamber, did you?”

Nicholas rolled his eyes. Even in his own time this behavior would be strange.

“Yes, miss,” the clerk said. “I will have a cot sent up.” He left them alone.

“Dougless,” Nicholas began.

“Miss Montgomery,” she said in a cold voice.

“Miss Montgomery,” he said just as coolly, “see that my capcases are sent up. I plan to look at my house.”

“Shall I accompany you?”

“Nay, I want no hellkite with me,” he said angrily, then left the room.

Dougless saw that the suitcases were brought up, then asked the clerk where the local library was. Feeling very efficient, she set off through the little village, notebook and pens in hand, but as she neared the library, her steps slowed.

Don’t think about your life, she told herself. Being dropped by one man and immediately finding another one—a good one—was all a dream, an impossible, unreachable dream. Cold, she thought, I have to remain cold. Think of Antarctica. Siberia. Do your job and remain cool to him. He belongs to another woman and to another time.

It was easy finding what the librarian called the “Stafford Collection.” “Many of the visitors to our village ask after the Staffords, especially the guests staying at Thornwyck Castle,” the librarian said.

“I’m especially interested in the last earl, Nicholas Stafford.”

“Oh, yes, poor man, condemned to be beheaded, then dying before the execution. It’s believed he was poisoned.”

“Poisoned by whom?” Dougless asked eagerly as she followed the woman into the stacks.

“By the person who accused him of treason, of course,” she said, looking at Dougless as though she didn’t understand even simple things. “It’s believed that Lord Nicholas built Thornwyck Castle. A local historian says that he believes Lord Nicholas may have even designed it, but no one can prove it. No one has found drawings with his name on them. Well, here we are, all the books on this shelf have something in them about the Staffords.”

After the librarian left, Dougless took out each book, searched the index for any mention of Nicholas or his mother, and began reading.

One of the first things she did was look for the name Nicholas had given her of the man he said had had a grudge against him. It was the name he had been writing to his mother when he’d heard Dougless crying. “Land disputes,” Nicholas had said, by way of explaining the grudge. But after only ten minutes of searching, Dougless had found the man’s name. He had died six months before Nicholas had been arrested, so he couldn’t have been the one who told the queen Nicholas was raising an army.

What little she could find on Nicholas was told in a derogatory way.

His older brother, Christopher, had been made earl when he was twenty-two, and the books raved about how Christopher had taken the failing Stafford fortunes and rebuilt them. Nicholas, only a year younger, was portrayed as frivolous, spending vast amounts on horses and women. He had been the earl for only four years before he was tried for treason.

“He hasn’t changed,” Dougless said aloud, opening another book. This one was even more unflattering. It told at length the story of Lady Arabella and the table. It seems that two servants were in the room when Nicholas and Arabella entered, and they ducked into a closet when they heard the lord and lady. Later the servants told everyone what they’d seen, and a clerk by the name of John Wilfred had put the whole story down in his diary—a diary that had survived until the present.

The third book was more serious. It told of Christopher’s great accomplishments, then added that his wastrel of a younger brother had squandered everything on a foolhardy attempt to put Mary Queen of Scots on Elizabeth’s throne.

Dougless slammed the book shut and looked at her watch. It was time for tea. She left the library and made her way to a pretty little tea shop. After she had been served tea and a plate of scones, she began reading her notes.

“I have sought you most earnestly.”

She looked up to see Nicholas standing over her. “Should I rise until you are seated, my lord?”

“No, Miss Montgomery, a mere kiss of my toes will be sufficient.”

Dougless almost smiled, but she didn’t. He got himself a tray of tea, but Dougless had to pay for it, as he still carried no money.

“What is it you read?”

Coolly, she told him what she had found out, sparing him no details of what history had recorded about him. Except for a slight flush around his collar, he didn’t seem to react.

“There is no mention in your history books that I was chamberlain to my brother?”

“None. It says you bought horses and fooled around with women.” And she’d thought she could love such a man! But then, it seemed that a lot of women had thought so.

Nicholas ate a scone and drank his tea. “When I return, I will change your history books.”

“You can’t change history. History is fact; it’s already made. And you certainly can’t change what the history books say. They’re already printed.”

He didn’t answer her. “What did your book say of my family after my death?”

“I didn’t look that far. I only read about your brother and you.”

He gave her a cool look. “You read only of the bad about me?”

“That’s all there was.”

“What of my design of Thornwyck? When the queen saw my plan, she hailed it as a monument of greatness.”

“There is no record that you designed it. The librarian said some people believed you did, but there was no proof.”

Nicholas put down his half-eaten scone. “Come,” he said angrily. “I will show you what I did. I will show you the great work I left behind me.”

As he strode out of the tea room, the unfinished scone was testimony to how upset he was. He walked ahead of her with long, angry strides, and Dougless had difficulty keeping up with him as they went back to the hotel.

To Dougless the hotel was beautiful, but to Nicholas it was mostly ruins. To the left of the entrance were what she’d assumed were stone fences, but he showed her that they were walls to what would have been nearly half of the house. Now there was grass underfoot and vines growing down the walls. He told her of the beauty of these rooms if they had been built as he designed them: paneling, stained glass, carved marble fireplaces. He pointed high on one wall to a stone face, worn by rain and time. “My brother,” he said. “I had the likeness carved of him.”

As they walked down long avenues of roofless rooms and Nicholas talked, Dougless began to see what he had planned. She could almost hear the lutes in the music room.

“And now it is this,” he said at last. “A place for cows and goats and . . . yeomen.”

“And their daughters,” Dougless said, including herself in his derogatory description.

Turning, he looked at her with cool contempt. “You believe what these fools have written about me,” he said. “You believe my life was naught but horses and women.”

“I didn’t say that, the books did, my lord,” she answered him in the same tone.

“On the morrow we will begin to find what the books do not say.”


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