A Knight in Shining Armor: Chapter 14


Nicholas’s head came up. Arabella’s arms were about his neck, her abundant breasts pressed against his bare chest. They were in a private glade where he and a past Arabella had spent an energetic afternoon. But today Nicholas had little interest in the woman. She had told him she wanted to discuss what she’d found out about his ancestor. She’d said she had new information, facts that had never been published before.

Her words were a lure to him, and to find out what she knew, he’d pay any price, so he’d followed her to the secluded spot.

Arabella pulled Nicholas’s head back down.

“Do you hear it?” Nicholas asked.

“There’s nothing, darling,” Arabella whispered. “I hear only you.”

Nicholas pulled away from her. “I must go.”

Seeing anger flood her haughty face, Nicholas knew he did not want to enrage her. “Someone comes,” he said, “and you are too lovely to share with the prying eyes of anyone. I would keep your beauties to myself.”

This seemed to mollify her enough that she began fastening her clothes. “I’ve never met a man who was more of a gentleman than you. Tonight then?”

“Tonight,” he said, then left her.

For the most part the hunters had driven Land Rovers, but there were a half dozen horses tied near the cars. Nicholas took the best one, rode it back to the house, then mounted the stairs two at a time. He flung open the door to his bedroom.

Dougless wasn’t surprised, really, when Nicholas appeared in the doorway.

For a moment, he stood there staring at her. Her face and her body showed her wanting of him. It was the most difficult thing Nicholas had ever done, but he looked away. He could not, would not, touch her. If he did . . . If he did, he was not sure he would want to return to his own time.

“What do you want of me?” he asked harshly.

“I want you?” she asked, angry. She’d seen the way he’d turned away from her. “It looks as though someone else wanted you, not me.”

Nicholas looked up at the mirror in the wardrobe door and saw that his shirt was buttoned wrong. “The guns are good,” he said, refastening his shirt. “With those we could beat the Spanish.”

“England beats everyone and without modern guns. Next thing, you’ll be telling me you want bombs to take back with you. Did the guns unbutton your shirt?”

He looked at her in the mirror. “Your jealousy brightens your eyes.”

Dougless’s anger dissolved. “Cad!” she said. “Did it ever occur to you that you’re making a fool of yourself a second time around? History has loved the story of you and Arabella, and now here you are doing it again.”

“She knows what I do not.”

“I’ll bet she does,” Dougless muttered. “Probably more experienced.”

Nicholas chucked her under the chin. “I doubt so. Is that food I smell? I am hungry.”

Dougless smiled. “I promised you an American lunch. Come on, let’s go see Mrs. Anderson.”

They walked arm in arm to the kitchen. The hunters had taken lunch with them in baskets, so the kitchen was not being used now except for a pudding steaming on the back burner of the Aga.

After getting Mrs. Anderson’s permission, Dougless set to work, putting potatoes and eggs on to boil, then starting on the cake, but she decided on chewy, pecan-filled brownies instead. Nicholas sat at the big table and experimented with plastic wrap and aluminum foil and opened and closed plastic containers until Dougless said the “whooshing” sound was driving her crazy, so she gave him eggs and potatoes to peel. He wouldn’t chop onions, though.

“Did you help Lettice cook?” she asked, trying to sound innocent.

Nicholas’s laugh was the only answer he would give.

When the food was ready, Dougless cleaned the kitchen—Nicholas refused to help—and packed everything in a big basket along with a thermos of lemonade. Nicholas carried it for her out to a little walled garden, where they sat under elm trees and ate.

She told him about reading the diary that morning, and as he ate his fifth piece of chicken, she asked him about his wife. “You never mention her. You talk about your mother and your brother who died. You’ve even mentioned your favorite horse, but you never say anything about your wife.”

“You would have me tell of her?” he said in a tone that was almost warning.

“Is she as beautiful as Arabella?”

Nicholas thought of Lettice. She seemed farther away than a mere four hundred years. Arabella was stupid—a man could never have a moment’s conversation with her—but she had passion. Lettice had no passion, but she had brains—brains enough to always determine what was best for her. “No, she is not like Arabella.”

“Is she like me?” Dougless asked.

Nicholas looked at her and thought of Lettice cooking a meal. “She is not like you. What is this?”

“Sliced tomatoes,” she said absently, then started to ask Nicholas more questions, but he interrupted her.

“The man who abandoned you, you said you loved him. Why?” he asked.

Dougless immediately felt defensive and started to say that Robert was great husband material, but before she spoke, her shoulders slumped. “Ego,” she said. “My own overblown sense of how powerful I was. Robert told me no one had ever loved him very much. He said his mother was cold to him and his wife had been frigid. I don’t know why I thought this, but I truly believed that I could give him all the love he’d ever need. So I tried. I gave to him and gave to him, and when that wasn’t enough, I gave some more. I honestly tried to do everything he wanted me to do, but . . .”

Halting, she looked up at the sky for a moment. “I guess I thought that someday he’d be like those men in the movies, and turn to me and say, ‘You’re the best woman in the world. You give me all that I ask for.’ But he didn’t. Robert kept saying, ‘You never give me anything.’ So, dumb me, I’d try even harder to give him more. But . . .”

“Yes?” Nicholas asked softly.

Dougless tried to smile. “But in the end, he gave his daughter a diamond bracelet and me half of the bills.”

She looked away from him, but then she saw he was holding out a ring to her. He’d stopped wearing his big rings when he astutely saw that no other men wore such rings. This ring had an emerald the size of a beach pebble.

“What is this for?”

“Had I access to what is mine, I would shower you with jewels.”

She smiled at him. “You’ve already given me the pin.” She held her hand to her heart. She wore the pin inside her bra, afraid to wear it outside because its age and uniqueness might cause questions. “You’ve given me too much already. You’ve bought me clothes, you’ve . . . You’ve been kind to me.” She smiled. “Nicholas, the time since I met you has been the happiest of my life. I hope you never go back.”

She clamped her hand over her mouth. “I didn’t mean that. Of course you need to go back. You need to go back to your beautiful wife. You need to . . . need to make some heirs to inherit those wonderful estates you’ll not have to forfeit to the queen. But, did you realize that if Dr. Nolman tells us who betrayed you, you might return at that moment? Immediately. Lee says the name and you disappear. Pouf! Gone, just like that.”

Nicholas, who had been rummaging in the basket, stopped. “I will know tomorrow. Whether he wishes to tell me or no, on the morrow I will find out.”

“Tomorrow,” Dougless said, and looked at him as though trying to memorize his features. She looked down at his body, at the shirt stretched across his wide shoulders, at his flat belly and his muscular legs. Fine legs, he’d said, and she remembered him wrapped in a towel.

“Nicholas,” she whispered, leaning toward him.

“What is this?” he asked sharply, holding up a big square of chocolate between their faces.

“A brownie,” she said, feeling like a fool. Who was she kidding? He’d kissed her a few times, but only when she’d thrown herself at him. Yet he’d returned from a morning with Arabella with his shirt misbuttoned. “Food,” she muttered. She seemed able to please him only with food and plastic wrap. She so much wanted to touch him that her fingertips ached, but he seemed to have no such feeling toward her.

“I guess we better go,” she said flatly. “Arabella will be back soon and she’ll want you.” She started to get up, but Nicholas caught her arm.

“I would rather an hour with you than a life with Arabella.”

Swallowing, Dougless didn’t dare look at him, but she sat back down. Was he telling the truth or just trying to make her feel better?

“Sing me a song while I eat these,” he said.

“I can’t sing and I don’t know any songs. How about a story?”

“Mmm,” was all he said, his mouth full of chocolate.

Dougless realized how many stories were new to him, stories that were part of her culture but he knew nothing of. She told him of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

“I have a cousin like that,” he said. He finished off the plate of brownies, then, to her surprise, turned and put his head on her lap.

“You’re going to get fat if you keep eating like you do.”

“You think me fat?” he asked, looking up at her in a way that made Dougless’s heart beat faster. He seemed to know exactly what he did to her and laughed at her for it, but he remained unaffected by her. Only when she was near another man did he show any interest in her.

“Close your eyes and behave,” she said, then stroked his hair, that thick soft, curling mass, while she told him story after story, until he fell asleep.

It was nearly sundown when he opened his eyes again. Lying still, he looked up at her for a long while. “We must go.”

“Yes,” she said softly. “Tonight I will try to find out from Lee who betrayed you.”

He moved so that he was kneeling before her, and he put one hand on her cheek. Dougless held her breath, as she thought he was going to kiss her again. “When I return to my time,” he said, “I will think of you.”

“And I, you,” she said, putting her hand on his.

Moving away, he picked up the emerald ring from where it was sitting on the basket lid and put it in her hand, then closed her fingers over the ring.

“Nicholas, I can’t take this. You’ve given me so much already.”

When his eyes locked with hers, there was a faraway sadness in them. “I would give more than this to . . .”

“To . . .” she encouraged.

“To take you back with me.”

Dougless drew her breath in sharply.

Nicholas cursed himself. He should not have said that. He should not make her hope. He did not want to hurt her, but the thought of leaving her behind was becoming an almost unbearable pain. Soon he would find out what he needed to know; then he knew he’d go back. One night more, he thought. At the most he’d have one more night with her.

Perhaps tonight he’d take her to his bed. Their last night spent in love and ecstasy.

No! he told himself, looking into her eyes, falling into them. He could not do that to her. He could not leave her behind weeping harder than when he’d first seen her. Hell, he thought, he could not do it to himself. To go back to his cold wife, to the emptiness of women like Arabella. No, it was better to leave her untouched.

“Aye,” he said, grinning, “to cook for me.”

“Cook?” Dougless asked stupidly. “You want me to cook for you? Why you overbearing, insufferable, vain—”

“Pillicock?” he asked.

“That sounds perfect. You pillicock! If you think I’m going back to a time of no running water, no doctors, where the dentists yank out your teeth and break your jaw doing it, just to cook for you, then—”

He leaned forward, nuzzled his face under her hair, then licked her earlobe. “I will let you visit my bed.”

Pushing him away, Dougless started to describe his vanity, but, abruptly, her expression changed. She could give it out too. “Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll go back with you and cook for you, and Sunday afternoons we’ll stay in bed together. Or on the tables. Whichever.”

Nicholas rocked back on his heels, and his face seemed to drain of color. He began tossing scraps into the basket. It horrified him to think of her in his age. If she were his lover, Lettice would chop her into little pieces.

“Nicholas,” Dougless said, “I was just teasing.” He didn’t look at her. “Here, I’ll take the ring if it will make you happy.”

He stopped shoving things into the basket and looked at her. “You do not know what you say. Do not wish for what should not be. When last I was home, I was to face the blade. If I went back, and you came with me, you would be alone. My age is not like yours. Lone women do not fare well. If I were not there to fend for you, you—”

She put her hand on his arm. “I was only teasing. I won’t go back. I have no secrets to find out. You came here to find out something, remember?”

“You are right,” he said, then lifted her hand and kissed it. He stood, and Dougless could see he planned to leave the basket where it was. He’d probably cleaned up only because he was upset. But what in the world had upset him? she wondered.

She carried the basket back to the house, following behind him, neither of them speaking.

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