A Knight in Shining Armor: Chapter 15


When they got back to the house, Nicholas barely nodded to her as he went through the kitchen and up to his room. Dougless, more puzzled than anything else, went to her room. On her bed was a large box, bearing the name of an express company. Dougless tore into it, throwing tape and paper everywhere.

Inside were two of her mother’s beautiful designer gowns.

“Thank you, thank you, Elizabeth,” she breathed, holding a gown up to her body. Maybe tonight Nicholas would notice someone besides the stately Arabella, she thought, smiling broadly.

When Dougless walked into the sitting room where the Harewood family was serving cocktails, she knew the two and a half hours she’d taken to dress had been worth it. Lee paused with his drink halfway to his mouth, and Lady Arabella, for once, looked away from Nicholas. Lord Harewood even stopped talking about guns and dogs and his roses. But Nicholas, Dougless thought, ah . . . his reaction made all the effort worthwhile. When he first saw her, his eyes lit up, then they grew hot as he stepped toward her. But he halted before he reached her and stood there scowling at her.

Her mother’s white dress was one piece of clingy fabric that had one long sleeve, but left her other shoulder and arm bare. It was covered with tiny beads, and when she moved, they showed off every curve she had. She had fastened Gloria’s diamond bracelet about her bare left wrist.

“Good evening,” she said.

“Wow,” Lee said, looking her up and down. “Wow.”

Dougless smiled at him rather regally. “Is that a drink? Could you possibly get me a gin and tonic?”

Lee went off as obediently as a schoolboy.

It was amazing what clothes could do for a woman, Dougless thought. Last night she’d wanted to cower under the table in Arabella’s presence, but tonight Arabella’s red, low cut gown looked cheap and tasteless.

“What do you do?” Nicholas asked, hovering over her.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said, blinking innocently up at him.

“You are exposed.” He sounded shocked.

“A lot less than your Arabella is,” she snapped, then smiled. “Do you like this dress? I had my sister ship it to me.”

Nicholas’s back was straighter than usual. “Do you mean to see that physician after supper?”

“Of course,” she said sweetly. “Remember that you told me you wanted me to find out what he knew.”

“Nicholas,” Arabella called. “Dinner.”

“You must not wear that gown.”

“I’ll wear anything I please, and you better go. Arabella is rattling your table legs.”

“You—”

“Here you are,” Lee said, handing Dougless a drink. “Good evening, your lordship.”

Dinner was a wonderful experience for Dougless. Nicholas couldn’t keep his eyes off her—much to the lovely Lady Arabella’s fury. Lee hovered over her so closely that at one point his coat sleeve dangled in Dougless’s soup bowl.

After dinner they went to the drawing room, and, like a scene out of a Jane Austen novel, Nicholas played the piano and sang. He had a rich, deep voice that she loved. He invited Dougless to sing with him, but she knew she had no voice. But she had to sit on a hard little chair and watch jealously as Arabella and Nicholas sang a duet, their heads together, their voices entwined.

At ten o’clock, Dougless excused herself and went to her room. She had no desire to spend the evening with Lee alone in his room. The secret of who betrayed Nicholas would have to wait another day.

But at midnight, Dougless knew she wasn’t going to be able to sleep. She kept seeing Nicholas singing with Arabella, kept remembering the way he’d returned from the fields with his shirt misbuttoned. She got out of bed, put on her robe, fluffed up her hair, and made her way through the big house to Nicholas’s room. There was no light from under his door, but there was light and the sound of glasses clinking and Arabella’s seductive laugh coming from under her door.

Dougless didn’t think about what she was doing. She gave a brisk single knock and at the same time, she put her hand on the doorknob, turned it, and walked into Arabella’s bedroom. “Hi. I was wondering if I could borrow a pin. I seem to have broken a strap. A very important strap, if you know what I mean.”

Nicholas was stretched out on Arabella’s bed, his shirt open and hanging out of his trousers. Arabella was wearing a filmy black peignoir that didn’t cover much of her skin, and what little fabric there was, was transparent.

“You . . . you . . .” Arabella sputtered.

“Oh hello, my lord. Did I interrupt something?”

Nicholas was looking at her with great amusement.

“Look at this,” Dougless said, “a Bang and Olufsen TV. I’ve never seen one before. I hope you don’t mind, but I really wanted to see the late news. Ah, here’s the remote control.” She sat on the edge of the bed, turned on the big color TV, then began flipping channels. Behind her she felt Nicholas sit up.

“A movie,” he whispered.

“Naw, just TV.” She handed him the remote control. “See, here’s the on and off. This is volume, and these are channels. Look at that! It’s an old movie about Queen Elizabeth.” She flipped off the TV, put the remote control on the bedside table near Nicholas, yawned, then stood up. “I just remembered that I do have some pins after all. Thanks, though, Lady Arabella. Hope I didn’t disturb you too much.”

Dougless had to run to the door because Arabella was coming after her, her hands made into claws. Dougless barely made it out the door before it slammed on her heels. Standing outside, she listened to what went on inside the room. After a moment she heard the unmistakable sounds of a TV western; then Arabella screeched, “Turn that off!” But the next sound was Bette Davis’s voice in her role as Queen Elizabeth the First. Clever man, Dougless thought, smiling; he had found the channel. Still smiling, Dougless went back to her room, and this time, she had no trouble going to sleep.

In the morning, Lee met her for breakfast. “I thought you were going to come by my room last night,” he said. “I was going to read the letters to you.”

“Planning to tell me who betrayed Nicholas Stafford?”

“Mmm,” was all Lee would say; so after breakfast Dougless followed him up the stairs. If he told her the name, would Nicholas immediately return to the sixteenth century?

But she saw right away that getting Lee to tell her anything was going to be a problem.

“I was trying to remember. Wasn’t your father on the board of directors at Yale? Maybe he’d be interested in reading my findings.”

“I’d sure be glad to tell him about them. I’d especially like to tell him who betrayed Lord Nicholas,” she said.

Lee stepped very close to her. “I’d tell you if perhaps you made a little call.”

“My father’s staying in the wilds of Maine right now and can’t be reached.”

“Oh,” he said, turning away. “I guess I can’t tell you then.”

“You little extortionist,” Dougless seethed before she thought. “You’re playing with a career, but the name of this traitor means a man’s life!”

He turned to her with a look of astonishment. “How can some sixteenth-century papers mean someone’s life?”

There was no way she could explain to him. “I’ll talk to my father. In fact, I’ll write him a letter today. I’ll even let you see the letter, and I’ll make sure that he gets it the minute he returns home.”

Lee looked at her, frowning. “Why do you want this name so much? There’s something fishy about all this. Who is Lord Stafford anyway? You two don’t act much like secretary and boss. You act more like—”

It was at that moment that the door flew open and Nicholas entered the dining room. He was wearing his Elizabethan clothes, his legs showing all their muscularity in the tight hose, his silver and gold armor flashing in the sunlight. He held his sword straight out and pointed it at Lee’s throat.

“Just what is this?” Lee demanded. He pushed the sword away, then gasped when the sharp blade cut the side of his hand.

Nicholas advanced on him, the tip of the lethal weapon at Lee’s throat.

“Dougless, go get some help,” Lee said, backing up. “He’s gone mad.”

When Lee was pinned against the wall, Nicholas spoke. “Who betrayed me to the queen?”

“Betrayed you? You’re crazy. Dougless, get some help before this lunatic does something we’ll both regret.”

“Say his name,” Nicholas said, pushing the sword tip deeper into Lee’s throat.

“All right,” Lee said, exasperated. “It was a man named—”

“Wait!” Dougless cried as she looked at Nicholas. “If he tells, you might go. Oh, Nicholas, I might never see you again.”

Still holding the sword at Lee’s throat, Nicholas held his arm out to Dougless, and she ran to him, her mouth to his before their bodies touched. She kissed him with all the longing, all the pent-up desire she felt. Her hands clutched his hair, pulling his head down as she kissed him. For all that Dougless thought he didn’t desire her, the passion she felt coming from Nicholas made her feet come off the floor as he lifted her with one arm.

He broke away first. “Go,” he ordered her.

Tears were blurring Dougless’s eyes, but she could swear there were tears forming in Nicholas’s eyes too.

“Go,” he said again. “Stand away from me.”

Obediently, too limp to disobey, Dougless walked a few feet away, then stood in silence looking at him. Never to see him again, she thought. Never to hold him, never to hear him laugh, never—

“The name!” Nicholas demanded, his eyes never leaving Dougless’s. When he left this world, he wanted his last sight to be of her.

Lee was bewildered by all that was going on. “The man was named—”

Everything happened at once. Dougless, unable to bear the thought of Nicholas’s leaving, made a flying leap at him. If he was going, she was going too.

“Robert Sydney,” Lee said as Nicholas and Dougless went sprawling on the floor at his feet. He looked down at them. “Both of you are crazy,” he said, then stepped over them as he left the room.

Dougless kept her head buried against the silver-coated steel of Nicholas’s armor, her eyes tightly shut.

When Nicholas recovered himself, he looked down at her, amused. “We have arrived,” he said.

“Where? Are there cars outside or donkey carts?”

Chuckling, he lifted her face in his hands. “We remain in your time. I said you were to stand to one side.”

“Well, I . . . ah, I . . .” She rolled off him to sit up. “I just thought it might be a wonderful experience to see Elizabethan England firsthand. I could write a book, and you know, answer all the questions that people really want to know, like was Elizabeth bald or not? How did you men really treat the women? What did—”

Nicholas sat up and kissed her mouth most sweetly. “You cannot return with me.” He put his hand to his back. “You are hard on my armor. There are scratches from when you last struck me down.”

“You were about to step in front of a bus.”

Standing, he held out his hands to lift her, but when Dougless stood up, she wouldn’t release his hands. “You’re still here.” She breathed at last. “You know the traitor’s name and yet you’re still here. Robert Sydney. Sydney? But wasn’t it Arabella Sydney that you . . . That you and she . . .”

Nicholas put his arm about her shoulders and walked to the window. “He was Arabella’s husband,” he said softly. “But it is not easy to believe he would lie to the queen about me. I always thought of him as a good man.”

“Damn you and that table!” Dougless said fiercely. “If you hadn’t been so . . . so overzealous and had Arabella on the table, her husband might not have hated you. And what about your wife? She must have been pretty upset too.”

“I was unmarried on that occasion when I took Arabella.”

“On that occasion,” Dougless muttered. “Maybe Sydney got mad for all the other times too.” She turned to look at him. “If I went back with you, maybe I could keep you out of trouble.”

He pushed her head down on his armored chest. “You cannot return with me.”

“Maybe you won’t return. Maybe you’re going to stay here forever.”

“We must go to Ashburton, where my tomb lies. Now that I know what I came to find, I needs must go there and pray.”

She wanted to say more, wanted to say something that would make him give up the idea of returning, but she knew there were no words that could change his mind. His family, his name, and his honor were very important to him. “We’ll leave today,” Dougless said softly. “I can’t see that you need to see any more of Arabella.”

“Have you no more calculators or televisions to distract me?” he asked, smiling.

“I was saving the stereo for tonight.”

He turned her around to face him, his hands on her shoulders. “I will pray alone,” he said. “If I return, I go alone. You understand me?”

She nodded. Borrowed time, she thought. We are now on borrowed time.


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