A Knight in Shining Armor: Chapter 16


Dougless sat on the twin bed in the bed-and-breakfast and looked across at Nicholas in the other bed. The early morning light made his face above the light cover dim and indistinct, but it was enough for her to see him. They’d known the name of the traitor for three days now, and every minute of those three days Dougless was sure he was going to disappear. Every morning he went to the church and spent two hours on his knees praying before his tomb. He spent another two hours in the afternoon praying.

And each time he went inside the church, Dougless stayed outside and held her breath. She was sure that each time he stepped inside it would be the last time she ever saw him again. At ten A.M. and four P.M. she would tiptoe into the church, and when she saw that he was still there, sharp tears of relief and joy came to her eyes. She would run to him, and her heart went out to him when she saw the sweat on his face and body. He prayed so hard each day that afterward he was limp with exhaustion. Dougless would help him stand, as his knees would be painful and stiff from two hours of kneeling on the cold stone floor. The vicar, feeling pity for Nicholas, had put out a cushion for him, but Nicholas refused to use it, saying he needed the pain of his body to make him remember what must be done.

Dougless didn’t ask why he needed a reminder of his duty because she didn’t want to jinx the growing seed of hope that she was beginning to cherish. Every day when she went to him in the church and she saw that he was still with her, there seemed to be a light in his eyes. Maybe he wouldn’t return, Dougless was beginning to think. She knew she, too, should pray for his return. She knew that honor and a family name and the future of many people were more important than her selfish wants, but every time she saw him still kneeling in the church, sunlight on his big body, she whispered, “Thank You, God.”

Three days, she thought, three heavenly days. When Nicholas wasn’t in church, they spent every moment together. She rented bicycles, then had a hilarious time teaching him to ride. Whenever Nicholas fell, he pulled her with him, so that they went tumbling together across the sweet English grasses. Across sweet English grasses filled with cow manure.

Laughing at how awful they smelled, they ran back to the B and B to shower and shampoo. Dougless had rented a VCR machine and a tape, so they spent the rest of the afternoon in their room watching a movie.

As Nicholas was insatiable for knowledge, they purchased a lending card from the little local library and went through hundreds of books. Nicholas wanted to see everything that had happened since 1564, and he wanted to hear every piece of music. He wanted to smell, taste, touch everything.

“Were I to remain here,” he said one afternoon, “I would make houses.”

It took Dougless a moment to realize that he meant he would like to design them. The beauty of Thornwyck Castle showed he had talent. Before she could stop herself, a flood of words came from her mouth. “You could go to architecture school. You’d have to learn a lot about modern building materials, but I could help you. I could teach you how to read modern print better and my uncle J.T. could get you a passport. He’s the king of Lanconia, so we’d just say you’re a Lanconian; that way, I could take you back to the U.S. My father could help you get into a school to study architecture, and in the summer we could go to my hometown of Warbrooke on the coast of Maine—it’s beautiful there—and we could go sailing and—”

He turned away. “I must return.”

Yes, return, she thought. To go back to his wife, the woman he loved so much. How could Dougless care so much for him and he feel nothing for her? The other men in her life had wanted something from her. Robert had wanted her submission; do it my way or don’t do it, was his philosophy. A couple of men had dated her because of her family’s money. A couple of men had wanted her because she was so gullible, so easy to fool. But Nicholas was different. He wasn’t trying to take anything from her.

There were times when Dougless looked at him and such lust filled her that she wanted to leap on him in the library, or in the pub, or on the street. She kept having fantasies about tearing his clothes off and ravishing him.

But every time she got too close, he stepped away. It seemed that he was interested in tasting, smelling, touching everything in the world except her.

She tried to interest him. Heavens! but she tried. She paid—on her credit card—two hundred pounds for a red silk peignoir set that was guaranteed to drive a man wild. When she came out of the bathroom wearing it, Nicholas had barely glanced at her. She’d bought a tiny bottle of perfume called Tigress that set her back seventy-five pounds; then she’d leaned over Nicholas so that her shirt fell away from her breasts and asked if he liked the smell. He’d barely mumbled a reply.

She put her jeans in scalding hot water in the bathtub to shrink them, and when they were dry, they were so tight she had to put a big safety pin on the zipper and lie on the floor to pull it up. She wore them with a thin silk blouse and no bra. Nicholas didn’t look.

She would have thought he was gay if he hadn’t looked at every other female who passed them.

Dougless bought black hose, black high heels, and a teeny, tiny black skirt and wore it with the red silk blouse. She felt ridiculous riding a bicycle wearing high heels, but she did it anyway. She rode in front of Nicholas for four miles, but he never once looked. Two cars ran into ditches looking at her, but Nicholas paid no attention whatever.

The videotape she rented was Body Heat.

By the fourth day she was desperate, and with their landlady’s help, she devised an elaborate scheme to get Nicholas in bed with her. The landlady told Nicholas she needed their room, so Dougless made reservations at a nearby lovely country house hotel. She told Nicholas the only room she could get had one large four-poster bed, but that they’d have to make do. He’d given her an odd look that she couldn’t fathom, then walked away.

So now Dougless was in the bathroom of the hotel, where she’d been for thirty minutes. She felt as nervous as a virgin bride on her wedding night. With trembling hands, she doused herself in perfume and loosened the ties down the front of her peignoir.

Ready at last, she fluffed her hair and left the bathroom. The room was dark, but she could see the outline of the bed—the bed she was to share with Nicholas.

Slowly, she walked toward the bed. She could see the long shape of his body under the covers, and she reached out her hand to touch him. “Nicholas,” she whispered.

But her hand didn’t touch him. Instead, she touched . . . Pillows!

When she turned on the bedside lamp, she saw that Nicholas had made a barricade of all the pillows down the middle of the bed. They reached from the head to the foot of the bed. On the far side Nicholas lay with his back to her, and his broad back was like another barricade.

Biting her lip to keep tears from coming, she climbed into bed, staying on the edge, not touching the hated pillows. She didn’t turn out the light because suddenly all strength left her body. Tears, hot, hot tears began rolling down her cheeks.

“Why?” she whispered. “Why?”

“Dougless,” Nicholas said softly, turning toward her, but not reaching over the pillows to touch her.

“Why am I so undesirable to you?” she asked, and hated herself for doing so, but she had no pride left. “I see you look at other women who I know aren’t built as well as I am. And I know they aren’t . . . aren’t as pretty as I am, but you never look at me. Sometimes you kiss me but nothing more. You had your hands all over Arabella and you’ve made love to so many women, but you refuse me. Why? Am I too short? Too fat? You hate redheads?”

When Nicholas spoke, she could tell that the words were from deep inside him. “I have never desired a woman as much as I have you,” he said. “My body aches with the wanting of you, but I must leave. I cannot return and know I leave you grieving. When I first saw you, you were weeping so that I heard you across four hundred years. I cannot leave you to such grief again.”

“You won’t touch me because you don’t want me to grieve for you?”

“Aye,” he whispered.

Dougless’s tears began to be replaced by laughter. She got out of bed and, standing, she looked down at him. “You idiot,” she said. “Don’t you realize that when you leave, I’m going to grieve for you every day for the rest of my life? I’m going to cry so long and loud and hard that I will be heard to the beginning of time. Oh, Nicholas, you fool, don’t you know how much I love you? Whether you touch me or not, you won’t be able to stop my tears.”

Pausing, she smiled at him in a cocky way. “While I’m grieving, why don’t you let me have a memory that will knock Arabella off her table?”

As Dougless stood and watched, Nicholas just lay there, not moving, just looking at her across the pillows. One second he was in bed, the next he was on her and they were on the floor. Dougless never saw him move, she just felt his body against hers, felt his mouth on her skin, his hands holding her shoulders, then moving quickly and firmly out to her hands.

“Nicholas,” she whispered, “Nicholas.”

He was on her, his mouth and hands everywhere, as she kissed whatever part of him came near her mouth. His hands tore at her gown and Dougless heard it ripping away. When his hot, wet mouth fastened onto her breast, she moaned in ecstasy.

This was Nicholas, the man she’d wanted, desired, and craved for hundreds of hours. His big, hard hands moved down the side of her, his thumb toying with her navel as his lips and tongue played with her breasts.

Her fingers buried into his hair. “Let me,” she whispered. She had always chosen men who needed her, men who thought no one could give them enough. Dougless’s experience with sex had been with men who expected her to give to them.

“Nicholas?” she said as his lips began moving down her belly. “Nicholas, I don’t think—” His hands caressed her thighs, his thumb kneading the soft white flesh there; then he moved downward, downward.

Dougless arched her body against the carpet. No man had ever done this to her before. Passion built in her as his tongue . . . Oh, God, his tongue.

“Nicholas,” she moaned, and began to pull his hair as her body moved under him. He nibbled at the inside of her thighs, caressing the back of her knees, until she didn’t think she could stand it any more.

Taking her left leg in his hand, he bent it up as he moved on top of her and entered her so hard and big she tried to push him away. But her body closed around him, her free leg wrapping about his leg, as he pounded into her with hard, deep thrusts that pushed her across the carpet. She put up her hands to brace herself against the wall.

When Nicholas released her bent leg, she clasped him about the waist, and her hips rose to meet his thrusts as his hands cupped her buttocks and lifted her to him. Higher, higher.

When at last she felt him arch into her for a final blinding thrust, Dougless felt her own body shuddering in answer.

It was a while before she came to herself to remember where she was, or even who she was. Her head was almost against the wall; the bedside table and lamp loomed over her.

“Nicholas,” she murmured, touching his sweaty hair. “No wonder Arabella risked all for you.”

Lifting himself on one elbow, he looked down at her. “Do you sleep?” he asked, chuckling.

“Nicholas, that was wonderful,” she whispered. “No man—”

He didn’t allow her to finish, but took her hand and lifted her to stand by him. Gently, sweetly, deeply, he kissed her, then took her hand and led her into the bathroom. He got the shower water hot, then pulled her in with him. Pinning her to the wall, he kissed her, his big, hard body pressing against hers.

“I have dreamed of this,” he murmured. “This water fountain was made for love.”

Dougless was too absorbed in the way he was moving down to her breasts to be able to answer him. With the hot water beating on them, Nicholas began kissing her body, his mouth on her breasts, on her stomach and her neck. Dougless had her head back, her hands on his shoulders, shoulders so broad they nearly reached from one side to the other of the shower stall.

He came up to face her. When Dougless opened her eyes, she saw he was smiling at her. “Perhaps some things in this modern world do not change,” he said. “I seem to be your teacher now.”

“Oh?” she said as she began kissing his neck, then across his shoulder and down his muscular chest, her hands kneading his back muscles. Fat, she thought. She’d said he was going to get fat, but all of him was muscle, thick, hard, sculptured muscle.

The hot water beat down on her head, and she went lower, her hands on his buttocks. When her mouth closed over him, it was his turn to gasp. His hands buried themselves in her wet hair as she heard his soft moans of pleasure.

He nearly pulled her up by her hair as he slammed her against the slick wall, pulled her legs about his waist, and rammed into her almost brutally. Dougless held on to his passion, fastening herself to him as his mouth took hers, his tongue thrusting just as his body did.

When the final moment came, Dougless would have screamed except that Nicholas covered her mouth with his.

She clung to him, trembling, her body limp. She was sure that if Nicholas hadn’t been holding her, she would have gone down the drain.

He kissed her neck. “Now I will wash you,” he said softly as he set her on her own feet, then caught her when she nearly fell.

As though he had an electric switch in his body, he seemed to turn his passion off as he turned her to face the showerhead and began to shampoo her hair. His big, strong hands and his big body made her feel small and fragile—and protected. When he was done with her hair, he lathered his hands and began soaping her body.

Dougless leaned back against the wall as Nicholas’s hands slid over her, up and down, around, in and out. Before she forgot herself, she took the soap and began to caress him with her soapy hands. He had the most beautiful body she’d ever seen on a human. Heavens! she thought, even his feet were beautiful.

She turned off the water and soaped him. She loved looking at him, touching him. There was a birthmark on his left hip, shaped like a figure eight. There was a scar on his right calf. “Fell off a horse,” he murmured, eyes closed. There was a long scar on his left forearm. “Sword practice the day . . .” Dougless knew that the rest of the sentence was, “the day Kit died.” There was an odd oval scar on his shoulder. Nicholas smiled, his eyes closed. “A fight with Kit. I won,” he said.

She came back to his head. “I’m glad to see no woman has left a mark on you.”

“Only you, Montgomery, have marked me,” he whispered.

Dougless wanted to ask him about his wife. Did he care for her, Dougless, as much as he loved his beautiful wife? But she didn’t ask, as she was too afraid of the answer she’d hear.

Nicholas turned her around, turned the water back on, then rinsed them both. When they were clean, he pulled her out of the shower and began gently combing her hair. Dougless wanted to put on her robe, but Nicholas wouldn’t allow it.

“I have dreamed of you this way,” he said, looking at her in the mirror. “You have fair driven me mad. The smell of you.” He stopped combing and slid his hands down her arms. “The clothes you wear . . .”

Dougless smiled, her head back against his. He had noticed, she thought. He had.

When her hair was combed, he toweled it dry, then held up the white terry robe the hotel furnished. “Come,” he said, putting on the other robe.

He led her downstairs, through the darkened hotel lobby, and into the kitchen.

“Nicholas,” she said, “we shouldn’t be here.”

He kissed her to silence. “I am hungry,” he said as though that were excuse enough.

Being in the hotel kitchen when she knew they shouldn’t be added excitement to this most wonderful night. She looked at the back of Nicholas as he opened a refrigerator door (and felt a little pang that he had learned of refrigerators from someone other than her). Now he was truly hers, she thought, hers to touch whenever she wanted. Holding his hand, she pressed her body against his and put her head in the crook of his shoulder.

“Nicholas,” she whispered. “I love you so much. Don’t leave me.”

Turning, he looked into her eyes, and his face was full of longing. He looked back in the refrigerator. “Where’s the ice cream?”

She laughed. “In the freezer. Try that door,” she said, pointing.

He wouldn’t let her out of his sight or touch as he pulled her toward the freezer. There were big cardboard vats of ice cream inside. Clinging together like Siamese twins, they went about the kitchen and found bowls, spoons, and a steel ladle. Nicholas scooped out an enormous amount from one vat into each bowl, then slipped the vat back into the freezer. He dribbled vanilla ice cream down the front of her, then licked it off, the ice cream traveling lower, just below his tongue. He licked the last just as it reached her red-gold curls.

“Strawberry,” he said, making Dougless laugh.

They sat facing each other, legs crossed, on the eight-foot-long butcher-block cutting table (“Unsanitary,” Dougless said), but she didn’t get down. They ate quietly for a moment, but then Nicholas dropped ice cream on Dougless’s foot and licked it off. Dougless leaned forward to kiss Nicholas and “accidently” dropped ice cream on his inner thigh.

“I’ll bet that’s awfully cold,” she said against his lips.

“I cannot bear it,” he whispered.

She slowly, so that her breasts raked along his bare body, made her way to the splat of ice cream on his thigh, licked it off, and when it was gone, she continued licking. The ice cream was forgotten as Nicholas leaned back against the table and pulled her up to him. As though she weighed nothing, his biceps bulging, he picked her up and set her down on top of him, his hands moving up her body to clutch her breasts as Dougless moved slowly up and down.

It was a long time before they arched together, Nicholas pulling her down to him to kiss her hungrily and fiercely.

“I believe, madam,” he whispered in her ear, “that you have melted my ice cream.”

Laughing, Dougless snuggled against him. “I’ve wanted to touch you for so long,” she said, her hand caressing his chest and shoulders inside the sleeve of the robe that he still wore. “I’ve never met a man like you.”

She lifted on one elbow and looked down at him. “Were you an unusual man in the sixteenth century, or were they all like you?”

Nicholas grinned at her. “I am unique, which is why the women—”

She kissed him to silence. “Say no more. I’d as soon hear nothing more about your women—or your wife.” She put her head down. “I’d like to think I’m special to you, not just one of hundreds.”

He lifted her chin to look at her. “You called me across centuries, and I answered. Is that not enough to make you ‘special’?”

“Then you do care for me? At least somewhat?”

“There are no words,” he said, then kissed her lightly and pushed her head back down, but as he stroked her damp hair, he felt her relax against him and knew she was falling asleep. Closing her robe, he bundled her into his arms and carried her out of the kitchen and up to their room. Once they were inside their room, he removed both their robes, put her into bed, then climbed in beside her. She was already asleep as he snuggled her to him.

But Nicholas wasn’t sleepy at all. He tried to pull her closer to him, her bare bottom up against his half-swollen maleness, his leg over hers, but she was as close as could be.

She asked if he cared for her, he thought. Cared for her? She was becoming all to him, his reason for living. He cared what she thought, what she felt, what she needed. He couldn’t bear more than minutes away from her.

Each morning and afternoon he went to pray for God to return him to his own time, but part of his mind thought constantly of what it would be like to never see her again, to never hear her laugh, to never see her cry again, to never hold her in his arms.

He ran his hand over her shoulder and tucked the cover closer about her. Never had he met a woman like her. She had no guile, no sense of taking what she wanted, no sense of self-preservation. Smiling, he remembered her protests when he’d first met her. She’d said she would not help him, but he’d seen in her eyes how she couldn’t bear leaving him alone in a strange land. He thought of the women of his own time and knew of no woman who would help some poor madman.

But Dougless had, he thought. She’d helped him and taught him and . . . loved him. She’d given her love freely and completely.

Completely, he thought, smiling in memory of this night. No woman had ever responded to him with such complete abandonment as Dougless had tonight. Arabella used to demand. “Here! Now!” she’d say. Other women thought they were granting him a favor. Lettice . . . He didn’t like to think of his cold wife. She lay in bed stiff-limbed, her eyes open, as though challenging him to do his husbandly duties. In four years of marriage he’d not been able to get her with child.

As he caressed Dougless’s bare arm, in her sleep she tried to move closer to him. He kissed her temple. How could he leave her? he asked himself. How could he go back to his other life, to his other women, and leave her alone and unprotected? She was so soft that it was no wonder she was at the mercy of men like the one he’d pushed out the door.

Nicholas thought of his mother and his wife. Those two women would be able to take care of themselves no matter what befell them. But not Dougless. He feared that a week after he left, she’d be back with that odious man whom she believed she loved.

He stroked her hair. How could he leave her alone with no one to protect her? He did not understand the modern world. It was her father’s duty to choose a husband for her, yet the man left his daughter to her own devices. Smiling, Nicholas thought of how Dougless would fare with a man of his time who a father might choose for her. All her childish talk of love would mean nothing against the joining of estates.

But as Nicholas looked down at Dougless, he knew he was beginning to understand what she meant. Love. Dougless had said that perhaps he’d been sent to the modern world not for honor but for love. At the time, Nicholas had scoffed at the idea. This cataclysmic thing had happened for love and not for honor? Not possible! But they’d found the name of the traitor and Nicholas had not left her world.

He remembered Dougless saying that everything in the past had turned out all right. All right to her, perhaps. He was remembered as a fool, but then, perhaps he had been a fool. There had been many other women besides Arabella, all of whom he needed when he had a wife like Lettice. It was true that perhaps cuckolding Robert Sydney had been foolish enough to cause his own death, but if he could return, he would right the wrongs.

If he returned . . .

What then? He’d still be married to Lettice, and there would be women like Arabella to tempt him. Even if he could free himself from the accusation of treason, would his life change?

He turned on his back, holding Dougless tightly to him. What if he remained in this century? What if he had misjudged God’s purpose? What if he had been sent forward in time, not to return and change what had happened then, but to do something in this time?

He remembered the books he and Dougless had looked at. There were books of houses from around the world, and they had intrigued him. Dougless had talked about something called architecture school where he could learn to design houses. To learn to be a tradesman? he thought in wonder. But, truthfully, “having a profession,” as she called it, did not seem to be something bad in this century. Instead, men like Harewood who were mere landowners were looked down on—by Americans anyway, Dougless had explained.

America, he thought, this place that Dougless talked about constantly. She said they could go to America and “set up housekeeping” and he could go to school. School at his age? he’d asked disdainfully, not letting her see how the idea intrigued him. To live with Dougless in this modern world and design buildings? Was this the reason he had been brought forward? Perhaps God saw Thornwyck, liked it, and so had decided to give him another chance, Nicholas thought with a smile, laughing at the idea of God being so frivolous.

But what did he know of God’s purpose? Obviously, he hadn’t been sent forward in time to find out who betrayed him. He’d found that out days ago, yet he was still here. So why had he been sent to the modern world?

“Nicholas!” Dougless cried out, sitting up with a jolt.

As he pulled her back into his arms, she clung to him. “I dreamed you were gone, that you weren’t here, that you’d left me,” she said, blinking back tears and holding him so tightly his ribs were close to cracking.

He stroked her hair. “I will not leave you,” he said softly. “I will remain with you for always.”

It took a moment for his words to reach Dougless. She lifted up to look at him. “Nicholas,” she said slowly, questioning.

“I . . .” He took a breath. The words were hard for him. “I do not wish to return. I will remain here.” He looked at her. “With you.”

Dougless buried her face in his shoulder and began to weep softly.

As he stroked her body, he couldn’t keep from laughing. “Are you sad that I do not leave you so that you may return to this Robert who gives diamonds to children?”

“I’m just so happy.”

He took a tissue from a box beside the bed. “Here, stop your weeping and tell me more of America.” He gave her a sideways look. “And tell me of your uncle who is king.”

Dougless blew her nose, then smiled at him. “I didn’t think you heard that.”

“What is a cowboy? What is a passport? What is the Grand Canon? And do not move so far from me.”

“It’s canyon,” she said, moving back into his arms as she began to tell him of America, of her family, and of her uncle who’d married a princess and was now king of Lanconia.

As the dawn light came into the room, they began to make plans. Dougless would call her uncle J.T. and explain as best she could that she needed a passport for Nicholas so he could go to America with her. “Knowing Uncle J.T., he’ll want you to go to Lanconia so he can inspect you first. But he’ll like you.”

“And his queen?”

“Aunt Aria? Well, she can be a little intimidating at times, but she used to play baseball with us kids. They have six kids of their own.” She smiled. “And she has this weird friend named Dolly who runs around the castle wearing blue jeans and a crown.” She looked at Nicholas, at his black hair and blue eyes, and thought of the way he walked, the way he sometimes had of looking at people that made them shrivel. “You’ll fit in in Lanconia,” she said.

They had breakfast served in their room, and over the table, Nicholas said, “I’d rather have strawberry ice cream.”

In another moment they were on the floor, rolling about exuberantly as they tore at each other while they made love. Afterward they filled the tub and sat at opposite ends as they planned more of their future life together.

“We’ll go to Scotland,” Dougless said. “While we’re waiting for the passport, we’ll stay in Scotland. It’s a beautiful country.”

Nicholas had his foot on her stomach, kneading her flesh. “Will you wear the heeled shoes to ride a bicycle?” he asked.

Dougless laughed. “Don’t make fun of me. Those shoes got me what I wanted.”

“And I too,” he said, looking at her from beneath his lashes.

After the bath they dressed, and Dougless said she’d call her uncle J.T. right away.

Nicholas turned away. “I must return to the church for one last time,” he said quietly.

Dougless felt her entire body stiffen. “No,” she whispered, then ran to face him, her hands gripping his arms.

“I must,” he said, smiling down at her. “I have been often and naught has happened. Dougless, look at me.”

She lifted her head, and he smiled. “Are you onion-eyed yet again?”

“I’m just frightened.”

“I must pray for forgiveness for not wanting to return to save my name and my honor. Do you understand?”

She nodded mutely. “But I’m going with you and I don’t let go of you. Got that? I don’t wait outside for you this time.”

He kissed her. “I mean to never again release you. Now we will go to the church for my prayers, then you will call your uncle. Does Scotland have trains?”

“Of course.”

“Ah, then it has changed. In my time it was a wild place.” Putting his arm about her shoulders, he left the hotel with her.

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