A Knight in Shining Armor: Chapter 20

At Thornwyck no one remembered Nicholas. Dougless looked back through the guest register, and where Nicholas had signed the book, an unfamiliar hand had written “Miss Dougless Montgomery.” Listlessly, she put her tote bag in the single room, then went outside to look at the unfinished part of the castle. This time, it had never been finished because Nicholas had been executed.

As she looked at the roofless walls, at the vines hanging down them, she remembered every word of what Nicholas had told her about what he’d planned for this place. A center of learning, he’d said. Yet all his plans had come to nothing.

When he’d left her yesterday, had he gone back to his cell? she wondered. Had he gone back to the time when he’d been writing his mother and trying to find out who had betrayed him? What had he done in those three days before his execution? Would no one listen to him when he told them of Robert Sydney’s lies?

Wearily, she leaned back against a wall. Whom had he told about Robert Sydney? Lettice? Had his beloved wife come to visit him? Had he told her what he knew and asked for her help?

Irony, Dougless thought. Lee had said all of it was ironic. The true irony was that Nicholas had died because he was good. He’d refused to commit treason with his wife, refused to even consider it—and he’d died for it. Not a quick, honorable death, but a death that was public and meant to ridicule him. He’d lost his life, his honor, his name, his estates, and the respect of future generations, all because he’d refused to conspire with a power-mad woman.

“It is wrong!” Dougless said aloud. “What happened was wrong.”

Slowly, she walked back to the hotel, and as though in a trance, she showered, put on her nightgown, then went to bed. She lay awake for a long time, anger not allowing her to sleep. Irony, she thought. Treason. Betrayal. Blackmail. The words tumbled about in her head.

Toward dawn she fell into a fitful sleep, and when she awoke, she felt worse than she had before she went to bed. Feeling a thousand pounds heavier and very old, she dressed and went downstairs to breakfast.

Nicholas had been given a second chance, and he had asked her, Dougless, for help, but she had failed him. She had been so jealous of Arabella that she’d lost sight of the true purpose of why they’d been at the Harewoods. When she should have been searching for information, she had been worrying about whether Nicholas and Arabella were touching each other. Well, no one was going to touch Nicholas now—not in the twentieth century or in the sixteenth.

She ate, she checked out, and she walked to the train station and boarded a train going back to Ashburton. Somewhere during that train ride her failures stopped plaguing her and she began to ask herself what could be done now. Would the publication of Lee’s book help to clear Nicholas’s name? Perhaps if she volunteered her services as his secretary and helped him research, she could somewhat make up for how she’d failed to help Nicholas when he was in the twentieth century.

She leaned her head against the train window. If only she had it to do over again, she wouldn’t be jealous and she wouldn’t waste their precious time together. When she was at Goshawk Hall, why hadn’t she asked Lee if there were any other secrets hidden behind the wall? Why hadn’t she looked? Why hadn’t she torn down that wall with her own bare hands?!! Why hadn’t she—

When the sign for Ashburton appeared out the window, she got off the train. As she walked, she realized that there was nothing she could do. The time to help was past. Lee could write his book himself and she was sure he’d do a great job of it. Robert had his daughter, so he didn’t need Dougless. Nicholas had been the one who needed her, but she’d failed him.

There was nothing more for her to do but go home.

Leaving the train station, she started toward the hotel. She would call the airlines and see if she could get a flight home immediately. Perhaps if she returned to familiar surroundings, she could begin to forgive herself.

As she walked, she went past the church that contained Nicholas’s tomb and her feet seemed to turn toward the gate of their own accord. The church was empty inside, the sunlight streaming down through the stained-glass windows to gently touch Nicholas’s tomb. The pale white of the marble looked cold and dead.

Slowly, Dougless walked toward the tomb. Perhaps if she prayed, Nicholas would return. Perhaps if she begged God, He’d let Nicholas come back to her. If she could just see him for five minutes, she thought. That’s all she’d need to tell Nicholas of his wife’s treachery.

But as she touched the cold marble cheek, she knew it wouldn’t work. What had happened was a once-in-a-century happening. She’d been given a chance to save a man’s life and she’d failed.

“Nicholas,” she whispered, and for the first time since he’d gone, tears came to her eyes. They were hot, thick tears that blurred her vision.

“I am onion-eyed again,” she said, almost smiling. “I am so sorry for failing you, my darling Nicholas. But I don’t seem to be much good at anything. But before now I never had anyone die because of my shortcomings.”

“Oh, God,” she whispered, then turned around to sit on the edge of the tomb. “How do I live with your blood on my hands?”

She unzipped her bag that was still hanging from her shoulder and rummaged inside for a tissue. She pulled out a soft travel pack, then took out a tissue. As she blew her nose, she saw a piece of paper fall from the tissue pack to the floor. Bending, she picked it up and looked at it.

It was the note Nicholas had written and slipped under her door.

“The note,” she said, standing up straight. It was the note written in Nicholas’s own hand! It was something that he had touched, something that was . . . that was proof, she thought.

“Oh, Nicholas,” she said, and the tears began in earnest then, real tears, deep, deep tears of grief. Her legs gave way beneath her and she slid slowly to the stone floor, the note held to her cheek. “I am sorry, Nicholas,” she cried. “Very, very sorry that I failed you.”

She leaned her forehead against the cold marble tomb, her body huddled in a knot. “Dear God,” she whispered, “please help me to forgive myself.”

Dougless, in her grief, was unaware of the way the light came in through the stained glass and touched her hair. The window depicted an angel kneeling and praying, and the light came through the angel’s halo to touch Dougless’s hair, and as a cloud moved, the sunlight touched Nicholas’s marble hand.

“Please,” Dougless whispered, “please.”

It was at that moment that Dougless heard laughter. Not just any laughter, but Nicholas’s laughter.

“Nicholas?” she whispered, then lifted her head, blinking to clear her vision. There was no one in the church.

Awkwardly, she rose. “Nicholas?” she said louder, then turned abruptly when she heard the laughter again, this time behind her. She reached out her hand, but there was no one, nothing, there.

“Yes,” she said, standing up straight; then louder, “Yes.” She raised her face to the sunlight and to the angel in the window. Closing her eyes, she put her head back. “Yes,” she whispered.

Suddenly, Dougless felt as though someone had punched her in the stomach. Doubled over in pain, she fell forward onto her knees on the stone floor. When she tried to get up, she felt dizzy and as though she were going to throw up. She had to get to a rest room, she thought. She couldn’t befoul the church.

But when she tried to move, nothing happened. It was as though her body were no longer obeying her brain. “Nicholas,” she whispered, then reached out her hand toward his tomb, but the next moment everything went black and she collapsed to the floor.


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