A Knight in Shining Armor: Chapter 23


By the time Dougless climbed into bed beside Honoria that night, she was exhausted. No wonder she’d seen so few fat people and the women had such tiny waists. Between the steel corset and the constant activity, fat didn’t have a chance to settle on a person’s body.

She and Honoria had left the garden to attend a service in the pretty little chapel on the ground floor of the house. They’d listened to a richly dressed minister and they’d spent a great deal of time on their knees. Dougless couldn’t pay attention to what the minister was saying for looking at the stunning clothes of the men and women around her: silk, satin, brocade, fur, jewels.

It was in the chapel that she had her first glimpse of Christopher. He looked like Nicholas, but not so young or handsome. But there was a quiet strength coming from him that made Dougless stare at him. When he glanced across at her, there was so much interest in his eyes that Dougless looked away, blushing. She didn’t see Nicholas watching the two of them and frowning.

After chapel was supper, which Dougless took in the Presence Chamber with Lady Margaret, Honoria, and four other women. There was vegetable beef soup, a nasty bitter beer, and fried rabbit. A man, who Honoria said was the butler, had to chip cinders from the crust of a loaf of bread before he served it to them, and thereby explained the holes in the crust of Dougless’s earlier loaf.

The other women, Dougless learned, were Lady Margaret’s gentlewomen and chamberers. As far as Dougless could tell, everyone in the household had a specific rank, and servants had servants who had servants. And, to her surprise, they also had specific duty hours. Her knowledge of servants was based on what she’d read of Victorian households, where the servants worked from very early to very late, but she learned from questioning Honoria, there were so many servants in the Stafford household that no one worked longer than about six hours at a time.

At supper, Dougless was introduced, and the ladies eagerly asked about her country of Lanconia and her uncle the king. Dougless, squirming with the lie, muttered replies, then asked the ladies about their clothes. She received some fascinating information on the Spanish style of dress, the French, the English, and the Italian fashions. Dougless became very involved in this, and soon found herself planning a gown in the Italian style that had something called a bum role under the skirt instead of a farthingale.

After supper, servants cleared the tables, then moved them against the wall, and Lady Margaret asked to hear Dougless’s songs. What followed was an energetic and laugh-filled evening. With no TV and professional performances ever seen, no one was shy about singing or dancing. Dougless knew she was terrible compared to the people she’d heard on the radio and on records, but before the evening was over she found herself singing solos.

Christopher came to join them, and Honoria taught him “They Call the Wind Maria,” which he played on the lute. Everyone seemed to play an instrument, and before long Lady Margaret and all five of her ladies were playing the melodies on oddly-shaped, strange-sounding instruments. There was a guitar of sorts but shaped like a violin, a three-stringed violin, a tiny piano, an enormous lute, several kinds of flutes, and a couple of horns.

Dougless found herself drawn to Kit. He was so much like Nicholas, the Nicholas she’d known in the twentieth century—certainly not this sixteenth-century Nicholas who went from one woman to another. She sang “Get Me to the Church on Time,” and Kit quickly picked up the melody. In no time they were all singing the funny song.

At one point she saw Nicholas standing in the doorway glowering. He refused to enter even when Lady Margaret motioned to him.

It was only about nine o’clock when Lady Margaret said it was time to retire. Kit kissed Dougless’s hand, and she smiled at him; then she followed Honoria off to bed.

Honoria’s maid came to help the two women undress. Dougless took several lovely, deep breaths after the steel corset was removed; then, wearing the long linen undergarment she’d worn under her dress all day and a little cap to protect her hair, she climbed into bed beside Honoria. The sheets were linen and scratchy and not too clean, but the mattress was of goose down and as soft as a whisper. She was asleep before she’d pulled the coverlet over her.

She didn’t know how long she’d been asleep when she awoke. She felt as though someone was calling her, but when she lifted her head and listened, she heard no one, so she lay back down. But the feeling that someone wanted her would not go away. Although the room was silent, she couldn’t get rid of the feeling that she was needed by someone.

“Nicholas!” she said, coming bolt upright.

After a glance at the sleeping back of Honoria, Dougless crept out of bed. She put on a heavy brocade robe that was at the foot of the bed; then she slipped her feet into the soft, wide shoes. Elizabethan corsets might be murder but the shoes were heaven.

Silently, she left the room, then stood outside the closed door and listened. There was no sound, and what with the straw on the floor, she’d have been able to hear any footsteps. She started walking to the right, for she felt the call strongest there. She went to one closed door, put her hand on it, but felt nothing. The same at the second door. It was at the third door that she could feel the call the strongest.

When she opened the door, she wasn’t surprised to see Nicholas sitting on a chair wearing his tight hose, the baggy shorts, and a big linen shirt open to the waist. A fire burned in the fireplace, and he held a silver tankard. He looked as though he’d been drinking for a while.

“What do you want of me?” she asked. She was more than a little afraid of this Nicholas, as he didn’t seem remotely like the man who had come to her own century.

He didn’t look at her, just stared at the fire.

“Nicholas, I’m willing to talk, but if you’re just going to give me the silent treatment, then I’d like to go back to bed.”

“Who are you?” he asked softly. “How do I know of you?”

She sat on the chair next to him, facing the fire. “We are bonded somehow. I can’t explain it. I cried for help and you came to me. I needed you and you heard my call. You gave me . . .” Love, she almost said. Somehow that seemed long ago and this man was a stranger to her. “It seems to be my turn now. I’ve come to warn you.”

He looked at her. “Warn me? Ah, yes, I must not commit treason.”

“You don’t have to sound so cynical. If I can come all this way back here, the least you can do is listen. That is, if you can keep your hands from under some woman’s skirt long enough.”

She could see his face turning red with rage. “Callet!” he said under his breath. “You who use your witchcraft to befuddle my mother, who exhibit yourself to my brother, dare to speak ill of me?”

“I am not a witch. I’ve told you that a thousand times. All I’ve done is what I’ve had to do to get myself inside your house so I can warn you.” Standing up, she tried to calm herself. “Nicholas, we have to stop arguing. I’ve been sent back to warn you, but unless you listen to me, everything’s going to happen the same way it did before. Kit will—”

He stood up, cutting her off, then leaned over her threateningly. “When you came to me this night, did you come from my brother’s bed?”

Dougless didn’t think about what she did. She just slapped him across the face.

He grabbed her against him, his body forcing hers backward as he put his mouth on hers, hard, angry.

Dougless wasn’t going to allow a man to use force to kiss her. She pushed at him with all her strength, but he didn’t release her. One of his hands was on the back of her head, forcing her head sideways, while the other hand slipped to the small of her back and pushed her body intimately to his.

When his lips touched hers, Dougless stopped fighting him. This was Nicholas, the Nicholas she’d come to love, the man that even time couldn’t separate her from. Her arms went about his neck, and she opened her mouth under his. As she kissed him in return, her body began to melt into his. Her legs were weak, trembling.

His lips moved to her neck.

“Colin,” she whispered, “my beloved Colin.”

He pulled his face away from her, looking puzzled. She touched the hair at his temples, ran her fingertips down his cheeks.

“I thought I had lost you,” she whispered. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

“You may see all of me that you wish,” he said, smiling; then he put his hand under her knees and carried her to his bed. He stretched out beside her and Dougless closed her eyes as his hand went under her robe, then untied the neck of her gown. He kissed her ear, nibbling at her lobe, then ran his tongue down the sensitive cord of her neck while his hand slipped inside her gown to touch her breast.

As his thumb rubbed the peak of her breast, as his breath was on her ear, he whispered, “Who has sent you to me?”

“Mmm,” Dougless murmured. “God, I suppose.”

“What is the name of the god you worship?”

Dougless could barely hear him as he slipped one leg over hers. “God. Jehovah. Allah. Whoever.”

“What man worships this god?”

Dougless was beginning to hear him. She opened her eyes. “Man? God? What are you talking about?”

Nicholas squeezed her breast. “What man has sent you to my house?”

She was beginning to understand his motive in making love to her. She pushed away from him, and sitting up, she tied her gown and robe. “I see,” she said, trying to control her anger. “This is how you always get what you want from women, isn’t it? At Thornwyck all you had to do was kiss my arm and I’d agree to do whatever you wanted. So now you’ve decided that I’m up to no good, so you’re going to seduce a confession out of me.”

She got off the bed and stood glaring at him. But Nicholas lounged on the bed, not at all upset by the revelation of his devious actions. “Let me tell you something, Nicholas Stafford, you’re not the man I thought you were. The Nicholas I knew was a man who cared about honor and justice. All you care about is the number of women you can bed.”

She stood up straighter. “All right, I’m going to tell you who sent me and why I’m here.” She took a deep breath. “I’m from the future, the twentieth century actually, and you came to me there. We spent several lovely days together.”

His mouth dropped open and he started to speak, but Dougless put up her hand. “Hear me out. When you came to me the time here was September of 1564, four years from now and you were sitting in a prison awaiting your execution for treason.”

Nicholas’s eyes began to twinkle in amusement as he rolled off the bed and picked up his tankard. “I see why my mother has taken you to amuse her. Tell me more. What treason had I committed?”

Dougless clenched her fists at her side. It was difficult to be caring toward a man who was smirking in derision. “You hadn’t. You were innocent.”

“Ah, yes,” he said patronizingly. “I would be.”

“You were gathering an army to protect your lands in Wales, but in your haste, you didn’t petition the queen for permission to raise the army. Someone told her you were planning to use the army to take her throne.”

Nicholas sat down and looked at her, his eyes filled with amazement. “Pray tell me, who lied to the queen about these lands I do not own and this army I do not possess?”

She was so angry at his attitude that she wanted to leave the room. Why bother to try to save him? Let the history books record that he was a wastrel. He was a wastrel. “They were your lands and your army because Kit was dead, and Robert Sydney and your beloved Lettice had lied to the queen.”

Nicholas’s face changed to cold rage. He advanced on her. “Do you enter this household to threaten my brother’s life? Do you think to cast your spells on me so that I feel all that you do in the hopes that I will take you to wife and make you a countess? Do you stop at nothing? You besmirch the name of my betrothed as well as my cater-cousin to gain your desires?”

She backed away from him, afraid of him now. “I can’t marry you because my life doesn’t belong in this century. I certainly can’t go to bed with you because if I did I’d probably disappear, and if I disappeared now, I’m sure nothing would be changed. And besides that, I don’t want to marry you. Okay, so I came back to give you a message and that’s it. So now maybe I’ll get lucky and disappear. I hope I do. Truthfully, I hope I never have to see you again.”

She grabbed the door handle, but he slammed the door shut and wouldn’t let her leave.

“I will watch you. If my brother has one pain, I will know it is caused by you and you will pay.”

“I left my voodoo doll on the plane. Now, will you let me out or do I scream?”

“Heed me, woman.”

“I understand you perfectly, but since I’m not a witch, I don’t have any fears, do I? Now open the door and let me out of here.”

He stepped back, and Dougless, with her head high, left the room. She was all the way down the corridor to the room she shared with Honoria before she started crying. She thought she’d lost Nicholas when he’d returned to the sixteenth century, but that hadn’t been as complete as this. Now he wasn’t even the same man she’d known and loved such a short time ago.

She didn’t return to Honoria’s bedroom, but went to the Presence Chamber to curl up on a window seat. The tiny diamond-shaped panes of glass were too thick and rippled to see out of, but Dougless didn’t care about seeing out. How many times was she going to lose the man she loved? Was the Nicholas who came to her in the twentieth century the man who’d just kissed her? Other than looks, the two seemed to have nothing in common.

Once again, Dougless, she told herself, you’ve fallen for the wrong man. If he wasn’t a man with one foot in jail, then he was a man who chased after every woman around. One minute Nicholas was cursing Dougless for being a witch, and the next he was kissing her.

When Nicholas had gone back before, he’d been executed, because they’d not had enough information. Afterward, she’d felt that they might have found the information they needed if she hadn’t spent so much time being jealous of Arabella. If Dougless had spent more time researching and asking questions, she might have saved Nicholas’s life.

So now she’d been given a second chance, yet she was repeating the same mistakes. She was letting emotion blind her to what must be done. This extraordinary, unbelievable thing of switching two people back and forth through time had been done to her and Nicholas so that lives and fortunes could be saved. But all Dougless could think of was whether Nicholas still loved her or not. She threw jealous fits like a junior-high-school-girl because a grown man was fooling around with some woman in a grape arbor.

Dougless stood up. She had a job to do and she had to do it without allowing petty emotion to get in her way.

She went back into Honoria’s bedroom and slipped into bed beside her. Today she would start finding out what she could do to prevent the treachery of Lettice Culpin.

Dougless had merely closed her eyes when the bedroom door was flung open and Honoria’s maid entered. She pulled back the hangings to the four-poster bed, opened the shutters to the windows, took Honoria’s and Dougless’s gowns and the layers of underwear from the chest at the foot of the bed, and shook them. Minutes later Dougless was caught up in the bustle of the day, of dressing again in Honoria’s second-best gown and eating a breakfast of beef and beer and bread. Honoria started to clean her teeth with a linen cloth and some soap, but Dougless didn’t want to try the flavor, so she gave Honoria one of the several hotel giveaway toothbrushes she had in her bag. After a demonstration of its use and some exclamations over the toothpaste, she and Honoria companionably brushed their teeth, spitting into a lovely hammered copper basin.

After breakfast in their chamber, Dougless followed Honoria into a bustle of activity as she attended Lady Margaret in directing the large household. There was a morning church service to attend, then the servants to see to. Dougless stood by and watched in awe as Lady Margaret went over every problem, talked and listened to every complaint.

Dougless asked Honoria a thousand questions as Lady Margaret competently and efficiently dealt with what seemed to be hundreds of servants: marshals of the hall, yeomen of the chamber, yeomen waiters. Honoria explained that these were only the household heads and that each of these men had many servants under him. She said that Lady Margaret was unusual in that she dealt personally with the household servants.

“There are more servants than these?” Dougless asked.

“Many more, but Sir Nicholas deals with them.”

There is no mention in your history books that I was chamberlain to my brother? Dougless remembered Nicholas asking.

After an exhausting morning, at about eleven A.M., the servants were dismissed and Dougless followed Lady Margaret, Honoria, and the other ladies downstairs to what Honoria said was the winter parlor. Here a long table was beautifully laid with a snowy white linen cloth, and each place setting consisted of a large plate, a spoon, and a big napkin. In the center of the table, the plates were . . . Dougless could hardly believe her eyes: the plates were gold. The plates further down the table were silver, then came pewter plates, until a couple on the end were made of wood. There were chairs behind the gold plates and stools for the other diners. There was no disguising who was considered of higher rank than someone else. Obviously, equality was not something these people pursued.

Dougless was happy to see that Honoria led her to a silver plate, and Dougless was further pleased to find herself sitting across from Kit.

“What amusement do you plan for us this eve’n?” he asked.

Dougless looked into his deep blue eyes and thought, How about spin the bottle? “Ah . . .” She had been so involved with the problem of Nicholas she had given her job little thought. “Waltzing,” she said. “It’s the national dance of my country.”

When he smiled at her, Dougless smiled back warmly.

Her concentration was broken when a servant brought a ewer and basin and towel for each guest to wash his hands. Dougless saw that, three seats down from Kit was Nicholas, and he was in serious conversation with a tall, dark-haired woman who wasn’t beautiful exactly but very handsome. For a moment, Dougless stared at the woman, thinking that she’d seen her before, but she couldn’t place her.

Turning away, she looked at the other people and thought how odd it was to see women without makeup, but the women obviously took care of their skin. They didn’t just get up, wash their faces, and go.

On the other side of Nicholas was the French heiress who was to marry Kit. The girl sat quietly, her lower lip stuck out, a frown on her plain face. No one spoke to her, but she didn’t seem to mind. Behind her hovered a fierce-looking older woman who, when the girl knocked her napkin askew, straightened it.

Dougless caught the girl’s eye and smiled, but the girl glowered back, and the hovering woman looked as though Dougless had threatened her charge. Dougless turned away.

When the food arrived, Dougless saw that it was presented with great ceremony. And cooking like this deserved ceremony. The first course of meat was brought in on enormous silver trays: roast beef, veal, mutton, salted beef. Wine, which was kept cool in copper tubs of cold water, was poured into jewel-colored, translucent goblets of Venetian glass.

The next course was fowl: turkey, boiled capon, chicken stewed with leeks, partridge, pheasant, quail, woodcock. Next came fish: sole, turbot, whiting, lobster, crayfish, eels.

Everything seemed to be cooked in a sauce, all of it highly spiced and delicious.

Vegetables came next: turnips, green peas, cucumbers, carrots, spinach. Dougless did not find the vegetables as good as the other courses because they had been cooked to a pulp. When she asked, she was told that vegetables must be cooked thoroughly to remove the poisons from them.

With every course a different wine was served, and servants rinsed the glasses before filling them with the next wine.

Salads came after the vegetables. Not salads as she knew them but cooked lettuce and even cooked violet buds.

When Dougless was so full she felt like lying down and sleeping the afternoon away, dessert was brought in. There were almond tarts and pies of nearly every fruit imaginable, and there were cheeses that ranged from creamy to hard. The fat, sun-warmed strawberries were more flavorful than any Dougless had ever tasted in the modern world.

For once Dougless was thankful for her steel corset, which kept her from gorging herself.

After the meal the ewer of water was brought around again because the food had been eaten with spoons and fingers.

At last, after three hours, the group broke up and Dougless waddled up the stairs to Honoria’s room and flopped on the bed. “I am dying,” she said woefully. “I’ll never be able to walk again. And to think I expected Nicholas to be happy with a club sandwich for lunch.”

Honoria laughed at her. “Now we must attend Lady Margaret.”

Dougless soon found out that the Elizabethan people worked as hard as they ate. With her hand on her full belly, Dougless followed Honoria downstairs, through a beautiful knot garden, and out to the stables. Dougless was helped onto a horse with a sidesaddle, which she had a great deal of trouble holding on to; then Lady Margaret, her five women and four male guards wearing swords and daggers, set off at a mad pace. Dougless had a hard time keeping up because she was so unbalanced, with one leg hooked over a tall wooden pommel and the other in a short stirrup. Dougless knew her Colorado cousins wouldn’t be very proud of her because she used both hands to hold on to the reins.

“They have no horses in Lanconia?” one of the men asked her.

“Horses, yes; sidesaddles, no,” she answered as she held on fearfully.

After about an hour she began to feel less like she was going to fall off at any second, so she could look around her. Going from the beautiful Stafford house to the English countryside was like going from a fairy castle to a slum, or maybe from Beverley Hills to Calcutta.

Cleanliness was not part of the villagers’ lives. Animals and people lived in the same buildings and on the same sanitary level. Kitchen and privy slops were thrown outside the doors of the dark little houses. The people were as dirty as only years’ worth of dirt and sweat could make them. Their clothes were coarse and stiff with grease and use.

And diseases! Dougless stared at the people they passed. They were marked with smallpox; they had neck goiter, ringworm, running sores on their faces. Many times she saw crippled and maimed people. And no one over the age of ten seemed to have all his teeth—and the ones they did have were usually black.

Dougless’s huge lunch threatened to come up. What made her feel worse than the sights and smells was the fact that most of the illnesses could be cured with modern medicine. As she rode, holding on to the saddle, she could see that there were very few people past the age of thirty, and it occurred to Dougless that had she been born in the sixteenth century, she wouldn’t have lived past ten years old. At ten her appendix had ruptured and she’d required emergency surgery. There was no surgery in the sixteenth century. But then she probably wouldn’t even have survived birth because Dougless had been a breech birth and her mother had hemorrhaged. As she thought about this, she looked at these people with new eyes. These people were the survivors, the healthiest of the healthy.

As Lady Margaret’s group rode by, the villagers came out of their huts or stopped working in the fields to stare at the procession of beautifully dressed people on their sleek horses. Lady Margaret and her attendants waved to the villagers, and the villagers grinned back. We’re rock stars, movie stars, and royalty all rolled into one, Dougless thought, and she waved at the people too.

They rode for what seemed to be hours to Dougless’s sore backside and cramped legs before they halted in a pretty little meadow that overlooked a field full of grazing sheep. One of the grooms helped Dougless from her horse, and she limped to where Honoria sat on a cloth on the damp ground.

“You have enjoyed the ride?” Honoria asked.

“About as much as measles and whooping cough,” Dougless murmured. “I take it Lady Margaret is over her flu?”

“She is a most energetic woman.”

“I can see that.”

They sat in companionable silence for a while, Dougless looking at the pretty view and trying not to think of her encounter with Nicholas the night before. She asked Honoria what a callet was and found out it was a lewd woman. Dougless bit her tongue on renewed anger.

“And a cater-cousin?” she asked Honoria.

“A friend of the heart.”

Dougless sighed. So Nicholas and Robert Sydney were “friends of the heart.” No wonder Nicholas would believe nothing bad about the man. Some friendship, she thought. Nicholas rolls about on the table with Robert’s wife, and Robert plots to have his friend executed.

“Robert Sydney is a pillicock,” Dougless muttered.

Honoria looked shocked. “You know him? You care for him?”

“I don’t know him, and I certainly don’t care for him.”

Honoria looked so puzzled that Dougless asked what a pillicock was. “It is a term of endearment; it means a pretty rogue.”

“Endearment? But—” She broke off. When Nicholas had asked her to return to the sixteenth century to cook for him and she’d been so angry, she’d called him rotten names and Nicholas had supplied “pillicock” to the list. He must have loved hearing an angry woman call him a term of endearment.

She smiled in memory. He could indeed be a pillicock.

One of the women, who was a maid to a maid to Lady Margaret, passed about little cookies made of crushed almonds.

Munching, Dougless asked, “Who was the handsome dark-haired woman sitting next to Nicholas at dinner today?”

“Lady Arabella Sydney.”

Dougless choked and coughed, sputtering crumbs. “Lady Arabella? Has she been here long? When did she come? When will she leave?” The postcard, Dougless thought. That’s where she’d seen the woman: in the portrait on the postcard she’d bought at Bellwood.

Honoria smiled. “She arrived yester eve and leaves early on the morrow. She journeys with her husband to France. They will not return for years, so she came to bid my Lady Margaret farewell.”

Dougless’s mind raced. If Nicholas hadn’t had Arabella on the table yet and tomorrow Arabella left, then this had to be the day. She had to stop it!

Suddenly, she doubled over, her hands on her stomach, and began to groan.

“What ails you?” Honoria asked, concerned.

“Something I ate. I must return to the house.”

“But—” Honoria began.

“I must.” Dougless gave a few more groans.

Quickly, Honoria went to Lady Margaret and returned in a few minutes. “We have permission. I will accompany you with one groom.”

“Great. Let’s just go fast.”

Honoria looked confused as Dougless hurried toward the horses. As a groom helped her onto the saddle, Dougless didn’t look at all ill.

Dougless would have thrown her leg over the idiot sidesaddle, but there was no stirrup on one side, so she tightened her leg around the big protrusion in the front, took a little riding crop, and applied it to the horse’s flanks. Leaning forward, she hung on as the horse thundered down the rutted, dirty road.

Behind her came the groom and Honoria, doing their best to keep up with her.

Twice Dougless had to make the horse jump, once over a wagon tongue, once over a small wooden wheelbarrel. She reined in sharply as a child ran across the road and managed to miss him. She ran through a flock of geese that set up a terrible clatter.

When she reached the house, she leaped from the saddle, tripped on the heavy skirts, and fell face forward. But she didn’t waste a moment as she got up and began running, flinging open the gate, then running down the brick walk and up the stairs, across the terrace and in through the front door.

Once she was inside the house, she stopped and stared up at the staircase. Where? Where was Nicholas? Arabella? The table?

To her left came voices, and when she heard Kit, she ran to him. “Do you know where there’s a table, about six feet long, three feet wide? The legs are turned in a spiral.”

Kit smiled at the urgency in her voice—and at the wild look of her. Her face was running with perspiration, her cap was half off, and her auburn hair was falling about her shoulders. “We have many such tables.”

“This one is special.” She was trying to remain calm, but she couldn’t quite do it. And she was trying to breathe, but the corset was constricting her lungs. “It’s in a room Nicholas uses, and there’s a closet in the room, a place big enough that two people can hide in it.”

“Closet?” Kit said, puzzled, and Dougless realized that a closet in Elizabethan England wasn’t a place to hang clothes.

An older man behind Kit whispered something to him, and Kit smiled. “The chamber next to Nicholas’s bedchamber has such a table. He often—”

Dougless didn’t hear the rest. Tossing her skirt and petticoats over her arm, she ran up the stairs. Nicholas’s bedroom was two rooms down on the right and next to it was a door. She tried the handle, but it was locked. She ran into his bedroom, and through it, but the connecting door was also locked.

She banged on the door with her open palms. “Nicholas! If you’re in there, let me in. Nicholas! Do you hear me?”

She could swear she heard sounds inside the room. “Nicholas!” she screamed as she pounded and kicked the door. “Nicholas!”

When he opened the door, he had a lethal-looking dagger in his hand. “Is my mother well?” he asked.

Dougless pushed past him. There, against the wall was the table she’d seen in the Harewoods’ library. It was four hundred years younger, but it was the same table. And sitting on a chair, trying to look innocent, was Lady Arabella.

“I will have your—” Nicholas began.

But Dougless cut him off when she flung open a little door to the left of the window. There, huddled against the shelves, were two servants. “This is why I wanted you to open the door,” she said to Nicholas. “These two spies would have seen everything you two were about to do.”

Nicholas and Arabella were gaping at her, speechless.

Dougless looked at the two servants. “If one word of this gets out, we’ll know who told. Do you understand me?”

In spite of Dougless’s odd speech pattern, they did indeed understand her. “Now get out of here,” she said.

As quickly as mice, they scurried from the room.

“You—” Nicholas began.

Ignoring him, Dougless turned to Arabella. “I’ve saved your life, because your husband would have heard of this and eventually he would have—” Dougless took a deep breath. “I think you’d better go.”

Arabella, not used to being spoken to like this, started to protest, but then she thought of her husband’s temper. She hurried from the room.

When Dougless turned to Nicholas, she saw the rage on his face—which was nothing new, since he’d hardly looked at her any other way since she’d arrived. She gave him a hard glare, then started to leave.

She didn’t make it out the door because Nicholas slammed it in her face.

“Do you spy on me?” he asked. “Do you enjoy watching what I do with other women?”

Count to ten, Dougless thought, or better yet, twenty. She drew a deep breath. “I do not get my kicks from watching you make a fool of yourself with women,” she said calmly. “I’ve told you why I’m here. I knew you were about . . . about to have Arabella on the table because you’d already done so. The servants told everybody, John Wilfred wrote the story, Arabella had your kid, and Robert Sydney did her in. Now, may I go?”

She watched the emotions running across Nicholas’s face, the anger, the confusion, and Dougless felt sympathy for him. “I know that what I’m saying is impossible to believe. When you came to me, I didn’t believe you either, but, Nicholas, I’m from the future and I’ve been sent back in time to try to prevent the ruin of your entire family. Lettice—”

His look cut her off. “Do you accuse an innocent woman? Or are you jealous of all women I touch?”

Dougless’s vow to control her emotions flew out the window. “You vain peacock! I couldn’t care less how many women you bed. It’s nothing to me. You aren’t the man I once knew. In fact you’re half the man your brother is. I was sent back in time to right a wrong, and I’m going to do the best I can, no matter how hard you try to thwart me. Maybe if I can prevent Kit’s death, that will save the Stafford estates, then nobody will have to try to change you from being a randy satyr. Now, let me out of here.”

Nicholas didn’t move from in front of the door. “You speak of my brother’s death. Do you mean to cast—”

Dougless threw up her hands and turned away. “I am not a witch. Can’t you understand that? I’m a regular, ordinary person who’s been caught in very strange circumstances.” She turned back to him. “I don’t know all of what happened when Kit died. You said you were at sword practice and you cut your arm, so you couldn’t go riding with him. He saw some girl in a lake and went after her. He drowned. That’s all I know.” Except that Lettice might have been responsible, Dougless thought, but she didn’t add that.

He was staring at her, his eyes hostile.

Her voice softened. “When you came to me, I didn’t believe you either,” she repeated. “You told me several things that weren’t in the history books, but I still didn’t believe you. Finally, you took me to Bellwood and showed me a secret door that held a little ivory box. No one, in all the years of the many different owners of the castle had found the door. You said Kit showed you the door the week before he died.” She didn’t like to think of Kit dying.

Nicholas gaped at her. She was a witch, for, just recently, Kit mentioned a hidden door at Bellwood, a door he had not yet shown his younger brother. What had she done to Kit to persuade him to tell her of this door that by right should be known only to family members?

In truth, what was she doing to his family and his household? Yesterday he’d heard a stableman singing some absurdity of a song called “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Three of his mother’s women now applied paint to their eyelids that they said came from “Lady” Dougless. His mother—his sane, level-headed, wise mother—took medicine from her hand with the trust of a child. And Kit watched the red-haired wench with the intensity of a bird of prey.

In the few days she had been in the Stafford house, she had upset everything. Her songs, her outrageous dances, the stories she told (lately the castle folk had been talking about some people named Scarlett and Rhett), even how she painted her face was affecting everyone. She was a sorceress, and she was gradually putting everyone under her spell.

Nicholas was the only person who made any attempt to resist her. When he tried to talk to Kit of the power the woman was gaining, Kit had laughed. “Of what consequence are a few stories and songs?” Kit had said.

Nicholas didn’t know what the woman wanted, but he did not mean to so easily fall under her spell as the others had. He meant to resist her no matter how difficult that might be.

Now, glaring at her, he knew that resisting her would never be easy. Her auburn hair was about her shoulders, and she held the little pearl cap in her hands. Never had he seen a woman as beautiful as she. Lettice, perhaps, was more perfect-featured, but this woman, this Dougless, who enraged him, had something more, something he could not name.

From the first moment he’d seen her, it had been as though she had some secret hold over him. He liked being in control with women, like kissing them and feeling them melt against him. He liked the challenge of winning a difficult woman, and he liked the sense of power it gave him when he walked away from her.

But from the first this woman had been different. He watched her far more than she did him. He was aware of every time she looked at Kit, of every glance she gave some handsome servant, of every time she smiled or laughed. Last night in his room his awareness of her had been to the point of pain, and this awareness had made him so angry he could barely speak or think coherently. Her effect on him enraged him. After she left, he had not slept because he knew she wept. The tears of women had never bothered him before. Women always cried. They wept when you left them, when you would not do what they wanted, when you told them you did not love them. He liked women like Arabella and Lettice who never cried for any reason.

But last night this woman had spent the night weeping, and even though he could neither hear nor see her, he had felt her tears. Three times he had almost gone to her but he’d managed to restrain himself. He had no intention of letting her know she had power over him.

As for her story of past and future, he did not so much as consider it. But something about her was strange. He did not for a moment believe she was a Lanconian princess—nor did he think his mother believed her, but Lady Margaret liked the odd songs and the woman’s strange manner of speaking. His mother liked the way this woman acted as though everything were new to her, from the food to the clothes to the servants.

“. . . you’ll tell me, won’t you?”

Nicholas stared at her; he had no idea what she’d been saying. But suddenly a wave of such desire for her flooded his veins that he stepped back against the door. “You will not bewitch me as you have my family,” he said as though he meant to convince himself.

Dougless saw the lust in his eyes, saw the way his lids lowered. In spite of herself, her heart began to pound. You touch him and you return, she told herself, but you can’t leave until Kit is safe and Lettice’s treachery is exposed.

“Nicholas, I don’t mean to bewitch you, and I haven’t done anything with your family that I haven’t needed to do to survive.” She put out her hand to touch him. “If you would only listen to me . . .”

“Listen to your talk of past and future?” he said with a sneer. He leaned his face close to hers. “Beware of what you do, woman, for I watch you. When word comes that you have no uncle who is king, I myself will toss you from my home. Now get you from me, and do not spy on me again.” Turning, he stormed from the room, leaving Dougless alone and feeling helpless.

She looked through his bedroom toward his retreating back. “Please, God,” she prayed, “show me how I am to help Nicholas. Let me do what I failed to do the first time. Please show me the way.”

Feeling older than she had when she entered, she left the room.


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset