A Knight in Shining Armor: Chapter 28


The shadows in the room lengthened and still Nicholas slept. A maid brought Dougless food on a tray, but Nicholas did not waken. As night fell, she lit candles and looked down at him, so peaceful on the bed, his dark curls vivid against his pale skin. For hours she’d done nothing but watch him, but when she saw no signs of fever, she began to relax and look about her.

Nicholas’s room was adorned richly, as befitted a son of the house. His mantelpiece had several plates and goblets of gold and silver on it, and Dougless smiled when she looked at them. She’d come to understand what Nicholas had meant when he’d said his wealth was in his house. Since there were no banks to hold the wealth of a great family like the Staffords, all they had was put into gold and silver and jewels, which were formed into beautiful objects. Smiling, she touched a pitcher and thought that her family’s wealth would be a lot more enjoyable if their stocks and bonds were turned into gold dishes.

Beside the fireplace was a long row of tiny oval portraits, all done in exquisite colors. Most of them were people she didn’t know, but one of them had to be Lady Margaret as a young woman. There was a hint of Nicholas’s eyes in hers. There was an older man who had the shape of Nicholas’s jaw. His father? she wondered. There was a miniature oil of Kit. And on the bottom was Nicholas.

She took the portrait from the wall, held it a moment and caressed it. What had happened to these portraits in the twentieth century? she wondered. Were they hanging on some museum wall with “Unknown Man” on a card beside them?

Still holding the portrait, she walked about the room. There was a cushioned seat beneath the window, and Dougless went to it. She knew the top lifted and she wondered what Nicholas kept inside. Glancing at him to make sure he was asleep, she put the portrait on a shelf, then lifted the seat. It creaked but not too loudly.

Inside the seat were rolls of paper tied with pieces of yarn. She took one, untied the string, then unrolled it out on a table. It was a sketch of a house, and Dougless knew instantly that the house was Thornwyck Castle.

“Do you pry?” Nicholas asked from the bed, making Dougless jump.

She went to him and felt his forehead. “How do you feel?”

“Less well than if there were not a woman invading my private goods.”

Dougless thought he sounded just like a little boy whose mother had looked inside his secret box. She picked up the plan. “Have you shown these to anyone besides me?”

“I have not shown them to you,” he said as he made a lunge for the corner of the paper, but Dougless moved away. Weakly, he lay back against the pillows.

Dougless put the plan down. “Hungry?” She ladled soup into a silver bowl from a pan on the hearth, which had been set there to keep the soup warm. Sitting beside Nicholas, she began to feed him. At first he protested that he could feed himself but, like all men, he soon adjusted to being pampered.

“You have looked long at the drawings?” he asked between bites.

“I had just opened the one. When do you plan to start building?”

“It is merely foolishness. Kit will—” He broke off, then smiled.

Dougless knew what he was thinking, that he’d come so very close to losing Kit.

“My brother is well?” Nicholas asked.

“Perfectly healthy. Better than you. He didn’t lose enough blood to flood a river.” When she wiped his lips with a napkin, he caught her fingertips and kissed them.

“If I live, then I owe you my life as well as my brother’s. What can I do to repay you?”

Love me, Dougless almost said. Fall in love with me again, just as you did before. Look at me with eyes of love. I’ll stay in the sixteenth century forever, if you’ll love me. I would give up cars and dentists and proper bathrooms if you’d love me again. “I don’t want anything,” she said. “I just want both of you to be well and for history to come out all right.” She put the empty bowl on a table. “You should sleep more. Your arm needs to heal.”

“I have slept all I need. Stay and entertain me.”

Dougless grimaced. “I’ve run out of entertainments. There isn’t a game I ever played or a song I ever heard that I haven’t dredged out of my memory. I’m just about played out.”

Nicholas smiled at her. Sometimes he didn’t understand her words, but he nearly always got the meaning.

“Why don’t you entertain me?” She picked up his sketch. “Why don’t you tell me about this?”

“Nay,” he said quickly. “Put those away!” He started to sit up, but Dougless pushed him back to the pillows.

“Nicholas, please don’t tear your stitches. You must be still. And stop glowering at me! I know all about your love of architecture. When you came to me in the future, you had already started building Thornwyck Castle.” She almost laughed at the expression on his face.

“How did you know I planned this for Thornwyck?”

“I told you. When you came to me, it was four years from now and you’d already done it. Actually you’d only started it. It was never finished because you . . . you . . .”

“Were executed,” he said, and for the first time he really thought about her words. “I wish you to tell me all.”

“From the beginning?” Dougless asked. “It will take a long time.”

“Now that Kit is safe, I have time.”

Until Lettice gets hold of you, she thought. “I was in a church in Ashburton, and I was crying,” she said, “and—”

“Why did you weep? Why were you in Ashburton? And you cannot stand and tell me this long story. No, do not sit there. Here.”

He patted the empty half of the bed beside him.

“Nicholas, I can’t get in bed with you.” Just the thought of being so near him made her heart beat faster.

Opening his eyes, he smiled at her. “I saw a . . . a dream of you. You were in a white box of sorts, water was pouring on you, and you wore no clothes.” He looked her up and down, as though he could see through the voluminous robe. “I do not believe you have always been so shy of me.”

“No,” she said hoarsely, remembering being in the shower stall with him, the “white box” of his dream. “One night we were not shy of each other, and the next morning you were taken away from me. I’m afraid now that if I touch you, I’ll be returned to my own time, and I can’t go yet. There is more for me to do.”

“More?” he asked. “You know of others who die? My mother? Is Kit not yet safe?”

She smiled at him. Her Nicholas. Her lovely Nicholas who thought of others before himself. “You are the one who is in danger.”

He smiled in relief. “I can care for myself.”

“In a pig’s eye you can! If I hadn’t been here, you’d probably have lost your arm or died from the wound. One of those idiots you call a physician had only to touch that cut with his filthy hands and presto! you’re a goner.” Of course that hadn’t happened the first time he’d cut his arm, but . . .

Nicholas blinked at her. “You do talk most strangely. Come, sit by me and tell me all.” When Dougless didn’t move, he sighed. “I swear to you on my honor I will not touch you.”

“All right,” she said. Truthfully, she felt that she could trust him more than she could trust herself. Moving to the other side of the bed, she climbed up on it, for it was a few feet off the floor, then sank into the feather mattress.

“Why did you cry in the church?” he asked softly.

If Dougless could say nothing else about Nicholas, he was a good listener. He was more than a good listener, since he pulled from her things that she didn’t want to tell him. In the end, she told him everything about Robert.

“You lived with him without marriage? Did not your father kill him for abducting you?”

“It’s not like that in the twentieth century. Women have free choice, and fathers don’t tell daughters what to do. Men and women are more equal in my time.”

Nicholas snorted. “It seems that men still rule, for this man had all of you he wanted, but he did not make you his wife. He did not share his goods with you or demand his daughter respect you. And you say you chose this freely?”

“I . . . Well . . . It’s not like you make it sound. Most of the time, Robert was very good to me. He and I had some good times together. It was only when Gloria was around that it was awful.”

“Were a beautiful woman to give me all and in return I was only to give her, what do you say, a ‘good time,’ I, too, would be most grateful. Do all women of your time give themselves so cheaply?”

“It’s not cheap. You just don’t understand. Nearly everyone lives together before they get married. It’s to see if we’re compatible. And, besides, I thought Robert was going to ask me to marry him, but instead, he bought—” She stopped. Nicholas was making her feel as though she thought very little of herself. “You just don’t understand, that’s all. Men and women are different in the twentieth century.”

“Hmmm. I see. Yes. Women no longer want respect from a man, they want a ‘good time’.”

“Of course they want respect; it’s just that . . .” She didn’t know how to explain her living with Robert to a sixteenth-century man. In fact, now, living in the Elizabethan world, she could see that living with a man had cheapened her. Of course marriage was no guarantee that a man was going to respect her, but why hadn’t she stood up to Robert and said, “How dare you treat me like this?” or, “No, I will not pay for half of Gloria’s plane fare,” or, “No, I have too many things to do to pick up your dry cleaning?” Right now she couldn’t remember why she’d let him walk over her that way.

“Do you want to hear this story or not?” she snapped.

Smiling, Nicholas lay back against the pillows. “I wish to hear all of it.”

After she was past his many questions about her relationship to Robert, she was able to continue. She told of crying on his tomb and of his suddenly being there and of her not believing who he was. She told of his walking in front of a bus.

She didn’t get far after that because Nicholas started asking questions. It seemed he’d had a vision of her on a two-wheeled vehicle and he wanted her to explain what it was. He wanted to know what a bus was. When she said she’d called her sister, he wanted her to explain how a telephone worked.

Dougless couldn’t describe all he wanted to know, so she got off the bed and got her tote bag. She pulled out her three magazines and started looking for photographs.

Once she showed him the magazines, there was no hope of continuing with her story. There was an Elizabethan saying, “Better unborn than untaught,” and Nicholas seemed to epitomize that belief. He was insatiable in his curiosity, and he asked questions faster than Dougless could answer them.

When she couldn’t find pictures to show him, she pulled out a spiral notebook, colored felt-tips, and began to draw. The pens and paper caused more questions.

Dougless was beginning to be exasperated because she couldn’t continue her story, but then she realized that now that he believed her, she’d have time in the future to tell him everything. “You know,” she said, “when I saw Thornwyck Castle, the tower on the left looked different than you drew it. And where are those curved windows?”

“Curved windows?”

“Like this.” Dougless began to sketch, but she wasn’t very good at architectural rendering.

Rolling onto his side, Nicholas took the pen and made a beautiful perspective sketch of the windows. “This is like the windows?”

“Yes, exactly. We stayed in one of those rooms, and we could see the garden below. The church is just next door, and the guidebook said there used to be a wooden walkway from the church to the house.”

Leaning back, Nicholas began to sketch. “I have told no one of my plans, but you say that this was half built before I . . . before I was . . .”

“Right. Yes. After Kit died and you were the earl, you had complete freedom to do what you wanted. I guess now that Kit’s alive, you’ll have to get his approval to build this place.”

“I am no master builder,” Nicholas said, looking at his sketch. “Were Kit to need a new house, he would hire someone.”

“Hire someone? Why? You can do it. These are beautiful drawings, and I’ve seen Thornwyck Castle and happen to know it’s beautiful.”

“I to be a tradesman?” he asked, one eyebrow aloft haughtily.

“Nicholas,” she said sternly, “there are many things I like about your century, but your class system and your sumptuary laws aren’t part of what I like. In my century everyone works. It’s embarrassing to be ‘idle rich.’ In England even royalty works. Princess Diana goes all over the world raising money for one charity after another. And the Princess Royal, well, I get tired just reading her schedule. Prince Andrew takes pictures; Princess Michael writes books. Prince Charles tries to keep England from looking like a Dallas office complex, and—”

Nicholas chuckled. “It is not so rare now that royalty works. Do you think our lovely new queen sits idle?”

Suddenly Dougless remembered having read that one of the reasons Nicholas was executed was that some people were worried that he might go to court and seduce the young Queen Elizabeth. “Nicholas, you aren’t thinking of going to court, are you? You wouldn’t want to be one of her courtiers, would you?”

“One of her—” Nicholas asked, aghast. “What do you know of this woman who is queen? Some say Mary of Scotland is the true queen and that the Staffords should join forces with others to put her on the throne.”

“Don’t do that! Whatever you do, don’t put your money on anyone but Elizabeth.” As she spoke, Dougless wondered if she was changing history. If the Staffords and all their money had been put at Mary’s disposal, would she have taken the throne? If Elizabeth weren’t queen, would there have been a time when England was the reigning world power? If England weren’t a world power that sent settlers to America, would America be speaking English? “Heavy,” she said under her breath, mocking a young cousin of hers.

“Who will Elizabeth marry?” Nicholas asked. “Who will she put on the throne beside her?”

“No one, and don’t start on me, because we’ve already had this argument. Elizabeth marries no one, and she does a super job of running the country and a lot of the world with it. Now, are you going to let me tell you the rest of our story, or are you going to keep telling me that what did happen didn’t?”

He grinned at her. “You gave yourself to a man for free and I came to save you. Yes, please continue.”

“That’s not exactly what happened, but . . .” Trailing off, she looked at him. He had saved her. He’d appeared in that church, sunlight flashing off his armor, taken her away from a man who didn’t love her, and shown her the true give-and-take of love. With Nicholas she could be herself. She never had to think about having to please him; she just seemed to naturally please him. When she was growing up, she’d tried so hard to be as perfect as her older sisters. But it seemed that every schoolteacher she ever had, had had all of her sisters in her classes before Dougless. And, by comparison, Dougless was always a disappointment. Dougless daydreamed, but her sisters never did. Dougless wasn’t much good at sports, but her sisters had excelled. Her sisters had had millions of friends, but Dougless was always a bit shy and had always felt like an outsider.

Her parents had never compared her to her sisters. They never seemed to notice that the tennis trophies, equestrian trophies, baseball trophies, spelling bee medals, and science fair ribbons all belonged to their eldest daughters. Dougless had once won a third prize yellow ribbon at church for the best apple pie, and her father had proudly hung it up beside his other daughters’ blue ribbons and purple best-of-show ribbons. The yellow had looked so strange and, to Dougless, so embarrassing, that she took the ribbon down.

All her life it seemed that Dougless had wanted to please people, but, somehow, she’d never been able to. Her father kept saying that whatever she did was okay with him, but Dougless merely had to look at her sisters’ accomplishments and she knew she needed to do something great. Robert had been an attempt to impress her family. Maybe Robert, a distinguished surgeon, was supposed to be the biggest trophy of all.

But Nicholas had saved her, she thought. Not in the way he meant. He hadn’t saved her because he’d pushed Robert out a door. No, he’d saved her by respecting her, and, because of him, Dougless had begun to see herself through his eyes. When she thought about it, Dougless doubted very much if her sisters could have handled what had happened as well as she had. All of them were so sensible and so levelheaded they would probably have called the police on a man in armor who said he was from the sixteenth century. Not one of them would have been softhearted enough to take pity on a poor crazy man.

“What makes you smile so?” Nicholas asked softly.

“I was thinking about my sisters. They’re perfect people. Not a flaw in them, but I just realized that perfect can sometimes be a little lonely. Maybe I do try to please people, but I guess there are worse things. Maybe I should just find the right person to please.”

Nicholas was obviously confused by this. He took her hand and began to kiss the palm. “You please me much.”

She snatched her hand away. “We can’t . . . touch each other,” she said, stammering.

He looked at her through his lashes, his voice low. “But we have touched, have we not? I remember seeing you. I seem to know of touching you.”

“Yes,” Dougless whispered. “We have touched.” They were alone on the bed, the room dark except for the golden glow of three candles.

“If we have touched, then it will not matter if we touch again in this life.” His hands were reaching for her.

“No,” she said, her eyes pleading. “We cannot. I would be returned to my own time.”

Nicholas didn’t move closer to her, and he couldn’t understand why he stopped. But he could feel the urgency in her. Never before had a woman’s “no” stopped him, because he soon found the women hadn’t really meant no. But now, on the bed with this most desirable woman, he found himself listening to her words.

Leaning back against the pillows, he sighed. “I am too weak to accomplish much,” he said heavily.

Dougless laughed. “Sure, and if you believe that, I have some land in Florida to sell you.”

Nicholas grinned, understanding her meaning. “Come, then, sit close by me and tell me more of your time and of what we did there.” He held up his uninjured arm, and Dougless, against her better judgment, moved near him.

Pulling her very close to the side of him, he wrapped his strong right arm about her. She pushed at him for a moment, then sighed and snuggled against his bare chest. “We bought you some clothes,” she said, smiling in memory. “And you attacked the poor clerk because the prices were so high. Afterward we went to tea. You loved tea. Then we found you a bed-and-breakfast.” She paused. “That was the night you found me in the rain.”

Nicholas was listening to her with half an ear. He wasn’t yet sure he believed her story of past and future, but he was sure of how she felt in his arms. Her body next to his was something he remembered very well.

She was explaining that he’d seemed able to “hear” her. She said she wasn’t quite sure how it worked, but she’d used it the first day she’d come to the sixteenth century. She had “called” to him in the rain, and he had come to her. She chided him for his rudeness on that day and for making her ride on the back of the horse. Later, when she was in the room in the attic, she had again “called” him.

Nicholas didn’t need further explanation of this, for he seemed to always feel what she felt. Now, as she lay in his arms, her head on his chest, he could feel her sense of comfort, but at the same time he felt her sexual excitement. He’d never wanted to make love to a woman as much as he wanted to make love to her, but something stopped him.

She was telling of going to Bellwood and how he had shown her the secret door.

“I believed you after that,” she said. “Not because you knew of the door, but because you were so hurt that the world remembered your misdeeds instead of all the good you had done. No one in the twentieth century knew for sure that you had designed Thornwyck Castle. There was nothing left behind to prove that you were the designer.”

“I am not a tradesman. I will not—”

She looked up at him. “I told you that in our world it’s different. Talent is appreciated.”

He looked down at her, her face close to his, and put his fingertips under her chin. Ever so slowly he brought his lips to hers and kissed her gently.

Then he pulled back, startled. Her eyes were closed and her body was soft and pliant against his. He could take her, he knew that, but, still, something was stopping him. When he moved his hand from her chin, he found that it was trembling. He felt like a boy with his first woman. Except that the first time Nicholas had bedded a woman, he had been eager and enthusiastic, not trembling as he was now.

“What do you to me?” he whispered.

“I don’t know,” Dougless said, her voice husky. “I think maybe we were meant to be together. Even though we were born four hundred years apart, we were meant for each other.”

He ran his hand down her face, then her neck, shoulder, and arm. “Yet I am not to bed you? I cannot take the clothes from your body and kiss your breasts, kiss your legs, kiss—”

“Nicholas, please,” she said, pushing out of his arms. “This is difficult enough as it is. All I know is that when we were together in the twentieth century, after we made love, you disappeared. I was holding you and you slipped right out of my grasp. I have you again now, so I don’t want to lose you a second time. We can spend time together, we can talk, and we can be together in every way except physically.” She paused. “That is, if you want me to stay with you.”

As Nicholas looked at her, he felt the pain she’d felt at their separation, but at the moment, he wanted to make love to her more than he wanted to understand anything.

Dougless saw what he was thinking, so when he lunged at her, she rolled off the bed. “One of us has to keep his wits. I want you to get some rest. Tomorrow we can talk more.”

“I do not want to talk to you,” he said sullenly.

Laughing, Dougless remembered all the things she’d once done to entice him. She didn’t need high heels now! “Tomorrow, my love. I must go now. It’s almost dawn, and I must meet Lucy and—”

“Who is Lucy?”

“Lady Lucinda something or other. The girl Kit’s to marry.”

Nicholas snorted. “A fat lump that.”

Dougless’s anger flared. “Not beautiful like the woman you’re to marry, is she?”

Nicholas smiled. “Jealousy becomes you.”

“I’m not jealous; I’m—” She turned away. Jealousy didn’t begin to describe what she felt for Lettice, but she said nothing. Nicholas had already made it clear that he loved the woman he was to marry, so she was sure he wouldn’t listen to anything Dougless said against her. “I have to go,” she said at last. “And I want you to sleep.”

“I would sleep well if you would but stay with me.”

“Liar,” she said, smiling. She didn’t dare go too near him again. She was tired from the excitement of the day and from a night without sleep. Lifting her tote bag, she stepped to the door, gave one last look at his bare chest, his skin dark against the white of the pillows; then hurriedly, before she changed her mind, she left the room.

Lucy was waiting for her by the fountain, and after Dougless had showered, they rehearsed their vaudeville act. Dougless was going to play the straight man, the dummy who asked the questions, so Lucy would get all the laughs.

At daybreak, Dougless made her way back to the house, and Honoria was waiting for her, holding up the purple velvet dress.

“I thought I might take a nap,” Dougless said, yawning.

“Lady Margaret and Lord Christopher await you. You are to be rewarded.”

“I don’t want any reward. I just want to help.” Even as she said it, she knew her words were a lie. She wanted to live with Nicholas for the rest of her life. Sixteenth century, twentieth century, she didn’t care which if she could just stay with him.

“You must come. You may ask for whatever you wish. A house. An income. A husband. A—”

“Think they’d let me have Nicholas?”

“He is pledged,” Honoria said softly.

“I know that only too well. Shall we start getting me harnessed?”

After Dougless was dressed, Honoria led her to the Presence Chamber, where Lady Margaret and her oldest son were playing a game of chess.
“Ah,” Kit said when Dougless entered; then he lifted her hand and kissed it. “The angel of life who gave me back mine.”

Smiling, Dougless blushed.

“Come, sit,” Lady Margaret said, pointing to a chair. A chair, not a stool, so Dougless knew she was being greatly honored.

Kit stood behind his mother’s chair. “I wish to thank you for my life, and I wish to give you a gift, but I know not what you would wish. Name what you would have of me. And think high,” he said, eyes twinkling, “my life is worth much to me.”

“There is nothing I want,” Dougless said. “You have given me kindness. You have fed and clothed me most sumptuously. There is nothing more I could want.” Except Nicholas, she thought. Could you gift wrap him and send him to my apartment in Maine?

“Come,” Kit said, laughing. “There is something you must want. A chest of jewels perhaps. I have a house in Wales that—”

“A house,” Dougless said. “Yes, a house. I’d like you to build a house in Thornwyck, and Nicholas is to draw the plans for it.”

“My son?” Lady Margaret asked, aghast.

“Yes, Nicholas. He’s made some sketches for a house, and it will be beautiful. But he must have Kit’s . . . I mean, Lord Christopher’s backing.”

“And you would live in this house?” Kit asked.

“Oh, no. I mean, I don’t want to own it. I just want Nicholas to be allowed to design it.”

Both Kit and Lady Margaret stared at her. Dougless looked at the women around them, sitting at their embroidery frames. They were gaping.

Kit recovered first. “You may have your wish. My brother will get his house.”

“Thank you. Thank you so very much.”

No one in the room spoke again, so Dougless stood up. “I believe I owe you a game of charades,” she said to Lady Margaret.

Lady Margaret smiled. “You no longer need to earn your keep. My son’s life has paid for you. Go and do what you wish.”

Dougless at first started to protest that she didn’t know what to do with herself, but then she figured she’d think of something. “Thank you, my lady,” she said, and bobbed a curtsy before leaving the room. Freedom, she thought, as she went back to Honoria’s bedroom. No more having to entertain people. Good thing, since her store of songs was down to the McDonald’s jingle.

Honoria’s maid helped Dougless remove her new dress and corset (her old corset that was beginning to rust through its silk covering), and she went to bed smiling. She had prevented Nicholas from impregnating Arabella, and she’d saved Kit. All that was left was to get rid of Lettice. If she could do that, she would change history. She fell asleep smiling.


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