When she was asleep, Nicholas leaned back against the headboard and stroked her hair. God, but how much he wanted to touch her! He wanted to put his hands in her thick hair of that glorious dark red. He wanted to run his hands over her pale skin, wanted to feel those legs of hers wrapped around him. He wanted to kiss away her tears, then kiss her mouth. He wanted to kiss her all over until she smiled and laughed and was happy.
She slept bonelessly, like a child, but there was a catch in her breathing as though she’d been weeping. He’d never seen a woman cry as often as she did, he thought. But then, he’d never seen any woman who was like her. She wanted love so very much.
He had asked her about marriage in this strange new world, and the answers did not please him. In his mind, marriage should be a contract, something made as an alliance, made to breed a suitable heir. But it seemed that in this new century marriage partners chose each other for love.
Love! Nicholas thought. The emotion was a waste of a man’s energy. Too many times he had seen men who’d lost all because of the “love” of some woman.
He touched Dougless’s temple, stroked the soft hair there, and looked down at her beautiful body of full breasts and slim legs. Look what this girl had suffered for “love,” he thought. With a smile, Nicholas thought of what his mother would have said to the idea of marrying for love. Lady Margaret Stafford had had four husbands, and she’d never considered loving any of them.
But as Nicholas looked down at this modern woman, he felt a softness inside him that he’d never felt before. She wore her heart on the outside of her body, ready to give it to anyone who was kind to her. As far as he could tell, she had no ulterior motives for the help she gave, for the warmth she gave. She didn’t ask for money. Nor did she try to take advantage of his constant confusion in this century. No, she gave help because someone needed her help.
He put his hand to her cheek, and in her sleep, she snuggled her face against his hand.
What bond had brought them together? And what bond held them? He had not told her, as she did not seem to experience it, but he could feel her pain. From the first day, when she felt pain, so did he. That first day, outside the church, she had made what he now knew was a telephone call to her sister. He’d had no idea what she was doing, but he’d sensed that she was hurt.
Today, he’d been directing the driver with the bags when, suddenly, he had sensed a feeling of great despair, and he knew it was coming from her. His first sight of the lover who had abandoned her was such a shock to him that he’d had difficulty understanding the words.
At first his only thought had been that Dougless was going to leave him. How would he find the key to returning if she left him? But more than that, what would he do without her? Without her smiles and teasings? Without her innocence and her laughter?
It was still difficult for him to understand the modern speech, but he understood that her ex-lover wanted her to go with him, and he could see that Dougless was having difficulty deciding what to do. When Nicholas threw the man out, he had reacted out of a primitive instinct. How could Dougless consider leaving with a man who gave his daughter precedence over a woman? If for no other reason, Dougless deserved respect because she was older. What manner of country was this that worshiped children to the extent that they were treated as royalty?
Now, as she lay beside him, Nicholas touched her shoulder, then ran his hand down Dougless’s arm. Three days, he thought. Three days ago he had never seen her before, but now he found himself doing whatever he could to make her smile. She was so easy to please. All it took was a kind word, a gift, or even a smile.
Leaning over her, he softly kissed her hair. The woman needed caring for, he thought. She needed someone to watch over her. She was like a rosebud that needed a little sunshine to make it open into a full blossom. She needed . . .
Abruptly, Nicholas pulled away from her, then got off the bed and went to stand by the window. Her needs were not his concern, he told himself. Even if he could somehow take her back with him, he could do no more than make her his mistress. He gave a one-sided smile. He did not think the soft Dougless would make a very good mistress. She would never ask her master for a thing, and what she had she’d give to any child who had no shoes.
Nicholas ran his hand over his eyes as though to clear his vision. There was more in this twentieth century that he did not understand than machines that produced light and pictures. He did not understand their philosophy. Yesterday he had seen an outrageous thing called a movie. It had taken him some time to be able to see it, as the people were so large, and the concept of flat giants who looked so round was difficult for him to understand. Dougless had told him the people were normal size, but, like a person could be drawn small, one could be photographed large. After he got over his horror of the pictures themselves, he found that he did not understand the story. A young girl was to marry a perfectly suitable man of means, but she had thrown him over for a penniless young man who had nothing more than a fine pair of legs.
Afterward, Dougless had told him she thought the story “wonderful” and “romantic.” He did not understand this philosophy. If his mother had had a daughter and that daughter had refused to honor a good marriage contract, Lady Margaret would have beaten the girl until her arm grew tired; then his mother would have directed the strongest groom to beat the girl some more. But in this age it seemed that disobedience in children was to be encouraged.
He looked back at her, asleep on the bed, her knees tucked up, her hand under her face.
If he remained in this age, he thought, then perhaps he could remain with her. It would be pleasant to live with such a soft female, a woman who put his needs before her own, a woman who held him when his dreams were bad. A woman who did not want him because he was an earl or because he had money. Yes, life with her could be pleasant.
No! he thought, then turned away from her to look out the window. He thought back to that hideous beldame at Bellwood, that hag who had laughed at the memory of Nicholas Stafford. If he remained in this time with Dougless, he would never change how he was remembered. The woman at Bellwood had said that after Nicholas’s death, Queen Elizabeth had taken the Stafford estates, and later most of them had been destroyed in the Civil War. Only four of his many estates now remained—and none of them belonged to a Stafford.
Honor, Nicholas thought. People of this age seemed to think little of honor. Dougless did not really understand what he meant by honor. She thought the story of Lady Arabella was amusing. Even the idea of what a man’s execution for treason did to his family did not bother her. “It was so long ago,” she’d said. “Who rememberers what happened so many years ago?”
But it wasn’t long ago to Nicholas. To him, just three days ago he had been in the White Tower, trying to save his family’s honor, and his own head as well.
This changing of time had happened to him for a reason. He was sure that God was giving him a second chance. He was convinced that somewhere in this century was the answer to who had hated him enough to want him killed. Who had benefitted by his death? And who so had the queen’s ear that she would believe this person completely?
Nothing had come out at his trial. The facts were that he had raised an army, but he had not sought the queen’s permission. Men had come from his estates in Wales to swear that they had requested the troops, but the judges would not listen to the men. The judges swore they had “secret” evidence. They said that they “knew” that Nicholas Stafford had been planning to overthrow the young Queen Elizabeth and return England to the Catholic religion.
When Nicholas had been condemned to death, he had believed that would be his fate. But his mother had sent a message saying that she had found new evidence and soon the truth would be known. Soon Nicholas would be a free man.
But before he could find out what the evidence was, he’d “died.” At least that is what history wrote of him. An ignoble death to be sure, he thought. He’d been found slumped over an unfinished letter.
Why hadn’t his mother brought the evidence forth after his death and cleared his name? Instead, she had relinquished all control over the Stafford estates and married a fat-brain like Dickie Harewood. Why? For money? Had she been left without even the estates she had inherited from her mother?
There were so many questions to be answered and so much injustice to correct. And there was so much honor at stake.
All Nicholas felt he knew for sure was that he had been called forward to this time to discover what he needed to know. And, for some fortuitous reason, he had been given this lovely young woman to assist him. Looking back at her, he smiled. Would he have been as generous as she if she had come to him and told him she was from the future? He thought not. He might have ordered the lighting of the fires that burned her as a witch.
But she had devoted all her time to him, reluctantly at first, but he had soon discovered that it was not in her nature to be ungenerous.
And now, he thought with a sigh, she was falling in love with him. He could see it in her eyes. In his time, when a woman started to love him, he left her. Women who loved you were an annoyance. He much preferred women like Arabella who liked jewels or a fine piece of silk. He and Arabella understood each other. There was only sex between them.
But that was not the way with this Dougless. She would be one to give love, and to love with all her being. That man Robert had had some of her love, but, obviously, he was too stupid to know what to do with it. Nicholas could see that the man used Dougless, played with her love, and enjoyed his control over her.
Nicholas took a step toward her. If he, Nicholas, had her love, he would know what to do with it. He would—
No! he told himself, then looked away. No, he could not let her love him. When he left this modern world, she would be overcome with grief. Nicholas would not like to return and think of her here alone, think of her loving a man who’d been dead over four hundred years.
Therefore, he had to find a way to make her stop loving him. He couldn’t feign anger and send her away because he needed her knowledge of this foreign world. But, at the same time, he couldn’t bear to think of leaving her behind in misery. He had to find a way to stop her love, and it had to be a way she could understand, a way that related to her world, not his.
Smiling at the absurdity of the idea, Nicholas thought that perhaps he could tell her he was in love with another woman. That usually set women off in any century. But who? Arabella? He almost laughed aloud when he thought of the postcard Dougless had bought. Perhaps a woman she’d not heard of would be better. Alice? Elizabeth? Jane? Ah, dear little Jane.
He stopped smiling. What about Lettice?
In love with his wife?
Nicholas hadn’t thought of that cold-eyed bitch in weeks. When he had been arrested for treason, Lettice had started looking for a new husband.
Could he make Dougless believe he was in love with his wife? That movie had shown people marrying for love. Perhaps if he told Dougless he wanted to go back because he loved his wife so much . . . He could not believe Dougless would consider love more important than honor, but this age was very strange to him.
Now all he had to do was find a place and time to tell her.
He had made his decision, but it didn’t make him feel better. Quietly, he left the room. He’d go to the coin dealer and see about selling more of the coins. Tomorrow, they would go to Thornwyck Castle and start finding the answers to his questions.
With one last look at Dougless, he left the room.
Dougless awoke with a start, and when she saw she was alone, a sense of panic gripped her, but she calmed herself. Then the scene with Robert came back to her. Had she done the right thing? Should she have gone with him? After all, Robert did apologize—sort of. He’d explained why he’d left her: he thought she was refusing to travel with him, and maybe Gloria had picked up her handbag innocently.
Dougless put her hands to her head. Everything was so confusing. What did she mean to Robert? To Nicholas? What did these men mean to her? Why had Nicholas come to her? Why not to someone else? Why not to someone who wasn’t confused about everything in her life?
The door opened and Nicholas came in smiling. “I have sold but a few of the coins and we are rich!” he said.
Smiling back at him, she remembered the way he’d pushed Robert out the door. Was this man her Knight in Shining Armor? Had he been sent to her because she just plain needed him so much?
Her look seemed to annoy Nicholas, for he turned away, frowning. “Shall we have supper?” he asked.
As they walked through the village on their way to an Indian restaurant their landlady had recommended, they were both quiet, each thinking hard on their own thoughts. Once they were at the restaurant, Nicholas gave himself over to the food. He loved the flavors of the cumin, coriander, garam masala, and cinnamon all mixed together. As he ate, Dougless saw envious looks directed toward them from several women at nearby tables. Out of interest, and partly to keep him from looking at the women, she asked him what food they ate in 1564, and was it very different from food in the twentieth century?
He talked, but Dougless didn’t really listen. Instead, she looked at his eyes and his hair, and watched the way his hands moved. He wasn’t going to leave this century, she thought. She’d wished him forward and he’d come to her. She knew enough about him to know that he was the man she’d always wanted: kind, thoughtful, funny, strong, a man who knew what he wanted.
By the end of dinner, Nicholas had grown quiet and something seemed to be worrying him. They were silent as they walked back to the bed-and-breakfast. Nor did he want to talk once they were in their room. He didn’t even want Dougless to read to him. When he went to bed, he turned away from her without so much as a good night.
Dougless lay awake for a long time, trying to puzzle out what had happened to her in the last few days. She had cried and begged for a Knight in Shining Armor and Nicholas had come to her. That one fact seemed to prove that he was hers and she was meant to keep him.
Near midnight, just as she was finally dozing, she was startled by sounds from Nicholas. She smiled, knowing he was again having a bad dream. Still smiling, she went to him and climbed into bed beside him. At once he clasped her in his arms and immediately fell into a peaceful sleep. Dougless snuggled close, her cheek on his furred chest, and contentedly went to sleep. Let what is to be, happen, she thought.
When Nicholas awoke it was daylight, and when he realized Dougless was in his arms, he knew his dreams had come true. She fit his body as though they were carved from one piece of earth. What was the word she used? Telepathy. There was a feeling between them, a deep bond that he’d never come close to feeling with another woman.
Putting his face in her hair, he breathed deeply, and his hands began to caress her. He’d never felt such lust as he felt for her, never even known such lust existed.
“Give me strength,” he prayed, “strength to do what I must. And forgive me,” he whispered.
He hoped he could do what he had to, but first he wanted to taste her, just this once, this one and only time; then never again would he allow himself to touch her.
He kissed her hair, her neck, his tongue on her smooth skin. His hand ran up her arm, then covered her breast. Nicholas’s heart was in his ears.
Waking, Dougless turned in his arms to kiss him—a kiss such as she’d never experienced before. The other half of me, she thought. What I have been missing all my life is this man. He’s the other half of me.
“Lettice,” Nicholas murmured near her ear.
Their legs were entwined, their arms clasping one another. Dougless smiled, her head back as Nicholas placed hot kisses on her neck and throat. “I’ve been called . . . Carrots,” she said, breathless, “for my hair, but never lettuce.”
“Lettice is . . .” He was kissing down her throat, lower and lower. “Lettice is my wife.”
“Mmm,” Dougless murmured as his hand caressed her breast and his lips went lower.
What he’d said hit her suddenly. She pushed away to look at him. “Wife?” she asked.
Nicholas pulled her back to him. “We care naught for her now.”
She pushed away from him again. “You seem to care about her enough to say her name when you’re kissing me.”
“A mere slip,” he said, pulling her toward him.
Dougless shoved at him hard, then got out of bed and straightened her unbuttoned gown. “Why don’t you explain to me about this wife of yours?” she demanded angrily. “And why haven’t I heard of her before? I know you had a child, but you said the mother had died.”
Nicholas sat up in bed, the sheet to his waist. “There was no reason to tell of my wife. Her beauty, her talents, and my love for her are private to me.” He picked up Dougless’s watch off the table. “Perhaps today we will purchase me such as this.”
“Put that down!” Dougless snapped. “This is serious. I think you owe me an explanation.”
“Explain to you?” Nicholas said, getting out of bed, wearing only a pair of tiny briefs. He pulled on his trousers, then turned to her as he fastened them. “Pray, madam, who are you? Are you a duke’s daughter? An earl’s? Even a baron’s? I am the earl of Thornwyck, and you are my servant. You work for me. In return, I feed you and clothe you, and perhaps, if you are worth it, I will mayhap give you a small stipend. I have no obligation to tell you of my own life.”
Dougless sat down hard on the bed. “But you never mentioned a wife,” she said softly. “Not once have you referred to her.”
“I would be a poor husband to profane my beloved’s name to my servant.”
“Servant,” Dougless whispered. “Do you love her very much?”
Nicholas snorted. “She is the true reason I must return. I must find the truth, then return to my loving wife’s arms.”
Dougless was having difficulty understanding what she was hearing. Robert yesterday and today finding that Nicholas had a wife—a wife he loved madly—was more than she could handle. “I don’t understand,” she said, burying her face in her hands. “I wished you here. I prayed for you. Why did you come to me if you love someone else?”
“You prayed on my tomb. Perhaps if anyone had done that—man or woman—I would have come forth. Perhaps God knew I would need a servant and you needed work. I do not know. All I do know is that I must return.”
“To your wife?”
“Aye, to my wife.”
She turned to look at him. “And what of this?” she asked, motioning to the bed.
“Madam, you placed yourself in my bed. I am but a man, therefore I am weak.”
As understanding came to Dougless, she began to feel deeply embarrassed. Was there any woman on earth who was a bigger fool than she was? Was there any man on earth she hadn’t fallen in love with? Let her spend three days with a man and she began to imagine a life together. If Attila the Hun or Jack the Ripper had come forward, she’d no doubt have fallen in love with him. With her luck, she’d be in love with Genghis Khan in two days.
She stood up. “Look, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. Of course you have a wife. A beautiful wife and three lovely kids. I don’t know what I was thinking of. You were on death row and married. I’m used to guys with only one major strike against them. I just seem to get luckier and luckier. I’ll get my things and get out of here. You go back to Mrs. Stafford and have a swell life.”
He blocked the entrance to the bathroom. “You mean to unkiss the bargain?”
“‘Unkiss’?” she asked, voice rising. “Again with the ‘unkiss.’ Yes, I mean to unkiss, unhug, un-whatever else it needs. You don’t need me, not when you have lovely Lettice and Arabella-on-the-table.”
When Nicholas moved toward her, his voice lowered seductively. “If our interrupted love play annoys you, we may return to the bed.”
“Not on your life, buster,” she said, eyes blazing. “Put one hand on me and you draw back a bloody nub.”
Nicholas put his hand over his jaw to hide a smile. “I see no cause for your anger. I have represented myself truly. I need help in searching for the person who betrayed me. I want to find the information and return to my home. I have never been false with you.”
Dougless turned away. He was right. He’d never been secretive in any way. She was the one who’d imagined castles in the sky and their living happily ever after. Idiot, idiot, idiot, she told herself.
She turned back to him. “I’m sorry about all this. Maybe you should get someone else to help you. I’ve got my passport now, and my plane ticket, so I think I’d better go home.”
“Ah, yes,” he said. “I see. You are a coward.”
“I am no such thing. It’s just . . .”
“You have fallen in love with me,” he said with a sigh of resignation. “All the women do. It is a curse that plagues me much. I cannot spend three days with a woman and not have her come to my bed. Think not on it. I do not blame you.”
“You don’t blame me?” Anger was beginning to replace Dougless’s self-pity. “Listen, mister! You overrate your charms by a long shot. You don’t know what women are like today. Any liberated women could live in the same house with you and not fall for you. We don’t like conceited, puffed-up peacocks like you.”
“Oh?” he said, one eyebrow raised. “It is just you who is different? In just three days’ time you are in my bed.”
“For your information, I was trying to settle you down after a nightmare. I thought I was comforting you. Like a mother and child.”
Nicholas smiled. “Comfort? You may comfort me any morn you wish.”
“Save it for your wife. Now, will you get out of the way? I need to get dressed and get out of here.”
He put his hand on her arm. “You are angry at me that I kissed you?”
“I’m angry at you because . . .” She turned away. Why was she angry at him? He’d awakened and found her in his bed and he’d started kissing her. Before today, he hadn’t made a pass at her; he hadn’t been anything but a gentleman. Never once had he even hinted that they were more than employer and employee.
It was she who’d made everything up. Out of his teasings, out of the laughter they’d shared and, especially, out of her hurt over Robert, she’d imagined more between them than there was.
“I’m not angry at you at all,” she said. “I’m mad at myself. I guess I was on the rebound.”
“Sometimes when you get jilted, or abandoned as I was, you want to jump right back on the train.” He still looked puzzled. “I thought maybe you could replace Robert. Or maybe I just wanted to go home with a ring on my finger. If I went home engaged, maybe I wouldn’t have too many questions asked about the man I left America with and what happened to him.”
She looked up at him. “I’m sorry for what I thought. Maybe you better get someone else to help you.”
“I understand. You could not resist me. It is as the guide said. No woman can withstand me.”
Dougless groaned. “I could withstand you all right. Now that I know the true extent of your enormous ego, I could live with you and not fall for you.”
“You could not.”
“I could, and I’ll prove it. I’ll find your secret for you, and even if it takes years, I won’t even be tempted by you.” She narrowed her eyes. “You have any more bad dreams and wake me up, I’ll throw a pillow at you. Now will you let me in the bathroom?”
Nicholas stepped aside, and she angrily closed the door behind her, but he couldn’t help grinning at the door. Ah, Dougless, he thought, my sweet, sweet Dougless. You may be able to resist me, but how will I resist you? A year together? A year without touching you? I will go mad.
He turned away to finish dressing.