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Excerpt for A Delicate Condition by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

A DELICATE CONDITION

A Time-Travel Regency Susanne Marie Knight at Smashwords.com



This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2018 by Susanne Marie Knight

Cover Art copyright © 2018 by S. M. Knight and its licensors. All rights reserved.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Romance Writing with a Twist

http://romancewritingwithatwist.blogspot.com

http:/www.susanneknight.com

United States of America



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Dedication



For T and J--

All my thanks for introducing me to genealogy

and helping me find my ancestors!



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Reviewer Praise For

A DELICATE CONDITION



5 Stars! Genealogy, time-travel, and Regency England... oh my! You’re in for a treat with this new romance, A DELICATE CONDITION. As we mentioned before, Susanne Marie Knight has been described as a formidable talent, a rare gem, and a talented, versatile author. Indeed! Excitement builds for the reader as the connection between Odessa and the De Lyndley family is revealed!--Regency Fiction World

5 Stars! It’s a fine mess Dessa Franklin has gotten herself into! By indulging her curiosity, she ends up back in time, stranded with her ancestors! What’s a girl to do? A DELICATE CONDITION is a very entertaining and plausible tale of a modern young woman’s plight as she tries to navigate the complex world of Regency England.--Twists on Romance.

Been waiting and waiting for Susanne’s next time-travel Regency. A DELICATE CONDITION is worth the wait. I love it!!--A.K. Reviews

Just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed A DELICATE CONDITION!--S.G. Reviews



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Chapter One



It all began, innocently enough, one night when she was feeling sorry for herself.

Of course Dessa Franklin had every reason to feel sorry for herself. She wasn’t necessarily superstitious, but today’s overwhelming events had her seeking solace in a bottle of wine--drinking by herself in her tiny studio apartment. But no matter how much she drank, she couldn’t avoid the frisson of unease vibrating down her spine. Bad news always came in threes, so the saying went. Well, she’d already experienced her first two zingers, however, the day wasn’t over yet. What was going to happen next?

As she scanned the job listings on her laptop screen, she carefully massaged her sore neck. Her wrists hurt, too, thanks to the car accident and the airbag deploying in her almost-paid-up SUV. Her face had taken the brunt of the injuries, though. One black eye--a beauty of a shiner--plus a scraped nose and swollen lips. Quite an interesting look for her.

The only good thing about the accident was that it had been the other driver’s fault.

Whop dee do.

Tears threatened to spill, but who had time to wallow in self-pity? What was done was done, and now she had to move on. Dessa rapidly blinked her eyes to stop the moisture.

Ouch. Even that simple movement hurt.

Ha-ha. Joke. But obviously, more wine was called for. She might as well finish the bottle since she didn’t have to worry about getting up early in the morning. Not with today’s second helping of bad news.

The distinctive sounds of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” trilled from her smart phone, interrupting her Woe-Is-Me session. The song fit her best pal, Izzy Broadmoor, to a tee.

“Hey, girl, what’s going down your side of town?” came Izzy’s chipper voice.

“Having a bit of a pity party here.” Dessa gulped down the fruity taste of cheap merlot. “Come over and get plastered with me?”

“Sorry, chickadee. No can do. Ricco finally got paid. He’s picking me up so we can hit the city lights.” Izzy’s words were muffled. She was probably busy teasing her multi-colored hair. “What’s going on with you? Did that butt-hole of a boss make another slimy move?”

Dessa sighed. “Yes and no. Big Boss Willard changed tactics and decided to pursue the new girl. Unfortunately the newbie is receptive to his advances, slime and all. And as a result, I no longer work at the Genealogical Research Center.”

Out with the old assistant, in with the new. The second helping of bad news. Dessa bit back a laugh. With her face now resembling Frankenstein’s monster, she couldn’t blame Willard for switching his preference. That and, of course, earlier in the month, she’d turned him down flat not once but five times.

“What? No way. Bummer. But, girl, you can fight back, right? Sexual harassment, and all that jazz.”

“True, I can fight the dismissal. But if I do win--a really big if--then do I really want to have to deal with Willard’s Willy again? I don’t think so.”

Um, no. Hell no.

As Dessa stared at the laptop screen with today’s job listings, she concentrated on taking calming breaths...

Nope. Didn’t work.

Izzy screeched, “Get a grip, chickadee. I can tell you’re down in the dumps. Look on the bright side. This is an unpaid vacation just until you get a better job. One without a butt-hole for a boss, so chin up, girl.”

Unpaid vacation. Better job. Dessa felt her shoulders slump. The trouble was, she loved history--family connections in particular. She liked to pretend she was Sherlock Holmes, ferreting out clues to discover ancient family associations. And she loved working at the New England Genealogical Research Center. As a transplant to the Boston area, she’d enjoyed her new friends that worked with her in genealogical and genetic research. Some even loved doing karaoke on Friday nights as much as she did.

Dessa sobered up. Her new friends had worked with her. Past tense. Now she was one of the newly unemployed.

“Do you want me to come over, girl? Ricco ‘n me can celebrate another time.”

“You’re a peach, Izzy.” Dessa massaged the sides of her forehead. “But I’m fine, really. Go have a dirty martini for me, okay?”

After promising to see each other soon, Izzy terminated the call, leaving Dessa alone once again. Standing, she took a break from the computer to maneuver around the tiny space in her apartment. Rents were high here in the city. This studio, on the top floor of a beautiful brownstone, was basically just one room. Even the bathroom, though private, was located next door to it. Not the best of situations, but the studio was all she could afford.

High rents were the only game in town. Fingers crossed she’d be all right financially until she found another job. It would be tough but a couple of months of belt tightening with a strict diet of Ramen noodles wouldn’t do any harm. Hopefully, her unemployment wouldn’t last any longer than that.

She wrinkled her damaged nose. Maybe bad news didn’t come in threes. Please? Pretty please? She could hope, couldn’t she? The way her luck was running--

An email notification sound blared out from the laptop into her jam-packed room. It could’ve been a response to her job inquiries. As she hurried over to the table, the sound came again and again and...

“What in the world?” Dessa opened her email program to find ten new messages. Identical messages. More arrived even as she looked at the screen.

“Oh no. Not my third serving of bad news! My computer picked up a virus?”

Without her consent, more tears pricked at her eyes. Darn. Savagely swiping them away, she took another deep breath and prepared to run the antivirus scan. Then she stopped. The emails’ subject line caught her attention.

How do you fit in with the Franklin family?’

The Franklin family. There was no Franklin family; there was only her. Everyone else had passed on. She knew that for a fact since she’d thoroughly researched the genealogy records. Sure, her father’s lineage stretched back to the nineteenth century and beyond, but no one was still living. And her mother had been adopted. That line was a dead-end. As far as Dessa could find out, she had no living relations, adopted or otherwise.

She was totally, completely alone--family-wise. Goodness, she’d give anything, anything, to be part of a family again.

She glanced at the row of new emails. Was this a hacker? A voyeur? Some creepy Peeping Tom who knew her last name? How did this person get her personal email addy?

Get a grip! Get a grip!

Okay, she calmed herself. Reason--thankfully--settled in. The emailer’s handle was OlderThanDirt. Maybe this was some sort of a genealogical question.

She sat in front of the laptop and clicked open one of the messages. She read:

I am Verna Trembold. I come down from Frederica Grant Franklin, my mother. Roderick Tomer Franklin was my brother.

“Omigosh!” Dessa stared at the screen, her mouth wide open. Was this true? She’d known her Grampa Roddy’d had a sister, but she’d passed away years and years ago. During the bombing of Pearl Harbor. That was what her grandfather had said.

She consulted her handy dandy genealogy chart. Yep, here it was. Verna had been born in 1918, and died in 1941.

Evidently, the information was incorrect, or rather, may have been incorrect.

Dessa quickly typed:

I’m Roderick’s granddaughter, Dessa. He told me his sister Verna died during the attack on Hawaii.

The response came not a minute later.

No, no. Still here. I did check out for a bit. Time hopping, you know. An ancient secret I learned from two Tibetan monks in Oahu. It’s okay to tell you, though. You’re family. Anyway, that’s why I lost touch with everyone.

What? Dessa stopped reading. Time hopping? Tibetan monks? Oh no, was this some kind of a joke? Verna’s mind going? What would be the odds of finding a long lost relative only to lose them to senility?

She shuddered. Maybe Verna was only eccentric. Fingers crossed.

Back to the email:

But I did hear about my nevvy, Alexander, being born and then you also. You’re Alexander’s chick Odessa, aren’t you? I sure am glad to hear from you, child. Your poor dad died not too long ago, didn’t he? Dear Alexander. And your mother as well.

Any mention of her parents’ tragic deaths three years ago always saddened Dessa’s heart. But now, if it was true, here was a family relation! A great aunt. This was the best of all possible things.

You live here in Boston now, child?

Odessa typed back:

Yes, I do, Aunt Verna, if I may, in the South End. And you?

Two minutes passed. The email notification sounded again.

I’m stuck in the Older Than Dirt Assisted Living Facility in Back Bay. Not the real name, of course. TLC, they call it. You come visit me tomorrow, eh? Have lunch. Thursdays they serve roast turkey and stuffing. Yum. I’ll send my driver to pick you up ‘round eleven. What’s your address?

Dessa frowned. Darn it, her SUV was temporarily out of commission. She typed:

Maybe I should take a cab?

The reply came quickly.

Nonsense. Humor an old woman, eh? You’ll like Chadwick. He’s a hottie! Just type in your address and I’ll give it to him tomorrow. Gotta go now, Odessa. My attendant is threatening to turn off the lights.

What a pip her Grampa Roddy’s sister was. If the connection was true. Of course Dessa had a boatload of questions. Why hadn’t Verna let her brother know that she hadn’t died? Where had she been all this time? Time hopping, an ancient Tibetan secret... was Verna off her rocker?

And how did she get the email addy?

Sighing, Dessa also got ready to call it a night. Her sore body begged for sleep. Although the day had started out on a hugely bad note, it certainly did end up on an exciting one. Great Aunt Verna. How very mysterious!

So now there was the very real possibility that Dessa wasn’t alone anymore. Who could have foreseen that tomorrow she would be visiting her great aunt? Or a person who claimed to be her aunt, anyway. Not to mention that she didn’t have to ask for the impossible: a day off. Perhaps being dismissed from her job was a blessing in disguise.

Dessa couldn’t wait to share the good news. She texted Izzy.

Hey! A good day after all. Just found out my long-lost great aunt lives here. Gonna see her tomorrow. Have fun painting the town with Ricco!

After Dessa put her phone away, she settled into her bed.

That frisson of unease returned. Something, she didn’t know what, warned her that the unexpected little email was going to drastically change her life.

* * * *

When Chadwick opened the passenger door, Dessa swung her legs out of the luxurious Lincoln town car. Her great aunt had been right; the chauffeur was a hottie--all gorgeous six feet six of him.

She patted herself on the back for going all out on her appearance today. Her tight charcoal grey suit with pencil straight skirt showed off her slim figure, her four inch high black pumps worked their magic on her lower calves, and her sleek ponytail gleamed with brunette sophistication.

A pair of large dark sunglasses hid most of discoloration around her right eye, her lips had returned to their normal size with just a hint of puffiness, and her nose... well, her nose still showed scraped skin. At least it wasn’t two times its width as it had been yesterday.

Dressing professionally gave her the extra poise she needed. After all, being handed a pink slip didn’t exactly help one’s self-confidence.

Chadwick extended his strong hand to help her up. “The old lady is very excited to see you, Ms. Franklin. She talked of nothing else this morning.”

“Oh yes, I’m excited to see her, too.” She reached back into the car and got the bouquet of flowers and the wrapped framed picture of her and her parents. “It sounds strange but I’ve never met Great Aunt Verna before.”

“Not so strange, really.” His grey eyes twinkled. “In her younger days, the old dear zipped about the globe. Time hopping, she calls it. She tells us she never settled down until recently.”

Hmmn. Maybe time hopping meant changing time zones. Dessa exhaled relief. “How is it that you work for Aunt Verna? She probably doesn’t go out very often.”

“I’m actually employed by the Facility. Pampering the residents is what TLC excels at. I do odds and ends around here. Mrs. Trembold likes to think I work for her. She’s prone to flights of fancy, the old dear. But in a way, I do work for her--for all the residents.” He gave Dessa a wink, then strode over to the assisted living facility’s ornate double doors.

When he opened one, a rush of floral-scented air rushed out at her. She inhaled deeply. Mmm, summery fresh, like mimosa flowers.

“Check in with the reception desk on the left. Someone will escort you to Mrs. Trembold’s suite.” He made an old-fashioned bow. “Enjoy your visit.”

“Thank you ..., um, Chadwick.” Was that his first name or last?

She shrugged. It didn’t matter. The main thing was that he seemed fond of her great aunt. He used ‘old lady’ and ‘old dear’ as terms of endearment.

Glancing at the interior marble columns, the large cushy sofas in the lobby, and expensively framed artwork on the walls, Dessa was impressed. TLC was definitely a posh assisted living community. Once she announced her name to the receptionist, she was guided down a wide corridor by a waiting attendant. They stopped in front of a solid oak door at the end of the hallway. The nameplate on the door read Trembold.

As she knocked on the door, the attendant made a bright smile. “Verna? Your great niece is here to see you.”

“Well, what are you waiting for? Bring the gel on in,” a wobbly voice rang out.

Nodding, the attendant opened the door. She didn’t enter. “I’ll just let you two get reacquainted.”

Now on her own, Dessa took small steps into the darkened room. Musty smells--not unpleasant--assaulted her nose. Decorations from the previous century, perhaps even from the one before as well, fought to attract her notice. The walls, from floor to ceiling, were stuffed with memorabilia--photos, paintings, old lamps, piles of books, ceramic dolls, etc. Not an inch of wall space escaped the clutter.

She blinked her eyes to shut out the cacophony of Verna’s miscellaneous possessions.

“Over by the window, gel.” An old woman--Verna?--sat stooped in an enormous rocking chair. “Sit yourself down. Let me look at you, child.” She gestured with a shaky hand covered in age-spots. “I’ve cleared off a place for you.”

Dessa smiled as she approached. This woman was definitely on her rocker, not off! She was a frail little thing with snow-white hair bound up in a braided bun. Verna removed large magnifying eyeglasses, and ran her rheumy bright blue-eyed gaze up and down Dessa’s suit-clad figure.

“My oh my. You’re a sight for sore eyes, child. Love those high heels and skinny skirt. What a beauty you are! Got the look of my brother Roderick, don’t you?”

As Grampa Roddy had a lantern jaw and piercing blue eyes, Dessa didn’t see the resemblance, not with her round chin and chocolate brown eyes.

Dessa kissed her great aunt’s withered cheek, then sat down. “It’s so good to be here, Aunt Verna. Here are flowers and something else I thought you’d like.”

“You are the sweetest, child.” Verna dipped her nose in the bouquet. “Roses, daisies, sunflowers, carnations... a veritable potpourri of scents. Thank you. I’ll get one of those pesky attendants to put these in water.”

“I can--”

“You just let yourself be, child. It’s no bother.” She beamed a yellowed smile. “Tall and comely. A bit of a mystery gel with those eyeshades, eh? Do take them off.”

Oh boy. Here come the questions. Dessa complied. “I was in a car accident yesterday. Only bumps and bruises--nothing serious.”

Verna tsk-tsked. “Lordy. You’ve got the mother of all shiners, don’t you? You poor child. But still, you’re as lovely as sunshine. And don’t you look the image of my Roderick?”

“Thank you, Aunt Verna. I don’t see the resemblance, but you look like my grandfather.” She did, too. Squinty blue eyes, long-jawed face, and protruding ears. Maybe she really was Roderick’s sister Verna.

Verna giggled. “Ah, let me tell you, he was a handsome devil in his day. All the girls swooned over Roderick!”

Maybe that had been the case, but who could think of one’s grandfather as being a hottie?

“Now let’s see what you brought me.” With a quick rip, Verna tore away the wrapping. “Ah! A picture of my nevvy--Alexander Tomer Franklin! Doesn’t he look like Roderick as well? And you, such a delightful child.” Sighing, she set the picture on the windowsill. “I’ve missed out on so much.”

“Aunt Verna, why--”

“Tut! Let’s hold your questions until later, eh? Our meal will be here in a trice. Over turkey and biscuits we’ll catch up ‘bout you. You must tell me all ‘bout yourself, dear child. And over dessert, most likely lime gelatin, we’ll talk ‘bout me. Agreed?”

Dessa shrugged. “Sure.” Someone had to go first. It might as well be her.

A knock sounded at the door. “Lunchtime!”

With a surprising strong voice, Verna yelled out, “C’mon in.”

Dessa moved to open the door, but Verna waved her down. “No, no. You rest yourself, being in an accident and all. Today is on me.”

Once their trays were placed before them, they both cut into their turkey slices.

“Yummy. Our Thanksgiving dinner is five months early.” Verna grinned. “Now tell me. How old are you, child? Are there any young men you’re partial to? Any sweethearts? Why did you move to Boston? You used to live in upstate New York, right?”

Dessa nibbled on a piece of turkey. “This is really good. To answer your questions--I’m twenty-four and no, there are no particular men, no sweethearts right now. I did have a fiancé three years ago, but then my parents... well, that plane crash happened. So, ah, it didn’t work out between him and me.”

“That boy was a fool to let you go, Odessa.” Her great aunt shook her fork for emphasis.

Shrugging, Dessa flipped back her long ponytail. “It just wasn’t meant to be, that’s all. So, yes, I grew up in Saratoga, but after the accident, I sold the house and moved to Massachusetts. I wanted to study genealogy so that’s how I ended up at Boston U. After graduating, I got lucky. I’ve been working at the New England Genealogical Research Center.”

Verna nodded, which bobbed her sagging jowls. “Yep, I know ‘bout your job.” She spooned a dollop of mashed potatoes into her mouth.

Dessa’s voice caught. “You probably don’t know about the dismissal. Yesterday, I was let go.”

“Lord have mercy!” Verna dropped her utensils to slam her hands over her heart. “No, no. Don’t tell me. It was that coxcomb, Willard something or other, wasn’t it?”

“Omigosh, yes! How did you know...?” Dessa set her chair back from the tray table and folded her arms across her chest. “Aunt Verna, forget dessert. It’s my turn to ask questions. And let me tell you, I’ve got a zillion of them.”

“Ask away, child. I’ve got nothing but time.” Verna giggled again as if it was a secret joke.

“Okay. Where to begin? How about with the biggest question? Why did you fall off the face of the Earth? Why didn’t you let the family know that you’re alive?”

Her great aunt heaved a heavy sigh. “Yep, I’m guilty of that one.” She reached over to the windowsill and lifted a long stack of smooth, metallic stones. The stones were stacked one on top of the other. Oddly enough, the stones didn’t separate when she moved them to a horizontal position.

Using two hands, she struggled to separate the top shiny stone. “I used to be able to manipulate these real good. Guess I’m getting weak.” The rock came off, but then she released it. It snapped back into place on top of the stack.

“Aunt Verna?”

The woman hooked a strand of stray white hair behind her ear. “This is the secret, child. These here polished stones are made of hematite--magnetic hematite. But why don’t we save that part of the puzzle until last?” She made a mischievous smile and tilted her head. “If I tell you this information first, you’ll think I’m a loony.”

Oh boy. Here come the flights of fancy that Chadwick had mentioned.

“All right. Why don’t we start with how you know about Willard?”

“Ah, the coxcomb.” Verna wisely nodded. “Or, as my stepson calls him, the douchebag.”

“Oh!” Dessa coughed out her surprise. “Oh, I guess I agree with your stepson. By the way, what’s his name?”

“He’s a Trembold. Has the unfortunate moniker of Tremont Trembold, Junior, poor thing. Blame it on his father. He was a douchebag, too.”

Dessa willed herself to stop coughing. “I-I’m not familiar with your stepson Tremont.”

“Some high muckity muck professor at the university. He knows everybody, bless him. He’s some kind of computer whiz. Once he saw that a lineage had been built in the Genealogical Research Center’s system for the name of Franklin, he kept me in the loop. He knows how interested I am in family heritage. That’s how I got your personal email address. I wasn’t certain of your connection to Roderick, but I kept my fingers crossed.”

That answered one question. “So why did you send the email over and over again? There must’ve been twenty of them in my in-box.”

“I’m guilty of impatience, child. It’s rather like pressing the elevator button again and again, hoping to speed up the elevator’s arrival.”

That made sense, but... “Why was meeting me so important? I mean, you’re the one who disappeared.”

“Ah well, here’s the crux of the matter. My husband Tremont, gone these twenty years, bless his soul, Tremont and his family were snobs. English aristocracy, don’t you know. I never could compare with his first wife--pedigree-wise. So, alas, I always felt inferior.”

Dessa’s heart went out to Great Aunt Verna. “What a terrible thing for you.”

“Yep, well, somehow I did manage, but it’s left a mark.” She shrugged her slumped shoulders. “I know, however, that our Franklin line comes down from English nobility, too. But I don’t have the hard facts of it. I’m an incurable romantic and I’m living on borrowed time, but my fondest wish is to confirm our aristocratic heritage.”

Nobility in the Franklin line. That was news to Dessa.

Verna clapped her hands together. “Now, for a genealogy lesson. You know Frederica Grant Franklin was my mother and Roderick’s mother--your great grandmother.

Dessa nodded. Her middle name was Frederica, named after Grampa Roddy’s mother.

“So my grandmother--your great great grandmother--was Emaline Grant. I don’t know her maiden name. If you find that name, Odessa, everything will fall into place. Anyway, whenever Emaline visited my family, she would reminisce ‘bout the old days. She always told me that she, Emaline, was a Lady. A capital L, you know. She told me she married William Grant and immigrated to the U.S.A. from England. Because Emaline went against her family’s wishes by marrying an American, she was cut off from them. To them, she didn’t exist anymore.”

How horrible. Dessa fisted her hands. This was all new information. The farthest back she’d been able to trace was her great grandmother, Frederica Grant Franklin. Now she had two new names to research: Emaline Last-Name-Unknown Grant and William Grant.

Verna blinked her rheumy eyes. “Will you help me, Odessa? Was Emaline truly known as Lady Emaline? I would love to know what really happened between her and her family. Who were these unrelenting people? Can you find out? It would be such a relief for me and I could finally rest in peace knowing that I can hold my own in the hereafter.”

“But, Aunt Verna, titles make no difference. You still are who you’ve always been. You don’t need so-called blue-blood to be dignified.”

Imagine, a one hundred year old woman worrying about “fitting in” in heaven.

“It’s my wish, Odessa. Can you use your talents to solve this mystery for me?”

The decision took all of one second. “Of course I will, Aunt Verna. I’ll do what I can. The records can be sparse, but now I have Emaline and William Grant to add to the tree. I can’t promise the answer, but I will try.”

“Bless you, child.”

As Dessa took a sip of iced tea, she glanced around the crowded room, settling her gaze on one of the family portrait paintings on a nearby wall. Whose family it was, she had no idea. They were from the long distant past, dressed in the formal attire of the early nineteenth century. A brass plate on the ornate picture frame had a name inscribed: De Lyndley.

Were the De Lyndleys related or was this just a pretty painting that Verna had acquired?

Dessa shook off the question and focused her gaze on her great aunt. “Aunt Verna, now you must tell about the past, and why you hid from your own family.”

A sly look covered Verna’s face. “It is time.” She ran her thumb over the top hematite stone. “Let’s jump back to 1941. I was only twenty-three. Just a baby. Like you are now.”

Dessa smiled. She supposed she seemed like a baby to someone of Verna’s advanced years.

“So, here goes. I got involved with a sailor... without my parents’ permission. Yep, I know... bad me. We weren’t married. Turns out we never got married. Anyway, I accompanied him to his naval base in Hawaii. Before I left I told Roderick, but not my parents. The ‘honeymoon’ lasted all of a week. Almost as soon as I landed, I knew I’d made a huge mistake. So now it was the beginning of December and all I wanted to do was go back home. I had no money, though. How was I gonna get airfare back to the States?”

An overwhelming sadness crept into Verna’s reedy voice. “I was a down-on-your-luck gal hitching her way back to the airport. I know this sounds crazy but a truck stopped right beside me. I didn’t notice the driver, but there were two Tibetan monks riding in the back of the truck. Dark robes, bald heads, ascetic-looking. They had their hands folded against their chests and they nodded at me. They offered me a ride. I wasn’t gonna look a gift horse in the mouth, so I climbed aboard and told them my story. I admitted to them that I was ashamed of what I had done and embarrassed to go home.”

She paused as if deciding what to say next.

Dessa leaned in closer, at the edge of her chair, eagerly waiting for her great aunt’s next words.

“‘Be not troubled, young one. There is a solution. You may time hop,’ the one with the round eyeglasses said. He reached into his robe and removed a stack of six stones.

“‘Indeed, ‘twould be best if you leave Oahu now,’ the other one said. ‘Soon war will come to this island. Indeed, all the States as well.’ He also pulled six stones out of his robe.”

Verna stared down at the stones in her hands as if lost in thought.

“War, I remember thinking,” she continued. “What were these monks talking ‘bout? We weren’t at war... not yet. But then they gave me the rocks, six stones in one hand and six in the other. Before I knew what was happening, the stones snapped together with a clacking sound.

“And then the first monk said, ‘As you see, young one, these stones are powerfully magnetized. We shall divulge the ancient secret of the stones to you now for our time here is short.’”

Dessa felt as if she were glued to the chair. She wanted to yell, “What is the secret of the stones?”

But she had to wait. An attendant knocked and entered to remove the remnants of lunch.

Once they were alone, Verna started up again. “The monks talked ’bout spinning, ’bout energy vortexes, ’bout chakras. And magnetic fields created by the hematite. And how a person spinning ’round faster and faster with the arms outstretched, and both hands holding six stones each, somehow distorts time and space. The end result means you wind up in a different time and a different place.”

Stunned, Dessa sat back in her chair. Her great aunt was talking about time travel?

Verna laughed. “That’s heavy stuff for me now, not to mention what I thought ‘bout it back then. Anyway, I was warned under no circumstances to spin right to left. In other words, only to spin clockwise.”

“What happened then, Aunt Verna?” Whatever her great aunt would say next would be a doozy.

Verna released another heartfelt sigh. “So, after the monks dropped me off at the airport and said, ‘Peace be with you, young one,’ I gave the stones a whirl, literally. Faster and faster I twirled, then I got so dizzy, I had to close my eyes and sit down. When I opened them, I was on a street corner, in London, in the year 1952.”

“No!” Dessa didn’t believe it.

“Actually, yep, it’s the truth. Now you know why I didn’t contact the family. I left on December sixth, one day before the Pearl Harbor bombing. Eleven years had passed. I found out that your father Alexander had just been born that year. I thought long and hard ‘bout it and decided I shouldn’t shock my brother or my mother. My father had already passed. I felt I should use the let-sleeping-dogs-lie scenario. Instead of contacting them, I kept an eye on the family from afar.”

Rubbing her forehead, Dessa tried to take it all in. “What happened to you then?”

Verna’s giggles traveled through the room. “Lordy! Long story short--I came across the Honorable Tremont Trembold and charmed the pants off of him.”

“Did you... did you ever use the stones again?”

“To time hop? I gotta say I was tempted, child, but nope, never did.”

What could Dessa say? She was stunned. This had to be the craziest, most bizarre, most fantastic thing she’d ever heard in her life.

“What do you think of my story, Odessa?”

She was saved from answering by an attendant who popped her head in for a second. “Chadwick will be along shortly to escort you to physical therapy, Verna.”

“Ah, there isn’t much time.” Verna placed the hematite stones on the windowsill and reached into her pocket to pull out a lovely piece of jewelry--a brooch. “This is a family heirloom, child. I want you to have it. Wear it.”

“Omigosh! It’s gorgeous.” Dessa took the ornament. It was a gilded pin in a pentagonal shape, and in the center was a large brilliant diamond. Hanging down off the sides were gleaming gold strands with oval pearls. It must’ve been priceless.

“I can’t keep this, Aunt Verna.”

“You can and you will. Make an old woman happy, Odessa. Put it on that smart suit of yours. There’s a family secret that goes along with it. I’ll tell you about it when I get back.”

With her fingers fumbling, Odessa attached the family heirloom to her left lapel. “I’m speechless, Aunt Verna. Thank you. This means so much to me.”

“Good! Now here comes the hottie.”

As if he’d been waiting for the prompt, Chadwick entered, pushing a wheelchair. There almost wasn’t enough clear space for his huge hulk of a body.

“Here he is, my personal driver.” Verna held her hand out to him.

“Only the best for my Lady.” Winking at Dessa, he kissed Verna’s outstretched hand.

“Stuff and nonsense. These legs don’t work as good as they used to so Chadwick helps me get ‘round. Getting old is the very devil, you know.” Verna blushed as he helped her into the wheelchair. “My therapy sessions last no more than thirty minutes. Wait for me, Odessa?”

“Of course. I’ll just make myself at home, okay?”

Verna nodded and waved goodbye. With all the clutter in the way, Chadwick had to back the wheelchair out of the room.

Now alone, Odessa picked up the heavy stones and studied them. Could Verna’s story be true? Could these hematite stones actually bend time and space?

She struggled to pull each stone apart, but when she relaxed her hold, they snapped back together. Weird.

Separating them again into two stacks of six, she fisted her hands around them. Hefty. Probably one pound each stack.

A strange thought weaved its way inside her. What would happen if she spun around?

Nothing, of course. Don’t be silly.

But no one would know if she did a little spin. How could she resist? No contest: she couldn’t.

She sent a quick text to Izzy:

Gonna try time hopping! C U next year?? LOL!

Standing in one of the few uncluttered spots in the room, Dessa spread out her arms and twirled, which was no mean trick in high heels. At first slowly, she then picked up speed. Like a child blindly spinning, she went faster and faster like a top, laughing as she did.

Finally, her head was spinning on its own. Time to stop. With her eyes still closed, she sunk down to the floor and rested her forehead on her knees. Waves of dizziness continued to whirl her around.

Her stomach protested the abuse. Oh boy. She’d be lucky if she didn’t upchuck her lunch!

Wait a minute! Suddenly, an unwelcome thought screamed at her. She’d disregarded the monks’ warning. There had been only one warning and she’d ignored it. She had rotated right to left: counter-clockwise.

Her stomach now dropped.

Did it really make a difference? Omigosh! She was being silly, wasn’t she? There was no need to be afraid, right?

Dessa swallowed her worry. She had to face this head on. Taking a deep breath, she lifted her head from her knees and opened her eyes.

* * * *

With fingers crossed, Verna returned to her room. She could hardly contain her excitement. Chadwick opened the door for them and wheeled her inside. She took one glance at the empty chairs and she knew. She knew that Odessa had gone.

“Where’s Ms. Franklin?” he asked, helping Verna transfer from the wheelchair to her rocking chair.

Another quick glance showed that the hematite stones were also missing. Good. She smiled up at Chadwick. “Why, I don’t know. Oh, look. Odessa left a note.”

Verna pulled out the folded sheet of paper that she’d prepared last night, stashed atop a book just in case her great niece decided to try the stones.

“She writes that a call came through and she had to leave.” Verna looked up from the note. “The poor gel lost her job yesterday, you know.” She stared back down at the paper. “Anyway, she thanks me for lunch and says she agrees with me. You are a hottie!”

Chadwick barked out a rich laugh. “You are incorrigible, Mrs. Trembold. See you later.” He nodded his head and left the room.

Verna waited a minute and then released a loud, relieved breath. “You’ve done it, Odessa. I prayed you’d take the bait, and so you did. God bless you, child.”

Grabbing her cane, Verna struggled to her feet. She slowly walked in front of the De Lyndley family portrait, painted circa 1816. She focused her gaze on a handsome young man in the group. His dark blue eyes gleamed at her, and he smiled slightly as if he could really see her. She smiled back.

Her conscience troubled her a smidgeon. She had told her great niece a few lies. One: she did know her grandmother’s maiden name--De Lyndley. Two: she didn’t give a hoot about whether she had blue-blood running in her veins. And the biggest lie: she had used the stones again. Only twice more, recently, to travel counter-clockwise, back to the past and then clockwise to return to the present time.

“There.” Verna spoke quietly. “I’ve played my part, Michael. It’s time for me to go in peace. I promised your aunt I’d do this to fulfill the family legend, and so it is done. Now you need to get off your duff and do your part.”

Nodding, she hobbled her way back to the rocking chair. “God bless you both. Or shall I say you three?”



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Chapter Two



Michael De Lyndley, the fourth Marquess of Hampton, looked up from the copious notes he had written late last night. He counted himself fortunate; there had been no bright moon’s light to hamper his reflecting telescope’s sweep of the sky. Indeed, the stars on display had been particularly glorious. He had been fortunate to be treated to the spectacular sight of the planet Saturn’s prominent rings.

Excitement built in his veins. He was close... on the verge of predicting the orbit of a new star-like object in the night sky. No, not star-like but instead, planetary in nature. He would be responsible for discovering a new planet--on par with Uranus, discovered by the King’s Astronomer, Sir Frederick William Herschel, known as Sir William, back in ‘81.

Michael adjusted his spectacles higher upon his nose. No, that was not quite right. His new planet would be similar in size to the four minor planets recently discovered: Ceres in ’01, Pallas ‘02, Juno ‘04, and lastly, Vesta in ’07.

He had already picked out a name for his new world: Herakles, the greatest of the Greek/Roman heroes. Using the name of a Greek/Roman divinity followed the pattern established by the other astronomers, and Herakles, a prime example of masculine superiority, would rule over the four celestial objects named after female goddesses.

Michael smiled. Yes, Herakles was an excellent name for this minor planet, or ‘asteroid’, to use Sir William’s term to describe these additions to the solar system.

After following the displacement of this object in the night sky over the course of several months, he was almost finished calculating its projected orbit. Only a few more mathematical equations...

Soon he could make an official announcement and publish his findings. And the perfect time to make the announcement would be in three days. On Friday, six fellow gentlemen astronomers, including his rivals Lords Kimmeling and Vardack, would gather at the Hampton Manor estate to listen to lectures and compare research notes.

Michael’s chest swelled with that imagined pleasure. A happy day, indeed!

So naturally, if he’d had his druthers, he would have continued to study his observations. Nothing took precedence over his work. Nothing. His family and the servants all knew this.

Sadly, there was clattering down the corridor outside his Library; someone making noise enough to wake the dead. That raucous someone was obviously headed for his sanctuary. Someone, most likely one of the female persuasion, was blatantly disregarding his instructions.

Why cavil about it? The intruder had to be his widowed mother, Lady Emaline Tomer De Lyndley.

Sighing, he removed his spectacles and pinched the bridge of his nose. He waited impatiently, for there would be no peace until his mother vented her spleen on whatever vexing matter was currently capturing her attention. She had no qualms about interrupting his solitude at will--her will.

It was his great misfortune that Lady Emaline had decided not to relocate to the nearby dowager’s residence, but to remain at the family estate. “Only if you married...” was her constant refrain. The implied part of her words were “then I would leave you to your own devices.” It was a carrot she constantly dangled in front of him.

Michael paced out his frustrations, walking to the window and then back again. Regrettably, Hampton Manor now housed a greater number of distractions than had been present only two weeks ago. His younger brother Philip had decided to roost here even though the distance to his own house was only a day’s drive away. Naturally Philip brought along his wife Priscilla and both of their infantry.

Children, no matter how well behaved, always threw a household into an uproar.

Added to that mélange was the arrival of his mother’s oldest sister, Lady Frederica Tomer. Quite the eccentric, his spinster aunt was. Just a few days ago, he’d had the bad luck of stumbling across Lady Frederica having an animated conversation with... no one at all.

Blast it.

The Grand Drawing Room in which she had been sitting, had been, other than for herself, completely devoid of company. When he had entered, he’d overheard her say to the Jacobean-style chair situated across from her, “You are certain that these stones possess magic? Truly? But yes, this must be so, since you are here.”

He had stared at the high back of the chair. No voice, ghostly or otherwise, answered back.

The next second, his aunt clapped her aged hand over her heart. “Indeed? ‘Tis just the thing to bring about the family legend. Wait for a moment. I shall give it to you. I am all agog!”

What family legend? Michael shook his head to dismiss his aunt’s nonsense. She may have been agog, however excitement hadn’t described his emotion. He was a man of science. He had no patience with diseases of the mind. Disgusted, he had backtracked out of the drawing room and reclosed the door, leaving Lady Frederica to continue her conversation in private--extreme private.

A bit of a dashed screw loose there. It was Michael’s fervent hope that Lady Frederica would soon quit Hampton Manor to flitter back to wherever she’d come from.

There was also an uncle by marriage to contend with. Sir Jacob Rentin also numbered among the Manor’s increased number of inmates. The poor devil had been at loose ends for years. He had served under Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson until the Admiral’s death, only to then cashier out of the Navy. Regrettably, by that time, his wife, Lady Emaline’s middle sister, Naomi, had been wasting away with consumption. She died a year later.

Michael adjusted his tight black armband. Alas, death was all around. Indeed, it was the reason for this influx of family. His ne’re-do-well youngest brother, Odell, God bless his soul, had survived a perilous voyage to the Colonies and back, only to succumb to a putrid fever upon his return to England. The poor fellow had been laid to rest barely a week ago.

As Michael had predicted, the door to his Library was thrown open. “Michael! Michael! You must read this letter! ‘Tis not to be believed.”

Lady Emaline rushed inside, violently waving a sheet of fine, vellum stationery. The paper was creased from the many folds and covered with crossed lines of black India ink. Even at this distance, he could see the letter writer had an imprecise, shoddy penmanship.

His mother, a statuesque figure in her mourning clothes, glanced at the much-abused paper, and with her free hand, dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. “The mail coach just arrived and my sister Frederica retrieved this for us.”

When he didn’t respond, she waved the letter again. “Look! ‘Tis wondrous news, Michael. Simply wondrous. ‘Tis a miracle, surely.”

“Indeed?” He helped her into a carved armchair. “There, now you are comfortable, Mother. Do share your wondrous news. I fear we are all in need of some glad tidings.” He returned to his desk and cast a longing glance at his paperwork.

“Oh yes, yes, I daresay we all are. Poor Odell.” Her regal face, shadowed and thinned due to grief, slightly resembled a horse. A beloved horse, of course. But no matter how grieved she was, she was still impeccably dressed. As always. Her russet hair perfectly coifed in a waterfall of ringlets, she raised her determined chin and then leaned forward to drop the sheet of paper onto his desk.

“She is coming, Michael. She will be here momentarily.” His mother fixed her watery blue eyes on him.

Not another visitor. He resigned himself to the inevitable. “Who is coming, Mother?”

“Do read the news for yourself.”

With another sigh, he put on his spectacles and focused on the crumpled sheet of paper. He skimmed past the written greetings to his mother, and then stopped at the introduction. The words “Lady Odell De Lyndley” jumped off the page.

Astonishment caught in his throat. “This person purports to be Odell’s wife?”

A small smile lifted his mother’s thin lips. “Read on, Michael.”

So he did. The writer claimed to have met his brother in the Colonies. In Boston, and after a whirlwind romance, they tied the knot.

Married? As Michael considered this information, he frowned. While it was true his youngest brother had traveled to Boston, Odell was not the sort of man who offered marriage. And to an American? The very idea was outside of enough!

Besides, as shameful as it was for a gentleman to admit, his brother had had a despicable tendency to abuse the honor of innocent green girls, promising them marriage for their loss of virtue. Marriages that never came to pass. Odell would decamp before ever entering the parson’s mousetrap. Hence the reason for his banishment to foreign shores. Odell blackened the De Lyndley family name.

Marriage? No. This woman obviously hatched a wicked bouncer to deceive the family.

Michael returned his attention to the letter. Evidently, after disembarkation, this female suffered some illness. She stayed behind in London while Odell journeyed home--north to the county of Yorkshire. Poor Odell never did arrive. After regaining her health, this female had then been informed of her husband’s death. “Lady Odell De Lyndley” now desired to meet with her new relations.

Normally a peaceful man, Michael fisted his hands and steadied his breathing. To the devil with this encroaching rebel! This American jade. Taking advantage of his family’s grief to sponge off their sorrow? He’d be damned if he allowed this to happen.

“Read to the end, Michael.” His mother’s voice interrupted his intemperate thoughts.

He bypassed the signature with the offensive valediction, “your affectionate new daughter,” and then read the postscript--“I am with child.”

The woman was with child? No. No, this could not be happening.

“Mother, this letter does not prove anything. For all we know, the woman could be a vagabond, living on the streets. It is a certainty she and Odell were never wed. Indeed, in all likelihood, she is carrying the by-blow of some other man.”

His mother flinched. “That may be so, Michael, however what if it is not? Odell’s lawfully wedded wife and his baby? A part of him for us to treasure? How I long to hold a new grandchild from my dearest Odell.” She stood and pointed an imperious finger. “You have no desire to provide me with grandchildren. That fact is unmistakable. You have only your brother Philip as heir to the title.”

Since this was a familiar catchphrase of Lady Emaline’s, Michael wisely kept quiet.

“Oh, I cannot bear the wait for Lady Odell to arrive! Make inquiries, look into her background, do what you feel is necessary. I trust your judgment, Michael. But if all comes out well, then you must welcome her, too. And the child.”

Angry words bubbled to the surface but he could not trust himself to speak. Instead, he curtly nodded.

His mother’s smile brightened the interior of the Library. “I am all excitement. I shall go tell everyone about Lady Odell and her delicate condition!”

Once he was alone, Michael slipped his spectacles down a bit and massaged the bridge of his nose again. Hell. It was fitting. His youngest brother had been troublesome in life, and now so he was in death.

Unsettled, he set the letter on top of a paper stack on his desk and turned his attention to something he could understand: his notes from last night’s observations. He soon lost himself in planetary calculations. It was a better use of his time than concerning himself with a dubious visit from a questionable sister-in-law. After all, who knew if the woman would make good on her threat to visit Hampton Manor?

Some time passed--in his mind, not long enough--when a knock sounded on the solid oak door. The butler, Rigley, then took a hesitant step inside.

“Begging your pardon, your Lordship. There is a disturbance in the Grand Drawing Room.”

“A disturbance?”

Rigley’s massive eyebrows descended over his eyes. For a moment, he appeared to chew on his lower lip. “I... ‘tis very singular, sir. An unknown young... lady is in the Grand Drawing Room. I do not recall her entering the house, nor do the servants own up to admitting her.” More lip gnawing. “The young lady does not appear to be awake, your Lordship.”

Michael stood, pocketed his spectacles, and then brushed down the sleeves of his tailcoat. “Very peculiar, Rigley. I shall have a look at this mystery woman.” He waved his hand. “No need to accompany me.”

As he strode through the corridors, he puzzled on this very peculiar news. Women did not suddenly materialize within the confines of the Manor. Nor men, for that matter. How did this person gain entrance? What was her objective? Perhaps the woman was his aunt’s invisible guest. Or even more farfetched, his youngest brother’s sham widow.

He was being fanciful indeed.

Withholding his chuckle, he opened the door into the Grand Drawing Room expecting to see a besotted street urchin stretched out on the mahogany backed settee or the Aubusson rug covering the floor.

Silence greeted him. The large room had no fireplace roaring, but there was no need of heat. The month of June so far was unseasonably warm. He glanced over the two settees and many chairs scattered about. Nothing was amiss. Just where was this unanticipated interloper? Had she vanished?

Taking a few steps into the room, he then spotted a figure behind the main settee on the other side of the fireplace.

Good lord! What manner of creature was this? Was he seeing correctly? The very sight of her froze him in place.

In all his days--and he had seen many, being four and thirty--he had never viewed anything as peculiar as this female. His eyes widened as he considered her form. She squatted down on her haunches. Her strange garments did nothing to hide her very shapely legs. Indeed, her lower legs were completely, deliciously, exposed.

Without conscious thought, he licked his upper lip.

The woman wore unusual shoes with very long high heels. High enough to be considered stilts. The French aristocracy, King Louis XIV to name just one, had used impractical footwear such as this back in the seventeenth century. Perhaps not as elevated, however. Naturally, high heels had fallen out of favor with fashionable males, and then females.

The woman was bent over so her face remained hidden as she rested her head on her knees. Her hair, dark and shiny, was pulled away from her face, secured, and then hung midway down her back. Her hair looked, for all the world, like a sleek horse’s tail.

Her hands were by her sides, almost flat on the floor except for holding a row of gleaming, metallic stones.

Michael took a step closer. “Madam? Madam, are you unwell?”

She didn’t move. Not even a twitch.

He reached down to touch her shoulder. The strangest sensation invaded his fingers. It felt as if the air surrounding the woman was tugging at him. As if gravity was increased around her.

Shaking off that bizarre thought, he reached down again and touched her shoulder.

He felt her shudder. Alarmed, he also crouched down on his heels and gently stroked the side of her face. Her cheek was soft and warm. “Madam, you must get up. Allow me to assist you.”

The woman slowly lifted her head and then stared at him with delightfully smoky brown eyes. Unfortunately, under one of them, the right one, a purple bruise marred the perfection of her face. She blinked a few times, and then frowned as she focused on him.

He was rewarded with a response. “Oh! Where am I? Who are you?” she asked.

Her delicate nose was scratched along the right side, adding to her misfortunes. This poor woman had suffered a painful mishap. But how the devil had she gained entrance to Hampton Manor?

He took the liberty of curving his hand around her upper arm. “Come. Allow me to help you to a chair.”

She permitted him to assist her to her strangely clad feet. She weighed no more than a feather; she was a mere slip of a thing. And she was young. A very young, nubile miss. As he walked her over to the nearby settee, she stumbled against him.

Again, without conscious thought, he felt his body react to her nearness.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I guess I’m a bit dizzy.” Without looking at him, she sank down on the chair’s soft cushions. She set aside the polished stones to rub her forehead and glance wild-eyed around the room. Her breathing increased. That she was fearful was evident.

“Madam, allow me to introduce myself. I am Lord Hampton and this is my house, Hampton Manor. You seem to have received quite a fright.”

Try as he might, he could hardly keep his gaze from those glorious limbs. He cleared his throat. “Would you care for a glass of wine? Perhaps some sherry?”

She looked up at him and blanched. “Oh, um, no, thank you, um, Lord Hampton. Maybe some water?”

“I believe a cup of tea will set you right.” Using the bellpull, he waited until Rigley entered, which was only a moment later. The butler must have been stationed right outside the drawing room.

Michael couldn’t blame the man for his curiosity. He was curious himself. “Tea and refreshments, Rigley.”

The butler darted his gaze over to the woman, but then nodded. “Yes, your Lordship.”

After Rigley left, Michael sat in the sidechair adjacent to the settee. It took a great strength of will on his part to avoid looking at the woman’s bare lower legs, exposed just below the shapely knees. Focusing upward, he then noticed the gilded, jeweled brooch attached to the left side of her form-fitting top garment.

The breath caught in his throat. That intricate piece of jewelry had been in the family for at least a century. His paternal grandmother had given it to Odell.

Michael narrowed his eyes. He now knew this woman’s identity.

“My mother received your letter, Lady Odell,” he said coldly. “The Marchioness and I did not expect you to arrive at Hampton Manor so quickly. Nor in such an unconventional manner and state of undress.”

He purposefully raked his gaze from the top of her head over her curvy bosom, to her slender hips and down her unclad legs. His intent was to discomfit her, however, if he were truthful, he’d admit to taking carnal pleasure in the sight.

She pulled on the edge of her hem as if one additional inch could make a difference. “I didn’t write a letter to you, Lord Hampton. I’m not L--”

The butler’s entrance with the refreshments halted whatever she was going to say.

Michael gestured for Rigley to pour the tea. The poor man tried his best, but he struggled with the task. The woman’s legs proved to be quite a distraction.

Michael waited until they were alone again before he verbally attacked this piece of baggage. “Young woman, I demand you desist this preposterous deception. You cannot possibly be my brother’s widow. Odell would never have married. Especially not a fair coquette from the Colonies. For you to intrude upon us, in our grief, not only for Odell, but for my father...”

Once again, he fisted his hands in anger. “This is unconscionable. If you expect the De Lyndley family to bankroll your expenses--”

“De Lyndley?” The woman set her teacup in its saucer with a ringing thud. “Omigosh. The painting in Great Aunt Verna’s room. Can this be possible?” She blinked her doe brown eyes at him. “I, um, I think I know what happened, Lord Hampton. What is... what is the year?”

What an extraordinary question. “Year seventeen.”

Her mouth opened slightly. “Seventeen? You mean, 1817?”

“Of course.” He waited but she didn’t continue, so he lifted a skeptical eyebrow. “Well? Speak. I cannot wait to hear your improbable Banbury-story.”

The woman’s plump lips thinned. “You’re assuming I’ll be untruthful, hmmn?”


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