Authors: Irina Shapiro
Tags: #Romance, #Time Travel, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Historical
I stood back and surveyed Frances as she turned this way and that, displaying her new gown. It was made of pale blue damask threaded with silver, and worn over a cream-colored underskirt with matching lace frothing at the cuffs and decorating the top of the bodice. Frances had matching blue slippers and silk hose that tied mid-thigh with pale blue ribbons. Her golden curls had been swept up with a few ringlets left loose to artfully frame her face. She was a picture of teenage loveliness as she smiled at me shyly in search of approval.
“You look beautiful, Frances,” I gushed, eager to make her happy.
“I’ve never owned anything so fine.”
Hugo made sure that Frances had several gowns suitable for attending social functions, such as the one that was being held tonight at Luke Marsden’s residence. Luke decided to commemorate Valentine’s Day with a musical soiree, promising a singer of unparalleled talent to entertain his guests. Hugo considered refusing the invitation, but I implored him to go, if only for Frances’s sake. The girl needed a reason to get dressed up and leave the house, and bringing her into Luke’s orbit could only be beneficial under the circumstances. I’d had my reservations at first, but having had the opportunity to get to know Luke better over the past two months, had to admit that Hugo knew what he was about. Luke seemed like a genuinely decent man, one who would make a good husband and father. Hugo hadn’t told him much of what happened to Frances back in England, but just enough to make him understand that she was fragile and in need of tenderness and understanding. I had a sneaking suspicion that Luke was the type of person who liked to mend broken things, and when the thing in question was a beautiful young girl who craved love and attention, it was a match made in Heaven.
Frances blushed furiously as Archie poked his head into the room and froze at the sight of her, his mouth opening in appreciation. Frances averted her eyes, but continued to gaze at Archie from beneath her lashes, making the young man momentarily forget what he’d come for.
“Eh, his lordship requires your presence, my lady,” he finally uttered before hastily leaving the room. I turned to go, but not before I saw a secret smile that lit up Frances’s face. She clapped her hands as she twirled once more before the cheval glass and gingerly touched a crescent-shaped patch on her cheekbone. I had never thought patches to be anything other than silly, but I had to admit that the crescent made Frances look charmingly whimsical rather than foolish.
Hugo was already dressed, but not preening quite as much as Frances. He frowned at the mirror as he adjusted his new coat, which was splendid, and gently pulled on the lacy cuffs of his shirt, which intentionally protruded from the turned back sleeves.
“Will you help me?” he asked shyly.
“Have a seat.” Hugo hated this part with a passion, but he couldn’t show his face in polite society without first being properly made up. I dusted his face with rice powder until it resembled a pale moon, then touched a sachet filled with rouge to Hugo’s lips and cheeks, tinting them just enough to appear rosy. A beauty patch completed the transformation. I laughed as Hugo scowled at himself in the mirror while I adorned his head with his new periwig, which was longer and curlier than the one he’d had in England.
“I can’t bear to look at myself,” Hugo spat out and turned from the looking glass. “I shudder to think what people of the future will make of these fashions.”
“They will find them utterly ridiculous and effeminate, but you must look like a proper seventeenth-century fop if you expect to enter French society. One more patch?” I asked innocently as he growled at me. “You are very pretty,
,” I said sweetly and jumped out of the way as Hugo tried to catch me. Jumping was a bit of an overstatement since I was so unwieldy I could barely shift my bulk, but I eventually let him catch me and give me a kiss.
“I’ve never kissed a man wearing rouge before,” I mused as I wiped my lips. “Have a good time, you two. And keep an eye on Frances,” I admonished. “Perhaps Luke’s intentions are not as honorable as you think.”
“Luke Marsden will only lay a finger on Frances if he wishes to be gelded,” Hugo replied. He was in a foul mood indeed, so perhaps an outing would do him good. He’d been brooding since we moved into the house, a fact he tried to hide from me, but I noticed nonetheless. I was sure that Hugo wasn’t telling me the whole truth of our situation, but I made a conscious decision to put off all heavy conversations and life-changing decisions until after the birth. Sometimes ignorance
bliss, and although I was feeling far from blissful, I was more at peace than I had been in months.
“Are you sure you will be all right on your own?” Hugo asked yet again.
“I will be just fine. Besides, I won’t be alone; Archie will be here, and so will the servants.” Hugo rolled his eyes at the mention of the servants, but he knew I would be safe with Archie. During the long winter evenings, we discovered that we shared a love of chess, so Archie and I were looking forward to a game with no interruptions, and maybe a couple of snacks pilfered from the kitchen. I found that I got awfully hungry at bedtime, and Archie had a sweet tooth that I liked to tease him about. He was as bad as Jem, who would sell his soul for a sweetie.
I watched through the window as Hugo escorted Frances to the waiting carriage sent around by Luke. The snow of a few days ago had melted, but it was still slushy and wet, so Frances wore wooden pattens over her slippers to keep them from getting wet, and a fur-lined cloak with a trimmed hood. She looked a picture. Hugo handed her into the carriage and looked up at the window, blowing me a kiss before following Frances into the vehicle.
I’d put on a brave face, but secretly, I would have given anything to attend this musical evening. I was so tired of being cooped up in the house, hidden from view. I hadn’t heard music since a few sailors played some old French songs aboard the ship and danced on deck. What I wouldn’t give for an iPod or even an old-fashioned record player. I longed to hear something besides the howling of the wind or the crackling of the fire. Archie had a lovely baritone, but he wouldn’t sing if I asked him. I’d heard him singing once in the stables, and it had been beautiful. He sang some haunting old folk song about love and loss, but had clammed up as soon as he realized I’d been listening. Archie was not one to appreciate an audience.
There were so many things I missed about the modern world, especially now that my due date was almost upon me. Had we been back in the twenty-first century, we would be picking out a layette and decorating a nursery. Countless little outfits would fill the dresser drawers; a shiny new pram would be standing in the corridor, and there would be toys, and books on the shelf. I would have weekly appointments to monitor the baby’s and my health before delivery, safe in the hands of trained professionals who would do everything in their power to save us should anything go wrong. And I missed food. I had such cravings. I would give anything for some fish and chips, or Indian takeaway.
I tried not to dwell on what could never be, knowing it to be pointless, but there were moments when I felt as if I would burst if I didn’t go for a walk, or do something to get out of my own head for a few hours. I drew the curtains and turned from the window, determined to make the most of my evening. I set up the chess set and sat in my favorite armchair by the fire waiting for Archie.
“Can I watch you play?” Jem asked as he sauntered into the parlor and perched on the other chair. “I wish I could go to a musical evening as well,” he complained.
“You and me both,” I agreed and gave him a smile. “You can watch until it’s time for bed. Or perhaps, you can read a little and make his lordship happy tomorrow when you dazzle him with your newfound knowledge.”
“No, I’d rather watch,” Jem replied happily. Dazzling Hugo wasn’t high on his list of priorities. He jumped up and pulled open the door as Archie carefully maneuvered his way in without upsetting his laden tray. “Ooh, what did you bring?” Jem asked, jumping up and down to see what was on offer.
“Cook has gone for the night and Elodie was feeling generous. She’s much easier to deal with when Marthe isn’t around,” Archie said as he set the tray on a low table. “I have some madeleines, almond biscuits, poached pears, and we’ll make mulled wine.” Jem grabbed a madeleine while Archie inserted a poker into the fire. The wine was already spiced with bits of fruit and raisins added to the mixture, but a hot poker would make it warm and melt the honey that had been added to the brew. I thought I might take a cup to lift my sagging spirits.
Archie pulled the poker out of the fire and used it to stir the wine. The iron hissed as it met with cool wine, and a lovely smell wafted into the air, suddenly reminding me of Max. He had offered me mulled wine when I stayed at Everly Manor for a few days while on assignment for the production company. I had never had mulled wine before, and thought it to be an old-fashioned drink no longer served in the age of coffee and tea, but had found it to be surprisingly delicious, the spices and honey making the warm wine slide easily down my throat and making me feel pleasantly drowsy and content. I was hoping for the same effect tonight.
Archie laid the poker down and poured me a cup of wine. He handed a cup to Jem and took one for himself. I wasn’t sure if the French celebrated Valentine’s Day in the seventeenth-century despite the fact that it had been around since Roman times, but I was sure it was celebrated in England, so I raised my cup in a toast. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Archie and Jemmy.”
“And to you, my lady,” they replied in unison. Jem was already slurping his wine as Archie handed him an almond biscuit which he dipped in his cup. It still set my teeth on edge to see a child drinking wine, but there wasn’t much I could do to stop it. Children drank wine the way modern kids drank juice, so to object would be out of character for a woman of the time. All I could hope to do was limit the damage. I was actually shocked that with all the alcohol women and children consumed, there weren’t more raging cases of alcoholism and liver failure. Hugo had assured me that drinking wine and ale was actually safer than drinking water, but my twenty-first-century brain still couldn’t accept the rationale and longed for a glass of water when I was thirsty.
“One cup of wine and then it’s off to bed with you,” I said sternly, knowing that Jem would argue like a trial lawyer to stay up and watch us play chess.
Archie popped a biscuit into his mouth and took a sip of wine, savoring the aroma. The firelight played on his face, setting his hair ablaze and casting shadows that gave him a chiseled look, like a Roman statue.
, I thought as I covertly studied him,
you don’t stand a chance
. If I were a young girl of fifteen, I’d be blushing too. Of course, Luke wasn’t without charms. He didn’t have the brute strength or the masculine aura that Archie possessed, but Luke had a pleasant manner and a smile that could light up a room. He could probably charm a woman right out of her clothes and into bed with very little effort. I set down my cup and took my seat across from Archie. It was time to get my raging hormones under control.
Archie made his usual opening move, and I pretended to think about what to do next when I already had the first half of the game planned out. Archie tended to be predictable, until he’d suddenly do something unexpected and totally demolish my strategy. Jem was peering at the board from his chair, but his eyes were already a little glazed from wine and sleepiness, his face covered with crumbs from the almond biscuits, and his fingers probably sticky to boot.
Archie had just taken my bishop when Jem nearly fell off the chair as he tried to turn over in his sleep. He momentarily woke up, mumbled something, and fell back asleep, his lips stretching into a happy smile as he returned to the world of dreams.
“I’d better take him to his bed,” Archie said as his eyes scanned the board, memorizing the position of the pieces. As if I were going to cheat! He scooped Jem up in his arms and carried him from the room, leaving me to contemplate my next move. I had to admit that I was having difficulty concentrating. I was tired and achy, and despite the calming properties of the wine, I felt cranky and inexplicably annoyed. I had no reason to feel so unsettled, but something was eating away at me. I rose to my feet to stretch my legs when something warm trickled down my legs and onto the floor beneath me. I stared down at the puddle at my feet just as Archie came back into the room. There was a moment of stunned silence as I frantically wondered if I had peed on myself without realizing it. It took a moment for my dazed mind to comprehend that my water had broken.
“I’ll go for Doctor Durant, shall I?” Archie said as he approached me. “Let me help you to your room first.”
“I’m all right,” I stammered. “I can go up by myself. Go get the doctor, please. And hurry.”
Archie vanished without another word, and I laboriously trudged up the stairs. I wasn’t experiencing any contractions yet, but my body felt unusually sluggish, my reflexes slow. I unlaced my bodice and skirt and took everything off until I was in my shift. It was wet, so I changed and was about to wash my face when a sharp pain sliced through my lower abdomen. It took me so completely by surprise that I just grabbed on to the bed post to steady myself. The pain hadn’t felt like what I expected a contraction to feel like, so I took a moment to calm myself and went back to my task. First babies took a long time, or so everyone said, so I just had to hold on until the doctor got here. The second pain came as swiftly as the first, leaving me breathless with its intensity. My belly had suddenly grown hard, and the skin felt so sensitive that even the thin fabric of the shift felt as if it were steel wool.