Westbury Falls: Episode #7

Good morning! If you’ve been following our little romantic, time-traveling tryst, here is the next installment. Our star-crossed couple find themselves under the strain of propriety. If you need to catch up, please check out the previous episodes here on The Beautiful Stuff. Enjoy!

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The summer began its lazy progression into the tepid heat and humidity that made the house restless and the confining clothes, suffocating. Lillian had taken to wearing as few layers as was allowed and working out in the cool dirt of the garden whenever was possible, much to the dismay of the proprieties of the household. But it was Kitty’s suggestion that they have a lakeside picnic at the end of the week, as a way to socialize with the other prominent families in the province, that seemed to lighten her mood. Lillian suspected it was merely an excuse to socialize with Fitzwilliam, which she had no qualms with. They were a cute couple and it was obvious that her this-world brother was quite taken with the bubbly blond debutant. It also meant she might have another chance to see Matthew.

When the day of the picnic arrived, and Kitty was trying to convince Lillian that wearing a bathing suit without her fiancé in attendance may be deemed inappropriate, Lillian nearly didn’t go. Not only was she not interested in wearing seventy pounds of scratchy, wet, woolen material, but she ached to be inappropriate. Was it only days or years ago that she visited the water park in a two piece? Kitty’s insistence and droning lecture nearly made her reconsider, until she looked down through her chambers’ window, and saw Matthew Blackwood arrive with his father via carriage.

“Perhaps you are right, dear Miss Darlingwood, the best option I have is to remain in the shade, enjoying the activities from afar.” Her eyes never left the view of Matthew who had shed his proper coat on the hot day, and talked with the Colonel in jovial tones. Would he be swimming? Did men swim without shirts? Would he, being the rebel he was, do it?

“Right you are! You could use the ample time to work on your embroidery.”

A shudder of loathing went through Lillian and she frowned her pretty mouth into a pout. “Suppose you are right.”

Now, after helping Miriam with the food baskets and reluctantly packing up her hated project, she was settled on a blanket, listening to the other water revelers enjoy the cool water, even as her skin flushed in the heat. To make matters worse, the senior Dr. Blackwell insisted on setting his blanket next to theirs to talk with the Colonel. Matthew bowed demurely and acknowledged her.

“Miss Byrne, a pleasure as always. I hope the day finds you in good health.”

“Dr. Blackwell, the pleasure is all mine. My health seems to be returning even as we speak,” she said coyly as the ribbons from her bonnet blew gently across her neck. Matthew smiled at her, beneath the brim of his hat as he settled on the grass near, but not near enough to her.

“I hope you do not find it disagreeable to share a blanket in the grass?” he whispered and smiled.

“No, good sir. I only find it highly disagreeable that there are so many eagle-eyed chaperones,” she retorted with a quirked eyebrow before turning her wayward attention back to the knots. He smirked and settled in, listening to his father’s conversations intently while still keeping one eye and ear on Lillian’s frustrated curses beneath her breath and the pink heat of her cheeks. When the Colonel and doctor had left to find relief in the water, Matthew settled back on the blanket, hat over his eyes and nimble hands crossed over his trim middle. She wondered why he hadn’t gone in the water with the others. Perhaps he was stealing a moment. She wasn’t mad about it. She suddenly felt nervous, and the silence between them felt pensive. She spoke without really thinking, except to add to the bank of knowledge she was building in order to find a solution home.

“Can you tell me something?” She said, her fingers fiddling with the embroidery and the knots that were impossibly small to work with. She found, even in her nimbleness of finger and hand, it the most frustrating of challenges.

“Hm?” he said, beneath his hat, lying prone on the blanket, shielded eyes from the sun and breath deep and measured in his broad chest. She could stare at him all day and used the excuse of moving the umbrella to protect her skin to shield the others from noticing her study of him.

“About when we met…that is, when you first saw me.”

He grunted below the hat and she saw his mouth turn downward. “Why would you care to know such detail?” She couldn’t very well tell him she was trying to figure out how to get back to her own time.

“I just—I don’t remember except waking in the room with you there and even that is still a bit fuzzy.”

“Fuzzy?” he said and peaked one eye beneath the brim of his hat to look at her.

“Unclear…con—confusing,” she stuttered as he caught her staring at him. Matthew removed his hat and sat up. He studied the children and families playing in the water, squealing in delight and merriment. The gentle warmth of the sun and grass, the way the sunlight lit Lillian’s dark hair, now escaping into shiny wisps around her face. She’d removed the bonnet, and the curls remained in soft circles piled high on her head. Long neck exposed. The gentle bite of her lip between teeth in anticipation. Her long legs folded beneath her and the terrible excuse for embroidery knotted on her lap as though the art was frustrated with her and not the other way around.

“I was passing by, on my way to my father’s estate when I was called into the house by Mr. Fitzwilliam Byrne and hurried at his edict as quickly as possible. I must have smelled quite horrible as I’d been on the road for most of the day, a compellingly rank mixture of horse and sweat.” He shook his head and smiled.

“Well, now I think I’d remember such a detail as that,” she smiled and quirked an eyebrow at him. He smirked back at her. “Yet, I think I only remember—lavender, lavender and dust. And the sound of your voice as if coming to me in a long hallway. You called me angel.” He stared over at her, studying her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable and strange. Lillian cleared her throat delicately. “Go on, please.”

“You were at the base of the stairs, mumbling for your mother, lying face down. I was afraid to move you, for fear the injury had been to your neck. You pushed yourself up and stumbled to your knees, like a newborn foal. Determined and wobbly.” He smiled and shook his head, then his brow turned down and his lips frowned. “The blood was so heavy and had soaked through your dress, down your neck, in little horrible waves that made my body chill to see. You looked at me and staggered into my arms, a most trusting soul. The weight of you felt—warm and—” Matthew now cleared his throat and his eyes fell. “Forgive me—” he paused and continued “I carried you up the stairs to the first bedroom available. The maids helped me to wash your hair and—” he inhaled “neck. After I tended to your wounds.”

“Did you—were you—” she flushed and bit her lip harder. Suddenly all thoughts of trying to find out more about the moment she time traveled seemed trivial to her first encounter with Dr. Blackwell.

“Yes? What is it that you wish to know, Miss Byrne? Did we not agree to never lie or show restraint at the cost of honesty to one another? No matter how startling it may seem?”

Lillian glanced over to where the other people were otherwise occupied. “Did you undress me?” Matthew sat up straighter and looped his strong arms around his bent knees, he studied his thick thumbs and pursed his lips.

“Only one delicious limb at a time, much to the chagrin of the maids in attendance. I had to—” he paused to sigh, “inspect every part you see, to check for abrasions, breaks—” he swallowed. “Right down to your perfectly beautiful toes. I’ve never—” he swallowed and shifted on the blanket and Lillian wondered if he was fighting the urge to not allow his excitement to show. “known a woman to have so little hair on her body,” he said and he smiled with a confused light in his eyes. Lillian blushed.

“Well, I have hair in some places—”she said inadvertently, forgetting herself and quickly covered her mouth. Matthew’s eyes shot to hers, the blush of her cheeks, the way she looked like she might burst out with laughter or die of embarrassment at any moment was charming and melted him into a confused puddle of want and giddiness.

“I imagine it is as soft and raven dark as that which resides in those maddening curls on your crown,” he whispered. Lillian gasped and her hands fell to her lap. Her breath quickened. “Have I shocked you?” he said with a voice gravely and needful.

“No. You have not. You have, however, bewitched me. My thoughts are—” she swallowed and her hand trailed up her thigh, shaking. “Complicated and exciting,” her hand clenched in her lap.

“Where does the angel’s hand seek to rest,” he whispered wantonly. “Surely it is in the heaven of where my centermost thoughts lie.” He watched as her long fingers unclenched and squeezed the gentle flesh of her thigh. He growled low in his throat, and brought his hand to his mouth.

What was it about this woman? He had certainly had no shortage of beautiful young women showing interest, and those that were more accommodating, refined and available. But she seemed to turn him into a torrent of need and anger, coupled with the desire to keep her safe, to heal her, to listen to her strange accent and her new and interesting ideas. To lose himself in her eyes. To bury his face in her breasts. To steal her away from a highly respected member of the Provence like nothing more than a soulless cad.

He closed his eyes and he seethed beneath his breath. Perhaps it was she who had bewitched him, and was either imprudent for not understanding her own power, which he knew she was not, or she was purposefully trying to drive him insane and do them both a great disservice that would end in not just social suicide but quite possibly the damage of his career. He needed to rectify the situation.

“I am—a horrible—a terrible excuse for a gentleman,” he said softly. “My apologies. The things that I have said, to you, on this day and every day, since we were misfortuned to meet, were not respectable, nor were they acceptable. Please excuse me.” He rose to leave.

“You have lied!” she yelled suddenly after him.

“I beg your pardon?” He turned back to her.

“You have lied to me, Dr. Blackwell. When Miss Darlingwood asked about my engagement you lied and said men didn’t remember details of moments as women do, but you—you remembered every detail from the moment we met.”

“Miss Byrne,” he said, wishing he could protest, but she was, as usual, keenly right.

“You remembered my fall, my waking… you remember—”

“If you please, Miss Byrne!” Matthew interrupted harshly, as the moments played over and over in his mind. He wanted to remember her forever; he knew he should forget her immediately. Matthew sighed and looked to the heavens for the strength he felt he lacked so terribly.

“If I recall such details so clearly it is only because you are quite unforgettable. It seems my heart stands little chance of disregarding you even when my head and all demands of social constraint tell me to do so.” His voice was strained.

“Matthew—” she began and he looked down at her at the sound of his name. He took in a deep breath, sighed it out, looked to the crowd of friends and family now coming up from the water in laughing and jovial waves.

“Miss Byrne, ever coming to your aid is the paramount regret of my life.”

He pulled his hat on, tipped it out of habit, and left in a hurried walk towards his carriage. Lillian watched him go, her heart seeming to beat out of her chest with every one of his steps, aching to follow after him. Never in her life had a man said something so cutting and so understandably true. She wanted to collapse into a fit of sobs.

“Where on earth is Dr. Blackwell gone in such a hurry? Is there a medical emergency?” Kitty said exhilarated with the cold water and wrapping a blanket demurely over her woolen suit. Lillian didn’t know why she felt like crying or why the tears had already formed. She was surprised when a tear fell to her thumb and rolled onto her mottled cloth. Her chest felt heavy and thick and she tried to breathe but air only came in quick gasps and she felt as though she might faint.

“My dear! You are quite vexed! What ever could it be? Has something happened? Is it something concerning Dr. Blackwell? Has he offended you? What has he said? Tell me I must know, so that I may give him adequate reprimand!”

“Kitty, please—I—” she whispered and shook her head, trying desperately to wipe her eyes before the others could see. Colonel Maynard shuffled up from the shore, water dripping from his walrus mustache and joy in his red cheeks.

“I dare say, that may have made me both simultaneously older and young as a colt!” his smile fell as Lillian caught his gaze. He looked around at the milling groups now drying off to begin tea. Kitty handed her a damp kerchief but she politely shook her head.

“Miss Lillian, what on Earth is wrong. Has something happened, even on a day as fine as this?” he asked with utmost care, keeping his voice low so as to not alert the other party guests of her distress.

“I’m afraid I’m not feeling well, is there some—” she paused to sniffle and wondered how she could extract herself from people without seeming rude or arousing suspicion that Dr. Blackwell had anything at all to do with it. She quickly folded her work and stowed it away in the basket. “I beg upon your good mercy, Sir, could you please excuse me. I think I shall walk back home.”

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Westbury Falls: Episode #5

Good morning! Welcome to December, I’m not sure what happened to this year, but I do know that after a month of NANOWRIMO, I’m taking this week off and I hope you are too. To soothe your tired brain, here’s the fifth installment of last year’s project for NANOWRIMO. The one where we meet Kitty– a ray of cherry-pink sunshine, who is also capable of burning those who slip away from propriety like a fire-obsessed toddler in a Stephen King novel. Oh–and there’s a little more Doctor. Get cozy, this is a long one. If you find yourself lost, please check out the earlier episodes of this strange little time-traveling jaunt. Enjoy!

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“Oh Miss Darlingwood, you have caught me in the midst of my own wanderings, I’m afraid. My head has put strange and sudden thoughts into my being that I can’t always comprehend. The engagement…yes— “ Lilian stalled for a moment by twisting her hands together in what she hoped would look like a virginal nervousness. “It must have been very…nice.”

“Nice? Is that all? Oh please Lily, you do not mean to tell me that is all you can devise? You know I desire much more detail, every last whisper and turn of the leaf. Did he—” she leaned in close and looked around the deserted parlor. “Did he dare kiss you? Is that why you are remiss in telling me details that you not once have held back? Rest assured, Miss Byrne, I wouldn’t tell a soul.”

So much for being coy, Lil thought and tried not to smirk. How scandalous to have kissed a man who proposed to you! Lil rarely kissed anyone in her time. She was usually attracted to the dark, morose skater types, who’s plans included bringing down society by skipping class. Bad boys. Boys that didn’t hunt pheasants or drink scotch.

“I truly do not remember the proposal. I wish I had more romantic detail to give to you, I fear the fall has quite damaged my memory to the extent that even when the young Dr. Blackwell assured me, I had recently become engaged, I assured him that I had not.”

Miss Darlingwood took in a sharp breath and then released it in a whoosh of giggles. “Miss Byrne! I am both saddened at the tragic loss of such a memory and amused by your teasing of Dr. Blackwell by calling him ‘young’. He is quite the aged bachelor!”

“Ah yes, the ripe old age of seven and twenty,” she smirked. “Is not Mr. Sutton much older?” she asked. Miss Darlingwood nodded and looked around to the deserted room.

“Well, yes, but he is of means and acquired those means through several years of investments overseas. ‘Young’ Dr. Blackwell—“she giggled at repeating the name, “appears to be fallen from his father’s graces by practicing medicine in rural bumpkin-filled hovels in the south of England. He is much disgraced and would be most shockingly lucky to find himself a willing bride, unbothered by his recent escapades.”

“Escapades?” That sounded juicy and now it was Lillian who leaned forward. “Whatever do you mean?”

“I mean that he is treating the poor with so much regularity that he has become quite poor himself and has quiet assuredly upset his father’s plans to be the successor of the family’s highly respected hospital and board position in Bath! While we are all very grateful for his continued attention to your care, we were in part shocked that the good Colonel would allow him such access with his reputation.” She responded as if this were all very new information, and shockingly so. “With all his work in the poor houses, one wonders if he could really call himself by the title of “Doctor” at all. He makes barely more than even his stipend and does not seem bothered to live below his means.”

“He administers to the poor? But isn’t that noble and kind?” the last words drifted off softly between her lips and Lillian’s blush returned. Miss Darlingwood watched her face with curiosity before her eyes lit with mischief.

“Nobility and kindness do not mix, dearest Lily. He should have joined the clergy if he was so inclined, at least there is some honor in that. But in treating boils for trades of eggs and shelter in barns does not make for good husband material!” Lillian sat back and frowned. She needed to stay focused and try to learn what she could about her supposed fiancé so she could play along until a solution to take her back home was found.

“We must think up a good story—” Kitty began, “forgotten or not, when your engagement party comes to pass you must have something to tell the circle of women who will no doubt be dying to know how you captured the attention of such a man.”

Lillian felt sick to her stomach. She didn’t want to capture the interest of any man, she just wanted to go home. Kitty went on despite the quiet contemplation of Lillian.

“So, my suggestion is this…He proposed beneath the large willow tree on the edge of his favorite grouse field, rifle in hand and the mist making him all the more impressive of a man. You hesitated, as all good and proper young women do when faced with such a delicate and intimate decision and he snuck a kiss in to persuade—”

“He did not kiss me!” Lillian said it so loudly and adamantly that it startled them both. “Forgive me, I mean to say, I think such an occurrence would not have been lost to any fall or injury to the head.”

“Well, it sounds much more exciting than ‘it was very nice’,” Kitty argued. Lillian sighed.

“I do not wish to lie to you Kitty about the proposal. I simply do not remember it ever taking place. Are we quite sure he actually asked me?” In all of her mother’s study and the journals she’d read, never had her ancestor ever mentioned getting married to Mr. Sutton. She had disappeared before that time and shortly after was found, drown on the banks of Avon.

“Perhaps it is something we can get him to recall when he visits you again.”

“Again? I have never seen him here at Westbury Manor.” Lillian said distractedly and rubbed at the tight and perfect stitches, placed so carefully by such skilled fingers. Miss Darlingwood looked at her.

“You mean to say your fiancé has not come to see you in your time of need? Not in over a week?”

“Well, no—” Lillian’s eyes and hands fell to her lap. Strange, if a man was engaged to a woman, advantageously or otherwise, would he not come to see her post haste in the event of her injury? Perhaps they did not have that kind of arrangement. Maybe she was more of a convenience.

“He is otherwise occupied,” came the sudden and deep voice from the hall causing both women to turn. Miss Darlingwood rose immediately and bowed to Dr. Blackwell and she looked down at Lillian in horror as she stayed seated and glaring. Kitty nudged Lillian with her knee to remind her. Lillian made an annoyed sound and rolled her eyes at the ritual of rise and curtsy as was used in the era. She moved to stand but he stopped her.

“You needn’t rise, Miss Byrne, if you are feeling faint.” She scowled at him.

“I assure you I am quite fine.”  She stood and bowed but did not lower her eyes. Matthew’s eyes narrowed on hers and the heat seemed to rise in the room. Miss Darlingwood came around the settee to again bow and offer her hand. He did as was custom but as his lips touched Kitty’s hand, his eyes lit on Lillian for a brief moment.

“I have been occupied trying my very best to help Miss Byrne recall the details of her engagement to your cousin, Mr. Blackwell. “

“Doctor,” Lillian croaked in correction.

Doctor Blackwell,” Kitty corrected with a slight scrunch of her nose towards Lillian.

“You needn’t worry with titles, Miss Darlingwood. It is not necessa—” Lillian interrupted.

“It is absolutely necessary! Yours is a title that has been earned through hours of meticulous work, that you’ve accomplished on your own merit. It was not simply given.” Her voice quieted as he stared at her through the speech with a strange look on his face. She blushed at the overflow of startled affection that she’d felt for him after Kitty had unwittingly bestowed in her gossip of his supposed failings towards his family. She knew what it was to fall short in the eyes of those who should love you the most.

“Miss Byrne I—” his blue eyes fell and he clasped his hands behind his back.

“I would not have survived, if it hadn’t been for your calm and assured manner and skill. I have not thanked you nearly enough, and I hope you will not think me remiss or ungrateful. I am so—“she stopped speaking and stumbled, breathless and enchanting, around the settee to stand before him.

“So?” Kitty asked in a hushed voice as she stepped aside and watched the strange interplay between doctor and patient, unmarried and betrothed.

“So very grateful.” Lillian finished and bowed before him. Matthew’s eyes fell to the beautiful coils of raven hair, hiding the neat stitches, to the heaving and full bosom, held in the gray brocade material of her dress. When she looked up, the lavender eyes were stormy and gray.

He ached to pull her up from her submissive position. To have her complain about her stitches, or how rudely he had handled her, or how improper he’d been. Instead her behavior melted away the idea of guilt and replaced it with genuine need, hard and fast in his body and heart. Kitty cleared her throat.

“Doctor Blackwell, as Mr. Sutton is your cousin, perhaps you would like to remind Miss Byrne of the utmost happiest occasion of her life.” Miss Darlingwood said pointedly. Lillian rose and blushed and stepped away.

“I’m sure she’ll remember on her own in time.” He countered, not wanting to think on the matter.

“You might hasten her happiness by telling her now,” Kitty said in a strange smile that seemed almost menacing. Lillian studied her. Kitty was trying to keep the status quo. People in this era were much more astute at reading body language and probably could feel the uncomfortable play of emotion and physical response between Dr. Blackwell and herself. No wonder Matthew looked so angry and uncomfortable around her. She was upsetting his world.  

“Forgive me,” she said softly. “I do not recall the event.”

Dr. Blackwell cleared his throat and paced to the fireplace.

“You must keep in mind that men do not remember events the same as ladies do and we are prone to not fetter over the idealic details of how many flower petals fell on his shoulder or which type of finch sang above you or from which direction the spring breezes blew.”

Kitty giggled. “Oh Dr. Blackwell, you tease us so!” Lillian did not giggle. She did not want him to continue. She did not want to know how she came to be engaged to a stranger. Not even a truncated version.

“He did not kiss you, as I had overheard, forgive me, earlier from the hall. That is not to say he did not want to, for I know not the desires of his heart.” Matthew paused his story and looked back from the fireplace only briefly to gauge Lillian’s reaction and to contain the ideas in his own mind of kissing her. “He only asked with his usual, forthright manner…I imagine much as he would if asking to use someone’s grounds for hunting.” He said the last bit under his breath and with a roll of his eyes at his cousin’s unromantic nature. “If it helps you to imagine, I suppose he held his hands to his back and rocked on his heels in a proper amount of embarrassment and concern for your answer.”

“Perhaps he held them away so that he wouldn’t be tempted to sway you otherwise!” Kitty giggled and covered her mouth to stifle the sound as she looked back at Lillian, who blanched, somehow containing herself with pursed lips. She leaned against the sideboard, along the farthest wall from Dr. Blackwell.

“Perhaps,” Matthew said with a smile and turned away before she could read his face. “But, as I’ve known my cousin since I was three and he six, he rarely crosses the boundaries of propriety for the sake of affection.”

“Rightly so, he is a decent and excellent character we can be assured! You see dear Lily?” Kitty said and came to her and took Lil’s cold fingers in her hand. “You’ve nothing to worry about, Mr. Sutton is a proper and sound man.”

“Stoic, unaffectionate, proper…decent—fantastic. What more could a girl hope for in a life partner?” she said lowly to herself and the air around her grew heavy. She felt stifled. She took her hand from Kitty’s and lifted her skirts before bowing.

“If you would please excuse me, Dr. Blackwell, Miss Darlingwood, I think I should like to take some fresh air.” She darted from the room, making a rushed getaway that surprised both Dr. Blackwell and Miss Darlingwood.

“But isn’t it raining dreadfully?” Kitty squeaked behind her. Matthew watched her run out and down the hall before dashing to the left and down the staircase. Her slippered feet made soft and even taps on the tiles of the stairs.

“What if she falls?” Matthew said and moved to follow her but Miss Darlingwood stepped coyly between him and the door.

“I assure you good sir, she shall be safe on the grounds. Perhaps we shall leave her space with which to think. After all, it is nearly her engagement party in three weeks’ time and she may need the solitary moments alone to ruminate over the lovely details.”

Matthew looked down at Miss Darlingwood, petite and in pink cotton that illuminated the flush of both cheeks and breasts. He looked away quickly as she stared up at him through her blond eyelashes with a smile. He knew very well that she was a beautiful woman, one that had no shortage of suitors due in part to her soft and sweet countenance and part due to her father’s good fortune. He also knew that she had captured the heart of Lillian’s brother Fitzwilliam, but had no intention of marrying a boy of so little means even though he stood to inherit Westbury upon the passing of his childless Aunt and Uncle.

“I would love to hear some of your travels to the south. I hear it can be quite barbaric over the border.”

Matthew cringed and his lip drew back in disgust. Such was the prevailing attitudes of the times. When in all reality, he saw very little difference between the two peoples. Though he had observed that the Welsh were exceedingly proud of their hard-work ethic and rugged (in the eyes of the British Empire) existence. Certainly, a woman of Miss Darlingwood’s upbringing and constitution would not be able to survive such a “primitive” lifestyle. A woman would have to be adventurous, physically able bodied, and stubborn. Matthew looked out to the empty hallway.

“Perhaps some other time. I am running quite late for meeting with my father and should not dawdle further.” He politely bowed before rushing from the room.

Westbury Falls: Episode #4

Hello! I realize it’s that scary time of year and I could produce a terrifying post to do the holiday justice. Then I thought, what’s scarier than being sent back in time to a place where you can’t wear pants, all of your rights have been stripped away, and your set to marry a murderous psychopath? Not much. Welcome to episode #4 of Westbury Falls.

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Lillian paced, her legs confounded by the narrow skirt and ridiculous undergarments that seemed to dissuade too much movement and thereby kept the fairer sex, fair. What she’d give for a pair of pants! Or a hot shower. Or an Advil. The bath she’d gotten from Miriam was an influx of boiling water that cooled far too quickly in the drafty room, in a copper tub where the maid scrubbed her down without the gentleness she had grown accustomed to with her brother and the sad, blue-eyed doctor. A shower would have been much preferred.

If she wanted to see or have any of the modern amenities that she desperately craved, she needed to concentrate and ignore the propriety that had been forced upon her both in garments and in expectations.

“Think Lil,” she said and nibbled at her thumb nail. There were only three possible explanations.

One, that she had indeed hit her head and was in her own time, unconscious and in a coma and this was just the wild dream she was stuck in. Yet her body felt pain, touch, annoyance… things too real to be simply a figment. If it were this first option, she could simply play it out until her brain was healed enough to get itself out of this maze.

Two, that she had hit her head, harder than she realized, and was, in fact, dead.

“Which makes this what? Heaven?” she snorked and looked down at the cinched waist and scratchy undercoats of her dress. “Not likely! Purgatory, at best.” In that case, she couldn’t very well do anything about it. Being dead meant she’d never be able to see her family again. But if she were dead, why could she feel so clearly? Why could she move from place to place? Why hadn’t someone or something come to explain the rules? Did heaven have rules? What would that make Matthew Blackwell then? Some fallen angel? An agent of the dark but still beautiful? Lil sighed. This wasn’t some fantasy, tween action series. She already checked most of the nooks and crannies of the place for cameras, in the case of it being an epic prank. She hadn’t even found outlets; no electrical switches. Only candles and lamps. And the fireplace in her room that cast such a beautiful glow over Matthew’s long straight nose and high cheek bones.

“Focus Lil, he’s the least of our worries.”

If it was not a coma, and she was not dead—what were the chances she’d stumbled across some sort of anomaly in the universe?

“Three, I fell down a magical staircase and ended up in a different time.”

She stopped in front of the windows in the parlor and her heart rate steadily climbed. The pulsing in her body amplified in the wounded temple and ribs, bringing about another horrendous head ache. The other options fell away from her rational brain as she faltered and sagged against a settee. Was such a thing even possible? Her mother had always been a sucker for a good fairy tale, and often made them make wishes in faerie rings as children and believe in the strange energies of places like Stonehenge and Newgrange, even though science would have greatly disagreed with such nonsense. Yet, here she was in the 1800’s somehow and no rational explanation could be found.

It was clear, be it dream or a hole in the space time continuum, she was Lillian Byrne, her ancestorial aunt. The one who had drowned, shortly after being married. She was yet to be married, as the good doctor repeatedly reminded her of her betrothal.

Maybe she had to solve this mystery…the mystery of her aunt’s disappearance soon after the date of her wedding and subsequent discovery of her body in the lake, ruled a horrible accident due, in part, the journal entries of her brother had said, for her love of nature and of daily walking.

Maybe her brain really needed to know the answer and was simply conjuring up the story as a means to keep itself busy while the coma ran its course. She knew now that she was, or thought she was, her own great-several-times-over aunt, Lillian Louisa Byrne.

The time period, place, and characters were all the same from the family journals her mother had poured over for years. She never recalled hearing about the good doctor. But perhaps he wasn’t part of the story so much as an extra playing piece her libido had conjured up. Lillian blushed with the idea that if she created him, she could do whatever she liked with and to him. The temperature in the room rose and she cleared her throat.

“My! What wandering thoughts have possessed your injured mind, I wonder?” came the cherry-pink voice of Kitty Darlingwood from the doorway. “I’ve rarely seen such a blush but for the roses in spring, dew kissed and new.” She giggled and came to sit beside Lillian tiny hands clasped demurely in her lap. Lillian had only met her once, in her room after she had first gotten dressed and was called upon.

She supposed in her life Kitty was what her mom would call a bosom buddy. The best of friends. Lillian plastered on her best smile and tried to conjure up some warmth for the stranger. In Lil’s time, she didn’t have many friends. She worked in soup kitchens and low-income restaurants in her neighborhood in Payton Indiana, while her mom, a stock broker, kept the family fed and clothed on her own. She didn’t have leisure time for friends. She didn’t get along with many of the girls in her class. Even at the end of her senior year, she was practically alone.

“Tell me,” Kitty whispered conspiratorially and her blond corkscrew curls seemed to vibrate in anticipation. “Are you reliving the moment of your engagement to Mr. Sutton. I’ve never heard told the story. It must have been quite romantic!” she twittered like a school girl.

Are you fucking kidding me, right now? was the phrase on Lil’s mind but she dare not speak in such a manner or they might bundle her up and send her to a looney bin for profanity. She gently smiled at the younger, spritely charge. What had her ‘brother’ said? Fredrick Sutton was a good man. A strong a sturdy gentleman of 40 who enjoyed parlor games and pheasant hunting. Good judge of scotch and not yet interested in marriage. What kind of proposal would such a man make that could be spun into a believable tale? Lillian sighed.