Lady May Cottrell waited in the drawing room, staring out the window. The clouds had hung heavily in the sky earlier that morning, but blue sky was pushing them aside for a lovely afternoon. She was driving out with Henry today. She could hardly wait and had been sitting there for the past half hour, hoping he’d come earlier than he’d arranged.
Between the weeks she spent in this century and the months she’d spent in the twenty-first century finishing her college degree, she had sorely missed Henry. Although he’d been a best friend to her for many years, the past several years he’d also lodged into her heart. She fought the attraction, knowing that the life of a time traveler was hard to explain. For her, it was even harder to figure out where she truly belonged. And so far, she hadn’t. But she was determined to put that dilemma out of her mind and enjoy Henry’s company today.
When his black curricle entered their drive, she jumped from the couch. He hadn’t even made it to the walk when May bounded down the steps, her coat flying behind her. “I’m so glad you asked me to ride out with you today. I’m ready for a diversion.” She grabbed his hand, and he hurried to keep up with her as they went back to his waiting horse.
As he handed her into the open carriage, she asked, “What do you have planned for us?”
“I thought we’d follow the River Crane south from here.” He settled himself beside her and shook the reins for his horse to pull. “Then we’d stop in an orchard and have a picnic.”
“And would that orchard be a specific one?” she asked. All the while she looked at his profile and admired his rugged good looks. His black hair curled below his hat. She knew it was soft and thick. Long dense eyelashes that any woman would envy framed his striking brown eyes.
“It would. Do you know it?” Each word made the dimple in his cheek deepen momentarily.
“Of course, I do.” It had been a favorite spot of theirs growing up as it was situated at the farthest point from the house on the estate. May scooted closer to Henry on the seat. “I haven’t been there in years.”
The horse ambled down the road in the fresh autumn air. The Cottrells’ estate was very nearly the countryside, with London to the east and sparse settlements to the west, including the tenant homes attached to their land. May had mostly grown up in Victorian England, but spent a significant amount of time in modern England and modern Virginia as well. But this was almost perfect—the beautiful countryside and Henry.
When they arrived at the orchard, Henry helped her down, then retrieved the basket and blanket. They snacked on the simple meal and chatted.
“Shall we take a walk?” she asked as Henry slid the basket onto the curricle’s boot. He extended his arm to her, and they walked beneath the boughs. May tugged on his arm and led him to the far end of the orchard. She leaned against a tree and smiled at him. Her pulse raced. She’d never shown this to anyone, but since they were here—a sort of confession from when she was a schoolgirl.
Henry stood beside her, both leaning against the tree. Their fingers intertwined. “Shall I pick you an apple?”
May shook her head. “Look here,” she said, pointing to the back side of the trunk. Instead of leaning around to look, Henry walked behind her and peered over her shoulder. His arms wrapped around her, and she leaned back onto his chest.
The tree had compensated for the wounds she’d caused by carving their initials into its bark by creating raised ridges further defining and outlining the initials.
“Is that for us?” he whispered though her hair.
Her breath caught. She could only nod.
His strong hands rested on her hips and turned her slowly to face him. The back of his knuckles grazed over her cheek as he gazed into her eyes. She was captured by what she saw. His eyes searched hers, and his lips parted. Desire filled the silence between them.
Oh, she loved Henry.
He took a step closer, and she raised her hands to his shoulders, then around his neck. His lips brushed hers slowly, tenderly. Tingles erupted through her chest. She pulled him close and gave herself into his kisses. She closed her eyes and filled her other senses with him—his touch, his smell. His voice was low and barely controlled as it rumbled in her ear when he said her name. She could feel his struggle for breath much the same as her own.
He broke the kiss. His hand caressed her cheek. “I’d better get you back.” Before they reached his carriage, he bent over and picked a few wild flowers, handing them to her after she was seated.
Everything about Henry drew her in. She wanted to forget part of herself at least for some of the time. But her dilemma was ever present. Who are you really, May? Where do you—all of you—belong? The questions pushed and pulled her from one time to another, like she was two halves and never whole in either century. The confusion felt like tiny cracks crisscrossing her heart.
May was surprised when Henry entered her home with her.
“I have a meeting with your father,” he said, answering her questioning look.
Her mouth dropped into a perfect O, but she didn’t say a word as he took a seat in the parlor.