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by Tianna Xander
Category: Erotica/Paranormal Erotica/Historical Fiction
Description: All author Lanie Barrett wanted when she purchased one left shoe from an antique dealer was to get an idea for a story that would sell. Instead, she got a trip to Antebellum South Carolina where a madman in a carriage nearly runs her down in the street. What's a girl to do when faced with a true Southern gentleman in the pre Civil War South? Tease him, of course. Daniel Hastings had no idea the woman he nearly killed was from over a hundred years in the future. However, he did know that she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. When danger stalks his new houseguest in his own home, he does everything he can to protect her. He might even be able to think straight if she would only stop getting out of bed half-dressed!
eBook Publisher: eXtasy eBooks, 2010 eXtasy Books
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010
12 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [262 KB]
Reading time: 174-244 min.
Lanie looked down. The jeans she wore made the shoe look funny on her foot. She felt silly and she was disappointed. So much for a good idea for a new story, huh? Sighing, she carefully slipped the shoe off her foot and placed it back in its box.
"Now what in the world are you going to do with it?"
With any luck, she would at least get some writing inspiration from the thing. She looked around the house, wondering what she did with her last novel idea. She shook her head.
"Why can I never find anything?" It's because you're a flibbertigibbet, Caroline Elaine. She heard her mother's voice whisper in her head. Her mother used to tell her that when she was a child. That was before the accident, when she was happy and loved. A tear slid down her cheek and she swiped it away. She refused to dwell on the past.
Lanie carried the package into her bedroom, set it on the table near her bed and walked from the room. The further away she got, the more she felt the urge to go back and pick it up. She refused to spend more time on it. She had articles to write. She may not be the best novelist in the world, but her articles never failed to pay the bills.
The effect the shoe had on her was strange. Almost as if it was a drug she'd become addicted to. It took a tremendous amount of discipline, but she managed to stay away from it for the rest of the evening.
When she finally allowed herself to go back to the bedroom, she was exhausted. She stayed up too late in an effort to deny the hold her strange purchase seemed to have on her.
She fisted her hands when she walked into the room and tried to keep from touching it. There was something...strange about the shoe that frightened her. It felt almost haunted. Yet, even that wasn't quite right. Lanie's imagination took hold and ran. It felt...magical. She let her mind wander over the possibilities.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, she picked up the ad. It read For Sale: One Left Shoe. It was such an innocuous-looking little note. What idiot would be selling one left shoe? Well, what idiot would buy it? She looked to her right where the shoe sat, like royalty, on a wad of tissue paper in its little round box on top of the table.
She pushed her fingers through her hair and laughed. "I don't believe the hell I just put myself though the last couple of hours." Standing, she walked to the box and picked it up. "I'm going to examine this and then maybe I won't feel this weird pull anymore."
By not satisfying her curiosity, maybe her imagination made it seem so much more than it really was. That had to be it. It was nothing more than a very weird, frightening curiosity she had with a mysterious old shoe. Lanie rubbed her arms. It must be the storm making me feel so strange
She listened for a moment as the storm raged and thunder rumbled in the distance. Lightning flashed, glaring, even through the thick curtains at the windows. The lights flickered once before the room went completely dark, except for the occasional flash coming from the frightening electrical storm.
Lanie walked to the bed, opened the drawer in the nightstand and pulled out a lighter and candle. It wasn't uncommon to lose power during a storm in the country and she knew this house. In fact, she could walk through it blindfolded if she had to. Plus, she was always prepared, with both lighters and candles stored in every room.
Lighting the candle, she inhaled deeply, loving the scent of bayberry the flame released. Lanie dripped wax into the holder, making sure it wouldn't fall over and cause a fire, before turning her attention back to the shoe. Her face burned as she realized she'd been acting like a fool. There was nothing more strange about the antique other than she'd obviously been suckered into buying it. She didn't even realize that, until now. Leaning over, she picked up the box, it was nothing special just an old shoe. She laughed a bit to herself.
She placed her trembling hands to her lips. "If that's the case, why can't you just forget about it?" she asked herself through her fingers. It just wasn't like her to get so obsessed over something like this.
Frowning, Lanie took the shoe from the box. She didn't feel anything strange now. Or did she? She tried to picture the way she felt earlier in the day, but couldn't recreate it. She was certain she could blame most, if not all, of the unusual occurrences of the afternoon to her very active imagination.
Sitting back down on the edge of the bed, she ignored the round pillow that fell to the floor and examined the shoe carefully. She would be the first to admit she'd been too preoccupied with getting away from it before to give it such a thorough inspection.
The dainty heel appeared to be about one inch in height, the same height she wore. Being nearly five-feet-ten-inches tall, she would never allow more than that. In fact, she rarely wore heels at all unless she had a date with someone substantially taller than herself.
With her attention back on the shoe, she noticed the toe came to a point, but not one so severe that it would have made the shoe uncomfortable and ugly. The yellowed upper, made of soft kid, must have been white at one time.
Putting the shoe on again, she noticed a small blemish on the toe. "What in the world is that?" An ornament of some kind, a button or a bow must belong there. "Now why didn't I notice that before?" A small thread stuck through from the other side. When Lanie bent and brushed the short string, something slammed into her and threw her to the floor.
The room spun and her stomach ached. She felt as if she were stuck in a whirlpool, endlessly spinning. Sick to her stomach, she put a hand to her mouth as blinding colors swirled around her and pulled her into a giant vortex. Lanie knew she hit her head and realized she was going to lose consciousness just seconds before the darkness claimed her.
* * * *
* * * *
Lanie's head pounded as she came to. There was so much dust covering the floor, she began to sneeze. She brought her hand out from under the bed. The offending dust seemed to cover the floor beneath her bed in a thick layer. Had it been that long since she had cleaned her bedroom floor? She needed to bring a mop in here and remove that filth. How disgusting!
She sat up slowly. Leaning against the side of the mattress, her eyes, almost swelled closed, watered so much she could barely see. She tried to look around the room for something familiar, her armoire, even her dresser, but with the dust affecting her allergies and her eyes nearly swollen shut, she could hardly see anything at all. Reaching up, she massaged her pounding head. If only this pain would go away! I must have really hit my head hard.
She reached around the back of her head. It felt wet and sticky, "Oh great! Just great! That's all I need. I can't afford a hospital bill." She grimaced at the pain.
The ringing in her ears got louder and she began to feel sick to her stomach. Lanie had the sinking feeling she had a concussion. Closing her eyes, she fought the urge to retch. The sharp taste of bile in her throat threatened to make her lose control of her stomach and she took a deep breath.
When she tried to look around again, she still couldn't see anything. Lanie wiped her hand on her old blue jeans so she wouldn't get blood on her Grandmother's beautiful quilt. She stilled. Whatever it was that she'd just wiped her hands on, was not her blue jeans. Instead of the thick, coarse denim she had expected, her hand brushed against material too soft and thin. It felt as though she was wearing a nightgown, or a dress. "What the hell?"
"Oh my, missy, you shouldn't talk like that. If Master Daniel hears you, he's gonna have an attack or something." A round, dark-skinned woman walked through the door, carrying something Lanie couldn't quite make out. "The poor boy is already beside himself with worry over you." She chided, tsk tsking as she walked toward the window and sat her burden down. Turning back, she wiped her hands on the apron that wrapped around her ample waist.
Lanie closed her eyes and inhaled through her mouth. Her nose rebelled the fact that she'd apparently slept in a pile of dust. Where in the world was she? She should be at home. And who was this woman? She had walked in here as though she had every right to just barge into her bedroom. This was her room, wasn't it? She couldn't tell. She couldn't see well enough to know whether or not she was in her own bedroom. Had she wandered out of the house and these people found her and taken her in?
Is this a dream? She grasped that idea and held tight. That must be it! I'm having some sort of comatose dream. I'm really lying on my bedroom floor, bleeding to death from a serious head wound
She covered her eyes and chanted to herself, "Wake up, Lanie, wake up, you need medical attention." She cracked her eyes open. Still, not able to see much of anything, she could only make out shapes. She could see the shape and color of the round, black woman standing before her and the shape of the unfamiliar furniture around the room. She felt a gentle hand under her arm lifting her from the cold, hard floor.
"Now, you get yourself up off of that there floor, missy, or you're gonna catch your death for sure," the woman said.
When she had Lanie tucked safely back into the bed, the woman checked her head with gentle hands. "Now look what you've done gone and done." She shook her head. "You've opened those stitches back up. We're gonna have to send for that fresh doctor again."
She walked away for a moment and returned with the thing she carried into the room. When the woman set it on her lap, Lanie realized then, it was a tray filled with food.
The woman gently brushed something from her arm. "I'm gonna beat those girls, for sure. They were supposed to have this here room cleaned before we brought you up here. Just look at this mess, it's downright shameful."
Lanie felt around the tray, knocking some of the things over as she searched for a glass of water.
The woman shrieked, "Oh, my, why didn't you tell me you couldn't see, child? We didn't know that you were blind, honey. No wonder you done walked right out in front of the Master's buggy like that," the woman said as she gently pushed Lanie's hands away from the tray.
"You just call me Maddy, child. And if you ever need anything, you just ask for me," she said, as she removed something from the center of the tray. Taking one of Lanie's hands, she put a glass in it. "There you go, missy, you go on and take a good long drink now," she said soothingly.
Lanie wrapped her fingers tightly around the cool glass and lifted it to her mouth. Parched, she tipped the glass back, took a long drink and gagged. Whatever was in the glass tasted horrible! It was a bitter, vile drink she wanted to spit out, but couldn't because she'd already swallowed the revolting concoction. Thankfully, the glass was already being removed from her hand.
"I know that's some foul tasting medicine, but it will make you feel better and you'll be sure to get some sleep now. I could tell your head was paining you." She cocked her head to the side. "I think I hear the Master coming. You need to cover yourself up now, child," the woman said, pulling the blankets up to Lanie's chin, before she placed her hands on her hips and turned toward the door. The woman's mouth started running before the door was even open, if Lanie guessed correctly.
"Now don't you tire this poor child out, Master Daniel. She needs lots of rest and good food to make herself better. Don't you go messing up all of my hard work, ya hear? It's bad enough the poor child tried to get up by herself and tore her stitches loose when she fell. Now, we have to send for that smart-mouthed doctor friend of yours again." She twitched her skirt with a snap and gave a harumph before she left the room complaining, "That there boy don't know enough to leave a poor blind child alone to rest after he done run her over with his buggy. When's that boy gonna ever learn some manners?"
Lanie couldn't see the sharp look she was sure the man gave her when the round woman mentioned her blindness, but she could almost feel the man's intense stare.
"You're blind?" He blurted the question out with a southern drawl in such a deep baritone that it made her stomach clench.
Since she didn't know what to say, she fidgeted with the sheet she held up to her chin. "I--" was all she could manage to get past her lips. She wasn't sure why, but she knew something was wrong with this whole situation. If this was a dream, it was a very thorough dream, with a lot of detail. Yet it couldn't possibly be real. Like the way the woman talked, for instance. She almost sounded the way black people did in the movies she'd seen about the Old South.
She looked toward the man still standing in the doorway. She'd almost forgotten about him. He stood with his tall form leaning against the doorframe. Something told her he was handsome as all get out, too. Lanie swallowed convulsively, not knowing what to say. What seemed to be happening couldn't possibly be happening, could it? How did she get from her room to this house? The last thing she remembered was going to her bedroom during a storm and putting on that shoe. She shook her head slowly.
"Don't distress yourself, miss, we'll get everything straightened out, just fine." He cleared his throat before pushing away from the doorframe. "Have you always been blind?" he asked.
That smooth, southern drawl slid through her senses like warm butter. At the shake of her head, she saw his outline stiffen even more.
"So, it was caused by the accident. I was afraid you might say that." He straightened and took his hands out of his pockets. Bowing slightly, he added, "I am responsible for your injuries, and if need be, I will assume care for you until your family can be contacted. If I may be so bold to ask, what you were doing out in men's clothing, so late in the evening?"
Lanie didn't know how to answer that. She had no idea what she had been doing in the path of his buggy herself. What could she tell him? She wasn't even completely sure she even knew what a buggy was unless she was crazy or the impossible had happened.
"I--I don't know, sir. The last thing I remember is standing in my bedroom." That much was the truth at least. Dream or not, the less she lied, the easier it would be to keep things straight when she did feel the need to tell an untruth.
"You're a Yankee." It wasn't a question. It was more of an accusation. He frowned, straightened and stepped closer. "Where is your home, can you remember that?"
She let her head fall back against the headboard with a grimace. She hadn't expected the shooting pain she'd felt when her head made contact with the wood. "Yes, I do. I remember that quite well. The last thing I knew, I was in my home in Michigan. I can't seem to recall a thing after that." She involuntarily leaned back a bit, pressing herself further into the pillows as she watched his blurred form bend toward the bed.
"Michigan? Do you mean to say, you have been abducted from your home?"
The disbelief was evident in his voice. She wasn't sure exactly what it was he didn't believe. He didn't believe that she'd simply gone to sleep in one place and awakened in another? Or didn't he believe her at all?
She raised a trembling hand to her head. She wanted to scream it ached so much. All she wanted was to lie back, close her eyes and let oblivion take her somewhere where there was no more pain. "I don't know. I don't remember being abducted. I just can't seem to recall traveling here from my home." Wherever here was, no one had bothered to tell her that yet.
"The last thing I remember is standing in my bedroom looking at a shoe I had just purchased." She closed her eyes, trying to stop her head from spinning. She raised her other hand to her head and massaged her temples.
She tilted her head back, looking up toward where his face should be, and added, "I'm not blind. Not really, I can sort of see you." She tilted her head. "You're wearing a dark suit of some kind and you appear to be very tall. I can see..." She frowned, searching for the correct word. "You're blurry. I'm not sure if I have something in my eyes, or if the problem with my eyesight has something to do with my head injury." She reached up to feel around her head wound, careful not to cause more damage. But all she could feel was a narrow piece of linen tied around her head.
She had no idea what the wound looked like or how bad it was. Didn't the woman, Maddy, mention something about stitches? Maybe she did have a concussion. Rubbing her temples, she tried to remember what happened. She remembered sitting down on the bed and slipping that new shoe on, but everything got fuzzy after that. Trying on that ridiculous shoe was all she could recall before waking up here.
Everything was so confusing she didn't know what to think. There was so much information coming from too many directions and her head began to pound. She grimaced, placing a hand on each side of her head. The man appeared by her side in a heartbeat, holding a glass to her lips.
"Here, miss, drink this. It will make you feel better."
Lanie took another mouthful of the bitter-tasting drink, and not wanting to appear totally without manners, forced herself to swallow it. When he would have had her drink more, she clamped her lips closed and pushed at the glass. "I can't drink any more. I think I might be sick." She covered her stomach with her hands, trying not to make a face as it rebelled at drinking the horrible concoction again.
He set the glass down and nodded. "That's just fine, miss. You have most certainly had enough to take your aches away, at any rate. It doesn't take much laudanum to cut the pain."
Laudanum? Was that what that crap was? But they stopped using that years ago, didn't they? Wasn't it Morphine, or some type of Opiate derivative? She thought so, but was getting so tired she didn't care much anymore. Lanie smiled a bit drunkenly. At least her head didn't ache so much. It no longer felt like there was a whole drum section from a high school band in her head. It was more like the thump, thump, thump of a distant bongo.
* * * *
Daniel stood at the bedside for a moment and watched the strange woman's indigo eyes close. She fell to sleep with a soft snore and he almost smiled. She was beautiful. He couldn't deny that, especially when his body hardened to the point of pain every time he looked at her.
There was something odd about her appearance on the road last night. Not just that she couldn't remember how she had gotten there. It was something else, something he couldn't quite put his finger on. Also, her speech was strange. Having spoken with Northerners before, he knew the accent, but the structure of her sentences was different. She used words in ways he never thought to use them. And how she had been dressed when he had found her was stranger still.
There was something different about this woman and he was definitely going to find out what it was. He was determined to get to the bottom of her strange appearance from seemingly nowhere. No one appeared out of thin air the way she seemed to have. There had to be an explanation. If not, the only other possibility was that he was going mad, and that was something he could not accept.
Daniel left his new houseguest in Maddy's capable hands. He gestured to the woman to go back in and see to her, before he strode down the hall to the stairs. Stopping for a moment, he looked back toward the chamber just one door down from his own rooms. He shook his head. What in the world was he going to do with the woman? He couldn't keep a Yankee in the house, not with all of the talk about secession raging through the state. People were suspicious of their own kin now. It just wouldn't do for him to harbor a northerner under his roof.
This was a damned inconvenient time to have any houseguest, not to mention a blind Yankee. Yet, there wasn't anything to do , but to buckle down and take things as they came. It was his fault that she was here in the first place. He should have learned years ago not to ride with such fervor through the foggy streets of any city. Let alone the dark, busy streets of Charleston.
Entering his office, he walked to the cabinet in the corner and splashed a few fingers of amber liquid from one of the decanters into a glass. He tossed the drink back in one motion and waited for the familiar warming to spread and help calm his nerves. Eyeing the decanter with a degree of desire, he determined that getting drunk was not an option. He glowered at the thought and replaced the decanter.
The brandy was already beginning to dull his senses as he walked around the big desk and dropped into the leather chair there. The same chair used by his father and his father's father. He looked through the window over the moon-kissed garden and mourned his sire's passing. He would gladly give up control of the plantation, if only he could see him again.
He ran his fingers through his hair and put his face in his hands. He wasn't sure how long he could continue on like this. There were too many things he needed to do and he had too many pressing duties without being saddled with a sick female, no matter how lovely the woman may be.
Sighing, he opened his eyes and reached for an envelope on the desk. He had work to do. Sitting here and fretting about his houseguest just wasn't going to get it done.
After two hours of working on his books, Daniel threw down his pen and rubbed at his eyes. He couldn't figure out what was wrong. His ledger was a mess. He added the last column no less than seven times and had gotten a different answer each time.
The image of his beautiful guest appeared before him. It seemed that the woman had even made an impression of herself on the insides of his eyelids. He saw her just as she was when he visited her room. Her golden hair disheveled, her face flushed. The way she nervously licked those full pink lips haunted him. He slammed his fist onto the desktop. What in the world was he going to do? He couldn't get the woman out of his mind.
It was as if his heart had been just a lump of cold dead flesh within his breast until he had looked into those beautiful indigo eyes. Until he'd first seen her mud-caked face as she lay like the dead on the road after he had run her down. For a moment, nay, one split second of time, it seemed as if his heart had shifted from his chest to his throat before suddenly returning to life.
That foreign thing he hadn't known he still possessed was making itself known. A year ago, even a week ago, if someone could have predicted he would feel this way, he would have laughed in their face.
It seemed even his cock was against his working tonight. It had been standing up in his pants like some demented maypole, just begging for him to go back into his guest's room and take her while she lay prostrate on the bed.
He scrubbed at his face, stood and stalked over to the door to lock it. The last thing he needed was for someone to walk in on him while he relieved himself of this aching need to have the woman, injury or not.
Sitting back down in his chair, he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He could almost smell her delicate scent as he released his raging cock from his trousers. The damned thing sprung free of its confines like it had a mind of its own. Though sometimes he wondered if it did, he'd always managed to keep control of the thing until tonight.
Reaching around his hard shaft, he fisted his hand around it and imagined his lovely houseguest had her dainty little hand in place of his. Just the thought of her hand sliding lightly up and down the length caused it to dribble clear fluid from the tip. With his other hand, he reached around to fondle his balls, again dreaming it was the golden-haired beauty that fondled him.
In his mind, he could see her smile up at him and lick her lips. Her tongue caressed her lower lip slowly as she lowered her head toward his erection. She was the epitome of everything any real man wanted in a woman. A lady to the world, a siren in the bedroom.
Fisting his cock, tighter, he pumped the shaft faster as he imagined the lovely witch's mouth closing over the head of his cock and licking the ridge just beneath the head. Her tongue darted in and out of the sensitive slit, tasting him, her sexy smile saying she liked it.
It wasn't long before the familiar tingling wrapped itself around his balls and his cock grew impossibly hard in his hand. He continued to roll his balls around in one hand as he pumped the shaft with the other. After a few short moments, he came, his semen boiling up from his balls to shoot halfway across his desk. It was a good damned thing he'd moved his ledger to the side, otherwise he would have coated the pages with his seed.
Sighing with a mixture of frustration and need, he tucked himself back into his slacks and sat staring off into empty space. What the hell was he going to do with the woman? He had no idea who she was, where she came from or even if she was available. Here he was, in his office, jacking off like a boy who had just seen his first harlot advertising her wares.
"What the hell?"
* * * *
* * * *
Lanie sat back against the soft, downy pillows. Her head still hurt and her brain felt muzzy. Whether it was from the laudanum or the head injury, she wasn't sure.
Still not able to see much, she exercised her eyes to get her sight back. She looked around the room, seeing nothing but a blurry fog. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes for a rest when the room began to spin. She was going to be sick. She looked for a basin, or a chamber pot or something.
Her face turned red at the thought. How long had she been here, and she hadn't used a bedpan or a toilet. Reaching down, she found what felt like a large diaper covering her lower half. She covered her face with her hands. "God, can things get any worse?" When she inhaled deeply, her stomach felt a little better. After a few moments, she attempted to stand and found she was still too weak.
"Wake up, Lanie," she said to herself. She was afraid she was going to fall asleep again. Instead of fighting it, she leaned her head back against the pillows and closed her eyes for a moment before she rolled over onto her side to get more comfortable.
"I don't believe this. It's like I'm made of lead," she mumbled, shifting herself into a more comfortable position. "What I need is a crane." She giggled at the realization that cranes hadn't been invented yet. "What about a block and tackle and a handsome man to pull the rope?"
At that thought, a blurred image of her host popped into her head. Somehow Lanie knew that the man was a hottie. After all, this was her dream, coma...whatever. It would make sense that her dream man would be in it. He would be tall, dark and handsome, with blue eyes and a killer smile.
"Hmm... Can you dream you're falling asleep?" she asked as her eyes drifted closed.
* * * *
Daniel had many things to take care of and his work kept him up until the wee hours of morning. Well, his work and taking care of a few personal needs brought about by the woman he couldn't seem to get out of his mind.
On his way to his bedchamber, he decided to stop by his guest's room to check on her. He could hardly fault her for the accident or his reaction to her beauty. He'd been the one traveling at a breakneck speed through town, at night, in the fog, no less. He always traveled fast, but he'd been traveling much too fast for a foggy night in the city.
"A habit you have been finding much too hard to break, my good man," he whispered into the dark. "Yet there is still the question of why a gently bred young woman was wandering the dark streets of Charleston alone."
If he'd had the responsibility of her care, he would never let a beautiful woman like her out of his sight when she was not within the safety of his home.
"Hell, old man, the way you've acted since you found her you would be hard pressed to let the creature out of your bed."
He quietly slipped through the door to her room, leaving it ajar as was proper. Just because his thoughts of her leaned toward the elicit, didn't mean he should to take liberties. He did pride himself on being a gentleman, after all. Noticing the lamp hadn't been turned down, he crept closer to the bedside table to lower the wick.
The sight of the beautiful woman in the bed transfixed him for a moment. His cock hardened once again at the thought of those full lips closing around it. Daniel shook his head. When had he become such a fiend?
She looked so peaceful, so fragile with her golden hair fanned about her face on the down-filled pillow, it seemed wrong to think of her doing the things he so wanted to do with her. He watched as she stirred and sighed in her sleep. Her full, moist lips parted, giving him a glimpse of her even white teeth.
He felt another tightening in his loins and an irresistible urge to bend down and kiss her. Instead, he leaned down and lowered the wick on the lamp. Not too low because he didn't want her to wake in the middle of the night and become frightened by the darkness and strange surroundings. He left the room with only one backward glance.
"What the devil are you thinking?" he berated himself. He knew it was impossible. Yet, he was beginning to feel things for the strange woman that he'd never felt before in his thirty-five years. He hadn't even felt this way about Felicity when she'd gone west with her lover.
"At least that faithless bitch left you before the wedding." He grimaced. He could not begin to imagine being stuck with an absentee wife or the stigma a divorce would have brought to the family name.
His mother couldn't have been happier than the day Felicity left him at the altar. There had never been any love lost between the two women. Elisabeth always said Felicity was pretentious and shallow. And, as usual, his mother had been correct. He shook his head to rid itself of the memory of his former affianced, which came unbidden and unwanted.
Daniel had grown quite used to trusting his mother's feelings over the years. She even advised him in some surprising investments and instilled in him a keen sense of right and wrong. His father had always called her a woman beyond her time. The only tragedies in life she hadn't foreseen were the deaths of family members. But her foresight in general happenings was astounding. The railroad for example, who else could have guessed that the iron horse would become so popular so quickly?
Entering his room, Daniel stripped down, splashed cold water on his face and groin and climbed into bed. He hoped to fall into the waiting arms of Morpheus quickly and that sleep would not continue to elude him.
* * * *
Rudely awakened the next morning by the sound of the heavy, rose velvet curtains opening with a snap and sunlight flooding the room, Lanie reached up and rubbed her aching head.
"Watch yourself, Becky. Look where you're going, girl, you almost spilled the lady's breakfast all over the floor!" Maddy admonished a servant carrying a tray. She'd tripped over the expensive-looking oriental rug in the middle of the room. The girl mumbled something that must have passed for an apology and set the tray on the bedside table, her eyes downcast.
Lanie was shocked to find herself still firmly entrenched in her dream. "How long can a dream last?" she whispered. It didn't matter. As soon as it started to get good, she'd wake up. It never failed. So, she decided to enjoy it while she could. The only thing she could think that happened was she'd fallen and hit her head. Perhaps she was in a coma and this dream would last the rest of her life.
Or, more frightening, maybe she was dead and this was Hell. She'd read somewhere that people all make their own Hell. Was this her version of it? Hell certainly could be being stuck in the past with no running water, TV or other modern conveniences. Lanie shuddered at the thought. Oh, God, and no Internet service either.
She took the time to gaze around the room. The two women entered through the door to her right. A huge armoire easily twice the size of the one she had, stood next to it. In the corner of the room sat a stand with a pitcher and basin on it. Across the room from the foot of the bed was another door. A closet? Just to the left of the door was the fireplace. Above it, hung a beautiful landscape.
A hand-carved dresser, that matched the armoire, was set between the two windows on the outside wall, with a huge beveled mirror above it. Two large, tapestry chairs sat in front of the windows, just begging her to curl-up in them with a good book.
There was a soft knock on the door and a man she assumed was Daniel slipped in. "The Doctor has been sent for and, hopefully, is on his way. I thought I would warn you of the coming examination, so you could prepare yourself."
The moment she turned her head toward his voice, Lanie realized she could see clearly. "On second thought, maybe this is Heaven," she whispered.
Standing just inside the doorway was the most handsome man she had ever seen in her life. Or was it death? She licked her suddenly dry lips. What did it matter if she was going to spend it here, with him?
Her stomach fluttered and her womb clenched. Lanie's nipples hardened just at the sight of him and she jerked the sheet up to her chin to hide that fact. She could feel her body's reaction as liquid heat pooled low. The man was a god. He stood at least six-four and his hair was black as jet. His eyes were startling. They were a light sky blue, or were they gray? He stood inside the doorway, his expression unreadable as he stared at her with those amazing eyes.
She looked around and noticed Maddy standing in the corner, wringing her hands. She wore a gray, ankle-length dress and a starched white apron. Her wide hips and ample waist made the apron look more like a hand towel tied around her middle.
The man, who she realized was Daniel, was dressed in a strange-looking suit, with what looked like a ribbon for a tie.
Her gaze returned to Maddy. The older woman now stood with her back to her, pouring water from the pitcher into a basin. She dipped a cloth into it and wrung it out.
Lanie frowned, her mind processing all of the information. The strange speech, the antiquated clothing, Master Daniel. She frantically searched the walls for light switches and her gaze fell on the oil lamp on the stand next to the bed. This has to be a dream. No, nightmare is more like it
She could not be on a southern plantation in the pre-Civil War south! Absolutely not! Lanie barely stopped herself from snorting. The fact that she even thought it possible was absurd. Things like this only happened in books. There was no way she could have traveled more than a hundred years into the past. Not to mention to somewhere in the south. That would mean she not only traveled through time, but that she also traveled through space. This was definitely a dream. So, she would just sit back and enjoy herself. She cast another glance at her hottie of a host. Oh, she was really going to enjoy herself.
* * * *
Daniel found it very hard to take his gaze off the vision in the bed. Her dark blue eyes appeared to be focused this morning and her mouth was shaped in a charming oh. He wondered what she was thinking to put such a fetching look on her face.
Again, he imagined that perfect mouth wrapped tightly around his aching cock. He tugged his riding jacket down to be sure it covered the inappropriate bulge he knew he sported and cleared his throat. "Did you sleep well?" he asked, hoping she had. At least one of them should have gotten a good night's rest. He walked to the side of the bed, carrying a chair with him. He set the chair down and perched on the edge, placing his hands strategically in his lap.
"Yes, I slept fine, thank you."
Daniel reached out, wanting to brush a stray curl behind her ear, but stopped himself and put his hands back in his lap. "How is your head feeling this morning, any better?"
She smiled. "Much better, thank you."
He raised his hand again. Lord, how he itched to touch her. He needed to know if she was as soft as she looked. Letting his hand drop back into his lap, Daniel sat back before he completely scandalized his guest. He wanted to brush the golden hair back from her forehead, wanted to know if her hair would feel as soft and silky as it looked, as she looked. Most of all, his body screamed at him to climb into that bed with her and sink into her moist heat. Something told him it would be heaven on Earth. Instead, he threaded his fingers together and rested them in his lap in an effort to keep his hands under control.
Her indigo eyes sparkled up at him. A man could lose himself in eyes like that. How many times over the years had he looked at a woman and wished she would stir something, anything, inside him? How long had it been since any woman made him feel even the slightest bit of desire? Over the last few years, Daniel had attended hundreds of Balls and Soiree's in an attempt to find one woman who could stir his passion. How many times had he found himself in a veritable sea of eligible females, hoping to find just one who would stir his interest? Just one he could make a life with? Yet this woman, this poor creature, whom he ran down with his buggy, had stirred feelings within him those others had not.
"My head doesn't ache nearly as much as it did last night." She turned her gaze on him. "And my eyesight is nearly back to normal. It's just a bit fuzzy around the edges now," she said, smiling slightly.
He stared into those beautiful eyes as she looked up at him expectantly. When he realized she had spoken, he shook himself. "Do you mean to say that you can see, madam?" Daniel really wasn't sure what it was that she had said. She had very strange speech. When the woman laughed, it was like the tinkling of bells to his ears. It was such a beautiful sound it made him want to hear her laugh again.
"I can see." She nodded.
He watched as her thoughts turned inward. She left him for a moment. She was with him physically, yet she seemed miles away. Was she remembering a husband, a suitor? "Have you finished your breakfast?" He indicated the covered tray on the bedside table.
"Well actually, I'd just been awakened right before you came in, sir."
He stood quickly. "Please forgive me, madam. I certainly did not have the intention of disturbing you before you had had a chance to break your fast." He picked up the tray and placed it in her lap before he sat back down.
He watched as she removed the cover and hoped she had an appetite. She needed to regain her strength if she were to get well again. Somehow, the thought of her leaving didn't sound as good today as it had the night before.
* * * *
Lanie Wasn't sure if she could eat with him sitting there like some gorgeous sex god. Her insides practically quivered with the desire to have him hold her, kiss her, show her what it was like to be wanted by such a man.
Turning her attention to her tray, she tried to ignore how her body hummed with untried desire and concentrated on her empty stomach instead. Lanie hadn't seen a breakfast like this one in ages. If ever. She sat and stared for a moment, wondering how in the world she would ever even put a dent in the array of food on the tray.
Doing a mental inventory, she counted eggs, bacon, ham, fried potatoes and biscuits. There was also a bowl of what appeared to be sausage gravy in a separate dish. Another small dish held some butter and three different kinds of jams. In the corner sat a very strong-smelling cup of coffee, a small pitcher of cream and a bowl of white sugar. The cream was thick. The sugar, though white, was ground coarse. It wasn't refined like she was used to. The slice of ham was heavenly. Salt cured like her parents bought when she was a child, it wasn't cured using artificial flavors like they did now...then...whatever. If she thought about it too long, this whole time travel business would drive her mad.
Lanie was speechless. If memory served, sugar was quite expensive in the antebellum south. She couldn't help feeling pampered and flattered that they would go to so much trouble for her. She smiled slightly. They sure knew how to treat houseguests here.
Lifting a forkful of the fluffy scrambled eggs to her mouth, she closed her eyes when they nearly melted on her tongue. The bacon was crisp, yet not too crunchy, and the ham was cooked to perfection. One by one, she sampled everything on the tray until she couldn't eat another bite.
* * * *
Daniel watched her savor every bite of her breakfast and wondered when she ate last. Her table manners were impeccable, yet he had the feeling that it had been a long while since she had eaten a good meal.
He shifted in his seat. He should have left. It was decidedly bad manners to sit and watch one's guests eat their breakfast while still in bed, but he couldn't seem to make himself leave. He hadn't been prepared for the protective feelings that surged through him, making him want to assure that this woman never wanted for anything again in her life.
She paused, her coffee held halfway to her mouth, and looked at him.
Color rose in her face. His own cheeks began to heat when he realized he had likely been staring and had embarrassed her with his scrutiny. "I'm sorry if I embarrassed you."
"I apologize if I have embarrassed you in some way." They both spoke at the same time.
"Ladies first," Daniel said, bowing his head, then watched as she carefully wiped her mouth.
"I haven't had a meal like this in so long. I apologize if I did something to offend you." The blush stole up her neck to dust her cheeks and he was enchanted all over again.
Daniel chuckled. "You did nothing to offend me, madam. My sensibilities are quite fine. I was afraid that I had embarrassed you by staring. I must confess that I find you to be a very beautiful woman."
The pink of her cheeks, deepened to a deep red and she looked away.
He stood and quickly excused himself. "I must go await the Doctor. I will be in the library if you should need anything." He nearly ran to the library, the feelings he had for this woman were not seemly. She was a guest in his house--an injured guest in his house. The woman, though enchanting, was beginning to unnerve him.
And damn if he didn't like it!
* * * *
* * * *
Daniel closed the door and crossed the room. He sat in the straight-backed leather chair in front of the fireplace and glowered at the cold dark hole in the wall. He glanced at the table, wishing the hour was later and it was an appropriate time to pour himself a drink. However, it was only half-past ten and hardly a suitable hour to imbibe in spirits.
Glancing at the intricately carved wooden box that once held his father's cigars, Daniel picked it up, opened it and inhaled the fading odor of the Cabanas that used to fill the silk-lined case. Soon, time would steal this last part of his father from him.
How he wished it had been he in the warehouse that day. It should have been him. But he had been late returning from Charleston because he'd had a damned hangover and his father had gone to make the inspection that had been Daniel's responsibility.
He shook himself from his reverie. Blocking out the guilt that always accompanied thoughts of his father, he wished for peace. He just wanted a little peace, even prayed for peace. He rested his elbows on his knees, placed his head in his hands and sighed. Shaking his head, he sat up. What he really wanted, if he were to be completely truthful with himself, was the woman upstairs, lying upon a goose-down mattress, dressed in cotton and lace. It was too bad that it was morning and everyone was already up and about. Otherwise, he could get away with locking the door to indulge in more of last night's illicit pastime to relieve the damnable ache between his legs.
Standing, he cursed, rounded his desk and began to pace in front of the window. When would Jack arrive? Daniel glanced through the glass, hoping to see his friend's buggy moving up the drive. He needed a distraction to take his mind off the beautiful woman upstairs. He wanted something, anything, to keep his mind from wandering back to her and why she had been out alone last evening. There were so many possibilities.
Had she been kidnapped from her home like her story suggested? The thought of her in that kind of danger brought out his protective instincts. His hands fisted at his sides at the thought of a man forcing her to do anything against her will.
Had she been meeting a lover in the cover of darkness, or was she a party to some nefarious nocturnal activity? Could she be that duplicitous? He shook his head. He may not be the best judge of character, but he didn't think the seemingly guileless creature in the suite next to his could be that lacking in morals.
One other thought crossed his mind. But he simply refused to entertain the idea of her being a soiled dove. The thought was abhorrent. Daniel refused to think of her in the arms of another man, participating in sins of the flesh. Shoving the thought to the back of his mind, he paced over to a bookshelf and reached for a volume of Shakespeare just as someone knocked on the door. "Come in," he said, dropping his hand to his side.
"The doctor has arrived, sir," the butler, Jasper, intoned. The look on his face said he'd rather be elsewhere, perhaps anywhere but where he was.
Doctor Jackson Houghton entered on Jasper's heels.
Daniel, knowing both of them the way he did, didn't miss the exasperated expression and the rolling eyes of his manservant.
Jack slapped Jasper on the back. "I know you told me to wait in the foyer, Jasper, but you know I'd never be so boring as to actually do as you wished." He grinned, then turned his attention to Daniel. "Well, Danny boy, how are you today? No residual nastiness from the accident I hope?" He followed the question with a hearty handshake.
Daniel and he had been friends since infancy and a thorn in Jasper's side since their early teenage years. But there was genuine concern in his eyes as Jack looked at his friend.
"I do wish you'd let me look you over, old man," he said, never missing the opportunity to remind Daniel he was Jack's senior by a month.
"I am fine, Jack," Daniel waved him away. "And no, you are not coming near me with that bag," he said, pointing toward Jack's little black bag in mock horror.
Jack chuckled then, ever the doctor, "So how is my patient this morning?"
"She woke late last night, a little after midnight. Apparently, she tried to get out of bed. Maddy found her lying on the floor in a heap when she went to spoon-feed her some of the laudanum you left.
Jack looked toward the door, as if he wanted to go right then, but he was very thorough and most likely wanted all of the facts first.
Daniel had to respect him for that.
"Did she re-injure herself? Why didn't you send for me sooner?" Jack scowled.
Daniel returned to his seat in front of the empty fireplace. Raising a hand, he effectively quelled Jack's questions...for the moment anyway. He gestured toward the chair opposite him, waiting until Jack seated himself. "She's fine, Jack. She had a small tumble last night. She fell out of the bed from what I gather. Maddy thought she might have torn out a stitch or two. Since she was able to stop the bleeding, we didn't see any reason to disturb you again."
Jack frowned. "Did you ever find out what, in God's name, the woman was doing out alone at that hour?"
Daniel shook his head. "No, I didn't have the heart to force her to answer questions last night. Her head seemed to have been paining her."
Jack nodded. "Yes, of course it would have been. If a headache is all she suffers, she is a very lucky woman indeed."
Sighing, Daniel added. "Unfortunately, that was not all she suffered, Jack. Apparently, the accident caused her to lose her eyesight, at least temporarily." He leaned forward and placed his head in his hands. "It's all my fault. I could have killed her."
Jack interrupted him as he stood. "Daniel, you can't blame yourself over this. You had no reason to believe there would be anyone on that road at that hour last night. It's not your fault anymore than it's her fault, so stop blaming yourself." Jack bent and retrieved his bag. "Would you like to accompany me for a visit, before her examination? She may appreciate an introduction before I start poking and prodding. I expect that she won't remember me and an introduction will be in order."
* * * *
Lanie pushed herself up straighter. There. That wasn't so bad. She slowly drew her feet toward the edge of the bed. She was going to find the bathroom if it killed her. And the way she felt right now, it just might. "I refuse to use that glorified bedpan one more time," she blushed. "It's embarrassing."
She paused for a moment to ponder her situation. Would they even have a bathroom? She shrugged. It didn't matter. They would at least have an outhouse. Even that would be better than having to pee in a pot. Gingerly, she slid her legs over the side of the bed and smiled triumphantly. She'd done it! Sitting now, Lanie felt quite proud to have gotten this far without any help. She reached up, wiped the perspiration from her forehead and waited a minute for the room to stop spinning.
"You can do this." She repeated the sentence like a mantra as she slid from the bed. Her toes curled as her feet touched the cold hardwood floor. Too bad that lovely carpet didn't stretch under the bed, too.
The chill floor helped clear some of the cobwebs from her head a bit. In spite of the fact that she'd eaten a hearty breakfast, she could still feel the effects of the laudanum. She was beginning to wonder if they spiked the coffee with it. It tasted bitter enough.
Her head pounded and the muscles in her legs were weak, but she was determined to find the facilities. She grasped the bedpost and stood slowly albeit not very steadily. She carefully put her right foot out in front of her and stepped away from the big bed. She jumped, startled by the knock on the door and cried out when she lost her balance.
At her cry, Daniel threw the door open. "What in heaven's name do you think you are doing, woman, trying to kill yourself?" he asked. Abruptly scooping her up in his arms, he headed back toward the bed. "It is a good thing that I left Jack downstairs questioning Maddy on her laudanum dosage. Otherwise two men would have seen you out of bed and dressed in nothing but your nightclothes."
"I was looking for the uh--" Lanie's face blazed. It was bad enough to have a woman cleaning up after her. She didn't want to have to advertise her bodily functions to a strange man, no matter how hot he was. She bit her lip. What did they call toilets in the nineteenth century?
"I was just looking for the convenience," she said, hopefully. She tried to ignore her body's reaction to his proximity but failed. Heat flooded her middle and slid from her sex. Goosebumps rose on her skin and she pulled the sleeves of her borrowed nightgown down to cover her arms.
Daniel looked a tad embarrassed himself. "Oh. Didn't you have the use of the--" He was obviously as uncomfortable as she was. He closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. "You haven't been able to..." He gestured vaguely with his hand. "Address your needs here?" He looked around the room as if he had expected to see the aforementioned offensive object sitting on the beautiful walnut dresser between the double windows.
"I can't use that thing again. I won't!" Lanie was so mortified, she put her face into her hands. She'd die if he saw that she was about to cry. So many things had happened to her and she was losing control of her emotions. Why couldn't she control herself, her body? Things were happening that she had no control over. She should have control of her own body, shouldn't she? Why couldn't she seem to keep certain parts of her anatomy from standing at attention every time this man walked into the room?
She crossed her arms over her breasts to hide her very obvious and very embarrassing reaction to him and fought the urge to laugh hysterically. Her sexual attraction should be the least of her worries. She had already lost control of her life, or at the very least, the direction her dream was taking as it slowly turned into a nightmare.
Lanie stiffened when she felt Daniel's hands slide beneath her legs and around her waist. He lifted her into his arms and carried her out of the room and down the hall.
She couldn't help but lean into him. She rested her head on his chest and inhaled his spicy scent and the elusive smell of tobacco. She fought the urge to wrap her arms around him, put her head on his shoulder and lick his neck. What if this wasn't a dream? She would never be able to look him in the eyes again if she gave in to that outrageous urge.
"Modesty or no, if I hear anything that sounds as though you need assistance, I will come to your aid," he said just before he set her on her feet in a small room that looked like a cross between a powder room and an outhouse.
After closing the door, Lanie stood staring at the fixture that dominated the room. It was a wooden toilet. "I didn't know they had bathrooms in this time," she whispered. It even had a chain flush valve. She frowned. Those hadn't been invented until the late eighteen hundreds, or early nineteen hundreds, had they? She gave a mental shrug. If she was going to at least have the comfort of a regular toilet, she wasn't going to complain or analyze it. She smiled. Besides, this just proved that all this was a dream. She frowned at the wooden seat. "I just hope I don't get splinters."
She was just reaching for the knob when a knock startled her. She opened the door. "Oh, I forgot you were waiting for me," she blushed. She stepped from the small room and swayed on her feet.
He bent to lift her in his arms again. She was surprised, he didn't even grunt. Lanie knew she was no petite miss, yet he carried her as if she weighed nothing. She inhaled his unique scent again, wanting to imprint it on her memory so she could add dimension to her late night fantasies of this man.
"It is a natural function, madam, and certainly nothing for you to upset yourself over," he announced casually as he carried her back to her room and deposited her on the bed. He carefully tucked the blankets around her.
His words immediately brought about thoughts of other natural functions and her entire body burned at the thought. He may have been trying to sound casual, but the red on his face gave him away. She was sure that he was just as embarrassed as she was.
"The doctor is downstairs. He wishes to examine you and he sent me to help you prepare for his visit."
Sitting in the chair he'd left next to the bed earlier, he leaned back and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "I hope you are feeling up to an examination. He is determined to discover if you injured yourself further when you fell from the bed last night."
A soft knock on the door preceded Maddy's entrance. "Master Daniel, what are you doing in this lady's room with the door closed? You have better manners that that!" She scowled with her hands fisted on her ample hips. "The doctor," she snorted as she said it, "says he would like to see the lady now, so you best be finding something else to do."
Daniel turned to see Jack squeeze his way past Maddy and step into the room. He stood up, abandoning the chair he'd occupied and turned to Lanie. "Miss, this is Doctor Jackson Houghton. He tended your wounds last night when you were unconscious and he would like to examine you now."
She watched as he studied her for a moment, knowing she couldn't keep the fear of discovery from her eyes. How could she fool a doctor?
Her host bent and laid his hand over hers for a moment as he looked into her eyes. It was all Lanie could do not to jump. The heat that radiated up her arm at his touch surprised her and she almost jumped.
"Maddy will remain in the room with you, to help you remain comfortable and calm. If you will excuse me, I have some work to attend to downstairs." He bowed and left the room, closing the door softly behind him.
"I don't want to startle you, or cause you pain, miss. If I make you uncomfortable, just give a yelp and I will stop." The doctor took her head in his hands and gently probed around her injury. "Does that hurt?"
"A bit." She kept herself from nodding.
He felt behind her ears and looked into her eyes. He held up some fingers. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Can you tell me your name?"
"Caroline Elaine Barrett, but people call me Lanie." What harm could there be in giving her real name?
"And, Miss Barrett, can you tell me what year it is." His gaze met hers, his whiskey eyes penetrating.
Dare I try to lie? Dare I not? Lanie closed her eyes and sighed. "I don't know what year it is. I don't even know what day it is."
The doctor reached out and covered her hand with his own. "Don't let it distress you, Miss Barrett. Amnesia is quite common with head injuries, I am told." He squeezed her hand. "I'm sure you will be fit as a fiddle in no time." He patted her hand gently.
Lanie sighed with relief when the examination finally ended and he left the room. How long was she going to be able to blame everything on amnesia? God the whole situation was so cliche, like one of the old romance novels she had on her bookshelves. Still, it was the only believable excuse she had available to her.
"Will I ever see my home again? I miss my house." She'd known it so well she could walk through it blindfolded. The pictures of her family, oil paintings her grandmother had painted of them all in the ancient clothing she pulled from the attic.
Everything she had left to her was gone. Lanie put her fist to her mouth to stifle a sob. How would she explain this bout of tears? She had to stop bawling and suck it up. She wiped her eyes, determined to stay tough.
"You have to be practical, Lanie. What you did then, you can't do now. You have to think of a way to take care of yourself. You can't stay in this house forever. No matter how handsome the man is."
No matter how hot Daniel was, she couldn't expect him to care for her indefinitely. But what could she do? Did she remember enough about history to pass a test to become a schoolteacher? Would she need identification, or proof of education?
She sat up slowly. She needed some fresh air to clear her head so she could think. There had to be some way home. If she could get here, there had to be a way to get back. Otherwise she was stuck here in this dream, or the past, if her imagination could be believed. Which, either way, seemed to be a lose-lose situation.
There was a soft knock on the door. Lanie didn't think she'd ever get used to the number of people who lived and worked here. The sheer number of people wandering about would sure put a damper on any late night hanky panky with her host. She closed her eyes and sighed. What the hell are you thinking?
The door opened before she could think of an answer to that question. It was Maddy, carrying another tray loaded with food. Lunch was a plate of thick delicious beef stew, two crusty rolls with butter, a slice of heavenly apple pie and another cup of strong chicory coffee.
"How are you feeling, Miss Caroline?" Maddy asked as she watched her devour the stew.
"I'm feeling better every minute I can keep my eyes open." She took a sip of the bitter coffee and made a face.
Maddy chuckled. "That chicory makes the coffee taste strong. It's the way Master Daniel likes it. I could bring you tea instead, if you like." She reached over and lifted the cover from a small dish of cream and another from the sugar.
Lanie poured a generous amount of the cream into the bitter coffee and proceeded to spoon several teaspoons of sugar into the cup.
"Mmm... That's better," she said after taking a sip of the doctored brew. "This is fine, as long as you keep bringing the cream and sugar." She grinned. With her hunger sated, and her headache subsided a bit, Lanie began to feel tired again. "Did you put laudanum in the coffee?" It was the last thing she remembered for a while.
* * * *
* * * *
Jack stopped by the library to talk with Daniel before he left to start his rounds. "There you are. I knew you would wish to know the condition of your guest's health before I took my leave," he said as he entered the room.
Daniel turned from staring into the empty fireplace. "How is she?"
"Well, old man, you may have a houseguest for a while. She doesn't seem to remember much." Jack crossed the room, sat in the chair beside Daniel and sighed. "She knows her name and a few other mundane things, but can't remember how she got here. What she has is called amnesia." He shivered slightly and glanced at Daniel. "A bit chilly in here isn't it?"
Daniel shrugged. "Is it? I hadn't noticed." He sat back down in the chair he'd vacated to stare into the empty fireplace. "What is this amnesia and what can be done for her?"
Jack gave a one-shouldered shrug. "I don't know much about the malady, no one does. There is not an exceeding amount of information about it. From what I know, it could take two minutes, or two years for her memory to return." He took the drink Daniel offered, holding it in his hand. "Hell, her memory may never return. What she needs the most right now is rest and understanding."
Daniel placed the brandy decanter on the table next to his chair and sipped his drink. He'd finally given in to the urge to indulge. Staring down into the amber liquid, he swirled the glass, watching intently as the brandy spun upward toward the rim. "If she never gets her memory back, what kind of life can she expect to lead?" he asked, still looking down into the swirling depths of his glass.
Jack turned slightly in his seat and crossed his leg over his knee. "She can lead a normal life even if her memory never returns. She may have to relearn things, but in the end, she would be normal and productive in every sense of the word."
"Except that she now has no past, thanks to me." Daniel looked at the floor.
Jack heaved a sigh and scowled at his friend. "How many times am I going to have to tell you that no one is to blame for that accident. Not you, not her, no one!" He met Daniel's gaze, his own eyes reflecting his concern for his friend. "I know you're feeling guilty for what happened. But there is a way to assuage your guilt if you feel the need." He took a long swallow from the glass he held, frowned and looked down. "A bit early for this, isn't it?" He set the glass down and scowled over the table between them at the glass Daniel held.
"Care for her as if she were a part of your family," Jack continued undaunted. "See to it that she is clothed and fed, then in time, married. Until her memory returns, you are all she has." He stood and placed his hand on Daniel's shoulder. "It will work out. Things like these were meant to be. You'll see."
"I find that hard to believe," Daniel retorted.
Jack pinned him with a stare. "Don't mock things you don't understand, Danny boy. You don't know what things God has in store for you."
Daniel closed his eyes and sighed. "Perhaps not." He set his glass down on the table between them and rested his head in his hands.
"Don't worry overmuch about this, old man." The smile was back on Jack's face. "She'll be fine. All you need to do is find her family or get her wed and your life will be back to normal in no time." He gave Daniel a hearty slap on the back, then pulled his watch from his pocket and checked the time. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have rounds to make."
Daniel reached for his glass and tossed the rest of his brandy back. He followed Jack as he retrieved his bag from the hall table and escorted him to the foyer. He stood just outside the door, watching as his friend rode out across the field to the west. He stepped back into the foyer, deciding to go upstairs to check on his guest.
When he arrived outside the door, Daniel hesitated to knock. He didn't want to disturb her sleep, yet he needed to see her, to look at her, to convince himself she was indeed real. That the lust he felt was indeed for a flesh and blood woman and not an apparition. He shook his head. Why couldn't he seem to stay away from her?
He pulled the watch from his pocket and flipped the back cover open. He stared at the picture stored within it for a moment. It was a miniature of the one above the fireplace in the parlor. His parents looked so happy then. His mother insisted they should smile, not have the dour faces that proclaimed someone had most likely just died. Smiling softly at the memory, he flipped the front cover open, staring at the empty spot that once held Felicity's likeness. Somehow, the image of his guest appeared there, filling the empty space as no other ever had. He shook his head and closed the watch with a snap.
It had been so much easier with his father here. He could have gone to him for advice. Sometimes, even still, he would find himself thinking he should ask his father about something. Then the all too familiar pain would remind him that his father was gone. Never again could he ask him for advice. Never again would they laugh over a game of cards or race each other across the fields on their favorite horses.
How many times had he walked away from his father in anger? Unable to come to terms with Felicity's abandonment, Daniel had acquired a taste for alcohol and they had argued almost constantly the last few weeks before his father's death. Why hadn't he tried harder to listen to his advice, to get along with him, or spent more time with him while he had the chance?
Daniel thought about his guest, imagined the way she looked on the other side of the door. Was she sleeping? It was nearing two in the afternoon. Maddy would soon bring a tray up and wake her if she was asleep.
Taking a deep breath, he knocked lightly on the door, waiting for her softly spoken reply before he entered the room. "I thought perhaps I should inform you that Maddy should be up any moment with your luncheon. Is there anything you require before then? Something to read perhaps?" he asked. His eyes devoured the sight of her lying on the bed gazing up at him through sleep-filled eyes.
What would it be like to wake every morning to that beautiful face and those luscious lips begging to be kissed? What would it be like to take this lovely woman to bed every night and sink his cock into her moist heat? Would she be proper or would she be a temptress, a wanton, who begged for his body as surely as he would beg to find solace in hers?
* * * *
Lanie gazed into his sparkling, sapphire-blue eyes and wished she truly belonged here. Wished that she had a right to fall in love with this man, because she had a feeling it would be a very easy thing to do. Her gaze took in everything it could while he stood there. He was so much taller than she was. She could even wear heels of a flattering length with him.
The expression in his eyes was intense, hot. So much so, she wondered what he was thinking. Did he find her as attractive as she found him? Glancing down at his crotch, she licked her lips, wondering if he was hard beneath the jacket that hid him from her hungry gaze.
The dark blue jacket in question, stretched over a hard, muscular frame that was forged from hard work, not a fitness center. His tanned good looks were natural, not enhanced by any modern sunless tanning creams or hazardous tanning beds.
When Lanie realized she was staring, she looked away quickly and hoped he didn't notice as she felt her cheeks warm. Goodness knows, she'd been embarrassed enough for one day. The last thing she needed was for him to see her checking out his crotch or any other part of his anatomy.
"No, thank you," she said, fumbling with the quilt that covered her. "I think I should probably try to rest a bit after the exertion of the examination and the other..." She left off at that. She refused to remind him of their earlier trek to the bathroom.
Daniel excused himself and turned to leave the room like she knew he would. She closed her eyes with relief. When his steps stopped, she opened her eyes.
He turned and looked back at her from the doorway. "You should know the doctor informed me of your memory loss. Please, do not be distressed over how you will live," he said gently, his expressive eyes filled with remorse. "You are welcome here, in my home, until you can remember your people, or until you have the means to care for yourself." He walked through the door and stopped again, his eyes cast downward. "You are welcome to spend the rest of your days here, madam, you only need inform me." He quietly closed the door behind him.
Lanie was shocked. "So that is a true southern gentleman." She giggled. "Well, at least in my dreams."
Having read about them in many novels, she had been certain they were all figments of the romance authors' overactive imaginations. Like any modern woman, she had often wondered if they existed. She had even gone so far as to fantasize about meeting one in the flesh. There was a certain appeal about a man who would put her comfort and needs above his own. A man of honor, one who would keep his word no matter what. Lanie supposed this dream was as close as she was ever likely to get.
* * * *
Daniel raced down the hall, away from his guest's room. He needed to think. He slowed down as he approached the upstairs sitting room and paused just outside the door, his mind spinning. If he hadn't left the room when he had, he would have scared the hell out of her.
He wasn't sure when, but at some point during their conversation, he began to get the incredible urge to bend down and kiss her. He shook his head. Hell, it was more than that. It wouldn't have been the feather soft touching of lips he had practiced with Felicity. He stood there staring at her for a moment, looking, he was sure, like a scared rabbit. Attempting to control the desire to take her mouth and brand her as his was the hardest thing he'd ever done.
His loins stirred at the thought of her soft full lips under his. Would he have been able to stop or would he have ravished her right here under his own roof, where he had just promised to protect her? He could think of little else these past several hours than throwing the woman onto his bed and fucking her senseless. If he had his way, she wouldn't leave his bed until they were both bowlegged from exhaustion.
He pushed his way into the room and stalked to the fireplace. Resting his arms on the mantle, he looked down into the empty grate. He had no right to even think this way. He didn't know a thing about her. He didn't even know her name.
"Hell!" He smiled grimly. "She doesn't even know anything about herself. She could very well be married for all you know."
"Who could be married, dear?"
Daniel whirled around at the sound of his mother's voice. Good God! It was a damned good thing he hadn't decided to pull his aching cock out of his pants and relieve the damned ache in his balls. He hadn't locked the door as he'd intended.
He placed his booted foot on the hearth, hoping to hide his ever-present erection and replied, "Our guest, whom I nearly killed last night, Mother." He practically growled the words at her. He was angry at himself for nearly having been caught pleasuring himself in the upstairs sitting room. This was his mother's domain for heaven's sake. What the hell had he been thinking? The thought of what his mother would have seen if he hadn't been so angry about not knowing the young woman's name.
His mother frowned. "Don't you take that tone with me, young man. You may be an adult, but I am still your mother." She settled herself onto the sofa carefully. "I know you think I'm crazy, but I am still your elder," she said, gingerly arranging her skirt around her.
Daniel sighed. "I never said you were crazy, Mother." He rubbed his temples, wondering absently if headaches were contagious.
"You didn't have to. Your actions speak loudly enough." His mother pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and twisted it nervously. "I can't help that everyone has given up all hope that your father will ever be found, but I, for one, can't. And I won't. He is still alive, I can feel it," she said, placing her hand over her heart. "Here."
"Damn it!" He slammed his fist on to the mantle. The carefully arranged bric-a-brac chinked together ominously.
"Really, Daniel, if you feel that way, I'll leave your company." His mother stood and turned to leave.
He rushed to take her in his arms. "I'm not angry with you, Mother. I keep forgetting to ask the woman for her name." He sighed. "That is all she seems to be able to remember about herself." He set his mother away from him and paced across the room, "I don't know what it is, but there is something that turns me into a mindless idiot when I am around her."
His mother chuckled and sat down once more. "It's most likely the fact that she is under the age of fifty, and attractive."
"Not to mention, extremely alluring in her nightclothes," he muttered.
"Did you say something, dear?" his mother asked with her eyes wide, a knowing smile on her face.
He waved his hand, "Nothing, Mother."
His mother stood, paced to him and kissed his cheek. "Well if you don't mind, I'll just go sit in the garden and wait for your father." She turned and walked slowly from the room.
Daniel watched her leave, his eyes bleak. His mother spent more and more time in the garden, waiting for his father. Would she never be able to face the fact that he was gone, never to return?
The fates had not been kind. He'd lost his father to a warehouse fire and his mother to madness on the same day. God, how he missed them both.
* * * *
* * * *
Lanie woke to the sound of birdsong. The soft, spring breeze caused the lace curtains at the windows to billow inward. It reminded her of her mother's white sheets billowing in the wind as she hung clothes from the line. It was the same mixture of scents, clean laundry, Mama's roses and fresh air.
Stretching leisurely on the soft, down mattress, Lanie decided to just lay there and relax. She turned her face into the pillowcase. If she tried hard enough, she could almost believe she was a little girl again. That she was safe in her little girl's bed, her mother fixing breakfast, her father at the table with his paper and coffee. For one precious moment, she was a little girl again...a little girl who still had parents. Her soft smile faded as reality crept in.
"What were you thinking just then?" Daniel asked. At least he had the grace to look uncomfortable for entering her room without her knowledge. "If you don't mind my asking, of course." He shifted his position from leaning against the wall to standing military straight with his hands behind his back. At her confused look, he added, "You seemed so happy for a moment." He cast his gaze about, obviously looking for the right words. "You looked so happy, so content. Then the expression was wiped quickly from your face like words from a slate."
Lanie didn't know what to say. She looked down at her fingers and plucked at the thick quilt covering her. The tiny stitches would be at risk of giving way soon if she kept it up much longer. "When I woke up, I had a memory. It was almost a dream. It felt so real." A tear rolled down her cheek. "I lived it once. It was like all of the long years in between then and now never happened."
She paused to moisten her lips. She reached up with her hand to brush her hair from her face. The hair fell back into place when she lowered her arm. "It felt like I was home, and my parents were still alive. It felt so nice...so real. When I realized it was just a dream, well..." she shrugged. "It just wasn't nice anymore."
The expression in Daniel's eyes softened, he relaxed his stance. "I'm so sorry, but at least you have remembered a bit. You now remember your parents are no longer living."
It was sad that that was the only comfort he could give her, when there were so many other things that had gone so horribly wrong in her life over the last few days. Not to mention the fact that amnesia was the least of her worries. She sighed. "Yes, I suppose. Though I think it would have been better to not have remembered that at all."
Lanie turned to gaze out of the window. She couldn't see much, just a small patch of blue sky and part of a white fluffy cloud floating by, but it was better than looking into the man's eyes when she lied to him.
* * * *
The tears in her beautiful eyes tore at Daniel's heart. That newly discovered organ was rusty, but working and finally back in his chest where it belonged. He knew he had to ask her about herself. He should have asked two days ago when she first arrived. Yet, before, as now, had been an awkward time. However, his manners never known to be lacking in the past, had somehow gone missing at the same time he laid eyes on this beautiful woman.
He gave her the lopsided grin he had practiced as a boy to get his way with the womenfolk when he wanted sweets from the kitchen. "I hope you don't mind too terribly if I try to recover what little is left of my tattered manners, which have been in a deplorable state of late, and introduced myself?" Daniel bowed formally. "My behavior is usually impeccable, I assure you," he said, as he straightened. "Daniel Alexander Hastings at your service."
"Caroline Elaine Barrett." She held out her hand.
Daniel stepped closer, took her hand in his and bent to touch his lips to the back of it. As he held her hand, she gave him a small, nervous smile of her own and fisted her free hand in the sheet. He searched her eyes. Surely, this wasn't the first time someone had kissed her hand. As a woman of quality, she should be used to that. But then again, there was her memory loss. Perhaps that had something to do with her behavior.
Any doubts he may have had as to her class were laid to rest with the casual offering of her hand. It was as though the practice were second nature. Which proved at least, for his mother's benefit, she had been raised a lady. Not that it would have mattered a whit to him. He wouldn't have cared if she were the daughter of a dirt farmer.
Daniel straightened to his full height, which he knew was rather impressive. He and Jack were the two tallest men in the county. "I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Caroline. Welcome to my home. Anything you may need is at your disposal. You have only to ask."
Her midnight blue eyes were so captivating, it was a miracle he hadn't embarrassed her by staring. He watched entranced as her small pink tongue darted from behind her full lips to moisten them, and he shamed himself by thinking what he'd like her to do with that tongue. Just the thought of those lips circling his shaft as her dainty hand worked his sac was enough to make him hard again. Dammit! Think of something else, man. You're turning into a deplorable lecher.
There had been many beautiful women in his life, but his guest was beauty personified. Just watching her was enough to send his imagination winging away with thoughts of what it would feel like to sink his hard shaft into her warmth, to watch her eyes darken with need as he took her again and again.
Dragging himself back to the present, Daniel watched as she turned away, her eyes cast wistfully toward the window. He couldn't help himself. He wanted to see the smile back on her face, to bring color to her cheeks, to see her laugh again. "Would you care to go into the gardens? It is a wonderful day and they are sure to be remarkable."
She turned back quickly, her startled gaze meeting his. "Why yes," she said, smiling. "I was just thinking how beautiful a day it is and that what a waste it would be to have to spend another minute in this bed." She threw the bedcovers back and began to stand.
Daniel turned quickly away. "I shall send Carrie to attend to you." He hurried from the room, closing the door behind him with a resounding thud.
* * * *
Lanie looked thoughtfully toward the door for a moment, trying to figure out what she said to make him leave as though his very fine rear-end was on fire. It took a minute for her to realize it wasn't something that she said, but something she'd done. She looked down at the frilly white nightgown she was wearing and covered her mouth, her eyes wide at the major faux pas. A woman born and bred in this century would never have gotten out of bed in her nightclothes in front of a man who was not her husband.
"Oops!" She giggled. Strangers on the beach had seen her in less. "Sheesh, the mentality of these people. He saw me dressed this way yesterday when he carried me to the bathroom." She shook her head. Maybe that was different somehow.
She jerked at the knock on the door. It opened, and a young girl poked her head into the room. "Hello, Miss Caroline," the girl said and bobbed what seemed to pass for a curtsy. "My name is Carrie. Master Daniel says I'm to be your new maid."
Lanie inhaled sharply. "Excuse me? Did you just say that you're my new maid?" Incredulous, she looked at the lanky young girl. She couldn't have been more than thirteen. How could she, in good conscience, make this child work?
"But... You're just a child!" she cried. "You should be in school." She was about to send her away, get dressed on her own and go give Daniel a piece of her mind for exploiting children, when she noticed tears sparkling in the girl's eyes. Her eyes widened in alarm when Carrie flung herself at her feet and grasped the white linen skirt of the nightgown.
"Please, Miss Caroline, don't send me away. My papa passed on and Mama can't care for all of us by herself. Master Daniel told Mama as long as I was your maid, I could live here and he would buy me new dresses. And he will even pay Mama enough so she can stay home and take care of my brothers and sisters. Please don't send me away," Carrie cried. She looked up at Lanie, her gray eyes pleading. Her lips trembled and a tear hovered on her lashes. "Master Daniel says while I am here, I can go to Arabella's classes. Then, when I grow up, I might be a Governess, or even a shopkeeper!"
Lanie felt a strange wrenching in her chest as she thought of Daniel finding a way to get past a woman's pride so he could help her and her children after such a loss. She closed her eyes. He was truly an exceptional man to do something as selfless as that.
Kneeling down, Lanie pulled the girl into her arms and smiled. "I'm happy to meet you, Carrie. I know you'll make a fine Governess or shopkeeper one day. But for now, you're going to have to tell me just what a lady and a lady's maid do. I seem to have misplaced my memory."
Carrie slapped her small hand over her mouth, stifling a short fit of giggles.
Lanie smiled. "What is it?"
Giggling again, Carrie said, "I was just going to ask you the same thing."
Chuckling, Lanie took Carrie's hand in hers. "Then I guess we'll just have to find out together, won't we? Then later you can tell me who Arabella is."
"Oh that's easy, Miss Arabella is Master Daniel's sister. She's going to school in Philadelphia." Carrie puffed herself up when she imparted that bit of information.
"Just call me Lanie. I think that you should have the privilege since we share the same name."
Carrie grinned. "We do, don't we? I like you, Lanie. You're not like everyone thinks you are. You're nice!"
Lanie frowned. "People think I'm not nice?"
Carrie shrugged. "I think it's cause you talk funny. I hear Master Daniel's mama talked like you when she first got here. And she was as mean as an old wet hen."
Lanie hugged her. "Well you can just tell everyone there isn't a mean bone in my body.
"I will, Miss... Oops." Carrie smiled. "I mean, Lanie."
She patted the bed beside her. "Come sit up here with me and we'll try to figure out a way to find out what we're supposed to do."
Lanie stood and pulled the bell-cord next to the door, then shooed Carrie under the bed. When she was relatively certain Carrie was hidden well enough, she sat back down to await their instructor.
As expected, Maddy answered the bell. She looked around the room with her hands on her hips. "Now where is that child? I sent her up here to you some time ago." She scowled and walked across the room to the wardrobe.
"I--" Lanie jumped from her seat, cleared her throat and stood up straight. "I sent her on a small errand and since I need to see Mister Hastings as soon as possible, I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind helping me dress."
Maddy tilted her head. "I sure am glad I remember how that Miss Elisabeth talked when she first got here. Or I might not understand you a bit."
Lanie closed her eyes, trying not to show her confusion. If other people here talked the same way as she did, what was the problem? She sat down in a chair facing away from the bed, trying not to give Carrie's position away.
The older woman began to pull garments from the wardrobe. When there was a pile of under clothing on the bed and a lovely dress draped over the chair the older woman had shooed her out of, Maddy bent down, grabbed the hem of the nightgown and yanked it over Lanie's head.
Lanie looked down, mortified. Having graduated from the oversized diaper stage, she was totally naked under the gown. She instinctively covered herself and Maddy chuckled.
"You don't got nothing I don't have, only it's lots smaller and you don't got nothing Carrie don't have neither. So don't be hiding, friendly girl, we got work to do." Then she smiled smugly. "See, I can use those strange words, too. Hee hee hee."
Lanie had never heard anyone actually laugh like that and it almost threw her over into a fit of giggles. Darting a quick look, she wondered if Maddy had seen Carrie under the bed, but she was nowhere in sight.
"I think you mean girlfriend, don't you, Maddy?"
"Just you hush up, child, and let old Maddy dress you up nice." Maddy scowled as she mumbled. "It's just like white folk. I don't know what they would do without old Maddy here to take care of 'em."
Getting dressed was a tedious process. Lanie didn't think she'd ever seen the amount of underwear she was supposed to wear all at once. Under her dress, she wore a garment that resembled a long low-necked sleeveless shirt that reached to mid-thigh. She held up her hands as Maddy started walking toward her with a corset. "I don't care what argument you give me over this, Maddy. I am not wearing that thing."
"You'll wear this here corset, missy, or you won't set foot outta this room." Maddy's scowl was fierce. It was obvious she meant every word she said.
Lanie put her hands on her hips and tapped her toes. "I don't see you wearing one. Why do I have to?" She hoped they didn't really expect her to wear that torture device. Just watching Scarlett get trussed up in one of those things in Gone With The Wind was enough to take her breath away. She was sure she could never wear one.
"You have to wear one because you are a lady. I am not a lady, I am a housekeeper. No one expects me to wear a corset." She looked down at herself and laughed. "Not that I could get one of these tiny things around me anyway." She held it up to herself and chuckled.
"Well, no one better expect me to wear one either, I'm not stepping one foot into that torture device." Lanie waved her hand toward the conglomeration of cotton, bone and lace Maddy had slung over her arm.
Maddy put her hand on her hips. "If you want to leave this room, you will put this on or else I'm not going to help you dress."
Lanie sighed, stuck. Maddy flat-out refused to go any further until she was allowed to lace the thing around her waist. It didn't take long to realize why women of this age were always fainting. Their laces were probably drawn so tight they suffocated or starved to death. Surely they didn't expect her to eat in this get-up?
Well, hell. I have to wear the damned thing or spend the rest of my stay in this room. Since the four walls of the room were already driving her loopy, Lanie gave in...probably too easily, but such is life.
After the corset, came what looked like a pair of bloomers. Then stockings, that conveniently enough, were tied very snugly just above her knees.
The bell-hoop and the slip came next. The pure white slip was a work of art itself, with half sleeves trimmed in frilly lace. Finally, Maddy held up the dress. She slipped the sky blue dress over Lanie's head and smiled approvingly.
"I told Miss Elisabeth this dress wasn't her color. It makes her look all green in the face."
This was the second time Maddy said that name. Was she Daniel's wife? A peculiar feeling shot through Lanie's chest at the thought. Good grief! I've been lusting after a married man. "Miss Elisabeth? Is that Master Daniel's wife?" She couldn't keep herself from asking. She had to know.
Maddy whooped with laughter. "Oh, no! Miss Elisabeth is his mama. She is the kindest woman in this world. There isn't anything any one of us on this plantation wouldn't do for that lady."
Lanie slipped her feet into the shoes Maddy held out for her. "They're a little too big."
Maddy took them back off and pulled a sheet of paper out of her pocket. "I thought her shoes might be too big for you. I never saw a woman with feet as big as Miss Elisabeth's." She ripped the paper in two and wadded the pieces. She crammed them into the toes of the shoes. "Try that until we can get you to the cobbler and get some made for you."
They were still a bit too big and slid around on her feet when she walked, but Lanie figured she was lucky to have them.
Holy cow! These clothes have to weigh at least ten pounds. Lanie looked down at the dress and thanked her lucky stars it wasn't too busy. There was one large bow in the back, which she could see by twisting herself around. And the lace on the slip peeked out from under the sleeves, hem, and around the neckline. If it could be called a neckline since it didn't even come close to her neck. She blushed. "Aren't I showing a bit too much?" she asked, tugging at the bodice. Well, apparently corsets did wonders for the figure, even if they did make it impossible to breathe. Her thirty-six C-cup never looked so big, nor her waist so small.
"Is there a shawl or a scarf that goes with this?" She still tugged at the Bodice. It wasn't budging and she was uncomfortable showing such a tremendous amount of cleavage. "It doesn't appear to be finished." Tug. "I think it's missing some material." Tug, tug. "I won't pop out of this, will I?" Tug. Giving up the fight, she sighed. "I think I'm a little too big for this dress." She placed her hand over her chest, panting from her efforts.
Maddy was scandalized. "Why do you want to cover up the nice attributes God done gave you? Mr. Simonson in town just got himself a brand new stove to sell. Has it sitting right in the front window of his store." She swatted at Lanie's hands still covering the exposed area of her chest. "That's just what you have to do. Put your goods right up there in the front window. How are people going to know what's at the market, if you keep all of your vegetables in the root cellar?"