The premeditated ripping of her dress seals her fate, and an intricate family plot slowly begins to unravel in which she finds herself centre stage. She was never supposed to leave Haunchcroft estate … and he will do everything in his power to keep her there.
Nell Dodsworth, a nineteenth-century governess, is seeking alternative employment following the tragic passing of her ward, Abigale. Her master, Mr Buchannan, suggests that she work for his elder sister, and until such time as she is able to take up the position, he insists that she remain at Haunchcroft Estate.
It is unheard of for a master to be so familiar with a member of the household as Mr Buchannan is with Nell, and after an uncomfortable encounter, he confuses her with his parting words … “My dear, I find you disturbingly beautiful.”
For reasons known only to her, Nell is anything but fond of Mr Buchannan and does everything in her power to avoid him. However, her avoidance tactics are usually unsuccessful, for it always seems that he has a way of seeking her out.
Upon overhearing a conversation between Mr Buchannan and his bedridden father, the Earl of Dulverton, Nell is unnerved by the revelation that her master intends to marry her. As the glass she is holding slips from her fingers, the noise alerts Mr Buchannan and she is discovered. While escorting her onto the landing, he requests that she join him in his bedchamber.
Unnerved by a thief on the estate, Nell gives chase and in so doing manages to travel forward in time, finding herself in the 1960s. Having left her archaic existence far behind, her life is suddenly enhanced as she finds friendship, egalitarianism and true love. But complexities unfold, leaving her broken-hearted after finding the man with whom she hopes to share the rest of her life….
On finding that there is no future for her in that time period, Nell returns home, though all is not well. The ripping of her dress seals her fate, and an intricate family plot slowly begins to unravel in which she is centre stage….
It is all too much for Nell to comprehend, and once again, she runs away, only this time she finds herself in the twenty-first century. When she comes face to face with a broken family, she discovers that many of their underlying problems are the result of her actions from her visit to the 1960s. Where love flourishes it has the means of finding a way, seemingly allowing Mr Buchannan to travel to this era to be with her.
When he finally meets up with Nell he sets the record straight, leading to a night of passion under the watchful eye of the stars. Wanting to be together but unable to settle in the twenty-first century, they decide to travel home. When they return to the year 1813, a paradox is created-
Nell sighed as she entered the little girl’s bedchamber. The crisp cotton bedcovers were crumpled and misplaced from their usual perfection. Her long strands of chestnut hair, an interwoven decorative remembrance, lay across the pillowcases. The darkened room and its melancholic mood were now aglow as a powdery light filtered between an opening in the drapes, eerie in appearance. To her it looked as though minute crystals hung in a display of elegance.
Abigale was now a mere memory, though one held ardently within the fabric of Nell’s heart. The empty room, once filled with happiness and hours of laughter, was now an empty shroud of yesterdays gone by.
Nell ruched up the coarse material of her skirt between her fingers and knelt down, her knees instantly chilled by the stone hearth as she warmed herself before the open coals. She felt angered, for the winter months had been particularly harsh this year. Cruel, she thought to herself.
She gave a sideways glance and from the corner of her eye caught sight of winter’s first snowflakes. Abigale adored the snow, and had done from a very early age. Remembering that time, a shiver ran the length of Nell’s spine. Letting out a despondent sigh, she rose to her feet and straightened her clothing. It was a bittersweet emotion that surged inside her. In the next few days she would be leaving her post of governess and the life she had known for the past five years. She was touched by a pang of nostalgia as her eyes caught the black crepe band she wore around her arm in mourning for her ward. She paused momentarily to reminisce.
Abigale had been such a bright, pleasurable child to teach, her art in needlecraft commendable. It was such a pity that she had been a sickly soul, and from birth, Nell had been told.
With Christmas just over a month away, she was saddened by the realisation that Abigale would not be here to share this year’s festivities. Nell had spent many hours preparing her gift, but the embroidery would remain incomplete on the petite bodice of the dress, and now the garment lay with no purpose. She could envisage Abigale wearing it, the pretty little girl with a ribbon tied in her hair running towards her. Nell could still recall the pallor of her skin, like the virgin snowflake; it was long ago that the kiss of a rose had left her cheeks. The bitter weather had served Abigale no favours; her chest was her overriding weakness, and pneumonia her downfall. Even when the end was nigh and breaths were hard to take, she was still able to offer Nell a paper-thin smile as she sat holding her hand and watched her fade away. Words were not needed, for she knew how much she was loved.
Her mourning brought with it a cold reality that broke through the silence. How she would miss that beautiful girl, snatched from life so cruelly at only twelve years of age.
Nell meandered towards the window, and lifting her arm slightly pushed aside the heavy velvet drapes, allowing in more light which danced around the walls of the bedchamber, illuminating the bold wooden panelling and turning the numerous tapestries into a rich display of artistry.
She folded her arms neatly across her chest, pulling in her petite frame. A heavy sigh passed between her lips as she cast her gaze far out across the fifty-acre gardens. A three-tiered landscape opened up before her. Her eyes embraced an open fan of evergreens, their branches kissed by the frost, leaving only the briefest of imprints. Sporadic stepping stones weaved their way from one tier to the next, and a small stream appeared to join their divide where snowflakes fell, their individuality lost forever. Its dramatic incline gave the extensive gardens an illusion of endlessness.
Nell was overwhelmed by a sudden feeling of freedom. After all the heartache, how she relished the thought of what a new beginning would bring. Perhaps she would find employment as a teacher, a path she found to be most agreeable. In her opinion she needed a change; her role of governess was all played out. The position had brought with it much isolation; she was shunned by the servants, and not valued by her employers, so she found herself to be neither fish nor fowl in the estate. She was a middle-class lady, for all intents and purposes, and it was only due to her parents’ lack of wealth that she had to seek employment; but this had prevented her from being considered an equal alongside that echelon.
A warm glow inside ignited her imagination, throwing her into a fictional world where words, lines and chapters from the countless books she had read came to life, filling her mind with hope. How different her life could be if she were to become a leading lady in one of the novels she had read, how her dreams could lift her from the monotony of the life she led. The picture she painted in her mind was herself as a beautiful butterfly — a red admiral — hovering high above the world, visiting flower gardens. She had no intention of outstaying her welcome, or forming liaisons, remaining just long enough for her beauty to be admired, for the briefest of moments, for then once again she would be free, at one with herself and with nature. It was so very different from the constraints of Haunchcroft, where the walls held her deep within. It was only Abigale’s presence that had given the walls a warmth, allowing her to feel able to live happily inside.
Nell snapped out of her daydreams as footsteps entered the bedchamber, and she listened as they echoed over the polished wooden floorboards. The reflections of the frosted gardens were lost in an instant as her master stole up from behind. He was now the reflection staring back at her.
“Mr Buchannan, you startled me.” Nell breathed heavily.
A trickle of condensation decorated the glass pane as Nell did her best to compose herself. She did not turn to greet him, her backward stance hiding her unease.
“You rise early, sir,” she stuttered, choking out her words.
Although she had seen the gentleman at various times around the estate, she was not overly familiar with Abigale’s father, and whenever their paths crossed she felt uncomfortable in his presence. She took a breath, allowing her the courage to speak.
“I would just like to take the time to express how very sorry I am for your loss.”
There was an awkward silence as Nell’s eyes traced his reflection through the partially frozen windowpane; his facial outline looked angular through the icy glass, giving his distorted features a stern, unapproachable look.
Turning slightly, Nell said, “You will no longer be requiring my services.” Exhaling, she continued, “I shall send word to my father, who will arrange for my transportation home. All I ask is if you could possibly supply me with a reference?”
“That will not be necessary; my family do not wish you to leave.”
Nell was thrown off guard by his response.
“You see, Miss Dodsworth, my niece has outgrown her nanny, and my sister is seeking a governess as we speak. You need not worry your father; I assume that his parish requires his undivided attention. If you are agreeable to my sister’s offer, then I will provide your transportation to her home in Gloucestershire; your reference to her will be my word.”
“Thank you kindly, but since your daughter’s death, I have had a change of heart.” Nell could feel a pain rise within, and hurriedly blinked back her tears. “I cannot possibly put myself in the position to grow as close to, and to love another child as I came to love dear Abby.”
“My sister will be most displeased, for you know not how I have sung your praises. Please do not be hasty in your decision, and allow me to arrange a formal introduction. I have it on good authority that Catherine will be arriving in the coming weeks.”
She paused, his fallen face showing the non-appreciation of her reply.
“Have I offended you, sir?” she enquired, looking up sheepishly, for eye contact with Mr Buchannan felt so demeaning.
Nell could not help but notice the confusion etched on his face, the rise of his dark brow. How much softer his features appeared in close proximity. Mr Buchannan was in his early thirties, a good few years her senior. A peppering of light auburn streaks highlighted his sideburns and deep-brown hair. She could feel his eyes as they penetrated her own, and their softness ebbed. His eyes were like dark pools of the most unusual colour, a gunmetal grey, deep set, cold and unfeeling. She held his gaze, difficult though it was. A silence fell, broken only by the constant tapping of Mr Buchannan’s shoe on the floorboards.
“No, my dear,” he said abruptly, taking a step forwards. “I find it hard to comprehend that such a handsome creature as yourself could be no more than a mere governess.”
Nell frowned; she felt his words to be both belittling and complimentary, if that were possible. His tone was harsh, and it held an annoyance that she was unable to read. His offhandedness forced her to lower her eyes, immediately returning her to her station. If anyone was capable of making her feel subservient, it was Mr Buchannan, and he had managed to do just that with one short sentence. Her eyes rose as she felt his hand brush against her face. She flinched at the feel of his smooth skin against her own.
“Sir!” Blushing, she gasped as his hand swept along her cheek, his index finger coming to rest softly upon her lips.
“You, madam, are my weakness. Believe me when I say that I did not seek you out, you just happened upon me.” His eyes widened. “You have not the slightest idea how I have tried to fight my desires long and hard, but I have to admit defeat; I have succumbed to your charms.” His words faltered as he continued. “I … I find you uncommonly…” With a shake of his head he corrected himself. “No, my dear, I find you disturbingly beautiful.”
Laura Wells is a swimming teacher, with a love of books, animals and, of course, Jane Austen. Once a national swimmer, she now runs three swim schools of her own. She enjoys spending her spare time with her family and two mad Shiba Inus. She lives in Staffordshire, England.
Judy Wells works at a school; in her spare time she enjoys writing poetry and novels, and spending time with her animals. She also lives in Staffordshire, England.
Laura and Judy are a mother and daughter duo; with Judy's love of poetry and writing and Laura's ideas, they work extremely well together. Time-travel and historical romance novels are their passion, and they hope that after you have read their books, you will feel the same.
Our website is: www.jandlwells.com
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