Excerpt: The More I See You

Excerpt: The More I See You

The de Piaget Family

Chapter One

Jessica Blakely didn’t believe in Fate.

Yet as she stood at the top of a medieval circular staircase and peered down into its gloomy depths, she had to wonder if someone other than herself might be at the helm of her ship, as it were. Things were definitely not progressing as she had planned. Surely Fate had known she wasn’t at all interested in stark, bare castles or knights in rusting armor.


She took a deep breath and forced herself to examine the turns of events that had brought her to her present perch. Things had seemed so logical at the time. She’d gone on a blind date, accepted said blind date’s invitation to go to England as part of his university department’s faculty sabbatical, then hopped cheerfully on a plane with him two weeks later.

Their host was Lord Henry de Galtres, possessor of a beautifully maintained Victorian manor house. Jessica had taken one look and fallen instantly in love–with the house, that is. The appointments were luxurious, the food heavenly, and the surrounding countryside idyllic. The only downside was that for some unfathomable reason, Lord Henry had decided that the crumbling castle attached to his house was something that needed to remain undemolished. Just the sight of it had sent chills down Jessica’s spine. She couldn’t say why, and she hadn’t wanted to dig around to find the answer.

Instead, she’d availed herself of all the modern comforts Lord Henry’s house could provide. And she’d been certain that when she could tear herself away from her temporary home-away-from-home, she might even venture to London for a little savings-account-reducing shopping at Harrods. Yet before she could find herself facing a cash register, she’d been driven to seek sanctuary in the crumbling castle attached to Lord Henry’s house.

There was something seriously amiss in her life.

A draft hit her square in the face, loaded with the smell of seven centuries’ worth of mustiness. She coughed and flapped her hand in front of her nose. Maybe she should have kept her big mouth shut and avoided expressing any disbelief in Providence.

Then again, it probably would have been best if she’d remained silent a long time ago, maybe before she’d agreed to that blind date. She gave that some thought, then shook her head. Her troubles had begun long before her outing with Archibald Stafford III. In fact, she could lay her finger on the precise moment when she had lost control and Fate had taken over.

Piano lessons. At age five.

You wouldn’t think that something so innocuous, so innocent and child-friendly would have led a woman where she never had any intention of having gone, but Jessica couldn’t find any evidence to contradict the results.

Piano lessons had led to music scholarships, which had led to a career in music that had somehow demolished her social life, leaving her no choice but to sink to accepting the latest in a series of hopeless blind dates: Archie Stafford and his shiny penny loafers. Archie was the one who had invited her to England for a month with all expenses paid. He had landed the trip thanks to a great deal of sucking up to the dean of his department. He didn’t exactly fit in with the rest of the good old boys who clustered with the dean and Lord Henry every night smoking cigars into the wee hours, but maybe that’s what Archie aspired to.

Jessica wondered now how hard up he must have been for a date to have asked her to come along. At the time he’d invited her, though, she’d been too busy thinking about tea and crumpets to let the invitation worry her. It had been a university-sponsored outing. She’d felt perfectly safe.

Unfortunately, being Archie’s guest also meant that she had to speak to him, and that was something she wished she could avoid for the next three weeks. It was only on the flight over that she’d discovered the depth of his swine-iness. She made mental note never to pull out her passport for anyone she’d known less than a month if such an occasion should arise again.

But like it or not, she was stuck with him for this trip, which meant at the very least polite conversation, and if nothing else, her mother had instilled in her a deep compulsion to be polite.

Of course, being civil didn’t mean she couldn’t escape now and then–which was precisely what she was doing at present. Unfortunately escape had meant finding the one place where Archie would never think to look for her.

The depths of Henry’s medieval castle.

She wondered if an alarm would sound if she disconnected the rope that barred her way. She looked to her left and saw that there were a great many people who would hear such an alarm if it sounded. Maybe she wouldn’t be noticed in the ensuing panic. Apparently Lord Henry funded some of his house upkeep by conducting tours of his castle. Those tours were seemingly well attended, if the one in progress was any indication.

Jessica eyed the sightseers. They were moving in a herdlike fashion and it was possible they might set up a stampede if she startled them. They uncomfortably nestled together, gaping at cordoned-off family heirlooms, also uncomfortably nestled together. Marcham was a prime destination spot and Jessica seemed to have placed herself in the midst of the latest crowd at the precise moment she needed the most peace and quiet. She had already done her castle tour and learned more than she wanted to know about Burwyck-on-the-Sea and its accompanying history. Another lesson on the intricacies of medieval happenings was the last thing she needed at the moment.

“–Of course the castle here at Marcham, or Merceham, as it was known in the 1300s, was one of the family’s minor holdings. Even though it has been added to during the years and extensively remodeled during the Victorian period, it is not the most impressive of the family’s possessions. The true gem of the de Galtres crown lies a hundred and fifty kilometers away on the eastern coast. If we move further along here, you’ll find a painting of the keep.”

The crowd shuffled to the left obediently as the tour guide continued with his speech.

“As you can see here in this rendering of Burwyck-on-the-Sea–aptly named, if I might offer an opinion–the most remarkable feature of the family’s original seat is the round tower built not into the center of the bailey as we find in Pembroke Castle, but rather into the outer seawall. I imagine the third lord of the de Galtres family fancied having his ocean view unobstructed–”

So Jessica and he heartily agreed with the sentiment, but for now an ocean view was not what she was interested in. If the basement was roped off it could only mean that it was free of tourists and tour guides. It was also possible that below was where the castle kept all its resident spiders and ghosts, but it was a chance she would have to take. Archie would never think to look for her there. Ghosts could be ignored. Spiders could be squashed.

She put her shoulders back, unhooked the rope, and descended.

She stopped at the foot of the steps and looked for someplace appropriate. Suits of armor stood at silent attention along both walls. Lighting was minimal and creature comforts nonexistent, but that didn’t deter her. She walked over the flagstones until she found a likely spot, then eased her way between a fierce-looking knight brandishing a sword and another grimly holding a pike. She did a quick cobweb check before she settled down with her back against the stone wall. It was the first time that day she’d been grateful for the heavy gown she wore. A medieval costume might suit her surroundings, but it seemed like a very silly thing to wear to an afternoon tea–and said afternoon tea was precisely what she’d planned to avoid by fleeing to the basement.

Well, that and Archie.

She reached into her bag and pulled out what she needed for complete relaxation. Reverently, she set a package of two chilled peanut-butter cups on the stone floor. Those she would save for later. A can of pop followed. The floor was cold enough to keep it at a perfect temperature as well. Then she pulled out her portable CD player, put the headphones on her head, made herself more comfortable, and, finally closing here eyes with a sigh, pushed the play button. A chill went down her spine that had nothing to do with the cold stone.

Bruckner’s Seventh could do that to a girl, given the right circumstances. Jessica took a deep breath and prepared for what she knew was to come. The symphony started out simply. She knew eventually it would increase in strength and magnitude until it came crashing down on her with such force that she wouldn’t be able to catch her breath.

She felt her breathing begin to quicken and had to wipe her palms on her dress. It was every bit as good as it had been the past 139 times she had listened to the same piece. It was music straight from the vaults of heav–


Jessica froze. She was tempted to open her eyes, but she was almost certain what she would see would be a big, fat rat sitting right next to her, and then where would she be? Her snack was still wrapped, and since it really didn’t count as food anyway, what could a rat want with it? She returned her attentions to the symphony. It was the London Philharmonic, one of her favorite orchestras–

Wreek, wreek, wreeeeeek.

Rusty shutters? Were there shutters in the basement? Hard to say. She wasn’t about to open her eyes and find out. There was probably some kind of gate nearby and it was moving thanks to a stiff breeze set up by all the tourists tromping around upstairs. Or maybe it was a trapdoor to the dungeon. She immediately turned away from that thought, as it wasn’t a place she wanted to go. She closed her eyes even more firmly. It was a good thing she was so adept at shutting out distractions. The noise might have ruined the afternoon for her otherwise.

Wreeka, wreeka, wreeeeeeka.

All right, that was too much. It was probably some stray kid fiddling with one of the suits of armor. She’d give him an earful, send him on his way, and get back to her business.

She opened her eyes–then shrieked.

There, looming over her with obviously evil intent, was a knight in full battle gear. She pushed herself back against the stone wall, pulling her feet under her and wondering just what she could possibly do to defend herself. The knight, however, seemed to dismiss her upper person because he bent his helmeted head to look at her feet. By the alacrity with which he suddenly leaned over in that direction, she knew what was to come.

The armor creaked as the mailed hand reached out. Then, without any hesitation, the fingers closed around her peanut-butter cups. The visor was flipped up with enthusiasm, the candy’s covering ripped aside with more dexterity than any gloved hand should have possessed, and Jessica’s last vestige of American junk food disappeared with two great chomps.

The chomper burped.

“Hey, Jess,” he said, licking his chops, “thought you might be down here hiding. Got any more of those?” He pointed at the empty space near her feet, his arm producing another mighty squeak.

Rule number one: No one interrupted her during Bruckner.

Rule number two: No one ate her peanut-butter cups, especially when she found herself stranded in England for a month without the benefit of a Mini Mart down the street. She had yet to see any peanut-butter cups in England and she’d been saving her last two for a quiet moment alone. Well, at least the thief hadn’t absconded with her drink as of yet–

“Geez, Jess,” he said, reaching for her can of pop, popping the top and draining the contents, “why are you hiding?”

She could hardly think straight. “I was listening to Bruckner.”

He burped loudly. “Never understood a girl who could get all sweaty over a bunch of fairies playing the violin.” He squashed the can, then grinned widely at the results a mailed glove could generate. Then he looked at her and winked. “How’d you like to come here and give your knight in shining armor a big ol’ kiss?”

I’d rather kiss a rat was on the tip of her tongue, but Archibald Stafford III didn’t wait for the words to make it past her lips. He hauled her up from between her guardians–and a fat lot of good two empty suits of armor had done her–sending her CD player and headphones crashing to the ground, pulled her against him, and gave her the wettest, slobberiest kiss that had ever been given an unwilling maiden fair.

She would have clobbered him, but she was trapped in a mailed embrace and powerless to rescue herself.

“Let me go,” she squeaked.

“What’s the matter? Aren’t you interested in my strong, manly arms?” he said, giving her a squeeze to show just how strong and manly his arms were.

“Not when they’re squeezing the life from me,” she gasped. “Archie, let me go!”

“It’ll be good for research purposes.”

“I’m a musician, for heaven’s sake. I don’t need to do this kind of research. And you are a…” and she had to pause before she said it because she still couldn’t believe such a thing was possible, given the new insights she’d had into the man currently crushing the life from her, “a…philosopher,” she managed. “A tenured philosophy professor at a major university, not a knight.”

Archibald sighed with exaggerated patience. “The costume party, remember?”

As if she could forget, especially since she was already dressed à la medieval, complete with headgear and lousy shoes. Why the faculty had chosen to dress themselves up as knights and ladies fair she couldn’t have said. It had to have been the brainchild of that nutty history professor who hadn’t been able to clear his sword through airport security. She’d known just by looking at him that he was trouble.

If only she’d been as observant with Archie. And now here she was, staring at what had, at first blush, seemed to be one of her more successful blind dates. She could hardly reconcile his current self with his philosophy self. Either he’d gotten chivalry confused with chauvinism, or wearing that suit of armor too long had allowed metal to leach into his brain and alter his personality.

“I’ll carry you up,” Archie said suddenly. “It’ll be a nice touch.”

But instead of being swept up into his arms, which would have been bad enough, she found herself hoisted and dumped over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

“My CD player,” she protested.

“Get it later,” he said, trudging off toward the stairs.

She struggled, but it was futile. She thought about name-calling, but that, she decided, was beneath her. He’d have to put her down eventually and then she would really let him have it. For the moment, however, it was all she could do to avoid having her head make contact with the stairwell as Archie huffed up the steps. He paused and Jessica heard a cacophony of startled gasps. Fortunately she was hanging mostly upside down, so her face couldn’t get any redder.

“I love this medieval stuff,” Archie announced to whatever assembly was there, “don’t you?”

And with that, he slapped her happily on the rump–to the accompaniment of more horrified gasps–and continued on his way.

Jessica wondered if that sword she’d seen with the armor in the basement was sharp. Then again, maybe it would be just as effective if it were dull. Either way, she had the feeling she was going to have to use it on the man who chortled happily as he carried her, minus her dignity, on down the hallway to where she was certain she would be humiliated even further.

* * *

She was trapped for almost an hour at the costumed tea before she managed to escape. She had Lord Henry to thank for her liberation. He’d removed her from Archie’s clutches with a firm” tut, tut, old man, don’t monopolize the girl,” escorted Jessica to the door, and brushed aside her heartfelt thanks.

“Go walk in the garden, my dear,” Henry had said with a kind smile. “I’ll occupy him well enough. We’ll discuss Plato.”

She had taken the time to find a bathroom, wash her face, and remove the wimple she’d put on earlier in the day. She studiously ignored the fact that when she’d first seen her post-party self, her headgear had been sliding off her head. That was thanks to Archie’s unruly transportation of her person; she’d been too flustered to try to adjust anything once she’d reached the party.

Just another reason to find a dull blade and whack the goon with it.

She tucked the wimple into her belt and left the bathroom. The garden sounded like a good idea. It was October and already a chilly one, but the paths were smooth and wide and she didn’t need dozens of blooming roses to soothe her spirit.

She paused at the top of the cellar stairs and wondered about the advisability of leaving her CD player down there. She shook her head and turned away before she could give it any more thought. It was stuck behind a suit of armor and wasn’t going anywhere. Besides, she just wasn’t up to facing that dark pit again. Maybe one of Lord Henry’s staff could retrieve it for her later.

She turned and made her way to the gallery where she’d left the tourists reeling from her ride on Archie’s shoulder. Large French doors opened onto the garden at the end of the room. Jessica started toward them purposefully, fully intending to ignore all Lord Henry’s treasures.

But, in spite of herself, she found herself pausing in front of the painting of Burwyck-on-the-Sea.

The view was from the sea. The water churned ferociously against the stone foundations of the castle. At one corner of the castle a large round tower sat atop the rocks, looking almost as if it had grown out of them. The castle might have been comfortably large, but Jessica suspected it was very drafty and quite chilly.

Definitely not the place for her.

She walked away quickly. What she needed was some fresh air and then maybe a return to her room for some hot chocolate enjoyed behind a locked door. She opened one of the French doors and stepped out into the evening air. She pulled the door shut behind her, leaned back against it, and took a deep breath. The sun was setting, the air was still and thick, and for the first time in day she felt herself start to relax.

She needed a vacation from her life, sans Mr. Stafford III and his hoisting ways. She’d secretly been hoping the trip to England would give her a chance to get some perspective on the Big Picture. She’d envisioned some free time spent holed up in her room, again sans Mr. Stafford III, sorting out her innermost goals and desires. She’d been certain cucumber sandwiches would have aided her greatly in coming up with just what was missing.

She wrapped her arms around herself and wandered down the path through the manicured bushes. Maybe it was all much simpler than she wanted to believe. It was true that she had a wonderful career as composer-in-residence at a small, exclusive university, she had a great sublet in Manhattan, and she still had her high-school waistline.

But what she didn’t have was a family of her own.

She stopped suddenly as she caught sight of a statue to her left. Some ancestor of heroic proportions stared down at her from his perch atop a marble horse. His features were fixed in an eternal sneer.

“Well,” she said defensively, “marriage is the natural state of man.”

He remained seemingly unimpressed.

“Ben Franklin said so,” she added.

The statue refrained from comment. Jessica shrugged and continued on her way. That had been her father’s favorite saying and his marriage to her mother had been proof of it. They’d been happy and fulfilled, so much so that her mother still seemed sustained by that happiness, even though Jessica’s father had passed away two years earlier.

And maybe that was part of her discontent. Life was short. It seemed a shame to waste it on just herself if there might be something she could do to change that.

It looked like more blind dates were in her future.

She sighed and looked heavenward. If only there were an easier way to meet a decent guy who might be interested in settling down and producing a bit of offspring. She picked out a star and wished on it.

“A decent guy,” she began, then shook her head. She was wishing. Why not go all the way?

“All right, since we’re here in England, I’ll have a fair and gallant knight,” she amended. “One with lots of chivalry. And I’d like one with a steady job, an even temper, and a house with room enough for a concert grand piano. And I’d like this man to love me at least as much as he loves himself. That isn’t too much to ask, is it?”

The heavens were silent.

Jessica sighed and continued down the path. Archie was living proof that all those things were just wishful thinking. Just once, if only for a few days, she wanted to meet a man who would look on her as an equal. Surely there had to be someone out there with a hint of true chivalry in his black soul. The face of a pirate and the heart of a poet. Other people found men like that. Why couldn’t she?

She could, and she would. She would tell Archie in no uncertain terms that the winds had shifted and were definitely not favorable where he was concerned, then she would return to New York and make a conscious effort to get herself set up with better blind dates.

She shivered, suddenly realizing how cold it was outside. Warmth from righteous indignation lasted only so long after the fog rolled in. Then she frowned. They were an awfully long way from the coast for fog to be rolling in. Maybe there was a serious storm brewing. The thought of her cheery fireplace in Lord Henry’s house was sounding very nice all of a sudden. Maybe just another few minutes to really get uncomfortable, then she would head back and treat herself to an enormous cup of hot chocolate.

A hound bayed in the distance.

Jessica tripped over a loose stone and barely caught herself before she lost her balance. She straightened and took a shaky breath or two, wondering how stones had suddenly found their way into the garden. She bypassed the stone, then stopped again just as suddenly.

The garden was gone.

Well, the land wasn’t gone, but the nicely tended beds certainly were. Jessica frowned. Could she have been so irritated that she walked to the edge of Lord Henry’s garden without realizing it? The garden was a great deal bigger than that and she was sure that what had lain beyond it looked nothing like the rocky, poorly tilled bit of soil in front of her.

More hounds bayed. Hounds? She didn’t remember Henry having had hounds. Maybe she had lost herself in the mist and wandered onto a neighbor’s property. A neighbor with dogs that sounded as if they hadn’t been fed in a while. A horn sounded closer to her, mingling with the renewed barking.

The fog began to lift. She could have sworn she heard a faint jingling sound, not the sound of bells, but the sound of metal against metal. She knew she wasn’t imagining the voices, or the renewed horn calls. She realized, with a start, that standing out in the middle of a field with what sounded like a hunting party approaching wasn’t very intelligent. The best thing to do would be to turn around and go back the way she had come. She started to when she caught sight of dogs racing across the field toward her, followed by horsemen.

She was very tempted to stand there and gape. Fortunately some small part of her brain was acting on instinct; she turned and ran almost before she realized she needed to do so to avoid being trampled. As she fled with her skirt hiked up to her knees, she comforted herself with the knowledge that the mist had been playing tricks on her. She’d wandered farther than she had thought. If she just ran fast enough, she would run right into the house and avoid being doggie dinner. Then she would have Lord Henry find out just who was riding over his fields with big, slobbering hounds and reprimand them politely for scaring the sh–

She shrieked as she felt her feet leave the ground.

Her captor snarled something at one of his companions and was answered with a raucous laugh. Jessica would have tried to sort that out, but she was too busy looking down between her dangling feet and watching the ground fly by. This was almost as unpleasant as being dumped over Archie’s shoulder. Hopefully there wasn’t an army of tourists watching her wretched rescue.

Rescue? What was she thinking, rescue? She’d probably been kidnapped. She had been kidnapped and was being carried who-knew-where to have who-knew-what done to her. She looked around wildly only to find filthy cloak-begarbed men riding with their attentions fixed on whatever the hounds were chasing.

One thing was for sure: she didn’t see any kind of shiny knight on a white charger heading toward them to defend her abused self.

“It was a stupid idea anyway,” she muttered under her breath as she marshaled her strength to make a bid for freedom. She would just have to take care of herself by herself. She put her hand under her captor’s arm and shoved with all her strength.

Merde,” he growled.

Jessica’s head snapped up of its own accord. Merde? Well, it was just a good thing her grandmother wasn’t around or the guy would have found his moth washed out with whatever cleansing agent was handy.

The men started yelling at each other again and this time Jessica listened more intently. Yes, it was French, but it was the wackiest accent she’d ever heard. She’d spent a year after college wandering through France–and apologizing to her grandmother’s relatives for her grandfather’s having married and carted said grandmother off to the States after the war–and during those travels she had done a great deal to improve her knowledge of the language her grandmother had so diligently taught her. But in none of her groveling visits had she heard French spoken quite like it was being spoken now.

The horse came to an abrupt halt and Jessica almost sighed in relief. Now she could apply herself to the task of getting down and getting away.

Her relief was short-lived. Before she could move, she was grasped ungently around the waist and plopped down sideways over the front edge of a high saddle, leaving one leg over the horse’s withers and the other leg over a man’s thighs.

And it was at that precise moment that she knew something was terribly, dreadfully wrong.

Never mind that she’d somehow lost the manor house in the mist. Never mind that the men around her were speaking some strange French dialect in the midst of the English countryside. No, what really bothered her was that the saddle horn she was holding between her thighs looked uncomfortably like those medieval ones she’d seen in Henry’s castle. Just who the heck would have swiped something like that? The thug who held her captive? She didn’t want to take a look at him, but she knew she’d have to do it sooner or later. No time like the present to determine the direness of her straits.

She took a deep breath and looked up.

Whatever breath she’d been holding, she lost immediately.

He was, and she had to swallow very had to keep from choking, the most terribly beautiful man she had ever seen. He had a long, wicked scar that traveled from his temple down his cheek to the side of his chin and below his jaw. Somehow, though, it just didn’t detract from his handsomeness, dark though that was. His face was all planes and angles, harsh even in the deepening gloom. His hair was dark and his eyes were full of cynicism.

Before she could wonder about that, she felt herself jerked backward off the horse thanks to a hand in her hair. She couldn’t have said how, but somehow the man holding her managed to keep her in his arms and dismount, all without missing a beat. Jessica grabbed her hair close to her head and held on, trying to spare herself any more pain. She was set on her feet and then there was the distinct sound of fist against flesh.

She looked up in time to see a mounted man jerk back upright with a curse. As he was holding a very bloody nose, she could only assume he’d been the one to grab her hair–and the one to receive his just deserts for doing so.

He had light hair and a very unpleasant face. That face, behind his bloodied nose of course, was scrunched up in anger and he was shouting something at her rescuer. Jessica decided right then that this was a man she had no desire to get to know any better, especially when he let go of his nose long enough to draw a sword and brandish it. He swung it around his head, but he did so in a manner that made him look less than sober.

Jessica felt her mouth slip open. Either she was dreaming or her blood sugar had just taken a decided dip south. She watched the man on the horse wave his sword around as if he meant to do business with it, then she realized something else.

The man she was standing next to hadn’t bothered to respond in kind. He had a sword. She knew that because the hilt was digging into her side. That her rescuer–and by now she certainly preferred to think of him as such, if the alternative was casting her lot with the nasty-looking sword wielder–was even wearing a sword was enough to make her want to sit down until she could sort things out properly.

She pondered that for a moment or two, then realized that her non-sword-drawing acquaintance was speaking and by nothing more than the tone of his voice he made it clear that being in his sights was a very unhappy place to be. Jessica decided right then that confrontation would be her last resort. Maybe she could make off with his horse while his attention was elsewhere. She eased behind him. No sense in not using him as a shield while she could.

Jessica looked around his shoulder at the man who still sat astride his horse, his flashing broadsword uplifted. That one seemed to make a decision of some kind. He shoved his sword back into his scabbard and jabbed his heels into his horse’s side. The beast cried out and jumped forward. The rest of the mounted men thundered past. It was only after the dust had dispersed that Jessica realized she’d been holding her breath. Then she realized something else.

The man with the iron grip around her wrist had faced down a man approximately the same size who was sitting on a horse with a drawn sword, yet he had come out the winner apparently using only words as his weapon. He turned and looked down at her. Smiling in the face of that grim mask was more than she could manage. But words weren’t beyond her.

“Thank you,” she said, and it came out a croak. “I think.”

He shrugged, apparently noting her apology and then dismissing it. He put his hands on her waist and Jessica jerked back in surprise.

“Let go of me,” she said, struggling to push him away. “I mean it, mister. I appreciate the help, but I’m fine now. Now, if you’ll excuse me–”

She gasped in surprise as the man lifted her easily and cast her up onto his saddle. Before she’d even had time to arrange her skirts to sit astride the horse, the man had vaulted up behind her onto the gelding’s rump.

Things were not going the way she’d planned.

But before she could protest, the man reached for the reins, then spurred his horse forward. Jessica clutched the front of the saddle and prayed she would get back to the house in one piece, assuming they were heading back to the house. The sun had definitely set and the twilight was fading quickly; she did her best to calculate where they were going. In that at least she found some relief. It felt like a return to Henry’s house.

Sounds reached her before she could make out shapes. She could hear livestock complaining. There were men shouting and laughing. Other voices were raised, speaking in a language she couldn’t understand. The sounds reminded her of an open market with merchants vocally advertising the excellence of their goods. But these sounds were completely out of place. Lord Henry’s garden was quiet and she certainly didn’t remember the town being this close. Besides, the tourists were long gone by now.

“What in the world did Lord Henry do…ah, to…” her voice trailed off as something very large began to materialize from the mist.

No, it wasn’t large, it was enormous.

It was at that moment that she was faced with the overwhelming urge to scream.

It was a castle. It was a castle sitting where Lord Henry’s manor house should have been. In fact, she suspected that it looked a great deal like the castle she had been so ignominiously carried from by Archie not a pair of hours before.

And there, right there where the garden should have been was a drawbridge. A working drawbridge, with men and horses traveling over it and torches lighting their way. Jessica lifted her eyes up walls that were at least three stories high and jerked back when she saw the men walking atop them. Soldiers with helmets that gleamed silver in the light from the moon.

There was, however, no sign of that lovely Victorian mansion she had grown so attached to in such a short time.

Jessica tried to jerk out of the saddle but the man squeezed her between his forearms. She grabbed the reins in front of where his hands were and gave them a substantial tug. The gelding reared and the man swore. Jessica pulled back again, trying to turn the horse around. She dug her heals into his side for good measure. The beast reared again and Jessica released one rein long enough to give her companion a healthy shove. He teetered. Another jerk on the reins and another shove sent him right off the back of the horse. Jessica forced the horse around and slapped her heels against his flanks.

“Go, go!” she shouted. “Allez, you stupid horse!”

Blessed beast, he responded immediately. Jessica gave him his head and let the sharp wind in her face still her panic. She would get out of this just as soon as she could find a road and follow it to a pub. All she had to do was find a phone. Lord Henry would straighten this out.

She heard a shrill whistle and groaned even before she felt the gelding skid to a halt. She went sailing over his head, completely out of control. She knew there was nothing she could do but enjoy the ride. So she did, for the space of a breath or two.

She landed flat on her back and the wind was knocked completely from her. She gave a passing thought to the fact that she hadn’t hit her head on a rock before she concentrated on the fact that she couldn’t breathe. At all.

She tried valiantly to suck in air, truly she did. She kept her eyes open and trained on the stars above her, willing her body to respond. Then her view of the sky was blocked by a man who planted himself over her with a foot on either side of her body and glared down at her, his chest heaving. It didn’t matter that he was the most ruthlessly beautiful man she’d ever seen. It didn’t even matter that he had a sword belted at his side. Not even his frown or the way his frown emphasized his harsh scar fazed her.

What bothered her, though, was his damned horse, who seemed determined to make up for throwing her by snuffling her hair and drooling on her forehead. The man slapped the horse away and grumbled in apparent disgust.

A man who would love her as much as he loved himself.

Jessica smiled wryly. That’s what she’d wished for, wasn’t it? Yes, and there was also that saying that generally went along with wishing: Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.

Her world began to spin before she could give any more contemplation to the irony of those words.