The row of fine Georgian townhouses arced around Donald Long as he stood in the park at the center of the great circle. Leaning against a tree, he contemplated one house after another, not that it was easy to see where one house ended and the next began, they were so closely built together.
One of those houses was the one that the power pull had come from… Or would come from in another couple weeks or so.
He debated going around to the back and the servants’ entrance. It seemed unlikely that the three would have achieved any kind of rank. Therefore, the servants’ entrances would be the most logical place to keep an eye on.
A young footman suddenly appeared from the nearby street, walking quickly before a well-dressed youngish woman wearing a modest wig. At first, Donald assumed she was somebody’s maiden aunt. But before he dismissed her, he realized that her face was familiar, indeed.
Surprised, he watched the footman, a young boy who was barely a teenager, ring the bell on a house, then hold the door for the woman. Donald frowned, then smiled. So that’s where they were. The odd thing was that the girl didn’t look pregnant yet. It didn’t entirely make sense given the timing of the power pull, but who knew how long he’d have to get his hands on her and start the baby? Of course, it could have been Dean’s, as they’d said. But Donald knew there was more than one way to get a woman pregnant, and if his plan worked, Dean and Elizabeth would be none the wiser. The problem would be getting his hands on the girl long enough to do it and wipe her memory. Sullenly mulling things over, he noted the number of the house and left.
Elizabeth, unaware that she had been observed, hurried upstairs to her mistress’s salon.
“I’ve got the book you requested, miss.” Elizabeth handed it over.
“Oh, joy.” Deborah grabbed it.
“And it was the strangest thing, miss,” Elizabeth continued mysteriously even though she knew full well what was behind it all. “But a young gentleman bumped into me, and I dropped the book. He helped me pick it up and asked me if I’d dropped this envelope. I said I didn’t think so, but then I saw that it was addressed to you, so I said I must have. But honestly, I don’t see how I could have.”
Deborah tore open the envelope. “It’s from him. Oh, Mrs. Parker, what did the young man look like?”
“I can’t say. I didn’t really look at him. I was too embarrassed. I’m sorry, miss. Besides, it’s quite possible that the letter was in the book when I got it. It was being held with your name on it.”
“Oh, wouldn’t you know it,” Deborah groaned. “This is the second letter I’ve had from this man. I told you about the one I got two nights ago, Saturday night. Pinned onto my cloak, it was. If only I knew who was sending them. He writes so nicely, and to be burning with secret passion. Oh, I’m completely enchanted, and I have no idea who he could be. Isn’t it too wonderful to have a secret admirer?”
Elizabeth smiled, then turned her back lest she give away too much. Two days later, she pressed Robin into letter-carrying service.
“Deborah will begin to get suspicious if I keep bringing them,” Elizabeth explained. “She’s already wondering why I’ve never seen the man.”
“All right.” Robin took the letter and shrugged.
An hour later, she presented herself to Deborah.
“Excuse me, Miss Deborah, but I found this last night. It wouldn’t happen to be yours, would it?”
Deborah snatched the letter and tore it open.
“Yes, thank you,” she replied suddenly dignified. “Where did you find it?”
“On Mr. Morgan, Mistress. It was falling out of his pocket.”
“Oh, no, not Anthony.” Deborah looked ashen.
Robin smiled. “I doubt it was his. That’s not his hand, for one thing. I got the impression the letter had been put in his pocket by someone else.”
“Then I’ll have to question him.”
“I wouldn’t bother. I seriously doubt he’ll remember anything about it. He was somewhat inebriated last night.”
“Somewhat?” Deborah laughed. “Well, you’re very kind in your assessment, Mr. Parker. But you do have a point. Thank you much for rescuing this, and good day.”
Robin left, chuckling to herself. Later that evening she chased after Morgan as he left the house.
“Wait!” she called, running to catch up.
“Parker!” Morgan groaned. “Why are you following me about all the time?”
Robin gasped as she came up. “I thought we were friends.”
“You also owe me a brandy for that wager you lost last night.”
Morgan looked surprised. “What wager?”
“You don’t remember?” Robin asked.
Morgan swallowed. “Uh, of course, I do. I remember it perfectly. Are you sure you won?”
“Positive.” Robin clapped him on the back. “And there were plenty of witnesses, so you can’t back out of it.”
Morgan sighed. Robin sighed and walked with him. He was already half-crocked. A textbook alcoholic, Robin thought. There hadn’t been any wager the night before, or any other time. Robin took advantage of Morgan’s shaky memory frequently. She paid him off just often enough to keep him from getting suspicious in his rare lucid moments.
It was impossible to keep him off the bottle. The best Robin could do was make sure he got home in one piece every night, and that he was sober enough to work the next day. Sir James was somewhat sympathetic once Robin had him search Morgan’s room, and he found all the hidden bottles there. For a drunk, Morgan could be slippery and quick. More than once he’d ditched Robin’s vigilance and sent her searching around the city for him.
He gave her the slip again that night but didn’t go far. Robin found him in the next tavern on the road, drinking and playing dice with some other clerks near his age.
Sighing, she bought a tankard of ale and joined the group on the fringe of the game. Morgan sat across from her. Behind him, at a table away from the group, two gentlemen discussed something intently. One laughed and uncommonly white teeth flashed. His mustache was a dark reddish-brown, and his hair, though powdered, showed a few auburn strands here and there.
Robin thought he looked familiar. Trying not to stare, she tried to place him. He smiled with a nasty gleam.
Robin swallowed as her heart bounded into her throat. It was impossible, then again, it was all too likely. The man was Master Neddrick, which meant he wasn’t from the seventeenth century at all, but another time traveler like Roger.
Robin kept her cool. He hadn’t noticed her, or if he had, he hadn’t recognized her. Robin wondered why he was chasing them. They had messed up Roger’s experiment. Robin had a strong feeling Neddrick had nothing to do with that. But he obviously had some connection to Elizabeth. And if he had tracked them down, why hadn’t Roger?
It crossed Robin’s mind that if Neddrick was there, that meant he had a working time machine. It was some small hope, but not much. It would be too dangerous to reveal themselves, or to even find where he was staying, let alone steal the thing.
Neddrick abruptly got up and left. Robin debated going after him. Then Morgan got to his feet. She hesitated one moment too long. Neddrick was gone. She shrugged and got a good grip on Morgan’s swaying form. With a grim sigh, she decided Neddrick would find them before she found him.
She didn’t tell Dean or Elizabeth about her evening’s encounter. There didn’t seem any point in exciting them, and there was always the chance that Dean would do something rash before she could stop him. She remained preoccupied with it, however. The next night she kept her eyes open as she followed Morgan about.
Noting her distraction, Morgan slipped away earlier than usual and disappeared more completely than ever. Robin was furious with herself for losing him as she had. Close to one in the morning she made some discreet inquiries.
A couple of footmen finally answered Robin’s request in the affirmative. They directed her to a bright house on a dark alley not far from the Assembly Rooms. Shaking her head, Robin knocked.
A scantily clad woman ushered her in. Several more lounged about in the salon she was shown into. Robin gulped as she realized in just what kind of place she was.
“Take your pick,” suggested an older, made-up woman in velvety tones. “It’s a shilling a turn.”
“Um, actually I came to inquire after one of your clients.”
A lovely young thing with a towering wig and white, white skin slid close up to Robin and stroked her cheek.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a turn with me?” she asked in a beguiling voice.
“N-n-no.” Robin stepped away. “I-I’m really not on the market. Honest. Um. I just came to get my friend. He’s a little loaded right now, and if I don’t get him home fast, my boss will skin me alive. His name’s Morgan, Anthony Morgan.”
The older woman nodded. “Tony. First floor, second door on your right.”
“Yeah.” Robin swallowed again. She certainly didn’t want to go barging in on someone… “Right. Um. Thanks. I’ll be right back.”
There was blessed silence behind the indicated door. Robin opened it and peeked inside. The light from the hall fell upon Morgan sprawled face down on the bed with nothing on. Robin went in. She tried to wake him and failed. Robin gathered his clothes together and got his breeches and shirt on him. At least his purse was still full. Grunting, Robin heaved him up and home.
The next day was Friday and another ball night for Deborah. That evening, draped from her wig was a special lace veil with tiny seed pearls worked into the pattern. A bouncing country jig sent it floating to the ground. Deborah, as usual, never noticed. But a timid young gentleman did. Unobserved, Lord Edward Acton picked it up and slid it next to his bosom.
The next day, the Culpepper house was in an uproar. Deborah was desolate over the loss of her veil. Sir James was not happy about it, either. It had come from Venice and had cost a pretty penny. All the servants stayed out of the way as much as possible to avoid Sir James’ ranting and Deborah’s sorrow.
Late that afternoon, one of the kitchen maids came back from the marketplace with a letter for Deborah. Deborah was ecstatic and rang for Elizabeth.
“He’s got it!” Deborah exclaimed as Elizabeth entered the room.
“I beg pardon, miss?”
“My secret lover. He has my veil. He’s keeping it next to his heart. Isn’t that beautiful?” Deborah whirled around in joy.
“Yes, miss. But what are you going to tell your father?”
“My father?” Deborah stopped whirling. “Oh. What can I tell him?”
Elizabeth thought. “That a friend has it, and you’ve let her borrow it?”
“Oh, Mrs. Parker, you’re a genius. He won’t like that much, but he’ll have to admit it’s safe. With any luck at all, he’ll have forgotten about it by tomorrow.”
Sir James had forgotten about the veil by that evening. He was more preoccupied with a letter he had just received. He had Robin write the reply, giving his permission to let Mr. Farquhar visit Miss Deborah Culpepper on the morrow, Sunday. Robin dispatched it with Samuel, who didn’t seem all that happy to be sent.
Robin had only a passing interest in Mr. Farquhar. She hadn’t met the man but knew that Sir James had dined with him at least twice the previous week. Sunday afternoons she had off with Dean and Elizabeth. They had planned to spend that afternoon at the Summer Gardens, but rain changed their plans. Dean and Elizabeth went straight up to their room. Robin paused in one of the salons while Samuel fetched a snack for her.
On her way upstairs, Robin passed the sitting room where Deborah was having her interview with Mr. Farquhar. Just out of curiosity, Robin put her ear to the door and listened.
“Then you didn’t send the letters,” Deborah was saying.
“No. The only letter I sent was to your father, yesterday.” The voice sounded familiar. Robin opened the door a crack and peeked in.
Deborah looked away from her guest sadly. “Oh, how silly of me. I merely thought… After you were so kind to me at the ball the other evening. I beg your pardon for making such an assumption.”
“You may have it.” It was Neddrick. Robin shut the door. “What was that?”
“Oh, just one of the servants, I’m sure,” Deborah answered. “Ours are harmless, but you know how nosy they can be.”
Robin hurried upstairs to Dean and Elizabeth’s room. They were asleep. Robin left a note instructing them to not go downstairs until the next day.
Not that the next day was any better. Neddrick/Farquhar dropped by again to conduct business with Sir James. Robin heard about the visit beforehand and manipulated an errand that kept her out of the house for the day. Dean and Elizabeth had been carted off earlier that day with Lady Culpepper and Deborah to visit with a friend in Cheltenham.
Robin spent the next three days dodging Farquhar. Dean spent his days dodging passes from Her Ladyship. Thursday, she caught him, more or less.
“Parker, you’ve done so well with my feet,” she told him after summoning him to her room. She was wearing her India cotton overgown, but it hung open revealing her stays and panniers underneath.
“Thank you, M’lady.”
She smiled archly. “My back has been very sore lately.”
Dean hesitated. “It has?”
“That wretched coach trip, you understand.” Lady Culpepper arranged her thin gown around her ample bosom. “Why they can’t make those blasted things more comfortable, I’ve no idea.”
“They do bounce a lot, M’lady.”
“Do you think you could apply those marvelous hands of yours to my back?”
Dean grimaced. “Couldn’t that get us into trouble?”
“How do you mean, Parker?” Her smile was almost menacing.
“Well, your husband might get the wrong idea,” Dean answered and almost immediately regretted it.
She chuckled. “That’s if he finds out. But he’s in Bath. We’re here.”
“You wouldn’t like it if I complained to him about your insubordination, now would you?”
“Then have at it.”
Dean had at it reluctantly. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he remembered there were laws against sexual harassment on the job. But that was in the twenty-first century. He couldn’t wait to get back home.
The little group got back to Bath the next day to find Mr. Farquhar had serious intentions for Deborah, and Sir James liked him. Lady Culpepper was aghast because the man wasn’t titled, and wasn’t that rich, either. Deborah was upset because she didn’t like him. She’d been relieved to find he wasn’t her secret admirer and liked him even less after that. Dean and Elizabeth were scared, at first, when Robin told them who Mr. Farquhar was.
“I suppose he’s chasing us,” Elizabeth said. “But poor Deborah. I shouldn’t want her to be married to such an evil creature as Master Neddrick, I mean, Mr. Farquhar.”
“Assuming he stays married to her,” grumbled Dean. “He’ll probably knock her up then head off to some other ti— Wait.” The thought slowly manifested itself in his brain. “If he’s here, then he had to have a way to get here. Robin, you think maybe this guy’s got one of those time machine thingies?”
“I think that’s a safe bet,” Robin said. “The trick will be getting it.”
“Well, hell.” Dean started pacing. “Find out where he’s staying, and we’ll go get it. Hell, I’m happy to do a little breaking and entering.”
“No.” Robin turned on him. “Are you out of your mind, Dean? Think about it. We messed up Roger’s experiment. I know he didn’t seem mad at us about it, but Farquhar sure seems to be. Maybe there’s a reason, and do you really want to give the time travel people more ammo against us by stealing another machine?”
“Hello? He’s not going to loan it to us. How else are we going to get home?”
Robin gulped. “I don’t know. Give me some time to think about it. In the meantime, we’ve got to make sure this Viscount Edward gets his bid in for Deborah’s hand. Dean, I want you to promise me you won’t go after Farquhar’s time machine.”
“Come on, Robin.”
Dean glared at her. “All right. I promise. I won’t go after his machine.”
“Good.” Robin sighed. “Why don’t you take charge of giving Lord Edward the royal shove in the right direction”
Dean snorted. “Oh, right. Just give me the easy job. This guy is a total weenie.”
“Good,” said Robin. “Then getting him to do what we want him to do should be no problem.”
“I can think of a few things to say to him,” Elizabeth said quietly.
“Even better,” said Robin. “I’ve got to go think. And it’s Friday. I get to go chase Tony all over town.”
That evening, Deborah stayed home and sulked. Lady Culpepper convinced Sir James that they desperately needed to be seen at the theatre, and he, grumbling, went along with her. With Robin chasing Anthony, and Elizabeth nearby to provide help with Deborah, Dean decided to fetch Lord Edward.
He found the young swain sighing in the vestibule of the Assembly Rooms.
“My good Mr. Parker!” he exclaimed. “You’re here. But where is your mistress? She’s not ill, I hope.”
Dean clapped the young man on the back. “She’s perfectly well, but pretty unhappy. She’s got another suitor, you know.”
Lord Edward sighed even more deeply. “I’ve heard. I suppose she’s accepted him.”
“She hates him.”
“Are you sure?” Lord Edward brightened.
“Cross my heart.”
“Oh, this is wonderful news.” Lord Edward sighed with joy this time.
Dean shook his head. “It’s not all that great. Sir James really likes the guy. You’ve got to do something and fast.”
“What?” Lord Edward looked panicked.
“Reveal yourself. Talk to her.”
“Me?” The viscount practically squeaked.
“Come on. She’s at home right now and her parents are gone. We’ll sneak you in.”
Dean got a good grip on the frightened young man’s arms and started him down the street.
“Look, I promise you, she’s head over heels in love with you and she doesn’t even know who you are,” Dean said.
“But if she finds out.” Lord Edward trembled visibly.
Dean squeezed his arm reassuringly. “She’ll love you. Trust me. Just talk like you write to her. She eats that stuff up.”
“Shut up. You sound like a motorboat.”
Dean grinned sheepishly. “Never mind.”
At the house, Dean took Lord Edward in through the servants’ entrance. Lord Edward was too nervous to notice. Dean sent his footman upstairs to have Elizabeth get Deborah into the back salon. Dean waited there with Lord Edward until Deborah appeared, pushed in by Elizabeth.
“But at least my wig!” Deborah pleaded as Elizabeth shut the door. Dean slid around the room as she turned and started.
“Oh! My Lord!” She dropped a curtsy. “I must beg pardon for my appearance.”
He swallowed. “You are more beautiful now than I have ever seen you.”
Outside, in the hall, Dean and Elizabeth muffled their laughter and continued listening.
“You are most generous, My Lord.”
“Oh, please. I am your humble servant, Edward. You don’t know how I have loved you.”
“But your letters…”
“They couldn’t come near to expressing my true feelings for you. They are but a shadow of what my heart holds for you. I have worshipped you. See, your veil which I found, it is my most sacred relic. I’ve kept it here next to my heart since I found it. It has saved my very life many times over when I thought I would die from not having you.”
Deborah sighed. “Yes, you are the one. You can’t imagine how I’ve longed to see your face. I knew from the moment I read your first letter that we would be true lovers.”
Dean and Elizabeth could bear it no longer. They went upstairs and had a good long laugh.
“Oh, dear,” said Elizabeth, wiping her eyes. “I feel so unkind laughing like this. I’m afraid we must sound like them sometimes.”
“I’m not that bad.” Still chuckling, Dean wrapped her up in his arms. “I love you, Elizabeth, and I don’t mind saying so, but I’ll say it without the glop.”
“I’m glad you do.” She reached up and kissed him. “And I love you, too.”