Westbury Falls #9: The Wretched Mr. Sutton

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Today, we have the next installment of “Wesbury Falls” and an announcement that the series is in the works for publication to Kindle Vella this fall. So, unfortunately, I will only be running the next two chapters. I hope you’ll be able to follow it on that platform and will give you the links as the project gets ready to run. If you’ve followed this far, know that the series on Vella will contain more details and bonus chapters not given on The Beautiful Stuff thus far. I hope you’ll all be able to continue the adventure.

And now, this…

Lillian was worn thin. The difficult conversation with Matthew, the afternoon of people and the lack of any progress in her plan to leave this god-forsaken time, and hopefully save herself and her Aunt from certain death all cumulated in her having what Miriam described as “a bout of horrible exhaustion”.

Her feelings for Matthew especially had distracted her from the purpose of her being here, or what she thought was the purpose. He made her want to stay. He made her consider living the rest of her short life out in horrible yards of linen and under the control of a man she knew nothing of except that he might very well be the one responsible for her future death. Simply because it meant she would still see him in the same social circles even a few times before her untimely end.

As she lay in bed, watching the mid-morning sun crossing the horizon, she thought through the options that were limiting themselves with every day that came closer to the day Lillian had disappeared. But while her rational mind beat itself against the still injured skull it was trapped in, like an angry bird yearning to be free, her heart commandeered its power to dwell on the hurtful words of Dr. Blackwell, and the fact that he had not spoken to nor seen her since that sunny afternoon on the blanket a three days ago. It was the longest she’d ever gone without seeing him since her arrival.

The door creaked open, even as she was drying her eyes yet again and thinking herself a foolish and stupid girl for wanting something so ridiculous. Miriam poked her round, cheery face in the crack and whispered.

“Pardon me, miss.”

Lillian sniffed and quickly dried her eyes. “Yes…I’m awake, I’m sorry. Please don’t bring me breakfast, I’ll come down soon.”

“Mistress, begging your pardon, but you’ve a gentleman visitor, waiting down in the parlor.”

Lillian’s heart leapt, and she threw the covers from her legs, exposing them to the coldness of the room, but barely noticed. Her heart tripped to life.

“Has Dr. Blackwell—”

“Begging you, no miss!” Miriam looked at her confused before continuing. “Tis your fiancé, Mr. Sutton. He’s asking if you are well enough to be seen?”

Lillian sat back down, deflated. Of course it would be her fiancé. Dr. Blackwell had no reason to see her. If any indication could be made from their last meeting, he had officially deemed their patient and doctor relationship over. Any relationship they may have held, as friends, as co-conspirators in the dangerously strange game of honesty that never passed between two of the opposite sex in this era, was over. Lillian sighed and nodded.

“Of course, I—” she smoothed her wayward hair. “If it would not aggrieve him to wait in the parlor while I dress, I shall be down presently.”

“If you are not feeling up for such a visit, I have no qualms about letting him know you are not yet recovered.” Miriam said and her eyes softened.

Lillian rose again and walked to the door. She smiled sadly and took the older maid’s hands in hers. She felt the calloused and hard worked hands and the appreciation for such loyalty, not just for her as a charge but as a woman forced into a situation against her heart’s will.

“I appreciate that, more than you know. I shall make his acquaintance…er meet with him. It would not do—” she sniffed, “for a woman to refuse to see her betrothed after so long an absence.”

“Shall I serve tea? And if, you are feeling unwell, you may signal me by dropping your spoon. Then I shall make sure to devise a distraction. So that you may take your leave.” Miriam offered boldly. Lillian smiled widely and placed a kiss on her cheek with childlike warmth.

“Yes please, Miriam, that would be lovely, thank you.”

After Miriam left, Lillian dressed herself in a pale blue, cotton dress, tying it as tightly as possible on her own, and feeling that her ribs hurt from the deep drawing of breath. It made her think of the run she’d so brazenly taken on the day of Matthew’s leaving. She had wished she would have caught up to him. Or that he had come after her. But she hadn’t. And he hadn’t. And it appeared, by all accounts that the universe was reminding her that Dr. Blackwell was not to be hers. Her hair was an absolute horror, but she tamed it with a comb and water and put it back into a simple bun, something Kitty had shown her she could do herself in a pinch. It certainly wasn’t the same spiked pixie she was used to. Lillian still found comfort in toying with it. And she needed comfort now.

Taking the stairs and deep breaths very carefully, she descended and thought through all of the possible questions, comments, and conversations she might have with Mr. Sutton. What would he wish to speak of? What if she wasn’t able to pretend to know about their previous interludes? What if he found her much changed, so much so that he deemed her mentally unsound or worse, an imposter?

What if—she turned the corner of the parlor and saw him standing, stoically against the fireplace. He was a large man, hands clasped behind his back and reserved as he stared over his long and straight nose down at her. The nose was akin to Matthew’s but the eyes that stared at her above it were cold and brown; disinterested but for the slight shock at how quickly she had rounded the corner. His brown hair was trimmed neatly to the staunchly pressed and tight collar around his thick neck

She made a small surprised sound before remembering herself.

“Mr. Sutton, it is a pleasure to see you again,” she lied as she had never met the man, but bowed her head and knee low, curtsying far longer than necessary in order to gather her wits.

“Miss Byrne, the pleasure is all mine,” he said in a clipped and authoritative voice and came nearer. “Forgive me for being away so long,” he bowed and she offered her hand. He kissed it with cold lips quickly and in a perfect example of withheld emotion. “I hope I am not interrupting your convalescence. I would have offered to—come sooner—” he paused, blushed and cleared his throat. “But I’m afraid business in London has kept me from your bedside these long weeks.”

She could not see this large and reserved man, his jowly face and barrel chest sitting at her bedside calling her Angel and Lily. Her heart fell and she smiled despite the pain. She must maintain the act if she were to buy herself the time and opportunity to save her ancestor. The bigger picture had to come first.

“I am much improved, and am happy that you’ve given me a joyous reason to leave the confines of bed.” Now she blushed and turned away as he looked at her. “That is to say—I am much rested and anxious to return to my normal tasks.”

“I am glad I could inspire you,” he said and sniffed. He looked at her forehead. Studied the wound and shook his head. “Tis a shame you shall be scarred from the event.” Lillian tried not to scowl and used her strongest effort to not reply the way she would have with Matthew. She had no such pact of honesty with this man, he was, after all, her soon to be husband.

“With some skill, I can learn to arrange my hair to hide much of it, and you can make the effort to always stay on my left.” She said. It was the closest thing to polite she could manage and she wished she’d held her tongue a bit harder. He turned his head to the side and studied her and she wondered if she were about to be found out for the liar she was.

“I suppose your right. In any case, our sons will not inherit it.”

“Sons—“? Lillian choked on her response and fell into a fit of coughing.

“Do you find my assurances too forward?” he said and put his hands behind his back. “But, of course our future will hold the blessings of male heirs to the Sutton name!”

She smiled demurely above clenched teeth.

“Of course, my—dear—Mr. Sutton.” She forced herself not to throw up in her mouth. The strangest thought of being too forward, and Matthew’s intimate comment to her on the day of the picnic flashed in her mind. How she had wanted to be alone on a blanket with him in the afternoon sunlight and feel his warm strong fingers trailing up her thigh.

“You are quite flushed, my dear. I see you are as impatient for our future nuptials as I.”

Lillian took a step back and her thoughts were brought back to the present. The gall of the man. It was one thing for Matthew, who knew her best and felt genuine affection for, to make inappropriate comments. This man was, by all accounts a stranger and she felt sick to think of what was running through his mind. He watched her face turn downward. Probably attributing it to the necessary outward propriety of young women in the era.

“Though you are ill, you are still quite beautiful. I shall be the envy of all the men in the hunting club.” He tumbled through the backwards compliment and turned quickly away.

He’s a bumbling idiot and vulgar, but I won’t have to marry him if I can figure out a plan of escape quickly, Lillian thought and sunk down to the couch as her legs grew noticeably weaker. Mr. Sutton came to sit in the chair beside her. He was studying her now, as if trying to decern if she had changed in other ways. His brow scowled at the scar. As if his favorite statue had been gashed in transit.

“How has your business been?” she said suddenly in an effort bring his attention off of her face. “I hope that you are not too weary from your travels.” She said “The weather has been quite unpredictable and I know not enough to understand how that must affect the ships in your care.”

He looked at her as if she’d grown a second head and it occurred to Lillian that women were probably not allowed or expected to talk of business, even with their husbands. At least not this husband.

How she wished Dr. Blackwell were here.

“You musn’t worry for the boring details of running a shipyard, my darling. Let us talk instead of Dr. Blackwell.”

Lillian’s eyes shot up at the mention of his name. “I beg your pardon? I’m not sure I quite comprehend the subject.”

“My cousin!”

She feigned ignorance and shook her head. “I’m not sure there is much to speak of.”

“Well, I understand I have him to thank for saving your life? Though he could have used a lighter hand on that stitching.” He added. Lillian’s mouth turned down in anger.

“He…his first stitches were quite perfect. I tore out the others accidentally while slipping up a hill in the rain. He—aided me in getting back to Westbury Manor and had to repair them with wet and cold fingers.” She defended quickly, remembering every detail of the moment and the way he’d found her, wanted her, held her. Her eyes filled anew. Mr. Sutton watched the tears with a glint of something sinister within his eyes. An understanding…a need to stake claim on her as his property.

“I cannot fathom a reason why you’d be out walking in the rain to begin with, let alone up hills on your own. Nor why you thought it acceptable to accepting such aide from an unmarried man.” His voice was thick with disapproval. “When we are married, you must know that kind of behavior will simply not be tolerated. You do know that you are to remain at home, I will not have my wife traipsing about the countryside like some common bumpkin. Did anyone see you? Besides the doctor? Scrambling through the rain like a witless peasant?” Mr. Sutton’s voice rose, and a strange darkness took over his features. His rounded cheeks clenched into hard lines and he rose to pace before the fireplace.

“I am quite fond of walking.” She said simply.

“I am quite fond of a complacent wife,” he said back in a tone that brought a rising of bile into Lillian’s throat. The door burst open unannounced by a knock and Miriam stepped in with rattling tea service tray and a face quite flushed itself. She looked once at her young charge and her beady, hard eyes landed on Mr. Sutton.

“Beggin’ your pardon, sir. Miss Bryne requested serving tea after your long journey.”

Lillian loved her for the complete lack of respect in her tone and she smiled even though her eyes stayed downcast to the patterned rug beneath her feet.

“Fine,” he acknowledged with a curt nod, and held his tongue while the woman, whom he felt far beneath the benefit of his words, set the tea service down in front of Lillian. Miriam began to pour him the first cup and looked up at Lillian’s pale face.

“When we are married, you will find everything you need in our family’s grounds and shall have no reason to leave. Ever. I assure you. You will be quite content.”

Content. No reason to leave. Complacent.

“As for my cousin, you will no longer cause him the grief of maintaining your propriety as he is leaving in short time to seek his fortunes elsewhere. You shall have no reason to leave when we are happily betrothed. Walking or otherwise.”

Lillian knew what her proper place was supposed to be, knew the reaction she should give, when a man, the man who was promised to be her husband, the man she was to obey and cherish spoke to her in such a commanding tone. She knew the decent and right thing to do if she were to keep up the façade long enough to escape.

She knew all of these things and chose to open her mouth anyway.

Westbury Falls: Episode #8

Well, here we are, Episode #8 and if you recall, our dear Ms. Byrne has just been…byrned? (Hooooly shit, sorry I’ve been writing and working like a maniac this week and the brain cells are a little punchy. Ahem… moving on). In the last chapter, Dr. Blackwell and Miss Bryne had a rather scandalous-for-the-time convo on the grass and he instantly felt guilty and took his leave. Such was the age of prudery. Is prudery a word? Spell-check says yes.

Now we get to see what Miss Byrne does with this slighting and gain a bit more insight (I shy from using ‘foreboding’) about our dear Colonel Mayfield. Keep your hands and legs inside the cart at all times, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

“Home!” Kitty shouted in despair. “But my darling Lillian! First you have not partaken of the cooling waters and second we’ve only just begun the afternoon of merriment. Surely a little sustenance would improve your countenance! Thirdly, and most obviously, a young lady cannot simply walk back all the way to Westbury Manor! That is at least half a day’s journey! You will surely expire before you reach the gates!”


“Please calm your worry, Miss Katherine, I shall talk with her in private.” The Colonel said and eased Kitty’s frantic tone.


The Colonel studied Lil’s pallid face and shook his head. It felt familiar to her and she attributed the motion with that typical of a father figure. She hadn’t had one of those for a long time. The Colonel leaned over, saddened, and extending his hand. Lillian took it and allowed him to help her up. His warm hand in hers made her memory jog loose and the fatherly premonition hit her solidly she staggered a bit and thought that the constant dance of want and denial that Dr. Blackwell had put her through, combined with the trauma of traveling through time, and a significant head wound were conspiring against her to make her quite crazy. The Colonel was not her father.


Maybe her heart and her soul just wanted a father figure, now more than ever. Someone to be solid and strong, and there for her. Not like her own father who’d disappeared from the face of the Earth when she was eight. She followed the Colonel docile as a lamb and they took a short stroll to the water’s edge where Lillian’s tears began anew.


“My dearest, what has vexed you so, please. Allow me the honor of helping you to sort out any muddled feelings. Is it Kitty?” He said quietly and looked back to the blanket now being spread with delicious luncheon things. Lillian stared past her to the blank hillside where Matthew had climbed and disappeared beyond.


“No, dear Colonel, I’m afraid our Miss Darlingwood is not so insensitive as to cause such a bereavement.” She sniffled and tried to control the tears that sprung up as her mind relived the cause of her bereavement. Ever coming to her aid was the paramount regret of his life. Her dearest friend in a strange and unfriendly world wished he’d never met her.


“Then it is to be the young Dr. Blackwell that we accredit such distress.” The Colonel said it so matter of fact that she wondered if a judge and jury might spring up from below the water of the lake and apprehend the criminal at once.

“It is of no fault, of his own, my dear Colonel.”


“Not his fault? Please explain. No gentleman would dare leave a lady in such a state. How could a man of honor cause a woman to cry such bitter tears in the middle of such a fine day?” Lillian shook her head, not knowing how to respond when Matthew’s leaving had everything to do with a man of utmost character.


“It is all my fault, I’m afraid. I’ve behaved very poorly and put the noble Doctor in too great of a quandary to find a righteous path. I’m just so—unaccustomed.”

“Whatever to you mean child?” The colonel responded with a hand on her shoulder briefly.

“I am not used, to…to feeling this way about a—a man. To feel so–lost and affectionate and–He—” she gasped for breath and felt the tightness of her corsets constricting even further as she tried to breathe. No wonder women in this era fainted so easily, the wires and metal served to keep them from barely breathing at all, let alone in any kind of crisis.

“What is it dear, Lily?”

“He upends me, sir. He makes my head and my heart spin until I have no rational thought at all and I am torn between what I know I must do and should do and what I want to do. What I ache to do.” She burst out suddenly. Lillian quickly covered her mouth. “You must think I am of a horrible moral character, to have—these thoughts about a good and honorable man.”


The Colonel smiled softly and lowered his head. He checked the unaware guests still engaged in other conversatiopns.

“My dear girl, one could be of the utmost character, the model of propriety, a human shining in the eyes of God and still the heart is a wild and beautiful beast. It wants as it does, and it rarely asks us for our opinion in the matter.” He smiled as if he’d been waiting a long time to give fatherly advice. “Sometimes, the question our heart poses to us, is exactly the one that holds the right answer for us.”


The question her heart was posing, the sheer ridiculous idea that she wanted him, to be with him to stay with him, though she knew him not, though she did not belong here, though she should be expending her energy on the plan to get herself back home to her own timeline…was that maybe all she really wanted was to be with Dr. Matthew Blackwell in any time, in any space.


“It’s merely stupid, irrational, female frailty,” she burst out, reprimanding herself and her wild beast of a heart. Lillian turned away from him, headed straight for the road and the way back to Westbury Manor.


“But my dear! You cannot make the trip on foot! You simply cannot! Please take my carriage!”


“Thank you, good sir, but I assure you that the exercise will quite calm my nerves,” she managed to croak before cresting the hill. Once free of the view of the lake side picnic, she broke into a run back down the shoddy dirt road. She lifted her skirts in the heat and the dust and let her poorly slippered feet run as though the mere thought of such an activity was inconceivable and would turn her rightly into some sort of mythical creature. Maybe she could just fly away from it all if she went fast enough.


In her own time, Lillian had been varsity on her cross country team and had accomplished a sub 1:30 half marathon not two weeks before. With skirts lifted she paced over the dirt and rock, the uneven ground and hot sun drenched fields for the next seven miles, sweating profusely in the heavy cotton gown and undergarments, her slippers torn to shreds before she finally made her way back to the gates of Westbury Manor.


“My mistress!” The gateman called, shocked at the sight of her, dirty and sweating, pink in the face and her bonnet trailing from her hand as she had torn it from her neck around mile two. “Are you quite alright, what has happened?” The old man stepped up to help her.

“Are you with fever? Are you in need of a doctor?”

Lillian shook her head, too exhausted and dehydrated to cry at the thought of the Doctor who would no longer be coming to her aid. She sighed, put her hands to her knees and gulped breaths of air through her tight corset.

“I assure you, good sir, I am quite fine. I will be set right in a few moments when I have caught my breath.” she said, lying as much to herself as to him. She was not sure she would ever be set right. The gateman stared at her as if she’d gone quite mad. She stumbled inside, shedding her ruined shoes at the door and continuing up the stairs on shaking legs and bare feet, until she collapsed into her bed.

Westbury Falls: Episode #7

Good morning! If you’ve been following our little romantic, time-traveling tryst, here is the next installment. Our star-crossed couple find themselves under the strain of propriety. If you need to catch up, please check out the previous episodes here on The Beautiful Stuff. Enjoy!

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The summer began its lazy progression into the tepid heat and humidity that made the house restless and the confining clothes, suffocating. Lillian had taken to wearing as few layers as was allowed and working out in the cool dirt of the garden whenever was possible, much to the dismay of the proprieties of the household. But it was Kitty’s suggestion that they have a lakeside picnic at the end of the week, as a way to socialize with the other prominent families in the province, that seemed to lighten her mood. Lillian suspected it was merely an excuse to socialize with Fitzwilliam, which she had no qualms with. They were a cute couple and it was obvious that her this-world brother was quite taken with the bubbly blond debutant. It also meant she might have another chance to see Matthew.

When the day of the picnic arrived, and Kitty was trying to convince Lillian that wearing a bathing suit without her fiancé in attendance may be deemed inappropriate, Lillian nearly didn’t go. Not only was she not interested in wearing seventy pounds of scratchy, wet, woolen material, but she ached to be inappropriate. Was it only days or years ago that she visited the water park in a two piece? Kitty’s insistence and droning lecture nearly made her reconsider, until she looked down through her chambers’ window, and saw Matthew Blackwood arrive with his father via carriage.

“Perhaps you are right, dear Miss Darlingwood, the best option I have is to remain in the shade, enjoying the activities from afar.” Her eyes never left the view of Matthew who had shed his proper coat on the hot day, and talked with the Colonel in jovial tones. Would he be swimming? Did men swim without shirts? Would he, being the rebel he was, do it?

“Right you are! You could use the ample time to work on your embroidery.”

A shudder of loathing went through Lillian and she frowned her pretty mouth into a pout. “Suppose you are right.”

Now, after helping Miriam with the food baskets and reluctantly packing up her hated project, she was settled on a blanket, listening to the other water revelers enjoy the cool water, even as her skin flushed in the heat. To make matters worse, the senior Dr. Blackwell insisted on setting his blanket next to theirs to talk with the Colonel. Matthew bowed demurely and acknowledged her.

“Miss Byrne, a pleasure as always. I hope the day finds you in good health.”

“Dr. Blackwell, the pleasure is all mine. My health seems to be returning even as we speak,” she said coyly as the ribbons from her bonnet blew gently across her neck. Matthew smiled at her, beneath the brim of his hat as he settled on the grass near, but not near enough to her.

“I hope you do not find it disagreeable to share a blanket in the grass?” he whispered and smiled.

“No, good sir. I only find it highly disagreeable that there are so many eagle-eyed chaperones,” she retorted with a quirked eyebrow before turning her wayward attention back to the knots. He smirked and settled in, listening to his father’s conversations intently while still keeping one eye and ear on Lillian’s frustrated curses beneath her breath and the pink heat of her cheeks. When the Colonel and doctor had left to find relief in the water, Matthew settled back on the blanket, hat over his eyes and nimble hands crossed over his trim middle. She wondered why he hadn’t gone in the water with the others. Perhaps he was stealing a moment. She wasn’t mad about it. She suddenly felt nervous, and the silence between them felt pensive. She spoke without really thinking, except to add to the bank of knowledge she was building in order to find a solution home.

“Can you tell me something?” She said, her fingers fiddling with the embroidery and the knots that were impossibly small to work with. She found, even in her nimbleness of finger and hand, it the most frustrating of challenges.

“Hm?” he said, beneath his hat, lying prone on the blanket, shielded eyes from the sun and breath deep and measured in his broad chest. She could stare at him all day and used the excuse of moving the umbrella to protect her skin to shield the others from noticing her study of him.

“About when we met…that is, when you first saw me.”

He grunted below the hat and she saw his mouth turn downward. “Why would you care to know such detail?” She couldn’t very well tell him she was trying to figure out how to get back to her own time.

“I just—I don’t remember except waking in the room with you there and even that is still a bit fuzzy.”

“Fuzzy?” he said and peaked one eye beneath the brim of his hat to look at her.

“Unclear…con—confusing,” she stuttered as he caught her staring at him. Matthew removed his hat and sat up. He studied the children and families playing in the water, squealing in delight and merriment. The gentle warmth of the sun and grass, the way the sunlight lit Lillian’s dark hair, now escaping into shiny wisps around her face. She’d removed the bonnet, and the curls remained in soft circles piled high on her head. Long neck exposed. The gentle bite of her lip between teeth in anticipation. Her long legs folded beneath her and the terrible excuse for embroidery knotted on her lap as though the art was frustrated with her and not the other way around.

“I was passing by, on my way to my father’s estate when I was called into the house by Mr. Fitzwilliam Byrne and hurried at his edict as quickly as possible. I must have smelled quite horrible as I’d been on the road for most of the day, a compellingly rank mixture of horse and sweat.” He shook his head and smiled.

“Well, now I think I’d remember such a detail as that,” she smiled and quirked an eyebrow at him. He smirked back at her. “Yet, I think I only remember—lavender, lavender and dust. And the sound of your voice as if coming to me in a long hallway. You called me angel.” He stared over at her, studying her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable and strange. Lillian cleared her throat delicately. “Go on, please.”

“You were at the base of the stairs, mumbling for your mother, lying face down. I was afraid to move you, for fear the injury had been to your neck. You pushed yourself up and stumbled to your knees, like a newborn foal. Determined and wobbly.” He smiled and shook his head, then his brow turned down and his lips frowned. “The blood was so heavy and had soaked through your dress, down your neck, in little horrible waves that made my body chill to see. You looked at me and staggered into my arms, a most trusting soul. The weight of you felt—warm and—” Matthew now cleared his throat and his eyes fell. “Forgive me—” he paused and continued “I carried you up the stairs to the first bedroom available. The maids helped me to wash your hair and—” he inhaled “neck. After I tended to your wounds.”

“Did you—were you—” she flushed and bit her lip harder. Suddenly all thoughts of trying to find out more about the moment she time traveled seemed trivial to her first encounter with Dr. Blackwell.

“Yes? What is it that you wish to know, Miss Byrne? Did we not agree to never lie or show restraint at the cost of honesty to one another? No matter how startling it may seem?”

Lillian glanced over to where the other people were otherwise occupied. “Did you undress me?” Matthew sat up straighter and looped his strong arms around his bent knees, he studied his thick thumbs and pursed his lips.

“Only one delicious limb at a time, much to the chagrin of the maids in attendance. I had to—” he paused to sigh, “inspect every part you see, to check for abrasions, breaks—” he swallowed. “Right down to your perfectly beautiful toes. I’ve never—” he swallowed and shifted on the blanket and Lillian wondered if he was fighting the urge to not allow his excitement to show. “known a woman to have so little hair on her body,” he said and he smiled with a confused light in his eyes. Lillian blushed.

“Well, I have hair in some places—”she said inadvertently, forgetting herself and quickly covered her mouth. Matthew’s eyes shot to hers, the blush of her cheeks, the way she looked like she might burst out with laughter or die of embarrassment at any moment was charming and melted him into a confused puddle of want and giddiness.

“I imagine it is as soft and raven dark as that which resides in those maddening curls on your crown,” he whispered. Lillian gasped and her hands fell to her lap. Her breath quickened. “Have I shocked you?” he said with a voice gravely and needful.

“No. You have not. You have, however, bewitched me. My thoughts are—” she swallowed and her hand trailed up her thigh, shaking. “Complicated and exciting,” her hand clenched in her lap.

“Where does the angel’s hand seek to rest,” he whispered wantonly. “Surely it is in the heaven of where my centermost thoughts lie.” He watched as her long fingers unclenched and squeezed the gentle flesh of her thigh. He growled low in his throat, and brought his hand to his mouth.

What was it about this woman? He had certainly had no shortage of beautiful young women showing interest, and those that were more accommodating, refined and available. But she seemed to turn him into a torrent of need and anger, coupled with the desire to keep her safe, to heal her, to listen to her strange accent and her new and interesting ideas. To lose himself in her eyes. To bury his face in her breasts. To steal her away from a highly respected member of the Provence like nothing more than a soulless cad.

He closed his eyes and he seethed beneath his breath. Perhaps it was she who had bewitched him, and was either imprudent for not understanding her own power, which he knew she was not, or she was purposefully trying to drive him insane and do them both a great disservice that would end in not just social suicide but quite possibly the damage of his career. He needed to rectify the situation.

“I am—a horrible—a terrible excuse for a gentleman,” he said softly. “My apologies. The things that I have said, to you, on this day and every day, since we were misfortuned to meet, were not respectable, nor were they acceptable. Please excuse me.” He rose to leave.

“You have lied!” she yelled suddenly after him.

“I beg your pardon?” He turned back to her.

“You have lied to me, Dr. Blackwell. When Miss Darlingwood asked about my engagement you lied and said men didn’t remember details of moments as women do, but you—you remembered every detail from the moment we met.”

“Miss Byrne,” he said, wishing he could protest, but she was, as usual, keenly right.

“You remembered my fall, my waking… you remember—”

“If you please, Miss Byrne!” Matthew interrupted harshly, as the moments played over and over in his mind. He wanted to remember her forever; he knew he should forget her immediately. Matthew sighed and looked to the heavens for the strength he felt he lacked so terribly.

“If I recall such details so clearly it is only because you are quite unforgettable. It seems my heart stands little chance of disregarding you even when my head and all demands of social constraint tell me to do so.” His voice was strained.

“Matthew—” she began and he looked down at her at the sound of his name. He took in a deep breath, sighed it out, looked to the crowd of friends and family now coming up from the water in laughing and jovial waves.

“Miss Byrne, ever coming to your aid is the paramount regret of my life.”

He pulled his hat on, tipped it out of habit, and left in a hurried walk towards his carriage. Lillian watched him go, her heart seeming to beat out of her chest with every one of his steps, aching to follow after him. Never in her life had a man said something so cutting and so understandably true. She wanted to collapse into a fit of sobs.

“Where on earth is Dr. Blackwell gone in such a hurry? Is there a medical emergency?” Kitty said exhilarated with the cold water and wrapping a blanket demurely over her woolen suit. Lillian didn’t know why she felt like crying or why the tears had already formed. She was surprised when a tear fell to her thumb and rolled onto her mottled cloth. Her chest felt heavy and thick and she tried to breathe but air only came in quick gasps and she felt as though she might faint.

“My dear! You are quite vexed! What ever could it be? Has something happened? Is it something concerning Dr. Blackwell? Has he offended you? What has he said? Tell me I must know, so that I may give him adequate reprimand!”

“Kitty, please—I—” she whispered and shook her head, trying desperately to wipe her eyes before the others could see. Colonel Maynard shuffled up from the shore, water dripping from his walrus mustache and joy in his red cheeks.

“I dare say, that may have made me both simultaneously older and young as a colt!” his smile fell as Lillian caught his gaze. He looked around at the milling groups now drying off to begin tea. Kitty handed her a damp kerchief but she politely shook her head.

“Miss Lillian, what on Earth is wrong. Has something happened, even on a day as fine as this?” he asked with utmost care, keeping his voice low so as to not alert the other party guests of her distress.

“I’m afraid I’m not feeling well, is there some—” she paused to sniffle and wondered how she could extract herself from people without seeming rude or arousing suspicion that Dr. Blackwell had anything at all to do with it. She quickly folded her work and stowed it away in the basket. “I beg upon your good mercy, Sir, could you please excuse me. I think I shall walk back home.”

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Westbury Falls: Episode #6

Great day in the morning, it’s time to get back to our little time traveling Lillian. If you need a refresher of what happened last time, you can find it here.https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/12/02/westbury-falls-episode-5/

If you are lazy, like me, and don’t want to go back that far, we left our characters with Lillian running out into a storm, pissed off that she was stuck in a different time and about to marry some shady-ass-muthaf*&#ker and the good Dr. Blackwell, worried for her safety, because she’s too damn stubborn to take care of herself dashes out after her.

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And now–Episode #6

“Perhaps some other time. I am running quite late for meeting with my father and should not dawdle further.” He politely bowed, careful to lean back as to not come too close to the skin she so graciously offered up for perusal. She curtsied and Dr. Blackwell rushed from the room.

He indeed had a meeting with his father that afternoon, and so it was not a falsehood that allowed him to escape Kitty. But it was not his true reasoning. Acquiring his hat and gloves from the porter, he walked casually out the front door to the sound of thunderous clouds and the quickening rain drops that fell from the storm above. He looked in both directions, knowing that he should acquire his horse and go back to his father’s estate. He could, as Miss Darlingwood had advised, give Lillian the space she needed to ruminate over her “anticipated happiness”.

Only everything about her face indicated that she was not in the slightest way anticipating the impeding nuptials with happiness. Everything about what he’d observed felt that she was not at all pleased with what had transpired before her fall. Marriage was not always a cause for happiness but it would secure her future and she should not feel so passionately against such an advantageous situation. And he should not care that she was contrary to the idea. But from the moment he had taken charge of her care at the base of the stairs a week ago, he felt, deep in the soul of his person, that he was responsible for her safety. She was his patient. And she had just run out, unaccompanied, into the rain.

“Ridiculous,” he grumbled under his breath. How could he take care of a woman who so blatantly went against his good and sound advice? There was only so much he could control and she, with her strong will and stubborn countenance, did not make even those things easy. The rain began to fall in earnest then. Soaking his jacket and hat and making it difficult to see much past the gates of the estate.

“Blasted,” he cursed. Nodding to the stable hand who had brought his horse round, he mounted quickly and tore off in an expanding circular path around the grounds.

She would be wet and cold. Perhaps having damaged her stitches. Perhaps slipped and fallen in a gully. Bones broken, head split open, any number of horrifying injuries. Had she not a mind for the worry it set within his poor heart? His poor heart—he scowled and pushed the horse faster. His heart had nothing to do with wanting her to maintain her health and her reputation. Through the rain and wind, the rushing growl of thunder above, and the distant echo of it in the hills surrounding Westbury Manor he listened for a cry for help, but only the sound of distant gulls resounded.

His eyes scanned the horizon as his heart sped up with every moment that she evaded him. True worry, real and hard, began to seize hold of his good sense. He gasped and wiped the rain from his eyes. Matthew’s thoughts circled around in his head, just as his path circled through the gardens and expansive fields of Westbury. Why would a young, poor woman scorn an advantageous marriage?

Why would a young doctor refuse a prestigious seat on his father’s board?

Some things were simply not meant to be.

What would his strait-laced cousin think of her antics now? He could not fathom how a man like Fredrick would have considered her a suitable match. But knowing his cousin as he did, Matthew thought it must have everything to do with her being exceedingly beautiful. And his cousin had always been drawn to the shiniest, most sought-after things. She would, indeed, be a stunning trophy on his arm. A trophy that he barely made effort to get to know, to spend time with, to dote on. To even visit in her convalescence? Did she mean so little to Fredrick?

While Matthew, on the other shaking hand, could scarcely stay away even for the sake of the delicate propriety that dictated their strange and sudden relationship. Suddenly, he felt a pit of sadness open in his chest at the very thought of never seeing Lillian Byrne again.

“Blast, it all. Damn fool idiot!” he said again, not sure if his words were meant for her, his cousin, or himself. His eyes scanned the horizon ferociously.

Then, out in the south pasture, he saw her cresting the far hill. A sodden bonnet in one hand, an unused shawl in the other. Her hair, coming down in waves around her shoulders, out of the carefully constructed updo that hid her wound. Paled and soaked, she stomped determined up the hill. He urged his stead forward, down the first hill, and quickly up to intersect her path. The wind tore between them, swirling the rain round in a cacophony of sound and drenching water.

“Miss Byrne, I demand you stop this foolishness at once!” he yelled from behind her. Lillian, deep in thought, took two more striding steps with her skirt lifted, dropped the drenched and heavy material, and spun to face him. She pushed the hair from her eyes.

“What are you doing here?” she said. “You’ll catch your death!”

“Oh? Is that a matter of fact? But you are perfectly safe to be out in such a torrent?” He dismounted from his horse.

She scowled in response.

“Miss Byrne, I insist that you allow me to accompany you back home.”

“That is not my home,” she sobbed and pointed to the gray manor in the distance that was harder every passing moment to see. “Those are not my friends, that is not—” The wind stole her words and Matthew had to take off his hat and stomp nearer to hear.

“I don’t understand,” he said and stormed closer. Lillian stared at him as the rain fell from his nose in droplets and soaked his blond locks so they plastered to his head. He, in turn, watched the rivulets of it pour down her cheeks, drip off the shelf of her top lip, and its perfect pink peaks. The fullness of her bottom lip, wet and tender.

“Please come back,” he said as he came close, unable to take his eyes from her lips. Lillian’s fingers lost their hold of her bonnet and scarf and they fell in wet heaps beside her drenched and muddied feet. “This is no storm to be walking in. There is scarcely any air to breath with all the rain. We are worried over your well-being.”

“We?” she asked.

I am worried,” he said and hung his head. For all of the desperation to take her back and make her fit in the space and place a woman should, he did not try to touch her, nor did he force her to follow him.

“You—you were?” she said softly and tried to peer below the blond lashes that touched his cheeks as he gazed down.

“I was…much concerned,” he said softly and he knelt to pick up her belongings. When he looked back up, he noticed that the stitches of her wound had come loose, and a small trail of blood was now joining the rain to trace her cheek. He grunted and hastily took a handkerchief from his breast pocket, quickly pressing it to the cut and causing her to take in a quick breath. His fingers were warm as he put pressure to stop the bleeding.

“See now. You should have listened to me. Look what has happened,” he said, feeling relieved for having changed the subject and being able to reprimand her again instead of admitting to her effect on him. He took the cloth away and she stared at her blood.

“Perhaps your stitches were faulty,” she said and smiled up at him. He scowled at her snark and began to formulate an argument from his shock at her suggestion until he saw her smile.

“Why, you ungrateful little child,” he said and a smile played unwilling on his lips. She watched it grow with the speed of her heart. She liked that she got under his skin and so did he.

“I am no child.” She pressed further. He looked down at the wet, thin fabric across her breasts and the skirt that clung to the fullness of her hips.

“You certainly do not look like a child,” he whispered. Lillian swayed closer and he swayed backward in equal parts. “But your behavior suggests otherwise.”

“Well, perhaps you should have found a switch along your way to rescue me, so that you could take it to my backside and teach me a lesson for such immature petulance,” she countered.

“Miss Byrne!” He blushed profusely, shocked not so much that she had spoken such suggestive words but that the thoughts immediately occupied his mind. “I could not–could do no such thing! I would never strike a woman!”

“No?” she whispered and took his hand in her cold fingers and pressed its warmth to her face. If he would allow, she would show his hands all of the cold and drenched skin that now ached for his touch. He took in a deep breath and she could feel him pulling away.

“That would be the right of your husband, to dole out such punishment for your ill-mannered behavior.”

“And if you were my husband, would you?”

“Would I what?” he asked, his frown deepening with the effort to not allow his brain and heart the luxury of such a fantasy.

“Take a switch to my backside in punishment for my ill-mannered behavior?” she asked. His eyes sought hers, his breath quickened and she could tell he was in the throes of trying not to think of it. “Or perhaps, simply your hand to my backside would suffice.” Visions of her creamy skin, naked over his lap before a warm fireplace, his broad hand against the curve of her backside flooded his mind and his breath came in gasps as his eyes closed.

“Miss Byrne, that is a most improper thing to—”

“I am yet un married,” she said and looked up at him, into his eyes, showing the dark depths of her own desire by pressing her wet skin closer to him.

“You are soon to be.” He reminded, but his hand stayed for a moment and he looked as though he wanted to pull her in for a kiss. She leaned forward. “Lily, please—” he interrupted. “You must come back with me so that I may mend the stitches before you bleed out or catch your death of cold. I shall write my cousin this afternoon to let him know that you are in need of his company.”

“I am not—”

“Do not—” he sighed exasperated and reached out, “argue with me, Lily!” taking her by the hand he pulled her to the patient stead.

“Lily?”

“If you are determined to act like a spoiled child, then you shall be addressed as one,” he growled. “Does my cousin even know what kind of trouble he has set himself up to inherit?”

“Perhaps it would be best if he were to just call the whole thing off!” she yelled back and struggled against his strong hand that held fast despite the pouring rain.

“The arrangement is made, do not jest so boldly to undermine your promissory words. It is most unbecoming of a young lady and will only serve to ruin your family’s good name and your reputation.” Lillian felt as though she might throw up as he lifted her easily onto the back of his waiting horse.

“I can walk damn it!” she burst out.

“You will do as I tell you!” he yelled back and with a grace she’d never seen possessed in any person, he swung up on the horse behind her. “And I will see to it that you obey!”

“I will not obey you!” she argued and squirmed against the strong arms that held her fast. He tightened his grip and his chin sunk down firmly into the crook of her neck and shoulder. His hot breath on her neck, his voice in her ear.

“Please, Lily, I only ask to protect you. You would not survive the financial ruin. You would not survive the poverty I have seen in young women who have fallen out of society’s good graces. And, as if you did not know, let me patiently remind you that even a simple rainstorm has been known to cause life-ending fevers. Especially for those who have been exposed to great trauma. Please, for the sake of my heart, come home.” His voice turned desperate and he placed a delicate kiss to her neck, just below her ear.

“I do not like men telling me what to do,” she said back to him, though the warmth of him, the way his lips shook against her skin, and how his hands gently caressed her waist, felt as though he were trying to apologize in touch.

“I do not blame you. And I’m sorry if I seemed—too forceful. I am not used to a—a woman like you. You’ve quite befuddled me, Lily, in ways I don’t know how to recover from.”

“I just can’t marr—”

“Please do not say it. Please, my dear Miss Byrne, trust that you will find happiness, in some way, some form by staying the course of this engagement. I believe you will. I must believe it for I cannot bear any thought that it would be otherwise. And so, you must believe it too, for my sake.”

Lillian stopped her struggle, sobbed, and wrapped her arms around his, leaned back into the warmth of his strong chest and allowed him to guide the horse back to the manor.  What were the chances she could find a way home before she was forced to marry Fredrick Sutton? What were the chances she would be able to stay away from his cousin until then?

Both seemed very bad odds.

She held still and quiet, unusually quiet for her, while he stitched up her cut. She had been watching his steady fingers and hard, unflinching eyes as he worked, but it only served to make her fall more deeply in the trouble of affection with him. He glanced once down to her eyes, to see her staring at him and his brow fell.

“Does it not bother you to watch? I know this must—” he paused steadying his hand as he knotted the delicate thread.

“Hurt like hell?” she asked quietly so Kitty would not hear from where she sat on the settee beside them, watching her like a hawk. Instead of shock he simply smiled out one corner of his mouth and nodded. She spoke more loudly to dissuade suspicion on Kitty’s part of her curse and her blooming feelings.

“I’m hoping I can learn to improve my embroidery skill by watching you. Kitty tells me I am quite dreadful and wonders who must have been responsible for my instruction.”

“Who indeed had that pleasure?” he asked distractedly as he cleaned the remaining blood from the wound and that which had trailed down her cheek in the rain. Miss Darlingwood looked over at them.

“Yes! Who in deed, I think I would very much like to reprimand them.” She chimed in.

“I do not recall,” she said softly and looked back down at her hands, knowing very well that she had never in fact been taught the art as all respectable young women of the age were.

“Well, failing at one thing, I am well aware that you have many other talents,” he said, tossing the bloodied cloth into a pan of water. Miriam collected the first aid materials on a tray and left in the stealthy manner of a woman who runs the household without ever being seen.

“And how can you be so assured of my talents?”

“My cousin tells me you are quite the accomplished at the piano forte.”

Lillian’s head was not up to the challenge of puzzling through how she’d pull off living up to such a reputation.

“Oh that’s right! Why I’ve heard from Mr. Bryne that you play quite beautifully and are quite the accomplished singer.”

“Is that so? I would very much like to hear that someday. When I visit Mr. Sutton and you that is.” Dr. Blackwell said as he cleaned and put away his instruments, throwing small glances her way as if to remind her.

“I assure you; rumors of my talent have been greatly exaggerated.” Lillian said dryly. While she may have indeed learned and played the piano at the insistence of her mother for most of her life, she knew that the two were separate and different instruments.

“In such cases as this I would normally argue that such modesty is becoming of a young lady.” He smiled but Lillian did not return the smile.

“Finally, I am acting becoming,” she said and rose to put space between her and the doctor. Kitty looked up from her sewing as Miriam cracked the door

“Beggin your pardon Miss Darlingwood, but Master Byrne has asked if he could join you all later for tea and I wanted to ask you about the menu,” she said quietly from the door way. Kitty rose with a huff, not sure she wanted to converse with Mr. Byrne over tea, as he’d teased her mercilessly just last week about a curl that had escaped her carefully tended styling and made her feel quite self conscious. While she hovered at the doorway to talk to Miriam, Matthew caught Lillian by the wrist.

Normally, I said.” His finger gently traced an arch over the delicate skin. “But we both are aware that you are too honest to be concerned with other’s opinions.”

“I beg your pardon, Sir,” she said quietly as to not gain Kitty’s attention even as a fire lit her eyes. She moved to storm away, but he held her by her wrist.

“Feel, the angel’s heart as it beats faster,” he whispered and gauged her pulse. Lillian stopped; the world hung on his lips at the endearment. “Let us agree, Lily, to never be dishonest with one another. Though we are merely friends, it would do my heart much good, and give my soul ease to find an honest woman in my small social circle.” He spoke the words only realizing afterwards that they were, in themselves, more honest than he’d ever spoken to a woman. In the strange and misleading world that was always evolving around them, women and men stood in constant foreplay of truth and deceit, one always vying for the power over the other. Such an arrangement of honesty with Lily in particular would benefit not just himself, but her as well.

“I’m sorry that you’ve found no such honesty from my counterparts so far into your life. Though do not be misled that men are more upstanding. They have their share of plays for power through falsehoods I have sadly learned in my short time here.” She moved to pull her wrist away but he stood up and took her other arm in his as Kitty was now quite engrossed in the exact ingredients for the scones that would need to be made precisely in a certain way, despite the fact that Miriam had been making the most scrumptious, light as a feather scones since the time she was nine.

“Then I will make you the same promise,” Matthew said quickly. “To always be honest with you, even when the questions and subjects you bring forth to me are difficult to broach. Even if I am frightened of what I may divulge, I will always allow the truth to win out.”

Lillian raised her hand suddenly and offered it out to him. But instead of the customary delicate touch and curtsey, she held his grip fast, as if shaking the hand of an equal and he smiled to feel it.

“It is a bargain, sir. One I swear I will always try with every ounce of my being, to execute.”

“As will I, Miss Byrne.” He smiled and dropped her hand, just as Kitty turned back to them.

“What a horrifying ordeal!” she said with exhaustion and went back to her work going on to lament how Lillian’s brother had gravely affronted her with the tease. Lillian wanted to tell her it could be much worse. That her actual brother would prank her mercilessly even going so far as to cut off sections of her hair while she slept the night before school pictures. She opened her mouth to defend the goodness of this alternate Will but closed it again and sighed. When she looked back, Matthew was staring at her strangely, as if he’d been studying her. He pretended to inspect his new stitches while he stepped closer as Kitty continued in her own conversation of previous vexation.

He looked at her lips and, as if testing the deal they had struck, he leaned forward. “In our new arrangement of honesty, I feel it is my place to inform you that I would much rather seal our new contract with a kiss,” he whispered.

“I would prefer that as well, but I know that it would sully both our reputations should we be found out and I would not make a dishonest man of you, as you once so deftly lectured me on in the middle of a rainy hillside. Not twenty minutes past to be exact,” she whispered back.

“Ah, see, your memory is improving already,” he teased and moved back and away from her.

“Wonderful! Perhaps I will one day remember why I agreed to an engagement.”

“Don’t all young women want to be married?” he said and went to stand beside the window while he rolled his cuffs back down. Lillian watched him from the corner of her eye, while Miss Darlingwood sat in the other end of the couch and looked up periodically between them.
            “Yes of course,” Kitty chimed in without even thinking. Lil rolled her eyes. She could think of no way to control her features and now that she’d agreed to be honest with him, she didn’t feel it would be right to agree so readily.

“Some women are much in want of adventure. We surely don’t want to sail in calm seas all our lives,” Lil said, recalling one of her favorite Austen sayings. Kitty gasped. Matthew turned his curious blue gaze on her.

“Miss Byrne! What an awful thing to say, indeed!”

“Not at all—” Matthew spoke.  “Calm seas make for dull years. Storms build character and strength, even surprises and happy stories sometimes.”

“Surely you jest, Dr. Blackwell.”

“The best stories often come from our—wildest adventures,” Lillian agreed. “We’ve only one heart. One body, one life. Why would I want to spend it in only one place?” Matthew looked at her with quickening breath.

“Why indeed?” he whispered, falling into a trance that led him to believe that there could be no other woman for him in the world, than Lillian Byrne. And damn his cousin or the consequences that came from the realization. He could not take his eyes from hers. Kitty tittered nervously between them.
            “But what of safety, security? Home life?  Surely you would not want to tempt starvation and death all the days of your life.”

Lillian couldn’t look away from Matthew. “To some, marriage is a cage. A starvation of self, a death of soul,” she whispered softly.

“What a horrible thing to say, Miss Byrne!” Kitty struck out suddenly with a sharp reprimand. Matthew smiled strangely at her uncharacteristic poeticism.

“Perhaps—” he interrupted in calming tones, “the right marriage, to the perfect match, would be a feast of adventure, a finding of self, a life—made whole.” he whispered and looked down at her lips. Lillian nearly fell to her knees and ached to rush into his kisses, his arms, his bed.

A Little Excerpt: Westbury Falls

Good morning, readers. I was puzzling over what to post about this week and in the middle of editing one series, formatting and finishing a first rough draft of the poetry anthology, and trying to adjust to new school schedules, I thought–what would I like to read? Sorry to say, nothing on editing. I live and breathe that stuff currently. Poetry was last week and again next…I’d like to read something light. Something fun and fantastical. So here we have it. A little book I started (and nearly completed) last November that’s beyond rough but one of my favorite new multi-genre experiments. Think Quantum Leap meets Jane Austen. It is, tentatively titled “Westbury Falls” and, if I have my way will be part of a loosely connected series someday. But only if I get my editing done (You can’t have your pudding if you don’t eat your veg).

So–without further ado, enjoy some “pudding” in the middle of your veg filled life.

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Westbury Falls

Chapter 1

Lillian Byrne fell face first down the stairs as was typical of her style. She never did anything by halves, be it her dramatic monologues explaining over the dinner table why her history paper had been only partially completed, or the hundred or so accidents she managed to survive in the span of a week.

So, when the toe of her converse caught the frayed carpet on the precipice, of what must have been the fiftieth English manor her mother had dragged her to in the course of a week, she almost expected the epic tumble down all four flights of the narrow and steep stairs. Her brother, no doubt, was laughing his ass off from the top, soon to call down that she was stupid and uncoordinated. Her mother would run to fuss for a few moments before she became engrossed in some placard explaining some little-known fact about Charlotte Bronte’s knickers or Jane Austen’s secret seaside romance.

It wasn’t really her mother’s fault. Being a wall street trade floor manager left very little romance in her mother’s post-marriage life. That’s why they were here now after all. That’s why she’d been on the “Footsteps Through the Past Literary Tour” of Westbury Manor. Why she was sharing a tiny hodgepodge room, filled with antiques and moth ball-ridden closets with her idiotic, ivy-league-bound brother who only feigned interest to gain their mother’s favor.

And this. This feeling of weightless abandon, was probably just a universal decree that she should fall, knees knocking like a leggy foal, tumbling and tangled, down the wooden steps, a mess of human limbs. She hadn’t been concerned until she felt a banister crack her temple rudely, then two balusters after that following suit, smashing against her ribs and back. Her unfocused gaze made out the lace-lined light from the window above her, before the light swelled to gray and an enormous pressure took over her skull. The world closed itself to her like a porthole getting smaller and smaller until a pinprick of light twinkled out and she was gone.

“Miss Byrne, Oh Heavens! Miss Byrne!”

Lillian heard through the suffocating clouds of fluff between her ears. Some attendant must have found her, but her head hurt far too much to try opening her eyes just yet.

“Mom,” she croaked.

“Oh, poor dear… she’s calling for her nursemaid.”

“No…nurses. I’m fine,” Lillian mumbled.

“Poor child, she’s had a right awful fall,” came a muffled cockney reply in the deep accent that Lil was sure was being over done on account of her being a tourist.

“It’s cool, I’m used to falling,” she groaned and tried to rise to her knees but the dress caught beneath her and pulled her back down.

The dress?

Lillian’s head swam with pain and she put her forehead to the cold wooden floor. Maybe she’d accidentally taken a curtain with her or some tapestry had come down and off the wall in her tumble. It certainly felt hot and uncomfortable wrapped around her. She tried kicking it off before steady hands stilled her and held her down.

“Easy now, easy Miss. Your head has a terrible bleed, you need to stay still. We’ve just now sent young Master Byrne to fetch the doctor.”

“Master Byrne?” Lil scoffed, hating but not surprised that her brother had somehow convinced the staff to call him by a title. The floor pressed against her forehead even harder and she felt blood slowly pooling in a warm ring around her cheek and ear.

Mom was going to be overly worried now and probably wouldn’t let her climb more towers any time soon, she thought, before slipping into the darkness.

Lillian was dreaming and woke in the groggy, underhaze of not knowing exactly where she was. She must have been in a hospital, but heard not the raucous machines.

Heard not?

Was she thinking in proper Elizabethan English? She must have cracked her skull harder than she’d thought to be dreaming in Austen-ese. Lillian chuckled and cool fingers came to touch her forehead gently. She closed her eyes and sat back into the pillows.

“Ah, there breathes the angel, in laugher she does beguile me further.” The deep voice was soothing as velvet in the dark room. She must be dreaming. No one ever called her an angel, and certainly no man. What could such a suitor look like? Surely divine in both nature and stature. Lil’s brow drew in. She tried to sort out the confusion of cotton and haze in her mind

Surely poetic musings were a definite sign of a brain bleed.

Fingers delicately touched her wounded temple, eliciting and incredible flash of pain that should have been dulled by the medication they would have given her. Her violet eyes sprung open and she expected them to be assaulted by the fluorescent lights of a hospital ICU, but only darkness surrounded her. Cool darkness, a canopied bed, and the outline of a golden-haired man coming into focus. He had a strong dimpled chin and beautifully full lips. His eyes searched hers; blue as a Whitby sea on a clear and bright day.

“Ah, the angel awakens. Such a shade of eyes I’ve never been more contented to fall into.” He whispered and his fingers traced her cheek. Lil’s mouth, dry and empty fumbled, lips moving but no words coming. She wasn’t in a hospital; she was surely dead and this heavenly being was sent to take her to the afterlife.

“You are surely mistaken, good sir, for no more a divine face have I ever gazed upon than that which lies before me now,” her voice was husky with sleep, and slipped into an accent that did not feel unnatural. She’d only been visiting the UK for a few weeks; how could her speech have altered so? Maybe she was dead.

“Miss Byrne,” he whispered and they gazed, in equal parts profound wonderment. His eyes closed and he shook his head as if to right his thoughts. “You must not speak,” he said more seriously with the morose dictate of a professional. As if her being awake had changed his whole demeanor. “You have succumbed to a terrible fainting spell, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, I did no such thing! I’m not some wilting flower!” Her sudden and strong argument took him back and he sat straighter from her bedside from the surprise. “I tripped. I’m a bold and fumbling clod at best.”

The smallest of smiles pulled at the corner of his beautiful lips and she was determined that she needed nothing more in life than to kiss him.

“You fell.” He acquiesced a compromise.

“I think I’m still falling,” she whispered back and her eyes fell closed to the idea of his kiss against the subsequent throbbing of her head. When she tried to breath in, he whole rib cage felt tight and limited. She placed a hand to feel a secure bandage over the tender ribs. Surely, they had some kind of pain medication? As she fell back into the pillows, she tried to sort out the moment.

Why hadn’t they taken her to a hospital? Maybe the ambulance was still on its way out to the middle-of-nowhere estate they’d been visiting. This overzealous young actor was probably having a hard time getting out of character. She groaned again and put her fingers up to her head where she found a scratchy bandaged secured around it.

“Please. Miss Byrne, please do not touch it, we’ve just now managed to staunch the bleeding. And, I don’t like to praise my technique, but the stitching is quite delicate in order to save you the horror of a permanent scar.” His hands encircled her wrist, and it seemed small between his fingers. His hands were warm, as they paused, thumb to her pulse. She looked out from her lashes and watched him counting the time on his pocket watch to the beat of her heart. The horror of a permanent scar? As if that’s the worst thing that could happen to a girl? She tried to focus on the young actor more closely.

“Who are you?” she whispered.

“I’m afraid, we have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. I am Dr. Blackwell—Matthew Edward Blackwell,” he paused to clear his throat, “Junior, of course. My father insists while we practice within the same province that I remind every patient who is the senior, more experienced physician.”

“You’re a—“she paused and looked at the dimple in his youthful chin. “Aren’t you a little young to be a doctor?”

The quick twitch of smile threatened again at the corner of his mouth and she moved her hand to touch it, but he held her wrist fast.

“I am eight and twenty. I’m surprised you would think me youthful.” A new expression passed over his face, perturbed and confused.

“I beg your pardon, good sir,” she said as quietly as possible, falling into the ridiculous speech play that he seemed insistent to keep up. It somehow felt more natural for every moment she spent in what was she assumed was wakefulness.

“I’ve fallen and hit my head and am not to be trusted in my opinion or observations. I meant no disrespect of your position. Indeed, I am most grateful that you are here. It is your youthful and divine dimple that confuses my befuddled mind so.”

His thick throat swallowed as he looked back down to her eyes, falling into them in a way that seemed to cross the lines of good bedside manner into something much more akin to other activities in the bedroom. She sighed. He looked torn, his brow drawing together.

“Your compliments are ill placed, Miss Byrne. I certainly do not deserve such praise from such an—accomplished young lady such as yourself. One, who should, by all accounts and in her current state of mental confusion, should be cautious how complimentary she is. Especially given the promissory nature of your engagement to my cousin.”

Lillian sat up, far too quickly, and nearly startled the good doctor from his bedside perch. She took in a sharp breath and put both hands to her head.

“What the hell are you talking about? I’m not engaged to anyone!”

“Miss Byrne, please!” the use of her swear seemed to amuse him more than shock him, but he looked hither and to, all the same to see who else had witnessed her uncommon outburst. They were alone in the room as the maid had been sent to fetch water and clean cloth for her next change of bandage. “Such language from a young woman of your standing is most unbecoming.”

“Look, pal, I think you’ve taken this act far enough–” the world turned and tipped around her.

“Act? Pal?” the doctor’s voice receded as Lilian felt the world go black again.