Home > Come Back to Me (Waters of Time #1)(10)

Come Back to Me (Waters of Time #1)(10)
Author: Jody Hedlund

Whatever the case, she wanted to know more about the liquid. She touched her tongue to the inner neck and licked it. She didn’t taste any chemicals or compounds, at least any she could distinguish. But there was a slight grit. She stuck her tongue in and licked harder so that it came loose.

This time she closed her mouth around the sandpapery substance, and a strange rush, like a gust of wind, charged through her veins, down her body, and into her arms and legs. The gust was oddly warm in the chill of the evening. As the grit dissolved against her tongue, she heard a pounding gallop of horse hooves on the driveway.

Swiveling, she was shocked to find an enormous horse bearing down on her, its rider apparently not paying any attention to the vehicle in its path. She groped for the Bentley door handle. But her fingers only grasped air.

A glance out of her periphery told her the car was gone—that Bojing had already driven it away. How had the slight man assisted Harrison into his wheelchair and moved the vehicle so rapidly?

The thunder of hooves drew nearer, kicking up stones and dust with every step. And yet, wasn’t Harrison’s driveway paved?

She stepped back farther, out of the way, expecting to stumble into the tulip garden and the large manicured lawn. But uneven grass tickled her ankles. The stallion passed by, leaving a breeze in its wake that wafted across her cheeks and bare arms and brought the odor of horseflesh with a mixture of hay, mud, and sweat.

The rider bent low as though he’d been galloping at top speed for some time. As he reined in his beast, he slid off in a fluid motion, clearly an experienced equestrian. Perhaps he was another guest out riding for the evening, although Harrison’s family had turned the original stables into a greenhouse decades ago, and Harrison boarded a couple of remaining horses at a neighboring farm.

The man straightened to his full height, and she drew back in surprise at the sight of his attire. He was wearing what appeared to be a flowing surcoat that was dark and coarse and rather gothic-looking, especially with the hood up. His scuffed leather boots hugged his calves and were laced with thick, strange twine.

Was he some kind of reenactor? If so, his costume was authentic—worn and weathered and certainly not clean. It outlined his broad shoulders and imposing size, which she guessed to be about six feet three inches.

He dropped the horse’s reins and took several long, hurried strides toward the entrance, but then halted abruptly. Before she could blink, he swung around and was gripping a knife with a frighteningly sharp blade and pointing it in her direction.

She gasped and took another step back, wishing for the safety of the Bentley so she could open the door, leap inside, and lock the car behind her. But again, the vehicle had strangely disappeared and so had the tulip garden.

Why was this guest wielding a knife? Was he another attacker like the one outside the bank? A scream welled up in her throat and pushed for release.

The stranger’s gaze collided with hers, and she found herself looking into eyes so blue they matched the brilliance of the evening sky overhead. As beautiful as those eyes were, they were equally fierce and intense. Dark brows furrowed above them, matching the hair that showed beneath his hood.

With a square-shaped jaw covered in a layer of stubble and broad cheeks coated with the same, he was ruggedly handsome in a foreboding way. He bore an air of confidence and power and danger. As though sensing her fear, he lowered his knife, studying her face the same way she was his.

He didn’t speak, but something in his expression attested to pain and sorrows of the deepest kind, haunted memories, and even self-loathing. Though she had no idea who he was or where he was from, the contradiction of his powerful outward strength and fragile inner spirit reached inside, touched her, and beckoned her toward him in an almost magnetic pull.

At a flicker of light in one of the manor windows, she glanced behind him, only to gasp again. Though the house was still three stories high, the long wings had diminished in length. The tower on the east end rose above the house, but the parapet and crenellations were simpler, as if designed for battle not beauty.

The center entrance consisted of a simple black iron gate and none of the fancy scrolling and intricate brickwork. Above it was a shield bearing a family coat of arms, one she’d never noticed there before. The surface field was crimson and the outer edge azure. A golden stag stood regally at the center.

“Marian?”

Harrison. She shifted toward the direction of his voice, but he wasn’t there. All she saw was the yard. However, instead of the neatly trimmed lawn and blooming flower beds, the grass was long and scraggly beneath clusters of sprawling oak and gnarled yew. Where had the trees come from? The stone wall along the perimeter encircled the grounds and was much thicker and taller than the one they’d just passed in the car.

What was happening? Was she hallucinating?

She shifted to find that the fierce-looking man was still watching her. He held himself immobile, as though his slightest move would frighten her.

The gate behind him swung open with a squeal. “Sire?”

He lifted a hand, signaling the newcomer to silence, all without taking his powerful gaze from her.

A muscle in his jaw twitched.

If he was nothing more than a vision, then why did he seem so real?

 

 

~ 5 ~


“MARIAN?” Harrison’s voice came from behind her again. Fingers circled around her hand and pressed her flesh. “What is it, love? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

She glanced down to find him in his wheelchair right beside her.

Her gaze shifted back to the horse and rider. But they had disappeared. She searched the manor entrance and driveway, but the man and beast were nowhere to be found. The trees on the lawn were gone, the grass was trimmed, and the side wings of the house stood in place. All the decorative architecture had returned, and the shield that bore the coat of arms was no longer in the spot above the center arch.

Had she seen a ghost?

She swayed and grabbed on to Harrison, suddenly so tired she felt as though she might collapse.

“Bojing, go get Drake.” Harrison motioned to his driver standing next to the Bentley, which was parked in the same spot as before. “Inform him I need his assistance right away bringing Marian inside.”

She wanted to tell Harrison she’d be fine, that she didn’t need any help. But once again a breeze wafted over her, bringing with it the odor of horseflesh and the distinct sound of a neigh. The lower manor window winked with light for several seconds then went dark.

What was going on?

She caught sight of the outline of a broad figure once more, but then he was gone and Harrison’s butler, Drake, took his place and was hurrying toward her, out the door before Bojing could summon him. Immaculately attired in a suit, vest, and bow tie, Drake looked as though he’d stepped out of the 1850s like Harrison. With thin stooped shoulders and graying hair, the butler had always struck Marian as grandfatherly.

Before she could protest, he scooped her up into his arms and was carrying her as easily as a baby. He might appear old and weak, but his years of assisting and lifting Harrison had given him strength that belied his age.

“I can walk, Drake. Really.”

“It’s no trouble, miss.”

“Jet lag is catching up to me.” She knew she should wiggle to free herself, but a wave of exhaustion crashed over her, and she gave way to a yawn.

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