Back in the corridor with all those doors, Eve slumped against the wall. She tried to remember which of the Daubenays she hadn’t seen for a second time.... Ah. Thomas, the 12th Earl. She didn’t even know whether it mattered. Since she’d been unable to take the large emerald from Tristan, how could she recover the entire necklace? The quest seemed doomed.
But she couldn’t give up now. Nor could she risk meeting the wrong Daubenay. If she chose the wrong door, she might have to stay in some other time and place... Which, though tempting, was also quite, quite wrong. Not only because she didn’t belong there or with any of them; she belonged with Sebastian in the twenty-first century. But it wasn’t just that—it was what might happen to him if she didn’t fulfil her quest.
Thomas was her only hope, but how could she tell behind which door she would find him? She dredged up that scene from her confused memories... The violin! She pushed away from the wall and crept down the corridor, putting her ear to each and every door.
At last she heard it, that solitary wail. What if some other Daubenay played the violin? She eased the door open, keeping her feet firmly planted on the passageway floor, ready to slam it shut.
The music ceased abruptly. “Come in, dame en vert,” said the same smooth, mellow voice. “I know why you’re here.”
Heart thudding, she eased her way inside. “You do?”
There he was, as compelling as the first time. He laid the violin and bow on the bed and crossed the room to a dressing table. The room smelled different now... A hint of feminine perfume lingered in the air.
“I hoped to be the one to break the curse,” Thomas said, “but I cannot ask you to return a third time, however beautiful and courageous you may be. I have fallen in love with another woman.”
Eve let out a long breath of relief. “That’s wonderful, my lord. I’m very happy for you.”
His smile was rueful. “I’m happy for me, too, if a little regretful that it couldn’t be you.” He opened a chest on the dressing table and removed two gleaming green stones. “Still, I can play one small part. I believe these are the last of the emeralds you seek.” He pressed the emeralds into her hand.
She gaped down at them. One was the large emerald she had left with Tristan Daubenay. It made no sense, none at all, but time had twisted and warped so much tonight that nothing made sense anymore.
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you so much...” She wanted to say more, to congratulate him, to wish him the best, but he was already disappearing. Mists swirled around her...
“Eve!” Sebastian strode toward her, dear and strong. “Darling, I’ve been so worried. You recovered the necklace!”
She followed his gaze...and there it was, whole and perfect upon her chest. She grinned, happiness filling her. “I did! I did it!”
He pulled her into his arms and kissed her hard. “I love you, Eve. Thank God you’re back, safe and sound.” He pulled away. “You don’t need that dagger anymore, sweetheart. The curse is broken. The danger is over.”
She stared down at her hand. Only a few seconds ago, she hadn’t been holding Richard d’Aubenay’s weapon. Her heart plummeted as its significance dawned on her.
The danger wasn’t over. She had recovered the necklace, and maybe the curse was indeed broken, but her quest wasn’t complete. She had made a promise to the first Daubenay and to the poor fortune-teller. She had to return to the England of William the Conqueror.
She didn’t want to. She wanted to stay here.
Sebastian went down on one knee. He took her free hand in his. “I’ve been waiting all evening to ask this, and it felt like the longest evening of my life. Will you marry me, Eve?”
The one wish of her heart...but she couldn’t stay with him. Not yet. A whiff of the blood and filth of that long ago time reached her, beckoning horribly. Inescapably.
Tears sprang to her eyes. “Yes,” she said, “oh, yes, but I can’t.” Talk about the ultimate sacrifice. She’d always thought that meant death, but...not in this case, at least. Living was the true sacrifice. Placing honour before love... Perhaps sacrificing love altogether.
Sebastian’s face fell. “Why not? Don’t you love me?”
“Yes, with all my heart, but I made a promise to return once again to Richard d’Aubenay. He was about to kill a fortune teller for predicting two futures, one great, one dreadful. I have to save her life. I may even have to convince him to stay in England, or nothing will be the same.” She shuddered at the memory of the fortune teller’s vision—Sebastian in a crumbling castle, his head in his hands. Across the vastnesses of time, she heard the woman’s pleas and Richard’s harsh voice.
“And you may not be able to return here,” Sebastian said. She could hardly bear to look at his stricken face.
She took a deep breath. “If I’m meant to return, I will.” That long ago time reached for her, tugged her into the mists. She gazed longingly at the man she loved, perhaps for the last time.
His mouth twisted. “That’s how the legend goes. The Lady in Green comes a third time to her true love. Since this nightmare began, you’ve only returned to me twice.” He swallowed. “Very well, my darling.” He squeezed her hand. “Hold on to your love for me, and it will prove true.”
The mists blew in and away, and she stood once more at the top of the staircase, breathing in the odours of a thousand years before. The wooden door stood open, but when she tried to go through, she couldn’t move. Sebastian was still holding her hand! She turned, glimpsing his beloved face in the mists.
His whisper came to her across the reaches of time. “Your true love gets to help you.” Yes, someone had told her that—Dougal MacKinnon, the Scot. Strength poured into her. She gathered her courage.
“My lord Richard!” she cried. “I have fulfilled my quest, and the future is bright once more.” She held out the dagger. “Here is your weapon, with my thanks.”
Richard d’Aubenay strode forward, peering at her. “I can scarcely see you, Lady in Green. Why have you not returned in the delightful flesh?” He accepted the weapon, then frowned, gazing past her shoulder. “Who waits behind you in the darkness?”
“He is my true love, your descendant of a thousand years hence.”
Richard cocked his head to one side. “A comely enough fellow, but why not remain with me? We need not stay on this godforsaken island. I have lands enough in Normandy.”
Sebastian’s grip seemed to loosen, and panic suffused her. She had to get this right. Stay with me, Sebastian. I need you. “The future shines brighter in England. Here, you will found a noble family that lasts a thousand years and more.”
Richard wrinkled his nose sceptically. How much of the future could she reveal? She had tried to warn the Jacobite-turned-Chevalier...
“In Normandy and the lands thereabout, the future is dim,” she said. “As the centuries pass, tyranny will replace justice, and in the end the people will rise up and kill even the noblest and best of men.”
Richard whistled. “Then I must stay here, weary though I am of battle. The Saxons hate us, and who can blame them? No one is content to be of the vanquished.” He gestured to the fortune-teller. “Begone, wench!” The ragged woman scuttled past them and vanished.
“Stay with me then in England, oh Lady in Green,” he said. “I lust after both your beauty and wisdom. Forget your lover and come to me.”
No! She clung to Sebastian’s hand. Help me!
From afar came his whisper. “Saxon wife.”
Of course—she had read the accounts of Richard and the local gentlewoman he had married. “I cannot stay, my lord. I belong to a different time,” Eve said. “Seek yourself a Saxon wife, one who understands the ways of the people you have conquered.” The future pulled at her, the warmth of Sebastian’s love stronger with every second. “One with lands to add to yours,” she called across the mists of time. “Woo her with love and kindness, and show justice to the people you rule. In good time, peace will come.”
“He’s gone,” Sebastian said.
She turned. They were in a modern-day corridor with electric lights. The necklace glowed upon her breast.
“And you have returned for the third time.” He grinned down at her. “Which proves that I’m your true love. So I’ll ask again: Will you marry me?”
“Yes!” Eve flung herself into his arms, and their lips met. For a brief moment, it seemed as if she was in the embrace of each and every one of the Daubenays, and then their presences faded into the dark, unreachable past. She claimed Sebastian with her lips and heart, and he claimed her.
And they lived happily ever after.
We hope you enjoyed this round robin story. We had fun writing it and will make it available for download soon. Should we do another of these round robins? What sort of story would you like to read here on our blog?
Barbara Monajem's new novella, The Magic of His Touch, comes out April 1st. It's the first in the May Day Mischief duet.
The Magic of His Touch (May Day Mischief, Book 1)