Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1030568-Flight-of-the-Soul
by katsy
Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Romance/Love · #1030568
A woman dies and finds that she may have lived in the wrong time and wrong place.
This is the prologue and first four chapters of a book I am writing. All comments and suggestions will be greatly appreciated. I am new to this site and hope to hear from some of you. Thanks, Katsy

Flight of the Soul

April 2005

The room was growing dim. Soon night would cover the land and only the stars would offer their light as beacons of hope in the vast darkness.

The woman on the bed moaned softly and tried to ease herself into a more comfortable position. A hand stroked her forehead. "Try to rest, Miss Dobson." It was the nurse who came every night to take her vitals and chart them.

"Thank you, Dear," came the quiet reply.

The nurse busied herself with putting the frail arm in a cuff and taking her blood pressure, then she listened to her heart. She checked the water carafe and busily straightened the sheets on the bed as though that would make every thing better. She felt sorry for Miss Dobson. Everyone knew that the lady was dying. But only a few knew that she was unmarried, alone and dying. There were no family members waiting to see her or to sit in watch with her as the end drew nearer. And, even though as a nurse it nearly exhausted her to care for a husband and four children as well as work a full time job, she was very grateful for them every time she walked into this room.

"I'll be back shortly to check on you," she said patting the thin leg under the covers. "If you need anything just press the call button," and she made sure it was in easy reach.

Victoria Dobson smiled up at her. "I will. Thank you."

The nurse left closing the door softly. Miss Dobson gazed out the window again. Night would soon be here and she knew, as no one else did, that it would be the last night she would be looking out this window. She had felt death advancing steadily all day and was greatly relieved to know that this fight to hold it at bay would soon end. Her heart had finally given out completely. She found this a strange thing to have happened. Her heart was too weak to keep beating and yet her mind, her imagination and her will were as strong as ever. How could this be?

She looked around the room. It was a sterile thing with no color and a musty smell. Her own home was filled with antiques that gleamed like glass and smelled like lemons. Bowls of rose petals and sweet smelling candles were everywhere. Her furniture was covered in floral fabrics, bright checks and stripes and lovely needlepoint pillows she had done herself. Her kitchen always smelled like vanilla and spices or roasting meats and potatoes for she loved to cook.

It was a beautiful home that she had lovingly created for the husband and children that had never arrived. In all her 70 years of life, no man had ever captured her heart. Oh, she had received offers of marriage, all from men that didn't particularly love her, but loved what she could bring to the marriage. Her practical side had waged a ceaseless war with her more romantic side urging her to marry and have children who would fill her life. But, she had never wanted to marry a man and then spend a lifetime trying to learn to love him. Rather, she had wanted to fall in love and then spend a lifetime making him happy. And so her pupils at the elementary school became her children and her succession of fat tabby cats became her companions. She gazed out the window at the stars that were now twinkling in the sky. Where had her soul mate been all these years? Why had she never found him?

"No one should live a lifetime without true love," she whispered to the room. "It is too painful and lonely."

One star seemed to be much brighter than all the others. Was it a star or just the space lab making one of it's revolutions around the earth? She sighed. It wouldn't be long now. She could feel her strength flowing out of her. Was she ready? Oh, the things she had missed! What she wouldn't give to have another chance. Perhaps she would marry and have a house full of wonderful, messy, happy children. She would lavish everyone with all her love.

But now it was too late. Her life was coming to an end. Had it been a waste? No, she had taught so many children, watched them as they grew up and launched their own lives. They would have to be her legacy...it would have to be enough.

A deep sigh pierced the room. Victoria watched the bright stars in the sky begin to grow dimmer. It was time now to go. Her heart beat a few last times and with one final breath she released her spirit and let it fly into the void to meet her destiny.


Chapter I

April 1850

"My Lord, your father has requested your presence immediately!" the footman said sounding winded.

Nicholas's hand stilled on the back of his favorite stallion. Looking up he could see that the man was in an agitated state, so he assumed his father must be in an equally agitated state. "Tell him I will be there shortly," Nicholas replied calmly.

"Oh, my Lord, I think you better come now. Lord Canbury has arrived and asked that you see him immediately. He and your father are waiting for you as we speak."

"Did my father say what this is about?" Nicholas knew it was foolish, but fervently hoped that his betrothed had decided to cry off. He had been most unhappy with his father's choice for his bride. She was a spoiled, selfish creature that whined and pouted and made constant vile remarks about everyone behind their backs, peers as well as servants. No one liked her but everyone feared her tongue and trod a wide path around her. The problem was her dowry...it was obscenely huge. It was just his bad luck that her father had managed to strike an agreement with his father.

Lord Canbury was only a baron, but he was a very rich baron. It was no secret that he cared little for his daughter and wife, who were both the kind of women that could make grown men cower. He had searched relentlessly for a suitable husband for his daughter, but had been equally determined that their station in society be raised by her marriage. Nicholas who was already a Marquess, would become a duke on the death of his father, and this had held enormous appeal to Lord Canbury. And the fact that an equally enormous amount of money would fill the Duke of Avondale's coffers upon the marriage had sealed the agreement.

His father did love him, of that Nicholas was sure. And, he wondered how much more blunt Lord Canbury had been required to put on the table above and beyond the dowry to get his father to agree to the marriage.

"Tell them I will attend them shortly. I must clean up a bit before presenting myself."

"Yes, my Lord," the young man said and hurried away.

Nicholas turned back to the horse who was a beautiful creature and gave him so much pleasure as they flew over the fields. "Sorry old man, but your grooming will have to be finished by another today." He patted the horse and called for the stable lad Toby to finish the job.

Within half an hour he was standing before the library door. Taking a deep breath, he arranged his face into a calm demeanor and nodded to the footman to open it.

"Ah, here you are at last," his father greeted him. Nicholas took in the scene before him. His father seemed quite on edge and Lord Canbury stalked the room, looking like a pale, caged lion.

"Yes, Father. I did have to clean up or I fear neither of you would have appreciated my presence." Sensing the heavy atmosphere, he became more wary. "What is wrong?" he asked.

"Your fiance has had a terrible accident, Nicholas. Please sit down," his father indicated a chair.

Nicholas sat down and tried to keep his face impassive. "What sort of accident?"

"She fell down the stairs this morning," Lord Canbury said in a strained voice. "She was in a high fit and tripped on her skirts. The doctor fears she will not live. Her head, you see. She took a terrible blow to her head."

"What can I do?" Nicholas looked at the man pacing before him. All this agitation must be because he could see his ties to a Duke slipping away, for everyone knew that he had a keen dislike for his daughter.

"Please, Nicholas, come to the house. Maybe if you talk to her, if she hears your voice she will rouse from this state she is in and live." Lord Canbury looked at him pleadingly.

"What state? I don't understand." Nicholas looked at his father for guidance. The Duke seemed lost in his own thoughts. "Father?"

"She is unconscious, Nicholas, and the doctor fears she will not awaken," his father answered quietly.

"I see." Nicholas's eyes followed Canbury's pacing and also noted the tense alertness of his father. "By all means, then, I must go to her immediately," Nicholas said rising. He seriously doubted he could be of any help, but he saw the need to pacify Canbury.

"Oh, thank you. Thank you so much, my boy. I was afraid..." Lord Canbury's voice trailed away. Taking a deep breath he steadied himself and continued, "I have my carriage waiting."

"Father, will you be going with us?"

"I will be there shortly, Nick. You go ahead and your mother and I will follow."

Jonathan Ashton watched his son follow Lord Canbury out. He felt a great pride in his son at that moment. He knew how Nicholas hated the thought of marrying Victoria Canbury. They had exchanged words over it many times. But, he realized that Nicholas must have finally understood that the money was necessary for the family to survive. Jonathan had no business sense and had let things go for far too long. This money would hold things together for Nicholas and he knew that Nicky did have a keen business sense and would keep the family fortune and title strong for future generations.

But, if the girl died, then he would have to start over to find a suitable wife for his son. He hoped she would live, even though he feared she would make his son's life very unpleasant.

He downed the rest of the brandy in his glass and rang the bell. He and his wife would have to go and be with Nick through this.

Within a half hour Nickolas and Lord Canbury were walking into the house where they were greeted with the nervous glances and sounds of a household in distress. Great wails were coming from upstairs and Patrick Canbury blanched.

"Has she...?" he stuttered to the butler.

"No, Sir. It's just Lady Canbury again. I fear the doctor is going to remove her from the room if she continues." Hadley took their hats and canes.

"Thank you, Hadley. Will you tell the doctor I have brought her fiancee and would like to bring him upstairs to see her."

"Yes, my Lord."

"Well, then come Nicholas and we will wait in here." They walked into a nicely appointed study. Nicholas took a chair near the window while Canbury stalked about the room.

"My Lord," Nicholas began, only to be interrupted.

"Now, now my boy, call me Patrick. There's no need for such formality when we are home. And, God willing, you will soon be my son-in-law."

"As you prefer, Patrick, but I was wondering how such a thing could happen. Victoria always appeared quite graceful."

"I'm not entirely sure. I heard a terrible ruckus going on, quite a dust up actually, and then there was a terrible scream and I heard someone falling down the stairs. By the time I reached the foyer, she was lying on the floor with blood on her head and my wife was standing at the top of the stairs screaming." Canbury was ever paler by the time he finished and Nicholas quickly rose and poured him a snifter of brandy and pressed it into his hand.

"Then what happened?"

"I had someone fetch the doctor and two of the footmen carried her up to her bed. I asked what had happened and all I got from the maids was that Victoria was fighting with her mother and then tripped over her skirts and fell down the stairs." Canbury took a deep draught of the brandy. "I'm ashamed to admit it, but my wife has spoiled the girl terribly. She is almost uncontrollable at times. I thought...I hoped that a strong husband would settle her down. I know part of it is my fault," he continued, sitting down tiredly in a large arm chair. "I stayed busy with my business and ignored them for the most part. I thought mothers were better at raising girls, you see, but maybe if I had taken a firmer hand..." his voice broke and he gulped the brandy.

"Don't, please. It's useless to try to relive the past. Hopefully she will recover and maybe even have learned something from this experience. If nothing else, she has surely learned to be more careful when going down the stairs." Nicholas cast a half smile at Canbury.

"I pray you are right," was the whispered reply. "No matter how ill behaved, she is still my only child." He looked up at Nicholas bleakly.

The door to the study opened. Hadley went straight to Canbury. "The doctor has said you should come up to see Victoria, my Lord."

Canbury nodded and finished his brandy. Casting a wary eye toward Nicholas, he rose and led the way. He knew the young man wasn't particularly happy about the engagement and hoped he would not say or do anything to make things worse.

Pausing before the upstairs bedroom door, Canbury took a deep breath and opened it. The room was dim as the heavy drapes had been drawn closed. The smell of tonics and medicine permeated the air. As they advanced toward the bed the doctor came forward to speak to them.

"My Lord, she is still unconscious. There has been no change." Glancing at Nicholas, he continued. "Please keep your visit short but do speak to her. It may be that one of your voices will penetrate the gloom enclosing her brain and she may awaken." At their nods of agreement, he stepped back.

Nicholas let Canbury go first. He watched as the man stared down at his daughter. Nicholas stared too. She was a beautiful woman in many ways. Her features had the look of classical beauty, her hair was a lovely deep auburn. She was of medium build and still had the slimness of youth that gave her a girlish appearance. Her eyes had always been her prettiest feature, their color being a striking turquoise blue. But, Nicholas had rarely looked into them without seeing haughtiness and disdain for all around her. He realized that he did not really care for her at all, neither her looks or her company. The ugliest daughter of the lowest Lord would have been preferable to him if she had kind eyes.

"Come, Nicholas, speak to her. Maybe she will awaken." Canbury urged him toward the bed.

Nicholas stepped forward and leaned down. "Victoria, it is me, Nicholas. Can you hear me?" He picked up her slender hand and began to rub it. "Victoria, can you hear me?"

There was no response. They remained for half an hour, speaking to her in hushed voices, before the doctor ushered them out. "I believe that is enough for now. I will call you if there is any change," he told them as he closed the door.

"I'm sorry, Sir," Nicholas laid a comforting hand on Canbury's shoulder. "I don't know what else to say."

Canbury nodded his head. "It's a bloody mess, eh? Well, we might as well be comfortable while we wait. There is nothing for us to do up here." He paused and seeing a maid hurry by, stopped her. "Where is my wife?"

"In her room, my Lord. The doctor gave her a sleeping draught and she is resting."

Nodding his head Canbury started down the hallway again with Nicholas. "I believe I hear your parents arriving."

Nicholas was greatly relieved to see his mother and father entering the main hall as they reached the bottom of the stairs. He wasn't sure he would be able to deal with this without their support. He feared that sooner or later Canbury would see how little he cared whether Victoria lived and there would then be more problems. He must maintain his stoic appearance. And, if it continued too long, he would simply leave with the excuse that he had some pressing business that needed attending to. There was no way he would sit in this house for days waiting the outcome. He would go mad if he tried.

Canbury had been right. It was a bloody mess. If she died he would not be shackled to a witch for the rest of his life. If she lived and they married, would she be the same person she had been before the accident? Perhaps she would be worse. Now there was a thought to chill a man's blood.

"Has there been any change?" his father inquired.

Canbury shook his head no and watched as both the Duke and Duchess rushed forward to enfold their son in their arms in comfort. It startled him for a moment. It was rare to see signs of affection among the lords and ladies of the ton toward their children. "Shall we wait in here?" he asked and indicated the large salon on the right of the hall.

They all followed him in and he gave quiet orders for tea and something stronger to be brought for them. When the butler had withdrawn and they were finally alone the Duchess looked at him with sympathy. "My dear Lord Canbury, what a dreadful thing this is. Has the doctor given you any indication of what to expect?"

"None yet, but thank you, Your Grace. Nicholas and I both spent some time talking to her, but I'm afraid there was no response at all." He wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.

"And your wife? How is she bearing up? Do you think I could be of some assistance to her?" the Duchess asked. Nicholas sat down beside his mother and took her hand in his. He looked into her beautiful brown eyes and knew in his heart that they held the tender concern that he had always hoped would be in his wife's eyes. She patted his hand and looked at Canbury.

"My wife is resting just now. The doctor gave her a sleeping potion. She has been very upset since this happened. But, I thank you, Your Grace. It is very kind of you to offer."

All that was known had been said so they settled into a quiet conversation about more mundane things. The only indication of the tension was the abrupt silence at a soft knock on the door. When it opened and Hadley entered with two maids to set up a table with refreshments, everyone seemed to release a collective breath in relief.

"Will that be all, my Lord?" Hadley inquired with the calm that came from generations of training.

"Yes, thank you, Hadley. I'll ring if we need anything further." When the door closed and they were once more alone, Duchess Avondale rose and poured tea for everyone.

"If you gentlemen want something stronger I will leave it to you," she said sipping her tea. Canbury and Jonathan immediately poured themselves a glass of wine. Nicholas joined his mother for tea. She quietly began speaking of current happenings in London and in the Ton and soon they were more relaxed.

Nicholas was always amazed at the great lady who was his mother. She seemed to know instinctively what to say and do in any situation. Like his father, he had rarely paid attention to the smooth running of their household and social events. Now, he realized that it was all because of her. She was a treasure. She smoothed the way for all of them and was now doing the same for Lord Canbury. He could not imagine Victoria doing anything so unselfish.

As the morning turned into afternoon a few other people dropped by to offer their condolences, having heard of the accident. One who dropped by was Lord Davies, a fine man known to both Canbury and the Duke and Duchess. Upon seeing them he seemed momentarily surprised and after saying a few words of comfort to Lord Canbury he approached them.

"Your Grace, I am surprised to see you here," he greeted Jonathan. "I had no idea you were on close terms with Canbury."

"Hello, Peter," Jonathan replied. "I believe you know my wife and son."

"Of course. How are you, Your Grace?' he bent over Maria's hand. "And you, Nicholas? It's been ages since I've seen you. Where have you been keeping yourself?"

"Yes, Lord Davies, it has been quite awhile. I just returned from Yorkshire. Father wanted me to check the progress of some of his new farming techniques," Nicholas said, offering his hand to Davies.

"Ah, still trying to raise the perfect produce I take it," Lord Davies laughed. "But, how is it then you are on such close terms with Canbury? He's more into industry or mining or something, isn't he?" he glanced from Nicholas to Jonathan.

Jonathan looked at his son and raised an eyebrow in query. Nicholas sighed and nodded his consent. "Actually, it hasn't been announced yet, but a marriage contract has been entered into by Nicholas and Victoria. We had planned to have a ball to announce the engagement next month. But, now it seems we will have to wait."

Lord Davies looked at Nicholas and back to Jonathan in shock. "I am surprised to hear that. No, I think shocked is a better word." He looked at Nicholas again. "My boy, are you sure?"

The question was so forward that Nicholas could form no reply, Jonathan's face became a rigid plane of surprise, and his mother looked askance around her hoping no one had heard. Placing a hand on Peter's sleeve she leaned forward and whispered, "I think that now is not the time or place for this discussion. Please," she entreated him.

"My deepest apologies. Please forgive me. I believe my astonishment overcame my manners." He looked terribly uncomfortable. Nicholas realized with a clarity he had not had before, that everyone thought of his fiancee in the same manner as he had thought of her. It did not bode well for a long and happy marriage.

Lord Davies hastily bid them goodbye and left. The afternoon continued, but Maria did notice that the number of people who came by to offer support to Lord Canbury increased considerably. Peter must be spreading the word all over London and everyone wanted to be sure that they were remembered as having condoled with the Duke and Duchess at this terrible time. And, Nicholas too, of course. He would, after all, be the next Duke of Avondale.

The afternoon grew late. Jonathan and Maria had decided to return home and take Nicholas with them. They would have dinner and retire early. One needed to keep up one's strength during this waiting.

But just as Jonathan approached Patrick Canbury to tell him that they would be leaving, Hadley entered and whispered something to Canbury. The man turned deathly white and for a moment Jonathan thought he was going to pass out.

"Patrick, what is it?"

Canbury looked up at Jonathan in shock. "It's a message from the doctor," he answered. "It seems he needs a word with us and asks us to wait for him to join us."

Almost immediately the door opened and the doctor walked in. His face was blank but his eyes were sorrowful. Approaching Canbury, he said for all to hear, "My Lord, I am sorry to say that your daughter has died."

Canbury looked again as though he would faint away. Jonathan hurried to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Steady man," he said and fixed the doctor with a hard stare. "Exactly when did she die?"

"Just now, I'm afraid. There was never any response, you understand, and finally I could no longer hear a heartbeat. I waited for awhile thinking she might revive, but she simply gasped and died. I am sorry for the loss to all of you." His eyes fell on Nicholas. "I truly am sorry for your loss, my Lord. To lose a fiancee is a terrible thing. But, I did everything I could. There was just so little hope."

Nicholas's heart had lurched at the doctor's first words. Now his head dropped forward. How did he feel? Sorry, of course, that she or anyone should die in such a way. But, there was also relief...so much relief that he could not speak and could barely breathe. He would not have to marry the Dragon of the Ton. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up.

"I'm sorry, Nicholas. For everything." Lord Canbury looked Nicholas in the eyes and there passed between them a moment of honesty and understanding.

"And, I am truly and deeply sorry for your loss also, Sir," he replied.

A quiet gloom pervaded the room as they all remained silent, each lost in his own thoughts. Words, as always, seemed useless at such a time, comfort impossible.

How long they would have remained that way no one could guess. But, the silence was suddenly rent with the most horrible screaming.

Canbury bolted to the door thinking it was his wife who was hysterical, having heard that her daughter had died. Nicholas and his parents followed him into the foyer. Suddenly a young maid burst into sight and began to run down the stairs as though all the demons of hell were on her heels. Nicholas leaped forward as she stumbled and began to fall. Catching her, he carried her down and placed her on a settee. The housekeeper, having finally caught up, nearly skidded to a stop beside them.

"Now, what's all this?" she chided the sobbing girl. "I ask you to go in and pick up the doctor's bag for him and you start screaming like you should be in Bedlam. Stop it! Stop it this minute!" she commanded. But, the poor girl was babbling and sobbing so hard that Nicholas was sure she didn't hear the command.

"Now, now. You're safe now," he murmured to her.

The housekeeper turned to Lord Canbury. "She's new, Sir. I am sorry about this." Her apologies made, the housekeeper turned on the girl once more. "Come along. And stop this blubbering. I swear, I've never seen such a frightened ninny." She gave the girl's hand a firm pull.

"It spoke," the girl whispered. "It's dead but it spoke." Her voice quavered and her whole body shook.

"What spoke?" the doctor asked.

"The body, Sir. Mrs. Harris said the young mistress had died, but it spoke." Crying harder, she buried her face in the settee.

"Nonsense girl. The dead can't speak. Now get control of yourself!" Mrs. Harris commanded again.

Nicholas could see that she would make no sense until she calmed down. But, his curiosity got the best of him. "What did she say?" he asked quietly.

The teary face looked up at him. "She said 'water, please give me some water' is what. I ain't going back in there. Never, never. Oh, my Lord, do you think she's in Hell?" she sobbed to him.

A resounding slap startled Nicholas, who looked up at the housekeeper with a glare. "That will not be helpful, Madam," he said sternly.

The doctor leaned over the girl. "My dear, are you sure she spoke to you?"

"Oh, yessir, she did." She looked from disbelieving face to disbelieving face. "I swear to you, Sir. I've never been so scared in my life."

"Are you sure it wasn't just some noises you heard? A body does make certain sounds and even moves at times at the muscles go through changes. But, you are quite sure she spoke to you?" he looked her straight in the eyes and asked.

"Yessir. I swear on my mother's grave that it spoke to me. Oh, Lord, I'm so scared, Sir," she whimpered.

The doctor patted her back gently. "Perhaps I'd better check this out."

"Quite so," Canbury agreed. "Mrs. Harris, please take this girl and give her some strong tea and let her rest for a bit." Canbury looked at the doctor and then at the others. "Shall we accompany him upstairs to resolve this matter, Gentlemen?"

"By all means," Jonathan replied and turned to Maria. "Perhaps you can help calm the girl down."

"Of course, Dear." Maria sat down beside the maid and began to talk to her and rub her back and arms comfortingly. "There, there, dear girl. All will be set right. Please, don't cry anymore."

"I don't know what sort of nonsense this is," the doctor muttered as the four men ascended the staircase. "There was absolutly no heartbeat or breath when I left. I checked with a mirror to be sure."

I'm positive you did everything correctly, doctor." Jonathan said puzzled. "And, I'm also sure all will be settled after you examine her again." Looking at a very pale Canbury walking beside him, he grew alarmed. "I say, are going to be all right?" he asked.

"What a bloody mess...it's just too unnerving," Canbury sputtered. "First she's dead, then she's not. And scaring the the daylights out of the maids and probably the whole house. Too unnerving by half."

Nicholas could hardly suppress the grin that was trying to spread over his face. "I must agree with you there," he concurred. "This is a most amazing day all around, wouldn't you say, Father?"

Suddenly all four men were grinning uncomfortably, none of them willing to admit to being a bit unsettled by the maid's horrific screams and babbling tale of a corpse speaking to her. And asking for water, no less.

They entered and walked softly across the room. Nicholas was surprised to see that the curtains had been opened and pale golden sunlight from the setting sun was flooding the room. Approaching the bed, they all looked down at the girl. She lay there perfectly pale and still, her eyes closed.

"Hmpf, I certainly see nothing unusual here," the doctor remarked wryly, fumbling in his pocket for a small mirror as he leaned forward to examine her more closely.

The eyelids began to flutter lightly, slowly raised and he found himself staring into the most beautiful turquoise blue eyes he had ever seen.


Absolute silence gripped the room. All four men's eyes widened in surprise but no one moved. The doctor regained a bit of his composure and leaned a little closer. His eyes blinked. The blue eyes blinked in response.

"Victoria, how are you feeling?" Dr. Wilson asked shakily.

"May I have some water, please?" she replied.

The doctor poured a small amount of water in a glass and held it to her lips. Easing up a bit, she sipped the water slowly and then lay back down against the pillows. "Thank you."

"She's alive!" Canbury exclaimed.

Victoria looked at the heavyset man hovering in the background and tried to remember him. Then her gaze drifted from face to face, her eyes finally settling on a very handsome young man. She didn't recognize any of them. She looked around the room but it was also unfamiliar to her. Where was she?

"Victoria, I need to examine you," the doctor said gently. He listened to her chest with a very odd looking instrument and then took her pulse. He raised her eye lids and looked into her eyes and then examined her hands and feet. But when he tried to examine her head she winced and tried to pull away. "Please, Miss, hold still just a moment longer." Finally finishing, he turned and looked at the other men. "She seems to be not only alive but actually quite fit. Her heartbeat is strong and her lungs sound clear. The head wound is still severe but, with her conscious now, it should heal. I just don't understand this." Shaking his head in confusion he sank down in the chair next to the bed. "I have heard of such things before but never have I actually seen it."

"Seen what, doctor?" Nicholas asked.

"I have heard that sometimes after a terrible injury the body shuts down to the point that no vital signs can be detected. It seems the body does this in order to heal more quickly. I just never really believed it." Looking over at his patient he shook his head again. "I guess now I have to believe it, don't I?"

They all turned toward Victoria and stared at her. She stared back. Her large eyes showed a variety of emotions. There was wariness, a touch of confusion and most surprising of all, a bit of fear. It surprised Nicholas, as it was something he had never thought to see in her eyes. He could hear his father, Canbury and the doctor all talking but his attention remained focused on Victoria. She was gazing about the room and her confusion seemed to be growing. A puzzled frown pinched her features and her disorientation was obvious. Slowly she lifted one of her hands and stared at it as though she had never seen it or any appendage like it before. Surely her head injury was far worse than it appeared.

The idea, once entering his mind, seemed to lodge itself and refuse to leave. If she was severely incapacitated he could install her in one of the country estates with proper caregivers and be free to continue his life. No one would expect him to live with a wife who was brain injured. He had in fact decided already that they would not live together after a suitable time had passed after the marriage. He had no desire to live with the shrew daily. He was far to busy with seeing to the estates and investments to worry with a fretful, selfish, narcissistic wife. He wished to live with her only long enough to produce an heir and perhaps a spare and then they would live separately. It was not uncommon among the ton for husbands and wives to live apart after an heir had been produced.

And, that was the question. And a very big question at that. Could she give him an heir? Would she be physically, and maybe more important, emotionally able to fulfill her wifely duties and bear children? A frown formed on his face as he pondered all this.

"Is something wrong?" her soft voice penetrated his thoughts.

"Nothing at all," he answered. "I was actually wondering how you are feeling? Is your head hurting terribly?"

"Yes, I believe I have never felt such pain before. Do you think I could have something to relieve it?" Her large blue eyes were filled with tears.

"Of course. My apologies, my dear. Doctor," he said, turning to the men immediately. "Miss Canbury requires something for her painful headache. Would you get it for her?"

"Yes, of course." The doctor hurried to a table and mixed a liquid in some water. Upon returning to her bedside, he lifted her carefully. "Drink this, Miss. It will make you sleep and relieve the pain a little. I fear I cannot give you much after such a terrible blow to the head, but a little should be all right."

"Thank you," she murmured and drank the potion. The doctor laid her back against the pillows carefully.

"Gentlemen, if you will, shall we retire and let her rest?" he said turning to the others. "Oh, and could we get someone to stay with her," he requested.

Lord Canbury nodded yes, leaned forward and patted her hand stiffly. "You will be better soon." He started toward the door with Jonathan and the doctor but Nicholas stayed with Victoria for a moment.

"Victoria, I will see you again tomorrow. Try to rest." He lifted her hand and kissed it gently.

"May I ask you a question?" she whispered.

"Of course," Nicholas smiled down at her.

She paused and seemed to be searching for the right words. Her hesitancy tugged at Nicholas. He waited patiently. Finally, she gazed up at him and asked, "Who are you? And who are those other men?"

Nicholas blinked in surprise. What was this? Was she serious? And if she was, how could he answer her? He must discuss this with the doctor first. "I will answer all your questions tomorrow, but for now, just rest." He patted her hand gently.

Smiling at her one last time, he turned and joined the others who were waiting for him at the door. He did not look back. He didn't need to. He could feel her eyes following them as they left the room.

Nicholas paused at the bottom of the stairs. The doctor was completely flustered and Lord Canbury was questioning him in a most aggressive manner.

"Patrick," Jonathan placed his hand on Canbury's sleeve. "This is not helpful. It doesn't really matter how this happened, does it? It seems to me that it only matters that it did happen and your daughter is alive."

The doctor gave him a grateful look. "Truly, Sir, I am as puzzled as you are, but I am also very happy that she is alive. You must believe me when I tell you that I have read of such occurrences in the medical books. But, it is extremely rare."

"I do not care, Doctor Wilson. Your announcement of my daughter's demise has put us all through a terrible shock. Not to mention what would have occurred if my wife had been awake at the time." Canbury paled even further at that thought.

"Now Patrick, your wife was not awake and I believe I can truthfully say in behalf of all of us that we are happy and relieved that Victoria rallied and is again among the living."

Maria approached the group of men. "Jonathan, is she...?"

"She is alive, my dearest. As we were just discussing, she seems to have rallied after sinking almost to the point of death. But, she is alive."

"Thank goodness," Maria sighed. She sounded so sincere that only Jonathan noticed the barest hint of ambivalence in her voice. He smiled reassuringly at her. "In that case, I believe it would be best if Lord Canbury and Doctor Wilson spoke to Mrs. Harris and the girl. They have been quite upset," Maria added softly.

"Of course," Canbury agreed and he and the doctor went over to them. "Well, it seems that it was all a mistake," he said heartily. The doctor frowned at him and started to speak but Canbury hurried on. "It appears that her vital signs had fallen so drastically that the doctor could not detect them. But, she rallied back and is now awake and seemingly recovering. So, there is no need for further ado. Just go on back to your duties and rest easy in your minds that all is well. And, Mrs. Harris, would you send her maid up to stay with her?"

Both women looked at the men skeptically but did as they were bid. Canbury watched them with a frown. How this would play out among the servants he could only guess. But, he didn't have time to worry about it now. He needed a drink badly. And, he wanted to ask the doctor about any permanent damage to Victoria. For he feared that if there was damage of any sort that the marriage might be called off and he would have no option but to agree.

"Shall we adjourn into the salon?" Canbury asked motioning toward the door.

They all followed him, including Maria. Canbury shut the door behind them quietly, then poured each a stiff drink and a glass of sherry for the Duchess. Everyone accepted gratefully and took a good swallow, then slowly began to find seats. Only Canbury remained standing. All were shaken by what had occurred.

"Doctor Wilson, I was wondering if you could tell us if there will be any lasting effects of this mishap?" Canbury asked. At the doctor's surprised look, Patrick continued. "Please answer. I feel that her fiancee and his parents are entitled to know the truth, too."

The doctor cleared his throat. "I will most probably be unable to tell for a few days." Pausing, he rolled the glass in his hand and searched for the right words. "I will speak frankly with all of you. I've never had a case like this and I simply do not know what to expect. But, there is a doctor that I can call in to examine her. I believe he has had a case like this and he will be more able to tell us all what the likely outcome will be."

"I know for a fact that she has some memory loss," Nicholas interjected quietly.

All eyes turned to him. "How can you know this?" Jonathan asked.

"Because she asked me who I am and also who all of you are," he replied.

"What?" Canbury spluttered. "Do you stand there and tell me that my own daughter did not know me? This is preposterous!"

"Not necessarily," the doctor replied. "I understand that amnesia is not uncommon when a severe head injury occurs. But," he added hastily, "that is not to say that the amnesia is permanent. Often the patient completely recovers all memory."

"Often?" Patrick questioned. "What do you mean 'often'?"

"Well, there have been cases where the memory is never recovered. The patient has to learn everything again," the doctor replied.

"Oh, Lord," Canbury moaned and sank into a chair.

"Doctor, how shall we answer her questions? It appeared to me that she was quite puzzled about each of us," Nicholas asked, remembering his promise to answer all her questions tomorrow.

"I'm not sure, my Lord. I know with amnesia patients it is very important to reestablish all things familiar as soon as possible. It seems to nudge the memory back into place."

"But if she asks again what shall I say?" Nicholas pressed.

"I believe you should tell her the truth. Gently of course, but always the truth. Lies would only further confuse her and she will have to know the truth eventually." Dr. Wilson answered.

Maria reached for Nicholas' hand. "The most important thing is that she is alive. And, the second most important will be getting her memory back," Maria said positively.

"Yes, of course, Your Grace. It is just that this is all such a shock." Canbury's eyes darted from person to person finally lighting on Jonathan. "What if she never recovers her memory?" he asked hesitantly. "Will this affect the plans for her marriage to Nicholas?"

Everyone became absolutely still, all looking to Jonathan for the answer. He pondered it for a moment and seemed to come to a decision. "I think that is something that will need to be decided at a later date. For the time being, why don't we all just be happy that she is alive?" he offered with firm resolve.

"I think that is a wonderful idea, Dear," Maria beamed at her husband. "After all, we really don't know yet if any permanent loss has occurred. Yes, I think all decisions should be delayed until this other doctor can examine her. Do you not agree, Nicholas?"

"Of course, Mother. We must allow some time for her to heal." He smiled at his mother and the others in the room relaxed. Glasses were raised and words of agreement spoken.

However, Nicholas' mind was slowly turning over all the changes this new development might bring. Should he throw doubt on the possibility of the marriage taking place? It would give him a perfect out. But, at what cost to his family? He would definitely have to discuss this in detail with his father in private. For he knew that his family's future and fortune rested on whatever decision was made.

Later that evening Nicholas sat quietly with his father in the library of their London townhouse. His mother had retired and they were trying to sort through the odd turn of events.

"I'm not sure we should proceed with this marriage alliance now, Nicholas." Jonathan glanced at Nicholas. "The whole situation has been drastically changed. I have a notion to contact Canbury tomorrow and tell him the marriage is off."

"Let's not rush the decision, Father. I believe that it will all depend on Victoria's condition and the extent of her injuries. Don't you agree?"

Jonathan looked at his son with troubled eyes. "Yes, I do. But Nicholas, I am speaking for both your mother and myself when I tell you that we would not have you shackled to a woman who can never be a wife to you." He raised his hand to silence Nicholas when he started to speak. "No, please let me continue. You know our financial circumstances have been greatly reduced. I was hoping the dowry would seal the future for you and your children. But, if Victoria's injury makes her personality more discordant than it already is, or if she is rendered severly impaired, I do not think it would be wise to go forward with the marriage. You are a young man with your whole life ahead of you. I would not wish it to be spent in caring for an invalid wife and leaving you to find womanly comforts with a mistress, or worse. And, what of children? Will she be able to attend her wifely duties and bear you the children we all hope for?"

"I, too, have been thinking of these things, Father. But, the dowry is considerable and would insure the future stability of the estate. I believe that unless she is terribly impaired I must go through with the marriage."

"Yes, but Nicky, what if she can only just barely be a wife to you? Are you willing to live with less than a complete woman?"

"Yes, I would. And, if it became necessary, I could install her in one of the country homes and hire someone to care for her. If she can give me an heir, then I would be willing to care for her for the rest of her life." He paused a moment and then hurried on. "I could take a mistress. Other men have taken one for much less reason and lived full and happy lives."

"Happy? I'm not so sure about that," Jonathan replied. "You cannot accompany a mistress to any public affair or ball. She cannot be included in your life as far as your family and friends are concerned, but rather would have to be hidden away and seen only with discretion to avoid scandal. A man likes his wife on his arm. He wants to be proud to escort her to dinners and balls and he wants others to envy him. It's shallow I know, but that is what we men are. Vain creatures who love beauty in our women."

"Ah, true, true. But we also want intelligence, wit and humor," Nicholas rejoined. "And, I would never have had those things with the old Victoria. Nor would I have had a wife who would have cared for me. The Victoria I knew only cared for herself. So, would it really be a worse situation? Or, perhaps it will be better. If she is slightly impaired it might induce her to be calmer and I think we could avoid those situations that would be agitating to her. And, as I said, after she bears me an heir I can retire her to the country with a nurse."

Jonathan gazed at his son. "Would you really be willing to do that just for the sake of the estate? It might come at too high a price. Regrets always come at a very high price."

"I was willing to marry her before the accident when everyone thought of her as the shrew of London. In what way would this be worse?" He grinned at his father and took a sip of brandy. "After all, there is always the chance that the blow to her head might have improved her disposition."

Jonathan chuckled. Nicholas always tried to see the brightest spot in any situation. "Maybe so. Maybe so." He lifted his glass in salute to his son and wondered how he had ever been so blessed to have a wife he adored and a son he also adored and admired.

Father and son sat quietly for a few moments, each mulling over the facts. They had always been closely attuned to the other's moods, and periods of quiet had always been comfortable between them. Often, after a long time of wordless contemplation, one or the other would speak and more often than not, they were thinking of the same thing.

"Then shall we approach Canbury tomorrow and tell him our decision?" Jonathan asked.

"Yes, I believe so. I am willing to marry his daughter, provided she can give me an heir. The rest I think will have to be sorted out as we go. If the doctor says she can bear children, and she is able to understand what that entails, I am quite willing to proceed. It is not as if this is a great love match, Father. In fact, I feel I hardly know her. So, I will get to know the new Victoria as my wife and we'll see how it goes."

"Do you wish to go with me to visit him tomorrow?"

"No, I don't think so. I'll let you negotiate on my behalf. I have a few meetings in the morning with our man of business and others and then I had hoped to slip away for the races in the afternoon. Geoffrey Willborough has a new horse he is running and I've been told he runs like lightening."

Jonathan sighed and cast his son a parental look. "Not getting in too deep I hope."

Nicholas laughed. His father was like a fussy old maid about him going to the races. "No, you know I rarely bet. But, I may lay a few quid on this horse."

"But not too many?" Jonathan asked anxiously.

"No, Father, not too many." He rose and went to his father and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You need have no fear of that. Now, I think I will retire. It's been a strange and tiring day. Will you walk up with me?"

"No, I have a few more things I want to do before I go to bed. Papers to sign and a few small things that I had planned to do earlier. Good night, Nicky."

"Good night, Father." He gave Jonathan's shoulder a small squeeze and left the room.

Jonathan watched him go and then poured himself another brandy. His hands were shaking slightly and it annoyed him. But, hell and damnation, he had been worried. All his careful planning with regard to Canbury. Dropping subtle hints about his son and the title that would be his one day along with the lineage that was touched in every generation by royals and lofty positions of honor. He had also carefully let it be known that Nicholas was a genius at business.

And Canbury had taken the bait. He had begun to pursue Jonathan quietly but vigorously, dropping hints about the vast dowry his daughter would bring to her marriage. He frequently mentioned his hopes that his son-in-law, whoever he might be, would be able to care for the huge business interests and vast sums of money that would come to him through Victoria. He had confided that he needed a son-in-law who was above the norm in intelligence and business sense and was aggressive enough to press ahead. The two had slowly formed an alliance, their goals meshing in a most remarkable way. Finally an agreement had been reached.

And, when Jonathan had approached Nicholas, he had agreed to it. That had laid Jonathan's biggest worry to rest, for if Nicholas had refused to accept Victoria as a possible wife Jonathan would not have insisted no matter how large the dowry.

And, then when all had seemed within his reach, this terrible accident had happened. Jonathan would never have let Canbury or anyone else know how disturbed he had felt at seeing it all possibly slip away. But now, if the girl would just be halfway normal, his son would marry her and he would finally be able to cease his constant worrying about the future of his family. They would be wealthy beyond his hopes and he and his wife could live the rest of their lives in comfort, secure in the knowledge that their son would be at the helm steering a true course through the intricate maze that made up their lives. Estates, titles and jewels would remain in the family for future generations. Jonathan had very nearly lost it all. But, Nicholas was going to be the means of bringing it all back.

Jonathan stared down at the papers on his desk but didn't focus on them. They were of small consequence. What they offered was normalcy. A man sitting at his desk signing papers, life continuing in an unbroken line. This he owed to his son. And, to the girl who would now become his daughter-in-law. Of this he was fairly sure, for he had seen enough to realize that she was rational. He had known it the moment she had asked for water in that quiet polite voice. So, his plans would come to fruition and everyone would be happy. Pray God it would be so, he whispered fervently.

Jonathan signed the papers, finished his brandy and went upstairs. His valet was waiting. He had just removed his master's coat when there was a small knock at the connecting door between Jonathan's and his wife's rooms. Jonathan opened it to find Maria standing with hands clasped tightly in front of her and a worried frown on her face.

"Now, my dearest, what is the matter?" He looked with concern at the fatigue that cloaked her and gently caressed her face.

"Jonathan, may I speak to you for a moment privately?" she whispered.

"Of course. I'll return shortly, Barker," he told the valet and followed Maria into her bedroom. "What is it, Maria?"

"Will Nicholas still marry Victoria?" she asked without preamble.

"We have discussed it and he has decided that if she is able to heal and lead a somewhat normal life, he will marry her." Jonathan took her face tenderly in his hands. "Please do not worry yourself about this."

"But what if she is not normal? What if she cannot bear him children or behave in a rational manner? Oh, Jonathan, I could not bear to see him trapped in such an unhappy situation!" She leaned into his lean body seeking comfort.

He took her gently in his arms. "Nor I, Maria. If that is the case, he will not marry her. But, we are hoping that she will heal. Some memory loss does not signify. Nicholas will deal with that. His main worry is that she be able to bear him an heir. If that is possible he has stated to me that he will handle all other problems in the kindest possibly way."

"Oh, I have no worry of that. Nicholas is the most kind and gentle person. But, is he not entitled to some happiness also? What will happen to him if Victoria cannot be a wife to him? Oh, Jonathan, I am so afraid for him" Tears welled up in her eyes and gave a hard tug on Jonathan's heart. He could not bear to see her cry.

"We will help him, Maria. We will help Victoria, too. And, I am convinced that all will work out well. You know how Nicholas is. He is capable and determined. And, he knows we will not force anything on him. All decisions must be and will be his." He leaned down and kissed her tenderly. "Now go to bed and rest. You will need all your strength tomorrow."

"Yes, my love. Good night." She went up on her toes and placed a tender kiss on his lips. In an instant he deepened the kiss. After a few moments he released her mouth and gathered her into his arms closely.

"I love you so much," he whispered. "I really will never understand how I was so blessed as to have you as my wife. Now, off to bed, or you may get little or no sleep tonight," he smiled at her with a slight leer.

She smiled up at him and lifted her eyebrows as though considering his thought. "I think I was the one blessed, my Lord."


Nicholas had dismissed his valet for the night and was standing staring out the window. He had understood his father's concerns. But, he also remembered the day he found his mother crying in the morning room. That was when he had learned that his father had lost a great deal in business ventures gone bad, and that it was up to him to rescue them from disaster. So he had learned business and mathmatics. He applied himself tirelessly to learning how to run the various estates they held. He had eventually offered suggestions and slowly things had turned around. Soon the actual running of the estates and investments were made on Nicholas' word, though only he, his father and a few close trusted associates knew this.

They had not completely regained all that had been lost and Nicholas had no intention of turning his back on the dowry his marriage would bring. As far as living with Victoria went, his hopes of having a loving and passionate wife had been surrendered the day his father had presented Victoria as a possible bride for him. Nevertheless, he would try to make her happy.

He gazed up at the starry sky. Yes, no matter what it took he would see this through. In fact, he would prefer her to be quiet and docile and even a little dimwitted rather than the arrogant spiteful creature she had been.

He thought of her as she had looked lying in her bed so pale and frightened. In a strange way, she had seemed a completely different person. For a brief moment he had even found himself wanting to comfort her. He had not done so, of course, not knowing what her reaction would be. But, he had felt drawn to her in a way he had never been before.

Sighing, he went to his bed. He was tired. How very strange, he thought as he stretched out under the covers, how one's life could be changed in an instant. It had now happened to him twice and he wondered as he dozed off just how this change would affect him in the future. Or perhaps it was better not to know, he mused. How little he realized the truth of that thought as he fell asleep in blissful ignorance.


While the Duke of Avondale's house settled for the night, Lord Canbury's house was still in a state of confusion. Lord Canbury was quietly getting drunk in his library. Lady Canbury was still asleep. The servants quarters was all abuzz with the goings on upstairs. And, the doctor was sitting beside Victoria's bed still watching her and trying to understand how she had been dead one moment and alive the next.

She moved restlessly and he reached out and placed a hand on her forehead. She was cool, no fever. That was a relief. Slowly she opened her eyes and stared at the man hovering over her. "Who are you?" she asked, her voice sounding slightly hoarse.

"Dr. Wilson at your service, Miss. How are you feeling?" He smoothed her hair back from her face.

The maid who had been dozing in the chair on the other side of the bed roused. "Does she need something, Doctor?" she inquired.

Victoria looked from one to the other. Her brain felt foggy and she couldn't seem to focus on anything. "Where am I?" she asked. When they made no reply she became alarmed. "What's wrong? Why won't you answer me?" She fixed her stare on the maid, who began to squirm. She then turned toward the doctor. "Who did you say you are? And why are you here?"

Dr. Wilson looked over at the shocked face of the maid and quickly shook his head. The maid understood to be quiet. "I am your doctor," he said turning back to Victoria, "and I am here because you fell down the stairs and received a very bad bump to your head. Do you remember anything that happened?"

"No," she answered shaking her head no as she spoke. Her hand went to the knot above her temple as pain shot through it. It felt as large as an apple. "How bad is the injury?" she asked.

"Get a cool compress, please," he said to the maid, who quickly complied. He laid it carefuly on Victoria's brow and offered her a sip of water, ignoring her questions. "Does your head still pain you badly?'

"I have a headache, but it's not too terrible. You didn't answer my question. How bad is this injury?" she asked again.

"I'll answer your question, but first let me say that this may be a temporary condition." He drew in a deep breath. "The bump is rather large but there is no internal bleeding, at least as far as I can detect. We won't know more for at least another day or two, after you begin to move around. You do, however, appear to have amnesia."

"Amnesia? How long do you think it will last?"

The doctor shook his head. "No one knows. Some of these cases are very temporary. In fact, you may awaken in the morning and be completely restored. Or it may take weeks or months for your memory to return. We simply have no way of knowing."

"I see," she mulled that bit of information over for a few moments. "I am assuming there is no skull fracture, only a concussion, is that correct?"

Wilson blinked in surprise. "I wasn't aware that you were familiar with medical terms," he said.

"Neither was I." Confusion flitted across her face. "A concussion or fracture?" she pressed him.

"Just a concussion as far as I can tell."

"I see." She looked around the room again. It was obvious she was puzzled. "Then I have another question for you, Doctor," she finally said. "Who exactly am I? And, where am I?"

"You are Miss Victoria Canbury. Your father is Lord Canbury. And, this is your room in your home in London," he answered kindly. He watched for her reaction, but other than a vague look of confusion, she seemed to understand what he said.

"How did I fall down the stairs?"

"It is my understanding that you tripped on your skirts, Miss."

"And who were the men here earlier?" she inquired.

"The younger man was Nicholas Ashton, Viscount Lindham and the taller older gentleman was his father, the Duke of Avondale. The heavy set man was, of course, your own father, Lord Canbury."

Victoria frowned trying to sort through the names. "Why were they here? Was I thought to be dying?"

"No. But we all knew you were very seriously injured, and of course, your fiance would insist on being here. His father was here in support of his son I would imagine," he replied.

"Fiance!" Victoria was stunned. She had a fiance?

"Yes. It is my understanding that the engagement has yet to be announced. They are all quite concerned about your condition," he offered by way of comfort. He was being very careful how he imparted the information, not wanting to cause any more shock to her. But, all things considered, she was being quite calm.

"Have I any injuries other than the head and the amnesia?" When he hesitated she went on. "The truth, if you please."

"Not to my knowledge, Miss. In all other ways you seem quite sound. But, the amnesia is a troublesome thing. We will all feel better when you begin to remember." He smiled at her and rearranged the compress.

"And if I never regain my memory, what will happen then?"

"Oh, nothing too terrible. You will simply have to relearn things. But, your speech is clear and you seem cognizant of your surroundings, so I would imagine that you will recover completely," he offered encouragingly. "Now, why don't you try to get some sleep. That will heal you more quickly than anything else." He arranged the covers around her. "Your maid will be with you all night should you need anything. You may have small sips of water and I will leave a draught for you to take if your head pains you too much. No food tonight but you may go to the water closet if necessary. And, I will see you again first thing tomorrow morning. Now, try to sleep." He patted her hand and rose.

"Thank you, Doctor, I will." Victoria watched him measure out the draught, gather his bag and leave the room.

She smiled at the young woman hovering nearby and settled down in the covers. The bed was soft and the covers were warm. Snuggling in, she mulled over the events of the day, at least as many of them as she could recall. Everything seemed fuzzy to her. But, one thing that was clear was her memory of the handsome young man the doctor had said was her fiance. She could scarcely believe that she would forget a fiance who was that handsome. And, he had been so kind to her. Could it really be? The very thought made her want to laugh. Oh, to be so fortunate as to live the rest of her life looking across the breakfast table at that gorgeous face. To have your husband be so solicitous and kiss your hand so tenderly. It was a breathtaking prospect. And the doctor had also said he was some sort of Lord...she couldn't remember exactly what his title had been. But, that in itself was truly amazing. Somehow she felt that never before in her life had she been introduced to a Lord, much less become engaged to one.

Perhaps amnesia wouldn't be so bad after all, especially if things forgotten were all so pleasant. She closed her eyes and drifted to sleep with a small half smile playing on her lips. She was to find out the next morning just how unpleasant some forgotten things could be.


Victoria was jerked from a nice dreamless sleep by the most horrible noise. It was a shrieking of the kind that she was sure must mean some poor creature was being tortured. Her eyes flew to the door as she heard a commotion in the hallway. The pounding of steps and voices being raised convinced her that something terrible must be happening.

She scrunched herself down in the bed as far as she could and still be able to peek over the covers to await whatever was coming. She was sure the wait would not be long for the footsteps and loud voices were rapidly approaching her own door. One voice could be heard above the others, drowning out what was being said.

The door was flung open and a woman charged into the room followed by three women and one man. Victoria cringed lower under the covers feeling quite afraid for the first time since awakening in this house. The woman was not very tall but was nevertheless sturdy and completely intimidating. Her hair was flying in all directions and her face held a look of horror.

"What has happened to my darling girl?" she screamed as she charged into the room. "Oh, how could that stupid doctor have let her die?" She reached the bed and stood shrieking and wailing, wringing her hands. Suddenly her eyes focused on Victoria's unblinking gaze. "How dare you let her lie there with her eyes open! Why didn't someone close them?" she demanded shrilly. And then Victoria blinked.

The noise emanating from the woman until that moment was modest compared to the bellow that spewed from her mouth then. Then with a ghastly gasp she collapsed to the floor. For a long moment the entire room seemed paralyzed. Then, as if on cue, they all seemed to scramble into action at once. One woman rushed to the prostrate lady on the floor, another rushed to the water pitcher and wet a cloth, the third woman rushed forward with a bottle of smelling salts and the man turned and fled.

Smart man, thought Victoria, who felt like fleeing herself. Peeking over the covers cautiously, she watched as they tried to revive the lady on the floor. She didn't move or make a sound as they all worked feverishly. Finally the woman began to rouse and slapping at their hands as they fussed about her, she stood up slowly. She glared at the bed and Victoria.

"I thought she blinked, Sophie," the woman muttered.

"Yes, my Lady, she did. As I was trying to tell you, we thought she had died and then, like a miracle, she was alive again. I'm sure the doctor can explain it all to you when he arrives this morning," Sophie replied nervously fidgeting.

The lady turned on the poor hapless Sophie with a thunderous glare. "Never, never frighten me like that again. I mean it, Sophie, I will sack you immediately if you ever tell me such a lie again. She is not dead at all. If my eyes do not deceive me, she lies here in her bed quite alive. What is the meaning of such horrid tales? Explain yourself this instant!"

"My Lady, please, I only told you what occurred. We were all very worried but did not want to awaken you. I beg you to believe me. Ask Lord Canbury. I am sure he will tell you the same thing."

"I will. On that you can rely." Turning back to the bed the lady stared down at Victoria, though not without a bit of hesitancy. "Victoria, are you well this morning?" she inquired shakily.

Victoria, still not understanding exactly what was happening, nodded her 'yes' and remained motionless under the covers.

"Speak up, girl!" the woman demanded.

"I have a slight headache," Victoria offered meekly.

"Well, that is to be expected I suppose after such a fall. Rest in bed today and by tomorrow you will most likely be recovered." She turned toward the audience in the room and glared. "What is everyone standing around gawking at? Is there not enough to do in this house?" she demanded imperiously. Everyone except Sophie immediately scurried to leave the room. "Come, Sophie, I need to finish dressing. The day is slipping away." And without another word to Victoria, she charged out of the room in a flurry of billowing skirts and wild hair, just as she had entered it.

Sophie came to the bed and leaning down said, "I am sorry, Miss Victoria. I could not keep her from becoming agitated. I do apologize most sincerely. I hope it didn't upset you overly much."

"No, I'm fine. Thank you," Victoria replied.

"I'll leave you then. Do try to rest dear, and I hope you have a full recovery." With that she turned and followed her mistress.

Victoria stared at the door for some long moments. She then began to look around the room. The maid who had been with her all night was still sitting as though transfixed in her chair, her eyes as large as saucers.

Victoria eased herself up from under the covers and leaned against the headboard of the bed. At her movement the young woman's head turned toward her slowly, as though she were coming out of a stupor. Victoria smiled at her and she offered a faint smile back.

"Ahem," Victoria began. "Well, that seemed to go well." At the maid's slight giggle she added, "I mean, at least we survived the storm."

The young maid looked at her wide eyed," Yes, Miss."

"Although, for a few minutes I thought we were done for."

"Yes, Miss, so did I." The maid's voice quavered as did her smile.

"Does that happen often? Does she scream like that, I mean?"

"Well, the Mistress is a bit high strung," she replied, her fingers tugging nervously at her skirt. "I don't mean to complain, Miss. She's a good mistress. We all know to just stay out of the way when she gets like that, all in a high dither and such."

Victoria nodded her head and glanced back at the door. "I see. Well, may I ask you one other question?'

"Oh course, Miss."

"Who exactly was that woman?'

The young woman stared at her with a puzzled frown. Finally she answered in a soft voice. "That was Lady Canbury, Miss. Your mother."

That was her mother? Confusion flooded her mind. She didn't remember these people or this house. What was going on here? Could it be that the amnesia had wiped her memory completely clean?

Silence stretched out in the room. While Victoria struggled to remember something, even a small scrap of her former life, the maid grew restless.

"Miss, would you like to go to the water closet?" she asked.

"What it your name?" Victoria asked turning toward her.

"Why, I'm Amy, Miss Victoria. I'm your personal maid, don't you know."

"Well then, Amy, yes I would like to go to the water closet. And, I would also like a shower. That should help clear my mind." She pushed the covers back and swung her feet to the floor.

"A shower, Miss? Oh, I don't think we'll be havin' any rain today."

Victoria frowned at her. "Not that kind of shower, Amy. A shower in here." At Amy's puzzled look, Victoria went on. "You know, to clean myself up," she explained.

"Oh, you mean a bath, Miss. Yes, yes, of course. I'll have one brought up for you right away." Amy rose from her chair and helped Victoria stand up. "Do you feel like walking, Miss? The water closet is just down the hall." She helped Victoria slip on her robe.

"Thank you." Victoria took her arm and walked with her to the door. There she had to rest for a moment. "My knees are shaking something awful," she said with a laugh. "I feel as weak as a newborn kitten."

"Oh, Miss, would you prefer to use your chamber pot? There's no need to walk so far if you're feeling so weak."

"No, no. I'll be fine. And I'll get my strength back much sooner if I move around a bit. Just let me lean on you a little." Victoria let Amy help her through the door, down the hallway and into a room at the end of the hall. It was indeed a water closet. A very old fashioned toilet with a large container of water suspended from the wall above it was the only thing in the room. Victoria gazed at it.

"Isn't it wonderful, Miss. One doesn't even have to leave the house any more. The master had it put in just a few months ago and we've all been amazed at the convenience."

"Yes," Victoria stared at the toilet. "It is wonderful. But, where do you bath and wash your hands?" she asked, looking around the room.

"Why, back in your room, of course."

"Of course," Victoria replied. "Well, you may leave me now. I'll be out shortly."

"Are you sure, Miss? The master and the doctor will have my hide if I let you fall again," she said nervously.

"I won't fall, Amy. Just stand outside the door and wait for me, all right?"

"Yes, Miss."

"Oh, Amy," Victoria's voice stopped the girl just as she was opening the door. "Where is the toilet paper?"

"Toilet paper, Miss?"

"Yes, you know, the paper to clean yourself with."

Amy's eyes went to a small stack of clean cloths on a shelf next to a basin of water. "That's what you clean yourself with, Miss," she indicated the shelf, blushing furiously.

Victoria looked at it for a moment. "Oh, of course," she said quietly. A heavy silence filled the room. Finally Victoria spoke. "I believe the doctor was right, Amy." Her eyes went to the young maid's in resignation. "I do have amnesia. I can't seem to remember the most basic things. You will help me, won't you? It would appear that I will require help to just get through the day."

"Oh course, Miss. Don't you worry. I'll take care of you just like I always do. Now, I'll just wait right outside the door for you. If you need anything just call and I'll be right here as fast as I can." Amy smiled and slipped through the door, closing it quietly behind her.

Victoria stared at it for several moments. What on earth was she going to do? She didn't seem to know how to do anything here. Surely she had not been so inept before the accident. She had a lot to learn, it seemed. Or relearn. And, how on earth could she get married if she couldn't even remember the most basic things? He would surely call the wedding off if he realized how badly her mind was affected by the fall. And, she would be sorry if that happened. For he was truly the most interesting and handsome man she had ever seen. At least, she thought he was. Her forehead wrinkled in a frown.

She would have to make sure no one knew just how little she remembered. With Amy's help she was positive she could learn most of the necessary things quickly. And, the other things would come in time. She would have to watch others carefully and try to imitate what they were doing. Yes, she was sure she could do it. After all, her mind wasn't gone, just her memory.

Two hours later Victoria was back in her bed, now fitted with clean sheets that smelled like lavender. Her bath had been in a lovely copper tub set behind an ornate screen in the corner. Amy had arranged to have it filled with warm water and Victoria had soaked herself until the water had cooled completely. Her body was bruised and sore, which only confirmed what everyone had told her about a fall down the stairs. Amy had refused to leave her and instead had bathed her carefully with a soft cloth, clucking the entire time about the bruises. She had then helped Victoria out of the tub, dried her with a large soft length of cloth and dressed her in a lovely silk night gown and a lacy ruffled jacket. Now, here she was, propped against a mountain of pillows with a nice breakfast tray in front of her.

On it was a pot of tea, a small jug of cold milk and a bowl filled with oddly shaped lumps of sugar. "Amy, do you think I could have a bit of toast or cereal to eat? I'm felling very hungry this morning."

"Oh, no Miss. The doctor said you were to have no food until he examines you again," Amy told her.

"I see," she scowled at the lone cup of tea. "Well, do you happen to know when he will be here? Because I am starving." Victoria watched as Amy poured her tea and put a huge dollop of milk and three lumps of sugar in it. She tried not to frown. She had always had her tea plain...nothing in it at all. Not sure if she could get it down, she nevertheless took a small sip.

"I wouldn't be knowing that, Miss. He'll be along when he takes a mind to, I suppose." Amy fussed with the covers a moment and then sat down in the chair next to the bed.

"Probably. Doctors seem to think the world should revolve around them," Victoria replied.

"I'm sure he'll be along soon, Miss. Lord Canbury won't like being kept waiting. Especially with you so hurt and all."

Victoria smiled at her and took another sip of tea, trying all the while not to gag. She had never cared for sweet tea.

"Amy, is my father like my mother?"

"Oh, no, Miss. He's a very quiet and nice man and a very fair master," Amy replied.

"Good. That is very good. I'm not sure I'm up for another round like this morning."


Victoria brushed the question aside. "Never mind, Amy. I just hope when my father comes in things will not be so volatile." Putting the cup down, she slid down in the bed. "I think I'll rest for awhile now."

"Yes, Miss," Amy replied and removed the tray. Sitting back down in the chair, she watched as Victoria dozed off. She was completely confused. Not once had Miss Victoria yelled at anyone this morning. And she was so nice and polite. Amy didn't understand exactly what had happened, but she did know she liked this new Victoria much better than the old one and fervently hoped the old one didn't come back.


It had now been one week since Victoria had fallen down the stairs and she still had not recovered her memory. The doctor was very pleased at her progress in every way but that one. But, since there was no way for him to end her amnesia, he had allowed her to leave her bed. She was very excited about being allowed, finally, to resume some sort of normal activities.

Admittedly those were still somewhat unknown to her, but she was sure anything was better than lying in bed all the time. And, even confined as she had been, she had learned a lot from Amy and the other servants. For one, she had learned that the house had five floors. On the first floor were two salons that could be opened to each other to form a large ballroom. There were also a library, a morning room and several small rooms including rooms for the housekeeper and butler to manage the house from. One the next floor were her parents bedrooms, her bedroom and her father's private study. On the third floor were the guest rooms and a nursery and room for a nanny. On the fourth floor were the maids rooms. The kitchen and a small laundry were in the basement along with private quarters for the butler, housekeeper and footmen. Amy had also told her that there was a lovely, large garden and a stable for the horses in back of the house. There were sleeping quarters over the stable for the gardener and his helpers and the two groomsmen who cared for the horses.

Victoria had been astonished. "It's a mansion!" she had exclaimed to Amy. "How many people live her?"

"Well, let's see...there is your mother, father and yourself. Then there is the butler, the housekeeper, Sophie and me, and three footmen, two housemaids, a cook and two scullery maids. That'd be fifteen, Miss. Oh, and there's the gardener and his helpers and two groomsmen for the horses. That makes twenty."

Victoria was speechless. Twenty people to run one house? She could hardly believe it. "My father must be very rich," she blurted out.

Amy looked decidedly uncomfortable. "Well, Miss, I wouldn't rightly know about that. But, I think he is generally considered one of the richest men in England today. At least that's what I've heard."

"Oh, I am sorry, Amy. That was thoughtless of me. I shouldn't have said such a thing. It's just so hard to take it all in. I feel like a guest who must learn about everything at once. I won't make such a personal comment again. I promise," she said, reaching over and laying her hand gently on Amy's arm.

"That's all right, Miss. It's just that servants are not really allowed to voice such things. You understand, don't you?"

"Of course I do. And I hope you understand that I may act gauche at times. I'm at such a loss as to know what to do or say. Please let me say how much I appreciate your help and your patience with me."

"I'll do anything for you, Miss. You know that. And, I don't rightly know what has happened to you, but you can rest assured that I will keep doing for you, Miss Victoria. Just like I always have."

"Well, since I can't remember how you've always taken care of me, I will just have to rely on your word that you will continue." Victoria laughed and glanced around the room for a moment. "May I tell you something, Amy?" she asked soberly.

Amy nodded her head.

"I'm very frightened. It's as if I have been dropped into a life that is not my own and yet I am expected to understand everything. It's all so strange to me. The house, the people, even the surroundings here in my room. All are strange to me." Tears welled up in her eyes.

"Now, now, Miss. None of that. You are right where you are supposed to be and where you have always been. And, you just can't remember it right now because of the bump to your head. But, it will all come right. You wait and see. You'll start to remember soon and then it won't be so scary to you." Amy leaned over and patted Victoria's shoulder awkwardly. "Here, let me pour you another cup of tea. That'll set you right quick enough."

Victoria's wavering smile made Amy relax somewhat. "And, if you have questions, you just ask them and I'll do my best to answer them. If I don't know the answer I'll try to find it our for you. How's that?"

"That will be wonderful. Thank you, Amy."

Some time later, Victoria stood in front of the long mirror while Amy made final adjustments to her dress. What an ordeal this whole dressing thing had been. Had she always worn four layers of clothing? And, the worse was that hideous thing called a corset. It was laced so tightly that she could hardly breath. When she had asked Amy to loosen it she had been told that her dress wouldn't fit properly if it was any more loose. Victoria frowned at her image. Her waist was cinched so small that she could almost span it with her own hands. This was ridiculous, she thought with irritation. Surely women were allowed to be more comfortable than this! And, on top of that, she could barely lift her arms.

"Amy, I believe these sleeves are sewn wrong. I can't seem to lift my arms more that a few inches," she remarked as she fidgeted with them.

"Oh, no Miss, they are right. Ladies don't lift their arms too high."

Victoria said no more for she was very anxious to go downstairs this morning. She would just have to be careful to not throw her arms around too much lest she rip the sleeves right off the dress.

Victoria negotiated the stairs carefully and when she reached the bottom paused. She would have liked to have taken a deep breath but the blasted corset wouldn't let her. So, she stood stood panting a little and trying to decide where she was supposed to go.

Only a few moments passed before an older man in a dark formal looking coat and trousers approached. His face remained bland as he drew nearer but his words were welcoming.

"Good morning, Miss. It is so good to see you up and about again. You are feeling well, I trust?"

"Yes, thank you," she answered. "And you are...?"

"Hadley, Miss. The butler. I believe your parents are awaiting you in the morning room for breakfast." At her perplexed look he added, "If you will follow me."

Grateful for his discretion, she followed him down a long corridor that opened into a bright and cheerful room that was obviously on the east side of the house. Sunlight flooded the room and it overlooked a garden that was full of flowers and small neatly trimmed shrubs. She paused at the door and tried to take it all in.

When she hesitated to enter Hadley moved aside and announced, "Miss Victoria, my Lord."

"Victoria, my dear, come in and have some breakfast." He father motioned her to the table. As she seated herself the aroma of coffee, bread and other wonderful things tantalized her. "What would you like this morning?"

"Oh, don't coddle her so, Patrick. Let the girl get her own plate. How are you this morning, Victoria?" her mother demanded.

"I'm feeling quite well actually," she answered. "In fact, I would like to go out for a bit today. I really need to breathe some fresh air."

"Fine. But, we also have to receive callers this afternoon, so be sure to not overtax yourself," her mother admonished.

Nodding her head in agreement, Victoria rose and went to the sideboard where she attempted to fill a plate with eggs, sausages, toast and marmalade. After struggling for a few moments the footman offered to fill it for her and carry it back to the table. Gratefully she accepted. There were definitely going to be some changes made in her dresses in the future. How in the world was she supposed to do anything when she could barely raise her arms. As she settled into the chair the same footman brought the teapot to fill her cup.

"May I have some coffee this morning, please?"

Her mother looked up and blinked. "Coffee? But, you hate coffee, Victoria!"

"I don't think I do," Victoria replied. "In fact, I am quite sure I like coffee very much."

"Well, you have never liked it before and I don't understand this."

"Now, Julia, let the girl be. If she wants coffee then she shall have coffee," Patrick interceded for Victoria. "After all, I drink coffee every morning myself."

"Very well," Julia looked as though someone had just stuffed her mouth with a green persimmon. "But, don't come complaining to me if your teeth get brown and your skin gets all splotchy."

"Yes, mother," Victoria smiled at her mother and took a nice large sip of coffee that the footman had poured for her. It was heaven. Dark and rich with a fragrant aroma that seemed sweeter than perfume to her. She took another large sip.

"There's no need to gulp it so," her mother complained.

Victoria just smiled and dug into her food. She buttered her bread and ate the eggs, sausages and bread piled high with butter and marmalade with gusto. When she was finished, she placed her fork and knife on the plate and looked up to find both her parents and the footmen staring at her.

"Is something wrong?" she glanced down at her dress front to see if she had dropped egg or marmalade all over it.

"What on earth do you mean eating so much?" her mother demanded. "If you eat like that not one of your dresses will fit. You never have more than one small piece of toast and a cup of tea in the morning."

"I was hungry," Victoria said, brushing a few crumbs away.

"Hummpf!" her mother snorted and rose from her chair. "We will discuss this later. I have many things to attend to today. Do not forget that we will begin receiving callers at 1:00. If you go out be sure to return in time to freshen up and change," she ordered and strode out of the room.

"I think I made her angry," she said to her father with a sidelong glance.

"Not at all, my dear. That's just your mother's way. Always has been. Now, would you like to take a turn in the garden with me? I have time before I have to leave."

"Oh, yes, please."

"Well, then, hurry and get a hat and a parasol and we will spend some time together," he smiled and patted her hand.

She smiled and hurried to do his bidding. But, all the way up the stairs she bemoaned the fact that she had eaten such a hearty breakfast. She felt like one of the stuffed sausages. She would surely have to walk five miles today to walk her breakfast off. And, when she arrived at her room and informed Amy that she and her father were going to spend some time in the garden, she found herself being wrapped in a small cape, and a bonnet with a brim was carefully pinned to her head. Amy pressed the parasol in her hand as she started for the door. Great, she thought glumly, I can't lift my arms and I'm wrapped up like a mummy. How am I supposed to enjoy being outdoors?

Her father was waiting for her at the foot of the stairs and offered her his arm. They went into the garden through large windows that were pushed up far enough to allow one to walk through them like a door. But, she didn't have time to give them much thought as she was immediately enchanted by the beautiful display of flowers.

"How lovely," she breathed softly.

"Yes, isn't it?" Her father gazed at the riotous blooms with admiration. "I finally have a gardener who knows how to keep things in bloom. I spend many quiet and happy hours out here in the summer." He directed her up a path that was bordered on both sides by beds full of bulbs of every sort. Daffodils, tulips and crocus bloomed everywhere interspersed with drifts of lily of the valley. The fragrance was intoxicating.

The air felt a bit cold and Victoria pulled her cape a little closer around her.

"Are you cold, dear?" he asked solicitously.

"No, not really. But the air does still feel a bit chill. I'm sure we will be quite warm after we walk for awhile."

Her reply seemed to surprise him but it also pleased him. The doctor and the servants were right. This was not the daughter he had known before. There was something softer about her. A kindness and intelligence that he hadn't noticed in her. And, the artifice that had always annoyed him so much was missing. Her mother might be less than pleased with the changes in her daughter, but Patrick was very pleased. Very pleased indeed.

"May I ask you some questions?" Victoria entreated him.

"Yes, my dear, of course. What would you like to know?"

"Tell me about your work," she asked.

"My work? Why on earth would you want to know about that?" Patrick was baffled by her question.

"I think if I know about your work, I will understand you better." She paused for a moment. "I really don't know you...at least I don't remember anything about you, or mother either. I'm trying to regain so many memories that were lost. Do you mind? I'll understand if you prefer not to discuss this with me," she offered, but her tone said she would rather him tell her.

"Yes, I'll tell you about my work," he replied. They spent the next two hours walking or sitting quietly on the lovely garden benches tucked into alcoves, and talking. He explained his work, then told her how he got his start as a young man. He answered her questions, although some of them were very detailed and indepth.

Eventually the conversation turned to her engagement to Nicholas. He had naturally been enthused with the idea of a son-in-law that would be able to take the reins of all his interests someday.

"Father, were Nicholas and I very much in love?"

"In love? No, I don't think so. In fact, you had only seen him twice before the accident. It is an arranged marriage, Victoria. But you didn't seem to mind my choice." he explained.

"I see. Then he doesn't love me but he is willing to marry me? Even now, after my fall and with my amnesia?" she questioned.

"Yes, he's made it quite clear to his father and to me that he means to honor his commitment to you."

Victoria gazed out over the flowers and to the trees beyond that bordered their property. Her look was pensive as she asked, "Is he a nice man, Father? Will he be good to me, do you think?"

Patrick took her hand in his. "Yes, he is a fine young man. And, I believe that he will be a good husband to you and an excellent father to your children. Please don't fret yourself over this, my dear."

"Then he does want children?"

"Yes, Victoria, he does want an heir. You do understand that it is very important that you give him children?"

"Yes, I understand. And, I too want children. In fact, I believe I would like to have a house full of children." She smiled at her father. "Wouldn't that be wonderful. Five or six adorable little boys and girls all laughing and playing! What a delightful home that would make."

Patick stared at his daughter. For a brief moment he thought that if he did not know for an absolute fact that this was his daughter, he would believe she was an imposter. So unlike her former self was she, that she constantly surprised him. And delighted him, he added to himself. He hoped Nicholas would be as pleasantly surprised with her.

As they walked back down the paths toward the house, they continued to chat about the flowers and her father's plans for future plantings. There was an ease between them that was new, and while it seemed perfectly normal to Victoria, it seemed almost awkward to Patrick. But, only in the nicest sense. He was very happy with this charming young woman who was his daughter.

As they approached the door, Patrick paused. "I must be about my business now. You should try to rest before you begin receiving callers. Your strength has not fully returned yet and I wouldn't want you to have a relapse."

"I will, Father. And, thank you for sharing your garden with me, and for taking the time to talk and share some of your life with me. I do appreciate it, very much." She smiled up at him and Patrick felt the urge to hug her. Instead he gave her an awkward pat on the shoulder.

As he left the house a few minutes later he made a mental note to talk with Nicholas about the changes in Victoria. The boy might be more enthusiastic about his upcoming marriage if he understood that she was different now. When Victoria had been such a difficult person, Patrick had just hoped to see the matter through. But, now he had to consider her feelings a little more. She was changed and there was a gentleness in her that he would not want to see crushed. Yes, he would call on Nicholas straight away and mention these things to him.


It had been a grueling afternoon for Victoria. There had been a constant stream of callers for the last few hours and she felt edgy and exhausted. At first she had been facinated with the ladies and their elegant dresses and hats. But, soon the constant gossip had worn her patience down. These people, both men and women, were vicious with their tongues. No one was exempt from their criticisms, from the tradespeople to their own associates. It seemed to delight them to tear a person's reputation apart, all done discreetly behind their backs, of course. If that same person entered the room a few minutes later they were all charm and friendliness. Victoria was appalled and disgusted.

She began to fidget with her skirt which drew a harsh glance from her mother. But, as she was calculating just how to get out of the room, the door opened and Hadley announced two more visitors. An immediate quiet descended on the room as two beautiful women entered.

"Ah, Your Grace, how kind of you to call this afternoon," Julia rushed forward and curtsied.

Victoria's eyebrows rose slightly. Who was this woman who could subdue her mother by just entering the room, she wondered.

It was the custom for the callers present to leave when new callers arrived. But, the three ladies already present weren't about to go anywhere. They didn't so much as move an eyelid. Would the rumors of an engagement between Victoria and Nicholas prove to be true, they wondered? What the Duchess of Avondale said to Victoria would be food for the gossips for the next few weeks, even if it wasn't sensational. And they weren't about to miss a moment of it.

"Thank you, Lady Canbury. I would like you to meet my dear friend, Lady Kathryn Rosset."

"Delighted," Julia practically purred. "Please, won't you sit and have some tea?"

Maria gazed around the room, and when her eye fell on Victoria, she went immediately toward her with her friend in tow and Julia fluttering after them. "Victoria, my dear, how well you are looking!" she exclaimed.

Victoria rose politely and looked at her in confusion. "I do apologize, Mam, but I'm afraid I don't remember you."

The silence in the room made the small gasps penetrating. Victoria was sure she had made a terrible blunder, but had no idea what it was.

"Of course you don't," Maria comforted her. "Your father stopped by this morning and informed us that your amnesia is still troubling you. I am Maria Ashton, the Duchess of Avondale. I am also Nicholas's mother."

"Oh," Victoria's eyes rounded in surprise.

"And this is my dear friend Kathryn Rosset, the Countess of Habroad."

"I am pleased to meet you, my Lady," Victoria greeted and curtsied to the lovely raven haired woman standing next to Maria.

"I am delighted to meet you, Victoria." Lady Kathryn smiled at the young lady who was soon to be her godson's bride.

Maria settled herself on the settee next to Victoria as her friend took the chair across from them. "You must let me look at you." She examined Victoria's face closely, looking for any signs of permanent damage. Seeing none, she relaxed and smiled. "Yes, you do look quite well. Your father told me that, other than the amnesia, you have recovered completely. I can't begin to tell you how happy that makes me. We have all been very worried. Expecially Nicholas."

"That is very kind of you, my Lady." At her mother's harsh glare, Victoria paled. "I've made another blunder, haven't I?" she whispered to Maria. She wished she could simply disappear.

"Don't worry yourself, my dear. Your mother is just concerned because you forgot the correct address." Maria leaned over and whispered in a confidential tone, "A duchess is addressed as your Grace. But, in private you may call me Maria."

"Oh, I don't believe that would be appropriate, your Grace," she stuttered. "And, I'm sure my mother would faint dead away if I did."

Maria laughed merrily. "Well, you may be right. At least for the time being. But, after you and Nicholas are married, I expect you to call me Maria."

Victoria nodded in assent but felt sure she would never be able to call this exquisite creature by her given name. But, she was curious about one thing and took the moment to ask, "Will Nicholas be calling today, also?"

"Not that I know of, my dear. But, of course, my son rarely tells me all his plans. In any case, I have called today especially to invite you and your parents to dinner tomorrow evening. That is, if you are free." Maria looked at Julia as she issued the invitation.

"We would be delighted, Your Grace. I am sure our calendar is quite clear," Julia replied, clearly thrilled at the invitation.

"It will be a small quiet dinner party with only twenty guests. But, Jonathan and I felt that now would be a good time for Nicholas and Victoria to spend some time together and get acquainted." Turning back to Victoria, she continued. "The two of you were just getting to know each other when your unfortunate accident occurred. I'm sure you must feel the need to reacquaint yourself with him again."

"Yes, your Grace, I would very much like to spend some time with him since he is to be the man with whom I spend the rest of my life." Victoria's fingers plucked nervously at her skirt. "I've been a bit worried about marrying someone I really don't know."

Maria leaned over and took Victoria's hand in her own. "My dear, you have nothing to fear. If I know anything at all, I know my son. And, he will make you a fine husband. Of that I am sure."

"Thank you. I hope I will make him a fine wife, also. It is very important to me that I be the best wife and the best mother," she answered softly.

Maria smiled at the beautiful young lady who would soon be her daughter-in-law. Patrick had been right when he had said she was different since the accident. And, looking at this shy and gentle person next to her, she also understood his concern. But, she was sure it was unfounded. Nicholas would never be anything but unfailingly kind to Victoria. And, Maria felt the beginning of hope for a good marriage for her son. If having amnesia was what it took to keep this lovely girl for her son, then Maria hoped she never recovered her memory.

"Well, we must leave. You are looking very tired, my dear, and I have several more calls to make this afternoon. Dinner will be a 7:00 tomorrow evening. I do so look forward to seeing you there." Rising she took her leave with her friend, sweeping gracefully out of the room and leaving it less bright for her absence, in Victoria's opinion.

"How wonderful," Julia remarked. "Dinner with the Duke and Duchess! That is certainly a step up." She glanced at Victoria, "You may be excused to your room to rest," she said, noting Victoria's pale color.

"Thank you, Mother. I believe I shall." Making a hasty goodbye to all the ladies, she hurried upstairs.

"Oh, Miss, how was it?" Amy asked excitedly.

"Fine, just fine. Oh, Amy, please get me out of this dress and corset. I think I am about to faint." Hurriedly Amy removed her gown and the offending corset and helped her into a long silk dressing gown. Finally able to breathe, Victoria collapsed on the fainting couch at the end of her bed. "I do believe I know why these are called fainting couches," she said with a grin. "It's because you are about to faint from being strapped into that contraption for several hours."

Amy giggled. "Could be, Miss," she agreed and hurried to put Victoria's gown away.

So, Victoria thought as she lay resting. Tomorrow night I will finally meet the elusive fiancee. He had only dropped by to see her once since she first saw him, and then only for a few moments to inquire after her health. They had exchanged a few brief words with her maid and her mother present and then he had left.

A small twinge of nervousness skittered through her. He was terribly handsome. And, her father had said he was 'a fine young man', whatever that meant. So, unless she threw her arms up and ripped the sleeves right out of her dress or fainted at the dinner table from lack of air, everything should be alright. At least, she hoped it would be alright. Of course it would be alright. What could go wrong?

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