Olivia Vernon has thought a lot about the concept of soul-mates. All her life, she has been waiting for someone to appear, dreaming of him, and convinced if he exists at all he’s probably living in a different time zone. She wasn’t that far from the truth.
Alden Scott was one of the lucky ones, or so he thought. He found his soul-mate and was glad to trade in his bachelor days for a life of matrimonial bliss but fate, the Fae, and an irritated goddess had other plans. Little does he know that a simple stroll along a garden path one summer night will complicate his life more than he could ever imagine.
London, November 1876
Allen Cameron Lindsay Scott, the current Duke of Buccleuch and Monmouth, walked briskly down the main hall of his London townhome, oblivious to the maid carrying out a pail of debris from the library. As they passed in the hallway, the impact of her smaller form colliding with his and the clatter of the pail as it hit the floor brought him back to the here and now. Muttering an apology, he reached out to steady her rather than barking a harsh reprimand as others of his station might have.
“Forgive me, your Grace,” she stammered as he bent down to retrieve the bucket she’d dropped.
“Think nothing of it Maizy. It was not your fault,” he replied as he handed her the rubbish pail. A glint reflected the light streaming in through the window back to his face and his tolerant smile fled as he caught the sight of the shattered scrying mirror. How he’d been deceived stung him again as he faced the remnants of his rage from the previous evening. His jaw clenched as he abruptly turned and stepped over the mess on the floor, leaving the maid to sweep up the debris.
“Dawson!” he bellowed as he continued past the library.
“Yes, your Grace,” came the reply from behind him.
“Oh, there you are,” Alden stopped to acknowledge Dawson. Unflappable as always, Dawson stood in the doorway as though disarray in the room behind him was non-existent. Alden and his brother, James, had spent much of their childhood trying unsuccessfully to get a rise out of the family butler. As embarrassed as Alden was by his loss of control, he knew that were he to voice it, Dawson would brush the event aside with a Very good, your Grace or Shall I send for tea? Alden wondered if Dawson’s temperament was responsible for his timeless appearance. At 65, Dawson seemed much younger, but to Alden’s recollection had always looked the same.
“Dawson, I am going out to see Charlotte, but am expecting James for tea. When he arrives, ask him to wait for me if I have not returned by then. We’ll dine at our club and I expect we shall be quite late returning, so there is no need for cook to worry about dinner for us.” For just a moment, Alden noted a look of concern flash across the older man’s face, but as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. Dawson hesitated for a fraction longer before giving a brief nod in response. The exchange was so out of the ordinary that Alden almost asked for an explanation. Knowing that the question would be unlikely to provide a useful answer, Alden continued down the hallway, through the front door, and down the stairs to his carriage.
Mrs. Dawson, the housekeeper, came out of the library in time to see the retreating back of their employer before the heavy door shut behind him. Putting a comforting arm around about the young maid’s shoulders, she whispered a few soothing words before sending her along to dispose of the rubbish. Turning towards Dawson, she addressed her husband.
“He was in a temper last night. In all the years we have been with the family, I have never seen him like this.”
“Come now, Mrs. Dawson, not even when he was five and you stopped him from sliding down the banister to welcome his father home?”
The housekeeper smiled in remembrance of the sweet young boy who had grown into a strong but fair man. Returning to the present, her smile faded as she looked at her husband, “I fear for him. He is not thinking rationally, but no one dares to try to reason with him. I know it would be unseemly for us to speak to him, but is there anything we can do?”
Dawson considered his wife before responding. “My dear, though I agree with you, I understand his pain. He will not take kindly to our concern so the best that we can do is carry on as normal. It will all come out.” The two separated with a slight touch of their hands and went about the business of running a Duke’s household.
* * *
It had not snowed the night before, yet there had been a frost that now marked Alden’s passing with a series of crunches. The sunlight glinting off the frozen dew reminded him of the first time he’d seen Charlotte at Lady Bedford’s soiree. Charlotte de Venables was the daughter of a French Count and the second cousin to two very influential British Earls. From the banter at the clubs, Charlotte’s first season was a success and likely to be her only one. Her beauty and her wit more than made up for her father’s eccentricity. The fact that she was an only child who would bring a substantial dowry was a bonus as far as the young swains were concerned. Charlotte’s mother Emmeline had been a great beauty as well, but Charlotte far outshone her. When Emmeline Frasier caught the eye of Richard de Venables at the start of her season twenty odd years ago, there was a collective sigh of relief. The pairing of Emmeline and Richard solved the dilemma that many of the hostesses worried over. While men begged for introductions to Emmeline, the other pampered jewels in society’s crown were relegated to wallflower status; a state which pleased no one. Now it seemed that history was repeating itself with the daughter.
The talk among the gentlemen painted her as a goddess, so Alden envisioned another one of those delicate, petite, blonde-haired, blue-eyed confections of pink and white currently considered the standard of beauty. Instead, the girl struck him as more akin to the Fairy Queen. She was slightly taller than most of her contemporaries, slender and elegant in bearing. He thought she moved with a grace that was almost otherworldly. With her fair skin, dark hair, and eyes that seemed more grey than blue, she reminded him of a diamond – all fire and ice. The effect was enhanced by the gown she’d worn, which was of the palest blue and sewn with crystals and beading along the bodice. Lady Bedford was only too happy to accommodate his request for an introduction since her daughters were all suitably married. Taking Charlotte’s hand, he felt something like a tingle throughout his body as their eyes met before she demurely dropped her gaze. No other woman seemed to exist for him after that meeting. Even though she was 16 years his junior and more woman-child than woman, he had carefully courted and won her. His friends at the club declared him insane when he broke things off with his mistress, a widow he’d been involved with for some time. Lydia harbored no hopes or desire for marriage so the parting was amicable.
Once he knew Charlotte would accept his suit, he called upon her father to make the arrangements; half afraid the man would refuse. The day the Comte approved his petition was the happiest day of his life. From the announcement of their betrothal on, they explored the sense of connection that she acknowledged she too felt from that first meeting. There was such a sense of belonging when he was with her – as though the pieces of his life suddenly fit together. Even the age difference, which had initially concerned him, did not present an issue. They could converse on any topic and he found himself confiding in her; sharing his thoughts in more depth than he’d ever thought he could with another person. He believed he had found his soul-mate and by all accounts, she was of like mind with regard to him. Lovely though she was, it was her inner light that he fell in love with. Alden had felt that even were he to have been blind, he would still know her in a crowd by the way his heart sung in her presence. Turning the key in the door and wiping his feet before he stepped inside, he bitterly pondered the cliché that things too good to be true often are.
Making his way across the floor in the soft half-light, Alden sat down and tried to compose himself as he stifled the sudden urge to weep. Clearing his throat, he began to speak, but could not utter the words he’d rehearsed as his control left him.
“Why?” his anguished cry reverberated off the walls. “Damn you, why? For pity’s sake, give me a sign that you hear me at least!!!”
Of course, there was no reply. What reply could she give him, he thought to himself. That was the crux of the matter. There were no answers or at least none that he could discern. He had been so sure and for a time it seemed that everything would work out, eventually. Until last night that is, when the truth came crashing down to leave him bereft and grieving anew. He had torn the city apart looking for an answer and in the end, he was left with naught but the harsh reality.
“Where did you go? Why can’t you or someone tell me?” He hung his head, his anger spent. Waiting for a response of some kind; a word, a sigh, but none came.
The silence too deafening, he spoke again without lifting his head, “I will never stop loving you. Do you hear me? Never, but I can’t stay here. You are everywhere I look and nowhere. I have to leave or I will go mad.”
His head snapped up, for a second he thought he heard a sound like a muffled sob. “Charlotte? Dear one? Is it you?”
He realized he had been holding his breath and slowly released it. His sigh echoed off the walls, giving proof that he was totally and utterly alone in this place. Waiting for something, anything, to induce him to remain, he sat quietly for a moment more. There was nothing to be gained so he steeled himself to say the words he’d come here to speak.
“I am booking passage to America. My mother’s cousins have extended an invitation and I have decided to visit for an indefinite period of time.”
Standing up, he took one last look around before he laid the posy on top of the coffin with the others and walked out of the mausoleum. His Charlotte was truly gone, perhaps reincarnated as she believed, perhaps in heaven where his faith decreed, or perhaps nowhere as he suspected on his worst days. The messages that he thought to be from her, giving his soul ease in his grief, promising a time to come when they would be together were nothing but a hoax. Pausing at the doorway, he turned back and spoke to the empty crypt.
“Goodbye Charlotte, wherever you are, whoever you are…please, know that I will always love you.”
Mairead has a Master’s of Business Administration; a Bachelor of Arts in English with a writing concentration; a Bachelor of Arts in Music History and Performance; an Associates of Applied Sciences in Paralegal Studies; and a Master’s Certificate in Project Management. She has also taken assorted continuing education courses in topics ranging from statistics to intellectual property law.
A project manager by day, Mairead writes whenever and where ever she finds a block of uninterrupted time. When she is not working or writing, she is spending time with her family – which, with two young sons, generally involves a significant amount of chauffeuring and arbitration.
Click here to buy: A Love Out of Time by Mairead Walpole