A nervous young man stands in the Duchess’s anteroom certain he has fallen asleep over his writing moments ago. His lanky form and khaki pants feel out of place among the finely carved furniture, porcelain artifacts, and gilded wallpaper of an earlier age.
He must be dreaming. He is sure of it.
A rather plain young woman in an antique, but rather business-like looking gown appears in the doorway. “Mr. Wheatly, the Duchess will see you now.”
Duchess? All doubts flee. He is most certainly dreaming. Why does it feel so real?
A dainty grey-haired woman beams at him from a settee when he enters. “Henry Wheatly! How delightful.”
“Harry,” he mumbles. “My name is Harry.”
“Of course! I had forgotten. You look very much like your great-grandfather, by the way.”
He runs a hand over his neck, puzzled. My great-grandfather? She must mean Rand Wheatly, the patriarch who first came to Canada. Can she be old enough to have known him?
“I’m sorry,” the duchess says. “You must be wondering why I summoned you here. Please sit and I will explain.”
“I’m wondering how,” he replies sinking into a small but surprisingly comfortable chair and stretching out his long legs.
A quiet moment passes while the duchess pours tea, fascinating Harry with the grace of her movements. He has seen nothing so graceful at university in Ottawa or even in his father’s house in Calgary, rough western town as it was when he grew up. She made a far lovelier sight than anything his army-training depot had to offer.
“I’m afraid I cannot tell you how I summoned you here,” she says at last. “Just know it is for your own good. I am Eleanor Haverford and I am a friend of your three times great aunt, Catherine, the Countess of Chadbourn.
Harry had been only vaguely aware that nobility lurked on his family tree. That startled him almost as much as the realization that this woman could not have possibly have known them, unless— “What year is it?” he demanded.
“1814,” she replied.
“Don’t drop your tea dear, I know that shocks you.”
He had traveled back a hundred years. “How—that is, why—and who did you say you are?”
“I am Eleanor, the Duchess of Haverford, and I brought you here to warn you.”
He breathed in deeply and waited.
“I know that you have enlisted in the Expeditionary Force and expect to ship out to France any day. You signed up rather impulsively, I must say. That young woman who snagged the mayor’s nephew and dropped you cold was not worth your life, Harry. She would have made you more miserable if she married you than she did when she ran off. Your heart isn’t broken, it is merely bruised.”
Harry glared at her. “The state of my heart is not your concern, Your Grace,” he spat. “Or whoever you are,” he added under his breath.
The duchess chuckled. “Ah but it is your heart that concerns me. You have a good and tender heart, Harry, full of love and beauty. It shows in your poetry.”
Is there anything this woman does not know?
The woman leaned forward. “You are about to enter a great and terrible war. You are a courageous and valiant soul and will acquit yourself with integrity. But oh! Your heart! The darkness will overwhelm you if you let it. Despair kills, Harry. Never doubt it, particularly in a world where one must fight to stay alive every day. Worse, the darkness could kill that beautiful soul of yours and leave you dead inside even if you survive. Don’t let this happen.”
Harry sat back and studied the woman. “What precisely to you suggest I do about it?” he asked, genuinely curious.
“Stay open to beauty when you find it. Stay open to love. Love terrifies, but it is always worth the risk.”
He snorted. Duchess or no, she was a fool. “Was Lauren worth the risk?”
“Goodness no! I told you. She merely bruised you. When you find the real thing open your heart wide. You won’t be sorry.”
He sighed and put his cup down. “Thank you for your advice, Your Grace.” This old woman has no idea what she talks about. We’ll be home by summer—everyone says so—and I’ll go back to university.
“Please send me back where I belong.” Or let me wake up.
“One more thing, Harry. When the war is over, study law if you wish, but don’t let your father bully you. Do it only if you want it, but never forget you are a writer. Writing may make your heart bleed, but it is what you were born to do.”
A moment later Harry stood in a musty tent, standing in front of a camp desk with a pen in his hand. He looked down on the poem he had begun a moment ago. “What just happened?” he asked into the empty tent.
Never Too Late
Eight authors and eight different takes on four dramatic elements selected by our readers—an older heroine, a wise man, a Bible, and a compromising situation that isn’t.
Set in a variety of locations around the world over eight centuries, welcome to the romance of the Bluestocking Belles’ 2017 Holiday and More Anthology.
It’s Never Too Late to find love.
25% of proceeds benefit the Malala Fund.
Never Too Late has its own page on the Bluestocking Belles website, where you can learn more about each story and find buy links. (It’s 99c for one more week only, so buy now.)
An excerpt from Roses in Picardy
Are men in Hell happier for a glimpse of Heaven?”
The piercing eyes gentled. “Perhaps not,” the old man said, “but a store of memories might be medicinal in coming months. Will you come back?”
Will I? He turned around to face forward, and the priest poled the boat out of the shallows, seemingly content to allow him his silence.
“How did you arrange my leave?” Harry asked at last, giving voice to a sudden insight.
“Prayer,” the priest said. Several moments later he, added, “And Col. Sutherland in the logistics office has become a friend. I suggested he had a pressing need for someone who could translate requests from villagers.”
“Don’t meddle, old man. Even if they use me, I’ll end up back in the trenches. Visits to Rosemarie Legrand would be futile in any case. The war is no closer to an end than it was two years ago.”
“Despair can be deadly in a soldier, corporal. You must hold on to hope. We all need hope, but to you, it can be life or death,” the priest said.
Life or death. He thought of the feel of the toddler on his shoulder and the colors of les hortillonnages. Life indeed.
The sound of the pole propelling them forward filled several minutes.
“So will you come back?” the old man asked softly. He didn’t appear discomforted by the long silence that followed.
“If I have a chance to come, I won’t be able to stay away,” Harry murmured, keeping his back to the priest.
“Then I will pray you have a chance,” the old man said softly.
About the Author
Caroline Warfield has been many things, from poet to librarian, from mother to nun. Now retired to the urban wilds of Eastern Pennsylvania, she divides her time between writing and seeking adventures with her grandbuddy and the prince among men she married. Her new series sends the children of the heroes of her earlier books to seek their own happiness in the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She wishes to inform readers of this post that Harry’s great-grandfather, Rand Wheatly is the hero of The Renegade Wife.
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