Jake Cohen followed the footman through the manor house as fast as his leg would carry him, so lost in thought he barely noticed the fine art and sumptuous furnishings. When the invitation had arrived from the Duchess of Haverford, his wife had read it three times to be sure it had come to the right person. What on earth would a duchess want with an innkeeper?
Meg had shrugged. “She’s probably seen you fight.”
“Didn’t see a lot of duchesses in Bear Gardens.” He shrugged it off. In the past months he had already done so many things he thought he never would, and tea with a duchess would not be strangest. He had come from wealth, but of course the duchess had no way of knowing that. Or did she? “Do you want to come with?”
“Lord, no. They wouldn’t let me in the door, assuming I’d fit.” She rested her hands on her swollen belly as though feeling the burden of her sensitive state, though her expression was nothing if not serene. “You go, darling. See what she wants. If she’s looking for a different Jake, pinch some cakes and come home. Don’t let her run off with you, now.”
He smirked, flattered in spite of himself. Meg regularly told him he was the handsomest man ever to walk the earth, and he knew she believed it. The fact no one else seemed to share her opinion didn’t keep him from enjoying it. He was a very fortunate man. He’d kissed her on his way out. “As if she could.”
Now, walking through a house finer than any he’d visited, the question bothered him again. In his thirty-nine years, he’s been a goldsmith, a boxer, and an innkeeper. What would a duchess want with any of them?
She waited in a room that seemed to exist for just such a purpose, sunlight pouring through a huge window with panes of glass so fine and clean he could hardly see them. They had finally replaced their broken windows at the inn, but the filth of the street had immediately dimmed their shine.
The duchess’s smile was pleasantly bemused, as if she hadn’t been certain he would come. “Mister Cohen.”
He bowed. Wasn’t one meant to bow at times like these? “Your Grace.”
She opened her mouth to say something, then emitted a sound not unlike nervous laughter. “Forgive me, Mr. Cohen, I confess I am faintly stunned to meet you in person. The engravings did not do you justice.”
His stomach sank with dread. “Engravings?”
“Quite so. They were completed when you were a little older, I believe. Won’t you join me? You’ve come a long way, you must be exhausted.”
Jake frowned. What had she meant by “when you were a little older”? He’d thought his English was fluent, but he’d never heard that particular turn of phrase. As far as he was aware, there were no engravings of him anywhere. “I beg your pardon, Your Grace. Are you quite certain you have the right man?”
“Oh, yes. Quite certain. Please, come.”
He took the chair she offered and watching silently as she poured two cups of tea from a beautiful white pot covered all over in painted blue flowers. He had never seen a matching set of china before, let alone tea cups with little handles. They must have been designed for ladies; he could barely hook a fingertip through the delicate loop. He smiled at the lovely absurdity of the design.
“You like the tea cups?”
“I do,” he replied. “The pattern is very distinctive, it looks like some I saw back in Amsterdam. Is it Dutch?”
“Danish,” she supplied. “Royal Copenhagen. It’s all the rage.”
“I have not seen these before.”
“I should think not.” Her cheek quirked as she suppressed a laugh. “They are not yet sold in England, and have only been produced in Denmark since perhaps 1775.”
He choked on his tea.
She gave no indication she noticed, but offered a plate of small iced pastries “Cake?”
He coughed to clear his throat. “Thank you.” The cake was light as a dream and tasted faintly of vanilla and cardamom. The orange-scented black tea complimented it perfectly. If this was a dream, the tea tasted very real. “Did you say these cups were produced in 1775?”
“Not this precise set, no, but I believe that was when the factory was founded. Forgive me, I’ve shocked you. What year is it, where you live?”
He almost laughed. “It is 1679, Your Grace.”
He flushed slightly. “Thirty-nine.”
A secret, knowing smile crept across her face. “Still a young man, for all that. Half your life is still ahead of you.”
Who was this duchess, who drank from cups not yet manufactured and seemed to know the future? “Where am I?”
“You are at Haverford House, and it is 1797.”
He felt light-headed as the blood drained from his face. “Impossible.”
“Quite possible, Mister Cohen. I am resolved to hire only the best tutors for my sons, even if that means procuring them from the previous century.”
He was just about to open his mouth to make his excuses and leave the company of this mad duchess when she produced a set of engravings from the sideboard. She passed them to him with no little reverence.
In the first, he was depicted stripped to the waist, demonstrating his fighting stance before a crowd of gentlemen. He did look older, but he knew he was looking at himself—fortunately for them, no one had a face quite like his. The artist had made him enormously muscular and rakishly handsome, with longer, curling hair and a serious expression. He smiled in spite of himself. It was rather flattering.
His smile faded when he looked at the second engraving. He stood proudly next to a handsome young man, as if showing him off. Their hands were wrapped to fight and they were surrounded by an audience.
“I suspected you might not believe me, so I wanted to show you these…”
“When were these done?” he asked, too quickly.
“The date is on the back. I believe they were part of a series published in 1690.”
“1690,” he repeated to himself, eyes on that second engraving. The young man in the picture looked a bit like Tom Callaghan, but less mad. He was younger, softer, and he had his mother’s smile. Tears sprung to his eyes as he realized who he was looking at. “This is Tommy.”
The duchess grinned. “Tom Henshawe, your son. He made quite an impression in his day. Sired by one legend and raised by another. What could he be but a pugilist? Tom Henshawe was undoubtedly the finest of his generation, but you’re the man who trained him. I want you to teach my son the art of pugilism.”
He blinked. “Assuming this is not some fever dream—“
“It is not.”
“—you would like me to come here, to 1797, to teach your son to fight?”
“Quite so, Mister Cohen. You will be handsomely compensated. I daresay your wages will go a bit further in 1679. The inn still needs some work, does it not?”
He nodded. “It does.”
“There you have it. My driver will collect you for one afternoon once per week and bring you here. Would Monday next suit? Aldridge is already seventeen and he is most anxious to begin.”
Jake ran a hand over his face. A duchess was offering to pay him handsomely to go to the future to teach a future duke to box. “I would be happy to oblige, Your Grace, but are you certain this is what you want? Boxing is not a gentlemanly sport. Would he not be more suited to fencing?”
“Things have changed, Mister Cohen. Pugilism is very popular among young gentlemen, and I am resolved my son shall excel at it.” As he excels at everything else, he heard, even though she didn’t say it aloud. “At any rate, he’s been fencing for years. Say you’ll consider it?”
“I would be happy to oblige, but I am struggling to believe this is 1797. How is it possible I am here?”
“Never underestimate a mother’s love, Mister Cohen.”
He raised his eyebrows. “I do not. Forgive me for asking, but is there any other way you might prove this is real?”
The duchess nodded to a footman who produced a printed broadsheet unlike any he’d ever seen. He was still learning to read English, but he could make the date out clearly enough. 21 May, 1797. He looked up sharply. “What do you know of my life?”
She sipped her tea. “Perhaps men are not meant to know these things. Suffice to say, you live a long, prosperous life and enjoy a good deal of fame in your later years. As you have seen, Tom becomes a boxer, and your daughter—“
“Daughter?” His heart sped up as he thought of Meg at home, mere weeks away from giving birth.
The duchess smiled. “Your daughter will do many great deeds, and will live an exceptional life. I will say no more.”
It was madness, but he knew in his bones she told the truth. He didn’t know how it was possible, but he wanted to believe it. “Very well. If you are correct and my wife gives birth to a girl, I will return and teach your son to fight.”
“Excellent.” She grinned. “I have taken the liberty of packing some cakes for you to take home to your wife. She’ll want them after the day she’s had.”
He accepted the parcel as he rose to leave, wondering what else this mad duchess knew that he didn’t. “What of Meg? Is she well?”
The duchess smiled her secret smile. “Oh yes, but perhaps you ought to hurry back.”
Jake’s heart hammered all the way back to Southwark—back to his time, if the duchess was to be believed—terrified she knew something about Meg he didn’t. Had something happened while he was away?
The inn was in a flurry of activity when he returned. Clouds of steam billowed from the kitchen and Achille, Judith’s odd Frenchman, hurried past with his arms full of clean linen. He broke into a wide smile as he saw them. “My felicitations. You have a daughter.”
Jake almost dropped the cakes in his shock. He gripped the doorjamb with his free hand to keep from fainting. As he looked at his boots, the room spinning around him, a pristine note was pushed beneath the door. He grabbed it and broke the Dunchess of Haverford’s seal. Inside was only one word:
By Jessica Cale
Meg Henshawe has been a lot of things in her life, and few of them good. As proprietress of The Rose and Crown in Restoration Southwark, she has squandered her life catering to the comfort of workmen and thieves. Famous for her beauty as much as her reputation for rage, Meg has been coveted, abused, and discarded more than once. She is resigned to fighting alone until a passing boxer offers a helping hand.
Jake Cohen needs a job. When an injury forces him out of the ring for good, all he’s left with is a pair of smashed hands and a bad leg. Keeping the peace at The Rose is easy, especially with a boss as beautiful—and wickedly funny—as Meg Henshawe. In her way, she’s as much of an outcast as Jake, and she offers him three things he thought he’d never see again: a home, family, and love.
After Meg’s estranged cousin turns up and seizes the inn, Meg and Jake must work together to protect their jobs and keep The Rose running. The future is uncertain at best, and their pasts won’t stay buried. Faced with one setback after another, they must decide if what they have is worth the fight to keep it. Can broken things ever really be fixed?
Meet Jessica Cale
Jessica Cale is a historical romance author and journalist based in North Carolina. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in a place where no one understands his accent. She is the editor of Dirty, Sexy History and you can visit her at dirtysexyhistory.com.