Book 5 – Clarissa’s Time Chapter

Note: Clarissa’s Time is unpublished.  This chapter is a first draft copy,
and will be updated when the book is closer to publication.

Chapter – It’s a New Year – 1855

“Eleanor and I put away the last of the Christmas decorations today,” I said as I settled in on the settee in the parlor. Richard was in his favorite chair near the fire.

“That’s nice, dear.” He responded, clearly not listening, as he perused the newspaper, one of several he read every day.

“It was good everyone was here this year, even Mori for those few minutes.” I smiled and sighed at the memory.

“That’s nice.”

“Richard, Damian Gerard’s home for another week, and the younger children are bored. It’s winter, so things are slow on the farm.  What do you think of a trip somewhere?

“Of course, dear,” he said, but didn’t follow through. He turned the page, then shook the paper so he could read the top of the next page.

He’s not listening to me. I scowled. Thinking for a moment, I said, “Oh, and earlier, I went back in time and changed history so the steam engine won’t be invented for another hundred years.”

“That’s nice.”

I waited. Suddenly, the newspaper crashed into his lap as he thundered, “You did what?”

The look on his face was priceless.

Waving my hands to distract him, I laughed and said, “Relax. I did no such thing, but I needed to get your attention. And, it worked.” I cocked my head, then spread my hands, palms up. “You were so absorbed in the newspaper you weren’t listening to me.” Taking a breath, I continued, “You’re not busy right now so perhaps we could go on a trip somewhere while Damian Gerard is home.”

Calmer now, and smiling, he pondered for a moment. Then, waggling an eyebrow and looking at me over his spectacles, he drawled, “Well, then what say we visit Logan and Rachel?”

“Oh, Richard, that’s a wonderful idea. It’s been almost seven years since our last trip to Scotland, and that time was just you and me, without the children. It will be such fun to see everyone.” My thoughts wandered back to eighteen thirty-two, when Logan and Rachel, and Richard and I christened our first babies together, here in Galloway. They’d been born two weeks apart, a bit over nine months after our weddings. Rachel and I shared a dream that our children, her Clarissa, and my Damian Gerard, might one day marry and unite our families.

Then, Rachel left for Scotland with Logan where they had seven more children. Clarissa and Damian Gerard grew up barely knowing each other. Now twenty-two, maybe they would find each other after all these years. According to Rachel’s last letter, Clarissa had been betrothed, but, for reasons she didn’t reveal, it didn’t happen, so they were both free, at least as far as I knew.

“Janelle,” Richard said sharply with a warning tone to his voice. “Now it’s you who isn’t listening. What are you doing? Are you planning to maneuver Damian Gerard and Clarissa into a relationship? You know I’m against it. They’re very different people, and have no history.”

“You and I had no history and it worked out fine.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Did it now? Would you like to relive the first years of our marriage and tell me again how ‘fine’ that was?”

“Well, that’s true, but it’s been fine since then.” Flashes of memories from those first years assailed me.  I cringed.

“Indeed it has. But, I still don’t want any attempts at matchmaking, do you understand?”

“Of course.” I rose and headed for the stairs. “I’ll tell the children and Rhona to pack their things. We’ll leave right after breakfast.”

“Of course, dear.” His nose was back in the newspaper. I sighed and left him to his reading.

The younger children cheered when they heard about the trip. Except for Brian who was only a baby when we visited Logan and Rachel in eighteen thirty-seven, none had been to Muileach Castle but had heard the numerous stories about it. Seeing the centuries-old castle and meeting the people we talked about so much snapped them right out of their doldrums. All three children, Brian, Matthew, and Charlotte, jumped up and started gathering the clothes and other items they wanted to bring.

After telling Rhona of the trip, I went in search of Damian Gerard. He wasn’t in his room, so I knew where I’d find him.

Growing up on this farm with my siblings, the library saw a lot of use, but Damian Gerard trumped us all with his use of this wonderful room—when he’s home, it’s the most likely place to find him. When I entered, I smiled to myself. There he was, his long, lean frame draped on a settee in what appeared to be a rather uncomfortable position. When he saw me, he smiled, put his book down, and sat up, making room for me next to him.

I marveled at how much he resembled his father. Almost as tall with the same slim build, he had the same black hair, which he wore short and nicely trimmed. His black eyes and the black whiskers on his face completed his version of the ‘mysterious’ persona Richard had capitalized on with the ladies in the years before we met. Damian Gerard had even taken to wearing black, like his father, when not in uniform.

Unlike Richard, however, Damian Gerard was reserved and preferred books to people. Before he went to West Point, I wondered how he’d survive with so many people in close quarters but, by all accounts, he’s enjoyed his life there, and we know he’s done well, especially academically.

Sitting together on the settee, I studied his face, seeing Richard. I apparently embarrassed him with my scrutiny.

“Is something wrong, Mother?”

“Huh? Oh, no, dear, it’s nothing.” I remembered why I was here. “We’re leaving in the morning for Muileach Castle. We’d like it very much if you’d come along.”

“I’d love to.” He smiled widely, a rarity in itself, but he seemed genuinely interested in going, not just humoring us with his presence.

I cocked my head and looked at him questioningly.

He laughed. “Mother, I’d love to go to Scotland with you. Had I thought of it, I might have suggested it myself.”

Surprised, I was at a loss for words. He looked at his hands in his lap, then up at me. “Mother, there’s something you should know.”

My eyes widened in alarm expecting something terrible. Suddenly concerned, he took my hand. “Mother, are you all right? You’re as white as a sheet.”

I shook my head. “No, no, I’m fine, really.” I smiled, still worried. What was going on here? This was so unlike him.

“Why are you so willing to go with us? I assumed I’d have to do some convincing to get you to come along.”

His eyes twinkled. “Well, that’s the something you should know.” He leaned a little closer to me, “I’ve … ahem … I’ve been corresponding with Clarissa for a while now, and wondered if I’d get a chance to meet her.”

“You’ve … uh,” Had I heard him right? “You’ve … you’re corresponding … with Clarissa?” My mind reeled. “How and when did this come about?”

With a sly look, he started his explanation. “Well, I received this letter … I read it … and I answered it.” laughing, he put both arms up in a mock defensive posture, as if he thought I might strike him.

“All right, young man. Enough of that.” I smiled and slapped him lightly on his arm. “I know what ‘correspondence’ means.” We laughed. He put his hands in his lap again.

“She wrote to you first? How did she get your address? Why would she write to you?”

“Well, let’s see.” He put his hand up to tick off the answers to my many questions. “Yes, she wrote first.” One finger went down. “I’m guessing she probably got the address from Mori, but she didn’t say and I never asked.” His second finger curled down. “And, given that, I imagine she wrote because Mori asked her to, or suggested she do so. I don’t know.” The third finger folded with the others. “What I do know is that, although we haven’t met, I like her. She’s sassy, funny, irreverent, and,” he shrugged, bending the fourth finger, “she seems interested in me, even though I told her I live in a cave and only come out when there’s a blue moon.”

Taken aback by his humor, I studied him, wondering what this stranger had done with my son.  Normally, Damian Gerard is a very serious person.

He stared over my shoulder into the past. “Mother, I’ve tried, but I can’t remember what she looks like. You’ve seen her. Tell me, please, what does she look like?”

“Oh, you were both very young. Even if you remembered, you were both just children then. No doubt she’s changed, as have you. Well, let’s see.” Nibbling a forefinger nail, I pondered on how best to tell him. “The last time I saw her was seven years ago … she’d just turned sixteen. She has her father’s red hair and deep blue eyes, but, otherwise, she more closely resembles her mother. She has her father’s temperament, though. For her age, she was pretty, and a bit wild; I’m guessing she’s more of both now.”

“Wild?”

I nodded. “Yes. Living where and how she does, she doesn’t have the societal constraints on her most of the rest of the world has. She may be Lady Clarissa by birth, but she didn’t act much like a lady. In fact, she looked and acted a bit like one of those pirate wenches from a cheap novels, with a peasant blouse, a full skirt with her ankles showing, and, often, in the summer at least, with bare feet, her long, red hair billowing in the breeze. I imagine she’s a real handful for her parents. Things may have changed since then, there’s no telling.”

I saw Damian Gerard’s countenance change. His eyes were bright with excitement. Puzzled because I didn’t think my truthful assessment of Clarissa was particularly flattering, I … oh, wait a minute. He likes his women ‘wild’? No, what am I thinking?  It can’t be. Not my Damian Gerard. Not my baby. He’s never shown any interest in women at all.

Shaking my head to clear the unbidden image forming in my brain, I continued. “You know Clarissa is two weeks older than you are, and was born at the Turnbull Farm. “I waved my hand in the general direction of the neighboring farm to the south. “Lord Logan and Lady Rachel, with Clarissa, and your father and I, with you, held a joint christening at the church. Lady Rachel and I have always dreamed you two would one day marry.”

“Whoa, Mother. Oh no.” He put both hands out, palms toward me, as if to ward off my words. “Who said anything about getting married? We’ve exchanged a half-dozen letters and we like each other. That’s not enough for marriage. I’d like to at least meet the girl before you start planning a wedding,” He waggled an eyebrow, just as his father does when he’s making a joke, “And besides, isn’t the wedding the responsibility of the bride’s family?”

I was puzzled. “But you like her.”

He nodded, “I do, but ‘like’ is a long way from love. Love may not work for us. I have my career. She may not want to be a military wife. It would certainly be a step down from Lady Clarissa, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Muileach. She should live in a castle or at least in a large manor home, not standard housing on a military base. She may not want to leave Scotland. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d want to live there. I certainly can’t be a US Army officer if my home is on another continent.”

I nodded. On one hand, these were serious difficulties for any couple to overcome, and, unfortunately, there wasn’t anything I could do to help them; they had to work these things out for themselves. On the other hand, he must like Clarissa a lot to have thought about these hindrances already, which he clearly had.

“Well, I’m delighted you’re coming with us, and I suspect a week of the Scots Highlands winter will be just about enough.” I stood, knowing I had much to do before bed so we could leave in the morning.

Damian Gerard rose, picked up the book, apparently to take with him, and ushered me out of the room. He went to pack, while I went in search of Richard, who had finished his newspapers and was now in our room, getting ready for bed.

Seated in the window seat with my arms around my knees, I pondered how to share what our son had just told me. Taking a deep breath, I said, “Damian Gerard and Clarissa have been corresponding for a while now.”

What,” He thundered. “I told you …”

Raising both hands to ward off his anger, I rushed through my response. “It wasn’t me, I swear it. I found him in the library, told him we were going, and asked if he’d like to go with us.  He said yes. Then he told me about his letter writing with Clarissa.”

His features softened. Taking a deep breath, he came and sat beside me, putting his arm across my shoulders, waiting for more information. I leaned over and snuggled against his chest. “He likes her. He thinks she’s ‘sassy, funny, and irreverent,’ and wants to meet her.”

Richard backed away, eying me suspiciously. “Are you sure you had nothing to do with this?”

“I swear! I was as surprised as you are.”

He paused, then continued, “How did she get his address?”

“He’s not sure but he thinks it was Mori.”

“Mori?” Richard looked puzzled. “How could she remember Clarissa? She was very young when we all went to Scotland, certainly not old enough … oh, wait. We’re talking about Moria, who defies everything normal.”

I laughed. “Exactly. I don’t know how this came about, but, I’m delighted.”

“Now, wait a minute. They’re both adults. If this is going to happen, we have to let it happen naturally, without interference. They may like each other now, but when they meet, and reality sets in, it may be completely different.”

“You’re right, and they do have some significant hurdles to a relationship; culture, distance, class …. They’re both going to be twenty-three this year, old for marriage. Clarissa was betrothed but it didn’t work out. I don’t know the details. Damian Gerard hasn’t had anything to do with girls … or women.”

Richard chuckled, the sound thundering in my ear. “That we know of, my love … He’s in the Army now, remember?”

I sat up and looked sharply at him, remembering my own thoughts not long before. “You don’t think …”

His eyes softened, as he stroked my cheek, “He’s a man, sweeting, not your little boy anymore.”

I turned and stared out into the night, not seeing the moonlit lake. Instead, I saw my ‘little boy’ in a new light. While I always held onto the dream Rachel and I shared, I’d seen the changes as he grew up. Still, at a very basic level, the mother in me never considered any other woman in his life, other than me. I closed my eyes. Maybe he does like his women wild. “Oh.” The picture in my mind, the one I’d pushed aside earlier, returned. I tried to push it away again, to no avail. I saw Damian Gerard with Clarissa but now wasn’t sure if I was happy or sad.

Richard laughed. “Relax, my dear. I’m sure he’s being circumspect. He has his career to consider, and I know we taught him well.”

“Oh,” I repeated, still reeling at the emotions of this revelation.

***

The next morning, when everyone was ready, we left the hall at the LeDuc Farm in a flash of blue, and arrived in the solar at Muileach Castle, surprising Rachel and her companion, Lara.

“Oh, Janelle. Richard.” She cried. “’Tis you and your family.” She smiled and ran to greet us, with big hugs all around. Then, counting bodies, “Who’s missing? Oh, where are the twins?”

“Moria’s in Turkey, nursing the injured soldiers in the Crimean War, and Adelle lives in London now, still hoping she can catch herself a duke.”

“Oh my.” Surveying the group, her eyes widened as she caught sight of Damian Gerard. Standing next to his father, she saw their remarkable resemblance. “Damian Gerard …” she whispered.

I knew then she was aware of the letters.

Recovering, Rachel herded us out of the solar. “Come all, we’ll get you settled into rooms in a few minutes. But, I want you to see our five youngest in the schoolroom. The two oldest boys, Peadair and Jamie, are off with Logan bringing more goods from the outlying areas to a new storage building. And, Clarissa?” She glanced sideways at Damian Gerard, “Well, I hope she’s with the women, helping with whatever they’re working on today, but one never knows.”

I was surprised to see about thirty children in the schoolroom, a room that had been dusty storage when we were here last. I recalled a conversation with Logan years ago about how children should be in school, and not doing adult work. He’d agreed, then, and clearly, he’d remembered. As Muileach prospered, he was making sure the children were educated.

The tutor paused when we all trooped in and waited while Rachel introduced her children. As she did, each child stood. Three had Logan’s red hair, the other two were blonde, but they were all clearly Logan’s children. The baby, Andreana, looked the most like Rachel, except for Logan’s red hair. The child’s beauty struck me; I knew she’d be a heart breaker in a few years. Then I remembered thinking the same thing of Clarissa years ago. I could only imagine what she looked like today.

Later, after Brian, Matthew, and Charlotte went off to explore the castle and the surrounding area. The rest of us sat in the solar, and chatted, catching up.

Damian Gerard, not wanting to tag along with the younger children, chose a seat near the windows and opened his book. I knew he wasn’t as oblivious as he appeared to be. Clarissa was too close now for him to stay focused on the book.

After an hour or so, there were sounds of people approaching. Logan was the first into the room. He skidded to a stop, his eyes widening and his broad smile welcoming, when he saw us. His boys, talking with each other, didn’t see him stop so they ran into him, propelling him forward. The room seemed significantly smaller with these three men inside. That Logan was a giant of a man I knew, of course, but his two oldest sons, Peadair, his heir-apparent, and Jamie, were equally large. Peadair was a younger version of Logan while Jamie was a little smaller, with lighter hair, more of a strawberry blonde, but the resemblance was there. At fifty-five, Logan, his face lined from being out-of-doors, his hair now less the bright red of his youth, and noticeably thin on the top, was clearly the senior of the three.

Logan welcomed us with hugs all around. He then introduced his sons who, like our younger children, were too young to remember, had heard of us. We were the friends from America who had saved Muileach from almost certain financial disaster nearly twenty years before. The ‘boys’ greeted us enthusiastically.

Suddenly, the buzz of conversations in the room ceased. All eyes turned to the doorway where Clarissa stood. I gasped when I saw the girl … no, woman. From the corner of my eye, I saw Richard raise an eyebrow, and Rhona had put her hand to her mouth, her eyes wide.

Gone was the pirate wench. Gone was the ‘Highlands wild-child’. Before us stood a stunningly beautiful woman, tall, slender, her head high, and her demeanor quite regal.

Rachel called to her, “Clarissa. Come in, dear.” Waving her arm in our direction, she continued, “This is Richard and Janelle Grayson.” She then turned and waved toward Damian Gerard who, like Richard, had stood when she entered. “And this … is Damian Gerard.”

***

Clarissa turned her head to look toward me. She smiled, the slight change of her features enhancing her beauty.

“Oh my.” I heard Mother whisper as I walked toward the entrancing vision in the simple medium-brown day gown. Crossing the room seemed to take forever, but when I reached her, I took her hands in mine and held them to my wildly beating heart. She looked up at me, wide-eyed.

Breathless, I said, “Clar, I … um … heh …I’m … I’m delighted to meet you, my dear.” Can a man drown in her impossibly blue eyes?

“And, you, m’laird, are far more handsome than your sister described.” Her voice was soft and sweet, caressing me like a gentle breeze, her Scots accent exotic. A shiver of excitement raced down my spine.

“My mother described you to me last night. She said when she saw you last, you looked like a pirate wench, and were a bit wild.”

“Pirate wench?” She laughed. “Aye, she’s right.”

I stared at her. “I don’t understand. You’re …,” my gaze took in all of her, “… you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

“You flatter me, m’laird. And, I thank you.” She looked down, demurely. “But, your mother’s right. I drive my parents to distraction, roaming the countryside unescorted, riding my horse astride, and all the other brash things she may have mentioned. But, I am also Lady Clarissa, eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Muileach. My mother and Lara taught me well how to be a lady.” She tilted her head back so she could literally look down her nose, her eyes half-closed. “That said, I prefer …” she lowered her head and smiled, “… the … ah … ‘pirate wench’ persona, a rather apt description, I might add.” Then, looking around conspiratorially, she whispered, biting her lower lip, “Come, follow me.”

We left the room at a sedate pace. A short distance down the passageway, still walking, she pulled the pins from her hair, releasing a cloud of red waves that fell to her waist. Tossing her head, her features changed from the regal courtesan to an impish child. Laughing, she grabbed my hand, turned and ran toward the back of the house, dragging me behind her.

I nearly lost my footing, but recovered and ran to keep up with her. Leading the way, she ran past the schoolroom, along several passageways, and through a large door. Two flights of stairs and another passageway later, we burst into what apparently was her room where she released my hand.

She stopped in the middle of the room, and whirled around, eyes blazing, her hands on her hips, her glorious hair swirling. I backed quickly to the door, fumbling for the latch behind me. I shouldn’t be in this room, and certainly not alone with her. I had to leave, now.

Crossing the room, she threw herself against me, pinning me against the door. I was her prisoner. Somehow, I knew I’d never be free again … and it excited me.

She flung her arms around my neck and, finding my lips, sealed my fate with a blazing, passionate kiss. Her lips parted—her tongue demanded entry. I was defenseless, Resistance was impossible. Our tongues fenced as the temperature in the room soared.

Unbidden, my arms went around her, holding her to me. Gasping, I responded to her as a man long lost and finally found. We converged on each other with the frantic kiss of the young-and-in-love, devouring each other.

Then, abruptly, I stopped. In love? Oh no, no, it’s far too soon. What am I doing? Shaking myself, I gently grasped her by the shoulders, pushing her away from me. “No, Clar, not now and not like this.” Turning to the door, I pulled it open.

“DG. Don’t go.” She called softly as I left the room. I stopped and slowly turned around. Her eyes captured mine and drew me back inside. Mesmerized, I closed the door and walked toward her, unable to break her gaze.

Advancing toward me, she put her fingertips on my chest, stopping my forward motion. She then sashayed around me, trailing her fingers lightly on my body. I closed my eyes, shivering in anticipation, my body reacting almost violently to her touch.

Her voice low, and dripping with sensuality “DG, dark and mysterious. DG, tall and handsome. DG, pure and sensual. DG, desirable and exciting.”

When she’d gone full circle, I opened my eyes. Lady Clarissa faced me. In one swift motion, she captured her magnificent mane, quickly pinning it in place with practiced ease. Her aristocratic head held high, she spoke, “Come, m’laird. I’ve my doubts you’ll be finding your way back to the solar on your own. I’ll take you there.”

She ran her eyes down my body, stopping at the bulge in my trousers. My heart was pounding in my ears; I was shaking, fighting for control. She raised her eyes to mine, then, taking a step closer, she reached up to stroke my face, her fingers leaving a trail of fire on my skin, while her other hand stroked my erection through my trousers. The surprise of that nearly doubled me over and left me gasping for breath. Smiling, she walked past me, then opened the door. “Come, m’laird.”

I closed my eyes and swallowed hard. I wasn’t sure I could walk but, somehow, I managed to put one foot in front of the other, following her silently back to the solar. We arrived there just as everyone was heading for the hall and the mid-day meal.

There, Logan seated me at the left end of the high-board table with Clarissa to my right. Mother, seated to Clarissa’s right, dominated her attention. As I needed the time to recover, I was grateful. My heart slowed, my brain cleared, and I was able to study and think about the enigma named Clarissa.

I’m no stranger to women, something I’d never reveal to Mother, or Father either, for that matter, having started my pursuit soon after my arrival at West Point, but I’d never been in love.

Am I falling in love with Clarissa? Could I be in love with her already? I can’t imagine life without her. Just thinking about her leaves me breathless. My body aches for her. But, how can we have a life together? She’s a Scots peer and I’m soon to be a United States Army officer. I don’t see how this can work. Strangely, the thought of life without her saddened me to the point it nearly overwhelmed me.

A light touch on my arm broke my reverie. Clarissa was looking at me with her amazing eyes.

Reading her mind, I said, “Nay, my dear. I’ll not return with you to your room.”

She pouted.

I laughed. “I’ll tell you now, that won’t work with me. I have three sisters, remember?”

She smiled sadly. “So, what are we to do?”

“We’ll go to the solar and get to know each other.

“You’re only here for a week.”

“Then, we’ll spend a lot of time in the solar before I leave?”

She brightened. “Take me with you when you leave.”

“What?”

“I want to go to America with you.”

“Come, my dear. We’ll go to the solar now. It seems we have a great deal to discuss.”

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