In this world of lords and ladies, should she be afraid when this dashing highwayman rides up and demands that she be delivered into his arms? Her brain tells her to be wary, but her body tells her that the ultimate fantasy might be within reach after all…
Eloise leaned forward to gaze out of the carriage window. In the bright moonlight, she could see the black-clad figure on his horse in the trees. Her fiancé seemed as unaware as ever that they were being followed, as did his driver, and she had finally decided that she didn’t mind this. The mysterious figure had begun to intrigue her, to excite her even.
She had been in Melara for two months. Once she’d been convinced that her trip through the enchanted portrait in the museum was a one-way deal, she’d settled in well enough and had eventually agreed to marry the handsome but rather empty-headed man who had lured her to this strange world.
Her fascination with the eighteenth century had led her to spending her lunch hours sitting in the gallery devoted to that period. The recently acquired portrait of Theodore had drawn her in not only because he was handsome but also because she often felt the portrait was actually watching her. That had turned out to be one hundred percent true. The portrait, in fact, served as a window for Theodore. And when someone touched it with the desire of passing through in his or her heart … well, it happened. At least, that was Theodore’s explanation. She had quickly learned that anything complex—magic, science, or even arithmetic—was far beyond his mental grasp. The portrait had been sent to her world as a gift from his godmother. At the age of twenty-five, he had loudly and frequently told his parents that local girls bored him and that he wanted to marry a girl from one of the other worlds his people could glimpse through mirrors, portraits, and bodies of water. Everyone had laughed until his godmother, a very powerful sorceress, had promised that she could create a portal that would deliver him such a bride.
And it had worked. Theodore’s handsome face had enchanted her, and her fascination had led her to go against all of her professional training and reach out to touch the canvas one day. Having her hand snatched had been the last thing she’d expected, but within seconds Theodore had grabbed her and pulled her through. She’d screamed and struggled with him on the floor until her panic and shock had subsided. Then he’d spent a month convincing her she was not crazy and that she was stuck there.
She didn’t miss her old life, yet every single day she wished Theodore’s godmother had gifted him with a few other things on his past birthday. A brain topped her list, followed by manners, class, and the ability to pay attention to things that were not shiny. He could be sweet and charming, but only when it suited him, and apparently it had only done so until the moment she agreed to his marriage proposal.
As she watched the stranger slowly follow along beside them, she imagined him charging forward and halting the carriage. She bit her lip as she imagined him jerking the door open and pulling her into his arms before riding away with her. She didn’t know what he looked like, as he wore a mask and scarf to cover his face all the time, but Theodore had cured her of most of her shallowness. She didn’t want a handsome man anymore. She wanted a man who could have a conversation that didn’t revolve around himself. She yearned for someone to talk to and laugh with. And above all else, she wanted a man who knew how to make a woman come. Looks be damned—she wanted a lover and companion, not a handsome face to pay the bills.
“Dearest, what is it?” Theodore asked.
Though she didn’t turn right away, her eyebrows shot up. It simply wasn’t like him to notice much about other people without a good reason. “The moon is so beautiful,” she said, her eyes still fixed on the broad-shouldered stranger. “Are you sure it’s not the same moon as in my world? It looks so similar.” She finally looked over at him.
“Your world is in another dimension, pet. We’ve discussed this.” He sighed, sounding bored. “And we have three moons, actually, but the other two are only visible a few times a year.” He patted her leg briefly, seeming to think this would be a great comfort to her. “I’d take you to your world every day if I could. You know that. But the magic only works one way.”
“I wasn’t complaining, just observing.” He always got like this when he was bored or not getting enough attention. She felt like a babysitter some days. And she was beginning to believe he actually knew very little about the physics of his own world, as he couldn’t explain the relationship between her world and his in any more specific way than he just had.
Turning back to the window, she saw the man’s head cock in her direction. She felt as if he were looking right into her eyes, and the need to know what color they were made her chest feel tight. She drew in a deep breath and licked her lower lip, staring right back at him. He did nothing. She sat back, suddenly feeling sulky. He had been following her for over a month. Who was he, and what did he want? She saw him almost every day, no matter who she was with. So, he had to be following her, right? Or was he following every member of Theodore’s family because they were rich and related to the king? Every time she tried to point him out to someone, he managed to elude her, so she’d stopped trying because she’d grown tired of people giving her confused and exasperated looks.
As Theodore began debating what to wear for dinner, she reached for the curtain and pulled it back slightly. This time, the man nodded at her. She moved forward to try to focus on him, but then he spurred his horse and galloped away. Theodore didn’t notice this any more than he noticed her ignoring his chatter.
“Theodore, do highwaymen ever bother travelers?”
Theodore paused for so long she began to wonder if he had understood the question.
He shook himself. “Highwaymen? Oh, no, darling, no. No trouble at all.”
She did not believe him because he sounded far too shaky and uncertain. Melara seemed quite crime-free to her, but she wondered now if the nobility simply ignored such things until they actually hit home with them. Since Theodore had pulled her through the portrait and refused to let her out of his sight until she agreed not to run away, she had been with him and his family constantly since her arrival.
The desire to escape the house alone and ride out to meet her mysterious stranger became overwhelming as Theodore went back to droning on about the color scheme he would adopt when they reached his aunt’s house.
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