Chapter 15: Motive

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“I know why you’re here.”

Nick’s startling declaration cleared my brain of all coherent thought.  I had been trying to understand what had been going on for ten years; he had needed less than ten days to figure it out.

“You do?”

He nodded.  “And I now know that I am dreaming.”

“Are you?” I smiled at the seriousness in his tone.

“Yes.”

“But you’re awake.”

“Precisely.”

“You know that makes no sense.”

“Precisely.  Does any part of our relationship make sense?”

I ignored his question and offered one of my own, curious where he was going with his theory.  “Do you often dream while you’re awake?”

“Not until recently.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“Stress,” he answered quickly.

“Stress?”

“Yes.  My dreams conjured you because of the stress I have been subjected to of late.  It appears as though you are a combination of my conscious and subconscious desires.  You are everything I did not know I wanted. ”

“I… I am?”  The confession was not what I had been expecting.  His tone had lost the playful edge it usually held.

“Yes, and you were sent to torture me.  To let me know what I will never have.”

“It sounds like I’m more of a nightmare than a dream.”

“No, you are most definitely a dream.”  He let out a heavy sigh.  “In light of the impending tragedy, it really is quite ironic.”

Tragedy? 

Nick knew he was going to die?  My head was spinning out of control.  How had he found out?    I had to make a conscious effort to keep from hyperventilating.  Had I unknowingly spilled those secrets in my sleep?

“You know what’s coming?”  He was calm—too calm.

“My father alluded to this morning.”

So, Nicholas Dalton Sr. knew his family was going to die?  Maybe he knew who the killer was and had overheard his murderous plans.  But surely if Nick’s father knew about the tragedy he would want to stop the fire.  Had he known the first time around and failed to put an end to the event?

“And I must be honest, if this were ten days ago, before you started haunting me, I would not have cared.”

I had to say something to distract him and give me time to think.  In a moment the entire dynamic between us had changed.  “Now I’m back to being a ghost?”  My tone was light, playful.

“Dreams can haunt a man too.”

“So can nightmares,” I whispered.

“Callista, if you were a nightmare I would want you to go away.  But I don’t.  So, you’re a dream.  Please, take my word on this.”

“You are amazingly composed for finding out this morning.”  I would be completely freaking out—I was completely freaking out. 

“I’m resigned.  She’s just not the one I would have chosen.”

She?  “Wait.  What are you talking about?”

“Marriage.  What were you talking about?”

We had gone from dreams/nightmares, to death, then marriage in the span of five minutes.  I needed to resume taking notes in order to follow our conversations.

“It doesn’t matter,” I murmured.  At least we weren’t talking about his impending death.

Even as I signed with relief I was not relieved.  My steady breath sounded more like the final gasp of air from a drowning victim before she succumbed to her watery grave.  I had thought he was okay with dying and that the burden of knowledge I possessed would be lifted.  The mystery had been solved, and I could leave Barnard Hall guilt-free.  Instead, the mystery had compounded.   

“How did you find out?”

“This is the first I’m hearing about it, Nick.  I can’t believe you’re getting married…”  I squeaked.  This news seemed more final than death.  After all, Nick had already died.  Everyone dies.  But if he was getting married…  A few silent moments passed before the full force of the subject hit me.

“I’m not getting married.”

“You’re not?”  Now I was more confused than before.

“Not exactly,” he hedged.

How could one not exactly get married?  He was either getting married or he wasn’t.  “Who are you supposed to be marrying?”

“I am not entirely sure, but I have an awful premonition.”

“What does that even mean?”  How could he not know the name of his fiancé?  Perhaps it was pity I was feeling for the woman, not jealousy.  

No, it was definitely jealousy.  Envy clouded my vision as a wave of rage paralyzed me.  I simply couldn’t share this man with some other woman for the next few weeks.

“It means my father threatened me with a formal betrothal this morning and very few women are willing to have someone like me as their husband.  I have until the twenty fourth of August to find a wife.”

The date hit me like a sledgehammer to the skull, rendering me lifeless.  “The twenty fourth?”

“The day after my mother’s birthday celebration.”

“Your mother’s birthday…”  Everything was falling into place, and I was no closer to finding the truth than I had been ten years earlier.  The events were already in motion, the fuse lit.  The clock on the wall ticked like an armed explosive.

“Are you going to repeat everything I say?”

I graciously ignored the jibe.  “How can your father expect you to get married?  You’re only twenty-three.”  Things were different back then; Tilly had married at eighteen.  Was Nick ready to get married?  Did he want to get married?

“I know.  And he did not marry until he was nearly twenty seven.”

“That hardly seems fair.”  The word hypocrite swirled on my tongue, but I bit it back.  I didn’t know Nick’s father and could not claim to know his family’s circumstances.  Besides, I lived in the twenty-first century; it would be presumptuous of me to make such rash judgments.

“My mother insists my father was not serious in his threat, that he only wishes to see me as happy as he is.  His was a love match with my mother.”

“All the more reason to wait,” I rushed.

“Try and convince him of that fact.”

“How did your parents meet?”  I had always been curious, but the subject had never come up when I had been around Tilly.  Plus, I did not want to think about, let alone discuss Nick getting married.  As far as I was concerned he was unavailable.

“My father was betrothed to Lady Regina Smyth, Lord Smyth’s daughter.  A month before their wedding, my father caught her in the arms of another man.  He had been devastated, but my mother had appeared a week later, seemingly out of nowhere, and they instantly fell in love.”

One detail in the romantic story made my stomach tighten.  “The same family who had lost their home to your grandfather?”

“The very same.  I don’t believe she ever forgave my father for catching her, which makes no sense really.”

“No, it doesn’t,” I agreed.  An unfaithful daughter, a broken engagement, and a lost house; the combination of all three sounded a lot like motive for a fire that would eradicate the source of the Smyth’s apparent problems.

“And now I fear I may be tied to the same fate my father once was.”

“I’m sure she’s a bit old for you, Nick,” I said sarcastically.  For him to marry a woman old enough to be his mother was ludicrous at any point in history—wasn’t it?

“Her daughter isn’t.”

“Another Lady Smyth?”  How many Smyths were there?

“Lady Emily Smyth.”

Hearing her name made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.  Again, it felt oddly like jealousy.  My vision blurred when my mind pictured Nick with the faceless woman.  She would be beautiful; he deserved someone beautiful.

“Surely someone else would be willing to marry you.”  Nick was handsome and charming and strong and… 

Willing to marry me?  You say it as if it is a horrible punishment for a woman.  Would marriage to me really be such a sentence?”

 “That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

Nick shook his head and smiled sadly.  “At present, I have prospects for relationships, but none would be likely to end in marriage.”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you asking what I meant about the relationships or the results of said affairs?”

My blush made it clear that I knew what he was inappropriately implying.  “Why won’t they marry you?”

“I have no title.”

“So?”

He looked at me as though those two letters had been a curse.  Apparently my statement was almost as unacceptable.  “Equality is something we find ourselves striving toward here in 1902.  Granted, a title does not mean as much as it once did, but status still matters to most people.  My family has made our living through hard work and sweat; it has not traveled through our bloodlines.  The Daltons are considered new money.” 

“I think your way is more admirable than the other.”

He smiled sadly.  “Unfortunately, the majority does not agree.”

“Have you no prospects at all?”  Not that I wanted him to have options.  If he did get married I had a feeling his wife would have a problem with me staying in his bedroom or spending every waking moment with him.

Nick’s grin widened.  “How can I think of another woman when I look forward to spending all of my free time with you?”

My stomach fluttered.  I prayed he did not notice the flush creeping up my neck or the shortness of my breath.  A response escaped me. 

“Which brings us back to the reason you are here.  Until I met you, I did not think of marriage or of women in terms of something that would last.  And now my father has issued an ultimatum.  It matters not how contrived it may be.  In you, I have finally met someone with whom I have a connection and yet you don’t exist.  I’m obsessed with a woman who is not here.  How can I be expected to find someone in my own time that can outshine you?  But you will never be with me and I could never be with you.  The thought is maddening.  You’re here to remind me of what I will never have.”

“What is that?”

“You.”

“Nick, you don’t even know me.”

Our acquaintance had been brief, yet his words mimicked my thoughts.  Men had never interested me before Nick Dalton.  Even when he wasn’t around he was on my mind.  If I could imagine someone for myself, a partner who would return my love, I would have imagined the man in front of me.  Yet the being in front of me was even better than my wildest dreams could conjure; he was perfect. 

We had an otherworldly connection beyond the magical circumstances of our unattainable relationship.  There was a supernatural magnetism between us, drawing us toward one another.  However, the reflective barrier kept us a century apart

“But I do know you.  You are my sister’s best friend.  You have a vivid imagination and you always come up with the best games to play.  You don’t eat sweets and you cry a lot.”

“Those are Tilly’s opinions and memories.”  And they were true of the seven-year-old I had been, not the woman I had become. 

“Alright.  You’re brilliant although you think too much.  You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen and it matters little to you that my family has made their own way in this world.”

He thought I was beautiful? 

All my life my mother had been my standard for beauty.  I wasn’t sure if other people had found me attractive; they had always seemed mildly disappointed to find out that Sylvia Franklyn Burns was my mother.  There really was no comparison with the legendary model.  On my own though… I suppose I was passably attractive when I was done up—a rare occurrence.  It was high time I started putting some effort toward my appearance.

When I didn’t say anything, Nick continued.  “You haunt me, Callista.  Yet I find myself welcoming the torture.”

The welcomed part took the sting out of being referred to as torture for the second time tonight.  When he finished I couldn’t find pretty words to explain my own feelings.  So I whispered what was on my mind, confessed what I felt in my heart.  “I know how you feel.”

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