The Hands of Time (The Hands of Time: Book 1) by Irina Shapiro

“Alexander Whitfield at your service, Madame.”  He gave a slight bow of his head and looked at me expectantly.

“Valerie Crane,” I said simply.  We stood in silence for a few moments just taking stock of each other.  If I wasn’t so scared, I would have noticed that he was very handsome, in a period movie kind of way, with dark hair that fell to his shoulders and eyes the color of caramel, accentuated by his long lashes.  His full lips stretched into something resembling a welcoming smile.

“How can I help you, Mistress Crane?”

I was about to say something as a way of explanation, but I suddenly burst into tears, overcome by my fear and confusion.  The man instantly sprang into action, leading me to a comfortable chair, pouring me brandy from a crystal decanter and offering me his handkerchief. 

“I am terribly sorry.  I did not mean to upset you.  Are you all right?”

I nodded miserably, taking a large gulp of the brandy, and letting it warm its way down my gullet before trying to speak again.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Whitfield.  I have no idea how I got here.  I found myself in the meadow at the bottom of the hill and saw your home.  I thought I’d come here and ask for help.”  I realized at that moment that pretending I had no idea what happened would probably be safer, not that I actually did have any idea.  All I could do was hope that he was a gentleman and wouldn’t just turn me away. 

He looked at me, and I could see a hundred questions racing through his mind, but he didn’t ask any of them.  “I will do everything in my power to assist you.  You can stay here for as long as you like.  I will ask Betty to find you a suitable gown and show you to your room.  I think you can do with a rest.”  He looked at me waiting for me to agree and then called out to Betty, who appeared about half a second later confirming my suspicions that she had been listening at the door.

“Betty, please find a gown for Mistress Crane, I think one of Rose’s will do nicely, and show her to the yellow room.  Mistress Crane would like to rest.  And bring her some refreshment,” he added as an afterthought and turned to me, giving me an encouraging smile.  “I am afraid I am expecting a dinner guest tonight for a private meeting,” he informed me apologetically, “Have some rest and we will talk more tomorrow.  Please let Betty know if there is anything you require.”  I thanked him and followed Betty out of the library toward the stairs to the upper floor.  I could see that she was burning with curiosity, but she didn’t ask anything, just led me up the stairs and down the carpeted hallway to a door at the very end.  She opened the door for me to enter and turned to leave.

“I will be back shortly, Miss, with some garments, and I will bring hot water should ye wish to wash.”  She curtsied again and left me alone in the room.  I sat down on the four-poster bed and took in my surroundings.  The room was done in shades of saffron and cream with a matching coverlet, bed hangings and drapes at the two windows.  Being a corner room, one window looked out over the yard and the road leading to the castle, and the other over woods and the distant river, sparkling in the late afternoon sun.  There was a painting of a beautiful woman with eyes the same color as Alexander Whitfield, her arms around a pink-cheeked young boy, hanging over the dresser, but otherwise there were no personal objects in the room.  It must have been reserved for guests. 

There was a quick knock at the door before Betty came in, a gown slung over her arm and a pitcher of water in her right hand.  She set the pitcher on a table by the bed next to the painted ewer, then lay the gown on the bed along with some other garments.

“I do hope ye like these,” she said showing me what she brought.  “Here is a chemise, a petticoat and I thought this gown might suit ye.  There is also a nightdress.”  She reached into the pocket of her apron and drew out a handful of pins.  “I brought these so ye can dress yer hair.  Do ye require help dressing?” 

“Thank you, Betty, I think I can manage.”

“All right, then.  I will ask Cook to send up a tray for ye at supper time.  If ye need me, just pull this rope.”  She showed me the thick cord by the bed and turned to leave, but couldn’t stop herself from asking at least one question.  “Were ye accosted on the road, Miss?”  she whispered looking at my summer dress.  She assumed that someone had torn off my gown and left me in my underclothes. 

“I can’t recall.”  Betty nodded her head as if I confirmed her worst suspicions.  She believed that I must have been through some terrible trauma to show up in a state of undress,and with no recollection of what happened, and gave me a sympathetic look, closing the door behind her.

I decided to try and concentrate on more practical things rather than dwelling on my predicament, and poured some water into the ewer, washing my face and hands before trying to figure out how to put on the gown.  I took off my dress, but defiantly left my bra and underwear on, before pulling the chemise over my head.  It felt soft and light against my skin and I picked up the petticoat.  I assumed it went on under the skirt, so I put it on and looked in the mirror.  I was beginning to resemble the Dresden shepherdess I saw in the shop.  I carefully put on the gown over my head and tied the laces of the bodice.  The dress was the color of bluebells and brought out the color of my eyes.  I picked up my hair and held it up, examining my image in the oval cheval glass.  I looked like a completely different person.  Maybe I was.  I let down my hair and sat back down on the bed feeling lonelier than I ever had, even after Michael left me.  What was I supposed to do now? 

The Hands of Time

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Genre – Time Travel Romance/Fantasy

Rating – R

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