Teatime with a Knight – Kit Morgan

“HELLO, DARLİNG.” Duncan Cooke stopped and looked up from the papers in his hands when his wife didn’t answer. He saw what she was doing and with raised eyebrows added, “Oh dear. Try not to nick him, sweetness.” “I will not nick him.” She pulled back on the bowstring and took aim. “Hold still, Emsworth,” she ordered in her slight French accent. It was well known that Cozette Sayer-Cooke, Duchess of Stantham, had a penchant for archery. It had become a source of embarrassment for the duke’s staff when they arrived in England years ago to take over the estate. She didn’t care if she was indoors or out, nor what she used as a target – she got her daily practice in. Emsworth, the duke’s middle-aged butler, gulped. “I’ll do my best, Your Grace.” “Be glad the duchess is such a good shot,” Duncan said, “or your best would not be good enough.” Emsworth gulped again and closed one eye. “Indeed, Your Grace.

” He closed the other. Cozette shot. The arrow split the pear atop the butler’s head and sank into the bale of straw behind him. “Thank you, Emsworth,” she said with a smile. “You are always so accommodating.” Emsworth opened his eyes. “I try, Your Grace.” He glanced at the pear halves at his feet, tugged at his shirt collar with a shudder, then approached his employers, brushing his graying hair to remove any bits of fruit. “Tea?” “Please,” Duncan said. “Oh, do let me know when our guests arrive.

” “Of course, Your Grace.” With another shiver, Emsworth hurried downstairs to the kitchen. Duncan watched him go, then looked accusingly at his wife. “You’ve frightened poor Emsworth again.” “Nonsense, he is fine.” She turned away with a smile. “I did not try to split hairs.” “Thank Heaven for that,” Duncan muttered, leafing through the papers in his hands. “Don’t forget the Earl of …” He stopped and looked at his wife, saw the hungry look in her eyes and smiled. “Cozette,” he whispered.

Duncan … He smiled, tossed the papers onto the nearest piece of furniture and opened his arms. She stepped into them. “When are they coming?” “The earl?” “No, the MacDonalds.” “Oh, I’m not sure. You know how they just … show up.” She looked at him. “What exactly did Dallan say in his message?” “That he needs our help in some sort of matter.” “Like last time?” She brushed a lock of his dark hair out of his face. “He is not going to take you somewhere again, is he?” “I can’t say. I think he needs both our help.

” “For what? Another … match?” “What else can it be?” He held her close, not ready to let go. “If he wishes me to go with him, I’ll insist you come along.” “Do.” She snuggled against him. “I do not like being separated from you or having to entertain guests by myself. The only one I feel comfortable around is Sir Aldrich, and others ridicule me for inviting him all the time.” “They’re fools. Aldrich is a good man. Besides, I don’t trust anyone else to keep an eye on things while I’m gone. Not that I’m ever gone for long.

” He drew away enough to look at her. “Don’t worry, you’ll not be left behind again.” “See that I am not.” She glanced around. “I am hungry.” He arched an eyebrow. She smiled. “I will see to it the table is set properly for our dinner guests.” “You do that. Check the china, the silverware, the glassware.

And see that Mrs. Tompkins has done her job.” He grinned. “You’re going to give our poor housekeeper a heart attack one of these days.” “She knows I like to have my hand in things. I will check the kitchen, make sure dinner is coming along.” He sighed. His wife loved anything domestic, be it a cabin in the woods or a grand English estate. She dove deep into the running of a household down to the finest detail, the fold of a napkin or the shine on a silver tea service. Such things fed her soul.

That and archery … not to mention a few other things. Duncan sighed again and released her. “Off you go. Try not to upset Mrs. Tompkins too much, hm?” She smiled as she backed out of his embrace, turned and spied the papers on the chair. “I will return shortly and have tea with you.” She looked a little closer. “What are those?” Duncan cleared his throat. “Guidelines. Miss Morgan wrote them up for me before Dallan and Shona brought me home from their last assignment.

” “Clear Creek?” “Yes – the matching of my nephew and a Miss Lorelei Carson.” He strode to the chair and picked them up. “She said they would explain things, help me understand more of how it all works.” “What?” He shrugged. “The matching, the time travel, the … whatever. Half of it I can’t seem to make sense of.” Cozette’s eyebrows rose. “Are you sure Mlle. Morgan is the best source of information?” “You may be right. She was most adamant I not tell Dallan or Shona she gave me these.

But I have to admit, some of it is interesting.” She joined him and looked over the first page. Muirarans, she read. A race of elfin aliens who escaped some meaner, nastier aliens (who thought Muirarans made a tasty snack) by making a huge jump through time and space to Earth. They’ve been here ever since. You just don’t know it because you don’t know what to look for. Yet. She looked at him. “We already knew that.” “Yes, but no one else does, so hush, hush, dear.

” She nodded and read on. Muirarans have an average life span of a thousand years and have two hearts, a normal one that goes beat, beat, beat and the kind that has to be fed. She made a face. “Her definitions are … um, interesting.” He shrugged. “Miss Morgan is interesting. Aside from her constant chatter and manchasing, she’s really quite brilliant for one so young. She writes books, you know.” “About what?” “Haven’t the foggiest.” Cozette read further.

“ If a Muiraran, or one that is even part Muiraran, is not matched with either a compatible Muiraran or in some cases a human by the age of joining, their second heart grows too powerful and then … dies. Killing the Muiraran.” She gulped and lowered the papers. “Shona told me she and Dallan almost died.” “Yes, I’ve heard their story.” Cozette put the papers on the chair and hugged her husband. “This matchmaking, all that they are doing to save … whatever they are trying to save – what if they fail?” “Lives would be lost. Part of the Muiraran race would die out. Shona’s part.” “I cannot imagine such a responsibility.

” She gazed into his eyes. “And if they had failed to bring your nephew his bride, as she is part Muiraran, would she have died?” He nodded. Cozette shuddered against him. “Then we must help them.” “I know.” He held her a moment longer, then let her go. “Let’s not worry about it until we see them. Check on Mrs. Tompkins. But … go easy on her?” She smiled, kissed him and left the drawing room.

With a sigh Duncan retrieved the papers and sat in the chair. Though Kitty Morgan, Shona’s longtime friend, was only trying to help, he wasn’t sure he could trust everything she’d written him. What if Kitty had her facts wrong? But she had seen firsthand what the Muirarans were like, how they lived, what happened when a joined couple was separated for too long. Who else would know better, other than Shona herself? And Shona’s husband Dallan MacDonald, the “Time Master.” He rose and headed for his study, deciding to concentrate on some ledgers his estate manager had brought him. Work on the estate was never done – just when he thought he was getting ahead of it, something cropped up. But at least it was things he understood. He couldn’t always say that about his foray into the future with the MacDonalds. It was a good thing he was planning on grooming his nephew Jefferson to take over Stantham House and the estate one day, but it would be at least a year before Jeff and his new wife Lorelei joined them. Unless something began lurking around Clear Creek – either in the present day or the far future of (this still boggled his mind) Two Thousand and Twenty.

Then they’d be brought sooner rather than later, for their own safety. Duncan sat behind his desk in the study, set the papers down and drummed his fingers on the desktop. So much had happened since he and Cozette met and married eighteen years ago in Clear Creek. His mother, her second husband Jefferson (after whom his nephew was named) and others had crossed the American West to the thenOregon Territory and founded the town in 1849, when he was only nineteen. His younger brothers Colin and Harrison had been around fourteen and twelve. What an adventure that was – and not always in a good way. He smiled at the thought, stood and went to the mirror over the fireplace mantle to examine himself. He hadn’t aged a day since he married Cozette, nor would he for a long while. That wasn’t always good either – sometimes people noticed and asked awkward questions – but he’d take it. He turned back to the desk and was about to pick up the papers the estate manager had given him when he caught sight of a flash of white light in the woods beyond the gardens and fields of the estate.

He smiled again. “Dallan.” He went to the bell pull, gave it a yank and waited for Emsworth to appear. The butler entered the study. “You rang, Your Grace?” “The MacDonalds will be here soon. Prepare their room.” Emsworth’s eyes widened. He glanced at the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the gardens and woods. “Oh, dear,” he muttered. “Right away, Your Grace.

” He spun on his heel and hurried out of the room, stopping only to speak to a maid. She squeaked in alarm and rushed off elsewhere. Soon the house was in a flurry of activity. But this always happened when Dallan and Shona showed up – the staff was terrified of them. Especially Emsworth, who knew what Dallan and Shona were, and also knew that if he ever breathed a word, he might be whisked through time and wind up painting his sad tale of woe on the wall of some prehistoric cave. It was his nervousness that got everyone else in a dither. Duncan sighed as he watched the windows, and the woods where the MacDonalds would emerge. One never knew who might be with them, if anyone, or what they had planned. He went to his desk, pulled open a drawer, took out a spyglass and held it to his eye. “Who is that?” The small party was still too far away to make out the man walking with the MacDonalds.

But Duncan could guess. He went to the bell pull again and gave it another tug. A footman entered this time. “Yes, Your Grace?” “Have Mrs. Dryden prepare some sandwiches with the preserves Mrs. MacDonald brought last time. Along with the, um … peanut butter.” The footman made a funny face. “The stuff in the jar called … Jif?” “That’s the one. Have it brought to the drawing room.

” “Right away, Your Grace.” He hurried off. Duncan smiled. Dallan and Shona often brought them treats from all over the world – and throughout time. It was one of the perks that came with knowing a Time Master. The peanut butter was one of the more interesting ones, if a bit oily. Much better than that jar of … what was it called? Kim chee? It came from the Far East and tasted like cabbage mixed with brimstone … He peered through the spyglass again. “Aha – Mr. Mosgofian. I’m glad I ordered the sandwiches.

” The MacDonalds’ associate always brought an appetite with him. He returned the spyglass to its drawer and headed for the drawing room. The question he often asked himself when the MacDonalds came to visit was, why? Not that he minded their visits, but it was never just a social call. Either Shona wanted to work with Cozette or Dallan wanted to work with him. The latter was always complex, and usually painful. He unconsciously rubbed his jaw. The big Scot had gotten in a good right hook the last time they sparred. He was bigger, stronger, faster, thanks to having a high-born Muiraran wife, the most powerful of her kind. “The tea, Your Grace,” Emsworth announced as he carried a tray into the drawing room and set it on a low table. “Mrs.

Dryden is preparing sandwiches. I saw you leave your study and thought you might enjoy a cup while you wait for your …” He glanced at the windows that also faced the back of the house, “… guests to arrive. Will they be staying for dinner, Your Grace?” “I’m not sure – I’ll find out when they get here. Poor Mrs. Dryden – I’m sure this will send her into distress.” Emsworth rolled his eyes but said nothing, and Duncan smiled. Mrs. Dryden was a large, nervous sort who fussed about the kitchen barking orders like Nelson at Trafalgar. She scared half the kitchen maids off when she first came to the estate after the previous cook passed on five years ago. But Cozette kept her in line well enough.

No one wanted to be used for target practice, including Mrs. Dryden. Cozette used Emsworth now and then as a reminder, but Emsworth was a good sport about it. It helped that he realized by now that Cozette never missed. Soon Duncan was enjoying one of the delightful little sandwiches Shona called “P-Band-Js” when Emsworth entered again. “Mr. Dallan MacDonald, Mrs. MacDonald and Mr. Lantzaro Mosgofian, Your Grace.” Duncan stood.

The Scot was wearing a kilt, sark and plaid – a hundred years out of date, but he made it look sharp. Shona wore a blue walking dress in the latest fashion. “Dallan, Shona, good to see you.” He offered Dallan his hand. The big Scot took it and gave it a healthy shake. “Duncan. Ye look good.” “So do you, as always.” He wiggled a few fingers when Dallan let go. “Strong as ever, I see.

” Dallan smiled. “Mr. Mosgofian,” Duncan turned to the familiar man accompanying them. He was in his early thirties, cadaver-thin with premature gray hair, blue eyes and gentleman’s clothes he looked uncomfortable in. Duncan had first met him in Clear Creek many years ago. “Your Grace,” Mr. Mosgofian greeted. “There’s no need for that,” Shona said. “Call him Duncan. And you …” She poked Duncan in the chest.

“Call him Lany. Let’s not be formal.” Duncan glanced at Emsworth. “Except when the servants are present.” “With the exception of Emsworth,” Shona teased. She smiled at the butler. Emsworth gulped. “Of course, ma’am.” “I’m afraid you still make old Emsworth nervous,” Duncan said. Dallan took a seat.

“She’s good at that.” He glanced at the table. “Ah, tea.” Duncan sat and nodded at Emsworth, who hurried to serve. Dallan reached for a sandwich. “I’m surprised ye have any of this left.” “I saved some,” Duncan explained. “I lock it up with the wine.” Lany licked his lips, took a sandwich and smiled. “My kids love these.

” “All children do,” Shona commented. “Emsworth, would you like to try one?” The butler eyed the little sandwiches. “May I?” he asked, wide-eyed. “Certainly. None of the other servants are watching,” Duncan said. “Go ahead.” Emsworth picked one up, sniffed it, then took a careful bite. “Most intriguing.” “Next time I’ll bring natural peanut butter,” Shona said. “It has a different flavor and texture.

” Emsworth looked like he’d died and gone to Heaven as he chewed and swallowed. “Very tasty. Might I inquire as to …” He glanced around and lowered his voice, “… when this will come about?” Shona cocked her head. “In another twenty years or so. Though I don’t think it will arrive in England until much later.” The butler nodded and finished his sandwich. “Will there be anything else, Your Grace?” “No, you may go,” Duncan said. “Close the doors. And for goodness’ sake, make sure there are no listening ears outside.” “Of course, Your Grace,” Emsworth said.

“I am ever vigilant.” “Also, let the duchess know the MacDonalds have arrived.” “She already knows and will be with you shortly, Your Grace.” Emsworth bowed and left the room. “How long has he known?” Lany asked warily. “About ten years,” Duncan said. “We needed help keeping everything secret. It’s hard enough living here, with all that entails, without having to worry about the MacDonalds’ comings and goings. I’ve already gone through a full set of servants and am working through a second. Toss in visits from our relations in London and, well …” “Ye need all the help ye can get,” Dallan finished.

“Speaking of which, Shona and I need some from ye. Are ye up to the task?” Duncan eyed him a moment. He’d recently helped the MacDonalds with one of their assignments, which involved his nephew. “This doesn’t have anything to do with Jefferson and his new bride, does it?” “No. And mind ye no make mention of them to yer butler just yet. I ken he’s privy to things, but it will be a while before Jefferson and Lorelei come to live here. Let them enjoy life in Clear Creek for a time as normal folk.” Duncan sighed in relief. “Fine, I’ll do that. Poor Emsworth has a hard enough time when the relatives are here.

” He wiped his palms on his trousers. Amon Cotter came from Clear Creek from time to time to help with the estate. He and his wife Nettie stayed in Duncan’s townhouse in London with Nettie’s brother Newton and his wife Arya. “How much like Cozette, Shona and the others is Lorelei again?” “She has some Muiraran blood, so not quite like the others,” Dallan confirmed. “Keep it to yerself, as usual.” Duncan glanced nervously at Shona, who was a full-blooded Muiraran. “So not like Amon or Arya? Or you?” “No,” Shona said. “Lorelei carries Muiraran genes, yes, but not like mine, or even Amon and Arya’s.” “How does one tell such a thing?” Duncan asked. All the talk of genes, chromosomes, DNA, RNA and sequencing just confused him – he’d never been good at sciences, and sciences from the future were very complex indeed.

“Well, with the particular set of genes we’re currently interested in, the kind Miss Phelps has, the subject almost always has gray eyes.” “Like Lorelei,” Duncan said with a nod. “Yes.” Shona picked up her cup and took a sip. “Cozette’s is a different set, which is why her eyes aren’t the same color, and why she excels at ballistics.” “She never misses what she aims at,” Duncan whispered to himself. “Exactly,” Shona said. “Lorelei hasn’t enough Muiraran blood to appear as one. She’ll always look human, yet still possesses certain Muiraran qualities such as needing a compatible mate by the age of joining, or suffering the consequences.” Duncan wiped his hands on his trousers again.

He was always nervous talking about Shona’s people. Shona looked human most of the time, but when she “fluxed” she looked more like an elfin warrior queen. Dallan’s wife was the most powerful of her kind. To look at the delicately built, auburn haired beauty who was no more than a few inches over five feet, one would never guess. Cozette’s features sometimes changed too, though not to the same extent. There were days he looked at his wife, still unable to fathom the creature she was. But her features rarely fluxed to the exotic look of her kind. Shona called it a camouflage instinct, their features resembling a human’s when surrounded by them, like how a chameleon blended into its background. But when amidst their own kind, the instinct relaxed and their natural features appeared: the pointed ears, the upward slant of the eyes. And when they were threatened … “We have another match to make,” Dallan said, interrupting his thoughts.

“Oh, yes, of course. Whatever you need.” Duncan paused. “Uh, what exactly do you require of me?” Shona, Dallan and Lany looked at each other. Finally Lany spoke. “Your neighbor.”

.

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