Home > Under a Winter Sky

Under a Winter Sky
Author: Kelley Armstrong

 

 

Copyright © 2020 K.L.A. Fricke Inc

 


All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or business establishments, organizations or locales is completely coincidental.

Thank you for reading!

 

 

When the car-hire driver slows in the village of High Thornesbury, I direct her to the hill instead, where a house looms at the top, barely visible through the falling snow.

“Wait,” the woman says. “You’re going to Thorne Manor?”

“I am.”

“You know them then? The couple who live there?”

“You . . . could say that.”

She cranes to look back at me, and I resist the urge to nicely ask her to keep her eyes on the road . . . the impossibly narrow roads of North Yorkshire, now covered in slick December snow.

“Is it true what they say?” she asks.

I’m tempted to make some noncommittal noise, quite certain that I don’t want to know what “they” say. But curiosity wins out, and I venture a cautious, “What do they say?”

“That she owns the house—the wife. She inherited it from her aunt. She’s a professor in Toronto—the wife, not the aunt.”

“I have heard—”

The driver steamrolls over my response, her accent sharpening as she warms to her subject. “They say she used to come here as a girl. To Thorne Manor. Then a terrible tragedy claimed the life of her uncle. But the best part is . . .” Her voice lowers to a delicious whisper. “The ghosts. The manor house is haunted, and the girl saw the ghosts. Her uncle did too, the night he died.”

My throat closes, swallowing any reply I could make.

The driver continues, “Then the woman inherited Thorne Manor and came back, after over twenty years away. She must not have seen any ghosts that time, because she stayed the summer, and she met a man. A Thorne.”

“Yes, I have heard—”

“It’s like a story out of one of those romantic movies, isn’t it? The American—well, Canadian in this case—inherits a house in the English countryside, and then along comes a British lord, claiming it’s his rightful family home. They start off fighting about it, only to fall madly in love.”

I sigh inwardly. I should just let her have her version of the story and keep my mouth shut. But I am a history professor after all—I cannot allow rumor to stand as historic fact. Of course, nor can I tell the actual truth, which would probably have the poor woman turning around to whisk me to the nearest psychiatric hospital. Still, I should repeat the narrative we’ve constructed, the part of our story that is completely true.

“I’m familiar with the couple in question,” I say. “The woman knew him when she was a girl. They were old friends, and he has never laid any claim to the house.”

“Hasn’t he?” She frowns through the mirror at me. “Isn’t that suspicious?” Her eyes round. “Oh! It’s that other sort of story, then. The one where he pretends to fall in love with her to get his hands on the house, which he thinks is his by right.”

“No,” I say.

“How would you know?”

Because the man was the rightful owner of Thorne Manor . . . two hundred years ago. Because as a child, that girl stepped through time and met a boy. Returned as a teenager, and fell in love. Returned as an adult, and won him again and was able to bring him back, both of them now moving from his time—where he is Lord William Thorne of Thorne Manor—and her time, where he is Mr. William Thorne, husband of the current owner. How do I know all this? Because I’m the current owner, the girl, the woman, the wife: Bronwyn Dale Thorne.

Of course, I can hardly say any of that, so I only gaze out at the lights of High Thornesbury as we pass through the tiny village. I know every street of it, in this time and in William’s, and my pulse quickens, a smile growing as my hands clasp atop my protruding stomach.

Home. I am home.

When I was a little girl, this was my favorite place in the world. Even after I lost it, first when my parents divorced and later after my uncle died, I would dream of North Yorkshire the way others dream of a childhood home. So many happy memories here. Summers spent exploring these moors, picking bramble berries and picnicking with my dad and my Aunt Judith and Uncle Stan. So many even happier times crossing over to William’s world, secret visits to my most cherished friend and, later, my first love.

I grew up and found love again. Married a wonderful man and lost him, widowed at thirty. I’d had a home with Michael, but Toronto never felt like home the way this place does. Now I am back. Back for good, I hope. I had to return to Toronto to teach the fall term, but I’ve started my maternity leave, expecting a baby in March. After that . . . Well, if all goes well after that, this will be my home. I have a lead on a teaching position in York and a few other possibilities tucked in my back pocket.

I’ll miss Canada, but I am ready to make this move. I think I’ve been ready since the day I first visited my aunt and uncle at Thorne Manor, certainly since the day I stepped through time and met William. Now, seeing the village lit up for the holidays, I feel as if I’ve come home. My first Christmas at home.

The lights fade quickly as the hired car begins the long climb to Thorne Manor. I’m struggling not to press my nose against the cold glass, straining to see the manor house through the falling snow. I think I can make out a faint glow and then—

The driver curses and jams on the brakes just as the headlamps illuminate a coal-black horse, racing around a curve and coming straight for the car. Or so it seems, but when the car follows the turn in the winding road, it becomes obvious that the horse is actually off to the side, galloping down the hill.

“Bloody fool,” the driver grumbles.

“True,” I murmur.

The rider wheels the stallion around and begins running alongside us.

“Is he mad?” the driver says.

“Possibly. Just don’t let him beat us to the house, please, or I will never hear the end of it.”

Now I do press my nose to the icy window, breath fogging the glass as I squint out. William lifts gloved fingers in greeting, but I don’t think he can see me. He’s bent over the horse, and with his black jacket, he nearly melds into the beast. Only his red scarf makes him truly visible, flapping behind him, an obvious concession to my warnings that car drivers aren’t accustomed to sharing the road with horses.

The horse seems to have adapted well to his new master’s riding habits. After much consideration, William bought him late this past summer. The first horse for his new stable on this side of the stitch. A black stallion, the mirror image of his on the other side. Xanthus and Balois, named after Achilles’s immortal steeds.

We continue to the end of the drive, where William swings off Xanthus and lifts an imperious hand for the driver to stop.

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