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Wednesday 1 July 2020

Canadian Girl in London — Happy Canada Day! — Enjoy a snip from steamy time-travel romance, Lost Time

Happy Canada Day, folks!
It sure isn't going to be the celebratory kind of day we are used to. No kids—I miss them so. No festivities at the park. No fireworks. But we'll make the best of it. My hubs and I will be spending the day on the back deck, barbecuing, gardening, and raising a glass, I'm sure. 
🍁Happy Birthday, Canada! 🍷🍻🍁

In honor of the day, I'm sharing a snippet from one of my faves, Lost TimeA story about a Canadian girl, imagine that. I wrote this one early in my career, but it still holds a very special place for me, for several reasons, the first being, I love a good historical, time-travel, romance. And I'm sure I've more than covered all the other reasons often enough over the years, on this blog. So I won't bore you, but I sincerely hope you enjoy the first couple of chapters below.

🍁 Meet Canadian Girl, Hannah Keys...

Hannah Keys thinks she's setting off on the trip of her dreams—a month in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland—but after one mishap after another—beginning with her best friend abandoning her in the airport and ending with the man of her dreams dead—she's renaming it the vacation from hell!

Chapter One

Hannah Keys rode sleepily on a bus headed for Wales. She was alone, thanks to her friend Cassidy who’d flaked on her at the last possible moment. Hannah and Cassie had been planning this trip to the UK for years—a month in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, a week for each.

Twenty-four years old, Hannah—a Canadian girl raised by her transplanted English mother—used to sit and listen for hours as her mum told stories of growing up in London, of the family she’d left behind, including Hannah’s father. His death had been the catalyst that had sent her mum fleeing to different shores before Hannah was born, to get away from the memories that were far too painful. Her mum had talked of friends from school, the beautiful countryside, of haunted castles and the amazing architecture that stood the test of time.

Hannah had read everything she could get her greedy little hands on, whether it be a history book or a historical romance novel or the old books her mum had brought over. Hannah had sat for hours and looked at the old photos, including one of her dad. She’d always been enamored with anything English—the monarchy, the castles, and the history—while Scotland and Ireland held their own share of legend and lore that lured her imagination. Her mother had made everything sound so romantic, and now that her mum was gone, Hannah wanted and needed to see where her mother had come from.

The plan had always been to see the UK with her mum, but when her mother got sick, everything had changed. But she had made Hannah promise that she would still take the trip. That was when her best friend Cassie had stepped in to take her mother’s place. And it hadn’t hurt that Cassie had just seen 300, starring Gerard Butler. After that, Cass was convinced that every other guy in the UK might possibly look like Gerard, and she was all in.

At least Hannah had thought she was all in. But as she’d stood in line at the airport, with images of old stone castles and moors in bloom, rowdy pubs and Stonehenge running through her overly-excited mind, waiting for her BFF to show, the last thing she’d expected was for her cell phone ring and have her FBFF—former best friend forever—abandon her. Although Cassie had attempted to apologize enthusiastically, it would be a cold day when Hannah accepted it.

“What do you mean you’re not coming?” Hannah had asked through gritted teeth.

“Paul proposed last night!” she’d gushed. “Isn’t that the best news ever, Hannah?”

Hannah might have been happy for her at any other time, or if she hadn’t thought Paul was a complete dick and had only asked Cassie this life-altering question the night before the big trip because he didn’t want Cassie to go off without him…even though it had been planned long before he’d even met her. But, as much as Hannah disliked Paul as a person, she secretly envied what Cassie had with him. She wanted that for herself—someone to share her life with, someone to love and who loved her in return. She hadn’t allowed herself to be close to anyone since her mum had passed away. Hannah was determined never to love someone so completely again. It only led to heartache. Besides, she’d never had much luck with guys or relationships, anyway. They only wanted one thing, and it wasn’t her heart.

“And you can’t meet me why?” Hannah asked a little too loudly, causing other waiting passengers to look in her direction.

“Because I don’t want to leave him now,” she whined, as if that should explain it all.

“But you can spend the rest of your life with good old Paul after we get back. Cassie, we’ve planned this trip for seven freakin’ years, and I’m standing in the airport all by myself waiting for—”

“Oh, I knew you’d understand, Hannah. You’re the best. I’ll see you when you get back and you can tell me all about the Gerards that you shagged without me. Send me a postcard from Ireland. I’ll make this up to you, Hannie, I promise, ’kay? Love you. Bye-bye.”

The cell went quiet and Hannah resisted the urge to spike the damn thing on the floor. She spent the next thirty minutes panicking and pacing, trying to convince herself not to go back home.

You’ve come this far. You’re so close. Everything you’ve dreamt about is only a plane ticket and an ocean away.

She was insane to travel unaccompanied. Not only the danger, but what fun would it be to sight-see and bar-hop? Single female abroad and alone. She was just asking for trouble. Right?

Damn it, she argued, she’d scrimped and saved and budgeted for so long and she’d already spent the money. Besides, she really wanted to go, with or without Cass. This was her dream. And she’d vowed to her mother on her deathbed that she would take this trip.

Despite the last-minute problem, something inside her pulled her in that direction. It always had. Perhaps, if she was honest with herself, she should have realized that Cassie had never been as excited about this journey as she had.

So, for once, she threw caution to the wind and handed her ticket to the agent. “One for London.”

Hannah held Cassidy’s ticket in her hand. “Can I cash this ticket in?” she inquired, almost as an afterthought. “My friend’s not going to be able to make it.”

“Sure, but you’ll only get about eighty per cent back.”

“That’s fine.” Hannah handed it over to the ticket agent. “It’s not my money, anyway,” she said, under her breath. But she had every intention of spending it. Cassie owed her that much. Damages, Hannah reasoned, along with mental stress and suffering, not to mention abandonment.

* * * * 

Hannah had boarded the plane headed for Heathrow with raw

excitement humming through her. But after a week of sightseeing all by herself, she was second-guessing her decision. Vacations weren’t meant to be experienced alone.

She’d seen the Tower of London and Big Ben. One day, she had taken a bus tour of castles, including Windsor—on the next day, she saw cathedrals and abbeys. Another one she had spent shopping, buying touristy trinkets and a T-shirt that read Kiss Me, I’m Scottish, which she had every intention of wearing for that leg of the trip.

She had also spent a day on the Internet, trying to locate the house that her mum had grown up in. When she found it, she had called a taxi and told the driver the street address, but when he took her there, the house had been torn down. So Hannah had taken a picture of the street sign and sadly returned to her hotel room.

Another day, she had taken a double-decker bus and visited the London Eye. She had even found the courage to ask another tourist to take her picture standing near it. But she hadn’t ridden the enormous wheel. Another thing she would have liked a companion for.

Hannah rested her head against the cool glass and looked out the window of the bus headed for Wales, grateful to be on the next leg of the trip. But, more and more, she was thinking of cutting her losses and just heading home. She’d imagined having such a wild time—sightseeing through the day with Cass, hitting the clubs at night, dancing, maybe even hooking up with some hot guy for just one night before moving on. It wasn’t as if she were anti-social, or not good at making friends. She’d just wanted to share this with Cass.

Hannah knew that she could get all dressed up and go to the pubs—she didn’t need Cass for that. She was pretty enough and garnered attention all on her own, but it just didn’t feel right. When she’d tried, she’d had no fun, no dancing—no shagging, as she and Cass had joked. She’d even had a couple of men approach her as she’d sat alone, eating a meal. However, when she’d just given them a cool smile, they’d nodded and gone on their way.

Hannah closed her eyes as a wave of loneliness descended over her, making her feel empty.

Someone tapped her shoulder.

“What?” She must have dozed off, she realized. Hannah sat up groggily, looking at the young guy. She thought he’d spoken to her in Welsh, which she didn’t understand. It was such a guttural-sounding language.

“Pardon, I’m sorry, can you speak English?” Hannah asked, hopeful.

He couldn’t be more than eighteen, she guessed. He grinned and spoke slowly. “This is the last bus tonight. This is as far as it goes.”

“Oh! Oh no! Did I miss my stop?” She had a sinking feeling.

“I don’t know. Where were you headed?”

“The girl back in London said Llandeilo, but much more throaty-sounding than that. She said that I could get a ticket there and transfer to another bus to Swansea. That’s where I have a room booked.”

“You are in Llandeilo.” He laughed indulgently at her pronunciation but went along with it.

“Yeah, see? Just like I said, just a little more throaty.” Hannah laughed too.

He grinned widely. “You should be able to get a ticket inside to continue on to Swansea. Can I help you with your bags?”

“Oh, you’re so sweet. Thank you.”

“Are you American?” 

“No, Canadian,” she answered, turning the little maple leaf pin she had fastened on her windbreaker towards him. She had the same little red symbol tattooed on the inside of her left wrist and a tiny blue one on her right, in homage to her favorite hockey team—the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Anywhere I might know?” he asked.

“Probably not.”

They stepped off the bus and he set the bags at her feet.

“The station is right there.” He pointed. “But you’d better hurry—they don’t stay open all night. I’ve gotta go. You’ll be all right?” He watched her with concern.

“Yes, thank you. My name’s Hannah, by the way,” she said, holding her hand out and smiling. “Thanks for your help.”

“It’s good to meet you, Hannah,” he said, taking her hand. “Jakob, they call me Jake.” He seemed like a really easygoing, nice kid.

“It was good to meet you, Jake.”

“Have a good holiday, Hannah.” He waved as he walked off.

Her smile wavered as she picked up her bags. “Yeah. Thanks.” She headed into the station.

“Hi,” she said, to the woman at the desk. “One for Swansea.”

The ticket agent slid a ticket across the counter.

“Thank you,” Hannah said, paying then turning away and glancing at the ticket. “Ten?” She checked her watch. It was just past eight p.m.

Even this would be bearable if she had someone else to do it with.
She sighed. Two hours? What was she going to do for two hours?
She sat down on one of the padded benches. Her butt had barely touched the seat when the ticket agent said, “We close at eight.”

Hannah watched her wide-eyed as the woman hefted one of her bags and started towards the door. She placed the bag on the sidewalk outside then turned the sign hanging on a chain from the door.

“You’re closing?” Hannah asked incredulously, while she struggled with her carry-on and the other case.

“What am I going to do? Wait outside?” And, as if things couldn’t be any worse, it began to piss rain.

The lady pointed to the pub down the street where some sketchy-looking men milled around out front, in the mounting fog. “Perhaps you could go enjoy a cuppa,” she suggested.

“I can’t…” Hannah paused when she heard the glass door lock behind her, the lights inside darkening.

“Oh, this is a magical trip. It just keeps getting better and better,” she complained to herself as the rain took on a steady beat. “I swear you are trying to teach me a lesson, Mum,” she mumbled, looking up at the wet sky. “But for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is. I just want to go home.”

She looked down the street. Maybe she could get a cup of coffee in one of the establishments, she thought, but changed her mind when she realized the shadows down by the pub seemed to be moving in her direction.

“This is just great!” she grumbled, looking down the street in the opposite direction, wondering where she would flee to if those shadows came any closer.

Instead a more immediate problem presented itself, as a car slowed and stopped near the curb and the window began to roll down.

“I’m not a hooker!” she yelled, a second before she realized it was Jake.

He laughed. “I know you’re not. Do you need a lift?”

Now what should she do? Take her chances with the shadows closing in on her or drive off with strangers? She didn’t like either of her options.

“My gran says you can’t stay here,” he said—noting her indecision, Hannah suspected.

“Your gran?” Hannah looked closer into the car but couldn’t see through the darkness or the rain.

“Yeah, she says there are no more buses tonight.”

“But they sold me a ticket.” Hannah pulled it out of her inside jacket pocket. “See, it comes at ten…a.m.,” she realized belatedly. She threw her hand up in frustration, rolling her eyes.

Jake jumped out of the car. “Pop the boot, Gran,” he said, evidently for Hannah’s benefit since he then said something in Welsh. He tossed her luggage inside and opened the back passenger’s door.

Hannah still hesitated. “Really, Jake, I can’t…”

“Sure you can. You can’t stay here. We can’t leave you.”

She ducked into the backseat. “Thank you so much, Mrs…” she said, to the back of the older woman’s head.

“You can just call her Gran, Hannah. You’ll never be able to pronounce it, anyway.” Jake grinned.

Hannah nodded, uncomfortable with that, but he was probably right.

‘Gran’ started speaking quickly to Jake in Welsh as she pulled away from the bus station.

“Don’t mind her,” Jake explained, “Gran doesn’t feel comfortable speaking English. She’s kind of set in her ways. She wants to know the name of your hotel in Swansea. Sorry, I hope you don’t mind—I kinda told Gran all about you. We’ll just take you there.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t ask you to do that. It’s out of your way and it’s such a horrible night to drive.” Hannah could barely see out of the windshield through the rain and fog.

“What’s the name? When Gran gets something in her head, there’s no changing her mind.”

“Um, Gorman’s, I think.”

The older woman nodded.

“Yep, we know it. That’s a great place. You’ll like it,” Jake offered.

It seemed pitch black outside. The darkness was eerie as they drove out of town, the fog getting thicker by the second.

“I really appreciate this, Jake.”

“Oh, no trouble. I’ve heard that Canadians are very kind. Maybe when you get back, you can let your country know that we Welsh are just as nice.”

“You can bet that I will.”

“Besides, Gran comes out every night to get me off the bus. She’s nice enough to meet me and drive me the rest of the way home after my shift, since this is as far as the buses travel. My gran’s the best.”

Hannah could hear the genuine affection in his voice.

“Yes, she is,” Hannah agreed, smiling, beginning to feel a lot less creeped out by the whole situation. Accepting a ride in a foreign land from two strangers, when no one knew where she was, was probably not the smartest thing she’d ever done. It certainly wasn’t something she would normally do, not even if Cass had been with her. But it was the kid’s grandmother, for goodness sake. How much safer could it be?

“So specifically, where are you from?” Jake asked, craning in the seat to look at her. “I’m gonna look it up on Google when I get home.”

“Have you heard of Toronto?” At his nod, she added, “I’m from a smaller town near there, like a suburb, called Brampton.”

“Naw, never heard of it.”

“But I work in Toronto.”

“Oh? What do you do?”

“I’m in retail. I work at a store, too—a clothing store. Trying to work my way up. My friend Cassie and I are hoping to open our own shop someday. So I’m trying to learn the trade. From the ground up, I guess you’d say.”

“Ah oh,” Gran said. Hannah understood that—it was pretty universal.

Hannah looked up to see flashing lights. Gran slowed and came to a stop. An officer approached and ducked his head to the window.

Jake’s gran and the officer had one of those fascinatingly guttural conversations as Jake translated.

“There’s a tree down blocking the entire road. We need to turn around.”

Why was this day so difficult? Could nothing go right? It was as though she wasn’t supposed to reach Swansea. She should just go home. How many signs did she need to convince her that this trip had been a bad idea?

“He says it’s really bad from here on out. I guess you’re not reaching Swansea tonight, Hannah, sorry. He’s advising all motorists to stay off the roads if it isn’t an emergency.”

“Well, this is just great. I’m really sorry about all this. Please tell your gran.”

He did and she responded, turning the car around.

“Is there a hotel, an inn—a B&B you could drop me at?”

“We know the perfect place for you,” Jake said, smiling.

“Thanks. Again.” She leant back and rubbed her temples.

“Are you not feeling well?”

“It’s just been a long day.” And an even longer week, she thought miserably.

He let her be. After about fifteen minutes, the car slowed.

“Well, here we are. You can finally end this long day, if you want.”

Hannah sat up as they wended their way up a winding drive. A burst of lightning lit up the sky, illuminating the dwelling. It looked like a castle.

“Where are we?”

“This is our farm,” Jake informed her proudly.

“Your farm? It looks like a castle.”

Jake and his gran exchanged a look.

Jake snorted. “Well, no one has ever said that before.”

“Was there nowhere else you could drop me? I don’t want to impose.

You’ve already gone out of your way for me.”

“It’s no trouble.”

The car stopped and Jake jumped out to retrieve her bags. Hannah stepped out, only to be battered once again by the cold wind and rain.

“Follow Gran, Hannah, I’ve got these.”

She followed the older woman up the steps and through a massive wooden door. As soon as Hannah crossed the threshold, a weight descended upon her. Her head started to throb and her heart pounded in her ears—the misery of the day finally catching up with her.

From the inside, it looked like a farmhouse should look. It was open-plan and dimly lit. Hannah could see straight through to the kitchen, where a huge, old wooden table dominated the space.

Gran was talking away but Hannah hadn’t a clue as to what she was saying. But she followed her lead and removed her wet coat, which Gran promptly hung on a shiny brass coat rack.

“Thank you.”

Gran took her arm and towed her towards the kitchen, pulling out a chair from the table. Hannah sat obediently while Gran filled the kettle.

She then directed Jake with Hannah’s bags up the stairs.

Hannah had felt much more comfortable when Jake was present—at least she could communicate with him.

Hannah’s head throbbed steadily and again she found herself rubbing her temples.

Jake and his grandmother spoke quietly when he returned.

“Let me show you your room. Gran will bring you up some tea shortly when it’s ready. Can I get you something for your headache?” he asked as he led her up the stairs.

“No, thanks—I have some aspirin in my luggage.”

Jake opened the door at the end of the hall. There was an enormous four-poster bed taking up most of the back wall. The rest of the furniture was solid-looking dark wood.

“Oh, Jake, this is a lovely room.”

“Yeah, next to Gran’s, this is the nicest.”

“Then why don’t you have this room?”

“This room? Naw, it gives me the creeps.”

“What on earth for?” Hannah asked, looking around. It looked perfectly homey.

He shrugged. “I’ll pull the drapes for you, to keep any light out.” He did so then turned on the adjoining bathroom light for her. “I’ve gotta go. I’ve got homework to do and maybe Gran’ll even make me some supper. Hope you sleep well.”

“Thank you. You’ve done so much for me.”

“No trouble. I hope your headache goes away,” he said, closing the door.

Hannah went straight to her bag and took out two aspirin, then opted for three. She looked around the room, then in the bathroom for something to wash them down with. But before she could locate a glass, Gran bustled in with a tray of steaming tea and a plate of fancy pastries.

She babbled incomprehensibly, gesturing and pointing first to the cup, then to Hannah’s head.

“Thank you.” Hannah bobbed.

Gran turned down the bed, and, to Hannah’s delight, she lit the fire. Hannah hadn’t even realized there was a fireplace in the room. She spread her hands out towards the growing flames. The older lady patted her shoulder and headed for the door.

She said something, to which Hannah thanked her again. Then she did the strangest thing. She gestured in the air, said something, and then crossed herself.

Hannah blinked. Perhaps she was just wishing her a good sleep? Maybe some kind of evening prayer or ritual which the older woman observed?

When she was alone, Hannah took the steaming tea and sat in a large wooden chair next to the crackling fire. She sipped the tea.

“Eeww!” It was awful. Hannah gave it a sniff. It didn’t smell any better than it tasted. Perhaps it was an herbal brew to help her head and that was what the gesturing towards her head had been about.

She watched the dancing flames, waiting for the tea to cool enough so she could swallow her pills. She did so then set the mug down. Her eyes fluttered as the heat relaxed her and the lapping flames mesmerized her tired eyes.

Chapter Two

Hannah awoke with a start. Her gaze darted around the room as she attempted to acclimate herself. The fire had died down some, the only other light source shone from the bathroom. Shadows danced and moved strangely around the room.

“I must have dozed off,” she said to herself, straightening in the chair.

One of the shadows wavered in front of her vision and all of a sudden she had the worst feeling she wasn’t alone.

Hannah tried to stand and fell over the blanket that covered her. She was positive that she hadn’t covered up when she’d sat down with the tea.

She touched her forehead. Well, that must be it. Someone had been in to check on her and had covered her up. Either Jake or his gran. They were so kind.

Hannah went into the adjoining bathroom to wash and change for bed. Her head still throbbed steadily.

She looked into the mirror. “Oh, well, that’s just lovely!” she said, to her bedraggled reflection. Her black mascara had run thanks to the being caught in the rain, giving her awesome raccoon eyes. Her dark brown hair hung limply past her shoulders.

Turning on the hot water tap, Hannah listened to the knocking as the old pipes heated the water. She washed her face and cleaned up her eyes with the soft peach washcloth.

She pulled her T-shirt over her head and slid out of her tan capris. She looked into the mirror and admired her pink lacy bra and matching panties. She and Cass had gone shopping for all new underclothes just for this trip. They’d spent a whole day, and Hannah had bought all new bras and underwear, and even some pretty little camisoles and lingerie, just in case she landed that one-night stand. If a man was going to see her in her nothings, she was determined that they be new and pretty and feminine and lacy. She’d bought a set in every color in the rainbow.

“Stupid Cassie!” she muttered again, cursing her friend for the hundredth time for standing her up.

Hannah wet the cloth again and began to wash her neck and arms. She washed across the top of her chest over the latest of her tattoos—the most elaborate one of the three. The same sad feeling arose that always overcame her when she looked at it.

Hannah thought back, remembering how she’d badgered Cassie into going with her to hold her hand at the tattoo parlor. She had known precisely what she was going to get when they’d walked in—an exact replica of the locket her mother had always worn. Her mother had wanted Hannah to have it, but when her mum had passed away after a long battle with cancer, Hannah hadn’t been able to bring herself to remove the necklace from her. Her mum had come to Canada with that beautiful little silver locket, a gift from Hannah’s father. It had traveled everywhere with her, and Hannah had wanted it to travel with her on her last journey.

That had been her plan. But when she and Cass had arrived at the tattoo parlor and Cassie had sat there going through the books, being totally annoying while Hannah waited patiently for her turn, one of the designs on the wall had captured her attention. A padlock encircled in chains, the keyhole a heart. Hannah had had the artist make one little addition that the example on the wall didn’t have—a broken chain, trailing, as if the key had been lost.

Hannah had walked out with that little tattoo hovering over her left breast just above her heart, a fitting tribute to her mum. She’d always be locked away in Hannah’s heart.

She sighed, looking back into the mirror as again a large shadow crossed over the door. “What is that?” she said squinting into the mirror.

When she peeked around the corner she couldn’t see anything or anyone in the room, only the shadows that the fire created, ebbing and flowing over the walls. “Oh, get a grip,” she told herself and stepped into the bedroom. “It’s just the shadows flickering from the fire.”

Hannah heard a noise and spun towards it. It had sounded like someone inhaling sharply. She narrowed her eyes, trying to see in the dimly lit room. There was nothing there. Feeling uncomfortable walking around in next to nothing, she pulled an over-sized T-shirt from her luggage and went back into the bathroom.

Wetting the cloth with warm water again, Hannah wiped over her stomach. She felt something glide over her bare shoulder. Instead of whipping around, she stared hard into the mirror, watching for anything tangible. She brushed her hand over her shoulder. It had to have been her own hair she’d felt.

“Screw it.” Tossing the washcloth into the sink, Hannah pulled the Kiss Me, I’m Scottish T-shirt over her bra and panties. Normally, she slept in the nude or with just a T-shirt on, but she wasn’t feeling comfortable enough to do so.

She gave her teeth a quick brush and entered the bedroom again, carefully looking around. Her mind was playing tricks on her. It had been a long, weird day.

Hannah pulled on a pair of warm socks then hung her legs over the side of the bed. She worked her head from side to side, trying to relieve the knot in her neck that she believed to be the source of the headache.

Hannah heard it again. A sigh. Her head snapped up, causing pain to burst from behind her eyes. When her vision cleared, she shrieked and scrambled up onto the bed.

There was a man. At least, the portrait of a man.

“Ohh!” she breathed, as she stared at the full-length painting. The figure leaned casually on a sword. The huge frame dominated the whole wall.

Hannah slowly climbed from the bed and approached cautiously, almost waiting for something else to jump out and spook the shit out of her.

“How on earth did I not see this?” she whispered, nearing the image.

He was the most beautiful man she’d ever laid eyes on. His features were perfectly masculine and artfully aristocratic.

His eyes were dark and intense, but the artist had highlighted the inner iris with tiny white strokes, making it seem as if his eyes were lit from within. They sparkled with curiosity as though he were really seeing her. She looked into the dark orbs, holding her breath—transfixed, waiting, watching for them to shift or blink. But, of course, they remained still. She released the breath on a chuckle at her own silliness. What a marvelously talented artist to have made him look so lifelike.

She continued to examine him, noting the thick, dark hair that reached almost to the collar of his crisp-looking white shirt. She wondered if the cut was considered overlong and indecent for that time period. She tried to discern what era he might have been from, but there was nothing in the painting that even hinted at the answer. Hannah almost wished he were real. She longed to run her fingers through his thick mane. Had the artist taken liberties, or could this man have been so flawlessly designed?

“You are gorgeous!” She reached out almost reverently, hesitantly touching his cheek. “How could I have missed you?”

She allowed her eyes to drift over the rest of him. His shoulders were wide. The painter had revealed only a small glimpse of what hinted to be a gloriously muscled chest through the V of the unlaced shirt. His waist was trim but Hannah imagined there lay an amazing six-pack under the loosely tucked garment. Her eyes drifted lower, over the dark pants that covered his thick thighs, down to the calf-high, shiny black boots.

Her focus slowly lifted back over his body, her eyes lingering on his crotch for an overlong moment as she imagined that part of him, too. She didn’t have to be an artisan to imagine in precise proportion to the rest of his size what a delightful handful he might be. She sighed. A girl could dream, couldn’t she?

Hannah realized she was breathing rapidly. Her face was warm. Her breasts tingled. Her body was responding as it would if a real live man had captured her attention, although she couldn’t ever remember having a reaction like this without some kind of stimulation first. She almost wished the swirls of paint were not cool to her touch but warm and giving, like his skin might feel.

She centered her gaze back on his amazing face, noting the high cheekbones and the strong jaw, noticing the slight cleft in his chin. She touched it, wishing that her finger could delve inside the little dent.

“Oh, I like that.” She smiled in appreciation of the tiny little dimple that gave the very manly features a boyish little twist.

Her attention swept to his mouth. He had full, sensual lips. “I bet you know how to kiss a girl, don’t you?” she asked them, wondering what it would be like to be kissed by those lips—to be kissed by a man like him at all. Would he take a woman over? Would he dominate her until she gave in? Not like he’d have to do much convincing. Or would he seduce a woman into submission with flowery words and a soft touch? It didn’t matter—either way, she’d be all over it.

Hannah swallowed hard and licked her parched lips as she ran the pad of her index finger over his full lower lip, resisting the sudden, overwhelming urge to press her own lips to the cool canvas. Hannah’s body trembled.

She gave herself a mental shake. It was the first time she’d ever been turned on by a painting. Putting distance between herself and it before looking back into his dark eyes, she gasped. They didn’t look as cold and intense as the first time she’d looked into them. They were a warm chocolate brown.

“How can that be?” She exhaled, again looking to him for answers. She rubbed her eyes and looked again. She shook her head from side to side. They were back to their original cold, blank stare. Her mind was playing tricks on her.

“Maybe I’m coming down with something?” She peeked up at him once more. “Why can’t I meet a man like you?” she asked him. “You know, if I did, I’d never go back home.” It was the truth. There was nothing to go back home to. Her mum was gone. Cass would soon marry that idiot Paul and things would change. Again.

Hannah backed away from the portrait, switched off the bathroom light then slid into bed. She couldn’t keep her eyes off the painting. The flickering firelight gave the impression that he was alive, moving.

All of a sudden, Hannah felt a moment of gripping grief, as if she mourned for the man in the painting. Her eyes filled as her chest tightened with pain. And just as fast as the feeling had come, it went, leaving her feeling nauseous and hot.

“Yeah, I’m definitely coming down with something. Just another perfect way to top off this perfect dream vacation,” she mumbled, punching the pillow before snuggling deep into the covers.

Chapter Three

Hannah awoke with a start, once more feeling like she was being watched. She sat up and her eyes went immediately to the handsome man in the portrait.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” she accused croakily, her hand rising to her sore throat. “Oh, damn it!” she bemoaned, pushing back the heavy blankets.

Her throat was on fire. She needed a drink desperately.

She stumbled back over to the fireplace and picked up the half-empty cup of tea. “I wonder if this old place has a microwave?” She wrapped the blanket that someone had been kind enough to cover her with around her shoulders.

“Come on, portrait man, show me your kitchen,” she invited as she passed the painting.

She made her way carefully and quietly down the dark stairs, hoping she wouldn’t wake Gran and Jake. Lightning continued to illuminate the downstairs with tiny little pulsing flashes, helping light the way.

Finding the microwave, Hannah heated the bitter tea for thirty seconds, hoping to make it warm enough to drink but not too hot. She stopped the digital counter before the appliance could beep and wake the whole house. After removing the cup, she sipped slowly. It was good enough—she drank the rest down.

“Wha…” She shuddered. “That’s awful stuff.” She went to the fridge and looked in, hoping to find orange juice inside, to soothe her throat.

“Oh, thank you,” she whispered, spotting some. She found a glass and poured herself some juice, then drank it, cooling the fire in her throat.

She touched her forehead, wondering if she were feverish. She felt very strange all of a sudden. It was like the room had taken on a life of its own. She felt and heard it breathing. It was as if she could see every particle in the room individually vibrating, moving, forming substance. Everything took on a silvery hue and wavered in front of her eyes. She leaned heavily on the counter to keep herself upright.

She was not alone.

Hannah shrieked, a strangled sound coming from her sore throat as the lightning illuminated the face of the real-life version of the man in the portrait. The blanket slipped from her shoulders. He was not far away from her. She wondered how he could have sneaked up on her like that without her hearing him. He was close enough to touch.

“It’s you,” she whispered. He was alive. The thought sent a thrill through her. “You scared me.”

You scared me,” he repeated in a distinctive Scottish brogue. Another burst of sensation ran through her body at his accent. “You see me?”

“Barely,” she rasped, more from her awareness of him than the sore throat. “It’s so dark.” She reached towards him. He caught her hand and guided it towards his chest, splaying her fingers against its hard warmth. His lips parted on a sigh as though he were savoring her touch. A surge of energy shot through Hannah’s body as if all her molecules had suddenly come back together in one hot rush.

“You hear me?”

“Yes,” she answered, wondering why he was asking her these strange questions.

“You feel me?”

“Yes,” she answered, wanting to feel a whole lot more of him. He pushed her hand more solidly against his broad chest, giving her the impression he wanted it too. She moved closer, inexplicably drawn to him, just as she had been to the painting. He was even taller than she’d thought he would be. And, if possible, he was even more handsome than the artist had been able to portray. A rush of pure lust shot through her.

“It is you, isn’t it? From the painting.” She had assumed it was an old portrait, never giving thought that it might be more recent and that this glorious hunk of man might live here.

“Aye, ’tis.”

He traced his thumb leisurely over her bottom lip just as she’d done to his likeness in the painting. He swept his tongue slowly across his own lip as he continued to stare down at her. She shivered with anticipation. 

“Is the sayin’ on your chemise the truth then, lass? Because true or no, I am goin’ to kiss ya,” he warned, leaning towards her.

>>>Lost Time<<<
I hope you enjoyed the extract from Lost Time
Happy Canada Day! 
Enjoy the day, folks, but please, take good care. 
Stay safe and well. 
And to my American Friends and Readers, 
Happy upcoming 4th of July! 

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