Circle of Love
Part I: Tracy
Tracy Anne Stevens twisted in the British Rail seat as she saw the destination sign. I should never have come, she thought. Seeing him again will just lead to another goodbye. Right away, the implications of this gray English Tuesday played havoc with her elegant body.
A tight knot formed in her stomach. Her palms started to sweat. Not the anxiety again—so soon! she pleaded. It’s worse than ever since he left. Can't someone release me from this dragon ruining my life?
The unwelcome rush of adrenalin made her heart pound harder and harder. Heat flashed up her body toward her face.
Tapes of the fearful thoughts began to play in her mind. I've got to get out of here! Out of here! Away! Away from these people...out into fresh air.
The feelings of panic that had hounded Tracy since childhood stormed her. They assaulted her carefully controlled image as a worldly-wise, independent woman. All senses focused inward even as her eyes darted toward the vestibule, searching for a way of escape. She rose halfway from the upholstered seat, while another message sought to counter the one echoing insistently in her head.
Her hand clamped vise-like on the chair a row ahead. You can conquer it, Tracy Anne. Will it to go away. You can conquer it. You can...
She took several long, deliberate breaths. At last, she managed to force her body back down. The first onslaught paused momentarily.
Tracy pushed back in the coach seat, closed her eyes, and put her carefully manicured fingers against her temples. When the next rush of panic came, she was more prepared for battle. Again, inhale and exhale. Slow and deep.
Deliberately visualizing a particular place of beauty, she took herself away to a verdant spreading tree—somewhere in her imagination—where she felt shade, protection and, somehow, love.
There under the fir branches, she experienced slow cleansing of the momentary fright that struck like a vengeful army.
I think I just won a battle. But will the day ever come when the war is over? She felt drained of energy and short on hope.
Again, she looked out the window. The BritRail engine was creeping toward the station.
Her hands shook as she gathered the cashmere coat, Pullman case and carry-on. Tracy swallowed, placed her hand on her nervous stomach, and waited for the train to halt.
It's a good thing I don't get like this before contract-signings with clients, she mused, then caught herself. Without Fresh Focus Advertising, I don't even have clients to meet with anymore.
Not since she'd made the mistake of trusting Christopher too little—and Drake too much. Not since her bright new account executive had snowed her on his abilities, his honesty, and his appeal as a man. Not since Drake Flint had conspired with the preppy little payroll clerk to divert funds into his own account at the bank, cleverly destroying months of past-due notices for Tracy from the Internal Revenue Service. Not since the IRS had padlocked the doors of her creative company two Fridays ago.
How could this happen to me? She went over it again in her mind. Especially when I've bent over backward to be fair to my clients. So much for the reputation for business integrity I've worked so hard to build!
It seemed more like a century since she'd lost Fresh Focus, and even longer since Christopher had tired of always being second place in her life.
She sat stiffly as other passengers brushed past her seat, murmuring politely, "Sorry. Sorry." A thin girl about eight years old tripped over Tracy's bag; she softened enough to flash an apologetic smile. The child answered with one of her own.
Tracy couldn't delay any longer. Her legs felt as heavy as her luggage—and her heart—when she finally made her way to the exit.
At the vestibule she paused. It's not too late. I could go back to London and get a flight home in the morning.
"Better step off snappy, Miss. The train's departing for Manchester." Another passenger steadied her arm and plopped the Pullman case on the platform pavement.
Tracy made her choice. Shivering in the dreary winter air, she slipped into her coat, took a shaky breath, and stepped off the train. Her hand went to her thick, dark hair right away. It was raining.
As she bent to pull the fur-trimmed hood of her coat around her head, Tracy heard her other name. Then a rush of running feet.
Brown eyes met blue for a split second as the man caught her in a crushing embrace, then drew back quickly. The couple stared at each other.
She searched the expression of this wiry man in his early thirties. A gust of wind caught his ash blond hair and raindrops dotted the sandy beard. His cheeks were ruddier than ever.
Behind rimless glasses, kind blue eyes flicked back and forth, while one hand nervously jangled loose coins in his pants pocket. The bomber jacket he wore had flapped open in his haste.
Why did you invite me here, so out-of-the-blue? she wondered. Something's going on, something besides just being lonely. When you phoned last week, why did I agree to come at all?
Behind her, the train to Manchester pulled out of the station.
Unconsciously, she laid her hand against his chest. He can't have changed much. The miniature screwdriver and flashlight are still there, right in his shirt pocket. She wasn't thinking rationally anymore.
He gently pushed back the hood from her thick curls and brushed her cheek with a kiss.
"Christopher," she whispered. Although he couldn't actually hear her greeting, he felt the name against his neck. Like she used to say it.
Christopher Mayfield Montgomery placed his hands on her narrow shoulders and stepped back to gaze once more at her face. The laugh lines around his eyes dared to crinkle in hope. Despite the shadow of past hurts, the light had come back into her eyes. The flecks of amber glowed again. Droplets of rain perched on her eyelashes, or were they something else?
"Anne. Let's begin again." There were tears shining in his eyes.
She blinked but gave no answer.
Graphic & Text Copyright 2003 Susan Cornell Bauer
Mayfield Manor, August 1642
The raven-haired beauty pressed her face to the leaded panes of the oriel window. "Godspeed, Father," she whispered, as unbidden tears spilled onto her velvet gown.
The man she lived for—still robust and dashing—turned just then in his saddle and waved his wide-brimmed hat. "Long live King Charles!" he shouted, his enthusiasm apparently undampened, though his hat plumes already grew limp in the mist.
Robert Mayfield squared his shoulders within the scarlet coat. The newest member of the King's Lifeguards adjusted his weapons, planted high boots in the stirrups, then spurred his dark bay through the stone portals of the manor. His retainers followed. As evergreens swallowed up the small party, a growing ache for the leader caught at Honour's heart.
The ripening girl of seventeen years clutched the journal to her young breasts and laid her palm against the glass. I fear nothing shall ever be the same again.
Graphic & Text Copyright 2003 Susan Cornell Bauer