Kelly Ferjutz is
a free-lance writer, editor, proofreader, reviewer and photographer who
has just achieved
Charlotte Brantley, at the age of thirty-six, has given up all thoughts of men or romance - for herself. The characters she creates for her books keep her busy enough that she doesn't think she needs the real-life version to complicate her nice, quiet life.
But then she meets the man she hadn't realized she'd been longing for. Edouard de Lisle is a professor at the local university whose specialty is exactly the information Charley needs. In fact, he has the answers to questions Charley hasn't even thought up yet!
With a little help from their friends - and Charley's dog Friedl - they discover the joys of collaboration.
Things happen. Serendipity. Disaster. Sometimes both at the same time.
Charlotte Brantley, her gaze as usual on her feet as she ran up the stairs to the library, col-lided forcefully with a brick wall that was walking down, minding its own business. She grabbed furiously for her glasses, catching them in mid-flight.
“Bien, mademoiselle! Nice catch.” The voice had just the slightest touch of an accent, and was deep and resonant.
Charley felt the heat rise in her face, but she forced herself to look at the man she had run into — and apologize to him.
"I'm so sorry," she mumbled, and moved to her right. He moved to his left, blocking her.
"It is no difficulty, mademoiselle, I assure you. But that catch, it was superb. Do you do that often? Do you play le baseball?” He smiled, reaching out one hand to steady her.
A frisson of excitement ran up her arm at his touch, and she recoiled slightly.
Charley blinked at his slightly out of focus smile. It appeared to be dazzling, and she hur-riedly replaced her glasses on her nose. Now that she could see him—good grief! He was gor-geous—he could easily be the younger brother of Mr. Darcy in that terrific version of Pride & Prejudice that had been on TV some years back. Which reminded her—she’d heard it was on DVD, and meant to get a copy of her very own. Someday, she even intended to actually have the machine in which to play it. But here was his double standing right in front of her! Her tongue immediately froze in her mouth, and she couldn't even mumble. She stared. She knew better, of course she did, but then one didn't, just every day, meet a real-life version of the heroes of the type that one created in one’s mind, especially on the steps of the library.
She was torn between wanting to proceed into the library and let him proceed to where ever he was going, and tripping him outright. If he fell at her feet, she'd have another opportunity to stare at him. Then she could help him up, and, if no bones were broken, she could— But she wouldn't, of course. She scuffed her feet together, trying to decide what, if anything, she should do next. What would Melanie do, she wondered? But that was ridiculous! Melanie would have had her maid or her abigail with her. She would never have been allowed to run around London by herself. Furthermore, this wasn’t London, either!
The brick wall, a pleasant man usually called David, found himself intrigued by the woman standing in front of him. A pleasant face, oval shaped, not beautiful, perhaps, but attractive, and without makeup—how very unusual. And such lovely, long dark hair, confined to a single braid, hanging nearly to her waist, thick and glossy with health. He longed to loosen it, feel it with his fingers, wondered how it would feel floating softly over him. Her gold colored eyes, soft, and at the moment, dazed, were set under nicely shaped dark eyebrows which matched the color of her thick lashes. Even when seen through her glasses, her eyes were large and sparkly. Her skin was smooth and lightly tanned. There was no artifice to her at all, but nevertheless, she set off alarm bells in his head that he had never heard before. He felt instinctively that this was a woman he would like to see more of, get to know better. But how?
"Are you all right? Would you like to sit down?” The concern in his voice was evident, but still Charley stared. "Miss—” She became aware of the feel of his hand on her arm, and shook her-self. His touch was burning her, she could almost feel the blisters rising. As if a magnet were pulling her, she could sense herself leaning toward him.
"No. I'm fine, really I am. I just—um.” She sighed, and counted to ten in her head. Looking up at him, she forced her mouth to behave and said, "I am sorry, I was obviously not looking where I was going—well, actually I was looking where I was going, and that's why I didn't see you. I hope I didn't hurt you in any way. I really should stop running up these stairs, I do it all the time, I come here so often. Oh, gosh—here I go, again. I don't know what's the matter with me, I just blather on so, and I'm not even Irish. I'm sorry."
Patiently he stood there, elegant in his three-piece suit, with a gold chain across the waist-coat, and his shirt blindingly white in the sun. Actually, it matched his teeth, very visible because of his broad smile. He was quite tall, at least six feet, with athletic shoulders. His eyes were brown as was his hair which had just a touch of gray at the temples. Combed back from his forehead, it lay in waves and formed into curls just above his collar. Nearly forty, she thought, irreverently. Charley immediately decided that blonde heroes were insipid, and her next one would definitely have dark hair.
Immediately after that thought came the idea that his lips would be wonderfully soft against hers. Mentally shaking herself, she forcibly drew back from him. Just because she had written about these reactions for so long was no reason to start believing in them herself!
"If you are sure that you are all right?” He removed his hand from her arm, but her skin con-tinued to tingle. "Please, perhaps we might go somewhere and sit and talk. Have a cup of coffee, possibly?"
"What? But I don't even know you."
"That is, unfortunately, true. But then, most people do not know each other when they first meet. And I would like very much to become better acquainted with you.” He noticed with a sense of pleasure that she was not wearing any rings, but of course, these days, that did not al-ways mean—
The smile intensified, as did the queasiness in Charley's stomach. What was he talking about? "Oh, yes. I mean, no. Thank you. I'm fine, positively, I'm fine. But I couldn't possibly—” She stumbled over the words. "I'm sure you—I need to—” He moved slightly to his right, and Charley suddenly grabbed his arm, unwilling to lose all contact with him. What was she doing?
She had never grabbed anyone in her entire life! "And you? Are you all right? I didn't hurt you?"
"I assure you that I am absolutely unhurt. I really should like it very much, you know, if we might meet again...” He was reluctant to let the meeting end, but she seemed so skittish he couldn't bring himself to pressure her, no matter how much he might like to just pick her up and carry her off to some secluded spot where they might become very much better acquainted.
Charley removed her hand from his arm as if it were scalding to the touch.
"Yes, perhaps. Thank you!" she blurted and then turned and ran into the building. She heard him chuckle as he continued down the stairs. Charley headed for the nearest wall, and braced herself against it, breathing deeply. She had never been so shaken, felt such a physical longing, and she couldn't even decide what she was longing for! You are an idiot, she chided herself, a blithering idiot. What is the matter with you, anyway? What was happening to her? She shook her head. A small voice in her mind answered back I don't know, I just don't know.
* * * * * *
Libraries were truly the most amazing places, Charley thought. There were displays of art and artifacts and even art for loaning, mixed in with the records, tapes, videos and books. She always felt that she was coming home whenever she was here. In fact, it had been a librarian who had convinced her to try writing, after a stint of volunteering her services to write the library newsletter. But now, she walked, unseeing, past the checkout desk, past information, until she had reached the farthest shelves. Finding a stool, she sat and put her head in her hands, trying to stabilize her breathing. What a crazy day this was turning out to be!
And all because a character in one of her books had decided that she didn't like the life Charley had planned for her, and decided to embark on one of her own. But why, oh, why, did Melanie decide to have an out of body experience that transported her back to the fourteenth century? Eighteenth century eccentrics were not a novelty, and ghosts were prevalent in those old houses. But this latest fancy seemed to be carrying that eccentricity a bit too far.
Charley had never been a great fan of history until she discovered the works of Georgette Heyer. The formal yet witty life of the Regency families so endearingly portrayed by Ms. Heyer had been a revelation. She found herself thoroughly engaged by the manners and mores of the period, and enjoyed writing about her own creations nearly as much as she enjoyed reading the creations of other writers of the genre. But what appealed to her the most was the innocence—the lack of direct sexual experiences in the true Regency. Implied, yes. Hinted at, yes. But de-scribed? NO.
She would never be able to write sex scenes such as she sometimes found in contemporary romance novels. In fact, she thought those writers must have very overly active imaginations to write the things they did. Nothing like any of the experiences that regularly happened to every romantic heroine had ever happened to Charley before today, even in her marriage. Especially in her marriage. She had come to the conclusion that it was all wishful thinking on the part of the other writers, and happily kept to her Regencies.
In contrast to her quiet demeanor, she had a wry sense of humor which projected itself into her books, and she was capable of creating "heroines of humor and beauty and heroes of manly distinction" according to one reviewer. Another said her plots showed "ingenuity" and a "famil-iarity with the Period.” It was true that she would never get rich from her writing, but she loved what she was doing, and who could ask for more?
Earlier that afternoon, she had been writing industriously, when she had paused to read what she had written. This simple action had thrown her into chaos. "What have you done?" Charlotte had asked the illuminated video terminal sitting malignantly in front of her. It didn't answer, although the cursor did keep blinking at her.
Absently she had run a hand over her hair as she reached with the other for a sugar-free cookie. This was her latest substitute for the cigarettes she was trying—valiantly—to give up. "Why have you done this to me?” She moaned softly as she pushed the button to go back to the beginning of the file. As the machine blinked and clicked at her, Charley conceded that writing on a computer was certainly a wonderful way to get words on paper, even if it was on a contrap-tion that looked like a color-blind television set, rather than the paper used for centuries.
For that matter, there was no reason to muss or bother with pens, pencils or typewriters, ei-ther. It was quite the most wonderful toy she'd ever had, albeit a rather expensive one. But then, for a woman who was able to support herself—even if just barely—by her words, it could hardly be considered a toy of any variety. Rather a necessary evil, if the truth were known.
Push a button for this, or a different button for that, and eventually paper with words printed on it came spewing out, repeating her innermost thoughts for all the world to see. If they cared to, that is. Fortunately for Charlotte Brantley, a small portion of the world did care, and she was able to write in the 'Occupation' section on an application blank for whatever, that most glo-rious word - WRITER. She always felt that it should be followed by two or three (and sometimes even more) exclamation points. Who would ever have thought that nondescript Charlotte, with her quiet, unobtrusive ways, and lack of conversation, could spin webs of enchantment using only her mind? Fed, of course, by all the books that she had devoured as a child. That was the most important ingredient.
Throughout her life, Charley had been accused by almost everyone she had ever met, of having her nose in a book, and being totally oblivious to the world around her. Not quite true, except that characters in books didn't yell at her to do this or that, or not to do that or this. Read-ing was better for you than eating too much, or drinking too much, or hanging out at bars, and most important of all, being dependent on anyone else for anything.
Bringing herself back to the screen in front of her, Charley re-read what she had just written, frowning at the words. "Where did that come from? What do I do now?” Talking to herself was an occupational hazard that no longer worried her. If the machine started talking back, that was the time to become alarmed. "I don't believe this!" she muttered, as she stood up and stretched. "Maybe a cup of coffee will help."
Making her way to the kitchen, she glanced around her little house with pleasure. Not for everyone, she conceded, but perfect for her. Not too large, not too small, but the floor-plan was nicely arranged for convenience, and the back yard with its slightly larger than postage stamp-sized lawn required only five minutes of attention every week or so to keep it looking lush and green. Her bare feet tingled with the anticipation of walking through the grass while picking flowers or tomatoes. It was the only home Charley had ever lived in, which provided its own sense of comfort and belonging.
She looked out at the deck along the back of her house. It had been her most expensive purchase ever, bought with the first advance check from her publisher. She’d thought it well worth the cost, extravagant as it seemed, even then. The table with its colorful umbrella had been the site of many pleasant breaks in her writing routine, sometimes with manuscript in hand, for a last check before sending it off to her agent. But the best part was the roofed portion, where she could sit out in the rain without getting wet. From there she could watch nature unfold, and breath in the warm, damp smells of fresh earth. It beckoned to her now, and she felt positively blissful at the thought of sitting out there in the middle of the afternoon, while the neighbors were all off sweltering in their offices.
Standing in her kitchen, she had decided on iced tea instead of coffee, and reached for the tea bags. The phone rang, waking up her dog, Friedl. The miniature wire-haired dachshund jumped out of her bed, barking at the clamor. Startled, Charley dropped the box of tea bags and glared at the little packets skittering across the floor. "Hush, Friedl!" she said. The phone rang again, and she turned her glare at it. As it rang for yet a third time, she grudgingly reached for it and said 'hello.'
A tinny voice said "Congratulations! Your name has been selected as a winner in our Sin-gles Fiesta Contest. If your phone number is 428-9999, then you have just ten minutes to call our office and we'll be happy to tell you—”
Charley slammed the phone on its hook, resisting the urge to throw it across the room. Computerized voices, computerized calling, it seemed as if the whole world had succumbed to the lure of mechanization. She giggled as she remembered her earlier thoughts about her own mechanization.
Singles Fiesta, indeed. She picked up her tea and cookie to go out to the table in the back yard. The very thought of a Singles Fiesta made her cringe. Men. Who needed them? She'd had one, thank you very much, and that was enough for her. Never more, as the raven supposedly said, Never more!
As she passed the phone, it rang again. Angrily she snatched it up and nearly shouted the "hello.” Friedl merely raised her head this time, looking at her mistress. A timid little voice in-formed Charley that the library was calling to inform her that the book she had requested was now in and would be held for three days. "Wait!" cried Charlotte, "I'm sorry, oops!—oh, no, not you. I’m sorry, I didn't mean to yell at you, I was—um…I spilled my iced tea, but thank you, and I'll be right there. Thank you!” The owner of the timid little voice, now laughing, said "goodbye" as she hung up the phone.
Charley ran to her room to change her clothes. A fresh pair of jeans and a clean shirt would be perfectly acceptable. Clutching at her upper arms, she grimaced at herself. More exercise would probably help a lot, if only she wasn't so lazy! Or else she should get a dog with longer legs. But she loved Friedl, even though the little animal was not an adventuresome one, and much preferred the fenced in portion of the yard to running the gamut of neighborhood mon-sters, all bigger and louder than she was.
Either Charley would have to imbue Friedl with some courage, or else she would have to cut out the cookies—her worst, and most secret, vice. Well, at least since she’d more or less quit the cigarettes. It was anything but easy to abandon such a strong addiction. Cookies were almost as bad, but maybe not quite. At least they made her think about what she was doing. Smoking had been such a mindless exercise. There had been times—years ago—when she’d eaten a whole package of cookies at one sitting while at other times, she could easily ignore their existence for at least a week at a time. Oh, well, at least with her long legs, she didn't look too unpresentable in jeans. Thank goodness she'd stopped growing at five foot seven! She certainly wasn't skinny, but not terribly overweight either, only about fifteen pounds or so. Thank goodness for the sugar-free variety of cookies. They did help, some, she hoped.
Of course, one could see much worse every time one went outdoors. Or watched TV, for that matter. Who cared, anymore, anyway? She was clean and neat and that should be all that mattered. At thirty-two, Charlotte was finally content with her life and her lifestyle, and felt no need for change. Although she had no real family (other than Friedl), she had two good 'girl' friends, (anachronistic term!). Whenever she felt the need for human companionship, either Ellie or Peggy was there, listening to or regaling, her with their latest exploits. Sure, they had tried to get her to go out with them, but she always refused, even at the risk of being labeled a hermit.
Someone once said that a writer's life was a lonely one, and maybe it was, or maybe it de-pended on your definition of loneliness. She was frequently alone, but never felt lonely, mostly due to the presence of Friedl. In fact she had never felt more alone than during her marriage.
Shy, however, she would admit to. Peggy and Ellie were forever telling her that the only way to get over that was to get out and meet people. It sounded so easy when they said it, but was so difficult to do in actuality. She could think of so many things to say to people when they weren't around, but when they were, her throat closed, and she forgot all the words she ever knew.
Charley looked back at her computer and realized that she could kill two birds with one stone if she re-read what Melanie had done before going to the library. Research was not exactly her favorite activity, but maybe she could find a book that would give her the basic information she needed, and allow her to continue the saga of Melanie. Flipping switches to activate the computer, she carefully inspected her words. She grabbed a pencil and paper, and wrote down "fourteenth century French castle" followed by "clothing" and "food".
Whistling under her breath, she’d picked up her car keys and headed for the library, leaving a disappointed Friedl behind. It was much too hot to leave the little dog in the car when she didn't know how long she might be.
* * * *
And now here she was, only minutes later, thrown willy-nilly into just such an adventurous episode as she had only read about, one all of her very own, and she didn't know what to do with it. Well, she had come to the library to research the fourteenth century, so she had best get to it.
The information desk was a little daunting in its hecticness sometimes, but the people there always managed to find what she needed. Hesitantly, she approached a young man, the only person not occupied. He smiled at her, and she stammered, still shaken by her encounter on the steps.
"Perhaps y-you can h-help me?”
"I'll try. What are you looking for?"
"I'm, ah, well—. Medieval France," she murmured.
"Anything particular about Medieval France?"
"Oh. Um, my list. Just a minute, I wrote down some things.” She rummaged in her purse, and triumphantly handed the scrap of paper to the young man.
Frowning at the piece of paper, he asked, "Castles, clothes and food?"
"Do you need in-depth material, or just to sort of scratch the surface?"
"Um, I'm not sure."
The young man looked at her with a quizzical look. "Perhaps if you were to tell my why you need this information, I could help you better," he said.
"Oh, no!” She could feel her face begin to turn red. "I mean—" She stopped in confusion. "What in the world do I mean?" she muttered to herself.
Looking up at the young man again, she clutched her hands together and took a deep breath. "Let's start with just b-basic, ok?”
"Sure, that's fine. And if you should find that you need more than we have here, I have a good friend who teaches Medieval French History at the University. He can talk for hours on the subject. I know, he's done it to me.” He grinned engagingly at Charley. "Let's go see what we can find," he added, as he started toward the stacks.
"Let's see now, castles should be just about—ah, here it is. Now this is just about castles in general, how they were built and why, and the differences depending on sites, and so forth. How does this look to you?"
Charley took the book and leafed through it. "It seems to be more English and Welsh than French.”
"Well yes, that's probably true," he replied.
"Oh, well, I'll take it anyway."
"Okay. There were lots of castles or chateaux in France, but they’re not as well known as those in England or Wales. Probably a language difficulty. Any particular area of France?” Char-ley shook her head, no. "OK" he continued. "Now if you wanted cathedrals, there's lots of Medi-eval cathedrals left in France even today, after all the wars and everything.” He looked at her.
"Oh. Um, I'm not sure about cathedrals. What about food and clothing?"
"They're right over here.” He turned and walked down another aisle. Charley clutched her book about castles and tagged along.
"There's a wonderf—oh, wow!” He quickly pulled a book off the shelf and looked at her, a big grin on his face. "I've been on vacation, just came back, and I didn't know this would be here yet.” He thrust the book close to her face and she read the title Daily Life in Medieval France. That sounds like just what I want," she said.
"It was written by the friend I was telling you about," he said proudly, turning the book around to look at the back. "See—? E. David de Lisle. I knew he was writing it, but I didn't know it was here yet. You could probably be the first person to take it out, if you like. It must have everything you need to know."
Charley was affected by his enthusiasm, and smiled widely at him. "You've been so helpful, I really appreciate it. Thank you."
"If you want to call Dave, just let me know, I'll give you his number at the university."
“Oh, no, I couldn't bother him. I'm sure the book will be just fine.” After another big smile, she clutched the two books and headed for the check-out desk. After collecting her reserved book, she headed for home again.
* * * * * *
Once home with her books, Charley settled down to read about Medieval France, sure she wouldn't find it very interesting. With her iced tea and the allotted two cookies by her side, she tucked her feet under her on the sofa and picked up the book by Professor de Lisle.
The next thing she knew, the phone was ringing, jarring her from her reverie. She picked it up and growled "hello!"
"Hi, there! It's Ellie."
“Ummpphh,” Charley responded, sleepily. “Hi.”
"Gee, don't sound so thrilled. Or were you writing?”
"No, I'm reading, or was.” Charley tried to straighten out her legs to sit up and discovered that they were asleep, as was the dog curled up in her lap. "Ar-r-r-gh."
"What was that? Are you all right?"
"Yes. My legs went to sleep, that's all."
"Where are you?"
"On the sofa, wound up like a pretzel!"
"Oh. What are or were you reading?"
"Daily Life in Medieval France."
"Are you out of your mind? What has that to do with Regencies? Or are you branching out? This is Ellie, remember? You can tell me."
“No, I just, um—I, ah, well, this young man at the library said it was written by a friend of his, and, um, I decided to try it. That's all.” Charley never divulged plots or plans to her friends until her books were finished.
"Oh. Somehow I can't imagine you in Medieval France after all those years in Regency England. Is it any good?"
Ellie was silent, listening to the energy in her friend's voice. "Do you think I might enjoy it?" she asked after a bit.
"Who knows? It's very well written. The author teaches here at the University."
“What do you mean by that?"
“Are you going to meet him?"
"I can't imagine why I’d do that."
“Oh. Well, then don’t. In the meantime, the reason why I called, and you'll notice I waited until after the dinner hour—"
“What? What time is it?" Charley asked.
There was a pause at the other end of the line, and when Ellie spoke, mild sarcasm was evi-dent in her voice. "It's 9:30, why?"
"9:30? Already? No wonder my stomach is yelling at me. I must have fallen asleep. Sorry, I interrupted you. Continue."
"Well, you've just answered my question. I felt like a drink, and thought you might like to go out with me, just for a bit. You could have a soft drink, I wouldn't care, I just wanted to get out of the house. But if you haven't—unless you want to go out to eat?” Wistfulness had entered Ellie's voice on the last statement, and Charley felt a pang as she thought of her friend.
Ellie was slightly older than Charley, and had never married. Ellie was the youngest child and only daughter, and had therefore been relegated to taking care of her parents while her five brothers occupied themselves with their families and businesses. Shortly after high school, her mother had had a stroke, and Ellie became her nurse, lovingly caring for the older woman for the five years she was bed-ridden until her death.
Anticipating freedom and the opportunity to go off to college or think of marriage, Ellie was again pressed into nursing - this time her father, who had not the strength to withstand the loss of his wife. His heart attack had surprised them all, as he had always been the perfect example of 'hale and hearty'. He lingered for ten years, declining visibly with every day, but tenaciously hanging onto life under the good care provided by Ellie.
Her brothers felt it only fair that Ellie should inherit the house, which was not mortgaged, and they all added to the small insurance settlement to provide her with enough money to live comfortably.
Ellie was now worn out before her time, a young spirit encased in an aging body, wishing for romance and fulfillment before it was too late. She even at times wished for a child of her own, but realized that it was not at all likely to happen. She filled her days with volunteering for various agencies around town, especially those involved with children. Her experiences had not soured her on life, but had certainly contributed to her caring and concerned attitudes towards her friends.
Charley liked Ellie, who had been a good friend and a stalwart buffer against the world when Bill died. All these thoughts flashed in her mind as she said, "That's a great idea. I'd love a pizza. Where should we go? Teresa's?”
There was silence on the other end of the line. "Ellie? Are you there? I'm hungry! Let's go! Ellie, are you there?"
"You startled me, that's all. I'll be there in five minutes. Don't change your mind. Bye!” The phone buzzed in Charley's ear.