THE PASSAGE TO SUMMER
THE PASSAGE TO SUMMER first appeared in the A DANCE OF MANNERS Regency anthology.
When the normally formal and proper Earl of Wickerdun enters an enchanted forest, his world turns upside down. Songs from wood nymphs, and an aqua-eyed faery make him think he’s on his way to Bedlam.
Pleasant dreams departed. Questions, endless questions. He opened his eyes when he heard singing, only to see an angel staring down at him. No, a faery. Ardmoor said the woods were enchanted, so the vision above him must be a faery. Her eyes were a green-blue, aqua like the sea. Large, lovely eyes. Her lips smiled and he smiled back. The faery laughed and pushed stray strands of blondish hair from her face. Odd, I would not think faeries pinned back their hair.
“Hello, good sir.”
Aware of his duty as gentleman to rise and apologize for his intrusion, Wickerdun fought years of upbringing. The woods are enchanted, so I needn’t act as I normally would. Besides, she might disappear if I rise. “Hello. Are you a faery?”
She laughed and the sound made Wickerdun smile. When was the last time I heard genuinely happy laughter?
“A faery? No, although the wildness of what some call faery runs through my veins.” She cocked her head and looked intently into his eyes. Wickerdun held his breath. Never had a woman looked so keenly at him. “I believe you also have a dram or two of that blood running in your veins.”
A niggle of memory tapped Wickerdun, but he ignored all but the vision above him. “Do I?”
“Oh, aye.” She laughed, then sat back on her heels. “Your presence was noted at once, the subject of much discussion.”
Wickerdun thought he might like to hear from her lips what had been said, but not now. “And so you came.”
She smiled. “I walk these woods every day. When I heard of your presence, I came to investigate.”
Wickerdun’s gaze flicked to the trees, from whence he believed the singing came. “The singing . . .?”
“You can hear the wood nymphs?”
The pleasure derived from her bright smile diminished as his mind grappled with her reply. Wood nymphs? I shall have to ponder that later. “What is your name?” He frowned when she pulled back. “Forgive me, but I am not familiar with faery custom.”
“Courtesy is the same the world over, sir.”
I should have known that. I do know that!
She smiled again, and Wickerdun’s heart thumped when two dimples appeared on her cheeks. By Jupiter, but she was uncommonly pretty!
“But since we are in the country, in my enchanted wood, perhaps propriety can be eased. My name is Megara. Do you have a name?”
Megara. It suited her. “Wickerdun.”
She frowned. “No, your given name. I told you mine.”
Wickerdun blinked at such forwardness, then was quick to forgive her. “William.” Her one arched brow showed he’d not fooled her. He was impressed. “Clarence William Marshall DeBohun is my name, but I prefer William.”
“William.” She nodded and smiled. “I like that. What causes you such pain, William?”
“I am not—”
“Oh, but you are.” She nodded again, her gaze traveling his body, lingering on his chest before resting on his eyes. He hoped she’d continue to look into his eyes—while remaining silent. “Your body is fairly shrieking with pain. ‘Tis most disconcerting to those who can hear.”
He chuckled, then caught himself. By Jupiter! When was the last time I felt like laughing? “Forgive my shrieking. If I knew how, I would stop.”
She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “Ardmoor sent you here.”
“How is the peg-legged fool these days?”
Wickerdun rose to a sitting position. Enchanting faery she might be, beautiful, dimples, a smile to melt a man’s heart, but Ardmoor was a hero and friend. “I believe calling a man a peg-legged fool—”
“I warned him, you know. I told him he would get the thing shot off if he was not careful. He did not listen, did he? The man is a stubborn fool. Always has been, and now has a wooden leg to show for it.”
It was but a moment before Wickerdun realized by sitting how close his face was to hers. She had a few freckles on her nose. Odd, but instead of inspiring distaste, he wanted to kiss them. His gaze flew to her eyes when she touched her freckles.
“I apologize if I offended you,” she said. “Ardmoor is a dear friend of mine, too.”
Wickerdun frowned. “Are you able to read people’s minds?” Deuced uncomfortable if she could.
She laughed. “I certainly would not do so without permission. That would be unconscionable. I do have the ability to see things, as I did with Ardmoor. The Sight. Not all the time, mind you.”
Wickerdun breathed his relief. “And you hear bodies when they shriek.”
His breath caught when she winked at him and wagged a finger inches from his face. He overcame the urge to wrap his lips around her finger.
“You are twigging me, William. And yes, I do hear bodies when they scream. One of my abilities. Speaking of which . . . did that hurt? You look surprised.”
Wickerdun looked up. She’d pushed him down! What was she about? Would she join him? “I am not hurt, no, but as you say, surprised. What are you planning?”
“To help you, William,” she said with a smile.