Vanessa entered the bookshop with her head down. Lately, it seemed as if her life was more like that of a story, and she longed to find refuge in one of the books here, so that she might forget her troubles… such as the strange man who she was beginning to think might possibly be from another time and the horrid man her parents wished her to wed, considering her options were so few.

She bumped into a lady. “Oh, I am quite sorry!”

The lady, one Vanessa had never seen before, granted her an easy albeit preoccupied smile. “Don’t worry about it.”

The lady walked away, but Vanessa found herself watching her. There was something about the way the woman held herself, carried herself, the way her clothes fit, that suggested something was… off, for lack of a better word.

No matter. Vanessa found herself a book, purchased it, and settled into a chair to read. She had only turned the first page when someone sat in a nearby chair. Vanessa paid the newcomer no mind until she heard enough sniffs that the person was either very ill or on the brink of tears.

She closed her book and glanced over to see the lady she had bumped into earlier. A book lay open in the lady’s lap, her head hang low, but her eyes were closed as a single tear ran down her cheek.

Vanessa did not wish to intrude, but the lady seemed so lonely and sad, that she stirred herself to speak. “Is there something I can help you with?” she asked.

The lady jerked back, stiffened, and wiped the tear away. “I’m fine. I’m good. No worries.”

No worries? What an odd thing to say!

The lady grimaced. “Do not worry,” she added.

Vanessa closed her book. “I am worrying, though. You are upset. I know we aren’t aquaintances—I don’t even know your name—”

“Katia,” the lady supplied.

“I’m Vanessa.”

They shared small smiles.

After a moment, Katia sighed, her brief happiness disappearing. “I don’t… I don’t suppose it would hurt to talk to someone.”

Vanessa leaned forward. Katia had lowered her voice so much that she could hardly be heard.

“I… I miss my friends,” she blurted, as if this was a terrible secret.

“Do they live far away?” Vanessa asked.

“You could say that,” Katia mumbled. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again.”

“Oh, no!”

Katia nodded emphatically. “I want to see them again, but…” She sighed. Wistfully? Dreamily? Vanessa was not certain.

A crowd entered the bookstore, their chatter and laughter making a private conversation impossible, so they waited until the crowd thinned before speaking further.

“What is holding you back?” Vanessa asked. “From visiting your friends?”

“Time,” she muttered the word as if it were a curse.

Vanessa furrowed her brow. She did not understand. All in all, this Katia seemed like a peculiar lady, but even so, Vanessa found herself wishing to befriend her.

“And then there is Lord Landon…” Katia added, her cheeks staining pink.

“Ah. So time and love are holding you here?”

Katia’s cheeks now burned with seemingly hot red. “O-Of course not love! That’s… Do you think you could love someone who is so different from you?”

Idly, Vanessa found herself thinking of Gerald, the strange man who fancied himself a medieval knight. Despite his oddities—much like Katia—something drew Vanessa to him, something she could not explain.

“I think love is complicated,” Vanessa said after a moment.

“Yes,” Katia murmured. “Complicated. As complicated as…” The last was mumbled, but Vanessa would have been hard pressed to say that she finished with, “time travel.”

Was traveling through time possible after all? Was Gerald not crazy? Could a medieval knight find happiness… and maybe love… today, in the 1800s?

As for Katia, when did she come from? Being from another time would explain her strange mannerisms, the fitting of her clothes, and her odd speech.

Then again, could she truly accepted this notion?

“Who complicates love for you?” Katia asked.

Vanessa laid her book on the table between them. Where to start?

“It all began when I was hungry for a treat from the kitchen…”
Vanessa is the heroine in Love Before Honor, whereas Katia is the heroine in The Test of Time.

LoveBeforeHonor1400x2100To avenge his love’s death, Sir Gerald challenges her murderer to a duel. Her twin, however, feels that Alice never loved the knight and gives him a tea that sends him to into the future, to the Regency era.

Lady Vanessa seeks a Christmas treat when she hears something outside the manor. Upon investigation, she sees a man dressed in armor. Unwilling to turn away a confused man with the approaching holiday, she convinces her parents to house Gerald until the new year.

Scandal has forced her parents to accept William as their daughter’s best chance at marriage. Although rich, he does not understand her or her love of books, whereas Gerald listens to her, confides in her and she him. With the approaching holiday, nothing is certain – not whether Gerald can discover a way back to his duel, whether he can move on from Alice, and not whether this Christmas will be a happy one for either Gerald or Vanessa.

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Nicole is one of the Belles. You can learn more about her here.