by Morgan O’Neill
Anne felt a tingling, a creeping of skin on the back of her neck and arms. She closed her eyes, suddenly feeling faint, when the air stilled beyond anything she had ever experienced.
What the––? From darkening shadows, she gazed out. Oddly, the chapel was brilliantly lit by dozens of candles. Black-clad monks knelt on wooden misericords, praying.
Their soft, collective droning was a counterpoint to her heart’s fierce drumming.
“Wh—what just happened?” Anne stammered, trying to keep the shrill edge out of her voice. “Where’d you come from?”
The monks turned. To a man, their gazes cut through her, sharp and deeply suspicious.
She swallowed in fear. “Where am I? There were tourists. What happened to them?”
Eyes widening, a young monk held up his crucifix. “Woman,” he said, straining to see Anne, “why dost thou speak gibberish? Hast thou no wits?”
“But this is Westminster Abbey, isn’t it?”
“Aye. But if thou seeketh absolution, thou must find the bishop, for we are at prayer.”
Anne took a deep breath and crossed into the light. Gasps exploded from the monks as they gaped at her shorts and bare legs.
“Strumpet! For shame!” a monk shouted.
“Princess of Sodom!” cried another. “Get thee gone!”
Anne backed up, anxious to escape, and quickly turned to avoid the royal tomb directly behind her. She stopped and stared. The place looked nothing like before. Instead of a marble sarcophagus, there was a pile of broken stones heaped on the floor.
She spun toward the monks, still frozen against their misericords. “Where’s the tomb? Queen Elizabeth’s tomb?” she croaked.
“Elizabeth?” The young monk rose to his feet. “Would that the foul heretic were dead! There,” he pointed to the heap of stones, “rests our true Catholic queen, Mary Tudor. God rest her soul.”
“Brother Daniel, silence!” shouted another monk. “If the queen’s men hear thy words of sedition…”
But the young monk, Daniel, shook his head, eyes blazing. “Witch, I’ll send thee back to hell!” He lunged at Anne.
Instinctively, she put up her arms, covering her face in a defensive posture. Then, in disbelief, she realized she felt nothing, no contact with her attacker. She turned just as Brother Daniel tumbled behind her onto Mary Tudor’s grave.
Anne looked down at herself, realizing for the first time she was fading away. Her body looked transparent! “Oh, help!” she shouted, panicked. “Help me!”
She started, blinked, and stared. The monks had vanished, the crowd of tourists surrounding the queens’ tomb the same as before. She held out a trembling hand. Her skin looked as it’d always been—she was whole again.
It took her a moment to get her bearings, to steady herself, but then a voice brought her fully around.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” a woman said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Anne muttered, even though she knew she wasn’t. Shocked, she looked at her shaky hands, again solid, part of the here and now. She shoved them into her pockets and walked on. What just happened?
She picked up her pace, intent on leaving. She shouldn’t have had that shandy on an empty stomach.
The lights suddenly dimmed, the atmosphere hushed, expectant. Just like before!
She halted in her tracks. Flickering candlelight and deep shadows, no tourists. The Abbey was even darker than it had been when she’d seen the monks.
What the hell is going on?
Stunned, she turned. A man in costume ran toward her.
“Go back,” he shouted, “back where it’s safe!”
She stood transfixed. As he came closer, she recognized him—his eyes, the scar.
He halted and pulled her tight against him. “I love you, Anne,” he whispered into her hair, “but you have to go with him. Save yourself.”
He stilled her confusion with a tender brush of his lips, and she responded instinctively, their kiss deepening as her body arched against his, her blood ablaze with sudden desire, until the rest of the world seemed very far away.
When he finally drew back, he stared into her eyes, and Anne’s heart seized when she saw his pain, the sheer desperation in his gaze.
The feeling was apparently mutual, because he pulled her close and swore under his breath, “Bloody hell, the bastard will pay for this.”
I don’t understand.
He opened his eyes and stared at something in the distance. “Anne, go now,” his voice cracked, “because I can face anything if I know you’re safe.”
His fingers gently cupped her chin, his touch unleashing more heat. He lifted her face for another kiss, and then—nothing. He was gone. She fought for control, her breathing erratic, her legs threatening to crumble. She touched her lips, still feeling his caress, his soft breath on her skin, but he was gone.
The lights flashed on, the tourists once again milling about, unaware.
“Mummy, they were kissing!”
A small boy pointed at her, but his mother paid no attention.
He saw us! Anne plastered a fake smile on her face until the boy disappeared into the crowd. He saw us, and that means I wasn’t hallucinating. But how? How could Dr. Brandon be here? She touched her lips once more. The way he’d held her, spoken to her, whispered her name, made her believe he was real—and he…
He knew me. But how? A chill enveloped her as the memory of the monk’s stare supplanted Brandon’s.
Trembling, she left the Abbey.
Two authors writing as one, Cary Morgan Frates and Deborah O’Neill Cordes specialize in recreating pivotal moments in history, epic adventure, and romance—with a time travel twist.
THE THORNLESS ROSE
No one ever knew what really happened to Dr. Jonathan Brandon back in 1945. He simply disappeared from a London pub, leaving behind an unsolved mystery and his fiancée—Anne Howard’s grandmother. Seventy years later, Anne herself is haunted by the strange tale, along with inexplicable hallucinations straight out of Elizabethan England. Including a scarred, handsome man whose deep blue eyes seem to touch her very soul….
Anne wonders if there isn’t something more to the story. Is it even possible that Jonathan disappeared into the England’s dark past? And why does Anne keep hearing him whisper her name? Because now she too feels the inexorable pull of the past, not to mention an undeniable attraction for a man she doesn’t even know.
It’s just a matter of time before Anne will step back into history, and face a destiny―and a love―beyond imagining…