THE RUINS OF DESTINY
(Romance & Reincarnation Novella 2)
Contemporary Romance with a time-slip Regency romance twist.
Past lives & destiny, or mistaken identity?
Free spirit Rosalie believes in past lives, eternal love, and fate. She knows she’s found her partner from another life, her soul mate, the moment she finds him unconscious at the ruins of an old manor.
But Lane has no recollection of a past life and doesn’t do relationships.
Rosalie’s determined to make him feel the past’s gravitational pull, but is rapidly getting nowhere. Then she discovers Lane had an identical twin who died sixteen years ago.
Has she been casting her romantic expectations at the wrong man?
Is her reincarnated soul mate already dead?
TWO CHAPTER EXCERPT
Shivering and puffing out fog, Rosalie, blue woolen cap pulled low over her ears, huddled in her warmest coat. Polly’s thick dog jacket glistened with damp from the ghostly mist enveloping Twickham Manor’s crumbling remains.
Sunlight streamed through empty windows and over ragged walls to highlight rubble and grasses desperately trying to grow in spite of the cold. The air—fresh, crisp, and clean, filled Rosalie’s lungs with countryside fragrances. Sheep and several new lambs huddled together in the lee of the Manor’s remnant north and west walls. Others bleated in the nearby meadow.
Polly ran around the ancient fountain’s pond, stopped, and barked.
“Come away, Polly.” Other than the sheep, only a starving creature foraging for food would be out on this cold afternoon.
Polly barked again. “Geez, Polly, leave it alone. It’s been a big day on the farm, and I want to get home before I lose my fingers and toes.” With visions of a cozy fire and hot chocolate, Rosalie stomped her half-frozen feet toward what her pug found exciting.
A tall, lean man lay sprawled behind the pond’s rock wall. She hurried to his side and squatted to peer at his face. A trickle of blood began near his temple and ran into his hair.
“Holy shit, Sherlock.” She gasped as she bent, tore off her gloves, and pushed up his right sleeve, hunting for a pulse. A small, dark object fell out of his hand. Rosalie peered at the not-quite-round piece of metal and dismissed it.
She put her fingers on his wrist and found no pulse. Her own pulse thudding in her ears, and with nursing skills on short supply, she tested several areas on his wide wrist before she at last felt a solid beat. She closed her eyes briefly and blew out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d held.
“He’s alive, Polly.” She fumbled under her jacket for her cell phone and dialed emergency.
The man lay awkwardly, but she wasn’t game to move him, since she might worsen some unknown injury.
Luckily Twickham Manor wasn’t too far from the lane for the emergency guys.
“Polly, come away from the man.” Polly ran over and did a stiff-legged little dance to show her appreciation for being patted. Rosalie spun Polly’s collar and, with a click, attached the matching red leash she usually carried, just in case. Then she slid her gloves back on and adjusted her thick scarf before calling her mother.
“I’ll be a while, I figure. Pile wood on the fireplace so it’s roaring when we get home. Oh, and have warm drinks ready and waiting, we’re going to need them.” She disconnected and sat on the pond’s stone wall near the still-unconscious man and waited.
Polly snuggled between Rosalie’s legs, surrounding herself in the warm wool of the coat. Time passed and the mist thickened. Rosalie shivered. Great, more bone-deep damp adding to the miserable cold. Rosalie hunched, stuffing her hands into her pockets and stamping her feet to keep them from getting too cold. With the mist embracing the Manor and its hill, she could only see a few feet around her, but she could still clearly see the side of the man’s pale face.
He had a good profile. The highest cheekbones she’d ever seen went with a clean jawline, full lips, and a straight nose. In his early thirties, his pale gold hair looked long enough to probably touch his shoulders…and somehow he seemed vaguely familiar.
He wasn’t from the village. She knew everyone, their children, and their dogs and cats’ names. Small villages were like that, though Rosalie figured she knew even more than most. The owner of a small business, the member of the sustainable living association and several garden clubs, and working as a volunteer at the animal shelter, meant, basically, if she didn’t know them, they didn’t live around town, or they’d been dead for over thirty years.
Her teeth started to chatter and she could feel Polly shivering. What was taking the ambulance so long? Emergency would find Polly reduced to a furry icicle, and both she and the man would be frozen, blue-skinned, purple-lipped corpses by the time they finally arrived.
At least their deaths would provide fresh news for the local paper. These days the Twicksley Weekly was reduced to four pages and full of such thrilling anecdotes as how to make Mrs. Graham’s family secret piccalilli, or how Mr. Braxen’s Yorkshire Bran once again won at the local show.
A bone-chilling millennium later, she heard the emergency van’s siren, then the siren being shut down not too far away. Rosalie bravely removed her hand to dig out her phone. She almost cried. Fifteen minutes had passed since she called emergency. The cold made it seem an eon longer.
She looked between her legs at Polly shivering in her woolen cave. “Guess time passes slowly when you’re in the Arctic.” Polly just shivered and stared at Rosalie with her protruding dark eyes, pleading for mercy and her snug bed in front of a hot fire.
Through the mist, Rosalie watched the lights of the ambulance, the only part visible, slowly bounce over the rough meadow until the van pulled up about a hundred feet away. Too many half-walls, tumbled rocks, and heather clumps lay around the area for the vehicle to risk coming closer.
She glanced at the prostrate man and stood. “We’re near the old fountain,” she called out, so the emergency crew could get a bead on her through the mist. All the noise had the sheep and lambs huddled into a tighter mob, but they hadn’t moved from their protected corner.
Her father’s old friend Rowan hurried over to her with a bag in his hand. Behind him followed one of Rosalie’s old classmates, Jacqueline.
“Bloody cold, and the fog’s a stinker. Thanks for staying with the guy, Rosalie. Has anything changed since you called?” Rowan asked.
“No. He hasn’t moved, and I haven’t budged him. He appears to be breathing fine, but it looks like he’s hit his head pretty hard on this wall and knocked himself out.”
“Head injury, for sure. How did you find him?”
“I didn’t. I’d turned ready to head home when Polly found him, so he’s lucky.”
“Considering they’ve forecast snow for tonight, I wouldn’t have liked his chances of survival.”
“Crap. Really? Damn long winter it’s been.” Her teeth chattered. She couldn’t wait to hit home so she could crawl inside the fire, not just warm her feet. The calendar said spring, but Yorkshire’s winter, like a drunk at a party, wouldn’t crawl home.
Another two guys arrived, and she stayed while they cared for her nameless charge. Once they secured a brace around his neck, they rolled and lifted him onto a portable stretcher.
Then Rosalie caught sight of his full face and nearly fell backward into the filthy, half-frozen slime water of the old fountain pond.
She’d never seen him before…in this life. But if she were right, she’d just found Dane, her soul mate.
She’d wanted to travel in the ambulance with Dane, but knew she wouldn’t be allowed. And not just because of Polly. She wasn’t related. Didn’t even know his name, except it used to be Dane–in his last life.
Rules, rules, stupid rules!
Telling them he was the reincarnation of a man she’d loved over six lives, one where they’d shared a happy life in the past at Twickham Manor, would probably give her a ride, all right. Just not a ride with Dane, and not to his destination.
The nearest psych ward was several towns away.
Dane sure had taken his time before finally turning up in this life. She’d been looking for him since she turned twelve and her mother used hypnosis to regress her to previous lives.
Her mother guided her through six lives. Some were not exactly memorable, but in all six there had been a constant. Her partner in every life was the unconscious man she’d found at the Manor.
She couldn’t wait to drive to the hospital and visit him. To make sure he’d be okay, but also so she could watch his face while he recognized who she was, and who she would be to him.
A reunion of soul mates. If she weren’t so impatient she’d call Martin, who ran the Twicksley Weekly, and ask him to take pictures.
Anticipation and contentment bubbled up and plastered a big smile on her face.
In their ancient stone kitchen, she sipped her hot chocolate and scooped up some scrambled eggs, while her mother churned the old milk separator. Built earlier than anyone could remember, the kitchen had exposed beams, a flagstone floor, and happy, lime-washed walls. The ancient inglenook hearth housed two different stoves—one gas and the other wood-heated—as well as a good-sized woodpile. Both stoves adequately warmed them, their house, and their water.
“Taffy’s done us proud with her early in the season heifer calf. Poor mite is enjoying the fire pit your father built in the barn.”
“Dad always did everything he could to make the animals happy. At least there wasn’t much snow last night, though it’s so cold I thought someone had put my sheepskin slippers in the freezer.”
“You heading to the hospital this morning to see if this fellow is your Dane?”
“Yep. You know, when we were icing my birthday cake two months ago, I figured I’d missed out. Thirty-two, and destined not to find Dane in this life. I started to eye Cawley Becker as a backup.”
Her mother snorted. “Cawley’s a nice lad, but he wouldn’t know what to do with some of your ways. You’d be best with someone who understands you. Exeter Freedman, now, not only is he good-looking, but he’s got money, and believes in our alternative ways.”
“For one, his name is Exeter, and he has an IQ of two. I do prefer men who can do more than look pretty and grunt. And he only approves of our self-sufficient ways because he has enough money he doesn’t have to make the effort himself.”
“Even hypocrites can be good-looking. But I guess you want more in a life partner.”
“A lot more. Besides, I don’t need Cawley or Exeter. I have Dane.”
Her mother kept turning the handle. “Chickens and hatching eggs, Rosalie.”
“It’s him. I know it.” Her heart trailed off into an upbeat tempo of happiness.
“Mmm,” her mom said, making Rosalie poke out her tongue and hurry to finish her breakfast. Food gone, she smiled at a snoring Polly, who’d curled up in her kitchen basket only two feet from the fire. Polly and their cat Denny appreciated living the life of pets doted on by two single women.
Soon to be two women and a man.
“Did you see the new antique baby rattle I got in the post from the online auction yesterday?” she asked her mom.
“I did. It’s a nice one. Makes four now. Almost a collection.”
“Not sure four’s a collection, but they look nice with the other baby items.”
Her mother nodded and gave Rosalie a cheeky wink. “Biological clocks. Good thing this young man has turned up finally.”
“For goodness sake, collecting baby stuff doesn’t make me clucky.”
“Sure. And I’m not ready to be a grandma, either.”
The chill added a fresh glow to Rosalie’s cheeks, but she wished her nose wouldn’t try to outshine her siren-red lipstick when she wanted to look her best for her Dane. Under her thick purple and red woolen coat, she wore her favorite purple, red, and yellow Gypsy dress.
Shivering and shuddering with inevitable hypothermia, she opened the tiny local medical center and hospital’s entrance door. “Ahh, blessed warmth.” Her old Ford’s temperamental heater had decided, since the temperature had fallen into the freeze-your-bum-to-the-seat zone, to take a holiday.
“Close the door, Rosalie. It’s a bit brisk this morning. No need to waste the heat.”
“Hey, Auntie Joan.” Rosalie hurried over to lean on the counter where her aunt, also the ward nurse and medical center’s receptionist, sat working at her desk.
“A man came in last night. Found at Twickham Manor. What can you tell me?” Rosalie bounced on her toes.
“Are you his next of kin?” her aunt asked in her best fake prim voice.
Rosalie stared at her aunt. “Auntie Joan.” She moaned.
“The gentleman regained consciousness not long after the ambulance rescued him. He has a small skull fracture and received twenty stitches for a gash. He hasn’t done any real harm to himself, though I’d say he’ll have a doozy of a headache for a few days.”
“Oh, that’s fantastic—that he’ll mend, not that he’ll have a headache.”
“I sort of caught that part. Good-looking fellow. Artistic-looking, reminds me of a young Michael York.”
“Michael York?” Did he live around the area?
“Oh, you’re too young, I guess. He’s an actor, look him up.”
“Sure. So can I see him?” She gave the hall leading to the two wards a longing look.
“We can’t contact his next of kin.”
Was her Aunt being deliberately obtuse? “Wife, girlfriend, boyfriend?”
“Hasn’t mentioned anyone. His next of kin is his mother, who’s on holiday in Greece. Lucky duck.”
Not being married helped, since Rosalie was sure he’d take one look at her and sweep her into his arms.
“Sad he’s here with no one to visit him. I guess I’ll pop down and say hello to the poor man.” She gave her aunt her most soulful, pleading look. She wanted to make his day, give him hope for the future. She put her hand on her chest, amazed at how her heart tripped and raced. Heck, she hadn’t stopped grinning from the first second she bounced out of bed. Finding your one true love truly did give your day—even a freezing one—a rosy glow.
“Getting so lonely you have to hunt down the injured?”
“Well, there they are, lying down and helpless. Seems like fair game.” She gave her aunt a remember-I’m-your-niece wink. “Have you seen the single guys in town under forty and over twenty-five?” She held up four fingers. “There are four of them. Four. Besides, I found him, and you know what they say, finders keepers.”
“You can travel farther than Twicksley to meet men, you know, but fair enough. Just tell anyone else you met him the other day. Oh, and his name is Lane Beckhampton. He’s thirty-three and, going by the receipt for rent, just moved into Londsville House.”
Rosalie mulled over the information. “Lane—mmm, nice and modern. Londsville House seems a bit large for a single person.” But at least he’d moved into the village. Much easier for them to get to know each other, though hopefully the lease was for the short-term, so he could move in with her.
“If you want to rent a house around here, you’d be hard-pressed to find much.”
Rosalie nodded. Old Mrs. Frankstone came in with a bag smelling of good, wholesome things to eat. She would be visiting her husband of sixty years. Mr. Frankstone, the old grouch, refused to eat anything unless his wife cooked it. Bent with osteoporosis, and her hands knobby with arthritis, the old woman couldn’t catch a break, even while her bastard of a husband got over his latest bout of gout.
Rosalie left her aunt fussing around Mrs. Frankstone and then headed to one of four doors on the ward. Luckily Lane hadn’t been transferred to a hospital with much better, bigger facilities. Another indication he wasn’t badly injured.
At the second door she stepped inside. Four narrow beds, with four old armchairs at their sides, filled the small room. Painted a sunny yellow, the room had a large window overlooking the old market square.
She walked past Mr. Frankstone and gave him an airy wave hello, secretly smirking at his glower. Mr. Frankstone hated everyone. But hippies, which is what he considered Rosalie and her mother, he hated more the most. And people of different political views, dogs, younger folk, foreigners and…anyone breathing. He did, however, love his cat.
Rosalie went to stand beside the bed closest to the window. “Good morning,” she said in her cheeriest voice, keeping her voice modulated only to Lane’s hearing range.
Mr. Frankstone liked to gossip as much as he whined.
Lane turned. A deep purple bruise marred the left side of his high forehead, and his hair stuck up in odd angles around a taped area she assumed covered the stitches. Besides broad, high cheekbones, his eyes were as she knew they would be, almond-shaped, a light sky blue, expressive, and gentle. His lips were broad, full, and defined, his straight nose had the tiniest kink in it, as if he’d broken it once, and flaring nostrils. He didn’t look exactly the same as he did in his two most recent lives, but very similar.
In fact, he seemed handsomer in each life, as if each birth refined his features, just like they added height.
She gave him a bright grin, ready and waiting for the light of recognition to ignite in his gaze. “’Tis a lovely morning, isn’t it?”
He touched his temple. “Could be if they’d let me go home.” His voice was educated London, with a smidgen of France. Such a combination should sound stuck-up, but instead came across as smooth, and staggeringly seductive. Life was looking up.
“I’m sure the doctor will come around later and check to see if you can. But you did have a nasty accident. I thought you were dead at first, gave me a real shock.”
His glance met and held hers for a second. “You found me?”
She nodded, ran her hand over the edge of the bed’s coverlet, and then smoothed it taut. “Yes. Lucky, wasn’t it?” She was so excited she could barely stand still.
“From what I heard about last night’s weather, I’d say more than lucky.” He looked back out the window. “Thanks for calling for help. If I froze to death my mother would kick my ass.”
She rang her tongue over the inside of her cheek, and scratched the side of her nose. Someone ramped up the temperature on her inner sauna, and a full-on blush steamed her cheeks.
They’d found each other, and he dismissed her. Turned away. Man might as well have told her to piss off.
She swallowed, forcing down her disbelief, plugging the hole in her leaking balloon of hope. “Don’t I look familiar?”
He turned back to face her, squinted in appraisal of her features, and rubbed at his temple gently. “No, sorry. I was totally out. Didn’t even know I fell. I don’t remember a thing.”
“Oh.” Her mother had warned her. Yet she’d been sure he would have at least an inkling she would be significant to him. He didn’t even sound interested, just bored, and like he’d rather she left him alone. And she did need to go open up her shop.
She pulled out a business card, Alternative Thinking & Drinking. “This is my store. It’s on the main street, between the post office and bakery. When you’re discharged from here, come by and we can grab a tea and chat.” When he didn’t reach out to take it, she dug out a pen from her bag and wrote her cell number on the back. “Or call me on this number any time.”
He took the card, read it, and smiled. The smile lit up his face. “Crystals and tarot readings? Really?” He didn’t roll his eyes, but she had a feeling he wanted to. He put the card on the stainless steel bedside table.
“Thanks.” And then, he rolled his head toward the window and closed his eyes.
She’d been discharged, dismissed, disowned. In a stunned haze of disappointment, she turned to leave and heard him mutter, “Tarot. Jesus.”
This was her soul mate? What sort of love match was this? She wanted to bend closer and touch her mouth to his, see if such a touch would spark recognition. Though had a stronger urge to poke him and say, “Oi, deadshit, don’t be rude.”
Obviously finding the love of her life a seventh time with Dane, or Lane, was going to be a tough task.
She’d do it, of course. Six lives together, at least, meant they were destined. Whether Lane wanted their destiny or not.
Rosalie lifted her chin, and squared her shoulders. She’d win him over. Life meant hope. Her grandma always said, “Love’s a hard road.” So Rosalie Touchstone had best put on her best walking shoes.
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