Timepiece by Heather Albano Read Free Book Online

Book: Timepiece by Heather Albano Read Free Book Online
Authors: Heather Albano
called each other “William” and “Elizabeth” once—but that had been before he left for Eton, not before he left for the Continent. Quite a long time ago, back when childhood manners were still acceptable. They had not had much occasion to see each other since, so what on earth had possessed him—? Any other young lady would have been offended at his presumption.
    But then, no other young lady would have started the conversation by using his Christian name in the first place. He supposed it should be therefore no surprise that Elizabeth smiled at his offer, looking both relieved and pleased. “William and Elizabeth, then.”
    “I apologize for startling you,” he added.
    “Oh, it’s no matter.” He noticed that she kept her eyes on his. Not on his limp arm, not deliberately everywhere else but his arm, and not modestly cast down. For a moment he wondered at that—then he realized that although her china-blue eyes were wide and innocent, her hands were moving, and he understood that she was trying to hold his gaze so he would not notice her tucking the pocket watch back into her reticule.
    He tried to think of something else to say, and ended up taking refuge in commonplaces. “I hope you and your family are in good health?”
    “Yes, thank you,” she said, “and you?” She had gotten hold of the wrong corner of the reticule, and was carefully easing the timepiece into fold of cloth that was not actually the mouth of the bag. He contemplated telling her that, but wasn’t quite sure how to phrase it.
    “Well enough, thank you,” he said instead.
    “That’s good,” Elizabeth said. “Does that mean we shall have the pleasure of your company in the Assembly rooms, the next time there is a ball? You came so rarely into company this spring, and we should all be glad if your health had sufficiently recovered to allow you to—”
    The pocket watch slipped through the loop of cloth, landing rather obviously on the path at her feet. She scrambled at once to catch it up, face very red now, but William’s fingers closed over it first. He straightened, forcing a smile and hoping it looked genial. “What’s this, then, Miss Elizabeth? The token of some admirer?”
    “Er,” Elizabeth said, cheeks the color of the scarlet coat that hung in William’s wardrobe. Which seemed to rather conclusively answer that question, at least until he held the watch out to her and it fell open in his hand.
    William stood still in the sunlight, staring at it.
    He realized later that those minutes were the longest time he had spent not preoccupied with thoughts of Napoleon since March, and the longest time he had gone without thinking of his arm since he had first woken after the battle. For the moment, he was oblivious to Elizabeth Barton’s presence as well, able to focus on nothing but the impossibility in his hand. He came back to himself when she laughed at his gape-mouthed expression.
    “That’s more or less how I reacted also,” she said.
    “Forgive me.” He handed it back to her. “What on earth—?”
    “I’ve no idea,” she said. “Someone sent it to me by post, and I don’t know who or why or what it is. You’ve...you’ve never seen anything like it either, then? Not in London, or on the Continent?”
    “No.” He shook his head.
    “It was even more extraordinary a little while ago,” she said. “This face here had images in it. Pictures that moved. Truly.”
    He stepped around to see better, but the face she indicated was dark and lifeless. Still, the watch was extraordinary enough without that detail. He stared at the quiescent faces, focusing after a moment on the one that looked most like it belonged to a watch. “Does the timekeeping part of it work? I mean, can it be wound and set?”
    “I don’t know yet.” Elizabeth flashed him a smile and dug through her reticule. She pulled out a velvet bag. “The watch came in

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