Chapter Twenty-Six

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It was a struggle to stay awake on the ride back to Clay's Cottage. I dozed off several times, tucked safely under Nicholas' arm. We were silent most of the way; Nicholas allowing me to sleep. I doubted I would even have had the energy to talk, anyway.

I was exhausted; not only from lack of sleep, but emotionally as well. The last 48 hours had taken a toll on my body.

The buggy was slowing down, and sensing the change in speed, I pried open my eyes to find us heading down the cottage's driveway.

Nicholas removed his arm from around my body to take ahold of the reins with both hands. My head felt heavy when I lifted it off his shoulder and I instantly missed the warmth he was providing.

"I have to put Ace and the buggy away. If Doyle does come here, I want him to think I'm not home," Nicholas explained. I nodded as he guided the buggy into the barn, pulling Ace to a stop. After hopping off the buggy in one swift motion, I was grateful when he came around and helped me down, my legs feeling weak. He sat me down on a hay bale, then tucked a strand of hair behind my ear that had become loose from my ponytail. "I'll be back in a moment," he said, softly. I nodded once more, closing my eyes while I waited. "Matilda?" Nicholas' voice startled me and I blinked several times to focus my eyes. He chuckled. "Did you just fall asleep sitting up?" I tilted my head in confusion. "I was only gone for a few minutes."

Scanning the barn, I noticed Ace was gone. I must have dozed off instantly when I shut my eyes. "I suppose I did," I replied.

"Come on, time to get you inside," he said, placing an arm around my waist and helping me up.

He closed the barn doors firmly and locked the padlock, before leading me up the path to the cottage back door. Pulling keys out of his pocket, he unlocked the door, then locked it again behind us after we had entered. I think that was the first time I had seen him lock any door in the house. Was he concerned Constable Doyle might barge in unannounced? It was certainly a possibility.

He guided me over to the sofa, and without hesitation, I sunk down into the soft cushions, head flopping back. It felt so good after spending twenty-four hours on a hard cell bench.

After lighting the wood in the fireplace, Nicholas placed a warm blanket on my lap, then joined me on the sofa, sitting close, and I rolled my head to face him.

"I've just lit a small fire for now. All the curtains are drawn. We're safe in here." I smiled gratefully at him. "Do you want to sleep?" he asked.

"I could sleep, but I don't want to. Not yet. I'm sure you have a million questions."

He nodded. "I do. But they can wait."

"We don't know how much time we have. Constable Doyle-"

"Won't find you," he interrupted. "I'll make sure of it."

"You know, when I first arrived here, I thought all this must be a dream. That I must've been in a coma in my time, and this was all just a figment of my imagination. I never would've believed that I had time-travelled. Time-travelling's not possible... Is it? But I've been here so long now, and everything seems so real."

"It must have been such a confusing time for you."

I nodded. "That's an understatement."

"All those ramblings when we first met make so much more sense now," he teased, holding back a smile.

"I wasn't rambling," I replied, slapping him gently on his arm, making him chuckle. "Although, I admit, to you I must've sounded like a lunatic."

"Yes." I glared at him. "But a beautiful lunatic," he added, making me blush. "This cottage still stands in your time?" he asked, in all seriousness.

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