She recognized the melody, the strength of the emotion behind the lilting music. Echoes of the violins teased her ears as she tightened her arms around her new fianc(. She felt slightly dizzy from a combination of fine champagne and dancing. Sleep-softened lips curled into a contented smile, and a soft sigh escaped.

A rustling roused her from slumber. Kate opened one sleepy eye to see a silhouette moving around the room, humming softly. Darcy? Struggling to focus, Kate could see a small girl, carrying her powder blue gown from the night before to the wardrobe. It definitely wasn't Darcy. This young girl of no more than sixteen was tall and slim, with soft chestnut hair that was pulled up in a small twist.

"Who are you?" Kate whispered.

The girl whirled around, dropping the satin gown to the floor. "Oh, miss! You scared me!" she cried, placing one hand over her abdomen.

"Sorry," Kate apologized, moving her legs to get out of her bed, only to realize that she was not in her bed. Curiously, she glanced around to find herself buried under a deep blue satin comforter, surrounded by full, soft pillows on a four poster mahogany bed with blue velvet hangings that were tied to the posts by gold cords.

The room was a grand size; beige walls paneled with walnut. Crackling flames proudly burned in a fireplace of wood. A large armoire was open, containing many gowns and hats. A vanity table sat next to the armoire, with a gold-plated mirror. A carved mahogany desk sat in front of a large window overlooking the New York streets, painted by the brilliant orange, red, and yellow of the morning sunrise.

Kate realized that the young girl was still speaking. ".your presence in this house is certainly a mysterious one, Miss."

Shaking her head, Kate stared at the girl and asked again, "Who are you?"

"Me, Miss? I'm Elizabeth, your handmaiden. Many people call me Lizzy, but you may call me whatever you like."

Kayt put her hand to her flushed forehead. Where was she? This was assuredly not her apartment. But that dream she had last night.

"It was real," she said softly.

"Beg your pardon, miss?" Lizzy said curiously, eyeing her mistress.

"Elizabeth, what year is it?"

"Why, it's 1876, miss." Lizzy now looked concerned. "Are you ill, mistress?"

A dull throbbing began in Kate's head with the realization that her "dream" had, in fact, occurred. In a flash it all came back. The terrifying jump from the bridge, the hurry to reach Leopold, the relief of knowing his true affections, the engagement.the engagement! She was to be married!

"No, I'm fine, Elizabeth," Kate murmured, and the throbbing increased. A whole century. She was in 1876, it was really 1876. Charlie, and.and Stuart, and.Leopold. The dull pain that plagued her head suddenly ceased, and she could think clearly again.

"Elizabeth?"

The young woman turned around. "Yes, miss?"

"Where is Leopold?"

"The Master, miss? Why, he is out for his morning ride. Shall I fetch him?"

"No, never mind."

"Would you care for some breakfast, miss?"

"Breakfast sounds wonderful. Stop calling me 'miss.'"

"Miss, I must!"

Kate sat up against the headboard and gave Elizabeth a piercing stare. "Whose handmaiden are you?"

"Yours, of course, miss."

"Which means you do as I say?"

"Yes, miss."

Kayt grinned. "Then stop calling me 'miss.'"

Elizabeth blushed and ducked her head. "What shall I call you?"

"Kate will be fine. May I have breakfast now?"

"Of course, miss--sorry, Kate."

"Better," Kate smiled approvingly, and the maiden left the room hurriedly.

Kate struggled with the heavy comforter again, and managed to tangle her legs in its folds. Groaning, she tugged at the satiny waves, to no avail. Frustration overcame her, and she yanked determinedly at the covers. The force freed her from the bed, but propelled her to the floor.

Rubbing her elbow as she stood, Kate looked down at herself and nearly laughed aloud. She was dressed in the most ridiculous of night wear, as was clear by the virgin-white nightdress, complete with high neck, long sleeves, and a length that reached the floor. Spotting a silken blue robe lain across the foot of the bed, she put it on. Turning to the mirror, she gazed in awe at her reflection. So this is what women wore to bed! No wonder most marriages of this time entitled bride and groom to separate quarters.

She sat in front of the vanity to do something with her face. Washing her face quickly in the basin, she looked into the gold mirror for approval. The image reflected back was adequate at best. She sighed resignedly.

The door opened, and Kate whirled around to see Elizabeth enter, carrying a large tray with silver dishes.

"Your breakfast," she announced, placing the tray on the small, round table in the middle of the room.

Kate got up from the vanity and went to the table to inspect the dishes. A gasp escaped her lips at the sight.

A small silver bowl full of the brightest red raspberries she had ever seen sat beside a large platter of pancakes. Whipped fresh butter (not Farmer's Bounty, thank God!) and a small dish of syrup was on the side. A silver teapot was steaming slightly, and Kate could smell the rich aroma of coffee. Pouring a cup, she put some cream and sugar in as well, and sipped it. Closing her eyes, she enjoyed the strong taste.

"Thank you, Elizabeth. Won't you sit down?"

Her maid's eyes widened in horror. "Oh, no! I cannot!"

"Why?" Kate asked, puzzled.

"It's not proper."

"What do you mean?" Kate was genuinely confused.

"Servants do not dine with their mistresses, Kate!"

"Well, as long as you call me Kate, you can dine with me in my room, Elizabeth."

Elizabeth shook her head in wonder. "You are unlike any other lady in New York, Kate."

"Believe me, where I come from, I am like every other woman in New York," Kate mumbled.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Nothing," Kate smiled. "Sit down and eat."

Hesitantly, Elizabeth sat down and began to nibble on a croissant.

"So tell me," Kate began as she drank more of her coffee. "Why is my appearance a mystery?"

"Master Leopold has never mentioned you, Kate. He has courted a woman only once. Poor master. He has been so lonely. He looks so happy since your engagement was announced last night."

"Is that what everyone here thinks?"

"Yes. You seemed to appear out of nowhere, and he suddenly proclaimed that you were his choice for a bride. Cook says that no one knows of the McKays of Massapequa. No one knows who you are, or where you're from."

Kate smiled. "You could say I'm not even from around here. Where are you from?"

"I'm from England. My mother, Mrs. Harrington, is the housekeeper here, and has been employed by Master Leopold's family since before I was born."

"You seem very bright for your age."

"My mother and Mistress Mountbatten were very close. She loved my mother so, and relied on her as a sister. Mistress Elizabeth was such a kind lady. My mother admired her very much, and when I was born, named me after her. Of course, many were shocked at such an action of familiarity, but the mistress was delighted, and arranged for me to have a proper education and upbringing. Lord Mountbatten also doted on me as his own daughter, and took great pride in my betterment. They were determined that I should grow to become a lady, and I am to work here until I am old enough to be on my own."

"When will that be?"

"When I am eighteen."

"How old are you now?"

"Seventeen just this March."

Kate smiled and said, "You are a free spirit."

Elizabeth looked down, ashamed. "My mother grieves over my stubborn disposition and forthrightness."

"You're just like me," Kate laughed, and Elizabeth looked up in surprise. "I like stubborn people. I think that we will be good friends, Elizabeth, if you would like. I know no one here, and could use a friend."

"As long as you would permit me to do my job," Elizabeth agreed. "And to call me Lizzy."

"Lizzy it is," Kate confirmed.

A bell rang from somewhere in the hall, and Lizzy jumped up quickly. "My mother is calling!" she cried, dashing out the door. Her footsteps resounded as she rushed down the stairs.

Kate finished her breakfast in silence of conversation and thought, content to just enjoy the.what did Leopold call it? "Reflection and study" of her meal.

Unsure of what to do with the dishes when she finished, she rose from the table and left them. Standing in front of the wardrobe, she perused the hangers, and her eyes were attracted to a simple gown in a light orchid color. The neck was deep, and pearl buttons trailed down the back.

Pulling off the robe and nightshirt, she hung them neatly in the wardrobe, and quickly found a camisole and corset, along with a lace petticoat. I think this is what they wear, she thought as she slipped the camisole over her head.

The corset proved too much. She realized that she could not tie the laces herself. Looking around for help, she spotted a small golden bell hanging by the door. Deciding to try it, she rang it once, and a high, clear note rang down the hall.

Footsteps soon sounded from downstairs, and Lizzy appeared at the door soon after, her face flushed and breathing rapidly from running. "What is it?" she panted.

"How do I lace this cursed thing?" Kate replied in frustration.

Lizzy began to laugh, then quickly slapped one hand over her mouth. "Let me help you," she said, moving behind Kate and taking hold of the laces. "Breathe in and stop," she instructed.

Kate took a breath, and Lizzy tugged forcedly on the ties.

"Oof. This is tight," Kate complained.

"I know. Just hold your breath again."

She did, and Lizzy pulled some more.

"Ow! I can't breathe!"

Tying the laces quickly, Elizabeth helped Kate with the petticoat and gown. She also groomed Kate's hair, pulling it up into a loose twist, put rouge on her face, and color on her lips. Kate pinched her cheeks to give them a rosy hue, and smiled at her reflection. "Thank you, Lizzy."

"You're welcome. Shall I show you downstairs?"

"Yes, please." Kate rose and followed her maid out of the room and through the corridor. Descending three flights of stairs, a large room appeared next to the landing. A fire could be heard crackling merrily in the fireplace, and many chairs and sofas were scattered around the room. Two small tables with chairs and cloths were on the far side, and the room was brightly lit by the sun streaming through the many windows. Heavy cloth window hangings adorned their sides. It was a sitting room of some sort.

Two people Kate had never seen before were sitting at one table, drinking tea and talking. They looked up when she arrived.

Elizabeth stepped forward and curtseyed. "If you please, Master, Mistress, Miss Katherine McKay."

Giving Kate a small smile of encouragement, she left. Kate stood amidst silence, as the two regal figures regarded her proudly.

After what seemed like hours, the lady rose and extended one hand gracefully. "Welcome, Katherine. We are pleased to provide you hospitality and do so look forward to making your better acquaintance."

Kate stepped forward, a nervous smile tensing her face. Her mind raced, trying to find elegant words. "Thank you, Lady Mountbatten, Lord Mountbatten. I am obliged to you for your generosity."

The elderly woman waved her hand carelessly. "Do not even think upon it," she replied graciously. "You will be in our family soon, and will always be welcome here. Do you not agree, Millard?" She looked at the older gentleman next to her. He only glanced up briefly and gave a curt nod, then returned to his paper.

"Please, dear, call me Millicent," the lady offered kindly.

"Call me Kate in return," Kate replied. She felt immediately at ease with the woman, and smiled genuinely this time.

"Will you have some tea?"

"Please." Kate sat across from Millard, and accepted a cup from Millicent.

"Now, Kate," Millicent began, patting her hand in an affectionate gesture, "tell me about your upbringing. Where did your parents live?"

Kate thought quickly. "My parents lived in Boston, Massachusetts, where I was born and grew up," she lied.

"Oh?" Millicent looked quite impressed. "And where are your parents now? Shall we meet them?"

"My parents are not alive," Kate said quietly.

"I'm sorry, my dear," Millicent said regretfully, "I did not know. I am sorry."

"Thank you."

"How did you and Leopold meet?"

"Well," Kate couldn't come up with an answer. She couldn't very well say that she had met their nephew in New York in the year 2002, fallen in love with him, and followed him back into 1876. "I.well--"

The door opened, and all three turned to look. Leopold strode in, wearing riding trousers and a white shirt that was unbuttoned down to the chest.

"Ah, Leopold, there you are!" Millicent cried, rising from her chair and beckoning her nephew nearer.

"Good morning, Aunt, Uncle," Leopold nodded politely to each in turn, but stood where he was. "Kate, might I persuade you to walk the streets with me in this fine weather?"

The look in his eyes was of unmistakable concern, and not lost on Kate. "I would love to," she said, joining him at the doorway quickly and giving him a meaningful glance. "Please excuse me, Millicent, sir."

"Of course, dear," Millicent smiled. Millard only glanced at the pair in the doorway and grunted distractedly.

Kate followed Leopold's determined steps down the hall to the front doors, where he paused to lift two heavy coats from the hooks on the wall. Offering one to Kate, he put the other one on his shoulders. Kate recognized the same coat from the night before, and his time in futuristic New York. Hers was obviously a ladies' cloak, with black crushed velvet and a large, ornate silver clasp in front.

Once outside she was grateful for its protection from the morning wind that chilled her face as she closed her eyes briefly. She opened them again to see Leopold looking at her, his eyes radiating adoration and happiness.

"Dearest Kate," he murmured, searching for her hand underneath her cloak and bringing it to his lips, "how was your slumber?"

"I dreamt of you," she grinned teasingly.

"Ah," replied he, "then it must have been a pleasant sort of dream, indeed."

"Why must a dream involving you be pleasant, Leopold?" Kate asked coyly.

He drew her in his arms and placed a gentle kiss upon her forehead. "Because, my love, I am the man who will bring you all the happiness you desire."

She shivered, not from the cold, but from the promise in his words. "I never thought." she trailed off awkwardly.

He pulled back slightly, still keeping his grasp on her arms. "Thought what?"

She smiled shyly. "I never thought that I would find someone so right for me. Leopold, you somehow saw who I really was. I have never shown vulnerability to any one until I fell in love with you. And, much as it infuriates me, you always know what I'm thinking before I even think it, let alone say it."

"Perhaps on our wedding day I shall vow to always infuriate you, until death do we part."

"That's not funny," Kate pouted, but her eyes were laughing.

He chuckled and offered her his elbow, which she took gracefully, and they began to walk.

"How did you find my aunt and uncle this morning? You seemed quite comfortable around them."

"I just love your aunt. She made me feel right at home. Your uncle, however-"

He grimaced. "I apologize for him."

"Does he not like me?"

"Kate, it's somewhat complicated."

Kate stopped and turned to him, her lips set in a challenge. "Try me."

He sighed. "All right. He is somewhat upset that you are.that your family is."

"What?"

"That you are.not monetarily affluent."

She laughed aloud. "That's it?"

"It's very important to him."

Suddenly quiet, she looked in his face earnestly. "Is it important to you?"

"My God, no, Kate!" he looked surprised at the question. "Don't ever think that about me! I am not such a coldhearted man as he. I am like my father. He was intended by his father to marry a daughter of a wealthy noble of Her Majesty's court, but went against his family's wishes and married my mother instead."

"Who was your mother?"

"The daughter of a gentleman from Derbyshire. Not a large fortune, but definitely not poor."

"Did he love her?"

"Eternally. The woman who was intended for him was cruel and haughty, but the alliance was desirable due to her beauty and connections. My father would have none of it. He did not believe in a marriage by name, and neither do I."

"I'm glad to hear it."

Leopold smiled at her. "When my parents were wed, they lived at Balinor, the manor where I grew up."

"How did your parents die?" Kate asked quietly.

He was silent for a minute, and Kate listened to the soft sounds of the city waking. "My mother died in childbirth."

"Giving birth to you?"

He shook his head. "She became pregnant soon after I turned nine. I remember my father being overjoyed. Now that he had a male heir for his title, he and my mother yearned for a girl. When the child was being born, something was wrong. It was breech, and the doctor was still miles away. By the time he arrived, the bleeding was so profuse that he could not stop it." He paused, and Kate saw his eyes filled with the pain of the memory. "He was able to turn the child, but my mother died soon after. Three days after I learned that I had a sister, she also passed on. My father shut himself in their room night after night, and I couldn't bear to approach him. He had a haunted look in his eyes for years. He never married again."

"What happened to him?"

"One night, when I was nearing eleven, he was out for a ride, and fell about five miles from the gates of Balinor. One of our servants found him, and we called for the doctor, but it was too late."

"I'm so sorry, Leopold," Kate said softly, touching his arm gently. He smiled at her, but there were tears in his eyes.

"Since then, I have lived with my aunt and uncle at Balinor."

"Until you came to New York?"

"Yes. I was about to make the most disastrous of mistakes that night."

"Yes, I happened to meet Miss Tree," she said, laughing.

He also smiled. "I was to announce her as my bride until I saw you."

Kate sighed. "I hate to think what would have happened had I been a moment too late."

He shuddered. "No doubt catastrophe. But, no matter. You are here now, and we are to be wed. Ah, I nearly forgot! We are to have an engagement ball here tonight. My uncle and aunt insist."

Kate's eyes widened in fear. "But, Leopold! How am I supposed to get through a night pretending as though I'm from this century? Your aunt was just in the middle of asking me how I met you, and I'm sure every other jealous female will be dying to know the same thing! What am I supposed to say?"

"Concoct a story. That was your occupation, was it not?" he teased.

"You're not helping," she placed her hands on his lapels and frowned at him.

"Your creative. I know that you'll be fine, even in the midst of all the cackling hens. That's what made me fall in love with you, Kate. You are unlike any woman I have ever known."

"Flattery will get you everywhere," she grinned. "Do you think I can fool the whole crowd into believing I belong?"

"I have no doubts," he replied as they approached the front steps. "It will be good practice for Balinor."

"Balinor?"

"Yes, I want to bring you to Balinor. Oh, Kate, I have wanted to share its beauty with someone. I so much want to live there when we are married. Do you approve?" he asked, opening the door for her.

"Leopold, I jumped back a century to follow you. What's a few thousand miles?" Kate smiled humorously as she walked inside.

Hanging their coats up, he escorted her through the hall.

"Leopold?"

"Yes?"

"When do we leave for Balinor?"

He thought for a minute. "Whenever you feel ready."

She stopped in the middle of the empty corridor, and he turned to face her, an inquisitive look on his face. "How does next week sound?"

His face broke into a delighted grin as he drew her in his arms. "I do love you, Katherine," he whispered, bringing his face close to hers.

"And I love you, Leopold," she replied, "whatever era we may be in."

Her smile mirrored his as their lips met.