My Darling Clementine: Part 1
There was a man in Clementine’s bed. She had never had a man in her bed before, and she wasn’t quite sure what to do about it.
As men went, there had been the handsome horse trainer out behind the stables at the summer cottage and her dear friend Millie’s brother after that wild New Year’s party. But in her own bed? Never. Imagine the scandal that would cause! Henry Whitford’s only daughter in bed with a strange man. The horror! It would render her unfit for marriage, and the thought brought a small smile to her lips.
She looked down at the man from where she stood on the side of the bed. She had been fast asleep when she felt movement beside her on the mattress and, cracking an eye open, found the man lightly snoring next to her. And he was still snoring as she stared at him. Where on God’s green earth had he come from, and how had he ended up here?
Perhaps he thought this was his house? Maybe he was a drunk? Clem leaned down and sniffed the man’s breath. Minty. Not the slightest whiff of alcohol. She stood back up and continued her ruminating. Another woman in her situation might have screamed for help, but Clementine had never been a typical woman. She found it difficult to find this man threatening.
He was actually quite endearing, so peacefully asleep. His golden hair was swept across his forehead, and his long eyelashes rested sweetly on his cheeks, rosy with sleep. His long straight nose was strong without overpowering his face, and his lips were pink and kissable.
Mae was asleep next door, and Clem could already imagine her petite friend grasping the gold cross she wore around her neck and murmuring a prayer under her breath at the scandal Clementine was causing. She sighed and gave the man a small tap on his shoulder. He huffed a little but didn’t wake. She shoved him harder until he opened his eyes and blinked sleepily at her.
Clementine was suddenly very aware of what she was wearing, or not wearing to be precise, and wrapped her silk dressing gown tighter around her shoulders. The man’s eyes were still foggy with sleep, but he was slowly coming to his senses.
“Who are you?” His voice was charmingly raspy from disuse, but Clementine put on her best indignant lady act.
“Who am I? Who are you, sir? Crawling into women’s beds in the middle of the night.”
The man looked around the room. He rolled over and ran his hand over the bedside table.
“Where’s my phone?”
“Your phone?” Clem could only assume he meant telephone. “I don’t know where your telephone is, sir, but ours is on the first floor.” She was quite proud the home had one, but the man looked at her like she had six heads.
She had turned on the small electric lamp by the bed, still amazed at the fact that she didn’t need to light a candle, and she could see the confusion on the man’s face quite well.
“Are you lost?” she asked.
“No, I’m not lost. What’s going on?” He rose from the bed and looked around the room, perhaps still searching for his lost telephone.
Now that he was upright, he was much taller than Clementine and quite broad too. She was starting to reconsider her idea to not wake up Mae and her brother James before dealing with this stranger.
The man narrowed his eyes at her, and his pretty mouth turned up in one corner as though he finally got the joke. “Okay, quit screwing with me. Who sent you here?”
Clementine shook her head, slowly backing away from the man. She spoke in a calm, clear voice, a trick she had learned when attempting to de-escalate situations with her father’s disgruntled factory workers.
“I assure you, sir, no one sent me. I am Clementine Whitford, and this house belongs to my father, Henry Whitford, textile king of the northeast.” She hoped throwing her father’s name into things might straighten this man out, but he only looked more confused and more than a bit irritated.
“I don’t understand. This is my room. I’m staying at this inn.”
“You must be mistaken. This is not an inn. It is one of my father’s houses.”
“One of?” This part seemed to catch the man’s attention.
“Yes. My father owns quite a bit of property.” She did not bother to mention that her father had recently disinherited her, and if he found out she was staying here, he would be none too pleased. This stranger certainly didn’t need to know that.
The man was still looking around the room as though trying to unlock a mystery. “Where’s all my stuff? I really need to find my phone.” He pulled back the heavy curtains and peered out the window. He stopped abruptly.
“There are horses outside.”
Clementine nodded. “Of course.”
“In the street.” The man said it with such awe in his voice that she was beginning to think he had suffered some type of head injury. They had a man at the summer cottage that was kicked in the head by an overexcited mare, and he was never the same.
“If you tell me your name, I could help you find your people,” she offered, concerned for this poor, half-crazed man in her bedroom.
“Max,” he answered distractedly, shaking his head as though to erase what he had seen. “Do you mind telling me the date?”
“It’s the sixteenth of August.”
“No, I mean, what’s the year?”
Clementine’s eyebrows nearly met her hairline at his question, but she answered none the less.
“It’s 1895, of course.”
Max knew for certain he had lost his mind. 1895? He scrubbed a hand over his face, attempting to think. The woman who claimed this was her room continued to stare at him with wide eyes.
If he wasn’t busy trying to piece together his sanity, he might have noticed that she was incredibly beautiful. Who was he kidding? Of course, he noticed. Even with her hair up in some sort of rollers and while wearing an old lady nightgown, she was sexy as hell.
Fuck. Concentrate, Max. He looked around the room again. The decor was similar to when he went to sleep last night, except all the weird antique crap that had filled it no longer looked antique. It all seemed new. And there was the matter of all the horses and carriages outside the window and the suspicious lack of cars.
He began to pace. Maybe this was some sort of stress reaction to him losing all his money at the track yesterday. Maybe after that damn horse—that fucking horse that he had put every last dime on—had lost on the final straightaway, his mind had simply checked out. He must be in some sort of dissociative state.
She had been a sure thing, My Darling Clementine, favored to win big. And then he would have quit. He would have recouped his money and quit gambling for good. But instead, he had lost, and now he owed a lot of people a lot of money.
Max groaned internally at the thought of his money and that damn horse and turned back toward the beautiful woman. She had inched closer to the door, her big brown eyes still tracking him across the room. She clutched a silk robe around her, and it hung deliciously over her wide hips. Max suddenly wished he was having a different sort of dream.
She still hadn’t called for help, and while she looked curious about him, and maybe a little worried, she didn’t look scared. He thought about what she had said about this Inn. It was one of her father’s houses. And if the entire Inn belonged to them, it was a big fucking house. Max had spent enough time in Saratoga to know money when he saw it, and this girl screamed money.
If he was really here, then there must be a way to get back. If he could do it with a little extra cash in his pocket, then all the better. He put on his most charming smile, and the woman eyed him suspiciously.
“What did you say your name was, sweetheart?”
“Clementine,” she breathed, and Max nearly laughed out loud. Maybe My Darling Clementine would come in a winner after all.