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Till There Was You

Chapter One

Teddy had begun to enjoy riding her horse alone in the mornings. She had learned to settle for a lot of things in her life. Riding Buck, her quarter horse, in the mornings was one of the few pleasures she fought to keep. She got a sense of peace from these morning rides, something she seemed to have lost a long time ago. So, she rode without really thinking or trying to figure where she was going. Teddy just gave herself over to the enjoyment and the simplicity of the world around her. 

She had never doubted that in her life she would have a great love and that she would live happily ever after. When she found out that it was not the case, her world collapsed around her. She had spent the last year picking up the pieces of her so-called perfect world and suddenly realized it had never been perfect to begin with. So many mistakes—so very many mistakes. Only by being out here riding did she find peace these days. Remembering hurt, living hurt, breathing hurt, she yearned for something and yet she didn’t even have a clue as to what. 

Sadly, Teddy realized, she yearned for the faith she once had and had since lost. She wanted to feel. She had lately become afraid that she would never truly feel again. When she was riding, she didn’t think. And, if she didn’t think, she would be okay for a little longer. How had she allowed herself to get to this point she asked herself many times and the silence that followed never gave her the answer she so desperately needed. 

During her morning rides, she became one with all around her. And in turn, the beauty of nature gave her some repose. 

She reined Buck to a stop; closing her eyes, she took in a deep breath and listened. She could always count on the peace that usually always followed. 

“You are trespassing!” An angry voice brought her out of her communion with her surroundings. 

Teddy looked around and her gaze landed upon a dark-haired woman sitting majestically on a horse on a higher part of the terrain just a little in front of her. 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. I ride through here almost every morning.” Teddy tried to appease the irate landowner. 

The woman was on a powerful-looking black stallion. The horse was huffing, obviously anxious to be let loose and allowed to run. The horse and its master started coming closer and Teddy’s heart began to beat faster. 

“Then you have been trespassing on a regular basis,” the woman said now from a mere few feet away. 

“I think we are neighbors. I’m Theodora Greyson, please call me Teddy; most people do.” Teddy edged her horse closer and with a smile offered her hand to the dark-haired stranger. 

“Well, ‘please call me Teddy,’ you are still trespassing,” the woman said sarcastically as she took Teddy’s hand. The stranger held her hand a bit too long for comfort. 

Teddy was taken aback by the animosity coming from the woman and pulled her hand away. 

“Look I’m sorry. I won’t come this way again.” Teddy’s smile was gone now. 

“You just moved into the old Sandford Estate didn’t you!” It was more an accusation than a question. 

“Yes, a few months ago,” Teddy answered. 

“I didn’t like them either.” The woman didn’t bat an eye. It was as if she was trying to be unpleasant quite intentionally. 

Teddy looked taken aback again. She stared at the woman in front of her. And she thought how could someone that beautiful…. She shook her head at the strangeness of the thought. She looked at the woman again with new eyes. She was beautiful and although it was hard to believe made more beautiful by her air of aggression and superiority. Teddy smiled to herself at her assessment of the woman in front of her. The humor came forth because of her nervousness. 

“Why are you smiling?” The woman demanded in an angry tone. 

“For no reason at all.” Teddy smiled even more and started to pull away. 

The woman grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to her. Teddy was both frightened and surprised. Their faces were very close now. Teddy began to feel her heart pound wildly. She could feel the woman’s breath on her skin as her eyes searched her face with a question. And for a moment she saw a flicker of something in the stranger’s eyes as if she too was confused by the effect the proximity was causing. 

“Don’t you dare laugh at me!” she said between her teeth and got even closer. “No one laughs at me.” 

Teddy was both terrified and mesmerized. Suddenly, she felt the woman’s face brushing her cheek and could feel the woman’s breath close to her ear. “I’m Julia Alston-Vale and I own this whole county.” The words were spoken menacingly and yet soft as velvet. Teddy fell to their numbing effect—she felt dizzy, her eyes became unfocused and her whole body reacted as it never had before. She felt shaken and woozy and her skin flushed as all these new sensations infiltrated her body. It all became a kaleidoscope of the senses. 

She reached out desperately for the stranger so as not to fall off Buck. A warm, secure embrace received her body and she could have sworn that she heard herself moan as she was taken into this stranger’s arms. Teddy was in those arms for what seemed like a century. After a while her head fell back a little and their eyes met and melded together. 

“Come, I will take you home,” the voice called out to her huskily. 

Teddy was suddenly filled with a desire to touch those lips and taste their ambrosia. She had never felt such lack of control. She simply nodded, and when the woman helped her sit in front of her, on her own horse, it suddenly occurred to her how strong the dark-haired beauty must be. 

When the two bodies met it was like fusion. Teddy lost all sense of time. She had never felt such union or confusion and did not know how to react to it. The arms around her held her tightly against the body that had become a part of her own. She could feel the woman’s breath on her hair and on her skin. Teddy had never experienced such a sense of arousal. She ached with a need she neither understood nor cared to examine. She simply closed her eyes and leaned back into that body that felt so right with hers and when she opened her eyes again she was home. 

“Delivered safe and sound,” the soft voice whispered in her ear. The mouth briefly brushed her earlobe. Teddy leaned back and closed her eyes for an instant before letting the moment go. 

She didn’t quite know how but she slid down the horse and looked up at the rider who handed her the reins to her own horse. Teddy took the reins, still in a daze. 

Julia Alston-Vale looked down at the woman in front of her for a moment then turned around and galloped away. 

Teddy stared after her, frozen to the spot. It was as if suddenly the entire world around her had stopped and yet she hadn’t. 

Julia rode as if she were being chased by the demons of hell itself. She had lost control and that she was not comfortable with. What had happened? She became emotion and desire within an instant. All control had simply failed her. 

She had been watching the woman, Theodora, for the last few weeks. She could not call her Teddy. She must not think of her that way. Somehow, calling her Teddy brought thoughts of the warmth of that soft body she had just held close against her but a while ago. 

Julia remembered the first time she had seen her. Something had happened that she could not comprehend to this day. She had been drawn to and filled with a palpable need to touch this woman. She had waited every morning for the last two weeks to see her ride by. From the very first moment something primordial had pulled her to the beautiful stranger. Today she had gone too far. 

Today she had been unable to control that need and so she made it happen. Recklessness like today was not in her character. She would not allow the situation to present itself again. She was too set in her ways. She enjoyed and thrived on being in control. Control was something she was used to; something she felt safe in. A part of Julia was aware of what she had done; how it could be construed into an act of aggression of sorts.  It upset her to see herself as someone so uncaring of another person’s feelings.  And yet, if she was honest with herself she had not cared how much she had frightened the other woman; she had simply done what she wanted and to hell with the aftereffects. She had needed the physical contact so badly that she simply took it and that is what truly scared her. 

Julia shook her head but the thoughts would not leave her. They had been fused there the moment she had held Teddy against her body. There was no reason or rational explanations; there were no words spoken nor had they been necessary.  Never had she felt so affected by the mere touch of another human being. And Julia asked herself, ‘had she felt it too?’ 

“No!” Julia yelled. No more questions! And she took off in a full gallop. 

No one would be given that type of power over her. No one ever would; she would see to it.  These emotions that brought about such doubt or that made her feel so out of control simply did not and would not have a place in her life.

“No! And you can’t make me!” Sebastian yelled as he ran down the staircase. 

“Come back here!” Edward was yelling at the top of his lungs from where he stood on the top of the staircase. 

The voices coming from inside the house interrupted Teddy’s trance. She looked toward the rider, which had suddenly taken off on a full gallop, then hurried inside the house. 

“What’s going on?” Teddy almost collided with her son as he ran for the door. 

“I can’t stay here, Mother…I can’t!” Sebastian appeared furious. 

“What happened?” Teddy asked her son. 

“Him! I can’t deal with him!” Angrily, Sebastian pointed toward his father. 

“Edward, what happened?” Teddy asked, turning to look up at her husband. 

“I asked him to get me all my files from the car,” Edward said indignantly. 

Teddy looked back at her son again. 

“It’s not like that, Mom. He shoved me like I’m a dog or something. I won’t let him touch me again!” Sebastian insisted. 

“Insolent brat! It’s all your fault for spoiling him!” Edward pointed at Teddy. 

“Edward! Stop it!” Teddy turned toward Sebastian. “Sebastian, please let me talk with your father.” 

“He doesn’t have a right to talk to me or to you the way he does, Mother…he doesn’t! I can’t stay here…I can’t!” Sebastian ranted. 

Teddy put her palm on his cheek. “Give me a minute with your father. Please?” she said softly to her son. 

Sebastian seeing the fear in his mother’s eyes nodded. 

“Will you take Buck to the stables for me? I’ll be out there in a minute.” 

Sebastian looked up with disgust at his father. He looked back toward his mother and nodded. 

“Sure, Mom,” he said and walked out the already opened French doors. 

Teddy watched him walk away then went up the staircase to confront Edward. 

Julia walked into the house and threw her dusty gloves on the table. Her niece looked up from the sofa. 

“Aunt Jules, everything okay?” 

“Fine! Just fine! And for God’s sake, Nicole, don’t call me that,” she answered too curtly. 

Nicole seemed surprised and Julia realized that she had spoken too harshly. 

“I’m sorry, I had a very…unsettling incident occur.” Julia worded her answer carefully. 

“What happened?” Nicole asked as she got up from where she had been sitting. 

“It’s of no consequence,” Julia said quickly and walked toward the door. 

“Wait! I wanted to ask you something.” 

Julia turned toward her niece again. “Yes?” she asked suspiciously. 

“I was asked on a date. I would like to go,” Nicole asked cautiously. 

“A date?” Julia was taken by complete surprise. She looked at her niece and suddenly realized that the years had indeed passed and she was no longer a child. 

Julia sat down and stared at her niece. 

“Aunt Julia, I’m old enough to go out on a date,” Nicole insisted. 

“You are old enough when I say you are old enough!” Julia got up suddenly. She walked around the room then stared at her niece. Not today, please not today, she thought. She couldn’t deal with the dating thing with Nicole today. 

“Who is this boy?” Julia demanded as she stopped pacing. 

“His name is Sebastian. You don’t know his family. They just moved here a few months ago. I like him Aunt Julia…” Nicole looked at her pleadingly. 

“You like him?” Julia saw only the danger signs. 

“Yes, he’s nice,” Nicole said and smiled demurely. “He asked me to the movies this Saturday.” 

“No!” Julia turned around and walked out of the room. 

“Aunt Julia…I’m seventeen!” 

“No!” she yelled as she was running up the staircase. 

Teddy followed Edward back inside his study. 

“What happened, Edward?” Teddy demanded as she slammed the door behind her. 

“He was insolent. I asked him to do something and he said no. While he is under my roof he will do as I say!” Edward yelled. 

“You push too hard sometimes, Edward. Why must you provoke him? I won’t lose my son, Edward. I won’t!” Teddy felt her voice begin to shake with emotion. 

“We can’t allow him to dictate behavior, Theodora. He is insolent,” Edward said a bit more calmly after seeing his wife’s reaction. 

“Edward…” She took a deep breath. “He is angry. He is angry with you! Don’t make things harder.” 

“I am his father!” Edward got angry again. 

“You are his father who hurt his mother! Don’t push him, Edward. He is your son. You are going to lose him.” Teddy tried to make him understand. 

Edward took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. 

“What happens between you and I does not concern him,” he said defensively. 

“He loves us both. Don’t make things worse,” Teddy said softly. 

Silence filled the space between them. Edward sat down as Teddy walked out of the room to find and appease her son. 

Edward looked up at the closed door. “He loves you. And you only love him.” 

Julia began to remove her riding clothes. Again her mind ran rampant back to the moment that she had first seen Teddy. Back to the moment she had first touched her, smelled her hair, took in her scent of wildflowers that seemed to permeate her senses now. 

Julia closed her eyes and as she did so she could feel Teddy’s body pressed hard against her. And then…she could almost hear a moan, much like one of desire, escape the woman’s mouth as she leaned her head back against her. Julia’s eyes flew open. 

Had she imagined that? The woman had simply appeared faint, she kept repeating to herself, she had taken her home that was all. 

What was happening with her perfectly orderly world? 

Her niece had grown up and she had not even seen it happen. Julia remembered the day Nicole came into her life. 

“Damn you, Henry! I don’t know anything about kids!” Julia had yelled at her brother. “She is your responsibility. Why bring her to me!” 

“Look, I don’t even know if she is mine. If you don’t want her ship her back to that so-called mother of hers and just send money okay. I really don’t care,” Henry said as he walked out of the room. 

Julia was furious. She looked down at the little girl sitting quietly on the chair in front of her. She was so small. What had Henry said…she was two? 

Julia looked into those frightened eyes and the decision was made for her. 

Julia knelt down in front of the little girl. “What’s your name?” she asked softly. 

“Nicky,” the little girl answered suspiciously. 

“Well, Nicky, I’m your aunt Julia, I’m going to take care of you,” Julia said and added a smile.

The little girl looked at her for a moment as if making up her mind about something and then did something that took a permanent hold of Julia’s heart. The child moved forward and put her little arms around Julia’s neck. 

Julia was completely unprepared for such a reaction. Then the little face buried itself on her neck. Before Julia realized it the child was in her embrace. She pulled her away from her after a little while and stared at the little stranger in front of her. 

Julia gave herself a million and one reasons to keep her. The last being the one that she could easily reason away. “The child was a Alston-Vale and as such must be raised properly.” 

She took charge of Nicole and did what she thought best. 

I should have done a better job, Julia thought. She sat down and just let her head fall back. What is happening? She kept asking herself. What is happening to her perfectly orderly world? Where did all the years go? When did my Nicky become Nicole and how did I miss it all? 

She got up quickly not allowing herself to go down that road. 

“Nicole will be going back to school in a few weeks. That will take care of things,” Julia said out loud as she headed for the shower. “No more morning rides for me either. That will take care of it all.” 

“I don’t want to go back to boarding school,” Nicole said during breakfast the next day. 

“What?” Julia almost choked on her cup of coffee. 

“I want to stay here with you,” the young girl said softly. 

“Nonsense. You will go back to school as planned,” Julia stated and started reading her newspaper again, thinking the conversation was over. 

“Don’t you want me, Aunt Julia?” Nicole asked sadly. 

Julia looked at her niece once more. The statement, and the truth behind it, had taken her by surprise. 

“Nicole, what’s wrong?” Julia asked as she put her hand over her niece’s. She suddenly became very concerned. “Please, tell me,” Julia insisted softly. 

“I get lonely at school. I...You never come to visit me. I’m the only one that gets no visitors,” Nicole said, looking down at her plate. 

Julia felt like her heart had been yanked out of her chest. Worst of all, she knew what Nicole had just said was true.  She sent presents, and Nicole had never lacked for anything but the truth was there in front of her—time was something she had never truly given to Nicole. 

“I know you’re busy. You have a lot of responsibilities. I just thought if I was here with you…I might see you more that’s all.” The girl didn’t look up until she finished speaking and when she did Julia could see that her eyes were filled with unshed tears. 

How had she let this happen? She had asked herself that question often lately. Julia looked at her niece for a long time. 

“All right. I shall start making all the arrangements today,” Julia said finally. 

Nicole looked surprised then happy. She got up and went to hug her aunt. 

“Oh, thank you, Aunt Jules. Thank you,” Nicole said over and over as she kissed and hugged her. 

“Okay, now finish your breakfast. I’m late,” Julia said as she got up to leave. 

She got as far as the door and turned around to face Nicole. 


“Yes?” The girl said with a smile. Julia had not called her Nicky for years. 

“We’ll plan something special this weekend, okay?” 


“And don’t call me Jules.” Julia tried to look censorious. 

Nicole smiled and nodded. “Yes, Aunt Julia.” 

Julia smiled and left for the office.

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