Friday, November 16, 2012

Read the Whole Story

A Continuation of the story of Richard Rhys and Victoria Thornton from A Rogue in Londinium.
Erotica, Art, History, Alchemy, qabalistic tree of life, Time Travel, Transmigration, ghosts, soul mates and true love.

 The Great White Storm that hit New York in 1888 was the worst blizzard in US history. Richard Rhys newly married to Victoria Thornton leaves for an appointment with Edwin Booth on a spring morning in March. His wife has taken the landau to their Manor house in the Flatlands of Brooklyn. By the afternoon New York City is crippled by the white hurricane. As Richard cloaks himself in a bison hide and walks across the Brooklyn Bridge to find his wife he is met with the mortality of his past and future incarnations appearing as a female painter, Ashley in 2011 and also as a half Lakota - half Tibetan Medicine woman, Ansa, at the time of the Dutch settlements of New Amsterdam in 1664. Using a saffron thread from Ansa’s ancient Tibetan robe, Richard is met with incarnations of his wife and lover as Chief Tamanend and a modern Writer for an Arts Magazine, Chelsea. Traveling to London to unlock the secrets of the past, Ashley and Chelsea come face to face with alchemy and prominent mystical figures. Luminaries such as William Penn, Dr. Samuel Pepys, Sitting Bull, Dr. John Dee, Stanford White, Buffalo Bill Cody, Nichola Tesla, Madam Blavatsky, Mary Astor, Jacob Riis, Edwin Booth, Abraham Lincoln, Nichola Tesla, John Wilkes Booth, Jack the Ripper, Louisa May Alcott, Charlie Chaplin and Queen Elizabeth the II. Discovering 13 large sea paintings by Rhys locked away at the Tate Museum, they find that if studied in a certain sequence the paintings bring about profound transformations and enlightenment. A story of how a soul can continue to change the world life after life. 

Available on Kindle here.

Paperback available 12.12.12

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Profundity of Heart Strings

The aroma of boiling onions wafted up to the second floor. The pungent odor brought both Chelsea and Ashley out of their exquisite reverie for a moment. The aromatic properties of the bulbous roots anchored them to the earth and to the present moment.

“Is that dinner?” Chelsea asked as she crinkled her face.

“I’m not sure.” Ashley replied as she got up and passed by the window. Something caught her attention and she stopped for a moment. Spread out like a moat around the front entrance was a crowd of photographers, their camera’s at the ready.

“What is it?” Chelsea asked not wanting to leave the dreamy cocoon they found themselves in.

“Paparazzi.” Ashley said softly. Chelsea joined her at the window. The sight both frightened and amazed her. She never in a million years thought that anything she did would garner that kind of attention. Certainly she wanted recognition for her writing and her opinions on art. Speeches, articles, lectures seemed more in keeping with her fantasies of fame. She wanted to be a voice behind the writing and ideas, not a public personality. She was being thrust into the spotlight and she felt overwhelmed.

They both stood silently witnessing the frenetic movements of men jockeying for a better position at the front door. The street was lined with news vans and satellite antennas that foretold of presidents, royalty or diplomats engaged in talks of world power, not two ordinary women who wanted to marry.

“I told Felix to bring his friend and come for dinner.” Ashley said not taking her eyes off the bustling activity below. “He is a brilliant financial advisor. I think he’ll help us. I hope he helps us.” Ashley continued.

“Your ex.” Chelsea replied.

“Very much so.” Ashley said and she kissed Chelsea softly just as there was a knock on the bedroom door. Wilkins stood on the other side.

“Ms. Coleman, Ms. Barrett. Your guests have arrived.” He announced and as Ashley turned the antique handle to the door she could hear the deliberate footfalls of the butler as he quickly tended to his duties.

“Thank you!” She said as she watched his balding head bob down the staircase. Then she turned and gazed at her beloved. Chelsea seemed apprehensive and moved with a kind of uncertainty.

“It’ll be okay. I promise.” Ashley added as she nodded her head in the direction of the dining room.

Chelsea could feel her heart rate start to race. She felt her breath begin to grow shallow. She heard Ashley say everything would be okay and she wanted to believe her. She stared at her lover bathed in the light from the hallway. Ashley broke into a warm beaming smile and it melted Chelsea. Immediately she felt calm and confident and she knew that if Ashley were with her step by step then everything really would be okay. It would be better than okay. It would be brilliant.

Felix appeared in a fine Italian linen suit with Antonia on his arm. Ashley could not help but notice that the woman was stunning. She wore a taupe crepe cocktail dress, Italian, of course, and she sported a sexy short hairstyle a la Halle Berry.

“Hey Felix.” Ashley said warmly as she leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. Chelsea noticed he embraced Ashley a millisecond too long.

“You look fantastic.” He beamed. “This is Antonia Bellucci. Antonia, this is Ashley Coleman, the ‘woman of the house’.”

“Welcome, Antonia.” Ashley replied and then graciously turned and slipped her arm though Chelsea’s. “This is my…girlfriend, Chelsea Barrett, the other woman of the house…Chelsea, Felix and Antonia.” The moment was slightly awkward dotted with pregnant pauses and summing each other up.

“Wilkins talked me into a traditional British dish tonight. Liver and onions.” Ashley announced. “It’ll be an adventure for our Yankee palates.”

“I love liver and onions.” Felix said as he looked over at Antonia who smiled weakly.

“I’m sure there will be other dishes to choose from for those of us who are not meat eaters.” Chelsea added. Ashley took Antonia by her arm and sweetly led her into the huge drawing room.

“I’m fascinated with what you do --- so tell me more.” She said softly.

Felix stood alone awkwardly with Chelsea.

“It’s finally nice to meet you.” He said trying to be sincere.

“Likewise.” Chelsea offered but she fell short of being genuine. Truth was she wished she could go back up to the master bedroom and hide.

“Speaking of Yankees. Can you guys get the game?” Felix asked hoping that watching ESPN might alleviate the uncomfortable strangeness in the room. Chelsea discovered the remote and handed it to Felix.

“Wine?” She asked.

“Yes.” Everyone said in unison.

“I’m so glad we have a moment to speak knowing that you will have the final say about the Rhys Manor house.” Antonia began. “I wanted to share something with you that I discovered in one of the walls that had been partially knocked down.” She fished around in her bag and pulled out a manila envelope. Ashley gazed at the emerging aged photographic prints. To her amazement and awe she observed the handsome figure of Richard Rhys standing next to one of the large sea paintings that resided in the Tate. Even more intriguing were the furniture pieces, wallpaper design and statuary. Everything recorded in the photograph now lived on the top floor where Dame Thornton kept her personal rooms.

“I have to show you something!" Ashley said breathlessly. And she took Antonia by the arm and led her to the small birdcage elevator. As they ascended to the top floor Ashley murmured. “You’re not going to believe this.” Then she swung the wrought iron gate open and watched Antonia take in an exact replica of the photograph. Every piece of furniture placed in the same position.

“This is…unbelievable.” Antonia whispered and her eyes were as big as saucers.

“The Dame must have recreated the house here in London down to every knick knack and drawer pull.” Ashley said just as stunned.

“May I take some photographs?” Antonia asked.

“Of course.” Ashley said. Antonia pulled out a professional camera complete with flash and began to document the fifth floor. As she moved about Ashley studied the woman. She was kind and pretty and interesting and probably a good match.

“Do you love him?” Ashley blurted out. Antonia stopped a bit surprised by Ashley’s frankness.

“It’s too soon to tell.” She replied smiling. “I have a wonderful time with him.” And she went back to taking pictures.

“So you don’t mind that he’s addicted to his blackberry, email and cell phone?” Ashley inquired.

“Oh, He broke his phone the night we met. He hasn’t replaced it. He leaves his computer at the office and he flushed his blackberry down the toilet.” She said and she blushed as if revealing a part of their intimacy. Ashley was taken aback. “I have my own business and so I understand his need to be ‘connected’. But he said it was sucking the life out of him so he refuses to replace his gadgets.” She added as she began clicking off more pictures.

“I’m happy for you…for both of you.” Ashley said and she meant it. “This painting---here in the picture? It is housed at the Tate in a private gallery. Tomorrow morning make an appointment to go and see it. It will change your life.”

Antonia stared at Ashley perplexed but she was open to anything, particularly art.

“Wilkins assured me we get all the ESPN channels.” Chelsea said as she looked through a British broadcast guide.

“We’ll find it.” Felix replied and then he rested on a news channel that showed clips of Chelsea and Ashley being whisked away from their meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

“Not since J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter craze took over the country have we seen the kind of publicity surrounding the Queen and the Palace. Not even her Majesty’s birthday celebrations seemed to catch the eye of the entire world.” The British newscaster commented. “But two American women are now neck and neck in wealth to Rowling and Sir Paul McCartney. Thrust into the spotlight by inheriting world renowned philanthropist Dame Thornton’s estate, Ms. Barrett and Ms. Coleman could be the catalysts that sway Her Majesty’s opinions about same-sex marriage. Due to be presented before Parliament this Fall the Queen could make an historic decision changing the core foundations of the Church of England. If she decides that the Anglican Church must be equal and inclusive then she will have made the single most important change since the birth of the church by her great great great grandfather King Henry the VIII.”

“Blows my mind.” Felix said softly.

“Mine, too.” Chelsea replied. They continued watching as the news coverage switched to the British forces still fighting in Afghanistan. To Chelsea the reporter seemed to be talking in slow-motion. She felt dizzy and faint as the words and violent images crashed into her.

“Several reporters embedded with British Special Forces were killed today as insurgent fighting continued in the rocky and remote terrain of Afghanistan. Among them, Scott Burton…” The newscaster stated. Scott’s name echoed in Chelsea’s ears for a long while as if she were stuck in a tunnel suspended in time somewhere – unable to free herself. She felt her body give way. Felix stepped close and caught her just under her arms. He guided her to the large couch that seemed to divide the room.

“Chelsea---Chelsea---Chelsea.” He murmured trying to get her to snap out of her crisis-induced oblivion. He sat down next to her as waves of grief washed over her.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. It’s okay. Someone you know obviously.” He said softly. She was inconsolable. He put his arms about her awkwardly trying to ease her despair.

“He didn’t see it coming. Chelsea, He never felt the pain. He didn’t suffer. He just left the world. That’s all. It was instant…and it was his time.” Felix said and his words somehow made it easier. He just left the world. He still existed in another form and Chelsea knew it was true having had actual conversations with Dr. Samuel Pepys the day before. And she knew that if she went back to the Tate and studied the Rhys paintings that somehow she could find her way back to Scott if she wanted to. That was the key. ‘If she wanted to’. But she knew she didn’t. Scott became the symbol of the death of her old way of being, her old perceptions.

Ashley and Antonia stepped into the room and were stunned to see Chelsea in a state of bereavement with Felix comforting her tenderly.

“Um, her reporter friend was killed.” Felix offered. Ashley moved to her quickly and embraced Chelsea.

“I’m so sorry---I’m so sorry.” She whispered and the words felt like velvet to Chelsea’s ears. Ashley wrapped her arms tightly about her and it felt like a million mothers and the wings of thousands of angels. She was buoyant, ecstatic and adrift. Scott came to represent the idea of family and yet she did not want a family with him. She wanted a family with Ashley. Her sobs of loss transmuted into waves of grace---golden fields set a light by the rays of the everlasting sun. Finite reality ceased to exist. She floated in a kind of oblivion knowing that her fiercest desires could be manifest.

The onion soup was pungent but even more caustic was the salve that Mrs. Hopkins had made and plastered across Richard’s chest. Victoria had settled in next to his bed and spoon-fed the acrid potion to her husband. Tears ran down her face and her eyes were red and puffy from the concoction. She blew her nose every few minutes.

“This is ridiculous.” Richard murmured. “We’ve lost yet another day.”

“Perhaps, but what we’ve lost now we will have gained later.” Victoria said matter-of-factly and she wiped her nose on her dainty handkerchief and dabbed her stinging eyes.

“I want to go home.” Richard stated.

“We all do.” Victoria replied.

“Then let’s go home.” He said as he began to rise. Mr. Watkins got up out of his chair to restrain Richard if need be.

“Now, sir. We all want to go back to the townhouse. But what good would that do if you end up with pneumonia.” He said as he placed his hand on Richard’s bare shoulder. “We have everything we need right here.”

Mrs. Hopkins had moved the scant belongings they had to a ground floor room with a working fireplace. She sat in an old rocking chair reading the small Bible that had once belonged to Nell. Mr. Watkins had erected the twine and hung a blanket for privacy between the two couples.

Richard leaned into Victoria and whispered, “I’m weak from time travel. This is an illusion.” Victoria knew this to be true and she glanced over at Mr. Watkins who had already begun to move to the other side of the room to afford the couple more privacy. She neither agreed nor disagreed. She simply let her thoughts unfold before her. She noticed the orange thread wrapped about his finger and she let her own fingers touch it and pull at it and somehow the string was attached to her heart and she knew deep down that what he was saying would affect the future in more profound ways than one.

Monday, May 23, 2011


“I believe he may be suffering from walking pneumonia.” Doctor Philips said. Victoria had pulled the Bison hide over Richard who was now shivering and wheezing. “We must move him to a room with a fireplace. This cock loft is too drafty and will only make him worse.” He added. Victoria nodded in agreement as Mrs. Hopkins clung to Mr. Watkins in the corner.

“The primary residence is in Manhattan. Would he be able to make the trip?” Mr. Watkins inquired.

“No. No. He must stay warm and still. Besides, I do not think the bridge is passable by carriage yet and the train tracks are still packed with snow.” The Doctor replied. “I will see to the Innkeeper for a room with a working fireplace. I shall also procure a remedy from the apothecary on Montague Street and bring it round in the evening.”

“Thank you very much, Dr. Philips.” Victoria said softly as she walked him to the door.

“In the meantime I suggest your good lady here speak with the kitchen to see if they have onions in the cellar. A salve would ease his breathing and a hearty soup would help break up the congestion.” The good doctor advised. He tipped his bowler kindly and disappeared down the staircase, his heavy footsteps echoing over the din of the Irish celebrations.

“Mr. Watkins? Would you see to the new room?” Victoria asked. Mr. Watkins nodded and was fast on the heels of the doctor with Mrs. Hopkins in tow pressed into service as a supervising cook.

“I’ve prevented you from going home.” Richard said in a raspy voice.

“Don’t be silly.” She said and she settled in a simple cane chair beside him.

“Did Mrs. Hopkins tell you?” He said softly.

“Tell me what?” She asked.

“About Nell.” He replied.

“About her unfortunate death.” She said and she was overcome momentarily. “She recounted it this morning at breakfast. Don’t you remember? A terrible tragedy.”

Richard nodded and gazed up at the decaying molding near the ceiling’s edge.

“I would very much like for her to have a proper monument.” He added.

“Certainly. Whatever pleases you, dear.” She said.

“Nell was…my relation.” He began and then closed his eyes for a moment.

“You should rest.” She said concerned for him.

“My niece to be exact.” And he wheezed a bit as his own emotions were awakened. “If I had only known.”

“But you did not.” She answered compassionately. “Fretting will only make it worse.”

“Now you have proof of my lineage and my past.” He said and his illness seemed to blow a dark cloud over his temperament. She studied him for a moment and took in the simplicity of the room. It looked like an Irish peasant’s lodging. He had the unmistakable symmetry of an Irishman. Handsome. The tableau of truth unfolded. Victoria fetched her small Bible and opened it to a place that she frequently marked. Then she read aloud:

“And Ruth said, intreat me not to leave thee or to return from following after thee: for wither thou goest, I will go: and where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people and thy God, my God.”

Dillon pulled the Bentley up in front of the Hyde Park Townhouse. 66 happened to be the house address. Everything was happening so fast - at lightning speed that Chelsea had not even noticed the number let alone the front of the Victorian mansion. It was four stories with gabled attic windows that made up the fifth floor. Whitewashed like the rest of the buildings on the block and a fantastically Romanesque front entrance into the Foyer. The drive down the Mall and past St. James Park would be forever burned into her memory. And although she had never in a million years expected to experience such an amazing day, she felt as though she had been down the Mall before, perhaps in a distant dream. Dillon opened the car door and they disembarked dazed and somewhat disoriented by their visit with Her Majesty, the Queen. The day had been eventful and surprising and completely unexpected. Wilkins met the two women as they entered the foyer.

“Good evening Ms. Coleman, Ms. Barrett.” He said.

“Hi Wilkins.” Ashley replied still wearing a dreamy countenance.

“Is it possible for us to go to the fifth floor?” Chelsea asked trying to be discreet. Wilkins nodded and smiled.

“I want to change my shoes first at least.” Ashley said as she pulled off her heels and carried them in her hands. Chelsea took her arm.

“Come to the fifth floor with me.” She said demurely.

“What are you up to?” Ashley asked. Chelsea only smiled and held firmly to her arm.

“Ladies. We have a small elevator back near the servant’s kitchen. Follow me, please.” He said and they snaked through the enchanting house filled with art and antiques the likes of which could rival the Frick Museum in New York. The door looked like a plain wooden pantry entrance. Wilkins pulled it open to reveal a fantastic turn-of-the-century birdcage elevator constructed of pure steel. As they climbed in they could see a magnificent oculus on the top of the building pouring light down the shaft. Tiffany stained glass had been installed to make it a waterproof skylight. The small platform buzzed with the sound of electricity and antique cables slowly pulling them heavenward. Chelsea’s heart raced in anticipation of her surprise. Wilkins opened the accordion wire doorway to the fifth floor landing and pushed another heavy oak door open to the attic area that had been outfitted with several large easels, a huge painter’s table complete with every oil color imaginable, another smaller table filled with every kind of sable haired brush from a single hair to a house brush, buckets, palette knives, rolls of canvas at least eight feet wide and wooden stretchers built to perfection. Ashley was stunned. Chelsea was giddy in her wake. She walked about the room unable to find the words to describe exactly what she was feeling. It was a painter’s studio that only the successful and wealthy could imagine. It had everything and it was blank---poised for creation. Chelsea watched as Ashley turned and melted into tears.

“When did you do this?” She asked as she sat down on one of the stools.

“Wilkins did it for me.” She said. “While we were out…learning to curtsy.” She chuckled.

“I don’t know what to say except thank you.” Ashley replied and she embraced Chelsea in a long silent grasp. Chelsea moved slightly and gazed at her seriously.

“Paint.” She said. And she could see the potential for greatness standing in that refinished attic. Ashley nodded her head then took Chelsea’s hand and led her back to the elevator.

“Does this elevator stop on the floor where we live?” She asked. And her words echoed with potency. ‘where we live’. “I really do have to change my shoes before dinner.” Ashley added. Wilkins smiled and once again they were floating slowly down to the second floor. Wilkins pulled the door open with a steely clank and the women were set free. They walked down the hallway to their suite of rooms. And Ashley turned the knob and let the large door swing open. The sight took Chelsea’s breath away. As she entered the room the walls were adorned with tiny mirror fragments in the shape of Spanish doubloons. On every surface were lit pillar candles and the room was afire with a kind of holiness. Erin stood in the corner awaiting further instructions.

“Thank you, Erin.” Ashley said. “We’ll be down for dinner in a little while.” Erin nodded and excused herself disappearing through the door and down the corridor. Chelsea took in the sight and for a moment it reminded her of Temple Church and the two strange columns. The shimmering glow of the candles undulated across the small reflected surfaces and she felt as though a large presence had accompanied them in this most sacred space. Alongside each candle were roses, some red, some pale pink and others pure white. She felt herself uncoil almost about to take flight. She moved to the canopied bed that had been covered in peonies and there in the middle was an envelope addressed to ‘My Dear Chelsea’. She could feel her heart move up into her throat and she knew that this ecstatic moment would outlive her own existence. She could see Ashley standing patiently in the center of the room.

“I might possibly faint.” Chelsea warned.

“I’ll catch you.” Ashley replied calmly.

Chelsea opened the note and steadied herself by slowly sitting in one of the large Victorian leather chairs that flanked the huge dormant fireplace. It read:

Sixty Six holds beauty and sits upon rows of windows

Sleek with old and new---harmonious

The fiction of time destroyed

And the exquisite reflection of love weaves through its history

As we pass by on a cold December night

Our breaths solid, clinging to our lips




Your arm linked in mine as visions of an ocean of top hats

Move like ripples in a midnight sea.

The clopping of horse hooves on cobblestone echo through the years

And the smell of peat on a hearth as the century dies away.

We know it all too well when the memories are tactile.

Shutter and candlelight battle for sovereignty as day rolls into night

And the night rolls into years and the years roll into now…

And still we walk


Towards what, we do not know.

A wrought iron gate

Black and permanent, a fixture of the underside, the unknown…

A witness, perhaps…whispering the entrance to Zion

It permits us vague premonitions forever with each breathing

How have I lived

Whom have I loved

You are the answer…the song of every poet

As you hold me in the palms of your hands

Gently guiding me toward the sacred

Cast adrift upon eternity, I am thin and translucent

Like the wings of a dragonfly

Yet sustained by the sensation of your presence

The simplest touch

The barest venture

The deepest gaze

Words drop from lips dangling tenuously from heart strings

Stillness ushers tears standing only a million miles away

Yet within the warmth of an embrace

For this we live a thousand years

Joining full circle at the end of the world

I cannot move, I am trapped in myself

Ever observant, you watch me persevere

How shall I come to you?

By a midnight chamber? In a dream, a thought, the awareness of breath?

When the moon hints of magic and the earth trembles?

I dream I trace your body with my hand as the pole star

Pierces those delicate underpinnings that make us flesh

Our eyes and their slow tears reliving a promise

That ushers us through the corridors of paradise

Nothing which we are to perceive in this world

Equals the grace we are about to encounter

And so the occurrence that is you keeps falling

Delicate as snow…through the gift of silence.

And with you I keep falling life after life, moment by moment

The earth takes it softly exactly as we take each other

And you ask innocently where am I from and who made me

The sun and the moon…the sun and the moon, dearest…

Chelsea knew in the deepest part of herself that she had read these words before, understood the sentiments and lived the emotions as if they had happened yesterday. And they were just as fresh and surprising as the first time. When she finally looked up from the page Ashley had knelt down in front of her.

“I don’t know if I am doing this right.” She said, her head bowed.

“You’re doing just fine.” Chelsea said softly between waves of emotion.

“Would you marry me, Chelsea Barrett?” She said and she held out the exquisite diamond and sapphire ring that had been bequeathed to her for that very moment.

“Where did you get this?” Chelsea asked between tears.

“It was Victoria’s.” She replied and she was overcome in the moment.

“Yes.” Chelsea whispered. Ashley rose up and kissed her again and again. Then she took a breath and said, “Are you sure? We will be in the public eye. Everyone will know. Our union will be the symbol of a movement.”

“Yes, yes, yes---forever yes.” Chelsea replied and she kissed her betrothed until they were both breathless.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Healing the Fisher King

Ashley woke up at about 4:30 AM Greenwich mean time. She rolled over and looked at her cell phone, groaned, shifted and tried to make herself comfortable. She turned toward Chelsea who was sleeping peacefully. Ashley settled in and gazed at her paramour. To her, Chelsea looked like she was fifteen years old, her beautiful oval face creamy in the blue light of night, innocent and fresh. She had a few freckles on her cheeks and forehead from her summer walks about London. She seemed so peaceful and content in her slumber that she almost glowed. In those quiet timeless moments Ashley felt like her heart was boundless in its capacity to feel, to love. She had never experienced the intensity of it before. At times she was afraid of its power. But now, in this half dream state she felt comfortable as if it was the safest, most secure place to be. It was the thing that had gone missing in her life until now. And she could not fathom Chelsea not being in it. Even the barest hint of separation felt painful. Not that she needed to be physically present at all times. Certainly they had their own separate identities and pastimes, but a curious knowing that the love would never wane, only deepen between them.

Sleep would elude her so she decided to get up and make her way to the kitchen to see if anyone else was awake at that hour. She crept quietly out of the immense suite of rooms and down the elegant curving staircase that almost seemed like an illusion. She heard the footpads of someone stirring and as stealthily as she could she crept down the long corridor where the luminescence if a single incandescent light overflowed onto the Moroccan runners that absorbed and hid her presence. The room was an office for Mr. Smoot who had been made power of attorney for the Dame. He was the overseer of all of her holdings, investments, foundations and trusts including her own personal property over the last decade due to Dame Thornton’s increasing age and fragility. As she peeked in she could see Mr. Smoot rubbing his eyes and shuffling mounds of paper trying to organize and prioritize the measures to be taken for the estate to make a smooth transition. He seemed overwhelmed and perplexed if a bit disheveled in his elegant velvet robe. He smoked. She disliked smoking. She knew that once the Hyde Park house was truly theirs they would forbid smoking in the house altogether. If anyone chose to embrace the habit they would have to go out to the garden. Then out of the shadows she heard a husky whisper.

”Ms. Coleman?” The sound of her name startled her and she took in a sharp breath and froze for a moment. Mr. Smoot’s eloquent yet authoritative voice reminded her of her father. Her immediate reaction was that she was in trouble somehow. Then she remembered she was an adult and one of the masters of the house.

“Yes?” She replied weakly. Then she stepped into the amber glow of the dim desk lamp.

“Is everything all right?” He asked in a low voice.

“Yes---yes, I just…couldn’t sleep.” She replied.

“Seems to be contagious.” Mr. Smoot said as he moved a pile of papers to another table.

“I trust your visit to London has been enlightening?” He said a bit tongue in cheek.

“More than you know.” Ashley said and she smiled at her secret.

“Well…Since you’re up and awake I can take care of a bit of business that affects you directly.” And he rose, stumped out his cigarette took a sip of tea and began to step toward the hallway. He reached for a set of keys and then gestured for her to follow. Quietly they made their way to the top floor of the townhouse. Upon stepping up onto the landing Ashley was strangely familiar with all of the furniture, wallpaper, paintings rugs and knick-knacks. She had wondered why it seemed so familiar. The chaise lounge and the heavy damask curtains even the patterns and colors of the paint and fabric became instantly recognizable. When she first found the Rhys Manor house in Brooklyn and met Victoria thinking she was a museum employee, the entire contents of the house now appeared before her.

“These are beautiful antiques.” Ashley remarked.

“Yes, the Dame has quite a collection.” Mr. Smoot replied.

“She collect these things herself?” Ashley asked.

“She inherited almost everything on this floor from her grandmother.” He said as they neared a locked door at the end of the hall.

“Her grandmother…” Ashley echoed.

“Yes, her grandmother was one of the most celebrated philanthropists in England. Victoria Thornton. She was a moving force in the temperance and suffrage movements. She was also a driving force in reform and eventual labor movements. Shaw based a few of his female characters on her in his plays.” He explained. “Quite an amazing woman.”

The tumbler in the lock turned and the door swung open. It was the Dame’s inner sanctum. It was her bedroom, office and personal space. Decorated tastefully with the most amazing personal collection of art. On the walls hung the lesser known works of Richard Rhys, as well as Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Berthe Marisot, Courbet as well as Picasso, Braques, Duchamp, Matisse and even DeKooning. She was the Peggy Guggenheim of her time and yet she kept a very private life.

“Everything in this room with the exception of some of the more contemporary works of art belonged to her grandmother. She had been a guiding force in the Dame’s early life.” Mr. Smoot said. Ashley moved through the room and she could feel the same kinetic energy as she felt when she was in the Manor house in Brooklyn. She almost expected Victoria to enter the space and greet her as she had so many times when she visited the house in the states. On the walls were tiny mirror fragments that shimmered in the predawn hours like a sea creature illuminated by its own force. And on every surface stood candles. When lit the candles and the mirrors made the room into a sacred shrine.

“Forgive me as I must ask. Are you, indeed, already married to Ms. Barrett? Perhaps in Canada?” Mr. Smoot asked.

“No.” Ashley said taken aback by Smoot’s knowledge of such legalities. “Is it legal in Canada?” Ashley asked embarrassed at her own ignorance.

“Yes…it is…” He said surprised that she knew nothing about the laws of her ‘community’.

“Well then…em…Do you ‘want’ to be married?” He asked and the question felt powerful and loaded and Ashley took a moment to really clarify her thoughts and feelings.

“To Ms. Barrett, of course?” Smoot further specified.

“It has never been discussed before but now that it has come up…yes. Yes, I would like to marry Chelsea.” Ashley said and she was proud of herself. She did not let herself feel judged nor did she waiver in her conviction as it became clear and real.

“Very good.” He murmured. Then he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “According to Dame Thornton’s wishes these pieces of jewelry are to be used for the purposes of engagement and betrothal.” He said and he unlocked a small Victorian chest revealing a velvet-lined collection of jewelry. Ashley felt as though she was looking at the crown jewels themselves. On the top left he opened a small compartment following the directions on the page. He pulled an engagement ring elegantly designed in the Victorian fashion with a spiral of diamonds and sapphires.

“This is the engagement ring.” Smoot declared and handed it to Ashley. Then he pulled out a simple gold band. “And this, of course, is the wedding ring.”

She had seen both rings before as distant memories, but ever more familiar on Victoria’s hand when she delivered food to the house. The sight of the rings now in her possession moved her. She felt her throat tighten and her eyes fill with tears. For there was the unmistakable knowledge that Victoria was no longer alive and the thought was upsetting. The rings were a brilliant tribute to her memory. She felt the loss as if Richard might have –an unending heaving of sorrow. But it was temporary and Ashley knew this to be true. And although she had never seen the rings up close she had a vague suspicion that Richard had engraved something on the inside of the ring. The light was too dim in the Dame’s bedroom for her to see. So she moved closer to the window where the light of the streetlamp trickled in.

‘Victoria my all. Love Richard.’ Had all but been worn away. It was barely visible inside the small gold circle. It was the exact sentiment that Ashley was feeling and she realized that she had to formally propose to Chelsea. There was so much to do—so much preparation. Ashley wanted it to be special and terrifically romantic. But what if she said no, she wondered. How would she handle it? She couldn’t let those thoughts invade and so she focused her attention on the excitement of the proposal.

“Mr. Smoot?” She asked still awash in the mesmerizing moment.

“Yes?” He said sleepily.

“This account that we have access to…May I make a request for supplies for this evening? You may have to enlist Erin and Mr. Dillon’s help.” Ashley said enigmatically.

“Certainly.” He replied.

“We’ll go back to your office so that I might give you a list of specific instructions.” She said with growing excitement.

After they had shopped and been dressed in appropriate clothing, Ashley in a black Stella McCartney business casual skirt and Chelsea in a beautifully tailored Bruce Oldfield summer dress, they encountered two hours of etiquette along with the proper curtsy. They had been ushered though the immaculate corridors and various reception rooms at Buckingham Palace and now they sat in a magnificent parlor just outside of where Her Majesty the Queen takes meetings with dignitaries and heads of state.

“I think I’m dreaming.” Chelsea whispered.

“I’d pinch you if I could.” Ashley replied.

“Don’t you dare.” Chelsea said smiling. “I’m not sure what might happen if you pinch me.”

Ashley inched closer her hand in mock position.

“I might pee myself—STOP!” Chelsea said as she scooted down the ornate couch. Just then a gentleman appeared---the secretary to the Queen’s personal secretary, stood before them.

“Her Majesty will see you now.” He said softly then he turned the knob on the ornate door that led into the Queen’s parlor. She was clothed in a robin’s egg blue tailored dress and her signature pumps. She smiled amiably and had the familiar air of a kindly grandmother. However, her personality and her amazing charisma seemed to create an aura of power and refinement.

“Your Majesty may I introduce Ms. Ashley Coleman and Ms. Chelsea Barrett, heirs to Dame Chelsea Thornton’s estate.” The secretary said calmly. Ashley curtsied first and felt like a klutz then Chelsea stepped forward and curtsied perfectly as if she had done it all her life.

“Very nice to meet you both. My condolences. I’m so very sorry for your loss.” She said and her voice was kindly and maternal.

“Your majesty, it is a privilege.” Chelsea replied.

“Thank you so much for receiving us.” Ashley added.

“Dame Thornton was a friend of the monarchy. She was also one of the most profound philanthropists in England and abroad.” The Queen said.

“We’ve been informed of her charity by Mr. Smoot.” Ashley added.

“I’m sure you have. Many of our social programs are made possible through Government subsidies, taxes, etc. Dame Thornton’s foundations make up almost forty percent of the needed funds to keep these programs alive and to serve British citizens.” She explained. “It reaches into the areas of education in the form of financial assistance, scholarships and Schools wholly dependent on charity to give underprivileged children and foreign born nationals an equal foundation on which to learn. Then there is healthcare. Cancer research, HIV research, Alzheimer’s research and spinal cord injuries sustained by our forces in combat. Foundations to offset long term costs for chronic diseases and conditions and such.” She explained. Then her face brightened as if she had a secret. “The truly exciting work that Dame Thornton is responsible for are trusts set up for innovations in green technology and subsidies to promote the eventual abandonment of petroleum.”

“Wow. I did not know that.” Ashley said.

“I requested an audience with you both to ensure that these programs will remain intact.” The Queen continued.

“If I may, your majesty.” Chelsea began. “But we have no legal authority as of yet since the stipulation in her last will is that the two of us be married.”

“I see.” The Queen replied and her brow crinkled in consternation.

“We’ve been told it is not recognized by British law.” Ashley added.

“Civil Unions have been legal since 2005 with all the privileges of marriage.” The Queen replied.

“It stipulates marriage within a belief system, your majesty.” Chelsea explained. The Queen chuckled for a moment and shook her head as if remembering an anecdote or incident from the long forgotten past.

“God bless her. She is forcing her hand.” The Queen murmured. Then she gazed at Ashley and Chelsea and her demeanor became serious. “Are you aware of the seriousness of this responsibility?”

Chelsea took Ashley’s hand and clasped it tight. Ashley was simultaneously surprised and taken. “Yes we are.” She replied confidently.

“Do you love each other?” The Queen probed and it was absolutely out of character.

“Indisputably.” Chelsea replied without pause.

“I am head of the Church of England and therefore I am able to change ecclesiastical law. I must address parliament on this very issue. I find it curious that Dame Thornton exercised her power even in death to ensure social conscience and social change.” The Queen said. “I should like to know your thoughts on this.” She asked. The girl’s looked at each other and Chelsea gazed at the exquisite tapestries on the walls as she collected her thoughts.

“I’m not at all versed in the Bible or church doctrine, your majesty. I’m not a philosopher. I’m just a regular person. But if I look at the issue through the lens of anthropology, archeology and the socio-economic structures at the time these sacred books were written…I see small groups of people some two thousand years ago who needed to ensure their survival through their progeny in work and property. Women were property because they begat children. We live in a world where we must contend with vast over-population. Women and Children in the civilized world are not property. They are spiritual beings that are extensions of our soul families. Why shouldn’t everyone have en equal chance at happiness despite gender? Christian values seem to have evolved into exclusive and separatist ways of thinking a by-product of fear and misunderstanding. Doesn’t that go against all the belief systems---including the foundation of Christianity that say that we are not separate. We are one. We must be inclusive. I also want to say that I did not think I was a lesbian or anything like that. I am a heterosexual woman that happened to fall in love with another woman.” Chelsea explained and she took in a breath and seemed surprised at the eloquence of her own words.

“I’d like to add something if I may, your majesty.” Ashley said. “I concur with everything that Chelsea said. I also find it interesting that almost every other belief system especially the ancient ones have a doctrine in life after death. Rebirth, past lives. We see it in nature with the cycles of the seasons so why wouldn’t it be true of souls. ‘As above, so below’. Let’s say you fell in love with a young man, it was a passionate affair, had children, lived out your life and passed away all still deeply in tune with your mate. Then you are reborn into this world again and you find that same exquisite soul that you recognize from before and the passion is just as strong, abiding and palpable. But the young man you fell for returned as a woman. Would you love her no less?”