On a lazy Sunday morning, I wake up to find Nathaniel Lewis standing at my bedside holding a breakfast tray. There’s my favourite winter white mug etched with snowflakes, and the nutty fragrance of the Nespresso coffee filling the room. On a dark blue and pink floral plate there’s a freshly baked croissant with a dish of butter and raspberry jam. And on the centre of the tray is a generous bowl of Greek yogurt drizzled with honey. I can tell immediately that it’s the real thing–not the stuff that passes for Greek yogurt here in North America with all of its grainy gelatinous texture. Nope. This is the stuff that someone’s grandmother made in a far-away village in Attica. I can’t imagine how he sourced that, but knowing Nathaniel as well as I do (given that I created him, though he insists on keeping secrets even from me), he must have pulled in favours to make this happen. And last, but not least, there’s a deep fuchsia rose in a bud vase looking fresh and dewy. Where I live, winter is still lingering, so think on that for a moment.
“Good morning, mistress,” he says, waiting for me to sit up then sets the breakfast tray before me.
“What’s the occasion?” I ask him. I try to keep suspicion from flavouring my tone. Nathaniel has never done anything just for the sake of a whim.
“You’ve been working long hours lately,” he replies smoothly. “I thought you might enjoy a leisurely meal to break your fast.”
“That’s very kind of you.”
“I’m always kind.” He smiles. “You hardly notice these days, with all the time you spent adventuring in Ireland.”
He is, of course, referring to my latest novel, Rebel’s Knot.
I stare at him over the rim of my mug. “Was there anything you wanted to discuss?”
Nathaniel reaches over and plucks a linen napkin from my tray, opens it with a flourish and lays it across my lap. “Is your coffee sweetened to your satisfaction?”
“It’s perfect.” It is.
Nathaniel smiles. “And the yogurt?”
“I can ask for nothing better.” I nearly groan with the first tart taste of it on my tongue.
His smile deepens, and he settles himself on the edge of my bed. “That pleases me. One must nourish the creative spirit.”
“I agree,” I reply, between nibbles of my flaky croissant. “I have a short story in mind, and I thought that I might play with it on the page today.”
Nathaniel’s smile fades, and his eyes immediately narrow. “Short story?”
“A short adventure. A few thousand words at most.”
“Short. Story.” His tone is flat and bleak. I see a muscle in his jaw twitching. “I must protest, mistress. You gave me your word that the next project will be my story.”
“It will be,” I say, dabbing the corners of my mouth with the napkin. “I’m only going to dabble. A short story doesn’t count as a project.”
“Indeed,” he says, his tone clipped and disapproving. Now he’s toying with the onyx ring on his finger, a sure sign that he’s becoming agitated. “Shall I remind you about the last time you thought to dabble with a short story?”
I refuse to meet his gaze and instead focus my attention on lining up the coffee mug with the plate. “I’m not sure what you mean.” When I look up, I see his dark, nearly black eyes drilling through me.
“The short story about the Irish rebels became a long short story,” he answers. “And it soon grew to a novella.”
“Well, yes, it needed more story.”
“Before it became a full-length novel, and,” he said sharply, “diverting you from writing my story.”
“I’m aware of that.” I sink back into my pillows.
“I did not balk when you wrote the Scotsman’s story,” he said, referring to Severed Knot. “And I did not say a word when you started writing the Irish rebel story.” Yes, I remember the weeks of sullen silence. “I’m a patient man, mistress, and I’m aware that some things worth waiting for, at times, require years of preparation. But be mindful that there is a limit to my good graces.”
“I’m researching your story, Nathaniel,” I say to placate him. “I just thought to dabble in some words in between researching your story.”
He snorts. “The only words I expect to see from your quill, mistress, is the opening of my story.”
“What would those be?” I reach across to the table beside my bed and pick up the notebook and pen. I look at him with a silent challenge.
“I do have a suggestion, if that will suit.”
“Let’s hear it then.”
Nathaniel takes a folded paper tucked inside his coat and clears his throat. “Nathaniel Lewis considered himself a cynic and a survivor; most just called him pond scum. As head of the Parliamentary committee to convert impounded Royalist estates into gold for the fledgling Commonwealth, he could accept the unfavourable assessment as easily as he suffered the fawning and bootlicking from the opportunists. Land was after all land, and everything had a price.”
He looks at me expectantly. I hate to disappoint him and truth to tell, I really am looking forward to writing this next novel.
“I can work with that.”
And so the process begins again.