Brynne arrived at the Grand Staircase on D-deck and found that her tour group had already assembled. She wasn’t late, but with the whole group already there, it certainly felt that way. Ruth DeWitt Bukater, The Countess of Rothes, and Lucile Duff Gordon were huddled in a little group when Brynne descended the stairs. Colonel Archibald Gracie was with them. When he cleared his throat, the women all looked in the direction of the stairs. Brynne imagined that there was something conspiratorial behind those polite smiles, but she pushed the negative thoughts away and posted on a smile of her own as she continued her descent onto the deck.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” Brynne said. “And gentleman.”
“I’ve invited Colonel Gracie to join us,” Ruth said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not in the least,” Brynne said. “The tour is meant to appeal to women, but it is, by no means, meant to be exclusive. I’m happy to have you with us, Colonel Gracie.” Brynne didn’t miss the look that passed between Gracie and Ruth. She couldn’t let go of the feeling that she was somehow being set up for something. “Let’s get started, shall we?”
Brynne led the way as they left the Grand Staircase. She opened the door and led the group into a short corridor. “This corridor leads to the Reading and Writing room and the Lounge,” she said. “We’ll be visiting the Reading and Writing room first.”
Brynne stopped at the only door on the right and gently pushed it open. Her group followed her through it.
“This is our Reading and Writing room,” Brynne began in her best tour guide voice. “It’s designed in the Georgian style and is intended to serve as a special retreat for Titanic’s women passengers, much like the Smoking Room is a distinctively male area. The Lounge, on the other hand, was intended for use by our male and female passengers. It’s just next door to the right and will be our next stop on the tour,” Brynne said, ushering the little group out of the room.
“It certainly doesn’t appear to be a very busy room,” Lucile observed on her way out.
“There aren’t nearly as many people here as there are in the Smoking Room at any given point of the day,” Gracie commented.
“It hasn’t been as popular as we’d hoped,” Brynne admitted. “It’s one of the reasons we’re conducting these tours. We want to make people aware of everything the Titanic has to offer.”
They reached the double-door entrance to the First-Class Lounge and entered. “This is our lounge, designed in the style of Louis XVI,” Brynne began. “It’s based on the Palace at Versailles, to be specific. One of the highlights of this particular room is its height. At 12 feet, 3 inches high, the Lounge’s ceiling has one of the highest clearances of all the rooms aboard the Titanic. The lounge also serves as a lending library of sorts. You’ll notices the large bookcase at the far end of the room. You can also take light refreshments or tea while you enjoy your book or relax with friends.”
“I’ve noticed that the fireplace in this room is never lit,” Gracie said. “The one in the Smoking room is always burning.”
“That’s because the fireplace in this room, as well as the one in the Reading and Writing room, were designed to be aesthetic focal points more than anything else,” Brynne explained. “The ship’s specifications don’t allow for real, fully functioning fireplaces in these rooms.”
“The Smoking Room fireplace is real,” Gracie said. “How does that room accommodate a real fireplace when these do not?”
“The answer is a bit technical in nature,” Brynne replied. “I’d be more than happy to discuss it, but I wouldn’t want to bore the rest of the group with a lengthy explanation.”
“Actually, I’m very interested in hearing the answer,” Ruth said. “If that’s possible.”
Ruth allowed herself a small smile and exchanged a quick glance with Lucile. Exposing Brynne Andrews for a fake was going to be too easy, especially with Gracie along for the ride. He wasn’t in on her little plan with Lucile, but his know-it-all personality was a huge help. Ruth had known that when she’d invited him along. She’d gambled that he was bound to ask all kinds of nitpicky little questions, and he certainly wouldn’t hesitate to object to information he believed to be incorrect. Her assumptions about the colonel would be correct, it seemed.
When Brynne saw the look that passed between Lady Duff Gordon and Ruth, she knew that this was what they’d been counting on. They’d been waiting for her to make a fool of herself because they thought she wouldn’t be able to answer the question. She didn’t know if Gracie was in on it or not, but that was exactly what they wanted.
Brynne cleared her throat. “Well, if you really want to know, it concerns the air ducts that must be installed for a functioning fireplace,” she began. She then proceeded to go into a lengthy explanation describing the design of the Smoking Room and delving into the intricacies of ventilation ducts placement for ship-board fireplaces.
When she’d completed her impromptu lecture on the peculiarities of live fireplaces and shipbuilding, the looks on Ruth’s and Lady Duff Gordon’s faces confirmed Brynne’s theory about their intentions. Their triumphant expressions had abandoned them, and they both stood staring at Brynne in disappointed silence.
“Is anything bothering you, Brynne?” Andrews asked. He shut the door behind him after he and Brynne walked into their stateroom. “You seemed preoccupied at dinner.”
It was true; Brynne had given little attention to the conversation between Andrews and Mr. and Mrs. Albert Dick during dinner. She had been thinking about what had happened on the tour earlier. It had caused her to re-examine her mission and what she was doing here.
“They tried to set me up today,” Brynne said, walking to the dressing table.
“What?” Andrews asked. “Who?”
Brynne stared at her reflection in the mirror. “During the tour today, Ruth DeWitt Bukater and Lucile Duff Gordon tried to set me up,” she said. “They wanted to embarrass me.”
“They invited Colonel Gracie to join our tour because they knew he would ask a lot of technical questions, questions they thought I wouldn’t be able to answer. They wanted to humiliate me. What I can’t understand is why.”
Andrews sighed uncomfortably as he slipped out of his jacket. “I know why,” he said.
Brynne expected him to say something stereotypical, such as ‘she did it because she was jealous’, but she still asked him, regardless. “Why?” she asked, removing her earrings.
“There’s a rumor circulating that you’re not a real architect and that our marriage is nothing more than a publicity stunt designed to draw attention for the Titanic,” Andrews revealed.
Brynne had not been expecting to hear that news. She stared at Andrews in the mirror for a shocked moment before turning to face him directly. “What? They think I’m a fraud?”
Truthfully, that’s what she was, being an undercover COSI agent. But that was beside the point. The bigger problem was that she was having difficulty convincing the temporal natives of her cover, and that presented a potentially disastrous problem. They didn’t know that she was an agent from the future, but they had caught on that something wasn’t quite right, and that was enough to put the mission in jeopardy.
Brynne pulled herself taller. “Okay, then,” she said. “If that’s what they think, that’s what they think. But I won’t display myself like a target for them any longer with those tours. I thought they were a good idea at first, but maybe they never were. For all I know, Ruth Bukater could represent the sentiments of the majority of first-class women.”
Brynne couldn’t afford to play anymore of these childish games with these people. She needed to get off this ship before the mission further compromised. She couldn’t abandon it, though, without making one last good-faith effort to find her targets. She still had Saturday. Getting rid of the tour would give her enough time to do a proper search of second- and third-class. She would go down to the common areas there and search for the man and woman. If she didn’t find them by Saturday night, she would have to call it a mission and head home.
Saturday was a huge disappointment. Brynne’s search throughout the lower decks had yielded nothing of value. She’d spent the whole day trolling through second- and third-class and had been unable to find any sign of her look-alike or the mysterious man. And to top off the day, she and Andrews had had dinner in the saloon, at Ismay’s request, with none other than Ruth Bukater and her crew. Brynne would have preferred to spend the evening stabbing herself in the back of the hand with the salad fork. But it was over now, and she’d probably never see Bukater and her clan again, if she were lucky.
It was early Sunday morning, before dawn. Brynne lay on her back in bed, looking up at the ceiling contemplating her next move. There wasn’t much to contemplate, really, about what the next step would be. Her next step was as clear as day to her: she had to reactivate the link and leave. It was that simple.
Or was it? Beside Brynne, Andrews lay sleeping, his breaths slow and deep and his arm draped across her bare stomach. Going back home should be a simple move to make, but her stupid feelings had found a way to interfere again and make things much more difficult than they need be.
She looked at Andrews. How the hell had this happened? How the hell had she fallen in love with a man more than a hundred years her senior? It had been easy enough, given the circumstances. Why did he have to be so irresistibly likeable and handsome? That combination would undoubtedly tempt any single woman, but to be suddenly thrust into the situation as his wife – had Brynne ever stood a chance? It would have been so much easier if he’d been a jerk.
First Jeremy Bratt, now Thomas Andrews. She couldn’t keep doing this to herself or to COSI. Two failed missions in a row? She was a liability, and she obviously wasn’t cut out for this type of work. She’d work behind the scenes at headquarters or fill whatever other role needed to be filled. Whatever it was, after she used a link to get home, she was never going to set foot inside another one again.
Brynne watched Andrews’s face intently as she slowly, carefully extricated herself from his limp grip without waking him. Her disappearance would surely be a mystery, and there was no way to do this without hurting him. She couldn’t take him with her. She’d made that mistake before, and it hadn’t worked out well.
Brynne pulled on her robe and tied it closed. She picked up her wrist unit and clasped it around her wrist. Then she froze and looked at Andrews. What would she accomplish by leaving him here? According to the original timeline, he died when Titanic sunk, and his body was never recovered. If she waited until night, if they didn’t leave until almost the last moment before the ship sank, history would record that they’d both died in the sinking and that neither of their bodies were found.
It was an intriguing prospect. Intriguing but very risky. So many things in the timeline had already been changed. Who’s to say the Titanic would even sink this time around? Brynne would have a hell of a situation on her hands if it didn’t. She could only imagine what would happen if the ship survived but the shipbuilder mysteriously disappeared.
No, Brynne decided. It was best – for everyone – if she just went back as soon as possible, meaning as soon as she could get dressed and get the link open. She quietly opened the wardrobe and pulled out the dress she’d been wearing when she’d first stepped onto the ship a few days earlier. She slipped out of the stateroom into the adjoining bathroom.
Half an hour later, she was ready to go, looking exactly as she had when she’d first arrived, wearing exactly the same clothing. Except …
She looked down at her left hand. Except for the wedding band and engagement ring on her left ring finger. She slipped them off. She didn’t want to take them with her. They would only serve as a reminder of something she couldn’t have. Very slowly, Brynne twisted the doorknob to the stateroom and eased it open. Andrews had shifted position in the bed, but he was still asleep. Brynne tiptoed inside and gently placed the two rings on the table in the center of the room. She should have just turned around and tiptoed back out; instead, she stood there, gazing at Andrews as she briefly entertained prospects of what might have been with him. She knew he would be confused, hurt, and possibly angry when he would not be able to locate her in a few hours. Everyone would probably conclude that she’d fallen overboard. But Andrews wouldn’t have long to grieve her loss. That was Brynne’s one bittersweet comfort about this whole mess. Andrews wouldn’t have long to grieve for her because he would soon be grieving something much larger – the loss of Titanic and, ultimately, himself.