Hi everyone! I'm back..or so it seems. This is the story I promised almost one year ago and I'm sorry if it took me so long. The ones who are closer to me already know I've been questioning myself many times...I kept asking myself if this was the kind of story someone would like. It's thanks to my greatest blessing in life (aka "granthamfan") if I have finally found the courage to post this and to "syriana 94" for her wise words and the spectacular cover image.


I.

Chance encounters

"Fata viam invenient"

(Destiny will find its way)

Publius Vergilius Maro (also known as Virgil)


"Oh no, no, no...not again please" she muttered between her lips when she felt the light rain wetting her cheeks. She hadn't taken an umbrella with her that day, she had too many books to carry with her.

Why didn't she take a taxi on her way home? Wasn't it supposed to be summer?

Why does it ever have to rain?

She tried to rush her steps, her head bent looking at the pavement thinking of how late she already was and now the rain would have certainly slowed her pace.

She was so tired, she just wanted to go to her apartment and collapse on the couch after a hot bath.

The books were so heavy her arms were aching , not to mention that they were becoming slippery because of the rain. But she did not intend to give up, it was not in her usual character to let things go differently from what she had planned.

That's why she had left America to take her PhD in London and that's why, despite her mother's unorthodox suggestions, she was still single. It's not that she had no interest in men or marriage, but she hadn't found the right one yet, and besides she had no time for that kind of things. Her head was all absorbed by her work at the art gallery and her voluntary work at the children's hospital.

She had planned to stay alone for quite some time now, maybe there was not a right man for her. Her past relationships had been always complete disasters and she didn't want to risk her happiness now that she was so satisfied with her work.

She didn't want another man who was only interested in her until she would have made it clear that sleeping together was out of question, because she had vowed herself she wanted to find the right person. She didn't necessarily want to wait until her wedding night, but after having heard some of her friends' dreadful tales about 'that part' of their relationships, especially at the beginning, she just couldn't bear the thought. She had to be sure.

At the moment she didn't even care, for as far as she knew, finding her Prince Charming was the last of her priorities and she had already dismissed the idea finding it almost impossible.

She had tried to date some of her classmates when she came to London, full of hopes to finally be away from her family's troubles, but it didn't work. She had tried again nine months ago, when one of her colleagues at the art gallery, Simon Bricker, had asked her to go out and have dinner with him. They went out together for almost a month, but even if at the beginning she thought she could maybe even feel something for him, she had sensed there was something strange in that guy. He was gentle and always full of compliments, but there was something in his eyes she knew she could not fully trust him. And so she had told him she needed to be alone, she was probably not suited to be in a relationship with anyone. He had been quite reluctant in letting her go, and it had taken her several attempts to succeed. Luckily for her, they were in a restaurant when it all happened, because, thinking about it again, she could still feel the pressure of his fingers on her forearms.

From that day she had always tried to keep him at distance, but he always found something to ask her or to show her. He was a bit insistent, but she was sure he meant no harm.

When a sudden splash of cold water hit her on her leg, and watching how fast the car that caused it ran away, she felt all her exhausting day was washing over her.

She was furious and already completely soaked from the pouring rain and now also for that horrible car which had just left her in a complete mess.

"Hey, watch out!" She screamed impulsively, weaving with her hand, turning her head backwards, but it was too late the car was too fast, she couldn't even see it anymore.

Weren't these English supposed to be the most polite people in the world?

Oh she was so angry she could scream now, she had to hurry up, sometimes she hated that city...

BUMP!

Her body had just hit something, she could feel it was something strong but it didn't hurt so it was not supposed to be too hard.

She lifted her gaze, and she saw that her art books were flying from her arms into the wet air and in one second they were scattered on the sidewalk.

"I'm so sorry I didn't see you" she heard someone speaking, but she was already bent on her legs to gather her precious books.

"Oh no, it was totally my fault" she replied, placing a wet hair lock behind her ear.

The man who spoke was now bending too, his voice seemed gentle and was helping her collecting the books.

He was knelt in front of her, very close to her face, if she had to admit the truth, he was too close. She could feel his warm breath on her nose.

She should feel embarrassed, maybe even scared by the proximity of this stranger, but when his scent filled her nostrils she felt she didn't have to worry.

She lifted her gaze: blue, the only thing she could see was a pair of blue eyes staring at her.

After what she thought an eternity, he spoke again "These are yours". He was handling her some books, she took them and stood up, the rain was pouring even more now.

"Thank you, I have to go now " she breathed.

He took a step further, half blocking her way. She stared quizzically at him with lifted brows and her mouth half open.

"I was thinking, since I caused you a great inconvenience, if I may accompany you home, Miss..."

She was starting to wonder if she had hit her head against him instead of her shoulder and lost consciousness, otherwise this man had to be born in 1870.

"Well, Cora...my name is Cora and I should be going now, really. But don't worry I live over there." She smiled pointing at some building in front of him. "Thank you, anyway, Mr..."

"Robert, Robert Crawley and since you don't have an umbrella, I insist you take mine, please...Cora"

Oh wow, there was still hope for the human race then, there was still gentleness in this world. And how could she deny something to that pair of blue eyes and handsome features?

"Thank you very much, Mr Crawley"

"Robe..." He tried to say, but she was already gone.

[Earlier that day]

He had to hurry up, he had to run to his house here in London and pack something and go to Downton.

His mother's words still ringing in his ears "Robert, your father had a heart attack this morning and has died. You have to come home as soon as possible!"

How could this be true? He had seen him two weeks ago and he was fine. But now his father was dead, and he was the Earl.

All his childhood friends were so excited when he once had revealed the title his family held from the eighteenth century. Not that nowadays it mattered much, it was just that he would have inherited the estate and the company together with the title and that's how it was supposed to happen. He had become the Earl of Grantham, only heir of all his fortunes, at the expense of his father's life.

It was not thrilling anymore, it was not exciting as he thought it would be during his childhood. It was painful and his heart was aching terribly, despite he was a grownup now and he had spent his life being trained for this moment.

He had left the office in shock being so grateful it had started to rain, so that no one would have looked directly at his face, which despite all his efforts, was flushed and wet for his own tears.

He had thought to call the driver or even to drive home himself, but had discarded the idea hoping the fresh air would do him good.

And in fact as soon as he left the building and took the first tentative steps in the crowded streets of London, he started to feel slightly better.

He was heading towards his apartment or at least he hoped, because he couldn't know where he was going, his body was moving on its own account, leaving his mind free to wonder and his heart free to ache.

He was absentmindedly drying his cheeks when he bumped against something.

That something was a young woman, dark brown hair, black skinny jeans, white silk shirt and a black jacket. But her face was still a mystery to him because as soon as her books had fallen on the sidewalk she was already bent on her legs trying to collect them.

He muttered something who sounded like an apology, because he knew he was too lost in his thoughts and had probably had hit her first.

As gentleman as he was, a trait which was more his own inclination than his upbringing, he couldn't fight the urge to help her.

And so there he was, the brand new Earl of Grantham bent on his knees collecting some art books for a complete stranger.

He noticed she was moving a lock of hair behind her ear and looking closely at her he saw she was all wet because of the rain, her scent was sweet and her nose was red from the cold.

When she finally lifted her face, inches from his nose, the only thing he could see was blue, a shade of sapphire blue he had never seen before.

In that moment he couldn't remember his sorrow, he couldn't remember who he had just become; completely lost in her eyes he felt comforted.

And when she left with her books on her left and his umbrella on her right hand, watching her slander figure disappearing in front of his eyes, he sank back to his previous state of mind.

It was as if her presence had comforted him, even if for a brief period of time and now he felt again a terrible pain constricting his chest.

"Your father has died".