Time Has No Meaning by Stone

time has no meaning

Time Has No Meaning
by Stone

 

 

Part 1

 

“He’s the last one,” Danielle mumbled as she pulled the sheet over the corpse.

“Finally,” Allison, her technician, said with a sigh.

Snapping her latex gloves from her hands, Danielle rolled her head around on her shoulders, battling the fatigue of a thirty-six hour shift.

Allison removed her gloves as well. “I’m going to sleep for two days.”

“You don’t have two days off,” Danielle reminded her as they left the morgue and its stale, chemical- heavy air.

Allison frowned, squishing the features of her round face into a mass of wrinkles. “I hate this job.”

“No, you don’t,” Danielle said as they moved into the locker room. “You’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.”

“Thank you, Doctor. Should I expect a bill?”

Danielle smiled at the tired woman. “Maybe. Want to come with me to The Station? Grab something to eat?” While she waited for Allison’s response, she shrugged off her white lab coat, pulled her fanny pack from her locker and snapped it around her waist.

“No thanks. Your aunt doesn’t like me.”

“My aunt doesn’t like most people,” Danielle teased. “Aunt Madeline is a little rough around the edges.”

“Rude is more like it. She’s always on my case about going back to school.”

Danielle laughed. “You shouldn’t have told her you wanted to be a doctor.”

“Whatever,” Allison grumbled. “Go on ahead. I think I’ll just head home and zap something in the microwave.”

A few minutes later, Danielle stepped from the bowels of the hospital into the harsh afternoon sunlight. Squinting behind her sunglasses, she took several deep breaths as she began the five-block trek to her aunt’s restaurant. Tourists, armed with video cameras and folded maps, crammed the uneven sidewalks in the center of Charleston. The scent of flowers battled with the exhaust fumes from the slow-moving traffic.

Danielle could feel the heat of the sun through the thin fabric of her surgical scrubs. It felt good. After hours in the pathology lab, she needed sunlight, noise and a sea of living, breathing people. It helped to keep the horrors of her job in the proper perspective. She’d spent the last day and a half dealing with two coronaries, one homicide and four fatal accidents. Not exactly the stuff of which dreams are made.

On a whim, Danielle decided to cut through the Market Area. The congested strip was something of a Charleston landmark. The block and a half of stalls held everything from prepackaged bean-soup starters to handcrafted baskets. Danielle smiled at the men and women who called out to her as she weaved her way through the crowd.

“Doctor!”

Years of conditioning stopped her in her tracks and she quickly turned in the direction of the voice. A tall, thin man in mismatched clothing offered a smile. His bright white teeth were a sharp contrast to his coffee colored skin.

“Mr. Wallace, how are you? How’s your wife?”

There was a flash of sadness in his dark eyes before his gracious smile fell back into place. “Still grieving.” He gestured toward his stand and motioned for her to follow. “I have something for you.”

Mr. Wallace and his family had been working the Market for generations. His wife sold a very popular glassware and gave weaving lessons to the tourists. Mr. Wallace sold antique and estate jewelry. “I thought of you when I saw this.” He presented her with a delicate, oval pendant. “I was going to bring it by the hospital for you.”

Danielle let her fingers brush the finely carved silver. “I can’t accept this, Mr. Wallace.”

“You told me you lost one, remember?”

“I did, but I can’t accept a gift…”

“We owe you, Doctor. You did right by us when no one else would listen.”

“I was just doing my job,” she assured him.

He shook his head violently. “They were going to arrest us. Might have, if you hadn’t proved we didn’t do anything to our Kevin.”

Danielle felt a pang of emotion when she thought of the Wallace’s infant son. Her body gave an involuntary shudder. She wondered if she would ever get used to performing autopsies on children. Hopefully, they would find a cure for SIDS in her lifetime.

“Take it, Doctor Hamilton. Take it, please.” Mr. Wallace held her hand in his with the cool locket against her palm.

“I shouldn’t, Mr. Wallace. I really was just doing my job.”

“Please?” he said softly

Danielle gave in to the pleading quality of his voice, and the sincerity in his misting eyes. With a small nod, she said, “Okay. Thank you. Thank you very much.”

Mr. Wallace grinned broadly as he slipped the pendant into a dark velvet bag and tightened the gold cord. “You take care of yourself, Doctor.”

Carrying the velvet bag in her hand, Danielle quickened her pace. Aunt Madeline probably had lunch waiting. Danielle grinned when she thought of her bad tempered aunt. Madeline was nothing like her brother, James, Danielle’s deceased father. Madeline was loud, opinionated and something of an exhibitionist when it came to her clothing. James Hamilton had been a quiet, almost sheepish man, with simple needs and modest goals. Danielle still missed her parents and their memory seemed stronger as she walked toward The Station restaurant, talking aloud to herself. “Probably because of the locket.”

The locket she lost had contained pictures of her mother and father. She had worn that locket as a sort of memorial to them. It was as if she could open the locket, look at their pictures and feel the love they had together. Danielle sighed. She was nearly thirty and she had yet to experience the kind of magic her parents had shared together. No lightning bolts, no fireworks. Hell, she hadn’t even had a decent date recently.

“It’s about time,” Madeline snorted as soon as Danielle pushed open the door to the historic building.

She placed a kiss on her aunt’s soft cheek. “Good to see you, too.”

Madeline gave her a stern look. “I worry, girl.” She started walking toward the veranda. “Someone has to,” she added snidely.

Danielle bit her lower lip. She wouldn’t rise to the bait. Instead, she followed her aunt to one of the veranda tables. She waved to Anna, her aunt’s business partner. Danielle and Anna got along well. Danielle loved Anna’s two small children and envied her husband, Daniel.

“You look tired,” Madeline observed as she sat down, smoothing the pile of bleached blond hair that added a good two inches to her height.

Danielle shrugged. “I am. I’m off tomorrow, so I can catch up on some sleep.”

“I thought you picked this ghoulish specialty so you wouldn’t have to keep these awful hours.”

“We’re short staffed.”

Madeline made a noise. “I know that feeling. We’ve been through three bartenders in six months. I swear kids these days have no work ethic.”

Danielle regarded her aunt. Today she had on a skintight pair of stirrup pants in a zebra print. A small, thin white shirt was tucked into the wide black leather belt cinching her tiny waist. Zebra earrings dangled from her earlobes, bobbing and swaying as she continued to babble about her staffing problems. It reminded Danielle of circus elephants with their tails hooked in formation.

“Have you, Danielle?”

“I’m sorry. What did you ask?”

Madeline’s green eyes grew accusatory as they narrowed. “Did you get a call from William?”

William was Madeline’s husband before he decided not to be anymore. “Uncle Will?”

“Uh-huh. It seems he and the wife have separated.”

Danielle was sorry to hear that her uncle’s second marriage was failing. She also knew better than to offer that sentiment to her aunt. “I haven’t heard from him.”

A crash sounded from the far side of the room and Madeline leaped to her feet, cursing under her breath. “He can pay for that china out of his next check!”

Feeling sorry for whoever it was who had dropped the dishes, Danielle watched as her aunt stormed through the beveled glass doors, into the main dining area. Madeline didn’t usually rage at her employees, but if Uncle Will had called, there was no telling what her aunt was capable of doing.

Sipping her iced tea, Danielle enjoyed the warm breeze and the beautiful surroundings. The Station was a Charleston Single House, complete with a dependency in the back. The house was built at about the time Fort Sumpter gained national prominence, and Danielle felt like part of history by just being there. The dependency, which had been the slave quarters, then the outdoor kitchen for the house, had been converted to a club for The Station patrons. Danielle couldn’t sit on the wraparound porch without trying to imagine what the house had been like before this part of Charleston had evolved into a commercial district.

When it became clear that her aunt wouldn’t be returning immediately, Danielle unhooked her fanny pack, reached in and pulled out the velvet bag. Carefully, she tugged on the cord and pulled out the pendant. Rolling it in her hand, she admired the ornately worked surface. Using her fingernail, she found the catch that opened the locket. She felt her eyes widen when she saw the single picture inside.

The left side of the locket was empty, but the right side held a clear, well aged photograph of a strikingly stunning woman dressed in a man’s clothing. She had long, dark hair and her clothing suggested the mid-nineteenth century. “Mhmmm,” she whispered as the tip of her finger traced the sharp angle of the woman’s jaw. The picture was black and white, but she could tell by the contrast that the woman’s eyes were light. Blue, maybe, she guessed as she continued to stare at the attractive image. Curious, she worked the photograph free and turned it over. It had been taken in Charleston in 1861, according to the faded photographer’s mark on the back of the one inch image. But there was nothing except handwritten initials to tell her the identity of the woman with the light eyes. “J.B.” she said aloud, reading the faded printing. “Joann? Jennifer? Janet?” She turned the photo over to try the names on the stunning face. “Nope, you don’t look like a Janet?”

“Who doesn’t?”

Danielle jumped at her aunt’s voice. “She doesn’t,” Danielle replied as she replaced the photograph and handed Madeline the opened locket.

“Cute. Too bad she’s too old for you.”

Danielle offered a biting smile. “Funny.”

“What are you doing with this, Danielle? Why do you think she’s wearing these clothes?”

Danielle took back the locket. “It was a gift.” She looked at the woman in the photograph again. “I wondered about the clothing myself.”

“A gift? From a man?”

Danielle nodded.

“Now you’re getting somewhere. Thinking of jumping the fence, girl? Try men for awhile?” Her aunt’s grin widened. “Does this man have a name?”

Danielle gave her a mischievous smile. “Mr. Wallace.”

“Wallace?” Madeline repeated. “Wasn’t he the guy who beat his kid to death?”

“He didn’t beat the child,” Danielle corrected firmly. “The newspaper put the real story on the back page, several days after they’d branded him a murderer on the front page.”

“Oh, well, anyway, what about some of the women at the hospital? Why do you have such a hard time finding a date?”

“Madeline?” Anna’s soft voice held a definite warning. “I hope you’re not giving Danielle grief about her social life again.”

Danielle smiled at the tall elegant brunette as she floated over to their table. Anna McKinney was truly a perfect lady. She had more class in her little finger than most women had in their whole body. If Anna weren’t so nice, she would definitely be the kind of woman that other women hated, but Danielle didn’t have that problem.

“What social life?” Madeline grumbled.

Anna sighed. “Well, don’t be so hard on her.”

Danielle shook her head and laughed at the two women arguing as if she weren’t there. “How are you, Anna?”

“Teresa’s teething and Tommy is a handful. That husband of mine has his moments, too.”

Anna’s whole face glowed as she spoke of her husband and her two children. The teasing light in her eyes told Danielle that she was hating every minute of her daughter’s teething, but was tolerant as usual. She also knew that Tommy was a very loved little boy, who had both his parents wrapped around his little finger. “Is Daniel in town?”

Anna shook her head. “He should be back tonight.”

“How come we’re talking about her?” Madeline griped. Leveling her eyes on Danielle, she added, “You’re the one who can’t seem to get a date.”

Danielle gave her aunt a warning look. “I can get dates. I’m just not interested right now.”

“That’s garbage. If you’re breathing, you’re interested.” Madeline stilled and looked stricken. “You’re not…you still like women? Right? You’re not having second thoughts after all this time?”

Danielle chuckled and rolled her eyes. “Yes, I still like women. Nothing has changed.”

Madeline shook her head. “I just need to know where to look. If you were into men, this would be easier for me. I don’t know much about what you want in a woman.”

“I don’t want to be fixed up. I’ve told you that.”

Madeline snorted. “You don’t seem to be doing much on your own. I think you need a push in the right direction.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Danielle, all you have to do is tell me the kind of woman you want. Tall, short, thin or thick and I’ll keep on the lookout.”

“This ought to be rich,” Anna muttered.

“I’m serious,” Madeline bellowed. “Tell me the kind of woman you want.”

Danielle closed her eyes briefly and then nodded. Flipping open the locket, she said, “I wouldn’t mind her.”

“She’s dead!”

“Then I guess you’ll just have to give up on your little plan, my dear aunt.”

Madeline was about to argue, when yet another crash from the kitchen echoed through the restaurant. Madeline frowned as she and Anna scurried off to assess the damage.

“Saved again,” she whispered to the striking image in the photograph. Carefully, she closed the locket and lifted the chain over her head. She felt hot all of a sudden and for a fraction of a second, she experienced a spinning sensation. When her head cleared, it was dark. “Am I dead?” She felt a cool breeze as she waited for her eyes to adjust to the dark. “Did the power go out?” She began to be aware of her surroundings; what she found seemed impossible. “I’m outside,” she gasped, feeling the cool earth beneath her palms.

Hearing the rustling of leaves, she searched the shadows for signs of life. Shock gave way to relief. Good, someone was coming and maybe he or she could explain how she’d gotten from lunch at The Station to the woods in the middle of the night. Maybe she was just having some sort of strange hallucination that had caused her to sleepwalk. “Did I get pricked at the lab?” she wondered aloud. There had to be a logical explanation. The footsteps grew closer and Danielle pushed herself off the ground. “Aunt Madeline?”

The branches of the pines danced on the strong breeze, but there was no response. The scent of a horse reached her nostrils and she turned and walked into a clearing, trying to listen for the footsteps. Nothing.

“Hey, you! Help me, please. I’m a doctor.” She groaned inwardly, that sounded lame. She felt something long and hard jab into her back. Reflexively, she spun, arms raised. “I’m a―” She went silent. There was just enough moonlight for Danielle to see her. Just enough moonlight for her to know that she was looking up into a familiar face…the face of the woman in the locket. And she was pointing a rather large gun right at Danielle’s head.

“There’s no need for a weapon,” Danielle stammered.

“Silence,” the woman fairly bellowed as she lowered her gun fractionally. “Who are you?”

“Dr. Danielle―”

“The truth, woman.” The woman returned the gun to a trajectory ominously close to Danielle’s heart.

Moving her hands, palms toward the woman, Danielle swallowed and began again. Speaking in slow, measured tones, she said, “I’m Danielle Hamilton.”

One dark brow rose toward the brim of the woman’s hat, a hat that matched her period costume. The woman was tall and was in a tightly coiled stance that made Danielle think of a panther about to go in for the kill. Even without the gun, the woman appeared fully capable of killing her with her gloved hands.

Danielle took a deep breath, battling the fear knotting in her stomach. “Look, I don’t know what I’ve stumbled across here.”

“Like hell.” The menace behind the clipped delivery did little to assuage Danielle’s anxiety. Danielle focused on the woman’s clothing, wishing there were more light. She would feel a whole lot more comfortable if she could see the woman’s expression. Even better if she had the first clue about what she was doing in the woods with a woman who looked just like the woman in the locket, who must have been dead for more than a century.

Slowly, ever mindful of the gun, Danielle dropped her arms to her sides. Her mind raced along with her pulse. Though she couldn’t see the woman’s eyes she could certainly feel them. It was like nothing she had ever experienced. The cool night air separating them seemed to heat up as the woman studied her.

When the woman finished, Danielle could hear the frown in the woman’s voice. “I give you one more chance to explain yourself, Madame.”

“Madame?” Danielle repeated. “Obviously, I’ve wandered into something here. For that, I apologize. However, I would feel a whole hell of a lot better if you would point that gun someplace else.”

“I’m sure you would.” The gun remained trained on Danielle. “Explain yourself.”

“I’ve been trying to. I was having lunch with my aunt, then somehow I ended up here, in the middle of your little production.”

“Production?”

“You’re one of those re-enactors, right? That’s the deal with the clothes and that antique gun.”

“Excuse me?”

“I must have been more tired than I thought.” Danielle was talking more to herself, than to the confused woman standing before her. “I must have blacked out after lunch and my aunt is doing this as some sort of joke, right?” Danielle sighed. “Or maybe I accidentally ingested something at the lab that is causing one hell of a hallucination. But, most likely, I’ve stumbled onto one of your group’s recreation practices. Sorry.”

“This incessant chatter is all very interesting, but it hardly explains you presence here.”

“I’m not supposed to be here.” I’m sure if you wander around some more, you’ll find the woman who is supposed to be playing this part. Just tell me how to get out of here, or point me in the direction of the closest phone and I’ll be on my way.”

The woman made a sound, something akin to a derisive snort. “Phone?”

“Telephone,” Danielle repeated. “I’ll call a cab to come carry me home.”

The woman looked at Danielle as if she was insane. “Cab? There are no carriages to rent here at Brazenwood.”

“Brazenwood?” Danielle paused and looked around. A plethora of live oaks and dense pines surrounded her. “There’s a convenience store at the corner of Brazenwood Road and Stantan. I can call from there.”

The woman tilted her head. “And who do you think will hear your call in the middle of the night?”

“Hopefully, the state police.”

“State police?” The woman laughed aloud. “You’re welcome to try.” Her voice was rich and more than just a little bit menacing. “But I doubt the battalions on either side would allow you to get very far. Besides, I can’t allow you to―”

A loud explosion shook the earth beneath their feet, propelling Danielle into the arms of the tall woman. Dirt rained on them as they tumbled backward, hitting the ground with a hard thud. Danielle tried to get to her feet, but the woman wrapped one powerful arm around her waist and rolled them in one lithe movement. The woman’s full weight pushed the air form Danielle’s body. Danielle tried to shove her off, but it wasn’t even an option. She dug her fingers into the woman’s shoulder and she felt tightly corded muscles beneath her hands. The woman was solid and strong. “Please?” She pushed the woman again. “Let me go.”

“Blain!”

Danielle was still pushing against the woman’s rigid body when she heard a man’s voice. In a flash, the woman atop her stood, dragging her with her in the process. Tears stung her eyes as she sucked in deep breaths. The woman’s gloved fingers bit into the exposed flesh of her upper arms as she pulled her up.

The man spoke again in a growl. “Blain, what is this?”

“A problem,” Danielle’s captor answered.

“This has gone far enough.” Danielle jerked her arm in a futile attempt to break the woman’s hold. The woman no longer held the gun, so Danielle felt a tad more assertive. “I don’t know what you idiots think you’re doing.”

The woman grabbed Danielle around the waist, holding her painfully against her. Danielle could feel the other woman go rigid against her back as her other hand came up to cover Danielle’s mouth. Danielle tasted leather and the renewal of her fears.

“This wasn’t a smart move on your part, Blain. I don’t know how a woman can get so many women to start with, but your timing is bad.” The man shook his head and looked at Danielle. “Blain, it’s not that I’m opposed to whoring, but your…urges have cost the girl her life.”

The woman he was calling Blain, did not respond. This only increased Danielle’s fear.

The man took a step closer. “What manner of clothing is that?” He reached forward and took a lock of Danielle’s hair between his stubby finger and thumb. “Would you share her before we conclude our business?”

Danielle’s eyes grew wide with genuine fright and she tried to turn away from the offensive little man. Her effort was aided when the woman called Blain twisted her just beyond the man’s grasp.

“She’s my concern, Canton!”

“Hardly,” the small, balding man insisted. “One slip of the tongue and we’re both dead. And I can assure you, Blain, I have no intention of dying for a woman. You or her.”

“This is my land, Canton. I can ill afford another dead woman on my property so soon on the heels of the last.” She made a step toward the man. “Or a man.”

Danielle struggled in earnest. The deadly calm of the statement inspired her to action. These two are nuts! She twisted against the woman and her steely grip.

“I’m afraid I cannot abide you…”

Blain produced another gun, a smaller version of the first. Only this time she pointed it at the man called Canton. “I said she’s my concern. I’ll deal with her.”

The man raised his hands. “Be reasonable. The risks to both of us are too great to leave to chance, Blain.”

“I don’t leave anything to chance and you know it.” She pointed the gun toward her horse. “The documents are in my saddlebag. Take them and ride out of here.”

Canton didn’t move. “I arranged the cannon fire to keep suspicion from you. Now you ask me to risk everything for her?”

“I’m not asking,” Blain responded in a voice that left little doubt but that she meant it.

Canton hesitated only a minute before he dipped his head and moved out of the clearing. Danielle relaxed against the woman’s hold and waited. The woman must have sensed her acquiescence, for the viselike grip slackened. It was just what Danielle had counted on. Using all her strength, Danielle kicked the woman’s shin. The woman grunted and released her. Danielle hit the ground running. Unfortunately, she got no more than a few yards before being tackled by the woman. In no time, she found herself flat on her back with the woman’s weight pressing her painfully against the hard earth. Danielle fought, fueled by the memory of the woman’s words. Another dead woman.

Blain pushed Danielle back to the ground. “Stop it!”

“I don’t think so,” Danielle said, just before she sank her teeth into the woman’s shoulder.

Blain jerked away before Danielle did any real damage and her hands continued to grip Danielle’s wrist and her weight held her immobile. “I said stop it! I can call Canton back and he can finish this.”

Danielle went still. “Please,” she pleaded. “I don’t know what this game is all about.”

“Game?”

“Whatever you and your friends are doing, you’re scaring me.”

Blain lifted her weight off Danielle, easing the pressure on Danielle’s chest which allowed her to breathe more comfortably. She looked into Danielle’s eyes. “I think it is you who are playing a game, Madame. A very dangerous one.”

The woman’s breath washed over Danielle’s face as she loomed above her. Her hat had come off at some point and long thick, dark hair now framed her angled face. Moonlight filtered through the trees, casting shadows of light. Danielle fully acknowledged that the woman was stunning, but she was also terrifying. “If you’ll just let me go, I’ll forget this ever happened.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

“Sure you can. You just get off of me and we each go on our merry way.”

Blain shook her head. “Not until I know your purpose here.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? I already explained. I don’t belong here!”

Blain pulled herself into a sitting position, bringing Danielle up with her. Her hold on Danielle’s wrists didn’t falter, nor did the stern expression marring what Danielle could see of her face. A face that was even more stunning in person than in the picture in the locket.

“The locket,” Danielle said excitedly.

“What nonsense are you speaking now?”

A smile teased the corners of Danielle’s mouth. “She did this, didn’t she? She put you up to this little charade.”

Danielle was again dragged to her feet by her wrists. “Your prattling is beginning to annoy me.”

“Prattling?” Danielle repeated the word with a half laugh. “You’re good. You could almost make me believe you’re her.”

A frown creased Blain’s brow as she guided them toward the trees at the edge of the clearing. “Now you wish me to believe that you’ve mistaken me for someone?”

“Look at the locket, then you can tell me how the two of you managed this. Hey! What are you doing?”

“Tying you up.” The woman’s voice was smooth. Too smooth.

Danielle tried to laugh, but it sounded more like a small cry. “I think you’re carrying this a bit far, don’t you? I mean, the gun and the phony explosions were bad enough, but the rope is taking it over the edge.”

Ignoring her, Blain wrapped the rough cord around Danielle’s wrists. “Forgive me if I don’t trust you for the ride back to town.”

“Finally.” Danielle sighed. “I’ll be sure to tell my aunt how well you played your part. How did she find you? You look so much like her.”

“Like who?”

”The woman in the locket. Around my neck.”

Blain’s eyes dropped to the delicate chain. One brow arched as she took the chain and began to ease the locket out from beneath the shirt of Danielle’s surgical scrubs.

Danielle felt the warmth of Blain’s hand in spite of her leather gloves. She could feel the smooth locket sliding against her skin. But most of all, she could feel the woman’s eyes on her. Danielle was smiling up at her, until she saw that Blain’s expression had taken a sudden and nasty turn.

While Blain held the locket in her palm, her other hand reached up and grabbed a handful of Danielle’s hair. With a forceful tug, she yanked Danielle’s head back and took a step closer.

“Ouch.” Danielle tried to pull away. “You’re hurting me.”

“I’ll do more than that unless you tell me where you got this.”

“Go to hell.” After saying something so stupid, Danielle wondered why she was antagonizing the woman. Remembering all her self-defense training over the years, Danielle quickly complied with the woman’s request. “From Mr. Wallace.”

“Wallace?”

“A man who sells jewelry at the Market.”

Blain took another step and Danielle countered as best she could. Unfortunately, she found her back against a tree. There was no more room for retreat. This lunatic had a firm hold on her hair and the look in her eyes was purely murderous. Danielle decided that she would kill her aunt when this was over. Madeline might have told the woman to do the butch thing, but this was going too far.

“You’re lying, Danielle.”

The sound of her name on Blain’s lips shouldn’t have mattered. But it did. It made the woman seem all the more threatening. This might be Madeline’s idea of fun, but she’d had quite enough. Before she lost her nerve, Danielle brought her knee up hard, catching the woman in the lower stomach.

Blain grunted when contact was made. She also let go of Danielle’s hair. Wasting no time, Danielle lowered her head and rammed the woman, knocking her to the side. Blain stumbled, doubled over from the injury to her stomach. Danielle ran blindly forward. The bindings on her hands were awkward and affected her balance, but she pressed on, doing her best to slap the low branches away from her face. Twigs crunched beneath her feet as she ran over the uneven terrain. Weaving around the trunk of a gnarled oak, Danielle felt a sharp pain between her shoulder blades just a second before she felt the stab of pain in her head. Then she felt nothing.

It seemed as if she were being shaken gently. No, it felt as if she were being rocked, Danielle amended as she regained consciousness. She groaned and tried to roll onto her side. “What the hell?”

”Silence,” Blain commanded against her ear. “I would have no difficulty killing you after what you did at Blazenwood.”

“I swear you’re…” Danielle felt the arm around her midriff tighten, forcing the breath from her body.

“You will not make another sound.”

Danielle nodded, knowing the woman could feel the movement since her head was against her upper chest and shoulder. Her head hurt and her ribs weren’t exactly happy. She was sitting in front of Blain, on a horse. “Where are we…”

“You seem to have a definite problem in taking direction, Madame. You will not utter another sound.”

Yep, Madeline was a dead aunt when this little charade was over. Danielle now regretted telling her aunt that she was attracted to self-confident women. Apparently, Madeline had confused self-confident with arrogant and nasty. Those two adjectives seemed to describe this woman to a tee. It may have been a cute idea, but Madeline was going to catch hell for this.

Danielle saw the lights burning up ahead. She heard the sounds of the harbor and smelled the unmistakable scent of fire and animals. Straining against Blain’s hold, she sat upright, her mouth opened in shocked dismay. It wasn’t possible. It had to be a dream. It had to be a hallucination. It had to be Charleston. Raising her bound hands to her mouth, Danielle gasped. Blain stopped the horse in front of her house and slipped down from the animal’s back. Then, apparently catching Danielle’s expression, she stood still. “I see you recognize my house.”

Danielle simply stared. “It isn’t possible.”

Blain’s hands wound around Danielle’s waist, sliding her gently down from the saddle. It was only then that Danielle felt the weight of the cape draped over her shoulders.

Blain saw the confusion on Danielle’s face. “Since I couldn’t find where you discarded your gown, I took pity on you and shared my cape.”

“It’s not possible.” Danielle was too shocked to move. “This can’t be happening.”

“You should have considered that before you decided to steal from me. Come.” She grabbed the rope tying Danielle’s wrists and led her up the steps as if she were some sort of animal on a leash. Danielle stared straight ahead, trying to make sense of what she was seeing and hearing.

The front door opened as they reached the threshold. An elderly man with skin the color of strong coffee ushered them inside with his eyes downcast. “Good evening.”

“Thomas,” Blain acknowledged as she dragged Danielle into the house.

Again a small sound of utter disbelief rumbled in Danielle’s throat.

“Have a tub brought up to the yellow room and ask Mrs. McGrady to find a suitable gown and bring it as well.”

Danielle was pulled through the foyer to the stairs. “Wait. Please?”

Blain stopped, though reluctantly, turning only her head as her deep gray eyes bore down on her. Blain studied Danielle’s face, her frown deepening in the process. “You’re white as a sheet, Madame. Finally you appreciate the foolishness of your actions.”

“This is The Station,” Danielle whispered. She shook her head slightly. “Only it isn’t.”

“This is my home,” Blain corrected her, none too gently.

“What happened to my Aunt Madeline, and how did you do all this?”

Danielle saw the flicker of recognition in Blain’s eyes. “Who is this aunt you speak of?”

“Madeline. Madeline Yeager.”

The woman let out a descriptive expletive and then bellowed for Thomas again. The small butler appeared almost instantly.

“Yes?”

“Thomas, go to the apothecary and fetch Mrs. Yeager. Tell her it is a matter of some urgency.”

Lifting her bound hands, Danielle brushed her fingertips across the back of the woman’s hand. “How did you do all this?”

“All what?” Blain asked impatiently.

“This.” Danielle waved her hands in an arc. “All the tables are gone and there are more walls, the…”

“Come,” Blain interrupted sharply.

Danielle was taken up to the second floor and led into the storeroom. But it wasn’t a storeroom. It was a bedroom. A bedroom filled with nineteenth century furnishings. Two young boys were heating buckets of water in a huge pot near the fireplace.

Blain turned to her. “How do you know Madeline?”

“Funny.” Danielle was unable to keep the sarcasm from her voice. “I don’t know what she led you to believe about me, but you went way overboard.”

“Overboard?”

Danielle glared at the woman, which was about as defiant as she could get given that her hands were still bound by the rope. “The gun, the fake scene with that Canton guy. But especially this!” She thrust her hands forward, showing her bound hands. “I guess my aunt failed to mention that I was a surgeon. Do you have any idea what a serious injury to my hands would mean to my career?”

Blain was silent. Several minutes passed as she leaned against a washstand, staring, her scowl gradually growing darker. “Obviously, that bump on your head has affected your capacity, Madame.”

“My name is Danielle. Not Madame. Just untie me before my aunt shows up. Madeline has a nasty temper.”

“True,” came a familiar voice from the doorway. “But I like to think I’m fair.”

Spinning on the balls of her feet, Danielle turned to face her aunt. “Aunt Madeline! Not you, too!”

Madeline stood in the doorway, clad from head to toe in some sort of chartreuse outfit complete with feathers and garish beads. A small cigarette, which looked much like a thin cigar, extended from a jeweled holder clasped between two of her gloved fingers. “Jess, I’m afraid your lady friend has me at a disadvantage.”

Danielle looked from her aunt to the woman she just called Jess, relaxing against the window seat. The woman’s head was slightly tilted to one side, her expression mocking and much too superior for Danielle’s liking. “Enough of this garbage! I do not find this funny and I think you overstepped the bounds of good taste this time, Aunt Madeline.”

Madeline grunted. “Dressed like that, I don’t know if you’re in a position to comment on good taste.”

Madeline and Jess shared smiles.

“Fine.” Danielle sighed. “But I’m outta here.” Danielle moved toward the door, but a hand that appeared on her arm prevented her from making much progress.

“Thanks, Madeline.” The woman’s fingers gripped Danielle’s arm. “I’ll send word across the street if I need anything else.”

“Looks like you’ve got your hands full, Jess.”

Danielle’s face showed her disbelief of the situation. “You can’t be serious, Aunt Madeline. Don’t you dare leave me here with this…woman!”

Madeline lifted her chin and offered a sly smile. “Interesting young lady, Jess. She doesn’t seem to be taken by your charm.”

”Charm?” Danielle groaned. “I don’t know where you found her, but you should have been more careful. She carries a gun, she’s got some low life friends and she’s taking her role a bit too seriously for my tastes. You have to stop this, Aunt Madeline. Whatever drug you put in my iced tea worked. I blacked out and this charade has….”

“Quite a temper too, Jess. Good luck.”

“Madeline!” Danielle called as her aunt left on a swirl of silk and satin. “Let go of me!” She gave her arm a futile yank. “Fine, you’ve proved you’re stronger than I am. I’m sure that should get you some brownie points at your health club.”

“The only club I belong to has nothing to do with my health.” The words were spoken close to Danielle’s ear.

“Save your seductive whispers and domineering personality for someone who cares. I’m really getting tired of this.”

”As am I, Madame.” Jess spun her around to face her and in doing so, Danielle spotted the flash of movement at the window. Seeing the hand with the gun raised, she simply reacted. Unfortunately, her reaction wasn’t quite fast enough.

Jess moaned as Danielle tried to roll her off of her body.

A heavyset woman, flanked by the house attendants, came into the room. “Lord Blain!”

“Hurry!” Danielle was in doctor mode now. “Untie my hands.” Danielle met the woman’s eyes and saw the resistance there. “Look, lady, the bullet entered through the chest wall. My guess, from the gurgling sounds she’s making, is that Her Lordship has a possible punctured lung. You can either help me or we can all stand around while she dies.”

“Wha-what can you do?”

”I’m a doctor.”

“The dickens you say.”

Danielle made a short sound and Jess groaned. “Fine, then I suggest you put her someplace comfortable. It will take hours, if not days for her to die…if she doesn’t bleed to death.”

The older woman locked eyes with Danielle as she spoke to the butler. “Thomas, you men get her on the bed. Careful!” Then she yelled downstairs for someone to fetch Mrs. Yeager.

“My hands?” Danielle prompted as she got to her feet.

The woman gave a curt nod and a moment later, Danielle’s hands were finally free. She went immediately to the bed and began tearing away her bloody shirt.

Thomas returned. “Mrs. McGrady?”

Mrs. McGrady pointed to Danielle. “Help her.”

Danielle began to examine the wound. “I’m going to need some things.”

Thomas stepped up beside her. “Yes, Madame?”

Raking her hands through her hair, Danielle sighed. “I can stabilize her now until the ambulance gets here. I know a good pulmonary surgeon.”

Madeline came into the room and immediately went to Jess, her face brimming with concern. ”What happened?” She looked at Danielle with murderous eyes. “Did you do this?”

“Funny, Aunt Madeline. You have to stop screwing around now. This woman needs an ambulance.” Danielle ripped a portion of the injured woman’s shirt and wadded it in her hand before she pressed it hard against the wound. Jess groaned just before her head fell to the side.

Madeline looked as Danielle like she had two heads. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Are you some sort of nurse or midwife?”

“Stop it, Aunt Madeline! If we don’t get this woman some medical treatment soon, she will die.”

“Doc Sadlin is out at the fort seeing to the men. He wouldn’t come even if we could get through to him out there.”

“We need to get her to the hospital.”

“The hospital is closed, Madame. It looks like I’ll have to trust my instincts and let you tend to her.”

“You know my name is Danielle!” Her head whipped up and she gaped at her aunt. Only it wasn’t her aunt, just as it wasn’t The Station and it apparently wasn’t 2004 anymore. The only concrete reality was the woman and her wound. Danielle chose to focus on that instead of trying to figure out just what was going on. “You own an apothecary, right?”

Madeline nodded.

“Do you have ether, laudanum, some sponges, some sulfa and some silk and needles?”

“Thomas, go to the shop and get what she needs.”

“I’ll also need as many pliers, tweezers and clamps as you can get your hands on. Oh, and a scalpel or something thin and sharp.”

Within a half an hour, Danielle had managed to create a crude, if functional, operating room. Perspiration dotted her brow as she placed the ether soaked cloth across the woman’s still face. “I hope I’m not overdoing it.” The safe and effective use of ether had not been part of her training, so she was winging it. She did know enough to tell them all to cover their own noses and mouths to keep from breathing in the vapors.

Mrs. McGrady, Madeline and the three other men remained in the room, each holding a candle above Jess. “I assume you know what you’re doing?” Madeline asked as Danielle moved the small blade toward the woman’s body.

“Graduated third in my class.”

“Then get on with it.”

Danielle spent the next four hours performing a procedure that should have taken no more than ninety minutes. The poor light, crude implements and lack of a competent assistant made it more difficult than she could have imagined. Still, by the time she knotted the last suture, she felt more like a doctor than she had in years. “She’ll sleep for a while longer. The longer the better.”

“Will she live?” The question came from Mrs. McGrady.

“In a couple of days, she’ll be up and around. In a month or so, she should be good as new.”

Madeline took Danielle by the elbow and steered her from the room. “Then I believe you have earned a drink.”

Danielle was suddenly very tired. “I’d rather go home.”

Madeline deposited her in a high backed chair in a narrow room at the rear of the house. It should have been the kitchen. But it wasn’t.

After placing an ornate crystal glass filled with amber liquid in her hand, Madeline took the seat opposite her. Their eyes met in the silence. “Drink it. You look like you could use it.”

“I could use an explanation.”

Madeline nodded. “It could have been anyone. Jess has a lot of enemies.”

“Not the shooting. I mean all this. Danielle waved her arms around, indicating the room. “It’s as if I’m in some other time.”

Madeline’s expression stilled. “If you keep up that talk they’ll take you to the sanitarium.”

“But it’s true. Look at me. Do I look like one of you?”

“The clothes are a tad unusual, but I must admit, I was impressed by your skill and knowledge. Were you trained in the north?”

“Harvard.” Annoyance caused her to frown when she heard Madeline’s snort of disbelief. “You watched what I did upstairs. Do you think I learned that on the back of a turnip truck?”

“Truck?”

Danielle groaned out of frustration. “What day is it?”

”November 19.”

“What year?”

Madeline’s brows drew together as she answered, “Eighteen sixty-one.”

Danielle started laughing. “This is rich. This is the most realistic dream I’ve ever had. I just wish I would wake up.”

“You’re fully awake and in great danger.”

“Danger?”

Madeline took a sip from her drink. “It isn’t exactly healthy to associate with Jess.”

“Why? Why did someone shoot her?”

“If that’s what they were about. It could be because of what she is into concerning the war. It could be that she is a woman with the rights of a man. It could be just because of who she is in this town.”

“I don’t like the sound of that, Aunt Madeline.”

“Why do you do that?”

“What?”

“Insist on calling me your aunt. We are no relation. My only brother is dead.”

“James?” Danielle got some measure of satisfaction at Madeline’s shock.

“How is it you know the name of my brother?”

“He’s my father.” Danielle felt quite smug at having the upper hand. It didn’t last long.

“That isn’t possible.” Madeline got to her feet, walked to the fireplace and pulled on an ornate rope. “I see my friend, Jess, was warranted in her suspicions of you.”

“You know I’m telling the truth.”

“Hardly.” Madeline’s green eyes had a definite chill in them. Thomas appeared then, with the two other housemen close on his heels. “Lock her in the bedroom until Jess determines how to best deal with her.”

“Aunt Madeline?”

“You should have planned your deceit more carefully, my dear.”

“I’m telling the truth.”

“My brother died in a riding accident.”

“I know, Madeline.”

“He was only five. A sight young to be siring children.”

**********

Jess rolled carefully, testing her body, her hand still holding the small note recently delivered by Thomas. She read it again, somehow hoping that she had misunderstood. She hadn’t. Madeline was nothing if not precise. She needed a plan. Hoisting herself up onto the edge of the bed, she felt her brows furrow as she tried to concentrate. But Danielle and her persistent ramblings about being from another time kept creeping into her thoughts.

She took a moment to burn the small piece of paper, tossing it into the fireplace at the last second. The smell of smoke filled her nostrils. “It is a preposterous notion,” she grumbled. Yet she could so easily recall the look of total shock on Danielle’s face when she walked through the house. She also recalled how Danielle had described the small attic. “How could she know that?” Then there was her odd clothing. No, odd wasn’t quite strong enough.

Jess moved to her wardrobe and opened the doors, then pulled the bottom drawer. As she lifted the shirt and pants that Danielle wore, her eyes fell to the locket and she took it out, as well. Jess carried the items to her bed, carefully laying them out for closer inspection. Perhaps Danielle was a spy. Perhaps all Danielle’s strange ramblings were nothing more than a ploy to make certain everyone think her daft. If Danielle knew so much about her, then certainly Danielle would realize she wouldn’t turn her over to the authorities if she was short of sense. That thought brought a wry smile to her lips. From what little she knew of Danielle and from the reports she’s been getting from her staff, Danielle Hamilton wasn’t short on anything. It seemed that she had won them over by saving her life.

Shaking her head, Jess tried again to focus. The woman seemed a contradiction at every turn. When Danielle had been brought appropriate clothing, she had acted as if she had never before seen a corset. Yet she had removed a bullet from her body that by all accounts should have left her dead. She felt nothing but a slight twinge of pain if she took a deep breath. It was remarkable. As remarkable as Danielle, she thought as she closed her eyes and summoned Danielle’s image. Jess returned her attention to the clothing. The fabric was thin and soft and some sort of insignia was stamped on the back, though she didn’t recognize the symbol or the letters. “So how did she get this?” she asked herself as she picked up the locket and turned it once in her palm before opening it. “And where is the other picture?” Closing the locket, Jess frowned. This was getting her nowhere. At least, not if Madeline’s warning was to be taken seriously. And she knew it was.

Stuffing the strange clothing back into her wardrobe she found a special hiding place for the locket, since she knew Danielle was insisting on its return. She had heard some nonsense about the fact that Danielle believed it could send her home. She dressed, though her mind remained fixed on thoughts of the woman in the room across the hall. She had gone in there only twice in the past week, both times in the early hours of the morning. Both times Danielle had been asleep. Both times she had looked beautiful, peaceful. Sighing, she buttoned her shirt and set her mind to work. If she didn’t think of something quickly, Danielle and her strange ramblings would no longer be her concern. Danielle would be dead.

Two weeks passed. Two long, boring, confining, infuriating weeks. Danielle had been transformed in that time. Outwardly. She was a mess on the inside. The dream had turned into a nightmare. A very lonely one. She talked to her herself a lot in the last two weeks. “How can Madeline be Madeline and yet not Madeline?” She went to the window and stared without seeing. “How can she look the same and talk the same and not be Madeline?” Danielle gazed down at herself and smiled without humor. “How can I be standing in The Station, dressed like Scarlett O’Hara? How could this Madeline have a brother who died in childhood? How can there be two Madelines?” Danielle let out a long breath as she rubbed her temples. Her head actually hurt from trying to understand what was happening to her. She began to pace, trying to think of a rational explanation. None came. “There cannot be two Madelines and people cannot travel through time.” Stopping in front of the mirror above the dry sink, she asked her reflection, “Really? Then why have you been locked in this room for two weeks? And how do you explain the fact that Charleston is littered with horses and has no bathrooms?” She returned to her pacing.

Mrs. McGrady had told her that Jess had recovered from her wounds, but Danielle had yet to see the woman. “Not even a friggin’ thank you.” She stood by the fire and continued to grumble. When the door opened, she didn’t even turn. She didn’t have to. It was almost eight o’clock, which meant Thomas had her dinner tray. “I’m not hungry.”

“Pity.”

Danielle whirled around and found Jess framed in the doorway. Her eyes slid over her with amazing intimacy. Danielle decided it bothered her only because of her weeks of deprivation. That was the only explanation for her racing pulse. Her imprisonment had left her starved for companionship. She straightened her shoulders. “You look well.”

Something passed in her eyes, a flash of recognition, something that apparently she preferred to keep to herself. “I’m back to my normal constitution.”

“Does that mean I can leave now?”

Jess crossed her arms over her chest and hooked one booted ankle over the other. She looked relaxed and confident, which was more than Danielle could say about herself. “I’m afraid I can’t allow that just yet. Not until I know how you came to have her locket.”

The fact that ‘her’ came out sounding like a curse wasn’t lost on Danielle. Thanks to Madeline and Mrs. McGrady, she knew all about the woman and her relationship with Lillian Weatherly. She even knew that Jess had only got with the woman to get access to her father’s wharf. And, if Danielle believed the gossip, Jess killed the woman. That scared Danielle more than she cared for the woman to know. “It was a gift. The locket was a gift.”

The woman’s dismissive nod irked her, but she said nothing.

Jess stepped forward. “Come.”

“Go to hell!”

“I have been informed that your vocabulary is quite explicit. Not very ladylike, Madame.”

‘Madame’ sounded as much like a curse as ‘her’ had. “Ladylike doesn’t interest me, Jess…Blain. Whoever the hell you are. I prefer to think of myself as a woman. An intelligent, independent woman.”

Her smile very nearly took Danielle’s breath away. She reminded herself that the woman probably wielded that smile like a weapon. Still, the display of even white teeth and that incredible dimple at the corner of her firm mouth was almost more than Danielle’s attention deprived senses could handle.

Her smile remained. “That explains why Madeline has taken such an interest in your well being. You can all me Jess.”

“Fine. You’re wrong, Jess. Madeline hasn’t spoken to me since the night you were shot.”

“But she has spoken with me. Now, would you care to join me for dinner?”

“Join you?” Her expression was mocking and her tone sarcastic.

Jess shrugged. “I’ll have your tray delivered.”

“Wait!” Danielle hated the fact that it came out sounding so desperate. “Why am I suddenly being allowed out?”

“To amuse me.”

“Scre–”

“You will cease your habit of screaming vulgarities.” Her voice was loud and stern.

“Or?”

“Or I will give in to my urge and find something more useful for you to do with your mouth.”

Danielle gaped at her. Once she recovered from the shock of the suggestive remark she managed to yell at Jess. “Don’t even think about it!”

Jess crossed the room in three long strides. Her hand went around Danielle’s waist and she pulled Danielle full against her. Jess had every advantage. She outweighed Danielle. She was much taller and she had moved with such swiftness that Danielle hadn’t even had a chance to turn away.

Danielle’s arms were pinned to her sides as Jess lifted her until they were at eye level. Her eyes were steely gray, as hard and unyielding as her impressive body. Jess’s mouth was a thin, straight line. Her eyes fell to Danielle’s lips

Nervously, Danielle’s tongue flicked out to moisten her lower lip. Jess stifled her groan. In spite of the rigidness of Danielle’s small body, Jess saw that unmistakable passion in her smoldering blue eyes. She had seen it that first night in the clearing. Jess had thought of little else these past weeks. This woman haunted Jess. She thought of Danielle when she was awake, dreamed of her at night. It wasn’t normal and she knew she needed to get her out of her system so she could concentrate on the burdensome task at hand. Maybe Madeline was right; maybe Danielle was some sort of witch.

She ravaged Danielle’s mouth with her own. She was so caught up in the taste of Danielle that it took several protracted seconds for her to notice that Danielle wasn’t reacting. She was stiff in her arms. She thought of Lillian Weatherly and instantly set Danielle at arm’s length. Jess fully expected to see a bland expression, so the spark in Danielle’s blue eyes surprised her. Schooling her grin, she lifted her palm to Danielle’s cheek. Satisfaction welled within her when she noted the small shiver Danielle was unable to conceal. Allowing the pad of her thumb to perform the most gentle caress, she held Danielle’s gaze. Her skin was like silk and warmed beneath her touch. She slowly continued the subtle exploration of Danielle’s delicate cheek. Danielle’s breathing became more shallow, yet her expression never betrayed her thoughts. But her eyes did. Her wide eyes began to darken, turning to a rich azure that reflected the flames from the fireplace.

“You’re beautiful, Danielle.” The words were whispered without realizing she had spoken aloud.

“You’re arrogant.”

She smiled at Danielle’s proud response. “I think you like that.”

“I never thought I would say this about another woman, but I think you need some sensitivity training.”

She brought her other hand out and gently cupped Danielle’s face, taking a step forward at the same time. “I think you’ll find my…training satisfactory.” Dipping her head, she brushed her lips with Danielle’s, careful to keep her body from touching hers. It took some effort, since she remembered all too well how Danielle felt pressed against her. She nibbled her bottom lip, drawing it in with her teeth and teasing her with her tongue. Her fingers wound in Danielle’s mane of long blond hair, while her mouth continued to toy with hers. Jess teased her and tasted her, waiting until the last possible second before actually moving to a kiss. When she finally did move to a kiss, she was rewarded for her efforts. Danielle made a sound that teetered between a groan and a whimper and her small hands flattened against the front of her shoulders. Calling on all her restraint, Jess gave her time to decide, sensing she was still considering pushing her away.

She surprised Jess when she lifted her arms around her neck and stepped in to her embrace. It was Jess’s turn to swallow a groan at the pure pleasure of feeling her breasts pressed against her. She was so small, yet there was a strength belying the frailty. Jess smiled mentally, knowing Danielle would take issue with being described as fragile. Her mind went blank when Danielle pressed her hips to hers, sending a surge of desire through her powerful enough to dismiss all rational thought. She was only vaguely aware of carrying Danielle the few paces to the bed. She turned slightly so that she ended up on her back with Danielle splayed on top of her. Her hands explored Danielle’s back and suddenly she was annoyed that she had insisted Danielle be dressed properly. She had never managed to forget the way she could feel every inch of Danielle in her strange green outfit. Now her exploration was hindered by yards of fabric, corsets, and all sorts of material.

“Jess!”

Danielle broke out of her arms before Jess’s passion-drugged mind had fully come back to the present. As soon as she spotted the man and the woman in the bedroom, anger inspired reason. “Weatherly.” Jess acknowledged him as she threw one leg toward the edge of the bed and moved to a sitting position. She gave Madeline a polite nod. “Madeline.”

“I suggested he wait downstairs with the others, but he insisted on searching you out immediately.” Madeline offered a smug, knowing smile that did little to improve Jess’s mood.

Weatherly was red faced, his cheeks puffed out with indignation. “What is the meaning of this?”

“I should think that was obvious, Mr. Weatherly.” Jess answered the man as her eyes found Danielle’s. Seeing the apprehension on Danielle’s face did little to improve her mood. She also couldn’t help but notice, not without a fair amount of pride, that Danielle looked thoroughly kissed. Her thickly lashed eyes still held a flicker of passion and her hair was in wild disarray. Her chest rose and fell sharply with each breath and her hands were balled into tiny fists by her sides.

Harold Weatherly stepped further into the room. “I demand an explanation!” For a small man, his voice certainly thundered.

Madeline touched the man on his arm. “Now, Harold, calm down and we’ll get this straightened out.”

“She was—”

“I know what she was doing.” Madeline gave Jess a quick look.” “But the bedroom is hardly an appropriate place for a discussion.” Madeline tugged the reluctant man, then glanced back over her shoulder. “Come along, Jess, and bring her with you. This should be interesting.”

As soon as they were alone, she turned to Danielle. “I suggest you do something with your hair and straighten your gown.”

Danielle’s eyes spit fire at her. “Who was he?”

Jess sighed. “My father-in-law.”

“Then you go on down.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m sure he wants to talk to you, not me.”

“And deprive you of suffering the wrath of the man along with me? No.”

“Why would he care what you do?” Danielle argued as Jess led her toward the door.

“I suppose he feels affronted by my lack of mourning.”

Danielle stopped abruptly. “Is that what this is all about?”

Jess glared down at her. “If that is your way of asking if I was kissing you and thinking of Lillian, I can assure you that was not the case.”

“Jess!” Madeline called from below. “Hurry up.”

After Danielle fixed her hair and gown, she followed Jess. As they reached the foyer, Jess heard Danielle gasp. One look in the parlor and she instantly knew the reason. Canton was there, as were the McKinneys and Captain Fourcade. She moved her lips to Danielle’s ear. “If you breathe one word of what you saw out at Blazenwood, I’ll kill you.”

Danielle couldn’t believe her eyes. “Anna and Daniel!”

“How do you know them?” Jess demanded, tightening the grip on Danielle’s elbow.

Ignoring her, Danielle rushed ahead, but stopped abruptly when Anna McKinney stepped forward and spoke. “I’m sorry we haven’t had an opportunity to be properly introduced.”

“Anna! Not you, too. God, I must be in Oz.” Danielle shook her head in disbelief.

The brunette’s smile barely faltered. “I’m afraid—”

“Explain yourself, Blain!” Harold Weatherly bellowed from his position near the fireplace.

Danielle looked at the group, feeling all her old frustrations reignited. Anna stood near Daniel, wearing the costume of the day. Canton was dressed in a Confederate uniform, as was the man standing with him. Madeline was smiling, but no one else was. They were too busy staring at her.

“Drink?” Jess asked in a calm voice as she stepped to the bar and filled a leaded tumbler with some liquor from a decanter.

The Confederate officer stepped forward. “This isn’t a social call.”

Jess sighed. “I thought as much.”

Madeline lit a cigarette. “You aren’t gong to like this, Jess. Fourcade has some rather interesting ideas.” She smiled at the officer.

“Do something, Daniel,” Anna urged.

Daniel spoke as he stepped to Danielle. “I’m Sheriff McKinney. And you are?”

“A friend of yours for years,” she replied under her breath. Then she met his eyes and said, “Danielle Hamilton.” It was so hard to look at such a familiar face and feel as if she were looking into the eyes of a stranger. But that’s what he was. What they all were. She had to get the locket back from Jess. Then she could slip it over her head and end this strange nightmare.

Daniel had to try to get answers for everyone’s sake. “What brings you to Charleston, Ms. Hamilton?”

Weatherly rushed forward and pointed at Danielle. “Who cares? Just arrest her!”

Madeline tried to calm Harold Weatherly again. “What is all this, Harold? You can’t have the girl arrested for kissing Jess. If you arrested every woman who kissed her, the Sheriff would have to build a new jail.”

The little man turned a brighter shade of red. “Tell them, Fourcade.”

The Confederate officer standing with Canton addressed Danielle. “Ma’am, I’m Captain Fourcade, Third Regiment.”

Danielle stared up at the well dressed, attractive man she guessed was somewhere around her age. He had thick, blonde hair and expressive blue eyes. Had he not been staring down at her with such hatred, she might have labeled him a very good looking man.

The look on his face made her feel the need to lash out at him. “Congratulations, Captain.”

“You’re under arrest.” He started to reach for Danielle, when Jess suddenly stepped forward, placing her body between them. “What the hell is this about, Fourcade?”

Danielle could feel the unbridled tension as Jess’s eyes locked with Fourcade’s. If Fourcade had viewed her with hatred, there wasn’t an adjective that could describe the look he gave Jess. The man’s eyes filled with rage as they narrowed. “Stay out of this, Blain. Or I’ll arrest you, too.”

A dangerous light turned Jess’s eyes the color of the sky before a violent storm. “You’re welcome to try.”

Madeline moved closer to the group and blew a stream of smoke. “Captain Fourcade, what is this all about? For what reason could you possibly wish to arrest Danielle?”

“Treason.”

Danielle couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It just continued to get worse by the minute. “What? That’s the craziest pile of shi…”

“Danielle!” Jess grabbed her arm to try to shut her up.

Madeline gave everyone a beaming smile. “She’s right. Where did you get this ridiculous notion from?”

“She was identified.”

“By whom?” Danielle gestured around the room with her hand. “The only people I’ve met are here.”

Jess’s voice took on a demanding tone. “What do you mean, ‘identified’?”

Danielle noticed that Jess sent a look, menacing and quick in Canton’s direction.

“My regiment captured one of the Yankees responsible for firing on your plantation. Before he died, he admitted the cannon fire was supposed to cover up a meeting between a Northern sympathizer and one of their people. He couldn’t give us any names, but he said he saw the woman.” Fourcade turned his angry, blue eyes on Danielle before he continued. “He said the woman was small and had blonde hair.”

“You’re arresting me because of my hair color? If this isn’t bull—”

Madeline interrupted Danielle abruptly, hoping to prevent the next word from being heard. “Danielle!” She turned to the officer. “Captain, that does seem rather…incredible.”

“The man described you perfectly.” His eyes roamed over Danielle in a very derogatory manner. “He said you wore your hair in a fashion appropriate for the bedchamber.”

Jess didn’t waste any time grabbing the man by the lapels of his uniform. “You’ll regret that, Fourcade!”

“Please,” Anna spoke softly as Daniel went behind Jess and placed one hand on her shoulder.

Madeline spoke in a calm voice. “I’m afraid your prisoner must have been mistaken. Danielle couldn’t possibly have anything to do with treason.”

Weatherly decided at that moment to reenter the conversation. “She was seen. You heard the man yourself, Canton. You knew he was describing this woman immediately. You even told Captain Fourcade she was here with Blain.”

Danielle’s eyes narrowed as she glared at Canton. “You? I can’t believe you would…” She didn’t get to finish the thought, because Jess turned and gave her a warning look. Great! If I tell them it was Canton and Jess, Jess will kill me. If I don’t say anything, Fourcade will arrest me and who knows what else.

Madeline once again came to Danielle’s defense. “I can assure you that Danielle has no part in this.”

“I know your feelings for Blain,” Weatherly warned.

“But you obviously don’t know my relationship to Danielle.”

The two women’s eyes met and Danielle could see that Madeline was lying. There was no flicker of recognition.

“Danielle is a distant niece of mine.”

Fourcade sneered. “That still doesn’t mean she wasn’t consorting with the enemy,”

Madeline’s reply was sarcastic. “The only person Danielle has been consorting with is Jess.”

Weatherly’s next words were biting. “So you admit it, Blain? You brought a who—”

Jess narrowed her eyes dangerously and pointed at Weatherly. Her hand inches from his face, she spoke through her teeth. “Don’t finish your words!”

Madeline sighed dramatically. “Harold, because we’ve known each other since childhood, I’ll overlook your lack of manners toward a member of my family.”

Anna’s sweet voice spoke to everyone. “Perhaps we should all take a deep breath and approach this more reasonably.”

“Being your niece might explain why she is here, but it certainly doesn’t explain why she was seen at Blazenwood,” Weatherly challenged.

Madeline moved over and placed her arm around Danielle’s shoulders. “Danielle’s family has suffered some financial setbacks. They placed this girl in a very delicate position and I considered it my duty to do what I could.”

“What position?” Danielle whispered, ignoring the elbow Madeline delivered as a warning.

“Her father, being unable to see to her basic comforts, felt it was long past appropriate for Danielle to marry.”

“Marry?” Danielle repeated hoarsely.

Madeline’s eyes held a stern caution as she looked at Danielle. “Yes, dear. I know you’ve always likened matrimony to death, but I can assure you the alternative would be quite unpleasant.”

Danielle gave her that point. Especially when she looked up to see Fourcade and Weatherly just waiting to cart her out of there.

Madeline cast Jess the same stern look she had given Danielle. “After discussing the matter with Jess we decided that instead of Danielle’s being forced to advertise for a husband, she would suit Jess much more. I think she would agree that Jess was more her type.”

“But— Ouch!” Danielle exclaimed when Madeline allowed the heel of her boot to come down on Danielle’s toes.

Captain Fourcade’s voice spit acid. You expect us to believe that she was incapable of finding a husband without resorting to trickery?”

“But as you might have guessed by her rather colorful vocabulary, Danielle has never wished to tie herself to a man.”

Danielle spoke under her breath. “And she has no intentions of marrying a woman either. Especially one who tied her up.”

Anna spoke up brightly. “You see? I knew there was a logical explanation for everything.”

Harold Weatherly exploded. “I won’t have it! It isn’t proper! Lillian isn’t even cold yet in her grave. My daughter deserved better.”

Madeline spoke in a nonchalant manner. “Calm down, Harold. This really shouldn’t concern you. Jess shouldn’t be expected to climb into the grave with her.”

Weatherly didn’t hesitate in his reply. “Why not? She put my daughter there!”

Sheriff McKinney finally spoke up. “Enough Harold. I think we’ve settled this matter. I’ll see you out.”

“And I’ll see her dead for what she did to my Lillian!” He started for Jess, but the sheriff hauled him to the door.

“Anna is married to Daniel and you still want me to believe that this is 1861?” Danielle demanded as soon as she and Madeline were alone.

“You aren’t going to start all that again, are you? It really is growing tiresome.”

“Then give me some reasonable explanation for all this. I know everybody, but no one knows me. Everybody looks and acts the same, but they aren’t the same.”

Madeline was maddened with the subject. “The same as what? You keep going on about your time and my time and Jess is going to have you committed. Besides, you should be more worried about Weatherly and Captain Fourcade than about whom Anna has chosen to marry.”

Danielle calmed her voice and her brows furrowed. “Speaking of marriage, I cannot marry Jess. It isn’t even legal in 2004. How can it be legal in 1861?”

Madeline laughed heartily. “Now, that is a good question. You see it really isn’t a question of legal.” She became silent for a moment, looking for the proper words to describe the situation concerning Jess and her rights. “Jess is different…”

Danielle interrupted with a smile and a shake of her head. “That is an understatement.”

Madeline sighed heavily. “Do you want an answer to your question or not?”

“Yes, I apologize.”

“As I was saying, Jess is different. The men of this town have tried to get rid of her in every way known to man.” She smirked at Danielle. “Jess is very strong. She is more than handy with a pistol and her swordsmanship is even better. So they finally gave up, but they had to find a way to live with her. So they don’t look at her as a woman.” Madeline hesitated a moment to study the confused look on Danielle’s face. “They look at her as one of them. A man.”

Danielle didn’t know what to say so she changed the subject after a few minutes of shock. She wanted to get as many answers as she could now that they were speaking to her. “Is Weatherly the one who shot Jess?”

Madeline shrugged. “Probably. He’s taken his daughter’s death very hard.”

“Did Jess kill her?”

Madeline leveled her green gaze on Danielle. “I suggest you ask her yourself.”

“You’re assuming she’ll speak to me again. Or didn’t you catch her expression before she stormed over to pout in the corner?”

Madeline’s smile was slightly tempered. “She’s just angry because she’s probably feeling that she’s being manipulated into marriage for the second time in as many months.”

Danielle crossed her arms over her chest. “We aren’t going to get married. I’ll do anything to keep that from happening.”

“You’re welcome to try,” Jess said from the distant corner of the candlelit room.

Turning, Danielle met her stony expression and matched it with one of her own. “Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t want to marry me any more than I want to marry you.”

“True.”

“Then we’ll just forget this, here and now.”

“No, we won’t.” There was such finality in her tone that Danielle actually shuddered.

Danielle squared her shoulder and lifted her chin. “I will not marry you and you can’t force me to.”

“Goodbye, Madeline,” Jess said, without letting her eyes leave Danielle’s face.

Danielle didn’t like the sound of that. “Stay, Madeline.”

Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly. “Now.”

“Good luck,” Madeline muttered as she hurriedly made her escape.

Danielle spoke first when they were left alone. “I don’t know why you’re being so damned difficult.”

“Are you capable of uttering a single sentence without a curse in it?”

Smiling, Danielle answered. “Hell, no.”

Jess crossed the room and refilled her glass. “You are exasperating, woman. We will be married just as soon as I can make the arrangements.”

Danielle tilted her head up to meet her eyes. “Listen to me. I know this sounds nuts, but somehow I’ve shown up here. I don’t know how or why. I’m not even sure any of this is real. I mean women marrying women. But I do know that the last thing I did before this happened was put on that locket. If you’ll just hand me back the locket, hopefully I can undo whatever I did.” She gave Jess a pleading smile. “No Danielle, no forced wedding. And we’re both happy.”

Jess looked at her then and Danielle suddenly saw fatigue on her handsome features. It was so pronounced that Danielle actually thought about going over to her and giving her a reassuring hug. But she knew better. “I think it would be best for all of us if we simply played out the scenario Madeline created.”

“We can’t get married. I don’t know what happened, but this goes against everything I believe. I don’t belong here.”

“I agree.”

Danielle was shocked. “You believe me?”

“Do I believe that you’re some sort of aberration from the future?” Her tone held a great deal of sarcasm. “I might have until I felt you, kissed you. You’re definitely real.”

Warm color heated Danielle’s cheeks and it made Danielle wonder when the last time was she’d actually blushed. “Give me the locket and I can prove it.”

Downing the contents of the glass in one swallow, Jess dug into the pocket of her vest and pulled out the locket, allowing it to dangle tauntingly from one finger. Her dark hair, caught in a string of soft rawhide at her nape, swayed with the movement of her neck.

Grudgingly, Danielle moved forward, but she wasn’t about to give the woman the satisfaction of begging. Instead, she simply offered her palm and met her gray gaze. She was close enough to feel the heat emanating from the woman’s larger body. Close enough to smell her brandy scented breath. Close enough for her pulse to quicken from the memory of the searing kiss.

After a brief, silent clash, Jess allowed the locket to fall into her opened palm. Danielle wasted no time. Closing her eyes, she slipped the chain over her head and waited. Nothing. Holding her breath, she placed her fingers on the pendant and squeezed it tightly.

“You’re still here,” Jess said with faint amusement.

“It has to work. I got here by putting this thing on. It has to be the key to ending this nightmare. I have to get back to where I belong.”

Jess laughed. “It seems your mode of…transportation has failed you.”

“Stop laughing at me! I would think you’d be thrilled to have me disappear. Then you wouldn’t have to marry me.”

“It wouldn’t be my choice, but I’m not sure I could carry out the alternative.”

“Which is?”

A long pause forced Danielle’s pulse to a more erratic beat. “I can either marry you, Danielle, or kill you.” Jess stated the sentence so calmly that Danielle’s erratic heart beat jumped higher.

Danielle’s frustration grew into anger. Locking her eyes on Jess, lifted her chin and asked, “Is that the same bargain you had with Lillian?”

Jess shrugged. “Since she’s dead, I would think the answer rather obvious.”

After a few silent moments and no comment from Danielle, Jess became frustrated. “What is it?” The harsh tone she’d used on Danielle lessened when she looked toward the doorway and noticed the slumped shoulder of the very distraught Mrs. McGrady.

“I’ve word from the midwife. My Sara’s time is here.” Her green eyes were wide with fear and flowing tears.

Danielle watched the woman’s dark features soften before she moved quickly to the woman’s side. “Calm yourself. There is no—”

“There’s trouble.” She fell against Jess as deep sobs racked her body. “The doctor has seen to her. He said there was no hope left.”

Danielle took a step closer to the woman in order to place a hand on her heaving shoulder. “What’s the problem, Mrs. McGrady?”

“My child is dying. My poor baby is dying.”

Danielle’s fingers gripped a bit more urgently. “What is it?”

Mrs. McGrady took a deep breath to calm her sobs. “The birthing. I thought all along she was just too frail for such hardship.”

“I can help her.” Danielle expected them to dismiss her with nothing more than a curt grunt, since it was their usual response. Jess appeared as if she might do just that.

“Yes!” Mrs. McGrady voice was high and hope sprang in her eyes as she wiped them on the sleeve of her plain gown. “I watched how you tended to the Lordship. Maybe you can work a miracle on my Sara, as well.”

Danielle shook her head. “No miracles, but the faster we get there, the better.” Danielle remained still for a minute, then reeled off a list of things she would need. Jess still didn’t move. “I can’t keep her from dying if you stand rooted in that spot.”

“Please?” Mrs. McGrady added as she looked up at her employer. “I’ll gladly extend my service if you’ll allow your fiancée to aid my daughter.”

Fiancée. Danielle shivered at the sound of the word. Whether it was the urging from Mrs. McGrady or the challenge she offered with her eyes, Jess reached for their cloaks and started toward the back of the house.

“We’d better stay off the main road. I’m not fully convinced that Fourcade and Weatherly wouldn’t try something.”

”Like what?” Danielle struggled against the yards of fabric in order to keep pace with her.

“We can discuss it later.”

Danielle rolled her eyes as she ran to keep from falling behind. Nothing seemed even vaguely familiar. The streets were little more that even stone and dirt and the stench was almost overwhelming. She was relieved to find that they didn’t have far to go. Following Jess and Mrs. McGrady, she stepped into a chilly home that seemed crowded and somber. By the light of the fire, Danielle could see the young girl, probably no more that fifteen. Her sweat matted hair was strawberry blond and her face was as white as the ashes lining the hearth. She had already lost a substantial amount of blood. Dropping her cloak on the way, Danielle went to the girl, ripped the sheet aside and felt for a pulse. “It’s weak, but still there. We’ll have to work fast to save them.”

“Them?” came a shocked woman’s voice.

Danielle turned toward the sound and found a pair of hostile brown eyes glaring at her. “Are you the midwife?”

The woman straightened indignantly. “I am. And I’ve vast experience with this sort of—”

“Go to Madeline and get some ether, a sieve and some muslin.”

“I’ll not be taking orders form the likes of you!”

Jess’s voice was controlled. “Miss Greene, Miss Hamilton is quite well trained in such matters. Since you’ve obviously done all that is in your power, I think it only appropriate that we see what else can be done.”

“But to try to save the mother and not the baby is a sin against God.”

“I plan on saving them both,” Danielle snapped. “So either do as I ask or get the hell out of my way.” She moved to the end of the sheet, lifting it in order to do a pelvic. “Damn it! The baby is breech and this woman isn’t even the least bit dilated or effaced.” She looked up to find Jess and Mrs. McGrady gaping at her and translated. “The baby is turned around the wrong way and the birth canal isn’t open.”

Mrs. McGrady fell into a fit of gut wrenching sobs. Miss Greene almost looked smug. Apparently she had guessed as much.

The woman on the table moaned softly.

“She’s hemorrhaging, so we have to get going.” No one moved. Danielle looked from person to person, saving Jess for last. “I would think the fact that your punctured lung has healed would be proof enough of my skill and training. If this woman and her child die, I hope it haunts you forever.”

Jess turned her gray eyes to hers. “Go!” She growled at the midwife. “Thomas is outside. Have him assist you, but be quick about it.”

Danielle checked the girl’s pulse again, disappointed when it felt weaker. “Hang in there. You and your baby will be just fine if you stay with me just a little longer.”

“Is that true?”

A small shiver danced along her spine when she heard Jess’s softly spoken question. “If we get started in time. And if I can get to all the bleeders before it’s too late.”

“Bleeders?”

Danielle moved to place both hands on the girl’s distended abdomen. “The blood vessels that nourish the baby in the womb. If I can’t repair them in time, she’ll bleed to death.”

Mrs. McGrady sobbed more. “Please, miss. Sara is all I have in this world.”

The return of Miss Greene and the supplies saved Danielle from having to lie to the woman. Sara was hemorrhaging so badly that she knew it would be a miracle if she lived.

“What are you doing?” Miss Greene shrieked when Danielle tore the cotton gown covering Sara. “How can you humiliate the girl? You can’t mean to leave her exposed when the priest–”

“Shut up!” Danielle commanded between tightly clenched teeth. “Jess, take the muslin, fasten it over the sieve and hold it firmly over Sara’s mouth. Cover your own mouth and nose, as well.”

”Why?”

“To keep her from regaining consciousness when I take the baby and to keep you from falling over on top of her from breathing in the anesthetic.”

“Oh, God,” Miss Greene managed before she fainted into a heap on the dust floor.

“Isn’t there another way?” Jess had a twinge of reluctance in her voice.

“You could punch her, but I didn’t think you’d feel right about knocking her out like that.” She hid her satisfaction as she watched Jess position the sieve above the girl’s pale face.

“You only give one additional drop of ether if you see signs of her regaining consciousness. We don’t want to drug the baby if we can help it.” Danielle stood and went to the pot by the fire and did her best to sterilize the implements, as well as her own hands. “Mrs. McGrady, you’ll have to help me.”

”Anything.”

“Keep those bandages handy. When I tell you to apply pressure, you do it immediately, okay?”

The older woman nodded.

Danielle took a deep breath. “Then we are ready.”

Danielle stood over the girl, blade in hand. Just before making the incision, she looked over at Jess. Concern had formed deep lines on either side of her eyes. Her mouth was little more than a taut line behind the swatch of transparent muslin. Still, Jess offered a slight incline with her dark head and Danielle began.

Sara moaned as the incision was made. “Ether, Jess, just one drop.”

“Done.”

“Watch her eyelids, Jess.” She then looked to Mrs. McGrady and held out her hand for one of the cloth bandages. “Hold it here. Press gently but firmly.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

“Thomas!” Jess yelled. The man came in immediately. “Take Mrs. McGrady’s place.”

“As you wish.”

Danielle was vaguely aware of the shuffle of feet as her new assistant took his place beside her. “Like old time?”

“Yes, Madame.” His hand went to the bandage and he applied pressure just as he had on the night they had worked on Jess.

“Are you still with us, Mrs. McGrady?” Danielle called a few minutes later.

“Yes.” The reply was weak.

“Get ready!” A few seconds later, she lifted a perfectly formed baby boy from his mother’s womb. After cutting the cord and tying it off, she tipped the baby to rid him of fluids then gave his backside a resounding whack. Nothing. Cursing, she placed the still wet infant on his mother and began CPR. Ten short breaths and then it happened. He let out a fierce cry that made Danielle want to cry as well. “Wrap him up and get him near the fire.”

“But Sara?” Mrs. McGrady asked, her joy tempered by her anxiousness for her deathly still daughter.

“She’s next on my list.” Danielle’s tone held more confidence than she actually felt.

“You can do it,” Jess said from her position near Sara’s head.

Danielle was grateful for that small boost of confidence. She wondered how such an arrogant woman could know just the right thing to say. “Let’s hope.”

The damage to Sara’s body was extensive. It took Danielle almost two hours to locate and repair all the torn blood vessels, along with the tear in the girl’s uterus. The blood vessels would heal. The damage to her uterus might mean that Sara would never have another baby. She finally looked to Mrs. McGrady. “She’ll wake up in a few minutes, Mrs. McGrady.” Seeing the woman’s hesitation, she added, “It’s only the ether.”

“Bless you!” Mrs. McGrady dropped to her knees and hugged Danielle’s legs. “I owe you my life.”

Danielle pulled the woman to her feet. “You don’t owe me anything, but there are some things you need to do for Sara.”

The woman was so excited. “Anything! I can’t believe you saved my daughter and the babe. Surely it’s a miracle.”

Danielle sighed. “It’s a C-section. Keep the baby warm and if he gets hungry, take him to Sara, even if she’s asleep.” Danielle glanced over at the midwife, who was cradling the quiet baby. At least the woman was good for something. “I’ll be back to check on her. Just follow the instructions I laid out for you and Sara and the baby will be fine.” She squeezed the hand that was clutching her own.

Mrs. McGrady spoke excitedly. “Then you must be as you say you are. You’ve got the gift of healing.”

“Nothing so ethereal, I’m afraid. I was educated at–”

“We must be going now.” Jess had suddenly appeared at Danielle’s elbow. “Stay here with your daughter.”

With a cape draped across her shoulders to ward off the evening chill, Danielle followed her from the house. The streets were deserted in the early morning hours, which somehow made Danielle feel her fatigue more acutely. It also made her irritable. “Would you mind slowing to a sprint?” Jess was already several paces ahead of her.

“Sprint?”

“I’m tired. I don’t feel like jogging all the way back to The Station.”

With a reluctant shrug of her shoulders, Jess waited for her to come up beside her before continuing at a more reasonable pace.

Danielle tried not to think about Jess. She wasn’t very successful, though. She kept glancing at the woman’s profile out the corner of her eye. Her near perfect posture made her move with grace and arrogance.

They had gone less than a block when Jess spoke. “What is sprint and why do you insist on calling my home by that awful name?”

“Sprint is a long distance carrier,” she answered, just to be obstinate.

“What?”

“Forget it. I was just trying to explain to you that I didn’t feel like running to keep up with you.”

“My apologies.”

“You need to work on your delivery, Jess. You don’t sound very apologetic.”

“Perhaps it has something to do with our current circumstances.”

Danielle heard the mockery in her voice and it irritated her. “I’m not real thrilled with things, either. If you think you’re being inconvenienced, try being transported in time to a place without a hair dryer or dental floss.” She felt the pinch of Jess’s hands grasping her arms as Jess yanked her off the walkway and shoved her against a building. She didn’t need to see her eyes to feel them boring into her. The short, irritated breaths told her Jess was angry. “Let go, Jess!”

“Be quiet!” Jess gave her a gentle shake. “I haven’t yet discovered your game, but I will not allow you to continue this nonsense about time travel and such.”

“You will not allow?” Danielle couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “I don’t really give a damn what you will or won’t allow. All I care about is figuring out how to get back to where I belong and away from you.”

Several tense seconds passed when neither spoke. It was a classic standoff and an even more classic battle of wills. And Danielle was determined not to blink first.

Jess’s hands fell away, releasing her. “It’s late.” With that, she turned and briskly walked through the darkness, leaving Danielle to follow.

Danielle lingered against the building, weighing her options and battling with the anger still churning in her stomach. Maybe she should go to Madeline’s. The thought brightened her spirits remarkably. She tried to find her bearings in the darkness and figure out which way to go. It wasn’t an easy task. All she knew was that Madeline’s apothecary was across the street from The Station. Lifting the hems of the many annoying layers of skirts, Danielle followed in the direction where Jess had disappeared, wishing she had taken the time to memorize their route on the way to attend Sara’s labor. She was aided in her trek by dim candlelight from some of the homes, but she felt strangely ill at ease. Her footsteps echoed against the stone street. It was a cruel reminder that she was alone.

She quickened her pace, keeping close to the buildings and their ornate fences. She paused briefly at each street corner, trying to find her way. She stopped once, just to see if she could hear the sound of Jess’s footsteps ahead. Nothing. Anxiety quickly gave way to annoyance when she knew she was lost in the back alleys of the city. “Just one more reason to hate that woman,” she grumbled as she decided to turn left at the next corner. She was fairly certain that she needed to go east. She was less certain that east was to the left, but she figured she had a fifty-fifty shot. The turn placed her on a wider residential street lined by large homes with arches and gated gardens. Breathing a sigh of relief, Danielle was assured she was headed in the right general direction. All she needed to do was find the lights from the harbor and she could work her way back. She had reached the third cross street, when she felt a hand touch her shoulder from behind. She fairly jumped at the unexpected contact.

“Don’t turn around, Miss Hamilton.”

Danielle didn’t recognize the voice beyond the fact that the speaker was a woman.

“If you marry Jess Blain, I’ll kill you.”

“Who the hell are you?” Danielle shrugged off the hand and turned to face the woman.

A very feminine gasp fell from beneath the black veil covering the face. The woman was much taller than Danielle, but apparently not terribly assertive. She cowered against the stone arch almost instantly.

“I asked you a question?” Danielle’s voice was more forceful. She took a step closer, which seemed to send the woman into a panic.

“I…meant…what…I…said,” the woman stammered in a cultured southern accent.

“Jeez.” Danielle reached forward and ripped the veil and hat from the woman’s head. Ignoring her second gasp, Danielle tossed the items into the gutter. “Now, can we stop playing cloak and dagger and will you tell me why you’re threatening me?”

Light from a window above the garden cast a yellowish shadow across the woman’s face. Then Danielle amended mentally, not a woman, a girl. She looked to be somewhere around seventeen or eighteen, tops. She also looked scared to death.

“You can’t harm me, Miss Hamilton.”

Danielle rolled her eyes. “You’re the one making death threats.”

“I can’t let you marry her.”

“Then we have some common ground.”

The girl’s expression brightened. “But Father said you were to marry.”

Danielle shook her head. “Father?”

“Harold Weatherly is my father.”

“And you are?

“Nora Weatherly.”

“Okay, so now I understand why you don’t want me to marry Jess, but I–”

“Jess loves me.” The girl blurted the words out like the answer to a question on a game show.

“Time out.” Instantly seeing the confusion register on the girl’s face, she translated her slang. “Wait a minute. Wasn’t Jess married to your sister?”

The girl’s lashes fluttered as her eyes dropped. “That was Father’s doing.”

“But your father said Jess killed your sister.”

The girl’s face instantly closed as she hurriedly turned away. “I have to go!” She slipped inside the gate and secured the latch.

Danielle considered calling her back or even pounding on the gate, but she didn’t dare if there was a chance Harold Weatherly was in the vicinity. That man wanted her arrested by the Confederacy.

“There you are!” Jess growled. “What are you doing all the way over here?”

“Being threatened by your sweet, young plaything!”

“This is not the best place for us to be, Danielle.”

Danielle pointed to the house. “Do the Weatherlys live here?”

Danielle could see her eyebrows pull together in confusion. “No. George Blaken lives here.”

She asked her next question as Jess took her elbow and hurried her into the shadows and down the street. “Who is he?”

“He’s a barrister. He works closely with the Confederate regiment here in Charleston, acting as a prosecutor in civil matters.”

“What’s your girlfriend doing hanging at his place?”

Jess stopped in her tracks. “Who was hanged?”

“Not hanging as in execution. Hanging as in hanging around. Staying with him.”

“What girlfriend?”

“Your sister-in-law.” Danielle’s voice was sing-song intended to irritate Jess. “Nora, the one who looked young enough to be your daughter.”

Jess said nothing as they zigzagged through the streets until they reached the back entrance of The Station. After seeing her inside, Jess lit several lamps, which filled the first floor with light.

Danielle tossed her cape over the back of a chair and started for the stairs.

“Where do you think you are going?”

“To bed.” Danielle didn’t turn to face her. She stopped on the first step. “I’ve had a rather trying night.”

”Then you must appreciate how my life as been these past few weeks.”

She did not turn, but she didn’t continue up the stairs. She wanted to scream that she didn’t care. She wanted to know that she would wake up in the morning and everything would be back to normal. She stood at the foot of the stairs and remained silent.

“Please stay.” Her voice was so soft Danielle almost didn’t hear her.

Against her better judgment, she joined Jess in the drawing room. Danielle found her stirring the fire back to life. In no time flames crackled as the fire danced along the edges of the logs, adding genuine warmth to the room. Danielle moved to stand near the hearth, only now realizing that she was chilled. Her eyes followed Jess as she went and poured two glasses of brandy. Jess held out one of the glasses to her. “I shouldn’t.”

One dark brow arched. “You don’t care for spirits?”

“It is the glass.” She smiled at the admission. “And the decanter. The lead from leaded crystal actually seeps into whatever is stored there. Lead poisoning has been proved to cause everything from brain damage to learning disabilities.”

Jess smiled as she shook her head. Amusement lightened her sad, gray eyes. “You truly do have an odd base of knowledge, Miss Hamilton. If I didn’t know better, I might actually believe your claims of being from another time.”

“What would it take to convince you?” Danielle accepted the glass and sipped the brandy while she awaited her answer.

“This is a frivolous conversation.”

“You’re the one who wanted to talk. Tell me what I would have to do to convince you that I am from the year 2004?”

“Will this war be over quickly, as so many believe?”

Danielle placed her glass on the mantel and tried not to think about how devastatingly striking Jess looked in her dark jacket, white shirt and black ascot. She had to try harder when Jess shrugged out of the jacket, leaving her an unobstructed view of her well-developed arms encased in fine silk. Danielle met her eyes and spoke softly. “Of course not. This war lasts until 1865, but you don’t have to worry. For some reason known only to God and General Sherman, he spares Charleston and burns Columbia, instead. Of course, he does a real number on Atlanta.” She watched as Jess’s expression darkened. Immediately, she felt herself grow defensive. “So don’t believe me. I really don’t give a damn.”

“Who taught you to speak in such colorful terms?”

“College, I guess. Most of my buddies were guys, so I seem to have picked up some of their bad habits.”

“It really isn’t befitting a proper Southern lady.”

”I’m not a proper Southern lady, Jess. I’m a forensic pathologist.”

”A what?”

“A doctor who performs medical-legal autopsies.”

“You mean to tell me that you perform surgery on the dead?”

“I examine the remains of the deceased to determine cause and manner of death.”

“Who would allow such a thing?”

Danielle laughed. “Don’t look so disgusted, Jess. In my time, what I do is considered a great service to the community. You remember I mentioned Mr. Wallace?”

“The man who supposedly gave you Lillian’s locket?”

Danielle bristled, but she let the barb pass. “His infant son was found dead in his crib. The police were ready to charge him and his wife with the murder of the baby boy. Autopsy showed that the baby died from SIDS.”

”SIDS?”

“It’s a terrible condition that seems to strike babies in their first year. They simply stop breathing and die.”

“And you can tell such a thing just by examining the…corpse?”

Danielle didn’t think Jess was ready to hear all about the actual steps in the autopsy procedure, so she just said, “I do a very thorough examination.”

Jess tugged the rawhide lace from her hair, then raked her fingers nervously through the long, ebony strands. “You’re very convincing.”

Danielle was surprised. “Then you believe me, finally?”

Her smile was just a tad patronizing. “You haven’t told me anything that I can actually verify.”

“Okay. This is the end of November. On December 11th, half this city will burn to the ground.”

Jess snorted, obviously unconvinced. “Really, Danielle.”

“Yes, really. The fire will start at night near the foot of Crane Street.”

“Why? What starts the fire?”

“No one really knew. The theory was that the Confederate troops were angry when they couldn’t get you wealthy folks to hand over your slaves to help them in The Cause.” Danielle sneered through the last of her comment, hoping Jess might comprehend that she actually did know what she was talking about.

Jess fell into a chair and downed the rest of her drink in a single swallow.

“Oh and you really should send your valuables north for the duration of the war. Pillaging will be rampant when things start to heat up. I heard Mrs. McGrady call you a lord. Can’t you go to wherever you are a lord and live instead of here in this war?”

Jess shook her head and the grin she offered was almost charming. “My name has the title, lord, attached to it, but they do not know that the name belongs to a woman. Besides, I will be busy during this time with important matters.”

“Which is?”

Jess regarded her for a long, silent moment. “Currently, I’m planning on marrying you.”

“I was being serious.”

“As was I.”

“I will do anything to keep from marrying you.”

“You’re welcome to try.”

“I won’t have to try very hard. I’ll simply refuse.”

”It won’t matter. Daniel McKinney is the closest thing we have to law right now. Your refusal won’t matter much to him.”

”Daniel isn’t like that.” Danielle sat her glass down on the end table beside her hard. That got her attention. “Daniel is a kind, fair man who won’t idly sit by and let anyone force anyone else into anything. Especially not a marriage. To a woman at that.”

Jess sighed. “But he will. Is it that I’m a woman that bothers you?”

“He will not and no it’s not that you’re a woman. I don’t understand how you got these people to give you the same rights as the men. Still, man or woman, you are arrogant, stubborn, and you threatened to kill me.”

“I had to threaten to kill you in order to protect others, including myself. As for Sheriff McKinney, he will when he understands that the alternative is that I turn you over to Captain Fourcade to be tried for treason.”

“Jess!” Danielle rushed over to kneel in front of her. Without thinking, Danielle placed her hands atop Jess’s, but removed them immediately when she felt the warmth of Jess’s skin. “It seems to me that you already have a boatload of troubles in this town. The last thing you need is some sham marriage that will only irritate Weatherly and his Confederate cronies.”

Jess leaned forward and lifted her, pulling Danielle into her lap. Her brandy scented breath filled the air separating their faces. Danielle felt the strong thighs beneath her bottom and the strong shoulders where she pressed against Jess. Danielle’s body reacted, warming her all over and inspiring her heart rate to a new level.

Catching a lock of Danielle’s hair between her thumb and forefinger, Jess studied it for a moment before turning those bone melting gray eyes on her. “Sham, Danielle?”

Flattening her palms against the front of Jess’s shoulders, she gave a small push. It proved to be a futile effort. Jess had wrapped her hand around her waist and was holding her firmly in place. “Don’t do this, Jess.” Danielle wondered why so little of her mental conviction had found its way into her tone.

“Don’t do this?” Her lips brushed against Danielle’s cheek. “Or this?” She whispered the words just before delivering the most feather light kiss Danielle had ever experienced.

Her fingers moved through Danielle’s hair, gently pushing aside the long mass to position Danielle’s mouth beneath hers. The sensations came in a burst of light and fire. Warmth traveled from her slightly parted lips through to the very core of her being. A moan rumbled in her throat when Jess’s tongue flicked out to tease her.

As if acting of their own volition, Danielle’s hands slid up over her shoulders and clutched the back of her shirt. She held on while Jess’s mouth took her to a place she had never been before. Every cell in her body was filled with an unfamiliar longing. It was a fierce need that seemed fully capable of short circuiting all her brain functions.

Slowly, Jess lifted her head, revealing half closed eyes that shimmered with unfulfilled passion. “I don’t believe ‘sham’ is an apt description.”

The even tone of her delivery belied the look in her eyes. It did however completely douse Danielle’s desires and awaken her temper. “How about farce, then? Why don’t you just marry Nora? She’s definitely interested.”

Jess gave a dismissive shake of her head. “She’s a child!”

“Isn’t that how you people like them? Young and stupid?”

“You people?”

“Your culture.” She got to her feet. Part of her was annoyed that she hadn’t done so sooner. Yet another part was disappointed when Jess made no move to stop her. “Aren’t you supposed to be married by the age of twelve or something?”

”How old are you?” Her tone was conversational.

Her sudden change in mood was baffling to Danielle and a bit irritating. “I’m twenty-nine.”

“You can kiss like that and you’ve never been married?”

“Nope. I’ve never wanted to be married. Besides it’s not legal in my time.”

“Marriage isn’t legal it your time?”

Danielle just thought that Jess was surprised before, now it was obvious she was shocked. Danielle let out a frustrated groan. “Marriage is legal. It’s just not legal for people like me.”

Jess shook her head. Her expression deteriorated. “What do you mean people like you?”

“Must I say it? I’m a homosexual. It’s not legal for gays to get married.” She shook her head then calmed down a bit. “No wonder you and Madeline get along so well.”

Now Jess had a confused look on her face. “Homosexual?”

Danielle was very uncomfortable with this conversation and getting more uncomfortable by the second. “My sexual preference is…women.” Danielle derived great pleasure from watching the faint pink stain crawl across the woman’s bronzed cheeks. “How about you?” She knew the answer to the question, of course, but she wanted to try and make Jess as uncomfortable as she was.

The stoic woman’s facial expression changed yet again. This time it was disbelief and confusion. It was fascinating to watch. “What about me?”

Danielle gave an innocent, sweet smile. “Does your sexual taste run toward women or do you prefer men?”

Jess caught on to her little fun. She tilted her head and enjoyed the smile on Danielle’s face. “I believe I have proved myself, Miss Hamilton.”

This time Danielle blushed. “Let’s call this one a draw.”

“Yes, let’s. I’ve made arrangements for you to be fitted for a gown at Anna’s shop tomorrow.”

“Gown for what, Jess?”

“For the wedding.”

“Anna makes dresses?” Danielle was truly shocked. “I can’t imagine her with a needle and thread in hand.”

“She runs the shop. She’s made quite a success of it.”

“Too bad The Wizard of Oz doesn’t come out for another seventy-eight years. Dorothy had the same trouble I seemed to be having. Except I don’t think I can click my heels together and get back to Kansas.”

“So you’re actually from Kansas?”

“Dorothy was from Kansas.” She groaned her frustration. “I was just trying to make a point. A point I can’t make without explaining too many other things. Dorothy is a fictional character who hits her head and has a dream that’s filled with people she knows, but they don’t know her. Just like Madeline, Anna and Daniel have no idea who I am, but I know all about them.”

“You are a gifted storyteller, Miss Hamilton.”

“Right, that’s how I was able to save your life and Sara’s.” Grabbing her skirts, Danielle prepared to stomp off.

“I never did thank you.”

“No, you didn’t.”

”I do appreciate what you did, Danielle.”

“I would have done the same thing for anyone. Even Captain Fourcade. It is what I’m trained to do.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Perhaps you can offer your services to The Cause after the wedding.”

”There isn’t going to be a wedding.” Danielle tone was firm.

“Yes, there is. The day after tomorrow at noon.”

Danielle stormed out of the room without comment.

**********

Jess regarded the stubby man in the chair across for her. “Was it you?” The generous amount of perspiration beading on Canton’s balking head didn’t escape her.

“Of course not! I need you too much to do something as stupid as killing you. But that woman is another matter altogether.”

It took a great deal of effort to keep her expression bland. “Miss Hamilton is not a topic for open discussion. I believe we were discussing–”

“You might have fooled Fourcade and Weatherly, but I was there, Blain. Miss Hamilton was not wandering around Blazenwood that night in search of a husband or hus…whatever you are.”

Jess smiled and let out a slow breath. “What can I say. Miss Hamilton simply misunderstood Mrs. Yeager’s instructions and went to Blazenwood instead of meeting me here in town. A simple matter of miscommunication.”

“You expect me to believe that you actually intend to marry that woman?”

“Yes, tomorrow as planned. Neither of us sees any valid reason to delay, what with the war and all.”

Canton rose and began to pace nervously. “This wasn’t part of our arrangement, Blain. How can I be assured that your…lady friend won’t destroy everything we’ve put into place?”

“I am fully capable of controlling my…lady friend.”

Canton smiled appreciatively. “You did a fine job with the first lady.”

Jess felt every muscle in her body coil. “Meaning?”

Canton moved closer and began speaking in a conspiratorial whisper. “I’ve assumed that Lillian became aware of our activities and left you no choice but to….” Canton didn’t finish the thought.

He didn’t have to. Jess was well aware of the fact that Canton, just like the Weatherlys, George Blaken, and much of the rest of Charleston society was convinced Jess had killed Lillian. Their suspicions weren’t without basis, she silently acknowledged. Everyone knew she had never been in love with Lillian. Just as, if Mrs. McGrady’s gossiping was to carry any weight, everyone believed her impending marriage to Danielle was nothing more than a calculated move to redeem herself in their eyes. Word of how Danielle had saved both Sara and her infant son had spread faster than flood waters from the river. “Miss Hamilton will not be of concern to you.”

“But what if Fourcade pushes the issue with Blaken? You know he’d do anything to get even with you for Lillian’s murder. And I’m not convinced that he believed your story about Miss Hamilton being forced to advertise for a husband. Especially after he had a look at her.”

Jess was distracted by what Canton had said, but she didn’t let Canton know. “Blaken can’t do anything.” Her mind immediately produced Danielle’s image, as it had done time and time again since their initial meeting. Danielle was such a unique creature. She was strong, intelligent and truly beautiful. If only she would desist from telling her fantasies about being from another time. If only she would behave in a more fitting manner. If only she didn’t want her so badly.

**********

Madeline and Danielle stepped from the house before Madeline questioned Danielle’s mood. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t like Mr. Canton.” She didn’t admit to Madeline that she’d been eavesdropping on the conversation between Canton and Jess.

Madeline chuckled. “Few people do.”

“Why are you coming, too?” Danielle took in Madeline’s outlandish outfit as the woman opened a parasol against the midafternoon sun. The parasol, gown, hat, and gloves were all constructed in a vivid shade of fuchsia.

“Jess asked me to.”

“And you do whatever she asks?” Danielle was unable to keep the censure from her voice.

Madeline nodded. “Usually.”

“Why?”

“She is good people, Danielle.”

Danielle squinted against the sunshine, her tired eyes burning from lack of sleep. “If you’re into murders.”

“She didn’t kill Lillian.”

“How do you know that? I’ve never once heard her deny it.”

“Here we are.” Madeline ignored Danielle’s question. Apparently, she considered the topic of Lillian off limits.

The words McKinney Dressmaking formed a golden arch above a beautifully painted gown that reminded Danielle of the fashion plates she’d seen reproduced in magazine articles. Danielle stepped inside the shop. “Oh, my.” Her startled utterance was met by two troubled sets of eyes. “Sandy?”

The tall, thin redhead came forward her dark blue eyes a mixture of curiosity and recognition. “You’re Danielle. I knew you were coming.”

“Don’t start that!” Madeline growled as she stepped forward and gave Danielle’s arm a slight tug. “You’ll have to excuse Miss Wilburn. She’s good with a needle and thread, but she has some strange habits and beliefs.”

“I know.” Danielle turned back and met Sandy’s eyes. “She studies numerology, tarot and pyramids.”

Sandy’s jaw dropped open. “I saw this in the cards! I knew I was going to be visited by a special presence. You must be psychic, too.”

“Demented,” Madeline grumbled. “Anna, do something with them.”

Anna came forward and whispered something into Sandy’s ear. Whatever it was, it left the woman looking positively crestfallen.

“But–”

Anna voice became stern. “No more! Miss Hamilton is here to have her gown made, not to be lectured on the strange concepts you brought back from your trip to New Orleans. I swear, Sandy, I’m sorry now that I sent you there in the first place.”

“Then how did she know my name and so much about me?”

Madeline answered the question quickly. “I told her.” Madeline then gave Danielle a withering look that just dared her to challenge the lie. “We’d best get on with it, ladies. The wedding is tomorrow.”

If there’s going to be a wedding, Danielle mouthed as she was led into a back room and assisted out of the top layers of her clothing.

“Because we have so little time, I thought it would be best if we simply altered one of the patterns.” Anna pulled out an ornate white gown with lots of lace, pearls and satin as she continued to explain. “It shouldn’t take much to fit you to this one. If you approve, that is.”

Danielle exhaled. “I don’t really give a damn one way or another.”

Anna sighed. “Oh, dear.” Whether it was because of Danielle’s language or her lack of interest wasn’t clear.

Madeline was grinning as she pulled one of her cigarettes from her wrist purse and placed it in the holder. “Not exactly your normal, gushing bride.”

Danielle stood still while Anna and Sandy tugged the heavy garment over her head and had her stand atop a wooden platform. Danielle was shocked by her reflection in the mirror. She might not feel like a bride, but she sure looked the part. The dress was so flattering to her shape and size it almost seemed as if it had been designed with her in mind. Yards of stiff, white fabric floated out from her small waist, while the bodice lovingly hugged and accented her curves.

The three women were all admiring Danielle, complimenting her on various aspects of the gown, as well as her choice in choosing a woman.

As if I had a choice, Danielle thought bitterly. “Is this the same dress the first Mrs. Blain wore?”

Danielle’s question caused an immediate silence in the room. Anna and Sandy looked horribly uncomfortable. Madeline just looked mad.

“Am I supposed to ignore the fact that she killed a woman?” She continued, mainly to antagonize Madeline. “If she holds true to form, I’ll be dead by tomorrow night.”

“Enough!” Madeline shouted. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Danielle.”

“Because no one will talk to me. All I know is that the woman was thrown from a second story window in Jess Blain’s bedroom. I know someone tried to kill Jess, probably in retribution for Lillian’s death. If I don’t marry Jess, I’ll probably be hanged by the Confederacy and if I do marry Jess, Nora Weatherly has promised to kill me. So cut me some slack if I don’t feel much like a blushing bride.”

“Nora Weatherly?” Anna’s voice gave away that she was shocked.

Danielle nodded. “She stopped me on the street last night and announced that Jess was in love with her.” Danielle saw Madeline’s expression change. It was a subtle change, but noticeable nonetheless.

Madeline narrowed her eyes. “Is that why you’re so out of sorts? Because you think Jess is in love with that willful child, Nora?”

“I’m out of sorts for a whole lot of reasons.”

“She is the perfect man if you ask me.” Sandy chuckled. “I’d marry her if her aura wasn’t in such poor shape.”

“Sandy!” Madeline and Anna warned in unison.

The woman offered a petulant look. “I just meant that she’s so secretive. She’s not much like the others in this town. She’s such an unusual mix of danger and attractiveness. I’ve never met or heard of anyone like her.”

Danielle mumbled, “Neither have I.”

Sandy began marking a hem on the gown. “I mean, she’s nothing like the others that can choose to marry you. Like Captain Fourcade or George Blaken. Not that I’d turn either one of those men down. Especially not that attractive Captain Bruce Fourcade.”

Everyone just looked at Sandy when her voice took on that dreamy tone. “Well, I do like an attractive man, but Jess is still a woman.”

Anna stepped in to help Sandy on the dress. “I think you’re beginning to annoy Miss Hamilton, Sandy. She didn’t come here to hear your opinions of the eligible men in Charleston or your opinion on Jessyln Blain.”

Danielle looked up from her dress. “Jessyln?” She laughed. “I don’t even know her full name. This is insane.”

Sandy started again. “You have plenty of time for all of that. You’re so lucky. I bet you’d given up on getting married at your age.”

“Sandy!” Anne looked shocked and embarrassed. “Apologize this instant!”

“I didn’t mean any disrespect, Miss Hamilton. I guess I did sound rather impolite.”

“No harm done. But there will come a time when women decide to find themselves before they commit to someone else.”

Sandy looked confused. “They become lost? Did you have a premonition?”

”Good gracious!” Madeline blew out an annoyed stream of smoke. “Just ignore Danielle’s odd use of expressions. She spent far too long in the West. We’ll have to work on restoring her vocabulary to something more appropriate for correct society.”

“Why don’t we work on telling me something’s about Jess? Like why was she with Lillian if she didn’t love her?’

Madeline’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Where did you hear that?”

“Jess.” Danielle failed to tell them that Jess had been speaking to Canton at the time and she had been hiding in the hallway, hanging on every word.

Madeline stubbed out her cigarette, her brow wrinkling as she, apparently, considered what to tell Danielle. “She needed access to Weatherly’s wharf to get her crop from Blazenwood to Europe. Weatherly would agree to give a fifty percent share to Jess only if she took his eldest daughter off his hands.

“She married Lillian to get access to a wharf?” Danielle couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “How unfathomable.”

“How practical,” Anna replied. “Lillian was a bit spirited and her father thought marrying her off to Jess would quell her rather wild tendencies. He’d probably have done the same to poor Nora had she not gone to live with the Blakens.”

“Nora is living with George Blaken?”

Anna nodded. “And his frail mother. Mrs. Blaken hasn’t been well for years. Before that, Nora had planned to live with Jess and Lillian.”

“Well, poor Nora had enough presence of mind to threaten me. Wait! Was Nora in the house the night Lillian died?”

“Yes, she was in the house.” Anna paused a moment and her eyes got wide. “But you can’t possibly think–”

“She said she was willing to kill me to have Jess. Think she might have done her sister in for the same reason?”

Madeline pointed her finger at Danielle. “Now you really do sound affected. Nora idolized her elder sister. There’s no way she would have harmed her.”

Danielle shrugged. “Then I guess that leaves Jess as the only suspect.”

Sandy spoke directly to Danielle. “Now you sound like Mr. Blaken. He’s been saying that all over town ever since they found her body.”

“Well, he’s wrong.” Madeline’s tone and demeanor indicated that she firmly believed in Jess’s innocence.

“Friends or not, Daniel would have arrested Jess if he thought she was guilty of killing that girl.”

Danielle turned her attention to Anna. “Did Daniel investigate?”

Anna nodded. “Of course. Jess heard Lillian scream–”

Madeline interrupted. “I think this is something Jess and Danielle should discuss between themselves.”

Anna conceded. “You’re right. Daniel would not appreciate it if he knew I was even discussing such matters.”

Danielle squared her shoulders. “Well, I’m not sure I can marry anyone without knowing the truth.”

All the women looked at each other.

**********

Jess watched as Thomas ladled a thick soup into their bowls. “We’ve already been over this, Danielle.”

Danielle sat across from her at the highly polished mahogany table, watching the candlelight reflected in Jess’s eyes. Jess looked exceptionally stunning. The crisp, white shirt contrasted nicely with her exotically dark coloring. She had left her black hair free, allowing it to brush the tops of her shoulders. Definitely the dark and dangerous type, Danielle thought as she struggled to keep her mind focused on the conversation. “Jess, if you expect me to go through with this wedding, then you’re going to have to be a bit more forthcoming about yourself.”

“There’s nothing about me you need to know, other than the fact that I am full capable of seeing to your needs.”

“You don’t know me, so what makes you think you can possibly know my needs?”

Jess lay her spoon next to her bowl, rested her elbows on the table and steepled her fingers. Her eyes met Danielle’s. “Like other women, I assume you require the basic comforts.”

“Like other women?” Danielle laughed without humor. “Don’t give me that shit, Jess! You’re a woman! You know–”

“Stop! I asked you to control that language of yours. I will not ask again.” Jess took a deep breath. “As far as my being a woman. My needs, I have learned are not the same as most women. I do not require most comforts.”

Danielle nodded firmly and decided to try another way. “I’m sure I can get food, clothing and shelter from the local parish.” Her voice was getting louder as she went on. “I know you got a wharf privilege out of your first marriage. What do you expect to get out of this one?” She felt a small measure of satisfaction in that brief instant when surprise registered in Jess’s eyes.

Jess recovered quickly. “After last night, I would think the answer to that was obvious.”

It was Danielle’s turn to be surprised. “You’re marrying me for sex?”

Jess closed her eyes, obviously unhappy with Danielle’s frankness. She opened her eyes and smiled. “It is a common practice between married couples.”

Danielle shook her head. “Not this married couple!”

“I’m afraid that is nonnegotiable. I’ve had one unconsummated marriage. I don’t intend to suffer another.”

“You mean you and Lillian never…”

“Of course not!”

“But I heard she was pretty wild. If you kissed her the way you kiss me, I don’t…” Danielle snapped her mouth shut, realizing too late what she had revealed.

Her meaning wasn’t lost on Jess and Jess acted almost instantaneously. She rounded the table and gathered Danielle against her, immediately locking their lips. She felt Danielle’s reluctance, but not as strongly as she felt Danielle’s response. Danielle’s initial rigidness soon gave way to compliance as Jess teased her lips apart.

Jess felt as if her body would implode. Her desire for Danielle was strong, almost overpowering in its intensity. What was worse, or better, was the way Danielle moved against her. Jess never had a woman respond so honestly, so completely. It was as if Danielle wasn’t the least bit ashamed of her desires and that only added fuel to her own desire.

Jess wanted to have her right then and there. Nothing seemed as important as her fierce need to feel Danielle beneath her. She wondered if Danielle’s skin was as silky as her hair. She wondered if Danielle would make love with the same abandon she displayed whenever she returned the kisses. Jess wondered if she could wait another twelve hours for them to be together. Jess broke the kiss, but did not back away. “You’re driving me mad, Danielle.”

Jess finally released her and held out Danielle’s chair for her. Danielle looked at her as she sat down. “I think you do that so we can’t have a conversation.”

Jess shrugged. “Perhaps.” She was just sorry Danielle wasn’t the type of woman to be kissed speechless.

Danielle waited until Jess was seated and had her spoon in hand. “What exactly are you and Canton into?”

“I don’t want to talk about Canton.”

”And you didn’t want to talk about me to him, either. But I’m not as easily put off as he was.”

Jess felt her grip tighten on the utensil. “You were listening to my conversation?”

”Yes.” There was no apology in Danielle’s tone.

“That will prove a very dangerous habit, Danielle. Don’t do it again.”

Danielle’s voice changed from insistent to pleading. “Then talk to me. Part of me still believes that I’m dreaming and I’ll wake up and be safe in my own bed. Another part of me is starting to think all this is real.”

“I am real, Danielle.”

“Not that,” Danielle said quietly. “My being here goes against everything I ever learned. People don’t just zip into another time. But so far, I can’t seem to figure out how or why I’m here.”

“You’re here to marry me, since your family has fallen on hard times and cannot possibly afford to continue with you maintenance.”

“C’mon, Jess. That pile of garbage was all in Madeline’s imagination.”

Danielle’s expression was a melding of frustration, fear and confusion and it seemed to inspire all of Jess’s protective instincts. It also reminded her that Danielle was delusional enough to be considered for commitment. But then, Jess had seen what Danielle had done with Sara. Was it really possible. Besides, when she first came to this town they were determined to commit her. When that didn’t work, they wanted her dead. Now…

Jess felt the need to remind her of something positive about the lie. “It worked, though. It kept you from being arrested.”

“Why do you care if I get arrested?” Danielle’s eyes were flashing with challenge. “Why would you go to such lengths, when all you had to do was hand me over to Captain Fourcade?”

“Because he would have you killed.”

Danielle took in a breath and exhaled slowly. “As I recall, you were ready to kill me on a couple of different occasions.”

“So long as you do as I say, you needn’t worry that any harm will come to you.”

Danielle smiled. “Obeying has never been one of my strong suits.”

“No, I don’t imagine it has been.”

“What if I just left, Jess? Give me back the locket and I’ll go someplace else until I can figure out how to get back to my own time.”

Jess sighed. “I can’t let you do that.”

“Why? I know you don’t really want to marry me, so it isn’t that.”

Jess got up, checked that none of the servants were by the door, then returned to her seat. “I do want to marry you.”

“Bull–”

“I would rather marry you than turn you over to Canton, who would surely kill you. Since you saved my life, I think it only fitting that I return the favor.”

“A simple thank you was enough.” Danielle lowered her eyes to her dinner. “Please, Jess, just let me leave.”

“I can’t, Danielle.” She waited on Danielle to look up. “I would be risking myself and countless others. You know too much.”

“I don’t know anything! That’s why we’re having this conversation.”

Jess nodded once. “True. I suppose if you’re going to be convinced that we have no alternatives, I should tell you what I can.”

“Finally!”

“I’m a spy, Danielle.”

Danielle stared for a moment before speaking. “Obviously, you feel a strong allegiance to The Cause and all, but the Union army will win and since the Confederacy wasn’t real good at cryptology, most all the spies are caught and–”

“You misunderstand, Danielle. I’m working to preserve the Union.”

“The Union? You’re a Northern spy?”

”Hush!” It was a softly commanding tone. “Now I hope you can appreciate that I cannot permit you to leave here under any circumstances.”

Danielle glared at her. “You told me that just so you’d have something to hold me here. That was a cheap trick, Jess.”

“You’re the one who seemed to need convincing.”

“But you didn’t have to admit that. And Canton works with you, so that explains why he’s in such a hurry to see me dead. He’s afraid I’ll give you away.”

“Precisely.”

“That’s why he identified me to Captain Fourcade. He was hoping he could get the Confederate army to do his dirty work for him.”

“Right again.”

“And you think he’s the one who shot you that night?”

Jess rubbed her brow with her fingers. “I considered that.”

“And he denied it.”

“Canton needs me. I’m his only source of information regarding shipments out of England.”

“Then he probably wouldn’t shoot you.”

Jess calmly stated another possibility. “But he might have been aiming for you.”

A shiver danced along Danielle’s spine. “I’ve never been this unpopular in my life.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think Canton is the responsible party.”

“Unless Nora is psychic and knew I was here, that means you had to be the target that night.”

Jess nodded as casually as if Danielle had just told her the correct time.

“How many people know you’re a spy?”

“Three, including you.”

“I didn’t shoot you.”

“I know. Nor did Canton. And the third person couldn’t possibly have anything to do with it.”

“Who is the third person, Jess?”

Jess shook her head, the candlelight picking up the blue-black highlights in her hair. “Sorry, Danielle.”

“I don’t like secrets. Especially the kind that can get me killed. If I know who the third person is, I can keep my eyes open.”

“That isn’t necessary. The person is no threat to either of us.”

Jess said it with such finality that Danielle knew she would remove her own spleen with an fork before she would reveal the name. “Then I guess that means you’ve decided that whoever shot you was trying to get even for Lillian’s murder.”

Jess’s lips pulled into a tight line before she nodded. “It only stands to reason.”

Danielle met and held her eyes, staring deep into their gray pools. “Madeline, Anna and Sandy all believe you didn’t kill her.”

“I know.”

Danielle’s gaze didn’t falter. “If you want me to do this, Jess, I have to know it, too.”

Jess’s expression never wavered as she spoke in a quiet even tone. “I didn’t kill her.”

With those words, the conversation ended. Neither knowing what more could be said.

**********

Danielle was up early the next morning, trying to decide what to do. She hugged the edges of her robe tightly together as she whispered to herself. “How far can I get on foot when the countryside is swarming with trigger happy soldiers enthusiastic for battle?” As she stood next to the window, a flash of black drew her eyes to the street below. Recognizing Jess’s unmistakable stride she muttered to herself. “Where is she going?”

She decided if Jess was out of the house then she could possibly find where she hid the locket. Wasting no time, Danielle slipped from her room and padded barefoot across the hall. Mindful of the servants, she eased open the door. The room seemed to suit what she knew about Jess. The furniture was huge, constructed in dark, rich woods with deep carvings. The walls were adorned with an eclectic mixture of heavily framed oils and interesting sand paintings. Knowing she didn’t have much time, she moved first to the huge dresser. The drawer squeaked loudly as she pulled it open. She reached in and felt beneath the clothing. Nothing. She did the same with each of the eight drawers. Nothing.

Moving to the wardrobe, she pulled open the doors and found another set of drawers beneath the neatly hung collection of clothing. She was rifling the third drawer when she heard a noise behind her. “Jess?”

“Looking for something?”

Danielle felt her face flame as she slammed closed the doors. “I was looking for the locket.”

Jess didn’t appear angry. In fact, she acted as if she’d been expecting that very answer. “I have it, Danielle.” She tossed her scarf onto the high bed, avoiding the carefully laid out suit and shirt.

It was only then that Danielle realized they were the clothes Jess intended to wear to the wedding. It was a sobering thought. “None of this will be necessary if you’ll just give me back the locket. I got here when I put it on. It has to be the key to getting me back to where I belong.”

Jess leaned against the doorjamb and tilted her head. A slightly tolerant look softened her features. “If I let you try on the locket once again and nothing happens, what then?” She was taunting Danielle.

“Then …” Danielle paused to think of the right words that would prompt Jess to turn over the necklace. “Then I promise I will be completely cooperative with the wedding.”

Jess sighed. “Not quite good enough.”

“Then what?”

“You’ll be completely cooperative with the marriage.” Her gray eyes darkened slightly, leaving nothing to Danielle’s imagination.

“Jess!”

Jess shrugged. “Those are the terms.” She reached into her pocket and produced the locket, allowing it to dangle invitingly from her fingers. “Well?”

“You’re making a bad bargain.” She walked over and snatched the necklace from Jess, ignoring her smug expression in the process.

“I doubt it.” Her eyes roamed over the thin fabric of Danielle’s nightgown where her robe had fallen open.

Danielle gave her a reproachful glare. “We aren’t married yet!” She belted her robe and then slowly lifted the locket and placed it over her head. Closing her eyes, she waited.

“You’re still here.” Jess smiled and calm sarcasm dripped from her voice.

“I know that!” Danielle’s glare was almost as strong as her shouting voice. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples with her fingers. “I must have done something wrong. Something different.” She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to remember lunch on the veranda that day. Her head snapped up. “That’s it! I’m in the wrong place.”

Nearly shoving Jess out of the way, Danielle ran down the stairs and went out onto the side porch. Jess right on her heels.

“It isn’t proper for you to be out here in your current state of undress.”

“Hopefully, I won’t be out here long,” Danielle assured her as she took the locket off, rubbed it between her palms, then slipped it back around her neck.

“Enough of this foolishness,” she stated against Danielle’s ear before she forced her back inside.

Once they reached the middle of the parlor floor, Danielle snatched away from her. “You didn’t give it enough time!”

Jess stood over her, her palm held out. “I’ll take the locket now and you will go upstairs and begin preparations for the wedding.”

“But, Jess–”

“We had a deal,” Jess reminded her with that sexy half smile that produced that even sexier dimple. “I honored my part of the bargain. Now you’ll honor yours.”

Gritting her teeth, Danielle removed the necklace and placed it in Jess’s palm. The instant she did, Jess’s hand closed on hers. Jess brought it to her lips and while her eyes fixed on Danielle, she placed a light kiss on each knuckle. Obviously, she thought she could seduce away Danielle’s anger. She thought the mere touch of her mouth would be enough to make Danielle forget that she was trapped. If the weakness in Danielle’s knees was any indication, Jess was absolutely right.

*********

“Sit still so I can get this into your hair proper-like.” Mrs. McGrady’s tone sounded as if she were talking to a child.

“Sorry. I guess I’m just nervous.” She felt a harsh jab by the hairpin. “Ouch!”

“Sorry. I’m just trying to make sure they don’t show in your light hair.” Mrs. McGrady delivered a few more jabs before she seemed satisfied that the veil was securely fastened. Only then did she allow Danielle to turn toward the mirror. “The boss will be might pleased.” She showed Danielle an assured grin. “My Sara sends her best.”

“How is she feeling?” Danielle wished she had a curling iron so that she might do something just a bit more creative with her hair. However, considering her limited options, she had settled on allowing Mrs. McGrady to create ringlets. Feeling a little too much like an over-aged Shirley Temple, Danielle took the comb and began working with the curls left free of the veil.

“She’s feeling stronger every day. The baby is as healthy as a horse. Only, that idiot she married isn’t here, so she won’t give the boy a proper name. See here, what are you trying to do to your hair?”

“I’ll feel more like myself this way.” Danielle teased the curls into soft tendrils that framed her face.

“I see your point. Hurry now. It’s a long ride out to Maris.”

“Isn’t there a church here in town?” Danielle was not looking forward to a long carriage ride that would probably ruin her beautiful gown.

“Jess wants the service to take place there so that folks can gather at Blazenwood afterward.”

There was something about the way she wasn’t meeting Danielle’s eyes that made Danielle suspicious of the older woman. “What’s the real reason?”

“The priest who married her and the first missus refused to perform the ceremony. He had reservations about marrying them because Jess was a woman, but he liked her.”

Danielle nodded as she digested the information. She could hardly blame the man. He probably thought Jess had murdered the woman and didn’t want any part in a possible repeat of history.

Anna, Sandy and Madeline all arrived to help Danielle dress and to escort her to the church. “Was this her idea? Was she afraid I wouldn’t go?”

Anna looked up from working on the rows of buttons that fastened the sleeves. Her smile was polite. “I think she simply wanted to make sure that you got into this dress. She’s downstairs with Daniel. I’d be happy to ask her.”

Danielle sighed. “Maybe Daniel will talk her out of this.”

Madeline stopped primping her pile of hair. “I was told you had a change of heart. Jess said that you were ready and willing.”

“I’m doing it, right? I’m trussed up in more corsets and cloth than a mummy.”

“Have you ever seen a mummy?” Sandy asked excited. “I mean a real one? I did. It was on exhibit when I was in Boston buying fabric for–”

Madeline slapped Sandy on the back of her arm. “Hush up! I swear your infernal chatter could drive a person to drink.”

Anna clapped her hands together. “All done.”

Anna spun Danielle around to observe the overall effect. Her smile told Danielle more than any mirror could.

“You look stunning, Danielle.”

“I feel silly. This has all happened so fast that I don’t even have anyone to walk me down the aisle.”

Anna smiled. “Daniel’s going to do that before he stands up for Jess.”

Madeline held her hand out and gestured toward Anna as she spoke. “And Anna will act as your matron of honor.” When Danielle’s face must have registered surprise, Madeline went on. “According to your betrothed, I’m a bit…I believe her word was ‘flamboyant’ to stand before God and his followers.”

One look at Madeline’s attire attested to the truth of the concerns. Her gown was a bright russet, bordering on orange. Her hat, though much more simple than the highly decorated ones she favored, sported a single stuffed blue jay, pinned to one side.

Anna, on the other hand was dressed in a pale blue silk that complemented her dark coloring and very nearly matched her blue eyes. She looked elegant in the simple gown. Danielle couldn’t have asked for more and she couldn’t help but think that had this been happening in her own time, she would have asked these same people to perform these same duties.

*********

Danielle was in the second carriage of the caravan leaving the city. Given the fact that Jess had so many enemies, Danielle was stunned to realize how many guests would be in attendance. She looked at Anna with confusion. “Who are all these people?”

“Everyone who is anyone will be here. This is an event.”

“Freak show,” Danielle muttered. “But I was under the impression that all these people think Jess is a murderer. Even without the murder in question, I thought half the people hated her for having the same rights as a man.”

Madeline explained the happenings simply. “But they’ll gladly put those thoughts aside for the day, if it means attending a party at Blazenwood. Only a fool would miss an event at Blazenwood.”

Danielle hadn’t given the plantation much thought until then. Of course, she had more than an hour of a bumpy, jerky carriage ride to think. Blazenwood seemed somehow familiar. Maybe it was one of the plantations frequented by tourists. What would Jess think if she knew her home would someday be open to the public for a few dollars.

Danielle and Anna were ushered into an anteroom of the church. Her anxiety level was almost as high as the ceilings of the masonry building. She jumped when heard a distant crash that sounded like thunder. “Great! It’s going to rain.”

Anna gently touched Danielle’s arm. “That isn’t thunder. That’s cannon fire.”

Danielle smile was forced. “Rain would be better.”

“Don’t worry. Daniel checked and the ships are way up the river. They can’t possibly get here to spoil things for you.”

Danielle looked at the woman for some time, until it became apparent that she was making Anna nervous. “I’m sorry, it’s just that I do know you.”

Anna’s smile faltered.

“I know that your son, Tommy was kidnapped and I know how you anguished to get him back. I know that your daughter, Teresa wasn’t planned and that Daniel is one of six children. I know you were adopted by a loving stepfather. I know–”

Danielle’s words were cut off by the sudden appearance of Madeline, slipping through the door. Madeline looked from woman to woman before turning impatient green eyes on Danielle. “What did you say to Anna? You haven’t decided to make a run for it, have you?”

“It isn’t that,” Anna said in a raspy whisper.

“Then what? You aren’t ill, are you?” Madeline went to Anna’s side. “You’re not expecting again so soon, are you?”

Anna looked at Madeline and Danielle, trying to decide whether or not to remain silent. “Have you told her anything about me, Madeline?”

Madeline shook her head and shot Danielle a withering look.

“But she knows everything. She knows about me being adopted. No one except you and Daniel know that I was a foundling.”

*********

It could have been called the wedding of the stone statues, Danielle thought as the priest completed the ceremony. Her conversation with Anna had rendered the woman stiff and robot-like. Madeline had glared at her as she made her way up the aisle in front of a gaping capacity crowd. When Daniel had passed her to Jess at the alter, Jess had accepted her with the enthusiasm of a woman accepting a sack of flour.

Danielle was drawn from her musings by the feel of Jess raising her veil. Peering up at her through her lashes, she noted, sadly, that there was no joy, no happiness, no nothing in those gray eyes. Jess appeared more distant than she had ever seen her. The kiss Jess offered wasn’t like any of the previous ones they had shared. This was a cold, unfeeling touch of their mouths, which inspired none of the usual heat or passion. When they turned to walk back down the aisle, Danielle was nearly paralyzed by the unexpected sight of Harold Weatherly and his sobbing daughter, Nora, among the attendees.

“I bet he didn’t spring for a wedding present,” Danielle whispered through her fake smile.

“I’m sure he’s only here to make certain we went through with it.”

When they entered the waiting carriage, Danielle was sorry to see that the woman’s mood hadn’t improved. Tossing her bundle of tied flowers on the seat next to her, she stared at the woman she had just married.

Married. The word made her shiver.

“Are you cold, Danielle?”

“With the frosty treatment you’re giving me, how could I not be cold?”

Jess had the decency to appear contrite. “When I saw the look on Anna’s face as she came down the aisle, I was almost certain you had made a run for it.”

Tilting her head back to study her, Danielle found herself smiling. “You were as nervous as I was.”

“Worse.” Jess expelled a breath. “I decided that the only thing that could make Anna McKinney look so stricken was if you had left her the grim task of announcing your refusal to go through with the wedding.”

“I’m afraid I did say something that upset her.”

This prompted a lecture from Jess. “Anna is one of the finest women I know. I would insist that you would refrain from upsetting her in the future.”

“Insist?” Danielle raised her brows. “As in ‘order’?”

Jess grinned sheepishly. “You did just promise to obey.”

“I lied.”

Jess’s laughter echoed in the small compartment as they set out for Blazenwood. Danielle twisted the slender gold band on her finger until she caught her first sight of the plantation. “This is Blazenwood?”

“Yes.” Jess looked confused by Danielle’s astonished tone.

Danielle recognized the Georgian-Palladian architecture instantly. What she didn’t recognize was the condition. Jess would be heartbroken to learn that in 2004, this beautiful home was little more than a pile of rubble. Nothing but the exterior walls remained of what, she now could see, were beautiful geometric gardens.

“Welcome home” a young black boy said with his eyes downcast as he hurriedly positioned a footstool. “And congratulations to you both.”

“Thank you, Samuel. Is everything in readiness?”

“Yes, as you ordered.”

Jess got out first, then extended her hand to Danielle, assisting her with the yards of fabric that comprised her skirt. The scent of late-blooming flowers mingled with the faint smell of a cooking fire. Ribbons and bows decorated the recessed, two-story portico. Several servants milled at the front door.

Danielle gave Jess’s arm a jerk to get her to dip her head so that Danielle could ask a question discreetly. “Are they slaves?”

“Legally or morally?”

“Either…both. I know Mrs. McGrady is some sort of indentured servant, but I never thought about the possibility of you owning other human beings.”

Jess led her behind one of the live oaks, trying to make it look as though they might be stealing a passionate moment together. “If you say something like that to the wrong person, you will be hanged. Do you understand, Danielle?”

“But, Jess. I don’t know if I can stand the idea of you being a slave owner.”

”Give it time, Danielle.”

Time was one thing she didn’t have. No sooner had they emerged from behind the tree than the carriages began to arrive. Jess ushered her inside after brief introductions to the happy group who didn’t appear at all bothered by the circumstances of their existence. If she thought The Station was impressive, Blazenwood put it to shame. The twenty-five rooms were filled with carved woodwork, marble fireplaces and furniture that was surely museum quality. Music from a talented ensemble wafted through the house as did the din of conversation.

Jess stole them off to the bedroom to freshen up. “I thought you might like a moment to freshen up after that ride.”

Danielle stood stiffly gripping her bouquet. “I’m fine.”

Seeing her like that, Jess took a deep breath before closing the bedroom door. “It’s too complicated to explain to you now. If it will salve your conscience, I’ve never mistreated anyone in my life.”

“There’s still a principle involved here, Jess.”

“But as you so often remind me, this is my time, my rules.”

Jess saw the flicker of hope in her eyes. “Does that mean you finally believe what I’ve been telling you?”

“I’m trying very hard to accept your word.” Jess moved to stand in front of her. “I would only ask that you afford me the same courtesy.”

When Danielle lowered her eyes, Jess took her chin between her thumb and finger, forcing Danielle to meet her gaze. “Now, unless you want all our guests to assume we couldn’t wait until this evening, I suggest we go downstairs.”

Danielle gripped Jess’s forearm. “Wait.”

Jess was surprised at the urgency in Danielle’s voice. “Yes?”

“May I ask a favor?”

“Of course.”

“I felt a little cheated at the church. I’d really like it if you’d kiss me as if you meant it.”

“As you wish.” The words barely left her mouth before she claimed Danielle’s with a power and possessiveness Jess never felt before. Danielle’s body rippled in her arms, almost making her regret starting something she knew they couldn’t finish. It didn’t matter. Nothing seemed to matter at that moment except the feel of Danielle’s small body molded to her own. Her body reacted quickly and predictably and she moaned into Danielle’s opened mouth. She didn’t know what kind of power Danielle had. Maybe she was some sort of vision from the future. At least that would explain why kissing her, touching her was like nothing Jess had ever experienced in her lifetime.

When Danielle moved against her, Jess knew she no longer cared if the king himself was waiting below. Her hand slid from Danielle’s back down to her small waist. Danielle responded to her touch, pressing herself against her so intimately that Jess’s self control was tested.

“Sorry.” Daniel’s voice broke through Jess’s clouded thoughts.

Danielle jumped away as if Jess were on fire. Jess was, but then, if the flush on Danielle’s cheeks was any indication, so was she.

Jess raked her slightly trembling hand through her hair. “I take it we’re being missed?”

Daniel was still looking in the opposite direction. “I can probably think up some excuse if you want.”

Danielle spoke up quickly. “We’ll come down.”

Danielle’s apparent desire to get away from her didn’t do much for her ego or her feelings.

With Danielle at her side, Jess descended the carved staircase, noting with wry amusement that nearly the entire group was eyeing them with blatant curiosity, although the true blue bloods hid their interest behind quickly moving fans or gloved hands.

Jess was extremely impressed by the way Danielle handled the awkward situation. Instead of hiding behind her as most any other woman would have done, Danielle lifted her chin proudly and donned her brightest smile.

Jess found Madeline in the crowd and was relieved when she got Madeline’s nod of approval. Anna’s smile was genuine, though her eyes still looked troubled. Jess made a mental note to speak to Danielle again, wondering what on earth she could have said to upset Anna.

She handed Danielle a glass of champagne. “Hungry?”

The look Danielle gave her in reply was secretive and intimate and conveyed her answer far better than a simple word. Jess smiled down at her, feeling oddly pleased by the anticipation and hunger she saw in Danielle’s eyes. “It would be considered scandalous if we didn’t at least sit for photographs and manage at least one dance.” She leaned over until her lips were touching Danielle’s ear. “I’ll tell the photographer we’re ready.”

Jess couldn’t recall the last time she had barked so many orders in such a short span of time. With the heat between her legs guiding her, she managed to speed the process of the celebration much to the disappointment of most of the guests. Only Madeline, Daniel and Anna seemed to understand her need for haste and they did everything to see that the house was emptied just after nightfall.

Jess walked to Danielle’s side and splayed her fingers at the center of her back. “I didn’t think they would ever leave.”

“I’m surprised they stayed as long as they did, given your rather inhospitable behavior.”

She took Danielle’s hand in hers, leading her toward the staircase. Jess felt a slight resistance and found it puzzling. “This was part of our bargain.” She was instantly sorry for reminding Danielle of this, when she felt Danielle jerk her hand out of her grasp.

Danielle moved past her to storm up the stairs. “I don’t need to be reminded. You know how to ruin a moment.”

Jess followed wondering what had happened. All during the afternoon Danielle had smiled, danced and seemed genuinely resigned to their fate, almost happy. Now she felt she was watching a complete stranger. Danielle’s sudden frigidness brought back memories of Lillian. Lillian had behaved similarly, until she realized that Jess had no intentions of touching her. Danielle wasn’t Lillian. She hadn’t wanted Lillian, but she wanted Danielle and had no intention of giving Danielle time to think of a good excuse to postpone their being together. She knew Danielle felt the same desire. She could see it her eyes. She had to wonder what could be causing Danielle’s behavior.

Taking the stairs two at a time, Jess found the bedroom door closed. She didn’t hesitate. She walked in without any warning and then froze. Danielle was by the fire, standing next to the mound of fabric that had been her dress. The flesh above the lacy edges of her corset made Jess’s mouth go dry. Danielle was staring at her, her eyes in direct contradiction to her posture.
That flicker of uncertainty didn’t fit with the way she seemed not to care that Jess could see virtually all of her through the thin fabric of her undergarments.

Part 2

“I’m sure I’m not the first woman you’ve seen in a state of partial undress.” Danielle’s tone was light, even though it seemed forced.

“But…I’ve never wanted someone so badly.” The wringing of her hands was the only outward sign of nervousness Jess could detect.

“Jess, I think we need to have a little talk before we have biblical knowledge of each other.”

“Talk?” Her voice was strained. She was already removing her coat. She took two strides forward, but the look in Danielle’s eyes halted her. Closing her eyes, Jess mentally wished for control of her overheated body. “Talk, Danielle. I’m listening.”

“I have to tell you something. Even though you are a woman you seem to think like the men of this time; therefore, what I have to say might change your mind about doing this.”

“You’re welcome to try.”

Danielle smiled at the woman’s often used expression and Jess felt herself relax slightly. She wondered if Danielle knew there was nothing she could say that could quell her desire. The only thing that would satisfy her now was for them to have each other, completely.

Danielle let out a rush of breath. “It’s been a long time since I’ve done this.”

Allowing her head to fall to the side, Jess studied her for a moment. Her expression showed her shock. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised.” She paused for a long moment. “You said you’ve never been married.”

“It’s true. I’ve never been married. In my time, marriage isn’t necessary. It is considered acceptable to most people for couples to have sex without any commitment.”

“How can this be?” Jess went to the edge of the bed and sat down. Her eyes were still fixed on Danielle as she tried to remind herself that if she challenged Danielle’s delusions about this other time, it might just cost her their wedding night. “Why are you telling me this now?”

“Because I wanted you to know. I know in this time, it’s considered a big deal and that you might not think me worthy.” She started to interrupt, but Danielle rushed on. “I have only been with one other person and I loved her, but…” She let the words trail off as she stared into her past. “Besides, if I waited on marriage, I would still be a virgin. Remember? Women can not marry in my time.”

“Danielle, I think you know that women in this time cannot marry. Where I find myself here is unusual, but it seems to work for me. These people, most of them, do not look upon me as a woman.” Jess looked away, seemingly in thought. “You stated that it has been a long time, since you’ve made love. Why is that if your time believes as you say?”

Danielle quietly moved to sit beside her. “As I was saying, I’ve only been with one person in my twenty-nine years. It was right after my second year in medical school. We were together for almost three years. I waited a lot longer than most of the women in my time. I was considered the oddity.”

“Then why did you wait?”

“I was really committed to getting through school and I was confused by the feelings I was having toward women. I just wasn’t interested in any of the men that were interested in me. By the time I was in medical school and getting more than curious, AIDS came along.”

Jess wrinkled her brows. “The people in your time required aid in order to make love?”

Danielle laughed to the point tears came to her eyes. “Not aid, A-I-D-S. It’s a terrible disease that can be transmitted through sexual contact. I have to admit that is unlikely to happen to lesbians?”

“Les…bians?”

Danielle smiled and shook her head. “Uh…It is unlikely to happen to two women sexually involved.”

Jess groaned. “Danielle, it isn’t appropriate for us to discuss things such as this.”

“You would think that you being a woman that you would be more open-minded than the men of this time. Danielle snickered. “But you think just like them.”

She tilted her head and tried to understand what Danielle meant by her statement. “This is who I am. Do you feel this is…unacceptable?”

Danielle smiled and touched Jess’s cheek gently with her fingers. “No. You thought I had changed my mind, but I haven’t. I was afraid that you would change your mind about me after this conversation. I have not changed my mind.” Danielle blushed feverishly. “If fact, I’ve had to struggle to keep from creeping into your room at night, ever since that first time you kissed me.”

“I think we’ve talked long enough,” Jess said quietly. She turned and eased down on top of Danielle, grinning at the mixture of hunger and embarrassment on Danielle’s face.

Bracing her weight with one hand, she rolled Danielle on to her side so she could untie the miles of lacing that held her corset together. All the while she watched Danielle’s expression, watched how Danielle reacted as the garments loosened and fell away. “You’re perfect,” Jess whispered as her eyes took in Danielle’s nakedness. Next, her hands found the ties for Danielle’s petticoats and she made quick work of them, until Danielle lay next to her beautifully exposed.

“You’re still dressed. Let’s change that.” Danielle’s slightly trembling hands reached for the buttons on Jess’s shirt. Danielle was amazing adept at removing clothing and when she looked up at Jess’s face she could see the question. “I’ve undressed hundreds of people as part of my training, Jess. Most of the time, especially when I was on my ER rotation, we cut the clothes off.” She let go a nervous laugh. “I’m still attempting to prepare myself for the sight of you, so I don’t faint from seeing you in your birthday suit.”

“Birthday suit?” Jess was sorry that she even asked the question. With Danielle’s hands on her body, she didn’t care if she wanted to tell tall tales about fairies and leprechauns. She didn’t wait for Danielle’s answer. She simply pushed her down on the mattress and began to kiss her with an intensity that bordered on savage. She just couldn’t seem to get close enough to her. Slipping one hand beneath her small hip, she lifted Danielle against her thigh, marveling at the small sound that rumbled in Danielle’s throat.

She raised her head waiting the few reassuring seconds for Danielle to reach for her and pull her back. It left no doubt in her mind that Danielle wanted this as much as she did. That knowledge brought with it a complete loss of control. With one hand she spread Danielle’s legs with the intention of entering her.

Danielle had a different idea. She was afraid if she allowed Jess to take her in this fashion, it would set the pace for their relationship behind closed doors. She had no intentions of allowing Jess to be the only one in control in the bedroom. She placed her hands on Jess’s shoulders, pushing her onto her back and rolling with her until she lay on top of Jess. Her floral scented hair fell across Jess’s face. Grabbing her hair and throwing it out of the way with one hand, she cupped Jess’s face with the other. Looking directly into her eyes, she whispered, “Jess, we’re going to do this my way, okay?”

At that instant, Jess would have agreed to anything. She nodded mutely as Danielle moved to the side and began to touch her everywhere. She brought her forearm up to cover her eyes as she grimaced and waged war with her self control. Danielle was driving her mad with the feathery touches. “Danielle.” She whispered the name like a prayer.

“Yes?”

“I’m not sure I can tolerate much more of this.”

Danielle smiled. “Then participate.”

Dropping her arm, she looked at Danielle’s flushed face and sensual smile, then dipped her head and took the peak of Danielle’s nipple into her mouth.

Danielle arched against her and her fingers immediately wound through Jess’s dark hair, holding her firmly to her breast.

Jess’s hands weren’t idle as she continued to savor the nipple between her lips. Danielle dug her nails gently into Jess’s scalp as Jess explored her body with her hands and mouth. Jess was taking in every little pleasurable sound Danielle made. When she dragged her opened mouth over the supple curve of Danielle’s throat, she cried out and Jess knew it was time. She tried to place her on her back, yet Danielle resisted.

Again, Danielle stopped her. “Jess…wait.”

Jess lifted her head to look at her and found Danielle’s expression wild and a sheen of perspiration coating her body. “I want you, Danielle. I want you now.”

“I know, sweetheart.” She smiled. “Let me.” The look Danielle was giving her could not be argued with. She could see desire, purpose, and a plea in the look. Jess conceded and lay back.

Danielle left a trail of light kisses and gentle nips down her neck. She smiled against her neck when she heard the harsh moan escape from Jess. She cupped Jess’s face with both hands. “I want to taste you, Jess. All of you.”

She shuddered at the desire she saw in Danielle’s eyes. She had never heard a woman speak such bold words. Jess threw her head back against the pillow, wondering what Danielle could possibly do next. Danielle already had her body so tense, so taut, she wasn’t sure what to expect. She had never felt this way before and she definitely had never allowed a woman such liberties with her body.

Danielle ran her hands gently over the warm skin of her strong shoulders, inching slowly until she cupped her small firm breasts in her hands.

Jess’s breath caught in her throat as she felt small gentle fingers moving over her nipples. Her hands reached out, moving over Danielle’s body fervently, but Danielle took them gently into her own hands, placing them on the pillow over her head. “Let me love you. Let me make love to you, Jess.”

Jess closed her eyes tightly. Her body felt like it would explode, but her voice wouldn’t come. She relaxed her arms, giving Danielle permission.

“You are so perfect…it should truly be a crime,” Danielle murmured as her hands moved gently over the strong body. She lowered her mouth, finding Jess’s breast. She feasted on the nipple, knowing she would never get enough of this woman.

Jess arched into her and breathed out something Danielle could not understand. She took it as encouragement and moved down her body, tasting every inch of her. She wanted to be between Jess’s thighs. She wanted to taste the most intimate part of this unique magnificent woman.

Jess threw her head back as Danielle moved down her body. Her hips arched, searching for a release. She didn’t know what to expect; she only knew she wanted it. And she wanted it from Danielle.

Spreading Jess’s legs apart, Danielle saw the glistening black curls in the flickering of the candlelight. She closed her eyes and groaned knowing she would never be the same after tasting this woman.

Jess yelled out when Danielle’s mouth found her. The feeling was so new to her it scared her. She squeezed her eyes shut and gripped the bed coverings. Then Danielle’s tongue moved through her wetness and it was too much. She fisted her hands in Danielle’s hair to stop her.

Danielle looked up at her with confusion and concern on her face. “Are you okay?”

Jess was back to clutching the bed coverings and trying to focus on Danielle’s face. “Yes…no! I have never done that before. I don’t know what…” She groaned in frustration, unable to put words to what she was feeling.

Danielle’s mind was clouded with desire, but she thought she understood. “You’ve never had that feeling before or you’ve never had someone taste you before?”

Danielle’s boldness was lost on Jess now. It was all she could do to hear and comprehend the words. “Both.”

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Jess had never experienced this intimate act. She smiled and ran her hands gently up and down both of Jess’s thighs. “It’s alright, Jess. I won’t hurt you. I only want to give you pleasure. Trust me and you will be rewarded beyond your wildest. I promise.”

Jess only stared at her, but seemed to relax under the gentle persuasion.

Danielle kissed the inside of both of thighs and felt her jerk slightly. She slowly kissed her way back to the wet heat between her legs. She thought it best not to linger too long. Jess was on the edge; it would not take much to drive her over. Her lips took Jess inside, sucking hard and Jess rose off the bed. Danielle was unable to keep the woman’s hips still. She slowed her actions, her tongue again moving through the wetness, finally plunging inside her.

“Oh, dear God,” Jess murmured. Her hands reached out and grabbed Danielle’s head again, but this time she held her firmly to her as her hips undulated against her mouth.

Danielle was overwhelmed with pleasure as her mouth feasted on Jess. So sweet and so perfect. She felt her own wetness coat her thighs, felt the throbbing ache between her own legs. Her tongue pulled out and her lips found her again, sucking her hard. She struggled to hold Jess down, her hands pressing against Jess’s hips as she held her legs apart the best she could. Then she felt Jess still, heard her breath catch and hold, then Jess rose up again letting her pleasure be known as she climaxed.

Jess lay back, pulling Danielle up her body, knowing Danielle needed her own release. But she couldn’t remember ever feeling so weak. Her body did not want to move. She felt as Danielle straddled her thigh, felt her wetness coat her as Danielle ground into her hard. Jess’s hand moved between them, finding Danielle’s ache. She touched her, stroking her as Danielle pressed against her.

Danielle felt Jess’s hand on her and she reached for it, grinding against the fingers as she sought release. Danielle bent her head to capture her lips and she came instantly, crying out into Jess’s mouth.

She finally collapsed on top of Jess letting her weight settle on her. She felt’s arms come around her, gently caressing her back. “Danielle, I’m not sure what just happened to me, but I know I lost a part of myself. And I know you now have it.”

Danielle had no words that could compete with that. She slid her body to Jess’s side and kissed her shoulder. All the emotions draining her, she let out a contented sigh and snuggled close. They were both asleep within moments.

**********

“Danielle?”

“Mmmmm.” Danielle stretched her body against Jess. Jess had already suffered through having Danielle sleep next to her completely naked. Now she was apparently supposed to endure the torture of having her move.

“Danielle,” Jess said more forcefully.

Lifting her head, Danielle shifted into a half sitting position, not bothering to cover herself in the process. Jess made a valiant attempt to keep from looking. She failed.

“Have you no shame?” Even with the question, she continued to take in Danielle’s state of undress. Jess imagined her smile matched her own.

“Apparently not.” Only then did Danielle lift the edge of the blanket to a more modest level. “But then again, I doubt there’s much of me you haven’t already seen, so what’s the point?”

She placed a kiss on Danielle’s forehead. “The point is we have to get back to town. This won’t happen if you insist on flaunting your…charms in front of me.”

“Town? Why do we have to go back? We just got married. We’re supposed to be on our honeymoon.” She reached out and grabbed Jess’s arm as she attempted to get out of bed. “We’re supposed to stay in bed for a week, making mad, passionate love until we go blind.”

“Good Lord, woman!” Jess chuckled as she shrugged out of bed, shaking her head as she continued a quiet chuckle. Stepping into her trousers, she was surprised when she didn’t hear any further comments from Danielle. Pouting wasn’t her style. Jess turned to see her looking stricken. “What did I say?”

Danielle lifted her eyes and Jess was stunned to find them moist with unshed tears. She was even more stunned by the way it made her feel. “What?” She moved next to Danielle and pulled her into the circle of her arms.

Danielle’s voice was low. “I guess it was pretty disappointing, huh?”

“What?”

Jess felt her shake her head. “Don’t play dumb, Jess. All you have to do is say I wasn’t what you expected. You don’t need to make up reasons not to–”

“Danielle, you really have lost touch, haven’t you?” She shook Danielle gently to make her understand. “I would love nothing better than to stay in bed with you for that week you were discussing, but I’m afraid we simply can not.”

“Why not?”

“Because the Union ships patrol the river and they delight in firing upon the houses along their banks. It simply isn’t safe for us to stay here.” She lifted Danielle’s face and brushed a few strands of hair out of her eyes. “If you doubt my honesty, Danielle, explain this.” She smiled smugly when Danielle gave a little gasp as soon as Jess placed her hand over her wet center that gave testimony to her words. “We still have to leave right after breakfast.”

**********

Danielle declined the assistance of the young girl sent up to help her dress. The damned corset could just stay loosely tied.

Joining Jess in the airy, stunning breakfast room gave her a new appreciation for Southern charm and beauty. Nothing she had ever been taught as a child could have prepared her for the reality of this. Everything was perfect, especially Jess as she entered the room.

Jess rose and saw her to her seat.

“Thank you.” She suddenly felt awkward. It was strange, but the intimacy they had shared had drastically changed the way she thought of Jess.

“Coffee?” The question came from the same young girl who had been dispatched to assist Danielle. She spoke to Jess, keeping her eyes fixed on some distant point.

“Yes and for Lady Blain, as well.”

Lady Blain, Danielle repeated in her brain. That title would take some getting used to if she had married a man, but to hear it come out of Jess’s mouth so naturally was just plain unbelievable. As soon as the girl left, she turned to Jess. “I prefer Dr. Hamilton or Danielle, but I will meet you half way with Dr. Blain.”

Jess gave her one of her tolerant smiles and Danielle felt herself growing annoyed. “Don’t patronize me, Jess. Either you accept what I am or let me go.”

Leaning back in her chair, Jess regarded her for several long moments over the rim of her coffee cup. “You don’t ask for much, do you, Danielle?”

She began with a loud sigh. “Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you about something else.

One dark brow raised and a smile curved the corners of Jess’s mouth.

“I’ve been thinking about why the locket didn’t take me back to my time.”

“I believe we have already dispensed with that bit of folly.”

Danielle glared at her. “It isn’t folly. You will see that in about ten days when the fire breaks out. I’m willing to wait until then for you to eat crow. Now, back to the locket.”

“Must we?”

“Yes. Maybe I can’t return to my time because I have some sort of purpose to fulfill here.”

“Like what? Turn water into wine?”

“Nothing quite so lofty,” Danielle retorted. “I was thinking more along the line of proving that you didn’t kill your wife.”

“You’re my wife.”

Danielle felt her cheeks warm and she averted her eyes for a moment. “Your first wife, Lillian. Maybe if I can clear your name, I can get back to my time.”

“This is all very fascinating, Danielle, but I think you’re taking this fantasy a bit too far.”

“It isn’t a fantasy. I don’t belong here.”

“After last night, I would tend to disagree with you.”

Danielle’s blush deepened. “I can’t stay in a time I don’t belong to just for great sex.”

“Great?”

Danielle’s patience was wearing thin. “Damn it, Jess! I’m serious. All I want is a chance to prove that you didn’t kill her.”

Her expression grew heavy, as if she would be sorry to see Danielle out of her life. Danielle knew she was reading more into it than was there. The whole notion that Jess had actually developed feelings for her in such a short time was ludicrous. As ludicrous as the thought that she would miss her when, and if, she could get home. Suddenly her mind flashed a kaleidoscope of memories…the woman’s laughter, her dimple, their wedding, her words after their lovemaking.

“What exactly do you want, Danielle?”

“I want to perform an autopsy on Lillian’s remains.”

**********

“How disgusting.” Madeline made face of disapproval. “I hope you told her no.”

Jess sighed. “Of course.”

Danielle sat at the table fuming. It was bad enough that Jess had flatly refused even to consider allowing her to perform an autopsy on Lillian. But the fact that Jess had brought it up as dinner conversation that evening only made matters worse. Hell, she was still miffed to discover that on their first full day of marriage, Jess had invited the McKinneys and Madeline to dinner.

Danielle gave a saccharine smile. “Jess doesn’t believe any of what I’ve been telling her.” She noticed Anna’s expression grow solemn. “You know better, though, don’t you, Anna?”

“Danielle,” Jess warned.

There was a silence as Daniel, Jess and Madeline all watched as the normally poised Anna appeared to struggle with an appropriate response.

“I told you I would not tolerate your upsetting Anna.” She glared at Danielle. Her eyes were dark and stormy, but Danielle was determined

“Careful, Jess. You really shouldn’t look at your wife with murder in you eyes. People might talk. Again.”

Her cutting remark was a direct hit. Jess looked as though she would gladly get out of her chair and strangle her. Jess’s hands balled into tight fists and a vein in the side of her neck was bulging. “Go upstairs, Danielle.”

“Go to hell, Jess,” Danielle retorted with a sweet smile. “I warned you I wasn’t too good at obeying.

“That’s it!” Jess began to rise out of her chair.

Anna spoke with an anxious voice. “Wait. There is no reason for you two to fight on my account.”

“I think they’d fight on anyone’s account.” Madeline’s expression was smug as she leaned back in her chair as if to enjoy a performance. “They’re two headstrong people.”

Anna turned to Jess. “Jess, Danielle does seem to have an uncanny knowledge where we are all concerned.

Danielle watched as the anger drained from Jess’s face only to be replaced with complete impatience.

Daniel touched his wife’s arm. “Anna, what are you talking about? You haven’t said anything to me about this.”

Anna touched his hand that rested on her arm and gave it a reassuring squeeze. It was such a simple, natural action that it was amazing it had such a profound effect on Danielle. She couldn’t imagine ever being so at ease with Jess that a simple touch could bring her out of the volatile personality.

Anna smiled. “There wasn’t time, but for the life of me, I can’t see how she could know what she knows if something isn’t amiss.”

“We aren’t talking ‘amiss’.” Madeline chuckled. “I can’t believe you would be so gullible as to be taken in by her vivid imagination.”

“Fine!” Danielle stood in such a rush that her chair clattered to the floor. “Then let’s just be honest here. I’ll let Jess explain to you what will happen on December 11. If I’m wrong, you are all welcome to continue thinking I’m some crazed soul. If I’m right, I would hope you would all have the decency to apologize for not believing the truth.” Danielle took two steps toward the door, then feeling spiteful, she turned to Madeline. “If I have such a vivid imagination, why is it that you’ve told the whole town that your husband is away on business?”

Danielle marched up the stairs, her footsteps echoing through the silent house. “Dramatic exit,” she mumbled with a sigh as she entered the yellow bedroom and closed and locked the door. “Dramatic and mean. I shouldn’t have said that to Aunt Madeline. But she’s not my aunt.” She threw herself on the bed. “She just looks like her, talks like her…and doesn’t know me from a houseplant.”

She dragged herself off the bed and paced the room, torn between the desire to throw something and the desire to burst into frustrated tears. “Okay, there has to be an explanation for all of this. I just have to look at it objectively, as though I’m diagnosing a patient, only I’m the patient. Jesus, I’m talking to myself, again. If I keep this up, I will be a patient.” She groaned in frustration. “What do I know? I know my father didn’t die at age five, but this Madeline’s brother did. Therefore, they are not the same person. They can be from the same family. Like this Madeline is some sort of distant relative of mine, which would explain why she looks the same. But what about Anna?” The question moved her to sit back on the bed. “Well, this Anna is married to a man named Daniel, which I’m sure is simply coincidence. The fact that Anna was raised in an orphanage instead of by her mother proves that she isn’t the same as my Anna, so that sorta explains her.”

She fell back on the bed. “Or maybe I’ve traveled to a place that I simply can’t explain and sure as hell don’t understand.”

**********

Jess seemed to have accepted the fact that Danielle preferred her old room to sharing one with her. Her quiet acceptance didn’t do much to improve her temperament.

In the ten days since her little tirade at dinner, no one except Mrs. McGrady had even gone near Danielle. She wasn’t about to apologize, though, not when she had nothing to apologize for. She was from another time and she needed help in order to get back. If Jess and the others couldn’t handle that, she didn’t need their company.

“She’s gone out.” Danielle turned to see Mrs. McGrady enter the room.

Danielle nodded. “Thanks, I’ll come down for breakfast now.”

“This isn’t right, Lady Blain. Newlyweds shouldn’t be behaving the way you two have been. It isn’t natural.”

“Tell her that.” She violently pushed her hair from her face. “She started it.”

“It’s her pride, Lady.”

“Pride is no excuse and quit calling me lady.” She turned and headed out of the bedroom with Mrs. McGrady following her. “Besides, she’ll come around day after tomorrow.

Mrs. McGrady didn’t understand. “What?”

“She’ll have no choice but to rethink her position after she sees I was telling the truth. Then, perhaps she and I can negotiate some sort of peaceful coexistence.”

“Peace isn’t what she’ll be wanting.” Mrs. McGrady’s voice was so low that Danielle barely heard her.

“What are you talking about?” Danielle sat in the chair which Thomas held for her. The ritual had started the day following the dinner disaster. As soon as Jess left to do whatever it was she did every morning, Danielle ate her breakfast, walked in the garden, then returned to her room and refused even to set eyes on Jess.

“She hasn’t been the same since you stopped speaking to her.” Mrs. McGrady’s face was a mess of worry. “I’ve never seen her so out of sorts before. I know for a fact she’s gone to your door twice, but something keeps her from knocking and getting this settled.”

“Arrogance.” Danielle slipped a slice of melon into her mouth. “But her superior self is going to be taken down a peg or two before all this is over.”

“It seems to me she isn’t the only one around her with ego troubles.” McGrady stomped from the room. Great! Now my only friend is mad at me. Okay so I do owe Madeline an apology but that is as far as I’m willing to bend.

Danielle finished her breakfast without much enthusiasm. Slipping her cape on, she left by the back door, feeling renewed by the strong rays of the sun. One thing hadn’t changed since her bizarre trip in time. She still needed the sun’s rays to feel alive. The small building at the rear of the property housed the kitchen and was where Thomas and the two other housemen lived. Danielle knew she wasn’t welcome there. Not because the three men disliked her, but because entertaining an unescorted woman could cost them their lives. She contented herself by strolling along the pathway adjacent to the garden, trying to imagine what it would look like in the spring. “Not that I want to be here in the spring,” she said aloud.

“You and Blain planning on leaving Charleston?”

Danielle nearly jumped at the sound of Captain Fourcade’s voice. Turning in the direction of the offensive sound, she found him standing in the shadows of the dependency, dressed in full military regalia. In spite of the fact that her marriage to Jess had all but guaranteed that this man couldn’t arrest her, she felt a decent amount of unease knot her stomach. “No.” Her answered was clipped. “What are you doing here?”

Fourcade smiled, but the gesture didn’t reach his eyes; they were as cold as the wind coming off the water. “I see you’re as forthright as I have been led to believe.” It wasn’t a compliment.

“I asked what you were doing here, Captain Fourcade. If you wish to speak to Jess, I’m afraid—”

“No ma’am,” He interrupted with a polite inclination of his head.

He was attractive enough that his actions could easily be construed as charming. But his charm was lost on Danielle. She was more interested in his motivations than in his perfectly coiffed blond hair. Surely he knew this since she was with a woman. They may treat her as a man, but they couldn’t be that blind.

“I came specifically to speak with you.”

”About what?”

His brows drew together as his hand rested on the handle of the sword tied at his hip. “Perhaps we would be more comfortable inside?”

“I doubt it.” She was being honest.

“I would appreciate some refreshment, Lady Blain, surely that isn’t too much to ask, given the fact that Blain is so keen on adhering to social traditions.”

“Fine.” Danielle sighed. “Follow me.”

“With pleasure.”

She recognized the double meaning and chose to ignore it. Fourcade trailed her inside, moving into the parlor as if he owned the place. He handed Thomas his hat and sword, then settled comfortably into one of the chairs.

“Is everything all right?” Mrs. McGrady asked when she hustled into the room.

“The captain wanted a drink.” She looked at Fourcade. “Coffee? Tea? What?”

“Tea would be lovely.” He spoke to Mrs. McGrady in a superior tone that was dismissive and grating. He looked back to Danielle as soon as they were alone. “You’re looking well.”

“Is there some reason I shouldn’t?”

Fourcade’s eyes filled with unabashed hatred. “Given the fate of Blain’s last wife, it isn’t totally unreasonable that some of us would have concerns for your safety.”

“Unfounded and baseless concerns.” She crossed her arms in front of her. “If you simply wanted to assure yourself that I was still breathing, why waste Mrs. McGrady’s time by having her make tea?”

“You really are blunt, aren’t you?” Fourcade’s façade was slipping. His cultured speech now held an edge that matched the harsh emotion in his piercing blue eyes.

“Among other things. I’m also notoriously short on patience, so please get to the point.”

“Very well.” Fourcade shrugged. He waited for Mrs. McGrady to place the try on the table next to his chair and make her exit before he spoke. “The Weatherly family has taken your…situation rather hard.”

“I’m sure.”

“Blain’s insensitivity is particularly disturbing in terms of her refusal to return certain rights to Mr. Weatherly.”

“If you’re talking about the fact that Jess received a fifty-percent share of the wharf for marrying Lillian, I don’t understand why you’re discussing this with me.”

“It was my hope that you could convince Blain to return those rights to Weatherly, given the fact that Blain killed…”

“You may leave now, Captain.” Danielle took a deep breath. “And you will never be welcome here so long as you voice your baseless accusation regarding Lillian’s death.”

Fourcade rose slowly and took a menacing step, which brought him right to Danielle. His hands reached out and grabbed her upper arms, painfully bruising the skin beneath the fabric. “You really should be careful how you speak to me. I hold an important position with the regiment currently in control of this area. If you don’t…”

“If you don’t get your hands off her, I’ll kill you where you stand.”

Fourcade’s expression held a healthy dose of alarm at the threat. After lowering his arms, he stepped away from Danielle and turned to face Blain. “I’m afraid you misunderstood.”

“No, you didn’t.” Danielle met Jess’s questioning eyes. “He came here because he thought he could use me to get to you.”

“Ma’am?” Fourcade tried to act shocked.

“That’s Lady Blain.” Jess looked toward the door. “Thomas!” The houseman appeared in a flash, Fourcade’s hat and sword in his hands. “See the captain out.”

“We need to get this settled, Blain.”

“There is nothing to settle. You touch my wife again, you’re a dead man. Nothing ambiguous about that, now is there?”

“I wasn’t talking about her. I was talking about Weatherly’s wharf–”

“Is partially owned by me. Now get out.”

As soon as the door slammed, Jess came over to Danielle, but stopped short of making physical contact. “Did he hurt you?”

“I’ll probably have a few bruises, but nothing major.”

Jess let out a colorful expletive.

“I thought we weren’t supposed to use that word,” Danielle teased.

Jess’s answer was a warm smile. It wasn’t until that moment that Danielle realized just how much she had missed her. “You aren’t supposed to use that word, Danielle. Being me has its advantages.”

Danielle didn’t hear the comment. She was busy breathing in the scent that was Jess and longing to reach up and brush the wayward strand of ebony hair from her face. Or trace the taut line of her jaw.

“I’m sorry if Fourcade upset you.” Her voice was suddenly soft. “I should have anticipated.” She stared at Danielle a few moments, before pulling her into her arms and kissing her almost painfully. Danielle’s back arched to accommodate Jess’s height and slipped her arms around her neck. The effects of the kiss instantly made her bones useless. Pride didn’t seem to matter when Jess was holding her. In fact, nothing could even compare with the feelings she experienced whenever Jess touched her. It was so overwhelming, so powerful, that it was almost frightening.

Jess reluctantly lifted her mouth from Danielle’s “I’ve missed you, Danielle.” Her thumb came up to touch her slightly swollen lower lip. “I didn’t mean to do that.”

“I did.” Danielle smiled. “Maybe we should try having a relationship where we only communicate with our bodies. We seem to get into trouble whenever we have a discussion.”

“No talking, just touching?” Jess grinned. “I think you may be onto something.”

While Danielle found her smile infectious, she wasn’t quite willing to go that far to repair their strained relationship. “I could never do it. I’m about as good at keeping my mouth shut as I am at obeying.”

“I got that impression when you were so belligerent to Fourcade.”

”You were eavesdropping?”

“Only for a second. Until that bastard grabbed you.”

“Why is he over here threatening you on Weatherly’s behalf?”

“Good question. Maybe because I already told Weatherly I wasn’t going to sign over my interest.

“So he called in the troops?”

Jess looked troubled. “Maybe.” She circled her arms around Danielle’s waist. “I’ve got to go out.”

“But I thought–”

“Hush, Danielle.” She soothed the comment with a kiss to Danielle’s forehead. “I’m having the same thoughts, too, which will make riding several miles on horseback damn difficult.”

“Your language is surprising, Jess. Wherever did you learn to curse like a sailor?”

”From my beautiful wife.” She gave Danielle a quick kiss and released her. “I’ll be back by supper.”

Danielle reached out and squeezed Jess’s derriere. “Do we have to eat?”

“You’ll need your strength, Danielle.” Jess grinned. “Tell Mrs. McGrady to prepare something quick. No six course meals this night.”

“Where are you going?” Danielle was horrified to hear the whine in her voice. “I mean…do you have to go out?”

Jess ran her finger in a tantalizing path along her jaw line, sending shivers of anticipation through her. Jess’s eyes held a promise that thrilled her beyond imagination. “I’m afraid I must go.”

“Must or should?”

Jess glanced around, then placed her mouth very near Danielle’s ear. Near enough that Danielle could feel the heat of her breath as it whipped through her hair. “I have a meeting, Danielle. The information is essential if I’m to prevent bloodshed.”

“What about your blood? What if something happens to you, Jess?”

Jess’s smile was little reassurance.

“Worried for my safety?” The smile turned rather smug and there was definite pleasure in the speculation.

“I’m a doctor, Jess. I think people should live, not die.”

The look she offered told Danielle, she didn’t believe her noncommittal response. “Don’t concern yourself. I’ll be back in time to spend the entire evening entertaining you.”

Reluctantly, Danielle let her go after impulsively going up on her tiptoes to place a kiss in the general vicinity of her mouth. From the window, she watched Jess mount and ride away. “Be careful, Jess.”

**********

Mrs. McGrady’s mood improved dramatically when she learned that Danielle and Jess would be dining together. Perhaps she was simply reacting to the way Danielle had blushed when she had asked the woman to prepare something fast and light.

Danielle busied herself with a bath and the arduous task of drying her long hair. “This is a royal pain.” She shook her head near the roaring fire.

Mrs. McGrady looked in her direction with a confused look on her face. “What?”

“No hair dryers, no electric rollers. None of the things that make life simple.”

The older woman snorted and rested her hands on her ample hips. “And what else have you to do that you can’t take the time to dry your hair?”

“Good point. I guess I just miss all the creature comforts I took for granted.”

“I think it’s Jess Blain you’re missing.” The woman did not try to disguise her approval.

“Jess does grow on you,” Danielle conceded reluctantly. “Since I’m stuck with her, I might as well make the best of it.”

“Stuck with her my foot. You have a fondness for her. I can tell.”

Danielle spared the woman a look. “Physical chemistry isn’t fondness.”

Mrs. McGrady blushed. “I don’t know nothing about chemistry, but I do know about being suited. Not like that one my Sara married. She should have married a woman. God forgive me, but I hope he’s taken in the war so that she can have a second chance.”

“Is he that bad?”

“He’s a mean one. Takes his anger out on my Sara when the mood strikes. She always has a handy excuse, but I don’t hold to a man raising his fist in anger to any woman.

“I’ll talk to her.”

Mrs. McGrady shook her head. “Won’t do no good. Sara is about as dumb as a cow when it comes to that boy.”

Danielle had to argue the point. “But she has her son to think about. Get my gown. We’ll go now. I have to remove her sutures anyway.”

“But your hair–”

“It will dry eventually.” Danielle moved away from the fire.

They found Sara in her modest home, lying in her small bed, feeding her beautiful infant son. Her green eyes showed signs of fatigue, but she seemed too enthralled with her new baby to mind the apparent lack of sleep.

“I came to remove your stitches.” She took the baby from Sara, admired him a minute before handing him off to his proud grandmother.

Sara shyly allowed Danielle to examine her for signs of infection as well as any other problems. She cried out when Danielle removed the stitches with the crude scissors and tweezers she had brought along. Her face turned crimson when Danielle asked if she was having any trouble breast feeding.

“No.” She shielded her eyes as she unwillingly participated in the frank conversation.

Danielle sat on the edge of the bed. “Sara, you and your son are alive because of major surgery. Do you understand that?”

The girl nodded.

“You have to be extremely careful with your activities for the next several weeks. I’ll make arrangements with Jess to keep sending someone to help you each day. Your mother can–”

“No, please!” Sara whispered. “I love her dearly, but my mother and I can’t take a breath without fighting over it.”

Danielle smiled. “Okay. But with the stitches out, you’ll have to be very careful not to strain anything. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And no sexual intercourse.”

Sara gasped. “Lady Blain! My husband isn’t even here.”

Danielle’s tone took on her firmest ‘doctor’ tone. “Well, if he should happen to come home for a visit he isn’t to touch you in any way.”

“John is really a good man at heart.”

“Sara, I’m sure he has wonderful qualities, but you have a son to care for now. If you raise that child in an environment where he sees his father beating you, chances are he’ll beat his wife. Just as bad, think about what you’ll do when your husband beats him.”

“John always wanted a son. He would never do that.”

“It isn’t about love and wanting, Sara. When a man hits a woman or a child, it’s about power. It also tends to run in families. So, if you don’t want your son to grow up being abused or learning to abuse, get out.”

They were walking back to the Station in the dark when Mrs. McGrady broke the silence. “Was all that true?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“Your time must surely be better than this. It sounds like women have a much better lot in life.”

“Some things are better and others are worse.” Stopping, she put her hand on the woman’s arm and met her eyes. “Thank you for believing me.”

“It’s goes against everything in nature, but it is the only explanation for the likes of you.”

Locking her arm with the older woman’s, Danielle picked up the pace. “Was that supposed to be a compliment? I’m not sure it sounded like one.”

“My apologies.”

“It was a joke, Mrs. McGrady. Just joking with you.” When they turned the corner, her heart fluttered when she saw the silhouette of a horse tethered at the railing. “I didn’t expect her so soon.” She was forcing herself not the run, not to appear overanxious. Then she thought, to hell with it, as she dropped Mrs. McGrady’s arm and lifted her skirts.

Mrs. McGrady laughed. “You’re not fond of her. No ma’am. Not at all.

Danielle ignored the woman’s hoot of laughter as she raced up the steps. Thomas opened the door, his face masked with concern. “What is it, Thomas? What?”

“I didn’t know where to find you. It’s bad.”

“Where is she?”

“We took her to her bed, ma’am.”

Danielle rushed past the man and up the stairs. Jess was on top of her bed, perfectly still, bleeding profusely.

Danielle barked out orders, which unlike the first time, were followed without hesitation. Anna, Madeline and Daniel soon returned with the supplies.

Daniel stepped up beside her and watched her pour alcohol over her hands. “What can I do to help, Danielle?”

“Find whoever did this to her.”

Madeline’s voice was shaky when she finally spoke. “How bad is it?”

”The knife hit a major artery in her leg. She has lost a great deal of blood.”

“What does that mean?” Anna inquired.

Danielle started working. “It means we don’t have a lot of time.”

Daniel proved to be a far better assistant than Thomas and in no time, she had repaired the wound. But that wasn’t her major concern. Jess’s pressure was dangerously low. Which made her wonder if she hadn’t lost too much of her blood. “I can’t risk transfusion. I have no way of determining her blood type in time, even if I did have the right equipment.” She was thinking aloud with a room full of people.

Daniel’s brows went together. “Transfusion?”

Danielle explained the procedure. She was pretty sure that she could rig a needle and some of the glass tubing to make it work. She just didn’t know if she should risk something so drastic.

Daniel touched Danielle’s arm. “What are her chances?”

She reached for Jess’s wrist. Her pulse was too faint to be detected, so she moved her fingers to her throat to check. “She’s lost too much blood, Daniel.”

“Then let’s do it.”

“But if you and Jess don’t match, your blood might kill her.”

Daniel was hastily shrugging out of his jacket and shirt. “It doesn’t sound like we have a choice ma’am. At least if we do this, we’ve tried.”

“Tried what?” Anna asked as she entered the room and moved toward the bed, obviously surprised to see her husband disrobing. Her expression paled when they explained what they were going to do. Daniel lay down carefully on the bed next to Jess, while Mrs. McGrady began a litany of prayers and Madeline set about creating what Danielle described from blown-glass tubing from one of the light fixtures, a wooden candle form, and two syringes.

“This might sting,” she warned Daniel as she swabbed the crease of his arm with brandy. Anna was at his side, holding his hand. Making sure he remained upon the mound of pillows, since they had only gravity to make the procedure work.

“It stings.” Daniel made a face.

“Sorry. Stay very still.” She looked toward Madeline. “Madeline, I need more light so I can try to judge the volume.”

“Right here.” She produced another candle as she stepped up beside Danielle. “I sure hope you know what you are doing, girl.”

Ignoring Madeline, Danielle kept two fingers on Jess’s artery and her eyes glued to the hastily flowing blood. When she was satisfied that she had replaced enough of the vital flood, she made quick work of disassembling everything.

She placed a cloth to Daniel’s arm. “Hold that tight against your arm and don’t try to get up yet.” She turned to look at Jess. “Thomas, bend her arm and keep pressure where I had the needle.”

Danielle checked the woman’s pupils. Relief filled her when she saw no signs of major complications. “I think it’s working.” She smiled. “Her pulse is stronger and she seems to be tolerating the transfusion.

Daniel started to get up. “Stay there, Daniel.” He ignored her and almost fell on his face. “Someone, get him some juice and something sweet. That will help with the woozy feeling.”

Mrs. McGrady was happy to be able to do something. “I can handle that.”

**********

“Is she any better?” Anna’s voice was sweet as she joined Danielle in the parlor.

Seeing the two small children had a strange effect on Danielle. Tommy and Teresa eyed her wearily. Tommy usually ran to her, begging for a hug, while his younger sister was usually fascinated and content to play with Danielle’s fair hair. Now they cowered shyly at their mother’s skirts. The rejection, though unintentional, was the last thing she needed in her current state. Ever since Jess had spiked a high fever, Danielle had been on the verge of tears. She had no way of knowing if Jess’s worsened condition was her fault. She knew it could be caused by doing something with inadequate tools and untried methods.

Danielle moved to stare out the window. “She’s still feverish, Anna.”

Anna sat her children near the fire, giving them each a stick of what smelled like peppermint. “I’m sure she’ll come around. Daniel hasn’t suffered any ill effects from the treatment.”

“He shouldn’t have. Madeline came by this morning. She isn’t speaking to me.”

“She’s taking her husband’s abandonment quite hard.”

“What could he possibly want?”

”Who?” Anna moved to stand next to Danielle at the window. “Oh.”

“I’m not in the mood to deal with yet another of Weatherly’s errand boys.” George Blaken knocked on the door. “Especially not that one.”

Thomas announced the man just as he stepped into the room. Holding his hat and a gold handled walking stick, the man looked like a lawyer. His clothing was conservative, as were the cut and style of his dark hair. His eyes were equally dark and set close together above a narrow, pointed nose.

“Lady Blain.” He nodded his head and spoke politely. He turned to Anna. “Mrs. McKinney.” Again slightly nodding his head.

“Jess isn’t dead yet, so you probably wasted a trip.”

Blaken looked puzzled. “I’m afraid there must some sort of misunderstanding.”

Anna thought it best to take over. “What does bring you here, Mr. Blaken?” She pulled the cord to summon Mrs. McGrady. When Mrs. McGrady entered the room she turned to her. “Please be kind enough to take the children to another part of the house.”

Tommy and Teresa readily went with the woman, while Danielle kept her eyes on Blaken, trying to determine if his professed confusion was genuine.

Blaken faced Anna. “Your husband sent me. Mr. McKinney felt it was appropriate that I be the one to explain my position to Lady Blain.”

Danielle spoke up quickly. “Your position on what?”

“On your…on Blain, Blain’s injury.”

There was something about the way Blaken said the word that grated on her already overstressed nerves. “She was stabbed. You make it sound like she hit her thumb with a hammer.”

Blaken sucked in a breath and squared his shoulders. “You must understand the situation, Lady Blain. Wasting time and energy investigating what was, in all likelihood, a self-inflicted wound for the purposes of–”

“Back up!” Danielle took a step forward and tilted her head. “What makes you think her wounds were self-inflicted? That has to be the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Especially since you haven’t even seen the wound.”

“Sheriff McKinney said you wouldn’t be reasonable about this possibility.”

“Reasonable?” Danielle challenged loudly. Ignoring the angry red color seeping up the man’s neck, she continued. “I can assure you that Jess did not stab herself.”

“I’m sure it comforts you to believe that.”

That patronizing, superior tone sent Danielle over the edge. “Look, you spiteful little weasel. I think the only reason you have classified Jess’s stabbing as self inflicted is that Nora Weatherly is you housemate. If you won’t allow Daniel to investigate this crime so that someone can be prosecuted, you are obviously incapable of properly doing your job.”

“Nora is not the reason I believe Blain did this to herself.”

“You have about two seconds to explain.”

The man glared down at her for a second. “You are either the most gullible woman around or you have knowingly and willingly chosen to spend you life with a murderer.”

“Jess hasn’t murdered anyone.”

“Gullible!” He shook his head. “The woman has obviously convinced you that she isn’t responsible for throwing the loveliest creature in all of Charleston from the second story of this house.”

“Hold it.” Danielle raised her hand up to stop him, while she mentally weighed each and every word. Lifting her blue eyes in challenge, she said, “You loved her.”

“Of course I was in love with her. Most men were. To know Lillian was to love her. With the one notable exception of Blain.”

“If you were so in love with her and Weatherly was in such an all fire hurry to marry her off, why didn’t you marry her?”

Blaken didn’t answer Danielle’s question immediately. He seemed content to study the pattern of the wool rug.

Anna couldn’t stay quiet any longer. “Well? I think you owe Lady Blain a response after all the accusations you have made regarding Jess. Who, by the way, is upstairs in quite poor condition.”

The piece of information seemed to bring Blaken some amount of sick comfort. “I was never able to tell Lillian of my feelings.” His voice grew quiet. “And then she killed her.”

Danielle was reaching the end of her patience and tired of repeating herself. “Jess didn’t kill anyone. And since you don’t have any intention of finding out who tried to kill her, for a second time, I would appreciate it if you would get the hell out of my house.” She brushed the man’s shoulder as she exited the room. As she saw it, her only options were either to leave or to grab one of the irons from the fireplace and beat some sense into him.

Danielle opened the door to the bedroom.

Mrs. McGrady stood up. “I’ve been rubbing her with alcohol every hour, just as you said.”

“Is there any change?”

“She’s still burning up.”

“I’ll sit with her for a while.” She squeezed the older woman’s shoulder. “Go get something to eat and I won’t be needing you to make dinner for me.”

“You haven’t eaten all day, ma’am.”

“I’ll grab something later.” She climbed up on the high bed and felt the heat emanating from the woman’s sweaty body. She checked her pupils and her pulse, feeling utterly and totally helpless. Her wound was clean, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t missed something when she’d sutured it.

“Please don’t die, Jess,” she whispered as she took a cloth and dabbed away the moisture.

Jess groaned and her head moved in the direction of Danielle’s voice.

“You have to fight this infection and get well, Jess. I’m afraid, for the first time in my life. I’m afraid to live in this world without you. You do get on my nerves at times because you can be stubborn, but I really don’t think I could stand it if you died.”

“Danielle?” Jess didn’t open her eyes and her voice was low and scratchy.

“I’m here, Jess. What happened? Who did this to you?”

“Danielle…love you.”

“Jess, you don’t know what you’re saying, but at least you’re talking. Tell me what happened so I can tell Daniel.”

“Has to be love…need you…too much.”

“Hush.” She filled a glass with water and brought it to her lips. “Try to drink, Jess. You need fluids.”

“Need…you…to…stay.”

“I’m not going anywhere. Please try to take a sip.”

In her current state, there was no way she could identify her attacker. Danielle held her head and managed to get a few ounces of water into her before she faded out again. Her color looked better, Danielle decided about half an hour later when she realized Jess was no longer perspiring and her skin felt cooler to the touch. She was still pale, but her vital signs were encouraging.

Danielle was so excited she was just about to ring for Mrs. McGrady, when the door burst open and a very breathless Madeline appeared.

“My God, Danielle, you were right. Just about the whole city is on fire.”

All through the night of December 11, what few men were left inside the city stood with the Confederate soldiers and managed to battle the flames as building after building ignited. When it was all over, the fire had destroyed an area of 540 acres between the rivers. Exactly what she told Jess it would destroy.

**********

“She was right, you know?” Madeline sat in a chair next to Jess’s bed. “It was just as she said it would be.

“I know.”

“What do you think it means?”

Jess studied her friend, knowing Madeline was as skeptical as she, yet the evidence seemed to support the strange claims. “I have no idea.” She stretched her frame, tired from the week of lying in bed.

“Is it possible that she really did travel through time? That she isn’t real?”

Jess didn’t hesitate in her answer. “She’s real. I suppose anything is possible.” She was hoping to sound philosophical. “She could prove to be invaluable to us.”

Madeline’s look was disapproving. “If what she has been saying is true, then she is part of my family. I won’t have you using her if it means putting her in danger.”

“But she must know a great deal about the major turning points in the war. If she can tell me of those with the same accuracy she predicated the fire–”

“Maybe that’s all it was. Just a lucky prediction. Or maybe she overheard something.”

Jess shook her head. “Her knowledge of medicine isn’t luck. She has saved my life on two occasions.”

One of Madeline’s brows arched high on her forehead. “Have you ever stopped to wonder why?”

“Because she’s a doctor. It’s what she does.”

Madeline nodded. “That must be why she barely left your side in all the time you were ill. It wasn’t until you started mumbling that she went off to try to help some of the victims burned or injured by the fire.”

“Did my stores make it?”

Madeline shook her head. “Most of the cotton stores were lost. But I didn’t come here to discuss cotton.”

Danielle peeked around the corner of the partially opened door. “I’m sorry.”

Jess immediately noticed the fatigue around her eyes, as well as the soot, ash and filth that were smudged on her cheeks. “Come in.” She was struggling to keep her voice even. Regardless of Danielle’s current state of disarray, Jess didn’t want her to leave.

She seemed nervous as she joined them and Jess noted that she never made eye contact.

Madeline gestured to Danielle’s clothing with her hand. “You surely are a sight. When was the last time you slept, Danielle?”

“That’s why I came back. I’m about dead on my feet.”

Jess tried to sit up straight. “What exactly have you been doing?”

“A small hospital was set up. I’ve been helping Dr. Sadlin and Miss Green tend to people.”

Jess laughed softly. “Helping?”

Danielle’s smile was almost one of embarrassment. “Okay, so I felt it was my duty to teach that quack the right way to salve and wrap a serious burn.”

Madeline laughed. “I’m sure the midwife, Greene, loved that. She thinks Sadlin walks on water and I’ll bet she didn’t take too kindly to your making him look like a jackass in front of others.”

Danielle wiped her palms on the front of her skirt. Jess noted that there were several other smeared stains, indicating that she had been working a long time.

“She tried to have me tossed out on more than one occasion. But I guess, in the end, people were in such pain they didn’t care who treated them.”

Jess shifted herself so she could sit up better. “Madeline, would you mind giving Danielle and me a moment?”

Madeline was out of the chair instantly. After kissing the air in the vicinity of Jess, she moved to Danielle. The two women stood toe to toe and Jess held her breath, not knowing what her longtime friend intended.

“I never thought I’d have a niece.” She had a hint of emotion in her voice. “Welcome to the family.”

“Do you mean it?”

Madeline nodded. “I think so. I can’t seem to come up with a better explanation for all your talents.”

“What about you?” she asked as soon as Madeline was out of the room. “Do you believe me?”

Her eyes met Danielle’s and she searched the expectant face a long time. “I have to admit that from the stories I’ve been hearing, I don’t really have much choice.”

Jess hadn’t expected Danielle to fling herself onto the bed, but she did. Jess didn’t mind, in fact, she wished Danielle might have done this days ago. The feel of Danielle’s small body was a sensation burned into her mind, and Jess had thought of her almost every waking moment. She wondered what could be happening to her. She didn’t understand how Danielle had become so important to her in such a short period of time. She didn’t know how she would bear it if, and when, Danielle found a way to return to her own time. She knew she couldn’t stand in Danielle’s way and feel the way she did about her. Either possibility brought with it a profound sense of sadness and loss. So profound that Jess felt the need to communicate her fears to Danielle, perhaps convince her to stay.

Taking Danielle’s smudged face in her hands, Jess kissed her gently, silently hoping things would never have to change.

Danielle smiled. “What was that all about?”

She brushed some of the hair off Danielle’s face. “I believe it was a kiss.” She wanted to find something that would add lightness to her own heavy heart at the moment. “You have indicated in the past that you enjoy being kissed.”

Danielle’s eyes narrowed as she listened. “You’re lying, Jess. That was something different. You look like you just lost your best friend. Has something happened?”

Jess shrugged and tried to force a smile to her lips. “I lost a great deal in the fire. But I suppose that is nothing compared with the poor souls who lost more than just material possessions.”

Danielle nodded, then yawned. “I’ll change your dressing, then I really need a quick bath and a nap before I go back.”

“Go back? Surely the worst is over now.”

“It is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do some good.”

“You can do some good here.” She gave Danielle a playful wink.

Danielle shook her head and placed her hands on her slender hips. “You’re incorrigible. I can’t believe you’re the same person who was mumbling deliriously just a short time ago.”

“What makes you think I was delirious?”

“I heard what you said.” She giggled. “Trust me, you’d be as red as a beet if I repeated even half of it.”

“I think I said–”

“It isn’t important. I didn’t take any of it seriously and I know it was the fever talking and not you.”

“But, Danielle–”

“Really, Jess. I’ve got to go now. I want you to stay in bed until at least tomorrow.”

Frowning, she decided Danielle wasn’t in a terribly receptive mood. Funny that a woman who could curse like a man, discuss sexuality as if it were the weather, wasn’t, apparently, inclined to discuss matters of the heart. Specifically not her own heart.

“I guess we can talk about my…delirium another time.”

Danielle was visibly relieved. “Fine. I’m going to get cleaned up and grab a nap.”

“You can sleep with me.” Jess turned down the corner of the sheet.

Danielle gave her a lopsided look. “I don’t think that would work, nor would it be particularly good for your leg.”

“You’re a doctor. Surely you can figure out a way for us to–”

She cleared her throat to interrupt. “I’m leaving now, Jess.” Her face was flaming. “You need to get your strength back.”

“Why don’t you give me a reason? You know, some sort of reward if I promise to be a good girl.”

“I’ll bet you were never a good girl.” She laughed. “Besides, I can’t think of a single thing I could offer as a reward.” Her voice was teasing and there was a playful twinkle in her eyes.

“I have a few suggestions.”

“All of them X-rated, no doubt.”

“X-rated?”

“Sexually explicit. Obviously, your libido wasn’t hurt.”

“Want to test your theory, Doctor?”

Danielle’s expression grew suddenly serious. “I’m glad you believe me. It means a lot to me.”

Jess suddenly realized she didn’t want gratitude from Danielle. She wanted much more. Recalling Danielle’s belief that she would return to her time if she was able to prove she didn’t kill Lillian, Jess rubbed her temple in thought. “I’ll think about your suggestion.”

”Which suggestion?”

“That I permit you to examine Lillian’s body.”

Danielle’s eyes grew wide. “Thank you.”

“I haven’t said yes,” Jess cautioned. “Just that I would consider it.”

“Why the sudden change of heart?”

“Because if you do manage to prove me innocent, you can return to your time.”

“Right.”

The hurt in Danielle’s voice from that one word haunted Jess long after Danielle had hastily left the room. Still, Jess didn’t dare read more into it.

**********

“Not now, please,” Danielle whispered when she saw Nora coming toward her on the street. She was too exhausted from her hectic day to deal with the girl.

“Stop!”

“Go away, Nora.” She met the girl’s eyes before continuing. “I’m tired and Jess is waiting for me.”

Nora flinched, but she stood her ground, effectively preventing Danielle from passing. Danielle thought of simply knocking the girl on her ass into the dirty street, but that required an expense of energy and she preferred to save what little energy she had for later, now that Jess was up and about.

“I know George came to see you.”

“Yes, George Blaken, Captain Fourcade, all your father’s flunkies have dropped in.”

“You have to get Jess to listen to reason, Danielle.”

Maybe it was the slight catch in the girl’s voice, or perhaps just the fact that she seemed suddenly scared. “I don’t have any interest in telling Jess what to do with her interest in the wharf. As far as I’m concerned, it’s between her and your father.”

“But she should leave Charleston. It’s what she should have done after Lillian died.”

A sound of utter disbelief rumbled from Danielle’s throat. “This is her home. And Blazenwood, as well. Why would she leave Charleston?”

“Because of Lillian’s death.”

“Look,” Danielle began, calling on her reserve of patience and constantly reminding herself that this girl had recently lost her sister. “Jess didn’t kill her, so there isn’t any reason she should consider relocating.”

“But she could go back to where she came from. Captain Fourcade has always wanted to buy Blazenwood and Father needs full control of the wharf.”

”Needs or wants?” She was growing tired of the pointless conversation.

“It is the only thing of value he has. He’s desperate.”

“I’m really very sorry.” Danielle lifted her skirts with the intention of stepping into the street to get past the annoying girl.

“But Jess has to leave!”

“That’s ridiculous. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Nora.” She started to leave again.

“I was there that night.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I saw her do it. I saw Jess kill Lillian.”

**********

Jess observed her as she paced back and forth in front of the fireplace. “You seem nervous.”

“I had an interesting chat with Nora on my way home. You certainly have managed to make the Weatherlys angry, haven’t you?”

Shrugging her broad shoulders, Jess leaned against the mantel, shifting some of the weight off her bad leg. “Weatherly blames me for his daughter’s death.”

“No wonder.” She met Jess’s eyes. “Nora just told me that she saw you kill Lillian.”

“What?”

Danielle offered a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry; she wasn’t very convincing.”

Danielle watched as relief and apparent pleasure lightened her expression. Jess seemed to approve of the fact that she hadn’t given much credence to Nora’s dramatic proclamation.

“If she told Weatherly that story, it’s no wonder he’s so bitter.”

“She did shed some light on why I’ve had so many visitors, though.”

“Which is?”

“Does Captain Fourcade want Blazenwood?”

The smile that formed on her mouth could only be described as derogatory. “I bought the land for only back taxes when I first came here. I rebuilt the house and returned it to its present condition. Fourcade has made no secret of his belief that I stole the place away from his family.”

“Then why didn’t he just pay the taxes?”

“At the time, Fourcade’s family had suffered three straight years of failed crops.”

“So you did the corporate raider thing and now he’s pissed.”

Jess was gaping at her.

“Sorry. I know some of my expressions are foreign to you, but sometimes it is just as hard for me. The use of the word ‘Madam’ in my time usually refers to a woman who runs a brothel. I’ll try to remember where I am while I’m stuck here, okay?”

She watched as Jess’s expression closed. It was like watching a heavy wall fall into place. “What, Jess?”

She shook her head and moved over to refill her glass. She drank the glass of brandy in one quick swallow.

Troubled by the sudden change in her, Danielle went to her side, placing a tentative hand on her forearm. “What’s wrong?”

She heard Jess’s audible breath and felt the muscle beneath her fingers tense.

**********

“I suppose I have grown rather accustomed to having you around these past weeks. Whenever you speak of leaving…”

“Jess.” Danielle placed a hand on her arm, bringing Jess’s eyes to hers. “I can’t figure out how to get back, but if I do you have to understand my side of it.”

The words sounded shallow to Danielle, even as she allowed them to slip past her lips. She knew that she wasn’t supposed to feel the emptiness whenever she thought about going home.

“I’m trying, Danielle.”

“I know. I also know what happens. I know that this is the costliest war this country has yet to experience. I know that people of vision and greatness are assassinated.”

“You could help prevent those things, Danielle.”

Danielle nodded. “I’ve thought about that. But what if I were to somehow change the course of history? What if I said or did something that had a negative effect later on?”

“Such as?”

Pressing her fingers against her temples, Danielle searched her memory. “Let’s say Lincoln gets reelected and serves a second term as president.”

”Does that happen?”

Danielle nodded, averting her eyes in the process. “But in that second term, his plans could prevent this country from hearing the voices of Martin Luther King Jr. and Maya Angelou.”

“Who are they?”

“Just two examples of great visionaries, whose futures I could affect if I started fooling around with the past.”

“But we can prevent bloodshed.” She gripped Danielle’s upper arms as she argued. “With your help, I could prevent what you’re telling me will be a long, awful period with a lot of needless death and suffering.”

Danielle looked at the deep lines etched at the corners of Jess’s eyes. The sincerity she saw there touched her deeply. “It wouldn’t be right, Jess. Who knows? I may have already done or said something that will change the course of things. That’s why it is so important that I get back to where I belong.”

Jess’s expression grew solemn. “I understand. I suppose you’ll need this.” She reached into the pocket of her trousers and removed the locket. Lifting Danielle’s hand, she placed the locket in her palm, then wrapped her fingers around it. The locket held the warmth of Jess’s body. Jess’s eyes were anything but warm.

Danielle had a huge lump in her throat, but she knew she had to say something. “Thank you.” She fell quiet for a moment as she looked at the locket. “I don’t know what to say.”

Jess’s palm flattened against Danielle’s cheeks and her eyes studied each of Danielle’s features. Danielle’s heart actually hurt when she realized Jess was trying to commit her to memory. “I wish there were some other way, Danielle. I wish I could find a way to make you want to stay here.”

“And I wish I knew a way to take you with me.”

Jess smiled. “That would be perfect, wouldn’t it? Is there war in your time?”

She nodded. “But not like this. We’ve made it very neat and sanitary. Enemies can kill each other without ever coming face-to-face.”

“Hmm, that would make it simpler, I suppose.”

Jess reached her hands around Danielle’s waist and pulled her to her.

“Your leg, Jess.”

“My leg is fine,” Jess promised.

“But we shouldn’t be doing this, not so soon after your injury.”

“Is that your medical opinion or are you just trying to get out of your wifely duties?” Jess’s tone was very teasing.

Placing her palms against Jess’s chest, Danielle allowed her fingernails to gently rake the outline of her collarbone. “I happen to enjoy my wifely duties very much. But we really shouldn’t put undo stress on that leg.”

Jess kissed her forehead. “And what if I simply ignore your protests and carry you up to my bedroom and have my way with you?”

“We’d probably both break our necks, since your leg can barely hold your own weight, let alone mine.”

Jess sighed, apparently resigned to following Danielle’s advice in spite of her obvious desire. “So what should we do?”

“You can tell me what happened the night you were stabbed. God knows Blaken has all but forbidden Daniel to do any investigating.”

Jess shrugged. “Blaken just doesn’t believe me.”

Danielle grunted. “Because he was madly in love with Lillian. That’s what he can’t get over.”

“Where did you hear this bit of gossip?”

Danielle tilted her head. “From him.”

Jess placed a quick kiss on her lips.

Danville stared up at her, puzzled by her suddenly cheery mood. “I would think that hearing that someone was in love with your partner would be a little depressing.”

Jess met and held her gaze. “It would be if he’d been talking about you.”

She felt her whole body go still at the sudden change in the direction of their conversation. “Be serious, Jess.”

“I am.” She leaned and gave Danielle a slow, sensual kiss that actually left her breathless. “I know you don’t want to discuss this, Danielle, but–”

“Don’t!” She quickly placed her fingers to Jess’s lips. “We don’t have a future and this is hard enough without complicating it with our emotions.”

“Are you really so able to turn your feelings on and off like that, Danielle?”

“I’ve had to learn to do that, Jess. If not, I wouldn’t be able to cope with my job. Emotional distance is a necessary defense mechanism for me.”

“What about me, Danielle? Am I supposed to pretend that I don’t–”

“Yes,” Danielle cut in. “We can make it wonderful for however long I’m here.” She was hoping to salve some of the pain she read in Jess’s expression. “Or we can have pointless conversations that won’t change a thing.”

Reluctantly, Jess inclined her head fractionally.

“Good. Now since we can’t do what we’d like to be doing, why don’t you explain to me why you’re working with a slimeball like Canton?”

Jess reluctantly allowed her to slip from her embrace. Danielle took a seat close to the fire, while Jess sank into the chair, then lifted her injured leg onto the ottoman. After getting comfortable, she nodded to the locket that Danielle held in her hand. “Aren’t you going to put it on?”

“In a minute. I want to know more about you and Canton.”

“Canton is a necessary evil.”

”Evil enough to have stabbed you? Is that what happened?”

“I was on my way to meet a new contact, when a rider came out of the trees and attacked.”

”Was it someone you know? Was it Canton or Fourcade?”

Jess shook her head. “It happened really quickly and my horse threw me. By the time I recovered, the man had disappeared back into the trees.”

“But you did recognize him?” Danielle guessed.

“It was pitch black, yet there was something familiar about him. But I really couldn’t say who it was.”

Danielle moved next to her, placing her hand on one of Jess’s. “Think, Jess. Could you see his face, maybe his hair? A hand with a ring or something?”

“He was completely shrouded by a cape. I only got a look at his boots.”

”That’s a start.”

Jess sighed. “Not really. I only caught a glimpse and all I can remember is that they were black and well worn.”

“I’ll assume there’s no such thing as a Foot Locker yet, so couldn’t we get a list of all the men in Charleston who have had black boots made?”

Jess tapped the arm of the chair with her finger. “I’m quite certain it would take from now until your time for us to track down every man who has commissioned black riding boots.”

“That many, huh?”

“And as I said, they were well worn, so the person could very well have had them made a number of years ago, in any town or city with a cobbler.”

Danielle shook her head in frustration. “I get the point. Investigation is much simpler in my time. We can trace dye lots to specific manufacturers, then trace the finished product through distributors. Computers make it pretty easy to gain access to all sorts of information.”

“Computers?”

“Machines that store and manipulate all sorts of information. They control most everything, much to the chagrin of my lab tech. She would probably be much happier if we did everything by abacus and stone tablets.”

Intrigue was obvious in Jess’s large eyes. “Your computer sounds much more interesting.”

Danielle smiled. “Television, movies and my personal favorite is the CD player.” Danielle went on to explain the things in great detail. Jess hung on her every word, stopping her occasionally to ask questions.

She let out a long whistle. “I think I would like your time.”

“I think so, too.” Danielle’s voice softened before she continued. She had to get them back to the original subject. “Why do you work with Canton against the South?”

“My reasons are quite simple. I don’t believe any good can come of civil war. History would testify to that. I really have only one goal in life and it is not terribly lofty.”

“Which is?”

“To live in peace at Blazenwood. To continue to make improvements to the architecture and the grounds. I like creating things, designing things. I was happiest when Blazenwood was under construction.”

Danielle looked away and spoke softly. “You’ll get a chance to do it over again.”

Jess’s dark brows drew together at the bridge of her nose. “Blazenwood is destroyed?”

Danielle was sorry she had opened her mouth. “I honestly don’t know. I just know that by my time, it isn’t standing. At least most of it isn’t.”

She closed her eyes and leaned her dark head against the back of the chair. “I built that place in the hope that it would continue long after my death.”

”Now that I’ve told you, maybe you can take measures to protect it. Unless it’s your heirs who allow it to fall into ruin.”

“What heirs?” Jess asked, without opening her eyes. “I am a woman that has no intentions of lying with a man. There will be no heirs.”

“There are always children who need someone to take care of them, Jess. Many children need a home and parents…especially after this war is over.”

Jess opened her eyes. “Yes. Parents. Two people, Danielle. That will be impossible when you leave.”

Danielle didn’t know what to say. “I’m sure you’ll find–”

“What, Danielle? Another woman like you?” Jess sneered. “I know you don’t want to hear this, Danielle, but I find I don’t want any other woman but you.”

“Jess, don’t,” Danielle pleaded.

Ignoring her protest, Jess reached out and pulled Danielle into her lap. “I must be totally daft, but I know I’ve never felt like this before.”

Jess’s mouth closed on hers, moving with exquisite tenderness. The fierce passion was tempered by something else, something that began to pierce the wall around Danielle’s heart. Fireworks exploded in her mind as she slipped her arm around Jess’s neck and settled comfortably against her. She wished over and over again that lifetimes didn’t stand between them.

Jess lifted her head and reached out to grab Danielle’s hand. She found the locket still clutched there and took it from her. “If you’re going to leave me, Danielle, do it now please?”

Danielle lowered her head and allowed Jess to slip the locket over her head. Nothing happened.

“It still doesn’t work.” Danielle was amazed by the fact that a part of her was glad. “I’m still doing something wrong.”

Jess rose, gently setting Danielle on the floor. She didn’t meet Danielle’s eyes when she spoke. “You came to me on the grounds of Blazenwood. Perhaps when I take you there tomorrow morning, you’ll have better…luck.”

“I thought you said Blazenwood was too dangerous.

“It is, but it is where Lillian is buried.”

“What are you saying, Jess?”

“Prove I didn’t kill her, Danielle. The faster you accomplish that, the faster we can end this.”

**********

Danielle watched Jess stare out the window of the carriage. “You’re acting like I chose this, Jess.”

“You made a choice, Danielle.” She kept her face turned toward the small window, refusing even to look at her. “I’m simply complying with your wishes.”

Remembering the fireworks she experienced in Jess’s arms, she reached out and took her hand. “Do you want to know what I really wish could happen?” Jess still did not turn to look at her. “Jess, please look at me.” Once she had her full attention, she continued. “I wish I could find whatever trapdoor I fell through and take you back with me. I’ve waited all my life to feel the things you make me feel. I had pretty much given up on that dream until I met you. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m in love with you, Jess. The thought of leaving you breaks my heart.”

Jess’s jaw dropped open. “How can you tell me this now? Don’t you know that I feel the same way about you?”

Tears welled up in Danielle’s eyes. “Yes, I know, but it doesn’t change anything. It can’t. I don’t belong here and I never will.”

Jess leaned forward and wiped a stray tear from her cheek. “You could, Danielle. We can leave the country until the war if over if you want.”

“But what would that do to the course of things?” She was suddenly angry at fate and whatever else was responsible for her predicament. “You are a part of the war. If you suddenly disappear, it could change something that could affect dozens, maybe hundreds, of other things.”

“I don’t care.” She punched the seat next to her. “Tell me, Danielle, what are we supposed to do. Am I just to forget you?”

“We have to. You’ll have to pretend that I died or something. I don’t know, Jess.”

“Forgive me, but I wasn’t heartbroken when Lillian died. I was sorry for her passing, but it was never like this. Lillian and I never shared what I’ve shared with you. Losing you might be more than I can suffer.”

“Please don’t say that, Jess. It isn’t any easier for me, but we have no choice.”

“Is that why you’re wearing the locket?” Accusation dripped from each syllable. “You want to make sure you’re prepared at every step.”

Danielle glared at her. “I’m wearing the locket because it has your picture inside.”

“A photograph.” Jess’s voice was quiet as she shook her head. “I will not even have that of you.”

The carriage stopped then, depositing them at the front of the stately mansion just as dusk settled on Blazenwood.

They dined in total silence before Jess dismissed the staff and retrieved Danielle’s satchel from the carriage.

“Thank you.” Danielle was trying to keep her voice light. If her plan worked and she discovered something that could clear Jess’s name, she didn’t want their last words spoken in anger.

Jess’s only response was a grunt.

So much for what I want. Danielle shook her head and followed her from the house. Apparently, Jess was going to make this as unpleasant as possible.

Jess carried a candle as they followed a stone path that wound deep into the pines lining the property. After a short while, they came upon an iron gate that surrounded a crypt.

“Being kept aboveground will help.”

“Spare me the details.” Jess’s tones were clipped. “I’ll wait for you out here.”

Danielle moved to stand directly in front of her. “Can I have a kiss first?”

Jess looked over her head and said, “I have no desire to kiss you.”

Taking a calming breath, Danielle swore she wouldn’t cry as she entered the musty room and went to work. When she emerged more than two hours later, their roles had reversed.

“Your examination didn’t send you back.” Jess observed happily, wrapping her arms around Danielle and attempting to kiss her.

Danielle turned her head to keep from being subjected to the unwanted kiss. “Let go of me, Jess.”

Jess was confused and, she would hate to admit, a little scared. She slowly released her. “What is it, Danielle? What happened? What did you discover?”

Danielle took the satchel and shoved it hard against Jess’s midsection. “I discovered you’re a stinking liar.”

“Liar? I didn’t kill her, Danielle.”

“Even after you found out that she had a lover?”

“What? What are you talking about, Danielle?”

“I’m referring to the fact that Lillian was three months pregnant when she died.” Danielle’s quick smile was wicked. “I’m guessing you didn’t have a lot to do with that.”

“Three months pregnant? I…I…Three months pregnant?”

**********

Back at the house, Jess followed Danielle into the bedroom. “We have to talk about this, Danielle.”

“I don’t want to talk to you right now. I can’t. Please…just go. I want to be alone.”

“Danielle!” Jess’s voice thundered. “Think for a minute. Why would I kill her for lying with another. I didn’t love her. Hell, I barely knew her.”

Danielle turned away and tried to think clearly. “I don’t know. Maybe you were dishonest about your feelings, as well. Or maybe it was pride.” She shook her head and hung her shoulders. “I just don’t know.” She didn’t want to believe it was possible.

Jess released a frustrated breath. “Fine. Let us look at this a different way. Are you sure she was expecting?”

“Positive.” Danielle’s anger was fading somewhat as her rational side regained control over her emotions. She watched as Jess paced, knowing in her heart and mind that she couldn’t have killed Lillian.

As Jess paced, she voiced her thoughts aloud. “I chose Lillian because I needed her father’s wharf, but he evidently didn’t know she was expecting. He wouldn’t have chosen me to marry her…he would have chosen a man. He would have demanded to know the identity of the baby’s father.” Jess was silent for a moment, deep in thought. “The father of the baby. Maybe…he killed her.”

Danielle gasped. “Oh my God, Jess. If he thought Lillian told you about the baby, he could be the one that has made the two attempts on your life.”

Jess turned to her and shrugged. “Maybe.” Her expression changed suddenly. “So you believe me…again?”

Danielle let out a long breath. “Jess…You…I didn’t know what to think. During the examination, everything I found was consistent with a fall, but then…the baby. My mind started racing. I’m sorry, Jess. I really am.”

Jess could hear the regret in her voice. It broke her heart to think that Danielle could think of her as a liar and a murderer, but it didn’t stop her from closing the distance between them. Her expression darkened as her eyes made a bold appraisal of Danielle. “Since we have been discussing my truthfulness, I feel it only appropriate that I tell you that I have lied to you in the past.”

Danielle stiffened. “Really?”

“Yes. I lied to you when I stated that I had no desire to kiss you. I can think of nothing that would give me more pleasure. Then or now.”

Danielle smiled as tears came to her eyes.

Jess raised both of her hands and gently cupped Danielle’s face. “May I kiss you now?”

Danielle was surprised and saddened at the uncertainty in Jess’s voice. Jess was asking for permission instead of acting. That was a first. “You’re asking?” Danielle smiled. “I may faint from the shock.”

She looked into Danielle’s eyes as her thumb lazily drifted over her bottom lip. “I would beg if it would please you.” She bent slightly, but stopped. Leaving her lips hovering over Danielle’s mouth, waiting.

The thought of Jess begging sent a surge of pleasure through Danielle’s body that had her struggling for breath. She met Jess’s lips with a hard, hungry pressure that thrilled them both. Her hands lifted quickly to Jess’s shirt, tearing open the edges in order to feel the strong silky skin of her body. She pushed the garment down her arms, feeling the tightening of Jess’s bunched muscles.

Jess broke the kiss with a teasing smile playing on her lips. “I’m not sure I like your aggressive tendencies, but I suppose two can play your game.” That said, Jess grasped the top of her bodice and tore the fabric to the waist while bringing their lips together again. The noise Danielle made against Jess’s mouth wasn’t one of protest. It was sheer pleasure knowing that Jess’s need was as desperate as her own. Dresses were replaceable; This sort of passion came along only once in a lifetime.

Jess’s mouth slowed to a gentler pace as her hand cupped the swell of Danielle’s breast. Danielle moaned and pressed herself against her, caught between wanting this to last all night and the overwhelming urgency coiling her stomach.

She got both her wishes. Weeks of abstinence led to a quick, volatile joining. Then, slowly, while the rest of the house slept, they took their time exploring each other as night gave way to dawn.

Later, Danielle lay staring at the ceiling deep in thought. She jerked at the sound of Jess’s voice so close to her ear.

“Thinking about Lillian, again?”

“I’ll bet if we find the father of Lillian’s child, we’ll find out who is behind the attempts on your life.”

Jess shook her head. “You are more than welcome to try, but I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

Harold Weatherly probably won’t be inclined to help us. Nora either. George Blaken told me he loved her. It must be him.”

“George Blaken?” Jess laughed. “The man’s every action is dictated by his mother. I don’t think he would have bedded Lillian without his mother’s permission.”

“Jess!” Danielle couldn’t stop laughing. “That isn’t very kind.”

“My apologies.” She smiled with a raised brow. “But I find it hard to believe that I could have offended your sensibilities, Danielle. You aren’t exactly easy to shock.”

Danielle couldn’t argue with that.

“We really should try to get some sleep.” She pulled Danielle into the curve of her arm. “I have to be back in town by dinnertime.”

“Don’t tell me.” Danielle groaned. “You’ve got another meeting. Another dangerous meeting?”

Danielle could feel and hear the laughter rumble deep in Jess’s chest. “Nothing so cloak and dagger, I’m afraid.” She squeezed Danielle briefly to reassure her. “I simply have to be on time to receive a package, Danielle.”

“From Madeline?”

Danielle felt her tense for an instant. “How did you know?”

“When you told me only three people knew you were a spy and you wouldn’t reveal the third name, I realized it had to be Madeline or Anna.”

“How did you decide on Madeline?” Jess took a lock of her hair and toyed with it as they spoke.

“I heard you talking.”

Jess let out a breath and gave the lock she was holding a small tug. “I warned you against eavesdropping.”

“And I warned you that I don’t obey very well.”

Dropping the lock of hair, Jess reached down and slowly pulled the locket out from beneath the sheet. “I’ve grown to detest this thing.”

”Think of it as a necessary evil, like Canton.”

“Right.”

“Speaking of him.” Danielle propped herself up on her elbows. “I know why you spy for the Union. Why does he?”

“Money. He is making a small fortune, which he keeps secreted in banks in New York.”

“And Madeline? Why does she do it?”

“Even though it has been years since her husband left, Madeline can’t seem to get past it. Every month she pretends to receive a letter from him. The truth is, the last she heard, William Yeager had his own regiment in Virginia. I think she’s hoping he won’t have the chance to return home to the young woman he left her for.”

Danielle shook her head. “He did the same thing in my time. He left her and took their two young sons with him.”

Jess was looking up at her with utter amazement in her eyes. “Does she get her boys back?”

“You mean Will took the boys in this time, too?”

Jess nodded.

“Eventually.” Danielle didn’t have the heart to tell her just how long and difficult that reunion would be.

**********

Jess was on time to retrieve the package from Madeline, but Madeline informed her that it hadn’t arrived. They discussed other plans to receive the package.

Madeline watched Jess stare out the window at the garden. “So, what do you plan to do about it?”

Jess shrugged, distracted with watching Danielle out in the garden with Anna’s two children. She was laughing and playing with the children with such joy. She looked so happy at the moment and Jess wondered how she could keep her that way. And in this time.

“Jess!” Madeline bellowed.

Anna cut her eyes to Madeline as she poured each of them a cup of tea. “Don’t get cross, Madeline. This is all very difficult to digest.”

“Well, we can’t breathe a word to anyone,” Madeline instructed. “People wouldn’t have the first notion what to do with a woman that wasn’t real.”

“She is real.” Jess continued to look at Danielle, with her back to Anna and Madeline. “And no one should know that better than I.”

Anna blushed, but Madeline seemed to derive smug pleasure from what Jess’s words implied. “Then you must think of a way to convince her to stay, Jess.”

“I might not have to.” Jess felt a surge of guilt well up inside her with the words. “She doesn’t know how to get back to her time.”

“That’s wonderful!” Madeline’s face had a bright smile dominating her face. “That solves the problem of keeping her here.”

“But it doesn’t.” Her shoulders slumped forward. “I don’t want her kept here as a prisoner. If she stays, I want it to be because it is what she wants. Or…” She decided that thought should remain unspoken.

Madeline’s brow arched high and disapprovingly on her forehead. “Or what, Jess?”

“Perhaps there might be some way for me to accompany her back to her time.”

“Jess!” Both women yelped in unison.

Shaking her head, she spoke quietly. “It’s probably a moot point anyway. Danielle has spent hours manipulating the locket. She tried taking my picture out, putting it in. She even repeated the words she had said just before it happened.”

Anna touched Jess’s back. “She really is determined.”

“Yes.”

“Then you have to change her mind.” Madeline’s voice rose with each word. “It shouldn’t matter where you are if you both love each other.”

“But it does.” Jess recalled Danielle’s argument to the subject. “She can’t be a doctor, she doesn’t have the same freedoms and she’s terrified she’ll do or say something that will change the course of world events.

Madeline waved a hand at Jess. “Phooey. I’ll have a talk with the girl and make her see reason.”

Jess smiled at her. “You’re welcome to try.”

**********

Danielle appeared for dinner and found Madeline seated at the end of the table. “Where’s Jess?”

“She had to run an errand. She said if she wasn’t back in time we should start without her.”

“Is she in danger?” Danielle could feel her forehead crease from her frown. Madeline’s smile was sly and it was all too reminiscent of the Aunt Madeline whom Danielle knew so well. “What is she doing, Madeline?”

”She’s out getting something for you, if you must know.”

Danielle felt the tension drain from her shoulders and she took her seat. “Good. I’m kind of tired of stitching her back together after each of her clandestine adventures.”

“Jess is a tough one.” Madeline’s voice showed her genuine fondness. “And now she has a good reason to come home in one piece.”

Eyeing her dinner companion cautiously, Danielle leaned back in her chair. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“A person in love doesn’t usually take so many risks.”

”Did she really have an errand or did you send her off so that you and I could talk about this? Which…,” Danielle paused to make a production out of flipping her linen napkin into her lap, “…is none of your business.”

Madeline grunted. “Are you telling me you don’t love her?”

”I’m telling you it is none of your business.”

”I’m your aunt.”

”Not for another hundred-plus years.”

“I can’t sit back and watch you destroy her, Danielle. I’ve known Jess for years and she’s never been in love, to my knowledge.”

Danielle closed her eyes. “I don’t want to hear this.”

“Well, someone has to say it. I think I understand why you want to go back to wherever you came from, but you’d lose her in the process. Is it really worth it, Danielle?”

Sucking in a breath with her eyes still closed, she exhaled slowly. “I don’t want to lose her, but I don’t want to stay in this time.”

“Then you’d better decide which means more to you.”

”I know this is hard for you to understand, Madeline, and I’m sorry.”

“But if you give up one, perhaps you’ll find the other has no meaning. I don’t think you can have both.”

“Probably not.” Danielle could feel the reality of the statement add a great weight to her already heavy heart.

Her spirits lifted somewhat when she heard the front door open. Jess joined them in the dining room, carrying a small portfolio beneath her arm. She greeted Madeline, then placed a kiss on Danielle’s mouth that was neither brief nor perfunctory. It didn’t end until Madeline loudly cleared her throat.

“Sorry.” Jess’s light tone and bright smile indicated that she wasn’t the least bit repentant for her behavior. “I think you’ll be pleased with this.” She untied the lacing and flipped open a collection of photographs from their wedding day.”

“Wow.” Danielle turned the pages and recalled every minute of that day in detail.

Jess presented her with a long box. “And I took the liberty of arranging for this.”

“What is it?”

Jess smiled. “Open it.”

When she did, Danielle found a pendant, much more ornate than the one around her neck. Their initials had been carved on the cover and when she flicked it open, she found her photograph on one side and Jess’s on the other. “It is beautiful.” She held it out for Jess to attend to the clasp and her voice became small. “Take the other one off for now.”

That earned her a kiss on the neck that held great promise for the night ahead.

**********

“You didn’t need to come with me.”

Danielle’s smile was genuine. “I like Blazenwood. Besides, I’m not used to so much idle time.”

Jess gave her a playful wink. “There is always needlework.”

“Miss Greene came by yesterday to suggest that I start sewing for the Confederate soldiers. She thought I would be a good candidate since I seemed adequate with a needle and thread.”

Jess’s laughter filled the carriage. “My scars are barely noticeable. And I understand many of our young Southern lads went north without sufficiently warm clothing.”

“Don’t get smug, Jess. The Union experiences several humiliating defeats at the hands of those Southern lads before the war turns.”

“Care to tell me about any of them?”

“So you can pass that on? Sorry, Jess. That’s against the rules.”

“It was worth a try.” She had a huge grin on her face that brought forth an incredible dimple. “After last night, I would have believed you incapable of denying me any–”

Her words were cut off by a sudden and loud explosion that sent their carriage tumbling to its side. Danielle cried out, using her arms to try to soften the blow as she was bounced around the interior.

“Are you all right, Danielle?”

Before Danielle could answer, she was silenced when the dirt just beyond the carriage erupted, spaying them with pebbles. Danielle felt the breath rush from her body as Jess threw herself on top of her. The silence that followed was deafening, but somehow comforting. Apparently, whoever was firing the cannon believed they had hit their target.”

Jess cupped her face. “Are you all right.”

“I will be when you get off of me.”

Smiling apologetically, Jess rolled onto her side. At that instant, a large cannonball came crashing through the carriage, right toward Danielle.

Jess wrapped both arms around her and rolled quickly as far as the space in the carriage would allow. She felt the pressure of debris hitting them and heard Danielle scream. When the debris stopped she watched Danielle’s eyes close as both of her hands went to her head. Danielle’s pain showed in her face. Jess knew she had to get them to safety.

**********

“For the third time, it’s nothing, Jess.”

“But you are bleeding.”

“It’s just a scrape. I didn’t even lose consciousness. I’m fine.”

Jess continued to part her hair and examine the abraded lump on the side of Danielle’s head.

Danielle sighed, slapping Jess’s hands away. “Your leg must be killing you. You shouldn’t have carried me all the way here.”

“It wasn’t that far. Besides, I shouldn’t have agreed to let you accompany me.”

“Don’t be that way, Jess. I wanted to come.” She looked around at her surroundings. “What is this place?”

“A hunting lodge. We are at Blazenwood, just not anywhere near the house.”

“Cozy.” Danielle’s voice was sarcastic as she took in the collection of mounted and stuffed animals guarding the room. “Did you do all this?”

She shook her head. “Not all.”

“I don’t know whether to be glad or disgusted.”

Jess was now moving to start a fire. “By what?”

“I guess you don’t hunt, you don’t eat.”

Jess tossed wood into the fireplace impatiently. “Danielle, what are you going on about?”

“Gun control.” Shaking her head, she indicated that Jess should just forget it. That seemed to suit Jess, for she appeared quite distracted. And very, very tense. Danielle watched as Jess prowled the room, checking each window in turn, her whole body coiled as if preparing to respond to some sensed danger. “You’re wound up, Jess. Can the cannons from the blockade ships reach us here?”

“No.”

“Then what is it?”

“I was guaranteed safe passage out here. Something must be wrong.”

Danielle got to her feet. “I thought you said we were riding out to Blazenwood to pick up supplies for the house.”

Jess didn’t respond. She also didn’t look at Danielle.

“What are we really doing out here, Jess?”

Still no response.

“Tell me, Jess. What are we doing here?”

Jess sighed heavily. “The package I was supposed to receive yesterday was delayed. This is the alternative plan.”

“We’re spying?” Danielle scoffed.

“I’m spying. You are just along because I couldn’t think of a good reason to forbid it.”

“You could have tried the truth. What didn’t you tell me you had to do this?”

Jess turned then, meeting her eyes. “Would you have stayed behind?”

Danielle didn’t hesitate in her answer. “No. I probably would have tried to talk you out of it.”

Jess flashed her a grin. “That was precisely my thought.”

“You can’t have all the benefits of marriage and just dismiss me when the mood strikes, Jess.” Her voice was teasing.

Jess ignored the taunt. “Now you’ll have to stay hidden when you hear a rider approach. I’m quite sure my compatriots will feel as Canton does. Most of these men closely guard their identities along with their activities.”

“And women. You are not the only one, Jess. There are a few women in Richmond using their charms to get information from various military and government bigwigs.”

“Care to share any names?”

“And get someone hanged? Sorry, but you’ll have to fight your own battles.”

Jess continued her vigil at the window. “Is that why you examined Lillian?”

“I was hoping to find something to tell me the identity of the real killer.”

”Then you still believe clearing my name is the key to getting back to your own time?”

“I’m trying to approach this logically, Jess.”

“Is that why I saw you rubbing the locket in you hand and pretending you were listening to Madeline?”

Danielle felt her cheeks go warm. “Okay, so now I’m thinking logically. The locket belonged to Lillian and she’s dead. Your picture was inside, so you have to be the catalyst for all of this. I admired your picture, made some comment about wanting you and wham-o, here I am.”

She turned to give Danielle her full attention. “Back up. Explain the part about wanting me.”

Danielle wished the rough pine flooring would open up and drop her into a deep hole. “I was having a conversation with Aunt Madeline and she was giving me a hard time about not dating. It was just a crack…a joke.” She could feel herself blushing all the way to her toes. “I now have a new appreciation for the adage ‘be careful what you wish for.’”

Jess’s dark head tilted slightly and she gave Danielle a devastatingly sexy half smile. “You wished for me and…wham-o?”

“Pretty much,” Danielle admitted. She was trying to quell the desire budding in the pit of her stomach. When Jess looked at her like that, Danielle seemed able to forget that she didn’t much like this time.

“Perhaps if I had the same thought, we could return together.”

“That would be perfect, but finding yourself in a different time isn’t a walk in the park.”

Jess left her sentry and came to Danielle, lacing her fingers behind Danielle’s waist and holding her tight.

Danielle leaned her head back so that she could look into her eyes. What she saw there made her both happy and sad. “You’re serious, aren’t you? You would actually come with me if you could?”

“I would do anything to be with you, Danielle. Even if it means learning that a mouse is not only a creature but also an electronic assistant.”

**********

Jess’s head bent slowly and she was just about to kiss her when the unmistakable sound of hoofbeats filtered into the cabin. Jess gave her a look and quickly pushed her into a spot hidden by the shadows of a large cabinet.

“You’re late,” Jess said without preamble as soon as she heard the door open.

Danielle silently cursed the fact that she was hidden. It just grated on her natural curiosity. It also didn’t explain why she suddenly smelled something vile, worse than an animal.

The young man smiled at Jess. “Nice to see you again, Blain. What happened to your carriage?”

“We were fired upon.”

“We?”

Danielle silently cringed in her hidden spot.

“My driver and myself.” Jess shook her head and lowered her eyes. “He didn’t make it.”

“Sorry to hear that.” He shifted further inside the room. “I’ve had a difficult time myself.”

Jess rushed to change the subject when she saw the opening. “What happened to you anyway, Charlie?” She wrinkled her nose and looked around. “And what is that smell?”

“A chicken coop.” The young man laughed. “I was forced to hide last night when a Confederate soldier saw me riding toward town. Then I was forced to wait until the kindly farmer completed his chores before I could safely meet you here.”

“What an odor.” Jess moved away from him. “Try not to touch anything while you are here.”

Charlie shoved saddle bags at Jess. “You’ll have to get this to our Union contact before morning. And it can’t go through Canton because there’s no money to pay his fees right now.”

“Before morning?” Jess unrolled the documents the man had handed her. “That doesn’t give me much time.”

“I’d do it myself, but my ship is due to sail day after tomorrow at dawn. I have to get back before I’m replaced. What with the war, commercial shipping is at a virtual standstill. It will be hard for me to reestablish my contacts if I don’t sail with this ship.”

“I understand, Charlie, but I need you to ride to Blazenwood and have my groom send two mounts.”

Charlie’s face contorted in a deep frown. “Two?”

Jess had to think quickly. “Yes. I have some supplies in the carriage to retrieve and I can’t very well leave the driver.”

**********

The horses arrived within an hour of Charlie’s departure. It was quite dark and Danielle didn’t relish the thought of riding. “Where do we have to go, Jess?”

Jess continued to ready the horses. “I’m sending you back to town and I’m riding north.” She turned her steely eyes on Danielle. “Alone.”

Danielle huffed. “I’m not sure I can find my way. I have no sense of direction. Couldn’t I stay here?”

“No.”

“Couldn’t I stay at Blazenwood for the night?”

“Not when there’s a whole garrison of antsy Confederate troops just a few miles on the other side to the river.”

“But what if I get lost or if I get stopped by a patrol?”

Jess stopped fiddling with the strap of the saddle and let out a long sigh. “To be honest, I don’t know what to do with you.”

“Take me with you, Jess.”

“It isn’t around the corner, Danielle. It will take hours of hard riding to get there.”

“I can ride. I might not be equestrian of the year, but I’d rather risk falling off that damned horse than roaming around here in the dark by myself.”

”I shouldn’t.”

“Then I’ll just follow you.” Danielle held up a hand before Jess could protest. “And before you argue, remember, I’m the one who never obeys.”

Jess narrowed her eyes, but bent down and cupped her hands in order to help Danielle mount the horse. “You have to be the most infuriating creature on earth.”

Danielle immediately felt a lopsided padding on the saddle beneath her. “What is this? I can’t ride sidesaddle, Jess. I’ll surely fall on my as… ah, rear end.”

Jess shook her head. “There’s an old saddle in the lodge. Unstrap that one while I get it.”

Danielle did as instructed, taking it one step further. It was a big mistake. When she pulled the thing off the animal’s back, she fell backward, with the saddle on top of her.

Jess smirked at her when she returned. “It’s comforting to see you’re such an accomplished horsewoman.” Jess lifted the saddle off her. “It will be a pleasure having you along.”

“There’s no need for sarcasm.” Danielle could see that Jess was really worried about taking her along and wanted to assure her. “I really won’t slow you down. I’ll even promise to behave.”

Jess turned, her eyes glistening with surprise. “Does that mean you’ll obey me?”

Danielle crossed her arms over her chest. “This one time and just until you’ve delivered whatever it is you’re supposed to be delivering.”

“Then it will be worth the trouble of having you along.”

Danielle waited until Jess turned her back before she childishly offered her tongue. When Jess had strapped on the new saddle, Danielle proudly hiked her skirts and mounted without Jess’s assistance.

“What you are doing is positively scandalous.” Jess was referring to the fact that Danielle sat astride the horse, a great deal of thigh exposed for all to see.”

Danielle smiled. “It’s also immensely practical.” She grabbed the reins and followed Jess into the darkness.

When Jess had said several hours of hard riding, it wasn’t an exaggeration. Every muscle in Danielle’s body ached by the time they had delivered the documents and were nearly back to Charleston.

Jess turned in her saddle to look at Danielle. “Feeling all right?”

“Fine,” she lied. She would have bitten off her tongue before ever admitting she should have taken Jess’s advice and gone back to The Station, regardless of her misgivings.

“I don’t believe I have ever seen you this quiet. Are you sure you’re not in any discomfort?”

The mocking tone, coupled with the fact that she was exhausted, ignited her fuse. “Okay. You were right. I don’t have a muscle that isn’t screaming bloody murder. My arms feel like lead and my butt is numb.”

Jess threw her head back and laughed as she moved her horse abreast of Danielle’s. “Here.” She pulled up on the reins of Danielle’s horse and brought both animals to an instant halt.

“What are you doing, Jess?”

“It’s only about seven more miles to Charleston. We’ll ride together so you can rest.”

“Why didn’t you make this offer about ten miles back?” She allowed Jess to help settle her in front on the horse.

“I guess I was just enjoying your compliant behavior so much that I– Uumph!” Jess groaned as Danielle’s elbow found her stomach. “The truth is I didn’t realize you were in such discomfort.”

“I’m not in any discomfort now.” She rested against Jess and drank in the scent of her. “This reminds me of that first night. It seems like forever ago now.”

“Yes, it does.”

“I was really mad that night. Especially when you had the audacity to tie me up.”

Jess gave her a gentle hug. “My mistake. You should have told me that the best way to subdue you was to seduce you. It would have simplified things.”

“If we figure out a way for you to return with me, you can’t make comments like that to women.” Danielle’s voice held no malice.

“As long as I have you, I won’t make any comments to another woman.”

Before Danielle could comment a gunshot rang out, causing her horse to bolt and Jess’s to rear. Another shot blew by her ear, close enough so that she could actually smell the hot metal.

Jess dropped them to the ground as soon as she was able to get control of the animal. Then, without a word, she went tearing off in the direction of the next shot.

In the pale morning light, Danielle couldn’t see very far and she wasn’t sure whether it was better to go to the edge of the trees or race after Jess. She knew she could never catch up with Jess so, lifting her skirt, she took refuge behind an oak tree and listened.

She wondered why Jess had to go looking for trouble. The thought made her shake and she gripped the rough surface of the tree. The feeling intensified when she heard another shot. She waited for what seemed like an eternity, but it began to appear that Jess wouldn’t be coming back for her. A vision of Jess lying dead in the road brought tears to her eyes. Her head dropped as she allowed the tears to flow freely down her cheeks. She started whispering aloud in her grief. “I never actually told her I loved her. I always made it part of my grand speeches about going home.”

“Then I’ll have to give you an opportunity to redeem yourself.” Jess smiled.

Danielle looked up and blinked when she saw whom Jess had walking behind the horse being led by a rope tied to the saddle horn. She wiped her tears away. “Harold Weatherly was shooting at us?”

Jess dismounted. “Probably not us, more likely me.” She took her booted foot and kicked the back of Weatherly’s legs causing him to fall at Danielle’s feet. He was staring up at Danielle with eyes filled with dread and animosity. A strip of fabric, obviously torn form his jacket, served as a gag and his hands were bound with the same sort of rope Jess had used to tie her all those weeks ago.

“Is that really necessary, Jess?”

“This horse can only accommodate two riders. He can walk, since his gunfire caused two perfectly good horses to run off.”

Danielle shrugged, seeing her point. They rode slowly into town. Jess apparently had no desire to cause Weatherly pain. Their approach did, however, garner the attentions of nearly the entire town.

Danielle was amazed by the number of people who ran out on porches and front verandas to gawk at Harold Weatherly being led up the road. Yet no one, except Daniel McKinney, stepped forward. “What is going on here?”

Jess’s expression was blank. “You’ll find out as soon as I do, Daniel.”

Daniel mumbled something Danielle couldn’t understand as he went forward and met them at the front of The Station.

Jess dismounted from Weatherly’s horse, then helped Danielle down before untying the rope from the saddle horn and tugging Harold up the front steps.

Daniel turned to Danielle. “Do you know what this is all about?”

“Not really.”

“Where have the two of you been?”

“Out at Blazenwood.”

Jess yanked the prisoner into the parlor. “What’s important is that Weatherly has made three attempts on my life and in this last one, he very nearly killed Danielle.”

Daniel’s eyes grew wide as he looked at Danielle. Danielle saw his gaze travel to the lump on the side of her head.

Answering his thoughts, Danielle spoke up. “That was another mishap. Luckily Harold is a pretty bad shot.”

The bound and gagged man began to mumble beneath the cloth stuffed in his mouth. Jess responded by shoving him into a chair. “I want him arrested and prosecuted. I also want the charge to include the loss of one of my horses. A very valuable mare.”

Daniel raked his fingers through his hair, his handsome features conveying his utter dismay at the strange turn of events.

Before they got much further, Madeline and Anna arrived. Apparently, word of the situation had brought them running.

Harold struggled against his restraints, but appeared to know better than to try to move from the spot where Jess had shoved him.

Daniel looked at Weatherly’s bound hands, before addressing Jess. “I appreciate that there is some bad blood between you two, but dragging him through town probably wasn’t such a good idea, Jess.”

Jess’s expression was stone-like in its intensity. “I know the Confederate occupation of the city has seriously limited your powers, but even Blaken won’t be able to overlook this.” Jess reached into the back of her waistband and produced a rather impressive handgun.

It was a large weapon with some sort of bleached bone carved into the handle. The sight of it instantly filled Danielle with misgiving, yet she couldn’t figure out why. But there was something about seeing the gun that set off a warning light in her brain.

Daniel looked at the gun closely. “How did you get that?”

“I took it away from the bastard just before he fired his fourth shot.”

Daniel looked at Danielle for affirmation. She nodded, then recapped what had happened when they were on the deserted roadway.

“What the hell were you doing out there at dawn?”

Jess’s eyes found Danielle’s in the group. “Retrieving Danielle.”

“I’m afraid I went riding and lost my way,” Danielle lied. “I never have had much of a sense of direction.”

Daniel looked from Jess to her, then shrugged, apparently not interested in challenging the lame story.

Madeline pulled one of her cigarettes out and lit it, taking a long drag and blowing out a stream of smoke. “Don’t you think we could untie him?”

Daniel eyed Jess. “I really should hear his side of it.”

Giving a curt nod, Jess reached over and pulled the gag from Harold’s mouth. The man immediately began to spit and sputter about Blain being a murderer.

Jess held up the gag. “I’ll be happy to ram this back in your mouth.”

The small man glared up at Jess with unbridled hatred. “I only wanted see to it that you suffered for killing my Lillian. Since the law hasn’t been able to touch you, I was within my rights as a father.”

“Really?” Jess sounded bored. “Since you brought up fathers, want to tell me the name of the father of the baby Lillian was carrying.”

Harold went white, Anna sucked in a breath and Madeline made a sound that wasn’t really surprise, but more like the dawn of understanding. “Baby? You’re insane. She wasn’t pregnant. She would have told me.”

“Maybe. If she knew. Lillian was pregnant when she died.” Danielle spoke up for everyone’s benefit. She knew several people in the room would heed her diagnosis.

Jess bent forward and spoke next to the man’s ear, her voice filled with loathing. “What went wrong, Weatherly? You had to have known she was spending time with someone.”

The man was red faced. “Yes, I knew she was seeing someone secretly, but she wouldn’t tell me who he was. I begged and pleaded with her, but she wouldn’t tell me anything more than she loved him, but he shunned her after her innocence was gone and wouldn’t marry her. I knew I could count on your greed to solve the problem.” He took a deep breath and stared at Jess a moment before yelling at her. “You had the money, the social status, but you needed the wharf and I needed her married before she shamed herself and her family. I had to choose between you and Blaken. Even you being a woman, you’re more man than he. He’d ask his mother for permission to piss.”

Anna turned away at the comment. Madeline laughed. Daniel pushed the man’s head forward roughly. “There are ladies present, you mean bastard.”

Madeline continued to laugh. “That explains why she looked like a zombie when she married Jess. I always wondered why she had that vacant look in her eyes on what should have been the happiest day of her life.”

Danielle stepped forward. “It makes more sense that her lover killed her. If Lillian knew she was pregnant and told him, he would know that her marrying Jess wouldn’t hide their affair. Jess being a woman and Lillian pregnant would cause the whole town to get involved. Everyone would be curious as to who was the father of the baby.”

Harold turned to Danielle. “But Nora was here at The Station. She swears no one but Jess was in the house that night. No one but her could have pushed her from that window.”

“You managed to get upstairs without being seen. The first time you tried to kill Jess.”

Harold looked to Daniel. “That wasn’t me. I swear. I wasn’t the one who shot at her the night she brought her here.” He pointed at Danielle.

Jess slapped him on the side of his head. “Careful how you address her, Weatherly.”

“But I’m telling the truth. This morning was the first opportunity I had to make things right.”

Realization came to Danielle in a sudden flash. “It wasn’t the same gun.”

Jess looked at her with a confused expression on her face. “What?”

“On the night you were shot, I saw the gun just before the person fired. It wasn’t the same as that one.” She pointed to the gun Daniel now held. “I would have remembered that handle. The gun I saw that night was plain.”

Madeline touched Danielle’s arm. “You mean there are two people intent on killing Jess?”

“Well, we have one of them right here.” Jess pulled Harold to his feet. “And I’m taking this one directly to Blaken.”

Danielle was skeptical. “But, Jess, what if Blaken was the father of Lillian’s child?”

“Blaken?” Daniel, Madeline and Harold all asked at the same instant.

Anna came to Danielle’s side and looked at Jess. “He did tell Danielle and me that he was in love with Lillian. Is it possible that he’s the person responsible for the other attempts on your life?”

Jess nodded, but Danielle kept her reservations to herself. It was certainly a strong possibility. If Jess was right and Blaken was totally devoted to his mother, he wouldn’t want word of his callous treatment of Lillian to become public. And he did seem overtly hostile toward Jess.

Jess looked at Harold. “Let’s go.”

With Daniel in charge of the prisoner, Jess and Danielle followed behind, walking arm and arm. “Once we have this settled, I promise you’ll be able to get some rest, Danielle.”

“I couldn’t sleep while this keyed up. Something about all of this doesn’t feel right.”

Jess slowed their pace so that they were out of the earshot of Daniel and Harold. “Maybe because we’re so close to finding the answer that will send you back to your time.”

She leaned against Jess, closing her eyes. “I’m going to hope we go together, Jess. If I can travel through time, you should be able to do the same.”

“And if I can’t?” Jess’s words carried a heaviness that she could feel.

“Let’s not think about that now.”

They weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms when they arrived at Blaken’s office. “What is the meaning of this, McKinney? And why is that man bound?”

“He’s under arrest for attempting to kill Blain and Danielle.” Daniel deposited Harold in one of the chairs opposite Blaken’s massive desk.

“I think you have it backward,” Blaken argued. “Blain is the killer we’ve been after.”

“You’ve been after,” Danielle corrected. “And now we all understand why it was so important for you to arrest Jess for your crime.”

My c-crime? I didn’t kill Lillian. I believe I explained why that was an absurdity.” He leveled his gaze on Danielle.

“I know what you told me and I also know about the baby.”

“Baby? What baby?”

Jess took a threatening step toward the man. Resting her fingertips against the desk, she leaned forward, getting right into the man’s face. “It seems Lillian was three months along. Care to shed any light on that?”

Blaken’s face was so expressive that Danielle didn’t think it was fake. In fact, the man seemed so genuinely stunned by the news that he collapsed into his chair with his jaw still dangling open. “Not Lillian.” There was such worship in his whisper, such reverence behind the exclamation that Danielle was immediately convinced that Blaken was not the one responsible for Lillian’s pregnancy.

Jess must have come to the same conclusion, for she stepped away from the desk and moved to Danielle’s side.

Daniel stepped forward. “Even if you didn’t know about the baby, that doesn’t mean you can’t be responsible for the attempt on Jess’s life.”

That seemed to bring the man out of his daze. “But I thought you just said you had evidence that Harold tried to kill Jess.”

”I attacked her on the road. I couldn’t stand the thought that she had killed my daughter and then refused to return her dowry.”

Danielle needed answers. “What about the stabbing? Was that you, as well?”

Harold Weatherly appeared genuinely shocked by her question. “Of course not. I wouldn’t be so stupid as to attempt to kill her with a knife.” He looked at Jess with disgust. “She has proven her abilities too many times.”

“Smart man.” Jess raised a brow. “Not a particularly accurate shot, but you were wise not to come after me with a knife.”

Danielle turned to her. “So who do you know that isn’t so wise?”

Jess didn’t answer with words, but her eyes indicated that she had an idea.

After leaving Daniel and Blaken to work out the details of Harold’s arrest, Danielle and Jess headed home.

“Canton, right?” Danielle guessed.

“He’s the only one I can think of. And the shooting and stabbing did happen after I compromised his position by refusing to allow him to kill you.”

“But I thought he needed you and vice versa.”

Jess shrugged. “He could always find someone to replace me. He knows most of my contacts. It might take him a bit longer to get information out, but he is resourceful.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“You don’t want to know.”

Danielle grabbed a handful of Jess’s shirtsleeve and tugged her to a halt. “While I agree that you’re probably right about Canton, what if you’re wrong? Just like all evidence pointing to Blaken, but he wasn’t Lillian’s lover.”

“So he said.”

“C’mon, Jess. He was absolutely devastated to hear that she was pregnant when she died. Obviously, he had her up on a pedestal, but he was definitely admiring her from afar.”

“But Canton isn’t Blaken. He isn’t afraid to kill.”

Danielle shivered, recalling just how willing Canton had been to do her in on that first night. “But killing you would put a definite crimp in his wallet. And you told me that he was so lacking in principle that he was selling out his own country just to make a fast dollar.”

“If you are going to suggest that Canton and Lillian were lovers, I would have to take issue.”

“Why?”

“Because Canton would have married her. Especially with the added inducement of an interest in the wharf. Do you realize how much income comes from that wharf? It is the only route for more than fifty plantations to get their crops to Europe. The North has virtually choked off all other outlets. Without the money from selling our crops abroad, the Confederacy would go bankrupt inside of a week.”

“But I heard what Canton said to you. He was almost laughing when he spoke of Lillian’s murder and how convenient it was. Perhaps he wasn’t just talking about your spying activities.”

“So now you’re saying that you don’t think Canton tried to kill me, but you do think he killed Lillian?”

She stiffened when she heard the mocking tone in Jess’s voice. “It’s a possibility. Someone pushed that girl out the window.”

“I know, Danielle. I found her body.”

“Tell me exactly what you found.”

Jess grunted in disgust as they climbed the front steps to the house. “Not now, Danielle. I’m tired and I just want to get some rest.”

“But it could help me learn more about what might have happened. If I can get the trajectory of the body, I can calculate the probable height of the assailant.

“Danielle, haven’t we had enough excitement for one day?”

Apparently not,” she answered when the door was opened by a tearful Nora Weatherly.

“Not now, Nora,” Jess said as she brushed past the girl, keeping her hand at Danielle’s waist.

“I tried to get her to leave,” Mrs. McGrady announced with definite irritation in her brogue. “I told her right where she could find that despicable father of hers.”

Nora burst into a chorus of gut-wrenching sobs and Jess looked at the ceiling, wondering what she was going to do with this pathetic creature. The woman was in obvious distress; therefore, Jess could not just ignore her. She sighed and looked pleadingly at Danielle.

Danielle studied the young woman a moment, then turned back to Jess. “Let’s hear what she has to say.”

Jess gave her a grateful smile before ushering the sobbing girl into the dining room and suggesting that Mrs. McGrady make some tea.

“Please don’t have my father charged, Jess. I couldn’t stand it if he went to prison. He’s all I have.”

“You didn’t seem to mind if Jess went to prison,” Danielle retorted.

There was a definite possessiveness in Danielle’s tone that warmed Jess. It was obvious from Danielle’s stiff posture as she sat near Nora that Danielle’s desire to protect her was as strong as the other desires, she had discovered during their time together. Perhaps that was a sign that she would stay.

“I only said what I did to help my father,” Nora hiccupped. “I thought if you believed Jess was guilty that you would want to get her away from here to keep her from being hanged.”

Danielle sighed. “I might have if I believed you.”

“Why is it so important to you that I leave?” Jess could feel her patience nearing an end after being reminded of the girl’s accusations.

“You must return your interest in the wharf to Father. It’s his only hope.”

“He won’t need money where he’s going.” Jess wasn’t surprised when her comment sent Nora in to another fit of tears.

Danielle gave Jess a private look that fairly pleaded for compassion. Jess wondered where her capacity for kindness came from, given the fact that Nora and her family had been the cause of so much of their difficulties.

Danielle cleared her throat. “Why is the wharf so important? Surely your father has sufficient income to live comfortably from his share.”

“It isn’t his,” Nora admitted in a voice so soft it was barely audible. “It belongs to Bruce Fourcade.”

“What are you talking about?” Jess was clearly exasperated. “Your father has owned that property for years.”

Nora folded her hands in her lap and fixed her eyes on them. Her shoulders still shook with an occasional sniff.

“Nora,” Danielle began calmly, “if you expect Jess to help you, you’ll have to give her good reason.”

“Father has had a problem for some time.”

“If you’re talking about his gambling, I know all about it. Anybody that has been inside the Goldnugget knows your father’s passion for cards.”

“Goldnugget?” Danielle looked up to meet Jess’s eyes.

Jess swallowed hard. “It’s a gentleman’s club.”

Danielle blinked. “I see. Are you welcome in this gentleman’s club?”

Jess felt her face grow warm and lowered her eyes slightly. “Yes.”

“And what sort of things go on at this club?” Danielle challenged.

Jess smirked. “Exactly what you think goes on.”

Danielle slowly nodded her understanding. “Is this an establishment you have frequented in the past?”

Jess placed her hand on Danielle’s shoulder wanting to reassure her. “Not in my recent past.”

Danielle drew her eyes away from Jess’s and turned back to Nora. “So your father owes money?”

Nora shook her head. “Not money. He signed a note for the wharf.”

Jess shook her head in disbelief. “When did he do this?”

“Right after Lillian died. He thought you would do the honorable thing and refuse to accept her dowry in light of her death.”

“I might have if you and your family hadn’t been so quick to accuse me of killing her.”

Nora sniffed and wiped at her tears. “I know you didn’t kill my sister.”

“But because of the things that you’ve said to Danielle and Lord knows who else, no one in this town will ever believe otherwise.”

Nora shifted uneasily in her chair. “I’m sorry, Jess. Truly I am. I swear, if you’ll just refuse to press charges, I promise I won’t ever make that accusation again.

Danielle shook her head. “That’s all well and good, Nora, but it won’t undo the damage that has already been done. And who’s to say your father won’t get out of jail and come gunning for Jess again.”

“I’ll talk to him.” Nora took a deep breath to calm herself. “I’ll even move back home to keep an eye on him.”

**********

They left Mrs. McGrady to see to Nora, suggesting the girl nap to regain her composure while she and Jess weighed their options. Now, in their room alone, it was too quiet. “You’re awfully quiet, Jess.”

“I’m thinking.”

“I’m thinking too.” Danielle sat at the dressing table and toyed with Lillian’s locket. “Tell me where you found her body, Jess.”

Jess groaned. “Must I?”

Danielle could hear the weariness in her voice. “Humor me.” She flicked open the locket and compared the picture with the woman lying on the bed. “It could be important.”

”I found her directly below the window.”

“How directly?”

“Maybe a foot or so out from the house.”

“Get up,” Danielle told her excitedly.

“I’m tired, Danielle. I–”

“We have to talk to Nora again.” She went to the bed and gave Jess’s arm a pull.

Reluctantly, Jess hoisted herself off the bed and followed her across the hall.

Danielle didn’t bother to knock. She simply opened the door and found Nora in a chair, clutching her small purse in her lap. She looked up with wide, frightened eyes.

“Who was the father of Lillian’s baby, Nora?” Danielle asked before she even stopped walking.

“I…I don’t know what you’re talking about. What baby?”

“Don’t lie to me,” Danielle warned. “Lillian had to confide in someone. I’m betting it was you.”

“You’re mistaken.” Nora lowered her eyes. “I don’t know where you got such an idea. Lillian married Jess and everyone knows they could never have children.”

Danielle laughed lightly, but her laugh held no humor. “Even if Lillian had married a man, she was only married a matter of hours.” She waited for Nora to comment. “Fine. Then your father can spend the rest of his life in jail.”

Turning on the balls of her feet, she grasped Jess’s hand and began to pull her from the room.

“Wait!”

Danielle gave Jess an encouraging smile before she turned to face the reluctant young girl. “You know the identity of the man. Tell me and we’ll have him arrested for trying to kill Jess on the first two occasions. So long as Jess agrees, the charges against you father will be dropped.”

Jess was skeptical. “They will?”

Danielle turned to face her. “Bigger fish, Jess. Harold was acting on his grief. Surely you can make allowances for that.”

“Don’t be so sure.”

Danielle ignored her grumbled words. “Well, Nora, which will it be? Your father or the identity of the baby’s father?”

Nora pulled her lower lip between her teeth and thought for a few seconds. “Bruce Fourcade. He and Lillian were lovers.”

Danielle gasped. “Captain Fourcade?”

Nora only nodded.

Jess shook her head, sadness in her eyes. “I guess we know who killed Lillian now.”

Danielle looked at her. She didn’t hear a lot of emotion in the statement, but she could see the sadness in her eyes. “No, we don’t.” She looked at Nora. “But Nora does, don’t you?”

The girl shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I guess it could have been Captain Fourcade. Lillian said that he laughed when she told him about the baby. She said he had no intention of marrying her. Apparently, he had more important plans for his future than being married to her.”

“Nora,” Danielle began sternly. “We both know that Captain Fourcade might be guilty of treating your sister horribly, but he didn’t kill her.”

“You?” Jess’s eyes were wide as she looked upon Nora with total shock. “You killed your own sister?”

Nora began to sob again, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“I don’t believe this.” Jess took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to understand. “All this time and she’s the one who–”

“You aren’t seeing the forest for the trees, Jess.” Danielle turned her back on the tearful Nora and moved to stand in front of Jess. Taking her hands in hers, she lifted her chin to meet Jess’s bewildered gray eyes. The smile she offered held a mixture of sadness and apology. “Don’t you get it, Jess?”

“Get what? Nora was the only other person in the house.”

“No,” she said with profound sorrow. “There was one other person in the house. A person who was apparently unable to cope with the idea of living.”

She watched as the meaning of her words registered on Jess’s face. “You think she killed herself?”

Danielle nodded once, then turned to Nora. “You’ve known that all along, haven’t you?

Nora’s head bobbed as she continued to cry.

Jess was at a loss. “How did you figure this out?’

“When you told me where you found her. If she had been thrown or even pushed, she would have landed a greater distance from the house.”

“I see,” Jess said softly. “But why?” She looked at the floor deep in thought. “Because she felt she had to marry me because her father insisted? Because she knew she was pregnant? Or because she was in love with Fourcade and he wouldn’t have her?” She looked up. “Why would she do that?”

Danielle approached the still crying young girl. “Nora, give Jess the note.” The girl’s head snapped up and shock showed in her swollen eyes. “Please, Nora. She has a right to know why.”

Nora’s voice was barely above a whisper and breaking with sobs. “How…did you…know?”

“I guessed. You told too many lies and they caught up with you.” She smiled. “I think one of your father’s biggest mistakes was he choose the wrong daughter to marry a woman.”

The girl lowered her eyes and a small smile appeared through the tears. “Jess was respected, wealthy and very strong, but she is a woman and Lillian was very much in love with a man.” Fresh tears flowed when she looked at Danielle. “If word gets out that Lillian killed herself, she’ll be branded a sinner.”

“No one beyond the family needs to know.” Danielle touched the girl’s shoulder gently. “Give her the note, Nora.”

**********

“Do you feel better?” Danielle’s tone had disapproval dripping from each word.

Jess sighed wearily. “I suppose.” She was trying not to stare at the locket around Danielle’s neck. It wasn’t the locket she’d had made specifically for Danielle. It was Lillian’s locket. The one that brought Danielle to her and the one she feared would take her away.

Danielle shook her head. “Did you have to hit him?”

Jess shrugged. “When I learned Fourcade only seduced Lillian to get to her father, just so he could get into his card game, I felt like slapping him. When he finally admitted that he only wanted control of the wharf so he could refuse my stores and put Blazenwood into bankruptcy, I felt like strangling him. Trust me, punching him was actually an act of kindness.”

Madeline piped in. “I would have done the same. Fourcade deserved it, but I think you are a fool for letting Harold Weatherly go free.”

“Now, Madeline,” Anna warned. “That was Jess’s decision and it isn’t as if the man hasn’t suffered a great deal already.”

Madeline huffed. “He tried to kill them. Tell her, Daniel.”

“I’m afraid I can see Anna’s point, Madeline. I was at the jail when Nora came in and spoke with her father. Whatever she told Weatherly had a profound affect on him. When I released him, he seemed to be in another world.”

Jess leaned into Danielle so no one else could hear her words. “Which is where you’re planning on going, right?” She gave a quick glance to the locket.

“Not until I’ve had a chance to say goodbye.” Her smile was sad. “Don’t look so crestfallen. I’ve proved your innocence and I’m still here, so I could be on the wrong track and you’re going to be stuck with me for the duration.”

Jess suddenly felt guilty because she had to admit to herself that she wished for nothing else. She had no words.

Anna cleared her throat to get their attention. “So Danielle, how do you plan on getting back to your time?”

“With your help.”

Madeline stiffened and Anna looked afraid.

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to do anything other than help recreate the afternoon that it happened.”

Jess touched her hand. “And if that doesn’t work?”

Jess saw the flash of sadness cross her eyes in spite of the bright smile she offered. “I’ll stay here, I guess.”

Madeline stood and gathered her belongings. “So when do you want to do this experiment of yours, Danielle?”

Danielle looked at Jess for several long moments. She was still looking in Jess’s eyes when she answered Madeline. “Tomorrow.”

Jess closed her eyes to prevent the tears that came instantly from showing. She turned her back to everyone. “I’m going to get a drink. Anyone else?”

No one answered. They all just stared at Danielle in silence.

Finally Anna stepped to her and took her hand. “So soon? Do you have to do it tomorrow?”

Danielle knew that she didn’t belong in this time, but it didn’t stop her from loving these people. She loved them as much as she did her family and friends in her own time. And here she had Jess. Danielle knew she couldn’t second guess herself, so she gripped Anna’s hand. “It’s time. Will you be here before lunch tomorrow?”

Anna looked at Daniel and he nodded. She gave Danielle a hug. “Yes.” She tried to smile. “I’ll be here.”

”Thank you, Anna.”

“You’re welcome.” She took Daniel’s hand. “We are going home. I believe you have had enough excitement for awhile.”

Daniel and Anna said their goodbyes and showed themselves out.

Danielle was doing her best not to cry when she looked at Madeline. “How about you? Will you come?” Madeline wouldn’t even look at her. “Will you help me…Aunt Madeline?”

Madeline looked up with sadness and fire in her eyes. “That’s unfair. I was trying to ignore you and you go and say Aunt Madeline…like…like that.”

Danielle couldn’t help it. A chuckle escaped even as the tears in her eyes threatened to fall. Hearing Madeline’s childish tone accuse her was heartbreaking. She went to her and hugged her tightly. “Thank you, Aunt Madeline.” Her tears could no longer be held. “You will always be my Aunt. Always.”

Madeline took her face in her hands. “Are you sure about this, child?”

”Yes, I am. I’m sorry.”

Madeline squeezed her eyes shut briefly. “So am I. I will see you tomorrow.” She rushed out before her own tears fell.

**********

Danielle found Jess in the living room with her back to the doorway, seemingly deep in thought with her head hanging, her long, lean body braced by her arm on the mantle above the fire place, an empty crystal glass dangling from her hand.

Danielle stood quietly in the doorway and studied the dark stranger that she had fallen in love with. Jess looked weary, which was a rare thing for her. She looked frazzled, which was even more rare. The woman was amazingly striking and strong. Danielle realized that strength both appealed to her and challenged her. She knew they had to talk and would more than likely fight. But for now, she only wanted to give Jess peace.

She crossed the room quickly and took the empty crystal from Jess’s lazy hand and proceeded to the decanter to pour another. “Why don’t you sit down, Jess.”

“I don’t want to sit down.” There was an angry edge to her voice.

“Sit,” she repeated, using the cool, unbending tone Jess often used with her. When Jess’s eyes flashed, Danielle turned away to pour out a snifter of brandy.

Too distracted to be amused by the sudden role reversal, Jess let out an impatient breath. “No. Why don’t you go…manipulate that locket or something.”

“Why don’t you stop being so stubborn?” She set the brandy on the table in front of the couch, then crossed to Jess, wrapped her arms around her waist, pressed her cheek to her back. “Please, Jess.”

“I’m not in the mood for a fight, Danielle.” And because she wasn’t, but in the mood to brood, she walked over and sat.

She joined Jess on the couch. “Neither am I”

No sooner than she sat, Jess lifted the locket off Danielle’s chest and stared at it as if it would…could hurt her.

Danielle leaned away and pulled the locket from Jess’s hand. “No.” She dropped the locket behind the front of her dress. “I don’t want to discuss that.”

Jess’s eyes glinted. She was angry and she couldn’t help it. She didn’t want to take it out on Danielle, so the best thing that could happen was for them to spend time alone. “I don’t want to talk to you right now either, so go away.”

Danielle reached for the brandy and offered it to Jess. “I didn’t say I didn’t want to talk. I said I didn’t want to discuss the locket.” She held the drink higher. “Now, drink this.”

“You’re pushing you’re luck, Danielle. I want to be alone. I’m not ready to talk to you.”

Danielle continued to hold the brandy expecting Jess to take it. “I’m sorry to hear that, but I have plenty of patience.”

“Then put it to use elsewhere. I don’t want the brandy or your company right at the moment.”

Danielle knew Jess was lashing out, but her own temper was starting to rise. “Fine. I’ll drink it.” She didn’t particularly like brandy and she hated the idea of drinking out of the leaded crystal, but she emptied it in one swallow. “We don’t have to talk, but,” she said as she curled herself into Jess’s lap, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Jess took her by the shoulders to set her aside. “Then I will.”

She simply locked her arms around Jess’s neck. “No, you won’t. Am I so much trouble that you want to be away from me?”

Jess let out a sigh, then defeated, lowered her forehead to Danielle’s. “You’re a constant annoyance to me. I don’t know why I keep you.”

Danielle smiled. “Me either. Except.” She brushed her lips over Jess’s. “This maybe. This is always good.” And skimming her fingers through Jess’s hair, tilting her head back, she kissed her long, slow and deep.

“Danielle.” Jess murmured it, mouth against mouth.

“Let me.” Danielle’s lips traveled over her cheeks very slowly. Very tenderly. “Just let me. I love you.”

She could feel Jess’s muscles were taut and knotted with a tension that so rarely showed. She stroked, letting her hands smooth while her mouth seduced. So controlled, Danielle thought, shifting to scrape her teeth lightly over Jess’s jaw. She found both frustration and security in Jess’s control. Now it wavered and she would attempt to exploit the weakness, try to channel her anger into lust.

Her busy hands moved to Jess’s shirt, slowly opening the buttons. Her lips followed down the trail of exposed flesh to Jess’s heart where the beat was strong, but still too steady. “I love the taste of you.” She ran her hands up Jess’s sides, over her breasts, flicked her tongue over a nipple and heard the quick intake of breath. “Everywhere.”

She shifted again, straddling Jess now. And when she saw the dark cloud of need over the wild eyes, the beat of her own blood quickened. She slowly began to do away with all the material on her body that this time required of her. She watched Jess’s gray eyes grow darker with every uncovered piece of flesh. When she saw Jess’s gaze shift down, she felt her nipples throb as if her mouth had already claimed them.

Jess lightly touched the palm of her hand to Danielle’s cheek. “Let me take you to bed.”

Danielle smiled and her eyes took on a sinful gleam. “Let’s take each other.” She stretched up, stripped off the remaining material and tossed it aside. “Right here.” She fisted her hands in Jess’s hair, curved their bodies together, sliding flesh against flesh. “Put your hands on me, Jess,” she demanded before covering her mouth with her own.

That was all Jess needed to hear. In one quick move Danielle was under her. Her mouth closed over Danielle’s breast, teeth nipping at the sensitive flesh. The thrill of it swam through Danielle so that she arched up, urging her on, digging her nails into Jess’s strong shoulders.

Jess suddenly couldn’t think of anything except Danielle. The way Danielle’s body responded to her without pause. The curves and lines of her that amazingly fit against her own body so perfectly. The beautiful pale skin and the taste of it when the heat of passion was over it.

She worked her way back up to Danielle’s mouth and opened immediately to Danielle’s probing tongue. She ran both her hands through Danielle’s silky hair, while Danielle’s hands went to the buttons on her pants. With a frustrated groan Danielle forced the pants down past Jess’s hips, where Jess kicked them away and effectively took control of the kiss by sucking and teasing Danielle’s agile tongue.
Jess’s hands strayed briefly over the curves of Danielle’s hips and upper thighs before she slipped her hand between her legs and began caressing her with devastating slowness.

Danielle shuddered at the sensation and her hips rose impulsively. “Jess…”

Jess raised up to gaze down on Danielle’s face as her fingers moved through the hot wet folds. She searched Danielle’s half lidded eyes as she rocked against her hand. “Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are when you’re like this?”

Danielle moaned softly and shifted her hips wanting more pressure, then hissed through clenched teeth when two fingers buried deep inside her. “Not…the way you do…ah, Jess.”

Danielle moved her hand to grasp Jess’s wrist. Using her free hand she pulled Jess by the nape of her neck to her lips. The kiss was greedy and full of audible moans.

Jess was giving her slow steady thrusts, but when she felt the tightening on her fingers, she used her thumb to rub tight circles over the begging nub. When she knew Danielle was close, she broke the kiss to watch her. She wanted to see her go over the edge, needed to feel it, to know when her system exploded, because when it happened she felt like everything Danielle was, was hers. Danielle’s skin covered with a sheen of sweat as her hips pumped and her perfect breasts swayed with the movement. She started to close her eyes as her breath tore out into a sob. “Open your eyes. I want to see your eyes, Danielle.” Jess reached up to touch Danielle’s face, hoping to coax her eyes open, but as her fingers neared Danielle’s cheek, her eyes opened, showing smoldering pleading eyes.

Danielle caught Jess’s fingers with her lips and pulled them into her mouth. She heard Jess moan as she sucked them deeper into her mouth. She released the fingers when she lost the control to hold off her release any longer. Fighting the urge to throw her head back and close her eyes, she caught her bottom lip between her teeth and lost herself in Jess’s darkening eyes. Her thighs stretched tight, she could feel her insides quiver as her lover’s name passed her lips.

Jess’s gray eyes stayed on Danielle’s face as she felt her flow into her hand. She let her hand still, but left her fingers inside as the tremors slowly subsided and Danielle’s body calmed.

Danielle released Jess’s wrist and tangled her fingers in the Jess’s hair, pulling her tightly to her.

Jess sighed as her head rested on Danielle’s breasts. She could hear and feel her heart pounding at her ear. She looked up as Danielle’s lips curled into a small smile and her eyes closed slowly, as she took slow deep breaths. Jess started to remove her fingers, but Danielle squeezed her thighs together. “Wait, baby. I don’t think I can stand it if you move them now.” She moaned softy as Jess’s fingers stilled and her voice dropped to a whisper. “I love you, Jess.”

Jess closed her eyes tightly, grateful that Danielle couldn’t see the play of emotions cross her face. Hearing the words was both a promise and a curse. The thought of this being their last night together like this had a death grip on her heart. After a moment’s hesitation to be sure she could control her voice, she replied in a hoarse whisper, “I love you, too, Danielle.”

Neither woman was sure how long passed before Danielle finally spoke. “Okay, baby.” She laughed. “I think I can survive your moving now that I’m sure my heart isn’t going to pound its way out of my chest.”

Jess rose up and slowly removed her fingers as she sprinkled soft kisses along the swell of Danielle’s breast.

Danielle sighed quietly and reached out to cup Jess’s jaw. “Bring those talented lips up here.”

Jess grinned. “It would be my pleasure.”

“And mine,” Danielle murmured before her lips were covered with lips that proved their talent.

Danielle stretched under Jess to test her limp limbs. At the moment she wasn’t sure she could muster enough strength to crawl off the couch. She just wanted to snuggle up to Jess and lie there wanton and spent, completely satisfied and simply drift on the luscious aftermath of the powerful orgasm. But looking at Jess and knowing this could be the last night she ever touched her, she knew this night was just beginning. She ran her fingers lazily down Jess’s back and smiled when she felt goosebumps in their wake. “With your help, Jess, I just might make it up the stairs and we can pick up where you left off.”

Jess untangled herself from Danielle, then pulled her into her lap. She nuzzled into her neck, sucking on several sensitive spots, before running the tip of her tongue along the curve of Danielle’s ear.

Danielle shuddered, braced her hands on Jess’s shoulders and pushed away in time to catch the sexy grin. “I take it that’s a ‘yes’.”

“Definitely.” She stood with Danielle still tucked comfortably in her arms and started for the stairs.

Danielle gasped as Jess stood, then giggled. “Sweetheart, I can walk.”

Jess dipped her head and kissed her on the tip of her nose. “Stop complaining. It will give you a few more minutes to recuperate, so that lovely body of yours can back up that wonderful mouth of yours.”

Danielle smiled. “For someone who recently told me we shouldn’t be speaking of such things, you sure are free with the words tonight.”

“Mmm…must be the company I’m keeping.”

**********

Daniel, Anna and Madeline arrived together.

At Danielle’s direction, they waited until the exact time she had gone to have that fateful lunch with her aunt. She gave Anna and Madeline their dialogue which left Jess and Daniel nothing to do but stand back and observe.

Daniel’s expression saddened with a thought. “I guess it will be hard watching her disappear into thin air.

“‘Hard’ doesn’t even begin to describe it, Daniel.” Jess reached into her pocket and pulled out the pendant she had given Danielle. Opening it, she stared at her picture wondering if Danielle would even remember her once she got back to her own time. She knew Danielle had the original locket with Jess’s picture, Lillian’s locket, and she had given her numerous love marks the previous night all over her body, but she wanted more assurance.

Danielle had the locket in one hand and the small black and white photograph of Jess in the other. “Okay. I slipped the picture of Jess back in the–”

“Wait!” Jess rushed to her, gathered her into her arms and kissed her hard. When she released her, she looked into her eyes, silently praying she wouldn’t leave, but knowing that she loved Danielle too much to insist she stay. “I love you, Danielle,” she whispered in a voice choked with raw emotion.

Danielle gazed up into eyes swimming. She reached out and dreamily played with Jess’s face with the tips of her fingers. She knew that she had already memorized every line, every curve, every muscle, every sound and she thought she had memorized every look, but this one was new. It was desperation, and the realization of it took her very breath. When she could speak, her voice was quiet and strained. “I love you, too. I always will.”

All Jess could focus on as she gazed down into Danielle’s blue eyes that were shimmering with tears was how she didn’t think she could continue without her. She genuinely understood what had driven Lillian mad. “Danielle, I know it’s against the rules, but I’d like to ask a favor.”

“Anything,” Danielle whispered as her hand came to rest on Jess’s cheek.

Jess opened the locket in her hand and took out the miniature photograph of Danielle in her wedding dress. “I want you to remember me, Danielle. I want you to remember everything we shared.”

“I will, Jess. It’s all here.” She placed her hand over her heart.

“Take this with you.” She took Lillian’s locket out of Danielle’s hand. “When you’re back where you belong, maybe this will remind you that I’ll never love or want anyone the way I love and want you.” Jess slipped the picture into the empty space, placed it over Danielle’s head and as she did, she experienced a flash of bright light.

**********

“First you disappear…now you’ve spent nearly a week moping around like the dead,” Madeline bellowed.

“Leave me alone,” Danielle groaned as she pulled the covers over her head. “And give me back the key to my apartment. I told you yesterday I didn’t feel like company.”

“I know what you told me.” Madeline yanked the bedspread, as well as the sheet off the bed. “I’m just trying to figure out what’s gotten into you. You look like hell.”

“Thank you,” Danielle retorted smartly. “Now that you’ve stated the obvious, why don’t you leave?”

“Because I’m not going to sit by and watch you destroy your life.”

Danielle was fighting back tears. “I already have.”

“I spoke to Allison today and she said you only have one week of comp time left. If you don’t go back to the hospital by Monday, they’ll fire you.”

“So?”

“Danielle Hamilton!” Madeline yelled as she placed her hands on her hips. “You worked too hard and too long to become a doctor to take this attitude now. Tell me what the hell is wrong and maybe I can help.”

Danielle shook her head as she absently rubbed her locket between her fingers. “Everything is wrong. And it isn’t something you can fix.”

“If you won’t tell me, will you talk to Anna? She’s as worried about you as I am.”

“Please, Aunt Madeline. Don’t send in reinforcements. I just need some time to myself.”

“You’ve had weeks of time, Danielle. And where the hell were you that you couldn’t even pick up a phone?”

“I already told you…I wasn’t someplace where they had phones.”

“Madeline sat on the edge of the bed. “Danielle, honey, I’ll back off if you don’t want to tell me what’s wrong, but you’ve got to get out of this apartment and back among the living.”

“I will.”

“When?”

“When I feel like it.”

“Not good enough, Danielle. We’re having a private party for Anna’s birthday tomorrow night after closing. If you’re not there by eleven-thirty, I swear I will come over here and drag you out of here myself.”

“I don’t feel like a party.”

“I don’t really care,” Madeline returned angrily. “There is nothing uglier than a person drowning herself in self pity. Anna has been a good friend to you. The least you can do is come and wish her a happy birthday.”

“Fine. But that’s all I will to do.”

Madeline’s voice rose. “What about your job? Are you going to let them fire you?”

“Aunt Madeline, I said I would come to the party.” She took a deep breath to calm her angry voice. “I haven’t decided what I’m going to do about work yet, but when I do, I promise I’ll let you know.”

“You’re as pigheaded as your father was,” Madeline mumbled.

Danielle couldn’t help herself. She had to know why he was not alive in the other time. “Did my father have an accident when he was a child?”

Madeline’s brows drew together before she answered. “I haven’t thought about that in years. He was riding his bike and I challenged him to race me down a big hill. He lost control of his bike and was almost killed. He was about five. Why?”

“Just boning up on my family tree. Were you named after someone? Some relative?”

Madeline shrugged. “I think so, but I’d have to dig out the family Bible to find out who. I’ve never placed much stock in that sort of thing.” She wagged her finger at Danielle. “Live for the present. Why this sudden interest in genealogy?”

Danielle shrugged. “It’s something to do.”

“What you need to do is take a shower, get out of this damned apartment and get over what ever it is that’s put you in such a foul mood.”

Danielle sighed, holding the locket tighter.

“Was it a woman, Danielle? Is that what this is all about? Did you meet someone?”

“What makes you think that?” Danielle would not meet her aunt’s eyes. “We both know I haven’t had much luck in that department.”

“Unless you met someone on your mystery vacation.”

Apparently, Danielle’s silence was all the confirmation Madeline needed. “If that’s the case, I have the perfect solution. When you have a bad experience with a person, you don’t mope, you find a replacement.”

“Is that why you never dated anyone after Uncle Will left you?”

“We aren’t discussing me. Besides, it seems your uncle has come to his senses.”

“What?”

Madeline actually blushed. “We’ve seen each other a couple of times since he came back from Florida.”

Madeline said it as though her husband had been away at Disney World instead of spending the last twenty years married to someone else.

“Good for you.”

“Is there any chance you could get a second chance with this person you met?”

Danielle lowered her eyes. “Nope.”

“Is she involved with someone else?”

Thinking of the gold band in the drawer of her nightstand, Danielle simply nodded.

“Then you’re better off. I thought you would have been smarter than to get involved with someone like that.”

“Yeah. Me, too.”

Whether it was because she feared another scene with her aunt or the fact that some of Madeline’s words had penetrated her brain, Danielle wasn’t entirely sure. Since she had suddenly reappeared in her apartment, she wasn’t sure of much of anything other than how much she missed Jess. Whatever the reason, she had actually taken a shower, fixed her hair and applied a little makeup before slipping on a simple black dress made of clingy material. It wasn’t her usual style, but if she was going to get her aunt off her back, she needed to look the part.

She also called the chief of her department and smoothed things over so she could return to work the following Monday. Now, as she stepped into her heels, her only problem, she thought, was surviving the party. After running a brush through her hair, she slipped her locket over her head and added a pair of earrings. She looked okay, unless anyone bothered to peer into her eyes. They were dull and lifeless. But she forced that thought to the back of her mind. Just as she kept trying to keep the memory of Jess locked there.

She parked her car at the rear of The Station, under the sign marked Employees Only. There were only a few other cars in the lot and she recognized all but one. She smiled, thinking the car must surely belong to whomever Madeline had hired to replace the clumsy waiter she’d encountered on her last visit.

She stood outside for a minute, remembering vividly what the place had looked like when it had been her home. “Not a healthy thought. Just pretend it never happened.” She walked through the door.

Sandy smiled. “Hi, Danielle. Everyone is in the dining room.” She looked at Danielle strangely for a moment. “Boy, is your karma ever screwed up.”

“Thanks. And I knew that already.”

“There you are.” Madeline beamed as she came through the swinging metal door that led to the dining area. “I was afraid I was going to have to come for you. Good. You look wonderful.”

“I tried.” Danielle plastered a smile on her face.

Madeline took Danielle’s arm and led her toward the stairwell. “I’ve got a small surprise for you.”

Danielle took one look at her aunt’s face and started up the stairs. “How could you? Whoever she is, get rid of her. I’ll wait in the office until she’s gone.”

“Be reasonable, Danielle. She’s great and really nice looking. And she says–”

“I don’t care if she’s God’s gift, if she says so much as hello to me, I’ll deck her.”

“You’re welcome to try.”

Danielle made a noise that sounded like a small whimper as she turned toward the familiar voice. “Jess?”

Madeline’s eyes went wide. “Wait a minute, you two really do know each other?”

“Yes,” they answered in unison.

“Leave us alone, Aunt Madeline,” Danielle stated as if in a trance.

“But the party?”

“We’ll be down in a minute,” Danielle mumbled as she finally came out of her daze and climbed the stairs two at a time to throw herself into Jess’s arms.

Madeline’s mouth fell open. “I guess you do know each other.”

Danielle barely heard Madeline’s words as their mouths joined in a hungry kiss.

Danielle pulled Jess into the office and closed the door. “What happened?”

“I’m not sure, but I ended up out in the middle of some field. I wandered around for two days and then I got arrested.”

Danielle didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “What?”

Jess smiled almost shyly. “I tried to explain to the police officer that I was from 1861 and had followed you through time.”

Danielle tried to control her snicker. “You didn’t.”

“It gave me a better understanding of how you must have felt when none of us would believe you.”

“Frustrating, huh?” She ran her hands through Jess’s hair then over her shirt. “I like you in contemporary clothing. Who took you shopping?”

“Daniel.”

“You didn’t tell him?”

Jess was shaking her head from side to side almost violently. “When they told me I was free to go after my forty-eight hours of observation, I came here, hoping to find you.”

Danielle couldn’t help teasing her. “You must have looked cute roaming the streets in your period costume.”

“I did get some rather interesting reactions.”

“How did you find Daniel?”

Jess lifted a lock of Danielle’s hair as she answered. “He found me. I was hanging around out back and I guess I scared Anna or something. The next thing I knew, he was on top of me.”

“Daniel doesn’t take kindly to having his wife threatened.”

“I wasn’t threatening her. I was waiting for you.”

“And you told Daniel that?”

“He didn’t believe me, though. He would have taken me back to that awful diagnostic center again if Madeline hadn’t shown up.”

“When was that?”

“Yesterday.”

“And you didn’t call me?”

Jess shook her head. “Madeline wouldn’t allow it. She said if I was lying, she’d ring my neck and then call my girl…friend. Know anything about that?”

Danielle looked up at her and tried to hold back her laughter. “Maybe.”

Jess narrowed her eyes. “Maybe?”

Danielle stopped laughing and looked away briefly. “Well, I did kinda tell her that I met someone, but she was involved with someone else.”

Jess looked confused for a moment. “Involved?” She wrinkled her brows in thought. “You mean you failed to tell her we’re married?”

Danielle took on the expression of a scolded child. “I guess I did.”

“Well, I guess you need some reminding, Lady Blain.” Jess swept the contents on Madeline’s desk to the floor and lay Danielle on the surface. She wasted no time settling on top of her, their lips locked in a passionate kiss.

Danielle’s hands touched every place she could reach, while she marveled in the feel of Jess’s magical mouth.

The office door burst open with Daniel and Madeline standing in the doorway. Madeline had her hands on her hips. “Danielle Hamilton, what on earth do you think you’re doing?”

Danielle’s smile must have looked as guilty as she felt. “I guess we just forgot where we were.”

Madeline’s frown wasn’t quite as fierce as it could have been as she eyed the scattered papers. “You made one hell of a mess of my things. And couldn’t you have waited until you got home?”

“I am hom–”

“What Jess means,” Danielle interrupted, “is that I wasn’t totally honest when I told you she was involved with someone else.”

Madeline seemed visibly relieved. “Thank God. I would hate to think you two were carrying on like that if she were.”

Danielle smiled sweetly. “She’s married.”

When Daniel’s mouth fell open and her aunt’s audible gasp could be heard in the next room, she continued, “To me.”

It took Danielle a good half an hour to calm her aunt and convince Daniel that she wasn’t delusional. Finally they were left alone.

Jess showered Danielle’s face with kisses. “I apologize for anything and everything I ever said or thought when you were in my time. I could have sworn I saw the man who worked at the livery…back when there was a livery on the corner.”

Danielle laughed. “I think you’ll find having a car dealership on the corner much more useful. I can’t believe you’re actually, really, honestly here. In the flesh.”

“I can’t either.” Jess looked suddenly very serious. “What do you think hap–”

Danielle lifted her finger to Jess’s lips to quiet her. “Don’t ask, Jess. There are no answers. I only know that it doesn’t make sense, but that I don’t care because we’re together again.”

“But there has to be an explanation,” Jess persisted. “Your Aunt Madeline is the same woman I’ve known for years.”

“Just chalk it up to magic, Jess.” She kissed her deeply, then smiled. “At least I won’t have to worry about your reaction to my aunt. She does have a habit of putting people off.”

Jess laughed. “One thing’s for sure. I’ve never known Madeline to be rendered speechless before.”

“It was something of a new experience,” Danielle agreed. She felt giddy as she played with Jess’s shirt.

Jess let her hands travel over Danielle’s body. “I think I’m going to like these clothes. You feel so good.” She looked down at Danielle, then frowned when her eyes fell on the locket lying on Danielle’s chest. “This locket.” She lifted it from Danielle’s skin with her fingers. “Danielle, maybe we should get rid of it. Or even destroy it.”

Danielle reacted to the words by snatching the locket out of her hand and stepping away. “No!” She instantly went back to Jess and cupped her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell, I just…This locket brought me to you. Then you to me. We can’t destroy it.” Don’t you understand?”

“But what if it takes one or both of us back, Danielle?”

Danielle’s expression changed to one of pure love, before she wrapped herself in Jess’s arms. “Love, I don’t think we have to worry about that. It would seem, when it comes to the two of us, time has no meaning.”

 

The End

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