Disclaimers: the story and characters are the sole possession of the author and may not be reproduced, posted or sold without the author's permission.
Warning: This story contains consensual sex between adult women. If you are not interested, please go seek other stories.
Violence & Language: A little violence, a little profanity, but it's basically PG-13.
Thanks: To Annette for her imagination and I want to thank my beta for sticking with me on a story she wasn’t sure about. Thanks!
Time Has No Meaning
“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
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
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
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
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“You’re one of those re-enactors, right? That’s the deal with the clothes and that antique gun.”
“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
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.”
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,
“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,
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
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.”
“I’m not asking,” Blain responded in a voice that left little doubt but that she meant it.
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
Danielle went still. “Please,” she pleaded. “I don’t know what this game is all about.”
“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.”
”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.”
“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
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.
“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.”
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
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
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?”
“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?”
Danielle groaned out of frustration. “What day is it?”
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.”
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?”
“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.”
“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
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.”
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.”
“You will cease your habit of screaming vulgarities.” Her voice was loud and stern.
“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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
“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
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
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?”
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
“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
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,
Danielle’s eyes narrowed as she glared at
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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
“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.
“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.
“Forget it. I was just trying to explain to you that I didn’t feel like running to keep up with you.”
“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?
“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
“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.”
“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
“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 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.”
“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
“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.”
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?”
“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
“So you’re actually from
“Dorothy was from
“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
“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.”
“I am fully capable of controlling my…lady friend.”
Jess felt every muscle in her body coil. “Meaning?”
He didn’t have to.
Jess was well aware of the fact that
“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
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
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.”
“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.
Her startled utterance was met by two troubled sets of eyes. “
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
“Demented,” Madeline grumbled. “Anna, do something with them.”
Anna came forward and whispered something into
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
“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.”
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.”
Everyone just looked at
Anna stepped in to help
Danielle looked up from her dress. “Jessyln?” She laughed. “I don’t even know her full name. This is insane.”
“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.”
”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
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
“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.”
“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.”
“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 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
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
“I don’t want to talk about
”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.”
“I would rather marry you than turn you over to
“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.”
“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
”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
“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.”
“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.”
“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
“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
“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.”
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.”
“You’ll be completely cooperative with the marriage.” Her gray eyes darkened slightly, leaving nothing to Danielle’s imagination.
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.”
“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?”
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.”
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?”
“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.
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