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To boldly go where no woman has gone before...
It's not a story from one of the novels on her bookstore shelves--Neely Rafferty's vivid dreams of traveling back to the time of Jack the Ripper are actually real. And so is the sexy cop who's time-shifting right along with her. Max Gale has come from 2128 to 2008 to make sure Neely doesn't alter the past. But their intense psychic connection and hot sexual escapades surpass all temporal bounds. She's taking him for a ride through ...
To boldly go where no woman has gone before...
It's not a story from one of the novels on her bookstore shelves--Neely Rafferty's vivid dreams of traveling back to the time of Jack the Ripper are actually real. And so is the sexy cop who's time-shifting right along with her. Max Gale has come from 2128 to 2008 to make sure Neely doesn't alter the past. But their intense psychic connection and hot sexual escapades surpass all temporal bounds. She's taking him for a ride through the ages! And he's not sure he'll be able to go back to the future--or if he even wants to!
Linc Mathews plucked the shilling out of Neely's hand and scrutinized it. While she'd poured out the story of her visit to Mitre Square, he'd made them each an espresso at the coffee bar, and he'd listened to every word without interrupting.
They were seated opposite each other on leather couches in the front room of the brownstone. It had always been Neely's favorite room. Until her grandmother's death a year ago, the space had functioned as a formal parlor where Cornelia entertained her friends from the neighborhood. The coffee table separating Neely from Linc had been the site of countless Scrabble games and hands of euchre. She'd even been invited to participate in them.
Now the room provided a cozy setting for the bookstore that she and Linc had created and named Bookends. The idea for the bookstore had been born out of desperation. When Cornelia had become ill a year and a half ago, Neely had taken a leave of absence from her graduate work in library science to nurse her grandmother.
Although she'd been aware that the illness was draining Cornelia financially as well as physically, she hadn't realized the seriousness of the situation until her grandmother's death.
She'd not only inherited the home she'd grown up in, she'd also become responsible for two years of back taxes and Cornelia's medical bills. And she didn't even have a job. The attorneys had advised her to sell the brownstone.
Neely had balked at the suggestion. Not only did she love the place with its airy ceilings, intricate carved cornices and expanses of honey-colored parquet floors, but she also felt that if she sold the house, she was somehow letting Cornelia down. Soshe and Linc had put their heads together to come up with a solution, and Bookends had been the result.After all, she knew books and loved them. And Linc was a good salesperson, as well as a certified accountant. He'd had some money put aside to invest. And she'd taken the funds her grandmother had left her, paid off the medical bills, put some money down on the taxes and then used the rest of it to open the store. Together, she and Linc had redesigned the parlor, lining the walls with books and adding groupings of comfortable couches and chairs so that customers would feel as if they were invited to linger, to read, to drink coffee, and most importantly, to come back.
It had been a year since the doors of Bookends had opened, and they'd worked six days a week together to build a good-size customer base, starting with the neighborhood. And finally their reputation had spread uptown so that they were getting a tourist trade, as well. The taxes were paid off, and she and Linc were each drawing a comfortable salary.
But deep down in her heart, Neely had known from the start that running a bookstore wasn't her destiny. Becoming a librarian hadn't been her destiny, either. It was just something to do. All through college and her first semester in grad school, she'd felt as if she were treading water, waiting to figure out what she was really supposed to do.
Finally, Linc set the coin down on the table in front of him and met her eyes. "It looks authentic."
"It is." She'd already searched through images on the Internet and had convinced herself that the coin was genuine.
He nodded, then returned his attention to the shilling.
Neely glanced around the room. At eight-thirty, with light pouring through the windows, her experience in Mitre Square seemed far less real—more like a dream. But it hadn't been. She'd actually been there. And a man she couldn't see had chased her.
"Well." Linc rested his hands on his knees and leaned back in his chair. "I suggested that you bring proof and you did. I guess you'd call it an example of—be careful what you wish for."
"There's a part of me that really wanted you to pooh-pooh the coin and tell me that I'm crazy."
Linc met her eyes squarely. "There's a part of me that wants to do that. But you're not crazy, Neely. If you believe that you're traveling to the past, and you can bring back a coin, then we have to explore the possibility that you really are. Dr. Julian Rhoades certainly believes it could happen."
"In the future."
Linc shot her a grin. "I always did figure you were ahead of your time. Speaking of Rhoades, he's getting a lot of mileage out of his theory. I caught him on The Today Show this morning before I left. A lot of his fans, mostly women, were gathered outside the NBC Building, chanting his name. He's going to be speaking at the Psychic Institute in Brooklyn tomorrow afternoon."
"I'll go. Maybe I can talk to him."
"Maybe you can convince him to do a signing here at Bookends and we can both talk to him."
She smiled slowly. And for the first time, some of the tension that she'd been feeling since she'd awakened in her bed dripping wet eased. "Good idea."
"In the meantime, I think it might be better if you didn't travel back to London. If you're right and you did have a little episode with Jack, it's too dangerous."
She clasped her hands tightly together. "I know it's dangerous. But—"
Linc held up both hands, palms out. "Don't make a decision now. Think about it. You have a long day ahead of you. I'm taking a couple of hours off to have lunch with a friend, so you'll be on your own."
She raised her brows. "I think I can manage."
"Perhaps." He shot her another grin, causing one of his dimples to wink. "But our regular female customers will miss me."
And they would, too. In addition to charm and brains, Linc Matthews was no slouch in the looks department. Tall and slim, he wore black trousers and a black silk shirt that provided a dramatic contrast to his fair skin and nearly white-blond hair. Several of their regular female customers had confided in her that he reminded them of Spike in the popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series.
"Then we have the meeting of the armchair detectives tonight, and they'll be peppering you with questions about Jack the Ripper."
He was right. The armchair detectives was what she and Linc had dubbed the group of three seniors from the neighborhood who met every Thursday night. Though the subject had never come up, Neely figured Sally was the oldest of the trio and that both Sam and Mabel were in their mid-seventies. Unlike other discussion groups that selected a book and talked about it, the armchair detectives chose a murder—or a series of murders—that had occurred in the past and tried to find the killer. Last year they'd proven Shakespeare's Richard the Third innocent of the murders he'd been accused of.
Linc rose and took her hands. "Last, but not least, it might be better to get a good night's sleep before you go to the Rhoades lecture."
"I always forget how good you are at persuasion."
"Was I successful?"
She smiled at him. "I'll think about it."
The grandfather clock in the corner chimed.
Linc squeezed her hands before releasing them. "That's our cue to open up and start the day."
IT HAD BEEN the longest day of her life. And it wasn't over yet.
The armchair detectives, consisting of her grandmother's two best friends and a burly retired NYPD sergeant, were still firmly ensconced in the front room of Bookends. Currently, they sat in stony silence on leather couches doing their best to ignore each other. The only sound in the room was the ticking of the grandfather clock. In Neely's mind, it sounded like the clanging of Big Ben.
Mabel Parish, a tall, thin woman who'd been her grand-mother's closest friend and confidante, had lost her temper and swung her book bag at Sam Thornway, but Sam—thanks, no doubt, to excellent police training—still had some good moves in him. He'd pivoted, ducked and avoided the blow.
Neely had grown up knowing Mabel. Keeping her temper under wraps had never seemed to be a problem for the woman until she'd rented one of the rooms in her nearby brownstone to the retired policeman. The two of them just seemed to rub sparks off each other. True, Mabel was strong-minded and Cornelia had once said that she had the personality of Alice's Queen of Hearts. But usually, she got her way by using more subtle strategies, such as staring people down.
Sam seemed to be immune to her stares. A large, imposing man, he was every bit as stubborn as Mabel and rarely gave an inch. Whenever the two clashed, Sally Lansing, the third member of the group and also one of Mabel's tenants, threatened to hyperventilate—which added a lot to the drama. A tiny, frail-looking woman, Sally reminded Neely of an absentminded fairy godmother, but she frequently provided the voice of reason that calmed down the other two.
Not tonight, however. The way Neely saw it, Mabel, who'd been a single woman all her life, was used to being the boss—a role that no one had challenged before Sam. Neely had checked into Sam's background and discovered that he'd been a widower for eight years—a long time to live without the challenge of dealing with a woman.
This wasn't the first time that he and Mabel had gone head to head, and Neely was beginning to wonder if they were both enjoying the clashes on some level.
Tonight's argument had centered on just how many victims could be attributed to Jack the Ripper's killing spree in the Whitechapel district of London. None of the criminologists who'd made it their life's work to study Jack the Ripper could agree. But both Mabel and Sam were positive they were right.
As the seconds ticked by and the silence grew thicker, Neely caught Linc's eye and sent him a silent plea. Left to their own devices, Mabel and Sam were going to sit there all night.
Linc's response was a barely perceptible but firmly negative shake of his head. He mouthed the words I don't want to be collateral damage. Then he grinned and rolled his eyes at her.
It was Sally who finally took the initiative, by rising. "Neely looks exhausted. I think we should finish this discussion at our next meeting and let her get some rest."
Saved by the little fairy godmother, Neely thought. Now, neither Mabel nor Sam had to make the first move. They immediately turned appraising and concerned eyes on her.
"You're right, Sally." Sam rose and shoveled notes and books into the backpack he always carried. "We'll sleep on this." He shot a look at Mabel. "That will give someone's temper time to cool."
Though her hand tightened on her book bag, Mabel merely sniffed in reply. Then she narrowed her eyes on Neely. "Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine." Neely had no trouble summoning up a smile. She had to stifle the urge to do a little happy dance. They were finally leaving. Rising, she led the way to the door to exchange hugs with each of them. Mabel brought up the rear. Waiting until Sally and Sam had started down the steps, she took Neely's hands in hers.
"You're having those vivid dreams again, aren't you?" she asked. "The same ones your grandmother used to have about times gone by?"
Neely nodded. Mabel was studying her very closely.
"Do you mind my asking what they're about?"
"No." Neely knew her grandmother had trusted Mabel implicitly. They'd been so close that at times, she'd felt jealous of the relationship. "Lately, they've been about the London of the Ripper—Jack the First."
Frowning, Mabel nodded. "I should have guessed, what with all the research we've been having you do." She glanced out the open door at Sam's retreating back and spoke in a voice that carried. "I knew we never should have started this investigation into the Ripper. It was all Sergeant Thornway's idea."
Sam neither stopped nor glanced back.
Mabel shifted her eyes back to Neely's. "Your grandmother always used to try and dream about safe places. Be very careful."
Apprehension moved through Neely. She and Mabel had talked about her dreams before, but what she saw in Mabel's eyes looked suspiciously like a warning. Did Mabel suspect that her dreams might be real? How? More importantly, why? But before she could ask, Mabel gave her a brisk, hard hug and hurried down the steps after her tenants. Neely closed the front door of Bookends, then turned and sagged against it. "I'm going to bed."
"It's no wonder you're exhausted." Linc strode through the room, turning off the Tiffany-style lamps that graced various end tables. "What beats me is how the two of them can get so fired up about something that happened in 1888. Whoever killed those women in the Whitechapel district is long dead and buried. Case closed."
"But the case wasn't closed. Jack the Ripper was never caught." Neely loaded cups into the dishwasher in the small alcove that served as a coffee bar for their customers. "That's what fascinates them."
"And me," she agreed.
"No one can change the past. If you ask me, our armchair detectives ought to focus their energy on investigating the bastard who has every woman in Manhattan carrying pepper spray and purchasing handguns. So far the police are batting zero."
Neely had no comment on that. The media was criticizing the NYPD on a daily basis because they had no leads. So far, Jack the Second had claimed five victims in 2008—all single women who lived alone and evidently invited him into their homes.
"Look—" Linc crossed to her "—I have an idea for a change of pace. There's a new club that just opened on Spring Street. Why don't you come with me. It would do you good to get away from here and have a little fun. You've been away from the dating scene for too long."
Neely knew that Linc was on a campaign to keep her from trying to travel to London tonight. But his words struck home. It had been a year and a half since her grandmother had taken ill—a year and a half since she'd been on a date or even to a club. It was a long time to go without any sort of normal social life, let alone a man. She'd been dating someone she liked while she'd been working on her graduate degree. But they'd drifted apart when she'd left to nurse her grandmother. Since then, there'd been no one. Her nunlike existence had been brought home to her with a vengeance earlier in the day when that stranger had walked into Bookends.
"It's high time you had a man in your life," Linc said.
Well, a man had certainly walked into her life today. Linc had been out, so she'd been alone in the store when Mr. Tall, Dark and Dangerous had strolled in. He was dressed in black, with broad shoulders and narrow hips. Never in her life had she been so aware of a man. His mere presence in the room had been as intimate as a touch.
Later, when her brain had started functioning again, she hadn't been quite able to place him either as a New Yorker or a tourist. But at the time she hadn't been able to think straight at all. She'd said something to him, she was sure. The usual spiel—"Welcome to Bookends. I'm Neely Rafferty. Let me know if I can help you." She had to have said something like that because he'd replied, "I'd just like to browse," in a low, gravelly voice.
Then she'd gawked at him like a teenager. The entire time that he'd wandered through the room, she hadn't been able to drag her eyes away from him. Every detail of his appearance had imprinted itself on her mind—that strong face, those angled cheekbones and that lean hard body. He'd caught her looking when he turned suddenly and strode toward her, a book in his outstretched hand.
She'd gulped in air and felt it burn her lungs. Whether or not she would have been able to ring up the sale was a moot point, because he'd dropped the book just as he'd reached her. They'd squatted simultaneously to retrieve it and knocked into one another. He'd grabbed her wrists to steady her, and she'd felt her pulse pound against those strong hard fingers. She'd stared into his gray eyes and watched them darken as his breath feathered over her skin.
Time had stood still.
He was going to kiss her. She'd read the intent in his eyes, felt it in her bones. In fact, though neither of them had moved—she was sure of that—she'd felt those firm lips cover hers, and she'd sampled just the promise of his taste as his tongue touched hers. Her response hadn't been fear. Oh, no. It had been a hot curl of lust. Then, just as she was willing him to kiss her for real, he'd dropped her wrists, gotten to his feet and strode out of the store.
"Earth to Neely "
"Hmm?" She turned to find Linc watching her in concern.
"You've been drifting away like that ever since I came back from lunch. You need to get out of this place for a while. Live a little. Come with me."
She shook her head. "I can't."
Linc frowned. "I know exactly what you're going to do. The minute I leave you're going to try to bring on one of your dreams and go off to London again. What can I do to convince you to take a break—at least until you talk to Dr. Rhoades?"
"I don't think you can. I've been thinking about it all day, and I feel like this is something I have to do."
"I don't know. But there must be a reason I was given this ability." Because she wanted to ease the worry in his eyes, she said, "Besides, if I went with you, what are the chances that I would meet any straight men at your club?"
"No chance at all, I hope." He smiled then. "There's no way I can convince you to get out of here for a while and play?"
"I'm going to the Psychic Institute tomorrow."
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