Read an Excerpt
Time Enough for Love
By Suzanne Brockmann
BantamCopyright © 2010 Suzanne Brockmann
All right reserved.
There was a naked man pounding on Maggie Winthrop’s back door.
She did a double take as she looked out her kitchen window and realized that he was covered with dirt, as if he’d been crawling around in her garden. Dirt and . . . could that possibly be blood? Streaks of something that looked like blood were on his shoulder and arm. He was wild-eyed, with dark, shaggy hair that exploded around his face, looking as if he’d just been ejected from a wind tunnel.
And yes, he was definitely, undeniably naked.
Somehow he knew her name. “Maggie!” he shouted, hammering on the door. “Mags, let me in!”
It was locked, thank God, and Maggie ran to be sure the front door was locked as well.
She had her cordless phone in her hand, ready to call the police when he called out again.
“Maggie! God, please be home!” There was such anguish in the man’s voice. Anguish and something that stopped her from dialing the phone. Something oddly familiar.
Maggie took the stairs to the second floor of her house two at a time. She set the phone down on the vanity of the sink as she used both hands to open the bathroom window and push up the screen.
The man heard the noise, and he stopped pounding on the door. He looked up at her expectantly as she peered down at him.
“Maggie.” There was such relief in the way he said her name. But despite the strange flash of familiarity that she felt once again, she didn’t recognize him. The naked man was a total stranger.
Maggie definitely would have remembered meeting a man like this one before—even with his clothes on.
He was tall and almost sinfully well built, all hard muscles and not an extra ounce of fat on him anywhere. And in his current state of undress, she had an extremely accurate view of all of his anywheres. He had extremely broad shoulders and powerful-looking arms. He had one of those sexy washboard stomachs leading down into narrow hips, a perfect butt, and lean, long legs.
He had thick dark brown hair that he now ran his fingers through, taming it somewhat as he pushed it back from his face. He had dark hair on his chest and other places as well.
Maggie hurriedly brought her gaze back up to his face. His nose was gracefully shaped with almost elegant nostrils. His cheekbones were prominent, too, as was the firm set of his jaw and chin. He had a scar on his cheekbone, underneath his left eye, making him look faintly dangerous. But it was his dark brown eyes that held her attention. They seemed to burn her with their intensity and fire.
Without question, he was the most gorgeous naked madman she’d ever come face-to-face with. Not that she’d come face-to-face with many madmen, clothed or otherwise, in her life.
“It’s me,” he told her, holding out his arms as if that would make her recognize him. “Chuck.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But . . . I don’t know you.”
He stared at her, confusion in his eyes. “You don’t?”
“Maybe you have the wrong house,” she suggested hopefully.
The man shook his head. “No. Maybe I have the wrong—” He interrupted himself. “What’s the date?”
“Thursday, November twentieth.”
“No, the year. What’s the year?”
She told him.
He swore sharply, clearly upset, and Maggie reached behind her for the telephone, ready to dial 911 at the least little eruption of violence.
“The damned prototype overshot my mark by three years,” he muttered, talking more to himself than to her as he paced back and forth on her patio. His words didn’t make sense, but he was insane. His words weren’t supposed to make sense. “Okay. Okay. So here I am. Better early than late.”
As Maggie watched he took a deep breath and seemed to pull himself together then looked up at her again.
“I’m Chuck Della Croce,” he introduced himself. “And you don’t know me, and . . . I’m naked.” There was a flash of chagrin in his eyes, as well as something that might have been amusement. “God, talk about making a good first impression.”
“Is there someone you want me to call to come and get you?” Maggie asked, trying to remember what she knew about insanity. Was she supposed to back slowly away, speak softly, and keep from looking directly into his eyes? Or was that what she was supposed to do if she encountered a wild animal? Something about this man was wild, that much was for sure.
The man shook his head, again trying to tame his hair, combing it back with his fingers. “No, I’m right where I want to be.” He snorted. “Give or take three years.” He took another deep breath. “I could sure use a pair of pants, though.” He seemed to notice the gash on his shoulder for the first time, along with the dirt that covered him, and he swore again, softly this time. “And maybe the use of your garden hose to wash up?”
“Please?” he added, gazing up at her.
What was it about him . . . ?
“I don’t think I have any pants that will fit you,” she told him. “But I’ll look. And yes. Use the hose. It’s in the—”
“I know where the hose is, Mags.” Sure enough, he seemed to know that the hose and the spigot it was attached to was inside the little garden shed built onto the side of her house.
Maggie felt a chill run up her spine. How did he know that the hose was there instead of outside, the way it was for most houses? And how did he know her name?
Mail. He could have checked her mail. Or looked in the phone book. There were a zillion ways he could have learned her name. And she’d used the hose to water her fig tree just the night before, after the searing southwestern sun had set. He could have been watching. He might well have been watching for days.
The thought was a creepy one, and she shivered again as she shut and locked the window. Why was she doing this? She should just call the police and have this man removed from her yard. There was surely some Phoenix city ordinance that prohibited people from walking around naked in other people’s yards.
She carried the phone with her as she went into the guest bedroom and opened the closet door. The small space was jammed with boxes of Christmas ornaments and Halloween decorations and a rack of clothing that she couldn’t bring herself to throw out. But there was nothing inside that would fit a tall, solidly built man.
Maggie had a muscle or two herself from taking long bike rides around the city, but at five feet two, she was seriously height-challenged. She bought her clothes from the petite rack at the store. No, nothing she owned would even begin to cover the handsome, naked, extremely tall madman in her backyard.
Her bathrobe. That might at least cover him. Of course, it was pink with little flowers on the lapels. A friend had bought it for her, as a kind of a joke. Maggie was not and never had been the pink-with-little-flowers type. She would be embarrassed even to show it to him.
Still, it was the only thing she had that would fit him.
And hey. He was crazy. Maybe he’d like it.
Unless . . .
Maggie quickly pulled one of the boxes down from the shelf. It was the wrong box, but there were only two others marked christmas, so she knew she didn’t have far to search.
She found what she was looking for in the second box she took from the closet.
A Santa Claus suit. Huge red pants with a drawstring waist and a red jacket with fluffy white trim and a black plastic belt sewn directly onto it.
It was big enough, that was for sure.
She carried it back to the bathroom window. Out in the yard, Chuck What’s-his-name had somehow hooked the hose to the old clothesline. He’d also managed to make the water come out in a spray. He stood underneath it, as if it were a shower, water streaming onto his head and down his face. The water made his muscles glisten and shine.
Maggie felt like some kind of voyeur, watching him like that. She was grateful her yard was enclosed by solid wooden fencing and that none of her immediate neighbors in this little Phoenix development had more than a single-story house. No one could see the naked man taking a shower in her backyard.
Except for her.
He opened his eyes and looked directly up at her—catching her staring at him.
Quickly, she turned away from the window, rummaging through her linen closet for one of her older towels. She found one that was worn and tossed it down, directly onto the center of the sun-blistered picnic table on her patio. She tossed the Santa suit down too.
“Thanks.” He grabbed the towel as he moved to shut off the water.
Maggie tried not to watch him as he dried himself, but it proved impossible. She had to move away from the window and gaze up at the bathroom ceiling to keep herself from staring.
What was it about this guy? she found herself wondering again. The man was matter-of-factly casual about his nakedness, but so would she be, if she were as physically fit as he was.
She peeked out the window, relieved to see that he had pulled on the bright red pants and tied the drawstring around his waist. They were baggy and much too short, but at least they covered him.
He was holding the Santa jacket up, looking at it with barely concealed horror.
“Don’t you have a T-shirt I can borrow?” he asked her. “I’m going to roast if I have to put this on.”
Actually, she had a number of oversized T-shirts that she wore to bed as nightshirts. “Hang on,” she told him, and carefully closing and locking the window, she went into her bedroom. She grabbed one of her T-shirts from her drawer. On second thought, she took a comb from the top of her dresser as well.
He was sitting on the edge of the picnic table, drumming the fingers of both hands on the rough wood, waiting for her when she returned to the bathroom window. She tossed down the T-shirt and comb, and again, he thanked her politely.
He was clean now, and while the lack of dirt and blood made him look slightly less certifiable, the Santa pants took him well in the opposite direction.
But as he ran the comb through his dark hair, he looked up at her again and his eyes were clear and sharp. “Will you take a walk over to the park with me?” he asked. “I’d like to talk to you about—”
“I’m sorry,” she cut him off. “I have to get back to work.”
He saw right through her excuse. “We could go somewhere less deserted,” he suggested. “That restaurant around the corner—you know, the place you like to go for Mexican food.”
“Is that what it’s called? The place that makes that killer black-bean soup?”
How did he know black-bean soup was her favorite? This was getting downright weird. “That’s Tia’s. But you’ll never get in without shoes on.”
Still, Maggie shook her head. “I’m sorry, I really can’t—”
“Look, you don’t have to walk over there with me. I’ll go first. You can meet me there in twenty minutes. In the bar. In public. I won’t get near you. No tricks, I swear.”
“Why do you need to talk to me so badly? And how do you know my name?”
Chuck Della Croce gazed up at her silently for a moment. Then he dropped his bomb.
“I’m from the future,” he told her almost flatly, matter-of-factly. “And in the future, we’re friends. I’m a time traveler, Mags, and I need your help to save the world.”
Chuck watched as Maggie took a fortifying sip of her beer.
“Okay,” she said. “All right.” She pressed her palms flat against the table in the bar in Tia’s restaurant, as if needing to feel the solidness of the wood beneath her hands. “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. I’m supposed to believe that you’re some kind of a rocket-scientist genius type who’s invented a time machine. Despite the fact that you look like some crazy, homeless guy wearing Santa pants, a Phoenix Film Marathon T-shirt, and ugly cardboard shoes.”
Chuck glanced down at the cardboard and string sandals he’d made. He didn’t think they were that bad—considering the choice of materials he’d had to work with.
“I’m supposed to believe that you’ve zipped back here in your little Runaround time-travel pod—”
“Runabout,” he corrected her.
“—from seven years in the future, where you and I just happen to be friends.”
She didn’t believe him. Why should she believe him? Time travel. It seemed so science fiction. She was gazing at him with such cynical disbelief in her eyes, he couldn’t help but smile.
He smiled as he hid his trembling hands, as he fought to keep these waves of emotion from overpowering him.
God, three hours ago, he hadn’t thought he’d ever smile again. Three hours ago, the woman sitting across the table from him had bled to death in his arms. Three hours ago, she’d used her own body as a shield, taking bullets meant to kill him. Three hours ago, he’d escaped through the ventilation system in the Data Tech building, running for his life.
The pungent odor of gunpowder and blood still lingered in his nostrils despite the shower he’d taken underneath Maggie’s garden hose. Boyd was dead. Maggie had seen Chuck’s best friend and security chief take a bullet in the back of the head. She’d told him about it before she, too, had died. He was still shaking from all that he’d been through, all that he’d seen. Destruction of his lab. Death on a massive, global scale in the form of a bomb taking out the White House, and with it, the President of the United States. And death on a smaller, far more personal level too.
Chuck gazed at Maggie, shifting slightly in his seat, trying to rid himself of the disturbing memories of death on an extremely personal level. He took a deep breath.
None of that had happened yet. And he was here to make damn sure it wouldn’t happen again. This time around was going to be different. He’d never tried to tamper with time before, not to this degree. He had no idea how easy or hard it was going to be. But easy or hard, it didn’t matter. He was determined to set things right and keep innocent people from dying.
But for right now, all he wanted to do was gaze into Maggie’s light brown eyes. He didn’t care that they were filled with skepticism. He didn’t care that one graceful eyebrow was lifted in disbelief. He’d expected as much from her. She was so straightforward, so honest and down-to-earth, he would have been surprised had she believed him without an argument.
Chuck was ready to argue with her all night, if she wanted. He didn’t care. He just wanted to look at her. She was just so beautifully alive.
His hand was shaking as he picked up his mug of coffee, so he set it back on the table without taking a sip. He wanted to touch her hand, or the soft smoothness of her cheek, but he didn’t dare.
She thought he was nuts.
“So if what you’re saying is true, there’s some kind of time machine—this Runabout thing—sitting in my backyard?”
Chuck shifted in his seat. “Actually, no—”
The look in her eyes made him want to laugh, but he was afraid if he started, he wouldn’t be able to stop.
“Of course not,” she continued. “Come on, tell me why it’s not still there, and make it a really good one.”
“I had to program the return jump in my lab, before I left, and since I knew this was going to be a one-way trip, I set it up to self-destruct,” Chuck told her. “See, there’s a long recharging delay between jumps. If the mechanism is engaged too soon, the device malfunctions, and the Runabout is destroyed.”
“Of course,” she said. “I should have known.”
“It’s the truth.”
“It sounds like anything but. I mean, really, Chuck. You’ve traveled back in time because some evil government agents from some ridiculous-sounding organization—”
“Wizard-9,” he supplied.
“Yeah. Right. These guys from Wizard-whatever got their nefarious hands on your time machine and managed to plant some kind of bomb in the White House that killed the president and his entire staff, including the Speaker of the House, in order to trigger a political coup.” When she said it that way, it sounded like the bad plot of a comic book.
“The coup is just my theory. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out if I was right.”
“So you’ve come back in time to stop yourself from developing time travel, in order to prevent this assassination. Have I left anything out?”
“That’s about it in a nutshell,” he told her.
“Why not just go back in time and warn the people at the White House about the bomb? Why stop the entire project before it even starts?”
He answered her gravely, as if her question were serious. “I figured if I did only that, the door through time would still be left open. This way, the problem of unauthorized time tampering is solved once and for all.”
Chuck had actually considered going back to his childhood, back before the time when the idea of time travel first flashed into his head. But he couldn’t be sure that a change made that far in his past would be enough to alter his entire future. He knew he had only one shot, and he had to be damn well certain it would work.
Maggie sat back in her chair. “Meanwhile, while all this was happening in Metropolis, Superman couldn’t do anything to stop the evil Wizard-9 agents, because he had been struck down by a bullet made of kryptonite.”
Chuck had to laugh. “I’d almost forgotten how sarcastically funny you used to be.”
“What, I’m not as funny seven years from now?”
He couldn’t quite meet her gaze, unwilling to tell her the truth. He realized he was nervously drumming his fingers on the table and he forced himself to stop, to sit calmly, without moving.
She leaned forward. “Come on, Futureman. What am I like seven years from now? Does my freelance-writing business finally earn enough to pay my mortgage? Do I move into one of those big houses on Camelback Mountain? Do I have any kids? A rich, handsome husband? No, wait a sec. Don’t tell me. You’re my husband, right?”
“Wrong.” He looked across the table at her. She was incredibly pretty, but she didn’t know it. She’d probably never know it.
Her hair was brown and from a distance it seemed to be nothing special. It was only up close that one could see that it hung in shining waves around her face, long and thick and glistening. Her eyes, too, were an average shade of brown, but they sparkled and danced when she smiled and laughed. Her face was long, with a delicate cleft in her chin, her jaw strong and almost square. Her nose turned up very slightly at the end.
She was gorgeous in a girl-next-door kind of way, with a brilliant smile that could light up the darkest night.
She was funny and smart and sweet. And incredibly sexy.
He’d been wildly attracted to her from the very moment he’d first set eyes on her—seven years ago, his time. And she’d been attracted to him. It had happened this time around, too, despite the fact that she doubted his sanity. He could feel the familiar sexual pull, even now, each time she looked into his eyes.
If history was going to repeat itself, she would learn to hide that attraction from him, letting him see only friendly warmth in her eyes. But he was here to make sure that history didn’t repeat itself.
“Two years from now you’ll marry a man named Albert Ford,” he finally told her. “An accountant. It won’t work out. One of the last times we spoke, you told me you were waiting for the divorce papers to arrive. I think the whole thing was pretty nasty. So, yeah, it’s been a while since you’ve made very many jokes.”
Maggie stood up. “Well, this was more fun than I’ve had since the last time I played with my Magic Eight Ball.”
He stood up, too, and Maggie felt a flare of panic. Shoot, she’d forgotten how big this guy was. When she’d come into the bar, he was already sitting down. But now he towered over her.
He sat down quickly, as if he could read the sudden fear in her eyes. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean to—”
“I have to go,” she told him. It was the truth. She’d already lost more than an hour of her workday thanks to him, and she had a deadline to make, writing copy for an upscale landscaper’s brochure. She should be thinking of ways to describe mulching and privacy shrubbery instead of wasting her time with incredible tales of presidential assassination and Wizard-9 agents told by a too-handsome escapee from a mental hospital.
She was a fool for coming in the first place. It was her attraction to this man that made her meet him here—and that made her an even bigger fool. What did she honestly think? That he was potential boyfriend material? A lunatic who walked around naked and thought he came from the future?
She’d never considered herself a particularly good judge of character when it came to men, but this situation was a no-brainer.
He was trying to hide his desperation the same way he’d tried to hide the fact that his hands were shaking. He was good at hiding things. When he spoke, his voice was calm, and when he looked up at her again, his manner was cool, almost distant. He’d even managed to lose some of the heat in his liquid brown eyes. “Maggie, what can I say to make you believe me? To make you stay?”
He was remarkably attractive with the restaurant’s dim mood lighting casting shadows across his rugged features. He was good-looking despite the grim set to his mouth and the clenched tightness of his jaw.
It was funny, she’d never found the Clint Eastwood type of man so attractive before. She usually preferred a Tom Hanks. Sensitivity with a healthy dose of good humor usually won out over ominous, smoldering danger any day.
And this man sitting across from her did exude danger with the start of a five o’clock shadow darkening the lower half of his face, his damp longish hair swept back from his forehead, and blood from his wounded shoulder seeping through the thin cotton of his borrowed T-shirt. Fortunately, from where she was sitting, she couldn’t see the Santa pants.
She pulled the strap of her handbag over her shoulder. “Well, you might’ve tried telling me that I’m going to win the lottery next year rather than all that doom and gloom about a failed marriage.”
He shook his head. “But that wouldn’t be true.”
Maggie felt a flash of pity. Poor crazy guy. He actually believed all that he’d told her.
“I really have to go.” She looked down at her half-empty glass of beer and his barely touched coffee. “I don’t suppose you have the money to pay for this.”
He looked embarrassed. “Not at this time, no. I used an early prototype to make the leap back. It was in my basement—the Wizard-9 agents didn’t know about it. It was less sophisticated than the final version of the Runabout, and because of that I could take nothing with me—not even my clothes.”
“Well, there’s a convenient explanation for why you were walking around naked.” Maggie opened her purse, took a twenty-dollar bill from her wallet, and set it down on the table. “Keep the change, Nostradamus, all right?”
“I’ll pay you back.”
“I will. I’ll bring it to you tomorrow.”
His quiet words stopped her, and she turned to look back at him. “I’d rather you just stayed away from my house. In fact, if I see you again, I’m going to have to call the police and—”
“Then maybe I better warn you. We’re going to meet for the first time in just a few days,” he told her. “At Data Tech’s Thanksgiving party.”
Maggie took a step back toward him, startled. Data Tech. She’d recently signed a contract with Data Tech to write a prospectus for a public offering. And the ink on a second contract with the software giant—this one for editing an annual report—was barely dry. And she had received an invitation to the annual Thanksgiving party at Data Tech. She’d already decided to go to the Tuesday-night affair, to schmooze with her new clients and to sniff around and see if there were any other potential projects requiring her talents.
“You won’t meet me,” Chuck told her. “At least not exactly. You’ll meet my younger self—Charles. Dr. Charles Della Croce.”
“Your younger self . . .” Maggie had to laugh. “Of course. If you’re from the future, then it stands to reason that there’s another you—a younger you—running around somewhere.”
He didn’t crack a smile. “Look, I know this sounds crazy to you.”
“Well, there you go,” Maggie said. “We’ve finally agreed on something.”
“I really need your help.”
“Chuck, you need help—that’s for sure, but I’m not the one who can give it to you.” Silently she cursed herself for not just turning and walking away. Instead she sat down across from him again, knowing she was going to kick herself over and over as she was forced to work late into the night to make up for this lost time. “Let me make some phone calls, call a few friends, find you a doctor who can—”
Excerpted from Time Enough for Love by Suzanne Brockmann Copyright © 2010 by Suzanne Brockmann. Excerpted by permission.
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