Tumbling Through Timeby Gwyn Cready
In her sparkling and hilarious debut, author Gwyn Cready introduces Persephone "Seph" Pyle, a total control freak who plans for everything -- until a pair of killer heels sends her back in time and into the arms of a ruggedly handsome sea captain straight from the pages of a romance novel.
Wandering the Pittsburgh airport before a business trip, Seph/b>… See more details below
In her sparkling and hilarious debut, author Gwyn Cready introduces Persephone "Seph" Pyle, a total control freak who plans for everything -- until a pair of killer heels sends her back in time and into the arms of a ruggedly handsome sea captain straight from the pages of a romance novel.
Wandering the Pittsburgh airport before a business trip, Seph decides to kill time with some preflight shopping -- anything to get her mind off Tom Fraser, her irresistible, dimple-chinned coworker turned travel buddy. So when a pair of to-die-for pink stilettos calls her name from a store window, she tries them on -- only to be swiftly transported back to the eighteenth century and flung aboard a turbulent ship sailing the Mediterranean!
There, Seph is stunned to meet Phillip Drummond, an arrogant British pirate and the spitting image of Tom. Phillip has summoned her back in time to straighten out his complete mess of a life -- for he is the burly hero in the romance novel she someday hopes to write, and she is responsible for his destiny. But in the midst of turning things right so she can get back to reality, Seph starts to fall for the smolderingly sexy Phillip. And when Tom is thrown into the mix, she doesn't know what -- or who -- she wants. Seph soon realizes that spotting the perfect pair of shoes may be easy, but finding the perfect man can be a real trip.
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Read an Excerpt
Pittsburgh International Airport
Look before you leap, I always say -- an important lesson when your family pet is a sheepdog the size of Chattanooga and you're doing your leaping in the backyard of your childhood home. Not that I have a sheepdog anymore -- I can barely keep bread mold going, let alone care for a houseplant or pet -- but I grew up with them, and my father still shares a house with one.
The lesson, however, took hold. Caution is my middle name. Actually my middle name is Jude, but only my closest friends use it and only then to wind me up. "Caution" fits a whole lot better. Persephone "Caution" Pyle. As a philosophy it's become my trademark. It has served me in business. It has served me in investments. It has served me with men. It has even served me in my divorce. I've found that without the appropriate amount of premeditation, life is too much like my childhood backyard -- one moment you're having fun; the next you're digging dog do off your PF Flyers.
Which is why I ate at Campiti's, my favorite pizza joint, before leaving for the airport this afternoon and now didn't have to chance ordering off the slightly sticky "Cinco de Mayo" menu at the slightly sticky bar near my gate.
My colleague Tom Fraser sat beside me. He and I were heading to a Pilgrim Pharmaceuticals sales meeting in Venice.
Tom popped the last of his third chicken-and-corn taco into his mouth and inclined his head toward my drink. "I always say there's nothing like a gin and tonic to really capture the spirit of old Guadalajara. Are you sure you don't want a BLT to go with it? You'd at least be in the spirit of 'Mayo' if not 'Cinco.'Â€‰"
"Mayonnaise? At this place?" I shuddered.
"Seph, Seph, Seph." He shook his head.
Tom bemoaned my lack of spontaneity. I bemoaned his lack of imperfection.
Surely the best-looking corporate attorney to ever come out of Fargo, North Dakota, Tom is tall with wavy chestnut hair, blue-gray eyes and a hole in his chin that looks as if my father's Craftsman drill press put it there. My girlfriend Dana claims he's the spitting image of Colin Firth, and he does possess a certain Darcy-like quality, but I'm pretty sure Colin Firth would not have spent so much time stealing surreptitious glances at my breasts.
Tom threw a twenty and a five on the table. "You ready?"
I eyed my bag with confidence and nodded. "I've got a book for the flight. My PC battery is charged and I have a spare. I have a sleeping pill, aspirin, antacids, breath mints, Jolly Ranchers, a toothbrush and a water bottle in my carry-on, and a clean pillowcase in my purse. My watch is set to Venice time -- I already checked the daylight saving time conversion. Dana has the phone numbers of all my father's doctors. My passport and credit cards are strapped to my calf, and I left a copy of my passport, American Express card and itinerary with her, another set with my father, one on my desk and a fourth in my safety-deposit box."
Tom lifted a brow. "I meant are you ready to head to the gate, but I'm glad to see you've really taken that 'relax and enjoy' thing to heart."
Tom and I had become friends during a disastrous acquisition meeting a year ago. We were part of a team trying to buy a Japanese company that owned the bestselling pain reliever in Asia. I run Grant's aspirin. I'm the brand manager, which, in a world where scientists pore over steaming beakers to find the next great product improvement, advertising agencies haggle with producers to crank out heart-touching commercials, factory managers diagram every possible improvement in the manufacturing process, and attorneys like Tom tie up our competitors with lawsuits, is sort of like being the events planner at an orgy. No one pays much attention to you, but if things go well, you're a star.
Anyhow, the Japanese company had been impossible to deal with. We were at the end of our respective ropes. On the day of the final meeting, Dick Hanlon, our high-tech, low-integrity boss better known as Hairy-Eared Hanlon, had accidentally managed to record part of a particularly nationalistic diatribe he'd been spewing at me and Tom and embed it into one of the presentation slides on his PC.
If the Japanese had been hard to deal with before, hearing the head of Pilgrim Pharmaceuticals describe them as "sushi-sucking pedophiles" over the projected figures of a counter offer that did not give them a share in profits until the end of year three did not help.
Tom saved the day by standing up and launching into a karaoke version of "I Will Survive," in which he rhymed "sushi-sucking pedophiles" with "capitalists reviled" in a revisionist chorus he passed off as a frat song used to open all Pilgrim negotiation meetings.
The deal fell through, but we kept our jobs. That night Tom and I got drunk, and laughed so hard his hand slipped into my bra, and I was splayed on a Pilgrim Pharmaceuticals recycling bin cupping his finely gabardined ass before the throat-clearing of the cleaning crew brought us to our senses. I don't do frivolous, and if a drunken one-night stand with a dimple-chinned coworker does not constitute frivolity, I don't know what does.
Honor if not dignity intact, our lives returned to normal. Tom agreed, solemn-faced, to let sleeping gropes lie, though a little more quickly than I would have liked, and neither his smooth baritone nor the smoother waistband of his paisley boxers made any further appearances in my dating life. I told myself it was good to have a friend at Pilgrim, which isn't always a friend-friendly place, and since my Norwegian grandmother lives in North Dakota, we have a lot in common.
"I like the way you're wearing your hair," Tom said, picking up his overnight bag. "You're always doing something different."
I looked in the mirror behind the bar. One dark, determined lock was trying to leap to freedom from my ponytail.
"Thank you," I said. "I like to think of hair as a journey, not a destination."
Tom processed this a beat. "That's remarkably relaxed of you."
"I didn't say I didn't have a plan -- "
" -- it's just that if you do it right, the journey can be as interesting as the destination."
His eyes drifted slowly down the dangling lock to my breasts. I cleared my throat.
"Er, I'm going to check out the newsstand," he said, rising. "I need some floss."
"Oh, no. Not a Cinco de Mayo problem, I hope?"
He gave me a look. "No. I plan on donating it to your readiness kit. I understand floss can be woven into a light but waterproof sleep mask in case of an emergency."
"Ha-ha. I'll meet you at the gate."
Control is key to an orderly existence, and adherence to my rules of decorum -- "Conservative Jude-ism" Dana calls it -- has been a lifelong habit. My father says it's from losing my mother at an early age. I say it's the only possible reaction for a woman extravagantly named Persephone by her parents. Whatever it is, a taste for seriousness has spilled over into every aspect of my life. I drive a twelve-year-old diesel Mercedes. Pastel colors make me twitch. No thong has ever garroted my Jockey-loving flesh. Even my manicure style -- French -- is the plainest there is.
Which is not to say I don't like those who do frivolous. In many ways, I envy them. I've spent untold hours at the nail salon marveling not just at the polish colors, but at the catchy names and themes. It's amazing to think there is some marketing executive at a desk somewhere deciding this season will be My Galapagos Vacation and Remembering the Six-Tease. I love my job, but that's gotta be more fun than marketing low-dose aspirin, which, as we at Pilgrim like to say, is about as funny as a heart attack. In a world of white salicylic acid and orange safety coating, one finds oneself longing for What's a Gull to Do Gold and The Long and Winding Rose.
Tom loped off, his trench coat trailing from his hand. I flipped on the little recorder I carry on my key chain and said, "Sweet but unintentional imitation of Linus being stood up by the Great Pumpkin."
When a phrase hits me, I like to record it. I intend to write a sweeping love story someday, with a hero as honorable as Jamie Fraser, as brave as Jack Aubrey and as tortured by desire as Fitzwilliam Darcy. I like my heroes to be larger than life and as far from my own time as possible. Otherwise they're just guys you could meet anywhere, and where's the romance in that?
Anyway, I figured I'd need all the inspiration I could get since my plan for the flight was to finish my presentation for the sales meeting and, assuming Tom wasn't sitting close enough to see my laptop screen, actually begin drafting an outline of that love story. A number of ideas had been bouncing around my head recently. I was hoping some would feel energetic enough to pogo right down my arm and onto the page.
I grabbed my bag, stood and gave myself a quick review in the mirror, noting once again that, despite an ultrachic black sleeveless turtleneck over black linen jeans, I'd never be mistaken for a fashion model. It could have been my height -- five-foot-five doesn't exactly scream "runway" -- or the full-ish curve of my breasts, but it was probably the size 14 body that looked like it would always be perfectly comfortable living in double-digit territory.
The Pittsburgh airport is one of the new breed of airports -- shiny, bold and stocked with shops for the captive traveler. I marched past the store selling scarves that doubled as evening pareos.
Oh, honey, not with this chest.
And as I approach anything other than a tiny sprinkle of my mother's Arpège with the self-conscious unease of a woman being offered a pair of pasties and a whip, the fragrance store offered no attractions. Nor did the bookstore, since after I read the historical romance in my bag I had a stack of at least nine more by my bed. Even the shop selling twenty-dollar wheeled totes held no temptation. Like most men, I thought. Worthless after the first unzipping.
What I was looking for was a really good present for my dad's birthday, a milestone the medical events of the last year had left me uncertain he'd reach, and I had every intention of marching past the Nine West shoe store as well when a vision in shell pink jerked me to a stop.
I am not one to salivate over shoes. My black Anne Klein flats are endlessly all-purpose. I can't even remember the last time I did anything more than reorder them online in whatever minor variation the latest season brought.
But the pink evening shoes sitting in the window were, well, magnificent. Two-and-a-half-inch modified kitten heels. Tall enough to be sexy, but not so tall I'd feel as if they'd brought back foot-binding. And in place of standard-issue leather straps were two wide swaths of delicate, translucent taffeta that I swore for an instant sparkled like the Northern Lights. The taffeta started over the toes, crisscrossed over the arch, then circled the ankle, tying with an exuberant bow in front. They were shoes that said, "Fuck me, but do it after you've fed me strawberries and maybe given me a nice pair of earrings."
The salesclerk smiled encouragingly. "Would you like to try them on? They just came in. We've only got the one pair."
"One pair!" I squeaked, afraid my hopes would be dashed. "Size eight?"
She lifted the foot-equin and checked the sole. "What do you know? Size eight it is."
The woman untied the swaths as I watched proprietarily. I kicked off the Anne Kleins and removed my socks. I wanted nothing coming between me and that taffeta.
She handed me a shoe. The fabric was cool, and it rustled like my high school prom dress. I sank into the nearest chair and inserted my foot. My toes, which usually looked like half-cooked shrimp, seemed to lengthen and tan right before my eyes. Even the spots of Sonny and Cherise the manicurist had applied while I locked down the childproof cap deal on my cell phone yesterday looked like they belonged.
I drew the ties around my ankle and gasped. I didn't even have to finish knotting the bow to know the fit was perfect. The base cradled my foot in a lover's hug. It was like a Birkenstock for women who shaved their legs, an Easy Spirit for women who hadn't signed away all hope, a Dr. Scholl's for women who wanted to exercise muscles higher than their arches. The shoe seemed to pulse with life.
The heels held me perfectly. No pain. No pinch. Flamingo-like, I lifted my unshod foot. Flawless equilibrium. I could stand forever.
I thought of Dorothy and her ruby pumps. I thought of Cinderella and her glass slippers. I thought of Mercury and his winged heels. A gentle, living warmth rose through the sueded insole that reminded me of the wave-lapped sands of St. Barts on that first glorious getaway with my ex-husband, when sex had been like a rocket blast into space, not a half-awake commuter special at the end of a long week.
"I'll take them." I unzipped the pouch around my calf and slapped my American Express card on the counter.
The shoes didn't go with a single thing I owned. I'd have to buy an entire new wardrobe. I licked my lips, wondering how much time I had before the flight.
While the clerk was running my card through the reader, Tom appeared on the other side of the shop window. He waved. I pointed to my foot, smiling. He gave me a thumbs-up.
I sat down to put on the other shoe. When I tightened the taffeta around my ankle, I swore I could hear violins. I unfolded myself and gazed into the full-length mirror. All at once, the scent of sandalwood hit me like a wave, flashes of light appeared at the edge of my vision, and in a booming crack, the store disappeared in a cloud of Lo-Lo-Lo-Lo-Lola-civious Violet.
Violet, blue, green, orange, red: the world pinwheeled backward through the rainbow as I struggled, terrified, for a toehold. The first drop shot my stomach northward, the second nearly launched its contents into orbit, and the third dropped me hard on my ass while fist-sized water balloons exploded in my face.
I managed to find an iron bolt and clung to it, terrified. Alarms rang in my ears and chest. If it had been a bomb, I'd be dead, or at least not wet.
The world was dark and gray and steeply pitched. I had the impression of being at sea, but it was only an impression, for absolutely nothing could be made out of the buffeting sheets of stinging wet formlessness that assaulted me in every direction. I cried out, hoping someone would hear me, but if someone replied, I couldn't hear it over the mosh-pit roar of the water.
The floor dropped again, and the impact tore me from the bolt. Cold terror shot through me. I scrabbled to catch hold of something while the relentless water dragged me down the slope, but my grasping fingers found nothing.
I slid and slid, and the salty liquid filled my nose and mouth. I gasped but no air would come. The water seemed to pour in on all sides, pounding me in all directions. I thought of my father and my brother and the good-byes I'd never get to say.
All at once, a steel arm circled my waist. I struggled to anchor my hands around its ropy circumference, but a wall of spray as hard as sand flung me loose. I reached again, desperate for the hope it offered, but it was gone. My lungs screamed with wanting. The world turned silver, then sparkly, then there was nothing but Paint It Black.
"Good gad! What have you there, Captain? It looks to be a drowned mermaid."
"Take her if you please, Mr. Haverhill," a deep voice rumbled through the muscled wall at my ear. "Put her on my cot."
I was dimly aware of being heaved from one set of arms to another. Slipping in and out of the half sense my cotton-candy-filled brain was making of the world, I found myself shivering and flat on a bed in an alcove set off from the rest of a small, dark room. In truth, it reminded me quite strongly of a scene in a historical romance novel I had just finished reading, where the Duke of Silverbridge and his estranged duchess reconcile tearfully on a boat docked at Tynemouth, just as she's about to leave him forever and sail away to France. But my mind did not linger on this: the world was still pitching, my butt was on fire, and the damp, low-planked ceiling looked like it might collapse on me at any moment.
When I say a pair of appraising blue eyes appeared over me, it is not a figure of speech. In the light of the bedside lantern, appraising blue eyes were the only appearance of humanity my observer revealed. A red flannel scarf covered most of his wet, dripping hair, a canvas storm jacket was buttoned high over his mouth and nose, and the narrow swath of cheek visible was set at an ironic angle and covered by several days' growth of beard.
"Mmpf," he offered, unenthusiastic.
Across the room Mr. Haverhill asked, "Oughtn't we get her into some clothes?"
That jump-started my brain.
I cut my alarmed gaze from the swaddled beast over me just long enough to determine my state of dress. Whatever I was wearing was thin, cold and soaking, but I wasn't naked. Ready for a wet T-shirt contest but not naked.
"Mmpf," repeated the owner of the eyes, this time with a note of reluctance.
The beast withdrew. I heard the wet coat being unbuttoned, the scarf being flung across the room, and what sounded like the thrum of my neighbor's border collie after jumping from his bath. Droplets flew in every direction.
"Where do you suppose she came from, sir?" Mr. Haverhill asked.
"A stowaway, of course. Explains our run of ill luck." My savior had the voice of a slightly rough-edged BBC commentator. Russell Crowe on unfiltered Camels. "Thank you, Mr. Haverhill. Tell Jones not a wisp of cloth now, not even a stuns'l. We'll scud until the storm breaks."
I tried turning my head to protest, for the last thing I wanted was to be left alone with the beast, but my stomach did not approve of me flinging the world around with such abandon.
I heard Mr. Haverhill, gentleman that he was, hesitate.
"That will be all," the beast said firmly.
The door shut.
"Where am I?" I demanded. Without warning, the room dropped what seemed to be the height of the Empire State Building. "Oh, God, I think I'm going to be sick."
This elicited a brief, Crowe-like chuckle. "Now there's a bit of poetic justice."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You are in the brig Neuf Ouest, madam." A blanket landed with a soft plonk on the mattress beside me. "In perhaps the only hurricane the Adriatic has ever seen."
"I'm on a boat?!" I pulled the warm, dry wool over me. Like its owner, it had the faint odor of exotic spices.
"A ship, madam, an oceangoing vessel with forty-two guns. Second rate. That is," he added with a touch of woe, "were she still a rated ship."
Second rate, indeed. The walls around me creaked and moaned. If this was a ship, it was a damned small one. The ships I usually travel on go through storms like a Porsche through North Dakota -- level, straight and as quickly as possible.
"Wait a second," I said, trying to get my bearings. "There are no oceans near Pittsburgh." Pittsburgh is irredeemably landlocked. The Ohio River, on which Pittsburgh sits, does quite a bit of barge traffic, but this was no barge, and the harsh assault of water on the timbers beneath us was definitely not that of a river. Lake Erie was ninety miles north of Pittsburgh, but Erie wasn't the dangerous Great Lake, was it? I begin to sing "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" in my head.
"Pittsburgh?" he repeated, uncertain. "There's a Pitsford near Northampton, I think -- dreadful place -- but I am not familiar with Pittsburgh. Near Swindon, perhaps? Er, I must recommend you shift out of those wet linens."
I was trying to wring water out of my skirt, but with the movement of the room, the chilly stream kept running down my arms. Freeze with cold or warm with embarrassment, I asked myself. My chattering teeth won.
"Turn your head," I insisted.
I heard an aggrieved "Harrumph" and a few shuffled steps, which I took to indicate compliance. With a jerking wriggle that sent the taste of Campiti's pepperoni pizza to my mouth, I lifted myself to my elbows and peeled off the -- what on Earth was this anyhow? A slip? I haven't worn a slip since fourth grade. Besides, I'd been wearing black linen jeans at the airport. In a moment I was back under the blanket. This was very strange and getting stranger by the minute. "All right," I said.
"Come, come, Miss, er -- What is your name?"
"Miss Pyle. This will never do. The bedding's wet too."
Much as I hated to admit it, he was right. I gathered the blanket tightly, gave my stomach a pep talk, and stood. When my eyes met his face, I nearly passed out.
"You?!" I cried.
"Perhaps ways are different in Pitsford," he said as he pulled the bedclothes away, "but where I was brought up, 'tis considered unmannerly to point."
My knees buckled. Standing before me in a pair of loose-fitting, damp cotton trousers and open blue shirt was Tom! But not my Tom. This Tom was a hairy, disheveled...ruffian. The fundamentals were there: the strong chin, the dark hair, the rugged profile, even the cute muscled ass -- though I'd never seen Tom in damp cotton anything, and the effect was breathtaking. The details, however, were slightly offset from the original, like a 3-D print when you're not wearing the glasses. Instead of close-cut locks, shaggy waves hung to his shoulders. Instead of smooth, contoured cheeks, stubble on which I could file my nails bristled. There was a tattoo on his forearm, a scar through his eyebrow, and the chin --
I blinked. "Hey! Where's your hole?"
"I beg your pardon."
"That divot in your chin. The crevasse big enough to rappel down. Where is it?"
"Oh, that." Spots appeared on his cheeks above his beard. "It's there. Haven't shaved in a week." His hand went abstractedly to the dimple. "What is it about women and this thing?"
I paled. That was the exact toe-in-the-sand response Tom had given me the first time I mentioned the dimple to him.
"Oh, God." I squeezed my eyes shut and willed myself to wake, the way you do in the middle of one of those horrible dreams where your boss is about to stick his tongue down your throat or you've shown up at a meeting naked.
I opened my lids. "Shit." Still naked, or nearly so.
He lifted his brow at my language. Another Tom-ism. "Who are you?" I demanded.
"If you mean my occupation, dear lady, I am the captain of this ship. If you mean my name, it is Drummond. Phillip" -- he rolled his eyes in pure distaste -- "Drummond."
"What's wrong with Phillip?" I asked, slightly irritated. As it was, this was the name I had decided upon for the hero of my theoretical novel. "It's a wonderful name. As it happens, it was the name of my first boyfriend -- the one who took me to the prom," I added grudgingly when his gaze intensified.
"And one takes such pride in being the immortalization of the boy who wore his shirt studs backward and made you pay half the bill at the inn."
My chin dropped and so, too, nearly did the blanket. "How did you know...?"
He grunted. "I am well versed in any number of matters, madam."
"But Tom doesn't know that. I don't know what kind of a dream this is, or who you are, but I'm not playing along."
"Not playing along?"
Sparks of anger appeared in those sapphire pools, and I found myself taking a cautionary step back, which, given the minuscule dimensions of the cabin, dropped me back on my bruised butt on the cot.
"At least you have that option," he continued. "This is not a dream. This is my life, my life envisaged by you, at least. And therein lies the problem. You have cut corners, you have mixed fish with fowl, you have," -- he gestured wildly -- "taken a pinch here and a dash there until we have a bloody Merry-Andrew show on our hands."
"Me? That's impossible."
"Look here. Do you see this wall?"
Plain and white. "So?"
"Ships don't have walls. Ships have bulkheads. Bulkheads have sections that can be stripped down for battle. Walls have, well, nothing that can recommend them for battle. And this?"
He pointed to a round mahogany table in the corner that happened to have the barrel of a cannon rising from a hole that had been cut in its middle. Ingenious, I thought.
"It's a gun," he went on, "my best chaser, in fact. A gift from the Dey Ahmoud. But you have built a dining table around it, a handsome one, I freely admit; only you have provided no hinges or bolts with which to break it down. So I am reduced to lifting it whole and rolling it into the paddock, legs wheeling like some sort of spinning jenny, catching sheets and lines and, last week, Mr. Kenney's groin, when battle is imminent. After our run-in with the Royal Louis, the ship's cat kitted upon it, and I had to eat in the gun room for a week."
Despite my confusion -- at this point I had decided just to let the dream take its bizarre course -- the thought of this grizzled hulk deferring to fluffy, slit-eyed kittens made me smile. An instantaneous glower from him froze it mid-curve.
"Even that," he added, "would be tolerable if you hadn't dropped a French agent into my midst. Christ -- pardonnez-moi -- I would have preferred yellow fever. Then at least one or two of us would come out with our honor intact." He dropped into a chair dejectedly. "Queen Anne will have me hung from the maypole at Hampton Court."
"Queen who?!" I squawked. "Don't tell me Princess Anne is queen!" Visions of the horse guard at Buckingham Palace running Olympic jumps and the English monarch flipping off the press blazed through my head.
"Anne ascended the throne in '02," he answered patiently, "upon the death of her sister's husband."
I felt dizzy, and this time it wasn't the room. Princess Anne doesn't have a sister, and she certainly did not ascend the throne in 2002, at least not the Princess Anne I knew. That was the year we launched Grant's Maximum Strength Formula and I had a lot going on, but I'm pretty sure I would have noticed a change in English monarchs.
History had never been my strong point, so it was with some effort I scoured my mind for the queens I could name: two Elizabeths -- the one now and the Judi Dench one with Shakespeare. Victoria -- face like a boxer, Prince Albert in a can. Mary, Mary, Mary? Wasn't there a Mary? Ah, yes, of the famous William and Mary, my brother's alma mater in Virginia and a reigning king and queen. In fact, the only king and queen to rule in tandem, I remember learning on the campus tour.
What else had that cheery undergrad told us? Mary inherited the crown from her father, who'd been kicked off the throne for being Catholic, a very bad thing at the time, worse than sex with an intern. Upon William and Mary's death, the crown went to...
"What?" he demanded.
"Queen Anne was Mary's younger sister!"
"Indeed, she is."
Is. My legs were shaking. "What year is this?"
"Aught-six? As in s-s-seventeen-aught-six?" As in baroque music, as in the last of the Stuart monarchs, as in bitter battles with Scotland and France?
Despite the gradual lessening of the storm, my head was spinning faster. I felt like Dorothy in the land of Oz, thrust into a world she couldn't comprehend, with nothing but a dog and those absurd blue anklets and ruby slippers --
My eyes cut like a shot to my feet. There, just beyond the end of the blanket, pristinely tied around my ankles, were my pleasure-me pumps -- luminescent, pink and utterly dry.
Lifting my eyes, I caught his gaze. He saw it too. He unfolded himself from the chair and sauntered over, brows knit.
"May I?" he asked, squatting.
As he took my foot in his hand, the blood in my ears made a wonk-wonk like Rudolph's nose when Coach Comet pulled the fake mud one off. My host turned the shoe gently from side to side. Despite my being nearly swallowed by the sea, the shoes were dry. Not just dry, but almost glowing, like the ball of light around Tinker Bell. With his arms held loosely over his thighs, he pondered this.
"What?" I asked.
"You have very fine ankles, milady."
I blushed. Not enough men took the time to notice ankles.
The winds outside stopped abruptly, leaving a roar of eerie silence in their wake. We stared at each other for a moment, his Tom-like face sending a bolt of longing through my heart. Where was Tom now? Had he found floss? Was he missing me? I couldn't convince myself anymore I was going to wake up on the floor of Nine West with him hunched over me. I couldn't convince myself I was going to wake up at all. This had nothing of the appearance of a dream. I pinched myself. I bit the inside of my cheek. I squeezed my eyes and said, "There's no place like home." Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing but me and Phillip Drummond and the sound of the now gentle sea.
"Where am I?" I asked at last, trying to hide the quaver in my voice.
"Off the Dalmatian coast, milady. In the year 1706. You are a writer, and I" -- he pulled off a nonexistent hat and bent deeply -- "am your character." Copyright © 2007 by Gwyn Cready
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