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Aunt Verity's antique necklace lay in an innocent, glimmering coil of gold on the floor of the upstairs hallway. An hour before, when Rue Claridge had been carrying her suitcases upstairs, it had not been there.
Frowning, Rue got down on one knee and reached for the necklace, her troubled gaze rising to the mysterious, sealed door in the outside wall. Beyond it was nothing but empty space. The part of the house it had once led to had been burned away a century before and never rebuilt.
Aunt Verity had hinted at spooky doings in the house over the years, tales concerning both the door and the necklace. Rue had enjoyed the yarns, but being practical in nature, she had promptly put them out of her mind.
Rue's missing cousin, Elisabeth, had mentioned the necklace and the doorway in those strange letters she'd written in an effort to outline what was happening to her. She'd said a person wearing the necklace could travel through time.
In fact, Elisabethgentle, sensible Elisabethhad claimed she'd clasped the chain around her neck and soon found herself in the 1890s, surrounded by living, breathing people who should have been dead a hundred years.
A chill wove a gossamer casing around Rue's spine as she recalled snatches of Elisabeth's desperate letters.
You're the one person in the world who might, just might, believe me. Those wonderful, spooky stories Aunt Verity told us on rainy nights were true. There is another world on the other side of that door in the upstairs hallway, one every bit as solid and real as the one you and I know, and I've reached it. I've been there, Rue, and I've met the man meant to share my life. His name is Jonathan Fortner, and I love him more than my next heartbeat, my next breath.
A pounding headache thumped behind Rue's right temple, and she let out a long sigh as she rose to her feet, her fingers pressing the necklace deep into her palm. With her other hand, she pushed a lock of sandy, shoulder-length hair back from her face and stared at the sealed door.
Years ago there had been rooms on the other side, but then, late in the last century, there had been a tragic fire. The damage had been repaired, but the original structure was changed forever. The door had been sealed, and now the doorknob was as old and stiff as a rusted padlock.
"Bethie," Rue whispered, touching her forehead against the cool, wooden panel of the door. "Where are you?"
There was no answer. The old country house yawned around her, empty except for the ponderous nineteenth-century furniture Aunt Verity had left as a part of her estate and a miniature universe of dust particles that seemed to pervade every room, every corner and crevice.
At thirty, Rue was an accomplished photojournalist. She'd dodged bullets and bombs in Colombia, photographed and later written about the riots in Jakarta, and nearly been taken captive in Afgahnistan. And while all of those experiences had shaken her and some had left her physically ill for days afterward, none had frightened her so profoundly as Elisabeth's disappearance.
The police and Elisabeth's father believed Elisabeth had simply fled the area after her divorce, that she was lying on a beach somewhere, sipping exotic tropical drinks and letting the sun bake away her grief. But because she knew her cousin, because of the letters and phone messages that had been waiting when she returned from an assignment in Moscow, Rue took a much darker view of the situation.
Elisabeth was wandering somewhere, if she was alive at all, perhaps not even remembering who she was. Rue wouldn't allow herself to dwell on all the other possibilities, because they didn't bear thinking about.