A thrilling page-turner from Gwendolyn Womack, the USA Today bestselling author of The Fortune Teller
"The Time Collector's fast pace and fascinating premise will delight history and romance lovers."Yangsze Choo, New York Times bestselling author of The Ghost Bride and The Night Tiger
Travel through time with the touch of a hand.
Roan West can perceive the past of any object he touches. A highly skilled psychometrist, he uses his talents to find and sell valuable antiques, but his quiet life in New Orleans is about to change. Stuart, a fellow psychometrist and Roan's close friend, has used his own abilities to unearth several "ooparts"out-of-place artifacts that challenge recorded history. Soon after the discovery, Stuart disappears, making him one of several pyschometrists who have recently died or vanished. When Roan comes across a viral video of a young woman who has discovered a priceless pocket watch just by "sensing" it, he knows he has to warn herbut will Melicent Tilpin listen? And can Roan find Stuart before it's too late? The quest for answers will lead Roan and Melicent around the world, bringing them closer to each other and a startling truth.
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Originally from Houston, Texas, GWENDOLYN WOMACK studied theater at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and holds an MFA in Directing Theatre, Video, and Cinema from California Institute of the Arts. She is the USA Today bestselling author of The Fortune Teller and the RWA Prism Award-winning reincarnation thriller, The Memory Painter. She resides in Los Angeles with her family.
Read an Excerpt
THE MUSIC BOX
EL PASO, TEXAS
ROAN TOOK OFF HIS GLOVES like a man about to duel.
He slid the supple black leather away one finger at a time. He had not been planning to touch anything today, but the enameled singing bird box set with pearls was proving too irresistible — he wanted to make sure the music box was what he suspected it to be.
Earlier in the day, he'd flown to El Paso and rented a car to drive to Hueco Tanks, the low-lying mountains in El Paso County. On the way, a strip mall antique store off the highway caught his eye and he pulled over. Stuart wouldn't be at their meeting point for another two hours and Roan had time. As a general rule, he never missed an opportunity to visit an antique store, the more out-of-the-way the better. Some of his most exciting finds had been in unassuming places such as this.
The elderly shopkeeper glanced up from behind the counter when Roan entered and after a minute offered a greeting.
Roan hid a smile at the man's appraisal. He was used to getting that look, being well over six feet, with dark hair that cut a dramatic swath to his shoulders. He always wore black, a severe choice, but he found it also helped detract from the fact that he always wore gloves.
Before Roan walked in, the man behind the counter had been squinting hard at an account ledger, tallying numbers while he ate an egg salad sandwich, but his attention was divided now that Roan was in the room. The only sound breaking the silence was the relentless ticking from a wall of cuckoo clocks and the drone from the rusted fan on the counter.
The shop owner finally got up the nerve to ask him, "Just passing through?"
Roan gave a distracted nod, his eyes surveying the showroom. Most pieces appeared to be from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the majority Texan and old Americana from Mexico all the way south to Panama. Not an inch of wall or table space was wasted. A dozen well-oiled saddles were on display next to rows of vintage typewriters, assorted crystal, and ceramics riddled with chips and hairline cracks. Old bar globe oil lamps stood clustered in the corner and antique country quilts hung on the wall like tapestries. Behind the register a cabinet with glass doors showcased guns from the Old West.
No other customer was in the store, and Roan doubted anyone else had been in that day. The entire space felt stale and forgotten, like a shoebox full of relics no one wanted. The old man looked to be in his early seventies and ready to retire — perhaps he would have years ago if he could afford it.
Roan's eyes took in every bauble, knowing each one held a story. They were all doorways to the past, to histories tucked away. No item was immune, no matter how small. Even the copper spoon collection for ten dollars contained the moments of every hand that had ever held them.
The vintage costume jewelry glittering in the glass display under the register caught his eye. On top of the counter a delicate gold box, no bigger than a woman's hand, sat like a crown on a piece of velvet.
Roan approached the box in amazement. He had no idea how it had made its way to Texas — or to the United States for that matter. The music box had to be the oldest antique in the store.
He tried to contain his excitement, already deciding he had to touch it.
"That's French I believe, and real pearls," the old man said, clearing his throat.
Roan studied the box, knowing it was from Switzerland, not France, and that if he turned the music box's handle, an exquisite lifelike miniature bird would pop out. He could tell by the masterful craftsmanship the musical bird box had been made by Jaquet-Droz & Leschot — and not only were the pearls real, so was the gold.
"One of my finest pieces." The man nodded, beginning to sound nervous.
A handwritten price tag dangled from the dainty wind-up handle with $1,200 scribbled in blue ballpoint pen. Next to the Civil War cavalry rifle hanging over the man's head, the music box was the highest-priced item.
Roan bent down to continue his appraisal, not quite ready to touch it yet, not with someone standing so close to him.
"What brings you to El Paso?" the old man asked.
"Rock climbing," Roan murmured.
"Oh, you must be heading to Hueco Tanks." The man visibly relaxed now that he could peg Roan as an out-of-town climber. "We get all sorts of interesting folk visiting up there. You in some kind of rock band?"
"No." Roan smiled at the man's curiosity. He didn't tell him he was in the same business as he was — antiques — though Roan handled one-of-a-kind rare items and by appointment only. He had sold a Jaquet-Droz musical bird box once. If his instincts were correct, this one would be worth more.
The phone behind the counter gave a shrill ring. The old man excused himself to answer it.
As soon as his back was turned, Roan seized the opportunity. He would touch the box quickly and be done before the man could turn back around.
What the shop owner didn't know was that he was a master psychometrist who'd been born with a rare gift.
With the speed gained from a lifetime of training, Roan brought his hands together in an elegant Surabhi mudra, a complex finger lock to help his mind break through the barrier.
Inhaling deeply, he placed his hand on the music box, wrapped his mind around the scrim of time, and pushed past it.CHAPTER 2
REGINA GASPED WITH PLEASURE as the dainty mechanical bird popped out of the music box and began its slow turn with a singsong tweet.
She had heard of these new singing boxes but had yet to see one. The handcrafted creature was no bigger than the tip of her index finger, and yet its wings flapped like a real bird. Even the iridescent feathers ruffled with life.
"What a marvelous invention," she said aloud, although she was alone in her room.
She had been in the middle of warming up for tomorrow's concert and waiting anxiously for her music when her maid announced the court official's arrival.
Regina jumped up, at first thinking her sheet music had finally come. She'd been waiting days for the sonata — but it wasn't the new composition. An official stood stiff at the door holding a personal gift from the emperor.
Regina tried to mask her disappointment and gracefully gave the messenger her thanks. Tomorrow she would be playing before the emperor for the first time, and he had continued to extend the warmest welcome to her since her arrival in Vienna.
She could see why Joseph II was nicknamed "The Musical King." When she had unwrapped the gift she'd found the most exquisite gold music box set with pearls.
As she watched the bird complete its spin on its golden dais, she thought how tomorrow she would be the one on display as society's latest curiosity. She'd already played one concert in Vienna last month, but her second would be a grand affair and her last performance during her visit. To add to the excitement, she would be playing with Mozart.
At this point she didn't know what made her more nervous: playing for the emperor, playing with Mozart, or the fact she had yet to see a note of music.
Mozart was notorious for being haphazard with his time, but she couldn't believe he was waiting until this late hour to deliver their sonata. If it had been any other man, she would have suspected his actions as sabotage, calculated to make her look the fool, but she knew that wasn't the case. He was this very moment urgently composing their duet.
Earlier this morning his messenger had delivered the most hilarious and audacious of apologies, promising she would have the sonata today or Mozart would deliver his slain body instead. He also wrote that when the public discovered she'd only just received the music, her fame would soar to unheard-of heights.
Regina laughed at the note. Mozart was a flamboyant flirt and completely adorable. The truth was he was spread too thin. He performed more concerts than any man in the city and composed various pieces at the same time, choosing creative freedom over the security of a post.
In the short weeks she'd come to know him, she'd seen his full life firsthand: father and husband, a man busy with social engagements, billiards, his beloved pets, and music every day. One day she hoped to have such a life, inventing the rules as she went along.
"I want to live in a world where music doesn't struggle to exist," he'd told her once, his eyes shining with an otherworldly light. The fact he'd agreed to compose a sonata for her at all still filled her with immense joy when she thought on it. The sun was shining on her with Mozart's attention. Even the prospect that she would barely have time to practice before playing tomorrow didn't detract from her happiness.
Mozart had been the one person she'd wanted to meet during her stay. Her first week in Vienna when she'd attended a party hosted by the educational minister, she recognized Mozart at once without introduction. The shortest man in the room with the blemished skin also possessed the most infectious laugh.
He stopped talking when she entered and rushed forward. "At last, Regina Strinasacchi! Italy's virtuosa! I have been hoping our paths would cross."
Regina had heard talk of the great composer, a child prodigy now a man. She didn't know what to expect upon meeting him, but it became apparent within minutes that life drove his genius, for never had she met someone so full of it.
He had a barrage of questions for her, his mind a maze of curiosity. Soon they were laughing like old friends cloistered in the corner away from the crowded room. She was immediately struck with how he treated her as his equal — but then she was a novelty too in the public eye. She'd been paraded about from an early age and lauded as a great violinist, singer, and guitarist from the Ospedale della Pietà orphanage in Venice, the one where Vivaldi had instructed. Her talent had masked her illegitimate birth, and she'd won the hearts of Europe one concert at a time by laying hers bare on the stage. She'd spent the last several years touring Italy, France, and Germany — unheard-of for a woman — and now her arrival in Vienna at the height of her stardom felt like a dream.
By the end of the evening before leaving the party, she gathered her courage and asked Mozart if he would compose a sonata for her to play at her last concert in Vienna.
"Of course I will!" he stunned her by saying. "I'll do even better. I'll play it with you."
* * *
Now, the evening before the concert, Regina resorted to pacing the floor. Her host delivered a dinner tray of ragout, ham, and fine pies, but Regina was unable to eat a bite. The most productivity she'd achieved all day was assisting her maid in preparing her gown for tomorrow's concert: an overly decorated pink confection from Paris that ballooned with too many ruffles.
"I'll look like a wedding cake," she said, holding the heavy gown up.
"A delicious cake," her maid amended with a grin.
Regina smiled without humor. She'd encountered many courters and admirers on her tour, but the reality was marriage would mean giving up her way of life — and her music — a future she couldn't fathom.
The sharp knock at the door startled her.
Regina jumped up, thinking surely this must be Mozart's messenger with the music. If it wasn't, she would officially begin to panic.
The door swung open and Mozart rushed in like the gust from a storm. Regina's maid hovered behind him.
"Forgive me! I am late!" He came toward her as if they had a standing appointment. "Do you hate me? Have I kept you waiting too long? Is that dinner?"
Regina nodded, too stunned by his presence to say anything. She tried to find her voice. "Yes, are you hungry?"
"Famished, but I can't stay." He sat down on the sofa, winded. "I only wanted to hand deliver these myself with my sincerest, sincerest of apologies, Signora." He waved the pages in his hand. "I'm still working out my accompaniment, but never fear, it's going to be the perfect pairing."
Regina sat down beside him, her annoyance at the delay vanishing as soon as he handed her the sonata. A thrill coursed through her and the pages itched in her hand. She wanted to be alone with the music, to pick up her violin and begin the introduction. She had little time to prepare.
"Now!" Mozart leaned forward, his eyes alight with the passion of having just left his worktable. "You'll find I've made the violin questioning, intentionally so, just like its mistress," he added with a teasing smile.
A bubble of laughter escaped her. "Am I so obviously filled with questions?"
"Only of the best kind," he assured her. "The best kind." He picked up the bird box sitting on the nearby table to study it. "But then life is a question. One we must answer every day."
"Yes. Yes, it is." She gave him a faint smile. Her time in Vienna was coming to an end, as well as her grand tour. At some point she needed to decide the shape of her future. Unfortunately, she didn't have many options. "What if I do not like the answers?"
Mozart hesitated at her confession. "Perhaps I could offer you some advice, as a friend?"
She blinked and leaned forward in encouragement. "Yes, please."
He dropped his voice to a more serious tone, measuring his words. "Do not be cautious, either in life or in music. And never stop performing." He put the bird box down. "My sister did, and I've seen the damage a life without music can do. You have a talent. Play gloriously and your future husband, your children, will happily follow you to the ends of the earth."
His words lit a spark in her heart. They barely knew each other from these past weeks, and yet he had assessed her hopes and fears with the precision of a true friend.
"Isn't that what we all yearn for?" Mozart turned the handle on the music box and the bird popped up. They listened to it chirp and perform its dance.
"A gift from the emperor," Regina told him.
Mozart glanced up and met her eyes with a smile. "What a witty man."
* * *
The next evening the Kärntnerthor Theater was filled to capacity. Rarely had there been such a turnout. Everyone wanted to get a glimpse at Regina Strinasacchi, the current darling of Europe.
Regina, along with her entourage of escorts from Italy, would be meeting the emperor after the concert. She'd spent the remainder of the previous night and all day in solitude preparing for the performance. From what she could tell, Mozart had composed an enchanting sonata for her, though she had yet to hear how the piano would accompany her violin. In many ways tonight would be a complete improvisation. The audience knew it too, and anticipation filled the air.
In her dressing rooms, she received the news that Mozart had arrived along with his piano, a stunning beauty made by Anton Walter. The piano traveled everywhere with Mozart, carried by a group of hired men through the streets. The instrument had only this moment been delivered to the stage.
After the announcement, the minutes flew. Soon Regina was waiting near the curtain with her violin, an immaculate 1718 Stradivarius. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the feel of the wood in her hand.
Mozart took the stage first to boisterous applause.
Regina felt like a bride about to meet the groom for the first time and prayed, yet again, for their music tonight to ring true.
When she walked onto the stage Mozart bowed and clapped. He had never looked finer in his favorite red coat. The fact he was wearing it tonight was a respectful nod to her. He took her hand and they bowed together. The audience applauded louder, ready to see the show.
Regina's eyes slid to Mozart's sheet music sitting at his piano and she let out a gasp.
The pages were blank.
His piano accompaniment had not been written. Her eyes returned to his with an astonished look.
He gave her a playful wink. "Do not worry," he whispered into her ear. "I will keep up."
Soon he began to play, and Regina's panic faded as Mozart led the sonata with stunning surety. That night she witnessed his genius, his oneness with the music, which poured from him with perfect incandescence. His piano spoke to her violin in a conversation that had only existed in his mind until this moment. Now he was sharing it with her. The crowd didn't dare to breathe as they listened.
Regina's eyes met his when they reached the opening of the allegro. They both laughed in perfect understanding and played on, unencumbered, and in that moment she believed miracles did exist.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Time Collector"
Copyright © 2019 Gwendolyn Womack.
Excerpted by permission of Picador.
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