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Ticket To Tomorrow
By Carol Cox Barbour Publishing, Inc. Copyright © 2006 Carol Cox
All right reserved.
Chapter One June 1893
Annie Trenton lowered her knitting to her lap and stared out the train window, watching the farmland give way-first to a scattering of houses, then to an ever-increasing number of brick buildings. Silas Crockett dozed in the adjoining seat. Gentle snores emanated from his lips.
A flock of gray and white birds wheeled overhead. Annie nudged Silas. "Are those sea gulls? We must be getting quite close to Lake Michigan." Chicago and its mighty sprawl couldn't be far away now.
Roused from his doze, Silas rubbed the palm of his hand across his hair, leaving wisps of gray sticking out in all directions. "Michigan? No, Annie. Chicago is in Illinois."
Annie shook her head and picked up the mass of soft gray yarn lying in her lap. She resumed knitting, her fingers slipping the yarn from one needle to the other without conscious thought.
Beside her, Silas dug first in one pocket, then another. Coming up empty-handed, he squirmed to one side and shoved his hand into the crevice between the seat and seat back. A frown rippled his brow, and his lips moved soundlessly. Annie watched with mild amusement as Silas curled forward and dragged his satchel out from under his seat. He unlatched the clasp and pawed through the contents with his head between his knees and his posterior angled toward the ceiling.
One corner of Annie's lips quirked upward. If the Crockett- Trenton Horseless Carriage didn't draw the interest they hoped for at the World's Columbian Exposition, Silas could always hire himself out as a contortionist on the Midway Plaisance.
She leaned forward and rested her arms on her knees. "What are you looking for?"
"My notebook." Silas twisted to one side and looked up at her, his face dark red from the rush of blood to his head. "It's gone. I wanted to make a quick sketch of an idea I just had." He straightened and peered at her over his wire-rimmed spectacles with a plaintive expression.
Annie reached out and pushed his spectacles back up on the bridge of his nose. "It isn't gone. You just aren't looking in the right place. Think back. Where did you see it last?"
A blank expression settled over Silas's features.
"You had it in the dining car," Annie prompted.
Silas brightened. "Ah, yes. I was jotting down some notes about gear ratios during lunch."
Annie remembered. His complete absorption with his task and resulting inattention to their meal had drawn their waiter's marked displeasure. Fortunately Silas hadn't noticed. "Why don't you go back and see if it's still there?"
Silas wandered off obediently in the direction of the dining car. Annie watched him push through the door at the rear of their car and hoped he would remember how to find his way there and back.
She shifted her position on the uncomfortable seat and tried to smooth some of the wrinkles from her dark blue gored skirt. Travel in the confines of a railcar didn't do a thing to help keep a person looking presentable.
Picking up her yarn again, she continued knitting down the row. Early June might seem an odd time to be working on a Christmas present for Silas, but it kept her fingers busy and her mind focused on safe thoughts.
Normally one wouldn't think of making a gift while sitting next to the intended recipient, but with Silas, it didn't matter a bit. If he noticed it at all, he would never put two and two together. The man might be a genius when it came to things mechanical, but he seldom showed the least bit of interest in the everyday world around him. Her fingers looped the yarn around the needles in practiced rhythm.
A scarf for Silas. Annie's fingers slowed. She once expected to be knitting an array of tiny garments in preparation for motherhood at this point in her life. Instead ... she pressed her lips together and increased her speed again. Maybe she should make a whole series of scarves after finishing this one. Silas probably wouldn't manage to keep any one of them more than a couple of months at best. The one she made him last Christmas hadn't lasted two weeks before he went off and left it who knew where.
The front door of the car swung open, admitting the conductor. "End of the line in ten minutes, folks. Next stop, the World's Columbian Exposition. Make sure you have all your belongings before you leave the train."
Annie completed the row of knitting, then rolled her work into a loose ball before tucking it back into her valise.
Someone nudged her left elbow, and she shifted to let Silas resume his seat. Instead of her companion, a sharp-faced woman slid in beside her.
Annie eyed the woman. She had noticed her before in a group already on the train when she and Silas had boarded in Bloomington, Indiana. Their curious stares and spates of cackling reminded her of a flock of hens. The woman's beaklike nose did nothing to dispel the resemblance at close range.
"We haven't had a chance to visit during the trip. I am Mrs. Peter Tompkins, president of the Bedford Ladies Club. We plan to spend next week touring the fair. And you are ...?"
"And the gentleman you are traveling with ... your father?"
"Silas?" Annie shook her head. "No, he isn't my father."
"Oh. Your husband then."
A heaviness settled in Annie's chest. "No. We aren't related."
"Oh?" Mrs. Tompkins's eyebrows soared up near her hairline. "Oh!" She swept back down the aisle to report to her wide-eyed followers. A collective gasp hissed through the car, followed by barnyardlike twittering.
Annie closed her eyes and considered. She could spend the final moments of her journey explaining her relationship with Silas to the ladies of Bedford, but why bother? Their narrow minds were already made up about her, and nothing she could do would be likely to change that.
Instead, she busied herself gathering her belongings and tried to convince herself it didn't matter. To be sure, the two of them traveling together was more than a bit unconventional, hardly the norm for a respectable young woman. But normalcy had flown out of her life a year ago and didn't seem ready to make a return appearance anytime soon.
Silas hurried up the aisle and brandished his notebook triumphantly. "You were right. It was in the dining car." He settled into his seat and tucked the notebook inside his satchel. "I believe I'll take a short nap."
"No time for that. We're pulling into the station now." Annie scooped up her reticule and adjusted her hat pin to hold her new straw skimmer firmly in place. "Do you have everything-your hat, your walking stick?"
The train slowed and came to a stop. Annie braced herself against the seat in front as the slack in the couplings was taken up, and tried to quell the nervous flutter in her stomach. "All right then. We're here."
She slid past Silas and waited for an opportunity to move into the packed aisle. From the determined set on the other passengers' faces, it looked to be a long wait. A lighthearted, fair-going holiday mood would come later. For now, they appeared every bit as eager as she to get off the train and escape the confines of the hard, narrow seats.
Annie glanced out the window. Her spirits plummeted when she saw the jostling mass of people. Surely the fairgrounds wouldn't be this crowded all the time. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. If they were, she would just have to get used to it. She knew when she decided to come it might not always be easy.
Spotting a gap in the shuffling procession, she inserted herself into it, creating a buffer so Silas could get out. "Let's go."
Silas settled his bowler atop his shock of gray hair and stepped into the aisle. "Ready, my dear." The gap filled in again the moment he moved next to her.
"Where's your satchel?"
"Oh, dear me." He dove back toward the seat he had just vacated, worming his way through the irritated passengers in a manner that reminded Annie of a salmon swimming upstream. He emerged again, satchel in hand, oblivious to the outraged sputters of their fellow travelers.
Ah, well. Annie turned and let the flow of the crowd move her toward the outer door. Life would never be dull with Silas around.
Chapter Two Once outside, Annie paused to draw a breath of air. Not the pure, sweet air she was used to at home, but at least it wasn't the train's cooped-up atmosphere laced with the smells of food, sweat, and stale tobacco. She eyed the teeming mass of humanity inching its way toward Terminal Station like grain flowing into a hopper and felt a quiver of expectation creep up her backbone.
Silas forged ahead, and Annie reached out to grip his arm. It wouldn't do to become separated in this crush. Silas would never find his way to the exhibit building on his own. More likely, he'd wind up wandering the streets of Chicago. A stout woman-one of the Bedford ladies, if memory served-bumped up hard against her. Annie scrambled to regain her balance and jutted out her elbows, hoping to prevent another collision.
Outside the train, its former passengers now seemed ready to give their exuberance free rein. Snippets of conversation chased each other through the air:
"I'm heading to the stock pavilion first. There's supposed to be a new breed of cattle on display...."
"Have you heard about the giant wheel that fellow Ferris is building? They say it's going to take people up off the ground in compartments the size of Pullman cars."
"Ha! Sounds like a fool notion to me. I'm glad we came before they finished setting it up. What's to keep the thing from getting loose and rolling right across the grounds? Why, something that large would crush everything in its path."
Annie leaned close to Silas and raised her voice to be heard over the hubbub. "We need to find someone to help us with the carriage. Do you know where we're supposed to take it once it's unloaded? And what about the rest of our luggage? We'll need to find out where they're unloading the baggage and where we can store it while we set up the exhibit."
Silas blinked like a startled owl. "Didn't I tell you? I wired my nephew. He's going to meet us here."
It was Annie's turn to blink. "I didn't know you had family in Chicago."
"I don't." Silas stopped in his tracks and craned his neck to scan the crowd.
Annie resisted the impulse to shake him. She knew all too well that while many of Silas's comments thoroughly confused the hearer, some vestige of logic lay underneath, in Silas's mind at least. With a forbearance borne of long experience, she accepted the existence of the hitherto-unknown nephew ... for the moment.
Silas continued to peer about, a dam blocking the flow of traffic. "I do hope I recognize him. I haven't seen him since he was a lad in knickers."
"Then how will we manage to know him?"
"It shouldn't be too difficult to spot him. People always said he reminded them of me." Silas gave a modest chuckle.
Annie stifled a groan. Much as she loved Silas, his dithering ways could be maddening. One muddle-headed genius to tend to was quite enough. The prospect of having two on her hands ... No, it didn't bear thinking about.
She set her valise down by her feet and scanned the crowd but didn't see anyone who appeared to be searching for them. "What's his name?"
"His name?" Silas's face assumed a blank expression that made her want to grind her teeth. But why should she expect him to remember? If they had been discussing a design for some new mechanism, every detail would be at the forefront of his mind, but the name of a mere nephew ... no.
His eyes took on the light of knowledge. "Nicholas. That's it. Yes, Nicholas. After my late brother, you know."
Annie didn't, but she chose to keep that to herself. Getting Silas sidetracked was all too easy at the best of times, and this moment hardly qualified as one of them.
A portly man with a large family in tow pushed past them, sending Annie teetering off balance. One of the younger children tripped over her valise and set up a wail. The father shot a sharp glare at Annie, scooped up the youngster, and continued on his way, muttering about inconsiderate people who left belongings lying about.
Annie scooted the valise closer to her. She needed to get them out of this crush. Where was the nephew? She searched the crowd again, trying to pick out anyone who looked like her companion. Knowing Silas, though, he could easily have gotten his nephew's location confused before blithely sending the wire telling him to appear at the station at a certain time. Even now, a younger version of Silas Crockett might be waiting on a platform in New York or Baltimore, watching in vain for a glimpse of his uncle.
Silas exhibited none of the anxiety that plagued Annie. He bounced on his toes, seeming to enjoy himself thoroughly. "It's hard to believe we're here at last. Wouldn't Will have been excited to see this day come?"
Grief plunged a dagger into Annie's heart, and tears blurred the crowd into a confusion of shifting colors. For a moment, the depot receded, and she was aware of nothing but her pain. Then Silas's voice broke through the fog.
She fumbled in her reticule for her handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. Silas hovered next to her, remorse evident in his crinkled brow. "I didn't mean to cause you pain, my dear. I just couldn't help thinking how pleased Will would have been. He would, wouldn't he?"
Annie blinked the last of the tears away and forced a tiny smile. She gave Silas's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Of course, he would. That's the reason I'm here, remember?"
He flashed a relieved smile; then his gaze darted toward the door. "Perhaps he's waiting for us inside." Without another word, he hoisted his satchel and plunged into the maelstrom of people jostling to enter Terminal Station.
"Wait!" Panic-stricken at the thought of being separated, Annie picked up her valise and was swept up in the current. Once inside, the flow opened as most fairgoers headed straight for the outer doors and the wonders of the exposition. Annie ducked into a sheltered spot beside one of the thick, white columns. From there, she spotted Silas ... just as he collided with a dapper man hurrying toward the exit.
The impact knocked both men to the ground. Hats, satchels, and walking sticks scattered across the pavement. The incident barely caused a ripple in the river of people. They continued their rush past, stepping over the fallen men and their strewn belongings. Annie launched herself toward Silas.
"Are you all right?" She tugged at his arm and helped him to his feet.
"Good heavens!" He wobbled in a tight circle. "Did I run into a wall?"
"No, that man over there." Annie brushed at his coat. "Are you hurt?"
He passed his hand over his eyes. "My vision is blurry. I must have hit my head on something."
Annie rescued his spectacles from where they dangled off his left ear and settled them back onto his nose. "How is that?"
"Ah, much better. And now I must see to the poor fellow I knocked down." He picked his way across the litter of scattered belongings and bent over the well-dressed, mustachioed man. "My apologies, sir. It seems to have been entirely my fault."
"Indeed it was."
"I'm terribly sorry." Silas reached out to assist his victim.
"Then perhaps you will be more careful in the future." The man brushed Silas's hand away, struggled to his feet, and began to gather his things. Still looking penitent, Silas handed him his satchel. The man snatched it away with a cold stare. "I have business here myself, but you don't see me bowling people over."
Silas wrung his hands. "It truly was an accident. I humbly beg your forgiveness."
"Consider yourself forgiven then. I must be on my way." The man tucked his walking stick under his arm and disappeared into the throng.
Annie gathered Silas's things and carried them to him. "He didn't seem like a very sympathetic man."
Silas relieved her of the satchel and set his hat atop his head. "He didn't, did he?" He stared at a point over Annie's right shoulder, and his face brightened. "There's Nicholas!" Turning back to Annie, he confided, "The family resemblance is still there. I'd know him anywhere." He started across the station, a smile lighting his face.
Annie stared in the direction he headed and tried to pick out someone with Silas's vague eyes and distracted air. She spotted a weedy, bespectacled man on the fringe of the crowd over near the station entrance.
Sure enough, Silas spread his arms wide as he approached the little man, then proceeded to walk right past him.
Annie picked up her valise once more and dogged Silas's steps. What now?
Excerpted from Ticket To Tomorrow by Carol Cox Copyright © 2006 by Carol Cox. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ticket to Tomorrow had me hooked from the moment the 'bad' man bumped into the heroine's absent-minded-professor/inventor friend and business partner. I also love the cover, which perfectly resembles a young woman from that era. (I have a weird habit of looking at old photographs in antique shops, so I can assure you it has a definite authentic look.) Plus, my grandmother looked a lot like the cover model when she was young. I'm not kidding. Back to the story...What a great mystery! Just enough intrigue to keep the reader turning the pages, and enough dramatic tension to make the reader wonder when the antagonist is going to strike. The diabolical plan is revealed in snippets, but is never drawn out enough to give it all away...until the climax, of course. That makes it a perfect mystery, in my book. I hate a predictable story. The romance was...delectable. I loved it! How incredibly romantic! I loved how the hero kept wanting to steal kisses from the heroine. And he looked like the long-haired hunk in fringed leather from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Remember him? Admit it. He was the REAL reason you watched the show. Seriously, though, he was the ultimate hero. The whole story was very well done. In my opinion Ticket To Tomorrow is the perfect example of a historical romantic mystery. I know that isn't a genre, but if it were, Carol Cox would be the leading author. She led me to a different time and place in history and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I wish I hadn't waited so long to read it.
Ticket to Tomorrow is a poignant love story, full of mysterious twists and colorful characters. Annie Trenton is a worthy heroine, trying to hold her life together after the tragic death of her husband, an inventor who was disowned and disinherited by his wealthy family. Annie¿s late husband¿s partner, Silas Crockett, is beyond eccentric and almost entirely helpless when it comes to practical issues. That¿s where Annie comes in. Accompanying Silas on his train trip to Chicago where they will exhibit their ¿horseless carriage,¿ designed and built by Silas and Annie¿s husband just before he died, Annie must ¿baby-sit¿ Silas, even as she is unknowingly drawn into danger. In addition, the appearance of Nick Rutherford, Silas¿s handsome nephew, stirs up emotions in Annie she believed had died with her husband. Will romance triumph in the midst of tragedy and intrigue, or will Nick fail in his attempt to win Annie¿s heart¿and protect her life?
Carol Cox is one of my very favorite authors. Ticket to Tomorrow is a wonderful blend of historical suspense and romance with a delicious hero, a plucky heroine, and a setting so vivid I could breathe in the scent of Lake Michigan. Ms. Cox owns the genre!