For lovers of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, a sexy Scottish time travel romance from award-winning author Gwyn Cready
Thrown back to the sizzling tensions of the Scottish borderlands
Librarian Panna Kennedy battles budget cuts, eccentric patrons, and the loneliness of early widowhood until she ventures through a long-locked door under the library's stairs and finds herself in the opulent eighteenth-century castle library of the dashing and dangerously handsome Captain Jamie Bridgewater.
Can she trust a handsome hero?
Jamie is embroiled in a risky game of high-stakes subterfuge on the Scottish/English border, where loyalty to the wrong cause can cost you your life, and Panna is instantly swept into the intrigue. Their adventure takes them across the border into perilous and passion-filled territory. But when Jamie is caught and Panna realizes she holds the key to his destiny, will she return to safety as he demands, or follow her timeless desire?
"The master of time travel romance." -Booklist
"A thrill-ride of a time travel romance, a genre Gwyn Cready has quickly come to master." -Sapphyria's Steamy Book Reviews
"A time-bending treat." - Full Moon Bites
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By Gwyn Cready
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Gwyn Cready
All rights reserved.
Andrew Carnegie Library, Carnegie, Pennsylvania Friday, July 27, 7:15 p.m.
"I think librarians are the glue that helps stick a community together," Marie said, clasping a hand over her heart. "We're on the battle lines of community involvement."
"Really? That's what you think?" Panna gave her fellow librarian an amused look and handed the young patron standing before them his copy of Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel, now gum free. "Well, I don't know about battle lines, but sticky certainly seems to be a part of it."
Panna's eyes went automatically to the always dashing Colonel John Bridgewater, Viscount Adderly, or at least a marble facsimile of him, standing heroically astride the statue base, sword at his side, ready to charge into the Battle of Ramillies. It did seem rather odd to have a larger-than-life statue of an eighteenth-century British war hero in a small-town library in western Pennsylvania. One might expect Andrew Carnegie or, more likely, Mike Ditka or Honus Wagner, both of whom had been born in Carnegie and were more in keeping with Pittsburgh's sports-loving, blue-collar sensibilities. But one of Bridgewater's descendants had been a huge donor at the library's founding a hundred years earlier, and the statue had been his stipulation. Bridgewater, with chiseled profile, shoulder-length waves, and closely fitting breeks, had for Panna always called to mind a slightly more battle-tested d'Artagnan, that handsome, brave hero of Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers, one of her favorite books. But there was something so magically lifelike about the man — as if he might jump off his pedestal at any moment and pull her roughly into his arms, damning the eyes of anyone who might object to a good-bye kiss in the middle of the periodical section. Suffice it to say, Bridgewater had loomed large over Panna's daydreams as well as her seat at the circulation desk, especially in the last two years.
Marie, who had caught the direction of her coworker's gaze, said, "Have you ever noticed that from just the right angle, it looks like he's carrying a stack of interlibrary loan requests in his pants?"
"Oh, right. Tell me that isn't why you always pick this seat."
Marie was a petite brunette in the second year of a master's program in library science who still got misty-eyed at the idea of municipal services. Panna, on the other hand, had been working the stacks for eleven years — six as head librarian — and was able to boil her learning about librarianship into two golden rules: First, in a world where your job is interacting with the public, you get back what you give. And second, avoid Friday-night shifts at all costs.
With a start, she looked around. "Oh boy. I don't see Mr. Albert anymore."
"Yikes!" Marie flipped up the counter on the circulation desk and tore off.
Mr. Albert read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the New York Times, and the Washington Post at the library every day. He also liked to take pictures of women's feet.
Panna turned to the next patron in line, a lovely regular in her late seventies named Mrs. Olinsky, who'd been trying for months to set up Panna with her son, George.
Panna gave the older woman an inquisitive frown. "You don't seem to have any books to check out."
"My son's outside in his Mercedes and wonders if you could come out to give him a recommendation on a book. It's a new Mercedes."
"Mrs. Olinsky, we've talked about this before."
Mrs. Olinsky's shoulders sagged. "I know, I know. No dating yet. But don't wait too long. A nice young woman like you shouldn't be alone."
No, she probably shouldn't. Thirty-four was still young. But since Charlie's agonizing death two years earlier, she felt about as old as Mrs. Olinsky. Panna's heart had gone into a hibernation from which it felt like it would never awake. The world of dating seemed about as far away as the Battle of Ramillies and about as much fun, which was why she wasn't looking forward to the blind date Marie had set up for her that night.
Marie bounded up to the large, U-shaped circulation desk, waving a camera. "Found him. I told him we'd put this away until he was on his way out."
Mrs. Olinsky pointed to the window. "Oh, look! There's George now. Isn't he handsome?"
Panna gave her a firm look. "If he really needs a recommendation, you can tell him I'll be out in a minute."
Mrs. Olinsky cast her eyes downward. "I guess he'll be all right on his own."
When Mrs. Olinsky disappeared, Marie grinned. "Still working on you, isn't she?"
"Oh yes. But so far not succeeding."
"She doesn't have the determination I do. To scale the Panna Kennedy castle wall, one needs tenacity, innovation, and a carefully crafted — oh, Panna, what is it?"
A tear had welled in Panna's eye, and she swiped at it in irritation. "It's the dinner tonight. I just ... I know I should do it. I know I should. And I will. It's just I feel like it's going to be awful and hard ... and wrong. I'm sorry."
Marie put her arm around Panna's shoulders and squeezed. "Hey, it's fajitas with me and Kyle and Kyle's cousin, Steve, not forty-five minutes at the Quality Inn."
Panna snorted through her sadness. "I know. And I want to do it. I swear."
"Oh, yeah, I can tell." Marie gave her a gentle smile. "Charlie was a pretty great guy, huh?"
"The best." Their life had been perfect: They worked at jobs that made them happy, and read and cooked and traveled when they could afford it. They'd even been trying to conceive before his diagnosis. Her hand went to her stomach unconsciously, feeling the emptiness there. So many dreams she'd said good-bye to ...
Widowhood sucked. There was no other word for it. During the first year, Panna felt like she'd been laid out on a rack and gutted. She had gone through the motions of living but could barely remember any of it. That time stood as a wrenching blur in her head that she hoped would never reemerge with any clarity.
In the last year, however, she'd begun to find some degree of normalcy, and she clung to her solitary routine like a nautilus to its shell, ready to withdraw into her nacreous walls at a moment's notice.
But what gnawed at her most, even more than the emptiness in her chest, were that words like "routine," "solitary," and "withdraw," which had never applied to the old Panna, were now part of her world. She and Charlie had always been risk takers — climbing rocks, trekking through Nepal, even skydiving on their honeymoon. But losing Charlie had made her lose her nerve, and she hated how she'd changed.
Panna's cell phone began to buzz. It was Jerry Sussman, the attorney for the town. She walked away from the desk. "Hey, Jerry. What's up?"
"Sorry to call so late. I just got word from my contact in the state budget office. Nineteen percent reduction in funding."
"What?" She hurried into the soaring entry hall and slouched against one of the curving stairways that bookended the space. "That's ... that's twice what we were thinking for a worst-case scenario."
"Nineteen percent. There are only six librarians here. That means we cut evening hours and at least one position. Damn it." She kicked the ancient, little half-sized door on the storage room under the stairs and the knob rattled. This place was like a home to her, and the people who worked here were like family — especially now. She didn't know how she'd have survived without them. "Thanks, Jerry. I appreciate the heads-up."
"Sorry it wasn't better news."
She said good-bye and hung up, shaking with the rush of emotion. This place was a landmark, she thought, gazing at the tiled Greek key design in the floor, a memorial to a time when people revered places like libraries. She wiped a speck of dirt off the intricate wrought-iron banister with the elbow of her sweater.
She wondered if they'd soon be returning to the time before Andrew Carnegie had taught America that libraries were worth investing in, back when people had to pay subscriptions to belong to a library and only the well-to-do could afford to have access to them.
Oh, John Bridgewater, why can't you be at the forefront of this battle? We could use a little of your mighty sword. Or at the very least, why can't your descendant be around today to astonish us with his amazing generosity?
She stopped. His generosity ... According to the town's history, the viscount's descendant had written a large check to the library's building fund back at the turn of the century. He'd also donated a bunch of books, most of which had either been lost to old age or sold. But he'd also donated some objets d'art — at least, that's what she thought the agreement said. She'd only looked at it once, and then not very carefully.
One donation, she knew, was a piece of pewter tableware called a nef that sat on the mantelpiece over the library's hearth, just under the dour portrait of Andrew Carnegie. The nef had been fashioned to resemble a three-masted sailing ship, with a conch shell as the ship's body and decks that held the salt, pepper, and whatever other spices people in the eighteenth century used to season their food. It was extraordinarily gaudy and preternaturally ugly, and it frequently caused young children to laugh out loud just at the sight of it. But what — and where — were the other objets?
She'd never seen them. Maybe they'd been sold along with the books that had been donated. The problem was that Panna had never had any dealing with the Bridgewater stuff, though she remembered Barb, the head librarian before her, making occasional reference to it. The agreement had been negotiated by Clementina Martindale, the first librarian in the place when it opened in 1901. Panna also remembered there'd been a rumor that Clementina had had a torrid affair with Bridgewater's wealthy descendent, and inasmuch as Panna felt that the moral rectitude of any one librarian reflected on all of them, she'd made it a point to push that rumor out of her head.
Panna combed her brain for anything else she could recall Barb telling her.
Last donated books sold or thrown away in the sixties. The statue repaired when a workman carrying a two-by-four on his shoulder accidentally damaged it. Newspaper clippings and other stuff related to the Bridgewater gift stowed safely in the storage room.
Stowed in the storage room?
Panna took a mental walk through the library, from the Grand Army of the Republic meeting room upstairs, through the director's office, around the stacks on the main floor, and even into the occasionally flooded basement. There was no nook or cranny she hadn't thoroughly examined during her tenure here. And "stowed" was such an unusual word. Not "stored." Barb had definitely said "stowed," which to Panna implied lowness, the sort of place where reaching it would require bending.
Her eyes lit on the half door under the stairs. It was triangular in shape and a little under five feet tall, with an ancient glass knob. She'd never opened the door. Had never even seen it open. In fact, the door had been painted so many times that there wasn't even a line separating it visually from the frame anymore.
Panna dug in her pocket and found her ring of keys. There were only three really old keys left. The rest of the locks had been replaced. She tried the first. No luck. The second wouldn't even go in. The third one, however, fit perfectly. She turned it, and the dead bolt slid open with a satisfying click.
She grabbed the knob and tugged, but the door was so tight, it wouldn't open. She pulled harder, anchoring her feet. Knowing her luck, the door would fly open and she'd be flung across the entry hall. Finally, she put her foot on the frame and jerked. The door came open and she managed to keep from falling. She crouched and looked. The space inside was pitch-black. Not just dark, but absolute nothingness — full light until the edge of the threshold, then a black plane that might have been a wall had she not known no wall was there. The hairs on her neck stood on end. Something bumped the door she held, and she fell forward into the space before catching her balance and backing out.
"I'm so sorry," said the patron, turning around. "I wasn't expecting that door to be open."
Panna could barely spare the man a response. What she had seen in that brief instant amazed her. It was the altar of a beautiful chapel with a vaulted ceiling and a carved wood altarpiece bathed in sunlight — a room far too large to fit in the space under the stairs.
She tried to make sense of it. How could a chapel occupy a space no larger than a powder room? How could a well-lit room be invisible through a pane of blackness?
No explanation came to her. None was possible.
She touched her forehead, wondering if the ibuprofen she'd taken earlier had been spiked. She'd never heard of the drug causing hallucinations, but something had to be making it happen.
Another patron walked by, and Panna looked at him as if to say, "Can you believe what you and I are seeing?" But the man only nodded pleasantly and kept walking. It was as if all the rules that applied in the physical world had been rewritten, and she was the only one who could see it.
Panna put her hand into the space again cautiously, watching it disappear through the plane of black, and experienced a rush of adrenaline she hadn't felt in a long time. She and Charlie used to spelunk. The darker the passageway, the more excited they'd gotten. She knew she should be scared and slam the door and report this to someone, though she had no idea what she'd say. But she also knew something in her was keeping her from fleeing. She closed the door and considered.
Librarians were born curious. If they weren't, they didn't make it in this field. Part of her was freaked out, no question. But another part — a more primitive part — was deeply interested. Her unconscious mind knew what she was going to do even if her conscious mind hadn't quite caught up. Tingles were running up and down her spine.
The hall had emptied, and she reopened the door. The void was blacker than anything she'd seen, blacker than black velvet. Teetering on the edge of a thrilling fear, she thrust her entire arm into the darkness.
Gone from sight. Just like that. Her upper arm looked like the Venus de Milo's where the demarcation between visible and invisible lay.
She bent and took a cautious step into the void.
The minute her eyes entered, she gasped. The chapel was beautiful. To the right of the altar stood a tomb, made entirely of marble, with the form of a prone woman holding lilies of the valley carved into the lid. Sconces and a tapestry hung on the wall behind the tomb.
Panna looked down and nearly jumped. On her feet were a pair of embroidered mules, and the blue silk of her summer sundress had descended into a floor-length wave of cerulean and lace. The discovery so surprised her that she jerked out of the chapel and back into the library's entry, slamming the door. The gown had reverted into the sundress.
For a long moment, Panna stood absolutely still, trying to process what she'd just witnessed. An empty chapel ... just over the threshold of a long-forgotten storage closet in Carnegie, Pennsylvania.
Something about the scene niggled at her super-revved brain. Then it struck her. The sconces on the wall hadn't been sconces at all — at least, not as she knew them. They'd been unlit torches. There'd been no electricity. Long gowns and no electricity.
"Hey, Panna." Henry, one of the children's librarians, gave her a wave as he strode past.
She could lock the closet door and throw away the key. It would all be over as easy as that. That would be the responsible thing to do. Not to mention the smart thing.
But Panna had had enough of being smart and responsible since Charlie's death. She didn't want to feel smart. She wanted to feel alive.
She slipped back inside the door frame, pausing exactly at the center, moving back and forth between the long-gown world of the chapel and the sundress world of the Carnegie Library. She felt the same heart-fluttering giddiness she'd felt before leaping out of that plane.
"Let's do it, Charlie," she whispered.CHAPTER 2
Panna emerged in the chapel, skirts rustling. The chapel was tiny, with room for only a handful of people, and a door in the middle of the nave seemed to open into a carpeted hallway.
Her nerve endings quivered as she walked. The warm, pleasant air of the evening felt like a dream. Even the dust motes floating lazily in the rays of the setting sun seemed magical.
The burnished floors gleamed under her feet, and the lush green upholstery on the pews was embroidered with a large B in gold thread. No shy and retiring chapel owner here. No devotee of sacrifice, either.
She caught a glimpse of her reflection in a polished silver urn that stood next to the tomb. The dress, a jacquard the color of an afternoon sky, fell in gorgeous, soft ripples, and when she looked down, she could see the exceedingly low-cut neckline was trimmed in jet. She wasn't exactly sure what was under the dress, but she knew it wasn't enough, for her breasts felt unbound, and despite the flashes of muslin slip beneath the silk and the hose knotted tightly at her thighs, the evening air moved freely over her hips and belly as she walked.
Excerpted from Timeless Desire by Gwyn Cready. Copyright © 2012 Gwyn Cready. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I found Gwyn Cready's time travel novel instantly exciting especially since I live right outside Pittsburgh and have visited the library in this book myself! The two mail characters, Panna and Jamie are certainly two who you would never think suited for one another, but a woman can gather a lot of courage when placed in the position to stand up for her man and her cause. I liked the ruse she began her journey with and how she created a sort of Web around herself of mystery. James (Jamie) Bridgewater was immediately a strong male character and I liked him so much. There were countless twists and turns in this book... I think anyone who read it will be hard pressed to put it down. Highlander? Not quite. English soldier, yes. Recommended.