Kate is ready to start a new life in a great city. Determined to follow her dream, she left college to write a book.
Arriving in New York City, she vows to live in the present, not the past.
Easy for most to say, except she has a secret.
Kate’s a time traveler.
She met the love of her life back in 1927.
But he’s here now.
So no looking back.
No going back.
Footsteps. Then silence. Kate shuddered and pulled the sheet up to her chin. Someone crept into her bedroom in the middle of the night. She was sure of it. She squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them. Darkness greeted her. Her blood ran cold as she felt the end of the mattress move. Someone sat at the edge of the bed. I’m dreaming. I have to be.
“Hello, Kathryn.” The sinister voice cut through the darkness.
Kate’s heart pounded. She recognized the voice. No, it can’t be. Unable to move, her mind raced. He’s dead, Kate. Gone for many years. You’re imagining he’s in the room. She decided to wait it out, let her mind calm. Count sheep. Do something! Don’t focus on the man in the room.
Kate Roberts woke in a cold sweat. Sunlight peeked through the shades, announcing a new day. Her hand flew to her head. “What a dream!” She shuddered as she slipped out of bed. “Or was it?”
Her legs wobbled and her heart skipped a beat. Clearly, her body hadn’t recovered from the nightmare. “Bathroom.” She pointed her hand in its direction. “Cold water.”
She splashed her face and glanced in the mirror. Blue eyes stared back at her. She ran her hand through her light brown hair, less hair than a month ago. Kate cut her long locks into a modern style just above her shoulders, swept to one side. She felt the look made her appear more mature. As a twenty-year-old in New York City, she needed all the help she could get.
Her phone rang in the other room. Kate rushed to the nightstand by her bed and answered. “Mom?”
“Hi, sweetie. I’m sorry to call already. You just left yesterday. But I wanted to see how you’re doing. Are you all settled in?”
“I’m fine and settled in. Freddie’s a wonderful host.”
“I’m sure he is.”
Kate waited for her to continue. “Mom? That’s all you have to say?”
“Yes, I’m sorry. Except that I really like Freddie and know he will help you with your career.”
“So you finally approve? It’s not a silly dream anymore?”
“Approve of you dropping out of college after a year? No. Becoming a writer? Yes, with more schooling. But you’re an adult. You can do as you wish.”
“But in your mind, I’m still your little girl.” Kate adjusted the phone against her ear.
“Just like any mother would think. And you’re my only child. I can’t help it.”
“I start interviewing Freddie today.”
“Whoa! Way to change the subject.” Her mom laughed. “Federico Martin has had a long, productive life. I’m sure he will have many interesting stories to tell.”
“Then you understand why I chose to live here for the next few months. Easy access.”
“Kate.” Her mom’s voice lowered. “Be careful. Don’t accidentally slip up. No one can ever know how you two really met. You’re out in the world now, not living in a small town in Ohio. Things can happen.”
“You make it sound so ominous.” Kate tried to laugh it off, but her mom was right. She had to be careful.
“Even if you’ve sworn off traveling, it’s changed your life.”
“I know,” Kate whispered. “Mom, I’ve got to get ready for the day. Thanks for the call. I love you.”
“I love you more. Know I’m always here for you. Call whenever you need me.” Her mom went silent for a moment. “And Kate, I’m glad you stopped traveling. I’m so happy you made that decision. Whatever the reason.”
“Thanks, I think? Bye, Mom.” Kate watched until the seconds on her cell stopped, ending the call. “You’ll never know this, Mom, but I call myself the Reluctant Traveler. I will never go back, unless there’s a very good reason.” She stared at the phone in her hand. “And I can’t think of one.”
As she emerged from the shower, Kate pulled a large, fluffy towel from the bar. The fresh smell of the bath sheet and shampoo engulfed her. I once thought time travel was a game. Full of fun. A fairytale. Kate shook her head. But it’s not. It’s just like real life. So why go back? To pile on more grief? She rubbed her hair with the towel and hung it up to dry. If I never traveled, I’d never would have met the devious Nicolas Martin. On the other hand, he’s Drew and Freddie’s father. She slapped her forehead as her thoughts went to the nightmare she had last night. Are you living as a ghost in the townhouse, Nicolas? Or was it just a dream?
She wiped the steam-covered mirror and gazed at her image. “I wished I could’ve told you, Mom, but you’re not up for that sort of thing. Who do I confide in? Certainly not Drew. Tell him his dad’s a ghost? I don’t think so. Especially when I’m not sure.” Drew. She sighed as she thought of how much she loved him and would do anything to protect him.
Her fiancée—Drew Kelly, in the present, Andrew Martin from the past—would fly to New York City in a minute if he thought she needed him. Separated for the first time in almost five years, Kate wanted to prove she could be strong and capable. Complaining about ghosts didn’t exactly fit that description. She had left college to pursue her dreams, write a book, start a publishing company and marry Drew. First task on her agenda, write the book. Everything else would eventually fall into place.
After throwing on jeans and a t-shirt, Kate flipped through her phone to find her photos. She brought up the most recent picture of Drew. Her fingertip drew a line around his mouth, down his cheek to his strong jaw line. His dark brown hair always had one piece hanging over his forehead that she loved to brush back. She stared into his emerald green eyes. “This is a good opportunity for you, too,” she told the picture. “You can learn to live in the 21st century without me. You came to the present and gave everything up for me. Now it’s your time to fly.” She kissed the screen.
“Kate?” A knock on her door interrupted her thoughts. “Breakfast is ready.”
“Thank you, Sarah,” Kate called through the door. “Tell Freddie I’ll be down in a minute. I just want to call Drew.” Freddie’s twenty-two-year-old brother, Sarah. And yes, my host knows the truth. Freddie’s assistant could be a wonderful confidante. They were close in age, and Kate felt she could trust her. If only.
Determined to wipe the awful dream from her mind, she picked up the cell and sat on the edge of the bed to make her call. “Drew? It’s me, Kate.”
“Hello, Kate.” Drew laughed. “I knew it was you. What’s wrong? I can hear it in your voice.”
She let out the breath she held. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“Did the pitch of your voice just go up on that last syllable?”
“I didn’t get much sleep, that’s all.”
“And?” She could feel him urging her to tell the truth.
“That’s all. I’m calling to see how you’re doing and tell you I miss you.”
“I miss you, too. Especially last night. The empty spot in the bed reminded me you’re gone. I know we agreed to this living arrangement, but man, it’s hard!”
“Drew Kelly, you’re starting to sound like a modern guy. I’ve been gone one night.” Kate giggled.
“I don’t think I’ll ever truly be one.” Drew’s voice grew serious. “I’m still the same man, Kate. You agreed to marry me, and that changed my world.”
“I’m going to cry if you keep it up and catch a plane home to Ohio.”
“As much as I’d love that, you have a job to do. We said April and May. I’ll graduate by then and can join you. You’re not a quitter, Kate. Although,” he said with a laugh. “You did quit school.”
“With your blessing.”
“But not your parents.”
“They’ve come around.” Kate flopped back on the bed. “Mom already called me this morning.”
“Really? I plan to see them once a week. I text Jack every day.”
“Of course, you do.” Kate loved that her dad and Drew were best friends. The relationship started long ago over their love of the Grand Canyon. “I’d love to talk, but your brother has breakfast ready. I need to join him.”
“Don’t push him too hard, Kate.”
“Where did that come from?”
“I’ve had a lot of time to think. Freddie may be my little brother, but he’s an old man now. Don’t tell him I said that.” Kate heard him take a deep breath. “There may be more to the story than we know. I missed most of his life when I came to the future. I knew Father had a temper. But this mean streak? We’re just learning about it.”
“I’ll go easy.” Kate sat up. “We’ll start with facts I already know. I love you. I really have to go.”
“I love you, too.”
“One more thing.” Kate swallowed hard. “Do you believe in ghosts?” How could she tell Drew she believed his father haunted the townhouse? She thought she dreamed it, but now felt it really happened.
“What? Where did that come from?”
“Okay, that’s all I wanted to know. I’ll call again soon.” Kate hung up and slid from the bed. “Did you hear that, Nicolas? Your own son doesn’t believe in ghosts. You may have been king of the manor in 1927, but Freddie has cast away the evil. He’s filled the place with light and love. You just can’t handle that.”
Kate took one last look around as she walked out of the room, slamming the door behind her. She continued down the hall to the back set of stairs. A vision of a man guarding the entry to the second floor offices came into focus.
“Rudy?” Kate stopped. The handsome young man stood staring straight ahead with his hands folded in front of him. He wore a designer pinstripe suit. Probably one of Nicolas’ designs from Martin’s Menswear. Oh, Rudy, you scared me, but at the same time, you were nice to me. You were one of Nicolas’ men. If he ordered someone beaten, you did the dirty work. Then again, Drew’s sister fell in love with you. I never knew what to think of you. She shook her head and blinked. No man guarded the hallway.
Kate didn’t think she had a problem separating the two time periods she stayed in the house, but now she questioned herself. Why would I think I saw Rudy? I know I’m in the present. Or maybe I just expected him to be there. Rudy’s from a lifetime ago. She slapped her cheek. No! Not another ghost!
The first time Kate visited the townhouse, she came with Drew in November, 1927. They had married at the Grand Canyon then traveled to New York City to visit his parents. She had no idea Drew’s father was a gangster, let alone the boss. Guards filled the home, and strange activities went on behind closed doors. Drew seemed oblivious to the fact or chose to ignore it.
Kate took a step back and studied the area. The small hall that led to the offices on the second floor looked the same. But the entrance door had been removed.
“No secrets anymore.” She sighed. “And it’s time for breakfast.”
She bounded down the staircase that led to the sunroom. Freddie inherited his father’s house, gutted the first floor and started over from scratch, giving the home a modern look. Sunlight greeted her from the row of windows that wrapped around the room. A huge woven area rug covered flagstone flooring. The cream colored walls, vaulted ceiling, and chic décor were a far cry from the potted palms, dark green walls and flowered furnishings of the past. A wide archway led into the kitchen instead of the enclosed entry she remembered. “I’m so glad you redecorated, Freddie. Otherwise, I’d feel I was back in time again.”
“Kathryn!” Freddie’s face lit up when he saw her. The sunlight bounced off his white hair, and his green eyes twinkled.
A sensation traveled up and down her spine, and she shuddered. “Please, Freddie. It’s Kate.” She glanced away. That made me think of the dream. I shouldn’t have said that.
“Forgive an old man? That’s how I was first introduced to you as a young boy and how I’ll always think of you.” Freddie smiled and motioned to a seat. “Please, sit.”
“It’s quite alright. You can call me anything you wish. Anna called me Kathryn, too.”
“I forgot about your friend. If it brings up sad memories, I’ll try harder.”
“It’s fine. I’m adjusting to the new surroundings, that’s all.”
“I hope you found everything to your liking.”
Kate held her breath then exhaled. “The house is wonderful. Beautiful, in fact. So different from what I remember.”
“The credit goes to Charlotte.” Freddie took a sip from his china cup. “She sends her regrets, by the way. She can’t join us this morning. Something about a committee or a ball she’s planning.” He waved his other hand in the air. “Women.”
“Freddie! She’s very dedicated to her causes. She’s raised millions for charities.”
“That’s what I get for marrying a younger woman. She has more energy than me. My trophy wife.” Freddie chuckled as he set his teacup back in the saucer.
Kate loved when he referred to his second wife as his trophy wife. Charlotte had to be in her mid-seventies, but still younger than Freddie. His first wife died suddenly from a heart attack, leaving behind a bereaved Freddie and a son in high school, Federico Jr. Freddie swore Charlotte helped him pick up the pieces and married her shortly after. They had twin boys, Calvin and Curtis.
“Now, where do you want to start?” Freddie poured Kate a cup of tea. “English Breakfast. You’ll grow to love it.”
Kate opened her Vera Bradley bag. A special friend gave her the piece when Kate was just sixteen. Anna. How I wish you were here. I know you had a long and happy life, but I wanted more time with you. She pulled out an iPad, laptop, her phone and a recording device.
“Oh, my.” Freddie studied the table and placed his hand over Kate’s. “Do you have a notebook and pen in there, my dear? Call me old-fashioned, but all of this?” He swept his hand over the gadgets. “Makes me nervous.”
“Freddie!” Kate huffed then smiled at him. “Alright. We’ll do it your way. At least let me have the recorder running.” She gave him pleading eyes.
“How can I deny someone as beautiful as you? Andrew was correct when he said your eyes were like sapphires.”
Kate felt a warmth creep up her neck and into her cheeks. “He’s such a romantic. I miss him already.”
“I could fly him in for weekends,” Freddie said. “You don’t have to do this alone.”
“No, we agreed.” Kate sat straight in her chair. “Where to begin? Let’s start with the house. Tell me a little of its history.”
“If I bore you, please stop me. I could go on and on about this old townhouse. Father purchased it the year I was born. Built in 1902 by a prominent New Yorker on the Upper East Side, Father felt the home fit him perfectly and offered the man an outrageous sum. Everything had to be the best, and to him, this house fit the profile. The superb limestone façade, designed in Beaux-Arts style, was top of the line.” Freddie paused and cleared his throat. “Are you familiar, Kate?”
“Beaux-Arts architecture expresses the academic neoclassical architectural style taught at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.” Kate looked up from her iPad. “Wikipedia. Sorry. Go on.” She bookmarked and pushed the pad farther down the table.
“Father, being Italian, chose to have decorators furnish the house with pieces shipped from Italy. He had to sign off on color and design. I don’t think Mother had much of a say in the matter, except for the bedrooms.”
“Sounds like Nicolas.” Kate patted Freddie’s arm. “I was braver on my second visit to the townhouse. I thought I knew what to expect. Little did I know.” She laughed. “When I was dismissed by Nicolas and sent to Drew’s room, I didn’t go in. I peeked in all the bedrooms instead. I always felt his room was too mature for a teenage boy. Heavy red velvet drapes with gold tassels and red and gold brocade bedding. I’m glad you redesigned that room or I wouldn’t be able to stay there.”
“I hope the bad memories will be replaced with good ones. I know Father tried to keep you and Andrew here against your will. You spent many lonely hours in that room. Thank God, you escaped.”
“That sounds awful when said aloud.” Kate shook her head. “Drew held captive in his own home. We had to create an escape plan.”
“You were the mastermind, if I remember correctly. Then a few weeks later, the family learned Andrew died in that river in Arizona. He dreamed of fighting the rapids of the Colorado and lost the battle. Father blamed you for his death, Kate. He felt if you two stayed here, it never would’ve happened.”
“I know.” She hung her head. “But Drew didn’t die. My dad rescued him from that fate and brought him to the present.”
Freddie rubbed his forehead. “So much for an old man to process. It’s been over two years, but I still have trouble. My older brother turned twenty-two in January, and I’m in my nineties.” He leaned his head against the chair. “I’m so grateful he’s alive. I still can’t believe my good fortune.”
“And he’s grateful to have you.” Kate sat back and waited. She wanted to give Freddie time to regroup. He had so much to tell, and they had already gotten off course.
“Explain it one more time, Kate,” he whispered.
“Are you sure? We have a lot to cover.”
“Please.” His eyes begged. “I need to understand this whole time travel thing.”
“I’ll try my best,” Kate said as she reached over to shut off the recorder. “When I was sixteen, my mom gave me a book to read during summer break.” She paused. Hidden safely away, never to be used again. “Most of my friends were on vacation or off to summer camp. I grew bored and cranky, like most teenage girls.” Kate chuckled. “How did my mom put up with me?”
“She gave you the book.” Freddie winked.
“Yes, the magical book. Actually, it belonged to Maya Johnson, our friend and neighbor. She’s the keeper of the books. The rule is to read after the sun sets and fall asleep. Then you wake at the Grand Canyon in 1927. Maya told my mom it was the perfect summer distraction. She’d be at the boardinghouse to supervise. She convinced Mom I would think it was all a dream.”
“Maya is such a lovely woman. You’re lucky to have her in your life.”
“More like a grandmother than family friend. And her son, Carl? He’s my brother from another mother.”
Freddie smiled. “You’re both only children, but fight like brother and sister.”
“Carl’s headstrong. That’s what I love about him,” Kate answered.
“I’ve only learned bits and pieces through the years about your lives,” Freddie said. “Now that I have you all to myself, there’s still so much to learn. I want to pick your brain while you’re here.” He reached for a tea biscuit and clotted cream. “One more question before we continue with the interview. From what I surmised, Andrew made his way to the river before anyone could stop him and died fighting the rapids, but your father went back year after year to rescue him. How can that be?”
“I know it sounds strange, but it’s always 1927 at the Grand Canyon year after year.”
“So you don’t pick a time or the destination when you travel?”
“No, I can’t. The book’s in charge, not me. There’s no time machine or dial to set. It only takes me to the Grand Canyon. Think of it as a giant loop. Whatever day it is here, it’s the same there. We step in and out of 1927 over and over again.”
“But what about multiples? When you return, aren’t you already there? You’d be meeting yourself.”
“My dad has a theory. The set of books was found imbedded in a wall of the boardinghouse where we all wake up. He felt their power was coming from somewhere deep in the canyon. The books seem grounded in that time period, unable to take anyone further back in time. The power to travel forward spreads out from this single, original point to countless locations in the future but pulls everyone back to that very spot in time. The book has its own rules.”
“You still haven’t answered one of my questions. Why can you keep going back and not meet yourself?”
“It’s like we slip back into a body that is the same age and look as when we first arrived. We revert to that form, so to speak, but still have all our memories of the past and the present. That’s the best I can explain.”
“I think I understand. The book has some connection to the canyon. No matter where you are in the present it will take you back to that one place in time. It allows you to slip in and out of time.”
“And for reasons we don’t understand, it brings us back to exactly the same spot we left in the present.”
“So you’ve live 1927 over and over again. Fascinating! But it really only happened once.”
“You’re catching on, Freddie. To us, every Friday after Thanksgiving, Drew dies somewhere in that river. They never find his body. But it really only happened once. That’s why my dad was determined to save him. He had so many chances and failed year after year. When he finally rescued him, Dad felt safe bringing him to the present. It wouldn’t change Drew’s timeline in the past. He never had a family of his own, children that needed to be born. Everyone thinks he died on November 25, 1927 to this day.” Kate held her teacup to her nose and took in the aroma. “You’re probably wondering how my dad rescued him after all those years. Well, he really didn’t. The credit goes to me or so I’m told. Drew changed his routine the year we met. Dad found him camped by the river. But they still let everyone think he died.”
Freddie wiped his eyes. “Until two years ago, so did I.” He glanced around the room. “When Father died, I closed this place up. Eleanor, my first wife, supported my decision. We had our own home, our own lives.” Freddie leaned forward. “Don’t get me wrong. Before they passed, we did visit. I couldn’t let Mother think I abandoned her. When she died, Father became a shell of a man. He really loved her, Kate. I’m glad I learned he did. Sometimes I wondered.” Freddie sat back and swirled his tea around his cup. “He died in 1974, two years after Mother. I locked the townhouse door, trapped all the evil and bad memories inside and walked away.”
“Charlotte. She convinced me to give her a tour. She heard about the third floor ballroom and thought it would be perfect for one of her galas. People could buy tickets and see a stately old townhome brought back to life.”
“And?” Interview’s back on! Kate reached for her notebook.
“Twenty years had gone by since I last stepped foot in this house. Memories fade. If it made Charlotte happy, it made me happy. We lived in the same neighborhood. I couldn’t leave the Upper East Side. It was home.”
“By then you had the house in the Hamptons, correct?” Kate jotted down a few key years to help her remember.
“Yes, summer in the Hamptons. That’s what the rich do according to Charlotte.” Freddie chuckled. “I often stayed at the apartment when I worked full time.”
“At Woods and Associates?”
“Yes. The apartments are on the upper floors.”
“So you own the building in Lower Manhattan?” Kate scribbled away.
“I do.” Freddie stood. “Kate, I need to show you around. Less talk, more action. I know you saw some of the house yesterday, but I’ll give you the official tour today.” He offered her his arm. “And perhaps it will help us stay on topic. Let’s head to the front of the house and the elevator.”
Kate took his arm. “Elevator? That’s a new addition.”
“These old bones can’t do stairs anymore,” Freddie said, as he gave her a delightful smile. Kate noticed the similarities to Drew. Same green eyes, kind face. Freddie’s shock of white hair used to be red, different from his brother’s dark mane, but he had that one piece that fell over the forehead.
She followed him through the archway to the master chef’s kitchen. Black granite tops covered the white cabinetry. Pristine white walls gave the impression the kitchen was just for show. Shiny black and white ceramic tile finished the look.
Kate recalled the hallway from the past, filled with portraits and art, which ran the length of the house. A butler’s pantry, kitchen, a parlor, a dining room, a living room and Nicolas’ study sat on either side. When Kate stepped into the grand foyer yesterday she noticed the library was the only room left intact. When she walked down the short entry hall, open spaces greeted her. Oak hardwood floors, cream-colored walls, and traditional dark red furniture filled the rooms.
Freddie continued through the kitchen and out to the dining area. Kate marveled at the long table with seating for twelve polished to a high shine. A huge arrangement of fresh flowers sat in the middle. A large ornate mahogany bar with stools for eight and a butler’s pantry shared the space. Charlotte had chosen a more traditional look for these areas, too. They strolled into the living room. Stately pillars separated the rooms. Freddie came to a stop by them. “Well, what do you think?”
“Gorgeous. But,” Kate said as she pointed straight ahead at the wall, “why keep Nicolas’ study?”
Freddie stared at the floor. “I just couldn’t destroy it. I needed a reminder to never be like him. And I hoped to find an answer in there. Although as much as I’ve tried, I found nothing.”
“Maybe we still can. I’m willing to go through every book on the shelf if you want. Anything that will bring you some closure.”
“Don’t you think I’ve already done that?”
Kate nodded. “Knowing you, you’ve gone through everything twice.” She looked away as tears filled her eyes. “You didn’t deserve to be beaten. You do know that. Right?” She turned toward Freddie and took both his hands. “No parent should ever hit their child.”
“We’re getting too serious, Kate. Let’s not go there yet. I’m still showing you the house. We’ll go straight to the third floor. The ballroom and apartment will be our next stops.”
Freddie took Kate to the foyer and pressed the elevator button. “Going up!” He laughed as he motioned for her to step in when the door opened. She decided to let the conversation go. Freddie didn’t want to talk about his relationship with his father yet.
They came out on a landing next to the stairs. Beautiful crystal chandeliers ran down the wide main front hallway. The creamy walls and gold carpet made the third floor look regal. The ballroom along with its own kitchen and servants’ quarters took up most of the floor. The apartment, on the other side of the hall, overlooked the street.
“My prison. Sorry.” Kate covered her mouth as she peeked in the door. “I just remembered being told I could decorate the place any way I liked. Drew and I were to live happily ever after there.” A cold chill went up her spine, and the back of her neck tingled. “Is it a little cool up here?” Kate rubbed her arms.
“Why no. I thought just the opposite.” Freddie started down the hall.
“Freddie! Where are you?” a woman’s voice called with a tone of desperation.
Kate rushed to the banister and looked down to see Charlotte standing in the first floor foyer. “We’re up here.”
“Oh, thank the Lord! Freddie, get down here quickly. Something’s wrong! Terribly wrong!”