Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sample Read of The Time Heiress

Chapter One

From my earliest days I worked in the fields. My hands were small and nimble so I could get ahold of that cotton. When the deep, red blood from cuts on my fingers would stain the pure white, the boss would beat me, or worse - dock my quota so the next day I’d have to pick more. I don’t remember my mama. I just know I lived with Lillian and Samuel, and though they were young ones themselves, they took care of me like I was their own. 
One day, I saw Samuel beat for what reason I don’t know. The hate I felt for Master rose up in me bigger than ever and that night I told Lillian and Samuel that we had to run away. They didn’t hesitate. They said yes, right off. I was around twenty years old by then, Sam and Lill a few years more (though none of us knew our exact ages). They’d been lucky all these years, a brother and sister not sold apart. Also lucky that Master kept off of Lill—probably afraid of Sam, him being so big.
After that beating though, we got word they were thinking of selling Sam down south, so we didn’t waste time. On the new moon, in early spring, we went. The night was pitch-black, and it was cold. There were still patches of snow on the ground, but we could see the North Star through the mostly bare tree branches and we kept following it. When daylight broke, we slept in a corn crib and ate the little food we’d brought, some corn cakes and baked yams. By night time, we were cold and hungry. I thought about turning back. I knew we’d be whipped. Still, at least back home was food and a warm shack. But when I thought about them selling Sam, I knew we had to go on. We looked for that star and kept moving. It was slow walking ’cause the ground was wet and we were stepping in mud and mire. We went, feeling from tree to tree with owls hooting, and wolves crying, and so many terrible sounds from who knows what. Then we heard the dogs.
─From Caleb Stone’s narrative, as remembered by Dr. Cassandra Reilly

The paparazzi crowded the entrance to MIT’s Stata Center, making it nearly impossible for Cassandra to shove through the doors. Inside, the security guards kept the onlookers at bay while she made her way to the Chronology Department on the fifth floor. She was ridiculously nervous about meeting the famous artist, her stomach churning with each illuminated number as the elevator ascended. Cassandra’s book about her journey to England of 1820 had made her somewhat of a celebrity in her own right, but she was hardly a household name like Elinah Johnston.
Professor Carver’s secretary was waiting as the doors opened and indicated for Cassandra to enter the office. As she did, Elinah rose to greet her. “Hi, I’m Evie.”
Her sea-green eyes were the exact color of Benedict’s―so startlingly familiar. It was disconcerting to see them peering out of the beautiful face of a twenty-seven-year-old woman with wild black curls, full lips, and a body that would be the envy of any Hollywood starlet. The young woman’s skin, a light fawn color, was complemented perfectly by a dark red, knit dress, long-sleeved with a high neck. The frock hugged every inch of her body, from her muscular arms, to her long, shapely thighs, then flared coyly, just above the knee. Tights and high-heeled black boots completed the ensemble.
Cassandra willed her mouth to close before she accepted the offered handshake. “C-Cassandra Reilly.”
“Ladies, please sit down,” Professor Carver said. As they complied, he moved swiftly to his own seat behind the heavy wooden desk, reminiscent of early Americana, and whirled his chair around to face front. He sat forward, forearms perched on the desk. His dark eyes held an expression of excitement. “Ms. Johnston is a big fan of your book,” he told Cassandra.
She continued to stare as the young woman nodded vigorously, her black curls bouncing.
“Really. Well, thank you,” Cassandra said to her. “Professor Carver tells me you want to travel to around the time period when your ancestor Ben Johnston lived, but I still don’t understand why. You must know that it’s an extremely complicated and expensive undertaking and can be quite dangerous.”
“Yes, I know, but I became fascinated with the idea when I was wandering around the churchyard of All Angels in New York after attending a concert there, and I noticed tombstones that bore two of my family names, Johnston and Williams. I mentioned it to the pastor, and he told me both families were involved in the abolitionist movement before the Civil War. When I researched my family tree, I discovered that, yes, they were my ancestors! That’s when I decided to see if I could go back to that time and meet them.” She flashed Cassandra a bright smile.
Cassandra glanced at Professor Carver, her brow knit. A person outside of the Chronology community didn’t just get to time travel because they were interested in their family history, no matter how famous they were. “Do you also have slave ancestors that you know of?”
“No, no, I’m part African, Japanese, English, and a few other things, but my black heritage comes from my mother, who’s from Kenya originally. Her ancestors are all in Africa; they were not part of the slave history here. So it’s really my white ancestors that were involved with abolition, including Benedict’s daughter Cassandra, named after—”
“Yes, I know.” Cassandra cast a look back at Professor Carver. His eyes were alight with interest.
He broke into the conversation. “Ms. Johnston, I think Dr. Reilly and I need to consider your proposal in private. I have the financial information and can pass it on to her. What we really need to discuss is if there is scientific value in the journey.”
Evie rose. “Oh, I understand. And Dr. Reilly, I also understand your hesitation in undertaking a project like this. I know that tandem travel is usually not done, but I also know that your work here needs funding, and I’m not only willing to finance our journey, but those of other scientists here at the lab as well.”
“I’m sorry, did you just say our journey?”
“Well, yes, of course, you would need to come with me.”
Cassandra jumped up from her seat. “Wait a minute, wait a minute! Nobody said anything about me going! I have no intention of traveling again, at least not any time soon, especially not with—”
Professor Carver stood as he spoke. “Cassie, calm down, nothing has been decided. We’re only listening to Ms. Johnston, and considering, that’s all, and I’d really prefer we continue this conversation in private.”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Reilly,” Evie interjected, “I didn’t mean to upset you, but I think if you consider the merits of my proposal—and the kind of money I’m talking about, you will be convinced. Thank you so much for your time. It was very nice to meet you.” She reached out to shake hands, and Cassandra reciprocated mechanically. “Oh, and I brought something for you. Please, I’m not trying to bribe you,” she laughed lightly. “It’s just a token of thanks for considering my proposal.” She handed Cassandra a package wrapped in brown paper. “Have a nice day,” she said. She shot a flirtatious smile at Professor Carver and picked up her bag.
The professor leapt to open the door for her. “Thank you so much for coming, Ms. Johnston, we’ll be in touch soon. Do you need me to walk you to your car?”
“No.” She flicked her wrist and spoke. “Frank, I’m ready.” Turning to the professor she said, “My bodyguards will meet me at the door. Thank you again for your time.”
Her smile was still on high voltage.
Professor Carver grinned back at her and closed the door. He turned to Cassandra who looked up at him, hands on hips. She’d tossed the package onto the chair behind her.
“All right now, Cassie, let’s talk about this.”
“There are so many reasons why this cannot happen,” she spat, “I don’t know where to begin.”  
“Then first let me tell you why it should happen.”
“We need the money?”
“No.” Her boss was exhibiting his famous calm demeanor. He lightly stroked his hand over his close-cropped, gray-speckled hair. “That’s the least of it. But first, let me tell you how much money we’re talking about.”
The figure he uttered hung in the air like a tangible object. He went back to sit behind the desk and Cassandra sat too, shoving the small package out of the way.
“So, because she’s this big celebrity and has a lot of money to throw around, she gets to do whatever she wants, is that it?”
“Cassie, it’s not just that she’s rich or famous. You know me; I’m not impressed by that kind of thing.”
Cassandra raised her eyebrow a fraction.
“It’s the merit of this journey she’s proposing that really intrigues me. It’s a subject near to my heart, and I would be fascinated to go myself and interact with people, both black and white, who were involved in the struggle for abolition.”
The conclusion he’d already come to was obvious.
“But it doesn’t make sense for me to go, for so many reasons. I mean, being black, I could not move about freely in that world, the same as a white person. I would not only be ineffective in the experiment, but it would be dangerous for me.”
“Then why is it okay for Elinah Johnston to go—and why does she call herself Evie?”
“It’s her nickname, she said, short for her first name, Evelyn. Elinah is her middle name and she uses it because, as you can see, she’s proud of her Kenyan heritage. She only lets certain people call her Evie.”
Cassandra remained unimpressed.
“And, though she’s part black, she can go to pre-Civil War New York without a problem, why?”
“Because she’s so light skinned she could pass for white. A lot of people of her color did the same back then. And traveling with you, she could be your companion—perhaps a young artist wanting to see the world, but needing a chaperone to do so.”
“I thought the idea of passing for white was offensive.”
“It is. But back in the antebellum era, it was sometimes necessary and certainly advantageous.”
“And does she understand she’d be trying to pass? Is she comfortable with that?”
“She’ll do whatever is necessary; she really wants this. And you, of course, would be a wealthy widow, on vacation or something—”
“Again with the wealthy widow!”
“So, you’re considering it.”
“I didn’t say that. There are so many details to think about. First of all, she wants to go to New York City, right? My God, I can’t go back there while Ben is still alive!”
“He died fairly young, am I correct? What year was it?”
“That’s perfect. She is interested in traveling to 1853, when Cassandra Johnston and her grandfather were at the peak of their involvement in the cause.”
“How soon does she want to go?”
“She’s talking about the spring.” He winced.
“This spring!?”
“Well, yes.”
“But it’s—”
“I know; we’d have to start preparing everything right now. The portal, everything.”
Cassandra took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. “But Elton, what is her goal, what is the purpose of the experiment? Is she submitting a thesis to the Board?”
“I don’t think that will be necessary. The goal, for the purposes of the Board’s decision, is simply to meet her ancestors and understand what they did for the cause of abolition. Not very much was recorded about their work.”
“I’m going to have to think about it. My life is just returning to normal. Nick and I are just starting to feel like a couple; he’s not going to be crazy about this either.”
“It wouldn’t be a long journey. You’d only be gone a month. The two of you would be merely passing through, in New York for a holiday or something. It would be fun and interesting. Just think, mid-nineteenth century New York—what a fascinating time! Wouldn’t you love to see it?”
“Don’t try to distract me, Elton. Preparing for a journey like this will be doubly hard with the press underfoot. They follow her and her entourage around constantly.”
“She promised me she will keep it low key. No entourage, no fans—the press…well, that will be harder to control, I admit, but I think it’s worth the trouble.”
She sank back into the aged leather chair and something crunched. She pulled the package out from behind her, tore off the paper, and gasped.
“What is it?”
She slowly turned it around and showed it to the professor.
His mouth dropped open. “It must be a print.”
Cassandra ran her hand over the surface of the picture. “No, it’s the real thing.”
It was a small, abstract self-portrait of the artist, one that Cassandra recognized instantly as among the most famous of Elinah Johnston’s works, nestled in a hand-made, rustic wooden frame. Its value was immense.
“I think she is trying to bribe me,” she said with a sardonic laugh. She set it on his desk. “At any rate, I’m not keeping it.”
“Yes, you’re right. You have to give it back.” He picked it up and examined it. “I guess it shows, though, how serious she is about this proposal.”
Cassandra slowly shook her head. She looked out the window at the frozen Charles River below. Was it possible Elinah Johnston’s wealth, fame, or beauty was influencing her normally unshakable boss? Perhaps a little of all three. “I’ll think about it, Elton. But I don’t like her method of convincing me. Will you please give it back to her?”
“Yes, leave it here, and I’ll speak to her about the propriety of offering you such a thing. But Cassie, if this trip is going to happen, we’d have to get started next week.”
“Give me two days.” She stood and he rose with her.
“All right, and thank you.”
“I haven’t said yes.”
“I know,” he said, giving her a peck on the forehead and a gentle hug. “I’ll talk to you soon.”
She returned his affection with a kiss on the cheek. “Okay. See you later.”
Cassandra exited the building. The paparazzi had evaporated. She walked south through the MIT campus, across a highway, where the cars glided quietly to a pause as she crossed. She wandered along the Charles River to just before the boathouse and rowing skiff. At that time of year, with the water frozen, no one was around. The temperature was in the low thirties but her lightweight clothing was programmed to keep her comfortable regardless, even with the wind blowing in off the water.
She stared across at the Boston skyline, the gleaming dome of the three-hundred-and twenty-year-old State House still vivid amidst the towering skyscrapers, and Harvard Bridge quaintly poised to allow for the passage of vehicles that its builders could not have vaguely imagined. The images of the present began to recede, however, as thoughts of England from the year 1820 took their place. Though she tried not to spend too much time thinking about her relationship with Ben Johnston now that she and Nick were together, sometimes the recollections came flooding back beyond her control as they did now, especially after seeing those eyes, Ben’s eyes, looking at her from Elinah Johnston’s face.
The icy surface of the Charles River became the backdrop for her memories of Sorrel Hall, the beautiful mansion she’d lived in for a year, its sweeping grounds, its forests, hills, and streams, and the rustic little cottage where she and Ben met to make love as often as possible, the thrill of the secrecy of their affair still palpable. His eyes, those sea-green eyes, his mouth, his hands, his sinewy body―heat rose through her thighs. She took a deep breath. It wasn’t right to be fantasizing about him anymore. He’d been dead for almost three centuries, and she was now in a relationship with the man who had ultimately proven to be the hero when she needed one most.
Then there was her son James. He was beginning to plan his own experiment a few years from now. He’d insinuated himself into her journey, having convinced Professor Carver to let him go back to England six months into her stay to check up on her. The repercussions from a particular mistake he’d made during that trip had been so dire the thought of them now caused a chill to run through her body, replacing the heat from a few moments ago, and further sobering her toward this new venture. Evie Johnston thought it would be a fun adventure to get dressed up in period clothes and pop into the past, check out some ancestors, maybe attend a ball, pretend to be goddamned Scarlett O’Hara gadding about in the antebellum north, but heaven forbid something would go wrong. If she didn’t go with Evie, someone else would have to, and Cassandra was the most experienced among her colleagues. This trip seemed to be becoming inevitable, the girl being so intent on it happening she was willing to use one of her priceless pieces as a bargaining chip.
Cassandra headed over to the nearest Cambridge subway station, and in five minutes was exiting within a block of her townhouse on Mount Vernon Street. She went in, changed her clothes and gave Nick a call.

When she walked into the restaurant, she spotted him sitting at their usual table overlooking the harbor. Nick’s face lit up when he saw her, and she smiled in return.
He stood to greet her. “Hi!”
She kissed him lightly on his full, welcoming lips. He was so undeniably handsome: his warm brown eyes, his high cheekbones, and his thick gray hair, worn long, a little past his ears.
The waiter blustered up to the table. His face was flushed, and a few strands of what remained of his hair had blown out of place. “Cassandra! Nick! How are you! So good to see you!”
“Hi, Henry!” they chimed.
“Two cups of clam chowder and a bottle of Montepulciano, am I right?”
“You got it,” said Nick. “Right?”
Cassandra laughed. “Sure.”
Henry hurried away with the order. Cassandra breathed in the smell of fresh bread baking, and the salty tang of clams steaming in the kitchen. A fire crackled in a nearby fireplace and warmed her face. On a Monday night, the restaurant wasn’t busy. The few couples in the room murmured to each other over the clank of silverware and china.
“It was cold today,” Nick commented.
“Yes, but I didn’t mind it.” She enjoyed teasing him a moment―withholding the news he was surely impatient for.
“You look beautiful. Have you been wearing that all day?”
“No, silly, I put it on for you. I know you like me in a dress.”
Henry returned with their wine, opened and poured it, then took their main course orders and trundled off again.
“Tell me!” Nick finally blurted. “Tell me what the famous artist is like!”
“Well first of all,” she said, her face growing warm, “she absolutely has Ben’s eyes.”
Nick’s smile faded.
“I’m sorry to have to say that, but it’s true. Anyway, it doesn’t matter; it was just interesting to see that a characteristic like that could be carried down through so many generations.”
“Yes, I agree.” The enthusiasm returned to his face.
“Also, she’s even more beautiful in person than in any images you’ve seen.”
“I’m afraid I was pretty rude to her, though.”
“You were? Why?”
“Because I don’t like the idea of the rich and privileged getting to do anything they want.”
“Forgive me if I take her side, being rich and privileged myself—”
“But you don’t take advantage of it. She even offered me her most iconic painting to convince me, the self-portrait.”
“I didn’t accept it. I gave it to Elton to give back to her.”
“Geez. So, has the project been approved by the board?”
“Well, no, not yet. Carver needs my decision before he presents it to them.”
“But why is it up to you? I mean, I’m sure Carver wanted your input, but why is it your decision?”
“Because she wants me to go with her.”
Cassandra held Nick’s gaze while Henry brought the soup. He placed it before them soundlessly and scurried away.
Nick finally spoke. “Go with her?”
“Yes. She wants to travel to New York 1853 to meet Ben’s daughter, Cassandra Johnston, and she wants me to go with her.”
Color drained from Nick’s face as he stared down at his soup.
“But Nick, Ben will be dead.”
“Oh, yeah.” His skin regained its usual hue. “How soon does she want to make the journey?”
“I’d say within six months—by the spring, actually.”
His spoon stopped mid way to his mouth.
“I know, I know,” Cassandra hurried on. “It’s really soon. But obviously she’s got the bucks to make this happen. She can throw endless resources behind it.”
“I’d like to be part of the support team,” Nick uttered after he’d swallowed his mouthful of soup.
“I think Elton is hoping you will be.”
Nick inhaled deeply. “Are you really up to this? To be traveling again so soon?”
“Well, I never would have considered it before today, but now to think about seeing New York during that time period, to meet actual abolitionists, Ben’s daughter, it would be incredible! It’s just that…” She took another spoonful of chowder.
She took a moment to chew and swallow before she spoke. “I just can’t help feeling like this is some kind of bizarre whim of hers, a whim she can act on because she is who she is.”
“Well, I’m behind you, whatever you decide to do.”
She squeezed his hand across the table. “You’re the best.”
Henry returned and presented them each with a steaming plate of linguini.
“This looks great. Thank you, Henry,” said Nick with a smile. He picked up his fork and twirled the pasta around it, then set it back down.
Cassandra’s fork was already half-way to her mouth, a succulent clam poised on a mound of pasta. “What’s the matter?”
“I’m suddenly not very hungry.”
“Did I upset you?”
“No, no, not at all. Will you excuse me for a second?”
He got up and glided away toward the men’s room. The door was just visible from where she sat. When he reached it, he smacked it hard with his hand to open it, then went in and slammed it shut.

Chapter Two

Come daybreak, we got to a river. It was big and wide, all rough water. We felt it. It was ice cold, and none of us knew how to swim, but we knew that to go north, we had to cross it. We heard dogs still a long way off, coming for us. Sam walked up river a bit and called back to us. There was a ferryman on the other side with an old, rickety-looking raft. He was a black man, so we thought it’d be safe to cross with him. We huddled on the bank in the fog and waved to him, the barking of the dogs sounding closer and closer. He made his way on rope and pulley, easing the raft along with a pole stuck down into the river bottom. He’d yank it up then stick it back down and push, and little by little the raft came across. It was slow going. When he reached the bank, we scuttled down its steep sides and carefully stepped onto the slab of logs that tipped and pitched dangerously. Once we were situated, the ferryman started back across. The fog had settled down low, and we couldn’t see the bank on the other side. Sam and I helped him wield his pole, and we made quicker time. The barking grew louder, and now we could hear men shouting. After a time, we could no longer see the bank we’d come from, and it was a lucky thing, for we could hear the men and dogs running up and down near the riverbank. We spoke not a word as we rode, all fearful we’d tumble into the restless water. When we got to the far bank, Sam gave the ferryman his hat for payment. The man spoke briefly to us, telling us his master had freed him when he died, and he was happy to help his brethren to freedom on this ferry that was his and his alone.
He told us that about half-mile up the river was a creek inlet. He said to follow the creek ‘till the sun was halfway between the horizon and straight overhead. Said that nobody lived thereabouts and we oughta be safe ’till we get to the first house we see. Said Quakers live there. He told us to knock on the back door and say Daniel sent us. He said they were white people who hated slavery, and they would help us and to not be afraid.
─From Caleb Stone’s narrative, as remembered by Dr. Cassandra Reilly

Travel Journal, Evie Johnston: March 18, 2122—Dr. Reilly suggested that this would be a good time for me to start writing a travel journal, since our personal preparation for this trip is now getting underway. She said that keeping a journal like this is the scientific thing to do, and she suggested I write it out by hand (though it’s incredibly painstaking and hard to get used to) because when we get to 1853, our journals will, of course, have to be written out as well.
My name will be Evelyn Bay. Obviously, I can’t use my real last name, because it would seem strange that I have the same last name as the Johnston family. My “character” is to be the traveling companion of Mrs. Cassandra Reilly, a wealthy widow from Boston. It’s incredible the detail that is being put into this journey: the research we both have to do, the designing and creation of all the perfect period clothing and accessories, the speech training, the duplication of money. I just hope it won’t all be in vain. I’m determined to find Caleb Stone.

Evie picked up the mem-stick and examined it. It looked just like an old-fashioned book-mark. She swiped it over the last two sentences of her journal entry and they disappeared. They would be recorded in the stick, and also, invisibly, on the memory paper of the journal. This was the beauty of such “hidden” technologies. No one would ever see anything in her journal, other than what she intended them to see.

Nick and Cassandra lounged in her cluttered office at MIT, discarded containers of Chinese food lay about, taking up the available surfaces. The two scientists were staring at a floating 3D image of a New York street from the middle of the nineteenth century. He had been his usual cheerful self as of late, and whatever worries she’d had about his objections to the trip had been eased.
“This is Broadway from Eighth to about Twelfth Street,” said Nick, finishing off a dumpling.
“Oh yeah. I recognize Grace Church there on Tenth.”
The image shifted, allowing them to follow the streets as if they were actually walking on the surfaces.
“Now,” he said, “this is based partly on drawings from the time, and partly on imagination.”
They seemed to float along the avenue crammed with shops as the images continued to evolve.
“Okay,” he continued, “we’re coming up to Twelfth. Now I want you to notice here—” He used a laser to point at an opening between two buildings. “There’s a little alley here. Now watch.”
He gave a command, and the image shifted to a modern scene. It was New York’s Broadway of 2122. “It’s disorienting, but even though it hardly looks like the same street, you can recognize some landmarks, I think.”
“Right, right. God, I wish Evie were here to see this. I feel this part of the preparation is crucial.”
“Well, I guess fame has its demands.”
“I would think she’d want to make these training sessions a priority if she’s so desperate to make this journey.”
“True, but the most important thing is that you are prepared. You’re the guide.” Ben paused before continuing.  “So, anyway, coming back up toward Twelfth Street, you can see that where this little alley used to be there is now a store front, and inside, our portal lab.”
“I can’t wait to see it tomorrow for real. Let’s see some more of the area.”
The floating image continued up Broadway to Union Square, then wandered westward, along Fourteenth Street, down Sixth Avenue, and then turned east onto Waverly Place with its solid little brick houses, well-cared-for gardens in the front, and lace curtains fluttering at the windows. It continued along Washington Square Park and down Lafayette to Fourth Street. Here and there, a tenement building made an appearance. Laundry flapped from makeshift lines strung wall to wall.
The scientists wandered down the holographic streets where a bakery was adjacent to a butcher shop, which neighbored a cheese shop, set up next to a cobbler. Make-believe people, appropriately attired for the era, went on about their business.
“Amazing how little the locations of the streets have changed despite the passage of time,” Cassandra commented.
“It will be fascinating to experience. I envy you. I remember the thrill of trying to fit in—of passing yourself off as someone you’re not.”
“I never really thought of it as a thrill.”
“Maybe it’s better, then, that I’m not going. I supposed the thrill is not a very scientific reason for traveling.” 
“Honestly,” remarked Cassandra, “I’m fairly nervous about what we may encounter. Although the layout of the city hasn’t changed since the 1850s, other things have. We’ll have to be cautious no matter what we do or where we go. It was a volatile time in New York.”
He turned to her, his face serious. “Cassandra, promise me you will stay away from any rough areas. If you think some place or someone seems even the slightest bit sketchy, just steer clear. I’m worried you’ll end up in a compromising situation.”
“I think I’ll know what and whom to stay away from.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.”
“We’ll be keeping a low profile.”
“But I’m sure your simply being there will attract enough attention. You’re both so beautiful.”
“Well, Evie maybe, but you overestimate my charms.”
He took her hand and kissed it. “She doesn’t hold a candle to you.”
“Now you’re just lying.” She laughed, and stood. She gathered the empty food containers and tossed them into the recycler. “But, whatever you say.” She kissed him on the forehead. “I better get going.”
He stood and grabbed her arm, pulling her in close. “Why don’t you come home with me tonight?”
“You know I have to get up early.”
“Okay, then I’ll go home with you.”
She laughed. “It wouldn’t make any difference. I won’t get any sleep.”
“I promise I’ll let you sleep.” He kissed her neck.
“No, Nick, I can’t."
“Come on—” He tightened his embrace while continuing to kiss her neck and face.
“We can do it right here,” he whispered to her.
“No!” she said, squirming out of his grasp.
He turned back to the hologram of New York City, his ears and the back of his neck red.
“Nick, don’t be angry.”
He took a deep breath and faced her again with a forced smile. “I’m not. I just don’t get enough time with you. And soon you’ll be gone.”
“Well, I’m sorry about that, but I have to go. Goodnight.”
She walked out of the room, turning to look back as the door closed. Through the fogged glass of the window, his silhouette remained unmoved as if he were just standing there, staring after her.

New York City was as beautiful and changeable as it had ever been on an April morning. Flashes of bright blue sky flirted from behind the skyscrapers, only to be overcome by clouds frantically whipping past. The briny scent of the ocean blew in with them; the same aroma that people on the island had most likely smelled since the very first humans lived there.
It was ten o’clock. Cassandra knocked on the glass door of the portal lab, which was covered up with paper from the inside. It was the future site of an ice-cream shop the team had rented for two months. As she waited, she glanced up at a patch of blue and the feeling of vertigo that comes from watching clouds race over tall buildings swam over her. The two buildings that sandwiched the tiny shop also dwarfed the spire of the ancient Grace Church nearby at the corner of Tenth Street and Broadway, the same as the modern holographic images she’d seen with Nick the night before. She shuddered. He had been so needy with her, almost aggressive.
It had been seven years since her husband Franklin had died, and at that time, she didn’t think she’d ever find as wonderful a man again. She had fallen in love with him for his innate goodness, for the same qualities of kindness, intelligence, and humor that her father had. When she’d met Ben Johnston in Regency England, she’d found those same qualities in him―and she’d thought Nick had them too, for the most part. Yet something had kept her from introducing him to her parents, as if there were something about him that didn’t quite measure up. After all, her parents’ relationship was her model of a great partnership.
They had been newlyweds in New York, when the area was mostly low-rise buildings. When Cassandra was young, they liked to reminisce about the city of their youths, to point out to her the locations of long, lost “mom and pop” shops that no longer existed. The location of a bookstore that was once on a nearby corner where they’d gotten lost for hours in the moldering texts, a favorite dive of a diner where they’d spent days arguing the merits of socialism in a society where the foundations of capitalism were crumbling, these were all part of the fond memories she held of her parents’ stories. They would stumble in after a night of drinking, Cassandra’s mother had confessed, for an omelet and a Bloody Mary, only to find themselves caught up in discussions with local activists and artists, the neighborhood legends, and would discuss art and literature for hours. It was her dad who had shown her the spot where his favorite music shop had been, nearby on Bleecker Street, a place he would always find some treasure—perhaps a bit of bootleg vinyl to add to his collection of archaic formats. Now, it seemed progress had taken its toll on the area, and those quaint experiences had mostly gone.
A black car with dark windows glided up and stopped at the curb. Evie stepped out wearing a skirt that barely covered her rear, a top that formed to every curve of her torso, and five-inch stiletto heels, all in silver tones that caught the light and glistened as she moved. She spoke to her chauffer then stepped away from the door while it silently slid shut. As the car slipped away into traffic, Cassandra glanced down at the gray sweater she was wearing over a slim fitting black skirt and flat patent leather shoes. Earlier, she’d thought she looked sophisticated; now she suddenly felt frumpy.
At that moment, a young scientist named Yoshi opened the door of the lab, flanked by his colleague, Jake. Cassandra exchanged warm hugs with them both. The two men then shook hands with Evie. Jake stood up straighter in her presence, making the most of his five feet, eight inches and Yoshi, lanky and habitually unkempt, quickly tucked in his shirt and tried to smooth down his spiky black hair. He was the man in charge of the tour and proudly showed the women around the long, narrow space, taking them through a small lounge area to the control room. A large monitor there displayed a night-vision image of an alleyway.
“This is the exact spot in which we’re now standing, two-hundred and sixty-nine years in the past,” said Yoshi. “Since they didn’t use daylight savings time yet, it’s about nine am there.”
Suddenly a flash of red darted across the screen.
“What was that?” asked Evie.
“Probably a rat,” Yoshi replied with a shrug, “judging from the size of it. This monitor shows us images based on heat. If a man were to walk into the alley, we would recognize it as such from its shape; but again, it’s not a picture, it’s a heat image.”
Just then, another red shape wandered across the monitor, and they could see from its shape it was a cat.
“Now watch,” said Yoshi. Cassandra looked on with Jake though the process was second nature. Yoshi gave the computer a verbal command to measure the image. It immediately responded by outlining the image in blue and presenting the exact body mass of the cat for them to read.
“This is how we will know when you and Cassandra return to the portal for transportation back to our time. We will have pre-programmed your exact body mass and proportions, along with your stance and biometric signature, into the computer. Once you step into the alley, the computer will sound an alarm to alert us to a match, and we will immediately activate the portal for your return. You will instantaneously disappear from that spot, but it will take about a minute for you to actually travel through the wormhole to this portal chamber.” He indicated a glass-enclosed booth to his right.
Evie was silent. Yoshi glanced at her.
After a moment she spoke. “You say it’s programmed to my body?”
“Yes, that’s right,” he said.
“Well, what if I gain or lose weight?”
 “The particular proportions of your face, your hands, your feet, your bone structure, all those things are programmed in,” Cassandra carefully explained, “so that even if your body mass index changes, the computer will still recognize you.”
“That’s a relief,” the young woman breathed. “Can I go in the booth?”
“Sure,” said Yoshi. “Try it out.” He quickly opened the door for her.
She went in, feeling along the entrance. Her head reappeared for a moment. “You’re sure I won’t just pop into the past?”
Yoshi laughed. “Not a chance.”
She withdrew all the way into the chamber. “Will Cassandra and I go at the same time?” she called out from within.
“No,” Cassandra replied. “It’s not safe for both of us to go at once. I’ll go first, and you’ll follow along immediately along. There will only be one minute between our arrivals. When we return to this time, you’ll go first, and I’ll follow.”
“Oh,” said Evie, quickly stepping out of the booth. She shivered. “It makes me feel claustrophobic.”
“Don’t worry,” said Jake, laying a hand on her arm, his blue eyes meeting hers. “I’ve done it about a half a dozen times now, and I’m still in one piece. It’s perfectly safe.”
“I trust you.”
“What other questions do you have?” Jake went to casually pick up the cup of coffee he’d been drinking and knocked the spoon in it to the floor, then ignored it as if it didn’t exist.  
“What happens if there’s an emergency and we have to leave quickly?”
Yoshi guided them all to sit in the lounge area. When Evie’s back was turned, Cassandra jabbed Jake with her elbow. He stuck his tongue out at his friend before Evie looked around at him.
 “You have to come back to the portal exit,” he said to the artist. “There’s no other way to get back.”
Evie nodded. After that, there were many more questions from the young woman, and the scientists tried to satisfy her concerns until Cassandra glanced at her watch. It was noon. “Should we finish this conversation over lunch? I’d like to catch the one-thirty train from Grand Central back to Boston. We could eat there. Are you comfortable catching a cab with us, Evie, or do you need to call your chauffer?”
“Oh, a cab is fine. As a matter of fact, I sent my driver back to Boston. I want to go back on the train with you, Cassie.”
“Oh, great,” she said with as much cheer as she could muster.

Friday, December 9, 2011

An Amazing Week!

First of all, my newest novel The Time Heiress, was released. Here's the summary:

In The Time Heiress, Dr. Cassandra Reilly is surprised to find herself time-traveling again, this time to New York City of 1853, accompanying the internationally acclaimed artist, Evie Johnston. Evie has funded the trip, explaining that she wishes to meet her ancestors, activists in the Underground Railroad. However, the beautiful painter has another agenda altogether.

When they arrive in the pre-Civil War city, Evie's deception embroils both her and Cassandra in the activities of the abolitionist revolutionaries, a situation fraught with danger, and unexpected romance. Cassandra struggles to keep history intact, and to keep her and Evie from falling victim to a gang of human traffickers. All the while, each woman discovers how the past has a way of becoming all too present and personal, as they both fall under the spell of the time and the people they meet.

And here's the link:

Also, my first novel, The Time Baroness, was featured on Mark William's International, a really great write up:

I think I'm on a roll!

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Victory for Nerds, an Evolution for the Rest of Us

Here's a conversation topic for nerd-girls: Did the neutrinos at the CERN facility in Switzerland on November 20th, actually travel faster than light, confirming an earlier experiment in September at the same facility? Both experiments, conducted by the OPERA collaboration, had the same results, though the neutrinos were packed more tightly in the second. Here's an article that explains it better than I can: 
Of course, scientists all over the world are up in arms about this. I can just picture the scientists who did the experiment jumping up and down with excitement, their thick-rimmed glasses flying in all directions, while their nemeses sourly publish articles about why they must be wrong, angrily jamming their slide rules into their pocket protectors. If OPERA is right, there will be a lot more than sour grapes. Physics will have to start again at 0, because this means that Einstein's theory that nothing can travel faster than light, the famous E=Mc2, is wrong.

This, as my friend Garrison put it, is like the discovery that the world was round instead of flat. Everything we know of as reality will have to shift. Originally, I thought the finding would do nothing more than mess with the TV show The Big Bang Theory, but I was wrong. A gifted Chinese ESL student of mine explained with great clarity how this changes everybody's reality: if neutrinos can travel faster than light, it means (very roughly, and I'll probably get this wrong, so don't yell at me if you're a scientist) that we could perceive light in the past or in the future. That's right. Wait for it. Drum roll other words....TIME TRAVEL!

You see people? I was right all along! Time travel will be possible one day! What a relief for Cassandra, Professor Carver, James and all those scientists in my books, hopping around from one era to another! But seriously, time travel is, indeed, hundreds of years off, if at all, because these CERN experiments have yet to be replicated by other scientific bodies, though both Japan and the U.S. have the capacity to do it and will try in the coming year. And that experiment is merely step one. In the meantime, ponder this: if we can perceive reality in the past or the future, it means that cause and effect have no meaning. Effect could come before cause. Linear time would be irrelevant, and that is what we base our entire reality on.

Get ready to have your minds blown, people. I see this as a major evolution in man's thinking and perception. So hop on, two, three, evolve!