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Liberty's Belle: A Paranormal Romance
by Marissa St. James

Category: Romance/Fantasy
Description: Dared She Love a Man from Her Future? Peter Ellsworth a SWAT team member, finds himself whisked back to the early days of the American Revolution. A letter in his handwriting leaves the impression he's been here before, but Peter has no memory of it. Then there's the lovely widow, Libby Carson. While she claims he's been a regular guest at her inn, nothing is familiar to Peter. He has to work out the puzzle and figure out what's going on, and what he's doing here. Treachery abounds in the form of a British Colonel Mayhew and Libby's brother Elias. Each has their own plans for her future. Can Peter help Libby thwart their plans and figure out his purpose there? Only time holds the clues to the future of Liberty's Belle.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions,
eBookwise Release Date: February 2007

eBookeBook

4 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [250 KB]
Words: 55692
Reading time: 159-222 min.


PROLOGUE

"Move it, Ellsworth," the sergeant shouted above the gunfire. Across the road, the last of his men waited for the right moment to make a mad dash for the barricade. There were only four men left of a dozen to do this job and Sarge couldn't afford to lose any more. Gunfire seemed to be flying in all directions, making forward progress difficult, if not impossible.

Peter knelt behind the rubble, hoping for a brief lull in the firefight. Even thirty seconds would do it for him. When it seemed to stop for a moment, he ran the twenty yards across the road to the fallen wall that served as a barricade. Snipers fired on him as he ran a zig zag pattern, making himself a more difficult target to hit. The run reminded him of his college football days. Was that so long ago? It seemed like an eternity.

If this had been shown on TV, viewers would have thought it was a Middle East war zone. In fact, it was a section of Corinth undergoing changes. A large old factory was recently demolished, and a second one was scheduled for demolition in a couple days, before cleanup crews came in. The rubble reminded Peter of old news stories he'd seen of the 1970s riots throughout the country. Seemed like most of the country had been placed under martial law. Apparently some folks hadn't learned much since then. Snipers were on the top floor of the factory, and another was on the roof, firing randomly into traffic on the highway below. They'd already shot out a couple of windshields. Corinth's town council wasn't going to be happy when they got the repair bills. He hadn't heard if anyone had been shot, or injured from shattered glass. Peter had a sick feeling it was just a couple of kids trying to prove something. This was going to cost them big time.

He dove into a trench behind a pile of rubble and closed his eyes, just missing the shots that were suddenly fired at him, keeping him pinned down. That was too close for comfort. Every few minutes, the sniper took potshots in their direction, just to keep them back. Several stones were shaken loose from their resting place, and clacked and clattered as they rolled and bounced over others. "Think we got only a couple snipers, Sarge," Peter commented cynically after catching his breath. He glanced back at the building behind him. Many years ago the factory windows had been painted over to hide the view from workers. It was working to the SWAT team's disadvantage, at the moment. The snipers knocked out a couple panes of glass to give them an unimpeded view of the highway below.

"Ya think?" the team leader shot back and surveyed the area. "Feels like a lot more." It'd be hard to find them amidst all the rubble. There were too many convenient places to hide. Several minutes earlier, four team members had gone around to the back of the building, flanking the snipers, but there had been an explosion and nothing more was heard from them. Team leader had cussed a blue streak. Snipers must have been expecting SWAT, and set up some traps to keep them at bay.

"Whatever happened to the cease fire while waiting for a negotiator?" The sniper with the cell phone managed to find his way up to the roof. After a few minutes of trying to reason with him, trying to talk him down, the idiot sent his cell flying over the edge of the building onto the highway. The cell hit the windshield of a passing car, sending spider cracks throughout the glass. The driver swerved and barely avoided causing a major accident. Where were the state police, who were supposed to be blocking off this section of the highway?

One of the team members had been close enough to the highway to see the incident take place, and reported backed to Sarge what had happened. He heard the sniper laughing. Two other team members with Sarge glared at Peter after he made the remark. A truce while waiting for a negotiator to show up? They seemed to think he'd lost his mind. It didn't matter that Peter was the most experienced on the team although he'd transferred in only a couple months ago. The fact he wasn't new to SWAT made them wonder if he'd lost a few marbles. Maybe he'd been on the job too long. Anyone would have thought where he came from, folks paid attention to rules. Yeah, right. Miller shook his head then turned his attention to the sniper.

Peter had been a member of San Diego SWAT. He had put in a request for transfer. The last news he'd had was that his older brother, Dan, wasn't well. It was enough to send the younger Ellsworth packing and heading east. Dan was the only family left to him. Peter shook his head and mentally berated himself for letting his thoughts drift from his job. It wasn't the time to be considering his personal life. He couldn't afford the distraction. The snipers were still sending occasional shots onto the team while others continued to pepper the highway. He wasn't so far away that he couldn't hear the distant braking and squealing of tires. Drivers were doing their best to avoid accidents. Again, he wondered where the officers were who were supposed to close this part of the highway? He thought once more of the snipers and considered the possibility this might be some kind of gang initiation. Gangs were getting more powerful, both in membership and the weapons they managed to confiscate.

"What cease fire?" Miller replied, a hint of sarcasm in his voice as he glanced at Peter. "You know these gang members never mean anything they say. They expect us to believe it and get careless."

"Whatever happened to honoring your word?"

"What century you been livin' in?" Miller chuckled.

Peter's question was rhetorical but made a point. He recalled the information that started this particular incident. Gunfire had erupted out in the open, weapons fired into the air terrorizing the tenants of a nearby housing project. Apparently some of the gang members had chased their club wannabes into the rubble-strewn edge of town. Having been destroyed by a gas explosion a couple years earlier, the area resembled a war zone. It took the town long enough to start demolition proceedings. Most of the gang, perhaps deciding they'd rather not be arrested today, ran when the SWAT team showed up, leaving the new guys pinned down to find their own way out. It was a variation of the same old story being played out all over the country. Peter turned and peered over the wall, then ducked when a single shot zinged over his head. One sniper kept the team pinned down, while the other one had fun, firing over the moving cars below.

"Who said war was honorable?" Sarge asked a moment later while trying to locate the sniper. They seemed to be running back and forth between windows, trying to create an impression of more than one shooter, while a third kept everyone occupied from the roof. "And it is a war ... us against them. More often than not we're all that stands between them and normal people." He turned and carefully searched along the top of the wreckage that was once a warehouse, hoping a head would pop up as a target. Whoever it was, had them neatly pinned down and was systematically picking off their chosen targets--or at least keeping them at bay.

Peter didn't miss the sarcasm in the team leader's words. "You know what I mean, Sarge. There was a time when warriors honored a truce. They fought in the open and didn't hide anything. Now one side or the other breaks a truce before it even takes place."

"These jokers are not warriors, and they don't honor truces. Maybe you'd rather be in a more 'honorable' time?" Sarge glanced at him. "Ain't gonna happen, son. What you see is what you get." After that little speech, Ellsworth would have to be crazy enough to believe his own words and try to play the hero, or manage to get himself caught in the open. Either move was suicide. "Get ready to move out. Miller, you go first. Ellsworth, you follow him. I'll follow Brinkman and bring up the rear. We have to fall back and find another way, try to circle around them."

Peter crouched low, ready to make another run when Sarge gave the word. Yeah, maybe he would rather be in another time and place. He was having second thoughts about staying with SWAT. If he felt as if he were burning out on the job, maybe it was time to get out while he was still alive and whole.

He was jolted back to the present when Sarge fired a few rounds in the sniper's direction and shouted, "Go! Go! Go!" Miller ducked and ran for the wall of rubble several yards behind them. They had to retreat a short distance to be able to go around. A moment after Miller found safety, Peter followed, with the third man close behind. Sarge was last to make the run. He vaulted over a pile of stone and landed safely behind the wall. The sniper fired down on them, too late.

Sarge glanced to either side of him, counting heads. "Where's Ellsworth?"

"He was right behind me," Miller replied glancing at the others. Only Ellsworth would be fool enough to think about playing hero, or manage to get himself lost in open terrain with a sniper firing at them.

Sarge stuck his head above the ruined half wall and glanced about the area. There was only destruction as far as he could see, and a sniper still intent on getting them. He ducked quickly, his features turning pale while he tried to make sense of it. He had to be wrong.

Police Officer and SWAT team member, Peter Samuel Ellsworth had vanished into thin air.

* * * *
CHAPTER ONE

Peter staggered, trying to catch his balance, then stood wobbly in the middle of nowhere. How had his surroundings changed so drastically? He waited a moment or two for his head to clear of the feeling he was hung over. No, the dizziness was more like having taken a hit from a joint, but he hadn't touched the stuff since he was a kid. He tried to recall what had happened. The last thing he remembered was ducking behind a partial wall next to Miller. Miller's attention was riveted in the sniper's direction. After that, everything went from fuzzy to black.

When the road finally deigned to stop wriggling like a slithering snake, he straightened his stance and carefully surveyed the area. Trees lined both sides of what apparently passed for a road here--wherever 'here' was. "You're not in Corinth anymore," he muttered, looking around. The first thing he had to do was get his bearings. He heard voices, deep with laughter. Peter backed into the woods behind him, his semi-automatic weapon at the ready. Until he knew what was going on, it was better to err on the side of caution.

He leaned against the backside of a sturdy, thick oak tree, then peered around it for the source of voices approaching his position. Three men, dressed in historical outfits, were laughing and joking as they passed his position. He stared at them, and thought he saw his teammates, but couldn't move to go after them. "Okay guys," he said softly when they were beyond hearing him, "good joke on the old guy, but enough's enough." The trio was gone far down the road when Peter emerged from his hiding place. "I know. I'm gonna wake up in the shower and realize this is all a dream." He listened for familiar snickering. He heard nothing but normal woodland sounds. "I don't recognize the terrain. Wherever I am, the guys aren't."

Peter turned sharply and his weapon trained in the direction of a wuffling sound. He took several careful steps back beyond the treeline, where he'd been hiding. "Well, well. What've we got here?" He reached out and rubbed the horse's muzzle. "Where did you come from?" Peter glanced about, but saw nothing else suspicious. The fading light hindered further surveillance. What he wouldn't give for a pair of night goggles right now.

Peter kept his voice low while he checked out the animal. It paid attention to him as if it knew him well. He hadn't been near a horse since his childhood--at least he didn't think he had. There were some strange thoughts gathering on the edge of his memory, as if he'd been here before. He shook his head and pushed them away. The animal was saddled and had apparently wandered away from its owner. Maybe the rider had been thrown and lay injured somewhere. He put a mental brake to his thoughts as they skittered through his brain, a mile a minute. Okay, one thing at a time.

A leather bag hung from the back of the saddle, its soft sides bulging with mysterious contents. Peter unbuckled the straps and dug in. What he pulled out amounted to a set of clothes similar to what the three passers-by had been wearing. White stockings, knee breeches, scuffed leather shoes with dull brass buckles. There was a linen shirt, a long buttoned vest and a mid-thigh coat that matched the breeches in color. The last item was a slightly battered tricorn. He punched the crown back into shape and rubbed the sides of the hat's dusty texture. In the pocket of the coat was a small portrait of a young woman. Lainie. How did that ever get here? Peter had no idea, but it did answer his previous question--there was no other rider. Somehow the horse was his, along with the change of clothing. Justice. That was the mount's name. It was fitting, considering Peter's line of work. It was almost as if he'd been here before, but if that were the case, why couldn't he recall any of it? The mystery deepened. "When in Rome..." he sighed.

Peter backed the horse further into the trees and glanced about. Everything was quiet. He changed his clothes to what he assumed was more appropriate for the setting. A full length mirror would have been welcome at the moment, but you couldn't always have what you wanted. Rather than regret the situation he found himself in, he determined to make the best of it. He took his weapon and broke it down to its component parts and tucked them into the bag, wrapped in his black fatigues. Only one modern item he kept on, at least for now. He rubbed his chest, grateful for the protection of his Kevlar vest. The linen shirt and long vest kept it hidden.

The sudden change in his circumstance should have bothered him, but it didn't. He felt as if he'd been dropped into someone's idea of a play. The thought made him grin with sudden amusement. He'd been reading about time travel lately, and although it was fascinating, he merely saw it as a form of entertainment. He looked around again at the thick woods on either side of what passed for a road. On further consideration, time travel seemed to be the only possible answer, but he wasn't ready to acknowledge it until he'd exhausted all other possible solutions and was left with only that one. Peter had almost always been one to take things in stride no matter how bizarre they seemed--except for Lainie--and she was best forgotten.

Peter glanced upward, wondering what time of day it was, but an overcast sky hid the sunset position. Figures. It didn't matter, he couldn't stand in this spot indefinitely and risk drawing attention to himself. He pulled a dark cloak from where it lay over the saddle and tossed it about his shoulders. In the other pocket of his coat, he'd found a small leather pouch that jingled when he shook it. "Helloooo," he commented when he realized what the pouch held. The coins would come in handy. Peter reached into the pocket to continue his search, and felt something hard and thin. When he pulled it out, he stared at the laminated identification, proclaiming Peter Samuel Ellsworth a member of San Diego's police force and SWAT team. Along with the ID, he pulled up an envelope addressed to him--in his own handwriting. Peter stared at it, then reached into the pocket again and pulled out a driver's license--California. The light was insufficient to read to read the envelope's contents. He shoved it and the identifications back into the bag with his clothes.

This was really weird--to be dressed in period clothing, and yet have proof at hand he belonged to another time. And it wasn't the time he'd just come from. The IDs were invalid since he'd moved back to the east coast. It was more odd still, to find them in the saddlebag to begin with. Something seemed to twitch in his memory before disappearing again. Peter blinked, momentarily confused. If he couldn't remember whatever it was flashed into his mind, then it couldn't have been important.

Some sixth sense told him he didn't have much further to go to reach his destination. In the meantime, information seemed to fall into place from out of nowhere, and he had no doubt he should trust it. It felt right somehow.

Peter mounted the horse and set to a canter, raising a lazy cloud of dust on the dry road. The first order of business was to find out where he was, exactly. From the style of dress, he assumed he was in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Where, was another matter again. He could be on an English country road, half way round the world for all he knew. The road was bordered on either side by thick woods, and had the feel of a wilderness. That wasn't quite right either. Peter shrugged and concluded he'd get answers eventually. He let the animal have its head, knowing the first place it would go was home, to a warm barn and some supper.

Busy evening, he thought when four soldiers galloped past him, laughing, as if they raced one another to their destination. British uniforms didn't change much. They were still brilliant targets and deserved the slang term 'lobster backs.' Peter dismissed the soldiers from his mind and concentrated on the problem at hand. He had to assume there was a reason he was here, and that it wasn't happenstance--which again begged the question ... Where was here? A feeling of d�j� vu plagued him, but that didn't make sense either. How could it feel familiar when he didn't recognize anything? That one was going to be a lot harder to answer. Asking the wrong questions of anyone he came across would raise suspicion. The last part of the century was filled with turbulent years. Looking again at the green countryside, he couldn't be far from one of the colonies. The country wasn't at war with England. At least, he didn't think it was, yet--it was too busy fighting internally. A lot of important things came out of that timeline.

Who was he kidding? This was just an unusually vivid dream, the result of having tied one on with his buddies, and it was time to wake up.

The alternative brought him back to his ideas of time travel, which he didn't really believe in--or did he? Things like that just didn't happen to a guy like him. The idea of this being a dream made a lot more sense. He could imagine the bewildered looks on his buddies' faces. Sarge would probably put him on report for not showing up for his shift, or calling in. The team would never believe him. They'd all think he'd lost his mind. He was sure they were all just waiting for an excuse to send him off to a shrink. He was going to have the devil of a time trying to explain this one when he got back--if he could find his way back. That was going to be his biggest problem.

Peter didn't know how long it was since Justice had slowed down to a rocking walk, when the horse came to an unexpected halt. He looked up quickly, pulled out of his thoughts. Daylight was waning, making it hard to see any details. What looked to be a ghost stood before him, some three feet away. It was a good thing he didn't believe in the supernatural.

An old woman stood in the middle of the dusty road, looking bewildered. She was dressed only in a nightgown and mobcap, with a large shawl draped carelessly about her shoulders. Peter was curious to know where she'd been when she'd wandered off. Seeing the fright in her eyes, he dismounted slowly and approached her with caution. Strands of gray hair had escaped her cap. Her skin looked soft and creased with age. Seventies maybe, he guessed. She raised a thin hand and touched her fingertips to her lips. "It was there a moment ago." She spoke softly and hesitantly as if trying to make sense of her surroundings. She looked to either side of her, but didn't seem to notice Peter.

"What was there, Mistress?" Peter slowly removed his cloak and carefully shook it out. He approached, cautiously, in an effort not to startle the woman, then draped the long garment over her shoulders and tied it in place. He pulled the edges together to envelop her in its warmth. She continued to glance about and Peter followed her motion.

Peter could tell better now, that the trees lining the road were red maples and oaks. There were no houses or any structures to speak of. There had to be something along this road, perhaps the inn. Someone had to know who she was and where she came from. A name came to him ... Cooper? It seemed to fit. He couldn't shake the feeling he'd seen her before, that somehow he knew her. Dressed as she was, she couldn't have wandered far. He felt a surge of anger, that someone in her condition wasn't watched more carefully.

"What was there?" he asked again, gently, and she looked up at him. He saw the confusion in her eyes.

"Papa ordered the coach made ready to take us to the ball. It was here a moment ago. I hope Papa didn't leave without me. Tonight he is announcing my betrothal to Henry. He and mama wouldn't go without me."

Peter took one of her frail hands in his. "May I have the honor of escorting you, my lady?" he asked gallantly. The circumstances were too eerily familiar to him.

The old woman giggled, as if she were a young girl again. "Henry, where did you come from? Did Papa send you?"

"Your father asked me to escort you. We should be on our way. We don't want to be late, or have your father worrying about you." Peter lifted her easily and sat her in the saddle, then mounted behind her. "Hold on, my lady." He overlapped the folds of the cloak about her thin body to keep her warm, then slipped his arm about her waist and urged the horse to a walk. Peter hoped, for her sake, she lived nearby. When he returned her safely to her home, he intended to give her family a piece of his mind. Justice didn't need to be told it was past his suppertime, and began a steady plodding on the road, as if realizing it carried a fragile rider.

For the next few minutes, the woman hummed an old tune. Peter thought she must have had a lovely voice when she was young. Despite her age, she still held a hint of the beauty she must have been as a young woman. He kept an eye on their surroundings, not wanting to be surprised, or have anything startle her. Someone had to be looking for her--he hoped. Moments later he wondered why he hadn't come across anyone on the road who might be looking for her. Didn't anyone realize she'd wandered off? The woods gradually thinned until Peter reached a pond with a two-story building beside it. It was obvious how the inn got its name. Several large birds drifted majestically on the water, heads bowed. Without warning, they dove down leaving their feet and bottoms sticking up in the air. The swans' plumage fluttered in the evening breeze while they searched for the last of their supper. A moment or two later they straightened, then dove again. His own stomach rumbled with the thought of food. Was it early this morning when he'd last eaten? He couldn't recall, but the idea of a hot meal sounded pretty good right about now.

The horse stopped a short distance from the inn door and Peter dismounted, then easily helped down his traveling companion. He glanced about but saw no one except the boy who ran up to take his horse. The boy's eyes widened at the sight of the old woman. "You know her?" Peter asked.

The boy said nothing, only nodded and glanced toward the inn, and Peter followed the direction of the boy's attention. Above the door was a long sign, painted with black letters, Swan's Down Inn, with a pair of white swans decorating the right side of the sign. Two birds with one stone, he figured. He reached for the bags hanging from the saddle then took the old woman's arm. They stepped back long enough for the boy to lead the horse to the stable. Easing his arm around her, Peter guided his companion into the semi dark inn. Several men were eating supper, and all had mugs set before them. Voices were low for the most part, but an occasional burst of laughter disturbed the overall quiet. At one table sat the three men who had first passed him by. They kept their voices low. If he were a superstitious man ... Near the fireplace were the four redcoats who had also passed him on the road. They were still loud and didn't seem to notice the dark stares sent in their direction.

Peter stood inside the large room, surveying his surroundings, when all conversation came to a halt. Attention focused on him and what seemed to be his elderly prisoner. Peter relaxed his grip on the old woman's arm as he glanced from one hostile stare to another. One man, dressed in buckskins, stood and made a threatening move toward them, but suddenly stopped. Intimidated by a woman? That was something new.

A middle-aged woman hurried forward. "Maggie!" she exclaimed and took the older woman's hands in hers. "Where have you been? I've been frantic with worry."

"Apparently not frantic enough to search for her," Peter retorted, keeping his voice low. "I found her about a quarter mile from here."

"She was supposed to be in her room napping. I was getting her supper. She must have awakened early. I assure you, Mr. Ellsworth, I am not in the habit of allowing Mistress Cooper to wander about alone."

Peter was surprised to hear his name. Then again, with the little tidbits of information popping up in his memory, he shouldn't be. He eased up on his accusations. He should have recalled how it had been with his own grandmother, how she was constantly wandering off, worrying everyone. "Forgive me, Gladys," he apologized, wondering how he knew her name. "It isn't my place to pass judgement on your actions. I can only say the circumstances are ones I'm familiar with. The situation brought back some painful memories for me."

"I am sorry as well, sir. It's just ... In future I will see to it there is someone to stay with Mistress Cooper at all times." She turned away for a moment to address one of the maids. "Mary, please take Mistress Cooper to her room and stay with her until I return."

The girl mumbled something unintelligible about the duty, then led away the old woman, the maid turned to Peter. "Is there something I can get for you, sir?"

Peter glanced about to see what was on the menu, but for good or bad, the lighting was poor, and he couldn't tell what others were eating. "I could do with a hot meal, and something to drink. Whatever you have." He moved toward a solitary table near the opposite end of the hearth from where the British soldiers sat. He would love to know what they were discussing.

Gladys gave him an odd look before setting a mug of ale before him. "There's some roast chicken, potatoes, and fresh bread. I'll have a plate ready for you in a few minutes." She turned away from him and entered the nearest doorway, but not before stopping briefly and glancing back at him.

Peter saw the puzzled look on Glady's face and wondered what he had done to put it there. He shared her confusion. Why would everyone be staring at him as if they knew him? Why would his surroundings seem so familiar when he'd never been here before? He listened to muffled sounds coming from the room he assumed to be a kitchen. The voices stopped, followed by the clatter of crockery being dropped on a solid surface. Someone was in a bad mood.

He dropped his bags on a nearby chair and placed his hat on top of them, then sat with his back against the wall, and sipped his ale. He casually, but carefully checked out the room. The open taproom might be almost empty, but it didn't pay to get careless. Peter rubbed at his eyes. He was bone tired. He couldn't wait to get some supper and get to his rooms for the night. He wanted to reexamine the letter he'd found before doing anything about it. He surreptitiously felt the pocket of his coat, noting the item in question still lay deep within. He was tempted to read it now, but decided it would be better to wait until he was alone. His handwriting on the outside of it puzzled him, since he couldn't recall having written anything like it. It was another mystery to add to the growing list.

While he studied his surroundings, a feeling of familiarity assailed him. It was crazy to think he'd been here before. He looked up to find the soldiers who had, earlier, passed him on the road, now turning their attention to him, as if they knew him. One nudged the man to his left, and they both laughed, still watching him. Peter returned the stare, until they turned back to finish their ale. Good. He hoped he made them uncomfortable enough to want to leave the inn. He didn't want to put himself in harm's way by silently defying them.

Peter's bland expression didn't change as he wondered if Sarge had reported his disappearance yet. He was going to have some tall explaining to do, but nobody was going to believe this one. This was too fantastic even for him to believe--and he was living it.

He turned his gaze away from the customers and stared at one of two branch candleholders sitting on either end of the mantle. Their shape was similar to a Jewish menorah, but with four candles each, rather than the religious seven. A small fire burned merrily in the hearth, chasing away the damp seeping into the room. The steady flames could put him to sleep. He was that tired. Another door, leading to what Peter assumed--no, he somehow knew--was one of two private parlors, opened abruptly and two people exited the room, arguing. Peter raised his mug but his hand stopped in mid air when he got a look at the young woman.

She wasn't tall, probably no more than five foot two. Her hair appeared to be mahogany in color, judging from the way the light reflected on the wisps that had escaped her white mobcap. He imagined it to be long, thick and wavy. Her gray gown was covered with a neat white apron. Gladys approached her, putting an end to the heated discussion the woman was having with the man behind her. "Beggin' your pardon, Mistress Carson," The man stomped out of the inn, anger coloring his features. Peter watched the man leave, wondering who he might be, then turned his attention back to the women.

The young woman gave her attention to Gladys and glanced past the open door in Peter's direction. Any distraction at the moment would be a godsend for putting an end to the ongoing argument. Mistress Carson, gently laid a hand on Gladys' arm, and listened a moment. She glanced toward the table near the hearth, said something then moved away.

Mistress Elizabeth Carson stopped before the table and looked down at Peter. "Mr. Ellsworth, Gladys tells me I have you to thank for bringing my mother home."

Peter stood when the young woman approached him. He studied her, surprised to have her address him by name. How did these people know him when he'd never been here before--or had he? That one question continually nagged at him. The gold flecks in her green eyes seemed to sparkle in the candlelight as she stared back at him. "I'm glad she came to no harm. Anything could have happened to her out there." It was a polite hint he hoped she was intuitive enough to understand. The innkeeper might be named Elizabeth, but Peter knew she preferred being called Libby.

"Yes, I know, but she has never wandered off like that before. She's always stayed inside, or remained close when someone is with her. I don't know what made her go off like that."

"She was saying something about not being late for some ball. Said her father was announcing her betrothal."

"Oh, lord," Libby sank into a nearby chair. She covered her face with her hands for only a moment, then looked up at him. The look in her eyes bordered on frustration and defeat. "I feared her mind was going," she said softly. "That only confirms it. If Elias should find out, I don't know what he would do."

"Elias?" Peter repeated hesitantly as he sat down. He crossed his arms on the table and leaned forward. He was curious to know about her. Was Elias her husband?

"Elias is my brother," she explained, as if having read his mind. She gave him an odd look but shrugged it off. She hesitated before speaking again, trying to make out the muffled angry words that were coming from one of the private parlors. "He has been a thorn in my side since my husband died last year. The loss has been hard, but more so on my son, Tommy." As she finished speaking, a small child ran up to her and laid his head on her lap.

"Mama," he cried softly, not paying any attention to the stranger sitting at the table with his mother.

Peter smiled at the show of affection. It wasn't done for his sake, as he'd seen so many women do. "I see. I'm sorry for your loss, and I do understand what you're facing. My own grandmother suffered similar trouble."

Libby smoothed down the boy's hair as he sobbed into her apron. Elias would pay for upsetting her young son, yet again. There was no excuse for it. In her brother's eyes, the boy lacked discipline, but at five years of age, she thought differently. Secretly, she was glad he had no children of his own. She could only imagine how they would turn out. She silently chided herself for her uncharitable thoughts, and directed her attention to the man sitting across the table from her. "If there is anything I can do to show my gratitude..." Libby stopped stroking her son's head and blushed, suddenly realizing what her words could imply. "Within reason, of course," she tried to clarify and realized she'd only make things worse if she continued.

Peter chuckled, aware of her blunder. He had no intention of making anything of it, but she didn't have to know that. For reasons unknown to him, he enjoyed her embarrassment, or perhaps it was the fact that the rose blush in her cheeks was rather attractive.

"Gladys, see that Mr. Ellsworth has a good meal, and his room is ready." Peter found it amusing the way people around here seemed to appear at the moment they were needed. It was too much like a rehearsed play. Maybe that was the answer to this whole charade--Not. Couldn't be that easy. It was never that easy. Libby nodded to Gladys and the woman went about her work. Libby turned her attention back to Peter. "I'm sure you're tired from your journey." Gladys reappeared a few moments later, with a full meal and placed another mug of ale on the table as well. "Enjoy your meal, Mr. Ellsworth, and thank you again for your kindness toward my mother. I assure you, we will take special care to see she doesn't wander off again."

Libby didn't walk away from the table so much as glide. Her son remained close by her side, clasping her hand. Peter watched her, entranced by her gracefulness and gentleness. He definitely wanted to get to know her better, then wondered just how well he did know her.

Peter casually watched Libby and her son going around the bar when she sighed and stopped a moment. The name Jasper popped into his mind.

"What are you doing up there?" Libby asked, and picked up the huge orange cat. "You know you don't belong up there."

"Bad Jasper," Tommy piped up, then continued on to the kitchen with his mother, after she put the cat on the floor.

Peter chuckled. The cat sauntered over to the corner and stopped by Peter's feet. "What are you up to?" Peter asked, sitting back to make room for the mouser. Jasper jumped onto Peter's lap and purred contentedly.

The four soldiers distracted him for a moment when they got up to leave. Their voices were louder, as if they wanted the attention. They tossed a few coins on their table and one turned toward Peter. Jasper's ears went back and he hissed menacingly. The soldier took a quick step backward, surprised at the warning. Even Peter was momentarily startled by the cat's sudden change in demeanor. The soldiers left and the cat settled down. Peter stroked the soft orange fur. "Got good taste, old man." He scratched behind the cat's ears a moment longer, then put the animal on the floor. Jasper seemed insulted for a moment, but strode away, as if being put on the floor had been his idea.

Peter dug into the meal sitting before him, enjoying the plain cooking. Others in the taproom occasionally glanced his way, making low comments, and asking questions Peter had no intention of answering. When he finished, his coins were kindly refused, and he instinctively made his way up the stairs to a room midway down the hall.

He lit a candle, then sat on the bed, his posture slumped. He finally realized just how tired he was. It wasn't every day you were avoiding a couple of snipers and ended up in another time and place. This whole time travel thing was weird, but it was the only thing to make any sense. This wasn't like that movie his Jeanie loved. What was it called? Oh, yeah. Somewhere in Time. Chris Reeve was able to manipulate his surroundings to send himself back in time to be with Jane Seymour. That got Peter considering his situation, again. Had he done something to send himself back in time? He shrugged, but didn't think so.

Well, he wasn't Chris Reeve and this wasn't a movie--although he thought Mistress Carson would have made a lovely replacement for Jane Seymour--but this was reality. Peter lay back on the hard bed, reminding him of his army days and the cot in the barracks. His thoughts jumped to the SWAT assignment. Would he have survived the round the sniper had been firing at him, just before he vanished? Maybe that was the answer. He'd been shot and now he was unconscious and dreaming. Yeah, right. Sarge was probably ready to file paperwork for not showing up for his shift or calling in. This was one time the choice hadn't been his, but there was nothing he could do about it at the moment. Right now, he had to consider the situation he was in and the options opened to him.


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