Book 3 in the TimeKeeperS series!!
Marianne Whitcomb is happily married to a doctor. She has two sons. The traumas of her past travels through time are mostly behind her.
The mystery man slips from her mind when she is contacted by Kellie, the biological sister of the other Marianne–the one with almost-identical DNA who now lives several thousand years in the future. Kellie needs a kidney. Marianne remembers her own sister Kellie and finds herself so desperate to have her back that she’ll even take a replica.
And in another millennia, the last dying remnants of the Winauwan empire are planning a stroke that will wipe out not just Edward and Marianne, but all of civilization. They intend to rise from the ashes and the blood and rule. Only one young mother stands in their way.
Marianne fed a twenty-dollar bill into the register and then waited for her change. She smiled to herself, thinking the machine was probably confused about being fed actual cash.
As she waited, she looked up, absently scanning the people around her. It was a habit long-engrained in her from her work as an investigator—and from even before that, in her “other life”—and rarely brought any results. Oh, she usually spotted friends quicker than they spotted her, but other than that one time a couple years before when she had spotted her client’s wayward husband picking up a pizza, her scans were benign.
This day, though, she caught a man’s eyes at—she believed—the exact moment he had spotted her. She didn’t recognize him at first, but the way he furtively looked away got her attention. It wasn’t just the look of a married man who has been caught ogling a woman. Marianne was no longer an ingénue, and her body showed the effects of two children, but she was still thought attractive—especially by men of that age. Men in their fifties or sixties who told themselves they passed for forty-five or thought a woman in her late thirties would be attracted to a man of their … experience? Maturity?
This man, though, upon seeing Marianne had quickly looked away, and his skin tone had changed, growing darker. As Marianne took her change without even looking at the register, she cast another glance at the man. Mid-sixties, she guessed, with a fringe of dark hair and a few long strands combed over a suntanned pate. A little overweight but not obese. He was wearing casual clothes and his tan covered his arms but there was a hint of a white line right below his shirt—which was just a simple T advertising a local body shop. She told herself immediately that he did not work at the body shop but probably did work outside. Gardner? No, his head would have been either covered with skin cancer or he would be wearing a cap. They made the highway crew wear long-sleeve shirts anymore, so not that job. Maybe, she reasoned, he worked inside but spent his off hours on the golf course. She thought that a more reasonable explanation than boating or fishing, for those guys tended to burn, not tan.
She casually walked out of the store, noticing from the corner of her eye that he made sure not to look directly at her. It was then she realized there was a heavy reflection in one of the windows to the left of the door and he was looking at her that way. When he realized she had noticed him, he quickly turned away. As she watched him walk, she noticed he never moved his left arm, as if it were just limp. She didn’t want to stare too hard, though, so it could have just been a false impression.
“He’s someone who knows a little something about stealth,” Marianne commented to herself lowly. Ex-military? she wondered. A spy? If so, she thought it had been a long time for him as a pro wouldn’t have been spotted at all with that reflection.
The next question in her mind was to wonder if he were always furtive and just the act of making eye contact with anyone had spooked him, or had he been spooked by Marianne? If so, why? A past case? Marianne had a good memory for faces—and usually names—and the man didn’t mean anything to her right away. As she got in her car, she watched him through the mirror and saw him go out to a plain, blue car, probably ten years old, and drive away. She thought about following him, but knew she had no good reason to. She also knew that one of the hardest things for most people to disguise was their walk and she was certain she had never seen this man’s walk before.
So what had spooked him? She knew that the simplest explanation was that, for just a split second, she had reminded him of someone else. Marianne was of average height and build for her age, and while she wore her hair longer than most women of her years, she had been mistaken for other people before. It was part of why she had been such a good investigator: she almost never stood out from the crowd. Knowing that was the most likely explanation didn’t stop her from thinking, though, because the second-most-likely scenario was that she had crossed his path at some point in the past as an investigator. Perhaps he had been one of the clandestine lovers of someone Marianne had been investigating for a divorce case. Maybe he had been on the periphery of a bank investigation and never caught, but should have been.
Something, after all, had spooked him, for it occurred to Marianne as she drove away that his walk had been too casual, the walk of someone who doesn’t want to look nervous while also checking their surroundings with a keen eye. Yet, she didn’t recognize that walk.
She puzzled about the matter all the way home, then got out of the car anxious to see her husband and children. She would have been happy to see them, anyway, but she knew herself and her propensity to dwell on minutia. It was what made her a good investigator, but it was also something of a curse at times. Thus she was hoping that a romp in the yard with the kids would take her mind off of what was probably just an odd moment. Even if the man recognized Marianne from something in the past, it would probably never come up again.
She was momentarily chagrined, then, to find the house empty. She was just about to grumble when she saw the note on the counter. It was from her husband and said the family was at the neighborhood park. Marianne had intended to start supper as soon as she got home, but decided she would rather go be with her family. Not just because it would be fun, but because it would be distracting (she hoped).
Putting the recently-purchased cheese and sour cream in the fridge, she locked the door and set off down the street.
The park was just a couple blocks away and she quickly found her family there. Her two boys waved but took little more notice than that for they were quite busy on the jungle gym, fighting bad guys or slaying dragons or whatever it was they were doing. Her husband, Caleb, gladly came over and gave her a hug and a kiss. “Hope you didn’t mind,” he said as they held hands. “I just didn’t want to be cooped up in the backyard.”
“Don’t mind at all. You realize this means I’m probably not going to fix enchiladas for supper so, if you want some, we’re going to have to go eat at Jose’s,” she replied, quickly adding, “Hint, hint.”
“Sounds good to me,” he told her. As they sat down on a nearby bench, Caleb told her, “I had the weirdest dream last night.”
“You?” she laughed, elbowing him in the ribs. “You never have a dream!”
“That’s part of what makes it so weird. The thing is, I usually just don’t remember dreams. I wake up knowing I just had one, but two seconds after waking I couldn’t tell you what it was about. Anyway, I remember this one—or part of it. I just remember that I was at the hospital and I was walking past the lobby and glanced in at the waiting patients—always curious if any of them are mine, you know? Anyway, out of the corner of my eye I see this … shadow. Like someone peeking at me from around a corner, but I looked and couldn’t see anyone. Just the normal hospital people, anyway.
“It kept happening, though. I’m sure I woke up more than once and then I’d go back to sleep and it would happen again.”
“Did you ever see who it was?” Before he could answer, she posited, “Maybe Batman? Sounds like something he’d do.”
Caleb smiled in response, then said, “I don’t think so. Right before I woke up this morning, I finally got a glimpse of the person. And here’s the really weird part—well, all of it’s weird. Anyway, it wasn’t like he was stalking me or anything. When I finally saw him, it was like we had just been going down opposite hallways but would never cross open spaces at the right time. But then we did, and I got a good look at him.”
“Anyone you know?”
He shook his head as he said, “I don’t think so. I mean, he wasn’t real distinctive. I mean that in two ways. It was a dream, and even when I do dream I rarely see things clearly. It’s like everything’s out of focus. But also, he wasn’t a distinctive person. Just an average-looking person.”
“Okay, now you’re in my wheelhouse,” she laughed. Pretending to hold a notebook and pencil, she queried, “How tall was he? What color hair? Did he walk with a limp?”
Caleb laughed along with her, but then actually searched his memory and said, “He didn’t have hair, I remember that. I mean, he had some along the sides but he was balding. Average build, maybe a little on the heavy side. I think he was older than us. Probably late fifties, maybe early sixties. Dark complex—no, I remember thinking he was just tan, like someone out in the sun a lot.”
“Um,” she asked, trying to keep the surprise out of her voice, “How do you know that?”
“It’s weird that I would notice this, especially in a dream, but I remember seeing that he had a farmer’s tan. He was wearing short sleeves, but there was a white band on his upper arm like he’d been outside a lot but usually wore his sleeves just a little—Honey, are you all right?”
She shook her head as if she’d just come up out of water and said, “What? Yeah. Just fine. This is … this is really strange.”
“What?” he asked, knowing her well enough to know that she meant more than just the fact that he had actually remembered a dream.
“I think I saw that guy today.”
“The guy from your dream.”
“Oh, come on,” he retorted with a laugh.
“No, I mean it,” she said, then described the encounter at the grocery store.
Caleb finally told her, “Sure, they sound similar, but we both described a man that could be a quarter of the men in this town. Neither one of us got a good look at any distinguishing features, no tattoos or anything.”
“I know,” Marianne said with a nod. She watched their boys play for a bit, then said, “Something about that encounter—and it wasn’t even really an encounter, just a glance. Something about it is just sticking in my mind. More than it should by any logical reasoning.”
Caleb put his arm around his wife’s shoulder and said, “He probably did know you from a case. You’re probably right that he was on the periphery in some way and he’s lived in fear ever since of being roped in. And I know your mind, Honey: you don’t remember him now but sometime tonight, you’re probably going to wake up and remember that you did see him in relation to some client you worked for ten years ago.”
“Yeah, I know,” she agreed with a shrug.
“You’re leaving out another possibility.”
He smiled as he squeezed slightly with the arm that was around her, “You always talk like you’re this Plain Jane, but I happen to still be convinced that you’re the prettiest woman in town. It’s very possible you just happened to look up and catch a married man who thought he’d been caught admiring your legs.”
“I doubt that,” she replied with a shrug, though she took his hand.
Caleb decided not to press the point, partly from exasperation at having pressed it so many times before. He truly did think his wife was beautiful, and thought she was more beautiful after almost ten years of marriage than she had been when he first met her. For some reason, though, she had always been convinced that she was no better than average and could blend into anonymity at any time. It frustrated him so that he sometimes had to remind himself not to speak harshly to her about it. He was a doctor, and though he had never studied psychology, he was convinced there was an underlying cause that he had never been able to diagnose. Something from her childhood, perhaps, but something.
As he sat there looking at her profile as she watched their boys, he was reminded all over again just how pretty he found her to be. The long hair, the smile some might have said was a little wide but he had never thought so, the green eyes. And her figure … he smiled to himself because if he started thinking too much about her figure he was going to have to figure out some way to keep the boys occupied while he swept her off to the bedroom.
“Now what are you smiling about?” she asked suspiciously, though with a twinkle in her eye.
Trying to be as innocent as he could, he shrugged and replied, “Oh, just looking at you.”
“I guess that’s better than having you look at me and laugh,” she commented sardonically, though the twinkle was still there.