Marilynn Byerly

 

Paranormal Romance * Romantic Suspense *SF Romance * SF Adventure

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TIME AFTER TIME

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

This was her engagement party, one of the most beautiful moments in her life, and Alexa West was bored.

 

Around her, the country club ballroom hummed with overly civilized conversations, elegant couples paired with other couples in scattered, standing groups. Few conversations seemed lively, but all seemed infinitely preferable to hers.

 

His tuxedoed back to her, Robert mesmerized a group of wealthy campaign contributors in the corner. On the newly filled buffet tables surrounding the room, steam rose from hot canapés, and candles flickered in their tall art deco chimneys. Up-raised wine glasses and the diamonds on women's fingers and across their bare throats captured that flicker in prisms of light which danced around the room.

 

Elderly Mrs. Timmins-White, a major political ally of Robert's, droned on and on to Alexa about North Carolina Senatorial races of the past as if relating family victories and defeats.

 

A yawn sneaked up Alexa's chest, but she stifled it before it reached her throat. She nodded politely, her eyes making discreet forays in search of rescue. She could have happily discussed Robert's solutions for the homeless, AIDS victims, or any of his other innovative humane platform ideas which she wholeheartedly approved of, but petty politics for their own sake were soporific as well as sophomoric.

 

Mrs. Timmins-White's barked, "Alexa?"

 

Appalled she'd let her mind wander, Alexa forced her eyes back to Mrs. Timmins White and smiled. "Forgive me. I was thinking of Robert."

 

Mrs. Timmins-White chuckled and patted her arm. "You are such a dear. Robert's very lucky to have found you."

 

"I'm very lucky to have found him."

 

Mrs. Timmins-White returned to politics.

 

To keep her eyes and attention from wavering, Alexa developed an intense interest in the blue and yellow patterns of candlelight and shadow in the woman's gray, carefully starched curls and the three tiers of pearls around her throat.

 

After ten more minutes, Alexa prayed for rescue, her eyes once more wandering, but she saw no one who would dare interrupt incredibly powerful Mrs. Timmins White, even to save her from being bored to death. Almost everyone seemed a political crony of Robert's. How had such a warm emotional night become just another political fund raiser for Robert's campaign?

 

None of Alexa's real friends had come; whether from legitimate reasons or in unspoken disapproval of this match, she wasn't certain. Only important business colleagues and her parents' friends attended.

 

Loneliness stabbed her. How she wished her parents were alive and here tonight. Sometimes she missed them so much she couldn't bear it.

 

She dragged her attention back to the political lecture which had reached the vicious Hunt-Helms Senate campaign.

 

She'd almost grown interested in the Machiavellian politics involved when prickles of heat began at the base of her spine and spread across her body like flame across paper.

 

A blush followed the heat, raging across her breasts and up into her cheeks. She'd become accustomed to being gaped at, but someone burned through her with laser eyes. She spun.

No one met her gaze, everyone chatting with someone else. Laser eyes couldn't belong to any of this bland group.

 

 

"Alexa, are you all right?" Mrs. Timmins-White asked with more impatience than concern.

 

Before Alexa could apologize, she noticed the dark-haired, attractive stranger in the shadows by the French doors. She opened her mouth to ask who he was.

 

His laser eyes caressed her face. The prickles now traveled from her cheeks to all points southward. He strode toward her. Although as impeccable in a tuxedo as the other men and as polished in behavior, this man didn't belong here. He stalked her, a panther among house cats. Her legs wobbled, the floor gelatin under her feet.

 

Their eyes locked. Time stopped.

 

The room flickered out of existence, and only she and the panther existed in the timeless darkness. Some great power drew them toward each other.

 

"Alexa, baby?" Robert stepped between them and stared down at her.

 

She snapped her open mouth shut, the spell broken, and gazed up at her fiancé. "Yes, Robert?"

 

The concern in his steel gray eyes warmed her. "Are you ill, darling? You turned from Mrs. Timmins-White..."

 

Her body regaining feeling, she remembered the important person she should be paying attention to. After a quick search for the stranger who'd disappeared again, she used the convenient excuse Robert had offered her. "I was dizzy suddenly. All the excitement I imagine."

 

Mrs. Timmins-White, like Queen Victoria, was not amused. "Poor dear."

 

Flashing his famous vote-getting smile, Robert rested his arm around Alexa's bare shoulders. "If you'll forgive us, I'm taking Alexa onto the patio for some fresh air."

 

Mrs. Timmins-White melted under his charm. "Of course, Robert." She studied them together—Robert with his blond Viking masculinity and Alexa with her dark and sophisticated beauty.

She waved them regally away. "What a lovely couple you'll make on a podium."

 

Alexa fled with great relief after that cold benediction to their marriage. Robert led her through the crowded room, past the buffet, and through the French doors into the fall tang of the night air.

 

Her heels clicked across gray patio stone silvered by the full moon's light, and they stopped by a juniper near the far corner. Only the moonlight and a single patio torch lit their private nook away from the party guests.

 

The sigh at being rescued caught in her throat as she studied Robert's stern face, and she gave up hope her handsome, tender fiancé had brought her out for a little private romance in the moonlight.

 

He murmured her name with irritation and fondness. "Mrs. Timmins-White can make or break my Senate campaign. I thought you were interested in my political career."

 

"You, yes. Everyone else who ever ran for public office, no. I'm sorry, but I can't show the same interest in other races most men pay to old football statistics." She paused. "Besides, someone was staring at me... that creepy kind that burns a hole in your back."

 

He grinned and traced down her stylishly coiled black mane and across the top of her breasts exposed by the discreet décolletage of her classic white Dior gown. "Any man not staring should sign up for a leader dog for the blind."

 

At the return of the charming Robert she wanted to marry, she beamed and wrapped her arms around his neck.

 

He stiffened and caught her forearms to push them away. "We'd better get back. I wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong impression."

 

"This is an engagement party, not a wake, silly. We're supposed to be in the garden necking."

He chuckled and kissed her.

 

She melted against his broad chest and poured everything passionate within her into the kiss, her lips hungry and pleading. But when he pulled away and brushed back his hair, she felt the taunting yearning for what she hadn't given or received in return that haunted her with Robert and other men.

 

If Robert felt as cheated, his face didn't reflect it, nor was it flushed with passion. "We'd better return to our guests."

 

She nodded stoically. "Go on. Let me have a few moments to prepare myself for another political lecture."

 

"Just a few minutes, baby." He winked, gave her his best professional smile, then strode back into the ballroom.

 

Sighing, she stared up at the silver moon which was as frigid and empty as she.

 

Behind her a deep baritone voice murmured, "I thought he'd never leave." She jumped then blushed at having a witness to her moments with Robert.

 

Like some god of night and hunting cats, the stranger with laser eyes materialized from the darkness beyond the patio and strolled toward her. Riveted to the patio stone by his eyes, she couldn't have fled if she'd wished.

 

The night shimmered around him like a curtain in the wind. He stopped in the spot Robert had just vacated and smiled down at her. Humor and joy radiated out of midnight blue eyes.

 

She gaped openly. His shoulders enormous, his hips narrow, he filled his tuxedo to perfection. Black hair curled across his wide, intelligent forehead and framed his rectangular face with its perfect, chiseled features, deep-set, dynamic eyes, and smile originating in the soul.

 

Strangely familiar elements in his features leaped out at her—the eyes, the way his lip curled, the shape of the nose...

 

"Alicia," he whispered with heart-intense joy.

 

"Alexa," she corrected absently and stared as the puzzle of his familiar features formed a pattern of resemblance.

 

He reverently cupped her jaws in his hands. "You remember me!"

 

Her pulse exploded against his fingers. "You're Katie's brother. You're Justin!"

 

Something bright and absolutely joyous died in his eyes, and he dropped his hands.

 

Her heart ached that she had caused the death of that delight, and she grieved. "You're not Justin Lord?"

 

He sighed. "I'm Justin."

 

"I thought so. You look so much like Katie and your brothers." Alexa paused and captured his big right hand in both of hers. "I'm so pleased you've come, and we've had a chance to meet at last. I really wanted Katie to be here tonight. She asked you to come in her place?"

 

Surprise flickered in the night sky of his eyes at her friendly accepting gesture. "Katie asked me. She said it was the least I could do since she's making me an uncle in a month."

 

Alexa felt her spirits lift for the first time since the dismal evening had begun. "I'm so glad. She's like a sister, and when I met Mark, Drew, and your parents at her wedding, it was like more family. Everyone missed you so much." She paused, remembering. "Would you like to sit down?"

 

He laughed, the deep rumble shaking her nerve strands. "I'm completely healed."

 

"You look great!" She bit her tongue at how that comment had sounded.

 

"I was pleased my accident didn't ruin Katie's plans. I told them not to cancel because I was in a hospital half a continent away. I've never thanked you for that long letter about the wedding. I laughed, the first since the plane crash, for days at all those stories about the funny, very important, idiotic things I missed. Thank you." Enveloping her in spicy cologne and heat, he brushed a kiss against her cheek.

 

Electric prickles scorched through her body. She struggled against a curious inclination to turn her lips toward his to ignite greater heat. She forced herself to ignore the sexual prickles and tugged his hand. "Come. Let me introduce you to Robert. I've told him all about my roomie Katie."

 

Justin didn't budge, his voice cold. "I've met Robert and seen him in action. Don't bother."

 

"Oh no. Katie sent you to talk me out of it, didn't she? I had this terrible feeling she didn't approve of him."

 

Justin's smile was diplomatic if his eyes weren't. "She asked me to check him out for her. She didn't like the sound of your calls and letters. I would have told her to butt out, you were old enough to make your own mistakes, but..."

 

"But?"

 

"She also gave me a photo with you both in it, and I decided I had my own reasons for coming."

 

"You could tell so much about our relationship from a picture?"

 

"Not the relationship, you. Coming here told me the complete truth. He doesn't deserve you; he doesn't even appreciate you for what you are. He's like a man who buys a Rembrandt as an investment and never sees the beauty, passion, and joy within."

 

She stiffened with fury. "I'm not being bought."

 

Justin chuckled. "I didn't say you were. That was only an analogy. He calls you 'baby.' You don't call a woman with a J.D. from Duke Law School and an M.B.A. 'baby' even if she's the most beautiful woman... You don't kiss a woman with passion waiting to be born in her eyes like she's your cousin."

 

Alexa flushed with anger and embarrassment that he'd so easily seen things she secretly resented. "Granted, Robert isn't perfect, but he beats the competition by a mile. And I gave up believing in perfect fairy tale princes years ago. He's not perfect, no one's perfect, but he's a wonderful man. I'm lucky he loves me."

 

Justin snorted. "Who couldn't beat him?"

 

She felt like an idiot justifying her feelings for Robert with this stranger. She should just walk away, but something within wanted to tangle with this laser-eyed busybody who mocked her future so confidently. She controlled her anger with logic and stated calmly, "Almost every man who's chased me for marriage has been after my money. You come from old money. You know what kind of gold digger we attract. Robert wants, needs, and loves me, not my money."

 

Justin crossed his arms negligently as if her case and evidence were so weak he needn't put any energy into his own. "Love comes dead last even in your description of his feelings for you. Robert loves his political career. The only woman he was making love to in that ballroom was his political fairy godmother— Mrs. Timmins-what's-it."

 

"He's a good man—brilliant, gentle, sensitive, and he's going to do great, important things for this country. I love him, and he loves me."

 

"As much as he's capable of the feeling. That isn't saying anything."

 

Her voice trembled with repressed rage. "I'm twenty-eight, and I know what I'm doing marrying Robert. I'm very lucky to marry Robert."

 

"I'm thirty-five, and I was willing to wait until the right woman came along. I didn't settle for someone whom I respect, not love. Nor did I confuse love and sexual attraction with do-gooding political policies." Justin lifted her chin, his eyes holding her more firmly imprisoned than his fingers. "And I assure you the real competition against Robert just walked in."

 

Only the two of them now existed. She hung suspended in the sweet protective darkness of his eyes.

 

Finally, she blinked, breaking the enchantment. She remembered to breathe, her mind floating back from the darkness. "Why now? Katie's been trying to match me to her darling biggest brother since the day I met her in law school. You've avoided every attempt to get us together until now."

 

"I was a bloody fool till now. I should have listened to her and saved myself five more years of waiting."

 

Alexa didn't trust his sudden avowals of feeling, she didn't trust Katie's notorious tendency to mother her whether she wanted it or not, and she especially didn't trust her own illogical physical and emotional attraction to a man who'd stepped out of the darkness minutes before. "What did Katie do? Ask you to ruin my engagement however you had to? Even if you had to seduce me? I wouldn't put anything past her after the time she hid my car keys, let the air out of my tires, and locked me in the bathroom to keep me from getting on a plane. I've seen that Machiavellian mother hen do worse with other people's lives."

 

He chuckled. "I'll have to remember that accurate description the next time she sticks her nose in my affairs. Why not that plane?"

 

"She had bad vibes about the flight, but I wouldn't listen. It crashed without me on it."

 

Justin shivered, then his face cleared. "This time, she gave me your picture with the jerk and told me I'd better get here before you married the wrong man. She also told me the least I could do was check the jerk out and give you some big brotherly advice on him. I have. Drop the jerk. Now I'm taking her other suggestion."

 

He pulled Alexa into his arms so suddenly she didn't have time to tense. She found herself plastered against the muscled hardness of his chest, his heart pounding against her breast, his thighs wedged against hers. One hand cupped the back of her head, holding her still, while he leaned toward her. The other hand clutched her buttock with a natural intimacy, both alarming and exciting. Only inches separated their lips. Frozen but burning, she met his gaze. Time stopped.

 

He whispered, "Marry me, Alexa."

 

"Yes" floated up from some mysterious recess in her subconscious but never reached her lips.

 

"Are you crazy? My engagement will be officially announced in less than an hour, and we just met."

 

He must have seen that "yes" sparkle in her eyes before sanity reaffirmed itself over a body ruled by what could only be nascent lust. He smiled smugly. "If you can't say yes to me, say wait to him. Hold off your announcement until you're certain."

 

"I can't..."

 

He brushed a scorching kiss at the bare joining of her breasts. "I promise never to kiss you like a cousin. I'll never call you 'baby.' I'll wake those innocent eyes of yours as they should be. I'll..." His rough tongue darted where his lips had been.

 

She stiffened as electricity surged through her, her nipples straining against her dress. Her heart hammered loud enough for him to hear.

 

He murmured against her breast, "You'll never regret it. I'll love you like... Please, at least a few days to prove myself, Alicia."

 

Infatuation and lust died a quick death at the hands of her pride and common sense. She jerked away, refusing to let him see hurt tears in her eyes, and glared up at him. "You just blew your scheme to ruin my engagement, Lord. Romeo could remember Juliet's name."

 

"But I do... Does the name Jared Alcott mean anything to you? Cambridge, Massachusetts? 'Moonlight Serenade?' Try to remember. Please! Jared Alcott."

 

"Are we playing a trivia game?"

 

"Hell, no. I've waited fifty years..." He paused and mangled his curls with agitated fingers. "This wasn't the way I wanted to tell you..." He took her hand and tugged her toward the garden beyond the patio. "Come. We have to have a long talk."

 

She braced her heels, stopping. "Robert and I are to announce our engagement in a few minutes. I'm going nowhere with you. Tell Katie her filthy scheme failed and leave me alone."

His head snapped upright like an alarmed predator. He straightened, suddenly all bland party guest.

 

Robert walked through the French doors.

 

Alexa smoothed her gown with trembling hands and smiled at Robert. "Sorry I've been so long, but I've met an old friend. Honey, this is Justin Lord, my law school roomie's brother. Katie asked him to come and wish us well."

 

A disgusted grunt caught in Justin's throat at the blatant lie, but Robert didn't notice. He nodded disinterestedly at Justin, took her hand, and led her toward the open French doors. "Excuse us."

 

To her relief, Justin didn't follow.

 

The party was in full swing, the noise and chatter in intense contrast to the silence of the patio. She felt the shock of finding herself back in the tawdry real world after the magical interlude with Justin. She glanced back to assure herself she hadn't been dreaming. Justin stood in the darkness, watching her.

 

Worry fluttered across Robert's face.

 

She asked, "What's upsetting you?"

 

"We have problems." He brought her into a small group of his advisers in the corner. She recognized Mrs. Timmins-White, her daughter Penny a local tax lawyer, and several men whose names she'd never gotten straight. "Show her, Penny."

 

Penny held out an edition of the Moravia Evening Journal . "One of the guests gave me this." She motioned toward a nearby couple.

 

A handsome mustached older man with gray at the temples talked with a tall auburn-haired woman with a kind face. Something about them was terribly familiar, but Alexa wasn't certain where she'd met them. The auburn-haired woman wiggled her fingers in greeting and winked broadly.

 

"Look at this." Robert impatiently pulled the paper from Penny's clinched hand.

 

Alexa examined a picture of herself beside the local president of Mothers Against Smoking Tobacco. She was smiling and holding out a check. The accompanying article was about the grant her father's memorial foundation was giving to MAST to stop teenage smoking.

 

She looked back up at Robert. "So?"

 

One of Robert's advisors said, "Terribly, terribly foolish of you. Most foolish."

 

Alexa lifted an aristocratic eyebrow. "I beg your pardon."

 

"Absolutely the wrong image, my dear," Mrs. Timmins-White said. "Tobacco, you know, is king in North Carolina. You shouldn't have spoken so harshly against it."

 

"I wasn't aware you were pro-cancer, Robert."

 

Robert smiled slightly, missing her sarcasm. "We don't wish to offend the voters."

 

"My father died of lung cancer because of cigarettes. The grant was totally appropriate."

 

"Perhaps, my dear," Mrs. Timmins-White said. "But tobacco means billions of dollars to the state economy. Not just the tobacco companies, but the growers, the factory workers..."

 

"The undertakers," Alexa said under her breath.

 

"Well, it can't be helped. It's done," Robert said.

 

"And on the same day the Observer endorsed Robert's opponent. And they questioned Robert's support of tobacco subsidies as well. Most dreadful," Mrs. Timmins-White said. "Tell her, Robert."

 

"I'm afraid we must delay announcing our engagement."

 

Alexa blinked with surprise. "Delay because of such a small matter!"

 

"Their livelihood isn't trivial to most voters, baby." Robert patted her shoulder. "I'm afraid my advisors and I must do some serious planning to stop an erosion of voters after that endorsement. I've made enough of an appearance at this party so we'll be leaving in a few minutes."

 

"But our engagement announcement!"

 

"It can't be helped, baby."

 

Unable to keep the hurt pleading out of her eyes, she gazed up at her fiancé. "Robert?"

 

"Sorry, baby. You understand." Blind to or willfully ignorant of her hurt, he brushed her forehead formally with his lips.

 

Alexa didn't understand, but she wasn't going to make a scene in the middle of a party. He'd probably brought her in here for that very reason.

 

Her face carefully bland, her heart threatening to break, she watched Robert and his cronies making a back-patting, vote-getting exit through the guests. Petty, filthy politics. In a few days everyone would have forgotten the newspaper article, and Robert must know this; yet, he walked out anyway on the formal declaration of their lasting love for each other.

 

She stamped on her emotional hurt with a brutal, logical assurance that a delay in their announcement would make no change in their feelings for each other.

 

She turned to find the auburn-haired lady and the mustached gentleman. They must be friends of her parents she hadn't seen in years. She surveyed the crowd. Most were congregated around the free liquor and food, but the couple had disappeared completely.

 

Coming up behind her, Justin chuckled sardonically. "Robert is some romantic. Controlled by his heart like a fool." Justin stopped by her side. His fingers squeezed hers, and he smiled with genuine sympathy. She had the spooky intuition Justin recognized the pain Robert had refused to see.

 

She flushed.

 

"We've made our appearance at this party. Let's get out of here."

 

Her blush deepened when he rephrased Robert's words. "How did you hear that?"

 

"I've fought for my life in Middle East deserts, in the jungles of South America. Reconning a cocktail party is nothing."

 

She laughed. "I guess it isn't."

 

He beamed, humor and intelligence dancing across his face. "Come on. Let's blow this dull joint."

 

She glanced around the room, thinking of her obligations as hostess, but she didn't even see anyone she knew or cared to know. If Robert wanted their votes, let him entertain them. Buoyed by the elation of rebellion and the beckoning darkness in Justin's eyes, she laughed. "Yes, I think I will."

 

As if bewitched, she followed him through the French doors into the night. He guided her through the formal garden, his arm around her waist. The moonlight silvered the landscape in fairy magic. She wasn't even surprised when they passed through the huge iron gate which separated the club's grounds from the golf course and found a horse-drawn carriage with a driver waiting for them.

 

Justin lifted her into the carriage's back seat then slid in beside her with the ease of having done such an act many times. He fluffed out a large black cloak folded over the seat and wrapped it around her shoulders. He brushed a kiss on the top of her head, pulled her against his chest, and wrapped his arms around her. "You look cold."

 

Too giddy with fairy moonlight to argue, she settled against him. The silk of his formal shirt against her cheek, she could hear his relaxed, happy heartbeat echoing the sound of the horse's trotting hooves against the soft turf of the golf course.

 

He hugged her more tightly and rested his cheek on her head. "This is coming home after an eternity of loneliness. Can't you feel that between us?"

 

"Attraction, Katie, and ten minutes of knowing each other is nothing."

 

"It's the tip of eternity, and only perspective keeps us from seeing beyond."

 

She snuggled more tightly in his arms. The rocking of the carriage, the thud of the horse's hooves, and the silver shadows of the open meadow and trees around them were peaceful, oddly familiar, and comforting.

 

"Are you ready to listen to me, Alexa?"

 

"Yes. I'm not mad at you anymore for following Katie's orders to romance me away from Robert. Heaven knows I've been drawn into her benign schemes before."

 

"What I'm going to tell you... Some of it will be familiar, but bear with me so I can work my way up to... Well, some of it will sound crazy." For the first time, sophisticated, confident Justin sounded nervous.

 

"I'll listen. Tell me."

 

"You know about me—old Virginia family, money, Katie and my family. Well, unlike Katie and the rest, I wasn't interested in going into public service or philanthropy. My intellectual passion has always been history. I ended up with degrees in history and anthropology with a doctorate in archeology, but I wasn't satisfied with the standard career route of the archeologist. Instead of one historical period of interest to specialize in, I was interested in all periods. Rather than going to one place for digging and learning, I wanted to go to many places. Archeology is like other scientific fields. Most of the work is slow drudgery, and I lack the patience."

 

She nodded against his chest.

 

"I decided I would set up a foundation which would offer grants to other archeologists for their digs. I did--Tyme Past, Inc. After I give a grant.... Well, Tyme Past also offers the services of a troubleshooter since many digs are in dangerous and remote locations of the world and dig artifacts attract vicious black-market crooks. The troubleshooter sets up security, handles problems both political and otherwise, gives advice on archeology problems... I'm that troubleshooter. I never tell them I'm also the man behind the grant."

 

"Katie's called you Indiana Jones since we saw that movie together."

 

He chuckled. "My life's never been that exciting. Close, but not quite. I also prefer a cowboy hat to a fedora."

 

She didn't add he was more handsome.

 

"Just over two years ago, I was helping with a dig in the Arizona desert. There wasn't any danger involved, but I've always been fascinated with that area and its history. I was flying a small plane with a photographer aboard to take survey shots of the dig site. The engine... We crashed in the desert. Tom was dead, and I nearly was. I was in a coma for several months, broken legs, my chest was... Let's just say I was a mess. I spent six months in the hospital and another six in physical therapy."

 

"Katie told me how nearly they lost you."

 

"Death isn't so bad. It's only a pause before change, but I had something... someone holding me here. Someone I wanted to survive for." He cleared his throat. "Have you ever noticed how certain time periods attract certain people? How some people would be ideal citizens in the rational, realistic Eighteenth century, and others would belong in wilder times? How some people say they were born in the wrong time?"

 

"Yes. I was in English as an undergraduate, and the different mind sets for different times among students is very obvious."

 

He sighed, his body shaking hers. "Have you considered reincarnation?"

 

"Considered casually maybe, but I've never believed in it."

 

"You should. It exists. I woke up from the coma in the hospital and remembered my past lives vividly."

 

She snorted laughter then stifled it when she realized he was serious.

 

"I remember twelve other lives."

 

"What kings were you? Everyone always 'remembers' being royalty."

 

"I was never royalty. Rarely a peasant, but never royal blood."

 

She'd offended him. "I'm sorry, but I don't know how to take such a statement."

 

"I would like you to believe me. At least keep an open mind."

 

"An open mind," she promised.

 

"I was overwhelmed with the information—twelve other lives, twelve other times, twelve other personalities and personal histories. It took me time to sort it all out, and I had plenty of it in the hospital. Somehow, I retained what was Justin Lord and none of these pasts overlapped my own personality although I did change. I couldn't help but change after nearly losing my life and regaining twelve more. I finally realized there was a pattern in all those lives. In each there was one special woman, my one special love, then I realized that woman was the same woman. Maybe I should say it was the same soul in all twelve as I was the same soul in my twelve."

 

Fascinated in spite of her disbelief, she stared up at him. His eyes glowed with an unearthly light. "Then those stupid horror stories are true. We keep doing the same dumb things over and over again without learning anything like a scratched, repeating record."

 

"No. Each life pattern was different. Each life was a subtle learning experience passed on to the next life. I was a complete fool in my first, a bit less of a fool in number thirteen."

 

"How did you change?"

 

"That's for another time and telling. I'm not certain I understand much either. I do understand that before any of those lives could be happy, I had to find my special lady, my soul mate. I woke out of the coma knowing I had to find her in this life, too."

 

"That's a tall order with over three billion people on the planet now. Does she always look the same?"

 

"No. A blonde, brunette, red head. Tall, short. She's always gorgeous though, and there is something about her. Her spirit glows for me. I'll know her when I see her."

 

"That cuts down the odds some. What have you done to find her?"

 

"First, I had a major case of frustration and screamed and hollered a lot trapped in that damn hospital. Then I got scientific. I called in a friend, and he did a computer program for me. We patterned out each of my lives to figure out the common features in my relationship with her."

 

"And?"

 

"We always managed to find each other despite age differences, wars, and natural disasters. Usually, she lived in a neighboring village or estate, and was the same social class."

 

"The proverbial girl-next-door. Have you checked her out?"

 

"Yes. I thought over my whole life and made a list of possible candidates. When I got out of the hospital, I checked them out. Nothing. I went home and scoured the territory. Nothing again. I also started checking the validity of my memories of other times. I seriously wondered if my mind had been damaged in the crash, and I was crazy to believe any of it."

 

"And?"

 

"I am an historian. I know a great deal about the past, much might have stuck without me remembering it. Maybe this information I consider memory is from this life's education, but I don't think so. I can read and speak Latin now. I couldn't before. Some of the details of everyday life are incredibly accurate. Things I could have never picked up. I've even found historical evidence of the existence of these identities. None of me were famous, but I managed to be involved with famous people and events. My last three lives have been in carefully recorded time too."

 

He chuckled. "I have newspaper copies of two of my births and deaths. I've stood by my grave."

 

She shivered. "That's spooky."

 

"Yes, but oddly reassuring, too."

 

The carriage halted.

 

Jolted out of the conversation, she sat up. They'd stopped in an open glade beyond the golf course in a spot as unworldly as their conversation. The area around them was lighted with torches, and a small medieval-style pavilion of purple and white ruffled in the slight evening breeze.

 

Justin slid out of the carriage and opened his arms to her. She stepped into them, oddly unafraid of being alone with him. She simply couldn't distrust Katie's beloved big brother, and something about him assured her of her safety. He might seduce her, but he'd never harm her.

 

He put her on her feet, his hands lingering against her waist, his face in her hair, then he stepped away. His eyes flickered with moonlight and the wildness of the torches, and he held out his hand. "Come talk with me, Alicia."

 

"Alexa West," she corrected tartly.

 

He shook his head no. "I've never been wrong about your name. I knew who you were the moment I saw your picture, and every moment we've been together has confirmed that knowledge. Your name was Alicia Stinson Alcott, and your husband was Jared Alcott. You lived in Cambridge, he taught economics at Harvard, and you were only married for five years. He died, a pilot in War Two, and you died within a few months of him." He cupped her cheeks, forcing her eyes to meet his. "I'm your husband Jared, Alicia. Don't you remember us? I swore I'd come back to you somehow."

Copyright © 1998

 

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