Guiding the horse away from the sound through the wind-battered and salt-sprayed live oaks, bayberry, and loblolly pines, Jack crossed the island to the ocean. Claire sat behind him, her arms loosely draped around his waist. Occasionally she would ask a question or comment on a bird or flower she saw, and he would quietly answer. For the most part they rode in silence. She felt so right there, he thought. And it was truly a miracle she was there.
Oh, he had noticed the differences. He knew some things were not the same. Her manner of speaking, her lack of knowledge of their life together. He smiled when he thought of where she’d placed her corset. And the cursing. Hannah would never have cursed. But even with that, he loved her. The high-spirited new Hannah thrilled him. He not only had his old Hannah back, but the new ways about her piqued his interest and fueled the fire more than ever.
And when he made love to her— There was a new and exciting passion to her kisses. She allowed him every access to her body, things Hannah had never allowed. Things he didn’t know he even wanted to do. There was a new awareness, a freedom, an openness they shared.
She gave to him fully.
He smiled again. Yes, he liked the changes. But there was a lingering doubt in his mind that this new Hannah would stay forever. Fear lanced him every time the thought struck, that if she’d been taken from him once, it could happen twice. The afternoon brightened as they neared the clearing and the horse stepped out onto the beach. The sun’s reflection off the sand made him blink several times to accustom his eyes to the change.
He shook his head. “Not quite.”
She rested her chin on his right shoulder. “Why did you build your cabin on the sound side of the island and not the ocean side?”
“Too noisy, the surf pounding all the time. And the winds, too rough for my little cabin. I do not want to have to rebuild every year. Besides, the farming is better over there. Fresh water is easier to get. The waters are calmer for fishing.”
They rode on.
“Where do you get fresh water?”
Jack sat silent for a moment, his eyes scanning the ocean’s horizon as if looking for something. “It pools beneath the sand. We dig for it.”
“What do you do…for a living, I mean.”
His head tilted toward her. “For a living?”
“Yes, you know. For money.”
He stared off into the ocean. “I’ve little use for money, but I manage to make some from time to time.”
“Oh, this and that.”
Again, he inspected the horizon. When she found out what he did for a living, would she think less of him? After all, the meager living he eked out was nothing compared to what she was used to when she lived with her father, and it mattered to her. No, it had mattered to Hannah before. But did she remember that?
“So, what do you do?”
Jack reined in the horse with a jerk. “Nothing so important.” Did she sense his inadequacy?
“It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me.”
There followed a short silence.
“No, I want to. I’m a scavenger.”
“Well, yes, and a farmer.”
Hannah paused. “So what does a scavenger do?”
Jack prodded the horse along the rim of the beach, overlooking the sparkling sands and the blue-green ocean. Did not she know this? Had she forgotten everything? Must he dredge up all of the past? Even that which was so uncomfortable?
“I take what I find on the beaches and trade, or sell, or make something useful out of it. If I want it, I keep it.”
She thought about that for a moment. “What kinds of things?”
“Oh, shells, wood, items washed ashore from a shipwreck. Sometimes I’ve found jewels and coins, dishes and such after a storm. Occasionally a whale will beach itself and several people will scrape and boil it down for oil. You can make candles and soap of it, or melt it down for lamps.”
Jack plunged ahead, afraid to hear the disappointment in her voice.
“And I do some farming. I have a cow for milk and a hog or two. The soil is not much for growing, but I manage to grow a few vegetables for my own use.”
“And when I can get the work, I’m a pilot.”
“A pilot?” There was confusion in her voice.
“Exactly what does a pilot do?”
Jack stopped the horse again and turned his upper body to her. “Why, a pilot guides ships, of course.”
Hannah stared back into his eyes and nodded. “Ah, of course. Is it dangerous?”
“If you don’t know what you are doing, it could be. But mostly, it’s keeping up with the shifting shoals and the filling in of the inlets. Guiding ships through the sound can be treacherous at times. You must know what you’re about to maneuver around the sand bars and not run the ship aground.”
“That’s pretty impressive.”
Jack shook his head. “Not really.”
“I disagree. That must be a pretty important job around here.”
He turned forward then and looked thoughtfully into the blue sky before him. “I suppose one might think that,” he answered. But the old Hannah hadn’t. Jack reined the horse in quickly and focused his attention down the beach. He wanted to dismiss this conversation.
And then he saw them.
Using her right hand to shield her eyes, Claire peered across the horizon where Jack pointed. The bright sun glared against the surf.
“What? What is it? The stone?”
“No. Look just at the water’s edge.”
She followed his finger again and then focused her eyes against the ocean’s spray. She made out several figures moving across the beach just above where the ocean greeted the sand.
“I see them,” she whispered. “What are they?”
“Horses.” He urged his horse to walk forward, slowly. As they grew nearer, she could make out the four-legged animals quite clearly.
“That they are.”
Four small horses pawed and then lowered their heads to the sand. They played and pranced around each other, rising on their hind legs at times, as the surf rose higher and touched their fetlocks. And when they threw back their heads and arched their necks, Claire thought she’d never seen a sight as wondrous in all her days. The sparkling blue ocean, the golden sands, the horses—so free, their manes flying in the breeze and the salt spray splashing over their shiny coats. While she knew wild horses existed on some of the barrier islands, she knew this was a rare sight in her time. She felt privileged he’d shared this moment with her.
He urged their horse on until they were quite near the four others. Suddenly, one stilled his play and stood alert. His nostrils flared as he picked up their scent; his ears pricked up. He was an exquisite sight.
“He sees us,” Claire whispered.
He nodded again. “That’s the stallion and his mares. They are Spanish mustangs, left when the conquistadors moved on.”
“Why do they paw at the sand like that?”
She remembered what he had told her earlier. “Oh,” she whispered back.
“Do you see one you like?”
“Yes, one of the mares. Would you like one? I see them here often. I think I could break one for you.”
She shook her head violently. “I don’t want one.”
“But you might like to ride.”
“No. I don’t ride anyway.”
He turned sideways in his seat. “What is the matter?”
She sighed and perched her hands on her hips. “Jack, if you think I’m going to take one of those beautiful animals out of their element simply for my own pleasure, you’ve got another think coming. I’ll walk first.”
He stared at her for quite a while and then slowly moved his gaze along the horizon to the horses, as if contemplating her statement. After a moment, he nodded.
“‘Twould be a shame wouldn’t it?” he returned.
“Then we leave them be.” He turned to face forward and heeled the horse to urge him toward their destination.
The stone was just as majestic as the horses, Claire thought, still sitting behind Jack. It seemed to belong there, linked with the earth in a timeworn embrace, a permanent element, and proof of the existence of time. When her gaze landed upon it, she knew there was more to their story than a simple falling through time.
It was bigger than that.
She slid off the horse and knelt before the stone. One stroke of its facade told her it was indeed magical. It was cool to the touch, even in the middle of the brilliant sunlit day. It was as smooth as any silk blouse she’d ever owned. And it held a power she’d never before experienced.
Her fingers grazed over the carvings. The inscription reminded her of an odd combination of hieroglyphics, Sanskrit and the Latin, or maybe Greek, alphabet.
Perhaps it would not be too difficult to decipher. She’d once studied languages…
She traced the etchings with her fingers trying to burn them in her brain.
With Jack at her back, she turned her face upward. She reached for his hand and then pulled him down beside her. They sat in awe in front of the stone while she searched his face.
“I need to know everything about this.”
He nodded. “I will tell you.”
He searched the horizon behind her. After a few minutes, still staring into the distance, he started. “I found it after a storm. The dunes blow around so much, you know. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was important.
“Each night it called to me. Night after night it called. So I came, but nothing happened, and I didn’t know what to do. Every night I left, swearing I would never come back, and every night I came back, swearing that I would learn its secret. Then I did.”
Claire sat captivated. “How?”
He turned to her. “I do not know. I merely stepped in the center of the stone and then there were bright lights…darkness…and then I saw you.”
She dropped her gaze to the stone’s center. It had transported him to her time simply by stepping in the middle of it? There had to be more than that. “Did it do it every time?”
“As the storm grew close, yes.”
Her brain reeled. Near the storm…
Her gaze fell again upon the inscription. What if she could decipher it? “Was it always at night?”
“When I saw you?”
“Was there anything special about those nights? Was it cold, hot, raining, bright, hazy, a full moon, no moon, a holiday, a starry night?”
He shook his head. “It seemed bright enough. I could see the stone well. I believe the moon was full, or maybe nearly full.” Then he stared at her. “The tide was up.”
“And there was a storm?”
“An approaching storm. Yes. A blue moon storm.”
A blue moon storm. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard a storm referenced as such.
Resting her fingers on the letters, she let her mind wander. A portal through time. The stuff of fantasies and storybooks. Here, right here. And she’d passed through. She looked at Jack again. She had to tell him.
It was more than that, she knew. They were soul mates. They shared a…a past? She shared a life…with Hannah?
“I need to tell you something that may be hard for you to understand.”
“I think I’ve figured some of this out.”
“Tell me.” His eyes told her he truly wanted to know.
“Jack, this stone is very powerful. I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I think it transported you through time.”
His face screwed into a puzzle. “Transported?”
“Yes. Through time. To the future. The year 2012.”
He grinned and then let out a huge guffaw. “Hannah, you jest so!”
She sighed and shook her head. “Jack, I’m serious. I wasn’t in Heaven. I was living in the year 2012. You brought me back here with you. That’s why I don’t know anything about these clothes or living in this time. I’m from the future, Jack.”
He backed away from her and stood. “Do not tell these untruths, Hannah. I don’t like the things you are saying. You are talking like a…a witch. Please. You are my Hannah. I brought you back from Heaven.”
“No, Jack. I’m Claire. And I assure you, I’m not a witch. You brought me back here from the year 2012. The 21st century.”
“But how is that possible? People do not go traveling through time. It’s ungodly.”
She looked again to the stone. “It’s the stone, Jack. You said it was magical. Why would it be any more difficult to travel through time than it would for you to visit Heaven and come back?” She knew his mind would only allow him to comprehend so much. Traveling to another century was not in his realm of thinking.
He stared past her at the stone. “It is magical at that. I…I just do not understand. You look just like her. You feel just like her.”
“Sometimes I think I am her, Jack. Sometimes I think I share her feelings. But I have an explanation for that, too.” She did. Sometimes she felt she was Hannah Porter. Things were too familiar. Jack was too familiar.
“And what is that explanation?”
Okay, here goes. “It may be one of two things, maybe both. One is genetic memory. Which means that perhaps Hannah is an ancestor of mine, perhaps my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, or something, I don’t know. No, it couldn’t be that, you and Hannah never had children, did you? Well, maybe an aunt or something. Anyway, the theory is that with genetic memory, a person can actually remember things buried deep into their brains, or maybe DNA, that happened to their ancestors long ago. Interesting, isn’t it?”
Jack’s gaze searched hers. “DNA? You mean you can remember things that happened to Hannah?”
“No, not really. It’s like the touch or sensation of something, a feeling of having been somewhere before, a familiarity with an object, a sense of déjà vu, so to speak. Nothing as obvious as actual events and places and people. At least not yet.”
She was way over his head.
“The other theory is that perhaps I am the reincarnated soul of Hannah. Perhaps I am Hannah, but I was born again in another century, another time. Perhaps we share a spirit. I don’t know, whatever it is, I know—I think—that I have some of Hannah in me.”
“You are her. I cannot keep telling you that enough. You are her.”
“But I lived in another time, Jack.”
His panic-stricken face glared at her. She grasped his hand and pulled herself up to him. Wrapping her arms about him, she held him tight and waited for a reply. None came.
“Will you go back?”
Puzzled, she took a half step back and looked into his eyes. “I don’t know. I’m happy here with you, but…”
She sighed and rested her chin on his shoulder. She thought of her mother and Vicki. “I am,” she said softly.
He’d digested enough of the truth. She didn’t have to inflict her thoughts of leaving on him now.
“I wish I was as sure of that as you seem to be.”
She held him tighter. For she knew, sure as she was standing there in a different century, at some point, she had to go back.
She glanced to the big flat rock. In time.
Jack pulled her closer. His head dipped next to hers and he breathed deeply of her sweet essence.
Knowing what he knew frightened him. The reappearance of Hannah into his life was not only curious but also startling. It was hard enough to explain it to himself; he didn’t dare say how he would explain it to others. He knew they’d think him insane. She’d been dead and buried several months now. People don’t come back from the dead. And people don’t travel back and forth through time either.
But Hannah did, and he guessed he did too. Trying to ignore what had happened was getting harder and harder for him to do. His only salvation was his willingness to believe Hannah, and to accept his fate. For that was what it was—fate. As superstitious as the sea had made him, everything in him told him to be wary, to tread carefully. But the fact was he couldn’t. He had his Hannah back and be damned the circumstances surrounding that fact. He had her back and here she would stay.
Or would she?
He cradled her close and felt her warm breath fan out against his neck. Her breasts heaved gently against him and suddenly, fingers of panic gripped at his abdomen. She was a part of him and he was a part of her. Even though he couldn’t hear her thoughts anymore, he could sense them. She would try to leave. She would try to go back to the years of her life so far in the future, if that were at all possible. He was certain of it. And what right did he have to try to keep her here? What right at all?
Dammit! He had every right! She was his beloved, his wife. He would force her to stay. There was no way in hell he’d let her return.
That was all there was to it. He’d bury that stone so deep no man, or woman, would ever find it again.
Since the night he’d first stolen a sweet kiss from her, across the boundaries of time, he’d been lost. He’d searched, and he’d found her again. This time, he wouldn’t let her go.
She was here. And here she would stay.