An uncanny silence surrounded them. Jack’s arms tightened around her so firmly Claire’s ribs ached at the thought of taking a full breath. She heard the rasp of his breathing as he held her. Then, too quickly, he released her, and she felt cold. Abandoned. He stepped back, and she saw the pain etched in his face. Yes, pain. She had hurt him. Deeply.
“Jack…” Fear jumped into her throat.
He turned and walked away, his shoulders back and his head high. She watched until he disappeared into the dark night, tears stinging her eyelids.
She took a step forward and then stopped and glanced back to the stone. No. It was only trouble. She had other things to deal with right now.
When she reached Jack’s side, he noticeably flinched when she called his name and touched his elbow.
He kept walking.
So did she.
They walked for several minutes before either of them spoke again. Give him space, she thought. Plenty of space.
They tramped through the wooded area until they neared their home. She watched Jack take the last few steps toward the cabin, and then he turned, his black eyes a diamond glint in the moonlight. Still. Silent. She could sense every movement about them: the lap of the water in the sound behind the cabin, a cricket’s chirp and the bellow of a cow somewhere not too far away, and the beating of his heart.
The beating of her own heart.
“You lied to me,” he bit out.
“No, I didn’t.”
He shifted his weight. “You said you wouldn’t go.”
“I didn’t go, Jack. I couldn’t.”
“But you were there. You tried to. Why did you do that?”
Risking a few steps closer, she tried desperately to keep their gazes connected, but he glanced away. Was he disgusted with her?
“Jack, you have to trust me. I was not going to go. I couldn’t. I told you that.”
He started to turn away and then twisted back. “I can’t bear to lose you again, Hannah…Claire.”
“Jack, I don’t want—”
He put up his hand. “Listen to me Hannah Claire. Listen to me now. If you are going to go… If you ever think you will want to go, go now. Now! Do you hear me?”
His voice rose with so much anger she jumped.
With two long strides he faced her fully and cupped her chin in his hand. “Go now, Hannah. I don’t want to live the rest of my life not knowing whether I will wake up with you beside me, or not. If you ever think you are going to do it. Do it now. Or be quiet about it for the rest of our days.”
No, this was not a choice she could make now. He surely didn’t mean that. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she whispered softly. “Truly, Jack. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
She knew he was confused and his emotions were riding high. She could see it in his eyes that he wanted desperately to believe her.
He broke away, his gaze searing a path toward hers. “It’s your choice. Stay. Go. But you decide tonight. Because tomorrow, I don’t want to have to go through this again. Ever.”
And with that, he turned and stalked toward the cabin, slamming the door hard behind him.
The night hung still about her. Even the cricket had stopped its serenade. And she felt oh, so lonely. But she walked a few more feet until she found an old log several yards away from the cabin, near the crudely fenced area where Jack kept his horse. She sat.
What would she do now?
The thing that frightened her so much was he was right. There would come a time when she would have to make a choice. One century or the other. She couldn’t century hop. It would be impossible. Jack was forcing her into the choice now. Unfairly, yes. But in his mind, necessary. For him.
Perhaps she shouldn’t prolong the inevitable. Jack would be impossible to live with either way, and now that he knew she’d figured out the magic, he’d wonder every month whether she would leave.
I’ve got to go ahead and do it, if for no other reason than to prove to Jack that I will come back. I’ll go and come back, proving that I love him and want to be with him. Certainly then he’ll be convinced.
But what if the leaving tears him apart? So much so that he wouldn’t forgive her when she did come back? What would she do then?
She studied the stars above. The night was cooler and brisk, the sky sharp with a multitude of stars. As she stared at the moon shining overhead, she remembered the time portal.
How incredible that I’m here, nearly three hundred years before my time, and looking up at a moon that I’ve seen a million times in my own century. It looks just the same.
She had to wonder if it was indeed the same moon as that shining down on her friends, relatives and acquaintances in her own time.
Abruptly, she stood. There was no doubt she would have to go back to her time, but tonight, settling a little problem with an eighteenth century sulking male was at the top of the agenda. She had to make him understand she couldn’t be trapped here in his century without even attempting to get back to her own. The decision to stay had to be hers alone and not forced. She had to know if this time travel thing was a fluke or if it was for real.
At some point, she had to test her theory, and Jack was simply going to have to bear with her. He had to understand she would come back.
It came down to one thing: trust.
Blindly turning back to face the cabin, she took two steps before bumping into solid male. Thinking Jack had returned for her, she gasped and called his name. But when fumbling fingers forcibly grabbed and tightened themselves about her upper arms, and she smelled the stench of the man holding her, she stilled her body enough to focus her eyes on his face.
Something shiny glinted in the moonlight from his mouth, and before she realized what was happening, a hand clasped firmly over her mouth from behind, stuffing a sweat-laden rag into it. Her wrists were quickly bound behind her, and she was carried away by two dirty, smelly men into the dark night.
Jack pulled himself into a sitting position in the sand just beyond his porch steps. He shook his head to clear his brain as he struggled to kneel on all fours. His hair hung down on either side of his face, blood dripped from his nose, saliva from his mouth. There had been too many of them. Usually he could hold his own one on one, even two on one, but there had been at least three, maybe more. They’d bested him quickly enough and left him to lie in his own blood.
He reveled in the physical pain, the smashed jaw, the aching nose, and the cracked ribs.
That pain was minute compared to the pain in his heart, in his soul. He was sure if he looked down at his chest, he would see a wide-open rip, the pumping organ that kept him alive spewing blood, spurt after spurt, spilling to the ground until he existed no more. The pain of losing Hannah once again was nearly unbearable.
With effort he rose, dragging himself across the sand toward the wooded area, progressing only a few feet. He tripped and fell, as he called out for her. His raspy voice raked through the still night, his hands clawed at the ground to give him leverage, propelling him toward his Hannah Claire. Toward the place from where he had left her…
She was gone. He knew it.
He stumbled again and fell against a gnarled and weathered stump, exhausted, out of breath, his face crunched into the sand.
Oh, Lord. They’ve taken her. The bastard’s taken her again.