Perched in the hidden attic window high above the yard, Claire could barely see the tiny yellow petals of the daffodils her mama had planted years ago peeking up through the snow. She smiled, delighted in the flowers—even though there was snow on the ground—for it foreshadowed the awakening of the earth, the freshening of the world, the birth of spring.
It was natural she should think of birth at this time. It was the only thing on her mind these days, just weeks before her due date. She spoke of it constantly.
Vicki and Jeremiah had delivered a healthy daughter three months earlier. Kari Elizabeth had blessed them with her presence, and Claire had reveled in her birth, thinking about the arrival of her own child. She thought often about what she would do when she returned to 1718, should she become pregnant again. They had no reliable methods of birth control. They had no anesthesia for childbirth. And how she got along with this birth would determine how she felt about having any more children.
But oh, how she would love to see Jack Porter’s face when she presented him with his newborn son. Or daughter. But at the present, all she really wanted to do was see his face. Hold him close. Kiss his lips. Take his body into hers.
Her hands fell to her belly, full with child, and she lovingly caressed it, as she did day after day. Talking to her baby, singing lullabies to him, for she was sure it was a him, and reading nursery rhymes were the stuff of her days now. Long days. Empty days. Waiting. Thinking about Jack. Telling her child about his father.
Since she’d sought the shelter of her family home, she’d spent most of her days sequestered inside the walls of a secret area of the house. She recalled the night she’d arrived back at the farm and, with Vicki, had decided it would be best for her to lay low until the baby was born. She’d studied the calendar closely, hearing her mother’s voice in her ear about being in tune with the moon cycles and the weather. She’d researched the tide charts as well.
To the best of her research, there would be another blue moon this year, not long after her baby’s due date. That was when she would go back to Jack. Because then, she could go to him and know Rick would not follow, that none of his cult could chase her back to Jack’s century and do them harm. That no one would be searching for the chalice.
The portal could close.
The timing was critical, however, and it worried her that the birth would cause a delay in her plans. But she remained positive, and if the baby had not come, and the signs were right, she’d have to do what she had to do.
She prayed the time portal would remain closed for some time. The only thing she couldn’t be certain of were the other elements of nature that had to come together as well. The storm. The tide.
The artifact was safe. Hidden. And even if Rick should somehow bulldoze his way into her home again, she was certain there was no way he could find it.
Vicki and Jeremiah had moved into the farmhouse, and she had entrusted its care to them. She’d seen to every detail. When she returned to Jack, the farm would be theirs. Claire knew with certainty her best friends would see to hers and her mother’s wishes by protecting the farm and its mysteries.
Working together, she and Vicki had converted the attic rooms to a lovely haven. Her safe haven.
It had been her haven since childhood, after her father had died, and when she was so angry that he’d left her. She would stay for days, working through her disbelief, anger, sadness, and even remorse. She played through every scene where she wasn’t nice to him, when she’d made him upset, and would just cry.
Finally, she came to terms with his leaving her. She’d thought, anyway.
Had she stayed so long with Rick, because she didn’t want to lose a second man in her life?
Had she pushed Jack back in time because it was the only way she could control their future?
“This is amazing,” Vicki had said. “All these years and I had no clue what was up here.”
Claire snapped out of her reverie. “I never told anyone about it—not Rick, not anyone. It was my special place. Mama always had this fear that someone would break in the house, you know? Especially after Daddy was gone. Rob us, kill us…guess she had fears I never realized. And she drilled into me what to do if anything ever went wrong. That I was to never tell anyone.” She walked to the closet and opened the door. “That’s the greatest thing about these old houses, you know. They’re full of surprises.”
Vicki had watched as she’d shoved the clothing in the closet to one side, then stretched high to wiggle a piece of trim board loose to her right and then lower to do the same at the bottom. She turned back to Vicki and smiled. “I used to have to get a chair to do that when I was a kid.” Then she gave the wall a push, and it slid to her right, back into the wall, like a pocket door.
“Amazing.” Vicki breathed.
“Come in with me.”
She did, and that day they started renovating Claire’s hideout.
Every time she stepped over the threshold, she felt lost in her childhood days. She and her mother had stored their most precious possessions in this room. Had it really been all that long ago? She shook her head and glanced out the window again. Time had a way of passing either all too quickly, or too slowly. And right now, it seemed the circle was slowly meeting ends.
But her days were full of thought, of visions, of the certainty of what she was, what her child was. The time she’d spent alone had allowed her to contemplate her situation. She had come to the definite conclusion that she knew Hannah Porter. Knew her and was her. It was as if they shared one soul across time. One spirit. She knew they did.
When she thought of Hannah, she also thought of Jack.
If Jack should see her now, would he want her sexually as he had before? Would he still love her bloated body, her double chin, and her swollen ankles? Would he want her and the baby? And how would he react when he found out? What would he say?
Would he understand why it had taken her so long to get back to him? That she had to go into hiding to keep Rick from following her into the past? Would he understand she’d waited to make things better for all of them?
That she’d had to steal the cup to ensure all their futures? And do it alone?
Claire had to believe. In her mind, this love was meant to be. She and Jack were kindred spirits across time, spirit-mates, and she wouldn’t allow it to work out any differently.
Her thoughts turned to the day she’d found the Bible.
After hours of cleaning in the main part of the attic, she had slipped into a side room to rummage through some old things. Kneeling on the floor beside a box, she began to sort through the items. Some hers, some her parent’s, all were dusty and old, and special. She knew the things her mother hoarded in this room were important and she treated each memento, each school paper, each Mother’s Day present, each Valentine with care, gingerly placing them back in their boxes to move them to the other room.
At least for the time being.
Finally, pushing three boxes out of her way, she discovered a low bookshelf behind them, filled with books. Funny, she’d never noticed them before. She loved books. Growing up an only child on a farm, the characters in books were often her best friends. Not that there wasn’t enough to occupy her mind on the farm, but there were also long winter’s days and nights that were perfect for snuggling up on the couch with a good mystery or romance. And she’d done that quite often.
Never able to stifle her curiosity, she finally sat down on the floor beside them. Her fingers delicately traced the leather spines, their embossed letters faded with time. Continuing down the row, she mumbled titles along the way, some she recognized, many she didn’t, until at last her fingers fell on a large book, tall and thick with a heavy carved backing. It leaned against the others at an angle, too large for the shelf to accommodate it, gathering a blanket of dust within its cracks and crevices.
She pulled it off the shelf and, at that moment, realized something incredible had taken hold of her. The simple act of holding the book in her hands brought a sense of familiarity she couldn’t shake. But after she took a huge breath and blew off the layer of dust from the front cover, the answer became quite apparent. And she remembered….
Claire raced up the attic stairs, tears staining her face and blurring her vision. Her heart ached with a heaviness she’d never before known. Her father. Her father was dead!
They put him in the ground, and a piece of her went there with him.
What would she do? Would they do?
How could he leave her?
She slammed the attic door and the house shook. Racing across the room, she pushed into the closet, crying and sobbing. Throwing boxes out of her way. Climbing up on a stepstool to jimmy the pieces of wood that would let her get away from it all.
Keep her safe. Secure.
No one will find me. Mama better stay away!
Her mother could have stopped this. She could! She should have made Daddy go to the hospital. She should have fed him better. She should have taken care of him.
Daddy is gone.
She clawed at the secret closet door, pushed herself inside, and fell into her safe place.
Stunned, Claire sat on her haunches with the book on her knees. A dizzying sense of déjà vu enveloped her. Her lungs expanded and filled with oxygen with such force she thought she would explode. Then as she exhaled long and deep, her senses cleared and the dizziness subsided.
She had only to open the book to confirm what she already knew.
The thin parchment pages of the Bible were more fragile today than she remembered, but of course, they were nearly three centuries older than when she had first seen them. As she turned page after page, she thought back to the day when she’d first encountered the Bible, buried among Hannah’s belongings. Hannah’s. The Bible belonged to Hannah. And now it was here in her hands.
In the attic of her childhood home.
Well into the twenty-first century.
Her heart pounded. What did it all mean? Almost afraid to know, her fingers fumbled through the delicate pages, her heart thumping erratically at the list of births, deaths, and marriages—where she’d recorded Hannah’s death.
Where she’d written in her name and Jack’s, linked together in marriage. What would she find? What would be there when she turned the page?
She waited. She didn’t want to think about what it would mean if their names were not there. And she didn’t want to think about why this Bible was in the attic of her parents’ home.
She turned the page. As her gaze trailed down the scripted words, she swallowed hard, as if reading what was there would seal her fate. She didn’t want to see, did she?
But this was not the first, or the second time she has read these words. Was it?
She’d been in the attic for three solid days. Her mother left food and water in the outer room, outside of the closet. She only went out to get the food, or sneak to the bathroom, when she knew her mother had gone.
She didn’t want to talk to her. How could she find the words?
Was she hurting, too?
Maybe all she wanted was to be alone. Like her.
She had read every book in the secret room. She had stashed books up here before, making her own private library. When she ran out, she started searching through boxes, and that was when she stumbled upon the book with the most importance of all.
The one that changed her life.
She found it in a box beneath the bed, pushed far back by the headboard. The box was wooden with a flat, black top, and there were words of some sort written upon it.
She didn’t know what they said.
Once the lid was removed, she saw it.
A Bible. The Bible.
Tingles ran through her, and Claire knew that day, that moment, her life would change. And as she lifted the heavy book from the box and sat with it on her little lap and turned the pages, her life transformed into something different.
She saw the names. The births. The deaths.
She saw her parents’ names. Her father’s death. Her mother’s…
Her name and…
It was then she knew, that it was all written. Her story was written before she was ever born. She knew what was to come.
And she ran from the room and blocked it from her mind.