Authors: Maggie Shayne
He ran water into the tub, and soaked for a long time as he tried to imagine what other advances he'd
discover in this new era. Automobilesâ¦ Had they proved practical, or been a passing fancy, as so many of his colleagues had predicted? Had this new generation of humanity wiped out disease? Achieved world peace? And this woman, Jane, owning this house filled with modern wonders and raising a son all on her own. Was this common today? Zach frowned as he considered it. Something told him that nothing about Jane was common.
He'd kissed her. Yes, he'd been in the throes of some sort of delirium when he did it, but not so much so that he couldn't recall every instant of that kiss. And her sleepy response to it. Her soft breath in his mouth, her hands splayed on his shoulders. She'd set a fire in him that he hadn't felt in a very long time. Perhaps ever. Oh, there'd been passion between him and Claudia, one he suspected was based more on his own youth and energy than anything else. But they'd really had very little in common. And, of course, he'd learned later that he'd been no more than an amusing diversion to her. She hadn't cared for him in the least. He'd been young, with little money and few prospects. She'd been married to a wealthy man, a woman of social standing who couldn't risk it all by admitting to her frequent affairs with naive young men. Much less admitting that she had become pregnant as a result of one of them.
She'd gone abroad to visit an aunt, or so the story went. Months later, Benjamin had been dropped upon Zachariah's doorstep, with a note promising Zach he'd be ruined, both socially and financially, if he ever breathed a word about the child's mother.
She'd never wanted to lay eyes on the baby or on his father again.
And so she never had.
It had been, Zach mused, the best education he could ever have. Oh, he'd learned all about women. They were practical creatures. No woman would be truly interested in a man who was less than wealthyâparticularly if he was less wealthy than she. Claudia's interest had recently been renewed. No doubt due to the fact that her rich husband had passed, leaving most of his money to a nephew. And in the years in between, Zach had acquired his own wealth and social standing. But he was no longer interested in Claudia. For a time he'd become a user of women, the way he'd once been used by one of them. Once he understood how the game was played, he'd suffered no further delusions about romance or love.
Perhaps the lovely Jane had learned the lesson, as well, in a manner much the same as he'd learned it himself. Or perhaps she was simply a lonely widow. Though most widows of Zach's acquaintance continued to wear their wedding bands. That gave him pause.
Jane. Beautiful, brave, passionate Jane. She looked like an angel. But she kissed like a woman too long without a man. He could, he mused, take care of that problem for her. His thoughts surprised him, since he'd given up his roguish ways long ago. But then, he'd been very long without a woman's touch, and hers had beenâ¦incredible. He had three days here, after all, and little else to do besides wait.
Oh, yes. And a well-planned seduction would
probably go a long way in helping to convince the little skeptic that he was who he said he was. Or at least convincing her to let him stay.
He swallowed hard at the thoughts racing through his mind. Was it some added side effect of the time travel making him addle-brained, or was it
Either way, it didn't matter. He thought he had come up with a far simpler means to convince her now.
As he soaked, there was a knock at the door, followed by Jane's voice. “Are you decent?”
Some devil came to life inside him, all over again, and it was that devil who made him call, “Come in.” Perhaps he was testing her to judge her reactions, so that he might gauge what sort of woman he was dealing with. A test, much like the many other experiments he'd performed in his day. He ignored the tiny voice in his brain that told him that theory was nothing more than self-deception. The woman got to him, in a way that disturbed him far too much to admit, even to himself.
The bathroom door opened, and the woman he'd been thinking about stepped inside. Aside from an initial start of surprise, she showed no reaction at all. Keeping her eyes averted, she moved through the room, extracting big, emerald green towels from a cabinet, and then a small pink plastic item, and a can of some sort. “If you were trying to shock me, you chose the wrong method,” she said. “I was raised with brothers.” She set the towels and the other items on a shelf beside the tub, and still without looking at him, turned to go.
“Jane?” She stopped, her back to him. She wore a robe now, over the thin nightgown of the night
before. Pity. But that glorious hair still hung loosely down her back, making him ache to run his hands through it once again. “What is this?” he asked.
“I thought you'd want to shave.” She still didn't turn.
Frowning, Zach leaned forward and picked up the pink thing, turning it this way and that. “This bit of a thing is a razor?” He could clearly see, upon closer inspection, that that was precisely what it was.
“Of course it is.”
He sighed loudly, and achieved the desired results. She turned, but kept her eyes carefully glued to his face. “Could youâ¦could you show me how it works, Jane? They've changed drastically in the past hundred years.”
Her eyes narrowed as they searched his, and he tried desperately to keep the mischief hidden. He started to get up. “Stay where you are,” she told him.
“I'll need a mirrorâ”
“Not if I'm doing the shaving,” she said. Then she knelt beside the tub, picked up one of the towels and handed it to him. “Cover yourâyourself,” she told him.
“And soak this wonderful towel?”
Frowning at him, Jane dropped the towel into the water, so that it landed right in his lap, no doubt concealing the parts of his anatomy she'd rather not be tempted to look at too closely. Then she took up the can, shook it and depressed a button on its top. Mounds of white foam oozed from the spout and into her palm. Zach felt his eyes widen. Then she leaned over and smoothed the lotion onto his face. Her touch
was warm, and trembling, and so good that he closed his eyes and relished it.
When she finished, she dipped her hands into the water to rinse them clean. Her fingertips brushed his thigh, and he knew then that certain bodily functions had not been damaged by the side effects of time travel. He hoped she didn't notice the change in the shape concealed by that towel.
“Now, you just take the razor andâ¦” She demonstrated, by drawing the blade very carefully down over his cheek. “Just like that. You see?”
“Mmmâ¦” he said. Then he opened his eyes and saw her scowling at him. “I mean, yes, of course. Butâ¦suppose I cut myself?”
“If you are who you say you are, then you've managed a straight edge in your time. And if you can handle that, you can handle this.” She set the razor on the edge of the tub and got up to leave.
“I am who I say I am, Jane. And you'll believe it before breakfast. I promise.”
She looked at him for a long moment, and this time her eyes betrayed her, dipping down to gaze at his chest and belly. Hastily she turned and left the room, closing the door firmly behind her.
Jane leaned back against the bathroom door and tried to steady her breathing. Whoever he was, the lunatic in her bathtub was incredible. And that made him dangerous. The sooner he was out of her house, the better. She closed her eyes, but still the image of that muscled chest, beaded with water, kept resurfacing in her mind. “The sooner the better,” she muttered, and headed downstairs to start breakfast.
When she had the coffee brewing and Cody's favorite blueberry muffins in the oven, Jane went upstairs again to wake her son. But Cody was no longer in bed when she stepped into her room. For just a second, his absence startled her. And then she heard the reassuring sounds of his Nintendo game from down the hall, and sighed. As she dressed, she glanced up at the painting that hung on the wall above her bedâ¦and then she went still, falling into the brown eyes of the man in that painting. The inventor. The time traveler.
He'd hopped right out of a Jules Verne novel and landed smack in the middle of her life.
Or so the man who'd somehow become her house-guest would have her believe. It was, to say the least, mind-boggling. The coincidence of it, anyway. He looked so much like the man in the painting. Even his clothesâ¦
But it was impossible, of course. Still, something about the man pulled at her. She wanted to help him. And today she would. She'd convince him to let her take him into town, to see a doctor. Maybe he'd taken a blow to the head or something.
She hadn't warned Zach not to tell Cody where he thought he'd really come from, or who he thought he really was, and she should have. Lord, she could just imagine the call she'd get when Cody started sharing that tale with his fifth-grade class next week at school. Besides, it would only confuse him. He was far too young to grasp a concept like that, despite his above-average intelligence.
She finished dressing and went down the hall, then stood in Cody's doorway and stared for a moment.
Cody stood near the desk, laughing uproariously as the man who claimed to be Zachariah Bolton, genius, worked the control pad, unerringly marching the little Mario on the screen right off a cliff and into oblivion.
He made an aggravated sound in his throat.
“Don't feel bad,” Jane said. “I've been trying for months, and I still can't get past World Two.”
Both of them turned to face her, and both were smiling. Zach's eyes glittered with something like wonder. “This,” he said softly, “is amazing.”
“And addictive. Be careful, or you'll find yourself glued to that thing like a fly in a spider's web.” His smile broadened and she caught her breath. Clean and shaved, he was even more breathtaking. Especially when he smiled. Her errant mind chose that moment to recall the way that smiling mouth had felt when it made love to hers last night, and she quickly averted her eyes. Too late, though. He'd seen it. She saw the way his gaze lowered to her lips for just an instant. And she felt the air between them change.
She cleared her throat. “And, Cody, what have I told you about Nintendo before breakfast?”
“I know, Mom. But Zach's never seen anything like this. Have you, Zach?”
“Heck, Mom, they didn't even have TV in 1897.”
She grimaced and shot a glance at him. “You didn't tell himâ”
“He figured it out all by himself, Jane. Of course, it took him several guesses. As I recall, the first one was that I was a traveler from another planet. And then that I was a ghost. And finally that I was aâ¦” He frowned. “What did you call it, Cody?”
“A time cop,” Cody said.
Jane sighed. “I knew I never should have let you rent that Van Damme movie.”
“Jane, really,” Zach said. “Your language.”
Jane rolled her eyes. “Breakfast will be ready in fifteen minutes,” she told them both. “Be there.”
“We will, Mom.”
She eyed them both, wondering whether it was truly safe to leave Cody alone with the man, as delusional as he was.
“Don't go just yet, Jane,” the man said, and he set the control pad down and got to his feet. “I have something to show you. In my satchel.” He went to the bed, where the bag rested, unbuckled it and reached inside. What he pulled out was a newspaper, and he turned to face her, holding it out. “I promised I'd prove myself to you before breakfast. Go on, take it.”
Swallowing hard, Jane stepped forward and took the crisp newspaper. It was so new she could still smell the ink. The
it said across the frontâ31 August 1897.
She blinked and looked up at him. Cody had forgotten all about his game, and was standing close beside her. “Wow. It's really true,” he said in awe.
“Cody, these things can be made to order. You know that.” Her eyes met Zach's. “I'm sorry, but this isn't good enough.”
“I was afraid it might not be. Fortunately, I have more.” He came closer to her, took her arm and turned her slightly, pointing. “There is a loose floor-board, the fourth one from that wall,” he told her, pointing as he did. “Beneath it is my journal. Rec
ords I kept of the work I was doing. I put them there for safekeeping out of habit. My field is wrought with competitors, not all of them honest men. The notes are there, with the exception of one page. One I tore out and brought with me. Notes and figures I would need should the device require adjusting or repair.”
She stared at him, then at the floor, where he was pointing.
“Come, let's look. We need to get your skepticism out of the way, if I'm going to be able to proceed.”
“Look, Mom,” Cody begged. “He's telling the truth, I know he is!”
Shrugging, Jane moved to the spot he'd indicated. She bent down, pressing on the loose board with her hands, gasping and drawing away when it moved. She glanced his way, licking her lips, and then attempted to pull the board up.
“Allow me.” He bent down beside her and pulled the loose end of the board until it came up a few inches. He held it there while she thrust her hands beneath and pulled out a heavy leather-bound journal. Then she sat down on the floor, pulling it into her lap.
“I can't believeâ¦”
“You must believe, Jane. Please, open it up. Look at it.”
She brushed the dust from the leather cover and opened the book. The pages had yellowed and curled with time. But the handwriting on them was still legible. She shook her head in wonder.
“Several pages in, find the place where a page is missing.”
Nodding quickly, Jane turned the pages, taking
care with them due to their fragile condition. She found the spot where jagged, yellowed edges were all that remained, and looked up into his eyes. He pulled a folded page from his vest pocket, smoothed the sheet and handed it to her. It was white and crisp and new. She took the page from him, stared at it in wonder, and then laid its uneven edge against the jagged, yellowed place in the book.