Excerpt for Her Long Road Home, A Special Wishes Time Travel Romance by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Her Long Road Home

A Special Wishes Time Travel Romance


Kristy K. James




Copyright 2015 Kristy K. James

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be copied or reprinted without express written permission from author.


While the writing team known as Mystic’s Carnival Collective is defunct as of April 2016, the carnival, fog surrounding the carnival, portals, and shared characters may continue to be freely used by Kristy K. James, Debra Kristi, and Melinda VanLone as they see fit. Any series’, novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories copyrighted after April 2016 by any of the former members will in no way be connected to the works of the others.



Starting over at forty-one had never been on her bucket list…

When newly single Lacy Baker decided to figure out what she was going to do with the rest of her life, the cabin she'd inherited from her parents seemed like the perfect place to make some plans. But a carelessly spoken wish and unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger put those plans on hold. Now, thrust back to a past that is no longer hers, she has to depend on the kindness of another stranger to help her find the way home.


He'd make a lousy knight in shining armor…

Waking up to find a beautiful woman holding the sharp end of a fireplace poker against his neck had been a shock, but it was nothing compared to the outrageous tale Lacy had spun. From the future? Ha! Alec McKay would have laughed—if the evidence hadn't been quite so convincing. Determined to help her return to 2014, it doesn't take long before he begins to hope she's caught in the past with him forever.




Dedication/Thank you…

Once again, I'd like to thank Kathie and Shelley for the hard work you put in to make sure my stories are as error-free as possible, that the stories make sense—and in the case of Her Long Road Home—Kathie, you went above and beyond for this one. I can only say that the many, many mistakes in the timelines are due to my mathematically-challenged brain cells.




I'm not sure whether it's a Michigan thing, or if it's something specific to my family since my mother doesn't like egg whites any more than I do. So when one of my editors questioned the way Alec makes fried egg sandwiches, I went looking for recipes—and found none of them were the same as the ones I grew up eating (and still love to this day). Therefore, I decided to share the 'recipe' I still use. If you give it a try, drop me an email and let me know what you think of them.


Kristy's Fried Egg Sandwiches


1 large egg, beaten well (and nasty white things attached to yolk removed)

Pepper

2 slices buttered bread (real butter is best and only put it on one slice)


Over medium heat, spray small, hot frying pan (about the size of your bread) with no-stick spray. Pour egg in and add as much pepper as you like. I think a lot tastes best, but that's just my opinion. When edges start to dry a little (maybe 90 seconds), use a spatula, flip like a pancake, and cook for another 30-60 seconds. Put egg on one slice of bread, top with the other … and enjoy.


A side note, these are also good cold. I used to take them for school lunches all the time.



Other Works by Kristy K. James


Coach's Boys Series

The Daddy Pact, Book 1

A Hero For Holly, Book 2

A Harry Situation, Book 3

Her Best Friend Jon, Book 4

Code Red Christmas, Book 5

Darby's Dilemma, Book 6

The Detective's Second Chance, Book 7

Back to the Beginning, Book 8

Holding Out For Love, Coach's Boys Companion Story (should be read between books 6 & 7)

Cooking With the Coach's Boys


The Casteloria Royals Trilogy

A Prince on the Run, Book 1

The Physician to the King, Book 2

The Princess and the Bodyguard, Book 3


The Haunted Depot Series

The Secret, Book 1

The Depot, Book 2

A Merry Depot Christmas, Book 3


Men From the Double M Series

Josh, Book 1


Special Wishes Time Travel Romance

His Only Love

Her Long Road Home


Enza Series

Enza, Book 1


Other Fiction:

The Secret Admirer

Erin's Christmas Wish

A Fine Mess

The Ripple

Reluctant Guardian

Storytime Shorts, the First Collection




Chapter 1


“Not too bad,” Lacy Baker thought, studying the woman who was staring back at her from the mirror.

That she wasn’t a young woman anymore, there was no doubt, but time and healthy habits, maybe genetics even, had been a friend to her. When she looked close, she could see a gray hair here and there, but they were well hidden in the dirty blond braid that hung just past her shoulders. Brown eyes were clear and bright, and her skin still had a healthy glow with just a few laugh lines to mar its otherwise smooth surface.

Middle age had brought with it about fifteen extra pounds, but they only enhanced her curves, filling the jeans and lightweight tee-shirt she’d thrown on that morning out in all the right places. Yeah, she was still an attractive woman, even if she did say so herself.

So why, she wondered, hadn’t she been enough for her husband—now former husband?

Turning away from the heirloom Cheval mirror that had occupied a corner in every bedroom her parents shared since shortly after their marriage, she wandered back through the cabin she’d inherited after they’d died four years ago.

Fortunately, Henry hadn’t wanted anything to do with what he thought of as a hovel. That meant in addition to the modest life insurance settlement she’d received after the funeral, along with her share of the sale of the house and half of their joint savings, she would be okay for maybe ten years.

Of course, if she could find a part-time job to supplement the modest income, she’d probably be fine until retirement. They’d been married long enough she qualified for the spousal portion of his Social Security. He wasn’t happy about it, but oh well. She wasn’t especially happy to know he’d cheated on her for most of their marriage.

Her arrival twenty minutes ago marked the first time she’d returned to the small cabin since her parents’ deaths and the fact that the place was full of dust and cobwebs hadn’t escaped her. In one way, she hated to disturb it because they had been the last ones to touch most everything here, even their clothes because she hadn’t been able to get rid of them then.

On the other hand, it seemed appropriate that the first day of the rest of her new life would be spent cleaning house—in more ways than just the obvious.

Grabbing a broom from the narrow cupboard near the back door, she decided to work from top to bottom, tackling the cobwebs first. As she swept them down, she let her mind wander through half a lifetime of memories.

Her folks had bought this as a summer home about fourteen years before the accident that claimed their lives. They’d planned to retire here eventually, but her dad loved it so much that when he had the opportunity to buy Hargrove’s Service Station, he'd jumped at the chance.

The kids had been just two and three then, and she’d brought them up regularly—even after they started school. Henry hated the little two bedroom cabin in the woods though, acting like he was slumming it the few times he’d come along. Eventually, Lacy just stopped asking him.

Now she understood that the relief she’d always seen in his face wasn’t so much because he disliked the peaceful property in the woods as it was that his family’s absence made it easier to spend quality time with his lover du jour.

Lacy cringed when she saw the thick layer of dust on the books, Cd’s, and DVD’s on the shelves on either side of the small entertainment center. It seemed thicker than anything she’d seen so far.

Setting the broom against the wall, she switched it out for her mother’s ancient canister vacuum. It had a brush attachment that would save her not only a lot of time, but the sneezing fit it would bring on if she tried wiping them off.

When she finished that job, she moved on to the next - and the next memory as she filled a bucket with hot water that looked and smelled less than sanitary and lemon scented cleanser.

She smiled remembering how fast Paul and Janna had fallen in love with the place the first time they’d come for a visit. They’d had a ball exploring the woods, helping their grandpa bring firewood in for the stove, and fishing in the river a few hundred yards on the eastern side of the property. Much as they loved their home, getting away from the crowds and near constant activities back in Grand Rapids had been good for all of them.

Those same kids acted like she’d run away to the back of the beyond when she decided to spend the winter here.

Lacy laughed recalling their stunned reaction—and the many arguments they’d used to convince her it would be a mistake. Even reminders that she wasn’t going to be completely isolated, that there were two neighbors’ houses close enough she see their lights when darkness fell hadn’t reassured them. Nor had the fact that Boyne City, the small town of about three-thousand people was little more than five miles down the road. No matter that this was what she felt she needed, they worried incessantly about her safety.

She thought they might also be concerned about the state of her mental health, but then she supposed she sometimes worried about that too. It had been heartbreaking learning that the marriage she’d invested so much of her life into had been nothing but a sham. And, honestly, it had taken a few months to get past it. Now, however, she embraced the fact that she was a single woman again. Well maybe not embraced, but she was coming to terms with it.

The one thing she didn’t like about moving here was the fact that her kids were nearly four hours south now. Still, they had lives of their own. Janna had just married Garrett a couple of months ago. She wasn't too worried about her. But then there was Paul. Though only twenty and in his second year of college, he planned to marry a woman five years older than him as soon as he graduated. A woman with two small daughters.

Instant grandmother-hood. It wasn’t that she hadn't come to love Frannie, two-year-old Callie, and four-year-old Meg in the year they'd been dating, because she did. It was more that— A grandmother? The thought of being thrust into that role was going to take some getting used. Even more, she thought, than adjusting to being alone again after twenty-one years of being a wife.

It wasn’t long before she armed herself with furniture polish and a clean rag. It was one of the two final chores that needed doing before she could make the cabin her home. Unloading the car and unpacking her things was the final step that would bring to a close what was beginning to feel like an endlessly long journey.

A little late in the game, she realized that music made any job more pleasant and so she searched through her father’s extensive CD collection, filling his six disk player with Lonestar, Shania Twain, and a few of his other favorites. Maybe listening to them while she finished up would help her to relax.

And if she wanted to sleep tonight, relaxing needed to be a high priority. She knew from experience over the past year that simply being tired wasn’t always enough to keep the bad memories, anger, and doubts away. Sometimes, she needed to work herself into exhaustion.

By the time the sun set, she was finished. And cold. The early October weather had been fairly comfortable since she’d left Grand Rapids that morning, but as she sat at the small table in the kitchen eating a tuna salad sandwich and potato chips, there was a distinct chill in the air.

It was too dark to check the flue to make sure the wood stove was safe to use and she made a mental note to do something about it first thing tomorrow. The oven in the electric stove would keep the place warm enough until bedtime, but it would be an expensive way to heat the house.

Another thought jumped out, reminding her that if she didn’t want to freeze all winter, she’d need to order a couple of cords of wood too. Not willing to trust her sleep deprived brain to remember everything else she needed to do, Lacy tapped out a list on the handy dandy note app on her cell phone.

While she was in town getting groceries in the morning, she’d see if she could get some references for both a chimney sweep and wood supplier. And someone to have a look at the plumbing. She’d chosen to eat her sandwich on a napkin so she didn’t dirty a plate that would need washing because she didn’t like the thought of putting it in that brownish water.

For now though, all she wanted to do was put on her flannel pajamas and thick socks, wrap up snugly in one of the soft fleece blankets, and figure out something to do to keep her mind occupied until it was time to turn in. The satellite television and internet wouldn’t be hooked up until Monday, but there were plenty of books and movies to choose from.


~~~~~


Alec McKay swung his legs over the edge of the mattress, shivering when his bare feet hit the cold rug beneath them. At some point, he was going to have to open his eyes, but with lids that felt like they were weighted with lead, it was going to take a minute. All he wanted to do was crawl back under the covers and get a couple more hours of sleep. A plumbing emergency the night before had kept him out until well past one, which wouldn’t have been an entirely bad thing—if he wasn’t scheduled to be on another job at eight. That gave him an hour to wake up, get dressed, and get on the road.

The last thing he needed to be doing in his sleep-deprived state was chopping kindling for Miss Schumacher, but he’d been helping his former history teacher out since high school and he wasn’t about to let her down today. At least he’d be doing something to keep warm.

He couldn’t remember the first week of October ever being this cold and as long as he would be working outside, better to be doing physical labor rather than something easier like riding a lawn mower. There were a couple of good sized lawns scheduled for the following week, one last cut for the season for each and if the forecast held true, he’d be chilled to the bone after a couple of hours of that, so wielding an ax today would be just about perfect … if he weren’t so darned tired.

Groaning, he pushed himself to a standing position, pulled the white tee shirt he’d slept in over his head, and felt goose bumps puckering the skin across his chest and arms. Time to throw a couple of logs on the fire. Not much fuel, but enough to keep the worst of the chill away until he returned home at lunch to add more. Then he’d spend the rest of the day at old man Guthrie’s place finishing the drywall in the new office he was building in a corner of the barn.

It didn’t take long to don a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved thermal undershirt, socks, and work boots. On his way out of the small bedroom, he grabbed a quilted flannel shirt and headed to the kitchen to make a much needed pot of coffee and small pan of oatmeal.

While the cereal simmered, he hurried into the bathroom, grabbed his electric razor, and ran it over his face with practiced ease. With a lick and a promise, he ran a comb through his scruffy brown hair and then beat it back to the kitchen for breakfast, making a mental note to swing by the barber shop the first chance he got on Monday. The last thing he wanted was to look like a throwback to hippy days.

Someday he would learn to cook a proper meal, he promised himself, glancing at the contents of his refrigerator. There was enough on the nearly empty shelves to put together a skimpy lunch, but not much else. Unless he remembered to stop at the market in town, he was going to be pretty hungry come supper time. But no matter how many grocery bags he’d bring home, the sad truth was he only knew how to ‘cook’ a few things besides sandwiches of one sort or another. Burgers, eggs and sausage links, spaghetti, chili, steaks and instant or baked potatoes—and he only bothered with the baked if he was trying to impress a date.

Not that he had much time for a social life. The little jack-of-all-trades business he’d started to earn spending money in tenth grade had flourished and by the time he graduated, he realized he had a ready-made, well-paying career. He hadn’t had much time for anything else—relationships included—in the five and a half years since though.

Sometimes he couldn’t help but wonder if he’d made the right choice. Certainly his parents’ hadn’t agreed with it, but then he hadn’t wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps either. The stock market hadn’t interested him then, and it didn’t interest him now.

But mornings like this, a cushy job in a warm office sounded more than a little appealing. Only after emergency jobs cut into his sleep though. Any other time, he loved what he did. The variety, the fact that folks around the county trusted him and counted him among their friends. Mostly, he liked being his own boss.

It wasn't long before he was pulling up behind Miss Schumacher’s pristine ‘57 Jaguar. Before the month was over, it would be parked in climate controlled storage—and she’d bring her four-wheel drive Jeep Grand Cherokee home. To those who didn’t know her well, Stella Schumacher looked like a frail ‘little old lady.’ Everyone else knew her as a slightly rebellious, adventurous woman who learned to bungee jump on her sixtieth birthday.

“There you are!” she said, sticking her bright red head out the front door. It was only his opinion, but he thought she must have been a lifelong Lucille Ball fan. “Come on in. You look like you could use a cup of coffee.”

“That I could, Mizz S, that I could.” He closed the door behind them and followed her out to the kitchen.

“Good. I want to talk to you about knocking a wall out. I’m thinking of buying a baby grand piano and I know exactly where I want to put it.”

"I didn't know you could play the piano."

"I can't, but no time like the present to learn."

Yeah. He loved what he did, Alec thought, grinning as he poured his own cup and sat across the table from her.


~~~~~


Good lord it was cold!

Lacy tried to remember the details of the weather report she’d checked before leaving Grand Rapids the day before. Sure, she’d been a little distracted and stressed, maybe even a little scared as she’d bid the kids goodbye but near as she could recall, the temperatures weren’t supposed to fall below forty. It felt like the windchill must be hovering near the zero degree mark though as she stood shivering at the counter waiting for the coffee to finish. She willed the oven and burners to warm the room faster.

Never a fan of extreme temperatures, between furnaces and air conditioning, she was used to an even, year-round seventy-two. The air in the cabin wasn’t even close and she added a couple of electric space heaters to her list. Not only would they come in handy on mornings such as this, but if she ever ran out of wood, or there was some other sort of emergency, they might come in handy.

As she sat at the table sipping her wonderfully hot coffee and munching on some peanut butter toast, she decided it was time to do some planning. Spending the whole of yesterday cleaning and unpacking meant there really wasn’t anything to do today. Sure, she could run her errands and then come home and read or watch movies—or even text the kids for a while, but it was only seven a.m., too early to do any of those things. Maybe she shouldn’t have made the move on a Saturday. A Sunday without much to keep her busy meant it was going to be a really long day. But then, until she found a job, all of her days were going to be long.

Henry hadn’t wanted her to work, preferring a wife who stayed home to raise their kids and she’d been okay with that. Yet much as she loved her children, she’d found herself bored out of her mind more often than not. Volunteering as an aide in the elementary schools had helped, even long after hers had graduated to middle and high school, but up here there was nothing. At least not yet.

God only knew what kind of job she might be able to get with her limited experience, if there were any to be had at all. Volunteer opportunities were probably just as slim. If she remembered correctly, Boyne City had a small weekly paper. She’d have to hunt one up while she was in town later.

Shrugging her shoulders, she made a determined effort to keep a positive outlook. She was starting over. This was a second chance to make a new life for herself and she was going to make the last half of her time on earth better than the first. She just wondered if she’d made a mistake in making her new start so far from home. Or at least the place she used to call home. Not even here a full twenty-four hours and already doubts were making her second guess her decision.

“Stop it, Lacy,” she muttered, jumping up from the table and beginning to pace.

It was exactly nineteen steps from the front door to the back door in the combination living room and kitchen. Not an especially large cabin, right now it felt huge, mostly because she felt alone. More alone than she’d felt—ever.

The last time she’d lived on her own was in an efficiency apartment during her first and only year of college. Early in the semester, she’d gone to a senior frat party and met Henry. His brother was the one who actually lived in the monstrosity of a house but Henry, who would graduate from a nearby law school the next spring, had shown up because he hadn't had anything better to do. At the time, he claimed it must have been fate.

Whatever it had been, it hadn't mattered to Lacy. She didn't care that he was six years older than she was, or that he'd experienced far more of life, they’d fallen in love and married the following summer. Much to her parent’s disappointment, she’d turned her back on her education with only two semesters of social work under her belt—and even less experience at being an independent woman.

Sinking onto the edge of the brown and cream plaid sofa, she leaned over, her elbows on her knees, her chin in her hands, and surveyed the home where she would begin to relearn some long forgotten skills. And no matter how dismal things might seem at the moment, she wasn’t going to just ‘get by.’ No, she was determined that she was going to excel.


~~~~~


Boyne City hadn’t changed much in the years since she’d last visited, Lacy thought, pulling her sporty red Mazda into a parking spot at the small grocery store. Not many shoppers were here at eight o’clock on Sunday morning, but that suited her fine. At some point in the not too distant future, she’d be more interested in mingling with the residents and making new friends. Right now, however, she just wanted to stock her refrigerator and cupboards with food and find a small heater or two to take the chill off.

And chilly it was. She shivered when she climbed out of the car, but out here—in the clean, crisp autumn air—it felt good. Yeah, it felt right and she took a deep breath, glancing around at the trees. With all of the golds, reds, and every color in between, she realized they must be getting near their peak colors. Maybe later, after she got a small pot of stew simmering, she’d wander through the woods and take a few pictures. Or maybe a lot of them.

First things first though she reminded herself, grabbing her purse and heading inside the market that would probably fit a dozen times in the store she shopped at back home. Except this was home now. This was where she would spend her money—for at least the next six months.

“Good morning!” the lone cashier greeted cheerfully, her wide smile infectious. Lacy smiled back, guessing her to be somewhere around her age. Maybe a little closer to fifty.

“Good morning.”

“Anything in particular you’re looking for?” she asked, spraying window cleaner on her conveyor belt and rubbing it vigorously with a paper towel.

“Just groceries,” Lacy told her, wiping the handle of her cart with a disinfecting wipe from the canister near the door. “And space heaters?”

“Can’t help you with that, but you might check down at the hardware on Maple. They’re only open from nine to noon on Sundays, but I’m sure you'll find what you're looking for there. New in town?”

“Sort of. My folks owned the little cabin out on Canfield Road.” Lacy watched the thin lines of her dark brows arch as the woman considered the information. After a moment, she nodded. “The Hendersons?”

“Yes,” Lacy said, surprised that anyone would remember them.

“Good people.” A shadow of sadness dimmed her cheerful smile. “Your mother, Lisa, was one of the sweetest women around. She was a good cook too. Did you know she joined our book club? She’d bring this apple cake to all of the meetings. Most delicious cake I’ve ever had. I miss her. I miss the cake too.”

Lacy felt her throat tighten as tears stung her eyes. Her mother had made the world’s best apple cake.

“I can copy the recipe if you like,” she offered, trying to keep her voice even. It sounded a little husky to her ears.

“That would be wonderful. Even now, every month—and I’m not exaggerating—someone mentions that cake.”

“I’ll drop it by the next time I’m in town,” Lacy promised, digging the list out of her purse.

“That would be wonderful,” the woman repeated, dabbing the corners of her eyes with a clean paper towel. “Such a surprise for the other girls. Now you get on with your shopping. If you have trouble finding anything, you just give a holler and I’ll point you in the right direction.”

“Thanks. I’m Lacy Baker, by the way.”

“Gina Johnson.”

Except for one other shopper, she pretty much had the store to herself. As she wandered the aisles, plucking cans and boxes from the well-stocked shelves, she thought about her parents, how they would have made this same trip every week. Most likely, more often than that. Her mother had been a social woman who liked to talk and Lacy had missed that during the upheaval in her life. It would have been nice to have someone to call when she’d discovered Henry’s betrayal, and later as they hammered out the divorce settlement.

Not that he’d given her a hard time. The kids had been furious and disgusted and he’d bent over backwards trying to be fair. Anything to try to reestablish their trust in him. Lacy wasn’t sure that would ever happen, though they were at least speaking to him again.

Hard as it had been, she’d encouraged it. For as lousy a husband as he’d turned out to be, he'd always been a good father. When he’d been around anyway. It wouldn’t have been right to make them choose sides, though they’d done so anyway, and the side they’d chosen had been hers.

Shaking off the memories, Lacy headed for the meat department reminding herself that she was cooking for one. If she didn’t want leftovers for days, or to toss out perfectly good food, she had to rein in her tendencies to buy enough for a family of four. Even when it had been just her and Henry after the kids had moved out, she’d had a tough time remembering to cut back. Now it was even more important, not just from a waste perspective but because she needed to follow a fairly strict budget. At least until she found a job.

“That didn’t take long,” Gina observed, scanning the items Lacy was unloading from the cart almost as fast as she could set them on the rolling belt.

“Yeah. I don’t need a whole lot.” Glancing at the list, she realized this would be a perfect opportunity to ask about a plumber and someone to help with the stove and wood.

“You couldn’t have picked a better time,” Gina told her, pausing long enough to call out for someone named Mack. “If this guy can't help you out, I'm sure one of his employees can. Hey, Mack! Come here for a minute.”

The shopper she’d passed a couple of times appeared from the bread aisle.

“What’s up, Gina?” he asked, coming to stand behind Lacy. “Is there a fire somewhere?”

“I hope not,” she said with a chuckle. “Do you remember the Henderson's?”

“Out on Canfield Road?” he asked after giving the question some thought.

“That’s right. This is their daughter, Lacy Baker. She needs someone to check her pipes, check her flue, and deliver some wood. I told her you've kept our plumbing working forever now, though we've just about saved what we need for you to replace it."

“I don't know how many times I have to tell you, you can always make payments.”

"You know us. Cash only. Anyway, I told Ms. Baker you might be able to set her up with something."

Though he seemed to be what some might term an old beatnik with the brown hair that hung past his shoulders and a short beard and mustache sprinkled with gray, his smile was sweet and a little shy as he pulled out his wallet and handed her a business card after she explained what was going on with the water.

"You understand that without seeing it, I can't say for sure, but since it affects both the hot and cold water, I'm guessing it's the main supply pipe. If that is what's going on, it won't send you to the poor house, but it's not cheap to replace it either."

"Well, there's not much to be done but have it fixed," she told him, wondering how much of a dent it would make in her savings. She was beginning to think she should have taken her lawyer's advice and gone after alimony. At least temporarily. "I'm not prepared to live with what I have coming out of the faucets now."

"All right. I could probably work you in early this coming week. I've got a couple of guys who work on chimneys and one of them cuts wood. If you want to see if you can get a better price, you can check with Sean Kendall. He cleans flues and chimneys. Brett Simon is a top notch plumber. As for wood, you can check the bulletin board by the door. There's usually a few ads for people who have cords for sale."

Lacy glanced toward the door and saw the board—and that it was indeed covered with ads. Surely there would be at least a few for firewood.

"After you do some checking," Mack was saying, "if you decide you want me, just give me a call and we’ll schedule an appointment. I’m booked pretty solid through Friday, but the last I knew, I had a block of time early Tuesday morning. I just need to make sure one of my guys didn't pencil in something I haven't seen yet. I could even take a look at your stove and let you know whether the flue is blocked, but I suspect as long as it's been, you might have a problem with birds' nests."

“That's all right. I’m picking up a couple of space heaters today,” she told him, appreciating the fact that he was giving her the option of choosing another handyman. “Why don’t we just plan on Tuesday?”

“Sounds good,” he said with another smile. Then he rattled off some information she didn’t really understand about what he recalled of the electrical system common to the area. He must have seen that she was beginning to zone out from the details because the smile grew into a grin. “Tell Joe, over at the hardware, that you want the small Montgomery brand. They work in regular outlets and will give you the most heat without popping any breakers. Just don’t use them at night.”

“Oh, no worries there. I’ll just break out my electric blanket,” she said with a grin.

“That’s good. Why don't you give me a call this evening and I’ll let you know what day I can get there.”

“All right. Thanks. I will.”




Chapter 2


Between the electric blanket and her new Montgomery heaters, Lacy spent what remained of Sunday—which was most of the day—in relative comfort, chasing away the little chill that remained with a constant stream of hot peppermint tea. By the time she crawled into bed at ten, after finishing a novel she sincerely hoped didn’t make its way into her dreams, she was ready to snuggle in and sleep until daybreak. Maybe she’d read until the satellite company technician showed up to set her up with two-hundred channels and an internet connection ‘sometime between two and six.’

As her eyelids grew heavy, she thought that waiting for things sucked. Being cut off from the news, the few programs she enjoyed, and keeping up with everyone she cared about on social media made her wonder how people passed the time before the inventions of the twentieth century changed the course of history—and their lives. In some ways, though it might have been nice to have retained the innocence of the past, she knew she wouldn’t ever want to live without modern conveniences.

Conveniences like being able to bank a fire in the wood stove a previous owner had built into the existing fireplace so there would still be embers in the morning. Embers only needing a few pieces of wood to make the small rooms toasty warm before her pot of coffee finished brewing. Her father had taught her the basics the first year they’d lived in the place, He’d thought she should know in case she and her family ever wanted to come up when he and her mother took periodic road trips.

Now there were no parents, no family vacations, no one but herself to look after. Still, it was good that she knew how to keep herself from freezing to death over the next few months. For the moment though, she just needed to get through until Tuesday evening.

She'd spoken briefly with the plumber, who'd not only promised to have her water running clear and odor free as soon as possible, but had arranged for someone to deal with cleaning the chimney. She, herself, had set up the wood delivery thanks to the message board at the market.

As she drifted off in the direction of dreamland, Lacy was pleased with the way things were going. Smooth and hassle free. The only thing left to do now, and she hoped that it would be as easy as the rest, was to find a place to work. Too many days spent with no company but her own could get old in a hurry.


~~~~~


By ten o’clock Monday morning, Lacy had picked up applications for the four jobs listed in the Gazette. From the small handful of listings, she thought she might be qualified as a cashier at the same store where she’d shopped on Saturday. Another was for a dishwasher at a small café on the main drag, and two—surprisingly—were part-time receptionist positions, one for a local doctor and the other for a realtor.

Something she should have taken care of long before now was updating her resume or, more specifically, creating one since she hadn’t worked a real job since a brief part-time stint in the college cafeteria.

Less than a year, more than two decades ago, yeah. That would be impressive. She hoped her volunteer work would show that she was motivated and reliable, but she needed to access the internet to get addresses. She could use her phone, but she hated surfing the net on that little screen.

And so Lacy did what she could, filling the applications out and making a list of the information she’d have to hunt down later. Finished by noon, she was ready to go stir crazy long before one o'clock.

She'd never been good at just waiting, but the cabin was clean, she didn't want to watch anything, and she couldn't work up the interest in starting another book. Still an hour—at the earliest—before someone from the satellite company showed up, she decided to take a walk.

Since the day was warmer than the previous two had been, fifty-four degrees according to the weather app, she slipped a long, thick gray cardigan on over the flannel shirt she’d donned that morning. Between that and her faded jeans, she should be warm enough. Besides, thinking positively, she wasn't going to be gone that long anyway.

Out of habit, she tucked her iPhone and wallet in one pocket before she headed out, dropping her key ring in the other after she locked the door.

Taking a deep breath of the clean, crisp fall air, she stepped off the porch and started for the river. It was close enough that she should hear a vehicle pull in, and with some of the foliage already thinned out, she might even be able to see the cabin.

With nothing in mind but relaxing and enjoying the weather, Lacy made her way down the well-worn path that wound through the woods from the bottom step directly to the water’s edge. Up ahead, a couple of brown squirrels chased and played with one another, until she got close and scared them away.

It was peaceful out here, she thought, and she could see how her parents had fallen in love with the place. She’d always known that though, because she’d loved it here too. Even living all of her life in the big city, there'd never been a time when she hadn't preferred the country.

But Henry had despised leaving Grand Rapids—unless he was heading somewhere with even bigger crowds for work or vacations. Had there ever come a time when the man lost everything, he'd never have considered moving here, not in a million years. He thrived on the hustle and bustle, the people. He even liked the traffic.

So many things they hadn't had in common, sometimes she wondered what had drawn her to him at the frat party. Back then, her goal had been to get her degree and go to work in one of the small towns north of the city. But marrying him changed all of that. She'd made his dreams hers, as though she'd never had one of her own.

After the truth had come out, realizing she could follow in her parent’s footsteps, that she could move up here, felt like she’d been thrown a lifeline. If she could make it her home too, she thought maybe she'd stay.

A cool breeze rustled the canopy of branches above her, but other than that, the sound of dried leaves and twigs crunching beneath her sneakers was the only thing to disturb the quiet. Until she neared the river, and then the gentle sound of water bubbling downstream joined the chorus.

Unless it rained hard for a few days, or a big snowfall melted, Lacy thought the ‘river’ looked more like a wide stream. But it was a beautiful place to be and she sat on a fallen log someone had dragged near the bank to enjoy it, keeping an ear out for anyone arriving at the cabin.

In her mind, she could see her teenage children out here with their grandfather. Paul chasing Janna with a worm because much as the girl loved to fish, she was deathly afraid of creepy crawlies. Her grandfather had always had to bait her hook, when her brother wasn’t terrorizing her with the squishy things anyway.

Those were the days…

Or were they, she wondered. Every time she and her kids were up here enjoying themselves, her husband was home romancing one woman or another. Not for their entire marriage though. At least that’s what he claimed.

No, the first time, he’d said, was after an argument. He hadn’t wanted to come up here for a long holiday weekend. He’d just wanted to stay at the house and relax after losing a case. A case he'd known he wouldn't win in the first place, and one he was looking forward to having out of his hair. So she knew he hadn’t been as torn up as he’d pretended to be. He just didn’t like the cabin or her parents if she was honest, and so he was always looking for any excuse to get out of going.

But Lacy missed her mom and dad. After one of the big three oil companies offered her father enough money for his small independent gas station that while they wouldn’t be rich, they could escape the rat race, they’d started talking about getting out of the city. Eventually, they’d settled on Boyne City and Hargrove’s, where they’d lived and worked until the accident had taken them from her.

She’d only been twenty-three at the time, and it had taken her a while to adjust to having them so far away. With both kids barely toddling then, she missed her mom in particular. And so she was bent on going up for those four days over the Labor Day holiday.

Sometimes, in the months since one of Henry’s former lovers brought the ugly mess to light, she wondered what would have happened had she given in and stayed home. Would he have started the cheating? Or was it just something that would have happened at some point no matter what she'd chosen that day? Somehow, she thought the argument was nothing more than the excuse he needed for the first time—if it had been the first time.

But when he finally came clean, at a counseling session he’d begged her to attend in a lame attempt to save their marriage, he'd sworn he'd never cheated on her prior to that weekend. Except it hadn’t been just that one time. The psychologist explained that it was nothing more than a sexual addiction, and that with time, her husband could be cured.

She remembered laughing at that and both of the men being offended. Henry had truly seemed to want to make their marriage work, but after confessing to having had thirty-one different lovers over seventeen years, Lacy called it quits.

It still made her sick to her stomach that even with all of those women, he’d still continued to have regular sex with her. He’d assured her that he’d used condoms with them though, but never once had he used one with her. Maybe he thought it made her feel special, but it just made her feel dirty and used.

“I wish I could go back,” she whispered, brushing the tears spilling down her cheeks away. “I wasn’t that old. I could have started over.”

“I’m sorry, miss. Are you all right?”

Lacy looked up to see a man standing in front of her. At first glance, he looked to be about eighty years old. He wore his coarse gray hair long, well past his shoulders and his beard, though neatly trimmed, was long too, covering almost all of his neck. Dressed in jeans, a faded red tee shirt, and a black leather jacket, he looked harmless enough as he sat on the other end of the log.

Now that he was more at eye level, she was surprised at how smooth his skin was. More like it belonged on someone closer to fifty.

“I’m fine,” she assured him, wiping away what she hoped was the last of the tears she’d shed over her sham of a marriage.

“I hope so. I don’t like to see anyone sad, especially a pretty lady such as yourself.” When she started to inch toward the very end of the log, he chuckled. “Trust me. You’re not in any danger from me. Even if I were inclined to do you harm, I imagine you could outrun me on my best day. I’m just here to enjoy the river, nothing more.”

She relaxed a little then. Not much, but enough so that she wasn’t likely to bolt in a panic. Not yet anyway. They sat in companionable silence for several long minutes before the old man spoke again.

“Name’s Fred.”

“I’m Lacy,” she murmured, her senses still on alert for a sudden movement that might indicate he wasn’t as sincere as he seemed.

“I couldn’t help but overhear you when I walked up.”

“I was just feeling sorry for myself. I’m fine.”

“You wished you could go back?” he asked, leaning down to pick up a stone. It landed with a splash in the water.

“I imagine everyone does, from time to time.”

“Everyone does what?”

“Wishes they could go back to a point in time. To change something they said or did. To make a different choice.”

“It’s fun to think about, isn’t it? All of the possibilities, the new paths we could explore? I’d like to go back to 1962. There was this little roadside diner out in the middle nowhere. The cook made the best beef stew I’ve ever eaten. But the next time I went through, they were closed down, the windows and door boarded up. It looked like it belonged in a ghost town." She saw that he stared off into the distance, probably wishing for a bowl of the stew he’d just told her about. After a moment, he returned his gaze to hers. “What about you? If you could, if you found a genie in a bottle, what point in your life would you choose to return to?”

“I don’t know. Maybe 1995. Yeah. I’d wish to go back to 1995.” Supposedly before the cheating started. She’d warn her younger self what was going to happen, not that it would do much good. She’d been so in love with Henry at the time she doubted that Lacy would believe her. But she wouldn’t mind trying, on the off chance it might work.

“That’s a long way back,” he said, smiling so that his eyes crinkled. She imagined he must smile a lot and she relaxed a little more.

“Not as far back as 1962,” she pointed out and he chuckled.

“You’ve got me there. Wouldn’t it be something though? To go back in time. So many possibilities to change our lives for the good. And so many ways to change it for the worse.”

“What do you mean for the worse?”

“Well… Imagine Bill Gates deciding to take home economics in school and going on to become a chef. Where would the computer industry be today? Just that one little change and people would be saying ‘huh’ when you mentioned Microsoft. Or, what if John Kennedy had allowed the bulletproof bubble up that day in ‘63. Where might the United States be today if he hadn’t been killed? Would it be a better place? Or might he have started a war that resulted in the death of a boy who might become the father of the man who one day cures cancer?” He paused for a moment to toss another rock. “From a normal, everyday person’s perspective though, say a couple buys a house that looks good, but finds out later that the wiring is sub-par. Before they can have it repaired, it causes a fire, destroying everything their family owns. So they go back in time and manipulate things so they choose another house instead. Because they didn’t buy the first one, their child is hit by a car and has a permanent limp. That injury keeps him from getting the football scholarship that allows him to get a medical degree. A degree that makes it possible for him to save the lives of countless children born with heart defects.”

“I never thought of it like that,” Lacy murmured, imagining the guilt a parent might feel in that situation. She supposed it was probably a good thing she couldn’t go back in time. Her life was already screwed up enough without making it worse by doing or saying the wrong thing in the past.

“Most people don’t. They only think of the idea of time travel as fun and exciting. A lot of them want to go back for lottery numbers so they’ll be rich in the future, not realizing they could wind up addicted to drugs and lose everything. Or they want to go back for revenge, not understanding that it might come back to bite them on the butt in the future. Some want to go back to correct a mistake, or to save the life of a loved one. Those are noble reasons, but still reasons that could change the course of history. And not always for the better.”

“Well I guess we will just have to hope that no one ever invents a time traveling machine,” she said, wondering how they’d gotten onto this strange topic of conversation. She wasn’t usually given to flights of fancy, but now she couldn’t even have the satisfaction of daydreaming about what might have been, because what 'might have been' would probably be worse than what already was.

“I don’t think you have anything to fear there. It might work well in Hollywood, but I doubt there will ever be a machine that can transport humans to the past or the future.” He got to his feet and yawned. “Guess it’s time for me to be getting back. If I’m gone too long, they might send out a search party. It was nice talking with you, Lacy Baker.” He took a few steps toward her and held out his hand, she only hesitated for a moment before shaking it. “Oh look there. Did you drop that?” She glanced down and saw a small, shiny object lying beside the log. Shaking her head, she picked it up.

“No. But it’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

And it was. About the size of a softball, the bottle was made of an unusual glass that changed colors as she turned it in her hand. There were drawings etched into it, and she wondered how it had gotten all the way out here. Probably another hiker had lost it.

“Look nice sitting on a mantle, don’t you think?”

“It would, and I do have a mantle, and bookshelves." It really was too pretty to leave here or throw away and so she stuck it in the pocket with her house keys. “Guess I should be heading home too. The guy who will be hooking up my television and internet should be here soon. If I’m not there, he might leave and who knows how long it will take to get him out here again. It was nice meeting you, Fred.”

He nodded and started to walk upstream as she headed back to the cabin. After a couple of steps, she glanced over her shoulder to make sure he wasn’t following her, but he was nowhere in sight. Literally nowhere, and she could see quite a ways up and down the river. For an old guy, he moved pretty fast.


~~~~~


What are you doing in my house?”

Alec tried to wake up, wondering if the woman’s voice was part of a dream. Probably part of the movie he’d been watching had sneaked into his subconscious when he’d dozed off on the sofa.

Another emergency repair had kept him out late again the night before but he’d hoped to keep himself awake until at least somewhere near his usual bedtime. Obviously that plan hadn’t worked.

What are you doing in my house! Are you the satellite guy?”

This time, the voice was a little louder, and definitely not part of a dream. Hard as he tried, he couldn’t place it. That she was furious, terrified even, was clear in the way her voice trembled, in the way the end of what he assumed was the poker for the wood stove wobbled against his neck. Even so, she held it with just enough force that he hesitated to react until he’d come up with a plan to deal with the intruder in his house. One wrong move and he’d be skewered and so he pretended to come awake slowly, taking his time opening his eyes so he could assess the situation.

“Who are you?” he mumbled, staring through half-closed lids—at one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen.

“That’s none of your business,” she snapped, pressing the poker a bit harder. Alec swallowed hard. “Who are you? How did you get in here? I know I locked the door when I left.”

Talk about a lunatic— She locked the door? To his house? Yeah, right. He tried to think if he’d ever heard of a mental institution nearby, but came up blank. Maybe she belonged to one of the neighbors. Of course, having lived here for all of his life, that didn’t seem likely. If someone had a relative who wasn’t right in the mind, surely he’d have heard about it.

“If you don’t leave, I’m going to call the police,” she threatened, but she trembled even more so he thought this might be a good time to disarm her.

Taking a slow, shallow breath, he opened his eyes wide. It seemed to take her by surprise and he reached up so fast he didn’t even feel his hand move. In an instant, he grasped the poker and pushed it away. Rolling off the cushions, he jumped to his feet and took several quick steps away from her.

Standing at one end of the coffee table, he kept his distance from the blond standing before him. She was still wielding the poker like a weapon, and she didn’t look remotely close to being crazy. Just mad—and afraid.

“Look, lady, I don’t know. Maybe you’re on vacation and got lost or something, but this is my house. I’ve owned it for the past four years. You’re the one who’s trespassing.”

Something seemed to catch her eye and she looked around, her expression one of horror. The more she took in of their surroundings, the lower the sharp piece of iron dropped. She brought her free hand up to cover her quivering lips and he watched as tears filled her eyes.

“No. This can’t be. Where are my things? My father’s television? The pictures of my kids? I wasn’t even gone an hour. What did you do with it? How did you get all of this in here?” When she waved the poker, Alec snatched it out of her hand, ready for just about anything, but she only turned in a small circle, no longer a danger to him.

“Listen, there’s clearly a misunderstanding here. Maybe you hit your head and you’re confused,” he suggested gently. “There are a lot of places around here that look kind of like mine. I think you must have gotten turned around.” He set the poker back in the rack and approached her slowly.

“No. No. This is supposed to be my house. My parents left it to me when they died.”

“When did they die?” he asked, keeping his voice low while taking a couple of more steps toward her. That was probably it. Her parents had died recently and in her grief at losing both of them so suddenly, she was just confused.

“Four years ago.”

Nope. Not confusion over a recent tragedy. She’d had plenty of time to come to terms with that. So what then?

“Why do you think this is your house?”

“Because I just moved in on Saturday. And the kids and I vacationed here for the fourteen years my folks owned it. I know this house as well as I know the one I lived in in Grand Rapids.”

Alec rubbed his eyes. He hadn't had nearly enough sleep to deal with this kind of crap. The woman was speaking gibberish.

“Fourteen years? When did they buy it?”

“The summer of 1996.”

“That’s impossible,” he told her, feeling his stomach do a little flip-flop. This was his house. He planned to own it for many years to come.

“No. I remember. It was July 17, 1996. It was my son’s second birthday. It was a Wednesday. We had a small party for him here that weekend.”

“That’s impossible,” he repeated slowly, saddened that the woman really was nuts. “Today is October 9, 1995.”

“Nineteen-ninety—” She looked like she might collapse as she stood there staring at him as if he was the one who had lost his mind. “Today is October 6, 2014.”


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