Authors: Anna Belfrage
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Time Travel
On a muggy August day in 2002, Alexandra Lind is unexpectedly thrown backwards in time, landing in the year of Our Lord 1658. Catapulted into an unfamiliar and frightening new existence, Alex can do nothing but adapt. After all, while time travelling itself is a most rare occurrence, time travelling with a return ticket is even rarer.
This is the first book about Alex, Matthew Graham and their adventures in the second half of the seventeenth century.
Other titles in The Graham Saga:
Like Chaff in the Wind
The Prodigal Son
A Newfound Land
Serpents in the Garden
Revenge and Retribution
Wither Thou Goest
To Catch a Falling Star
A Rip in the Veil
This book is dedicated to Sofia and Jeanette
The radio died first. There was a burst of static and the display went black. The dashboard lights gave up one by one, the steering wheel locked, the engine coughed, and the BMW glided to a stop by a crossroads.
“Hey!” Alex Lind said. “You’re a high-class German car, so don’t go temperamental on me, okay?” She pumped the accelerator and turned the key a couple of times.
“Oh, hell! I don’t have time for this.” She extracted the key, wiped it against her jeans and reinserted it. “Come on, come on, come on…” Nothing; not even a little whirr.
“Shit.” Alex slammed the steering wheel and got out.
To her left the ground rose in waves towards the moors, the heather shifting from dull brown through green to deepest purple, while to her right the land fell away in jumbles of rocks and sheer cliff faces. No signs of civilisation, just the crossroads, very much empty space and five sheep.
“It could be worse,” she told the closest sheep. Yeah, a boulder could have become dislodged from higher up the slope to bounce down the hillside and flatten her into mush. “Not that you care, do you?”
The sheep twitched an ear.
Alex dug her hand into her pocket and produced her mobile phone, new since yesterday.
“See?” She showed it to the sheep. “The wonders of technology.” Somewhere among her contacts was the AA number. Except that her phone was as useless as her car, not a flicker of anything resembling electronic life flashing across its display, no matter how many buttons she pressed.
This was strange; first her car, then her mobile. It was the same with her computer; dead to the world. It didn’t exactly help that it was unbearably hot as well. Sahara heat in Scotland – okay, that was an exaggeration, but it wasn’t far off, with dark brooding clouds hanging like a lid over the ground. She kicked at the ground, sending a small stone to bounce over the tarmac. One of the sheep bleated, two more followed suit, and just like that they were off, five dirty heaps of wool scampering across the road and disappearing down the rock strewn incline.
“Right.” She couldn’t stay here all day, so she opened the bonnet. As far as she could see, there were no disconnected cables, nothing to explain why the car had stalled. Alex slid back into the leather seat and took a deep breath. Maybe the car just needed a little rest, and now, when she turned the key, it would purr into life. Nope – and she couldn’t even get the top back up. German junk. Next time she’d go for Japanese.
“I hate you,” she told the convertible as she got out. If she – and in particular the PowerPoint presentation on her computer – wasn’t in Edinburgh within the hour, Diane would probably fire her. Probably? She’d be out on her ear so fast there’d be skid marks all over Diane’s new carpet. She did a quick calculation; walking back to the closest village would take an hour or more, but if she remembered correctly there was a farm a couple of miles ahead. At least they’d have a working phone.
A raindrop plopped down to hiss on the warm metal beside her, was followed by several more. There was a small stand of trees on the opposite side of the crossroads, and when the rain increased in intensity, she put on her jacket, retrieved her rucksack from the front seat, and made for the stunted alders.
She never got to the other side. Immobilising pain – the mother of all headaches – had her coming to a halt, blinking in an effort to relieve the building pressure behind her eyes. Her elbows and the back of her neck prickled, she felt dizzy and nauseous, like she did the few times she tried the roller coaster rides down in Blackpool. Must be the heat, this goddamn heat that was making her sweat like a piece of cheddar left out in the sun. The first thunderclap made her flinch. The air tasted of iron and salt, and her heart was like a power hammer in her chest.
The road seemed to be flowing beneath her feet, a shifting mass of colours that swirled in tightening spirals towards the centre of the crossroads. Heat hallucinations; she closed her eyes for an instant before dropping them to the reassuring black of the asphalt. It wasn’t there. The tarmac melted away before her eyes, replaced by strange bands of greens and blues, bands that rippled and twisted around her feet, dragging her in the direction of a…a hole?
With a ripping sound, a huge funnel opened at her feet, pouring out light so bright it hurt her eyes. And the noise! Chalk screeching over blackboards magnified a zillion times. She raised her arms to shield her face and tried to back away, but the road disintegrated below her, and she slid this way and that, like a drunken figure skater on a slope of ice. Shit! What was happening? An earthquake? No earthquake, just a…a…Alex screamed, scrambling back from the edge of the rapidly expanding void.
The next clap of thunder sent her sprawling into all that light, and for an instant or two she hung suspended, before hitting the ground so hard the air was knocked out of her. The skies opened, and in a matter of seconds she was drenched. She lay stunned, staring at the lightning that lit up the sky. Her hair bristled with static electricity, and her arms and legs were so heavy, almost detached from the rest of her. She tried to move her hand and saw the muddy fingers twitch in response. Mud? She swayed to her feet. How odd; no hole, no dazzling light, definitely no asphalt – just a narrow dirt road.
Thunder growled and roared, and she whimpered as she crossed the muddy track, making for the hillside. She had no idea where she was going, only that she had to…the road, it was dangerous on the road. A bolt of lightning flashed through the sky directly over her head. She screamed for her father when the current coursed through her body, lifted her up into the air, and flung her up the hill where she hit the ground head first.
* * *
“This is unacceptable,” Diego Sanderson said, frowning in turn at John Orrock and Diane Wilson. “I’ve come a very long way for this meeting.”
“I’m so sorry, Mr Sanderson.” Diane looked flustered, the pale skin on her chest and neck mottling in reds.
John went over to the window, squinting through the curtain of rain to the trafficked street far below. Alex should have been here by now. He tried phoning her again, aware of their client’s eyes boring into his back. Nothing.
“Huh. So where is she?” Sanderson sat back, his large frame looking cramped in the elegant wooden armchair.
Good question; where was she? It shouldn’t have taken her more than two hours to drive across the moors, and now – John threw a look at his watch – it was almost four hours since he’d heard from her.
“She might have run into car trouble.” Diane looked genuinely concerned, one cheek sucked in. That surprised John. Diane and Alex tolerated each other due to mutual benefit, no more. Alex needed the jobs Diane threw her way to get back on track after that unexplained absence three years ago, and Diane knew a gift horse when she saw one. Still, once they’d been friends – best friends, even – and he supposed that every now and then, they both missed each other.
“If she’s having car trouble then she’s going to be stuck out there for quite some time,” Sanderson said. “Look at the way the rain’s coming down. It sure doesn’t seem as if it’s going to let up anytime soon.”
John got to his feet. “I’m going to look for her, something must have happened.”
“Yeah; she might have drowned,” Sanderson muttered.
John threw him a dark look; this wasn’t funny.
Sanderson stood up. “I’ll go with you. After all, without her there’s no point to this meeting, is there?”
“Really, Mr Sanderson,” Diane said, “you don’t have to do this. Let me invite you to dinner instead.”
Sanderson shook his head. “I’ll go with John. That consultant of yours is travelling around with my new security network in her computer, and I plan on ensuring it’s undamaged.”
John frowned. “I’ll manage on my own, I think.”
“I’m coming with you,” Sanderson insisted, eyeballing John.
“Fine,” John shrugged. “I just have to call the babysitter first.”
They were silent on the drive south. Sanderson had requested they stop at his hotel, and was now dressed in jeans and Timberlands. He studied the landscape with an expression of dislike.
“Bleak, isn’t it? Far too much space, you know?” He made a face. “Give me inner city Chicago any day.”
They crested a small hill and in front of them the road ran in a straight line. No hairpin curves, no major obstruction, just a black line of asphalt that bisected the landscape around them as if it had been drawn with the help of a ruler.
It was growing dark and the rain was still coming down, but now in a relaxing patter. The clouds hung far too close to the ground, and even with the AC on, the heat filtered its way through the metal chassis of the car.
“Jeez, it’s hot.” Sanderson flapped a map to create a fan effect, grunting when John braked.
“That’s her car!” John pointed at a red shape standing halfway up the hill. He threw himself out of the car, slipping as he made his way across the road. “Alex? Alex!” he called, scrabbling up the hillside. “What is it doing here, almost twenty metres from the road?”
“Maybe she miscalculated and drove off,” Sanderson said from behind him.
“Alex is an excellent driver, and even if she’d driven off, this is uphill. She wouldn’t have gotten this far.”
Sanderson seemed to agree, his eyes narrowing as he scanned the vegetation. “No tyre marks, no nothing. It’s as if the car was thrown there.”
The convertible was empty, the key still in the ignition. Sanderson’s face paled when he put his hand on the leather seat.
John didn’t understand at first but leaned over to touch the backrest. Dry. “But it can’t be, it’s been raining all afternoon. It’s still raining.”
“Not here, not here where the car is,” Sanderson said.
John broke out in goose bumps and edged closer to Sanderson. “How?”
“I don’t know,” Sanderson said, colour flooding back into his face. “How the hell should I know?”
Sanderson staggered back a few metres from the car. He looked ill, all of him swaying where he stood.
“It seems kind of staged, don’t you think?” he said.
“Staged? How staged? She’s had an accident.”
“Yeah, right; look at it. Not a scratch on the paintwork, nothing’s out of place…” Sanderson seemed about to faint, sweat was beading his upper lip and hairline, and he hugged himself, half bent over as if he were in pain.
“Are you alright?” John moved towards him.
“We must go.” Sanderson grabbed John’s arm. “Call the police and have them look for her, but we have to go.”
John wrenched himself free. “Now that we’re here, we might as well look for her. She must be somewhere close, perhaps she’s hurt.” He threw Sanderson a worried look; the man looked about to collapse. “Why don’t you sit down?”
Sanderson shook his head. “It’s just a dizzy spell, jetlag or something.” He straightened up, unclenched his arms from around his waist. “I’m fine,” he said, his statement very much at odds with his ashen face. “Let’s get on with it, okay?”
They looked everywhere for her. John’s throat was sore from calling her name, his jeans were wet up to his knees after wading through drenched heather and bracken, but he just couldn’t stop looking. She had to be here, somewhere. At one point Sanderson held up a rucksack.
“Hers? It’s badly burnt – look the zipper has melted together.”
John sank down onto the ground, clutching the black computer backpack. Sanderson crouched beside him and hid his head in his hands for a moment before raising his face in John’s direction.
“It’s dangerous here,” he said, heaving himself back onto his feet. “We have to go. Now!”
“It just is, okay? Can’t you feel it, how the whole ground is heaving?”
“No,” John snorted, “of course it isn’t.”
“But the stink!” Sanderson leapt down the hillside. John inhaled, surprised to notice Sanderson was right; a stench of heated, scorched metal, of tyres burning, hung in the air.
“Besides, you’ll never find her,” Sanderson called up from the road. “She’s gone.”