Authors: Susan Kiernan-Lewis
Copyright 2012 by Susan Kiernan-Lewis. All rights reserved.
stubborn independence is the keystone of her identityâunfettered by romantic involvements or family demandsâuntil the day she takes an exciting new job in Heidelberg, Germany. There she stumbles onto a hidden time portal that takes her to 1620 Heidelberg where all her modern-day techno toys and proud self-reliance can't protect her from the brutal realities of every day life.
Befriended by a convent of seventeenth century nuns who stand on the executioner's block of the bloodiest warlord in all of Europe, Ella, struggles to survive in this primitive and brutal time. Soon, with the help of a sexy US Marshal, she tries to break out of her closed world of protected autonomy to help her new friends. When she does, she learns the hard way that when it comes to the things that
matter in lifeâlove, trust and friendshipâsometimes opening yourself up to others is the only true way home.
he first thing
that occurred to Ella was that it was all happening like some terrible nightmare she couldn't stop. When she marched up to the Starbucks counter, she had noticed it was odd for there to be no line at this time of day. Plus the cashier looked at her strangely. But it wasn't until she saw the man standing
the cashier that Ella began to realize things were not right.
He was pawing at the open cash drawer with one hand while pointing a large black gun directly at Ella.
Ella took a step away and the man raised the gun to her.
“Don't move!” he snarled. The cashier was a chubby high school girl who was crying without making any noise.
Strong, rough hands grabbed Ella's purse and jerked it off her shoulder. Her instinct was to hold onto it and to turn to face her assailant. She was surprised she hadn't noticed him before; the smell was overpowering at this close range. When she turned, the man backhanded her and she felt the cafÃ© begin to melt away into darkness with the crash of pain but he held her firmly so that she didn't fall away from him. In the back of her mind, she could hear two men speaking to each other in Spanish. She could hear the girl's sobs, too.
The left side of her face was an explosion of pain and fire and she could taste blood. She had no idea how she was still standing. She was breathing rapidly. The desire to get away was overwhelming. She heard herself gasping as if for breath and realized the man holding herâan angry cartoon of facial hair and broken teethâwas screaming at her. Ella closed her eyes as if by blotting him out she could make him disappear.
Ella's rudimentary high school Spanish came back to her as if from another world.
. The man tightened his grip and pushed her in front of him. As she stumbled toward the front door, she realized that the cafÃ© was indeed full of peopleâall of whom were crouching or cowering by their tables.
Dear God, will I survive this day?
Ella stumbled as the thug with the bag full of cash brushed past her. The other robber propelled her roughly forward. The glimpse of the sunny day outside the front entrance seemed such a lie to Ella as she staggered forward, her skin clammy with fear.
The moment the doors kicked open, the sunlight blinded Ella. She clenched her eyes closed but continued moving, feeling the warmth of the late afternoon on her face. When the man holding her jerked to a stop, her eyes flew open. There was an incoming customer standing on the sidewalk as if he'd just materialized there. Ella wanted to tell him to run. She wanted to tell him not to come near. She wanted to beg him to help her.
The customer spoke: “You boys helping my wife home again tonight?”
,” the thug in front snarled. He made a feigned lunge at the man, but a second later, he was on his hands and knees on the sidewalk retching. Ella stared at the vomiting man and then at the customer who had put him there.
He was tall and wore a cowboy hat. He plucked the gun off the man on his knees and the man holding Ella instantly let her go. As she slowly collapsed to the ground, she realized he had been supporting her more than guiding her.
“Okay,” said the cowboy. “Stand over there by the dickhead,
and put these on.
Ella didn't know what the guy said or did that prompted the cowboy to shoot in the air but whatever the reason, within a minute, her rescuer was crouching next to her. And the two thugs were plasti-cuffed to each other.
She looked into the cowyboy's eyes. Struck mute by how fast everything had happened, she simply sat and stared at himâstunned to find herself thinking his was possibly the handsomest face she had ever laid eyes on.
“It's okay,” he said, pulling out his cellphone. “You're okay, now.” He spoke into the phone and smiled briefly, reassuringly, at her.
“Anybody hurt inside?” he asked.
She shook her head although she didn't really know.
“Okay, hold on,” he said. “Cops'll be here in a second.”
Ella found herself reaching out to touch the sleeve of her rescuer as if to prove to herself he was real. He grinned at her when she did.
he handsome cowboy
âDeputy US Marshal Rowan Pierce to be exactâhanded her a large mug of coffee while the police questioned the Starbucks customers and employees. Ella was surprised that someone was still brewing and serving coffee during all this. It occurred to her that the cowboy seemed so capable, he could easily have whipped it up himself. The two of them sat at an outdoor table. Ella didn't have the stomach to return to the inside of the cafÃ©. She noticed as she lifted the coffee to her lips that her hands were shaking.
Rowan Pierce had beautiful deep set blue eyes that watched her intently. He was visiting his parents in Atlanta while on medical leave. And he just happened to come into his neighborhood Starbucks at exactly the right time to save Ella's life.
“I can't believe you showed up when you did,” Ella said. “When I think what nearlyâ” She shivered and wrapped her fingers around her coffee cup as if for comfort.
“Don't think about it,” Rowan said. “It's over now.”
“How did you know they were in there?”
“I didn't. Until I saw the three of you shuffling out at full speed, I was just heading for my usual venti latte.”
“I'm so glad you came when you did.”
“Glad enough to have dinner with me tonight?”
For a moment, she entertained the idea of saying no. It wasn't that she wasn't completely mesmerized by him. She was. He was adorable and tall and a US frigging Marshal and he'd just saved her life. Under normal circumstances, she would already be calling all her girlfriends up and picking out wedding china.
But this wasn't near normal.
She was going to be on an airplane heading to her a new job and a new life in Germany in exactly three days from now. And she definitely didn't need to begin anything complicated that would stall that.
Or make her whish she hadn't left in the first place.
But he looked so cute and sexy with his crinkly blue eyes. And he
just save her life.
What could one dinner hurt?
ix hours later
, Ella gave her apartment a quick last look before locking the door and stepping out into the hallway. Most of her furniture was in storage, the bulk of her wardrobe already boxed and sent to her new place in Heidelberg. So eager was she for the next exciting chapter of her life to begin, she had been living out of her suitcase for the last five days.
Her father, an ex-CIA operative who worried too muchâhadn't been thrilled with the new overseas jobâbut he agreed that she should take advantage of opportunities while she was young. Plenty of time for mortgages and putting down roots when she was older. Ella knew she needed a change from the day-in-day-out rut she was in with her job and figured there was nothing like struggling to order a coffee in a foreign language to help with
It wasn't until today that she had faltered in her excitement to leave. And she didn't like faltering. As pleasant as it was to meet someone new, it was positively annoying to have her plans dimmed. Heidelberg and all the promises of an exciting new life that it guaranteed had been nothing but one hundred percent thrilling for herâbefore she met Rowan.
As she slid into the driver's seat of her car and adjusted the rear view mirror, she caught a glimpse of herself and frowned. What was the point of this? She was
, one thing was for sure,
Rowan thought as he rinsed his razor in the sink,
this would go down in history as the most incredible beginning to any first date, anywhere, ever
Drawing a weapon at the moment you met the girl of your dreams was, to say the least, an inauspicious beginning
. He squinted at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Did he really think she was the girl of his dreams?
This is why love sucks
, he thought.
It makes you sound like a damn idiot.
But when he looked in the bathroom mirror, he had a goofy smile plastered across his face.
When the cops showed up to remove Heckle and Jeckle, Rowan knew he had bought himself a long afternoon of paperworkânot just in Atlanta where he was only visiting but back in Dothan, too. While it was true he hadn't pulled his piece, everything still had to be laboriously documented even though, technically, he was still on leave. In his opinion, Ella hadn't seemed to be in any condition to be driving herself home but she insisted she was fine.
Like a lot of people, she registered the shock of being attacked as worse than the actual attack. At least she had agreed to have dinner with him. Even if she did insist on meeting him at the restaurant.
Why am I always meeting women with trust issues?
like the hat
Ella tucked her feet up under her on the outdoor sofa and reached for her water goblet.
“Thank you, ma'am,” Rowan said, tossing it onto the spare chair at the table. “All part of the brand.”
“I can see that.”
The night air felt like a light layer of velvet on her skin. By day, the Atlanta summer was oppressive. But tonight was proof that, under the right circumstances, a summer evening could be pretty magical. She looked around the outdoor restaurant.
“How is it I didn't even know this place existed?” she asked, relaxing into the cushions of the couch.
“My folks told me about it,” he said. “They're retired. Plenty of time to read the reviews of every restaurant in town.”
“You're staying with them until your medical leave is over?”
“That's the plan.”
“How's that going?”
“The healing or the living with the folks?”
“I'm a little sore,” Rowan said patting his side, “but I can still kick down the door to Starbucks to rescue distressed damsels when called upon. How about you? Any effects from being bounced against a sidewalk today?”
Ella shook her head. “I'm good.”
“You are that,” Rowan said, looking at her with what Ella could only describe as hunger in his eyes.
He didn't dress or look like anyone she had ever known. Athletic, tall, rugged good looks. Check. Individualisticâ¦she glanced at the cowboy hat on the chair. Check. And a US Marshal. Triple quadruple
. She smiled at him, hoping she didn't look as obvious that she wanted to eat him up too.
“There's no way I'm going to be able to eat all this food,” she said. “And I have a world class sweet tooth so dessert is a given.”
“Not to worry. Go ahead and eat the dessert first and we'll save the main course for our next date, how's that?”
“You're awfully sure there'll be a next date.”
“Yeah, I'm sure.”
“Yeah, me, too,” she said. “And probably breakfast.”
Dear God, did she just say that out loud?
“Did you just sayâ¦?”
“Oh, hi, there,” she said to the approaching waiter. “I'll have a very large glass of your house Pinot Grigio. Thank you.”
Rowan laughed heartily to her complete embarrassment and the waiter's confusion.
God, even his laugh is sexy.
“Okay, tell me everything,” he said, leaning back in his chair with a glass of beer. “You know who I am. What do you do?”
“I work for a business intelligence firm that does background investigations,” she said.
He frowned. “Soundsâ¦fun?”
She laughed. “No, it's pretty much as boring as it sounds, but I'm good at it and the benefits are really great. My parents were both CIA operatives,” she said. “So I really wanted something nonexciting.”
“Wow. Your folks were
“It's not as exciting as it sounds. My dad always called it the most boring job on earthâinterrupted by brief moments of sheer terror.”
“Your dad sounds like he's got a sense of humor. They retired now?”
“My dad is,” Ella said. “My mom died when I was five.”
Ella's mother had died during a mysterious overseas operation that anyone could only later describe as a guaranteed suicide mission.
“I'm sorry to hear that,” Rowan said. “Growing up without a mother must have been tough.”
“It was,” Ella said.
“You an only child?”
“I am. How could you tell?”
Rowan laughed. “Only children tend to actâ¦differently,” he said.
“More selfish? More independent?”
“Something like that.”
“I guess you had hoards of siblings to make you so well grounded as an adult?”
“I'm the eldest of four,” he said, nodding. “My folks are pretty dull compared to yours. My dad just retired from AT&T here in Atlanta. My mom was a homemaker.”
“What made you want to be a US Marshal?”
“No one thing, really,” he said. He unbuttoned his top shirt button and pulled out a pair of dog tags. “My uncle's,” he said. “He died in the Gulf War.”
“You were close?”
“I was only ten,” Rowan said, stuffing the dog tags back in his shirt. “But he made an indelible impression. On all us kids, really.”
After dinner, they drove in separate cars to Ella's apartment. Ella knew the questions would start as soon as he saw her unfurnished apartment.
“How'd you get shot?” Ella said, opening the apartment door and letting them both in.
“Let down my guard for a minute,” he said, looking around. “I was in Juarez transporting the high-priced lawyer of a drug cartel honcho to stand trial in the US.” He shrugged. “Took my eye off the ball for a split second.”
“What happened to him?”
Rowan smiled. “Oh, I didn't lose him,” he said giving her a knowing look. “It just slowed us down some.”
“Wow,” she said. She led him to an oversized beanbag chair that functioned as sole furniture in the living room, and sat down so close to him she was practically in his lapâa proximity he was doing everything to encourage. “You are one very tough dude.”
“Yes, that is true,” he said in all seriousness. When they both laughed, he leaned over and kissed her. She felt a rush of pleasure that started in her toesâjust like all the sappy romance stories claimedâand filled her all the way up to the tingling, pulsing touch of their lips.
“You know, Ella,” he said as he held her and looked into her eyes. “I can't help but notice that we've broken into an abandoned apartment and I'm starting to worry about the very real possibility that you are a fugitive on the run.”
Ella laughed. “I'm afraid I can't be terribly hospitable because most of the kitchen is packed up and in storage. But I am working on using up the pantry and I do have some things in the refrigerator if you're hungry?”
“Well, actually, I think my question had less to do with what do you have to feed me and more along the lines of what the hell?” He waved his hand around the empty apartment.
She sighed. Now he would know the truth. That as scrumptious as this amazing first date was, there would be no second date. She had been dreading this moment, the moment when she had to reveal that to him. Things were going to go quickly south.
“Well, I'm moving,” she said.
“I'd actually gotten that far.”
“I've taken a new job.”
She took a quick breath. “In Heidelberg.”
Rowan sat up straight and she slid off his lap.
“I didn't know I was going to meet anyone,” Ella said hurriedly. “I've been planning this move for ages.”
“Sure, I get it. When?”
“My flight leaves Sunday night.”
It was Friday.
She could see him pull back emotionally when she said it. She didn't blame him. What was the point of getting to know each other?
“Ouch,” he said. “Sunday night. Shit.”
“Exactly. I'm sorry, Rowan,” she said. “Bad timing.”
For a minute he didn't say anything. Ella cursed the empty apartment as the give-away that it was. But maybe it's best this way, she thought.
Now we can both go our separate ways. As if we'd never intersected.
“Well, then,” he said finally, reaching out to touch a long curl as it framed her face. “Maybe we'd better not waste any more time.”
he next morning
, she rolled over in bed and found that the dream was real. She had a very large cowboy in her bed, and wonders of all wonders, he didn't even snore. She lay next to him for a moment, watching him sleep.
“Where did you come from?” Ella whispered to him in wonder and awe.
His eyes opened.
“Go back to sleep,” she said.
He turned to face her. “Impossible.”
They smiled at each other, not speaking. She snuggled into his arms, feeling safe and complete. She nuzzled closer to him, smelling the lemony maleness of whatever body soap he used.
“Did you know we'd end up like this? In bed together?”
“Well, I have to admit that whole
comment you made last night did kinda give me a heads up.”
“God, I can't believe I said that.”
“I'm glad you did.” He kissed her on the cheek. “It eliminated a lot of games that I don't think either of us wanted to take the time to play.”
“Sometimes I think games can be fun,” she said, moving around in his arms to look into his gorgeous blue eyes. “But I just couldn't wait. I know that sounds pretty slutty, I guess?”
Rowan laughed and looked at her. “No, no, not at all,” he said.
“I'm mean, what else are you gonna say? You
going to call me, right?”
He looked at her in surprise. “