Authors: Nancy Loyan
Tags: #Romance, #paranormal
“All those years of teaching haven’t been wasted, after all.”
“Would you join me for some tea? I would like to learn more about your teaching experience and education,” he invited, his voice a silken caress, as his eyes met hers.
She hesitated. She wished that it was that easy, to sit and discuss her life over tea. He would never believe her when she told him about her degrees from colleges that had yet to exist, of her experience in teaching inner-city children, of computers, of history yet to be made, and theories to be invented. Oh, how she longed to tell someone, but if she told him she would most certainly lose the only position she held and a place in the only home she had known.
“Thank you, sir, but I’m quite exhausted. It’s been a busy day. Perhaps another time.”
“Another time,” he said, nodding his head and walking away.
She watched in silence as he headed down the hall to the main stairs. She sighed. Another time.
Faith hesitated in the threshold. The library was much more scholarly looking than she remembered. In her time, the cherry paneled room was used as a den for casual television viewing. In this era, before television was invented, it resembled an office. A rectangular hand-carved desk sat in one corner with a matching mahogany and leather swivel chair. Spread open on the desktop was a ledger with a pen and a pair of wire-rimmed reading glasses. Nearby, the fireplace blazed hot with wood and coal, taking away the evening chill. Next to it was an overstuffed armchair for cozy reading and a table with a lit kerosene lamp and overhead, a gas chandelier added a mellow ambiance.
Standing by a bookcase that lined one wall, was Doctor Forrester. He held a well-worn leather-bound volume in one hand while he scanned the jammed case in search of another. Observing him, Faith thought that he resembled the bust of Julius Caesar that was perched on a top shelf. He stood still, shoulders straight, head erect with a most serious expression on his face. He belonged among the books, the aged paper, the leather, dark wood, and the pungent scent of the fire.
She almost turned away as to not disturb him. Bridget had told her that the doctor retreated to his library every evening after dinner and that it was the best time to discuss matters with him.
“After a man’s been fed and watered, he’s much more agreeable,” Bridget had said.
Faith wondered if the doctor was ever agreeable. There was one way to find out. Taking a deep breath, she rapped on the partially open pocket door to get his attention.
He spun around to face her, startled at the interruption. His eyes were wide and intense as they met hers, his lips forming a grim line.
“Doctor Forrester, I wondered if I might have a word with you?” Faith asked, stepping into the room.
“Seeing that I have just lost my train of thought, you may as well speak and get it over with,” he said with a bite in his voice, slapping the leather book against his thigh.
“I have a simple request,” she said. “Since I am employed as Andrew’s governess, on a trial basis, of course, I think it only fitting that you provide me with a proper uniform.”
“Miss Donahue, I’m one step ahead of you. I’ve requested Miss LaDue to procure a uniform appropriate to your station. I can’t have a member of my household being seen in public in ragtag clothing, bare limbs, and … improper unmentionables,” he stuttered and waved his arm at the last word.
Faith glared at him. All she needed was a uniform chosen by that tart, Miss LaDue. Knowing the girl, it would probably be ugly, matronly black, and unflattering. Wearing her present clothing was bad enough. Bare limbs? Improper unmentionables? Why, then, was he mentioning them? How did he know what she was wearing underneath her clothes?
• • •
Seeing the fire erupt in her cheeks and the glow of her aquamarine eyes, Ian Forrester began to fidget and pace the floor like a trapped lion, trapped by his words.
“Miss Donahue, I am quite aware of your lack of fashion sense and propriety.”
“My … what?” she screamed. “Doctor, I’d like you to know that where I come from I have a room-size closet filled with designer clothing. Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Liz Claiborne … even a Versace evening gown! Since I can’t go back, I’m stuck here with hand-me-downs and your generosity. I don’t look this way by choice but out of necessity!”
He looked at her, suddenly remorseful and rotten. She didn’t deserve his embarrassing comments and insults. She was doing the best she could with what little she had. He perused her. Her shirtwaist was clean and starched, her skirt pressed, and her shoes polished. If not for Constance’s comments, he wouldn’t have been aware of her lack of proper undergarments. As for her bare hands, he thought it made more sense than donning kidskin gloves in the heat of spring and summer, even if it was socially improper. He had to admit that the flesh-toned hose was much more flattering than the black wool hose women wore. The vision of her romping with the kite, skirt aflutter, legs exposed made him suddenly hot. He drew a deep breath. Where was his sense of propriety? What was wrong with him?
“I apologize if I’ve hurt your feelings, Miss Donahue.” He swallowed hard. Standing across from him, she looked so shattered and alone like a lost child. He shouldn’t be scolding her. “I am not familiar with the dress designers you’ve mentioned but am certain if you had your wardrobe you wouldn’t be making a request from me.”
“Sir, I wouldn’t be asking you for anything if I had a choice.”
• • •
That night, Faith couldn’t sleep. She tossed and turned, feeling as if she were on a ship in a storm-tossed sea. Visions of the earth swaying filled her mind with scenes of buildings tumbling over, brick-by-brick. Frantic people rushed into the streets in stages of undress as the buildings crumbled around them. Screams of terror, of pain, of death, pierced the silence of dawn. Horse’s neighing, ruptured gas lines hissing, water mains spouting added to the panic. Orange-red flames erupted, enveloping everything and everyone in stifling acrid heat. Hell. It could only be hell.
She sprang up in her bed, clammy in a cold sweat, her heart palpitating in such a beat she could feel its rhythm. The room was pitch black. She felt as if she were lost in a deep abyss, in the hell she had envisioned. For a moment, she wondered if she was still alive.
A trembling fear grabbed at her heart. She wanted to scream but covered her mouth with her hands. Feeling trapped and smothered, she had to escape. In the dark, she felt for her robe, the one Bridget had lent her. Finding it, she slipped it on, tying the belt. She pawed her way to the door.
As she stepped out into the hall, a figure with a candlestick and flickering candle startled her.
“What in blazes happened?” Bridget asked, flashing the candlelight in Faith’s face, distorted shadows dancing on the walls.
Faith shielded the glaring light with her hands until her eyes could adjust to the light.
“Thank God it’s only you,” Faith gasped.
“Who else might it be?”
“I … I thought, for a moment, that I might be dead or … or sent back.”
“Back where?” Bridget cocked her head.
Getting hold of her senses, Faith replied, “Oh, I’ve had horrible nightmares. I needed to get out of that stifling room.”
“Come with me, down to the kitchen. I’ll warm some milk. You look like you’ve had quite a fright.”
Bridget grasped Faith’s hand. Like holding on to a child, she led Faith down the backstairs and into the kitchen. Once in the room, Bridget set the candlestick down on the worktable. She pulled up a chair and pointed to Faith to sit. Faith slunk down into the oak-spindled chair, leaning forward, elbows on the table. She watched Bridget light a kerosene floor lamp, bend down to scuttle coal from the coal hod into the cast-iron stove, and use a poker to stir up the banked fire. It was a far cry from turning on a knob and having instant heat.
Bridget waddled over to the oak, double-door icebox. She pulled on a brass handle and opened one door, removing a bottle of milk. Setting the glass bottle on the worktable, she removed a steel saucepan from an overhead pot rack. She filled the saucepan with milk and returned the remainder to the icebox. After placing the saucepan on the stovetop, she pulled up a chair and plopped in it.
“Now, tell me about your nightmare,” Bridget said.
Faith stared at her. “If I told you, told anyone, they’d think me insane.”
“I must say, you are different, but not ready for bedlam yet.” Bridget grinned.
“My nightmare is far too real. Something is going to happen in a few days that is too catastrophic to be believed. It is something over which I have no control. I can only keep those I have grown close to out of harm’s way. To warn everyone in San Francisco would be fruitless. Even if everyone did listen, panic would set in. History would be altered forever. You see, this knowledge is haunting me, just tearing me apart,” Faith explained in an emotionless monotone. She had to tell someone, to give some warning about the impending danger. As much as she tried to stash away her fears, reality was fast approaching. The visions served as a reminder, a wake-up call. She could no longer keep the knowledge to herself. She knew that she couldn’t live with herself if she did.
“One thing good about nightmares is they don’t come true,” Bridget commented in her jovial tone.
Faith looked up, straight into her eyes. “Bridget, this one is going to come true.”
“I must go check on the milk.” Bridget rose from her seat to tend to the pot on the stove.
“I know that you don’t believe me. Who would? It seems beyond the realm of reason, I know.” Faith let out a sigh. “I didn’t ask for this.”
“Ask for what?” Doctor Forrester asked, his dusky voice echoing from the doorway.
Faith turned and gasped at the thought of him eavesdropping. Attired in an elegant silk paisley robe, his dark hair tousled, a growth of beard shadowing his face, he looked better than a man ought in the wee hours of the morning. Faith thought it unfortunate that the handsome men tended to need attitude adjustments. They also happened to be overly inquisitive and in the habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She didn’t want to explain her passage through time at the moment. She was tired, cranky, and unprepared to deal with him.
“Miss Donahue had quite a nightmare,” Bridget chirped. “Some warm milk can settle her down.”
The doctor scratched his head, shuffling into the room. “I had my own nightmare.”
“Perhaps you’ll be in need of some warm milk, too?” Bridget asked.
“Only if you put some cocoa in it,” he replied, sitting in the chair Bridget had vacated. He glanced over at Faith, who was attired in an oversized flannel robe, her hair casually falling over her shoulders, and realized how inappropriate the situation was. A man didn’t allow unattached women to see him in his bedclothes. Likewise, a modest woman would remove herself from his sight, blushing and feigning apologies. Faith did neither. She sat firm in her seat, unfazed by his casual attire and hers.
“I’d like cocoa in mine, too,” Faith added.
“So, Miss Donahue, what has kept you up all night? Or, maybe, I’m being too forward to ask,” the doctor said, analyzing her. For the life of him, he just couldn’t figure her out.
Faith drew away from his too alert gaze. It was bad enough that he had to appear in the kitchen, but having him seated so close with those inquiring eyes made her tremble.
“She’s been having nightmares about the mayhem that is to befall the city in a few days,” Bridget said with a giggle.
Faith squirmed in her seat. “On April 18 at 5
a major earthquake will rock the city and, soon after, a raging fire will destroy it.”
“That’s a pretty specific nightmare. So, what time does God appear after this Armageddon?” the doctor asked with a chuckle.
“In a few days this will not be so funny.”
Bridget placed mugs of hot chocolate in front of the doctor and Faith, but neither seemed to notice.
“Miss Donahue has been blessed or cursed with the gift of prophecy,” Bridget commented.
“Only the Irish would believe such nonsense.” Doctor Forrester scoffed.
“Sir, as I recall, you once told me of your Scotch-Irish ancestry,” Bridget said, hands on her hips.
The doctor scowled. He wrapped his hands around the steaming mug of cocoa and lifted it up to his lips for a sip, savoring the sweet scent and taste. As he set the mug back on the table, he stared at Faith.
“I think it best, Miss Donahue, that you keep your dreams and your nightmares to yourself.”
“Even if they offer a warning that can keep you and your household out of danger?” She met his intense gaze and held it, determined not to let him intimidate her. “I wanted to keep my secret but would feel remiss if I didn’t warn you of the earthquake. I assure you that in the early morning of April 18, this house will tremble and some walls will crack but it will be safe. A raging fire will engulf the city due to ruptured gas lines and the lack of water pressure. Dynamiting will prevent the fire from spreading through this neighborhood. Nob Hill will be sacrificed but this street will be saved.”
“Believe what you will, but if you cherish your son, your staff, and your life, stay in this house. If you stay here, you will be safe. I guarantee it.”
“History. In 2006, this home and this street are as intact as they are now. Local archives tell the story of how this neighborhood was spared.”
He growled, “More nonsense about a hundred years hence.”
“It isn’t nonsense.”
Faith could see the doubt wrinkling his brow and in the raging embers in his dark eyes. His pupils were like glowing lumps of coal aimed directly at her. She closed her own eyes to regain her composure. She knew that she hadn’t a choice but to warn him. How could she survive if they would perish or be harmed in the calamity without her warning?
“How?” he demanded.
“All that concerns me is that you and those you care about know what to expect and can prepare accordingly. Because I’m a part of your household, I feel responsible for your well-being.”