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When the love of her life dumps her, Katie spends three years living with a broken heart.
Seeing him with his new fiancée prompts her to make some changes, but before she can, Katie is torn abruptly from twenty-first century Chicago.
Landing in Elizabethan England, she finds herself in a room with a handsome alchemist named
Robert. Unable to send her home, Lord Robert assumes the role of her guardian and helps her learn how to live in 1566 London. Robert’s father, the spymaster to Queen Elizabeth, sees the value in Katie’s knowledge from the future and allows her to come to court. Plunged into a world of scandals and secrets she doesn’t understand, Katie risks her life to earn Lord Robert’s trust.
As a man with questionable intent begins to pursue her, stirring Robert to jealousy, Katie discovers she may feel more for Robert than she thought. Being a woman in the sixteenth century where she may be disciplined, married off, or locked away is fraught with perils. But has Katie found love despite these dangers?
Publisher's Note: This exciting time travel romance contains some explicit scenes and elements of power exchange.
***Currently available exclusively at Amazon ***
Katie cursed as her phone fell from her hand. In slow motion, she watched it bounce off the sidewalk, inhaling sharply as it cartwheeled through a puddle and landed in the downtown Chicago street. Just as she bent to pick it up, a car whizzed past, making her jump back in surprise, heart racing. She looked both ways. The street was empty now. Feeling irritated that she hadn’t insured it, she retrieved her phone from the asphalt. She shook her head at her own clumsiness and wiped the splattered screen on her pant leg.
Katie opened her text messages. David had messaged her, which had caused her to drop her phone in surprise. She read it with butterflies in her stomach: I had a great time the other night but we can’t hang out again. Maria and I are back together. It wouldn’t be right.
The butterflies in Katie’s stomach vanished, replaced by hollow disappointment. She sighed. Of course he and Maria had gotten back together. She rolled her eyes irritably and continued down the road. She couldn’t think of a reply so she tucked her phone in her back pocket and hoped to forget about it altogether.
I mean, at least he told me he was dating someone else . He could have gone on dating both of us. Somehow, that was little comfort.
Two blocks down, Katie could already see the line was out the door of the café. She groaned, imagining her manager’s stiff customer service smile, held in place by gritted teeth.
Slipping in the side door, Katie hastily donned an apron, silenced her phone, and braced herself before swinging open the door to the front of the store. A cacophony of coffee grinders, dropped change, cash register dings, milk steamers, announcements of orders filled, and how-may-I help-yous assaulted her. Pasting on her smile, Katie stepped into the fray.
Six hours later, Katie untied her apron and tossed it into the dirty pile. “Want anything to go?” her coworker, Charlotte, called to her.
Katie shook her head no. “That’s okay. I don’t need the caffeine.”
“Aren’t you hanging out with David later?”
Again, Katie shook her head no. “He got back with Maria.”
“Aw, that’s a bummer. He was cute,” said Charlotte.
“I know!” said Katie.
“At least he told you he was back with her,” Charlotte mused.
“Yeah,” Katie heaved a regretful sigh. “At least he told me.”
“I’m sure you’ll meet someone else,” said Charlotte.
Katie eyed the glittering engagement ring on Charlotte’s finger. Her fiancé was a lawyer. Charlotte wouldn’t have to work at the café for much longer and everyone knew it. This fact made Katie feel as though Charlotte’s relationship advice was tinted with her own blessed success, and took into account none of the misery Katie had been carrying around since the love of her life had dumped her—a heartbreak followed by a string of bad dates. Regardless, Katie hitched up a smile and said, “I’m sure you’re right,” before waving goodbye.
In all weather, Katie walked to and from work. It would be silly not to, seeing as she lived only three blocks away. She enjoyed living so close. The walk before work gave her time to think about what was ahead, and the walk home gave her time to decompress.
With each step, Katie felt the coffee mania drain out of her. She hadn’t partaken today in the proclaimed elixir, but often thought of the coffee business as a craze all its own. As her foot met the pavement again and again, the tension released from her shoulders. By the time she reached her front door, she felt nothing but exhaustion.
She walked through her tiny single bedroom apartment, stripping as she went and leaving her clothes where they landed. In her bedroom she pulled on sweats, a t-shirt, and fuzzy socks. She threw herself onto her couch in the living room and opened up her laptop. She blinked guiltily at the tab still pulled up on her screen. It was an email from her father, offering her a position at the corporation he worked for.
She was perfectly qualified for the position, and she was certain her dad’s recommendation would secure her the opening. She was not sure why she hesitated. It wasn’t like she enjoyed serving people coffee all day, and even she could admit that it wasn’t a great setup for meeting eligible young bachelors. Why didn’t she take it?
She minimized the window, ignoring the potential future being offered to her. She tried not to think about the fact that this was the third email her father had sent her this week, all of them without her sending a reply.
Pizza ordered, Katie poured herself a glass of red wine and pulled up Netflix. She selected a historical drama and settled herself in for an evening of false gossip, recreated from the days before electricity.
The next morning, Katie’s mother called while Katie was walking to work. She cringed and declined the call.I can’t speak to her right now, anyway. I’ll have to get off the phone in five minutes.
All day, with every latte and chai tea she made, the phone call hung over her. The day seemed to pass both sluggishly long and frightfully quickly at once. Finally, she clocked out, hung up her apron, stepped onto the street, and pulled out her phone. Her mother answered on the third ring.
“Took you long enough to call me back,” she said.
“I was at work.”
“Oh please. That lame excuse for a job is no reason to ignore my calls. Can’t you step away for a moment? I’m sure your coworkers can carry on without you. They’ll have to sooner or later. You can’t work there forever.”
“What do you want, Mom?” said Katie with a sigh.
“Well I was calling to see if you’ve been getting your father’s emails. You haven’t responded to any of them and he found such a great opportunity for you.” She waited and when Katie said nothing her mother went on. “You’ve got to get serious about your life, Katherine. You are nearly thirty years old, unmarried and without any prospects, working at a coffee shop for heaven’s sake! When are you going to grow up? Your life will never get better if you don’t make it better yourself, sweetie.”
“I happen to like my life, Mom,” said Katie.
“You’re becoming an old maid and it’s breaking my heart,” her mother continued as if Katie hadn’t spoken. “This job has no security for you. Any monkey off the street could pour a coffee. It’s not a skill. It won’t provide a future for you.”
Katie heaved a breath and exhaled into the microphone so her mother could hear her frustration. Her mother changed tactics in response. “I’m just worried about you,” she said sweetly. “Ever since you dropped out of the master’s program, you’ve been a little aimless.”
Katie’s blood ran cold. She did not like to think of that time in her life. After switching majors several times, she had finally graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business six years after she had started college. She had met a boy in her last year and had fallen hard for him.
Chad, the man with ocean blue eyes and glittering gold hair. He had a musical laugh, a floppy-eared dog, and he loved to go running. He was perfect: athletically trim, smart, funny, and spontaneous. They had spent late nights out in the countryside, cuddled up in the bed of his pickup truck padded with pillows and blankets and an air mattress. Chad always made her breakfast and held her hand. She had won the lottery in meeting him, and she was blissfully aware of it during their every moment together.
When Chad enrolled in the master’s program, Katie had followed him. Their first semester had gone well, but shortly after Christmas, Chad’s father fell ill. His mother had never liked Katie. When Chad went to visit his parents in the hospital, it became clear that if he was to inherit the family business and the wealth his father had amassed, he would have to marry a girl both his parents approved of.
Two weeks shy of their second anniversary together, Chad had taken her to the lake, where they had gone on their first date. Besotted with him, Katie was sure he would propose. Instead, he broke up with her. An awkward car ride later, he dropped her off at her flat and she never saw him again. He had chosen the family business and his parents’ money instead of her.
Brokenhearted, Katie couldn’t function. She dropped out of the master’s program, moved to an apartment that didn’t seem to have memories of Chad in the very plaster and carpet, and had gotten the job at the café.
“It’s been three years, Katie,” said her mother softly. “It’s time to move on.”
Katie realized she was clenching her teeth and relaxed her jaw. “I have moved on,” she said, and the words sounded pathetic even in her own ears.
“Good, then you’re ready for a real job,” said her mother lightly. “I’ll tell your father you’ve accepted the position.”
“No! I don’t want—”
“Well what do you want?” her mother snapped, all semblance of patience gone. “You’ve done absolutely nothing for three whole years. You won’t get them back, Katherine. Add that wasted year in the master’s program and you’re four years down the hole! You have got to get on with your life! I know you really loved Chad, but he’s not worth ruining your life over.”
“This isn’t about Chad, Mother,” she said, her tongue fumbling over his name as her hands fumbled with the keys to her apartment.
“What is it about then? You’re so smart, Katie. You’re pretty and you have a few years of youth left. You can still make a good life for yourself.”
“I know, Mom.”
“What shall I tell your father about the job offer?”
“Nothing. I’ll write him myself.”
“Well you’d better get on it. They’re waiting to hear from you before they look for someone else to fill the position.”
“It’s a very good opportunity, Katherine.”
“You could meet someone.”
“Do you need anything, honey? Are you feeling all right?”
“Yes,” said Katie, kicking off her shoes. “I just got home so I’m going to let you go, okay?”
“I just want the best for you, Katie,” said her mother earnestly. “You know that, don’t you?”
“I know,” said Katie quietly. “Thanks, Mom.”
“I’ll talk to you later, dear.”
Katie hung up and tossed the phone lightly on her bed, collapsing next to it on a pile of dirty laundry. Her mother was right—things were never going to improve until she improved them herself. But are things really so bad? I like my little flat. I like walking to and from work. Sure, it would be nice to make more money at a job more fulfilling. It would be great to meet someone. Her thoughts trailed off. Was she so used to being unhappy that she had stopped trying for anything else?
“What am I doing?” she asked aloud.
Slowly, she sat up. Her mother was right about one thing: she did need to answer her father so the candidate search could continue one way or another. Katie changed into yesterday’s sweats and t-shirt, pulled on a fresh pair of socks, and padded to the living room. She considered the laptop from across the room, and then retreated to the kitchen, stepping over the pizza box from last night’s dinner.
Pointedly ignoring the stacks of unwashed dishes in the sink and lining the counter, she microwaved leftover Chinese food and poured herself a glass of wine from a fresh bottle. Red goes with everything, right? She thought as she carried it with her plate into the living room. She eyed the laptop, decided she couldn’t very well type while eating, and turned on the television. When the program ended, the food was eaten, and the wine was drunk, Katie ran out of excuses. She switched off the television and pulled the laptop over. She selected the email and began to type:
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you about the job offer. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.
While I recognize that this would a great opportunity for me, I’ve ultimately decided not to apply. Thanks for thinking of me when this came across your desk. It means a lot.
She took a breath and clicked send. She rose from the couch and walked her dishes to the kitchen. Adding her plate to the mess in the sink, she poured herself a second glass of wine. She raised it to no one and said, “To ruining your life!” Katie toasted her glass against an imaginary one and took a long drink.
She walked back to the couch just as her laptop alerted her to a new email. Her father had already written her back. Heart sinking, Katie clicked to open the thread. Her father had sent her one word: “Disappointed.”
The bell tinkled as the café door swung open. Katie turned, a greeting on her lips, and froze. Chad, his arm around a skinny blonde, was entering the coffee shop. The woman he was with was smiling in a self-satisfied way and Chad was laughing, his eyes on the woman’s flawless red lipstick.
Katie bolted. Nausea rose in her stomach and she began to tremble. She inched toward the door and peered out. Chad and the woman were now at the register, speaking with Charlotte, who cast a glance toward the kitchen even as Katie watched.
Chad looked, well, good. He wore a dark blue suit that made his eyes seem luminous. His golden hair was combed back and had a trimmed and well-tended look about it. A watch face flashed from his wrist. The woman with him pressed her body into his side, claiming him. Her hair was long and textured from a recent blowout. She wore a tight pencil skirt and a loose, faintly see-through button up blouse. Fat pearls hung around her neck and dangled from her ears. Her manicured hands clutched a designer purse, and though Katie couldn’t see her feet, she was certain the woman was wearing heels.
Katie watched as Chad evidently made a joke. The woman playfully swatted him with her left hand. Katie stopped breathing. A diamond ring shone on the woman’s finger.
Leaning against the counter, Katie slid to the floor. She took in her scuffed non-slip shoes, faded jeans, rumpled black button-up, and stained apron. She hadn’t even bothered to shower this morning, much less put on makeup. She couldn’t go out there. She couldn’t face Chad, not like this.
It had been a week since she had turned down her father’s job offer. She had not heard from either parent. The magnitude of everything she had lost—her love, her future with Chad—hit her all over again and she began to cry. She pulled her legs up under her chin and sobbed, trying desperately to keep quiet so Chad wouldn’t hear her.
The fact that it had been three years did little quell her panic. Time passing hadn’t dulled the ache of being betrayed by someone she had trusted so completely.
The door to the front opened. “Katie, where did you…” Charlotte broke off, seeing her coworker in a heap on the floor. “Oh my god, Katie, what’s wrong?” She knelt beside her friend.
Katie took a shuddering breath and lifted her head. She managed a hoarse whisper, “It’s Chad.”
“What, that guy?” said Charlotte, turning her head automatically though the view of the front was blocked by the door.
Katie nodded miserably.
“Oh. Wow,” said Charlotte, evidently impressed with Katie’s ex-boyfriend. She shook her head slightly, as if getting rid of a fly.
“I’m so stupid,” Katie gasped between sobs.
“No, no you’re not,” cooed Charlotte soothingly, rubbing Katie’s shoulder. “Anyone would be surprised by their ex showing up.”
“He’s engaged,” she choked, “and I’m here, handing people coffee.”
“Well, I’m engaged and work here handing people coffee,” Charlotte answered reasonably.
Katie shook her head. “I shouldn’t be here,” she whispered. “My mom was right, I am ruining my life.”
“What? Since when do you listen to your mother? Look, I’ll make you one of those teas you like and you take a minute back here and collect yourself. You don’t have to come out until he’s gone.”
Katie nodded as Charlotte left her alone in the kitchen. She took a deep breath and wiped her face with both hands. I have got to get it together. She rose and splashed cold water on her face from the sink in the kitchen.
Charlotte returned with piping hot tea in a mug. “Here you go,” she said sympathetically. “And he’s gone, by the way. It’s safe to come back to the front when you’re ready.”
“Thanks,” said Katie. She forced herself to continue taking deep, calming breaths. She wondered if she’d made a terrible mistake in turning down her father’s job offer. I can’t keep working here. What if Chad comes back? What if this becomes his new favorite place to get coffee? I can’t see him like this. I can’t live knowing… She stopped. Knowing what? Knowing that he was engaged? Knowing that she should have amounted to more?
She sipped her tea pensively. It wasn’t too late. Her mother had said it: she could still make something of her life. Katie nodded to herself and quietly made up her mind. It was time. Past time, really. She needed to make a change. She would call her father after work and ask him if the job was still available.
Tea finished, she set the mug in the sink, took one more deep breath, and returned to the front of the store.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Charlotte asked her as Katie pulled her apron off and added it to the dirty pile. “You seemed pretty upset earlier. I’ve never seen you like that.”
“Yeah, I’m all right. I’ve just been going through some…” she paused, trying to work out exactly what she had been going through, “…personal stuff,” she finished.
Charlotte nodded in understanding though she looked unconvinced. “Well, you know where to find me if you want to talk.”
“Thanks, Charlotte. And thank you for the tea earlier. That really helped.”
“Anytime,” said Charlotte. She offered Katie a smile and went out the back where Katie knew Charlotte’s fiancé was waiting for her.
Katie switched her phone off silent and opened the door to the street. No missed calls, no text messages—no surprise. Katie shrugged to herself. She really ought to have more friends. Slipping the phone back in her pocket, Katie continued her walk home. She felt nervous for some reason, and wondered if it was just her resolve to call her father about the job opening.
Deciding that if she was going to do it, she had better call him soon, Katie took her phone out of her pocket. She paused at a crosswalk, looking both ways. A car was coming, but Katie had the right-of-way. She made eye contact with the nearing driver and stepped onto the asphalt.
Pain erupted suddenly in Katie’s torso. Her vision swam and dimmed while the pain grew fiercer. Hundreds of sharp hooks seemed to be shredding her arms and legs. Unimaginable pressure contracted her ribcage. A series of loud cracks ensured her that every bone in her body was breaking at once. Her breathing was labored, first fast, then slowing.
* * *
Then, as abruptly as it began, the pain stopped. Katie waited, her eyes squeezed shut. It was quiet all around her. She was in the hospital. Yes, she must be. She listened for the beeping and slurring of machines. She braced herself for bright lights and tubes.
When she opened her eyes, she saw she was lying on a polished wood floor in a draughty, dimly lit room with stone walls. She was surrounded by broken glass and a powder that looked like paprika but she couldn’t find the smell. Instead, the odor of gunpowder hung in the hazy air.
Through the windows to her right, she could see countless bright stars and a sliver of a moon. A fire roared in the fireplace directly in front of her. Long tables lined the room on both sides of her, and even from the floor she could see that they were cluttered with bowls, scales, sparkling gems, various bits of metal in shaved curls and whole bars, vials of and spills from powders and foul-smelling liquids, and tools—crude pliers, rough wooden spoons, and tongs.
She startled when she realized that a man was standing in the middle of the room, his face blank with shock. He was tall, taller than Katie, with dark hair shot through with red and orange from the firelight. He had heavy brows, a thin moustache, and a slight beard. His mouth hung open in a perfect O. His left hand rested on a heavy-looking book with thick pages, his right hand limp at his side, a slice in the flesh, lazily dripping blood.
Strangest of all was how the man was dressed. He wore a period costume that Katie associated with the Middle Ages. Crisp white ruffles stood up around his neck, spilling over onto his chest in the front. More ruffles, decidedly less crisp and certainly less white, poked out from his sleeves and hung around his hands. Katie saw the same paprika-colored powder spattered on his white ruffled wrists. A dark blue and forest green doublet wrapped snugly around his thin body and Katie noticed with wonder that the sleeves, though the same pattern as the doublet, were sewn on separately and could be removed independently. Mustard yellow hose covered his legs beneath poofy-looking breeches that matched exactly his doublet and sleeves. He wore a thick leather belt with a dagger tucked over his left hip and a pouch hanging above his right. His shoes—tall boots—were perfectly molded to his feet.
They gawked at each other, both trembling and silent. The fired snapped, sparks tumbling through the air, and Katie jumped again. She blinked, hard, trying to reconcile what she was looking at. Seconds ago she had been crossing the street, mere blocks from home. How had she gotten here?
“Who are you?” she blurted, hearing the fear in her own voice.
The man blinked rapidly, looking from the book to Katie and back. “I don’t understand,” he said in toneless shock.
“Who are you?” she repeated, louder.
The man shook his head resolutely. “This can’t be possible. I had everything exactly right.” He leafed through the pages of the book, his eyes flicking from the text to the items spread out on the table before him.
“Who are you?” Katie shouted, her heart pounding with fear.
The man turned suddenly, his face darkening. “Don’t you dare speak to me that way,” he spat.
“How did I get here?” Katie asked. “What’s going on?
The man stared at her wordless for a moment longer before turning back to his book, muttering to himself. Katie realized she was still holding her phone. She pressed the home button, intending to call 911, but her phone stubbornly declared ‘no service’. How odd.
She began to feel light-headed. She must have been kidnapped. There was no other explanation. But then, how did she end up here, her phone still in her hand? She moved her head experimentally. She didn’t feel as though she had been drugged. Where had all the glass come from?
Katie’s breathing began to quicken with oncoming panic. She could not make sense of it. “Where am I?” Her voice was too loud and did not sound like her own.
“Stop speaking,” the man said without lifting his eyes from the pages of the book.
“I’m warning you, people will be looking for me,” said Katie as threateningly as she could with a shaking voice. “My coworkers see me every day and they’ll be worried if I don’t show up. And my parents, too,” she added lamely.
“Coworkers?” the man repeated vaguely.
“Yes, they’ll be looking for me.”
The man raised his head. “What are coworkers?”
Katie stared at him, unsure if he was being weirdly sarcastic or if he somehow didn’t know what coworkers were. “The people I work with,” she said slowly.
“Your maids?” the man asked doubtfully. His eyes traveled the length of her body, from face to feet and back again.
It suddenly occurred to Katie that he might be playing along to fit with his costume. She had finally lost her mind and had wandered onto the set of some movie or a living museum and this man was just doing his job as an actor. She pushed herself up off the ground and wheeled around to check for cameras behind her, but was met only with more stone walls and a shelf full of more strange items.
Katie stood and dashed to the door, ignoring the man’s shout, and wrenched it open. There was no film crew waiting in the hallway, nor did she see any of the usual signage that would indicate that she was in a museum.
“What are you doing?” the man yelled angrily, pulling Katie roughly backwards and shutting the door forcefully. “You are not to leave this room!”
“What do you want with me?” Katie cried. “I don’t have any money!”
The man shook his head, confused. “I don’t—you aren’t supposed to be here.”
“Help me get out, then! I want to go home!” She checked her phone again but there was still no service.
The man leapt backwards as if he had been burned. “What is that?” he asked urgently, pointing at her phone.
“It’s a phone,” she said obviously. She wished this man would quit the charade and help her get out.
“A phone?” he repeated uncertainly.
“Yes, for calling people,” she said impatiently. “Quit the crap. I know you’re just an actor. I don’t know how I got in here. How do I get out?”
Forgetting his apparent fear of the phone, the man bristled and drew himself up to his full height. “I am not an actor!” he declared indignantly.
Katie rolled her eyes. “Of course not. A historian then. Whatever. Just help me get out of here. I’m not feeling well.” It was true. Her skin was covered in a cold sweat, her stomach clenched in knots, and her head was pounding. What was happening to her?
“You can’t leave,” he said clearly.
“What do you mean?” Katie’s heart was beating so wildly she was sure her pulse was visible beneath her skin.
“You can’t go anywhere. I have to figure this out.” He began to walk away and then turned to see Katie still standing beside the door. “Get away from there,” he said sharply.
Katie didn’t think. She yanked open the door and ran.