Eternity knows no boundries
The entire Prey Saga in one volume
Master and Commander's Prey
There is only one law in his world...his.
Shiloh Montgomery-Moore is the queen of hiding in the shadows. This penchant is an avoidance dance meant to stave off her father's fists and her mother's barbs. Hot tempered, distrusting, Shiloh is determined to forge her own path in the world. Little does she know, that the path leads her to the strange anomaly know as The Veil. Whisked back in time, she finds out danger lurks everywhere and nothing can save her from a bleak future except a man of war, a master and commander.
Captain of the H.M.S. Predator, Jacob Christopher Wolfson, has his official orderscapture the French war vessel, The Bordeaux. It isn't in his strategy to be chained to a 'supposed' time traveler. Immediately attracted to the mystery woman found aboard his ship, Jacob has but one chance to save his sanity and his mission; he'll take Shiloh Montgomery-Moore to his bed or wherever the opportunity presents itself.
Robinson Crusoe never faced anything like this.
Forced by vile accusations to flee England for her family's sugar plantation in Jamaica, Lady Catherine Wolfson expects a smooth trip until her life is threatened by an Atlantic gale. Saved from drowning in the storm tossed seas by Zibgniew Krushenski, a man from the future, her eyes are opened to the world of basic survival and the deep, driving riptide of intimacy.
The Hunted's Prey
To escape a hellish future, they'll have to visit the past.
Nicole wanted a nice quiet vacation. What she got instead was a ghost hunting excursion across the British Isles. Her sister proclaims, she needs a little excitement in her life. The Veil has decided she needs a lot more than mere excitement.
Kit Krushenski, trapped by his cousin Jarrod inside the folds of time for over 150 years, has finally found the woman who can release him from the Veil. The only problem is he's arrived in a time before his birth.
Why the Veil has sent them there is a huge unknown. What they discover is even more dangerous to Kit's family.
Time is a predator, beware you are its prey
Three generations of the Wolfson family will meet the enigma better known as The Veil. Controlled by an ancient goddess, Eternity, the mantra of The Veil is easy: adapt or die.
Her ultimate purpose is to send the traveler back in time to find true love. For three Wolfsons, it will be more of a trial by fire.
Master and Commander’s Prey
The Caribbean Trilogy
Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.
Be sure all your chicks are in one basket and all your eggs are in a row.
Downtown Washington, D.C., present day.
Shiloh Montgomery-Moore was just picking up her purse from where she’d stashed it in the bottom drawer of her desk when the phone started ringing. She checked the caller ID in a state of frustration. The LED didn’t help her any. Unknown.
Great. It was probably some salesman.
What part of the office closes promptly at six do you not understand?
Her gaze skittered to the clock situated in the corner and beneath the broad shelf of her area then to the wildly chaotic contemporary painting hanging across the room from her position. “Three minutes,” she said on an angry sigh. Three short clicks of the clock before she could leave. Snatching the phone from the cradle, she drew in a deep breath before answering. “Miles, Layton and Thornberg, how may I direct your call?”
She ought to have said, ‘can I take a message’, since there were only a few employees left in the office. Her gaze drifted over the heavy, mahogany chairs in the reception area to the small expanse of hardwood flooring not covered by the Oriental carpet.
“Shiloh, it’s Mom,” the sad voice of Mabel Montgomery-Moore sounded through the ear-piece. “Junior is in trouble.”
“What now?” Rolling her eyes, Shiloh inched closer to the end of her station. She didn’t stop until the cord wouldn’t reach further without pulling the phone off the counter.
“The bitch has filed for child support.”
“Tell him to take the paternity test.”
On that ‘makes sense to me’ response, Mabel attacked. “You’re trying to get him in more trouble, aren’t you, Shiloh? You were always jealous of your brother. I don’t know why you do this. Why can’t you love your brother? Why can’t you love me? We’re sitting here trying to do the right thing by Junior while you stir up trouble.” Mabel whispered the ending, ‘jealous brat’, just loud enough for Shiloh to hear.
Yeah, I’m jealous of the twenty-seven-year-old guy living in my parents’ basement and whose biggest aspiration in life is getting transferred to the day shift at the 24-7 minimart. Rather than engage her mother in the same lop-sided debate they’d had over and over again, Shiloh shook her head. “Mom, this isn’t getting us anywhere.”
“Shiloh, you need to help him.”
And what exactly would you like me to do? “There isn’t much I can do until paternity is determined.” Toying with the loose button on her second-hand blazer, she shook her head.
“You can do something. This is your brother we’re talking about, not some down-on-his-luck son-of-a-bitch who is about to get the needle.”
Leave it to her mom to bring up her volunteer work with Project Amnesty. At least that work had some real weight. It wasn’t like those people sitting on death row, guilty or innocent, got a second chance of life after they were executed.
Still, Shiloh knew this argument was like spitting in the wind. Until everybody stopped talking and started to listen nothing would get accomplished. “Mom, make him take the paternity test, then we’ll go from there.” Rejecting the urge to slam the phone down, thoroughly sick of saying the same thing over and over again, Shiloh listened to her mother breathe, take a drawn-out drag from her cigarette and then blow out what she knew was a stinky plume of smoke.
God, why couldn’t they just shut up and listen for a change, Shiloh wondered, waiting for her mother to continue. Three huge breaths and releases later, she rolled her eyes when Mabel started to gag. Nothing like being bent on self-destruction, was there? Rather than remind her mother of her doctor’s advice she give up the cancer sticks, Shiloh took the high road. “Mom, are you okay? Do you need me to call 9-1-1?”
A hacking, choking cough was her answer.
Tapping her fingers on the countertop, Shiloh snuck a peek at the clock. Five minutes after six. She was going to miss her bus if she didn’t get a move on. What to do? What to do? Finally hearing the cough subside, Shiloh quelled the urge to take a deep lungful of air for the woman suffering Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
“I’m... okay. Let me just get a... drink of... water.”
“Look, I have to go to study group. I’ll call you tonight after I get home.” No, Shiloh knew she wouldn’t. If she was lucky, she wouldn’t spend her whole night but only half of it researching the impact of the Magna Carta on modern day law. She heaved a frustrated sigh remembering the professor everyone from faculty to students called Ha Ha Hensley delivered the assignment to his undergraduate class.
In reality, Ha Ha was the prof from hell. The weeder who separated the men from the pussy whipped wimps who really didn’t want to take on law school.
With her heart pounding in her chest, Shiloh knew she had to pass this course and that grade now hinged on a research paper which ought to be deemed a guided tour of Purgatory.
Oh why couldn’t she have picked the Nuremberg War Crimes trial out of the bucket Hensley used to pair his students for projects? That question was right up there on her list with how did she end up with the arrogant ass, Tim Cummings, as a study partner.
The self-assured jack ass was on a full ride and didn’t give a damn about how he did in his course studies. He firmly believed his daddy’s wealth would buy him a degree, then get him a job in the same law firm his great grandfather had founded. After which, he’d probably marry some ditz who had the intelligence of cotton candy yet whom he could dangle off his arm at charity auctions and Republican fund raisers.
God, she rubbed her forehead with her hand. Why me?
Unfortunately, she really didn’t give a flying flip about King John and the document he signed in 1216. What did it matter? The long-dead monarch only ignored the writ and went about creating merry mayhem until he died in 1217.
Fuck, she was a law student, not some Joe Schmoe trying to get himself out of a parking ticket. What good were laws nobody paid attention to? What good did it do for her to study the charter?
If he could get away with laughing in the face of his barons, like her father and brother had done to the police with their antics, why couldn’t she?
Because, nitwit, you don’t have a choice.
“O...o...kay,” Mabel gasped for air, still fighting off what Shiloh said was the next closest thing to asthma. “I...I won’t be up after ten.” A long pause dragged out between them. Only the sound of Mabel gulping down air broke the tension between them. It was akin to the cat-dancing-on-a-high-voltage-line anxiety that had grown since Shiloh moved out almost four years ago. “Daddy might.”
Of course her dear father would be awake. The man didn’t understand that to keep your job you had to get up in the morning. He’d probably be parked in his favorite duct-tape repaired recliner watching video tapes of pro-wrestling and drinking himself into oblivion. Rather than tempt her father’s anger, Shiloh took the easy way out with a quick clarification. “If I don’t talk to you tonight, I’ll get with you this weekend. Promise.” The lie slid easily from Shiloh’s lips.
“You take...care,” Mabel muttered. “Give me a call. I need you to handle this.”
Shiloh held her breath until her mother hung up. Mopping her face with her hand, she heaved an angry sigh. It was like talking to a wall.
She turned to gathering her purse and briefcase, ready to make the mad dash for her bus. Two minutes to make the corner Metrobus stop. Argh.
“This could have been fixed a year ago with the simple addition of a condom,” she whispered under her breath, her fury still in place. Hell, this whole problem could have been fixed twenty-seven-years ago by Jonathan and Mabel never having children.
Not that she regretted her life, just the chaos her family created. Neither would she wish her nephew had never been born, she didn’t.
She loved Daniel. He was so sweet—pure. He was like her—an innocent soul literally dropped into the middle of hell on earth.
About to pick up her purse, she checked her hand in mid-move. Shiloh’s step faltered when a bang sounded behind her. “Mr. Layton?” she called, wondering if one of her bosses was still in the office. As was his control-freak, suspicious penchant, she didn’t doubt he’d stayed late, probably to make sure she hadn’t stolen a pen or something equally ridiculous.
The man drove her nuts, but she figured his eccentricity had to do with his advanced age. In his early seventies, Mr. Layton handled the firm’s low risk cases. He also couldn’t drive anymore because of his failing eyesight. He had a car service on retainer, and he called them at all hours of the day or night.
Thinking back over her day, Shiloh nibbled on her lower lip. She knew he hadn’t left with Mr. Miles, who’d been in court all afternoon. There was no way in hell that the last senior partner, Mr. Thornberg, would offer Mr. Layton a cup of coffee let alone an offer to walk him to his ‘rent a taxi’.
The two were like fire and gasoline. You couldn’t put them in the same room without an errant comment igniting a verbal inferno. Her ears still rang from their last shouting match.
A ripe sigh broke from her throat. She ought to check on him just for her peace of mind. “Mr. Layton? Is that you?”
Imagining him caught in the throes of a geriatric seizure, she moved down the hall to his office door, forgetting all about needing to make her bus. Bangs. Thuds. She swore she even heard glass crash. With every step her concern grew until it leveled off on terrified.
Frantic, heart pounding, she shifted her gaze across the short expanse of hardwood flooring to her station at the receptionist’s desk. Should she call for an ambulance? Should she call the police?
The company handbook didn’t cover sounds of destruction happening after closing hours.
Gingerly, she reached for the rattling doorknob. “Mr. Layton, are you hurt?”
Shiloh snatched her hand back. Stop waffling, Shiloh, she ordered herself.
Without further hesitation, she flicked the door open with the twist of her wrist.
Good God. She felt her eyes widen, terrorized by the sight of hundreds of books and files swirling in the air. She took a step back when their pages fluttering viciously as they rode the cyclonic wind that had grabbed them up.
She couldn’t move.
Fear paralyzed her.
A scream built in her throat.
A long, loud shriek of absolute terror shouted when Mr. Layton’s abridged dictionary lifted off his desk to aim straight for her head. She didn’t have time to duck, or even think.
Shiloh couldn’t name the next sensation, but whatever the prickling tingle was, she swore it was sucking her down through the floor. Her fingers dug into the door jamb with all her might.
Lost, she thought. She felt lost forever. Lost for all time.
* * * * *
H.M.S. Predator, patrolling the Southern Caribbean Ocean - Spring 1806
“Gorblimey, Cap’n, come see’s what I has found.”
“What is it, Mr. Tomlinson?” Captain Jacob Wolfson of the H.M.S. Predator asked from his spot at the waist of the ship. With his legs braced wide, he absorbed the dips and pitches with the skill of a man who’d spent more of his life aboard a ship than off it.
Six months, he mused, searching the distant horizon for any sign of trouble, six arduous months in the South Caribbean Sea was taking its toll on him. Not only him but also his crew. The fine sailors were at their wits end. Such was the life of the men of His Majesty’s Navy.
His new orders sounded rather blasé as well.
He and his crew of four hundred were to continue their patrols of the area, hunt down pirates and French privateers, specifically capture the French frigate, The Bordeaux.
That he hadn’t seen a pirate or privateer in eight weeks made this a fool’s errand.
“I think it be a dead man, Cap’n. I surely do. I surely do. Near on fell over him as I was making me rounds with the brush and bucket.”
Jacob’s gaze lingered on the horizon before he finally turned to stare at Tomlinson. For an old salt, and Tomlinson was that, he had the keenest eyes this side of the ocean second only to his captain’s eagle clear vision. “Men die onboard a ship, Mr. Tomlinson.”
“I ain’t never seen this lad afore, Cap’n.”
Tomlinson’s statement got a hint of a reaction from Jacob. The perpetual frown creasing his forehead shifted to a scowl. “Stowaway or pressed into service?”
“Don’t know,” Tomlinson muttered. “Could have been hiding down in the bowels since we left Port Royal, but I don’t think so.” He snatched his woolen cap from his head. He pointed the knit hat toward a coil of rope near the mizzenmast. “Don’t know how the watch missed him, but there he be.”
Jacob strode forward. He wove his way around a few of his men who had chosen to sleep on deck last night to view what had Tomlinson wringing his cap into a knot. “I see.”
The hell he did.
His gaze stroked over the young lad curled up in a ball in the center of the coil of rope. If they weren’t in enemy waters, even calm ones such as they were at the moment, he’d have had a good laugh at the boy’s expense. He was sleeping in the most insane position with his head tucked further into the body of the coil, which wrenched his neck at an obscene angle. His legs stuck out like a representation from the London Times where fishermen caught mermaids.
His first instinct was to laugh aloud. And, harmless jesting often improved the men’s morale, hearing their captain at ease did as well.
Unfortunately for the lad, stowaways were serious business. Gritting his teeth, he imagined insurgents making their way to the gun stores with the intent to blow the Predator to kingdom come. “Wake him.”
“Cap’n? Ain’t meaning no disrespect, but if’n he’s dead, I wouldn’t want to be bringin’ bad luck down on us all.”
Damn the superstitions of the crew straight to hell. What did Tomlinson want him to do if the boy was dead? Leave the corpse on the deck to rot? “Tomlinson, he’s not dead. If anything, he is able to sleep through a major gun battle. He’s not the first of his breed we’ve had aboard.”
“Aye, especially if they’d been pressed or regretted the decision to join. Och, I remember the ‘ead ache I awoke with when I found meself on the Surprise. Know’n I’d had too much ale was bad enough, but the worse of it was finding meself out in the Atlantic while dealing with the pain.” Tomlinson flashed a rotted-tooth smile at his captain before he turned to fulfill his orders. “Alrighty, laddie, time for you to be up and about.”
Jacob watched Tomlinson jostle the lad’s shoulder with his filthy hand. Slowly, the unknown’s lashes fluttered up to reveal a lush pair of bright blue eyes. He didn’t bother to consider who this might be. Hell no. He had to protect the Predator and his crew. “What is your business aboard my ship?” he asked in a tone comparable to steel clashing against steel.
Propping his fists on his hips he waited for a reply. “I’ve no time to tarry, boy. You will tell me how you found yourself on my ship.” He swallowed the gasp rising in his throat when his new crewman struggled to rise in the coil. The simple movement exposed a wisp of bosom. He gritted his teeth when the odd shirt she wore gaped to expose more of her creamy flesh above her odd fashioned camisole. He felt his manhood harden before he doused the sudden spurt of lust assaulting him.
Jacob considered not only what he’d seen but his crew’s reaction to knowing they had a woman on board.
And he had thought the superstitious nonsense was high in the men’s minds before with the proclamations they had to have a Jonas in their midst. He had rejected their blabbering statements about having a harbinger of foul luck somewhere on the three-mast Man of War with cautious shakes of his head. He believed a bit in bad luck, but not enough to set course for port which was his underling’s cumulative opinion.
The crew merely grumbled about his uncompassionate nature, but he knew they still worried they were hexed. Jacob quickly added to the scenario playing out in his mind’s eye the men’s forced celibacy. Hell and damnation, this woman was going to tilt the Predator on its keel if they found out she was amongst them.
Not if, but when.
“Cap’n,” Tomlinson started, his mouth gaping. A shake of Jacob’s head stopped the able-bodied seaman before he announced the discovery to the whole ship.
“Bring him to the Great Cabin, Mr. Tomlinson.”
Jacob turned on the heel of his boot and headed for his the room he used for strategy sessions and political meetings alike. What in God’s name was he going to do with her?
The Storm’s Prey
The Caribbean Trilogy
Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.
Hold onto your knickers, this is going to be a wild ride.
The Caribbean Ocean, September 1825
Lady Catherine Wolfson glared at her maid cowering in the corner. “Cease your nonsense, Maude. We've no need to worry over a bit of wind.” No sooner had the words left her mouth than she was pitched off the bed and nearly went head first into the cabin door. Catching herself on the edge of the writing desk, grateful all the furniture was secured to the floor, she struggled to hoist herself into the companion chair.
Desperate to keep her cool façade in place, Catherine tilted her head to the side while her hands fisted around the leather upholstered arms in a death grip.
“Oh, milady, we're going to die.” The tiny woman burst into hysterics. “We're going to die and no one will ever find our bodies.”
“Hush,” Catherine shouted. Immediately contrite for snapping, she didn't have the words to soothe the young woman. Spit, she couldn't manage to get control of her own teeming emotions. “Just be still, Maude. I promise we'll be fine.”
Her promise sounded pathetic to her own ears. All either of them could do was pray the ship survived the gale rocking them to and fro. Pray, and hope for clear weather the rest of their journey.
What had her father said when she'd departed? Something about keeping a weather eye to the horizon. She'd taken his words to heart at first. Soon she realized his good advice was for naught. Her insidious mood made her difficult most of the time, and turned her into an absolute shrew the rest.
Granted, her attitude wasn't the best when she'd boarded the Lancastershire. She turned even more testy when Maude started with her incessant squawking.
Ever since they'd left London five weeks ago, all she had heard was Maude's fears. The poor woman fervently expected pirates to appear at any moment, swore that half the crew held ill-intentions toward them and the rest worried they were harbingers of death. Catherine's answer was simple—the crew was worse than old hens gossiping while they took tea.
Superstitious nitwits, the lot of them.
“A bit of wind, milady? 'Tis God punishing us for speaking poorly of your betrothed. I vow when we reach Jamaica, I will never leave dry land again.”
Catherine shook her head in dismay. Praying for the wind to die down so she didn't have to shout every word, she took a moment to collect herself when the storm continued to brew. Patience is a virtue and a lost cause, she decided when the ship again pitched hard to port. Wishing she had a glass of wine to steady her nerves, her stomach heaved at the thought of downing anything. “Mister Crawford is not my betrothed.” Though the scandal he'd brought down on her had placed her in a compromising position. 'Twasn't as if she'd planned for him to trap her in the alcove at the Whittington's Ball.
His kiss was disgusting. How he touched her crude, nauseating.
Catherine felt her cheeks flame with a renewed blush of embarrassment. Thinking the incident would seal him a fat prize – her, he was dumbfounded when she turned up her nose and strolled off as if 'twas an everyday occurrence in her sheltered world. Little did he know she was quaking inside with fear and repulsion.
Once she'd joined her tiny clutch of friends, she'd hoped he'd leave her alone. Only in her dreams would such a miracle happen. He'd requested dance after dance. With no option but to accept, she accommodated him. By the time she exited the floor for a drop of punch, her feet ached from his clumsy attempt at the waltz. Finally, she pleaded a headache just to get him to let off.
He'd appeared the next morning at her home, demanding to see her father and producing what he called 'damning' evidence of their non-existent affair. With a flair she didn't appreciate, he'd produced a handkerchief much like the one she'd carried the night before with a small smear of red liquid on it. The memory of her father's anger left a foul taste in her mouth.
Catherine heaved a sigh as the memory fell away. “I would sooner spit on Mr. Crawford's grave than be his bride.”
Her father, Jacob Christopher Wolfson, would be damned to the veritable pits of hell before he'd allow his daughter to marry a man such as Crawford. He considered the shipping magnate on the same level as a pirate. The former master and commander ought to have known one on sight too, having served in His Majesty's Navy for a great many years.
Worse than her father's reaction was her mother's. Notorious for her forthrightness, Shiloh Wolfson didn't apply herself to the common attitude of the haute ton which was 'women should be seen but not heard'. Nor did she appreciate vacuous orations from men who thought they knew more about life simply because they had researched said topic in a book or two.
Nay, her mama loathed Mr. Crawford and, to use one of her favorite phrases, made no bones about it. Crawford's demand for Catherine's hand in marriage was met with Shiloh's laughter first and her full broiling rage second.
Then again, her mother also thought it criminal that most of Catherine's friends were either married or planning lavish wedding ceremonies. Shiloh believed with all her heart Catherine should continue her education and plan for a career.
Her mother thought she should have a career!
Where her mother had come up with such an outlandish idea was beyond Catherine, but she also knew Shiloh only wanted what was best for her.
A sad, disparaged sigh escaped her lips and echoed in her ears. The teasing she'd taken for her mother's attitude was a whole other issue. Ostracized on the side of the matrons, snickered at by most of her peers, the only members of the ton who showed her any great interest were the young lords. Her title and the family's wealth enticed the fops to the point they fell over themselves to charm her.
Well, that was afore Mr. Crawford's pathetic attempt to secure her hand in marriage by besmirching her reputation. Catherine couldn't imagine, and was hard-pressed to come up with a likely scenario, where she'd ever be welcomed back into polite society this season or the next. For pity's sake, this stain was as indelible as India Ink and as lasting too. The thought of being on the shelf raised goosebumps on her arms.
'Struth, she'd been lucky on one hand, her parents didn't believe a word of Mr. Crawford's accusation. They weren't about to let their daughter become even more of a pariah either. Thus, to get her away from the scandal and give the elite time to calm, her parents decided to send her to her family plantation in Port Royal.
“Whoa,” Catherine cried as the ship rocked on a drastic dip to port. Fearing they'd be swamped, she started to pray as if her life depended on divine intervention, because it did.
“My goodness,” Mrs. Chisolm said. On unsteady legs, she tumbled into Catherine's cabin. “The captain was of no use. He wouldn't even come into the corridor to speak with me.” She finished her chastisement on a scream when the ship tilted on its side.
Above the roar of the ocean, Catherine felt the wave push the ship lower in the water. The Lancastershire's hull gave out a massive groan, the wood ribs moaning in what could only be called her final breath. By God. Please, please, please send us a savior.
Catherine bit her lip to keep herself from shrieking with terror. Holding on with all her might, the chair giving way from the bolts, she knew the ship wouldn't survive another wave. Heart beating out of her chest, she cringed as the bookcase doors broke open and the contents dumped down on them. Think, Catherine. What would Papa tell you to do? Simple, he'd say the last place you want to be on sinking ship is anywhere other than the deck. “We need to get out of this cabin.”
“My dear, wherever will we go?” Mrs. Chisolm squawked from her place, sprawled on the floor. Turning over, she adjusted her skirts around her. She appeared ready to faint.
Catherine breathed a sigh of relief when the ship slowly righted itself. “Any place is better than here. Maude, give me your hand. Mrs. Chisolm, take the other and no matter what, don't let go.” She drank in a deep, steeling breath. “We're going above boards.”
“Captain Marshall told us specifically to stay in our rooms.”
With every instinct on high, Catherine didn't bother to argue. Instead, she made her point with determination ringing in her tone. “Mrs. Chisolm, this ship is going down. You have your choice; we either take our chances with the sea or we drown by complying with the captain's orders.”
The ringing of the bell only punctuated their dire situation.
“What's that mean?” Maude wailed.
Catherine's eyes met Maude's and locked. Her heart surged up into her throat. “'Tis the call to abandon ship.”
Forcing her way into the throng of sailors making for the doors, Catherine pulled Maude and Mrs. Chisolm along by sheer force of will. She jumped over a fallen man, unable to stop as the crew pushed from behind. The men who worked in the bowels of the Ship of the Line were caught in the same struggle, only those poor souls had a longer journey to travel. “When we get out there, the coxswain and boatswain will be preparing to lower the captain's boat and the auxiliaries. I'm going to try to get us a spot on one of them.”
“Won't Captain Marshall hold a place for us?” Maude asked.
“I'm not certain. If the boats are not released from their tethers they will act as a sea anchor.”
“Catherine, I don't understand,” Mrs. Chisolm sounded far away. Unable to focus on anything except getting them out of there, she kept pulling on Maude's hand.
They neared the hatch, slogging through a good six inches of water. “The undertow of the ship will sink them as well.” Now, it was about a precious commodity called time. Panicked men shoved their way around the ladies until Catherine felt nearly crushed. “If we are flung into the sea, swim with the current. Don't try to make the boats. Do you understand me? Under no circumstance should you try to swim into the storm.”
“Milady, I'm afraid.”
Catherine wanted to take Maude into her arms but couldn't. Right now, she needed to get them out of the corridor. She elbowed a lout to get him away from her. The boat was rocking like a cradle and she understood the stark reality that this had become an instance of when it was every man for himself. “We'll be fine as long as we stay together.”
Finally she reached the short flight of stairs that would lead her into the raging storm. “Alright, here we go.”
“I've lost Mrs. Chisolm.”
'Twas too late to go back for the woman. Catherine jerked Maude in front of her, then shoved her up the stairs. She dared a peek behind her in time to see the water rising in the corridor. “Come along, Maude, we're leaving.”
“Milady, I can't swim.”
“No better time to learn,” Catherine stated. If she'd had the wherewithal, she would have tied them together back in the cabin. Now it was a race just to get out of the ship that was fast becoming a coffin.
Her feet hit the deck in the same instant the Lancastershire rolled. Pummeled by torrents of rain, she slid them across the deck until her feet hit the rail. Fear-stricken, she watched the next wave build over them. Hurriedly, she stood them on the rail and prepared to jump. The tower of water collapsed upon the deck with a mighty crash. Tossed into the wind-ripped water, Catherine wrapped her right arm around Maude's waist, planted her left hand over her terrified maid's mouth and kicked for the surface.
I refuse to die.
The silent chant became her battle cry against the raging sea.
* * * * *
The Bering Sea, present day.
Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer, Lieutenant Zbigniew Krushenski, gave a thumbs up to the crewman squatting near the open door to the Jayhawk helicopter. Sitting on the floor, he braced himself for the initial strike of the icy water. Out of habit, he took in the scene below, planning his strategy in a quick slash of his gaze.
What the hell? The entire scene was out of focus. It was almost as if someone had pulled a shroud of mist across the surface of the Bering Sea. In all his four years since graduating from A School, then taking his place with the Squad out of Kodiak he'd seen just about everything including freighters on fire, ships broken in two and smoke on the water but nothing like this.
If anything, the green hue and swirling fog reminded him of the sky before a twister came down. The old wives' tale was—the greener the sky the bigger the twister.
He waited for the pilot to call the mission to a halt, and wondered when he didn't. Something isn't right. He opened his mouth to shout a warning when a massive rogue wave crashed below the hovering helo.
“Biggie, are you okay?”
Through the dashing rain, Zbigniew could just make out chunks of debris, but the remnants didn't make sense. He vowed he saw a mast and sheeting floating on the frothing surf. In the midst of the destruction, a pair of survivors were torn apart. He'd have bet his last dollar they were women. Then his heart stopped when he didn't jump but was thrust off the floor. Correcting his fall so he didn't land flat, he felt his training kick in.
//Semper Paratus.// He heard someone—or something—call out the Coast Guard motto. //Always ready.//
Next thing he knew, he was plunged into the sea. The sploosh caused from displacing water coursed up and around him. Instincts on high, his legs moved his body toward the surface. Breaking the crest, he started to tread water. He stared up, his arm rising to give his thumbs up to the helo only to find it missing.
He sensed a shift in the sea and in himself. Tropical warmth sloshed around him and even the current barraged him, sending him in a different, and new, direction.
Get to the job. Willing the person to scream again, he turned in a half circle.
“Maude, where are you?”
Zbigniew trained his attention on the voice. In the back of his mind, he pondered the solemn question – had he died and this was his version of heaven? Forcing the pesky question away, he affixed the mouthpiece of his snorkel and swam toward the call.
A little less than fifty meters away, he found her. He spit his mouthpiece out to address her. “Are you hurt?” A stroke of lightning tore across the dark sky. It was followed by another and another. The strobe-like lighting gave him a view of the scene. Less than a few hundred meters away from his position lay the stern of a tall ship, flames licking up deck.
Holding onto hope the scene was a trick of the lightning, he repeated his question to the storm's victim. “Are you okay?”
“Ah,” she screamed. She jerked out of his arms.
He grabbed her hands when they came up to slap him. “I asked, are you hurt?” Keeping them up by swishing his legs, he enfolded her in his arms when the next wave swept the burning wreckage in the opposite direction. “Answer me.”
“I know not what form of sea monster you are, but know this, I will not die willingly.”
Even through his drenched face mask he could see she was playing a good game but was terrified. “Honey, I'm not going to hurt you unless you keep fighting me.”
Either she realized he meant what he said or exhaustion caught up with her. She calmed. “Are you human?”
“What else would I be?”
“I've never seen a man such as you.”
He noticed how her gaze searched for something in the water. A foreign emotion chugged hard in his chest when she faced him, tears in her eyes. “We better hunker down and find someplace safe to ride out the storm. The helo probably got recalled to Kodiak, but they'll be back once the weather clears,” he lied with conviction.
“Hunker down? My mother says that on occasion.”
An inkling of worry seeped through him. Her defined British accent gave him pause. The warmth of the water stunned him. I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.
Sure, he'd heard all the strange tales of the Bermuda Triangle and other places where planes, ships and people disappeared, but, to his knowledge, none of those anomalous regions were in the Bering Sea. “What boat were you on?” he demanded. “What was its call letters?”
“If you must know, I was aboard the Lancastershire.” She fell below the surface for a brief second to bob up in the next. “We set sail from London five weeks ago.” She stopped for a moment, then continued. Her lip trembled when she answered his last question. “I've never heard of call letters.”
Zbigniew watched her struggle for control. He also picked out details in her response. Set sail from London five weeks ago. Her statement rang in his head like the tolling of a church bell. The hell she had circumnavigated three quarters of the earth on a sailing ship in that short time.
She was obviously in shock. Empathetic, he watched the waves overturn a large, empty rowboat. Shaking his head, he found himself wondering if this was his heaven or his hell.
Taking stock in his fairly clean record with the Coast Guard and the fact that the last time he'd taken an inventory of his life he hadn't committed any grave sins before joining the military, he felt pretty sure he was planted in the safe category of going to heaven. On the other hand, who the hell wouldn't think of this as hell?
He cut off his thoughts within the flash of lightning. “We're going for that boat.” He pointed his finger to the white bottom bobbing on the torrential current. “After I find us someplace safe to ride out this hurricane, we'll talk more.”
“There was a small island off the port of the Lancastershire this morning. I do believe the storm will push us in its direction.” She bowed her head for a moment to screen her face from the rain slamming down on them only to have a wave sweep across her features.
Holding her up, giving her time to recover her breath, Zbigniew watched the storm brew. The swirling clouds had all the earmarks of an Atlantic hurricane.
“That is, if God and luck are on our side,” she responded a few minutes later.
Watching her teeth chatter with fear, he started swimming her toward their proverbial safe port. All he could do was hope the boat was whole and could survive the storm. With every stroke he took, he understood this was no different from any other rescue he'd been on. Hurricane, Atlantic or otherwise, they were pretty much screwed. It came down to keeping her centered and her mind on living.
Hoisting her up on the spine, he held her in place as he climbed up behind her. He covered her with his gortex-clad frame to keep her from turning hypothermic. “Honey, I'll take all the luck and prayers I can get right now,” he whispered in her ear.
The Haunted’s Prey
The Caribbean Trilogy
Archeology is the peeping Tom of the sciences. It is the sandbox of men who care not where they are going; they merely want to know where everyone else has been.
Beware and aware of things that go bump in the night.
“This is the stupidest thing you've ever gotten me into, Claudia.” Nicole Colbert wanted to throw something at her sister. Nearly tripping over a low to the ground headstone, she felt a fresh set of chills raise goosebumps on her arms. She pirouetted in a slow circle, trying without much success to get her bearings. “I'm going back to the hotel.”
Sure I am, as soon as I figure out which direction takes me to the car. They'd been walking for over an hour through the Wolfson family graveyard, had gotten turned around so many times it was disgusting and were now trying to track their way to the manor house situated on the hill. At least they could see the mansion despite the low light given off by the crescent moon.
“Stop it, Nicky. You said you wanted a little excitement in your life.” Claudia called back from her place a few rows ahead of her. “You don't think this is exciting?”
“No, I don't. This is a recipe for heart failure as well as stupid.” Nicole bit her lip to keep from shrieking in terror. Trying without much success to calm her raging heartbeat, she gritted her chattering teeth together.
To think, she'd proposed this trip as a break from the rat-race pace they both lived. Fly across the ocean, put them up in a five-star hotel and chill for a week. Together, they'd soak up the culture and visit museums. It made perfect sense to Nicole. Claudia threw a wrench into what sounded like a fabulous vacation, a dream respite from the craziness at home. Oh no, Claudia wanted to go ghost hunting. She'd found some wacky group while surfing the net which went on what the members called Legacy Trips.
The premise came across as a combination of a pitifully scripted reality show and a guided trip through hell.
Actually, the idea was off-the-hook crazy. They posted a list of places to visit, gave a bit of background on the legend, and then challenged a tourist to enter the haunt where they performed a ridiculous ceremony. At the end of the test, you were to report what you saw, felt and give proof by way of a digital photo that you performed the task.
Don't you get enough insanity at work?
Claudia was working as a junior trader for a major investment firm in New Jersey. Her days were rife with stress. Nicole understood that the anxiety of perhaps making a misstep with a client’s money was taking a toll on her baby sister especially since the market went down then jumped up, but in the stock market nothing was a guarantee.
Her own career wasn't much better. She worked days that felt like years on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. With the Dow Jones getting crazier, the markets reacting to the volatility, she knew she needed to take a breather before the pressure cooker she worked in gave her a major coronary. “Ouch,” she bit out between her clenched teeth when she banged her knee on a different slab of marble.
“You okay?” Claudia stilled.
“No, I'm not okay. This is ridiculous.” Not only was it ridiculous, but it was a sad fact they were lost. How the hell did you lose your way in a graveyard? It should be easy enough to find the main path and follow it out. The same packed earth trail they'd started their trek on. “I hate this. We’re lost.”
“We keep moving toward the manor house. From there we'll track our way down the drive to the main road once we fulfill the challenge. It's only a little way further.” Claudia pointed her flashlight at the dark outline of the house rising above them. The beam glinted off a window on the upper floor.
Half expecting to see a filmy figure staring back at them, Nicole blew out a stilted breath. The house was empty—she knew that much. After all, they’d waited for the caretaker to leave before they’d entered the cemetery. Seriously, she didn’t think a group of overenthusiastic cheerleaders could give Weston House what it desperately needed—life. She understood how she’d come to that conclusion, too. It was the way the darkened windows stood out against the backdrop of the brilliant white-washed exterior. In her opinion, Weston House was soulless. Another set of chills raked over her. “I know.”
“Then what's the problem?”
“I feel like we aren't alone.” As hard as it was for Nicole to admit her deep seated suspicions, she couldn't knock them either. The frigid air was one thing, the sensation of harsh glares being thrown at her from the shadows was a whole other problem. She couldn't get away from them or the suspicion they'd pissed off a gaggle of ghosts.
“All the better reason to get the hell out of Dodge. Right? According to our Legacy Trip challenge, all we need to do is find the Wolfson family crypt.”
Wanting to have anything to divert her attention from the fright encroaching on her, Nicole forced her feet to move over the fertile earth until she caught up with Claudia. She calmed a little with the knowledge she was next to a living, breathing person. “What is the story behind this place again?”
“The supposed haunting revolves around Christopher aka Kit Wolfson-Krushenski, the seventh Earl of Weston, who died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1861. The record says he might have been murdered, but a formal inquiry dredged up nothing definitive.” Claudia blew out a hard sigh. “The fear scale was based on when a new autopsy was requested by a distant relative. The examiner opened the crypt only to discover the Earl's body was missing.” Claudia paused. “The Legacy Trip says his corpse might be gone from his final resting place, but his spirit remains. He roams the cemetery looking for his body and is aggressive against those who desecrate this hallowed ground.”
Nicole digested the information. Desecrated? That's what they were doing. Walking through the maze of headstones with no regard for the dearly departed planted in the ground. They'd not cared who they stepped on or which headstone they cursed when they carelessly bumped against it. A flashing dash of a dark shadow to her left had her reaching for Claudia's jacket-clad arm. “What was the rating on this place again? Scared shitless?”
Claudia hesitated for a moment and a shiver entered her voice. “The Weston Family Graveyard was issued with a disclaimer, 'Enter at your own risk'.”
“Why the hell are we here?” Nicole's panic must have been contagious since her normally brash and brave sister started to shake.
“Let's get the picture and get out of here.”
The sound of footsteps rustling through the leaves took 'get the picture' out of the equation. She started to pull Claudia toward the Georgian-style mansion. “I say, screw the crypt and high-tail it for the manor.”
“You know what?” Claudia asked in a breathless whisper. “I agree.”
Before either of them knew what they were doing, they were racing around the graveyard, their gazes focused on Weston House. Skirting a mausoleum, they came face to face with a high, spear-tipped iron fence. “Fantastic,” Nicole bit out on a gasp. Her fingers curled around the cold metal, her eyes measuring the distance to the top. Leaning her forehead against the fence, she panted, her brain coming to the obvious conclusion. They couldn't climb the obstacle separating them from freedom.
No way. No how.
Claudia wasn't doing much better. Bent over, she'd leveled her hands on her knees and tried to catch her breath. “What do you think we should do?”
Through the rails, Nicole watched the tree limbs flow on the stiff breeze. Her heart ached to race from this place. Above them loomed Weston Manor like a specter rising from an unhallowed grave. There was only one way out. “We stick tight to the fence. It'll eventually lead us to the main gate.”
“That makes sense. Give me a minute to get my legs to stop shaking and we'll be on our way.”
“No problem.” Brushing a wisp of hair from her face, Nicole gritted her teeth against a sudden blast of biting wind.
//You must help him.//
“Did you hear that?” Nicole asked. With her head bowed against the driving gusts pummeling her, she peeked at Claudia. “Claudia, did you hear that?”
Horror-stricken, she watched her sister slap at the wind as if she was fighting off unseen hands. Inching her way toward Claudia, Nicole gasped, her heart pounding in her throat when something grabbed her arm.
Captured in a phantom grip, she tried to shake herself loose. All the while, Claudia screamed in horror. It was like a shroud was pulled down her line of sight until Claudia was nothing more than a shadow—then she was gone.
//He is trapped within the Veil. Only you can save him...//
“Who said that? Who are you?”
The eerily hollow whisper of her name stroked over her in the same instant the ground seemed to fall from beneath her feet. More like, their feet, the feel of a much taller figure took form. She could sense the specter gaining strength too.
The terror was no longer imagined or a product of dark shadows and leaves rustling, it was palpable—alive. “Let me go!” she shrieked. All around her, the world changed. The instinct to close her eyes failed her. She couldn't look away no matter how much she wanted to or how terrorized she became. Snapshots flew past her. Snippets of people, places and bygone days. The only problem with the scenario was that the images were so real she felt she could reach out and touch them.
Needing an anchor in this nightmare, Nicole lifted her hand toward them.
“Not yet, milady,” a thoroughly masculine voice informed her. The arms gripping her tightened their hold until she could barely breathe. “We're nearly through the Veil. If I don't time our departure correctly, we'll exit before my attack.”
Honing in on his words, taking stock that whoever was holding her knew what he was doing, she managed to calm down her thriving respirations a little. “Who are you?”
“No way.” But, you're dead. For some unknown reason, she focused on his voice and his arms around her. Probably, because knowing I'm not alone is better than the alternative. For an unbidden and sickening minute, she wondered if she was dead. Then, just when she wanted to scream she hadn't been a bad person, that she didn't deserve to die, he pulled her back to the freaky reality she was trapped in.
“Yes, way.” He chuckled at her. “Prepare yourself, we're there.”
In stunned dismay, Nicole watched him drag his fingers through a fleeting image flowing past them. “Oof.” All the air in her lungs was pushed out when they landed with a hard thud. Her fingers curled against the wood flooring she laid on. Gritting against the pain ricocheting from her ankle up her leg, she dared to peek at her surroundings. A cabin or shack of some sort. “Where the hell are we?”
Her gaze locked with his as he clamped his hand over her mouth.
Leaning close, he whispered his answer against her ear. “The better question is 'when' the hell are we?”
* * * * *
Christopher Wolfson couldn't believe he'd finally found her. The key to his freedom. The only person who could help him go home.
When he'd first spied them strolling through the cemetery, he felt a tug at his heartstrings. In truth, it made little difference he was going to kidnap one of the lovely ladies and take her to the past. He had to escape the Veil.
For what seemed like forever, he'd been trapped between the folds of time in the mysterious anomaly known as the Veil. His only link to reality coming by way of visions sent to him from the Voodoo priestess, Madame Camille. The same woman, who had explained the Veil to his grandmother nigh on fifty years before his disappearance, was his anchor in the storm of emotions that followed his capture in the shadowy bleak world of the Veil. The elderly lady didn't just communicate news from his parents and the earldom, but she also educated him in the intricacies of the Veil.
She even explained how his cousin Jarrod had managed to procure a spell to open the Veil and push him inside the folds of time.
At first he believed none of it. The Voodoo Priestess, who’d been a fixture in his life since his first trip to the Weston sugarcane plantation, had a way of staring at him. It was almost as if she was judging his soul and considering whether or not he was worthy of something. Exactly what the ‘something’ was, he didn’t know.
Then she told him how his family was chosen by the mysterious Veil. His grandmother had been born in the future and whisked back to the past. His own father found himself resigned to a similar fate.
She promised him all would work out once he understood the anomaly. There was a caveat attached to his escape, though. Once he exited the Veil, he was trapped in that time.
The Veil only works one way. Be careful, Kit. She’d told him time and again.
In her teachings he’d found hope. A hope he’d never let loose on, and had sustained him through the horrors he’d watched passing by in fleeting images while trapped between the folds of time.
Stretching out the aching muscles of his neck, he rolled to his feet and offered his savior a hand up. “I promise you, milady, it's not a viper,” he told her when she snapped her brilliant green eyes from his face to the proffered appendage then back to meet his gaze. “I mean you no harm.”
He hated to admit, but she looked a mess. Her peach-colored sweater was awry on her slight frame and her hair was a tangled nest of knots. “Please, milady.”
“Why are you calling me that?” she asked. Tiny fingers finally lay trustingly in his palm.
“Because that is what you will be known as from this day forward.”
Her brow furrowed into a frown. “I beg your pardon.”
“Walk with me.”
“Where the hell are we?”
“On a Ship of the Line.” He wanted to tease her, but couldn't manage the feat. The dips and sways of their conveyance along with the size and shape of the walls told him he'd guessed right on one hand. He'd managed to pick a seafaring vessel. “Or a packet.”
“How do you know?”
Swallowing against the unrequited rage building inside him, he forced his brain to work. Was this the Predator? By God, he hoped so. “Because, my cousin sent me into the Veil as I traveled to my family's property in Jamaica.” His hand fisted at his side when he considered what Jarrod had done to him. Not even Camille could give him a reason until his parent’s suspicious death in a carriage accident. Jarrod wanted the Earldom. Infuriated, Kit felt as though he was living in a personal hell while Jarrod wasted the family fortune on lavish parties until he was destitute and the earldom fell into chaos.
From there, and after Camille’s death, he’d been given a bird’s eye view of the world. He’d helplessly watched the horrors of bloody revolutions and nightmarish wars learning to despise the future for what it was.
Brought back to reality when she tried to tug away from his hand, he realized he was clutching her fingers. “It will be all right, milady. I promise.” He vowed that on their uncertain circumstance.
A soft sigh broke from her lips when she took in their surroundings. Her fingers timidly clung to his hand while her other clutched her flameless torch in a white-knuckled grip. She seemed to wrestle with a truth beyond her ken. Finally, she tilted her gaze to his. “Maybe you better start at the beginning. I have a feeling you've got a story and a half to tell.”
He couldn't drag his gaze from her kissable lips. His gaze finally jogged down her body, his focus training on her breasts, hips and down her odd pants before retracing their path back to her face. Tamping down on the sudden rush of lust careening over his skin and hardening his cock, he steered them toward the main corridor.
A horrid scenario rose in his thoughts and effectively dashed away his lust. “It is in our best interest to get you somewhere protected. If I miscalculated my reach, we could be in a previous century or years after I was imprisoned in the Veil.” The latter he could explain away. The former he didn't want to consider.
“What is that sound?”
Kit tilted his head, filtering out the creaking of wood and the thrush of the bilges being pumped. His gaze slashed across the small hold they were in. He cautiously opened the door to peer into the corridor. He noted how the small cluster of rooms were quarantined by a low ceiling and a trap door situated at the center of the trio. Attuning his senses, Kit concentrated on a faint rumble outside the smuggler's hold. The noise gained clarity. Chains! The rattle of iron links chorused by soft moans, a few groans and hushed sobbing. His heart stopped before it raced into a violent tattoo. “Dammit.”
“We've landed on a slaver.” He held her in the room.
“How can you be sure?” She must have picked up on how tenuous a situation they were in because her question came out as a shallow whisper.
“Stay here. I'm going to check the trap.” Sending a quick prayer to God that it opened into a corridor and not a cabin, he slid cautiously into the barely lit corridor. The only light they had coming from her flameless torch.
“No. I'm going with you.” Her eyes widened with fear and she clutched his hand.
“I'm just peeking out, milady.” His assurance fell flat. “It's too dangerous for you to show your face above boards.” Raking his fingers through his hair, he contemplated the rebellion brewing in her narrowed eyes. “Just stay here. You’ll be able to see me the whole time.”
“Promise me, you won’t leave me here.”
He felt her fearful shiver against his side. Giving her a smile, he eased her closer. His breath wafted her mussed hair and lust raced through his frame. “I promise.”
Rejecting the urge to kiss her, he shifted his bulk through the door. With quick, efficient moves, he checked the other storage rooms. Empty. It told him the slavers had either not found aught of worth in their last port of call or had already relieved themselves of their cache. How long the stores would remain that way, he didn’t have an idea. “Flash the light toward the floor, milady. I don’t want a passerby seeing it.”
She nodded before casting the torch down. “Do you see anything?”
Kit heard her ask once he’d gotten the hatch opened a crack. “Aye,” he said in a barely audible whisper. Holding his finger to his lips, he listened with intent. He closed his eyes, focusing all his attention on the chatter coming from the far side of the room, and sifted through the different accents until the men’s conversation took an interesting twist.
“Cap’n is in a hurry to get rid of the cargo this time ‘round. Not that the Redemption cared since we’re running beneath the Dutch banner. Me thinks they thought Cap’n was running contraband to the colonies.” Peeking out, Kit watched the crewman’s boot stomp the floor. “That run-in with the Brits pissed ‘im off. Thought for sure, he’d toss the lot. He cain’t though. He’s in debt up to his ears, and that pretty he’s got in London ain’t gonna hold off on finding herself a new man should he lose the rest of his coin.”
Give me a date, dammit. Or the name of the ship.
“We all pray he can get us into Port-au-Prince afore the Redemption catches our trail again.”
Okay, so it was after the abolition laws were passed. A good sign, that, though the fight was a long one. Considering they could have landed on a packet sailing for Charlotte, New Orleans or, worse, Australia, he counted his blessings once again. The truth struck him like a punch to the gut. Slaving was still practiced in Haiti. By God.
“With this much wind at our backs the Brits will need a miracle to catch us. I heard tell from Mr. Cummings that we’ll dock afore midnight.”
“Aye, then we get rid of the lot and enjoy a few nights in town.”
Kit closed the hatch when they started to laugh. Digesting the information, he nodded for his lady to move back into the room. “There is good news and bad. The ship is approaching Haiti. We’ll be able to make our escape in the next day.”
“What’s the bad news?”
He brushed his hand over her hair. “I haven’t been born yet.” He tried to keep his voice steady but inside he was devastated.
He couldn’t muster the bravado to tell her their situation would get better.
Nay, first it would get worse—much, much worse.