|For purchase: Prospecting-for-Love|
Being thrown back in time will take you out of your comfort zone. There are no modern conveniences such as microwaves, cell phones, or cars. Horsepower in the 1800’s was literal. None of your job skills or your MA in computer technology will help you as you try to find your place in a world long forgotten.
My heroines travel back in time, taking with them the knowledge of the future, which can often lead to misunderstandings, but fun interactions. Ellie, in PROSPECTING FOR LOVE is discovered with nail polish on her toes, which only the “working girls” at the saloon would do. She finds “real junk food” in the form of potato chips and Van Camp’s Pork and Beans in the general store in 1850, believing things like that had only been invented in her lifetime. The opposite side of the coin is that she doesn’t know how to cook without a microwave or start a wood fire in the stove.
There are challenges to writing time travel: (1) the methods I use to get the heroine back in time, (2) what can or can’t be transported with her when she goes, and (3) how and when she has an opportunity to return to her own time. The “rules” have to be established before I start writing and then they cannot be broken. I can’t decide half way through the book that the heroine needs her cell phone to convince the hero she’s from the future, so she miraculously finds it under a rock somewhere.
Now that being said, I can have different rules for different books. For example, in deciding how the heroine goes back in time, I use something different in each of my books. I don’t just have them fall and bump their heads. That would be far too easy. I’ve had secret doors, spinning carousels, dust storms and torrential rains and flooding. But in PROSPECTING FOR LOVE, two ghosts are responsible for what happens to Ellie, and the result is sometimes dramatic and sometimes rather funny. Below is an excerpt.
"You must undo the disaster that happened." A gravelly voice scraped against the dark cave walls, echoing in the frigid air.
Zeke literally shook in his boots, searching the gloom to locate the body that should have accompanied the voice. He could feel shivers shoot up and down his spine. Glancing at Lucky, he could see him, but he couldn't really see him. His brother shimmered against the dark walls of the mine, his scruffy beard and wrinkled face casting a glow such as it never had in real life.
Real life. That was the stickler, they had recently found out. Zeke and his twin brother, Lucky, had spent sixty years on this earth. Now it 'peared they both run plum out of any kind of luck. Else ways, why would they be shimmering in the dark hole of a mine, speaking to a body they couldn't see and having visions of the devil hisself rising up to take them to hell?
"Are we dead, Zeke?" Lucky always was slow on the uptake.
"Of course, we're dead. You think you glow like that 'cuz you took a bath last Saturday night?" Zeke growled at his brother.
"It doesn't appear to have sunk into your thick skulls just exactly what has happened." The voice came again, a blast of cold air against the old miners. Their worn flannel shirts did little to deflect the chill.
"We're dead, so I guess something pretty bad happened." Zeke figured if he was dead, he couldn't get no deader, so he might as well have his say.
"Your situation can be changed, if you decide to undo the disaster that occurred."
"What's he talking about, Zeke?"
"Jesse Cole's dead." Zeke didn't know how Lucky could forget that.
"We didn't mean for that to happen," Lucky said, tears springing to his eyes, for he had always been the emotional one. "It were an accident, pure and simple."
"I know," replied Zeke, "but we was his friends and we should've been watching his back." Nobody could feel worse about Jesse's death than Zeke, but he didn't see how nobody could change the facts.
"Jesse Cole is dead, and he shouldn't be. It wasn't his time, and plans had been made for him." The voice continued, gloomy as a hanging judge. "When something like this happens, it upsets the entire master plan, as well as the individual scheme of things. Numerous other incidents will occur which shouldn't, and those in turn cause other accidents, which in turn . . . You see what I mean."
Zeke wasn't sure he did, but agreed anyway.
"So you will just have to go back and fix it." The voice, now hard and unrelenting, grated on Zeke's nerves.
"How we going to do that?" Lucky questioned.
"Your current state of being allows you certain, shall we say, knowledge, and you'll know when and where."
"Oh, boy." Zeke didn't think he liked the sound of that.
"There's just one thing you must remember. You can't tell anyone in Peavine what actually happened."
"Now, how we going to manage that? Won't Jesse know he ain't dead no more?" Silence answered Lucky's question.
Zeke looked madly around. While he tried to find the source of the voice, at the same time, he almost hoped he couldn't.
"Hello?" Lucky's voice quaked.
Zeke looked at Lucky, who stared back at him. Shrugging their shoulders in unison, they turned and trudged toward daylight at the end of the tunnel.
"Come back, damn it!" The girl kicked up dirt. "Curse your hide, you lousy --" she continued to shout and shake her fist at the cloud of dust until it drifted away at the end of the road leading from town.
She then curled her arms over her head in an angry gesture, turning in a circle. She continued to rant and rave, but Zeke knew she didn't yell at him or Lucky, since she couldn't possibly know they were there. After all, Peavine was a ghost town, and nobody lived there.
Zeke and Lucky glanced at each other, then back at the girl. "Boy, she's got a mouth on her, don't she?" Lucky asked.
The girl spun around and stared right at them, eyes wide and mouth open. Zeke hoped she didn’t start hollering. Other times, people had come to Peavine and Lucky had decided, on a lark, to spook them. Most times, Lucky was the one that got spooked, but sometimes the women would cut loose with screams like banshees.
Lucky jerked his arm, but Zeke didn't even notice how hard he pulled. He was staring at the girl.
"Do you see what I see?" Lucky jerked again and this time Zeke did feel it. He pulled away.
"Yeah, I see, but I don't think--"
"Why not? The voice said we'd know what to do when the time come, and I think over a hundred years is 'bout time enough."
"Let's get a closer look." Zeke took a step forward.
"I'll be danged and hog-tied." Zeke whistled through his teeth as he came face to face with the girl. The wind blew her blonde hair around an oval shaped face. He could see more hair, tied back with a scarf, though it weren't as long as Elizabeth's.
Well, a girl could cut her hair, couldn't she? Even as he thought it, he knew Elizabeth would never do that. She was always primping and patting her curls.
As they watched, the girl lifted slim-fingered hands to her narrow hips, scrunched up her eyes and turned slowly around. When she stopped, her gaze sliced right through the two brothers to survey one dilapidated old building after another.
"It's kinda fun when they can't see us, ain't it, Zeke?" Lucky chuckled as he stepped behind the girl and poked her in the ribs. She swiveled around, quick as a wink, her eyes growing wide.
"Look at them brown eyes. She's the spitting image of Elizabeth."
"I know," Zeke breathed softly. Finally, after more'n a hundred forty years floating around Peavine, watching it slowly fade to dust as the mines petered out and people moved on to other ventures, it 'peared the time had come. The voice had said they'd know what to do, and lord knows they'd already had plenty long enough to figure it out.
This here girl looked just like Jesse’s fiancée, Elizabeth Calhoun. He and Lucky’d had many a discussion ‘bout the explosion that killed Jesse back in '70, and they came to the conclusion Elizabeth must have had something to do with it. Proving that might be like holding a lit stick of dynamite, but prospects looked a mite better right about now. Even so, he hesitated.
"'Pears she ain't going nowhere, so let's just keep an eye on her for a spell."
"What for? Let's just take her and run. I'm mighty tired of living like this. I've a hankering for a good game of poker and a bottle of whiskey."
Zeke turned to his brother. "She might look just like Elizabeth, but she sure don't sound like her now, do she? S'pose we take her back and Jesse finds out real fast that she ain't the real thing -- what then?"
Ellie's gaze rebounded wildly from one end of the old ghost town to the other. There was something spooky going on here. After that jerk of a guide had taken off with her camera, purse and cell phone, she had been just plain mad. Now, fear edged its way into her consciousness. She swore she heard voices a few minutes ago. And just as certainly, she thought she felt hands on her as she stood in the middle of the street. Perhaps it was the wind. She prayed it was the wind.
She dug in her jeans’ pocket for her cigarettes. Thank goodness those had been in her pocket instead of her purse. As she lit the slightly bent cigarette, her gaze flickered from ruin to ruin, stopping only when she thought she saw a shadow against the wall of the building across the dusty street. "Calhoun's Bank and Trust," she said the name out loud. "Doesn't sound like a mining name at all."
She sniffed and shrugged her shoulders. The joke was on her. Before she started this assignment, she knew nothing about mining towns. Even now, her research had barely scratched the surface. She had told Hartman, her editor, she didn't want to know anything about the old west, but that hadn't gotten her out of the assignment.
"I want a story on ghost towns and old mines," he had insisted that day in the offices of Hartman Publishing, whose specialty was in travel magazines. "You get paid to write stories. What’s the problem?"
"Why the old west? The closest I've ever come is liking the Eagles' song, Desperado," Ellie had replied. "You've always sent me to the eastern seaboard and on European tours. Why do you want to bury me under things old and dusty?"
"You know Jake is covering Civil War reenactments and Becky Sue is on maternity leave. That only leaves you.”
Becky Sue and Jake -- now those were names that belonged in the west, Ellie had thought miserably as her boss droned on.
“Our largest client, Gold Mine Casino, wants a bigger draw, but most tourists don’t go to Reno just to gamble any more. They want other things to do during the day. So, I figure we focus on hiking around nearby ghost towns, mines, panning for gold -- you know. Now, get a ticket and go west, young . . .woman."
So Ellie had spent days researching and digging around other old ruins in the hot, dry desert after landing in Reno a week ago. Last night, the cool, dark interior of the casino had beckoned, and she had spent most of the night playing Black Jack. Perhaps if she hadn't, she would have noticed the shifty eyes of the new guide who had been out front bright and early to pick her up. The casino had made the arrangements, and boy, would she let them have it when she got back.
Ellie sighed as she surveyed the old buildings. Regardless of whether she had wanted this assignment, she was still a professional and had done her background research. Peavine didn't look much different than Hunter's Station and Crystal Peak, two ghost towns she'd already visited.
She got up from the splintery boardwalk and sauntered around the buildings. She could almost visualize how it would have looked in 1870. Her gaze followed the line of old timber as she ticked off the buildings in her mind -- mercantile, hotel, bank, church. Unlike refurbished Belmont and Steamboat Springs, today's Peavine was totally deserted.
In her meandering, Ellie came to a creek that ran along the back edge of town. Her research hadn't uncovered much information about the creek, but this would make her story even better. She reached down and scooped some crystal clear water into her hands. Not only could people dig through the rubble for artifacts, but they could pan for gold in the creek. Very touristy.
She snorted as she stood, ready to head back to the buildings and look for a way into town. "Hell, the only thing Peavine needs is a couple of grizzled, old miners."
"Howdy, little lady." Zeke decided to make his presence known, figuring there was no other way they could get the girl’s cooperation. When she whirled around at the sound of his voice, her eyes wide with fright and screeching like a polecat, he changed his mind but it was too late. Knowing that becoming invisible again would only make a bigger problem, he gritted his teeth and continued.
"I heared you hollering and yelling and wondered if I could help?" As he spoke, she scooted back, slipping on loose gravel along the creek bed, but she didn't go down.
“Who are you?” She whispered. Her voice sounded much better than when she shrieked, but Zeke wasn’t a’tall sure she sounded like Elizabeth.
He stood still, hands at his sides, as she gave him the once over, staring at him so hard he almost blushed.
“Where did you come from? How come I didn’t see you before?” The girl managed to keep her distance, one hand up in the air as though to ward off danger. Zeke could tell she was a mite curious and more’n a mite scared.
“Well, I live here.”
She glanced around wildly. “Nobody lives here. It’s a ghost town.”
“Looky, Miss, I ain’t gonna hurt you. I was up in the hills ‘til I heared you.” He figured it'd take a few minutes for her to decide he meant no harm.
The girl continued to stare, then slowly allowed her gaze to shift side to side. Zeke figured she was looking for someone else to jump out and grab her. He just hoped Lucky didn’t show up yet.
She about made Zeke jump out of his skin when she sprung right up at him. "You have a car! You can get me back to Reno!" The girl was awful excited all of a sudden, waving her arms in his face.
"A wh … what?" Not seeing too many real people in the last century, the girl’s closeness and excitement caused Zeke to stammer.
"A vehicle -- jeep, car, motorcycle -- I don't care as long as it can get me back to town."
"Well, we ain't got one."
"You don't -- you have to. How could anyone live out here without a car?" She was hollering again, and Zeke scrunched his head into his shoulders.
"What sense do it make to have something that we can't work?" Zeke shrugged and turned. He had seen contraptions like the girl mentioned whenever tourists had come to the ghost town. But the few times people had wandered off to the creek and he and Lucky had tried to work the horseless wagons, they couldn't get them to move. "Heckfire, we don't even got a mule no more. Come on."
The girl sized him up once more. Zeke guessed since he was old as the hills and shorter than her, she figured she could outrun him if’n he tried anything.
She followed him to the porch of Murphy's. Zeke watched her light a cigarette. He sniffed appreciatively at the wisp of smoke. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had tobacco, though he usually chewed. He was just about to ask her if she had a plug when he saw Lucky running up from the direction of the mine. Zeke could tell by his shimmer that Lucky hadn't solidified hisself.
"'Cuse me, Miss," Zeke said hurriedly and jerked his head at Lucky as he scooted back into Murphy's, hoping his brother would follow.
"You talked to her." Lucky accused, poking Zeke hard in the belly with a bony finger. "You showed yourself."
"How else we going to get her to help us?"
Lucky didn't have an answer for that, and hung his head.
Zeke knew how to make Lucky feel better. "Make yourself visible, Lucky."
Together they moved back outside. Night had fallen and for a minute Zeke panicked, not able to locate the girl. When the flicker of a fire caught his eye, he breathed easier.
They hurried passed the alley to the hotel, where the girl sat huddled on the boardwalk, her knees hugged tightly to her chest. She glanced up as Zeke drew near, eyes widening at the sight of Lucky. She grabbed a piece of wood from the edge of the fire and swung it at them.
Zeke thought he heard a note of fear in her question, but at least she didn’t scream again.
Before he could answer, she chuckled and shrugged, dropping the wood back into the blaze. “Hell, I asked for two grizzled old miners, so what do I expect?” She looked from one to the other, an eyebrow raised. “You are miners, aren’t you, or is this some incredibly sick joke of Hartman’s?”
“‘Course we’re miners -- the best.” Lucky boosted, then his face fell and shoulders sagged. “Well, we used to be, a’fore the accident back in seventy--”
“Who’s Hartman?” Zeke interrupted, poking Lucky in the ribs before he could spill the beans.
“Never mind. I really doubt you two would know him.” The girl shrugged off his question. She tossed more wood on the fire, the flames now jumping and sparking several feet in the air.
"You trying to burn the town down?" Lucky demanded.
That brought a snicker. "Like it would make any difference?"
"'Course it would. Peavine's one of the richest gold towns in the territory."
The girl looked around. "Excuse me if I'm missing something here, but there's nobody in this town. Who’s going to care?" Although Lucky was dense at times, the girl's sarcasm wasn't lost on Zeke.
Lucky continued as though she hadn't spoken. "In 1870, why, there was over two hundred people living in this town. This here hotel you're hell bent on burning down had real leather seats inside." He turned and pointed across the street. "Calhoun's bank backed more'n one mining venture. There was even a church and post office called Poeville and a ten stamp mill."
"Well, la-tee-da." The girl didn’t act at all impressed.
Zeke had a feeling she was all bluster to cover up her fright.
"This here's Lucky, my brother." Zeke felt maybe knowing their names would help set her heart to rest. "I'm Zeke."
She looked from Lucky to him, back to Lucky then to the fire, ignoring them both. How would they get her to help them if she wouldn't even talk to them?
Lucky didn't take no offense and began chattering away. "We don't get us many visitors here. Why'd you come? What's your name?"
"It doesn't matter. I just want to get back to town."
"That'd be a feat, for sure, seeing as how we got no way to get you there."
Silence met his statement.
Finally, with an audible sigh, she said, "Ellie."
Lucky's face fell. "Your name ain't Elizabeth?"
The girl made a face. "God, no, although that would be better than Eleanor. That's why I go by Ellie."
"But can we call you Elizabeth -- since you don't 'pear to like your own name?" Lucky asked hopefully and Zeke got the feeling he was pushing way too hard.
Ellie's forehead scrunched up. "What is your problem? Why would I want to be called that?"
Zeke piped up when he saw Lucky's face scrunch into a frown. "I'll explain to Miss Ellie."
"Why can't I explain?" Lucky argued.
"'Cuz I'm the oldest, that's why."
"You always say that and it ain't fair. We're twins."
"Yeah, but I come out first."
"P-l-ea-se." The girl interrupted them, then proceeded to cuss. Lucky's eyes opened in shock and Zeke had an awful feeling even if they convinced this girl to help, it would only get them in more trouble.
Zeke turned to the girl and tried to explain. After all, the voice didn't say outsiders couldn't know. But, how could he explain that their friend, Jesse, was dead and they had to make him undead?
"Look, we can try to get you back to town, but could you maybe help us out first?" He took her silence for a good sign and continued. "We got us a friend named Jesse Cole that's in trouble. The only way to fix it is to keep something else bad from happening."
"I'm sorry about your friend, but I did lose a lot of equipment, not to mention my purse and ride back to Reno,” Miss Ellie replied, waving a hand off to the west, even though Zeke knew Reno laid to the south. “The sooner I get back and report it, the better chance they'll have of finding the guy. Besides, what's your friend got to do with me?"
"You look just like Jesse’s fiancée, Elizabeth, so we was thinking you could take her place 'til we find out who killed . . .uh . . .tried to hurt him." Zeke waited for that idea to soak in.
"Now wait a minute. I'm not doing any kinky sex games."
Zeke could feel his face flame. He cleared his voice. "No, no. Lucky and me think Miss Elizabeth had something to do with what happened. If you was to take her place, then we’d figure it out for sure this time.”
“You want me to play undercover cop? How’s that going to get my equipment back?” She raised a brow in question, looking just the same as Miss Elizabeth did whenever she had quizzed Zeke about Jesse’s whereabouts.
Zeke hoped God would forgive him for lying. It just seemed to him a man’s life was worth more’n a couple pieces of equipment. “We’ll get your stuff back, Miss, but first we gotta take you back to Peavine with us and make sure things go right this time."
"Back to Peavine? This is Peavine, and there's nothing here. What exactly do you mean?" Now she not only looked like Elizabeth, but sounded like her too -- always questioning him.
Before he could come up with a likely excuse, Lucky jumped right smack into the middle of things.
"If'n we take her back to Peavine, how we going to tell her apart from the real Elizabeth?" He asked.
Zeke thought, then said, "It's got to be something visible."
The girl held both arms in front of her, elbows bent, her fingers straight and close together. She widened her stance and braced her feet and Zeke thought she might try to hit them. She didn't look the least ladylike, and he began to doubt she'd be much help a'tall. Still, they had to try. He took a step toward her, and she raised a hand threateningly.
"Get away from me, damnit! I don't trust either of you and I don't believe your story."
"She has ear bobs," Lucky said, having ignored everything else since his earlier concern. "I'm dead sure Miss Elizabeth don't, cuz it just might hurt to have a hole poked in your ear."
"That might work," Zeke agreed, "but we gotta do something 'bout her swearing. Miss Elizabeth would never say words like that and how we gonna make sure this one don't?"
"I'm not going anywhere with you so what difference does it make?" The girl hissed at him through clinched teeth.
In the next instant, Zeke knew they were in trouble. His brother started shimmering and glowing 'til Zeke could hardly see him. One look at the girl's face told him she was having the same trouble. Lucky sometimes forgot to concentrate on being solid.
Zeke might have been able to explain the shimmer, but Lucky reached out to grab the girl's arm and his hand went right through her.
Zeke began to count. "One, two, three, four, five--" The girl fell forward in a dead faint and Zeke caught her under the arms. "Well, she lasted longer than most."
Lucky shrugged his shoulders. "I didn't mean to scare her."
"Might be the best thing you ever done." Zeke grunted as he turned the girl over. "Now concentrate and grab her legs." When Lucky caught hold, together they carried their burden to the mine.
"I guess we can worry 'bout her swearing once we get her back to Peavine." Zeke shook his head and sighed. He only hoped he’d be rewarded for his patience, for the Lord knows he was gonna need lots of it.
In the distance, where the mine shaft intersected with another tunnel, Zeke could see a bluish glow off to the right – the same light that had vanished the day Jesse Cole died.
"Come on." He motioned to his brother and grabbed the unconscious girl. They scurried towards the glow, never slowing down as the light became brighter and brighter until it appeared to swallow them right up.
Zeke dropped his burden when he felt himself falling, empty space all around as he tumbled head over heels. He couldn't shout, couldn't feel nothing as the brightness swirled around him. He only hoped his brother and the girl were following him through the spiraling emptiness.
Ellie landed with a thunk in front of an old cabin. She rolled to her hands and knees, trying to catch her breath. A few minutes later, a man dropped to his knees beside her.
"Elizabeth, I glanced out the window and saw you sitting here in the dirt." There was a pause in which all Ellie could hear were her own frantic gasps for breath. "Where’s the buckboard? Are you all right?"
Ellie couldn't think, and the man's questions confused her. She looked around wildly, her gaze finally focusing on the two old coots from the ghost town.
They pointed a finger at her and the man, then patted themselves on the back as though they couldn't believe they were really standing there. They somehow looked different, too, but it took too much energy for Ellie to stay focused on them. She closed her eyes to stop the dizziness and tried to recall exactly what had happened.
They had asked for her help and she said no, she was sure of that. She scrunched her forehead, looking around, but all she could see were trees edging a small clearing. At the back sat a cabin. Where had the ghost town gone?
She shook a finger at the two men, sucking in a breath to yell, and immediately began to cough. The man patted her none too gently on the back, which didn't help at all.
"Elizabeth, where's the buckboard?" He asked again.
Zeke hurried up. "Jesse wants to know where the wagon is, Elizabeth." He stressed the names and Ellie realized that regardless of her wishes, these two crazy old men had managed to take her to their friend's home. Exactly where that was, she had no idea, but she didn't have to like it.
In anger, she pushed herself back on her haunches, turning to the man they called Jesse, ready to malign him for having such idiotic friends. The words died in her throat.
Plaid flannel covered incredibly broad shoulders, and while she couldn't tell his height because he squatted beside her, there was entirely too much of him to be short.
Stormy blue eyes scrutinized her to see if she was hurt. Even as she watched, their color lightened and crinkle lines appeared as he grinned. A scruffy growth of beard and tousled black hair framed his face and yet he looked great. Definitely not GQ, but he had a rugged appearance that ignited Ellie's basic instincts.
Perhaps she could manage a few hours as this man's fiancée. After all, she didn't have a ride back to town yet.
"Elizabeth, are you hurt?" The words came out deep and throaty. "How did you get here?"
Never one to be taken in by a man, Ellie now found herself mesmerized by his voice. But his eyes questioned her, and she suddenly realized she had no idea what he had said. On top of that, she didn’t know how to respond because she wasn’t Elizabeth.
Lucky rushed to her aid. "Maybe she decided to ride out here?"
Jesse chuckled. "Ride? A horse? This is Elizabeth, Lucky. She'd just as soon eat rattlesnake as ride a horse." He turned to her with a grin, apparently pleased with himself for defending her. "Isn't that right, Elizabeth?"
Ellie had finally caught her breath and could utter more than one word at a time, and now she was so mad she sputtered. She had never ridden a horse and had absolutely no desire to do so. However, she detested the smug expression on this man's face and his words that implied she wasn't at all capable.
She glanced around but could see no horse. Regardless, she jutted her chin out and lied defiantly. "As a matter of fact, I did ride out here, but the horse--"
"--got spooked and throwed her," finished Zeke.
Jesse scowled and looked at the three of them. Ellie doubted he believed them. She wouldn't believe a story like that. Then he shrugged, standing and extending a hand to help her up. "Perhaps that explains your clothes, then."
Ellie glanced down. What was wrong with Levi's and boots? Not much different from what he wore, except his sleeves were rolled up to show very muscular forearms, and the denim hugged his hips and crotch in an almost indecent manner.
"For a woman who's always lecturing me on upbringing and manners, you've displayed a little uncivilized behavior yourself today." Jesse's eyes twinkled as he spoke, and though Ellie thought he teased, she began to think she didn’t like him very much.
She dug in her pocket for her cigarettes. "Look, I only came here because--"
Zeke grabbed her hand before she could withdraw it, interrupting her in the process. "That fall musta jarred your brain." To Jesse he added, "I'm sure Miss Elizabeth could use a cup of coffee."
"You're right. I'm sorry, Elizabeth. My manners do sometimes desert me. Come along." He reached for her hand.
Again, Zeke stepped forward. "Just go on in and get it, Jesse. I'll dust Miss Elizabeth off and bring her to the porch."
Jesse arched a brow but then shrugged and turned toward the cabin.
"Damn it, Zeke, what's going on?" Ellie turned on the old prospector the minute Jesse disappeared into the cabin. “And don’t you dare touch me,” she added when it appeared he would swat her butt with his hat.
"Quit that swearing, Missy." Zeke growled at her, then muttered to himself, "Darn it all. This is gonna be a lot harder than we thought."
Ellie couldn't believe her ears. "You cart me off to Podunk City, or wherever the hell we are, and you think you have it rough? I told you I wouldn't help." Ellie was still searching her brain for some illusive thread of time she had lost in the process of getting from Peavine to here. "Besides, how can I act like this Elizabeth person when I know nothing about this. . . this man you have me attached to."
"Now, you're not attached, 'xactly. Miss Elizabeth hadn’t started making marriage plans or nothing like that. ‘Sides after what happened, I doubt Jesse'd marry her, anyway."
"Just 'xactly what did happen?" Ellie mimicked, but her sarcasm was lost on him. Zeke's face scrunched up in thought and Ellie sighed in exasperation. Lately, nothing in her life had been easy. "Out with it, Zeke."
"Well, seeing as how we're back now, and Jesse ain’t dead--”
“Dead?” Ellie definitely didn’t understand.
“Ah, dead on his feet from working,” Zeke added hurriedly. “Maybe it don't matter no more. What day is it, anyhow?"
"How would I know? It was Saturday when my gear got stolen, but why do I get the impression I've lost some time along with my belongings?" Ellie couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right. She looked around, trying to find a familiar landmark, but because of her lack of knowledge of the region, everything looked foreign.
"Say, where's Lucky?" She realized the other old timer had disappeared again.
"I sent him to get rid of the real Elizabeth."
"He's going to kill her?" She couldn't believe two old prospectors could be so callous.
"No, just get her out of the way so as our plan will work."
"If you have this Elizabeth person out of the way, she can't get Jesse into any more trouble. So why do you still need me? Just take me back to town."
"There's more to the problem than that." Zeke looked decidedly uncomfortable. “Look, just watch what you say. I’ll explain the plan . . .later.”
Somehow, Ellie doubted it. A churning started in her stomach. In agitation, she reached for her cigarettes. Zeke tried to grab them away, but Ellie was faster. However, seeing his crestfallen face, she stuffed them back into her pocket instead of lighting up. She looked at him as he nervously shuffled from foot to foot. "You don't have a plan, do you?"
Zeke's silence was incriminating.
"Damn your hide, and Lucky's too," she hissed just as Jesse came out on the porch with two steaming mugs of coffee.
"Elizabeth, are you coming?"
Zeke poked her in the ribs and whispered urgently, "That's your name."
Ellie narrowed her gaze, hoping to thoroughly mortify him with her anger, and to make him worry what she might do. Then, quick as a wink, she pasted on a sweet smile and turned back toward the cabin. "Coming."
She heard Zeke's frantic whisper behind her. "Remember, no swearing, no smoking, and your name is--"
"Ellie," she stated loud enough for both men to hear.
Jesse looked at her in surprise, then more thoroughly as she sat on the step and took the coffee he offered. A slow grin spread across his handsome features. "I tried to call you that from the time you wore pigtails, but you always said Elizabeth sounded more grown-up."
"Well, perhaps the fall from that horse did some good after all," Ellie replied, wondering if he already saw through their ruse. She began to feel guilty. While she hadn't wanted to help Zeke and Lucky -- she had only wanted to get her assignment done and get back to town -- neither was she a vengeful person. She wouldn't deliberately hurt another human being.
How would Jesse feel if he found out they were lying to him; that she wasn't who he thought she was? Zeke had said it was to keep him from getting hurt. Ellie didn't know what to believe. She did know that at the first opportunity she had some serious questions that Zeke better be able to answer.
Jesse invited Zeke and her to remain for supper. While she would rather get on with whatever plan Zeke had concocted, she couldn't very well say no to her supposed fiancée. He took a pot from over an open fireplace, bringing it to the table along with a loaf of bread and a wicked looking knife. He dished up the meat stew and fresh bread and poured them some water in crockery style mugs.
Ellie traced a crack in the mug with a fingernail. Ellie Weaver, connoisseur of fine wines served in the best crystal all over Europe, sat in a rustic cabin in the woods drinking water from a broken cup. There was definitely something ironic here. Yet the man called Jesse didn’t look the least out of place in the one room cabin.
Ellie savored the rich broth of the stew and thought perhaps this guy had some talents -- like cooking -- that she could admire. Especially since she came from a family of microwave dinner gourmets. As she ate, even asking for seconds, she looked around the cabin.
It was definitely old, with a fireplace on one wall, a bed on the other, and the table in-between. Two shelves by the bed held a few books. Figuring this guy probably only spent weekends here and then returned to a nine-to-five job, she wasn’t surprised. She thought she might like a peek at his reading material, though, to see what he liked. With a shrug of indifference, she guessed financial manuals or e-commerce.
She ignored the men's talk as she continued to assess the cabin. Pegs on the wall by the door held clothes, and some roughly made shelves and a counter supported foodstuffs and a pitcher and basin.
Her brow crinkled as she took a second look. She didn’t see a coffee pot, toaster oven, or a ceiling fan. A single lantern sat at one end of the table.
How odd, she thought. Even modern rustic cabins had electricity. Another lesson learned about the wild west for her travel article -- leave your curling iron at home.
Thinking back on her reason for being in Peavine, she still didn't understand how she ended up at this cabin of Jesse's. The last thing she remembered was being on the hotel steps in the ghost town. She recalled Zeke saying he lived in the hills, and assumed this cabin also sat in the hills near the ghost town. Zeke and Lucky must have carried her here. The why of it evaded her.
She would rather they had left her in Peavine, just in case the sheriff came looking for her. Regardless of what the two miners had said about helping, all she wanted to do was get back to Reno in time to catch her plane.
After dinner, Jesse poured more coffee from a battered old pot and Ellie thought how nice it was to be waited on. She listened to them talk about mining, of all things. She supposed she should listen more closely for background material for her article.
Instead, she tried unobtrusively to study Jesse. The combination of black hair, blue eyes and ready smile made him devastatingly handsome. But more than his looks, she sensed a gentleness about him. Most of the men of her acquaintance were too busy being macho to be tender. In Jesse, his sweet smile didn't detract from his masculinity but rather enhanced it.
His voice was somewhat cultured and Ellie wondered how he had ended up in a cabin in Nevada, even for the weekend. Momentarily forgetting her role, Ellie spoke up during a lull in the conversation. "So, what do you do when you're not playing woodsman?"
Jesse cocked a brow at her question.
Zeke jumped in. "Miss Elizabeth, maybe we’d best get you home to rest a spell. You know Jesse's a miner; he don't got no other job."
Ellie shook her head. She'd done enough research to know there were few active mines left, certainly not near Peavine, Nevada, and definitely not any that were privately owned. "The mines have petered out--”
Lucky came bursting through the door just at that moment, breathing hard as though he'd run all the way. Zeke cleared his throat shaking his head vigorously at Ellie when Jesse turned towards Lucky.
"Lucky, where'd you run off to?" Jesse questioned, and Lucky's face immediately turned even brighter red.
"I, uh," he stuttered, then shrugged. "I had me an errand to run." He pulled a plug of tobacco from his pocket and bit off a chew, grinning at his brother.
Ellie hid a grin behind her hand, seeing the agitated look on Zeke's face. Lucky, who always seemed to take orders from Zeke, had apparently stopped somewhere along the way to get himself a treat. Seeing it, though, made Ellie want a cigarette, but knew she couldn’t smoke in front of Jesse. Zeke had said so.
She only hoped a Quick-Trip was somewhere close because her pack was almost empty. Then she remembered she didn't have any money on her, and they were too far from town anyway, so it was all academic.
"I suppose we should be walking Miss Elizabeth back to town," Zeke said, scooting back his chair to stand.
"Town? You can walk me to town?" Ellie sprang up, instantly angry. Did Zeke mean the ghost town of Peavine or back to Reno?
Jesse touched her arm, his warm hand causing tingles to shoot across her skin. "Elizabeth?" At her annoyed look, he started again. "What is wrong? You've acted strange all day."
Ellie stood, hands on hips, glaring at the three men. Little did she realize her posture so exactly mirrored Elizabeth's that any charade they were trying to perpetrate was instantly cemented. If that hadn't done the trick, her words did. "What's wrong? These two old coots lied to me, that's what."
Ellie saw Zeke standing behind Jesse waving his arms and shaking his head, but that didn't stop her. She was mad. "They said you were in trouble and needed help. They forced me to come out here."
"Forced you? You mean you wouldn't come and see me on your own?" The hurt was unmistakable in Jesse's voice.
"Well . . .that is . . .I had things to do," Ellie tried to backpedal.
"I see. Then perhaps we should get you back to town so you can do them."
Ellie looked outside. "It's dark." She didn’t like the dark.
"Yes, it usually does that at night." Jesse's sarcasm gave Ellie pause. Was he so tenderhearted that her one comment had punctured his entire male ego? Then she saw his grin.
"I'm sorry." She stated simply.
In answer he extended his arm and Zeke and Lucky rushed to open the door, all the while arguing over the plug of tobacco Lucky kept in his possession.
Ellie allowed Jesse to lead her down the path. When they got to a creek, he led her to where flat rocks had formed natural stepping-stones to the other side.
Disappointed, she realized that this was probably the same creek she had seen earlier in the day. That meant they weren't very far from Peavine ghost town, but were too far from Reno to walk -- in the dark. At the moment, she thought she might prefer to stay at Jesse's cabin.
As soon as Jesse hopped the last rock, she clutched his arm again as he walked unerringly forward. She tried to keep from thinking of the blackness surrounding her and the very long dark night ahead in the ghost town. She searched her mind, instead, for anything to discuss so there was noise.
"I understand there are several Fravel mines in the area," she stated, and instantly Jesse's arm tightened beneath her hand.
"Elizabeth, you know I won't discuss anything having to do with Clayton Scott or his mines. Why would you bring it up?" His angry reaction was so startling, Ellie couldn't think of a response. "Is that the ‘something you had to do’ -- visit with Clayton Scott?" Jesse pulled away from her and stomped off ahead.
Ellie could hear Zeke and Lucky "uh-oh-ing" behind her, but she didn't know what she had said wrong.
"Wait," she called out to him. This was like performing in a play when everyone knew the script except her. She hurried to catch up with Jesse, turning to face him and walking backward since he didn't stop when she stepped in front of him. Trying to imagine how the unknown Elizabeth would handle this, and hoping to gain insight into the situation, she smiled sweetly and said, "Jesse, please don't be mad. I keep forgetting--"
"How can you forget Scott owns most of the rights to Fravel's mines on this side of the ridge? Did you also conveniently forget he runs your father's bank, which holds notes to most of those same mines?"
"He does?" Ellie questioned without thinking.
That stopped him. In fact, he stopped so abruptly that Zeke and Lucky just about collided trying to keep from bumping into him. Even in the dark, Ellie could see the questions in Jesse's eyes.
Think fast, she told herself. Being an independent, freethinking woman, she hated what she was about to do.
"Of course he does," she twittered, waving a hand aimlessly. She giggled, hoping she wasn't spreading it on too thick. "You know I have no head for business. Father would always handle that."
"Yeah, well, I wish he were still here to do it. I don't trust Clayton Scott any further than I can throw him." Jesse's tone indicated he was pacified, and as Ellie moved to his side, she shot evil looks at Zeke and Lucky. Boy, did they have a lot of explaining to do.
They broke through a line of trees and suddenly there were lights from town. Ellie blinked and shook her head, an unsettled feeling gnawing at her stomach. Her feet slowed. Soft glows came from several windows, as though fireplaces were lit or candles used instead of iridescent light bulbs.
Ellie’s gaze swiveled from side to side; her stomach plummeted and her chest heaved. She stumbled, a flash of realization screaming through her brain. If Jesse hadn't grabbed her, she would have fallen face first in the dirt.
"El, what's wrong?" It was a question Jesse had kept repeating all day, it seemed, but Ellie sure didn’t know how to answer him.
Buildings swirled in crazy patterns before her eyes. She hugged herself, squeezed her eyes shut, then reopened them, trying to focus on something solid. Newly painted signs hung over several buildings -- Calhoun's Bank and Trust, Murphy's Mercantile and Feed Store. Slowly, as she walked further down the street, she tried to make sense of what her eyes saw but her emotions refused to acknowledge.
The buildings on the main street were the same structures as she had seen earlier that day when her guide had left her stranded in Peavine -- with one major difference. These buildings were new; long years of wind and rain hadn't damaged their fixtures.
She struggled for breath, knowing she had to get away from the ghostly shapes that seemed to jump out at her in the dark. She didn’t want her mind to shuffle the fragments into a solid thought. All she wanted to do was get back to Reno, and home. This was definitely not what she had bargained for when she took this assignment.
Apparently Jesse noticed her pallor, for he hurried her along, turning down a side street to the second house. He led her up the two steps onto a wide covered porch.
Ellie looked from the door to Jesse. Why had he stopped here?
“You’re home.” Almost as though he read her mind, he turned the handle and the door opened beneath his grasp, squeaking slightly.
Didn’t people lock their doors around here, Ellie wondered idly? She looked into the dark interior. If she ventured across the threshold, would she be permanently tied here; would she never escape and get back to where she belonged?
Panicking, she turned around, looking past Jesse to where Zeke and Lucky stood. Lucky appeared quite pleased with the arrangement, but Zeke’s face was still apprehensive. At that moment, Ellie hated them both because they were the cause of her distress.
If not for them, she wouldn’t be in this predicament. For that exact reason, she had to depend on them, because they were the only ones who knew how she came to be here. And how to get her back to where she belonged. Conflicting emotions caused her to lash out in anger.
"You two, inside, now." Ellie pointed as she barked the command.
"What?" All three men clamored at once.
Ellie gritted her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut. She breathed deeply and counted silently to ten. She had to get past her fear and talk to Zeke and Lucky alone. She didn’t know Jesse at all, so she couldn’t predict what his reaction would be if she exploded in front of him. He might have her hauled off to jail or something; some place Ellie couldn’t escape from.
"Excuse me. Might I have a word with Zeke and Lucky, please?" She tried to sugar coat her words, but almost gagged on the effort.
"Why?" Jesse pushed his hat to the back of his head and a curl of black hair fell across his forehead.
Lord, he was a handsome guy, Ellie thought. But he's not yours, her other side countered. She reminded herself she didn’t even want to be here -- especially now that she had a vague idea of where here might be.
"Why? Well, let's just say they did me a mighty big favor earlier today, and I want to see they're properly rewarded." She hoped her gaze flashed fire at the two old prospectors.
"Shucks, Miss Elizabeth, it can wait for another day." Zeke replied, and Ellie figured he had caught her drift right away.
"What do you mean, wait?" Lucky asked, clearly confused. "Why can't we get our reward now?"
Ellie liked Lucky, for he was gullible enough to play right into her hands. "He's right, you do deserve something very special for what you did."
Jesse didn't seem inclined to linger. "Then the boys will see you in, Elizabeth." He nodded his head and touched the brim of his hat.
"Ellie," she reminded him, but he'd already turned away.
"Zeke, you and Lucky don't keep Elizabeth up too late, and get yourselves some shut eye. We've got a long day tomorrow and the two of you look a hundred years old."
The minute Jesse stepped off the porch and into the night, Ellie herded the other two inside, swinging the door shut behind her. Again, it creaked, making her think of ghosts and haunted houses. She had to find some light. Her fear of the dark overshadowed everything, even her anger.
Making out the outline of a lamp on a nearby table, her shaky hands managed to strike a match and light the wick. Immediately upon the lamp catching, she swung on the two men.
"What the hell have you gotten me into?" She shouted and instantly got a hand clamped against her mouth.
"Missy, you just gotta quit talking that way." Zeke pleaded, his shadowy gaze becoming more distinct as Lucky moved the lamp on the table closer.
She clawed until he let go.
"Look, I'll talk any da...damn way I want." Lucky's crestfallen face did nothing to abate her anger. "When you asked me to help -- and I distinctly remember saying no -- there were a few things you forgot to mention. What am I suppose to do now? Take me back this instant." Ellie stepped forward, hand on the doorknob. She would rather stay in the ghost town, in the dark, than here where she didn’t understand what was happening.
Zeke blocked her path and they stood nose to nose. "You can't leave."
"And why not?" She could do as she pleased.
Zeke ducked his head to the side, shifting his gaze away from her. "'Cuz we don't know how to get you back."
"You don't know . . .that's ridiculous. There's got to be a way.” Ellie’s heart was pounding with anxiety. She wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans, trying to make sense of all this.
“OK, calm down,” she muttered to herself. She lifted her hands, palms up, in a placating gesture, even though she seemed to be the only one upset. She closed her eyes for a moment and took a breath. “You said you had to keep Jesse from getting into any more trouble. How long is this trouble expected to last?"
Zeke shrugged. "I don't 'xactly know what part of the month it is."
She raised a brow and glared at him. "Do you even know what year it is, Zeke?" She knew her sarcasm hit home when he scrunched his shoulders and looked anywhere but at her.
"1870," he whispered.
She had made the comment mockingly, not ever believing what her eyes had seen. She just knew there had to be another explanation. Now, shock rippled through her. She shook her head, trying to clear it, clutching the back of a chair for support.
It was impossible to fathom that two old miners had somehow taken her back in time. And yet everything she saw, from the houses to the lanterns to the lack of any type of vehicle, assured her it was true. If it had been daylight, she would have walked right out of there and headed -- where? Without her maps or any money, how far would she get?
"How long do I have?" The question made it sound like Ellie was terminally ill, but at the moment, that was exactly how his news impacted her.
"Maybe a month, give or take a few weeks."
"A month?" She squeaked. Earlier today she had thought it might be a lark to be Jesse's fiancée for a few hours, but she definitely didn't want to be here a month. Not in 1870. She thought of the lack of electricity and modern conveniences. "I don't know how to live here."
"Do what ladies do." Zeke said, smiling slightly as though trying to make light of the situation. Ellie wasn't amused.
"Yeah, you know -- sew, visit, cook,” Lucky added, trying to be helpful.
“I can't. I don't know how,” Ellie moaned.
“Well, what can you do?”
"Play golf and racquetball; drive a car." She leered at them just to make Lucky sputter.
"Well, you can't do none of that, whatever it is, so you'd best learn some womanly things,” Lucky replied, sounding out of patience.
They left her then, totally alone with no TV or satellite news, no fridge full of ready to eat food. She found a candle in a drawer and lit it, then another and another, grabbing every lamp and candlestick in the house and lighting them, too. Once, she had thought candles were romantic -- used to set the stage for a sensual evening. Now, she wanted light to keep the ghosts at bay.
She wandered through the house, vaguely aware that it was really well made. Wood trimmed all the doorways and windows, glass on the windows revealed what little moonlight there was. Well, what did she expect -- rags over open holes and drafts through chinks in log walls?
She didn't know what to expect. That was exactly the trouble.
He had known Elizabeth over half his life. Their fathers had been friends, moving to Peavine when copper and gold had been discovered in '63. He'd watched her grow from a gangly, long-legged girl into a beautiful woman. As a girl, she had told him that she would marry him when she grew up and when he struck it rich, and Jesse had always smiled and teased and asked her what if he didn't want to wait until she grew up.
As the years went by, Elizabeth had talked less of marriage. Then her mother had sent her back east to finishing school and she had changed. She hadn't even come home when her mother had died. If that wasn't enough to break her father's heart, when she did arrive eight months ago she'd been somewhat of a pain in the posterior.
She had brought home some highfalutin ideas from her schooling. Jesse didn't agree with a one of them, but he couldn't deny she had become a beautiful, if spoiled, young woman. He still intended to marry her, but she wouldn't give him a definitive answer until he had more in his pockets than a few ounces of gold dust.
Normally, he wasn't obsessed with Elizabeth. She was part of his life and he just got used to her being around, he supposed. Today, however, he noticed different little things about her. She had cut her hair, for example, and she seemed fidgety for some reason. He knew Clayton Scott had been visiting her quite often since her father's death, and now he wondered if it had been about more than business.
Her unusual comments didn’t really bother him for he attributed them to her schooling. All her years back east only seemed to have instilled in her a sense of flightiness, instead of anything useful. It was a good thing her father had left the bank in trusteeship, for he doubted Elizabeth had any idea what to do with the business.
Why was it too much to hope that her education had broadened her horizons? And why was he spending so much time thinking about her?
Perhaps one of the reasons he now contemplated Elizabeth so intently was that all afternoon he had found himself staring at her. It wasn't her hair or her nervousness. It was her eyes. There had been a sparkle in their brown depths he didn't recall seeing before.
When she had looked at him, her gaze spoke of anger and independence; but he had also glimpsed fire and passion.
Passion. For the first time in their acquaintance, Jesse's loins had tightened in response to her nearness. That had been the real surprise. He had always felt comfortable around Elizabeth -- comfortable and somewhat complacent. Tonight she had ignited feelings in him that were anything but indifferent.
Ellie paced through every room in the house, trying to figure a way out of this predicament. Seeing none, she tried to convince herself that she could survive a month. At times when she had gone to Europe, she had stayed in out-of-the-way, rustic places. Though most had electricity and phone service, she supposed she could endure without it.
She'd just pretend the airport and civilization lay on the other side of the mountain. Actually, no matter what she saw here, she couldn’t imagine that they didn’t. It was inconceivable that she could be in any time other than her own.
But if by some chance she had managed to traverse time from the present to Peavine in 1870, she could damn well reverse it and get back home. Zeke and Lucky knew the way and if she had to kidnap them, she would.
She sat on a bed in what she could only assume was Elizabeth's room. Frills and lace covered everything from the curtains to the bedspread and canopy. Carefully, she placed one lit candle on the small table beside her. It sputtered in its holder and she knew she would soon have to blow it out, because as much as she hated the dark, she was afraid of starting a fire even more.
Her fear of the dark was unreasonable, or so the doctors kept telling her. Being locked in a closet for hours when she was seven by a mean baby sitter shouldn't regulate the rest of her life, even to the point that at twenty-four years of age she still needed a night light. Regardless of what the experts said, however, her fear had never fully abated. There had even been times in college when she refused to go outside after dark.
Now, her hand shook as she pinched out the flame. Only the tiniest bit of moonlight came in through the open window, and she could only hope the moon was waxing instead of waning. Despondent, she sat in a huddle staring into the shadowed darkness until her eyes blurred.
Somewhere close to dawn, she collapsed from exhaustion. As she drifted off to sleep, she wondered how Elizabeth's father had gotten such fine furnishings across the mountains.
"Hey, you gonna sleep the day away?"
Ellie squinted against the bright light coming through the window, groaning as she rolled over to bury her head under the pillow. She didn't want to put a name to that voice. Something prodded her in the arm and she swatted at it, but her hand met empty space.
"Zeke told me to come see how you are."
Oh, God, it was true. Ellie had hoped -- prayed even -- that the whole Peavine episode was only a dream. Though she had never before dreamed of ghosts and dropping through holes in history, or about a handsome miner named Jesse--
"Enough!" She tossed her hair out of her eyes and abruptly sat up on the edge of the bed when Lucky continued poking her arm. Leveling her meanest look at the unfortunate man, she reached for her cigarettes only to remember she had smoked the last one in the dark last night.
"Go away." Ellie wasn't a morning person, and used that as an excuse -- one of many -- for not marrying. She didn't want anyone to see her first thing in the morning; not before she'd had coffee and a shower.
"Can't do that. Zeke told me to keep a close eye on you." Lucky squinted one eye as he spoke, staring at her with the other. "You sleep in your clothes?"
Ellie glanced down at her wrinkled attire and decided his question didn't need an answer. "Do you know how to make coffee?"
"'Course, I do. Any fool can make coffee."
Ellie smiled, despite the early morning hour. She doubted Lucky even realized what he said. "Good. Make me some while I go take a shower."
"Go where? You can't leave the house. Not a’fore Zeke gets here." Lucky shook his head and held his hands up to keep her on the bed. "Zeke says you'll just get yourself in trouble."
Ellie couldn't debate even with Lucky this early and without a cup of coffee first; no matter how absurd his comments. "Where's the bathroom?"
Ellie sighed. Why was everything so difficult for him to understand? "I need to...brush my teeth and wash." She refused to tell even this man some things.
"Where you come from, you got a whole room to do that sort of thing?" Lucky said in awe.
"Lucky!" Her tone held a warning which even he was able to grasp.
"There's a chamber pot under the bed and a wash basin right over there. And," he glanced around wildly, probably afraid she'd go after him if he couldn't give her what she needed. "I'm 'fraid you gotta take a bath in the kitchen. There's where the water can be pumped and heated and where the tub is." Before Ellie could yell at him again, he disappeared through the door.
No shower? Ellie glanced skyward and wondered just how she was to survive any time at all, much less a month, without a shower. If this was a trial of virtue or some such thing to test her strength, she would fail miserably.
Ellie's morning routine was sharply curtailed without the necessary facilities, but she managed the best she could. She had stripped to her underwear to wash, but when she picked up her jeans to put them back on, decided they were beyond wearing.
A quick search of the room found a closet full of clothes, but no jeans. While Ellie had no aversion to wearing a dress, and did so quite often to attend the opera or opening night events in New York, she certainly didn't feel inclined to wear a dress for Lucky.
The dressing table drawers were full of frills and lacy handkerchiefs. Ellie held up a pair of long undies, the legs full of row after row of lace.
"Augh!" She tossed them aside. Next, she found a camisole, which wasn't bad, made of soft cotton without too much lace. In her time, these were bought with the express purpose of being sexy and enticing. Ellie had the feeling that in Peavine, Nevada, they were everyday wear.
She heard Lucky banging pots and pans in the kitchen as she buttoned a navy skirt over the white blouse she had pulled from the closet. The skirt hit just above her ankles, and she wondered if anyone would notice that she must be taller than Elizabeth. She shrugged, then dropped to her hands and knees with her head in the closet looking for shoes.
"Oh, no," she groaned as she plopped on her fanny. There were two pairs of lace-up-heeled boots neatly placed on the bottom of the cupboard where the clothes hung. No flats, no slip-ons, no tennies. Ellie's mouth twisted in consternation as she looked over to the edge of the bed where she had kicked her hiking boots.
With a sigh of resignation, she tugged on a pair of the lace-up boots, grunting as her toes slammed into the end. Apparently, there was more than height where she and this Elizabeth person varied. Of course, she doubted anyone would notice the size of her feet. A trip to the clothes store was definitely in order.
By now, the rich smell of coffee wafted through the house to Ellie's nose. She stumbled once finding her way to the kitchen when her skirts wrapped around her legs. Perhaps if she wore a slip beneath them, they'd not trip her up.
When she walked through the door, Lucky's mouth dropped and the skillet he had been holding fell back onto the stove.
"What?" Ellie was still aggravated with his wake up call so early this morning, and didn't need him staring at her. She found a cup and poured herself some coffee. "Ah," she sighed as the first mouthful of caffeine slid down her throat. Now, if she only had a cigarette.
"You look real nice all gussied up, Miss Elizabeth," Lucky finally sputtered, then blushed and ducked his head, avoiding her glare.
"My name is Ellie."
"Well, you look and sound just like her, when you ain't swearing," Lucky sassed her right back.
Ellie raised a brow, wondering where the reticent Lucky had acquired his nerve so early in the morning. Perhaps he had an independent streak after all.
"But you gotta do something 'bout your hair; and get rid of that thing strapped to your wrist. We don't got them either."
At his comment, Ellie glanced at her wristwatch. She yelped, "You woke me up at six in the damn morning."
As though in response to her uncharitable attitude, a resounding blast rattled the window panes. Coffee sloshed in Ellie’s cup as her whole body shook. Before she could question, another boom echoed through the valley.
“What the hell?” Ellie thumped her cup onto the table only to watch it shimmer and shake almost to the edge. She reached to catch it and everything stopped as suddenly as it started. She stood, arm outstretched, waiting.
“You ain’t never heared dynamite blasts?” Lucky questioned and Ellie guessed her face gave her away.
“Are they trying to blow up this house?” Her heart still thumped too fast.
“Nope. That blast come from the Golden Fleece, if I heared right. That’s clear up the slope to Peavine Summit.”
“How in he...heaven’s name do the people stand it? Don’t the walls tumble right in on them?” Ellie thought the noise and initial trembling was worse than the earthquake she had encountered in Chili several years ago.
“Sometimes worse than others -- ‘pends on how deep the shafts are and how many blasts at the same time. I suppose if’n all the mines blasted at once, it would fair ring the trees bare of branches. Most days is spent hauling ore and shoring up the walls so they can dig some more.”
Ellie shook her head in wonder. It seemed she’d better figure out a way to get home fast. She had no desire to be buried under a pile of rock if some match happy miner lit too big a fuse.
"I'm going out."
"You can't do that. Zeke said so," Lucky stated in a panic, waving the spatula at her like that was going to keep her in place.
"Zeke's not my keeper," she stated, walking back down the hall, Lucky right on her heels. Knowing she'd never get far if she couldn't get rid of him, she stopped and turned. He nearly smacked into her.
"Lucky. I have to go to the bathroom and do something with my hair."
He didn't move.
She sniffed. "Is that your breakfast burning?" That sent him back to the kitchen in a hurry. Ellie used the time to escape through the front door. She'd worry about her hair later.
Since it had been dark when they got to the house last night, she had no idea which way was which, but in glancing down the road, it appeared town lay to the right. Only Elizabeth’s house and one other faced the road she walked before she came to a cross street.
She closed her eyes trying to recall the layout of the ghost town. So many of the buildings had fallen down over the years, and she was sure some hadn’t even been built in 1870. In fact, she couldn’t remember having seen Elizabeth’s house before last night, but then she hadn’t gotten too far afield that day before Zeke found her by the creek.
Taking a chance, she turned and walked to the left. She figured Peavine couldn’t be that large and she could always backtrack. The buildings on the right side of the street were at least fronted by a sidewalk of sorts, so she stepped up onto the platform. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she hoped this was all a big farce, and she’d step back into the ghost town where she started and would calmly wait to be rescued.
She couldn’t help the sigh which escaped as she noticed the people out and about. There weren’t many; mostly men all wearing old fashioned typed clothes, but they were all gawking at her.
She hoped, having eluded Lucky, that the store would be open because she suddenly felt uncomfortable out in the open. Mentally, she reviewed her list of supplies until a sudden thought struck her and she stopped in the middle of the walk.
The bank sign across the street made her realize she was broke. How could she buy clothes and cigarettes with no money? She cocked her head and stared at the sign. Calhoun's Bank & Trust. Jesse had said Elizabeth's father owned the bank.
Ellie had no idea where Mr. Calhoun was; he certainly hadn't spent the night at the house. However, she decided as long as she had to play-act as Elizabeth, she was entitled to her money; or her father's money. Whatever. She just hoped they had heard of ‘charge it’ here in the hills of Nevada.
"Elizabeth?" Ellie didn't connect the name with herself until someone touched her elbow. Reflexes honed from living in New York made her jerk back and quickly turn around.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you, but you seemed in a daze. What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you left town." The suave gentleman standing in front of her came right out of a very old movie. Dark gray suit, white shirt with a starched collar and stick pin in his tie. He even had a handlebar mustache and a bowler-style hat swept off slicked-black hair as he nodded to her.
Ellie panicked briefly, wishing now that she had stayed put until Zeke had time to brief her. Who was this guy? How was he connected to Elizabeth? "Why would you think I left town?" She questioned out loud, hoping to glean some insight without giving the game away. Her question raised his eyebrows, and his explanation only slightly squelched her uneasiness.
"That crazy old coot, Lucky, sat on your porch when I came to pick you up for dinner at the hotel. He said you had left on the stage because an aunt had died in Belmont. I didn’t realize you had any other relatives.”
Ellie didn't like the insinuation in the man's voice and she definitely didn’t like his proprietary grip on her arm. She pried his fingers loose and took a step back. The conversation she'd had with Jesse last night echoed inside her head. This had to be Clayton Scott, the lascivious mine owner whom Jesse detested.
While the man now respected the small space she put between them, there was still something about him that Ellie didn't trust. Too many years in the big city, she supposed. His slick looks and mustache made him out of place in Peavine, but he conveyed the perfect villain for a melodrama. Somehow that description fit with everything else Ellie had been experiencing.
She decided to be cautious until she could find out more. She offered him a sugary smile and sorrowful words. "I realized too late that there was nothing I could do for poor Auntie, so at the first opportunity, I got off the stage. Fortunately, a farmer was heading for town to get supplies." Deciding to play on his sympathies, she sighed before adding, "There's just so much death...you know." She looked at him from beneath her lashes.
The man immediately took her hand and patted it. "My poor Elizabeth. It must have been extremely difficult thinking about attending another funeral when your father so recently--"
Ellie's gasp cut him off, and she knew her expression couldn't have been any more genuine if she were actually Elizabeth. Her eyes opened wide. Elizabeth's father was dead? Could his death be related to the trouble shadowing Jesse? Panic squeezed the breath out of her. What had she gotten into -- murder and mayhem?
She pulled her hand out of his clammy one and said without thinking. “I think I should get back home. I need to see Jesse.” As she turned to go, he grabbed her arm.
“I don’t want you around him.”
Ellie quickly thought over what Zeke had told her. “We are suppose to be engaged, after all.”
“You know that’s just a sham. Before I left New York, you had promised yourself to me.” He stepped closer and Ellie could smell his cologne -- a cloying musk. “In fact, you had already given me much more than a promise.”
Oh, boy -- murder, mayhem, and sex! Definitely things Ellie hadn’t counted on. She didn’t know the complete story and doubted that Zeke did either. Even so, she took a gamble. “If you want things to work out, you have to give me some space, and time.”
“Time?” The man sounded incredulous. “You’ve been back over eight months. That’s more than enough time to convince Jesse--”
“Morning, Miss Elizabeth.” Their conversation was interrupted by an old miner walking by.
Clayton glared at the intruder; Ellie smiled and nodded.
“I’m coming over tonight,” he whispered.
“No.” When he gave her a suspicious look, she hastily added, “Zeke and Lucky are sticking close for some reason. We need to act...innocent. Let things settle for a bit.”
She could tell he didn’t think much of her idea, but knew she couldn’t let him near her. “Besides, I need to convince Jesse--” She let the sentence hang, hoping he’d finish the cryptic line he had started, but he just scowled.
“Fine, but if this takes much longer, I have a plan of my own that’ll get the job done much quicker.” He didn’t wait for a reply, but turned and strolled across the street to the bank without a backward glance.
Ellie gapped after him, stunned at what he had revealed. She rewound the conversation and played it over in her mind. Actually, he had said very little, but insinuated a lot. They definitely had a plot hatched, and while Ellie didn’t think Elizabeth had anything to do with her own father’s death, she didn’t put it past Clayton Scott.
She shook off the morbid shadow and decided she would have to discuss what she had learned with Zeke and Lucky after she got her supplies. Regardless of not wanting to be here, she had been drawn into their lives, and she couldn’t walk out of this make-believe town and leave them in the lurch. Damn it, she was just too soft hearted.
Fortunately, though still early, the door to Murphy’s Mercantile and Feed Store opened beneath her hand. A bell tinkled overhead as she entered. She stood just inside the door, amazed at the sight which greeted her. Only once before, in a tiny hamlet in the mountains of Switzerland, had she ever come across a store that contained anything and everything needed for survival, and then some.
Bolts of cloth and all manner of clothes lay on tables; pots and pans, shovels and hoes hung from hooks overhead. Dried legumes filled bushel baskets on the floor. One side of the room stored barrels labeled pickles, whiskey, molasses, and vinegar. Shelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling and contained everything from coffee, spices and wine to jars and tins of food.
Since there weren't any other customers in the store at the moment, Ellie quickly moved to the clothes. A cursory glance at the inside waistband revealed no sizes, so she held up pants to find something that might fit. She had grabbed a few pairs of tan jeans and two flannel shirts before she realized that not only were there no customers in the store, there was no clerk either.
She tilted her head. There -- she heard humming. Someone was here; just in the back someplace. Strangely reassured, she scurried from area to area, grabbing things she thought she would need. She couldn't find any cigarettes, but found pouches of tobacco and papers.
"This is getting to be a real experience," she muttered under her breath.
"Elizabeth. My goodness sakes, you're out and about quite early this morning." The chipper voice soon attached itself to a body as a young, brown-haired woman came through a curtained doorway. "We normally don't see you until afternoon."
Ellie rolled her eyes. It appeared that she and Elizabeth actually did have something in common. Unfortunately, it wasn't knowledge of who all these people were. Ellie began to wonder how she'd fake her way through another conversation when Zeke came bursting through the doorway.
"Morning, Miss Sarah." He grabbed the hat from his head as he hurried over to where Ellie stood. "Morning, Miss Elizabeth," he repeated the greeting just as politely, then under his breath lectured her. "I thought I told you to stay put."
Ellie gave him a spiteful smile and replied sweetly, "It is a wonderful morning, Mr. Zeke. Why, I've already had a very delightful conversation with Mr. Clayton Scott." She took pleasure in seeing the shocked expression on his face before she turned back to the counter where Sarah stood.
"Mr. Zeke?" Sarah giggled. "I don't recall ever using that name on him before, although now that I think on it, I don't rightly recall ever knowing his last name."
Ellie lost the thread of Sarah's conversation as her gaze scanned the shelves. "Oh, my Go...goodness." She corrected herself just as Zeke coughed. "Potato chips; and pork and beans." She grabbed cans of Van Camp's Beans in Tomato Sauce off the shelf. Although she had never heard of Saratoga Chips, she recognized the potato chips by the picture on the front of the cloth bag. There was life in the 1870's after all.
She dumped her treasures on the counter before a startled Sarah. "Elizabeth," Sarah paused, apparently not sure how to address the pile of merchandise now laying before her. “I realize losing your father must be such a burden, and perhaps you sometimes forget?”
Ellie watched Sarah’s gaze float from item to item. Zeke poked her in the ribs. She glanced down, and this time saw her items through Sarah’s eyes. Geez. Potato chips were probably bad enough, but flannel shirts, jeans and tobacco? She offered a weak smile, her gaze beseeching Zeke even though she hated, really hated, to admit she needed help.
Zeke rolled his eyes to the heavens, but did pull her out of the fire. "I'm sure glad you 'membered all those things Jesse and us needed, Miss Elizabeth. My ole mind is getting feeble."
Ellie shot a glance at Sarah to see if she bought the story. If not, she was too polite to say so, and began writing down the purchases on a small pad. When she reached for the Pork & Beans by Ellie’s hand, she paused instead to finger her wristwatch. Ellie gritted her teeth for the quizzing she was sure would follow.
“Is that one of those new eastern fashion ideas? I must admit it’s a fair piece easier than always looking at my...chest.” Sarah fingered the watch pinned to her bodice and gave Ellie a grin. Ellie laughed.
“I keep telling Papa to let me go back east shopping to bring the styles to Peavine, but he insists Mr. Strauss’s jeans are radical enough.”
Sarah continued chatting away as she wrapped Ellie’s purchases. "I really am glad to see you, Elizabeth. I heard last night that you left town on the stage, and I couldn't help but wonder if you would have been back in time for the wedding."
"Wedding?" Ellie squeaked. The only wedding she had heard mentioned was Elizabeth’s and Jesse’s, and she sure wasn’t planning that. She gave Zeke a look.
Zeke politely smiled. "I plumb forgot about you and Henry getting hitched. What day’s that wedding gonna be, Miss Sarah? You know Lucky is awaiting to celebrate." Sarah blushed nicely, Ellie thought, and Zeke could be a real charmer when he wanted.
"Just a week from this Friday." To Ellie, she added, “You know how shy Henry is. He was half afraid to ask, but was so pleased when Jesse said he would stand up for him, since you were going to be my maid of honor."
Ellie didn't know how to respond, so just smiled as Sarah handed her the bundles. “I’ll just send this ticket over to the bank on your account.” Sarah slid the paper into a drawer and Ellie wasn’t about to argue.
Once they were outside the store, Zeke stopped Ellie. “Sarah's wedding to Henry was the biggest shindig Peavine had in awhile. I’m thinking the accident was after the wedding, so we got some time to figure out what really happened a’fore it happens all over again."
“Who’s Henry?” Ellie really did need to get everyone in this melodrama identified.
“Henry Jefferson. He works as a teller at your daddy’s bank.”
“Yeah, you really do need to tell me about daddy’s bank,” Ellie added, but Zeke already had his lips puckered up in thought.
He snapped his fingers and burst out, "Now I recall. The only other big doings in Peavine is the Independence Day celebration and picnic, and that's when Lucky and me got ourselves in trouble. And that means we got less than a month."
Ellie was feeling benevolent, having her arms wrapped around real clothes, real junk food, and the makings for real cigarettes. Besides, Zeke just said she had less than a month to rough it in Peavine before she could go back home. She gave Zeke the first genuine smile she'd felt since landing in this strange place and imitated his drawl. "Well then, Zeke, I think we'd best get back home and figure us out a plan."
You can find PROSPECTING FOR LOVE, as well as my other time travel, historical and contemporary romances at http://bookswelove.net/authors/baldwin-barbara-romance/. If you enjoy my stories, please leave a review at your purchase site. It certainly helps both my publisher and me as we look at marketing.