Mid-Month Novel Excerpt: Thoroughly Kissed
Once per month, I’ll publish an excerpt of one of my novels, and I hope you’ll be intrigued enough to buy the rest of the book. I began this practice in February of 2011. Unlike the free fiction I put up every Monday, the novel excerpts will remain on the site. If you want to read the opening to the previous fourteen novels, click here.
This month, I’ve excerpted Thoroughly Kissed, which I wrote as Kristine Grayson. Sourcebooks will release Thoroughly Kissed in June. The storyline follows Utterly Charming, which I excerpted a few months ago. You don’t have to read Utterly Charming to enjoy Thoroughly Kissed. The Grayson novels are marketed as romance, but in truth, they’re light fantasy. This book is a reissue. It was first published in 2001, and was nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best Paranormal Romance. Since paranormal romance has skewed darker in the past decade, Sourcebooks decided to leave that information off the cover copy.
I hope it will wet your appetite, not just for this book, but for my other Grayson novels as well. You’ll find ordering information at the end of this post.
Here’s the back cover copy, followed by the excerpt and the ordering information:
Emma awakens to an entirely different world than the one she lived in a thousand years ago, and although she’s the real Sleeping Beauty, her life is no fairy tale. After parting ways with her supposed Prince Charming, she’s determined to be a normal girl—she hides her magic and swears off kissing strange men.
But her gorgeous boss Michael knows there ‘s something unusual about Emma, and he thinks she’s as infuriating as she is beautiful. Now Emma needs to teach Michael a lesson, which means mastering her magic. She knows she’s flirting with danger, but after one look at Michael’s perfect lips, all she can think is, “What’s another thousand years … ?”
Welcome to the fractious fairy tale world of Kristine Grayson, where the bumpy road to happily ever after is paved with surprises …
“Charming and engaging, the story moves quickly and fluidly. Emma is the right balance of strong and vulnerable, and Michael complements her with his skepticism and compassion. A sweet love story makes this a perfect beach read for hopeless romantics.” – Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2012 by Kristine K. Rusch
Published by Sourcebooks
First published by Kensington in 2001.
Emma Lost cleared the last of the winter debris from her yard, put her dirt-covered hands on the small of her back, and stretched. The air had a sweet, fresh odor, and the sky was a warmer blue than it had been a month ago.
Spring had finally arrived — and not a moment too soon. Sometimes she questioned her sanity, moving to Wisconsin from Oregon. Oregon, at least, had had winters like those she had grown up in — wet, chilly, and rainy. Nothing like the hip-deep snow she had had to endure, the layers of ice beneath it, and temperatures so far below freezing that they barely registered on the thermometer the house’s previous owner had glued to the outside of her kitchen window.
And even though she had been a member of the modern era for the last ten years, there were still things she didn’t completely understand. Like wind chill. The concept was clear enough — it got colder when the wind blew. But she had no idea how anyone would be able to measure how much colder, or why they couldn’t build a thermometer that incorporated it.
She’d asked one of her colleagues at the university, and she had looked at Emma as if she were crazy, a look Emma should be used to by now. If she told most people her history, they all would think she was crazy, or at least delusional. They would have no idea that she was telling them the truth.
She didn’t even try any more.
An angry yowl sounded from her front door. She turned, just as she was expected to. Her black cat, Darnell, sat behind the screen, his ears back, his green eyes slitted. When he realized she was looking at him, he put a paw on the screen door.
“No such luck, pal,” she said. “You have never been an outdoor cat, and I’m not starting the habit now.”
Darnell’s ears went even flatter, if that were possible. His eyes flashed.
“You’re twenty years old,” she said. “And I don’t care that the vet just gave you a clean bill of health, you wouldn’t survive a day out here. Sometimes I wonder how I do it.”
Darnell huffed at her, then butted his head against the screen.
“One more time,” she said, “and I’ll close the door. You won’t even get the fresh air.”
He moved his head away from the screen so fast he nearly fell over. Then he wrapped his tail around his paws as if he had no interest in leaving the house.
She grabbed her pruning sheers off the pile of tools she had placed on her brick stairs, then headed for the tulip bed. The previous owner of this house had loved flowers — especially spring flowers, especially bulbs. She had so many tulips on the south side of her house that it looked as if she had moved to Holland. The daffodils were planted around back — just as many if not more.
The tulips and daffodils were nearing the end of their season and needed to be deadheaded. Not that she minded. She would be working near the lilac bushes, which were just beginning to flower. The lilac scent was heavenly.
Before she started to change the flower garden, she would have to wait to see how many more surprises the warm weather would bring. She had rented the house last fall, when the University of Wisconsin hired her as an associate history professor. Her specialty was the Early Middle Ages in England, commonly known as the Dark Ages — the years from 500 to 1100 AD — but she’d been teaching everything from survey classes of the whole medieval period to graduate seminars on everything from the Roman Conquest to the Crusades.
But it was her lecture series — England in the First Millennium — that made her one of the most popular professors on campus. Her popularity, and her book, Light on the Darkness: England from 450-1000 AD, a pop culture bestseller which had inspired the university to ask her to teach in the first place, convinced Mort Collier, the chairman of the history department, to recommend her for a permanent position.
To celebrate, she had bought the house. She loved it. Her refuge in a world that was too modern for her. She had friends here — a lot of them, actually — but none of them knew who she was — or why she specialized in the Dark Ages.
And she would never tell them.
Imagine, sitting with her girlfriends at Mother Fool’s Coffee House, sharing lattes, and explaining that she taught about the Dark Ages because she had been born in them. That would go over well. Just about as well as telling them that when she was twenty years old, she kissed a young man named Aethelstan and went into a magically induced coma for the next thousand years. Then, when she woke up, it was to find herself in a glass coffin in the back of a decrepit VW microbus, facing Aethelstan’s lawyer — the pretty, petite woman who later became his wife.
And she could have him. Emma shuddered as she always did when she thought of Aethelstan. He had lived those thousand years — aging slightly, as all mages did — and becoming a person she didn’t know. She liked him now, but she couldn’t imagine being attracted to him — or wanting to kiss him.
Then again, she didn’t want to kiss anyone again. Ever. For any reason. Too risky.
She knew the spell that had put her in the magical coma had supposedly ended ten years ago, but sometimes magic was tricky. It didn’t always do what people expected. And sometimes it came back. So Emma protected herself, and her lips. She didn’t need a real man with real problems and real needs. She had Darnell. He was cranky enough for one lifetime.
A UPS truck drove by and stopped in front of a house down the block. Emma set down her sheers beside the tulips and hurried to her brick sidewalk. Sure enough, the UPS truck had stopped in front of the house at the corner. She slipped her dirty hands in the back pocket of her jeans. She hadn’t expected that. The house had been empty ever since she had moved into the neighborhood last fall.
She kept an eye on that house because it was a companion house to hers. Both had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright who had spent much of his life in the Madison area. Apparently, he had designed the houses for sisters who wanted to live in the same neighborhood. Emma’s sister had died young, and the next owner had remodeled the house — leaving the Wright exterior which blended so beautifully with the lot, and meddling with the interior. But the other Wright house was just as it had been when it was built — furniture and all.
Emma had wanted to go in it since she’d heard that, but the owner was out of the country. No one knew when he was coming back.
The UPS driver opened the back of the truck, and grabbed a huge cardboard box. He staggered with it over the curb and toward the front door of the sister house. Then he leaned on the doorbell.
The door opened, but Emma couldn’t see who was inside. She walked to her lilac bushes, and hoped that the branches would hide her just enough to prevent her neighbors from knowing how nosy she really was.
The box disappeared out of the UPS driver’s hands, and then he went back to the truck, peering inside it as if he were facing a herculean task. After a moment, the door to the mystery house opened, and a man came out.
Emma caught her breath. He was gorgeous. Broad-shouldered with a narrow waist that tapered into long muscular legs. He had hair so blond that it could rightly be called golden, and his features seemed, from this distance at least, to be perfect. Women these days would call him “movie star handsome” but an old term from her past rose in her mind. He was wulfstrang – powerful enough to defend anything.
Then she shook herself. It didn’t matter how good-looking he was. She wasn’t going to allow herself to be attracted to anyone, for any reason. The last time it had happened cost her a thousand years of her life.
Darnell yowled from the house, and she shushed him over her shoulder. Obnoxious cat. He had originally belonged to Aethelstan’s wife, Nora, but then became enamored with Emma, and cried for her when she wasn’t with him. Nora had given him to Emma and, at the time, she’d been very happy to have him. She still was, if truth be told. But she didn’t like the yowling or the jealousy. And that cat was jealous of everyone.
The blond man with the broadshoulders took a box from the UPS man, who then took one of his own. They carried the boxes into the house. The blond man seemed to have no trouble with the box’s weight, while the UPS man staggered yet again.
Emma frowned. What was in them? His possessions? It would be a strange way of moving in this day and age, but she was the first to admit she didn’t understand many things about the modern era. She had spent the last ten years in school — first catching up on the time she’d missed while learning practical things like how to read, how a stove works, and how to drive a car.
She’d come a long way in a short time — from an illiterate to a Ph.D. Or perhaps, more accurately, from a woman who was afraid of a shower to someone who occasionally was occasionally interviewed on A&E or the History Channel as an expert on the past.
Sometimes the person she had become amazed her. There would have been no way to explain this life to the girl who had been kissed into a magical coma. She would have seen this entire world as make-believe, or magical. And she never would have believed that she would be able to do all the things she did without magic.
But she had none, and she was relieved. She would become a mage one day but, for the time being, she was as normal as the next person. If, of course, the next person had been in a magical coma for one thousand years.
The men left the house again. The blond man glanced in her direction and she cringed behind the lilac bush, hoping he didn’t see her. Men had terrible reactions when they saw her. They acted just like Darnell. They became enamored, entranced, attracted. And she hated it.
When she had complained to Aethelstan, he had laughed at her. This culture’s story of Sleeping Beauty is based on your life, my dear. Of course men are going to find you incredibly attractive. You are.
She didn’t see it. Her skin was too pale, her cheeks and lips too red, her eyes too blue. And her hair was a glossy black in a culture that seemed to worship blondes. Blondes with hair the color of that man across the street.
She peered over the lilac bush. He was still carrying boxes. The UPS man had paused to wipe the sweat off his face, even though it wasn’t that hot. He didn’t look her way once.
Darnell yowled again. She sighed. She got up and went to her front door, pulling open the screen. Darnell bolted for the great outdoors, but she blocked him with her foot, and then pushed him inside. He gave her an affronted look as she pulled the heavy oak door closed, locking him inside.
The screen door whapped her in the side. She moved away from it, and headed back to her lilac bush.
As she did, she heard the truck start up. The UPS man was driving away, and the door was shut on the blond man’s house. She had missed him.
But they were neighbors. She would see him again. She couldn’t get near him — that would be risking too much — but she could watch him from afar. There weren’t many men in this modern age who were wulfstrang.
Perhaps he had an old soul.
She sighed and went back to her tulips. A big bouquet of the last of them would look beautiful in her entryway. A little bit of spring indoors.
Just the thing to pick up her mood — and make her forget the mysterious stranger who had moved in across the street.
He wasn’t ready to be back. Five days ago, he’d been standing at Stonehenge — now fenced off, so that no one could deface the marvelous rocks — and now he was back on campus. Strange that it all looked the same.
Michael Found rubbed his eyes. The sky was a lovely shade of blue, but the ground was still brown from the harsh winter. A few blades of grass made Bascom Hill look as if it were a patchwork quilt — a patchwork quilt covered with student ants. The students all looked the same too, in their tattered jeans and carefully funky coats. Backpacks were back in style — ergonomically designed, of course (it was a new century after all) — but still packed to the brim.
The air was just warm enough to bring most of the vendors to the Library Mall. T-shirts hung from stalls, and he could smell falafels even though it was only 10 a.m. A juice bar was open and had a line; so did the new coffee vendor, who hadn’t been in business when Michael left Madison last July.
It was May and he was back, the sabbatical over. He had to step into his new job as department chairman whether he was ready to or not. The previous department chair, Mort Collier, had chosen the end of spring term as his retirement date. Michael had just barely made it home in time for last night’s private party. Mort had looked happy and younger than Michael had seen him look in years.
“It’s a good job,” Mort had said. “It just drains you. But you’ll have the break to get your feet under you—and summer’s an easy term. The hard stuff won’t start until fall.”
It felt like the hard stuff was starting now. His mind was still in England, thinking about the research he was doing for his current book, and instead, he was here, about to jump into the fray. Michael had been Mort’s assistant and heir apparent for three years now. He knew the drill. He just wasn’t ready to be the one responsible.
But he was. Mort made it clear that he would only help in cases of extreme emergency – and Michael had no idea what those cases would be, although he suspected they would all be political.
Michael was not looking forward to the political part of his new job.
Nor was he looking forward to the first thing on his morning’s agenda. He was going to a lecture. Mort had urged him to see the history department’s newest acquisition, a female medieval history professor who had somehow gotten a long-term contract the space of a single semester.
At the party, all Mort could do was rave about this woman. Michael hadn’t had the heart to tell Mort he’d already heard of her — and had read her so-called masterpiece.
Light on the Darkness was pop history at its worst, and her scholarship was abysmal. And her name didn’t help matters. Emma Lost. He could only guess at the jokes the graduate students would make about that. Dubbing the history department the Lost and Found Department was only going to be the beginning. Michael had been around students long enough to know it was going to go downhill from there.
He jogged up the steps leading to the 1970s eyesore the university had deemed the Humanities building. Built after the Vietnam war protests (in which one group of misguided university students had bombed the UW’s Army-Math research center), the Humanities building had thick concrete walls, steel doors, and pencil-thin windows in only a few of the offices. There was an interior courtyard — and there were windows facing that — but all they showed was a patch of grass and the rest of the building. Sometimes, when he’d been hunkered in this building for weeks, he felt as if he were in a 1950s underground bomb shelter, waiting for the end of the world.
He let himself inside. The interior smelled of blackboard chalk and processed air — he doubted this place had had a breeze inside it since it was built. What surprised him was that he had missed the smell. The musty, fusty buildings he’d been in while he was in England usually smelled of ancient dust and mold. For some reason, the processed air smell to him was the scent of cleanliness.
There were no students in the hallways — for obvious reasons, no one hung out in Humanities — and those who were here were already in class. He hurried to the lecture hall where Professor Lost teaching her 200-level undergraduate survey on the Early Middle Ages, and sighed softly.
He wished he were hiking in Cornwall. He had planned to end his trip there, but he had run out of time. He was going to use his favorite bed-and-breakfast in Mousehole (pronounced Mozzle) as his home base, and he was going to go around to all the historic and magical sites — even to one of the many purported sites of Camelot. Jogging concrete stairs and hallways in the Humanities building was a poor substitute.
The door to the lecture hall was open, and he slid into the back. It was a huge room, with stairs descending to what the faculty unaffectionately called “the pit” — a small floor with a large blackboard behind it, screens that could come down for film viewing, and a movable podium up front.
Michael had once told Mort that it felt as if he were a Christian in the Roman coliseum, waiting to face the lions. Mort had laughed and said that it was his job to capture the students, not to let them capture him.
Michael had never quite found the trick to that. He was better at research and scholarship than actual lectures. He actually liked the organization his administrative duties required of him, and if he never taught another class, he doubted anyone — including him— would miss it.
Obviously Emma Lost’s students didn’t feel that way.
Michael had never seen a 200-level Middle Ages class so full. And more surprisingly, most of the students were male — and, if he didn’t miss his guess, several of them were the school’s top athletes. He’d never heard of non-majors taking a medieval history course as an elective — the non-majors flocked to American history, and then to famous events, like the Civil War or World War II. And the jocks avoided the history department ever since Mort had cancelled all of the History for Dummies classes (as they were affectionately called) ten years ago.
So what were the jocks doing here?
Michael gazed down at the stage and didn’t see a professor at all. The teaching assistant had her back to him. She was gathering a pile of papers and placing them on the table that doubled for a desk.
Then she turned around, and his breath caught in his throat.
She was slender yet curvy in all the right places. She wore her long black hair loose, and it flowed past her knees. It caught the light, shiny and reflective like hair in a shampoo commercial. But her hair wasn’t her most stunning feature.
Her face was. She had a true peaches-and-cream complexion, the kind he hadn’t seen outside of Ireland, and never on a brunette before. Her eyes were almond shaped, her cheekbones high, and her mouth a perfect bow.
He sank into one of the ugly orange plastic chairs, his legs no longer able to hold him, and it took him a long time to remember to close his mouth.
No wonder this lecture hall was filled with men. No wonder they all stared like — well, like he was. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life.
She walked over to the podium and grabbed the cordless microphone. It thumped once, making him start.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “I just had to make sure you all had the revised assignments list.”
She had a throaty alto with a bit of an accent, an accent he couldn’t quite place. It was almost Scandinavian, but not in the broad comical tones he usually heard all over the upper Midwest, the accent that had been so aptly lampooned in the movie Fargo. No, this was more like a hint of an accent, as if English were not her native language. She clipped the ends of words the way a German would who had long been acclimatized to the United States.
“All right,” she said, leaning against the podium but not stepping behind it. “Since you all seem to be having so much trouble believing that the people who lived a thousand years ago were the same as the rest of us, with the same problems, similar cares and worries, and similar feelings, let’s try to bring their world a little closer, shall we?”
Even though she was chastising the group, she didn’t seem at all angry. In fact, Michael felt himself being drawn closer to her.
“We still practice a lot of rituals that began in the Middle Ages,” she said and then she smiled. It seemed as if the entire room had been lit by its own sun. “And frankly, the rituals made a lot more sense back then than they do now.”
Michael’s hands were shaking. He had never been drawn to a woman by her beauty before, but he couldn’t help himself. She was absolutely, positively mesmerizing.
“For example,” she said, that smile still playing around her lips, “one of the Suebic tribes worshipped the Mother of the Gods. They wore an emblem to honor that rite — it was the image of wild boars.”
Half the class tittered nervously. The sound brought Michael back to himself for just a moment. He caught his breath, but couldn’t make himself look away from her.
She didn’t even seem to notice their reaction. “To them, the boar guaranteed that the worshipper of that goddess would be without fear even if he was surrounded by his enemies. At Yule-tide, the warriors made their vows for the coming year on a sacrificial boar. You all continue that practice. You make New Year’s resolutions.”
A young man in the front of the room said, “You don’t know that the events are tied. You can’t just say —”
“Justin,” she said in a weary tone. “What did I tell you about comments in class?”
“Geez, Professor Lost, I…”
Michael stiffened. He frowned at the woman, still engaged in conversation with the young man in the front of the room. She looked as young as her students. There was no way that this could be Emma Lost.
He had expected a middle-aged woman with a narrow mouth that never smiled, and small beady eyes which constantly moved back and forth searching for people who saw through her terrible scholarship. He should have realized that she was tiny and telegenic. After all, he’d been hearing that she made the lecture rounds before she came to the UW, and she was still being called by interviewers as an expert on all things historical.
“My favorite senseless thing that’s still practiced in this century,” she was saying, “occurs in the spring. Now remember, that medieval people understood the world based only on what they could see.”
Michael gripped the plastic top of the chair in front of him. She looked so relaxed down there, one ankle crossed behind the other, the microphone held easily in one hand. He was always behind the podium, struggling with notes.
“There is a bird in England called a lapwing which, for those of you who don’t know, is a plover —“
The hand of the boy in the front row rose again.
“— which,” she continued with a grin, “for those of you who don’t know is a wading bird —”
The boy’s hand went down.
“—and it builds a nest which looks remarkable similar to the scratch of a hare, which for those of who don’t know, is a rabbit. Because of the similarity in nests, many of the early English believed that rabbits —”
She paused, waiting for the class to come up with the answer on its own.
“Laid eggs,” Michael whispered.
“Laid eggs,” she said, her eyes twinkling. “And that’s why the Easter bunny lays Easter eggs.”
Another hand went up. This one belonged to a studious girl who sat in the middle. “Our books mentioned that the word ‘Easter’ came from the pagan goddess ‘Eostre.’”
The grin faded from Professor Lost’s face and she was watching the girl intently. Michael felt his back straighten.
“We haven’t discussed the pagans much—”
“We’ve discussed the Christian church’s influence and various beliefs.” Professor Lost sounded almost defensive.
“A little. But the book mentions that it’s impossible to know what pagan beliefs really were because the early Christians did what they could to destroy any history of paganism.”
Professor Lost’s magnificent eyes seemed to have grown larger. Michael wondered what it was about this topic that made her uncomfortable. It was well known that the Christian church did its best to convert all it contacted to Christianity. Had she run into trouble in the past by teaching pagan history? He doubted that. She didn’t look old enough to have been teaching long.
“What’s your question?” Professor Lost asked.
Apparently the girl heard annoyance in the professor’s tone and flushed. “Well, in, like, fiction books, they say the pagans practiced magic. Did they?”
Professor Lost’s face shut down completely. All the personality left it. Michael leaned back wondering how she would handle this. Magic was his special area of historical expertise — and the subject of his next book. He knew the answer. He wondered if she did.
“We don’t discuss magic in this class,” she snapped. “Now, if there are no more questions, let’s return to our discussion of Alfred the Great. He was about 23 years old when he was crowned in 871…”
Michael stood. He knew more about Alfred the Great than he wanted to. Even though medieval history hadn’t been Michael’s area before, he’d had to study it as his history of magic project grew.
“…was an outstanding leader both in war and in peace, and is the only English king —”
There was a small break in her voice. Michael looked over at her and found her staring directly at him. He felt her gaze as if it were a touch. Her eyes were wide, her mouth parted, and all he wanted to do was run down those stairs and kiss her. For a long, long time.
He shook himself. That would have shocked the students. The new chairman of the history department going from class to class and kissing the professors That would really shock old Professor Emeritus Rosenthal who was giving a lecture on British Naval History in the next room.
The thought of kissing Professor Rosenthal broke the spell, at least for Michael. But Professor Lost was still staring at him as if he were the answer to all her prayers.
She would soon discover that he wasn’t. He hadn’t been all that impressed with her famous lecturing skills.
“I wouldn’t call Alfred the Great a king of England,” he said, his voice carrying in the cavernous room.
She blinked as if catching herself, and then said into the microphone in a very cold voice, “And who might you be?”
“I’m Michael Found.”
Several students tittered. She glared at them and they all leaned back. Michael felt like he wanted to as well.
“I don’t appreciate jokes, Michael Found, and I know your name is not on my student roster, so if you would kindly—”
“I’m the new chairman of the history department.”
To his surprise, she blushed. She turned a lovely shade of rose that accented her dark hair and her spectacular eyes. “Oh, well, then, I guess you can interrupt at any time.”
They stared at each other for a moment. The students seemed to be getting tennis neck turning their heads back and forth, trying to see what was going on.
She cleared her throat. “What would you call Alfred the Great if not a King of England.”
“England was divided into tribal areas at that period. Alfred was king of the West Saxons in southwestern England, but he didn’t —”
“He conquered London in 886,” she said. “All the English people who weren’t subject to the Danes recognized him as their ruler. By my book, that makes him a king of England.”
“By your book, yes,” Michael said, “I suppose it does.”
She frowned, obviously not understanding the comment. She would later.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt your class,” he said. “You’re the only tenured professor I haven’t met yet, and I wanted to hear you work.” He glanced at the students. “You can all go back to learning about Danelaw.”
That blush rose again on her skin, and he felt that same attraction. He dodged it by turning and going out the door. As he did, he heard her say, “Well, you never know what’s going to happen on a pretty May morning. Let’s talk about Alfred, though. He was the youngest son of…”
Michael hurried down the hall. His heart was pounding. He hadn’t challenged a professor in front of a class since he was a student himself. And as a professor, he hated being challenged by a colleague. He had no idea what had provoked him to do that.
But as he reached the stairwell, he realized he did know. It had been his reaction to her beauty. He knew that her work was poor and that she had gotten fame, fortune, and an undeserved tenure for her rotten scholarship. She had looked bright enough, but she clearly didn’t understand that history was about facts, not fiction.
He had always been attracted to smart, capable women. Men who were interested in women solely because of their beauty were contemptible. He had always prided himself on seeing a woman’s intelligence before he noted her physical attractiveness.
Except this time. He had gone in knowing that she was going to be an embarrassment to the university, hoping that she would prove him wrong, and then all he had done was stare at her like a lovesick puppy — which was exactly the way all the undergraduate men, including half the football team, were staring at her.
So he had challenged her, and she had actually answered him with something resembling an argument.
Still, he was unimpressed with her analysis and her so-called lecturing skills. Discussing Easter eggs and boar’s heads might be fun over beers, but such things had no place in a 200-level history course. Those courses were difficult in the first place because the instructor had to cram as much information as possible into a very short semester. To waste time with frivolities like New Year’s Resolutions and the Easter bunny was the sign of an undisciplined mind.
He climbed the stairs to his office two at a time, but the movement didn’t drive the feeling from his stomach. She was beautiful and he wanted to go back down there and stare at her. He half envied those kids who got to see her every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
She was precisely the kind of woman a man could worship from afar.
Emma’s hands were shaking as she picked up her books. The gorgeous man from her block had been in her 9 a.m. lecture, and she hadn’t even noticed him until he stood to leave.
Michael Found. What a horrible, awful coincidence. She would bet that he was born with his name. In her day, very few people had last names — and usually they were descriptive, just like hers was. She had chosen the name Lost a few days after she had woken up in the Computer Age. She had felt it described her then. It didn’t describe her nearly as well now, but it was what she was known as, well known, surprisingly enough.
She turned to see a handful of students hovering near the stairs. She suppressed a sigh. Usually she hurried out — she knew that half the boys had crushes on her — but she had forgotten this time. Michael Found — her new boss — had a lot to answer for.
She talked to the students — that was her job after all — reminding them about the readings, refusing offers of coffee, and telling inane anecdotes, all the while walking up the stairs. She had to hurry to get to the sanctity of her office. She didn’t have office hours on Monday, and she might get some personal time.
Heaven knew she needed it.
She managed to escape quicker than she expected, and then took the stairs to the cubicle the university let her call home. She unlocked her office, and stepped inside. Her office was small and rectangular. She had decorated it herself with her own furniture — the book had paid for a lot of extras — which meant that she had a Danish modern desk, a thick leather chair, and a comfortable seat for students who needed help.
On the wall behind her desk, she put a Danish modern bookshelf covered with the books she’d assigned for class, as well as extra copies of her own book. On the wall across from her was a large photograph of Portland, Oregon, the city where she had “come to herself” as Aethelstan so euphemistically put it. She used that photo to ground herself and remind her where she had come from.
Her other decorations were her degrees — no one except her Oregon friends knew what a victory those degrees were — and literacy posters. She volunteered for two different literacy organizations and she tutored students who needed extra help. She figured it was the least she could do, considering all the tutoring and special help she had.
She pushed the door closed, flicked on the green desk lamp, and sank into her comfortable leather chair. Then she closed her eyes. When she did, she saw Michael Found. He was even more gorgeous up close — those blue eyes so startling that they seemed to blaze across a room. His voice was deep, rich, and musical, and he had a lovely subtle Midwestern accent.
She wondered if he had seen her reaction to the magic question. He probably had, and he probably thought her a cross and unhelpful teacher.
Unfortunately, that was a question she had no idea how to answer.
Medieval history scholars had the magic issue all wrong. First, they started from the premise that magic did not exist. Then they drew their conclusions from there. They believed that all medieval people who believed in magic were pagans — and that was not true — and that all pagans were the same. Actually, it was so much more complicated than she could ever explain. If she had trouble getting her students to believe that New Year’s Resolutions were originally a medieval custom brought to the Computer Age, she had no idea who they would take the fact that half the mythical people they studied and a good eighth of the real people were mages just like Aethelstan.
And, if she were honest, like she would be someday. She hadn’t come into her magic yet. She had twenty more years before that happened, and she wished it were longer. Men got their magic at the age of 21, but women didn’t get theirs until fifty or so. All magic arrived full-blown, so a mage had to learn how to control her magic before it arrived.
Emma had spent so much time studying that she didn’t want to apprentice herself to anyone, at least not yet. And besides, the last time she had done that, it had gone badly as well.
Besides, there was plenty of time to deal with the magic before it came. Aethelstan would probably teach her, with Nora acting as referee. But Emma wanted to enjoy life as a normal — there was that word again! Well, as normal as she could be — American in the first decade of the New Millennium.
She deserved that much.
Maybe the next time a student asked the magic question, she’d tell them what the other scholars believed. Who cared that it was wrong? Only she knew.
But she was such a perfectionist that knowing made all the difference.
A knock at her door made her jump. She sighed. If it was that football player again, she’d complain to his adviser. She got up and pulled the door open. The department secretary, Helen Knoedler stood outside, hands clasped in front of her.
Helen had been with the department longer than anyone. She was a tiny elderly woman who seemed grandmotherly until she opened her mouth. Then she spoke with a voice so deep and powerful, it should have come from a man who wielded an axe instead of a woman who reminded Emma of a sparrow.
“I don’t know what you did,” Helen said dryly, “but Michael wants to see you first thing tomorrow.”
Emma felt that blush return. He was probably going to take her to task for being so harsh on the students. Or maybe he was going to talk to her about staring at him. Or maybe he realized she was the person who had been spying on him when UPS delivered his boxes the day before.
Helen watched her reaction then raised her eyebrows. “You know him?
“I just met him this morning. Sort of.”
“Well, you made an impression.”
So did he. “What’s first thing?”
“He gets in about nine, or so he tells me. Can you come?”
“Sure,” Emma said. “My first class isn’t until eleven tomorrow. Do you know what it’s about?”
“Not a clue,” Helen said. “And I don’t want to know. I’m still handling the paperwork the changeover has caused.”
“I saw Mort yesterday,” Emma said. “I can’t believe he’s leaving.”
Helen frowned at her. “He’s not leaving. He’s just not going to chair the department any more. He’ll be back in his office, harassing all of us next semester.”
Emma smiled. She was glad of that. She hadn’t realized that Mort would continue teaching. That was good. He needed to.
Then her smile faded. “I hadn’t met the new chairman before. Was he brought in from somewhere else?”
“Michael?” Helen laughed. She had a deep-throated chuckle. “He’s one of those rare lucky ones. He went to school here, then managed to get a job here. That almost never happens. Most graduates who stay in town —“
“Drive cab.” Emma recited the litany. “I know.”
“He’s been around forever. He was just on sabbatical in England.”
“England? What was he doing there?”
“Walking everywhere. The man is a health fanatic. And he was studying something. I never did pay attention.”
Emma felt a chill run down her back. She hoped it wasn’t the Middle Ages. She definitely didn’t agree with his comments on Alfred the Great. She had no idea how he would react to some of her “speculations” which weren’t speculation at all.
They were actually memories.
“Why would he want to see me? I mean, we met this morning?”
“Michael is a different animal from Mort. Now Mort would take you out for a beer and ask you about yourself.”
Emma smiled. “I remember.”
“But Michael believes in doing things by the book.” Helen shook her head. “Which means I’ll have to redo my desk, believe me. So what he wants with you is beyond me.”
Then she grinned.
“Except the word is — and my ancient eyes tell me it’s true — you are the most beautiful professor to grace the history department in some time. Michael’s single.”
Emma felt her blush grow. She wanted to put hands to her cheeks and stop it, but she couldn’t. She had never learned how to control that response. “Wouldn’t it be illegal for him to date me? I mean, technically, he’s my boss.”
“Technically, sweetie, the university is your boss. He’s just the head of the department. And while this campus frowns on teacher-student relationships, you’re at least two degrees and one best-selling book away from that distinction.”
Emma swallowed hard. She didn’t want to fend off her boss for the rest of her tenure.
“Don’t look so solemn,” Helen said. “Michael was voted one of Madison’s most eligible bachelors a few years back. He’s what we called in my day a good catch.”
“I’m not trying to catch anything,” Emma said.
“Looks to me, honey, like you’re afraid you will catch something.”
That was more accurate than Helen knew. Emma shrugged. “I like my life.”
“You and that cat.”
Emma frowned. “How did you know I had a cat?”
Helen reached over and plucked a black hair off Emma’s sweater. “I know the signs,” she said and held out an arm. She had short gray and orange hairs on hers. “But a cat isn’t a substitute for a man.”
“I don’t need a man,” Emma said.
“I never took you for a feminist,” Helen said.
Emma grinned. “Oh, Helen,” she said. “I’m the original feminist. That part of my history simply got lost in the translation.”
By the time Emma got home, the beautiful spring sunshine had given way to showers. The rain was cold, too, and reminded her of one of the worst days of an Oregon winter.
She lit a fire, ordered a pizza, and peered out the dining room picture window at the matching house down the block. The lights were off, so Professor Found wasn’t home yet. She wondered what he was doing — having dinner with old friends? Seeing a movie with a woman? Catching up on his new work in the office?
Then she caught herself. Mooning. The worst thing she could do. The man was too handsome by half, and she didn’t need to be thinking about him.
Thinking about him was almost as bad as looking at him, and looking at him made her forget all her vows.
Which would someday come back to haunt her.
She closed the blinds all through the house and put on some Brahms. She had fallen in love with her CD player, and the way music was available at the touch of a button. That was, in her personal and quite private opinion, the absolutely best thing about this brave new world she had woken up in.
If someone asked her, of course, she would lie and talk about indoor plumbing (which used to terrify her) or refrigerators (on her first day, she had asked Nora how they captured winter) or the amazing availability of food (even though she missed growing it by hand). But in reality, it was the luxuries that caught her. Shoes that actually kept the feet dry. Lights at the touch of a finger. And music whenever she wanted it.
Not to mention books and movies and books on tape. Stories, like her father used to tell her, only more complex. When she had been a young woman, education was beyond her means — there was no such thing as education for all — and there was no way to mass produce books. No one had even dreamed of movies, and theater as people understood it now hadn’t really been invented yet either. And the idea of television, well, it still boggled her. She had a few favorite shows, but she watched them in private, because she still stared at the box gape-mouthed, unable to fathom how other people took it so completely for granted.
Darnell was asleep in front of the fire, his long black body stretched out so that his stomach absorbed most of the heat. She had asked the person who took her order at Pizza Pit to make sure the delivery guy knocked this time. The last time, when he’d rung the doorbell, had been a disaster.
As if in answer to her thoughts, the doorbell rang. Darnell leapt out of his sleep onto all fours like a lion defending his turf. He growled softly in the back of his throat.
“Stay here,” she said, knowing it would do no good.
She walked to the front door, grabbed the cash she had placed on the table beside the entry, and peered through the peephole. Sure enough, it was the pizza guy, looking very damp, the pizza steaming in its thermal pouch.
Maybe she would have to add pizza as one of this age’s greater achievements. She certainly ate enough of it.
She pulled the door open and put out a foot to hold Darnell back even though Darnell was nowhere in sight.
The pizza guy was young — a student, obviously, and just as obviously, he hated the job. He mumbled the price and as she opened the screen to hand him the cash, Darnell came at a flying run from the fireplace.
She figured her foot would be enough, but it wasn’t. Darnell was prepared for it. He leapt over it as if it were fence and he were a horse, and he wrapped his paws around the delivery guy’s leg, biting and growling and clawing as he did so.
The poor pizza guy screamed and dropped the pizza. The thermal container slid down the brick steps, but didn’t open.
Emma bent over and pulled Darnell off the boy’s leg, but the damage was done. The delivery guy’s jeans were torn and his skin was scratched and bleeding.
She tossed Darnell inside, and slammed the screen door shut. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But —”
“Jeez, lady your cat’s nuts. I’ve never seen an insane cat before. Has it got rabies?”
Actually, it took her a moment to understand the delivery guy. He actually said, “Jeezladyyercatsnutsiveneverseenaninsanecat beforehasitgotrabies?”
“No, he doesn’t have rabies.” She was amazed she could sound so affronted. She’d never seen a cat act like Darnell either — at least, not a domesticated housecat. She’d seen nature videos of lions back when she was in her learning phase, and the leader often attacked anything that threatened the pride. Apparently, she was Darnell’s pride.
The delivery boy was wiping at his legs.
“Look,” she said, handing him the cash. “I’m sorry. There’s an extra tip in here —”
“They warned me you had a nuts cat, but I didn’t believe them. I mean, what can a nuts housecat do? Hiss at you? Now I’m going to have to get shots.”
“Yeah, but I’m not.” The delivery boy stomped to his car.
Emma looked up, and saw that Professor Found’s front door was open. He was standing on the stoop, staring at her. He’d probably come out when the delivery boy had screamed.
She blushed again — three times in one day had to be some kind of record — and hurried back inside the house. Darnell was sitting in front of the fire, cleaning his face, looking quite proud of himself.
“You’re not a lion. I don’t care what you think of yourself. If you ever met a real one, you wouldn’t know what to do.” Then she squinted at him. “You don’t even look like a lion.”
Darnell stopped washing and glared at her. Apparently she had affronted his sense of self.
She shook her head and reached for the pizza. Then she realized she hadn’t brought it inside.
She sighed and went back to the door. Sure enough, the pizza was still in its thermal container at the bottom of the stairs. She glanced at Professor Found’s house. He was still on the stoop. When he saw her, he raised an imaginary glass to her.
Her face grew even warmer, but she wasn’t going to count that as a fourth blush. The other one hadn’t ended yet. She scurried down the stairs, grabbed the pizza, thermal container and all, and hurried inside her house.
How embarrassing. He’d seen her at her worst teaching, and then this. She had no idea how she would face him in the morning.
Maybe having Michael Found for a neighbor wasn’t the good thing it had originally seemed like. Maybe he had arrived just to make her life a living hell.
Well, the only thing she could do was be on her best behavior in the morning. And maybe then, they’d get off to a better start.
Not that she wanted anything closer than a cordial working relationship.
Even if he was the best-looking man she’d ever seen.
Emma dreamed she was sinking. It was a pleasant feeling. She was on a soft surface, wrapped in a warm comforter, her feet nice and toasty. But everything was moving down, as if a hole had opened up beside her, and if she wasn’t careful, she would roll into it.
Then she heard a muffled snore and felt hot breath on her neck. That feeling did not come from her dream.
She scrambled awake so fast she nearly did tumble into the hole.
She was on her back, staring at the white ceiling. Sunlight poured into the room, illuminating the quilts she had hung on the wall to give the place color. She still had that feeling of lying at the edge of a precipice.
And then she heard a whistled exhale. She turned her head to the right, and saw a huge black lion asleep on the bed beside her.
She screamed and tried to get out of bed, but the lion was lying on the comforter, and she was wrapped up in it as if it were a cocoon. She cursed as she tried to pull herself out, then finally scrambled backwards, hitting her head on the oak headboard.
The lion opened its eyes. They were golden, sleepy and confused. It yawned and stretched, its hind feet sliding off the foot of the bed, and its front paws touching the tip of the headboard.
Then it yowled. If an animal could look terrified, the lion did. It raised its head to her, overbalanced itself, and fell off the bed with the loudest thump Emma had ever heard.
Just like Darnell would do if he were surprised.
She put a hand over her heart and peered over the edge of the bed. The lion was lying on its back, its head raised like a sea otter’s, and was peering down at its body as if it had never seen it before.
“Darnell?” she whispered.
The lion made a plaintive mew, which, if the sound had been made by a house cat would have been small and sad, but since it was made by a lion, shook the entire room.
“Oh, my,” she said, putting a hand to her mouth. Poor Darnell. “Oh, my, Darnell, who did this to you? Why would someone do this to you?”
She peered around the room to see if there were signs of any magical person invading her bedroom. She no longer had any enemies, at least that she knew of. Aethelstan would never do anything like this, and neither would his sidekick, Merlin. Nora hadn’t come into her abilities yet.
Emma froze. Come into her abilities yet. She closed her eyes. Even if someone wanted to hurt her — and if they did, why had they gone after poor Darnell? (Unless that pizza delivery guy was actually a mage…but he was too young, and she would have known. At least, she thought she would have known. Oh, dear. Maybe all the pizza people…) Her eyes flew open.
Darnell was struggling, his gigantic paws in the air. There wasn’t enough room on the floor for him to roll over.
She was the only one who had thought of him as a ferocious lion, and she hadn’t mentioned that to anyone else. She wouldn’t mention it to anyone else.
“Oh, Darnell, I’m so sorry.”
And scared. Her mouth was dry. She was twenty years too young for powers. She was only thirty.
At least, she was only thirty in years that she was awake. If she counted the years she had been in that magical coma, she was one thousand and forty.
Magic wouldn’t work that way. It wouldn’t count all those non-years — would it?
“That’s not fair,” she said.
Darnell mewed and waved his paws weakly. They were so big — bigger than her hand. She flopped across the bed and scratched his large stomach. His mane spread out on the floor like a nimbus of hair around his familiar — if much larger — face.
“We have to think this through, Darnell,” she said, continuing to scratch. He squirmed a little — tummy scratching was one of his favorite things — and then he started to purr.
She could feel the rumble all the way from the floor to the bed.
If it was her magic that had caused this, then she was in serious trouble. She hadn’t studied. She didn’t know how to control it. All she had were a few words and phrases that Aethelstan had taught her for emergencies.
She clenched one fist as she had seen Aethelstan do. “Change back,” she whispered to Darnell. “Be my house kitty again. Change back.”
His hind paw kicked the air in rhythm to her scratching. She had hit a good spot. But he was still huge, he still had a mane, and his tail had a tuft at the end of it that hadn’t been there when they both went to sleep the night before.
“Change,” she whispered. “Reverse. Go back.”
Nothing happened. No light, no sound, not even a different feeling.
Her breathing was coming hard now. She couldn’t leave him alone, not oversized like this. He would be able to break out of the house — heck, he would break the house and everything in it, and he wouldn’t even realize he was doing anything wrong.
Then the authorities would come for him and do whatever they did to loose lions. Loose black lions. Loose black lions of a type that didn’t occur in nature. He would be a freak and he would get all sorts of media attention and she would have trouble busting him out of wherever they held him and —
Oh, she had to clamp a hold on her vivid imagination. She had to focus.
And then she remembered a single word, one of the emergency words, that Aethelstan had given her. In the old language. He had said it meant “reverse.”
She sat up and waved her arm as she had seen him do, and uttered the word at the top of her lungs.
There was a bright white light, a crackle and sizzle, and then a small explosion. It felt as if something had left her and danced in the air before dissipating.
She sat for a moment, not wanting to look at the floor.
What if she had turned him into something else? What if he hadn’t changed at all?
What if she had killed him?
A small black housecat with lovely gold eyes jumped onto the bed, and butted his head against her arm.
“Darnell,” she said and scooped him close. “Oh, Darnell. I think we have a problem.”
Darnell whined, then squirmed. His interpretation of the problem was obviously different from hers. His was that he wanted breakfast, and wanted it now.
If only she could recover that quickly.
She let him go and he ran to the bedroom door, then looked over his shoulder as if asking her what she was waiting for. She brought her knees up to her chest. It had been so long since she had had any real instruction in magic. She could barely remember what she knew about the arrival of powers.
Full blown. Out of control. Those were the phrases she had always heard. But she wasn’t sure if getting magic was like going through puberty — did the changes happen in spurts? Or was she one day magic-less and the next day magical?
She didn’t know.
Darnell yowled. She looked at the clock. It was too early to call Aethelstan in Oregon. Neither he nor Nora would appreciate a call at 5 a.m.
She wiped her hands on her nightgown. She had to handle this on her own, at least for a few hours.
And during those few hours, she had to meet with the new chairman of her department.
She hoped he would let her cancel.
Of course, no one answered the phone in his office, and Helen said he would arrive just a few minutes before nine. Helen had told her that Professor Found was a stickler for detail, and missing this first meeting wouldn’t sit well with him. So Emma decided to go through with the meeting. After all, it would only take a few minutes, and she would use the rest of the time to call Aethelstan and see if she could find a short-term solution to the problem.
Besides, she had gotten through the rest of her morning routine without a hitch. Darnell seemed no worse for the wear. Her breakfast tasted fine. She had to put on a dress because all of her jeans and sweaters were dirty — and when she cursed her lack of housekeeping skills, the clothes didn’t automatically get clean on their own.
Even when she encountered a morning traffic jam on University, the cars didn’t miraculously disappear.
If her powers had arrived full blown and out of control, something else would have happened by now.
She stopped only briefly in her office before going to Michael Found’s. And during that time, she got annoyed at herself for adjusting her skirt, and brushing loose strands of hair into place. It felt like she wanted to impress him, and not because he was the new chairman of the department. Maybe she’d be able to forget how handsome he was, and concentrate instead on letting him know that she wasn’t as flaky as she seemed.
Her high heels clicked on the concrete stairs as she made her way to Professor Found’s office. When she reached the top, she felt calmer.
Helen sat at a large desk in a vast open area that in any other profession would have been known as reception. But she wasn’t a receptionist. She guarded the copy machine, the fax, and all the other equipment, and let a graduate assistant handle the phones.
She waved a hand in greeting as Emma passed. Emma started toward Mort’s office, but Helen pointed her in the opposite direction.
Emma walked down the narrow corridor, reading the names beneath the numbers on the steel doors. Ultimately, she didn’t need to: Professor Found’s door was open, and he was waiting for her inside.
His office was a surprise. It was bigger than hers — which she expected. All offices in the administrative section of the building were large — but it seemed warm and friendly. Bookshelves covered the walls, and plants hung off every available surface.
The furniture was ergonomically designed — she recognized the styles from the ads — except for the reading chair in the corner. It was upholstered with thick heavy cushions that bore the imprint of Michael Found’s body. A footstool sat in front of it, and books spilled off the table beside it onto the floor. She couldn’t see the titles from the door, but not all of them seemed like scholarly tomes.
He was standing behind his desk. He wore jeans and a red and black checked flannel shirt that accented his flat torso and his blond hair. Up close, his eyes seemed even bluer than they had in the lecture hall—the bright blue of a summer sky.
“Professor Lost,” he said.
She suppressed the urge to giggle. No wonder the students had started cracking jokes.
“I’ve read your book.”
Her breath caught in her throat. She had been planning to ask him to reschedule the meeting, but she wanted to hear what he thought of her work first. “I hope you enjoyed it.”
His fingers formed little tents on the desktop. His gaze hadn’t left her face, but it felt as if his expression had gotten even more remote. “Close the door, please.”
She stepped inside and pushed the door shut with her foot. A compliment usually didn’t take a closed door. She braced herself. This wouldn’t be the first time a man had tried to take advantage of her small stature behind a closed door, although until that moment, she hadn’t thought Michael Found the type.
“Your book,” he said slowly, “is the biggest pile of bunk I had ever read.”
She wasn’t sure she had heard him correctly. He wanted her to close the door so that he could trash her book? No one had trashed her book. It was a critical and popular success. It had gotten her offers from some of the best universities in the nation. It had gotten her this job.
“Bunk?” she said softly.
“Bunk,” he repeated. “The research is shoddy, the conclusions poor and the study of paganism has absolutely no basis in fact.”
No wonder he had looked so interested in her comment about magic the day before. He had read her book. She had discussed some of the systems in Chapter Fifteen.
“All of my work is based in fact,” she said.
“Not according to your footnotes. I’m familiar with those sources. Many of them contradict what you’ve written.”
“Maybe you should have crossed checked them,” she snapped. “They support my argument.”
“Your argument is that no one knows what happened in the early Middle Ages except you.”
“I’m not the first scholar to say that what remains from that period is open to interpretation.”
“But you are the first to say that an entire system of apprenticeship existed in the non-Christian religions.”
“I didn’t call them a religion!”
“Which is another flaw!”
They had both raised their voices. She took a step closer to him. What an arrogant idiot he was. She had read his credentials in the course guide over pizza the night before. His specialty was world history from 1600 to the present day. He had no right to criticize her.
She took a deep breath. All of her friends had warned her at various points in her life that her temper flared too quickly. She didn’t need to lose it in front of her department chairman, not during their first meeting.
“It was the Christian Church that labeled a lot of those practices as religion,” she said as calmly as she could. “The church was working on converting people who had never heard of it. The record is biased toward that conversion.”
“History is always written by the winners.”
“Do you always speak in cliches or is this something you’re just doing for my benefit?”
His blue eyes flashed. “I’m not planning to do anything that will benefit you, Professor Lost.”
She straightened her shoulders. She was dangerously close to losing her temper. That last sarcastic sentence was the first sign that she was about to lose control. She had to hold onto it. If she got mad, he would never forget it. People who were on the receiving end of her wrath never did.
“I’m not asking you to do anything to benefit me,” she said softly.
He flattened his hands on his desk. “I’m in charge of the hirings and firings here, and frankly, I’m not pleased with anything about you.”
She crossed her arms. “You’re not in charge of hiring or firing. The university has committees for that.”
“Committees which take the recommendation of the department heads very seriously.” He leaned toward her. “You’re a fraud, Professor Lost. You make up your research and then go on the History Channel pretending to be a real historian.”
“I am the most real historian you’ll ever have in this department,” she snapped. “I know more about primary research than all of your colleagues put together.”
“Do you?” he asked, his voice even softer. Somehow it sounded more menacing that way.
She swallowed, wishing she could take back the words. Of course she had done more primary research than the rest of them. She had lived in that time period. She knew what she had written was fact. The rest of them were guessing.
“Yes,” she said, “I do.”
“Then why don’t you cite more primary sources in your book?”
“I’ve cited enough for every other scholar in the world, Professor Found. England in the early Middle Ages is not your time period. Why don’t you trust the people who specialize in the area?”
He smiled then, and the beauty of the expression caught her even though she wanted to slap him. “I do specialize in the area, Professor Lost.”
“Not according to your write up in all the college guidelines,” she said, then flushed. She hadn’t wanted him to know that she was checking up on him.
He raised his eyebrows as if the comment amused him. “Those were written when I was hired. For the last five years, I’ve changed specialties. I just came from England. I’ve been studying the Dark Ages.”
“Oh,” she said. “So you want to get rid of me because I’ve got more credentials in the field you aspire to. I’m teaching the classes you want to teach.”
“No, Professor,” he said. “I’m telling you this so that you know that I know what you think you know.”
She blinked. She wasn’t sure what he had just said. “Excuse me?”
“You’ve made everything up.” He picked her book off his desk. “This entire volume is a work of fiction. It’s well written, it’s interesting. It’s easy to see why the literati embraced the whole thing, and it’s pretty with all those color photographs. It’s a very nice coffee table book. But just because the book critic in the New Yorker says you can write doesn’t mean you can produce a good work of historical scholarship.”
“You’re jealous,” she said.
“No.” He slapped the book on his desk. “I don’t want a fraud in my department.”
“I’m not a fraud,” she said.
“Ms. Lost —”
“Professor Lost,” she snarled.
“— You are the worst kind of fraud. You are attractive, articulate, and intelligent. You tell a coherent and plausible story. But you are lazy and inept and ultimately you will embarrass this department. I want you out of here before you do that.”
“You can’t fire me,” she said. “I was hired with Mort’s highest recommendation. I’ll tell the academic review board that you’re jealous and you want to clear me out of here because I teach the very subjects you believe you should teach.”
“And I’ll show them how poor your documentation is.” His eyes narrowed. “When I get through with you, you won’t be able to get a job at any reputable campus anywhere.”
A surge of panic rose inside her and she fought to keep it from showing on her face. She wasn’t suited to anything else. She was awful at all the other jobs she had tried. Teaching was her calling, and writing books about her past was the best thing she could do.
This good-looking pompous ass was threatening more than he knew. He was threatening her very survival. Her very future.
She clenched her fists, struggling to control herself. The office felt hot and stuffy. The furniture was closing in on her. If only she had room to breathe —
This time she felt the little puff of energy leave her before she saw the bright light. There was a thunderous clap that echoed around her, and she saw stars for a moment. When her vision cleared, she was standing in an empty room — with Michael Found.
He staggered forward as if he had been leaning his weight on something and it was now gone. His face was pale.
“What was that?”
She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She blinked, unable to think of a response. Except that she needed to reverse the spell.
She was full blown and out of control and she had to get out of here very, very fast.
The door opened and Helen looked in. Her face was pale. “Um, Michael,” she said, “how did all your furniture get into my office?”
He looked at Emma, whose mouth was still open. At least she wasn’t blushing. Her heart was pounding and she had to mutter the reverse order, but she didn’t want to do it in front of them. Then they’d know she caused all of this.
“Michael?” Helen asked. “What’s happening?”
“I have no idea.” His voice sounded calm, but his right hand shook. He clenched his fist. “I was telling Professor Lost —”
“Stop!” she said before she thought the better of it. She didn’t want Helen to hear about that humiliating conversation. She didn’t want Helen to hear anything.
Michael Found made a choking noise and for a brief, terrifying moment, Emma thought she had taken his voice away. Then he cleared his throat, and took a step toward the door.
Emma looked at Helen, ever so slowly. Helen was no longer moving. She was frozen in position, and her skin was gray. Well, not exactly gray. It looked like it was made of stone.
She had become a statue.
“Oh, no,” Emma muttered softly.
Professor Found approached the department secretary as if he thought what she had was catching. When he reached her, he touched her arm.
“She’s cold,” he said.
His back was to Emma. She whispered the “reverse” word ever so softly and twirled her hand.
The stone around Helen cracked and fell to the floor, then vanished.
“Michael?” Helen said. “You didn’t answer me.” She leaned back slightly. “And don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“I didn’t sneak up,” he said. “You turned to — ah, hell.”
He looked at Emma, who shrugged.
“To what?” Helen asked.
“Don’t you remember?” he asked.
“I remember asking you a question you have yet to answer. What’s going on?”
“I wish I knew.” He frowned at Emma. She didn’t have to work at looking panicked. She was barely breathing, afraid of doing anything, thinking anything. She had to get out of here and get some help.
“One minute I was having a discussion with Professor Lost, the next thing I know, my furniture is gone.”
He turned back to Helen who peered into the room. Emma understood her confusion. There weren’t even any dust bunnies in here — and considering how many books had lined the floor, there should have been.
Helen’s gaze met Emma’s and then she looked away. Emma used that moment to try the reverse spell again, but it didn’t work.
“Do you know what’s happening, Professor Lost?” Michael asked.
Emma clenched her fists and pushed past him. “I’m sorry. I have to leave.”
“But we’re not done…”
“Oh, yes, we are. You’re having a weird furniture problem. We can resume this discussion some other time.” Emma slid past Helen. “Sorry,” she said softly.
Helen didn’t seem to have a response. Emma almost ran down the hall, her heels preventing her from moving too fast. When she reached Helen’s office, she had to slow down to make her way past the piles of furniture.
It was a neat spell, more or less. The furniture had actually arranged itself in its proper positions — the bookshelves against the wall, the reading chair in a corner with its footstool in the proper place — but there wasn’t enough room for everything, and so the space was crammed.
Emma was lucky that the spell had worked as it had, otherwise Helen could have been crushed under a load of ergonomically designed furniture.
The thought made Emma shudder. It could have been so much worse.
Although it was bad enough. It would take a lot of work to get the furniture moved back to Michael Found’s office. She wished she could spell it there, but she knew now that wasn’t possible.
She pushed open the stairway door, paused because she felt light-headed, and went down to her office, hoping she wouldn’t see anyone else. The last thing she needed was another magical accident.
Things were bad enough.
Michael still stood in the middle of his office. With a clap of thunder, the furniture had magically reappeared, almost as if someone had commanded it to do so. Everything was in its place. Even the plants draped as they had before. The same books were on top of his reading stack, and Emma Lost’s disgraceful tome was in the spot where he had slammed it on his desk.
Helen had taken one look at the restored furniture, shaken her head, and hurried away from him, as if he had caused it.
He wasn’t sure what had caused it. Or if anything had really happened. He was still vaguely jet-lagged, and he had been very angry at Emma Lost. The woman was as infuriating as she was beautiful.
And she seemed to firmly believe that she hadn’t done anything wrong.
He walked back to his desk and touched its wood surface. It felt the same. He frowned, trying to remember the exact sequence of events. Had he walked through the space where the desk should have been? Or had he walked around it as though it were still there?
Had someone played a trick on him, knowing that he was writing a book on magic? It wouldn’t surprise him. Students were endlessly creative. And if David Copperfield could make the Empire State Building disappear then a talented student could make Michael believe that his office furniture had vanished.
There had been that flash of light, and it had affected his eyesight for a moment. Was that some sort of special effect that made it seem as if his furniture was gone?
That would certainly explain why Helen had come into his office. The students had probably projected the images of his furniture in her office, making it seem as if the furniture had transferred.
Brilliant. He would have to search for the source of it in a moment.
Even though that didn’t explain why Helen’s skin had been so cold, why she had looked as if she had been made out of stone.
He had never really touched her before. Maybe her skin was naturally cold. Maybe he had only thought she had looked frozen in stone.
Maybe she was in on it.
He shook his head. Helen wasn’t really one for practical jokes. Neither, it seemed, was Emma Lost. She had bolted from his office like a frightened child.
He ran a hand through his hair. He supposed he owed her an apology — for the weirdness, not for saying she was incompetent. He would have to be clear about that. Which, of course, would continue the argument.
But he had to let her know where he stood. This was his department now, and her presence was tainting it. It would be unethical for him to keep her on board, knowing how bad her research was. It would be like the Washington
Post keeping on that woman who had made up the newspaper articles that had won her the Pulitzer Prize. Yes, the work seemed credible, but it wasn’t. And if Emma Lost got caught, it would reflect badly on the school, the department, and him.
He put a hand on his desk just to make sure it was there. It was. It felt smooth and warm to the touch, just as it always had. Now that magic trick had seemed amazingly real. Just like Emma Lost’s research. For most people, all she needed was to be convincing, but Michael was a man who liked proof. A man who understood reason, and who believed in accuracy above all else.
She may have thought she found a sinecure here at the University of Wisconsin, but she was about to learn that she was wrong.
Here’s how you order the rest of the book. You can get the mass market edition through your favorite bookstore or order it here. The ebook will be widely available. Here are the links to Kindle and Nook. Other ebookstores should have it as well.