Excerpt From Chapter One of The Accidental Heiress
Damn! Something was off. I checked my watch again. Thirty minutes circling the airport? Thirty? We were still crossing the channel when flight attendants had prepared us for landing, seatbelts engaged, plastic cups collected, trays up. The eager buzz of anticipation had dissolved into the steady drone of engines. Peeking over the rows ahead of me, I searched for any movement in the galley. Wasn’t it customary for the pilot or an attendant to welcome us to the country, or even announce the current land temperature on the PA system? It had been cool and cloudy when we left Heathrow.
Robbie twisted in the window seat to nudge me. “That must be the Shannon River,” he pointed. “A spit of a stream from this height.” I grasped his hand and leaned into the view. A shimmering ribbon of water snaked around irregular patches of green. When the wing dipped, scattered off shore dwellings popped into view. Tiny houses on a giant monopoly board. Sparkles and shimmers bubbled everywhere. Yes! We had sun over Ireland.
Mrs. Donnelly tapped my right arm. “Dearie, could you give Digby a look? He likes to get his bearings when we near the auld sod.” Her strange little dog was linked to her wrist by a chain just long enough to transport it from lap to lap to the thick glass window. Robbie gave me a look and made a guttural sound when the dog smeared the glass with his long tongue, then attempted a second swipe on Robbie’s hand. Our economy plane was just wide enough for three seats on either side of the aisle. Since Mrs. Donnelly boarded Aer Lingus in London with her service dog and white cane, she controlled my right ear with a stream-of-conscious review of a poor widow’s life and how Digby became her eyes and ears, when both went “fuzzy as mold on cabbage.” She was certain this was her last trip back to her homeland, to visit an old Irish friend.
“Joseph is emerging from his troubles.”
“His dear wife passed last year and he lost his position to the scourge.”
“The Irish scourge, dearie.” She cocked her head and pursed her lips. “Have ye not heard of it?”
I shook my head, wondering if this was some kind of ethnic pandemic. Robbie had told me all about the Great Hunger that had claimed half the population of Ireland in the 19th century and how common it was for those who survived to eventually succumb to cholera. But this was the 21st century. Modern medicine controlled most outbreaks of disease—almost worldwide.
She wrinkled her nose. “The scourge has two faces, dearie; a lovely export for those who can temper it, and hell on earth for those who can’t.” With a deft charade, she cupped her hand around an invisible glass and pretended to drink as she wobbled her head.
I wondered if she could still see well enough to read my smirk. When the plane dipped into another circle, we both stiffened into a sober brace. I tried to lighten the tension with more small talk. “Widow meeting widower. Sounds like salvation of two hearts?” A hesitant giggle tore from her generous mouth. “Joe Fitzpatrick is lonely. He needs a four-legged companion, not a blind cailleach.”
“An auld Irish hag like me.”
I chuckled as I gingerly transported the dog back to her lap. “So that’s where Digby comes in,”
“Oh no! Never could I give up Digby, but Eire has strays who would be happy to have a warm bed and a meaty bone.” She patted the head of her service dog, who had retracted his tongue and settled on her ample lap. “We mean to find a soulmutt for Joe.” She leaned in close to my shoulder, whispering. “Do ye ken spirits, dearie?”
“You mean ghosts?”
With two thumbs, she lovingly massaged the dog’s long ears. “Not exactly ghosts, but Digby has the cunning eye. Mr. Donnelly’s eyes, fer sartin.” She pursed her lips and nodded curtly.
I swallowed my amusement, imagining she was convinced the spirit of her late husband was compacted into a short-legged service dog with long ears and baleful brown eyes. Who was I to set her straight when I was married to a man who was born in Ireland…five generations before me. I glanced at Robbie, my handsome green-eyed soulmate, and thought of the mantra I memorized to deflect the illogica of time travel. Love bridges time—always—in all ways! Long ago, I decided to count my blessings and stop wasting energy groping for a scientific explanation. Miracles…magic? Time travel defied explanation. But then, airplanes in my husband’s era would have been serious science fiction? Totally illogical then. Our honeymoon trip to Ireland was Robbie's first flight, only my second one. We were both anxious about it for several reasons.
“Is this normal?” Robbie’s warm hand groped for mine. His green eyes matched the emerging shade of the Shannon River and after the plane lurched into a faster descent approaching the offshore runway, we both caught our breath and tightened our grasp. The engines began a high pitched whine when the plane shuddered. A few seconds later, we heard the loud speaker crackle until a voice, terse and tightly controlled finally broadcasted. "Brace for impact." Our plane was going to miss the runway. Stewards tried to keep their balance as they stumbled down the aisle, repeating "brace-brace-brace," as they guided stunned passengers into a bent-over-knees position.
Robbie and I clenched hands as the plane shuddered more violently and slammed into the river. Mrs. Donnelly draped over the dog as best she could and when I tried to help her, I flew back against the seat and my teeth chattered as my head battered the backrest as it skidded and skipped over the rough water until a curtain of black wrapped me in darkness.
I came to with a sharp pain in my head, and a frantic voice tunneling into my subconscious. “Mo ghra, mo ghra.” Robbie’s green eyes were all I could see when I was able to focus, bobbing close to mine as he fumbled to release my seatbelt, and rub circulation into my hands. “Jess, my love…need to get out.” My heartbeat echoed the drumming in my head as his segmented words began to register and he pulled me tightly into his arms. We survived! Thank God, we survived.
Moans and cries shifted around me and I was vaguely aware of a stunned exodus parading the aisle to the exits. Mrs. Donnelly’s oxygen mask, ripped from its overhead tether, was askew on her face. Her guide dog was furiously licking her chin, his leash caught tightly between her wrist and the arm of her seat.
“Is she…is she dead?”
“Unconscious.” Robbie looped the strap of a seat cushion over my arm. “We've got to get out of here."
I could feel the plane shift and rock like a boat as I looked up and down the aisle. Most seats were intact, but overhead luggage and bits of window glass littered the pathway. Any light in the darkened plane came from the windows, and oxygen masks dangled from overheads like giant spiders. Robbie moved into the aisle, kicking at the debris. “I’ll carry the old lady ahead of you.” When he tried to lift Mrs. Donnelly, her dog choked out a squeal. I quickly untangled his lead and muffled the ball of trembling fur between my chest and the seat cushion as I minced steps, closely following Robbie with the chain taut between us.
Crew members at the exit were passing out the last of the life preservers to those without seat cushions, helping us step onto the thick rubber float that must have doubled as an emergency slide in hard landings. Women with high heels were asked to remove them before stepping onto the float.
Cold water was a sobering jolt to my ankles when I sank into the overcrowded, seeping raft. One of the crew members helped Robbie lower Mrs. Donnelly, still tethered to me by virtue of the dog chain. It was an unstable addition of weight adding more seepage near the lip of the raft where she was settled. The crew encouraged those who were willing and able to transfer to the wing of the plane. “Boats are coming. The plane is stable for rescue,” they reasoned. A group of four soccer players took up the offer and with a volley of Irish exuberance, they all jumped into the river, then helped each other scramble onto the slippery wing, back slapping and high-fiving as if they had just won a match.
Like the captain of a sea vessel, the two uniformed pilots were the last to leave our airship, one of them carrying a large briefcase, the other holding a cell phone crackling with transmission. They announced all passengers were now evacuated. Rescue was imminent. Murmurs of gratitude replaced dazed anxiety and fear as passengers hugged or cried in palpable relief.
A small man in a white shirt and dangling bow tie identified himself as Dr. Cohen of Limerick and I heard the Pilot quietly urge him to prioritize rescue for anyone needing medical attention. Mrs. Donnelly clearly became the triage priority, and when she moaned, the doctor checked her pulse against his watch. I rubbed my forehead and took a deep, cleansing breath. The slow seepage of cold water and fresh air was reviving us all, but it was evident Mrs. Donnelly still struggled to breathe. Robbie propped her head and shoulders on my seat cushion and carefully removed her broken glasses. The overhead sun cast a ghostly glow on her pallid face and her deep set eyes blinked with the sound of harbor boats tooting alarms. When her hands baffled the air, I knew what she needed.
I bent, nearly shouting in her ear. “I have Digby.” When she relaxed, I related to the doctor what I knew about her heart problem and blindness. He frowned, measuring his voice in a whisper. “Tachycardia can lead to heart attack or stroke. Are you her daughter?”
I shook my head but before I could explain further, a boat whistle tore through the air and suddenly we were rocked by the wake of a large trawler circling the plane. The wake hit us broadside, splashing ripples of cold water into the float. Mrs. Donnelly startled, jerking upward and we watched in slow motion horror as she rolled into the river. The dog yelped as her weight pulled his chain and he shot out of my arms. Robbie shrieking my name was the last thing I heard before I was pulled under the cold water in tandem, my Claddagh ring caught in the dog’s chain.
Mrs. Donnelly was an anchor pulling us into the silent depths of a watery grave. Paralyzed by the cold water and loss of light as we descended, I was conscious of my heart throbbing in my ears and sharp needles of water filling my nose. Eyes closed, I painted a last filmy vision of Scout and Desi waving goodbye to Robbie and me at the Wyoming airport, their little fingers blowing kisses as they stood beside their Uncle Jake.
Oh God, how I loved them all! More years... we needed more years! This can't be the end.
My answer came when I suddenly felt a jolt as the chain snapped, stopping my descent. In a dark, warm bubble, I tested my feet to kick free of loose tendrils of seaweed. Fluttering my arms, I tugged on the tether until I felt claws grappling my shoulders. The dog and I were shooting upward—toward the light—with an unseen force of power. I broke the surface gasping for breath and found Robbie gasping beside me, still able to propel me and the heaving dog into waiting hands at the raft.
Vaguely aware of someone compressing my chest, water spewed from my mouth and nose and after I coughed violently and was able to breathe in measure, I rose on my elbows to see the wings of the plane were still barely submerged as a flotilla of boats filled with passengers, headed for shore.
Robbie and Mrs. Donnelly were not among those still left on our raft, including the pilot who refused to leave until everyone else transferred to rescue boats. Orders were being shouted, and a chair lift levered by a crane from a large boat was hovering over the tail of the plane, with three men in black rubber suits directing traffic, maneuvering ropes, treading water, occasionally diving below the surface. Where was Robbie? Had Mrs. Donnelly been chair-lifted to another boat?
I was one of the last passengers transferred to a herring boat with the dog now shivering violently as he clung to my sore neck like a baby. I adjusted the rough woolen blanket someone threw around my shoulders, encircling the wet dog. When a fisherman handed me a tin cup of whiskey, I searched his ruddy face. “Has my husband been taken ashore?” When he shrugged, I glanced at the others in the boat, searching in vain for the green eyes that were always my touchstone. With a throbbing head and shaky hand, I held the cup to my lips sipping whiskey until I could feel heat stream into my chest and trickle down to my shoeless feet. I dipped a finger into the whiskey and rubbed it over the dog’s lips until his pink tongue swiped my hand. It was then I noticed my wedding ring was missing, along with the chain that once connected us. Hot tears brimmed in my eyes, and the dog who had been so attuned to Mrs. Donnelly’s stress licked a runner sliding down my cheek.
For the last few years, Robbie’s thumb often caught such emotional spill--on occasions of joy as well as consolation: our wedding, the birth of our daughter, even when a fox killed our chickens. But the single memory I cherished most was on our wedding night when he fondled my hand, earnestly explaining the meaning behind the symbols of my odd new ring: love, friendship, fidelity. He was proud, yet ashamed he couldn’t afford better than a sterling silver wedding ring. He called it temporary. “Someday, you’ll have the diamond you deserve.”
“It’s perfect,” I told him then. “I’ll never take it off.”
We sealed our love in an opulent hotel bed, and much later in a primitive tree house after I learned the true identity of the man I had married. Forever and a day became our destined refrain when we re-affirmed our vows in his rightful name with the same ring. My cherished Claddagh now in the Shannon Estuary. Was Robbie there too? Was this destiny fulfilled? Robbie back in his homeland in another shift of time, one that discounted the century gap which brought us together? The tongue of the dog in my arms feasted on salty sorrow as the boat taxied the estuary to the airport peninsula.
A pair of leaping bottle-nosed dolphins diverted attention from the plane’s recovery effort. A network of tow lines and floats from oil tankers and tugs surrounded the plane. The afternoon sun glinted off the silver bullet of the airship as the blue-green river lapped at its wings.
And the dolphins danced.
EXCERPTS from The Accidental Wife:
How does somebody trade places with their great-great grandmother? Was Jessamine having tea with the interpretive staff of old Fort Laramie, charming visitors with her uncanny knowledge of the nineteenth century? Did we pass into some alternate universe—exchange students traveling through time—or was this all just a very bad birthday nightmare I would wake from in the morning? I pulled the patchwork quilt over my head and bit off a quick prayer, then wondered if I was praying for the right thing.
Tomorrow. Everything would be clear, come tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Jessica Brewster!
* * * * *
He was sleeping commando. I, who never expected to spend a night in bed with any man, woke up on my thirtieth birthday in a wilderness Wyoming cabin with a rooster crowing at the window and a naked man beside me. Not just any man. Oh Lord, this wasn't a dream channeled by a humming teacup. I was in bed with my great-great grandmother's legendary first husband."
* * * * *
In the moonlight, he rose from the Adirondack like an old man and moved toward me, his green eyes fanning me from head to bare feet. He touched my face with both hands, feathering his fingers across my forehead, into the wells of my eyes, over my nose and cheekbones, like a blind man needing to know who stood before him. I tried not to stiffen at his touch, willing myself not to blink, not to release the fresh tears that had begun to pool. He collared my throat with his long fingers and ran a thumb over my lips.
“I want my wife back. Come back to me, Mitawin,” he whispered.
The word on the teacup; the hallmark of my deceit. Our eyes locked, and I felt my throat closing and my knees begin to quiver. For a few seconds his grip tightened around my throat, and I clamped my eyes shut with a fleeting thought. Yes, take my breath...end this tormenting deception. When he suddenly released me, I could see the pain twisting his face. He turned away and rubbed his chin against his shoulder, bracing both arms on a porch railing.
“My shirt looks good on you, Jess,” he said hoarsely. You always did have a thing for my shirts.”
I cleared my throat. “You, can’t sleep out here,” I said after a long silence. “Come to bed.”
His shoulders flinched. “Is that an invitation?”
“I only mean...you can’t be comfortable sleeping in that chair.”
We both started by the sudden hoot of a nearby owl, and like the volume turned up on ear phones, I was suddenly aware of other night sounds, crickets, wind rustling through the sage, my heart bumping in my chest.
* * * * *
EXCERPT FROM THE ACCIDENTAL STRANGER:
I screamed as the gun exploded in my hand and fell to the ground. The bear moving toward Scout dropped, and I raced to scoop up my son before he toppled into the icy stream. Cradling my whimpering child, I ventured closer and could see at once that it was no bear I shot. A man in a bearskin poncho lay on his side. A mass of dark matted hair covered the side of his face that wasn’t blooming with blood, running down his cheek, pooling in his ear and staining his thick beard.
“Is he, is he dead?” I whispered.
Chuck fumbled for a pulse and we all started when the man groaned and his eyes fluttered open.
Green! His eyes were green. The fear in them registered with me as he searched our faces. When his eyes met mine, his jaw twitched. A flash of memories washed over me and my heart began to thump wildly. I set Scout down when my knees began to buckle and I thought I was going to be sick. As I sagged in the snow, my bare fingers reached out to staunch the blood.
So red against the white snow. His eyes, so…green. Every shade in a spectrum of emotion raced through me. I knew only one man who owned those eyes.
Had he come back to me?
Did I shoot the only man I ever loved?
* * * * *
EXCERPTS from Hot Stuff:
“Just how old is your brother?”
“Old enough to hold down a bus-boy job to help pay for all this. Evan has Asperger’s, a form of autism with obsessive compulsive behavior. He wasn’t formally diagnosed until he was nine, after he upgraded his collection from smurfs to garden gnomes. Over the years, we’ve learned some lawn décor Evan brought home belonged to that category you call a 10-99…er…some might call it this.” He finally managed to smile when I pulled a handful of candy hearts out of my pocket and singled out the one that said Hot Stuff.
“Billington knows about all this?”
“Certainly. Our neighbors are aware of this, too. When something goes missing, they usually show up here first to see if Evan has it planted in his garden. If they can identify it, we simply have a custody exchange, then mollify my brother with a trip to a local garden shop for some kind of a replacement.” I popped a candy heart into my mouth and offered him one after flicking a strand of cat fur off the Kiss Me heart.
Screwing up his face, he cleared his throat. “Valentine candy in July?”
“I won a six-month supply after writing new imprints for the company. The candy has a long shelf life,” I added.
He declined my offer.
“That was one of my slogans. The candy boss wanted something modern. You Know was another one. Kids today can’t get through a sentence without sprinkling it with ‘you know’.”
He studied me with a lopsided grin. “Why didn’t Billington tell me all this?”
“I don’t think he knows I write slogans and ads for a living.”
Shifting on his feet, he pulled on his ear. “I mean about your brother stealing yard ornaments.”
“Oh well, I suspect Evan’s fancy may be an inside joke at the precinct.”
He shook his head and sighed. “With a rookie at the butt of the joke, I imagine. Mind if I check out the tent?”
I held open the tent flap for him to pass…so I could assess the fit of his jeans from the rear. Confusion flattered his dark good looks from the front. His backside was just as fine. Hot Stuff could have been embroidered on the back of his shirt.