Bridge Over Time
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Kathryn Monroe, busy activist and socialite, humors her mother by agreeing to attend her costume ball at the ancestral mansion in South Carolina. What she doesn't admit, even to herself, is that she actually looks forward to a break from the frenetic pace of her increasingly shallow lifestyle. She gets much more of a break than she anticipated when she passes the grandfather clock on the landing, on her way downstairs to the party, only to be transported to 1825, where she is mistaken for the girl who would become her great-great-great-great-great grandmother! Even more shocking, she finds herself falling for a man her counterpart despised.
Catherine Prescott feels increasingly trapped as her parents try to push her into an unwanted marriage and pile restriction after restriction upon her activities in their efforts to turn her into a proper young lady. But on her way downstairs to an important social function, she passes the grandfather clock on the landing and discovers herself in the twenty-first century, where it appears everything she ever dreamed of--and more--has come true. To make this amazing new world even sweeter, she seems to have found her soulmate in a man her identical descendant never cared for.
But will capricious Fate allow each to find happiness in another time?
Book 3 of the Americana Dreaming series
Release date: November 9, 2013
Publisher: Dolphin Star Press
Print pages: 329
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Bridge Over Time
KATHRYN HATED DRIVING in the rain, especially at interstate speeds, but her mother would never forgive her if she didn't reach South Carolina in time for the costume ball.
She'd surprised herself as much as her mother by agreeing to attend, but she needed a change of scenery, and a rest. The pace was bound to be slower in Columbia than in Washington, D.C. If only it hadn't started to rain! It had picked up as she left and was still going strong as she neared the southern border of North Carolina. Methodically, she practiced the relaxation exercises she always used when driving, beginning with her tense hands on the steering wheel.
Out of the corner of her eye, she suddenly saw something coming toward her—a minivan changing lanes at too high a speed was now spinning out of control in her direction. Kathryn hit the brakes hard, holding the wheel in a death grip and praying incoherently. The van continued to spin, skidding from the right lane completely across the highway and stopping with its front bumper only inches from that of Kathryn's Porsche.
In a state of near shock, Kathryn stared at the other driver —a boy still in his teens. He looked as white and frightened as she felt.
She remained frozen in place, heart still pounding, while he backed around onto the shoulder and turned the minivan— probably the family car, she thought irrelevantly —to face the right direction. Once he was gone, Kathryn shakily resumed her journey south, cursing cars, interstates, rain and the entire rat race of the modern world.
At the next exit, she pulled off to stop at a garishly lit diner that obviously catered to the eighteen-wheeler crowd. As a high-profile political and social activist, Kathryn Sykes-Monroe would normally never consider entering such a place, but after that harrowing experience, she felt an overpowering need for a cup of coffee and a stationary place to sit.
She pushed open the glass door and chose an isolated stool at the far end of the counter. Several of the men eyed her speculatively as she ordered a cup of coffee but she coolly ignored them with an ease born of long practice.
Funny, she thought, how she could be a basket case behind the wheel but completely at ease when being ogled by strange men. Still, she took the precaution of putting her money on the counter in advance in case she needed to make a quick exit before pulling out her phone to check her email.
As she stirred extra sugar into her coffee, one of the men, a great hulking brute in a plaid flannel shirt and two days' growth of beard, leered at her from the far end of the counter. Briefly encountering his eye, Kathryn pierced him with the blank stare she used to discourage unwanted advances. As always, it worked —the guy backed off, and Kathryn finished her coffee, rose, and reluctantly returned to her car.
* * *
"Kathy! I was afraid you wouldn't make it." A slim, stylishly dressed woman walked rapidly down the wide circular driveway toward her.
"I said I'd be here, Mother. You know I'd have called if anything came up." She pulled her phone half out of her purse, but resisted the urge to check her email again.
"Oh, no, I didn't mean that, but the weather reports showed rain all up the Eastern Seaboard and I know how you are about driving in bad weather. I hope it wasn't too traumatic for you."
Kathryn grimaced. "No, Mother, I managed just fine. I'm a big girl now, remember?" Turning back to the car, she removed her cosmetic bag and small suitcase.
"Is that all of your luggage?" her mother asked in dismay.
"It should be plenty for a few days. You said you had my costume for tomorrow night." Then, sensing her mother's disappointment, Kathryn gave her a quick hug. "Look, if I decide to stay longer, I can go shopping. I don't have any definite plans since I'm between projects right now."
She turned to gaze up at the house. "So this is the ancestral mansion." She remembered the three-story brick front and white pillars from the pictures her mother had sent. It wasn't really a mansion in the modern sense; in fact, it was not much bigger than the family's five-bedroom New Jersey home had been, but it had a sense of history that gave it a dignity deserving of the name. "I like it," she decided aloud.
Beaming at what she apparently considered a personal compliment, her mother took Kathryn's cosmetic case and steered her toward what was now the Sykes-Monroe home. "Come in and see what I've done with the interior," she invited eagerly.
Kathryn paused briefly at the foot of the front steps to look around her. Mid-March in South Carolina was definitely spring. There were daffodils and early tulips in the grassy central circle of the drive. Laurel Street was busy, but the expanse of the grounds made the house seem distant from the downtown traffic. Columbia was a softer, greener, homier city than Washington.
"I, ah, take it you didn't get that role you auditioned for on Broadway?" Her mother broke into her observations.
Kathryn's laugh held just a trace of bitterness. "Off-Broadway, actually, but no. It looks like my future will lie in organizing charity luncheons for senators' wives instead of on the stage. At least that pays well and gives me plenty of visibility."
"Yes, Mrs. Hardison told me she sees your name in the Lifestyle section nearly every month. I really am proud of the work you're doing in Washington, sweetheart."
Kathryn smiled but said nothing as they mounted the broad brick steps to the front door. The noble causes that had fired her with such enthusiasm when she'd been fresh out of college had begun to seem trite, more politics than substance. But there was no need to tell her mother that.
The door opened onto an impressive front hall with a wide, curving staircase at the far end. Leading her into a formal drawing room on the right, her mother said, "Oh, I forgot to mention that we will be having another houseguest."
Kathryn stiffened as the tall, dark-blond man rose to greet them. Though he was undeniably handsome, his expression was wary. "Hello, Logan," she said coolly, casting an accusing glance at her mother.
"Good to see you again, Kathy." His voice was also more cautious than welcoming.
They regarded each other in silence. Oblivious to their discomfort, Mrs. Sykes-Monroe went on chattering. "Well, I'll just let you two get caught up while I tell Alice where to put your things." She tripped busily from the room, leaving Kathryn and Logan little option but to talk.
"You're looking well," said Logan. "Washington doesn't seem to have eaten you alive just yet."
"As you were so sure it would." Kathryn forced a smile. "You're looking good, too, Logan. You'll have to forgive Mother —she had no way of knowing this meeting would be . . . awkward."
Logan's smile took on a cynical edge. "I should have known you never told her."
Kathryn shrugged. "There was no particular reason to. Why upset her over nothing?"
"So I bet she's wondering why we're not falling into each other's arms. I take it you had nothing to do with my invitation, then?"
"Is that what you thought?" asked Kathryn, stung. "That I'd arranged this old home week just so I could grovel and beg your forgiveness? You, of all people, should know that I go my own way and make my own decisions. I'd hardly ask my mother to stage a reconciliation, even if I wanted one."
"I can believe it," he replied, inspecting her at some length. Another woman might have blushed, but not Kathryn Monroe. "You've become quite the young socialite, haven't you?" he asked cynically.
"And you don't care for socialites?"
It was Logan's turn to shrug. "Let's just say I was hoping to find something a little different in the gentle South. See you at dinner, Kathy." He quirked a half smile at her and left the room.
Kathryn frowned at his retreating back for a moment, but then her brow cleared. She really didn't care in the least what Logan thought of her. Not anymore. She'd worked hard to cultivate this image and wasn't about to change it to please a man who persisted in behaving like an overprotective big brother.
* * *
Mrs. Sykes-Monroe dominated the dinner conversation as she did any remotely social event. Her audience consisted only of Kathryn, Logan and her husband, but she spoke as if addressing a packed auditorium. It disturbed Kathryn a bit to realize that she'd begun copying her mother's style when she solicited contributions at Washington functions. Surely her own speeches weren't this pompous?
"Tomorrow night," began Mrs. Sykes-Monroe grandly, "we will celebrate the restoration of this historic home, back in the family after nearly sixty years. The costumes will reflect the period of its construction, around 1815 to 1820. Most of the records were burned during the Civil War, so we can't be more precise than that."
"Surely fashions wouldn't have changed much over five years," commented Kathryn dryly.
"That's not the point. I want to be as authentic as possible. In my case, it shouldn't be too hard. I came across a portrait of Catherine Sykes-Prescott, my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, and I modeled my ball gown and hairstyle after her. She spelled her name with a C by the way, as did her daughter. It was her daughter who broke with tradition and named her first daughter with the spelling you and I have, Kathy. Have you seen the portrait? She really looked amazingly like me, except for the hairstyle and dress. The picture is in the gallery at the back of the house."
"I'm afraid I haven't been in there yet. I'll be sure to look after dinner. I don't suppose there's a similar ancestor to pattern me after?" Kathryn tried to sound sincere, but she had never been able to share her mother's passion for family history. She preferred to direct her energy into more useful channels.
"No, unfortunately I haven't found a likeness of the next Catherine. From one or two surviving letters I got the impression she was a bit of a black sheep, but I'm not sure exactly why. Wouldn't it be wonderful if she had dark hair and blue eyes like yours? Let's just assume she did. I had the seamstress copy your dress from an 1820s fashion magazine I found at the State Library, so you'll look nearly as authentic as I will."
"You relieve me."
Mrs. Sykes-Monroe frowned slightly. "Oh, Kathy, do try to enter into the spirit of the thing. Some of the most prominent families in Columbia will be attending, and several from Charleston, as well. I've contacted the local DAR chapter and . . ."
Kathryn's attention started to wander at this point, and she picked up the low-voiced conversation between her father and Logan. The men were discussing business, as she should have expected. Her father was trying again to convince Logan to become a partner in his development firm.
Plump, balding Paul Monroe possessed a business acumen completely at odds with his pleasant, cherubic demeanor. He'd built what amounted to a construction empire in New Jersey and other parts of the northeast, extending his interests from single-family homes to office buildings and shopping complexes. Kathryn suspected he'd given in to her mother's desire to move to South Carolina mainly because it offered a chance to expand into fresh territory.
No doubt this was where Logan came in. At twenty-eight, he was considered something of a golden boy in architectural circles. But to Kathryn he was still the same old Logan —her self-appointed big brother. When his father died twelve years ago, Mr. Monroe had taken Logan under his wing and encouraged him while he pursued his degree in architecture. Within two years of graduating, Logan had made quite a name for himself.
According to her father, Logan's designs were both fresh and practical, generating excitement in developers from all over the country. But though he'd worked with Monroe Building and Design several times, Logan had been careful not to tie himself to any one company. He was too much a free spirit, she suspected, to follow company rules or play office politics. She couldn't even remember the last time she'd seen him in a suit. All of which made his interference in her own life even more galling, smacking as it did of hypocrisy.
"The whole downstairs will be decorated with fresh flowers, and I expect to produce quite an effect with a miniature fountain in the center of the hall," Kathryn heard her mother saying.
"Won't that interfere with the dancing?" asked Kathryn, startled at this detail even though she was well acquainted with her mother's penchant for the flamboyant.
"Not at all. The front hall is simply huge, and it shouldn't be too crowded. Remember, I am inviting only the best families, as well as a few friends. Which reminds me, someone is coming over tonight whom I think you'll be happy to see."
"Oh, really? Who?"
"She wanted it to be a surprise, but— Oh, here she is already!" she exclaimed as a short, dark-haired girl in her early twenties peeked into the dining room.
"I just wanted to let you know I'm here. I'll wait in the living room until you're finished eating. Oh, Kathy, you look great!"
"Annette!" cried Kathryn joyfully, nearly overturning her chair in her haste to greet her friend. The two girls hugged, then Kathryn turned to her mother. "I think I'll skip dessert. Annette and I will be in the living room if you need us." Her mother nodded understanding and Kathryn hurried out, pulling Annette with her.
"What are you doing in South Carolina?" Kathryn demanded at once. She and Annette had been roommates their last two years of college, and even though Annette had married two weeks after graduation, they'd kept in touch by Facebook and phone.
"I live here!" She laughed. "David is stationed at Fort Jackson, right here in Columbia."
"He didn't come tonight? Why didn't you write to tell me?"
"We only got orders a month ago and had to move two weeks later. Everything was so crazy, I decided to wait until we had an address to write to you— and then your mother convinced me to make it a surprise. And no, David's not here. He's TDY in Kansas for two months, as of last Thursday. A great way for me to get settled in, huh?"
"TDY?" asked Kathryn.
"Oh, sorry. I'm so used to the Army jargon I forget everyone else doesn't know it. It means temporary duty. It also means extra money, though, which will come in handy right now."
"What do you— Annette! Is that a maternity dress?" Her friend nodded happily. "Now don't tell me you've only known about that for a month."
"Well, no," Annette admitted. "My mother didn't want me to tell anyone until after the first trimester, so I went along with her. But I'm five months along now and ready to tell the world!"
"It doesn't look like you can keep it a secret much longer, anyway." Annette was tiny, which made her pregnancy that much more obvious.
"Can you imagine how big I'll be in a couple of months?" She laughed. "Will you be here long, Kathy? I hardly know anyone on post yet."
"I haven't decided," Kathryn replied honestly, "but now that I know you're here, I won't be in such a hurry to get back to D.C. Not that I really was, anyway."
"Things aren't going so hot?" asked Annette with ready sympathy.
There had never been secrets between Annette and Kathryn, even during their wild college days. "It's not things, so much. It's me," she confessed. "I was going to make such a difference there you know, set the world on fire. All the social training Mother subjected me to in my teens —the modeling and charm schooling —was going to help me to influence people, get funding for the causes I care about. And it has. But so much of it is politics, knowing the right people, which charity is fashionable this month . . . the actual issues seem to get lost in the shuffle. To tell you the truth, it's all starting to seem pretty shallow —and making me feel shallow by association."
"What about the theater?"
"No luck there, either —and I've gone up to New York to audition six times in the past year. But I'm not sure that's really the life for me, either. What I need is a rest, a chance to sort things out."
Annette blinked. "A rest? You? You were always dragging me around to everything, trying to get me involved. Women's rights one week, saving the whales the next . . ." She sighed enviously. "And you're still so thin!"
"Aerobics." Kathryn grimaced. "It's boring and time-consuming, but pleasantly plump actresses don't get cast as leading ladies —or make for good photo ops. I took some dance and voice lessons, too, so I wouldn't get rusty. You never know when a musical might be auditioning. But enough about me. Like I said, I came here to get away from it all."
"Well, here comes some diversion," whispered Annette, gesturing toward the door, where they could hear voices approaching. "Isn't that the same guy who came to visit you once or twice at school? What was his name?"
In answer, Kathryn stood to make introductions. "Annette, you remember Logan Thorne, a business associate of my father's and an old family friend. Logan, my very dear friend, Annette Kent."
Annette promptly seated herself next to Logan, obviously determined to find out all she could about him. Forthright and bubbly, she had a way of getting people to spill their secrets that Kathryn could only envy. Though articulate and persuasive with a roomful of potential donors, on a more personal level Kathryn had always had a difficult time making friends.
Mrs. Sykes-Monroe was quick to corner Kathryn with her plans for the following evening, giving her no chance to learn what kind of headway Annette might be making with Logan. She heard Annette's frequent laughter, though, and was surprised. She hadn't thought Logan had much of a sense of humor, at least not in recent years.
"Come on, Kathy, let me show you what I mean."
Kathryn reluctantly followed her mother to a long, narrow room where more than a dozen family portraits were hanging on the walls.
"They used this room as a dining hall when this house was a girls' dormitory sixty years ago," remarked her mother, "but now I've restored it to its intended purpose. Ah! Here's the portrait I wanted you to see." She stopped in front of a painting two-thirds of the way down the room, and Kathryn saw that it did indeed bear a striking resemblance to her mother.
"This was Catherine Sykes-Prescott," said Mrs. Sykes-Monroe. "It was her mother who began the tradition of hyphenating 'Sykes' before her married name, so we wouldn't forget our fine English heritage, no matter what nationalities later generations married into. The tradition of naming the first daughter Catherine dates from nearly a century earlier."
Kathryn nodded. She'd heard it all many times before, and it had been impressed on her since childhood what her duty was in this regard, when —if— she married. She'd gone by plain Kathryn Monroe when she was younger, only recently copying her mother's hyphenation to give her name more distinction for the stage and social scene.
"I plan to have my hair styled just like this," her mother was saying, "and my dress will look almost the same as the one in the painting. I took a photo of it to show the seamstress."
Kathryn duly admired the portrait and several other paintings of note in the gallery, and then returned with her mother to the living room. Only Annette and her father were there.
"Logan's gone upstairs to get some drawings he wants me to see," said Mr. Monroe. "Some upscale town homes he's designed." He then launched into the business plans he and Logan had been discussing, while Annette accosted her friend.
"Logan's looking pretty good, don't you think?" she asked as soon as they were seated on the white linen couch in the far corner. "But he seems a little too settled into his carefree bachelor lifestyle, if you ask me."
"Annette!" Kathryn had to laugh. "I'm sure he didn't tell you that."
"He didn't need to," replied Annette, tossing her short dark curls. "He's got that lazy way of talking some men have when there's not enough going on in their lives. He needs an interest." She waggled her eyebrows at Kathryn suggestively, making her laugh again.
"You're probably right. If anyone needs shaking up, it's Logan . . . but I'm not going to be the one to do it. Mother tried some matchmaking along those lines once, too, but I've known him too long to even think of him that way. And it's mutual. He's practically a brother to me. A tyrannical, overbearing big brother, who tried to run my life once too often."
Annette wrinkled her nose. "Yeah, I seem to remember something about that, now that you mention it. Still —I've got a funny feeling about you and Logan."
Kathryn's chuckle held a hint of alarm —she knew from experience that Annette's predictions often had an uncanny way of coming true. "You and your feelings. Don't start. By the way, I'm not sure things here will be so different from Washington. Mother's got the next two weeks scheduled right down to the minute with luncheons, fundraisers, the works." She sighed. "I was looking forward to a change of pace, but it doesn't look like I'm going to get it."
* * *
Kathryn twirled, delighted, before the antique pier glass in her room. It reflected a young lady from a bygone age, in a blue-and-silver gown that looked exactly like the one in the 1822 ladies' fashion magazine downstairs. Of course, they hadn't used a polyester blend back then, but it made the dress both comfortable and washable, if not absolutely authentic. Her rich brown-black hair was piled high on her head, adorned with royal blue ribbons that matched both the dress and her eyes.
Turning from the mirror, Kathryn wandered around the room, trying to get into the part as she would for an audition. This party was important to her mother, and she was determined to do her best. She'd never studied the particular time period being reenacted, but maybe this room could help her. Much of the furniture was original, her mother had told her, bought back when the house was restored. Gently, Kathryn touched the needlepoint on the chair cushions, the damask of the draperies and the intricately carved woodwork of the antique desk.
Peering into the various recesses of the desk, she opened tiny drawers and fingered the carvings. One of the wooden rose petals along the edge of the desktop seemed to move beneath her fingers and she looked more closely, worried that the valuable piece of furniture might have been damaged. No, the carved piece wasn't broken —it seemed to turn on a sort of pivot. As she played with it, she heard a tiny click and another piece of carving on the front of the desk sprang forward.
Kathryn gasped and snatched her hand away, sure now that she'd broken something, but then saw that instead of falling off, the section of carving had opened downward on a hinge. Intrigued, she felt inside the secret recess and carefully drew out a small leather-bound book. Could it be as old as the desk? Curious, she opened it. On the flyleaf she read "Personal Diary of Catherine Prescott —Private."
Smiling, she wondered if her long-dead ancestor would curse her from the grave for reading her girlish secrets nearly two hundred years after the fact. Never superstitious, she turned to the first page, dated June 22, 1823. That young Catherine had written of her excitement at an impending trip to London to stay for a Season or two with her Aunt Sykes.
The next several pages Kathryn was forced to skim as the writing was faded and difficult to decipher, the Ss looking like Fs. Catherine described travel preparations and farewells to local friends, but with little mention of the dresses she was packing, which Kathryn would rather have read about.
I shall write absolutely everything that I see and hear, she had penned on the seventh of July, the eve of her departure. I must close now, to be well rested for the drive to the coast.
Kathryn turned the page, interested to read her ancestor's impressions of London as a young girl, but apparently Catherine had neglected to take her diary along on the trip. The next entry was dated March 13, 1825— today's date, except for the year. Kathryn shivered involuntarily at the coincidence.
I have just remembered this old diary. Perhaps if I set down my thoughts in writing, I will be less prone to voice them aloud tonight and ruin my mother's plans. Truly, I would as lief ruin them, however, for I have no wish in the world to wed Ryan James. It is apparent that the man cares nothing for me, only for Papa's lands, which I stand to inherit someday. This ball tonight is most important to my mother, however, so I shall create no scandal for the present. Also, I should like to see, and perhaps to dance with, the Marquis de Lafayette. A true hero in our home!
Mother hopes to outshine the ball given at the State House yesterday night —and well she may. The slaves, poor things, have been working inside and out for days to produce her idea of perfection. The result is lovely, but I fear my stay in England has made me intolerant of slavery, though I dare not mention it again to my father. Of course, he is nowhere near so harsh a master as Mr. James, but he thinks a lady should have no opinion on such matters, which is most vexing.
In England, the gentlemen are vastly more polite, nor do they pressure a lady to do what she knows to be wrong, as R.J. has done in his efforts to force my hand. If I doubted the gossip about him before, I do so no longer! Had I known what fate awaited me this side of the Atlantic I would have accepted Sir Mark Fenton after all, I think.
It grows late, so I must stop. Perhaps Mr. James will not attend. I hope not, for I vow the man frightens me and I would not wish him to discover it.
Mention of the time made Kathryn think to check her phone. Nearly eight o'clock. Leaving the phone on her night stand, she bent over to slip into the authentic but comfortable silk-ribboned dancing slippers that matched her dress, thinking over what she'd read so far.
Imagine living in a time when a girl could be forced by her parents to marry a man of their choice! She wished she could have a few moments to advise that young Catherine of what she would do in her position. Then she chuckled. This was her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother she was talking about —a woman who had lived out her life nearly two centuries ago.
There were several more pages of writing and she looked forward to reading more, to find out what had happened. She glanced back at the diary, vaguely bothered by something about the handwriting on the next page. As soon as the party was over she would read the rest. There was no time now. Rising hurriedly, she took one last look at herself in the mirror and left the room.
Descending the graceful, curving staircase, Kathryn found it easy to pretend that it was two centuries earlier. Her mother had chosen every furnishing, drapery and knick-knack to reflect the early 1800s. She was so caught up in the history around her that, on reaching the second-floor landing, she suddenly felt a strange sense of disorientation, even dizziness. As she put a hand on the banister to steady herself, the antique grandfather clock that stood on the landing began to strike the hour.
Kathryn remembered the clock from her childhood and knew it had been in her mother's family for generations. But she could never remember the clock working. Had it been repaired for this evening? It struck four times and hummed to silence, though the hands pointed to eight o'clock. Her head clearing, she made a mental note to tell her mother that the clock was still not working perfectly and continued down the stairs.
Several guests had already arrived, all historically garbed. She supposed that period costume balls must be commonplace among this crowd. If the majority of these ladies were like her mother, they probably liked nothing better than emulating their notable ancestors. To her surprise, though, even the gentlemen had gotten into the spirit of things, wearing realistic Early American outfits. Kathryn rather doubted her own father —or Logan— would be in costume, but she didn't see either of them yet.
In fact, she didn't recognize anyone —but then, she admitted, she hadn't expected to. She smiled politely at a few people, scanning the large hall for her mother. Annette would be here, too, but probably not this early. Annette had never been on time for anything.
"Good evening, Miss Kathryn. You are looking exceptionally lovely this evening," came a masculine voice at her elbow. Turning, she saw a tall, ruggedly handsome man with shoulder-length dark hair— probably a wig—and compelling, deep brown eyes.
She was certain she'd never seen him before, but his gaze implied otherwise. In fact, he was regarding her with an intimate intensity that would have made most women either tremble or melt. Kathryn did neither. She'd met his type before, though they were usually less magnetically handsome than this obvious pick-up artist.
She couldn't help noticing his build was as provocative as his face, his powerful shoulders and thighs nicely displayed by the tight-fitting jacket and knee-breeches he wore. The snowy lace at his throat, rather than looking girlish, only emphasized the tanned strength of his face and jawline. No doubt he was used to impressionable young women falling hook, line and sinker for his flattery and hypnotic leer.
"Excuse me, sir, but I don't believe we've been properly introduced," she said coolly, opting to play the part of a prim 1820s miss rather than shoot down one of her mother's guests.
His broad smile made Kathryn steel herself against his palpable charm, but he followed her lead. "I can well understand such a sought-after young lady as yourself forgetting the least of your numerous admirers," he drawled with an elegant, sweeping bow. "Allow me to refresh your memory. I am Ryan James."
Kathryn frowned. She'd heard that name before, and recently —but where? The diary, she suddenly realized. But how could this man possibly have known? Remembering again that the guests tonight were from Columbia's oldest families, she wondered if he might be a descendent of the very Ryan James that Catherine Prescott had been all but engaged to. Had they married? If so, this man would be some sort of relation, which accounted for his boldness.
"You obviously know me already," she said, thawing slightly. "My mother didn't tell me exactly who was going to be here tonight, so you must forgive me if I seemed rude."
"Perhaps she feared you would remain in hiding in your room had you known I was to attend," Ryan returned mockingly, his eyes caressing her face and figure in a way that revived her original suspicions about him.
Kathryn narrowed her eyes, ready to cut him down to size. But before she could speak, she saw her mother bearing down on them, regal in her antique gown and upswept hairstyle.
"Kathryn! Mr. James! I see you two have mended your quarrel. I am so pleased."
"Quarrel? We only just met." Even as Kathryn spoke, she noticed something jarringly wrong with her mother's voice —and face, now that she looked closely. Were those pockmarks on her cheeks? Surely, even she wouldn't go that far in her zeal for authenticity. The slight British accent she could more readily believe, though she wouldn't have thought her mother could so easily disguise her New Jersey twang.
Her mother —was it her mother?— looked at her just as strangely. "Just met? What game are you playing at, Kathryn?"
"You've found us out, Mrs. Sykes-Prescott. Miss Prescott and I were simply playing a little game," interposed Ryan smoothly. "It was my idea. All is well between us now."
Her mother smiled uncertainly and left them to greet some newly arriving guests. Kathryn, meanwhile, was beginning to sense that something was very wrong. Her mother had never mentioned using the name Prescott this evening, though apparently this Mr. James knew about it.
"I'll expect payment in full for that favor, Miss Prescott," he said with a wolfish grin, interrupting her musings. "I'm sure you are grateful to me for deflecting your mother's wrath —for wrathful she would certainly be to find you, ah, toying with my affections." He allowed his hand to brush hers, and then to slide caressingly up her arm in a manner that was far from cousinly.
Kathryn stepped away from him hastily, trying to marshal her confused thoughts. "I'm afraid your affections will have to wait, Mr. James," she said with formal politeness. "Right now, I need to speak to my father." Without waiting for a reply, she turned and made her way to the front of the house.
The hall seemed to be getting full. Hadn't her mother said that she'd invited only the "best" families? As she made her way between the richly dressed strangers, Kathryn noticed some unlikely odors. Many of the women —and men!— were wearing heavy perfume, and those that weren't seemed long overdue for a good shower. Surely that was taking authenticity a bit too far!
Her mother was still by the front door, and Kathryn hoped to find her father nearby. He'd always been solidly rooted in reality, and might be able to shed some light on whatever was going on. A portly, middle-aged man she'd never seen before stood at her mother's side, apparently greeting people as they came in. Her father was nowhere in sight.
"Here you are, Kathryn." Her mother beckoned to her as she approached. "I was hoping you would join me in greeting our guests. Many of them are anxious to see you now that you are back in South Carolina."
Kathryn smiled and nodded graciously to an elderly couple just entering before turning back to her mother. "I really need to speak to Father, if you don't mind, Mother. I'll be back in a minute."
"Certainly," she replied with a surprised look. "In private, I presume you mean? Joseph," she said, nudging the man at her side, "Kathryn has something to tell you. Don't keep her long, I beg you."
The man nodded and held out his arm. "Shall we go into the music room, my dear? I believe it is as yet unoccupied."
They went into the formal parlor where she'd met Logan yesterday, only now it was furnished primarily with an old-fashioned piano and a large harp. How odd, thought Kathryn. Those instruments hadn't been here before. And who was this Joseph? She'd wanted to speak to her father. She was feeling increasingly disoriented by now, but the man's next words caused a real surge of alarm.
"You're not going to berate me again about the slaves, are you, Kathryn?" he asked with gruff affection. "I told you before that I won't have a daughter of mine concerning herself in such matters, regardless of what radical ideas she may have picked up in England. The cotton could never be gathered without them, even with those newfangled machines you keep pressing on me."
Kathryn's head swam. This had to be a dream. There was absolutely no other explanation for what was going on. Trying desperately to remain calm, she decided to play along with this man who seemed to think he was her father.
"No, I suppose you're right. I . . . I just wanted to say I was sorry for upsetting you about it earlier." She barely knew what she was saying. She had to get away by herself to think. "Um, tell Mother I'll be with her in a couple of minutes. I think I forgot something in my room."
Before this man who looked nothing like her father could reply, she bolted from the room, making for the staircase at the rear of the house. Several guests, all complete strangers, spoke to her as she hurried by, but she was by now too distraught to answer. There was no sign of the man who'd introduced himself as Ryan James, and Kathryn breathed a sigh of relief. She didn't feel up to another encounter with him right then.
It wasn't until she was partway up the staircase, holding her gown up in front so that she wouldn't trip on it, that Kathryn noticed the material between her hands. It was heavier, much heavier, than the silky polyester blend she'd put on an hour ago. And, even more bizarre, it was a pale apricot color instead of blue.
Kathryn only just managed to reach the landing, where she was out of sight of the guests below. Trembling, she sank onto a step just above the grandfather clock, unable to go any farther.
What is going on? she asked herself wildly. What the hell can possibly be going on?
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