RAIN FELL in a soft thick mist that nearly blocked the light from the street lamp. Neely hurried toward it, pulling up the hood of her sweatshirt. The instant she saw the gas flame, her heart kicked up its rhythm. Just to make sure, she glanced down at the street. Those were cobblestones all right. Something caught her eye. Bending over, she scooped up a coin and grinned when it wasn’t one she recognized. Excitement and anticipation streamed through her as she tucked it away in the pocket of her jeans. She definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore—her particular Kansas being New York City, 2008.But was she where she wanted to be? Just before she’d fallen asleep, she’d been concentrating on London, September 30, 1888, when Jack the Ripper had been prowling its streets and brutally murdering women. Lately, all of her “dreams” were about places where the Ripper had killed. Hardly surprising. For the past four months a serial killer had been targeting women in Manhattan, and the media had gleefully dubbed him Jack the Second. Like everyone else in the city, including the discussion groups in her bookstore, Neely had been boning up on Jack the First’s exploits. But tonight she’d decided to conduct a little experiment. She’d focused her mind on Mitre Square where the body of Catherine Eddowes had been found in the wee hours of the morning. This was her first attempt at controlling the specific destination and time of one of her dreams. Had she succeeded?
Peering through the mist, she caught a glimpse of a wrought-iron fence across the street, and a little thrill shot up her spine. She had one foot on the cobblestones when the sound of hooves sent her backing up and she ducked behind the street lamp. A carriage clattered by, its lantern waging a brave but losing battle with the mist. Neely smelled damp leather and horses as she studied what she could see of the carriage. She was no expert on Victorian-style vehicles, but it looked close enough to the pictures she’d seen in books.
Once the hoofbeats had faded and she was satisfied the street was clear of traffic, Neely raced across it, then bent low to read the small plaque on the iron gate. Mitre Square. Her heart skipped. This was the place all right. But was it the right time? Catherine Eddowes’s body had been found on September 30, 1888. That was the day Jack the Ripper was believed to have claimed two victims.
Was she in time to warn Catherine? Or was the woman’s brutalized body lying somewhere in the square even now? Fear snaked its way up her spine, and Neely’s hand tightened on the gate. It was still hard to get her mind around the possibility that she might really be in the London of 1888.
She’d been having vivid dreams for years—usually triggered by something in a book that had captured her imagination. While they’d been alive, her parents had always attributed her stories about being in Troy when the Greeks invaded, or being in Paris when Marie Antoinette was beheaded, to her bookish nature and an overactive imagination. Only her grandmother Cornelia Rafferty had taken her dreams seriously. Cornelia had experienced the same kind of dreams and so had her great-great-grandfather Angus Sheffield. Angus had once dreamed of being in Rome on the day when Julius Caesar was assassinated. It was her grandmother’s theory that the vivid dreams were connected with the fact that some of those descended from Angus Sheffield had inherited the “bookworm” gene.
Well, she’d certainly inherited the “bookworm” gene. She’d been nine when her parents had been taken from her in a plane crash. And when she’d moved in with her grandmother, there’d been no one her age to play with on their street, so she’d frequently used books to escape loneliness.
Drawing in a deep breath, Neely pushed at the gate, then winced when it complained loudly. Gradually, the sound faded and all she could hear was her own breath going in and out. It wasn’t until recently, since she’d been researching the Ripper murders, that she’d begun to suspect her experiences were more than dreams, that she might really be visiting the past.
It was such a crazy idea—but she hadn’t been able to shake free of it. Night after night, she returned to the places in London where Jack the Ripper had left his victims. The only person she’d confided in was her best friend and business partner, Linc Matthews. She and Linc had been friends since junior high when they’d both been outsiders at school. She’d never quite fit in with the cool crowd, and Linc’s sexual orientation had alienated him from their more conservative classmates.
Neely had always been able to talk to Linc about anything. Growing up in her grandmother’s house, she’d been surrounded by people Cornelia Rafferty’s age. And though she enjoyed them and loved her grandmother dearly, she’d rarely confided in them. Linc always listened, never judged. He’d taken seriously her theory that she was traveling to the past and that had made her take it more seriously herself. He’d even recommended a new book that had come in as part of a promotion from self-published author Dr. Julian Rhoades, who had been getting local TV coverage for his theory that psychic time travel might be possible in the near future. And it had been Linc’s idea that she try to bring back some proof that she was actually visiting Victorian-era London. She slipped a hand into her pocket to reassure herself that the coin was still there.
After tonight, she would know whether she was dreaming or whether what she was seeing was real. And if it was…?
From the time she was a little girl, she’d always believed that she was meant to do something important with her life, and the idea that she could travel through time had opened up almost-limitless possibilities. The one that interested her most was that maybe she could make a difference. There had to be a reason she was being drawn to the scene of Jack the Ripper’s murders. Could she stop one of them? If she could do something to save even one woman…Well, she just had to find out. Taking a deep breath, Neely pushed through the gate and started down the path.
“Catherine? Catherine Eddowes?” she called.
The mist was so thick that she couldn’t see more than a few feet in any direction. On the street behind her, another carriage clattered past. Then silence. Moving forward slowly, Neely inhaled the scents of damp earth, decaying vegetation and something else—blood? The knot in her stomach tightened when she heard a noise to her right. This time when she slipped a hand into her pocket, she closed her fingers around a can of pepper spray. Then she started toward the sound.
“Catherine? If you’re here, let me know. I can help you.”
No answer again. But a tingle of awareness had Neely stopping short. She wasn’t alone in the square. This knowledge was confirmed when she heard footsteps approaching. Fear slithered along her skin. She felt someone’s eyes on her as vividly as a physical touch, but she couldn’t make out anything. Not even a darker shadow in the mist.
No answer again—except for the steady, inexorable march of those footsteps coming closer and closer.
Run. Run. Her mind screamed the words, but she couldn’t move. He was very close now. She sensed him not only in her mind but in every pore of her body. A fresh stab of terror pierced her and set her free. Whirling, she ran as fast as she could. But he was running, too. She felt his nearness, pictured his hands reaching out. Heart pounding, breath hitching, she shoved through a gate and sent it slamming shut behind her.
She heard a grunt, then a male voice cursing as she leaped from cobblestones to curb and hurtled herself into the mist. She’d only slowed him down. Think. Think. She had to…wake up. Of course. All she needed to do was get herself out of this dream. How? In her mind, Neely summoned up the details of her bedroom—the quilt her grandmother had made for her, the lamp on her bedside table with its leaded-glass roses, the mirror that leaned against one wall…the old Persian carpet—
Suddenly, her body was free of the pull of gravity. Wind rushed past her, deafening her. Then a velvety blackness enveloped her, and her mind went blissfully blank.
NEELY OPENED her eyes and sat straight up. A quick glance around informed her that she was back in her bedroom in the old brownstone house that she’d inherited from her grandmother. She was safe. She pressed a hand against her heart, felt its mad race as the details of her dream once again flooded her mind. Excitement and fear roiled through her. Everything had been so real. The footsteps still echoed in her mind. Her clock read only a few minutes past midnight—the exact time it had been just before she’d drifted off. Tonight’s dream had been the most vivid one yet. She began to shiver then and had to clamp her teeth together to keep them from chattering. Only then did she realize that her jeans and sweatshirt were soaked.
From the misty rain? She slipped her hand into her pocket and retrieved the coin. She could read the words quite clearly. One shilling. Her hand began to tremble, her heart to pound. Neely made herself breathe, in and out, in and out. Two things were immediately evident to her. Whatever had just happened hadn’t been a dream. She’d actually traveled to the past. And there was a good chance that she’d had a close encounter with Jack the Ripper.
Had she finally discovered her purpose in life?