“Well, well, well.”
One glance told Deirdre that Linc wasn’t any happier to see Max standing barefoot in Neely’s store than she was. The tension between the two men was thickening by the second.
Linc took two steps forward. “Where’s Neely?”
Max stood his ground. “Upstairs in bed.” He lifted the small machine he’d been swearing at. “I was trying to make her some coffee.”
Deirdre was about to move between the two men when a voice from upstairs called, “Max?”
“I’m in the bookstore, Neely. And we have company. My boss, Deirdre Mason, and I believe your business partner.”
“Are you all right, Neel?” Linc called out.
“Fine. I’ll be right down.”
Linc waited another beat, then moved forward with a hand extended. “Before you throw that at me, why don’t I take it and make some coffee. Neely doesn’t trust anyone but me with that machine.”
Deirdre was grateful when Max handed over the coffeemaker. She had a feeling she was going to need a lot of caffeine.
NEELY SIPPED COFFEE as she watched Linc pace up and down the length of the bookstore. From her position behind the counter, she could see Deirdre Mason doing the same thing on the sidewalk across the street. Max, as usual, was calm, motionless. Neely was doing her best to take her cue from him and ignore the knot of anxiety in her stomach. She wondered how much of the truth he was telling his boss. She’d given Linc just the bare bones, and he didn’t look satisfied in the least.Linc stopped in front of her, placed both palms flat on the counter. “Okay, let me summarize if I may.”
“You first saw this guy—a perfect stranger—sitting on the stoop across the street. You went out, introduced yourself, invited him into the store and then into your bed?”
Neely barely kept herself from wincing. Phrased that way, the story she’d told Linc made her look like an irresponsible idiot. She’d never been any good at lying.
“What are you—nuts? For all you know, he could be the Ripper.”
Linc leaned closer. “And you know this because?”
She met his eyes steadily as she stifled an inward sigh. Linc worried about her like a mother hen. If she didn’t tell him more, he’d keep after her and then he’d start in on Max.
“He’s chasing the Ripper.”
“He’s some kind of cop?” Considering, Linc moved to the front door and peered through the etched glass to where Max stood on the street. “Well, that would explain why I got the impression he was going for a weapon when Ms. Mason and I first came into the store.” He shifted his gaze to Neely.
“Okay. That much I’ll buy. He has the look of a cop about him, steely eyes, tough build. So what was he doing sitting on the stoop across from Bookends in the middle of the night and why in hell did you invite him in?”
Neely chewed on her bottom lip. It was a good question. She just didn’t have a good enough answer.
“C’mon, Neely. You’re not that stupid. What’s going on here?”
“You won’t believe me.”
“Because I’m still trying to absorb all of it myself.”
Linc crossed his arms and tapped a foot. “You’re starting to piss me off. If I can’t get a straight story from you, I’ll get it from him.”
Neely set her coffee down. “You can’t tell anyone else and you have to promise not to freak out and have me carted off to Bellevue in a straitjacket.”
Linc’s brows shot up. “I’ve restrained myself so far, haven’t I?”
After taking another fortifying sip of coffee, Neely said, “He’s not just a regular cop. He traveled here from the future.”
“From…the…future.” Linc spaced the words out as if he were speaking a foreign language. “And Ms. Mason?”
“She’s his boss, so I figure she’s from the future, too.”
The expression on Linc’s face wasn’t exactly encouraging, but at least he wasn’t reaching for the phone. Neely cleared her throat and plunged in. “Max believes the Ripper’s from the future, as well. From his time—2128. Our Jack the Second isn’t just a copycat killer imitating the London Ripper. They’re the same man.” Then she told him everything, including what she knew about Max’s mission and her own time traveling adventure with him the night before.
When she’d finished, Linc said, “So let me revise my earlier summary. There’s no doubt anymore that you have the ability to psychically travel back through time. And last night you had a close personal encounter with the Ripper in Buck’s Row.”
He moved to the window and looked out to where Deirdre and Max were still talking on the street. “And those two—they’re both from the future, they also have the power to psychically time travel and they’re chasing the Ripper, a serial killer from the year 2128. And on top of everything else, you can link minds with this cop-from-the-future guy.”
Since it wasn’t a question, Neely didn’t bother to answer. Put that way—in a nutshell—it sounded like a wild theory. Maybe she’d made a mistake in telling Linc everything. He’d worry even more now. “I bet you think you’ve taken a side trip into the twilight zone, right? You’re just waiting for Rod Serling to step into the room and welcome you to tonight’s program.”
“I can actually hear the theme song in my head.” Linc paused and Neely could feel anxiety tighten her stomach.
When he finally turned to face her, his expression was sober. “If anyone else had told me this story, I would have just smiled and nodded and given the person a very wide berth. But it’s you telling me this, Neely. You’re smart and you’re the most focused and grounded person I know. And you were sane enough when I left here last night.” He shot a glance out at the street again. “Although you are a bit impulsive sometimes. And way too trusting. I’d definitely like to know more about this future-cop, but…”
There was another pause, then Linc sighed and shook his head. “This must be what they mean when they say truth is stranger than fiction.”
Relief washing over her, Neely let out a breath she hadn’t been aware she was holding. “You believe me.”
He raised his hands. “Hey, I’m always open to new possibilities. And I read. Wasn’t I the one who recommended the Rhoades book? Scientists say we’re only tapping into about twenty-five percent of what the human brain is capable of. Besides, we were already ninety percent certain that those vivid dreams of yours were real. Plus, this sci-fi twilight zone scenario that you’ve just spun makes a lot more sense to me than you inviting a stranger off the street into your bed.”
When he opened his arms, Neely walked into them and held him tight. For a moment, she clung to him. Then she lifted her head and met Linc’s eyes again. “I didn’t invite him. It just sort of happened.”
Linc’s brows shot up. “Well…at least you picked a fine specimen.”
She felt herself flush. “I know. And the chemistry between us certainly played its part.”
“Chemistry is always good. Tell me—” he leaned closer “—are men from the future better endowed?”
Neely felt heat flood her face.
“That good, huh?”
She cleared her throat while Linc grinned at her. “There’s more than chemistry. I feel this connection with Max. I feel like I know him almost as well as I know myself.”
Linc stepped away to look out the window again. “Who knows. Maybe you knew him in a former life.”
She narrowed her eyes on him. “You believe in reincarnation?”
“You know me. I’m into a lot of woo-woo stuff.”
Neely hesitated. Linc had always been someone she could talk to. “We’re going to try to catch the Ripper. Later today, we’re going to go back to London together.”
“Whoa.” Linc whirled to face her, his hands signaling timeout. “It’s one thing to go to bed with this guy. That I can understand. After all, I’m the one who was encouraging you to find a lover. But let’s remember he’s the cop. You’re a bookstore owner.”
“But I can help. I know I can. And he is a cop. He can protect me.”
“I’m sure he can, but he may be distracted. His priority will be catching the Ripper.”
She crossed to him and took his hands in hers. “I have to do this. I think helping Max might be what I was meant to do.”
Linc frowned down at her. “I don’t like it. Do you trust this guy?
“With my life. And I need your help.”
“Me?” Linc’s brows shot up. “Sweetie, chasing serial killers is not my thing. And psychic time travel doesn’t happen to be one of my many talents.”
She felt her lips curve, just as he’d probably intended. “You won’t have to leave Bookends. I promise.”
“What do you need?”
“I want you to research the Ripper’s last victim in London. And I’d like a best guess on the time of death.”