At Mabel’s lifted brow, Neely continued, “I should have questioned my grandmother more. I swallowed the bookworm-gene story.” She threw up her hands. “Who knows, maybe I didn’t want to know the truth. Even when the dreams grew more vivid, I didn’t push Grams for answers.”
Anger surged through her again. She strode to the window and back. “I didn’t push myself for answers until Jack the Second started killing people. How can I blame her for never talking about my ability to psychically time travel when I didn’t want to know?”
“How about Max?” Mabel asked. “You have a right to be angry with him for not telling you the truth about why he’s here.”
With a sigh, Neely sat down next to Mabel on the bed. “I should have guessed why he’s here. He all but told me. I mean, a stranger—a security agent from the future—who is tracking the Ripper suddenly appears on the stoop across from my house…He told me all about his Prime Directive—not being able to interfere with anything that’s happened in the past. He even told me how he plans to capture the Ripper and take him back right after he kills one of his victims. I never pushed him for answers, never asked—why me? The truth was in front of my nose. All I had to do was add two and two and get four!”
Mabel reached over and patted her hand. “You didn’t want to think about that because of the feelings you were developing for Max.”
Neely sighed again. “Yeah. I’ve never met anyone like him. It’s not just that he’s from the future.”
“You’re in love with him.”
Neely felt her heart take a little bounce. “I think so. But we’re literally from different worlds. I can’t go to the future with him. He can’t stay here. So I didn’t want to think about why he might have ended up on my doorstep. I just wanted to grab all the time we could have together.”
Mabel patted Neely’s hand again. “He’s not going to allow the Ripper to kill you. He’s enlisted Linc, Sam, Sally and me to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Neely lifted her chin. “Well, I’m not about to let it happen, either. Not only that, I intend to catch that creep.” She checked her watch. “Time’s running out. If Max and I want to catch the Ripper, we’d better get to London. I’m assuming that you and Sam and Sally have chosen a victim and a place we can return to.”
Mabel frowned as she rose and strode to the door. “Not exactly. Sam and I are in disagreement.”
Mabel sniffed. “He’s always so stubborn, and he never wants to admit that a woman might be right.”
“I think he disagrees with you on purpose just to annoy you.”
Mabel sniffed again. “This time I’m right, but we’ve decided to let you and Max choose.”
MAX ROSE from his chair in the kitchen. “So the plan is that you take care of Neely while I go to London and catch the Ripper.”
“You can just scrap that plan,” Neely said from behind him.
Swearing to himself, Max turned. He’d wanted to get away before she knew about it. “You’ll be safer here than in London.”
“You don’t know that. Besides, neither of us is going to be safe until we catch the Ripper.”
“Ladies and Linc,” Sam said, “why don’t we step into the bookstore and let Max and Neely sort this out.”
As much as he wanted to touch her, hold her, Max kept his voice cold. “I don’t want you with me, Neely. You’re an amateur. You’ll just slow me down.”
He saw the effect of his words in the hurt that flashed into her eyes. Still, she lifted her chin. “Same goes. At this point, you might be the one who’ll slow me down.”
Frustration and fear rolled through him. “He’s got you in his sights now. While I’m obliged to follow the Prime Directive, I don’t think he’ll feel any duty to do so. If he does, he can always kill you in London and then bring you back here. If you stay at Bookends, Linc and Sam and the ladies can protect you. No one will get past them.”
“Maybe so, but I’m not staying behind.”
For a moment, Max said nothing. “If I thought it would do any good, I’d tie you up and lock you in a closet.”
Then he opened his mind to her, and because she could feel the mix of emotions and understand them, she moved toward him and laid a hand on his cheek. “The original plan was that we would do this together. And I think we make a pretty good team. He didn’t get what he wanted at the institute. He wanted to kill you, and we stopped him. And since we have no way of knowing when or how the Ripper will make his move on me, I’d like to catch him before he figures it out.”
He covered her hand with his and kept it pressed against his cheek. For a moment neither of them spoke. They didn’t have to. Each time they touched the link between them seemed to grow stronger.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you why I was here.”
She smiled at him. “I know.”
“When we get to London, I want your word that you’ll stay close. If we get separated, you’ll come back here. Promise me that.”
She nodded. “Where are we going?”
“To the scene of Mary Jane Kelly’s death.”
“She was the only one of the Ripper’s supposed victims who was discovered in her own bed.”
“Which is why she’s Sam’s choice. Since her body was discovered in the morning, we’ll time our arrival for the night before.”
“I’ll need a few minutes to study Sam’s research and the photos of the area.”
Max took her other hand in his. “Come with me this time. After two New York City taxi rides, I want to be in control for once.”
A COMBINATION OF THICK, cold mist and wind greeted them when Max and Neely arrived at Dorset Street in Spitalfields. Ahead of them a street lamp barely illuminated the sign reading Miller’s Court.“Mary Jane Kelly lived at number 13.” Max kept a firm grip on her hand as he drew her around the corner. The sky was pitch-black, and they made their way carefully along the cobblestones. The mist was so thick in spots that Neely couldn’t even see her feet. When number 13 came into view, it was a narrow house with no lights in the windows. A sudden gust of wind rattled one of the shutters.
Max pulled her to the side of the house. “I’m going to see if she’s at home. If she is, we’ll wait. If not, we’ll go to plan B and walk around the area. You stay here in the shadows.”
Neely did as he asked. An elderly woman holding a lantern answered Max’s knock and informed him in a surly tone that Mary Jane Kelly rarely arrived home before the wee hours of the morning. Then she slammed the door in his face. A moment later, Max joined her.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be easy. Most of the killings attributed to Jack the Ripper are believed to have been perpetrated at night in a semipublic place. Criminologists across time have agreed that Jack the First gets some kind of pleasure from the extra risk involved. He probably killed Mary Jane Kelly elsewhere and brought her body back home to finish the mutilation.”
Neely couldn’t help shuddering.
“You don’t have to do this. I can take you back to Bookends.”
“I’m okay. He has to be stopped.”
He touched her arm gently. “Mary Jane may already be dead. There’s even a chance that she wasn’t one of the Ripper’s victims.”
“But you don’t believe that.”
“Sam’s got a cop’s instincts. He thinks she was killed by the Ripper. But she may already be dead.”
“And you’re not going to interfere if she isn’t.”
He squeezed her arm before he released it. “No. Here’s the plan. We’re going to leave our minds unlinked so that yours is clear to sense the Ripper. I’m going to make myself invisible, and we’re going to check alleyways, squares, stable entrances—any place that the Ripper might choose to kill his victim. Our goal has to be to catch him, not to save the victim. Your job is to locate him for me, and I’ll use my weapon to stun him. The moment I have him, you’re going to go back to Bookends and stay there with your friends until I can return.”
“But if you have the Ripper, I should be safe.”
“I’m not taking any chances,” Max said. “Even well-thought-out plans can fall apart in a heartbeat. Promise me that you’ll go back to Bookends.”
She read the concern in his eyes, saw his anxiety in the way his hands clenched. “I promise.”
“And, Neely, if anything goes wrong, if he somehow gets the upper hand, return to 2008 immediately.”
She nodded, grateful that he couldn’t, at the moment, read her thoughts. There was no way that she was going to leave him at the mercy of the Ripper. He stroked a finger gently down her cheek and then she saw him fade gradually out of sight.
“I’m still here,” Max said in a low voice as they moved away from number 13. At Dorset Street, they turned left. Neely slipped her hands into her pockets and closed her fingers around the locket inscribed to the mysterious Elena. She gripped it like a talisman.
For ten minutes they walked without speaking so that she could keep her senses focused on the Ripper. The mist hung heavy over the street lamps dimming their glow. Now and then the silence was broken by hoofbeats, as a horse and rider passed in the night. Other than that there was only the whistle of wind in the hedges or the creak of a gate. Odd, but in spite of the fact that she missed a physical connection with Max, Neely found the quiet companionable. Just knowing he was there warmed her.