MAX WANTED to touch her. The urge to reach out and take her hand had become a steady thrum in his blood. He pushed it aside because all of his instincts as a TGS agent told him that the Ripper was close. He might not have the ability to sense the killer the way Neely could, but he knew.
Although he hadn’t wanted her to come, he was glad that she was here at his side for personal as well as professional reasons. He knew he would soon have to leave her and return to his own time, but he was going to do everything in his power to get back to her. He was beginning to see where his sister had been coming from. Perhaps it was time to modify the Prime Directive.
Neely stopped short at the foot of a narrow alley that ran parallel to Miller’s Court.
Her words were barely audible. Max peered into the darkness and saw nothing. Seconds ticked by. He heard the footsteps first—slow, methodical—and the sound of something being dragged. Then he saw the woman and absorbed the details. Her clothing was a light color and so was her hat. The wind toyed with the long scarf that hung from her neck. And her gait was unsteady.
“It’s him.” Neely spoke once again in a whisper. “He’s invisible—to the right of her. He’s half carrying her.”
Neely knew the moment that Max left her side, and she felt as if she’d lost a part of herself. She was supposed to hide in the shadows now, but panic froze her to the spot. All she could feel was that deep well of coldness inside the Ripper. And she understood for the first time that this was what covered the anger that she’d discerned on other occasions. He hadn’t noticed her yet. She prayed that he wouldn’t sense Max.
Only the woman was visible to the naked eye. Her dark hair was partially hidden by the wide-brimmed hat. Her coat fell to the tops of her boots. Her head lolled to one side, and her boots dragged on the cobblestones.
Was she already dead? Horror washed over Neely. Where was Max? The woman was nearly at the mouth of the alley when her body suddenly crumpled to the ground and lay unmoving.
Neely peered into the alley, trying to see something. The Ripper was still on the woman’s right. She was almost sure of it. Five seconds ticked by. Ten seconds. Twenty. Neely stepped toward the woman, hoping that if she got closer, she’d be able to sense the Ripper more accurately.
She knew why Max wasn’t making a move. He had no way to tell exactly where the Ripper was. And if he guessed wrong, it could be over. The Ripper would be able to slip away through time.
Neely concentrated hard. The Ripper had to be near—at the woman’s feet? At her head? To her right? Then she saw the knife—long, sharp and deadly—as it arced downward and pierced the woman’s flesh.
Neely screamed then and raced forward, arms outstretched. The rage of the Ripper slammed into her like a sucker punch to the gut. She didn’t let it stop her. She now knew exactly where he was.
“He’s at her feet,” she shouted even as she hurled herself in that direction.
Then suddenly, it wasn’t rage but the man himself who slammed into her, knocking her to the ground. Her head smacked against the cobblestones, and she saw stars. Then a heavy weight settled on her chest.
“Bitch.” The word was a hiss.
Neely dug her nails into the hands that clamped around her throat and bucked upward trying to free herself. But he was too strong. She couldn’t get a breath, and her vision grayed. Then suddenly the weight was off of her and his fingers were no longer gripping her throat. Max had pulled him off. Dragging in air, she struggled to her feet. She couldn’t see either of the two men, but she heard grunts and the sound of a fist connecting with flesh.
Max. Fear shot through her. She had to believe that he could handle himself, so she rushed to the woman. The stab wound was in her shoulder. Pressing two fingers to the woman’s throat, she found a pulse. With her own heart pounding, Neely loosened the scarf around the woman’s neck and used it to put pressure on the wound. Behind her, she heard a groan and the sound of metal on stone. When she glanced over her shoulder, she saw the knife on the cobblestones. Then she turned her attention back to the woman.
Her lids fluttered, and for a moment, she met Neely’s eyes directly. “What happened?”
“You were stabbed. But you’re going to be all right.”
“In your shoulder. We’ll get you medical attention.” At least she hoped they would.
“Where is he?”
Behind her, Neely heard another groan and a thud.
“Where is who?”
“Justin. Sir Justin Rathbone. We were…in his carriage. Something hit my head. I think…we must have had an accident.” The woman stirred restlessly and tried to sit up.
“Where is he? Is he all right?”
“Don’t move.” This close Neely could see that the hat and the coat the woman wore were well tailored. And her accent was cultured. “You’re not Mary Jane Kelly, are you?”
The woman frowned even as her eyes closed. “No. No, I’m Elena…”
Neely stared at her. Elena?
“Please, help me.” The woman’s voice was now so faint that Neely had to lean closer to catch the words.
“I’m carrying…Sir Justin’s child. Where is he? Is he hurt?”
When Neely felt the pressure of a hand on her shoulder, she started, then suddenly knew it was Max. “The Ripper?” Had he killed him?
“He got away.”
The flatness of his tone had her shifting her attention to him, and her stomach clenched when she saw the blood on his cheekbone. “He hurt you.”
“A scratch. But I have the knife, and I’m pretty sure I broke his wrist. I heard the bone snap.”
“It’s my fault that he got away. I ruined everything. But I couldn’t stand by and let him kill her.”
Max knelt down beside her. “You did what you had to do.” He glanced at the woman. “You know that you may have changed history.”
“Maybe not. This isn’t Mary Jane Kelly.” On a sudden hunch, she opened the top of the woman’s coat and felt her heart skip a beat when her fingers closed around a locket. With her free hand, she pulled out the one she had in her pocket and held them together so that Max could see. The inscriptions on both were identical: To Elena, all my love, J.R. “This is Elena. She claims she was in Sir Justin Rathbone’s carriage when she suffered a blow to the head—perhaps because of an accident. She claims she’s carrying his child. Maybe the Ripper happened on the accident and snatched her away. Or…”
Neither one of them said it aloud, but questions leaped to both of their minds. Could Justin Rathbone be a name the Ripper was using in 1888? Could Elena be carrying the Ripper’s child?
No, Neely told herself she was letting her imagination run wild. Still holding the scarf to Elena’s wound, Neely met Max’s eyes and saw the reflection of her own thoughts. It just couldn’t be. Why would any man—including the Ripper—want to kill a woman who was carrying his child?
HE’D BLOWN IT. Max swallowed the last bitter dregs of the coffee Linc had poured him. He’d had his hands on the Ripper and the man had literally slipped through his fingers. One instant he was there—the next, he was gone.
Max Gale had failed to do his job. And he needed to go back and report to Deirdre immediately. He should be at her office right now.
He’d gotten Neely safely back to Bookends. And he’d barely been able to take his eyes off of her since they’d returned. Each time he allowed his gaze to linger on the marks the Ripper had left on her neck, rage burned in his stomach.
The image of that moment when she’d pitched to the ground and he’d known that the Ripper had her was still fresh in his mind. Max’s blood had run cold, freezing him to the spot as thoughts raced through his mind. The maniac had still held the knife he’d used on the other woman. Neely’s life could have ended in an instant. With fear churning inside of him, he’d forgotten his plan to sneak up on the Ripper and stun him. All Max could think of was dragging the monster off Neely. He hadn’t once thought of the job he’d come to do, hadn’t even drawn his weapon. Some hunter he was.
But she was safe. She had her feet tucked beneath her on one of the leather sofas, calmly filling in the armchair detectives on their London adventure. Sam was taking notes, the ladies were sitting on the edge of their seats and Linc was forgetting to offer refills on the coffee he’d brewed.
Right now Neely was telling them about the locket Elena had been wearing.
Sam stopped scribbling. “Her locket was identical to yours?”
Neely nodded. “Even the inscription on the back was the same,” Neely continued. “To Elena, all my love, J.R. The J.R. must stand for Justin Rathbone. It’s the same locket that my grandmother passed on to me. What if Justin Rathbone is a name the Ripper was using in 1888?”
Sam set down his notebook. “That’s a bit of a leap. You said that Elena thought Rathbone’s carriage had gotten into an accident and that she complained that she’d been hit on the head. Isn’t it possible that the Ripper happened by the accident and simply used the opportunity to select his next victim?”
“I thought of that.” Neely frowned.