Now that they were out of that alley and back at Bookends, Max had to admit that Sam’s explanation made a lot more sense than the thought that had flashed into both of their minds when they’d seen the locket Elena was wearing. There was no reason to believe that the man who’d stabbed Elena, the man he’d struggled with, had been Sir Justin Rathbone.
“Sam’s got a point, Neely,” Max said. “We were both operating on an adrenaline high when we jumped to the conclusion that this Sir Justin Rathbone might be an alias that the Ripper was using.”
“Why would he want to kill a woman who was bearing his child?” Sam asked.
“Maybe Elena hadn’t told him yet,” Mabel said. “And not all men take the news of a child as a blessing. Think of all the cases in the news about men who kill their pregnant wives.”
“And we are talking about the Ripper,” Sally pointed out.
“I don’t think he’d fit the profile of a typical baby-loving dad.”
“Good point,” Mabel said.
“Most criminologists believe that the Ripper didn’t get to know any of his victims on a personal level,” Sam pointed out.
“But Elena didn’t end up being one of his victims. So she wouldn’t be in the data that the criminologists studied,” Neely said.
Max thought of Suzanna. If he was right about why she’d left the note on the day she was killed, she must have had a personal enough relationship with the Ripper to become suspicious. “I favor the idea that the Ripper had to have established a false identity in 1888. And based on what we saw at the institute today, he established one in 2008, as well—perhaps as a woman.”
“How about this?” Sam rose. “I’m going to go back to my apartment and e-mail a friend of mine at Scotland Yard. Jack the Ripper has been a hobby of his for a long time. It’s too bad we don’t have a last name for Elena, but if she was pregnant, he might be able to discover how the locket eventually fell into Angus Sheffield’s hands. He loves needle-in-a-haystack mysteries. At the very least, he can run a check on Sir Justin Rathbone.”
As soon as Sam left, Sally leaned forward. “What happened to poor Elena?”
We got lucky, Max thought as Neely explained how a passing carriage had stopped and a gentleman had offered them assistance. Max wasn’t sure if he could have convinced Neely to return to 2008 if she hadn’t been assured that Elena would receive proper medical treatment.
She could be a very stubborn and determined woman. Strong, too. In spite of her close call with the Ripper, her hand was steady as she sipped coffee. At that moment, as their eyes met and held, he felt as if he were being torn in two. He had to leave. He wanted to stay more than he’d ever wanted anything in his life, but he had to get the knife back to Deirdre. Max knew the second Neely slipped into his thoughts. Her face turned pale and he also sensed the pain she was feeling. It was a perfect match for his own.
She set her mug down carefully and moved to him. “You’re going.”
“Right now?” Linc asked. “But the Ripper is supposed to make his play for Neely shortly after midnight.”
Taking Neely’s hands in his, Max turned to Linc and Sam and the two ladies. “That’s the reason I have to leave. Neely is interfering with my ability to stay objective and do my job. I messed up in London and let him slip through my hands because I wasn’t thinking straight. I need to stay focused if I want to catch the Ripper before he gets to her.
I need to take the knife—which may have the Ripper’s prints on it—to my boss. Deirdre has five suspects in 2128, and by now she’s likely narrowed the list even further. If one of them has a broken wrist…well, that, along with a fingerprint ID, will tell us who the killer is. Knowing his identity will help me get inside his head, and may give me the edge I need to stop him.
I don’t want you to go.
I don’t want to go. I have to.
“Do you have to leave right this minute?” Neely asked.
“I should have left the moment I got back here.”
Not quite yet. Neely turned to the others. “Max and I need just a few minutes to say goodbye.”
Mabel rose first. “Sally and I are going to go to the house and pack a few things for tonight. We’ll inform Sam of your plan.” She sent Linc a look.
“Right.” Linc grabbed his coat off a hook from the door.
“I’ll just mosey around the block to the market and see what I can pick up for dinner.”
Once the store had cleared, Neely locked the door, then took Max’s hand.
“I like the way your mind works,” he said.
“I hope you like the rest of what I have planned.” They walked up the stairs together. Once inside the bedroom, she turned, and placing a hand against his chest, pressed him back against the door. “For real this time.”
He gripped her shoulders then. “When this is over, I’m going to find a way to return. It may only be for brief visits at first, but there’s got to be a way to modify or get around some of the rules.”
Neely knew deep in the core of her being that he spoke the truth. What she didn’t want to think about was the time they’d have to spend apart. All she could do was give both of them memories they could hold on to.
She placed her fingers against his lips. “We’re not going to talk or think about the future or the Ripper. Only now.” Then she pressed her mouth to his. His lips were so firm. They fit against hers so perfectly. She slid her tongue over his and allowed herself one heady taste.
He pulled her against him so that their bodies molded together as perfectly as their mouths. She absorbed it all—the contours of his chest, the sharp angle of his hip bone and the hard length of his erection. But when he tried to take control of the kiss, she placed both hands on his chest and eased herself back. “I want to seduce you.”
“You already have.”
“Why don’t you just relax and enjoy.” She clasped his wrists and lowered them to his sides. “But first, we have to get rid of your clothes.”
Smiling at him, she freed the top button of his shirt.
AS SHE OPENED one button after another, Max’s mind began to cloud. When she pushed the shirt off his shoulders and down his arms, it settled at his wrists, and he had the oddly pleasurable sensation of feeling trapped.
She met his eyes as she placed her palms against his chest and they both felt his heartbeat quicken. “I like that I can do that to you.”
“I like it, too.” His voice sounded almost hoarse.
“Do you like this?” She rubbed her thumbs against his nipples.
He sucked in a breath. “Yeah.”
She moistened one nipple and then the other with her tongue. “I love the way your skin tastes.”
The whisper of her words against his dampened skin made him tremble. He wanted to move, but found that his arms had grown heavy.
Easing back, she ran her fingers to his waist and unfastened his jeans. The scrape of her nails and the sound of the snap opening had his breath backing up in his lungs. She began to use her mouth on him, taking a long leisurely journey from throat to navel. His skin grew damp—icy one minute and hot the next. She continued to use her teeth and tongue, moving lower as she drew the zipper of his jeans down. Then she slipped her hand beneath his briefs and clasped him.
Helpless. No other woman had ever made him feel this way, had ever left him weak and burning. He couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t even call out in protest when she removed her hand. All he could do was watch as she drew his jeans down his legs and lowered his briefs. It gave him some satisfaction to hear her breath catch and watch the pulse at her throat quicken once she’d fully freed his erection.
She met his eyes. “Watch while I touch you.”
Totally caught in her spell, he lowered his eyes. She held him with both hands. One settled at the base of his penis while the other began to rub up and down.
“I’m going to make you come.”
The words snapped something inside of him, and suddenly power returned to his arms. Ripping his hands free of his shirtsleeves, he grasped both of her wrists. “I’m coming inside of you.”
The moment she released him, he began to peel off her clothes. His fingers might have fumbled, his hands trembled, but she was finally free. Then he dragged her to the floor and they rolled across it, mouth to mouth, skin to skin. He thought he’d felt need before, but it had never been this agonizing, this consuming.
Neely used her mouth on his, aggressively, demanding everything that he could give and more. She reveled in the way his hands moved over her, pressing, bruising, possessing. This was what she’d wanted for both of them. He was hers. This is what they would both remember in the time they spent apart. In a fast move that took him by surprise, she rolled herself on top of him. “Now.”
“Now.” Max gripped her hips, lifted her and entered her in one sure thrust. “Look at me.”
She met his eyes.
“Tell me you’re mine.”
“Now make me come.”
She did—pistoning her hips, riding him hard and fast in a desperate race to a place neither of them had been before. Her nails bit into his shoulders as she dragged him with her over that final edge, and she cried out his name as he emptied himself into her.