As the seconds ticked by and the silence grew thicker, Neely caught Linc’s eye and sent him a silent plea. Left to their own devices, Mabel and Sam were going to sit there all night.
Linc’s response was a barely perceptible but firmly negative shake of his head. He mouthed the words I don’t want to be collateral damage. Then he grinned and rolled his eyes at her.
It was Sally who finally took the initiative, by rising. “Neely looks exhausted. I think we should finish this discussion at our next meeting and let her get some rest.”
Saved by the little fairy godmother, Neely thought. Now, neither Mabel nor Sam had to make the first move. They immediately turned appraising and concerned eyes on her.
“You’re right, Sally.” Sam rose and shoveled notes and books into the backpack he always carried. “We’ll sleep on this.” He shot a look at Mabel. “That will give someone’s temper time to cool.”
Though her hand tightened on her book bag, Mabel merely sniffed in reply. Then she narrowed her eyes on Neely. “Are you feeling all right?”
“I’m fine.” Neely had no trouble summoning up a smile. She had to stifle the urge to do a little happy dance. They were finally leaving. Rising, she led the way to the door to exchange hugs with each of them. Mabel brought up the rear. Waiting until Sally and Sam had started down the steps, she took Neely’s hands in hers.
“You’re having those vivid dreams again, aren’t you?” she asked. “The same ones your grandmother used to have about times gone by?”
Neely nodded. Mabel was studying her very closely.
“Do you mind my asking what they’re about?”
“No.” Neely knew her grandmother had trusted Mabel implicitly. They’d been so close that at times, she’d felt jealous of the relationship. “Lately, they’ve been about the London of the Ripper—Jack the First.”
Frowning, Mabel nodded. “I should have guessed, what with all the research we’ve been having you do.” She glanced out the open door at Sam’s retreating back and spoke in a voice that carried. “I knew we never should have started this investigation into the Ripper. It was all Sergeant Thornway’s idea.”
Sam neither stopped nor glanced back.
Mabel shifted her eyes back to Neely’s. “Your grandmother always used to try and dream about safe places. Be very careful.”
Apprehension moved through Neely. She and Mabel had talked about her dreams before, but what she saw in Mabel’s eyes looked suspiciously like a warning. Did Mabel suspect that her dreams might be real? How? More importantly, why? But before she could ask, Mabel gave her a brisk, hard hug and hurried down the steps after her tenants. Neely closed the front door of Bookends, then turned and sagged against it. “I’m going to bed.”
“It’s no wonder you’re exhausted.” Linc strode through the room, turning off the Tiffany-style lamps that graced various end tables. “What beats me is how the two of them can get so fired up about something that happened in 1888. Whoever killed those women in the Whitechapel district is long dead and buried. Case closed.”
“But the case wasn’t closed. Jack the Ripper was never caught.” Neely loaded cups into the dishwasher in the small alcove that served as a coffee bar for their customers. “That’s what fascinates them.”
“And me,” she agreed.
“No one can change the past. If you ask me, our armchair detectives ought to focus their energy on investigating the bastard who has every woman in Manhattan carrying pepper spray and purchasing handguns. So far the police are batting zero.”
Neely had no comment on that. The media was criticizing the NYPD on a daily basis because they had no leads. So far, Jack the Second had claimed five victims in 2008—all single women who lived alone and evidently invited him into their homes.
“Look—” Linc crossed to her “—I have an idea for a change of pace. There’s a new club that just opened on Spring Street. Why don’t you come with me. It would do you good to get away from here and have a little fun. You’ve been away from the dating scene for too long.”
Neely knew that Linc was on a campaign to keep her from trying to travel to London tonight. But his words struck home. It had been a year and a half since her grandmother had taken ill—a year and a half since she’d been on a date or even to a club. It was a long time to go without any sort of normal social life, let alone a man. She’d been dating someone she liked while she’d been working on her graduate degree. But they’d drifted apart when she’d left to nurse her grandmother. Since then, there’d been no one. Her nunlike existence had been brought home to her with a vengeance earlier in the day when that stranger had walked into Bookends.
“It’s high time you had a man in your life,” Linc said.
Well, a man had certainly walked into her life today. Linc had been out, so she’d been alone in the store when Mr. Tall, Dark and Dangerous had strolled in. He was dressed in black, with broad shoulders and narrow hips. Never in her life had she been so aware of a man. His mere presence in the room had been as intimate as a touch.
Later, when her brain had started functioning again, she hadn’t been quite able to place him either as a New Yorker or a tourist. But at the time she hadn’t been able to think straight at all. She’d said something to him, she was sure. The usual spiel—“Welcome to Bookends. I’m Neely Rafferty. Let me know if I can help you.” She had to have said something like that because he’d replied, “I’d just like to browse,” in a low, gravelly voice.
Then she’d gawked at him like a teenager. The entire time that he’d wandered through the room, she hadn’t been able to drag her eyes away from him. Every detail of his appearance had imprinted itself on her mind—that strong face, those angled cheekbones and that lean hard body. He’d caught her looking when he turned suddenly and strode toward her, a book in his outstretched hand.
She’d gulped in air and felt it burn her lungs. Whether or not she would have been able to ring up the sale was a moot point, because he’d dropped the book just as he’d reached her. They’d squatted simultaneously to retrieve it and knocked into one another. He’d grabbed her wrists to steady her, and she’d felt her pulse pound against those strong hard fingers. She’d stared into his gray eyes and watched them darken as his breath feathered over her skin.
Time had stood still.
He was going to kiss her. She’d read the intent in his eyes, felt it in her bones. In fact, though neither of them had moved—she was sure of that—she’d felt those firm lips cover hers, and she’d sampled just the promise of his taste as his tongue touched hers. Her response hadn’t been fear. Oh, no. It had been a hot curl of lust. Then, just as she was willing him to kiss her for real, he’d dropped her wrists, gotten to his feet and strode out of the store.
“Earth to Neely…”
“Hmm?” She turned to find Linc watching her in concern.
“You’ve been drifting away like that ever since I came back from lunch. You need to get out of this place for a while. Live a little. Come with me.”
She shook her head. “I can’t.”
Linc frowned. “I know exactly what you’re going to do. The minute I leave you’re going to try to bring on one of your dreams and go off to London again. What can I do to convince you to take a break—at least until you talk to Dr. Rhoades?”
“I don’t think you can. I’ve been thinking about it all day, and I feel like this is something I have to do.”
“I don’t know. But there must be a reason I was given this ability.” Because she wanted to ease the worry in his eyes, she said, “Besides, if I went with you, what are the chances that I would meet any straight men at your club?”
“No chance at all, I hope.” He smiled then. “There’s no way I can convince you to get out of here for a while and play?”
“I’m going to the Psychic Institute tomorrow.”
“That’s not getting away. That’s work.” He crossed to the door and retrieved his jacket from the coat rack. “You need a change.”
Her mind drifted back to the stranger who’d come into her bookstore. He’d been a radical change. All day she’d been wondering what would have happened if he’d kissed her? And every time she thought about it, she experienced that curl of hot lust all over again.
Pushing the stranger firmly out of her mind, Neely walked to Linc and rose on her toes to kiss his cheek. “Go. Have enough fun and excitement for both of us.”
Giving up, he shook his head at her. “Be careful.”
“I will. I’ve been taking the pepper spray you bought for me.”
“Make sure you use it if you have to.”
She nodded. She hadn’t thought to the night before. She’d been so intent on escaping. But she would use it if necessary.
Linc gave her a nod, then turned to let himself out. “Lock the door and put on the alarm.”
She did exactly what he’d ordered. Then she made her way to the stairs and hurried up them. To be honest, except for that time when the stranger had occupied her mind, her whole being, she’d been filled with an urgency to return to London, 1888. She was becoming more and more convinced that she had some kind of purpose there—or perhaps a mission. The bookstore had given her life direction for a while, but now that it was operating successfully, she’d begun to yearn for a new challenge.