Lance and Deirdre had exchanged glances. Then Lance had said, “If we persuade the board to let you stay, you’ll have to abide by the Prime Directive and all the other rules of this time. If you break them, you’ll be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Neely’s heart had leaped. “I think I can agree to that. I was pretty much a law-abiding citizen in 2008.”
“It’s a big decision, Ms. Rafferty. Once you make it, you won’t be able to reverse it. One of our rules is that you can’t remain in the past.”
“That’s fine. I won’t change my mind. I assume I’ll be able to visit my friends.”
“You’ll have to go through the application process.”
“Fine.” She’d met Lance’s eyes steadily. “I won’t promise not to try to change the rules. I assume that in this advanced society, you’ve left the democratic processes intact?”
“We do our best.” Lance Shaw had sighed and shook his head. “Max was right about you. I’ll talk with the board of directors in the morning. But Assistant Director Mason and I will sleep better knowing that one of our best hunters will be keeping tabs on you.”
They’d left her then, and she’d hurried back to Max’s room. By the time she arrived, her elation had faded a bit. She was worried about how he might take Director Shaw’s decision to allow her to stay. They’d never talked about her staying—only about him being able to come back to her. But that was before they’d discovered that she could travel to his time on her own.
“Come here,” Max said as she entered the room.
Drawing in a deep breath, Neely moved toward him, placing her hand in his. His expression was so serious.
“They’re letting you stay?”
“Pending the board’s approval,” she said.
“Shaw can handle his board. But it’s a big decision for you. You should consider it carefully.”
A band tightened around her heart. “That’s what Director Shaw said.”
“You won’t be able to change your mind. You won’t ever be able to have your old life back.”
She didn’t want it back. But for the first time, she let herself wonder if perhaps he felt differently. And for some reason, he wasn’t letting her enter his mind. “I know we never really talked about it—the possibility of my being able to live here in this time.”
“Because we believed it was impossible.”
“And now that it might not be?”
“Like I said, it’s a very serious decision.”
She lifted her chin. “Are you trying to talk me out of this?”
“No. I want you to think about it. Have you really imagined what your life will be like here? What you will do?”
She jerked her hand out of his, then watched him wince as he tried to sit up. “I don’t have to think about it and plan. I’ll figure something out. Maybe my real purpose is here. Maybe I could work with Suzanna to get this Prime Directive thing modified. Don’t worry about it.”
“At least sleep on it.”
She fisted her hands on her hips. “No. I’ve made my decision. And if you don’t like it, that’s tough. I even promised Director Shaw that I’d be a model citizen. I thought that you’d want me to stay.”
“I do. I’m just trying to be fair.”
“Fair?” She stopped short when she saw the truth of what he’d said in his eyes.
Max smiled then, and the ice around her heart thawed.
He offered his hand again, and she slipped hers into it. “I want you to stay more than anything. But it’s going to change everything for you.”
“It’s not going to change the most important thing about me—my heart. I love you, Max Gale. I’m going to stay.” She put her other hand in his and he urged her onto the bed.
“Yes, you are,” he murmured as he pressed his mouth to hers and they both sank into the kiss.
A while later when he drew back, he asked, “What would you have done if they’d sent you home?”
She smiled then. “I would have visited your sailboat frequently. We would have had a very sexy time of it.”
He grinned. “I like that plan.”
He kissed her again and slipped into her mind. I love you, Neely Rafferty.
She could feel his hands on her and in her mind she put her hands on him.
Should we be doing this?
Absolutely. I have a sudden urge to play hooky.
What about your stitches?
We’re not going to move a muscle, not even when I make you come.
Mmmm. I really like that plan.
August 15, 2008
ManhattanAFTER SWALLOWING the last of his espresso, Max set his cup aside and glanced around the crowded front room of Bookends. This visit wasn’t what he’d had on his agenda for the evening, but then Lance Shaw and Deirdre Mason had shown up at the sailboat. They’d informed Neely that the application to visit her friends in 2008 on a regular basis had been approved. When she’d wanted to go immediately, he could hardly object—not once he’d seen the joy light up her face.
From his vantage point in the window seat at the front of the store, Max could see everyone. But he couldn’t seem to drag his eyes away from Neely, who sat on one of the leather couches, her face aglow, catching her friends up on everything that had happened to her. A lot had transpired in the neighborhood since she’d left. Mabel, Sam and Sally had moved into Neely’s brownstone temporarily, while Mabel’s house was being reconstructed. Linc had finally found someone he was serious about, a young man named Mark James. And Sally had attracted the attention of the architect who was working on restoring Mabel’s house.
In the midst of all the chatter, Neely looked perfectly at ease. He was anything but, and the caffeine hadn’t helped. For starters, he hadn’t been able to get his mind off the little black dress she was wearing since she’d first put it on. That had been before Deirdre and Lance’s surprise arrival. Earlier in the day, he’d invited Neely out to dinner. He’d planned a special evening, and she must have known because she didn’t dress up all that often. He’d never seen her in anything quite like this before. The dress had literally taken his breath away. Even now, he was concentrating on getting oxygen into his lungs. The combination of white skin and black silk had him thinking of witchcraft—and it was the wrong century for it.
Glad you like it. I wore it for a special occasion.
Just hearing her voice in his mind had some of Max’s tension easing. It also had him thinking of the perfect occasion for the dress—she wouldn’t need it for very long.
That, too. Neely’s laugh echoed in his mind. But not yet.
She looked so damn happy and that was causing a band around Max’s heart to grow tighter by the minute. One by one, her friends had taken him aside, each grilling him on whether or not she was happy in 2128. He’d thought she was, but the steady stream of questions had doubts surfacing. Watching her, he couldn’t help but wonder if she regretted leaving Linc and the armchair detectives and her old life behind.
Neely glanced up and sent him a beaming smile. Don’t be an idiot. I don’t regret my decision for a moment. I love you.
Returning her smile, Max’s tension eased a bit. In the time they’d been living together on his sailboat, the connection between them had only grown stronger. He was becoming used to having her in his mind. But he still had a feeling that things were not quite as settled between them as they should be. And he’d intended to take care of that tonight.
He was happy for her. This was the first time she’d seen her friends since she’d been snatched out of Bookends by Thomas Renquist almost three months earlier. Deirdre Mason had traveled back to let Linc and the armchair detectives know that Neely was all right and had elected to stay in 2128. Deirdre had also handled several business matters, including the sale of the bookstore to Linc.
Although Neely had put her application through the proper channels, the visit tonight had been personally arranged by Director Lance Shaw, and he and Deirdre Mason had come along. Deirdre and Lance were presently huddled with Sam in the open French doors that led to the kitchen. For the past fifteen minutes Sam had been examining what Max assumed to be one of Lance’s latest gadgets.
Neely had been working for Deirdre for the past three months in a job that Deirdre and Lance had created specifically for her. They’d put her in charge of reading and evaluating proposals from other psychic time travelers in 2128 who wanted to make changes in the past. The way Neely had explained it to him, Lance wanted to open up a process through which citizens could propose minor changes to the Prime Directive, the idea being that underground attempts like the one Suzanna had been involved in might be prevented. Max was all for that. He was also touched when Neely had persuaded Deirdre to let her hire Suzanna as her part-time assistant. It hadn’t surprised him a bit that Neely and Suzanna were really hitting it off, considering they both thought they were supposed to make a difference in the world.
Neely was already making some changes at TGS, and Deirdre and Lance’s presence here at Bookends tonight told Max that although Neely was turning out to be a model citizen, they were inclined to keep her on a very short leash. An idea he thoroughly agreed with.