Tuesday, March 6, 2012

EXCERPT: Time and Time Again

 Time and Time Again was my first published novel. It originally sold to Dreams Unlimited, then was reprinted in paperback at ImaJinn Books when DU went out of business. It's still available in paperback and electronic formats through ImaJinn Books or Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Five years ago, Britt Keane's husband was gunned down in an apparently motiveless act. She’s hired a displaced Russian physicist to build a time machine. Then she hires Jesse Branson to go back in time with her to save her husband.

Unbeknownst to Britt, Jesse's a private investigator who was investigating Adam Keane’s finances just before his death. Britt's quest gives him an opportunity to close the case. When he hears about Britt's time machine, he's convinced he's in the presence of a madwoman.

But the machine works, and Jesse and Britt must face the ultimate question—can the past really be changed? And if it can, should it be?


Jesse Branson could almost hear his car breathe a sigh of relief as he parked in the long circular driveway in front of the Keane mansion.

“Sorry about that,” he mumbled as he got out. He normally didn’t talk to his car, but he felt obligated to apologize for the harrowing trek up the mountain. It had been touch-and-go for a while, when he’d wondered if the ancient Toyota would just give up and roll back down to a more comfortable altitude.

Now the car looked like something the Keanes had put out on the curb to wait for trash day. With a wry smile, Jesse patted the car’s hood, then wished he hadn’t. The metal was almost hot enough to burn. He sucked the quick pain out of his fingers, wiped them dry on his jeans, and headed up the long, flagstone walk to the double front doors. The afternoon sunlight blinked blindingly off the textured glass inlays in the doors’ upper panels.

As far as Jesse knew, no one had ever questioned how Dr. Adam Keane, a pediatric surgeon at St. Matthew’s Children’s Hospital, had managed to afford this palatial mountain estate. Keane had, after all, been quite a successful doctor, and his medical supply firm brought in a steady and large profit. But, five years ago, Jesse had been given reason—and a decent salary— to look more closely.

Determined to find the truth, Jesse had done so—but had been unable to prove it after Keane’s murder.

Then, last week, he’d been scanning the classified ads in the Denver Post, looking for a car. And there it was, a bold, strange little ad calculated to catch attention:

WANTED: Individual with firearm license. Preferably single, with no family attachments.

Weird, he’d thought, and then he saw the phone number. He recognized it—he’d been only days away from getting it tapped when Keane had died.

When he called the number and found himself talking to Mrs. Keane herself, the deal was clinched. Whatever she wanted done, he would do it, for the chance to close the case.

Well, within limits. He hadn’t yet decided what those limits were.

And now he stood at the Keanes’ front door. He scrubbed his dusty cowboy boots on the mat and rang the doorbell. Chimes echoed inside the house. The entry hall must be huge.

Silence settled, and Jesse was about to ring again when the doors opened, swinging silently outward. Beyond, in a foyer nearly as big as Jesse’s bedroom, stood a smallish, sober man in a pricey gray suit that didn’t hang quite right on him.

“Yes?” said the man. “May I help you?” The politeness seemed practiced, not quite natural.

“I’m Jesse Branson. Ms. Keane is expecting me. I’m here about the ad.”

The man nodded. “Of course. Come in.”

Light from a wall full of bay windows filled the spacious front room. Beyond the windows, the mountain fell away in a steep, tree-covered slope. In the distance marched a line of spectacular snow-capped peaks. The room itself held a cream-colored sectional sofa, positioned to take advantage of the windows.

“Have a seat,” said the doorman, or butler, or whatever he was. “Mrs. Keane will be with you shortly.”

Jesse settled into the chamois-soft leather sofa. He would have expected to see a TV in the room, but there was none. The view, he supposed, was sufficient entertainment. He propped an ankle on the other knee and tapped his still-dusty boot.

As much time as he’d spent pursuing Adam Keane five years ago, Jesse had never met the man’s wife. He’d seen her from a distance, so he knew what she looked like, but there had never been reason to get any closer.

Which, as it happened, was for the best. Because if she were to recognize him now . . .

The distinctive click of heels on tile rose from an adjacent room. Jesse stood.

She came into the living room seconds later. Jesse was wrong—he hadn’t known what she looked like. Five years could change a person.

She was taller than he’d thought, wearing a tailored ivory suit that sleeked over just-right curves. Her brown-black hair fell in a soft wave to just below her jawline. Upturned eyes the color of espresso scrutinized his face. She looked elfin, he thought, but not like a particularly friendly elf. More like the kind who’d leave coal in your Christmas stocking.

“Britt Keane,” she said, holding out her hand. Jesse took it firmly.

“Jesse Branson,” he replied.

“Please, sit down.”

He sat, and Britt followed suit, settling into the other section of the sofa. She crossed her legs neatly, folding her hands in her lap.

“So, Mr. Branson. The job’s yours if you want it.”

He gave an incredulous grin. “What? That’s it? That’s the interview?”

“Yes. That’s it. Do you want the job?”

“Aren’t there other candidates?”

Lips pressed together, she eyed him again. Small lines bracketing her mouth told Jesse she’d once smiled frequently. She wasn’t smiling now. “I didn’t contact anyone else. I have very specific needs, and you were the only one who met them.”

Jesse considered that, then found himself unable to resist her inadvertent innuendo. “What, exactly, is it you want me to do?”

Her face reddened. “It’s all quite complicated, I’m afraid.”

Her blush was lovely. Under other circumstances he might have tried to elicit another. But there was more to concern him here than a pretty woman.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Keane,” he said, “but I can’t accept a job I know nothing about.”

“Understandable.” Composure back in place, she uncrossed her legs and crossed them in the other direction, exposing an intriguing few inches of thigh in the process. Jesse sensed hesitation, as if she didn’t really want to go into details.

Finally she took a quick breath. “To be honest, Mr. Branson, I would be much happier taking care of this situation myself. But I need someone who can handle physical confrontation. Someone who can use a gun. Which is why your military background appealed to me, as well as some of the . . . independent projects you mentioned in your résumé.”

Jesse shifted. Curiouser and curiouser. What in the world could this neat, sophisticated woman want from him that would have any relation to his military service, or to the few soldier-of-fortune type missions he’d taken on?

With a slight twitch of one eyebrow, he met her brown gaze directly. “So,” he said, “who exactly is it you want killed?”

“I don’t necessarily want anyone killed.” She leaned forward a little, her hands clenched together so tightly her knuckles turned white. “On the contrary, Mr. Branson. I want you to save my husband’s life.”