Read Loving on Borrowed Time – Chapter One
Loving on Borrowed Time
Lara stood before the Artifacts of Ancient Egypt case and admired her handy work. She’d toiled over this particular display and it showed. The intact pieces of pottery, jewelry, tools, mummified cat, and other ancient Egyptian objects had been arranged to draw interest. Small cards, signifying months of work, displayed the name, date and a brief history of each item. Still, Lara couldn’t help but feel something was missing. The pieces in the collection were diverse and in remarkable condition, but none were particularly exciting. Lara longed to take an expedition and search for artifacts herself. She’d always pictured herself creeping through crypts, touring tombs, discovering digs and pondering pyramids, but her existence as a museum curator wasn’t very Indiana Jones. Her life in no way resembled what she’d envisioned for herself back in college. She’d experienced no adventure since graduating. No adventure at all.
Lara caught movement out of the corner of her eye and whirled around. She expected to see Tim, the night watchman, standing there leering at her as he was wont to do, but this man was not Tim. This man was young, virile, and had the oddest expression on his handsome face as he stared at her. He looked like he knew a thing or two about adventure. The guy was so masculine it should be a crime. Just ogling him made Lara’s toes curl in her sensible pumps. He was about average in height, but there wasn’t anything else average about him. The black tank top he wore drew all the right attention (hers) to his sculpted arms and chest, narrow waist and, em, belt. A tribal design had been inked on his right shoulder and he had bad boy tattooed across his forehead. Not really, but he might as well have. As handsome as he was, with his even features, penetrating, hazel-green eyes, and strong, kissable lips, Lara avoided bad boys as a rule. Bad boys broke hearts. Not that she knew that from experience or anything.
The nameless hunk watched her for a moment, and then bit his lip and jammed his hands into the pockets of his baggie, cargo pants.
“How did you get in here?” Lara asked. “The museum closed three hours ago.”
“That’s not important,” he said. “I need to talk to you, Lara.”
Her brow knotted. Did she know him? It wasn’t possible. She’d have remembered him. He had the looks of a movie star and the presence of warrior. And the body of an underwear model. Not that she was still checking him out or anything. Okay, she was. Why, oh why, couldn’t nice guys be this hot?
“How do you know my name?” she managed to ask.
He stared at her for a moment, his eyes strangely damp, and then glanced down at her chest. Yo, stud muffin, my eyes are approximately fifteen inches North.
“Lara Kensington,” he read aloud, “Museum Curator.”
She followed his line of vision to her nametag, affixed to the jacket lapel of her conservative, tan, skirt suit. She didn’t quite believe that was how he knew her name—he looked at her with such familiarity and longing—but there were more important things going on here. How in the hell had he gotten past security? Was he a burglar? A kidnapper? Her heart raced with excitement. Dread? Yeah, dread. Her heart raced with dread.
Lara glanced at the alarm panic button behind him, knowing it was her duty to call for help.
He grinned. “You aren’t thinking of setting off the alarm, now, are you?”
Well, she wouldn’t be getting the award for “Most Subtle in a Crisis” this year. Perhaps, if she distracted him, she could reach the alarm.
“Who are you?” she asked.
That sad look again, as if it hurt him that she didn’t know who he was. Was he some sort of ego maniac? She pictured him wearing a t-shirt that read: My reputation doth precede me.
“My name is Reece Jericho. I really need to talk to you. It pertains to your impending murder.”
She hadn’t recovered from discovering who he was, before he hit her with that second whammy. She gaped at him, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water.
He chuckled. “You always were adorable when unsettled.”
“You’re planning to kill me?” she squeaked. Reece Jericho—famed artifact and treasure hunter—was a killer? She’d been trying to contact him to purchase artifacts for months and he hadn’t had the decency to return her inquiries until now. He finally shows up and comes up with some crazy story about her impending murder? What was his game? Did he think she’d pay more for his junk… Her eyes drifted below his waistband. His junk. She shook her head at her errant thoughts. Did he think she’d pay more for his artifacts if she was freaked out? Because she was about three seconds from completely freaking out.
His intense, hazel eyes widened, “Oh, God no, sweetheart, I’m here to save you before it happens.”
Her eyes moved to the alarm panic button again. Wait a minute. “Did you just call me sweetheart?”
“Forgive me. I keep forgetting that we haven’t met yet.”
“If you would be so kind as to make a damned bit of sense, I’d be much obliged, Mr. Jericho.”
“I’m from the future.”
She lifted both eyebrows at him. “You’re from the future,” she said in a flat tone. “I know a great psychiatrist, Jericho. Specializes in serious nutcases. I’ll get you her number.”
He shook his head. “We don’t have much time, Lara. He’ll be here soon.”
“This psychiatrist happens to be a woman.”
“Not a psychiatrist. Carl.”
Carl seemed like the least of her problems at the moment. Reece Jericho was obviously unsettled. She needed to keep him talking until she could pull the alarm. Maniacs liked to talk about their nefarious plans, right? She’d seen a superhero movie or two. “Let’s start with this murder thing,” she suggested. “How do you know I’m going to be murdered?”
His voice was raw when he said, “Because, I found you. Dead.”
He pulled his hand out of the pocket of his tan cargo pants and drew out a folded piece of newspaper. He bit his lip, before handing her the clipping. She took it from him, her heart thudding unexpectedly at their close proximity. Lovely, just lovely. She had the hots for a psycho. He smelled good, too. Just a hint of aftershave and a heap of male. Why, oh why, couldn’t nice guys smell this good? Nice, sane guys. Her eyes met his and time seemed to stop for a moment. The man should hand out drool bibs as a courtesy to the dry-clean-only wardrobes of unsuspecting women. My God, he was gorgeous. Dark hair, just long enough to make her want to lose her fingers in it. Hazel eyes that missed nothing. And when he chewed on his lip like that, it made her think it must be pretty tasty. She wouldn’t mind a sample or two. Too bad he was flippin’ crazy!
Lara forced herself to look away, the worn clipping in her hand demanding her attention. She read the headline and it nearly tossed her on her fanny. Curator Found Dead in Museum Parking Garage. Beside the text of the article was a picture of her that she didn’t recognize. In it, she was posing with none other than Reece Jericho and looked happier than Mrs. Smith at a pie-eating competition.
“That’s you,” she blurted. “And me.” She looked up at him. “I don’t remember having this picture taken. I’ve never even met you.”
“You wouldn’t remember,” he said. “Look at the date.”
Her eyes returned to the clipping, seeking the date. Her confusion was absolute. “That’s a year from now. This must be a misprint.” She flipped the page over and found part of an ad for satellite television service. It looked like a regular newspaper clipping, but…
“It’s not a misprint, Lara. It’s real.”
He waited while her mind raced to put all of this information together.
“How?” she breathed. She scanned the article’s text, trying to make sense of it. There were few details on the crime because investigators were stumped as to motive and suspects; most of the article was about her work and life. Some of the things printed were not in her memory because they hadn’t happened yet. The final line of the article threw her for another loop. Ms. Kensington’s fiancé, Reece Jericho, could not be reached for questioning.
“Fiancé?” she sputtered, looking up at him again.
“I’ll tell you about my marriage proposal sometime,” he said, grinning at her. “But right now, we need to get out of here.”
“I don’t care if you do look like Orlando Bloom on steroids and claim to be my future fiancé, I’m not going anywhere with you. You could have easily fabricated this whole thing and made this picture and this newspaper with some fancy computer softw—”
He placed one finger on her lips. “I knew you’d have a hard time accepting this, but I don’t have time to reason with your logic, sweath—Lara. We can’t stick around here. He’s sure to catch up with me soon and if he gets his hands on you…”
“I already told you. Carl.” He said the guy’s name as if he were Gandhi or Madonna or Prince and only needed one name to be readily identifiable.
“I don’t know any Carl.” Lara heard a low hum come from the vicinity of Reece’s chest.
“Shit. Too late,” he said. “We have to hide.”
“What’s going on?” she asked, leaning closer to his chest to listen more closely and maybe inhale his arousing scent a little. The humming was growing louder. “What’s that sound?”
Reece took Lara by the arm and pulled her behind a large statue of the Egyptian sun god Ra. He glanced around and finding they were still alone, reached into the neck hole of his black tank top, which clung to his hard-muscle chest like a second skin. He pulled out a broken amulet that hung from a leather cord around his neck. The strange piece of jewelry was humming, the sound growing louder by the second.
“What is that?” she asked, trembling fingers moving towards the amulet. It was made of beige stone and had hieroglyphics carved into its surface. Half a circle, it obviously had been cracked down the center. The other half of the amulet was missing.
“If he catches us, you will die, Lara, do you understand?”
Reece drew her against his chest, and she thought she should struggle against him—they were strangers and he was insane, after all—but being plastered to his muscular body did strange things to her sensibilities. His hold was both soothing and exciting. His large hand splayed over her lower back as he drew her nearer. “I’ve missed you,” he breathed against her hair. “I won’t let anything or anyone take you from me again.”
Oh great, he was a stalker, too.
There was a loud crackle and then the humming of the amulet stopped. Lara listened carefully, eyes roving as she sought the source of the unsettling feeling in the air. Booted footsteps echoed through the large exhibit room. Had the night watchman come to check on her? Finally! I’m saved! Strange how she didn’t want to be saved from Mr. Hunky Whack Job Reece Jericho. Not one bit.
“I know you’re here,” the night watchman called. Except Tim usually spoke with a slow Southern draw and now he sounded like he was from Jersey. How very odd. “You can’t have her, Jericho. You can’t change the future or the past.”
Lara’s heart thudded. She had the sinking sensation that this guy was talking about her future. Her future death. Murdered at the age of thirty-three. She obviously didn’t want that.
Reece’s arms tightened around her. “We have to run, sweetheart,” he whispered. “Will you come with me?”
“We won’t know until we get there,” he said. “And it’s not so much a where, as it is a when.”
“Hold on to the amulet,” he instructed. “I’m not sure it will take both of us together, but we have to try.”
She looked up at him, and he smiled. She wasn’t sure why, but she trusted him. Perhaps it was because no one had ever looked at her the way he was looking at her—as if she were the greatest treasure on Earth. And the man was a treasure hunter by trade, so he knew a good find when he found one. Lara took his broken, stone amulet in her hand. He covered her hand with his, closed his eyes and whispered a strange series of words. Egyptian words.
“Found you,” Tim, the night watchman, said. His form wavered between his own likeness and that of an entirely different man. An unfamiliar big guy with jet-black hair flickered to the weasely, balding man Lara knew and then back to the thug-looking guy again. It was as if he were one of those hydrofoil images that changed from one picture to another when you tilted it. The air around him crackled with energy. Tim/whoever grimaced when his eyes fell upon the amulet. “Dammit, Jericho. Let her go.”
A faint yellow glow surrounded them.
“Sorry, Carl,” Reece said. “Not this time.”
The loud hum coming from the amulet in Lara and Reece’s combined hands crackled. The sensation of falling sideways gripped Lara and she cried out in surprise. She was not in contact with the Earth any more. The only thing solid was Reece. Her arms went around his waist as she held onto him with all her strength, her eyes squeezed shut.
“Easy,” he said breathlessly. “Almost finished. It doesn’t hurt. I promise.”
There was a second loud crackle, and Lara felt the Earth come into contact with her feet again. It wasn’t as if they touched down, but as if the Earth appeared beneath them suddenly.
“That wasn’t so bad,” he said.
Lara realized something was different immediately. First, the smooth fabric of Reece’s tank top was now thick and furry—an animal hide. Second, the sounds were definitely not those of a silent museum. Screams of fright, raucous laughter, roaring flames, and the sounds of destruction surrounded them. And the last time she had checked, she’d been wearing shoes. Her bare feet were now planted in a thin layer of snow, and there was a breeze blowing up her backside that did little for her peace of mind.
“Well, this is an unexpected, yet pleasant, surprise,” Reece said, his hand sliding down the bare skin of her back.
Lara released the amulet and jerked away from him. Apparently, he wasn’t expecting this reaction because he offered no resistance. She fell backwards and landed on her naked rump in the snow. Naked? Why was she naked? She shrieked in discomfort, and then looked up at Reece, planning to give him a piece of her mind. But it wasn’t Reece who was standing over her, looking amused and concerned at the same time. It was some gigantic, blond man, with a scraggly beard and a horned helmet on his head.
Lara screamed and tried to scramble away.
Available June 2011. Visit