Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Black Opal Books
Word Count: about 82,500
Cover Artists: Barbara Marker/Jonathan Cervantes III
She’s Hume’n, a member of the lower class, with a chance to change her life…
In an alternate, twenty-first century Boston, Dawn Jamison is a hair’s breadth away from earning her doctorate degree—a degree that would allow her entrance into the upper class, to become the unemotional and self-disciplined Cartesian she is now only pretending to be. To reach her goal, all Dawn must do is overcome her forbidden attraction to the Olympic-class weightlifter Taylor Stephenson who’s just crashed her lectures on past life regression. She must teach her group of misfit students how to travel back into their past lives—and, oh, of course, figure out how to save the great scientists of the early eighteenth century before they’re inextricably caught up in a time loop.
He’s Cartesian, a member of the upper class, and supposed to know better…
Coerced by his politically powerful, wheelchair-bound brother into spying on Dawn’s past-life regression classes, Taylor knows better than to give into his desire to claim Dawn as his own. But his past-life entity, eighteenth-century Colin, has no such inhibitions. When Taylor and Dawn meet up in Scotland in the 1700s, all the discipline he’s forced on his twenty-first century self is powered into the past, leaving only his overwhelming lust for Dawn’s past-life double, alchemist and witch, Lily.
Unable to escape their sexually obsessive past, Dawn and Taylor find themselves in a race against the clock at the epicenter of a world-altering time quake of their own making.
From the Annals of the Alchemist Society of 2117:
During the twenty-first century, two scientists pursuing independent methods of brain wave research, a Cartesian, Professor Richard Stephenson of the University of Boston, and a Hume’n, John Marrick, CEO of MathMagics Corporation, refused to share data about travel into the past.
If these two warring factions had agreed to work together, the dark time between the eighteenth and twenty-second centuries might have been avoided.
Sometime in the twenty-first century, Boston, Massachusetts
Heavy breathing? Not the breath of some hunky guy sliding his warm lips down her neck, she only wished. Unfortunately, the only breathing was hers. She needed to tamp down her nerves—and fast.
Armored from neck to knees in her gray business suit with pleated skirt, Dawn Jameson forced all her concentration into putting one high-heeled foot in front of the other, moving through crowds of students ever closer to the Administration Building at the University of Boston. There, in less than half an hour, nine people would determine her academic fate.
“Sorry.” One of the holier-than-thou coeds, almost a mirror-image of Dawn with blonde hair wrapped tightly in a bun, accidentally bumped her, throwing her shoulder bag to the ground. With not the slightest look backward, the girl said something to one of her friends, then giggled.
Dawn regained her balance. “Curses on your past life,” she said under her breath as she bent to retrieve her bag. Hadn’t she seen a muddy-yellow aura emanating from the girl’s head? The other students to Dawn’s right and left, strutting on the paved walkway in the University’s common area, had dark yellow auras. Low life energies. They marched to their own Cartesian philosophy of rational thinking and stoic detachment. Rene Descartes, the philosopher they supposedly emulated—if he were alive—would be none too pleased with the way Cartesians practiced his teachings.
Dawn gazed ahead at the hill of stairs leading into the gaping mouth of Administration, one of many red brick buildings on campus, each with a white-columned facade, each housing a college of something-or-other.
The University Council, all Cartesians, had called her for a face-to-face. The strategy of its members, simple—intimidate students into showing too much emotion, then expel them for failing to fit the University’s strict code.
Had the Council discovered her hidden identity? She’d been undercover for Marrick these last two years, a favored route through Cartesian minefields for a Hume’n. The greed for Marrick’s money so great that the University, blind to its own prejudice, offered degrees to his protégés based on his donations alone.
The truth? Dawn believed in the teachings of the philosopher David Hume. She based her life decisions on what could be derived through her senses and emotions, not only her rational mind. In other words, she believed thinking about love, a surface pursuit, was not the same as being in love, an emotion traveling to the very core of her existence. For those beliefs, she’d be expelled, especially if the Council discovered that she, lowly Hume’n, had attempted to obtain, through deception, one of its advanced degrees.
Shoulders back and chin up, Dawn reminded herself no one could tell the difference between her and a real Cartesian.
To her right and beyond, acres of mammoth shade trees punctuated well-manicured lawns. Topiary gardens and tall hedges forming giant mazes floated in the misty distance like optical illusions. They led her eyes to a white edifice—University Medical. Her twin brother had admitted himself there for inpatient testing. She missed him. Needed him. But, as usual, she’d suck up her anxious thoughts.
Dawn took heart from the view of green lawns and ancient woods. Here the power of nature still flourished, albeit crowded with egotistical students. The giant oaks seemed as spiritual entities, their branching humanlike arms penetrated the present from the past, without the need for meditative transport through time, her preferred mode of travel.
She couldn’t see the auras of the trees, didn’t have the talent her parents had for perceiving a rainbow of colors. Ultraviolet, high-frequency emanations, were invisible to her; they meant harmony and wisdom. Unlike the students’ auras, the shade trees bore no yellow light; their radiation, clean, pure, undetectable—wise.
Climb me, the trees beckoned. Play hooky, and leave all that seriousness behind.
What had she been thinking? Off the sidewalk, her shiny spike heels sank into the soft earth beneath mowed grass. Before any of the Cartesians noticed, she slipped her stocking-clad feet out of the heels, pulled her pumps from the ground, and ran to hide behind one of the mammoth trunks. A red squirrel chirped its complaint before scurrying to the far side of the oak.
Leaning against the wide trunk, away from the students, she hyperventilated, taking deep breathes, attempting to dampen her fears. At twenty-six, she was still a graduate student in psychology with no degree in sight. So maybe she wasn’t that good at following the stupid Cartesian dictates of the University. Yet she had to obey the rules. Without a degree, how could she continue to support a sick brother on a meager Hume’n salary?
“Find yourself in a bit of a pickle?”
Dawn choked at the sight of a tall, gray-haired woman, dignified looking, in a white jumpsuit. A uniform? Maybe the dignified part was the woman’s very formal-sounding accent. British. Perhaps, for the same reason as Dawn, she hid on this side of the tree.
The woman sighed deeply as if relieved for the cover. Her aura encapsulated her whole person, glowed a rainbow of colors, strange yet beautiful.
“Who are you? Do you know there are dancing colors around you?” Dawn said, looking away, shielding her eyes from a piercing beam of sunlight.
The older woman inched her way toward Dawn. “It’s the side effect of the prisms.”
Dawn shook her head vigorously, hoping the strange apparition with the heavy accent would leave. That’s all I need—one more person to mess with my focus.
Her best friend and major distraction, Naomi, had yet to show up. Perhaps she’d thankfully decided not to give Dawn her misguided brand of moral support. Wasn’t facing the Council enough for one day? Apparently not.
“No, I am actually here,” the woman said, as if anticipating Dawn’s question.
“Can I touch you?”
At the permissive nod, Dawn let her fingers make contact with the woman’s arm, the skin soft and warm.
“I’ll be gone in a moment,” the woman said. “I just wanted to stop by and thank you.”
“Thank me? You know me?”
“You’re Dawn Jameson, the one who wrote the book on past lives.”
Staring blankly, Dawn’s head bobbled in a nod, like a trinket on a car’s dashboard. So confused.
“But, more importantly, you are the Dawn Jameson who saved the world.”
Had Dawn just seen the woman wink at her? She closed her eyes, and a warm sea of red blazed through her eyelids. She and this woman had been standing in a sunbeam focused through the tree leaves. The sky had been bright. Too bright.
Yeah, right. Save the world. Dawn let her head rest back against the living tree. She’d be lucky if she could save herself.
Opening her eyes, she looked to her left. No one. Had she imagined the woman? Or had the woman been an apparition, a past life, like Lily, the eighteenth-century alchemist whom she’d channeled into on occasion?
As she forced away any thoughts of the strange visitor and her stranger words, a salty metallic taste assaulted her tongue. She’d been so nervous she’d bitten her lip. Grabbing a tissue from her bag, she dabbed at the blood.
Heart beating into her ears, Dawn wiped the heels of her shoes with the rest of the tissue, then stuffed it into her jacket pocket. Once again, she tilted her head back against the massive trunk, hoping to connect with its spirit, to find her center, her serenity.
Okay, here goes. Dawn suppressed her emotions, especially those about visions of people with rainbow auras and British accents. She swallowed her errant nerves, and in her stocking feet carried her pumps to the sidewalk. Balancing on one foot then the other, she replaced her spiked heels. Just a few more strides and then up those intimidating steps and into that building where Council members, department heads, and her advisor, Professor Stephenson, might enhance, or end, her opportunities at research.
Dawn stroked a few hairs that slipped from her bun, smoothed wrinkles from her jacket, and straightened her shoulders as she prepared to climb the thirty-or-so steps to the façade of the Grecian building that held Administration. She could do this. What could go wrong?
* * *
The night before
Taylor Stephenson stepped out of the shower, rubbed a spot on the steamed mirror, and looked back at the idiot who’d agreed to sub for his older brother at the University Council. The upscale apartment they shared was a short walk from campus. A scientist of some renown, Richard had wanted to provide Taylor with a limo and chauffeur, saying the distance to campus was too far to walk. Unlike other weightlifters on his team, Taylor preferred getting aerobic conditioning from jogging, as well as quick-twitch workouts with the weights. The walk would do him good.
Tempted to grab a towel and clean the shower steam from more mirrored surfaces, Taylor sought to catch a glimpse of his progress, his sculpted muscles, maybe flex in various poses to assure himself that his hard work had paid off. He’d seen his Cartesian teammates do that. Didn’t seem right, though. Self absorbed. Yet he was a Cartesian. Wasn’t he?
He heard his bedroom door close; the sound, unmistakable. He glanced over to the bed where Sophie, Richard’s nurse, had fluffed the pillows and turned down the sheets.
Just left. Close call. Why did he resent her? The older woman had been kind to him, good to his sick brother, and efficient.
Something’s not right about her.
Taylor sprawled onto the bed, his body drained, his mouth dry, his head dizzy.
The hot shower had done its job.
“Off,” he said, and the room faded to black.
How had Richard talked him into taking his place with the Council, stodgiest group of self-important people Taylor had ever known? Under his brother’s protection, as long as Taylor stuck to his studies and weight training, he didn’t have to concern himself with university politics. So why had he committed to stand in for Richard now?
Nurse Sophie shouldn’t be looking after his brother—he should. Instead, Taylor had pursued his own interests, the applied math Richard had encouraged him to study and his weight training. Richard’s health had stabilized after his body had lost most of its muscular functioning. Whenever Taylor confronted his brother about the deteriorating condition and the need for a living will, Richard responded with optimism.
What if Richard were wrong? What if his disease worsened? What if he died while Taylor was off doing his thing, solving equations and lifting weights, missing valuable moments of his brother’s companionship? Thoughts like that brought too much pain. He slowly drifted into sleep, longing to be somewhere else and somebody else.
* * *
Taylor found himself sitting on a log, a six-foot-diameter tree trunk with a ninety-degree wedge cut out to form the bottom and back of a long bench.
And he couldn’t see. Of course, his hands were over his eyes and they were covered
in . . . he licked his palms . . . in salty liquid. Tears?
As he stared up and around, he saw nothing but fog. Thick.
He inhaled abruptly. His clothes were old, not shabby, but garments one might have worn in the past. All the materials covering his body were black, from the roughly tooled leather forming his shoes to his stockings and breeches, his shirt and judgelike robe. And what’s this god-awful stiff thing around my neck? He pulled it off.
“A preacher’s collar,” a voice said.
“A what?” He had the answer almost before he realized he’d asked the question.
He couldn’t remember deciding to speak those words. They’d come from a voice—unbidden.
“A preacher’s collar,” the voice repeated.
Squinting into the opaque haze for the speaker, he slammed back against the bench, as if expecting an evil spirit to come for him out of the mist.
“I’m not out there,” the voice said. “I’m in here, inside ye. And, no, ye aren’t imaginin me.”
“Yeah, like you’re going to tell me this isn’t a dream.”
“Ye are right, me friend.”
Okay, maybe he should humor himself. He’d had strange, exotic dreams, sometimes sensual dreams, as a result of suppressing some of his baser compulsions. Better go along with his subconscious, or his dreams, or whatever they were. Imaginings fueled by his Cartesian repression might go a little nightmarish on him. Better to be safe.
“Okay. Who are you?” he said, still looking around.
“Most of the time, I visit ye in Boston, but ye never visit me.”
Taylor didn’t know how to react to that statement. But when he found his arms and legs moving without volition, he tried to keep his panic to a minimum.
This was a dream. Right? Just a dream.
His body, or whoever’s body he’d entered, opened a heavy wooden door and walked into a small room with pews lining either side—a chapel. In one corner, a spiral stairway connected to an upper floor.
Taylor continued to feel the same dizziness he’d experienced falling onto his bed. In his bedroom—he reminded himself—in the Boston of the twenty-first century, not this old-time mist-covered relic of the past.
The second floor, an attic, bathed in shadow until his arms and hands moved—as if they knew what they were doing—lighting a candle on a desk, in front of a mirror. As the body stood there reaching for a coarsely bound book, Taylor glanced at his image, horrified.
The face, his face, peered back at him—the same dark auburn hair, but long and tied back. His new body resembled his, filled out the dated clothing the same way his muscular frame would.
“Me name’s Colin,” the voice said. “Ye’ve channeled inta me from me future. Look.”
Colin forced him to observe a book opened on the desk. The book, written in freehand, appeared to be lab notes and equations. If the book were printed, he might have an inkling of the time period of the imprint; the information might have helped him figure out how to wake up—how to get back.
Get back? Get back to where? The thoughts jolted his focus away from the book. Was he somewhere besides in his bed and sleeping, or dreaming? One thing he knew, if this were Colin Stewart, his math idol, he’d spent entirely too much time on his studies.
“This is me work, me equations,” Colin said. “Do they look familiar? I’ve been fascinated by all the things ye’ve done with them in yer century.”
Taylor swallowed his nausea. Had he actually swallowed? Was he now in control of this body that looked so much like his own, but wasn’t? He moved his index finger along the neatly written equations. “These are series expansions, formulas that represent natural behaviors like parabolic motion of something thrown in Earth’s gravity, or the oscillating vibrations of sound waves.”
“Yes, isn’t it amazin what a few mathematical symbols can reveal?”
“But this isn’t the only thing you wanted me to see, or to know about you, is it? What’s the point of this dream?”
“Oh, no, Taylor, this is not a dream. This is yer life. The mess ye will make of me life if ye and yer friends don’t stay in me future where ye belong.”
“But I didn’t choose to come here.”
“Didn’t ye? Ye and all yer Cartesian friends? Those who think a degree is more important than a life? Ye pollute the past with yer suppressed emotions. Ye take for granted the time that flows through ye and past ye. Ye slow and twist and loop the flow with yer flooded rivers of collected debris.”
A young woman in a simple, light-blue cotton gown stood at the top of the stairs. Her long straight blonde hair caught in a neckline trimmed in white lace. “Did I miss anythin?” Her bodice gave an unapologetic view of her ample breasts—gifts—as if she were presenting them to him. She swished this way and that, tempting him to touch.
“Looks like Lily’s back,” Colin’s voice said, almost laughing.
The book. The mathematics of scrawled words. Forgotten.
The inviting chest of the blonde temptress, Taylor’s only focus.
Her breasts heaved with each of her labored breaths.
Reluctantly his body was drawn to satisfy her, the stitching in his trousers constraining his erection.
No. He couldn’t let her take possession of him like this.
His mind fought to emerge from the nightmare.
“Runnin away willna help,” she said.
Maybe not, but somehow, surprising himself, he’d managed to awaken.
Taylor lay shivering on his bed. Even turning on the lights didn’t quell his trembling within the sweat-drenched robe.
This seductress, Lily, resembled a photograph from the dossier of one of his brother’s grad students, one he’d have to deal with tomorrow at the Council.
From an early age, S. B. K. Burns recited Shakespearean sonnets or snuck a read of a Broadway script from her parents’ theater magazine.
Having worked in the world of science—oceanography, biomedicine, and aerospace engineering—she brings these experiences to her sci-fi paranormals imbued with her idealistic philosophy that merges science with spirituality.