My friends! I know you remember the series of spoof stories at ALBTALBS because Part I was only a week ago… again I want to thank the wonderful Jen W. at Cover Remix. And of course our fearless (intrepid? ;-)) authors Mari Carr and Jess Dee.
Atlanta, Georgia is miles away from Jake’s Robert’s life in Sydney, Australia.
But since his mother uprooted them both to live in America with her new husband, Jake has no choice but to find his feet in his new home.
Problem is that new home, so totally foreign to him, is also strangely familiar. As is the hauntingly beautiful Southern Belle who appears to him out of thin air…determined to address him as John Masters, someone Jake doesn’t know at all.
Or does he?
Elizabeth giggled, hoping the light laughter would mask her confusion and the sudden cold fear coursing through her veins. Something was wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.
“Why so formal, John?”
He grinned, though it appeared an uneasy gesture. John felt it too—she could see it in his troubled eyes. He cleared his throat. “Sorry, Lizzie.”
Hearing her nickname on his lips soothed her, but only until he looked away, his gaze taking in the rest of the hallway. She followed his path, studying their surroundings as well. She frowned, her stomach clenching.
This wasn’t her home. And yet, it was. This hallway was the same one she’d traversed day after day, but different pictures hung on the wall, the oil paintings her mother had purchased from a local artist replaced by faces of people she didn’t recognize. Even the rug had been changed, the blue runner with a stain near the drawing room door—caused by her when she was fourteen and spilled the tea tray—had been replaced by a thicker off-white carpet.
However, most distressing were the changes in John himself. His hair was longer, which seemed impossible given the fact she’d only seen him yesterday. Her gaze ran along his tall, lanky frame, trying to discern what he was wearing. Gone was the Confederate uniform he’d so proudly worn yesterday—anxious to show it off to her. He’d looked so handsome and manly in it, he’d taken her breath away.
It was a far cry from his appearance today. Faded blue pants hung loosely from his waist and the shirt he was wearing left most of his arms bear. Most upsetting was that it was stained and had a tear near the bottom hem. Her John never came to see her in less than his finest attire, always neat and clean when he came to court her.
This John was a stranger. Yet as he turned to face her once more she couldn’t deny he was still the boy who’d staked a claim on her heart two years earlier. The same one who steered her behind the stables whenever they strolled through the gardens, so her father wouldn’t catch them exchanging those long, intense kisses John was so skilled at.
His talented mouth had weakened her knees countless times. Weakened her knees and her resolve to retain her virtue. Should John ever propose—and Lord knew, his very presence made her think of a wedding and children—she strongly suspected she would let him explore beneath her dress and petticoats long before they ever married.
She desperately hoped for the day when he would approach her father to ask for her hand in marriage. Part of her had hoped today would be the day. Clearly that wasn’t to be. Not with him dressed like…that.
“I’m not sure what’s going on, Lizzie. I don’t even know how I know you.”
She frowned, a pain shooting through her chest. Had he fallen? Hit his head? How could he not remember her? “What do you me—”
Before she could finish her question a man she’d never seen appeared from the drawing room.
“Hey Jake. Your mom said lunch will be ready in ten minutes. Do you want a slice of tomato on your sandwich?”
John—or Jake?—looked from the man to her and back again. Elizabeth held her breath, waiting for the stranger to acknowledge her presence. It was the height of discourtesy for a gentleman to ignore a lady.
The man frowned, clearly perplexed by John’s lack of response. He glanced around the room as if trying to see what John saw. The stranger’s gaze traveled directly over her without recognition. He didn’t see her.
Elizabeth waved her hands in the air, even said hello.
John watched her, then waited for the man’s response. “Um…did you hear that, Dan?”
The stranger, Dan’s brow was creased, then a grin appeared. “Oh. Did you hear a woman’s voice? Feel something brush against you?”
John looked at her again, then back at Dan, nodding.
“That’s just Lizzie, our resident ghost.”
Elizabeth’s hand flew to mouth, her vision swimming, her head fuzzy. Dear heavens. She felt faint. She took a step back, needing the support of the wall to hold her up.
John walked toward her as if to catch her, two steps, then he halted hastily. “You don’t see her?”
Dan shook his head. “Who? Lizzie? Nope. She’s all soft crying and wisps of cool air. I hope I didn’t scare you, son. Presences in these old plantations aren’t all that uncommon. Before I bought the house, I would have chalked it up to plain old ghost stories and bored people letting their imaginations run away with them. But, well, I’ve heard her voice a time or two. Saying that, you have nothing to worry about. This isn’t like the poltergeists in horror flicks. So how about that tomato?”
John nodded, clearly distracted. “Yeah. Okay.”
Elizabeth felt the odd urge to remind him he didn’t like tomatoes, but the words died on her lips. They would be sounds silly, stupid. Wrong.
The man, Dan, disappeared through the doorway, leaving her alone once more with John.
“Who are you?” She had to know, had to find a way to understand what was happening.
“I’m Jake Roberts. At least, that’s who I am in this century.” He shook his head, as though bewildered. “I think in yours I was John Butler.”
“In my century?” Even as she asked, she felt the rightness of his assertion. She wasn’t where she was supposed to be anymore. In fact, according to the man who’d just left, she was nothing more than a ghost.
Horror washed through her.
But that would mean she was…dead.
Utter nonsense. She couldn’t possibly be dead. She didn’t feel dead.
“John, I mean Jake…” How odd it was to address him by that name. “Will you touch me?”
Her mind raced, her heart pounding so strongly, she was surprised he couldn’t hear it. Yet in her overwrought mind, something told her if he touched her hand, if he felt it, grasped, held tight to it, everything would be okay.
She reached toward him. And their hands met.
Flesh to flesh.
Relief washed through her, so intense it made her dizzy. See? Of course she wasn’t dead. Whoever that Dan was, he was mistaken. If she were dead, her lungs wouldn’t have constricted the instant John touched her, and shivers of longing wouldn’t have covered her skin in goose bumps.
“Lizzie.” John’s voice was a whispered murmur, so full of awe and wonder it made her smile. He stared down at their hands as he linked their fingers together, the way he did when they strolled through the gardens. His breath seemed as uneven as hers. “What year is this?”
“It’s 1863, silly.”
John raised his gaze to meet hers, his beautiful brown eyes filled with adoration for her. It warmed her all the way through to her very bones. But those eyes were also filled with something else. Pain and confusion.
Slowly he shook his head. “No, Lizzie, my love. It’s not.”
Her lungs constricted further, though this time it wasn’t with the fever that always accompanied John’s touch or his terms of endearment.
She licked her suddenly parched lips.
Her jaw dropped. Her lungs ceased working altogether and her mind struggled to process his words. 2013? Well, that was absurd. Absurd…and one hundred and fifty years in the future.
The only way a young woman could still exist one hundred and fifty years in the future was if she were indeed a ghost.
A shudder shook her entire body. “I—” She cleared her throat and tried again. “I am dead, aren’t I?”
John’s gaze was soulful. Beautiful. And as distraught as she felt. “And yet you look just as alive and as lovely as the last time I saw you.” For the first time since seeing him today, he sounded just like her John. The strange accent he’d adopted had vanished, and his strong, deep Southern drawl seemed as familiar as the touch of his hand.
“Which was just yesterday,” she clarified.
He smiled, obviously remembering the quick, but fiery kiss they’d stolen seconds before he’d left. “Yes.” Then his face fell. “No. It couldn’t have been.”
For long seconds he stared at her, bewildered, and then his eyes snapped as if filled with resolve. “Tell me, Lizzie, if you are a ghost, and over a century has passed since last I saw you, why am I able to do this?”
And with that, he placed his hand on her neck, drew her close and pressed his warm, firm lips to hers.