This post is special because it is the finale of the story authors Mari Carr and Jess Dee wrote based on a cover created by Jen W. at Cover Remix. If you’ve missed the other parts … don’t worry. Or if you’ve been waiting to read them all at once – you can do that now! (And maybe I’ll one day figure out how to arrange it so the links appear in order of how it’s written instead of chronologically?) I really hope you’ll read it and let us all know what you think. 🙂
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?
Jake opened his eyes, blinking against the bright light of the sun. For several moments, he lay still, trying to get his bearings. The only things he knew for certain was he was outside and he was completely alone.
Which was impossible.
He’d just taken a shower and he was getting dressed in his bedroom. Then she’d come in…his lovely Lizzie. Only it hadn’t really been her. She was a ghost. Or at least, he thought she was.
Everything was hazy, his memories confusing. The lines between what was real and imagined became more and more blurred.
Where was he?
Who was he?
A sharp pain pulsed from his chest. Jake glanced at the branches above his head. He’d been here before. Oh God. This was where he’d died. He remembered lying beneath this tree as the blood flowed and his breath stilled. He’d given up, closed his eyes and let death take him.
Not this time. Jake forced himself to look around, then pulled on every bit of strength he could muster as he pushed to his feet. Glancing down, he saw the blood. It was true. He’d gone back in time, back to the moment of his death. Some force of nature or fate was giving him a second chance, another opportunity to rewrite the ending.
Lizzie. He kept her face in his mind as he placed one foot in front of the other. For hours, he marched forward with a single purpose, only one goal. He would get to her. He would go down on one knee and he’d propose. Jake—no, he was John again—had been granted the greatest of gifts and this time he wouldn’t fail. His love for her had survived decades spent in other bodies, other places, other times.
The sun rose and set twice, but John gave himself only brief moments of respite, refusing to fall asleep for fear he wouldn’t wake up again. He’d been down that road before, thinking he’d rest beneath the tree only to find himself a hundred and fifty years in the future and finding the love of his life was a ghost.
Finally, the sound of a horse and cart caught his ear and he stumbled toward it.
The driver saw him and pulled the horses to a halt. “Where you headed, soldier?”
The accent was distinctly southern. John was grateful for the familiar lilt. Then he realized he had no idea how far he was from home. “I’m John Masters from Atlanta. I was wounded and separated from my company. I’m trying to get home.”
The elderly man studied his injuries. “How long have you been walking, son?”
John shrugged. “A few days.”
“Hop in the back and rest your head a while. I’ll get you home.”
John lifted himself into the cart, lightheaded from pain and the loss of blood. He quickly disregarded both. He was almost there. For the first time in days, he allowed himself to close his eyes, giving into sheer exhaustion.
When he awoke, he felt a soft pillow beneath his head and heard the sound of quiet whispers.
“The doctor says it’s a miracle he survived,” he heard someone say. “Not sure how he made it three steps, let alone miles.”
Then he heard the voice he’d been waiting several lifetimes to hear. “It’s John. He’s the strongest, bravest man I’ve ever known. Of course, he made it.”
“Lizzie.” John was surprised to hear the rasp of his voice. Days spent in the heat with precious little water had taken their toll, leaving his throat dry, sore.
A small hand clasped his. “I’m here, my love. I’m right here.”
“Had to get back to you. Couldn’t die again.” The pain he’d kept at bay for days finally surfaced, leaving him foggy, confused.
“Again?” she asked. “But you didn’t die. You’re here.”
He worked hard to focus on her face, trying to determine if she knew, if she recalled him meeting him as Jake.
Lizzie looked over her shoulder. “Mama, would you mind telling John’s family he’s awake? And maybe you could bring him a glass of water as well.”
He glanced around the room. Why had the old man brought him here to Lizzie? How had he known?
Lizzie’s mother excused herself.
“The man who found you passed by our place first. He stopped to see if we knew you. Of course, I insisted that they bring you inside. The doctor and your parents were called and they’ve been here for two days. They’re all outside right now. You are John now, yes? Jake is gone.”
Lizzie nodded. “At first, I thought perhaps it was a dream I’d had, but when I saw you in the back of that cart, a lifetime of memories crashed down on me—of your death, my sadness. I never married, never left this house, never stopped believing that you’d come back to me. I died two years after you. The doctor blamed consumption, but I know it was a broken heart.”
“You waited all those years?”
She smiled. “You came back.”
He tightened his grip on her hand. “For you? Always. I love you, Lizzie. I want to marry you, want to spend my life making you happy.”
“Someone somewhere out there must like us.”
John agreed. They’d been given an amazing gift. One that he wouldn’t take for granted. “I suspect the room is about to be swarmed by my well-meaning family. Kiss me, my love, before they arrive.”
She laughed, the sound washing over him like the sweetest salve, soothing all his hurts. Then she bent forward and pressed her lips to his.
John reached up to cup her face, deepening the embrace as he stroked his tongue against hers. He’d waited far too long to hold her like this again. Now that he had her close, he never intended to let her out of his sight again.
Lizzie’s delicate hands gently caressed his bare chest. If anyone walked in now, they’d be scandalized, then chastised, then marched before a minister. John grinned. He’d suffer the first two, simply because the end result was the one he wanted any way.
“I love you, John,” Lizzie whispered against his lips. “I can’t believe you’re really here. That we have a chance to do everything right this time.” Then, she said, more to herself than him. “I’m going to be your wife and the mother of your children.”
John nodded. “And I’ll be your husband. Give me a few more days to recover and then we’ll make this all official. Not long now.”
Lizzie smiled. “We’re almost there.”
I hope you guys enjoyed this story that Mari and Jess wrote specifically for ALBTALBS. 🙂 I think they’re both awesome – and if you missed the previous parts, everything is all tagged for you. Thank you, Mari and Jess!!!