" Deb Stover continually reinvents the genre with her
fresh and original novels. This is an author who has
made her mark and continues to captivate. She should
be on every reader's keeper shelf."
- Kathe Robin, Romantic Times Magazine
" Intelligence, humor and warmth...delightful..."
- Harriet Klausner, AFFAIRE DE COEUR
" Five Stars! A scorcher! Totally entrancing! Ms Stover has yet again delivered a truly entertaining romance so hot you will need to take a cold shower after reading it. Every woman will be wanting to have Cole Morrison for herself. A story filled with characters you will fall in love with...a truly must buy."
-Maureen Boylan, Reviewer for Scribesworld.com
" Deb Stover has created a story that blends love, laughter, and miracles for her readers. If I could only say one thing about this book it would be, “Don't miss it!” - Huntress Book Reviews
" The time travel genre belongs to Deb Stover. Nobody does it better!"
- Maggie Osborne, author of SILVER LINING
Sunlight slammed into Jackie with all the finesse of a sledgehammer. She
flopped onto her back and covered her eyes with her hand. Not much help there.
Groaning, she struggled to a sitting position and stretched, gradually opening
her eyes. With the sheet wrapped around her, she staggered to the window
and pushed the tattered curtain aside. The dirt road and endless sea of pine
trees jarred her memory.
Oh, yeah. She knew where she was. Sort of. A cultural oasis. Her home
away from home. A log cabin in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
" Why'd I let you talk me into this?" she muttered, glancing back at the rumpled
The empty rumpled bed.
Her heart dropped into her stomach, then vaulted to her throat. Suspicion
slithered through her as she walked to the closet and threw open the door.
His clothes were gone.
Then another far more disturbing thought struck and she rushed back to the
window. " My car. He stole my car."
Tears stung her eyes and her head pounded a rhythm that would've put Phil
Collins to shame. Her stomach clenched and burned, forcing bile to her throat.
As if she didn't have enough problems.
" Well, this is a high point in your life, Jackie," she said in her best imitation
of her Aunt Pearl's voice. " After all, what did you expect from a man who
calls himself Blade? How could you be so stupid?"
Add one more man to the not-so-long list of those Jackie Clarke had foolishly
trusted in her lifetime, starting with her father. " Nothing like family
With a sigh, she jerked on her T-shirt and jeans, then went through the only
other room in the cabin and out the back door. This lovers' hideaway--sans
electricity, phone and indoor plumbing--had only the most modern conveniences.
For about a hundred years ago.
The outhouse was the least of her problems. Being abandoned in a cabin somewhere
in the Rocky Mountains was a hell of a lot more pressing than spending quality
time with an outhouse.
Picking her way barefoot through the damp grass, she gave the outhouse what
she hoped was her most scathing glance. Then she held her breath and answered
the call of nature.
The cabin allegedly belonged to Blade's uncle. Somehow, she had trouble believing
the gigolo could possibly have any family. The place probably belonged to
his last conquest.
I'm gullible woman number hundred and thirty-seven.
She stepped from the outhouse and gulped fresh air.
Simple. Blade had swept her off her feet. She glanced at her bare toes and
wiggled them. His dark good looks, sexy European accent, and artsy-fartsy
way had wooed her big time.
Let me take you away from all this, he'd said.
His lack of originality should've been her first warning. I must paint
you. You will be my masterpiece. More bull.
So Jackie had left her partner in charge of their beauty shop and used her
savings to fund Blade's excursion through Never-Never Land.
" Smooth move, Tinkerbell."
With a sigh, she walked back inside and scrounged around the kitchen. At
least Blade had left her some groceries and the gas grill.
Now if only she could figure out a way to put wheels on the thing and drive
it down the mountain. For now she'd settle for a cup of coffee. A whole pot might help her think straight.
After her third cup, she ate a cold English muffin and went back to the bedroom
to inventory her belongings. Just how much had Blade left her?
One thing was a safe bet--he'd taken all her money.
She turned her purse upside down over the bed. " Yep." He even had her credit
Not that they'd do him any good. A smug smile tugged at the corners of her
mouth. Every single one of them was maxed out. " Thank God for small favors."
She went to the mirror on the wall and groaned, lifting her trembling hand
to her hair. Why had she let him talk her into dying her hair, too?
Red. Neon red.
For inspiration, he'd said. About the only thing it inspired for her was
nausea. Until she returned to civilization and beauty supplies, she was stuck
Dismissing her appearance, she looked out the window again. The cloudless
blue sky mocked her with the promise of a beautiful day. " Nice day for a
hike." She'd have to drive back later for her clothes. Right now she needed
to travel light. It was a long walk down the mountain. Still, she was healthy.
No reason to think she couldn't handle a little exercise.
She hated to leave behind all her clothes. Damn Blade all to hell. Murderous thoughts fueled her as she threw a few items into her purse, and
realized one positive thing might come from this experience.
Her foolishness would provide Aunt Pearl with enough material to razz Jackie
for the rest of her life. Both their lives. And then some. The old woman
would undoubtedly return to haunt her. " Oh, God."
Jackie sat on the edge of the bed and cried, tears slipping down her face
to land on the bare wood floor in a succession of soggy plops. At thirty-three,
she should've known better. This wasn't at all like her. The old Jackie had
been a dreamer.
But those dreams were dead.
" Fool." When she'd walked down the aisle so long ago, dreams had filled her
young, idealistic mind. For eight years since the divorce, she'd worked.
Period. No love life--nothing.
Just the kind of woman a con-man would choose as a target. That made her
a...victim. A shudder of revulsion rippled through her, barely saving her
from drowning in self-pity.
" Wrong scenario, kid." She dried her eyes with the backs of her hands and
stood. " Time to hit the road."
After tying her cheap hiking boots, she opened the door and stepped outside. The great outdoors. Oh, goodie. Shading her eyes, she looked west.
A few clouds marred the horizon beyond the next ridge.
She shrugged. What the hell? A little rain couldn't make her day any worse.
Armed with her comb, her compact, and her Midol, she started along the trail.
The cabin quickly vanished behind her, swallowed by the thick forest of pine
and aspen. " Stop looking behind you, stupid." She needed to concentrate on
finding her way to the highway, where she knew the nearest town was to her
left. At least she'd paid some attention during the drive up here.
When she hadn't been gazing into Blade's dark, deceitful eyes.
A fork in the road brought her to a standstill. She didn't remember this.
Which way had they come? Both roads were equally rutted by the passage of
four wheel drive vehicles. After a few minutes, she shook her head and chose
the left fork...and prayed. It looked right.
She rubbed her upper arms, wishing for something heavier than her thin jacket,
but her coat and gloves were in her car. With Blade. The temperature was
definitely dropping, and clouds now shrouded the area with heavy gray.
It started as one small flake.
Jackie shook her head in disbelief. " No, it can't be." Resolutely, she continued
along the mountain road, the plunging temperature numbing her fingers and
toes. She slung her purse strap over her shoulder and tucked one hand under
each armpit to warm.
" No, no, no!"
She walked faster. The flakes were fruitful and multiplied. Adam and Eve
would've been proud. Now there was no denying the facts.
It was snowing.
" Criminy, it's June." It was the very beginning of June, though, and snow
still capped the highest peaks in the distance. She stopped to look around.
The heavy clouds hung lower now, veiling the treetops.
But something else even more disturbing nagged at her. The farther she walked,
the less familiar her surroundings looked. She paused.
She'd chosen the wrong fork.
" Decision time, Clarke." If she went much farther, she'd never be able to
find her way back with the road covered in snow. Shoot, she had enough trouble
finding her way to the mall most weekends.
But what if she managed to find her way back to the cabin and the snow piled
up so high she couldn't leave?
Without her electric blanket.
But it was June. No matter how much it snowed, it couldn't last long. And
the farther down the mountain she went, the warmer it would be. Right?
As she stood in the middle of the unfamiliar road and contemplated her dilemma,
the wet spring snow soaked her jacket and hair.
Even if this road wasn't the same one they'd driven up on, it still had to
lead to civilization. Eventually. Deciding not to waste precious time
backtracking, she closed her eyes for a brief prayer, then reopened them
and put one foot in front of the other.
Frustration didn't come close to describing what Jackie felt as she continued
along the rutted mountain road. The snow quickly covered the ground, making
her pray again that she'd made the right decision.
She squinted through the white stuff, straining to identify the dark silhouettes
ahead. They weren't trees. Dare she hope...?
She quickened her pace, falling flat on her face twice before she was able
to identify the definite shapes of several structures. Calling out in the
awesome silence, she hoped someone would hear and lead her to shelter.
Nothing. No sound at all came from the cluster of buildings. Whatever it
was--a ranch, maybe?--no one was home. It didn't matter. She'd break in,
Nearly numb, Jackie staggered to the nearest building and stumbled to her
knees. An upward glance confirmed that she would find no shelter in this
building. It had no roof.
Abandoned. Like her.
Fear sliced through her. Surely one of the buildings was whole and safe.
After struggling to her feet, she turned and stomped toward the next one.
Only two walls still stood against the harsh Rocky Mountain weather.
" No. I don't believe this."
She was so tired, but she remembered reading something somewhere about people
getting sleepy before they died from hypothermia.
Well, she wasn't ready to die.
Not until she saw Blade behind bars.
Anger fueled her. After a few minutes, she summoned what remained of her
strength and lurched toward the next building. If she died up here, she wouldn't
be able to get revenge.
Oh, and her aunt would really get some mileage out of this one with her women's
circle at church.
Jackie had no intention of being that generous.
Her heart raced as she studied the next structure. Hope filled her. This
building had a porch and all the walls seemed intact. She reached for the
handle and jiggled it, holding her breath as the door squeaked in protest.
After a good shove, it swung open and she scrambled inside. It was dry and
After closing the door against the wind, she dropped her purse and slumped
to the floor to catch her breath. Her feet and hands were completely numb.
The way her luck was running, she'd probably lose all her fingers and toes.
Blade would pay for each and every one.
As her breathing slowed to a more reasonable rate, she examined her surroundings.
Dusty was a supreme understatement, but the place was totally dry. Who cared
about a little dust?
A bar ran the length of the room, with a tarnished brass rail around its
rim. Glasses and barrels lined the wall behind it.
A saloon. She laughed in disbelief. Just her luck to find an abandoned--
She slowly rolled to one hip and rose, flexing her fingers and wiggling her
toes. Maybe she didn't have frostbite after all. Everything seemed to be
thawing nicely. Like a Thanksgiving turkey.
And she was definitely thankful, ghost town or not.
Stiff-legged, she walked toward the bar, inspecting the room. Incredible.
Overturned tables and chairs filled the room broken chandeliers hung from
the rafters. A potbellied stove occupied one corner.
Her gaze followed the stovepipe through the wall high above. What were the
chances of it being clean? She might burn down her only shelter.
A sinking sensation swept through her. It didn't matter anyway, because she
had no matches. Just her luck they didn't teach fire building in beauty college.
With a sigh, she turned to look at the magnificent bar. Where were Little
Joe, Hoss, and Ben? Better still, a bartender like Sam Malone waiting to
serve her a shot of whiskey to warm her bones?
It struck her as odd that this one building should be in such good
shape--relatively speaking--while the others were completely collapsing.
Curious, she walked behind the bar and looked at the shelves beneath it.
A book grabbed her attention. She pulled it out and set it on the bar, kicking
dust into her face. Coughing and waving her hand to clear the air, she flipped
open the black leather cover.
It was a script: The Legend of Devil's Gulch by C.R. Morrison. That
explained a few things. Obviously, a movie crew had used the saloon. They
must've done a little restoration on the place.
She looked upward at the roof. Thank God.
Wondering what other useful items might have been left behind, Jackie searched
through the shelves and produced a bottle of whiskey. A sealed bottle of
" This is progress." She placed the bottle on the bar and continued her search.
Now, if only she could find a can of soup, or anything else non-perishable
After completing her unsuccessful search of the bar, she turned around. The
painting on the wall seized her attention. Tentatively, she reached up and
wiped a layer of dirt away with her bare hand.
" Nude, of course. I should've known." She shook her head and sighed. " Men
are pigs. Sheesh."
As she studied the portrait, heat bloomed in her face. Blade had painted
Jackie in the nude. What was he doing with that painting now? Who was he
showing it to?
" Damn." It didn't matter. Right now, only survival mattered. But what if
he tried to sell it to Aunt Pearl? She covered her face for a second and
She couldn't help wondering if the woman in the portrait had been foolish
about men, too. She studied the woman's face. Intelligence shown in her eyes
and a smug smile tilted the corners of her red lips.
No, foolish definitely wasn't the word to describe this woman. In fact, she
exuded self-assurance. " I'll bet you had men falling at your feet. Bet you
kicked them in the balls when they got out of line, too."
The woman's hair was as red as Jackie's, certainly not natural. Henna, probably.
Though beautiful, she was fat by today's standards. Rubenesque.
And except for a feather boa draped across her breasts and pelvic area, the
woman was as naked as Jackie'd been while modeling for Blade. " Who talked
you out of your clothes, lady? One of Blade's ancestors, no doubt."
Buxom didn't begin to describe the woman's bustline. Jackie looked at her
own small breasts beneath her damp, clinging T-shirt. She didn't even need
a bra. Good thing, since she rarely wore one.
Blade hadn't seemed to mind.
" To hell with Blade."
She looked up at the woman in the portrait again. A strange but powerful
sense of déjà vu suddenly swept through her. She couldn't shake
A gold plate on the frame drew her gaze. She rubbed her thumb across it until
the words became clear through the grime.
Lolita Bell, 1891.
" Yeah, right." She snickered and shook her head. Lolita Bell had obviously
been a stage name. She looked up at the woman's face again, wondering exactly
what type of performances had been her specialty.
" Lolita, were you a...lady of the evening?" Jackie wiggled her eyebrows
suggestively. " Aunt Pearl would've been in her element trying to convince
you to mend your wicked ways." She laughed at her own foolishness.
" Instead, she just had me to work on." She sighed and turned away from the
portrait. Standing around talking to a painting wasn't doing her a bit of
A particularly fierce blast of wind rattled the shutters, prompting Jackie
to go to the window and peer through the louvered slats. The wind whipped
the snow around in a furious pattern. She couldn't even see beyond the porch.
" Oh, boy. What am I going to do up here with no food?"
Shivering, she moved away from the window. " And no heat?" She could go longer
without food than she could without heat. Water would be no problem with
all the snow outside, but how would she melt it?
" I can't win for losing."
Her stomach rumbled, reminding her she hadn't eaten anything since her cold
breakfast. At least it was dry inside, though definitely not warm. In fact,
the temperature was dropping steadily. When night came, she'd freeze.
Tears pricked her eyes, but she blinked them into submission. She
couldn't--wouldn't--allow Blade to get away with this.
When she turned toward the back of the room, hope spiraled through her. An
archway opened to another room at the back. To the right of the archway,
a winding staircase led to the second floor.
" You dummy," she muttered.
With any luck, the back room might be a kitchen. What treasures besides the
whiskey had the movie crew left behind? Food? Heat?
She quickened her pace to match her pulse, walking through a cobweb stretched
across the doorway. " Yuck." Peeling the sticky threads away from her hair,
she stepped into the room.
A kitchen. On the table in the center of the room sat a cardboard box. She
rushed toward it and looked inside. A half dozen cans with poptops greeted
her. Retrieving one, she read the label.
" Vienna sausages." She hadn't eaten anything that heavily laced with cholesterol
in over a decade, but right now she didn't care. A slightly shortened lifespan
was better than a severely shortened one.
Besides, she had to stay alive long enough to exact revenge.
She examined the cans closely. One of them was badly dented, so she sat it
aside, not wanting to tempt fate. There were no expiration dates on the labels,
so she'd have to trust her eyes and sense of smell to steer her clear of
" Oh, gee, that's encouraging." Grimacing, she popped up the metal ring on
one can and peeled back the lid. When she looked inside, all she saw were
vienna sausages, nothing furry. She took a tentative sniff and sighed in
Carefully, she pulled a sausage from the can and turned it over several times.
It really seemed fine. She could either die of food poisoning or starvation.
Her stomach growled angrily.
" All right." She took a bite and chewed furiously. The little fat-laden thing
tasted fabulous. She finished one and dug for another. Then another.
" Don't be a pig, Clarke." She sat the can down, knowing the contents wouldn't
spoil at room temperature, since room temperature rivaled any refrigerator
she'd ever owned. She placed a full can on top of the open one to protect
There, she felt stronger now. Having food in her stomach made her feel warmer,
too. At least she wouldn't starve to death for a while.
She explored the rest of the ground floor, but the steps were too rickety
for her taste, so she skipped a tour of the second story.
Angry and bored, she opened the whiskey and took a tentative sip. She swallowed
hard and waved her hand in front of her mouth.
Unaccustomed to whiskey, she was surprised by the sudden warmth that surged
through her cold body. Saint Bernards supposedly carried brandy to freezing
people. Right? She furrowed her brow, trying to remember whether medical
science still endorsed that practice.
Looking at the bottle's amber contents and black label, she shrugged. " What
the hell?" It made her feel warmer.
She took another drink. It went down much smoother this time. In fact, it
wasn't half bad.
Bottle clutched in her hand, she turned to look at Lolita again. " Who were you?" She looked at the woman's bright red hair. " Only your
hairdresser knows for sure." Jackie winked and raised the bottle toward Lolita.
" Here's to helping Mother Nature. I'm all for it," she touched her own hair,
" as you can see."
She lifted the bottle to her lips again and took a mouthful, swaying to one
side with the effort.
" Steady as she goes, Clarke." She raised the bottle and admired its sparkling
contents through the dim light coming through the louvered shutters. Tipping
the bottle again, she gulped a huge swallow, then gave a very unladylike
belch. " Oops. Hiccup. 'Scuse me." She saluted Lolita.
" I bet you knew how to pick men." Jackie sighed and rolled her eyes, noticing
the mirror off to one side for the first time. She staggered over a few steps
and stared at herself.
" Yuck, Clarke." She raised her eyebrows and tilted her head back. " You're
a--hiccup--mess." There were bags under her eyes, and the dark green T-shirt
just wasn't her color.
Her neon red hair looked even worse now, if that was possible. Well, plastered
to one side of her head wasn't exactly the style she would've chosen for
Looking back at Lolita, she sighed. " I need something to do. I'll bet the
newest Nora Roberts is out by now."
Of course, she'd thought Blade would keep her much too busy for reading.
And he had...for a while.
She her purse, placing it and her whiskey bottle on the bar while she searched
for her compact. " Aha. There you are."
Blade had practically begged her to go red, but she resisted for a while.
Not long enough. Narrowing her eyes, she peered at herself in the small mirror.
She should've resisted a lot harder. Furiously, she powdered her shiny nose
and looked again. Nothing helped.
Red hair and Jackie Clarke just didn't complement each other. She looked
back at Lolita. Adrenalin rushed through her veins as she studied the portrait.
" Hey, my hair is pretty close to your shade."
" What do you think? Hey, this is only temporary. I make a foxy brunette.
Could even give you a run for your money." She lifted one corner of her mouth
and snarled. " Even if you did get in line twice when they were handing out
boobs." She shot Lolita's feather-draped breasts a caustic look. " Make that
three times. Took my turn, too, didn't you?"
With her bottle of whiskey in tow, she marched out to the kitchen in search
of...something. " It's colder back here."
She positioned her open compact on the table and shivered. " I'm freezing
my ass off in the middle of nowhere, drinking alone, and I've been talking
to a dead woman. Aunt Pearl'd have a cow. What do you think?"
The mirror didn't answer.
" So, tell me, Jackie," she said solemnly. " What is it with you and men?"
Rolling her eyes, she shook her head. " Gee, I wish I knew."
She was freezing. There had to be a way to start a fire. Surely there'd been
a few smokers on the movie crew. What better place to keep matches than in
the kitchen for cooking?
Several discarded boxes littered the room. She kicked them over with the
toe of her boot, fearing she might disturb a hibernating rat or something.
One of the boxes clattered as it fell over, making her leap back and stop
After a moment, she inched forward and nudged the box around with her toe
until she could see inside. " Oh, my God," she whispered.
In the middle of several layers of crumpled newspaper was a kerosene lamp,
a box of matches, and a bottle of kerosene. Let there be light. Her
luck was definitely improving.
She retrieved the contents of the box and placed the objects on the table.
Carefully, she removed the top of the lamp and filled the reservoir with
oil. After replacing the top, she turned up the wick and fished a match out
of the box.
Then she remembered how much warmer it was in the other room. She went to
the other room and placed her newfound treasures on the bar in front of Lolita.
She fished a match out of the box and lit the lamp. After a moment, a nice
golden glow surrounded her. Now all she needed was some heat and a miracle.
There was enough broken furniture in here to make a nice fire.
She swallowed hard. What if she burned the place down? " Oh, hell, Clarke." Chewing her lower lip, she gathered a few of the smaller pieces of wood and
stuffed them into the stove. Then she tore the last page out of the script
and tucked it under the wood.
Muttering a prayer, she lit a match and tossed it in, watching eagerly as
the greedy flames devoured the paper, then went after the dry wood. She looked
upward. So far, so good. She shot Lolita a questioning glance. " Well, what
do you think? I could've been an Eagle Scout."
Sighing, she moved along the bar to the framed mirror for some additional
self-torture. " Oh, it's worse every time I look." She closed her eyes, then
reopened them to study her appropriately warped image. Her hair was red.
" Now what am I supposed to do?"
It was getting dark outside. Hoping the darkness simply meant dusk instead
of more snow, Jackie went to the shutters and peered outside. The snow had
stopped and patches of sky showed through the clouds, but she wouldn't be
going anywhere in the dark. The sun slowly disappeared behind the highest
mountain peak, bathing the small valley in shadow.
" Thank goodness I found the lamp." She turned around and noticed the script
she'd left on the bar. With a shrug, she dragged a battered chair to the
stove and wiped some of the dust from the seat.
It promised to be a long, cold night. After placing a few more splintered
pieces of furniture on the fire, she settled into the chair with the script
in her lap, scooting the lamp closer.
" Cast of characters," she read. " Lolita Bell? Hmm." Relishing the fire's
radiant heat, she allowed herself to be sucked into the story. It was an
old-fashioned romantic adventure, but when she reached the end, she groaned.
She'd used the last page to light the fire. Now she'd never know what happened
to Lolita Bell. " Shoot."
An odd, crackling sound came from overhead. Frowning, Jackie looked up at
the ceiling, bewildered at first by the bright orange fingers spreading across
the cracked surface.
Reality finally registered and she dropped the script and jumped to her feet
so fast the chair crashed to the floor. The building was on fire. She had
to get out fast.
The crackling became a roar as the greedy flames lapped up the old structure.
She was surrounded.
A window. Jackie dropped to her knees as the heat became unbearable.
Coughing, she crawled toward the bar, remembering a window along that wall.
Her skin stung from the intense heat and her throat burned. Tears streamed
down her face as the same prayer played through her head again and again: God, help me. Please, help me.
Behind the bar, the air was somewhat cooler and the smoke less suffocating.
She drew several deep breaths before she rose.
God, help me.
Blazing timbers crashed in the center of the room and she screamed. Regaining
control, she felt along the wall for the window she'd seen earlier. Somewhere...
Another crash--the building was falling down around her. She was going to
burn. Freezing out in the wilderness would have been better than this.
" Where's the window?" Tears and smoke blinded her as she felt along the wall,
ducking lower to escape the intense heat. She felt something and straightened.
A frame, but not the window.
Something large plummeted to the bar, stuck her shoulder and slammed her
against the wall. Both she and Lolita's portrait slid to the floor together.
Dizziness gripped her and she held her head as she turned to look at the
painting one more time. " This is it," she whispered, knowing she would die
tonight. There was no escape.
The flames bathed the portrait in a red-orange glow, and Lolita's face faded
before Jackie's eyes. Barely conscious, Jackie reached toward the portrait
as a face reappeared.
The face staring back from the canvas now was a mirrored image. Dazed, Jackie
touched her likeness just as something seized her. God help me.
Powerful and swift, the force delivered her from the flames. Darkness bathed
her in blessed coolness. No longer frightened, Jackie closed her eyes.
Prepared to face death.