Time Traveler. Believer. Deceiver. Spies.
Jack Spencer fell in love with Clara Beaumont when they were kids roasting marshmallows over a Wisconsin bonfire on a frosty autumn night.
Jack’s not your average guy — he’s a Messenger — a time traveler who delivers critical messages into the past. He recognizes Clara from his journeys and wonders if she might be a Messenger as well. Clara doesn’t want to push through time’s fabric: it feels too dangerous. Jack talks her into trying it once — just once — but the results are disastrous.
Jack’s stayed away from Clara for fifteen years, but his mortal beloved’s getting married today and she’s not marrying him. What would it hurt if he saw Clara up close just one last time? See the flush in her cheeks, the fullness of her lower lip, take in her curves, and burn the memories into his brain for an eternity?
He’s about to find out.
Courted by kings, pursued by assassins, at the mercy of a ticking clock, Jack and Clara are part of a conspiracy much greater than they ever believed possible.
Chicago, Present Day
Christmas lights twinkled on this upscale part of Michigan Avenue in Chicago, a dusting of snow falling as holiday shoppers darted in and out of stores clutching bags filled with gifts. For anyone else this could have been an urban fairy tale, but for me it was a nightmare. The girl I had been in love with since I was twelve-years-old was getting married today and she wasn’t marrying me.
I stood on the sidewalk across the street from the historical 4th Presbyterian Church tucked between two pricy department stores decked out for the holidays. I gazed across the stop and go traffic; the red, yellow, and green lights of the traffic signals, the honking, and screeching of braking cars. I watched as pricy rides queued by the church’s entrance. Valets raced to open doors, take keys, and hand out parking stubs. Guests dressed in formal attire, cautiously made their way up the salt-strewn stairs and headed inside.
I’d been waiting for well over an hour, leaning back against a stone storefront, pretending to read from my phone so I wouldn’t look like a complete stalker, tolerating the damp coldness that drilled into my bones. I’d come here to catch a glimpse of Clara Marie Beaumont before I lost her forever.
It wasn’t my habit to stalk Clara, at least not in person. The last time I actually saw her was two years ago on the Southside. I’d checked her Instagram feed every week or so, knew she was getting her PhD in Art History at All Saints University, and recognized the local coffee shop that she tagged. Curiosity got the better of me, and one afternoon I took the “L” train down there. I bought a coffee, parked at a corner table, opened my laptop, and alternated between hoping she’d come in and hoping she wouldn’t. Clara never showed but the thought that I could see her here stuck in my head like an earworm. I returned to the coffee shop every day but it was only on the fourth visit that I finally saw her.
She pushed into the shop with two of her friends on a brisk Halloween afternoon. They were laughing and wearing super hero costumes: Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Clara decked out as Storm. Strangely, it made sense that the girl who was capable of hurtling through time, delivering messages that could change one life or save many, would dress up as a kick-ass character that manipulated the weather.
Her friends claimed a table a few down from mine. I recognized Supergirl: Elise still had long shiny black hair. She was opinionated, bubbly, and had been friends with Clara since she was shipped off to boarding school in the 4th grade. She eyed me curiously for a second, but I ignored her, concentrating on the laptop opened in front of me. When Clara walked over carrying a cardboard tray filled with drinks and sandwiches, I couldn’t help but glance up.
Her blue eyes had the beginnings of crinkle wrinkles etched around them, tendrils of blonde hair poked out from under the wig, and she’d filled out a bit. Super heroines of any magnitude could not share the same page with my Clara. Don’t stare, I reminded myself. Good luck with that one.
I blinked, hunched, and dragged my focus back to the screen. I hid behind my shitty posture, my weathered laptop, and kept my eyes to myself, but hell yeah, I listened. They chatted about which party they were going to and who was going to be there.
“Maybe I’ll finally meet someone interesting tonight,” Clara said.
“It’s my turn,” Elise said. “You met someone at the last party.”
A pang of jealousy stabbed holes in my heart: lucky the man who got to spend time with my Clara.
“Yay me. That relationship lasted two whole dates,” Clara said.
“What was wrong with this one?” Wonder Woman asked.
Clara frowned. “It’s not that there was anything wrong, it’s just that—”
“There wasn’t enough right,” Elise said.
One of the women’s phone chirped. I glanced up and caught the irritation on Clara’s face when she picked up. “Yes, Mom. How’s it going? Good. No, we don’t need a chaperone. Elise’s brothers will be there. Yes, all of them. No, we won’t be out all that late. I’m twenty-four, Mom, remember? Must. Go.”
It struck me as I hid under my ball cap, behind my computer, that Clara’s life was a tsunami of over-protection, watchfulness, and caution. She was living a code red, fear-based existence. As much as I liked to pretend it was no longer my problem, the reality was it was also my fault. So I made a decision that day at the coffee shop: I wouldn’t ruin her life again.
I wouldn’t intervene, sharing stories of Messengers who slipped through time’s fabric traveling dozens or hundreds of years into the past. I wouldn’t interfere, whispering tales into her ear about those travelers who delivered messages that changed people’s lives, the way I did when we were kids, and huddled over a bonfire in the Wisconsin woods.
I closed my computer, tucked it into my backpack, and walked out the door, the bells jangling as it closed behind me. Clara had enough people trying to manipulate her. I didn’t want to be another one.
And I kept that promise until I spotted her Instagram post six weeks ago that she was getting married, and hell exploded in my head, shooting my resolve to pieces.
A newer model limo pulled up to the church. The paparazzi drew closer to the vehicle, and I wondered if Clara was in the back seat. What would it hurt if I saw her up close just one last time? Near enough to see the flush in her cheeks, the fullness of her lower lip, take in her curves and burn their memory into my brain for an eternity. Then I would stay away. Then I would be done.
I pushed off the cold, stone building and walked to the corner. As soon as the light turned green, I jogged across the avenue toward the limo.
The snow was coming down heavier and the traffic was growing dicier on Lake Shore Drive. Out the town car’s window I could see the patches of ice punctuating Lake Michigan like polar bears sticking their heads out of the arctic water. After the scorcher of our summer, the winter was shaping up to be brutal as well.
Our regular driver, Fred, negotiated the thick, early evening Chicago traffic. Mom and I sat in the back while I posted a pre-wedding selfie to Instagram. Based on the bad turn of weather, mom had decided on the spur of the moment that it would be easier if dad drove with my younger sister Lily to the church.
Ah yes, 4th Presbyterian church. I was neither Presbyterian, nor was I a church go-er. I did, however, consider myself spiritual and believed God loved people of all religions equally. Which is probably why I never wanted a church wedding. Instead, I pictured saying yes to the guy I loved in nature: on a beach in front of thunderous waves, in the quiet of a forest with deer watching from a hillside, or maybe on the top of a mountain, closer to the heavens. But I capitulated to marrying Sean in a church in the same way I said yes to the dress mom liked the most because she seemed to want this so very badly.
Don’t get me wrong. Mom had amazing taste. Even now she pulled an elegant pair of black evening gloves from her purse. She was, after all, Katharine Eleanor Beaumont, humanitarian, emissary and benefactor to refugees and those less fortunate in whatever distant pocket of civilization they might reside. I grew up with a mom whose name tripped off the tongues of people who were familiar with United Nations Refugee Agency, as well as folks who read the articles about her in ‘Vanity Fair’, the ‘Washington Post’, and the ‘Wall Street Journal.’ Mom was given more than her fair share of humanitarian awards, but was too busy traveling and helping others to show up for the dinner and accept the commemorative plaques engraved with her name.
My phone buzzed and I checked the text from Elise.
“Late to your own wedding Runaway Bride?”
“No. Stuck in traffic on Drive. Ugh. You’re Maid of Honor. Do your job. Make excuses.”
“You = PITA.”
“Wedding Day PITA = Bridezilla.” I giggled.
“Today of all days, take a break from the texts.” Mom placed her bejeweled hand on top of mine.
As always, my gaze was drawn to the skinny, faded, jagged scar that snaked up her forearm. “How did you get that scar again?”
“Climbing a barbed-wire fence I shouldn’t have been climbing, but you already know that.” She pulled on the evening gloves, and like magic, the scar vanished from sight. “Leave the phone, the internet, all the gadgets alone for a few hours. This is your wedding day. Stop and reflect. Drink in the scenery.”
I tucked my phone into my delicate, beaded purse. “Right now the scenery is gridlocked traffic. I’m going to miss my own wedding.
“You’re not going to miss your own wedding. It’s a day for pictures but it’s also for tradition. Take a mental snapshot of your guests, your family, your groom, everything. Then you can remember all the tiny moments that make up your big day. That is, unless, you’re having second thoughts.”
“Why would I be having second thoughts?”
“You know why. Your courtship with Sean was a whirlwind.”
“You and dad didn’t date that long.”
“I was pregnant with you. Times are different now, you know. You don’t have to marry if you’re…”
I frowned. “No, mom. I’m not pregnant.”
Yes, Sean and I had had a whirlwind courtship. Considering who our families were, I didn’t know how it was possible that we hadn’t crossed paths until five months ago. Admittedly I was practically raised a cloistered nun for most of my life.
Sean on the other hand, had more freedom, but grew up in New York, not Chicago. His family was political dynasty. Mine had money but it was old money and we stayed in the background at country clubs, not inviting tabloid cameras. Not inviting any attention, really. Which is why I was so surprised that my mother insisted on a public church wedding with important guests when the only thing I wanted to do was elope.
“How many times do you want to get married, Clara?” she asked.
“Good answer. If this is a once in a lifetime event for you, why not do it in a way that you’ll never forget. Enjoy the beautiful gown. Wear your grandmother’s sapphires. You remind me so much of her, right now. You were both so opinionated.” She leaned in and adjusted my pendant necklace.
“I wish Nana was still here.”
“Me too. She’d love to see you. There. Now the necklace lies perfectly. You’re a beautiful bride. I’ve never seen a prettier bride.” She looked away from me, and blinked, as she drew her gloved hand across her eyes.
“I’m your daughter. You have to say that.” I gazed out the window at the crappy traffic that had slowed to almost a standstill on Lake Shore Drive. With any luck I’d reach the church in time to throw the stupid bouquet at my wedding reception. Yes, another tradition that I could have done without.
“I don’t have to say anything. I choose to say it. I’m proud to be from a family of strong women. I hope we will always be a family of strong women,” Mom said.
“Strong women often choose to elope.”
“You’re a Beaumont, Clara. Beaumont’s aren’t allowed to elope.”
The Believer © 2017 Pamela DuMond. All rights reserved.
Expected publication for The Believer (Mortal Beloved: Jack & Clara, #1) is Autumn 2017. Pre-order available on certain platforms.