Timeless River, Marianne Petit, Amore Moon Publishing, romance

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Novel

Time Travel Romance

112,500 words

342 pages

By Marianne Petit

Be careful what you wish for...

Abigail Stewart won’t win any beauty contests, but she can talk to ghosts. One day at the river where the California gold rush started, she encounters the spirits of two children who were murdered under the blue moon of 1852. Legend has it their beautiful mother, Lolita, had drowned them in the river, but now Abby is not so sure the legend is true. Heartthrob Wyatt Beaufort is a spoiled rich-kid in college; he’s all about football and pretty women, and he doesn’t remember the date he had missed with Abby for Senior Prom, a jilt she has not forgotten. She wants nothing to do with him, but in a cruel twist, the two are whisked back in time to a harsh mining camp where Abby finds herself trapped in Lolita’s beautiful body, a woman who has eyes for Wyatt and a wicked temper. Their struggle to save the children tests the power of a mother’s love and the true meaning of inner beauty.

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Chapter One

Abby’s premonition

I awoke, startled. Despite the warm room, an eerie chill prickled my body. I jolted upright, my eyes and ears alert.

What was that sound?

The hairs on the back of my neck bristled. My gaze darted around the dim bedroom then to the dark hallway.

Nothing. Just my imagination? Despite my impulse to bolt out of bed, I grabbed the bat off the nightstand, my ridiculous weapon to ward off any intruder. The doors were secured. The alarm was on. Not that locks would keep out a ghost.

Adrenaline tore through me like a freight train on steroids. Several deep breaths did nothing but make me lightheaded. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone stood in the shadows...watching me. Though I’d felt the presence before, it still creeped me out, especially in the middle of the night.

The bright illuminated numbers on my clock shone 2:00 a.m. I groaned. After tossing and turning half the night, I’d managed to get three hours sleep. I should be used to the weird premonitions I get from time to time, and I’d sensed paranormal auras more times than I cared to count, and still they interfered with my sleep. The sense some earth-shattering event was about to happen began yesterday morning with my first cup of coffee. I couldn’t shake that familiar feeling of dread I’d felt the night my mother died.

An unearthly tremor rippled down my spine. I recalled the freeze I’d felt earlier as I walked to my bedroom, the sensation that someone had passed right through me. Fighting a pulse-drumming panic, I bunched my pillow, drew my blanket more securely around me and my bat, and closed my eyes. I needed to get back to sleep, didn’t want to worry about what was going to happen. If a ghost decided to haunt me, I couldn’t do anything about it.

My stomach grumbled. I rolled over, tried to ignore the dread and thought about cookies instead, the cookies I’d been craving all day. Chocolate Chip. I imagined the taste, the sweet smell... I could really go for a snack...or a big fat piece of—

Tap. Tap. Tap.

My eyes popped open. Every muscle tightened.

Did I hear footsteps?

Something had crossed the hardwood floor outside my bedroom. Fear dug a hole in my chest, causing a lung to wheeze.

Is the ghost coming for me?

Tap. Tap. Tap.

In the corner of my room, creepy shadows leaned up the dimly lit wall. I lay perfectly still, afraid to breathe. Time hung suspended. Terror cut the air from my throat.

The tapping stopped; my racing heart did not. The bat felt worthless in my clammy hands. Ghost or intruder, I wasn’t sure...but someone was at my door. I set the bat aside, slowly reached for my cell, my fingers groping along the nightstand, until I grabbed it like the Holy Grail.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

There it is again.

With nerve-rattled fingers, I dialed 9-1—

Something jumped on my bed. The mattress dipped under the weight. I gasped and dropped the phone. Panic drummed in my ears as I grabbed for the bat. I wasn’t going down easy.

Meow.

Soft fur rubbed my arm. I exhaled. Just the cat.

“Matina, you scared me half to death.” I patted the bed. Matina made herself comfortable, her presence comforting.

Snuggling into my cat, I closed my eyes.

The air conditioner groaned. I opened my eyes. A sliver of moonlight peeked through a chink in the curtains, casting distorted shadows on my walls. My breath hitched. This is ridiculous. Why am I such a scaredy-cat? My pulse was doing a Zumba routine in my neck. I rolled over, dragging the blanket with me, and tried to calm my breathing. Relax. Sleep. Breathe. The room was silent, except for Matina’s deep purring.

Curled in a fetal position, I forced my mind clear, but an unexplainable sadness crept in. The unease subsided, but tears threatened, tears that came out of nowhere. I squeezed my eyes tight. Red, yellow, and orange pinpoints swirled before me, growing fainter and fainter...

“Mamma?” a girl’s voice whispered.

I inhaled sharply, sat up, and flipped on my light. Matina flew off the bed and bolted out the door. An empty room stared back at me, a room that felt as cold as a meat locker. I brushed at the goose-bumps that made the fine hairs on my arms stand at attention. “Who are you?”

I knew from experience that spirits roamed this earth; I’d seen a few, but never did one talk to me. However, I had no daughter to call out to me, to call me mamma. So what little girl was calling for her mother...and why was she in my room? It must’ve been me. I’d fallen asleep. I must have called out to my mother. But why now, after three years since her death, was I calling for her?


Chapter Two

Abby and the Legend

I refused to believe the legend was true. As I sat with my best friend Cindi in her car parked at the river’s edge, waiting for some of her old high school friends to join us for a swim, I could feel the ambiance of this area, its history during the California Gold Rush. Though I wasn’t thrilled with meeting her friends, I liked it here, and to pass the time, we’d started talking about our town’s prominent legend.

“She killed her children on the night of the blue moon.” Cindi emphasized the words blue moon with a ghoulish flair in her voice and waved the porcelain figurine in her hands, a woman wearing a long red dress.

I disagreed. “I’m not so sure she killed her own kids.”

With the air conditioner rattling, my mind traveled back to the gold rush when the legend of the Weeping Woman began. Over one hundred seventy years ago, hundreds of men camped at this very spot on the South Fork of the American River, finding or losing their dreams for a pinch of gold dust.

The nearby town was called Dry Diggins back then, now my hometown of Placerville, California. It looks nothing like it did back in 1850 after the gold rush began at Sutter’s Mill, just nine miles downstream from here. There was a saloon in Dry Diggins, The Boomerang Gambling Hall and Saloon, where a woman who purportedly looked like the figurine sang for the miners, merchants, and gunslingers. One day, three outlaws were caught and hanged from a large oak tree on Main Street, earning the town the nickname Hangtown.

Today, families laid out their blankets and picnic baskets along the riverbank, and children splashed and squealed in the frigid shallows, just out of reach of the midstream current. I could imagine the men digging and panning for gold among the frolicking kids, as if the rushing water carried whispers of the past.

“Earth to Abby. You’re zoning out on me again.” Cindi handed me the figurine. “Lolita sure was beautiful.”

I stared at the porcelain woman in my hand, her flowing black hair, Spanish green eyes, and golden brown skin, a most striking woman of her time. Her signature red cloak and red dress, the one they say she wore on the night of the murders, hugged her porcelain curves, and white pantalettes peeked out from beneath the gown. An engraving on the base read Lolita in sweeping letters, her stage name when she sang at the Boomerang.

“Cindi. They say her real name was Abigail, too, like mine, but I don’t believe she was a killer.”

“What makes you think the legend isn’t true?”

“Some say she was seen dancing and singing at a party the night her children died, so she couldn’t have killed them.”

“Hashtag, that’s only a theory.” She looked out the window toward the dirt road that led down to the riverbank from the upper parking lot. “I’m hot. I want to go swimming. What’s taking them so long, sis?”

We were like sisters, Cindi and I, and her endearment made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this world. I curled a strand of crimson hair around my index finger. There were two beauties in the car, and I wasn’t one of them. The term beach blonde fit my best friend to a T. She was slender, tanned by the California sun, and her figure would make Barbie Doll jealous. We’d been friends since middle school, though I didn’t know what she saw in me. I didn’t look like her, dress like her, figured it was just a matter of time before she’d tell me to get lost. It took a while to realize we both needed each other. She boosted my confidence on days when I felt down in the dumps about myself, and I encouraged her to see herself as more than a pretty face.

Still, I couldn’t tell her the real reason I thought the legend of the Weeping Woman was wrong. Cindi would go completely nuts if I told her I’d actually seen the kids’ ghosts, right here on this riverbank. Recalling that encounter still gave me the shivers.

It was the evening after I’d heard the little girl call for her mamma in my bedroom. I needed to get away from the house, so I drove here to think about that encounter and wonder what it meant. The setting sun colored the sky pink and orange and cast a golden glow across the swirling currents. From out of nowhere, two small children appeared on the riverbank, skipping along, throwing rocks into the water, and laughing like children at play. One was a girl, the other a small boy. Wondering what two children were doing out here by themselves, I walked toward them. “Hey, kids.”

They abruptly stopped and looked at me.

“Where are your parents?”

“We can’t find our mamma,” the little girl replied.

Mamma? I’ve heard that voice before.

I approached them but oddly, though they hadn’t stepped backward, my steps did not bring me any closer to them. “Who’s your mamma? Maybe I can find her, give her a call.”

“It’s Abigail,” the boy said.

His sister added, “The miners around here call her Lolita.”

Stunned, I stopped. There were no miners around here. I had to have heard wrong. The little girl couldn’t possibly be talking about Lolita, the Weeping Woman.

“Tell the lady,” the boy said to his sister.

“Joseph, hush.”

“Tell me what?”

“She didn’t-”

The girl grabbed his hand, and they began to glimmer and glide backwards down the riverbank.

As I stood in awe, I realized I was seeing the spirits of Lolita’s murdered children. “Wait.”

They stopped.

“I wish I could help you.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” the girl said, and they shimmered out of sight.

Warm fingers of a sudden wind had softly stroked my hair, raising tiny dimples on the back of my neck. My sixth sense told me I would see them again.

Even now, I recalled how they looked. The little girl wore a blue Victorian dress and matching bonnet. The boy wore a white shirt and cut-off pants with suspenders. That night, I’d flicked through pages of a history book on the Gold Rush Era. A story about a lost gold claim interested me, gold nuggets just lying on the ground, right, but I read on and found a story about the Weeping Woman legend. There was an old sepia photo of the same children, dressed the same way, standing at the river in front of a wooden rowboat. They were real back then...ghosts now...but why did they reveal themselves to me? What was Joseph trying to say before his sister hushed him? She didn’t...didn’t what? Kill them? Right. My best friend wouldn’t believe a word of it.

“Cindi, I believe someone else did it...the piano player, maybe.”

“The piano player? He disappeared after the murders. What about her husband?”

I shuddered. “He ran off with another woman. Maybe she got all jealous and wigged out when he paid more attention to his kids than her, so she drowned them in the river.”

“Maybe so, but Lolita could have been jealous of the new girlfriend, felt tied down, trapped, resented her kids for it.” Cindi sighed. “Wouldn’t be the first time a mother drowned her own children to be free of them.”

“And maybe it was an accident that got blown way out of proportion. No matter what happened, Lolita mourned those kids night and day, wailing and screaming along the riverbank, searching for their bodies. Thus the Weeping Woman legend was born.”

“Someone wanted her kids dead, but either way, their mother should have been there to protect them. I hate it when kids are neglected.” Cindi waved her hand in a theatrical gesture. “She’s guilty.”

“It’s hard to know what really happened, but I’m sure she died of a broken heart.”

“You’re always defending her.”

“Why not? She’s sexy, confident, beautiful, with a songbird voice and men bowing at her feet. A lot like you, I’d say.”

“I don’t sing.”

“Lolita was truly a liberated woman for her time.”

“Abby, you’re such a romantic. She was a soiled dove.”

“You’re probably right.” I grumped. My brain returned to my present-day problems. Cindi’s Honda Civic smelled of coconut oil suntan lotion and French fries. I glanced at an empty McDonald’s carton on the floor. How she managed to keep her amazing figure was beyond me. If I even looked at fried food, I swear, I gained a pound.

A Million Years played over the radio. Cindi switched channels. “Too depressing.”

“Hey, I like Adele.” I related to the part where she sang about missing her mom. Even after three years, my mom’s absence still clung to every room in the house. Memories hit Dad and me every time we walked into the kitchen where she’d baked Christmas cookies, or the dining room where she’d served up evening dinners. The empty seat was a painful reminder. Dad escaped in his work at the hospital. I barely saw him. I knew she watched over us, but the thought did little to fill the void of her loving arms.

“Where are those guys?” Cindi let out an exasperated breath.

“At least we’ve had time to talk.”

“I bet that silly legend never happened...just a fable told around campfires, but she’s fun to talk about.”

I shrugged. “I need something to fixate on. I’m a twenty-one-year-old virgin who can’t remember her last date, and I’m struggling to lose ten more pounds.” A nervous laugh escaped me. Even though we shared a lot about ourselves, admitting my lack of sexual experience heated my face. I hadn’t dated much, not since the night of my senior prom. My high hopes for that date were dashed and put serious dating on my not-to-do list. “I don’t care if I ever date again.”

“Wow. Stop being so down on yourself.” Cindi placed a comforting hand on my arm.

“Easy for you to say. You’re gorgeous.”

“Oh, stop. I’d trade my looks for half your smarts. The guys I date don’t go out with me for my brains.” Cindi said the words in a flippant manner, but I knew her well enough to know that bothered her.

“I’d trade half my brains for one-tenth of your figure.” I would kill to have her body. Trade my soul to the devil. So maybe I was a little sensitive about my flabby middle, but what woman loved the way she looked one-hundred percent? Well, except Cindi.

“Don’t be crazy. You’ve lost...like what, twenty-five pounds? You look great.”

I didn’t feel great. My black one-piece bathing suit cut into my crotch, and I felt like an encased sausage. “Just for once I’d like some guy to whistle, or trip over his feet, or do something to show interest when I walk by.”

Cindi scowled at me. “No, you don’t. You know what I go through.”

I did. She’d been propositioned more times than I could count, especially in her current modeling gig, but I still envied her...and the Weeping Woman statuette. They were everything I was not, and everyone noticed them for their beauty.

“Anyway...” Enough of the pity party. “Reading about the other Abigail and her kids gave me something to do.”

Cindi flicked her hand. “I don’t believe in ghosts, little green men, or reincarnation.” She studied me with a curious intensity. “Although, after all these years it still gives me the creeps when you answer the phone before it rings.”

My sixth sense. I knew the problem well. At first, the sensations scared me. Then it became a game, a regular occurrence, a part of me I’d kept hidden from everyone. The bad feelings and festering sensations of doom were not fun, and ghost children really freaked me out. The nightmarish angst I’d felt the night my mom died in a car crash flashed cruelly across my mind. My stomach knotted. Prickling tears welled in my eyes. I thrust the memory away before I became a blubbering fool, and then focused my attention on the sound of a woman’s laughter rising above voices coming down the dirt road.

When I looked out the window, I about suffered heart failure. The last person on earth I expected to see, didn’t want to see, ever, was Wyatt Beaufort, especially with his old high school cronies, all dressed to go for a swim.

“Damn, that man is a hunk.” Cindi sighed. “Can I get an amen?”

“For who? Golden boy?” I frowned, but he did look good, and so did his red Ferrari he’d parked on the dirt road. “If you like dumb jocks.” He looked better than I remembered. The buzzed blond haircut gave his square-jawed face a tough-guy appearance. His lean and muscled body would fit well on a firefighters’ calendar. Football pads, not needed, not with those shoulders. He wore colorful swim trunks, and the sun glinted off his gold Rolex. Okay. He was rich and good looking.

Cindi grinned. “You had a thing for him once upon a time.”

I gathered my hair into a ponytail. “So did every girl back then.” I tied the red strands with a rubber band and glanced at the big house sitting on top of the cliff. The Beaufort mansion, Wyatt’s ancestral home. The opulent brick house with its two white columns towered over the river valley like a queen looking down on her subjects. That pretty much summed up the Beaufort family, wealthy socialites who thought they were better than everyone else. High school crush or not, Wyatt was one of them, and I should have known better than to trust him to show up for a date.

“Come on. Let’s join them.” Cindi pushed open the car door.

Sticky summer heat swirled in and slammed into me. A rushing sensation, like a dropping elevator, seized my stomach. “You go. I’ll wait here. You know what he did to me.”

“Of course, I remember,” she said, her voice full of sympathy. “But you need to put that to bed. Really. That was over three years ago.”

“Some wounds never heal.” Foreboding nudged a thump in my chest.

Cindi huffed. “You need to get over it.”

Get over being jilted? Did anyone ever get over that?

“And stop acting like a two-year-old. Besides, don’t you want to show off your new bathing suit?”

“No.” I shook my head as a subliminal warning persisted, raising the tiny hairs on the back of my neck.

“Isn’t that Pam with them? I haven’t seen her in ages.”

The excitement in Cindi’s voice soured my stomach. I didn’t want to go swimming with them, but I wouldn’t disappoint her. The pretty brunette walking next to Wyatt had linked her arm with his in a possessive manner. Pam’s bright pink bikini showcased long shapely legs, and her round, perky boobs, obviously fake, looked like bocce balls on steroids nestled in frilly pink cupcake holders.

My own breasts felt heavy and sweaty. Feeling self-conscious, I flipped my white lace cover-up over my thigh that, next to Cindi’s, looked like a side of rare beef. No matter how much suntan lotion I used, I still burned.

She pointed to my face. “You may want to wipe your nose. You overdid the lotion again. Anyway...” She glanced in the mirror, primped her hair, and wet her lips. “I don’t want to go by myself.”

“Now who’s acting like a two-year-old?” I swiped lotion from my nose. The foreboding sensation in my chest chilled me, raising goose-bumps on my skin. Just a mixture of heat and air conditioning, I reasoned and pushed the creepy feeling away. “I’ll go. But only for a minute. Probably be the longest minute of my life,” I added under my breath.

Cindi’s long legs were already out the door.

Not having any lip balm, I slathered some lotion on my dry lips. For better or worse, I wasn’t sure, but fear made me want to slam the door shut and hide under the dash.

“You coming?” She popped a stick of gum in her mouth.

I took a deep breath, pushed open my door, and reluctantly stepped out to face the guy who had broken my heart.