"What is it, lass?" Witherspoon asked as Rebecca hurried around the small room, poking her fingers in every possible crevice and nearly turning the furniture upside down.
At length Rebecca stopped her frantic movements and turned to face the innkeeper, her breath shallow and ragged, her right hand in her hair like a rough comb.
She gazed at the floor, eyes unfocussed, bottom lip trembling. "My timepiece," she said. "It's gone."
Witherspoon frowned. "An heirloom, I take it."
The incongruity of his statement cut through the fog in her mind, and she looked up abruptly at him, her thoughts coming into sudden focus. She nearly laughed. Of course he would think she was talking about a pocket watch or something like it.
"No." She shook her head. "But very valuable." She turned around, scanning the room one more time. "And very important at this particular moment."
She was becoming numb, she realized. Not good. If she allowed inertia to overtake her, she'd shut down and lose the ability to think clearly or act. It had happened to her before. Ironically, that very feeling was what has prompted her to take this vacation. The situation at the agency had become so complicated as to be nearly ludicrous, and she'd had to walk away for a while.
She hoped that Alan would forgive her.
If she ever got back.
Thoughts of her real life, her former life, and her life before her former life, all coursed through her brain at the same time, threatening to overwhelm her.
But in that coursing, turbulent stream of thoughts, a lone branch broke the surface and stood defiant against the current.
Her eyes slowly widened, and she turned to Witherspoon.
"Take me back to the other room," she said.
Witherspoon frowned. "Which room, lass? I have many, ye know."
She stepped towards him. "The room where we just were. The room where—" She broke off for a second. "—where the body is."
Witherspoon took in a deep breath and nodded. "Aye. Follow me."
Footsteps sounded in the hallway as they turned to leave the room. John Broddington appeared a moment later, a perplexed expression on his ruggedly handsome features.
Rebecca nearly rolled her eyes at the triteness of her own internal description of him. She worked at a literary agency, for God's sake. Such language was most unbecoming.
Still, she knew she'd be sad to leave and never look upon Broddington's face again.
Then again, if she didn't move fast, she might not ever be able to leave.
"Witherspoon," Broddington said sharply. "Will there be supper or no? Lady Maycourt and I are famished."
Witherspoon's form appeared to shrink slightly as he sighed heavily. "Aye, Sir John. Aye. I do apologize. Miss Rebecca here is missing some of her belongings, and I'm tryin' t' help her sort things out."
Broddington glanced behind them into Rebecca's room.
"Good Heavens," he said. "It looks like the place has been ransacked."
"I believe it has," Rebecca said wearily. "And something very valuable to me is missing."
Broddington pulled himself to his full height and thrust out his chin. "Well, then," he said. "I shall question the staff immediately, and find out who has come and gone from this establishment over the past hour."
Broddington turned and headed for the stairs, but stopped abruptly and turned back. "Fear not, fair lady. We shall find out who did this and return your valuables to you posthaste."
He took another step away, but again stopped and turned back to them. "What was the… item in question… if I may ask?"
Rebecca managed a slight smile, but before she could answer him, Witherspoon let out a weary breath.
"A watch, Sir John," he said. "It was a watch."
Broddington nodded. "Very good."
With that, he turned a final time, and headed for the stairs.
Witherspoon shook his head. "He's a decent enough lad, but a tad full of himself for my tastes."
Rebecca stared down the hall at the place where Broddington had just been.
"I think his confidence is…"
Witherspoon looked sharply at her. "Is what?"
She turned her head to look at him, a slight flush finding its way to her cheeks. "Uh… Nothing."
Witherspoon grunted. "Come with me, then."
Rebecca followed him down the stairs and into a short hallway at the back of the inn's main level. Witherspoon opened a door on the righthand side of the hall and ushered her inside.
Even knowing he was there, the sight of him still caused her nerves to jump. He looked peaceful, at least, she thought. That was a small comfort.
She turned to Witherspoon. "Could I have a moment…?"
"Oh, aye. Of course, lass." Witherspoon practically tripped over himself as he backed out the door and closed it behind him.
Rebecca allowed herself a small chuckle at Robert's inept but charming chivalry. When his footsteps were no longer audible, she stepped quickly to the bed and began rummaging through Richard's pockets and purse.
"I'm sorry, Richard," she said, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. "I know how indelicate this is. But you have no idea how much in need I am right now."
At length she found it. It was sewn into a hidden pocket near the hem of his jacket, right at the small of his back. With no time for precision, she ripped the seam with her fingernails and pulled out the small device.
She dropped onto the floor and sat cross-legged, staring in wonder at the miracle she held in her hands. She still had no idea what Richard was doing in this time period, but her subconscious had known that he'd have a travel timepiece on his person.
Thank God her subconscious had finally spoken up.
His device was different from hers, but she didn't imagine it would take long to figure it out. Once she did, she would sit Richard up, wrap her arms around him, and take them both back to where they'd come from.
The only problem was, she couldn't figure out why the display on his device was showing a countdown timer rather than the current date and time.
And where were the controls? She couldn't see any buttons or switches on it anywhere. Was it a touch screen? She turned the timepiece over, but there were no controls on the back, either.
She looked at the display again. There were only seconds left on it.
She was getting a bad feeling about this.
The device began to glow. Rebecca tried to drop it, but she found herself unable to move her fingers. The device had some kind of hold on her nervous system.
She glanced at the bed. She thought she'd seen some movement out of the corner of her eye, but Richard was still lying motionless.
She looked at the device again. It looked paler now, as did her hands.
No, they weren't pale. They were translucent.
What the hell was happening?
She thought she saw movement again, but by the time she looked up, the world had gone white.
Damn you, Richard!