East (Prologue - from West, page 1 of 3)


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Only I would know there once was a good man named Taylor Hansen, whose sole wish in life was to retire and live in peace with me.

He deserved so much more, and I had taken everything from him.

The tears began again. I made no effort to stem them this time.

The shadowy figure pressed a large thumb to the back of my neck. I waited for the brilliant light or maybe, for him to chop off my head the way he had halved Nell.

Something smashed into my head instead, and I slid into darkness.

***

Gradually, I became aware once more. I was engulfed in brilliant light and heat, caught between the sensations of moving rapidly and floating in place, distantly aware of sonic booms and cracks, as if traveling between times required ripping the fabric of the universe.

This trip was smoother than the first and felt shorter. Seconds after the sonic boom, the light cleared, and I was left on the ground in the dark.

It wasn't rainy - but it was freezing. Bone-deep coldness gobbled up the heat generated by time travel, and I began shivering before I opened my eyes. Sunspots blinded me for a moment. I tested out my body as I waited for my vision to clear. I was uninjured from the travel, simply disoriented.

How many times did Taylor travel like this? I almost sighed. I'd hoped Carter would wipe my memory, if that were even possible. I was hurting once more, unable to stop thinking about my first trip through time and how I was the sole person left standing when it ended.

The empathic memory chip was strangely silent, and I realized how much chatter had been going on in the back of my mind. Now there were just my sad thoughts and the dread of guessing what Carter had in store for me next.

I sat up. Moldavite chunks steamed around me in the crater. I wore the same clothes I'd changed into before leaving the eighteen forties and gazed at the sky. The stars were brilliant and bright, the moon a sliver and sky completely clear. I'd never seen a night like this with all the light pollution in my home of southern California. It was too stormy for me to notice the sky in Indian Territory. But this … this was absolutely breathtaking.

And cold. Jesus - had I ever been this cold? It hurt my nose and lungs to breathe. I wrapped the riding habit around me more tightly and tucked my face into the tall collar. Making my way to the edge of the crater, I climbed out onto what looked like the steppe: a wide, open land of short cropped, verdant grass that glowed silver in the moonlight. In the distance were mountains, and between them and me …

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