Roger growled and paced as the older woman next to him glared sourly at the screen in front of them.
“I told you that wasn’t a switch on,” she said. “Look at that arc there and how it sputters.”
“I never said I disagreed with you, Cricklan,” Roger replied testily.
Since there had been no way of knowing who had operated the timetron when it had apparently failed, Roger had insisted on going to London in the hope that he or some other time traveler would be the one abandoned. But Robin had insisted on leaving, he’d been told, and there was no question now that she’d used the machine last, presumably with Dean and Elizabeth in tow.
“I should have searched the candlemaker’s more thoroughly,” he grumbled.
“Roger, you know the folly of second-guessing yourself,” Cricklan said, her eyes never leaving the screen.
He flopped down on a chair next to her. “You’re right. Any chance of making out where and when they landed?”
Cricklan shook her head. “Possibly, but it all depends on how the coordinates were focused on. And that’s assuming your Robin Parker was headed for her natal time. But there’s not enough of a power pull here for them to have gotten far at all.”
Cricklan circled a point on the tip of the arc and enlarged the image. She was a woman of predominantly African descent, with still smooth and relatively light-colored skin framed by coarse gray hair that had gone to dreadlocks, which balanced out the ball her body had become.
“She was headed for home,” Roger continued. “She left all her money with Master Chandler. Even if she were headed for another time, she would have kept some of the gold angels, at least. Those could be melted down. She was headed someplace where she knew she had money already, and where else would that be but home?”
“And what about Elizabeth?” Cricklan asked.
Roger shrugged. “I don’t know. We didn’t get that far. I had to track down Donald before he turned in the whole Catholic community.” Roger glanced at Cricklan. “I’m sorry about that.”
Cricklan imposed a vertical grid on the image. “You needn’t worry about my feelings. I’ve done my grieving where Donald is concerned.”
Roger shook his head. Cricklan had never been one to dwell on past mistakes.
“I find it interesting, however, that after all the work you did on the bring forward experiment, you are more focused on this Ms. Parker than you are on Elizabeth,” Cricklan observed.
Roger began pacing again, this time, he hoped, with a careless air. “Not really. I mean, I’ve only spent a couple hours total with the woman.”
“You did a DNA analysis on her.”
Roger shrugged. “I had to. We had to figure out who RP170 is. And it’s not that I don’t like Elizabeth, and I’m certainly committed to her if it comes to that.” He sighed. “We’ve just got to find them, first.”
Cricklan nodded. “I may have. Look here.” She enlarged another image again. “It’s right on the path of the earlier log line and the marker is right.”
“And hardly any power pull at all. No wonder we missed it.” Roger did a quick calculation. “And shit. This is the first stop on Donald’s timetron’s log line after he went to the U.S.”
Cricklan nodded. “I had a feeling he had hooked into this station, and now I’ve got the proof.”
“You’ll have to bring this to the Board.”
“It’s about time I did, don’t you think?” Cricklan put her hand on Roger’s arm. “Why don’t you stay focused on getting Ms. Parker back to where she belongs? I’ll deal with Donald. I am his mother, and he does sometimes listen to me.”
“Yes, well, it would appear I’ve got a little research to do.”
Robin had forgotten about the crushing, sucked in feeling as the machine worked. She gasped as they landed. Catching her breath, she looked around. Something was very wrong.
“This isn’t Irvine,” Dean said nervously.
It wasn’t. They were in a wooded area overlooking a highway very similar to the one they had left. Robin looked down. A small stream of black smoke dissipated into the breeze and a small black splotch on the side of the machine revealed the smoke’s origin.
“Something is very wrong here,” Robin said.
“Where are we?” asked Dean, getting a little frantic.
“I’d say pretty much where we were,” Robin answered. “Probably a different time, though.”
“The right one?” Dean looked hopeful.
“Not likely, judging from that highway.”
As if to confirm it, they heard a soft rumbling. As it got closer, a soft jangling sound could be heard as well.
“There,” said Elizabeth. She pointed.
A small black coach, drawn by two brown horses, approached from where London would be if Robin were right. The man driving it was wearing knee-high boots, close-fitting knee pants, a long black coat with a wide tan lapel that ran the length of the front and very wide tan cuffs.
“A tri-cornered hat!” Robin groaned.
“Isn’t that from the American Revolution?” Dean asked.
“More or less.” Robin sighed. “We’re in the eighteenth century, at any rate.”
“I don’t quite understand,” said Elizabeth.
“We’ve only gone ahead about a hundred years,” Robin answered. “How far ahead, I don’t know. We’d better do something about our clothes. If we rag them up, we should be okay, except for you, Elizabeth. Your dress is far too big and loose. Waists are supposed to be tiny now.”
“Oh, no,” Elizabeth sighed. She glanced at Dean.
Robin didn’t notice. She looked around. The sky was a bright blue, with huge white clouds floating across. The patches of snow they had left back in the seventeenth century were replaced by wildflowers. A wet loamy smell filled her nostrils.
“Spring,” she muttered. She removed her doublet and tore up her pants.
“What did you say?” Dean asked as he did the same to his clothes.
“It’s spring,” Robin repeated. “When we left it was winter.”
“Say, that’s right.” Dean pondered it a moment, then considered a far weightier matter. “Robin, if this is the eighteenth century, and we were trying to go home, does this mean we’re stuck?”
Robin caught her breath. “I don’t know. I was thinking that Roger had tracked us down by tracing us through the machine, but it wasn’t turned on in London, so when he found us there, I figured he has some other way to trace us. If that’s the case, then…”
“Uh, Robin.” Dean’s face had a seriously pained look on it. “The machine was turned on in London. I turned it on the day after Twelfth Day.”
“And Roger showed up two days later,” said Robin. She turned on Dean. “What the hell were you doing?”
“I don’t know!” Dean backed away, not sure what to say, but sure that he did not want to tell Robin about Elizabeth being pregnant at that moment in time. “I wanted to go home. I just did.”
“Fat lot of good that’s going to do us now,” Robin sighed. She took a deep breath. “All right. Maybe there’s something I can fix. Let’s try to stay positive and in the meantime, let’s get ourselves situated. Here, Elizabeth, take your apron and tie it as tight as you can above your bodice. That should make it look like it has more of a waist. Are we ready? Good. Let’s head down that road. Maybe we’ll find an inn that needs some help.”
They spent most of the day walking alongside the highway instead of on it. The road was thick, oozing mud, with deep ruts and numerous rocks. Coaches were not infrequent either, and the first one they encountered nearly ran them over.
Close to two o’clock in the afternoon they approached the end of a section hemmed in by trees. On the other side of the thicket, they heard shouts. Robin led the way cautiously, stopping at the edge of the trees to see what was going on.
A coach that had passed them barely minutes before was stopped on the road by two men with scarves on their faces. One dismounted from his horse, while the other, still on his, held a pistol on the driver of the coach.
“Looks like a holdup,” whispered Dean.
“No kidding,” Robin whispered back.
“We’d better hide,” Elizabeth hissed.
“Maybe not.” Robin grinned. “I don’t like the idea of bounty hunting, but we’re broke, and I’ll bet there’s a reward for those two.”
“Have you lost it?” Dean looked at her, aghast.
“Not really. Think about it, Dean. We’re easily as big as they are, and they don’t know we’re here.”
“But they’ve got guns!”
“They’ve got two shots. If we catch them from behind, they’ll never know what hit them.”
Dean looked at the men. A slightly rotund gentleman emerged from the coach and a younger man who looked like a clerk.
“I’ll take the one on the horse,” he said and took off running.
“That’s not quite what I had in mind,” Robin grumbled as she took off herself.
Dean vaulted onto the back of the horse. The animal staggered. Dean got his forearm around the robber’s throat and reached for the pistol with his free hand. The man twisted, and the two fell to the ground and rolled.
Robin slammed into the other robber and tackled him. His pistol went flying. They rolled for a moment, then the man got on top. He raised his fist. Robin dodged and threw him off. They scrambled to their feet. The man whipped out his sword. Robin danced backward and drew hers. The man’s blade was at least an inch wide. Robin’s wasn’t. She pressed the attack anyway. It startled her opponent. He dropped back and barely deflected her charge. Robin came in again, slashing fiercely. She overshot the man, as she’d intended, and brought her hilt crashing down onto the back of his neck. The man looked dazed for a second, then fell forward. Robin pounced on him and twisted his arm behind his back.
Dean and his opponent rolled in the mud. Both of Dean’s hands locked on the wrist with the gun. Dean squeezed and tried to stay on top of the smaller man. One vicious turn and the pistol dropped. Dean scrambled after it. He grabbed it and turned to face his opponent’s knife. The man froze. Dean cocked the flintlock.
He chuckled. “Go ahead. Make my day!”
“Dean!” Robin groaned. She strong-armed her man to his feet and looked around for something with which to bind him. “Couldn’t you be a little more original?”
Dean slowly got to his feet. “Okay, nice and easy now, drop the knife.”
The man did. Elizabeth emerged from the trees.
“We’ll need some rope,” she observed. She turned to the rotund gentleman. “Have you any, sir?”
“Piggot!” he called to the coachman.
“Fetch the young woman some rope.”
“Yes, sir.” Piggot reached behind him, then scrambled down from his post.
Robin and Elizabeth bound the two felons and sat them down next to the coach.
“Let’s see what we have here,” said Robin, as she searched them. “What’s this? A bag of silver? And here’s another. Are these yours, sir?”
“N-no.” The gentleman shook his head. “I was just about to hand it over.”
“Then I’ll take custody of these.” Smiling, Robin tied the sacks to her belt. “I’m not averse to adding a little silver to my collection. Speaking of, I assume there’s a price on these fellows’ heads. Do you know how far it is to the nearest town where we can collect it?”
“Well, uh, yes, I — Anthony?” Still in shock, the gentleman looked at the clerk.
“I don’t know, uncle.” the young man replied. “I rarely travel this road.”
“Robin, why don’t we just tie them up in the trees?” Dean suggested. “We’ve got money now.”
Robin nodded. “It’ll be easier than a forced march. All right.” She turned to the gentleman. “Well, good day to you, sir. Hope you don’t get robbed again.”
“But…” the man sputtered. “You’re not going to rob us?”
“Rob you?” Robin looked at him, confused, then laughed. “Not us. We’re honest folk. I know we look pretty grubby right now.” An idea began to form. “Unfortunately, we met with similar fellows earlier today. We were lucky we escaped with our weapons and our skins.”
“Indeed, yes.” The gentleman mopped his brow with a huge lace-trimmed handkerchief. “Well, I owe you a great deal of thanks. To whom do I have the pleasure…?”
“Robin Parker, sir.” Robin nodded her head. “And this is my brother, Dean.”
“And the young woman?”
“I am Master Dean’s wife,” Elizabeth answered.
Robin started, as did Dean.
“Ah. Very good.” The gentleman wiped his brow again. “I am Sir James Culpepper, and this is my nephew and clerk, Anthony Morgan. And, eh, what brings you people out here?”
“We’re looking for a situation,” Robin answered. “We used to be innkeepers in the city but fell on hard times.”
“Hm.” Sir James ran an appraising eye over Dean. “I shouldn’t think you would, but by any chance do you have your letters?”
“Letters?” asked Dean.
Robin nudged his ankle. “Yes, sir. We can read quite well. Our pastor taught us.”
“Indeed.” Sir James smiled. “And can you write?”
“Sure,” said Dean before Robin could nudge him again.
“Uncle, if I may be so bold,” Morgan began. “My aunt, your wife, did request that you not…”
“You may not be so bold, Anthony. I will bring whomever I please into my household. I brought you into my household. Come, you three. We’ll talk and see what you can do.”
Robin glanced at Dean, who shrugged. Elizabeth nodded.
“Well, thank you, sir.” Robin smiled. “We’ll do our best for you.”
Dean sat with Piggot on the box, as there wasn’t enough room inside the coach. There, Sir James looked Robin over more closely.
“An innkeeper, eh?” he said.
“At my father’s inn, sir.”
Sir James nodded. “Debtor’s prison, I assume.”
Robin nodded. “He made some poor speculations, I’m afraid. He died soon after.”
“I dare say. Poor speculations. Must have been dealing in trade from the colonies. Bad mistake, with all the trouble there now. At least they’ve stopped dumping tea in the harbor. Not that I think firing on the King’s Army is any better a thing to do mind you.”
Robin coughed back a laugh. “I, uh, heard something about that. When did it happen?”
“Let’s see. This is April. Was just about a year ago, then.”
“1776,” Robin muttered.
“No. Seventy-five it happened. This is seventy-six.” Sir James punctuated the thought with a walking stick he’d left in the coach and picked up as soon as they were underway.
“It’s a damned nuisance, is what it is. That Mr. Pitt has been nothing but a bloody old fool, hasn’t handled it at all well. The King’s more a fool for listening to him. I’m simply glad I never got involved in that mess. The Orient. That’s where I do my business. India. Most profitable. I’ve done very well for myself, as you can see. I’ve got a small estate in Devonshire, a house in Town, and…” He shifted. “A house in Bath. That’s where I’m headed, at the moment. My wife and daughter are there, taking the waters. My wife has the gout. I’ve also got a son who’s an officer in the army. It was no small thing to buy him that commission. As a matter of fact, he’s stationed in the colonies, Philadelphia.”
Robin tried not to grin. “How interesting.”
“Oh, you know of Philadelphia.”
“I’ve… heard of it.”
Sir James lifted an eyebrow. “You seem very knowledgeable. Can you add at all?”
“Quite well. Except for his speculations, I kept all of my father’s accounts.”
“Indeed.” Sir James raised both his eyebrows. “What about your brother?”
“He’s good at adding, too.” Robin nodded vigorously.
They stopped in a small village just as darkness fell, and Sir James insisted on paying for a meal and a room for the three. After they had eaten and were about to settle in for the night, Elizabeth left to fetch some water. As soon as they were alone, Robin looked at Dean.
“Dean, do you know why Elizabeth suddenly wants to appear as your wife?”
Dean swallowed. “Well, I can guess.”
“You two have been fooling around, haven’t you?”
“Yeah. So?” Dean answered defensively.
“Why, Dean?” Robin groaned. “We came here to leave her. Is it really fair to start a relationship like that?”
“Well, we’re not going to leave her anyway, so what’s the big deal?”
Robin paused. She knew Dean had a point but was so angry about everything else that she needed a target.
“That’s not the point,” she snarled, finally. “Didn’t you even think about Elizabeth’s feelings?”
Dean rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I thought a lot about them. Face it, Robin, Elizabeth and I both knew we couldn’t stay.”
“But, Dean, she doesn’t belong in the twenty-first century!”
“She sure as hell didn’t belong where we were, any more than we did.”
“Okay. But what if she gets pregnant?”
“That. Well, um…” Dean smiled weakly.
Robin closed her eyes and turned away. “She isn’t.”
She turned on him. “You idiot! Why didn’t you think of that beforehand? Good lord, Dean, you know about birth control. Why didn’t you protect yourself?”
“I did!” Dean’s face was seriously pained. “We just forgot once. I swear it was only the one time.”
“Well, that was one time too many, wasn’t it? What are you going to do with a baby? How are you going to support it?”
“Isn’t this Culpepper guy going to give us a job?”
“But what if we’d made it home?”
Dean shrugged. “I figured we’d get an abortion.”
“It’s so easy to say that, isn’t it? But what about Elizabeth? It’s her baby, too. I swear, Dean, you are so irresponsible, you make me sick sometimes!”
“Irresponsible, huh?” Dean’s voice dripped with anger. “Well, fuck you. I’ve had it, Robin. Little goody-two-shoes Robin taking care of baby brother. I’m not a baby. You want responsibility? Fine. We’re gonna keep that baby, and I’m going to support it, and Elizabeth, even if we do get home. I don’t know how, but I will.”
They froze as Elizabeth entered the room.
“Oh, dear,” she whispered.
Dean glared at Robin then turned. “Elizabeth, you and I are getting married just the minute we get home, do you understand?”
“Married?” she gasped, rejoicing, and terrified all at the same time.
“Yeah.” Dean kissed her roughly, then strode out of the room.
Robin turned away and sighed.
“You know,” said Elizabeth.
“How far along are you?” Robin asked softly.
“A month or so.”
Robin swore. “I guess the first thing to do is to make sure you’re taken care of.”
“I’m not ill. Well, a little in the mornings.”
“But you have to eat the right things, get the right kind of exercise. Damn. You can’t trust the doctors here.”
“A doctor?” Elizabeth had to smile. “I’m only pregnant.”
Robin snorted. “Right.”
“It’s not entirely his fault, you know.”
Robin nodded. “True. Are you happy with him?”
“Very. I don’t understand why, but love seems to be important in these matters to you and Dean. I do love him, and he loves me. He’s said so many times.”
“That seems a surprise, though I don’t know that it should be.” Robin sighed. “That overgrown lunkhead. I don’t know why he has all the luck. You’d better get some rest.”
“So had you.”
Robin nodded. “I hope he gets back soon.”
“He will be.”
Tired and miserable, Robin went to bed. The situation was unbearably grim. She hadn’t let on to Dean and Elizabeth, but she doubted that they’d ever get home.