The opening excerpt to the novel. Sophia lands in 1855.
Late September, 1855
Sophia Windsor landed flat on her rump in a garden full of petunias. She glanced toward the sky. Inky shadows replaced dark grey shadows. A cool breeze bushed against the nape of her neck. Stars twinkled in the sky. She took a moment to gather her bearings and shake off her nausea from her time traveling.
She scanned the direction of his voice and made out his outline, prone in a plot of chrysanthemums. He pushed himself up and brushed off the dirt from his clothes. Jax wore a brown pair of trousers, a matching vest, and white button-down shirt. His pants were tucked into calf-high boots, appropriate attire for Victorian England.
She shivered from the chill and crossed her arms. Sophia wore a traditional Victorian dress minus the petticoats and corset.
"Gus? Lord Ridgecroft? Are you here?"
"I seemed to have crushed a bed of dahlias. I'll be all right, Miss Windsor."
Sophia drew in a deep, calming breath, as a deep sense of responsibility settled over her. She had a mission – find Jonas Byron and prevent him from interfering with Nikola Tesla's life. It sounded easy, but Jonas had a head start and depending when she landed, she might be days behind him.
"Oww!" Gus' shrill cry pierced the night air.
"Lord Ridgecroft!" Jax rushed to the spot where his cry of distress originated. Sophia scrambled to her feet, unsure of her surroundings, though she believed they landed in the spot they had left from – the garden behind the Ridgecroft townhouse in London.
The stars provided little light. Kerosene lamps from the street cast long shadows over the garden walls.
"Ow! Ow! Ow!" Gus cried.
Jax reached him. 'His hand is caught in some type of trap."
Sophia frowned. Augustus "Gus" Darling had been thrust into the role of a nobleman when his uncle, Douglas Dunkirk, passed away. She really should remember to address him as such. Slowly, she inched toward Jax and Lord Ridgecroft's shadows.
A door slammed. "Who's out there?"
She recognized the voice of Jeeves, the Ridgecroft's butler. Her shoulders relaxed a little.
"It's Sophia Windsor! Lord Ridgecroft appears hurt."
"Oh, he's returned! Thank the Crown!" Sophia knew that voice belonged to Lord Ridgecroft's mother, Lady Charlotte.
"Get it off me!" Gus – Lord Ridgecroft – cried.
Jeeves raced toward them, holding a kerosene lantern, Lady Charlotte on his heels. Sophia fell in step next to Jeeves. Jax knelt next to Lord Ridgecroft. His hand appeared caught in some type of mousetrap. Lord Ridgecroft grimaced.
Jax looked up. "We need a key."
"I think I might know where one might be." Jeeves rushed to the stone statue of the Ridgecroft crest in the middle of the garden and fiddled around with the brass knobs on the base.
Sophia joined Jax and Lord Ridgecroft, hoping her presence offered encouragement.
Jax glanced at her and flashed a small smile before giving his hand to Lord Ridgecroft. Gus grabbed Jax's fingers with his free and squeezed. The pain on his face lessened a little bit.
Sophia's heart belonged to Jax. He was a metalsmith from this time period, possessing a sharp wit and a quick mind. She first met him when he traveled through time to 2011 using a coin pendant that Sophia's cousin, Edmund, had discarded. She recalled the first moment she saw, disheveled, yet serious, his expressive brown eyes wide open and accepting, and she knew she wanted to get to know him better.
Sophia knelt next to Lord Ridgecroft and placed her hand on his shoulder. The man grunted his pain.
"Jeeves, do you have the key yet?" she asked.
A flicker of yellowed paper waved in the cool breeze, and stuck on the thorns of several nearby roses bushes. How odd. Sophia reached over and plucked it from the thorns. A map. She stuffed it into her purse, not bothering to secure the snap, and turned her attention toward Gus.
Jeeves rushed forward holding a brass skeleton key and the lantern.
"Oh, do hurry," Lady Charlotte's voice squeaked.
Jeeves placed the lantern on the semi-hard ground and jiggled the key into the bottom of the trap. With a twist of his wrist the metal bar snapped opened freeing Lord Ridgecroft's hand.
"Heavens, that's better!" Gus exclaimed.
Jax picked up the contraption. It appeared to be a simple mousetrap with a spring and nail where a piece of cheese would rest. Jax chuckled. "I guess Lord Ridgecroft worked on his mouse problem the old fashioned way.
"Oh, it's so good to see you, son. Let me look at your hand." Lady Charlotte reached her son. A red line grew just above his knuckles, but there was no bleeding and his skin didn't look broken.
"Come inside." Lady Charlotte paused and let out a quick breath. "I imagine it hurts. We can give you a little laudanum for the pain."
"It hurts like the dickens." Gus clenched his jaw. Jax and Jeeves helped him to his feet and they proceeded down a dirt path toward the townhouse door.
"Where did you disappear to?" Lady Charlotte directed a frown toward Sophia. "Where are Jocelyn and Richard?"
Sophia poked her tongue against the back of her teeth. She supposed Lady Charlotte would have to be told about the time traveling Windsors sooner rather than later.
"They're together," Gus' voice quivered.
Lady Charlotte nodded, seemingly satisfied with that.
They proceeded into the townhouse from the garden and Lady Charlotte led them into the study. Jack Brandon, a reporter from 2011, sat on the leather couch, his face pasty white. Jax's father, Colin Ruston, sat next to him. Jax and his father exchanged a masculine embrace.
Sophia didn't quite know what to make of Jack. Sophia suspected his motives weren't quite so noble. Mr. Brandon had a tendency to sensualize his stories, but since he'd been in 1855, his help had been instrumental in solving the recent coal strike. He suffered from Meniere's Disease and was prone to bouts of severe dizziness. Colin, Jax's father, shared the condition.
Jeeves settled Lord Ridgecroft into a leather chair with Jax's help. A small fire warmed the room. Lady Charlotte and Jeeves departed to get laudanum and drinks.
Sophia glanced at the brass and steel clock next to the door. 8:30. She placed a hand on Jax's elbow, calling his attention to her. "I think we've been gone about five hours."
Jack sat a little straighter on the couch. "You have."
"Caused quite a stir, too." Colin stood next to the fireplace mantle and crossed his arms.
Sophia frowned. They abruptly left in the middle of a reception, having just buried Gus' uncle. The townhouse had been full of guests wanting to offer their condolences to the new Lord Ridgecroft, Gus, and to his cousin, Jocelyn, his uncle's daughter. Time was never patient. When it was time, it was time. Richard, Jocelyn, Sophia, Jax, and Augustus used their coin pendants to travel to the future. However, when they arrived, they discovered a new problem – Jonas had changed history by interfering with Nikola Tesla's life. Sophia had to go back and stop Jonas.
"How much of a stir?" Sophia asked.
"Sir John did an admirable job covering for you. He said Lady Jocelyn and the new Lord wanted some time to themselves and he let them use his townhouse. Then he and Lord Swinton stayed until everyone left," Colin explained.
"Where's my cousin, Edmund?" Sophia asked.
"He left with his wife about an hour ago," Colin answered. "Lady Windsor was getting tired. He'll be here tomorrow morning."
Sophia nodded. She wasn't sure how supportive her cousin would be, but she needed his counsel before she raced after Jonas. Slowly, Sophia wandered to the window overlooking the garden and crossed her arms, staring out onto the starry sky, lost in her weighty thoughts. Jonas had convinced his father, Professor Byron, the inventor of the time machine, that he could be trusted back in time. However, when put to the test, Jonas escaped from Jack by aggravating the reporter's Meniere's Disease with a salt tablet. Jonas dropped a cryptic hint of his intentions – he was going to Croatia, which in this time, was in the Austrian Empire. And there was only reason to go to Croatia - Nikola Tesla.
Sophia was given a mission – go after Jonas and prevent him from tampering with Tesla's future. Jax had promised to help. She would need all the support she could get. Sophia was the youngest Windsor in her family. She's always looked up to her sister, Alice, or her cousins, Edmund and Richard. Now they were gone and everyone gathered here was looking to her to make decisive, firm choices and to lead them. Her inner courage, strength, and resolve were going to be tested like they never had before and she hoped she wouldn't let the others down.
"Sophia, are you all right?" Jax's concerned voice brought her back to the moment. She turned around and rubbed her hands together, trying to rub away her nerves, realizing she didn't want the others to see her vulnerable. She steeled her shoulders.
"I'm fine." She turned her attention toward Gus. "Lord Ridgecroft, we're going to have to tell your mother and Jeeves the truth about our disappearance."
"I understand." His expression remained pained and serious. "Though I'm not sure how my mother will take it."
"Accentuate the positive," Sophia suggested.
"I'll do my best."
Sophia then glanced at Jack, assessing the situation, and placed her hands on her hips. "How are you feeling, Jack?"
"Better." He hesitated. "Something's wrong. Both Colin and I had a dizzy spell and felt an awful chill."
Lord Ridgecroft appeared confused. "How could he know something was wrong?"
"My Meniere's Disease flared up whenever the time traveling machine is used," Jack answered. "I become disoriented and lose a sense of time and place."
Sophia sighed. "You're right. Jonas changed our future. Jax and I have been dispatched to go after him and prevent him from making contact with Tesla and his family."
"I'll go with you." Jack's voice brooked no debate.
"You're hardly in any shape to travel."
"I'm going. This is my fault. I insisted on coming to this time, but your father didn't trust me and suggested Jonas watch over me. He thought Jonas had changed." Jack paused, took a breath and grunted. "Ironic. He was supposed to be the responsible one."
Sophia glanced at Jax. He shrugged his shoulders, communicating his silent tacit agreement. She pursed her lips. Perhaps it would be wise to have Jack join them. It would afford her the opportunity to keep an eye on him. Richard hadn't trusted Jack much, but since meeting him, Sophia had come to believe the sincerity in his actions.
"Fine, but you've got to be ready to go when it's time. I can't have your condition slowing us down."
"It won't. Trust me."
Lady Charlotte and Jeeves entered the room. Jeeves placed a tray of tea along with some cheese and crackers on a nearby table. Lady Charlotte sat next to Augustus and measured out a small sip of laudanum. He swallowed.
"Give it a moment to take effect. I was worried about you. It seemed odd you would leave without saying anything, but Sir John insisted you needed your privacy."
"Mum." He sat up a little straighter on the couch and patted her hand. "I must tell you something, but I need you to promise me that you'll hold what I'm about to say in your strictest confidence. You, too, Jeeves."
"Of course, My Lord."
Lady Charlotte pursed her lips. "This sounds serious."
She nodded and straightened her shoulders. "You have my word."
"Now this may seem implausible, but I assure you it's completely possible. I saw it myself. I want you to have an open mind—"
"Just say it, son."
"I went to the future. 2011 to be exact."
Lady Charlotte's mouth opened like she was catching flies. Jeeves coughed and covered his mouth.
"I know it sound fantastical—" Gus continued.
"I think I gave you too much laudanum."