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Cat peeking

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-LOVE'S IMAGE-Love's Image

by Rosalyn Alsobrook

Historical time travel/Zebra Books
ISBN: 0-8217-53332-0

Excerpt from the middle of Chapter One
"Don't move," she told the snoozing feline, although unnecessarily. That was the whole reason she'd named the cat Stillshot. Except early in the morning when suddenly he decided himself a predator, the worthless animal could easily serve as a hairy paperweight.

"Say, cheeeese---"

Carefully, Jenny lit a match and touched it to the powder. Flasssssh---sp-p-p-putter---KA-POP!

Startled by the loud sound, Jenny jerked her head out from under the cape at the same time she slapped the heavy cap back over the lens.

What the---?

Jenny blinked hard, stretched her eyes to their limits, and blinked hard again.

The room had changed.

To the one she had viewed just seconds ago inside the camera.

But how could that be?

Dumbfounded, she glanced first at the camera then down at herself, as if seeing her own body would somehow reassure her. It didn't. Seeing herself and the camera unchanged baffled her more. Why were some things changed and others not?

Why was anything changed at all? It didn't make sense.

She stared at the stub of the match still in her hand and wrinkled her nose against the acrid stench of burnt powder.

Both the blackened match and the flash pan still smoldered. Adding to that strangeness, the air around her felt decidedly warmer. Perhaps ten degrees warmer. Or more.

Puzzled, she glanced at what had once been a pair of small, open windows. Where windows had once been now stood a solid wall covered floor to ceiling with photographs--some in frames, but most not.

A soft breeze against her cheek made her look the opposite direction. She jerked with surprise.

Across the room, where her entertainment center had stood not five minutes earlier, she saw a half dozen open windows. These windows were large, with wooden frames, and brimmed with daylight.

Daylight?

Blinking again, she glanced around for a clock and spotted one atop a tall counter near the only door to the outside.

One o'clock?

How could it possibly be one o'clock?

More confused than ever, she looked again at the windows and frowned. It just didn't make sense to see sunlight streaming down when the nightly news had just gone off. Nor did it make sense to see tall, leafy bushes stirring in the dappled sunshine through windows that should open onto a covered breezeway.

Still searching for something familiar, she looked to where a large-screen television had once stood and saw several tall, wooden file cabinets in its place. Where the cat had been asleep on his favorite bookshelf now existed a cluttered desk with twin frosted oil lamps at one corner. An antique-looking beverage set sat beside them.

Her heart drummed harder against her chest. Nothing was like before. Except for the camera. It had not changed. Except maybe the black cape. That did look to be made of a softer material. But how could that be?

None of this made sense.

Hoping to find answers, she took several steps toward the wall now covered floor-to-ceiling in photographs. When she did, the room started to feel oddly familiar--although she knew she had never been there before.

She stepped closer to the photographs. Some of those seemed oddly familiar as well. When she bent to examine them closer, it finally struck her where she was. Her eyes widened with yet more disbelief. Somehow she had entered her great-grandfather's photography studio.

But that couldn't be.

Her stomach twisted into a hard, tight knot while she lifted her fingers and touched the photographs. They felt real. As did the polished wall behind them and the wooden floor beneath her feet.

But they couldn't be real.

Grasping for a logical explanation, she decided the cold medicine she took was having some sort of strange side effect on her. She shouldn't have tried that new brand. Something in it caused her to hallucinate.

As comforted by that thought as annoyed, she turned to study the room as a whole again and noticed a wide-brimmed hat hanging beside a dark leather vest on a peg near the outside door. Both looked exactly like what her great-grandfather always wore in photographs. She walked over and touched them. They, too, felt too real to be imaginary.

Still testing, she pressed her hand against her arm then her face. She felt both the warmth of her skin and the movement of her hand. She doubted an hallucination would allow her sense of touch to be so acute.

Would a medically induced dream, allow her to feel so incredibly alert?

A tightness pulled at her chest as she pressed her hands together and rubbed them hard.

Whatever had happened to her was real. As incredible as it seemed, somehow she had been transported back in time and now stood inside the private studio she had seen dozens of times in photographs.

But how could that happen?

She looked again at the photographs. Some she had seen before. Others were unfamiliar. All were of people dressed in fashions popular to the late 1800's.

Photographs her great-grandfather had taken.

Bending closer to examine a newspaper article tacked to the wall, she wondered fleetingly if her being there had anything to do with the wish she had muttered just minutes before taking the picture. Could she have wished herself there? Preposterous. That would mean she'd somehow willed herself through time.

And space.

Impossible.

She bit her lower lip at her next thought. What if the flash powder had been mixed wrong and had caused an erratic explosion? What if she'd been hurt in that explosion and didn't even know it?

But she'd feel pain if that were the case.

Wouldn't she?

Her gaze moved again to the newspaper article. The date at the top read 1895. Yet the paper had not yellowed. A head-shot of her great-grandfather was at the top of the article--a photo that reminded Jenny how very much she looked like him.

As much compelled as she was frightened by the odd situation, she leaned closer and read the first two paragraphs. They described a trip Tyler Dykes made to El Paso, Texas to get a photograph of the infamous outlaw, John Wesley Hardin, for the Texas Townhall Magazine. The third paragraph told how when Tyler arrived, he'd had to settle for a photograph of a freshly dug grave and one of Sheriff John Selman, who had shot John Hardin in the back of the head only two days earlier.

Intrigued, Jenny looked for those two photos among the others on the wall. None showed a grave, but several had lawmen. Was one of them Sheriff John Selman?

Returning to the article, she read further to see if there was a description of the man. Caught up in a passage about the sheriff walking into a saloon with his pistol drawn, she suddenly heard a loud crash in the next room.

Instinctively, Jenny rushed toward the noise. As she neared an opened door, she heard a second shattering crash.

"Who's in there?" she called out, still several feet from the dark room.

After a pause, a large, broad-shouldered man shoved past her, slamming her against the wall. He wore bulky gray clothes and had a dark brown hat pulled low over his forehead. A black cloth covered most of his face. Knocked off balance, Jenny grabbed hold of the desk to keep from falling, and missed seeing more than a scuffed black boot disappear through a nearby window.

Remembering how and where her great-grandfather died, her chest wrenched tighter with each successive beat of her heart as she stepped on inside the small, unlit room. She smelled the fresh blood even before she spotted her great-grandfather's body lying on the floor, already stabbed through the heart. Just enough light emanated through the doorway to allow her to side-step several pieces of broken bottles and check his pulse.

None.

Trembling to know her own great-grandfather lay on the floor dead, she scanned the wall for a light switch, then remembering there'd be none, she hurried toward nearby wall lamp that looked similar to those she had seen in Western movies. Finding matches in a pocket near the base, she struck two together and lit the thing, all the while fighting to hold back her panic and decide what to do.

The small, porcelain lamp offered just enough light for her to see that half the small room was in shambles. Pieces of broken bottles and dry-glass littered the floor, chemicals puddled across a work table, and a half dozen cabinet drawers and doors stood open. Obviously she'd caught the man searching for something.

But what?

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Cat peeking 

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