Authors: Karen Akins
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* D P G R O U P . O R G *
To Bill, for doing everything in his power
to bring this book to life
to Henry and Oliver, for doing everything
in their power to prevent it.
In Memory of Tim Berry
Thank you so much to everyone at St. Martin’s—I still pinch myself every time I look at the cover. A special thanks to my fabulous editor, Holly Ingraham, who seamlessly wove
into her list. Thanks also to Jeanne-Marie Hudson, Marie Estrada, Bridget Hartzler, Kerry McMahon, and the rest of the SMP team. And, of course, Terra Layton, who was
’s first champion—
My agent, Victoria Marini, is the best possible combination of a firecracker and a bulldog. I’m so grateful for her vision for
—she helped make it shine before finding its home.
Word Nerds, I love you guys so much. This book wouldn’t exist without you. Kristin Gray, Kim Loth, and Unicorn Sparklepants,
I mean Mandy Silberstein, you are the best!
I have been beyond blessed with the most amazing critique partners
: Elizabeth Briggs, Evelyn Ehrlich, I. W. Gregorio, Rachel Searles. You keep me on my toes and talk me off of cliffs.
Early readers and along-the-way cheerleaders,
: Abby Annis, Jenny Benson, Britain Castagna, Jessica Castagna, Rachel Cobb, Megan Daniel, Sara Ford, Anna Hagen, Erika Hagen, Melissa Hurst, Shelli Jones, Ashley Keylor, Kate Lacy, Stacey Lee, Emily Moore, Tracey Neithercott, Jonna Nixon, Eoghan O’Donnell, Amy Oliver, Cortney Pearson, Lora Scott, Morgan Shamy, Angela Story, Serra Swift, Dana Tomlin, Hannah Tomlin, Jenna Wallace, and Abigail Wen. Kelly Butterweck and Ashley Seat, thanks for loving on my kiddos. You two
forget to be awesome!
A big ol’ thanks to: Authoress and the MSFV Sort-of-Secret Society, The Lucky 13s, SCBWI, my Woodway gals, and all the family and friends who have supported me along the way. I wish I had ten pages to thank you all by name!
Thank you to my parents, Carl and Connie Hoffman, who never made me turn off the reading lamp. To my sisters, Ellen Matkowski and Sara Hoffman, for listening to my stories long before anyone else wanted to. And to my whole family: Bill and Betty Akins, Carolyn Wagnon, Mark and Julie King, Owen and Myles, Anna and Noah, and all the Hoffmans and Wings. I love you all!
Henry and Oliver, I love you more than all the words in the world. Okay. You can go back to destroying the living room now.
isn’t strong enough. From the moment I admitted my secret dream of being a writer, you have cheered me on, read my words, and listened to every squee and whine and dream. Your support has been legen— (Wait for it.)
And to the One who whispers truth when I’m tempted to believe lies,
The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.—
HITTING THE GROUND
is the hardest part. Nine times out of ten, it’s dirt or grass. But all it takes is that one time on concrete or, worse, asphalt to send even the most experienced Shifter into a panic.
My feet slammed into cobblestone. Muskets cracked and echoed down the alley where I’d landed. Acrid gunpowder stung my nostrils, searing my throat as I fought back a cough and crouched down. The gunfire grew louder and louder, bouncing off both sides of the narrow passageway, so I couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from.
Where was I? Valley Freakin’ Forge?
Wyck had missed the target by well over two centuries! Good grief. How hard was a twenty-third to twenty-first Shift? And of all the Shifts, it would have to be this one. He’d pay for this when I got back. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good transporter prank as much as the next girl, but plop me in the middle of Lex and Concord? I am not having that crap.
Puffs of fresh gunsmoke clouded the already-dim alley.
Get it together, Bree.
I slipped behind a barrel and pulled out my QuantCom. A Virginia address and instructions popped up: “Bree Bennis, pre-Tricentennial midterm. Deposit package contents on Muffy van Sloot’s grave with following message: ‘There’s no time like the past.’”
I squeezed the small white box before sliding it into my pocket. I tried not to think about the
object, the one hidden in my shoe. Guilt burbled up in my stomach, but I squashed it down.
Hard to believe so much could ride on one trip back to the past.
Also hard to believe any person would name their child Muffy van Sloot. It almost sounded like some rich person’s pet.
The gunfire sounded right outside the alley.
So help me,
, if this is all for a dead cat, heads will roll.
Dr. Quigley could flunk me for all I cared. Okay, that wasn’t even a teensy bit true. I couldn’t afford a single red flag on this test. Still, I wasn’t taking a musket ball to the head for anyone. But at least I knew which state I was in. Unless Wyck had flubbed that, too.
What I needed was to find somewhere safe to figure out my next move. Without a sound, I pushed myself up and prepared to dash to the street for a better look at the battle. But before I could move, I heard an unexpected sound. A digital beeping. A boy and a girl, not much older than me, had slipped into the alley. The girl held up a mobile phone. “It’s Rachel,” she said.
“Hey, where were you?” the girl said into the phone. As she talked, the boy caressed the back of her neck. She flicked his hand.
I ducked back down and glanced at my Com as it analyzed the phone’s ringtone. Early twenty-first century. Right where I was supposed to be. Okay, maybe Wyck wasn’t a complete idiot after all.
So what the blark was going on?
“I swear we were at the pub for like twenty minutes. No, not Ye Olde Tavern. Ye Olde Pub,” she said. The boy nibbled her ear. She swatted his shoulder.
“Ah, c’mon.” He kissed a path of pecks down her neck to her jaw. She hesitated a moment, then turned the phone off.
The fade timer on my Com blipped down second by second. I only had five hours before being pulled back to my own time. Tight for any assignment, but even more so with today’s less-than-legal extracurricular activity. With a frantic finger, I tapped the edge of the round, smooth device—perfectly masked as a pocket watch to fit into most eras.
It was taking forever to pinpoint my location, and my destination could be hours away. There was no more time to waste. I had to do
“Hello.” I stood up from behind the barrel. The boy and girl jumped apart.
“You sh-sh-should … Th-th-this is … private,” stammered the girl.
“Yeah, nothing says private like a makeout session amid musket fire,” I said under my breath as I pushed my way past the lovebirds and stuck my head around the corner of the alleyway.
A sea of scarlet coats, side-holstered drums, and fifes greeted me. Crowds of spectators lined the street.
Duped by a Revolutionary reenactment parade. I checked my fade timer again. I’d lost precious minutes. Then again, I couldn’t see my transporter doing something drastic like force fading me as soon as the time limit was up. Not that I would let it come to that.
I’d been rubbing the eyelash of a scar at the base of my skull without even thinking about it.
I flipped my Com to the geolocator. Williamsburg. A good 150 miles from this Chincowhatever place on the other side of Virginia.
Contrary to public opinion, time travel is not an exact science. Whenever I need a good giggle, I’ll watch an antique movie where the hero zips back twenty years, mere minutes before an explosion, to save the heroine in the nick of time. Or, for an even bigger laugh, watch one where he Shifts forward to meet his grandkids.
When Shift came to shove, getting me within two days and two hundred miles of my goal wasn’t shabby transporting. Not shabby at all. Not that I’d admit it to Wyck’s face.
I stepped into the bright street and disappeared into a mob of strollers and camera-wielding dads. I stood on my tiptoes, a necessary measure given my small stature, in search of …
It wasn’t like I got extra credit for being frugal on missions. But then again, nobody handed out medals for blowing a big wad of era cash on a three-hour cab ride. A few bonus points for resourcefulness might even push me up a grade if I was teetering on the line. Up until six months ago, I never would have worried about a measly midterm. Then again, there were a lot of things I never would have considered before six months ago.
Temporal smuggling, for one.
I had precious little time as it was. And certainly not enough to waste on a squeaky conscience. Everything had to appear completely normal on this assignment or I could get caught.
I jogged across the street, into the sea of buses. Up and down the rows, I searched. Blark, there were a lot of them.
“Come on, come on, come on.” I raced down the final row and let out a sigh of relief. The last block of buses said “Accomack County School District,” my destination. I staked out a hiding spot near them, behind an old oak.
A swarm of elementary kids clambered past. Too bad I couldn’t hop on their bus. I was short for sixteen, but I wasn’t
short. Rule number one of Shifting: Don’t stick out.
Okay, technically, that would be Rule number two, the first one being: Don’t bring anything from the past back with you. But that one’s a no-brainer. Fiddle with the past all you want, fine. It’s not like you can change it. Not really. (That’s what I had to keep reminding myself to go through with the extra job I’d been hired to do today.)
But the future? No one wants to mess around with that.
A familiar voice drifted toward me, and I leaned deeper into the tree’s shadow.
the tavern. The
.” It was the phone girl.
“Well, you should have been in the bathroom covering that hickey,” said her friend.
“Everyone knows it’s not a hickey until the blood vessels break. It’s a love bite.”
“Yeah, well, guess what you can bite?”