Katherine Gibbs is engaged. Engaged, popular, gorgeous, and living a life of sheer perfection. This is her best week ever. The trouble is, it’s manufactured. She’s lived this week over and over and doesn’t know it.
L. Roxanne Zaborovsky, Katherine’s best friend, is outside looking in. Once again, Kitty’s life is being stolen away by a man as twisted as he is brilliant. This time, there’s something Roxy can do. The barriers of time are like the walls of an apartment—or the bars of a prison—and they can be demolished. She just has to start the jailbreak.
Walter “Q” Sheffield is hot, smart, and just the man to free Kitty. A time-anomaly specialist, he can split seconds, erase hours and make the most of a minute. The one thing he can’t do? Relationships. But hate and revenge have Kitty trapped in the vagaries of time, and only love will get her out. And that love must be…
Leonardo Kaysar raised his smartie and turned on the camera to snap a few shots of the disaster before him. Clothes lay all over the room, clothes his fiancée had bought on her own, that she wasn’t supposed to wear, bought for purposes she wasn’t supposed to have. Clothes and ridiculous trinkets spilling out of boxes and drawers all at once. Leonardo moved to the bureau and shot a still of the overflowing jewelry box, again considering the excessive new purchases, most still with tags.
“Mr. Kaysar? We’re here.”
Leonardo shifted his gaze to the two girls waiting just over the threshold of the bedroom, Ariel and Deirdre. “Catalog the anomalies and get the cleaners here right away.” He stepped past them back into the living room and surveyed the apartment with a practiced eye. “Bloody hell,” he muttered. “How did she get so far off the baseline?”
Clearly flustered by Leonardo, Dee gestured to the entirety of the place, her stylus shaking between her fingers. “How soon before we bring in the next case? The apartment is going to need-“
“Flip it immediately. And make sure it gets a good cleaning. Get this crap off the floor.”
Ariel bent down and ran her fingers across the parquetry, which was speckled with a dark, oily substance. Leonardo followed her gaze. The floor was oddly pitted, and the black squares of the harlequin pattern seemed to be buckling. The overall degradation of the apartment was completely incongruous with the woman who lived here, with her designer clothes and perfectly coiffed hair.
Leonardo tapped his wingtip against the floor, pressing down gently until the black square softened under the pressure. “Time is so unstable,” he said with a sigh. “I can move it around but I’ve never been able to quite capture it.” He looked up at Ariel, who was watching him intently. He pointed to his shoe and the stickiness beneath. “It’s as thick and physical a thing as this floor under our feet, yet as thin and intangible as the air all around us.”
Dee ran her fingers over the pockmarked floor. “Is this from her stilettos? This might be hard to-“
The sound of the door scanner echoed down the hall. Dee looked up nervously. Ariel seemed to steel herself. All three of them looked at the door; Ariel ushered Dee back toward the bedroom.
Leonardo’s fiancée stepped over the threshold. “Baby,” she cried in delight. “You’re early!” The lovely brunette surged across the room and threw herself at him, the emerald chiffon of her summer dress floating like plumage in her wake. Leonardo managed to stay upright, but he did not put his arms around her tightly enough. She stumbled on her heels and fell into the wall, an awkward, embarrassing movement that left a smear of lipstick on the white paint.
Leonardo caught her by the elbow and helped her right herself; she saw her best friends, Ariel and Deirdre, standing in the doorway of her bedroom. “What . . . what’s going on?”
“Mr. Kaysar?” Dee prompted with a quaver in her voice that she managed to control before asking, “Do you want us to step outside?”
The brunette looked at Dee and Ariel, and then back at her fiancé. “Leo? What’s going on? Ariel? Dee? Why are you here with Leo? Dee? Is something wrong?” She looked wildly among the three of them, becoming increasingly hysterical. “What did I do wrong?” she wailed, completely losing her self-control, as if a year of suppressed feelings were just bursting out.
Leonardo collected the girl in his arms. “Shush,” he said. “It’s fine. Everything is just fine.”
Her rapid breathing slowed, and her shaking hands clasped tightly around his neck. She sniffed back tears and looked up at him uncertainly. Leonardo kissed her first gently on the lips, then harder as he pulled his finger-punch from his pocket. Behind her back, he flipped the lock and swiveled the syringe cartridge to the second position, then swiftly jammed the punch into the side of her neck.
Her fingers clawed into the fabric of his suit. Her body went tense. Her kiss drained of life. The crash of her body to the floor followed by Ariel’s truncated curse emphasized the vast silence that followed.
A whimper escaped Deirdre’s lips.
Leonardo turned sharply to the pale assistant. “Try to think of it this way . . .”
“She was already dead.”
Wide-eyed, Deirdre looked at Ariel, who just looked down at the body. She then nodded dutifully and shifted her gaze from her boss’s face to the corpse. “I really liked her.”
“Well, then, I suggest you work on that,” Leonardo said tightly, moving into the kitchen.
When Dee swallowed hard and looked at her coworker, Ariel flashed a defensive palm at her and keyed her smartie. “Don’t look at me like I’m on your side.”
Dee chewed on her lower lip and moved tentatively to the brunette’s side, taking care not to step on the luxurious hair splayed over the floor as she knelt. “It was such a good part. My first lead role. I’ve always wanted to be an actress. And I really didn’t know that . . . I didn’t know that you would . . .” Dee started to cry. “I’m sorry.”
“Shut up,” Ariel hissed, before turning her attention back to the call she was making. “Oh, hi. Yeah. I need the cleaners. Uh-uh. Not that kind. The other division. Yes, that’s what I’m saying. I just said that. It’s a body . . . . Then find the department that does!” In a much lower voice, she said, “Mr. Kaysar is in the next room. He just gave the order. Do I sound like I want to fill out some paperwork first? Thank you. I’m transmitting the location now. And do it fast, if you don’t mind. He wants me to flip the room, stat.”
She turned back to Dee. “Are you crazy? Stop crying before the boss sees you.” Then she poked her head into the kitchen. “Sir, um, is there anything different you want done with the apartment, or is the next girl basically the same?”
Leonardo joined them in the foyer. “She’s not the same at all. That is part of the point.” Ariel flushed red as he stared at her. “You understand what you are doing, don’t you? It’s very important that everyone understands what we are doing, and why. If you don’t believe it, why should our subject, whoever she is?”
“Mr. Kaysar,” Ariel blurted. “I’m a hundred percent committed to my part!”
Leonardo smiled, then shifted his gaze past her to Dee.
Dee didn’t answer. She just stared at him, stricken. Leonardo walked up to her. “Time is unstable, and the control of time therefore depends on how stable and predictable we can make it. To reduce the myriad possibilities inherent in the combination of free will and time, we stabilize what we can.” He swept his hand out, gesturing to the whole of the apartment. “That is why we build in highly controlled situations with predetermined outcomes. We control what we can. For the rest, that which is in here”-he ran his fingers across Dee’s left temple-“and here”-he grazed her heart by drawing an invisible X with his index finger-“the rest we seek to control though meds and biotechnology.”
“I understand,” she said hoarsely.
“I don’t think you do.” Leonardo looked down at the spongy parquet floor, drawing her gaze along with his own. “This . . . whole set of situations is our lab. You are part of the lab. And that makes you part of something very special and important. When you auditioned, everyone was most impressed. You made us believe, Deirdre, because you believed. Make no mistake: this is not a simple exercise in the art of theater improvisation. You’re changing the world. You’re making history. And if you don’t still believe, then by all means please visit Human Resources before I bring in my next fiancée and our next test subject, Katherine Gibbs.”
Leonardo turned and knelt by his original ex-fiancée. Gently he swept the tangle of her hair off the floor and arranged it around her face. He laid his fingertips across her cheek and wiped the smeared lipstick from the corner of her mouth with his thumb. Then he stepped over her body and walked through her bedroom into the bathroom.
He opened the cabinet and surveyed the contents. Again, certain things shouldn’t have been there. An amber-colored glass bottle rested on the upper shelf. He pulled it down and examined the label to confirm the date of issue, and then unscrewed the top and tapped the remaining pills into his hand. Shaking his head, he replaced them and pocketed the bottle.
Turning to go, he stopped short. He craned his neck to look at the bathroom wall. The white paint was streaked with thin gray rivulets, and as Leonardo Kaysar faced the wall head-on, raised his hand in the shape of a gun, and ran his index finger down the surface, on the other side of reality, one spin of the axis away, the nanoseconds of his present life were preparing to converge with those of his past. . . .
This book is available from Dorchester, October 2008. You can pre-order it here.