Shattering glass echoed into the dark, empty alleyway behind Jacquelyn Brighton’s home as a man flew out onto the cold, wet pavement.
“You’ll regret that, you little—”
“The only thing I’ll regret is letting this moment occur in any timeline.” Jacquelyn’s voice barreled through the destroyed windowpane and out toward the threat before her, who was slowly lifting himself from the ground.
“If you think you can stop me, you know nothing of what’s to come.” The man smiled at her. His body looked human enough, but his elongated teeth and decisive strength held the clues that he was so much more.
He was a shifter of some sort if she was right, and Jacquelyn usually was. This particular supernatural being had just crashed through the side of her home only moments before. Thanks to a well-aimed hit by Jacquelyn.
She stepped over the remaining shards of glass that had left a gaping hole in the side of her home and moved toward the stranger.
The man stood, and then rushed back toward the house just as a blinding white light formed next to him, stopping him in his tracks.
He shielded his eyes as a new voice boomed throughout the alleyway, emanating from the illumination surrounding him. “I’d think twice before threatening her again.”
The violent shifter brought his hand down from his face and snarled. “And what do we have here? Another one?”
Jacquelyn rushed the shifter while his gaze was distracted and focused upon the newcomer on the scene. She wielded a dagger, directing it toward the shifter’s abdomen. He turned suddenly and caught her wrist, flinging her sideways before she could finish plunging the weapon into his gut.
He chuckled as he removed the tip of the blade from his side. His sardonic laughter was quickly silenced by an attack from the man who’d appeared out of nowhere mere seconds before.
The shifter flew backward, flying through the air at supernatural speed, crashing into the brick wall on the opposite side of the alley.
“I was wondering when you’d show up, Finn,” Jacquelyn said to the man now standing behind her as they watched the shifter squirming on the ground in front of them.
“I didn’t think you’d want to see me again.” Finn approached the shifter, keeping a watchful eye on the enemy’s slower movements after his collision with the wall.
Jacquelyn let out a dry laugh. “Awfully cocky, aren’t we? My family’s life being threatened would be an exception to our previously agreed upon rules.”
The shifter had begun to regain his bearings and immediately reached for a gem that hung around his neck. Jacquelyn frowned as she watched the look of relief that washed over the enemy as he grasped the amethyst in his grungy hand.
Finn and Jacquelyn rushed toward the shifter at the same time. Finn slammed him into the wall, holding his shoulders back as Jacquelyn picked up the discarded knife from earlier and stalked toward the shifter, twirling it once in her hand for effect.
She brought the knife up to his neck. “Who are you?”
The shifter looked at Finn before flicking his eyes back to Jacquelyn. “You’ll know soon enough,” he said with emphasis.
He shoved his arm out, immediately sending Jacquelyn stumbling backward before she hit the window. A jagged shard of glass pierced her arm as she slammed onto the concrete ground.
Finn’s momentary distraction, when he turned to ensure she was okay, won him a sucker punch that sent him hurdling in the same direction as Jacquelyn.
An evil twist of the shifter’s lips kept Jacquelyn on the defensive. He let out a sardonic laugh. His eyes never left Jacquelyn’s as his lips curled up and he clutched the gem in his hand once more. With a burst of light, he disappeared out of the alleyway altogether.
Jacquelyn turned back to the man from her past. “Shifter?”
“I guess there are some issues to discuss, then.” Jacquelyn inhaled in a shaky breath, attempting to steady herself after the surprise attack they’d just experienced. “Something you want to tell me, Finn?”
He looked at her like he always had, especially in moments where she displayed her strength, with awe and adoration.
He walked over to her and immediately lifted her arm, gently. He gingerly tugged at the piece of glass lodged in her forearm.
Jacquelyn winced, and put pressure on the now-open wound.
“May I come in?” he asked, smiling as he waved his arm toward the busted-out window the shifter had flown through moments before.
Jacquelyn nodded, cautiously stepping under a shard of glass that hadn’t quite managed to wiggle loose and hit the ground.
“Any idea who the shifter was breaking into my home in the middle of the night?” she asked as Finn followed her into her home. “And how the hell he can magic himself away?”
Before he could answer, a man with rimmed glasses and black shaggy hair emerged from behind a closed door, carrying a white tarp and hammer in his hands, and a few nails in his mouth. He stopped immediately when he saw Jacquelyn with Finn standing beside her, recognition flashing across his face.
“Finn?” He stared warily. “Good to see you again.”
Finn nodded. “You as well, Patrick.”
Jacquelyn made her way to a small cupboard in the kitchen and pulled out a first-aid kit. She quickly bandaged herself before turning back to face the two men, standing awkwardly in the living room.
“Well.” Jacquelyn clapped her hands together. “I think we need to talk about what the blazes just happened.”
“I’ll just cover the window first,” Patrick said, making his way over to the gaping opening that was beginning to let a chilly, crisp wind into the warmth of the house.
Jacquelyn approached him and briefly touched his arm. Finn turned, apparently giving them a moment of privacy.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
Patrick smiled warmly, touching her cheek before nodding and getting to the task at hand.
Jacquelyn walked toward the kitchen and glanced at Finn. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Wine. If it’s not too much trouble.”
Jacquelyn was already heading toward the wine fridge situated in the corner of the room. “Reading my mind.” She shook her head, still on edge from the sudden danger that had made its way into her home.
After all these years, she certainly hadn’t been expecting anyone to attack her, especially not where she lived.
Jacquelyn watched as Finn crossed his arms, looking around the room. He was surrounded by smiling images of a perfect couple and their beautiful daughter. She paused when his eyes rested on an image of her daughter, Ember.
The sound of Patrick’s hammering filled the room, and she turned away, swallowing the lump in her throat.
“Is she here?” Finn asked.
Jacquelyn shook her head once. “She won’t be back from her classes and internship until tomorrow, thankfully.”
“Good.” Finn cleared his throat, and, walking over to the table, he grabbed the glass of red wine Jacquelyn had poured for him, then downed it in a single gulp.
“Apparently, I’m not the only one worked up?” Jacquelyn raised a questioning brow and nodded toward Finn’s empty glass.
Finn cleared his throat again and set his wineglass on the table. Jacquelyn didn’t hesitate and simply poured him another, drunk hers down and did the same for herself.
They were joined a few moments later by Patrick, who ran a glass under the faucet for water. He turned around, seemingly trying to smile and act natural.
Finn knew his presence was a surprise. He wouldn’t have come if it weren’t urgent, though. He pulled out his chair and sat, taking a deep breath.
“I guess the elephant in the room needs to be addressed,” he said. “Why I’m here.”
Jacquelyn took another long sip of her wine. “I can’t say I’m disappointed in your timing.”
Finn laughed dryly. “I’m glad I got here when I did, too. You’re out of practice.”
Jacquelyn rolled her eyes at the friendly dig.
Patrick motioned his head toward his wife to sit, and acted as if he would leave, but Finn stopped him. “Patrick, if it’s all right with Jac, I think you should stay.”
Patrick looked toward his wife, who smiled affectionately at him, and pulled out a chair.
It had been years since Finn had sat with Jacquelyn and her husband. And longer still since he’d asked anything from her. But things had been changing. Time had been changing. And there were certain aspects of time that required a natural balance. That balance had been slowly shifting, and although Finn felt confident enough to weather minute changes, he was beginning to grow wary of the signs pointing to a more serious swing on the horizon.
Here goes nothing, Finn thought.
“Time’s balance has been altered, and while I’ve been trying to work on my own to locate where the changes have been happening, I’m starting to struggle with managing it all. I felt confident enough to manage the small tweaks and mundane quirks, but,” he swallowed hard, “things are pointing to a far more serious change on the horizon. And I think we got a small taste of it tonight.”
“What kind of changes?” Patrick jumped in.
“Someone with power has been setting things up, but I don’t know for what. What I can tell you is, that someone, besides the time travelers’, is now able to go through time.” Finn’s jaw clenched as he spoke. That was the piece he was holding onto, the thing that worried him most. Someone else knew how to travel through time.
“The goon who broke in?” Jacquelyn’s voice was breathy, shocked. “That was him time traveling? How? And how would he have found me at all? What good am I to him?” She continued her line of questioning.
“I don’t know. I know he’s been around for a very long time. I’ve seen him in different places a few times now since I’ve taken over, but never interacted with him in any way before.”
“And you need me to what—drop everything and start trying to figure out where the disconnect in time is?” Jacquelyn raised a questioning brow. “I haven’t jumped in over twenty-eight years, Finn.”
“I understand, but this is bigger than all of us. I can’t manage it on my own anymore, and if I could, he never would have come anywhere close to you. I’d never put you in danger. And I certainly wouldn’t risk Ember’s life.” Finn swallowed hard after his last comment, pushing down the feelings he’d had brewing inside him about his role in the girl’s existence.
“Ember’s life?” Jacquelyn pushed her chair away from the table so forcefully that, it flew backward, and Finn could hear the crack in one of its wood spindles as it hit the tile floor.
Patrick remained calm, looking between Finn and Jacquelyn.
“If he found you, it stands to reason, he’d know how to find your daughter,” Finn said in a hushed voice. “And if he wanted you, he’d want to at least see if she has abilities as well.”
“But she doesn’t. She’s never traveled. She wouldn’t know anything or seem suspicious to anyone.” Jacquelyn’s voice was bordering on hysterics, and Patrick rose from the table and picked up her chair.
He slowly slid it in under his wife’s knees, and she sank helplessly onto the chair.
“I’ve protected her from this. I didn’t want …” She trailed off.
“We’ve done our duties as parents to protect her,” Patrick spoke up. “But if this thing comes after her, and she has no knowledge or training to help her…” He raised his shoulders once, matter-of-factly sighing as he looked at his wife.
He reached out and took her trembling hands in his own. “We can’t keep her in the dark. We can’t protect her from the unknown.”
Jacquelyn shook her head, and Finn could see she was vehemently against the idea of bringing her only child into the world she’d so desperately tried to keep her out of.
Finn knew he had no rights to Ember’s life. That was the agreement. But he also knew he had to say something to show solidarity with Patrick. Finn’s opinions had been everything to Jacquelyn in the past; he wouldn’t keep quiet on something this important now.
“She has a right to know who she is,” Finn said. “It’s her legacy, Jacquelyn. We need to protect her, and we can’t do that if she’s kept from knowing the very basics of who she is. Hell, if she happens to accidently jump, what would we do then?”
He leaned back in his chair, away from the mahogany kitchen table. His eye caught some of the pictures of Ember laughing with her parents once again. He felt a stab of pain at what could have been, but Finn held onto the hope that he’d now have a chance to be in their lives and help them the way he’d always wanted.
Jacquelyn removed her hands from Patrick’s and folded them together in her lap, lowering her eyes and fidgeting.
Finn knew this was not what she wanted to hear. She and her husband had vowed to keep their daughter in the dark about her lineage. But as time changed, Finn knew that was going to be less of a possibility.
Jacquelyn eyed her husband before she turned back to Finn. “I swore to Patrick that Ember would be protected from this life. I promised.”
To Finn’s surprise, Patrick put his arm around his wife’s shoulders. “You always told me that your family’s gift was put in place long ago to protect others. Ember is strong. I know Finn cares for her, and he wouldn’t be here unless this was serious.”
Finn nodded toward Patrick in appreciation. “Jac, I would never ask this of you if it wasn’t the only way. I don’t know what else to do here.” Finn paused before lowering his voice. “I barely made it in time today. I can’t risk that again.”
Jac seemed to understand and finally began to process everything. “You’re sure you need me to figure this out?”
Finn nodded. Patrick tensed slightly but he didn’t waiver. “I’m sorry,” Finn said.
“We don’t even know if Ember’s able to travel.” Jacquelyn’s voice was just above a whisper.
“I’m not sure we need to know that yet. I just need help figuring some things out about this shifter. Now that he knows about you, I had to bring you in.”
Jacquelyn sighed. “Well, what did you have in mind?”