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“Ember Brighton, late again, I see.” Professor Talon’s voice echoed throughout the quiet classroom.
Ember blushed furiously as she slipped into a seat toward the back of the room. She had hoped she wouldn’t be caught late again. She was the goody-goody student, but with her additional volunteer hours at the hospital, she could never seem to make it to her three-twenty p.m. class on time.
Her professor stood at the front of the room with his arms folded, tapping his foot incessantly.
“Sorry, sir,” Ember apologized.
“See me after class. Now, before we were rudely interrupted…” Professor Talon droned on.
Ember usually attempted to apologize and say that her tardiness wouldn’t happen again, but she knew it would. She needed to talk to her boss at the hospital. She wasn’t sure how much more leniency she could get, and this course was not an option. Extra volunteer hours were.
She shook her head; she’d make it work. She always did.
Ember pulled out her Essentials of Clinical Medicine book and glanced at the chalkboard, flipping to the pages she heard being referenced. She settled in but felt a sudden chill race down her spine. She turned her head, but the only thing behind her were windows with dark shades tightly drawn shut. She had an uncomfortable feeling she was being watched.
She turned around, facing the front of the classroom, and shaking off the strange sensation. It was probably the effects from running on seven hours sleep in the past two and a half days.
The lesson ended and the students filed out in the same shuffling manner they always did. Ember made her way to the front of the room to face Professor Talon.
“Ember, this isn’t like you. All your teachers have remarked on your dedication to your coursework. I have yet to see what they are talking about. If you no longer wish to be here—”
Ember cut the professor off. “I’m so sorry. It’s a schedule mix up, and I just need to adjust my hours at the hospital. I’m dedicated to this. I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was five. I’ll make sure I get it sorted.” She smiled, hoping that her lack of tact could be replaced by her charm. She’d been told by others that she had a way with teachers. That was probably just because of her straight A’s and impeccable attendance record. Well, until now.
Professor Talon sighed. “One more time and I’m going to have to ask that you leave my class.”
Ember nodded. “Thank you. I understand.”
She shuffled out of the classroom before the professor had a chance to change his mind.
She immediately pulled out her cell phone, planning to call Maria so she could adjust her hours ASAP.
Without watching where she was going, Ember bumped into a firm, unyielding body.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, barely glancing up before she shut off her phone. She had to do a double take. A large, angry-looking man stood before her with his arms folded. He was almost half a foot taller than her with fiery-red hair and a peculiar pair of green eyes. They bore into her, and a sketchy smile spread across his face.
Ember quickly glanced around, and noticed for the first time, that the usually busy halls of the university were empty.
“Excuse me,” she said, moving to the right of the man.
He followed her lead, and blocked her exit, but didn’t say a word.
“I’m late. Please excuse me,” Ember repeated, this time, picking up her speed, and trying to go around the man in the opposite direction.
He laughed with a deep, almost menacing chuckle and blocked her again. He grabbed her by the shoulders, and Ember’s controlled demeanor slipped away. She felt her breathing pick up, and she now walked backward, but the man wouldn’t let her go.
“We have some things to discuss. So, you’ll be coming with me, Ember Brighton.”
“How do you know my name?” Ember prayed that the quiver in her voice was one only she could hear.
“So weak for the great Jacquelyn Brighton’s daughter. We’ll see what you’re made of soon enough.” The man shifted his grip to her arm and squeezed.
Ember screamed, “Let go of me. Help!” She desperately tried to break away from the man’s tight grasp.
“I wouldn’t scream if I were you.” He pulled her closer as he covered her mouth with his free hand. “I may not be able to control what happens next.”
“Do you really need another lesson so soon after the first?” A man’s voice came from Ember’s right as she jerked her head to the side, wondering who the stranger was, stalking toward them.
“You,” the angry redhead said through clenched teeth.
“Me. You let her go, or you’ll suffer my wrath.”
The angry man laughed. “You couldn’t hurt me before—what makes you think you have any power now?”
“Let her go,” the stranger demanded again.
Ember tried to use the distraction of the conversation to yank her arm away but yelped as the man’s fingernails dug into her arm.
He didn’t back down, but he did remove his hand from Ember’s mouth as he played with the necklace he wore around his thick neck. Ember narrowed her eyes at the gem and thought it was a strange possession for a man to be holding.
The stranger noticed the movement as well, and smirked, narrowing his eyes.
Ember heard a commotion in the building, and the sound of people making their way toward them was clearer. The redhead’s eyes darted around, searching for another way out. After a moment, he growled, and pulled Ember closer to his chest.
“I’ll be seeing you,” he hissed, and then in a flash, he was gone.
Ember’s eyes widened, and she looked on in horror at the now-empty spot before her. Where had he gone?
The stranger looked taken aback as well, but quickly gathered himself. He approached Ember, holding out his hand.
Ember glanced at his extended hand and blinked a few times, shaking her head.
“Ember.” She shook the man’s hand. “Um.” She bit her lip, looking around again. She looked down and saw the red marks on her arm. Without them, she was sure she would have convinced herself this was some weird, sleep-deprived dream. “What just happened?”
She tried to stay calm but fear coiled in her stomach. She wasn’t used to the feeling at all, but it seemed an appropriate response to a stranger trying to kidnap her and then disappearing like he was some freak magician.
“I think I better take you home,” Finn said. “There’s a lot to talk about.”
“Home? I’m sorry, I’m not taking a strange man to my house, or letting you know where I live.”
Finn smiled, but pursed his lips together like he was trying not to. “You don’t need to tell me where you live. I already know.”
Ember backed away again, hoping this man wouldn’t stop her from leaving like the other had. “You stay away from me. Thank you for your help just now but stay away.” She held up her hands and thought about her next move. She decided turning and making a run for it made the most sense at the moment, so that was exactly what she did.
Ember glanced over her shoulder, and Finn slowly faded out of her line of sight. She kept running, not wanting to think about what had just happened. Clearly, the sleep that had been alluding her had finally created this crazed hallucination of events. That had to be the only explanation. She was studying to become a doctor; she knew facts. And whatever had just happened, had to be a figment of her imagination related to lack of sleep.
Ember made it to her car without further incident, feeling safe, locked inside the vehicle—alone. She drove home, lost in reliving the scene from outside her classroom. Surely the red-haired man was just a delusion. She had been reading a lot of Scottish highlander stories lately. Maybe her brain had manifested a bad guy from one of her books. Lord knew that was the only way her life would come to be exciting.
After all, between medical school, internships, and extra volunteer work, she had zero time for any actual real-life fun. However, she loved that she was going to be a doctor. She’d be able to help people all the time. She loved a challenge, loved listening, and loved how she was the intern who most of the docs on the unit called when there was an unruly patient. Ember could usually calm them enough to get them to do whatever the doctor on call was asking.
Ember parked outside her parent’s brick townhouse in the city and rubbed her palm over her face. She was thankful that she’d decided to save money and live at home, instead of moving into her own place. Medical school was more expensive than she could afford, even with her scholarships. Really, it hadn’t been a choice, and she was grateful that her mom and dad had suggested it.
She hurried out of the car, hoping for some quick leftovers and smiling as she thought of her bed. As she opened the front door, she noticed her mom’s car parked in the alley next to the house. Ember frowned; her mom usually worked late, and it was odd that she was home at this hour. She glanced at her watch and shrugged, walking into the house.
“Anyone home,” she yelled as she dropped her keys on the small table next to the door. She began to take off her shoes and stopped mid-left shoe. There was a huge construction sheet over the side of the wall in the living room where the window used to be. She frowned, confused by the sight.
“What on earth?” she muttered under her breath. She finished taking her shoes off, throwing them behind her, and turned toward the kitchen. “Are we reno—”
Ember stopped talking midsentence, dead in her tracks. Her mother was sitting at the table, but she wasn’t alone. No. Instead she was joined by Finn.
Ember instinctively took a step back, looking between the two of them.
“It’s okay, sweetheart.” Her mom watched Ember’s movements as she spoke.
Ember noticed the look of concern on her face, but she could tell it was more of a concern toward her daughter as opposed to there being a stranger sitting next to her. Ember’s heart quickened as she stared back and forth between the two. She couldn’t think of any reason why Finn would be in her home, sitting calmly with her mom like they were old friends.
Her mother cleared her throat and looked Ember in the eyes, a look she had come to learn well. Her mother needed to tell her something. Something that wasn’t going to be easy for her to hear.
“I’m going to lie down.” Ember shook her head as if she thought she could remove Finn from their house with the gesture alone. He really had known where she lived. And he was sitting with her mother, like he was no stranger to her, or their home.
“I need you to sit.” Jacquelyn pulled out the chair next to her.
“Please,” her mother said.
There was a passion and slight fear in her eyes that Ember had never experienced before, and it was enough to make her obey without any further questions.
“What is he doing here?” Ember nodded toward Finn as she took her seat at the table.
He tried to smile, but she didn’t return the gesture.
“Finn is an old friend of mine.” Ember didn’t miss the hesitation in her mom’s voice at the word, friend. “He’s back because there are some things happening that he needs help with.”
Ember continued to look at her mother and then back to Finn. “Okay,” she said, still not understanding what was going on.
Jacquelyn fiddled with the glass before her and she took a swig. Ember raised a brow. She and her mom loved their wine, but she’d never seen her nervously drinking it. And she was downing red, which she only ever did when stressed.
“Can you just tell me what’s going on? I’m freaking out a little bit here.” Ember was trying her best not to be short with her mom, or Finn. She guessed he had saved her, after all, and perhaps she wasn’t hallucinating.
Ember unconsciously reached for her arm without realizing it, and Finn narrowed his eyes. Jacquelyn followed his frown and Ember’s hand, and her own brow furrowed into a deep determination. Ember followed their gaze to see a bruise forming.
“The man who came at you today is,” Jacquelyn started, “different.” She sighed and rose from the table and paced back and forth.
Finn reached out and touched her arm gently, and a look passed between the two.
Jacquelyn stood straighter and looked Ember directly in the eyes. “There are things that you don’t know about our family. Things I’ve tried to protect you from. There is more to this world than meets the eye, Ember. The man today, he was, he has—” She bit her lip.
“Mom, please just spit it out.” Ember could no longer control her frustration at the buildup.
Finn froze at the table before shoving out of his chair. Ember could see the way her mom watched him with concern.
“The door, Jac,” he said.
Jacquelyn rushed to the door just as a knock echoed throughout the house, signaling a visitor Finn had somehow already known was there.
Ember slowly rose from her chair.
As Jacquelyn opened the door, she was met by a police officer with a solemn expression on his face.
She nodded. “What’s this about?”
“Your husband had an accident. He’s at St. Margaret’s Hospital. He’s okay, but he was pretty banged up. I said I’d tell you immediately, ma’am.”
Jacquelyn brought her hand to her mouth and choked out a sob. “What happened?”
“We’re not entirely sure. It looked like a hit and run. A car rammed into the driver’s side traveling more than the speed limit. We are following all leads, but the traffic camera was out at the intersection where it happened, and the car that hit him had no plates that any witnesses could see.”
Ember ran to her mother and grabbed her by both arms. Jacquelyn squeezed her daughter in response.
“Thank you, officer.”
Jacquelyn closed the door and turned toward Ember and Finn. “I have to go to the hospital.”
“I’ll come with you.” Ember moved quickly to throw on her shoes and jacket.
“I’ll work things on my end. Call me whenever you’re ready.” Finn walked up to both Ember and Jacquelyn. “I’m sorry.”
Jacquelyn reached for Finn’s arm, stopping him before he left the house. She appeared to be using it for support. “Do you think it was him?”
Finn nodded, patting her hand gently. “I’ll find out all I can while you’re gone and let you know for sure. We’ll stop this.”
And with that, Finn was gone, leaving Ember standing in confusion over the strange man who had an unmistakable bond with her mother, and the fact that her father was in the hospital, and she had no idea how serious his injuries were.
She swayed on her feet and made eye contact with her mother. Jacquelyn’s lips were moving but Ember couldn’t hear any sound. Blackness obscured her vision before she toppled to the ground.
Want to continue The Time Traveler’s Awakening?? It’s available now on Amazon and FREE with Kindle Unlimited! Get it here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07WP69QLY/
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