Out of Time

Out of Time by C.J. Barry

For museum curator Jillian Talbot, her ability to see an object's history is her little secret. She never expects it to land her in the middle of a deadly battle for money and power between dangerous underground elements.

“A clever twist to the paranormal and suspense… Definitely my kind of novel! ~Heather Graham

Contemporary Romantic Suspense

Book #2

SHE’S THE KEY

Museum curator Jillian Talbot has the gift of psychic “Sight”, but she never expects it to land her in the middle of a battle for money and power between murderous underground elements. The object of their greed: an ancient crystal lens that can unlock mysteries from the past…but only for someone with the Sight. To stay alive, Jillian must seek the help of a cynical tomb raider, but is he worthy of her trust?

HE’S IN TOO DEEP

Tombraider Simon Bonner wants out of the looting game…until the crystal lens lands on his doorstep. The crystal’s secret is locked inside the eyes of straight-laced Jillian who still believes in doing the right thing. As she and Simon track the mystery deep into Mexico, their desire to stay alive and growing passion for each other makes every move a dance with danger

OUT OF TIME

Tomorrow could be history.

Simon had been asleep all of twelve minutes when the doorbell started to buzz.

Go away, he thought through a fog of exhaustion, and slipped back into the peace of safe, sound sleep.

Bzzzzz.

He surfaced long enough to register the rain pelting his bedroom windows and the fact that he hadn’t eaten today but was too tired to do anything about it. Should have taken that sexy flight attendant up on her offer for more nuts. Now there was a good point to go back to sleep. He rolled over, his weary thirty-seven year old body grateful.

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

“Sonofabitch.” He tossed the covers aside and looked at the clock. 7:15 P.M. What kind of moron would be visiting at this time of day in the middle of a thunderstorm?

Whoever it was laid on the buzzer with a vengeance. Simon sat on the edge of his bed and rubbed the two-day old stubble on his face. He didn’t need this. For three months he hadn’t been home. All he wanted was one solid night of sleep without worrying about someone shooting at him. Was that too much to ask?

Simon walked to the security monitor. If it was that old bat next door nosing around in his business again, he’d seriously consider killing her. Okay, maybe a warning shot. But someone was going to pay for waking him.

The front door camera showed a lone figure hunched and leaning against the outside wall, his hand pressed against the doorbell. The face was hidden in shadow.

Hell.

The good news was, the enemy rarely came through the front door. The bad news was, it sure didn’t look like the Avon lady.

Maybe if he waited long enough, the moron would get the hint and go away.

Then the buzzing was accompanied by the man pounding on the door with his fists.

Or not. Whoever it was didn’t look like he was leaving anytime soon. First thing tomorrow, Simon was ripping that damn doorbell out.

He grabbed a pair of jeans off the floor and pulled them on. Then he stuffed his gun in the middle of his back and headed downstairs to get rid of whoever it was so he could get back to sleep.

Thunder echoed down the hall as he made his way through his Tudor, unwelcome adrenaline pushing fatigue aside. A lightning crack rattled the windows and a stormy haze tinted everything. He pressed against the cold steel front door and peered out the one-way sidelight window. He still couldn’t recognize the visitor.

He hit the intercom. “Who is it?”

The buzzing and banging stopped, and a muffled male voice answered, “Jackson. Let me in.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Simon muttered as big, bad memories surfaced in a flash. He did not want to face Jackson again. At least not alive. He yanked open the door and aimed his gun at Jackson’s head. “What the hell do you want?”

The tomb raider stared back, eyes red and weary. Rainwater had plastered short black hair to his head. His face was pale, and the long overcoat hung shapelessly over his lean body. He’d aged twenty years since Simon saw him two years ago, and he smelled like wet dog.

The hair on the back of Simon’s neck prickled. Something told him this was not a social visit.

Jackson raised one hand and waved him off. The other hand he kept inside his coat. “I’m not armed.”

“You’d be surprised how often I hear that and wind up in ICU,” Simon said. “What do you want?”

Jackson turned his head toward the quiet neighborhood. “I’ll tell you inside,” he said, his voice rough. Then he stumbled past Simon without waiting for an invite.

Simon kicked the door shut, keeping his gun leveled at Jackson who gave a painful groan before settling on the stairs in the dark entry. His breathing was labored as he rested his head against the wall and peered up at Simon. “You’re the only one I can trust.”

Simon gritted his teeth. “Let’s recap. Two years ago you jumped my single, biggest find in South America, and then you jumped my wife. We’re a long way from trust, you and I.”

“Hey, you poached on my turf. Can’t have other raiders thinking I’m soft. As for Celina–” Jackson gave a guttural groan and clutched his stomach.

What the hell? Simon reached over and hit the vestibule lights. The trail of rainwater that stretched from the door to the stairs was turning bright red.

“Christ, Jackson,” Simon said, stowing the gun in his jeans. He knelt and ripped open the trench coat. Blood soaked Jackson’s shirt and pants from the gaping hole in his side. “What happened?”

Jackson gave a weak laugh. “I forgot to duck.”

“No shit.” And recently too, Simon noted. The fact that Jackson was still walking meant it had only been a few hours, at most. And as much as he hated Jackson, he didn’t want him dying in his foyer. The cops would be everywhere. “You need to get to an E.R.”

He stood up, but Jackson grabbed his forearm with surprising strength for a man bleeding all over his floor. “No. Listen to me. You have to save her.”

“Who?”

“Celina. They’re going to kill her.”

Simon let out a groan. Aw, shit. Why was it every time there was trouble, she was in the middle of it?

“She didn’t come home day before yesterday.” Jackson spoke fast and sloppy. He pulled a manila envelope out of his coat. “Then I got this in the mail and a text message on my cell phone. Said if I didn’t find some lost treasure, they’d kill her.”

Simon looked at him incredulously. “Uh-huh. And you believed them?”

Jackson reached into his pocket and handed Simon his cell phone. “Open it.”

Simon flipped the cover up. The background was a picture of Celina bound and gagged in a chair. His ex-wife’s tear-stained, panic-stricken face cut through the years of betrayal. Emotions he’d thought long buried rose with alarming speed.

“Shit,” he said softly.

Jackson added, “I know you loved her-”

“Don’t go there,” Simon warned him. “I’ll shoot you myself.”

“Fair enough,” Jackson said, nodding weakly. “There’s more. Check out the pouch in the envelope.”

Simon removed a small cloth bag and untied the leather strings. A crystal lens dropped out into his palm. It was perfectly concave and clear. Simon held it up to the light and peered through it, but all he could see was a distorted view of his hallway. “Rock crystal. So?”

“More than it appears. It’s old. Like pre-history old. And according to these guys, it leads to a legendary find–the Archives of Man–somewhere in Central Mexico. That’s what they want. Find it. Get Celina back,” Jackson replied and gave a sickly, hacking cough. “You got ten days.”

Ten days? This was just insane. Jackson was insane. Simon slid the lens into the pouch. “I have to get you to a hospital. We’ll figure this out after that.”

“No. . .no time.”

Simon froze at the raw desperation in Jackson’s voice. The rain had stopped outside, and it had become very quiet in the house. The hairs on his neck were standing straight up.

Jackson was dead serious, and his breathing was slowing down. “There’s a woman. Photo’s in there. I was going to see her but–” He winced in pain. “Name and details are on the back. You’ll need her.”

Simon retrieved the photo from the envelope and scanned the professional pose. Charcoal suit, blonde hair, blue eyes, nice mouth, and a Mona Lisa smile. “I need her? For what?”

“They said she’s the key. She knows how to use the lens or something like that. I don’t know. All I know is that you need both to find the Archives.”

Simon tried to think with his sleep-deprived brain. This didn’t add up. If they had the lens and the woman, why didn’t they just go after it themselves? And another thought entered his mind. A really bad one.

“If these guys are so hot to get the treasure, then who shot you?” Simon asked.

“I’m not the only who knows about this,” Jackson said, his voice fading out. “Can’t imagine how. I didn’t tell anyone.”

“Do they know about the woman?”

“Wouldn’t doubt it. You need to move fast.” Jackson gave him a look of defeat. Then he coughed and gave a short, harsh laugh. “You want to know something funny?”

Simon couldn’t think of anything funny at the moment. Jackson was about to meet his maker, Celina wasn’t far behind, and Simon was getting a bad feeling that he might be next in line.

Jackson beamed for a brief moment. “I finally did the right thing and it killed me.”

Outside, Simon heard a car door slam. He stood up and looked through the sidelight. A tan sedan was parked on the other side of the street behind a green Volvo that Simon didn’t recognize. One very large man in a long coat walked over to the Volvo and peered inside.

“The Volvo yours?” Simon asked.

Jackson grunted in acknowledgement.

The man lifted his head and scanned the neighborhood. He looked familiar and not in a good way. Every self-preserving fiber of Simon’s being kicked into high gear. “Friend of yours?”

Jackson replied weakly, “’Fraid not. Kesel.”

Well that explained the hole in Jackson’s gut. Kesel was as ruthless and nasty as tomb raiders came. And he was on Jackson’s trail which just made this entire affair a hell of a lot hotter. If Kesel wasn’t so good at killing, Simon wouldn’t be so worried. What have you gotten me into this time, Celina?

“I take it he wants that lens,” Simon surmised.

“Yup. It won’t be long before he trails me to your door. You’re a marked man now,” Jackson said.

Simon gave him a hard look. “You set me up, you bastard.”

Blood dribbled out the corner of his mouth as he talked, his words slurring together. “Sure did. So for once in your miserable life, do the right thing. Finish this.”

“You just said doing the right thing killed you.”

Jackson gave a pained laugh. “But you’re better than me.”

That was debatable, and Simon had the scars to prove it.

He looked outside. Kesel was walking toward the house directly across the street. Simon exhaled a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding, but Jackson was right about one thing. It was only a matter of time before Kesel came knocking. Doing the right thing had brought Simon nothing but pain, misfortune and medical bills. Survival, however, was an excellent motivator.

He went back to the stairs to collect his Angel of Death. “Time to move, Jackson. You’re coming with me.”

Icy cold hands waved Simon aside. “Yeah, okay, okay. Just give me a minute to rest. Get your gear and come back for me.”

Simon cast a quick glance at the front door and nodded. “Don’t move.”

He took the stairs two at a time, grabbed his cell phone and the duffle bag he hadn’t even had a chance to unpack yet. Then he heard the front door shut.

Had Kesel found them already?

Simon dropped the bag and hit the top of the stairs with his gun drawn.

Jackson was gone.

“Shit.” He ran down the stairs and looked out the sidelight in time to see Jackson swerve down the street in a green Volvo. Kesel had spotted him and was already running back to his tan sedan to give chase.

Simon turned and looked at the envelope Jackson had left by the stairs. He checked inside. Sure enough, everything was inside—Jackson’s cell phone, the photo and the pouch with the crystal. Simon considered tossing them all in the trash and forgetting any of this ever happened.

For a long time, he stood there trying to come up with a good reason not to get involved. There were plenty–Kesel, death, dismemberment. None of them helped to wipe the image of Celina out of his mind. Jackson might be a bastard, but whether or not Kesel caught up with him, he was a dead man. He’d just spent his last bit strength giving Simon a head start.

Because Kesel would be back.

# # #

Jillian loved the Linden Museum at night, after all the guests had left and the small staff had shuffled out. By 8 P.M. on a Friday night, the place was empty and all hers. It was one of the benefits of being the head curator in a small, private museum in Harlem. She could be alone with some of the finest that history had to offer.

Her heels clicked over the marble tiles as she made her way through the cases, pedestals and enclosures. Long shadows prostrated themselves across the floors of every room as if paying silent homage to the treasures within.

She slowed in front of the 18th century Chinese jewelry exhibit that opened last month. She had personally laid it out in careful detail, every tiny piece meticulously arranged to make the most of the modest collection she’d found packed away in crates in the storeroom. The research and signage alone had taken weeks. Finally, they had their chance to shine.

In the six months since she had started working here, she’d uncovered many such neglected treasures in storage. After more long weekends and late nights than she wanted to think about, she’d unearthed and inventoried every piece of the vast collection accumulated over seven generations of the Linden family.

She passed the sixteenth century European rapier collection she had just restored. The metal edges looked as deadly now as they were three hundred years ago. It always amazed her how beautiful even an instrument of grizzly violence could be when laced with history.

She glanced at each glass enclosure with satisfaction as she passed beneath gracefully arched doorways. If she were still at the MET, she’d never have had the opportunity to work with so many different kinds of artifacts. Everyone thought she was crazy to leave the security and prestige of such an excellent museum, but she had her reasons.

And here’s one of them, she thought as she entered her favorite room, the sculpture chamber that housed the museum’s single most valuable artifact.

Sitting center stage, the white marble of the Nymph and Angel by the French sculptor, Emil Crozalles, gleamed under recessed lighting. Unabashedly naked and intimately tangled in spontaneous celebration, the couples’ unbridled joy shone through an amorous embrace. Each piece the master sculptor created was playful and full of motion, but this was special to her for a whole other reason.

She glanced around to make sure she was alone. Then silence descended over her as she concentrated on the marble lines. Slowly, a vision appeared as if through rippled glass–hands chipping, rubbing, and caressing the marble with a lover’s touch. Then the face of the young sculptor, his hair white from dust, his expression feverish with excitement. The hazy scene filled her vision, blocking out the present as it stole into the past.

After a few seconds, Crozalles turned away from the statue, and Jillian held her breath. This was the moment she waited for every time. Then like sunshine, the sculptor beamed at the woman entering the picture as she joined him. They fell upon the marble and kissed–like the Nymph and the Angel.

And the artist becomes the art.

Jillian gave a sigh of envy. That Crozalles. He could still steal a woman’s breath away two hundred years later. But she bet he never could have imagined that his work would be admired by so many. Or that there would be one person who knew his true passion and the inspiration behind his most famous work.

Jillian had researched his life, and there was no mention of the woman he loved, that he’d encapsulated in marble for eternity. And without hard proof, her hands were tied. His secret would remain just that.

I’m sorry, she told him silently.

Heavy footsteps wrenched her from her sadness, and she turned to find the museum’s night security guard approaching.

“Hello Charlie,” she said. “I didn’t think you were still here.”

As he entered the circle of light around the statue, he smiled and his ruddy Irish complexion reddened, making his white hair even whiter and blue eyes bluer. “Evening, Miss Talbot. Working late again?”

“The pre-Columbian vase shipment came today. I wanted to make sure everything arrived intact.”

He shook his head. “Friday evening. You should be out enjoying yourself and breaking hearts.”

Any time the conversation turned to her personal life–or lack thereof–was a signal that the game had begun. It was a battle of wits her and Charlie had played many times. The man was a happily married, hopeless romantic.

She said, “Hearts come along every day. Ancient vases don’t.”

“Yes, but vases are the past. Used and discarded. Hearts are the future.”

She countered. “Love is fleeting. Vases last forever.”

“But vases are also easily broken.”

She had him. “At least you can fix a vase. You can’t mend a broken heart.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Then that makes hearts far more valuable.”

She laughed. He’d won that one.

Charlie grinned in victory. “Would you like an escort out?”

“No, but thank you anyway. Give Marilee and the kids my best.”

“I’ll do that.” He tipped his hat. “Have a nice evening.”

“You too, Charlie.” She hiked her bag over her shoulder and took the stairs to the first floor and the front entrance. She stepped outside, and the door closed and locked automatically behind her.

A warm August rain pelted West Harlem’s concrete as she exited the building and stood under the granite portico. Steam rose from the hot sidewalks, the vapor swirling softly. This small business district was quiet after hours, most shops gated for the night. Trees had recently been planted along both sides of the block, breaking the monotony of concrete and brick, and making the neighborhood more welcoming amid all the neon lights and cityscape.

A yellow cab cruised by, squeezing around the construction cones blocking one lane across the street. The historic building across was undergoing renovation, it’s façade covered by scaffolding used to reface the scarred brick. Right now ugly plywood covered the front doors, but after years of neglect the building would soon be beautiful once again and converted into apartments, small boutiques and cafés. She smiled at the thought of bringing life back to something that was once forgotten.

The rain continued and Jillian waited in the doorway, hoping it would ease up, but as if on cue, it turned into a torrential downpour. Rats. Well, she wasn’t getting any closer to the subway by standing here.

Jillian cinched the belt of her lightweight trench coat and popped open her umbrella. She walked between the portico columns toward home. No work this weekend. She needed to catch up on her bills and laundry. Maybe she’d cook up some gazpacho for dinner. Review the recipes for tomorrow’s cooking class and–

Up ahead, she saw a shadow move and realized too late that she’d let her guard down. A tall, thin man with a long face and dark features stepped between her and the street. He wore a black trench coat, open in the front, and for a split-second she was hoping he was nothing more than a flasher. A freak show would be the least of her worries.

“Jillian Talbot,” the man said in a gravelly voice.

She blinked. What?

He took a step forward and gave her a lopsided smile that sent chills racing up her spine. A rush of adrenaline moved her back, but the man matched her step and grabbed her by the arm.

“You are Jillian Talbot, are you not?” he said, his grip firm as he studied her face.

“I’m not,” she managed to say over the sudden pounding of blood in her ears that muffled her hearing. How did he know her name?

He grinned. “Oh, I think you are.” He pulled a gun from inside his coat and pointed it at her. “My employer would very much like to speak to you.”

“I’m not interested,” she said, her voice shaking.

He leaned in closer, the smell of cigarettes and bad cologne clinging to him. “It wasn’t a question. This way. Quietly.”

Romantic Times magazine: 4 1/2 stars!
Graves is back and hotter than ever in a thrilling new novel that combines romance, adventure, and prophecy. Intriguing characters with dubious motives keep the plot lively as a treacherous treasure hunt unfolds. Sexy, dangerous, and compelling pretty much sum up this thriller!   Reviewer: Jill M. Smith

Out of Time is a fast-paced, thrill of a journey. The action starts in the first chapter and doesn’t let up until the last. Simon and Jillian face great peril and adventure as they search for the Archives of Man. Jillian’s gift leads them through Mexico, and Ms. Graves vivid descriptions make the expedition come to life. ~Amelia, Joyfully Reviewed, Joyfully Recommended for June 2009

I highly recommend reading Jillian’s story with the caveat that readers make sure they have lots of time because they will not want to put this one down until the last page is turned. ~Kathy Boswell, Fresh Fiction

Romantic suspense mixes with the paranormal for one thrilling read!~Tracy Marsac, Reader to Reader

Graves presents another nicely written, action-oriented and enjoyable romantic suspense…a story that delivers equal parts swashbuckling adventure and sizzling romance. ~Martina Bexte, BookLoons

A fabulous romantic suspense with a touch of the paranormal. Fans will appreciate this fine psychic tomb raiding thriller and seek out SIGHT UNSEEN starring Jillian’s thief of a sister. ~Harriet Klausner, Genre Go Round Reviews

The thoroughly engaging OUT OF TIME starts at a dead run, never faltering as Ms. Graves’ newest paranormal romantic suspense races to an exciting, satisfying conclusion. This one is definitely headed for my keeper shelf. ~ Debbie Jett, Romance Reader at Heart

A great beach read, exciting and romantic, a thrill a minute! ~Armchair Interviews

Think Romancing the Stone. Think Indiana Jones. Think of heavy passion and dangerous adventure and many characters who all have their own special agenda. This is terrific!~ Romance Reviews.

Of conflicts there are several, of minor characters there are many, but it isn’t always easy to tell the good from the bad. This makes for a riveting plot to go along with an arousing romance. Do yourself a favor; read OUT OF TIME. ~ Jane Bowers, Romance Reviews Today

Out of Time leads readers to Mexico where the story’s heroine picks up the trail of an ancient treasure. This is a fast-moving and suspenseful read, with fascinating paranormal elements. ~Kimberly Swan, Darque Reviews

Samantha Graves takes suspenseful yet romantic stories to new heights with her cleverly imaginative plots. Readers will be quickly immersed in the innovative world crafted for her interesting characters, as these well-portrayed individuals become involved in numerous escapades. Out of Time is remarkably notable with its creative interweaving of peril, mystery, humor and unforgettable characters. ~Amelia Richard, Single Titles

RELATED PRODUCTS