If Abbie had not been distracted by Danny’s bug-induced confession—it had been weeks but she just could not let it go—she probably would have run right into the creature that stepped out of the treeline and into her path as she drove home from the bureau. As fate would have it, she had thrown her head back against the seat for a moment, exhaling as she went, trying to shake away her thoughts, and when she looked back at the road he was there. She only had seconds to react, yanking on the steering wheel to swerve out of the way but then something hit the van, she heard the back glass explode into a shower of splinters and she went right off the road into a ditch.
For a moment there was blessed silence. The airbags had not been deployed, so Abbie guessed that she had not hit that hard but the seatbelt had given her a serious jolt. The engine was still running and there were no warning lights flashing from the dash. What the hell just happened? Where was her phone? As she started searching the centre console for it, her door was wrenched open and something—old, musty, the smell of death and decay—grabbed her and dragged her out.
Someone screamed in the background, “No! Mo—Director Mills!”
Abbie got her gun out, pulled herself free of her attacker and started shooting. In the darkness on the side of the road, she could barely see the man, for surely that was what it was with those broad shoulders, but she could see that the bullets did nothing. Okay, so this was supernatural. He grunted at each hit but just kept coming. Abbie’s back hit the side of her jeep and she started sliding away, still shooting. She was going to run out of bullets before this creep went down and then she would have a really serious problem.
There was a shout, the same voice from before, and a bright ball of light flew overhead and slammed into the creature’s chest. Everything stopped and in that moment Abbie became aware of two things, one: her attacker was that creature that goddamn Crane had talked her into resurrecting—she would know that skull anywhere—the Kindred, and two: her rescuer was a witch.
The Kindred stumbled backward at the blow, stopped, and looked down at the smoking hole in its chest. Abbie kept her gun trained on it, still inching backwards and cleared the jeep. Her rescuer was running towards her, she could hear their shoes sliding on the leaves scattered over the side of the road. Then the Kindred looked back up at her and started forward again.
“Damn it, damn it, damn it!” Abbie said, shooting again. She needed to get into the back of the jeep where the rifles were, something had to work. This time when the witch hit it, the blow knocked the Kindred flat. Abbie decided not to wait around to see if it would get up but ran back to the driver’s side, hopped into the seat, threw the gear into Reverse and floored it. The jeep scuttled dirt as it went, and Abbie heard her rescuer cry out, “Hey, watch it!” just as she got back onto the road. She stopped the jeep again, threw open the passenger side door and called, “Hey, that’s not going to stop it. Get in, we need to get out of here!”
A moment later, a teenaged girl in a baby blue hoodie, wearing her backpack the wrong way around, hopped into the passenger seat and yelled, “I know! Go, go, go!”
Abbie pressed the pedal to the floor again and they sped away.
The drive back into town was a short one. Abbie cringed at the thought of what her poor, precious jeep looked like, but hazard of being a Witness and all, she had greater concerns. She pulled out her phone and called Crane. He answered on the first ring, “Leftenant?”
“Crane, where are you, we have a problem. The Kindred is back and it just attacked me.”
“What? Leftenant, are you alright?”
Abbie glanced over at her rescuer as the girl removed her hoodie to free a head full of golden brown curls barely contained by a ponytail. Abbie replied, “Yeah, I’m fine. I had a rescuer, we’re heading into town now.”
“We?” asked Crane.
“Yes, ‘we’. She’s a witch,” Abbie replied.
“No, I’m not,” said the girl, glancing over at Abbie.
Abbie lifted an eyebrow at this and said to Crane, “Not a witch. She just throws magic at things. Listen, I’ll catch you up when I get to the house.”
“Yes, Leftenant. Of course. Have you any indication that the Kindred has followed you?”
Abbie glanced at her rear-view mirror, saw nothing, and said, “No, but we’re going to need to come up with a plan in case it can track us.”
“This is an unprecedented development, Leftenant. The Kindred was created to be an unstoppable opponent, if it has turned its attention to us…” he let the sentence trail off.
Abbie rolled her eyes and said, “It will be our fault, Igor. See you.” She hung up and turned her attention back to her rescuer. Now that they were in town proper, surrounded by ordinary people going about their ordinary lives, the girl had relaxed a little, sitting back in her seat. The girl also kept both hands around her backpack. Abbie asked, “So, Not-a-witch, what’s your name?”
The girl’s eyes widened a moment and she glanced at Abbie, then swiftly turned her attention back to the road and said, “I…it’s best you don’t know.”
Abbie lifted both eyebrows at that, then said, “Well then, my name is Abigail Mills, I’m an agent—not director—with the FBI assigned to this area. That was my partner, Ichabod Crane, on the phone. We are usually the ones fighting those things in Sleepy Hollow but I’m very grateful for your help. Can you at least tell me what you are, if you’re not a witch?”
“Human,” said the girl, not looking at Abbie. She tightened her grip on her backpack.
Abbie glanced down at the movement and said, “Okay, so you’re human, but you can use magic. Where are you from?”
Abbie was already compiling a profile of the girl in her head, and a plan to get a surreptitious picture to check the Missing Persons database, in the event that the girl was a runaway, when the girl said, “Sleepy Hollow. I…I grew up here.”
Well that narrowed the search, though Abbie was not quite sure she believed the girl. Sure, with 144,000 residents it was not as if Abbie knew everyone in the town but still. She said, “Okay, so, where do you live? You don’t look old enough to be out here this late—grateful though I am for the rescue, again—and I’m sure someone is out there looking for you.”
The girl looked down at her backpack a moment before replying, “My parents aren’t here. My mom’s busy and my dad’s…well, I was staying with my aunt…but she isn’t here either.”
Abbie’s brow furrowed. She asked, “They aren’t here? How old are you?”
Suddenly, the girl sat up and said, “Here, up here! You can let me out. I can find my way from here. Thanks for the ride.”
Abbie slowed next to the bus stop and the girl hopped out almost before the jeep had stopped. “Hey!” Abbie called, alarmed.
The girl stopped and turned back to look at her, head tilted back slightly, eyes widened, in a gesture that was oddly familiar, before asking, “Sorry. What is it?”
Abbie took a breath and said, “I should not be letting you go without knowing for sure that you have someplace to go. You just fought something that could very well come after you. Let me at least drop you off at your house.”
Panic spread along the girl’s face. Abbie’s eyes narrowed. That was not the typical reaction one would expect after such an offer, but after thinking about it for a second, Abbie decided to let it go. Apart from the obvious, there was, in fact, a logical explanation for this, and Abbie said, “Oh, snuck out, huh? Okay. But here…” She pulled a card from her centre console and held it out to the girl. “Take my card. If it gets any later and you don’t get anything, call me. That’s my personal number. Anything at all, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
The girl took the card though she gave Abbie yet another odd look, almost wistful, before she cleared her throat and said, “Yeah, thanks. I’ll be good. I hope you and your partner catch that guy-thing-whatever it was.”
Abbie nodded, then checked her mirrors and pulled back into traffic. In her rear-view she saw the headlights of an approaching bus and let herself relax a little more. It was okay, a little strange, yeah, the sudden rescue, but at least the girl could take care of herself.
Five minutes later, it hit her. Abbie had been driving along a lonely stretch of road on her way home. Where the hell had that little girl come from?
Crane nearly sent Abbie sprawling into a face-plant when she finally got back to the house. She had just put her key in the lock, still lost in thought about the mysterious girl, when the door was wrenched open and she stumbled over the threshold. He caught her before she could hit the hardwood but she glared at him and snapped, “What the hell, Crane?”
He flushed red, and dropped his gaze from her face as he helped her back to her feet. But then he asked, “Where is your rescuer?”
Abbie forgot her anger in an instant. She closed the door, tossed her bag onto a nearby chair and said, “No idea. I don’t even know her name. She says she grew up here, which she’s still doing mind, because if she’s over sixteen I will eat my shoe, but she would not tell me where. She did say that she has parents, and an aunt, but they’re all busy or something.”
“How curious,” said Crane, considering. “You said that she used magic…but she is not a witch?”
Abbie shook her head and replied, “She said she isn’t a witch…but that’s just the thing. She hit the Kindred with something strong enough to knock it flat, though she knew it was not going to work long, and…damn it, I just let her go.”
“Leftenant?” asked Crane.
Abbie shook her head again and asked, “Have you found anything that can help us handle the Kindred? We made an unstoppable warrior and let it run off. It was bound to come back and bite us.”
Crane still looked troubled by her distress, but blinked at this and turned away to snatch up the books he had been perusing on the coffee table. His citizenship test book was still a coaster. He flicked his hair away from his eyes as he returned to Abbie and said, “Yes, well, the Kindred is practically unstoppable, but I have an idea: if attaching Abraham van Brunt’s head gave the creature life, perhaps removing it would have the opposite effect.”
Abbie folded her arms and lifted an eyebrow. She asked, “Behead it again? That’s your plan?”
Spots of red formed on Crane’s cheeks and he cleared his throat before saying, “Well, Leftenant, as is said, sometimes the simplest solution is the best. We were not actually trying to kill it before so we do not know for sure, but we have to do something. I would assume that your shooting at it did not work?”
Abbie narrowed her eyes at his tone on that last part but she could not argue with his logic. She said, “Okay, so how are we going to do this beheading? It almost took down Headless and if it wasn’t for my mysterious Knight-in-the-Blue-Hoodie, it would have done more than busted up my fender.”
Crane paused at this, momentarily speechless and let his gaze go to the door behind Abbie, but then he blinked again and said, “Yes, well, I—”
Abbie’s phone rang in her back pocket. She pulled it out—Jenny calling—and said, “Hold that thought. Yes?”
“Hey, Abs…you want to tell me why the juvenile delinquent I just caught breaking into the Archives has your business card?”
“What?” Abbie asked, stunned.
“Yeah,” said Jenny. “I was heading home when I saw a light on and decided to go check it out. I walk in and there’s this brat going through the shelves looking for information on witches and the Kindred. You know anything about this?”
“Yes, I do,” said Abbie, glancing at Crane. “Listen, can you hold her? We’re coming right over.”
Abbie could hear the wicked smile in her sister’s voice when Jenny replied, “Oh don’t worry. She’s not going anywhere.”
Abbie hung up then and answered Crane’s unspoken question, “Turns out my rescuer is not quite the hero we thought she was. Jenny just caught her in the Archives looking for information.”
Crane’s chin went up and his eyes widened, a perfect mirror of the girl’s action before. Abbie felt her heart skip a beat as a thought struck her. There was no possible way, but then Crane said, “Well, Leftenant, let’s go find out why.”
Jenny had tied the girl to a chair, one of the red-velvet covered ones that lined the back wall of the Archives. Her hands and legs had been bound to the armrests and legs, though there was no gag, and she was glaring at Jenny’s back. Jenny, apparently oblivious, was going through the girl’s backpack, an assortment of odd objects spread out on the table before her. The girl and Jenny both looked up as Abbie and Crane walked in and Jenny said, “She won’t give me her name either. But get this, she has a copy of Grace Dixon’s journal.”
That stopped Abbie and Crane in their tracks, and Crane said, “I’m sorry…did you say a copy?”
The girl said, “It’s not a copy.”
All eyes turned to her. She bit her lip, dropped her gaze and said, “Please, we need to find that thing before it finds you. You’re wasting time trying to find out who I am. It’s out there hunting you. They sent it to kill you!”
She lifted her gaze to Abbie as she said this last part. Abbie, staring back, asked, “Who are ‘they’?”
The little girl started shaking her head, squeezed her eyes shut and said nothing. Abbie walked up to the girl’s chair, put a hand under the girl’s chin and tilted her head up so that she could see her face. The girl stubbornly kept her gaze down, but after a moment, took a breath and looked up at Abbie. Abbie was sure that she had never seen these features before, yet something about them looked familiar all the same and the moment their eyes met, Abbie felt a shiver run through her. She said, “Name.”
The girl’s cheeks puffed out a little, her stubbornness showing, but she said, “Lori.”
“‘Lori’ what?” asked Abbie, heart racing now though she still refused to make the connection. It was not that crazy, not after Abbie’s own experiences, but still….
The girl did not answer. Behind her, Crane asked, “Leftenant?”
Abbie ignored him and asked, “Where are you from?”
“Sleepy Hollow,” said Lori. Then, “You’re wasting time. They’ve made it think you’re the enemy, you in particular. You have to stop it before it kills you. If you die I—”
She clamped her mouth shut but Abbie saw the flash of panic again. She glanced back at Crane and Jenny, at their narrowed gazes and thinly pressed lips, and then asked, “When are you from?”
Lori blanched, and then her expression fell as resignation hit. Crane asked, “Leftenant…what do you mean ‘when’?”
“She’s…she travelled through time?” asked Jenny, barely able to contain her incredulity.
Lori took a deep breath, released it and said, “2033. I was born in 2020.”
“That’s five years from now,” said Jenny, then, eyebrows climbing to her forehead, “You’re thirteen?”
“I’m not a little kid,” Lori snapped.
Crane stepped up beside Abbie and Lori sat back in her seat, suddenly afraid, gaze now on him. He did not look too troubled, as Abbie expected him to be. Crane seemed to take it quite personally when he failed to charm a child as easily as he could most adult women. Goodness knew that was how he had managed to get himself into Abbie’s house. Instead, gaze steady, expression solemn, he asked, “Who is your mother?”
Abbie snapped her gaze up at him but he was not looking at her. When she looked back at Lori, the girl was looking down again but then Crane said, voice pitched high, “Right. Okay…now, who are they that are pursuing you, Miss Lori?”
“Wait, Crane,” said Abbie just as Jenny said, “Why did you ask that?”
Lori replied, “They are a coven of witches. They’re not the same one that went after Katrina Crane, but they want to kill the Witnesses. In the future…they caught the Kindred in the Yukon and sent him back to kill you, well, Di-Agent Mills.”
Abbie just stared back at her. Lori shifted her gaze back to Ichabod and said, “In the future…well, more people know about what’s going on. And Director Mills is responsible for a whole section of people who are trying to stop the Apocalypse. Their master needs them to stop her from becoming the director so they need to kill her now.”
“What does that have to do with you?” asked Jenny, just as Abbie realised why.
She took a second look at the girl, at the shape of her face, at her build and her colouring and said, “Your parents don’t know you’re here.”
Lori shook her head and dropped her gaze to her hands. Abbie knelt before the girl and took her hands into her own, then asked, “How did you get here?”
Lori’s eyes filled with tears. She said, “We were betrayed. Everyone knows where we are, but they could not get to us. But then one of the agents, she was a witch. Dad was out with Aunt…with my aunt and Mom was asleep. I was up reading through the journal. They don’t want me to know anything about this stuff but I can do it, so I borrow the journal sometimes and practice on my own. When it broke into the house I managed to hold it off for a little while but Mom…Mom….” Her words dissolved into sobs. Abbie pulled on the ropes trapping the girl’s hands and a moment later, Crane was cutting through them with a letter opener. The moment the girl was free, Abbie drew her into her arms. That seemed to make the girl bawl harder but she held onto Abbie so tightly it was as if she was trying to prevent her from floating away.
Crane finished cutting away the ropes on the girl’s legs and then took the chair next to her and met Abbie’s gaze. She nodded and he laid a tentative hand on the girl’s shoulder. After a moment her crying quieted and she pulled away from Abbie. Abbie let her go and took the seat on her other side. Lori dried her face on her sleeve and said, “Mom got hurt real bad, but she got the Kindred good too. He ran away and I followed him. That was how I saw the agent who betrayed us. When she realised that Mom was not dead she decided to send the Kindred back to kill you before you could become director. And I’m here because I jumped in after it.”
Well that sounded embarrassingly familiar, thought Abbie. And it was the final confirmation she needed. So, five years from now there were going to be some big changes. She was not sure how she felt about that, so to avoid thinking about it, she turned to Jenny and said, “It nearly got me on the drive home. Crane’s plan is decapitation, got anything better?”
Crane protested at once, “Leftenant, you agreed earlier that that was a good plan.”
“Greek fire?” asked Jenny, only half-joking.
Abbie liked the sound of that. The Kindred was technically a zombie, and fire killed lots of things. She stood to go to her sister but was stopped by a hand on her arm. When she looked back at the hand, Lori’s, the girl released her and leant back in her seat closer to Crane. Whelp, she and Crane had had a kid. And her fellow Witness was taking this in stride, judging by the way he had gone silent and was focussing his attention on comforting the girl. Abbie hurried over to Jenny, refusing to think about Jeremy.
“How quick can you and Joe mix up another batch of Greek fire?” asked Abbie.
Instead, Jenny asked, “Is she…?”
Abbie glanced back at Crane and Lori and turned back to her sister with wide eyes. She exhaled a breath through her mouth and said, “Can of worms, Jenny. Focus, we need to stop the Kindred.”
“Right,” said Jenny, clearing her throat. “Yeah, it would take about an hour but we can have a decent batch mixed up. I’m more concerned about where the Kindred is right now. Do you think it can track you?”
It had not found them so far but Abbie was not about to let that comfort her. She replied, “I think it’s best if we go looking for it. It could still be somewhere around where it first attacked me so we should probably head there first.”
Behind them, Lori said, “I’m coming with you.”
“No way,” said Abbie, just as Crane said, “That is not a good idea.”
Lori folded her arms, cocked a hip and said, “I stopped it before, I saved your life. You’re not keeping me out of this one.”
The three adults exchanged glances, and then Jenny said, “I’m not getting in the middle of this. Let me call Joe. You guys sort this out.”
She pulled her phone from her back pocket and walked away. Abbie watched her go, then turned back to Crane and Lori just as the girl began, “You can’t stop me. And if I did not help you before you would be dead and I—”
“Would not be here,” Abbie finished for her. “Yes, I get that, thanks. And I’m not going to stop you, I just need you to be safe. I don’t think your parents want you hurt, no matter how heroic you are. In fact, I want you to teach us what you did to knock the Kindred flat.”
Lori’s eyes narrowed, her expression suspicious. Abbie did not look at Crane. That was a rookie mistake. She let Crane takeover, which he did, saying, “Miss Lori, it would actually be useful in the event that we cross paths with this era’s Kindred at some point in the future and must fight him. We do not mean to take you out of your fight, we understand that this is a battle in which you must participate and especially because of the harm visited upon your mother.”
He met Abbie’s gaze then and she willed herself not to react. Yup, he had taken the news very well, but how the hell did he know the kid was his? He was not the only white guy in the world.
Lori glanced between them, took a breath and said, “It’s in the journal, but Grace Dixon did not write that part, you did, so I guess you did run into the Kindred.”
She walked over to the table where Jenny had been sorting through the books and then Crane asked, “Miss Lori, if I may, what is your full name?”
Lori thought about it for a moment, then said, “Well, you’re not going to remember anyway, but I was named for my grandmothers.”
Abbie was about to tell Crane off for prying, because for once, for this one thing it was perhaps best if they took a step back and did not dig too deeply, when he whispered, “Georgiana…”
Lori turned to look at him and then Abbie realised why he had insisted on asking. Lori blushed and replied, “That’s me, Lori Georgiana.”
“You look…a lot like her,” said Crane, eyes a little misty.
Since that was clearly not Abbie or her mother, it meant that the child looked like his. Abbie studied the girl’s face again, as Lori replied, “Yeah, you—Dad tells me that all the time. But I have Mom’s—”
“Eyes, yes, those are…hers,” said Crane, shifting his gaze to Abbie.
She looked away from them both. The guy could at least pretend to be disappointed that he and Zoe had not worked out.
Thankfully, Jenny walked back in then and said, “Joe’s on his way. Are we all sorted?”
“Yes,” said Crane, looking at Lori again.
Abbie sighed and said, “Alright, we have work to do. Kindred. Come on. Where did your mother write about fighting the Kindred?”
Lori flipped through the book with the practiced ease of someone who had read it often.
The Archives was silent save for the sounds of the crackling fire burning low in the grate, the turning of pages and quiet breathing. Joe and Jenny had gone on a late night shopping trip for supplies, leaving Abbie and Crane to work on their half of the plan. In Abbie’s opinion it would have gone much easier if Crane had not kept getting distracted by Lori and insisting on interrogating her for details of her family life. Lori seemed eager to tell him too, now that both of her future parents had figured out who she was she could not get the stories out fast enough. When exhaustion finally got the best of Lori and she fell asleep on a cot among the bookshelves, it was almost a relief.
Almost because that left Abbie awake with Crane. And Crane definitely wanted to talk to Abbie about Lori.
Abbie let him wait for a whole half hour before finally acknowledging his furtive glances with a bored, “What is it, Crane?”
“Leftenant,” he said, voice soft and full of awe.
Abbie turned back to look at him. Crane had knelt beside Lori’s cot and was trailing his hand through the girl’s hair. He said, “She is perfect.”
Abbie rolled her eyes, if only to ignore the swell of emotion that followed his statement. Of course, Crane would fall in love with the girl. For one, this child had not travelled through time to kill him so there was that. She said, “Yes, well, she is brave and determined. She is definitely not going down without a fight.”
Crane lifted his gaze to Abbie’s and said, “From the moment I saw her I knew. I should not have but I did. I am glad for her. That she exists suggests that…well, she is perfect.”
Abbie looked away, down to the journal in her hands. She said, “You said that already.” She flipped to a random page to continue ignoring him, then froze at the sight of her own handwriting. Her hands began to shake as she read,
Holy shit. It was not real until she read that.
“If there’s one warning I could give my past self: don’t drink that bottle of wine from Irving on the night of Jenny and Joe’s wedding. Mr Eidetic Memory won’t have any condoms and you’re going to be drunk enough to say ‘pfft’ and then eight months later you’re going to be sitting on the couch in the Archives unable to sleep because your back hurts and the baby won’t stop kicking until the modern dance performance she’s having on your spleen is over.”
“What is it?” asked Crane.
Abbie started, he was closer than she expected. She turned to find him just over her shoulder and she slammed the journal shut. He shifted his gaze to hers again and she turned away and said, “Don’t read over my shoulder. Why are you so close?” He did not move away and Abbie changed tack, asking, “So she looks like your mother, huh? What was she like?”
Crane was silent for so long, Abbie thought he would not answer. Then he pulled out a chair beside her, sat down and said, “Georgiana Crane was…beautiful. She had married my father quite young but that was not uncommon for our time…or now, it would seem. She was a learned woman who loved to entertain. And she was brave too, and determined once she set her mind to something.” He turned to look at the sleeping girl and said, “It is a wonder to see her features on a new face. I never thought I would it see it again.”
Abbie turned to him, meaning to give him a reassuring remark, but he was already staring at her and said, “I…I confess that it makes me very happy to know that one day I shall.”
Abbie paused, momentarily stunned, and then she was up and out of the chair walking to the door. Crane was quick at her heels though, and said, “Leftenant…I know the idea disquiets you right now but surely you see that—”
“No,” said Abbie, cutting him off. “That…this…it’s just too weird, and do you realise that that means that we will still be fighting this war seventeen years from now?”
“We have an opportunity to change that,” said Crane, slipping in front of her. “We know now where things are going so we can fix them.”
“Not if that witch used the same spell that Katrina did. We won’t remember any of this, nothing, the same way you don’t remember me showing up in 1781,” said Abbie, reaching for her keys.
Crane, in a shocking break with protocol, wrapped his hand around her wrist and asked, “Where are you going? The Kindred is out there.”
Abbie tightened her grip on her keys. There was something that they had been dancing around for weeks now. Abbie could feel it in the heat radiating from Crane’s grip, her awareness of his closeness at her back, the way his voice had dropped several octaves. She wanted to pull her hand away and keep going. She wanted to lean back into him.
That thought jerked her out of her daze. What the hell was she thinking? What the hell were they doing? She turned to face him. He was staring at her intently. She could see what he was thinking plainly on his face. Lori’s existence meant that this thing was as inevitable as it felt. Lori’s existence was permission.
He brought his other hand around to rest on her waist, eyes dark now and the door opened behind them.
“Finally! No sign of the Kindred, guys but—” Jenny’s voice trailed off and Abbie shut her eyes and exhaled. Then Jenny said, “Whoa, should I give you a minute?”
“Yes,” said Crane.
“No,” said Abbie, opening her eyes to glare at him. She turned in his arms to face her sister and asked, “Got everything?” Crane did not remove the hand at her waist.
Jenny, smirking now, said, “Yup. Joe’s bringing it in. Where’s the kid?”
“Asleep,” said Abbie, stepping out of Crane’s reach.
He replied, “She is quite exhausted. Though powerful, the exertions of the day have taken their toll. I hope that it will keep her at rest until we have completed our mission.”
All eyes turned back to where the girl lay asleep and Abbie said, “Someone should remain here to watch her, just in case. I know she’s determined to help but she’s just thirteen. We also need to prepare that spell to send her back.”
“Excellent idea, Leftenant. We shall be back as soon as we are able,” said Crane, slipping her keys from her fingers and stepping around her, headed for the door.
“What?” Abbie stuttered, blinking at his back.
Jenny and Joe exchanged a glance but Crane did not turn back to her. Instead he snatched up his coat and said, “We should hurry. We must intercept this creature before it discovers where you are.”
“Wait a minute, Crane. You’re not leaving me behind. This thing is after me. You need me to be out there in order to catch it,” Abbie protested. There was no way that Crane was trying to leave her out of the action when it was her life that was in danger, was he? Of course not. That would be crazy.
Crane stopped walking but did not turn around. Abbie stopped too. There was something odd about the way he stood, back straight, head up, the mark of a man who had come to a decision regarding a woman and was not going to be dissuaded from it. She glanced at the others but they were looking back at her. Then Crane said, “Please do not ask me to risk your life now. Not after what I just found out.”
Abbie allowed herself to be stunned by this for exactly two seconds. Then she got mad. No. Crane was not going to do this to her. She snapped, “Ichabod Crane, if you think that I’m just going to sit here and wait for you to come back like some kind of—”
“But you would not be sitting here waiting for my return,” said Crane, turning at last, voice soft. “You would be watching over our child. You would be putting together the spell that would send her home, as your ancestor did for you. Accordingly, it would also send the Kindred back but hopefully weakened enough that it can do no further harm.”
Abbie was still mad. Crane had almost never treated her like this before. If he thought it was going to work, he had another thing coming. Then Lori asked, “Hey, where are you guys?”
Crane closed his eyes. Abbie turned just as the girl came around the corner, yawning even as she narrowed her gaze at the four of them. Abbie suppressed a groan and said, “Discussing strategy. I need your help to put together the spell to send you back to your parents. Crane and these guys are going to keep it away from us until we can and try to weaken it in the meantime.”
Lori’s eyes narrowed further. Crane walked back over to Abbie and said, “I know you intend to aid us directly in this fight, Miss Lori, but you have already helped us immensely. If memory serves, Abbie will need your help to perform the spell that would undo the damage.”
“No!” cried Lori. “You need me with you. I can drive it off, you guys can’t.”
“We need to do more than just drive it off,” said Crane, in a low, level voice that made Abbie want to smack him. It was condescending, making her and Lori feel as if they were both being unreasonable and irrational. “Please, Miss Lori, you know as well as I that the two of you are required for this spell. Nothing will happen to us in the meantime because you still exist. When you return to your own time however, I do want you to run for your father. Do not stay and fight the Kindred.”
She opened her mouth to argue, and Crane added, “I do not say this to try to keep your out of the fight. I have no rights to you in this time but I ask that you consider my council. I say it because your father and aunt will need backup.”
Lori closed her mouth again and looked at him. Jenny and Joe exchanged a glance and fidgeted slightly behind them but otherwise made no attempt to intervene. Abbie was struck by the thought that, for all his…Crane-ness, he had handled that rather well. What kid, especially one that he had sired, was not a sucker for an appeal to their ego? Crane just might have made a good father after all, if circumstances had allowed it with Jeremy. And then Lori nodded and said, “Okay.”
Crane held Lori’s gaze for a beat before returning the nod, and then, with a long, considering look at Abbie that warmed her to her toes, despite herself, turned and followed Jenny and Joe out the door. She just caught the hint of a lascivious smirk there that inspired her libido. Abbie took a few deep breaths, then turned to Lori and said, “Come on, kid. The faster you get back, the better it will be.”
Lori wrinkled her nose and said, “That witch is going to be waiting for me and be extra-mad when I get back with the Kindred. I can’t stab her like Dad did with Katrina.”
Abbie sucked in a breath and whirled to face the child. Lori ducked her head, and found something interesting to look at near her feet as she confessed, “They did not tell me but I-I overheard.”
“You mean, you listened in on something that did not concern you,” corrected Abbie.
Lori met Abbie’s scolding look with a defiant one of her own and said, “It concerned Dad so it concerned me. If she had won, I would not be here.”
Abbie exhaled heavily, and admitted, “Maybe I would not be either. And you’re right, she will be waiting for you and I don’t think you will be able to pull anything through with you. But you may have the element of surprise on your side….” She took a moment to put together a quick plan, one that hopefully would not get her future child killed, and then said, “Listen, when you get back on the other side I want you to focus on the witch. Forget about the Kindred…or at least keep away from him, but take her out, first, when you get there. You’ve already demonstrated that you have the abilities, I want you to use them. Plus…maybe the Kindred might be disoriented enough that you can take off.”
Lori lifted an eyebrow and said, “That sounds like a lot of guessing.”
Abbie lifted her eyebrow in turn and, with far more confidence than she felt, her heart racing, said, “You, Lori Georgiana, are descended of a long line of extraordinary women. Are you going to let them down by allowing the Kindred to get you?”
Lori did not hesitate, but shook her head and said, “Never.”
In the end, the spell went off without a hitch. Lori had insisted on drawing Abbie into a tight hug before they started, and stared at her the whole time, but the girl was a powerful little thing and disappeared almost before the incantation was done. Then it was time to wait.
Abbie had no way of knowing whether the spell had worked but she insisted on believing that it did. She even prayed a little, more fiercely than she expected to, eyes squeezed shut, hands clenched, begging God or whoever could hear, to protect her child and grant her victory. And when she opened her eyes, she could not remember why she had been praying or for whom. The candle they had lit on the table went out with a rush of wind and everything went black.
If Abbie had not been distracted by Danny’s bug-induced confession—it had been weeks but she just could not let it go—she probably would have run right into the creature that stepped out of the treeline and into her path as she drove home from the bureau. As fate would have it, she had thrown her head back against the seat for a moment, exhaling as she went, trying to shake away her thoughts, and when she looked back at the road it was there. She only had seconds to react, yanking on the steering wheel to swerve out of the way but then something hit the van, she heard the back glass explode into a shower of splinters and she went right off the road into a ditch.
For a moment there was blessed silence. The airbags had not been deployed, so Abbie guessed that she had not hit that hard but the seatbelt had given her a serious jolt. The engine was still running and there were no warning lights flashing from the dash. What the hell just happened? Where was her phone? It started ringing before she could grasp it, but that made it easier to find.
Crane began almost before she could finish a distracted “Hello…?”—the deer she had maybe hit, hopped awkwardly off into the trees, the lucky bastard—“Leftenant, I believe I have solved the problem of our—are you alright?”
Abbie turned the key in the ignition and the van roared to life. She breathed a sigh of relief but only a little one, the front of the van had to be a sight, and said, “Yes, sorry, grazed a deer. What did you want?”
Seventeen years later…
Abbie opened her eyes and immediately squeezed them shut at the harsh glare coming through the windows. Then she winced when that made her head hurt, and then groaned when the movement irritated her injuries. It all came rushing back—her bedroom door being smashed off the hinges, the shotgun blasts that he shook off like a persistent fly, the blade slicing open her leg as she leaped out of range—and she murmured, “Someone needs to kill the Kindred before I do….”
“Mom?” asked a familiar voice a moment before slim fingers wrapped around her arm. Abbie opened her eyes again to find Lori staring down at her. Her eyes were watery with unshed tears, though her reddened nose hinted at earlier crying, and what was that bruise on her forehead? Before Abbie had a chance to ask, the girl slammed into her and cried, “Oh, Mom! I thought I was too late! I thought it didn’t work but it did! I did exactly what you said. I hit the witch when I came through the portal and I took off before the Kindred could get me. Dad and Aunt Jenny were already here so they just grabbed me and got rid of the witch. It worked, Mom! It worked!”
“Abbie’s awake?” asked a much familiar baritone that still seemed to penetrate to her bones and then some, and, still heedless of her injuries, Lori shifted to reveal Crane peering down at them.
Abbie smiled at him, though it turned into a wince, and he said, “Okay, Lori, remember that she is injured, give her room to breathe.”
“Oh! Yes!” cried Lori, pulling away. Guilt flooded her features and she dropped her gaze and said, “Sorry, Mom.”
Abbie smiled at her, even if it hurt, and said, “It’s okay. I’m just glad you’re okay…what is that story that you were telling?”
Crane cleared his throat and, when Abbie turned to him, said, “Ah, yes, our Lori has had quite the adventure. I’m just glad that this time she did not end up in the 1700s.”
Abbie nodded at this, turning back to her daughter before the words registered and she snapped back to Crane, injuries stretching painfully, and asked, “What? She went where?”