It had a vacant one-room cabin, with three cots and a kitchen. The dwelling also had electricity, but she hadn’t used it, in case it would be detected. She didn’t want the owner catching on that someone was squatting in their home. The serenity this place gave her couldn’t be duplicated, and she wanted to stay as long as possible.
With a sigh of contentment, she sat on a log and watched the birds fly overhead. No one else was about right now. Yesterday sailboats had skimmed along the water’s surface, but now, she felt as if she were the only person in the world.
Which was actually normal for her, but this time the sense brought contentment and didn’t flood her with loneliness. Usually her heart ached for family, for connection and love. But today…something was different. It really couldn’t be the scene before her, but she had no other way to explain her ease at the moment.
She hoped she could stay and wouldn’t be run off by whoever owned the cabin. Worse, they might call the authorities. At sixteen, they would want to put her back into the foster system, and she couldn’t handle another group home. People continued to let her down, but what else could she expect? Her parents had abandoned her right after she was born. If they hadn’t wanted her, why would anyone else?
She took in a deep breath then let it out slowly. It didn’t matter. She wouldn’t let it matter. If she was careful, she could make a life for herself without needing anyone. She might not be an adult yet, but she would manage here.
After drawing in another cleansing breath, she smiled softly. I can do this.
A flash split the sky, making her give a yelp and jump to her feet. She stared upward as a swirling, gaping hole materialized over the sandy bank. Fear shot through her and she took a step back, stumbling over the log and landing on her rear.
She winced as rocks scraped the heels of her hands, but she didn’t take her eyes from the spinning vortex. When a figure fell through, she gasped and her heart flew into her throat.
The form met the ground with a sickening thud, and she froze. A great whoosh sounded and the portal closed, leaving the person behind.
Breathing hard, she watched as the—hopefully—human being shifted. It groaned.
She swallowed and pushed herself to sit up straighter. She had to go. She should be running for safety right now, but she couldn’t make her legs work. Her heart pounded hard, beating with fright and disbelief. What had happened? What had she just seen? Had she passed out? Was she dreaming? She squeezed her eyes shut. Wake up, Emma. Wake up.
But no. When she looked back at the figure, the lump of arms and legs were still there.
Another groan, and then it pushed to all fours.
It was a man. Black hair. Boots. A blue vest over a white shirt. He looked like he was from another world, another time.
With her breath in her throat, she stood, watching him study his surroundings. The lake. The trees. And then…
When he saw her, he froze.
Emma didn’t dare move, either. She couldn’t. He was looking at her, and for some reason, even from twenty yards away, she felt his warmth. An expression of awe and disbelief came over his features as he studied her.
Was she odd to him? Where had he come from? He’d fallen out of the sky through something that could only be described as a lightning, swirling mass of wind and thunder. Was he from Earth?
Carefully, she pushed to standing.
He stayed where he was, watching her, looking her over.
She felt touched. As if his hands had come up and brushed away the hair from her face with gentle fingers. Oh. Wow. Her heart skipped a beat.
As they regarded each other, she got the sense she had nothing to fear from whoever or whatever he was. She glanced at the sky. Nothing else was coming through. Was he alone? Did he need help? She took a step forward, taking care not to trip on the log.
He drew in a breath, but he still didn’t move.
Was he afraid of her? Sympathy clutched her breast, and she went toward him for a few more paces. “Hello,” she said softly.
He swallowed and nodded.
From this distance, she could see the clear blue of his eyes. They seemed to gaze right into her soul. Wow. Who was he?
“Where am I?’ he croaked. “What realm is this?”
Realm? The word made her stop short, and she straightened her spine. Was he from the past? Was she in the middle of something similar to Back to the Future? Oh, my God!
She licked her lips. “You’re in Minnesota.”
Confusion passed over his face. “I’ve never heard of it.”
Probably not. “That might be because…” She checked the sky once more before looking back at him. “You’re from the past.”
He lifted his brow. “The past? What do you mean?”
Oh, boy. She could barely fathom what this day had led her to. However, what was she supposed to do with him? How could she help him? She pushed her hair behind her ears as she tried to consider solutions, but nothing came to mind. She had no idea how to send someone back to the past. But maybe he would have an inkling. First though, he needed to believe she would help him.
She forced a smile and skipped over his question since she didn’t know how to answer it right now. “I’m Emma. Emma Swan.”
He cocked his head to the side and studied her. “You’re not afraid of me?”
She bit her lip then said, “No.”
His shoulders relaxed and he quirked a grin.
“Are you afraid of me?” She splayed a hand over her chest.
He didn’t lose his smile, and a look she could only describe as fondness entered his gaze. “Not at all.”
Puzzled, she wondered why he wasn’t. He was in a strange land, talking to a person he didn’t know. Wouldn’t he be a little concerned for himself? She hooked her thumbs in her pockets. “What’s your name?”
It was perfect. That should be his name. “How old are you?”
“Where are you from?”
“Everywhere. I don’t have a home.”
His words gripped her, and in that simple and quick reply, she understood him. “I don’t have one either.”
Concern passed through his eyes. “Why not? You should. Who has been cruel to you?”
Taken aback by the firmness of his tone, she didn’t know what to say at first. And when his hands curled into fists, and he seemed angry on her behalf, she wondered if he was some kind of protector. “Are you a soldier? Like a knight?”
He shook his head. “I’m a deckhand. A sailor. But I can fight. Who is threatening you?”
Disbelief flooded her. Would he really defend her, be her champion if she asked it of him? Why? They’d just met. But, she reminded herself, he was from the past and men back then were quick to shield women. And while she didn’t need him fighting her battles, it felt nice that someone might look out for her. “No one. In fact, I just found this little cabin.” She gestured over her shoulder.
He looked up the embankment. The structure could be seen through the trees.
“It’s a nice place. No one has come around yet.” She took a deep breath. “You…you can…stay here with me. I-If you want.”
He turned his attention to her, his gaze pulling at her, tugging her to come closer as they melted with warmth and lit with fondness.
She didn’t dare move, so strong was the need to go to him. What was happening? What was she doing? “I c-can help you find your way h-home.” She could? What was wrong with her?
As he studied her, he didn’t say anything for several moments.
She wanted to squirm under his scrutiny. Not because he made her feel awkward, but because she felt he found her invitation significant. Why would it be?
And that softly stated reply made her heart pound with relief and gratefulness. What was going on?