Charlene Raddon

Keeping Alive the Romance of the old West


A RIDE THROUGH TIME

 

 

 

 

 

Ghosts. Murder. Love. Time Travel. T.P.S.I. Agent Burke Jameson travels to Eagle Gulch, Colorado to investigate a report of ghost activity at a house where a murder took place in 1881. When his vehicle carrying his P.S.I. equipment dies, and a riderless mare appears, he mounts up, hoping the horse will lead him to her fallen rider. What he finds is a whole new life beyond his imagination.

Clorinda Halstead believes she’s a widow. After all, she was the one who shot her husband, Horace, on a violent night in 1881. He deserved it, the jury concluded. Living with the town marshal and his wife, all Clori wants is to be left alone. Then a stranger, Burke James, joins the household and nothing is ever the same again.

How did Burke find his way through time to the year 1881, and who is haunting the lovely but distant Widow Halstead? Can Burke find the ghost of Eagle Gulch without his P.S.I. equipment? And how will he ever choose between going home to his own time and a life of love and happiness with Clorinda?

 

AVAILABLE NOW IN PRINT

 

A RIDE THROUGH TIME

Chapter One

Almost there.

Burke Jameson opened the van’s window and sucked in the invigorating scent of firs and spruces. Home. He’d grown up on a mere five miles from where he now drove up a rutted dirt road near Eagle Gulch, Colorado.

But more than the closeness of home accounted for the increased rate of his heartbeat. His true destination lay a few more miles up this very lane, along with the means of attaining his lifelong goal.

To banish a ghost.

Not just any ghost—Horace Halstead’s restless spirit.

“Dark in these woods, isn’t it?” Gabe commented from the passenger’s seat. “It’s only three o’clock.”

“Yeah. Tree shadows.” Burke had hoped to arrive by noon and get their equipment set up long before sunset. Being September, that hour would arrive sooner.

Gabe braced a stockinged foot against the dash and looked at him. “I know you’re disappointed we didn’t get here earlier, Burke. And it’s my fault for having to stop to eat. But if I don’t eat when it tells me to, I get sick.”

“Yes, I’m aware,” Burke answered absently, his mind on the purpose of this trip and how odd it felt to be back again.

To drive through Eagle Gulch had been like a trip through his childhood. A trip of nostalgia, love, regret, and hopes for the future.

Memories flooded him, including those from his previous visit to Halstead House at the age of fifteen. He’d loved hearing the tale of Horace Halstead’s murder in 1881 and how the man’s ghost haunted the place ever after.

“If you’re so dang certain there’s a ghost there, why don’t you just go over and talk to him,” a gangly, pimple-faced Jimmy Zook had taunted. “You chicken?”

No. Being chicken didn’t stop Burke. The dare gave him an excuse to do what he wanted to do, anyway.

To his disappointment, his first meeting with the Halstead spirit hadn’t gone the way he hoped. Instead of the exciting, enlightening experience he’d yearned for, Horace chased him off the property.

Rather than kill his interest in the paranormal world of specters, that terrifying night cemented his resolve to become an expert on ghosts.

Now, seventeen years later, he had his chance to return. Not as a naïve teenager, but a trained, experienced ghost hunter for Tremayne Psychic Specters Investigations. And he couldn’t wait to get to work.

“You hear something?” Gabe asked.

Burke listened. “Yeah. Beeping. Check the back, will you? Spook may have accidentally turned on one of the monitors.” The Vizsla made a good passenger for a dog but did get restless, especially when he couldn’t see out, and the van’s only windows were in the front.

While his partner hauled himself into the rear, Burke avoided a puddle, then veered the opposite direction to cut around a large rock.”

“Take it easy, Burke,” Gabe yelled. “I’m trying to stand up back here.”

“Sorry.”

A gust of wind whipped the tree boughs, a precursor to an upcoming storm that could ruin Burke’s long-awaited return. A warning? Were the elements trying to tell him not to count on this being his moment?

Tough. Burke would not wait. If it rained, it rained.

Spook thrust his head over Burke’s shoulder and breathed shivery doggy breath in his ear. Burke reached back to pat the dog’s nearly hairless head.

“The ambient thermometer had come on.” Gabe reclaimed his seat. “Indicates a weather change. Think that means ghosts?”

“Possible.” Burke scanned the sky from the window. “Growing colder. I’d say we’ll be lucky to get half the equipment set up before it storms.” He wished the temperature drop meant active spirits, but, as his Grandma Dorothy liked to say, Don’t count your chicks too soon. “Besides, my nose isn’t itching, and you know it always does when a ghost is around.”

Gabe laughed. “Or so you say.”

Burke rubbed the dog’s head again. “Spook doesn’t look like he senses specters. You going to ignore that too?”

Before Gabe could reply, the van’s engine sputtered and coughed.

“Do not die on me.” Burke kept steady pressure on the gas pedal to keep the vehicle going.

With a deep belch, the motor died.

Gabe sank lower in his seat and muttered an ugly word.

Burke tried to restart the engine. No luck. A bad sensation invaded his chest. He’d checked the van before they left Denver and the gas tank showed three-quarters full. What could have happened? Would they have to spend the night in a van crowded with electronic equipment?

Had some higher power sent the storm to warn him against completing his plans?

Can ghosts monkey with car engines?

Worse than that, he’d promised his father if he didn’t succeed in meeting this challenge, this goal he’d worked toward all his life, he’d give up ghost hunting and go to work running the retirement community in Arizona his dad bought after selling the ranch.

He groaned at the thought. Arizona? Too hot by far, and too full of old people. Burke held nothing against the elderly, but neither did he desire to spend the rest of his life in what basically amounted to a fancy old-folks home.

Someone may have tampered with the engine. Someone alive.

Don’t be paranoid, Jameson. You’re just afraid something will prevent you from reaching your goal. Yeah, it’s important to you. But it isn’t like your life will end if you fail.

He drew in a deep breath to calm his nerves and got out. As he walked to the front of the van, he fingered the small T.P.S.I. Medallion hanging under his T-shirt. His good luck charm.

Number Twenty-Four of the Ghost Hunters’ Code came to mind: It’s okay to be afraid.

He’d been in far worse situations, like when that Seventeenth-Century Italian swordsman tried to skewer him on a blade. It had taken three priests and a preacher to banish that formidable ghost. Burke no longer accepted assignments in Italy.

Gabe joined him as Burke raised the hood and studied the engine.

“Whew! It’s cold out here,” Gabe said and zipped up his jacket.

“Yeah.” Damn. With this delay, they’ll be unloading equipment in the rain for sure.

“You know anything about cars?”

“There isn’t a farmer alive who doesn’t know engines. Necessary with farm equipment. Nothing wrong with this one though.” Burke checked the oil, battery, and wiring and uttered a silent curse at the mud collecting on his new Tony Lamas.

“Great. What do we do now?” Gabe banged a fist on the fender.

“No idea.”

In the van, Spook whined. Burke glanced over and saw the dog’s gaze fixed on the road ahead. He turned to see what captured the Vizsla’s attention.

A saddled, riderless gray mare stood in the road a dozen yards away.

“Holy hell,” Gabe exclaimed. “Where do you suppose she came from?”

“Beats me.” Burke moved closer for a better view. The whole thing—lost horse, empty saddle—boded ill, and added to the bad feeling in his gut. It didn’t bode well for the missing rider either.

The beautiful dappled mare’s hide gleamed silvery in the faint light. She backed up, reins dragging.

“It’s all right. You can trust me.” Burke spoke in the calm, soothing voice his father taught him to use with nervous animals. “I won’t hurt you.”

“What can I do to help, Burke?” Gabe asked.

“If I think of anything, I’ll tell you.”

With a whinny and a toss of her head, she retreated further.

Burke followed, holding out an open hand. “Easy, now. Everything’s fine. Where’s your rider? Did you toss him?”

At the age of twelve, he’d spent a night alone on the range nursing a broken foot from being thrown. With temperatures dropping here fast, an injured rider could pass a miserable night. Particularly, if it stormed.

Burke cursed. He didn’t have time to search for missing people. He needed to get to the house. They’d never get anything done the way matters were going. Yet he couldn’t leave an injured man out there somewhere to suffer possible hypothermia.

Once more, a whinny and the mare clip-clopped up the lane. Spook barked.

Burke paused. Thanks to his years on Pop’s ranch, he’d learned horse talk and had little doubt what this one wanted. “Gabe, I think she wants me to go with her. I’m going to try to ride her. Follow in the van but don’t get too close.”

“How am I going to do that with a dead motor?”

“Just try it.” Years as a T. P.S.I. Agent honed Burke’s understanding of the unusual. Instinct told him matters would be different now.

The car door creaked open, and Gabe cursed. In the next instant, Spook stood beside Burke. Afraid to take his eyes off the horse, in case she bolted, he said, “Bad dog. I told you to stay.”

Behind him, the van’s engine roared to life, sweet as apple pie.

“Stay close, Spook. Understand? Or you’ll go back in the van.”

Spook used his odd half-whine, half-bark to indicate he understood.

Burke inched closer to the horse. “How about you take me to your owner so we can help him?”

This time, she stood still, watching him over her shoulder. He hadn’t dealt with horses since leaving for college, but some things never changed. He patted the long bridge of her nose while she sniffed his hand and snorted her approval.

“Like that, huh?” Burke stroked the sleek gray coat, checking her neck, withers, and legs. She seemed in good shape.

Skittish, though. She danced away a few steps, whinnied and looked back as if to say come on.

“You want to show me where your rider is?”

Another nod.

“You’re a clever one. I think I’ll call you Silver.” Burke admired the way this beautifully expressive creature communicated so effortlessly. Like Spook.

She stomped her hooves with impatience.

“All right, all right.” Burke adjusted the fit of his Stetson. After a quick check of the cinch strap, he hoisted himself into the saddle. Silver snuffled. To Burke’s surprise, Spook leaped into his lap. Did the mare invite Spook to join them or did the dog decide on his own?

Although smaller than a shepherd or Great Dane, Spook made a definite lapful of dog. Burke wrapped his arms around Spook’s thin, ruddy body and received a sloppy kiss on the cheek in return.

Silver trotted up the road. Gabe followed, guiding the van over washboard ruts and through puddles from yesterday’s rain.

To be on a horse again gave Burke a surprising sense of rightness, of belonging. As a youngster, he yearned to become a rodeo cowboy, but the desire to hunt ghosts outweighed all others. Not knowing where the fallen rider might be, Burke gave Silver her head. She’d know where to take him.

A rickety old fence bordered the road. Fence poles, gnarled and gray with age, lay on the ground like pickup sticks.

Two miles later, Burke glimpsed the dark, hulking Halstead House in the distance through the trees. His pulse ratcheted up.

He’d truly made it back! Before sundown and before the storm. He gave Spook a celebratory hug.

A spider web caught on his whiskered cheek. He wanted to wipe it away, but holding onto the reins with one hand and the dog with the other made that impossible. He ducked to keep tree boughs from stealing his hat. A coyote burst out of the underbrush and scurried away. Spook ignored the animal.

Silver trotted over a fallen gate, leaving the road and cutting across an open field. The trees thinned abruptly. Only stumps remained.

What the…? Burke hadn’t seen this coming. At what exact point had the forest ended and this logging devastation begun? He tried to look back at what they’d left behind. Impossible, with Spook in his lap. Why cut down the forest? Did the Historical Society plan to put in a parking lot here? Perhaps the lumber sale financed the renovation of Halstead House. They’d gone to extremes, to his thinking; leaving not a single tree in sight except for half a dozen around the house.

The van’s engine faded to silence as Gabe kept to the lane leading to the house. The separation troubled Burke. Number eighteen of the psychic investigator’s code book: never leave a team member behind. He reached into the pocket of his lamb’s wool coat for his cell phone.

No service. Shit. Probably couldn’t text either.

With no trees to block the view, the old house remained in sight, but he saw no crumpled body on the ground.

At last, they arrived in front of the two-story, once white, clapboard structure, its dark windows like eyes staring at him. Silver stopped directly in front of the solid wood door. Burke nudged Spook to get down, then dismounted.

The house appeared pretty much as he remembered it, plain, boxy and serviceable, with the rock fireplace on the left-hand side and a crude, unroofed, unfinished porch in the middle. Two windows flanked the door, still sporting dirty lace curtains. A dented bucket lay beside the porch.

If memory served, there should be a woodpile by the back door and a path to an outhouse on a rock foundation, surrounded by saplings.

Burke smiled with genuine pleasure at being there, until he remembered the lost rider. He’d take care of Silver before doing a thorough search.

“All right, girl. Let’s get you unsad…?” Burke turned to Silver.

Gone. Vanished. As if she’d never been there.

Burke looked down at his palm where the reins should be. How had the horse pulled free without him noticing?

The hair on his arms and neck rose.

Burke’s gaze cut back to the house while an eerie déjà vu sensation washed over him. Would this visit turn into a nightmare too? He shook off the unwanted sense of uneasiness. A job needed to be done.

Since Silver brought him to the front door, he assumed he would find what he sought inside. The scent of smoke wafted under his nose. Gray plumes curled up from the chimney, ghostly pale against the deep blue sky. Faint candlelight showed behind tattered lace curtains.

Silver’s owner must not be too badly injured if he were able to build a fire. Burke stepped up onto the rickety porch, lifted his fist to knock—and froze with his hand in midair.

Something didn’t add up. The Halstead place became a historic landmark in the 1930s to draw in tourists and fill the town’s coffers. The Historical Society made some improvements at the time and installed a plaque beside the door proclaiming the house a historic site. Burke saw no plaque now.

No vinyl-protected display stand related the Halstead story either. Had the Historical Society given up maintaining the property? That would explain the peeling paint and sagging roof, but not the missing deadbolt lock he’s seen there seventeen years ago. The door Burke had been about to knock on had never seen any sort of lock bolted to its thick, solid wood surface.

Whatever was going on here, he’d get to the bottom of it. In fact, he couldn’t wait.

He lifted the cuff of his jacket to check his watch. Not an ordinary watch, but a specially fashioned piece of modern equipment that gave the time, date, weather, and recorded sounds. The device contained an EDI meter, an infrared thermal scanner, an EMF detector, and GPS. Right now, the detector showed red, indicating a disruption in the electronic field. A ghost? No, the presence of a specter would lower the temperature considerably. Instead, it rose.

Before he entered the house, he wanted to have his specter equipment from the van and be ready to record findings.

He knocked on the door and waited. The injured rider might be in condition to answer a door, but well enough to build a fire? Didn’t make sense. Several things made no sense. What had Burke gotten into?

He walked over to peer through a distorted glass pane past the lace curtains. The furniture appeared the same. No occupants in sight unless they were in the kitchen or upstairs.

Flummoxed. This whole mystery had Burke plain flummoxed.

Hell, where had he come up with that antiquated word? The house and its atmosphere were getting to him.

He glanced at the window again. A face—stark, shadowed, creepy as hell—looked back.

 

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