Excerpt from First Breath

The portal threw Kane and Elizabeth into the cold night air—and straight at a wall.

This time he couldn’t put himself between her and danger. They both slammed into the wall, and tumbled to damp grass.

“Beth—” Kane rolled over, flinching at the movement. Elizabeth was on his right, visible against the lighter stone, and hunched over like she was in pain. “Talk to me, Beth.”

“Ouch,” she whispered. One hand pressed against her left temple. “It doesn’t get any easier.”

His shoulder agreed; it ached like the devil. Hell, his entire right side was stiff, and useless. That hardly surprised him. What did surprise was the absence of nausea he usually experienced when he traveled with an injury.

He pushed up to his knees. “Give me your hand, love.”

She started to straighten, and halted with low moan. “I think my head hit harder than I first thought.”

Kane shot to his feet, ignoring his own pain. He knelt beside her, used his stronger left arm to help her sit. When she lifted her head, her waist length blonde hair slid away from her face—and revealed blood. Too much blood.

“Stay still, now.” He settled her against his chest, carefully tilted her chin, and used the moonlight to illuminate her face. Blood streaked her left cheek, from a gash just below her hairline. “Hell.” His right hand fumbled for the handkerchief in his pocket. Even now, after more than two months of physiotherapy, he had little strength, and less control. Finally, he grasped it, transferred it to his left hand. “You’ve got a right nasty gash, love. I am sorry—this is going to sting.”

He touched the wound and she recoiled. “God—”

“I’m sorry. Please—I need you to keep still.”

“Okay.” She closed her eyes when he dabbed at the blood. “God, that hurts—ow—” Her voice spiraled up as she jerked away. “No more—it feels like you’re drilling into my head.” She touched her forehead. “Damn.”

“We need to get you out of this cold.” Kane looked around. Aside from the wall stretching above them, the moonlight revealed nothing but hills, field and trees. “Arm around my shoulders, now.”

“No—your shoulder—”

“Is strong enough.” The lie came out smoothly. Maybe because he had been telling it to himself since he was injured.

“I can walk. Just help me stand.” She laid her hand on his right arm, and froze. “Oh.” Her fingers dug in as she stared out at the landscape.

Kane ignored the twinge. “You know where we are.”

She swallowed, turned her head. “I’ve never been here, but I’ve seen hundreds of photos. That hill, the curve of the wall, they are distinctive. I want to be wrong,” she whispered. “But I think we’re on Hadrian’s Wall.” Her fingers brushed the pale stone. “The wrong side of Hadrian’s Wall.”

~ ~ ~

Elizabeth stared at the impossible. A complete stone wall, standing at least twelve feet high. If it was daylight, she knew she’d see the ditch they huddled in. They landed on the north side, facing Scotland, at the back side defense of an important fort. Housesteads. They were outside Housesteads.

No—Vercovicium. That was the latest name the historians she read were tossing around.

They had to get out of sight before—

“Ho!” The deep, masculine shout froze her.

Kane took her down to the ground. The movement had her gasping. “Stay still.” He whispered against her ear, his body covering her. If something nasty came their way, he would get hit first.

She understood his move, even if it left her dizzy and sweating. With their dark clothes, they blended into the shadows of the ditch. She swallowed the nausea burning her throat.

Silence spread around them, broken only by the wind sweeping over the grass. Elizabeth let out her breath. Kane’s low, accented voice brushed her ear. “I am going to help you stand, and we are getting out of here.”

“Kane.” He stopped. “There’s nowhere to go.”

The string of inventive curses, some in other languages, made her smile. “You’re certain?”

“If we’re where I think we are.” She swallowed again, her head pounding in earnest now. “There is a civilian settlement below the fort, but even if we could get there, we’ll stand out like goats at a party.” His chuckle rumbled through her, reminding her that he lay sprawled on top of her. His clean, woodsy scent surrounded her, calmed her. “And everyone will be speaking Latin. I don’t know about you—”

“I know enough Latin to be dangerous.” He winked at her. “And the transport has a translation chip.”

She remembered Mac mentioning it—that the portal emitted a field, and he didn’t question how. “That won’t make us look like we belong in Roman Britain. Can we just—jump out of here?” Kane looked at her. “I’m not going to like what you say next, am I?”

“Based on what you can see, what is your estimate of the date?”

“I would guess the late 2nd century. Why?”

“It would explain this.” He was silent for a long minute; then he showed her the transport. Her heart skipped. The screen was blank. “We shouldn’t be here, Beth. The portal isn’t supposed to be able to take us back this far. I am far from certain we can leave at all.”

Elizabeth closed her eyes—and clutched the grass when the world dipped sideways.

“Beth—”

“Okay—just dizzy.” It hurt to think, but she didn’t want to worry him. All she needed was some time with a nice soft bed, and she’d be fine. “Can you… as much as I enjoy having you on top of me, I’m having issues with breathing.”

“Bloody hell.” His weight disappeared, and she felt him next to her, his hand warm on her cheek. “Open your eyes for me, Beth. Come on, sweetheart.”

The panic in his quiet voice startled her. She pried her lids apart, surprised by the effort it took. “Kane…”

“Stay with me, love. Company is coming, and I need you to focus for me. Can you do that?”

“Company?” She heard it then, beyond the whisper of the wind. The distinct sound of hobnailed shoes, the slap of leather. The Roman reenactment she saw in London flashed into her mind, and when she looked past Kane, she saw it come to vivid, torchlit life.

They were magnificent—and they scared the hell out of her.

~*~