“You were sent to bring me here,” Etta said, putting that much together. “You pretended to be a violinist…you got yourself involved with the concert.”
Sophia gave a little flick of her wrist. “Hand me that damp cloth over there, will you?”
Etta picked it out of the basin and threw it at her face, relishing the slap it made as it struck skin.
Sophia pushed herself up, her dress spilling out over the side of the narrow bunk. “Well you’re in a mood, aren’t you?”
Etta fought the urge to scream. “Can’t imagine why.”
The hammering and calls from above poured into the gap of silence.
After a while, Sophia spoke. “As amusing as it would be to watch, I can’t let you flounder. If you slip and reveal yourself to the others, it’ll be my neck waiting for the guillotine, not yours.”
As she dragged a flimsy wooden chair over from the door, Etta asked, “What do you mean, exactly—if I slip?”
Sophia settled back. She was small enough to stretch her body out in the bunk without bending her knees. She folded the damp towel, draping it over her eyes and forehead. “It’s exactly as I said. If you tell the men on this ship—or anyone else, for that matter—that you can travel through time, you damn us both by association.” She lifted the cloth, her eyes narrowing. “Do you honestly mean to tell me that you know nothing about this? That your parents kept it from you?”
Etta looked down at her hands, studying the red, bruised skin on her knuckles. The questions hung between them like a strand of diamonds, blinding.
She looked up, an idea blazing through her disbelief. “If I answer a question, you have to answer one of mine.”
Sophia rolled her eyes. “If you insist on playing games…”
“I don’t know my father,” Etta said. “I never have. He was someone my mom met only once, according to her. A fling. Now you tell me—why is that important?”
“I didn’t specify your father.” Sophia raised both brows. “The ability can be inherited from either parent.”
Mom. Oh, God—Etta had to brace herself against the desk to keep upright, her full weight sagging against it as her legs turned to dust under her. Mom.
…you can’t just pluck her off this path, not without consequences.
She’s not ready for this. She doesn’t have the right training, and there’s no guarantee it’ll go the right way for her—!
They hadn’t been talking about the debut.
Confusion preyed on her thoughts, even as guilt locked her in its jaws. She’d said those things to Alice, those horrible things, because she thought her instructor was trying to hold her back.
She was trying to protect me. Her mom had wanted her to travel, to do this—and Alice hadn’t. Was she one of them, too—a traveler? Rose had clearly let her in on their secret, even as she left Etta well out of it. How could they have known all of this, and never once mentioned it? Why would they put her in this position?
…you clearly don’t know Etta if you’re underestimating her like this. She can handle it.
Etta forced her jaw to set, to turn on Sophia with renewed suspicion. If her mother had wanted this to happen, she would have just told her to go with Sophia. The deafening feedback, Alice’s death—none of that would have needed to happen.
It’s her time.
A thought bloomed above the chaos in her mind. Rose and Alice clearly knew she would travel one day, and maybe they had always debated with each other about trying to stop it somehow, to protect her from this. That could be why they hadn’t told her about what she could do—they were arguing about finally cluing her in.
Not soon enough, Etta thought, fighting to keep her breathing even. Not nearly soon enough.
Suddenly, she was terrified for her mom. Because if one of the time travelers—one of the Ironwoods watching them—had killed Alice without any hesitation in order to get to Etta, and Etta specifically, then who was to say they hadn’t done the same to her mother if she, too, had tried to stop them?
Why had they come for her? Why did they want her?
“You are clever enough to figure it out, then,” Sophia said. “The ability is inherited from one or both parents—usually one now, since our numbers have dwindled, and we’ve been forced to marry outside of our kind. There’s a slimmer and slimmer chance of being born with it, but you clearly got it from your mother. Rose Linden.”
Linden. Not Spencer. But why would she take a different last name—had she invented it on a whim, or did it really belong to Etta’s father? How did he fit into this, if at all?
“Rather famous in our circles, I must say. She disappeared one day and caused quite the kerfuffle.”
Sophia seemed to enjoy watching Etta’s world unravel around her. It made Etta’s hackles rise that this girl was lording the information over her, clearly hoping that she would beg for it.
She wouldn’t. “Aren’t you going to ask me another question?”
One corner of Sophia’s mouth tilted up as Etta set her shoulders back.
“Do you know the name Cyrus Ironwood?” Sophia asked finally. “Does that mean anything to you?”
“That was two questions,” Etta pointed out. “And, no to both. How do we travel and how does it work?”
Sophia groaned. “Christ! We spend years learning this—and now I have to give you a summary?”