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Two ferrymen moved them along the river using what looked like long oars, splashing and thudding—nothing like the mechanical roar of the modern ferries’ motor engines. It was so quiet without the highways, the traffic. Etta looked up, waiting to see a plane cross the sky overhead.

This isn’t New York, she thought, this isn’t my home, this can’t be it—

Do not cry, she ordered herself. Don’t you dare.…It wouldn’t do anything except draw more unwanted attention to the fact that she was out of place.

Nicholas stood nearby, leaning against the ferry in his usual pose—arms crossed over his chest, face devoid of almost any emotion. She didn’t understand how one person could guard their thoughts and feelings as fiercely as he did.

“Are you talking to me again?” she asked.

“I was born here, in 1757.” His eyes shut briefly, but Etta saw something move in them. “Initially, it wasn’t…pleasant.”

Etta waited for him to continue.

Nicholas swallowed hard. “Captain Hall, whom you met briefly…he and his wife had a little house near the commons. After he purchased my freedom, I went to live with them, and my life was vastly improved.”

Purchased my freedom. The pain lanced through her, hot and jagged, chased by confusion.

“You mean…” Etta began. “You were born into the Ironwoods, but they—”

Anger choked the rest of the words from her throat. Nicholas shrugged.

He shrugged.

“I wasn’t legitimate, nor was I wanted. A child takes on the status of its mother in this time period. My mother was their property; therefore, so was I.” Nicholas glanced at her. “They didn’t know that I’d inherited their…gift…until later, after I’d already lived for a time with Hall and his wife.”

“You grew up with Chase too, right?” she asked. Seeing a flicker of surprise, she added, “He told me a little about it a few days ago, while we were walking on the deck—that Mrs. Hall told the captain he wasn’t allowed to take either of you out to sea until she taught you to read and write.”

At that, he actually smiled. “She was a lady of uncommon kindness and bold spirit. Once we lost her, there was no reason to come back here, aside from occasional business.”

“How did Hall find you?” Etta asked. “Why did the Ironwoods…” She couldn’t bring herself to say sell you without wanting to vomit.

Nicholas lowered his voice. “You know, I presume, that the ability has become rarer as the family has moved forward, yes?”

Etta nodded.

“Hall is a more distant relation to the Ironwoods—in fact, he was taken in to the Ironwoods when Ironwood finished off his family, the Hemlocks, and brought the survivors into line,” Nicholas explained. “But he isn’t as you and I are; he’s what we call a ‘guardian.’ They cannot travel, and are stationary in their natural times. But they watch the entrances to the passages to ensure the safety of the travelers, and take note of all comings and goings. They also do other work for the family—see to their financial interests and property in various eras, relay messages between the centuries.”

Etta’s eyes widened. “How in the world do they do that?”

“If they precede us, they leave letters in various family vaults which are checked by other guardians. If they follow this era, the letters are brought back by a designated traveler. Hall himself was required to oversee the transportation and sale of sugar from one of their plantations in the Caribbean from 1750 until just recently.”

She was missing a piece of this. “Had you met Hall before you went to live with him?”

He shook his head. “Ironwood decided to have the old family house on Queen Street sold, along with its possessions. My mother was purchased outright with another house slave, and claimed I ran away. She left me hiding in a cupboard, and hoped I’d be able to escape and live a life of freedom. I would never have agreed if I’d known what was truly happening.”

Etta was about to ask what had become of his mother, but he barreled on quickly.

“Hall found me when they came to inspect the house before the purchasers arrived. I was half-dead from hunger, filthy as a stray pup—my mother had told me to stay put and keep silent, and I was much better at following orders then.” Nicholas gave her a wry smile. “He carried me out. Made sure my freedom was legal. It was years before Ironwood came back to that era and learned of me. I trained and traveled for a time on Ironwood’s behalf, but no more. I’ll not leave the sea or my true family again.”

Etta forced herself to move past the thought of him as a young boy, hiding in the dark for days. “What will you do after you finish your business with Ironwood?”

He shifted, absently reaching up to rub at his shoulder. “I need to meet Chase and the others to see to my responsibilities as prize master. Captain Hall will be back in port before the month’s end, and we’ll sail again soon after.”

Of course he had responsibilities. That was his life—it had just so happened to overlap with hers for a few days. Why did Etta feel so anxious at the thought of him walking away? “Is it safe to travel? Will you be all right?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about me, Miss Spencer,” he said as they bumped up against the other ferry landing. “I always manage.”

“You could call me Etta,” she said, smiling. “I’d like that.”