READ A SAMPLE
I hadnt seen Emma since the night they said I murdered her. But even though her back was turned to me and she was wearing what I can only describe as a Jane Austen dress, I just knew it was Emma standing by that window. Something about her bright brown hair, the way she stoodher whole auratold me that I was looking at the real Emma Gummer. And it was such a relief to see her again that all the doubts and horrors I had been through simply melted away. At last we were together. I closed the door discreetly behind methings were likely to get pretty steamy.
She jumped. "Sloane! Would you mind telling me what the hell is going on? Why am I a prisoner?"
I laughed. "Youre not a prisoner."
"That door was locked!"
"Was it? Oh."
"Yesit was! Something very odds been happening." She pushed up her fringe with her hand, and looked a little lost for moment. "I dont know how I got here"
"I can explain everything."
"Oh really? This had better be good. Well?"
"Youre pregnant, Em."
"What? How do you know?"
"Believe me, you wouldnt believe me if I told you."
"Try me." She folded her arms.
"Well, I was there when we, um"
"Just tell me how you knowbecause I certainly havent told anyone."
"Its a really long story, Em. Cant we just?"
"Im waiting." She tapped her foot.
I didnt want to tell herI knew how mad it was all going to sound. I took a deep breath. "All rightmy fathers a time traveller from the fourth millennium and hes immortalit sort of runs in the family"
"No, listen, Emits the truth. I swear. The futures controlled by a puritanical police state and they keep sending thesethese robot things back through time to erase meand anyone connected with me"
She covered her ears with her hands and shook her head. "Im not listening."
"No, EmI know how it sounds, but"
"Sloane, Im not in the mood!"
"Emmathey know thats my child youre carrying! But theres no need to look so worriedthey cant get you here. Its about 1800, I think, and this is my old mans place, Duckworth Hall. His names Sir Julian Duckworth and he's fabulously rich." I laughed, nervously. I was getting some very strange looks from her. "Yeah, he-he only looks about nineteenyou wait till you meet him, Em. Ah-ah. We call him the Duck because he kind of quacks when he laughs, but his real names Zebulon Zirconion and hes a Doctor of Temporal Engineering, and, I mean, hes obviously a lot older than nineteenalthough, technically, he hasnt even been born yet. Do you want me to go on? What?"
"You must think I was born yesterday."
"No. You wont be born for another two hundred years. You see, as I was trying to explain, this is"
She pushed me aside and looked around the picture rails.
"All right. Thats enough. Wheres the camera? This is one of those stupid reality TV shows, right?"
"No. Im not jokingthis really is the past. Theres a lot of other stuff I could tell you, but I wont scare you with all that right now. All that matters is youre safeand were having a baby!"
"CorrectionI am having a baby." She barged past me again.
"Well, thats what I meant." I slumped down on the bed. "Now, do you think you could come to bed, love? I haventyou know-er-seen you since the third millennium." I scratched my head. "Although, since this is the past, I suppose the last time I actually saw you was the first time I met you. Ha-ha. Remember when we met, Em?"
"I remember when I dumped you!" She was still looking round the room for a hidden camera. She looked behind an old oil painting of a horse.
"Yes, but in view of the circumstances, I thought we could forget that little blip and move on."
"Forget the spin, SloaneI have moved on." She sounded cold and distant, and kept searching. "Thats why Im not playing any more of your little games!" She said it loudly, as though she thought others might be listening in.
"Theres no one there, Em." I patted the empty space next to me. "Please come to bed."
"That would be unethical," she said, stooping down to look under it.
"Unethical? You sound like one of them! How long were you in the future?"
She checked behind the dressing table mirror. "Its over, Sloane. Get over it."
"Sometimes a thing has to be broken before it can be mended," I said. I got up and tried to put my arms around her. "Lets mend our love, Em youre expecting our little baby."
She shrugged me off. "Dont remind me. Now, wheres the camera crew?"
"Dont remind? There isnt one. Ive been to hell and back looking for you! The police think I murdered you and my so-called best friendMatthew bloody Turnersays the kids his and the two of you have been at it behind my back! You havent, have you, love?"
She spun round and slapped me hard across the face. All in one swift movement. And it bloody hurt!
"Im getting a cab back to London!" she screamedin my faceand stamped towards the door.
I jumped up in front of her. "Nolisten, I mean, you cant! The only cabs round here use real horsepower and take three days."
"Get out of my way, or I will kick you very, very hard."
"Emma, pleasein that dress?"
"Get out of my way!"
"Just let me explain"
There was a ripping sound and I felt a sharp pain in my shin.
I tried to hop away in retreat, but she hooked her ankle around the back of my standing leg and pushed me over. Then she tore open the door. The Duck, who had obviously been listening through the keyhole, tumbled into the room.
The Duck and I were now both lying flat on the floor, looking up at a startled Emma. She suddenly realized the Duck was looking up her torn dress, and quickly covered the split.
"May I present my father, Sir Julian Duckworth," I said.
"Charmed," smirked the Duck, extending a hand up to her.
Emma was so surprised to see the elegantly dressed youth fall at her feet, that she almost accepted it. She recoiled.
"What am I doing?" She picked up her skirts, skipped over the Ducks legs and fled down the hall. "Youre mad! All mad!" she cried.
I tried to go after her, but the Duck grabbed my ankle.
"Let her go, mateshe wont get far," he said. He used my trouser leg to haul himself up, adjusted his big red spectacles and flicked his ponytail straight. "Ive told my staff not to let her off the estate."
"Every time youre around, my life goes down the toilet." I rubbed my shin. "Have you noticed that? Youre like Elizabeth Barrett Brownings bloody dog!"
"The mutt was called Flush."
"Charming. But if I know Lizzy she meant a hot flush, matenot a wet one. Racy filly that Lizzy Barrett. You know, I nearly got off with her once at one of old Coleridges, er, partieswhat a night that wasif those harpsichord strings hadnt snapped, I might have been in thereI was nearly up the pleasure dome."
"Is this leading anywhere? Only Im in a hurryId like to catch up with Emma and explain why my father looks like my kid brother."
"Ha-ha, no, I meanwere youngfull of high spiritsplenty of time to play the field yetcome here. I want to show you something, son."
"Can we please drop the son bit?"
He closed the door and led me over to a writing bureau. He pulled a secret lever somewhere in the back of a drawer, and a decanter of wine and two glasses popped out of a hidden compartment. "Glass of Madeira, me dear, uh, mate?"
"You know, this was not the reunion I had in mind," I said, as the Duck did the honours.
"I know what you had in mind," smirked the Duck, handing me my wine, while raising his to his mouth to guzzle it down.
"Im not talking about that, Im talking about love," I said.
The Duck sat on the edge of the bed and bounced up and down. "Yeah-yeah. This brings back a few happy memories," he laughed. "Anyway, therell be plenty of time for all that lovey-dovey stuff laterwe have a mucho problemo, old sonah-ah! Old songet it?"
"Yes, I get it, father. And you can forget it."
"Forget what? I havent said anything yet."
"You dont have to. I can hear it coming. The day I go on another one of your freaky little time trips, cuckoos will be crapping from the clouds."
"Shell come round," said the Duck. "Stuck here, in beautiful Georgian Gloucestershire, waited on hand and foot, living in the lap of luxurypreggers. Now, ask yourself: wheres she gonna go?"
"Im not leaving her," I said. "Shes confused. She cant get her head around all this. Neither can I." I took a large gulp of wine.
"Ill ask Emily to have a little heart-to-heart with her. Theyll have stuff to talk about, what with em both being in the pudding club," smiled the Duck.
Suddenly, I felt faint and had to sit on the bed.
"All right, son?"
"Er, yes, I just felt a bit funny then." I peered into my glass. "Sort of queasy."
"Spot of time lag catching up, I expect," he grinned. "Close your eyes a sec and hold your nosesoon clear it."
I did as he said and when I opened my eyes, the Duck was right, I felt much better. But, strangely, the room appeared to have darkened somewhat.
"Wow, that was really odd," I rubbed my eyes. "Anyway, ImIm, um, staying here," I said, "until you can fix me and Emma up in another time perioda safe oneand then I want you to stay as far away from us as possible. I fancy the 1920sthe Charleston, Scott and Zelda, flappers"
"And then the Great Depression," added the Duck.
"Youre the great depressionthats why Im off. You can come and visit your grandchild from time to time, but keep it short, and I dont want you turning up every five minutes either," I said. "Has it got darker in here or is it me?"
"Its you," said the Duck. "Remember Jemmons?"
"Of course I remember Jemmons. Whywhats he done now? Theres something wrong with my eyes."
"Only got himself nabbed by a Temporal Criminal Pursuit snatch squadthe duffer."
"Well, I cant help thatIve got enough on my plate," I said. I blinked my eyes repeatedly. "It was definitely brighter in here "
"Oh, thats nice," said the Duck. "That man risked his neck for you, and this is all the bleeding thanks he gets. Remind me not to do you any more favours, mate."
"Please dont do me any more favours," I said. "And consider that a final reminder."
The Duck got up on his high horse and started strutting up and down the room. "You couldnt give a toss, could you, Stephen? Theres poor old Roger, rotting away in the worst hellhole on Earth and all you can say is: I cant help that. Well, I just hope you end up sharing the same cell some day, then you can explain to him why you just couldnt be bothered."
"Its not that I cant be bothered. Anyway, I seem to remember it was me who did all the rescuing last timeyou both owe me. Big time. I had to save you from getting sent down, while good old Jemmons went walkabout." I got up and walked over to the window to look up at the sky. "Did a cloud just pass over?"
"I explained all thatRog was arrested and I offered myself up as a sacrifice to save you and the others. Just like whatshisname in that book by whatshisname. If you hadnt interfered we wouldnt be in this mess. Dickens."
"Wouldnt be in this mess? They were about to cart you off to the human vivisection farm! In case youd forgotten," I said. "Sydney Carton."
"Yeah, thats the geezer. I would have escaped. I had it all sussed," said the Duck.
"Im not even going to discuss this. If youre so keen, you go and spring him, you dont need me."
"Its a two-man job."
"Well, take Emilys dad with you, he likes a good punch-up. Im staying here to get my love life sorted. And thats that."
"Roger has been sent to the Castle!" said the Duck. "I cant ask Tree to go back therethe poor bloke did a seven stretch in the place. He nearly has a heart-attack if he sees a sandcastle."
"Thats funny, because you told me hes never even been anywhere near the Castle. You said he made it all up." I looked around the room for something to explain myself with.
"Well, I might have bent the truth a bit."
"Yeah, you are to the truth what Uri Geller is to spoons, mate."
"Youre comingIm your fatheryouve got to do as I say!"
I chose a heavy looking metal clock from the mantelpiece.
"Not that!" quacked the Duck. "Its a Louis the Fourteenth!"
"I want to get it through your thick skull, once and for all!" I said. "I am not going to the fourth bloody millennium!"
I swung it at his bodymissedand it slipped from my grasp and smashed into the wall.
"That was ormolu!" He charged into me, with his legs kicking and fists flailing.
Now, the Duck liked you to think he was an expert in the martial arts, so his assaults were always accompanied by lots of oriental-sounding screams and extravagant posturing. But since he only has the physique of an apprentice jockey, I easily grabbed him by his ginger ponytail and slung him out of my way. And then I dashed out the door to find Emma.
I didnt have far to look. I found her talking to some bloke at the foot of the stairs, a tall, smartly dressed, foreign-looking guy, with a tache. And Emma had changed her torn dress and was looking very fetching in an elegant floral morning gown. She was leaning against the banister, girlishly trying to conceal a blush with her fan, while they shared what looked like an intimate joke. I wasnt a bit jealous, but thought I should break it up before the jumped-up little poser got the wrong idea.
"Em! There you areshouldnt you be taking your nap?" I called, as I came bounding down the stairs.
I got my body between them, with my back to my rival, completely blanking him, and spoke directly to Emma.
"You know, in your condition, you really should be taking it a bit easier, love," I said.
"I yam sorreeyou are not well, Emmeur? I did not meen to tireur you," said the young man, in what soundedto me, at leastlike a phoney French accent.
I turned on him. His handsomeif you like that sort of thingLatin features were filled with concern. "Shes blooming, mateshes having my baby. Thats all. Close the door on your way out."
"Oh, pardon," he said, looking all embarrassed and awkward. He bowed to me and then to Emma. "Forgeeve my clumsee intrushone, Monsieur. Pleese excuse mee, Madame Emmeur. I did not no." And then he backed away and scuttled off.
"Thats rightrun along," I sneered. I turned back to Emma, who promptly slapped me across the face and swept past me to chase after him.
"Monsieur Travis! Monsieur Travis!"
"Emma?" I said. "I was only"
"Wasting your breath, mate," said the Duck, patting me on the shoulder. "I forgot to tell you about my other house guest. Hes a bit of a ladys man is our Travis. I should have warned you."
"Who the hell is he?"
"Hes on a mission," said the Duck confidentially.
"I can bloody see that," I said. "But who is he?"
"Names Travis De Quipp. Hes from Paris in France."
"I know where Paris is," I said. "What I want to know iswhats a lump of it doing over here? I thought we were supposed to be at war with his lot."
"Its a long story. He just needs a bit of help, thats all," said the Duck.
"Well, hes not helping himself to my girlfriend!"
"Yeah, you want to watch thatthe women just seem to fall at his feet, thats why Ive sent Emily away for a few days. Shes having some retail therapy in Bath. I told her to visit the Pump Rooms. Put it all on my account."
"Hm, very convenient. So, what does this guy want, apart from a smack in the mouth?"
"Now, now," said the Duck. "Travis is all right."
"Its easy for you to sayyouve got dozens of women," I said. "What happened to that one you were going to marrywhatshernamethe Viscounts daughter?"
"Henrietta? She dumped me," said the Duck. "I need to build up a bit more cred around here before I crack the posh crumpet market. Seems her old man didnt think I was good enough for her. Said I was only after her for her heirlooms. Heirlooms? I said, Ive had more heirlooms than youve had hot dinners, mateyou can keep your family silverI was after your bloodstock!"
"Yes, well, youve still got Emily," I said. "I like Emily."
"Yeah. Why dont we take a turn around the garden?" The Duck put his arm around my shoulder and walked me through to a back drawing room, which led out onto the terrace. "And I can tell you all about it over a spliff."
"Im not leaving Emma alone with him," I said, holding back.
"Not much of a basis for marriage, is it, mate?" said the Duck, with a lopsided grin. He took out some papers and started patching them together.
"Whats that supposed to mean?"
"A serious deficiency in the trust department, if you ask me."
"Well, I didnt. Anyway, I do trust her, its justshes acting very strangely. Its as if she doesnt care about usbut I know deep down inside she does."
"You dont think youre being a bit, you know now, how can I put this, without sounding offensivepathetic and self-delusional?"
"Do you want a smack in the mouth as well?" I said.
"Face itshe blew you out, man."
"She doesnt mean itwait a minute, how do you know? Youd better not have anything to do with this?"
"Me? As if."
"If I find out this is all your doing, Ill" I scratched my ear. "I dont understand itIm the father of her child."
"Its not uncommon," said the Duck.
"Rejection of the biological father."
"And youd know all about that, dad," I nodded.
"The mother conceives by mistake with an unsuitable partner, then rejects him and seeks a superior substitute," said the Duck. "Happens all the time."
I grabbed him by the collar of his floppy white Byronic shirt. "If I find out youve been poisoning her mind against me, Ill tear that evil little forked thing you call a tongue right out of your lying mouth!"
"Get off!" He broke free and straightened his matching white silk neck scarf. "You want to watch that, mate. Jealousy is a very ugly emotion. No wonder your birds playing away from home."
"She is not a bird and she is not playing away from home! We are in lovewith each other!"
The Duck nodded through the window. "Youd better tell her that. Doesnt look like it from where Im standing, mate."
I followed his gaze. My heart sank. There, standing on the terrace, was Emma, in the arms of Monsieur De Quipp.
"What is she playing at?" I gasped. "Shes killing me."
The Duck stifled a laugh. "I think we know what her game is, mate."
I grabbed him by his lapels and swung him round to face me. "I dont know how and I dont know why yetbut youre behind thisand when I find out what your game is, you are going to be very sorry! And Im not playing games. Got that?"
He shrugged me off. "Charming. I got the blame for everything last time!" He jumped up on a card table and swung his feet onto a Chippendale chair, to continue rolling his spliff.
"Thats because you were to blame for everything," I said, not taking my eyes off the loving couple out in the garden. "Youre always to blame for everything. Im going out there."
"Youre wasting your time, mate. Besides, it wont last."
"No, it wont, because Im going to put a stop to it right now," I said, lurching towards the French windows. I lurched back. "You see, once again you seem to know everythingthis is how I got into trouble last time. How do you know it wont last?"
"Well, stands to reason, doesnt it?" said the Duck, sealing his spliff with a single lick. "His sort are only after one thingonce hes had his wicked way with her, hell be off like a shot."
I knocked the spliff out of his mouth.
"Mind the gear, man!"
"Travesty De Creep, or whatever his name is, is not having his wicked way with my Emma!"
"Your Emma? You really are an emotional dinosaur, arent you, Stephen? When are you going to realize that you cant own people? Emma has free will, if she wants to give you the old heave-ho, you just have to respect her decision, and let her get on with it, mate."
I was speechless.
He picked his spliff up off the floor and inspected it for damage. And then, satisfiying himself that it was still intact, stuck it back in his mouth and lit up. "You dont have much luck with birds, do you, son?"
I pointed at him through the cloud of marijuana smoke. "Youre behind this. And I will find out what youre up to. Thats a promise. But, right now, Im going to go out there and give that cheesy Frenchman a piece of my mind!"
"Watch yourself," said the Duck.
"Dont worry about meI can take care of myself." I reached the glass doors and turned back. "Why?"
The Duck expelled another cloud of thick grey smoke. "Well, hes from the eighteenth century."
The Duck sniffed. "Code of honour and all that, innit."
"Code of honour?" I laughed. "Dont give me that. I know his sortbloody gigolohell probably hide behind Emma when I lay into him." I made for the French windows again.
"Dont say I didnt warn you!" called the Duck.
I swung open the doors and stepped out onto the terrace. Both parties looked suitably compromised and released each other from their embrace. Emma primped her hair. The Frenchman coughed into one hand and looked skyward.
"What exactly do you think youre playing at, Em?" I said.
"We were justnothing" she began, momentarily caught off-guard, but then she recovered and her face hardened. "What business is it of yours, anyway? I can do what I like. Travis and I have becomeweve become very close and"
"Very close? Youve only known him five minuteswait a minute!" I took her by the shoulders. "How long have you been here?"
"How long have I been here?" said Emma, looking puzzled. "You know how long Ive been hereI just spoke to you a minute ago."
"No. I meant actually staying here, at Duckworth Hall?"
"Three weeks, of course."
"Three week? Dont move," I said. "Ill be right back."
I stomped back into the drawing room, where the Duck was still lounging on the card table, enjoying his spliff.
"You, have done something!" I said, jabbing my finger in his face.
I grabbed him by the lapels of his frock coat and shook him. "She has been here three bloody weeks! When we got back from your last little prank shed only just arrivedwhat happened to my three missing weeks? I lost them somewhere between here and the bedroom."
He pulled my hand away and jumped down. "Get off mewhatre you on about? Youre rambling."
"Yeah, Im not rambling, matebut you will be in a minuterambling straight through that windowif I dont get some answers!"
"All rightall right," said the Duck, straightening his coat and then holding up his hands. "Ill tell you the truth."
"And I want the whole truth. Every detail. Not the Duckworth versionwith all the dodgy bits left out. I might be able to repair some of the damage youve done."
"All I did was give her a little time to think. I could see she was upset and I just wanted the two of you to step back and have a cooling off period"
"Cooling off? Shes iced over!"
"I was only trying to help."
"Yeah, you helped all righthelped her into the arms of that smarmy French Casanova! I want to know exactly what you did and saidand whythe real reason this timeyou scheming little rat!"
"Well, thats the last time I try to play matchmaker. In future, you can sort out your own love life."
"What love life? You have single-handedly destroyed my love life. Shes in love with Travis De Generate out therehes had three weeks to work on herthree weeks to break down her defences and worm his way into her pantaffections. If Ive lost her, Ill"
"You havent lost her," said the Duck. "Dont be wetshes expecting your kid. Shell come to her senses. What you see out there is just ajust a wild, passionate flingthe mere overture to a mad sex rompwhen the fires of his ardour have been quenched, hell soon lose interest and move on to the next one. Mark my words. And youll be there to pick up the pieces."
"Have you finished? I dont want to pick up the piecesshes pregnant for Petes sakewhat kind of a man preys on a pregnant woman?"
"Some men find it a turn on," said the Duck, suppressing a smutty grin.
"Well, youd better turn him off, because I know you started all this, youre trying to pull one of your devious little strokesand youre not going to get away with it!"
I barged him aside and rushed out to rescue Emma from the clutches of her French seducer.
"All rightbreak it up," I said. "This has gone far enough." I dragged Emma out of De Quipps arms and pushed him away. "Emma," I said, looking her square in the eyes, "this gigolo is only after one thing, hes getting some perverted kick out of all this, and I am not going to stand by and watch you make a complete fool of yourself."
Emma brought her knee up sharply into my groin and I doubled up and turned away on my toes.
"Dont you dare speak to me like that!" she cried. "I dont want anything to do with you ever againcome, Travis."
I shuffled round and saw the disgustingly handsome Frenchman gallantly offering Emma his arm. It was all too much to bear.
"You are the pits!" I shouted. "The lowest of the low. You pervert!"
"What doze hee say?" said my rival.
"Dont listen to him, Travis," said Emma.
"I said youre the pitsyou piece of dog turd!"
"What ees thees bitz of docteur?" said De Quipp, with a Gallic shrug.
"Just ignore him, my love," said Emma. "Hes only jealous."
To hear her call him my love knocked the breath out of me.
"Vous merde de chien!" I gasped, in my best Franglais.
De Quipp merely laughed when he realized what I had been calling him. They both turned their backs on me and walked towards the steps, which led down into the formal garden.
"He doesnt love you, Emma," I called. "Hes lying through his teeth, just to get in your bed! Hes a dirty rotten liar!"
The Frenchman suddenly froze to the spot and then slowly turned to face me, with an expression of injured disbelief on his face. He retraced his steps the half dozen paces and looked me up and down.
"What deed you call mee, seur?" he said.
"Non, not thee docteurthee otheur," he said, holding his chin and looking at me sideways.
"Non-non." He clicked his fingers. "Thees otheur thang."
"Ah! Mon Dieu! I thought that was what I heurd." He reached inside his little tailed jacket. I thought he was feeling his mortified heartbut he pulled out a card and snapped it against my chest, letting it fall to my feet. "My card, seur! My second wheel call to make the necesseuree aurrangemaunt. I shall have my sateesfaxsheon. Do not disappoint mee, seur."
And with that, he gave me a curt bow, turned smartly on his heels and marched back to rejoin Emma. I picked up the card. There was just his name printed on it.
"Yeah, and up yours!" I said. "Ill be having my satisfaction and all, mate!"
The Duck stuck his head out of the door to see what all the shouting was about.
"Whats up, man?"
"That guys right up his own arse," I said. "One dark night hes going to hear something go bumpright on the back of his head."
"What you got there?"
"His card." I tore it up and threw the pieces down on the ground. "I am going to so enjoy punching his lights out."
"What did he give you his card for?" said the Duck, pulling a face.
"I dont know. The ponce. But I do know hes going to come to a sticky end the way hes carrying on," I said.
"What did you say to him?"
"Oh, I let him know I was onto him all right. And he says: I shall have my sateesfaxsheon, seur who does he think he isMick bloody Jagger!"
"Ohno!" cried the Duck.
"Hes only gone and challenged you to a duel."
I laugheda bit nervously. "You what?"
"With shooterspistols at dawn, mate," said the Duck.
"Yeah, well, bring it onthats what I say, Im not afraid of him."
"Well, you should be, mate. They say hes one of the finest shots in all France," said the Duck.
"Now he tells me!"
"Dont worry," grinned the Duck, "Ill give you some coaching."
"Oh great!" I said. "First I get dumped, now Im going to get shot. Youve done it to me again!"
"Believe me, man," said the Duck, hand on heart. "I had nothing to do with any of this. Honest."
Reader, I hit him.
END OF SAMPLE
You can purchase the complete book at the Bitingduckpress Online Store