When you fall in love, it can almost feel like you've somehow known the person forever. But for Robin and Eleanor in Lesley Krueger's Time Squared (ECW Press), that's more than just a feeling or a chemical reaction. Somehow, they've fallen in love over and over, in different times and places, and the strange dreams Eleanor has of her and Robin in unrecognizable settings aren't dreams at all, but memories.
Part sci-fi adventure, and part romantic mystery, Time Squared draws from multiple genres with Krueger's sure hand to create a story that shimmers with the best of each form. Smart, moving, and richly rendered, it examines two people's connection, Eleanor's unbreakable will, and a shadowy enemy. Roving from the Napoleonic wars, through the twentieth century, and into our contemporary era, we see Robin and Eleanor meet, fall in love, and be ruthlessly parted each time. The mystery of why – and who might be behind it all – will keep readers guessing.
We're thrilled to present an excerpt from Time Squared here today courtesy of ECW Press. Here we meet Eleanor in two different time periods, showing what changes in each setting, and most importantly, what remains constant.
Excerpt from Time Squared by Lesley Krueger:
They said the war would be over soon, but they always said that. Not that it was officially a war. A police action, the president said, although the newspapers didn’t agree. The Korean War, they called it.
Eleanor was watching the CBS evening news to get the latest updates. General MacArthur was eagle-eying the North Koreans across the mountains, or at least from his hotel in Japan, where he waggled his cigar at the cameras. Millions of communist Chinese soldiers were marching in, thick red arrows on a map tracing their route. It sounded less threatening in print than it looked on her aunt’s new television set. They called it black and white, but to Eleanor the picture looked black and blue, the world bruised with crisis. More nuclear tests in the Pacific, too. A mushroom cloud bloomed on the television screen, newsreel footage Eleanor had seen before of the beautiful manmade apocalypse.
She got up to turn off the set. It wasn’t just the news; she had a headache. Yet what was going on in the world left her terrified. North Korea invading South Korea, communism fighting capitalism, nuclear weapons always a threat. And her fiancé was in the thick of it, when Eleanor longed for peace and stability after the Second World War. She’d been a child in London during the Blitz, tugged into air raid shelters, her ears ringing with sirens and wails, learning far too much about fear before she was twelve years old.
She’d also been an adult during the Blitz, and that wasn’t a metaphorical description of a girl who had experienced war. It was the impossible literal truth.
Visions. Eleanor had been having visions lately, some of them brief glimpses of other lives, some long vivid dreams, months going by in a night; all of her dreams, no matter how long, complete immersions in different times when she was herself but life was unimaginably different. She had no idea why this was happening, feeling pushed around by a cosmic mystery. She also had a question: Was this the real time she lived in, or was it just another dream?
“You don’t have a headache, do you?”
Eleanor turned to find her Aunt Clara coming in from town, taking off her gloves, her enviable coat: a fawn-coloured creation she’d stitched together with salvaged mink for the collar and cuffs. Eleanor hadn’t heard the front door close, leaving her no time to prepare for her aunt’s worried frown. She’d tried to explain a little of what was going on—a very little—but that had been enough to frighten Aunt Clara. Mention of psychologists (psychiatrist being too big a word), perhaps the doctor to wrestle down the headaches.
Since they didn’t have the money at the moment for let’s say, specialized care, in silent mutual agreement they’d retreated to a diagnosis of migraine and a bottle of Dr. Blyth’s little pills.
“I’ve never had a megrim in my life,” her aunt said. “Migraines, as they insist on calling them here. But I’m aware they take many different forms. Lights and colour, all of that.”
“You have no idea,” Eleanor replied.
Eleanor had been dozing, she supposed, and woke cozed against her aunt in the morning room of Goodwood House. A brief moment of disorientation, when she was aware she’d been dreaming but couldn’t remember more than an anxious sense she had to get to a party. A woman was urging her to hurry, hurry. They had to get started.
Some girls lingered on their dreams and fancies, thinking it romantic to show the world a poetic face. But Eleanor pushed them away, believing herself to be a practical young lady, perhaps more willful than she ought to be, but happy with the life she’d been given.
“You’re back, are you?” Aunt Clara asked.
“I don’t know why I dozed,” Eleanor said, elbows on her aunt’s lap. “I slept very well last night. I always do.”
Eleanor lived with Mrs. Crosby at Goodwood, her aunt’s estate in Yorkshire. She was an orphan and her rich aunt’s ward, her mother having died shortly after she was born and her father when she was fifteen. Dr. Crosby had been the well-loved clergyman of Middleford parish, and his death had been deeply painful to Eleanor. But she’d always been close to her aunt, and after her father died, she had only to move across the park from the parsonage to find a new home. Eleanor had lived in Middleford all her life, and both loved and chafed at its rural sleepiness.
Yet Middleford was abuzz lately, with the Mowbrays expecting guests. Two brothers: the eldest heir to an estate in Kent, the younger remarkably handsome. Ladies had started calculating their daughters’ chances even before they’d learned that Edward Denholm would inherit an estate worth ten thousand pounds a year. Meanwhile his brother, Captain Robert Denholm, had come back a hero from the war against Napoleon. Or if he hadn’t, he was very likely to prove a hero when he went out.
“Of course,” her aunt said, “you wouldn’t be so bored if the weather didn’t keep away visitors.”
Eleanor rolled her eyes. “The Denholms can stay away, as far as I’m concerned.”
“When they’re actually both rather handsome, my dear?”
“I’m afraid our friends are going to be disappointed. I remember Edward Denholm as thinking too well of himself, while his brother was rather lazy.”
“They weren’t much more than children when you knew them, Eleanor.”
“Well, here’s a question for you, aunt. Do people change? Or do we remain much the same as we age, even if our circumstances alter?”
Her prevailing question. Eleanor was conscious of not quite fitting into Middleford society. She owed a great deal to the education her father had given her, especially since he’d left her nothing else. But it meant she was usually called clever, and among the ladies of the parish, that wasn’t so much a description as a complaint. Eleanor was passionately fond of her native county and loved to ride and take long walks. But she was often seen with a book in her hand, and some of the ladies went as far as to call her satirical: a criticism she might have avoided if she hadn’t been so pretty.
Eleanor knew she ought to change, teaching herself not to be so impatient. Yet she was happy not to fit in, privately bored by many of the young ladies she’d known all her life and not caring to attract the local heirs: this despite her aunt’s wish that she marry well, and soon. Self-respect was a factor. Eleanor refused to make herself ridiculous to be popular.
“You’ll have ample opportunity to decide,” Mrs. Crosby said. “At least about the Denholms. Lady Anne Mowbray tells me they’re staying for a month.”
Goodwood House was Mrs. Crosby’s principal residence, and one of the prevailing questions among Middleford ladies was whether she’d leave it to her niece.
Mrs. Crosby’s first husband had left her the pleasant but modest estate in Kent where Eleanor had met the Denholm family. Her second husband had left her Goodwood House. They’d never had children, and Eleanor’s father would have inherited the estate if he hadn’t died a year before his brother. Since there wasn’t any entail, nor any other close male relatives, the elder Mr. Crosby had left it entirely to his wife. Despite believing Eleanor to be clever, the parish agreed she ought to inherit Goodwood from her aunt. Eleanor was the last of the local Crosbys. More to the point, she was likely to marry a Middleford son, and whatever reservations they might have had about the girl, the estate was an excellent catch.
Muddying the waters was Mrs. Crosby’s daughter from her first marriage. Henrietta lived in the East Indies with her husband, Mr. Whittaker. No one had any idea what Mr. Whittaker had been promised when taking Hetty off her mother’s hands, although Middleford took hope from the fact she was likely to succumb to the rigours of life on a tea plantation before she could claim the estate, this despite a series of cheerful letters detailing her excellent health.
It was a dark and heavy morning as they sat by the fire, the solid rain keeping Eleanor indoors. After their talk, Mrs. Crosby turned back to her accounts, while Eleanor reopened her book. Poetry. The Lady of the Lake. Reading its rhythmic lines, she might have been sailing a skiff across a choppy pond, especially when rain gusted against the window, rattling the pane.
It wasn’t rain. Hoofbeats pounded toward the door, horses coming to a stop outside.
“Who could be calling in weather like this?” she asked, looking up.
“I would think the young gentlemen,” her aunt replied. “Arriving early.”
Mrs. Crosby closed her accounts and looked at Eleanor complacently. “You’ve put yourself together well this morning. But then, you always do.”
“And you, aunt,” Eleanor teased. “I’m sure they’re looking forward to seeing you.”
“They would have been, twenty-five years ago. My heavens, what happens to time?”
Mrs. Crosby had been a beauty, flaxen-haired with violet eyes, slight but far from helpless. She still looked very pretty, and went to the mirror to adjust a small lace cap that didn’t quite contain her curls, which remained improbably blond.
Lemon juice, applied weekly. Her French maid kept Mrs. Crosby young with oils and lemons from the Covent Garden market. Mademoiselle also worked on Eleanor, who had been very blond as a child, but whose hair had begun to darken. Or at least, it was fighting to darken as Mademoiselle fought back, leaving Eleanor’s thick straight hair an interesting mixture of shades that served to highlight her pretty brown eyes.
“Hazel,” Mrs. Crosby would always correct, convinced that her niece was designed for an unusual fate. Fair hair and hazel eyes, a sweet disposition paired with a good mind. These things didn’t often go together, and Mrs. Crosby believed they made her niece compelling to men. To a certain type of man, above the ordinary. If only he could be enticed into noticing.
“In all seriousness, aunt,” Eleanor said, hearing the door blown open downstairs. “I’m sure Mr. Denholm would consider me beneath him, an orphan girl from a provincial family.” Interrupting Mrs. Crosby: “You can’t object. You know it’s true. And I reciprocate by having no interest in either of the Denholms. I’ll quite happily cede them to Catherine Mowbray and her sisters—who are, after all, going to all the trouble of hosting them.”
“I don’t expect you to take an interest in the younger son,” her aunt said. “But I expect you to try with Mr. Denholm. Ten thousand a year! That doesn’t come knocking very often.”
Eleanor was shaking her head when her aunt’s housekeeper opened the door to announce the rather damp young gentlemen, Stansfield Mowbray and his friends from Kent. Eleanor had a moment’s embarrassment as she wondered whether they’d heard Mrs. Crosby, but decided she didn’t care if they did. Besides, the doors in Goodwood House lived up to their name. Oak and thick.
After making her curtsy, she gave a friendly smile to Mr. Mowbray, the heir to his father’s baronetcy. Mr. Mowbray was a good-looking young man, his features regular, his hair sandy, his manner bluff and kind. He also had the faintly stunned expression of someone who’d received a blow to the head. Eleanor and he had long ago reached an understanding that they were unsuited, Eleanor privately thinking him dull and Mr. Mowbray, in his heart of hearts, being terrified of her.
“Here I’ve been proud of an opportunity to introduce my friends to the neighbourhood,” he said, “and I find you’re long acquainted.”
Eleanor had met the Denholm brothers frequently when she’d gone with her aunt to Kent. But the acquaintance had tapered off when the brothers left for school, with Eleanor scarcely ten years old the last time she’d seen them.
“Miss Crosby has grown,” Mr. Denholm said, assessing her frankly.
Eleanor did the same, and found that her aunt was right. Mr. Denholm was as handsome as a palace. A rather daunting young man, elegant, commanding, with dark hair and watchful eyes. He was also far too well dressed, more than a bit of a dandy with his high cravat and tight-cut trousers.
“You’ve grown as well, sir,” Eleanor replied, “from a boy who was rather too proud of his ability to steal eggs from robins’ nests. While Captain,” she said, turning to his brother, “I remember you as a dreamy lad, and sometimes frankly idle. Now, here you are, unpredictably in uniform.”
“My apologies,” Captain Denholm said, and smiled. “For what, I’m not certain.” The captain was taller and seemed more at ease than his brother. He was dashing in his red coat and highly-polished boots, but his smile was friendly and his hair a tumble of light-brown curls. Eleanor couldn’t see anything particularly wrong with him. But then she didn’t have to, her aunt having excused her from tilting at a younger son.
“Please,” Mrs. Crosby said, nodding the young men into chairs. If her daughter Henrietta had spoken as Eleanor did, she would have intervened. But Eleanor was flirting without knowing it, an underground burble of humour taking the sting out of her words.
“Really, Mr. Mowbray,” Eleanor continued, as they sat. “What friends are you bringing among us? Mr. Denholm, I can’t imagine there’s a gentleman in Middleford who stole eggs as a boy. We have far too many birds; I hear the farmers complain. And Captain,” she began, losing her train of thought as she met his amused grey eyes. “I would have thought you’d be a clergyman.”
The captain looked aside, and Eleanor was embarrassed to realize she’d struck a nerve. It was left to his brother to answer suavely.
“In fact, it was discussed,” he said. “But we’re at war and the country needs defending, and my brother has been good enough to offer himself.”
“And I’m sure we admire you greatly for it,” Mrs. Crosby said.
“I have too much respect for the clergy to join their number,” the captain said. “I’m afraid I’d be rather fumbling in the pulpit.”
“Far easier to say, ‘Steady, aim, fire,’” Mr. Denholm said.
“And perhaps more immediately effective,” the captain replied.
Excerpt from Time Squared by Lesley Krueger, published by ECW Press. Copyright 2021, Lesley Krueger. Reprinted with permission.
Lesley Krueger is a novelist and screenwriter. She is the author of seven books, including the critically acclaimed novels The Corner Garden and Mad Richard. As a filmmaker, she has worked as a screenwriter, script doctor, story editor, and co-producer on 16 produced films over the past 17 years, ranging from micro-budget shorts to studio features. She lives with her husband in Toronto, Ontario, where she’s an avid member of a women’s hockey league.