The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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Fifty Shades

Present Day

It didn’t take long for Lula and Carter to pinpoint the location of the old historical library. When they found it, Lula couldn’t help the smile that broke across her face. The historical society was set up inside of an old brick home that had about as much history in one brick as the library did in books and information. Lula could already tell that she was going to feel at home.

Once inside, they were faced with a woman struggling to balance a few large books in her arms as she returned another book to its proper place.

“Whoa, need a little help?” Carter’s question prompted the woman to jump and nearly caused her to knock the books out of her arms.

The woman seemed to be relatively young - perhaps only a few years older than Lula. Lula noticed that the woman’s light brown hair was tucked up into a neat bun and that her outfit was a comfy, loose sweater paired with a nice pair of black pants and heeled boots. Lula felt as if she had just found her doppelganger.

“I’m sorry.” Lula jumped in to assist Carter with grabbing a couple of the books from the woman’s arms. “We didn’t mean to scare you.”

The woman laughed, waving a hand as she took in the two strangers before her. “Oh, don’t worry about it. When you spend so much time alone in here, you forget that people can just waltz right in.”

Lula quickly noticed that the woman’s eyes were locked on something behind her - it didn’t take a genius to put together that what the woman was staring at was Carter.

Carter squirmed uncomfortably under the woman’s stare. Clearing his throat, he handed the books back to the woman before stuffing his hands into his pockets.

“Well, we don’t want to waste your time. We’re actually here on a mission,” he admitted, tensing the moment the woman’s eyes lit up at his comment.

“Oh?” she began, a smile spreading on her face. “Anything I can help with?”

Lula cleared her throat - saving Carter from answering the awkward question and bringing the woman’s attention back to her. “Yes, my husband and I were hoping you could help us find more information about the bookstore here in town? Keystone? We’re particularly interested in anything about the first owner, Henry Filby.”

Lula watched as the woman’s smile disappeared after she blurted out the husband bit - the sight almost caused Carter to smirk. He was silently grateful that Lula was here on this mission and not Brackston. Heaven knows where the situation would have gone had he been present. Likewise, it surprised him to hear Lula casually throw out that he was her husband - she barely missed a beat.

Carter could tell from the way that Lula stood rigidly that she felt defensive, her tense posture giving off the impression that she didn’t like the way the woman before her was ogling him. It caused his heart to skip a beat as his eyebrows shot up at the realization of what was happening.

Lula Peterson was jealous.

“Oh,” the woman’s nose scrunched up with a look of distaste as she returned the last remainder of the books to their spots, her eyes drifting away from the two of them. “You’re here because of what Miss Elsner wrote, aren’t you?”

Lula could sense that there was something upsetting to this woman about the book the author had written - so she decided her best bet would be to skirt around that topic. She was most likely already on the woman’s crap list for being Carter’s “wife”, she didn’t need to add to it. Though some small, petty side of her had secretly wanted to.

“Actually, I’m only interested in the real history of the building. I’m doing some research on small-town bookstores and I hear that Keystone has quite the history,” Lula admitted, hoping that the woman would buy into her story.

There was only a couple moments of silence before the woman finally nodded her head and pointed her finger to a nearby table with some chairs. “You two make yourselves comfortable. I’ll be back with what you’re looking for.”

Lula and Carter did as the woman asked, a grin broke out on Carter’s face the moment the woman left them alone.

“So, Mrs. Reyes… What do you think of our honeymoon so far?” Carter teased, looking at her playfully with his bright blue eyes.

Lula met his question with a scoff, rolling her eyes as she lowered her voice, her body relaxing as soon as the woman was gone. “You should be thankful. I think that woman was ready to go through with her own version of ‘Fifty Shades’ in this very library.”

It was Carter’s turn to roll his eyes, a slight smirk crossing his face. “You’re just jealous that she gets to spend all this time surrounded by history.”

Lula narrowed her eyes at him, her head tilting as she clenched her jaw slightly. She knew what Carter was truthfully getting at, it was painfully obvious in the playful spark that lit up his bright blue eyes. He had caught on that her jealousy was more accurately about the woman hitting on him. However, she decided to play along with his original comment to distract from the feelings that were bubbling to the surface.

“That may be true… But last I checked, I’m not only a historian with a job at the greatest museum in the United States… I am also the only historian with a time machine.”

Carter was about to start laughing at Lula’s smart comeback, only to clamp his mouth shut at the sight of the woman walking around the corner with a few books in hand. She raised her eyebrows at the sight of Carter choking on laughter, glancing coldly towards Lula - who was smiling warmly at the woman.

“Here’s what I could find about the location in regards to Henry Filby. If you want anything in terms of genealogy, I’m afraid you’ll have to swing by the genealogical society tomorrow when it opens,” she explained, looking at Carter and giving him another warm smile. “Is there anything else I could help you with?”

Lula shook her head, not at all surprised that the woman was still willing to flirt with a “married” man. She was grateful that not all librarians were like this.

“No, I think we’re good, Miss…?” Lula’s voice trailed off.

The woman looked at Lula stiffly, mumbling under her breath. “Jan. But you can call me Miss Enbacy,” she responded, her tone curt.

Without another word, Jan wandered off to another area of the old library - leaving Lula and Carter to chuckle at the last few moments that took place.

“I see you’ve made a lovely impression as always,” Lula mumbled, picking up one of the books Jan placed before them. “You’ve always had girls fawning over you.”

“At least it’s nice to know that no matter what age we are, the quiet types are the ones you’ve got to look out for,” Carter quipped, following suit and picking up a book for himself to look through.

Lula barely responded to his comment, knowing full well that his remark was directed towards her. She was the quiet one in high school, the freshman sitting in the corner seemingly unnoticed by classmates.

However, Carter, a sophomore, was fully aware of her. While usually confident and charismatic, Lula rendered him speechless despite his desire to get to know her. The only way he could figure out to talk to her was to pretend (which wasn’t all that difficult for him) that he was flunking history.

Now, years later, he found himself in that same boat he found himself before. He couldn’t bring himself to find the courage to talk to her, not without feeling like he was stirring up unwanted feelings. The agreement to separate when he left for college was mutual, though the intention was for them to reconnect afterwards.

Neither one of them could have anticipated suddenly joining the army, nor the other finding someone else, in which they both had. Lula eventually married, he found himself engaged. The rest should have been history. Then again, no one could have foreseen the tragedy that was barrelling down on the two of them.

Lula lost her husband two years into marriage to pancreatic cancer, whereas he lost his fiancée to a cheating scandal with one of his best friends, found her sleeping with the other man a month before their wedding.

Now, with this mission before them, Carter almost felt as if fate were trying to prove a point. Maybe they were always meant to be, and this was the moment they were supposed to be brought back together. That, or maybe fate was being a bitch and had plans to bring them together before ripping them apart like she had before.

The two sat in eerie silence for a good period of time after Jan left them alone, with nothing but the sound of the pages of their books flipping and the occasional creak or groan from the old house the library sat in.

It was Carter who finally broke the silence as he looked up from the book with relaxed, tired eyes, desperate to fill the tense air between them. “You know, it’s nice to be doing this again. It kind of feels like old times.”

Lula hummed in agreement, her eyes carefully scanning through a binder with old documents and information about the building. So far, her search was coming up with nothing worthwhile - she started to wonder if they were going to find anything at all.

Carter took her hummed response as a sign that he could continue on. He opened his mouth slightly, suddenly feeling nervous as he found the courage to speak up.

“Look, Lula, we’ve been through a lot... And we haven’t really had the chance to catch up with each other. Maybe we should do something about that.” Carter studied Lula’s face after that last statement, she seemed to be content with keeping her eyes on the binder in her hand.

“Like what?” Lula asked, using words for the first time in a while. She was only half-listening to what Carter was rambling on about but she was at least aware of what he was talking about.

From what she gathered, Carter was trying to rekindle what fell apart between them. While there were no hard feelings about their mutual split, it was evident in his nervous tone that he was skirting around the topic like it was a snake ready to strike.

She also felt that he was about to suggest they do something ridiculous. Without being under the watchful eye of Agent Simone, it was definitely possible. Lula was just hoping that Carter would find the guts to voice his idea before it was too late.

He would have probably done it too, had it not been for Lula sitting up suddenly. It was as if something jerked her from her half-asleep mindset, her eyes widened at the sight of whatever laid before her.

“Lula? What is it?” Carter asked, his eyebrows knitted together with concern.

She slowly turned the binder she was looking through around and slid it across the table for Carter to see what she had been staring at. It was an old photo of a brick building with an awning. Standing before the building was a man with a serious, somber expression. It almost reminded Carter of someone who had recently lost everything, a feeling he was all too familiar with.

“That’s H.G. Wells,” Lula whispered, glancing around to make sure that Jan was nowhere within hearing range.

“So, Wells really did open a bookstore in 1932?” he questioned, looking over the photo carefully.

If anyone would recognize a figure in history - it would be Lula. Though some part of him wanted to doubt it, they now had pictured proof.

Lula nodded, her face grim as she flipped to another page in the binder. It was of an old, yellowing newspaper article dated September 28, 1932. “This article talks about his arrival. When asked what drew him to Circleville, Wells erm, Henry… is quoted to have moved here to start a new life after a tragic fire took the life of his wife and daughter.”

“Is that true?” Carter asked, carefully glancing over the old newspaper.

Lula shrugged her shoulders, watching as Carter studied the newspaper. “Wells was a first-class womanizer. Outside of his marriage, he had mistresses and with some of those mistresses, he had children. Maybe some of what Professor Altman said is true and-” Lula clamped her mouth shut at the sight of Jan rounding the corner, glaring at the two of them.

“Are you two finding everything alright?” Jan asked. Lula prayed that she was unaware of just how stiff both she and Carter had gotten.

“Actually, yes. I think we found everything we need, actually.” Lula stole the binder from Carter’s grasp and pointed to a couple of pages. “Can we get copies made of these pages?”

Jan wrinkled her nose as she glanced at the sections Lula wanted copies of before glancing at Carter. “Sure but it costs to make copies and we only accept cash.”

Carter coughed slightly as a way of alerting Lula - it only took a second for her to realize that he was signaling to his empty wallet. Lula knew for a fact she didn’t have any cash on her.

Forcing a wide smile across her face, Lula glanced up at Jan with. Carter noticed that there was a mischievous twinkle to Lula’s eyes and knew that this meant something interesting was about to take place.

Leaning forward, Lula tapped on the binder. “How about instead you just give me the copies that I asked for, Miss Enbacy? I don’t know if you recognized me or not, but I happen to be a well-known author where I am from. I’m here on my honeymoon with my husband, working on my next big book and I don’t think my readers would take too kindly to my process being messed up by someone flirting with my husband.”

Jan swallowed hard at Lula’s comment, her face flushing red as she began stammering. “I-I… You’re a writer?”

Carter caught on to Lula’s game as he met Jan’s uncomfortable gaze with his own eyes. “I would do as she says, ma’am. The last person that ended up upsetting my wife was a murder victim in one of her novels. You wouldn’t want to end up like that person, would you?”

It only took a few short moments before the two had gotten their copies made and they were on their way down the sidewalk that led back to the movie theater.

Once they were far enough away that they were sure they were out of sight of Miss Jan Enbacy, Carter found himself doubling over with laughter.

“I don’t know who you are but I like this side of Lula,” he admitted, glancing over at a smirking Lula.

“Apparently, I’m some sort of murder novelist,” Lula chuckled, shaking her head. “Thanks for backing me up, by the way. I was kind of getting tired of Jan’s game in there.”

Carter shrugged, his arm lightly brushing against Lula’s as he did so. The action was so natural that he almost didn’t realize what he had done until Lula glanced up at him, the sight of her eyebrows lifting questionably prompting him to slowly remove his hold.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, sucking on his teeth.

“For what?” she questioned him, her head tilting slightly.

It took every ounce of control to keep his hand from lifting to brush the strand of hair that fell into her face, his fingers twitching at his side as she stared longingly into dark brown orbs.

He grew quiet as he thought back to their conversation just moments before discovering Wells’s photo in the binder. He wondered if Lula would be willing to take a bigger risk than lying to some snobby librarian.

“Listen,” Carter started, stopping abruptly. “Brackston is probably going to keep Ivan trapped in that bookstore for hours as he searches through every book the shop has. What if we take advantage of the opportunity we have…”

Lula noted the hopeful look in Carter’s eyes as he turned to face her. She liked that he was begging for her to catch on to what he was trying to imply, especially since he had always been bad at voicing his thoughts when it came to her. His actions were what won her over, prompting her to agree to be with him before they separated. That was history, however, and Lula was both curious and more than ready to face what the future possibly held.

“Carter Reyes, are you asking me out on a date?” Lula remarked, smirking as a flutter lingered within her heart.

He raised his hands defensively, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

“Look, all I’m saying is that we have time to kill. We can’t do anything until Brackston and Ivan get back to the theater. I have a feeling Brackston will keep Ivan preoccupied there until the store closes,” Carter explained, shrugging his shoulders.

“Are you saying that because he’s into nerdy things?” Lula scoffed, rolling her eyes. “You always assumed that about nerds in highschool, you know. Just because they’re into nerdy things doesn’t mean they fall into that stereotype-”

“Lula,” Carter chuckled, grasping her shoulders lightly as she stopped talking. “I was simply stating that because Brackston lit up like a neon sign when I mentioned he and Ivan should take a visit to the bookstore. I’m not entirely the ass I was in highschool, you know.”

Lula hummed softly, relaxing slightly in his hold as she thought back to his earlier question. She knew he was eager to hear her thoughts, and if she were going to be honest, she was eager to give him an answer.

Lula gave some thought to Carter’s words - mostly to just make the soldier sweat. It had less to do with her struggling to make an actual decision and more with making him wait. If it wasn’t for the pleasure of making him nervous, she would have said yes in a heartbeat.

“It’s getting late,” she noted, her lips pressing tightly together.

“Then how about tomorrow?” he asked, hopeful.

She chuckled softly at his nervous stare, shaking her head. “Fine, I think we can allow ourselves to enjoy a day out this one time,” she agreed firmly as she turned on her heels and began making her way down the sidewalk.

Carter couldn’t help the smile that crossed his face as he resisted the urge to let out a relieved sigh, quickly following after Lula as she walked down the sidewalk.

He carefully placed an arm around Lula’s shoulders, this time intentionally in hopes that she would let him. His heart raced as she nestled close to him, allowing him to enjoy the feeling of her warmth in the chilly Ohio air.

Neither one of them had a clue of what the future held or if this would be their last chance to have a quiet evening to themselves for a while but they would take it. Soon, the two would be back at the movie theater they were hiding out in and they’d have to face their mission again. They’d have to face the fact that something could go terribly wrong and that at the turn of any second, a member of Whittaker could turn up.

It was only a matter of time.

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