Time Faults

(Hackle County Book 2)

Between confronting mask burners and calling out pandemic profiteers, it’s getting harder for Hackle County health inspector April Islip to do her job. Having a supportive boyfriend would be nice, but ever since she told Clay Nolan about time travel, he’s been avoiding her. To protect April from a new threat, her boss puts her in charge of COVID-19 testing. But danger finds April once again, transporting her back in time to save Hackle County’s future. A time travel romantic suspense novella.

Available in ebook, print, and audiobook

Excerpt

Time Faults. Copyright © 2022 Pamela Ferguson

Published by Winged Publications

Chapter One

Clay Nolan stared out his office window at the empty Rec Center parking lot. Today’s excessive heat warning had forced him to cancel outdoor activities. Hackle County COVID-19 regulations had taken care of cancelling everything else.

In the beginning, folks had sworn the pandemic would be over in six months. Rec Center members paid big bucks for their annual passes, demanded access to elliptical machines and batting cages, tai chi and campfire cooking classes. They wanted to get back to normal.

As if that were possible.

He drummed his fingers on the desk. Some members criticized the noisy fans he’d installed when there were no technicians available to upgrade the HVAC system. Other members complained that staff wiping off the equipment impeded circuit training. Those folks obviously had no problem with the members who, whenever they sneezed, informed everyone within earshot that it was only an allergy. And maybe it was only an allergy. Or maybe it was the reason other members decided the Rec Center was a germ pit and demanded refunds. He’d refrained from explaining that the refund policy excluded acts of God—because who wanted to blame God for all of this—and instead convinced the risk-averse to accept a free membership extension, repeating the mantra that things would be back to normal in six months.

Except they weren’t. The Rec Center should be humming with end-of-the-summer activities on the Thursday before Labor Day. Instead, the place felt like a ghost town.

His office door flew open. Roscoe Nolan yanked his red bandanna below his chin with one gnarled hand and waved a sheaf of papers with the other. White hair curled beneath the brim of his dusty cowboy hat. “What’s the good of having a girlfriend who works for the Health Department if she won’t bend the rules for you?”

Clay turned his chair to face his great-uncle. “Thanks for knocking. April Islip is not my girlfriend.”

Roscoe rolled the papers into a tube and slapped them against his faded jeans. “Since when?”

Clay stared him down. “Since none of your business.” Roscoe may chair the Nolan Industries’ board, but they both knew he preferred playing cowboy to running meetings. Never mind the man had never ridden a horse in his life.

Roscoe tossed the curled papers onto the desk. “That explains all the red marks.”

Clay flipped through the yoga studio proposal. April’s red pen hadn’t missed a page. Exceeds indoor gathering limits. How will you enforce social distancing? Confirm ventilation meets latest pandemic standards. See Hackle County Code 22.4.6.

Thorough as ever.

“The Health Department didn’t make any friends parking that refrigerator truck behind the hospital. How did they think people were going to feel, attached to ventilators and wondering if they were going to wind up inside that trailer?”

Clay couldn’t believe his ears. “Wait, you believe the pandemic is real now?”

“Don’t matter if I believe or not. Health Department’s pounding businesses with new rules every week. Heard April’s spitting fire since her car accident, writing COVID-19 citations like nobody’s business.” Roscoe hitched up his jeans.

Clay didn’t want to think about April’s accident. “What’s your point?”

Roscoe anchored his palms on the desktop. “Your grandfather and I didn’t convert a run-down tavern into a multimillion-dollar recreation business just so some health inspector could slash our profits.”

Clay’s ears perked up. “What year was that again?”

Roscoe’s bushy brows furrowed like two octogenarian caterpillars. “What year was what?”

“The year you converted the tavern into the Rec Center?” Clay prompted.

“When I got back from Nam in 1970. Why?”

That year again. “Just wondering.” Clay tapped a pencil on the desk. “Has the board given any thought to my suggestion?”

“Which one?”

“Invite families who can’t afford membership to use our outdoor facilities free of charge.”

“We need to focus on profits. Not charity work.” The muscle in Roscoe’s jaw jumped. He looked away.

So, his penny-pinching relatives on the board had shot it down. Clay had hoped the free publicity might appeal to them, even if helping the community didn’t.

“We need to increase cash flow.” Roscoe reached across the desk. “Seeing as how you broke the little lady’s heart, I reckon I’d better send somebody else to the meeting.”

Clay shoved the yoga studio proposal into his work bag before Roscoe could take it. “I’m the manager. I started this deal. I’ll finish it.”

“Better, or I’ll be calling Councilwoman Barkan.”

Ice cubes clanked as Clay slid his aluminum water bottle into the bag. “April’s not afraid of the County Council.”

“She should be.” Roscoe stomped away, slamming the door behind him.

Clay strode outside into a wall of heat, the humidity pasting his shirt to his skin. No way to avoid an awkward meeting with April. He’d been playing with fire, getting romantically involved with a county health inspector who could shut him down at any time. Of course, being in the middle of a pandemic had upped the ante, making the challenge of breaking through her professional demeanor even more irresistible. Her smart, no-nonsense approach to the residents of Hackle County was refreshing, so different from the schmoozing he was required to engage in. He missed the cool summer evenings, sitting with her under the trees, exchanging stories about their most absurd workday encounters. He’d felt like he could tell her anything. Until she’d told him about time travel. After that, everything had fallen apart.

A hot breeze rustled his hair as he turned his Jeep onto the highway. He drove past the woods beside the Valley View Restaurant, the point where April’s car had gone off the road on July Fourth. She’d wandered away from the scene of the accident, and he’d spent the day searching gullies and ravines for signs of her bright pink dress. She’d reappeared suddenly, fireworks exploding around them, with a story about travelling to 1970 and meeting Clay’s grandfather, claiming her actions in the past had changed the present. According to her, immediately before she’d time traveled, a business called Nolan’s Tavern had stood in the exact same spot as the Rec Center, and Clay had owned it.

Except he had no memory of owning a tavern.

Maybe he should’ve contacted the hospital to find out if April’s concussion could have impacted her memory. He’d experienced his share of bell ringers playing high school soccer. Had worked with plenty of athletes who’d suffered head injuries. No one he’d ever known with a concussion had talked about time travel.

Find out what happens next…

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