Chapter One of The Choice

A lot is happening this week! First, if you haven’t read the first four of The Pocket Watch The Pocket Watch ChroniclesChronicles, the collection is still on sale this week, for only $0.99–that is a $6.97 savings off all the individual titles. Be sure to get your copy this week because the price goes up to 5.99 on May 1. This is still a savings of $1.97 of the individual titles.



CoverFinalMD-TheChoiceAnd finally–The Choice releases on Friday!! The Choice contains 2, brand-new, full-length novels, each with a different happily ever after. When Gertrude offers Sara Wells the opportunity to spend sixty days in the past, YOU choose whether she takes it or not.

If you accept the watch, you are taken to Nothing to Lose. In that book Sara will travel to eighteenth century Venice where she meets a young Scottish expatriate who owns a small ship building company. Will their love for each other be enough to overcome all obstacles?

If you refuse the watch, you’ll read What if I Fall in Love? and Sara will remain in the twenty-first century. But this is one of the Pocket Watch Chronicles after all, so she will encounter a traveler from the past and more intrigue than she can pack into the books she writes.

Once you’ve read one, you can go back and make the other choice.

The Prologue and Chapter 1 are the same for both stories, but that’s where it splits. Curious about how this works? I posted the prologue a few days ago. Here is the first chapter.

Chapter One

Sunday, July 9, 2006
An outdoor café near the Rialto
Venice, Italy

Sara Wells had been looking forward to this vacation for months. She had never visited Venice. Everyone said it was one of the most beautiful, romantic cities in Europe. A romance author really should visit the most romantic city in Europe shouldn’t she? But every time she’d suggested it to Mark, her boyfriend, he found reasons not to go. And each time he explained those reasons, they seemed perfectly logical.

So they went river rafting in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, gambling in Vegas and Atlantic City, and skiing in Aspen and Tahoe. The fact that she didn’t enjoy rafting and didn’t know how to gamble or ski didn’t really matter; she loved being with him. He always seemed to work his charm and she became excited about anything they did together. And everything they did was done in style.

Mark’s family had made millions with Holland Imports, a series of automobile dealerships that sold pre-owned luxury cars. Mark was a brilliant salesman and already a millionaire in his own right.

It came as a total shock when he suggested they fly to Venice, spend a few days there and then board a ship for a fourteen-day cruise of the Greek islands. Finally, they were going to do something she had longed to do and it had been his idea. She’d been so excited she packed three days early and could scarcely sleep the night before they left. She didn’t even mind the fact that Mark’s best friend, Benjamin Talbot, and his newest girlfriend, Daphne Cheswick, were going with them. She didn’t care who was with them, it was Venice and the Greek Islands.

Now, she sat alone, sipping coffee at a café on the Grand Canal, within sight of the Rialto Bridge. If that wasn’t bad enough, this was the second day she’d wandered the streets of romantic Venice on her own.

When they’d arrived yesterday, Mark had begged off. “Sara, honey, the jetlag has wiped me out. Give me a day to rest and then I’ll be a hundred percent yours. I think Benjamin is going to the casino—maybe you can tag along with them.”

“I’m not going to tag along with Benjamin and his Barbie doll.”

“Suit yourself. But it’s a shame for you to miss the sights of Venice just because I’m a light-weight traveler.”

“I have no intention of missing Venice. I just wish you’d come with me. You’ll get over jetlag faster if you just stay up.”

“Sweetheart, if it means so much to you I’ll go with you. I fear I’ll be a terrible wet blanket though. I really am exhausted. I can’t sleep on a plane like you can.”

“It was business class, Mark. You could lay completely flat and you still didn’t sleep?”

“Not a wink. I was too enthralled watching my beautiful girl sleep to close my own eyes.”

She laughed. “Stop. You did not watch me sleep all night.”

He grinned at her. “How do you know? You were asleep.”

“I suppose I was.”

“And that is why you are fresh as a daisy and ready to explore, while I’m beat. But if you really want me to…”

“No, it’s okay. I’ll tool around on my own for a while.”

“That’s why I love you, sweetie.” He kissed her. “While you’re out tooling around, see if you can find a good restaurant and we’ll go out for a nice dinner. Maybe sushi or Chinese.”

“In Venice? Are you kidding?”

Mark laughed. “Yes. I’m kidding.” He kissed her again. “I’ll see you later. Give me about four hours.”

She had found a lovely restaurant in her wanderings. Thankfully, Benjamin and Daphne had plans of their own, so she and Mark had dinner alone. It was wonderful. Afterward they took a spectacular gondola ride, then wound their way through the streets of Venice, hand in hand. It was truly the most romantic place she had ever visited.

When they finally returned to the hotel, Mark gave her a toe-curling kiss in the elevator. “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

Sara blushed. “Mark, there’s a security camera.”

Mark shrugged. “So what. We are in love and in Italy. No one cares if we kiss in the middle of San Marco square.

Thankfully the elevator reached their floor before Mark got any other ideas.

When they entered their room, Sara gave him a quick kiss. “I’ll be right back.”

“Don’t keep me waiting long, beautiful. I don’t think I can stand it.”

Sara giggled as she ducked into the bathroom. She brushed her teeth, had a quick wash to rid herself of the grime of the day and slipped into the filmy silk nightgown she had bought for the trip. It had only taken her a couple minutes, but when she slid into bed beside Mark, he was asleep.

She shook him a little, hoping he was just dozing lightly, but he mumbled something unintelligible, rolled over, and started snoring.

Sara sighed. After his day sleeping, it surprised her that he had fallen asleep so quickly, but she figured it was better to start the cruise well-rested.

She’d crawled out of bed and changed into another nightgown, planning to save the new one for an occasion when he was awake enough to appreciate it.

This morning, when they’d awakened, Mark complained of a headache. “I’m sorry, beautiful, it must have been the red wine last night.”

“Red wine doesn’t usually give you a headache.”

“No, but I don’t usually drink it exhausted and dehydrated. I think it went to my head. There is no other explanation of why I fell asleep on my beautiful, sexy girlfriend. I’m sorry, babe. I’m afraid walking around in this heat will only make things worse.”

“It’s okay. It’s just a shame that you won’t get to see much of Venice.”

“When I’m with you, I don’t see anything else anyway.” He slid his hand behind her neck and kissed her deeply, leaving her breathless and wanting more when he pulled away. “I love you, babe. Let me get a little more rest and try to get rid of this headache and I promise I’ll make it up to you tonight.”

“All right. Take some aspirin and rest. I’ll just sit at the desk and work on my book.”

“You are the best.” He gave her another quick kiss. “But I’ll feel terrible if you miss out because of my headache. Go on. Do some more exploring. If the headache goes away soon, I’ll call your cell and we can meet somewhere.”

“Okay. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll be back by noon so we can check out.”

“There’s no need to cut your day that short. I requested a late check-out. We just have to board the ship before four thirty. I figure we’ll have plenty of time if we leave here around three.”

“Okay. I can’t imagine that your headache won’t be gone before then. Maybe we can meet for lunch?”

“Sounds great. I’m sure I’ll feel up to it by then. I’ll call you.”

That had been hours ago and he hadn’t called. She tried to call him a couple of times, but it went straight to voicemail. He must have turned his phone off. She’d finally given up and ate lunch alone. It was almost two now, they’d planned to leave for the ship at three. As soon as she finished her coffee, she’d walk back to their hotel.

Just then, a well-dressed, older woman stopped beside her. “Pardon me, dear, would ye mind if I joined ye? All the tables are full and I’m in desperate need of a cup of tea.” She had a light Scottish accent and a warm smile.

“No, not at all. I was just leaving anyway.”

“Now, lass, don’t rush off on my account. I wouldn’t mind a bit of company and a wee chat while I have my tea.”

“I suppose I have a few minutes.”

“Excellent.” She held out her hand. “My name’s Gertrude.”

Sara shook Gertrude’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Gertrude. I’m Sara.”

Gertrude gave a little nod of her head. “The pleasure’s mine.” She motioned to the waiter and ordered a cup of tea in perfect Italian. “Will ye have another cup of coffee? Is that a latte?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Gertrude ordered the coffee and sat in the chair across from Sara. “Now, lass, tell me a bit about yourself.”

“There’s not much to tell. My name is Sara Wells, I live in Maryland, just outside of Washington, and I’m an author.”

“An author? My, how interesting. What sorts of books do ye write?”

Sara smiled. The answer to that question usually elicited one of two responses. People’s faces either lit up and they asked about her books, or they smiled politely, saying something like, “I don’t really read romance.” She was willing to bet Gertrude would be in the latter group.

“I write romance.”

Gertrude’s response surprised her. “Do ye? My how fascinating. What subgenre do ye prefer?” She appeared truly interested.

“I love fantasy. I have written both contemporary and historical shifter novels. But I have also written regular historical romance.”

“And do ye write under yer own name?”

“No, my name sounds dull. Sara Wells writes owners’ manuals or standard operating procedures. I use the pseudonym Arieta DeCosta.”

“Well, I don’t think Sara Wells sounds dull, but I can see the appeal of Arieta DeCosta.” She pronounced the pseudonym with a light Italian accent. “Tell me, Arieta, why are ye in such a beautiful, romantic city alone?”

“I’m not alone. I’m here with my boyfriend.”

Gertrude glanced around. “Oh, I’m sorry to intrude. I only saw one cup and assumed ye were alone. Has he gone to the loo?”

“You aren’t intruding. He isn’t with me at this café, but he is here in Venice.”

“What on earth is he thinking, going off by himself and leaving such a beautiful lass alone?”

Sara laughed. “Thank you for the complement but he didn’t exactly go off on his own. He woke this morning with a bad headache and he stayed in the hotel to rest a little.”

“I see. Well I hope he’s feeling better soon.”

“Thanks. So do I.”

The waiter arrived with Gertrude’s tea and another latte for Sara. The elderly woman stirred a little milk and sugar in her tea, took a sip and gave a satisfied sigh before turning her attention back to Sara. “So, ye write romance and ye enjoy fantasy. Have ye ever considered time-travel?”

“Oh, I love the idea of it. But I haven’t worked out a really good way to do it and then too, all the rules make it a challenge.”

“What rules?”

“Oh, you know. You can’t change anything without risking changing the future. The Butterfly Effect.”

“The butterfly effect?”

Sara nodded. “A couple of years ago there was a time-travel movie with that title. But the butterfly effect is the part of chaos theory that suggests even something as small as stepping on a butterfly in the past could have huge consequences for the future.”

“Oh that’s a lot of rot. I believe the universe unfolds as it should in spite of what humans do.”

Sara smiled. “Perhaps, but then there is the whole language issue.”

“What do you mean by language issue?”

“It’s not really an issue if the time traveler doesn’t go back far. But I’ve always had a hard time believing that a modern person, who speaks modern English can go back hundreds of years in time and understand anything. The fact is, an English-speaking heroine might be able to converse reasonably well in England or America during the late eighteenth century, but not much earlier.”

“I can see how that would be a problem.”

“Honestly, I’ve written a few medieval romances and I always laugh when a critic says ‘no one speaks or acts as they did back then.’ Most of the characters in my books would have spoken Norman French, Middle English, Gaelic or a Norse dialect. No modern reader would understand if my characters actually spoke as they did back then.”

“I should say not.”

“So, you see, I just don’t find it very believable to put an English speaking heroine back very far in time.”

“I understand completely.”

Sara sipped her latte. “Then, of course, there is the issue of returning to the present.”

“Why is that an issue?”

“Well, my novels are romances. The hero and heroine must have their happily ever after together. Therefore, the reader knows at the outset that the time traveler will stay.”

“No one ever returns?”

“Not usually. I remember reading a time travel novel a few years ago where the heroine did return and met a man who looked exactly like the man she loved in the past. But, in my opinion, just because they looked alike didn’t mean they were the same person with whom the heroine fell in love with the same personality and everything.”

“Aye, ye’re right in that. A human being is much more than their outer shell.”

“Still, I guess the fact that the time traveler always stays is the least of the hurdles. In all romance, it’s a foregone conclusion that the hero and heroine will be together in the end.”

“That’s true. Of course, romance is different from real life.”

Sara laughed. “Yes, but that’s precisely why people read it. They enjoy the fairytale. Reading allows someone to enter a fantasy world where shape shifters, mermaids and a host of other mythical beings dwell. They can leave reality behind for a few hours and travel through space and time. Books bring magic to what is sometimes a mundane world.”

“Aye, books certainly can broaden one’s imagination. ‘Tis a special gift to be able to shake the bonds of reality and soar into the fantastical.”

Sara smiled. “I think so at least.”

Gertrude nodded. “So, would ye do it if ye could?”

“Do what?”

“Shake the bonds of reality and travel through time.”

“Yes. I love reading.”

“Nay, lass, ye misunderstand me. What if ye really had the opportunity to travel through time, would ye take it?”

Sara thought for a moment. “I suppose I might, but it isn’t possible.”

“What if I told ye it is possible?”

“But it isn’t.”

“Oh, but it is.”

Sara laughed. “You’re not serious. People can’t travel through time.”

The old woman canted her head. “Tell me, do ye know everything there is to know in this world?”

“No, of course not. No one does.”

“Then how can ye be so very certain time travel isn’t possible?”

“Because it defies the laws of nature.”

“Perhaps, but it doesn’t defy the laws of magic.”

“There’s no such thing as magic.”

“Now, lass, ye just finished describing the magic ye yerself create with the written word.”

Sara shook her head. The old woman had seemed perfectly normal when she sat down. “That isn’t real magic.”

“Ye’re wrong, it is very real magic and so is time travel. If ye put aside yer disbelief for a moment, I’ll explain.”

The lady might be crazy, but Sara had to hear this. “Okay, tell me about time travel.”

“Magic happens in many ways. Ye use the written words to bring it into the world. I use other tools.” Gertrude reached into her somewhat dated handbag and pulled out a pocket watch on a long chain. “This is my conduit for time-travel.”

Sara laughed. “You’re funny. A watch…we travel forward in time with each second…it’s a great pun.”

Gertrude laughed merrily and somehow, just the sound of it, lifted Sara’s spirits.

“It does seem a bit prosaic doesn’t it? But, I wasn’t making a pun, and it isn’t an ordinary pocket watch. Let me show ye.” She opened the cover, showing Sara the pocket watch’s face.

Sara frowned. “It only has one hand, and it’s stopped.”

“Aye, because no one is traveling with it at the moment. When it takes ye back in time, this hand will move forward one second for every day you are in the past.”

“How does it transport someone to the past?”

“The specifics are beyond even my ability to understand. But very simply it allows ye to exchange souls with someone else.”

“Exchange souls?”

“Aye. Yer soul and consciousness enter someone else’s body, in another time.”

“And their soul enters my body?”

“Aye, but strictly speaking it isn’t usually an even exchange. Ye see, for every day ye’re in the past, only a second passes here. Ye’ll occupy that person’s body for up to sixty days, but when ye return no more than sixty seconds will have passed.”

“So the person whose body I enter returns sixty days later with no memory of what happened?”

“Not exactly. Ye see, generally that person will have set events in motion which will ultimately result in their death. Ye’ll do something to stop that as soon as ye arrive. But their life was already over, because of some choice they made. If ye return to yer own body, the other person’s body will die and their soul will move on.”


“Aye. Ye must choose to return within yer sixty days or ye’ll stay forever.”

“What happens to the other soul then?”

“Yer body will die and the soul will move on.”

“So what about the whole language problem and the risk of drastically changing the future?”

“As I said to ye, there is no risk of ye irreparably changing the future—the universe unfolds as it should. And as to the language problem, it isn’t one. A problem that is. While yer soul and memories go with ye, ye’ll be in her body, with her brain and memories. Ye’ll experience some of her memories immediately and because language is such an ingrained memory, ye’ll know and understand whatever languages she speaks. It will feel as if ye’re speaking English. It is also possible that other memories will emerge with time.”

“But they might not? How do I explain not remembering anything?”

“Sara, pet, ye’re an author. What is the most obvious plot device?”

“Amnesia, I suppose.”

“Aye, that’s usually the most straightforward, but sometimes it isn’t necessary. Each situation is different and how ye handle it is up to ye.”

Sara could scarcely believe that she was entertaining this idea, but it was novel and she wanted to know more. “So how does one activate the pocket watch?”

“It is rather simple really. If ye decide to accept it, ye must select a return word. If ye say that word anytime during the sixty days, it will bring ye back to yer own body in your own time, mere seconds after ye left. So ye’ll want to pick something ye’re unlikely to say accidentally. Then ye say the word and put the pocket watch ‘round yer neck, or even in yer pocket before ye go to sleep, and ye’ll wake up somewhere else. The pocket watch will be with ye.”

“And to come back, I just say the return word.”

“Aye. It’s as simple as that.”

“What if I lose the pocket watch?”

Gertrude chuckled. “Ye can’t lose it. The pocket watch manages to be where it’s needed. As long as it’s in the same time as ye, the return word will work regardless of where the pocket watch is.”

Sara shook her head in amazement, half wishing she had thought this up herself. “So let me make sure I understand. If I accept the pocket watch, before I go to bed I tell it a word and I’ll wake up in someone else’s body in another time where I’ll do something to temporarily prevent that person’s death. The hand advances one second for every day I’m in the past. To return home, I must say the word before my sixty days are up. When I return, the person in the past dies. If I don’t return, my body here dies.”

“Aye. Very concisely stated.”

“It’s a bit grim.”

“I suppose ye could look at it that way but we all make choices, all of our choices have consequences and some consequences are more serious than others.”

Sara couldn’t argue with that. While she was in college, her whole family, her father, mother and younger brother, were killed in a high-speed motor vehicle accident caused by someone who was texting while driving.

Gertrude patted Sara’s hand. “You’ve suffered such consequences.”

It hadn’t been a question, but Sara nodded, her eyes filling with tears. “Yes, I have.”

“I’m sorry. There are no words to express how difficult it is to lose loved ones due to the actions of others.”

Sara remained silent for a moment, trying to regain control. She didn’t believe the pain of loss would ever dim. When she trusted herself to speak without a quaver in her voice, she said, “Thank you for telling me about the watch. It was a fascinating story.”

“So now you have a choice to make.”

“A choice?”

“Aye, lass, a choice. Do you want to take the watch and try it, or not?”

“You’re serious?”

“Of course I’m serious.”

Sara looked at her flabbergasted. “You expect me to believe the pocket watch actually causes souls to change places?”

“I wouldn’t have told ye about it if I didn’t expect you to believe it.”

Sara was ready to laugh the whole thing off, but something in the old woman’s demeanor stopped her. What’s more, Sara was filled with absolute assurance that Gertrude’s pocket watch could do what she said it could.

“Ye believe me now?”

Sara nodded. “I’m not sure why—maybe you did some sort of Jedi mind control thing—but yes, I believe you.”

Gertrude laughed, the enchanting sound again filling Sara with the confidence that all was right with the world.

“I think perhaps you are the first person to ever make that observation. But outside of the cinema, there is no such thing as a Jedi, pet. So, what will it be? Will ye choose to accept the pocket watch or not?”


Sara was at a loss for words. Could she really do it? Could she really accept the watch and exchange souls with someone? “I…I…how can I? Mark and I leave for a cruise of the Greek islands this afternoon.”

“Sara, it will work wherever you are. As long as ye say yer return word within the sixty days, ye’ll awake tomorrow morning at sea, with yer whole cruise ahead of ye.”

How could she not try this? If it didn’t work, she would lose nothing. But if it did work, the rich material she’d have for her historical novels was mind-boggling. I really have nothing to lose. And maybe I’ll be able to do something to prevent the accident. Maybe instead of meeting them at Josh’s concert, I could pick them all up and go home a different way.

Gertrude gave her a sad smile. “Sara, dear, the reason ye don’t need to worry about changing the future is that ye’ll never be in a position to have that kind of effect. I told ye, the universe unfolds as it should. Nothing ye do will change things that have already happened.”

“How did you know that’s what I was thinking?”

“Everyone who has ever lost a loved one and was offered the watch wants that.”

Sara nodded. “I guess they would.”

Gertrude held out her hand with the watch in her palm. “Aye or nay, lass?”

~ * ~

Now, dear reader, the choice is yours. Will Sara journey to the past with the pocket watch or will she stay put in the twenty-first century?

If you choose to accept the pocket watch in the e-book you are given a link to click that takes you to Nothing to Lose. The paperback version will direct you to a page.

If you choose to decline the watch you are given a link to click that takes you to What if I Fall in Love?. Again, the paperback version will direct you to a page.

Remember, after you make your choice and finish the story, you can go back, make the other choice and read the alternate story.

About cecigiltenan

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6 Responses to Chapter One of The Choice

  1. annalba says:

    How can I not go back in time, Even if I don’t find my soul mate, I will see the heather blooming on undisturbed hills … So A Heck Yes I accept.
    ❤ Ann

  2. Daphne Monaco says:

    Love this idea!!! Pre-ordered with joy!

  3. Pingback: My Chat with Gertrude | seelkfireice

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