The Laird
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154 pages

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Andrew, a wealthy Australian architect, takes life too seriously, whereas his PA Elizabeth is outgoing and fun-loving; a perfect foil for her somber boss. She is passionate about Celtic lore and language. With great reluctance Andrew answers a plea from his two elderly aunts to travel to Scotland before his uncle dies. He has no desire to visit the land his father left under a cloud many years ago, but Liz persuades him to take her along. In the draughty and dilapidated castle, while exploring a disused attic, the pair set off a course of events that propel them back in time to 1050 where they meet Travis, coincidentally Andrew's double.



Publié par
Date de parution 12 mai 2014
Nombre de lectures 4
EAN13 9781773626925
Langue English

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The Laird
Wild Heather, Book 1
By Tricia McGill
Digital ISBNs
EPUB 978-1-77362-692-5
Kindle 978-1-77145-341-7
WEB 978-1-77362-693-2
Amazon print 978-1-77362-694-9

Copyright 2014 by Tricia McGill
Cover art by Michelle Lee
All rights reserved. Without limiting therights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publicationmay be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic,mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without theprior written permission of both the copyright owner and thepublisher of this book
* * *
Tomy Scottish forebears. Inever could resist a man in a kilt, due to the hint of Scottishblood running through my veins. I love the sound of bagpipes; theycertainly stir some emotion deep inside me. I love castles but haveto admit to never sampling haggis. Regrettably, although I spentthe first part of my life in England, I never got as far north asScotland. This series gives me the opportunity to travel there inmy dreams and imaginings, to meet a rugged highlander, to trampacross the wild heathlands, a trusty hound at my heels.
Chapter One
Near Stirling, Scotland. Present day.
Andrew McAlistair stared at the muddle ofbuildings. He’d never seen such a mess.
His personal assistant obviously didn’t sharehis opinion. The moment she spied the heap of junk, she said, “I’venever seen anything like it.”
“Neither have I.” Sarcasm threaded throughhis remark.
“It’s fascinating.”
“Elizabeth Parker, you’re odd.” Andrew shookhis head. “Surely this can’t be the right place. It has to be amistake.” He’d stopped the hire car by a pair of iron gates, oncegrand, but now hanging drunkenly on rusty hinges. One of the lionsperched askew atop the posts flanking the gates had its concretenose sliced off. “My uncle and aunts can’t live here—we’veobviously taken a wrong turn somewhere.”
“No, that lady at the post office said thisis the place. Drive on to the door.”
Andrew’s insides cringed as he drove past agarden gone to weed, where motley shrubs battled to survive againsta choking tangle of thistles.
“The house looks promising,” Liz said, hereyes still sparkling with excitement.
Andrew groaned. Back in Melbourne, thosegreen eyes lit up the moment he mentioned his uncle’s castle. Lizread Scottish history as if it was the most interesting literaturein the world, and possessed an understanding of Celtic lore andlanguages. She was the only person he knew who spoke fluentGaelic.
“My God, it looks like the house that Jackbuilt,” he complained. “The bloke who designed it must have beencrazy. Or drunk.”
A two-storied house stood stoutly in front ofa larger four-storied structure with turrets at the top of the twofront corners. Curved steps went up to immense double doors. Smallgrimy glass panes were set high in each door.
The moment Andrew stopped the car these doorsflew open and two elderly ladies pranced out. One wore a brighttartan skirt and red blouse with frilled neck and cuffs. Theother’s black dress covered her from neck to ankle.
His aunts, Kitty and Tilda. Andrew could onlystand and stare.
“Andy, is it really you? Ye’re here, all theway from Australia!” The plump one had a mass of hair likecorkscrews. She drew Andrew against her ample bosom, her tartanskirt swirling as she rocked him back and forth. Her cardigan hadseen better days, as had her scuffed brown leather boots. Vermilionlipstick ran through cracks at the side of her mouth. The scent oflavender and mothballs made Andrew cough. As he tried to freehimself from the old lady’s clasp, he saw Liz’s grin.
As she pumped Liz’s hand the thinner of thetwo old ladies twittered, “An’ you must be Andy’s trustycompanion.”
Andrew managed to free himself from the plumpone, only to be dragged into a pair of stick-thin arms that pressedhim against a breast as flat as a board.
“I’m yer Aunt Kitty.” The bigger one stoodback and beamed. “I cannae believe you’re really here, Andy.”
Kitty was in her early seventies. Her bootslooked sturdy enough to take her over the hills and dales and shelooked fit enough to hike for miles.
“This is Tilda.” With an indifferent sniffKitty pointed to her lean sister. Tilda’s tight bun dragged theskin of her face back from her prominent cheekbones, pulling hernarrow mouth into a straight line. Probably sixty, Tilda lookedancient. Like a hyperactive sparrow she jerked from foot tofoot.
“I’ll call the old bugger.” She rushedinside. Andrew blinked.
“Tilda’s a bit slow,” Kitty put a finger toher forehead and rotated it while she rolled her eyes. “Come awayinside. The old fellow will fetch yer luggage in.” She waved a handin the general direction of the vehicle. “Yer car can stay there.The garage has a hole in the roof, so it will do just as well where‘tis.”
Andrew’s disappointment grew in leaps andbounds as they went into the hall. Instead of the marblefireplaces, oak panels and Persian carpets of his fancies, thelarge lofty hall was starkly unfurnished, except for a few rustedweapons hanging on walls whose plaster was peeling. The paintworkbore water stains, the stair carpet was threadbare and the wholehouse seemed dilapidated, draughty and in need of repair.
“Now, can I get you a cup of something hot?You must be feeling the cold something awful after coming from thetropics.” Kitty yanked on the waistband of her skirt.
“Australia isn’t exactly tropical, Kitty.” Andrew ran a hand over his hair, then downhis nape. Good God, the woman didn’t feel a bit like a relative.And he wasn’t keen on the amusement Liz was failing, to conceal.“At least not in Victoria where we come from.”
“Ah well, once ye get settled in ye can tellme all about yer home and work...and everything.” She rubbed herpalms together.
“I’d like a hot drink, Kitty.” Liz asked,then added, “May I call you that?”
“Good gracious me, yes. Now then, follow me.”She started off along the wide hallway, her skirt swaying.
“What century was the castle built in?” Lizasked, obviously intrigued by this monstrosity of a place. Andrewshook his head.
“The original part at the back was built inthe seventeenth century, dear, but bits have been added on over theyears. Not much has been done in the past few years, though.” Kittytut-tutted sadly as she opened a door beneath the staircase thengestured with red-tipped fingers for them to enter. “We eat in thekitchen these days, ‘tis warmer.”
She waved for them to sit at a long woodentable with ten chairs around it, and then went over to the hugeblack stove throwing out enough heat to warm the cavernous room.“The kettle will take but a moment to boil.” She tugged on hercardigan, rubbed her hands together a few times, and sat oppositethem.
“Yer uncle will no doubt wait until later towelcome ye himself. I’m sorry to say he’s a wee bit obstinate, isthat brother of mine. Fancy letting his own flesh and blood go forso long without one word over the years!” Sighing, she dramaticallypulled her bottom lip into her mouth. Then she sent Andrew a coysmile, declaring, “No doubt yer heart is softer than his, laddie.‘Twas a dreadful shame that yer father left after that awful rowwith Lawrence. But no doubt he made a fortune for himself inAustralia.” Her eyes gleamed with curiosity.
“He did all right,” Andrew admitted quietly.“My father always took some misplaced pride in being the blacksheep of his family, but never told me exactly what the argumentwas over.” He paused, then added, “My father never spent much timediscussing anything with me, really.”
“That’s an awful shame.” Kitty reached to pathis hand.
“The row had something to do with money,”Kitty went on. “I think yer father had a hand in a wee bit ofsmuggling or the suchlike.”
“That would be about right.” Andrew noticedLiz’s quizzical gaze. He seldom spoke about his father and apartfrom telling her he’d died four years ago, and went to Australia in1956 at the age of twenty-five she knew little else.
Kitty busied herself making a pot of tea,then poured them all one. “An’ it was also a crying shame that yenever got to meet yer grandparents, Andy,” she said as she satagain.
It never bothered Andrew before. But now hecame to think about it, it was depressing, to be the last in a longfamily line.
“Still, an’ all, ye’ll be having bairns ofyer own afore long, laddie. Then the family will grow again like itwas in the old days, when there were many proud McAlistairs.”
Andrew stared into his cup, sayingnothing.
Kitty asked brightly, “So, did ye have a gooddrive over from the airport at Edinburgh?”
“Yes,” Liz said. “The scenery is superb,Kitty. All that I expected. And the town looks lovely sprawled overthe hills. I can’t wait to go to Stirling Castle.”
“Aye, an’ we have the Campsie Fells south ofhere, an’ then the Ochil Hills on the other side of the Firth ofForth. An’ you’ll have to visit the Antonine Wall. ‘Tis just a weeride away.”
Andrew looked over to Liz. Her wide eyesshone with expectation. “Oh, don’t worry, she’ll visit every placewithin a hundred mile radius,” he said with conviction. Her zestfor life and interest in all things ancient was astonishing. Shehad the fair complexion that usually accompanied auburn hair and afew of the freckles attractively spotting her up-tilted nose showedthrough her make-up. A smile twitched at the corners of hergenerous mouth as she looked from him to Kitty. A smile was alwayslurking in her eyes, and he knew she always went out of her way toget him to snap out of his seriousness. It had become a game theyplayed, where she laughed openly and he held back. Even in thewell-cut suits and prim blouses she always wore to the office, withher hair coiled at the back of her head, her vivacious spark shonethrough.
“D’ye wish to go to yer rooms now, laddie,and freshen up?” Kitty was watching him expectantly.
“Oh, yes, sure.” He stood, pushing therung-backed chair beneath the table.
“Come away with me, then. I’ll show ye up.”With another tug on the raggedy cardigan she beckoned to them asshe made for the door.
After the warmth of the kitchen the hallwaystruck as cold as a tomb. Andrew shuddered. With a bit of luck theycould see his uncle, make peace with him, then scoot back home assoon as possible.
The upper hallway was no better thandownstairs, with frayed and faded carpet on the floor and streaksof water damage on the walls.
“Right, this one is yers, Andy.” Kittystopped and opened a door with a flourish. She stood back, beaming.“And right next door is the lassie’s. The bathroom is over there.There’s hot water, but sometimes the heater plays up, so ye’d bestwork it out between yourselves so one has a bath at night and onein the morning.”
Andrew groaned. It seemed as if that was allhe’d done since he first saw this dreadful pile of bricks. BehindKitty’s back he put a hand to his head, and pressed his fingers tohis temple. Liz’s grin widened.
“We’re hoping ye’ll stay awhile, the pair ofyou.” Kitty patted his arm, and gave him a benevolent smile. “Thedays are short and the winds heavy about now, but in spring theheather covers our hills with purple. Some foreigners think this asavage land, but we’ve hidden glens where torrents of water rushthrough them. An’ there’s gently rolling hills and mightymountains. All that a soul with Scottish blood in his veins candesire.”
Andrew scowled at Liz’s broad grin. How thehell had he let this incorrigible history fanatic talk him intothis?
Chapter Two

“I told you everything would be all right,didn’t I?” Liz said, as Andrew put the phone down and jotted a fewnotes on the pad in front of him.
Andrew sat on the corner of the desk, drawingher eyes to the powerful leg muscles beneath the fabric of histrousers as he began to swing a foot. With an effort she draggedher gaze away.
In the three years they’d worked together Lizhad grown to admire and respect him, but at times could be maddenedby his arrogance. Her boss took life far too seriously. If he wouldonly take life more lightly he would be perfect.
What the hell, he was nigh on perfect, withdark softly waving hair, gold hawk’s eyes and a powerful physiquehe kept in well-honed athletic condition.
“Yes, as you forecast, Ray is managing withthe Dickinson project admirably. With Paula’s help.” He raked ahand through his hair. It was cut short, so he didn’t disrupt itsneatness. He sat on the chair opposite hers at the side of thefireplace dominating the library, the only other habitable room onthe ground floor. The castle was definitely the drabbest andcoldest place either of them had ever lived in. In the two daysthey’d been here both hovered close to the fire whenever theycould.
“I still don’t know how you inveigled me intocoming here, Parker,” he grumbled. “I told you it would be bloodyfreezing here in March.”
“I wanted to skulk around a castle inScotland.”
“As I said—mad.” He shook his head.
“Well, if I wasn’t a bit soft in the head Iwouldn’t have slaved for you with only one holiday in two years,now would I?”
“I was going to suggest you take some timeoff after we’d cleared up the Dickinson job,” he allowedmagnanimously.
“Ah well, this is more exciting than a coupleof weeks in Bali, boss.”
“Crazy,” he muttered. “Uncle Lawrence seemsquite taken with you. I’m beginning to think he doesn’t give acarrot about me, for all he says I’m his heir.” Stuffing his handsdeep in his pockets he scowled at his feet. “I wonder what I’mdoing here.” He made a sound of disgust. “The old boy doesn’t seemto be at death’s door at all, contrary to their letter. Aunt Kittycouldn’t give a hoot about him or how sick he is, and from what Igather, she never goes up to his room. Personally I don’t think shecan stand the sight of him. Tilda seems to have more time for him.At least she spends an hour or so in his room each day.”
“Poor dear. She’s definitely a bit slow. Andshe’s not impatient like Kitty. Did you see how Kitty’s eyes lit upwhen you were talking about your business, and how well your fatherhad done in Australia? I think she’s of the opinion you’re her potof gold at the end of a rainbow. She likes the latest clothes, soshe told me.” Liz rocked back on the other moth-eaten armchair asshe laughed. “She reckons her brother is so tight he squeaks as hewalks. Not that she should say that. The poor old soul can’twalk.”
“Poor old soul—what rubbish. He’scantankerous and rude, and that male nurse of his has the patienceof a saint. During the short time I visited with him yesterday hecomplained about the cost of running this place, the price of food,the wages he pays to the staff.” Andrew ticked the complaints offon his fingers. “Staff—what a joke? My God, he’s only got two oldretainers. No wonder the place is falling apart.”
“Yes, but it’s fascinating, admit it. Youruncle told me to go up and rummage through the trunks in the atticany time I feel like it.” Liz leaned forward in her eagerness.“Imagine what we may find up there.”
“Imagine.” Andrew grimaced. “He’s definitelyfound a soul mate in you. He thinks you’re the bees’ knees. Whatwere you talking about for two hours yesterday afternoon?”
“He shares my interest in the history of thisplace.” Liz looked about at the dusty drab room, seeing images ofshadows of its past inhabitants in every corner. “Can’t you feelit? The castle is steeped in it. I swear I saw a ghost last nightas I got into bed.”
“You would. It was probably the firstMcAlistair who lived here. What did you say his name was?” Andrewsat forward, his elbows resting on his knees.
“I don’t really know. I haven’t been able totrace your tree so far back yet. But if he’s anything like thepaintings of your other ancestors in the gallery, he can haunt mybedroom anytime he likes. What dishes. One of them was calledTravis. I don’t really think the castle’s history goes back to thefirst one. God, but there’s something romantic and dashing about aman in a kilt. And those bagpipes really stir the soul.” She winkedmischievously.
“Ha,” he grunted. “I think you must have moreScottish blood in your veins than I have.”
“That’s a fact. This place draws me. I thinkI love it, ghost and all.” She looked about. “I found out what thefamily tartan is. You’d look great in a kilt, boss.” She leant backand appraised him through narrowed eyes.
“That is definitely one garment you’ll neverget me in. Forget it. And what the hell am I going to do with thisdump?” Once his uncle passed on, this castle would be his and Lizknew the mere thought made him morose.
“You could always use it as a holiday home,”Liz suggested. “Imagine what fun you can have telling your friendsthat you’re off to the Highlands for a break.”
“Fun?” Andrew shivered visibly. “It’smiserably cold and damp. The furniture should have been burnedyears ago. Look at it.” He slapped at one of the cracks on the armof his chair. “I don’t know why I let you talk me into coming.”
“It was worth coming if only for thatporridge we had for breakfast. Only the Scots know how to make realporridge.” She closed her eyes and purred in blissful reminiscence.“And what about that dish Kitty called Scots Collops we had fordinner last evening. Wasn’t it tasty?”
“Just tasted like mince to me.”
“We’ve been promised Finnan Haddie for dinnertonight.” She concentrated on keeping the amusement out of hervoice.
“Finnan Haddie?” He scowled. “What the hell’sthat?”
“It’s haddock from Findon, so Tilda said.Apparently that’s a fishing village near Aberdeen.”
Pressing a finger and thumb to his eyes,Andrew sighed. Liz hid a smile. “Can we visit Stirling Castlelater, please? It’s only down the road a bit. Look, I’ve got apamphlet.”
“Just another one of the hundreds you’veaccumulated since our plane landed.”
Ignoring his sarcasm, she read, “The castlewas a strategically important place. It played a major part in theScottish struggle against the English.” She glanced up. “Justimagine it. Great names like William Wallace and Robert the Brucewere involved in the sieges there. And Andrew the Second tossed theEarl of Douglas’ body from a window of the castle. He’s supposed tohave invited the earl to dine, and then stabbed him over the dinnertable because he’d gone out of his way to provoke him.”
“Nice people in those days.” Andrew’s mouthtwisted wryly.
“Mm, and parliament decided Douglas deservedit because he resisted the king’s persuasion. So he got away withthat one nicely.” She waved the leaflet. “Mary, Queen of Scots,spent her childhood there, too.”
“Okay we’ll go this afternoon. Just as longas we don’t have to take the two old biddies along with us. I knowI’m not being very gracious, but honestly, I’ve had just about allI can take of them today. Where are they now, by the way?” Heglanced about as if expecting them to jump out at him.
“I think Tilda’s reading the daily newspaperto your uncle. And Kitty’s preparing our lunch, I believe. Sheloves food. I must say her shortbread is the food of the gods. Ithink she’s trying to charm you with her creative cooking. She’sheard that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Hegrunted and Liz closed her eyes, humming blissfully. “I think I’llneed to go for a run round the grounds later or I’ll end up with aspare roll of fat around my middle.
“Tilda told me Kitty lost her one true loveover fifty-five years ago when he went off to war and never cameback. She was talking about this Robert as if he was visiting thisafternoon and Tilda put me straight. Poor Kitty hasn’t seen himsince she was a teenager. Isn’t that sad?”
“Yes, it is rather,” Andrew agreed.
“Come on then, let’s go up to the attic andsee what we can find. What do you say?” She got up and tugged onhis sleeve.
He looked up at her, obviously amused by hereagerness. “God, Parker, you should have been born in anothercentury. You’re too weird for this one.” With a sigh he pushedhimself upright and followed her out.
The house seemed to be all passages,corridors and twisting turns. Climbing the main staircase up to thefirst floor, they went to the end of the wide upper hallway, andthen opened a door that brought them out to a narrow staircase. Itwound so tightly the steps were narrower on one side than theother.
“Guess this must lead to the part of thehouse that looks like the original bit. This house is a maze. Iwonder where those little turrets with the curved windows are. Theymust be up this way somewhere.” Liz shivered in expectation.
“Cold?” Andrew touched her on theshoulder.
“No, just excited at the prospect of what wemight find up here.” She strove to ignore the thrill that trembledthrough her at his touch. “This reminds me of a time when I was akid. We went to visit an old aunt of my mother’s and she swore herhouse was haunted.”
“You’re the only woman I know who getsexcited about the prospect of meeting a ghost.”
At the top of the staircase a narrow doorblocked their way. Liz tried the rusted handle. “I can’t turnthis.”
“Here, let me try,” Andrew offered.
She glanced over her shoulder. There wasbarely room for the two of them to turn in the small space. “Comeon, back down a bit.” He placed his hands on her waist and liftedher. For a moment he kept his hold on her as he lowered her slowlyto the lower stair. Her face was on a level with his chest, as hesaid, with a strange gruffness in his voice, “You’re as light as abag of feathers.”
Liz bent her head as he turned his attentionto the door. A stupid blush rushed to her face, and his verymasculine smell surrounded her, mingling with her own perfume; aheady mixture.
He seemed oblivious to her moment ofconfusion and awareness. “There, that’s done it.”
The door creaked on its hinges as it swunginwards. Stepping up the last stair Andrew turned to offer a hand,letting go once she’d joined him. The door opened into a largeroom, and at the far side was another small staircase. At its topyet another door swung open with a squeak and a groan, and Andrewled the way into a dim room where a small amount of light filteredin from one small filthy window high up on the wall.
“This isn’t a turret.” Disappointed, Lizbrushed a cobweb from her cheek.
“It’s as filthy as hell in here.” Andrewsneezed as they stood side by side, peering into the gloom. “Isuppose there’s a light switch somewhere.” His arm brushed herbreasts as he ran his fingers up and down the wall and Lizjumped.
“You’re very touchy today.” His tone, assmooth as melted honey, sent feathery shivers right up to her nape.“Aha, here it is.” He flicked a switch and the attic wasilluminated by a single light bulb hanging from one of the beams.“At least there’s a light, such as it is. This place is likesomething out of the Dark Ages.”
As her eyes grew accustomed to the dimness,Liz looked around. Cobwebs festooned the room and inches of dustcovered every surface. Great oak beams sloped down to one side ofthe room. Dust motes floated in the dim light. They sneezedsimultaneously and laughed as both said, “Bless you.”
“Hey, there’s four trunks here.” Liz knockedcobwebs out of the way as she went over to the huge metal-boundcontainers. She tried the rusted lock of the nearest one.“Damn—it’s locked. We’ll have to ask your uncle or aunts if theyknow where the key is. What do you suppose could be in it? I wonderif there are any old diaries, books or ledgers.” Trying the nextone to find the lid lifted a fraction, she cried eagerly, “Look,this one’s open.”
“Here, let me.” Andrew gently pushed heraside. After a small struggle he managed to force the lid up. “It’sfull of old rags.” He brushed his palms together as Liz blew at thedust and cobwebs around the inside of the lid.
“Rags,” she snorted, picking up the toparticle. It was a plaid scarf. Rummaging about beneath a layer ofyellowed tissue paper, she cried, “This, sir, is a set of highlanddress. Look, here’s a kilt. It’s magnificent.” Holding it aloft,she shook it, sending dust flying, which set them both sneezingagain. “It’s in your clan colors, too. Don’t you just love thisgreen and red plaid? Try it on.” She held it in front of him.
“Like hell I will.” He turned away.
“You haven’t an ounce of romance in yourwhole body.” With a click of the tongue, she bent to sort throughthe clothing again, producing a black jacket with gilt buttons,then a sporran. “Look at this.”
“I can be as romantic as the next man,” heassured her, “but my idea of romance isn’t tied up with wearing adirty old kilt that reeks of mothballs and dust.”
“You can put it on over your trousers. Youdon’t have to strip off. Come on, just slip it around your waist.”Before he could stop her she wrapped it about him.
“Go and look in that mirror.” She gave him agentle push then wiped a piece of rag over the mottled chevalmirror standing in a corner. “See how proud and Scottish you look.Why, if your hair was longer you’d be the image of old Travis inthe portrait downstairs.”
Liz bit her lip. She’d revealed too much,after her declarations about how handsome she thought Travis.Quickly, she bent over the trunk again.
“Here’s a funny sort of cape. It looks likeit’s made of animal hide.” Liz forgot her dismay as she lifted herfind, struggling to give it a shake. Its rolled collar ended in atag caught together by a clasp. “It sure is heavy. I don’t recallever reading about anything quite like this. And I’ve never seen apicture of one of these cloaks. Have you, Andrew?” So engrossed wasshe in her find that only when it was out of her mouth did sherealize she’d used his name. That was something she never didaround the office.
He peered at it. Any other man wearing a kiltover a pair of trousers would look ridiculous, but not Andrew.Because they’d been feeling the cold, they’d gone into Stirlingyesterday to buy warmer clothing. He now wore his new fleecy workshirt under a warm Shetland sweater, and a pair of heavy leatherwalking boots with thick woolen socks folded over their tops. Lizloved her new ankle-length tartan wool skirt. Black tights,calf-high suede leather boots, chunky red sweater, and plaid shawlmatching her skirt sure kept out the chill that was really foreignto them.
“Try it on, it’s got a funny looking sort ofbrooch clipped at the front,” she said, touching the two inch byfour inch sheet of flattened metal.
There was an inscription on it. “What does itsay?” Andrew asked, leaning over as she took it nearer the lightbulb and rubbed at it with the scrap of cloth.
“Translated it says: ‘Commit thy work toGod’. Hey, that’s your family motto. I saw it on one of theportraits downstairs. And this squiggle about the edges must bewild heather, the same plant as on your family crest. Put it on,boss.” Liz struggled to lift the cloak. She was average height butit was still a long way up to his broad shoulders. “This thing’ssure heavy.”
“Steady on.” As she fell against him, Andrewtook a step back. He managed to pull the cloak in place with onehand and hold her steady with the other. “You’re not kidding. It’sheavy all right.”
Liz clung to his upper arms, and the strangeclasp pressed against her breasts. She was hit with the oddestsensation—as if it was branding her.
The floor shuddered violently beneath them,sending vibrations up her legs. A draught of ice-cold air whirledabout them.
“Did you feel the earth move?” His tone wasgently mocking, and Liz buried her face against his sweater,shivering.
Wrinkling her nose at the smell coming fromthe pelt she whispered, scared, “Actually I did. I thought it wasmy imagination. Do they have earthquakes in Scotland?”
“I’m not sure.” Liz barely heard him, for astrange buzzing filled the air, and she felt as if her eardrumswere going to explode as everything about them seemed to vibrateand shudder. Wrapping her arms about his middle, she screamed, thenoise burbling from her throat.
Then the light went out.
Chapter Three
Liz shivered wildly, clinging to Andrew as ifhe was a life raft in a stormy sea. Her flesh felt as if a thousandants were creeping over it, and she couldn’t help herself, shewhimpered. She’d never been a coward, but now her hair wasdefinitely standing on end, every hair on her body atattention.
The blackness was intense.
“Great,” Andrew moaned. “Stuck in the dark.Didn’t we leave that damned door open?”
“Yes, we did, actually,” she squeaked. “Itmust have slammed shut in that blast of wind.” Liz’s voice shook asshe asked fretfully, “And why isn’t there any light coming in fromthe window? It’s as dark as the tomb. Do me a favor, will you?”
“What?” He sounded slightly querulous.
“Put your arms about me, please? I hate thedark,” she whispered, her teeth chattering. She also hated owningup to her weakness.
Gently, securely, he wrapped her in thecircle of his arms, pressing her close to his solid length. Whenshe shivered convulsively he rubbed his palms reassuringly up anddown her back.
“I never knew you were scared of the dark,Parker. You’re always so confident and brave.” His breath was warmand comforting on her forehead. “Now, let’s make our way over tothe door. Okay?” As she nodded, his lips brushed her temple.
His steady heartbeat beneath her cheek easedher panic—if only a fraction. She would be safe with Andrew. Hebegan to shuffle sideways, never loosening his hold. When they’dcovered the few paces that should have brought them up against thedoor he released her. As if sensing her unease he said soothingly,“It’s all right,” as he circled his fingers about her left upperarm.
Andrew groped about, then cursed, “Bloodyhell, I think we must have moved in the wrong direction. I feltsure the door was here, didn’t you? Here’s the wall.” He feltsomething solid beneath his fingertips. “If we keep working our wayaround we’ll come on the door eventually.” Without a doubt, thedoor should now be beneath his hand. He strived to keep his weirdfeelings of apprehension to himself. Something very peculiar washappening. A tingling of fear brought him out in a sweat, eventhough the temperature had certainly dropped.
Liz clung silently to him while he began tofollow the wall. He felt distinctly odd; somehow lighter. For thefirst time in his life he knew terror, and this fear had nofeasible grounds.
After they’d covered what he felt sure wasthe circumference of the attic room Andrew muttered, “That’sstrange.” This was extremely puzzling. “Weren’t the walls coveredin a sort of plasterboard? And wasn’t it oblong?”
“Yes,” she said in a tight little voice.
“Well, I haven’t come on a corner yet.”Andrew worked hard to conceal the uneasiness engulfing him. Ifthey’d made their way around the entire room, why hadn’t theytripped over the trunks lined up along the far wall?
Strangest of all was that the wall seemed tobe of packed earth and bits of rock, with strips of timber atintervals. The roughness of it grazed his hands. And he could havesworn the ceiling beams were low at the far end of the room. Ifhe’d walked beneath those beams at their lowest point he would havehit his head.
“Come on, let’s keep going,” he urgedquietly, striving to keep the panic from his voice. “Hang onto mybelt, Liz. I need both hands free.” She obeyed him silently, but hecould hear her teeth knocking together and wondered if it was withfright or cold. The cold was seeping into his bones, and feargripped him. “Here, put this on.” Removing the cape he placed itabout her shoulders.
“It smells a bit,” she complained. Her voiceshook, and he admired the bravado he knew she’d tried to injectinto her tone. “And it’s very heavy.”
Andrew used both hands as he continued thesearch of the walls. “I’m sorry, but I have to tell you there’ssomething very odd happening here.” He stopped, resting his handson her forearms beneath the cape, glad she couldn’t see his facefor he knew it mirrored his unrest.
“This wall has no corners, and it appears tobe made of a different substance from the room we were in. We’redefinitely not in the attic where we found the trunks. In factthey’ve disappeared. Did I hit my head or something? Tell me thisis a dream.”
“If it is, boss, then I’m having the sameone, because you feel as solid as I do.” She moved closer tohim.
Andrew circled her waist then stretched outhis other arm. He touched what felt like a solid wood panel, andsaid, “Thank God, at last. I think we’ve found the door.”
“I can hear voices. It must be your aunts outthere looking for us.” Liz’s relief showed in the tremble of hervoice.
“I can’t open it.” Andrew ran his fingers upand down where he expected the latch to be, then cursed softly. “Itdoesn’t have a doorknob or latch of any sort.”
“Let’s bang on it and they’ll let us out.”She began to thump on the wood. Andrew joined her, using bothfists.
“Help! Kitty. Tilda. Open the door, please,”they both yelled. “We’re locked in.”
They were ignored, and the rumble of voicesgrew louder, as if an argument was going on.
“How on earth can they be carrying on so onthat narrow staircase,” Liz whispered. Andrew hadn’t the heart totell her what he suspected. Something exceedingly weird hadhappened. This was not the same room they’d entered; even the doorwas different. This one was heavily studded and the hinges of ironwere huge, unlike the ordinary hinges and panels on the one they’dentered by.
Suddenly the door opened wide.
He blinked as light streamed in. Before thema wide staircase led down to a cavernous hall. Immense soot-ladenbeams held up a ceiling of what appeared to be tightly packedstraw, and the walls were timber pylons reinforced with mud orclay.
A fire roared in a fireplace large enough toroast a whole cow. Two large soot-encrusted pots containing whatsmelt like some sort of stew hung over the fire. Peat blocks werestacked up at one side of the hearth and enough wood to keep a firegoing for a week was piled up on the other side.
People sat around on stools or rough woodenbenches. It was impossible to estimate at first glance how manythere were. Everyone stopped talking at once, and a sudden eeriesilence filled the hall as they all gazed up at them.
Liz crumpled in a heap at Andrew’s feet.
“Liz, for heaven’s sake!” Andrew went down onhis haunches beside her, pulling her into his arms. The boy who’dopened the door stood with his mouth agape, staring at them as ifthey were apparitions.
A giant of a man slowly lifted himself fromone of two throne-like chairs that flanked the fireplace and,taking the steps two at a time came to tower over them, mouthingwords Andrew couldn’t understand.
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to speakEnglish.” Andrew wondered how he’d managed to get the words out, aspicking Liz up, he went down the stairs and looked about for a softplace to set her down. The man followed him, and then faced Andrew,his hand on a deadly looking dagger-type weapon that was thrustthrough his belt.
The only likely place Andrew could put Lizwas on a wide bench. It didn’t look much more comfortable than thefloor, which was strewn with heather, lavender stems and rushes. AsAndrew set Liz down he glanced up. The man’s scowl was ferocious ashe scratched at his dark head.
His mass of thick black wavy hair reachedpast his shoulders, and his beard was just as black. He babbled onin the same strange tongue, and the rest of the crowd began tomutter and whisper, moving closer and doing little to disguisetheir almost childlike curiosity.
They were dressed in an odd assortment ofclothing. Andrew had never seen anything quite like it. The menwore a sort of kilt without pleats. They all had leggings orbindings around their calves. Some, including the giant, woreshirts, others a sort of sleeveless vest. Most of the women woreankle-length long sleeved shift-like dresses, belted at the waist.The children, even the boys, sported similar knee-length shifts,tied about the middle with cords or leather thongs. None of thechildren had shoes on, but the adults all appeared to be wearingsoft leather moccasin type slippers.
A tall woman rose gracefully from the otherhigh-backed chair.
Liz stirred, opening her eyes, muttering, “Hewants to know what the blazes we’re doing in his home. He seems tosuspect we’re more spies sent by some enemy or other. A guy namedMacGriers. And he thinks you’re my bodyguard.” She giggled. Andrewsensed a touch of hysteria in her laughter. This certainly wasn’tamusing. “He’s telling the tall woman with the grey hair thatyou’re an odd-looking sort. He’s wondering where you got such finefootwear and that skirted garment. He can’t make out your trousers.He reckons they’re like nothing he’s seen before.”
“How the bloody hell can you understand him?I can’t.” Andrew glared at the man, whose strange kilt had a largeclump of gathered material flung over one shoulder. The garment wascinched at the waist by a belt with a buckle bearing a designsimilar to the one on the cape Liz had draped round hershoulders.
“He’s talking Gaelic,” Liz said. “The womanis his mother.” Sitting up, she put her fingers to her head. “Inever faint,” she complained as she straightened her hair, whichhad sprung loose, and was streaming about her shoulders. Andrew wasawe-struck. He’d never seen her hair loose. She always wore it in ademure pleat at the office or on their dinner engagements. Thechange in her appearance astounded him. The giant seemed to be justas impressed, if his gleaming devil’s eyes were anything to goby.
Coming to lean over Liz the Scot demanded,“What, may I ask, were ye doing in my round tower?” His stance wasthreatening; his long muscular legs apart, his fisted hands on hiships.
Liz stared at him in awe. This wasincredible. Unbelievable. This great hulk was the image of theTravis in the portrait downstairs in the castle hall. She blinked acouple of times.
“This is a joke, right?” She let out a smallnervous laugh. “You have a secret passage in the castle, and yousort of changed the walls about like they used to in—” Turning toAndrew she asked in English, “What was that TV program where wallsused to change shape and rooms disappear?”
“I don’t believe this. We’re stuck here inGod-knows-where, with this odd-ball character, and you’re wonderingabout a TV show,” he said, shaking his head.
“Well, that’s what I think must havehappened.” She flicked her hair back. “We sort of went through somekind of barrier into another dimension. Or it’s a big joke yourUncle Lawrence is playing on us.” Even as she spoke she knew shewas clutching at straws.
“I somehow doubt that crusty old devil on hisdeathbed would have the humor, let alone the energy, to pull astunt like this. No, Liz, there’s got to be anotherexplanation.”
The crowd moved closer, muttering amongstthemselves and staring in blatant interest. But they didn’t appearto be threatening in any way. At least that was what Liz toldherself, while trying to ignore the flutter of fear inside herchest.
“What is yon fool saying?” the big man asked.His heavy brows lowered as he gave Andrew a look full ofmenace.
“He’s not a fool. And he’s wondering how wegot here, and how we came to be shut in your tower,” Liz explained.“And, as a matter of fact, I’m wondering the same.”
“Dinnae play games with me.” He tugged on hisshort uneven beard, and pointed a thick accusing finger at her.“Ye’ve been hiding out in yon tower. Who sent ye to spy on me? Howis it ye’re dressed so oddly? What explanations have ye forinvading my home? How did ye get in? There’s but one way in an’that is across the bridge an’ into my bailey. I will send for myguards to draw forth their excuses. Someone will pay for hisbehavior this day. And what of this one?” He gave Andrew a tauntingonce-over. “He is yer body servant, aye? Or yer personal protector?I must say he seems a bit dim in the head. The fool cannaeunderstand the simplest of words.” He tapped his temple.
Liz couldn’t help it, she spluttered. Thenher hackles went up. “Now just a minute.”
“What the hell’s he going on about?” Andrewtugged on the waistband of the kilt, and then looked down. Liz sawthe remorse move across his face when he realized he still wore theplaid garment over his trousers.
Andrew strode away a few paces, and the crowdstepped back to allow him a path through. This brought him to oneof the long narrow slits in the outer wall. A curtain of plaitedrushes kept out some of the cold wind howling about the building.He pushed this aside, and then exclaimed, “Good God, Liz. Come andtake a look.”
Liz kept one eye on the big man and went tojoin Andrew. The Scot looked rather savage, even if there wassometimes a twinkle of amusement at the back of his eyes. “I don’tbelieve it.” She gaped. They were in a high building, but the viewoutside was nothing like the one from the castle they’d been in ashort while ago.
Below them a deep ditch encircled thestructure. A high picket fence enclosed the whole area as far asshe could see. At the edge of her vision a bridge crossed the ditchon its outer side. A heavy gate was being lifted to allow a coupleof riders through. It was lowered again as soon as they’d passedand the sound of the horses’ hooves drifted upwards as theyclattered over the wooden bridge. On the other side of the fence aherd of cattle grazed. The cows were the only normal part of thewhole scene.
In the distance a cluster of thatched-roofedcottages stood sheltered within a small stand of pine trees. If notfor the smoke drifting from their chimneys Liz would have presumedthey were a figment of her imagination.
“It’s some sort of nightmare. It has to be.It’s rugged and wild out there.” Her voice rose. “Where’s thegarden gone? I know your uncle’s place was a bit of a mess, butthis is a positive jungle. In fact I’d say it’s never seen agardener. I feel faint again.” She clutched at him and Andrew putan arm about her waist as she leant into him. “This looks likesomething out of one of my history books. I’d say this place wasfashioned in the style of the stockades the Scots built with amotte and bailey and the main part of the castle high on a mound.I’m dreaming, and this is one of the pictures in a book I waslooking at come to life.”
“I don’t think so.” Andrew had gone verypale.
Liz turned to the highlander, whispering,“Where are we?” The words had trouble coming from her numblips.
“Ah, come now, fiery little spy, ye know aswell as I where ye are. Ye found yer way into my home. Invaded ourprivacy. Dinnae play games with me.” Cynicism replaced theamusement in his tone.
“No, no. I can assure you we’re not playinggames. We must have lost our way. Perhaps you could help us.” Shebit her lip. This lack of confidence was totally unlike her. Thisman put fears in her she’d never encountered before. But she’d bedamned if she’d let him see it.
“I will humor ye, lass, but I must warn yethat should I prove ye’re spies, both of ye will surely meet thefate of those who have tried to infiltrate my home before.” Hestepped closer and Liz half-hid behind Andrew as the man tugged onthe length of cloth draped over one shoulder. His eyes looked asblack as his hair and beard as he stared at them.
It was uncanny how like Andrew he was, withthe same strong jaw-line, autocratic nose, and sexy eyes. Only hewas broader, brawnier, and certainly lacked Andrew’s sophisticatedair of culture. Instead of the scent of expensive after-shave andmasculine cologne that clung to Andrew’s body, this man smelt ofheather and the outdoors.
Spies? He was mad! Images flashed through hermind of punishments she knew was concocted by heathens forsuspected spies in medieval times. Somehow they had to keep sweetwith this giant of a highlander.
“Pray humor me.” Liz dredged up her mostcharming smile. “What is your name, and where exactly are we? Andwhile you’re at it perhaps you could tell me what day it is.”
“I wish I could understand what’s going onhere.” Andrew still held her arm, of which she was thankful.
Liz sent him a smile. “I’ll explainpresently. He’s going to tell us exactly where we are. At least Ihope he is.”
“Well now, lassie, I am Travis McKenna, as yewell know.” He poked his chest with a thumb, and Liz’s knees beganto wobble so hard she thought she might collapse again.
“His name’s Travis,” she said in a weakwhisper.
“Since my father’s unfortunate recent death,”Travis went on. “I am now laird of all the lands from here to theFirth and north to the foot of the Ochil hills.” He cast a hand inan arc in a lordly manner, but a cloud of sadness passed across hisface. His thick brows lowered as he beckoned to the tallgrey-haired woman who had been watching the interaction serenely,her long white fingers linked at her waist. “This here is my mam,Ryll McKenna. It seems to me we play foolish games, when I am sureye’re as aware as I who we are. Come forward, mam, that they maysee ye.”
Ryll was reed thin and moved with ease andgrace. She looked to be about fifty, with an unlined, unmarkedface. Her simple dress of woven fabric reached her ankles. The beltabout her waist looked like beaten gold.
“Mam tends to the household and keepseveryone at their tasks.” Travis’s face softened as he smiledbenevolently at her. She stood with chin high and head heldimperiously. “My good father was killed by the leader of a clanthat we have been feuding with since as far back as I can recall.What are ye telling him?” he interrupted himself to demand as Lizrelated all he’d said to Andrew. They were both shaking theirheads, dumbfounded.
“What day is today?” Try as she might Lizcouldn’t stop her voice emerging on a squeak.
He stared at her as if she was a moron. “Why,‘tis the last day of the year,” he said.
“But what year?” she asked hoarsely.
Travis muttered what she felt sure was a vileoath before saying, “Ye seem to be brighter in the head than yerdumb man here. But as ye appear to be in some sort of stunned stateI will amuse ye.” He laughed. It was not a humorous sound. “On themorrow ‘tis the start of the year one thousand and fifty.”
Chapter Four
Liz couldn’t stop her hands from trembling.She looked away from the Scot. This was a joke, it had to be.
“He says it’s the first day of 1050tomorrow,” she said in a stunned whisper, knowing deep down itwasn’t the Scot’s idea of a joke at all.
Andrew stared at her. “First day of the year?Now what the hell are you talking about? And he has to have hisdates wrong.”
“I don’t think so. I think he’s referring tothe first day on the Julian calendar.”
“Sorry, I’m not following you.”
“The Julian calendar was used in Scotlandbefore sixteen hundred. The New Year commenced on twenty-fifth ofMarch. The sequence of numbering months is preserved, so we stillcall the eighth month October, their ninth November, and soon.”
“So—somehow or other we seem to have slippedback in time,” Andrew said hoarsely. Liz nodded. Stated plainly, itwas just too much to accept.
“How came ye by the badge of my family?”Travis stepped closer and they drew apart as he peered at the capeLiz wore. “That is my brooch, but nae my garment. Where did ye comeby this?” Frowning, he bent his head to touch the strangecloak.
Liz shrank back, but not before she’d noticedthat, although he looked like a heathen, he was most certainlyclean, and his hair looked almost silky.
“He recognized the badge. My God Andrew, thisis so weird. What shall I tell him? Shall I tell him the truth? Orwould it be best to make up a story? It seems ridiculous to us, toan uneducated man like him it would sound like witchcraft.”
Travis lifted his head to stare at her. Hiseyes—so like Andrew’s golden flecked ones it was uncanny—werefilled with a sudden spark of comprehension. “Ye’re no of thistime,” he said, and Liz gasped, stepping back in shock.
“He just said we’re not from this time,Andrew. That’s so odd. What makes you say that?” she askedTravis.
“I dinnae know. The thought just sprang intomy mind.” He lifted those broad shoulders in a shrug, looking verypuzzled. “Ye havnae told me how ye came by my brooch.”
“Might as well tell him the truth, Liz,”Andrew said. “What have you got to lose?”
“It’ll sound mad. I feel silly telling himsuch a far-fetched story. I still can’t take this in.”
“That makes two of us.” Andrew rubbed hischin. “He looks like he’s getting anxious. We don’t want toantagonize him.”
“Enough strange talk.” Travis scowled atthem. “Just explain an’ let me make what I will of yer tale. Butlet us sit. All of ye sit.” He sat on his high-backed chair,motioning with a flap of the hand to the bench where Liz had beenlying.
Liz was taking in more details now. Hismother sat on the other chair, and all the others obeyed hiscommand and sat on padded stools or long plain wooden benches. Sixchildren sat cross-legged amid the rushes on the floor, their eyesrounded as they gazed at Liz and Andrew. There were no otherfurnishings in the hall.
The fire crackled and flared up the immensechimney. A woman stirred the pots hanging over it with a longpaddle-like utensil. Two great hounds rested their snouts onTravis’s knees and gazed adoringly up at him, their long tailsdisturbing the dried stems on the floor. Liz wondered if he had awife, and if the children were his. Perhaps one of the numerouswomen who sat around wide-eyed and curious was his wife; perhapsthey all were.
“Well…” Liz licked her lips and looked toAndrew. He nodded imperceptibly. “We were looking through theattic. That room.” She pointed to the door they’d come through.Although she found Travis intimidating, she’d be blowed if shewould allow the Scot to see how he affected her. “We found a trunkup there and that’s where we got the clothes. Andrew put the kilton, then the cape. I was holding the scarf.” She’d only justrealized she had it wound around her waist.
Travis did little to hide his disbelief andamusement. His eyebrows arched inquisitively as he gave a small nodfor her to continue.
Liz cleared her throat. “Well, the floorseemed to shake, you know, like in an earthquake, and then thelight went out. It grew cold, so Andrew...” Andrew had taken a seatnext to her on the bench. She laid a hand on his thigh, giving hima small smile. “He put this on me.” She touched the cape. “Then theroom somehow changed.” When Travis began to laugh, she repeatedwith a defiant shake of the head, “It really did. Then the boyopened the door and let us out.”
“He doesn’t believe a word of it,” Andrewmurmured. “You can see he thinks we’re nuts. Can’t say I blamehim.”
Travis threw back his head and let out agreat roar of laughter, showing even white teeth. He wiped away atear, and shook his head. “A good tale. Ye’re the storyteller foryer clan? I will certainly appreciate ye at my table to weave yerstories. Is that no a good story, mam?” He slapped at a knee.
But Ryll obviously disagreed with him. Shewasn’t smiling. Face impassive, she nodded. “A merry tale. What areyer names?” she asked abruptly.
“I’m Elizabeth Parker, and this is my boss,Andrew McAlistair.”
“Elizabeth.” He pronounced her name in astrange way, then added, ‘Tis an odd name.”
“Well it’s mine,” she assured himindignantly. “But most call me Liz.”
“An’ that is even stranger. I will call yeBeth,” Travis said. “So, ye’re a good weaver of tales, Beth Parker,for sure. But yer man is a poor sort of spy. He cannae even speakour tongue. How is it ye understand us well, yet he doesnae say asingle word we know?” His thick brows puckered.
Liz shrugged. He could call her what he damnwell pleased. “I’ve been trained to understand the Gaelic language,but Andrew can only speak Australian. He’s the last in the line ofyour family, or so I think. We’ve come from Australia so he canclaim his inheritance. This castle.” Liz flapped her hands in theair, then dropped them. “Well, not this one, but the one we were inbefore we slipped back in time, belongs to his Uncle Lawrence, whois dying. His Aunt Kitty and Aunt Tilda wrote to him begging him tocome.”
“Where is this place Australia? Is it acrossthe border?” Travis demanded, ignoring all the rest. “I knewit—ye’re English spies an’ have crept across the border, to somehowfind a way into my home.”
“No! We’re not spies.” Liz sighed as shetranslated for Andrew.
“God, this gets worse by the minute.” Andrewmussed his hair. Liz had never seen him with a hair out of placeand found this new side to him endearing. She wondered if herealized he still held one of her hands protectively.
“What is yer servant blabbing on about now?”Travis wondered, his lips twisting as he eyed Andrewsuspiciously.
“He’s not my servant,” Liz snapped. “Whywon’t you believe me? He’s of your clan and deserves to be treatedwith respect.”
“All right.” Travis looked as if he wasassessing her with interest. “Let us consider he is one of my kind.What are ye to him? Are ye his woman?” Liz’s face turned scarlet,and when Andrew asked her to translate she shook her head.
“He is my employer,” she explained to Travis.When he looked perplexed she went on, “I work for him. When youassumed he was my bodyguard it’s really the other way round. I takecare of his needs.”
If possible her flush deepened at the knowingglint in Travis’s eye and his smug smile. “No, no, it’s not likethat. Look, do you believe me or not about him being a member ofyour clan? We have come from a time in the future. Don’t ask mewhy. I know it’s utterly ridiculous.” She blew out an exasperatedbreath as he gave her an arch look. “Even you said so yourself. Youfelt it.”
He turned to ask his mother, “What shall wedo with them, Mam?”
Ryll stood, walking to the window to peerout. For a minute she stared at the scene below. “I suggest we putthem back in yon tower until we have thought more on herstory.”
Liz nodded vigorously. “What a good idea.Perhaps then we’ll get whisked back to our own time. Then all thisnonsense will sort itself out.”
She translated for Andrew, who lookedskeptical. “Something tells me it isn’t going to be that easy,Liz.”
Travis stood rubbing his jaw as he seemed toruminate on his mother’s suggestion. “Aye, Mam, perhaps ye’reright.”
“Look, we’ll do you no harm. We’re not spiesand you’ll not get any other story out of us but the one I’vealready given you.” Liz felt like screaming. Travis’s grin waswicked.
“It’s the truth.” Clenching her hands sheforced herself to calm down. This man might be treating this as ahuge joke, but beneath the amusement in his dark eyes lurkedsomething far more sinister. It would be wise to remember he hadthe power to do away with her and Andrew at the flick of afinger.
“Sit ye down.” Pushing her onto a stool witha hand on one shoulder, he stood over her, his large knees almosttouching hers. Liz shifted to put space between them. “And you.” Hepointed at Andrew, who was scowling. “Ye sit over yonder.” With aflick of the wrist he gestured to another bench a short distanceaway. “Gregor. Macrin.” His bawl brought two giants forward. Theywere larger than their chieftain and Liz shrank back as theyneared. “Keep yer eyes on yon fool.” One of them pushed Andrew ontothe seat.
Liz shuddered, swallowing the feeling ofhopelessness that threatened to overpower her.
“Ye will hand over that garment.”
Even though he hadn’t raised his voice Lizflinched. The order had an edge of steel to it. “That is the badgeof my clan. I will have my property back.” He leant over her,tapping at the badge with a forefinger, and Liz was so scared hersaliva dried up.
Although he resembled Andrew in looks, he wasutterly different from him; in fact different from all the menshe’d ever known. But even as she squirmed away from him a kind offascinated excitement curled through her insides. He was sointensely masculine.
“Give it to me, lass, or I’ll be takingit.”
That was enough to have her jumping to herfeet, shaking fingers going to the clasp. “Here, take it.” Shestruggled to remove it, and then shivered when she lost itswarmth.
As he took the proffered garment she draggedher shawl closer about her shoulders, glaring at him while heexamined the cape with a deep frown creasing his weatherwornbrow.
“Are you all right?” Andrew asked quietly,and she sent him a shaky smile.
“A bit cold, but I’ll be fine.”
“This is a very strange pelt.” Travis hadbeen running his hand over the cloak, testing its texture. He heldit to his nose to sniff at it warily. Once satisfied it wasn’tabout to take life and bite him, he threw it easily about his broadshoulders and shrugged into it.
He stared at Liz, who was rubbing her handsup and down her arms. She returned his stare, her chin raised.“Megan, fetch Beth a warmer shawl than the one she wears.” Heturned to issue an order.
A pretty woman of about twenty jumped up todo his bidding. Obviously she was Travis’s sister, for the likenesswas astounding. Two other young women tentatively came closer asshe ran out of the hall. They also bore a striking resemblance toTravis and his mother, Ryll. One cuddled a baby of about a yearold.
“These are my sisters; Wyn, with the bairn.”He chucked the baby under its tiny double chin and it gurgled. “Andthis one here is Wenda.” Travis smiled benevolently at them, andthey bowed sedately from the waist then sat again, their eyesdarting from Liz to Andrew. Wyn clutched the baby to her breast asif she expected Liz to change the boy child into a toad.
“Megan is the youngest. Then I have othersisters, Ursula, Meriel and Ida, who are now married. They live inthe homes of their husbands. Wyn is married to my right-hand manGregor yonder, an’ Wenda is betrothed to Macrin. Ye’re just in timefor their wedding. Perhaps ye thought to upset our plans for herbig day.” He tapped his temple. “Ah, I have it. ‘Tis ye’re hopingto find out more from my clan, while they are all here for thefeast.”
“You’re so wrong Travis. I can’t keeprepeating myself. We are not spies.”
He ignored her outburst. “An’ let me tell yenow, harm so much as a hair on any one of my kin, an’ ye willanswer to me.”
Liz struggled to hold back tears offrustration. “Look Travis, we wish you and your kin no harm. All wewish is to return safely to our own time and for this nightmare tobe over.”
Those dark eyes narrowed on herspeculatively.
Megan came back and he strode to her, takingthe shawl she’d brought in. Returning to Liz he draped it aroundher shoulders, his lips twitching when she shrank away from him.The shawl smelt of lavender.
“Dinnae fret, lass, ye have naught tofear...if ye’re no my enemies.” He brought his face close to hersand tapped her beneath the chin. Out of the corner of her eye shesaw one of the giants rest a hand on Andrew’s shoulder as if torestrain him.
“Tell this imbecile to get his hands off me,Liz.” Andrew brushed ineffectually at the great hand. “And tellthat one to get his hands off you!”
“Don’t fight them, Andrew. I’m all right.”Her anxiety seemed to amuse their laird, who kept his fingers onher skin when she tried to back up. “How can I be certain you won’tharm us? You’ve not given us a chance to explain.” Bravely sheout-stared the Scot, even though every sense in her yearned to runfrom his penetrating gaze.
This man’s word was obviously law with thesepeople. One word from him and she would be tossed to them without acare. And Lord knew what fate he had in mind for Andrew.
“He is yer man,” he shot at her, his eyesboring into her.
Liz shook her head. He removed his fingersfrom her chin at last and wagged one near her nose. “No lass,dinnae deny it. I can tell by the way he looks at ye. By the way heattends to ye. The fool cares for ye, no matter that ye denyit.”
That’ll be the day. Liz bit her lip.“No—he’s my boss. In my day it’s natural for a man to help a woman,even if he isn’t all that close to her.”
“Boss? What is this?” Travis had a way ofstaring at her that was unnerving. Especially when his everyfeature was so like Andrew’s.
“I work for him. I’m his personal assistant.”Her eyes flew to Andrew, who watched Travis’s every move.
“Ah, so there is something personal betweenye.” His thumbs ran up and down the rolled-back collar of the capewhile he gazed at her thoughtfully.
“Okay, have it your own way.” There waslittle point in arguing with him.
He grunted. Did he understand her or not?Anyway, perhaps it was a good idea to let him believe Andrew washer man. Some might call her naïve but she wasn’t totally dumbwhere men were concerned. There was definitely a glint of masculineappreciation in his eyes when they roved over her.
Most of the women seemed interested in them.The one called Megan kept looking at Liz’s shoes. But Ryll’spinched mouth made her appear rather cruel.
Andrew began to struggle again in the claspof one of the giants, telling him where to get off. Liz shot him awarning glance and he stopped.
Travis gestured for one of the young menwho’d been watching the proceedings to come forward. “Watch overher,” he ordered, and the boy, who wasn’t much older than fifteen,gave Liz an apologetic smile before clamping a hand on hershoulder.
Travis strutted about the hall. After a whilehe came back and poked Andrew in the chest. “I’m sorely tempted tojust do away with the two of ye, an’ that’s an end to my problems,”he growled. “But I’m not a man to seek the simple way out. Let himloose.” He jerked his head, and the giant lifted his hand fromAndrew’s shoulder.
Andrew immediately lashed out with a fist,catching Travis on the side of the jaw. The Scot dodged aside,missing the worst of the blow.
“Well now, man, that was foolish,” hetaunted, his eyes alight with mischief as he rubbed at his beardedchin. Fists up in a fighter’s stance, he pranced around Andrew.
“For God’s sake, Andrew, there’s no point inantagonizing him.” With an effort Liz tried to come to terms withthe way her cool and controlled boss had let fly. He was eitherbrave or foolish—she couldn’t decide. “Travis, don’t hit him.”Turning to Andrew, she pleaded, “Don’t stir him up.”
“I’ll try my hardest not to upset the greatoaf.” Andrew bit out the sarcastic retort as the two giants grabbedhis arms again.
“Look, do they have to hold him like that? Hewon’t hit you again, I promise. We wish you no harm. Do you reallythink we’d be stupid enough to come barging in like this if we werespies?”
“Ye’re pretty, lass, for sure. But whetherye’re stupid remains to be seen.” Travis leant over and caressedher cheek. Liz pulled back, startled, and Andrew bit out a nastyword as the Scot trailed a path around her jaw and up to her ear.Liz held her fright in check. But he must have seen it glitter inher eyes, for he drawled softly, “Dinnae look at me with fear,lass.

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