Read A Slip In Time Online

Authors: Kathleen Kirkwood

Tags: #romance historical paranormal time travel scotland victorian medieval

A Slip In Time (5 page)

The room’s showpiece, a magnificent
canopied bed, occupied the left corner of the far wall. Its solid
headboard rose to meet a high, deep crown, the whole of it carved
with elaborate foliage and hung with blue trappings.

Persian carpets warmed the floor in
blues and cream, while narrow windows with hand-thrown glass and
the timbered ceiling overhead added to the chamber’s
atmosphere.

“Of all the grand rooms in the castle,
this is my favorite,” declared Betty as she placed the lamp on a
side table near the bed and moved to free the window curtains from
their ties.

Julia could easily understand Betty’s
attachment as she continued to glance about, discovering a curious
mirror hanging left of the fireplace, small and octagonal, encased
in a deep, boxy frame of rosewood.

“The keep itself might be aged, but
the furnishings do not appear to be so,” Julia
observed.

“They are from many different time
periods, I am told.” Betty crossed to the bed and folded back the
counterpane. “The chairs are from the last century, the armoire
from even earlier —Queen Mary Stewart’s time — and the bed, it
dates to the fifteenth century.”

Betty ran a hand lovingly over one of
the poster’s carved acanthus leaves.

“The piece is original to the room.
According to Mr. McNab, who has it on authority from Lord Muir
himself, one of the early lairds took a Flemish noblewoman to wife,
a widow. She brought the bed with her at the time of her marriage.
She liked her fineries, that is known. Some of her personal
belongings survive — several gowns, jewelry, and a silver perfume
bottle.”

Betty fluffed the pillows. “Of course
the trappings are fairly new. Lord Muir refurbished the chamber
when he bought Dunraven Castle, so proud he was to bring it back
into the family.”

“How is that?” Julia prompted as she
moved closer to the toasty warmth of the fire, recalling Lady
Charles’s mention of the matter.

“His Scots blood flows through the
female line, his maternal grandmother. After the Great Rising of
Forty-five, the castle passed out of clan hands. It wasn’t until
this century, after the wicked Highland clearances, when so many
were cast off the land, that Dunraven came available and Lord Muir
made its purchase.”

“And he used it as a hunting seat?”
Julia pressed.

“So I’m told, but no more.” Betty
looked about the room wistfully. “He cares very much for Dunraven
and is partial to the keep in particular. Bless him. By his
direction, ‘tis my personal duty to care for the tower chamber —
see it clean and dusted, the linens kept fresh and all.”

Julia inclined her head, puzzled. “No
one stays here, yet the laird instructs you to keep the linens
changed?”

“A fine, dear man, our laird, but a
bit dottled,” Betty confided.

A shuffling sound drew their attention
to the door, where a young man appeared, tall, and sandy-haired,
lugging Julia’s trunk.

“It will do there, by the wardrobe,
Tom.” Betty pointed to the exact place.

While Betty unpacked Julia’s clothes
and hung them in the armoire, Tom brought heated water for the
washbasin then transferred the empty traveling chest to the corner
nearest the door.

After his departure, Betty helped Julia from
her wet clothes and freed her from her stays, a most welcome
relief. After seeing to her face and teeth, she slipped into a
snowy white nightgown trimmed with violet ribbons and cascades of
lace down the front and at the sleeves.

Julia waited by the fire while Betty
readied the sheets, sliding a brass warming pan between them,
chasing away the chill. Yawning hugely, Julia turned in place to
heat her opposite side. Her gaze fell to the hood of the fireplace,
and she noticed for the first time an engraved crest bearing a
boar’s head — a rather ugly boar’s head — holding the shank of an
animal in its mouth. At the same time, the wind and rain battered
the windows violently, shaking them in their casements.

Julia shuddered and hugged her arms about
her. The Highlands were indeed a wild, inhospitable land.

“The sheets are ready, miss,” Betty
advised as she carried the pan to the hearth and emptied its hot
contents.

The maid’s words filled Julia’s heart
with joy. Climbing into the high bed, she melted into its downy
warmth. It felt so-o-o-o good. Utterly delicious.

“Thank you, Betty.” She smiled at the
young woman.

Turning down the lamp, Betty bid Julia a
good night and left.

Julia lay quiet a moment and gazed out
into the darkened room, listening to the wind and rain lash the
windows. The red-gold of the fire provided the room’s only source
of light, still it was enough to illuminate the furniture directly
before it, a portion of the walls, and the timbers
overhead.

What was it Emmaline had said? “If
only the stones could whisper their secrets, such tales they would
tell.” She imagined the stones of this room could tell many tales.
Now, in a way, she, too, was a part of its history.

She smiled groggily at the thought,
then dismissed it, turning into her pillow. She had caught a touch
of Emmaline’ s “fever.” Too much talk of ancient keeps and
chieftains.

She nestled into the mattress, her
eyes drifting shut, and sank into blissful oblivion.

»«

Dunraven Castle, September, 1437

 

Rae Mackinnon, Third Laird of Dunraven
Castle, quit the hall and climbed the spiraling stairwell to his
bedchamber. It had been a devil of a night, and his mood was black
— black as the moonless sky and as turbulent as the storm that
raged without.

‘Twas vexing enough that Dunraven
burgeoned with contentious guests, and new arrivals were expected
on the morrow, he fumed. But, now, cattle had been reived from
beneath the clan’s nose on this most wretched of nights.

He’d led his men out to assess the
loss and reinforce the guard. The deed had the markings of more
than simple thieving. It reeked of a trap, he swore it. But his
brother, Iain, would not be convinced. Despite the fiendish
weather, Iain had insisted they give pursuit, then quarreled with
him openly before the others when Rae ordered the men back to
Dunraven.

Rae vented a few choice expletives as he
managed the narrow steps. Pushing open his chamber door, he strode
past the ornate bed and halted before the great fireplace that
consumed much of the wall to his left. The weariness and disgust
escaped him in a sigh as he stared into the flames.

His gaze lifted to the engraving on
the deep fireplace hood — the head of a surly boar with a sheep
shank in its jaws. Rae’s lips drew into a grim smile. He felt as
snarly as the animal looked.

An ear-splitting crack of thunder
wrenched his attention to the shuttered windows. What a night to be
out chasing down reivers. Did Iain really think they could find the
thieves in this brawl?

Rae scrubbed a hand over his face,
then worked the kinks from his shoulder muscles. Pulling over a
chair, he braced his foot on the seat and unlaced his brogues, then
set them aside. He next removed his dirk and scabbard from his
belt, then the wide leather belt itself. Unfastening his shoulder
pin, he let his plaid drop to the floor and drew off his shirt.
Folding it and the many yards of plaid, he placed them on the
nearby trunk and stood naked before the fire. Naked except for the
charm stone suspended on a silver chain about his neck.

Och, but the fire felt good. He tilted
his head back and savored the intense, dry heat of the flames. Let
the others continue their arguments below, guttered in their cups,
he thought. He longed for the comfort of bed and a decent night’s
sleep.

His mind bent once more to
the squall without.
Dhia,
but the weather had turned savage this night,
bolts of lightning dropping all around as he and his men returned.
As they rode for the safety of the castle, the sky suddenly
exploded in a spectacle of light, a great withered hand streaking
earthward from the sky, clutching for the great tower itself.
Clutching for him, or so it seemed.

Rae touched the charm
stone that lay on his chest, recalling the
cailleach’s
warning to not remove
its protective power from his neck. The old woman’s warnings still
unsettled him, not that he understood her ramblings, but had she
foreseen this night? Had the stone guarded him in some
wise?

On entering the hall, he’d
hoped to retire straight to his room but Malcolm MacChlerich and
several of Dunraven’s other guests delayed him. He joined them in
several rounds of
uisge beatha
as they thrashed out the particulars of the
night’s raid, postulating who the culprits might be. Thankfully,
Iain saw fit to keep his tongue in his head and not challenge his
authority as laird again.

The discussion moved on to other such
matters as the recent gathering of Highland chiefs, and the
“detainment” of the Dowager Queen and the wee king at Stirling
Castle. Rae saw dire portents there, but his companions expressed
only moderate interest in the current drama of the
crown.

He left the lot of them
deep in their cups and arguments and sought his chamber.
Thankfully, Moira, Malcolm MacChlerich’ s daughter, had retired
earlier to her chamber, and Rae escaped her fawning attentions.
Moira’s interest in him was unmistakable, as was that of her
father in seeing their clans joined. The
tall and
shapely
blonde had accompanied her father
to Dunraven a week past, and since then, endeavored to impress Rae,
being ever near, ever solicitous. If that were not enough, Malcolm
embroiled Iain with his own fiery views, agitating his brother’s
passions which ever sought the answer to all ills in cold
steel.

Ah, Iain. Would they ne’er see eye to
eye? And Donald, a keen young man but easily swayed. This youngest
brother, so soon to marry, must learn to trust his instincts where
others would bend him to their narrow cause.

Rae rubbed his eyes, bone
weary. The Macphersons would arrive early in the day to finalize
the details of Donald’s marriage to their sister, Mairi, and the
terms of her
tocher.
Rae had agreed to meet with Donald at dawn to make their own
preparations.

Though Rae held some concern over an
alliance between their clans, he believed Donald to be a lucky man.
He’d not only won himself a bonnie bride, but the two were quite
genuinely and deeply in love.

Aware he could now catch only a precious few
hours of sleep, Rae headed for the bed, a luxurious piece,
skillfully carved with acanthus leaves and draped with scarlet
trappings.

As he approached the bed,
he felt a weightiness to the air and a slight wave of dizziness
crest through him. ‘Twas as if the room had suddenly moved and he
did not. He thrust a hand through his hair. Surely, he hadn’t
imbibed that much of the
uisge
beatha.

Rae reached for the covers and began
to climb abed when he spied a feminine contour outlined by the
blankets, and a woman’s bright hair flowing over the pillow like a
river of gold.

He snatched back his hand and stared,
startled to find a woman there, one who apparently awaited his
companionship. His eyes narrowed over the sleeping figure as he
gleaned the deception that passed here.

“Moira,” he growled.

So this was her scheme to trap him
into marriage. Likely her father was part to the ruse, making his
way up the steps this very moment for an unannounced, late-night
“chat.” Och, but the two were of a kind, plotting to ensnare him
well.

Not wasting a moment, Rae seized hold
of the woman and yanked her from his bed. Sly lass. She’d not play
him for a fool.

Slipping an arm beneath her legs, he caught
her up and held her firm against his chest. She came fully awake at
that, if ever truly she slept. The lass yelped and writhed, but he
gripped her all the tighter and strode with her straight to the
door, harboring not a drop of sympathy.

“Oot wi’ ye, hoor,” he
snarled.

Yanking open the door, he took a single step
outside the chamber, deposited the lass on the stairwell, then fell
back a pace across the threshold and slammed the door.

“Fashious wench,” he muttered, heading
back to the bed. It dimly registered that the lass wore a long
shapeless gown, frilled with ribbons and lace.

“Damn odd,” he muttered again,
flipping back the blankets and climbing abed.

Why would she wear such finery? And
since when did a body wear clothes to bed? Of course, if she
purposed only to entrap him, she might have plotted to do so
without losing her virginity. Her father’s timely appearance would
have forestalled that.

Rae turned into the pillow and
breathed the floral scent that clung to the linen casing. ‘Twas the
lass’s fragrance. He’d breathed its sweetness in her hair as he
carried her across the room. Strange, but it wasn’t a scent he
recognized as Moira’s. And was it his imagination, or did the lass
seem to stand to a shorter height, and her hair seem brighter than
Moira’s and without its reddish cast?

Rae rolled over and faced the wall,
dismissing the lass and the incident from his mind. He’d not
trouble himself to rise and take a closer look. No female would get
away with such underhanded trickery. If a lass warmed his bed,
‘twould be because he himself invited her there.

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