Authors: Kathleen Kirkwood
Tags: #romance historical paranormal time travel scotland victorian medieval
With that, he burrowed into the pillow
and mattress, aware of the lingering warmth and floral scent
pervading the linens. Grumbling, he flipped the pillow over,
punched it into shape, and burrowed in once more. Surely, it had
been the very devil of a day.
Julia tottered on the stone landing, its icy
cold stinging the soles of her bare feet. Stunned and disoriented,
she gaped through the tangled curtain of her hair.
Julia’s eyes rounded saucer-wide as
she caught sight of a tall, barbarous-looking man, shockingly
naked, his dark sable hair flowing to his shoulders and his
piercing blue eyes hardened with anger.
Julia stared speechless, too startled to
withdraw her gaze from the sight of such raw masculinity. The man
spoke not a word, but withdrew into the bedchamber and slammed shut
Cheeks flaming and utterly aghast, Julia
gasped rapid breaths, her heart pounding. Her gaze remained riveted
to the door, and she questioned whether she saw what she thought
Her brows bunched together. Did her eyes
play her a trick? The door was arched and its planks scored and
studded with nails creating a diamond pattern.
Julia dragged her hair from her face
and looked about her, turning in place. She found herself standing
in the confines of a stone stairwell. A torch blazed in its bracket
several steps below, its pitch popping and hissing as the flames’
shadows danced upon the wall.
From belowstairs rose the sound of
boisterous male voices — voices that spoke a strange melodic tongue
and sounded suspiciously sottish. Julia wondered if they, too,
were guests of Lord Eaton, local inhabitants, perhaps. Possibly,
the intruder mistook her chamber for his own or presumed it empty.
Still, why the rude eviction?
An unsettling feeling twined through Julia
as she realized she stood enclosed in the thick wall of the keep.
Dash it all, think,
Julia commanded herself, her nerves fraying. She
had been fast asleep when she heard the roar of a deep male voice.
Hands like bands of steel clamped about her arms and hauled her
from the bed. In the next instant, arms caught her up, rock hard,
and she found her cheek pressed against warm flesh — the very
solid, well-muscled chest of the intruder.
But there was something
amiss about the direction. He carried her toward the wall to the
right of the bed and passed through it! No, she corrected, he
passed through a door,
door with its arch and nail studs. But, from
where did it come?
Her feet smarting with cold, Julia
shifted from one to the other and hugged herself against the chill
air. Plainly, she could not remain in the stairwell the rest of the
night catching her death. Dare she descend the steps, garbed in her
thin nightgown, and risk discovery and possible violation by the
men gathered below? Or should she reenter the chamber and brave the
Plucking up her courage, she shoved
open the door and stepped inside the chamber, braced to confront
the naked stranger and, if necessary, make a dash for the opposite
Julia halted, her jaw dropping wide as
her gaze fastened on the bed, its trappings scarlet red.
Hesitantly, she forced her gaze around the room. An iron-bound
trunk occupied the wall where the massive armoire should have been,
and the gateleg table and velvet chairs had disappeared from
Of a sudden, an oppressive heaviness
filled the air. Julia lowered her head to her hands, pain shooting
through her temples. A moment later, the sensation
Julia looked up, searching for sign of
the intruder. Astonishingly, all in the room appeared as before —
the bed trappings blue instead of red, the armoire in its place,
and carpet soft beneath her toes. The fire that burned brightly
moments before was now glowing coals.
Julia twisted around. The door through which
she just passed had vanished without a trace!
Julia stirred from the depths of her
slumber, coming slowly aware of the toasty warmth that enveloped
her. She smiled at the delicious sensation and stretched out,
feeling liquid as honey on a hot summer’s day.
Julia’s lashes flew open and she
bolted upright. Scrambling back, she pressed against the ornate
headboard and yanked the blankets with her, covering her chest.
Frantically, she scanned the bed for the naked intruder of the
night past, fearing he was the source of her warmth.
The bedcovers lay flat though rumpled before
her. Not wholly reassured, Julia leaned forward and swatted down
the fabric, then jerked the sheets upward and peered beneath.
Dropping them, she crawled to the end of the bed, flicked aside
the bed hangings, and darted a glance around the room.
The chamber appeared vacant, save for
herself. Still, Julia’s heart beat an erratic tattoo. What of the
stranger? How had he gained entrance? And where was he
Alarm struck Julia. Swinging her legs to the
floor, she dropped to her knees and made a hasty inspection beneath
the bed. She found herself staring at bare floorboards, unmasking
not even a ball of dust.
Rising to her feet, she turned a full
circle, her gaze skimming over the walls and furniture. Had she
dreamt the whole bizarre episode? Yet the details were so vivid, so
Even now, her senses tingled with the
memories — the strength and heat of the man’s body as he held her
fast, the pounding of his heart beneath her ear, his manly scent,
the furious look in his eyes as he cast her from the room and she
glimpsed his unclad form.
Julia’s face burned at the memory, his
hard-muscled body shockingly magnificent, illuminated in the fire’s
glow. She took a long swallow, struggling to suppress the image.
What hidden, shameless part of her could have conjured such a
A wave of fatigue crested through
Julia, overcoming her. She sank onto the nearest chair, feeling
suddenly and inexplicably sapped of all energy. Smoothing a hand
over her face, she drew back her tumble of hair. The arduous
journey and disrupted night’s sleep were exacting their toll, she
told herself. Yet, a lassitude spread through her bones, unlike
anything she had known before.
A dream. It had only been
insisted silently. No doubt, the unfamiliar surroundings and the
violent storm had brought it on. Then, too, her head had been
filled with talk of shadowy secrets enshrouding Dunraven, and of
Emmaline’s castles and chieftains of times gone by. Clearly, the
day’s excitements had fired her imagination, only to emerge later,
during her sleep, in the form of a graphic dream.
Julia’s spirits lifted at her swift
and logical deduction. She shut the incident from her mind, holding
no wish to examine it closer or consider why her subconscious would
bring a wild and naked Scotsman to life in her
Her gaze traveled over the antiquated room
and furnishings. Sleeping alone in a chamber such as this would
dispose anyone to dreams, she assured herself. And yet . . .
What if the man
been real? What if,
during Lord Muir’s prolonged absences, someone else resided in
Dunraven — whether beknown or unbeknown to the laird? Someone who
occupied this very room and accessed it by means of a hidden
passage. As far-fetched as it seemed, it would explain the
butler’s protests last night and the maid’s instructions to keep
the chamber in readiness for guests who never arrived.
Fresh energy swirled through Julia.
Rising on unsteady feet, she crossed to the wall opposite, right
of the bed. She studied the stones for evidence of a seam, a secret
door. With walls ten or more feet thick, they could easily conceal
passageways, even small rooms.
Finding nothing of note, she moved to
the fireplace and searched the bricks and sculptured mantel.
Pushing, pulling, prodding, and twisting, she sought a mechanism to
trigger a false panel. Even should the entire wall somehow open
before her, she realized it would not explain the appearance or
disappearance of the furniture last night, or how the bed hangings
changed their color from blue to red.
Meeting no more success with the fireplace
than with the wall, Julia directed her attention to the massive
armoire. Standing before it, she flung open the doors and shoved
aside the clothes.
The back panels stared out at her.
Cautiously, Julia climbed inside the wardrobe, anticipation
shivering along her spine. She rapped on the boards and listened
for a telling, hollow sound. Methodically, she continued to knock
across the panels, bending closer, her ear intent on every note
“Might I be of assistance,
Julia shot upright, a cry escaping her as
she stumbled backward and nearly fell out of the wardrobe.
Regaining herself, she managed to step out with a modicum of
decorum and without further mishap. Heat blossomed in her
“Good morning, Betty.” Her voice
wavered with forced brightness.
Betty quirked her head and peered inside the
armoire at the disarray of clothes.
“I, er, dropped something . . . in the
armoire . . . My ring.” Julia offered quickly, holding up her hand
to display the elegant band and its unusual quartz stone. “But I
found it. See?”
Julia winced at the lie which sprang
so easily to her lips. Yet, how could she confess to the object of
her quest — a hidden panel through which a naked stranger had
materialized in her chamber?
“The ring was my mother’s,” she added
truthfully, seeing Betty’s perplexed look.
Comprehension touched the young
woman’s eyes, followed by a melting look of compassion. “And she’s
gone now, is she?” Julia nodded. “Poor lamb, of course you would be
fetching the ring from the closet. I would have torn it apart
m’self. Do not worry over the gowns. I’ll see to them
Betty moved off, taking up the pitcher
of heated water and towels she had left on the table and filling a
flowered porcelain bowl in the washstand. Wordlessly, she set out
scented soap, then bustled to the windows and drew back the
curtains. Buttery light spilled in.
Julia stared at the mullioned windows. Had
there been shutters there last night, rattling against the
Tis a fine, bonnie day,” Betty
cheered, moving off to fluff the pillows and tidy the
“Yes. Yes it is,” Julia said absently,
culling her memory for images of the shutters, but could find none.
She looked again to the windows and noted the height of the sun.
“It is much later than I expected,” she sighed, discovering the
morning to be half spent. She turned toward the bed, but the maid
was not in sight.
“The sleep did you good, for certain.”
Betty’s muffled voice came from the armoire, the front half of her
lost in its depths as she neatened the gowns.
Julia wrapped her arms about herself,
uncertain any good had come from the unsettling night.
After cleansing herself at the basin,
Julia began the ritual of dressing, donning her silk combination —
a snug-fitting union of chemise and drawers. Betty next cinched her
into her corset, over which flowed a camisole and two petticoats,
all lavished with embroidery, tucks, ribbons, and lace. Cotton
stockings completed the requisite undergarments.
At Betty’s insistence, she slipped
into a dressing sacque to ward off the room’s chill, then allowed
the maid to dress her hair. As Julia sat under Betty’s
ministrations, she turned vexing questions over in her mind,
wondering if she might pose them to Betty without revealing too
much or rousing her suspicions.
“I am curious, Betty,” she began with
a collectedness she did not feel. “Are there any stories that
survive about the keep? Or this room, perhaps? Anything
“Unusual, miss? In what way?” Betty
drew the brush through her hair in long, rhythmic
“The tower is centuries old. Do you
think, for instance, it might conceal a hidden
Betty’s hand stilled, then she
chuckled and resumed her brushing. “Not likely, miss, though
Dunraven does lend itself to such notions on stormy
Julia smiled at her gentle teasing.
“But no,” Betty continued. “I’ve heard
no tales of the like. The tower is a simple block affair, massive
stones, piled straight up. If hidden stairs and hallways exist in
Dunraven, they are more likely located in the newer additions —
designed into the wings at the time of their constructions, do you
Betty worked Julia’s hair into a thick
chignon at the back of her head and secured it with pins and a
decorative comb, topped with faux pearls.
“Dunraven is the result of centuries
of amendments and improvements, miss. But passages in the tower?”
Betty shrugged. “I’d think it unlikely, but Mr. McNab might know.
He has been in service here the longest of any of us.”
Betty moved to stand in front of Julia as
she styled the soft fringe of curls framing her face.
Julia opened her mouth to
reply then closed it. She held little desire to speak with the
irascible Scotsman. And after all, there was no need. What she
experienced during the night was a bad dream, that and no more.
Secret passages, indeed. She must be
to consider it.