Read A Slip In Time Online

Authors: Kathleen Kirkwood

Tags: #romance historical paranormal time travel scotland victorian medieval

A Slip In Time (7 page)

Choosing a morning dress
of changeable silk, she rid herself of the dressing sacque and drew
it on. Betty gushed
over the gown’s details — the
multicolored stripes of rose, green, and brown, and the lacy
“Vandykes,” points of snowy Irish lace running in double rows down
the bodice and edging the cuffs.

In truth, the style was a
year out of date, the skirt being narrower than this season’s and
the upper sleeves not as full above the elbow. Such vanities
mattered little anymore, Julia reflected with a heavy sigh. The
darkness of her loss loomed unexpectedly
,
squeezing
her heart.

Julia consulted her pocket watch for
the time, then slipped it inside her belt. If she accomplished
nothing more this day, she must pen her letter to her grandmother
and post it. She needed to be away from this place. Away in
Hampshire where she might do something useful with her life. Away
from Dunraven Castle and its provocative, heart-stopping
dreams.

Departing the chamber, Julia followed Betty,
impressing their route to mind so she might later find her way back
without becoming hopelessly lost.

Entering the Long Gallery, she found it to
be quite handsome in daylight and the portraits not nearly so
sinister. Julia slowed her steps, perusing the faces there. None
resembled the man in her bedchamber, leastwise, not with their
clothes on.

Julia stiffened, shocked by the
wayward turn of her thoughts. Suddenly his memory surrounded her —
the feel of his hard torso as he held her in his arms, the warmth
of his bare flesh, the piercing blue of his eyes. Julia shook away
her wanton imaginings, ignoring the shimmer of heat that passed
through her.

“Are you all right, miss?” Concern
filled Betty’s voice.

“Yes, perfectly. But I could really do
with a strong cup of tea.”

Long minutes later, retracing their steps of
the previous night, they arrived in the entrance hall. Betty
conducted Julia to the breakfast room, then disappeared to inform
Cook of her presence.

Julia found the room to be
snug and welcoming, warmed with rich oak paneling. Paintings
adorned the walls,
depicting popular
sporting themes — salmon fishing in the icy lochs, still lifes of
game birds, and hunters bringing home stags on sturdy Highland
ponies.

Julia turned her gaze upward and was
surprised to see that elaborate plasterwork embellished the
ceiling overhead, in complete contrast to the room’s solid,
masculine furnishings.

Despite the coziness of
the room, there was an unnatural quiet. Though their party from
Braxton had descended upon Dunraven the night before, no one seemed
to be
about this morning. Indeed the
castle seemed strangely empty.

Julia drifted her gaze over the fine
oils as she moved around the confines of the room, then stopped
before a series of etchings grouped near the fireplace. Each
portrayed Dunraven Castle from one of eight different vantages.
She examined them closely, striving to comprehend the layout of the
castle.

Hearing a soft footfall and the rustle
of material, Julia turned to find Mrs. McGinty entering the room
with a porcelain tea service.

“Good morning, miss,” the
housekeeper greeted crisply,
a slight chill to her
tone.
She placed the service on the
sideboard, made several small but precise adjustments, then faced
Julia, unsmiling. “Our breakfast hour is past, but Cook will
prepare fresh porridge if it pleases you.”

Julia perceived the trace of
disapproval in Mrs. McGinty’s eyes but could not account for
it.

“Thank you, but there’s no need to
trouble Cook. The tea will be quite satisfactory.”

Mrs. McGinty turned to leave but Julia
delayed her.

“Is Mr. McNab nearby? I should like to
ask him some questions about Dunraven’s history.”

Mrs. McGinty gave an indelicate snort,
at odds with her taciturn manner. “Mr. McNab led the gentlemen out
early this morning for deerstalking. I’d not be expecting them back
for many an hour.”

Julia’s brows creased in confusion. “I
thought he was the butler, not a gillie.”

“Mr. McNab is many things.”

An awkward silence followed.

“Can you tell me if my
aunt, Lady Symington, is about? Or my cousins? I have yet to see
any of the ladies from Braxton. The castle
appears quite abandoned.”

“The ladies departed a short time ago
for an afternoon’s outing and picnic. They are not journeying far,
only a few miles to visit the Falls of Glendar.”

A brief pause hung between them as
Julia absorbed this news. Mrs. McGinty clasped her hands before her
with a shade of impatience. “Will that be all, miss?”

“Yes, thank you.” Julia
watched Mrs. McGinty’s
stiff
withdrawal, wondering whether the animosity she sensed in
the woman was real or imagined.

Julia poured herself a steaming cup of tea
at the sideboard then carried it to the double door that opened
onto an adjoining room. There she found a cheerful parlor with
sunlight spilling in through tall, full-length bay windows. Bright
patterned chintz enlivened the furniture and draperies while
book-lined shelves climbed the far wall.

Julia crossed to the handsome mahogany desk
that stood before the nearest bay. She should have thought to ask
the housekeeper for pen and stationery, she chided herself,
feeling the need to begin her letter to Lady Arabella.

Julia set her saucer and cup on the desk and
reached for the top drawer, hoping to find writing materials. Her
hand stilled as she glanced out the window, her thoughts diverting
to the ladies down the road, in particular to her aunt.

Had she misunderstood Aunt Sybil’s
intentions last night? Did her aunt truly mean to separate her from
herself and her cousins for the duration of their stay at Dunraven,
or for just the one night?

Julia sipped her tea as she recalled
fragments of her conversation with Lord Eaton. Did she misread his
explanation for lodging her apart of the others? Were the
sentiments he conveyed truly her aunt’s, or his own perhaps? And
what of Lord Eaton’s insistence on billeting her in the tower over
Mr. McNab’s protests? Julia cared not at all for the look the
butler sent her before quitting the hall.

Pulling herself from her thoughts,
Julia gazed out at the rain-rinsed skies and imposing mountains.
They beckoned to her. Too distracted to write and seized by an
urgent need to find her aunt and settle these questions, she
decided to ride out. Being a reasonably adept horsewoman, Julia
felt confident she could catch up with the group, provided a mount
was available.

Julia rang for Mrs. McGinty, pulling the
silken cord that hung by the door. No doubt, the woman would be
unhappy with the interruption. So be it, Julia set her jaw and rang
again.

Mrs. McGinty appeared directly.
Julia’s request brought a look of surprise to her carefully
controlled features, but she stated she would send young Tom,
Cook’s son, to ready a horse. He could also be spared to serve as
her guide.

“I shall need Betty’s assistance just
long enough to change,” Julia called over her shoulder as she
quickened past the housekeeper and left the parlor.

Julia hastened to her room, and despite a
few wrong turns, arrived there presently, her determination
overriding her hesitation to return alone.

Still, Julia paused on the threshold and ran
a glance around the room before entering. Assured it stood vacant,
she directed her footsteps toward the armoire, and ignored a keen
urge to drop to her knees and peer underneath the bed.

Drawing open the wardrobe doors, she
located her riding costume. No sooner did she lay out the articles
than Betty arrived, much to Julia’s relief.

Betty’s eyes widened at the sight of
Julia’s garments spread on the bed. “How very grand,” Betty
exclaimed, slightly out of breath for having hurried. “Do you ride
to the hounds then?”

Julia shook her head.
“Only for pleasure. Rather, I used
to ride
in Hampshire.”
With my parents,
she added silently. She rode at Gramercy as well,
trying to escape her pain. But today she would ride for pleasure
once more, this time in the wild Highlands.

Betty assisted Julia out of her gown
then into her habit, beginning with the chamois trousers. The
skirt followed, the cloth being a deep, ultramarine blue. Next
came the basque, a close-fitting jacket of the same color,
waist-length, with a single row of buttons, long tight sleeves, and
a short tail at the back. High-topped boots added polish to the
outfit.

“Ah, ‘tis very smart, miss. Very smart
indeed.” Betty beamed as she handed Julia her high-crowned beaver
hat.

Julia fixed the hat in place, then
accepted her gloves from the maid and accompanied her out of the
chamber. As they reached the gallery, Julia halted.

“Oh, bother. I’ve forgotten my riding
crop. Do go on, Betty. I’ve delayed you from your duties long
enough. I’ll pop back and fetch it.”

“Very good, miss, if you’re
sure.”

Julia nodded and returned to the bedchamber.
Reentering, she moved briskly to the armoire and rummaged inside
for her riding crop. In the process, she dislodged her hat and
mussed her hair.

“Drat,” Julia muttered, abandoning the
wardrobe for the room’s small, octagonal mirror.

She smoothed her hair back in place
then repositioned her hat. Suddenly, the air altered, growing
weighty and pressing down on her. The hat toppled from her fingers,
and she cupped her forehead in her palms.

Julia’s heart raced. She straightened
slowly and rounded in place, then sucked in her breath. The space
was bare before her, devoid of table, chairs, and carpeting. An
iron-bound trunk lined the wall, the armoire having vanished once
more. To her dismay, shutters now bracketed the windows — windows
no longer fitted with glass.

Julia started toward the door through which
she had just entered, thinking to escape. But it, too, had
disappeared. Spinning around, her gaze fell across the room. To the
right of the bed waited the studded arched door, partially
opened.

A chill shivered over her skin.

“A dream. This is a dream,” Julia
uttered aloud, failing to convince herself.

She took a shaky step toward the bed and
caught the draperies between her fingers. Her heart dipped as she
stroked their texture. They were real, tangible, but God help her,
the cloth was red instead of blue.

Julia stepped apart of the bed and swept her
hand through the space the table had occupied moments ago. She gave
a small cry, catching nothing in her palm but air.

Julia clamped down on her fears and
moved toward the arched door with an overpowering need to know what
lay on the other side. Her hand shaking violently, she dragged the
door open fully and passed through the portal.

Julia found herself on the remembered
stairwell, all appearing exactly as it had in her “dream.” The low
murmur of voices rose from below. But this time they sounded
neither loud nor boisterous. In truth, she distinguished female
voices among them, and children’s as well.

Wary, but immensely curious, Julia started
down the narrow spiral of stairs, forcing her feet down one step,
then another, her heart beating high in her throat.

Narrow slits pierced the thick wall at
intervals, admitting in light to softly wash the stairs. The acrid
smell of spent torches assaulted her nostrils, but as she neared
the bottom, it mixed with the peaty odors of cooking fires and that
of broth and meat.

The steps ended in a sheltered alcove
which, in turn, opened directly into an expansive hall. Julia’s
thoughts scrambled to recall the castle etchings, unable to place
this extension.

Shoring up her courage, Julia stepped
from the shadows of the alcove, moving just inside the hall. There,
people bustled and scurried about, engaged in various tasks. Their
clothing struck her as somehow out of place, out of time — the men
garbed in voluminous kilts of an era long past, the colors muted.
The women, for the most part, wore skirts to their ankles over
plain blouses, some with plaid shawls. One woman, tall and blond,
wore a surprisingly elegant gown, moss green in color with
contrasting sleeves of gold. But it, too, seemed sorely out of
date.

As Julia puzzled the scene, her gaze
came to rest on a tall figure across the hall — a man with sable
locks flowing to his shoulders and with piercing blue eyes. He
stood in conversation, his leg cocked on a bench, his arm braced
there, a cup in his hand. He, too, wore the old-style kilt. And he
wore it well, she observed, warmth sliding through her.

Someone shouted to Julia’s right. The
man across the room looked up and flashed a smile, tossing back a
rejoinder in his Gaelic tongue at what was evidently a jest. As he
drew his gaze from the other man, it settled on Julia. His features
froze, his eyes locking with hers.

Fear and fire swarmed through Julia.
Slowly, the man straightened, setting aside his cup and lowering
his leg to the floor. His gaze swept downward over her breasts and
clear to her toes, taking in the details of her attire. As his eyes
returned to hers, a frown creased his forehead as if in troubled
thought.

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