Read A Slip In Time Online

Authors: Kathleen Kirkwood

Tags: #romance historical paranormal time travel scotland victorian medieval

A Slip In Time (9 page)

“A delightful creation — lightly
whipped cream served with raspberries.”

Lord Eaton frowned. “What are those
flecks in the cream?”

“Toasted oats, of course,
m’lord.”

A moan echoed around the table.

Later, retiring to the salon, the guests
broke into small groups, some playing at whist and varied parlor
games, most sinking into overstuffed chairs and sofas simply to
continue their dinner discourse or read.

Julia saw that Lord Eaton continued to be
surrounded with constant attentions. She could not possibly speak
to him of her room openly. Making matters worse, Lilith perched on
the arm of his chair and Aunt Sybil stood behind, both with the
vigilant looks of watchdogs.

Julia fidgeted with her ring. Somehow,
she must make arrangements for another room. And there were still
questions she would have answered. She scanned the salon for Mr.
McNab and spied him delivering the last of the drinks from his tray
and heading toward the door. Julia quickened across the room,
catching him just outside, in the hall.

“Mr. McNab, I would speak with you. I
must know your objections to my staying in the tower room. What is
wrong with it?”

“Wrong, miss?” His brows rumpled.
“There is nothing wrong with the room. ‘Tis simply my employer’s —
Lord Muir’s — practice not to billet guests in the tower, that and
no more.”

“Yet, the room is kept in readiness,
the linens fresh and the furniture dusted. Betty told me as much.”
The Scotsman only shrugged. “Why then did Lord Eaton ignore his
uncle’s desires and place me there after all?”

The Scotsman shifted his weight,
avoiding her gaze. “It would be indelicate of me to point out the
obvious, miss.”

Oh, but the man was annoying. “And
just what is the ‘obvious,’ Mr. McNab?”

“Why the proximity of m’lord’s room in
the adjoining corridor, of course.” He tucked his tray under his
arm and set off down the hallway.

Shock rooted her in place. Several
minutes passed before she collected herself enough to return to the
salon. She leveled a murderous gaze at their insufferable host, who
sprawled in a deep cushioned chair, his leg outstretched on an
ottoman, surrounded by half the females in the room.

One thing was clear to her. Aunt Sybil
may well have contrived to situate her in a room far distant from
the others, but certainly not near at hand to Lord Eaton’s. Julia
also now understood the disapproving looks of Mrs. McGinty and Mr.
McNab.

Julia moved woodenly
toward the fireplace. She must
speak with
the butler yet again. In her surprise, she had forgotten to request
new lodgings.

“You are still so pale, dear Julia.”
Lady Charles clucked her tongue, coming to stand beside her. “I
fear your humors have yet to revive. Here, a sherry is what you
need. That and the warmth of the fire.”

Julia settled into a comfortable chair
and sipped the drink as she waited for Mr. McNab to reappear.
Several others joined her, including an attentive Mr. Dilcox. She
listened to the surrounding conversation, her gaze wandering from
time to time to where Emmaline stood surrounded by
admirers.

An inordinate fatigue overtook her.
She laid it to the toddy and sherry and her long wanderings
out-of-doors in the sharp Highland air. Yet, this lethargy seemed
disturbingly familiar . . . a bone-deep tiredness that had dogged
her since morning . . . when she first awoke . . . and again, when
she found herself on the lawn . . . outside the keep . .
.

Her thoughts trailed off into sweet
oblivion.

»«

Julia came hazily aware of
someone lifting her. She caught a whiff of men’s
cologne and thought of Sir Robert. Nice man. Emmaline seemed
to think so, she thought fuzzily.
Julia
drifted off again, then felt the softness of a mattress beneath her
and Betty’s voice as she helped her from her clothes. Through the
groggy mist of fatigue and drink she felt the silky fabric of her
nightgown whisper over her skin, then the weight of sheets and
covers piled atop her. She mumbled her thanks to Betty and asked
her to find Emmaline to come share the room.

“Whatever you say, miss.” Betty’s footsteps
faded across the floor.

Julia burrowed into the downy bed,
confident Betty understood her, despite a few slurred
words.

»«

Julia floated on a thin
layer of sleep, dreaming of the poetic little cottage gardens of
Hampshire. She admired one in particular abounding with
hollyhocks,
Sweet Williams,
and mignonette hemming the cottage door.

The air stirred and she lifted her face to
the sun, anticipating a light breeze to feather her cheek. Instead,
the atmosphere grew heavy as iron, weighting her down and choking
off her breath.

Panicked, Julia fought her way to
consciousness. Hauling open her lids, she lay gulping the air.
Awareness unfolded through her in increments as she focused on the
shadowy canopy overhead. She lay abed in the tower chamber once
more.

Julia groaned and turned her head to
glance at the hearth. A lively fire crackled in its confines,
bathing the room in shades of gold. She watched a moment, then
dragged her gaze from the flames and settled it inadvertently on
the bed hangings. Red.

Julia stiffened, her gaze skipping to the
foot of bed. There in the shadows stood the elusive Scotsman, fully
dressed, his eyes boring into her.

Julia squealed, her arms flailing
gracelessly as she bolted upright and threw herself back against
the headboard.

“W-who are you?” she gasped out,
snatching for the coverlet and yanking it to her throat. “What are
you doing in my bed chamber?”

A swift shadow of surprise
swept across the man’s features.
“Sassenach!”
The word escaped his
lips, the sound deep and rich, mixed with incredulity and
disapproval. He stepped from the end of the bed and rounded the
side, his movements smooth, purposeful, dangerous.

“‘
Tis my bed ye are warmin’, lass, and
I didna invite ye there. I know no’ wha’ mischief ye are aboot, or
who sent ye. But I dinna take kindly t’ trickery.”

Rae Mackinnon gazed down
on the girl, wholly mystified. How did a
sassenach
come to be in his bed? Or
in his castle for that matter? Was this someone’s sorry idea of a
jest, knowing of his long imprisonment in London’s
Tower?

Yet something set ill here. Three
times now, the golden-haired lass had appeared, seemingly out of
nowhere. And what of her clothes? — odd to be sure, especially the
figure-hugging gown she had worn this afternoon, flaunting her
bewitching curves. It surprised him that his men did not line up to
win her favors or do worse.

Yet therein lay another
puzzle. ‘Twas perturbing enough the girl had vanished before his
eyes, but ‘twould seem he was the only one in the hall to have seen
her.
Dhia,
there
was much to explain here.

“I repeat. Who are ye, lass? Who sent
ye?’

“I — I am Julia Hargrove,” Julia
stammered beneath the Scotsman’s penetrating stare. “I am a guest
of . . . of the Laird of Dunraven Castle.”

Let him challenge
that,
she thought, her confidence
returning. She might be Lord Eaton’s guest, but she was indirectly
Lord Muir’s as well.

The Scotsman leaned
forward, bracing his arms on either side of Julia and trapping her
against the headboard. “Tell me how tha’ can be, lass, when
I
am Laird o’ Dunraven
and hae ne’er set eyes on ye afore?”

Julia’s eyes
widened.
“You
are
Lord Muir? But, I understood you to be aged — seventy years or
more.”

“I know no’ this `Lord Muir’ and as ye
can see I am far from aged — nine-and-twenty years tae be exact.
Now explain yersel’. D’ye think tae plant yersel’ in my bed and
seduce me tae some end?”

“Seduce?”
Julia’s voice vaulted several notches higher. Her
temper flamed at such gall, overriding her shock. “That is
outrageous!”

The Scotsman’s lips pulled into a hard
smile. “And yet here ye be, waitin’ in yer finery.” He ripped the
covers from her fingers, exposing her nightgown and her bare legs
where the fabric bunched at her knees. “I am wonderin’ why ye
bother wi’ it a’tall for ‘tis plain ye wear no’ a stitch beneath.”
His gaze fell to where the soft roundness of her breasts rose and
fell against the thin fabric of her gown.

Julia’s mouth opened and
closed several times before she could speak. “This, sir, is my
nightgown.
I
was
sleeping
,”
she
grit out, yanking the covers from his hands to shield her breasts.
She rose on her knees, her anger multiplying. “I
told
you. I am a guest
here, in particular of Roger Dunnington, Lord Eaton, and, in turn,
of his uncle, Lord Muir, the Twenty-seventh Laird of Dunraven
Castle.”

The Scotsman’s eyes narrowed
dangerously. “The de’il ye are.”

“You call me a liar?”

“Aye, tha’ I do. For how
can ye be the guest o’ the twenty-seventh laird when I myself am
the
third.”

“The third?”

“Aye, the third.”

“Laird? Of Dunraven
Castle?”

“So I said. Are ye deaf or daff? I am
Rae Mackinnon, Third Laird o’ Dunraven Castle in the year o’ Our
Lord, fourteen hundred and thirty-seven.”

Julia’s jaw dropped, her breath
deserting her. She struggled to regain herself and snapped her
mouth shut.

“You, sir, are the liar. Or a lunatic.
What game do you play, stealing into my chamber in the midst of the
night, compromising my reputation? Do you play me for a fool?
Fourteen hundred and thirty-seven indeed,” she huffed. “The year
is eighteen hundred and ninety-three!”

“Enough!” He grabbed her
arms and pulled her against his chest. “Who are ye,
sassenach?
Who d’ye
serve and for wha’ gain? Did the English send ye? Or another clan,
holdin’ hands across the border, or mayhap here at home wi’ those
who would control the king?”

“King? What are you talking about?
Victoria is Queen.”

The Scotsman scoffed outright. “James
is but a bairn o’ six. He has no queen.”

“James?”

“Aye, James, Scotland’s wee
king.”

Julia began to declare Scotland had no
king of any size or age. But the look in the Scotsman’s eyes gave
her pause, a look that told her he believed every word he spoke.
She felt the heat drain from her face. What was happening
here?

“Victoria is queen of the
British Empire. She is seventy-four and a widow,” Julia voiced in a
bare whisper. “Who . . .
what
are you?” she asked breathlessly, her gaze fixed
on his seemingly solid features. “Are you a ghost?”

Irritation flickered in
his eyes. “Flesh and bluid I am, lass, o’ tha’ ye can be sure. But
mayhaps ‘tis ye who is the
hant
for ye disappeared beneath my verra hands this
day.”

He went rock still then pulled back
from her, as though his last words struck some fresh thought deep
in his heart. The Scotsman’s expression darkened, his eyes scouring
her with such a black look, it set Julia’s heart to
pounding.

“Mayhap ‘tis no ghost ye
are, but a witch,” he said with a growl, his blue eyes
searing
her. “A witch, bearin’ a
witch’s mark!”

Lightning swift, he raked the bed
covers from between them, then stripped Julia’s nightgown straight
off, over her head in a single motion. Flinging her down on the
mattress, he pinned her with his weight and began to examine her
inch by naked inch, muttering he’d have his proof.

Julia’s sensibilities reeled under the
Scotsman’s assault. She struggled against him, the prickly wool of
his kilt sending up an instant rash wherever it grazed her bare
skin. His strength held her fast though she squirmed and fought him
as best she could. Fear stole her voice though she managed a
strangled cry.

To Julia’s mortification,
his hands moved over her, seemingly everywhere at once — skimming
her breasts, stomach,
thighs, and
backside. He turned her this way and that, from front to back to
front again. He even now inspected the soles of her feet and ankles
for the cursed mark.

Julia started as his hands slipped
upward over her calves and thighs, sending shivers of fire through
her. But when one hand came to rest low on her abdomen, the fingers
splaying, she began to thrash wildly, unsure of his
intention.

Rae Mackinnon caught the girl’s wrists
as she clouted his chest, entangling one hand in the chain about
his neck. As he drew away her hand, the chain and its talisman
followed, dragging from his shirt, snared by the lass’s
ring.

Working quickly, he freed the two,
lest the chain break and he lost the healing stone which protected
against evil spirits and witches. He then pressed the golden lass
back against the mattress, his stone dangling between
them.

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