MacColla. With ties to the Highlands and to Ireland. With a bloodthirsty desire to see all Campbells in their graves.
Haley went cold. She'd appeared, somehow, in Campbell 's castle. Anyone would believe she was a Campbell.
And then she'd asked those idiotic questions about Graham. Dread chilled her, remembering her insistence that Graham wasn't dead. What would MacColla have thought of that? It would seem like mad chatter to him.
The mad chatter of an enemy. Oh God…
She burst to her feet for one more spin around the room. Bed, table. Two windows: no glass, openings too narrow for escape. Door: hinges? A possibility. Trunk.
Haley dropped to her knees, opened the trunk, saw the pile of musty woolen blankets she'd already rifled through a dozen times, and quickly closed it again.
MacColla killed all in his path. And here Haley was, in his path.
She looked at her hands trembling atop the glistening blond wood. Get ahold of yourself, Hale. She needed to calm down if she was going to be of any use to herself.
Think logically. He hadn't harmed her. He'd actually saved her from those men.
He could have killed her a dozen times over by now. But instead he'd gently bound her torn muscles. Held her lightly on his horse. All despite the terrible things she'd said.
She looked around with fresh perspective. A room, not a dungeon. She didn't seem to be in any imminent danger.The steadying breath she took sent fresh pain stabbing through her torso. Damned injury. That's the biggest danger.
If she were in the past, then fleeing would be certain death. Where would she go? She'd surely starve, freeze, get kidnapped, killed, or some combination thereof.
Haley put her hand to the cold stone floor and gingerly sat down to lean against the trunk.
The past. If she were truly in the past, she could solve the mystery of James Graham's fate. Haley shot up straight, her heart giving a sudden kick.
It was a dream come true for any academic. She c ould see for herself how it had all played out. Discover for herself if Graham had really died, or if he'd actually survived, living on in secret.
She shivered, deciding then that she needed to know.
But what about her family? They'd be beside themselves , waiting, worrying.
She looked around at her room. The pitcher and washbasin. The candle by her bedside. The past.
What if Graham were out there somewhere? She chafed her arms, tamping down the quiver of goose bumps along her skin.
She'd find out, then find her way home. A few weeks of uncertainty for her family, for the opportunity of a lifetime. She'd been so preoccupied with her research when she saw them at the bar, maybe they'd even assume she was just buried in her work.
But where was she? Had that strange and beautiful pistol been the thing connecting her to this time and place? Had it even been made yet?
If she'd actually landed in a Campbell stronghold, they'd likely be somewhere in Argyll.
Good Lord, will I meet Campbell too? She gasped, then gave a bemused laugh. His portrait came easily to mind. He'd been a wealthy and powerful man, and as unattractive as his reputation. He had other holdings, but Haley recalled the name Loch Awe now, remembered it being in the west.
She'd need a plan. She 'd take her time healing, use it to suss out the world around her, see if she could pinpoint an exact place in time. She wondered if Fincharn had a library. That would be next on the agenda.
Most of all she needed to pretend to be someone she wasn't. It struck her that she hadn't even told MacColla her last name. She replayed their meeting in her head, and sent up a silent prayer of thanks that she hadn't let any clue to her true origins slip.
For nobody could discover the truth of who she was.
She knew well that men like MacColla would think her a sorceress. Knew what that would mean in the seventeenth-century Highlands. Knew that a man like MacColla would think nothing of snapping her in two, kindling for a pyre fit for a witch.
The methodical reasoning gradually brought Haley into focus, and the hysteria that had shaken her abated into a distant pulse.
If she couldn't tell her truth, she'd need a new truth.
She thought with sudden clarity that the best lies were embroidered with details rooted in fact.
Though she probably knew what was going on in seventeenth- century Scotland better than most of its inhabitants, Haley's grasp of Scottish Gaelic was moderate at best. Which was not good enough for her to pass as a Highlander.
But Ireland. She did know Ireland. She was a Fitzpatrick of Donegal. She knew her Irish history. Hell, she could even make a decent soda bread. She'd visited her cousins many times through the years. Enough to be able to imagine what the country had been like hundreds of years ago .
She was, and would remain, Haley Fitzpatrick. And from that moment on, she was from Ireland.
I'm not a prisoner, she thought. Not a prisoner. I'm not a prisoner.
Though she kept telling herself MacColla hadn't placed her in a dungeon, after a few hours alone in her room, she was on edge, flinching at every distant noise and voice in the castle. She finally decided the only thing that would pacify her would be to test her theory. Prisoners, after all, weren't able to stroll about freely.
She stepped out her door, heart pounding so fiercely her chest ached from it. The stairs were situated blessedly close to her bedroom. She approached them, trod carefully down.
Haley made her way to the low-ceilinged front hallway, then to the castle's entry door. It was thick, and rounded at the top, with elaborate iron hinges. She placed her hand on the latch. The metal was cool and black.
She kept pausing, waiting for someone to stop her, but no one did.
Gathering her courage, she stepped out. The door had swung more easily than she'd expected, and she turned to pull it shut behind her.
Breathing deeply, Haley couldn't help but smile. She hadn't realized the cloying mix of smells that filled the castle halls until the crisp air hit her lungs, the fragrance of oak and fresh water replacing the stink of mildew and meat that hung like smog in the indoor air.
Breathtaking scenery surrounded her, hills and distant peaks reaching as far as the eye could see. Drawn by the lake's lush, grassy bank and the tangle of trees growing at its edge, she strolled toward the water.
Her heart had slowed, but still it remained a low, distant hammering, echoing at the back of her mind. She fingered the small knife in the pocket of her skirts and the feel of the cold steel reassured her.
It was just a tiny thing she'd pilfered from a plate of bread and cheese. An old wooden haft attached to a short, serrated blade. She took it out and cradled it in her palm. Closed it in her fist. Her grip was tenuous on such a thin handle. As a weapon, it would be hard to hold, hard to control.
“What are you about, lass?”
She startled, and tucked her hand at her back as she spun around.
MacColla stood there, curiosity wrinkling his features. He wore the same tartan, brushed clean. His enormous sword was gone from between his shoulders, though Haley was quick to note the dagger that hung at his side.
“I thought I'd take a walk. Am I not allowed outside?”
“Aye,” he said carefully. “You may go as you will. But you'd best be heedful about it. Don't stray too far.” He looked up toward the foothills, then back at her. “Scrymgeour is an ally, but many are not.”
Haley wasn't sure how she should respond to that, and so she didn't. MacColla simply remained standing, staring.
“What have you got there?” he asked finally.
“Behind your back, lass. What do you hide?”
She thought about concealing her little weapon. But MacColla wasn't stupid – he knew she had something. He'd probably realize eventually that she'd stolen it, and she figured she'd best just face his question head-on.
Tilting her chin high, Haley said. “It's a knife.”
Bringing her hand from behind her back, she opened her fist to reveal the small wood- handled cheese knife resting on her palm.
MacColla relaxed his shoulders, appearing visibly relieved. “Planning a wee feast, is it?” Much to her annoyance, he looked like he was hiding a smile.
“I need a blade.”
“You need no such thing.”
“I might need to protect myself.”
“Protect yourself? What are you on about?”
MacColla's gaze went to the scar on her neck and his eyes grew dark. “Is it because of that?” he asked quietly.
Haley looked away, startled by the question. Although it had defined her in so many ways, she often simply forgot that she bore such a hideous mark on her neck. Gingerly, she ran a finger over the length of it and shrugged.
“You'd asked what happened… ” She hesitated, not sure why she was choosing to broach the topic with him. “A man… two men. They attacked me.”
She heard the sharp draw of his breath, and swung her head to face him. “No, not that. They got scared off. I was fine.” She felt a strange need to reassure him and grazed her finger dismissively over the old wound. “Except for this.”
“And so you learned how to protect yourself.” He gave her a grave and, she thought, approving nod.
“And so I learned to protect myself, yes.”
His eyes narrowed. The look he gave her puzzled her. Although she didn't know what it meant, she felt its impact physically. She'd been unmoored, and yet this charged stare somehow grounded her, connected her. She felt… understood.
And then he gave her a full-out smile. It wrinkled his warm, brown eyes and bracketed his mouth with deep lines. Again she spotted the tiny chip in his front tooth.
Alasdair MacColla smiled for her, and a small shiver thrilled up her spine.
He nodded once more to the knife she held. “So, have you a mind to whittle your enemies to death?”
“I thought I'd practice,” she said, summoning her dignity.
“Practice cutting cheese?”
She made her face hard and expressionless. Not taking her eyes from him, she spent a moment finding the knife's center of weight, balancing it across her fingertip.