Home. She could go home. Could she somehow find her way back to modern -day Boston? The thought left her hollow.
MacColla had become her home.
“I know someone who can help.”
“No, Rollo,” she snapped. She snatched up a bit of old wood and used it to stab and scrape deep into the sandy soil. “You don't know. You have no idea.”
She was alone in the past. And Rollo thought he had nobody he could trust.
Her eyes darted to him. Rollo. He'd been a true friend to MacColla. Had ridden to find her. Saved her.
She couldn't give up on MacColla. There must be some way. But first, she had to trust somebody, and the likeliest option, her only option, sat before her.
“Look, Rollo.” She put her stick down and brushed her hands on her filthy skirts. “This is going to sound crazy, but … ”
But, what? But… get this, I'm from the future!
“Nevermind,” she said, deflated.
“Not crazy, lass.” He stared at her over the flames.
Steadfast, sure. “There's another.”
“You were right, Haley. James Graham lives.” Rollo spared her one of his rare smiles. “And he is wed to one like you.”
James Graham was everything Haley had ever imagined him to be. Handsome, chivalrous, strong, gentlemanly, noble, erudite.
He was also annoying the hell out of her.
She wanted to act. And now. But the man insisted on niceties. She knew she needed food and rest, but she'd gotten it into her head that she could save MacColla. And she wanted to figure out a plan immediately.
“Truly, lass,” he said, pulling a chair from the table for her. “You must eat. We offer our assistance, and gladly, but food is the first, best help for you.”
She stared at him, wrapped haphazardly in a cornflower blue plaid, with bare legs and feet. The sun had risen warm and bright that day, and all the doors and windows to their cottage were open to the breeze, rustling James's hair gently over his shoulders.
The sight of a man so casually at home stabbed her. She should have her man there. She should be eating breakfast with MacColla.
They'd arrived well after dark after a day of sailing.
Though they were on a small, barely inhabited island, it was like paradise, with a sandy beach, lush rolling hills, and strange and dramatic rocky outcroppings.
And it kindled memories of her time with MacColla on the Mull of Kintyre that were almost too painful to acknowledge.
“I'll not lift a finger for you until you have a decent meal in your belly.” James said firmly.
“MacColla would want that.” It was his wife Magda speaking quietly. Haley looked at her, instantly on the defensive. But her face was so open and sincere. Haley couldn't fault her.
“All right,” she muttered, sitting to let James guide her chair in. “Just a little.”
Forcing herself to chew an oatcake, she stole another glance at James's wife.
Rollo told her Magda had also come from the future, and Haley had immediately recognized her as a contemporary. She couldn't put her finger on why or how. Something about her words, the way she carried herself, spoke to a different time and place.
Haley wondered if she stood out that much.
She'd felt instantly self-conscious in front of the woman. She was tall and pretty, with long, shining copper hair, and so effortlessly elegant despite her hugely pregnant belly.
And she was from Manhattan, of all places.
Haley swallowed hard, quickly taking a sip of water to wash down the dry lump. Only she would travel back in time and land with a damned Yankees fan.
Magda caught her staring. Haley felt her cheeks go red and said the first thing that came to her mind. “I have to save him.”
“Haley,” Rollo said somberly from across the table. “'Tis too late for MacColla. But not too late to help you find a ”- “No,” Haley said more sharply than she'd intended. “I can't accept that he's dead.”
James and his wife stole a glance. “There might be a way,”
Magda said gravely.
“Och, hen.” James looked at his wife, concern plain on his face. “It could kill her.”
“What way?” Haley pushed her plate away. “I'll do anything.” She pinned her gaze on James, telling him, “You more than anyone must understand the need to risk your life for something, or someone you love.”
“He does.” Magda reached to place her hand over her husband's to silence him. “As I do, Haley.”
Haley stared at her a moment. She felt like a heel. Of course this woman would understand more than anyone what she went through. This woman who gave up everything for the man she loved.
It was different for Haley, who spoke Gaelic, had steeped herself for years in the history of this period. But Magda? Magda, with the fancy parents and fancy job in New York City? Magda wouldn't know flintlocks from Flintstones.
“Come with me,” Magda said softly.
Haley followed her to the only other room in the cottage. It was small and sun-drenched, with a desk, two trunks, a humble bed, and a woode n cradle waiting in the corner.
“Go ahead.” Magda nodded for Haley to sit on the bed. The wooden frame creaked as she sat. The ticked mattress was thin, but more comfortable than it looked, stuffed with what felt like a mixture of feathers and straw.
Magda rifled for a moment in one of the trunks, then came to sit by her side.
“This… ” She lovingly unwrapped a small parcel. “This is a painting of my brother.” Magda held it for a moment in her hands, tenderly tracing its outline with her fingertip.
“You left your brother?” A glimmer of expectancy mingled with the sympathy in her voice. Did this woman also know what it was to leave a family of brothers?
“No.” Magda pursed her lips, visibly gathering herself.
“I had a brother who left me. He died. About a year before I found James.”
“Oh, I… ” Haley thought of her own brothers. Who'd now lost their sister. “I'm sorry,” she said, her voice hitching, the apology to Magda and even more so to her own family.
“Take it.” Magda thrust the painting toward her.
“What? Why? I couldn't.”
“Yes.” She placed it in Haley's hands. “You can. It's… special. A painting was what transported me back in time. I'm told this has the same powers.”
“That I don't know,” Magda admitted. “But I thought… Well, perhaps you could go back in time again. Before MacColla's death.”
Haley sat upright, her gaze pinning Magda.
Magda continued gravely, “Of course, you could also use it to return to your own home. Your own time.”
The two women locked eyes.
Magda broke the silence. “Boston, is it?”
“Don't tell me I have an accent.” She attempted a smile.
“No.” Shaking her head, Magda returned the look, an expression of mingled sympathy and understanding. “You mentioned Harvard.”
“Oh, that.” Her world seemed so far away. Things like academic success a distant and empty memory. She studied her hands in her lap. “Yeah… I'm a South Boston girl. Big, Irish Catholic family. You can imagine… ” Her voice drifted off.
“You miss them.”
Haley felt the tears threaten, and furrowed her face in an effort to staunch them. Miss them? She mustered a wordless nod. More than anything. More than ever.
She wanted to curl up under her mom's crocheted afghan, family all around. There'd be good-natured bickering, heated debates, and much, much laughter. Maybe an open bottle of wine shared among the women. Her mom would have a roast chicken going, or maybe a lasagna.
Something big, to feed the lot of them, filling the house with scents of warmth and comfort and home.
Miss them? Yes.
Enough to turn her back on MacColla forever?
She shuddered an inhale. “But what about you? You must miss your own family.”
“Of course.” Magda got a faraway look in her eye. “But I belong here. With James.”
“Don't you hate the thought… ” Haley dashed her hands over her eyes. Her throat ached now with the effort of unshed tears. “The thought that you just… vanished?”
“There was a painting,” Magda said in answer. “The painting, of James. The one that transported me back. I tucked it away with a note indicating it belonged at the Met, the museum where I worked. I also tucked a note away, for my parents.”
“How can you know they got it?”
“Who knows? My mom was on the Met board of directors… ” Magda shrugged. “Hell, for all I know, they could've gotten the note when I was still a kid.” She gave a rueful smile. “But the painting just showed up at work one day. I have to imagine the note came with it. Was delivered with it.” She took a deep breath. “I'll never know. I can hope, though.”
Magda took her hand and continued, “What I do know, though, what I've learned these past months, is that, despite the wars, despite the bloodshed, people are good. I trust that someone would've delivered my message. Maybe even read it themselves, I don't care. But having witnessed the sacrifice that I have, the devotion and loyalty, honestly Haley, I really think my parents received my letter. And they'd want me to be happy.”
“Yeah… ” Haley cleared her throat. Scrubbed her face and tucked her hair back behind her ears. “My family would want that too. For me to be happy.”
She thought of that big, loving family of hers. Her father, who positively adored and doted on her mother. Her brothers, who were beginning to pair off and begin families of their own. And she projected herself into her own future. A future in modern-day America. Empty scholarship, cold weapons, and musty books all around. Would she ever meet her life partner, there in Boston?
The moment she wondered, she knew.