Excerpt: A Dance Through Time

Excerpt: A Dance Through Time

The MacLeod Family

Chapter One

“Come to me.” 

His deep voice echoed in the stillness of the great hall. He held out his hands, waiting.

She looked at the man standing before her, a warrior tall and powerfully fashioned. The firelight from the huge hearth played over the rugged features of his face, glinted off his long, dark hair, turned his eyes to a deep, fiery green. His gaze locked with hers, warming her, imprisoning her.

She walked to him, slowly. She reached out and put her hands in his. There were calluses on his skin, hard places where the sword had left its imprint. He ran his thumbs over her palms, caressing her hands before he took them and slipped them up around his neck. She caught her breath as his arms came around her and pulled her hard against him.

“Och, but you’re a bonny thing, my Elizabeth,” he said, in a husky voice.

He lowered his head and covered her lips with his own. He plundered her mouth, ravaging it with kisses that made her knees buckle. She clung to him as waves of desire crashed over her, leaving her weak.

A ringing began, intruding on the sounds of wood crackling in the hearth and the harsh rasp of the man’s breathing. She ignored the bell-like noise, but it continued, persistent. She turned to see what it was, then felt herself falling. She looked back at the man in disbelief.

“Nay, do not leave me,” he said, clutching her more tightly to him.

She stared up at him, mute, unable to stop the feeling of plunging into nothingness. She slid through his arms and felt a sharp pain…

Elizabeth Smith winced as her elbow connected with a solid wood floor. She opened her eyes and blinked a time or two.

Then she lay back and let out an anguished groan. Falling out of bed was not how that dream was supposed to end.

And that ringing had been the phone. She reached up and groped for the receiver on her nightstand. This had better be some kind of emergency, or she was going to kill whoever had ruined the best kiss of her life.

“Hello?” she croaked.

“Yeah, is this Eddie’s Breakfast Pizza?”

Elizabeth lifted her chin and peered up at her clock, squinting to make sense of the glowing numbers. Good grief, it was only nine A.M.

“Wrong number, buddy,” she mumbled and hung up the phone. She had been snatched from possibly the most perfect dream of her life for some idiot wanting pizza for breakfast?

Hopefully it wasn’t an omen.

She lay back on the floor and stared up at the ceiling, still wrapped in the remains of her dream. She could almost feel the man’s arms around her, hear his rich voice washing over her, taste his lips on hers. Her name from his lips had been a caress, a possessive touch that branded her his. If he only could have been real! No more putting up with men who could take her or leave her. There was a man who would be more interested in her than TV or sports. How distressed he had sounded when she had started to slip away from him! Of course she’d found him in a dream. Somehow, it just figured.

Well, there was nothing she could do about it. She groaned as she forced herself to sit up and face reality.

It was enough to make her want to go back to bed.

Her apartment, furnished as it was in Early Starving Writer, was a sty. It was a minuscule Manhattan garret, and every available surface was covered with a stack of something. Her table, which served as both a place to eat and a place to write, was piled high with research books, drafts of her novel and a collection of soda cans. Dishes were piled in her sink. Clothes were strewn from one end of the place to another. It was a complete disaster, one she had put off dealing with for weeks.

Well, there was no sense in postponing the inevitable any longer. She hauled herself to her feet, then walked purposefully across three feet of floor to her table. To fortify herself, she took a gulp from the cola can she’d opened the night before, then sat and reached for the notebook that contained her list of things to do.

Finish cover letter for manuscript. She paused. Writing a novel was hard enough. Pitching it in three paragraphs or less was murder. Maybe she’d give herself another day to come up with something brilliant. She crossed the item off her list with a quick swipe of her pen.

Exercise. Oh, definitely not. She squelched the small stab of guilt over crossing off that reminder.

Clean apartment was number three. She was fairly certain there were no unpaid bills lurking anywhere, so maybe there wasn’t much sense in wasting time getting organized. She was sure she still had some clean underwear in her drawer, so what was the point in straightening things up when the place would just get messy again anyway? Especially since she had such better thing to do with her time this morning–mainly fantasize about that man from her dream. She tossed her notebook onto a handy pile of research materials, then sat back, ready to give her imagination free rein.

She closed her eyes and struggled to bring back his image. Tall, dark-haired, green-eyed. The feel of his arms around her was something she was certain she would never forget.

She opened her eyes suddenly, wondering why it hadn’t occurred to her before. She would write a book about him. If she couldn’t have him in the flesh, she could certainly have him in print. It made perfect sense, being that her passion was romance. Reading about it, writing about it, thinking about it: it didn’t make a difference to her which way it came. As long as there was a love story and a happy ending involved, she was all for it.

It had started innocently enough. She’d begun by rewriting in her head endings to all the great tragedies. After she’d seen Romeo and Juliet settled in a quaint little Italian villa with five kids, she’d moved on to tampering with Ophelia’s head and Hamlet’s timing. Somehow, all of that had led her to thinking perhaps she should start from scratch with her own characters.

Her first attempt had wound up as a kitchen shelf liner. But the manuscript sitting on her table was different. She had agonized for months over it, putting her whole soul into the fashioning of the characters. And now it was finally finished and ready to mail except for her letter of introduction. Maybe she really should finish it up before she started on something else.

Come to me.

Elizabeth froze. Her apartment was too small for anyone to have sneaked in without her knowing as much, unless they’d done it sometime during the night. Maybe they had, and they were just waiting for her to notice before they did her in. She took a deep breath. She might as well know now. She turned in her seat slowly, fully expecting to come face-to-face with the business end of a lethal weapon.

She came face to face with a month’s worth of dirty laundry. She shook her head, as if by so doing she could clear up her sudden hearing problem. Her apartment was empty, but she had heard a voice, just as surely as she was sitting there.

Come to me. Wasn’t that what the man from her dream had first said to her?

Chills went down her spine, and her skin erupted into gooseflesh. Either she was losing her mind, or somebody was trying to tell her something. Maybe that incredibly sexy man was calling to her. Did he really want his book written? She nodded to herself. That had to be it. She had a vivid imagination. Her characters were taking on a life of their own and demanding their due. That happened to other people. It could happen to her.

Make haste, Elizabeth.

She squeaked in spite of herself. All right, either she was hearing things, or her apartment was haunted. Whatever the case, it was obviously a sign; she had no qualms about taking it as such. If the man wanted his book written right away, who was she to say no?

She jumped up and began shuffling through her piles of papers. Last week her fiancé had happened upon a few books he thought she might find useful. Though he was helpful and accommodating, he wasn’t exactly thrilled by her choice of careers. But since he wasn’t exactly her fiancé, he really didn’t have the right to say much about what she did.

Stanley Berkowitz worked at the New York Public Library. She’d been loitering in the reading room one day, poring over a lithograph of King Duncan’s dining table when Stanley had seen her. He’d recommended more books to her, then, as time went on, smuggled others out to her. He’d wooed her with research materials and Godiva chocolate. How could she have resisted two of her favorite things? When he’d presented her with a proposal and a diamond, she’d said yes to both. So he wasn’t her dream man. He was nice. There was a lot to be said for nice.

Or so she’d thought until last night. She’d begun to feel concerned that Stanley hadn’t exactly committed to a wedding date. Pushing him about it over chicken marsala had revealed he wasn’t all that interested in getting married any time soon, but he was interested in maintaining an engagement because it got his mother off his back. How she’d held onto her composure through chocolate decadence pie was beyond her. She’d accepted Stanley’s latest book offerings, but she hadn’t accepted his offer to come in. It was all she could do not to club him over the head with the biography of Robert the Bruce he’d handed her. That man from her dream certainly wouldn’t have been so blasé about her, no sir. No phony engagement for him.

Elizabeth sat down with a thump. She was losing it. How would she know what that man would or wouldn’t do? She was taking her dreams way too seriously. It was a bad thing to start. Who knew where it could lead?

Elizabeth, now!

Like that, she nodded to herself. Not only was she starting to hallucinate in broad daylight; her hallucinations were starting to order her around. It was a very bad sign.

“All right,” she said out loud. “Keep your pants on. I’m working on it.”

She searched through stacks, flinging papers, magazines, paper plates and red pens to the floor, looking for those books Stanley had brought her the week before. They were on Scotland. Though her current novel was set in England, that wasn’t were her passion lay. Aye, ’twas Scotland that fascinated her. She dreamed of Scottish moors and fields of heather, of gloomy keeps with fierce lairds–ruthless warriors the size of linebackers who wielded swords against their enemies and wooed their ladies with sweet words and gentle kisses. It wasn’t that she didn’t already have linebackers. She did, in the persons of her five brothers. There were times she was sure she’d scream if she had to sit through another college fourth-and-goal story. But that was where big ended and the rest of her current situation began.

She had come to New York, sure the city would inspire her to write wonderful books. She’d found inspiration, but she hadn’t run into any ruthless warriors who had demanded she allow them to woo her. She had, however, been approached by the balding librarian who wanted to use her ring finger.

Elizabeth, by all the saints…

The hair on the back of her neck stood up without permission. Okay, so her hero was getting really impatient. She lifted up a collection of newspapers and hit the mother lode. She shoved the rest of the table-top contents onto the floor, then spread out the books in front of her and looked over the titles: Rulers of Scotland; Scotland: An Historical Perspective; Fact or Fiction: Scotland’s Turbulent Past; Life in a Medieval Hall; Scottish Lairds and Their Clans. She picked up the one on medieval life and glanced through it.

The keep was definitely the place to be. At least a body got clothes and a meal now and then. Bathing, though, didn’t seem to have been a priority. Elizabeth could only speculate as to the smell of not only the keep, but the unwashed bodies inside. Living on savings and the small amount she could bring herself to accept from her parents was tough, but at least she had her own bed, free from bugs and secure from men with rape on their minds. Nope, medieval life was not for her. She pitied the women who’d had to endure it.

The book on Scottish rulers caught her eye. She flipped through the centuries, from Kenneth MacAlpin to James IV. Robert Bruce? He had ruled from 1306 to 1329. For some reason, the dates appealed to her. Yes, this time period would surely suit the man from her dream. Now all that remained was to find a clan for him to rule over. Of course he would be a laird; a man of her warrior’s stature would find himself nowhere if not at the head of a company of equally fierce warriors.

She reached for the volume on Scottish clans. It fell open to a page on Clan MacLeod. A chill went through her, as if Fate had come up behind her and blown softly on the back of her neck. She devoured all she could about the clan, their history, their wars and their enemies.

At the end of the chapter was a pen and ink plate of a forest. The familiarity of the place struck her like a blow. It looked so real she was half afraid to touch it, for fear some elf would reach out, snag her hand and pull her into his magical world.

Ridiculous. She resisted the urge to look over her shoulder and make sure there weren’t a dozen bogeymen there, winking at her from the shadowy corners of her apartment–along with her very vocal dreamboat, of course. No, the forest looked familiar because she had seen it in another book. Goodness knows she had read enough about Scotland.

But that didn’t explain away the whispers of magic in the air. Maybe it was her grandfather’s fault. He had filled her head full of tales of Scottish enchantments from the time she was small and somehow, in the back of her mind, she almost believed them. That and the gift of his Gaelic language was his legacy to her. Perhaps weaving a bit of enchantment into her story in his honor wasn’t such a bad idea. Even though nothing magical ever happened to her, there was no reason her heroine couldn’t enjoy a different fate.

All right. Now that she had found a time and place, she needed to immerse herself in what she’d learned and seen and let her imagination run away with her. Maybe she should get dressed and go for a walk to get her creative juices flowing.

Aye, come to me, my love.

Elizabeth jumped as if she’d been stuck with a pin. She had the insane desire to get dressed in the bathroom so whoever insisted on talking to her wouldn’t watch.

She shook her head. There was no one in her apartment. Maybe all that was calling to her was that emergency box of truffles under the couch.

Well, whatever it was, it was something she definitely needed to get away from. She yanked on a pair of jeans, an oversized blue sweater, tennis shoes, and a leather jacket she had recently appropriated from her brother’s wardrobe. Alex was a big mucky-muck corporate attorney, making far more than even he could spend on clothes. Elizabeth made herself at home in his closet as often as possible.

She checked her pockets for her key and sundries, then ran from her apartment. She wasn’t afraid to be there by herself, just because her characters were talking out loud to her. No, not at all. She just needed some fresh air. Yes, that was it. A nice walk to Gramercy Park where could plot her story in peace.

She pulled her collar up around her ears as she walked down the street. The chilly fall wind whipped her hair around her face and scattered leaves in front of her. There was a tingle in the air, as if the world held its breath, waiting for something magical to happen. Not that she believed in magic. She was a practical girl with her feet planted firmly on the ground. Which was, no doubt, why she spent most of her time writing about men who existed only in her imagination.

By the time she reached the park, she was ready not for a plot line, but a bagel and something hot to drink. She was also starting to feel a little silly. She had a very vivid imagination. That coupled with Stanley’s bombshell the night before had just sent her for a loop. Dream lovers were not loitering in her apartment, commanding her to come find them. She could go home any time and feel perfectly safe and perfectly foolish.

Well, maybe later. There was no sense in wasting fresh air. She nodded to herself in agreement. A half an hour meditating on a park bench, then a nice breakfast and cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream on top. Maybe she’d also look up that number for Eddie’s Breakfast Pizza.

First things first. She looked around, noted the mothers with small children and the apparent lack of thugs, then made her way to her favorite bench. It was unoccupied, in the sun, and free of bird droppings. Elizabeth smiled. Life didn’t get much better than that.

She stretched out and closed her eyes. The bench back blocked the wind, and the sun was warm on her face. This was the life. Much more comfortable than a musty-smelling castle. Her hero might have had to put up with it, but she didn’t. Nothing like fresh autumn air to really make you glad you’re in the twentieth century.

As she relaxed, the image of the forest she’d seen came back to her, filling even the edges of her mental vision. It just seemed so real. Where in the world had she seen it? She’d read countless numbers of books on Scotland, but surely she would have remembered such a beautiful place. It was probably even more beautiful in person. She needed to get herself to Scotland. What did heather really smell like? And who was to say she wouldn’t run into some handsome Highlander with a horse at his disposal and lots of time on his hands? She could imagine worse ways to see the countryside.

Now, if she’d just been able to run into that man from her dream, she would have been truly content. What a tour guide he would have made!

A shiver went through her. She pulled her coat closer around her. The bench was supposed to be blocking that chill. Maybe the wind had changed. She turned her face to one side, then brushed away the annoying blade of grass that tickled her ear.


She sat up, her heart thudding against her ribs. She looked around her slowly, her eyes noting every clump of weeds, every scrap of bark on the trees and forest floor, every pile of molding leaves. Realization dawned, then reverberated through her, as is she’d been a gong struck by an enormously angry orchestra member. She trembled from her heart out to the ends of her fingers and toes. Her surroundings looked frighteningly familiar, and there was a simple reason for it. It was the same forest she’d been looking at in the book.

Only now she was in it.

She lay back down, willing herself to feel the hard wood of the bench beneath her back. She was dreaming. Or she was delirious. Yes, that was it. Twenty-four years of sneaking cola drinks for breakfast had finally taken its toll, and she had been tossed into a sugar-induced hallucination. No more soda for breakfast. She crossed her heart as she made that vow. That box of truffles was definitely going into the Dumpster. No more peanut butter and jelly either. Who knew what sorts of terrible things peanuts could do to a person’s mental state? And pizza? She’d never touch the stuff again.

Unfortunately, all her solemn vowing didn’t help her ignore the mounds and dips of the uneven forest floor beneath her back and legs.

She took a deep breath and opened her eyes again. The sky was just growing light. Well, yes, that was sky. She had seen sky before and knew what it looked like. She sat up and reached out to touch the grass. It was stiff and resilient under her fingers. She plucked a blade of grass and bit into it. It tasted real enough. She rose unsteadily to her feet, turned and put a shaking hand on the tree. The bark was rough under her fingers.

She looked down at herself, hoping she would see she had sprouted wings or something else that would convince her she was dreaming. She still had on the same jeans she had put on that morning, the same pair of shoes, the same baggy blue wool sweater and Alex’s leather jacket.

But no wings. No shiny monster scales. No pointy toes.

She checked her pockets. She had her house key, her driver’s license and her American Express card. Her dad always told her never to leave home without it and, since he paid the bill at the end of the month, she followed his advice religiously. But she had no hard cash. Not even a tissue in case she became hysterical. She tried not to think about that appealing alternative. Well, at least she had warm clothes. That was a plus. She could have lost her mind with her shoes off.

But that was where the pluses ended and the minuses began. She slowly pressed her forehead against the tree, putting her hands on the bark in an effort to regain her balance. All right, so she had a fantastic imagination and it was currently running away with her. Soon she would wake up in the park and feel very stupid for having panicked. Right?

Right. She was dreaming. Wow, what an imagination she had. She envisioned a self-help book in her future entitled Sugar and Historical Research–Never Take Them Together.

After another deep breath, she pushed away from the tree and looked around. And as this was just a sucrose-induced delusion, what did it matter what she did? She would simply put one foot in from of the other and walk until she was tired. At least she wasn’t hearing voices anymore. It wasn’t a bad trade-off.

The early morning sun spilled down into the woods, the beams separating into soft threads of light as they fell through the trees. The air was cold and crisp. Elizabeth rubbed her arms as she walked. Strange. She had never had such a discernible sense of temperature in a dream. Maybe she should add last night’s bedtime helping of Deep Chocolate–Chocolate Chip ice cream with hot fudge sauce over it to her list of Forbidden Sweets. She definitely didn’t want a repeat of her current situation.

She walked until the trees began to thin on her right. She paused. Well, she was where she was. No sense in not having a good look around.

A beautiful meadow opened up before her. She stared at it for several minutes in pure enjoyment. Delicious, flowery smells wafted past her on a current of air that was sharp and clean. She lifted her eyes to the far side of the flat expanse and saw another forest of tall trees, equally as beautiful as the forest behind her. Then she looked to her left.

She almost fell over in shock.

Rising up from the meadow, at the base of a craggy mountain, was a castle. Not an elegant French castle like Versailles, nor a comfortable English castle like Buckingham Palace, but a medieval castle. And it wasn’t the remains of a hall that sat so sternly on the face of the land; it was a hall in perfect condition. Smoke rose from the towers in thin streams, and distinguishable figures moved about in the village outside the castle walls.

The ground began to buck under her feet, and she realized belatedly that she was trying to faint. She sat down with a thump and put her hands on her head to stop it from spinning. Fantasy was fine, but this was going too far.

The earth continued to tremble. Elizabeth looked up in time to see two horsemen bearing down on her. Dream or no dream, there was no sense in being trampled. She jumped up and ran for her life.

Seconds later she felt the ground come up to meet her. Abruptly. A heavy body pinned her face down in the grass. She lost her breath, unable even to gasp at the pain of the lumpy field digging into her hips and chest. Good lord, I am going to die, she thought with a sudden flare of panic. Twenty-four years seemed too short a time to live, but who was she to argue with Fate?

The weight was suddenly gone, but she was far too stunned to move. She got help. She was hauled to her feet, and a rough hand grabbed her by the hair and pulled her head back. If she’d had any breath left, she would have cried out at the pain, then gasped in surprise at what she was.

A man no taller than she stood disconcertingly close to her, wearing the grimmest expression she had ever seen. His hair was reddish blond and hung down past his shoulders. While there was a tiny bit of hair braided on each side of his head, the rest was a tangled, matted mess. He was not handsome, and his angry expression made him appear positively gruesome.

As he looked at her, his expression changed. This new expression alarmed her even more than the first.

“Och, but you’re a fetching wench,” he rumbled.

He yanked her against him and crushed her lips under his. Elizabeth choked at the foulness of his breath. The man shoved her to the ground and fell on top of her. He fumbled with her clothes, then swore in surprise when he encountered her jeans. Before Elizabeth could open her mouth to beg for mercy, he had rolled off her and drawn his knife. She sat up and backed away, but not swiftly enough to evade the hand that grabbed her jacket.

“Stay where you are, wench.”

“Enough, Nolan!” another voice called from behind him.

“Go to the devil, Angus,” the first man snarled. “I’ll cut her clothes from her an’ have her just the same.”

“Jamie willna like it,” the other said firmly. “Put away your blade and leave her to me. I’ll take her to Jamie and he can decide her fate. Better that he give her to you than you take her and risk his wrath.”

Elizabeth’s breath came out as a half sob when the knife disappeared.

“You’re a comely wench,” the man called Nolan said. “Where’re you from? Where’d you find these garments?” He tugged at her coat.

Elizabeth could only look at him, too shocked to speak. Good grief, this was no hallucination!

Nolan suddenly heaved himself to his feet and spat in disgust.

“Take her, Angus. I canna abide foreign wenches, no matter how comely they be. Though I’ll have a go at her after Jamie’s done.”

Elizabeth put her face in her hands and shuddered. Nolan’s curses receded, and she felt the ground tremble beneath her as he rode away. The sound of a knee popping and the feel of a callused hand under her chin made her pulse race all over again. She lifted her gaze warily.

“What’s your name, little one?” the man asked.

She swallowed, and almost choked on the fear lodged in her throat. “Elizabeth,” she managed.

“A fine name, lass” he said with a smile, the skin around his eyes crinkling as he did so. He had a tooth or two missing and looked to be about fifty years old, though that was a guess at best. All she knew was his eyes were kind and his expression was gentle. Instinctively, she knew she had found an ally.

“Who are you?” she asked.

He smiled again. “Angus, my lady. Come, and I’ll take you to the MacLeod.”

The MacLeod? Elizabeth felt her tremble begin again. Angus helped her to her feet, then took her arm.

“’Tis not safe for a young lass to be out wandering so. Have you lost your lord?”

“Ah,” she stalled, “I have no lord.”

“How did you come here?”

“I wish I knew.”

He looked at her appraisingly but commenced walking toward the castle, his hand firmly under her elbow. His horse followed like an obedient dog. Elizabeth felt terribly conspicuous as they passed through the village, even though Argus had obviously chosen a back route. The villagers who looked at her crossed themselves. She didn’t want to speculate on the reasons why.

Angus led her through a set of heavy wooden doors and into a dark cavern. Ah, the Great Hall. Elizabeth took one look and started to wheeze. Rushes were strewn over the floor. Dogs lay near the enormous hearth the dominated the room. Wooden tables were set up around the hall, torches hung along the walls in heavy metal brackets. The very smell of the place was blinding.

“Here, lass,” Angus said softly. “Take your seat and rest for a bit.”

Elizabeth sank down gratefully onto a hard, wooden chair near the fire, then accepted a metal goblet. She sniffed at the contents. Wine? Angus put his hand around hers and tipped the cut toward her.

“Drink, child. It will soothe your nerves. I’ll be back to fetch you soon.”

Elizabeth heard Angus walk away, but she didn’t look up. She could feel other pairs of eyes staring at her. She focused on the cup in her hands and the chilled wine sliding over her tongue and down her throat. There was absolutely no way she was going to look up and see who might be giving her the once-over. She pulled her feet up into the chair with her and tried to hide her jean-covered knees under her brother’s coat. Concentrate on the fire, she told herself, turning toward the hearth and paying attention only to the heat that whispered against her face. With any luck, whoever was running this place would be a kindly old elf who would take her back to the forest and show her the way out of her hallucination.

As if in answer to her prayer, the front door opened.

And closed with a resounding bang.

“Someone fetch me ale!” a voice thundered. “Angus!”

Elizabeth prayed the creator of such a bellow would overlook her. She sat perfectly still in hopes that she would blend in with the furniture.

A heavy tread came her way and she held her breath. Bruising hands grasped her arms and hauled her to her feet. She looked straight ahead, finding that the top of her head came to the man’s chest, right at the collarbone. She tilted her head back and looked up at the man’s face. She sucked in her breath and dropped her cup. If her captor hadn’t had hold of her arms, she would have collapsed in a heap at his feet.

It was the man from her dream.

Now she was sure she was hallucinating. The being standing a hand’s breadth away from her was tall and built like her brothers. His dark hair was thick, hanging well past his shoulders. The firelight flickered over his finely chiseled features, highlighting his cheekbones, his firm lips and his unyielding jaw. Though his face was beautifully sculpted, his eyes were what drew her gaze. They were still the color of pine framed by long sooty lashes. His eyelashes would have been the envy of any woman.

His mouth had gone slack, and an expression of amazement sat squarely on his features. He stared at her for several moments, his mouth twitching, as if he struggled to speak.

“Who are you?” he asked, finally.

What a voice he had. Dark, warm, rich. She had the insane desire to curl up in his arms and ask him to tell her a very long story, something that would require him to talk for hours on end. She stared up at him, unable to speak.

And he was staring at her as if he’d just seen a ghost.

“Your name,” he said, that look of astonishment still plastered to his face. “I think I asked you your name.”

“Elizabeth,” she whispered.

The man looked even more startled.

“Elizabeth?” he echoed.

She nodded. “Elizabeth Smith.”

He continued to stare at her for what seemed an eternity. Elizabeth could only stare back, speechless. It was the same man. His accent was the same. The way he said her name was just the same. His eyes, those beautiful green eyes, were just exactly how she’d dreamed them. She could have looked into them forever.

She looked at his mouth and saw it was moving. She shook her head to clear the attack of the giddies she’d just had.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I wasn’t listening. What did you say?”

“I said, you sound English and we’ve no use for English here,” he said, with a frown, “except as serfs.”

“Huh?” Elizabeth said, snapping back to reality.

“Serfs,” the man repeated, his frown deepening. “If that.”

It was then she realized he too had shaken off whatever trance had held him initially. His look of astonishment had been replaced by one of displeasure.

“But, I’m not English,” she protested quickly. That was the last thing she needed–to be mistaken for serf material. “I’m American.”

“American?” he repeated. “What is american?”

“United States? Below Canada?” She frowned at his blank expression. Good grief, what kind of backwoods delusion was this anyway? “We won our freedom from England two hundred years ago?”

He grunted, obviously dismissing her answer. “Be that as it may, still you trespass on my lands. How did you come here?”

“I’m not exactly sure how I got here,” she said, defensively. “I didn’t ask to get dumped into this dream.”

“Your accent is passing strange,” he rumbled. “Who are you? Damn you, girl are you a Fergusson?” He shook her. “Speak the truth, if you’re capable of it.”

Gorgeous though he might have been, the man had just pushed one of her buttons. Elizabeth stiffened in spite of herself at the arrogant tone of his voice. It was the same tone her brothers tended to use when verbalizing their doubts about her intelligence and/or common sense.

“Who are you?” she retorted, sticking her chin out.

Mouthing off to a man twice her size wasn’t very diplomatic, nor was it exceptionally wise, but she had grown up in a houseful of boys and knew how to hold her own. Show them from the beginning that you aren’t afraid, unless you never want to live down cowardice.

“I am James MacLeod,” the man said, his tone curt.

She looked at him blankly.

The MacLeod!” he shouted. “Damnation but you are an insolent wench. A good beating might serve you well.”

Well, his manners had certainly been better in her dream. This wasn’t working out at all. He was supposed to be crushing her in his arms and telling her not to leave him. He was not supposed to be eyeballing her as a potential slave, nor was he supposed to be planning to do her bodily harm.

What she needed to do was get out of his hall until she could figure out what was going on. Maybe she’d drop him a line from a nice little hotel and suggest they meet over a cappuccino.

Elizabeth shook off his hands with an effort.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just be going.”

“You’ll not move–”

All right, so being polite wasn’t going to cut it. Elizabeth brushed past him and walked swiftly toward the door. His heavy tread followed her. Fortunately none of her brothers were around to call her chicken for what she was about to do. Without another thought, she left her pride behind and fled.

The rushes weren’t cooperative. Not only were they uncooperative; they were wallowing in a layer of slime. Before Elizabeth knew it, her sneakers had become as slick as new dress shoes on carpet and she was out of control.

She felt herself falling, right toward the wooden bench that looked a great deal like the picnic table in her parents’ back yard, right through the MacLeod’s strong arms, right down into nothingness.

She felt a sharp pain as her head connected with the wood, and her elbow connected with the stone floor beneath the slime..

Willingly, she surrendered to the blackness, her last thought a prayer that she would wake up on her comfortable, dirty apartment floor.