Katherine Stewart drove up Elm Street in a daze, her mind still on the troubling news she’d received the evening prior. Her sister was missing.
Mellanie had insisted on a solo trip to Scotland to study castles. She was an archaeology student in her final year at university, and that was her specialty. Her last sighting had been near one that was all too familiar to Katherine.
Her thoughts wandered back several years when she’d gone with Mellanie on a tour of Scottish castles. One, in particular, had drawn her attention—an abandoned, and decaying, red-stoned structure on the cliffs overlooking the North Sea. Through the decades, tourists had roamed the massive ruins, at different times, several tumbled over the jagged cliffs to their deaths while sea gulls screeched overhead amid the pounding waves.
She shuddered. What if her younger sister had done the same?
The hotel Mellanie was staying in reported that she hadn’t returned after having them pack her a takeaway lunch. The police were conducting an investigation and should contact her with an update soon.
The brakes ground out a moan as Katherine slammed the car to a halt at a red light. She rested her head against the steering wheel. No tears came. She’d cried too much last night.
“Oh, Mellanie, what have you done?” She raised her head and blinked a few times to refocus, rubbing her temples. A garage sale buzzing with bargain seekers met her gaze. She smiled. Mellanie always said a real treasure could be found amongst the junk.
Katherine parked the car and cut the engine. Maybe this was a suitable diversion. She strode from table to table, browsing the many old family mementos—paintings, photos, antiquated jewelry. She paused when she spotted a dirt-encrusted, framed family pedigree chart. The earliest date went back to the birth of Ian Stewart, born in 1699. She hadn’t done genealogy research in years, but could this be part of her Stewart clan?
As she studied the sepia-toned document, another person stepped up, waiting to view it. Before they could, Katherine tucked it under her arm, offered an apologetic smile, and paid for it without haggling—never once glancing at the cost. She strode to her car and carefully placed it on the floorboard.
On the drive home, her mind wrapped around Mellanie, the castle, and the treasure she’d discovered at the sale. Maybe it was all a misunderstanding? Perhaps her sister would show up at any moment with a logical excuse for her two-day absence.
Katherine slipped into her garage and checked her phone. No missed calls or messages. She couldn’t stare at her phone, or she’d go insane. Instead, she took the framed chart inside, sat at her desk, and studied it carefully, inching her finger to each name, pausing now and again to retrieve a detail from her memory.
Arriving in the fifteenth century, she slowed her progress as she recognized a few names from her own investigation. She continued to trace through to the eighteenth century until she gasped, her heart racing. Her finger stalled over one very familiar name.
Tabitha Louise Stewart
Her sister’s name. Right there on the chart.
Katherine’s head swam. She grasped the chair arms for support. Was this some kind of elaborate prank or bizarre error?
Reason returned when she considered the possibility of a prank. Absurd. She dismissed that notion. But that meant…?
Scrambling to her knees, she searched for the family genealogy book among the clutter on the bookcase. Frantically, she flipped its pages until she found what she sought. A tear trickled onto the page open before her, names blurring, as she read:
Tabitha Louise Stewart, born 1995, disappeared from the northwest Scottish coastal town of Cruden Bay while touring an abandoned castle. Her body never found.
Katherine took a deep, shaky breath, and reread the paragraph. She slammed the book shut and switched on her computer. Within an hour, she’d made a reservation to fly to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, rented a car, and booked a hotel. She was going to Scotland to find her sister. The search would begin at the castle, yet something within her echoed that it was not in this time. But how can that be possible?
The flights had been pleasant enough, time passing quickly, as Katherine studied the genealogy information she’d brought with her. Her black and white printed backpack bulged with papers, books, and pedigree charts. She glanced at the screen on the seatback in front of her. Two more hours and she’d be in Edinburgh where she’d take the train up to Aberdeen and pick up her rental.
She hauled her thoughts back to the journal she’d furiously scribbled in for hours—noting any piece of information relating to the castle and the Clan Stewart. Mellanie had been obsessed with it all, but something kept bringing her back to this particular castle.
Her eyes grew heavy, thought better of continuing her research, and put everything away. She needed to be focused and alert when she got to Edinburgh. The train would take well over two hours to get to Aberdeen, then she’d drive nearly an hour up the coast to her hotel, which was less than a mile from the castle. The same place she and Mellanie had stayed on their joint trip. The same hotel Mellanie had been staying when she’d disappeared. She’d question the staff and speak to the police in person.
Katherine woke to the slow thump, thump, thump of the train coming to a stop at the Aberdeen Rail Station. She’d slept the remaining two hours of the flight into Edinburgh and again on the train out of Waverley Station. She felt refreshed and able to make the short drive to her hotel—and to the castle.
She took in the welcoming blue of the sky, few clouds drifted above as the soft breeze ruffled her hair. After tossing her carry-on bag onto the back seat, she slammed the door, and, with care, placed her backpack onto the passenger seat. The glance she gave it as she slid the car into drive made her wince. Mellanie should be sitting there, not names and places on sheets of paper as if the mere presence of ink made it real.
Now she was being maudlin. She would find her sister. Wherever or whenever she was. “Why do I keep saying that?” she whispered to herself. The whole idea was absurd, but it conjured a distant memory of her sister.
Mellanie was a butterfly, flitting from one historic site to the next with a time travel novel under an arm and her tools of the trade under the other. Those interests had jumpstarted at the tender age of ten when their mother caught Mellanie in the backyard digging up one of her prized roses. Mellanie had matter-of-factly said she’d read in a book about time capsules, and she planned to find one and travel to the past.
When their mother had explained what a time capsule was, she’d taken it hard, uncharacteristically arguing with her. Mellanie was a kind, even-tempered child—pliable unless it came to her notions of time travel and archaeology. She was driven and focused, and, even in high school and college, she never dated, deeming men a waste of her valuable time.
Tears threatened as Katherine thought of her baby sister, somewhere all alone, possibly hurt or worse.
God, please let her be safe. Help me find her.
Katherine eased out of the parking spot and began the last leg of her journey. Once out of Aberdeen, she chose the road that wound its way along the coast, paralleling the North Sea’s shore, avoiding the motorways. Views of the sea came and went as she steered the car along the road edging ever nearer to Cruden Bay.
Arriving at her hotel, she grabbed her bags, her feet crunching on the gravel lot to the hotel entrance adjacent to the golf course. In the distance, she glimpsed the sprawling castle perched above the cliffs. It was a magnificent sight, so vast, so impressive to have stood for hundreds of years. Now abandoned to time.
Katherine checked in, climbed the stairs to her room, and unceremoniously deposited the bags on the bed. She stood, hands clasped behind her back, studying the view of the castle from the window, reminiscing that they’d stayed in this room previously. Although it was early afternoon, the exploring could would wait until the next morning. That would give her a full day to investigate. After freshening up, her backpack slung over one arm, she dashed downstairs to the bar. Locals would be there, and maybe someone would know something about Mellanie. Dinner could be spent next door at the cozy dining room decorated with framed prints of local scenes.
She was greeted with friendly nods and ‘ayes’ as she walked in, heads turning from the barstools. A middle-aged woman behind the bar told her to sit anywhere. As she made her way to a small table by the window a voice over her shoulder called, “Where ye came from?”
Katherine turned to give her inquisitor a tired smile and found him to be an older man with thick while hair and a pleasant face. “Aberdeen.”
He laughed a deep throaty laugh, followed by a wry grimace. “Oh, aye? Ye don’t sound like ye hail from Aberdeen.”
“Sorry, jet lag you know.” She blushed, realizing her mistake. “I’m from the States.”
He gave her another dry look. “Figured that. Does the U.S. not have a few cities to speak of?”
At least the stress of the past few days hadn’t robbed her of all humor. She laughed. “Yes, I suppose it does. I’m from Savannah, Georgia.”
“Thought I heard a southern accent there.” He took a sip of his drink and held his glass up. “Would ye like a pint?”
“That’s kind of you, but I was hoping for a cup of tea.”
He nodded, waved at the woman behind the bar, who returned the nod. To Katherine’s surprise, he stood to what appeared to be over six-feet tall and walked to her table. He tilted his head slightly and asked, “Do ye mind a bit o’ company? I believe ye have some questions to ask.”
Katherine started. “What?”
“I’m no loon tryin’ for yer attention. Ye favor a lass that came in here a few weeks back.” He dropped into the chair across from her. “The one who disappeared among the ruins.”
She stared at him. “Do we really favor that much?”
The bartender approached with her tea and gently placed it in front of her. “Would you like to see the menu, dearie?”
Katherine told her yes but that she’d have tea first.
The man held out his hand. “I’d be Benjamin Douglas.”
She shook it. “Katherine Stewart.”
“Had some interestin’ conversations with yer sister.” He sipped his drink. “Mellanie’s a right nice lass.”
Katherine turned to peer out the window at the late afternoon sky. “Yes, she is.” She brought her gaze back to his. “What do you know about her?”
When he smiled, the furrows around his eyes deepened. “Thought ye may ask.”
“Yes, I came to find her. I just don’t believe she’d be so careless to fall over the cliff. She’s an archaeologist—a very good one at that. She’d have prepared for all situations, and she was… is very athletic and in great shape. So, I know she’s …”
Benjamin’s face grew somber, and something in his eyes told her he knew more than he was letting on. She studied him over the rim of her cup. “Mr. Douglas, is there something you’d like to tell me? I’d really appreciate anything at all that you may know about Mellanie and what she’d been doing here.”
“It’s Ben. I know I’m an auldjin, but I still like to be called Ben.” His eyes crinkled. “And what do ye mean to be called?”
“Katherine,” she told him without hesitation.
“What, no Kat or somethin’?”
“Nope. I’ve always been of a mind that if you name a child something, that’s what you should call them.” Another memory tugged at her. “Although, sometimes, people decide they don’t like their names and start calling themselves something else.”
“Yes. Her real name is Tabitha. She hated it from the time she could speak in full sentences and informed her family that her name was Mellanie. When I questioned her, she said she refused to be call Tabby.” Katherine folded her napkin over and over until it became one of the origami creations she’d learned in second grade. It lay on the table mocking her. She’d taught that bit of craft to Mellanie when she was old enough to fold paper. She watched Ben’s eyebrows rise as he stared at it. He sat there, entranced, hands wrapped around his glass.
“What is it?” She touched his forearm. “Ben?”
He finally met her eyes. “Mellanie made one for me.” He took a hurried gulp of his drink. “The night before she disappeared.” His face paled. “And …”
Katherine waited, patiently, seeing he was having trouble forming his words.
“The other was found up at the castle.”
She shrugged. “Why is that unusual? She’d been up there exploring, probably sat to eat her lunch and made one while she was resting afterward.”
He placed a gnarled hand over Katherine’s. “Aye, lass, but this one had my name on it.”
“Your name?” Katherine jerked her hand back. “Why?”
“I don’t know. It’s strange, the whole lot, especially where it was found.”
“What difference does that make?” Katherine asked, not following his train of thought.
“In a place where she wouldna’ been eatin’ her lunch. It was in the castle’s cellar. A place where visitors go to hide what they’re doin’ and toss their rubbish. Tis a shame.”
“Do you mean teenagers having parties and such? Yes, I’ve seen some things they’ve left there.”
“Aye. Forgot that ye’d been here before and seen the place.” He shook his head, thick grey hair rippling. “Shameful.”
“Yes, it is. But I see what you mean about Mellanie not resting in that cellar. It was dark and littered with trash. It made her angry. I wouldn’t put it past her to take a light and a trash bag and go down there to clean it herself.”
He chuckled. “Aye.”
A sudden thought struck her. “Ben, maybe she’d made it for you and dropped it while she was doing just that—cleaning up.”
“But she’d already given me one.”
“Oh, well, then why did this one have your name on it?”
He studied her.
“What are you thinking?” She squinted, willing him to tell her.
He leaned back in his chair. “There was some kind of message on the paper that no one can decipher.” He swallowed hard—audible. “I think she left it for me ta find.”
She stretched out her hand toward him. “Do you have it with you?”
“Na. The police have it. Part of the investigation.” His look was thoughtful. “Since she’s yer sister, they’d let ye see it. They questioned me, but I’ve nothing to tell them.”
“What kind of writing was it?
He shrugged. “Perhaps a code. Only time I’ve seen anythin’ like it afore was in a book about the great war. A code book.”
Sounded like Mellanie. She used to leave coded notes to Katherine when she wanted to tell her something rather than just saying it. Humoring her made her happy. A pang of fear ran through Katherine. Was this another one of Mellanie’s games?
“Katherine,” Ben whispered. “I think Mellanie found somethin’ in that cellar, and she was taken away somewhere. But she left a clue on that wee bit there.”
“What do you mean somewhere?” Before she’d left, her mind had said some time. A thought like a splash of ice water hit her. “Ben!” She grabbed her backpack and frantically rifled for a copy of the page she’d found in the genealogy book and thrust it at him. While he was scanning it, she snatched her cell phone up and quickly located a picture she’d taken of the framed pedigree chart.
She showed him the picture and the copy. He studied both carefully, his eyebrows rose when she saw his finger perched over Mellanie’s name. He returned to the pedigree chart then stilled. “Ian Stewart.”
It was not a question—but a statement. A revelation shone in his eyes.
“Does that name mean something to you, Ben?”
His response was immediate. “Aye.”
Katherine grew impatient. “Well?”
He shook his head. “Don’t rightly know what to make of it. Ian Stewart is one of my ancestors too. Strange. He was a kind of legend ‘round here. Real hero he was. Big brute of a man so the stories have been passed down.” Then, he slammed his palms on the table, and Katherine jumped, the glassware skittering across the surface. Rising to his feet, he told her, “Let’s be on our way to the police.”
A woman’s voice rose above the now bustling room, which Katherine hadn’t noticed until now. Several men sat at the bar chatting, two others played pool across the room, balls clinking against one another, raucous laughter ricocheting. “Ben, ye loon, let the lass eat first. She didna’ come to have you herd her ‘round the countryside.”
“Oh, aye. Sorry, lass.” He sat with a thump.
Katherine smiled. “No worries.”
He gave her a sheepish grin before waving the woman over while Katherine perused the menu and ordered. The woman gave Ben a playful slap on his shoulder before heading for the kitchen.
After a quick meal, Katherine led Ben to her rental car. He settled into the passenger seat and gave her a pointed look. “You think ye can read it? The code.”
She shrugged and shared with him about her sister’s obsession with ciphers and the game between them. Driving to the police station, they talked about combing the cellar for any clues—even though she’d been informed the police had carried out a thorough search.
At the station, Ben walked surefooted across the deep gravel of the car park despite his age. A police vehicle pulled up, and a young male officer got out and approached them.
“Hiya, Ben. Still pickin’ up the lasses these days I see.” The man joked good-naturedly. “Always knew you were an old letch.”
“Aye, Thomas, aye. But ye got it all wonky, this fine lass found me, not the other way ‘round.” His eyes gleamed with mischief as he glanced at Katherine.
“Thomas Mclean, this is Katherine, Mellanie’s sister.”
Thomas studied her. “Oh, aye.” He rested his hands on his utility belt and gave her a piercing look. “Sorry ‘bout your sister. Nice lass.”
Katherine met his direct gaze. “Thank you. Are you working on her case?”
“I’m assisting the main investigator.” Thomas kicked at the gravel and said in a husky voice, “Again, sorry we’ve found nothing yet.”
“Thomas, could you let Katherine see that scrap of paper you found?” Ben asked.
Thomas eyed Katherine. “Aye, if ye’d like. Don’t know if it’d help, but come on in. It’s written all the way ‘round on all sides and corners. Makes no sense at all.”
“I may be able to decipher it. My sister has a fondness—no—a fascination with codes since she was a small thing.”
Thomas smiled. “My brother had a likin’ for caves, especially mense ones.”
Ben released a guttural laugh. “Ah, lass, that means immense. Ye may be needin’ a Scots dictionary. They sell’ em at the shops.”
It was Katherine’s turn to laugh. “Maybe I do.”
They followed Thomas into the one story, modern tan brick building and straight through the reception area to a small room with a metal desk at its center. He removed a file from the desk, thumbing through it until he found the wrinkled piece of origami nestled in a plastic sheet protector. He held it out to Katherine who accepted it with a slightly shaking hand. She glanced over it but knew she’d need privacy to digest all the squiggles and drawings. “If you’ll make a copy, I’d appreciate it. I’ll go over it tonight. If I find out anything, I can call you tomorrow before I go to the castle.”
Ben gave Thomas a sideways glance.
Katherine stared at them. “What?”
Ben coughed as Thomas answered her. “I think I should go to the castle with you tomorrow.” He shrugged and said with a disarming smile. “For safety.”
Katherine rose before dawn, backpack fully loaded with supplies, a flashlight, and bolstered courage as she made her way down the path from the village to the castle. The birds tweeted and fluttered in the trees overhead, the forest alive with morning sounds and water gurgling in the stream running toward the sea.
After what she’d deciphered on the paper the night before, she couldn’t wait any longer to go to the castle—with or without Officer Thomas Mclean.
She ambled around the castle in the dawn’s pale glow, hiking boots quiet on the compacted dirt from tourist traffic. The cellar was easy to find, but as she stood in the opened doorway, she peeked down into the cave-like space. It was the same as when she and Mellanie had last been there together. Her flashlight revealed built-in stone cubby holes with arched openings.
Katherine removed the copy of the drawing, holding it to her light to see the etching once again. It was a diagram of the room focusing on one particular storage hold—the one to her left facing the opposite wall. She entered the room and located the correct nook.
“How am I going to find any clues among all this trash?” She released an exasperated sigh and whispered, “God, please show me the way to find my sister.”
Leaning into the space, she guided the beam along the dirt-encrusted floor and tossed trash behind her as she hunted for any trace of Mellanie’s visit there.
Once she’d cleared the trash, Katherine raked her gloved hand over the dirt, smoothing it out. Her hand met with resistance over one pile. She moved it with extra force and unearthed a small lumpy object. She brushed it off in her hand to reveal a small brown drawstring bag.
Katherine’s breath hitched. She knew this bag. She removed her gloves and opened it and poured the little stones into her palm, sifting through them with her index finger. Nothing else was there.
As a child, Mellanie had been attracted to any pebble with a smooth, colorful surface and saved each one in a tiny pouch. This bag was undoubtedly her sister’s. But was it the clue Mellanie spoke of on the coded paper? This place was where she’d been when she disappeared. But how?
Katherine knelt and scuttled into the storage compartment. Her flashlight flickered, then died, leaving her in near darkness, the only thread of illumination filtering in through the entrance door from the corridor. She sighed with feeling, closed her eyes, and whispered a prayer. When she opened them, she saw the shaft of radiance in the room move, flitting from side to side. She froze, holding her breath.
The sound of footsteps, then voices, sounded from the corridor. She slipped, scattering debris into the room. She heard a man say, “Hey, Tom, down here.”
“Tom?” Katherine said to herself, then louder she called out, “Ben, is that you?”
A bright light in her face was the answer. “Aye, there ye are, lass. Thought you’d come down here without us, we did. We were worried about ye and knowin’ how determined ye were, thought we’d have a look-see.”
Katherine heaved a great breath, her shoulders rising and falling with the effort. She kept her perch in the hold as Thomas entered the room, a concerned expression on his face. “Guys, while I realize your concern, I want to do this alone.”
Thomas leaned in to see into her face fully. “Ahh, there ye are. Might I ask what’re you doin’ in there, sittin’ in the dark?”
Katherine couldn’t take her eyes from his. It was something in them that held her, intrigued her, though they’d only met yesterday. All she could do was hold out her hand to show them the bag and stutter a reply, “My flashlight died.”
“I ken that.” He smiled, extending a hand to retrieve the bag and with the other handed over a flashlight, their fingers brushing. Katherine switched on the light, attempting to ignore the thrill from his touch. She turned to explore the area again, when suddenly her light as well as Ben’s went out.
The light from the corridor dimmed to nothing, thrusting them into utter darkness. Within seconds, the cellar was lit by candlelight from lanterns hanging around the room. Katherine perched in the cubby with Thomas hovering at its entrance. Ben was nowhere to be seen.
Thomas’s jaw slackened, and he met her eyes. “Where are … what …?”
A sinking feeling twisted Katherine’s insides as she stared back at him, then scrutinized the room filled with items not there only seconds ago. It was if they were in a completely different place—yet it was the same castle cellar as before, just newer, much newer.
Katherine whispered, “Thomas? What happened?”
He took her hand and helped her from the hole but didn’t let go. He reached out to touch a nearby bag of what seemed to be grain. Barrels were stacked in a corner marked with what appeared to be ale. In silence, they took it all in.
“Is this what a mass hallucination is like?” Katherine muttered. “If it is …” She stopped speaking at the sound of footsteps, clipping a staccato on wooden floors in the corridor.
Thomas pulled her behind a large barrel, shoving her down into a crouch. He put an index finger to his lips, and she raised her eyebrows and mouthed, “Really?”
His noiseless response was a quirk of his mouth and an unapologetic shrug.
Voices added to the clip of shoes. “Ye canna do it. Her ladyship willna allow it. Dinna ye see?”
The response was muffled as the voices faded away from their hiding place. Katherine let out a breath she’d been holding. “Thomas, what can we do? This is unbelievable, and I’ll admit downright frightening.” He met her eyes. “Have we somehow traveled to the past?”
He let go of her hand and placed an arm around her shoulders. It was then she realized he was not in uniform but wearing faded jeans, hiking boots, and a brown jacket. Her gaze took him in, from head to toe—and he began to return the scrutiny, a nervous smile playing on his lips.
Someone’s entrance to the cellar stilled them, locked in each other’s arms. Whistling echoed in the chamber while the person rustled about the room. A curse was uttered by a man’s voice. He paused, then whistling resumed, and he shuffled out of the room.
Katherine rested her forehead onto Thomas’ shoulder, breathing rapidly, and whispered, “We’ve got to get out of here.”
Thomas held her by the shoulders and eased her back to peer into her face, shaking his head. “I dinna know what’s happened, but we must find out without being seen. You stay here, and I’ll have a look-see.”
She shook her head. “I’m not going anywhere—or staying here without you.” Her shoulders sagged. “Thank you for coming to find me. Had this happened to me alone, I’d likely fall apart. I’m a hotel manager for Pete’s sake—not Mrs. Indiana Jones!”
Thomas released a smoky laugh. “Aye. Let’s go and find out where we are.”
Hand-in-hand, they stepped out into the corridor and took slow, measured steps, peering carefully into open doorways or windows. In a short distance, they stood at what Katherine told Thomas was the center of the castle, which featured a small octagonal courtyard. It was ethereal for Katherine to see the magnificent structure whole, blooming with flowers and sweet-smelling scents, full of greenery, a stone bench against each wall, and arched openings to be viewed through as one walked along a corridor on each side.
A shout shattered the quiet. “John, John! Where are ye, lad!” The pounding of many feet upon planks sounded down the corridor. Katherine and Thomas dropped to their knees just out of sight of the opening.
A man’s booming voice reached them as it passed. “Aye, what ails ye?”
This time a grating woman’s voice answered, “Tis Ian. Taken the girl. Dinna ken where.”
The man cursed, then released a pained “‘Ach, woman.”
“No cursin,’ ye lump. The mistress will have yer head.”
“Aye, aye. Be off now. We go to find the lass.” He coughed. “The mistress tis fond of the strange one since she did appear from tha’ mist.”
“Aye, I ken Ian toss the lass on his horse and rode north.”
Katherine and Thomas looked questioningly at one another. Mellanie.
She tilted her head toward Thomas and leaned close to whisper, the scent of musk soap, sweet and clean, meeting her nose. “I know when we are?”
He gave an incredulous expression.
“Thomas, you know we’re at the castle in the past, right? It’s the eighteenth century. Mellanie has told me so much about its past and the dialect of the time. I’ve walked these halls and rooms with her. You see what condition it’s in now—like it was just built.” Katherine paused. “She’s living a dream. But we’re here to find her. We must go after this man who has taken her, and—”
“And get her back,” Thomas said, finishing her thought with a reassuring smile.
Katherine and Thomas made their way from the courtyard to the castle entrance. They’d passed through the massive structure without being discovered. Everyone must’ve been out combing the area for Mellanie. They crouched inside an empty horse stall. One horse remained—a huge grey. Thomas led the horse from the stall and began placing a saddle and other trappings onto the beast while Katherine watched him with admiration.
She patted the horse’s neck. “You appear to know what you’re doing.”
“Oh, aye. Know a bit about horses.” He finished his task, mounted the horse with ease, and held out his hand to her. “Put yer foot there.” He nodded toward the stirrup.
Katherine did as she was told, and he pulled her up to ride behind him. She grabbed him around his waist with both arms. A very fit waist. She settled in as he eased the horse from the stable. She pointed out the large opening to the hill beyond the castle that led to the village. He heeled the horse, and they flew from the grounds, made a right turn, and headed north.
Katherine noticed trees stood thickly where, in their time, it was pasture. They rode toward the cliffs edging the North Sea.
Why would this man, Ian, take Mellanie this way? Katherine turned the thought over in her head and remembered something her sister had told her on their trip. That to travel by ship one would have gone north up the coast to Peterhead to sail. Would her sister be taken aboard a ship to who-knows-where?
She grasped Thomas’s waist tighter and squeezed her eyes shut. No, her sister would not be taken from her.
“Hurry, Ian may be taking her to board a ship. If he succeeds, we’ll never find her!” Katherine shouted to be heard over the great gusts of wind, sending long grass and tree limbs into jerks and twists.
Thomas nodded and pushed the horse harder. They rode for another ten minutes or so when he slowed, glanced over his shoulder at Katherine, and signaled for her not to speak. He pointed to a copse of aspens at their left. When Katherine glanced in that direction, she glimpsed purple fabric—Mellanie’s favorite color, then a horse and a man sliding off it.
Mellanie was talking to him, and he grabbed her arm to jerk her to him. Katherine’s anger rose to new heights. Thomas steered the horse behind an outcropping of rock, got off, and drew her down after him.
She lunged forward, and he grabbed her. “Let me go. I’m going to slap that guy senseless for manhandling my sister!”
He cupped her face in one hand and kissed her fully. She tensed but before he could release her, she returned the favor, her arms slid over and around him.
He released her. “Are ye crazy, lass?” He waved his hand to the tree line away from Mellanie and her abductor. “We’ll quietly go ‘round that way, and I’ll grab him from behind while you get yer sister.” He waited for her response.
Katherine nodded her approval, embarrassed to realize he’d kissed her only to keep her silent. They set off, crab walking low in the grass, keeping their eyes on the pair as they moved. By the time they reached them, Mellanie was sitting on a log with her back to the man.
He spoke quietly as he stood over her. “Dinna ye see, Tabitha. Tis the only way. Ye canna go back to tha’ castle.”
Katherine cringed. He had called her Tabitha and she hated that name. She wanted to hurt the man even more.
Mellanie threw an angry glare over her shoulder at him. “Ian, I can’t go back if I’m not in that castle.” She gestured in the direction they’d come from.
The comment made Katherine freeze. He wouldn’t allow her to return to her own time. What a jerk! And how did he know about the portal?
Thomas chose that moment to rush the man. Mellanie squealed, and once they were embroiled in the fight, Katherine stood watching Thomas fight the much taller, more muscular man with long wavy blond hair. Even though Thomas was a policeman and in great shape, this guy seemed deadly.
Mellanie jumped to her feet and began screaming, “Ian, stop! That’s Thomas.” She frowned and stepped forward to break the battle. “Thomas?”
Katherine broke from her stupor and rushed forward, calling, “Mellanie!”
Mellanie turned, and her face registered shock. “Katherine, you found my clues.” She rushed to her sister and grabbed her into a big hug. “But why’d you bring Thomas?”
Katherine glanced his way where the men circled each other waiting for the other to throw the next punch. “He didn’t give me a choice.”
Mellanie narrowed her eyes. “Really?”
Katherine shook off the sweet reunion and grabbed Mellanie by the wrist and tugged her sister forward. “Come on, our horse is over here. We’ll get back to the castle and through the portal—or whatever you call it, and go home.”
Mellanie planted her legs, refusing to budge, as she watched the mean pummel each other. Thomas landed a hard blow to Ian’s jaw and made him stagger. No small feat. He recovered quickly and returned the jab with Thomas landing on his back.
“Stop it, both of you!” Mellanie broke free of Katherine and strode to Ian. The men parted just as she wrapped her arms around Ian’s neck and planted a bold kiss on his lips.
Katherine gasped, and Thomas called to her from the ground. “Aye, I can see yer sister is no’ happy here.” He rubbed his jaw and rose on unsteady legs.
She went to him and helped him rise, then they strode to the affectionate pair.
Katherine’s fury resurfaced but focused in a different direction. “Tabitha, what is going on here? I have been worried to distraction that you’d gone over the Bullers of Buchan to your death. Now I see you’re playing kissy-face with some highlander. How could you?”
A low throaty laugh came from Thomas. She sent him what she hoped would be a dead-serious glare, but it didn’t stop his laughter.
Mellanie stepped forward, her own anger swelling. Her voice was raised to match Katherine’s. “Ian was trying to stop me because he didn’t want me to go back, but I wanted to tell you in person why I must return in this time.”
Katherine’s fear and tension erupted. She pointed a finger at her sister, tears hovering. “So, you were just going to leave me for this hunk of meat here. Goodbye, au revoir, to you dear sister, though I’d never see again because you died over 300 years ago! And—”
“Katherine, would you shut up and listen!” Mellanie yelled, her face beet-red. She sighed, her expression softening. “You don’t understand.” She reached out to take Ian’s hand. “I belong here with my husband.”