Sword of the Highlands
She couldn't bear the silence. "I know who you are," she blurted out.
His smile flared to life like a newly lit candle in the darkness. "But of course, love." He winked. "All the lasses do, don't they?"
"You're James Graham. This is a dream."
"Well."—he caressed her thighs in renewed earnest—"I'm glad you find it so agreeable."
"No, I mean…" She shook her head. Time to wake up now. The room was dark, but so detailed in the shadows. She was in too deep. Wake up. She shook her head again, vigorously this time.
"Where am I?" Panic intensified her voice, and she hopped off the bed in a daze. "Why can't I wake up?" It all felt too real to be a dream. Needles prickled the soles of her feet and up the backs of her legs. She slapped at her thighs, waited a moment, then pinched her arm hard.
Magda turned to him. "Wake me up," she demanded. "I don't belong here. Why can't I wake up?" She stomped her feet then paced a quick circle around the room. She froze. "This!" She ran to a painting hanging over his fireplace. It was the portrait. Her portrait, from the Met. And the man sitting on the bed behind her was clearly the subject, with the same dark eyes and the nose and the mussed brown hair. The blood leached from her hands and the crown of her head, leaving her fingertips like ice. Frantic, she reached up, slapping her hands over and over along the surface. But the canvas lacked the energy she'd sensed at the museum. It was room temperature now, simply a painting hanging on a wall.
Had she been kidnapped? Did someone break into the museum, steal the painting, and take her? Except Walter said that the man in the painting died in… what was it? Sometime in the seventeenth century?
"Wait." She stepped backward. "What's your name? Who are you?"
"Back to this, then?" He moved toward her, and she flinched. He looked around the room as if he could find some answer there, then focused back on her. "James, love," he said slowly. "Still James."
"Aye." He canted his head, a funny smile lighting his face. "The marquis?"
"The very one."
She tentatively leaned closer, craning her head to analyze him more closely in the candlelight. Could he be a descendant? A look-alike distant relative? "So, like a great-great- grandson of the real James Graham?"
"No." Patience and confusion elongated the word from his mouth. "Simply James Graham. The very first and only Marquis of Montrose, at your disposal." He gave her a lighthearted bow. "Look here, love," James soothed, "it appears you like to stroll about in your sleep, so—" he put his arm around her shoulder and began to steer her to his door—"why not sleepwalk back to your room and there'll be none the wiser."
"I have no room." The pounding of her heart weakened, growing as shallow as her panting breath, until it skittered into the light tap-tapping of a sharp steel nail in her chest. "No?" James retrieved a fresh taper, and the virgin wick crackled brightly and briefly as he touched it to his bedside candle. He looked her over. "You're truly frightened, aren't you?"
Magda clutched at the skirt of her sundress, nodding frantically. "I'm having a nightmare."
"Be calm, hen. No harm will come to you." He reached his hand out as if to touch her, then, hesitating, brought it back to his side. "What 's your name?"
"Magdalen… Magda," she hesitated, seeing his blank look. James tilted his head and gave a quick smile at the unusual name. "Well, Magda, I think it best that you rest here, and we'll sort you out with the dawn."
"But… but I am asleep already, aren't I?" Magda was trembling now, her limbs cold and bloodless.
"Aye, so you shall be." He steered her gently toward his bed.
She flinched away from him, her panic giving one last desperate flare. Anxiety was smothering her, pressing down on her chest. "I… I…"
"You… you,"—he smiled—"need to rest your head a wee." James wrapped his arm firmly about her waist and eased her down to sit at the edge.
"Come now, hen." There was something about his masculine voice, murmuring so gently in the dark; Magda felt herself unspooling, ready to lean into him. Adrenalin had barreled through her, leaving her exhausted, unsteady. This is how the nightmare ends, she thought with relief. This strange man had been on her mind before she collapsed, and now he'd come to her dream, calming the chattering of her thoughts, easing her back into a mindless sleep.
She felt the bed's warmth at her seat, luring her, and she turned, crawling like a willing child under the covers. They still held his heat, and her body gave a single violent shiver as she nuzzled down low. Only then did she realize how chilled she was, how the utter cold at her feet had turned into a bone- deep ache. Sleep. She'd wake from this. But first, sleep.
* * *
He stared at the pale foot peeking out from underneath the blanket and imagined what it would be like to slide up that long, smooth leg.
James gave a quick shake of his head. The lass had been truly frightened. Now was not the time to let his mind wander. And yet the feel of those creamy thighs under his thumbs kept coming to him, bringing fantasies of slipping his hands further up, under the bodice of that dress, so thin, and hanging loose enough at the neck for tantalizing glimpses of flawless ivory décolletage.
Unsettled, James shifted in his seat. He didn't recognize her. With that strange accent, she wouldn't be a part of his staff. And what of the revealing shift she wore? The fabric was fine, a rich blue like the color of lapis, and surely hard to come by.
A friend of his sister's perhaps? But she'd see med terrified, and quite plainly out of her element. He'd felt her panic in her rigid legs, saw it in her eyes, flitting around the room as if she were a trapped animal.
Perhaps she was sick. That was the likeliest explanation, in fact. A blow to the head could cause such disorientation. But there was the matter of her personal effects. Tucking the covers around her, he'd felt a hard object in her pocket. Baffled, he sat there now. turning it over in his hand. It was hard as a rock and shone a uniform red. but wasn't crafted from any stone he'd ever seen. A silver band with a small pewter wheel capped one end of the device. The wheel sent sparks like flint, and James couldn't imagine what its use could be.
It was her peculiar bracelet, though, that had most troubled him. Ugly and black, it seemed some sort of magical contrivance, bearing dark numerals that flashed menacingly on a gray face.
James leaned in, staring at the woman on the bed as if that would give some clue as to her identity. Though leaner than his tastes ran, she was a beauty, with long hair the color of leaves in fall. When her broad, smooth brow had furrowed in fear, James thought his heart might break for the poor creature.
He was intrigued. His unflappable nature was a source of personal pride, but this Magdalen flustered him, and James found he savored the novel sensation.
Perhaps it was growing up so close with his sister, or maybe his many dalliances through the years but, until that moment, James had found few of the female sex who'd held much mystery.
Crossing his feet on the edge of the bed, he smiled. Any woman who could unsettle James Graham was one to keep close indeed.
Magda rolled onto her side. With her eyes still shut, she gathered one of the bed's many pillows between her legs and burrowed more deeply under the covers. A faint musk lingered there. She pulled the sheets higher over her shoulders and neck, tucking a cool patch close to her breast, and savored the scent of woods and dark spices.
A man's scent.
With a sharp intake of breath, her eyes shot open.
"Ah, she arises."
Magda bolted up onto her elbow, the icy gust of reality blasting away sleep's warm fog. Him. Still him. With that shoulder-length brown hair tousled from sleep, and a blue and green tartan wrapp ed haphazardly underneath his nightshirt.
Last night's panic had driven a deep rut; her body remembered it, instantly flooding once again with adrenalin enough to tremble her hands and warp her vision. She felt the chill returning, her face blanching and fingertips prickling into numbness, as if her body were being drained of blood.
Her eyes darted around the room. The same room from her dream. He'd drawn back the thick draperies, revealing a bay of three rounded windows. Though narrow, they stood taller than a man, and the morning sun shimmered over the glass with a blinding white haze that obscured the view to the outside world. The seaside sounds she'd heard the night before were even louder now, made richer by the heavy brackish scent that hung, not unpleasantly, in the room.
"You?" she managed. The man from the portrait did not suffer in the light of day. The body that had been hidden in shadow was impossible to ignore now, with long, lean muscles and the bearing of an appraising panther. "But you…"
Jame s regarded her with eyes more wide-set and somehow even blacker than they'd been painted, and Magda thought distantly that the portrait hadn't done them justice.
"Aye, lass"—he chuckled—"'tis still I, though I do recall we've already conferred at length on that topic, or were you well and truly sleepwalking?"
Pinning her with a disarmingly unreadable gaze, he added in a soft voice, "I knew the dress would match the eyes."
"Indeed," James said, shifting back to his cavalier tone. "I've procured some more… suitable … clothing, aye? You cannot very well troop about in your current state." He nodded toward a lump of predominantly green fabric heaped atop his desk in the corner. "Now, speaking of emeralds, hen, from what stone on earth has this little treasure been conceived?"
Magda couldn't tear her own gaze from James. His scrutiny over, he was biting absentmindedly on his lower lip, which, she only now noticed, was slightly fuller than the other. "Magdalen?"