Highland Shifter
Page 16

 Catherine Bybee

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He hit the floor with a thunk, scrambling his brain and his aroused lower body parts.
“What the H. E. double L. do you think you’re doing?”
“It’s called a kiss, love, or hasn’t anyone from this time introduced you to them?” With as much dignity as he could muster from the floor, Simon lifted his taut chin in her direction.
“I know what kissing is. Don’t be absurd.” The blush rising up her neck spoke of innocence. An innocence Simon didn’t think Helen could possibly know. Then again, perhaps he was wrong about her.
Maybe the tough act was just that…an A.C.T.
Simon shook his head. Thinking of K.I.S.S.I.N.G. her was making him C.R.A.Z.Y.
He froze. Why was he spelling things out in his mind? He didn’t care for spelling tests when he was in school, he certainly didn’t think of how to spell words now.
Helen must have rattled more than his pride.
Without ceremony, Simon shoved himself from the floor.
“What is it?” she asked, backing away like a frightened child.
Innocent. Her body language screamed it. And he’d nearly destroyed the trust they were building with a simple seduction. He wanted to reach out to her now and offer comfort, but he didn’t think she’d welcome his touch.
“The books,” he said, backing away. Best to give her some space.
Confusion raced over her brow.
He scrambled to the front of the table and gathered the books they’d already examined. He positioned them next to each other on the table.
“What are you doing?”
“The answer is here.”
She stood beside him now, farther away than she’d been all day.
Looking over his shoulder, she asked, “Where?”
Focus, Simon. “Each book has a different title. Each title starts with a different letter.” He found the book he’d passed several times without so much as a glance. Hence Forth. “This starts with an H.” Simon placed it at the top left of the table and removed the other books to make room for others. He shifted through several books before he found the one he sought. Enlightening.
Both of their hands fell on the next novel, Living.
Helen pulled her hand away.
“These book titles are an acronym?”
“Aye. All this time we’ve looked for what’s inside, but what we see on the outside is what we wanted.”
They spelled out Helen’s name and stopped. Several more books were stacked up on the table. They sat back and studied the books that spelled out her name.
“I think you’re onto something,” she told him.
They managed Helen’s name but then faltered. There were plenty of books left over with many different outcomes for an acronym.
“Let’s write down the first word of the books and I’ll find a program that will calculate possible word combinations.” Helen scribbled the names of each of the books onto a piece of paper as they spoke.
“You mean a computer program?” It had been years since he’d thought of a computer.
“I’d forgotten how useful they were.” They were easy to live without, in sixteenth century Scotland.
“You really have been living in the dark ages, haven’t you?”
Simon shook his head. “Actually, the dark ages of Scotland were long before the turn of the century—the tenth century—or so I’m told. I do believe the time in which I live in Scotland will be remembered as the Renaissance period.”
“The word Renaissance makes it sound romantic. The guys trying to take me out with a sword ruined a perfectly good image in my brain.”
“The strong survive. If one isn’t strong, they must be wise enough to avoid conflict and keep quiet to avoid detection.” Simon moved to the couch while they talked, giving her as much space as she needed.
Helen wrote the names of the books down and pushed the papers aside. “How do the women protect themselves?”
“Their men protect them.”
“What if they don’t have a man to protect them?”
“Even the widows have the protection of Laird Ian. No one is abandoned when in need of our assistance.”
“Is that why you helped me out? Because you’ll help anyone on your grandfather’s land?”
“I’d like to think I’m an honorable man. Leaving a lone maiden scared and out of place would have damned me to a thousand years in hell. I’d have not been able to live with myself had I turned my back on you.”
Did she really believe he’d have left her alone if given the choice? Simon couldn’t help but wonder why she had such a low opinion of her worth. Or maybe she carried a low opinion of others.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, cutting her off. “The men trespassing on our land wouldn’t have offered their protection.”
“They looked like they wanted to kill me.”
“Killing you would have been merciful.”
She shivered. “That’s a pleasant thought.”
“Consider it a warning. If you managed to travel back to my time without me, you must stay in hiding until you can get word to my family. They will offer you protection.”
Helen’s hands were restless in her lap. The conversation might be uncomfortable, but it could save her life. “I’d have to trust someone to get a message to your family.”
“A wise person listens and studies who they approach before doing so.”
“Like you did with me?”
“You left me little choice. But had I stumbled upon you, I would have watched long before introducing myself.”
Helen hid a yawn behind her hand. “I don’t plan on returning to the sixteenth century, so your warnings really aren’t needed.”
“You chose to travel there before?”
“Well, no.”
“Then heed my words, Helen. I can’t be with you every moment of your day. Unless you want me by your side day and night.”
Helen’s head shot up, her eyes grew wide. “Ahh.”
“Calm yourself, lass. I’m only kidding.”
She wiggled a finger in his direction. “Men.”
Simon laughed, knowing he’d given her a chance to regain some of her earlier composure.
“I’m going to bed,” she announced. “Alone.”
“Sleep well.”
Simon watched her turn to leave the room. When she reached the door, he called out. “Helen?”