Highland Shifter
Page 30

 Catherine Bybee

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Helen shook her head.
“Who raised you?”
The food started to flow around the table again, but ears were intent on her answers. “Foster parents…life. I have Mrs. Dawson,” she said defensively. Helen wasn’t completely alone.
“Mrs. Dawson is like us,” Simon said, as if the words meant she were part of a cult or religion. “She has a large, private estate where we will return.”
Ian scanned behind Simon. When the room was void of anyone but family, he said, “Tell us what happened.”
Helen nibbled on her meal as Simon explained what transpired since he’d left.
As his story unfolded, and the watchful eyes of his family sat in acceptance of every strange happening, Helen was reminded of how alone she’d been all her life. What would it have been like to have a family who accepted your word as gospel simply because they believed in you? All her life, she had to prove herself to anyone and everyone who crossed her path. With the MacCoinnichs, life didn’t roll that way.
As the adults spoke, the children attended to each other, the oldest helping the youngest with an occasional direction from an adult. Laird Ian listened, as did most of the men without so much as a creased brow or exclamation.
The women watched her.
The crazy thing was, when a servant stepped into the room the MacCoinnich’s skipped into casual conversation. “How is the meal? How high can Ian lift his sword?” The answers were given, and then as soon as they were alone, the chat shifted to the subject of Helen and Simon’s travel in time. The well practiced art of deception. Funny, Helen always thought deceit had a nasty connotation to the meaning. This family didn’t seem to have any bad vibes to speak of.
Yet, the entire meal was surreal.
Simon relayed the past few days, and Helen only offered answers to the questions he couldn’t answer.
Myra, who looked an awful lot like Amber, helped the children from the table and resumed what Helen thought were bedtime rituals. The adults moved to the massive hall and gathered around the hearth.
“What do you plan now?”
“We need to go back and determine what Philip was searching for.”
“He could be a petty thief,” Todd said. “Though, I doubt it.”
“I doubt it, too. He left with nothing and acted like a man with a secret.”
“Could he be Druid?” Amber asked.
“I didn’t get close enough to tell.”
Helen shrugged. “Don’t look at me. I didn’t know anything about Druids until last week.”
Lizzy laughed. “A few of us know the feeling. Crazy, isn’t it?”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“If he is Druid, there is no telling what he’s capable of.”
Helen glanced at Lora. “What do you mean?”
“Not all of us use our gifts for good.” For the first time that night, Cian spoke. During the entire meal, he’d only listened, his eyes occasionally drifting toward her. Because he chose that moment to speak, and because of the words he used, a cold dart of uncertainty traveled over her body.
“What do you mean? You think he might want to hurt me?”
Simon swung his head toward Cian, he eyes narrowed. “We shouldn’t speculate.”
“No, you need to investigate,” Todd said.
“Exactly. This is why we need to return. We’d like to go back with reinforcements.”
Simon watched the head of the house and waited for Ian to nod.
“Amber can help determine Philip’s intentions.”
Ian’s jaw tightened. But before he could say a thing, Simon added. “And Cian and I can escort Amber and Helen.”
Chapter Thirteen
After hardly sleeping the night before, Helen shoved aside the plush blankets on the softest bed she’d every lay and moved to the hearth to stoke the smoldering logs. The room was small compared to the one Simon slept in, but larger than the one in her apartment in California. The solitude of the past few hours helped ground her thoughts. For the first time in her life, she was surrounded by a loving family who thought of each other first, then thought of the world second. They accepted her as if they knew she was coming, and as if she’d play a vital part in their lives.
Throughout the previous evening, she was assured they’d help her find a way home. The only guarantees Helen had in her life were the ones she made happen so to trust in the Clan MacCoinnich was a huge step. She’d put aside her worry about being trapped in time and bask in the world unfolding in front of her.
She’d always appreciated art in its many forms. The tapestries, paintings, candelabras, and furnishings were all pieces of art that would sell in the thousands if not millions. Everything she saw had a practical use—well most of it. Tapestries and rugs kept the walls and floors warm. Still the cold from outside seeped into the rooms and reminded you there wasn’t any central heating system to ward off the chill.
The paintings were the only snapshots in time. Something Tara had encouraged the family to commission. Ian and Lora’s portrait dominated the main hall. Duncan and Tara along with Myra and Todd, Fin and Lizzy all had their portraits along the galley at the top of the stairs. Helen wondered where the paintings were in her century. She’d not seen them before, or she’d have remembered them. Maybe a private collector or a distant relative kept them hidden. She made a mental note to search them out when she returned home.
Helen poured water into a basin and washed away some of the sleep from her eyes.
Amber had told her to prepare for a solid day of learning the ways of Scotland in the sixteenth century. “Open your eyes and ears, but say little unless to me or the family. Best not to call attention to yourself.”
Impossible. Already the maids eyed her with cautious unease.
A soft knock on the door pulled Helen out of her thoughts.
“Come in.”
Amber glided into the room with two maids at her heels. “Good morning to you, Helen. I hope you slept well.”
“I did,” she lied.
“This is Lita and her sister Anabel. Both work wonders with a needle and thread and will help us tailor a few things for you to wear.”
The maids actually dipped into short curtseys before unloading their hands of the yards of material they carried.
Helen started to protest, but a stern look from Amber had her shutting her mouth before uttering a syllable. Open your eyes, close your mouth. I guess the lessons begin now.