Quinn by L.L. Muir
* * *
“Jillian. I beg ye to cease yer teasin’.”
Jules sat against the wall where the big man must have propped her up after she’d passed out, clearly due to a lack of food. She should have shoved a chocolate bar in her mouth before running down the side of the mountain. With no calories to burn, her body must have burned some brain cells instead, because nothing made sense. The hitter still hadn’t found the room, hadn’t shown up at the door, and hadn’t shot his way into the tomb. He sure as hell wouldn’t have given up.
Unless too many people had suddenly showed up for an evening tour...
Maybe he’d retreated and planned to come for her later. If so, she wasn’t going to wait around for him. But she couldn’t find the energy to stand.
Maybe that chocolate would help. Better late than never.
She pulled a bar from her pocket and ate it quickly.
“Jillian,” the big man said again.
Jules pointed to herself. “Jules. Okay? Jules. You call me Jillian again, and I’m going to have to hurt you.”
“Bah!” He turned away, then turned back. “If ye be Jillian’s sister, why did the lass never mention ye, let alone a sister who looks precisely like her?”
“I don’t know if she knows about me, actually. I mean, it would be an obvious excuse for her to use, but it’s not like she wouldn’t remember me, right? I mean, I remember her just fine. And if we’re identical, her memory should be just as good as mine.”
“She may not ken? Surely, when she saw yer face she realized—”
“She hasn’t seen me yet.” Jules held up a hand in the universal request of help me up.
It took him a second to take the hint, then he pulled her to her feet. “Hasna seen ye? And how did ye come to be in the witch’s hole then? I was of a mind Jillian and Monty would be guarding it a bit close, aye?”
It was a little embarrassing to admit to breaking and entering, but she’d had good reason.
“Two old women showed me how to get up inside, to hide. You know, from the guy who’s going to be coming through that door any second now?” She moved over to the wall beside the door and flattened herself against it.
Ewan just stood there in the middle of the room with his hands on his hips like he still didn’t believe there was any danger. But he looked none too pleased.
“Old women?” he asked. “Twins?”
Oops. They’d probably saved her life, or at least postponed her murder, and she’d ratted them out.
“Yes, twins. Like eighty or ninety years old, going on a hundred? They said they had another place they could hide, but the hole was my only option. You obviously know them, so that shoots your little fifteenth century story to hell.”
He nodded his head, but not like he was agreeing with her. “Muirs, and no mistake. Far too many twins among them. Every century has them, it seems.”
“Every century. Right,” she said, and rolled her eyes.
He looked at her sideways. “If I didna ken that Jillian was both a MacKay and a Ross, I’d have worried that the pair of ye might be Muir witches as well, aye?” Then he just waited, like he was expecting a confession.
“Witches? Now I know you’re messing with me.”
“Messing? I doona understand.”
“Oh, give it up, would you?” She almost wished the hitter would come and get it over with. She was tired of arguing with Bushy-head.
He tossed his hands in the air. “Ye’ll see, soon enough I reckon. Whenever the hole’s been opened, the Muirs ken it. Somehow.” He shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck. “Too bad yer set of Muirs didna think to trick Monty back into the hole. I could use his aid. I’m right desperate for it.”
“And Monty is Montgomery?”
Ewan frowned as if by not knowing Monty, she’d spouted some sort of blasphemy. “Jillian’s husband. The former laird of Clan Ross and my cousin. I’d be ever so happy to see his gob, but e’en more so, now that I’ve...” He grimaced, reached for the torch, then turned to the door.
He sighed and raised the light higher. His shadow swung around on the wall behind him as he turned back to her. “I’ve lost his great-great-nephew.”
Jules shook her head. “I don’t understand. How could you have lost someone that can’t possibly have been born?”
“Jules, is it? I told ye plain. ‘Tis the year fourteen hundred and ninety-seven, and so it is. Monty is from this century. The nephew is from yers.”
The wall wasn’t much to hold onto, so she leaned sideways onto a stack of smaller barrels. She started shaking her head but then couldn’t seem to stop. If she hadn’t eaten the chocolate, she probably would have been passing out again.
“So I’ve somehow gone through time? This tomb is like some kind of tardis?” She’d watched only a couple of episodes of Dr. Who, but apparently it was a couple too many. She wouldn’t have even known the word tardis if the bookkeeper at the restaurant and one of the waiters hadn’t been big Dr. Who geeks.
“I dinna ken the word tardis, lass. But they go inside, they doona come out. ‘Tis all I’ve seen. I’ll not try it myself, mind ye.”
“You’re Montgomery’s cousin? He’s from...here? No wonder.” Then she realized what this Ewan had been trying to tell her. “And a little boy is missing?”
“The lad’s name is Quinn. But he’s no wee laddie.”
She was so relieved. The thought of a little kid—from the twenty-first century—getting lost out there in Medieval times, was just too sickening to think about. If, of course, she believed that Medieval Scotland was truly out there.
“Quinn’s a man grown. Looks to be Monty’s own spit, he does. So when Monty needed to go to your time, to be with Jillian, Quinn came back here, to take Monty’s place. And now, The Gordon has ‘im.”
No friggin’ way! There was another Highlander, just like Jillian’s husband. Just like him.
Maybe, just maybe, I should say my prayers more often.
Above their heads, there was movement. Not from the great hall, but from the tomb.
“Where the devil are ye?” a man muttered.
How the hell had he gotten inside the tomb without going through the bottom, like she had? No way could he have broken through the wall, or she’d have heard it!
Her missing boot fell through the hole and landed on unholy wet ground.
Jules snatched the boot up and put a finger over her lips, then motioned for Ewan to hurry out of the room with her. Thankfully, he followed without argument, bringing the torch with him. The door opened outward and Jules shut it behind her, then leaned against it.
“Can we block this door?” she whispered. “That’s the man who’s after me. He’s got a gun. I’m sure he’ll kill anyone who gets in his way.”
The Scot nodded, handed her the torch, then rolled yet another barrel out of the dark and in front of the door.
“This should hold him for a mite,” he said. “But yer only way back home is through that tomb, lass. If ye and Jillian are to meet, ye must face this man first, and no mistake. Sooner or later.”
“Later sounds good to me.”
The hitter beat on the door, having found his way out of the tomb with little light to help him.
“Juliet Bell! When I get my hands on ye... Listen, lass. If ye let me out now, it will go much smoother for ye. Ye have my word. No harm will come to ye.”
She could hear him breathing against the door. He was probably listening to her breathe too. After a few seconds, he went back to beating on the door.
“He’ll just blow the hinges off,” she warned the Scot.
“Truly?” The big man rolled his eyes in the torchlight. “Perhaps ye underestimate the quality of a Scotsman’s carpentry, or the strength of a full barrel of spirits. He’ll not get out so easily. Now come up into the light. Let me get a good look at ye, and I’ll decide the message I wish ye to give to Monty, once ye’ve got the courage to go back, of course. But tell me, why does yer pursuer call ye Juliet Bell?”
“Bell is a long story. And I don’t let anyone call me Juliet.”
The door seemed to be holding up well to the pounding, so they moved away. Ewan took back his torch and led her along the dirt-floored hallways. She was so turned around, she had no choice but to trust him.
Dirt floors. God, help me. I’ve lost my mind.
“But mayhap you could find yer courage sooner, rather than later,” Ewan said. “As Quinn may not live long enough for Monty to be of any help. I would send others to bring his wandering hide back to Ross lands, but none else kens who the lad truly is. I fear a close look by our own lads might give the game away. We’ve been careful to keep the clan from getting too close. I imagine word of an imposter would be the type of tale to pass through the generations, aye? And Jillian was ever one to go on and on about the dangers of changing history.”
Jules snorted. “Yeah, I’ll bet she was.”
Ewan stopped and looked at her. “What do ye mean, lass?”
“She’s got the world at her feet. Why would she wish anything different? She’s probably thrilled with the way things have turned out. Changing the past would screw up her little fairy tale, right?”
And just like that, Jules was glad she’d gone back in time. Maybe there was a reason she was there. Maybe she could fix all kinds of things. Screw Jillian’s rules about changing history.
“Lass,” said Ewan. “Jillian has a kind and gentle soul. If she believes that changing history will ruin lives, I have no doubt it is not her life for which she fears. She loves Monty, and yet she was willing to give him up so that Morna and Ivar could be together. You’ll find no selfishness in yer sister’s heart.”
“I hope so,” she said. It was the nicest thing she could think of to say since Ewan was clearly on Team Jillian.
Finally, he stopped yakking and started moving again.
But inside Jules’ heart, there was a giant scrapbook of pain, and it had Jillian’s name written on the front in big jagged letters.