A Laird to Hold – Angeline Fortin

Inverness, Scotland October 2013 “And in other news, shocking photos have emerged of actress Scarlett Thomas being escorted out of Dunskirk Castle earlier today by three unidentified men and a woman. Speculation has run amok since Thomas’s mysterious disappearance during her last public appearance at the dedication of the Dunskirk Castle historical site in August. The actress, best known for her portrayal of Finley Adams in the blockbuster Puppet Wars franchise, resurfaced a month later but was unwilling to provide any explanation as to her whereabouts during that time, leaving many to wonder whether she’d been kidnapped or assaulted.” “I dinnae ken how ye can watch such nattering gossip,” Hugh Urquhart muttered as he entered the terrace house. He and Sorcha recently purchased the house on Douglas Row in Inverness overlooking the River Ness after deciding to permanently reside in Scotland. From the door, he could see his new wife ensconced on the sofa, her eyes glued to the telly as if the reporters spouted the secrets of the universe. “I can hear you, you know,” Sorcha called out with a hint of laughter in her voice. “And I only watch it when you’re not here.” “I’m here now.” “I’ll only turn it off if you didn’t return empty-handed.” “I would no’ dare.” He presented the bag he’d been sent out to buy as if it were a tufted pillow bearing the crown jewels. “A bag of crisps for my fair lady.” “Let’s call them what they are. Good old potato chips.” She tore the bag open and dug into what she referred to as salty goodness. “Yer appetite is appalling.” Yet it didn’t stop him from bending to kiss her cheek. “No making fun of the pregnant lady,” she retorted around a mouthful of crisps as she snuggled back against the cushions. “Och, why would I put my life in such peril?” “Speaking of which, what took you so long? You were gone forever.” “I blew a tire on my return from the grocer.” Sorcha tore her attention from the telly with a frown. “Again? That makes two tires and a rock through the windshield in the last month. I might have to take your keys away.” “’Tis no’ my fault.

I’m an excellent driv—” Hugh checked himself before his wife might accuse him of sounding once again like this Rain Man she constantly compared him to. As yet he hadn’t been able to determine whether the comparison were an insult or a compliment. Depending on the situation, it could be either one. “The circumstances were beyond my control.” She grinned up at him with a disagreeable level of doubt. “Of course they were…oh, shush, shush.” Her eyes locked once more on the television. “I thought ye were going to turn that blasted machine off.” “In a second. Shush.” She waved him into silence as the newsman, if he might legitimately be called one, continued. An inset image at the man’s shoulder scrolled through a variety of pictures of a bonny young woman with dark auburn hair. “The actress’s bizarre behavior after the incident raised even more questions,” the reporter went on. “According to Dunskirk employees, the actress—and I quote—‘haunted’ the castle daily for several weeks, before mysteriously disappearing from the grounds again five days ago. Rumors abound as to the state of her mental health since she reappeared at the historic site this afternoon. Her physical appearance today is raising questions in everyone’s minds as well.” The female reporter at the desk nodded in agreement as the camera shifted to her. Hugh rolled his eyes and turned his back on the screen. Adapting to life in the twenty-first century was a trial in acclimatization on a daily basis. Seven months had passed since he’d been swept from his own time by a dark portal and landed in this one. Five months since he’d escaped his captors at Mark-Davis Labs, and with Claire’s help, had won his freedom. After all that time, new discoveries still awaited him around every corner. Most changes he could live with. Some he could not. The telly ranked first and foremost on the list of negatives.

He exercised tolerance, as Sorcha enjoyed watching so much. Occasionally an historic drama might manage to pique his interest, but the gossip rags, on the other hand, only grated on his nerves. As tirelessly as the sniping of the king’s court in eighteenth-century Paris had in his previous life. In that comparison, some things remained remarkably the same between those days and these. But at least then he’d been able to find reprieve from blather in his private apartments. Here, there was no escape. The constant criticism and intolerance at all levels of mankind were disconcerting. Hugh focused on putting away the rest of the groceries he’d purchased in anticipation of another of Sorcha’s cravings, but couldn’t tune out the sound of the gossip’s nasally voice. “That’s correct, John. As you can see from the photos taken today by tourists at Dunskirk, Ms. Thomas’s general appearance is a far cry from just a week ago. Let’s compare these new photos to those taken at the castle two months ago, shall we?” Returning to the living room with a bottle of juice, he saw another picture come up of the same woman immaculately groomed with cropped hair and a long flowing white gown Hugh now knew was referred to as a maxi dress. “Her hair, short a few days ago, is longer, leading many to believe her short hairstyle was nothing more than a wig, calling her out for a shameless publicity stunt,” the female reporter went on. “But there is no denying the other obvious changes. I’m not one for fat shaming, of course, but she seems to have gained a radical amount of weight in such a short time. So much so, some gossip columnists are speculating Ms. Thomas was attempting to disguise a secret pregnancy beneath her slouchy, over-sized—wait, wait.” The woman touched her ear, listening. When her eyes returned to the camera, malicious glee burned bright in them. “We have gotten word that Scarlett Thomas has just been admitted at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary Emergency Department. Let’s take a look at the newest video coming…” “What nonsense,” he murmured, shaking his head as the still photos were replaced by a grainy cell phone video showing the woman tucked protectively against the side of a braw man in a full kilt while two other men tried to push back the crush of the gathered crowd. Sorcha sighed. “I know you hate it. I should have turned the TV off the minute you returned. But I just love Scarlett Thomas.

Terrible of them to pick on her. Not fat shaming? That’s exactly what they’re doing.” “She’s the actress in those dragon movies ye made me watch, is she no’?” he asked. “The ones that made nae sense?” “They weren’t dragons, they were aliens,” his wife clarified sternly, though her lips twisted with suppressed humor. She never tired of taking a measure of wicked pleasure when he was taken aback by some element of this time period. “You simply haven’t come to appreciate the finer nuances of fantasy and science fiction yet, but I have faith.” She glanced back at the screen, her expression somber. “I do hope she’ll be okay, though. Something unusual must be going on for her to be dressed like that.” Hugh directed his attention to the telly once again, studying the woman as the Scotsman persisted, forcing his way through the throng of onlookers. She wore a full-skirted blue gown with what appeared to be a darker-blue woolen plaid wrapped around her shoulders. The same patterned tartan as the kilt of the man who had his arm around her, her face buried in his shoulder as she clung to him. “Dressed like what?” “Not exactly the current fashion, even in modern Scotland. Maybe it’s for a play or a movie…?” She caught the roll of his eyes. “Fine, I’ll turn it off.” Sorcha reached for the remote control just as one of the kilted men swung a sword at the crowd. They all leapt back in fear, and the first man swept the actress into his arms and surged forward. Something on the screen caught Hugh’s eye. “Nay, wait. Stop. Can ye… bluidy hell, can ye reverse it?” “What?” “Go back. Back…There. Stop.” Hugh stared at the paused image, his body just as immobile. A curl of dread—no, fascination, stilled his breathing.

His blood pounded in his ears. “What is it?” Sorcha shifted her gaze between him and the screen with a frown. “Hugh?” “Look.” The word was a nothing more than a croak, a gasp of sound that managed to escape the knot in his throat. His entire being denied function in its shock. He cleared his throat. “Look there and tell me what ye see, lass.” “A mad man swinging a sword? The entertainment show you make fun of me for watching?” she asked, the questions wry but curious. “What?” “Just there.” He stepped forward and pointed out a spot in the background behind the blurred arc of the silver blade. “Tell me what ye see.” The actress’s fisted hand clenched the man’s shirt, pulling the white linen taut across his shoulder and baring a portion of his chest. Revealing a chain and the golden disk hanging from it. Hugh touched the vague outline in the center of the circle as if he could trace the raised image. Feel it. “That’s…” Sorcha trailed off with a whisper. “We need to go to Edinburgh.” “What?” “Now.” “And do what?” she argued, though she was already in motion. “It’s not like you can just stroll in there asking questions and expect to get in to see them, you know? She’s a celebrity. There will be guards.” “Still giving me lessons, lass? I’ve been in this time for many months.” A trace of amusement lifted the corner of her mouth. “Well, I guess that makes you an expert, doesn’t it? So how do you expect to get in there?” “I dinnae ken yet, but I guarantee nothing will stop me.”



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