Eilan Dougan unlocked the door to the antiques shop. She drew in a breath of crisp autumn air and smiled. The silver mist of morning wrapped around Seattle's Pioneer Square like an enchanted cloak. Surrounded by concrete buildings that blocked out the sun, this tree-lined oasis was home to Eilan and her parents' antiques shop named A Dance Through Time. Pale light filtered through the windows of the store and cast a haze over the assortment of antique mahogany tables and chairs. Inside, a grandfather clock stood next to the door like a palace guard. It seemed out of place on the same wall where a collection of medieval two-handed swords, crossbows and shields were displayed.
However, Eilan liked the clock right where it was and so that is where it stayed. It was one of the few items in the shop that was not for sale. The last time she remembered hearing it chime was on June 6, the day she graduated from Seattle University. That was also the day she'd decided to take control of her life.
She remembered the comment her dad had made in the days that followed. He told her it was as though the clock had stopped working the day her life as an adult began. It was also the day the headaches and the ringing in her ears had begun. That was five and a half years ago.
Eilan pulled a dust rag from the pocket of her jeans and wiped the glass that covered the face of the clock. The day she graduated from college was a nightmare. There were so many people. Normally she was able to keep her distance, but that had not been the case on June 6.
She shivered, remembering, the waves of thoughts and emotions flooding her mind. They surrounded her in a suffocating embrace. She couldn't breathe. She had run from the reception hall in panic.
Eilan was an empath.
Her mother said it was a gift. Eilan believed it came under the heading of a curse. The blasted ability to read people's minds only occurred when they touched her. If her gift stopped there she might have been all right, but it did not. It seemed as though everyone on graduation day wanted to either shake her hand or give her a congratulatory hug.
She glanced in the reflection of the clock's glass as she pulled her dark hair into a ponytail. A few strands of snow-white hair framed her face. They were another reminder of the reason she had chosen the life of a recluse.
She took a deep breath. Moving to the isolation of the backcountry of Colorado had been the right decision. She'd thought she'd successfully convinced her mother she was okay living alone. That was, until Eilan received the phone call bringing her back to Seattle.
The opportunity came at a time when she had wanted to check out her headaches at Swedish Hospital. The pain had grown worse over the last few years and Eilan was concerned. Her worst fears were realized, but there was no reason to worry her parents. There would be time enough to tell them when they returned from their trip.
Her mother and father had asked Eilan to help with the antiques store while they were on vacation in Great Britain. Eilan hadn't needed to read her mother's mind to decipher the real meaning of why she'd been called home. Her mother felt Eilan had withdrawn too much into an emotionless world. Eilan shrugged. Well, what if it were true? It was her decision, wasn't it?
Eilan shook free of her thoughts and concentrated on the business at hand. It was good to be home. She had missed the store. She had grown up in this neighborhood. Eilan glanced around the room. There were so many memories. Her mother had once compared the attraction to certain types of antiques to falling in love. A person couldn't explain why they felt drawn to a mahogany shelf clock constructed around the early eighteen hundreds or feel compelled to collect fine antique porcelain. The only thing that mattered was that the George I side chair they had just bought was perfect for them.
Love was like that as well, her mother would say. Because, when you met the right person, logic took flight. Eilan was still waiting for her first flying lesson.
After years spent in the wide-open spaces of Colorado, the close quarters of the shop felt stuffy. She walked over and opened the door. The bell chimed its welcome. A warm autumn breeze and a calico cat entered the antiques shop at the same time. The animal padded over to her and rubbed against her leg.
Eilan knelt down and scratched the fur ball behind its ear, wishing that her empathic abilities extended to animals. It would be fun to see what these creatures really thought about the human race. "Well, Cally, I haven't seen you in a while. Your milk is over there against the window."
Eilan stood and watched the cat pad silently toward her breakfast. The menagerie of stray animals she and her mother had befriended over the years was another memory she treasured.
She took a deep breath. How she had let her father talk her into watching over the shop, she would never know. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. September in Colorado was the start of the down time for river rafting and rock climbing. And of course she had just broken it off with ol' what's his name. Her parents said the timing was perfect for her to be away from her tour business. It was hard to argue with flawless logic. However, if Eilan had stayed in Colorado, she might never have found out about the inoperable tumor.
Eilan gathered an armful of Battenberg lace tablecloths and doilies and shoved them into a cupboard behind the counter. It felt good to keep busy rearranging some of the antiques. Her mother considered each item in the shop to be a valuable treasure to be displayed, not hidden or thrown away. Eilan smiled. She was beginning to think this was only one of the similarities she shared with her mother.
Eilan dusted off her hands and turned her attention to the Art Deco jewelry in the curio cabinet by the front door. Time to get to work.
The bell over the door chimed.
Dede Rogers, Eilan's roommate in college and best friend, breezed past her toward the counter at the back of the shop. She was carrying a paper cup in each hand. The rich aroma of coffee, laced with chocolate, floated into the store.
Dede set the drinks on the counter. She removed her green leather jacket and tossed it over the arm of a red velvet wing chair. "Found any magic lamps today?"
Eilan laughed and shook her head. The standing joke had started after they'd spent all night studying for a history exam. They'd celebrated their newfound knowledge with a bag of Hershey's kisses and watching reruns of I Dream of Jeannie.
Eilan walked over to the counter and reached for the latte. "This is great." She paused. "I wish I had found a magic lantern. I would ask the genie to help me sort through all these things. Are you still under a deadline at your job?"
"Afraid so. The head of Architects R Us," Dede frowned, "I still hate that name, has us all working overtime on his pet project. Maybe I can help you this weekend." Dede sank down in an overstuffed chair covered with giant blue roses that were splashed all over the fabric. She smiled. "Too bad about that lantern, though. It might help our failing love life. I'd wish for a tall, dark and rich."
Eilan laughed, put her coffee down and turned her attention to a table littered with clocks of varying sizes and shapes. "You don't mean that. You're as much of a romantic as I am. Besides, I thought you liked David. He's been asking you out every day for the past two weeks."
Dede sipped her drink. "True, he is persistent and I like that quality in a man. But our dates always end in arguments over politics. I think he wrote the book on conservative."
Eilan polished the brass trim on one of the clocks. "Aside from his political views, what do you think of the man?"
Dede took another swallow of her coffee. "Okay, you've made your point. You know I'm nuts for him." She smiled. "It's just like it was in college. You were always trying to keep the peace and find someone a date. What did we all call you?" She tapped her fingernail on the cup. "Now I remember. It was the Peacemaker. You couldn't stand to see anyone unhappy. I think your mom was really the one who first started using that name. It fit. You're pretty good in the matchmaking department as well." She smiled. "How about finding a Mr. Right for yourself?"
Eilan rearranged the clocks on the table in even rows. "I'm not looking. My last adventure into romance was a disaster. Or have you forgotten?"
Dede took another sip of her latte and set the cup down on a nearby table. "No, I haven't. The guy was a real dud. However, save the comment that you're not interested in the valiant knight fantasy for your parents. I know you. You're still holding out for a warrior prince type. Gary Parker just didn't measure up to your specifications."
"That's an understatement. And as far as the fantasy about the valiant knight is concerned, haven't you heard, they're on the endangered species list."
Dede wrinkled her nose. "What a cynic. As I said before, we really need you to find that magic lamp, and fast."
Eilan laughed. Maybe visiting Seattle wasn't so bad after all. She had forgotten how much fun it was being around Dede. She was the only one of her friends who had not thought her empathic ability strange. However, she wasn't ready to tell her friend about her illness, at least not yet.
Eilan reached for one of the clocks on the table. "Good grief, what am I going to do with all of these? None of them work."
Dede pointed to one that was gilded and decorated with silver cherubs and rosebuds. "Your mother always did like these. Sometimes I think she liked them better if they didn't work. You're like her in that regard."
Eilan picked up the one Dede had referred to and smiled. "It's eighteenth century, and one of my favorites. And to respond to your comment, my mother and I may be alike in some things, but not where time is concerned."
Dede raised an eyebrow. "Really? Then explain why you never wear a watch, are always late..."
"Okay, okay, you've made your point." She set it back on the table and walked over to the grandfather clock. She climbed up on a stool and straightened one of the shields on the wall. It had an image of a golden sword thrust through flames painted on its wooden surface. It was her father's favorite.
Dede glanced at her wristwatch. "Well, it's time for me to get to work. My boss is expecting me to come up with a new concept that will revitalize the Capital Hill area."
Eilan stepped down from the stool. "Any ideas?"
"Not yet, but I still have half an hour." Dede smiled. "Promise me if any interesting male prospects do come in, you won't read their minds and scare them away like you did Gary Parker. He was so freaked out he hopped on a plane headed for the East Coast."
Eilan folded her arms across her chest. "It's not something I can turn off and on. He kissed me and I was flooded with his thoughts. Besides, it served Gary right. His fantasy about me involved chains and leather and ..."
Dede shuddered. "Well, aside from anything you're not comfortable with, just promise me you'll make sure the person has actually spoken before you blurt something out."
Until Gary Parker, Eilan had felt confident that there was no situation she couldn't handle. But the man only thought of women in one way; as objects for his pleasure. She knew all men were not like Gary, but the search seemed never-ending. Eilan took a deep breath. "I'll try."
"Well, I guess that's all I can ask." She turned toward the door and waved good-bye. "Don't work too hard. Call me and we'll meet for lunch."
Eilan watched her friend leave. As usual, Dede was right. But reading minds was not like trying to give up smoking or biting your fingernails. It was not that simple. The only way to avoid reading a person's thoughts was to make sure there was no touching involved. It was not the best solution if you were trying to start a relationship. Sometimes a person's thoughts were so strong it seemed as though they'd spoken them out loud.
For a long time she thought she could handle her unusual ability and even managed to live a pretty normal life. She'd run cross-country in high school, mountain biked every trail she could find in the state of Washington and even found paths that weren't on the maps. She'd planned on becoming a history teacher, but that involved potential contact with a lot of people. During her college graduation she'd realized she needed to get away for a while. At times, she wondered if she had really made the right decision.
Eilan went over to the shelf that contained the collection of Victorian lace collars and gathered them in her arms. Many were used to adorn wedding dresses at the turn of the century.
The grandfather clock bonged.
Startled, Eilan dropped the lace. They floated to the wood floor. That was odd. It hadn't worked in years. Maybe she'd only thought she'd heard it ring. She looked around the room. Morning sunlight streamed through the window and cast a golden haze over the shop. It reminded her of the brown photos in her grandmother's album. Everything was in its place. She must have imagined the sound or maybe the noise was coming from next door.
It bonged again. The sound vibrated through the room. Eilan clenched her hands at her sides. It had been over five years since she had heard that sound. An alarm clock on the table buzzed. It skittered around the table, knocking into the others. The one decorated with the cherubs and rosebuds chimed. Eilan felt a chill chase up her spine.
What was going on? The deafening sound ranged from shrill persistent rings to deep-throated bongs. There was probably a scientific explanation, perhaps an earthquake or an electrical storm, or maybe Mount St. Helens had erupted again. However, she hadn't felt the floor move. She glanced toward the window. No ash-covered streets, no rain soaked sidewalks, and it was a beautiful clear autumn day. Well, so much for that theory.
Eilan walked slowly over to the table. She picked up one of the clocks that buzzed and looked at the back to see how it was powered. This one was electric. She sucked in her breath. The only problem was that it was not plugged in to an outlet. She dropped it back onto the table as though it were a glowing ember.
She took a calming breath and ordered herself to think logically. There had to be an explanation. The electrical storm idea was out, and she assumed so was the volcano and earthquake theories, so the next assumption was that Dede was playing a practical joke. Maybe one of her computer friends had rigged them all to go off at the same time.
A small self-winding clock, shaped like a cat, buzzed and skittered off the side of the table. One framed with brass suffered the same fate. Yes, Dede must be at the bottom of this mess. Eilan rubbed the back of her neck. The noise was getting to her. She'd never known Dede to play practical jokes, but there was always a first time.
Eilan heard a crash and then a string of colorful oaths.
What now? Maybe it was the person responsible. Good. Whoever it was hadn't managed to make a clean getaway. After she persuaded him to shut off the racket, she'd find out who was behind this joke. Usually she liked the sound of a clock bonging the hour, but thirty or forty going off at the same time was another matter.
She headed toward the sound and wove her way around an oak hall tree and a table covered with vintage baseball cards.
Eilan stopped abruptly. Her heart slammed against her chest.
A man wearing a bloodstained kilt stood before her.
He was well over six feet tall and looked strong enough to wield the antique claymore in the locked glass case by the cash register. He had a full beard, dark shoulder-length hair and piercing blue eyes.
He dropped a canvas bag, let out a battle cry, reached behind his back and drew the longest sword she'd ever seen. He kicked over a small table in front of him and advanced toward her. "Are ye the woman I seek?"
His voice seemed to bounce off the walls of the shop.
She stumbled into a curio cabinet and a table with antique silver-plated letter openers. "Who are you?"
The glass plates and porcelain cups in the cabinet rattled from the contact. She tried to control her erratic breathing and the growing panic in the pit of her stomach. Pioneer Square was noted for its unusually dressed occupants, but this was extreme even for downtown Seattle. The man in front of her did not look like he was trying out a costume for Halloween; rather he looked as though he had just stepped off a battlefield in the Highlands of Scotland.
She swallowed. Bloodstains covered his clothes and his body. She clenched her hands at her sides to stop them from trembling. This can't be real, she said silently, over and over like some ancient Gregorian chant.
He stood before her, like a demon conjured from the depths of hell. He looked in the direction of the clocks. His eyes widened as he brushed past her toward the cluttered table. With one swift movement of his sword he swept the clocks off the table. They clattered to the ground, but the noise persisted. He yelled and turned his attention once more to her.
His voice rose above the deafening sound of the clocks. "Did ye not hear my demand?"
She backed against the curio cabinet and table once again. The plates rattled and broke against the leaded glass door. The letter openers clattered to the floor.
She had nowhere to go. The phone on the counter seemed a million miles away. The shop wouldn't be officially open for another half hour. She tried to remember if she had heard of any kilt-wearing serial killers in the area. Why couldn't he have backed her up against the wall with the medieval weapons instead of a table and china closet? She doubted he would feel threatened if she held a broken Wedgwood plate in her hand.
His voice was a deep monotone, devoid of emotion. "If ye are not the one, show her to me. At once."
Her voice shook. "I have no idea who you're talking about. Maybe if I knew her name?"
Eilan's heart seemed to stop. He had a thick Scottish burr, and it was hard to understand exactly what he was saying. However, there was no mystery in the tone of his voice. His demands seemed scripted from a serial killer's manual. She was going to die. She had to remain calm.
She reached behind her and her hand touched metal. Her pulse rate went into high gear. A letter opener still remained on the table. She wound her fingers around the blade. She would not make it easy for him.
She couldn't tell what he was thinking. She would have to touch him in order for that to happen, and under the circumstances, getting closer to him didn't seem like the smartest path to take. He looked strong enough to break her in two. She shut her eyes and wished she hadn't thought of that particular visual.
The Scotsman gripped the sword with both hands. His eyes narrowed. "I dinna have much time." He clenched his jaw. "I seek the Peacemaker. Do ye know if she exists?"
Eilan's mouth snapped open. She shivered as though someone had opened a window and let an icy winter gust into the room. She remembered Dede's conversation. Eilan's nickname in college was the "Peacemaker." She took a deep breath. This couldn't be happening. It was just some weird coincidence.
The clocks stopped ringing as though someone had turned off a switch. She glanced in the Scotsman's direction. He seemed frozen to the wood floor, as immovable as a bronze statue. A muscle twitched on the side of his face as though he had clenched his jaw.
Conor looked toward her and felt the blood surge through his veins. He was frightening one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen in all his travels. Magdah said she would be fair, but there were no words worthy of her. However, she also said her hair would be white. Perhaps she was not the one he sought.
He clenched his jaw again. The sound of buzzing still rang in his ears. Magdah said his task would be simple, and the woman he first saw when he arrived would be the Peacemaker. Magdah told him that he need only ask the woman for help and she would agree. It was her duty. However, things had not gone as planned. The incessant noise had disoriented him. His head throbbed and he couldn't think clearly. And the woman was afraid of him. Nay, things had not gone well at all.
He sheathed his blade, admonishing himself. Frightening her had not been his intent. He wanted her to trust him, now more than ever. Perhaps arriving in these strange surroundings had been the cause of him instinctively drawing his weapon. It mattered not. He would have to be more cautious. There was much at stake.
The words Magdah had said still rang in his ears. "She must come to ye willingly." He watched as the woman palmed the small silver knife in her hand. He admired her courage. Her weapon was no match against him, yet she armed herself nonetheless.
The silence wove around the cluttered room. He must be in some storage chamber containing pieces of plate and furniture. It mattered not. He would not remain here long. He rested his hand on the hilt of his knife. Magdah had assured him the woman he would encounter would be the Peacemaker, but he wanted to be certain. He did not trust Magdah; after all, she was a witch.
He walked slowly toward the woman. He did not want her to flee, but he had to know the truth. He lowered his voice. "Are ye the one they call the Peacemaker?"
The woman closed her hand around the silver blade. "Leave my store at once."
He squared his shoulders. What manner of woman was this who would defy his command? "I willna leave without ye. My land is torn apart in war and vengeance. My castle in Inverness is in the hands of my enemy. Ye are to come with me."
"I don't think so."
He looked into her eyes. They were a deep emerald green and the fear he had noted moments before had been replaced by smoldering rage. He wondered at the change. He had little doubt her wish was to shove her knife into his flesh. Magdah had chosen well.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw a brown, white and orange cat pad silently toward him. The animal bounded softly to the arm of a carved wood chair and then leapt to the ground at his feet, where it wound itself around his leg. It reminded him of a cat that used to live around Dragon's Lair Castle when he was a lad.
The cat leapt once more to the chair and then in one fluid motion, it sprang into his arms. It nuzzled against his chest and purred. It had been a long time since he had held an animal such as this. Much had happened in his journey from boy to man.
"Cally, what are you doing?" The woman's voice was high-pitched and laced with panic.
The cat turned toward her, twitched its nose and then settled back into Conor's arms. Did the woman believe he would harm such a creature? In a short span of time she had concluded he was a monster. The battles he fought in the Crusades tore through his mind in dark procession, each memory more bloody than the last.
He shuddered. The cat meowed loudly and leapt from his arms. Perhaps the woman was correct if she thought him to be a monster. This was not going well. He should have brought a gift to show his respect for who she was. He paused. Or at least taken the advice of his brother and bathed.
Copyright © 2001 by Pam Binder
Conor McCloud returns from the Crusades to discover his cousin has taken possession of Inverness, the McCloud castle. Fighting back to reclaim his family home, Conor makes a promise to a dying friend: seek out the woman who a witch said could heal the land...a woman from another time and place.
Eilan Dougan has taken leave from her Colorado river rafting business to help sell her parents' Seattle antique shop. Her uncanny ability to sense others' thoughts has always set her apart -- and when a dark Highlander appears and begs her help, she can't refuse. But fourteenth-century Scotland is no place for a woman with Eilan's powers. Now instead of Eilan saving Conor, Conor must rescue Eilan from charges of witchcraft -- and decide whether love can withstand the ultimate test of time.