“I’ve got you,” I hum as I run my thumb along her wrist again to reassure myself that she is real—her pulsing energy vibrating loud and clear.
I wipe the chilly waters of Dunvegan off her forehead and then push my heavy woolen shirt over my shoulders and tuck it around her form. She breathes steadily, eyelids fluttering as she seems to dream feverishly.
Maybe she’s in shock. Maybe I should run up to Leith Hall and tell Keats to call the first responders.
I frown when I realize her left palm, the one nearest to me, is clutching something tightly. I try to ease her fingers off the object, but doing so must be just enough stimulus to jolt her out of her unresponsive state.
“Get away!” She holds the clenched fist with the object at her chest, eyes wild as she takes me in for the first time.
I probably look crazy to her, bent over like I’m ready to feast on her.
“Does that mean thanks for saving my life in America?”
Her eyes widen as I offer her a hand up. “I’m Alder Maclean. I live on the south shore of Dunvegan.”
Her warm golden eyes graze my two-day stubbled jaw, down the wide expanse of my shoulders, and out to my callused palm. She shakes her head once and then brushes her free hand on her wet thigh and pushes herself up from the damp shore.
“It’s just me and Keats on this end of the loch.”
“And me—at least for the summer anyway.”
“’S that so?” The way her front teeth indent her full bottom lip when she speaks causes heat to rise inside me. I blink away the vision of her; even wet and cold, she’s breathtaking. Can she tell the effect she has on me? Or does she think I’m just her creepy neighbor down the shore who was in the right place at the right time to save her?
More like she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Again.
“It’s been raining for days, and the shore is always slick this time of year. What brought you down t’tha loch this time of the day?”
“I didn’t sleep well last night. And I thought I saw something.”
“’S that so?”
She keeps pace with me as I stalk back down the shore path. “Fear and adrenaline can do crazy things to your body and mind,” I say, wanting to steer us back to solid ground.
The one I just ran up to save her life. We pass a stray sheep, and it doesn’t even raise its head to look as we go by. “My family is from Kylemore. That’s why I’m staying at Leith Hall for the summer.”
“Bearin’ any relation ta the folks up at Leith Hall isn’t somethin’ that’s widely esteemed ’round here. Best keep those details to yourself.” I pause where the path turns rocky and forked. “An’ haven’t ya heard ’bout the woods of Kylemore? Dangers lurk in the dark all ’round this loch. All of Skye, actually.”
“Dangers like what?”
I cast a glance over my shoulder to catch her eye. “Dangers of the usual sort.”
She cuts her gaze away from mine. “Oh, is that all?”
“No, it’s not. But it’s a start. Wouldn’t want ta scare ye off Skye so soon. No buses up ta Kylemore on weekends anyway.”
“Not a one.”
The chalk-white stones of my cottage come into view then. Moss climbs along every available space on the black thatched roof. My little corner of the loch rarely sees sunlight and everything is in need of a new coat of paint, but I like it here as much as anywhere else I’ve lived.
“Everything looks so much…brighter from up at Leith.”
“Usually does.” I think of Keats rambling around with those two old dogs and wonder if his surly presence put her off when she arrived. He puts me off constantly. I can hardly spend time with him, so much empty space that needs filling between us. His words have been sparse for as long as I’ve known him, and that invariably leaves me filling in all the dead silence left in the conversation.
“What’s that way?”
I stop at the threshold of my cottage and turn to look at her. She points past the stand of junipers to a path in the grass that meanders away from the loch and along the tree line.
“Fairies, pixies, fae, kelpie, forest children. Pick your legend.”
She rolls her eyes, folding her arms and then walking the final few steps to me. “Very funny. Everyone fancies themselves a Rabbie Burns around here, aye?”
A crooked grin that I can’t control splits my lips. “Aye, lass. Now you’re learnin’ somethin’.”
Her eyes narrow, but the twitch of a grin yanks at the corner of her lips.
“Are ya one of those Americans who spits out Scottish tea—” my grin deepens “—or do ye swallow?”
She tips her chin in the air, the double meaning in my words not lost on her. My grin finally cracks wide when she purses her lips once and flutters her pinkie finger in the air like she’s well acquainted with drinking tea with the Queen of England herself. “Bottoms up, darling.”
“Well then, hardly fit for the Duchess of Cambridge, but it’s good to see Keats hasn’t rubbed off on you yet. A Scot who doesn’t drink tea is nary a Scot.” I wave her into my cottage, and she follows.
I duck under the low doorway and beeline for the old cooktop, gesturing for her to have a seat at the tiny two-top table with mismatched wooden chairs. My place is small by my standards, but even she looks out of place with her knees pressed up under the seam of the old dining table.
“Lived here long?” she asks.
“Too long,” I reply, catching the teapot right before it whistles and pouring two teacups full. “But not as long as Keats. He’s been up at Leith for as far back as I can remember. Old before his time, that one. He’s the younger of the two of us, but you wouldn’t know it by the sight of him.”
“So, you’re from Kylemore, then? Both of you were raised on Skye?”
“Hebrides is in my blood,” I confirm. “Keats’s too.”
“What’s it like growing up on a small island?”
“Mostly?” she presses boldly.
I arch an eyebrow. “Until now.”
I nod, already sick of this line of questioning. “I’ve seen a lot of tragedies come to pass up at Leith and along the shores of Dunvegan. Mostly tourists trying to get the perfect photo, sometimes lonely souls with nowhere else to turn.”
“You mean…” Dark swirls in her warm irises. “The ones who fall?” I nod. “How did you know I wasn’t sinking under the water…intentionally, then?”
“The whirlpools kick up quickly at this end of the loch.” I lean closer to her, examining her eyes. “And you don’t know loneliness like the others. I can tell.”
“The…others? This place must be packed with paranormal activity.” Her eyes search the corners of my cottage, as if she might spy a ghost around any turn.
“Skye is soaked in the supernatural.”
“And just soaked,” she comments, eyes lingering on the fat raindrops now starting to land on the double-paned windows. “That person I saw… It seemed less like a person and more—” she works her lips back and forth as she thinks “—a shadow or a mist with hard edges.”
“Legend goes, the plague doctor haunts the cemetery up at your hall. The local kids like to do séances up in the graveyard come Halloween—”
“Did you just say a plague doctor haunts the graveyard at Leith?”
“Story says he wears the whole medieval getup, cloak and mask that looks like a big bird beak just for dramatic effect. I think it’s Keats messin’ with the high schoolers, myself.”
She watches me carefully before she speaks her next words. “Maybe he’s looking for more patients to help. Trauma leaves an impact that can be felt across time. Energy doesn’t just cease to exist, it’s transferred—a matter of physics.” She stops herself then. “Sorry, I shouldn’t bore you with that stuff. I dated a quantum physics major last year, and the conversations were interesting, to say the least.”
I bring the tea to my lips, my gaze never leaving hers before I finally swallow. “All of Scotland, and Skye especially, is active with the blood of our forefathers.”
She considers my words for a moment. “Do you mind if I quote you on that? I’m taking tons of notes this summer for my thesis on evolutionary biology within a historical context. I have to show proof of my research if this study abroad semester is going to count for my degree. I also have to meet with the town historian, but I can’t seem to get ahold of anyone—”
“The town historian?” I scoff. “Well, you’ve already found him.”
“You?” she asks.
“Hardly. Keats is the man you’re looking for. Old as dirt and never spent more than a few days away from this town in all the miserable years of his life.”
“Keats?” She scrunches her nose with surprise. “How do you know so much about him if you can’t stand him anyway?”
I kick back in my chair as I bring my teacup to my lips. “I should know a thing or two. He is my brother after all.”