Niall’s Bride – Stella Knight

Time travel?” Niall tried to keep his tone neutral as he said the two words, meeting the eyes of his friend, Scott Chapman. Scott had summoned Niall to his office at the University of Edinburgh to confess why he had a sudden interest in medieval Scotland . in particular, the Highlands. It was because his sister Isabelle had traveled back in time to the year 1390, where she was now wed to a Highland laird. Niall knew the proper response to this should be disbelief, shock, or even amusement. But he sat perfectly still, his expression a stoic mask. Scott had no idea that Niall was aware of the reality of time travel. All too well, he thought with a stab of bitterness. Scott trained his blue eyes on Niall’s face, his hands gripping the edge of his desk as if waiting for Niall to laugh, yell—or both. “Jesus, Niall,” Scott said finally, raking a hand through his dark hair and leaning back in his chair. “Say something. Tell me I’m crazy. Laugh.

Threaten to toss me into the loony bin. Anything.” “Well,” Niall said, allowing his mask of stoicism to crumble as he cracked a smile. “I’d have to commit myself to the ‘loony bin’ as well.” Scott’s eyes widened, filling with surprise, then relief. “So you believe me.” “Yes,” Niall said. “But . I’m not sure you’ll believe me.” Scott tensed, his eyebrows knitting together in a worried frown. “We are talking about time travel,” Scott said, expelling a breath. “I think suspension of disbelief is already on the table.

” “Many members of my family are time travelers,” Niall said. As he spoke the words, a tension he didn’t know he possessed dissipated. It surprised him how good it felt to finally say the words out loud. Scott’s eyes grew increasingly wide as Niall told him all about the dark family secret— that he, his father, his grandfather before him, and many other family members all possessed the ability to travel through time. It was one of the reasons his father and grandfather had become such acclaimed historians; they’d gotten to see history firsthand. “My father was obsessed with time travel,” Niall continued. “He took many trips— some brief, some long—I think it took a toll on his body and hastened his death.” A stab of grief pierced him at the memory of his father, Ian O’Kean, who’d died a couple of years before. He’d never known his mother, who’d died of a long illness when he was still a baby. It had just been him and his father.

Ian had parlayed his expertise of the European Dark Ages into best-selling books and high-paying speaking engagements. He’d been obsessed with traveling through time, and had taken many trips, which Niall believed contributed to his death at the relatively young age of fifty. The doctors had informed him a heart attack had killed him, but Ian had always been in good health. Scott stumbled to his feet, raking his hand through his hair as he paced the small space of his office. “You’re a historian, too,” he said, turning to face Niall with narrowed eyes. “All this time, have you been—” “No,” Niall swiftly interrupted. “I’ve never traveled through time, and I’ve never wanted to. I think it’s dangerous, and there are too many ramifications. I’ve studied history the old-fashioned way—books and research.” His tone was more defensive than he intended, but he prided himself on not cheating and using the same underhanded tricks his father had.

“OK. So . this time-travel thing,” Scott muttered. “If it runs in families—how come my sister can travel through time and I can’t?” “It’s not always genetic. Not every member of my family can time travel—and they should consider themselves lucky,” Niall said, not bothering to hide the bitterness in his voice. “You’ve never been curious? Never wanted to see for yourself what ancient Rome was like? The Victorian era?” “Time travel is more complicated than that. For one thing, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact year you’ll travel to. I’ve heard stories of relatives attempting to get to the sixteenth century—only to end up in the Viking era,” Niall said with a sigh, rubbing his temples. “I can’t believe this. I mean—I do, but—Jesus.

I ask you here to get this time-travel bombshell off my chest about Isabelle, and you hit me with something even more incredible,” Scott said, sinking back into his chair. “I was half expecting you to end our friendship after I told you.” Niall frowned. Scott was an American professor from Chicago who’d come to Scotland to be with his Scottish wife and teach classics at the University of Edinburgh. As a native Scot, Niall rarely ventured to the States, and he’d never have met the American professor had their paths not crossed at a medieval classics conference in Edinburgh. He’d only known Scott for a couple of years, but he considered him a close friend. Even if he hadn’t believed his story, he wouldn’t have ended his friendship with Scott. Did he seem so rigid and closed off? Niall had to conclude that he probably did. Having such a massive secret to hide had made him close himself off to people—friends and lovers alike. As a medieval historian, his work as a researcher and consultant for museums and publications afforded him the ability to immerse himself in old books and ancient documents rather than interact with other people, keeping them at a distance.

Scott was one of the few—the only, he grudgingly admitted—close friends he had. “Well, I’m glad you told me,” he told Scott. “And to be honest, I’m glad to have someone outside my family know about time travel . and not think I’m crazy.” He hesitated, wondering if he should tell Scott about the dreams which had plagued him for months now, dreams of a beautiful auburn-haired woman in fourteenth-century clothing. At first, the dreams had only consisted of glimpses of her and then they became more vivid. He would see her approaching him with a wide smile, throwing her head back and laughing, dancing in his arms, and at times the dreams tilted toward the erotic—her lush body beneath his, his lips peppering kisses on her nude flesh. Recently, the dreams had grown dark, showing the woman in looming danger from an unknown threat. These dreams had become so pervasive that he was now convinced the woman in his dreams existed . and that she was in real danger.

“Niall?” Scott asked, pulling him from the maelstrom of his thoughts. “Are you all right?” Niall hesitated for only a moment before he spoke. “Speaking of time travel and the past . I’ve been having dreams. Dreams about a woman who I think is real.” Scott listened intently as Niall told him about the dreams, and the danger she seemed to be in. “I had one the other night—the most vivid one I’ve ever had. When I woke up . I wanted to go to her. And given her clothing, I can only assume she’s in the past.

Going to her would mean traveling back in time—something I told myself I’d never do.” Scott offered him a sympathetic nod. “I would give you advice . but I think you already know what to do.” Niall expelled a sigh. He’d hoped Scott would tell him it was foolish to go back in time to rescue a mysterious woman who may or may not exist from some unforeseen danger— all on the account of dreams. There was a sharp knock on the door, and Scott stiffened, glancing at the time. “I have a meeting with a student,” Scott said, giving him an apologetic look. “But I have a feeling this conversation isn’t over. Want to meet for lunch tomorrow?” Niall left Scott’s office to head to the Museum of Scotland, where he was consulting on an exhibit about women in medieval times, he tried to put their conversation from his mind and enjoy the day.

The museum was only a half-mile walk from the university, and he took his time, savoring the details of the street. Edinburgh was an old city, with many buildings from the past still standing. The street he was walking down, Cowgate, had once been an old drover’s route where farmers led their cattle to local markets for sale. A mix of modern and medieval buildings dotted the street, and he grinned at the sight of cow statues erected on one pub—a colorful ode to its past. His thoughts returned, unbidden, to Scott’s advice about the woman in his dreams. You already know what to do. Niall’s chest tightened at the thought of traveling through time. He’d lost count of how many times at conferences other historians mused over how wonderful it would be to travel through time, the awe of seeing the past for themselves. Niall had always held his tongue, not telling them that time travel was very real, and they should be happy that they were in the relative safety of the present. He preferred the safety of the present and using good old-fashioned books to research the past.

He had no desire to return to a time of rampant disease and danger. If you don’t go, what happens to the mystery woman? a phantom voice whispered in his mind, a whisper he tried to ignore. His thoughts still preoccupied him when he arrived at his office at the museum, where he gave his approval over items that were going on display in the exhibit: gowns, engraved hand mirrors, prayer books. He wondered if the mystery woman from his dreams, if she existed, used items like this in her day-to-day life. “Are you going to the museum’s benefit ball, Niall?” Niall looked up, still lost in his thoughts. Maisie, one of the museum curators, had poked her head into his office. He stiffened; Maisie had been trying to set him up with her niece for weeks. “No. I have plans that night,” Niall lied. He disliked museum balls and galas, preferring to spend his evenings with a good biography or historical tome and a glass of well-aged whiskey.

Scott liked to tease him that he acted more like an old man than one of only thirty-two. “That’s too bad,” Maisie said, expelling a sigh. “My niece needs a date for the ball. I think you two would get along well.” Niall just gave her a forced, polite smile. He knew women found him attractive; he had his mother’s wavy, chestnut hair and his father’s cerulean-blue eyes and strong, angular features. He’d had his fair share of casual lovers, but he’d not dated anyone since the dreams of the mystery woman began—and he had no desire to. Maisie left him alone with a polite good night, and when he returned to his penthouse later, he felt more tired than usual, his conversation with Scott still weighing on his mind. He made himself a quick dinner, taking in the penthouse that he’d inherited from his father. He’d purposefully designed it to have a modernistic feel, with its white walls and minimalist decor.

No one would ever guess that a historian lived here. When he crawled into bed, the familiar stirrings of dread tugged at him; he was uncertain of what his dreams would hold. He resisted sleep for as long as he could, but when sleep claimed him—he saw her. She was running, her gown torn, tears streaming down her face. The figure she ran from was a distant figure, someone he couldn’t make out. “Niall!” she screamed, her lovely face contorted in terror. “Please! Please—help me—” He awoke with a gasp, anxiety and fear roiling through him, his body shaking violently. Never had one of his dreams had such immediacy, such looming violence. There could be no more delay; no more denial. His mystery woman needed his help.

And she needed it now.

.

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