Trace Huntsman would have punched Kenzie Gregor in the face if the bastard hadn’t looked too miserable to defend himself. So he hauled the highland warrior several yards down the driveway instead, out of earshot of the two women getting out of the large black SUV.
“Mind telling me what in hell is going on here?” Trace asked through gritted teeth. “And you damn well better start by explaining why the ‘lost soul’ moving into my house just happens to be your sister.”
“If I’d told you I wanted the apartment for Fiona, would you have rented it to me?” Kenzie asked, the determination in his eyes warring with his obvious guilt.
Deciding that was a rhetorical question, Trace looked over his shoulder to see Eve Gregor wrap an arm around her sister-in-law and all but drag Fiona toward the outside stairs leading up to the second-floor apartment of his old New England farmhouse. He turned back to Kenzie. “I
offered to keep an eye on one of your displaced time travelers; I did not agree to babysit the little sister of a powerful drùidh who will turn me into a toad if anything happens to her.”
Kenzie shot him a tight grin, although it did little to soften his expression. “It’s not as though we pulled your name out of a hat, Huntsman. Matt and I rented your apartment precisely so you can keep an eye on Fiona for us.”
“Goddamn it, she’s your sister, why can’t you keep an eye on her? Better yet, why can’t your brother? He’s a wizard, for chrissakes; all he has to do is conjure up a protective bubble to put around her.”
“Do ye not think we wouldn’t prefer to do just that?” Kenzie asked softly. “But what kind of life can she possibly have if we treat her like a child? Believe me; for as hard as this is on Fiona, it’s sheer hell for Matt and me.” Kenzie gestured toward the house. “Which leaves us with you. It’s our hope that by forcing Fiona to live on her own, she will eventually rediscover the strong, self-reliant woman she was before that bastard raped her and stole her courage.”
“Then build a house on your land and let her live under your watchful eye.”
“Fiona needs to be in town in order to become part of this community. She must learn to trust people—men in particular—and that won’t happen unless she realizes society is a blessing instead of a curse.”
“But why me?”
“Because Matt and I trust you.”
“Then you and your brother are idiots. Hell, my own mother doesn’t even trust me enough to water her plants and feed her cat when she goes out of town.”
Some of the tension eased out of Kenzie’s shoulders, and this time his grin actually reached his eyes. “You won’t need to water Fiona or feed her. In fact, Matt and I prefer you do nothing for her other than make sure she’s safe. Her rent is paid up for the next six months, her cupboards will be stocked with a week’s worth of food, and she has five hundred dollars in cash.” He shrugged. “When she gets hungry, she will have to walk to the store and buy what she needs, and when her money runs out, she’ll have to find a job.”
Trace was incredulous. “You expect a woman born in eleventh-century Scotland to just walk into a modern business and get a job?” He snorted. “There’s not much call for washing clothes in the creek or spinning wool into yarn these days. No, wait,” he said, snapping his fingers. “Fiona was a red-tailed hawk for several centuries; maybe the town could hire her to control the pigeon population.”
Kenzie scowled. “Fiona knows how to read and do numbers, and she can be quite resourceful when she’s not jumping at shadows. Which is why you mustn’t coddle her, either.”
“Well, sure. I’ll just give you a call, then, when your dead sister’s body starts stinking up my apartment.”
The towering highlander’s grin returned, but quite menacing this time. “Do not underestimate her, my friend, or it’s likely your body I’ll be carting off. Fiona may appear delicate, but I’ve seen her go after a pack of wolves with only a stick when they tried to snatch one of our spring lambs. She was ten, and the wolves were smart enough never to return.”
Trace dropped his head in defeat. “Goddamn it. I didn’t sign up for this, Gregor.”
Kenzie headed toward his SUV. “Ye may wish to clean up your language around her,” he said, his chuckle equally menacing. “When she was eight, Fiona washed Matt’s mouth out with soap for taking God’s name in vain. But knowing she’d never catch him in a footrace, she waited until he fell asleep that night and then shoved a lathered bar of soap halfway down his throat.” He stopped and opened the rear hatch. “So consider yourself warned. Fiona rarely gets mad, but she will get even.”
Trace grabbed one of the boxes out of the back of the truck and started toward the stairs. Great. Wonderful. Friggin’ fantastic. Why should he care if Matt Gregor turned him into a toad? Living under a rock waiting for a fly to land on his nose had to be better than babysitting an eleventh-century woman who had turned her fear of men into openly aggressive hatred.
Which was a shame, really, considering that Fiona Gregor also happened to be stunningly beautiful. Dammit to hell, he’d be beating two-legged wolves off with a stick once every bachelor within fifty miles realized a pretty new lamb had just moved into town.
Trace suddenly stopped in mid-step. Wait a minute—did that mean the Gregor brothers thought he was a goddamn eunuch?
Well, Christ, they really were idiots if they had never considered they might have just conned the fox into guarding the henhouse.
• • •
Fiona squinted against the sunlight shooting through a knothole in the wood and slowly sat up as much as the sharply slanting ceiling allowed, giving a disheartened sigh.
She made no apologies for hating men, but she surely was tired of being afraid of them. And she was quite disgusted with herself for going into a full-blown panic last night when Trace Huntsman had knocked on her door to tell her that electricity didn’t grow on trees and that she needed to turn off the lights in her apartment.
Afraid he might decide to push through the rickety old door and turn them off himself, she’d run through the rooms like a madwoman, shutting off lamps and frantically searching for wall switches. She’d turned off every last bulb, even though he’d said she could leave one on just before he’d walked back down the outside stairs.
Thoroughly shaken by the late-night encounter, she had tried resorting to her old habit of sleeping in a closet, only to discover that all three of the apartment closets were simply too small. So she’d dragged her blankets into the large cupboard built under the attic stairway, curled into a tight ball in the dark, and eventually fallen asleep.
Blinking against the bright morning light when she opened the door, she decided to make a latch for the cupboard that she could lock from the inside. And before she started scrubbing every crack and crevice in the kitchen and bathroom, she should probably gather some of the sweetgrass she’d seen growing down by the sea and make a mattress for it as well.
“It won’t be my permanent bed,” she assured herself as she crawled out and stood up. “But having a hidey-hole is only prudent, and there’s no reason it can’t be comfortable as well as secure.” Maybe she could also disguise the fact that it even existed; some well-placed furniture and a large wall hanging over the door should do the trick.
But her shoulders slumped as she stared down at the gaping cavity. A modern woman wouldn’t have spent the night hiding in a cupboard—even if she did live above a big, strong-looking, disgruntled landlord.
“I am well aware that electricity doesn’t grow on trees,” she muttered, walking to the bathroom. She stopped to look into the mirror over the sink and found gold-colored eyes exactly like her mother’s glaring back at her. She began unbraiding her hair. “Just because my brothers tricked you into renting this apartment to me, that’s no reason for you to march up here in the middle of the night growling like an angry bear. You could have just called my cell phone and nicely asked me to turn off the lights. Or is acting civilized beyond the ken of modern warriors, too?”
Fiona decided it was beyond her ken how little men had changed in a thousand years, especially considering that technology had progressed out of this world—literally! People had actually walked on the moon, yet every blasted man she’d ever met—in this century or in her old time—was still a bully.
Including her brothers.
Fiona stripped out of the clothes she’d slept in, then reached past the tattered shower curtain surrounding the bathtub and turned on the water. She felt bad for having spoken so bluntly to Eve yesterday, when her sister-in-law’s feigned excitement had turned to horror the moment they’d walked into the apartment. No, she probably shouldn’t have said she considered this a rather nice prison compared with her last one, as Eve had grown even more appalled and started to go tell Kenzie the apartment wasn’t fit for a dog to live in.
Fiona had immediately stopped her, saying she’d willingly live in a cave if her dear, sweet, loving brothers thought she should, seeing as how they seemed to know far better than she did what was good for her. And besides, with a little work, she could make the place quite cozy. She didn’t have anything else to do now that they had each in turn banished her from their homes.
Aye, she’d definitely been too blunt, Fiona decided as she stepped under the hot spray of water. After making up her bed and unpacking some of the boxes they’d spent last week filling with household goods, it had taken her almost two hours to persuade Eve—who obviously felt guilty for siding with Kenzie—that she was actually looking forward to putting her personal touch on her new home.
Not that this old house could ever be as nice as her brothers’ homes, especially the veritable castle Matt and Winter were building up in the western mountains of Maine. And even though Kenzie and Eve lived in a century-old farmhouse similar to this one, theirs had just gone through a major renovation that had transformed it into a fortress the devil himself couldn’t destroy.
Whereas this place … well, Fiona figured the roof was staying attached only by the grace of God, the furnishings and appliances were older than she was, and if the floors creaked any louder, she’d likely be deaf in a month.
On the plus side, however, it did have running water, indoor plumbing, and electricity that she happened to know came from power lines—although she wasn’t sure where the power in those lines actually came from.
But just as soon as she worked up the nerve, she planned to visit the building full of books Eve’s mother, Mabel, had
told her about and find out for certain how electricity was made. And the next time Trace Huntsman felt the need to give her a lesson on modern technology, she intended to point out that she hadn’t grown out of a tree.
That is, assuming she could also work up the nerve to actually talk to the growling bear.