"Huh?" She looked down at her red lighter, weaving smoothly in and out of his nimble fingers.
"Oh, my lighter. I was using it to melt wax when I…" Magda took her head in her hands. Something about the man from the portrait tugged at her, and that nagging sense of familiarity had momentarily put he r too much at ease. "But…" Magda looked up, forcing her eyes to sharpen and meet his gaze. "I'm still dreaming."
James considered her, and their eyes met and held for a moment. Morning sunlight cut in at an angle, catching his profile, igniting the stubble along the edge of his strong jaw into flecks of gold and amber. Inexplicably, a brilliant smile dawned on his face. "No dream, I'm afraid." He hopped to his feet.
"You need some food in your belly," he stated authoritatively. "I'll have something brought in shortly to break your fast. I've set cook to preparing something more savory than the godforsaken bannocks she insists on serving each morning. You'd think we were on campaign." He pointed at her and added, "Kippers, black pudding, and a buttery. That's what a man needs."
He walked slowly to the door. "A lighter, you say? You'll not mind if I keep it in my possession a wee spell longer?" Considering the object closely, he added, "I'd have you demonstrate its uses."
"Oh," Magda replied, disoriented. "Of course." She smiled weakly, shaking her head at the absurdity, and thought wouldn't her parents be proud of the good breeding that maintained polite civility even in nightmares.
Thinking her smile for him, James rekindled one of his own, the corners of his eyes wrinkling with the pleasure of it. Her breath momentarily faltered, very nearly knocked down by the force of his charisma. Heart thumping to life, Magda instinctively pulled the duvet tight to her breast.
"In the meantime"—his eyes ran over the covers concealing her body—"as pleasant a sight as you make in my bed, we'll need to sort you out. I've, shall we say, a date with my king and I'm away within the fortnight."
He added quickly, "If I cannot jar loose your memories, then I'll do you the courtesy of leaving you with someone who can."
"But…" She swallowed. Her mouth was sour with fear, burning like bile in the back of her throat. She hadn't lost her memory. She just couldn't make sense of it. Couldn't make sense of the fact that she'd somehow been transported from Manhattan to—what did Walter say?—seventeenth -century Scotland. She'd dreamt of this long-dead man, and now she'd literally fallen into his lap and into a dream from which she couldn't wake.
He turned for the door.
"Wait. What do I do?"
"Don't fret." James laughed. "I'll send a maid in to help you ready yourself."
She looked at the formidable mass of green plaid and white lace that he'd left for her. "But whose is that?" she asked, feeling the hazy tide of this nightmare pulling her in.
Peeking his head through the closing door, James said with a wink, "I've some ladies in my acquaintance who are always happy to oblige."
She let her body sway with the maid's relentless tugging and pulling. Magda looked down the length of the absurd green dress to her slippered feet. Barefoot. She'd been barefoot. In her workroom. The UV light. Fragmented images came in a rush, and standing there, being dressed by some stranger, Magda had plenty of time to sort them through. She'd had some sort of episode from the UV light, but couldn't seem to surface from this peculiar dream. There was barely a pause between the brisk knock and the door swinging open. "Ladies!" James announced, surveying the room. He'd dressed for the day, and somehow the sight of his clothes startled Magda even more than donning her own period dress had.
His britches were tight, made of a crimson and butter yellow plaid that was a perfect match to the hose hugging his calves. A high -necked yellow vest concealed most of his torso, its double row of buttons snug along his belly and chest. His jacket was crimson, with large metal buttons, and he wore a cravat tied jauntily at his neck.
Seeing James again was a shock, yet oddly reassuring too. Each time Magda saw him, he became more real in her mind. She decided to let herself flow with it. If she was going to be stuck in this imagined seventeenth -century world, she might as well be open to the experience until its conclusion. It didn't seem to be a nightmare, and she couldn't help but hope the dream would finally take an erotic turn.
Magda traced her eyes over all those buttons and plaid. Rather than make James seem foppish, the extravagant clothing only made him appear all the more imposing. The fabric hugged his body, highlighting the tautn ess of his stomach, the lithe muscles of his arms and shoulders, and the hard silhouette of muscle so clearly visible along his calf and thigh. Fighting to avoid resting her eyes on the tasseled sporran hanging prominently and somewhat suggestively from his waist, Magda heard herself ask, "Yes?"
"Do forgive the interruption," he said with an easy smile, "but you'll need to stop your preening sometime this afternoon or we'll never make it to my physician."
He strode across the room with a proprietary air that was all too familiar to Magda, and she wondered if the real James Graham would've been that way, or if her dreaming mind had plucked the attitude from somewhere deep in her subconscious. He comported himself with the same confidence she'd seen in countless of her parents' wealthy friends, whether skimming through a champagne brunch or commanding their staff. James walked around like he owned the place. Because he did.
He raked his eyes over Magda in admiration. After hours of tightening, cinching, smoothing, and more buttoning than Magda thought possible, she had to admit she looked quite pretty in the forest green plaid he'd procured for her.
An off-white shift kept the wool from feeling itchy. The maid had stared overlong at Magda's bra and. embarrassed, she'd allowed herself to be crammed into a corset with a readiness that she now regretted. The top of the dress was snug, and between the deeply rounded neckline and the stays holding her into place, her curves appeared healthier than they ever had. Despite the stiff bodice and the elaborate prep time, she was surprised to realize how comfortable it was, and how well suited for staving off the definite chill in the room.
In fact, the most trying part of the outfit had been her hair, which the maid had parted tightly down the middle and somehow gathered and looped into curls despite the fact that Magda's locks had never seen a wavy day in their life. And she'd endured it all as if she were plodding through a murky dream, waiting to wake up, or for her circum stances to magically change.
"Una, dear heart," James said, addressing the maid who now studied the ground, blushing furiously, "you are capable of wonders!"
Magda stared openly, spying the surreptitious pat he gave the young woman's bottom.
James's laugh was slow and deep in his throat. "Shame on me." He leaned close to Magda's exposed neck and shoulders, and catching her eyes in the mirror's reflection, trapped her gaze to his. His black eyes smoldered, the look on his face grave with intent. "We cannot overlook the real wonder in the room."
She felt the brush of his hair soft on her neck. With James so close, the musk that had hung on his sheets lingered now on the edge of her senses, and Magda felt the blood rush to her head, the faint dusting of freckles along her nose and on the apples of her cheeks flaming dark russet. "Just look at you. mon peu de mystère, with a blush like a ripe plum." He inhaled deeply and added in a husky voice, "I'll wager you're as juicy as you look."
The feel of his hand stroking along her lower back brought Magda back to herself. Breaking their gaze, she hopped away from him with a startled gasp.
James's laughter erupted through the room. Magda looked to Una for support, but the maid who'd earlier been so sweet-tempered with her assistance now glared at Magda as if considering the many ways she could murder her. "Come, hen," he announced merrily, donning a pair of broadly cuffed black gloves. "You're off to the doctor."
James filled the carriage's silence with details about the town of Montrose. It lay on a spit of land surrounded by water on three sides: the North Sea, the River Esk, and the large tidal basin which Magda stared at now, glimmering steel gray and stretching into the distance, its glassy surface interrupted only by clumps of coarse bracken and the occasional hump of marshland peeking out from the water to announce low tide.
The brackish scent she'd detected in James's room was particularly heady now. Fresh bursts of the brisk sea breeze whirled into the carriage's open window, carrying that salty smell, rich and thick with life. Birds cawed overhead, and Magda watched as they lazily swooped and dove over the enormous tidal basin.
"You like it."
"Hm?" Magda realized she'd been staring quietly, mesmerized by the desolate view of the marshland reaching out toward the sea in the far distance. The landscape soothed her. The absence of civilization made it seem possible that she was looking at any seascape, anywhere in the world. The sense of familiarity was an assurance that she would soon wake to find her world the same as when she left it. Her body was no longer capable of sustaining such heightened panic, and her senses had dulled into a blunt concern that would keep vigil until this dream passed.
"The salt marsh ." James's eyes were kind as they studied her. "Your cheeks bear the kiss of the sea." He touched his fingers to her chilled face. "Her breath is brisk, and it's rare the lass who appreciates it."
His attentions unsettled her. He was so… vivid. His actions so specific, so focused on her. Looking away quickly, Magda replied, "I… yes, it's lovely."
She felt his smile at her back, but doggedly stared out the window rather than once again face that frank gaze.
"You don't seem to recognize where we are," he said solemnly. "Is it that you're newly arrived to Montrose town?"
She huddled closer to the window, pretending his question didn't exist, willing the chill wind to stop the tears that threatened to fall.