The Triple-C Ranch, three days after Newton and Arya’s wedding …
Duncan sat behind the desk in the study. It had been a long time since he’d had some time to himself and he sighed at the peace and quiet. Of course, it wasn’t going to last long. It never did.
“Ye ken I canna stay, d’ye no? And are we still having a meeting?”
Case in point. The Scot could appear out of nowhere, even in Duncan’s own ranch house. “Yes, and we are.”
“Good.” Dallan MacDonald stepped out of a shadowed corner. It was growing dark outside, and Duncan hadn’t bothered to light a lamp yet. “When will they be here?”
“At any moment.” Duncan turned in his chair to face him, noted the Scot’s native attire of sark, plaid and weapons, and tried not to grimace. “Have some patience, man.”
“I’m out o’ patience with this nasty business.”
Duncan ran a hand over his face a few times. “Aren’t we all?”
“Not all. Yer brothers still have theirs.”
“That’s because they haven’t the foggiest idea what’s going on.” He stood. “And I’d appreciate it if you’d let me be the one to tell them. Not you, and …” Now he did grimace, “… and please, not Kwaku.”
“Och, the heathen’s not one to explain anything tactfully.”
“Yes, I’m well aware,” Duncan said flatly. “Neither are you, for that matter.”
Dallan crossed his arms over his massive chest. “I was in a hurry the day I had to explain things to ye.”
“You could have done it differently,” Duncan countered.
“There wasna time, Your Grace. But ye took it well enough.”
Duncan laughed. “Yes, well, if my brothers ever ask about that encounter, I did not faint!”
Dallan smiled. “As ye wish, Your Grace,” he said and bowed.
A knock sounded at the door. Duncan came out from behind the desk and opened it. “Come in.”
Cutty, Amon and Newton filed in. “You wanted to see us?” Newton asked as he met Dallan’s gaze.
“Yes, please – sit down.” Duncan motioned to several chairs.
The men each took one and sat. “What’s this all about?” Cutty asked. “It’s getting late and Imogene and I are staying at Amon’s place tonight, so we need to leave soon.”
“This won’t take long,” Duncan said.
Amon looked between Duncan and the Scot. “What do you need?”
“Not what,” Dallan corrected. “Who.”
“You’re looking for someone?” Newton asked.
“Aye, and I was hoping ye could tell me a few things.”
Amon and Newton looked at each other. “What sort of things?” Amon asked.
The Scot came out from behind the desk and then casually leaned against it. “Like what happened to the three of ye out there on the prairie when Mr. Whitman here met his bride.”
Newton exchanged another look with Amon, then glanced at Cutty. “Why would you be interested in that?” Cutty asked cautiously.
“Because the man I’m looking for may ha’ been there.”
“May have?” Cutty asked.
“Does this have anything to do with the men who took Arya?” Newton asked.
“Aye, it does.”
Newton came out of his chair. “Was the man you’re looking for behind it? Who is he, then? Tell me!”
“Dinna fash yerself, laddie, I’m getting to that. Sit down.”
Newton looked less than satisfied, but slowly sat.
“Do you remember anyone else being out there while you were … courting her?” Duncan asked.
“Other than Arya and her people?” Newton asked. “Only the Awahnees, but they came and went. They weren’t always around.”
“Seth and Ryder too,” Amon added. “But they came and went as well. And I was there just the one time.”
“Same for me,” added Cutty. “So who are you looking for?”
Dallan sighed. “His name is Philip Brennan.”
The three men glanced at one another. Cutty shrugged. Amon rubbed his chin in thought. Newton stared at Dallan, an odd look in his eyes. “Philip …”
Dallan came away from the desk. “Aye. The man’s a devil and would slit yer throat given half the chance. Trust me, ye’d remember him.”
Newton’s eyes narrowed in recollection. “Philip sounds familiar … but I … can’t remember … that’s odd.”
Dallan gave Duncan a sardonic look. “I was afraid of that. But dinna fash, laddie. You will.”
“What do you mean, he will?” Cutty asked. “Forgive me, sir, but this is making no sense to me.”
“Mr. MacDonald has been tracking this man for sometime,” Duncan explained. “He left his homeland and came to America to look for him. He’s tracked him across the country to here.”
“What?” Amon said. “I heard you were a wagon master and that that was what brought you to Clear Creek a few years ago.”
“Nay, laddie, that was just a tale,” Dallan said.
Cutty scratched a scar on his head. “This man you’re chasing … what would he want with Arya’s people?”
“He’s looking for someone,” Dallan said. “He’s been looking for a long time and has spared no expense in the process.”
Newton blanched. “Whom?”
Dallan sighed again, this time is resignation. There was no easy way to say it. “His daughter, lad. She was taken from him long ago when she was no more than a babe. But it’s no safe to let him near her. He uses people, the way one o’ yer locomotives uses wood and water. He’d drain her dry and leave her for dead if he found her.”
Newton’s brows shot up. He quickly glanced at Cutty and Amon, then back again. “But what does that have to do with us?”
“Everything,” Dallan said. “Ye married her.”
* * *
A few hours later …
Duncan stared at the amber liquid swirling in his glass, his hand moving in slow circles. Newton, Amon and Cutty had left hours ago, shaken and confused. Duncan wasn’t much better off. “Explain to me again what you think happened.”
“Lissa, Brennan’s wife,” Dallan said. “He must ha’ had her plant some false memories into each o’ them. She’s good at it, too.”
“She can do that?”
“Och aye, Your Grace, and much more. She’s a verra powerful woman, even as Muirarans go.”
Duncan closed his eyes a moment, his jaw tight. “So I understand what Brennan wants with Arya. But what does he want with Cozette?”
Dallan stood in front of the desk. “That’s what I’m trying to find out, though I’ve a good idea.”
“Lissa herself told me she and Brennan were trying to wipe out anyone compatible with those born into the House of Shamaelon.”
“House of … Shamaelon?”
“Aye, my wife’s house. A verra powerful bloodline.”
Duncan opened his eyes. “He thinks Cozette might be … compatible?”
“Nay, Your Grace. But your offspring may well be.”
Duncan groaned. “How did I ever get mixed up in this?”
“Because yer wife would ha’ died had she not joined wi’ ye. Ye ken that, d’ye no?”
Duncan slowly nodded. “Yes, you’ve explained it all to me … but … oh bloody hell.”
“It’s a nasty business, Your Grace. Sometimes I ha’ trouble understanding it myself.”
Duncan laughed half-heartedly. “You travel through time as if it were a walking path, Mr. MacDonald. You of all people should have a grasp on this. It’s the rest of us who feel, for lack of a better term, like we’ve gone ‘round the bend.”
“You’re no different than I, Your Grace.”
“If by that you mean we’re both married to something that isn’t human – or is more than human – then fine, we have that in common. Though my wife lacks the abilities of yours. But I’m sure any latent talents of Cozette’s yet to surface will be most entertaining.”
He downed his glass in one swallow and set it onto the desk. “I like you Mr. MacDonald … Dallan. But there are times like now when I wish I’d never set eyes on you. What am I supposed to tell Amon, Newton and Tha …and Cutty, when they start remembering what happened out there?”
“Nothing. Listen – write everything down. If Philip and Lissa were indeed present, why did they not take Arya after searching for the lass for so long? That’s what I want to know.”
“A good question,” Duncan agreed.
“Aye, and one only Newton and the others can answer. Brennan’s plotting something, I’m sure of it. The question is, what? In the meantime, watch over them, Your Grace. I’ve other matters to attend to in the next few days.”
“Where are you off to now, for Heaven’s sake?”
“Home. I’ll send someone to watch over the town until I return.”
Duncan ran a hand through his hair. “Who? Kwaku?”
“Nay, he’s busy. I’ll ha’ to send another. Dinna worry, he’ll keep out of sight.”
“See that he does,” Duncan warned. “The last thing Clear Creek needs is a bunch of Muirarans running around town.”
Duncan chuckled. “There are worse things, Your Grace.”
“Well, don’t tell me what they are, I don’t want to know. I’ve got enough to worry about. What if my brothers start asking questions?”
“Give them something else to think about. Perhaps it’s time to regale them with that crocodile story ye told me yer mother always raved about.”
Duncan smiled. “Ah yes, that. I could use a good story about now.”
“Then share it, now that ye ha’ the whole thing. Leave out my involvement, o’ course. Except the diary – ye can leave that in.”
Duncan stood. “How do you do it?”
“Be a Time Master? It must take a toll on you.”
“Aye, it’s a hard burden to bear. But I dinna bear it alone. As much as I hate to admit it, the heathen is a big help.”
Duncan slowly nodded. “I know how the two of you bicker, yet I sense great respect between you.”
“Aye, there is. But dinna let him hear from you that I said anything of the kind.”
Duncan offered him his hand. “Until our next meeting.”
Dallan gave took it and gave it a firm shake. “Aye. Until then, I hope yer family enjoys the story o’ the crocodile.”
Duncan smiled. “Oh, trust me, they will.”
Now, it really is THE END
(And the beginning of The Time Master Chronicles. Because let’s face it, you always knew there was more to Clear Creek than meets the eye …)