by Amy Hoff
Suddenly the woman threw Jane facedown and was on top of her in an instant, covering her entire body. Jane was thrillingly aware of every place the woman’s muscular body touched her—from the heavy breasts pressing into her back, to the pleasing pressure of the long, strong legs. Jane’s heart hammered wildly in her chest…
The year is 1888. Brilliant and beautiful, Lady Jane Crichton has fought the constraints of her Victorian Edinburgh upbringing to become one of the first women to attend university for medicine. Denied a degree because of her gender, she decides to marry a closeted gay man, providing him with political and social cover and herself with the time and money to pursue her scientific interests—one of which is a time machine. Jane’s machine works…but not exactly as she expected, and soon she has crash-landed in the 13th-century Scottish Highlands.
There she is rescued by a wild, red-haired warrior woman, Ainslie nic Dòmhnaill, next in line to the chiefship of the great Clan Donald, the rulers of the Sea Kingdom of the Isles. Despite the constant threat of attacks from enemy clans, harsh winters and a touch of homesickness, Jane finds herself bewitched by this land, this time and this magnificent woman. The rough and warlike Ainslie also feels the magic and revels in a passion and love neither she nor Jane had ever imagined.
But Jane is hiding a dangerous secret—one that threatens to tragically transform their Highland fairy tale.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"I've been a Scottish historian and folklorist for several years, and I'd been living in Glasgow and Islay for over a decade. I attended the University of Glasgow and then taught folklore there, and I also worked at the Gaelic College on Islay. I was chosen to participate in TalentScotland's Summer Programme and the International Young Scotland Programme. I hosted many Burns Suppers, and as a filmmaker, wrote and directed several Scottish historical and folkloric films, series, and a documentary. One day, I mentioned off the cuff that I was familiar with a lot of Scottish romance tropes, given my academic interests. I said that I ought to write a Scottish romance story, but with lesbian leads. Several bi and lesbian people wrote to tell me that they had wished for a story of that kind for years. Then two lesbian friends of mine who were getting married - one Scottish, one American - said that they would love to read that kind of book. So I originally wrote My Heart's in the Highlands for them as a wedding gift.
I chose to have both leads be Scottish, because so many other stories involve one person who is Scottish and another who isn't. These two time periods, post-Scottish Enlightenment and the thirteenth century, are not as often covered in popular culture. As I have often said, Scotland is Braveheart and Trainspotting, The Angel's Share, Local Hero, and Whisky Galore all in one. There are many Scotlands, from many eras, and all are as worthy as the others. This was an opportunity to write about the incredible flowering of invention in Scotland, as well as the time of Dál Riada and the Lords of the Isles. The book is the result of over twenty years of Scottish historical, cultural, and folkloric study."
Melinda B. - This book was one of the most exciting novels I've read in months. The premise was unique and I especially liked the idea of history not being linear, and progress and certain values like gender equality and acceptance of various sexual orientations being lost over time. Having visited most of the locations mentioned in the book recently, including Finlaggan, I loved how real the Hebridean setting felt. The thing that stood out to me was how well developed the main characters were and the amazing chemistry they had. I loved this novel and I really hope the author keeps writing for Bella Books. She has a really unique voice.
The high, thick wooden heels of her sensible leather boots landed right in a puddle with a splash.
Of course, she thought.
“Fuck,” she said.
The cab driver raised an eyebrow both startled and admonishing. She waved him off irritably and he flicked the reins, shaking his head as the cab disappeared in the impossibly dreich weather.
Edinburgh was a watercolour, because what other kind of painting could it possibly be? The striations of grey across a sky that always seemed a bit too close to the earth matched the grey Gothic sobriety of the castle and the rabbit warrens of wynds that wound their way up to the Royal Mile with ominous names like Fleshmarket Close, the joining of Old and New Town in a symphony of rain-drenched stone beneath the shadow of Arthur’s Seat.
Lady Jane Crichton arranged herself, an enormous folder tucked under one arm, her long skirt and buttoned blouse just as sensible as her shoes. She had large, very dark brown eyes like a doe, under heavy dark eyebrows, and long, dark chestnut-brown hair, nearly black, that came tumbling down over her shoulders when it was unpinned. Now it was pinned up, the ruff of her starched collar touching her jawline. She looked every bit the scientist she was, or was trying to be, if she hadn’t stepped directly into a puddle and sworn like a sailor. But such was life in Edinburgh; the cost of being at the centre of scientific invention meant putting up with God’s worst weather.
Doctor Jane Crichton was her real title, but the men persisted with “Miss.” Still, they’d invited her to the scientific convocation today, so she let it slide.
She pushed open the door, which was either far lighter than she’d expected or she didn’t know her own strength; it ricocheted off the wall. Fortunately, she caught it before it could hit her, but the noise caused the men in the room to turn in their chairs and stare at her. Starched-suits, young men who were already old, taking on airs as if they were peers in the House of Lords instead of her medical colleagues.
“Ah, Doctor Crichton,” said the man currently at the podium. “So nice to have you join us.”
He smiled warmly and she returned his smile, hesitant. He’d called her “Doctor.”
She always did like Joseph Bell. Whether or not he thought highly of women she did not know, but he respected scientists.
Bell, although just past fifty years of age, had the aura of youth about him. He had bright eyes and a mischievous smile, a razor-sharp wit, and a mind that outshone everyone present. He had angular features and a sharp, hawklike face. He possessed a great energy, evident in the way he moved with barely contained enthusiasm, walking with a strange, jerking gait that identified him from a distance. His mild personality and unassuming air meant that people were all the more astounded by his deductions, a habit of surprising people in which he took particular delight. His passion for scientific enquiry and his love of a mystery like a hound on a scent made Joseph Bell the youngest man in the room, although he was older than most of the men in it.
“As you will see,” Dr. Bell resumed, taking the attention away from Jane as he read her silent plea correctly, “there are a multitude of uses for fingerprinting in police investigation. The work of Dr. Henry Faulds will illustrate some of the ways in which this type of scientific advancement has led to the identification and sentencing of criminals.”
Jane found her seat and arranged her skirts around her, then opened her messy document folder and began to page through it. After a while, she noticed that Dr. Bell had gone silent. She looked up slowly.
“Doctor Crichton, have I bored you today?” he asked. “Is there something more pressing than the capture of criminals?”
Some of the men snickered but were silenced by a sharp look from Dr. Bell. He returned his gaze to Jane, who held it.
“What about catching criminals before they ever commit the crime?” Jane asked.
This caused a commotion; a whisper went through the assembly.
“Even if that were possible, there is the ethical dilemma inherent in arresting a man for a crime he did not yet commit,” Dr. Bell said. “Deduction is an important skill, but even if it can at times predict intent, it certainly cannot be said to imbue the practitioner with psychic abilities. It is not enough to be able to do something. We must consider whether the thing should be done at all. A moral question, to be sure, but a scientist always considers the possible ramifications of his or her actions.”
The men in the room chuckled, but Jane, encouraged by Dr. Bell’s treatment of her as a human being, was emboldened by the discussion. She spoke to him as if they two were alone in the enormous assembly hall.
“I’m not talking about precognition,” she said, a grin starting to spread across her face. “I’m talking about time travel.”
Dr. Bell grinned back, as if he too thought this conversation between them alone.
“Indeed,” he said. “And if time travel could be used to discern the criminal activities of the mind or return to the precise time before the event to prevent it—whether or not that means the guilty party is still guilty, having not committed the crime—there’s still the matter of our not having the slightest notion of how to go about it.”
“That’s just it, Professor,” said Jane. “I think I do.”
“Theoretical knowledge regarding time machines is—” Bell began.
“Oh, no, Doctor,” she interrupted. “You misunderstand.”
“How do you mean?” he asked.
She smiled, triumphant.
“You see, I’ve already built one.”
Up the Waverley Steps
A hush fell over the assembly. Dr. Bell just stared at her, his mouth in a thin line.
Then the laughter began, swelled and rose across the crowd as a wave.
Jane was not disheartened. She could see that look in Dr. Bell’s eyes.
He believed her, and he was a hard man to convince.
* * *
He approached her after the presentations had concluded.
“That was quite a performance,” he said.
“Yes, well, I can’t help my flair for the dramatic,” said Jane.
“Listen, Jane,” he whispered urgently. “You and I both know how ridiculous all this is—no truly intelligent man or woman capable of deductive reasoning would posit such a false concept as gender making a whit of difference when it comes to a bright scientific mind—but you know the prevailing belief of the day and what they will do. You were one of the Edinburgh Seven, after all.”
Jane smiled. She had seen Sophia’s advertisement in the newspaper and written immediately, despite her mother’s misgivings on the subject. She had always acted first and considered later, but she also felt that time spent in consideration was time wasted. Had she not jumped at the chance, she would not be the only woman standing in the convocation hall with the other scientists. Even though it was ruled that the university did not have to grant the degrees the women should have attained in 1873, Jane was still a doctor. But for many of the Seven, their treatment and the related public shaming had soured them on Edinburgh forever. As it was, over the past fifteen years, many of them had moved to England and other places. Jane had always been stubborn. She would not let men chase her away from her passion for science and medicine, and she certainly would not let them run her out of Scotland or Edinburgh. After all, Edinburgh was her home too.
“I still talk to Sophia and Margaret from time to time,” Jane said sweetly. “Do you?”
Dr. Bell sighed, exasperated.
“Please take this seriously, Jane!” he said. “Edinburgh may be more advanced in egalitarian pursuits than London, but only just.”
Jane sighed, scratching at her collar and then one of the multiple pins holding up her hair, which was quite heavy. She looked at Bell’s short hair, simple coat, and trousers with jealousy. She shook her head and sighed.
“Yes, Joseph, all right,” she relented. “I understand. Or rather, I don’t understand at all, because it is absolutely illogical and so fundamentally goddamned stupid—”
A few of the other men still lingering in the hallway raised their heads to look over at the pair, as Jane’s loud voice started to echo off the bricks.
She lowered her voice to a whisper.
“I understand the danger,” she said. “Thank you for the warning.”
“Good,” said Dr. Bell, rubbing his hands. “Now, to the matter at hand: is it true?”
“You tell me,” she said, holding his gaze. Dr. Bell studied her, and his eyes went wild with excitement.
“So it is,” he said, barely able to speak. “Will you show me?”
Jane nodded, finger to her lips.
* * *
Jane was always too.
She was too tall, too loud, too stocky, too much.
She tried to hunch, to hide, until it became obvious to her that a woman of her stature was always going to take up space. This is not to say she was particularly powerful or muscular; there was just a lot of her. When her da was feeling fond, he’d tell her she was a “right healthy wee lass, like a sonsie Swiss milkmaid wi’ colour in her cheeks.”
Her imposing physical presence would have been enough—but Jane was too in other ways as well.
Too smart. Too talkative. Too cheeky.
“You’ll never find a husband wi’ a beul on ye like that,” said her mum.
And as clumsy as if she had two left feet.
She never had a partner for Strip the Willow because attempting the combinations necessary in that dance would injure anybody.
But to Sophia and the others of the Edinburgh Seven—the women who in 1869 were first to study medicine in Britain, at the University of Edinburgh—for the first time in her life, Jane was just right.
Sophia was brave where Jane was not; she and her partner Margaret lived openly together, world be damned. Jane did not have Sophia’s fortitude, and her interest in medicine eventually evolved into an interest in the more esoteric sciences. She was far more interested in solving the questions of the universe than of the human body, but was too shy to mention this to the brash and bold Sophia. Eventually, she wrote a letter to her friend; although she was a frequent visitor to their home, she could not bring herself to tell the woman who had fought so hard for them to receive an education that her interests had branched in other directions.
Shortly thereafter, Jane received a brief telegram:
MY DEAR JANE STOP WE WERE MERELY THE CATALYST STOP THE IDEA WAS ALLOWING WOMEN TO PURSUE THE FULL EXTENT OF THEIR ABILITIES STOP YOU ARE A BRILLIANT DOCTOR AND WILL BE A BRILLIANT SCIENTIST STOP SEIZE THE PASSION OF YOUR HEART STOP PLEASE VISIT SOON MAGGIE AND THE DOGS MISS YOU AS DO I STOP YOURS SOPHIA JEX-BLAKE
And Jane had gone forth, seizing the passion of her heart, as Sophia had advised; she found her footing and her real place as a scientist and would always be grateful to Sophia for her telegram, which she kept in a small locked chest near her bed.
In the Manor House
“I’m home!” Jane called, taking off her wet raincoat. Joe Bell followed her inside.
The large house was icy cold. Even the wealthiest of Edinburgh’s elite could not afford much in the way of warmth. The tall windows were ghosted with frost and looked out onto the city below.
“Welcome back, my dear. I’ve just put the kettle on,” said David, her husband, pottering through the house in oversized slippers and a dressing gown. He kissed her cheek and went on to the kitchen.
Lady Jane was not always a lady, you see. She’d married David some years ago. She may have been upper middle class due to her mother’s family but had picked up some of her working-class father’s accent and habits. A few elocution lessons after her marriage, and she was talking like the cream of Edinburgh society, much to her mother’s delight.
Jane and Joe sat down in the drawing room together, watching the rain streak the windows outside.
“Here we are!” said David, moving into the room with a tray full of cups and a teapot, setting it down delicately. He sat down himself and drew out a pipe, lighting it.
Lord David Crichton would not usually greet visitors in his dressing gown, but he hadn’t known there would be any. He was normally an impeccably dressed man, in his formal brown suits with his blond hair combed flat down against his skull in a severe part. He was certainly some variety of handsome, although Jane couldn’t say which; she thought him a bit dull at times. However, she adored his eccentricities; he was very kind, a sensitive soul, and he supported her efforts unfailingly, so Jane felt she had made a good match. All in all, it was a good marriage and allowed her the kind of time and money necessary to pursue scientific interests.
“Now then!” David said. “I expect Janie here told you about her time machine? Absolutely wonderful stuff! She’s a genius, our Janie.”
“I have to say I agree,” said Joe Bell mildly, taking a sip of his tea.
“Gentlemen,” said Jane. “You flatter me without knowing a thing about it. You haven’t even seen it, Joe. You wouldn’t accept that from any of the men in the society.”
“Quite right! Quite right!” said David, clapping his hands. “Capital! Janie has always been better at the old women’s rights wheeze. Absolutely spiffing is our Janie!”
Jane smiled indulgently at her husband. Harmless with a head full of air, David was nevertheless one of the best cheerleaders a woman could ask for. He’d come from a very well-to-do family. “Serious old Scottish stock, Janie, bore the head off a Highland cow, so they would,” he often said. “Absolutely no fun in them at all.”
Jane set down her cup of tea.
“It’s time,” she said, indicating that they should follow.
Joe stood, nearly knocking over the tray in his haste, with David following languorously after, puffing smoke all the way.
* * *
The shed in the back garden was a little worse for wear, as the relentless damp of Edinburgh got through all the cracks and crevices and peeled the paint right off the wood. But none of that mattered; it’s what was on the inside that counted.
Jane pushed open the door. There beyond it sat a truncated icosahedron with a small window, a strange contraption that resembled a 20-sided spherical submarine with the texture of beaten copper.
“Here it is,” Jane announced proudly.
Joe inspected it eagerly, looking through the window and then opening the hatch and peering down.
“It only fits one person?” he asked.
“Yes, this prototype model doesn’t have space for passengers,” she explained. “I wanted to make sure everything was working before I expanded the design.”
“And you’ve already made a flight?” asked Joe.
“Only a few short ones,” said Jane.
“Yes!” David laughed. “I’d gone out to bring her lunch, and apparently she intercepted me several times. When I finally reached the shed, she showed me that she already had three cucumber sandwiches! I’m a lucky man, Doctor, I’ll tell you that!”
“You know, a cucumber sandwich sounds wonderful,” Jane said. “Would you be ever so kind as to make us a few, David? I’m positively famished.”
“Right-o!” he said cheerfully. “Coming right up!”
David left the shed and the door fell to with a snick. Jane watched him out the window and then turned to Bell, grasping his hand urgently.
“What is it, Jane?” asked Joe.
“You know that David and I have never had children,” she said.
“Aye, some of the people are starting to talk, so I hear,” said Joe, amused. This was something of a joke between them, as David and Jane hadn’t been married all that long.
His expression grew serious as he saw the hard look she was giving him.
“Promise me you’ll look after him, Joe,” she said. “He’s a politician and I’m his only protection.”
Dr. Bell was confused.
“Protection against what?” he asked. “Are you going somewhere?”
Jane glanced out the window again.
“Our marriage is a sham,” said Jane. Then, in an urgent whisper, “David is…David likes men.”
The light of understanding dawned on Joe’s expression.
“And you’re with him because he needed the illusion of marriage and you needed the time and money for research,” he deduced, because he did that.
“Yes,” said Jane. “We are the best of friends and I just adore the poor befuddled thing. Please don’t let any harm come to him, Joe, promise me!”
“I promise,” said Joe. “But then are you—”
He gave the contraption a significant look.
“Yes,” she said. “This is my first flight back in time—I mean, really back—and I wanted you here for it. I trust you, Joe. If I don’t make it back—”
She held his gaze. He nodded.
“Understood,” he said.
She sighed with relief.
“Thank you,” she replied.
“Jane,” he said. “I know you have—strong opinions, shall we say, but I can’t help but wonder where you’re going. Or when you’re going.”
“Does it matter?” she asked. “If I fail, it’s not as if you can rescue me.”
“I still must insist—”
“I haven’t much time, Joe. Thank you for everything.”
He nodded and watched her climb into the time machine. Just as she was about to pull the hatch closed, she turned to him. She could see David returning, walking across the garden with cucumber sandwiches piled high on a plate.
“Don’t look so worried, Joe,” she said. “I may be back in time for cucumber sandwiches.”
A few moments later, the contraption lit up, coughed, and sputtered, as the engine growled to life. Joe watched as the machine flickered and then blinked out of existence right before his eyes, Jane’s final smile and wave frozen and caught as an imprint on his retinas.
He was standing there, astonished, when David opened the door, carefully balancing the plate in one hand.
“Ah, has she popped off then?” he asked. “Brilliant, if you ask me. She’ll be back before we know it. She loves my sandwiches.”
They stood there in the shed expectantly. Time ticked by.
“Janie?” asked David, setting down the tray. The worry had trickled into his usually sunny voice.
“She’s not usually gone this long,” he explained to Joe, looking distraught. “Janie?”
The shed continued on, empty and silent, as if it had always been.
Her vision was blurred—or, no. It was the fog.
Distantly, she became aware of rough ground beneath her, the twigs and dirt underneath her hands. Floating in this strange dream, which looked to her like one of the snowglobes she had seen in a London shop window, was the looming shadow of a mountain, white-capped in the distance, so high above her she felt almost dizzy with it and, in the foreground, on a rocky outcrop, a…bonfire?
She pushed herself into a sitting position, and what had seemed like a fire in the distance resolved itself into the figure of a woman with fiery ginger hair, her body wrapped in the woman’s version of the long tartan blanket-like garment that men wore as the more recognizable great kilt. Jane knew the word for it, earasaid, although she’d never seen one; that type of clothing was viewed as impossibly uncouth and savage these days. The woman’s back was turned to her. A large sword was at her side.
Jane suddenly noticed, to her horror, the broken, twisted remnants of her machine. She covered her mouth to stifle a scream; she had no idea where she was, or when she was, or who her companion might be. She only thought of getting away as fast as she could; something had gone wrong and she needed to find a way to get in touch with David or Joe Bell as soon as possible.
She rolled to her feet and started to creep away silently, her eyes all the while on the silent woman seated at the cliff’s edge. She reached the treeline at the edge of the clearing, congratulating herself on her stealth.
“The Argyll are in there, ye ken,” said a rich, rolling deep voice.
“Aye, I’m speakin t’you,” said the voice. The woman on the cliff hadn’t moved or even looked around. “The daft lassie tryin’ to skewer hersel on a Caimbeul dirk.”
“Excuse me?” said Jane, insulted.
The woman stood and turned around.
Jane’s heart was in her throat, beating like butterfly wings.
If Jane was tall and stocky, this woman was absolutely huge. Her long shock of ginger hair was held in an enormous braid, with a few other narrow braids hanging down on the right side, framing her face. She wore a gold circlet on her forehead and a gold torc around her neck. She seemed to be in her late thirties, close to Jane’s age, or a little older. Her skin was pale and freckled, an intricate design drawn onto her face, a tattoo of dark-blue ink in a knotwork pattern; sharp cheekbones swept down to full soft lips tinted pink. Her eyes were large and forest-green, and her stern expression was terrifying. She was incredibly muscular, from the corded lines of her neck to her strong arms and the solid build of her body. She crossed her arms and stared at Jane.
Jane found she was having trouble breathing.
“What happened?” she asked, trying to circle around the woman and distract her with talk.
“I was waitin’ to ask ye the same question,” said the woman. “Fiery ball fell oot o’ the sky, the seer-women will mak merry with this for months.”
“And you came to find me?” Jane continued, edging away from the woman, toward the forest.
“Aye, of sorts,” the woman said. “Attracted a fair bit o’ attention, too, frae the local Argyll dafties.”
“The, er, what now?” asked Jane.
Now the woman was surprised.
“The…Argylls?” she said. “What, ye’ve never heard o’ the Caimbeulaich?”
“I, er, I know a Catherine Campbell from Leith,” said Jane.
“You’re fae Edinburgh?” asked the woman, and when Jane nodded in the affirmative, she snorted. “That explains the fancy talk, maybe even the clothes, but what’re you doing this far west?”
“West?” asked Jane, puzzled, nearing the cliff’s edge and about to make a break for it, “Where did I land, then?”
Suddenly, the woman threw her down and was on top of her in an instant, pressing Jane face-first into the dirt. The woman covered her with her entire body, the earasaid unfolded as a canopy around them. Jane felt aware of every aspect of the woman’s body, from her heavy breasts against the curve of her upper back to where her hipbones had slotted against the rise of her bottom. Her heart hammered wildly in her chest.
“Ye’ve really got no sense at all, have ye?” the red-haired woman growled in her ear. Jane felt a delicious shudder run through her entire frame and was startled at this unknown feeling. “I’ll have to teach ye to obey me if ye won’t listen to sense. Stay down.”
Jane trembled with an emotion she could not define.
“Are you going to…” she began. “Are you going to take advantage of me?”
The woman recoiled.
“Of course not, ye silly wee thing,” said the woman, sounding horrified. “Where I come fae, there’s a harsh penalty for that, not tae mention it’d be certain death for those fool enough tae try it. What sort of backwards place are you from?”
“Then what the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” hissed Jane. She tried to wriggle away, but the woman’s strength was like an iron vise holding her still.
“There’s Caimbeulaich over the ridge,” she whispered, hot against the shell of Jane’s ear, “an’ if ye’re lookin’ fer your ain death then that’s your choice. If ye want tae keep breathin’, ye’ll still an’ ye’ll do as I say.”
Jane stopped struggling.
“You could’ve asked,” she hissed petulantly.
“Would ye hae listened?” the woman asked, and Jane felt her huff an amused, soft laugh against her skin.
“If ye’d have kept goin’,” the woman continued, “ye’d have given away our position. Lamb tae the slaughter as ye are. Cannae protect ye if they spot ye first, now can I?”
“Protect me?” asked Jane, mindful to whisper now. “Why?”
“Law of Highland hospitality,” said the woman, whose soft lips kept grazing Jane’s ear. “You are under my protection.”
“Am I?” retorted Jane. “And you are?”
There was a pause before the other woman spoke.
“Ainslie nic Dòmhnaill, daughter of Dòmhnall mac Raghnaill, grandson of the great Somhairlidh, and the rightful heir to the title of MacDonald, Lord of the Isles.”