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Callander, Scotland 1748
Sheena Montgomery stood completely still at the top of Bracklinn Falls. The sound of rushing water filled the gorge. The rock underfoot felt hard and cold, a mirror image of her heart.
Alone, she looked past the tip of her toes dangling dangerously over the edge of the steep cliff. Several yards down the water crashed against the soft pudding stone, wearing it away. With all its fury, the water fought, eking out a way through the world. Pushing forward, not caring what it hurt in its path.
"Sheena?" a man's voice leapt out of the silence behind her, making Sheena whirl around so fast she lost her footing. In shock, she waved her arms frantically trying to regain her balance.
The man raced forward. His strong arms pulled her away from a certain death. "There now, I've got you. You're all right."
Sheena stood staring at the man's face, his raggedly long brown hair and beard unfamiliar to her. But his eyes, those deep brown, soul-piercing eyes. Unforgettable.
Sheena's voice caught in her throat for a fleeting moment. "Logan?" Her eyes surely fooled her. She envisioned herself succumbing to her father's mental illness. Because Logan McAllister had left Scotland five years ago. He couldn't be here. She never thought she would see him again.
"I hoped to find you here, lassie." Sheena just looked at Logan. In all the years he'd lived in the Americas, he'd never sent word. Not one letter saying he was still alive.
But she wasn't losing her mind and wouldn't die the same way her father had this past autumn. Logan's arms cradled her against his warm chest. Her senses heightened. His smell, his touch, his very being, raced through her with dizzying speed. She stared at his lips, remembering their warmth.
"In our special place," he told her, and Sheena couldn't deny the meaning this place held for them. She remembered only too well all the times they had come here hand in hand, talking about the day they would wed.
Since the day he'd left, she'd hiked miles up this crag. Like a pilgrimage site, it became a shrine to their relationship. A place where she felt close to him again, like being in his presence, even though he was in another country.
But weeks stretched into months and then years and Sheena gave up on her silly girlhood dream, forced to acknowledge that Logan never meant to ever come back to Scotland. And yet, he stood in front of her now, grinning as if no time had passed and nothing had changed. Anger welled up in Sheena.
"Mr. McAllister." She pulled away from him. She couldn't say his given name as she always had beforehe stood before her now almost as a stranger. Calling him Logan would show closeness, something she could no longer attest to. Besides, she would never give him the satisfaction of knowing how much she had pined for him during his absence or how much he had hurt her when he chose to leave.
He apparently didn't agree with her logic. "We're a little past formalities, aren't we, lassie?" Logan's lips formed a wry smile under his thick beard. A spark lit up the light golden flecks in the brown eyes Sheena had once adored.
"Nay, Mr. McAllister. I don't think so." A gust of wind sent Sheena's auburn hair into an annoying flurry that blocked her vision. She raised her hands quickly to get control of it.
"You are a sight for sore eyes." Logan's wry smile turned into a full grin. "Five years left you even more beautiful."
"Five years," Sheena repeated, her irritation erupting, as she pulled roughly on her unruly locks to keep them in place.
"I still remembered how to get up to our waterfall." Sheena furrowed her brow at Logan's words, but Logan didn't seem to acknowledge her anger. "It's just as I remember." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. She didn't move, hardly dared to breathe as she watched him to see if he did indeed look just as she remembered him.
He still wore the same socks that didn't slouch an inch lower than his knees where green ribbons held them up, but instead of his kilt he now wore brown breeches. The color had faded somewhat, and they looked as well-worn as his brown shoes.
His buttoned-up brown vest could do with some mending, not to mention how much scrubbing the collar of his white shirt needed.
Maybe in another time and place she would have offered to do such work. But not now. Not as she watched him draw in another seemingly peaceful breath. The pleasure he derived from his surroundings radiated from him and it infuriated Sheena all the more. Especially his apparent oblivion to her feelings.
"That's wonderful that your memory didn't fail you," Sheena said in an uncharacteristically sarcastic tone. "But this waterfall is one of the only things left that didn't change in your absence."
Logan's eyes opened and she looked directly into them only to hear, "God has the ability to change everything, lassie, and yet keep it the same."
"Maybe in your world, but surely not in mine." Since Logan left, not one single thing in Sheena's life had remained the same. "Let's start with the year you left Scotland, Logan. In 1743 the military built a road right through Callander, just in case they needed to use it to pacify any Highlanders who sought to rebel." And in 1746 when the Jacobites did rebel, a bloodbath ensued.
This example stood as only one of many things that had changed in Sheena's life over the past five years.
But surely Logan knew about this. It was only Sheena he didn't know anything about anymore. He had made it very clear by his absence that he could live without her.
"Besides all this political nonsense, what else has changed in your life? From where I stand, everything looks the same to me as it did in the past."
"Logan, you don't understand. Everything has changed. The past is just that and I live in the present." She bent down and snatched up her black shoes.
"And what of that?" Logan stepped closer, giving Sheena no recourse. She couldn't back away from him, unless she wanted to meet her Maker. And as tough as life got, she would never succumb to that.
Sheena pushed her way around Logan. "I am sure the details of my life are of no interest to you."
"Let me be the judge of that, lassie." Logan followed her away from the edge of the waterfall to a rock she leaned against for support to put on her shoes.
She scowled at him as she walked away, jutting her chin high into the air. "Do as you wish, Logan. You always do anyway." Her underlying contempt for him and his actions snapped through the chilly air. She never wanted him to leave Scotland, but he had done so anyway.
"And you don't?" Logan kept up, even with her brisk pace.
"We both know that a man is given that privilege, while a woman is not."
"Since when have you not lived and breathed for yourself?"
"Since you left." Sheena stopped dead and faced him.
"Then you must tell me what happened to you in the past five years, lassie, so we can reverse it."
"I already told you, it no longer matters. Events are set in motion. Forces beyond my control and even yours, propel me toward a future that no longer resembles the past." Sheena held fast to her skirts and walked on.
"Sheena." Her even stride faltered at the sound of her name coming from his lips. "Whatever has happened can be undone. Nothing is ever final, not even death." He came up beside her again. "I am here now. We can fix this."
But Sheena couldn't argue any longer. Being livid, she didn't trust what would come out of her mouth. She knew cementing her new path in life after he left meant she couldn't turn back time now. If she felt gracious, she could thank God he lived to tell of his journey, but she wouldn't listen to his tales.
It hurt too much seeing him.
"My life is no longer any concern of yours." Tears welled in Sheena's eyes. If only he'd loved her enough to remain in Scotland. But he ignored all her pleading. Did what he wanted. Left. And now that he had returned, nothing remained the same.
"You are wrong. It is. It always has been and it always will be." Logan reached out for her hand, but she pulled away.
"Nay." Sheena turned swiftly. "Nay, it isn't." She ran from him.