Third in the Sirens of the Scottish Borderlands series from Gwyn Cready, the “master of time travel romance” (Booklist)
She can work her magic on any man
In a quest to bring peace to her beloved Scottish borderlands, fortune-teller and spy Undine Douglas agrees to marry a savage English colonel. Desperate to delay the wedding long enough to undermine the army’s plans, Undine casts a spell to summon help and unexpectedly finds herself under the imperious gaze of the handsome and talented Michael Kent, twenty-first century British theater director.
But in this production, he commands the action
Though he abandoned acting years ago, Michael will play whatever part it takes to guard Undine’s safety—he’s used to managing London’s egocentric actors and high-handed patrons, after all. But not even Shakespeare could have foreseen the sparks that fly when the colonel’s plans force Undine and Michael into the roles of their lifetimes.
The blinding lights were on, he thought, blinking, but he was no longer sure how long he’d been onstage. Seconds? The set had changed—he’d have to speak to Eve, though he felt rather woozy, as if he’d left her a few hours ago and been drinking ever since. What was the stained glass doing in the back? Who’d authorized such an expense?
Someone cleared his throat, and Michael wheeled around, searching for his line.
But it wasn’t Paris nor Romeo nor even Juliet or Eve. It was an actor in a tawny frock coat with a waterfall of lace at his neck—he must speak to the costume manager as well—and the theater was empty.
Well, another theater perhaps, not the National Rose. One with hand-carved pews and an enormous painting of Henry VIII beyond its door.
The spiking adrenaline of missed cues and forgotten lines had nothing on finding oneself sucked out of a play into an unknown room with an unknown man. Sweat began to form on Michael’s back, and his mouth moved in an incoherent attempt to speak.
“I beg your pardon,” the man said, mildly incensed. “I asked you where Bishop Rothwell went.”
“I told you, John,” said a woman Michael hadn’t noticed. “He was called away.”
She stood apart from the man, arms crossed, in a gown of ethereal pink. Her words had been accompanied by a laser look at Michael that would have reduced the Greenland ice cap to a large cup of steaming tea.
Why were these people dressed for Shakespeare—or Congreve, really—yet nothing from their mouths rung of any play he’d ever seen? His gut began to tighten.
“Called away?” the man she’d called John said. “For what?”
“An emergency in the bishopric.” The “-pric” lingered on the woman’s tongue a second longer than necessary, though this time the look that accompanied it was for her companion.
She was beautiful—stunning, really—with hair like wet gold and eyes that shone an emerald green, but everything about her carriage and voice carried the expectation of being obeyed. In the instant Michael could spare to process the players rather than his own uncertain circumstances, he could see John might be an overbearing prig but the woman was flat-out trouble.
“And this…cleric?” John looked at Michael’s habit with poorly concealed distaste.
“The bishop’s colleague,” she said. “An ascetic, it seems.”
The two clearly weren’t actors—though they were nearly as irritating—and this wasn’t a set. Somehow, between stepping onstage and the lights going up, Michael had lost the National Rose. What had happened? The closest he’d ever gotten to feeling what he felt now was playing Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest, when the actor playing Algernon jumped twenty-seven pages ahead, leaving Michael thrust unexpectedly into Act Three’s happy engagement to Gwendolen with all the play’s loose ends resolved, hoping in earnest for the curtain. At least Michael had known what theater he’d been in then—and what play.
“Is he capable of marrying us?” John asked, dubious.
“I should think so,” she said. “It’s woven into the burlap.”
In a remote place in his head, at a distance from the panic that had seized control of his cerebellum, the amusement in her words cut him. He may not be the most rehearsed Friar Laurence who ever walked the stage, but that was certainly no reason to impugn the character’s inner nobility.
“Then let him do it.” John’s exasperation was growing. “You’re still willing, aren’t you, my love? Even without a proper bishop?”
“Most willing.” She smiled sweetly, but Michael saw the falsehood even if her fiancé did not. “Are we not in need of witnesses, though?” she added.
John growled. “They were behind me a moment ago. Let me find them. I’ll be but a moment.” He strode out.
Perhaps this was a dream—a dream conflating all the Shakespeare and Farquhar and Marlowe that Michael had ever done—with a generous helping of Wicked thrown in for good measure. Then it came to him. The potion.
He willed his fingers open and looked at his quaking palm.
A hand snatched the empty bottle away.
“Wake up,” the woman said in a razor-sharp whisper, and now he realized the voice he’d heard had been hers. “Listen carefully. I called you here for one reason. Keep that blackguard from marrying me or I shall shrivel your man parts like dates in the Barbary sun.” She stashed the bottle in her bodice and turned, smiling, to greet her fiancé as he returned with two footmen straight out of Molière.
Michael felt as if a blast furnace had scorched him from brows to sandals. He also felt his indignation grow. No one threatened Michael’s man parts, certainly not in a theater—even if this wasn’t exactly a theater or a play…or even a space he remotely recognized.
“Are you ready?” John said.
Michael held up a finger. “Actually, I’m not.”
He felt rather than heard the woman’s exhale of relief.
“Your fiancée was just telling me how truly eager she is to begin life as your wife,” Michael said. “However, she has made me aware of a few, well, shall we say blemishes upon her conscience, and I know she wishes to unburden herself before the happy marriage is consummated.”
John blinked. “Undine…my fiancée…wishes to confess?”
Undine, was it? Like the water fairy in Giraudoux’s play? More like Ursula in The Little Mermaid.
“I most certainly do not,” she said, eyes flashing.
“No?” Michael shrugged. “Well then, let us proceed apace with the ceremony. Good sir, do you have the Book of Common Prayer?”
“Wait,” Undine said.
Michael turned, triumphant. “Aye?”
“I might have something to confess after all,” she said with an iron glare.
“Ahh,” Michael said, hand over his heart, “the heart wishes to forget, but the soul demands its redemption. Aye, let us retreat to a private place, where you can unburden yourself of everything—everything—that I and the Lord need to know.”
Top Five Time Travel Romance Movies, According to Gwyn Cready
Okay, brace yourself. This list does not include Somewhere in Time. Hurl your spitballs if you must, but it doesn’t make the top five time travel romance movies—at least not my top five. Now, let’s pick the fragments out of our hair from that bombshell and move on to the qualities a good time travel romance movie must possess in my world. First, time “travel” is a little too precise. I’m just as happy with a movie that fiddles around with time. Second, one or both protagonists have to undergo a transition in order to be worthy of love. Third, the protagonists have to work to overcome what time has done to them, not just be battered around by it. I want my protagonists to be fighters. And fourth, there has to be love and lots of it.
5. Time Traveler’s Wife (Robert Schwentke, 2009.) This movie probably shouldn’t have made this list for two reasons important reasons. First, the movie is so-so, but the book is so, so great, the movie gets to draft behind it into fifth place here. Second, the ending isn’t exactly happy. To be fair, it’s not exactly unhappy either. But the story is one of the finest examples of the power of love to overcome all obstacles, even the most capricious involuntary time travel forced on Henry De Tamble, the friend, lover, and eventual husband of Clare Abshire, that I have ever experienced. Henry has been tossed into almost every part of his past and future life by a tendency for time travel he can’t control. My favorite part is when Clare, who has met his traveling self before though he doesn’t remember it, tricks him into taking her virginity.
4. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993.) Not your classic time travel romance, for sure. The screenwriter plays with time, and, in this case, that’s even better. Phil Connors is a Pittsburgh weatherman. His worst assignment ever turns into a never-ending loop of small town inanity. But does Phil let that get him down? Well, at first, yes. He seduces women, gets drunk, gets arrested, and even dies trying to free himself from the hell he’s stuck in. But he always wakes up at the start of the same awful day—and what’s worse, nothing he does gets him any closer to his producer, the beautiful and smart Rita Hanson, who hates her self-centered co-worker. It isn’t until Phil gives up trying to use his special circumstances in selfish ways and instead commits himself to becoming a better person, He learns to play the piano and speak French, and he even saves lives. And for his hard work—Harold Ramis estimated that Phil lived through enough Groundhog days to make up ten calendar years—Phil is finally rewarded with Rita’s love. A better version of desire for a good woman making a bad man worthy has never been written.
3. About Time (Richard Curtis, 2013.) Another time Spirograph, and this one hits all my time buttons. It’s funny, sweet, veers into heartbreaking, and then just as quickly gives us the happy ending we’ve been waiting for. And it’s populated with some of my favorite British Isle actors—Domhnall Gleason, Bill Nighy, and Tom Hollander. Gangly, sweet Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleason) is an attorney who is told by his father on his twenty-first birthday that all men in their family line can time travel back in time to an earlier point in their lives whenever they’d like. Tim uses his new-found talent to fix problems for his friends and to set himself up with a beautiful American woman (Rachel McAdams). Eventually, he discovers what his father did with his own time travel abilities—pack a box of Kleenex. But in the end, Tim realizes that living life as well as one can in each day one is given, rather than savoring it again by living it over, is the best way to appreciate it.
2. The Adjustment Bureau (George Nolfi, 2011.) David Norris is meant for good things. He’s running for the senate but falls in love with Elise, a beautiful, vivacious dancer. The mysterious people who plot out our lives—the Adjustment Bureau—can’t have David derailed from his intended career path. They move Elise out of his reach. But David catches on to the game, and begins to try to outmaneuver them in order to find her again. But when the men from the Adjustment Bureau tell him Elise is meant for better things too—things she’ll never achieve if she stays with David, he has to decide if love rules our lives or fate.
1. 13 Going on 30 (Gary Winick, 2004.) A dark horse for #1, I’ll admit it, but I can't pass up the story of 13-year-old Jenna Rink, played by Jennifer Garner, who is transported into her future and discovers a great job and a closet full of shoes isn't enough to make up for losing Matt, the boy who was her best friend. The über-fun acted-out dance numbers from "Thriller" and "Love is a Battlefield" made this 80s gal's squeal with delight. I cry every time grown-up Jenna tracks down grown-up Matt, the one person she knows she can trust with her story, and he says, “Jenna, we’re not friends anymore.” The movie makes us ask ourselves, “What do we lose when we take the people closest to us for granted?” Fortunately, the answer for Jenna is not Matt, at least not forever. Happy sigh.
In Every Time with a Highlander, Michael Kent is the handsome, talented director of Britain's national theater who longs to leave the self-centered actors and imperious patrons behind, and be sipping a dry Rioja on a beach somewhere in Spain. Unfortunately for him, Undine, a fiery fortune teller, spellcaster, and spy in eighteenth century Scotland, has a different plan for him, a fact he discovers when her spell pulls him right out of a production of Romeo and Juliet, where he's filling in for a sick Friar Laurance. Undine is trying to undermine the battle plans of the violent head of England's northern armies--a man who also happens to be her fiancé. She needs a partner who's a versatile actor. And the first role the man must play is a priest who will stop her fiance's plan to marry her as soon as possible.
About the Author
Gwyn Cready is a writer of contemporary, Scottish, and time travel romance. She’s been called “the master of time travel romance” and is the winner of the RITA Award, the most prestigious award given in romance writing. She has been profiled in Real Simple and USA Today, among others. Before becoming a novelist, she spent 25 years in brand management. She has two grown children and lives with her husband on a hill overlooking the magical kingdom of Pittsburgh.