This week's except is from my most recent release, the fourth tale (third novel), from the Highland Gardens time travel series. Just Wait For Me. Available as an e-book and in print. Jillian meets the changelings of the wood...
Unnerved by the snap of a twig, Jillian spun around only to stop short and gawk. Four pairs of eyes stared at her from little faces resembling those she’d imagined within the tree. The boys, dressed in tatters, seemed to range in age from eight to twelve.
“What the…” she stammered. “Who are you?”
The pudgiest and perhaps oldest of the four, with deformed fingers on his right hand, stepped forward; the others huddled behind as if frightened. “We saw you appear from…naught. Be you one of the Sithichean?”
The strange little man had asked the same question. Crazy. There were no such beings as faeries.
“I’m Jillian O'Donnell. I’m lost.”
The child didn’t seem convinced. His bulbous nose scrunched up tight, lips pressed together, and grimaced. “But—”
“You dinnae answer his question! Be you one of the Sithichean?” A little girl Jillian hadn’t noticed—a fifth child, no more than six years old—poked a head from behind the others. “You dress funny. Like a lad.”
“I’m nothing more than a lost traveler.” Jillian smiled at the little one, trying to hide her shock, hoping not to spook the girl. “I’m dressed for warmth.”
The child made a distorted O-shape with a horribly deformed mouth then ducked out of sight. Jillian bit her lip as not to smile at the quick retreat.
“Who are you and your friends?” She directed the question to the pudgy fellow who seemed to be the leader of these poor misshapen children.
He just stared until he stumbled forward a step. He threw a glare over a shoulder at the other children, who took a tentative step back. “Stop poking me.”
The boy with an unusually long nose and wisp of blond hair dangling into rounded hazel eyes raised his chin and pointed at the pudgy lad. “We call him Blaney.”
“Yeah, and he’s Cam.” Blaney pointed toward a boy with scars across his forehead and different colored eyes—one bright blue, one dark brown—then to a lad with a head that seemed too large for his child-sized body. “And he’s Mack.” Blaney then nudged the boy who first introduced him. “This daft lad is Duff.”
“And what is your name?” Crouching to appear smaller, less threatening, Jillian addressed the little girl.
The child lowered her head and scraped a dirty, bare toe in the dirt, muttering into her chest. Though bold with her question before, she now acted shy.
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you. I’d like very much to know your name.”
A soft moss-green gaze peered at Jillian, melting her heart.
“We call her Keita because she is of the wood,” Blaney said.
“Keita is a very nice name.” Jillian smiled at the blonde-haired child.
The girl giggled and ducked behind one of the boys.
This is crazy. Jillian didn’t have time to waste with these ragamuffin children. But the little girl wearing rags on her feet instead of shoes on such a cold morning wrenched her heart. Still… No. She couldn’t get involved. She needed to get unlost, find Kyle, and convince him to forget the rest of the cycling trip and head home.
“Do you live nearby?” she asked.
The children looked at each other, but didn’t answer.
Okay. “Can you direct me to the nearest town?” Jillian posed the question to Blaney.
The boy seemed confused. A queasy feeling gnawed at her insides. Perhaps the little man told the truth. Was it possible there were no towns nearby? She hadn’t checked a map before embarking on this vacation. She’d left navigation for the trip up to her brother.
“We can take you to someone who can help,” Duff said.
“The Gray Women.”
The other three boys shook their heads vehemently in the negative. Jillian had the feeling meeting the Gray Women wasn’t a good idea.
Keita clapped hands in glee. “Aye, aye, let us go to the caves of the Gray Women.”
Just Wait For Me
Hope you enjoyed this wee snippet from Just Wait For Me, a Highland Gardens Novel.