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Authors: Barbara Longley

Heart of the Druid Laird

BOOK: Heart of the Druid Laird
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Heart of the Druid Laird

By Barbara Longley

Cursed with immortality, Dermot MacKay craves death. To lift the faerie curse placed upon him and his men over 1,600 years ago, he must return the soul of his reincarnated wife to the exact place and time of her murder. But her soul is currently residing in the very modern Sidney St. George—and first he has to convince her to accompany him to Scotland.

Sidney doesn’t believe Dermot’s wild claims of immortality and rebirth, yet she cannot deny that she is drawn to the sexy Scot. Nor can she explain the sense of déjà vu his touch elicits. Desperate for answers, she agrees to go with him—only to learn too late that to help the man she loves is to lose him forever…

85,000 words

 

Dear Reader,

What do you get when you cross summer with lots of beach time, and long hours of traveling? An executive editor who’s too busy to write the Dear Reader letter, but has time for reading. I find both the beach and the plane are excellent places to read, and thanks to plenty of time spent on both this summer (I went to Australia! And New Zealand!) I’m able to tell you with confidence: our fall lineup of books is outstanding.

We kick off the fall season with seven romantic suspense titles, during our Romantic Suspense celebration the first week of September. We’re pleased to offer novella
Fatal Destiny
by Marie Force as a free download to get you started with the romantic suspense offerings. Also in September, fans of Eleri Stone’s sexy, hot paranormal romance debut novel,
Mercy,
can look forward to her follow-up story,
Redemption,
set in the same world of the Lost City Shifters.

Looking to dive into a new erotic romance? We have a sizzling trilogy for you. In October, look for Christine D’Abo’s Long Shot trilogy featuring three siblings who share ownership of a coffee shop, and each of whom discover steamy passion within the walls of a local sex club. Christine’s trilogy kicks off with
Double Shot.

In addition to a variety of frontlist titles in historical, paranormal, contemporary, steampunk and erotic romance, we’re also pleased to present two authors releasing backlist titles with us. In October, we’ll re-release four science fiction romance titles from the backlist of CJ Barry, and in November four Western romance titles from the backlist of Susan Edwards.

Also in November, we’re thrilled to offer our first two chick lit titles from three debut authors,
Liar’s Guide to True Love
by Wendy Chen and
Unscripted
by Natalie Aaron and Marla Schwartz. I hope you’ll check out these fun, sometimes laugh-out-loud novels.

Whether you’re on the beach, on a plane, or sitting in your favorite recliner at home, Carina Press can offer you a diverting read to take you away on your next great adventure this fall!

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected] You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James

Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com

www.twitter.com/carinapress

www.facebook.com/carinapress

This book is dedicated to all the wonderful
writers and readers who have helped
me learn the craft, especially
Cheryl Skoglund, Ann Hinnenkamp,
Neroli Lacey, Wyndemere Coffey
and Tamara Hughes. I also want to thank
all the folks at Carina Press, and
Alissa Davis for her patience and diplomacy.

Chapter One

Gairloch, Scotland, Present Day

The contents of Dermot MacKay’s coffee mug mirrored his mood—black, like the endless days stretching before him without surcease—and bitter, like his thoughts.

“Will you no’ eat something, Laird? You canna train on an empty stomach.”

“Nay, Lachlan. Have you forgotten?” Dermot surveyed the men around his table tucking into their hearty breakfasts. “I’ve been fasting since twilight last and will no’ join you in the gym today.”

“I’ve no’ forgotten.” Lachlan shrugged. “We’ve no reason to expect the outcome will be any different this year.”

“Where is Thomas?” Dermot watched the men’s furtive glances dart around the table like mice after crumbs. No one answered. They knew he wished to avoid his cousin. At this time of year Thomas’s antics grated, and running him through with a sword, though immensely satisfying, only incited Thomas to more mischief. Dermot’s frown deepened at the sound of footsteps. “Shite.”

Thomas sauntered into the dining hall and helped himself to a plate from the sideboard. He heaped it with fat sausages, scrambled eggs, warm currant scones with honey-butter, and fried tatties with onion, all Dermot’s favorites. His cousin faced him with an expression of smug anticipation. Swinging the loaded plate under Dermot’s nose, he took a seat.

“Have you done the deed yet, Druid?” Thomas raised an eyebrow and fixed him in his gaze.

Dermot inhaled the delicious scents wafting up from Thomas’s plate. His stomach rumbled. Another pointless fast, followed by an equally fruitless ritual, and for what? He didn’t expect the outcome to be any different either. He swallowed the saliva filling his mouth. “How many times have I told you no’ to call me Druid?”

“Let me see.” Thomas pulled the stub of a pencil and a tiny notebook from the rear pocket of his jeans and flipped it open with a flourish. “We’ve been together for sixteen hundred and fifty years, give or take a few decades. That’s three hundred sixty-five days per year, except leap years of course.” He tapped his chin with the pencil. “Let’s say you’ve told me three times per day, a conservative estimate.” He scribbled furiously, his brow furrowed in concentration. “It comes to one million eight hundred thousand times, or thereabouts.”

Laughter erupted around him. Dermot glared his men into silence.

“Well?” Thomas persisted. “Have you done the deed yet, Druid? Wait, that’s one more time you’ve told me today.” He solemnly added a tally to his notebook, eliciting choking sounds from the men at the table.

Launching himself from his chair, Dermot snapped, “I’ll do it now.” He stormed out of the dining hall and climbed the massive stone steps two at a time. Striding down the corridor on the second floor, he headed for the one place in his home he’d devoted to the Druidic arts.

The moment he opened the door to his stillroom, the earthy scent of dried herbs and beeswax soothed him. Early morning light poured through the tall beveled windows, lighting the patina of the polished oak bookshelves to a warm gold. He ran his hand along the leather spines of his ancient tomes and rare first editions and pulled one of the books from the shelf. Taking a seat in his favorite chair, he let the book fall open in his lap. How many times during the span of his life had he held this book in his lap? He glanced at the dried medicinal herbs hanging from the rack, and on to the rare works of art gracing the walls.

Shite.
He’d miss this refuge, but if Mairéad didn’t show again this year, they’d have to think about relocating soon. They’d been in Gairloch over a decade, and it wouldn’t be long before the locals noticed he and his men weren’t aging.

Gods, he longed for an end. If he had any say in the matter, once the damned curse was lifted he’d refuse another incarnation for at least a millennium. Surely he’d earned the rest.

Procrastination isn’t going to change the outcome
.
Best get the deed done.

He rose from the chair to put the book back in its place and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. With a wave of his hand, sacred herbs and beeswax candles took flame. Fragrant spirals of smoke drifted throughout the room as he mentally prepared himself for the task ahead. A map of the world lay flat on the large granite-topped work table, and the scrying crystal nested in its velvet-lined box awaited his magic. He cleared his mind and meditated upon the soul he sought.

Turning his focus inward, he reached deep into his soul to call forth the magic lying dormant within all sentient beings. Speaking the words of the chant, he slipped between this realm and the realm of shadow, where all souls were connected. Only on Samhain, halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, was he allowed to breach the veil between the worlds to search for Mairéad’s return.

Inured to the cold-feather touch of spirits brushing against him, Dermot closed his mind against the onslaught of random consciousness. Nothing could distract him from his purpose. He lifted the silken cord fastened to the scrying crystal, the unique image of Mairéad’s spirit fixed in his mind’s eye. With a slight motion of his wrist, the crystal circled above the map in a wide arc, narrowing with each swing.

The cord tightened and strained in his hand. His concentration faltered and his heart raced.
Nay. It couldn’t be…not after all this time.
Taking a deep breath, he eased the slack and continued the spin in smaller turns. The crystal affixed itself to a single spot in the center of North America. Shock reverberated through his body as powerful magic exploded from the scrying crystal through the astral plane. The signal had been sent. Àine and the high king of the
Tuatha Dé Danann
would know he’d found her. The race had begun, and he had only this one chance to end the curse, or he and his men would remain as they were for all eternity.

He’d waited so long for this moment he could scarce believe what his senses told him. He’d found her. Memories dragged him back through the ages. The heat of his burning keep. The image of Mairéad lying in a pool of her own blood. He choked, remembering the thick, black smoke and the smell of burning flesh. The battle sounds and the cries of the dying echoed inside his skull until he feared it would explode.

Sixteen hundred years’ worth of frustration and rage welled up with his bile, scalding his throat and filling him with bitterness. If mankind ever needed proof romantic love was nothing but folly, he had it to give. Mairéad swore she loved him, and the foolish notion led to her murder and the death of their precious unborn child.

He threw his head back and shouted a call to battle loud enough to wake the dead.

He swiped the world map off the table and snatched another—the United States—spreading it out on the table. Again he scried, and again the prism stopped. He leaned close. Saint Paul, Minnesota, an ocean and half a continent away.

A dozen pairs of boots thudding in the corridor brought Dermot back fully into the material realm. He moved to intercept his men at the door. “Niall, I need a large, detailed street map of Saint Paul, Minnesota in the U.S. Thomas, you’ll make the travel arrangements. I’ll take four of you with me. We’ll stay no more than a fortnight.” Dermot looked into the stunned faces of his men. “She is reborn. At long last Mairéad has returned.”

“Um…Druid—” Thomas stepped forward, “—you scry every year, aye?”

Dermot rubbed his temples. His head throbbed as it always did after he’d used magic. “What now, Thomas?”

“She canna be even a year old. How do you plan to get the bairn back to Scotland? We’ve only three weeks until the anniversary of Mairéad’s murder, and Áine—”

“Then we have no time to waste, do we?” He scowled at his cousin. “I’ll offer the family a vacation to a bonny Scottish castle, or throw an ungodly sum of money their way. I’ll do whatever it takes. You have my word.”

 

Sidney St. George awoke with a start to the scent of rain filling her bedroom, just like before a storm.
Ozone.
The prickly sensation that she was not alone skittered over her skin. Her mouth went dry, and a surge of adrenaline hit her bloodstream. The temperature in her bedroom had dropped about twenty degrees. She huddled deep under her blankets, every hair on her body standing on end.
What the hell?

“Open your eyes, little human. I know you’re awake.”

The feminine voice surrounded Sidney in a fresh wave of frigid air and sent dread ricocheting through her body. She cracked an eyelid. Her room glowed neon blue.
This can’t be good.

“Come, come, I’m here to help you.”

“Help me?” Sidney pulled the covers with her as she pressed herself against the headboard. An unearthly figure floated in the middle of her room. The diaphanous gown she wore lifted and rippled around her as if caught on a breeze. Hair the color of moonbeams danced around her shoulders.

Sidney glanced at her windows. Both were shut tight. No wind. The coldness emanated from the creature levitating above her floorboards.
Impossible.
The woman’s eyes glowed an eerie iridescent blue.
Oh, God. Are those…wings?

She couldn’t get enough air into her lungs. Her stomach lurched like it had been left behind on a plummeting elevator. “Wh-what are you?”

“If it helps, think of me as your faerie godmother.” She dismissed Sidney’s question with a wave of her hand and glided closer.

Sidney’s heart pounded against her ribcage and she shrank into the corner where the wall and the headboard met. Cold sweat beaded her forehead.
Go away, go away, go away.
Was this thing an alien, an angel or a faerie?
What the hell does it matter? None of those things exist. I’m dreaming. This is a nightmare. I will wake up and everything will be fine.

“Cease your foolish cowering. If I meant to harm you, I would’ve done so already. I’ve come to warn you. You should feel honored.”

“Warn me?” She opened her right eye. “Honored?”

“Is there an echo in here?” Electricity crackled through the creature’s hair and traced along the surface of her skin.

Sidney’s limbs went rigid against her body, and she fought to free herself from the invisible force. “I can’t move! Wh-what are you doing to me?”

“I’m convincing you of my…sincerity. I will release you once you promise to listen like a good little mortal should. Do you promise?”

“I promise.” The force eased.

“A man from far away is coming to find you. He’ll ruin everything, wreck your life and break your heart into a thousand pieces. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“He’s a Scot. You’ll know him by his heavy brogue. Listen carefully.” The pitch of her voice shifted, became hypnotic. “You will heed my warning. Stay away from him. When he comes begging your help, refuse him. He will tell you lies. Don’t believe anything he says. Your life depends upon it.”

Mesmerized, Sidney hung on every word she uttered, even leaning closer to the melodious sound. Was she being hypnotized into compliance? No way would she let this thing control her. “How do you know my name? Who are you?”

Laughter reverberated through the room as if it came from an invisible surround-sound system. “I know everything there is to know about you. I am a goddess—omniscient, immortal and all powerful.” The being peered down her nose at Sidney. “You should fear me.”

“I do.”

“Good. You will not remember our little chat. Only the warning. When he comes for you, you
will
refuse him.”

“Why is he coming for
me?

“Did I invite your impertinence?” She grew larger, and the temperature in the room dropped again. “The
why
of it does not concern you. He’ll destroy your life. That’s all you need to know. Do as I say and you will remain unharmed. If you defy me, I cannot guarantee your continued good health.”

Sidney’s breath hung in a cloud of steam before her face. Shivers racked her body, and she wanted to be far, far away from this creature. She nodded. “I’ll refuse him. I won’t remember any of this, only the warning.”

“Good human.” The creature’s tone dripped disdain. “Now, back to sleep with you.”

Sidney dove under the covers, shutting her eyes tight. The sound of her pounding heart marked the passing time as the temperature in her room returned to normal.
Just a dream. A very bad, frightening dream.

 

Sidney chose her tiniest brush, dipped it into the pigment and leaned close to her easel. Her eyes strained with the effort to get the gossamer wings just right. The compulsion to paint the apparition from her dream had haunted her all morning. Despite the woman’s command to forget, every excruciating detail replayed through her mind like a movie on loop-mode. Pushing her earbuds deeper into her ears, she lost herself in the classical music and the wash of watercolor on paper.

“Hey, Sid. Why didn’t you come when I called?” Zoe leaned against the arched entry into their living room. “My arms were full of groceries, and I needed your help.”

Sidney took the earbuds out and glanced at her best friend. An empty grocery bag with a gaping rip in the bottom dangled from Zoe’s perfectly manicured fingertips. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t hear you.”

Zoe moved behind her to peer at the painting. “That’s okay. You get to clean up the broken eggs. Whoa, that’s one scary faerie you’ve painted there.”

“I know, huh?” Sidney tilted her head to study the watercolor. “She appeared to me in a dream last night to warn me about something.”

“Wow. What about?”

Sidney smiled, knowing exactly how Zoe would react. “Some hunky Scottish guy is on his way here to find me.”

“Dang, you have all the luck.” Zoe’s eyes widened. “She really used the word
hunky?

“No.” Sidney laughed. “I added that for your benefit.”

“Even so, did the nice lady say
why
the hunky Scot was coming to find you?”

“Scary Faerie wasn’t nice at all, and she didn’t elaborate. I’m supposed to stay away from him.”
When he comes begging your help, refuse him.
That part kept running through her mind. The thought of refusing help to someone in need went against the grain.

BOOK: Heart of the Druid Laird
13.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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