Authors: Donna Grant
Laith couldn't imagine being in her shoes. By the pain she couldn't quite hide in her dark eyes, he found himself wanting to give her comfort. The kind of comfort he'd seen Kellan give Denae.
No' good news at all. I'm getting in over my head.
Why then didn't he leave?
If only he could answer his own question.
“Your father spoke of you often.”
A slight blush stained her cheeks. “You mean you knew I was a photographer?”
“Aye. Everyone does. John showed us your work often. You're verra good.”
She took another long swallow of the dark ale. “You seem to know a lot about me, and yet I don't even know your name.”
“Laith,” she repeated, letting it fall slowly from her lips, almost like a caress.
He was instantly, painfully hard.
It's your last chance. Run. Run now.
“An unusual name,” she said.
“It's a family name.”
Her brows rose. “Do you have family around here?”
“No' for a long time.”
“I'm sorry.” She turned her glass around. “Can I ask you something?”
He gave a nod. “Of course.”
“This pub borders Dreagan. What do you know of them?”
Laith was completely taken aback by her question. He thought she might ask something about her father, but not about Dreagan this soon. Could she already know? Could John have told her?
“They distill the best whisky around, and they're good to the people.”
“And my father knew them?”
“He did. John knew everyone.”
She worried her bottom lip with her teeth. “It's odd, isn't it? To think you know someone, only to learn everything you believed was wrong. Scotland isn't my home. Hasn't been for twenty years, but I don't want to stay here.”
“You doona find it beautiful?”
Iona smiled. “I took plenty of pictures today to prove that I do, but I don't have time to take care of land.”
“You inherited your father's land,” he said, putting enough inflection in his tone so that she might believe he just guessed it.
“I did. I want to sell it, but it appears that I can't.”
The door to the pub opened and Sammi walked in, her powder blue eyes crinkled from her smile and her sandy-colored hair pulled back in a ponytail. “Hey, Laith.”
“Hey, Sammi,” he called.
She came around the bar and put her purse beneath it, and then flashed a smile to Iona. “Hello there. You must be who everyone is talking about.”
“That's me,” Iona said ruefully with a lift of the ale.
Sammi stuck out her hand. “I'm Sammi. I work with Laith.”
“Nice to meet you,” Iona said as they shook hands.
“Same to you. We should have a drâ” Sammi began, but was cut off when the door opened again. “Hang on,” Sammi said and rushed around the bar to Tristan, who grabbed her against him for a quick kiss.
Iona watched the scene before she turned her head to Laith. “Who is that?”
“That's Sammi's husband, Tristan, who just happens to be a part of Dreagan.” It was the perfect opportunity for him to push Iona onto someone else, but as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he wanted to take them back.
Iona watched the pair carefully. “They seem to really care for each other.”
“They genuinely do,” he said, unable to keep from frowning at her choice of words.
She turned back to him. “I'm usually on my own. I sometimes forget that I say things out loud that I should keep to myself.”
“Doona worry about that here.” He spotted Sammi bringing over Ryder and Tristan so he nodded in their direction. “You're about to meet more people.”
Iona sat up straight and swiveled on the stool to face the three.
“Iona,” Sammi said. “This is my husband, Tristan, and our friend Ryder.”
Iona wore a friendly smile as she greeted them. “Hello.”
Tristan bowed his head, but Ryder took her hand and gave her a charming smile. Laith didn't like the way she blushed in return. He took a step back. He should be grateful, relieved even that another King had taken an interest in her. That meant Laith was off the hook. He didn't want to look after Iona.
“I was just telling Iona that she and I needed to get a drink sometime.” Sammi turned back to Iona. “I used to be on my own, and then I met Tristan. Now, I can't seem to have enough friends.”
“You got me, love. Is that no' enough?” Tristan asked Sammi with a wink.
Sammi pulled on his long brown hair. “You know it is.”
Tristan yanked her against him. “When do you get off work?”
“No' until closing,” Laith said with a chuckle. “You'll have to wait to have some alone time with your wife.”
Ryder sat on the stool next to Iona. “Have you been to Dreagan yet?”
“No,” she said and glanced at Laith. “I did meet Constantine however.”
Laith tossed aside his towel. “At the funeral.”
“We wanted to speak to you,” Ryder said. “But Con asked us no' to overwhelm you.”
Iona frowned. “I'm sorry. There were so many people there that I don't remember many of them.”
“No one blames you,” Sammie said. She put a comforting hand on Iona's arm. “It's probably better that only Con approached you instead of a slew of men from Dreagan.”
Laith watched Iona fidget under her embarrassment before she asked, “What do you do at Dreagan?”
“Many things,” Tristan answered.
Ryder raised a blond brow. “We doona just make whisky, lass. We run thousands of sheep and cattle.”
“I had no idea,” Iona said, a hint of awe in her voice.
“Most of the land Dreagan uses for conservation,” Tristan added. “The forests, the mountains, and such are all protected natural habitats.”
Her eyes widened a fraction. “Really? That's nice to hear. I've run into plenty of people who could care less about conserving nature.”
“No' everyone is a bad person,” Laith said. Though there were more of them out there than she could guess.
Her coffee-colored eyes softened as they shifted to him. “No, they aren't.”
Rhi didn't know why she returned to Earth. The realm held nothing for her anymore, but then again, she hadn't found any peace since Balladyn tortured her.
As she stood on the Ponte Milvio in Rome, she looked down at the blue water of the Tiber River. The bridge was famous in Rome for couples to attach padlocks to as a show of love. Once the lock was clipped on, the couple then threw the key into the river.
Rhi wondered how many wished they could retrieve those keys. Being chained to someoneâor some
âwas the worst sort of torment.
Even now that she was free of the Chains of Mordare, she was still living a nightmare. Where once she found joy in shopping like humans and driving around in her Lamborghini, now she couldn't stand any of it.
She looked down at her fingers. Before her kidnapping, she hadn't let a day go by without having her nails painted. She collected nail polish in every shade.
In a fit of rage she destroyed them all before leaving her sanctuary in the mountainsâa sanctuary that no one was supposed to know about. Yet, it had been Ulrik who had not only rescued her from Balladyn, but brought her to her secret cabin. She still didn't know how he discovered her place, but she was going to.
Her nails drew her gaze once more. The color, some pale pink shade, was all but gone now.
Rhi loved Rome. Or she used to. She would wander the streets watching the locals and tourists alike. She had been to the Coliseum countless times from its inception right up until last year.
There were many things on the realm that she had seen from their origins. It was one of the advantages of being Fae. Rhi closed her eyes and lowered her head. She was Light Fae, or she was supposed to be.
Balladyn had done a good job of pushing evil upon her. She wasn't an unforgiving person, and yet, it took the slightest thing to set her off now. Many times she had to hold herself back from retaliating against someone.
The light inside her wasÂ â¦ diminished. Luckily it was still there, but it was getting harder and harder to sense. That was Balladyn's doing. Once so close she considered him a brother, he was now Dark Fae, blaming her for his turning Dark.
Rhi halted her thoughts and opened her eyes. She spent enough time thinking of Balladyn. It was time to move on.
She turned away from the side of the bridge and started walking. Right on cue, she heard her queen call to her. It was a call Rhi had been ignoring for several weeks, but Usaeil's request was growing more and more demanding.
Rhi could only put her off for so long, but she wasn't yet ready to face the queen or those of the court. Everyone knew what happened to her. They would be looking for a defect, a thread of darkness.
Because no Light had ever come back after being taken by the Dark.
Rhi hadn't expected her own people to come for her. There was too much at stake for them to try a rescue. She hadn't thought the Dragon Kings would help her either. They were already knee deep in their own Dark Fae war.
Not to mention the hatred between her and Con. Constantine would sooner let her rot than look at her. Yet, a small part of her had held out hope that the few Kings she considered friends might help. Out of everyone, she knew Phelan would try.
Thinking of the Warrior brought a smile to her face. He had a primeval god inside him that made him immortal, but even before that he was a powerful Highlander since he was part Fae. Rhi had been the one to find him and introduce him into the Fae world.
Phelan reminded her of the brother she had lost to one of the countless wars the Fae were always involved in. Yes, Phelan would have tried to help, and the Kings would have stopped him, just as she would have wanted.
If the Dark ever learned of Phelan, it could be a game changer. It was worth enduring all of Balladyn's torture to keep Phelan's identity a secret.
Rhi wanted to talk to Phelan, to let him know she was all right. If she did, it would alert the Light as well as the Kings that she was back. Was she ready to return to everything? Could she act as if she was the same Fae as before? More importantly, could she ever enter a Dark stronghold again?
Rhi quickly turned to the left and went down a narrow alley. She rested her head against the stones of the building as she struggled to breathe. Every time she thought of seeing the Dark, a panic attack would hit.
She hadn't even known a Fae could get a panic attack, but there was no denying that's exactly what was happening to her.
There was no telling how long it would last this time, and she didn't want anyone to see her. Rhi vanished from the alley and reappeared at her cabin overlooking the Italian lake. She dropped down on the grassy hillside and sank her fingers into the dirt. It seemed to take an eternity before she was able to stop shaking and take a calming breath.
Blinking at the bright sunlight, Rhi shaded her eyes and remembered why she had fallen in love with the place. Light twinkled off the lake as birds chirped nearby. A soft breeze danced around the poplar trees and pulled her hair into her face.
Rhi pushed the locks aside and got to her feet. She threw a quick look at her cottage to make sure no one was there. Once she was certain Ulrik wasn't sitting on the porch, she faced the cottage for a closer inspection.
She was going to have to find a new location. This one was ruined now. It was supposed to be a place she didn't have to worry about being found, not one that she needed to inspect to see if someone awaited her.
After a check, Rhi stepped onto the porch and then inside the house only to come to a surprised halt.
The last time she had been there she had destroyed everything. Every piece of furniture, every item of clothing, every bottle of nail polishâall three hundred bottles. She anticipated returning to clean up, but it was immaculate. Someone had been there repairing furniture or replacing it.
Apprehension coiled tightly within her. She closed the door and quietly walked from one room to another until she reached her bedroom.
A new comforter of soft cream covered her bed. Dozens of pillows of all different sizes and shapes in various shades of peach, pink, and gold were stacked against the headboard. She didn't dislike the colors. In fact, she found them soothing. Not too bright or flashy.
Then she turned to the right and peered inside her closet. There were two outfits hanging. One was a white lace shirt paired with light denim and brown heels.
The other was a sheer black shirt with black jeans and black booties.
Whoever cleaned her house was giving her a test with the clothes. If she chose the white set, she was still the person from before. If she chose the black, she was more Dark.
Rhi twisted away and her mouth fell open when she caught sight of the nail polish. Every bottle she had collectedâand some new onesâwere lined on the shelves clustered by color. She walked to the colors and ran her finger along the bottles. If it was a test, then she would give them an answer.
Rhi grabbed a bottle and teleported to her favorite nail salon in Austin.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Laith leaned his hip against the table with his arms crossed and listened to Tristan and Ryder tell Con of their conversation with Iona.
“Interesting,” Con mumbled. He shifted his gaze to Laith. “How long did you talk to her before they arrived?”
“A wee bit. She's no' sure how she feels about the things she's learning regarding John. She's thought of her father one way all these years, but she's seeing him in a new light.”
Con leaned back in his chair behind his desk as he steepled his fingers. “So she doesna yet know what she guards?”
“No' that I can tell.” Laith dropped his arms to his sides and crossed his ankles. “She doesna want to stay in Scotland.”