Authors: Lydia Dare
Copyright © 2011 by Lydia Dare
Cover and internal design © 2011 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Dawn Pope/Sourcebooks
Cover illustration by Patricia Schmitt (Pickyme)
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Black Dragon Inn, south of Edinburgh
Alpina Lindsay breathed a sigh of relief. It hadn’t been easy locating a vampyre none of them had ever met, but finally, after nights of searching for the man, there he was! He certainly matched the description of the man Fiona Macleod had seen in her vision.
Leaning against the stone façade of the old inn, Lord Kettering drew deeply on his cheroot as he gazed up at the crescent moon, seemingly without a care in the world.
Alpina narrowed her eyes at the gentleman who was, indeed, handsome, dashing, and more powerful than anything or anyone she had ever faced. The bairn in her womb kicked and Alpina protectively smoothed a hand over her belly while Fiona Macleod’s warning echoed once again in her mind.
“Are ye certain ye want ta do this?” Bonnie Ferguson whispered in her left ear.
Alpina caught Rosewyth Campbell’s eye and nodded, as there really was no choice in the matter. The man before them had to be dealt with. Otherwise, her daughter’s life and future would be in danger. That couldn’t be allowed.
From her right, Moira Sinclair’s dainty hand slid inside Alpina’s, reminding her she wasn’t alone. Together they could thwart the evil that Fiona had seen in her vision. Together they would ensure her daughter’s future.
A twig snapped beneath one of the witches’ feet, and Kettering stood at attention. “Hello?” His crisp English accent sliced through the night air.
It was now or never, and Alpina couldn’t take the risk that Kettering would escape. She stepped from the mist that had until now shrouded the coven from his view, pulling Moira alongside her. “Good evenin’, my lord.” Somehow she managed to keep the fear from her voice.
A charming smile settled on the man’s face, and his white teeth sparkled in the moonlight. “It is now.” He tossed what was left of his cheroot to the ground and stepped toward the pair. A seducer if ever there was one. “What a delightful treat. Not one beautiful lass, but two.”
“Actually, there are five of us,” Fiona’s waspish voice came from somewhere within the mist.
“Five?” Kettering echoed.
And in the blink of an eye, Moira’s misty shield evaporated and Kettering found himself in the middle of their circle. The five witches clasped hands together, trapping him inside the ring.
The Englishman looked from one to the other, confusion lighting his too-handsome face. “Why?” he asked.
“Because of what ye are,” Alpina answered. “We canna allow ye ta harm anyone.”
He shook his head. “I’ve never harmed anyone,” he professed.
Fiona Macleod snorted at that. “I’ve seen what ye are and what ye will be with my own eyes, my lord. Pray doona deny it.”
“And what are
?” he asked.
“Justice,” Fiona sneered. “For all yer victims—past, present, and future.”
Cadail, uilebheist. Caidil gu bràth
!” Alpina’s voice rang loud and clear.
Cadail gu bràth, cadail gu bràth
,” the others chanted.
Power surged through Alpina’s hands where she held onto Moira and Bonnie within the circle. She’d never felt such intense energy. Sparks erupted from their clasped hands, arcing across the circle and creating a perfect, five-pointed star. Thunder cracked above them, and Kettering let out a pained cry. He crumpled to the ground and everything was silent.
The five witches slowly released their hold on one another, stepping closer to the man at their feet. If Alpina hadn’t known better, she would have thought he was dead.
“His maker will search for him,” Fiona predicted. “The knight will go through Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen.”
“But no’ the Highlands?” Alpina asked, the answer mattering more than her next breath.
Fiona smiled. “Nay. No one will find him at Briarcraig, but we must hurry.”
Alpina nodded. Then she knelt beside Kettering, wishing they could have done more than place him in a dormant sleep; but it would have to do.
“As he is imprisoned, so shall remain his soul,” Fiona said as she lifted his hand to stare at the ring that adorned it. She tugged it from his finger and tossed it to Alpina, who caught it in mid-air. The ring glowed, warm and vibrant in the palm of her hand.
“But vampyres have no soul,” Alpina said with a shake of her head. “No life.”
“As a descendent of Blodswell,
could.” Fiona pointed her finger at the lifeless man at their feet.
Everyone knew the story of Blodswell. The tale was passed from witch to witch, from cradle to grave. It was a story of true heroism. It was the reason why the rings had been gifted to the knight, as a harbinger of hope, a promise for the future. But the prophecy could only be fulfilled if the wearer of the ring remained pure. For only love could heal the blighted soul.
“The ring contains what he holds most dear,” Fiona continued. “It’s the essence of him. And his link ta his maker. Take it and go. If ye doona leave with it, he’ll seek its power and wake soon.”
For the first time today, Alpina doubted this deed. But Fiona had foreseen it. If they didn’t take immediate action, the vampyre would wreak havoc upon their lives and upon her daughter in particular.
Alpina stood back and watched as her four coven sisters made quick work of depositing the vampyre’s body in the awaiting Macleod coach. They exchanged quick hugs before the four women crowded inside as well.
It didn’t feel right to leave her sisters exposed to such danger. “If he wakes, ye might have need of me,” Alpina called out, as the coach lurched forward.
Fiona answered from inside the conveyance, “Ye hold his heart in yer hand. Without it, he is but a shell of a man.”
A shell of a man. Somehow Alpina doubted that. However, the further the coach moved down the meandering lane, the more the ring lost its shimmer and warmth. With a shrug of her shoulders, Alpina threaded the ring onto a cord she wore around her neck. No one could ever take the relic from her, and her daughter’s future would be preserved.
Twenty years later…
Lindsay House, Edinburgh
Blaire Lindsay had the overwhelming desire to throw a fireball at her older brother’s thick head and engulf him in flames. Unfortunately, Aiden had excellent reflexes and a lifetime of experience at dodging her blows. Besides, she’d be the one cleaning up the mess. Still, her fingers itched to send him flying into the next room. How could one be so dense? “Have ye lost yer mind?” she said instead.
“I’m no’ a fool, Blaire,” he replied patiently, as though
was the one who had insisted the family pick up in the dead of winter, leave Edinburgh, and travel through the Highlands to some place she’d never heard of. He settled on the threadbare divan across from her, his silver eyes hopeful, and raked a hand through his dark hair. “I just want ta see it. Can ye no’ understand?”
She could understand his desire to see the supposed inheritance for himself. Ever since Aiden had returned from the battlefields of Belgium, he’d seemed different. The young man who’d once been quick to smile was now sullen and dispassionate. Yet, the idea of Briarcraig Castle brought back the sparkle that once had shone in his eyes. Still, she had duties in Edinburgh, and leaving was not in her plans.
Blaire sighed and toyed with her mother’s old ring, which hung on a cord around her neck. “It’s no’ a good time, Aiden. Elspeth and Caitrin are both in England. Someone has ta keep an eye on things here in town.”
He rolled his eyes and kicked his long legs out in front of him. “How much trouble do ye think Sorcha can get herself inta? I’m certain Rhiannon can keep her eye on the little witch while we’re away.”
“It’s no’ Sorcha I’m worried about. It’s no’ a good idea ta leave the coven so exposed. It’s bad enough we’re already down ta three.”
” he moaned. “Ye act as though we’re leavin’ forever. It’s just a wee trip ta Loch Calavie. We’ll be back before anyone even notices ye’ve left.”
A wee trip to Loch Calavie? She’d never even heard of the place. And it didn’t make one bit of sense that Aiden had inherited the supposed castle. “It’s probably just a pile of rocks, ye ken. I’m sure it’ll look better in the spring or even the summer,” she said hopefully.
His response to that was a scathing glare. “I’ve got nothin’, Blaire. I sold my commission and returned home with only the clothes on my back.”
He’d come home to find that everything he believed was his had been sold to pay their late father’s creditors. That’s what he meant. Though Aiden never said so, Blaire knew he blamed her. But Colin Lindsay had been a drunkard long before she was born, and, if their mother hadn’t reformed him in all their years together, there wasn’t a thing Blaire could have done to do so during Aiden’s absence.
I’ve got land, lass. A castle. I doona want ta wait for the spring ta lay eyes on it. Are ye no’ even the least bit curious ta see it for yerself?”
Not in the least. Blaire was happy in Edinburgh. She had her coven and a purpose. But…Aiden had neither.
Just a wee trip to Loch Calavie
. It really wasn’t so much to ask, was it? The dead of winter. Traveling through the Highlands. She’d obviously lost her mind to have allowed him to talk her into this madness.
Blaire’s shoulders sagged forward. “All right, Aiden, if it’s that important ta ye.”
His face lit up. Before he could properly thank her, a knock came from the front door. The next instant, it sounded as though a herd of elephants was racing down the steps. Brannock must have been keeping an eye on the street.
What’s he in a rush about?” Aiden complained.
Blaire shrugged, then rose to her feet. “I doona ken, but I intend ta find out.” She crossed the small parlor, and as she reached for the door, it swung open of its own accord.
Brannock, Blaire’s junior by a decade, raced into the room, his face slightly red. “Rhi and Sorcha are here.”
In his wake, her two younger coven sisters entered the room. Aiden rose at their entrance and bowed his head. “Ladies.”
Blaire embraced both Rhiannon Sinclair and Sorcha Ferguson, surprised to see them in her home as they’d planned to converge at Arthur’s Seat, the coven’s normal meeting place, later that evening. “What are ye doin’ here?”
A smile lit Sorcha’s innocent face. “Papa said ye had excitin’ news, but he wouldna say what it was. So we came ta find out.”
The indulgent smirk Rhiannon wore made it obvious that Sorcha was behind this impromptu visit. Still…exciting news? Blaire shook her head. “I doona ken what ye’re goin’ on about.”
Both girls sat in matching chintz chairs near Blaire, while Aiden resumed his spot with Brannock settling in beside him. Her exuberant younger brother’s light eyes danced. “I think they mean Aiden’s news,” he said, swinging his legs back and forth as though sitting still was too much of a trial.
The blasted castle. How had Mr. Ferguson gotten wind of it so quickly? Aiden sat a little taller, and Blaire could sense the pride that must be flowing through his veins. The Lindsays’ bad fortune had come to an end; at least that’s what she read in his expression.
“Aye,” she said more brightly than she felt. “Aiden is the proud master of Briarcraig Castle. We’ll be leavin’ tomorrow ta see it.”
Sorcha sighed wistfully. “Briarcraig Castle? It sounds so romantic.”
Rhiannon and Blaire exchanged a look. The youngest witch in their ranks tended to be quite naïve, though in the sweetest of ways. It was hard not to adore the little sprite, and Blaire sometimes wished that she had just a touch of Sorcha’s charming innocence. Could one feign innocence when fireballs rested beneath one’s fingertips though? Probably not very well.
“I thought ye said,” Brannock began with a frown, “wild dragons couldna carry ye ta Loch Calavie.”
Blaire turned her gaze to the lad. “Little brothers who listen at keyholes will have ta be dealt with.”
His childlike laugh echoed around the room. Brannock knew the threat was empty. Blaire might have the blood of warrior witches flowing through her veins, but she’d raised the lad without any help from their father and she treasured Brannock beyond anything else. “Are we really goin’ ta see Aiden’s castle?” he asked hopefully.
Blaire couldn’t help but smile at her younger brother, who wanted an adventure more than anything. “Aye, Brannock. We really are goin’ ta see Aiden’s castle.”
The lad jumped to his feet with a shout. “When do we leave?”
“Did ye no’ hear me, lad? We’ll leave at first light tomorrow.” Blaire sighed. “Otherwise, Aiden will be a pain in the arse until we do so,” she mumbled low enough for only Sorcha and Rhiannon to hear.
“We should have had the coach resprung before we left Edinburgh,” Aiden complained again.
Having the coach repaired before they departed was a luxury they could ill afford. In fact, it was a wonder they still had a coach, bedraggled as it was. If Sorcha hadn’t insisted on loaning them one of the Fergusons’ drivers, she and Aiden would have had to trade turns sitting in the coachman’s box and freezing their arses off instead of just bruising them.
Blaire pointed a finger into her chest and said, “
am no’ the one who was in such a hurry.” She turned the finger on him as she shifted to adjust her own aching bottom. “Ye were the one in such a hurry.” She mocked his masculine voice. “I have ta see my castle, or it will get up and walk away before I get ta Loch Calavie.”
“How did ye get ta be so cruel, Blaire?” he asked, an unrepentant grin tugging at one corner of his mouth. “Mother was a kind soul, a good woman.”
“Aye, and she dinna pass a single trait down ta me,” Blaire said smugly. Then she turned her palm up and allowed sparks to shoot from her fingertips, just enough to make a bright show of lights within the carriage. “Aside from this one.” She smiled again at her brothers.
“Ye need ta be careful who ye do that around at Briarcraig Castle, Blaire,” Aiden scolded. “Ye doona have yer coven ta protect ye where we’re goin’.”
Did the dolt really think she needed to be told such things? Although the modern age seemed to be here to stay, people still were a bit squeamish about witches, and Blaire had no intention of being burned alive by a group of uneducated Highlanders. She rolled her eyes heavenward.
“Oh, ye think we’ll stumble inta a workin’ castle full of servants and beautiful things, Aiden?” She snorted. “It’s more likely that we’ll drive up ta a big pile of rocks that collapsed years ago. Then we’ll have ta make the poor coachman up there turn around and head back home.”
“And try ta act like a lass, will ye?” he continued as though he hadn’t heard one word she’d spoken. “Ye doona have ta best every man ye see.”
Blaire leaned over and covered his hand with hers. “I hate ta inform ye, but I’m no’ made ta wear petticoats and pretty jewels. I am a warrior, Aiden, and my body is designed for fightin’.”
“Fightin’ what?” Brannock interjected.
“I doona ken,” she shrugged. “Whatever danger exists in the world. Dragons or trolls or arrogant Englishmen.”
Brannock dissolved into a peal of laughter while Aiden heaved a dramatic sigh. “The only danger ye have seen so far was when Wallace Ferguson tried ta kiss ye in the stables. I still canna believe ye blackened the big oaf’s eye. He weighs three times what ye do.”
“Well, he should have kept his lips on his face, instead of tryin’ ta put them on mine,” Blaire mumbled.
ta be a lady, will ye?” Aiden pleaded, his face finally serious.
Blaire frowned. She would like to think that her brother could accept her as she was after all this time. But he was forever trying to change her into a laces-and-fripperies kind of lass, when hunting and shooting ran through her blood. It was a shame those sorts of accomplishments weren’t highly regarded as particularly feminine. Perhaps someday she would find a man who could accept that she would always best him at manly arts and not be afraid of her strength and power. And perhaps all the stars in the sky would turn to diamonds and rain bracelets and earbobs across her path, too.
No, she was doomed to live a solitary existence. She refused to endure the sort of life her mother had had, settling for a bitter drunkard who could never accept her gifts, hiding her true self, and dying a little more each day. They’d all suffered from that situation, and Blaire would never willingly live that way again. Being alone couldn’t possibly be worse.
The coach hit a bump so hard that Blaire bounced from her seat to knock her head on the roof of the carriage. She groaned and pressed a hand to the offending lump that quickly grew at her hairline.
“Are ye all right?” Aiden asked as though he was suddenly concerned for her well-being.
“Aye, I’m well. But I will be quite happy when we arrive so I can stretch my legs.” She lifted the curtain and looked out the small window. “Look at that, Aiden.” She nudged his leg.
“What is it?” he asked as he sat forward.
The golden sun was setting behind a large stone structure, and it looked like a beacon of light that was guiding them home.
“That’s Briarcraig Castle,” Aiden breathed in awe.
“Let me see!” Brannock cried as he edged himself in between them. “
is yer castle?” He sat back with a disappointed huff.
“Well, it’s no’ a pile of rocks,” Aiden said brightly. “At least it’s still standin’.”
“Barely,” Brannock sniffed.
Blaire shot him a look, and the boy immediately sat up and removed the scowl from his face.
The stone structure was surrounded by a low rock wall that opened to a courtyard, and what might have been gardens at one time were now covered in thick weeds and vines, even in the dead of winter. If she returned in the spring, Blaire would need to bring Sorcha with her. The youngest witch could enchant the plants, encouraging them to bend effortlessly to her will and making at least the outdoors hospitable.
The castle itself was a huge monstrosity, probably born of some wealthy laird’s imagination. But even Blaire had to admit it looked quite pretty with the setting sun and shimmering loch in the background. Almost enchanting in its own right.
Their coach rumbled to a stop on the bumpy drive, the stillness of it a bit ominous after such a long journey. Aiden stepped out quickly, followed by Brannock. Neither of them waited to hand Blaire out, and she didn’t expect them to. She was perfectly capable of vaulting out under her own strength.
She stretched tall, extending her arms over her head to lengthen her long body. That she was a half inch taller than Aiden had always been a source of contention for her older brother. And Aiden was taller than the average man. She’d grown accustomed to looking down at most of the men she knew.
The low stone wall that surrounded the property had a rusty iron gate in the middle. Aiden gave the gate a quick push, and it promptly fell from its hinges. Even still, the look of boyish wonder never left his face.
“It’s beautiful, is it no’, Blaire?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Aye, it has a bit of charm,” was all she could manage.