Read Legend Of The Highland Dragon Online

Authors: Isabel Cooper

Tags: #Highland Warriors, #Highlanders, #Historical Romance, #Paranormal Romance, #Romance, #Scotland, #Scotland Highland, #Scottish Highland, #Warrior, #Shifters, #Dragon Shifter, #Magic

Legend Of The Highland Dragon (6 page)

BOOK: Legend Of The Highland Dragon
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Seven

So, for the second time in less than a week, Stephen cooled his heels in Carter’s outer sanctum while Miss Seymour and the professor held their own council beyond the door and up the stairs. This time he was waiting longer—long enough to sit down, grow tired of sitting down, and begin pacing the room again.

He hadn’t tried to argue this time. Carter was his friend, even if the two of them hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and Carter had less than no love for Ward. Even if Miss Seymour did decide to betray Stephen, Carter would be no accomplice to her treachery. She had to know that. Granting them privacy carried very little risk. It certainly hadn’t seemed worth
another
wrangle with the woman. Stephen had encountered actual bulls who were less stubborn.

Besides, he did want to put her at ease, as much as he could manage. Much as Stephen hadn’t wanted Miss Seymour—or anyone else—entangled in his affairs, he had to admit that her entanglement had come from noble motives, and that she’d showed more courage over the last day and night than he would have expected from most mortal women. And, even had those things not been true, she would still be living with him for some unknown length of time.

Still
unknown, dammit. Stephen glared ineffectually at a figurine of Anubis.

The manes provided some clue: the summoner had to be in the same city as his target, more or less, and the rite to summon them was far from common, even where magic was concerned. Stephen, who was no scholar, had only heard about it from a demon hunter he’d met some decades ago and who’d been dead for the last twenty years.

That was a pity. He could have used Abraham’s insights into this particular matter. He would also have welcomed the German’s company again. As it was, he was stuck with letters to the occultists he knew, ineffectual requests to talk with Ward’s remaining family, and whatever information Scotland Yard wanted to pass his way. It wasn’t much.

Now he could add one sharp-tongued, mistrustful mortal female to—well, not to his list of resources. Typing and correspondence wasn’t likely to be Ward’s bane. Miss Seymour went on the list of encumbrances, then, which was quite long enough already.

A sound from outside stopped Stephen’s pacing and spun him toward the door.

Someone was coming up the steps outside, someone moving quickly and more furtively than most people on legitimate business ever did. Stephen crossed the room in three steps and seized the doorknob, just as the letter slot banged open and something spherical dropped through onto his foot.

Instinct sent him backwards, kicking the thing toward the wall before it could bite or sting or explode. The footsteps outside scurried off.

The sphere was about the size of a man’s fist, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. It wasn’t hissing or ticking. It didn’t smell like smoke. Still, nobody with an ordinary package to deliver dropped it through the letter slot and ran, and Stephen doubted that Carter had any secret admirers.

Miss Seymour might have, of course. She was a pretty lass with an undoubtedly nice figure, that mass of honey-gold hair, and a set of very red lips in her sharp little face. A man could take quite a fancy to her until she spoke, and perhaps one who
had
spoken to her wouldn’t have the nerve to give his gifts properly.

The thought made Stephen curl his lip. They bred a spineless lot of young men these days, if that were the case.

There was nothing for it. Stephen faced the east and said a few quick Latin words, invoking the Wind That Parts the Veil, and saw the world before him turn misty and gray. The desk shone faintly golden through that fog, and the bookshelves were a bluish violet, but the package stood out like a full moon, glowing an eerie, shifting silver-green.

Stephen took a few steps toward it but made no move to touch it yet. At this distance, with the Wind at his back, he could see through both the physical wrappings and the object itself, and knew that it was no coward’s courting gift—though it would look like a harmless bauble of some sort, probably a polished crystal or a metal bowl. It would be something to keep on the mantel or to put flowers in, so that the mist inside it would have as much time as possible to disperse.

That mist would be somebody’s eyes and ears, and a truly skilled enough magician could whisper suggestions through it. It would take a great deal of power to change a human mind that way, but one could certainly change moods, twisting a target toward despair or madness. Even if Carter or Miss Seymour had gotten rid of the thing, the mist that came out on opening the package would probably have been enough to suit Ward’s purposes.

Even with the package wrapped, there was only a little time before the mist would begin to seep through the paper.

Fortunately, April in London was still a chilly month.

Stephen took off his coat and wrapped it around the sphere, careful not to let his hands touch even the outer layer of the paper. With the bundle in his hands, he stood, walked over to the fireplace, and uttered another invocation, this one to the Flame at the Center of the World.

Then he dropped the ball, coat and all, into the flames.

In retrospect, he thought when his head stopped ringing, he probably should have expected it to explode.

***

“…and so here I am,” Mina said. She’d told Professor Carter everything that had happened the previous night, though she’d excluded Stephen’s real form. In her version of the story, he’d sent the manes packing with pistol and holy water and wanted to keep her there because she’d seen them.

“Well,” said Professor Carter. He drew a breath and then repeated: “Well.”

“I know it must all sound rather improbable—” Mina began.

“How could it, my girl, when I was there for half of the proceedings?” Professor Carter chuckled, though there was as much ruefulness as mirth in it. “I may have been a skeptic at first, but the Bavarian expedition went a long way toward curing me of that, and it wasn’t the last such experience I had, either! There was a time in Jamaica—but that’s neither here nor there, is it?”

Mina had to admit that it wasn’t. She smiled, though, as she hadn’t been able to do since she’d entered Professor Carter’s office with MacAlasdair at her side. Despite everything MacAlasdair had told her, she’d still worried that the professor would think she’d gone mad. Seeing his face animated by curiosity and without a trace of disbelief did more good for her spirits than any tonic she could think of.

“And if I hadn’t been convinced already,” said Professor Carter, “Stephen would have done it the other day. Bless the man, I’d hate him if I was a vainer fellow. Doesn’t look a day over thirty, does he?”

“No,” said Mina, another admission. “Then—he
is
a friend of yours?”

“Oh, yes. Not that I know a great deal about him, mind you, but we went on a number of journeys together when I was a younger man. Quite a dependable sort of a chap. If you
had
to go poking into this affair of ours”—Professor Carter tried for a reproving look—“I’m glad you’ve ended up under his protection while it lasts. He’ll see to it that you’re all right, if anyone can.”

Mina decided to ignore the uncertain postscript and kept herself from bristling at the mention of
protection
. After all, an evil magician with shadow demons at his command was hardly a figure that even the most independent of New Women could be expected to handle on her own.

“You won’t mind if I work for him, then? Or even if I stay in his house? He does have maids and a housekeeper. It’s not as though we’d be alone—”

“Not at all, not at all.” Professor Carter waved a hand. “The situation’s rather an unusual one, after all, and besides, Stephen’s quite honorable. Never known him to…well, ah…” He coughed. “I mean to say, you’ll be quite safe with him.”

Men didn’t always know these things, Mina reflected, and fifteen years could change a man, or a not-quite-man, considerably. Still, MacAlasdair had so far seemed honorable in
that
regard at least, though Mina was relieved to hear the professor confirm her impression. She was more relieved to see that the situation didn’t scandalize him.

“Then I’ll still have a place with you, afterward?”

“Well, certainly,” said Professor Carter. “Wouldn’t dream of having things otherwise. If we’re both still alive, of course.”

Downstairs, something went
BANG
.

***

Luckily for everyone concerned, Mrs. Evans had been visiting her daughter in Kensington for the last two days. Otherwise, events after the explosion would have included a great deal more panic and secrecy.

As it was, Mina made it down the stairs, Professor Carter’s letter opener in one hand, to find the study empty save for MacAlasdair, who was picking himself up off the floor.

The man who’d accompanied Mina to the professor’s office had been polished and distinguished looking, if also distant and intimidating. His clothing had still seemed like a costume—all the more so, now that Mina knew something of his true nature—but it had been a good costume, and he’d worn it well.

Now his coat was missing, and his shirt and waistcoat were torn in several places. More than that, Mina saw blood matting at least one of the still-whole sections of shirt at MacAlasdair’s side. A few more cuts, though these were not much more than scratches, littered his arms and face.

“I—” she began. Unsure where to go after that, she seized on the injury. “Sit down, will you? And don’t move. Are you bleeding anywhere else? We’ll need some water. Is it safe for me to go to the kitchen? Is it safe for us to be down here?”

“Your inquisition, Cerberus, lacks a wee bit in the way of priorities,” said MacAlasdair.

“My name’s Mina. Miss Seymour,” she corrected herself, irritated. “And you haven’t answered my questions. Or sat down.”

“I’m a man of many failings, I see.” He did sit down, though, and shook his head as if coming back to himself. “It’s quite safe now. You may go anywhere you please—in this house, of course.”

“Trust you to remember
that
,” said Mina, and took herself off to the kitchen.

She fetched a pitcher of water and several towels quickly, and returned by the time Professor Carter had made his way downstairs. “Are we under attack?” he was asking MacAlasdair.

“Nae more than we were a day ago,” said MacAlasdair. “Someone was tryin’ his hand at spy work. Dropped a cursed little bundle through your letter slot. That’s all.”

“How reassuring,” said Mina. “Does ‘spy work’ generally blow up like that?”

“No,” said MacAlasdair. “That was me. I saw no other way to rid us of the thing.”

He glanced toward the fireplace. Following his look, Mina saw that the flames had turned a dancing blue-silver. It was really quite pretty, though she wouldn’t have said so in front of the two men.

Professor Carter had no such reservations. “For a curse, Stephen, that’s a remarkably pleasant little aftereffect.”

“It wasn’t evil magic in itself,” said MacAlasdair, “only used for evil. And rather showy in its destruction.”

“Yes,” said Professor Carter, and clicked his tongue as he looked at Stephen. “Should we call a doctor? I don’t know of any
really
discreet ones, but I’m sure we could think of a story—”

“No. It’ll heal quickly enough, once it’s clean. If I may beg your pardon,” he said to Mina, and then began to remove the remains of his shirt.

Mina decided to examine the desk. One never knew, after all, what might have broken in an explosion, or where the bits of whatever had exploded had gotten to. She tried to focus on finding them and not on seeing how graceful MacAlasdair was despite his size, or the slow exposure of his body. If her heart was going faster than it should and her cheeks felt warm—well, that was only natural in the wake of spies and mysterious explosions.

She dipped a napkin in water, went over to where MacAlasdair was sitting, and then could no longer avoid looking at him. His arms were muscular; his pale chest was broad and solid, lightly covered with red-black hair that narrowed to a thin line trailing down his flat stomach. So near at hand, Mina seemed to feel an unusual warmth rising off his skin—or perhaps that was just her.

The cut was thin and shallow, not bad at all. She concentrated on that, which only helped a very little bit. “I do hope this won’t be a daily occurrence,” she said, keeping her voice steady and not at all breathless. “I’m not any sort of trained nurse, you know.”

“For your sake, Miss Seymour”—MacAlasdair’s voice was very close to her ear, a deep rumble that went through her body and almost made her drop the cloth she was using—“I’ll do my utmost to avoid it.”

“How generous of you,” said Mina, and looked up into a pair of gold-brown eyes fixed intently on hers.

She stepped back quickly. “I think that’s as much as I can do,” she said, and cleared her throat. “I can’t sew it up and I can’t get you any other clothes. And what—what about you?”

As she spoke, she turned back to Professor Carter. That was a relief on one level—although also a disappointment in a way Mina resolved not to think about—but the thought of leaving the professor alone was more alarming, and in a wholly unmixed way. “If people are trying to kill you or spy on you,” Mina said, “shouldn’t you come back with us? Or leave London for a bit?”

“No, I think not,” said Professor Carter. “If Ward had wanted me dead, he would have made some overt move in that direction. I think I’m more valuable to him as a living source of information—and this bracelet should prevent him trying to get anything out of me the way he did Moore, poor fellow.” He raised his arm again to show the silver bracelet and looked toward MacAlasdair for confirmation.

MacAlasdair nodded, but reluctantly. “As far as I know,” he said. “Even so—”

“Even so, we’ve had this discussion,” said the professor. “I’ve no reason to believe Ward’s reach is limited to London, and your house is far from impregnable. In fact, if he makes another try at it, I might be in more danger there than here. And I would far prefer to remain where I am for the present time. I’ll discuss it with you again if anything changes materially, MacAlasdair, but nothing has.”

BOOK: Legend Of The Highland Dragon
4.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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