Read My Shadow Warrior Online

Authors: Jen Holling

My Shadow Warrior

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“May I Rest Now?” William Said. “Or Have you Some Other Torture Designed for me?”

“No. Lie still.” Rose pulled his boots and stockings off, leaving him only in his trews. She considered removing those, too, but decided to wait until she’d given something to help him sleep. She didn’t know if she could strip him with those brilliant blue eyes peering at her.

Rose wiped the rag over his swollen throat, then over his shoulders and chest, wiping down his arms and hands. Though she tried to remain detached from what she was doing, her body grew warm from touching him so freely. He was even more compelling out of clothes than he was in. His bones were long and elegant, layered thickly with smooth slopes of muscle and crisp black hair. No scars or imperfections blemished his smooth, dusky skin. He was a wholly beautiful man and she was not immune. Neither was he, it seemed, for when she reached the hard flat muscles of his belly, she noticed the thick bulge in his trews and was grateful she’d left them on.

Without thinking, she glanced up at his face. Dark, hazy eyes regarded her.

At her look he quirked an eyebrow. “I’m sick,” he said. “Not dead.”

Acclaim for Jen Holling’s
Brides of the Bloodstone Trilogy
CAPTURED BY YOUR KISS

“Passionate, engrossing….
Captured by Your Kiss
is a book to lose yourself in, falling into the intense emotions of the characters and the harshness of the setting and time period, and letting the complex threads of the plot hold your attention until the last page.”

—The RomanceReader.com

“Great depth, drama and action…. A very strong novel that will satisfy readers of the series. You’ll be captivated and completely engaged with the myth, the magic, and the romance Ms. Holling has so beautifully created.”


Romantic Times

“Sure to captivate…. A trilogy full of love and adventure. All three [are] sure to thrill those who enjoy a medieval tale.”


Romance Reviews Today

“Ms. Holling creates a romantic tale with characters who stay in your heart long after their story is over.
Captured by Your Kiss
is a gem of a book, and not to be missed. Get your copy today.”

—TheWordonRomance.com

“It was hard to catch my breath as I galloped through the pages of
Captured by Your Kiss
. Ms. Holling’s plots are so skillfully written that each book of the trilogy seems to melt into the other. The readers feel right at home in the period, enjoying the company of friends, some old, some new.”


Rendezvous


Captured by Your Kiss
is a fantastic conclusion of this fascinating trilogy. There is adventure, danger, and a beautiful love story.”

—ReadertoReader.com

TAMED BY YOUR DESIRE

“Time stands still as the reader is caught up in the conflict and experiences the excitement of this romantic tale.”


Rendezvous

“The clash of wills and biting and dynamic repartee are reminiscent of Shannon Drake’s Scottish romances.”


Romantic Times

TEMPTED BY YOUR TOUCH

“A tender triumph that tempted me to keep reading all night long.”

—Teresa Medeiros, author of
A Kiss to Remember

Also by Jen Holling

My Devilish Scotsman

My Wicked Highlander

Captured by Your Kiss

Tamed by Your Desire

Tempted by Your Touch

Available from Pocket Books

An
Original
Publication of POCKET BOOKS

POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Holling

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-2395-6
ISBN-10: 1-4165-2395-2

POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

To Jennie Patterson,
For always coming through in a pinch,
long emails and phone calls, and most of all, friendship
You’ve taught me more about storytelling than anyone else.
Thank you.

Chapter 1

To the right and noble William MacKay, Lord Strathwick,

My deepest wishes that your health and prosperity continue in this most difficult time. Your lack of response to my previous correspondence signifies that this might not be so. If I am mistaken, please take care to correct this misconception. As I explained in my previous missives, my father is still very unwell. It is my greatest wish that you should grace our humble home with a visit. Your miraculous skill in the arts of healing is spoken of throughout the land and I fear you are his last hope. I pray you to remember that these gifts you are blessed with were given to you by the Almighty, to use as He wills. Alan MacDonell is a good and honorable man. He has been a just chieftain to his people and a good servant to His Majesty and God. It cannot but be God’s will that you do this. So why do you ignore my pleas?

We have much to offer in the way of compensation and reward, and we will endeavor to meet any request you might make for sustenance or comfort. I pray you, my dear lord, do as God wills you and come to Lochlaire with haste. You are our only hope.

Thus indebted to the great pains you shall take on our behalf,

your good and humble servant,

Rose MacDonell

From the House of Lochlaire on xv July

The year of our Lord 1597

Rose read the letter over again with a critical eye. It was the tenth letter she’d written him in so many weeks. Her gaze strayed to the window. A gray pall lay over Glen Laire. Soon it would be harvest, then it would turn cold and there would be snow. William MacKay lived in the far, wild north, where the weather and terrain—as well as the inhabitants—were brutal. It would be foolish to attempt the journey in the winter. Time was running out.

It would take at least a week for the letter to reach him. An unspecified amount of time for him to respond. And again, another week or more to receive his answer. A month? Winter was months away. The journey was still possible. Perhaps there was time.

Her shoulders sagged at the futility of these calculations. She’d been writing to the MacKay chief for months. He’d yet to respond to a single plea. What made her think this one was any different? And when the weather turned ugly, it was certain he would not come.

She looked over her shoulder to the still figure on the bed. Alan MacDonell had been clinging to life for months now. He was horribly thin and weak but no worse. In fact, there had been some improvement over the past month. That should encourage her, but it didn’t. Rose feared he’d given up the good fight, and without the will to live, all was for naught.

She’d tried, over the past two months, to convince her family members to help her bring Lord Strathwick to Glen Laire. Uncle Roderick thought it was a bad idea to bring a hunted wizard to Glen Laire and had forbade her to continue writing him. She’d ignored this edict, of course. Hagan, her father’s guard, also thought it too dangerous, what with the current state of matters in Scotland. He felt that the wizard’s healing powers were too mythic to be true. He feared that Rose only opened herself to disappointment. And though her sisters and brothers-in-law agreed with both Uncle Roderick and Hagan, the earl of Kincreag, Gillian’s new husband, had sent a man to fetch the Wizard of the North. To humor her, certainly, but it was something, and Rose was grateful to him.

It was past time Kincreag’s man returned, and yet there was no sign of him. Lord Kincreag feared he’d had a mishap on the journey and wouldn’t return until the spring. If ever.

All of this merely frustrated Rose. If only she could talk to Lord Strathwick. If only he would answer her letters. She stared down at the parchment before her, wondering what she could do to make this letter somehow different, more convincing than the previous ones.

She rose from the writing table and crossed to her father’s bed. Unfortunately her ability to heal was not sufficient to save Alan MacDonell. His sleep was restless. She watched as his gaunt face twitched beneath the full gray beard. He frowned in his sleep, shook his head slightly.

Rose placed a hand against her father’s forehead. It was cool. She exhaled, her hand closing into a fist. If he were feverish, then at least she’d know what to do. She closed her eyes, sliding her hand over his head and body, fingers almost touching him, but not quite, seeing the shape of his body in her mind, glowing softly with color.

This was her magic. With concentration, when she passed her hands over a body, she could
see
the ailment. A fever was an angry red glow suffusing the body. The area causing the fever—often internal—was a dark, textured color. Her magic was a great help in diagnosing and treating all sorts of ailments, but it was of no use if she could not see what was wrong.

With her father, she saw nothing. Every person possessed their own color when healthy, and Rose could see that, too, when she passed her hands over them. Alan MacDonell’s color was green. Normally a lovely shade like spring grass, it had faded so that she could barely see it. As if the light—and life—were being drained from him. Rose could pinpoint no source, no darkness. Nothing. He was just fading away before her eyes, and there was not a thing she could do to stop it.

The door opened, and Rose’s hands fell to her sides.

“How is he?” Uncle Roderick asked softly, moving to the other side of the bed to look down at his brother. Roderick was a big man, with powerful shoulders and lustrous copper hair tied at his nape. His handsome face creased with worry and sadness—and resignation. Everyone else had accepted the inevitable, that Alan MacDonell would soon die. Rose could not accept it. After twelve years apart, it could not end like this. There was more to do. More to say. He
could not
die.

She gazed down at her father. His sleep had calmed.

“He’s the same.” She clenched her useless hands. Energy still coiled tight in her chest, making her restless and confused. It was always this way, as if there was more to do—but what, she couldn’t fathom. “The nightmares are fewer and less severe. No bruising.” For a time he’d suffered from horrible nightmares that he’d been unable to remember. And when he’d woken, he’d been covered with odd bruises, as if he’d been beaten. It had been nearly a month since the last incident.

Rose rubbed her eyes wearily. “How is Tira?”

Tira was Roderick’s third wife. The MacDonells seemed to be cursed. Rose’s father had managed to have three healthy daughters with his wife, Lillian, who had been burned at the stake for witchcraft. He’d wed again, but his second wife had died in childbirth. Uncle Roderick had married three times in the past twelve years. The first two wives had died in childbirth as well. He had no children. His current wife, Tira, was heavily pregnant and due to give birth in a few weeks.

It was a very important baby Tira carried. Alan had no sons, so his lands and leadership of the Glen Laire MacDonells would pass to his younger half brother when he died. If Roderick died without issue, it would all revert back to Alan’s children. As Isobel was the oldest, it would go to her husband, Sir Philip Kilpatrick. Rose could think of worse things than Sir Philip being chieftain of the MacDonells, but then Roderick was a strong leader, too, and the MacDonells knew him and trusted him.

And more importantly, it was a son that Tira carried. Many MacDonells were fey. Rose’s mother, Lillian, had been a powerful witch. Rose and both of her sisters were witches. And Alan had a shine. One of his powers was the ability to determine the sex of the child a woman carried. He’d never been wrong. Before he’d fallen ill, women had come from miles around so he could touch their bellies. He’d once confided to Rose that he didn’t actually have to touch the women to do it, but they’d always offered their bellies up, and it had seemed to make them more confident when he’d laid hands on them.

“Poor Tira. She’s tired and has been a bit achy,” Roderick said. “Mayhap you could come look at her when ye’re done here?”

Rose sighed. She was forever tending Tira for every little twinge. It wasn’t Tira who was difficult; it was her doting husband. He panicked at every little pain she had. Though Tira could still get around fine, Roderick had confined her to bed for the past two months.

“If ye’re not busy, that is…” His gaze moved behind her to the table, where she’d been composing her letter to the Wizard of the North. Rose froze, her gaze darting from the parchment lying innocently on the tabletop back to her uncle. He moved fast. He was around the bed and at the table before her.

Rose tried to snatch the letter, but he grabbed it first. She ended up ripping it, and in the end, she had nothing to show for it but a ruined letter, which her uncle was now reading. Rose watched him, sullen, as he scanned it, his brow furrowed, and resigned herself to the impending tongue-lashing.

When he looked up from the letter his face was grim. “What did I tell you? Did I not warn you to cease writing this man?”

“You’re not my chief yet.”

Red suffused his neck. “But I
am
your uncle.”

Rose had never been one to back down from a fight, especially when it came to one of her patients, and this was no exception. She did not fear her uncle. Beneath it all she knew he loved her and her sisters, but of late, he’d been especially hard on her.

She took a step forward so they were nearly toe to toe. Though a big man, Roderick was not tall. He stood but an inch or two above Rose’s height.

“I am a healer—healing is what I do.” She gestured helplessly at the bed. “But I can do nothing for my own father. This man can help. I will not stop writing him because you are afraid of witches.”

Though Roderick tried to remain stern, his blue eyes were merry with the effort to contain a smile. Finally it burst forth and he shook his head, chuckling. “Afraid, aye? And here I am, surrounded by them.” His smile faded and his eyes grew serious again. “It’s not the wizard I’m afraid of, but the trouble he’ll bring.”

“I don’t care about that.”

Rose turned away, but Roderick grabbed her shoulder and forced her to face him again.

“You should. He is a hunted man. His own clan has turned against him. They say he can change forms—turn into wolves and such, and has familiars. It’s said he goes nowhere without a demon rat.”

Rose made a dismissive sound and rolled her eyes.

Roderick’s fingers tightened on her shoulder. “Nonsense it might be, but the fact remains people are talking, and they are frightened of him. It takes less than that for a burning. He’s too dangerous. I have heard, too, there is a witchpricker traveling the Highlands, searching for work. If he gets word the Wizard of the North is here at Glen Laire, where do you think he will travel next, aye? Would you really bring this upon your family in these times?”

Her jaw tightened.
These times
. They were bad times. Burning times. At one time, only the king could burn a witch—legally, but witches were often lynched and burned anyway. Rose’s mother was the perfect example of such a transgression gone unpunished. Five years ago, the king had granted commissions to any body of men in any village, giving them the power to try and burn witches. Churchmen and villagers had wasted no time rooting out suspects and singeing the air with pitch and fire. There was still no end in sight.

And that was exactly why there was no time to lose. What if Lord Strathwick were lynched as her mother had been? The urgency of the situation descended on Rose with renewed force. She could take care of herself, and her sisters had able husbands. Bringing the wizard here was an acceptable risk. This traveling witchpricker need never know a thing. But there was no convincing her uncle of this.

She let out a defeated sigh and nodded, eyes averted.

Despite twelve years apart, in the few months they’d been back together her uncle had gotten to know her relatively well.

“I mean it, Rose. Ye’ll not convince me so easily. No more letters, understand?”

She glared at him, which seemed to be what he expected from her. He nodded and went to the door. He turned back, his hand on the latch, and asked pleasantly, “Ye’ll be up to tend my Tira, aye?”

Rose managed a curt nod.

When he was gone, her father’s guard, Hagan, entered, his heavy brow creased apologetically. “I’m sorry, lass. Roderick just told me I was not to aid you anymore.”

The enormous Irishman had been helping her smuggle the missives to Lord Strathwick out of the castle so they could be given to travelers heading north. Hagan stood at the door, dark head lowered, thoroughly sheepish.

It seemed there was nothing left to do but fetch the wizard herself.

 

Rose found her sisters in the great hall. They were both seated near the largest fireplace at the west end. Isobel’s gloved hands were extended out before her, draped with wool yarn. Gillian rolled the red yarn from Isobel’s hands into a ball, gray eyes on something in the corner that only she could see.

“Well, dear, what
is
the last thing you remember?” Gillian asked the empty air.

Isobel watched the corner avidly, as if she might see something materialize.

“Any luck with the bairns?” Rose asked, sitting on the bench beside Isobel.

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