Authors: Teresa Reasor
She had to be close to the cofferdam. The dark blue panels of the structure should be right before her. How could anything that stood two hundred feet tall and stretched half the length of a football field be so difficult to find? She resisted the urge to look up. In her current situation, the sight of so much water overhead might make her fear worse. She already found it difficult to control her breathing.
Checking her wrist compass again, she found the needle bouncing back and forth erratically. She gave it a vigorous shake then held it as still as possible. There was something wrong with it. Had it been somehow damaged on the flight to Scotland? She swallowed back the panic that threatened to close her throat. What more could go wrong during this dive?
If she found the cofferdam, she’d find something onto which to tie her emergency line. She followed the concave edge of the drop-off for a short distance. Through the cloudy water rose the dark corrugation of the cofferdam. She quickly swam forward and rested a rubber-gloved hand on the metal. The height and breadth of the structure appeared like a benevolent mountain looming over her. Constructed of interlocking vertical steel pilings, the temporary dam gave the impression of blocking out what little light permeated the water overhead.
Dirt and stone littered the landscape along its side. Had the process of sinking the metal sheets bubbled up the debris, or had some other more natural occurrence caused it?
The water made the structure appear to lean toward her. Dwarfed by the dam’s looming height, she struggled to suppress her cloying claustrophobia. She swung her dive light back and forth, searching for any sign of Henry. The ground gave way to a long downward slope. She drifted, following the deep ruts cut into the bank.
At the sudden inexplicable increase in the water temperature, she hesitated. It didn’t feel like a natural current, but warmer, like a hot spring. Had the seal along the wrists and ankles of her dry suit broken, she would be experiencing the chill of the water, not a surge of warmth. For a moment, the circle of illumination her dive light provided seemed to expand as some of the sediment cleared. Worry brought a hollow emptiness to the pit of her stomach. Where was Henry?
She couldn’t search any longer. She’d secure an emergency line, release her buoy, and follow it up. And hope and pray Henry had already surfaced. She looked below for something on which to fasten her line.
Just beneath her, white PVC pipes delineated a grid around the site. Nearly all the squares blocked in showed signs of digging. In the center of the underwater dig, a long, rectangular object, gray-black in color, lay on its side in the mud. It appeared that the hieroglyphs marking the surface of those already recovered were absent on this one. That couldn’t be right.
Regan swam down and rested a gloved hand on the block. A cloud of sediment kicked up obscuring visibility, but the deep recessed edge of a design became evident beneath her fingertips. Her satisfied sound forced bubbles from her mouthpiece past her ear.
Water and mud sealed off the stones protected by the cofferdam above ground. And until the scaffolding was completed, she could only view them from a distance. But these she could touch. And what could it hurt?
Regan pulled loose her glove and tucked it beneath her weight belt. The water temperature seemed warmer than when she had entered the loch. The pitted surface of the rock felt slick and slimy.
The sensation of warmth intensified to a prickly static that tingled almost painfully against her bare skin. She tried to lift her hand and break the contact, but her palm felt welded to the top of the stone. Fear bit into her, sharp as an eel’s teeth. Pinpricks traveled with liquid speed up her arm to her shoulder and across her chest. Was she having a heart attack? Was she experiencing an embolism?
Burning heat raced to the rest of her extremities. A current of power surged like electricity through her entire body. Energy hummed along her nerve endings like a dance of fire until it reached her groin. Regan groaned as an orgasm hit her with such intensity she bowed her back. Jets of sensation rolled outward from the very depths of her body. She remained locked to the stone, yet she was projected someplace else as well. In an instant her consciousness splintered.
The water cleared, and blue sky appeared above her. She drew a deep breath. The smell of burning peat, strong and acrid, settled on her tongue. She was home. In the distance, stood a stone hut, its roof thatched, and smoke curling from the chimney. Home. The familiar sight sent joy spiraling through her. Her heart beat with excitement as she waded through the tall grass, the blades catching at her skirts and pulling at her stockings.
Quinn Douglas awoke with a start, a strangled cry on his lips.
It was just a dream
He squinted against the glare of the setting sun and threw up a hand to block it. The fishing pole he held in his right hand hung slack. He straightened his neck and grimaced as the crick hit him. God, his sleep deprivation was worse than he’d thought if he could fall asleep sitting on deck fishing. His heart drummed against his ribs. His hands shook as he reeled in the line and set aside the pole.
Leaning forward, he rested his elbows on his knees and rubbed an unsteady hand across his face. Jesus, the sodding dreams were killing him. He hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since he and his crew had arrived at this bloody place. All night he searched for some illusive thing he’d lost. Or he awoke painfully aroused craving the woman’s body he’d dreamed of. Who the hell was she? Some composite woman his subconscious had invented or someone he’d seen on the telly?
This dream had been especially weird. She had lain still in a clear pool, her eyes staring up at him. A shudder racked him. It reminded him too much of his parents. Their eyes had been open, empty, staring. Looking into the unknown.
He struggled against the loss, abandonment and anger that accompanied the memory.
A stiff breeze whipped across the deck pushing against
hull. The two hundred and thirty foot salvage vessel pulled against its anchor, but barely rocked. The rain-laden air smelled crisp and cool. A storm would reach the area by evening.
He turned to look over his shoulder, eastward where the lumbering mass of Slioch Mountain stretched rocky and barren behind him. Its drab gray-brown contrasted with the thick cluster of deep green Scots pines nestled at its base. Since it was Sunday, the diving crew hired for the dig were ashore. They had planned a hike on Slioch. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about them depressurizing and boarding during a storm, but they might get wet anyway.
His focus shifted to the dark blue steel cofferdam constructed only sixty-eight meters from where
lay anchored. The structure shot four meters into the air above the water line. Its interlocking panels held back the loch and kept it from flooding the area until a more permanent structure was devised.
The constant sound of the pumps inside the cofferdam bounced across the loch. Jets of water spewed over the side of the structure into Loch Maree, churning the water and spreading a strip of mud across its surface. The silt made visibility miserable below, but it hadn’t kept him from catching enough trout for dinner.
Along one side, the land sloped, allowing him to see the edge of one stone and part of the lintel that rested atop it. Uneasiness churned in the pit of his stomach every time he looked at the place. He rubbed the back of his neck and rolled his shoulders trying to release the tension of his muscles and the crick in his neck.
for a few hours of quiet and privacy had been a good idea, even though he’d ended up stewing all afternoon about the dreams and the bloody rocks. Why did he find the limestone slabs so disturbing? He’d made a journey to Stonehenge some years past and had experienced no sense of wariness or discomfort there.
His cell phone rang and he fished it out of the case on his belt and looked at the number. He swore, then replaced the phone without answering. Marissa could call until doomsday. He wasn’t interested. He was working on the biggest archaeological dig since Stonehenge, and she’d been turned away. There was justice in the world. A wry grin twisted his lips.
He lifted the cooler next to him and carried it aft to the worktable bolted to the deck. With a knife from the galley he began cleaning and scaling the fish. A clanging of metal against metal drew his attention and he laid aside the blade. He moved to the rear of the boat and looked over the rail to the diving platform.
A diver shoved a large underwater dive light across the metal scaffold out of the way, then grasped the railing of the stage and attempted to drag himself aboard, his movements clumsy. Quinn removed the panel that sealed off the platform from the deck and stepped out. Grasping the man’s tank harness, he added his strength to the diver’s and wrestled him onto the scaffold.
The diver ripped the mask from his face and looked up at him, his eyes wide. “Is Regan aboard?” His accent, distinctly American sounded clipped. His freckles stood out against the paleness of his skin like splotches.
“No one’s aboard but me,” Quinn answered.
“She’s in trouble. I know it. We got separated and visibility is terrible. I searched for her for nearly five minutes. But you can’t see shit down there. I finally had to break off to surface.”
Concern ripped through Quinn. “How long have you been down?”
Quinn swore under his breath, his mind weighing possibilities. “How much gas did she have?”
“She’s got double eighties.”
“To what depth were you diving?”
“We were aiming for a bounce dive of fifteen minutes at two-hundred feet. But it’s already been longer than that.”
Quinn swore again. Sodding foolish girl. God save him from reckless Americans. “What’s the position you were aiming for?”
Quinn stared at him. Dread tightened his shoulders and brought a thickness to his throat. He’d known the damn rocks would be the death of someone. More than likely he’d find the lass drowned, if he found her at all. Jesus. A clammy sweat broke out on his skin. He didn’t want to do this. But there was no one else.
“I’ll get my gear.”
Sparse grass struggled to grow in the front yard. Mud sucked at her shoes as she strode toward the house, and she raised her skirts to keep the hem of her surcoat from dragging through the muck. Before she reached it, the door swung open. A great bear of a man ducked beneath the low header and strode across the yard. He grabbed her upper arms and his smile, laced with relief, brought an airless feeling beneath her ribs and a fierce stab of joy.
“Where have you been, lass?”
Her gaze delved into the emerald green depths of his. His soot black hair hung shaggy and thick about his face and down his back. A dark beard shadowed his jaw. The sensual curve of his bottom lip invited further exploration. When he smiled again, she fought the urge to trace the deep crags that appeared in each rugged cheek.
“I dinna ken.”
“Did you fall asleep in the meadow again?”
“Aye, I must have.” She pressed her hand to his beard roughened jaw, taking in the familiar, yet unfamiliar, planes and angles of his face.
A frown flitted across his features drawing his heavy brows together. “What ails you, Coira?”
“I feel as though I have been away from you forever, and I have just now found my way home again.”
A quick flash of concern darkened his gaze, and he smoothed her hair from her face and drew her close. “Feel me agin you so you will know you are with me.”
Coira breathed in the familiar smell of peat smoke, leather, and the woodsy scent of pine and soap that clung to Braden. She nestled close and rested her body as tightly to his as she could. His touch, his smell, the perfect way her small frame fit against his larger one eased the sense of danger prickling her skin like the sting of nettles. As she calmed, welcome warmth spread through her limbs, chasing away the fear. A smile tilted her lips as she recognized the thrusting pressure of Braden’s arousal against her stomach through the thickness of his braies.
“Are you a wee bit glad to have me home then, m’lord?”
“Aye, lass. My body recognizes yours and is welcoming you.”
Her stomach muscles tightened with anxiety. “Have I been away long?”
“Every moment we are apart is too long, wife.”
Coira drew back to look up at him and raised one brow. “That melted off your tongue as smooth as my black truckle candy.”
Braden laughed. “Can I not court you after the wedding then?”
A feeling of tenderness rose up in her and emotion clogged her throat making her voice sound breathy and weak. “Aye, court me as much as you will, and I will welcome your words as warmly as I would your kisses.”
“Who is the bard now?”
Coira shivered as Braden’s deep voice, husky with emotion, played upon her heart like a harpist plucking strings. He smoothed a tendril of hair back from her cheek. The intensity of his gaze left her mouth powder dry with a longing so strong her lower limbs grew weak.
Braden brushed her lips with his. “I wed you knowing you are as you are. I would not change anythin’ about you. But I would ask you to have a care for yourself. There are those who would wish you harm because they dinna understand what you believe, and they fear it.”
“I canna turn aside those who seek my help.”
“I dinna ask that of you. I ask you to be wary of all who do seek you out. ‘Twould only take one whisper of what you do to have you touted as a witch, or worse. Even here, away from the influence of the English, there are those who would wish to destroy you, or use you for their own purposes.”
“I am always careful, Braden. I offer herbs for the illness, but I dinna offer the way to the healing until I am alone. I have not closed my eyes to the danger of being different or to believing differently.”
“I am relieved to hear it.” He drew her more firmly against him and bent his head to nuzzle her neck.