Authors: Susan King
Waking the Princess
The Scottish Lairds Series
National Bestselling Author
WAKING THE PRINCESS
Reviews & Accolades
"Unsurpassed—Susan King is one of the best!"
"Susan King makes a delicious leap to the 19th century... never has Scotland been more magical or more romantic!"
~Mary Jo Putney
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Copyright © 2015 by Susan King All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Cover by Kim Killion.
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To my dear friend Joanne Zaslow with much love
I'm very grateful to my father, Mel Longhi, for information on civil engineering and methods of road construction, and for patiently explaining how to grade a road over a steep hill.
Also, thanks go to Meredith Bean McMath, Victorian costume expert extraordinaire, who found cool pictures of spectacular gowns and fetching little hats just when I needed them.
And to Mary Jo Putney for providing gracious sanctuary now and then, giving me a chance to write in peace... and kitty-sit too.
She slept, her skin as pale as a river pearl, lips drained of warmth. Leaning down, he kissed her soft mouth and drew back. His heart broke to see her eyelids flutter without awareness, to see them close again.
"Liadan." He whispered her name and touched the dark silk of her hair. "Wife of Aedan mac Brudei. Hear me." Her breath seemed to quicken as he spoke.
How little it took to keep her alive. Breaths thin as ice on a spring pond, heartbeat faint but steady. Each day, the serving woman fed her mistress broth and water, which she swallowed even as she slept. Each evening, Aedan sat with her, the mother of his infant son, from twilight until dawn, his grief easing a little in the strange serenity of her presence.
Aedan rubbed weary fingers over his eyes, listening to the crackle of the fire in the low stone hearth. The hour was late, but sleep came hard. He took Liadan's hand and stroked his fingers thoughtfully over the pink scratches covering her forearms.
A wild rose briar had surrounded her that day of battle weeks earlier. He had carried her from that bed of thorns and blossoms, but she still slept. Yet her skin was healing, the gash on her forehead had sealed. If her body could renew and breath still flowed through her, life still existed—and so did hope.
She was gaunt now, a fragile shadow of the vibrant girl he had wed months ago, with his child great in her belly and the blush of it upon her cheek. Now he could count the bones in her hand, could set his thumb in the valley along her forearm.
He kissed her fingers, set her hand on the blanket again. Pushing his long dark hair back roughly, he closed his eyes in anguish.
Druid priests and healers had spoken spells over her, used every potion, salve, and charm to save her. Aedan himself, a warrior prince of the Dal Riata trained by Druids, had murmured incantations over her, tipping one infusion after another to her lips. In dark of moon, he had swept his hands above her in magical patterns. He had even recited Christian prayers in an effort to stir her soul to awakening.
Yet Liadan slept on.
Then he thought of the magic he and Liadan had created together—nights of sultry, tender love. He yearned for her touch, longed for her wild, bright spirit. Even now, exhausted and despairing, his body stirred at the memory.
Liadan was part of him, blood, heart, bone, and being. There was no greater torture than sitting helpless while she drifted away. Though he was a warrior and a Druid, a man of secrets and strengths, he could not save the woman he loved.
With a finger, he drew a spiral of protection on her brow and murmured again the charm to guide a lost soul back to its forsaken body.
Journeying upward, come again down
Journeying outward, come again in
No peril shall befall thee on hill or in heather
Come again homeward, safe to me.
A frown passed over her brow like a ripple through water. Sensing her struggle to live, Aedan leaned forward.
He knew how to tap the life force in every being, like drawing water from a well. He would continue to draw upon her spirit—he would never give up. She would come back to him.
"Liadan, hear my voice in the mist," he whispered. "Come to me, my heart."
The others implored him to set Liadan under the stars and let her die peacefully. They said his grief bound her to the earth like an iron chain.
Let her go,
they told him.
She will find you again in another world, and you will be together once more.
But he loved her now, here. She was a lark to his brooding hawk. Liadan would live, he vowed, if he had to reach into the Otherworld himself and pull her soul back with his own hands.
One method remained untried, though Druidic law forbade it. Yet any risk seemed small to him. The enduring magic of the written word, the tool of the Christian priests, was his final resort. A ribbon of words could burn power into a spell like a flame on a wick.