An ancient highlander who’s never been allowed to love. A modern woman who keeps men at arm’s length. Can their passion overcome their pasts?
Althea Jarden’s botanical fieldwork keeps her happily busy, but it has kept her from relationships as well—by design. Because deep passions can overwhelm her, she concluded long ago that a conventional life was not for her. Instead she’s learned to depend on herself. But all the self-reliance in the world can’t prepare her for being taken to ancient Scotland and what she finds there.
Chieftain Brennus Skaraven would like nothing better than to remain dead, his legendary clan buried and forgotten. Anything would be preferable to suffering the manipulations of the druids. But when a strange lass comes crashing into his life, he discovers more than a reason to live. He finds the one thing that had always been denied to him and his kind—love.
Ahhh….another fantastic immortal highlander book from this author!!.Jayme Smith, Amazon
I love the characters so easy to connect to and fall in love with!Pam Louis, Amazon
I think this is my favourite of the series so far, and it's also the start of a new series within the series.Deb Le, Goodreads
Along the way you'll get heat and a HEA that will lead to another story in the making. Kudos to Hunter for her excellence as a storyteller.Rickie, Goodreads
I appreciated the emotion-evoking moments that allowed me to become invested in the characters and their outcomes. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the story that kept me engrossed and entertained. I also adored the dynamic between Brennus and Althea, as well as the progression of their relationship.AC_1098610, Amazon
I’ve liked all her books, but these highlander books are a great balance of storyline and history. I think these are her best work, and that is saying a lot.Carefree Quill, Amazon
A lovely dark tale of a second chance in life.Elodie, Goodreads
BEING A REDHEAD in Scotland helped Althea Jarden blend in with the locals, at least until she spoke. Although she’d lost most of her southern accent while working on her Ph.D. at Cornell, whatever she said broadcast her as an American. Fortunately, no one held that against her. The Scots she met were more curious as to why she wasn’t out shopping, taking a tour of Fort George, or snapping photos of Loch Ness in hopes of spotting its infamous monster.
“I’m just here for the ferns,” she told the innkeeper and his wife as she checked out at their front desk. “I’m a field botanist working for the University of Glasgow. We’re researching hart’s-tongue fern’s chemical components and mechanisms of action.” When the couple’s jaws sagged she quickly added, “I collect and test plants to make new medicines.”
“Och, like my Gran does,” the wife said, looking relieved. She nudged her husband. “Jamie here got a huge keeker when the Frazier lad come at him bleezin’ in the pub.” She drew a large circle in front of her own eye. “What you’d call a black eye, I reckon. My Gran’s parsley and tea poultice took down the swelling in a snap.”
The man scowled. “Aye, and it reeked like an alky’s carpet, Deb.” He handed Althea the receipt for her room charges, and asked, “Where are you off to now, Miss?”
She shouldered her carryall. “My next stop is the Isle of Skye, and then back to Glasgow.”
“On Skye you’ll no’ be let near the Trotternish ridge,” he said and nodded past her at the old television in the lobby, which was showing a newscast. “They barricaded all the trails last night after the Old Man of Storr crumbled. Naught but a pile of rubble left, they say.”
“How terrible,” Althea said. The rock formation was a popular tourist spot, and one of the most-photographed places in Scotland. “What caused it to collapse? An earthquake?”
“They dinnae ken yet,” Deb told her. “But this rock expert they had ’round blamed a big sun surge that hit us before dawn. Something about the magnetics, wasn’t it, Jamie?”
“Geomagnetics, and he called it a solar flare,” her husband corrected. “It’s meddled with the satellites, and disrupted electronics and signals all over the highlands. He said it’s likely to last for hours, Miss, so your mobile may no’ work until afternoon.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Althea said and smiled her good-bye to the couple.
She hadn’t planned to visit the Storr while she was on the island. The ferns she wanted grew in a glen near the Black Cuillin. But the collapse would attract plenty of press. Cameras and reporters ranked at the top of her “Avoid” list.
Being the only child of dead rock stars had turned her into a media magnet for life.
Outside the inn Althea stowed the carryall in her rental car, and then walked down to have one last look at the loch. Behind the vivid ambers, oranges and scarlets of the autumn-painted trees the sky streamed with puffy ribbons of cloud. The dappled surface of the waters reflected the surrounding beauty like a master impressionist intent on capturing every hue. Since no one else was braving the early morning chill, Althea felt as if she had Scotland all to herself.
Wouldn’t that be something? she thought, smiling a little. No towns or tourists, cars or roads—just her and nature, the way it used to be growing up on her uncle’s farm. She’d been so happy there, away from her famous parents and the endless drama of their love-hate relationship.
As the founding members of the Nighthood, Will and Sharan Scarlet had headlined the world’s most famous Gothic rock band. With their blazing red hair and tattered bohemian style, they had set trends all over the globe. But it had been Will’s haunting lyrics and Sharan’s operatic soprano that had catapulted them to the top. By the time their third album went triple-platinum, Will took his place among the top-selling songwriters of the century, while Sharan became a global idol and fashion icon as well as the most influential voice of her generation. Considered the most romantic couple in rock, the Scarlets had been utterly obsessed with each other.
The only hiccup in their epic love story performance had been Althea.
What the hell is this? Althea’s mother had shrieked when she found the plane tickets to Georgia. You’re dumping the kid at your brother’s place? Why?
Will had bellowed right back at her. Her name is Ally, and you can’t take care of her, Shar. Christ, do you even look at her anymore? She’s so thin I can count her ribs.
She never wants to eat anything. Sharan had lit a cigarette and waved her beringed hand in the air. Don’t you blame me. The idiot roadies are supposed to feed her.
So, we let the crew raise our daughter? What kind of mother are you?
Her mother’s famous emerald-green eyes narrowed. Like you’re father of the year, you shit.
As usual, the argument had escalated into a raucous, vicious fight, and ended with the Scarlets in the bedroom at the back of the tour bus. Althea remembered the details only because it was the last time she had seen her parents. Their studio manager took her from the bus and flew with her from Houston to Atlanta. From there he’d driven her to her uncle’s farm in the heart of Georgia’s dairy and logging country.
Gene Jarden turned out to be an older, leaner version of his brother, a lifelong bachelor, and a complete stranger to five-year-old Althea. After the Jarden’s studio manager hurried off to catch his plane, the farmer had just stood there looking her over for a long time.
“You got a little of me, didn’t you?” He crouched down so she could see the same, crystal-blue eyes she saw in the mirror every morning. “It’ll be fine now, Althea. You just need a bit of fresh air and sunshine. You like peaches?”
Too terrified to say anything, she nodded.
Her uncle straightened and held out his hand. “Then you’d best come and help me pick some.”
Gene’s peach orchard covered three acres, and as they walked through the rows of the wide-topped trees with their blushing golden fruit he talked about the farm. He let her choose her peach, and lifted her up in his arms so she could pluck it off the branch. Althea couldn’t remember ever doing anything like that. All she knew was that nothing before or since that day had tasted better than her first bite of that juicy, sun-warmed fruit. She wouldn’t have become a botanist without her uncle and his orchard. Both of them had changed her life forever.
The sound of her smart phone ringing brought Althea back to the present, although when she saw who was calling on the display she frowned. She hadn’t spoken to Gregory Davis since a year ago, when they’d gone their separate ways.
“It’s Greg. How’s Inverness?” Without waiting for an answer, he said, “I’m flying to London today for a lecture series, and I heard you were over there. Any chance we could get together? I’m staying at Claridge’s.”
Throwing her phone in Loch Ness would be the most appropriate response, she thought. “London is a bit of a haul for a one-night stand.”
“Same old Ally,” her ex said, and chuckled. “Still as cold as ice. I swear, you’ve got liquid nitrogen for blood.”
She hated being called Ally—another reason she’d broken it off with him. “Anything else before I hang up?”
“Yes. I want you back,” Greg said. “I know you said no strings, but I thought we really had something, Ally. I miss you.”
Althea imagined him reclined in the executive chair in his office, his tie loose and his dark blond hair falling over his smooth brow and dark brown eyes. He’d smell clean and warm, with a hint of the pricey cologne he liked to wear. By tonight she could be in that hotel bed with him, naked and enjoying his gym-toned body.
The problem was that she knew what the man actually wanted. For now, more sex, but also another chance to lure her into a relationship.
A traditionalist at heart, Greg would eventually talk her into marriage. After the honeymoon, he’d also persuade her to give up her work, so he could focus on his agritech career, where the real money was. In twenty years she imagined she’d have a lovely house, charity work, two kids in prep school, and a husband with the traditional mid-life crisis. He’d divorce her, buy a convertible, and move in with a lover young enough to be his daughter. Meanwhile, their kids would grow up and go. Althea suspected she’d end up middle-aged and alone, with nothing to show but an empty nest and ruined dreams.
Althea would have told him that, too, but her uncle had taught her to be polite, particularly when she was this pissed off. “No, thank you. Enjoy your time in London.” Her hand shook as she shut off the phone.
The anger slowly subsided as she walked back to the car. She hated when her emotions boiled over, but she couldn’t blame Greg for this. Loneliness had driven her into his arms, but she’d lingered too long. Obviously he’d developed feelings and expectations she couldn’t reciprocate.
Or maybe she was just over-reacting to what had been a transatlantic booty call, dressed up like a romantic appeal.
Althea didn’t know. She never got emotionally involved with men. Oh, she’d always been passionate—sometimes to the point where she was overwhelmed by her own desires. Her self-imposed isolation brought on terrible bouts of loneliness, and she tried to channel her needs and frustrations into her work. Sometimes it wasn’t enough, and she was tempted to do stupid things like her fling with Greg.
No doubt her lack of romantic interest did make her seem cold, but she needed that facade. It assured she wouldn’t end up in some obsessive-abusive relationship like her parents. She had no intention of ever falling in love. Given her family history, she simply couldn’t take the risk.
At least Althea had the work to keep her occupied. She touched the crystal heart pendant hidden under her shirt. A gift from her uncle for her sixteenth birthday, she’d worn it every day since his death. It reminded her of his love, and her calling.
With its endless woodlands, and the rare ferns they protected, Scotland had enormous potential for new finds. Today, she thought as she climbed into her rental, she’d discover something. Something that would make her forget that, without her uncle, she was alone in the world. She would focus on the work and, as usual, rely on herself.