Immortal Highlander Clan Mag Raith Book 4
During a battle, a Frenchwoman lands among the clan, a grim harbinger of things to come.
For Mariena Douet, actions speak louder than words. At her first opportunity, she puts the clan on notice: no one is to touch her. To make certain they understand, she deftly steals a blade and draws Mag Raith blood.
Broden Mag Raith, who has patiently waited for his lover for months, now can’t wait to get away from her. The gentle woman of his dreams turns out to be a killer.
But the clan may come to appreciate her skills when the unthinkable happens: their enemy breaches the castle.
WHAT READERS ARE SAYING
Another great addition to this wonderful series.
The union between the two is sweet, sexy, and filled with passion.
I have truly grown to love this group of Highlanders and was excited to see that Broden finally got his lady. What a lady she is!
This book has to be one of the best Ms. Hunter has written yet... The other great part of these books is that when you read them you know everyone and it feels like you are part of the Mag Raith clan yourself. Ms. Hunter you are incredible and so was this book.
Ah! This may be my favorite yet and I CANNOT WAIT for the next one.
STANDING IN THE shadows of Dun Chaill’s great hall, Broden mag Raith watched Mariena Douet sleep. Firelight painted her with glowing colors, tinting the porcelain paleness of her hair and skin. Even from where he stood, he could smell the rain-washed headiness of her scent, like that of angelica after a storm. Absent expression, her face appeared calm, almost serene, yet her hands remained in loose fists. Blood flecked some of her fingers and stained the inside of one thin wrist.
Gazing upon her yet felt as if Broden had somehow gone mad.
For weeks he’d dreamt of this female, in both tantalizing detail and frustrating uncertainty. In hours of slumber he’d held and kissed and caressed her, giving and taking pleasures with her that only the most ardent lovers shared. For all the females he’d lain with over his long life, he’d never known such a consuming passion. He would have happily spent eternity in her arms, feasting on her as a sumptuous, unending banquet. Each time he awoke he was addled, almost convinced she could not be flesh.
Tonight, she’d dropped from the sky in the aftermath of a battle between his clan and the demonic Sluath, as if a victory boon from the Gods—an illusion that had lasted until the moment the lady had awakened.
In Broden’s dreams he’d looked upon Mariena as if through eyes filled with rain, so that she seemed only a blur of pale hair and skin. Now he could see everything of her, from a tousled mane of white and light gold to the thin, arched elegance of her bare feet. Since she had arrived naked after escaping the demons, nothing of her provided a hint of what time she had been taken from by the Sluath. Her features, more handsome than pretty, appeared as young and innocent as any maiden’s.
Her quickness and surety an hour past had banished that notion as well.
Edane, the clan’s shaman-trained archer, finished his examination of the unconscious lady. He covered her with a wool blanket, taking care to cover her bare feet. He then scrubbed a hand over his long scarlet hair as he beheld her another moment.
“No wounds or bruising, thank the Gods,” he told Domnall, the Mag Raith clan’s chieftain. “’Tis likely she’ll wake calmer once she’s rested. Only dinnae be fooled by her look of frailty. That swan’s skin covers muscles as fit and hard as a man’s.”
“Aye, and she fights as one.” The big man regarded his mate. “This French tongue the lady first spoke, ’tis common in your time, Wife?”
“In France, Canada, and most of Europe, but not in my country.” Jenna Cameron had come to the clan in fourteenth-century Scotland, but had been abducted from twenty-first century America, where she had worked as an architect. “Miss Douet used English with some fluency, and Rosealise speaks French like a native, so we shouldn’t have any problem communicating with her.”
No one mentioned the other reason they might expect difficulty with Mariena. Broden wondered if they thought it a kindness to him. He said nothing, aware as always that while his looks had always been called god-like, the sound of his harsh, damaged voice rasped unpleasantly in everyone’s ears.
“One more thing,” Jenna said, touching the chieftain’s arm. “Her face looks familiar to me. I’m pretty sure that she escaped the underworld with the rest of us.”
Domnall glanced at Broden, a flicker of sympathy in his green eyes before he said to his wife, “You should change into something dry, my love.”
“We both need a bath first.” The slender, dark-haired architect glanced down at her mud-spattered garments. “Before I hit the showers, I’ll check on Nellie and Rosealise. They were both pretty shaken up by, ah, mademoiselle’s introduction.” She gave Broden a rueful look before she left the hall.
All gentleness left Domnall’s expression as he regarded the two men. “You and Edane secure the hall so the lady cannae set fires or run loose. Mael has the keepe watch until dawn, and I the next. Kiaran isnae in any shape to relieve us, so sleep while you may.” He headed after his wife.
Moving heavy stones to block the doorways provided welcome occupation for Broden, even with the odd weakness that had beset him since the battle. He then watched from the kitchens as Edane cast protective spells over the hearths and torches. When the archer stepped through to join him, he shifted the last blocks into place, effectively turning the hall into a spacious prison.
Through a gap in the stones he peered in at Mariena, only to assure himself that she still slept. When he turned around, he saw Edane bring out his box of medicines.
“I thought Kiaran but left muddled by the spell blast,” Broden said, disuse rendering his voice little more than a grinder of words.
“’Tis no’ for the falconer,” the archer said, nodding toward his throat. “You yet bleed.”
Touching the new wound atop the old scar on his throat, Broden took away his fingers to find them spotted with thick, dark blood. Until this moment there’d been no pain, but now it throbbed like a sore tooth. His hand also shook slightly, and he looked up to see Edane watching the tremor.
“Dinnae be a facking wench,” Broden told him flatly. “’Tis naught but weariness.”
The archer nodded, and with silent speed attended to the deep cut, cleaning it before he applied a soothing salve. As he did Broden stared past him without seeing anything but Mariena’s face. It seemed now permanently fixed in his mind.
“’Tis better.” Edane stepped back. “’Twill want a bandage if ’tis still open in the morning.” His blue eyes shifted to Broden’s, and filled with doubt. “I should see how Kiaran fares before I seek my lady and our bed.” He hesitated before he touched Broden’s shoulder. “Dinnae brood longer, Brother. I vow we’ll fathom more on the morrow.”
Broden doubted that, and everything else now, but Edane would not leave him if he thought him addlepated. “My thanks, and fair night.”
Once the archer left, Broden retrieved a bottle of whiskey from their stores and drank directly from it. Although as an immortal he could no longer become drunk, the burn of the spirit distracted him from the throb of his neck.
It did nothing to soothe the churn of his thoughts.
Handsome as he surely was, Broden had fared none too well with females. His own mother, a headman’s bed slave, had died bearing him. Sileas, his sire’s vengeful wife, had then tried to strangle the life from him, forcing her mate to foster Broden with another tribe. There, among the Mag Raith, the one Pritani lass he might have loved had been openly humiliated for opening her heart to a worthless slaveborn like him. The dru-widess lovers he’d since taken had offered their bodies, never their affections.
Since she had begun appearing in his dreams his pale-haired lover had slowly become his one hope of happiness. She’d given herself to him again and again, holding nothing back, so generous and passionate a lover that he’d been humbled. She’d whispered her love to him as well, her voice sweet and low as she’d lavished him with affection and devotion. Surely if she had given her heart to him so entirely when they’d been slaves in the Sluath underworld, then it would be so again when she found him. At long last he would have a mate of his own, a woman with whom he could share his life and his heart.
So she had come, too, as suddenly as the battle with the Sluath had ended.
Seeing her fall from the sky had near paralyzed Broden. She’d been so still at first, he’d thought her dead, and he vaguely remembered falling to his knees in despair. Yet the Gods had not been so cruel as that. When he’d touched her, he’d felt her warmth and the whispering pulse of her heart. He stroked his hand over her hair, feeling again the slippery weight of it. In his dreams the its pale silk had veiled them as she’d kissed his throat and spoken of her love.
Her love indeed.
Upon awakening Mariena Douet had taken Broden’s dagger and held it to his neck, pressing the blade deep to show the clan she was all too ready to cut his throat.
Broden emptied half the bottle before he set the whiskey aside and pressed his hand to his throat. Why the wound had not closed should have worried him. Thanks to the healing powers of his immortality he and the other Mag Raith hadn’t suffered from a lasting injury in more than a thousand years.
From this ye cannae flee, Sileas’s icy voice gloated from his memories.
* * *
The moment she opened her eyes Mariena knew she had not returned to the Sluath underworld. She could put no name to this place and its weathered stone walls, vaulted ceilings and enormous fireplaces, but nothing about it stank of demons. Wood and herbs scented the air that was warm against her face. Only the flames in the fireplace moved—and the fire there burned golden and orange, not blue-white.
Je me suis échappé.
She had escaped death, and now could carry out her mission. For a moment Mariena lay and simply let herself breathe, her hands clutching the soft wool covering her. The blanket was dry and clean and marvelously warm, sensations that seemed unfamiliar. She’d not felt this way since…a time she could not remember. Only disjointed flashes of a terrible place and pain, echoed in the emptiness within. Fear stirred her fragmented thoughts into greater chaos.
A soft yet steely feminine voice came out of that inner turmoil: Calme-toi, mon cygne. You cannot do the work if you are afraid. Attend to your mission.
The name and face of the woman who had said that remained lost to her, as well as the details of the mission. All had been swallowed by the tempest that had taken Mariena.
She had fallen through the thunder-filled skies. Plummeting through the clouds, she’d looked down at the ground rushing up at her, and felt…relief? Had she wanted to die so quickly? All around her demons had darted, battling huge, brawny men on flying horses. And there beneath her, a red-haired man with a desperate face. In his arms she’d seen the small woman with three arrows protruding from her back. The last thought that had come to her before the impact and the terrible pain in her belly had been about the wounded woman.
Carefully Mariena moved her hands under the blankets, feeling a thin shift over her nakedness. She ran her hands over her arms, breasts, belly and thighs before she rolled to her side. Her back did not ache. Her feet did not throb. None of her bones had broken. When she touched her skull nothing but damp hair and scalp slid under her fingers.
Glancing around the room again, Mariena sat up and pushed the blanket away. Beneath it she found an amber and brown tartan that smelled of something that sent a rush of heat flashing through her. She’d taken it from a man with a face so handsome she’d assumed him to be Sluath. With those impossibly stunning features, how could he not be? He had radiated such unearthly perfection he surely could never have been mortal.
Taking his dagger had been a desperate attempt to defend herself from him.
Mariena lifted the tartan to her nose, breathing in deeply the mossy musk of him. Disarming him had been ridiculously easy, and in the next moment she’d smelled that same scent. That had assured her that he was not a demon. Whoever the man was, he’d likely had little fighting experience. No one had uttered his name, but no doubt it was something magnificent, to match that face and body. She did not blame herself for reacting as she had. Dazed from the fall, and terrified to find herself surrounded by strange faces, her first thought had been to protect herself.
Yes, with that glorious body of his.
Her move had been extremely foolish as well. If he’d been one of the demons, he would have simply snapped her arm in two. But no, for all his bewitching beauty he’d been all but helpless. Once she’d made sure there were no others waiting ready to pounce on her, she’d wrenched the plaid from his broad shoulder to cover herself. Yet shoving him away had made her feel even more naked.
Better that than wailing and throwing myself into his arms.
The other men and the women in this place had not attacked her. The tall Englishwoman who had spoken to her in French had promised they were friends who would do her no harm. The kindness in her dove-gray eyes had seemed genuine. Had she been the one to call her a swan and tell her to calm herself? Mariena reached for the memory of the voice again, but another came from the shadows, cold and yet somehow amused.
The demon’s face suddenly thrust into her mind, first a melting blob that shimmered and reshaped itself into a mirror of her own features.
Have you ever seen a man whipped to death? Wouldn’t you like to?
Pain shattered the memory, and Mariena stifled her cry of reaction with the tartan. She pushed herself off the pallet and hurried to the nearest doorway, stopping when she saw the stones that blocked it. They didn’t budge, even when she shoved at them with all her strength. As she turned about, she saw more stones positioned in the same fashion, blocking every exit from the hall. All of them proved too heavy for her to move.
Such friends that they make me their prisoner.
But as quickly as the thought rose, Mariena pushed it away. She understood exactly why they had barricaded her in the hall. She’d cut one of their men, and promised to do the same to anyone who tried to touch her. She should feel lucky only to be confined. They might have put her in chains, or even killed her, and then her mission would be ruined.
If the rebels are to survive, they will need your power, the chilling voice of a different demon whispered from the darkness in her head. That is why I send you forward, apart from the others, with these memories intact.
Mariena gazed down at her shaking hands and touched her belly as more came out of the murkiness.
A traitor among the Sluath had helped her and the others to escape. There had been five Scotsmen, all from an ancient era, and three other women who like her had been stolen from different times. The Scotsmen had been their lovers and protectors during their enslavement in the underworld, and had called themselves by one name: the Mag Raith.
Each of them had leapt into the stream of clouds beneath a bridge that crossed a storm-darkened sky, so they might come together in another time and place—not only to be free, but to find that which would defeat the Sluath. The traitorous demon had sent them here.
Mariena glanced around the barricaded hall. This was Dun Chaill.
You will be changed by this.
The power she acquired after she’d fallen from the sky allowed her to heal others by transference, or so the demon had claimed. Mariena had not quite believed it, but now knew it to be true. When she had dropped onto the dying woman—Nellie Quinn, slave of the Sluath for almost a century—Mariena had absorbed the wounds from her back into her belly, and saved the other woman’s life. The pain of acquiring her wounds, however, had hurt just as much as if she’d been the one to take three arrows in the back.
She’d come close to dying. Was that her mission, to give her life so that another might live?
Mariena touched the glyphs etched over her shoulder and heart. The demon had altered her somehow, to give her this power. The same had been done to the other women. Only Mariena knew that it would allow them to remain with the Scotsmen, but only if everything went according to the traitor’s plan.
You must tell no one.
Stepping back from the blocked door, Mariena surveyed the walls and ceiling, making note of the height of the narrow slit in the stones. She reached up a hand and stood on her toes. Cool air flowed from the opening, so it had not been blocked off. She then eyed the trestle table, and imagined it tipped on its end.
It should be just tall enough for her to reach that very slender window.