In a place she doesn’t belong, in a time that is not her own, a shattered woman risks everything for the one thing she’s never had—love.
When Kinley Chandler abruptly lands in medieval Scotland, there isn’t much she’s leaving behind. With her body shattered and her military career over, Kinley has resigned herself to death. But in the past, all that changes.
Lachlan McDonnel, the laird of a clan of immortal highlanders, can hardly believe his good fortune. Not only does the mysterious lass save his life, she awakens his heart in a way he’d thought no longer possible.
But the druid spells that allow Lachlan’s clan to live forever have a dark side as well. He and his men know all too well that the magic folk never give without taking. Though he is sworn to protect them, the price of his loyalty may finally be too high.
A Great Time Travel Historical Romance! (LOVED IT) 9.5 out of 10The Romance Junkie Blog
14th century Scotland was never so good!Blue Cat Review
So real you feel like you are there.Alana, Amazon Reviewer
Lovable characters, great plot, druids and vampires!Carefree Quill, Amazon Reviewer
I usually don't read “historical” type stories but I'm glad I did with this one. This story has immortals, druids, undead and a kick-a** modern female warrior.Vivian Chrisman, Goodreads Reviewer
You need to prepare yourself not to sleep, not to clean, or answer your phone or anything else until you get thru this book. It's that good!L. Porter, Amazon Reviewer
I loved both Kinley and Lachlan, the relationship between them is believable and I really liked the mutual respect as well as their romance.Annie555, Amazon Reviewer
If you buy any book this year then buy this one. Great story that you don't want to put down.Stephanie, Amazon Reviewer
I loved it, would give it more stars if I could. Read it.sissyj59, Amazon Reviewer
Kinley Chandler had expected a perfect day. So of course, she got one. Gray-green sagebrush and bright bush sunflowers carpeted the bluffs above the golden sands where she walked. As dawn peeked over the horizon, the Pacific spread its endless indigo skirts to tease the shore with lacy white flounces. Manic, black-tailed gnat catchers flitted about in pursuit of their insect breakfasts. They uttered scratchy, catlike calls whenever Kinley strayed too near. The rising sun felt good on her face as it heated the briny breeze of the San Diego coast.
This is where I should be.
As she skirted a tidal pool, Kinley wondered why she hadn’t come here more often when she’d been stateside. She’d never hiked the entire half-mile trail through the reserve. Atop the cliff in the distance, above a private beach, was the millionaire’s sprawling, fake Italian mansion. Once it had annoyed her, but now it didn’t bother her at all.
She could stay right here, happily.
“Captain,” a soft voice said, accompanied by a tentative touch on Kinley’s left forearm. “Time to wake up.”
The beach from Kinley’s memory winked out of existence as her nose filled with the bleak cologne of old wounds, bleached linen and hand sanitizer. She breathed through the frantic fear bubbling up inside her as she reminded herself that this was America, not Afghanistan, and she no longer occupied a combat zone, but a room in San Diego’s finest VA hospital.
She didn’t have to fight anymore. She’d lost her last battle, and she was going to be a good loser.
Opening her eyes meant seeing the pitted ceiling tiles that had been her only sky for the last two months. The machines connected to her body beeped like robotic wrens. Their smudged screens displayed dismal numbers. She focused on them, as evaluating her condition always drove off the pathetic panic caused by her PTSD. She could see that her pulse was too low, and her body temp too high. Her blood oxygen level hovered a digit above borderline. The fever meant she probably had a budding infection in her mangled right leg. If her shredded gut had gone septic she’d already be comatose or dead.
Kinley focused on the ward nurse’s round face. Brisk smile, forced cheer, dark circles under her eyes—a burnout or a treasure in the making.
“Heya,” Kinley said.
“Good morning,” the tired woman said as she began detaching lines and rearranging bags of fluids. “Feeling up to your appointment with the new therapist?”
“Can’t wait,” Kinley said. An orderly pushed a wheelchair into her room, and only when he parked it next to her bedside did she comprehend that it was for her. “I thought she was coming to me this time.”
“She wants you up and about, Captain.” The nurse drew back the bed linens. “Here we go.” She nodded to the orderly, who helped shift Kinley into a sitting position. “One, two, three.”
Being moved woke up her broken body, which protested with a dozen different spikes of pain. The wheelchair rocked as they settled her emaciated ass into it, and her IV line tangled with the stethoscope around the nurse’s neck. Kinley felt her patchwork abdomen throb in protest, but kept silent. If she complained they’d pump her full of opiates, and no way did she want to be high with the new shrink. No one knew about her PTSD except a medic who had been with her during one of her worst episodes on her second tour. He’d knocked her out, and then later told her how to deal with it so she could remain on active duty.
“Hang on,” the nurse muttered, and extricated herself from the tangle. “There.” She shooed away the orderly and peered at Kinley’s battered face. “You okay?”
Sweat beads popped along the edges of her lank hair as the pain swelled, and for a moment she thought she might puke or pass out. She shoved it back and bared some teeth.
“We’ll take it slow,” the nurse promised as she wheeled Kinley out into the corridor of Medical Palliative Care Ward Four, which most of the staff referred to privately as Morgue Prep. “Have you met Dr. Stevens yet?”
“Maybe. All these shrinks look alike to me.”
Kinley couldn’t get comfortable in any position, so she opted for the least painful, which meant on the only uninjured part of her body: her left forearm. Though she didn’t feel much in her right arm, the cast was too heavy to lift.
“She seems pretty nice. Very experienced.” The deliberate heartiness in the nurse’s voice took on an edge. “You’re going to give her a chance, aren’t you?”
“I won’t make this one cry, like that kid who wandered into my room,” Kinley said. “Unless she’s a wimp around the really disfigured terminals, like the last one.”
“You’re going to live, Captain,” the nurse chided, making the lie sound almost believable. “You’ll turn around any day now, and start healing, and get back on your feet.”
“Sure,” Kinley said and glanced at the dressings covering her mangled right leg. Her surgeon would be amputating it mid-thigh, assuming she ever got strong enough to go under his blade again. “Any day now.”
Dr. Geraldine Stevens occupied a smallish office just outside the psych ward, and came out with a ready smile. “Good morning, Captain Chandler.” Thankfully she didn’t try to shake Kinley’s hand. Her gaze shifted to the nurse. “I’ll call when she’s ready to return to her room.”
Kinley had already seen the inside of the office too many times, so she eyed the new shrink. Dr. Stevens sported a gray blazer with a turquoise-blue linen dress that looked new. But her charcoal pumps looked old enough to be comfortable. She was somewhere between forty and fifty, a head shorter than Kinley, and about twenty pounds overweight. Her careworn look suggested that she was actually concerned for her patients. Or she might be married to a jerk who made her life hell at home. The doc hadn’t opted to wear perfume or makeup, but she had some product in her curly brown hair that smelled of cherries and almonds.
Behind her the Veteran Administration’s ICARE program poster hung like subliminal propaganda.
I care, she cares, everybody cares. We’re all such good liars.
“Do I pass inspection?” Dr. Stevens asked as she sat down behind the desk.
Let the mind games begin, Kinley thought. “Do you want to?”
“Everyone wants approval, Captain. If we didn’t, we’d live like tigers or polar bears, and eat each other.” The shrink fussed with some drawers until she found a pen. “Before Dr. Patterson left for Chicago, he briefed me on your case.”
“Did he say nice things about me?”
Probably not. Patterson had been a humorless ass who hadn’t been able to look at Kinley for more than three seconds at a time.
“Did you want him to?” Dr. Stevens said, smiling at her witty turn around as she opened a thick patient file. “You were injured during the rescue of a downed air crew. According to your commendation, you ran into crossfire to pull them out of the wreckage, which insurgents subsequently blew up with an improvised incendiary device.” She frowned. “You didn’t suffer any burns at all?”
Kinley had never been burned in her life. Not once. In the explosion it was as if the fire went around her. But she couldn’t explain that without sounding like she needed to be transferred to the psych ward.
“I was thrown clear,” Kinley said and shrugged. “Luckily, right into the Hawk.”
The explosion had blasted her head-first into the side of her team’s Pave Hawk rescue helicopter. She hadn’t even dented the reinforced steel hull, but the impact had smashed her nose, cracked her cheekbones, and dislocated her jaw. A secondary blast had dropped the wing of the downed plane on her leg, crushing it. At some point during that party she’d also taken six bullets in the back and gut. They’d patched her together as best they could at Bagram. Eight weeks later her body and face resembled something a very drunk Picasso might have drawn.
But hey, at least she hadn’t been burned.
“You’re very fortunate, given the circumstances,” Dr. Stevens said and flipped through more pages. “During your sessions with my predecessor you’ve insisted that, aside from your physical condition, you feel fine.”
Shifting in the wheelchair made Kinley’s lower spine burn like a lit fuse. “I do. I got out alive, my brains aren’t scrambled, and everything can be fixed or cut off or whatever. Life is good.”
“Dr. Patterson mentioned you feel so fine, in fact, that you’ve been refusing pain medication.” Dr. Stevens arched brows that had been plucked too thin. “According to your chart you’re also not eating much, and several nurses have noted that you sleep most of the day.”
“That’s from the TV.” She put a little more weight on her forearm to keep the pain bomb in her back from detonating. “Game shows and soap operas are better than tranqs.”
“Are you pretending to be asleep so you don’t have to eat or speak to anyone? Is that why you haven’t had any visitors since you were admitted? Have you even told your family that you’re here?” When Kinley didn’t answer Stevens closed the chart and gave her a direct look. “Captain Chandler, you should know that I’ve been working with disabled veterans for twenty years now.”
Why did they always offer that as reassurance? Maybe it was in the VA shrink handbook: Assure patient of your proficiency in dealing with ruined soldiers. Gain their trust. Then screw with their minds a little more.
“Good for you, Doc.”
It was a shame Stevens hadn’t read her entire file, or she’d know exactly why Kinley had never had any visitors.
“I know military culture,” the shrink insisted, “and the highly unrealistic expectations soldiers have of themselves and others. You’re constantly pressured to ‘accept the suck’, as they say.”
“It’s actually ‘embrace the suck’,” Kinley said, her mouth hitching into a smirk. “Although my personal favorite has always been ‘If you can still twitch, don’t bitch.’”
Dr. Stevens didn’t return the smile. “I think you’re hiding your condition from your friends and family. You also seem to have no interest in recovery. Unless you start fighting for your life, Captain, you won’t be twitching much longer.” She paused to look into Kinley’s eyes. “You’ll be dead.”
“Well, then, I guess I’ll have to work on my attitude,” Kinley said. She knew doctors always liked to hear that kind of suck-up bullshit. It might also stop the nurse from putting her on a gastric feeding tube. “I am pretty tired now, though. Could I go back to my room, please?”
“I have a better idea.” The shrink stood and took a giant purse from the bottom drawer. “Your primary has cleared you for a short day trip. Let’s go for a drive.”
The chance to leave the VA hospital silenced Kinley, who had never expected to see the outside world again. Even the discomfort caused by being loaded by the electric lift into the handicapped van didn’t seem so bad, not while sunlight poured over her like warm, liquid gold. But as the shrink drove north from downtown and took the I-15 out of the city, Kinley began to feel uneasy.
“Are you sure this is a short day trip?” she asked. “Because it looks like we’re heading for Seattle. Not that I’d mind, but I think the charge nurse might freak out.”
Dr. Stevens shook her head. “We’ll arrive at our destination in twenty minutes, and spend an hour there before we return to the hospital. You’ll be back in time for lunch.”
Kinley guessed the vagueness was calculated, an attempt to coax her into asking questions about where they were going, or chatting about how wonderful it was to be out in the real world again. She also knew the surest way to confound a shrink was to use their tactics against them.
“That’s good. I have things to do.”
Like asking about a transfer to hospice, where she could die in fucking peace.
Once they left the city behind, hills and valleys rose and fell on either side of the interstate, and Kinley could see mountains ahead. They passed Lake Elsinore, and then left the freeway to head west toward the rugged chaparral-covered mountains. The road bisected acres of sparsely-strewn sage and scrub oak, punctuated by huge boulders that gleamed gray and orange in the morning light. Once they had passed a small fire station, Kinley saw a sign indicating where Dr. Stevens was headed, and almost laughed out loud.
“You’re taking me to Horsethief Canyon?” Kinley said. She hadn’t been there in years but, as the signs on the freeway said, it was part of the Pine Creek Wilderness. “Are you serious?”
“It’s a lovely spot for a hike,” the other woman said as they slowed and turned. She parked the van in an empty lot with bike stands and a water trough. “There’s a paved riding trail here we can use for you.”
Kinley could have made a fuss about not being well enough to hike anywhere, even in her wheelchair, but going along with the crazy shrink’s idea was easier. This might be her last trip outside, too.
Dr. Stevens unloaded Kinley and her chair, grabbed her purse, and almost set it in Kinley’s scrawny lap. But she must have seen Kinley tense or maybe she’d just thought better of it. She left it behind the driver’s seat, locked the van, and pushed Kinley across the lot to the promised trail. The weeds that crisscrossed it jostled her wheels, but Kinley ignored the discomforts as she looked ahead toward the slopes. California’s long drought had left much of the area barren, and she could see an old watering hole that had dried up, but the raw, rough rock formations were stunning. More water-polished stones marched up to the edge of a cliff, and made her imagine the waterfall that had once cascaded down them. Before the drought it must have been a magical spot to go swimming.
“I don’t think we’ll go that way,” Dr. Stevens said when they came to the fork in the trail, and turned to push her up toward a large oak grove. “We should have a better view past the trees.”
When they reached the oak grove Kinley looked up at the canopy of the gnarled tree limbs. Here the trees looked much more mature, with thick, curving trunks and densely-leafed branches. Dandelion seeds floated like so many unused wishes through the dappled shade between the oaks. Beyond them Kinley could see a gap in the brush, and part of a dried-up riverbed. What lay on the other side of the grove must be the old waterfall overlook.
As Kinley caught the scent of the oaks—a slightly smoky and heavy fragrance—she thought of someone she hadn’t in years, and smiled. Her grandmother Bridget would have loved the spot. She’d always taken her tea out in the afternoon to sit under the giant black oak. As a little girl Kinley would sit there and listen to stories about brownies, kelpies and selkies that her grandmother had told her.
Even as a child Kinley had been a skeptic. “Do you really believe in such things, Gran?”
“I do, for we’ve magic in our family,” Bridget said firmly. “That’s why I’m able to find your toys when you forget them. Lost things call to me. My own mam could charm wild birds with her singing. They’d come and eat seeds, right from her hand. She always said it comes from our Scottish blood.”
“Then what’s my magic?” Kinley asked.
Her grandmother tapped her cheek. “I can’t tell you yet, sweetheart, but whatever it is, it’s strong. I’ve felt it in you since the day you were born.”
Bridget had been babysitting her when Kinley’s parents had left for a weekend getaway, and had helped her through the horror and grief after their plane crashed in the sea. She had even gone before a judge to argue that although she was seventy and a widow, she could raise her granddaughter better than the foster care system.
Bridget Chandler might have looked like a sweet old lady, but she had a will of iron. The judge had granted her full custody of eight-year-old Kinley.
“Still awake?” Dr. Stevens asked.
Kinley nodded as the old guilt dragged at her. Bridget had taken care of her for the first few years, but as the old lady aged and grew frailer the situation reversed. A month before graduating high school Kinley had come home to find her grandmother under her oak tree, looking as if she had fallen asleep. The stroke she’d suffered had been so massive that it had killed her instantly.
At the funeral at Bridget’s church, Kinley had sat alone in the family pew. Both of her parents had been only children born to older parents. They hadn’t had her until they were in their mid-forties. Her grandmother had been her last living relative.
There hadn’t been much money left after the funeral expenses, so enlisting in the Air Force had allowed Kinley to go to college and get her degree, and make a new life for herself.
The military had become her family after that, and now they were gone too. Kinley had no friends outside the service, and no hope for the future. Reconstructive surgery could restore some of her face, but the nerve damage would always make her resemble a post-party piñata. Once they took her leg she’d be crippled for life. No man would fall in love with a disfigured amputee. She’d be alone, again, and this time it would be forever.
There really is no coming back from this.
Kinley had always thought as much, but when she saw the oak grove, and what lay beyond it, she understood.
“I think this is a good place to take a break,” Dr. Stevens said, breathing a little hard. She set the hand brake and looked around before she eyed Kinley. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay.” Her back screamed, her leg throbbed, and her eyes stung with unshed tears, but she also felt oddly, utterly calm. Letting her expression go soft and wistful, she asked, “Can I borrow your phone? I’d like to call home.”
“Of course,” Dr. Stevens said and reached to her jacket pocket, but then she glanced back to the lot. “I left it in the van.” For a moment, she studied Kinley’s face. “I’ll go and get it, if you promise to stay right here.”
One last lie, and she would never have to tell another. “I’m not going anywhere, Doc.”
The shrink hurried off, no doubt elated by what she thought was a break-through. Kinley felt a little guilty as she watched her go, but that melted away as soon as she looked through the oak grove. Once the other woman was out of sight, she released the hand brake, gripped the left wheel and rolled herself forward into the trees.
The incline of the trail sloped down, helping her propel the chair toward the edge of the cliff. The overlook was a drop of at least seventy feet onto the rocks. Death would be instantaneous, and the whole thing would look like a tragic accident.
Kinley didn’t feel afraid.
Gran, I’m coming. Please, please be waiting for me with Mom and Dad.
Bits of dandelion fluff caught on her eyelashes, somehow spangling her vision. The roar of her heart in her ears turned to the sound of wind through the trees, whispering all around her. This was good. She was going to have a good death. Since her life had sucked, that was a nice surprise.
Suddenly, halfway to the edge, her wheelchair stopped, hurling her to the ground—but Kinley never landed. Inexplicably she kept falling, her broken body plummeting through endless shadows, with the old oak trees stretching and curving until they formed a tunnel around her.
I must be dead.
But if she was, how could she still think?
Memories began pouring through her, from the blurry images of her parents waving goodbye to the years with her grandmother to the morning she had set out from base on her last search and rescue mission. Her sucky life had been too short, but Kinley had only one true regret: she’d never shared it with someone.
She’d been too busy taking care of her grandmother to get involved with anyone in her teens. At college she’d had a brief fling with a jock, who had turned out to be a selfish ass. The service had supplied an endless amount of men, and as much sex as she wanted. But the stress of being in a war zone had made real relationships impossible.
If only I’d met someone to love!
The tunnel of trees closed over her as she headed into darkness. But as she plunged downward a strange warmth spread through her body. As her pain vanished, relief flooded through her. Tears sprang to her eyes at the sudden and sweet release. But in moments, a new, powerful energy replaced it. It surged down her body and into her limbs until sparks flew from her fingertips. Kinley screamed as she emerged from the tunnel and landed in darkness on her hands and knees.
As she struggled to catch her breath, Kinley stared at the ground. It wasn’t rocks at all, but…mud? Stinging, icy rain poured over Kinley as she scrambled up from the slush. But as she looked down at herself, she froze. All the surgical pins holding together her shattered leg had disappeared. She was putting her full weight on it and all she felt was strong, sturdy support. Her back felt brand-new. She pressed her now-unbroken right hand against her abdomen, which felt flat, firm and unmarked. The last time she had touched her belly it had been spongy and latticed with long, stapled incisions.
Kinley’s hands shook as she brought them to her face. She felt her straight nose and high, curved cheekbones. Smooth skin covered everything, and she could feel her fingers against it.
“Oh, my god. How…?”
Drenched and shivering, she wrapped her arms around her miraculously healed waist and turned around, squinting against the downpour. She stood in a clearing of wild grass surrounded by oak trees, but nothing looked like Horsethief Canyon. Thick stone posts poked up from the grass in a rough circle around her. They resembled oversize gray bullets and on each were primitive carvings of swirls, animals and huge, sideways letter Z’s. The symbols glowed a fiery orange-red that quickly faded.
From beyond the dark oaks came the sound of metal clashing and deep, male voices shouting, and then dozens of men fighting with swords burst into the clearing.