Immortal Highlander Clan MacRoss Book 1
Time travel was not in her job description.
Emery Parker can hardly believe her luck. She’s landed the museum internship of her dreams: working with a collection of ancient Scottish swords. But when she finds herself locked in a stone room of weapons that look brand new, she demands to know what kind of game is being played.
Laird Luthias MacRoss has never believed the legend of the Fire Sword. But the appearance of a young lass in his armory changes his mind. Not only does she possess the delicate beauty of the Fae, she holds their sword in her hand.
But as her purpose slowly becomes clear and their torrid attraction blossoms, Luthias finds he must choose between his heart and the good of his clan.
The strangest night of Emery Parker’s life started in the administrative office at the Pelton Medieval Museum in downtown Concord.
Summer had arrived in New Hampshire, and the setting sun made everything seem bright and warm as it poured its last golden beams through the big windows. Glints and sparkles danced in the air from a prism on the director’s tidy desk, and flashed from the face of the delicate gold watch the older woman wore. The air smelled faintly of lemon, beeswax and rich, dark coffee. A Bach violin concerto being played over the museum’s sound system created an elegant backdrop, and oddly harmonized with the gurgling sound from a drip machine somewhere nearby.
I will behave myself. I will not babble. I’ll act as if I intern at my number one favorite museum every other weekend.
As Emery sat listening to the personnel director go over the details for her new summer job, she also tried very hard not to fidget or smile too much. A forensic anthropology graduate student should be calm, poised and confident, not as excited and grabby as a sugar-crazy kid in a free candy store. She also had to stop staring at the gorgeous four-foot-long Scottish claymore hanging on the wall behind the director’s desk. Even if she was almost positive the sword was authentic, and dated back to the fifteenth century, constantly ogling it would seem creepy.
Maybe I can sneak in and drool over it later, after everyone leaves for the day.
“You’ve been assigned to the Arms and Armor Department,” the director said as she finished signing off on the paperwork. “They’re working on transferring all the old hand-written records into our new computer database, so we’ll start you there. Here’s your employee badge, which you should wear at all times while you’re working.”
Emery took the black lanyard from her and looped it over her head. The plastic case containing the badge with her photo and name also had been dated, so she’d never forget the first day of the best job she’d ever landed. “I will, thank you.”
“As I mentioned over the phone your hours will be from four p.m. until midnight, and Bill Buchanan, the assistant curator for the A and A department, will be your supervisor.” The older woman looked up and smiled. “Do you have any questions?”
“Is that claymore on the wall from the fifteenth century?” Emery asked before she could stop herself, and then cleared her throat. “I’m just curious. It’s a beautiful piece.”
Looking surprised, the director glanced over her shoulder. “Ah, yes, I believe it is. Do you have some experience with dating medieval weapons?”
“Yes. I’m planning to write my dissertation on the types and effectiveness of bladed weapons during the Middle Ages. Not all of them, of course, just what the Scottish used.” Knowing she was on the verge of babbling, she made what she hoped was a nonchalant gesture. “I’m always looking for new research materials.”
“Then you’re in luck,” the director said. “Pelton has one of the finest collections of Scottish medieval weapons in the U.S.”
Which is the real reason why I applied for this job, Emery thought as she smiled and nodded.
From there the personnel director sent her with one of the administrative assistants to the underground archive and restoration level, where employees handled the actual work of the museum out of the public eye. Her escort informed Emery that the Arms and Armor Department occupied a half-dozen offices and a full conservation and restoration laboratory. They helped manage the museum’s massive collection of medieval weapons and artifacts, and one of the largest archives of documentation, research, provenance and data in the country.
“We like to keep it casual down here, so call me Buc,” Emery’s new supervisor said after her escort delivered her to his office, and he gave her a quick and rather damp handshake. Tall, heavyset and red-faced, he had the kind of expression that looked dismayed even when he smiled. “You’re working on your doctorate, right? That’s terrific. Are you ready to go to work tonight? Of course, you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. I’ll show you to your desk, and have the other intern get you started on the data entry. What’s that kid’s name? Oh, yeah, George.”
As she followed him from one office to another, Emery felt a little bewildered by how fast Bill Buchanan spoke, and the way he answered his own questions before she could. Maybe like her he was naturally high-strung, but he seemed even more nervous than she was. She also preferred working with calm, quiet people, as they helped keep her own endless exuberance in check.
In the next office a tired-looking young man badly in need of a haircut sat pecking at a keyboard with his two index fingers. He barely glanced at her as Buc made introductions and then left with her escort.
“It’s Gordon, not George,” the other intern said as soon as they were alone. “That guy can never remember anyone’s name, so just learn to answer to anything.” He finally looked at her and his brows disappeared into his tangled bangs. “Why are you wearing a suit?”
Emery eyed his Account Suspended t-shirt, tattered jeans and soiled sneakers. “The new employee packet said thong bikinis are strictly optional.”
“Heh. You’re funny.” He yawned the last word. “How fast can you type?”
“Without mistakes?” Emery glanced at the huge stack of documents next to his computer, which was partly buried under a mound of crumpled chip bags, torn candy wrappers, sticky-looking soda cans, and dirty napkin balls. “Ninety words a minute.”
“That’s eighty words a minute faster than me.” Gordon got up and gestured for her to sit down in his place. “I’m going to take my dinner break. Just pick up where I left off and type what’s on the paper you take from the inbox, and then print out a copy of each page you finish and put it in the outbox.”
She watched him stroll out of the office, and then eyed the screen and the documents. Spending the summer working as a typist wasn’t why she’d applied for this job, but she needed to make a good start––and when she wanted to, she could type a hundred and twenty words a minute with no errors.
The data Emery input turned out to be measurements and shipping information on museum acquisitions for the last four years, which soon bored her. She was actually working at the Pelton, which would have wowed her dad, who had brought her to the museum every time there was a new exhibit. Why was she typing?
“Your mother’s ancestors came from Scotland,” Elliot Parker had told her as they’d visited a special collection of Pict artifacts. “She almost didn’t marry me when she found out my grandfather was British. I have to make sure you learn about the history on both sides of your family, or she’ll come back and haunt me.” He said the last part with a wistful tone, as if he wished her mother’s ghost would visit.
Neither of her parents had any living family, so it was just the three of them for a short time. Olivia Parker had loved the sea, and never missed a chance to go to the beach in the summer. Emery still remembered the day when she went to the beach with her parents, and her mother had taken her into the water for a swimming lesson. A vicious riptide had suddenly caught them and dragged them both under the waves. A nearby swimmer had managed to grab six-year-old Emery and drag her out of the current, but Olivia was swept away from shore and drowned.
The horrible memories had made Emery terrified of swimming and the water, and her devastated father had never forced her to try again. He’d also never recovered from losing his wife, and instead devoted himself to their daughter. Later in life Elliot had developed heart problems, but had concealed his declining health from Emery. Shortly after seeing her get her first college degree her dad had died in his sleep.
Losing her father had left Emery alone in the world, which sucked, but now she didn’t worry anymore about Olivia Parker being alone in the afterlife. If it were possible, she knew her dad would have found her mom again.
Three hours later Gordon wandered back in from his dinner break and came to stand over Emery, who was writing on a notepad a list of the different swords the museum had in their weapons collection that she wanted to examine.
“Why are you writing?” he asked as he came to hover over her and peer at the screen. “You should be doing the data transfer.”
“I finished everything two hours ago.” Emery vaguely gestured at the tidy stack of printouts in the outbox. “Where does the museum keep the fourteenth-century Scottish weapons?”
“On display in the Highlander Exhibit, mostly.” The other intern thumbed through the printouts. “You typed all of them, really?”
“Really.” She put her notebook back in her messenger bag and got up. “How do I get to that exhibit?”
“You go upstairs and follow the signs.” Gordon sighed as he picked up the printouts. “Putting this in the database was supposed to take days, you know. What am I going to do for the rest of the week?”
“Maybe you should clean off your desk.” As Emery went to the door she glanced at the mess. “It looks like a vending machine threw up on it.”
“Hey, I have low blood sugar,” he called after her.
On her way upstairs she passed her supervisor’s office, and smiled at Buc, who was on the phone and gave her a thumbs-up. She stopped a few steps away when she saw a sticky note on the carpet someone had dropped, and bent to pick it up.
“I’ve got something special that just came in,” she heard her supervisor say in a very low voice. “I’ve never seen anything like it. The end is shaped like flames. No, not the blade, the handle or hilt or whatever. It’s from the fourteenth century. Of course it’s verified. Would I call you if it wasn’t?”
Emery slowly straightened and tiptoed back to stand beside the door, hoping to hear more.
Buc’s voice dropped to a whisper as he said, “I’m telling you, a private collector will pay megabucks for this piece. This is the one I can retire on, buddy. Yeah, I can bring it tonight.”
She felt her stomach knot, and absently tucked the note in her pocket before she quickly went down the hall to the elevator. A few minutes later her supervisor came to stand beside her, obviously unaware that she’d eavesdropped on him.
“Did you have dinner yet?” Buc said, and frowned at her. “You look a little pale. Aren’t you feeling well? This is probably a lot to take in. Has George been giving you crap? That kid is such a slacker. Don’t let him make you do all the work.”
“I’m fine, sir.” Emery wondered how many artifacts her new supervisor had stolen and sold to the guy on the phone. The unique sword he’d talked about might even be worth millions. “I need to stretch my legs, so I thought I’d have a look at the Highlander exhibit.”
“You’ll love it,” he predicted. “We ordered reproduction plaids custom-woven in Glasgow as backdrops for the sword displays. I thought we should put those, you know, those skirt things, on the life-size warrior manikins, but apparently these guys didn’t wear them until much later on.”
“Really?” So he was stupid as well as a thief, Emery thought, and followed him into the elevator. “You know so much about history.”
“All part of the job.” He beamed at her. “So what are you planning to do once you finish your degree? Work at someplace nice like the Pelton, I bet.”
Emery shook her head. “I hope to get a position as a forensic anthropologist at an archaeological foundation.” Out of the corner of her eye she saw him check his phone, and decided to needle him a little. “If I can’t find an opening I might apply to work for the police or the FBI.”
Buc suddenly choked and coughed, and by the time he finished the elevator doors opened.
“I’m late to a meeting, Audrey, so talk to you later.” He hurried away.
“Not if I see you first,” she muttered under her breath.
Emery considered going to the personnel director and telling her what she’d overheard, but without proof it would be her word against Bill Buchanan’s. As this was her first day she doubted administration would believe her over the assistant curator. While she followed the signs to the Highlander exhibit she wondered if she could find the sword he’d been planning to steal. A blade that old and unique would be virtually priceless, and if she could take photos of it, that would prove it had arrived at the museum. She might even be able to convince the museum staff that Buc was stealing once it disappeared, but by the time the police got involved the sword itself would probably be sold off on the black market.
Yeah, I can bring it tonight, Buc had told the guy on the phone.
A towering figure made Emery stop in her tracks, and she looked up at the fierce features of a scowling warrior manikin. Whoever had constructed the life-size model had done an excellent rendering; from his wig of long, shaggy red hair to his fur-trimmed leather boots he looked as if he had just arrived from the Middle Ages. From what she could see his garments were also historically correct, and the heavy red, gold and black tartan draped over him had a strange, almost menacing diagonal pattern that reminded her of shooting stars against a primordial night sky.
Fourteenth century Scottish Highlander, a small gold plaque beside the giant figure read. Unregistered tartan pattern; attributed to Clan MacRoss.
“MacRoss.” Emery took a step back from the manikin and frowned as she looked him over again. She’d done extensive research on medieval Scottish highlanders, but she’d never heard of a clan by that name. “Maybe they meant the Ross. Does anyone know history around here?”
At any other time she would have wandered blissfully through the exhibit to admire all the swords, daggers, war hammers and shields on display. A part of her wanted to forget what she’d overheard and do that, too. She’d been hired as an intern, not as a security guard.
Still, if she let a sword as special as the one Buc had described be stolen when she could have done something about it, then she might as well be an accomplice. Emery looked up at a display case that had been emptied, and a sign on top of it that said the swords had been temporarily relocated to another exhibit in the Medieval Warfare Wing.
“Of course, they moved them somewhere else before I could see them.” She went still. “Wait. They moved them.”
Emery hurried back down to the underground level, where she found Gordon eating corn chips and watching a surfing video on his computer. She suspected her supervisor wouldn’t have put the blade he intended to steal in his office.
“Where do they keep new acquisitions right after they’re delivered?” she asked the other intern.
Gordon munched and swallowed before he said, “We’re not allowed to touch that stuff. Our jobs are strictly administrative.”
“I’m not going to touch anything,” she lied. “I just want to check on something. Where do they go?”
“Main storage. It’s down the hall on the right.” He crumpled his empty chip bag. “You’ll get in trouble if Buc catches you, you know. He doesn’t like anyone poking around in there.”
“So, don’t tell him,” she countered, “and I’ll do all the typing for the rest of the summer.”
“Deal. He keeps it locked, so you’ll need these.” Gordon took a set of keys out of his desk, tossing them to her. “Be careful, okay? Some of those swords are still pretty sharp.”
Maybe Gordon wasn’t a complete loser, Emery thought. “I will, thanks.”
She passed a couple of other employees in the hall, and nodded at them but kept walking very fast, as if she were in a hurry. Which she was, as she didn’t know when her supervisor would be returning. She’d have to take the sword and hide it somewhere he wouldn’t think to look for it, and then figure out the rest tomorrow.
Tonight what mattered was safeguarding the blade.
As soon as Emery stepped inside Main Storage she locked the door behind her and then turned on the overhead lights. A sprawl of wooden crates and spilled straw made the room smell woodsy, and it was hemmed by three oversize work tables covered with thick flannel cloth. Wide, heavy-duty shelving held carefully wrapped objects of various sizes; some had been labelled and tagged. There were so many sword-shaped bundles that it would take her hours to unwrap them all.
“Think like a stupid thief,” Emery muttered to herself. “Where would you hide it?”
Her gaze drifted around the room, and settled on an umbrella stand next to the roll-up door for truck deliveries. Three curved handles stuck up out of the stand, along with something twice as long as an umbrella that had been wrapped in dark cloth. She walked over to it, and as she reached for the object she felt her hand tremble.
Of course, she was scared. She could get fired for this. She might even go to jail for this.
“What if he collects swords, and was talking about one he bought with his own money?” Emery almost snatched her hand back, and then thought for a minute. “No. He panicked when I mentioned I might go to work for the cops. Classic sign of a guilty conscience. He stole it.”
She took hold of the object and carefully pulled it out of the stand. It felt huge and heavy, and under the cloth she could feel the long hilt of a weapon made to be held with two hands. Her fingertips traced the projections of four quillons, which sloped forward over the blade.
It felt like a medieval claymore.
Emery’s arms shook as she took hold of the wide blade near the tip with her other hand and carried it over to the nearest work table. Carefully she untied the black twill tapes holding it wrapped, and drew back the folds of the dark cloth to expose the most beautiful sword she had ever seen.
“Hello, you gorgeous thing,” she whispered.
For a moment Emery thought the blade was made of gold, and then saw it was the effect of dense inlay on the steel. She didn’t recognize the etched design, which looked like some kind of ancient script. The precious metal gleamed so brightly it looked as if it had been fused into the steel only yesterday.
Her fingers shook again as she traced the dark gold transparent hilt. Somehow the sword maker had carved it from a single, huge chunk of amber in such a way that it looked like the end of the blade had just burst into flame. She saw no inclusions in the enormous carving, and wondered if it had been made of glass instead of amber. Fossilized tree resin amber wasn’t technically a gem, but a flawless example of this size and weight might very well be priceless.
“How could a man have held something like this?” Emery slid her fingers carefully around the hilt’s curving pieces until she felt a gap.
Behind her the doorknob rattled, making her jump, and then someone knocked.
“Emily, are you in there?” Buc called in an anxious voice. “I need to speak with you right now. Open the door, please.”
Emery pushed her hand into the gap, which allowed her to grip the hilt, and lifted the blade from the table. This time her arm didn’t shake as she closed her eyes, and took in a deep breath. All she had to do was hide the sword, and then wrap up something else and put it in the umbrella stand. She climbed onto the table to see if she could reach the ceiling tiles.
“I can hear you moving around in there. Let me in right this minute,” her supervisor shouted, and the door shuddered as he pounded on it.
A strange feeling came over Emery as she lifted the sword up toward the ceiling. It felt as if something were wrapping around her, as soft and warm as an enormous invisible feline. It curled and whirled its way from her ankles to her knees, and then her hips and shoulders, and finally caressed her face. Tendrils of her hair started floating as if she were under water.
“Uh-oh.” As she glanced down every exposed inch of her skin began to sparkle with tiny red, orange and gold lights. “What’s going on?”
An image of herself on the floor, her head at an odd angle, flashed through her mind, making her go still.
I shall save you, child, a deep, sad voice whispered inside her head. You must save mine.
All the lights went out, plunging the room into complete darkness. That startled Emery so much she took a step back, and banged into something made of ice-cold stone. The next breath she took felt crisp and almost frosty, as if the temperature had suddenly dropped thirty degrees. She moved to climb down, and only then realized that she wasn’t standing on the table anymore.
“Did I fall?” She squinted, trying to see something. “Hello? Buc?”
The sound of a door being flung open made her jump, but she held onto the sword tightly as an aura of light appeared. It came from a lantern, and the person holding it had on a leather gauntlet over a sleeve of rough, pale fabric.
It wasn’t her supervisor, Emery thought, and lowered the blade.
A big hand put the lantern on the table between them and turned up the flame. The brightness revealed a very tall man with long, fiery blond hair. Over his loosely-woven tunic and dark trousers he wore the same patterned tartan as the manikin in the highlander exhibit. He’d secured it with a wide brown belt studded with dark red cabochons set in elaborate rose gold filigree. Another, larger stone carved from a vivid orange gem flashed from the gold penannular brooch on his left shoulder, where it pinned his tartan to the tunic underneath it.
When he lifted his head and locked his gaze with hers, Emery’s heart skipped a beat.
Shadows made his noble features appear almost unearthly, as if he’d come from another dimension. Not a single freckle or blemish showed on his smooth, lightly tanned skin. He looked so perfect she would have thought him another manikin, except she could see his chest moving as he breathed, and the faint whiteness of his breath in the air between them. He stood well over six feet tall, and looked so well-built she wondered if he modeled for men’s fitness magazines. At that moment the light from the lantern flared and his eyes caught the reflection. His irises glittered like shards of white, lavender and violet glass, as if they’d been chiseled from amethyst crystals.
Emery felt utterly enchanted by his masculine perfection. Outside of photoshop men just didn’t look like this guy anymore. He could have been a character from an epic fantasy come to life.
He tilted his head as he looked over her. “Have you naught to say, then?” he asked, his accent plain.
He looks like that and he’s Scottish? Emery hoped he worked in her department. “Can you please help me? Someone is trying to steal this sword.”
“Aye, lass, I ken.” Those amethyst eyes flashed again, but this time with disgust. “The thief, ’twould be you.”