Read HauntedLaird Online

Authors: Tara Nina

HauntedLaird

Haunted Laird

Tara Nina

 

Book four in the Cursed MacKinnons series.

 

Lynn’s ghost-hunting trip to
Scotland takes an unpleasant turn when she’s kidnapped from her camp by a group
of men rambling about curses and a brotherhood. In a daring escape, Lynn falls
over a cliff and awakens in a cave being guarded by a ghost, who insists she’s
the key to freeing a man who has been cast in stone by an evil curse. And what
a man he is…

Padon has been imprisoned for over
two centuries, frozen in stone. He’s awakened when a sexy siren recites the
anti-curse, but he’s only partially free. Stone by day, man by night. Passion
ignites between him and his savior immediately, which makes falling to the
curse each morning that much harder. He and Lynn seek a resolution by making
the trek to Padon’s family castle. But the kidnappers have other plans and will
do whatever they must to make sure this couple never makes it to their
destination.

 

Haunted Laird

Tara Nina

Acknowledgments

 

I greatly appreciate the hard work of my editor, Grace
Bradley. I am a work in progress and she’s a patient teacher.

I also want to acknowledge my dear friend and fellow EC
author, Lynn LaFleur. She was a great inspiration for my heroine in this novel.

And to my MacKinnon Clan members, the rest of this series is
on its way. I promise.

 

Prologue

 

Lynn Woodberry stretched and yawned as she lay in the hotel
room bed. Total comfort surrounded her. It was one of the reasons she’d chosen
to stay at the Radisson Blu while in Edinburgh, Scotland. She’d taken the
red-eye from Dallas to London then hopped the first flight from there to
Edinburgh. She was checked into her room by eleven and crashed for a nap by
noon. Now rested, she scooted off the bed and walked to the window and opened
the curtains. The late-afternoon sun warmed her face.

The view was magnificent. Ancient stone-faced buildings
lined the street. Edinburgh Castle sat off in the distance. The fading sun gave
it a haunting outline of red and orange hues and she couldn’t help but sigh at
the glorious sight. Though she saw it with her own eyes, she still couldn’t
believe she was finally fulfilling their dream. Her vision blurred as
loneliness washed over her, producing a single tear she quickly brushed away.
Now was not a time to cry but to rejoice in the closing of the final chapter on
a perfect love story and opening the first chapter on a new beginning.

Breathing deep, she refused to let sadness consume her, but
couldn’t stop the flow of thoughts. They were supposed to be on this trip
together. But three years ago, life played a cruel joke and took Eddie from her
in a horrific car crash. She squeezed her eyes tight, trying to flush that
tragedy from her brain. It was quiet times like this that made her miss her
husband the most. Her heart still ached for her high-school sweetheart and soul
mate.

For years they’d planned this trip, plotted their course on
a map and saved so they could explore the myths and ghosts of the mystical
world of Scotland. She still pictured them together at the kitchen table
hunched over travel brochures, maps and books chock-full of ghostly tales from
Scotland.

Lynn willed her nerves to calm. She could do this. She could
and would fulfill this dream and complete the final chapter on the life she’d
shared with Eddie. She needed this trip and knew she had to do it alone. Though
her sister suggested she accompany her, something deep inside implored her to
do this by herself to prove she was ready to move forward, instead of forever
mourning the love she’d lost.

Opening her eyes, she lifted her gaze heavenward and prayed
for strength. Warmth surrounded her in an invisible hug as it always did when
she prayed while thinking of Eddie. In her heart, she knew he watched over her
and protected her. This was his way of letting her know he was still around.
But for some reason, she couldn’t see him and it tore at her soul. She could
see every other ghost, specter or apparition who lingered trapped between
worlds.

But not Eddie. Was the reason she couldn’t reach him because
he wasn’t trapped between planes? Did he rest in peace? She desperately wanted
to know.

She sighed deeply, battling the urge to cry and simply crawl
back into bed and stay there for eternity. It boggled her mind as to why she
couldn’t see Eddie. She felt his presence, knew he was near, but couldn’t see
him or speak with him though she tried. She’d even visited several supposed
clairvoyants but their efforts had failed. Lynn huffed at her stupidity,
doubting they were even what they’d claimed. Hopefully she’d learn something
from this trip as to how to locate and speak with a departed loved one. Maybe
someone here knew and could show her the way to complete the spiritual
connection.

Lord knows those clairvoyants only showed her how to empty
her purse. She was certain there were real mediums out there but so far she
hadn’t found one. Eddie believed in the spirit world and helped nurture her
ability of sight, seeing things that others could not, such as ghosts. If not
for him, she would have never recognized the visions she’d had since childhood
for what they were—a gift. She’d always considered herself different, but never
unique like Eddie considered her to be.

“You have the gift of sight. Don’t ever be scared of what
you see that others don’t. They look with blind eyes. You are unique and should
be proud of knowing others walk among us in bodiless forms.”
Eddie’s voice
flowed through her thoughts as if he stood beside her, softly speaking in her
ear. She hugged herself.

Eddie taught her the meaning of truly being loved. He was
the peaches in her cream. A shiver shot down her spine at the memory of him
calling her his
creamy delight
. Just thinking of how he completed her
caused her cheeks to warm and brought an unstoppable smile to her lips. And oh
lordy, their sex life could have filled an erotic novel. Lynn chuckled under
her breath as a sensual sensation warmed her from the inside out.

Nope. She had to make this trip in order to complete her
memory of Eddie and their incredible love story. Some people called it closure,
but not Lynn. It was just the final chapter in a phenomenal romance. If she was
ever going to learn how to communicate with beings on the other side, Scotland
was the place to do it. Seeing them was one thing, but having a conversation
with them was an entirely whole new adventure. One she was ready to embrace.

“I can do this,” she whispered to no one in particular,
while secretly hoping Eddie’s spirit heard her.

Seeing the tour bus pull up outside the hotel, she realized
she needed to get a move on. The itinerary for this tour was set and she didn’t
intend to miss one moment. A quick glance at the clock let her know the bus
would leave in thirty minutes, with or without her. Tonight’s tour—the underground
vaults. She couldn’t wait to see them and hear the tales of the ghosts who
roamed that underworld.

Chapter One

 

By the time they finally took a break, Lynn had heard
enough. The three men bickered worse than a group of old women sitting around
with nothing to do but complain about what ailed them. She still couldn’t
believe one of them was Fin, Travis’ partner at MacShain’s Guided Tours—the
company she’d employed to explore the greatest haunted locations in Scotland.
If she’d known one of them was a kidnapper, she never would have joined their
group.

Travis. Where was Travis? He’d completely slipped her mind.
What had they done with him? It made her stomach churn not knowing if her
friend was dead or alive. Though she’d listened closely to every word they’d
said, they’d never mentioned what happened to him. And she had been so intent
on fighting them when they took her captive, she hadn’t noticed if he lay
unconscious or in a pool of blood at their campsite.

She fidgeted but couldn’t move much, being as they’d tied
her hands and feet, then secured her to a makeshift litter with the sleeping
bag from her tent that they wrapped thick tape around until she was wedged
tight. All she could think when she looked at the contraption they had her in
was one word. Papoose. She was being hauled up a mountain in a giant papoose.
They’d covered her mouth with a piece of the same tape so she couldn’t scream.
Though she tried, she couldn’t push it off with her tongue or wiggle her lips
enough to loosen it.

So she resolved herself to lie there, listen and reserve her
strength. They were bound to make a mistake and when they did, she planned to
use it to her advantage and escape.

Fin had hidden his face at the campsite she shared with
Travis by keeping his hood tucked low over his head so she didn’t get a good
look at him then. Now he didn’t even try to hide from her as she glared at him
while he carried the foot end of her prison. The other two, Lonnie and Timothy,
she couldn’t see well from her position. One of them was at the head end of the
litter while the other apparently led the way. From what she’d overheard, she
was beginning to piece together some of what they were up to, but still didn’t
understand why it involved kidnapping her.

What did they want with an American from Texas?

If they planned to ransom her off, the joke was on them. Her
family wasn’t rich. The only surviving blood-related member was her sister, who
was married to a small-town pharmacist, and they had a set of triplets.
Definitely no money left there. Absently she shook her head. As to her, when
Eddie died, he left her comfortable but not extremely wealthy by any means. If
she lived frugally, which she did, the money would last for years. So as far as
exchanging her for money, they were out of luck, but she didn’t think they had
taken her for that purpose. There was this one thing they spoke of several
times.

Who or what was this
brotherhood
they mentioned?

Lynn inhaled deeply through her nose. Apparently this
brotherhood wanted something they were willing to pay steeply to obtain and
didn’t care what methods were taken to get it. But these guys were out of their
minds if they thought she had anything of worth for this brotherhood. She
doubted it was her they wanted. It sounded as if something was hidden somewhere
on this mountain. If they thought she knew where it was, they were crazy.

Unless… She scrolled through everything she’d learned so
far. What if they were after something in the cave Travis was taking her to
visit? Had they captured her as a trade-off for the cave’s location? Did they
think that particular cave held whatever it was they were looking for? Did they
think Travis shared the coordinates with her and she’d be able to lead them
there? Questions tumbled through her head as she swallowed the lump of growing
fear in her throat. She didn’t know anything. She closed her eyes, wishing
she’d never taken Travis’ offer to introduce her to a ghost.

She lay there reliving the conversation she’d had with
Travis several nights earlier. She must have looked like the biggest sucker
going, sitting across the table from Travis at a pub after their tour of the
underground vaults. Lynn inwardly reprimanded herself for hanging on to his
every word as he’d shared his tale of a night he’d spent in a cave with an
ancient Scotsman’s specter. Travis claimed he would take her there and she’d be
able to communicate with a ghost. The one thing she had yet to achieve in all
her years of seeing apparitions was actually speaking with the dead and somehow
he’d figured that out and used it against her.

Had he noticed her reactions to the lingering souls
wandering the vaults? There had been so many, she felt certain she hadn’t been
able to hide her excitement. Had he read her desires and played her for a fool?
Throughout the tour, she’d noticed Travis seemed to watch her more intently
than any of the others. At the pub, he’d explained he’d been waiting for the
right person with whom to share his spiritual find. She’d fallen for it
completely and even did her best to assure him she was the one he needed, a
true believer in everything paranormal.

Was he somehow a part of this whole kidnapping ploy? Lynn
shivered. She hadn’t thought of that before. Was Travis not really her friend
but an instigator in this ruse to capture an American? She couldn’t think
straight as ideas of subterfuge and dastardly deeds tormented her thoughts. No.
She refused to believe ill of Travis. He was innocent in this whole scenario.

Damn. The predicament she’d managed to get herself into all
in the name of ghost chasing. This addiction of hers was finally going to get
her killed.

“Lonnie,” Timothy griped loudly. Lynn stirred from her
musings and concentrated on their conversation, hoping for a thread of
information she could use in her favor. “We need a break. Carrying this chick
up the mountain isn’t easy.”

“Yeah,” Fin chimed in, “when’s your turn ta help carry her?”

“Quit your grousing,” Lonnie snapped. “We don’t have much
farther and we’ll be at the campsite.”

“This better be worth it,” Fin stated heatedly. “The society
offered a tidy sum. How do we know this brotherhood will keep their promise?
The society will pay, there’s no question there. But this brotherhood seems a
bit shady ta me.”

“You’ve pointed that out before, Fin. How many times I got
ta tell you?” Lonnie’s growing frustration was evident in his tone. “Me and Tim
helped save Brother Leod from a fire at a club in London. He promised ta make
us rich if we joined his group.”

Lynn felt the foot of the litter lower as Fin set her down.
He moved to stand face-to-face with Lonnie, who now stood near her shoulder. It
was apparent he was the one in charge of this operation. She could sense the
tension between them.
This
was something she could use to her advantage.
Fin didn’t speak much during the week of her guided tour through the haunts of
Edinburgh. He’d let his partner Travis do all the tour guide stuff while he
drove the bus. Now he didn’t seem to hold his tongue.

“I just find it mighty strange this Brother Leod knows so
much about the clan we swore ta protect.”


We
,” Lonnie screeched, leaning to within millimeters
of Fin’s face. “I don’t know about you, but I took no oath. It was a fairy
tale, a myth handed down from our forefathers that suckered us into believing
in a curse on a clan that no longer exists.”

“There must be some truth behind it or why would so many
before us stand together united?” Lynn saw Fin’s stance change as if making
ready to fight. “And best o’ all, why would this newfound friend o’ yours be so
interested in what the society protects? Think maybe he’s up ta no good?”

Lonnie shook as he waved his hands in the air in
frustration. “I think you be backing out on us, Fin. You be in too tight with
the society.” He poked Fin in the chest with his forefinger as he bellowed,
“Are you with us or are you not? You might want ta be thinking about it afore
you answer.” He nodded toward the side of the path that was a steep drop-off
into a ravine. “Looks ta be a mighty long fall.”

Fin’s shoulders tightened and it appeared as if he was
reining in his anger, taking a step back. She heard his heavy exhale as he
replied, “I’m in.”

“Good,” Lonnie spat. “Now pick up your end and let’s get
going.”

Lynn couldn’t help but wonder about Fin’s connection with
these two.

Silence fell between them, which gave her time to sort
through the limited details. Apparently they all belonged to some sort of
society sworn to protect some nonexistent clan. Lonnie had a new friend with
lots of money and a desire to own something the society protected. But what?
None of them had let that slip.

Fin wouldn’t look at her. Instead his gaze seemed to glance
occasionally behind him as if expecting to see someone there at any moment.
Travis, maybe? Momentarily a spark of hope for his safety gave her an instance
of relief that Travis might be tracking them or gone for help. When Fin wasn’t
looking behind, his eyes stayed straightforward and she could only imagine the
hole his glare would bore through Lonnie’s back if he had such a power.

And from what she’d figured out, Timothy did whatever Lonnie
told him to do. So even if Fin had changed his mind about being a part of this
team, he was outnumbered. She focused on Fin. He was the weak link. Something
didn’t seem right with him and this little adventure. Something she hoped she could
twist in her favor when the time was right.

It was after dark when they reached the designated campsite
on the ridge. Tents were already erected. It appeared as if they had set up
camp before they invaded her campsite and took her captive. They set her down.
Timothy stacked wood in the pit to build a fire. Fin disappeared into one of
the two tents. Lonnie plopped onto a large rock beside the pit.

When Fin came out of his tent carrying a lit lantern, she
tried to talk against the tape to get his attention. Though it was nothing more
than a mumbled noise, he squatted beside her and set the lantern on the ground
near her head. In a low tone, he spoke to her. “I’m going ta remove the tape.
If you scream, I’ll have ta put it back. You no going ta scream are you?”

Lynn shook her head and he slowly removed the tape from her
mouth. She wiggled her jaw and wet her lips. It felt good to have that off her
face. Now if she could just get him to unwrap the tape that bound her to the
stretcher and release her arms from behind her back, her shoulders would be
forever grateful.

“Can you untie me please?” she asked softly. “I need to go
to the bathroom.”

Fin glanced at his partners then pulled out a pocketknife
and started cutting the tape. He hadn’t gotten far when Lonnie jumped up and
ran over to him.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Fin didn’t stop. He continued cutting without looking up
from his task. “The lass is in need o’ a bathroom break.”

Lonnie commanded, “Then she’s your responsibility. Make sure
she doesn’t get away.” He turned on his heels and stomped over to the other
tent and went inside.

“Real friendly guy,” Lynn stated coolly. Fin smiled at her
wisecrack and the tension in the back of her neck eased. Once he freed the tape
from across the sleeping bag, he lifted it off her and helped her sit upright.
After cutting the tape binding her ankles, he untied the rope from around her
wrists.

“You okay ta stand?”

“I think so. I’m a little stiff.”

“Here, I’ll help you,” Fin offered as he took her hands and
guided her to her feet.

Lynn’s legs were fine. She wiggled her toes in her boots,
trying to loosen the tightness in her ankles. Rolling her shoulders and moving
her fingers helped relieve the dead sensation and numbness in her arms and
hands. The small of her back ached from lying on her hands balled beneath her.
The only good thing from being carried up the mountain, she’d lay there
listening, learning their motives and reserving her energy. As soon as the
tingling quit in her arms and feet, she knew she’d be ready to make a break for
it.

She took a step toward the trees when Fin cut her off. “Nay,
lassie. I’ve got ta keep you from running.” He held a longer rope, which he
secured around her waist.

“Really,” Lynn said with her eyebrow cocked and a hand on
the rope.

“It’s either this or I hold your hand while you pee,” Fin
stated point-blank. Lynn opened her mouth to protest then shut it. He was
serious. He grabbed the lantern and held it out so she could see where she was
going.

They walked several feet away from the tents. Fin stopped
her and turned her to face him. He hung the lantern on a branch so it bathed
the area in a low glow. He took hold of her hands as he spoke in a whispered
tone so only she could hear.

“Listen, Lynn. Things are not as they seem. Please abide by
Lonnie’s rules for now and I’ll see ta it you make it home safe.”

Lynn swallowed her excitement. She was right about Fin. He
really wasn’t part of this, but somehow had gotten roped into it. Keeping her
voice low and her tone even she asked, “Why are you helping them?”

“That be a question I cannot answer now.” He nodded toward
the campsite. “You best be doing your business quickly or Lonnie just might
come looking for us. He may not be the brightest but he does have a mean
streak.”

She nodded and scooted behind the trees out of his view.
Indecision warred with her insides as she relieved herself while at the same
time loosening the rope. She wasn’t a liar, she really had to go, but she had
no intention of missing the opportunity to escape. When she stood and secured
her jeans, she turned and walked face first into a hand over her mouth and an
arm around her waist.

“Don’t scream, Lynn. It’s me, Travis,” he whispered in her
ear.

Fear filled her. In her panic, his words didn’t register.
She bit his hand and kneed him in the family jewels. Adrenaline rushed, making
her run faster than she’d ever run in her life. Limbs slapped her face and left
behind stinging scratches. Darkness surrounded her, only the occasional light
from the stars and moon filtered through the canopy of trees. Limited line of
sight didn’t stop her. She kept on running. Several times she tripped and
miraculously she managed to stay on her feet, blindly grabbing hold of branches
or trees to break her fall.

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