Authors: Amber Scott
Tags: #paranormal romance, #fantasy, #magic, #pagan, #historical romance, #fantasy romance, #fantasy adventure, #druid, #highlander, #templar, #templar knight templars knights templar sword swords assassin assassins mystic mystics alchemists fantasy romance adventure, #templar knight, #templars, #romance and adventure, #highlands, #amber scott, #highland romance, #templar knights, #romance author, #medieval romance, #romance historical, #irish romance, #fantasy action, #magic cats, #highland romance paranormal romance scottish romance time travel love story magic celtic romance scotland, #highlands historical fiction, #highlands historical fiction macleod medieval scotland scottish, #historical druid romance, #bloodstone, #northern ireland scottland romance, #historical suspence romance
“Breanne, how are your studies coming along?”
he asked, a relief in his tone belied the procrastination.
“Very well. Aside from today, that is.”
He stopped, met her eyes, and frowned.
“Heremon was distracted and saw fit to
reschedule for a more opportune time.”
“Distracted.” Niall looked away. “When?”
Breanne gulped. She couldn’t very well tell
him midnight tonight. While he was quite aware of her tutelage, her
safety being risked would not be tolerated. Since the death of
Breanne’s father, Ula’s husband, Niall O’Donnell took his role as
their guardian and protector on earnestly.
“Has Heremon related to you your progress?
When will you complete it?”
Even his voice grew direct. Breanne breathed
deep and didn’t fidget. “Nearly a year, depending on frequency of
meeting and lesson quantity.”
“Too long,” Niall said to himself and shook
his head. “Too long,” he said to her. “I’ll not meander about.
Breanne, you’ve been asked for. It is time you marry.”
There they were, the words overheard in her
head and from the shadows, real and alive before her. Breanne
exhaled inaudibly and sat up a bit straighter.
Niall stopped, scowled at her. “You
“I agree,” she said again
and felt the strength in the declaration. No longer did she feel
helpless. Now, it was her decision. “I would like some time to
an unreasonable amount.”
Niall’s scowl darkened. Ula’s hands twittered
to her chest.
“Are you not curious who asked?” Niall
demanded, his eyes narrowing.
She realized she should be and used the first
excuse that came to mind. “Quinlan Blake made his intentions clear
enough this very morning. I assume he spoke with you.” His
intentions were likely wagging tongues already after the display of
flowers. Which meant Rose must know, Breanne suddenly thought.
“Quinlan Blake?” Niall looked appeased and
the tension in his face lessened. “Nay, not him.”
“I have another suitor?” Breanne said to her
mother, her hand to her chest.
Ula nodded and smiled sweetly enough that
Breanne’s chest pricked a bit. She wanted Breanne to marry?
First Rose and now her mother. She was going
straight to hell to burn a thousand deaths for the deceits coming
out of her more readily and convincingly each hour.
“Gannon O’Shannon, your uncle’s most
promising scribe,” Ula said and leaned forward to touch Breanne’s
knee. “A learned man, a student. You will have so much in
Breanne certainly didn’t have to feign her
surprise. Her shock might be the first honest thing about her day.
Gannon? Sweet, shy, Gannon? Breanne and Gannon O’Shannon? Laughter
tickled her. She coughed to rid her throat of the entirely
inappropriate, not to mention rude, response. Gannon was a dear
sweet young fellow after all. But, in all her days and nights, she
hadn’t guessed he held affection for her.
“When will you decide?” Niall asked, making
her feel dissected, exposed.
“Decide on Gannon?” How could she? Her mind
still spun from the notion. Kiss Gannon? Feel Gannon press his
bulge into her? No. Gannon wouldn’t be lewd and overbearing like
Quinlan. He’d be gentle.
“How long before you planned to choose?”
Niall asked with an exasperated sigh. He bent forward and crossed
his arms, in wait for her answer.
Breanne’s eyes shot from him to Ula and back
to him. Her mind slammed to a stop. He was asking her to name a
deadline. The sense of control she’d momentarily lost grasp of
returned. She licked her lips and laughed. It sounded affected but
she didn’t care.
“No later than All Hallows Eve. I will have
been officiated and that offers me enough time to consider among
these men,” she said and nodded sharply at the end.
Niall met her gaze steadily. A grin grew on
his face and for a wonderful moment, Breanne thought she’d cleanly
“Beltane,” Niall said. “Not a day later. You
may choose in the tradition which has kept you from your
“Beltane? But, my lord, that’s nigh two
months hence. You canno’ possibly expect me to….”
“If you do not. I will.”
“You will.” Breanne shot to her feet. Her
voice rose. “You will? I am not chattel to be given away at your
discretion or whim.”
“No,” Niall said. “You are
not. But you are my responsibility and you are not going to live
the life of a hermit
which for some reason I cannot fathom
you appear to be attracted
“Niall, please,” Ula said and stood, as well.
She stepped between them. “Breanne. This is for the best. And you
said yourself that you agree. Please don’t make me rue the
liberties we’ve allowed you out of a mother’s love.”
“My apologies, my lord.” Guilt kicked her
heart. “Do forgive my insolence. You have both indeed indulged my
aspirations. Forgive me.” She bowed her head.
Niall swept a hand through the air. Ula
“We will discuss this further tomorrow,”
Niall said, sounding tired. “The dinner hour approaches. You may
leave us, Breanne.”
Her face was hot with color, but she was
grateful despite the embarrassment of losing her temper. She had no
right to speak to him so disrespectfully and not simply because he
was the local king. Niall O’Donnell had been naught but good to her
and her mother since their arrival eleven years ago.
Breanne left and part of her was glad that
she couldn’t stay and eavesdrop. She didn’t want to hear what they
said about her outburst, didn’t have to.
The hot bath waiting for her in her
bedchamber washed away hot tears and the day’s troubles. Finn
wasn’t even there to vent on, still hadn’t returned to the keep. He
was probably roaming the forest for fairy mounds again.
Plaiting her hair into an intricate braid,
she wove gold baubles in sporadically. Two, potentially three, very
different men were about to become a daily nuisance and she didn’t
have any way out of any of it. She did want to marry. It wasn’t
that. One of them certainly would be suitable if she could settle
herself with their inevitable manly passions.
And though six weeks time sounded brief, she
knew of courtships that completed in days. Why, hadn’t Rose set
sight on her husband, Ryan, exactly one week before they handfasted
and now had four babies to prove their love, if not lust, for one
And her husband need not necessarily be
selected from the three. If she actually began looking, she might
find another suitable man among the clansmen and frequent
Were she more daring, the Beltane feast and
fire could become her hunting ground. What a lovely thought. To
walk up, pick a man, and just be done with it. To not bother with
the mess of any of it, the wooing, the choosing, the hurt feelings
and quarrels, until the last minute. Breanne smiled at herself in
the mirror and covered a giggle. The idea was ridiculous.
Ready for dinner, she stood and braced
herself. She honed in on the single thought that would lift her
spirits and help ease facing four long tables filled with knowing
faces. In six short hours, she’d be deep in the woods, and might
glimpse some magick.
* * * *
Hunger woke Ashlon. He opened his eyes and
adjusted to the dimly lit area he was in. Carefully, he sat up,
making the table he lay on creak loudly. He looked around, trying
to remember where he was and how he got there. But nothing came.
The last distinct memory he had was of falling asleep in a cave
with his arms around Jacque’s treasure.
Abruptly, Ashlon looked about the small room.
He rolled from the table, careless of the small wool covering
dropping to the floor. He located his mantle, his sword, and his
shoes. But, nowhere did he see the chest.
A man’s voice sounded outside the stone
walled room. Ashlon stopped. He listened to… singing? It drew
closer. Ashlon promptly palmed his sword and took battle
Brittle notes of song carried nearer, a
language foreign and beautiful to Ashlon’s ears. The door knocked
about and the song changed to cursing and finally the man kicked
the wood open and froze in place.
“What are you about now, lad?”
Ashlon lifted the sword a degree, the
friendliness of the stranger adding to his defensiveness. “Who are
you? What have you done with my possessions?” he demanded in
“There now, lad. You’ll ruin my
ministrations.” The man directed his gaze to Ashlon’s
He followed the gaze and saw the clumps of
leaf and mossy root about to fall from his middle. He put one hand
over the poultices and held his sword steady with the other. The
heathen guised man had fast explaining to do or he’d feel the thick
end of Ashlon’s blade. Pointing his sword at the man, he motioned
him in. It was then that he realized the stranger carried a
steaming bowl. His gut ached with the hunger.
“I demand to know who you are and where I am.
I require the return of my belongings immediately.”
The man entered the small room slowly, set
the bowl down, all the while nodding gently. “Calm yourself, lad.
You’re in my home. Tir Conaill, Ireland home of the clan O’Donnell
and all who are welcomed here along their travels.”
Ashlon’s arm lowered a fragment. He was
losing his strength by the second. “Who are you?” He needed to lie
“My Christian name is Shamus Heremon Dermot
O’Brian, descendant of The O’Brian, descended of Niall of the Nine
Hostages.” The man smiled, showing aged folds in his cheeks. “You
may call me Heremon, as do all others.”
Ashlon’s arm wobbled inside. His sword felt
like a hundred pounds trying to drag it down. He had the man’s
name, but it told him nothing concrete. He needed more. “How did I
come to be here with you, Lord Heremon? Where have you put the
chest I traveled with?” he asked, biting for a minute more of
“Why, I saved you, lad. And I know of no
In a loud clang, Ashlon’s sword fell from his
grip to the stone floor. He used the free hand to support his body
before it collapsed on the spot. A wet pile of leafy mush landed
next to his blade.
“Enough of that now,” Heremon said. Raising
his voice made it sound more tinny than brittle, but kind
nonetheless. “Lie on your back. There. Go easy on yourself there.
It’s no feather sack you’re putting onto.”
Ashlon eased as carefully as he could onto
the wood table. His body shook from exhaustion and his vision swam.
How could such little effort drain him so rapidly? “My belongings,”
he muttered between gasps for air. “A square wooden, well worn…
oak, I need to….” It was too much.
Heremon lifted his head and placed a rolled
bundle beneath it. Before Ashlon could try the words again, a
mouthful of bitter tasting broth filled up his mouth from a small
wooden bowl. Heremon’s movements were sure for a man his apparent
age. The broth didn’t spill or slosh as he brought it repeatedly to
Despite the bitter taste, Ashlon drank
hungrily. A small suspicion that the soup held poison gave way to
deep gratitude. The man had saved him from the cave, the storm. If
only he could recall a moment past the cave. Logic explained that
he must have succumbed to fever as he slept. But, something in that
conclusion unsettled him. If the man had saved him from the cave,
how in the world did he come upon him in it?
“Your belly wants more, but will put it right
out if we don’t rest a spell,” Heremon said.
Ashlon closed his eyes. He felt groggy.
Numbed. He opened his mouth to speak but only a snore escaped.
Heremon smiled at the
rumpling sound and patted the young knight’s arm. Near dead yet
swift as a lion to stand brave and order answers. The vigor of
youth and ambition hadn’t yet given way to wisdom for Ashlon
soon enough it would. Soon enough.
Heremon set about straightening the small
space before blowing out the single candle and leaving his charge.
The difficult part was over. In a week’s time, Ashlon would be
standing and able to fight again, so long as he allowed his body to
In the outer room, Heremon put ink to paper
and began the hours of assiduous preparation for Breanne’s arrival.
The girl, a woman now, he had to remind himself, was on the
precipice of her destiny. She despaired, he knew. But he also knew
that soon she would be living her dreams, her long years of work
Heremon sighed and rubbed
his eyes. He dipped the quill tip into the inkwell. He blotted and
wrote the words
designed what seemed a lifetime past. In a sense, they were
exactly that: a lifetime.
He had thought it would be harder than it
was, to proceed with the necessary arrangements as he now did. But,
perhaps the years of preparing for this end caused some
desensitization. He was appreciative for it. He had never
considered himself a courageous soul and the numbness prevented him
from running in fear from obligation.
He lifted the parchment and gently blew on
it. Once the ink dried to satisfaction, Heremon rolled it, tied it
and returned to Ashlon’s meager temporary quarters where he hid it
among the items Breanne would take. Ashlon slept soundly thanks to
the herbs and his body’s desperate need to strengthen itself. He
would need it.
Mouse quiet, Heremon closed the door and
locked it. He trusted Breanne to be resourceful enough to find the
key, and the man, in that order, just as the ancestors had shown
him. Nostalgia crept into his heart. He would miss her. The
knowledge that they would meet again when the veil between his new
world and hers became thin didn’t console him. But, he couldn’t
change the course of destiny and fighting its will only made the
course of things more difficult to survive in the end.