The Dark Sword series reins in the magic, passion, and fury of Scotland’s legendary warriors—for whom love is always worth fighting for…
DEVIL IN THE FLESH
Druid-born and magic-blessed, Isla is one of the deadliest she-devils ever to serve the forces of darkness. As an immortal Highland warrior, it’s up to Hayden Campbell to destroy her and her kind. But for Hayden, Isla is more than a sworn enemy. She is temptation…
ANGEL IN HIS ARMS
Taking Isla captive, Hayden hopes to avenge his kinsmen who died by Druid magic. But when he looks into Isla’s eyes, he sees the secrets of her past. When he touches her skin, he feels the passion in her soul. And soon Hayden comes to realize that this beautiful, beguiling woman is not his enemy at all—she is his destiny. And, even as the forces of darkness conspire against them, their love will conquer all…
An exclusive extended excerpt of Chapters 1-3 of Untamed Highlander (Available April 26, 2011) by Donna Grant.
Hayden Campbell swore viciously as he turned over yet another frozen body on the rocky slope.
“This one is dead,” Fallon MacLeod yelled from his position farther up the mountain.
“They’re all dead.” Hayden blew out a breath that puffed around him, ignoring the frigid temperatures and steady snowfall. Though he felt the cold it didn’t bother him because he wasn’t quite human.
He was a Warrior, an immortal with an archaic god inside him that gave him powers and immeasurable strength—among other things.
Hayden rubbed the ice from his eyelashes as his gaze wandered over the snow-covered slope and the numerous dead Druids. “We should have returned sooner.”
Fallon, another Warrior, walked toward him with heavy footsteps, his green eyes grave. “Aye, we should have, but my concern was for Quinn. We scarcely got him and Marcail out of this cursed mountain in time as it was.”
“I ken.” Hayden gazed at the hated mound of rock. He had always loved looking at the great mountains, but being locked in Cairn Toul for too many decades and forced to watch the evil that grew there took away the pleasure the mountains had once given him. “Damn Deirdre.”
Deirdre, the one who began it all, was finally dead. She was a Druid, but from a sect who gave their blood and souls to diabhul, the Devil, for the use of black magic. She was, or had been, a drough.
There was another set of Druids, the mie, who used the pure magic born in all Druids to bond with nature and harness the natural power that came to all of them. The mie used their magic to heal and aid those in need, not to destroy as the drough and Deirdre did.
But Hayden and the other Warriors had defeated her. It had cost many lives, however. Too many lives.
Hundreds of Druids had been imprisoned in the mountain for Deirdre to drain their blood and harvest their magic to add to her own. No one knew how old Deirdre was, but if Hayden could believe the rumors, she had lived for nearly a thousand years, going back to the time just after Rome was driven from the land by Warriors.
The Warriors had been made thanks to both the drough and mie in response to the cries of the Celts for help, and Hayden couldn’t fault the Druids. Rome had been slowly suffocating Britain, ending all that made Britain great. And the Celts had been unable to defeat them.
The Druids had done what they could for Britain. They had no idea the primeval gods they called up from Hell would refuse to leave the men they took control of.
The gods were so potent the Druids couldn’t remove them. The only thing the Druids could do was bind the gods inside the men after Rome had been defeated and departed Britain’s shores.
And so the gods moved from generation to generation through the bloodline and into the strongest warriors. Until Deirdre found the MacLeods and unbound their god.
Deirdre’s reign of evil had lasted far longer than Hayden liked to think about. Deirdre might have been powerful, but even a drough could be killed.
Hayden grinned, reliving the moment Deirdre’s neck had been crushed by another Warrior and Hayden had engulfed her in fi re.
“What are you smiling at?” Fallon asked, breaking into Hayden’s thoughts.
Fallon was leader of their group of Warriors. They had banded together to fight Deirdre and the wickedness she spawned. Though they had expected it would take years, Deirdre had changed everything when she took the youngest MacLeod brother, Quinn, captive. That’s when they had taken the fight to Deirdre.
“The fact Deirdre is dead,” Hayden explained. “Everything we’ve been fighting against all these years is over. Gone.”
Fallon smiled and slapped him on the shoulder. “It’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it? Now all we have to worry about is having the Druids find the spell to bind our gods once more. Then we can live as mortal men.”
Binding the gods was all Fallon, Lucan, and Quinn spoke about. But the MacLeod brothers had wives, so they yearned to have their gods gone from their lives.
Hayden, on the other hand, wasn’t sure he wanted to be mortal again. He was too powerless that way.
“I’m going to look on the other side of the mountain,” Fallon said. “Maybe we’ll find someone alive.”
“I think the ones who could make it out of the mountain did. It was the weather that killed them.”
Fallon blew out a ragged breath and clenched his jaw. “We should look inside the mountain, then. Some might have been too afraid to leave.”
They both turned to the door that stood ajar amid the rock as if waiting for them to enter its wicked domain. All Druids were gifted with a certain power. Deirdre’s had been moving stone. She had instructed the mountain to shift and form so that she had a palace inside it, shielded from the world.
Hidden from all.
Countless Druids had died heinously, and many a Highlander had been brought to her to have his god unbound. If he didn’t house a god, he was killed.
Even now Hayden could smell the stench of death and iniquity that permeated from the mountain, could still feel the helplessness which had weighed heavily on his shoulders while he had been locked in one of the various prisons.
But he had been one of the lucky ones. Hayden had broken free and escaped, determined to fight Deirdre and her bid to rule the world.
“Why would anyone stay inside that place?” Hayden murmured as unease rippled down his spine. He fi sted his hands and forced himself to stand still and not give into the urge to turn away from the malevolent mountain.
Fallon scratched his jaw, his gaze thoughtful. “I doona know, but it’s worth a look. We freed these people, and it’s our responsibility to make sure they return to their homes.”
Hayden considered Fallon’s words. “They may not want our help. We are, after all, Warriors. They might not be able to tell the difference between us and the Warriors who allied themselves to Deirdre.”
“True. But I must look either way. I wasna held longer than a few days in the mountain so it doesn’t hold the memories for me as it does for you.”
Hayden might not want to go into Cairn Toul, but he would. “I’m not afraid.”
Fallon put his hand on Hayden’s shoulder and looked into his eyes. “I would never think that, my friend. I would not torment you, though.” He dropped his arm and smiled. “Besides, I want to return to Larena as quickly as I can. You give a final look over the mountain while I go inside.”
Before Hayden could object Fallon was gone. He used the power his god gave him to “jump” inside the mountain in the blink of an eye. Fallon couldn’t jump somewhere he had never been before, but the use of his power had saved them countless times.
They all had different powers. For Hayden, Ouraneon, the god of massacre which was inside him, gave him the ability to call up and control fire. There were other differences as well. Each god favored a color, so every Warrior transformed to that color when he released his god.
Yet, for all their differences, there was a great deal they had in common, like strength, speed, enhanced senses, as well as deadly claws and sharp fangs. The most disturbing, though, was that their eyes changed to the same color as their god.
It had taken Hayden a long time to get used to that. He hadn’t seen his own eyes, but he could imagine how he looked when the whites of his eyes disappeared and his entire eye turned red.
As much as Hayden had rebelled and fought the god within him, that same god allowed him to defeat Deirdre. With Deirdre dead and his family massacred by a drough sent by Deirdre, there was nothing in this world for Hayden to do.
For so many years he had roamed Scotland, watching the world change around him while he hunted droughs. Deirdre had taunted him that she had sent a drough to kill his family as she tortured him day after day. So he fought against Deirdre while seeking his vengeance on the droughs.
Now there was no place for him in this new world. There was no place for him anywhere.
He continued his wandering of the mountain, looking for anyone who might still be alive, as he thought of what his next move might be. He had stayed in Scotland because of Deirdre and his revenge, but maybe he would travel and see the different countries others spoke about.
Hayden leaned against a boulder and raked his hand through his damp hair. The snowfall had begun to grow more dense, the flakes thicker and heavier, but it didn’t hamper his superior eyesight. They stuck to his eyelashes and covered everything in a blinding white blanket.
Hours went by with Hayden locating nothing but more dead. The fact they were most likely Druids only made the fi ndings more difficult to bear. Druids might have magic, but they were susceptible to the elements as any human was, and thanks to Deirdre’s affinity for killing them, the Druids were becoming more and more scarce.
A shout from Fallon let Hayden know it was time to return to MacLeod Castle. As Hayden began to turn away something caught his eye.
He paused and narrowed his gaze when a gust of wind lifted a lock of long, black hair in the snow. Though Hayden knew the woman was most likely dead, he hurried to her anyway, hopeful he would leave the mountain with at least one alive. He spotted the pool of bright red blood in the snow that gave him hope she was still alive.
“Fallon,” he barked while scraping away the flurries and ice from around the small, much too slim body.
The woman was lying on her stomach, an arm bent with her hand near her face and matted ebony hair obscuring her features. Her fingers were slim as they dug into the snow as if she had tried to crawl away.
Hayden could only imagine the pain she had been put through, the heartache Deirdre had given her. He held his breath as he put a finger beneath her nose and felt a soft stirring of air.
At least they would leave the cursed mountain with one life. He reached for her and paused again. He didn’t want to hurt her, but it had been so long since he had been gentle, he wasn’t sure he knew how. All he knew was battle and death.
Maybe he should allow Fallon care for her. But as soon as the thought went through his mind, Hayden rejected it. He found her, he would see to her. He didn’t know why, he just knew that it was important to him.
Hayden blew out a breath and slowly, firmly placed his hands on the woman’s body before he tenderly turned her over. Her arm fell to the side, lifeless and still. Disquiet settled in his gut like a stone.
He shifted so that he leaned over her, shielding her from the onslaught of snow. Once he had her in his arms, Hayden brushed the hair from her face to see her incredibly long black lashes spiked with frozen snow.
He felt something shift inside him when he saw her face was pale as death, but even beneath the scratches, dried blood, and ice he could see her beauty, her timeless allure.
She had high cheekbones and a small, pert nose. Her brows were as black as the midnight sky and arched over her eyes. Her lips were full, sensual, and her neck long and lean.
But it was her cream-colored skin, so flawless and perfect, that made him reach out and stroke her cheek with the back of his fi nger.
A shock of something primitive and urgent went through his body like a bolt of lightning. He couldn’t take his eyes from her, couldn’t stop touching her.
Her body struggled for breath, struggled for life, proving she was a fighter. Even with the elements taking the breath from her one heartbeat at a time, she didn’t give up.
Something inside him broke at that moment. He hadn’t been able to save his family or the many Druids on Cairn Toul, but he would save this woman, whoever she was.
A feeling of protectiveness wound through him. It had been so long since he’d felt protective of anyone or anything that he almost hadn’t recognized the emotion. Now that he did, however, it grew stronger the longer he held her in his arms.
He would make sure she survived. He would ensure she was protected at all times. It wouldn’t make up for the lives of his family or the Druids, but he had to do it.
Hayden found himself wishing she’d open her eyes so he could see them. He wanted to give his oath to her right then, for her to know he would fight with her. Instead, she lay unconscious in his arms.
His vow would have to wait, but nothing could stop him from pledging himself to her.
“Does she live?” Fallon asked.
Hayden glanced up, startled to find Fallon near when he hadn’t heard him approach. That wasn’t like Hayden, but then again, he had never held such a lovely woman in his arms before, especially one who needed him as she did. “Just. She’s bleeding badly, though I cannot tell where she is wounded.”
“Judging by the blood on your hand, I would say somewhere on her back.”
Hayden looked at the hand holding her and grimaced. He doubted they had much time to save her. For the fi rst time in . . . ages . . . the need to defend, to shield someone consumed him, drove him. “She’s shivering.”
“Then let’s get her out of here,” Fallon said.
Hayden lifted her small frame in his arms. She was light, but through her clothes he could feel the sumptuous curves that proclaimed her a woman. He gave a nod to Fallon and waited. Fallon laid his hand on Hayden’s arm, and in a blink they were standing in the great hall of MacLeod Castle.
“God’s teeth!” someone yelled at their sudden appearance in the castle.
“Sonya!” Fallon bellowed.
The hall swarmed with Warriors, but Hayden only had eyes for the woman. He wanted, nay needed, her to survive, and was surprised to find himself praying—something he hadn’t done since before his family’s murder. He decided then and there he would protect her with his life.
He felt the warm stickiness of her blood as it traveled from his hand down his arm to his elbow to drop on the stone floor. Her breathing was ragged, her body so still he would think her dead if he didn’t see her chest rising and falling, slowly but surely.
“Sonya, hurry!” Hayden shouted. The thought of holding another dead body in his arms made Hayden’s heart quicken with dread.
Death surrounded him, always had, most likely always would. But now, he wanted life for this small woman, whoever she was.
There was a whooshing sound as Broc landed in the great hall, Sonya in his arms. Broc folded his large, sleek indigo wings against him as he set Sonya on her feet and pushed his god down and returned to normal.
Sonya said not a word as she rushed to Hayden. The single, thick braid holding her fiery hair hung down her back with small tendrils curling about her face.
“Put her on the table,” Sonya instructed him.
Hayden didn’t want to relinquish his hold on the woman, but he knew he had no choice if he wanted her to survive. He glanced at her, at her parted lips and ethereal face. “She’s cold.”
“And I’ll get her warm as soon as I heal her,” Sonya told him, her amber eyes meeting his gaze. “Let me heal her, Hayden.”
Quinn took a step toward the table. “Broc—”
“I know,” Broc answered.
Hayden looked between the two Warriors to fi nd their gazes locked on the female in his arms. There was something in their tone, something he should recognize, but he couldn’t focus on anything but the woman.
He forced his attention back to Sonya. “I think the wound is on her back.”
“Then lay her on her stomach,” Sonya said as she pushed up the sleeves of her gown.
“I’ll help,” said Lucan’s wife, Cara.
Hayden glanced down at Cara. They’d had their differences, and in some ways still did since Cara carried drough blood in her veins. She might never have undergone the ritual, but it was enough that Hayden had wanted to see her dead.
It was only out of respect for the MacLeods that Hayden left Cara alone. Still, it rankled him to have her near. Evil bred evil, it was just a matter of time before it took Cara.
The next thing Hayden knew, the other two women of the castle, Marcail and Larena, were also there. All but Larena were Druids. Larena was the only female Warrior, and she had the distinction of being Fallon’s wife.
Matter of fact, the only female who wasn’t mated to a MacLeod was Sonya, and Hayden had seen the way Broc watched the Druid when he thought no one was looking.
“I need her gown cut,” Sonya said.
Hayden didn’t hesitate to allow a red claw to lengthen from his fingertip. He sliced the woman’s gown with one swipe, and when the gown fell open to reveal the female’s back, the entire hall sucked in a breath. Hayden’s gut clenched and his blood turned to ice.
“Holy hell,” Quinn murmured and rubbed a hand over his mouth.
There were no words as Hayden stared at the scars that crisscrossed the slender back of the woman on the table. Whoever this female was, she had suffered greatly and horrifi cally. And often. If he felt protective of her before, it was nothing compared to what arose in him then.
He would find who did this to her, find them and make them suffer as they had made her suffer. Then he would kill them.
However, it was the wound on her shoulder which drew Hayden’s gaze. “What happened to her?”
Sonya leaned close and poked at the bleeding injury. “Looks like a blade of some sort. I need to clean it to be sure what happened, but from what I can see I think the weapon pierced her skin, and then was dragged from her shoulder down her back to her shoulder blade.”
In an instant a bowl of water was placed next to Sonya. She wrung out a cloth and began to clean the woman’s wound. Agonizing moments later, Sonya lifted her head, her lips compressed in a tight line.
“There’s magic involved in this wound. I cannot tell if it caused the wound or only made it fester.”
Lucan and Fallon moved to stand on either side of Quinn, who was at the woman’s feet. Broc had also shifted closer to Sonya. It was then Hayden looked around the hall and noticed every Warrior at MacLeod Castle now ogled the female.
Hayden’s gaze swung to Quinn to find the youngest MacLeod watching him with sharp, pale green eyes. Before he could ask Quinn why he was staring, the woman let out a low moan full of suffering and agony.
Sonya stilled. A heartbeat later she tossed down the cloth and lifted her hands over the woman’s wound, palm down, fingers splayed. Sonya’s eyes closed, and Hayden could feel her magic fill the hall as she began to heal the wound.
Cara and Marcail soon joined their magic with Sonya’s, but nothing they did seemed to assist the healing. The woman let out a scream and tried to jerk from the table.
Hayden held her down, careful not to touch her wound, but the more magic the Druids used, the worse the woman became. Frustration welled up within Hayden while he watched helplessly as the woman suffered.
“What are you doing to her?” he demanded of Sonya.
The Druid’s amber eyes snapped open to glare at him. Sonya reached over and took Cara’s and Marcail’s arms and lowered them. As soon as they did the woman stopped her movements and laid still and quiet.
It was like she had died. Yet Hayden could still see the breath leaving her body, could still see the blood fl ow from the wound.
“Something isn’t right,” Sonya said.
Marcail shook her head, her rows of tiny, sable braids on the crown of her head moving against her cheek. “It was almost as if she fought against our magic.”
“What could possibly do that?” Cara asked. Her mahogany eyes sought out Sonya, but Sonya didn’t answer.
Instead, Sonya moved aside the tangled mass of ebony locks from the woman’s neck. With slow movements, she tugged at the thin leather strap until she found what she was looking for.
Hayden took one look at the Demon’s Kiss dangling from Sonya’s fingers and felt the same betrayal and fury he had on the night of his family’s murder.
“Easy, Hayden,” Quinn said.
Hayden swiveled his head to the MacLeods. An icy feeling of dread consumed him as he looked at the brothers. “You knew, didn’t you? You knew who she was, what she is?”
“Aye,” Quinn answered. “Before you condemn Isla, know that Deirdre kept her sister and niece prisoners in Cairn Toul.”
But all Hayden could think about was the Demon’s Kiss around Isla’s neck. It was but a small silver vial. However, it held the first drops of a Druid’s blood after they completed the ritual of a drough to serve diabhul.
A drough. The very thing Hayden had scoured Scotland to kill.
Druids were born with pure magic, magic which was all that was good and right. But there were some who wanted more magic than a mie had. Those Druids turned against all the good inside them and become droughs.
Hayden glanced down at Isla, the woman he had been willing to vow to protect. Her face was turned toward him with scratches on her cheek and forehead. How could he have ever wanted to shield her?
“She’s drough.” Hayden spat the word as if it was the vilest thing he had ever encountered, and next to Deirdre, it was.
Droughsdeserved only death. Anything so immoral shouldn’t be allowed to walk the earth.
Broc folded his arms across his chest. “You doona know Isla, Hayden.”
“I know all I need to know.”
“Enough!” Fallon bellowed before a full blown argument could ensue. “Sonya, can you use Isla’s Demon’s Kiss to heal her wound? I’d like to speak with her.”
Hayden fisted his hands in an effort not to jerk the vial out of Sonya’s hands and toss it away forever. The blood in the vial could heal a drough of its wounds instantly, or kill a Warrior. There was something about a drough’s blood that was poison to a Warrior.
As if Sonya knew what he was thinking, she clutched the vial in her hand and stared at him. Hayden didn’t want to harm Sonya, so he could only watch as she uncorked the vial and tilted the small silver bottle over Isla’s wound.
Only nothing came out.
“It’s empty.” Sonya lifted her eyes first to Quinn, and then looked at Broc. “There’s nothing left.”
Lucan ran a hand down his face and blew out a harsh breath. “Look at her scars. I say she had cause to use her Demon’s Kiss many times before.”
“There’s not that much in the vials,” Cara said, fi ngering her own Demon’s Kiss around her neck.
Hayden had to remind himself Cara wasn’t a drough, that it was her mother’s necklace she wore. The element which had sent him killing all droughs after his family’s murder raged within him again. There was a drough on the table and another with drough blood around her neck. He could kill them both in a matter of moments.
But if he did he’d lose the first home he’d had since his own. He’d lose the men he called friends, brothers. He lowered his eyes to Isla’s midnight locks and tried to calm the anger raging through him.
“Heal her, Sonya,” Fallon ordered. “Regardless that she served Deirdre and is a drough, I willna allow her to die in my castle.”
Hayden had seen enough. He might have found Isla and brought her to the castle, but he wouldn’t stay and help them to mend her. Once the evil was inside a drough, it was always there.
He started to turn away when Isla stiffened and let out a tortured scream that made even Hayden jerk in response. Her body began to shake on the table and blood poured from her wound.
“What’s happening?” Fallon asked.
Sonya shrugged, a look of confusion and helplessness on her face. “I have no idea.”
“Let me,” Galen said. The dark blond Warrior walked to the head of the table and placed his hand on Isla’s skull. Almost immediately he snatched his hand back with a hiss, his face losing all color.
He paused for just a moment before he fl attened his lips. “Hold her.”
Quinn grabbed Isla’s ankles. “What did you see?”
Galen shook his head and once more placed his hand on Isla’s head.
Broc, Quinn, Fallon, and Lucan all had hold of Isla. Only Hayden refused to touch her. He started to move aside so another Warrior could help when Galen put his other hand on Hayden’s head.
In a blink, Hayden could see images projected in his mind of Isla being beaten and whipped by Deirdre in ways that would have most men begging for their lives. Deirdre was vicious in her torture, her laughter ringing inside Hayden’s mind as she slashed Isla’s back over and over again, leaving Isla soaked in blood.
Isla withstood it all, her body moving with the impact of the hits, her face never showing any emotion, not even when the cuts penetrated muscle to the bone.
Hayden then saw Deirdre with her hand above Isla’s chest and a black cloud rushing over Isla to engulf her. The cloud suffocated Isla, tearing at her soul and making her see people being ripped apart, their terrifi ed screams echoing in Isla’s mind.
The images brought Hayden to his knees only to come level with a pair of the most amazing ice-blue eyes which were staring at him.
“End this,” Isla whispered. “Please, take my head.”
Not knowing if it was real or not, Hayden pushed Galen’s hand from his head, but Isla still gazed at him.
“Please,” she begged hoarsely, her eyes beseeching him. “You must kill me now.”
It was what Hayden should do. She was a drough, and droughs must die. But no matter how she pleaded with her mesmerizing blue eyes, Hayden couldn’t bring himself to do it.
Was it because of what Galen had shown him, or because of the soft pleading in her voice? Whatever it was, Hayden knew he couldn’t be the one to end her life.
Sonya once more tried to heal Isla, and this time Hayden grasped Isla’s arm when she tried to move away. Isla fought them with all her might, but she was weakened from her injury. The mix of worry and dread in Hayden’s stomach only grew the more magic Sonya poured into Isla.
Isla screamed words Hayden didn’t understand, they were so garbled with pain. No matter how they held her, she fought to get away.
Time stretched into eternity and the hall was fl ooded with magic before Isla’s eyes finally closed as she fell back into unconsciousness. Hayden was surprised to fi nd her hand holding onto his arm in a death grip, her broken nails cut into the skin of his forearm.
“Do you still want to kill her?” Galen asked, his tone clipped, angry. “After you saw what was in her mind, do you still think she deserves to die?”
Hayden didn’t bother to answer. He wasn’t sure if he could. His need to protect warred with the feelings that demanded justice for his family’s death. What he was going to do in the end, he hadn’t decided yet.
A glance at Isla’s shoulder showed the wound had mended, but not as it should have. It no longer gaped and oozed blood, but it wasn’t fully healed either.
“Isla fought Sonya’s magic,” Broc said into the silence.
Quinn shook his head. “Why would she do that?”
“She asked me to kill her,” Hayden said, still kneeling so his face was even with Isla’s. He tried to look away, but was held captivated by her haunting beauty. He was more than troubled by her request. Troubled and disturbed because he’d seen the earnestness of her appeal on her eyes. Why would she want to die? “She told me she needed to die, to end it.”
“We heard her,” Fallon said. He sighed and looked to Larena. “Do we have a spare chamber?”
Hayden climbed to his feet. Since Deirdre had destroyed the cottages they had built, everyone was housed in the castle with no room to spare. “Give her mine,” Hayden said before he changed his mind.
He rolled his eyes when everyone just stared at him. “She canna stay on the table, and all the chambers are full.”
Fallon gave a small nod. “See it done.”
Hayden watched as Sonya motioned to Broc, who gently rolled Isla onto her back and lifted her in his arms. Hayden didn’t take pleasure in the fact that he wanted to be the one who carried Isla.
That the need to hit Broc for daring to touch her had Hayden rising to his feet with his hand fisted. It was ridiculous. She was a drough.
“Are you all right?”
Hayden turned to find his closest friend, Logan, beside him. Logan was the one who kept everyone laughing. He was always ready with a jest and a smile. But there was no smile on his face now, only concern reflected in his hazel eyes.
“Aye, my friend,” Hayden lied. He tried to keep from looking at Broc carry ing Isla, but failed. Hayden hated the war going on inside of himself. It should be easy. Isla was drough, and because of that she should die.
Why then couldn’t Hayden bring himself to kill her?
Logan moved to stand in front of him. “What did you see when Galen put his hand on your head?”
The other Warriors moved closer around Hayden. All of them, it seemed, wanted to know the answer. He swallowed and tried to form the words, but couldn’t. Even after everything he had witnessed in his one hundred and eighty years of immortality, what he had seen in Isla’s mind horrifi ed him.
To see that torment done to a man was one thing, but to know it had been done to a woman, a woman who was supposed to be cherished and protected by the men of her family, sickened him.
“Horrors unlike you could possibly imagine,” Galen answered when Hayden couldn’t. “Isla suffered greatly, and repeatedly, at Deirdre’s hand, of that Hayden and I can attest to.”
Lucan leaned on the table and drummed his fi ngers. “Yet she served Deirdre.”
“Did she?” Quinn asked. His brow furrowed and he crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m not so sure. There were times I thought she might have been trying to help me in Cairn Toul. The way she spoke sometimes, as if her words held double meaning, as if she had been trying to tell me something.”
There was a snort from the back of the hall. Hayden turned to find one of the twins, Duncan, with his long brown hair, standing against the wall whittling a piece of wood.
“Let’s not forget,” Quinn ignored Duncan and continued. “We all saw Isla’s sister in the blue fl ames, bound and used by Deirdre. Though none of you saw her, there is Isla’s niece who Deirdre used her magic to keep as a child.”
Fallon walked to Larena’s side and put his arm around his wife’s shoulders. “I went inside the mountain to look for survivors who might not have left. I found a child. She was dead, the dagger still sticking from her stomach.”
“Though I wish no child death, Deirdre had corrupted her,” Quinn said. “It’s probably better that she is dead.”
Larena licked her lips and glanced at Fallon. “What now? Once Isla is healed, what do we do with her?”
“Keep her as a prisoner as she did all of us,” Duncan said.
Before Duncan could say more, his twin, Ian, put a hand on his shoulder. “It wasn’t Isla who captured us. That was Deirdre, and she’s dead.”
“I won’t allow her to be a prisoner,” Larena said before Duncan could argue with his twin.
Fallon shook his head. “Nay, we willna imprison Isla. We’ll heal her and send her on her way.”
Hayden tried to get the vision of Isla’s hauntingly beautiful ice-blue eyes out of his mind, but he couldn’t. He wanted to see her again, to make sure he hadn’t been mistaken of their color. And her vulnerability.
“What happened at Cairn Toul?” Lucan asked Hayden and Fallon.
Hayden lowered himself on a bench with his back against the table and listened with half an ear as Fallon told the others what occurred during their search of the mountain.
“And then I brought them here,” Fallon fi nished. “The rest you know.”
Quinn blew out a long breath. “I had hoped you wouldn’t find anyone, that all had managed to get away, but I fully expected them to be alive if anyone was still at the mountain.”
“It was too cold,” Hayden said, remembering how the strands of Isla’s ebony hair had been frozen.
While the MacLeod brothers gathered close together and spoke in whispers, Hayden lifted a brow when Galen and Logan sat on either side of him.
Hayden wasn’t the type of man who wanted—or needed—company. If anything, he desired to be alone with his thoughts, particularly those that warred within him now. It was how he had lived for so long, that even being at MacLeod Castle with the other Warriors sometimes got to him and had him leaving the castle.
He never went far, but just being by himself always helped.
“I willna apologize for giving you a glimpse into Isla’s mind,” Galen said after a lull of silence.
Hayden shrugged. “I didn’t ask for an apology.”
Logan cocked his head to the side and narrowed his eyes. “You didn’t see your face when you discovered she was drough. For a moment, I thought you would kill her where she lay.”
Did they think him such a monster? Hayden drew in a tired breath. He supposed he was such a beast. He couldn’t deny the urge to kill her had passed through his mind or that he still considered it. She had asked it of him, after all.
How could he ignore the fact she was drough when it was a drough who had slaughtered his family—every one of them?
“I don’t murder people,” Hayden said. “I give the droughs a fair chance at battle before I kill them.”
Logan leaned forward until his elbows rested on his knees. “I wouldna blame you for wanting to kill her. As you said, she’s a drough. And I know why you hate them so.”
He was one of the few who Hayden had confi ded in, one of the few who knew why Hayden’s hatred went so deep. Deirdre had taken something from every Warrior, so Hayden didn’t expect special treatment for the grudge he carried.
Galen rose to his feet. “I don’t know your reasons, Hayden, but I can guess. If you ever want to have a future you must let go of the past.”
Once Galen had walked away, Logan turned his head to Hayden. “Would you be sitting here if Isla wasn’t a drough?”
Hayden raised a brow. “What?”
“It’s a simple enough question. I saw how protective of her you were. I’ll ask again. Would you be sitting here if Isla wasn’t a drough?”
Hayden shook his head, unable to deny the answer.
“I didna think so.” Logan sat up and rubbed his hands on his thighs. “Arran said she was pretty.”
Arran would know, too. He, Ian, and Duncan had been locked in Deirdre’s mountain together with Quinn. The four Warriors had formed a tight bond during those awful weeks in the Pit.
Hayden had just thought his torment was over with Deirdre’s death, but the presence of a drough, even one who might have been forced to serve Deirdre, put his sanity to the test.
Hayden stayed in the corner of his chamber. He’d told himself to stay away, that he didn’t care about Isla, but his curiosity about her had swayed him. And Fallon had requested his presence. Why, Hayden wasn’t so sure.
He watched Isla thrash on the bed, her black hair tangled about her head and face. She burned with fever. Her body was flushed and sweat glistened on her skin, but he had a suspicion that’s not what made her mumble incoherently in her sleep, fear and dread visible on her oval face.
“I don’t understand,” Cara said from beside Lucan, their hands joined together. “Why didn’t our magic heal her? I’ve seen Sonya heal more serious wounds.”
Sonya shifted her thick braid over her shoulder, her gaze on Isla. “She fought our magic. It’s like she doesn’t want to be healed.”
“She did ask Hayden to kill her,” Fallon said.
Marcail sat beside the bed and wiped Isla’s brow once more with a damp cloth. “Regardless, she is in much pain. I can sense the terror within her.”
Hayden saw Quinn start toward his wife, but he wasn’t quick enough. Marcail put her hand on Isla and right before their eyes they saw the stiffness leave Isla’s body in the space of a heartbeat.
“Marcail, damn you,” Quinn said as he knelt and caught his wife against him as she crumpled to the side.
Before Marcail could answer, she leaned over and emptied her stomach in a bucket. When she fi nished and Quinn turned her in his arms, Marcail’s face was ashen and sweat beaded her brow.
Isla had begged for death and fought the healing, but still Marcail had used her magic and pulled the emotions within Isla into her own body. It was Marcail’s gift as a Druid. She could take others’ emotions into herself, though the greater the emotion the more it made Marcail ill.
Quinn held Marcail gently as the effects rushed through her body. “Why?” Quinn asked his wife.
“I could help her. Why wouldn’t I? She didn’t hurt us in Deirdre’s mountain, Quinn. Not once did she ever harm us.”
“How bad is it?”
Marcail visibly swallowed and closed her eyes. “Awful. I’ve never felt anything so ghastly in my life. Not even when I took Duncan’s pain from him. I don’t know how Isla is still alive.”
Hayden saw the slight movement on the bed and elbowed Fallon. “She moves.”
Isla knew it was a dream, but she didn’t care. She was with her sister, Lavena, once more. And in Isla’s arms was the most beautiful little girl alive—Grania, her niece.
The thick woods of her home surrounded Isla in their comfort and beauty. As a Druid she loved nature, and the closer she was to it the stronger her magic became.
The sky was clear and the birds loud as they fl ew from branch to branch while their songs filled the air. The smell of pine and oak, of fern and heather mixed together to bring the familiar smell of the forest to her. Isla could stay in the area forever.
But as always the beautiful day turned black and grim with the arrival of the mercenaries. Grania’s laughter turned into shrieks of panic as she was jerked from Isla’s arms.
Isla fought to get to her niece but the men were too strong, laughing through her struggles. Lavena yelled at Isla to get Grania, but Isla could do nothing against the strong arms that held her.
She managed to get free and tried to reach Grania, but a meaty fist slammed into her face, stopping Isla in her tracks. Then the men separated the three of them. Dread filled Isla. Not for herself but for her sister and Grania.
The dream changed again, turning darker and even more sinister as she was delivered into hell—Deirdre’s lair in the mountain. Thick black smoke surrounded her, the evil palpable as it began to drown her in the vapor.
And then, the dream was gone. For a moment Isla did nothing but lay there, unsure of what had happened. She didn’t know where she was. The anguish of her dreams had vanished. The terror of it all, however, still fi lled her.
Of a sudden, she recalled the solemn black eyes which had stared at her as she begged for death. Obviously the blond man hadn’t carried out her wishes.
Isla tried to swallow and felt her raw throat rebel at the effort. Her body burned with the ravages of a fever and her skin itched from sweating, but at least she was out of the snow and ice.
Between one heartbeat and the next she realized she wasn’t alone. She cracked open her eyes to fi nd herself staring at Fallon and Lucan MacLeod as they stood at the foot of the bed.
Isla threw off the covers and dashed toward the door she spotted to her left. Instant, agonizing pain tore through her, but she had withstood far worse in her years at Cairn Toul and she pushed through the weighty mantle of pain.
She had to get away from them, away from everyone, before it was too late! She had taken only a few steps before a big blond stepped in front of the doorway, effectively blocking her escape.
She skidded to a halt, her body aching with each breath. With frantic hands Isla clawed at the strands of hair that clung to her sweat-covered face so she could better see. Her gaze scanned the chamber to fi nd five men and three women watching her, but her gaze returned to the blond giant.
He stood silently, almost at ease, but she wasn’t fooled. He had the look of a Warrior, battle-hardened and ready for anything. At any moment.
“Let me leave,” she demanded of the chamber at large.
“Isla, you’re injured.”
She blinked and focused her vision on the man who spoke. “Broc?” Could the winged Warrior actually have sided with the MacLeods? Somehow she wasn’t surprised.
“Aye. It’s me.” His voice was soft, as if he were talking to a half-wit. “You need to rest.”
Isla shook her head, and then instantly regretted it as the chamber spun. She stepped back and ran into a wall. Her stomach churned, and she sunk her fingers into the stones to help keep herself standing. Her body was weak, and she didn’t know how long she could stand before what little strength she had was depleted.
“You have to let me go,” she panted. “Now. You have no idea what you’ve done by bringing me here.”
Fallon MacLeod stepped forward, his dark brown hair pulled in a queue at the back of his neck. He looked like the natural leader that he was. “Deirdre is dead, Isla. There is nothing for you to fear anymore.”
Isla couldn’t control the bubble of laughter that welled up inside her. She clamped a hand over her mouth and blinked back the sudden rush of tears. She shook her head and lowered her hand. “She’s not dead.”
“She is,” Lucan said.
Quinn nodded. “Listen to my brothers, Isla, for they’re correct. I saw Deirdre die with my own eyes.”
Isla briefly wondered why Marcail, who was on Quinn’s lap, looked ill, but the need to leave was too great for her to think of anything else. “Deirdre isn’t dead.”
A red-headed female with sharp amber eyes took a step toward Isla. “You have a fever, and your wound festers. Allow your body to recover. You will then see we speak the truth.”
Isla knew it was pointless to argue with them. As much as she didn’t want to say the words, she had to. “Stop it!” she yelled. “I’m not addled. I know Deirdre better than any of you. She isn’t dead, because if she was, I would be as well. We are linked through her black magic.”
The MacLeods shared a look, but it was Broc’s furrowed brow that told her he might understand what she was trying to say. Even the blond giant’s brow puckered at her words.
“Broc, I’m speaking true,” Isla said. He had to trust her so she could leave. “Deirdre isn’t dead. You have to believe me.”
Fallon shook his head. “I doona understand this. We saw Deirdre’s neck snap, and Hayden set her on fi re.”
Isla didn’t know who Hayden was and didn’t care. “Deirdre cannot be killed by a broken neck or being burned.”
“Stay here and heal,” Quinn said again. “If you leave now you’ll die.”
“If only that were true,” Isla murmured, tired to her soul. She saw the hulking blond glance away from her and she took that moment to dart toward him, intent on escaping under his arm.
She wasn’t quick enough, however. As she reached him, his arms wrapped around her like iron manacles and dragged her against his hard chest. Her injury throbbed and her bones felt as if they would crush any moment under the impact of his strength. She looked up into the same black eyes she had seen before.
His face was a mask of anger, but flickering in the dark depths of his eyes, Isla saw a glimmer of emotion, as if he battled within himself over something.
Her hands had come to rest against his chest to push away, but beneath her palms was a solid wall of hard, unyielding muscle which wouldn’t be budged.
For a moment, she had the insane urge to run her hands over his chest, to feel all that sinew moving beneath her fingertips. She lost herself in the black pits of his eyes, wondering what it would feel like to stop fighting him and lay her head on his thick shoulder, to relinquish the need to stay strong and allow him to carry her burdens for a bit.
She had seen striking men before, but there was something about the man holding her that was different, special. It could be the hardness of his black eyes or the way his blond brows slashed over those eyes giving him a harsh, sinister look.
It could be the strong jaw and chin and hollowed cheeks or the way his blond hair fell haphazardly around his face and shoulders, as if he raked his hands through it often.
Whatever it was that held her it urged her not to fi ght him, to give into the new and wondrous sensations his touch caused. Her eyes dropped to his lips. What would it be like to press her mouth against his? She had never kissed a man before, never wanted to.
What was it about this man? How was he connected to the MacLeods? And what was wrong with her? Had her wound affected her thinking and her body?
All too soon she remembered where she was, and why she needed to leave.
“You should have taken my head as I asked,” she told him.
His wide, firm lips compressed into a tight line. She knew she should fight him, but she was held transfi xed by the handsome face staring back at her.
“Nay.” That one word was said with finality, his deep voice laced with an edge.
Though she couldn’t see much of his body, the way he held her effortlessly against him told her all she needed to know about his strength. The fact he was a Warrior was a given.
She also noticed while the others wore tunic and breeches, this Warrior wore a kilt of blue, green, and white with a saffron shirt beneath it that did nothing to hide his chest corded with muscles, muscles her hands itched to caress.
“Please,” she tried again, disturbed to her soul at her reaction to this man. “Let me leave. You’re all in terrible danger if I stay.”
His gaze flickered over her shoulder, and that’s when Isla heard the chant.
“Nay!” she screamed and tried to wrench out of the Warrior’s arms. “Do not make me slumber!”
The last thing she wanted to do was go back to sleep and be tormented by her nightmares once more. There was no chance for her to fight the magic, though, not in her damaged state. She tried to beg the Warrior once more, but the sleeping chant took her before she could.
Hayden looked down at the woman in his arms. Isla’s ice-blue eyes had gone wild when she’d heard Sonya’s chant, her fingers digging into his shoulders.
Now, Isla’s eyes were closed, her head resting back against his arm. He could still hear her soft, velvet voice beseeching him to allow her leave the castle, could still feel the heat of her gaze as she looked over his face.
Had she liked what she saw? He didn’t want to care . . . but he was strangely curious. He’d never had trouble enticing women into his bed before. Yet there had been no emotion on Isla’s face as she looked her fill of him.
“What did you do to her?” Hayden demanded of Sonya.
Sonya lifted a shoulder. “I put her to sleep. She was becoming irate, and she needs to heal.”
“She was giving us information. And you didn’t see the fear in her eyes. She didna want to sleep.”
“Sleep will heal her.”
“I don’t think so,” Marcail said. “If what I took from her happens when she sleeps, it’s no wonder she became so agitated when she heard the chant. She’ll be back in that same distress once again.”
Hayden lifted Isla’s small body in his arms. They had taken her dirty, damaged gown and replaced it with a plain white chemise which was much too thin. Much too revealing. Even now Hayden could make out Isla’s small, pert breasts and her dark nipples. Most of the dirt from Isla’s face, arms, and chest was gone leaving only creamy skin he had glimpsed on Cairn Toul.
Skin he once more longed to caress.
To Hayden’s surprise, he found his body reacting to the soft curves beneath the simple linen. He knew the feel of her breasts pressed against him. He knew the feel of her small hands on his chest. He knew the slender curves that tantalized and teased his body.
And saints help him, he knew the way her lips parted softly, beckoning him to taste her, as she looked at him. He didn’t want to respond to Isla, but it seemed his body was not his own where she was concerned.
Hayden glared at Sonya instead of moving toward the bed. He wanted to know why Isla thought Deirdre was alive, but it would have to wait. And he’d have to wait for another look into her startling ice-blue eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Sonya said. “I thought it would be better if she rested.”
Fallon rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefi nger. “You didn’t know. How long will she sleep?”
Hayden silently cursed. Isla might be a drough, but he couldn’t forget the fear in her eyes. Whatever it was Marcail took from Isla earlier was enough to frighten the drough so that she clung to him, a stranger, someone who prevented her from leaving.
It took a moment for Hayden to realize Lucan was standing beside him, a dark brow raised in question. Lucan’s sea green eyes watched him carefully.
“What is it?” Hayden inquired.
“I asked if you planned to hold her the entire time she slept or lay her down?”
Hayden blew out a breath and walked to the bed. He glanced at Marcail to find the Druid studying him as he lay Isla down. Hayden pulled the covers over Isla and turned to leave.
“Was she telling the truth?” Fallon asked.
Hayden stopped and turned to face the others. “She’s determined to either leave or have herself killed. All you have to do is look into her eyes to see she believes what she is speaking about Deirdre. Whether it’s the truth or not, I cannot say.”
“I’m inclined to believe her,” Quinn said. “Deirdre showed me Isla’s sister and niece. She used them to keep Isla doing what she wanted.”
Broc leaned a hand against the stone wall and dropped his head back so he looked at the ceiling. “Isla kept to herself except when Deirdre would send for her. Even then, she held all emotion from her face. The fear we saw just now was real.” He lowered his head and looked at Fallon. “And that worries me.”
“We all know how powerful Deirdre had gotten,” Lucan said. “What if Isla is telling the truth? What if Deirdre isn’t dead?”
Marcail moaned and buried her head in Quinn’s neck. “God help us all.”
“Then where is Deirdre?” Fallon asked.
Though Hayden hated to have to ask it, he knew he had to. “Did you find her body in the mountain?”
Fallon shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Holy hell,” Quinn mumbled and held onto Marcail tighter.
Hayden found his gaze on Isla, her pallor matching that of the linens. She would know where Deirdre was.
And Hayden intended to ensure she told them everything.
Dunmore kicked at the log in the hearth, sending sparks flying into the air, before he reclined in his chair. A moment later the log broke in half with a loud crack.
He had retreated to the cottage he kept close to Cairn Toul so he could get to Deirdre easily when she needed him. He still couldn’t believe she was gone. She had given him plenty of coin for his work, but to know that he was doing something for someone as great as she had brought meaning to his life.
Ever since he had found her as a lad of just sixteen summers, he had known Deirdre would do great things. It had never entered his mind that she would be killed. By the MacLeods. She was the greatest drough to ever live. It should never have happened.
“I’m not dead, Dunmore.”
Dunmore sat up in his chair and looked around his cottage as he reached for his sword that lay beside him. He was alone just as he had been a moment before. But the voice had come from inside his head.
“You’re not hearing things. My body was destroyed, as well as most of my wyrran. My magic is regenerating my body even as we speak. I will have a form once more, Dun-more. Until then, there is something I need you to do.”
It never entered Dunmore’s mind that the voice in his head wasn’t Deirdre. He had seen what her magic could do, and he knew she had lived for a thousand years. She was the goddess she claimed to be.
“How can I serve?” he asked.
Deirdre chuckled. “My wyrran are cleaning my mountain. I need you to get to Cairn Toul quickly. I’ve a need for a Druid. The MacLeods will pay for ruining my empire.”
“I will see it done,” Dunmore vowed and leapt to his feet.
Copyright 2011 by Donna Grant
Donna Grant has been praised for her “totally addictive” and “unique and sensual” stories. She's the author of more than twenty novels spanning multiple genres of romance—Scottish Medieval, dark fantasy, time travel, paranormal, and erotic. Grant's newest series, Dark Sword, promises to be her most addictive yet. Don't miss this intoxicating series with Druids, primeval gods, and immortal Highlanders that are dark, dangerous, and delicious.
She lives in Texas with her husband, two children, a dog, and three cats where she's weathered five hurricanes in the last three years. To learn more about Donna and her books, please visit her at her website and her blog.