The weather didn’t matter. The temperatures didn’t matter.
No feelings, no emotions.
That was the kind of life Malcolm Munro led. The kind of life he’d come to accept.
He had already been walking down such a road when the primeval god inside him was unbound. Evil had infused him and, had he been worried about his soul, the god might have had a chance to take over.
But Malcolm hadn’t been worried, nor had he cared what happened. He was dead inside. The only thing that kept him attached was the thread of family that was all but severed now.
Malcolm hunkered next to one of the two-hundred-year-old pines. It was private property he was on, but with Rothiemurchus being the largest surviving area of ancient woodland in Europe, there was nowhere else he wanted to be.
The forest was a living being. In every tree, every flower there was a timeline of history waiting to be discovered. Malcolm had no need. He knew what was there.
He put his hand on the bark of the pine and inhaled deeply. Just a few steps away was a tree well over three centuries old. It stood strong and unyielding, a protector for the forest.
Malcolm once thought himself such a guardian for his clan. How easily things changed, and always so unexpectedly.
He picked up a scent of deer, splintering his thoughts out of the darkness. His eyes snapped open and they hastily scanned the dense forest of rowan, birch, holly, willow, and juniper to name a few.
A herd of red deer was nearing. The thrill of the hunt was the only thing that caused any sort of excitement to rush through him.
Malcolm’s enhanced hearing picked up the sound of the deer running toward him, their hooves pounding upon the ground. He remained squatting near the tree, waiting.
His heart began the rhythmic thumping of expectation, of eagerness. A slow tilt pulled at his lips when he felt the rumble of thunder through his body. A mortal wouldn’t have heard or felt it, but Malcolm was different—in so many ways. Lightning sizzled in his veins, yearning to break free.
It was always the case when a storm rolled in, and the one coming was going to be vicious.
With the hunt and the storm, for just a moment, Malcolm felt a smidgen of contentment. Just as soon as the emotion was named, it vanished. He refused to think more about it as the deer came into view.
His claws, long and maroon-colored, extended from his fingers. He could go days without food, but hunting helped to curb more of his … ferocious … parts.
Malcolm shifted silently, his gaze locked on one of the does. Just as he was about to give chase, a wave of magic—untainted and exquisite—brushed him.
He paused, giving the deer time to pass him. It wasn’t the first time he’d felt the magic over the past week. Each time was the same. It was strong magic, pure magic. And it glided over him like the softest down, the smoothest seduction.
It cajoled, persuaded. It enticed.
This time, however, it was closer. Though Malcolm knew he shouldn’t, he found himself rising to his feet and turning toward Aviemore where the magic originated.
His claws and fangs disappeared and his maroon skin faded as he walked to the small, charming village. There was no hesitation, no thought. He had to see who the magic came from and why it affected him so deeply.
When he arrived, Malcolm kept to the shadows between buildings as he reached the center of town. He watched the traffic around Tesco’s with lazy abandon. People rushed in and out, sometimes with one bag, sometimes laden with groceries.
Aviemore was one of the busiest towns in the Cairngorm area. In the summer, tourists came to golf, hike, bike, and see the beautiful scenery like Rothiemurchus. In the winter, it was a skier’s paradise. Slopes in every direction. It didn’t matter what time of year it was with the many distilleries near and around the River Spey to visit.
From his spot situated between the buildings, Malcolm observed a young family walk out of Tesco’s. The parents were holding hands while their two young boys raced each other to the car.
Malcolm wondered if they knew how precious their smiles and laughter were. He couldn’t recall the last time he had done either. There hadn’t been a reason. At least not for him.
There wasn’t much left of his soul, but what remained reminded him often of what his life could have been had he not traveled that road from Edinburgh to MacLeod Castle five centuries earlier to check on Larena and Fallon.
Deirdre would never have sent her Warriors to kill him. Broc wouldn’t have found him near death, nor would Broc have brought him to the castle to be healed.
Sonya wouldn’t have used every bit of healing magic she possessed, and he wouldn’t have woken to find himself scarred—and maimed.
Malcolm wouldn’t have faced a bleak future of not ruling his clan and having nowhere to go. He wouldn’t have looked at each day as if it were a curse instead of a blessing.
He wouldn’t have left MacLeod Castle. He wouldn’t have been trapped by Deirdre and had his god—a primeval god he hadn’t known traveled through his bloodline—unbound. He wouldn’t have been blackmailed by Deirdre to do her bidding in order to keep Larena safe. He wouldn’t have been pulled forward through time by four centuries.
And he wouldn’t have lost his soul.
All because he’d wanted to see how his cousin fared.
Malcolm pushed away from the corner of a building and crossed the street to amble into Tesco’s to see exactly what was inside. Even though he had been in this time for a couple of years, he still found it odd to witness how far his beloved Scotland had come in four hundred years.
Being pulled forward through time with Deirdre hadn’t been something Malcolm was prepared for. He had acclimated quickly thanks to the primeval god inside him. Yet, he missed the way things were.
The quiet that settled over the land, the simplicity of life. It hadn’t been an easy life. He’d had to hunt for his food, and if he missed a kill, he went hungry. It had been a learning experience every Scot endured—man or woman, child or adult.
The beauty of his land hadn’t faded, but the people weren’t the same. Not worse, not better, just … different. There was peace within the clans, which some would say was a vast improvement.
It wasn’t as if Malcolm had enjoyed the clan battles. They had been a necessity of life as a Highlander, especially one who was son to the laird. A clan, after all, was only as strong as its laird.
Malcolm walked through the produce aisle before he turned left and went down another aisle. He heard a gasp from a woman beside him. There wasn’t a need to look to know she’d seen his face.
Odd how he sometimes forgot the one thing that should never be forgotten.
“Did you see his face?” she whispered to her companion.
Malcolm couldn’t blame her. He didn’t enjoy looking in the mirror. It was one of the reasons he let his beard grow. Not only did it hide some of his scars, but he didn’t need to shave and see the horror that was his face.
When Deirdre unbound his god, she also used her magic to hide his scars. His god, Daal, had been the one who healed the injury to his right arm and shoulder.
For a short period of time, Malcolm looked as he once had. On the outside.
Inside, he was still a broken, damaged man. There was no anger, no joy, no peace. There was … nothing. Because of that, Daal had naught to use to take over. Malcolm’s icy demeanor, his bleak outlook, left him with an iron fist of control over his god.
As soon as the last bit of his soul was gone, however, things would change. Daal would take over, and Larena would be hunting him.
She wouldn’t be alone either. The rest of the Warriors and Druids at MacLeod Castle would use every ounce of magic and power they had to track him and kill him.
If it came to that. Malcolm could make it easy on everyone and take his own head. It wouldn’t be simple, but he hadn’t been a superb hunter for nothing. The right trap would take the head off anything, even a Warrior.
He walked out of Tesco’s on his way back to the forest when the feel of magic stopped him dead in his tracks. It wasn’t just any magic either. It was particularly sweet, infinitely wild, and exceedingly sensual.
It left him reeling, listing.
He swiveled his head to find the source of the magic jogging across the street toward him while she held onto her purse.
Her hair was the color of chocolate and hung in large curls past her shoulders. Those curls bounced while she ran. When she reached the sidewalk on his side of the street, she smiled easily at a woman who passed her.
Malcolm couldn’t tear his gaze from her oval face. From her high cheekbones and small nose to her full lips and gracefully arched eyebrows. Her eyes, a magnificent color of clear blue, were her most dazzling feature.
He swiftly stepped into the shadows behind a group of people and discreetly watched the Druid. Her khaki jacket hung open, revealing a deep purple shirt that hugged her breasts. As she passed, his gaze went to her perfectly shaped ass the jacket didn’t cover.
Malcolm took a deep breath and slowly released it. She was a mie, a Druid who used the natural magic they were born with.
There hadn’t been a drop of the cloying, sickening feel of black magic used by the droughs, Druids who gave their souls to Satan in order to use the more powerful magic.
Once the Druid was inside Tesco’s, Malcolm was going to walk away. Except he couldn’t. He remained where he was for the next fifteen minutes waiting for another glimpse of her beauty, for another wash of her magic until she strolled out of the store.
She kept her gaze on the ground. As she neared him, she tucked her hair behind her ear and glanced in his direction. For the briefest of seconds their gazes met, clashed. Held.
Malcolm became lost in the clear blue of her eyes. There was no guile, deceit, no duplicity. Just wonderfully pure, beautiful magic—and a stunning woman.
He waited until she was back in her royal-blue Renault and drove away before he moved. Malcolm wasn’t sure what happened with the Druid, or why he couldn’t seem to walk away from her.
It wasn’t just her loveliness or her magic that entrapped him. It was … her. The complete package. He wanted to pursue her, to learn more of her.
But his feet didn’t follow. It would’ve been easy too. Her magic was different than any other Druid’s he’d ever encountered.
He glanced into the window of Tesco’s and saw his reflection. The mangled man he spied with long, wild hair wasn’t fit company for anyone. Malcolm turned his mind away from the Druid to the forest where he should have stayed.
It wasn’t until the sounds of Aviemore faded, replaced by noises of the forest as he let the trees surround him that he relaxed. It was always his curiosity of mortals that pulled him away.
And it was the mortals who sent him back.
His god, Daal, thundered for another feel of the Druid’s magic. It would be easy to find her. Her magic was unique and too easy to follow. That in itself gave him pause.
His mobile gave a quick vibration to alert him of a text. Malcolm pulled it out of his back pocket and saw it was from Phelan.
Malcolm had assumed Phelan was like him—a loner. Everyone knew Phelan’s only friend was Charon. Yet, to Malcolm’s surprise, Phelan had called him weeks ago. At first Malcolm thought it was regarding the business of the drough they hunted—Jason Wallace—but it turned out to be much more than that.
He almost didn’t answer the text, but Malcolm knew Phelan would keep on until he responded. It’d been this way since Phelan and Aisley’s wedding. Phelan was still pissed that he hadn’t lingered for the ceremony.
Malcolm quickly typed, “I’m fine,” and hit send.
He snorted when Phelan sent another message asking him to meet with him, Aisley, Charon, and Laura in Ferness.
They were getting as bad as Larena, checking in on him. Though he didn’t try to hide what he was becoming, he’d believed everyone was too busy to notice. Obviously he’d been wrong.
“Another time,” he replied and returned his phone to his pocket.
Malcolm stayed off the well-worn trails through the forest. He preferred the untamed landscape and whatever animal he might encounter.
It was while he meandered through the trees that he allowed the memories of his old life to surface. He had been raised to be laird of his clan. It had been his destiny.
How was he to know his bloodline carried a primeval god dragged up from his prison in Hell by droughs? As much as that angered him, he couldn’t blame the Celts for asking the droughs for help so many centuries ago when Rome had tried to take them.
The Celts held Rome off as long as they could, but the Romans hadn’t given up easily. So many families sacrificed loved ones in their bid to remain free of Rome’s rule.
The Celtic tribal leaders knew they were on the verge of losing. When the mies had no answer, they turned to the droughs.
The droughs used their black magic to unleash ancient gods into the best warriors of each family who volunteered. Those men, fearless and already seasoned in battle, became something otherworldly. They suddenly possessed unimaginable speed, strength, and power.
But they also changed appearance. Each god favored a certain power and color. When the god was in control, the men’s skin changed hue. Long, dangerous claws extended from their fingers and fangs from their teeth.
They were no longer men—but Warriors.
When Rome was defeated, the droughs tried to pull the gods out, but the gods refused to relinquish their hold on the men. It was only the combined magic of the droughs and mies that bound the gods inside the men.
It was then ordered that all spells used in the binding be destroyed, as well as the spell used to unbind the gods. The mies complied, but as usual, the treacherous droughs didn’t.
While the Warriors returned to men, remembering nothing of their defeat of Rome, the gods were moving through the bloodline to the strongest warrior of each family.
Until the time of a fierce drough named Deirdre. She found the scroll detailing how to unbind the gods. She also found a name—MacLeod. That’s where she began to build her army to take over the world.
The MacLeods, however, didn’t go quietly. The three brothers, equal in everything, shared a god, and they fought Deirdre. When they got free they returned to what was left of their castle.
Malcolm sat and leaned against a tree. The MacLeods. He remembered when he was just a lad and first witnessed Larena shift into her Warrior form. He’d been amazed and captivated.
Larena was his cousin from a century earlier who had her goddess unbound to protect a scroll that held all the names of the first Warriors.
They were two lonely people who became friends. When Malcolm was old enough, he vowed to help Larena keep hidden from Deirdre. He never expected that promise would lead them to the MacLeods and Larena’s mate—Fallon.
Malcolm liked Fallon MacLeod instantly. Fallon was a good man who was a perfect match for Larena in every way. MacLeod Castle became a haven for Warriors and Druids who stood against Deirdre.
Malcolm dropped his head back against the tree and grimaced. How he’d eagerly gone to the castle, excited to see a place so full of magic. Only he’d nearly been killed. That’s when the castle became a reminder of what Malcolm’s life could have been. The sadness of what it was, was a daily reminder.
Without the use of his right arm, Malcolm was inadequate in battle. The fact he wasn’t a Warrior relegated him to remain behind. With the women. Where they, as Druids, would protect him.
It’d been too much for a man who was reared to protect others. Malcolm began to despise everyone in the castle. It wasn’t fair or rational, but those had been his feelings.
Then he became a Warrior. He went from fighting against evil to fighting for it.
He wanted to say that was when his soul died, but Malcolm knew that happened when he, as a man with only one good arm, couldn’t find his place in the world.
“A shitty world it is too,” he murmured. “And still no place for me.”
Copyright © 2013 by Donna Grant