Shadow Highlander

A Dark Sword Novel

Dark Sword (Volume 5)

Donna Grant

St. Martin's Paperbacks

Forbidden Highlander
ONE
Summer 1603
Edinburgh Castle
 
Fallon stood in the corridor outside the great hall, his fists clenched at his sides as he struggled to keep his breathing steady. The sounds within were deafening. He'd been in Edinburgh Castle for only a few hours, but the need to run, hard and fast, to the shelter of his castle on the west coast of Scotland consumed him.
Calm. Stay calm.
An image of his brothers flashed in his mind, and he was reminded of why he had left the safe haven of his home for a nest of vipers.
I'm here for Lucan and his mate, Cara. I'm here for Quinn. I'm here for our future.
Fallon licked his lips and forced himself to open the doors and enter the great hall. As soon as he was through the doors, he moved to the shadows to watch and observe. His gaze took in the long hall, the hammer beam ceiling, and the candelabras that stood around the room offering light in addition to the sun that poured through the windows on either side.
Edinburgh Castle was massive in size, and the greathall was no different. Unlike Fallon's hall, Edinburgh Castle's bespoke opulence that could only come from the king himself. Everything was polished to a sparkle.
Fallon's chest tightened at the number of bodies in the hall. He was used to having his own space and, sometimes even, the entire castle to himself. He didn't like the crowd or how close they moved around him, brushing against him as if it were all right to do so.
It amazed him that they had no idea what he was, what was inside him that could unleash at any moment and rip them to shreds. To them, he was just a man. But he knew the death and destruction the primeval god inside him was capable of.
His heart pounded violently in his chest. If he didn't concentrate, he would run from the hall and make his stay at the castle that much longer. With that frightening thought in mind, he forced his lungs open and leaned against the stone wall to let his gaze move around the room.
Edinburgh Castle was a fortress, a magnificent work of art. The castle, on its rocky outcrop, dominated the city. Long ago, a Celtic tribe had built a fort atop the hill for they had known the advantage of the rock. The future kings of Scotland had also seen the benefit.
"You look ill at ease, friend."
Fallon tensed and glanced at the scrawny, pale man who sidled up next to him. He was tall, but his face was long, his nose hawkish, and his lips so thin they were almost nonexistent.
When Fallon didn't respond, the man shifted his feet. "I'm Baron Iver MacNeil."
"Baron," Fallon said with a small incline of his head.He didn't have time for pompous idiots, especially the skinny lump beside him.
A smile pulled at Fallon's lips at the thought that he could break the baron in half with a touch from his pinkie. It was no wonder Fallon didn't see many brawny Highlanders at the castle. They preferred to stay on their land and rule their clan. It was the oafs, the ones more interested in furthering their own ambitions, that preferred to stay as close to the king as they could.
It sickened Fallon to a degree that he wanted to lash out at everyone. Rage filled his vision. He felt his skin prickle, the telltale sign that he was about to lose control and let the beast out.
"Are you here to see the king?" Iver asked, unaware of the turmoil inside Fallon.
Fallon swallowed and fought to keep from rolling his eyes. By sheer will alone, he pulled his anger under control. "Aye. I've a need that I'd see settled posthaste."
"You know the king isn't in residence," Iver said with a smirk. "He rarely visits Scotland anymore."
This was not what Fallon wanted to hear. "He's not here?"
"Not at the moment, though I did hear a rumor that he was on his way."
Shite. "Thank you for the information."
Iver cackled, the sound harsh and loud to Fallon's enhanced hearing. "I'm as close to the king as any. If you'd like, I can help you. Who are you, friend?"
"I doubt you can aid me. And my name is Fallon MacLeod."
Just as he expected, Iver's eyes widened. "MacLeod?"
"Aye, you heard correctly."
Iver's licked his lips nervously. "The MacLeod lands are long gone. They were divided by other clans centuries ago."
As if Fallon didn't know that already. "I know."
"What does your laird want? Does he think King James will be able to gain him back his lands?"
Fallon turned his head to look the weasel beside him in the eye. He didn't trust Iver and knew the insignificant man couldn't help him in the least. Yet, Fallon got perverse pleasure in seeing him squirm. "I am laird, and though my family may have lost our lands, the castle still stands. It's mine."
"Ah, I see," Iver said with an anxious laugh. He licked his lips again and glanced around him. "I truly may be able to help you with your request."
Fallon decided he would hold his tongue just in case Iver could indeed help. Fallon crossed his arms over his chest and thought of his brothers, of his home, of the peace he wanted more than anything.
He had left his younger brother Lucan and Lucan's new bride, Cara, at MacLeod Castle--a castle he was in Edinburgh to ensure reverted back to the MacLeods. The only one not at their family castle was Quinn, the youngest of them.
A fresh wave of pain washed over Fallon as he thought of his baby brother. Though it was only a little over a month since their lives had changed so drastically, it felt more like a lifetime.
Fallon still remembered finding the parchment stuck between two crumbling stones in the gatehouse wall.He had known without reading it who it was from. Deirdre.
Bile rose in his throat every time he thought of the depraved bitch. Deirdre was a drough, a sect of Druids who took a blood ritual and gave themselves to evil and black magic. It was black magic that had released the god inside Fallon and his brothers, a god that gave them immortality and powers to wreak havoc on unsuspecting mortals.
At least that's what Deirdre, the most powerful drough, wanted in her quest for dominance. Fallon and his brothers had been the first to have their god unbound three hundred years before. He still recalled the excruciating pain when his skin had sizzled and his bones popped in and out of their joints as if the god stretched inside him.
He was a Warrior, descended from the first Warriors who accepted the primeval gods into themselves to drive Rome from Britain. The Druids, once a mighty people, had divided into two groups. The droughs, who preferred black magic, and the mies, Druids who used their magic only for good.
It was the threat of Rome and their dominance that had pulled the two sects of Druids together. They had combined their magic to create a spell that would call forth ancient gods imprisoned in Hell and long forgotten.
Their plan worked. The warriors whom the gods chose were the greatest in their tribes, and with the combined power from the gods, the men turned into Warriors. An unstoppable force that saved Britain.
For a time.
After the Romans left, the Druids were unable to coax the gods from the men as they had expected. The only recourse left to the Druids was to bind the gods. Once again, the droughs and mies combined their magic.
No one, least of all the Druids, expected the gods to move through the bloodline from father to son through the generations, residing in the strongest of the lineage each time until they could be called forth again.
The MacLeods had been such a family.
How Fallon loathed what he was. It was Deirdre who had found them, Deirdre who had destroyed his entire clan, and Deirdre who had ruined his life.
He still wasn't sure how he, Lucan, and Quinn had escaped Deirdre and her mountain all those centuries ago, but once they had, they had kept themselves hidden. For over three hundred years they lived like ghosts in the crumbling ruin of their home, hiding from the world, hiding from themselves, but battling Deirdre in her quest for supremacy.
Then Cara had come into their lives. None of them could have foreseen what would happen to the MacLeod brothers when Lucan walked into the castle with Cara's unconscious body in his arms.
A small smile pulled at Fallon's lips as he thought of how protective Lucan was of his woman. Lucan, who had been the rock for him and Quinn during those awful years, deserved the love and happiness he had found.
They had discovered almost too late that Deirdre was after Cara for her Druid blood. A great battle had ensued, but not once had the brothers thought to send Cara away to save themselves. Lucan wouldn't have allowed it anyway.
That night, that battle, changed Fallon almost as much as when his god had been released. He was no longer the man who had kept a bottle of wine in his hands at all times to dull the god's voice within him.
He had ignored his god, denied what he was, so that when it came time to save Cara, he hadn't been sure if he could. Yet, his god had answered his call and turned him into the Warrior, the monster, he had feared for so long.
In doing so, he had been able to help save Cara. The MacLeods had thwarted Deirdre yet again. Or so they had thought.
Until Fallon had found the parchment.
He'd memorized the words. They haunted his sleep and his waking hours, just as Quinn's face did.
Something pricked his palms. He glanced down to see his black claws had extended and were digging into the flesh of his hands. He glanced at Iver, but the fool was too preoccupied staring at a servant's ample breasts to notice and talking nonstop about his fortune and title. Fallon took a deep breath to manage his temper and didn't let it out again until the god receded.
It was always so whenever he thought about how Deirdre had captured Quinn. She held him in her fortress, Cairn Toul Mountain, awaiting Fallon and Lucan. The bitch knew they wouldn't allow her to hold their brother. But she wanted them to come.
And they would.
Fallon couldn't wait to get his hands around her slim neck. He would squeeze until he heard her bones break, until her eyes bulged, and the life left her body. Only then would he be satisfied. He would live the rest of hislife as the monster he was in peace. Just knowing the evil that grew over the land would be gone was all he needed.
"You look like you could rip someone's head off," Iver said with an uneasy chuckle.
"Relax. It's not you. Yet."
Iver let out a sigh and moved a step toward Fallon. "Depending on what you were willing to give in return, I may be able to get some of your land restored to you. If, of course, you have proof you are a MacLeod. Truth be told, I had assumed there were none left."
"I gather you've heard the legend of my clan." Though Fallon hated to bring up, what had happened to his clan, the fear and curiosity, might work to his advantage.
Iver's beady black eyes became intense as his interest grew. "Oh, aye, MacLeod. Everyone has heard the tale. Is it true? Was your clan murdered?"
"Aye. Every man, woman, and child was killed."
When Iver's smile widened in glee, Fallon had to stop himself from punching him in the nose.
"What happened?" Iver asked. "The account is that none survived."
"Three survived. Three brothers, to be exact. Fallon, Lucan, and Quinn."
"Fallon," Iver whispered. "You were named after your ancestor."
Fallon didn't correct him. Let the fool think he was a descendant. Iver wouldn't believe the truth anyway. "I am rightful laird of the clan MacLeod."
"Aye, you are. You deserve your lands." Iver rubbed his hands together, anticipation making his black eyes glow. "I will send a missive to the king immediately."
But Fallon wasn't fooled. "Thank you, but I'd rather see the king myself. Are you sure you heard he was on his way to Edinburgh?"
"Aye," Iver said. "That's why so many more have come to Edinburgh Castle. It has been many years since the king has come to Scotland."
Fallon quirked a brow. There was much he wanted to say regarding that fact, but decided it wouldn't be wise to badmouth a king when he was about to ask that same king for his castle to be returned.
"I appreciate the news," Fallon said, and moved away before Iver could speak again.
As he walked to a new corner and settled himself to see if he could hear more about the king's arrival, the crowd around him thinned and he caught a flash of color. He turned his head and found himself staring across the hall into a face of unbelievable grace and beauty. A face he knew he would never forget, even if he lived for eternity.
She was so stunning that he had pushed away from the wall and started toward her before he realized what he was about. The need to get closer, to take in her loveliness, goaded him onward, much as his god pushed at his rage.
Fallon kept his feet rooted in place by force of will alone, but he couldn't tear his gaze from her mesmerizing oval face. She held herself with elegance and dignity, a noblewoman by birth.
Someone bumped into her from behind, and there was a subtle shift of awareness about her that only a Warrior would understand, only a Warrior would note.
He was intrigued more by the moment. ThoughHighland women were known to be strong and courageous, they weren't Warriors.
Just as quickly as she had taken a stance, she relaxed, the perfection back in place.
Fallon let his gaze wander to his heart's content. It had been so long since he'd laid eyes on something so ... stunning. Her lips were wide and full, her smile easy and contagious as she spoke to others around her.
She had impossibly high cheekbones and a small nose that had the slightest lift at the end of it.
His enhanced hearing picked up a conversation that made him pause.
"She's incredible, isn't she?" a male whispered. "Lady Larena Monroe is her name. There isn't a man in the castle that doesna want her in his bed, and there isn't a man that wouldna kill for her if she but said the word."
Fallon knew they had to be speaking of the woman his gaze was locked on. He wanted to hear more, but he wanted to be closer to her as well.
Unable to stop himself, he weaved through the mob around the perimeter of the great hall. He edged closer to Larena Monroe, admiring the cut of her burgundy gown and the way it clung to the swells of her breasts before hugging her trim waist. She held her hands together at her waist, her long, slim fingers intertwined as she listened to an older woman with a bulbous nose.
Fallon peered through the space of two men and watched Lady Larena. Her skin was the color of cream, and she had eye-catching blond hair that was piled artfully atop her head. She had wide, expressive eyes that captured whoever she looked at, and a mouth he couldn't stop fantasizing about kissing.
He was enraptured, awestruck by one woman.
Fallon's blood quickened, his heart raced, and God help him, his balls tightened. Lust roared within him, demanding he taste the unblemished skin that beckoned him so sweetly.
Then Larena turned her head and looked straight at him with eyes a dark, smoky blue that seemed to see him for what he really was. Fallon sucked in air to his lungs and held himself still. She tipped her head in acknowledgment, her golden halo of hair a beacon in the hall.
As soon as she turned her gaze away, he stepped back through the crowd and into the shadows of a corner. He recognized the yearning that flared inside him. He recognized it ... and feared it.
He was here to make sure his castle stayed his, not slake his need between a woman's thighs. Despite how comely the woman was.
The MacLeods might have lost their lands with the massacre and Quinn's subsequent disappearance, but Fallon would fight with everything he had to secure the castle as theirs for eternity. No longer would he and his brothers hide away like ghosts. It was time to take a stand, and if others discovered what they were and tried to harm them, then they risked their own lives.
Fallon ran a hand over his jaw as he hungered for a taste of wine, anything to help dull the ache of desire in his loins. If James VI were in residence here instead of England, Fallon might be able to return to the castle soon. As it was, Scotland's king preferred to live in England and rule both countries from there.
The rumor that James was on his way to Scotlandwas just that, a rumor, but Fallon needed to discover if it was true or not.
There wasn't time to travel to London and seek an audience, despite his power to travel many leagues in the blink of an eye. Fallon could only use his power to "jump" to places he had been before. Since he had never been to London, he could end up in a field or with half his body in a wall.
Fallon would give himself the rest of the day to learn if the king was indeed coming to Edinburgh. If so, then he would stay. If not, Fallon would return to MacLeod Castle and talk with Lucan about whether they could take the time for Fallon to travel to London.
Despite the king's absence, Edinburgh Castle still teemed with nobility and people seeking to exchange favors with powerful lords. Maybe Iver had been correct and people were converging on the castle because the king was coming.
Fallon remembered vividly the day his father had brought him to Edinburgh. It had been just a year prior to the massacre, and his father had wanted to introduce him to the king and the nobility as the future laird of the MacLeods.
Da had told him often that it was in his best interest to know everyone, especially if they influenced the king in any way. It didn't mean Fallon had to support them, but a laird needed to know the ins and outs of nobility and royalty to keep the clan safe.
His father had been correct. It was too bad no one had known about the beautiful, evil drough who would destroy everything just a year later.
Disgusted with himself, his lust, and the hand fate had dealt him, Fallon turned on his heel and left the hall. He couldn't stand the crush of people or the stench of sweat that hung in the air. He missed the view from the towers of his castle where he could watch the waves crash into the cliffs and listen to the birds squawking and flying with the air currents.
He made it back to his chamber, a cold sweat running down his face as he leaned against the closed door inside his room. His hands shook, but in the solitude of his chamber, he didn't hide them.
His gaze landed on the bottle of wine he kept near him always, to remind him of what he had ignored, of what he had almost lost, and the war he had before him.
Lucan had shouldered the brunt of the responsibility while Fallon had sunk into the oblivion of the wine day in and day out. It was Lucan who had dealt with Quinn's rages, it was Lucan who had mended and cleaned the castle to make it habitable. As eldest, Fallon should have been the one who had seen to all those things.
Fallon had neglected his brothers. Quinn, who had lost his wife and son in the slaughter of their clan, hadn't been able to control his anger, which fueled the god inside him. It was rare that some part of the Warrior didn't show on Quinn. He couldn't manage his wrath, and so couldn't command the god at will.
Instead of helping his brothers, Fallon had ignored them, intent on his own pain, his own fury.
Fallon stumbled to the table and gripped the wine in his unsteady hand. His father would be ashamed of him. He hadn't been the leader his father had told him hewas, had trained him to be. Fallon had been a coward afraid of facing the truth of his future and learning how to control the god as Lucan had.
Except now he had a chance to redeem himself.
After several moments as Fallon battled with himself, he released the wine and pushed from the table. His castle was being renovated and pieced back together. It might never shine with its former glory, but it would be a home again. A future awaited him there.
It wasn't just the brothers anymore either. There was Cara, and the other four Warriors who had come to their aid when Deirdre attacked. And they had a second Druid, Sonya, who had been told by the trees to help Cara learn her powers.
MacLeod Castle would be open to any Druid or Warrior who wanted to fight Deirdre and the evil she wielded. If it was the last thing he did, Fallon would see it done.
Copyright © 2010 by Donna Grant.