Things had changed.
And not exactly for the better.
Arran MacCarrick stared at the chessboard with unseeing eyes. He was 646 years old, and today he felt every day of those years.
A great sadness weighed upon him. Not for himself, but for his friends. It warred with the restlessness that urged him to do something.
The need for battle, to work his body into a frenzy as he unleashed the powers within him from his god, Memphaea. The yearning for something to do kept him awake at night—and on edge through the day. He searched for anything—and everything—to occupy his thoughts and body. If only for a little while.
Camdyn said he needed a woman. Arran inwardly snorted. The last thing he needed was a woman to get in his way and make him fret about her mortality.
“No’ likely,” he murmured.
An unwanted memory of his sister filled his thoughts. She had been a bright, shining star in his world. A free spirit who saw only good. Her future was supposed to have been filled with love and laughter.
Instead, Deirdre had found him. Shelley, his sweet sister, had tried to help him. In return, she was torn to pieces before his very eyes.
He hadn’t been a Warrior then, hadn’t had the power to stop the wyrran. But even now with that power running just beneath his skin, he knew he was better off without any hindrances.
Are you really?
He glanced up from the chessboard to see Lucan and Cara walk hand in hand up the stairs, whispered words of lovers passing between them.
Unbidden, the lonely nights assaulted him. While the others laughed and talked with their women, he sat in his room alone, staring at the telly without paying attention to whatever movie someone had given him to watch.
Arran might know he was better alone, but he would admit—only to himself—that he envied what the other Warriors had with their women. The smiles, the touches, the secret looks.
It was those women, formidable Druids all, who had helped shape every Warrior in the castle. The Druids were strong, independent, and fierce. Perfect matches for the immortal Highland Warriors they had claimed.
Arran and the others of MacLeod Castle had killed two of the most evil Druids who had ever walked the earth, and they lost friends in the process.
It had taken centuries to end the reign of evil. After defeating such threats, happiness should have followed.
But Fate wasn’t always so kind.
Arran remembered his partner as he looked up to find Aiden staring at him impatiently. Arran was moving his knight on the chessboard when Larena burst into the great hall, followed closely by her husband, Fallon MacLeod.
“Check,” Arran said as he folded his arms on the table and tried to pretend he didn’t hear Fallon and Larena as their year-old argument started up again.
Aiden MacLeod snorted and drummed his fingers on the table. “Uncle Fallon and Aunt Larena are at it again,” he mumbled, his fingers alighting on top of his queen.
Arran looked at Aiden, one of only two children brought into a world of magic and Druids. Aiden was the son of Marcail, a powerful Druid, and Quinn MacLeod, one of three brothers both Highlanders and Warriors.
With a nudge of his foot against Aiden’s, Arran said, “Make your move, lad.”
Aiden’s green eyes flashed confidently. “I bested you last week. I can do it again.”
“Doona get cocky,” Arran warned, though a smile had pulled up the corners of his lips. They teased Aiden as being just a lad, but he’d come into manhood just as stubborn, intelligent, and headstrong as any of the MacLeods.
“I’m tired of waiting!” Larena shouted. “It’s past time, Fallon, and you know it. We’ve sacrificed centuries! I want a family. I want to hold my own children.”
Arran could no longer ignore the couple. He found his gaze shifting to his leader and Larena. All the men at the castle, save for Aiden, were Warriors—Highlanders with primeval gods locked inside them.
They had enhanced senses, incredible speed and strength, as well as individual powers given to them by their god. Each of them deadly in their own right.
Larena was the only female Warrior in a castle full of women who were Druids. The Druids often said the stones of the castle seemed to hum with magic. It was no wonder, Arran thought, with Warriors and Druids occupying the massive structure for over seven centuries.
“Larena,” Fallon said wearily as he wiped a hand down his face.
“No,” she interrupted him, anger making her voice quiver. “Don’t try to tell me it’ll be all right, because it isn’t all right.”
Larena walked away, leaving Fallon staring after her. Arran glanced to his left to a room off to the side that had been converted into a media room. There Hayden, Galen, and Logan watched Fallon silently, waiting to see what would happen.
The people who lived at MacLeod Castle were family. They weren’t bound by blood—they were bound by fate. Arran took a deep breath and thought how each of them had walked a path that had converged at the castle.
Even during their darkest hours, the love between them, the laughter, and the determination held the group together. For the past year, tensions had grown. And patience was wearing thin.
All because of a spell that could bind the gods inside them once more.
Aiden silently rose from the table and strode from the great hall as Fallon’s shoulders slumped. Arran knew his leader needed a large glass of scotch, but Fallon had turned away from any kind of liquor long ago.
Instead, Arran grabbed Aiden’s untouched mug of coffee and walked to Fallon. Fallon took it without a word, his face lined with concern and dread.
“You know she’s no’ going anywhere,” Arran said.
Fallon and Larena’s love was too strong for anything to tear it apart.
Fallon sipped the coffee. “She’s hurting, and I can no’ make it better. I’ve tried. I’d give her the moon and stars if I could.”
“So, I guess this means the lead we had on the spell was another dead end?”
Arran grimaced. The spell to bind their gods wasn’t much of a concern for him, but for the other ten Warriors who were married, it was all they focused on.
It was only through Isla’s powerful Druid magic of hiding MacLeod Castle from the world and keeping the Druids within her shield from aging that the mortals had lived as long as they had.
Aiden, Quinn’s son, had been born four hundred years before, and with special magic allowed to age until his twenty-fifth year. The Druids had also taken precautions through the centuries by a potion that would prevent them becoming with child. No one wanted to bring children into the war that had raged.
It worked until last year, when Camdyn and his wife, Saffron, had found themselves surprised, expectant parents.
“Larena saw Emma,” Fallon said into the silence. “It’s always worse for Larena afterwards.”
Larena wasn’t the only one affected by the birth of little Emma. Camdyn and Saffron were still on MacLeod land, but they were building their home outside Isla’s shield. With the threat of both Declan and Deirdre gone, everyone felt safe enough to leave the shield.
Camdyn and Saffron had left the castle, mainly because of their child. Aiden was gone more than he was at the castle—and with the tensions so high, it was no wonder.
“We all thought to have found the spell by now,” Fallon continued.
“And to have your own child.”
Fallon drew in a long, deep breath. “We waited centuries until the evil had been eradicated, and now that it has, we can no’ find the spell.”
The spell had been written on a scroll and hidden in Edinburgh Castle, but it, along with three shipments of magical items, had been taken from Edinburgh to London centuries ago. Two of those three shipments arrived in London. The other was lost.
“We’ve searched London, and even Buckingham Palace. It’s no’ there,” Arran said.
“It’s no longer a scroll, but nothing we’ve come across exhibits any magic.”
“Could it be cloaked somehow?”
Fallon lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “I doona have an answer.”
Arran might not care if his god was bound or not at the moment, but he knew his fellow brethren were suffering as much as Fallon. He was one of four Warriors who wasn’t mated, so if he could do something, he would.
“We need to follow the path.”
Fallon’s brow furrowed as he looked at Arran. “What?”
“The journal you found at Edinburgh Castle, it said that there were three shipments. One by water, two by land. We know that one by land didna make it to London. Since nothing has been found in London regarding the scroll—”
“Then we assume it was in the shipment of other items that was lost,” Fallon finished. A ghost of a smile appearing. “I like your thinking.”
“I was just coming to propose the exact same thing,” Ian said as he descended the stairs into the great hall. His light brown hair was left long and loose, brushing against his shoulders.
Arran wasn’t startled to hear that someone else had his idea. It was just a matter of time before one of them had thought of something. The fact that it was Ian was a surprise. Especially since it was Logan’s wife, Gwynn, who could do wonders on a computer.
Arran smiled, thinking of the computer and how he, Ian, Logan, Camdyn, and Ramsey had struggled to come to terms with the modern world after they had been jumped forward in time from 1603.
“Did Gwynn find something?” Arran asked.
There was a gleam in Ian’s eyes as he said, “Actually, I did. I’ve learned a thing or two from her.”
He and Ian shared a smile. Only someone who had time-traveled could understand the complexities and differences of the world they had known and the modern one they had been in for over a year.
“Impressive,” Arran said.
He and Ian weren’t just united by their leap forward in time. They had been held in Deirdre’s mountain, Cairn Toul, for years as she tried to break them to her will so they would serve only her.
It’s what happened to most Warriors. The gods were too insistent, too powerful when they were first unbound. It took a certain kind of man to be able to come back from that and learn to control the god himself.
Arran considered himself one of the lucky few. But then again, he’d have found a way to take his own head before he ever did the bidding of evil.
Ian and Arran had escaped alongside Quinn. It had never entered Arran’s mind not to join the MacLeods in their fight against Deirdre.
“What did you find, Ian?” Fallon asked, jerking Arran out of his thoughts.
Ian stuffed his hands in the front pocket of his low-slung jeans, causing his dark red tee to stretch tight over his muscular shoulders. “We doona know the exact route that was taken from Edinburgh to London, but we were able to discover the course of the other land-bound shipment.”
“And?” Arran prompted when Ian hesitated.
Ian’s lips flattened. “The other shipment went the fastest, quickest way.”
“Bloody hell,” Fallon muttered.
Arran folded his arms over his chest. “Which means the one we’re looking for went the long way round.”
“Precisely,” Ian said with a nod. “I’ve been poring over maps all morning long, and I’ve narrowed it down to four possible routes.”
“Hold on,” said a female voice from the floor above.
A moment later, and Dani’s head of long silvery blond hair popped into view as she hurried down the stairs with a bunch of papers in her hand. She cast a smile at them and said, “I discovered something interesting in the news that was very near one of the routes.”
“What was so noteworthy?” Fallon asked.
Dani waited until she was beside Ian before she answered. “A dig. An archeology dig, to be exact. They happen all over the UK, and they always make headlines. I’ve put a tag on them, so when something’s posted, I get an alert in my e-mail. When I got this one, I did some more poking.”
She paused and licked her lips. “I tried making some calls, but I was blocked every time. Even with Gwynn’s talents on the computer, we found nothing. So … I did what anyone who knows a megamillionaire would do.”
“You talked to Saffron,” Arran said with a grin. Not only was Saffron a Seer, but she was also connected to people all over the world through her business and charity work. If anyone could get information, it was her. Or her money.
Dani nodded. “Thanks to Saffron and her connections, I think I know where we can begin to look.”
“Where?” Fallon asked, his attention focused for the first time since the conversation began.
“Southwest of Glasgow. They’ve been at the dig site for almost two months now.”
Before Fallon could even put out a request for someone to go check it out, Arran said, “I’ll go.”
Ian didn’t seem fazed that he had spoken up, but Fallon raised a dark brow.
Arran rocked back on his heels. He had to get out of the castle and do something before he went crazy. Besides, none of the others would want to leave their women. “Everyone is … occupied besides me.”
“We could ask Phelan or Charon to check it out,” Dani said.
Arran bit back a growl. He might have forgiven Charon for spying on them while locked in Cairn Toul, but that didn’t mean Arran wanted him to take over his mission. “Why bother Charon? And Phelan, who the hell knows where he is? He disappears the same as Malcolm.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Arran regretted them. Though all the men were Warriors, Malcolm was different. Four hundred years ago, he’d been a mortal helping his cousin, Larena, hide from Deirdre.
He was attacked on Deirdre’s command and left for dead. Malcolm had been brought to the castle, and Sonya, with her healing magic, did all she could. It saved his life, but it didn’t heal his scars or fix his right arm so that he could use it.
It wasn’t much later before Deirdre found Malcolm and unlocked his god. She used Larena against Malcolm in order to keep Malcolm doing her bidding. But it had been Malcolm who betrayed Deirdre at the end, helping them to end her once and for all.
But Malcolm’s scars went much deeper than his skin. They went to his very soul, and nothing could heal them now. Only time would aid in tempering the past.
Arran cleared his throat. “Regardless, I’ll go. I can only best Aiden in chess so many times. With no wyrran to battle, and no evil to kill, I need something to do.”
“No evil to kill,” Dani said with a look at Ian. “That sounds wonderful.”
Ian wrapped his arm around her and brought her against him for a kiss. “It’s music to my ears. I never thought I’d see the day that Deirdre was no longer alive. And then to have also ended Declan. It’s almost too good to be true.”
Arran looked away. It was too good to be true. If there was one thing he’d learned, it was that the evil Deirdre and Declan had been wasn’t going to give up so easily.
They’d had a reprieve. But how much longer could that last?
“Find me the spell,” Fallon told Arran. “Please.”
Arran glanced at Ian and Dani. They had been together for only a short time, as had Logan and Gwynn, and Ramsey and Tara, but Arran knew they all wanted normal lives.
To have children.
To grow old and die with their wives.
Camdyn had almost succeeded in pushing Saffron away because he’d been married before. It was watching his first wife die that had confirmed to Camdyn he was better off alone.
But, as Quinn was often heard saying, love finds a way.
Arran had been given a home—and hope—with the MacLeods. He owed every man and woman there a debt, one that a single mission couldn’t come close to repaying.
“I’ll find it,” he vowed to Fallon. “I’ll follow every lead. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
“Even steal?” Ian asked.
Arran didn’t hesitate in his nod. “Whatever it takes.”
Dani held out a large manila packet. “I thought one of you might be going, so I had Saffron pull some strings. You’ll be working at the dig as a volunteer.”
“I willna have to sneak around?” he asked, a little peeved that he couldn’t use his Warrior skills.
“No,” Dani said, her voice flat. “There’s no need. You’ll be able to look at everything they find as well as help in the dig. If you find something, being a Warrior, you should be able to take it easily enough.”
Arran was eagerly looking forward to the task.
“But,” Dani said hurriedly, “remember, you’re working under Saffron’s company. She’s helping to supply the funding for this dig, which is how we were able to get so much information.”
Ian rolled his eyes. “Is there anything Saffron is no’ involved in?”
“Not really,” Dani said. Then she turned back to Arran. “In other words, if something happens, they’ll look to Saffron and her company, so we need to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“If it does, I’ll ensure another company is at fault,” Arran said.
“Good. You can leave in the morning. They’re expecting you tomorrow afternoon,” Dani said.
Arran just smiled. “I’ll be leaving now. It takes only a few hours to reach Glasgow. I can be there by eight or nine this evening. That way I can have a look around before everyone starts working tomorrow.”
“A fine idea.” Fallon walked to the kitchen, where the keys to the vehicles were kept. He tossed a set to Arran and said, “Take the Range Rover. It’ll do better where you’re going than the Porsche.”
Arran pocketed the keys and hurried to pack a bag. His blood pumped with the need for something more exciting than sitting around playing chess.
There was only so much training a Warrior could do before his god demanded battle. And death.
Arran might not have evil to kill, but he had a spell to find. It was just what he needed.
Copyright © 2013 by Donna Grant