Read Heart of the Druid Laird Online

Authors: Barbara Longley

Heart of the Druid Laird (17 page)

BOOK: Heart of the Druid Laird
5.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Why did you suggest we come here if it makes you so uncomfortable?” Sidney reached the cliff. Remnants of walls circled a flat, grassy area. Reaching out to touch the stones, she imagined what life must have been like for those living in this castle high above the sea loch.

“I thought you’d enjoy the view.” Dermot shrugged, and put his hands in his coat pockets. “I had planned that we both enjoy it together…from back here where I am.” Dermot stayed well back on flat ground. “You’re standing in what used to be the courtyard. The keep was over there.” He pointed. “What do you think of the view?”

“It’s breathtaking.” Taking a deep breath of the cold, fresh air, Sidney walked over to a stone arch and leaned over to see what was below.

“Come away, lass.”

“I’m fine, Dermot.” She turned around to find he still hadn’t moved from his spot. “These stones have stood for centuries. They aren’t likely to give way today.” Bracing herself with both hands, she leaned as far out as she could over the cliff. After the way he’d baited her last night, he deserved a little payback.

“Sidney…”

She sucked in her breath as a tugging sensation drew her farther out over the sheer drop. She thought it was the wind—too late she realized it wasn’t. As she struggled to straighten herself, the stones she gripped on either side of the arch broke free. The ground beneath her feet slid away like sand. She tried to step back and couldn’t. She struggled to shift her hold and failed. The force intensified, and panic choked her. She called out for Dermot as she fought to hold on. One last attempt to grab something solid, and she was hurled forward into a swirling black vortex.

 

Dermot watched as the stones Sidney held began to come away from the wall. “Sidney, move,” he shouted as he ran to grab her. In the next instant she was gone. In disbelief he stared at the spot where, but a handful of seconds ago, she’d stood enjoying the view. Shock immobilized him. Precious seconds went by before he could force himself to move. “Sidney,” he shouted, praying she’d respond. He listened with every fiber of his being for an answer. Dreaded silence was his only answer.

As much as he detested heights, the instinct to help Sidney propelled him forward. He had to get to her. Gods, she could be hurt or unconscious. Dermot took a deep breath and peered over the sickening drop. He could find no sign of her.

Frantic, he rushed back to the treacherous path worn into the cliff down to the rocky shoreline. Dermot climbed down toward the spot where she should have landed. His chest heaved with exertion and fear as he scrambled over boulders and hillocks of sea grass trying to find her.

There was no trace of her. Forcing himself to stop his mindless actions, he studied the point where she’d fallen and followed the trajectory with his eyes. She couldn’t have reached the water. Even if she had, he’d see her in the clear depths.

Everything imploded inside him. Dermot fell to his knees. Facing immortality for an eternity was nothing compared to facing life without Sidney. He threw his head back and shouted his grief and rage to the heavens. He couldn’t lose her. So this was love, this agony and the rending apart of his very soul. He’d finally risked giving his heart, and now it lay lifeless and heavy as stone in his chest.

All the losses he’d suffered in his life, for everything he’d been denied, grief and resentment flowed out of him until only blackness and desolation remained. He swiped at his eyes, ashamed of his weakness.

He had to pull himself together for Sidney’s sake. If this reality made no sense, there had to be another explanation. Scrubbing at his face with both hands, he struggled to draw his thoughts together. Áine would know he’d brought Sidney to Scotland. She’d watch their every move. Her curse was close to ending, and that would make her furious. Maybe even angry enough to disregard her father’s edicts. The blizzard in Ely and trying to put their jet down in the middle of the ocean had been tame compared to what she was capable of.

How far would she go?

Dermot took one deep breath and then another. He forced himself to become still. Running his gaze over the area again, he searched deeper. This time he knew what to look for. A wisp of magic hung in the air. Its dreaded signature filled him with rage.

“Áine.” He shouted into the wind. Sidney’s life was in danger. She hadn’t fallen. She’d been stolen from him, and by the gods, he meant to get her back.

Chapter Sixteen

It had been centuries since Dermot had ventured into the realm of the
Tuatha Dé Danann.
As he drove back to the castle, he racked his brain for any memories that could help him. Dagda Mór had sealed the realm against humans eons ago, but there had to be a way to enter. He’d use all the magic and knowledge at his disposal to find it.
Gods, I canna fail her again.

How would he face his men? How could he explain that he’d sentenced them to an eternity of misery? Guilt swamped him. He’d been selfish, and the consequences would haunt him and the men who’d trusted him forever.

Dermot pulled up in front of the castle doors, bolted out of the SUV and up the stairs. He used magic to swing the heavy doors wide, intending to head straight for his stillroom. He came to a stop in the foyer. All of his men were gathered there, and they faced him with grim expressions. “What the bloody hell is this?”

“We’ve been waiting for you.” Lachlan stood in the center. “We need to talk.”

“I don’t wish to talk now,” Dermot snapped. “All of you have things to do, and so do I. I suggest you be about your business.” He started for the stairs, only to have his way blocked. Power surged within him, and he fought the urge to send them all flying.

“Dermot.” Lachlan placed a hand on his shoulder. “In light of…recent events, we fear your commitment to end the curse is wavering.”

“Recent
events?
” Dermot shook him off, his hands fisted at his sides.

“Aye, with Sidney.”

Dermot shifted his posture, warning Lachlan to tread with care, daring him not to. Gods, what if Sidney were with him right now. The thought of her being confronted this way made his blood turned to ice in his veins. This was exactly what he’d tried to avoid. “I—”

“Speaking of lasses—” Thomas sauntered forward, “—where
is
Sidney?” He looked over Dermot’s shoulder toward the doors. “Haven’t lost her, have you, Druid?”

Dermot’s chest constricted. He couldn’t breathe. His jaw ached with tension, and his heart felt as if it might explode. He needed to get to work. “Aye, that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve lost her. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to get to work finding a way to get her back.” The room went deadly still. Unspoken accusations clogged the air, choking him.

“I knew it.” Thomas threw his hands up and started pacing. “I knew you’d be stupid enough to let something like this happen.” He pointed his finger at him. “This is all your fault. Why the hell didn’t you stay with the sodding Druids where you belonged?” He stopped his pacing to poke Dermot in the chest. “None of us would be in this mess now if it weren’t for you.”

Sixteen hundred years of frustration welled up inside Dermot. He eyed Thomas like a hawk watches a rabbit. “Do no’ say another word, Thomas. No’ another word.”

Thomas threw out his chest in challenge. “Or what,
cousin?

“Oy, lads, best give them some room,” someone muttered.

“Aye, it’s going to get ugly this time,” someone else whispered.

Most of his men had the good sense to back away. Not Thomas. With a roar, Dermot held his palms up and let loose a pulse of energy. Thomas flew through the air. Men scrambled out of the way as his body slammed against the wall. His skull hit the stone with a satisfying thunk.

“This is your idea of a fair fight, Druid?”

“Why don’t you say it, Thomas? Say what you really mean. I ken it’s been eatin’ away at ye for more than sixteen hundred years. Say it, ye
blethering gealtach fouter.

“A muddling coward, am I?” Thomas raised an eyebrow. “Let me down and fight me fair, and I’ll show you just how cowardly I am.”

Dermot released him. Thomas slid to the floor.

“Swords?” Dermot bellowed.

“Fists!” Thomas lunged. He hit Dermot midchest, taking them both down to the marble floor.

He caught an uppercut to his jaw, and used his legs to send Thomas flying head over heels. He scrambled to pin him down. “Do ye no’ ken you’re like a brother to me?” He slammed his fist into his cousin’s mouth, splitting his lip. “Say it, damn ye.” He gripped his shirt and shook him like a rag doll. “Say what ye’ve been dying tae say since the day I returned.”

“No’ feelin’ the love,
brother.
” Thomas slammed the heel of his palm into Dermot’s chin, sending him reeling. Thomas squirmed out of his hold while he had the chance.

Dermot followed, grabbing for his legs, suffering vicious kicks to his head and face. Still, he managed to hold on. They rolled, slamming fists, butting heads and kicking where they could. The rest of the men urged them on, cheering and groaning when one or the other scored a blow. “Say it,” Dermot shouted.

“All right. I will.” He slammed his fist into Dermot’s mouth. “
I
should have been laird after your brother died.
You
should have stayed where you were.”

Dermot gathered all of his strength and threw Thomas off. He lay on his back and stared at the ceiling, struggling to catch his breath. Aching inside and out, he turned his head to glare at his cousin sprawled out and bleeding on the cold marble floor. Grief and guilt pinned Dermot in place. “Had it been possible, I would gladly have turned the clan over to you. I never wished to be laird.” He swiped at the blood that had trickled into his eyes from a cut on his forehead.

“Then why did you come back?” Thomas’s chest heaved, and he kept his gaze fixed on the ceiling.

“I had no choice. I’ve never had any bloody fucking choice my whole sodding life.” His voice rasped. Dermot took several deep breaths until he had himself under control. “Do you think it was my idea to be raised by Druids? You had a mother and father who cared for you, and older sisters who pampered and spoiled you. I never knew my family. I could no’ have picked my brothers out of a crowd. I never met them. My father
disposed
of me like yesterday’s trash. I was nothing to him. Would you have that, as well?”

“Nay, I…”

Dermot closed his eyes against the hollowness spreading inside him. “My father swore to my mother’s people that her direct line would always rule our clan. She was the daughter of their king. It was the bargain my father struck to have her. If I’d stepped aside, it would’ve meant a war with the Picts. Why else do you think my uncles trained me to lead and to fight?”

Dermot sat up slowly. “Had I remained with the priests, you would’ve been surrounded by enemies on all fronts. The MacKays would have been wiped from the face of the earth.” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “I could no’ let that happen.”

Niall walked over and reached out a hand to help Dermot to his feet. He shook his head and stayed where he was, turning to face his cousin. “You challenged my right to lead the day after I returned. Do you remember?”

Thomas turned to glare at him. “How could I forget?”

“I won the right. You canna deny I beat you soundly in every test of strength and skill. Yet, to this day you still bear the same grudge. Can you no’ be satisfied?”

“Satisfied?” Thomas spit the word out and averted his gaze. “I won’t be satisfied until I get back what that faerie bitch stole from me—an ordinary, mortal life with the woman I love.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I don’t want to die, not now that I’ve found Zoe.”

“I know.” Dermot sucked in his breath and let it out slowly. “Believe me, I know.”

“Tell us what is to be done, Laird, and we’ll do it. We’ve only four days until the anniversary of Mairéad’s murder.” Niall loomed above him. “I do no’ want to be immortal forever. None of us do.”

“Áine has taken Sidney. I’ll get her back.” Weary and disheartened, Dermot forced himself to the business at hand. His selfishness had placed Sidney in mortal danger. He’d forsaken his duty, honor and obligation to his men in a moment of weakness. Now they would all pay for the stolen moments of joy he’d shared with the woman he loved.

Time to face facts. His cursed existence hadn’t begun with Mairéad’s murder. He’d been cursed the day he was born. Happiness had never been within his grasp and never would be. “I’ll no’ let you down. My commitment is firm.” He looked about the room at the twelve men depending on him. “You have my word.”

 

Sidney became aware of two things as she regained consciousness—pain throughout her body, and the cold feel of stone pressed against her cheek. She opened her eyes slowly. The world spun around her, and she closed her eyes against rising nausea.

“She’s waking, mistress,” a woman called.

“Ah, so she is, Eithne.”

Terror prickled down Sidney’s spine at the sound of Scary Faerie’s voice. She tried to move, and couldn’t.

“Promise to be a good little human, and I’ll let you up.”

“What threat can I possibly be to you?”

“True.” Áine waved a hand her way.

Sidney felt the pressure ease and sat up. Rubbing her cheek, she glared at her captor. “I know who you are. You’re Mairéad’s mother, Áine. I know the whole story.”

“I would hope so by now. You’d be a very stupid little mortal indeed not to have figured out who I am.” She stared at her with steely eyes. “Keep in mind, you’ve only heard
his
side of the tale, not mine.”

“You could’ve shared
your
side with me at any time during the past few decades. You didn’t. Now I’m not interested.” Anger flickered across Áine’s face, sending a chill down Sidney’s spine. “Where am I?”

“In my realm.” Áine gestured in a wide arc. “You should feel honored. Mortals are no longer welcome here.”

“Honored?” Sidney scanned her surroundings. She found herself under a domed ceiling held up by six columns, open on all sides and bare of furniture. It looked like a Greek temple. “I’m here against my will. Honored is the last thing I feel.”

Eithne gasped and wrung her hands. “Oh, do be careful, lass.”

“Yes, do.” Áine’s tone menaced. “Your stay here can be a pleasant one…or not. It all depends on you. I will not suffer insolence or disrespect of any sort.”

“Disrespect?” Anger and frustration flared inside Sidney. “You don’t have any right to keep me here, and you’ve done nothing to earn my respect.” She glared at her.

Áine turned to the other woman. “Leave us, Eithne. Prepare something to eat for our little guest.”

“Right away, mistress.” Eithne gave her a quick bow and disappeared into thin air.

Choking back her rising hysteria, Sidney got up and gazed outside the structure. Giant, iridescent butterflies flitted from one garish neon blossom to the next. Trees an impossible shade of green dotted the faerie-tale landscape under a cotton-candy-pink sky with fluffy white clouds. Sidney shuddered. “This place is like some misguided eight-year-old’s ‘My Little Pony’ fantasy.”

Áine came to stand beside her. “You don’t like it?” She sounded as if she were truly disappointed.

“No, I don’t.”

“I find the misconceptions you humans have about my race fascinating.” Áine gestured toward a tiny winged being flitting around the outside perimeter of the gazebo. “We are not winged, nor are we tiny, though we can appear to be both if we wish. I created this environment for my own amusement. What would you prefer?”

“I’d prefer to leave here altogether.”

Áine made a sweeping gesture, and the scene outside their structure changed. Sidney’s family lake home came into view, surrounded by the familiar pine, birch and spruce she’d hiked through all her life. Even the scent surrounding her was the same. Áine snapped her fingers, and a howling blizzard started up.

“You…you sent the blizzard?”

“I did, and I tried to put your plane down in the middle of an ocean. If it hadn’t been for that damned Druid, you’d still be snowed in all safe and sound, or bobbing around in a raft. You have him to thank for your visit.”

Swallowing her fear, Sidney turned toward Áine as if merely curious. “What does this place look like for real?”

With another wave of Áine’s hand, the landscape shimmered and melted away, changing to an endless gray mist swirling and undulating as if alive. Sidney’s skin prickled with unease, and she was glad the dismal stuff stayed on the outside of the temple.

“Some call this place Avalon. The realm is ours to shape as we wish.” Áine’s voice was tinged with pride. “Without our magic, there is nothing.”

“That’s sad.” And empty like Áine’s heart. “Why did you bring me here?”

“To keep my curse intact, of course. Dermot forced my daughter to forsake her birthright to marry him. He swore to protect her and failed. Immortality is the perfect punishment.”

“No one
forced
Mairéad into anything. She chose freely, and marrying Dermot was her idea, not his.” Sidney paced the inside perimeter of the temple, conscious that it, like everything else, had no real substance. “When Dermot and his men swore to protect your daughter, did you give up responsibility for her altogether? You’re the one with all the super powers, right? You could’ve saved her and your grandchild. Why didn’t you?”

“None of this is your concern.”

“If it didn’t
concern
me, you wouldn’t have brought me here.” For some unfathomable reason, she felt driven to push Áine. “The night Mairéad was murdered, as I understand it, you were summoned. Dermot’s pleas for your help were so loud the whole clan heard them. What were you doing that was so much more important than saving your only daughter’s life?” Sidney tried to keep her face a neutral mask despite her mounting terror. “It’s hard to believe you cared enough about her to hold a grudge all this time, but you were a no-show when Mairéad needed you the most.”

The mist outside the structure darkened and took on a greenish hue. Swirling violently, flashes of light, like lightning, illuminated the depths. Áine’s anger was unmistakable. Sidney sucked in a deep breath. Thirteen men depended upon her to end their immortality. The only weapon she had in her arsenal was persuasion.

“Dermot and his men didn’t deserve to be cursed.” Sidney used a soothing tone, treading carefully. “Please, Áine, give them back their lives. They deserve happiness, friends, families—all the things that have been taken from them. Remove the curse. It’s the right thing to do.”

BOOK: Heart of the Druid Laird
5.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Case for God by Karen Armstrong
Candy and Me by Hilary Liftin
A Not-So-Simple Life by Melody Carlson
Forbidden by Ted Dekker
Crooked River by Shelley Pearsall
Staring At The Light by Fyfield, Frances
Dark Sunshine by Terri Farley