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Authors: Barbara Longley

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“This sounds intriguing. Does he have a friend?”

Sidney laughed. “Only you would turn my encounters with the supernatural into a chance to meet men.”

“It could happen.” Zoe shrugged.

“It was a dream. There are no hunky Scots on the horizon.” She placed her paintbrush into a jar of water and started to clean up. “Besides, I’m working around the clock to make our shop a success. I don’t have time in my life for men, foreign or domestic.”

“You should make time.”

“Sure. Because it’s gone so well for me in the past.”

“You give up too soon.”

“No, I don’t. I—”

“Yes, you do. For as long as we’ve known each other, what’s the longest you’ve ever dated the same man?”

She thought about it. “Remember Paul? He and I lasted almost three months.”

“Paul.” Zoe tilted her head and tapped her chin. “You mean tall, gorgeous and crazy about you Paul? I rest my case.”

“Zoe…”


You
broke it off with him. Like I said, you give up too soon.”

“It’s not that I give up.” Sadness filled her. “It’s hard to explain. I start to get close to a guy, and this voice in my head whispers,
it’s not him.
After that, I lose interest.” She sighed. “There’s nothing I can do to get it back either. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

“Who the hell is
him?

“How the hell should I know?” Sidney shrugged. “Maybe there is no
him
for me. Can we change the subject?”

“If you want, I could do a Tarot reading for you. We can ask the cards—”

“You know I don’t believe in that stuff.”

“Don’t give up, Sid. You’ve closed yourself off, and Lord knows there are—”

“I mean it, Zoe. Let it go.” Had she given up? More than anything she wanted a husband and a family of her own. A familiar ache filled her. Why couldn’t she get close to any of the men she’d dated? What was wrong with her?

“You don’t believe in that
stuff,
but you’re the one who gets the paranormal visitations and voices in your head. Lucky for you I don’t much care for normal, ’cause you’re one odd little duck.”

“You called me little.” Sidney grinned. “Thanks.”

Zoe shook her head and glanced back at the watercolor. “I like the painting. It’ll sell quickly. Let’s place it by the dragon figurines and move the silk-screened T-shirts to tie it all together.”

“You mean the shirts with the magical creatures on them?” Sidney asked. “I like it. We could do a whole enchanted theme in one corner.” Sidney followed her down the hall toward the kitchen. Maybe Zoe was right, and she gave up on men too soon. She’d always been in awe of Zoe’s fearless, outgoing nature when it came to men. During the years they were in college together, Sidney had been the quiet one, content to stay in the background while her best friend created a stir wherever they went.

She smiled. Creating a stir happened naturally for Zoe. Her blond hair curled in soft ringlets around her perfect oval face and big blue eyes. Petite and curvy, Zoe barely reached five feet three inches. At five ten, Sidney towered over her, with nothing but straight lines and long limbs—except for her chest. She crossed her arms over her ample breasts. They’d been the bane of her existence as a teenager.

“Did you call your mother back yet, Sid?”

“Nope. I’m avoiding her.”

“It won’t do you any good. She’ll keep calling. Mothers are like that.”

“Is this ‘push Sidney’s buttons’ day or something? Did I miss the memo? I know she’ll keep calling. I just can’t face another grueling lecture about the shop or my lack of a social life right now.”

“Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. Panache à Trois is doing really well for a new business. It’s only going to get better.”

“I hope so.” Their boutique
had
to succeed. Her family’s financial future depended upon it. She’d been the one to persuade her mother not to sell the building after her father died. Their success or failure rested squarely on her shoulders. “I’ll call her back later. David said he’d be home for supper. What are we having?” Sidney toed a broken eggshell on the kitchen floor and picked up a roll of paper towels from the counter. “Not quiche, I’m guessing.”

 

Dermot studied the storefront across the street and read the marquee above the door, Panache à Trois: Fine Art, Handcrafted Gifts and Locally Designed Clothing. It seemed unlikely he’d find the babe here. Perhaps there were flats on the second floor, and the family lived in one of them.

The traffic light changed. “Thomas, Niall, come with me. Lachlan, you and Donald wait outside.” Dermot crossed the street with his men. “We’ll be less conspicuous if we enter separately. You two go first. Blend in.” He paused by the entrance.

“Blend in?” Thomas shot him an incredulous look. “We’re conspicuous no matter what, Druid. More so when we travel as a pack.”

His cousin had it right. Thomas, the shortest of the lot, stood at six feet three inches, and Dermot insisted they all maintain peak fighting form. Immortality was no excuse for a lack of self-discipline. “Nonetheless, you’ll do as I bid.”

Thomas snorted and went inside. Niall followed. Dermot took a deep breath to center himself before entering. What he found inside was an overstimulating cacophony of color, scent and sound arranged to entice the senses. To his left, baskets full of scented soaps sat on shelves next to lotions and creams.

Every available inch of wall space held paintings and prints, colorful wall plaques, mirrors with hand-painted frames, and knickknacks of every sort. Racks of clothing and islands of gift items created a maze, guiding shoppers near every product the store had to offer. Soothing music provided a backdrop for the shoppers, encouraging them to linger. Impressive. Someone here had a genius for marketing.

Movement caught his eye. A young woman emerged from the back, her hands full of receipts she studied with focused attention. She had the body of a swimmer, broad-shouldered, long-limbed and slender—except for her breasts. There, Mother Nature had blessed her with the gift of plenty.

Hair the color of polished walnut fell straight and thick to the middle of her back. As he watched, she flipped an errant lock over her shoulder. His mouth went dry. She had a body to stir a man’s blood. He imagined those long legs wrapped around…What the hell was he thinking? Dermot gave himself a stern shake.

He was here for one reason, and one reason only.

The woman perched on a stool behind a computer with the receipts clutched in one hand. Could this be Mairéad’s mother? Something about her drew him, and he knew better than to ignore his instincts. Slowly, so as not to draw attention, he made his way toward her, stopping now and then to pick up this object or that. She never looked up, not even when he stood right before her. Dermot reached for a business card from the Lucite card holder in front of the computer. “Zoe LeBlanc and Sidney St. George, Proprietors.”

She gasped, and her body jerked at the sound of his voice. The receipts fluttered from her hand like a flock of startled sparrows, and she dove to the floor after them.

“St. George.” Dermot leaned over the counter to get a better view of her very fine backside. “Sounds like it ought to have dragon-slayer written after it. The St. Georges were famous for it, ye ken.”

She rose abruptly, and her head connected with the edge of the counter with a thunk. “Ow!” She scrunched her eyes shut and rubbed the back of her skull. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“I did no’ mean to startle you, lass. I’m looking for someone.” Dermot tucked the business card into his breast pocket. “Are Zoe and this Sidney fellow a couple?”

She frowned and busied herself with putting the slips of paper back in order. “A couple of what?”

“A couple with a child, perhaps?”


I
am that
Sidney fellow,
and no, Zoe and I are not a couple.” Still she refused to look at him. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m very busy.”

“Who would do that to a lass? Give her a man’s name that is.”
Look up, woman. Let me see your eyes.

She let out an exasperated sigh, and her eyebrows drew together to form a tiny wrinkle between them in the shape of a V. V for vexed. Most people treated him with deference. Some cowered in his presence. None let on that he’d vexed them. For some inexplicable reason, the fact that she didn’t hide her response pleased him.

She raised herself to her full height and squared her shoulders. “My parents, of course.” She met his gaze, one eyebrow lifted in annoyance. “And you are…?”

The shock of recognition took his breath and rendered him speechless. The impact slammed into him like a cannonball to the midsection. He stepped back. Mairéad’s spirit radiated pure and bright from this woman’s eyes. All he could do for several seconds was stare. How could this be? How had she hidden herself from him all this time?

Fumbling with his pocket, he drew out a card, hoping she didn’t notice his hand trembling as he gave it to her. “
Diarmad Macaoidth,
at your service.”

 

Damn! Why did you have to go and look at him, you idiot?
The moment their eyes met, Sidney fell into some kind of crazy, gut-wrenching thrill ride. Scary Faerie’s warning pinged around inside her head while the Scot’s gunmetal-gray gaze bored into her soul. His voice was bad enough. Deep and rich like a fine aged cognac, it resonated through her until her insides shifted and realigned. Did she have to make it worse by looking at him? No man had the right to be that gorgeous.

Sidney forced herself to break the eye contact and glanced at his business card before laying it facedown on the counter. “Well, Deer-Mud-Mack-Eye—”

“It’s
Diarmad,
lass.”

“What brings you to my little corner of the world, Deerrrr Mutt?”

“You do.”

The roller-coaster took a drop, leaving her heart somewhere in midair.
Oh, God. This can’t be.
Scary Faerie had to be a dream—because if she wasn’t, then what the hell was going on? “Sorry you came all this way for nothing.”

“Are you no’ going to ask why I’m here?”

She shook her head. She longed to ask, but a vague sense of foreboding held her back. How was it possible he could affect her the way he did? She pretended to return her attention to recording consignment receipts and willed him away.

“We can discuss it over lunch tomorrow.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’ll pick you up here at noon.” He rapped the counter once with his knuckles. “Be ready.”

“No, I…” she protested, only to find he’d already walked away. She got goose bumps all over watching him leave. Two men materialized from the shadows at the end of the aisles to flank him.
Damn.
She hadn’t even known her store
had
those kinds of shadows. Once the trio reached the sidewalk outside, two more joined his entourage. The man surrounded himself with muscle.

Who the hell was Dermot MacKay, and what could he possibly want with her?

“Did you see that?” Zoe whispered.

“Hmm?”

“The demigod convention that just walked outta here. Did you notice the runt of the litter?” She sighed and leaned against the counter. “He winked at me.”

“The
runt?
” Sidney blinked. “All of them are well over six feet tall.” She watched Dermot’s retreating form until only the empty sidewalk remained in her line of vision. Despite the cashmere sport coat and the designer jeans, Dermot MacKay radiated suppressed wildness, like some kind of Viking marauder throwback from the Dark Ages masquerading as a civilized man.

Everything about him evoked images of windswept moors and rocky, barren terrain, right down to his shoulder length, auburn hair. Frightening.
Thrilling.
Something about all that wildness flipped her switch and made her body stand up and take notice. “He’s a Scot.”

“Get out!” Zoe nudged her. “Then your dream—”

“Weird, huh?” She picked up a pen from the counter and started clicking the tip.

Zoe removed the pen from her hand. “Scary Faerie didn’t say I have to avoid anybody, did she?”

“No, why?” Sidney gave her a puzzled look.

“I wanna have the short one’s babies,” Zoe whispered, leaning toward her.

“Of course you do.” She shook her head. “The big one in the middle ordered me to have lunch with him tomorrow.”

“Wow.” Zoe stared at her in awe. “What did you say?”

“I said no, but he didn’t listen.” She sorted the receipts on the counter into neat little piles. How could this stranger destroy her life? If he was a scammer, she had nothing to steal—unless he was after a shitload of debt.

“Aren’t you even a tiny bit curious? What’s the worst that could happen? Find out why he’s here, and then give him the heave-ho.”

“I don’t know. There’s something spooky weird about all of this. First the freaky dream, and then MacKay shows up saying he’s looking for
me.
I’m so far out of my comfort zone, I don’t know what to think.”

“And he’s hunky, too.”

“I know, huh.”

“Go have lunch with him,” Zoe pleaded. “At least keep him around long enough for me to meet his little friend.”

“I don’t know.”

“Take a chance. One little lunch. What’s the harm?”

Sidney raised an eyebrow. “Said the spider to the fly.”

Chapter Two

“You drive, Lachlan.” Dermot tossed him the keys and slid into the passenger seat. He needed to collect himself before revealing what he’d discovered.

“Oy, lads.” Thomas leaned forward. “When’s the last time you heard the Druid ask a woman out to lunch?”

“I do no’ recall ever hearing him ask a woman to dine with him.” Donald frowned. “Why?”

“I believed our only business here concerned finding Mairéad and ending our cursed immortality.” Thomas paused to look at each man in the SUV. “I was wrong. After more than sixteen hundred and fifty years, Dermot has chosen
now
to start dating. He asked the woman at the shop to have lunch with him tomorrow.”

A collective gasp filled the truck, and his men stared openmouthed in his direction. Dermot let out an exasperated sigh. He was in no mood to deal with Thomas’s nonsense. “I recall seeing a liquor store on Grand Avenue, Lachlan. Stop there.”

“When’s the last time the Druid drank himself into a stupor, do you think?” Thomas asked.

“Not since…
that
day,” Niall frowned.

Lachlan pulled up to the curb in front of the liquor store. Dermot bolted out of the vehicle. Thomas did the same, and started down the street in the direction they’d just come. Dermot overtook him in a few strides, stopping him with a hand on his shoulder. “Where are you going, Thomas?”

“I’m going to acquaint myself with a certain petite blonde.” He stepped out of Dermot’s reach. “Had I known we were here to start dating, I would’ve done so already.”

“We are no’ here to date. The woman I spoke with…the one behind the counter…” Dermot’s jaw clenched, and he took several deep breaths. “She’s Mairéad.”

“What?” Thomas froze. “You’re certain?”

“Aye.”

“Not a bairn, but a full-grown woman. How—”

“I’ve no idea.”

“Did I no’ hear her refuse your invitation?” His cousin started down the sidewalk again, his laughter grating on Dermot’s tattered nerves.

“Where are you going now?” Dermot took a step toward him.

“I told you.” Thomas scowled over his shoulder. “I’m going to meet the wee blonde lass to see if she’ll have me.”

“Nay, Thomas. You’ll return to the hotel with the rest of us.” An elderly couple with a dachshund on a leash paused to listen and watch. People strolling by and customers leaving the liquor store turned their heads toward them. Dermot hated drawing attention. He abhorred anything in his sphere being out of his control. Thomas continued on his way. If he pushed, they’d provide the locals with a real exhibition. He let his cousin go and turned back toward the liquor store.

How had Mairéad kept herself hidden from him all these years? Áine, the mother-in-law from hell, had a hand in this, no doubt. He wanted to put his fist or his sword through something. His body tightened with frustration as another thought occurred to him. What if Mairéad had been reborn before, and Áine had managed to keep her hidden her entire life? How many lifetimes had she lived without his awareness? Could the curse have been lifted centuries ago?

He needed whiskey, solitude and a plan. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly and reached for calm. It didn’t work.
Ballocks! What the hell am I to do now?

An hour later, ensconced in a hotel chair, Dermot nursed his drink. Though the liquor dulled his rage, it did nothing to help him formulate any sort of plan. Nor did it prevent images of Sidney St. George from running through his head—arousing images that wreaked havoc on his peace of mind.

His union with Mairéad had never been a love match, not on his part anyway. He’d had no choice but to ally their clan with the
Tuatha Dé Danann.
Still, she’d had characteristics that pleased him. Delicate, petite, fair. Sidney possessed none of those qualities. She was long-legged, willowy. His wife’s eyes had been blue. Sidney’s eyes were dark brown, large and luminous, fringed with long, sooty lashes. Mairéad wished only to please him. She never would have spoken disrespectfully. Sidney—

A knock interrupted his brooding. He rose to open the door. Donald, Lachlan and Niall eyed him warily. Lachlan stepped forward. He must’ve drawn the short straw.

“Laird, is it true? Thomas called us and said you’ve found Mairéad. He said—”

“I do no’ wish to discuss it now.”

“Aye, but we’ve only nineteen days left. If it’s true, shouldn’t we—”

“I said no’ now, Lachlan. Take the rest of the day for leisure.”

“We could go to Mystic Lake,” Niall offered.

Dermot rubbed his forehead. “There is such a place here?”

“Och, it’s no’ what you’re thinking.” Lachlan glanced at his companions with a grin. “Mystic Lake is a casino. We saw the advertisement in one of the hotel’s brochures.”

“They have a buffet,” Donald added in a wistful tone. “All you can eat.”

“Fine. Go. We’ll talk later.” Dermot shut the door and turned back to his room to think his dark thoughts. Alone.

 

Sidney checked herself in one of the many hand-painted decorative mirrors on the walls while butterflies ran rampant in her midsection. She glanced from her watch to the door and tried to swallow. Five minutes until noon.

She had tossed and turned all night, half expecting Scary Faerie to make an encore appearance. One minute she wanted to heed the warning, the next she was determined find out what had brought the Scot here. Not even she knew what would happen when he showed up.

“You look great,” Zoe told her in a tone hovering between exasperation and amusement.

“Do I? It doesn’t matter one way or the other. I don’t think I’m going to have lunch with Dermot since Thomas returned for you on his own yesterday.”

Zoe sighed. “He’s coming back for me again today.”

“I’ll just tell MacKay I’m not going when he gets here, and that will be the end of it.”

“You do that.” Zoe grinned.

The bell above the front doors chimed. Sidney’s heart pin-balled to her throat, down to her belly button and back to its place in her chest. Dermot MacKay filled the doorway. As he searched the shop for her, she straightened, threw her shoulders back and tried to breathe.

He spotted her and approached, his eyes traveling over her body from head to foot. Her pulse kicked up a few notches, and she couldn’t help noticing how fine he looked in his gray gabardine slacks. A black sweater and a leather bomber jacket made a striking contrast to the red in his hair. A shiver sluiced down her spine at the sight of him.

Thomas trailed behind Dermot. His open smile and sparkling blue eyes gave her courage. Sidney nodded a greeting at Thomas and lifted her chin as she faced Dermot. “I won’t be able to go to lunch. I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing.”

Dermot stared at her without a word. Her mouth went dry while the palms of her hands more than made up for the lack of moisture. He searched her face with a look she couldn’t interpret, took a large breath and turned to Thomas.

“Come, Thomas.”

“Nay. I’m staying.”

Dermot’s gaze swept the store. “To do what?”

“I’ve a lunch date with Zoe.”

Sidney watched Dermot’s glance shoot from her best friend to his…employee? Man? What was their relationship?

“Do you forget our common goal?” Dermot gritted out.

“You presume much if you think we share a common goal, Druid.” Thomas snorted.

Common goal? Druid?
Sidney heard Zoe suck in her breath beside her.

Dermot scowled. “Thomas—”

“Do you think you were the only one who suffered a loss that day?”

“Lower your voice. This is no’ the time or the place. We’ll return to the hotel where we can discuss this privately.”

“Nay.” Thomas took Zoe’s hand. “I’m staying.”

“You
will
return to the hotel and gather the men. Have you forgotten what’s at stake?” Dermot bellowed.

Heat rose to her cheeks as his eyes settled on her.
What the hell could possibly be at stake?

“Go back to the hotel if you wish. Gather the men if you must. I know they’re eager to hear what you have to say.” Thomas’s chin jutted out. “I’m staying.”

Dermot’s face turned crimson. His jaw muscles twitched, and tension pulsed off his body in waves. He looked ready to explode. Their lunch-hour shoppers were making for the doors like ants on a sugar trail. She had to do something before he snapped right in the middle of her store and drove all their business away. “Come on, MacKay. I’ve changed my mind.”
Again.
“Take me to lunch.”

She grabbed his arm and tugged him toward the door. They were on her turf, and she knew all the shop owners up and down Grand Avenue. She’d be safe enough. At least it would get him out of her store, and maybe she’d get some answers.

 

The moment he was outside, Dermot took a deep breath. His head throbbed. He’d spent last night trying to formulate a new plan to no avail. Things had been out of his control from the moment he’d clapped eyes on Sidney St. George, and he didn’t like the feeling. Women were an unfathomable puzzle to him and Mairéad had been the greatest mystery of all. Even after living with her for nigh on a full year, he’d still walked on eggshells around her.

“How’s Thai food sound?” Sidney glanced at him. “There’s a place just down the street.”

Dermot watched as she ran her hands up and down her arms against the chill November air. She wore a copper-colored sweater that fit her like a caress. The color brought out the dark brown of her eyes and the warm tones of her skin.

He slipped out of his leather jacket. “Thai food?” The thought of Asian food didn’t sit well.

“Well, what do you feel like eating?”

“Red meat and black coffee.”

The blonde—was it Zoe LeBlanc?—burst out of the store with a coat and purse in her arms just as he placed his jacket around Sidney’s shoulders. She shrugged it off and handed it back.

“I thought you might want these, Sid.” Zoe handed her the coat and purse and shot him a speculative look before disappearing back into the store.

“I’m parked half a block down the road.” He indicated the direction with a wave of his hand and slipped back into his jacket.

“Let’s walk. There’s a great place a few blocks down Grand Avenue.” She started down the sidewalk with her hands tucked deep into her pockets. “I didn’t know Druids ate meat.”

“Och, we used to sacrifice humans upon stone altars to appease the gods, lass. I eat meat without compunction.”

Sidney snorted. “It’s a good thing you don’t do that anymore. Sacrifice humans, that is.”

“I’m thinking of taking it up again.”

“Really. Is that what brought you to Panache? Am I on some kind of short list of possible sacrificial lambs?”

Her teasing tone couldn’t hide the fact that she edged a bit farther away from him. He turned his head to hide his smile. “Nay. That would be Thomas.”

The sound of her laughter caused an odd warmth and fluttering sensation in his chest. He rubbed the spot where the unfamiliar feeling manifested.

“Are you all right?”

“Aye. Just an itch.” He wanted to move closer, maybe put his hand at the small of her back. Instead, he shoved his hands deep into his pockets and thought of ways he could entice her to Scotland without revealing too much. Gods, he wanted this over with.

“Sid!” a young man called from across the street.

He didn’t like the way her face lit up for this young man. She waved and stopped to wait for him to cross. The lad put his arm around her shoulders and gave her hug. Dermot fought the urge to forcibly separate them. It must be a residual reaction. After all, she had belonged to him in another life.

“David, this is Dermot MacKay. We’re going to lunch. Why don’t you join us?”

Dermot couldn’t miss the pleading tone in Sidney’s voice, or the look of desperation. Did he make her so uncomfortable? How involved was she with this David fellow? He offered his hand, and an unspoken question. “David…?”

“David St. George.” David studied him as he shook his hand. “I’ve already had lunch with Mom, Sid. She’s not too happy with you.”

Relief washed through Dermot. Her brother, not her lover. “Another time, perhaps.”

“You’re not from around here.” David smiled.

“I’m from Gairloch, Scotland. It’s on the west coast in the Highlands.”

“How do you know my sister?”

He felt Sidney’s scrutiny as she awaited his reply. “I’m a businessman looking to expand my market.”

Her brother nodded. “Speaking of business, I’ve got an errand to run before my shift. I’d better get going.” He gave Sidney another brief hug and let her go. “I have class tonight, so I won’t be home until later.”

They continued on in silence. Dermot struggled to come up with some plausible reason for his presence and answers to the inevitable questions he’d soon face. Sidney tugged on his sleeve. She’d stopped in front of a restaurant, The Lexington.

“Red meat, black coffee.” She smiled at him.

Dermot rubbed his chest.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Aye, of course.”
Nay, not in the least.
He opened the door for her, and placed his hand at the small of her back to guide her in. Stepping close, he detected the faint, sweet smell of honey—his favorite scent.

The host led them to a table located in a dim corner. Dermot helped Sidney out of her coat and draped it over a spare chair. He pulled out another for her to sit.

“You’re a throwback, MacKay.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Their waitress came bearing menus. Dermot ordered his black coffee, and Sidney ordered a soda.

“Why are you here?”

“Let’s order food before your interrogation, lass. I’ll need the sustenance, I fear.”

“Mmmph.” Sidney opened the menu and hid herself behind it.

Their server returned with their drinks and a basket of bread. Dermot handed her his menu. “I’ll have the prime rib, medium rare, a baked potato and a house salad.” He paused as she wrote it down. “The lady will have the petite filet, medium rare, a baked potato and the house salad.”

Sidney’s menu came down with a whoosh. “Hi, Angie,” she greeted their server. “How’s your mom?”

“She’s much better. Thanks so much for the flowers.” She grinned at Sidney.

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