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Authors: Barbara Longley

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BOOK: Heart of the Druid Laird
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“I’ll have the chicken special with a Caesar salad.”

“Sure, Sid. What shall I do with
the lady’s
petite filet?”

“I have a few suggestions…” Sidney glared at him. Angie giggled as she walked away.

“My only thought was to be a good host. I beg your pardon.” Mairéad had always deferred to him in all things. Sidney’s very different appearance and personality had him off balance. Simultaneous recognition and unfamiliarity made for an unsettling mix.

She lifted her chin. “I want to know why you’re here.”

He shrugged. “I’m an apiarist. I’m looking for a retail outlet in the States for my products, and I like your store.”

“We don’t sell anything edible.”

“Bees produce more than honey, lass. Beeswax candles, health and beauty products, scents. My products would fit in well in your shop. I operate on a small scale. It’s a cottage industry mostly, something I do in my spare time.”

“Thank you, but no. All of our inventory is locally produced, and we plan to keep it that way.” She studied him for a moment. “I don’t believe bees brought you here. Do you have lots of enemies? Are you part of some kind of Scottish Mafia looking to launder money through my store?”

Dermot frowned. “What would make you think such a thing?”

“Why else would you surround yourself with muscle?” She stared him down. “What are you afraid of?”

“It’s habit is all.” He chuckled at her outlandish notions. “I’m a laird and titled in my country. The men who travel with me are members of my clan. They work for me, nothing more.” He leaned across the table toward her. “I fear nothing.”

Her brow furrowed. “Still, why does Thomas call you
Druid?
Zoe’s always going on about Druids and Celts. She told me they didn’t leave any written record of their religion. People who claim to be Druids today are mostly head-cases or New-Agers.”

“Which am I, do you think?”

She studied him. “I’m leaning toward head-case.”

He chuckled. “My father gave me to Druid priests a few days after my birth.” The familiar hollow ache settled inside him. “He already had two sons and had no use for me.”

“Oh, Dermot.” Her large brown eyes softened. “How could such a thing happen in this day and age?” She played with the napkin on her lap. “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard. I’m not sure I believe it.”

“Nevertheless, it’s why Thomas calls me Druid. Druid Laird, to be precise, and it all happened a long time ago.” Gods, how he wished for a man to bargain with and an infant unable to ask questions.

“A
long
time ago? You can’t be more than thirty-one or thirty-two. What is a Druid Laird?”

“Druids are…
were
…the intermediaries between the gods and men—mystics responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of their people. They did no’ own land.” He shrugged. “A laird is a landowner and oft times a chieftain to his clan. It’s a laird’s responsibility to see to the physical welfare of those under his protection. The two roles are diametrically opposed, though each necessary in their own way. I am both.” He studied her reaction. “Do you believe in reincarnation?”

Chapter Three

Thomas watched Zoe LeBlanc stomp back into the store, and his insides melted. Dermot had told him many times over the centuries that love at first sight was nothing more than one soul’s recognition of another soul from a previous life. Now he believed it. One look into Zoe’s blue eyes, and he had no doubts—his own sweet love had returned to him, as well. “Come here and tell me why you look so vexed.”

“How long have you worked for that man?” She stood toe-to-toe with him, straining her neck to look into his eyes. “He’s so pushy.”

“Do no’ think or speak ill of Dermot MacKay,
leannan.
A finer man you’ll never meet. He’s my cousin and my laird.” He reached out to tuck a curl behind her ear. “I only defy him as I do to remind him he’s human. No one else dares. It’s the privilege of being family.”

“What does Dermot want with Sidney?” Her lovely eyes were filled with concern. “She’s more fragile than she looks. If she gets hurt, all of you are going to answer to me.”

Thomas grinned. She looked like a wee mama bear protecting her cub. “Och, lass. It’s too long a tale for now. Have dinner with me tonight, and I promise to tell you everything.” He spoke the truth. For the first time in his long life he meant to tell someone the whole story—and about the curse. She had the right to know what she was getting into.

“I don’t know. This is all very strange, your turning up here all of a sudden like you did. I look at you, and it’s almost like I recognize your face, but that’s not possible. I’d remember if we’d met before.”

Zoe’s face tilted up toward his presented a temptation he could no more resist than he could prevent the sun from rising. He leaned down to taste her sweetness with a brief kiss.

She pushed away from him. “I have to get back to work. This is our busy time.”

“Work? What is there to do, love? There’s no’ a single customer in the store.” He watched in amusement as she looked around in confusion.

“I don’t understand it. We usually get a lunch-hour rush.”

“Did you no’ see them all leave before Sidney pulled Dermot out the door? He used some of his Druidy hocus-pocus to drive them all away.” He shrugged. “He canna tolerate making a scene in public.”

“I felt it,” Zoe gasped. “I just didn’t know what it was. For real, he can do that?”

“Aye, he’s no’ very good at it though. He gets a terrible headache whenever he uses magic.”

“I hope it gave him a freakin’ migraine,” she huffed. “Sidney’s gonna blow a gasket when she finds out.”

“Have dinner with me tonight, Zoe. I’ll explain everything. You have my word.”

“Man, it’s a good thing for you I’m so open-minded.”

“Is that a yes?”

“It’s a yes, but I get to choose the restaurant.”

“Fair enough.”

 

“Reincarnation?” Sidney frowned at the man across the table from her. “I haven’t really given it much thought. Why do you ask?” Dermot MacKay made her head spin. She didn’t know any more about what brought him here now than when they’d first met.

“Ah…just making conversation.”

“Ah…just changing the subject, you mean.” She snorted. “Do you really keep bees? It’s hard to visualize.” Sidney watched his whole body relax at the mention of bees. The boyish grin he gave her stirred up the butterflies in her stomach, and her heart skipped a beat.
Lord, don’t let me drool.
As attractive as he was, being around him made her feel like something terrible lurked right around the corner. How irrational was that? He hadn’t done or said anything to cause her to fear him.

“Aye, I do. Would you care to visit my home in Scotland to see for yourself? I also have orchards, extensive gardens and a renovated castle.” One side of his mouth quirked up in a lopsided grin. “Though it’s small as far as castles go.”

“Um, no. I’ll take your word.” Her cheeks grew hot. Why would he invite her to his home? They’d just met. “You haven’t told me why you’re here, MacKay.”

“I have told you. I’d like to do business with you.”

“How did you hear about Panache? We don’t advertise overseas, and it’s unlikely you’ve visited our website.”

“By word of mouth.”

“What word, whose mouth?” Their food arrived, and all conversation between them ceased. He wasn’t telling the truth. At Panache, he’d scolded Thomas for not taking whatever was at stake seriously. Honey bees were hardly a “what’s at stake” kind of thing in the business world, and he said it was only a cottage industry.

No matter. It didn’t concern her. Scary Faerie had made it clear she should stay away, and her instincts didn’t disagree. No more questions. This one lunch would be the end of their association.

The rest of their meal passed with nothing more than small talk, and Sidney was relieved once they were headed back to her store. She tried hard not to notice the frisson of electricity running through her when Dermot took her arm. Moving out of his reach, she thought of things that needed to be done at the store, like eliminating shadows, and things to do at home, like calling her mother—anything to take her mind off him. Once the door of Panache came into view, she heaved a sigh.

“Thanks for lunch, Dermot. I hope you enjoy your visit to the States.”

“Same time tomorrow, Sidney.” He stepped closer. His gaze roamed over her face, settling on her mouth.

“No.” She shook her head. “I can’t see any reason to continue our conversation, and I can’t take the time away from work. I have no interest in doing business with you.” She stepped back.

Dermot placed his hands on her shoulders and bent his head as if he intended to kiss her goodbye. Sidney’s heart started to riot. Panic…or something else?

“You have questions I have no’ yet answered, lass. We have things to discuss. I’ll pick you up here at noon.” He ran his hands down her arms.

“Don’t you ever take no for an answer?” Sidney did her best to glower. It worked too, until he planted a chaste kiss on her forehead.

“Of course I take no for an answer, when the outcome does no’ matter to me.” He kept eye contact as he backed away from her before turning down the sidewalk.

She watched him go, her mind a swirl of emotions—powerful feelings beyond those a day’s acquaintance could produce. By far, the strongest was…grief.
What the hell?

 

“Kincaid’s was a great choice for this evening, love. I’m glad you suggested it.” Thomas placed his credit card with the bill so the server would see it.

“You don’t mind it’s so expensive?” She rested her chin in the palm of her hand and raised her brow in question.

“Nay. I’ve more than enough money. If you want, we can eat here every night.” He reached across the table and took her hand in his. “Is there a place we can go where we might find some privacy?”

“Hmm, not my place. I live with Sidney and her brother. One of them is bound to be there. How about your hotel? I’m not suggesting anything, mind you.” She gave him a prim look.

“I only wish to talk, lass.”
For now.
He grinned. “I share a suite with Donald, Lachlan and Niall, and I canna guarantee we’d have privacy there either.”

“What about your cousin? Doesn’t Dermot share the suite with the rest of you?”

“Nay, he has his own. Dermot is a very private man, and he sleeps very little.” The server picked up the bill and his credit card. Thomas waited for her to leave. “We’re staying at the Saint Paul Hotel. Are you familiar with the place?”

“Sure. It’s across Rice Park from the Ordway Theater, right around the corner from here.” She gathered her coat and purse. “I was born and raised here.”

“Let’s find a quiet bench in the park and I’ll tell you everything you need to know. We can walk there.”

“The park, as in outside? It’s awfully chilly to sit on a bench. Let’s try your suite first, and if the others get in the way, we’ll move to the hotel bar.”

The server returned. Thomas added a generous tip and signed the receipt. He helped Zoe into her coat before slipping into his own. By the time they were outside, his stomach had knotted up. Where to begin the story eluded him. How would she react? “You mentioned earlier that I seem familiar to you, aye?” Her small gasp sent his blood straight to his groin and had him imagining the sounds she’d make when they made love. Which he hoped would happen sooner, rather than later. God, how he’d missed her.

“Do you feel it too?” She glanced at him. “It seems like I’ve known you forever, and we just met. Usually, for the first few dates with someone new, there’s all that nervousness and self-consciousness. I haven’t felt any of that with you. Why do you suppose that is?”

“I believe it’s because we’re taking up where we left off from a previous life.” He held his breath and waited to see how she’d respond.

“Really?” Her eyes grew wide. “I’ve always known such things are possible. My ancestors were Celts, and I’ve read a ton about their beliefs and history.”

“Have you?” He took her hand in his, twining their fingers together. “That’s a fine thing, lass. It’ll make what I’m going to tell you much easier.”

By the time they reached the hotel, his stomach had relaxed. Thomas led the way to the suite of rooms he shared with the others. If only they’d be fortunate enough to find the place empty. He slid the key card into the slot and opened the door. Darkness greeted them. “Oy, anyone here?” He flipped the light switch. No one answered.

Their suite consisted of two bedrooms and a small sitting room, not the most posh suite in the hotel, but pleasant enough. Thomas turned on the lamps and considered his options. “Come sit with me,
leannan.
I need you close.”

Zoe draped her coat over a chair, tossed her purse on top and took a seat next to him on the couch. He put his arm around her and tucked her up next to him. He wanted to hold her in case she tried to bolt. “Zoe, I want you to know my intentions toward you are honorable.”

“Huh?” Her brow furrowed.

“There are obstacles.” He leaned down and brushed his lips over the frown lines on her forehead.

“Do you mean because you’re a Scot, and I’m American?”

“Nay. I mean because of the difference in our ages.”

“What are you talking about?” She twisted around so she faced him. “I’m twenty-six, and you can’t be that much older…or younger.”

“I’m considerably older.”

“How much older?” She shot him a skeptical look.

“I’m one thousand, six hundred and fifty-three years old, love.”

“Damn! Why’d you have to go and ruin such a perfect evening?” She shot off the couch and reached for her things. “I had such high hopes for you, too.”

He caught her around the waist and drew her back, settling her on his lap. “Listen to me.”

“I will not. I can’t stand being lied to. I don’t know what your game is, buster, but I’m outta here.”

Thomas tightened his hold around her waist with one arm and reached into his boot for the
sgian dubh
he always kept there.

Zoe yelped when she saw him draw the small blade from its sheath. “What are you gonna do with that?”

“I’m not going to hurt you. I promise. Sit still and watch.” At least she ceased wiggling. “I’m going to prove something. Do I have your word you’ll be still?” He waited until she nodded, and then he held out his hand and drew the blade across his palm. The wound bled for a second and then began to close. In less than a minute nothing remained of the cut he’d made. He kept a careful eye on Zoe. Her mouth hung open, and her gaze fixed upon his hand. She went pale, and her breathing became shallow. Her eyes rolled back into her head, and she slumped against him.

“Aye, well that went better than expected.”

 

Dermot lay in his bed and stared at the ceiling with his arms tucked behind his head. He rarely slept more than a few hours a night and hadn’t for more centuries than he cared to count. He always tried. He needed rest like everyone else. It just wouldn’t come to him, and the handful of hours he did manage to get were restless and light.

The memory of Sidney’s expression when he kissed her forehead made him smile. He enjoyed provoking her. She wore every emotion she experienced on her lovely face. Recalling her nonsense about a Scottish Mafia had him chuckling into the darkness. He glanced at the digital clock on the bedside table and counted the hours until he’d see her again. One thought led to another, and before he knew it, his body was tight and uncomfortable.

He wanted Sidney, and the realization shocked him. The thought of tasting her honey-scented skin and exploring her exquisite body had him aching with need.

Slowing his breathing and heartbeat, he thought of other things to take his mind off his lust. It would do him no good to lose sight of his goal. Besides, Sidney deserved his protection, not his seduction. His life would end the moment the curse was lifted. To encourage any kind of attachment on her part would be cruel.

The familiar weight of guilt settled in his chest. He’d let Mairéad down in the worst possible way. She’d given up her birthright to wed him, and he’d failed to protect her as he’d sworn. Worse, he’d failed to honor her last request as she lay dying. If Sidney knew, any attraction she might have for him would wither away.

Nay, better to get the deed done quickly. He needed to find the key, the blue chip in this gamble. What would motivate Sidney St. George to make the journey to Scotland with him? Dermot turned on his side, his mind working on a puzzle with missing pieces.

 

Thomas shifted Zoe’s body so she sat beside him with her head down between her knees. “Come back to me, love.” He rubbed her back. “There’s more to tell.”

“I don’t wanna hear any more,” she mumbled between her knees.

“Aye. I know. Still, I’m a selfish man. I’ve waited a long time to begin my life.”

She snorted and sat back up to face him. “Begin your life? Seems to me you’ve been living it for quite some time.”

“Existing, aye. Living, nay. There is no life for me without you. The day Mairéad was murdered was the day I lost you, as well.” Thomas took her hand in his and rubbed his thumbs over her knuckles.

“Huh? I have no eff-ing clue what you’re talking about, and you’re giving me a headache.” She rubbed her forehead with her free hand. “Who the hell is Maw-red, and what do you mean you lost me? We just met…in this lifetime anyway.”

BOOK: Heart of the Druid Laird
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