Highland Prize Excerpt

Book 3 > Of Mist and Mountains

Glammoral Castle, Scotland


The dark scared Isolde for good reason.

So when a pounding came at her bedchamber door, she jerked up from tossing and turning, her heartbeat exploding. Shadows consumed every part of the still foreign guest chamber she’d been appointed to some weeks ago, but a familiar fear hit her—dreadful things occurred in the night. Things such as her mother dying and more recently Isolde’s sister being taken. It mattered little the two incidents had happened fourteen years apart. Isolde had been dragged out of bed enough times in between the years to serve her father and his mead drenched friends with wandering hands and smelly breath that she knew well enough to dread the night.

“Open this door at once, by order of Lady Carrick!”

The harsh voice of one of Lady Carrick’s personal guards made Isolde shake. She drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms tight about her, but she would have to move, to open the door, or the guards would certainly break it down, and then there would be the devil to pay for her disobedience of Lady Carrick’s orders. The woman had proven every bit as ruthless as her husband, the king of Scotland’s eldest son. Lord Carrick had no heart. He’d shown no shock at all when her father had eagerly offered her and her sister up to him four sennights ago as payment for back taxes owed to the king by her father nor had Lord Carrick displayed any remorse when he’d forced her sister, an innocent, to his bed three sennights ago, then sold her off last week as a slave to another lord when he’d quickly tired of her. Disgust set a bitter taste in Isolde’s mouth as a fresh round of beating against the wood started.

“Isolde,” came the shrill voice of Lady Carrick herself, “open the door this instant or ye will meet yer sister’s fate.”

Isolde bit her lip, forcing back the curse she wanted to hurl at the woman. She could not afford to be hauled away before she learned the location of her sister. Knowing the cruelty of the lord and lady, she doubted very much they would sell her to the same lord they had Makenna. An image flashed in Isolde’s mind of her sister crying and flailing, trying to stop the guards from dragging her into the shadows from the bedchamber the sisters had shared.

Isolde clenched her teeth and grasped handfuls of bedcovers. She wanted to scream. She wanted to break things. She wanted to cast a withering spell that ended in the torturous deaths of her cruel father and Lord and Lady Carrick for all they had done, but of course she could not, because she had no notion how to use the ban-druidh powers the marks on her face indicated she possessed. Her right hand released the grip with her left, and she raised her fingers to the marks. They were flat but warm, always warm. It was useless to be a witch when her father had forbidden her to learn how to use her powers she’d inherited from her mother. Tears of frustration burned behind her eyelids, but she blinked them away.

Silently she renewed her vow to make her way to her mother’s family and learn to use her powers and cast the spells her father had never allowed her mother to teach her in the six years she’d had her mother in her life. No more would Isolde be helpless to the whims of an uncaring, fearful, hateful man. Never again, once she could wield her magic, would she fail to protect her sister. She unfolded herself and rose as Lady Carrick screeched from the other side of the door.

“Isolde! My patience has expired!”

That was a lie. The woman had no patience to begin with. Isolde’s mouth twisted in an effort to keep the words in as she moved methodically to the door, her blood rushing in her veins. She’d seen Lady Carrick in a fit of rage before, and it was a frightening thing. She’d had a servant whipped raw for spilling a goblet of wine just two days ago. Isolde’s fingers shook as she raised the wooden bar from its place meant to secure her room, and Lady Carrick swept in, gray eyes gleaming and mouth twisted unpleasantly. “Get out!” the woman hissed, her hand swishing through the air perilously close to Isolde’s face. Isolde took a step away from the woman, but Lady Carrick grabbed her by her upper arms and stopped her. “I’m here to help ye, ye foolish lass.” Isolde’s first instinct was to scoff, but she knew better than to do so, and besides that, Lady Carrick’s expression had softened in a way Isolde had not witnessed since coming here. She could feel her guard lower a bit, despite knowing better.

She released one of Isolde’s arms but kept a tight grip on the other. “I’ll nae mince words. I’ve come to the point where I’m nae any longer willing to tolerate my husband humiliating me in my own home. Mark me, Isolde, I’ll kill ye afore I allow Carrick to plant himself in ye as he did yer sister.”

“Since ye said ye’re here to aid me, I take it ye’ve an idea other than my death? Mayhap ye plan to simply sell me to the same lord where my sister was sent?” Isolde held her breath, awaiting a response, which came quickly.

Lady Carrick smirked. “I dunnae know where she was sent. Carrick doesn’t bother himself with giving me such details. And lucky for ye, I have come up with a much better plan, than yer death, to solve my problem, and I daresay yers as well. It’s the most extraordinary thing how ideas can sometimes come to ye!” the lady exclaimed and then gave Isolde an expectant look.

“Is it, my lady?” Isolde dutifully asked, struggling to hold on to her patience.

“Aye,” the woman crowed. “After a sennight of racking my brain, the solution rode into the bailey a while ago, and I simply knew God had finally answered my prayers!”

“I’m surprised to hear ye’re in conversation with God,” Isolde said, regretting the slip the moment the words flew out of her mouth.

Lady Carrick’s lips pressed into a hard, thin line. “Mind yer tongue lest ye lose it, Isolde.”

She briefly imagined slapping the woman, but she pushed the fantasy down and focused on her reality. “Minding,” she said, trying to sound complacent, but even to her own ears the word sounded like a poisonous dart meant to kill. She usually was much better at curbing her tongue, but she supposed her worry was getting to her. “What, pray tell, have ye concluded is the solution to the problem?”

“The solution is Thor MacLeod.”

Isolde frowned. “I dunnae understand.” She didn’t know the name, but even if she did, that wouldn’t have cleared her confusion.

“He’s one of the king’s favored warriors and right hand,” Lady Carrick said, grinning now like a well-sated cat. Isolde still didn’t understand, and it must have shown on her face, because Lady Carrick released a disgruntled sigh and said, “Ye’ll wed him this night! And off ye’ll be taken, ridding myself of the problem ye present afore my lord returns. Ye may thank me now for saving ye,” Lady Carrick announced, releasing her hold on Isolde.

Isolde swallowed the immediate protest that sprang to her lips. Men could be counted on for coldness, cruelty, and ordering one about, as far as she’d ever seen, and she had no desire to chain herself to that for the rest of her life. “I’d prefer nae to wed, if at all possible,” she said, pleased her tone sounded appropriately grateful and meek.”

“I cannot say I blame ye,” Lady Carrick replied, her voice flat. “But it’s nae possible to give ye what ye desire.” The unbending look that settled on Lady Carrick’s face sent uneasiness slithering through Isolde.

“What if I refuse to wed?” Isolde inquired, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. She had to know the consequences before she chose to put a noose around her neck. If there was any other way…

Lady Carrick’s lips twisted into a cynical smile. “Ye remind me of myself when I was young and foolish, Isolde, which is one of the reasons I decided to try to aid ye rather than kill ye, if I could. I will do ye a courtesy nae anyone ever did me and tell ye a secret, so ye don’t have to learn it the hard way. I own ye just as Carrick owns me. We are all owned by someone, whether we wish it or nae. If ye wed this night, as I wish, I will tell ye the region where yer sister was sold. I have learned that much.”

“Ye said yer husband did nae give ye such details.” It was impossible not to sound accusatory.

“Here is another free lesson, child. Listen carefully to the words people offer ye. Just because Carrick dunnae give me the information, dunnae mean I can nae learn it.”

“Why did ye nae simply say that?”

Lady Carrick eyed her. “I dunnae give away that which I dunnae have to. Now, if ye wed and solve my problem of Carrick’s lust, I will do as I say, but if ye refuse, I will be forced to kill ye. An accidental fall ought to explain yer death nicely.”

The matter-of-fact way the lady stated things, left no doubt in Isolde’s mind Lady Carrick meant what she said. “It does nae seem I have a choice.”

“Ye always have a choice, Isolde. We all do. It’s whether ye choose wisely or nae that usually haunts people. In yer case, it seems rather clear to me—death or marriage.”

“Two different sorts of loss,” Isolde muttered.

“One is permanent, child,” the woman said. “One, a clever lass such as yerself, will, I have nae a doubt, learn to live with.”

Isolde was certain once she was gone, Lord Carrick would simply turn his attention to another. That was Lady Carrick’s problem. Isolde pasted a smile upon her face. It was all about choices, as Lady Carrick had stated, and Isolde chose to keep her opinion to herself lest the lady decide it would be easier to kill her. If she had to wed, she would, but that didn’t mean she had to stay with the man. Once Lady Carrick gave her the information she needed, Isolde would flee this castle and the husband she had never wanted. No doubt, he was every bit as awful as Lord Carrick and her father.

~ ~ ~

Thor read the missive again that Carrick had given to his wife to deliver. He turned it over when finished, still disbelieving that Carrick would do this, but there was Carrick’s seal, broken once Thor had opened the missive.

As a reward for keeping my castle safe from the English border raiders, I’m giving ye the bonnie Isolde Fitzalan to wed. Do so tonight and take her with ye to yer home.

Thor crumpled the parchment in his hand. He could feel Lady Carrick’s attention on him as well as the priest who stood in the corner. Thor worked to control his temper. The only thing he knew about Isolde Fitzalan was that she was the niece of the beheaded traitor Lord Fitzalan.

He didn’t know why she was here, or how she had come to be here, or where her father was, or why Carrick was in a position to force her upon Thor. What he did know was that she was no gift. Nothing from the greedy eldest son of the king was a gift. It was always a clever move to control, but there was no denying the so-called gift without endangering his family. And there was no appealing to the king, because the king was currently in no position to tell his son what to do.

It was unbelievable, really. But that didn’t make it less so. Carrick may not actually be wearing the crown, but he currently had the power. The Scottish council, a bunch of craggy bastards, had given it to him by appointing him lieutenant of the kingdom. They’d decided the king was unfit to rule when they’d become unhappy with how he was handling the border raids. They wanted war with England, the king didn’t, and the king was currently on the losing side and now little more than a figurehead.

Anger pounded through Thor’s veins, and he rubbed at his bleary eyes. He was in desperate need of sleep and real food. He’d had neither in days, and his thoughts were slow. But he turned them to his family and what might happen if he refused the marriage. Carrick had been harsh as of late by taking lands long held by families. Thor’s father, a second son, had gained his castle years ago, shortly after he had wed as a token of the king’s appreciation of service. It was not his by birthright, but his father would no doubt fight to the death to keep it. Thor understood that. He wanted his own home as his father had earned, and that was why he was in service to the king, or currently it was more correct to say Carrick.

He resisted the urge to squeeze his eyes shut to try to lessen the noise, but the dull roar was coming from within. It was his blood rushing through his veins. The only woman he’d ever considered wedding was dead, and given she’d turned out to be a lying, betraying witch, he had vowed to choose his next possible wife with extreme care, if ever. Neither lust nor desire would influence his decision this time, just logic. A strong clan to ally his family with. A biddable temperament. He didn’t know what else. He honestly hadn’t given it a great deal of thought, because when he did think of wedding, he could not imagine being so foolish as to trust a woman again, and how was he supposed to wed without trust? And yet, he’d also vowed to put the welfare of his clan above wishes for himself, and that meant doing all he could to keep them safe from danger. “Where is Isolde Fitzalan?” he forced himself to ask.

Lady Carrick waved a hand toward the closed door she had come through but moments before. “Just outside the door.”

“She’s nae ban-druidh, is she?”

“I vow it on my husband’s life that she’s nae,” Lady Carrick said.

Thor snorted at that and looked to the priest for confirmation. “She’s nae a witch,” the man said, his tone earnest. Of course, priests could lie, but was there a choice for Thor really? He’d have to take her to wife, and then he’d take her in hand and make certain she feared to ever plot against himself or his family.

“My lord?” Lady Carrick said. “Are ye going to refute my husband’s gift?”

It was asked with wide-eyed innocence and the soft hiss of a viper coiled to strike.

“Nay,” Thor replied with an involuntary shudder.

“Excellent!” Lady Carrick said. “Bring in Isolde!” she fairly shouted at the closed door. The abrupt command was followed by the door swinging open immediately.

There, just on the other side of the threshold stood a petite young woman with a halo of titan red hair that crashed over her shoulders like a storm hitting rocks. He’d never seen so much hair on a head, and he had the mad urge to touch it. Instead, he took her in like one would a glorious sunset—bit by bit so not to miss a single detail. Her face might have been lost in the uncontainable mass of her hair, but the fiery color contrasted so sharply with her milky skin that he doubted any man with breath in his body had ever passed her and not stopped to uncover the face behind the hair. And there was a treasure there to be sure. His breath hitched slightly making him frown. Already, the woman presented a problem. She was too comely. She had three little marks that looked like blazing stars upon her perfect skin that sat in a row on the upper edge of her cheekbone. He followed the trail up to her eyes, and he felt his own widen.

Intense, defiant green eyes stared unblinking at him and then she grimaced. This lass appeared to be as biddable as steel. He fixed her with a hard stare, until she finally glanced down at her feet, and he ruthlessly squelched any hint of remorse for his actions.

“Are ye ready?” the priest asked, snapping Thor’s attention to him in time to see Lady Carrick nudging the priest forward.

“Aye,” he said. Dismissing them, he turned to the woman, Isolde, and held out his hand. “Shall we?”

She lost all color, and for a moment, he was certain she’d faint, but then she shoved her shoulders back, notched up her chin, and took a deep breath, before slapping her hand into his. Delicate looking fingers gripped him firmly. He didn’t know whether to be glad she’d gotten herself in hand so adeptly or worried that she had such an inner strength to do so. He cast a sideways look at her as the priest started through the words of the sermon.

Her pulse beat frantically beneath the delicate skin at her neck. He should be pleased to see the fear, because it hopefully meant she would not be the plotting sort, and yet no pleasure was gained. Instead, he had the urge to press a finger to the spot where her worry tried to escape, and that did make him frown that any soft emotion had arisen in him.

“’Tis done,” the priest announced. “The woman is now yers.”

Before he could make himself accept the truth of what had happened, a horn blew from somewhere, and the priest said, “My god, Lord Carrick has returned early.”

~ ~ ~

The door slammed shut on the bedchamber Isolde had been ushered to after being swept out of the solar on Lady Carrick’s command. There was no bar to stop someone from entering, but there was a bar on the outside of the door. Isolde had noted it as the guard shoved her into the bedchamber, so when it thudded into place, it didn’t surprise her as much as it might have.

She went straight to the window, and her gut clenched as she looked at the long drop to the courtyard below. There was no way out. That fall, were she to try it, would surely be her death. Biting her lip, she moved to the bed and dropped backward onto the feather mattress to stare at the ceiling as her mind whirred.

What was happening? Lord Carrick had returned early, which she knew Lady Carrick did not want. She’d wanted Isolde gone first. Isolde wanted that, too, desperately, but she still needed the information of the region where her sister had been sent.

Isolde jerked to a sitting position and stared at the door, part in dread and part in expectation of Thor MacLeod striding in to take her away from here. What had Lady Carrick done to see her wed? It had been obvious by the woman’s flying into motion when the horn had blown, that the lady feared repercussions. She’d spoken in a calm voice, but her tight expression and worried eyes had revealed the truth. And Isolde thought it had revealed itself to Thor MacLeod as well, because when Lady Carrick had insisted he leave without seeing her husband, the man had refuted her attempted order. And that’s when Lady Carrick had swept her out of the room and into this bedchamber.

Isolde turned the scenario over in her mind, but she could not piece together what the lady might have done. Frustrated, she moved to the window and stared into the courtyard which glowed with torches lit to ward off the darkness that was rapidly consuming the last hints of purples and gold that illuminated the fading daylight sky. It was in this glowing light that she watched as Thor MacLeod, a stranger to her except for the few things she’d heard of him at this castle, strode into the courtyard to greet Lord Carrick who was being aided in dismounting his horse.

Isolde frowned as she pressed her fingers to the cool window. Strange that Lady Carrick would not go to the courtyard to greet her husband. Isolde scanned the courtyard, empty except for the guards that had accompanied Lord Carrick home. But no, not empty totally. There in the shadows of the arches to the main castle entrance hovered Lady Carrick with the priest by her side. Something very bad was amiss.

Gooseflesh peppered across Isolde’s arms and danced its way up her back, and she returned her attention to Thor MacLeod and Lord Carrick. But even as she watched the men greet and speak, wishing she could hear what they were saying, an image of the highlander she’d just wed in a bid to save her sister filled her head.

He had depthless gray eyes filled with secrets and a hard expression that said not to cross him. Carved muscle made his warrior’s body, and the amount of weapons he had strapped to him told her that if someone chose to do battle with him, he intended to win. Five weapons. That’s what she’d counted. A sword at his hip. And a dagger there, too. Daggers strapped to each of his calves as well and another sword strapped to his broad back.

He was powerfully built, and he strode with a confidence that bespoke of a knowledge of exactly how to wield his power, and yet he had a long scar running from his left hand snaking up his arm to his elbow that showed even he could be vulnerable. The mark left on him by some battle had struck her. He looked like she felt. Scathed but alive. She dismissed any feeling of kinship for the man, because they most certainly were unwarranted. She would flee her new husband, find her sister, then make her way to her mother’s clan. And there in the Dark Forest where the East Lothian witches dwelled, Isolde would learn her craft, and she would be able to protect herself and her sister. She would need no one. A smile of hope curved her lips.

One spell. That’s all she had ever seen, and that had been glimpsed by accident. The words of what she thought was a spell to keep enemies away had been carved in the largest tree by her home. It was the tree she and Makenna had said as children looked like it was guarding the rest of the trees in the forest. She tried the spell many times, but it’d never worked. Mayhap it wasn’t really a protective spell, or more likely she was missing some key word or point. A swoop of the hands? A nod of the head? She didn’t know. She balled her fist on the old, familiar frustration, wishing she could correctly use the spell to somehow save herself.

Movement at the door sent her swirling round as the door creaked open and revealed Lady Carrick and Father Bysby. “My lady, ye must tell me the region where my sister is before Thor MacLeod comes to collect me.”

“I am sorry,” Lady Carrick said, and her words did sound true and heavy with regret. Fear cut into Isolde, but before she could begin to question why, steps pounded hard behind Lady Carrick, and she and the priest parted to reveal two of the castle guards. Lady Carrick raised her hand and pointed at Isolde. “Take her to the dungeon.”

“My lady!” Isolde gasped, trying to back up, but the guards swooped in upon her, roughly grabbed her arms, and dragged her toward the door. She dug in her heels, but it was useless pitted against their superior strength and height. “My lady, what for? Why?”

“Halt,” Lady Carrick commanded as Isolde was directly in front of her. She tugged Isolde to her and whispered in her ear. “I did tell ye mind people’s words. I want ye to know this pains me.” And as quickly as she had pulled Isolde to her, she shoved her away. Pained tolerance created a mask on the woman’s face. “Do not pretend ye don’t know why ye are being taken to the dungeon,” the woman said, her tone sounding as if Isolde had betrayed her. “I heard ye.” Her accusatory tone made Isolde frown. “We brought ye into our home! Ye lied to me, deceived me, used me!”

A sinking sensation filled Isolde’s chest.

“Ye.” Lady Carrick pointed her finger in Isolde’s face. “Ye have been plotting to kill the king!”

The sinking sensation blossomed. It appeared the solution was to be Isolde’s death. “Ye know I’ve nae done any such thing.”

“We heard ye,” said the filthy lying priest, to which Lady Carrick gave a firm nod.

“Take her to the dungeon until my good wise husband”—Lady Carrick failed to say this without her lip curling with distaste—“is ready to hang her as the traitor she is.”

And before Isolde could lodge another protest or even attempt to get away, she was dragged away to a place that would not only seal her doom, but her sister’s.

~ ~ ~

“Where’s this missive ye say I wrote?” Carrick demanded of Thor.

Thor looked to the fire he’d thrown it in earlier and inwardly cursed. If he hadn’t been so weary, he likely would have thought to keep it. “I tossed it into the fire, but yer wife—”

As if summoned by the mere mention of her person, Lady Carrick swept into the room with the beady-eyed priest behind her. Tears streaked her face, and her hand fluttered to her neck. “I’ve been duped.” She looked between Thor and her husband. “My lord,” Lady Carrick said, her tone dripping with misery. “Isolde handed me a missive this morning and told me ye had instructed her to give it to me before ye left for court. As ye have such a fondness and obvious trust of her, I confess I did nae think anything of it.”

“I gave Isolde nary a missive, and I find it hard to believe,” the man bit out, now looking as if he wanted to strangle his wife, “that she would falsify one saying she wished to wed this man.”

God’s blood. Thor’s head pounded with wariness and shock. He’d wed when he hadn’t wanted to, and now it seemed he’d done so under false pretenses.

Lady Carrick shrugged and offered a seemingly helpless look. “Mayhap she desperately wanted to leave here given ye sent her sister away. Mayhap she thought she’d be next.”

Lady Carrick oddly made the word next sound accusing. Thor frowned.

“Woman.” Carrick took a threatening step toward his wife who stood her ground. “Ye go too far.” He turned to the guard standing silently on the threshold of the door. “Fetch Isolde from her bedchamber!”

“Ye’ll not find her there,” Lady Carrick said, her voice bland. “She’s in the dungeon.”

Thor jerked his gaze to the woman as did her husband. “What the devil is Isolde doing in the dungeon?” Carrick bellowed.

“She was overheard plotting to kill the king,” Lady Carrick said, her words blunt and her look sharp.

“By God, ye lie,” Carrick said between clenched teeth.

Thor clenched his jaw. Not only had he wed when he hadn’t had to, apparently he’d wed another scheming woman.

“If ye dunnae believe me, husband, then mayhap ye’ll believe Father Bysby.”

The priest nodded vigorously. “I heard Lady Isolde myself, my lord. She was plotting with Lady Carrick’s chambermaid, Mari.”

“Silence,” Carrick commanded, jerking up a hand. “Ye.” He turned to Thor. “The marriage has nae been consummated, aye?”

Thor nodded with relief.

“Go fetch me Isolde, and Father Bysby will see the unconsummated marriage dissolved.”

“But, my lord,” Lady Carrick protested. “Father Bysby has confirmed her guilt.

“I will decide myself, woman.”

A strangled sound came from Lady Carrick, as if her husband’s hands were wrapped around her neck choking off her air. A pregnant pause ensued, during which time Carrick raised his eyebrows in a challenging matter, and Lady Carrick finally choked out, “Aye, of course nae.”

“Go now, Thor, and bring me Isolde,” Carrick said again.

The priest started to move toward Thor as if to accompany him, but Carrick put out his arm and blocked Father Bysby’s path. “Nae ye. Ye stay. I would nae want ye in harm’s way, in case the lady attempts anything dangerous.”

“That wee lass could nae harm me.”

“Wee lasses can do plenty of harm,” Thor muttered, shoving out of the room to fetch the woman to dissolve the union.

~ ~ ~

“Get yer filthy hands off me!” Isolde screeched, trying to squirm out of the guard’s hold who had entered the dungeon with the intent, apparently, of relieving her of her innocence. Just beyond the guard’s shoulder she could see not only her cell door open but light from the courtyard above streaming down the wet stone stairs. Her heartbeat surged with hope. The guard had left the main dungeon door open. His foolishness could be her salvation, if she could untwine herself from his firm grip.

He reached, and she managed to slip a hand free, but just as soon as she had, he grabbed her by the wrist and brought both her hands behind her back rather painfully right before he slanted his wet mouth over hers.

Revulsion threatened to make her spill the contents of her stomach, but then another sensation rose within her. A strange one she could not place. Not rage exactly, but a storm of anger, brewing, circling, and gaining strength.

Something uncontainable swirled within her, hammering at her ribs, clawing its way up her throat, and forcing her jaw open. Out came a gush of air so strong it jerked her out of the guard’s hold and threw her out of his reach. Her throat burned but when the last of the air left her, seeming to take her strength with it, the guard was on his back, stunned. She forced herself to move, to jump over him, and scramble toward the stairs.

She slipped on the second one, going down hard on her knees and her palms slapping with such force on the slick stone that her teeth rattled, and she saw stars.

Her heart raced in fear, in panic, in shock. She’d not cast a spell. She’d not found her power. It had found her. It had controlled her. She didn’t know whether to be excited or frightened, but there was no time to dwell on it now. She stumbled to her feet, but before she could look up, a large shadow fell upon the stones, and terror enveloped her in its dark arms.

She jerked up her head and sucked in a sharp breath. There between herself and freedom, between saving her sister and losing her life, was Thor MacLeod. He looked menacing. He looked intent. He looked as if there were no stopping him. In that moment, she wished with all her heart she had a long sharp dagger. Not to stab him, but to make him think she would. She’d thrust it at him just close enough to—

“Devil’s blood, ye wee hellion!”

A mist seemed to lift from Isolde’s eyes, and she screamed. She was at the top of the stairs, and Thor MacLeod was on his knees with a dagger protruding from his chest just above his heart and a ruby stain rapidly spreading across his plaid.

She scrambled around him in horror as one thought after another hit her. She’d conjured a dagger. She’d moved herself. She’d almost killed a man. All without realizing it. All without controlling it. She raced across the courtyard to the garden path, unsure where she was going exactly or how she was going to get away. Behind her, Thor MacLeod’s enraged bellows smacked at her back like an angry gust of wind. He had a right to be vexed. He’d done nothing to her. He was a pawn as much as she was, and now, he was possibly her enemy. If he lived. As she raced toward the woods, she thought of the one spell she’d ever tried, the only one she’d ever even seen, and she quickly said the words. She saw them in her mind and saw him, her husband as the stranger, the enemy. She hoped it worked. She hoped it was enough to prevent him from finding her.

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