TWO

“Easy, Hayden,” Quinn said.

Hayden swiveled his head to the MacLeods. An icy feeling of dread consumed him as he looked at the brothers. “You knew, didn’t you? You knew who she was, what she is?”

“Aye,” Quinn answered. “Before you condemn Isla, know that Deirdre kept her sister and niece prisoners in Cairn Toul.”

But all Hayden could think about was the Demon’s Kiss around Isla’s neck. It was but a small silver vial. However, it held the first drops of a Druid’s blood after they completed the ritual of a drough to serve diabhul.

A drough. The very thing Hayden had scoured Scotland to kill.

Druids were born with pure magic, magic which was all that was good and right. But there were some who wanted more magic than a mie had. Those Druids turned against all the good inside them and become droughs.

Hayden glanced down at Isla, the woman he had been willing to vow to protect. Her face was turned toward him with scratches on her cheek and forehead. How could he have ever wanted to shield her?

“She’s drough.” Hayden spat the word as if it was the vilest thing he had ever encountered, and next to Deirdre, it was.

Droughs deserved only death. Anything so immoral shouldn’t be allowed to walk the earth.

Broc folded his arms across his chest. “You doona know Isla, Hayden.”

“I know all I need to know.”

“Enough!” Fallon bellowed before a full blown argument could ensue. “Sonya, can you use Isla’s Demon’s Kiss to heal her wound? I’d like to speak with her.”

Hayden fisted his hands in an effort not to jerk the vial out of Sonya’s hands and toss it away forever. The blood in the vial could heal a drough of its wounds instantly, or kill a Warrior. There was something about a drough’s blood that was poison to a Warrior.

As if Sonya knew what he was thinking, she clutched the vial in her hand and stared at him. Hayden didn’t want to harm Sonya, so he could only watch as she uncorked the vial and tilted the small silver bottle over Isla’s wound.

Only nothing came out.

“It’s empty.” Sonya lifted her eyes first to Quinn, and then looked at Broc. “There’s nothing left.”

Lucan ran a hand down his face and blew out a harsh breath. “Look at her scars. I say she had cause to use her Demon’s Kiss many times before.”

“There’s not that much in the vials,” Cara said, fingering her own Demon’s Kiss around her neck.

Hayden had to remind himself Cara wasn’t a drough, that it was her mother’s necklace she wore. The element which had sent him killing all droughs after his family’s murder raged within him again. There was a drough on the table and another with drough blood around her neck. He could kill them both in a matter of moments.

But if he did he’d lose the first home he’d had since his own. He’d lose the men he called friends, brothers. He lowered his eyes to Isla’s midnight locks and tried to calm the anger raging through him.

“Heal her, Sonya,” Fallon ordered. “Regardless that she served Deirdre and is a drough, I willna allow her to die in my castle.”

Hayden had seen enough. He might have found Isla and brought her to the castle, but he wouldn’t stay and help them to mend her. Once the evil was inside a drough, it was always there.

He started to turn away when Isla stiffened and let out a tortured scream that made even Hayden jerk in response. Her body began to shake on the table and blood poured from her wound.

“What’s happening?” Fallon asked.

Sonya shrugged, a look of confusion and helplessness on her face. “I have no idea.”

“Let me,” Galen said. The dark blond Warrior walked to the head of the table and placed his hand on Isla’s skull. Almost immediately he snatched his hand back with a hiss, his face losing all color.

He paused for just a moment before he flattened his lips. “Hold her.”

Quinn grabbed Isla’s ankles. “What did you see?”

Galen shook his head and once more placed his hand on Isla’s head.

Broc, Quinn, Fallon, and Lucan all had hold of Isla. Only Hayden refused to touch her. He started to move aside so another Warrior could help when Galen put his other hand on Hayden’s head.

In a blink, Hayden could see images projected in his mind of Isla being beaten and whipped by Deirdre in ways that would have most men begging for their lives. Deirdre was vicious in her torture, her laughter ringing inside Hayden’s mind as she slashed Isla’s back over and over again, leaving Isla soaked in blood.

Isla withstood it all, her body moving with the impact of the hits, her face never showing any emotion, not even when the cuts penetrated muscle to the bone.

Hayden then saw Deirdre with her hand above Isla’s chest and a black cloud rushing over Isla to engulf her. The cloud suffocated Isla, tearing at her soul and making her see people being ripped apart, their terrified screams echoing in Isla’s mind.

The images brought Hayden to his knees only to come level with a pair of the most amazing ice-blue eyes which were staring at him.

“End this,” Isla whispered. “Please, take my head.”

Not knowing if it was real or not, Hayden pushed Galen’s hand from his head, but Isla still gazed at him.

“Please,” she begged hoarsely, her eyes beseeching him. “You must kill me now.”

It was what Hayden should do. She was a drough, and droughs must die. But no matter how she pleaded with her mesmerizing blue eyes, Hayden couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Was it because of what Galen had shown him, or because of the soft pleading in her voice? Whatever it was, Hayden knew he couldn’t be the one to end her life.

Sonya once more tried to heal Isla, and this time Hayden grasped Isla’s arm when she tried to move away. Isla fought them with all her might, but she was weakened from her injury. The mix of worry and dread in Hayden’s stomach only grew the more magic Sonya poured into Isla.

Isla screamed words Hayden didn’t understand, they were so garbled with pain. No matter how they held her, she fought to get away.

Time stretched into eternity and the hall was flooded with magic before Isla’s eyes finally closed as she fell back into unconsciousness. Hayden was surprised to find her hand holding onto his arm in a death grip, her broken nails cut into the skin of his forearm.

“Do you still want to kill her?” Galen asked, his tone clipped, angry. “After you saw what was in her mind, do you still think she deserves to die?”

Hayden didn’t bother to answer. He wasn’t sure if he could. His need to protect warred with the feelings that demanded justice for his family’s death. What he was going to do in the end, he hadn’t decided yet.

A glance at Isla’s shoulder showed the wound had mended, but not as it should have. It no longer gaped and oozed blood, but it wasn’t fully healed either.

“Isla fought Sonya’s magic,” Broc said into the silence.

Quinn shook his head. “Why would she do that?”

“She asked me to kill her,” Hayden said, still kneeling so his face was even with Isla’s. He tried to look away, but was held captivated by her haunting beauty. He was more than troubled by her request. Troubled and disturbed because he’d seen the earnestness of her appeal on her eyes. Why would she want to die? “She told me she needed to die, to end it.”

“We heard her,” Fallon said. He sighed and looked to Larena. “Do we have a spare chamber?”

Hayden climbed to his feet. Since Deirdre had destroyed the cottages they had built, everyone was housed in the castle with no room to spare. “Give her mine,” Hayden said before he changed his mind.

He rolled his eyes when everyone just stared at him. “She canna stay on the table, and all the chambers are full.”

Fallon gave a small nod. “See it done.”

Hayden watched as Sonya motioned to Broc, who gently rolled Isla onto her back and lifted her in his arms. Hayden didn’t take pleasure in the fact that he wanted to be the one who carried Isla.

That the need to hit Broc for daring to touch her had Hayden rising to his feet with his hand fisted. It was ridiculous. She was a drough.

“Are you all right?”

Hayden turned to find his closest friend, Logan, beside him. Logan was the one who kept everyone laughing. He was always ready with a jest and a smile. But there was no smile on his face now, only concern reflected in his hazel eyes.

“Aye, my friend,” Hayden lied. He tried to keep from looking at Broc carrying Isla, but failed. Hayden hated the war going on inside of himself. It should be easy. Isla was drough, and because of that she should die.

Why then couldn’t Hayden bring himself to kill her?

Logan moved to stand in front of him. “What did you see when Galen put his hand on your head?”

The other Warriors moved closer around Hayden. All of them, it seemed, wanted to know the answer. He swallowed and tried to form the words, but couldn’t. Even after everything he had witnessed in his one hundred and eighty years of immortality, what he had seen in Isla’s mind horrified him.

To see that torment done to a man was one thing, but to know it had been done to a woman, a woman who was supposed to be cherished and protected by the men of her family, sickened him.

“Horrors unlike you could possibly imagine,” Galen answered when Hayden couldn’t. “Isla suffered greatly, and repeatedly, at Deirdre’s hand, of that Hayden and I can attest to.”

Lucan leaned on the table and drummed his fingers. “Yet she served Deirdre.”

“Did she?” Quinn asked. His brow furrowed and he crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m not so sure. There were times I thought she might have been trying to help me in Cairn Toul. The way she spoke sometimes, as if her words held double meaning, as if she had been trying to tell me something.”

There was a snort from the back of the hall. Hayden turned to find one of the twins, Duncan, with his long brown hair, standing against the wall whittling a piece of wood.

“Let’s not forget,” Quinn ignored Duncan and continued. “We all saw Isla’s sister in the blue flames, bound and used by Deirdre. Though none of you saw her, there is Isla’s niece who Deirdre used her magic to keep as a child.”

Fallon walked to Larena’s side and put his arm around his wife’s shoulders. “I went inside the mountain to look for survivors who might not have left. I found a child. She was dead, the dagger still sticking from her stomach.”

“Though I wish no child death, Deirdre had corrupted her,” Quinn said. “It’s probably better that she is dead.”

Larena licked her lips and glanced at Fallon. “What now? Once Isla is healed, what do we do with her?”

“Keep her as a prisoner as she did all of us,” Duncan said.

Before Duncan could say more, his twin, Ian, put a hand on his shoulder. “It wasn’t Isla who captured us. That was Deirdre, and she’s dead.”

“I won’t allow her to be a prisoner,” Larena said before Duncan could argue with his twin.

Fallon shook his head. “Nay, we willna imprison Isla. We’ll heal her and send her on her way.”

Hayden tried to get the vision of Isla’s hauntingly beautiful ice-blue eyes out of his mind, but he couldn’t. He wanted to see her again, to make sure he hadn’t been mistaken of their color. And her vulnerability.

“What happened at Cairn Toul?” Lucan asked Hayden and Fallon.

Hayden lowered himself on a bench with his back against the table and listened with half an ear as Fallon told the others what occurred during their search of the mountain.

“And then I brought them here,” Fallon finished. “The rest you know.”

Quinn blew out a long breath. “I had hoped you wouldn’t find anyone, that all had managed to get away, but I fully expected them to be alive if anyone was still at the mountain.”

“It was too cold,” Hayden said, remembering how the strands of Isla’s ebony hair had been frozen.

While the MacLeod brothers gathered close together and spoke in whispers, Hayden lifted a brow when Galen and Logan sat on either side of him.

Hayden wasn’t the type of man who wanted — or needed — company. If anything, he desired to be alone with his thoughts, particularly those that warred within him now. It was how he had lived for so long, that even being at MacLeod Castle with the other Warriors sometimes got to him and had him leaving the castle.

He never went far, but just being by himself always helped.

“I willna apologize for giving you a glimpse into Isla’s mind,” Galen said after a lull of silence.

Hayden shrugged. “I didn’t ask for an apology.”

Logan cocked his head to the side and narrowed his eyes. “You didn’t see your face when you discovered she was drough. For a moment, I thought you would kill her where she lay.”

Did they think him such a monster? Hayden drew in a tired breath. He supposed he was such a beast. He couldn’t deny the urge to kill her had passed through his mind or that he still considered it. She had asked it of him, after all.

How could he ignore the fact she was drough when it was a drough who had slaughtered his family — every one of them?

“I don’t murder people,” Hayden said. “I give the droughs a fair chance at battle before I kill them.”

Logan leaned forward until his elbows rested on his knees. “I wouldna blame you for wanting to kill her. As you said, she’s a drough. And I know why you hate them so.”

He was one of the few who Hayden had confided in, one of the few who knew why Hayden’s hatred went so deep. Deirdre had taken something from every Warrior, so Hayden didn’t expect special treatment for the grudge he carried.

Galen rose to his feet. “I don’t know your reasons, Hayden, but I can guess. If you ever want to have a future you must let go of the past.”

Once Galen had walked away, Logan turned his head to Hayden. “Would you be sitting here if Isla wasn’t a drough?”

Hayden raised a brow. “What?”

“It’s a simple enough question. I saw how protective of her you were. I’ll ask again. Would you be sitting here if Isla wasn’t a drough?”

Hayden shook his head, unable to deny the answer.

“I didna think so.” Logan sat up and rubbed his hands on his thighs. “Arran said she was pretty.”

Arran would know, too. He, Ian, and Duncan had been locked in Deirdre’s mountain together with Quinn. The four Warriors had formed a tight bond during those awful weeks in the Pit.

Hayden had just thought his torment was over with Deirdre’s death, but the presence of a drough, even one who might have been forced to serve Deirdre, put his sanity to the test.

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