FOUR

Hayden closed the door to his chamber behind him as he stepped out into the hallway with Fallon, Lucan, and Broc.

“You haven’t said much,” Lucan said to him. “What are your thoughts?”

Hayden crossed his arms over his chest. “Regardless of whether or not Deirdre held Isla against her will, Isla is drough. A drough is evil. Do you really want something evil in the castle?”

“I’ll make sure Isla doesn’t do anything,” Broc spoke up. “But she is injured and needs to heal. If we send her out now she’ll die.”

Fallon shook his head. “Not if we believe her. She said she cannot die, just as Deirdre cannot die. Did you hear of anything like that while under Deirdre’s service, Broc?”

“Nay,” Broc said. “There were times when Isla didn’t act herself. As a Warrior I had to interact with other Warriors, but Isla was always by herself unless Deirdre had need of her. Isla had no one in that cursed mountain.”

Hayden didn’t want to feel a connection with the drough, but hearing that she preferred to be alone made it impossible. “So what do we do?”

“I would think Quinn would fight to have Isla removed since Marcail is carrying his child, but I saw the determination on Marcail’s face,” Lucan said. “She wants Isla to stay. At least for now.”

The door opened and Cara walked from the chamber straight to Lucan’s side. “Marcail is trying to take Isla’s emotions again, but Quinn is preventing it. Whatever holds Isla in its grip while she dreams is … horrific.”

Lucan kissed her forehead and pulled her against him. “What do you feel about Isla and what she told us regarding Deirdre?”

Cara tucked a curl of chestnut hair behind her ear and raised her dark eyes to her husband. “I believe her, Lucan. As much as I don’t want to, I believe her.”

“Then Deirdre isna dead,” Broc said into the silence and shook his head sadly. “I thought her wicked ways had ended.”

Hayden heard someone approach and turned to find Arran. Arran was one of the three Warriors who had united with Quinn while he was locked in Cairn Toul.

He didn’t know much about Arran, but Hayden liked the Warrior. The more Warriors they had on their side, the better. Especially now if Deirdre truly wasn’t gone as they had thought.

Arran stopped beside Hayden and pushed his dark brown hair from his face with a swift movement of his hand. “What is going on?”

“First,” Fallon said, “I’d like your thoughts on Isla. You dealt with her in the mountain.”

Arran shrugged as his gaze scanned the small crowd. “She came to the Pit on occasion, but she never harmed us and rarely spoke to us. She would come to ask who wanted to pledge themselves to Deirdre. Other than that, we didn’t see her.”

Broc raised a blond brow. “Do you think Quinn and I lied?”

“Nay,” Lucan answered for Fallon. “We just like to get opinions. We’re not sure what we’re dealing with now.”

“And what is it exactly that we’re dealing with?” Arran asked.

Hayden met Arran’s gaze. “Isla says Deirdre isn’t dead.”

“How is that possible?”

“They’re connected somehow,” Hayden explained. “Deirdre used her black magic.”

Arran leaned his head back against the wall and sighed. “Just when I thought it was over.”

“So you believe her?” Fallon asked.

Arran laughed, though no mirth was in the sound. “After the things I witnessed in that mountain, it wouldn’t surprise me. I always thought Deirdre died too easily.”

“I did wonder about that as well,” Lucan admitted. “I just thought we managed to get the upper hand.”

Broc leaned a hand on the stone wall and shook his head. “If Deirdre isn’t dead, then we can expect her to come after us.”

“Maybe she already has,” Arran said. “If Isla is linked to her, maybe Isla is her weapon.”

“Nay.” The response was instant for Hayden. He didn’t think too hard on how he knew, though. “Isla wants to leave. She’s begged us to let her go. That wasn’t an act.”

Lucan rubbed a hand down his face. “I agree with Hayden. Deirdre wouldn’t have any idea that we’d return to the mountain to look for prisoners. So Isla being found by Hayden couldna have been planned.”

“Aye,” Fallon said. “My worry is the danger Isla said we were in.”

Arran cursed. “Because if she’s linked to Deirdre, Deirdre can use her at any time.”

Hayden began to wonder if he should have killed Isla when he’d had the chance.

*

The next time Isla opened her eyes it was to find the chamber dark with only a candle to chase away the shadows. She had no idea how much time had passed, but she knew she had to get her strength back to evade another sleeping chant.

Just thinking of reliving that dream over and over again made her skin crawl. She was awake now, and she intended to stay that way for quite a while.

“We’re not going to hurt you.”

The soft, feminine voice came from her right. Isla turned her head and found Marcail watching her with those unusual turquoise eyes.

“By keeping me here, you are hurting yourselves,” Isla told her.

Marcail glanced down at her hands. “Why is that?”

“You don’t believe me about Deirdre.” Isla had never imagined they would doubt her.

“Please understand they saw her die.”

Isla sighed and sat up. She pulled her legs to her chest and rested her chin on her knees. She wanted nothing more than food and a bath, but it would have to wait. At least her body didn’t hurt as much as it had earlier.

“I never asked to be brought here.”

Marcail smiled. “Nay, you didn’t. You did, however, fight our magic. Why?”

“Because the weaker I am the more difficult it is for Deirdre to use me.”

“I see.” Marcail’s hand went to her stomach with a telltale sigh.

“You are carrying Quinn’s child, are you not?”

Marcail nodded slowly, her face draining of color. “I am. I thought we were safe from Deirdre and the evil she spawned.”

The thought of Deirdre harming another innocent child made Isla seethe with anger. Too many had been hurt already. Before she could think better of it, she said, “There is something I can do to help you.”

“What?”

The eagerness in Marcail’s gaze pulled at Isla. “I can shield the castle for a time to make it more difficult for Deirdre to find me.”

“Therefore more difficult to find us.”

“Precisely. As soon as I leave, however, the shield will no longer work.”

Marcail fingered the gold band wrapped around one of her braids. “Why would you offer such a thing? You were with Deirdre.”

“I was never with Deirdre. I did what I had to do to keep my sister and niece alive. They are both dead now, so there’s no reason not to fight Deirdre.”

Marcail rose and walked to the foot of the bed. “I need to tell the others what you’ve told me.”

Isla nodded, expecting no less.

“I shall have food and a bath sent up immediately.”

Isla couldn’t remember a time when someone had been kind to her simply because they wanted to. It had been so many years since she was Isla, daughter of the village baker, that her old life seemed like a figment of her imagination.

“I would very much appreciate it.”

Marcail stopped at the door and gave her a small smile. “Trust us, Isla. We’re only trying to help.”

Isla waited until Marcail was gone before she dropped her head into her hands. Alone with her thoughts, she felt the tears prick her eyes as she realized she was truly alone in the world for the first time in over five hundred years.

She might not have spoken with her sister or seen much of her niece, but they had always been there in one form or another. Now, with Lavena no longer sustained by Deirdre’s blue flames, and Grania dead by Isla’s own hand — albeit by accident — there was no one.

Marcail had told her to trust them. If only Isla could, but she had seen what trusting someone could do. She had trusted Deirdre not to kill her sister. Instead, Deirdre had put Lavena into the magical blue flames where she’d never be able to leave again.

Trust wasn’t something Isla could give anyone. Not now. Not ever.

Yet, she couldn’t stop the need to help Marcail and her unborn child. Isla hadn’t been able to prevent Deirdre from taking Grania, but Isla would do everything within her power to protect Marcail.

And what power Isla had now. She had only thought she had magic when she was a simple mie. The magic had been pure, but it hadn’t been strong.

Deirdre was the one that made her turn drough. Isla had fought it for as long as she could, but when Grania’s life had been threatened, Isla had given in and completed the ritual.

She shuddered just thinking about seeing and feeling the evil that had taken hold of her when she had said the words and cut her wrists. Her fingers absently rubbed the scars, scars that told the world who and what she was.

The malice had tried to take control of her, and sometimes it actually had. There were times, however, when she’d gained the upper hand. Each time got progressively easier until Isla was able to keep the evil tamped down.

Until Deirdre would use her magic.

There was a light knock on the door before it opened and Arran brought in a tray of food. She looked at the tall Warrior. Gone was the haggard expression on his face and the white skin of his god, and in its place was someone content. And it showed by his confidence and ease.

Arran had been one of the Warriors Deirdre had wanted in her bed. Isla could understand why, with Arran’s dark good looks and sinewy body.

“Hello,” he said as he placed the tray on the bed.

Isla licked her lips. “Hello.”

“Are you in pain?”

She was surprised by the question. How could she answer? She’d been in constant pain for centuries.

“Your wound,” he said. “Does it pain you?”

“Only a little. It is nothing.”

He nodded and backed away. “Your bath will be brought up shortly.”

Isla reached for the bread, her stomach rumbling with hunger. “Thank you.”

She didn’t hear Arran leave as she closed her eyes and savored the taste of fresh-baked bread as it filled her mouth. The venison was next, and then the wine.

Isla didn’t think she had ever been so hungry. It had been days since she’d eaten, but she could survive even starvation as she had learned before.

It was while she was finishing her meal that a wooden tub was brought into her chamber and filled with steaming water. She couldn’t wait to get into the bath and scrub off the sweat and grime that coated her skin.

It was more Warriors who brought the water. So far she had seen no servants. Did the MacLeods not have any, or were they keeping them away from Isla?

She didn’t know the Warriors’ names, but she did think she recognized one of them. It was his steely gray eyes that watched her carefully, as if he searched for something.

Isla ignored him, and as soon as they were gone, she jumped from the bed. In one movement she had the chemise off and one leg already in the bath.

She lowered herself into the tub with a sigh. Though she longed to relax in the water, she didn’t know how long she had before someone came to fetch her. So she reached for the soap and began to scrub.

With her hair clean and dripping over the side, Isla washed her body twice. She was just rinsing off when the door opened and the blond giant with black eyes filled the doorway.

She paused, one arm lifted and water cascading down her chest. The look in his eyes as he stared at her caused her stomach to flip and her heart to race. His hot gaze raked her, leaving her struggling for breath and trying to understand how one look could do that to her.

He opened his mouth, and then shut it only to open it again. “I dinna know you were in the middle of bathing.”

“I’m nearly finished.”

His gaze never wavered. She lowered her arm and waited for him to continue.

After a moment he turned his head away. “I’m to escort you to the great hall. I have a gown for you. Cara said it might be a wee big.”

Isla watched a small bundle sail through the air from his fist and land on the bed.

“I’ll wait in the hall.” He left and shut the door before she could say anything.

Isla’s heart pounded in her chest. No man had seen her naked before. The water had covered her, but still. She was without clothes. Why then did the prospect of him seeing her give her a little thrill? Had she lost part of her wits on Cairn Toul as well as her soul?

As she finished rinsing and rose to dry off, she thought she had seen something flash in his eyes, some emotion she had never seen before.

She wished she knew the Warrior’s name. After all, she had begged him to kill her. He could have at least given her his name.

Isla reached for the gown and found undergarments, a new chemise, stockings, and shoes. She hurried to dress, afraid the big Warrior would return before she was finished.

The shoes were too big and kept falling off her feet, so Isla decided not to wear them. The gown was of simple design, but in a pretty lavender color that conformed to her curves in a becoming way. It was so long she had to lift it to be able to walk, and the sleeves had to be rolled up. All in all, it was of decent fit.

She found a comb on the table beside the bed and hurried to brush out the tangles. It took longer than she expected, and her hair was still wet when she went to the door.

As soon as she opened it she found the Warrior standing across the hall, his arms crossed over his muscular chest. His dark gaze looked her up and down before he pushed off the wall.

“How is your wound?”

His voice was rough and deep and made her pulse jump. “It’s healing.”

“They are going to have questions for you. Many questions.”

“I have no doubt. I have survived much worse than an inquisition.”

“I know.”

It was the way he said it, as if he had witnessed her tortures himself. It gave her pause and made her wonder just who he was. And why he had such an effect on her. “Who are you?”

His gaze lowered to the ground for a moment before he looked into her eyes. “Hayden Campbell.”

“Well, Hayden Campbell, I have the answers everyone wants. Shall you take me to the great hall?”

He gave a quick nod of his head and turned. His strides were long, making Isla have to hurry to catch up with him. She had always hated being so short. She had to crane her neck to look at everyone, especially this giant called Hayden.

Isla’s foot caught on the hem of her gown, causing her to trip. In less than a heartbeat Hayden was beside her, his arms like bands of steel, wrapped around her to steady her. Instantly, her blood turned to fire and her heart leapt to her throat.

She lifted her eyes to see his face breaths from hers. A scent of spice and woods filled her. Isla could make out the shadow of a beard, and no matter how hard she looked, she couldn’t find his pupils in his onyx eyes.

“I tripped,” she explained when she got her breath back. “The gown is a bit long.”

He released her so quickly Isla had to reach for the wall to balance herself. She lifted her hem and gave him a nod. “I won’t stumble again.”

Without another word Hayden resumed walking, though Isla soon took note that he had shortened his stride. For her?

Surely not.

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