THIRTY-TWO

Hayden hated the taste of fear in his mouth. It was made worse because he could see the hurt etched on Isla’s face. She kept her emotions in check, so to show anything she must be in a terrible amount of pain.

Her hands held onto him tightly while she kept her head buried in his neck. Her body was tense, and she was much too pale.

He wished they had already been at the castle or that he could jump as Fallon did from one place to another without so much as a thought.

The walk to the castle was taking longer than Hayden wanted. At first he had taken long strides, but it must have jarred Isla because he heard her gasp in pain a few times. Hayden had shortened his steps while he tried to dodge any rocks that he might trip over.

Hayden could feel Ian’s presence behind him. He didn’t care. It allowed him to hold Isla while Ian could talk to the others and let them know what was going on. All Hayden wanted to do was get Isla somewhere dark so the sun would no longer harm her eyes and her head.

“We’re almost there,” he murmured. “Just a little farther, and I’ll have you in your tower.”

Her only response was a light pressure from her fingers on his neck. Hayden had never felt so powerless. He didn’t know what was wrong or how to help Isla, but he would find a way.

Out of nowhere Broc landed beside Hayden and folded his massive wings behind him. “What happened?”

“I’m not sure,” Hayden answered.

Behind him Ian said, “She complained about her head aching, and when she walked into the sun it seemed to grow worse.”

“Sonya can help her,” Broc said. “Sonya can heal anything.”

Hayden had seen Sonya’s magic, but he had his doubts. Especially if this had anything to do with Deirdre. “Let’s hope you’re right.”

“I’ll alert Sonya and the others.” With that Broc leapt into the air and flew to the castle.

Isla moaned softly. “I’ll be all right. I just need to get out of the sun.”

Hayden didn’t bother to answer her. She might think she would be fine, but he would make sure of it. He didn’t stop and wonder why he would go to the ends of the earth to help Isla, he only knew that he would.

He’d seen her in pain, and all that mattered was her. All that would ever matter was Isla.

By the time he reached the bailey, Lucan and Fallon were waiting for him. Hayden walked to Fallon, ready to beg him to use his power.

“Ready?” Fallon asked a moment before he placed a hand on Hayden’s shoulder.

In a blink the three of them were in the tower. Hayden felt Isla relax against him. He was about to lay her on the bed when he paused. Sunlight fell from her window and bathed the bed in light.

“I’ll take care of it,” Broc said.

Hayden hadn’t even realized Broc was in the chamber. He watched Broc take a blanket and fly to the window. Broc’s wings held him suspended as he closed the shutters and draped the blanket over them to block out all the light.

Isla lifted her head a little and sighed. Though Hayden was loath to release her, he knew she needed to be on the bed so Sonya could try to help.

As Hayden was laying Isla down, she lifted her head and whispered, “Do not let Marcail near me. She might try to take the pain, and I would not have her or her unborn child harmed in any way.”

“I promise,” Hayden said and looked into her eyes still clouded with pain. “Now allow Sonya to help.”

Hayden took a step back and then another. He had to force himself to give Sonya and Cara room to move, but it was difficult when all he wanted to do was hold Isla and try to make her better.

It wasn’t long before Quinn and Marcail arrived in the tower. As soon as Hayden saw Marcail start toward the bed, he grabbed hold of her arm.

“I can help,” Marcail told him when she tried to jerk her arm free and couldn’t.

“Hayden,” Quinn threatened behind him.

Hayden looked from one to the other. “I promised Isla I wouldn’t allow Marcail near her. Isla is afraid Marcail might try to help her, and she willna have you or the babe hurt.”

Marcail sighed, and then gave a small nod. “All right. I’ll stay back, but if they need me, don’t try to stop me again.”

Hayden returned his attention the bed. Isla was curled onto her side with her back to him, her lips pressed into a tight line and her face even paler than before.

Sonya was bent over her, talking quietly. Every so often Hayden would see Isla’s lips move in answer.

He was a Warrior. Immortal. With powers from an ancient god that could not be rivaled. But he couldn’t help Isla. He hated the feeling, the frustration of being able to do nothing.

Hayden allowed his claws to lengthen and fisted his hands. His claws sank into his skin and he felt the blood run between his fingers. But it did nothing to help the turmoil inside him.

“Sonya will help her,” Fallon said. “Give her time.”

Hayden glanced at the eldest MacLeod. “And if she cannot? What if no one can help Isla?”

“Then we will figure something out.”

“You think this is Deirdre, don’t you?”

Fallon’s jaw clenched before he gave a small jerk of his head. “It’s a possibility.”

Hayden didn’t want to hear it, even if he knew it could be the truth. He couldn’t lose Isla. He wouldn’t lose her.

“You will not kill her,” Hayden heard himself say. “If it is to be done, I will do it.”

Fallon raised a dark brow in question. “I gave her my word.”

“So did I just last night. I will do it.” It would kill him, but he would be the one to give her the freedom she yearned for.

“Are you sure you’ll be able to?” Fallon asked.

It would be the hardest thing Hayden had ever done, but he owed Isla at least that. “Aye.”

“So be it.”

Fallon walked away, but Hayden wasn’t left alone for long. Broc crossed his arms over his chest, his gaze on the bed just as Hayden’s was.

“Your blood is dripping on the floor,” Broc said as if he were speaking of the weather. “I’m sure Isla willna approve.”

Hayden unclenched his fists. “How is it we can do anything but stop the pain of others?”

“I have no answer for you. I’m just thankful we have a Druid with strong healing magic. Without Sonya we’d have already lost Malcolm, Larena, Quinn, and Marcail.”

Hayden looked down at his palms that were already healed. “I’ve taken so many lives without a second thought.”

“They were Warriors and wyrran of Deirdre’s, Hayden. That doesn’t count.”

“Doesn’t it?” he asked. “I’ve spilled so much blood. And the droughs I killed? Who am I to ask that someone be spared?”

Broc inhaled a deep breath. “What right does anyone have, yet everyone asks. If Isla can be helped, she’s at the right place.”

Hayden prayed he was right. His stomach churned each time he thought about having to take Isla’s head. How many droughs had he killed? He’d lost count, it was so many.

“Have you finally admitted to yourself that you care for Isla?” Broc asked.

Hayden glanced over to find Broc’s dark brown gaze on him. “Has it been that obvious?”

“To everyone.”

“Aye, I’ve admitted it to myself. And now, to you.”

“Does Isla know?”

Hayden shook his head. “Things have a way of getting out of control when I’m around her. She spins me about so that I cannot get my bearings.”

“Ah,” was all Broc said understanding laced through that one sound.

“I never wanted this.”

“Those who seek it rarely find it. It’s those who doona want it that it comes to them easily.”

Hayden thought on Broc’s words long after the Warrior had departed the tower.

*

Isla just wanted to be left alone. Now that she was out of the sun she could try and turn her mind to other things to help with the pain.

“Tell me where it hurts?” Sonya coaxed.

Isla would rather ignore her, but Sonya was persistent. She wouldn’t leave until she had attempted to help Isla. “It began in my temples and now has gone down into my neck.”

Sonya’s cool fingers lifted Isla’s braid and softly rubbed the back of her neck. “Does your head ache often?”

“Nay.”

“But it does happen?”

Isla didn’t want anyone to guess that Deirdre was the cause of it. Isla wasn’t even sure herself, which is why she wanted to be left alone to think about it. “Occasionally.”

“I’m going to try and heal you now,” Sonya said.

Isla kept her eyes squeezed shut. Even without the sunlight, the candles that blazed to allow the others to see caused her head to throb more.

Every time someone so much as bumped the bed she had to bite back a moan of pain. She didn’t want anyone, especially Hayden, to see just how badly she hurt.

Sonya’s magic began to flow over Isla, the feel of it beautiful and sweet. It was strong and pure. Isla felt as if tree limbs were softly brushing over her, soothing her. It was an illusion of Sonya’s magic that only other Druids would be able to detect, but it was lovely and did help to calm her.

It was just a moment later that Isla felt more magic. This time it was earthy and like a root that coiled around her giving healing energy. Cara, Isla realized.

Together the Druids did their best to take away the ache in Isla’s head, but they could only manage to diminish it somewhat. It was enough that Isla was able to open her eyes, though.

“Save your magic,” she told Sonya and Cara. “I just need to rest.”

Isla heard Hayden bark Marcail’s name. A moment later Marcail knelt beside the bed, her head even with Isla’s. “Nay,” Isla said. “Don’t.”

“Shh,” Marcail whispered. “I won’t take away the pain, though I would if you would allow me.”

“It might harm your child.”

Marcail smiled, a smile full of love and wisdom. “I feel my child’s magic already. I don’t think it would hurt the babe.”

“Nay,” she said again.

“As I thought you would say. If you won’t let me take the pain, there is something you could try. Your have more magic than any of us here, so if anyone can do this, you can.”

Isla felt a cool cloth on her forehead. “What is it?”

“When I do take someone’s emotions, I have to let my magic surround me. If I don’t, the emotions could very well kill me.”

“I knew it,” Isla heard Quinn grind out from somewhere in the tower.

Marcail didn’t break eye contact with Isla. “Call your magic and let it fill you, let it protect you.”

“And you think this will make the pain stop?”

“It helps to lessen my illness when I take emotions.”

It was worth a try at least. “Can you have everyone leave?”

“Of course.” Marcail rose to her feet. “Isla needs to be alone.”

Cara wiped Isla’s face once more. “I’ll be back in a wee bit to check on you.”

Isla smiled and let her eyes shut.

“I’m not leaving,” Hayden said tightly.

Elation swept through Isla. His presence comforted her as nothing else could. She caught Cara’s hand before she could leave. “He can stay.”

Cara’s smile was slow as it spread across her face. “Fallon. Quinn. Leave Hayden. Isla has asked that he be allowed to stay.”

Cara’s fingers squeezed Isla’s for a moment before she walked away. It wasn’t long before the door closed. Isla had her back to the door so she didn’t know where Hayden was, and she feared turning over would cause more pain.

“None of it helped, did it?”

His voice was warm, deep, and soft as it drifted to her. “A little.”

She wanted to feel his arms around her again, to have his strength surround her. It had felt so good to be carried by him. Hayden had sheltered her from the sun and protected her as much as he could. He might say he didn’t care, but she knew he did. Deep down, he did.

And that was the problem. He did care. For a drough. Though he wanted to despise her, to shun her, she had heard the worry in his voice, felt the tenderness in his hands.

If she died right then, it all would have been enough. She had known the warmth of a skilled lover, the gentleness of a fierce Warrior. And it had all been for her alone.

Isla’s heart swelled with the knowledge.

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