A mysterious inheritance and magical forces thrust Kara Malone through the ages to the Scottish Highlands of old. There she encounters Alaxandar McLeod, the dark stranger who inhabits her dreams.
Alaxandar leads the charge to learn the truth about the violent raids against his clan. When his horse almost tramples a beautiful stranger, he is beguiled but skeptical. Is she a spy, or worse, a witch come to lure him with her body and distract him from his quest?
With his clan ever leery of Kara’s presence, and the raids intensifying, Alaxandar must decide what is right for his family and his heart. Will Kara choose to stay with the stranger from her dreams made flesh, or the mission she vowed to complete?
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She held tightly to her grandmother’s fragile hand, her fingers trembling. “The key is hidden with your grandfather’s picture,” Glynnis said with her last breath.
A loud rumbling shifted Kara Malone’s subconscious from that heart-rending scene to one where horses ran full speed, and men screamed. She woke with a start. Fully conscious of her surroundings, she identified the noise as thunder. The fury of the storm rattled the windows.
“Damn.” She swung her legs over the side of the full-sized bed as a bolt of lightning cracked outside. She clutched the edge of the mattress, bowing her head and breathing deeply. Dreams and nightmares had been her constant companions since the age of thirteen. This one shook her more so than usual because it involved not only the wild and handsome warrior, but the last moments with her grandmother, as well.
Pulling on sweats, she went downstairs to quench her thirst and steady her nerves. She headed straight to the antique liquor cabinet and a bottle of Asbach Uralt Brandy. The lining of her throat burned as the alcohol coated it. Her eyes watered.
They weren’t tears. She rarely cried.
She looked out the window. Sheets of rain showered the lawn. Mother Nature’s cleansing.
Clutching the glass, Kara wandered the well-known house in the dark, feeling like an intruder. Without her grandmother, the place would soon be unbearable. No more laughter while making bat-wing cookies for trick-or-treaters. No more hot buttered eggnog with that hint of Rum at Christmastime while wrapping presents in front of the fire.
Lurking on the threshold, she jumped as lightning lit her grandmother’s darkened bedroom. She hadn’t realized she’d come to this room, the sanctuary of her childhood when the nightmares had gotten so awful that she ran to Haskell and Glynnis’ room. They smiled, opening their arms and their hearts to give her peace from the frightening moments. No child should suffer the fear of the unknown alone.
A fluttering motion caught her eye. She turned her head. There was nothing there.
‘Tis the wee fairies ye see, little Kara. They protect the children.’
Glynnis had a story for everything. “There are no children here anymore, Grams.”
In another flash, the portrait of Haskell Malone brightened. Her grandmother’s weak voice echoed in her head. The memory of Glynnis looking so frail and worn lying in the hospital bed caused Kara to take a huge gulp from the tumbler. She hissed as it burned her throat and soothed her nerves.
The amber-colored liquid sloshed onto her hand as she slammed the drink down on the dresser. She licked it off before lifting the cumbersome frame from the wall. First, she lay the frame face down and slid the backer from its tracks. There were no magic keys taped to the cardboard or canvas. “I knew she was pulling my leg,” Kara murmured putting everything back together. She stood the portrait against the wall.
Rain battered the roof and wind bent trees almost in half with its force. Another bright burst of lightning and booming thunderclap caused her to jump.
“Get a grip.”
Nights of little to no sleep were making her hands jittery and her mind foggy. She looked at the frame again. A weird feeling came over her. Something didn’t seem right or was she imagining it? She flipped on the lamp and stared at the ornate, golden, hand-carved filigree on the frame. Glancing at the smiling face of her grandfather, she grumbled. “Do you know something I don’t, Grandpa?”
Kara ran her fingertips along the edges and touched the design until her forefinger scraped against an oddity. Moving closer, she concentrated on that area. She rubbed her thumb over it and pushed. A small gold key popped out of the design.
“Oh my God.”
Why would her grandmother hide the key in such a sneaky way? Glynnis had seemed to have all her faculties still intact before she passed. But surely, the story couldn’t be true.
Shaky fingers lifted the brandy glass. Clan stone, Scotland, myths, and legends. Glynnis loved the fairytales. Ancient Scotland was her favorite subject. She talked about the people with such familiarity. It was like she actually knew them.
“This is ridiculous,” Kara said. Marching over to the closet, she threw open the door and stared into the cluttered space. She pushed into the mess. “I swear the woman was a pack rat. You’d think she’d never heard of the Salvation Army or Goodwill.”
Ten minutes later, in the farthest recesses, her fingers brushed something. Blowing hair out of her eyes, she pulled the ten-by-eight-inch cedar box adorned with Celtic symbols into her lap. She recognized her grandfather’s handiwork in the intricate carvings. A Celtic wooden cross, which hung in the living room above the doorway, had also been hand-carved by Haskell. It was a grand hobby of his. Flipping the box over, she ran her fingers across his initials etched in the corner.
The tiny lock had the same shape as the key. An excitement—or was it fear—gripped Kara’s stomach. The room seemed hotter than before. Standing, she grabbed the dresser to fight off waves of dizziness.
Never drink on an empty stomach.
Crossing the floor, she sat on the edge of the bed and hugged the box to her chest. The combination of alcohol and sleepless nights caused blurry vision and the start of a major headache. She didn’t think she could deal with another shock right now. Placing the key on the chain around her neck, she tucked the box under her arm and went back to bed.
It’ll wait. What was one more day going to matter?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sloan McBride is a multi-published author whose books have been reviewed, and featured in RT Book Reviews. She is a romance author who leans toward the paranormal, adding suspense, and mixing in mythology with her Time Walker Series. She dances through the Highlands, making merry with the clans in The Talisman Trilogy, and turns up the heat in the crazy world of smokejumpers in the Men of Fire Trilogy.
Sloan lives in Illinois with her husband of 39 years and two children who have grown into adulthood. By day she is executive assistant to the majority owner of a dynamic law firm. By night, she puts on her writing persona and creates kick-ass heroines and the tortured men who love them.
If you’d like more information about Sloan, please visit her website at http://www.sloanmcbride.com where you can sign up for her newsletter to receive notice of new books, giveaways, and more.