Authors: Sky Purington
Yet he had much to thank her for. If not for Iosbail, Torra might have lost her sanity. The Broun lass had seen her through some truly difficult times over the years.
Grant and Malcolm came alongside, Leslie and Sheila with them.
Sheila eyed Iosbail. “She’s a firecracker in any century, huh?”
“Aye.” Grant grinned. “No truer words can be said.”
love that woman.” Leslie shook her head. “I hope I get a chance to chat with her a bit while we’re here.”
“I’m sure you will.” Torra pulled free from Colin. “In fact, you should make a point of it.”
When Leslie quirked a brow at her, Torra said, “Is she not your ancestor then?”
“True. You’re right. I should make a point.” A half smirk met Leslie’s lips. “So that means when I spoke to her in the future she’d already met me here. That explains a lot I suppose. Not to mention it might be this visit that inspires Iosbail’s reincarnate to enter my horse Soul Reader.”
“Precisely right,” Torra said.
“Talk about pressure.” Sheila grinned at Leslie. “You better make a good impression.”
Leslie rolled her eyes. “Safe to say I did, Shay.”
Sheila shrugged. “Maybe. Nothing says everything can’t still go to hell if you don’t play your cards right. I mean if Iosbail doesn’t warm to you we might all just poof outta here.”
Leslie frowned. “Poof outta here?”
“Enough,” Malcolm grumbled. Colin didn’t miss the way the MacLomain’s eyes grazed him as he continued. “If there’s fighting to be had I’d rather have it be with an axe in the courtyard.”
Colin didn’t have to wonder at Nessa’s former husband’s dislike of him. He knew enough about Malcolm to know he held onto resentment longer than most. It didn’t matter in the least if Torra loved Colin. Malcolm still saw him as the enemy and likely somehow held him accountable for Nessa’s actions. Not to mention there was that little thing about Colin trying to burn Malcolm’s new lass alive when he and Grant kidnapped Iosbail. Oh, and mayhap trying to kill his parents and kin still didn’t sit well either.
So aye, there was bitterness there to be sure.
But Malcolm was Grant’s brother.
For that reason alone he’d not engage the man. At least not yet. Besides, he had his sights on another. Despite his assurance to Torra that he’d play nice with Valan, Colin would see revenge carried through on him eventually. Jealously might make a man do a lot but not the unforgivable actions the Hamilton had taken.
“Come, my kin from the future,” Iosbail said as she emerged from the crowd. She eyed the men. “You’ve chosen your weapons. Time to see how well you wield them, aye?”
“And what of we women?” Leslie said. “Don’t we get to fight?”
Iosbail cocked a brow, took Leslie’s hand and rubbed her palm. “These be soft hands, lass. Me thinks ‘tis an ill thing to give you a weapon.”
“Then you think wrong.” Leslie put her hands on her hips, eyes on Iosbail. “We Brouns might still be learning, but we’ve come far.”
Iosbail’s eyebrows slowly rose and she made a tsking sound. “Well, aren’t you confident. Mayhap you’ll fight me then, aye?”
Colin knew without question that was a very bad idea. But then he suspected Leslie knew nothing of the Broun’s battling abilities. Rumor had long held that Iosbail, immortal arch wizard that she was, fought as well as any seasoned warrior.
“Sure,” Leslie said easily. “I’ll fight you.”
Sheila and Malcolm shook their heads.
Leslie looked at them. “What, no faith in my abilities?”
“Not so much that,” Sheila said. “Just a whole lot more faith in Iosbail’s.”
“‘Tis foolhardy,” Malcolm muttered.
Sheila shrugged at Malcolm. “You know how she can be.”
“Aye,” he conceded.
“Well, the challenge has been laid now,” Iosbail said, beaming. “So it must be met.”
Torra looked at Grant, a small smile on her face. No matter how insane the transaction, Leslie had caught Iosbail’s attention and that was what they’d hoped for.
“Come then.” Iosbail made a gesture that they follow as she headed for the door.
As they did, Torra took Colin’s hand and urged him to slow some. Her eyes narrowed slightly. “I know you’re eager to take up sword against Valan. You gave me your word, Colin. Dinnae let me down.”
“I’ve no intentions of killing the lad.” But he couldn’t leave it at that. “Yet.”
“Forgiveness,” she reminded. “
Colin stopped, brought the back of her hand to his lips and murmured against her delicate flesh. “No need to fret, my love. I will behave.”
Her eyes narrowed more and the corner of her lip pinched in. “‘Twill all be for naught if you dinnae.”
Before more worried words could come from her mouth, he leaned in quick and brushed his lips over hers. Probably not the best move but inevitable. Though it was the slightest of touches, it took crippling willpower to pull back and even then he kept his lips a breath away from hers.
Fists clenched, he struggled to keep his breathing even. Hers was just as choppy as her warm, sweet breath came out in little puffs. His need to be inside her was so immensely strong that for a heart-clenching moment he truly wondered if he could live a lifetime without it, without feeling her heated depths and writhing passion. Did he have the kind of strength he promised? He must because he would
be without her by his side.
“Talk to your Viking king,” he said in a strained whisper. “Soon.”
She struggled at a nod, her body once more trembling.
“Come on then.” Grant popped his head back through the crowd, a devious grin on his face as he looked at Colin. “There’s battling to be had, my friend.”
Despite being forced by Keir to do such often, he and Grant shared a natural inclination towards fighting. In all truth, they loved it. And were bloody good at it. They’d spent countless hours sparring over the past four years and learned from one another. If there was a lad out there who could defeat them, he’d like to meet him.
Benches had been set around the courtyard with a variety of competitions already taking place from rock throwing to archery to both axe and swordplay. Torches burned bright and formed a wide circle around the entire inner compound. It took him all of two steps down the stairs to spot Valan. Like Grant, the Hamilton was partial to swords so Colin wasn’t surprised in the least to spot him with one.
“Arrogant bastard,” Grant muttered.
“Aye.” Colin grinned and winked at his friend. “‘Twill be great fun to best him in front of everyone.”
“All three of you are arrogant.” Torra shook her head and shot Grant a warning glance. “Dinnae kill him.”
“Och, lass.” Grant waved away her words, a glimmer of pre-battle lust already on his face. “Have faith.” His eyes met Colin’s. “‘Twill not happen until he serves his purpose.”
Colin snorted then nodded toward the armory. “Let us get our weapons.”
They’d no sooner reached the bottom of the stairs when Valan stood up straighter, legs spread and pointed his sword at Colin. When he spoke, his words were loud enough for all to hear.
“I claim the right of a Beltane battle against the MacLeod. Winner gets the lass. And that lass is Torra MacLomain.”
It was an uncomfortable sensation when dragon blood chilled in the veins. Fire turned to ice beneath her skin as the men glared at one another with loathing.
This was not good.
A Beltane battle was no small thing. Though the customs varied from clan to clan and from era to era, Torra knew full well what it meant under Iosbail’s rule. While it was a simple chase through the forest for all those single in Adlin’s clan, it was a ruthless battle of weaponry in his sister’s. But both the MacLomain and Broun’s traditions had one thing in common. The victor won the right to lay with their chosen lass. And while she had confidence that Colin would honor her wishes not to, she had no such confidence in Valan.
The Hamilton might claim he still loved her and seem chivalrous enough when promising his help, but how deep did his hurt still run? Because though Colin had betrayed him, he’d done such not knowing at first she was Valan’s love interest. Her betrayal, however, was far more precise.
Aye, Valan had once been an honorable sort but the things he’d been capable of once he learned of Colin and Torra’s betrayal were truly troublesome. Though she’d never say as much to Colin, a terrible anger still existed in her toward the Hamilton. He’d done incredible harm to her and her clan. But then she wasn’t such a fool that she couldn’t see beyond that to the entirety of this situation. If Valan had not done what he did, none of this would be set in motion.
“Why did you not tell Colin what I told you?”
Naðr Véurr asked.
Torra sighed and sat on a bench beside Sheila and Leslie, grateful they were in conversation with one another and not her.
Responding mentally to the Viking king, she said,
“I dinnae know.”
Torra still found it interesting that though she instinctively knew he spoke Norse, she understood his words. It had something to do with the dragon bloodline and time travel. No matter, she knew all who might come in contact with him from the future would be able to understand him.
“Of course you do, woman,”
Naðr said, humor in his voice.
“I told you of what your intimacy with a man might be like but you did not relay it to Colin. Again, why is that?”
“Because you were vague at best,”
she said, heart in her throat as Colin came out of the armory, sword in hand.
“I was not vague in the least. I told you it would be intense. Perhaps frightening. But if you have learned to control the dragon within all will be well.”
“And therein lies the problem,” she muttered aloud.
“Hell yeah.” Leslie shook her head. “They seriously look ready to kill each other.”
Torra gave no response but clenched a fist in her skirts and watched as Colin and Valan pulled off their tunics and prepared. Valan might be an exceptionally well-formed man but again, he couldn’t touch Colin. Saliva pooled in what she swore was her overly dry mouth as she stared at him. This was the first time she’d seen him bare-chested and almost wished she hadn’t. He was glorious. His broad shoulders gave way to nothing but pure, rippling muscles all the way down to…
“It’s always those last few inches before the plaid starts that really gets you, eh?” Leslie said to Torra.
“Leslie!” Sheila chastised, wide eyes on her cousin.
Torra couldn’t help it. She turned astounded eyes to Leslie.
“What?” Leslie winked at them. “Whenever Bradon’s shirtless, it’s all I can stare at. Even though I know what’s beneath that kilt my pulse just goes wild every time.” Her glance flickered to Colin then back to Torra. “Just like yours no doubt does when you look at
A low, throaty chuckle broke from just over their shoulders.
“I think mayhap that you and I are going to get on just fine, Leslie,” Iosbail said.
Though she didn’t do it often, Torra was fairly certain she blushed as her eyes once more returned to the men circling one another. It was becoming overly clear why Leslie and Iosbail would get along so well.
“You should not fight your desire for him,”
King Erc said into her mind.
Bloody hell. Now the whole crowd was here.
“I’m not fighting anything,”
she replied mentally.
“As I told Naðr, I haven’t nearly enough control over the dragon to risk intimacy.”
“Then you are no Viking but coward,”
Naðr said, his essence soft and challenging.
Where the Celtic king was always a compassionate, encouraging voice, the Viking was always quick to bring forth her temper. It didn’t matter in the least if he usually pushed her to take chances she otherwise would not take...mostly because she was eager to prove him wrong.
Careful to speak within the mind, she said,
“I refuse to risk Colin’s safety.”
Torra was shocked when a low growl broke from her lips. She covered her mouth when Sheila and Leslie’s eyes shot to her.
“Hmm.” Iosbail strolled around until she stood alongside. Her chin notched a bit as she looked down at Torra. She felt the Broun wizard’s magic ignite. “What ails you then, lass?”
“Dry throat,” Torra managed.
“Then drink from your mug,” Iosbail said, voice deadly calm as she held it out to her. It didn’t matter in the least that her Broun predecessor had already looked within her mind and likely saw their history together. Actions would always speak louder than both words and thoughts to Iosbail. Adlin’s sister would want to see first-hand
she decided to come to Torra’s aid in the future.
“Have you water mayhap?” Torra said.
“Drink from the mug,” Iosbail repeated.
The first clang of Colin and Valan’s blades rang out as Iosbail stood unwavering, mug held out. Though Torra wanted to look at the fighting, she couldn’t tear her gaze from Iosbail’s.
This was a challenge if not an order.
The Broun matriarch seized her wrist and made her take the mug. “If you continue to fear yourself, I will never be able to help you nor will I want to.”
“I dinnae fear myself but the dragon,” she whispered.
Clang. Clang. Clang.
The blades crashed together fast and furious.
Iosbail leaned in close, blue eyes aglow and hand squeezing hers over the mug of whiskey. “You
“Yes, you are,”
Naðr’s words echoed.
“Drink,” Iosbail said. “Face your lowered inhibitions. Face what you repress. Realize that you can control it.”
Torra stared at Iosbail for what seemed an eternity. Too many years she’d sat in a MacLomain tower repressing what she’d become, what she
. Long hours spent being horrified by the beast within. Nobody could ever understand what it was to survive ten winters imprisoned. It was what bonded her and Grant together so thoroughly. He understood…to a degree. But even he couldn’t possibly comprehend what it was like to have no real concept of what one would turn into if they gave into the craving, the driving need to shift to her other half.
Hence it was that only a few days after coming into her gift and her first contact with the kings that she learned how to keep the beast tamed. Bind herself in Viking magic and lock the dragon away. Yet there was always a price to pay for such things. In her case, it was the ability to speak but sixteen words a year of prophecy to her loved ones. As Naðr had explained, she harnessed the power of Viking seers.
So she made an exchange.
The seers would help her suppress her dragon blood so long as they could prophesize through her. It seemed they had a rabid addiction to foresight and would often bargain things so that they might use it through whoever struck a deal. Naðr found them tiring but enabled it to happen despite his never ending desire that Torra not do so.
But the magical deal was not wholly binding.
Or should she say, it only applied to her immediate kin and life in thirteenth century Scotland. Though Iosbail often urged her to break free of the unusual agreement and embrace what she was, her brother Adlin MacLomain, reminding her much more of his Da, King Erc, was of a kinder nature.
If she was determined to embrace a life of repression, he would offer her a reprieve.
“Torra,” Iosbail said, interrupting her thoughts.
Right, drink and face her fears.
Never once had Torra tried alcohol. Though she’d like to say she had no desire to that would be a lie. Many nights she watched the MacLomains celebrate from her tower window and gods, did they seem happy drinking their whiskey. But then she’d seen the negative side of the drink too. Fights mostly. Staggering. Sloppy actions. Yet she’d also seen incredible passion born of the drink. Couples giggling then making love up against the outside of the stable when they thought nobody watched. She could still hear their sounds of pleasure on the wind.
Didn’t she deserve that? To feel what they had?
Enough with Iosbail glaring down. Torra brought the mug to her lips and tilted it back. Mayhap because she was feeling so rebellious or mayhap being she was a Scotswoman, she quite enjoyed the burning liquid that slid down her throat.
Erc’s words slipped into her mind.
“If I had a horn of whiskey, I’d see you down it after that,”
Naðr said, evidently pleased. But of course he was. She was doing exactly what he wanted. That was enough to stop what had become far too many gulps.
They might share dragon blood, but she’d only give the Viking King so much.
Clang. Clang. Clang.
Her eyes shot to the men fighting, purposefully ignoring the look of triumph she knew was in Iosbail’s eyes. Colin and Valan fought ferociously. Anyone could see that they were well matched, their blades meeting so quickly that if she didn’t know better she’d swear magic was involved. Grant and Malcolm stood just beyond. Both had their arms crossed over their chests, assessing eyes watching every move the men made.
Though Torra was sure she should be frightened over who became victor, she wasn’t in the least as slow, alcohol-induced warmth spread through her. Instead, she took another sip of whiskey, mesmerized by the fluidity, the utter beauty of Colin’s muscles bulging as he fought. Even as his strong, sweat glistened body moved, she envisioned it shifting and flexing not in warfare but against her skin.
The pure physical power coming off his body had her staring, lost in sensual thoughts that had no place within current circumstances. But she couldn’t stop if she wanted to. In truth, she barely noticed when her near empty mug was replaced with a full one.
Though right next to her, it seemed a great distance away when Iosbail said, “All right, Leslie. My crowd is used to watching more than one fight at once. Let’s see if you’ve the courage behind your challenge.”
Erc’s words entered her mind.
“How fare thee, lass?”
“Oh, she fares just fine she does,”
came Naðr’s response.
Snapped out of the spell she’d nearly drifted beneath watching Colin, Torra frowned at Naðr’s smug words. She set aside her drink. As it was, she’d already drunk too much.
“You need not fear the liquid in that cup,”
Naðr said. “
Do not fight the feelings you have but embrace them. Have faith in yourself. Be strong.”
“All I’ve ever done is be strong,” she murmured.
“Heck right you have.” Sheila wrapped an arm over Torra’s shoulder.
Again, she’d spoken aloud without meaning to. And though she meant to defend her words they faded away under the simple comfort Sheila offered. The only true friends she’d ever had were her kin and Colin, even Valan at one time.
Never a lass from another time.
Sheila had truly won her over when she’d fought to defend her in the war between the MacLomains, MacLeods and Hamiltons and Torra wouldn’t soon forget it. The lass didn’t seem to care in least that she comforted someone who could instantly become a beast well over a hundred times her size. Nay, like Grant, Sheila saw her as but a woman who had been through far too much in life and deserved defending. So when the lass’s hand slipped into hers and squeezed, Torra didn’t pull away.
Unfamiliar warmth continued to spread through her as she watched Colin and Valan battle then Leslie and Iosbail start to circle one another. Not related at all with what she viewed but entirely due to the whiskey, Torra couldn’t say her blood heating this way was terribly bad. The beast within her didn’t stir. In fact, it almost seemed to be resting. But then the men appeared to be holding their own and Colin had not been injured so there was little to stress over.
What would it be if Valan slipped by Colin’s guard? What would it be if Valan won?
Yet even as her distressed heartbeat increased, Sheila’s eyes slid to hers. “See, everyone’s doing okay. The guys are just bullying each other.” She pointed with a grin on her face. “And look at Les. She’s just a mess.”