Authors: Sky Purington
“Aye, the whiskey was good.” Colin quirked a brow and grinned. “Then I but helped you find release. You and the dragon did the rest.”
There was nothing more gratifying then watching pink stain her cheekbones and her breath hitch as she gave a whispery response. “You underestimate yourself.”
“Nay, lass.” Colin kissed the back of her hand softly, purposefully. “But if you wish to convince me otherwise I wouldnae be opposed.”
Torra’s eyelashes fluttered and she tore her gaze away to once again look out the window. Though she’d conquered much because of her climax, she still feared what might happen if they lay together as they should…as he hoped they soon would.
“We haven’t spoken of that time betwixt your shift into a dragon at the MacLomains and when you at last flew over the Hamilton castle,” he said. “I wish I’d been there for you. What did you do? Where did you sleep?”
“Honestly, my memories are scattered. I remember the feel of freedom in flight but recall verra little about shifting to begin with. Just that it was time and so I did,” she said softly. “I was never far from my kin. Or at least I dinnae think I was. After all, I knew when they had arrived at the Hamilton castle. As to sleep, I think ‘twas often likely in caves.”
“But there wasnae fear?”
Torra shook her head slowly. “Not when I became the dragon. Not like this fear that I would hurt you if I couldnae control the shift.”
Colin again brought her hand to his lips. “‘Tis already a fear half conquered and one that you must release in its entirety.”
Their eyes held for a long moment before she smoothly turned both her gaze and the conversation away. “I know of this cottage.”
“Aye.” An easy smile came to her face. “‘Twill be of great importance in the future.”
He smiled when her grin widened. Eyes unburdened in an instant by all that Fate had thrust upon her shoulders, Torra’s gaze met his. “Well, this cottage will someday house Stephen Broun.”
Colin arched his brows in question, delighted for no other reason than that she seemed pleased.
Torra looked at him as though he should have this all figured out but explained nonetheless. “Stephen Broun was the lad who stole Arianna Broun away from her promised betrothed, Iain MacLomain. Long story short, he, Arianna, Alan Stewart and Caitriona at one time hatched a plan in this verra cottage. It helped Stephen run away with Arianna so that she wouldnae be doomed to marry Iain. But it all worked out quite well because Iain was meant for Arianna Broun from the future.”
She made a flourish with her hand that encompassed the building and smiled wider. “Yet all of that, according to the year in which we currently hail, has yet to happen.”
Colin was confused as hell but did not say as much. This tidbit of history made her happy so he merely nodded and continued to grin. “‘Tis good that.”
Torra’s bright eyes met his. “Aye, because if not for that bit of history my Da, Iain MacLomain, might not have ended up with my Ma, Arianna, aye?”
Och, right. “Well, when you put it like that.” He covered his tracks. “‘Tis a bloody good thing indeed.”
Colin loved Torra well and good, but her clan’s history was a complicated one. He always assumed he would better ken it as their years together unraveled.
“Hello? Anyone awake? Gorgeous day out here! If you like a little rain that is.”
He closed his eyes and nearly groaned. He’d know that chipper voice anywhere. Sheila. While Grant was his friend above all others and he was forever grateful to Sheila for defending Torra, Colin remained a wee bit wary of how close she was becoming to Torra. It wasn’t that he didn’t desire his lass to have a friend but…he was surprised to realize he didn’t have a definitive answer to his own reluctance. Just that he’d been protective of Torra for so long and wasn’t used to another coming close, even if she meant no harm.
Truly, what did a twenty-first century lass know about a medieval lass who was part dragon? Nothing at all.
But Torra deserved the support and happiness of a friendship so he’d have to push past his mixed feelings. Regardless, Colin couldn’t help but frown when Torra grinned and stuck her head out the window. “Sheila, in here!”
Sheila, naturally, didn’t hesitate to let herself in. In fact, she walked right into their chamber. Her eyes passed smoothly over him and went to Torra. “It’s past noon and you seriously need to join us.” A wide smile split her face. “Iosbail’s Beltane traditions just keep getting better and better.”
Colin did his best to keep a growl at bay and rolled off the cot. As he stood, he caught a glimpse of Grant out the window. His friend was heading for the shore. That sounded good to him. Eyes to Torra, he said, “Food and a change of clothes are in the main chamber.” He looked deeper into her eyes. “Are you truly well then?”
Torra seemed to understand that he was desperate to escape so she offered a small smile and nodded.
That was all he needed.
Colin soon joined the MacLomain. Crouched, Grant had splashed water on his face and now stared into the distance. Legs braced, arms crossed over his chest, Colin gazed out as well, grateful for the easy company of an old friend.
Grant at last quirked a brow at him, lips curling up. “My Sheila’s a cheerful sort, aye?”
“More than I could take,” Colin admitted but knew full well Sheila was bringing Grant slowly back to life and was thankful. “‘Tis good that you have found love, my friend. Her easy nature is refreshing for you, is it not?”
“‘Tis everything,” Grant murmured and stood. Colin’s chest clenched at the pain in his voice.
Keir Hamilton had truly destroyed everything he had touched. Or tried to. Bloody bastard.
Grant’s demeanor was far less tense than it had been when Colin first met him. In truth, when he looked into his friend’s eyes he saw nothing but happiness. Yet he couldn’t help but say, “She really
good for you, aye?”
“Och, she’s my wee geal,” Grant said softly.
When Colin’s brows came together, Grant gripped his shoulder then released. “She is to me what Torra is to you.”
Colin nodded his understanding and again stared out over the North Sea. “Torra has once more faced her
and better learned to control it.”
A smile ghosted Grant’s face. “I know. ‘Tis good this.”
Of course Grant knew. He was as mentally attached to Torra as Colin himself. And never was he more grateful that Torra had this MacLomain wizard so closely connected to her. “‘Tis verra good.”
A comfortable silence stretched before Grant at last said, “What are we to do about Valan?”
“I cannae go against Torra’s wishes,” Colin replied, then hesitated. “Yet.”
Grant cast him a sidelong look. “But you will if I need you too then?”
Though they’d hated each other when they first met, their friendship and respect for one another had since grown tremendously. While once Colin would have battled Grant, now he trusted his judgment explicably, especially when it came to Torra. “If it means keeping her safe, aye.”
Nothing more was said about it as Grant turned back toward the cottage and muttered, “I cannae be gone long from Sheila. ‘Tis a thing this is.”
“Love.” This time Colin clapped him on the shoulder, truly empathetic. “Just imagine going four winters with it kept from you.”
Grant shook his head as they walked, his brogue slipping into familiar territory. “I dinnae know how ye did it. Ye’ve the strength of a hundred lads ye do.”
“Nay.” Colin winked. “‘Tis but the might o’ one MacLeod.”
They’d nearly arrived at the cottage when Sheila ran out. Wide eyes terrified, she looked at Grant and cried the most damning words Colin could ever hear.
“Keir Hamilton has Torra!”
Torra thrashed wildly against Keir Hamilton. Or at least she thought she did. White mist clouded her vision as she shook her head. Back arched, arms flailing, she fought against him but could never quite touch.
“Torra,” a voice broke through. “Torra! ‘Tis me.”
“I know who you are,” she seethed.
“Nay, ye dinnae.” Something was tucked into her hand. “Take this and remember.”
Torra gripped what had been put into her hand. Supple, bending, it was familiar. She squeezed her eyes tightly…so familiar.
“Your brother Colin gave this to you as a sample of what might truly keep your kin warm during the winter.”
Flashes started to flicker through her mind.
She was nearly four winter’s old and her brother Colin was with her. As if it was yesterday, she was running across her chamber into his arms.
“There, Col!” She laughed, never so happy. Colin chuckled and scooped her up. He might have only been ten winters old, but he was every bit the strapping warrior in her eyes. With a quick kiss on the bridge of her nose, he sat her on the windowsill.
“And what are you up to today my wee bonnie lass?” he asked.
Quite pleased with herself and sure he would be too she’d said, “Building castle
“Oh, aye?” With another chuckle he asked, “And how many rooms will it have?”
Torra held up one finger and smiled. Why would they need more?
“Just one then?”
She nodded, confident.
“But where will everybody sleep?”
“Just me.” Then she thought about it. He might want his own chamber. “And room for you.”
“Well, what about Ma, Da, and Bradon?”
What about them? They’d be fine if she and Colin kept the castle for their own. Grinning, she gave a most logical response. After all, they need not be out in the cold. “Stables.”
Colin laughed, shook his head and kissed her cheek. “Well, I’m glad I get to sleep inside your castle.”
Her little arms came around his neck and she held on tight before pulling back to tell him more about the small stone castle she was building down by the loch. Though it was only half as tall as her, she’d never been prouder. So he listened closely as she described it. When finished, she waited anxiously for his thoughts. After all, someday he would be chieftain of this mighty castle so it was important that he approved.
He considered carefully, obviously understanding how serious this was. At last he shared his thoughts. “It sounds like ‘twill be a strong castle indeed, lassie. I will tell ye what though,” he said softly, eyes compassionate. “If yer determined to have Ma, Da and Bradon sleep in the stables might we not offer them some warmth?”
Torra figured they knew how to keep warm but would not let her brother down so nodded.
“Good then.” Colin reached around and pulled something from his plaid. Torra stared wide-eyed as he handed her a rather large and heavy black scrap of material he’d rolled up. “What do you think of this to keep them warm?”
Torra’s mouth fell open and she nodded. “Aye, good Col!”
“‘Tis.” He kissed her on the tip of her nose. “Remember my wee lassie, if yer set to put another out in the cold be set to find a way to keep them warm, aye?”
Torra nodded slowly and stared at what was in her hands. Colin had given her a token. When he left, she admired the swath of material for a long while then rolled it very carefully and tucked it away. Years went by yet always she treasured it. Eventually, she realized it was but a scrap of leather but that mattered little. It was given to her by her brother and would always symbolize warmth, safety, and protection.
Only now it was being used for something very different.
As she grasped the material, the air warped around her and panic slowly subsided.
Grant crouched in front of her, eyes both furious and concerned as he held her shoulders. Because of what her cousin had just given her, Keir’s pull over Torra vanished and she was once more in the cottage by the sea.
Colin MacLeod sat on one side of her, Sheila the other.
“I knew this would be too risky,” Grant ground out.
Torra breathed deeply and shook her head. “‘Twas the only way.”
“What was the only way?” Colin frowned as he looked from Grant to Torra.
“This.” She held up the scrap of black leather. “Is ripped from what supposedly wraps the other half of my soul in the pentacle around Keir’s neck.” She then explained her brother’s part in it, however unknowing. “Little did I know that because of my dragon blood, forming such an attachment to a sentimental object turns it into a talisman of sorts. And a talisman, as it turns out, that should have
ended up in the hands of evil.”
“How did Keir Hamilton get it?” Sheila said.
Colin’s expression was thunderous. “From me.” A muscle ticked in his neck as he stared at Torra. “Four winters ago. I carried it with me everywhere. ‘Twas a way to keep Torra close when she was not.”
“You cannae fault yourself,” Torra said. “‘Twas a gift from me. There was no way either of us could have known Keir would force you to his side or what his intentions would be with a piece of leather.”
“God, he’s a slimy, unpredictable bastard,” Sheila muttered. Confused, she looked from Torra to Grant. “Why do you have the other half now?”
“Because the kings told me that I must have it. So Grant went to the MacLomain castle and retrieved it,” Torra said. “‘Twill be important in the days to come.”
“What kings?” Sheila said.
Grant squeezed his lass’s hand and offered a kind smile. “I will tell you of them later, aye? For now,” his attention returned to Torra, “I need to better ken what just happened to you, lass.”
“‘Twas just as we knew it might be,” Torra assured, not wanting any of them to worry about her. “Though Keir doesnae know I have created a fold in time a part of his black magic probes and seeks. ‘Tis my hope that when I refold time and return, he will be none-the-wiser.”
“Oh Lord,” Sheila said. “This all sounds more and more dangerous for you.”
Torra mustered a small smile and shook her head. “Worry naught. I will be fine. All of us have had to face danger so that we might ultimately defeat Keir.”
“I dunno.” Sheila shook her head. “It seems like you’ve been dished an unfair amount, Torra.”
Colin gently took the leather from her and Torra didn’t miss the flash of nostalgia in his eyes. Even though it wasn’t the half he had carried, it was clear he’d come to affiliate such with her. His dark, brooding gray eyes met hers. “So the two pieces call to one another. What is your intention for this one?”
“I will tell you,” she promised and took it back. “Eventually.”
The less Colin knew and the less he actually touched it, the better. Nothing said his essence coming into contact with it might not cause more problems.
Grant, meanwhile, remained troubled. “I dinnae like this pull between the pieces of talisman. ‘Tis far too unpredictable.” His eyes met hers. “You should dress and seek out Iosbail. You need to convince her to help.”
Torra nodded. He was right. Only the gods knew how much time they truly had. “Aye.”
Grant cupped her cheek, determination replacing fear as he looked at her. “Dress then join us at the castle, aye?”
“Aye,” she murmured.
Her cousin stood and pulled Sheila after him. Colin, just as troubled as Grant, wore a scowl as his eyes remained on her face. “You keep secrets.”
Torra sighed and stood. When his hand shot out and grasped her wrist, she turned reluctant eyes his way. While he most certainly had a compassionate side when it came to her, the warrior beneath was never far off. Even before he was ill-recruited by Keir, he’d always possessed the countenance of a leader. Unfortunately, that made having Colin lead his armies even more beneficial for the Hamilton.
Colin reeled her in until she stood between his legs. He braced his hands on her hips, eyes penetrating as he again said, “You keep secrets…even from me.”
“Especially from you,” she whispered, voice again failing when thickened with emotion. “‘Tis safer that way.”
While Torra knew he was as affected by their closeness as she, Colin’s face remained impassive and he clasped her hips a fraction tighter. “There is nothing safe about me not knowing what you intend. To keep me without knowledge only makes it more difficult for me to protect you.”
Torra gently touched his cheek, thoughts once more on the eve before as she murmured, “There will be times that you cannae protect me, that I must fight battles on my own.” Unable to stop herself, she ran the pad of her thumb softly over his lower lip. “‘Tis all part of the fear that you help me face, aye?”
Colin closed his eyes briefly before they narrowed on her once more and he shook his head sharply. “I cannae force words from your lips but know this, ‘twill be unforgivable if harm befalls you and I couldnae help because you shut me out.”
Torra offered a small nod. What else could she do? Pain and frustration were clear enough in his eyes. That, in effect, caused her grief as she thought about what he had done for her the previous night. What he had done
her. Not only his kiss but his very touch had kindled a wide swath of sensations that swept her away in a rising tide of soul-deep need. She never imagined a simple kiss could feel so good.
Now sampled, she knew she would want more.
more. But it wasn’t just his lips she craved. Now she knew there was an indescribable pleasure to be found in his arms. A warm, heavy throb began between her legs and Torra instinctually pulled away. But Colin did not let her get too far. His eyes flared and whipped down her body then back to her flushed face.
When he stood, she put a hand up and shook her head. On a heavy swallow, she said, “Nay, ‘tis too soon. I need time to gain confidence.”
Her words sounded like an excuse even to her own ears. For all she thought she’d come far the eve before, mayhap she was wrong. Torra watched Colin internally fight his assertive nature. She knew full well he was tempted to pull her into his arms. Instead, he inhaled deeply and raked a hand through his hair.
“Confidence will only be gained through repetition. ‘Tis what I tell all my warriors,” he muttered under his breath and stalked into the adjoining chamber.
“I am not one of your warriors,” she reminded, following, trying not to get aggravated.
“Aye, but you are.” Colin’s regard swung her way as he poured two mugs of mead. “You are mine and you
a warrior.” He handed her a mug, eyes the hardest she’d ever seen them when looking at her. “If you willnae share your secrets then I will focus ever harder on those aspects of this war in which I can help.”
She knew precisely what aspects those were. Torra set aside the mug and crossed her arms over her chest. “So you think to train me by seducing me?”
“Aye, lass.” His lip quirked, but his eyes remained mirthless. “Your greatest strength lies in the relationship you have with the dragon. To become the best warrior you can you must have full control over your other half.”
It didn’t matter how much sense he made, his words irked her. But despite her rising temper, Torra was surprised to realize that not only his words but the stern way he looked at her ignited…desire? This time his lips didn’t quirk but curled up ever so slowly, well aware of both her mental and physical reaction.
“A lover’s spat already? ‘Tis an ill thing that.”
Colin had a dagger in hand so fast the eye barely caught it.
Valan leaned against the threshold, crossed his arms over his wide chest and simply cocked a brow at the MacLeod.
“Get the bloody hell out of here,” Colin ground out, heading for the doorway.
Torra muttered to herself and made quick work of intercepting moments before Colin reached him. Valan, meanwhile, didn’t budge an inch. Hand on the MacLeod’s chest; she shook her head, eye on his dagger. “Nay, dinnae do it.”
Though it was about the last thing she wanted to do, Torra knew that there was more to this whole adventure through time than learning to better control the dragon. Voice as firm as she could manage when standing far too closely between them, she kept eyes locked with Colin and nodded at the table. “Sit.”
Then she looked over her shoulder. “You too, Valan.”
Both started to say nay, but she shook her head and made sure they saw dragon fire flash in her eyes. “
While it was perfectly clear neither was intimidated by her in the least, both reluctantly sat across the table from one another. Shaped like a square, she sat on a third side, one that allowed her to see the doorway. Never before had she been so entirely uncomfortable. But only she was qualified to handle the vengeance between them. If all was to work out as hoped these two Scotsmen desperately needed to work not
They were almost frightening in their silent, seething dislike of one another. She could sense rather than see how pent up they were. Colin remained loose-limbed, hand still clenching his dagger as it rested on the table. Valan, eyes narrowed on his nemesis, was just as loose-limbed and though he didn’t grip a weapon it didn’t matter in the least. He would kill fast and furious if provoked.