Authors: Donna Grant
Tags: #Adult, #Novella, #PNR, #Supernaturals
The first time, she barely laid a finger on him before she snatched her hand back. Eventually, she came to need to feel his skin beneath hers, no matter how innocent the touch.
Innes walked to him and rested her hands upon his upper arm, feeling the strength, the hard muscle beneath her palms. Feeling his warmth.
She took a deep breath and slowly released it as she let her gaze wander over his face. Unable to stop herself, Innes caressed her finger over his wide forehead and down the slope of his nose. She brushed across his square chin and along the hard angles of his jaw up to his sharp cheekbones. She traced the blond brows that slashed over his eyes.
Her gaze lowered to his mouth. She leaned closer, rested her hand on the side of his face and outlined the shape of his wide lips with the pad of her thumb.
“I think I’ve come to need you,” she said into the quiet. “That’s not good. If everything goes according to Alistair’s plans, I’ll be married after the first of the year. I’m sure my new husband won’t approve of the time I spend with you, talking and...touching.”
She glanced down at his chest. His saffron shirt used to be closed, but she had parted it the year before to see more of his impressive chest.
“I’m your guardian,” she continued. “And yet, I feel as if you’re the one who has been watching over me.” She dropped her forehead onto his chest and squeezed her eyes closed. “Donald did it again. He took some of his men out into the woods to attack the people of Ravensclyde, but he stumbled across a man that nearly wiped them out. Donald has gone out for a second attack, and I fear if Alistair doesn’t do something soon, Donald will be the ruin of us.”
She paused and raised her head to look at him again. Innes straightened and took his large hand in hers. “My mother says you’re a great warrior. That one day you’ll be the answer to our prayers.”
Her heart knocked against her ribs at what she was contemplating doing. With her chest heaving and her blood running cold through her veins, Innes squeezed his hand between hers.
“I was told that I should only think of waking you under the direst of circumstances. Our clan is starving, and our numbers are rapidly shrinking. Other clans are eyeing our lands because we don’t have enough warriors to fight. I think that’s pretty dire.”
She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. Once she revived him, there was no sending him back to sleep. He would be awake, his will once more his own. His life had been paused while he slept, and when he woke, he would once again begin to age like everyone else.
“I pray this is the right thing to do. Alistair is doing everything he can, so now it’s my turn.” She pulled the amulet from beneath her gown and then over her head. Innes looked at the silver piece, the markings faded from being held so many times. “Alistair is a good man, but he needs help. Please be that help for us.”
Innes held the amulet for a few moments longer, debating on whether to leave without waking him, but the fate of her clan was at stake.
“Please be the answer we need,” she whispered and gently placed her lips over his.
Innes set the amulet in his palm and closed his fingers over it just as her mother had instructed. She leaned back and waited, hoping he would wake immediately, but as the minutes passed without movement, she began to doubt.
She removed the amulet and put it in his other hand. Still nothing happened.
“Of course,” she said and shook her head ruefully. “It would’ve been too easy to be able to wake you and have you save the day. Keep the amulet. I don’t know why my family was bade to watch over you, or why you’re in this cave, but I hope someday you get to wake.”
Innes jumped when thunder boomed so close that the ground shook. Pebbles and dirt rained down from the ceiling of the cave. She glanced at the man to see him still asleep. Utterly defeated, she turned and ran out of the cave and back to the castle.
~ ~ ~
The sweet voice was back. Daman drifted upon nothingness, but every once in awhile he heard a woman’s voice. He hadn’t been able to hear the words at first. It was just sound, a calming, reassuring sound that he sought. Then the words became clear, as if she were right next to him.
It felt like an eternity in-between the times he heard her. Immeasurable time stretched endlessly before him. He didn’t know her name, didn’t know her face or why she was with him, but he felt...comforted whenever she was near.
It wasn’t just her voice that affected him. It was her touch, as well. How he longed for more, craved more of her soft caresses.
She only ever touched his arms, face, and chest. Yet he yearned for her to go lower, to take his cock in hand. But she never did.
The sadness in her voice this time gave him pause. As did the part where she’d said he was supposed to help her. Help her how? He didn’t even know who he was or why he couldn’t seem to wake from the endless sleep.
He suddenly needed to know why her family kept watch over him, and why she thought putting something in his hand would wake him.
She’d mentioned marriage. He didn’t want her to marry and never touch him again. He needed to see her face, to know her name.
To run his hands over her skin as she had done to his countless times.
He wanted to know the color of her hair and eyes, to see her smile. Most importantly, he wanted to be the one who saved her clan.
For the first time, he really fought against the strain of sleep. The warm metal in his hand heated, and his fingers gripped it tighter.
It felt as if he were swimming in a sea of tar. Every time he tried to surface, it yanked him back. But he kept swimming, kept struggling.
He kept her voice running through his head. His skin tingled from the memory of her touch.
Then, he saw the faintest pinprick of light. He fought even harder against the tide pulling him under, keeping him asleep. The more he struggled, the more the light grew.
Suddenly, his eyes snapped open and he sucked in a mouthful of air. He sat up, looking around for the woman. But his eyes only found an empty cavern, dimly lit from torches along the walls.
He looked down at his hand and opened his fingers. The moment his gaze locked on the amulet, he recognized it.
The next time you see this, your destiny will be before you. The path you choose will seal your fate.”
The old woman’s voice was loud in his mind as her words replayed. What path did she mean? To him he had but one – to help the woman who came to him.
The question was: who was the woman, and where did he find her?
Innes had changed her gown and was drying her hair with a cloth when there was a knock at her chamber door followed by Alistair’s voice saying her name.
“Come in,” she bade and turned to face the door.
He took in her appearance and raised a brow. “You disappeared again.”
“You had things under control.”
Alistair looked at her with the dark eyes of their ancestry and sank into the chair next to the hearth. “I already have one sibling against me. It looks good to have you there. Shows your support.”
“I was there,” she argued. “Everyone saw me.”
“Where did you go?”
He had asked so many times, and despite the fact she had never told him, he kept asking. “I needed to collect my thoughts,” she answered.
“And what if Donald was out there?”
Innes spread the cloth next to the fire so it would dry and gave her eldest brother a droll look. “Donald wouldn’t hurt me.”
“Just as I thought he’d never go against me.” Alistair propped his elbow on the arm of the chair and leaned his face against his fist. “He’s no’ returned, Innes.”
She sat at his feet, tucking her legs beneath her. “And you’re afraid if you send a party out looking for him that they’ll either end up dead by Donald’s hand or the men from Ravensclyde.”
“Aye.” He sighed heavily, his shoulders drooping. “Why did Da try to steal the sheep back with just a handful of men? Why didna he take me or Donald with him? Maybe then he wouldna be dead.”
“You can’t think that way. Da went without you because he knew it would be dangerous. He was trying to protect you. And he knew you would lead the clan if anything were to happen to him.”
Alistair spread his arms around him. “Clan? Have you seen the people? More leave each day. I’m surprised another clan hasna come to take our lands by now. The only thing keeping them away is the threat of Ravensclyde descending upon us.”
“So what do we do? Do we hand over our lands?”
Alistair cut her a look. “Of course no’.”
“Then quit complaining and start figuring out a way out of this.”
The way he said those two words, with determination and regret, brought chills of foreboding to Innes. She knew exactly what Alistair was referring to. Marriage.
Everyone in their family sacrificed for the clan. She was just one of many, so there was no need to rant or cry about it. Especially if it saved the clan.
“Who will I marry?”
Alistair moved to sit beside her on the floor. He took her hand in his, while his dark eyes searched hers. “I doona want to do this.”
“I know. You must do what you can for our people.”
“If there were another way-”
“It’s all right,” she interrupted him. “I’ve known my fate for some months now. You’re laird. As a woman of this family, I’m used as a way to negotiate peace through marriage.”
Alistair tugged on her black hair. “I wanted you to be happy. I wanted you to have the kind of marriage our parents had.”
“What about you? Don’t you want that kind of marriage?”
He shrugged absently. “I doona believe I’ll have that luxury. I’ll broker my own marriage to another, stronger clan. But first, I must bring Donald to heel.”
“If the men of Ravensclyde haven’t already done it for you.”
“Part of me prays they have,” Alistair said in a low voice. “I doona relish fighting my own brother.”
Both of them knew Donald wouldn’t back down without a fight, and for Donald, who wanted to be laird, that meant to the death.
Innes knew the strength of both her brothers. Donald was good, but he often let his emotions get the better of him. Alistair was calm and cool during battle. He would win, but it would kill a piece of his soul in the process.
“We’ll survive this,” she stated.
Alistair gave her a crooked smile. “I’m going to ensure that you do.”
~ ~ ~
He was famished. His stomach rumbled with the need for food as he inspected the cavern. As he thought, there was nothing but rock and torches. No water, no food. And no female.
At least he thought there was nothing until he spotted a sword leaning against the wall near the entrance. He smiled as he recognized his weapon.
He strode to it and wrapped his hand around the pommel. Then he grasped the sheath with his other hand and slowly pulled the sword free. A quick inspection showed that the blade was as sharp as he wanted it.
How could he remember the sword, but not recall how he came to be in the cavern?
The more he thought about it, the more his memories seemed to vanish before he could begin to grab them. He gave a shake of his head and sheathed his sword before he strapped it around his waist. It was time to go hunting for food.
He followed the only opening out of the cavern. He had to duck beneath the arch, and the tunnel was only marginally taller. Bent over, he had to navigate the winding and incredibly narrow passageway. Thunder continued to boom, and the rain grew louder the farther he walked.
Finally, he came to the end and was able to stand straight as he stood in a cave that opened out to the world beyond.
It was all gray, the rain blocking his sight of anything farther than ten feet ahead. So much for hunting. Food would have to wait. Water, however, wouldn’t.
He walked out of the cave and lifted his head, eyes closed and mouth open to catch the rainfall. With every mouthful, the taste of the water was like heaven. He had no idea his throat was so parched, or that he ached to taste something so refreshing.
When his thirst was quenched, he lowered his head and returned to the cave. He paced, energy to get out and discover where he was coursing through him. He had to be in Scotland. The fates wouldn’t be so cruel as to take him away from his beloved land.
The rain prevented him from seeing any landmarks with the rate in which it fell. The thick clouds stopped any shred of light from filtering through. And then night fell.
He sat in the middle of the cave staring out, watching the lightning zigzag between clouds in violent outbursts.
There was something he needed to do, people he needed to find, but he couldn’t remember. All he knew was that he had to get out of the cave.
~ ~ ~
The castle was quiet in the pre-dawn hours. Only a few women were in the kitchen preparing the morning meal. Innes was on her way there when someone grabbed her from behind and clamped a hand over her mouth.