October 1999
Kensington
ISBN 0821777203

Cathal MacNachton and Connall MacAdie are cousins bound by far more than blood ties and the rugged Highland landscape their clan calls home. The ancient curse of their ancestry has fated them to live by night with an unquenchable thirst that neither can tame. The only thing that can save their souls is marriage to Outsiders -- mortals whose untainted blood will weaken the curse in their children, and break the chains of fear that have made their clan a breed apart.

Bridget Callan and Eva Caxton are the women who will shape the clan's destiny. Marriage to these strange and mysterious men rescues each of them from desperate circumstances -- and draws them into a web of danger, desire, and intrigue.

But Eva and Bridget refuse to be pawns in the battle that erupts as the future of the cursed clan hangs in the balance -- a war that must be fought after the sun sets over the deep, still lochs. Whatever the outcome, they'll stand strong by their brooding warrior lairds, willing and able to face down their enemies -- and fulfill their desire for eternal love...


This story was the second I wrote for Kensington, and - having already discovered that unfunny is hard for me - I agreed to it purely because it was with Hannah. Hannah's story and mine were the only two in this novel, and are interconnected. They are about a different race of vampires than your traditional one.


Chapter One

“It will be fine.” Eva leaned forward to run a hand between her mount’s ears, and down it’s neck as she spoke. “Everything will be just fine. Those rumors about the MacAdies and MacNachtons having a lust for blood are just so much nonsense. Really,” she assured the beast. “And even if they were true...Well, the MacAdie laird would hardly pay Jonathan all those coins to marry me, merely to bring me to Scotland and drain me of my life blood. Surely, there are cheaper ways for him to feed.”

The mare snorted as she took the last few steps necessary to gain the hill they had been traversing. It was questionable whether the sound was a comment on her rider’s words, or simply indicated her relief that the hill was behind her, but Eva suspected it was the latter. Her words - with their hint that she might actually believe the rumors about the MacAdie clan - hardly deserved comment. Eva was almost embarrassed that she had dared voice them. Even if only to her mount. Not that she had anyone else to talk to.

Her gaze slid over the men riding with her; two in front, two behind, and one on either side. Six men in all and every last one stoic, grim-faced and unapproachable. She made a face at the backs of the pair riding before her, knowing it was childish and rude, but they were rude, taciturn men. Scots all. Not one of them had said a word to her that wasn’t merely an order or instruction since leaving Caxton keep. Not that there had been much opportunity to speak. Their party had been riding nearly non-stop for two days now; traveling up hills then down again, sticking to the wooded areas and rarely moving at less than a trot. It had been a very long two days for Eva who had managed fine at first, but had dozed off in her saddle several times today, and each time she had, it was only to awaken later to find herself seated before Ewan on his horse. Obviously in charge of this trip, he had apparently managed to ease her from her own horse to his without waking her, then had cradled her in his arms like a child while she napped.

Eva had been embarrassed the three times she had awoken to find herself so, but once aware that she was awake and alert, the Scot had merely stopped long enough to shift her back to her own mount and continued on. It was difficult to sleep on a rocking horse. Eva was sure those naps had only been short ones and that while exhaustion had allowed her to drift off into sleep, once she’d gained an hour or so of much needed rest, she hadn’t been able to stay asleep. She was exhausted and in desperate need of a good eight hours of uninterrupted rest, something she feared that she wasn’t likely to get soon.

Which was a terrible shame in her mind as her exhaustion was making it difficult to keep her usually positive perspective on things. Instead of thinking of this as a grand adventure as she probably would have were she not so tired, Eva found herself feeling lonely and frightened. She had left everything she knew and loved behind, and was heading toward a life in a foreign land amongst complete strangers, with nothing but the clothes on her back and the small satchel hanging from her saddle. The satchel contained another threadbare gown, a small painted picture of her mother, her father’s small blade and little else. It was all Eva possessed in this world.

Not that she minded her lack of possessions, Eva was use to that, but did wish she’d been able to bring Mavis with her. The little kitchen maid, who was sometimes pressed into service as Eva’s lady’s maid, was the closest thing to a friend that she had. Eva had been closer to the girl than to her own brother. Mavis was the only person she would really miss. But Jonathan had refused to release the girl, and she doubted that these men would have welcomed another burden besides herself on this journey.

Eva grimaced at the thought of being seen as a burden by these men. She didn’t care for the designation much, but her brother had made no bones about the fact that a burden was all she had been to him since her parent’s death when she was nine. Despite all of her efforts to stay out of his way, her directing the servants for him, and even pitching in and helping them when necessary in an attempt to make up for what little food she ate... All of it had been for naught. Jonathan had found her presence unbearable to the point that when he was unable to find her a husband, rather than allow her to live out her days at Caxton, he had been preparing to send her to a nunnery. Then these men had arrived with an offer to bride her.

Eva shook her head at the way her life path had changed so abruptly. Two days ago she had awoken with the glum realization that this was the last full day she would spend in her childhood home. The very next morning, she was to be sent to the abbey to join her next older sister as a bride of God. Something Eva didn’t really think she was suited to. She had always thought of nuns as serene and graceful brides of the lord. And even Eva had to admit that she was anything but serene. As for graceful, it was not a word that had ever been used to describe her.

But that had been two days ago. By midmorning of that day, her future had been put into question when Mavis had sought her out in the gardens to inform her that six Scots had arrived and were bartering with Jonathan for her hand in marriage. Eva had - at first - been sure the girl was wrong about this. Her brother had told her repeatedly that he had nothing to offer as her dower, so there was nothing over which to barter. But, as it turned out, they weren’t bartering over what Jonathan would pay to be rid of her, rather what the Scots would pay to have her.

Eva had still been reeling in shock from that news when Mavis had informed her that they were MacAdies. Never having paid much heed to gossip, Eva hadn’t understood the relevance behind this news. Mavis had recognized this at once from her blank expression and had taken an unseemly delight in telling the tale of the night walking, blood lusting vampyres the MacAdie’s were claimed to be, adding a horrified “Oh, ‘tis too awful m’lady. You, married to one of those monsters!”

Eva had shushed the girl, telling her it was all stuff and nonsense, but the maid’s words had plagued her ever since. It was nonsense, of course. Wasn’t it?

“Of course, it is,” she assured herself stoutly for probably the hundredth time in two days. After all, hadn’t Ewan and the five MacAdie men with him arrived at Caxton at mid-morning? In clear daylight? According to the rumors Mavis had repeated, they shouldn’t have been able to manage such a feat were they vampyres who would perish at the touch of the sun’s light.

Of course, when she’d said as much to Mavis, the girl had explained that cook had said that the MacAdie’s weren’t all vampyre. That the Laird had married a MacNachton woman who was one and some of the people of MacAdie had followed suit. Their offspring were half-breeds, but that there were still mortal men among them, a necessity to accomplish what the soulless blood lusters could not. These men, she had announced, were obviously the mortal helpers, servants to the vampyre, sent to collect her for their Lord who was a son of the MacAdie Laird and his soul less bride, and therefore, unable to travel in daylight.

Eva had been less impressed with this news. Her only response had been a snort of disbelief which hadn’t been as convincing as she would have liked. The maid had managed to plant the seed of doubt in her mind with her tales.

“It’s silly, really, Millie,” Eva assured her mare. “There is no such thing as vampyre. ‘Tis a myth. Like sirens of the sea.”

###

“She’s talkin’ to hersel’ agin.”

Ewan managed to restrain the sigh that wanted to slip from his lips at Donaidh’s words. He had rather hoped that the men wouldn’t notice that Lady Eva was again talking to herself. An unlikely feat when he and Donaidh road behind the woman with a perfect view every time she took the trouble to start mumbling away.

The lass had been doing so since they’d ridden out of the gates of Caxton keep that first afternoon on the long journey from Caxton on the Northern coast of England, to MacAdie in Northern Scotland. And the men had been pointing it out in worried tones ever since. It was obvious that they worried that their new lady was mad.

“The MacAdie willnae be pleased to find hissel’ landed with a mad wife,” Donaidh commented.

Ewan sighed at these words.

“Nay, he willnae be pleased,” Keddy agreed. He’d been riding on the woman’s left, but now dropped back to join the conversation. “And nae doubt he’ll be blamin’ us fer it.”

“Nay,” Geordan protested, dropping back from his position on their new lady’s right to join the conversation as well. “He’ll no blame us.”

“Aye. He will,” Keddy insisted. “He’ll think we drove her mad with tales of what to expect.”

“He kens none of us would do that,” Ewan said calmly. “Besides, she isnae mad.”

“Oh. Aye,” Donaidh agreed. “And every sane woman talks to herself, then?”

“Sane Scots, nay,” Ewan allowed. “But a Scot, she isnae, is she? ‘Sides, who’s to say she be talking to herself? Mayhap she’s merely soothing her mount.”

“Soothing her mount, is she? From sun up to sun down?” Geordan snorted at the very idea and Ewan had to grimace. The argument hadn’t sounded very convincing even as he’d spoken it, but the closer they got to MacAdie the more he began to fret on the situation. As Conall’s first, it was his place to look out for his Laird’s best interests. And it didn’t seem to him that having the men arrive thinking the lass mad - and spreading that rumor to everyone else - was a good thing for Conall. He thought it might be a good idea to nip that tale in the bud ere they arrived, but suspected he could talk to the men until he was blue in the face, unfortunately, so long as the lass continued to talk to herself, his talking wasn’t going to do a great load of good. It was time to have a word with the lass himself and see if he couldn’t sort out whether she was insane or not. If she wasn’t, all well and good. If she was...well, Conall had a problem. But the least Ewan could do was see could he not keep her from talking to herself and putting that worry into the men’s minds.

Digging his heels into the sides of his mount, he urged his horse to a trot that sent him out in front of the men and to his new lady’s side. The woman glanced at him with surprise, then offered a tentative smile and Ewan really wished she wouldn’t. There was little enough to cause good cheer in this hard life, especially after two days in the saddle, and he was sure the men would see her constant smiling as another bad sign. He scowled to discourage it and was satisfied when it wilted away and her lips turned down. Ewan then began to search his mind for an inoffensive way to broach the subject of whether she were mad or not.

###

“Are you mad?”

Eva blinked at that abrupt question. “Excuse me?”

“Yer talking to yerself, lass. Are ye mad?”

Eva stared at the man who - by her estimation - had seen at least forty summers. She could hardly believe he’d had the temerity to ask such a question of her, or the question itself, really. It had never occurred to her that they might think her mad because of such a small thing.

“I wasn’t talking to myself,” she said finally.

“Nay?” It was a polite sound of disbelief. She supposed he had a right to it, since he must have seen her talking.

“Nay. I was talking to Millie,” Eva explained, aware that the other three men had moved up to listen to the conversation. The two who had been riding in front were also slowing and falling closer. She offered each of them a smile now, feeling sure it was important she not leave them thinking her mad.

“Millie?” There was open worry on Ewan’s face and he glanced around as if expecting to see some unknown woman pop up out of nowhere.

“My horse,” Eva explained patiently.

“Ah.” He relaxed at once, tossing a triumphant smile to the men around them. They looked less impressed.

“And would ye be expecting the horse to answer ye?” One of them asked, drawing a frown from Ewan.

“Keddy,” he said the name in warning tones.

Determined to remain unruffled, Eva merely smiled at the red-haired young man with the freckled face and shook her head. “Nay, do not be silly. Horses can not speak.”

That seemed to be the right thing to say, Ewan had relaxed again and the other men were nodding solemnly in agreement.

“Howbeit, that doesn’t mean she can’t listen,” Eva added.

“Ah.” The larger, dark-haired man who usually rode on her right gave a considering nod. “That’s true enough, Keddy,” he pointed out to the redhead.

“Why would you be talking to her, though?” The man who usually rode behind her on Ewan’s right asked. Eva thought he was called Donaidh.

“Other than one trip to your court, she’s never been off of Caxton land,” Eva said solemnly. “I fear she finds all of this just a bit unsettling, so I talk to her to soothe her.”

Millie - as well as Eva herself - had only been off of Caxton land the once, during the trip to the Scottish court where Jonathan had attempted to find a man who would take her without a dower. He had claimed to have chosen the Scottish court over their English one for two reasons; first, it was closer and less of a troublesome journey to make. The second reason had been that, thanks to King James’s present efforts to encourage Anglo-Scottish marriages in an effort to further firm the truce the two countries were presently enjoying, her brother had thought it might be easier to marry her off there despite her lack of dower. He’d been wrong. Whether the intended husband was English or Scottish, Eva wasn’t pretty enough, or accomplished enough to be desirable without a dower. Not that she minded. God had gifted her with a fine mind and that would serve her well, long after age had stolen whatever looks she had been given.

Aware of the silence that had fallen among the men, Eva glanced about. The Scots were once again riding in formation. Satisfied that she wasn’t talking to herself, and therefore perhaps wasn’t mad, it would appear that they were now simply going to fall back into their usual surly travel silence. This was a disappointment to Eva who had found it quite pleasant to speak to these men, to anyone really.

Eva was as unaccustomed to long lengths of silence as she was to long journeys. There had always been someone to talk to at Caxton; the maids, the blacksmith, the stable master, the children, the priest... Any one of them would have taken the trouble to speak to her had she stopped by to see them, yet these men had ridden at her side for two days in silence. It had made a long, wearying and monotonous journey, even longer, more wearying and more monotonous, and frankly, Eva was tired and cranky enough not to be too appreciative at the moment. In fact, she was beginning to grow irritated with the man responsible for this journey; her husband, Conall MacAdie.

She muttered the name with a sigh. It was her considered opinion that by sending his men to collect her like a cow he wished purchased, her husband was showing her very little in the way of care and concern. Eva supposed this meant she could expect to be considered of little more value at MacAdie than she had been at Caxton. Had it been so much to hope that she might have gained a husband who valued her at least a little? It seemed Conall MacAdie wasn’t likely to.

“M’lady?

Eva glanced at the man on her left with distraction. Keddy, the redhead with an unfortunate blanket of freckles on his face had urged his mount closer again to address her. “Aye?”

“Why are you talking to your horse about our laird?”

“Was I?” Eva asked, taken aback at the realization that she must have been muttering her displeasure with her new husband aloud.

“Aye,” Keddy assured her, then glanced to the man riding on her other side. “Was she no’, Geordan?”

“Aye.” The large, dark-haired man urged his own mount closer again so that Eva was sandwiched between the two of them on Millie’s back. “And ye werenae soundin’ too pleased with him. Are ye no pleased to be the MacAdie’s bride?”

Eva considered lying to avoid offending these men, but lying wasn’t in her nature. “I would be more pleased had he bothered to collect me himself, rather than having you collect me like a new cow for the fields,” she admitted bluntly.

“Ah.” Ewan and Donaidh had moved up again so that the four of them were crowding her once more. It was Ewan who decided to address this matter now, “Yer English, so ye wouldnae be understandin’, but Conall wouldnae send the six of us to collect a cow. He’d send one man, and it wouldnae be any o’ us.”

“Aye,” the other men nodded their agreement.

“So I should be flattered that he could not be bothered to come fetch me himself, but sent the six of you?” Eva asked dryly.

“Aye.” Ewan nodded.

“O’course,” Keddy agreed. “After all, he couldnae collect ye himsel’, so sent us in his stead. Six of us in his stead. It shows how important ye are. He even sent Ewan.”

The way he said it made it sound like it was a huge concession, an opinion that was verified for Eva when Geordan added, “Aye, and Ewan is his first.”

The way he said that suggested it was an important position to hold. Eva was less interested in that, however, than why the man couldn’t collect her himself, so asked, “Why could he not collect me himself?”

“Well...That’d be difficult to explain, lass,” Ewan began slowly even as Keddy said, “It’s his condition.”

“Condition?” she asked with a combination of concern and interest.

“Aye, his condition,” Ewan muttered, but he was glaring at Keddy for interfering.

“What condition, prey tell?”

Ewan’s scowl became even more fierce on Keddy at this question, then he finally glanced at her and said, “‘Tis best to ask him that.”

Eva frowned at that unsatisfactory statement, but couldn’t think of a way to force a proper answer out of him. Giving up on it, she glanced at these men, her men now, she supposed. They had gone quiet again and Eva didn’t wish to return to the solemn silence that had marked the majority of this trip so far, so sought her mind for something to draw them into conversation again and keep them talking. She’d like to get to know them. She’d like to get to know someone. Eva was very aware that she was completely and utterly alone and deep in a foreign land that was now to be her home.

She recalled dreaming of marrying and moving to her own home, and how wonderful that would be, but the reality was something else entirely, scary where she hadn’t considered it might be. Why had she never considered that it would be so scary and lonely?

“‘Tis a lovely day, is it not?” she asked desperately as the men began to ease their mounts away, obviously preparing to return to their usual positions along with their usual silence.

Her comment stopped the move away from her, but the silence continued for another moment as the men glanced at each other. Eva bit her lip as she realized that it wasn’t a lovely day at all. It was late summer, but the sky was overcast and the air had a nip to it. It was too late to retract the statement, however. Aware that her face was flushing with a blush of embarrassment, she raised her chin a bit and stared straight ahead ignoring their rudeness in gawking at her as they were.

“Er... A lovely day?” Ewan queried finally.

“Well, ‘tis not raining,” she pointed out defensively. It could be worse after all, she told herself.

“That’s true enough,” Geordan allowed judicially and Eva relaxed a little, but then silence fell again. She supposed that was all that her comment on the weather deserved, and decided she’d have to come up with something more interesting to discuss. Eva contemplated her options, but nothing was really coming to mind. Politics were out of the question. These were Scots. She was English. Dear God, they were practically enemies by birth alone, and surely wouldn’t agree on anything political.

Oddly enough, it was Ewan who prolonged the conversation by announcing, “‘Tis no far to MacAdie now.”

Eva felt herself stiffen at this news. Much as she would be grateful to get off of her horse, she was suddenly anxious at the idea of coming face to face with her husband.

“Will my husband be there when we arrive?” she asked, wondering how awful she looked after traveling for two days without stop, and suspecting she must look as travel worn and weary as she felt. It was surely no way to first meet your new husband.

“If we arrive after dark, he’ll be there, but if we arrive while it’s still light out, he may still be...about his business,” Ewan concluded after a hesitation. “He didna ken how long it’d take to negotiate the marriage, or if we’d even succeed, ye understand,” he excused the man.

“Nay. Of course not,” Eva agreed absently, but her mind was on what he had said. If they arrived before dark he might not yet be there, which would give her the opportunity to at least change into her other gown and possibly tidy herself a bit, if not to take a bath and make herself properly presentable for this man she was to spend the rest of her life with. First impressions were very important, at least her mother had always said it was so. “And do you think we shall arrive ere dark, or after?”

Ewan considered the matter, then decided, “We should be arriving near to when the sun sets.”

Eva felt her shoulders sag with disappointment at those words, but quickly forced them back up. ‘Near to’ meant they might yet arrive before her husband, which meant she might at least have a couple of minutes to try to repair herself before meeting him. More if he should happen to be later than expected. That was better than nothing.

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