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...
“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
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
“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.”
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
“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
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
“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.
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
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
“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
“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
“‘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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