Danger lurks in the long ago of Iain’s time–threatening Lara’s present, their future and timeless love.
Restless, Lara Zeroun opens a portal in time and travels to the ancient Scottish Highlands in hopes of finding and end to the hollowness in her soul. There she discovers two men: an oddly familiar, wanderer and Iain, the answer to her heart’s dreams.
With a cousin inheriting his father’s lands, Iain is biding his time until he’s forced to leave. Then a golden-haired woman appears on the arm of an itinerant storyteller. She tests Iain’s emotional calm and his body’s tolerance. With no land, no possessions or wealth to offer, he dare not succumb to temptation.
The storyteller is more than he seems. Using hidden fey powers, he haunts Lara’s steps, conspiring to steal her from Iain and use her to exact revenge upon her family. And if Iain is destroyed as well, all the better.
Lara discovers danger from her family’s recent past lurking in Iain’s time, an evil threatening to destroy her present. Will Lara and Iain defeat this evil and find their way through time to love?
Enjoy Chapter One
Lara wandered away from her family. The big people were talking and she was bored. Her twin aunties had gone to visit the Queen and her young brother slept at Momma’s side. A heavy sigh lifted her thin shoulders dramatically. A patch of bright sunlight beckoned her from under the cool shade of the thick Faerie forest.
Knowing she did nothing wrong, she toddled into the open glade. Daddy had done this many, many times. She was positive she could do it, too, so she tossed her head and pushed riotous golden curls from her face. “I’m gonna go visiting.”
She moved her small fingers and squinted one eye in thought. Then, with a serious set to her mouth, she spoke the strange words exactly like Daddy did. Only a slight lisp showed her indecision. When the faint portal opened she stepped through without hesitation. Only when the shimmer snicked shut behind her did she have a moment of doubt. How would she get home again?
Make another portal, of course. She shook her head and laughed. Sometimes she was as dumb as Jaysson, and he was just a baby. Pleased with her solution, she took brave steps into the new world she was visiting.
She wrinkled her nose in disgust. There had been many people here and they had not honored the land as she had been taught. These were not Faerie. She turned away and wandered through a wide area of trampled grass and litter but found nothing to interest her. Did Daddy go to places like this? She could not believe that.
Lara was about to open the portal home when she noticed a long line of strange green buildings. This might be interesting. Giggling, she ran toward them. As she got closer the smell stopped her dead in her tracks. It smelled like…no, she wasn’t allowed to say that word.
Each building was hardly wider than the door and there were no windows. She cocked her head to one side. Why would anyone go in there? These buildings needed no further investigation–this was an ugly place.
A soft, mewling cry came from the closest building. Lara leaned forward on her tiptoes and listened intently. The cry stopped then started again, much quieter. It almost sounded like Jaysson when he was a very tiny baby and she hadn’t been allowed to play with him.
There were no other people in sight when she glanced around, so she went to the building and peered in the half-open door. One hand flew up to cover her nose and she held her breath against the bad smells and coughed. It was like what Jayse did in his diaper.
A tiny bundle lay close to a large hole with a wooden seat. A potty? Lara shuddered and was about to turn away when a tiny fist lifted from the bundle and waved weakly. A baby?
Turning to the slightly fresher air outside, Lara took a deep breath. She wrinkled her nose, held her breath and stepped into the building. Cradling the tiny baby carefully in her arms she rushed back into the light breeze.
She carried her bundle a few steps from the line of potties and laid it on the ground. The baby began to cry, so she patted it lightly on its bare belly as she had seen Momma do. She cooed softly until bright, unfocused eyes turned toward her voice.
“I will take you home to Momma. She’ll take care of you. Why did your Momma leave you in a potty?” Lara looked around. “Do you think she’ll be back? I don’t.”
She lifted the baby and held him against her shoulder like she had practiced with her doll. He was heavier than she thought and she clasped the baby tighter. He wiggled weakly but made no further sounds. “I bet you’re hungry. Momma will feed you. I’m hungry, too. Let’s go.”
Lara made the sign and opened a portal. Behind the shimmer the light didn’t look quite right, but she stepped forward anyway. Snow seeped through the holes in her sandals and she curled her toes against the cold. The wind blew around them and whipped a loose end of the baby’s blanket. Tugging a corner over the baby’s face, Lara turned in a small circle. “Where are we? This isn’t right.”
She chewed on her lip while she made the sign. When she spoke, the words slurred together in her haste. A shaky portal formed and she rushed through.
A desert spread before her. After laying the baby at her feet she shaded her eyes against the bright sun. There was nothing but a giant sandbox as far as she could see. Her lower lip trembled. Though she was too old to cry, tears filled her eyes anyway. Maybe the baby was making the magic work wrong.
No, that wasn’t it. And she couldn’t leave the baby like its Momma did. She had to try again. The shimmer of a new portal was barely visible in the reflection from the hot sun. The other side looked cooler, but was it home? She crouched, lifted the baby and stroked the fine soft hair on his head in an effort to comfort herself.
After stepping hesitantly through the portal, she was in a forest, but it wasn’t her forest. Huge wet drops fell from droopy, overhanging branches and splashed onto her face. She pressed her cheek against the baby’s head. “Daddy?” Her voice was a tiny whisper.
She stumbled back into strong arms that wrapped around her protectively. Startled, she clutched her bundle tightly and cried out.
“Hush, darlin’.” A deep, familiar voice sounded close to her ear. “I will take ye home.”
Lara nuzzled her cheek against the broad chest. “Unca Derrik. I wanna go now.”
The comfort of his arms calmed her tears. He hugged her tightly while he carried her through a portal into the glade before her grandparent’s home. An anxious cluster of adults rushed toward them.
Lara lifted her head and blinked, surprised at the fear and concern in their faces. Wanting to make them smile again, she lifted the bundle in her arms and uncovered the baby. A weak wail filled the clearing. Lara gave the worried adults a brilliant smile.
“Lookit what I found.”
Trying to release excess tension, Lara rubbed the bridge of her nose between two fingers. It had been a long day, but her cousin Bryce had finally graduated. And with honors. She felt a surge of pride, but shook her head. What was he ever going to do with a master’s in Spenserian Literature? He didn’t want to teach.
She sighed. Her degrees weren’t much more practical. She was still amazed the university had allowed her to do fieldwork and a thesis on etymology. The study of names and their meaning fascinated her. Releasing the clip that held her wild hair back let the shoulder-length curls fall free. A quick swipe of her fingers through the mess brought her mane under some semblance of order for a few moments.
The party was great. People overflowed Uncle Tommy’s backyard, but the constant need to be pleasant and act interested grated on her nerves. Wanderlust tickled at her. It had been too long since she took her studies out of the library and into the field. Field research; that’s what she needed to defeat the restlessness. Never mind the fact her degrees had been long since conferred.
A tall, willowy blonde had cornered Bryce next to the house. When Lara caught his attention his pale green eyes pleaded silently with her. Lara grinned and shook her head. Although she fought many battles for him and, if needed, would do so again, his battle with conniving females was his own.
After a quick glance around Lara slipped through the gate connecting the backyard with her parents’ and wandered to the far corner of her mother’s garden. A vine-covered trellis guarded the corner–only a blank fence to those who did not believe. Lara stepped under the trellis and passed through a permanently open portal leading to Faerie.
A fond smile came with the memories of the first time she had created her own portal. At four she had been so sure of herself. She’d found Bryce abandoned in a chemical toilet and then got them lost in many somewheres before Uncle Derrik found them.
Derrik and Dad spent many weeks trying to recreate the pathways opened from her initial portal to find where the tiny infant boy came from. She had been no help; the baby was her new playmate.
Her smile widened at the vivid memory of Uncle Tommy’s joy-filled face when Derrik admitted failure. In the time spent looking for Bryce’s time and place Tommy had fallen in love with the child. It would have been agony for him to give up the bond he felt with his new son.
Now that she had an adult’s hindsight Lara realized Derrik had many misgivings about raising a child. But he seldom denied his Tommy anything. Lara’s sigh filled with the longing for a relationship like the one her uncles shared. One of true partnership, love and devotion–one with a man who would love only her.
But such a man had not presented himself in her life. Neither mortal nor Faerie caused her heart to flutter wildly in her chest or her breath to catch painfully in her throat. She chuckled and shook her head at herself; sometimes she was too romantic for her own good.
Lara passed quickly through a deeply wooded area of Faerie to her favorite quiet place. The small glen filled with tiny wildflowers gave off a fresh, spicy scent when she walked through them. The Faerie-bright colors became even more vivid when sunlight filled the glen. She’d spent a great deal of time here when she was a teenager, dreaming of knights on white chargers and Highland heroes who fought with her image before them.
And it was here she discovered she could do something even her dad couldn’t. She could open a portal through time. When she’d refused to curb her adventures through time, her great-aunt, the Queen of the Faerie clan, granted her small magical gifts. Now, she was able to study any time or place she chose without fear of discovery. And the time portal had been a wonderful research tool for her thesis.
Traveling to any time to live a life different from her own was a way to satisfy her fanciful notions. Still, Lara never found the romance she denied to herself she so desperately sought.
Now, she stood in the center of the glen and wondered when to go to. Grandda told so many stories of his youth, but once the adults discovered her talent he would not give her the date when he had lived in the mortal world. So, she’d been experimenting. Lara fixed a random date and place in her mind and called for a portal.
She stared at a forest not unlike her Faerie world. After she whispered the first of her aunt’s spells, the resulting tingle of electricity ran along her skin and her already- wild hair lifted from her scalp. It was a good thing the spell made her briefly invisible so she could determine the accuracy of her time and place. Otherwise, she’d undoubtedly scare the devil out of anyone who chanced to be near the portal when it opened.
Lara stepped onto the crest of a low hill. After the calm of Faerie, the wind pushed at her and made her stumble forward awkwardly. She grimaced, glad no one could see her flailing her arms and trying to gain her balance.
The air was damp and salty. She turned her face into the biting wind. The forest sloped away down a hill toward a rocky beach. Waves pounded against the stones, the booming of the surf a bass counterpart to the high wail of the wind. It was a wild, desolate place.
There was no sign of a settlement nearby, but a narrow path ran along the edge of the beach. Lara took a step toward the water–and froze like a small animal caught in an automobile’s headlights.
Staring intently at her, a man lounged with his back against a low stone. Her eyes widened with surprise, and her mouth dropped open. No one had ever seen her before she released the Queen’s spell. How did this man?
The wind whipped her curls forward across her face. Shaking her head to toss them back did no good, so she held the mass at the nape of her neck with one hand. No, he wasn’t looking at her. There must be something of interest behind her.
Barely holding back a delighted chuckle, Lara turned slowly and lifted her eyebrows in amusement. She had entered this time through the widely spaced uprights of a tall dolman. Intrigued, she moved back toward the stones with her hand outstretched.
The weathering of the stone showed small imperfections and cracks. The stones were ancient even this far in the past. She reached up to touch the bottom of the capstone. The gray rock was warm in the cool breeze.
The man behind her stood and sighed. Lara held her breath and stepped cautiously to one side when he moved beside her. He touched the same spot, walked through the rocky gateway, paused and retraced his steps. A shiver coursed visibly through him, and he shook his head. After retrieving a bulky bag from near a low stone he started toward the seaward path. He paused once again at the dolman and peered straight at Lara, his light brows drawn together, confusion clouding his intense blue eyes.
Lara finally let herself breathe after he shrugged elegantly and strode off. She watched his back and the play of the tight muscles of his thighs as he walked. A very fit man, and handsome. She sat on the low stone. Something was vaguely familiar about him–a memory she knew she should be able to recall. She must have known someone who looked like him somewhere. Or some when. She really needed to return to the practice of journaling her adventures.
Ah, adventure. She leapt to her feet and hurried after the man. She would follow where he went and then decide if she wished to stay. A thoughtful smile tugged at her lips. He could make the visit interesting.
Lara blew out a frustrated breath. Here she was, still looking for that perfect romance. She should have left her white knight ideal at home. She’d never find a man like that. Or a love like her mom and dad’s. Mentally slapping her forehead, Lara turned for one final look at the stones. Maudlin, girl, maudlin. Get a grip.
Sure of his footing on the narrow path, the man walked swiftly. A natural grace flowed in his loose-limbed gait. His features were fair, the long, straight nose and high cheekbones familiar. The almost-memory nagged at her. Perhaps there was Faerie blood running through his veins.
Her face grew warm. It had been quite some time since she had been attracted to a man. Could there be the pull of a possible shared heritage? Or maybe it had just been longer than she realized, making her susceptible to the charms of a handsome face and lean hips.
He had moved further ahead, so she hurried to catch up. Lara wanted to discover more about this intriguing man, find out what lay beneath his calm surface. And why had he been staring so intently at the dolman?
Mulling over her questions–and the view of the man’s tantalizing backside–Lara took a misstep and gasped at the painful turn of her ankle. The man stopped with a jerk, turned, carefully lowered his bag to the ground and reached for the long knife at his side.
Lara bit her lip against the pain shooting through her ankle and hobbled behind a tall rock. A few short, mumbled words later, the guise of invisibility slipped from her. She took a deep breath, whispered her second spell and felt her jeans and cotton shirt change.
A grimace wrinkled her forehead when she looked down at her new clothing. A rough, homespun shift covered her to the tips of her toes, which were thankfully bare. An overmantle with bright geometric embroidery at the hem covered the shift. She took a deep breath, tried to pat her wild hair into some semblance of order and stepped from behind the rock.
“I beg pardon, sir. I did not mean to startle you.” The rhythmic, long vowels of her words attested to the completeness of her aunt’s spell. Lara smiled. She did so love the flowing sounds of a Gaelic language.
She took a step, lurched forward with a sharp cry and sank to her knees. Sitting cross-legged she cradled her ankle between her hands and sighed. It was already swollen and turning purple.
He released his defensive posture and frowned at the young woman. Another delay. There was a strangeness about her sudden appearance, but his thoughts had been on the ancient gateway and the longship riding the waves at the horizon. He inhaled deeply, but the faint scent of magic dissipated in the wind before he could detect the source.
Simple folk feared the stone gateway, and he had been assured this path to the next holding was seldom used. He snorted–fearing a pile of rock when there was much more to fear in this world.
The woman looked up at him. He held back a smile as he recognized tears of pain glistening on her lashes. A jolt of the familiar surged through him and followed the magic into the wind. He sank into the depths of those wide eyes. A step closer. Those violet eyes.
He halted with a sharp intake of breath and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Who are you?”
She cringed at the harsh tones but kept her compelling gaze steady on his. He approved. Golden-brown flecks danced with deep purple swirls within her eyes. Such a myriad of color, of emotion, of passion. Drawn, he took another step.
“I am Lara.”
“My name is Lara. Who are you?”
The wind blew her hair wildly about her face and brought a flash of desire such as he had not felt in many years. What harm could there be in giving her a name? He chose a favorite and smiled. “Aubrian.”
The reaction to his smile was expected but still satisfying. Her eyes swirled an interest that edged toward sultry. He accepted his effect on women. Lifting his bag to one shoulder he held the other hand out to her. “Do you require assistance?”
Her golden eyebrows drew together and she shook her head as if to clear it. “No, I…” She tried to stand but collapsed with another gulp of pain.
Concentrated low and heavy, heat suffused Aubrian’s body. Lovers he’d had, but none affected him as swiftly or as strongly. He grinned in anticipation of the hunt.
“I guess a hand up would be helpful.” Her voice was hesitant.
The smile frozen on his lips and he stared at her. There was a strange quality to her speech, a lilting difference to her words. A memory tickled the far reaches of his mind of a voice he had thought buried deeply away. It brought another aspect to the hunt–another discovery to be made.
“May I assist you to your home?”
She flushed a bright pink. “I’m…not from around here.”
Aubrian sighed dramatically. “Then there is nothing for you to do but come with me.” He paused and watched fleeting emotions cross her fine features. This would be a swift, intense and satisfying hunt.
“I, too, am a traveler and far from home. There is a holding near. The lord is a fair man and welcomes strangers to his board. I will pay for our lodging with entertainments.”
“I am perfectly able to–”
“I am sure you are, my dear, yet I feel somehow responsible for your injury. I insist you allow me to aid you in this small manner.”
Anticipating her answer, Aubrian held his breath. A halo of light blond hair curled around her face. His body grew tighter with the yearning. Had he somehow become the prey in this game? Ruthlessly he tamped down the uncomfortable feelings.
Lara stared at the ground at Aubrian’s feet. “I guess that would be okay. But you owe me nothing.” Her gaze lifted to his, and the blood boiled through his veins. “You did not make me trip.”
“Ah, but you were following me, were you not?” The blush that rose instantly to color her cheeks brought renewed anticipation and the smile to his lips. “Come, now. You may lean against me. Or, if the pain is too great, I will carry you.”
Lara couldn’t believe Aubrian’s matter-of-fact statement. A man offered to carry her? At five-eight she was no frail, tiny woman. She gazed at him and let her skepticism show. “I hardly think that will be necessary.”
The smile he flashed at her vowed to prove her wrong. Aubrian held a long-fingered hand out to her and lifted one eyebrow. Still, she hesitated before taking his help. Would he pull her into his arms when she stood? The vow in his smile turned to promise.
What the heck. Why shouldn’t she follow her attraction and see what happened? With her hand encompassed by his, Lara let herself be pulled easily to her feet. She stumbled forward on her injured ankle but Aubrian caught her arm to steady her. Then he stepped away.
Strangely disappointed, Lara tried to stay upright by balancing with the toe of her injured foot. Aubrian returned to her side with a thick branch. He held it up, peered seriously at it and back at Lara then knelt to break a short length over his knee.
Aubrian held the altered branch out to her. “Perhaps this will be of assistance as well.” He eased a split in the branch under her arm and brushed her side with his fingers. A tingle of fear caught her breath and chased after the brief pleasure from his touch. Aubrian stood back as if to survey his handiwork and nodded with satisfaction filling his expression.
The makeshift crutch fit her perfectly. Lara took a few careful steps forward before Aubrian joined her on the path. “When you are weary, we will rest. I do not believe the holding is far.” He slung his bag over one shoulder and sauntered away.
Lara’s anger faded as quickly as it rose. She wouldn’t be in this time very long anyway, so why worry about a man’s strange behaviors or her reactions to him. Applying only light pressure on the toe of her injured foot, she hobbled after Aubrian as quickly as she was able.
The wind carried the faint musical sound of his voice to her. “The game begins.” Between watching her footing and the path before her carefully, she barely registered the meaning of the mumbled words.