An ill-prepared Alfar-Sindhu prince and the love he waited ages to find, fight to protect two worlds from the threat of an ancient fire elemental.
Torn between duty and love, Morghan stand alone to protect two worlds from and ancient fire elemental bent on escaping from the world between worlds, He’s loved Coralie long upon long, yet never acted on his desire.
Raised in the royal household, Coralie has remained silently at Morghan’s side through long human years. She’s hidden her true feeling for him, even from herself.
A forensic artist from America, Lucidea Galvagin travels to Scotland to determine the identity of a skull found on Morghan’s land. What she discovers will change her life and the fate of two worlds.
If Morghan chooses family and Coralie over battle, is it only his worlds that will be lost, or will his choices doom them all?
Enjoy Chapter One
::You placed the sacrifice as directed? Where it will be found?::
Wincing at the sudden harsh voice in his head, he rubbed the ache at his temples.
“Too loud,” he whispered, then addressed the other within his mind. ::As directed, lord.::
A sense of laughter filled his head. ::Good. The moon nears the fullness required for my arrival. Make my way clear.::
::All has been done according to your demands, lord. How else may I serve you?::
::In time, my impatient one. In time. I shall reward you with all you desire. Women, kingdoms, worlds, power. I have seen your mind. It pleases me. Complete the preparations.::
::Lord, it shall be as you wish.::
The over-full pressure of another being in his mind faded. When the feeling totally disappeared, he growled and swiped the parchments before him to the floor. His whole life had been spent bowing to some lord. What difference did it make which one? They were all the same, using his talents for their gain.
A snarl curled his lips. Not much longer. Once this new lord destroyed his supposed ruler… One side of his mouth lifted. When one was gone, another would soon follow.
Then he would rule. He would control. He would have everything. And no overlord demanding a share.
He calmed his mind. It wouldn’t do to have his mind invaded while he worked on his own plans. Curse the creature who came upon him with no warning. It was increasingly difficult to keep his machinations safely hidden.
Only a sevenday at most, and the first obstacle in his rise would be obliterated. Just a few more plans, a few more items to set in place. With a fierce jerk of one hand he ripped a single page from a small, leather-bound journal. Laughing, he tucked the page in a deep pocket and hid the journal in a crevice barely large enough to hold the tattered volume.
Still chuckling, he slipped from the small chamber, warded the stones disguising the opening, and turned away.
Once the sacrifice was discovered, the next phase would begin. And then both lords would know the power of his name. The power of Pagas.
The skull weighed heavy in Morghan’s hand—and on his heart.
He turned the bone orb to study the profile. Muscles in his jaw tightened, and tension drew a painful line between his shoulders. A sense of the familiar narrowed the focus of his vision on the high cheek ridges. He caressed his thumbs over the air-darkened bone, telling himself he had no knowledge of whose flesh had once graced the skull.
A shudder shook his hands, and he looked away.
Whether the being had once been a member of his race was not in question. Over the millennia many had disappeared from his realm, but most had returned. Few remained unaccounted for.
A rusty chuckle erupted from low in Morghan’s chest. The mortal bard had once written of such a skull. I knew him well.
Now, Morghan’s heart called out in pain, denying the name his inner voice spoke so softly. Even as he struggled to accept the denial, his doubt of the identity of the skull cradled in his palms faded.
This lack of doubt concerned him deeply.
Morghan released a heavy breath, replaced the skull in the padded basket, and turned. “How many times must I tell ye, such convention is no’ needed between us here? Nor welcomed.” He fisted one hand against his hip, tucked an errant length of hair behind one ear, and affected an imperious pose.
Coralie gave a soft laugh; her eyes twinkled then grew dark and serious. “The arrangements be made. Yer agent has received a list of items the woman needs upon her arrival and will attend to aquirin’ them.”
“On the morrow as well. I prepared the floral suite for her.”
Morghan crossed the room. “Coralie, ye dinna need—”
“I wanted to. ’Tis too important to leave to others.” She turned toward the wide windows overlooking a deck cantilevered over the rocks at the edge of the loch. Hidden behind the stone manor house the sun set; the last rays sent sparkles of orange dancing across the black water. “The fewer who know… ’tis better this remain on the surface. Ye dinna need to worry yer people.”
No, as always, he kept his worries to himself. With whom could he share the burden of the darkness in his soul? His brother, his closest confidant, was long gone. He glanced toward the basket then turned his back on those possibilities. At the far shore of the loch a swirl of gray clouds spun close to the water.
Coralie pressed her palms against the glass and leaned forward until her nose touched the pane. “’Tis larger than yestern.”
“Is there time?” She turned her face toward him, her cheek pale against the clear glass. A rush of heat curled through his chest before sinking lower. He savored the desire then blinked and took a swift step back to keep from pulling her into his arms.
This was Coralie, abandoned when little more than a babe then fostered in his father’s palace. They’d been children together. She was as a sister to him. A friend. There could be nothing more, no matter his body’s reaction.
“Morghan?” She straightened and tilted her head to stare at him. Ah, that tilt—the perfect, kissable angle. He leaned forward slightly, froze, then took another step back. A strange light flickered in Coralie’s eyes before her lashes lowered. “Be there somethin’ wrong?”
A single snort of laughter burst from him. Wrong? There was much wrong in his worlds. A faint thought flitted across this consciousness. Coralie could make everything right. Ignoring the wistful thought, he kept his hands fisted at his sides and shook his head. “No’ more than yestern. I canna find anythin’ but hints of what may be causin’ that disturbance.”
“’Tis no’ natural?”
He gave her a sidelong glance. “Ye ken as well as I ’tis no’.”
She returned a cocky grin. “One could hope.”
He had no time for hope. This was a time for action, except he didn’t know what action would be right. He shook his head.
“Are ye still havin’ the dreams?”
“Aye. Nightly.” It had been a relief to speak of the nightmares, although he would never burden another with the details of the confusing dreams. At times he wondered if his mind had snapped, his thought processes leading him to actions that could destroy him.
“Have yer dreams gotten worse?” Coralie stood directly in front of him, her small hand lifted. He watched her slender fingers reach for him, pause, then press lightly against his chest. Ah, the contact. He closed his eyes and accepted her warmth. But only for a moment, then escaped like a coward with yet another backwards step.
And felt the instant, icy cold of loss replace the warmth.
This time he recognized the flash of emotion mirrored in Coralie’s eyes. Disappointment. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Disappointment. In him. In his inability to discover the reason for the shimmer of fire haunting his dreams, or a hint to the origins of the clouded disturbance growing nightly over his loch.
“I dinna ken what to do.” The admission was out before he could control the despair in his words.
Coralie’s serious expression, so contrary to her normally carefree demeanor, highlighting her belief in him, humbled him to his knees. Her hesitation hovered between them before she moved closer and cradled his head against her stomach. Her hands rested on his head a moment before she stroked her fingers through his hair.
She sighed, and he lifted his gaze to her face. “Ye will, milord.”
Aching to wrap his arms about her hips, he leaned into her gentle caress. With his palms pressed flat against his thighs he willingly accepted Coralie’s comfort and assurance, letting his doubts fade with each stroke of her fingers.
But only for a moment. Long before the comfort settled within him, long before he wished to, he forced himself to lean back and ease to his feet. He stared at the floor. “Forgive me my weakness, Coralie.”
“’Tis nothin’ to forgive.” He looked up at her as she turned back to the window, shaking her head. “And ’tis no’ time to find concern in personal issues,” she whispered.
Personal issues? What could be more personal than discovering the extent of the threat to his people? At the window he glanced first at Coralie’s reflection then toward the swirling clouds shimmering far across the loch.
He needed to think, but how could he focus on the problems facing his people when the woman he ached for stood so close, so warm and alive? Longing blossomed into desire, and he bit his lip, hard, in an effort to concentrate on the pain. Father had given him, and his brother, Lachlan, a simple charge—to guard the foundling girl-child.
That charge had been easy enough while they were children. But Coralie had long been a woman. Almost as long, he had been aware of her as a woman, feelings he assumed went against his father’s charge.
So he’d sought the pleasure of many women, both human and Alfar-Sindhu, momentarily losing himself in empty passions. So empty, he wondered if it were possible to truly feel.
Giving Coralie his back, Morghan tugged at his shirt buttons. He tossed the garment to the floor and toed off his shoes and socks. He felt her soft sigh as he slipped from his jeans and strode out the door to the deck. One huge leap from the edge, and a sharp dive drove him deep into the loch. The icy water shot the unwanted heat from his body.
Instinct controlled his powerful strokes and carried him far from physical temptation. Yet a vision of Coralie remained in his mind; her warmth settled in his heart, and no amount of hard swimming would chase her away.
A soft mental touch slowed his strokes. Treading water, he released the air from his lungs and sank below the surface. When the starlight above no longer penetrated the dark water, a huge saurian head appeared before him.
::Na-h-Uile,:: he called in the quiet of his mind.
The long, sinuous neck arched to keep its head level with his as his ancient friend undulated in a cool swirl around him. ::What am I to do?:: Morghan covered his face with his hands.
The huge creature sang to him. The wordless sounds became a balm to his tattered senses. He touched his friend, the creature humans called Nessie, stroking the thick eye ridges. ::I dinna ken why I feel so fer Coralie.::
The tones of the song changed, and Na-h-Uile butted him with her head, sending him sprawling.
::Aye, m’ friend. ’Tis no’ the worry that needs be foremost in my mind. Now, more than ever, I fear the cause of the disturbance, but what do I do? How do I fight somethin’ I dinna ken?::
She nudged him again, angling her head until his hand rested on her neck. At her low rumble, Morghan curled his fingers around a thick ridge just before she shot forward.
Exhilaration filled him, pushing aside his doubts as they sliced through the water. A single thought would return the concerns, but for now he accepted the offer of momentary forgetfulness.
Na-h-Uile rose and burst from the loch, arching high through the air then plunging back into the water. The next time she leapt Morghan released his grip and dropped into the water, where she caught him in a curve of her tail.
Morghan roared with laughter at their play. This was how life was meant to be. Free. The life he led when he was younger. But then his brother had disappeared. Grief-stricken, their father had passed into the great sea, leaving him ruler. The duty he’d never expected fell to his shoulders.
Sensing the change in his thoughts, Na-h-Uile rose gently to the surface. The moments of play over, Morghan stood on his friend’s broad back, one arm wrapped about her long neck. Both turned to study the strange disturbance. She sang to him, her worry contained in the somber vibrations.
::We shall defeat this, my friend. I dinna yet ken how. But I will, for it troubles me deeply.:: He rested his head against her smooth, cool neck. ::I have seen enough this night. Will ye take me to the palace?::
With a dip of her head, she answered him then sang of comfort and her belief in him as she carried him deep, to the darkest recesses of the loch. At the edge of the palace grounds, where water met air, he paused and stared upward. He couldn’t see the anomaly, but felt the subtle changes, the whirling influence churning in his belly.
Time was short, and he was no nearer to an answer than he’d been weeks ago when the first tiny, dancing cloud appeared in his dreams.
After a silent farewell he slipped through the barrier, nodded to the guard who held out a robe for him, then gathered his determination and strode toward the library.
Coralie watched Morghan’s smooth dive into the cold, dark loch. When the last ripple of his soundless passage lapped against the deck supports she released a long breath and bent to gather the clothing he’d dropped in his haste.
While he’d said he needed to study the disturbance, she knew his unspoken need—to be away from her. She pressed her hands against her belly, where he’d rested his head, feeling the softness of his hair in her mind.
When she’d been brought to the palace, a foundling little more than a toddler, Morghan had been a boy nearing adolescence. Both he and the older Lachlan had taken to having a young sister with joy and youthful passion. A slight smile twitched her lips as she carefully folded Morghan’s clothing and stacked the pieces on a low chest by the door. She’d loved him from the first, even before she understood the love between a man and a woman.
The distant water’s surface split as a narrow head perched on a long neck rose high into the late evening air. With a high arch, the head plunged into the loch followed by the flip of a long, thick tail. Coralie laughed. If Na-h-Uile played at the surface, then Morghan took time for play as well. Such occurrences were rare of late. His mind would be at ease now, at least for a short while.
Touching one palm to the cool glass, she watched the odd, churning clouds hovering above the loch. The gray swirl billowed around a tiny spot of black. A sudden flare of fiery orange illuminated the clouds. Just as quickly, it shrank and was gone. Coralie pressed closer to the window. The dark center of the cloud formation had lightened and appeared larger.
She leaned back from the window and used the end of her sleeve to wipe away the tiny nose print. Although Morghan refused to share his deepest concerns with her, she had caught glimpses of his research. The old king had left her a private library, and using those informative glimpses, she’d discovered similar legends to use as basis for her own studies.
A faint inkling of the cause of the disturbance hovered deep in her mind, but she hadn’t been able to place her thoughts into words. It was as if she knew, but didn’t know at the same time. While Morghan pursued his detective work in the palace, she’d return to her books and increase her own knowledge.
Mayhap if she found even the smallest part of the answer and helped him, he would see her as more than a little sister. Mayhap. Patting the stack of clothing, she tucked her love for him into a guarded portion of her heart and turned to leave.
A second flare of light expanded the center of the cloud formation, freezing her mid-turn. Gasping, she stared as the clouds stopped billowing and began to swirl in a distinct pattern, surrounding the center with a whirlpool of gray.