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Beyond the highland mist, p.29

Beyond the Highland Mist, page 29

 part  #1 of  Highlander Series

 

Beyond the Highland Mist
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  She would take his hand and lay it gently on her swelling abdomen, and his face would blaze with happiness and pride. Then he would take her gently, there on the cliff’s edge, in tempo with the pounding of the ocean. He would make fierce and possessive love to her and she would hold on to him as tightly as she could.

  But before dawn, he would melt right through her fingers.

  And she would wake up, her cheeks wet with tears and her hands clutching nothing but a bit of quilt or pillow.

  CHAPTER 34

  1 APRIL 1514

  HE WAS NEAR. THE HAWK COULD FEEL HIM AS HE SAT IN HIS study polishing a toy soldier to a smooth, sealed grain while he watched the dawn move over the sea. A tingling awareness started at the base of his spine and worked its way up, heightening all his senses.

  The Hawk smiled darkly and laid the toy carefully aside. Something wicked this way comes. Aye. And I am ready this time, you bastard!

  The Hawk crossed his study to his desk and rolled the thick sheaf of parchment, tucking it into the leather girth of his sporran. He was ready to use it, but only after he had the satisfaction of fighting the smithy on mortal terms.

  He stepped into the morning feeling more alive than he’d felt in months. Hold fast and believe in me, love, he whispered across the centuries.

  Because love and belief were serious magic in and of themselves.

  “Come out, coward,” he called, his breath frosting in the chill morning air. The snowfall had stopped a few weeks ago, only sparse patches remained, and soon spring would grace Dalkeith-Upon-the-Sea once more. As will my wife, he vowed fiercely. For days now he’d been tense, knowing something was about to happen. Feeling it in his heart, as the Rom sometimes suffered their premonitions. Then, this morning, he’d woken in the wee hours knowing the time was at hand. The battle would be waged this day, and it was a battle he would win.

  “Come on! ’Tis easy to fight anonymously. It only tells me you’re too much a coward to declare yourself and face me,” he taunted the misty air.

  He felt foolish for a moment, then pushed the feeling brusquely aside. Adam Black was near, he knew it clear to the marrow in his bones, goaded by the minstrel plays and a fool’s weakness.

  “Foe! Face me! Cowardly, puny, sniveling whelp. I bet you used to hide behind your mama’s skirts as a wee lad, didn’t you? Quiver and taunt from behind a lass as you do now?” Hawk scoffed into the silent morning. “You used a lass as your pawn. Anyone could have played such a weak game. I challenge you to a true contest, gutless worm.”

  The breeze kicked up, more puckish now, but still no one came. The air swirled thickly in a rush of fast-scuttling clouds with black underbellies. Hawk laughed aloud, feeling exhilaration and strength course through his veins.

  “Mortal man knows the truth about you now, Adam—that you couldn’t win my wife, that she scorned you for me.” Naturally, he omitted the truth that Adam had temporally convinced him that Adrienne had gone willingly. But the Hawk had regained his senses, along with his belief and trust in his wife. “I know she rejected you, smithy! I know you forced her to leave me against her will. She chose me over you and the whole country knows it now.”

  “Cease, mortal,” Adam’s voice whispered on the breeze.

  The Hawk laughed.

  “You find this amusing? You think to incite my wrath and live to laugh about it? Are you truly such a madman? For you are not my match.”

  The Hawk was still smiling when he said softly, “I was more than your match when it came to Adrienne.”

  “Face your executioner, pretty bird.” Adam stepped menacingly out of the dense Highland mist.

  The two men regarded each other savagely.

  Adam stepped closer.

  So did the Hawk. “Fair battle, fickle fae. Unless you’re too afraid.”

  “This is what you called me for? A fistfight?”

  “Take a mortal form, Adam. Fight me to the death.”

  “We don’t die.” Adam sneered.

  “Then fight me to the draw. Fight me fair.”

  They circled each other warily, muscled frames abristle with unleashed hostility. The violence that had simmered since the moment these two men had met escalated to a roiling boil. It was a relief to the Hawk to have it out, to have it done with. And oh, get his hands on that bastard smithy at last!

  “Fair battle is all I’ve ever done.”

  “You lie, fool. You cheated at every turn.”

  “I’ve never cheated!”

  “Well, don’t cheat now,” Hawk warned as they faced off. “Bare-handed. Man to man, you are my match in size. Are you in strength, agility, and cunning? I think not.”

  Adam shrugged indolently. “You will rue the day you were born, pretty bird. I’ve already beaten you and taken your wife, but this day, I will seal your fate. This day I will destroy Dalkeith, until nothing but granite crumbs blow over the cliff’s edge to meet the hungry sea. Your bones will be among them, Hawk.”

  Hawk threw his dark head back and laughed.

  Shrouded in the heavy mist, the court of the Tuatha De Danaan watched the fight.

  “The Hawk is winning!”

  Silvery sigh. “So much man.”

  “See him move! Fast as a panther, deadly as a python.”

  “Think not of him, he is safe from all of us now. So I have commanded,” the Queen snapped on a frigid gust of air.

  A long silence.

  “Will the fool play fair?” queried Aine, the quiet, mousy fairy.

  The Queen sighed. “Has he ever?”

  Adrienne clutched Marie’s hand and gasped aloud as she felt the soft kick in her womb. Somehow it felt as if the Hawk were near and needed her strength and love. As if something magical hovered, almost tangible enough to grasp with her slender fingers. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly and willed her heart across the chasms of time.

  Adam snarled. “Enough of this mortal idiocy. It’s time to end this once and for all.” He was bleeding, his lip cut and nose shattered. Adam used his immortal strength to fling the Hawk to the ground at his feet. A sword appeared in Adam’s hand, and he laid the blade against the mortal’s throat. “Compact be damned,” Adam muttered, balancing the razor-sharp edge flush to the Hawk’s jugular. He cocked a brow and taunted the fallen mortal. “You know, for a moment there, I was worried you might have managed to learn something about my race, the kind of thing we don’t like mortals to know. But it seems I was right about you all along, and my worry was for naught. You are truly thick-witted. You really thought you could best me in a fistfight?” Adam shook his head and tsk-tsked. “Hardly. It takes more than that to defeat my kind. Oh, and by the by, prepare to die, mortal.”

  But his threat elicited nary a quiver from the legend at his feet. Instead the Hawk arrogantly wrapped his hand around the blade and looked deep into Adam’s eyes. The intensity of the mortal’s gaze latched on to Adam’s and held with a strength all its own.

  Adam tensed, and a flicker of uncertainty flashed across his face.

  Hawk smiled. “Amadan Dubh, I compel you thusly …”

  Adam froze and his jaw dropped, belying a very human expression of astonishment. The sword melted from his hand as the words of the ancient ritual of binding mired him tightly. “You can’t do this!” Adam spit out.

  But the Hawk could, and did.

  Adam growled low in his throat. It was not a human sound at all.

  Twenty minutes later, Adam was gaping in disbelief. The Hawk had actually unrolled a parchment scroll from his sporran and was reading a very long, very specific list of demands.

  “… and you will never come near Dalkeith-Upon-the-Sea again …”

  Adam shuddered. “Are you almost done, pretty bird?”

  The Hawk continued without interruption, unrolling his scroll farther.

  “Did you write a goddamn book? You can’t do it like this,” Adam said through gritted teeth. “You get one command. You can’t read that whole thing.”

  Hawk almost
laughed aloud. The trickery would begin now. Any loophole the fickle fairy could find he would try to use. But the Hawk hadn’t left any loopholes. He kept reading.

  “I said give it up, you infantile, mewling mass of mortality. It won’t work.”

  “… and you will never …” Hawk continued.

  Adam snarled and raged, his icy face turning whiter. “I will curse your children, your children’s children; I will curse Adrienne and all her children …” Adam dangled evilly.

  Hawk stiffened and paused. His eyes flew to Adam’s.

  Adam stifled a snicker of glee, certain that the Hawk would slip and break his command.

  Hawk’s lips drew back in a fierce snarl, “… and you will never seek to lay a curse upon my family, my seed, myself, or the family, seed, or self of anyone I command you to forsake or any Douglas commands you to forsake … including Adrienne; with Douglas being expressly defined as any relative by direct blood tie, marriage, or adoption, seed being defined as progeny, children adopted or otherwise obtained, you will not harm any animal belonging to …”

  Adam paced a stunted space of earth, fear now evident in his every step.

  “… obedience being defined as … and when you return Adrienne to me, all will be in order at Dalkeith-Upon-the-Sea … the Hawk and all his people being protected from any harm, alive and in the best of health with no tricks played … and Adrienne will be bringing her cat safely back through time with her … and …”

  Adam’s face, once beautiful, was a livid mask of hate, “I will not lose! I will find a way to defeat you, Hawk.”

  “… and you will forgo any thoughts or actions of revenge against the Douglas …”

  Adam waved his hand and Adrienne appeared, looking utterly stunned, clutching a clawing cat in her arms.

  The Hawk shuddered imperceptibly, knowing this was just one more trick by Adam to get him to break his command. Five months, five horrible, heartless months without a glimpse of his beloved’s face, and now she stood before him. Breathtakingly, heart-wrenchingly lovely. Hawk’s gaze rested hungrily on her face, her silvery mane, her lush body, her round belly …

  Her round belly? His eyes flew to Adrienne’s, wide with astonishment and awe, as a violent possessiveness rocked his frame.

  His child! His daughter or son. Blood of his blood—his and Adrienne’s.

  Adrienne was pregnant.

  Hawk was speechless.

  Adam grinned wickedly—and the Hawk saw it.

  He would not lose Adrienne. He had too much to read yet. With iron force of will, Hawk averted his eyes from his beloved wife.

  It was the hardest thing he’d ever done in his entire life.

  Adrienne’s eyes devoured him.

  She was afraid to interrupt, afraid to move. Somehow she’d been miraculously yanked right out of her library, and Moonie, who had been across the room by the fire, was curled snugly in her arms. She could still see Marie’s startled face fading before her eyes.

  And there was the Hawk, beloved husband and life itself.

  “How could you resist me, Beauty?” Adam was suddenly the smithy again, kilt-clad and glistening. “I am every bit as beautiful as the Hawk and can please you in ways you can’t even dream. I could turn you inside out and make you weep with ecstasy. How could you forsake me?”

  “I love my husband.” She’d spent many months clinging to the hope of the Hawk’s child growing inside her and studying everything about Celtic lore she could get her hands on in hopes of finding a way back. But the Hawk, it seemed, had found it for her.

  “Love. What is this love thing you mortals prize so highly?” Adam sneered.

  Enough, fool, came a silvery peal of the Fairy Queen’s sigh.

  Even Hawk slurred over his words, midsentence, at that voice.

  And enough from you, too, beautiful man, legendary Hawk.

  Sweeter than the chiming of bells, her voice was a sensuous stroke of heaven. But Hawk continued, without interruption, “… and as used in this command, the word person shall mean and include, where appropriate, an individual or other entity; the plural shall be substituted for the singular and the singular for plural when appropriate; and words of any gender shall include any other gender …”

  Adrienne watched her husband, her eyes blazing with love and pride.

  The fool will obey me. I am his Queen.

  Hawk paused a whisper of a breath, not enough to break continuity, but enough to acknowledge.

  And besides, you’re past commanding. You’re pontificating and being positively redundant. Still, well done, mortal. She is safe, you both are. I will see to it for now and always.

  Hawk continued, “… all elements conjoined by ifs, ands, or buts, or other conjoining verbiage shall not, when seemingly in conflict, operate in exclusion or limit in any fashion but shall function conjunctive, overlapping, and allowing the broadest possible definition of the terms as used herein…”

  The Fairy Queen sighed. Ahhh, I see. You will not cease this drivel until I offer you assurance. Clever man. You seek my troth? I grant it. You have the sworn oath of the Fairy Queen upon the pact of the Tuatha De Danaan. T’will never be broken, lest our race vanish.

  Hawk released the scroll and it rolled shut with an audible snap. Only then did Adrienne see the tremor in his hands as he met her gaze, eyes triumphant.

  “She has given us protection and fealty.” His smile could have lit the Samhain bonfires. His eyes swept her from head to toe, lovingly lingering on every inch in between.

  “We’re safe?” Adrienne whispered, tears springing to her eyes.

  I shall see to it myself, the silvery voice lilted. Now and for always. Fool?

  Adam growled.

  Since I can’t seem to keep you out of trouble you have a new companion. Aine will spend the next five hundred years with you. She will endeavor to keep you in line.

  Not Aine! Adam’s plea was a shade away from a whine. That snoopy little fairy has a crush on me! I could spend my time pleasing you, my Queen. Let me!

  You will please Aine, fool, or you will spend the next thousand years in the foot of a mountain by yourself. You think you’re bored now?

  With one last searing look at the Hawk, Adam vanished.

  Now where were we? the Queen asked. Adrienne squinted hard in the direction of the voice. She could barely discern the shimmering outline of a woman hovering in the misty air behind the Hawk.

  Ah, yes. The two of you were about to have a wedding on the ridge by the sea. The fool has a beastly sense of timing. I shall pick up where it was left off. I, Aoibheal, Queen of the Tuatha De Danaan, name you man and wife. Neither mortal nor immortal shall ever tear you asunder, lest they incur my eternal wrath. There. You’ve been wed by the Fairy Queen. None can lay claim to such a legend.

  Adrienne and the Hawk were still staring at each other across a space of garden, both afraid to move even an inch.

  Well? Kiss the woman, you big beautiful man! Go on.

  The Hawk sucked in a harsh breath.

  He’d changed, Adrienne realized. Time had rendered him even more beautiful than before. She didn’t know he was thinking the same thing about her. His eyes slid over her, from her silvery-blond hair to her bare toes peeping from under a pair of strange trousers.

  And then she was in his arms, folded in that strong embrace she’d dreamed about every night for the past five months as she lay in bed, her hand resting on her rounded belly, begging the heavens for just one more day with her husband.

  He brushed her lips with his. “My heart.”

  “Your heart is … oh!” She lost her breath beneath his ravishing lips.

  “Ahhh,” the Queen marveled, for even the Tuatha De Danaan were in awe of true love. You are worthy of what I now give you, she whispered just before she vanished. Consider it a wedding gift….

  EPILOGUE

  ADRIENNE BREATHED DEEPLY. NOTHING WOULD EVER COMPARE to the scent of roses and spring rain, the unceasing roar of the waves against th
e west cliffs and the splash of salt in the unspoiled air. She had ducked outside to watch twilight move in over the sea. Then she would return to Lydia and continue making baby plans. She smothered a laugh with her hand. Lydia had finally outright ordered the Hawk to go away, complaining that she couldn’t possibly welcome her daughter-in-law back properly and prepare for her grandchild if he wouldn’t stop kissing her all the time. Not that Adrienne had minded.

  Like a chastened boy, the Hawk had glared.

  “You have the rest of your lives together,” Lydia had remarked crisply, “while we women have only a few short months to prepare for the babe.”

  “A few short months?” Hawk had looked stunned. Then worried. He’d raced off, muttering under his breath.

  Now Adrienne stood on the stone stairs, head tilted back, drinking in the quiet beauty of the velvety sky. A flicker of movement on the roof caught her eye.

  Grimm peered over the parapet at her and his handsome face lit with a smile. She and the Hawk had talked that afternoon and he had filled her in on what had transpired, including Grimm’s part in helping to bring her back. Only hours before, Grimm had clasped his hand to his heart and on bended knee begged forgiveness for lying. She’d granted it readily.

  “Hope you’re not looking for a star, Grimm,” she called up to him.

  “Never again,” he vowed fervently.

  Adrienne gasped, as at precisely that moment a tiny white speck sparked and sputtered, then traced a downward spiral across the sky. “Oh my God! Grimm, look! A shooting star!” She squeezed her eyes shut and wished fiercely.

  “What did you just wish?” he growled down at her, rigid with tension.

  When she opened her eyes again, she said saucily, “I can’t tell. It’s against the rules.”

  “What did you just wish?” he roared.

  “My, aren’t we superstitious?” she teased with a smile.

  He glowered down at her as she made her way back into the castle. Glancing over her shoulder, she flashed him an impish grin. “Brace yourself, Grimm. I will tell you this much—I spent my wish on you.”

 
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