Highland Protector Page 1

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Chapter One

1686, MacCoinnich Keep Scotland

Fighting with a sword ranked up there with having sex without an orgasm. Holding the damn thing took too much energy and the end-result was anticlimactic and messy. Kincaid’s free hand itched to pull any one of his hidden weapons from the pockets of his modified seventeenth century clothes and finish off his opponent. The man’s death was inevitable. He had no earthly prayer of taking Kincaid. Even without the use of Kincaid’s gift, the kilted Scot had two fatal flaws working against him. One, he underestimated his opponent, never a good thing in battle. Two, Kincaid’s Druid gift would prevent any fatal blow from reaching his skin. He was damn near immortal.

Kincaid missed being skewered by the Scot’s blade by lunging to his right and placing one foot on the edge of the Keep’s massive stairs. Above him, other men fought, some with powers, a few without. Preventing the ancient Keep from falling into any hands that didn’t belong to descendants of the original owners, wasn’t going to happen. These missions were planned and orchestrated with extreme caution and precision.

The Scot advanced again—sweat falling from his brow with the effort of the fight.

“Kincaid!” He heard his name from the floor above, but didn’t make the mistake of looking up.

“I’m busy.” He blocked his opponent’s sword again, locked the man’s free arm, and attempted to pull it behind his back.

Kincaid was rewarded by taking an elbow in the ribs and having the wind knocked from his lungs.

“Finish him already. We need to move on.”

Moving on was his queue that their time was nearly up.

“I guess…” He shoved the Scot a foot away and lifted his sword high. “That means we’re done here.”

“Your confidence will be your downfall,” the Scot said.

Kincaid motioned the man forward. …said the spider to the fly…

The Scot advanced with a surge of strength and determination.

Kincaid held his ground, threw up his Druid shield, and watched as shock filled the man’s gaze when his sword bounced off the shield and opened him up for Kincaid’s final blow.

Killing never sat well with him. But he was a warrior and killing was part of his soul. Damn shame that.

Kincaid heard his name called again, and he took the familiar stairs two at a time to reach the others. From the corner of his eye, his gaze met a painting on the wall, one he’d not seen before.

His steps faltered as he connected with the haunting gaze of the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Didn’t matter that the painting was one dimensional, or that the woman was most likely dead…even in this century. He did a quick inventory of the other images on the walls and recognized only one. The same painting hung in that very space on the wall, so many years in the future. But this one…the picture of the woman with her long dark hair and pained focus as she attempted to smile, beckoned him. This painting he’d never seen.

“Kincaid! Dammit man, get your ass up here!”

Kincaid shook away the woman’s soulful gaze, bounded up the stairs, and trailed his band of men up the spiral staircase of the turret.

As they moved to the privacy of the bricked room, he noticed the small face of one of the Keep’s youngest occupants watching from behind an adjacent door.

Rory moved to close the door when Kincaid motioned toward their witness.

The child, a girl not more than ten years old watched with wide eyes. She didn’t appear frightened in the least.

“Is she…”

Rory lifted his hand, palm up, and from it, a small ball of fire swirled from nothing and hung suspended.

The girl’s wide eyes lifted and a small smile inched at the side of her lips. She lifted her hand and a sputtering of fire sprang from her fingertips.

Kincaid felt his pulse dip as he lifted his finger to his lips “Shh,” he whispered with what he hoped looked like a friendly smile.

Noise from the long staircase met their ears. Rory ushered them inside and closed the door. Before the noise from below became another battle, Kincaid closed his eyes, lifted his shield, and spread it over his small party…then he began to chant and time slid away.

****

Current Day, Los Angeles

Amber MacCoinnich endured the weight of emotional pain that surrounded every moment of her life for as long as she could stand it before slipping from her bath. Though she enjoyed the freedom of a quick shower from time to time, she endured the splitting headache that swam up her spine once she removed her protective cloak. The soothing water in the hot tub came at a price, but Amber was willing to pay the price at least once a week. As a sixteenth century woman living in the twenty-first century, there were some habits she brought with her.

Unlike MacCoinnich Keep in the Highlands of Scotland, the place she’d grown up, Mrs. Dawson’s Southern California home was virtually empty of inhabitants. Mrs. Dawson herself lived in chambers that had been moved to the bottom floor to aid her failing joints. Although age might be robbing her of her ability to take the stairs as often as she used to, her mind was sharp, and her wit always made Amber smile.

Simon, her cousin of sorts, and Helen, his wife, took over several rooms on the second floor while Amber took one of the many rooms on the third floor. Up here, the weight of emotions from those below only penetrated her mind and her soul when she removed her cloak. Up here, she could manage several hours of sleep if she exhausted herself during her day. Up here, she could breathe. Or so was the case when she’d first arrived in this century. As her days wore on the cloak began to lose its power and Amber began to long for a fourth floor.

Long before she heard her name called, she felt Helen’s intent…an enormous emotional wave of energy surged from below. Though she wasn’t positive what caused Helen’s happiness, she experienced it…and knew Helen’s intention was to share it.

The fall night gave the house a slight chill, which suited Amber well when she covered her pale skin with a long nightgown and the warm cloak that served as a temporary emotional shield.

Instantly, the threads of the magic woven into the long garment muted the outside emotions until they dulled the building headache inside her skull.

A long-winded sigh escaped her lips. “’Tis better,” she whispered to herself.

Helen’s soft knock on the door brought a smile to Amber’s lips. “Come in, Helen.”

She opened the door and bounced in the room like a young child, the smile on her lips lifted the fatigue from Amber’s heart. “I still can’t get over how you know anytime one of us is nearby.”

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