“After the Storm”

An Ellora’s Cave Electronic Publication in association with author:
Tia Isabella (pseudonym for Jaid Bl...
The battle was over and the English vermin had been driven back to their dens of iniquity,
forced to recognize the Bruce a...
submit to relations with any and all MacGregors that wanted between their thighs.
Sir Dugald grinned as he continued to wa...
keep, so she probably wouldn’t take well to him using Matilde afore herself. Thomas sighed.
Wenches. They knew jealousies ...
The moment he reached the heavy wooden doors to his bedchamber, Thomas threw them
open and strode inside. Judith was waiti...
Of course, that’s also what made Maya a great archeologist. When she excavated a site, she
excavated the hell out of it. N...
undeniably stoic. Sorta like the Rock of Gibraltar with boobs.
Oddly enough, the fact that Maya and Sara were polar opposi...
Emergency expedition. Maya had never realized just how many emergencies an
archeologist would come across until she’d been...
The colors danced within the blackness and the demon wenches did thus appear. The dragons
danced to do their bidding and s...
Sara laughed as she picked up her cup of coffee and drew it to her lips. “Yes, the probables
are that you’re right on the ...
The MacGregor thought his lady a demon and the devil he cannot abide. Surely it ‘twas good she be
a lady or he would have ...
able to make out was the lady’s hair and one eye.
Lady M had possessed a long mane of golden curls and tri-colored eyes th...
Pete’s Halloween Hurricane Party was the most fun Maya and Sara had had in ages. They
couldn’t get over some of the costum...
anything else besides the fact that you’re here.”
Nick’s eyes roamed the length of Maya’s body once more. His jaw set as h...
Either Thor was a complete and utter wuss or Maya looked angry enough to be taken
seriously, but either way she won. The V...
suitable wife.”
Sara knit her brows together, then reached out to stroke Maya’s back. “A suitable wife,
darling?”
Maya shr...
The colors were majestic—pinks, purples, and golds of every shade imaginable. 'Twas not
possible. Storms never created the...
way. Maya took one look at Sara’s befuddled expression and laughed. “Okay sweetcakes,
you’ve successfully made me forget a...
colors grabbed at their bodies and roped them back inside. Sara screamed. Maya lashed out at
them, trying with everything ...
dirty, long, and mangled, with a plaited braid on either side of his face. And he had the worst
breath Maya had ever smell...
for all and sundry to hear her. “I am no demon, boys. I’m just a woman. No more, no less.”
The riders looked at her curiou...
Sara reached up to the two horns on top of her head, unpinned them from her hair, and
threw them at the big guy. “You see…...
cloak was concealing her outfit, for he surely would have demoted her from the status of lady
to the status of harlot had ...
Chapter 4
Somehow or another “Lady” Maya and “Lady” Sara ended up at the castle with Fred and
Barney in tow. It was eviden...
as well, since I take it neither of ye has yer chests.”
Maya’s expression softened at Thomas’s rather considerate gesture....
“I can call a healer if ye ha’ need of one.”
Maya closed her eyes against the feel of his hand stroking her head. His fing...
His knee? His knee? Damn the man!
Too enraged to think up any response at all, let alone a witty, smart-ass one, Maya
stom...
freely tae me.”
Thomas glowered at Dugald as he took another swallow of ale. “Mayhap ye find this
amusing Dugald, but I as...
Dugald nodded and sighed, having figured as much. “What aboot her, Thomas?”
The laird cast his stony stare to Dugald. “She...
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  1. 1. “After the Storm” An Ellora’s Cave Electronic Publication in association with author: Tia Isabella (pseudonym for Jaid Black) ISBN # 1-84360-019-6 All Rights Reserved. http://www.ellorascave.com/ © Copyright Tia Isabella, 2001. This book/e-book may not be reproduced in whole or in part by email forwarding, copying, fax, or any other mode of communication without author and publisher permission. Edited by Lee Haskell Prologue 1314 AD, The Scottish Highlands Near Strathy Point The MacGregor dismounted from his horse, his clothes and body smeared with the caked dirt that seemed to go hand-in-hand with long trips and dismal weather. He glanced down at his commander-at-arms and flashed him a rare half smile.
  2. 2. The battle was over and the English vermin had been driven back to their dens of iniquity, forced to recognize the Bruce as the one true ruler of the Scots. No more would the king of all Scotland be forced to bow low to the whims of the English monarchy. Scotland had been purged of its pariah and the MacGregor was proud and honored to have been a part of making that eventuality come to pass. The laird and his men were finally home. Back to loyal clansmen and lusty wenches. Back to good ale and hearty food. Back to the Highlands. Home. “Och, but ‘tis good tae see ye again Thomas,” a voice boomed out from the direction of the keep. The MacGregor turned around to greet one of the elders from his clan. He nodded respectfully to him then patted him heartily on the back. “’Tis good tae be home, John. Come inside and take the evening meal with my men and me. I should like a full report from ye on everything that has happened in my leave.” John nodded and smiled. “’Tis an honor, my lord.” Thomas, the MacGregor, tossed the reins of his mount to a waiting stable lad and walked toward the doors of his keep. He didn’t bother to wait for John, or for Sir Dugald, his commander-at-arms, for he knew both men were right at his heels. Thomas flicked the heavy wooden doors open with a faint motion of his wrist and strode into the great hall to wait for his meal. The laird sighed in satisfaction as he took a look around him. The array of food spread out before him, the sounds of serving wenches scurrying about to do his bidding, the laughter of his men echoing throughout the keep—‘twas truly good to be home. ‘Twas the memory of his hall and his lands that had warmed him all those dreary, long nights at Bannockburn, and then again at the ever jaded court. Sir Dugald watched Thomas’s reactions keenly, understanding all too well how he felt. He smiled and raised a tankard in salute to him, never expecting the MacGregor to smile back. ‘Twas something he simply did not do. So, the commander-at-arms was not surprised when Thomas raised his tankard to him and nodded in return, no smile to be found. Sir Dugald took a long swig from his tankard then set it down and attacked his much anticipated meal. He chewed thoughtfully on a piece of pheasant, watching the keep’s activity bustle about him while he ate. He grinned and rolled his eyes when he noticed the worried expressions writ across the faces of the serving wenches who were all but tripping over one another in a race to placate the MacGregor. Nay, worried wasn’t the right word. Terrified was more to the point. ‘Twas as if they feared that making the slightest mistake in his presence would incur his wrath. Sir Dugald realized that the laird was a harsh looking man. Aside from being tall and thickly muscled, the MacGregor’s countenance was as black as his hair and eyes. He never laughed, rarely smiled, and thought nothing of bellowing orders to women with the same ferociousness that he bellowed commands at his men. In keeping with his dark looks and brooding countenance, the MacGregor’s reputation was just as fierce. ‘Twas said he could kill a man with his bare hands without so much as breaking into a sweat. ‘Twas also said no clan would dare attack MacGregor land for fear of the laird’s retribution. Aye, ‘twas all true, but he still couldn’t fathom why women cowered before the laird so. He had never brought harm to any female after all. Even during raids when the MacGregors stole womenfolk from competing clans, the laird had never allowed the wenches to be ill-used. He would force them to choose a husband from amongst clansmen who were willing to take them to wife, but he had never forced them to
  3. 3. submit to relations with any and all MacGregors that wanted between their thighs. Sir Dugald grinned as he continued to watch the activity about him. The wenches in the keep had to be aware of the fact that the MacGregor would bring them no harm, yet they still ran around like skittish colts bolting from an impending threat. He shook his head bemusedly. Thomas had been gone a long time, without the benefit of a wench in his bed, and ‘twas a certainty the laird didn’t intend to spend his first night back at the keep wooing anybody. ‘Twas no wonder the MacGregor had no use for wenches outside of the bedchamber. He couldn’t respect cowardice in anyone, be they a man or a woman. Sir Dugald caught the laird frowning intently at the women hustling around him and laughed. He acceded to the fact that the MacGregor must have been thinking along the same lines that he was. “Worrying that the wenches willna fall intae bed with ye, Thomas?” The MacGregor scowled at his commander-at-arms, causing the elder John to bellow a laugh before he gulped more ale from his tankard. “No’ tae fear laird. The lassies might be scared tae get intae yer bed but they willna tell ye nay.” Thomas rolled his eyes. He wouldn’t take an unwilling woman. Aye, he would be ridden tonight, but the wench would want it. As frightened of him as the majority of womenfolk were, there were still those that would fall willingly into his bed for the promise of pleasure alone. At six feet and five and as thick with muscle as the trunk of a tree, he was monstrously huge for sure, but luckily that attribute carried over into every of his physical realms. The laird turned his attention from his lusty thoughts and focused them on the elder. “So tell me John, has all been well here?” John nodded emphatically, assuring him that he had seen to the needs of the clan well in his stead. “Aye my lord, naught but goodness has happened in yer absence. The number of cattle were increased by a third and the crops were bountiful this harvest. We will see through this winter with no trouble a’tall in feedin’ our own.” The MacGregor nodded, satisfied. “Any trouble with the MacAllisters?” he inquired without much emotion in his rumble of a voice. “Nay,” John denied, “they brought us no trouble a’tall.” The elder unsheathed his dagger and tore into the platter of meats that had been placed into the hollowed out piece of bread before him. He drew a plump helping of fish to his mouth, then stopped before biting into it. “How was the fightin’, my lord? By the saints, how I miss being young enough tae battle!” Sir Dugald laughed. “Dinna ye ha’ any amusements in the keep whilst we were gone?” John rolled his eyes heavenward. “Amusements? If ye call settlin’ petty arguments a’tween a bunch of squawkin’ lassies amusin’, then aye, I was amused tae kingdom come.” Sir Dugald bellowed even louder. The MacGregor didn’t smile, but a twinkle could be seen in his eyes—the usual indication that he was well humored. John’s comment brought Thomas’s thoughts back to his empty bedchamber. He darted his eyes around the hall and noticed the various glances some of the bolder women were favoring him with. As always, there were more than a few wenches willing to be ridden hard for a few hours. The MacGregor caught the eye of Matilde, a widow he had never tried before. He didn’t know much of the serving wench, only that she was originally from France but had married into the MacGregor clan several years ago. Her husband Gideon had been killed by a wild boar a few months before Thomas had left with his men for Bannockburn, thus now she worked inside of the keep with the other widowed women. Just as Thomas was about to settle his intentions on Matilde, he noticed the angry scowl writ across the wench Judith’s face. Judith had the honor of being his favored before he left the
  4. 4. keep, so she probably wouldn’t take well to him using Matilde afore herself. Thomas sighed. Wenches. They knew jealousies that a man never felt, at least not this man. Ever the gentleman, the MacGregor forsook his intentions of tumbling Matilde and favored Judith with a telling wink and a directive nod toward his bedchamber door. Judith blushed and ran up the stairs to wait for him to come to her. John cleared his throat, aware of the fact that the laird wouldn’t be hanging around the hall for much longer. He would be heading for his bedchamber any moment now and the saints only knew how long it would be before he emerged again. The MacGregor had been known for his lusty appetite even afore he had left for war. Without benefit of a woman’s pleasures for the while he had been gone, ‘twas likely that Judith wouldn’t be able to walk in the morn. “Laird, there are a couple of things I should mention tae ye and Dugald afore ye retire fer the eve.” Thomas turned his gaze to the elder and nodded. John took that as a signal to continue. “There ha’ been strange weather occurrences in the hills as of late.” Thomas shrugged, looking at Sir Dugald. The commander-at-arms took a swallow of ale before responding to John’s benign comment. “So?” The elder sighed, shrugging as he spoke to Sir Dugald. “I doubt ‘tis anything tae worry aboot, but a few of the elders of the council thought it best that I should inform the laird of it. They are fearing it an omen, and are much afraid that it will cause the herds distress.” Sir Dugald nodded and turned to Thomas. The laird seemed unimpressed by the council elders’ worries. “What kind of weather occurrences?” Thomas finally asked. “In the fields atop the cliffs the herders ha’ been complaining of some strange happenin’s. ‘Twas said more than once that a portion of the sky up and turned black as the night in the blink of an eye. Hard rains, wind, and lightnin’ were enclosed within. They claim tae ha’ seen bands of color throughout the black mass and then, as quickly as it appeared, ‘twas gone.” Thomas looked thoughtful as he pondered what the elder had told him. “The herders dinna think them regular storms?” “Nay,” John denied, shaking his head. “They say ‘tis odd, but only one portion of the sky turns black and storms, whilst the rest of the skies are as blue as the grass is green.” Sir Dugald knit his brows together and looked to the laird. “Mayhap we should ride tae the hills on the morrow, my lord.” Thomas agreed, then stood to take his leave. “On the morrow, then. Fer now I bid ye both good eve.” John and Sir Dugald watched Thomas stride from the hall to the staircase. “My lord!” John called out, “I almost forgot.” Thomas cocked his head. “Aye?” “’Tis aboot the Hamiltons,” John continued. “Three of their men ha’ offered fer the widows Mary, Judith, and Matilde. They are willin’ tae give up cattle and crops tae take them off our hands. Are ye agreeable?” Thomas nodded without hesitation. “Aye, I know that they lost many womenfolk in their battle with the Hays. Ye can send Mary and Judith tae the Hamilton on the morrow.” John smiled, satisfied. “And Matilde, my lord?” Thomas pondered the question for less than a moment then curled his mouth humorlessly. “Aye, ye can send her tae, but no’ fer a few days. I should like tae try her afore she takes her leave.” John and Dugald laughed at that. “In a few days then, my lord,” John agreed. The laird nodded, then turned and took the steps two at a time. Matilde was for the morrow’s pleasures, but tonight there was Judith.
  5. 5. The moment he reached the heavy wooden doors to his bedchamber, Thomas threw them open and strode inside. Judith was waiting, sitting demurely on the bed, a blush settled across her cherub’s cheeks. He sighed. As many times as he had bedded the lass, was it too much to ask that he not have to woo her every time they took a tumble together? He wasn’t up to cajoling her into riding him and assuring her that it was her duty to see to her laird’s needs, that she needn’t feel guilty for the pleasure of it. Still, the MacGregor was no savage. If he needed to woo Judith to get his tumble, then woo her he would. Thomas looked at the serving wench and curled one side of his lip upward in an awkward smile, aware of the fact that a lass seemed to desire that small token of caring before they bedded their master. “Stand up, Judith,” he bellowed as he removed his sword and let his plaid drop to the floor. His thickly erect shaft sprang free as he motioned for the lass to rise. Judith obeyed him immediately, moving to stand in front of her laird, her eyes downcast toward his feet. Thomas nodded, satisfied that his generous attempt at a semi-smile had made the wooing complete. “Remove yer clothes, wench.” Chapter 1 2001 AD, Tampa, Florida It looked like a ghost town. It was barely the middle of the day yet not a single car could be found idling down the street. The neon signs weren’t flashing. The tourists weren’t blocking traffic, weren’t annoying the hell out of the natives as they endeavored to study their maps and drive at the same time. There were no prostitutes roaming the streets scouting for potential johns. Hell, there wasn’t even a solitary cop hanging around the local donut shop. All in all, the scene was pretty damn spooky. It was as if the city’s inhabitants had gotten up and collectively walked away. Maya Jones took in the sight around her through narrowed, speculative eyes as she plowed down Kennedy Avenue doing 65 in a 45 zone. Something just wasn’t right. Perhaps she had been an archeologist for too long, but the more she pondered the sheer emptiness of one of the busiest streets in her hometown, the more fitting the creepy comparison between Tampa and a lost civilization seemed. Roanoake. Yes, that’s what the vacant environment brought to mind. This was just like the colony of Roanoke, Virginia that had been established in 1585, then later found abandoned by English explorers, with no hint as to where the pilgrims might have wandered off to…or been taken to. The only message that had been left behind was the single word “CROATOAN” which had been carved into the trunk of a tree. Whether the message had been written by a pilgrim or by a murderer, well, archeologists still haven’t figured that one out. “Would ya slow down, Maya, before we get pulled over?” Maya snapped her scattered attention back from 1585, channeled it into the year 2001, and leveled it into the gaze of her driving companion and best friend, Dr. Sara Chance. “Huh?” Sara smiled, bemused by Maya’s distraction. If she knew Maya, and she most definitely did know Maya, then there was no doubt that her oldest and dearest friend was pondering the significance of Tampa’s empty streets. Maya had never been one to accept anything at face value. She would probe and dig and inquire until she was satisfied that she knew the ins and outs of any riddle that was put to her.
  6. 6. Of course, that’s also what made Maya a great archeologist. When she excavated a site, she excavated the hell out of it. No stone was left unturned, no theory left unexplored. Dr. Maya Jones was the best. Every bit as good as herself, Sara mused. “I highly doubt we’re going to get pulled over, Sara. There isn’t a cop in sight. Hell, there isn’t anybody in sight.” Maya glanced in Sara’s direction as she brought the canteen of coffee nestled between her thighs up to her lips for a sip. She gulped down a hearty swallow and sighed in satisfaction. Sara grinned, holding out her hand for a sip of the hot Colombian brew. Once she felt sated, she turned her attention back to her best friend. “Okay Maya, what are you thinking?” Maya suppressed a dramatic sigh. She should have known that her thoughts wouldn’t go undetected from Madame Sleuth. The woman knew her too well. That’s what comes from being friends with someone since childhood. “Exactly what you think I’m thinking—that this city looks a bit weird right now.” Sara nodded, her expression taking on a playful quality to it. “Maya darling, I hate to be the one that rains on your parade of intellectual discovery, but most people have already evacuated and headed inland due to the hurricane that’s on its way. The eye is supposed to come right up the coast after all.” Maya whipped her head around. “Hurricane? What hurricane?” Sara laughed then patted Maya on the knee. “Watch the road, not me,” she chastised as she brought the canteen up to her mouth for another swallow. “If you ever bothered to pick up a newspaper or switch on a TV you’d realize that there is much more to life than old bones and ruins.” “I hate the paper, too depressing,” Maya interjected, “and TV—well I just don’t find it as exciting as a good book.” “As it happens,” Sara continued, without responding to Maya’s appraisal of the modern day entertainments, “we’re expecting the biggest storm Tampa has ever encountered. We are, no doubt, two of only a mere handful of fools still hanging around to watch the drama unfold.” A hurricane. Ha! She should have known. Her thirst for explanations quenched, Maya regarded Sara thoughtfully. “So, do you want to stay put or do you want to go inland?” Sara chuckled. “What do you think?” Maya turned her attention fully to the road with a grin on her face. “I think that, like me, you want to watch the storm.” Sara nodded and quickly added, “plus I heard that Pete and the gang are throwing a hurricane party.” She rolled her eyes. “You know how they get off on sitting on the beach and getting loaded while they watch the storm ride in.” Maya’s grin widened as she thought about Pete’s last hurricane party. Only native Floridians and a few brave souls that had relocated from the north had been there. The majority of their friends had fled at first promise of a storm, heading off to cities like Orlando to ride the ominous weather out. Maya and Sara were like Pete—they had grown up with the threat of hurricanes all of their lives, lived through quite a few of them, and actually grew to anticipate the nervous excitement that came each time a new threat loomed. Nah, they wouldn’t leave. They’d stay at home, work on some of their research, then head over to Pete’s for beer and barbecue when the storm drew closer. “This year it’s going to be a bit different,” Sara reflected giddily, “the party that is!” Maya eyeballed Sara curiously. It wasn’t like Sara to get excited over a party. Hell, it wasn’t like Sara to get excited over anything. The woman was unflappably serene and
  7. 7. undeniably stoic. Sorta like the Rock of Gibraltar with boobs. Oddly enough, the fact that Maya and Sara were polar opposites in both personality and temperament was what made their personal friendship and professional relationship work out so wonderfully. Maya was the spirited one, quick to laugh and easily brought to temper. She was an idealist, a head-in-the-clouds philosopher—an Aquarius. To their friendship, Maya brought zest and fun. To their working partnership, she brought the ability to see beyond the black and white and look deeper into the mysteries of the past to form grand theories for their archeological discoveries. Sara, on the other hand, was everything calm, placid, and logical. She was a realist, a pragmatist—a Capricorn. To their friendship, she brought stability and calm. To their work, she brought sound business decisions, wise handling of the grant monies, and a Ph.D. in ancient languages that aided Maya to no end in figuring out what significance unearthed relics carried to whatever long ago dead peoples they were currently researching. Yep, Sara was the most collected person, male or female, that Maya had ever known. To see her so obviously excited about a hurricane party made her curiosity pique. “So what’s the difference between this party and good ‘ole Pete’s other ones?” Sara grinned. “It’s a costume party. Pete figured that since it’s so close to the end of October we might as well combine the two and have a Halloween Hurricane Party.” Maya chuckled. “Yep, that sounds like Pete alright.” She was quiet for a moment, then nudged Sara with an elbow. “What are you going to go as?” “I don’t know,” Sara admitted. “We’ll be too busy researching to go shopping so I was thinking of going as a sexy female Satan again. I still have that red clingy number from last year in the apartment somewhere.” Maya sighed. “You’re right. We don’t have any time to be creative. We’re supposed to leave for Scotland in what, a month? Yeah, we have far too much legwork to do on that project before we commence the rest of the dig. I guess I’ll be going as the same thing I was last year too.” Sara frowned. “Uh, perhaps I’m getting a little senile here, but I forget what you were last year.” Maya smiled wryly. “Elvira, of course.” ***** “It’s good to be home.” Maya inhaled a cathartic breath and plopped herself down onto the sofa. She stretched out her legs and yawned as she watched Sara make a beeline for the bathroom door. “Gonna shower?” she asked conversationally as she closed her eyes and relaxed. “Yep,” Sara responded without looking back, “and you better take one after I do in case we lose the hot water for a few days.” Maya opened her eyes with a groan as the bathroom door clicked shut. Sara was right. She had better wait to fall asleep at least until after she bathed because the hurricane could very well affect their ability to get running water for a while. Besides, the emergency dig they just got back from handling had put them off of their research on the Highlander clan they were studying for the better part of three days. Now they had a heck of a lot of catching up to do before that plane ride to the UK next month. It’s a good thing she and Sara are roomies, Maya decided, because they would be able to work through the night tonight if need be to make up for the time they lost while on their emergency expedition.
  8. 8. Emergency expedition. Maya had never realized just how many emergencies an archeologist would come across until she’d been in graduate school. It’s not like dead people ever need a doctor or anything. She had previously thought of emergencies as being exclusive to the realm of M.D.s, not Ph.D.s, but she and Sara had been corrected on that score before their first term in grad school was out. The emergencies were fun though—dashing out in the middle of the night to secure a scene before anyone tampered with it, analyzing and theorizing the data they found at the digs—it was a great time. The work was dirty, the days long and the nights longer, but it was worth it. The emergency excavation they had just drove in from had happened along Alligator Alley en route to Miami. A midnight construction team accidentally unearthed some old bones, pottery, and necklaces during a routine inspection of the site they were planning to drill on. They called in Maya’s team immediately, knowing from having worked with her in the past that she would blister their ears until they were tempted to strangle her if they commenced drilling before the relics had been properly dug up and catalogued for later analysis at the university. The relics had been Indian and much to the delight of her team, very, very old. Just how old remained to be seen, but Maya could barely contain her enthusiasm of having her hunch confirmed. She would have to wait for her grad students at the lab to finish the analyses, but she surmised from the layer of strata that the relics had been located in and from the bits of archaic symbols that Sara had decoded on the pottery that the tribe had to have been Paleolithic. The probables were definitely in favor of her theory. Probables? Good grief! She was beginning to think like Sara. Sara always thought in statistics and talked in probables. “Probables” was Sara’s abbreviated way of saying “the probability of”. She began most of her sentences with the phrase, “probables are that …” At any rate, if the probables turned out to be true, and this tribe of Indians had roamed North America during the Old Stone Age, then this would be the oldest evidence found that suggested there were peoples in Florida before the plates in the earth shifted and the Bering Straight opened up. Exciting stuff. “Ouch!” Maya grimaced as her pet iguana pounced on her midsection. Talk about a jolt back to reality. “Jeez Fred, I really need to trim those toenails. You can do some serious damage with those things.” Fred stuck out his lizard’s tongue and lapped at Maya’s face, seemingly oblivious to any discomfort his rambunctious greeting might have caused her. She grinned and scratched his head. “I missed you too, boy.” Grimacing, Maya heaved in a breath as Barney, Sara’s iguana, jumped on her belly to join Fred. She smiled at the equally tenacious lizard and reassuringly scratched his head. “Now Barney, you know I missed you too. But you’re gonna make Fred here jealous.” Maya gave them both kisses then shooed Fred and Barney off of her stomach and sat up. “You guys are getting too old for this. You’re both nearly six feet long, what with your tails included. You aren’t lightweights anymore boys.” Maya glanced in the direction of the bathroom when she heard the door squeak open. Sara emerged in a satiny white robe, her long black hair encased within the towel atop her head. “Your turn,” she announced as she glided over to the sofa and plopped down. “With pleasure.” Maya wiggled her eyebrows comically, making Sara laugh, as she shot to her feet and dashed toward the now vacant shower. *****
  9. 9. The colors danced within the blackness and the demon wenches did thus appear. The dragons danced to do their bidding and soon the men fell near. Behold! The wenches were no demons, but enchantresses who came to dwell here. Maya frowned. “Okay, aside from being a really cheesy attempt at poetry writing, what the hell does that mean?” She stood up to pour herself another cup of coffee while Sara contemplated the bit of prose that the University of Glasgow had uncovered, photocopied, and sent over in a mailer. The poetry had been photocopied from the original goatskin it had been written on back in what they were guessing to be the early 1300s. That, along with a bundle that contained the photocopies of other relics, had been mailed over to the States by an excavation team in the Highlands for the American team to get acquainted with. The Castle MacGregor had been thoroughly excavated a long time ago, but it wasn’t until just recently that archeologists in Scotland had discovered a secret lair within the keep that had been used to house some of the Highlanders’ most sacred artifacts. Much was already known of the MacGregor clan, namely that they were uncharacteristically prosperous for a Highlander people, that they were medically advanced for their time period but hadn’t shared their secrets with outsiders, and that they had survived and flourished for quite a few centuries, well into the 1700s in fact. But now scientists had the chance to learn even more, and Maya and Sara were thrilled to be a part of the discovery process. The package sent over by the Scottish team of archeologists contained a great many copies of some original relics, relics that they wouldn’t actually get a chance to see until they went to the Highlands next month. The Scottish team wanted to give the American team as much of a background on the discovery as possible, so the package had been delivered to Maya and Sara with all speed. “I’m not sure yet what it means, but it’s quite interesting,” Sara concluded as she regarded the papers through a magnifying glass. “There are at least five documents here that make a reference to these demon wenches.” Maya chuckled as she sat down with her mug of coffee and handed a refilled cup to Sara. “Typical men. The women they wrote about must not have been the types to put up with their bullshit. Therefore, they labeled them demons.” Sara grinned. “That’s definitely possible. From what I can gather, however, these demon wenches came to be important to the MacGregor clan.” Maya quirked an eyebrow. “Perhaps the women were mythical then? You know, a fable that the Highlanders fashioned?” Sara nodded, a serious expression smothering her face. “That’s very possible, but…” “But what?” Maya prodded when it was obvious that Sara wasn’t going to continue her thought any time soon. “I don’t know.” Sara sighed. “It’s just that that conclusion doesn’t feel right to me.” Maya sat up straighter in her chair as she grew more interested in the puzzle spread out before them. “Why not?” “Well,” Sara began, “from what I’ve been able to glean from these other records, it appears that our demon wenches later married into the clan. It seems one of the women actually became lady to the MacGregors and the other married a high ranking soldier named Sir Dugald, though I’m not yet certain as to whom this Dugald was to the clan in terms of his function or importance.” Maya smiled her cat’s grin. “Ah, then the illustrious demon wenches really were real, and were no doubt thought to be nagging shrews by the MacGregor men.”
  10. 10. Sara laughed as she picked up her cup of coffee and drew it to her lips. “Yes, the probables are that you’re right on the money.” She grinned. “Though the clansmen no doubt came to accept the shrews as time went on.” Maya rolled her eyes heavenward. “Men.” A few hours later, Sara set aside the document she’d been translating and stared in awe at the photograph her partner was holding. “Wow Maya, I never realized that Castle MacGregor was so awesome looking in its heyday.” Maya agreed as she put a second picture in front of her. “This is another photograph of the painting that the Scottish team found. It’s very rare for a medieval laird to commission a painting on a castle, so this was a gem of a find indeed.” Sara nodded as she traced her fingers along the castle moats that had been detailed in the painting. “An impregnable fortress in its day, no doubt.” “No doubt,” Maya murmured. The two women sat in companionable silence as they studied every inch of the photographs. They took in each tower and memorized the exquisite details of every parapet. The Castle MacGregor was awesome according to modern architectural standards. It was no wonder the laird of this clan had been considered all-powerful during his lifetime. This keep was structured far more fantastically than the typical medieval Scottish tower house. “Thomas was his name,” Maya offered. “I gathered that much from some of the documents I’ve read over but haven’t yet been translated by you.” Sara nodded, not in the least bit surprised. Maya didn’t speak Latin as Sara did, but she was remarkably adept at Old Gaelic and Old English and was therefore able to translate parts of the records for herself. “Yes,” Sara confirmed. “The name Thomas appears in the old documents a lot. It seems that he lived to a ripe old age and ruled over the clan for many years.” Maya threw one of her unruly golden curls over her shoulder and regarded Sara with a steady gaze. “I’m not sure if I read it accurately because a lot of it was in Latin, but I got the feeling that he was a very feared man. Not just by his own clan, but supposedly by competing clans as well.” Sara nodded. “That’s true enough. There are countless stories of battles told in these old records and Thomas’s name comes up quite a few times in each of them. In fact, the only name that comes up almost as much, though not nearly as often, is that of this Sir Dugald character.” Maya squinted her eyes as she worked her fingers through her hair. “What do you make of him? Sounds like he was the laird’s commander-at-arms or something, eh?” Sara nodded again. “Probables are that he was.” Her voice trailed off wistfully as she continued. “He was certainly an interesting enough character.” Maya quirked an eyebrow. “Interesting?” Sara shrugged, a blush settling across her cheeks. “He’s been described in the records as a man that is loyal to his laird and kinsmen and quick to retaliate against those that would do his people harm, while at the same time possessing a fun-loving and affable personality. In short, the perfect man.” Maya smiled as she picked up on that telling tidbit. Jeez and she thought she’d been a little weird getting a crush on the hero in the last Dara Joy novel she’d read. “Not developing an affection for a seven hundred-year-old ghost are you?” Sara rolled her eyes. “I’m not that lame, darling.” Maya winked. “Certainly not.” *****
  11. 11. The MacGregor thought his lady a demon and the devil he cannot abide. Surely it ‘twas good she be a lady or he would have burned her hide… Maya wrinkled her nose as she and Sara contemplated the latest reference they had found concerning the demon wenches. “I wonder who Thomas MacGregor commissioned to write his poetry—the court jester?” Sara laughed. She wanted to respond but she was too tired to think, let alone conjecture on who the author of the seven-hundred-year-old document had been. She stretched her arms above her shoulders and yawned like a sleepy cat. “It’s two o’ clock in the morning and we have been at this for hours. I say we call it a night.” Maya sighed. “We probably should. I’m too tired to be useful anyway.” She pulled herself up to her feet and cleaned up their work area. After putting away the laptop, she brushed the crumbs from the pizza she and Sara had split into the garbage can and made her way into the kitchen to wash out the two coffee mugs they had been drinking from. A few minutes later, Maya climbed into bed. She was more tired than she could ever remember being, but too restless to sleep. Damn but this always happened when she and Sara were embroiled in a new project! And now they had two new projects to keep them up late at night theorizing over. First the Indian find and now the Highlander one. She loved her work, but the adrenaline rush it often generated wreaked havoc on trying to relax and go to sleep. An hour later Maya finally drifted off into a deep slumber. She dreamed of demon wenches and dragons, of castles and clansmen, and of a heart-stopping hunk named Thomas. Even asleep she recognized the irony of it. After all, she had had the gall to tease Sara about developing a crush on a seven hundred-year-old dead man. It occurred to Maya that she was better off lusting after the hunks brought forth from Dara Joy’s imagination. Chapter 2 Maya and Sara worked throughout the rest of the next morning and afternoon. Sara translated a total of seven documents in that amount of time, a personal record for her. Maya studied the photographs of the other bits of archaic artwork, jewelry, and pottery that had been sent over by the Scottish team, elaborating more and more on her theory of who the demon wenches were and what role they had played in the clan with each piece. Between the odes that had been written about Lady M, as the author later called the demon wench that married Thomas, and the artwork that had been commissioned by the MacGregor to capture the likeness of his wife, it was quite obvious to Maya that this mysterious lady had been extremely important to her adoptive clan. And Thomas had obviously loved her very much. He had to have. After all, she was certain from other documents Sara had translated that the laird had been a harsh man that people naturally cowered to. He wouldn’t have been the type to succumb to something that would have seemed trivial to him, especially to matters of the heart as esoteric as love. That would have been beneath a man like Thomas. Yep, good ole Lady M had knocked the bully on his ass and turned his world inside out and upside down. Just what he deserved as far as Maya was concerned. It was a shame that the two paintings that had been created in his wife’s likeness seven centuries ago hadn’t been able to survive intact a fire that had swept the castle a little over two hundred years ago, because Maya was curious to know what Lady M had looked like. The images were now severely charred and therefore unsalvageable. The only thing she’d been
  12. 12. able to make out was the lady’s hair and one eye. Lady M had possessed a long mane of golden curls and tri-colored eyes that contained rings of green and blue with flecks of gold near the pupils. Just like herself, she mused. She took a bite off of the chicken salad sandwich she had whipped up a few minutes ago and further contemplated the woman. By all accounts, Thomas MacGregor had been a tyrannical, arrogant, stubborn, and temperamental man. Maya could never have put up with the guy. But Lady M did. The woman either had the patience of a saint or enough gumption to stand up to the barbarian and tame him. Something told her it was the latter explanation that rang true. A man like Thomas could respect nothing less. She smiled to herself as she studied the remnants of the lady’s painting. “You really ran that hulk through the ringer, didn’t ya, girlfriend?” A second later the telephone rang, bringing Maya out of her contemplative thoughts. “At least we still have electricity,” she mumbled to herself as she reached for the cordless. The storm had taken out the water supply already. “Hello?” “Hey doc, how the hell are ya?” Maya smiled. “Pretty good Pete and yourself?” “No complaints, doc.” “Good.” Pete took his mouth away from the receiver long enough to yell at somebody in the background—obviously a construction worker on his crew that hadn’t done something the way he wanted it done, then returned to the phone. “I was just callin’ to let y’all know that the weather is supposed to pick up in about another hour. We’re calling it a day here. Y’all come over as soon as you can, alright?” Maya grinned. It was just like Pete to still have his crew working right up until the last possible second. That’s how she had met Pete to begin with. His construction company had won the bid on a site that the government wanted built up and within a few hours of drilling Pete and his workers had uncovered some Indian relics—not an uncommon occurrence for construction workers in Florida. Maya’s team had been called to the site and she and Sara had gone to recover the relics despite the dire weather warnings against it. Sara had liked Pete on the spot. Maya had had her reservations, but that was nothing uncommon, as she had reservations about anybody that sported a penis. In the end the weather had worsened, Pete had invited Maya and Sara back to his place to join in on his hurricane party, Maya had reluctantly agreed to go, and the three of them became fast friends by the storm’s end. Pete was now like a big brother to Maya and Sara. Nothing romantic had ever transpired between him and either of the women and nothing romantic ever would. Pete was very happily married and trying to get his wife pregnant. And Maya and Sara had both adored Chanel, Pete’s wife, from the get go. “Sure Pete. We were just finishing up some work here and then we planned to come straight over.” Pete shouted an obscenity that Maya knew was directed at one of his crew rather then her. “Good deal. And y’all don’t forget your costumes, okay?” Maya laughed. “We won’t, sweetcakes.” They hung up a few seconds later, after which Maya rose to her feet and cleaned up her workspace. She shouted at Sara that it was time to start getting ready and headed for her bedroom to don her costume. *****
  13. 13. Pete’s Halloween Hurricane Party was the most fun Maya and Sara had had in ages. They couldn’t get over some of the costumes. They ranged from the mundane to the outrageous to the scary. Pete and Chanel, well, they just looked downright sacrilegious. “A priest and a pregnant nun, Pete?” Maya rolled her eyes as she sipped on a bottle of Michelob. Pete threw his head back and laughed while Chanel winked at her. Maya grinned. “You two must have really hated that Catholic high school you met at.” Chanel chuckled. “Thebest thing I can say about it is that I met Pete there.” Maya chatted with the couple for a few minutes more before she decided to seek out Sara. She found her best friend over by the chips and dips table, and it appeared as though she was doing her best to fend off an avid male suitor who was dressed as what she suspected had to be the Viking god Thor. Maya grinned. She couldn’t fault the guy for trying. After all, Dr. Sara Chance looked remarkable tonight. She was sporting a clingy red floor length gown that hugged all of her admirable curves and showed off a respectable amount of cleavage. The sides were split on both sides just past the knees, showing off her well-toned legs. Sara’s velvety black hair was flowing to the middle of her back, with two red horns coming out of the crest of it atop her head. Maya hypothesized that if Thor didn’t remove his eager hands from the she-devil‘s waist relatively soon, he was going to feel the effects of a pitchfork. Knowing Sara, it would hurt like hell. Maya watched Thor grope Sara’s waist for a few seconds longer, then decided it was time to rescue her from his clutches. But just as she was about to bring an end to the Viking god’s pursuit, she felt strong male arms wrap around her waist from behind. “Guess who?” the man whispered into her ear. Maya inwardly groaned. Nick. Her ex-fiancé. She planted a superficial smile onto her lips and swung around to greet the man that had once broken her heart. She had been very much in love with Nick a few years ago, had planned to marry him in fact, but had found out soon after their engagement that hers wasn’t the only bed he had been warming at night. “Hi Nick. How are you?” Nick grinned his most winsome smile. He was a handsome man, there was no denying that fact of life, as much as Maya would have liked to. Nick was a tall, muscular blonde with blue eyes and a killer body. “I’ve been great Maya,” he returned as he let his eyes roam over her body. “And I see that you’ve been doing great as well. Hell, you look better than you did when we were a couple.” Maya smiled. She didn’t think she’d really changed that much for the better, but if he did then that was just as well. “In fact, I’ve been watching you all night long. I was wondering when you were going to come over and tell me hello,” he chided. “I’m sorry,” Maya retorted with the most innocent expression she could muster, “I didn’t know you were here.” Ha! That was a lie if ever she had told one. She had spotted Nick the moment she and Sara had sauntered into Pete’s condo. The truth of the matter was she just couldn’t stand being near him. Especially since he had brought her to the party with him. Mindy. His brainless fluffof a secretary. The woman she had caught him in bed with. Nick smiled his salesman’s smile, though Maya could tell her lie had affected him. Good, she told herself, let him think I’m completely oblivious to his presence. “What a shame, Maya,” he replied smoothly, “because I haven’t been able to think of
  14. 14. anything else besides the fact that you’re here.” Nick’s eyes roamed the length of Maya’s body once more. His jaw set as he chastised her on her choice of costume. “Do you really think it’s wise to dress in that Elvira get-up?” Maya blinked at Nick, pretending obliviousness as to why he should care about her costume. “Whatever do you mean?” Ha! She knew exactly what Nick meant and she was grateful to the gods above that she hadn’t had enough time to shop for a new costume. She knew he would have hated this outfit the moment she had first donned it. Maya’s dress was a clingy black number that showed off every curve she possessed to its best advantage. The dress was ankle length but one hundred percent scandalous. The split on the left side started at the ankle and carried all the way up to her hip. The front of the dress fell to her stomach with her ample breasts hoisted up and popping out, just like the real Elvira. Her only regret was that she hadn’t been able to find her black wig. Her long mane of golden curls was cascading down her back, ruining the vampiress effect somewhat—somewhat, but not enough that people didn’t know who she was supposed to be. Truth be told, Maya had never exactly thought herself beautiful. She could pass for pretty perhaps, but then so could most women. What was important was that Nick thought she was—at least for tonight. Just long enough to avenge her sense of ill-justice a tad. Yep, Nick hated the dress all right. He was too possessive not to. Even after all this time. “You know exactly what I mean, Maya,” he ground out. “Just what kind of ideas are you trying to put in the heads of the men around here?” Maya’s feeling of joyous contentment at Nick’s expense quickly faded, giving way to the darker emotions of irritation and anger. “You, Nick Johnson, gave up your right to comment on my Halloween costumes when you screwed Mindy in our bed.” She heaved a deep breath, causing her bosom to pop out even more. She’d been having fun irritating him, but now she was serious. Besides, they’d been broken up far too long for him to react so bizarrely over her choice in costume. “This conversation is over.” She whirled around to make her exit. Nick halted Maya by the shoulders and swung her around to face him. “Mindy never meant a damn thing to me,” he gritted out. “Still doesn’t. I loved you, Maya.” Maya’s jaw dropped open. She stared at him surrealistically. “That was supposed to make me forgive you?” she asked incredulously. “Well it doesn’t! The only thing it makes me feel, in fact, is a deeper sense of loathing for you and a sense of genuine pity for Mindy. How can you be with her all of this time and then state so matter-of-factly that she means nothing to you?” Nick shrugged, seemingly unaffected by Maya’s observation. “She’s just a secretary. What would I look like marrying my secretary? I’m an important man and an important man needs an important, educated wife.” “What you are,” she countered through narrowed eyes, “is a jackass.” Maya spun around on her heel and stomped off towards Sara. She wanted to take a walk or leave or—something, anything to get away from Nick—and supposed she should let Sara know where she was headed. Maya made her way to the chips and dips table, only to become even more irritated when she realized that Sara still hadn’t been able to pry herself loose from the overzealous Viking god. His hands were all over her. Men. What a practical joke God had played on Eve when He’d married her off to Adam. Maya gritted her teeth as she marched over to where her best friend stood. She grabbed the pitchfork from Sara’s hand and shoved it directly into the Viking’s chest. In no mood for premilimaries, she cut straight to the point. “Beat it Thor, or you’re going to discover what it feels like to have this thing shoved up your ass!”
  15. 15. Either Thor was a complete and utter wuss or Maya looked angry enough to be taken seriously, but either way she won. The Viking released his paws from Sara’s waist and held up his hands in surrender. “Take it easy, lady. I didn’t mean anything by it.” Maya rolled her eyes. “You men never mean anything by it, do you? You woo a woman until she’s putty in your hands, make her think she’s the most special person on the planet, even ask her to marry you. Anything to bed her! Then you cheat on her, break her heart into a thousand pieces, and make it impossible for her to trust anyone enough to ever love again!” Maya shoved the pitchfork further into Thor’s ribs, causing a small groan to elicit from the throat of her Viking prisoner of words. That’s right, she told herself with a fierce sense of knowing that only a woman scorned can possess, show him you’re on to his game. “I know your type sweetcakes. I’ve dealt with you before. You’re all the same. Tonight you’ll show Sara all the wonders of your bed in Valhalla, but tomorrow night you’ll be taking some other poor unsuspecting woman on the same grand tour!” Thor looked more bewildered than Maya thought it possible for a Viking god to look. “Christ lady, all I was doing was dancing with her.” Maya whipped her head around and eyeballed Sara. “Is this true?” Sara flushed a thousand shades of red before she met Maya’s gaze. “There wasn’t any room in the dancing area, so we danced here,” she mumbled. Maya groaned, her eyes rolling in self-chastisement toward the ceiling. Talk about projecting Nick’s attributes onto another. Freud would have had a field day psychoanalyzing her. Maya withdrew the pitchfork from Thor’s midsection and handed it back to Sara. She braved a quick look around and noticed that people were staring at her, Nick and Mindy included. She sighed. Great, she had just made a laughing stock of herself. And in front of him, no less. Determined to withdraw from the scene with as much dignity as she could muster, Maya straightened her spine to its full height, held up her head, and offered Thor what she suspected was a lousy attempt at an apology. “You were always my favorite god,” she muttered. “Please carry on as you were.” Embarrassed, Maya turned on her heel and regally sauntered off toward the bedroom where her cloak was. She needed to take a walk. Sara watched Maya walk away then turned to Thor with a tentative smile. “I apologize for that scene. She’s usually a very sweet person.” Judging by the look on the Viking’s face, she guessed that Thor didn’t believe that description of Maya for a New York minute. “I’m sorry,” she smiled, “but I really must go to her. She needs me.” A few minutes later, Sara found Maya in Pete and Chanel’s bedroom, sitting on the bed with Fred and Barney. She and Maya had brought the iguanas with them, just in case the storm got really heavy and they wouldn’t be able to return to the apartment for a while. Maya was rubbing their bellies, both of them looking like supremely contented males. “Are you okay?” Maya glanced up at Sara, slightly startled by her presence. She hadn’t heard the bedroom door open. “Nick’s here,” she offered in way of explanation as she returned her gaze to the iguanas. Sara smiled as she plopped herself down onto the bed with a sigh. “Yeah, I know. I saw him.” Maya didn’t say a word for a long while and Sara didn’t push her. She gave her best friend all of the time she needed. After what seemed an eternity, she finally responded. Her voice was barely a whisper. “The only reason he was going to marry me was because I’d make him a
  16. 16. suitable wife.” Sara knit her brows together, then reached out to stroke Maya’s back. “A suitable wife, darling?” Maya shrugged and sighed. “He said he wouldn’t marry Mindy because she is only a secretary and a man as important as himself needs an educated wife. What am I supposed to think? Sounds to me that the most I did for the guy was provide him with a respectable enough of an image.” She groaned. “God Sara, I’m twenty-seven years old, twenty-five when we split. One would think I wouldn’t care about his reasons anymore.” Sara rolled her eyes. It was just like Nick to deliberately plant nasty seeds in Maya’s head. If he couldn’t win her back, then he’d do all he could to upset her. “It sounds to me like he told you that on purpose. Think about it, Maya. He knows how much you despise the idea of anyone marrying you for suitability reasons alone because of how awful your parents’ marriage was. “Your dad married your mom for reasons of suitability, which in his day meant she looked good on his arm, then he cheated on her until his dying day. Your mother died of a broken heart. Nick knows that. Nick used that. He just wanted to hurt you because he can’t have you.” Maya pondered Sara’s analysis for a long time before turning around to smile at her. She smiled softly. “Thank God I have you, Sara,” she murmured. “What would I ever do without you?” Sara smiled serenely at Maya as she smoothed a few stray curls away from her best friend’s eyes. “Probables are that you’ll never have to find out.” ***** Something was distressing the herds. Hamish didn’t know what that something was, but he didn’t like the feel of it. He was afraid that if the cattle got too frightened, they would take off running and mayhap wander into the territory of the MacAllister clan in the process. The MacGregor wouldn’t like that. Nay, he wouldn’t like losing nigh unto two score of cattle to his enemies a’tall. Especially when the MacAllister would have grounds to say that claiming the herd was his right, since the cattle had wandered onto their lands of their own doing. Hamish took a quick look around the field, trying to figure out what it was that had put the herds into a panic. He looked as far as the eye could see, yet still he saw nothing. Hamish scratched his head and then his beard, but his puzzlement never lessened. Then he heard it. The sounds. ‘Twas the same eerie sounds that had been spooking the cattle for the past two days. Hamish felt the hairs on the nape of his neck stand up as he slowly turned around to see what he already knew in his heart would be there. He wasn’t disappointed. Black clouds swirled around each other until they slowly became joined as one. They took up only a portion of the sky, leaving the rest of it as blue as the sea at high noon. Within the pitch blackness that the union of the clouds had created, the rains began to pour and the thunder boomed out its deep voice. ‘Twas only in the blackness that the heavens opened up and poured. Nowhere else did the rains fall. Hamish swallowed heavily as he watched the black clouds with wide eyes. Should he shout for help? Should he run from the hills with his life? Nay, the MacGregor would never forgive or forget such an act of cowardice. Yet what was a man to do? Somehow he needed to get help. And preferably afore the cattle fled rather than after naught could be done. Hamish watched as the blackness moaned and bands of colors began to dance within it.
  17. 17. The colors were majestic—pinks, purples, and golds of every shade imaginable. 'Twas not possible. Storms never created these fine colors. “What in the name of St. Gabriel is that?!” Hamish whirled around to see the bewildered and frightened expression of his clansmen Leonard. Praise the saints—here was someone that could help! “Lenny, I canna say that I know. I ha’ seen it afore yet still am I baffled. Please my friend, go tae the MacGregor. Flee tae him now and tell him tae come. He and Sir Dugald needs see this tae believe! Tell him we’ve need of help, fer the cattle are spooked and liable tae run. There are only so many I can manage alone.” That should have been enough to get the lad running, yet still he stood transfixed, staring into the black clouds. Hamish grew impatient, knowing he didn’t have much time left. “Lenny! Flee, lad! Now!” Lenny came to his senses at last, nodded to Hamish, and took off running toward way of Castle MacGregor. The boy ran faster than even he thought his feet could carry him and didn’t stop until he was in the great hall of the keep. He was winded and breathless by the time he reached the hall, and he must have looked frightened, for Sir Dugald and the MacGregor took one look at the lad and shot to their feet with swords in hand. “Are we under attack?” the laird demanded with a bellow. Lenny shook his head emphatically while he worked on catching his breath. He pointed to the doors of the keep, telling the laird between ragged breaths what was wrong. “My lord, ye must come tae the hills! Hamish told me tae bring ye in posthaste. We need men tae gentle the herds. ‘Tis the blackness I tell ye, it has come upon us again. I would never ha’ believed it did I no’ see it fer my own eyes!” Thomas shouted for his mount to be brought from the stables then questioned Lenny as he and Dugald made their way to the front of the keep with a handful of soldiers in tow. “What did ye see, lad?” Lenny steadied his breath then spoke with wide eyes. “The black clouds, laird! They dwell in only a portion of the heavens and are filled with rains and wind and thunder. Colors like yer eyes ha’ surely never beheld dance within the blackness. ‘Tis an omen I tell ye!” Thomas patted Lenny on the back then took to his mount when a stable lad brought it before him. “Good work in getting tae me so quickly, lad. Ye ha’ honored yer laird this day.” Lenny puffed out his chest with a sense of pride as he watched his lord ride away with more MacGregor men at his heels. The boy crossed himself and prayed to the saints for their protection. ‘Twas an omen. He was certain of it. ***** Maya and Sara walked along the beach with Fred and Barney at their heels. It was a tad chilly outside so they knew they couldn’t stay long. In terms of temperature, they were feeling fine since they had both donned their velvet cloaks before taking a break from Pete’s party. Maya’s cloak was black, to match her Elvira costume, and Sara’s was red, to match her she-devil get-up. It was Fred and Barney they were worried about. Being cold-blooded creatures meant that they weren’t able to maintain their own body heat and were therefore dependent upon the climate to do it for them. The boys could only handle brief spells of chilly weather at a time, so they made sure that they didn’t wander too far from the condo. Maya pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and gathered herself more warmly into her velvet. Sara tried to do the same, but realized she couldn’t because her horns were in the
  18. 18. way. Maya took one look at Sara’s befuddled expression and laughed. “Okay sweetcakes, you’ve successfully made me forget about that horrid scene with Thor. I think we better go back inside, if not for our own sakes then at least for Fred and Barney’s.” Sara grinned and agreed. “Yeah we better. Gosh,” she added in amazement when she ventured a thorough look around, “ I hadn’t realized how far we wandered off to.” Maya glanced back in the direction of Pete’s condo then turned around to face Sara again. “You’re right. We better go. I can hear thunder in the distance. The storm is definitely coming,” she sighed. They turned around abruptly and started walking back toward the condo. An inexplicable chill coursed down Sara’s spine. She shivered, huddling herself more securely into her cloak. “Perhaps this wasn’t such a bright idea, Maya. I think we should have gone to Orlando until the storm ended.” Maya looked over her shoulder to the left and noticed the black clouds that were sweeping in from off of the gulf. They were the darkest clouds she’d ever seen. “I think maybe you’re right,” she agreed quietly. Fred and Barney suddenly became agitated, almost as if they could sense some impending doom that Maya and Sara couldn’t. They nipped at their heels, demanding to be picked up. Maya leaned down and scooped Fred into her arms, helping him regain some of his lost body heat. “You’re heavy boy,” she lovingly chided as she enveloped him in her arms beneath the cloak. Sara took note of how Maya was caring for Fred and immediately picked up Barney to do the same. “Sorry fella, I wasn’t thinking.” The women walked a few feet more before one of them finally broke the silence. “It’s really rather beautiful, isn’t it?” Sara remarked in a whisper of awe, almost to herself. “What is beautiful?” Maya asked, unsure as to what she was so bedazzled by. “The storm,” Sara clarified, “if you look at it—I mean really look at it—it’s gorgeous beyond words.” Maya smiled as she and Sara came to a halt. They were providing Fred and Barney with body heat, so what did it matter if they mingled with the approaching storm for a few more minutes. “Yes, it’s very beaut—my God Sara, look at that! Talk about beautiful!” Sara glanced over at Maya then cast her gaze to the area on the beach that had left her friend dumbstruck. She couldn’t believe what she was looking at. “Good lord, Maya. I’ve never seen anything like that!” Maya and Sara gaped openmouthed at a section of the sky that had turned black as sackcloth. There was wind and rain encompassed within the moving phenomenon, but it had yet to fall anywhere else. Within the blackness Maya and Sara saw colors—beautiful, magnificent colors. It was enchanting. It was breathtaking. It was looming right over them. “Uh Sara,” Maya announced as she cleared her parched throat, “I think we better get the hell out of here. We are standing right under this thing but we aren’t getting wet. Doesn’t that strike you as a tad odd?” Sara swallowed roughly then snapped her head around to look at Maya. “Yeah, you’re right. In fact, it’s more than odd I’d say. Let’s get back to Pete’s like right now!” Maya never had to be told anything that might save her life twice. She nodded to Sara then dashed from under the blackness with her. Or tried to dash from under it was more to the point. The moment the women trotted further than a step out of the black enclosure, the swirls of
  19. 19. colors grabbed at their bodies and roped them back inside. Sara screamed. Maya lashed out at them, trying with everything in her to force the colors to release her. They were soon lost in the colors, unable to see anything around them. There was color and there was blackness. There was nothing else. Pete’s condo wasn’t visible. The beach wasn’t visible. The storm inside of the blackness wasn’t even visible. Maya had a horrid thought that she and Sara had been picked up into the eye of the hurricane and would soon spontaneously combust. There was no other explanation. They were going to die. Maya grabbed Sara’s hand and held on for dear life. If they were going to die, they would die together, she thought dramtically. Just like Thelma and Louise. Just like Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. Just like two idiots who should have driven to Orlando to spend the damn night away from the storm, she thought dismally. Maya screamed as she felt her and Sara floating upwards, further towards the eye no doubt. Fred and Barney came loose from their cloaks and tumbled out from their protection. But the colors wouldn’t let them go either. The colors grabbed at the iguanas, refusing to let them fall. The women closed their eyes and screamed. There was nowhere to run and no way to loose themselves from the hold of the color bands. Of all the ways to die, neither of them had thought they would be going out like this. And then they began to float downwards. Fast, yet with a surrealistic ease at the same time. Sara tightened her grip on Maya’s hand until Maya suspected that the bones would shatter beneath her hold. Not that it mattered. The eye would turn her into a human soufflé anyway. Let Sara grip her hand to her heart’s content. And then they were on the ground with Fred and Barney at their heels. The tendrils of color encompassed Maya and Sara for a few moments more, then released the hold on their bodies and receded upward towards the heavens. Maya gasped. The blackness was gone. She released Sara’s hand as she gaped towards the sky, dumbfounded as to what had just taken place. “Uh Maya,” Sara whispered in an urgent tone as she nudged her in the ribs, “I think you better swing around and have a look.” Maya nodded and began turning slowly, afraid without knowing why to swerve around and look at anything. What was behind them that had unflappable Sara so upset? A demon no doubt with the way their luck was running today, she thought grimly. Maya grimaced when at last she turned around and opened her eyes. A demon—ha! They should have been so lucky. There was no demon. But there were men on horseback. A lot of them. And they had swords. Raised swords. Raised swords and angry faces. Oh shit. Why hadn’t they gone to Orlando? Chapter 3 Ten men on horseback stared wide-eyed and open mouthed at Maya and Sara. There was another red-haired man who stood directly in front of them, staring at the two women in terror, as if afraid that Maya and Sara might reach out and gobble him up for dinner. The man wore an odd outfit, what an ancient Scot might have called a plaid. His hair was
  20. 20. dirty, long, and mangled, with a plaited braid on either side of his face. And he had the worst breath Maya had ever smelled in her life. This man would never have to worry about being gobbled up by her for dinner, that was for sure. Sara was so stunned she couldn’t breathe, let alone help figure out what in the world was going on, so Maya decided to take matters into her own hands. But first she needed to get Billy Bad Breath to back up a step. She was going to faint for sure if he didn’t quit breathing on her. Maya raised her hand in a motion indicating that she was about to speak. The man with the fetid breath took one wide-eyed look at her raised hand, gasped a big breath that damn near knocked her to her knees with its odor, and fainted dead away. Apparently Billy Bad Breath was horrified at the thought of her speaking to him, Maya frowned. Ha! Like he was one to criticize. The man had obviously never heard of Listerine. “By the saints, my lord, she has cast her spell on Hamish! He has fallen tae the ground as one dead!” Maya turned her attention to the rider that had spoken. There was something odd about his burred speech. It was almost as if it was another language. It was almost as if it was—Old Gaelic? The ten riders crossed themselves. The biggest of the lot, the one who was obviously in charge, raised his sword and pointed it toward Maya and Sara. He looked damn angry. Maya had never seen a more intimidating character in her life. “Speak demon wenches. From what pit of hell ha’ ye been loosed from?” Maya looked at Sara with a truly baffled expression on her face. Demon wenches? Pit of hell? It was at that moment that logical Sara finally rejoined the living. She nudged Maya in the side and indicated that she should look to an area of terrain beyond the riders. Maya obeyed, then gasped. “Where are we, Sara?” she whispered. Sara swallowed harshly, trying to get her salivary glands to work again. “I don’t know,” she squeaked, “but I don’t recall us having any castles in Florida.” Maya looked beyond the fierce looking man with the pointed sword to the ominous structure that loomed in the background behind him. It was formidable. And awesome. And terrifyingly familiar. It looked just like the pictures of Castle MacGregor. ***** “How in the name of God is this possible?” Maya muttered under her breath so that only Sara could hear. Sara shook her head, her gaze never faltering from the fierce looking man that was pointing his sword straight at them. “I don’t know, Maya, but we are here. There’s no denying it. We both studied the photographs of that castle for quite a while. We both know what we’re looking at. And just look at them..” Them Maya took to mean the riders on horseback. They definitely didn’t have the look of a modern day Scot. And the castle—the castle had been reduced to mere ruins two centuries ago. Yet now it stood tall and wonderful in all its glory, just like it had in the far away past. Maya grimaced, then threw her hand dramatically toward her forehead in confusion and upset. The riders seemed to react to her every movement for they backed their mounts up a space at the sight of her slightly raised hand. “She will surely turn us all tae stone, my lord!” the rider with the tongue Maya was coming to find annoying bellowed. “The demon wench will kill us all this verra day!” Maya rolled her eyes, her worry momentarily forgotten. She raised her voice loud enough
  21. 21. for all and sundry to hear her. “I am no demon, boys. I’m just a woman. No more, no less.” The riders looked at her curiously then screamed in terror when her pet iguana Fred hobbled out from behind her feet. Even the big guy let out a small yelp. “She brings with her dragons from the pit of hell, my lord! We must flee! We canna fight them!” Maya smiled in satisfaction. She and Sara were obviously delusional, so they might as well have the upper hand in this medieval acid trip. Let the men think what they would. But please God, she silently prayed, make them go away… Maya bent down and patted Fred on the head. “Good boy,” she praised as he let loose his lizard’s tongue to lick her arm. The big guy pointed his sword at Maya and bellowed out a question. “What tongue do ye speak demon wench?” “She speaks the devil’s own tongue, my lord! She will kill us all! Let us flee that we may see another day!” Maya wanted to belt the rider with his voice of gloom and doom a good one. He was going to get them killed if he didn’t put a sock in it. She was tired of this delusion. She and Sara had obviously lost their minds when they were inside the eye of the storm. “She speaks English,” Sara offered in Gaelic, coming out of her stupor. The big guy looked down at Sara and fumed. “I know English, wench, and English that ‘twas not.” Sara placated the warrior with a smile before she continued. “It is a different form of English she speaks. We come from a clan called, uh, Tampa, in a land called America. It is not the same as England.” “Mayhap afore ye joined the demons in hell ye did, but now ‘tis plain tae the eye that ye are cursed.” The big guy spat on the ground and crossed himself. “I am not cursed,” Sara countered, “and I am not a demon.” The man sitting next to the big guy spoke up, directing his speech toward Sara. “Ye lie wench. We can see the horns atop yer head.” Oh damn, Maya and Sara thought as they simultaneously paled. They had forgotten that they were in costume. “My good sir,” Sara began, causing Maya to lift an eyebrow, “I assure you I am no demon. These horns are not real. They are a costume. Do you know what a costume is?” Maya jabbed Sara in the ribs, causing her to wince. “Are you insane, Sara?” she whispered harshly. “If this is real, then the fact that they fear us is what’s keeping us alive at the moment.” Sara shot a scolding look Maya’s way before replying. “Not if they believe we are demons it won’t. We’ll be burned at the stake for heresy in a heartbeat.” Maya winced. Damn, she hadn’t thought of that. ***** “Costume? What is costume, wench?” The big guy spat on the ground again and crossed himself—again. Maya was beginning to find that nasty little habit irritating. Sara, unflappable even at the prospect of death, smiled reassuringly up to the giant. “A costume is clothing you wear when you are pretending to be something you are not. Perhaps you do not have such customs here?” The giant muttered something under his breath then spit and crossed himself again. “Nay, we dinna.”
  22. 22. Sara reached up to the two horns on top of her head, unpinned them from her hair, and threw them at the big guy. “You see…they are not real.” Thomas caught them and examined the fake horns carefully then showed them to Sir Dugald. “They are made of fine silk,” he muttered to his commander-at-arms. Sir Dugald took the horns from his laird’s hands and brushed them against his cheek. “Aye milord, they are silk.” The big guy looked back at Maya and Sara, his voice and expression as unrelenting as ever. “If ye are no’ demons, then how do ye explain these creatures of protection? Surely ye will no’ try tae tell me that they are no’ real.” Sara laughed good-naturedly as she reached down to pet Barney. It was obvious to Maya that her best friend was doing a far better job of disarming the riders of their hostility than she could have done. Left to Maya’s devices and callous tongue, the two of them would have been roasting over an open spit with apples in their mouths by now. “He is not a protector, but merely a pet, my lord. Judging from the looks upon your faces I suppose that you do not have pets like this here either?” Sir Dugald smiled. “Nay my lady, we dinna.” Sara glanced up at Sir Dugald and blushed. “They are harmless creatures, sir. Truly. If you would but dismount, I would be happy to introduce you.” The rider’s smile widened to the point that Maya suspected the skin around the corners of his mouth might crack. He wanted Sara, that much was obvious. “How did ye tae ladies come tae be here?” the big guy asked from his mount while the other man got off of his horse and strode over to inspect Fred and Barney. Sara shrugged. “Verily my lord…” Maya’s eyebrow rose. Verily? “…we are as baffled as you are. One minute we were in the middle of a clan celebration and the next minute the sky grew black and we were here.” Maya snorted. Clan celebration indeed. If the big guy thought their costumes were in league with the devil, she wondered what he’d think about Pete the priest and Chanel the pregnant nun. Sir Dugald came to stand in front of Sara, smiling down at her all the while. He wasn’t too hard on the eyes, Maya admitted. Not too hard at all. Sara could do a lot worse. The man grabbed Sara’s hand first and then Maya’s. “I am called Sir Dugald, my ladies, and who might ye be?” Sara sucked in her breath. Her face turned a chalky white. Sir Dugald. Maya’s heartbeat quickened as she swallowed nervously. Sir Dugald frowned. “What is the matter?” Sara regained her composure quickly and curtsied to the soldier. “Forgive me Sir Dugald for my rudeness. You startled us is all. My name is Lady Sara. This is Lady Maya.” Sir Dugald inclined his head to both of them, his smile back in place. “Ye are forgiven, naturally, but why were ye startled in the first?” Sara looked to Maya as if searching for an appropriate response. Maya answered for her, though this time in Gaelic, determined to find her voice once again. “We have heard of your laird and of you as well, sir. Your clan’s strength is well known.” Sir Dugald’s chest puffed out arrogantly. Apparently Maya had even managed to stir the arrogance of the big guy himself, for he dismounted at Maya’s words and came striding over. The giant stopped in front of Maya and looked her up and down. He’d apparently never heard of the word subtle, she thought grimly. Maya was grateful to the gods above that her
  23. 23. cloak was concealing her outfit, for he surely would have demoted her from the status of lady to the status of harlot had he seen how scandalously she was attired. “I am the MacGregor. How did ye come tae hear of me?” Maya’s eyes grew wide when his words sunk in. The MacGregor? As in Thomas MacGregor? Wow! He was even bigger and fiercer looking than she had imagined him to be. And like Sir Dugald, not hard on the eyes either. In fact, he was even more ruggedly handsome than Sir Dugald was to her way of thinking. She quickly curtsied as she offered him a smile. “Your skills with your sword are well known in many lands, my lord.” Satisfied, Thomas nodded with a grunt. Of course his skills were well known. He was the MacGregor after all. He took Maya’s hand and bowed over it, astonishing her with his courtly show of grace. “Lady Maya, ye must call me Thomas. ‘Tis an honor tae make yer acquaintance.” Maya shivered then nodded, her gaze never leaving the laird’s. Thomas took note of Maya’s shiver and frowned, assuming it was because of the chilly weather instead of because of the fact she was freaked out. “’Tis tae cold fer ye and Lady Sara tae be walking aboot. And tae dangerous as well. Ye are lucky ‘twas I who found ye and no’ the MacAllister. Come, we will take ye tae Castle MacGregor tae warm yerselves.” ***** Robert MacAllister smiled wickedly towards the women riding off into the distance atop the MacGregor and Sir Dugald’s mounts. He had come to MacGregor land ‘apurpose this day, in the hopes of finding some cattle he could lift for the use of his own clan. He had ridden up mayhap a few moments after the MacGregor arrived only to see him pointing his raised sword in the direction of the two wenches. Robert had watched from the trees, trying his best to get a good look at the lasses, then damn near fell from his mount when at last he did. He never saw what the wench in red looked like, but the wench in black was beautiful indeed. She was the comeliest of maidens, with long golden hair and a figure that made a man want to bury his flesh deep inside of her. It had been obvious to Robert that the woman wasn’t a MacGregor, for Thomas had reacted to her as though he’d never seen her before. Robert had thought to take her for himself, believing that the MacGregor would leave the women behind after he and his men tried them. Why he had thought that, he had no idea. ‘Twas wishful thinking on his part, no doubt. Robert cursed in anger as he left the seclusion of the trees and rode back to the MacAllister keep, all thoughts of cattle lifting long since departed. ‘Twasn’t fair. The MacGregors always bested the MacAllisters. The MacGregor laird was the most feared in Scotland, their clan’s herds were aplenty, and their women innumerable. And now Thomas MacGregor had claimed the foreign wenches for his own. Nay, ‘twasn’t fair in the least. But Robert was going to change his clan’s run of bad luck for the better. He was laird now, after all, with his elder brother dead and buried for nigh a fortnight. He wasn’t weak like his brother had been, unwilling to stand up to the MacGregor as he should have done years past. Nay, Robert was strong, and damn if he wouldn’t prove it. Soon ‘twould be him that the Bruce would seek out for the wisdom of his guidance. Soon ‘twould be him that found favor in the king’s court. And, Robert added to himself with a grin, soon ‘twould be him that was rutting between the bitch’s legs every eve. He would take her from the MacGregor. By the saints he would.
  24. 24. Chapter 4 Somehow or another “Lady” Maya and “Lady” Sara ended up at the castle with Fred and Barney in tow. It was evident that both Thomas and Dugald would have preferred to have left the iguanas behind, but the women wouldn’t hear of it. Sara convinced Sir Dugald to let Barney ride with them in the way she knew best to work a situation to her advantage—she bedazzled him with compliments and plied him with smiles. Maya, on the other hand, got Thomas to take Fred in the only way she had ever known how to go about getting her own way—she dug in her heels and refused to budge from her stance. Thomas had spat and cursed—in a legion of different languages at that—then finally relented when he realized that Maya was obstinate enough to do as she had said she would do and remain on the hillside if he left her pet behind. Thomas had thrown her his best scowls, yelled at her at the top of his lungs, even threatened to put her over his knee. It had all been for naught. The stubborn woman had refused obedience. ‘Twas sorely obvious to Thomas that the laird of the Tampa clan had spoiled the wench to no end. The MacGregor was still in a surly mood when he plopped himself down into his seat in the great hall next to Maya to partake of the evening fare. He grunted as he sat, making certain that Lady Maya was well aware of his presence. By the saints she could get under a man’s skin! When grunting didn’t gain Lady Maya’s attention away from the conversation between Sir Dugald and Lady Sara, Thomas cleared his throat and bellowed to her. “Ye will look at me, Lady Maya.” That did it. Maya gritted her teeth in irritation. The man possessed the manners of a wild pig. First he accused her of being Satan’s sister, then he tried to leave her beloved Fred behind to fend for himself in the cold, then he had even gone so far as to yell at her and threaten her with a spanking. Now he had the audacity to command her to look at him! Were it not for the fact that he obviously had the upper hand at the moment, she would have strangled him. Maya turned around and eyeballed the laird with a scowl on her face that was fierce enough to cause a lesser man to wince. “Yes? Laird?” Now that Maya was looking at him, Thomas wasn’t certain what his next move should be. He didn’t really have anything to say to her and he had never been good at idle conversation. The only thing he knew was that he liked looking at Maya and he liked it when she was looking at him. Damnation, but what man wouldn’t want the comely wench to favor him with her attention. She was finer than he thought it possible for a woman to be made. Her waist length hair was unbound and the shade of golden curls of wheat. Her eyes were three different colors all at the same time—rings of blue and green with a fleck of gold in each. Her lips, well, he shouldn’t even think of her puffy red lips. A man could torture himself over the desire to suck on those lips. Thomas frowned as he studied Maya and Maya frowned right back. “You wanted to speak with me, my lord?” Thomas snapped his attention from his fantasies and threw Maya his most feared scowl. “The servants are preparing ye and Lady Sara’s chambers the soonest. Sometime after the meal, Matilde shall see ye tae yer chambers. Baths will be brought up tae ye and clean gowns
  25. 25. as well, since I take it neither of ye has yer chests.” Maya’s expression softened at Thomas’s rather considerate gesture. She smiled at him, causing his breath to catch in the back of his throat. “That is thoughtful of you, my lord. We would be most grateful.” Thomas nodded then raised one of the corners of his mouth slightly upward. Maya deeply suspected that was his attempt at a smile. Apparently he hadn’t quite cultivated the art of it yet because it looked like no more than a sneer to her. Still, she refused to think about what that awkward smile did to the rate of her heart. ***** Maya stood atop the battlements, gazing down into the lower bailey. She shook her head to clear it, not believing for a moment that she was seeing the things she was seeing, experiencing the things she appeared to be experiencing. She was certain that she was going to wake up at any given moment, still in her bed in Tampa. Or perhaps she had sustained a head injury during the hurricane and was even now lying in a coma at Tampa General Hospital. She was a woman of science—there were no other explanations. Maya pulled her cloak tightly around her, the chilly mountain air inducing her flesh to goose pimple. Odd, but she’d never felt temperature sensations in a dream before. Perhaps when she woke up she’d drive over to the lab at the university and let that eccentric Ph.D. who studies abnormal sleep patterns hook her up to one of his machines and have a field day at her wearily bedraggled expense. She needed to find Sara and force her to wake them up. In this dream, and Maya resolutely refused to believe that it could be more than that, Sara had strolled off with this Sir Dugald character hand-in-hand after the meal in the great hall. Maya grunted. Yes, she had to be dreaming. Sara simply wasn’t the type to fall into an infatuation after knowing a guy for all of two hours. The wind blew the hood of Maya’s cloak from around her face, spilling her long mane of golden curls down her back. She realized not even a moment later that the goose bumps she had succumbed to weren’t entirely due to the evening’s chilled air. She wasn’t alone on the battlements any longer. She wasn’t certain how she knew as much, but perhaps one develops extra-sensory perceptions when dreaming…or hallucinating. “Yer chamber is ready fer ye, Lady Maya.” Ah, she was right. No longer alone. Maya cocked her head upward to enable her better viewing access to the giant warlord’s face. “Thank-you,” she offered weakly. Thomas nodded almost imperceptibly, acknowledging her words. “Ye are welcome.” She turned back to face the lower bailey once more, unable to hold the gaze of the MacGregor a moment longer. Looking at him made this entire experience too vivid, too real. “Are ye no’ going up tae yer chamber, milady?” Maya closed her eyes against his words. His voice was so deep and smooth, the richest of bass tones. He sounded all male, all-powerful, and far from imaginary. She snuggled into her cloak, folding her arms across her chest and rubbing them briskly to ward off the eerie cold. After what seemed an eternity spent in silence with this man in her dream, Maya could endure the quiet no longer. She whirled around and pierced him with haunted, rounded eyes. “Are you real?” she whispered up to him. Thomas arched a brow. “Real? Of course I am real.” He reached out to touch her forehead, an uncharacteristic feeling of sympathy welling up inside of him. “Did ye sustain a hit tae the head, lass? Are ye fevered?” He felt her head for warmth, caressing her temples in the process.
  26. 26. “I can call a healer if ye ha’ need of one.” Maya closed her eyes against the feel of his hand stroking her head. His fingers were large and roughly callused, yet felt uncommonly good brushing against her smooth temple. This was too much to take in, too much to believe. Things like this simply don’t happen. Thomas had the disconcerting thought that he could stand here a happy man, stroking this woman for the rest of his life and never tire of it. Her face turned to his hand like a frightened child seeking protection, which was a complete contrast to her typical confident behavior. It was all he could do not to reach out and give her that which she was needing. Mayhap the lady didn’t realize what it was she sought, but he did. She needed comfort. From what threat, he hadn’t any notion. Thomas slowly lowered his hand from Maya’s temple to her cheek, rubbing it gently to soothe her. Again, she turned to him as if seeking something that she herself could not name. She kept her eyes closed, merely feeling the sensations without seeing. A sense of possessiveness and a fierce desire to protect the tiny lass swept through his very core, battling his resolve. He pulled her toward him, giving up the fight, holding her gently in a warm embrace. Maya shut her eyes tightly as she allowed the warrior to hold her. She experienced an abstruse sense of security in his arms, as if he were her only connection to reality, to life. Odd that a figure from one’s dream could provide such base comfort. She wanted to cry, wanted to bawl her eyes out, but refused to do so. The longer he held her, the more real the warrior became. And the more frightened she became. Thomas laid his chin atop her head and breathed in her scent. She felt so perfect, her soft flesh cuddled into the warmth of his hard, steely body. He felt his shaft swell against his plaid, poking against her belly. At her sharp intake of breath, he realized she knew the effect that she had on him. Would she use it against him as other women would try to? He refused to give her the chance to find out. Thomas pushed Maya away from him, causing her to dart her face upward to stare at him. She swallowed roughly, her eyes still haunted, still shadowed. He felt a momentary tremor of guilt, but refused to acknowledge it. The MacGregor would not yield his heart, his will, or even his shaft to this comely vixen. “Ye will take yerself up tae yon chamber tae bathe and ye will do it now.” Maya blinked. She had no idea what had turned him surly, but the abrupt shift in mood was a shock to her system. That did it. Maya pushed herself further away from the snake’s hold, her once worried eyes now burning. She couldn’t and wouldn’t deny the attraction she held for him, but she refused to cower before Laird Pompous Ass. “Fine!” she spat. “Fine!” he growled in return. “Ye will go now afore I change my mind and ravish yer willin’ body. I will decide if ye are tae go back home or no’ when ye are gone from my sight!” “Willing body? Decide where I’ll go?” Maya stared daggers at the savage gargantuan, hoping for an insane moment that she truly was here and not dreaming so she could scratch his eyes out. “Listen buddy, I am the only one who will decide where it is I go! And I am going home. Right now!” She turned on her heel, giving him her back. He, however, was having none of that. Thomas grabbed her by the back of the cloak and spun her around to face him. His nostrils flared, the vein at his temple ticked. “Ye will do as ye are bid,” he said too quietly. “Ye will go above stairs tae yer chamber and say no’ another word aboot it. Do ye ken, or do ye need tae be put o’er my knee?”
  27. 27. His knee? His knee? Damn the man! Too enraged to think up any response at all, let alone a witty, smart-ass one, Maya stomped her foot on the ground and glared at him. “Fine!” she managed to sputter out. Unable to suppress her rage, she stood up on tiptoe, grabbed the black braids that were plaited at either of his temples, and yanked with all of her might. He smiled at her. A genuine, amused smile. She wanted to kill him. “Ohhhh!” she fumed, unable to say more. She turned around and stomped off of the battlements, like a spoiled child being sent to her room. Thomas watched in amusement as the little shrew pounded away from him in a tantrum. He should be mad, but he wasn’t. He was too well humored. Mayhap he would keep her after all. He shook his head, determined to locate his missing resolve. What the comely harridan did to his senses was not a good thing. She could weaken him, make him soft, make his heart feel things he didn’t want it to feel. Nay, he could not and would not keep the little wench. ***** Thomas sat in his chair next to the hearth in the great hall with ale in his hand and a scowl on his face. He swallowed down the rest of the drink then bellowed at Matilde to bring him some more. When Matilde didn’t instantly materialize, he cursed and yelled for his squire to see to him. He had forgotten for a moment that Matilde was upstairs showing Lady Maya and Lady Sara to their bedchambers. Thomas grunted after his squire Gilfred refilled his tankard, then went back to his seething. ‘Twas apparent to the MacGregor men that Thomas was in a dastardly mood, for no one dared to approach him. Even Dugald remained conspicuously absent, mayhap out of fear, but most likely ‘twas out of a desire to let Thomas calm down upon his own accord. As if he could calm down, Thomas acknowledged to himself with another grunt. Lady Maya was going to be the death of him! After thinking on the scene atop the battlements, he decided that her show of temper was far from amusing. The woman simply didn’t know her place. She obviously had no fear of him and this truth the laird found unacceptable. Indeed, a wench should know humble respect and fear for her lord. Of course, Thomas wasn’t exactly her lord—yet. Yet? Nay. Thomas shook his head. He refused to think along those lines. He would send the ladies back to their clan in posthaste. Certainly their sires had to be fearing for their safety by now. Still, he couldn’t help but to consider what would become of his life were he to refuse Lady Maya’s passage back to her people. He scowled. His life would be one complication after the next is what would happen. Lady Maya was hardly the agreeable sort and, more like than naught, her tongue would end up embarrassing him in front of his men were he to keep her. And Lady Maya was bound to put up a fight if he ordered her to stay here. She wasn’t the type of woman that was going to sit idly by while the MacGregor decided her fate for her. Nay, she would demand that her and her lady friend be sent back wence they came. “Mayhap ‘tis safe tae speak with ye now, or do ye wish tae frown at your ale a bit more?” Thomas looked up to see a smiling Dugald and glared at him. “Me thinks ye should wait a while more, Dugald.” Dugald clucked his tongue and shook his head, feigning exasperation. In reality, he found the situation too amusing to be sure. “Come now Thomas, ye know ye can speak yer mind
  28. 28. freely tae me.” Thomas glowered at Dugald as he took another swallow of ale. “Mayhap ye find this amusing Dugald, but I assure ye that I dinna.” Dugald laughed as he swatted Thomas on the back then helped himself to the seat nearest the laird. “It can’t be all that bad, my lord. Tell me now what troubles ye.” If only he himself knew, Thomas sighed. He wanted to believe that he was angry at Lady Maya because of her stubborn and shrewish tendencies, yet he knew he wasn’t angry about that in the slightest. Irritated, aye, but angry, nay. ‘Twas true that if he kept the lady he would have to be diligent in instructing her of her proper place, but her behavior was nothing irreversibly damaging. The real problem was Lady Maya herself. She was simply too beautiful for Thomas’s peace of mind. Nothing good ever came from keeping a beautiful woman, for men aplenty would seek to take her to their beds. Just like his mum. Aye, the former Laird MacGregor knew all too well the heartbreak that came from claiming a comely wife. Thomas’s mother Elizabeth had been considered the loveliest maiden in the land in her day. For many a year that Thomas could remember, his father Angus had doted on his mother, seeing to her every whim. But apparently Elizabeth had never returned Angus’s love, for she certainly hadn’t returned his fidelity. Angus never found out precisely how many lovers his wife had taken to her bed, as he knew of only one in particular. But if there was one, there had to have been others, he had decided after Elizabeth’s death. Thomas was like as not ever going to forget the manner in which Angus had found out that his beloved wife had betrayed him. Angus had ridden back into the keep following a successful raid on the Hamilton clan only to find that his wife had taken her life in their bedchamber. Beside himself with grief, Angus had questioned the servants at length and eventually found out what had caused his fair Elizabeth to die by her own hand. ‘Twas a young squire that had been sent from a neighboring clan to train under Angus who had learned of Elizabeth’s sins. He had watched her cavort with a man he didn’t recognize down in the lower bailey. Following their sordid tryst against the castle wall, the squire had overheard the unknown man jilt Elizabeth, ending their affair that day. According to the lad, Elizabeth had begged the man to take her with him and when he refused to do so, she fled to her chamber in tears. Angus had forced the squire from his keep that day for not having brought an end to his wife’s immoral behavior the moment he saw what she had been about. Not that it had done any good to hoist the lad from the castle for his wife had already betrayed him and was dead. Thomas’s father was never the same after Elizabeth’s death. He would take a wench to bed when his need became o’er much, but he never gave his heart to another. Elizabeth’s sins had destroyed Angus and Angus’s hate had formed the way Thomas viewed the world, especially women. Thomas was cold and cynical where wenches were concerned, just as his sire before him had taught him to be. There were many issues over the years that had brought father and son to conflict before Angus’ death, but there was one matter on which the two had always agreed. Nothing good ever came of taking a comely woman to wife. “Well,” Dugald asked, bringing Thomas’s attention back to his commander-in-arms, “will ye speak of it?” Thomas stared into the hearth without blinking, his gaze never leaving it. “’Tis Lady Maya, my friend.”
  29. 29. Dugald nodded and sighed, having figured as much. “What aboot her, Thomas?” The laird cast his stony stare to Dugald. “She is beautiful. She is tae beautiful. Need I say more?” Chapter 5 The women followed behind Matilde in a daze. Neither of them had fully accepted the fact that what they were experiencing was indeed reality. It still felt like a dream, but most especially to Maya. Or an incredibly detailed, highly vivid hallucination. Medieval Scotland? Good God, how could it be? Matilde stopped first at Sara’s room to show her where she would be sleeping. Sara thanked the servant profusely then asked Matilde if she would mind if she trailed behind them to Maya’s room. Sara explained to her that she and Lady Maya had a few things to discuss in private before they bathed. “Of courrz I do no’ mind,” she insisted in a thick French accent, “’ti zan honor to do your bidding, my ladieez.” Maya took a resigned look around when she was escorted into her room, or what Matilde had called her “bedchamber”. The room was large enough to suit her needs, almost three times the size of her bedroom in Tampa. The bed was spacious, huge in fact, and covered with pelts of animal fur. Tapestries hung on the walls, giving the chamber a homey feel, and vases and chests helped add to that effect. The only thing Maya disliked about her new temporary home was the chillingly cold stone floor. But the crackling fire kindling in the hearth managed to lessen even that minor discomfort. Maya sighed. The place wasn’t exactly Trump Tower, but then neither was her and Sara’s modest apartment in Tampa. As bedchambers went, this one wasn’t half bad. Maya thanked Matilde for showing her to her room, then politely asked her to leave so Sara and she could talk. Matilde nodded and curtsied, shutting the door behind her as she made a quiet exit. As soon as the servant departed, reality began to sink in. Maya grabbed Sara by the arm and pulled her further into the bedroom to be assured that their conversation wouldn’t be overheard. She plopped down beside her onto the bed. “Okay,” she demanded in hushed tones, “what in the hell is going on? Did we die do you suppose?” Sara shook her head and looked into Maya’s eyes. “Somehow I doubt that. I feel very much alive, don’t you?” Maya groaned and threw herself back onto one of the animal pelts laying on the bed. She breathed heavily for a few moments then looked over to Sara. “If we’re not dead, then the only other possibility is that we have…” She shook her head. “It isn’t possible,” she muttered under her breath. “Apparently it is,” Sara countered. “We’re here, Maya. You can’t deny that.” Maya bolted upright in bed and grabbed Sara’s hand. “Are you saying that we…that we…I mean to say, have we…” Maya groaned. She just couldn’t bring herself to state the obvious. “Traveled through time?” Sara offered. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying, Maya. I’m saying we traveled back into the past almost seven hundred years.” Maya buried her face in her hands and shook her head. “This is a nightmare is what it is. How do we get back?”

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