Sleeping with a Highland Beast (Preview)
Little Jane MacThomas hopped along the road beside her mother. A bright smile appeared on her face as she looked around the crowded market.
“Here, lass!” her mother called out to her. “Hold my hand!”
Jane reached out and tightly clutched her mother’s fingers, admiring Mirren’s smooth skin. She had taken her to the market for the first time in two summers, having only traveled with her other daughter, Aileen, in recent years, leaving Jane alone with her father at the clan keep. Jane was aware that she was loved less, and despite her best efforts, she never felt well-behaved enough to please her.
As such, she was surprised when Mirren had summoned her in the morning—feeling so happy and eager to spend some time with her alone that she had almost burst into tears.
Walking through the village, she knew her mama would be watching for any misbehavior—so she kept quiet, not wanting want to anger her and risk never being brought along again. Jane felt her mother let go of her hand as they trudged through the crowds, turning towards a trader. The girl stood silently, her bright eyes darting around until she noticed movement in a nearby alley.
In that dark alleyway, she spied a cat with bright golden fur shining like a beacon as it gnawed at something on the ground. As if sensing Jane’s gaze, it raised its head in a slow, graceful movement, looking up at her.
Jane was dazzled by the cat’s grey eyes, a shiver running down her spine despite the the warmth of a nearby smith’s anvil.
She frowned and moved closer to the cat—the step almost unintentional, as if an unseen hand had wrapped itself around her and pushed her towards the lonely animal.
She didn’t mind the sensation; she’d felt stranger things—things she couldn’t tell anyone about.
In that moment, nothing else mattered, only reaching the cat. The kitten mewled softly and trotted into the dark alley, her tail held high.
“Wait for me, kitten!” Jane called, running after the animal and into the dark.
Thankfully, her mother hadn’t seen her sneak away, and Jane was hoping to return before she noticed.
This was no ordinary cat. She was sure of it.
Jane could see the feline pride in its graceful movements, which were as perfect as the little meows it offered her as it sauntered down the alley. The girl knew she should turn around and go back to her mother, but couldn’t for she had never felt anything more enthralling in her eight years of life than those transfixing eyes—eyes that seemed to reach into her, grabbing her soul. She kept following the cat until the alley was plunged into darkness.
The market’s noise faded away, and all she could see was the cat’s body—a glow in the dark leading her into the unknown. Fear clogged her throat but she kept moving.
Jane had the nibbling sensation that this cat could explain the voices that had plagued her since she was able to hear and speak. More than anything, she needed to understand them—comprehend them calling to her in the darkness; their gentle humming pull toward the cat.
Suddenly, she found herself on another narrow, empty street—the frigid air piercing her through her clothes. But the cat was nowhere to be seen.
“Gods above! She’s but a wee bairn! Barely knee-high, this one.”
Hearing the whisper whistling through the air sent shivers up her spine once more. She quickly turned around, but there was no one there.
There was another whisper. Clearer this time.
“Ach, beautiful youth. Why should such terrible fate rest upon so young a shoulder?”
“Who are ye?” little Jane called out in a shaky voice, turning around wildly. “Reveal yerself to me!”
She heard the rustle of frost-bound leaves on the ground and turned toward the noise. Jane’s heart raced erratically as she noticed a woman standing behind her where no one had been before. The woman stood near the wall, her face obscured by a large, dark shadow.
“Who are ye?” Jane asked again.
The woman stepped forward, the sun illuminating her face. She was old, with thin, bloodless lips and snakeskin leather skin. Her eyes were dead fish-like, with an emotionless silver glint. In the light, she appeared even more terrifying—ghostly in every sense of the word.
Jane frowned and unconsciously moved closer to her, as if pushed by the wind. But then she took a swift step back, reconsidering.
“Ye have nae need tae fear me, lass. I am nae danger tae ye.”
The woman’s voice was deep and rasped, her words like nails scratching down her back. Jane took another step back, feeling nervous by the stranger’s presence.
“Please… tell me who ye are,” Jane said with a trembling voice.
“Ye pry too much for a wee lass, dinnae ye?” She walked closer, a sinister smile forming on her face, her eyes never leaving Jane’s. “Isla. That’s my name, if ye’ll ken.”
The words were softly hissed, burning into Jane’s mind. A strange pain followed the sound, striking her in the center of the head with such force that it blurred her vision.
A lie. She is lying.
The silent whispers raged in her mind—the inner voice rising to a scream so high that Jane covered her ears until the painful ringing subsided. She blinked open her eyes and returned her gaze to the strange woman.
“Ye lie!” Jane cried through clenched teeth.
She expected the woman to frown and retreat in shock, but she nodded instead. When Jane caught people in a lie, they recoiled in terror, but this hag was no ordinary person. She was dressed in ragged skirts and a filthy tartan sash, but the smile on her face revealed that she was no poor dorbie.
“I kent ye’d find out that was a lie, lassie,” the woman said with a wide smile. “Ye are the one I was looking for.”
No familiar pang came along with the voices in her head. That was not a lie.
This woman had truly been looking for her.
“Will ye tell me who ye really are?”
“I’m a fortune teller, lass. I’d rather nae tell ye more. But I ken who ye are—what ye are—and I can help ye.”
Jane remained motionless, her breath forming a warm cloud in the air. Somehow, she was not afraid of the woman.
The woman searched for her eyes, and when she saw no fear in them, she raised her hand from her dark cloak and extended it toward the girl.
Jane noticed that the woman’s arms had been inked over with drawings. She quickly looked around and approached the gnarled fingers in front of her. The ink on the back of the hand was dark and rich, with an image of a bird in the center of a triple spiral symbol.
Up close, the woman’s silver eyes felt even colder. When the hag spoke, Jane felt the same unease as earlier, but she ignored the feeling and listened to her instead.
“Ye are the daughter of truth, and the coils of candor are wrapped so tightly around yer mind that nae one could speak a lie tae ye. The little voice deep inside ye whispers that ye should nae believe lies. And the weight of mistruths scream in yer head, harsh and hard, do they nae? Is that truly yer burden, lass?”
Jane nodded, and the woman shook her head, bowing over Jane’s hand.
“There’s more, bairn, much more. It is too heavy for yer young shoulders tae bear, but bear it they must, for yer truth could break and birth kingdoms.”
The woman’s words cloaked her in warmth albeit not comprehending their meaning.
“Yer duty comes at a cost, for this is a dangerous power. Ye can use yer knowledge of truth and mistruth for yerself, but ye should never tell another soul if someone lies to them. Do ye understand?”
“And what if I do?” Jane questioned in a whisper.
“Never, lass, never!” the woman gasped. “Better ignorance than the truth for others. If ye do, there shall be consequences. Ye shall lose the power of truth forever. Doom awaits ye only down the path of altruism!”
The sky above was darkened by clouds, and the woman’s eyes flashed with fire. Jane felt fear creep over her body for the first time, and she yanked her hand away, staggering back. The fortune teller moved forward at a breakneck pace, grabbing Jane once more—her bony hands clutching hers with an iron grip.
“There is something more that ye should ken. There is a man with whom ye cannae ever use yer gift. Yer powers will nae work with him… unless ye wish for yer death. This man is a herald that shrouds the eye of truth with darkness. And yet, ye will want to trust him. Beware that man, for he utters only the demise of the daughter of truth. Sense his soul before ye put yer trust in him. Yer fate cannae be escaped, lass. He holds it in his hands.”
The woman’s grip loosened slightly, and Jane pulled away.
Running back through the alley as quickly as she could, she ignored the wicked cackle and the echoes of her voice shouting five words at her.
Yer fate cannae be escaped.
None of it made sense. How was she the daughter of truth? Why would she trust the man who would announce her demise?
Her legs had barely taken her out into the daylight when she landed in her mother’s arms.
“Maither!” she gasped at her displeased expression.
“Where have ye been, Jane? I turned around, and ye’d ran off. This is why I told yer faither I didnae want tae come tae the market with ye.”
Jane was so terrified that she didn’t mind her mother’s reprimand. She stepped out of her arms to look up at her familiar, enraged face. Jane resembled her father more than she did her mother. She was a tall girl for her age, with golden hair and hazel eyes. Her sister Aileen, on the other hand, had long dark hair and was short, just like their mother. Mirren was bound to pick Aileen as her favorite.
“Dear Laird! Ye think ye can behave like a lad, eh? I see when ye run around with boys at the castle too, ye ken,” her mother said.
She grabbed Jane’s arm, pulling her along as she headed to the northern side of the market. Jane said nothing as they struggled through the crowds, her mind still fixed on her meeting with the strange woman. They walked past villagers, traders, and barking dogs, past stalls of shining wares, until her mother stopped before a merchant of jewels.
Mirren picked up a silver brooch and put a few coins in the seller’s withered hand before they stepped away. She glanced at Jane and gave her a sheepish smile.
“This is for yer sister. It will go well with the gown I bought her last week. Ach, dinnae look at me like that, bairn! I didnae get ye one because I didnae have any coins left, but I will commission one for ye tomorrow. There is naething suitable to be bought here, anyway.”
A pang of jealousy shot through Jane’s head—the familiar whisper starting in her mind, quiet and simmering, as it climbed to a screech.
Lies. She lies!
“Nae, nae…” Jane groaned and closed her eyes.
“Ye look peaky, Jane. What did ye do when ye were gone?”
“I chased a cat… and I met a woman.”
Jane blinked her eyes open, her mother’s smile slipping off her face.
“I am telling yer faither that ye’re running off intae alleys by yerself again, young lass. Yer sprees worry me too much.”
“Is that why ye dinnae want tae spend time with me, Maither? Because I worry ye so?”
Her mother’s eyes widened. “I want tae spend time with ye, Jane. Where in the world did this come from?”
“Ye always take Aileen with ye when ye go shopping,” Jane said, feeling tears roll down her cheeks. “And ye purchased a brooch for her but naething for me. Never for me!”
“That doesnae mean anything, lass. I love both my bairns the same. Ye’re both my children. And I already told ye; I’ll find a gown for ye tomorrow.”
Her mother’s voice continued to drone on, as did the pain in her head. It was shrill and agonizing, threatening to tear her apart. She could only hear the voice—nothing but lies.
Mirren was still talking when Jane pulled at her arm and shouted, “Nae, Maither! Please. Nae more lies! I cannae bear it.”
A look of shock spread across Mirren’s face. “What did ye say, lass?”
It was the first time Jane had mentioned those lies to anyone. She’d never revealed her power to her father or mother. Except for a few maids she had caught, no one knew or suspected anything. Wishing she had said nothing, she stared at her mother’s pale countenance and the shock in her eyes.
But it was too late.
“Why do ye say I lie, Jane? Ye should nae speak tae yer maither like this!”
“I ken ye lie, Maither. I always ken, and today, I encountered a woman who told me why. She was a strange woman, but she dinnae lie like ye.”
With a trembling voice, Jane proceeded to tell her mother all that had happened on the other side of the alley. When she was done, Mirren was studying her, her head cocked to one side, her eyes wide in shock.
“Ye’re talkin’ mince!”
“I speak the truth, Maither. I ken when ye lie, when anyone lies,” Jane repeated clearly, her voice stronger with each word.
Mirren gasped and staggered back, pressing a hand against her heart with a loud cry. “For heaven’s sake! Lower yer voice, Jane. People might hear this nonsense,” she hissed through clenched teeth.
“I’m sorry, Maither,” Jane called, taking a step toward her.
Mirren moved back, raising a hand as if to ward her off. “Do nae come near me. I need… I need a moment. I refuse to believe I have raised a witchling whose heart and mind are possessed.”
Her mother looked around to guarantee nobody was near enough to hear her words before turning back to Jane.
“I dinnae ken what tae do with ye,” Mirren said. “But ye shall never breathe a word of this tae anyone else! Women have been killed for much less than ye have said, and I dinnae think ye being a wee lass would save ye much. We cannae risk yer life. Dinnae share this even with yer faither.”
“Maither—” Jane gasped.
“Dinnae call me that,” she whispered harshly, closing her eyes to catch her breath. “I birthed one blessed bairn, and ye are a cursed one. And I foolishly named ye ‘God’s gift’.”
“Nay!” A sob cut her voice short, a single tear streaming down her cheek. She looked her mother in the eyes. Jane had never found love in them, but she had always found a semblance of security instead.
But that was also gone. All that was left was fear—fear of what she was because her mother no longer saw her as her child.
Jane opened her mouth to speak again, but nothing came out. She eventually gave up and lowered her head.
If her mother had ever truly loved Jane and had just been bad at showing it, she certainly did not love her now.
Darach’s heart was racing as his horse galloped down the hill. He hurried toward the southern border which they shared with their Jacobite allies.
He was flanked by his brother, Morven. His advisor, Kenn, was somewhere behind him as well with two more riders accompanying them. To avoid arousing suspicion, he’d had to keep the group small. Darach wanted them to stay as far away from William’s soldiers as possible, and they had done well so far. The party had visited most of the northern clans and persuaded their lairds to support the Jacobites in their rebellion against William of Orange, the self-proclaimed King of Scotland.
The men rode furiously towards the familiar woods in the distance. Home was within reach, and Darach had never been so glad to be close to it. Being back on familiar territory meant he could prepare his warriors and start laying the plans they had made for the last three months. Being at the forefront of the rebellion was not easy, but Darach Robertson had done nothing easy in his three decades of life.
To his clan, he was the perfect leader—the man who could truly unite the feuding clans to refute William’s laughable claim to the throne. But he didn’t feel like a savior.
It was true that he was the man whose call most of the clans were ready to rally to, and most lairds respected him because they feared him. Tales of Darach’s combat prowess were often traded at inns, reaching across the Highlands. He was a legend, as was his brother Morven. Stories of the two-man Robertson army had spread like wildfire—like the time he and Morven had left scores of Macduff soldiers and heirs dead in a ravine after they’d dared attack their father’s caravan.
Darach had no love for his father. He hated the man; he’d made his childhood a living hell. But no one touched a member of his clan without suffering the consequences, and he’d made sure the Macduff family had felt the pain of losing two sons in exchange for the life of his father.
He was far from the perfect leader. Darach was aware of this. He had too many scars on his skin and heart to be perfect, but he had Kenn’s wit and wisdom, and Morven’s strong arm to support him. He was grateful for their help.
His black stallion snorted hard, and Darach immediately pulled the huge beast to a stop with a hard jerk of the reins. “Stop!” he ordered, raising his right hand.
He heard the others come to a stop too, kicking up dust behind them.
“We’re nae alone,” Darach muttered.
“Aye.” Morven nodded.
“Macduffians!” Kenn shouted, pointing at a hill in the distance. “The Macduffs are attacking us.”
Darach watched as soldiers galloped toward the bottom of the hill. The king’s banner bearing the royal crest was unfurled and flying, held by the front rider. The Macduffs had joined William primarily because they despised the Robertsons and everything they stood for, including the uprising.
Darach knew they had no time. Fraser Macduff’s men were approaching quickly, and they were vastly outnumbered.
“They’re just over the next hilltop, my laird,” Kenn said as he drew up his horse in front of Darach. “They’ll outnumber us about six tae one, and they’ll have more men riding over that hill when they hear the sounds of battle. I say we ride for sanctuary.”
Darach smiled and turned his horse to his brother. “What say ye, Morven? Do we try tae make a run for it?”
Morven’s eyes darted to the woods, then back to the fast-approaching men. “It doesnae look like we’d make it on time. They’d ken what we’re trying tae do and cut us off, maybe even trap us there.” Morven pointed at a valley hinged between two close hills. “Besides… Robertsons dinnae run from battle.”
“Aye! Ye may be right about that, brother.”
“Nay! These lot have been looking for this opportunity since the ravine incident. Revenge will be on their minds. And ye two are too valuable tae the cause. This is too dangerous, my laird.”
Darach glanced at the approaching troops, then back at Kenn.
“We cannae outrun them,” Kenn repeated. “Ye ken that.”
There would be no time for an elaborate plan, and in truth, Darach had no desire for one. He’d seen the leverage he could give his army of five already.
“We get between that boulder and back out the other side, and then we fight!” Darach said to his men.
Morven and the other two men thrust their swords into the air, their battle cries resounding across the land. Darach urged his horse forward, and the two galloped down the hill. When they climbed the rise, he called for them to stop as they stared down at the assembled troops of twenty men.
Darach scanned the Macduff soldiers until his gaze fell on their commander.
Ramsay Macduff was there, fully armored and ready for battle. He was the third Macduff son, and he’d only been alive for twenty summers.
As Darach had thought, the young captain took one look at the group of five and decided his men could take them on. He urged his troops up the hill immediately. Darach waited until they were halfway up before turning to his men.
“Roll the largest stones down on them,” he shouted to his men. Then he glanced sideways at his brother. “Ready?”
“My blade always thirsts for the blood of our enemies,” Morven muttered.
Darach’s nostrils flared. “Then let us quench that thirst.” He turned to the other men and rotated his sword in his hand. “Let it be done.”
The men pushed at the boulders on the hill, sending the stones crashing down on their pursuers. A stone knocked several of the Macduff men off their saddles, causing them to screech in surprise. Darach could sense the men’s shock and fear in their screams.
The Macduff men couldn’t decide whether to attack or escape, a quarter of them having already been injured by the boulders. Darach took unholy pleasure in the fact that they hadn’t anticipated this turn of events.
He sprinted down the hill on his horse, letting out a great battle cry, and his men quickly followed. The noise echoed through the valley once more. The Robertsons descended like hellfire, their savage cries stirring the souls of the dead.
He glanced back to check on his men. Morven and Kenn were effortlessly cutting through Ramsay’s men, and the rest of his soldiers appeared to be doing the same.
Darach set his sights on Ramsay, who still hadn’t dismounted his horse. The captain stood back, watching his men and barking orders.
Darach pressed onward to reach the young captain, taking down any man standing in his way. He raised his broadsword to deflect one man’s attack and dispatched him with a slice through the chest. With a swift swing of his sword, the air turned crimson with blood, and the body landed with a sickening thud into another of the carcasses behind him.
The last soldier between them cast a wary glance at Darach before returning his gaze to Ramsay. After witnessing Darach single-handedly slaughter several men in a row, he turned and ran. Ramsay’s remaining confidence seemed to vanish as a fearful expression crossed his face.
Ramsay suddenly spun away, spurring his horse to race across the field, away from his men and the battle. Darach heard a sound from behind him and quickly lifted his sword to thwart another attack. He swung his heavy weapon about his head and slashed downward, and the soldier buckled under the blow, toppling to the ground with a screech of pain.
Darach turned back to see that Ramsay Macduff had disappeared behind the hills—over which many more soldiers poured out in scores, battle cries filling the humid air as their horses sprinted toward the Robertson five.
“God, it is a trap!” He clenched his teeth in rage. Coward! Bloody cowards, these lot! Darach knew there was no way they could win this.
He lowered his sword slowly and looked around at the dying battle. Some Macduff men were dead, while others were dying across the landscape. Some ran around on foot, while others rode their horses over the hills, attempting to encircle Darach’s soldiers. Ramsay reappeared over the hill, rallying his men to their cause.
“We have tae leave, brother!”
Morven was only echoing Darach’s thoughts. He could see that his two foot soldiers were bleeding already, one with a gash on his head and the other on his shoulder. They couldn’t keep up the fight.
“Aye! Yer brother is right,” Kenn said. “We should ride for the lands of MacThomas.”
“He’s nae a friend,” Darach shouted, dancing through enemy bodies as he swung his sword in deadly arcs.
“He’s nae a foe either! And he hates the Macduffs and the king almost as much as ye. He’d give us protection.”
“I need nae man’s protection, Kenn!”
“Och, for heaven’s sake!” Kenn lamented, his breath heavy from the labor of fighting. He hacked at a soldier standing between him and Darach, and rushed to face the laird.
“Ye’re too important tae lose, my laird. The whole rebellion rests on yer shoulders!”
He was right. Darach hated losing battles, but this was one he couldn’t win. He nodded to Kenn and ordered his men to retreat.
Darach yelled his orders, but did not follow them. He urged Kenn to take the lead, and he and his brother turned to protect the men and give them time to ride to safety. They fought valiantly in their rear, providing cover for Kenn and the others to escape. His brother joined him, his sword swinging hard and fast, hacking away at the canvas of Macduff flesh.
Their assailants slunk back in fear of the hungry swords flashing through the air, and Darach made the best of the reprieve. He whistled his horse to gallop down into the trees, with his brother riding hard beside him.
The last thing he saw was the surprise glittering in Ramsay’s eyes as he watched the two Robertson brothers ride off.
The sound of the birds outside was muffled by the heavy brocade curtains of the castle room. Jane MacThomas pushed aside a lock of her long, golden hair. She continued watching her image in the looking glass while she dressed for the evening meal, staring at a new freckle on her nose that had not been there the day before. It was a busy evening in the castle as usual, and Jane knew her sister was being dressed by a maid in her room too. Aileen would soon come to summon her to the great hall.
Her father, Keith MacThomas, was probably waiting in the large hall downstairs already. Despite the constant battle between the Jacobites and the loyal clans to the king, he had made it a point to always share a meal with his family. It was one of the traditions that made things seem like all was still normal. Nestled as they were in the woods on the southern coast of Scotland, the MacThomas clan had sworn themselves to neutrality long ago. Keith MacThomas knew that the time of non-intervention would end soon enough, and he’d been meeting his councilmen often to discuss that.
Still, they’d not come to any conclusions.
Jane understood somewhat how difficult her father’s position was. Keith would rather be a laird of peace and oversee the lands of their clan quietly, but this was a time of war. And he had grown tired of ruling the clan for years.
Jane knew that if he could, he would have given up the keep and the weight of rulership. He was no longer interested in the clan since he had no sons. His health had deteriorated in recent years, and he preferred viewing the lands from the castle’s peaceful perch to sitting on the high-backed seat and ruling over the council.
Keith MacThomas was a changed man from the laird Jane had known when she was younger. She used to be her father’s favorite. He’d taught her to ride horses, how to use a sword, and he had even gotten her a blade for her birthday. But these days, she barely existed for him. He preferred to spend his time with Aileen, whose looks reminded him of the love he had lost.
It had been twelve years since their mother had died on a balmy day in spring, killed by a mysterious disease that the physician couldn’t put a name to—a week after Jane had met the fortune teller at the market.
Jane recalled the day of her death like it was yesterday. She had stood by her father while Aileen slept on a pallet in the corner of the room. She had been looking at him with worry—her father had been filled with anguish and misery as he watched his wife’s life ebb away.
In those final moments, Mirren had told him in a raspy voice that it was Jane’s fault—the words still echoing in her ears every time silence surrounded her.
“I’m paying for yer sins”, Mirren had whispered with her last breath.
Her father had never understood what she had meant, but had chosen to believe the cruel words—blaming his daughter for his wife’s death, instilling an unbearable guilt into Jane’s soul.
Her hand slipped to her bosom, her thumb tracing a familiar path over the smooth surface of the scar on her chest. Staring at her reflection, she whispered the words she’d recited since that night, when she had decided her mother was right—that she was indeed a cursed witchling.
“Yer heart is nae clean anymore, Jane. Ye are possessed.”
She’d decided then that she needed to purify it, so she’d dug a small letter knife into her chest in an attempt to remove her heart. Jane could still feel the searing pain and the trickle of blood before going numb. Aileen had discovered her nearly dead on the floor.
Jane turned to see Aileen standing in the door, already garbed in a delicate blue dress that must have been one of their mother’s.
“Aileen, ye’re already dressed.”
“Aye. And ye would be too if ye let yer maid dress ye up.”
Jane shook her head slowly. “Nay, I cannae.”
Aileen understood, her teary gaze shifting to the jagged scar on Jane’s chest who quickly tightened the ropes of her stays, covering the wound.
It was a reminder of her cursed soul as well as a symbol of who she was and the powers she still possessed.
She had never spoken of her powers to anyone else after her mother, afraid they would die just like she had. The power was a curse, but because of it, she knew who she could and could not trust. She’d grown so familiar with the gift over the years that she could even control the voices in her head.
It was now just a tired curse, one she would have to bear for the rest of her life.
Jane finished dressing and turned to her sister. “Father is waiting?”
“Aye, he is. There are whispers that we have guests tonight, and they’ll be sitting with us in the great hall.”
“Who are these guests?”
“I heard that they’re travelers, and two of them are wounded and being cared for by the healers. Greer told me naething else. But she’s promised tae ask the other maids for me.”
Jane frowned as she escorted her sister out of the room and down the hall. Greer was not only Aileen’s maid, but also her sister’s closest friend. Jane had spent no time with the lass, but she thought she was kind enough.
Jane wondered about the visitors so she stopped one of the servants who were animatedly running through the corridors.
“Hamish, tell me, who are the guests that have come to visit the laird?”
The cook’s boy bowed his head quickly, shaking his mane of dark hair. “I have nae set eyes on the men, my lady.”
Lies. He tells lies.
Jane willed the voice away, letting the boy go without questioning him and walked into the hall with her sister.
Her father looked up from his seat, and immediately rose upon seeing them. The men in the room followed suit, all three of them. Jane’s eyes caught the one who sat closest to her father. He was a beast of a man, with a long mane of golden hair.
“And these are my lasses, Laird Robertson, Jane and Aileen.”
The golden-haired man approached Jane and kissed her outstretched hand. He was handsome, so much so that she forgot she shouldn’t stare in such a way at any man, especially on their first encounter.
Nonetheless, all rational thought had vanished from her mind. His hair was dark blond and long, and the lower half of his face was covered in thick dark stubble. His face was exquisite—handsome yet unnerving. The mysterious glint in his eye and his small smirk indicated that this was a man who was used to getting his way.
Jane could feel her insides coiling. In his tall and muscular body, this man resembled a fallen angel who acknowledged his superiority to the men around him.
“A pleasure tae meet you, my lady,” he purred. “Yer faither never mentioned ye tae be the bonniest of women.”
Jane waited in her mind for the familiar hiss, but there was none. There was no yelling about lies or the peace she felt when someone told her the truth. For the first time, she couldn’t tell whether the man had lied or not.
Her power was not working on him.
Her heart started to pound. This was him, the herald of doom to the daughter of truth. This was the man the Nicnevin had told her about all those years ago.
Their eyes met, and in their dark depths, Jane could see things that scared her. Her death was waiting for her. And this handsome devil was all that stood between it and her.
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