THE FIRE HAD gone out again. No wonder Perrin Thomas’s hands and feet had turned into lumps of ice. Even before she’d been starved half to death she’d always gotten chilled easily. In her own time, she would have had central heat, an electric blanket, cuddly pajamas, and fuzzy socks to keep her warm. Here in the fourteenth century she had a scratchy wool blanket, borrowed clothes that felt like burlap, and an ancient fireplace that wouldn’t stay lit.
Rowan would know how to build a fire with two rocks and some twigs. And keep it burning. In her sleep.
Perrin had always depended on her strong, capable younger sister to handle any sort of trouble, but she couldn’t do that anymore. She’d told Rowan she could take care of herself. Here in the subterranean refuge of Dun Mor, the hidden stronghold of the Skaraven Clan, she was on her own.
“I can do this,” she muttered as she pushed herself out of bed. She yelped as a sharp piece of straw poked up through the ticking and scratched her backside. Jolting to her feet, she turned and swatted the mattress. “Stop attacking me.”
Outside in the hall, heavy footsteps thudded, and the door to her chamber burst open. The big, dark-haired man who came in held a longsword only slightly less intimidating than the fury in his black eyes. The tightly-muscled wall of his bare chest heaved as he scanned the room, and then regarded her.
“Who dares harm you, my lady?” Kanyth Skaraven demanded.
“It’s the bed,” she said, hating how whispery and helpless her voice sounded. But with all that man-chest in her face she could hardly breathe. Ever since she’d come here she’d been fascinated by the weapons master—so much so that she kept having erotic dreams about him. “Uh, the stuffing stabbed me.”
“Indeed.” Slowly the massive warrior lowered his blade as he peered at her. “Show me this wound.”
“That’s okay. I’m fine.” She took a step back. “You can go back to, ah, whatever you were doing.”
“Brennus sent me to guard you,” Kanyth said as he sheathed his blade and loomed over her. His powerful body heat enveloped her trembling form in an invisible embrace. “Show me where you’re hurt, lass, that I may comfort you.”
Unfortunately, nothing about the big man made that possible. Up close he smelled of hot cinnamon and cloves, as if he sweated spices. She’d never seen such a perfect face on a guy, as though he’d been laser-sculpted from some flawless marble. His hair fascinated her, like some mass of polished onyx mysteriously spun into midnight threads. A faint blue light glowed along the lines of the primitive tattoos on his chest. Perrin felt herself swaying toward him and stumbled back another step.
“I’m comfortable,” she said, her voice tight. She gulped as he put his big, scarred hands on her shoulders. Now he was touching her, and she shook so hard she’d probably break into a million pieces. “Really, I am.”
“I think no’,” Kanyth murmured. “You’ve naught but yourself here…and me.”
He moved one palm down the length of her back, and then cupped the stinging curve of her scratched buttock.
“Um, okay,” she managed to whisper. The sensual caress made her skin heat up until she thought she’d combust. But wait. What was that sound? Was she moaning? “Please, what are you doing?”
“All that you secretly desire,” Kanyth crooned as he leaned down, touching his lean cheek to hers. “For you’re my wench.”
He kept saying that but he began shaking her.
“If you dinnae awake, wench,” a much deeper, annoyed voice said, “I’ll call the shaman to pour one of his wretched potions down your gullet.”
Perrin’s eyes flew open to see a brightly-burning fireplace, a bowl of porridge under her nose and a frowning rugged face hovering over her. It took a moment before she realized she’d dozed off again.
“Yes? I mean, yes. I’m comfortable. I mean, very cozy.” Ignoring whatever was still stabbing her in the butt, she beamed at the Scotsman. “I’m fine.”
“Oh, aye, for a hank of hair and bones,” Kelturan said. The Skaraven’s chief cook fussed with the wool blanket covering her legs before he pushed the bowl into her hands. “Eat, or I shall toss you in my pottage kettle.”
She nodded and even took a spoonful to satisfy the grouchy cook, although it tasted like lumpy paste. Once he trudged back to the kitchens she glanced around to see if anyone in the great hall was watching her. Dozens of big Skaraven warriors ate quietly. They sat around the enormous table shared by the clan for meals. Armed sentries occupied positions by every entrance, their eyes watchful. Three more towering men stood listening to Brennus, their chieftain, who appeared to be issuing orders.
Perrin set aside the porridge and started to relax until she saw the silhouette of the man standing by the back wall, the one who looked like a polished, refined version of the chieftain. He had the same glittering black eyes, and he was definitely watching her, but not in a protective, I’m-guarding-you way. No, Kanyth Skaraven always looked at her as if she were an uninteresting child. Which, considering the fact that he was an immortal highland warrior with some sort of scary superpower no one talked about, seemed apt.
Oh, God, had she been talking in her sleep? What if he’d heard her? Or everyone had? She’d die of embarrassment. Just die.
Her face flooded with painful heat as she ducked her head and reached under her hip. She pulled out Emeline McAra’s wooden knitting needles, and what appeared to be a scarf the nurse had been making. She hadn’t looked in the chair when she’d come up from her room and sat down by the fire to warm her frozen feet. At least that explained part of the dream.
Perrin tried to eat a little more of the pasty porridge, but the familiar morning headache began to pound inside her skull. Absently she rubbed her temple, wishing she could get over the caffeine withdrawal. She’d always needed at least two cups to wake up properly, but the nearest Starbucks was seven hundred years away. Of all the reasons that tempted her to go back, vanilla latte sat at the top of the list.
“What ails you, my lady?”
Perrin froze and looked up into narrowed black eyes. She had to say something to Kanyth or he’d make a fuss. Then everyone would come over and she’d be the center of attention. Again.
“Nothing,” she lied.
The weapons master crouched down to her eye level. “Lady Althea told us you’ve visions of what shall come. Have they again begun?”
Of course, her former ability to see things in the future would be the only reason Kanyth spoke to her. But the visions hadn’t come since Lily had conked her on the head to keep her from doing something brave and stupid. She should tell him that her ability would probably never work again. But no, instead she sat like a silent lump in front of the man, who looked even more gorgeous close up. Too close for Perrin’s personal space issues, her shyness locked up her throat and threw away the key.
He scowled. “Shall I summon Ruadri?”
Perrin would talk to Kanyth, right now, because this was ridiculous. She took in a deep, slow breath as she tried to calm down. She should have gotten over this exasperating anxiety years ago. A grown woman who had survived being yanked back in time by crazy magic people and their horrible abuse and weeks of starvation should be able to speak a couple of words. Especially to one of the nice men who protected her now. Only he was leaning in, and she’d squeak or stutter or make him believe she was even more of a nitwit than he thought.
She cringed back and shook her head.
Kanyth stood, looking as frustrated as she felt. “Mayhap you’d feel easier with one of the ladies.”
I’d feel better if you held my hand and waited and let me breathe through this, Perrin thought. Then maybe I’d tell you that I want to do something to help find the mad druids. I know how much you and the clan need to stop them, and make sure they can never hurt anyone again. Or maybe I’d tell you that I’ve been dreaming about you every time I close my eyes. And that’s really scaring me, because maybe the visions have come back, but as dreams, and you’re part of them. Or maybe I’d say that somehow I’m meant to be with you. But that would mean you’d have to want me instead of looking at me like a boring kid.
All she could do was shake her head again.
Heat flared in his black eyes, and for a terrible moment she thought he might start yelling at her. She’d seen that Brennus had a very short temper, and as his half-brother Kanyth probably had the same or worse. As she cringed, however, his expression grew chilly.
“I shall leave you, then.” He inclined his head and walked away.
Perrin guessed he was going to the forge, where he spent most days turning iron into weapons and whatever else the clan needed. She watched him until he frowned back at her, and then averted her gaze until he’d gone.
He didn’t want her. She annoyed him. Or maybe, like everyone else, he felt sorry for her.
Not that she could blame him, Perrin thought, as she rubbed her burning eyes. When her fingers came away wet she felt even worse. She rarely wept, but with the rescue and the sexy dreams and her idiot bashfulness she could probably use a good cry. For that she’d have to go back to her room, however, and that didn’t appeal at all. She’d been hiding away there too long already, feeling sorry for herself while she avoided Kanyth and the clan.
This had to stop. Now.
Going back to where she belonged—her own time—seemed like the sensible move. Doubtless she’d lost her spot on the show tour, but Perrin had enough savings to last while she got back into shape for auditions. But she’d have to go alone. Since coming here Emeline McAra, Althea Jarden and Lily Stover had fallen in love with and married Skaraven men, so they had no interest in returning to the twenty-first century. Rowan wouldn’t leave until they found a way to stop the mad druids and their giants.
She’d be sad to leave her friends, but the prospect of putting seven hundred years between her and her sister made her feel sick. What if Rowan never came back to the future? Their adoptive mother, Marion, had died, and they had no other family. Perrin wouldn’t have anyone left who cared what happened to her.
No. As long as Rowan stayed, so would she.
She didn’t need the weapons master’s sympathy, either. Thanks to weeks of regular meals Perrin no longer looked like an unstuffed scarecrow. Aside from the morning headaches she felt fine. Maybe she couldn’t look into the future anymore, but she could try to help out in other ways. She knew how to sew and mend things by hand. She might wash dishes or chop vegetables, and she could certainly use a broom. No one would expect her to socialize if she were sweeping out the hall.
A curvy shadow fell across the blanket. “Having a fair morning, lass?”
Perrin glanced up and smiled with relief. “As fair as it gets.”
Of all the women who had been dragged back in time with her, Perrin felt most at ease with Emeline. The Scottish nurse’s empathy gift made her radiate constant, gentle warmth. Even better, she could use her power to calm the emotions of others. With her glossy black hair, crystal blue eyes and flawless alabaster skin she also resembled a fairytale princess. Her gorgeous curves sometimes made Perrin feel like a walking stick, but Emeline never made fun of her for being so skinny.
What the nurse had done was look after Perrin and the other women as if they were her sisters. She’d treated their bruised spirits as well as their many wounds, giving them hope instead of giving up. Just after being rescued by the Skaraven, however, Emeline had come down with some kind of evil empathic infection. After going a little crazy and attacking Perrin’s sister, the nurse had disappeared along with the clan’s shaman, Ruadri Skaraven.
Perrin still felt a little ashamed for thinking Rowan had probably deserved it. Her sister tended to bring out the worst in everyone.
The nurse eyed her unfinished bowl. “Not feeling hungry?”
“I’m not exactly a porridge person.” She held up the knitting things she’d squashed. “I didn’t see this when I sat down. Did I ruin it?”
“Och, no. I shouldn’t have left it there.” Emeline took the needles and wool and tucked them into a basket beside the chair. “I thought I’d see how you are before I leave. I’m going to the midlands for a few days.”
“I’m good.” Perrin knew the nurse had been making regular trips to see the pregnant wife of Laird Maddock McAra, a close mortal ally of the Skaraven, and one of Emeline’s ancestors. “Is Lady Elspeth still having a hard time?”
Emeline nodded. “The poor thing can hardly keep anything down. She could be suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum—extreme morning sickness,” she tacked on. “But it’s still a bit early to worry on that. I think these attacks on the midland villages have her nerves frayed lately. Or the laird is somehow vexing her. Even on his good days Maddock can be exasperating.”
While the nurse talked about her friends, Perrin started to think. As immortals the Skaraven didn’t suffer from illness, and could heal almost any wound with water. They certainly didn’t need a nurse. Still, Emeline had found a way to help out by tending to the McAra’s wife. Just like Althea, who managed the stronghold’s supplies, and Lily, who now ran the kitchens with Kelturan. Even Rowan spent every day working in the stables with Taran Skaraven, the clan’s horse master. Everyone had a job.
“Can I go with you?” Perrin asked on impulse. “I’d love to meet the McAra.” When she saw the doubt in the other woman’s eyes she added quickly, “I won’t be any trouble, I promise.”
“You never are, Perr.” Emeline sighed. “But I travel by water now, and the river’s very cold.”
“I can stand it for a few seconds, and bring dry clothes with me.” She got to her feet and took hold of the nurse’s hands. “Please, Emmie. I know I’m useless, but if I sit around here one more day I think I’ll cry. You know how the men hate weeping women. They’ll throw me out in the horrible snowy woods, and I’ll stumble into the time portal, and then–”
“Oh, aye, been there, done that.” Emeline chuckled. “Very well, my lass. Let’s go and coax a travel keg from Althea.”