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September 2008, New York City
The roar of human pain awoke her.
Brianna Rose sat bolt upright, awoken from a deep sleep, horrified by the sound. It was filled with rage and anguish and disbelief. And then the pain cut through her.
She doubled over in her bed, clutching herself as if someone had actually slid a butcher's knife through her chest. For one moment, she could not breathe. She had never experienced that kind of anguish in her twenty-six years. Panting hard, she prayed for the pain to end. Then, suddenly, it did.
But as the torment vanished abruptly, a man's handsome image flared in her mind.
A new, terrible tension began. Carefully, Brie sat upright, shaken and stunned. Her loft was silent, except for the sounds of the cars and cabs driving by outside on the street, and the accompaniment of blaring horns. She trembled, glancing at her bedside clock. It was ten after one in the morning. What had just happened?
All the Rose women were empathic to one degree or another. Their empathy was supposed to be a gift, but too often it was a curse, like now. She had been consumed with another human being's pain. Something terrible had just happened, and she could not shake the dark, handsome image she'd just seen from her mind.
Brie trembled, tossing aside the covers. Was Aidan in trouble?
She became very still, her mouth dry, her heart thundering. She'd met him exactly a year ago, perhaps for two whole minutes. Her best friend, Allie, had been missing for weeks and she'd returned briefly to New Yorkfrom the Middle Ageswith Aidan's help.
He was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. Allie had explained about the secret Brotherhood and the men belonging to it, men who called themselves the Masters of Time. All were sworn before God to defend mankind from the evil in the night. Brie hadn't been surprisedthere had been rumors of such warriors for as long as she could remember. In fact, like Allie, she and her cousins, Tabby and Sam, had been thrilled that the whispers were reality.
Brianna had no personal delusions. He was absolutely unforgettable, but she knew a man like that would never look at a woman like her twiceor think about her twice, either. She didn't blame him. She didn't even mind.
She was really good at wearing baggy clothes to hide her curves, and she never wore her contacts. Her eyeglasses were downright ugly. She knew that if she had her dark hair cut and styled properly, if she dressed fashionably and wore makeup, she'd probably look exactly like her mother, Anna Rose.
Brie had no desire to resemble her beautiful, passionate and rebellious mother in any way. Anna had been that rare Rose woman who had not been handed down any gifts. She had been destructive, not constructive; her touch and beauty damaged instead of helped others. In the end, she had hurt those she loved the most, and she had destroyed not only her own family, but herself. Brie didn't want to recall finding her mother dead on the kitchen floor, shot by her jealous boyfriend, with her father weeping over Anna's body. Being a retiring nerd was way better than following in Anna's footsteps.
But Brie had other gifts, making her a lot less nerdy than she appeared. She had been gifted with the Sight. It was the greatest gift a Rose woman could have, handed down from grandmother to grandchild. Brie had been terrified of her visions at first, but Grandma Sarah had explained that the Sight was a precious gift, one meant to be cherished. It was a great resource, meant to help people, which the Rose women were destined to doand had been doing for hundreds of years. Grandma Sarah had taught her almost everything she knew about good, evil and life.
By now Brie was almost accustomed to the wiles of Fate. Life wasn't easy and it wasn't fair, and the good died young every single day. She didn't blame Anna for her uncontrollable passions. She knew Anna hadn't been able to help herself. She'd resented her sisters for having their gifts and their lives, and her own simple marriage hadn't been enough for her. She'd been an unhappy woman. She had been selfish, but not crueland certainly not evil. She hadn't deserved an early death.
It was all ancient history. Dad had remarriedthe best thing that ever could have happened to him. Anna was dead and buried, but not forgotten. Brie was determined to be as solid, dependable and trustworthy as her mother was not. Her life was helping others, giving selflesslyperhaps to make up for all the hurt Anna had inflicted. She was thrilled to be employed by the Center for Demonic Activity, a secret government agency dedicated to the war on evil. There, she fought dark forces throughout the ages from the basement, at a computer.
Her cousins claimed she was doing her best to hide from men. They were right. The last thing she wanted was for a man to notice her. She would probably die a virgin, and it didn't matter.
Aidan hadn't noticed her, she was certain, but she had taken one look at him and had fallen hard. She was hopelessly infatuated. She thought about him every day, dreamed about him at night and had even spent hours on the Web, reading about the medieval Highlands. The Rose women came from the northern Highlands originally, so she'd always been fascinated with Scotland's history, but now she foolishly hoped to learn more about him. When he'd brought Allie back to the city from 1430, he'd appeared to be about twenty-five years old. Allie had returned to her lover, Black Royce, at Carrick Castle in Morvern. Brie wished she'd asked her friend about Aidan, but their visit had been too brief. So she kept returning to Carrick's history, yearning for a mention of a man named Aidan, but that was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Still, there were many references to the powerful Earl of Morvern and his fair Lady of Carrick. Brie was thrilled. Even across time, she knew Allie and Royce were fulfilling their destinies together.
She would probably never learn anything about Aidan, and she was sensible enough to realize it, but that didn't stop her crush. A fantasy was harmless. She hadn't even tried to talk herself out of it. If she was going to fall head over heels in love and never act on it, why not do so with someone absolutely unattainable? Aidan, a medieval Highlander with the power to time travel and a mandate to protect Innocence, was a really, really safe bet.
Brie was feeling sick now. It was one thing to have visions and empathy, but she had just heard Aidan roaring in anguish, as if he'd been in the same room with her. How close by was he?
What had happened to him?
Afraid he was in the city, and hurt, Brie got up. She was clad in a simple pink tank top and briefs. It was Indian summer, and even at night it was warm and humid. She hurried across her large, shadowy loft, hitting lights as she went. She'd half expected Aidan to be present, maybe unconscious in the shadows and sprawled out on her floor, but the loft was empty.
At her front door, which was triple locked and had multiple alarms, she peered through the peephole into the hall. It was lit and empty, too.
Her loft was thoroughly fortified with Tabby's spells and prayers and Brie wore a Celtic cross that she never took off. A small page from the Book handed down through generations of Rose women was also framed and nailed to her door to keep evil out. But Brie said a silent prayer to the long-ago gods, anyway.
She could feel evil, very close by, drifting about the streets, preying upon anyone foolish enough to defy Bloomberg's voluntary curfew. But she didn't want to think about the city's problems now. She had to somehow find Aidan and make sure he was okay. Maybe Tabby and Sam could make heads or tails out of this. The other person who would probably have a clue was her boss, Nick Forrester, but she was hesitant to call him. She kept a very low profile at CDA. He knew nothing about her giftsor her cousins and their extracurricular activities.
Brie grabbed the phone as she went to her computer and began logging onto HCU's immense database. The Historical Crimes Unit was a part of CDA. She spent her daysand even her nightslooking through two centuries of case files, searching for historic coincidences. Her job was to find matches between their current targets and demons operating in the past. It was amazing how many demons terrorizing the country today came from past centuries.
Because searching for coincidences involved comparisons with active cases, she had access to current criminal investigations, including federal, state and local NYPD records. Multitasking, Brie began to search for the most recent reported criminal activities as she dialed her cousins' number. She pictured Aidan lying hurt on a dark, slick city street, but she knew it was only her imagination responding to her worst fears.
Tabby answered, sounding as if she'd been deeply asleep. She'd divorced well over a year ago. It had taken her a long time to recover from her husband's infidelity, and she had just begun dating again. But she was very conservative, and Brie had expected her to be alone and asleep.
"I really need your help," Brie said swiftly.
"Brie, what is it?" Tabby was instantly awake.
"Aidan is in troubleand I think he's nearby."
Tabby paused and Brie felt her trying to recall just who Aidan was. "You don't mean the Highlander who brought Allie back last year?"
"I do," Brie whispered.
"Can this wait until morning?" Tabby asked.
It wasn't safe for anyone to tool around the city after dark. "I don't think so," Brie said grimly. "It wasn't a vision, Tabby. I felt his pain. He's in troubleright now."
Tabby was silent, and Brie heard Sam in the background, asking what was wrong. The sisters shared a loft just a few blocks away. "We'll be right over," Tabby said.
Brie hung up, slipped on her jeans and sat down to seriously go over the cases she'd pulled. She was immersed in files when the doorbell rang twenty minutes later. She'd found nothing, and she supposed that was a relief. What she didn't want to find was a dead victim with Aidan's description. For all she knew, though, he was immortal. She hoped so.
Maybe the worst was over, she thought as she went to let the girls in. Maybe he'd gone back in time, where he belonged.
Tabby entered first, a willowy blonde in slacks and a silk tank top who always looked as if she were on her way to or from the country club. No one would ever guess from looking at her that Tabby was an earth mother. Sam followed, shockingly gorgeous even with her short-cropped platinum hairbut then, she had a Lara Croft from Tomb Raider body. Brie admired her immensely because she was so fearless and so open about her sexuality. She happened to know that Sam's messenger bag was loaded with weapons, and she carried a stiletto strapped to her thigh beneath the denim miniskirt she wore. On anybody else it might be corny, but on Sam it was darned serious.
Tabby took one look at Brie and rushed to hug her. "You are so worried!"
Sam closed and locked the door. "Did you find anything?" she asked, nodding at the computer.
"He's probably gone back to his time," Brie said. She wet her lips, aware of an absurd disappointment.
"Don't look so happy about it," Sam said wryly, striding across the loft to the computer and peering at the screen. "I don't think a man like that is easily hurt."
"I think he was tortured. I have never felt so much pain," Brie said.
Sam didn't look up from the screen, scrolling through files she had no right to view.
Tabby put her arm around Brie. "You're so pale. Are you all right?"
"I'll survive," Brie said, forcing a smile.
"Are you sure it was Aidan?" Tabby asked, rather unnecessarily, as Sam sat down at the desk. Tabby glanced at the poster from the movie The Highlander, which Brie had framed and hung on her living-room wall, her amber gaze narrowing.
"One hundred percent. I saw him as clear as day. It wasn't a vision, but it wasn't my imagination, either. I can't empathize across time. I certainly can't hear someone cry out from far away. He was here, close by. He was hurt. Really, really hurt." Brie trembled, feeling sick again.
"If he's hurt and in the city, we'll find him," Sam said firmly.
Brie felt reassured. Sam always got what she wanted.
"When did you put that poster up?" Tabby asked.
Brie blinked at her. "I don't remember," she lied, flushing.
Tabby stared. Then she moved toward the living area. "Well, this looks to be an all-nighter," she said cheerfully. "It's almost three in the morning, and I don't think any of us will make it back to bed." She began laying out her mother's crystals on the coffee table.
And the roar of anguish began again, deafening Brie. She gasped, stunned by the bellow of rage. Her hands flew automatically to her ears. His pain sent her down to the floor, where she doubled over, crushed by it, consumed by it imprisoned by it. This time, the sensation was unbearable.
Oh my God, what's happening to Aidan? Is he being tortured?
"Brie!" Tabby screamed.
Vaguely, she was aware of Tabby holding her, but it didn't matter.
Brie knew they were ripping his heart out now. They were ripping her heart out. She wept in Tabby's arms, her world spinning with shocking force and then going black.
Aidan, she somehow thought. He was dying from the torture, and she was dying, too.
Nick Forrester sat at his computer in his night-darkened living room, clad only in his jeans. He'd completely forgotten about the leggy blonde who lay asleep in his bed. In fact, he couldn't recall her name. He'd picked her up outside the Korean grocery, and maybe he hadn't ever known the name. It was late, but he didn't need more than a few hours of sleepespecially not after a long round of sex, which he found energizing. Sex always empowered him.