Highland Guardian (Daughters of the Glen Series #2)by Melissa Mayhue
Ian McCullough is neck-deep in his own trouble. A half-mortal descendant of Faeries, he's been a Guardian for more than six hundred years, but he's never encountered a woman like Sarah. Assigned to protect her, he finds the job tougher than he could have imagined. Oh, he can handle the stalker, and even the renegade Faeries trying to kidnap her. But falling in love… See more details below
Ian McCullough is neck-deep in his own trouble. A half-mortal descendant of Faeries, he's been a Guardian for more than six hundred years, but he's never encountered a woman like Sarah. Assigned to protect her, he finds the job tougher than he could have imagined. Oh, he can handle the stalker, and even the renegade Faeries trying to kidnap her. But falling in love means forsaking his role as Guardian -- which is some-thing he could never do.
But there is no denying the passion that exists between two souls fated to be together.
Read an Excerpt
"The threat is over." Dallyn bowed to the assembled Fae dignitaries, long blond hair sweeping across his shoulders at the movement.
"Not over," Darnee corrected, her green eyes flashing in his direction. "Only suspended for the
moment. The threat will never be over as long as a single Nuadian lives."
Dallyn acknowledged her point with a slight nod. "Granted, but we have disabled most of the Portals. A guard has been set round the Fountain of Souls."
"We must do more. The souls on the Mortal Plain are still at risk. The Nuadians can gain limited amounts of the energy they seek by releasing souls from the Mortals' bodies. Without access to the Fountain, that will be their next logical target."
"The Fae can no longer fight on the Mortal Plain. You know that." Dallyn scowled.
"True. But they can gain control of weak Mortals,
ones who will gladly carry out the destruction they desire. We must guard against that eventuality."
"What would you suggest, my child?" The woman seated at the center of the great table spoke up.
"Guardians, Earth Mother, placed at each of the remaining Portals." Darnee turned to the woman who had asked the question. "Guardians drawn from the Mortal Plain itself."
"How can Mortals possibly defend against Fae? Our kind can only be seen by Mortals when we choose." Dallyn faced her directly now.
"Not ordinary Mortals. Mortals who share Fae blood." She arched an eyebrow, scanning the assemblage. "Many of our kind have half-Mortal offspring."
A low murmur spread through the room.
"This is true, Daughter." The Earth Mother frowned. "Our people have not always demonstrated proper restraint in their dealings with the Mortal race. Many of these offspring exist and the numbers will continue to grow through the generations. Even a small amount of Fae blood would allow them to see us. But most are unacknowledged. How would you find them?"
"I will seek them out."
"I agree that they would suit well, Darnee." Dallyn shrugged. "But Mortals have such short life spans. They would barely learn their task before their time would be at an end."
"That's another advantage of their Fae blood. They'll already be longer lived. And we can easily enhance that by exposing them to the Fountain of Souls. The energy will add many centuries to their time."
Dallyn rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I see the merit of this plan. It could work. And many of them may carry gifts bestowed by their bloodline."
"Exactly." Darnee nodded in agreement. "Second sight, extra strength, other perceptions unusual in the Mortal Plain. All of these things will make them easier to identify and more capable of the task."
"I can see you've given this proposition a great deal of thought." The Earth Mother looked around the assembled group. "We cannot allow the Nuadians to disrupt the timelines of the souls on the Mortal Plain. We know firsthand the chaos that brings. Forcing too many of them from their chosen bodies before they are destined to leave could ultimately damage the very flow of time itself." She rose from her seat, lifting her hands to signal an end to the discontented murmur that swept the hall. "My decision is made. You two, Darnee and Dallyn, will share responsibility for choosing and training these Guardians. You will share oversight for their performance. Any questions? No? Then you will begin at once. There is no time to spare."
"Thank you, Earth Mother." The two bowed and hastily left the grand room, quietly discussing how to carry out their assignment.
Ian McCullough glared at the telephone receiver he had slammed into place. Nothing was going as planned this week. He needed to be in London, following up on the latest threat. Instead here he was at Thistle Down Manor, waiting to play innkeeper to some stressed-out American while Henry lay in a hospital bed recovering from knee-replacement surgery.
How many times had he tried to discourage Henry from renting out the cottage? He'd lost count decades ago.
"This one needs to be here, Ian," Henry had told him on the way to the hospital. "I know it displeases you when I let the cottage, but rarely does it have any impact on you or yer responsibilities."
"Well it does this time. Honestly, it isna like you need the income. I've seen to that many times over. These guests of yers always need watching. You know the primary responsibility is to protect the Portal."
Henry had given him a sheepish grin. "I know, I know. But I have my own gifts, and I canna ignore them. I could feel it when I spoke to this woman. I believe her soul has been wounded. The peace of Heather Cottage, and the nearness of the Portal, will do much to help her." He'd grimaced in pain as he shifted in his seat. "If no for this damn knee, I would no have troubled you with this." He'd smiled then, his wrinkled face reflecting his inner calm. "Dinna worry. I'll be up and around in a few days. Peter and Martha will be there to help keep an eye on her as well, and you can get back to the things you need to be about."
Ian continued to glare at the telephone, his dark eyes narrowing, as if that inanimate object held full responsibility for his latest problem. Peter and Martha. They were the only hired help at Thistle Down Manor, although they were more like family than employees. Peter had taken over the position of caretaker after his father retired. When he married Martha, she came to work there as well, as housekeeper and cook. They really did shoulder most of the day-to-day care of the grounds and house. And now they wouldn't be returning until early tomorrow morning.
Their daughter had gone into labor early this morning. Her husband's call had come out of the blue, so there had been no time to prepare the cottage for their guest's arrival before they left. Now, thanks to the weather, they were staying at the hospital overnight.
Just one more thing to complicate his life.
The intensity of the storm raging outside only added to Ian's irritation. The downpour that had begun hours ago would probably flood the valley below. That would most likely mean power failures again. From what little news he'd heard, the storm front was huge, extending north well beyond Glasgow.
Surely the American wouldn't try to navigate the narrow backroads in weather like this.
"Perhaps this storm is good news, after all," he mumbled to himself as he rummaged through the hall closet searching for the emergency supply of candles. He glanced at the clock. She was an hour past due. Chances were she had stayed in one of the larger cities once she'd run into the storm.
"Thank the Fates for that, at least." The very last thing he wanted was to deal with the vacationing American on his own. Now it appeared he wouldn't have to.
Ian smiled to himself, and, feeling somewhat relieved, he carried the candles back into the library. After building a large fire in the fireplace, he settled back into his favorite chair to read, relaxing for the first time all day.
Sarah Douglas slammed on her brakes to avoid the cows in front of her car. It wasn't the first time in the last three hours she'd almost collided with livestock. She had known driving would be a challenge here. After the first hour or so, even traveling on the wrong side hadn't been so bad. But since leaving the A76, she'd also had to contend with wandering animals and roads that were narrower than her driveway back home. By the time she added in the rain coming down in buckets for the last few hours, her nerves were almost completely frazzled.
Driving conditions alone would have been bad enough, but that was on top of twelve hours spent either on planes or in airports waiting for planes, not to mention the most horrible flight ever from Toronto to Glasgow. The woman seated next to her was traveling with two small children, one or the other of which was crying from the moment of takeoff until they'd landed. Sarah had literally been without sleep for more than twenty hours.
She should have stopped at one of the hotels she'd passed near the airport. Or even the one she'd noticed as she'd turned off the main highway, if you could call it that, at Dumfries. But she hadn't.
"Get a grip," she muttered, and then chuckled in spite of her circumstances.
Oh, she had a grip. On the steering wheel. So tight, in fact, that her fingers were starting to cramp.
Taking a deep breath, she consciously relaxed her hands and slowly accelerated as the last of the cows cleared a path in front of her.
It shouldn't be much farther now. Panic returned briefly as she again considered that she might be lost, but, taking another deep breath, she regained control.
The directions that nice Henry McCullough had emailed her were very thorough and she'd been careful. Well, except for starting off in the wrong direction when she'd left the airport. Once she'd gotten that figured out and headed back the right way, she'd been very careful. That little scenic detour had only increased her driving time by an hour or two.
It was simply exhaustion wreaking havoc with her emotions now. Exhaustion and the storm. And the dark. It was intensely dark. Between the late hour and the weather, she could only see those areas lit up by her headlights or brief flashes of lightning.
As if on cue, lightning sliced through the sky, striking directly ahead of Sarah's car. Illuminated in its flash was the figure of a man, staring straight at her, his face a mask of surprise. Once again she slammed on her brakes, but this time she accompanied the action with a scream, as her car began to slide slowly toward the man. He stood as if frozen for only a moment more before leaping -- actually leaping -- over her vehicle.
The automobile came to a gentle stop, nestled against a high rock wall. Breathing hard, Sarah peeled her fingers from the steering wheel and looked around. There was no man anywhere to be seen.
Closing her eyes, she let her head drop back to the headrest, the sound of her pounding heart filling her ears. He must have been a figment of her imagination. Real flesh-and-blood men did not leap over moving vehicles and then completely disappear.
Slowly she opened her eyes. Through the rivulets of rain running down her window, she read the plaque on the wall next to her. Thistle Down Manor. At least she wasn't lost.
The car, firmly stuck in the mud, refused to move either forward or back. Sarah turned off the ignition. The absence of noise from the engine only magnified the sound of rain beating on the metal above her head. Now what?
Choices and decisions. She could sit here all night, waiting to be rescued, or she could get out and walk.
How ironic. Wasn't that really what this whole trip was about, choices and decisions? After all those years of having no choices, of following others' decisions as was required of her, she'd finally chosen to change her life, to take charge. She'd decided for the first time in her life to embrace, rather than ignore, the intuitive feelings that had plagued her from childhood. It was one of those feelings, a driving need to do something before it was too late, that had landed her in this very spot.
Now it was time for her to act. Certainly not the most convenient time to realize that action doesn't come easily to a natural-born coward.
Peering through the gates, Sarah could faintly make out the looming form of an enormous old mansion, across a bridge and down a long drive. The little cottage she'd rented would be somewhere nearby on the estate, though she couldn't see any sign of it from where she sat.
The distance would make for a pleasant walk on any normal day. It didn't, however, look very pleasant right now. Of course, it wasn't a normal day. It was late at night in the middle of a storm. Not to mention the man she thought she'd seen earlier.
Taking one last look at the rain pouring outside the car, Sarah sighed and reached back for her shoulder bag and purse. Her choice made, she opened the door.
The rain's icy chill hit her as she emerged from the car. She'd left the headlights on to illuminate the path. The battery would be dead by morning, but that was the least of her worries right now. If that figment of her imagination showed up again, she wanted to see him coming since she doubted she would hear him over the noise of the storm.
She scanned the trees and shivered. The back of her neck prickled, as if eyes watched from those woods. The feeling grew in intensity and she started to run.
The bridge was much longer than it had looked, and not until she'd crossed over it did the panicky fear of being followed leave her. She stopped, leaning over to catch her breath. Glancing back, she saw nothing through the rain except the wavering glow of her headlights.
If this whole thing weren't so frightening, it would be funny.
Shifting the heavy bag on her shoulder, she turned toward the house and started walking up the long drive. She hoped Henry McCullough was still awake.
Ian awoke with a start. He'd been dreaming. Dreams were rare for him and, to his way of thinking, that was a good thing. He learned long ago -- very, very long ago -- that when he dreamed, it always meant something. The "something" was always a very accurate warning of the future and, more often than not, it warned of something bad.
He tried to recall the dream now. He'd been in the forest and there had been a woman, although he hadn't been able to see her clearly, and some type of danger. And that blasted pounding.
Pounding, he suddenly realized, that continued even now that he was awake. He stood up, feeling disoriented. The book he'd been reading fell unheeded to the floor.
Where was that noise coming from?
Moving into the hallway, he followed the sound, his senses coming fully alert.
"Hello? Mr. McCullough? Is anyone there?" Muffled words reached him, followed by more pounding.
A woman's voice.
Damn. The American had come, after all.
What was wrong with the woman? Didn't she realize how dangerous driving in one of these storms could be? Didn't she have any sense at all?
He strode to the door and threw it open, fully intending to give his visitor the tongue-lashing she deserved for her reckless behavior.
"Do you bloody well realize what time it is?" He'd begun to yell when the sight of her on his doorstep struck him speechless.
Standing there in the pouring rain, with her hair plastered to her face, she was completely drenched and shivering hard enough the movement was visible to him even in the dark.
At the sound of his voice, she drew back sharply, losing her footing in the puddle that had formed on the stoop. Only his grabbing her elbows prevented her taking a nasty spill down the steps.
"Sorry. I'm sorry." Her teeth chattered so violently he could barely understand her mumbled apology. "I...I didn't think about the time. The drive took so much longer than I'd planned."
She feebly tried to pull her arms from his grasp.
Rather than letting go, he tightened his grip, drawing her inside the entrance hall, where she stood, dripping, her eyes cast down as if studying the intricate patterns on the marble floor. She made no move to stop him when he slipped the strap of the heavy bag from her shoulder, and dropped it at her feet.
She glanced up then, almost furtively, and their eyes met.
Green, like the deep forest. Her eyes were an intense green that sucked him in, captured him, prevented him from looking away. They widened an instant before darting back down to resume their examination of the floor.
The contact broken, Ian gave himself a mental shake.
"Stay right here. I'll get something to dry you off and soon we'll have you all warmed up."
He raced upstairs and grabbed an armful of towels, stopping only to pull a blanket off the foot of his bed before returning to his guest.
She stood as he'd left her, huddled into herself, shivering as a small puddle formed at her feet.
Wrapping the blanket around her shoulders, he guided her toward the library. She'd be much better there. Thanks to the fire he'd built earlier in the evening, it was the warmest room in the place.
"Here are some towels. I'll pop into the kitchen and find something warm for you to drink. Is tea all right, or do you prefer coffee?" She was an American, after all.
"Tea would be wonderful, thank you." Only a whisper.
She took the towels and began to dry her face and hair as he left the room.
While he waited for the water to boil, he let his thoughts drift to the woman drying off in his library. She intrigued him. A great deal. Which was most unusual in and of itself.
The old saying about eyes being windows to the soul hadn't become an old saying without very good reason. It was absolutely true. Catching a glimpse of what lived behind those windows, however, was extraordinary. Souls valued their privacy.
Looking into this woman's eyes, he'd felt an unusually strong energy pulling at him. Her windows had been wide open, her soul leaning out, demanding his attention like the French harlots he'd seen so many years ago, hanging out of the Barbary Coast bordellos.
He couldn't recall having run across anything like it in all his years. She was something entirely new.
A thrill of anticipation ran through his body. "Something entirely new" was a rare experience for Ian. After six centuries spent shuffling between the Mortal Plain and the Realm of Faerie, he often thought he'd seen it all.
During that time, he'd also learned countless valuable lessons. One of those lessons was that the rare experiences were usually the best. Certainly the most important.
Yes, he was quite intrigued by Miss...
What was her name? He couldn't remember. He couldn't even remember if Henry had ever told him her name. He'd spent so much time thinking of her as "The American," her name had been of no importance.
That was certainly changed now. Playing innkeeper to his little American tourist had unexpectedly become a much more stimulating prospect.
Bending over in front of the fire, Sarah vigorously scrubbed at her hair with the towel. She'd read all about Scotland's unpredictable climate in the bagful of travel guides she'd bought, but nothing had prepared her for the reality of it. In spite of the fire, the blanket, and the towels, she was still cold and soggy.
And enormously embarrassed.
One look at her host and she might as well have been a teenager again, completely tongue-tied and unsure of herself. That first glance had fairly taken her breath away, leaving her stammering and unable to make eye contact with anything but her own feet. It wasn't the sort of behavior she expected from a mature woman. Particularly not when she was the mature woman in question.
Handsome men had always had that effect on her, and this one was certainly a prime example. The classic line "tall, dark and handsome" could have been written especially for him. He towered over her by a good six inches. His eyes, a brown so dark they might actually be black, matched his hair. Hair a bit too long, curling around his neck, just onto the cream-colored turtleneck sweater he wore. The sweater clearly outlined a chest that belonged on a pinup calendar. He could be Mr. January, perfect start to a new year. A man like that might even get more than one month.
He was one outstanding specimen, all right. And he was also a good ten years younger than she, at the very least, which made her reaction to him all the more ridiculous. What was wrong with her, anyway?
"Serious jet lag," she muttered, scrubbing harder at her hair.
Sarah jerked upright, dropping the towel to her neck. Her host stood in the doorway holding two steaming cups.
Oh great. He'd caught her talking to herself, a bad habit that had caused her problems more than once. Heat crawled up her neck and over her face.
"I didn't realize you were back already."
His only response as he moved into the room was a smile. And what a smile. It played slowly around his lips, growing, spreading to his eyes, where it shimmered like polished jet.
The heat on her face ratcheted up a notch.
"I've taken the liberty of adding a touch of honey to yer tea." He set the cups on a low table. "Please, sit yerself down."
Sarah started forward, but stopped, looking down at herself.
"Oh, no. I'd hate to sit on your sofa in these wet clothes. Maybe it would be best if you just direct me to the cottage where I'll be staying."
His smile altered, a look of chagrin passing over his features.
"Well, that needs some explaining, you see." He picked the folded towels up from the floor and spread them on the sofa. "Here. Sit." He held up his hand to stop her when she started to protest. "Sit. Have yer tea and then we'll get you into some dry things."
After carefully arranging herself on the towels, Sarah extended her hand to accept the cup he offered her, acutely aware of his penetrating gaze. Trying desperately to think of something to say to fill the silence, she was horrified to hear herself blurt out the first thing that came to mind.
"You're not at all what I'd pictured." If she got any redder, surely flames would erupt from the top of her head.
"Not what you'd pictured? What were you expecting?" He was smiling again.
"Well, Mr. McCullough, you sounded much older when we spoke on the telephone."
"Ah, well, that explains it then. I'm no Mr. McCullough."
"What?" Had that squeak actually come from her?
He placed a restraining hand on her arm as she started to rise.
"Let me rephrase that. I am Mr. McCullough, just no the one you spoke to. That would be Henry, he's..." He paused for a moment, glancing away from her as he moved his hand from her arm to pick up his cup. "I'm Ian McCullough."
"Oh." That explained why he didn't look at all like the sweet old man she'd imagined Henry McCullough to be. "But you're also a McCullough. You're related?"
"Aye. We're as related as an uncle and nephew can be." He briefly flashed that brilliant smile again.
"Where is your uncle?"
"Henry? Oh, in hospital, actually. Minor knee surgery. He'll be home in a few days. In the meantime, I'm supposed to be looking after things, but I'm afraid I've mucked them up a bit." The smile reappeared. "Starting with knowing nothing about my lovely guest, no even her name."
"Oh." Her conversational skills were rapidly disappearing in his presence. The blush returned. "I'm Sarah. Sarah Douglas."
"Sarah." He repeated the name slowly. "It suits you. Now that we know one another, we've only the problem of the cottage, it seems."
Uh-oh. "My cottage?"
He nodded. "Regrettably, our caretakers were called away on emergency this morning, so the cottage isna prepared for you. With the storm, I dinna think it a huge problem. I was sure you'd stay in the city when you saw the weather. Which reminds me."
His eyebrows lifted in a manner reminiscent of a school principal about to chastise an errant student.
"This is no night to be out on the roads, lass. Did you no think about the risk you were taking by driving here in this tempest?"
His tone implied lecture, not a conversational question. It might even have been offensive if not for his lovely accent. The lightly lilting brogue made everything he said sound good. The brogue and the deep baritone.
"I guess I didn't at the time. But I certainly recognize it now." She put down her tea. "Mr. McCullough -- "
"Ian," he corrected.
"Ian." She briefly made eye contact and smiled. "If the cottage isn't prepared, then..."
"It's no worry. We'll put you up here in the main house for tonight."
He sat back, looking very satisfied, and took a drink of his tea.
"I was under the impression that you didn't rent out rooms here." Henry had been rather emphatic about that point, assuring her there would be no other lodgers.
"We dinna. You'll join us tonight as my guest. We'll get you set up in the cottage tomorrow. Now...," Ian stood and held out his hand in invitation. "Let's get you all settled. When did you eat last?"
"On the plane."
She rose to her feet, clutching the now damp blanket tightly around her. If he'd noticed she'd avoided his hand, he gave no sign of it.
"We'll remedy that right after we get you in some dry clothing." He paused, tipping his head to the side. "Come to think of it, I dinna recall seeing yer auto in the drive."
"It's not exactly in the drive. It's down at the entrance gate." She shrugged. "I sort of slid off the road and got stuck in the mud. I can go back down and get my suitcase."
As they neared the door, thunder rumbled ominously close, rattling windows.
"I'm thinking that's probably no the best idea. In fact, I'm sure we can find you something dry to slip into here. We'll collect yer things and yer vehicle in the morning when the rain's done."
He'd stopped talking so she risked a quick glance up. It appeared he was waiting for that, catching her eyes and once again extending his hand. Perhaps he had noticed her earlier evasion after all.
"Here. Come with me."
There was no chance this time to avoid his touch without seeming unusually rude and she couldn't bring herself to do that. He'd been much too nice.
Simply one hand against another. No way to prevent her unprotected skin from contact with his. No blanket or clothing to filter it through this time. She'd simply have to steel herself against the assault she knew would come with the touch, as it always did.
She'd learned to accept it. From childhood she'd suffered the trauma of absorbing other people's thoughts and emotions when she touched them, and the strange, random "feelings" that assailed her, trying to direct her actions. Almost worse had been the pain of knowing she was "different" from everyone else. She'd accepted that long ago, too.
While her preference was, as always, to escape the unavoidable result, sometimes, like now, it couldn't be helped.
She took his hand.
He scanned the contents of the refrigerator. He knew how to cook eggs. Not well, mind you, but he could cook them. And there was bread. He'd make toast. Surely there was canned fruit of some sort in the pantry. Martha served it with almost every meal.
Under optimal conditions no one would ever mistake him for a chef, but with the current distraction standing in his kitchen, well...
Best to keep it simple.
How was it a woman, any woman, could look so appealing when you dressed her in men's clothing? And if it happens to be an attractive woman, dressed in my own clothing? Without a doubt, anything other than simple would be beyond his abilities at this moment.
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"You can have a seat. Yer my guest." He flashed a grin. "I'll have you a tasty meal whipped up in no time."
Ha. "Tasty" was pushing it a bit, but as Henry was fond of accusing, he'd never been an overly modest man.
"Are you warmer now?"
He'd grabbed the first things he'd come to in his drawers; the things he wore to loaf about: sweatpants, thermal undershirt, woolen overshirt and thick cotton socks.
He was positive those items had never looked so appealing on him.
"Much better, thanks." She rewarded him with a shy smile as she padded over to the table and sat down.
Before long, he was setting plates filled with scrambled eggs, toast and canned grapefruit sections on the table. To her credit, she gave it only one small dubious glance before sampling a bite.
"You don't do a lot of cooking, do you?"
So, a diplomatic woman.
"Is it as bad as that?"
"No, not at all. It's just that you appeared to be hunting for things in the kitchen while you were fixing this."
Observant, as well.
"And here I was afraid it would be the rubber eggs that gave me away."
"Actually, the burned toast was more of a tip-off than the eggs."
Even a sense of humor.
He grinned at her and was rewarded with a quiet laugh and another blush softly coloring her cheeks.
"So, how did you come to choose our little cottage for yer holiday?"
"Working holiday," she corrected. "My three months will fly by, I'm afraid. And as to this location, I chose by sheer, blind luck. Once I knew I had to come to Scotland..."
She paused, her eyes flickering up to meet his, betraying mild alarm, as if she'd said something she hadn't intended, before she hurried on.
"I...uh, I sat down at the computer and searched. Heather Cottage was the first entry that came up. I know this sounds stupid, but when I clicked on the site and read about it, it just felt right." She shrugged without looking up. "So I emailed Mr. McCullough -- Henry -- and he called me, and here I am."
"What kind of work are you here to do?"
"I write." A furtive glance up.
"Ah, a storyteller. And what do you write?"
"Uh, women's literature. Pretty much." Another quick, furtive glance.
"Hmmmm. I dinna believe I'm familiar with that."
"Really?" As a deep crimson stain slowly crept across her face, she rose and carried her plate to the sink. "At least I can help wash up."
So, her work was something she did not want to discuss. A most intriguing woman indeed. Too bad he didn't have time or room for a woman in his life.
They finished the dishes with relatively little talk, her weariness a tangible thing to him. His goal was to show her to the guest room as quickly as possible.
Their walk to the stairs was interrupted by an enormous boom of thunder, accompanied by a flash of lightning so close he could feel the hairs on his arm lift. Followed immediately by every light in the house going out. He'd known it was only a matter of time.
Sarah's gasp was audible.
Standing so close to her, he fully expected she would throw her arms around him, or lean into him at the very least.
In his experience, which was extensive, frightened women always turned to the closest man for comfort and protection. Particularly when he was the closest man.
It wasn't conceit, simply an observation. He was well aware of the effect he had on women. He'd certainly had long enough to get used to it. After all, he'd met a goodly number of women in the past six hundred years.
But she didn't do either of those things.
In fact, as his eyes quickly adjusted, he saw that she stood as she first had in the hallway, huddled into herself, her arms wrapped about her own middle.
"Dinna be afraid. It's only the electric." He touched her shoulder and she flinched.
"I...I'm not afraid. Just startled."
But not completely truthful? He could sense the fear rolling off her in waves.
"Well, maybe a tiny bit afraid," she amended in a whisper.
Ah, that's better.
He guided her into the library, where the fire afforded them a modest light.
"Have a seat and I'll go find a torch for you to take upstairs."
"Aye. A hand light. You put batteries into it?"
Recognition dawned on her face. "Oh, a flashlight."
"No, a torch." He grinned. "One day you Yanks will have to learn to speak proper English."
When he returned with the torch, having spent a good ten minutes hunting in the dark for fresh batteries for the thing, she was fast asleep, slumped over sideways into the corner of the sofa, her feet still on the floor.
What to do? He could wake her, a choice that seemed patently unkind. Or he could easily pick her up and carry her to the guest room. And, although his arms fairly itched for the opportunity to hold her, chances were good she'd wake, again not the result he wanted. Best to let her sleep where she lay. No chance of waking her, with the added benefit that he could sit and watch her as long as he wanted to.
And he found that he wanted to.
Very gently he lifted her legs to the sofa so she could stretch out her full, what, maybe five and a half feet at most? He reached for the woolen plaid folded over the back of his chair, and draped it over her sleeping form, tucking it around her shoulders. It outlined rather than hid her soft curves.
She moaned and snuggled into it.
Ian crossed the room and reached into a recessed cabinet to withdraw a bottle of his favorite whisky.
Full glass in hand, he sank into his chair and propped up his feet, savoring a swallow before turning his attention to study the woman on his sofa.
Even in sleep her features reflected uneasiness, a tiny frown fixed on her brow. Soft golden curls, too short to do more than barely brush her shoulders, wildly framed a delicate face. Smile lines around her eyes hinted of a woman who looked for the good in life and also of a maturity. He'd guess her to be in her early- to mid-thirties, perhaps not a classic beauty, but a very attractive woman in her prime nevertheless.
Certainly she was attractive to him. From that first astonishing glimpse of her soul, to her unexpected behavior, right down to the way she looked lying on his sofa, covered with his own plaid, he was drawn to her.
His instincts, however, screamed that there was much more to this woman than met the eye.
He hadn't missed her flinch each time he'd touched her, or how she'd tried to avoid taking his hand. Nor had he missed her look of resignation when she finally had. Perhaps more to the point, he'd seen the surprise that had flashed through her eyes at that moment, as if she'd expected some inevitable something that hadn't come.
He took another drink of his whisky, savoring the warmth that flowed down his throat.
"Just what were you expecting, wee Sarah?" he whispered before draining the glass.
Hunting the answer to that question would, at the very least, give him some distraction while he waited for Henry to come home.
Waited to return to what really mattered, protecting Mortal men from those of his kind who would destroy them all.
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