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As it turned out, death was exactly what had kept Robert from fulfilling his oath to protect Isabella MacGahan. Or more precisely, the death he would have suffered had Connor MacKiernan's bride not whisked him more than seven hundred years into the future through the use of her Faerie Magic.
The battle they'd fought to overpower those who had sought to murder Connor and Cate had been hard won. Robert had paid with a sword to his rib cage that would have ended his life had he not had the expert medical care afforded him in this new time.
That had been almost ten years ago, and though he found this new world to be very much to his liking, his failure to carry out his oath to Thomas had haunted him since that day.
Leaning against the doorjamb next to his friend Connor, Robert pushed away the memories of his past as he scanned the people in this room. His new clan surrounded him here. MacKiernan, Coryell, Navarro all as much a part of him now as if the blood of the MacQuarries ran through their veins. A good thing since he'd likely never have the family he'd imagined in his youth.
A fierce loyalty to each and every one of the people in the room surged up in his breast as he forced himself to concentrate on the urgent matters at hand.
"You don't know them like I do. They'll find me." Leah Noble spoke up from the corner of the massive living room in Connor's home. The teenager sank back into her chair, arms crossed defensively in front of her, almost as if she hoped to make herself invisible.
As a Faerie descendant, Leah carried the gift of the Fae Magic. That gift had made her the target of the evil Nuadians, renegade Fae exiled to the Mortal World. They'd held her prisoner for over a month, subjecting her to things no young woman should endure. She and her older sister, Destiny, had gone through hell before Jesse Coryell, with Robert's help, had rescued them.
Now they were both here in Connor's living room surrounded by those who would do everything in their power to change the women's lives for the better. And considering how many of those present were also of Fae heritage, that power was considerable.
Destiny reached out a hand and Jesse captured it, pulling her to sit on the arm of his chair, close to him.
Robert smiled to himself at the seemingly unconscious action. Anyone with eyes could see that his friend Jesse had found his Soulmate.
"We'll no let that happen, lass. Dinna you worry yerself about it." Though Connor spoke with absolute confidence, his expression betrayed the concern they all felt.
Leah shook her head, her serious brown eyes haunted in her fear. "You don't understand. You have no idea what they're like. They're Faeries, for God's sake. I'll never be safe from them."
"No all Fae are evil, Leah." Mairi, Connor's sister, spoke from her spot on the sofa next to her husband, Ramos Navarro. "And we do know what you fear. We've dealt with these renegades ourselves."
Leah rejected their comments with a shake of her head but didn't answer, tears dripping down her cheeks.
Destiny dropped Jesse's hand and crossed to kneel at her sister's side. "We'll think of something. I promise. That's why we're all here."
"There's nowhere I'll be safe," Leah whispered, clutching at Destiny's hand. "I can't go back to them, Desi. I can't."
"You'll stay here." Connor spoke again, taking charge as he was wont to do. As if by the power of his sheer will he could eliminate the young woman's fear.
"That won't be enough to keep her safe." Ramos turned to look up at his brother-in-law. "She's right. Adira won't give up. They'll find her and then every female in this family will be at risk. We have to find a more secure spot."
Robert silently agreed. If anyone in this room should know what the Nuadians were capable of it would be Ramos. After all, he'd been raised by the devil's spawn.
"I believe I may have a solution." Pol, High Prince of the Realm of Faerie, long-distant ancestor of many in this room, rose to his feet. He turned his gaze toward Leah, his eyes sad. "If our young guest is agreeable to my suggestion, that is."
Leah straightened in her seat, her face a mask of false bravado. "I'll do anything that keeps me away from that woman. What's your plan?"
"If the Nuadians' new strength prevents Leah from living out her life without fear, perhaps we err in looking for a where to take her. Perhaps we should consider a when."
Of course! Leave it to the Prince to point out the obvious. The solution that none of them would ever consider on their own.
"I suppose it could be done," Cate said thoughtfully. "We'd need to choose the spot carefully. Send her to someone we could trust."
"But we couldn't send her alone." Mairi added her voice, betraying her growing excitement to anyone who knew her as well as Robert did.
"Send her where?" Destiny's face had taken on an ashen look of panicked suspicion that spilled over into her voice. "What's going on here that I'm not getting?"
"Not where," Jesse explained. "When. They're talking about sending Leah back in time."
Robert fought the urge to shake his head. After all the woman had been through, how could she still doubt?
How could she not, he reminded himself. The knowledge that Faeries and magic existed was difficult to work your mind around in the beginning. He'd had his own time to get used to the idea. Destiny would need hers as well.
"You could really do that?" Leah sat up straight, interest lighting her eyes.
"Yes," Jesse answered. "They can. But you'd need to understand, once you're there, there's no guarantee they could ever get you back."
"Like you think I'd ever want to come back?" Leah scooted forward in her chair. "I'd spend my life in the Stone Age if it meant I could be safe from...from them."
"I promise it's not the Stone Age we're considering." Cate smiled at the young woman. "But it would be a very, very different life for you."
"Anywhere." Determination radiated around Leah. "How soon can I go?"
"As quickly as we can make a few preparations," Cate answered.
"And decide who's to accompany you," Mairi added.
"I'll go." Jesse rose from his chair and crossed to where Destiny knelt next to Leah's chair.
Robert's spine stiffened. Jesse felt as much brother as friend to Robert after all these years. There was no way he could allow Jesse to take this kind of risk. Not now that he'd discovered the one woman fate had intended for him.
Before he could voice his opinion, Leah rejected the offer herself.
"Not you." She shook her head, her hand fisted on the arm of the chair. "I didn't go through all that agony to save your life just so you could abandon my sister. You need to take care of her."
"She already knows that I have every intention of doing exactly that," his friend responded indignantly.
This time Robert made no attempt to school his expression. If there was a single soul in the room who couldn't see how Jesse felt about Destiny by now, they were too far beyond blind for help. They were lost in the land of stupid.
Those two might need a lot of things going forward, but time apart wasn't one of them. In fact, there was no one sitting in this room who could afford to take the risk of being left behind in time.
Except him. Were he to go, there would be no one left behind to worry over his return. No loving wife. No passel of children clamoring for a spot in his lap each evening.
He pushed the thought away. His was a good life, filled with trusted friends and blessed opportunity. That he seemed destined to live out this lifetime without finding his own Soulmate was out of his control. Had these people not become a part of his life, he would never even have known that he was supposed to have a Soulmate. He would have simply traveled his life's journey alone, accepting what came to him.
He wouldn't waste his days filled with envy for what his friends had found. Perhaps in another lifetime he would cross paths with the one meant for him. For this life, he would simply have to content himself with filling that empty spot in his heart by being the friend, the uncle. He was a warrior. Certainly he could be strong enough to face life alone.
Besides, this could well be his one and only opportunity to redeem himself. A last chance to keep his promise to a dying friend.
As far as the risk was concerned? He scoffed at the idea. He lived on the thrills that came from risk. This situation was a gift, pure and simple.
Taking a step forward, he broke the silence that had fallen in the room.
"I'll do it. I'm the one to go with the lass."
"Yer sure about this?" Connor questioned, his ice blue eyes intent as they turned in Robert's direction.
"Even knowing we can't guarantee getting you back here?" Cate added, her pretty brow wrinkled with concern.
Robert shrugged. His going only made sense. He'd sworn an oath. What happened to him was of little consequence as long as he was able to keep his word. "I've a small matter left undone by my abrupt departure. It would be good to get it off my conscience after all this time."
The one nagging failure of his life. Bad enough to have failed a friend. Inexcusable to have failed a helpless child. Though he would never have children of his own, there was one small girl waiting for him to rescue her, seven hundred years in his past. At long last he'd keep that vow.
Across the room, Jesse chose this moment to announce his intention to marry the woman who gazed adoringly up into his eyes. Right there in front of all of them.
About time the man publicly acknowledged what they all could see.
Robert smiled and shook his head, turning from the celebration erupting around him and heading out toward the silence of the well-shaded grounds surrounding the renovated Scottish castle.
Though he shared his friend's joy, he needed to step away from it for a moment. Not that he envied his friend. Not that the couple's happiness highlighted the empty place by his own side. The empty place in his heart. He was too strong for such womanly feelings as that. No, it was simply that he needed the quiet and solitude to think. He needed time alone. Time to carefully plan.
There actually were any number of details to take care of before he left. Charlie, his bright-eyed Boston terrier came to mind. He knew Connor would see to picking the dog up from boarding and take it to his home where Charlie would be cared for and well loved. That was no worry. Though the idea he might never see his adoring pup again that was a bit harder to stomach.
There were other arrangements to make as well. Legal paperwork of some sort would be required. He should set up a power of attorney, turning all his property over to someone.
Just in case.
If all went well, he'd do what needed to be done and then the magic would bring him home. The problem with using Faerie Magic was that it didn't always do the expected, and Robert knew going into this he could well be giving up the life he'd come to love.
When a woman with Cate's considerable Faerie Magic told you she might not be able to get you back home, you'd be well advised to take her seriously. If this was going to end up being a one-way trip, he'd best make sure someone here would have access to his belongings. None of his wonderful toys, not the vehicles or the machinery he'd collected none of it would do him any good where he was going.
When he was going, he corrected himself. The Highlands of Scotland in 1272. The exact same time he'd left behind all those years ago. As long as they'd determined to hide Leah in the past, he could think of no better time than the one he'd left. It would suit both their needs. He'd be able to fulfill his vow to Thomas, and there were many people in that time they could trust to keep Leah safe.
The Nuadians had vowed to hunt her down, no matter where she went. No one in the room he'd just left doubted for a moment they would do exactly that. But as everyone sitting in that living room had reasoned, while the Nuadians might well track Leah down wherever she hid in this world, they'd have no chance at all of finding her in a completely different time.
He would accompany Leah on her unimaginable journey to thirteenth-century Scotland. He'd see her safely settled.
Then he'd be free to fulfill the oath he'd made over seven hundred years ago. He'd find Thomas's daughter, Isabella, and take her to his own family's home, where she would be cared for properly.
Robert looked over his shoulder to find Leah picking her way across the damp lawn toward him. Though the young woman herself was almost hidden in the baggy jeans and heavy sweater she wore, she couldn't hide what she most wanted to remove from her identity. Whether it was the long golden hair tossed by the breeze or simply the way she carried herself, there was no denying her Faerie heritage.
If he ever had been blessed with a daughter, he would have wished for one as brave as this girl.
"Robert, lass. Call me Robert. Is there something you need of me?"
She nodded, her eyes fixed on her feet even as the color rose in her cheeks.
"Everyone back there's pretty excited about planning a wedding. I didn't want to interrupt them." She lifted her gaze to meet his steadily. "But I have so many questions. Can you tell me where we'll go? What it will be like?"
"I can try," he answered as he led the way to two garden benches separated by a small table.
When he reached toward her, she flinched, a haunted expression fleeting across her face.
How could he have been so thoughtless? Considering what the lass had been through, he shouldn't be surprised she could bear no man's touch. The filthy Nuadian bastards had kidnapped Leah and held her captive, poked her with needles as they drained her blood to increase their own powers, and all but raped her.
Stepping back a respectful pace, he waited for her to choose one seat before he took the other.
"You've no changed yer mind about going, have you?" Was that the root of her questions?
Her eyes rounded and she shook her head vehemently, her fingers playing over the stone hanging from her neck. "Oh no, not at all. I want to go. We can't leave soon enough as far as I'm concerned." She shrugged and looked out over the expanse of garden. "I just...I just want to have some idea of what I'll be facing when I get there. I mean, it's not like we're talking about a trip across the country. I remember from my literature class last year that the language used in medieval Britain was entirely different from what's spoken today. How are we even going to communicate with people?"
Robert nodded thoughtfully. That one had concerned him, too, when he'd first come forward in time. "You'll have no problem, lass. I canna explain how, but the Faerie Magic takes it all into account. What you'll speak, what you'll understand when you arrive in that time it will all be the same to yer ears and to those around you. The only difference you'll note is that some of yer words are unknown to them, so they'll likely find yer speech patterns to be strange."
"What kinds of words?" Leah leaned toward him, her thirst for knowledge lighting a fire in her eyes.
"Words for those things they've no understanding of. Cars, for example. Or airplanes. Do you get my meaning?"
She nodded thoughtfully, wisps of gold hair falling over her shoulder. "So I don't need to worry about learning a new language. Do you have any idea where we'll go?"
It was Robert's turn to nod slowly. He'd been giving this some thought since the moment he'd volunteered to accompany Leah. "We'll head for the MacQuarrie Keep. I'm thinking you'd be safe there, with my own family."
His parents would welcome her into their home even though he wouldn't be able to stay there himself. Not under the same roof with that redheaded bitch his brother had married. MacQuarrie Keep stopped being his home the day Elizabeth moved in.
When Leah's brow furrowed, he held up a hand to forestall the questions he saw running through her mind. "It's where I came from, lass. When I came from, to be more accurate. Just over nine years ago, Jesse's sister, Cate, used her powers to bring me forward in time to save my life. It's too long a story for now, but I'm sure you'll hear the whole of it as we prepare for our journey."
Too long and too painful for him to recount to the lass. Likely the women of the house would fill her in later.
Leah chewed on her bottom lip for a moment before making eye contact again. "Is that why you said you'd go back with me? Because you feel like you have a debt to them? I'd hate to think you're disrupting your whole life because you feel like you have to."
He shook his head. It was a debt that was driving him, all right, but not the one the girl feared.
"Dinna you fret yerself over this, lass. Accompanying you is but a piece of my reason for returning. I've my own purposes to be met in going back."
Purposes long past due.
Copyright © 2010 by Melissa Mayhue