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By Donna Grant
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Donna Grant
All rights reserved.
Isle of Coll, Inner Hebrides
Rennie placed the small, gold, glittered star atop what was a poor excuse for a Christmas tree. She stepped back and grimaced.
"Charlie Brown's tree looks better than mine," she said as her silver tabby meowed up at her. "Don't worry, Felix, your present will be there. It'll be the only thing under that pitiful tree, but at least there will be a present. I'd rather a wish. How about someone I can spend the rest of my life with?"
Rennie turned away from the Christmas tree with a derisive snort and looked out the living room window. Everything was gray. They sky, the water, the very air. A snowstorm was coming, but the weathermen had been saying that for days.
Not that there was much excitement on the small isle of Coll. Life was as ordinary and dull as it could get. It was a mantra she repeated to herself every day, but she couldn't seem to leave. There was something holding her — she just hadn't figured out what that was yet.
Felix wound around her legs, rubbing against her and purring loudly, hoping to get a treat. "It's been two years since Aunt Marta died, Felix. I was supposed to sell this place and leave. Why can't I seem to do that?"
And she had made up her mind a couple of times to put the land up for sale. Then she would step out onto the white sand beach of Feall Bay with its stunning blue-green water and folded rock formations with the seals playing and she couldn't do it. Or she would stand upon the hills and watch the sunset and she would change her mind.
She might have been born in Missouri, but she wasn't all that keen to return. Somehow, she had found a place on Coll.
Felix bumped his big head against her leg again. "All right, all right. I'll give you a treat," she said with a laugh as the cat darted into the kitchen and pawed at the door where she kept them.
The likelihood of Rennie finding a husband on Coll was slim to none for two reasons. Eligible men rarely came to the remote isle, and the few unmarried men already on Coll had a line of women to choose from.
It was better that she was alone. Then she didn't have to explain the odd things she could do just by thinking of them. Like shutting a door, lighting a candle, or stirring her tea.
More importantly, she didn't have to worry about people touching her and having visions. If the cattle or Felix had visions when she touched them, they kept it to themselves.
Out in the wilds of Coll, she was free to be who she was — a Druid.
* * *
He had finally reached Coll. Though he wasn't sure if this would be his final destination or not. For months, every night he was assaulted by dreams of magic, magic he was undeniably drawn to. And every day when he woke, he followed the feel of that magic as if some unseen string was pulling him west, right to the shores of Coll.
It wasn't just the dreams or the magic that pulled him. It was the inexplicable, undeniable need, a longing he couldn't ignore or explain in the magic that called to him.
Dale kept his head low as he hurried off the ferry. He made sure to keep among the crowds, and as soon as he was in the small village, he ducked behind a shop.
It had been two days since he had eaten, and hunger made his stomach growl. He could go days without food. The smell coming from a nearby pub, however, caused him to halt. He closed his eyes and fought to put the magic he was following on hold.
It was disturbing how easily he followed the magic. As if he expected to find some answers when he found the source. That is if he actually allowed himself to find the Druid. Perhaps it would be better if he didn't.
He snorted. As if he could ignore such exquisite, soul-stirring magic.
Dale would rather lose himself on the isle and never talk to anyone. Coll was small enough that everyone would know everyone else. He had come here to hide. But first he had to find the source of the magic that he couldn't ignore.
Once that curiosity was satisfied, then he would disappear and the world could forget all about Dale Alexander and the awful things he had done.
He looked into the pub window and stared at a face that he didn't recognize. His beard had grown out, covering most of his face in dark hair. Dale ran his hands over the hair growing out atop his head. It felt odd to have hair after keeping his head shaved for so many years.
The beard and hair would help disguise him, but that didn't mean Dale liked any of it. However, his options were slim.
Dale winced and rubbed his arm where one of the many selmyr bites had been. Those evil, magical creatures had seemingly come out of nowhere after having been locked away for thousands of years.
It had been a Druid who accidentally released the creatures into the world. The selmyr fed off magic, and they sought out the Druids first, but they found a taste for Warriors.
Dale took a deep breath when he felt his god, Shomi, howl with fury as he recalled how the selmyr had tried to kill him. Claws began to sprout from his fingers, and it was only Dale's quick thinking and concentrating that reined Shomi back under control.
Dale might look like a man, but he had a primeval god inside him that had been dragged from a prison in Hell by Druids when Rome invaded Briton. The Druids had called for the gods and put them in the strongest warriors from each family to battle Rome.
Those same gods traveled through the bloodlines generation after generation after the Druids bound them when the gods refused to relinquish their hold on the men.
Dale hadn't always made the right decisions in his life. Time after time, he fell in with the wrong people, but he never expected to find himself made immortal and working with an evil Druid, or drough.
Jason Wallace stunk of evil. It was the first thing Dale remembered after Jason had found him and released his god. As a Warrior, Dale could sense Druid magic, and drough magic was cloying, debilitating.
Jason had made Dale's choice easy: work for Jason or die.
Dale hadn't been ready to die. He didn't enjoy his time with Jason, though he remained because of Aisley. Dale had fallen for Jason's cousin the instant he saw the pretty brunette. For her part, Aisley never returned his affections.
With one more look at his reflection, Dale strode inside the pub and slid into a booth. He ordered and then found his mind returning to Aisley once more.
The only good thing he had done was save her. When the selmyr attacked after Jason had led them into a trap by the Warriors and Druids from MacLeod Castle, Dale did all he could to get Aisley out alive.
There were nights he woke, drenched in sweat as he relived how the selmyr with their ash-colored skin, stringy hair, and skin stretched taut over their bones had fallen upon him. They drank the blood of their victims, and their bites were like acid.
Dale hadn't been able to call up his god or use his strength and speed as a Warrior to get away from the creatures. Their bites rendered him useless. He'd known he was going to die, and he used that to turn the selmyrs' attention from Aisley to him.
Only after he saw her drive away did Dale give up. He wanted to die, to get away from the evil that was Jason Wallace and somehow let his soul redeem itself in whatever Purgatory or Hell awaited him.
Except Dale didn't die.
He had lived, yet he wasn't sure how. Amid the hundreds of selmyr bodies, Dale had clawed and dragged his body off Dreagan land to die in peace.
That night, as he watched the sun sink behind the mountains in the Highlands was the first time he dreamed of the magic — a magic unlike any he had ever encountered. It was special, potent, yes, but extraordinary and unique.
And like a siren's call, it had captivated him, fascinated him.
All without seeing a face. He knew the magic belonged to a female Druid, but that's all he knew.
He wasn't sure how many days passed as he dreamt of the magic and his body fought to stay alive. When he finally awoke, he was weak as a newborn and starving.
Somehow he managed to hunt for his food and gradually build up his strength. But if he thought the poison of the selmyr was gone from his body, he was wrong. It was still there, stinging his blood and attacking his organs at odd moments.
His only moment of peace was when he dreamed of the magic and imagined the unseen Druid's hands gently caressing his body. The magic eased his suffering and stirred his blood until he couldn't think of her without going rock hard.
How long he would live was anyone's guess. Only when he was strong enough did he leave the woods. It didn't take him long to learn that Jason had been defeated and Aisley had found happiness with another Warrior — Phelan.
That's when Dale realized he had nowhere to go. He was immortal, so couldn't live amongst mortals because there would be questions. He had to go somewhere to lose himself — and to make sure if Jason Wallace ever returned that he wouldn't find him.
As if sensing his indecision, the magic that had haunted his dreams could suddenly be felt. No longer was it just in his dreams, but it was real and urging him to find it. It was faint, barely discernible, but there was no denying it was the same magic.
Without a second's hesitation, Dale began to follow the magic toward the west.
His search of the magic had brought him to Coll. Now that he was here, the magic was stronger than ever before. And still it called to him, tempting him with its power, enticing him with its purity.
Seducing him with its allure.
After his meal and two ales, Dale paid and left the pub. He didn't leave the village however. Years of training, and months with Jason instilled a need to learn about his surroundings. With only the one village to study, Dale kept to the shadows and spent the day learning about the village and its inhabitants.
All the while, the magic begged him to follow it, implored him to find the source. He worried it was a trap, especially after all he had been through — and done. So he remained. Even as his body fairly hummed with the mesmerizing magic.
It was mie magic. There was no denying that. It felt too good to be anything else but the pure magic a Druid was born with. Who did it belong to, and why had it drawn him here?
When night began to fall, he was surprised to see brightly colored lights hanging over the street every few hundred yards. He had been so intent on the people he failed to notice small details. Like the fact it was Christmas.
Christmas had long been one of his favorite holidays. His mother had always done a big meal during the holidays, and even when money was tight, she had managed to make the day special.
His mother had liked the old ways of decorating their trees with strung popcorn, candles, and ornaments each of her five children made themselves.
Dale longed to return home, but his mother wouldn't be waiting for him. She'd died of a heart attack while he had been serving in the Royal Marines.
The Christmas he yearned for was no more. It had died with his mother. His siblings were scattered to the four winds. His mother had been the glue that held the family together, especially after his father was killed in action in the Royal Air Force, and without her, they were no longer a family.
Dale listened to the sound of carols filling the streets from the shops and cars passing. The multicolored lights that adorned the town reflected upon the snow, bringing an almost otherworldly feel to the isle.
He learned all he could from observing. It was time for him to listen. A pub in the evening could deliver all sorts of information.
Dale fisted his hands when the call of magic intensified. His cock ached with need, a longing he knew wouldn't stop as long as he put off finding the source of the magic. But he had made too many bad mistakes in the past to go rushing off again. No matter how badly he craved to give into the desire swarming him.
He stepped out of the shadows to walk the two blocks to a different pub. This one was crowded, but he found a place in the back. Dale used his enhanced hearing to listen to the many conversations taking place.
Just as he expected, there were places on Coll where few ventured on a daily basis. They would be perfect places for him to hide for a decade or two.
The longer he remained on Coll, the more he felt like it was a good match for what he needed. Not to mention he could finally discover the Druid and why her magic had summoned him. Then he would vanish. He didn't wish to bring evil to the isle. If it followed him, Dale wouldn't hesitate to do what he had to do, but he prayed none of the people would ever know what he was.
He was tired of doing the bidding of evil. Before that, it had been whatever the British government wanted from him.
For once, he just wanted to do whatever he wished to do, make his own decisions, eat when and what he wanted. Sleep when he wished, wake at whatever time he desired.
They were simple pleasures, but ones he longed for.
He ate his meal in short order, but lingered over a glass of whisky as he watched the townspeople interact. There was a lot of laughter and uncensored ribbing.
It made him feel more alone than ever before.
He might be immortal with unimaginable strength and speed as well as enhanced senses, but he was lonely. In fact, he had been lonely for a long time. He just hadn't realized it.
There was no family for him to go back to, no friends he could call. He was on his own as he'd always been.
And always would be.CHAPTER 2
Rennie slowed the old Land Rover as she made her way up to the house. She might prefer to keep to herself, but there were times she had to go into town. Today had been one of those times. She might have been able to put off the trip for another day, but with the snowstorm about to hit, she hadn't wanted to chance it.
Already the wind whipped the snow at a vicious angle that hampered her vision and had her wipers going across the windshield at a furious pace. Once she was parked, she hastily brought her groceries inside and ran back out to check on her cattle.
One of the gates had managed to come open and the cattle she herded closer to the house were now out. Rennie walked into the wind, and in a short time managed to get the cattle into the pen once more.
That is, all except for one who refused to move. With a sigh, Rennie trudged through the snow toward the cow. Only when she got closer did she realize the animal wasn't moving because its calf had fallen amid snow-covered rocks and was stuck.
"Great," she mumbled and carefully made her way down to where the calf was.
The only way to get the calf free was by lifting it up and over. With no other choice, Rennie took hold of the mewling animal.
* * *
Dale sunk his claws that sprouted, unbidden, from his fingers when the magic overtook him, surrounded him. It felt ... beautiful. And the power of it was nothing like he had experienced in his dreams. The closer he had gotten to Coll the stronger it had grown.
Once on Coll, the Druid's magic had subdued everything else until all he could feel, all he could think about was her magic. It sizzled over him like a current of warmth, bright and hot.
He had known it was her when she drove up, and though he tried to get a look at her, he could tell nothing with the thick coat, hat, and scarf. So, he hunkered down in the snowbank and watched the woman, taken completely aback at his visceral reaction to her.
Need pounded ruthlessly, relentlessly within him for one woman — the Druid. He fought to stay hidden instead of taking her in his arms and discovering what she looked like as well as learning her taste as he kissed her at his leisure.
Fortunately, the Druid had been so intent on the cattle and the storm that she hadn't noticed him, which was just as he wanted it until he could get himself under control.
His reaction to her had been instant and astonishing. Every fiber of his being was locked on the Druid. He was rooted to the spot, watching her and learning her. Her magic felt as soft as a cloud, as clean as a summer's rain, and as beautiful as a clear midnight sky.
His thoughts halted as she hefted the calf next to its mother. A second later she began to climb up when she suddenly fell backward.
Dale's body jerked when he heard her grunt as she landed. And then nothing. He counted to five before he jumped up from his hiding place and ran to her, panic making his heart pound in his chest. He couldn't have finally found her only to lose her.
He spotted the ice-covered stone she'd slipped on, but it was the angle of her body as she lay amid the rocks and snow that caused his anxiety to ratchet up several notches.
Dale hunkered next to her once he saw she was unconscious. He reached for her, pulling her body into his arms to protect her, but also because he had to have her close. No sooner did he have her cradled against him then he staggered back, nearly losing his footing, as images flashed in his mind — images of him.
Excerpted from Midnight's Surrender by Donna Grant. Copyright © 2013 Donna Grant. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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