I’m delighted to be taking part in the virtual book tour for Haunted Laird by Tara Nina. This is the fourth book in the Cursed MacKinnons series.
Lynn is ghost-hunting in Scotland when she’s kidnapped by some men rambling on about curses and a brotherhood. During her escape attempt, she falls over a cliff and when she comes to she’s in a cave being guarded by a ghost, who insists she’s the key to freeing a man who has been cast in stone by an evil curse.
And what a man he is!
Padon has been imprisoned in stone for 200 years. He’s still stone in the daytime but all man at night. He and Lynn make the trek to Padon’s family castle to try and free him from the curse. But with the kidnappers in pursuit it’s not going to be an easy trip …
Enjoy reading the first chapter of this exciting, sensual book.
By the time they finally took a break, Lynn had heard enough. The three men bickered worse than a group of old women sitting around with nothing to do but complain about what ailed them. She still couldn’t believe one of them was Fin, Travis’ partner at MacShain’s Guided Tours. The tour company she’d employed to explore the greatest haunted locations in Scotland. If she’d known one of them was a kidnapper, she never would have joined their group.
Travis! Where was Travis? He’d completely slipped her mind. What had they done with him? It made her stomach churn not knowing if her friend were dead or alive. Though she’d listened closely to every word they’d said, they never mentioned what happened to him. And she had been so intent on fighting them when they took her captive, she hadn’t noticed if he lay unconscious or in a pool of blood at their campsite.
She fidgeted but couldn’t move much being they’d tied her hands and feet, then secured her to a makeshift litter with the sleeping bag from her tent that they wrapped thick tape around until she was wedged tight. All she could think when she looked at the contraption they had her in was one word. Papoose. She was being hauled up a mountain in a giant papoose. They’d covered her mouth with a piece of the same tape so she couldn’t scream. Though she tired, she couldn’t push it off with her tongue or wiggle her lips enough to loosen it.
So she resolved herself to lie there, listen, and reserve her strength. They were bound to make a mistake and when they did, she planned to use it to her advantage and escape.
Fin had hidden his face at the campsite she shared with Travis, by keeping his hood tucked low over his head so she didn’t get a good look at him then. Now he didn’t even try to hide from her as she glared at him while he carried the foot end of her prison. The other two, named Lonnie and Timothy, she couldn’t see well from her position. One of them was at the head end of the litter while the other apparently led the way. From what she’d overheard, she was beginning to piece together some of what they were up to, but still didn’t understand why it involved kidnapping her.
What did they want with an American from Texas?
If they planned to ransom her off, the joke was on them. Her family wasn’t rich. The only surviving blood-related member was her sister, who was married to a small town pharmacist and they had a set of triplets. Definitely no money left there. Absently she shook her head. As to her, when Eddie died, he left her comfortable but not extremely wealthy by any means. If she lived frugally, which she did, the money would last for years. So as far as exchanging her for money, they were out of luck, but she didn’t think they had taken her for money. There was this one thing they spoke of several times.
Who or what was this brotherhood they mentioned?
Lynn inhaled deeply through her nose. Apparently this brotherhood wanted something they were willing to pay steeply to obtain and didn’t care what methods were taken to get it. But these guys were out of their minds if they thought she had anything of worth for this brotherhood. She doubted it was her they wanted. It sounded like something was hidden somewhere on this mountain. If they thought she knew where it was, they were crazy.
Unless… She scrolled through everything she’d learned so far. What if they were after something in the cave Travis was taking her to visit? Had they captured her as a trade-off for the cave’s location? Did they think that particular cave held whatever it was they were looking for? Did they think Travis shared the coordinates with her and she’d be able to lead them there? Questions tumbled through her head as she swallowed the lump of growing fear in her throat. She didn’t know anything. She closed her eyes, wishing she’d never taken Travis’ offer to introduce her to a ghost.
She lay there reliving the conversation she’d had with Travis several nights earlier. She must have looked like the biggest sucker going sitting across the table from Travis at a pub after their tour of the underground vaults. Lynn inwardly reprimanded herself for hanging on to his every word as he’d shared his tale of a night he’d spent in a cave with an ancient Scotsman’s specter. Travis claimed he would take her there and she’d be able to communicate with a ghost. The one thing she had yet to achieve in all her years of seeing apparitions was actually speaking with the dead and somehow he’d figured that out and used it against her.
Had he noticed her reactions to the lingering souls wandering the vaults? There had been so many, she felt certain she hadn’t been able to suppress her excitement from her facial expressions. Had he read her desires and played her for a fool? Throughout the tour, she’d noticed Travis seemed to watch her more intently than any of the others. At the pub, he’d explained he’d been waiting for the right person with which to share his spiritual find. She’d fallen for it completely and even did her best to assure him she was the one he needed, a true believer in everything paranormal.
Was he somehow a part of this whole kidnapping ploy? Lynn shivered inwardly. She hadn’t thought of that before. Was Travis not really her friend but an instigator in this ruse to capture an American? She couldn’t think straight as ideas of subterfuge and dastardly deeds tormented her thoughts. No! She refused to believe ill of Travis. He was innocent in this whole scenario.
Damn! The predicament she’d managed to get herself into all in the name of ghost chasing. This addiction of hers was finally going to get her killed.
“Lonnie,” Timothy griped, loudly. Lynn stirred from her musings and concentrated on their conversation, hoping for a thread of information she could use in her favor. “We need a break. Carrying this chick up the mountain isn’t easy.”
“Yeah,” Fin chimed in, “when’s your turn ta help carry her?”
“Quit your grousing,” Lonnie snapped. “We don’t have much farther and we’ll be at the campsite.”
“This better be worth it,” Fin stated heatedly. “The society offered a tidy sum. How do we know this brotherhood will keep their promise? The society will pay, there’s no question there. But this brotherhood seems a bit shady ta me.”
“You’ve pointed that out before, Fin. How many times I got ta tell you?” Lonnie’s growing frustration was evident in his tone. “Me and Tim helped save Brother Leod from a fire at a club in London. He promised ta make us rich if we joined his group.”
Lynn felt the foot of the litter lower as Fin set her down. He moved to stand face to face with Lonnie, who now stood near her shoulder. It was apparent he was the one in charge of this operation. She could sense the tension between them. This was something she could use to her advantage. Fin didn’t speak much during the week of her guided tour through the haunts of Edinburgh. He’d let his partner Travis do all the tour guide stuff while he drove the bus. Now he didn’t seem to hold his tongue.
“I just find it mighty strange this Brother Leod knows so much about the clan we swore ta protect.”
“We,” Lonnie screeched, leaning to within millimeters of Fin’s face. “I don’t know about you, but I took no oath. It was a fairy tale, a myth handed down from our forefathers that suckered us into believing in a curse on a clan that no longer exists.”
“It must be some truth behind it or why would so many before us stand together united?” Lynn saw Fin’s stance change as if making ready to fight. “And best o’ all, why would this newfound friend o’ yours be so interested in what the society protects? Think maybe he’s up ta no good?”
Lonnie shook as he waved his hands in the air in frustration. “I think you be backing out on us, Fin. You be in too tight with the society.” He poked Fin in the chest with his forefinger as he bellowed, “Are you with us or are you not? You might want ta be thinking about it afore you answer.” He nodded toward the side of the path that was a steep drop-off into a ravine. “Looks ta be a mighty long fall.”
Fin’s shoulders tightened and it appeared as if he reined in his anger, taking a step back. She heard his heavy exhale as he replied, “I’m in.”
“Good,” Lonnie spat back at him. “Now pick up your end and let’s get going.”
Lynn couldn’t help but wonder about Fin’s connection with these two.
Silence fell between them, which gave her time to sort through the limited details. Apparently they all belonged to some sort of society sworn to protect some nonexistent clan. Lonnie had a new friend with lots of money and a desire to own something the society protected. But what? None of them had let that slip.
Fin wouldn’t look at her. Instead his gaze seemed to glance occasionally behind him as if expecting to see someone there at any moment. Travis maybe? Momentarily a spark of hope for his safety gave her an instant of relief that Travis might be tracking them or gone for help. When Fin wasn’t looking behind, his eyes stayed straightforward and she could only imagine the hole his glare would bore through Lonnie’s back if he had such a power.
And from what she’d figured out, Timothy did whatever Lonnie told him to do. So even if Fin had changed his mind about being a part of this team, he was out-numbered. She focused on Fin. He was the weak link. Something didn’t seem right with him and this little adventure. Something she hoped she could twist in her favor when the time was right.
It was after dark when they reached the designated campsite on the ridge. Tents were already erected. It appeared as if they had set up camp before they invaded her campsite and took her captive. They set her down. Timothy stacked wood in the pit to build a fire. Fin disappeared into one of the two tents. Lonnie plopped onto a large rock beside the pit.
When Fin came out of his tent carrying a lit lantern, she tried to talk against the tape to get his attention. Though it was nothing more than a mumbled noise, he squatted beside her and sat the lantern on the ground near her head. In a low tone, he spoke to her, “I’m going ta remove the tape. If you scream, I’ll have ta put it back. You no going ta scream are you?”
Lynn shook her head and he slowly removed the tape from her mouth. She wiggled her jaw and wet her lips. It felt good to have that off her face. Now if she could just get him to unwrap the tape that bound her to the stretcher and release her arms from behind her back her shoulders would be forever grateful.
“Can you untie me please?” she asked softly, “I need to go to the bathroom.”
Fin glanced at his partners then pulled out a pocketknife and started cutting the tape. He hadn’t gotten far when Lonnie jumped up and ran over to him.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Fin didn’t stop. He continued cutting without looking up from his task. “The lass is in need o’ a bathroom break.”
Lonnie commanded, “Then she’s your responsibility. Make sure she doesn’t get away.” He turned on his heels and stomped over to the other tent and went inside.
“Real friendly guy,” Lynn stated coolly. Fin smiled at her wisecrack and the tension in the back of her neck eased. Once he freed the tape from across the sleeping bag, he lifted it off her and helped her sit upright. After cutting the tape binding her ankles, he untied the rope from around her wrists.
“You okay ta stand?”
“I think so. I’m a little stiff.”
“Here, I’ll help you,” Fin offered as he took her hands and guided her to her feet.
Lynn’s legs were fine. She wiggled her toes in her boots trying to loosen the tightness in her ankles. Rolling her shoulders and moving her fingers helped relieve the dead sensation and numbness in her arms and hands. The small of her back ached from lying on her hands balled beneath her. The only good thing from being carried up the mountain, she’d laid there listening, learning their motives and reserving her energy. As soon as the tingling quit in her arms and feet, she knew she’d be ready to make a break for it.
She took a step toward the trees when Fin cut her off. “Nay, lassie. I’ve got ta keep you from running.” He held a longer rope, which he secured around her waist.
“Really,” Lynn said with her eyebrow cocked and a hand on the rope.
“It’s either this or I hold your hand while you pee,” Fin stated point-blank. Lynn opened her mouth to protest then shut it. He was serious. He grabbed the lantern and held it out so she could see where she was going.
They walked several feet away from the tents. Fin stopped her and turned her to face him. He hung the lantern on a branch so it bathed the area in a low glow. He took hold of her hands as he spoke in a whispered tone so only she could hear.
“Listen, Lynn. Things are not as they seem. Please abide by Lonnie’s rules for now and I’ll see ta it you make it home safe.”
Lynn swallowed her excitement. She was right about Fin. He really wasn’t part of this, but somehow had gotten roped into it. Keeping her voice low and her tone even she asked, “Why are you helping them?”
“That be a question I cannot answer now.” He nodded toward the campsite. “You best be doing your business quickly or Lonnie just might come looking for us. He may not be the brightest but he does have a mean streak.”
She nodded and scooted behind the trees out of his view. Indecision warred with her insides as she relieved herself while at the same time loosening the rope. She wasn’t a liar, she really had to go but she had no intentions of missing the opportunity to escape. When she stood and secured her jeans, she turned and walked face first into a hand over her mouth and an arm around her waist.
“Don’t scream, Lynn. It’s me, Travis,” he whispered in her ear.
Fear filled her. In her panic, his words didn’t register. She bit his hand and kneed him in the family jewels. Adrenaline rushed making her run faster than she’d ever run in her life. Limbs slapped her face and left behind stinging scratches. Darkness surrounded her, only the occasional light from the stars and moon filtered through the canopy of trees. Limited line-of-sight didn’t stop her. She kept on running. Several times she tripped and miraculously she managed to stay on her feet, blindly grabbing hold of branches or trees to break her fall.
Voices echoed behind her making her push onward even though she gasped for air. Her lungs hurt. There wasn’t an uncovered patch of skin that didn’t burn from being attacked by objects in the dark. She knew if she didn’t slow down she was going to get severely injured. When she couldn’t hear the voices behind her anymore, she slowed to a stop and bent over with her hands on her knees trying to clear her head and breathe.
Wheezing in and out, she thought she was going to be sick even though her stomach was empty. Her capturers hadn’t fed her. Dizziness made her head spin, causing her to crumble to her knees. Uncontrollable tears gushed and for the first time since the whole thing started, she felt completely helpless. Sob after sob croaked from deep inside her before she finally curled into a ball on the soft forest floor.
She lay there for several minutes more, trying to calm her frazzled nerves. The sensation of warmth cocooned her, soothing her, clearing her thoughts as the faint sound of her dead husband’s voice flowed inside her head. Think, Lynn. Think. There’s got to be a way out of this. Lying on the ground won’t save you.
Lynn sat upright, dried her eyes and gathered her wits. Eddie reached out to her in her time of need just as he’d done whenever she was down or distraught over the past three years. This she knew in her heart. Whether she imagined it or not, it was his whispered words of encouragement that sparked her drive to survive and pulled her back together. He was the reason she’d come on this trip to Scotland, to fulfill their ghost hunting dreams. She’d be damned if she’d let some two-bit kidnappers ruin her life. She struggled to her feet and straightened her clothes as best as possible.
Up ahead through the trees, she thought she saw a break in the woods. Maybe there was a meadow and quite possibly a house with people who could help her. Slowly she worked her way in that direction. The sound of male voices from somewhere behind her scared her. They were still coming after her and getting closer. She dug deep for any energy she had left and ran.
The moment she cleared the tree line, the ground went out from under her. She landed on her backside and began a torturous slide, bouncing off saplings, rocks and underbrush as her speed increased. Afraid she’d break her neck if she didn’t stop, Lynn kept grabbing onto anything that would slow her descent. Several times the thin saplings she managed to grasp pulled out of the soft ground, slowing her some but not much. Digging in her heels helped, but the moist soil gave away until she hit a solid mass, a well-embedded rock that stopped her downward spiral.
Lynn came to a bone-jarring halt, leaning into the side of the mountain and praying the rock beneath her feet didn’t pull out of place. Once the dirt around her stopped shifting, she evaluated her condition. It didn’t seem as if anything was broken but it was hard to tell through the total body numbness. Breathing deep, she calmed her overwrought nerves and forced her trembling hands to search from side to side for anything that would help support her. Peering down the length of her body, she realized she’d slipped into a ravine and from her position, it looked bottomless. It wasn’t an open meadow she’d seen, it was simply an optical illusion caused by the way the moonlight played upon the countryside.
Damn! She closed her eyes and it hit her. She was living the dream she had the first night of this ghost hunting adventure. Dead tired from hiking into the Grampian Mountains, cozy and warm in her sleeping bag, her imagination ran wild in her sleep and she had awoken all hot and bothered by the images fired to life in her brain. Thinking back, it replayed as if she were asleep and the dream reoccurred.
Don’t look down, whispered through her head as she gasped for a full breath. She clung on for life in her dream just like she did now. Dirt slipped from the mountain, crumbling around her with any movement. Lynn kept her eyes closed tight, listening to the echo of a rock as it rolled into the deep crevice beneath her. It sounded so far away. She tried desperately not to think on the ‘what if she fell’ scenario and let the memory of the dream temporary control her thoughts.
She’d had help then whereas now there was none. As she’d reached upward, a hand had grabbed hers. If she remembered correctly, warmth had shot down her arm as a strong hand wrapped around hers. Lynn leaned back into the mountain, letting the vision of hope live in her mind in a valiant effort to relieve the tension of her reality.
One hand held hers, while the other reached and grabbed her backpack, tugging her into the mouth of a cave without so much as a grunt from the effort. Once certain of her safety, she’d lifted onto her knees, turned on a flashlight she couldn’t remember from where she’d gotten it, after all it was a dream. Several seconds passed before she could actually focus. But when she did, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
A gorgeous hunk of a man dressed in full-scale, ancient Scottish regalia stood staring down at her. The way the light played across the plains of his face gave him a dangerously rugged appeal. She couldn’t decide if his eyes were green, blue or a mixture of both. A firm jaw held a set of perfect male lips. Waves of dark hair thick with amber highlights hung loose about his broad shoulders.
He was bare-chested except for the leather strap that crossed from left shoulder to right hip, which held the sheath for the sword she saw the handle of above his shoulder. The man’s abdominal muscles were unlike any she’d ever seen. Ripped was the only word that came to mind, but even that didn’t do him justice. A red and green plaid kilt slung low across his hips lay perfectly to his knees. Laced boots covered from his calves to his toes, but from the snug fit hid nothing about their musculature. His legs befit the rest of him, muscles on top of muscles.
For a split second, wonder if he’s true to his kilt flashed inside her brain and she’d had to fold her hands together to resist the temptation to lift the plaid and take a peek. She swallowed hard, then forced her brain to work and made her mouth form a sentence.
“Thank you for saving me.” She remembered speaking as she held her hand out to him.
He’d stared for what seemed like an eternity before he reached for it and helped her to her feet. She stumbled on weakened legs and fell against the solid wall of male flesh. His arm wrapped around her waist, holding her closer along the warmth of his form. His other hand’s fingers gently touched her chin and guided her face upward. He seemed to study her before his eyes met hers.
The low sultry baritone of his words washed over her as he spoke. “Nay, milady. ‘Tis ye who hath saved mi.”
In the dream, his arm tightened around her waist as he lifted her without any effort. One of her hands held his thick, bulging biceps while her other hand landed on his waist for support. Never had anyone lifted her to kiss her. Nerves fired to life that she’d thought were dead. The closer his lips got, the more she wanted his kiss. This slow motion event was killing her. The heat of his breath caressed her lips just millimeters apart. The warmth of his body set her on fire with desire.
Lynn caught herself craning her neck trying to reach his lips. Opening her eyes reality set in. She truly clung to the side of a mountain for life. She tilted her chin upward, but saw nothing much in the darkness. Was there a handsome man waiting to rescue her? Nervously she laughed at the ludicrous thought. There wasn’t anyone who knew where she was or would risk their life to save her.
This wasn’t a dream. This was her reality.
No, it was up to her to save herself. She dug deep, brushing away the perfect hero-saves-the-day dream from her thoughts and struggled for survival.
Cautious in her movements, she inched along the rock, turning until she was face first against the dirt. Should she try to climb down or was it easier to go up? Lynn moved her hands palm flat along the ground searching for any point of support, anything she could grasp. The fingertips of her right hand brushed something rough and solid. Lynn rotated her head in that direction. It appeared to be a ledge. God, she hoped it would hold her.
With slow, careful movements, she worked her way toward the lip in the rock, hugging her body to the mountain for dear life. She used the plants for leverage, holding on but not pulling so their roots wouldn’t break and jerk free from the ground. It seemed like an eternity had past before she reached the ledge. Every muscle ached and trembled but she refused to give in to the exhaustion that threatened to tear her from the mountainside. Nope. She didn’t plan to fail. That ledge was her salvation, her place to rest and recuperate until sunrise.
She gripped the rocky edge. When it didn’t break off and slide away, relief made her smile. Now all she had to do was pull herself up onto it. Toeing her boots into the dirt, she tried to push upward using her legs. The ground slid out from beneath her right foot and she slipped, leaving her dangling by her hands. Her shoulders screamed in pain and her arms shook, but she tightened her grip refusing to lose this battle.
Sheer will helped her find a sturdier foundation. Her left foot located a rock and her right she planted between the base of a bush and the dirt. Spread-eagled wasn’t the best position but it kept her from falling any farther. The rock didn’t feel as sturdy as the bush so she pushed up on her right leg and glided her left leg closer to the right until it found a secure spot stuck in a hole a wee bit higher than the bush. She struggled inch by inch until she was able to hoist herself onto the ledge.
Lynn rolled several feet away from the edge and onto her back. Breathing heavily, she lay still trying to evaluate her condition. Nothing felt broken. Her legs and arms trembled from the excessive exertion she’d placed on them. This definitely was more exercise than she’d ever gotten. Seconds turned into minutes as she simply lay there. The pounding of her heart resumed its normal pace and the tension in her body relaxed, giving her a chance to reflect on the events that led up to her precarious predicament.
Don’t scream, Lynn. It’s me, Travis.
The words rolled around inside her head and the sudden realization of what she’d done surfaced. Ohmygod! Travis! She’d attacked Travis, the one person who she thought was on her side. Or maybe he wasn’t. She truly didn’t know for sure anymore. Hysterical laughter rose from her chest.
What had she done?
She rolled onto her side and curled into a ball. The laughter slowed and exhaustion took over. Everything hurt. Both arms and legs trembled uncontrollably. A deep-seated ache bloomed from her core and spread outward until every ounce of her was thoroughly sated, causing her muscles to spasm at will. Her body gave her no other choice but to sleep. If she saw the morning light, it would be a miracle.
Invisible, strong, gentle hands caressed her, lulling her to sleep. Warmth surrounded her. The handsome man reappeared in her dreams, giving her comfort in her time of need. She snuggled closer into the imaginary heat of his body. He surrounded her, coddling her against him as if he alone would protect her from the elements. Sensing he stood watch, Lynn relaxed further into the depths of sleep, letting his sexy image renew her desire for life and for him.
He appeared to be tall with wide shoulders and thick arms that would hold her for as long as she needed to be held. Long, dark hair with rich shades of red was pulled away from his face, making her wish to untie what bound it and set it free to landscape his rugged features. Deep, blue-green eyes stared at her filled with wonder and wisdom beyond his years.
In this dream, he said nothing nor did she. He simply held her while she slept, keeping her close and away from the edge of the ledge. His imaginary heat warmed her and warded off the cool night air. A sensual dream not sexual guided her into a peaceful place where the hazards of her day no longer existed. It was just her and her hot, dream-walking man.
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