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Beyond Highland Whisper

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Blessed by a Highland Curse
The Origin Story - A MacKay Clan Legend

He’s a Highlander from the past, seeking his soulmate.
She loves coffee and air conditioning.
He’s determined to take her back to his time.
She’s dead set on keeping him in hers.

Newly divorced, teetering on bankruptcy, and about to lose her land, Rachel Hawkins is hanging on by a frazzled thread, but she’s still hanging on and that’s what counts. But when she dreams about a handsome Highlander who treats her to a hotter night of loving than any she’s ever read about and then shows up on her doorstep the next morning, she wonders if her frazzled thread has snapped. While it’s true her grandmother was a talented witch and trained Rachel before she died, Granny never said anything about conjuring up the perfect lover in a dream and having him delivered to your door the next day. The last thing she needs right now is a man to complicate the mess that is her life. Unless he wants to rent out the room over her garage. Rent money? She can use that. A relationship? Not so much.

Caelan MacKay, laird of Clan MacKay in the Highlands of Scotland in the year 1379, is cursed. As was his father before him, and his father’s father, and so on. Cursed to dream of his soulmate until he finds her and makes her his wife—as he has done in all previous incarnations and will do in all future ones—as long as he succeeds in this one. But the woman haunting his dreams can’t be found anywhere in Scotland, and the dreams have become sheer torment. So, he seeks help from the old druid who once advised his father. The seer finds her living in the year 2007 in an unknown land called Kentucky.

So, a bargain is struck with the Fates and the Goddess Brid. Caelan is granted the full cycle of seven moons to travel to the future and convince his true love to return with him to the year 1379 of her own free will—no trickery or Highland kidnapping allowed. At the end of the allotted time, he returns to his era whether he succeeds or fails in his quest. If he fails, he’s doomed to a life alone and possibly the end of the MacKay bloodline, a bloodline gifted with power both envied and feared by the other clans.
Against her better judgment, Rachel can’t resist Caelan, but no way is she going back to 14th century Scotland and trying to survive that country’s dangerous past—time for Plan B. With the help of Granny’s grimoire, she’ll bind Caelan to her time, and they’ll have their happily ever after with modern conveniences. But that’s the thing about the Fates and the Goddess Brid. They ignore everyone’s Plan B but their own.

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MacKay Keep
Scottish Highlands
Year of our Lord 1379

Hopeful, yet guarding his heart against yet another disappointment, Laird Caelan MacKay shifted in his chair. From his position on the dais at the head of the great hall, he kept his focus locked on the wide archway at the far end of the room, waiting for the lass they had found to be led in from the courtyard.

The MacKay banners of vibrant blue and green hanging on either side of the entrance gently shifted against the stone walls, as though just as eager to meet this latest possibility. Hushed conversations took place close by, like a nest of hissing adders, distracting him from the subject at hand. His advisors needed to cease their whispering like gossipy old hens and stand firm in this latest choice. Their uneasiness in this noble task he had assigned them did little to assure him they had finally gotten it right.

“Surely, she’s the one, aye?” Fergus MacKay, Clan MacKay’s war chief, said while sidling closer to Emrys, the druid advisor to the laird and keeper of the ancient magick.

Caelan tightened his grip on the carved arms of the chair, straining to hear old Emrys’s reply even though he no longer needed it. The timid lass, escorted by her father, the mighty Cormac of Glen Marren, was not the one. He allowed himself a heavy sigh but held his tongue, studying her closer, and praying he was wrong. Perhaps once he saw her eyes, the curse would change its mind, and his heart would recognize her.

Emrys gave a quiet snorting groan. “A sign should have come from him by now,” he told Fergus, then threw up a hand and turned aside. “I thought surely she would be the one.”

The shy maiden eased her way down the center aisle between the long trestle tables and benches that filled the cavernous gathering room designed not only for feeding and celebrating the clan but hearing their grievances. Her hesitant steps barely stirred the fresh rushes spread across the flagstones. She stole a nervous glance back at her father who had halted at the entrance and sent her onward alone.

Her sire gave her a stern nod, silently ordering her to continue.

She turned back toward the dais once more but kept her head bowed as, once again, she took up the path toward Caelan.

He narrowed his eyes and reached out with all of his senses, wishing his instincts were somehow mistaken. Teeth clenched, he admitted defeat and slumped back in his chair. No. He was not mistaken. This woman was not the one. With a curt shake of his head, he let Emrys and Fergus know that once again, they had failed in their assigned quest.

Emrys caught hold of Fergus’s arm and shoved him forward. “Return the lass to her father. No sense in the poor child suffering the clan’s stares any longer.”

Fergus rolled his eyes heavenward, then intercepted the young woman and gently led her back to her sire.

Caelan hefted himself up from his seat and waited for the low murmuring of the clansmen gathered at the tables to fade. Once silence filled the vast hall, he inclined his head toward the girl’s father. “Thank ye, Cormac, for bringing your daughter before us. Her grace and beauty will win many suitors for her hand, I am sure.”

The old chief tightened his mouth at the gracious dismissal. Gone were the hopes of a match with the Laird of Clan MacKay. He turned and left the room, leaving his daughter to scurry after him.

With a summoning jerk of his head at Emrys, Caelan waited for the old one to shuffle to his side. “We are finished here,” he said, biting out the words, not at all pleased with the outcome.

Frustration soured in his gut as he strode from the room and climbed the stairs to the curtain wall. Of late, he had taken to pacing the path atop the ancient stone barrier while staring across his land and fighting against the ache of loneliness and despair the dreams continued to bring. Deep breaths of the sea air and the sting of the harsh wind against his flesh as he walked the walls were the only things that brought him the least bit of comfort and helped him keep somewhat of a grip on his sanity.

With Fergus close behind, Emrys fell in step beside Caelan, squinting against the briny gusts thundering in off the sea to eat away at the ancient stones of the castle perched high upon the cliff. “We thought the Cormac’s daughter was the one of your dreams. Comely looks. Dark hair. Flashing eyes. Did she not meet your description? The curse nay gave ye the slightest twinge about her?”

“Nothing.” Caelan halted and propped his hands atop the cold rough blocks of limestone forming the merlins and crenels of the protective wall. The rhythm of the waves crashing far below mimicked the churning within him. “Nothing about that meek lass compares to the fiery woman in my dreams every night.”

“There was nothing wrong with her,” Fergus growled, shoving his way up beside them. “Did ye even look at her close? I am a warrior, Caelan. Not a feckin’ matchmaker and I grow weary of this task.” His ruddy face shifted to a darker shade as he worried a hand through his wild russet hair streaked with gray. “She would have made ye a fine enough match. Her dowry of lands and a good measure of fat cattle would not have gone amiss around here, either.”

“Then you wed her.” Caelan shoved off the wall and continued his pacing. They didn’t understand. The curse forbade him from even considering anyone other than the woman the powers chose for him before he was even born.

Fergus dropped his chin to his chest. “I mean no disrespect. Ye ken ye are the brother I never had. But we have searched for months. Brought women to ye from all over Scotland. Did ye ever wonder if she truly exists? Perhaps the curse is merely toying with ye.” He clenched his fists until his knuckles popped one by one. “Other matters need our attention—your attention. Your clan. Your people. Pick a wife, man. It canna be that hard to choose the mother of your future sons.”

“I need my heart’s mate!” Caelan roared in Fergus’s face. He clapped hold of the man’s chest and shook him. “The dreams are sheer torment. She beckons me. Taunts me to find her. Catch her. Claim her for my own. She has ruined me for all others.”

Emrys grabbed Fergus by the shoulder and gave the man a sharp jerk of his head to prevent him from saying anything more. “Every laird of Clan MacKay has endured this curse, Fergus. They can have no other than the one who appears in their dreams.” He jabbed a crooked finger at Caelan. “And if he goes against the curse and takes another, she would die within seven moons of their joining.”

Fergus threw up his hands, turned, and headed for the stairs, his cloak billowing out behind him. “I am done with this madness. Summon me when ye need me to serve as something other than a matchmaker.”

While Caelan did not appreciate his war chief’s fit of temper, he understood the man’s sentiments and couldn’t ask for a better warrior to ensure the clan’s safety. He shifted his glare to Emrys. “So, my fine advisor, what say ye now?”

Scratching his yellowed nails through his snowy white beard, Emrys once again squinted into the wind and stared out at the sea. “I believe it time to consult the mirrors, my laird. Use the elements to find the lass. By your leave, it is time for some magick.”

Time for magick. The very idea made Caelan tense, as though charging into battle. But if it would end the dreams, end the feckin’ madness of seeing her but not knowing how to find her, then it would be well worth the risk. He rolled his shoulders and gave a curt nod. “Do whatever it takes.”