Authors: Patty Taylor
Table of Contents
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
Cover Design by Syneca Featherstone
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
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In loving memory of my special Irish mother,
Evelyn Vance Taylor.
I know in my heart, you’re smiling down at me.
for sharing your wonderful gifts of love and imagination,
and teaching me to believe in myself.
Your courage and strength helped inspire me
to keep faith and take one step at a time,
especially when life throws obstacles in front of me.
A very special thank you to Debby Gilbert, for making my dream become a reality. Thanks, Debby, for having faith in my writing and Mortal Magick, and to the entire staff at Soul Mate Publishing for their help and guidance.
There are so many people I have met the past several years that I wish to thank for their encouragement, mentorship and friendship. And most importantly, for giving me their support when I needed it the most. A special thanks to Beth Trissel, Gerri Bowen, Miriam Newman, Kerri Nelson, Christina Elle, Lane McFarland, Màiri Norris, Sophia Kimble, and the Celtic Critters members for their positive feedback, along with my family and friends, Celia, Debby, Kathy, Mary Ann, and Shelby.
Keara McMasters didn’t believe in magick. Even if she
born a witch.
“Haven’t you caused enough trouble for one day by flaunting yourself? Why couldn’t you pick a less conspicuous place to appear? Like my scalp. Or better yet, my
,” Keara grumbled and glared at the unique birthmark embedded on her wrist. She held about as much faith in hocus-pocus as she had when it came to finding real
in the twenty-first century. Like dinosaurs, she considered both possibilities extinct.
Descended from a proud line of Scottish women proven to have practiced witchcraft for centuries, Keara had no desire to pursue their vocation. The mere fact she was even associated with their belief could cause enough trouble, and now might possibly cost her her job. Careful to keep her legacy a secret, she made it a point to wear various wristbands at work and stash spares in her purse and desk.
A cool breeze rustled the window curtains, making the crystal suncatcher jingle. A similar sound from a student’s dangling bracelet still chimed in her head. She winced. Her stomach twisted in knots. She clenched her fists, her fingernails cutting into her palms. The memory of last week’s nightmare replayed in her mind. While helping a student place a slide in the microscope, a tiny golden clasp caught inside Keara’s wristband and yanked it off her wrist, exposing the Wiccan pentagram with the entwined Celtic symbols.
“How cool is that?” the girl screeched, drawing the attention of her classmates, now huddling around her.
“It’s just a birthmark.” Keara bit her lower lip and attempted to distract their attention. Her fingers trembled trying to unhook the steadfast clasp before sliding the armband back over her wrist. “Please get back to your seats. Can anyone tell me what these neat slides mean?”
“It’s the sign of a witch,” one of the other kids rattled, arousing more excitement.
The bell clamored. Before Keara could open her mouth, the students raced to the jam-packed halls eager to share their discovery.
Like a pot of boiling water making steam, ugly rumors escalated and spread like wildfire between the students and teachers. Many parents and staff members voiced their concerns that a witch teaching at their school might cause a scandal. At least to her knowledge, there hadn’t been anyone prosecuted for witchcraft since the Salem Witch Trials.
It was bad enough she’d just lost her fiancé, Dennis, by confiding the truth of her heritage with him.
“Those emblems represent your family, Keara.” Her sister Beth strolled into the living room carrying two generous pieces of homemade peanut-butter fudge. “I’m afraid you can’t keep denying the truth much longer.”
“I’m trying to be sensible. Aside from the fiasco at work, Dennis is still holding a grudge. He actually called and had the nerve to tell me how much he despised Samson.” Keara accepted the thick piece of candy and stroked her fingers through her cat’s thick coat. "It’s not my fault the idiot left his new sneakers on the back porch and Samson decided to use them for a litter pan. I guess he wanted to express his concern that I still hadn’t reimbursed him for a new pair of shoes before he asked where I kept my hat and broomstick.”
“Dennis is a jerk. Trust me, Sis. You’re better off without that fool. I always said Samson had good taste.” Beth squeezed her shoulder before leaning over to scratch Samson’s chin. “And don’t worry about your job. You’re a damn good teacher. You know how people like to gossip. I don’t see how they can ridicule you for something you have no control over. Especially something like a birthmark. Things will look better tomorrow, I promise. Besides, when do I get to see the new projects you’re working on?”
Keara sat on the floor with her legs crossed and her laptop in front of her. A pile of ungraded science papers were scattered across the coffee table. She licked the peanut butter remnants off her fingers. With a sweep of her arms, she gathered the cluttered paperwork and scooped the lessons inside her briefcase then, with a click, Keara shut the latch.
After she shoved the red-marking pencil behind her right ear, she reached beneath the sofa and pulled out a worn leather portfolio filled with sketches. Eager for Beth to see her two most recent creations, she opened the binder, laying several drawings across the carpet. Taking a deep breath, she waited for her sister’s reaction.
Beth squatted. With raised eyebrows, she muttered, “Oh my,” when she spied the drafts of the brawny Highlanders.
Keara grinned at Beth’s keen interest. The fresh parchment depicted two sexy men wearing kilts.
Beth’s mouth opened wide. Her fingers grasped the drawing of the Scottish warrior, and she leaned closer. Her eyes twinkled as she inspected his muscular hands clenching the wooden wheel of an old ship. Locks of long, wavy hair were strewn across his handsome face as he braced himself against strong gusts of wind. The white caps of ocean waves thrashed against the bow. Clad with a tartan plaid slung over his shoulder and a dirk tucked into his kilt, his chest was covered in Celtic symbols and dragon tattoos.
Like a magnet, Keara’s attention was lured back to her favorite sketch. The rugged Highlander carried a broadsword, a bow, and a quiver filled with arrows strapped against his back. His taut muscles rippled against his chest while clutching the reins of a stunning black stallion pawing at the ground. Depicted against a patchwork of rolling green hills covered with golden hues of gorse shrubs, she added in various flowers and heather in shades of purple and mauve. For the finishing touch, she outlined a Scottish thistle emblem, centered on the top of his sporran.
She knew it was only a portrait, but there was something peculiar that kept attracting her attention. Maybe it was his mesmerizing, deep-turquoise eyes that continued to plague her thoughts. It was as if the Highlander’s spirit was calling out to her. Goosebumps scattered across her skin. She rubbed her forefingers and thumbs together while gazing at his spellbinding expression. Her fingers still stung from the sharp tingles, like tiny electric shocks that raced through her hands and up her arms, right after she penciled in the final details of his striking face.
“I take it a few of those romance novels you’ve been reading might’ve played a role in creating these two sketches in particular? I like them both, but I’m seriously leaning more to the hunk onboard ship. It must be those intricate dragon tattoos.” Beth smiled. “I still think it’s a sin to let such talent go to waste. I wish you’d reconsider and put some of your work on display in Mrs. Kimble’s shop.”
“I might have to sell some. Especially if I end up losing my job over this stupid mess at school. In the meantime, I have something for you.” Keara reached inside her tote bag, pulled out a gift package, and handed it to her sister, along with two new romance books she had bought for herself. She grabbed her favorite Highlander sketch and held it in front of her chest. “Now this, I’m willing to believe in. Not to mention, it does make nice eye candy.”
They both laughed.
Beth stood and opened the present. She squealed in delight when she read the titles. One book was about Scottish and Irish Celtic lore and the other an encyclopedia on herbal medicine she’d been wanting for months. Beth clasped the gifts to her heart, then knelt and kissed Keara’s cheek. “Thank you. But you really shouldn’t have. You could’ve used that money for that outfit you’ve had your eye on.”
“Consider it an early birthday present. Besides, that dress isn’t a necessity, and since we don’t have any hot dates lined up anytime in the near future, I thought we both deserved a treat.” Keara propped some pillows behind herself against the bottom of the love seat, leaned back, and closed her eyes.
Beth sat beside her and sighed. “Do you ever get the feeling we were born in the wrong time period?”
“Yes, at times. You’d fit in perfectly living in the past with all your herbal remedies and unique talents.” Keara bent her legs to her chest and clutched them with her arms. She gazed out the bay window, daydreaming. “I think it’d be grand to visit Scotland around the eighteenth century. As long as I was able to take my sketchbook and laptop. Of course I’d need a few comforts from home, and my cell phone.”
Keara absentmindedly twirled a few loose curls of hair propped against her cheek around her fingers. “I’d be happy if a
gallant Highlander from the past decided to walk through our front door this very minute. If he happens to be tall, handsome, with shoulder-length reddish-brown hair, huge biceps, and a broad, bare chest, I wouldn’t complain.”
“I assume you’re referring to someone like one of those hot models in your drawings? I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you.” Beth stood, laughing. An eyebrow arched, her expression changed to one of concern. “Seriously, Keara, I think a bit of fresh air might do you some good. I’m worried about you. Maybe you should take a few days off work.”
Keara squeezed Beth’s hand. “I’m fine, really. I promise.”
“Look, why don’t you take a break and come outside with me? I need to pick some rose petals and lemon balm for potpourri before we get a heavy frost,” Beth said, attempting to persuade her.
“I’ll join you later. I need to put my sketches away first.” Her gaze followed Beth strolling toward the kitchen before she disappeared around the corner. The back porch door squeaked open and banged shut.
Keara spied what resembled an ink blot on her favorite Highlander drawing sprawled on the floor. She squatted, picking up the parchment and immediately recognized the marking on the sketch.
It’s my birthmark. I never drew that.
Her cell phone vibrated in her side pocket. Samson jumped to the floor and scampered to the pantry. The lights flickered off and on. Thunder rumbled in the distance. A flash of lightning lit up the blackened sky right outside the bay window in front of her. She flinched. She never did like storms.
I swear the weather forecaster said it was supposed to be clear today
A strong gust of wind blew through an open window, scattering her artwork across the living-room carpet. The wooden shutters clattered shut. A shower of fireworks exploded outside. One of the power lines fell to the ground.
“Oh no, Samson. Beth’s still outside.” Keara jumped and grabbed a jacket off the wall hook and dashed for the back door. Samson darted out in front of her. The screen door blew out of her hand, swung off the hinges and went flying in the air. She ventured as close as possible to the sparking power line but saw no signs of her sister. Her heart raced as she sprinted toward the trellises of rose bushes and rows of flowerbeds. Cold chills raced up her spine. Her stomach filled with knots. She yelled, “Beth! Where are you?”
Broken flowerpots and planters lay strewn across the backyard. Afraid Beth might be lying hurt or unconscious, Keira continued to search the gardens before heading to the small greenhouse.
Samson cried, catching her attention. She rushed, stopping to find him hovering over a sparkling object lying between his feet. She bent and picked up a golden amulet that looked vaguely familiar to her. “We don’t have time for this now, Samson. We’ve got to find Beth.”
Her frightened feline jumped into her arms at the same time she spotted something whirling through the air toward them. She ducked, trying to dodge the object and landed on the ground, the amulet clenched in her hand. Like a stove burner, it glowed and turned hot. Then something hard hit the back of her head. Pain soared through her eyes and forehead. Nauseated, she clutched Samson as a dark cloud enveloped her before everything went black.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
October 7, 1797
Duncan McCord wanted a woman. His entire body and soul hungered for a special lass’ touch. The one destined for his love, whom he would call kindred spirit. His stomach tightened, a pain ripping through him like the slice of a broadsword.
This canna happen. Not now, not ever.
Reality hastily slapped him back to his senses. He vowed never to be foolish enough to let himself fall into another vixen’s treacherous traps.
Dark, threatening clouds rolled over Scotland’s glorious mountain peaks in the distance. The muscles in his legs rippled, gripping both sides of his mount. His stallion, Goliath, snorted and stopped short in his tracks. His enormous hooves stomped the hard ground.
“Aye, ‘tis all right, me friend. Just a bad storm startin’ to brew. What a grand spot to rest for the night.” Duncan bent down and stroked the neck of the black steed then swung his leg over and jumped to the ground, beginning to remove both gear and saddle.
Goliath neighed, his breath white in the cold air.
A gust of frigid air swept around Duncan’s feet, spiraling its way beneath his woolen plaid. Leaves rustled from the biting breeze as they whispered danger through the towering pines.
Goliath snorted again and reared his mighty head.
The sweet scent of honeysuckle filled Duncan’s flaring nostrils and jabbed his memory. The pleasing fragrance was soon replaced with the putrid smell of dead worms and rotten leaves. Clenching his fists, his knuckles cracked. Short hairs bristled on the back of his neck. Wicked laughter echoed through the Highland hills.
A woman’s teasing, silky voice sparked his memory, whispering poison in his ears.
“Your journey is for naught, my beloved Duncan. I see you’re still stubborn as always. Your horse seems to have more common sense than you.”
The snicker became a cackle. Invisible fingers like fuzzy feathers tickled his whiskers, making his face twitch.
“I see ye still didna have the guts to face me, ye bloody she-devil. Afraid ye might finally get what ye rightfully deserve?” Stone-faced, he shouted into empty space. “I promise, witch. Ye won’t be laughin’ for verra much longer.”
“Careful, my spirited lover. You don’t want to wake the inner beast before sunset. Since you’ve been alone without a woman to warm your bed this past decade, I’d have thought by now, you’d welcome my company.” Icy breath touched his pursed lips. “You know I can end your curse whenever you’re ready. You just need to say the words.
“Nay, I didna’ want to lay me eyes on that treacherous face of yers ever again, much less wed yer wicked soul. Aye, I was a damn fool back then. I willna be makin’ that same mistake twice. Away with ye, sorceress!”