Sadie’s Highlander – Maeve Greyson

“Above all else, I charge ye with the task of keepin’ yer mother safe. I fear our allied clans willna reach us in time.” The gut-wrenching sounds of splintering wood, crumbling stone, and toppling walls filled the air, then were drowned out by the deafening roar of the crazed horde destroying the last remaining barrier of stone and bloody clansmen attempting to hold them back. The ravaging men of the North appeared unstoppable. The tower housing the sacred Heartstone would soon be breached. “Aye, Athair.” Alec fisted the hilt of the goddess Danu’s sacred sword even tighter, thumping it against his chest before turning away from the raised altar where his father, chief warrior druid of Clan MacDara, sworn to protect the great treasures of the goddesses, stood calling out to the divine deities for guidance and deliverance from the angry throng destroying the keep. “Nay, husband. I protect m’self. I’ve no need for coddlin’.” The object of Alec’s orders, his heavily pregnant mother, stood poised in front of one of the tower’s tall, narrow windows, bow readied with an arrow nocked and drawn. Sarinda took careful aim, released the missile, then tossed a satisfied smile back over her shoulder at Alec. “Ye will see to the protectin’ of the Heartstone and lead yer brothers in the doin’ of the same. Aye?” “Aye, Máthair.” Alec took hold of his youngest brother’s arm and turned him toward their mother.

There was no use arguing with the woman. She overruled Father every time and wouldna hesitate t’take a stick to his arse even if the enemy was breathing down their necks. At twenty seasons old this past spring and so broad-shouldered he couldna walk through the doors of the keep without turning sideways, Alec no longer feared his mother’s stick but he was sorely concerned for her welfare—especially at this time, in her delicate state. He pulled his brother back a bit and spoke low and close to the lad’s ear. “Ross, take the shield and protect her—see to it that our unborn sister is kept safe as well.” The goddesses had answered Máthair’s prayers for a daughter and told her such in a dream. The young lad of only fourteen summers solemnly jerked his chin down in a quick nod, then hefted the sacred shield away from its iron stand beside the altar. The ancient bronze disk shimmered with an eerie glow as soon as the gangly boy clutched it to his chest. Aye. Scota’s shield hungers for battle as much as I.

Alec turned to his other brothers standing by the last of the hallowed weapons flanking the blessed stone. “Grant—take to yer hammer. Ramsay—to yer spear. The stone must be protected at all cost.” The tower shuddered with another hit of the enemy’s battering ram, tightening Alec’s gut with deeper resolve. This was the worst attack he could remember since they’d erected the double-blocked skirting wall around the keep. This particular horde from across the sea was fiendishly dedicated, more intent than any of the previous pillagers from the North. Greed and bloodlust to claim the tower and all the treasures it held shone upon their faces with an unholy light. They feared nothing and fell aside only when death claimed them. The stubborn marauders had decimated the outer wall as though it had been made of dried dung.

But the MacDaras and the other druid clans were just as stubborn. Before Alec had come of age and trained for this calling, his father had led all the wars waged to protect the revered Heartstone—humanity’s ancient connection to the goddesses’ gifts of creativity, imagination, and love, the very heartbeat of hope itself that made life worth living—or so the legends told. Now his aged father stood at the altar, gnarled hands wafting back and forth through the strange smoke rising from the smoldering herbs he’d placed in the cauldron. Eyes closed, weathered face lifted to the oiled black irons coated with dripping wax from three thick stubs of nearly spent candles, Emrys Danann MacDara rumbled a deep monotone chant with barely moving lips. Metal grated against stone as Ross slammed his shield across the arrow slit just in time to block a blazing spearhead. A heavy thud, then a rattling scrape against the outer wall beside the window, warned that the invaders were closer to achieving entry into the tower altar room. Ross raised the shield higher, leaning into it as the unnerving clangs of blades clashed against it. Grant and Ramsay rushed to their youngest brother’s aid, flanking their mother and sheltering her behind them. The barred door at Alec’s back shuddered with several fast-hitting thumps. Arrow hits.

Alec knew the sound well. The acrid scent of pitch and the noxious smell of smoke seeping in around the boards of the heavy oaken door burned his nostrils, fanning the fury already raging in his veins. This particular battle wasna goin’ quite the way it should, but since the men of the North had seen fit to provide him with a thick curtain of black smoke in which t’hide, perhaps he could change the course of this wee skirmish. He spared one last glance back at his family. “I go to bid our visitors a more personal welcome. Keep the Heartstone.” “Keep the Heartstone,” his brothers and mother echoed. And then the world exploded. — The first thing Alec became aware of was the gentle shushing sound of soft green leaves dancing somewhere above him. A refreshing breeze brushed a cool touch across his face, tickling his senses with the beguiling scent of a newly dawned spring day.

No sound of battle. No smell of burning pitch. Nothing but the sound of the wind in the trees and a sense of peace. The thick cushion of grass on which he lay smelled fresh and sweet as he turned his head into the softness of the earth. “He is awake, my goddesses.” Alec forced his eyes open, immediately regretting the decision when the action triggered a thunderous pounding inside his skull. Squinting against the unusually bright beams of sunlight filtering down through the trees, he struggled to focus on the unfamiliar surroundings. Where the hell am I? Did the horde kill us? What in the name of all things holy had happened? He scrubbed the heels of his hands against his temples, doing his best to realign his addled senses. And then it hit him—by the goddesses—the Heartstone! Panic surged through him, forcing him to his feet. He staggered sideways, grappling to steady himself against the solid trunk of a massive oak.

An oak. This must be a sacred place. He squinted at the unknown surroundings. Máthair…Athair…brothers…the precious stone. What had happened to his family? What had happened to the stone? The weapons? A brilliant light descended through the canopy of trees, shining into the center of the peaceful glade and hovering just above the ground like a star gently lowered from the sky. “We have brought ye—our faithful servants and protectors of the stone—to a place where ye will be much safer. More at peace. We grew tired of the repeated attacks. There is no need for such violence.” The orb of light echoed as though three females spoke in unison—each of their melodic voices perfectly pitched to enhance and complement one another.

“And fear not—we’ll not be leavin’ ye here without proper guidance. We’ve chosen a fine advisor t’see ye well settled and ensure that ye thrive and guide our other druids of this time. Ye’ll find several druid clans are here, already well established, and at the ready to help ye.” Quiet laughter rippled through the glade like the tinkling of delicate bells. “You—our most blessed line of druids—must not die away. Ye must lead the others once ye’ve learned this place. Prosper here. Multiply. Keep our stone safe for eternities t’come.” A shocking awareness jolted through him as though his senses had finally decided to kick in.

Holy mothers of all. ’Tis the goddesses themselves. Alec dropped to his knees, bowing his head and bringing one arm up across his face. “My goddesses.” “Aye…our brave one. Ye’ve pleased us well—as have yer brothers and yer parents.” The blazing star undulated with a myriad of sparkling colors, growing brighter and then dimming a bit with each word the goddesses spoke. “Yer family is well, resting in the meadow just past the edge of this wood. They sleep upon the land we have chosen to gift to ye.” “Land?” Alec kept his head bowed.

They didna need more land. They needed a new keep with thicker walls that could withstand the enemy’s battering rams. Alec quickly shuttered the thought away and bowed his head lower. One didna question the goddesses and their ways. Those who did sometimes paid dearly for the expressing of their druthers. “Explain it to him, Dwyn. ’Tis best that young Alec hear how it shall be from his new advisor.” Alec stole a glance up from behind his arm. Who the hell is Dwyn? A slight form, more like a flickering shadow and silhouetted against the blinding light of the goddesses’ star, approached him. A deep, rumbling chuckle—a full, hearty sound that in no way looked as though it could come from the slight figure walking toward him—echoed through the clearing.

The laughing silhouette bounced closer—still out of focus against the brilliance of the goddesses’ light. “I am Dwyn MacKay. Yer neach-teagaisg. The teacher who shall guide ye through the wonders of this new place. I am guardian and tutor to all the druids here. I shall see to it that the MacDara clan does well and continues their legacy to the goddesses and humanity as the protectors of the Heartstone—the sacred stone of hope and love itself.” “And this place is?” Alec asked, still squinting against the blinding light. “Twenty-first-century North Carolina. Welcome to the future, m’lad.” Chapter 1 Forget the roller coaster.

Where do I get a ticket to ride him? Sadie Williams peered over the tops of her sunglasses, inching them lower to get an unobstructed view of the man currently flexing his assets. Damn. What an import. I bet he’s one of Scotland’s finest. The tempting Scot stood in the center of the outdoor practice ring, glowering at the small group of nervous young men fidgeting in front of him. His tanned, muscular physique of totally lickable perfection rippled and pulsed as he swung a monstrous sword in a wide, graceful arc. He wore his dark hair slicked back in a severe man bun, perfectly accentuating his stern, unsmiling face. The man was better than any photoshopped action hero Sadie had seen in a while. His modified kilt, a tighter, sexier version, more like a gladiator’s short toga, only added fuel to his already blazing-hot persona. The teasing bit of tartan hung low about his hips, its cropped length barely brushing the thickest part of his solidly corded thighs.

With every fluid, predatory move he made, Sadie wished for a strong breeze to improve the already impeccable view. “You’re telling me that’s Alec MacDara? Mr. I can’t be bothered with a meeting?” Her sister Delia’s hissed whisper, shrill and dripping with insulted disbelief, interrupted Sadie’s delightful reverie. Thumbing her sunglasses back up in place, Sadie barely nodded, Delia’s tone triggering a one-sided grin. Yes, sister dearest. That’s the man himself. Sadie hugged her electronic tablet to her chest and turned her attention back to the dirt arena where Mr. Alec MacDara, CEO and part owner of Highland Life and Legends, was currently sizing up his most recent batch of applicants. Delia needed to be quiet. She was ruining the view.

When they’d arrived at the park for their hard-won appointment, a historically accurate kilted park employee had led them to this private training area. He’d explained that this was where mock battle interviewees hoped their sword handling would impress Mr. MacDara enough to score them a job. Not only renowned for its remarkable authenticity, Highland Life and Legends was also known as one of the best employers in the region. The successful Scottish historical theme park encompassed what seemed like an endless expanse of acreage along the Cape Fear River of North Carolina. The sprawling park and its owners ruled supreme in this part of the country. The nearby town of Brady, North Carolina, would have disappeared off the map years ago if not for the MacDara clan’s imaginative creation. The theme park, based on Highland myths, beliefs, and everyday life in centuries past, had been a lifeline for the past fifteen years to the small burg nestled in the rich countryside surrounding the river. Everyone wanted to be a part of Highland Life and Legends. Alec MacDara strode up and down in front of the line of young men, pausing now and then to squeeze a shoulder or lift one of their arms as though judging livestock at the county fair.

He finally selected the smallest of the group, handed him a sword that was nearly twice the young man’s size, and pointed to the center of the ring. “You. Go. Let’s have a look at ye then.” The scrawny, nervous boy who would blow away if a strong wind hit him stumbled to the designated spot, visibly struggling to drag the sword along beside him. He let out a wheezing grunt, face turning a reddish purple as he strained to lift the blade into the air. The sword wobbled and swayed for a tense moment then dove downward, the tip plunging deep into the dirt. The rest of the anxious wannabes waiting for their turn at the sword tittered with relieved snickering. The beanpole of a boy shot them all a resentful glare, set his jaw, then staggered backwards, using his entire body to heave the massive blade back up into the air and swoop it from side to side. Easily avoiding the swinging blade, Alec angled his way around to the boy’s side, clapped a hand on the lad’s bony shoulder, and pried the sword out of his shaking whiteknuckled fists.

“The sword is no’ the weapon for ye, but yer mother tells me ye’ve a fine way with the horses. Is that true?” “I guess so.” The still red-faced lad deflated with a disgusted huff, staring down at the ground as though his entire world had just collapsed. “I just wanted to be one of the fighters—you know—for the girls?” He wheezed out another despondent sigh and kicked the toe of his boot in the dirt. “Many a fair lass waits in line to ride the fine MacDara horses we have stabled here.” Alec gripped the boy’s shoulder and gave him a congenial shake. “I’m thinkin’ they’d be most impressed by a man able to control such mighty beasts and take them for rides through our fine countryside.” The boy’s face visibly brightened. Renewed hope straightened his back as he stood a bit taller. “Really?” “Aye.

” Alec nodded and steered him toward a gated path on the other side of the ring. “Off wi’ ye now to the stables. Old Tom’s expectin’ ye. He’ll explain yer duties to ye.” “Thanks, Mr. MacDara!” The boy bobbed his head, his lopsided grin stretching from ear to ear as he stumbled backwards toward the gate. “Thanks a lot!” Well, well, well. An uber-alpha Highlander with a heart of pure gold. Sadie cocked the bill of her ball cap a tad lower. Alec MacDara’s kindness triggered a warm, glowing sense of happy straight to her core.

I could so get into researching this guy for a hot Highland screenplay. A sharp jab in the ribs rudely interrupted the promising dialogue already flowing through her mind. “What?” Sadie jerked around and fully focused on her sister, immediately regretting the sharp tone of her what and the resulting look on Delia’s face. Great. Here comes an ass-chewing. “I asked you a question, and your head rattling when you nod doesn’t tell me a damn thing. Watch that tone or you can kiss this job goodbye.” Delia’s face—immaculately chiseled by LA’s best plastic surgeons—tightened into a threatening scowl that would challenge the best Botox. She smoothed her miniskirt with an irritated yank, then hooked a finger in her plunging neckline and resettled her newly purchased cleavage to a more revealing angle. “If that’s Alec MacDara, I know exactly how to handle this meeting.

” She flexed her toned and professionally sculpted body like a peacock preening for a mate. “Yes. That is Alec MacDara, CEO of Highland Life and Legends,” Sadie replied in the most placating tone she could manage without gagging. And I’m sure he’ll be panting at your feet in no time. His type usually can’t resist you—until they find out how you really are. She tapped the surface of her tablet. “Look. I showed you this article about him and his family the other day. Remember?” Delia pushed the tablet away, not even sparing Sadie a sideways glance. “In case you haven’t noticed, I am extremely busy.

You can’t expect me to hear every inconsequential word that falls from your lips.” She turned and fixed Sadie with the only look she’d ever had that remotely resembled a smile. As far back as Sadie could remember, Delia had never managed a real smile or looked remotely happy. Her strained smirk always came off looking as though she smelled a stink. Delia’s simpering pout twisted up at the corners into an even more malicious curl. “You might be my sister, but I hired you to handle things. Be my assistant. For your sake, I ignore your prattle—much like tuning out background noise. Now shut it while I observe this fine male specimen and plan my next move to close this deal.” Sadie locked her jaws and tightened her grip on the tablet so hard that her knuckles popped.

One of these days I’m gonna tell you to shove this job straight up your ass, Delia. Unfortunately, today was not that day. Sadie slowly pulled in a deep breath. She needed this job. It was the surest bet she had at getting into the world of screenwriting. Gotta take it ’til I make it. Her sister Delia had founded Realm Spinners Productions with the vast inheritance left to her when their parents had died in the crash of their private jet. Big sister had all the connections Sadie needed, but those connections were a double-edged sword. Delia could blackball Sadie’s screenplays forever with just a few phone calls. And to add insult to injury, Delia also controlled Sadie’s meager share of what really couldn’t be termed an inheritance.

The paltry amount had been more like a slap in the face. But still, Delia had been named guard dog to all the assets left in the Williamses’ vast estate. Sadie figured it was a last-ditch effort by their mogul parents to convince the world that Delia wasn’t as heartless and self-centered as everyone thought. Sadie was positive they were also attempting to punish her for being—how had they always put it?—so damned embarrassingly unconventional. Sadie had never fit into her parents’ mold. Sadie really didn’t hate her parents for their last act of aristocratic bullying. After all, they’d always treated her that way—and besides, she was the adopted one. The odd one. The fat little Mediterranean girl they’d taken in to show the world how charitable they could be. Sadie huffed out a humorless laugh.

She’d show them. Succeeding and becoming a renowned screenwriter would be her sweet revenge. She shook off Delia’s bitchiness and hurried to jot a few memory joggers into her tablet. Alpha Highlander. Soft-hearted. Loner. Wounded hero type. I’ll plot this one out tonight. “I’m a busy man. If ye wish t’speak with me, ye’d best be about it, aye?” The suddenly much closer proximity of that deep, rich voice with the come-hither brogue triggered a sharp inhale that effectively lodged Sadie’s gum into the middle of her windpipe.

Fisting one hand over her mouth, Sadie turned away, coughing and wheezing for air. Dammit. I’m gonna die right here in front of Mr. MacSexy. Strong hands gripped her upper arms, then a sharp rap between her shoulder blades effectively shot the offensive wad of chewing gum out of her mouth. Sadie closed her now extremely watery eyes, squeezing hard to reabsorb the choke-induced moisture. Isn’t this lovely? Delia’s gonna have a shit fit and this guy’s gonna think I’m an idiot. Turning her about, the strong hands held her arms with a gentler grip, steadying her on her feet. “Are ye all right then?” Concern filled the clearest blue eyes Sadie had ever seen. The Caribbean Sea lapping upon a white Jamaican beach couldn’t hold a candle to that shade of blue.

Holy shit, I could drown in those eyes. “Uhm…I’m fine.” Sadie bobbed her head and backed up a step with a nervous fluttering of one hand, coughed again, and struggled to delicately wheeze in another deep breath without seeming starved for oxygen. “Just got choked on my gum. Thanks for knocking it free.” She fished a crumpled tissue out of the pocket of her jeans and scooped the sticky ball of embarrassment up from the ground. She wrapped it tightly in the tissue and shoved it back into her pocket. “Don’t want anyone to step in that. Doesn’t it just piss you off when you get gum stuck on your shoe and then stick to the ground with every other step?” Dammit, Sadie. Shut the hell up.

She was babbling like a fool. A hint of a grin played across the man’s full lips, perfectly highlighting the slightly offcentered cleft in his chin. “Aye. ’Tis rudeness itself when folk show such disregard for the land and those who walk upon it.” Delia shoved her way between them, extending her perfectly manicured hand and amping up her I smell a stink smile to its highest possible wattage. “Mr. MacDara, I’m Delia Williams, and I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate you meeting with us today.” A look of irritated boredom immediately settled across Alec’s face, dark and threatening, like clouds blotting out the sun. His gaze briefly dipped to Delia’s extended hand, then slowly returned to her fake smile. He took a step back and methodically folded his muscular arms across the endless expanse of chest that had taken on the most delicious gleam in the heat of the afternoon sun.

Sadie caught the corner of her bottom lip between her teeth, doing her best to control the urge to lick her lips. The man looked like a well-oiled piece of sensual machinery ready to be fired up. He also looked rather pissed. “As I said, I’m a busy man.” Alec frowned down at Delia’s still extended hand. “There are two reasons why yer here today. My legal counsel advised ’twould be wise t’hear ye out.” He paused long enough to flex and resettle his folded arms. Both his tone and scowl softened as his attention shifted back to Sadie. “And then there’s the matter of the daily emails.

” He gifted Sadie with the return of the lopsided smile that somehow promised there was a great deal more that he wasn’t saying—yet. “Daily emails?” Delia darted a narrow-eyed look at Sadie, then awkwardly withdrew her hand and totally failed at saving her dignity by propping her fingers on one hip and striking her trademark I don’t give a shit pose. Alec fully faced Sadie, his faint look of amusement morphing into a warm we’re about to share a delicious secret smile. His eyes seemed darker now, like the deeper part of the ocean—and they sparkled with…something. No. It wasn’t exactly a sparkle. Alec looked almost smug, as though he’d finally found something worthy of his time. What a look! Was it a flicker of interest? Nah. Couldn’t be. She had to be reading him wrong.

Her senses were probably off due to jet lag and the time zone change. Guys like him went for thin, leggy blond Delias, not curvalicious chunks of fun Sadies. “I assume yer the writer of the emails?” Alec asked, his deep brogue melting into what could only be described as a wonderfully audible caress. “Uhm…yes, I am.” Sadie ignored Delia’s irritated huff and extended her own hand. “I’m Sadie Williams. Delia’s assistant…and her sister. But how did you know the emails were from me, Mr. MacDara?” “Ye may call me Alec—and the emails had a certain tone…” Alec paused and cast a dismissive glance over at Delia, then shouldered away from her as though shrugging off a pest. “Yer messages had a way about them that fit ye.

I doubt that one over there could ever write them.” He scooped up Sadie’s extended hand, gallantly brought it to his lips, then gifted her with a genuine smile she’d remember in her dreams. “ ’Tis m’utmost pleasure t’finally meet ye, Mistress Sadie Williams.” “Just ‘Sadie’ will be fine,” she whispered, then pressed her lips tightly together and held her breath. She was torn between melting into a purring puddle of sheer bliss and laughing out loud at the low, strangled growling sound of Delia shifting into super-bitch hyperdrive. She knew for certain she couldn’t laugh. If she did, Delia would surely fire her ass on the spot. Clearing her throat, Sadie lightly squeezed Alec’s warm, callused hand. “The pleasure is mine. And thank you for meeting with us.

I hope you won’t be disappointed.” “Aye,” Alec said. “ ’Tis my hope I’ll no’ be disappointed either.” The way he held her hand a bit longer before reluctantly letting go made Sadie wonder if Alec was talking about something other than the business meeting. “Mr. MacDara…uhm…Alec.” Delia sidled closer, visibly struggling to keep her stiletto heels from getting stuck between the boards of the wood flooring of the observation landing. “You said your legal counsel found the terms of our filming contract suitable and recommended you speak with us. What do I need to do to convince you that Realm Spinners Productions should be allowed to use your lovely theme park as a filming location for our Scottish historical romance?” She leaned forward, arching her back and flaunting her cleavage so Alec would have no doubt that anything he might want was his for the taking. “I’ll thank you t’call me Mr.

MacDara.” Alec turned away, picked up his sword, and shoved it into the sheath belted to his side. “And I didna say the contract was found suitable. I said counsel recommended that I speak with ye.”

.

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