Sexy Scot – Cecelia Mecca, Julie Johnstone

“HOLY FUCK.” Greyson and his brothers dropped the silver cross at the same time, the plush Persian rug in their father’s study capturing its fall. Staring at it, and then each other, none of them spoke, all of them acutely aware of the empty space where their brother Rhys had been standing moments before. Even Ian was stunned into silence, a rarity for the youngest McCaim. “What the hell just happened?” Reikart asked. None of them had the answer. Rhys’s disappearance was illogical. It should have been impossible. And yet, there was no disputing he was gone. Their big brother, the person who’d always held them together, had just disappeared on the final word of the ancient Gaelic chant none of them had thought would work. “No.” Greyson recoiled from the others, shaking his head. “No.” “Grey, he’s gone,” Ian said. Both he and Reikart were looking at Greyson expectantly, as if they thought he would know what to say.

What to do. But he had . nothing. Business was his expertise, not magic. He’d always thought their father’s fixation with time travel and ancient Scotland was the product of a sick mind, an inability to cope with their mother’s disappearance. He’d never imagined there might be something to it. No, Rhys had to be here somewhere. Storming out of the study, he passed all the evidence of their father’s obsession—stacks of ancient books, scattered papers, scrolls, and assorted artifacts—and burst out of the French doors. His brothers were already shouting after him, but he stayed focused on his mission, calling Rhys’s name as he headed down the marble entranceway to the back doors, his pulse rising in tempo with his steps. He could hear his own voice becoming more and more desperate with each room he searched.

And there were plenty of them. McCaim Shipping had been good to their family. But billions of dollars hadn’t stopped their mother from disappearing. Nor had their fortune curbed their father’s obsession with finding her. Now their father lay in a coma, and their brother had just disappeared into thin air. The McCaims had fallen apart. Expensive portraits, imported vases. They meant nothing. Which was just as well since his baby brother, who’d followed him on his ill-fated trek through the house, hurled one of those vases against the hardwood floor, a temper tantrum better suited to a toddler than a twenty-seven-year-old man. Ian was only three years younger than Greyson, but it might as well have been a lifetime in terms of maturity.

Reikart had followed him, his brow creased with worry. Get a grip, Greyson. They need you to take charge. You’re the next eldest. The heir apparent. “Ian.” He grabbed his brother’s shoulder. “Ian.” But the fit of rage was over, another emotion following in its wake. Ian sat heavily in the hallway, tears running down his cheeks.

Reikart didn’t hesitate—he put his arms around him, holding him like a wee babe, as their mother would say. Greyson did the same. “We will figure this out,” he said, regaining the control that should never have left him. Time to accept the truth. He knew what had happened in that study. They could call Rhys’s name all day, but he wasn’t going to amble out of the guest suite or the bathroom. He was gone. “How?” Reikart asked. “How will we figure this out, Grey?” Damned if he knew. But he could guess.

“Dad was right.” Ian pushed them off, his large body easily breaking away from their grip. He hadn’t been a football star for nothing. “Do you know what you’re saying?” he asked, almost an accusation. Greyson would give his little brother one thing, he didn’t have a self-conscious bone in his body. Ian didn’t give a shit that he’d just cried like a baby or tossed a $1,500 vase against the wall. Some days he wished he could be more like that. Right now, though, the last thing they needed was two temperamental McCaim brothers. Time to roll out his selfcontrol and take command of the situation. “I know exactly what I’m saying.

” It was fucking insane—minutes ago he’d called this a “fantasy”—but he’d seen it happen with his own eyes. They all had. They couldn’t keep pretending otherwise. Standing, he held out a hand, and Ian grabbed hold of it. Greyson pulled his brother up and silently led the way back to the study. He got there first. The strange silver cross lay where it had fallen, and he made his way to it, compelled. It looked ancient, as if it were . Hundreds of years old. He knelt beside it, reaching out.

Just as before, it was cold to the touch. More than cold—it gave him the sensation of being outside in a bracing wind—the feeling even stronger than it had been before. Lifting it, he turned toward Reikart and Ian. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it worked. There’s no other explanation. You saw what I saw. Rhys disappeared. Which means Dad was right all along.” “Yeah.” Ian shook his head.

“That makes total sense. Mom didn’t actually disappear five years ago. She time-traveled from the past before we were born and one day —poof—went back home. And now Rhys has gone back too. Poor bastard always wanted to go to medieval Scotland. Maybe he should have settled for a theme restaurant.” If Rhys were here, he’d have something to say about their brother’s smart-ass tone. Greyson ignored it. He could understand Ian’s anger. And Reikart’s persistent look of disbelief.

But they weren’t really left with much of a choice here. “Grey,” Reikart said, trying to reason with him “You don’t seriously believe that, do you?” He didn’t want to. And yet . “What’s the alternative?” Greyson demanded. He waited for one of them to come up with something, hoping it would happen. But he already knew better. There was no disputing the facts. Their father had slipped into a coma, and they’d come to his study to search for clues about their mother’s disappearance. What they’d found was this silver cross and a chant in an ancient tongue. On Rhys’s insistence, they’d held the cross and recited the chant, and Rhys had disappeared.

Disappeared. It was absolutely crazy. Insane. But it had also happened. They’d all thought their father had gone off the deep end—so much so that Rhys and Greyson had taken control of their family business. But this meant he wasn’t crazy after all. This meant their mother might actually be from thirteenth-century Scotland. His brothers were still looking at him expectantly, hoping he could pull answers out of his ass, but he had none to give them. It was more pressure than he’d ever felt while making a business deal. “We’re going to try it again.

” Both Reikart and Ian erupted at once. He immediately cut them off. “We’re going to try it again, and this time we all go back.” “Pfft. Back through time, you mean?” Ian was clearly still in denial. “Didn’t we try to do just that?” Reikart asked. “But Rhys is gone, and we’re still here.” He had not said dumbass, but his look said it. “What makes you think the result will be different this time?” Greyson glared, but his brother was right. Something had gone wrong last time, which meant they needed a contingency plan.

“If only one or two of us get through, whoever’s left behind has to keep trying.” The contingency plan was shit, but it was all they had. Greyson pretended he wasn’t absolutely terrified. Neither of his brothers looked convinced. No one said aloud what he was sure all three of them were thinking. Rhys and their mother could both be dead. Did it kill you, traveling through time? Who the hell knew, when it wasn’t supposed to be possible in the first place. They were dealing with dozens of big, fat unknowns here. The stress of all those unknowns had nearly destroyed their father, a man so determined and driven he’d built a billion-dollar shipping company from one ship he’d spent his life savings to purchase. “Mom.

Rhys. They could be in trouble.” And that was all it took. With those five words, his brothers reached out to touch the Celtic cross he still held. They turned as one to look at the chant Rhys had tacked to the wall, scribbled on a piece of scrap paper. It meant nothing to him, but Rhys had thought the words significant. They read them together, slowly, carefully, Greyson’s sheer will keeping his hands from shaking. “Talamh, èadhar, teine, usige ga thilleadh dhachaigh.” 2 September 1286 MARİAN SAT ATOP HER HORSE, staring back at the keep, the only home she had known for four and twenty years. Her father hadn’t deemed it necessary to appear in the courtyard for a final fare-thee-well, but Gilda had made up for his oversight, as was her custom, though the maid’s tears were not a welcome sight.

They only reminded Marian she would likely never see the woman who had raised her again. They had hugged, and cried, and hugged again. Finally, she’d given into the inevitable and mounted her horse. Nothing to do but wave farewell to the elderly woman. If she thought it would do any good, she would rush back into the hall and beg her father once again to allow the maid to accompany her north. But he would not allow her that simple kindness any more than he would agree to halt her wedding. He’d made it clear both decisions were his and his alone. “Are you prepared to take your leave, my lady?” James asked. The marshal felt poorly for her, she could tell, but the kindly knight’s sentiment would not help her. Not today.

“Aye.” She urged her mount forward. Waving goodbye one last time to the small crowd that had gathered, Gilda at the front, Marian followed the small riding party forward. A cold fall breeze urged Marian to pull the fur-lined mantle more tightly around her shoulders. It wasn’t until they passed through the massive gatehouse that her father’s man spoke again. “Your father is right. She’d not have made the journey easily,” James said, falling in line next to her. “’Tis just as well.” Marian offered the marshal the largest smile she was able to manage under the circumstances. “Duncan’s reputation precedes him.

She is likely safer here.” James said nothing to that. They both knew she was correct in that particular assessment. The Earl of Fife was vengeful and philandering, and gossip had it his son, her intended, was much the same. Even so, Gilda had wanted to accompany her. Marian had tried to dissuade her at first, but Gilda had refused to acknowledge her resistance. And once she had warmed to the idea of having at least one familiar face in her new home, the idea had become a beacon in her dark future. Until her father had smothered it. Contradicting herself, she muttered aloud, “I just don’t believe him. I don’t believe he cares for Gilda’s health.

” James said nothing for a moment. She had become accustomed to the marshal’s silence, knowing he defaulted to it in lieu of speaking ill of his master. But then he surprised her by asking the same question Marian had posed to her many times in the past weeks. “What could have been the real reason for his denial?” He spoke more freely than normal. Ahhh. Because he knew her father would never learn of it. Her new life was to be in Scotland. If she ever returned to this castle, it would be years from now. The thought of what those long years might hold for her pressed in on her, but soft golden light spilled down on them, dispelling the worst of her mood. “Look!” Marian pointed to the sun emerging from a bed of clouds.

“’Tis certainly a May Day miracle.” James and the others who rode within earshot looked up to the lovely sight, which was indeed rare for this time of year. “Mayhap God is smiling down on this new beginning for me.” Aware the others looked at her strangely, Marian attempted to rein in the overwhelming optimism she had long been accused of by her father. “Or mayhap ’tis naught but the sun deciding to make an appearance for the first time in months.” But James was already shaking his head. “I believe your first assessment correct, my lady,” he said kindly. “’Tis very possible your betrothed is a better man than his reputation suggests.” She ignored the snickering from the riders in front of them and chose to play along. “Perhaps you are right.

For all we know, Duncan is a handsome, kind, loyal . ” She stopped, realizing how silly the words sounded. “I’m not fool enough to believe all of the horrifying things said of our northern neighbors, but perhaps you can allay some of my lingering fears on the matter.” Marian did not care for his expression. “Surely they are not all as bad as that?” She had met more than one Scotsman in her day, and they seemed very much like her own countrymen. But James’s bearded face was contorted in a way that made her shudder. “Of course they are not, my lady . ” He didn’t expand on that comment, and Marian understood why. They weren’t speaking of just any Scotsman, but a very particular one. A very particular family.

And while the Earl of Fife may be an important man, one of the newly appointed Guardians of Scotland, if the rumors proved correct, neither he nor his son had much to recommend them beyond their wealth and power. She had known this day was coming. But the future that had felt so distant in Fenwall was soon to become her reality—in just one sennight, she would be a woman wed. She would give anything to avoid her fate, to be in control of her own future, but wishing for such things was childish. It could no more save her from this marriage than it could bring her mother back to life. “I am to be married,” she said softly, as if saying it aloud would help her come to peace with it. “Aye, my lady, you are,” James said. “And I am sorry for it.” “Do not be sorry. Such is the way of things.

” She lifted a hand to the chain inside her mantle, needing the reassurance of it—and came up empty. We must go back.” She searched the marshal’s face frantically. “We must go back. I forgot my chain. James, we must go back.” She didn’t need to explain herself further. He knew what she meant as well as she did. It was one of the few things she possessed that had belonged to the mother who had died giving birth to her. “I placed it next to my bed so I would remember it.

” Marian ignored the men’s laughter. Everyone from Fenwall knew of her forgetfulness. Nearly every day she forgot something, or someone—just the day before, she attempted to leave the keep without a mantle. “We must go back.” But she knew from James’s expression, though he uttered not a word, they would not be going back. Her father would rage if they did. For the first time that day, she allowed her anger and resentment and fear to surface. She hated for the men to see her upset. But if she could have chosen one thing to take to Scotland, other than her beloved maid, it would have been her mother’s chain. Appropriate, she supposed, casting her gaze up to the others, that it would be left behind.

.

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