The enemies of Muira and her laird lover are on the march and something foul lingers in the air of the woods northeast of the castle as the pair prepare for battle. Muira must find the strength inside herself to vanquish her fear and her human enemies in order to save the werewolf laird she loves. Identities are revealed and desire is quenched as she finds herself in the thick of trouble in one final confrontation with the Menzies clan, and the enemies of her laird.
Strange was my life, but never was it so strange as when I stood in the room of my deceased mother-in-law dressed in my bridal gown while my husband and an acquaintance who proclaimed to be his father faced off against each other.
Bruce stood tall and straight as he looked at Tristan with an unwavering gaze. Neither of us could doubt his sincerity, but we could doubt his sanity. My eyes widened at such a proclamation, but Tristan's narrowed and he balled his hands into fists at his sides as he glared at Bruce.
"How dare you-"
"I dare because I know the truth, and the truth is that you are a bastard," Bruce insisted.
Tristan let out a roar and lunged at Bruce. This time Bruce didn't move. He stretched out his arm and caught Tristan by his neck. My laird and husband was held aloft in front of the man while his captor frowned at him. Tristan grabbed Bruce's single hand with both of his and tried to free himself, but Bruce's hold was stronger.
My husband kicked and flailed, but could not free himself.
"Tell me, what do your senses say of me?" Bruce questioned Tristan.
"They tell me not to believe a were-wolf who has intruded on my territory," Tristan choked out.
"Then you ignore them. They tell you we are of the same blood, but if you need proof-" Bruce reached out with his freed hand and sliced open one of Tristan's sleeves with his long claws. In so doing he cut Tristan deep in his arm, and blood drizzled out of the wound. I rushed to the front of Bruce and grasped his weapon-like arm.
"Please release him!" I pleaded as I tugged on his arm. I caught his eyes with my own. "If you truly are his father you will free him!"
Bruce pursed his lips, but he did as I pleaded and opened his hand. Tristan dropped to the ground in a mass of flesh. I rushed to his side and grasped his shoulders as he sat up. Tristan rubbed his neck and glared at my guest.
"Leave my domain," he growled.
Bruce closed his eyes and shook his head. "Must I lead you by the hand along the path of truth?"
Tristan scoffed at him. "I know not your truth, but I do-"
"Be still, and watch," Bruce ordered him.
Bruce raised one hand and with his other he sliced open a wound on his opposite arm as he had done with Tristan. Blood flowed freely, and Bruce held the arm towards us.
"What does the blood tell you, Laird Campbell?" Bruce questioned him.
Tristan frowned, but I noticed his nostrils flared as he smelled the scent. I, too, smelled the sweet nectar of honey in high summer that was the scent of Tristan's blood. My surprise lay in the same scent being found in Bruce's blood.
"Your scent is the same as mine, but it is a mere matter of sorcery to change the smell," Tristan argued.
Bruce dipped a finger into the stream of blood and held out his digit to us. "Then would you taste the flavor? Would you have me carved me into a million pieces? Examined by a thousand witches? And then would you be satisfied that I am your father?"
Tristan stood and shook his head. "No, but I would have you examined by one witch," he suggested.
Bruce bowed his head. "Then I will submit to your trial."
Tristan turned to me and clasped our hands together. "Fetch Ciardha. I believe she is among the guests."
"But what of you?" I whispered as my eyes flickered to Bruce.
Bruce chuckled. "He will have no more to fear from me, lovely Andra," he assured me.
Tristan glared at him. "Do not speak to my wife as though you are familiar."
"But we are familiar, and I think of the name as very complimentary," Bruce argued.
I caught Tristan's eyes and smiled. "He once saved me from ruffians in front of the inn," I whispered to him.
Tristan turned to Bruce. "Is this true?"
"Do you doubt the word of your lady?" Bruce returned.
I pecked a kiss on Tristan's cheek that caught his attention and squeezed Tristan's hands. "I will return shortly."
We reluctantly parted, and I hurried from the chamber and down the passage. The entrance hall was still crowded, and all manner of people stood in groups or walked from room to room. I leaned over the banister and searched the crowds for the one person I wished to meet.
"Are you in search of me, my beautiful cousin?" a voice spoke up to my left.
I started and swung around to find Seumas close beside me. His face held his unusual grin, and there was a brightness in his eyes that I did not appreciate as he looked me over.
"You look stunning, my cousin," he complimented me.
"I thank you, but I cannot stay to talk. I must find someone," I told him.
I turned to hurry down the stairs, but he slipped in front of me and bowed to me. "Might I help?" he offered.
"No, that is quite all right. I am sure I will find her," I assured him.
"A ‘she?'" he commented. I felt the color drain from my face as he raised his eyes to mine. "And who might she be?"
I grasped the railing to my left and stepped away from him. "No one of consequence, but I really must be going," I insisted.
I tried to step past him, but Seumas caught my left arm and looped his through mine. "I won't let a young lady in such obvious distress be left alone."
"And I tell you I am in no need of assistance," I reminded him as I tried to free myself, but his gentle grip was firm and unmoving.
"Do not be so difficult, my cousin," he scolded me as he led me to the top of the stairs. "Two pairs of eyes will more quickly find your lady friend than one." He leaned close to my face and I cringed away from the terrible smile. "Perhaps the woman friend concerns the gentleman in whose company I saw you just a few minutes before."
I shook my head. "I do not know-"
"Of course you do, but come, let us begin the hunt," he commanded me.
I recalled Tristan's warning of this foe who was wrapped around my arm. My own feelings towards him were ones of repugnance and fear. Tristan would not come to my rescue, but there was another who had promised help when I needed it.
"Leod. . ." I whispered under my breath.
Seumas straightened and moved us to the top of the stairs so we looked over the crowd. "Now where shall we-"
Hurried movement through the crowds caught my attention, and my heart thrilled as I noticed Leod rush from the dining hall. He paused for only a moment to look around before he noticed us at the top of the stairs. Leod raced up the stairs and bowed to us.
"My lady, you are needed," he told me.
Seumas frowned. "For what?" he questioned the servant.
"Aili the cook wishes to see my lady," Leod explained.
"Then we shall go-"
"Aili is most particular about who may enter the kitchen," Leod warned him. "And she will not allow a guest to see the kitchen in such a state."
Seumas' frown deepened. "I am sure-" I took advantage of his distraction to slip from his grasp. He tried to catch me, but my quicker reflexes and preparedness allowed me to avoid his hands.
I slipped beside Leod and smiled at Seumas. "Forgive me for not inviting you, cousin. Perhaps another time." I looked to Leod. "Please lead me through the crowd."
Leod grinned and gave a nod. We turned away from Seumas and hurried down the stairs. I chanced a look of my shoulder before we entered the dining hall and glimpsed a hideous scowl on Seumas' face.
We slipped into the dining hall and Leod led me to the dark corner opposite the entrance. There were fewer people there who could overhear our conversation.
"Is my lady all right?" he whispered to me.
I smiled and clasped his hands in mine. "Very much so thanks to you, but how did you hear me?" I asked him.
"My master has given Leod the gift of great hearing and smell," Leod explained.
"Then. . .then you are a were-wolf as well?" I guessed.
He smiled and gave a nod. "Leod is, my lady, but that matters little. My lady appears to be in some distress. What is it my lady needs?"
My mission returned to the forefront of my mind. "I must find Ciardha, the witch of the moors," I told him.
"Then Leod can help you. Leod knows where she is," he replied.
He grasped my hand and guided me to the kitchen. We swept through the busy space with only a few hurried greetings to my acquaintances before we stepped out into the cool air of late morning. The cool air was refreshing after the stifling atmosphere of the crowded castle.
Leod led me across the short distance to the stables and pushed open the door. We stepped inside and beheld Ciardha halfway down the stables. She stood in front of the stall that belonged to Tristan's coal-black steed. Her hand was outstretched and she soothingly stroked the nose of the fine beast.
The brilliance of the morning light played tricks upon my adjusting eyes. I swore Ciardha stood before me as a fine woman with a beautiful but sad face. Her figure was full and slim, and her clothes fitted her tall body. The strange sight disappeared when Ciardha turned at our entering and raised an eyebrow.
"What is it?" she questioned us.
I hurried over and bowed to her. "Ciardha, Tristan is in need of your assistance. There is a man named Bruce who-" Ciardha started back and her eyes widened. I blinked at her. "You know him?"
Ciardha frowned and seemed to shrink into her clothes. "A very long time ago, yes, but what of him?"
"He has come claiming he is Tristan's father and bears proof of the scent of his blood, but Tristan claims the blood is-" Ciardha held up her hand.
"I have heard enough. Take me to them," she commanded me.
I led Leod and Ciardha to the chambers where we found Bruce and Tristan on opposite sides of the room. Bruce stood near the lit fireplace and Tristan leaned against one of the posts of the bed. They both turned to the door at our entrance. I noticed Bruce's eyes widened and his folded arms dropped to his sides as he beheld Ciardha.
Tristan hurried over to us and bowed to Ciardha. "A thousand pardons for pulling you away-" Ciardha held up a hand to him as she had to me.
"No long apologies nor explanations. I can tell you with certainty that this man-" she gestured to Bruce, "-is your father."
Tristan straightened and frowned. "But how can you be so certain after such a short perusal?" he asked her.
"Because I have always known he is your father," Ciardha revealed.
Tristan started back and looked upon her with bewildered eyes. "But how?"
Ciardha grabbed a corner of her worn garments and tossed them open. They unraveled themselves from her small form and dropped to the ground beside her in a dusty lump. She straightened and presented herself as an elegant woman of raven-black hair and a bewitching smile that I found very familiar.
"Because I am your mother."