“Ah, dear Larena,” Lady Drummond said. Her droopy hazel eyes held a note of mischief. “You heard right. There is a man at the castle, a man who claims to be the MacLeod.”

Larena fisted her hand in her skirt while excitement ran rampant through her. For so long she had searched for the MacLeods. Could fortune have smiled on her, and had one come to her? After all these years. She had to find him, had to speak to him.

She mentally shook her head. It was most likely some confusion in the name. The MacLeods were hunted, not by any Highlanders or even the crown, but by something much, much worse. They were hunted by the epitome of evil, Deirdre.

Larena started when she realized Lady Drummond had spoken to her. “My apologies. My mind was wandering.”

Lady Drummond leaned close, her great jowls swinging. “I asked if you saw him? The MacLeod? I caught a glimpse of him, my dear.” She fanned herself with her wrinkled hand. “If I were younger … He’s devilishly handsome.”

“Is he?” Larena wished she had seen him.

Lady Drummond laughed and sidled closer to Larena. “He wears a torc like the Celts of old. A true Highlander,” she whispered, her high voice tinged with a note of awe.

Larena’s heart missed a beat as she realized the man Lady Drummond spoke of and the one that had heated her body were one and the same. She had seen him, the MacLeod. It had been just a moment, but she had locked gazes with the most amazing, most unusual dark green eyes she had ever seen. They had been turbulent, like a stormswept sea, and intense.

She’d had to look away or make a fool of herself. When she had glanced back, he was gone. In all her years, there had not been one man who had ever had that kind of effect on her. It frightened her at the same time it captivated her.

After a thank-you to Lady Drummond, Larena excused herself and moved around the hall intent on finding this curious Highlander with the beautiful eyes and the gold torc.

He’d been dressed in a kilt with a plaid she didn’t quite recognize, but he didn’t wear it with the ease of a man who had been born to it. Yet, he was a Highlander. One look in his eyes and she had seen the wildness, the untamed spirit that was the Highlands.

When Larena couldn’t find the man claiming to be the MacLeod, she headed to the garden for a breath of fresh air. She had been living in the castle for too many months in her bid to learn how far Deirdre’s magic had stretched.

Larena was putting her own life in jeopardy by being at the castle, but what she hid from the world was worth it.

She wasn’t at the castle just for Deirdre though. She knew enough about the infamous MacLeods to know she needed to discover anything she could of them.

How she yearned to see the mountains of the Highlands and feel the snow on her face. But she couldn’t leave. Not yet. There was still information to be gathered.

Larena walked past a bush of vibrant yellow roses and sat on a stone bench that offered some seclusion. The fragrance of the flowers swirled around her, taking away the reek of stale breath and sweaty bodies.

With her hands planted behind her, Larena leaned back and tilted her face to the sky where the rays of the sun filtered through the heavy clouds. It would rain soon, and she would have to stay indoors.

Her mind wandered until she recalled the news that had reached her two weeks past about the MacLeod brothers. She trusted Camdyn MacKenna because he was a Warrior, and he had no reason to lie.

There were few people she relied upon. She had learned the hard way that trust was something someone earned. Camdyn had earned her trust, or at least part of it. There were things that no one could know about her. The ramifications were too dangerous for everyone involved.

Among all the people of her acquaintance there was only one she truly trusted, her cousin Malcolm. Malcolm shouldn’t know her secrets either, but he had learned one of hers when he was just a young lad of seven summers.

She knew she needed to try and convince Malcolm to return to his clan, the clan that had banished her. Every time she brought it up, he would argue that as powerful as she was, she needed someone to help her.

And since she was a woman, apparently that was the truth.

The crunch of a shoe on the grass brought Larena’s head around. She smiled when she saw Malcolm’s steady bright blue gaze on her. He was tall and carried himself like the lord he was. As the first son to the Monroe, he had the upbringing and the blood of a noble.

It was his face, though, that made women swoon. His features were perfectly proportioned, with a square jaw and long, regal nose. His mouth was wide and his lips full. And he could charm the gown off a nun.

“I thought I would find you here.” His deep voice was low, smooth, as he sat beside her. “I gather you’ve heard?”

“About the man claiming to be a MacLeod?”

He nodded and swept his fingers through his blond waves that constantly fell into his eyes. “I tried to meet him, but I’ve been unable to find him.”

“I saw him speak to Iver MacNeil.”

Malcolm groaned as his lips flattened. “That imbecile? I avoid Iver at all costs, but for you, my dear, I will see what I can discover.”

She smiled when he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. The warmth in his eyes wasn’t that of a lover, but that of a man who was more of a brother. “You are too good to me.”

“Nay. If I was, we would be long gone from this vile pit. I know you wish to leave.”

She placed her other hand over the one that still gripped hers. “I have a destiny, Malcolm. I will see it through.”

“If it is one of the MacLeods, what will you do?”

“I will talk to him.”

“And if he doesna believe you?”

She glanced away, hating the fear that swam in her stomach. “Then I will show him.”

“You’re taking a terrible risk, Larena. This could be a ruse from Deirdre.”

“She doesn’t know of me. I’ve fooled her so far. I will continue to do so until the time comes to bring her down.”

Malcolm lowered their hands to the bench. “I’d rather be with you when you talk to MacLeod.”

“Nay. I must do it alone. There are things that need to be said. If he is a Warrior, he won’t trust anyone to speak as freely as I need him to.”

Malcolm leaned close and kissed her cheek. “Just be careful.”

“Don’t worry. Soon, I will be gone and you will be free to marry that pretty auburn-haired girl I’ve seen you smiling at.”

Malcolm threw back his head and laughed, his blue eyes crinkling at the corners. “You’ve been so intent on other things I didna think you had noticed.”

“I noticed. I also observed how she watches you when you aren’t looking. She’s quite taken with you.” She let her smile drop. “I want you to marry, but marry a woman who will make you happy. You deserve at least that, Malcolm. Find a good woman who will give you many children.”

His laugher gone, he rose with a sigh and paced in front of her. Larena looked at the Monroe kilt with its bold red and green plaid. She had always loved the tartan, even though it had been many, many years since she’d had it stripped from her.

“I will do as you say,” Malcolm said as he stopped in front of her and went down on his haunches. He took her hands in his and turned her to face him. “But only if you give me a promise in return.”

Larena was afraid what the promise would be, but they had been friends for too long for her to think of denying him. “What would you ask of me?”

“Doona leave without telling me good-bye.”

She blinked back tears that suddenly sprang to her eyes and cupped the side of his face with her hand. “I would take you with me if I could. You are the finest man I’ve ever known. I cannot thank you enough for all you’ve

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