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Simon MacCoinneach's vengeance runs deep. The blade is the only way to end the blood-thirsty Nordmen's reign upon Scottish soil. His soul might be lost, but the mystical Healer he kidnaps from the isles could be the answer for his ailing mother…and his heart.
Isles-born Gwyn reluctantly agrees to a marriage alliance with this heathen Scot in return for the sanctuary of her younger brother from her abusive Norse father. Her brother's condition is beyond the scope of her Ancient power, for larger healings steal breaths of life from her own body.
As Simon and Gwyn fight to outwit her madman father and a resentful Norse betrothed, Gwyn softens Simon's heart with each merciful touch. Gwyn's Seer sister foresees a bloody battle—and an end to the Nordmen—but Simon will also die. Will Gwyn save Simon on the battlefield even if it means losing her last breath?
Page Count: 358
Word Count: 88627
Northern Uist, Scotland, Autumn 1263
Death came by sea.
Torchlight danced on the black calm of a predawn sea as the mainlanders’ wooden rowboats drew closer to the shore on the fringe of the port town, Loch nam Madadh. The oars sliced soundlessly through the water. Each ripple hit Gwyn with waves of premonition as she watched from the shoreline with her sister. Though not a Seer like Venora, she knew the visions well. Venora always told her about them.
“Sit, Gwyn! Unless you want them to see us,” Venora said.
Gwyn knelt lower behind the dune.
The hum of the water seduced her. She itched to let it flow through her fingers. She found herself rising again. Water was the channel to her ability. It cured. It didn’t kill. She shuddered as the sea’s waters lapped restlessly upon the shore. Death rowed through life.
“Aye!” she snapped.
This was not a planned visit by the mainlanders, at least to her knowledge.
She squinted as the rowboats drew away from the cargo ship and closer to shore. “Six—no, wait, seven men?” she whispered. “Their ship doesn’t belong to one of the merchants in town. Why are they here? Did Father arrange another exchange? Isn’t he going to the market next week?”
“Sit, Gwyn,” Venora hissed. Her cold fingers were talons on Gwyn’s wrist.
She never dared doubt her sister’s Sight. A reluctant sigh brought her squatting beside Venora in the long grass, and she drew her cloak tighter. Fear welled within her. Venora’s fingers had done more than leave a pink mark. She rubbed her wrist.
Blood would be spilled today unless they acted.
As much as her father had preached his hatred for the Highlanders from across the sea, she didn’t hate them. She couldn’t. Healing was her gift. She saved—despite the toll healing took on her own body. Instead of exploiting the gifts of her people, she harnessed them.
“Are you certain about the outcome?” she asked for the fifth time today, grasping at any possible alternative. “Perhaps they come to visit the MacRuaidhri clan? Trade with them, too? Yes, I see. Look.” She recognized the dark shapes of barrels and crates in the rowboats. “They come only for trade.”
Venora’s silence was deafening. Finally she said, “It doesn’t matter what brings them.” She puffed a breath. “It will end with blood. Yer mercy and hope has no place among their people,” she chided. “It will—”
“Don’t!” Gwyn said with a shudder. She didn’t want to know her future, and Venora was well aware of it.
A wind whistled across the grasses of the machair shoreline of Cuan Canach, the little sea. It was hardly little. But it was, compared to the large Nord Sea her father’s men had navigated across nearly twenty-five years ago under the orders of King Haakon, bringing a throng of hungry warriors from the Nord Land.
“Perhaps…,” Gwyn began again.
Venora held up a hand. “Stop. The Nordman’s time has run its course. Scotland will reign.” She added, “But they have a bigger beast to contend with, south, for many years to come.”
Gwyn shivered. “What of us? We’re not Scots.”
Venora shrugged. “The Ancients will always have a home in the isles, even if we must live in secret.”
She prayed to the god Forseti that her father’s bloodthirst would end. Regardless, her betrothed came from a strong and rich Norse bloodline, and he was coming soon to claim her. There was no escaping the Nordmen.
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