So many things in the past she wants to escape—except one.
Satia St. Clair, a street smart, socially aloof microbiologist, is literally immersed in her research at a Highland loch when a crumbling ledge tosses her into its murky depths without her diving gear. The last thing she expects is for a fourteenth-century Scottish warlord to pull her to safety.
Not only does he save her, but Kane Macpherson half believes her to be a faerie queen. After all, myth and folklore surround An Lochan Uaine. But even when common sense wins out, something about the beguiling lass demands she be treated like the special woman he instinctively knows she is. And he swears to protect her from anyone or anything. Which could be a problem when she makes the mistake of sharing her otherworldly knowledge of events yet to happen, and it gets back to his liege, Robert the Bruce. Kane soon realizes the greatest danger to Satia is herself. He's in peril, too. Or at least, his heart is. Fae queen or not, this green-eyed beauty not only possesses the second sight, but the power to capture a man's heart and soul without even realizing it.
Contains mature themes.
Release date: March 22, 2022
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing
Print pages: 265
Content advisory: Some violence, strong language, adult content
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Winning Her Highland Warrior
An Lochan Uaine (The Green Loch)
Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
March 2, 2021
Back to square one. All because of lust.
Satia St. Clair trudged down the path from the main road, oblivious to the peaceful shushing of the wind through the Caledonian pines. An Lochan Uaine, or more simply known as the Green Loch lay ahead, but even its gently undulating surface failed to lift her spirits. Her beloved Highlands offered no joy this day. Instead, the ancient land mocked her like everyone else.
She leaned sideways to keep the nylon straps from the bundle of plastic collection tubes from slipping off her shoulder again and skidded across a patch of loose rocks in the process. A frustrated growl escaped her. Even the woodland trail fought her now. She clenched her teeth tighter. Pure stubbornness pulled her through before. It would pull her through again. As she sidled between a pair of leaning trees, she gave Breanna Parker, her best friend—only friend really, a determined thumbs up. “At least with less equipment, it only takes one trip from the car. Right?”
“Not a soul answered our adverts for an intern?” Breanna struggled to weave through a tangle of low hanging limbs without dropping any of her load. “None of them? I covered every board in the science wing and posted announcements in all the online student chat rooms.” She stumbled on a tree root and cursed under her breath. “Are ye certain ye checked the new email address I set up? Not the old one, mind ye, but the new?”
“I checked them all, Bree.” Satia lowered a stack of shoddy cardboard boxes to the ground. Boxes that should’ve been aluminum cases fitted with shock absorbing inserts to protect delicate instruments and samples. But no, the university council had confiscated those when they accused her of fraud after Cameron “the maggot” Stote reported her initial findings as his own during a televised press conference. The conniving worm had even published her paper in his name and uploaded his photograph in place of hers.
She shoved her hands in the pockets of her down jacket and faced the light strip of pinkish blue sky gradually growing wider across the horizon. Dawn soon. Good thing. The council had also changed the locks on the storage unit containing all her battery operated light stands. “No intern wants to link their name with mine. The only emails were the ones telling me what a disgusting plagiarist I am—several in languages I didn’t recognize. It appears my shame hit worldwide in the scientific community.”
“How do ye know they called ye a disgusting plagiarist if ye couldna read the language?” Breanna dumped her load of bulging canvas totes beside the boxes.
Satia blew out another frustrated huff and faced the chilly north wind. She raked back the wildness of her long blonde curls and secured them with a ponytail holder. “The internet knows everything. Including how to translate insults.”
“I uninstalled yer old email so ye would stop reading those,” Breanna said. “That’s twice now. Did ye reinstall it? Again?”
Satia scanned the shadowy waters of the loch, wishing she had drowned Cameron when she had the chance instead of succumbing to his con and sleeping with him. “I have to know what they say so I can fight them and take back my power.” She kept her gaze locked on the rippling surface she still found so mesmerizing even after three years of meticulous study. The beguiling turquoise green of the waters came alive as morning sunlight gave it the colorful prisms of a precious, rare jewel.
Breanna hugged an arm around her. “Ye know I love ye, pet, but ye have to let it go. All of it. He only published yer initial findings and conned everyone at the press conference with vague answers. When we expound on yer theory and validate it with solid data that Cameron doesna have, that’ll show everything to be yers just as ye told them.” She tightened the hug, then gently jostled her. “Look here now, I brought along a thermos of yer favorite tea. It’s colder than old Scratch’s heart this morning, and yer wee loch there will be even colder. Did ye wear yer thermals like I told ye?”
Satia eased herself free of Breanna’s hold and moved to the water’s edge. Her dear friend didn’t understand. Not this time. As foster sisters in at least four different placements and also while living on the streets, they had bonded as young children. Helped each other survive. Bree was her only kin and understood her better than anyone. At least, under normal circumstances. But even Bree didn’t understand the bitter depths of this betrayal, nor the other driving force behind the research. Satia had to ensure Bree’s own health and wellbeing remained solid and cancer free for years to come.
“Here, pet. Drink yer tea.” Breanna nudged her as she held out a steaming cup. “I still say it’s a bit early in the year to get in that water. Can we not collect what ye need from shore? Leastwise ’til it gets warmer? I’m not liking the idea of ye perching on that ledge in just yer waders. Not with it still so nippy.”
“Diving equipment, suits and all are locked up in the unit with the lighting, remember?” Satia warmed her hands on the mug as she sipped. Black tea with lots of milk. Bree always took the best care of her. They took care of each other. “Thank ye, love.” She offered her friend a reassuring smile. “I’ll be fine because ye’re here to watch over me.” After another sip of the warming brew, she added, “Ye always stick with me. Whether in good times or bad, I know I can always count on ye.”
“Always, pet.” Breanna squinted at the sky while the breeze whipped her black curls into her face. “Wind’s picking up.” She turned and fixed a stern glare on Satia. A frustrated urgency in her voice added to the worry in her dark brown eyes. “Please wait ’til another day. I dinna have a good feeling about this.” Her sleek brows quirked higher. “Ye know how I am. I’ve got one of my feelings. Please listen this time, a’right?”
Satia refused to comment. They had debated Bree’s belief in an eerie sixth sense over many a bottle of wine and concluded they would never see eye to eye on this topic. They had finally agreed to disagree.
“I know ye dinna believe in it, but I’m telling ye—I am always right about these things. Well, mostly.” Breanna refilled Satia's cup. “And I feel downright iffy about today.” With a coaxing grin, she leaned in and bumped her shoulder against hers. “Come on, now. See sense. How ’bout the library? I’m sure there’s more to be found downstairs amongst yer favorite chronicles. It’s a mite dusty, but least it’s dry and warm. Ye can collect samples in a month or two.”
No use arguing. Satia had learned long ago, the only way to get around Bree was to keep moving forward. She balanced her tea on top of a rock, popped open the flaps of a box, and pulled out her waders. “Be a love, will ye? Get one of the longer sample tubes ready with the longest cording we’ve got. I’ll not get new data if I dinna hit deeper water.”
“I hate it when ye ignore me. Ye know that.” But rather than pout and refuse to help, Bree did as asked, just like always.
Satia stepped into the waders and cinched the suspenders as short as they would go. The oversized waterproof overalls were about three times too big and gave off the pungent aroma of dead fish and oily rubber, but she’d gotten them free from a kindly fisherman she’d befriended at the corner pub. After losing her funding, free was essential.
“We could fit in these together, Bree.” She practiced shuffling around in the large rubber boots. Even wearing three pairs of her thickest wool socks, the things still swallowed her.
“Ye’re going to fall face first, fill them with water, and drown.” Breanna held up a neatly wound nylon strap with heavy duty carabiners attached to each end. “Hook this around ye, so I can haul ye to shore when ye go under.”
“I will not fall.” Satia waved her away. Bree worried too much. The small loch was not treacherous. A favorite swimming hole with holiday travelers in the summer; it was cold from snowmelt, but still docile enough in most spots. The depth of the water on the ledge only reached a little above her waist, and the blue-green depths beyond would only get a taste of her collection tubes, not her.
“Please, Satia.” Bree looked ready to cry.
“Fine.” She took the strapping, wove it through the suspenders, and secured it with the clip. “There. Are ye happy now?”
“I’ll not be happy ’til ye’re out of that water and back in the car.” Bree unwound the black strapping and anchored it to a tree. “My gut isna happy with this. I’m telling ye, something bad is going to happen.”
“Yer gut isna happy because ye ate that chili from a week ago that I shouldha thrown out.” Satia picked up the pole and tested the plunger in the tubing. When Bree didn’t offer a comeback, she turned to see why. Even in the soft light of dawn, she spotted tears shining on her sweet friend’s face. “Bree?”
With an embarrassed sniff, Breanna swiped at the wetness. “This is wrong, Satia Nicole. Dangerously wrong. I feel it.”
Bree only called her Satia Nicole when sorely distressed. If angry, she would have used Satia Nicole Josephine St. Clair. Satia clomped across the rocky shoreline until they stood toe to toe. She took hold of Breanna’s shoulders and squeezed. “I have to do this. I canna rest until I’ve convinced everyone that I’m not a fraud, a thief, or a joke.” She resettled her grip and gave Bree a soft shake as she leaned in closer. “And think of all the people this can help if I get the data I need. That elusive strand I need to confirm can bolster so many treatments. Might even turn them into cures.” She squeezed Bree’s shoulders tighter. “Yer cancer? It scared the hell out of me, Bree. What if ye hadna caught it early enough? This discovery might even strengthen treatments for when it’s already spread to lymph nodes.” Tears almost sprang free as she vocalized the fear neither of them ever spoke aloud. “What if yer cancer comes back? I want to help ye.” She shook her head. “I canna bear losing ye, sweet sister.”
Bree refused to look her in the eyes. “I’m not worried about all those people. Or me. I am worried about ye.” She fidgeted with the nylon strapping between her fingers. “I canna lose ye either, Satia. Please wait ’til another day.”
Satia released her. “Ye willna lose me. If it’ll make ye feel any better, feed out the line as I walk.”
Too many emotions spoiled a day of research. Emotions spoiled everything, in fact. She loved Bree dearly, but this had to stop in order for her to accomplish what needed to be done. Once she got the samples collected, Bree would see her worried gut was just a reaction to eight-day-old chili.
As she waded out into the water, she held a hand high and forced a lighter tone. “And dinna be yanking me onto me arse just to prove me wrong. Understand?”
“If it was later in the year, I would.” Bree flipped a potential tangle out of the line. “But I dinna want to be the one stuck looking after ye when ye get a wicked head cold from hypothermia.”
“Ye lie.” Satia edged farther out onto the ledge. “Ye love taking care of me. Just like I love taking care of ye.” She pulled off her gloves and held them between her teeth as she slipped her wrist through the loop in the specimen tube line and snugged it tight. She should’ve done it on shore, but Breanna’s uneasiness had distracted her. That gave her pause, making her worry about what else she might have overlooked while trying to appease her friend. With a roll of her shoulders to shake off the eerie feeling, she slid her feet closer to the edge of the drop off then waited for the cloud of silt to settle. At least now, if the weighty collection tube slipped out of her hands, she could easily reel it back.
When the frigid water lapped higher than her waist, she gulped in a deep breath. By jings, Bree had called one thing right. The Green Loch in early March was colder than Satan’s heart. The iciness of the water surged through every layer of rubberized waders, jeans, and thermals. She might as well be naked. If she had nicked her wetsuit and worn it, she could’ve peed in it to keep warm for a little while. As it was, she nearly peed from the cold.
She braced against another muscle cramping shiver. No sense dwelling on it. After yanking on her gloves, she pulled another weight from her pocket and screwed it onto the end of the tubing. Bree never added enough weights.
Satia swung it out beyond the ledge and watched the white plastic cap disappear into the darkness. As the tube sank, she fed out both lines, one for the plunger and one for the casing, reassured by the colors that Bree had used the longest recovery rope they owned. The fluorescent yellow, a little over a hundred meters, would get her to depths she hadn’t sampled before.
As she came to the end of the line, she gave it a gentle tug and bobbed it. Even with all the rope let out, the tube still floated free, not even brushing against the bottom. That realization made her frown. How could An Lochan Uaine, one of the tinier Highland lochs, have such a massive drop off? She’d never encountered that in the past three years.
A firm jerk on the strap attached to her waders made her turn. Bree’s terrified expression startled her.
“Are ye all right, Satia?”
God bless poor Bree and her silly premonitions. Satia indulged her with a smile and a wave. “I am finer the fine. Stop worrying.”
Then the ledge crumbled out from under her and pitched her forward. The weighted pole tied to her wrist tugged to the right as the icy water swallowed her. Her waders filled and dragged her downward with the sample tube line running alongside her. The more she struggled to kick back to the surface, the more water the overalls gulped in and the faster she sank.
Pull me up, Bree, pull! She flailed to the side, spiraling downward as she groped for the nylon rescue strap. If Bree pulled, she could help by pulling herself upward—if she could find it. The darkness and numbing cold slowed everything. Her lungs burned for air. The feeling left her fingers bit by bit; she couldn’t find the rescue strap. She had to shed the waders and get that rope off her wrist while she still had some sense of touch left. It was her only hope of getting to the surface.
Something bumped against her leg. Or maybe not. Unbearable cold. Inky blackness. Lack of oxygen. God help her. She should’ve listened to Breanna this time. She managed to scoot off her gloves by rubbing her wrists together and freed herself from the tubing rope. Erratic flashes of light exploded against the blackness of her closed eyelids. She forced them open, but the murky depths revealed nothing. Saints help her; she needed air. Fingers almost useless, she fumbled with the shoulder strap clasps of the waders one last time. She couldn’t die like this. She would not die before finding a cure for Bree and everyone who needed it.
The clasps released, and the waders fell away, sliding down off her body. She tried to kick and push upward. Tried so hard. No use. Too late. Not enough air and so very cold. She gave in and relaxed, wishing she had told Breanna two things. One, that she loved and appreciated her, and two, if she ever drowned, just leave her body buried in the loch. The icy darkness held a peacefulness she had never known on dry land.
Consciousness hit Satia with a vengeance. She convulsed violently and spewed what felt like gallons of water. Breanna hit her between the shoulder blades over and over. Rocks dug into her as she clutched at the ground, coughing, and choking more water out.
Breanna kept hitting her. Harder with each thump.
“Enough!” she wheezed after another vomiting spasm. “I know ye’re mad, but ye can beat me later.”
“I would never beat ye,” said a voice that rumbled deep as thunder. “Forgive me, m’lady—but I feared ye slipping away. I had to convince yer spirit to fight.”
Satia rolled and tried to push herself up but collapsed face first onto the muddy rocks. “Who are ye?” She tried to rise again, but face-planted a second time. “Damn this bloody weakness! Breanna! Help me!”
Strong hands took a firm hold of her upper arms, lifted her, and settled her on an impressive lap. The owner of the lap held her in place with an equally impressive arm sporting a bicep the size of a massive log. Dark eyes, devilish and striking, peered deep into hers. “Kane Macpherson at yer service, m’lady.”
“Kane Macpherson,” she repeated, trying to buy herself some time to gather her wits. The man’s hair was black as his eyes, even blacker since water dripped from the long strands framing his handsome features. Features that would make a sculptor drool. A dusting of day-old beard shadowed his squared jaw and added a dangerous sexiness to the cleft in his chin.
She leaned away and gave him a quick up and down glance. Holy hell. The translucent clinginess of his wet shirt enhanced every ripple, every hard ridge of his chest. She had never seen such. Well, at least, not in person. Maybe in the movies, and that was a big maybe. This dark god outdid them all. Perhaps she had drowned, and he was here to escort her to Heaven or Hell. Considering her past, Hell was the more likely destination.
“Who are ye?” she asked again. “And where is Breanna?”
“Kane Macpherson,” he said, repeating his name louder and enunciating every syllable. “And I dinna ken who Breanna is, m’lady. The only others here are my men.”
Still struggling to stabilize her frustrating shakiness, Satia pressed the heels of her hands against her temples. She had to be dead. No way would Breanna leave her alone at the loch unless she had drowned. But everything felt so real. Heat emanated from this strange man. Even with him as soaked as she was, blessed warmth radiated from him. She lifted her gaze to his and braced herself for the answer she feared. “Am I dead?”
His eyes flared wider. “Nay, m’lady. Thankfully, not.” He tipped his head toward the loch. “I feared so when ye shot up from the depths then went still when ye fell back to the water. But when I reached ye, ye warmed to my touch and stirred.”
Shot up from the depths? She had struggled to reach the surface. By no means had she shot. Movement to the left made her turn. Four men stepped closer. None as big as her rescuer, but all larger than most males she knew. Of course, in her wee corner of the world, most men exercised their minds and not their bodies.
Their unusual dress made her wonder if the lack of oxygen had damaged her brain cells. They had to be a hallucination. She eyed them as they approached. Each of them wore tight, legging sort of pants tucked into tall boots. Their shirts were more like tunics from a renaissance fair or something. Full billowy sleeves. Open ties at the throat. The length hit them at about mid-thigh. Two of the men wore long vests over the tunics. One sported a tattered coat. It was long too, reaching to just above his knees. Leather belts and straps criss-crossed their bodies, loaded with weapons. Antique weapons. Two-handed swords, axes, daggers, and maces. Some of the men had visible scars. Nothing severe, but proof of past battles just the same.
Actors? She didn’t remember hearing about another movie being made in the area. Of course, she kept her head buried in her research, but still.
And she had yet to see Breanna.
Satia pushed to her feet even though she hated leaving the dark god’s warmth behind. Bloody hell. The wind cut through her, honed to an even icier bite by her wet clothing. She needed to get to the car and crank up the heat.
“Thank ye for pulling me out,” she said, her teeth chattering. “I’ll just be going to my car now.” That’s where Breanna had to be. Up at the car. Probably radioing for help since cell service was patchy here.
“Car?” Kane rose and stretched out a hand to steady her. The man was a solid head and a half taller than her five foot seven. Concern, leeriness, and something Satia couldn’t quite put a finger on settled across his striking features. “What is a car, m’lady? A cart, perhaps?” He eased closer as if fearing she might do herself harm. “Are ye a victim of thieves? Did someone accost ye and throw ye into the loch?”
“Uhm… no.” Satia stalled, still wrestling with the aftereffects of her watery ordeal and a touch of hypothermia. Was this a joke to him? Was he trying to confuse her even more? Balance returned but still sketchy; she swayed in a shuffling half circle, scanning the area. Everything she saw only befuddled her worse.
More pines than usual. A lot more. No path coming down from the road. And where were the stone steps? The platform with the carved bench? The six old cairns? She veered off balance and stumbled sideways. “Bloody hell!” The rocky beach showed no mercy on her poor feet, protected by nothing but her wet socks.
The dark Highlander surged forward and swept her up into his arms before she hit the ground. He shot a fierce look at the nearest man. “Get a fire going and fetch my flask. She needs warming.”
Satia curled inward, rubbing her temples as she leaned into the warmth of his damp chest. Something was very not right here. She had to be dead. They all were, and these guys just didn’t know it.
“Dinna fash yerself, m’lady. All will be well.” He spoke to her as if she were a frightened child. “Toff will have us a roaring fire in no time, and Rob’s fetching whisky to chase the chill away.”
“Where are we?” Weariness pushed her against him. Coaxed her to soak in more of his heat. If she was already dead, he couldn’t hurt her—right? No harm in getting warmth and comfort where she could.
“An Lochan Uaine.” He peered down at her, and his voice fell, as if speaking more to himself than her. “Yer eyes mirror those enchanted waters. Nay… they’re even more brilliant.”
She ignored the compliment. If that’s what it was. He had to be wrong about where they were. This couldn’t be her loch. It was similar—but different. Sort of. More untouched by humanity, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this still wasn’t her loch. She stole another look, its circumference so small she easily ran her gaze around the entire shoreline.
An American student, one of her interns, had insulted the Green Loch by saying it was nothing more than an oversized pond. She had fired that one and sent her packing. Aye, her precious loch might be small, but it was as alluring and mysterious as the myths and legends it spawned over the centuries.
One of the men, the one Macpherson had called Toff, knelt where the stone steps should have been and arranged sticks and dried tinder. He took out an ancient-looking flint, struck it once, then bent and blew where the spark landed.
Two of the others reappeared, leading five enormous horses to a rope they had strung between two pines. The shortest of the four, presumably Rob, headed toward them, holding up a dark brown leather flask in each hand.
With a bob of his head, he gave her a lop-sided smile. “Brought mine for ye too, m’lady.” He pulled out the stopper with his teeth and offered it. “Them faery waters be wicked cold this time of year.” With a half-bow, he added, “I be Rob McBride. Anything ye need, ye just ask, and I’ll fetch it.”
“Thank ye.” She accepted the flask and held it under her nose. Dead, lost, or whatever this was, she would not make the mistake of blind trust no matter how helpful and kind these men appeared to be. Familiar fumes tickled her nostrils, promising a drink that would burn all the way down. She took a healthy swig, closed her eyes, and savored the liquid fire settling in a warm pool in her middle. “Much better,” she said, then took another sip before handing it back. “Thank ye, Mr. McBride. I appreciate it.”
“Just plain ole Rob, m’lady.” Blue eyes twinkling, he bobbed another polite bow that set his light brown braid swinging.
Satia became increasingly aware that the muscular leader of the group still cradled her like a babe. “Ye can put me down now, Mr. Macpherson. I’m sure my balance has returned by now.”
“Kane, m’lady.” He eased her to her feet as if she were made of porcelain. With a teasing tilt of his head, he arched a sleek brow. “Might we know yer name?”
“Oh… uhm.” She had never excelled at social graces. She often forgot please and thank you. Any manners beyond that were a rare bonus. “I’m Satia. Satia St. Clair.”
Kane’s eyes went wide again, and he shifted a step back. “Satia, ye say?”
“Aye.” What was wrong with her name? Then it came to her. Dead, lost, or wherever this was, this bunch knew about Cameron’s bogus claims and thought her a fraud, too. She stood taller. “Cameron Stote is a lying maggot.” She thumped a fist against her chest. “That research was mine. He stole it.”
“Mayhap she hit her head and doesna ken who she is?” said the red-haired hulk of the bunch in a hushed voice.
She hit her chest again. “I am Satia St. Clair, and I know exactly who I am.”
“Beg pardon, m’lady.” The brute fell to one knee and bowed his head. “I meant no insult.” He glanced up for a half second then dropped his gaze again. “Jac Innes. Proud to serve ye, mighty queen.”
“Mighty queen?” When no one answered, she turned back to Kane, since he appeared to be in charge. She edged a step closer. “Queen?” she repeated.
“He thinks ye Nicnevin, Queen of the Fae.” He glanced aside as if unable to look her in the eyes. “To be fair, we all have thoughts on that matter.” He twitched a sheepish shrug. “’Twas the way ye appeared out of nowhere. Like the depths of the loch spit ye right out.”
The yellow-haired brute poking the fire tossed a glance her way. “Toff Sweeney, m’lady, and no, I dinna think ye queen of the Fae. If ye were, why would yer own loch toss ye up like a poorly digested meal?” He wagged his head back and forth, making a face as he stood. “Course ye did show up out of nowhere.”
“And yer opinion?” she asked, turning back to Kane.
He grinned and lifted his chin in the barest show of defiance. “I think ye are of royal blood. A rare beauty in need of our help.” With a gallant nod, he placed his hand over his heart. “And I am happy to be of service.” He held out his hand. “Come, m’lady. To the fire. Ye’re teeth are still clacking from the icy water.”
She didn’t take his hand even though she wanted to. Better not. With her strength returning, time to maintain a safe distance from this fine specimen of masculinity. As Breanna would say, the man had a pull to him. Something that drew her closer. Like he was a natural lodestone and she the iron.
Once she reached the fire, she knelt beside it and leaned as close as she could without getting singed. The flames crackled and popped, welcoming her deeper into this madness of faery queens, magical lochs, and men who looked out of place. And Breanna. Where was she?
The fourth man, bald as could be and looking older than the others, waved a small black pot as he walked to the water’s edge. “I’ll be making ye a fine broth, m’lady. That’ll cure what ails ye and help ye remember what’s right or not.”
Kane settled down beside her. “Albie Foster’s the best cook there is. Ye’ll feel better once ye’ve eaten.”
“I dinna feel bad.” She scrubbed her arms then held her hands closer to the flames. “I’m just cold.”
“And confused,” he added quietly.
“Ye have no idea,” she admitted, finding it mildly disturbing that he read her with such precision.
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