At first, Eve thought that Ranulf’s words yet echoes in her mind, at least until the thick growth of heather at her feet and the tall, muscular form of Dougal MacKinnon drew her attention.
‘Remember me, milady?’ he asked, his sonorous voice and appealing burr causing a shiver of decadent longing deep inside her.
He stepped closer, holding out his hand to her and, damn her weakness!, she took hold. Part of her reacted to the longing she felt, but part of her simply needed to feel something, someone, real right now. The events and people of this night were wearing on her and the fear of what still lay ahead made her tremble. Could she find the missing emeralds? Would she ever return to her own time and to Sebastian?
Dougal pulled her to him and wrapped his strong arms around her, giving her the grounding she so needed in this moment. Real or not, he felt it and she would take that for now. A short respite from the revolving doors and times and places. As though he understood, he held her close and kissed her forehead gently. Eve closed her eyes and just let his strength and comfort seep into her. After a long minute, she opened her eyes and glanced around at their surroundings. Not the chamber where she’d met him the first time, they now stood in a clearing before a large, stone keep.
‘Where are we?’ she asked. ‘This is not England.’ He released her and stepped a pace back while keeping her hand in his.
‘This is Broch Ayre,’ he said, a possessive smile curving his sexy mouth in a way that begged her to kiss him. ‘My home.’
Eve searched her memory for any knowledge of the northern estates that belonged to the Meryngham title and could not remember any in Scotland.
‘Your visit in Meryngham Castle made me realize the futility of continuing my claim.’ Eve frowned, trying to remember anything she might have said that would have influenced him. She’d met and spoken with too many this night to keep it all straight.
‘The way you questioned that any Scot had held the Meryngham title,’ he replied to her silent question. ‘The Lady in Green is rumoured to know the past and future and I knew the truth of my quest. So,’ he said, gifting her with that wicked, wicked smile, ‘I bargained for what I could get.’ He motioned to the keep and the lands surrounding it. ‘Mine.’ She laughed then at his grin.
‘A practical solution,’ she said. ‘And you are content? With the keep and lands?’ she asked.
‘Keep. . .lands. . .a title of mine own and a good portion of gold,’ he rattled off the list of prizes he’d won in the bargain to her. She laughed at his obvious pride in managing to get as much as he did. ‘I am pleased with my winnings,’ he said. Before she could reply, he reached into the leather sporran that lay across his hips and pulled something out in his closed fist. ‘But this is more important than the rest.’
His fingers lifted and in his palm he held a large emerald. Could it be?
‘Aye, ‘tis one of their precious emeralds, collected and hoarded. This made me content,’ he said, closing his fist around it once more. ‘I suspected it would bring you to me in search of it and I was right.’ He frowned at her then, staring at the now-naked skin above the tight bodice of her gown. ‘What has happened to you?’
Her damp palms slid over the dirtied surface of the once-exquisite stone. Her stomach clenched then, realizing that the stones could be anywhere, anytime, now. Was that now her quest? To search through the Daubenay ancestors and gather the lost stones together so that a necklace could be made? But who would be the one to do that? How could she make the right choice, if she did manage to find them all?
‘I have been traveling and visiting many of the Daubenays this night,’ she said on a sigh. ‘From the first to the last, it would seem. I can hardly believe it’s possible.’
‘You are standing before me once again. It must be possible. Fear not, Eve,’ he said. She smiled as he remembered her name and spoke it as a whisper. ‘Follow not the stones, but search for love. Your true love will help you finish your quest this night.’ His searing green gaze captured hers then and he held out his hand to her. Opening his fist, he offered her the emerald there.
‘I see that it did bring you back to me, but now I return it to you. If the Fates declare that you will be mine, I will see you a third time.’
Eve hesitated. Dougal wanted her. He was a rightful Daubenay and the true heir at this time if his story was true—and she believed it was. Her heart urged her to accept him and his love and not to take the stone. To remain with him here and find a life. . . and love together. Was he her true love?
Dougal took her hand then and placed the emerald, smoothly-cut and sparkling , in her palm. Closing her fingers over it, he pulled her close and kissed her. She leaned against him as their mouths touched, opening to his tongue and tasting him as he deepened the kiss. Just as she leaned back to try to speak to him, the air around them began to twinkle, much like the light reflecting off the multi-angled cut gem had. He stared behind her and she knew a doorway had opened to her.
‘Dougal,’ she began. ‘I will. . . .’
Eve felt herself being pulled into a vortex of swirling winds and sounds and lost her breath at the intensity of the force commanding her through time. When her feet touched solid ground, she pulled in a ragged breath and turned towards the voice that called her from behind.
Ooh! What should Eve do now? Should she try to find Dougal a third time and fulfill the legend? Will she ever find her way back to Sebastian or find the rest of the emeralds? I have to say that a Highland warrior is very appealing to me - I think I'd stay! How about you? Which of the heroes is your favorite so far?