ENSNARED BY BLOOD
Inherited Damnation , Book IV
Thirty didn’t make Beth Whitley old. It made her worldly. It made her wise. It made her…experienced.
Beth zipped her suitcase shut and stared at the plain black canvas. Precisely why she was returning to Scotland in the middle of winter, her least favorite time of year, when snow would make her miserable. At this point in her life, she should understand her roots. She should possess a solid grasp of where she came from, and more importantly, where she was going.
Correction—she knew where she was going. She needed to connect…with something. Something she caught only fleeting glimpses of and couldn’t quite name, though the yearning often kept her awake at night. Something that came from family and had dissipated when everything else in her life fell apart.
Her impromptu trip didn’t relate to the fact that Scotland made her want to paint again. Nor was she going because her best friend, Emily, insisted Beth’s reoccurring dream of a circle of standing stones meant something.
And she certainly wasn’t taking the ancient scroll of runes Emily had discovered in a tiny metaphysical shop off Broadway just to see Fintan McLaine again. Even if she had nearly lost her head the last time she was there, and a comforting hug became awkward when she turned her head to kiss his cheek and missed, only to plant her lips against the corner of his sensual mouth. The spark was instantaneous, taking root in her gut and spreading like hot coals through her limbs. The complications—not so much. He was handsome in a scholarly, bookish kind of way, and she might be staying in his home this trip, but he wasn’t guiding her into foolishness.
No, she’d left foolishness behind the day she signed her divorce papers. She’d rearranged her caseload, pushed back one pressing trial, and was going to Scotland to follow up on the lead to her heritage that was in the scroll. Nothing more.
With a decisive nod, Beth snapped a lock onto her suitcase’s zipper and set it on the floor. This was for her. Understanding her roots was something she’d wanted to do since college. For the last two years Fintan had been trying to help, but they’d hit a dead-end with the all-too-common surname, Drust. Now that same name was in the falling apart wax-coated parchment that she couldn’t read another lick of, and Fintan could translate runes better than any genealogist in Scotland. He was also the premiere expert on ancient Celt and Pict tribes, the only person who’d been able to trace her lineage as far as they had.
She couldn’t wait to see his reaction to the antiquated leather-bound writings. When she’d phoned, she’d mentioned only that she was coming with some new information. As he had every time, he gave her a warm welcome, cautious remarks about not to get her hopes up. But with his passion for early Scottish ancestry, he’d be elated over the sheer age of the document even if it led them down another dead-end path.
She, however, couldn’t shake the gut-level instinct that in three days she would finally know her origins. Whatever Emily found, it was different than anything Beth had witnessed in Fintan’s vast collection. That her ancestor’s name was included sparked hope she couldn’t stamp out.
Beth rolled her suitcase to the door and turned to survey her small apartment, checking off the to-do list in her head. She’d locked the windows, left her cat at the vet’s, and turned the heat down. As her gaze traversed the tight confines, the same sense of accomplishment she experienced every time she walked through the door swelled the space behind her ribs. She was, at last, her own person.
Not Beth McGillacutty, Dan McGillacutty’s wife and firm associate, but Beth Whitley, who was done following the path everyone else wanted her to take.
The tears for a life of missed opportunities were over. Her dominate ex had been history for two years, but he was finally excommunicated from her career and her heart. She’d rebuilt herself, started her own private law practice, and in another six months, she could put a hefty deposit on a house of her own.
And in a few short hours she could make up for the embarrassing way she’d presented herself the last time she’d seen Fintan McLaine. This time he’d see her in control, not on the edge of total breakdown, grasping at whatever she could to ground herself while the life she understood slipped through her fingers. No more babbling about throwing away art in exchange for law. No more looking back. No more…distractions. He would see her how he should have the first time they met, and that god-awful pity wouldn’t register behind his grey-as-steel eyes.
Besides, she hadn’t scheduled time for distractions.
A smile broke across her face, and she slung her purse over her shoulder. Humming a soft tune, Beth left through the paper-thin front door, heading for the cab that waited to take her to the airport.
“Twenty-two. Finally done.” Fintan tossed the roll of white satin ribbon onto his desk and reclined in his chair with a heavy sigh. He eyed his sister with a lifted brow. “My fingers feel like ground beef. How did I let you talk me into this?”
Brigid’s mouth curved into a sly smirk. “Because you thought if you helped, I’d be inclined to change my ways and join your band of merry-makers.”
He grunted. True enough. Centuries had passed since the last time he and his sister had seen eye-to-eye on anything, but he still held hope that she’d realize the strength that came from their mother’s blood and give up the demonic callings of her soul. He kept trying, and every once in a while she surprised him with something selfless. Like tonight when she’d walked into his office bearing an armful of hand-dipped orange candles, proclaiming they were exactly what his coven needed for the upcoming Imbolc ritual.
She had no plans of attending. Her rite would be far darker. Far more foul than Fintan could likely imagine, though he’d witnessed atrocities over the course of his 2000-plus years of existence.
Still, she offered the gift.
“What’s in it for you?”
Brigid’s smile turned frighteningly angelic. “Why would you think that?”
He tipped his head and looked down the length of his nose, his lips pursing in exasperation. “I haven’t lived with you for five hundred years and not learned a thing or two, Brigid.”
She shrugged. “I’m just looking out for my personal interests.”
“Which would be?”
With a light laugh, Brigid finished the tidy bow she was tying around the final candle and set it aside. She folded her arms across her chest and reclined as well, mirroring his position. The lightheartedness left her expression. Her amber eyes flashed as the fire in the hearth crackled. “There’s another holiday upon us. Another birthday coming. I have no intention of letting another ritual that will damage our father come to pass.”
Not just any birthday—his. Which meant, he held the ability to add another nail to their vile father’s coffin if he managed to get his hands on their mother’s ancient spell. Brigid knew he’d do it in a heartbeat. If it were possible to end his incubus sire’s existence with a knife, Fintan would plunge the blade into Drandar’s black soul without a moment’s hesitation.
But the scroll hadn’t surfaced. Not only that, even if it did, there was no guarantee he’d be the one to find it. The ritual could still be enacted by another sibling. That Cian, Rhiannon, and Belen had all embraced mortality on their birthday was strictly coincidence.
“That’s ridiculous. You know not a single line in any of the spells that have been uncovered so far call for the ritual to take place on a birthday, Brigid. What if Isolde finds it, or Dáire—he’d do anything for mortality. Or Taran? Isn’t he the one who’s stalking a woman in France? Seems to me that’s your most likely candidate.”
Brigid let out a soft chuckle. “No.”
“No?” Fintan spread his arms wide, indicating the empty castle room, the quiet that surrounded them. “Look around you. No women. No chance of falling in love and needing to lift the curse before I kill her.” Sitting forward, he folded his hands on his desk and gave his sister a meaningful stare. “Taran is your threat. Mark my words.”
Her laugh rang sharp with mockery. “Wrong. Taran is no fool. While you all have him tromping through the streets of Paris and hunting down this girl, you couldn’t be more wrong. He’s been in Italy. Prowling the beaches for drunks.”
Surprise landed a fist in Fintan’s gut, but he swallowed it back before the emotion could widen his eyes. Italy? Their darkest brother had taken great care to hide his whereabouts. Why?
He shook off the question. What Taran did was beyond Fintan’s control. Beyond all their ability to reason. Even Brigid, as faithful as she was to their sire’s blood, couldn’t hold a candle to Taran’s dark ways.
“Taran will not put himself in a position to make that fatal mistake, Fintan. Dáire, is being watched. Isolde is of no concern. Father could wipe the floor with her.”
Not quite, if the story Belen relayed about what Isolde had done to their father the night of Yule was true. But those siblings who opposed Drandar had kept that tidbit to themselves. Drandar’s pride would never allow him to admit the daughter most like their mother had bested him either.
Fintan gave Brigid a one-shoulder shrug. “So you’re here to watch over me.”
“Why not? I live with you. It makes sense. Besides.” She eased to her feet, her smile returning once more to its false angelic state. “You’re the one expecting company.”
As if on cue, a heavy knock sounded on the thick wooden door. A light feminine voice called, “Fintan? Brigid?”
“Yes, Muriel?” Fintan answered.
The door creaked open and a middle-aged blonde stuck her head inside. “Miss Whitley is here. Shall I show her to the front parlor?”
Fintan glanced at his sister, silently warning her that he wouldn’t tolerate any of her usual antics. “Bring Beth to me, Muriel. We’ll need the resources here. Is her room ready, the fire going?”
“Yes, everything’s prepared.”
At Fintan’s nod, Muriel slipped out again. Brigid threw her brother a wink. “I’ll leave you to your…research. But Fintan, I swear to you, I will not allow you to carry out any ritual beyond what you have already planned for your small coven.”
The sound of annoyance that rumbled in the back of his throat came out more like a snarl, a sound far closer to the dark blood he tried to ignore than he cared to admit. He took a deep calming breath then ordered his voice to remain level. “Go away. You have a room on the other wing of the castle. Stay there.” Taking three candles off the stack, he set them aside. He’d imbibe them for his ritual later.
Laughing, Brigid picked up one of the ribbon-embellished candles. She drew it under her nose, breathing in cinnamon and nutmeg. “I’ll know, Fintan. I will know.” With a saucy wave of the long taper, she sauntered out of the room, her wild red hair dancing around her waist like the flames that licked at the stones within the hearth.
Fintan watched her go, his eyes narrowing with suspicion. She was up to something. Something with the candles. He’d stake his immortal life on that fact. But what, exactly, eluded him.
Before he could dwell on the matter, the sound of heels clicking along the stone floor alerted him to Beth’s arrival. He rose to his feet as she entered the open door, Muriel her silent shadow. Yet the woman Fintan had expected wasn’t the one who filled the threshold. Her plain brown hair now bore enchanting shades of blonde and red that gave her delicate face new color. The tailored black pants she wore, the stylish white blouse, and the four-inch heels eradicated the memory he’d harbored of fraying jeans, faded sweatshirt, and sneakers.
She stepped into the room, crossing in front of the fire to shake his hand, and Fintan’s heart came to a standstill. Not because her confident smile held the impact of a head-on-collision, or because her missing glasses now revealed sparkling jade green eyes. But because he would stake his very soul on the fact he’d seen this new woman before…over two thousand years ago.
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