Lured to the night (the brotherhood series book 4) (page 10)

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Chapter 16




Lachlan hovered outside the entrance to the burial tomb. He called Isla’s name again, but there was no reply.

“You’re certain Malmuirie heard them say they were coming for a walk out here?” Lachlan exhaled. Panic flared again.

“Aye, she’d have heard them. The woman has the ears of an owl,” Douglas said. He put his hands on his knees and bent his head to catch his breath. “And she has the same pinched face to boot.”

Lachlan stared at the opening leading down into the tomb. “Someone has moved the boulder.” They would have struggled to move it on their own. “I’m going to go down there.”

“It will be far too dark,” Leo said revealing a hint of frustration. “We should have stopped to pick up a lantern before dashing out as though the barns had caught fire.”

Lachlan did not take offence at Leo’s blunt tone. They were worried. The emotion created a level of anxiety that was hard to bear.

“Wait here.” Lachlan marched over to the entrance.

Leo stepped forward. “I’m coming with you. If you should stumble in the dark, we will be none the wiser.”

Douglas nodded. “I’ll stay here in case the lasses stroll on by with nary a care in the world.”

Both Lachlan and Leo squeezed through the gap. They had taken but a few steps along the tunnel when the sound of a sorrowful melody surrounded them. The mournful notes tugged at Lachlan’s heart. The unusual words penetrated his addled brain. The rhythmical sound made his head feel too heavy for his neck, and he struggled to remain upright. The lure of sleep proved too potent to ignore.

Lachlan blinked rapidly to prevent his eyes closing. “Do you hear singing?”

“Yes. I do not understand the words but it sounds rather sad.”

The words drifted around him like a lover’s soothing caress, stroking, stroking, until he had no choice but to close his eyes. The weight of his head falling forward suddenly jerked him to attention. “I am struggling to stay awake. It is the song. All I want to do is sleep.”

“That’s strange,” Leo whispered from behind him. “It has no effect on me. Cover your ears. It may help.”

Lachlan put his hands over his ears to muffle the sound and continued to edge forward.

As they neared the large chamber, Leo put his hand on Lachlan’s shoulder. “The singing has stopped.”

“Isla,” Lachlan whispered. His eyes were growing accustomed to the darkness, and he could see two black shadows in front of him. “Isla?”

“Lachlan. Is that you?”

Relief coursed through him at the sound of her voice, but he resisted the urge to dart forward, not knowing what awaited them in the chamber. “Yes. Are you hurt?”


As they left the narrow tunnel and entered the chamber, Lachlan stopped abruptly. A wispy cloud of white mist hovered in the air. As though it recognised the presence of strangers it began swirling back and forth, shaping into the outline of a figure.

“Remind me to say no the next time Douglas offers me a dram of his whisky,” Leo whispered. “There have been many times in my youth when I dreamed of conjuring a woman out of nothing but air. The reality is not as arousing as I imagined.”

Lachlan narrowed his gaze to focus on the feminine shape forming before him. To some extent, the spectre reminded him of Isla, what with the long golden hair and sensual smile.

“Rest in peace. Rest safe in the knowledge I shall return your bracelet to you.” Isla’s calm tone surprised him. But then she was a woman who had experienced the impossible on many levels.

The white smoke dispersed in response to Isla’s reassuring words, disintegrating into the dank atmosphere. A faint haze lingered over the coffin like an eerie morning mist before vanishing into nothing.

It took Lachlan a moment to gather his thoughts, for his mind to assemble what he had witnessed. He stepped forward. “Where are you?”

“On the floor just a few feet in front of you.”

“On the floor,” he repeated as he located the darker grey mass below his line of vision. “You said you were not hurt.” He fell to his knees and crawled the last few spaces. When he reached for her hand, he realised they were tied behind her back. “Did Boyd do this?”

Beside them, Leo and Ivana embraced and muttered endearments.

“Boyd was here with us,” Isla said as Lachlan fumbled with the length of material wrapped around her wrists. “But when the wind blew out the candle I don’t know what happened to him.”

Just hearing the steward’s name caused an intense rage to flare. “He must be in here as we did not see him leave.”

He unravelled the last layer of material. She groaned with relief but rather than rub the sore skin she turned and threw her arms around his neck. In the dark, he forgot they were not alone. The urgent kiss they shared could have quickly developed into something far more salacious.

“There’s a lantern on the floor to my right,” she said as she broke for breath. “See if you can find it. I have a tinderbox in my pocket.”

Lachlan came to his feet, blinked numerous times to focus his vision before his gaze settled on the slumped figure in the corner. Boyd. It took great strength of will not to throttle the deceitful bastard.

Moving to the steward’s side, Lachlan grabbed the lapel of his coat and shook him. “Boyd. You bloody lying toad. Get up.” The man made no sound and did not move. Lachlan patted Boyd’s chest, felt for a pulse in his neck. Perhaps the melodious singing had sent the man to sleep. Picking up the lantern near Boyd’s feet, Lachlan walked back to Isla.

“I assume he is alive?” Leo asked.

Lachlan gave a contemptuous snort. “Unfortunately, yes.”

Isla handed him the tinderbox. He crouched down and set about lighting the lantern. After a few attempts, the candle finally flickered to life. It was only then, as Isla’s relieved gaze locked with his, that he knew she could see him.

“You can see?” he said with amazement.

“Yes. My sight gradually returned after you left. That was why I asked Ivana to walk outside with me.”

A faint shuffling sound captured his attention. He ignored it at first until he heard a deep masculine voice mutter a curse. Lachlan shot to his feet and held the lantern aloft. The sight of Boyd scrambling from the chamber into the tunnel caused a sudden surge of anger.

“Bloody hell.” Lachlan put the lantern on the floor. “Wait here.”

Even if Lachlan had been fast enough to catch Boyd, when he left the tunnel the glare from the afternoon sun blinded him. He put his hands to his eyes and squinted. “Douglas. Stop him. Don’t let him leave.”

“Dinnae worry on that score,” Douglas said with a chuckle. “Yer man tripped over his own feet and hit his head. He’ll nae be going anywhere soon.”

Lachlan looked up and suppressed a chuckle when he witnessed Douglas sitting on top of Boyd’s sprawled body. “Are you comfortable?”

Douglas nodded. “Aye, it’s a bit lumpy in places. Reminds me of the time I stumbled on Malmuirie in the bath tub.” Douglas visibly shivered. “It will stay with me forever.”

“Ah, you don’t fool me, Douglas Dougan. I know you hold a torch for the woman.”

Douglas gave a sly wink but said nothing.

“Good Lord,” Leo said as he exited the tunnel with Ivana. He covered his eyes and shook his head. “I’d almost forgotten it was the middle of the day.”

Lachlan glanced behind them. “Where’s Isla?”

Leo nodded to the entrance. “She said she must return the bracelet to the lady, where it belongs. She asked if you would go down and help her seal the coffin.”

Lachlan nodded. “Will you wait with Douglas? I’ll not be long.”

“Of course.” Leo gestured to Boyd. “What do you intend to do with him?”

Lachlan contemplated the question. “Had it just be a matter of petty pilfering, I would have beaten him and sent him on his way. But he would have taken my father for everything he owned, and for what he did to Isla … well, I’ve no choice but to inform the sheriff.”

“I’ll accompany you, act as your witness. Then I must visit the Commissary Court and see if I can convince them of Nikolai’s death.”

“I shall certainly require your help and support when it comes to dealing with Boyd,” Lachlan said. “But there is no need to concern yourself with Nikolai.” He glanced back over his shoulder to the burial mound. Isla would be waiting. “I shall explain it allen route.”

Leo smiled. “Now my interest is truly piqued.”

Lachlan squeezed past the boulder and made his way down the steps and along the tunnel. He entered the chamber to find Isla standing near the stone coffin her hands pressed together in prayer.

He stood in silence while he waited for her to acknowledge his presence. After a brief moment, she turned to face him. As she met his gaze, he said a silent prayer of thanks, promised to show his gratitude each and every day.

“Oh, Lachlan.” Tears welled in her eyes, and she ran into his arms.

“I’m sorry about Boyd.” He held her tight, smoothed her hair, kissed her numerous times on the head. “The man has been stealing from my father for years. I assume he sought to use you as a distraction so I would not have time to examine the household accounts.”

She looked up into his eyes. “You’re right. Boyd told me so. He wanted to ensure you had no reason to stay. He intended to leave us down here to die. But that is not why I feel so solemn.” She glanced back over her shoulder at the coffin. “I wish I could do something to help her.”

“We cannot help what has happened in the past,” he said, suspecting she felt an affinity with the lady in the tomb. “All we can do is look to the future.”

“It could have been me.” A tear trickled down her cheek, and he wiped it away with the pad of his thumb. “If Ivana hadn’t come all this way to find me, I would still be suffering from the affliction. Ivana dreamt about me. That’s how she knew where to come. Talliano mentioned the mine in his notes and so they travelled all this way on a whim. I cannot help but feel I am connected to her somehow.”

Lachlan cupped her face tenderly. “Your shared experiences will always bind you to her. We will always remember Ivana’s kindness and generosity. And I suspect the lady with the bracelet also came to your aid today.”

Isla’s eyes widened. “I saw her, Lachlan. She was right there in front of me.”

“I know,” he nodded. A smile touched his lips as he drank in her look of wonder. “I saw her, too.”

She hugged him, pressed her cheek to his chest and gave a pleasurable sigh. “So much has happened these last few days I can hardly think clearly.” She stepped back. “We should seal the coffin. Let the lady rest in peace with her family.”

He nodded. “Help me slide the stone slab into position.”

Isla took one last look inside the coffin. With a curt nod, she grasped the edges of the lid and helped him secure it in place.

“There,” she said brushing the dust from her dress. She picked up the lantern. “You know Boyd was the one responsible for the death of the cattle.”

Anger flared at the mere mention of the steward’s name. “Hendry unwittingly informed me Boyd was responsible for the rumours about you. I’m not surprised to learn he took his obsession too far.”

“When did you discover Boyd was stealing from your father?”

“A few hours ago.”

Isla frowned. “How did you know to come here?”

“Hendry told Boyd about your illness, how they were all mistaken when they accused you of being the culprit. Hendry said he saw him heading this way, yet my father informed me he was supposed to be in Crieff.”

She gave a satisfied smile. “It appears that fate was on our side once again, and your discovery came at the perfect time.”

He stared at her, allowed the sudden rush of desire he always felt in her presence to consume him. “I made another surprising discovery today. One that will change both of our lives dramatically.”

“You did?” Her eyes glistened with curiosity. “What was it?”

“You were not married to Nikolai.”

Her shoulders sagged with disappointment. “But we already suspected as much.”

“No. We suspected it might be the case. I went to the parish church and examined the records. There is no evidence of your marriage, and so we have no need to prove Nikolai is dead.”

Isla stepped back. She put her hand to her chest as she looked at him with astonishment. “You are certain of this?”

“I spoke to the minister personally.”

A deep furrow appeared between her brows. “But I was there. I remember standing in the church.”

“Do you remember anyone else there with you?”

“It all seems rather hazy.” She shook her head. “My father and Malmuirie were there. No one else.”

A sudden wave of panic took hold. What if Nikolai had taken her out of the parish? “You did marry in Comrie?”

She nodded. “Yes. I remember the journey. It was dark. I recall feeling empty inside even though I knew I had to marry him.”

Lachlan cupped her cheek. “The only logical conclusion is that Nikolai compelled you, and everyone else involved. To have a record of the event would make it legally binding and, after all I have heard, I doubt he would want to leave a trail of evidence or be lumbered with a burden.”

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