"This book and my enjoyment of it comes back to the incredible relationship between Reese and Daire. They literally are magical together." ~ Smitten With Reading
"Very well written and a great theme! I loved the characters and how they interacted in the book." ~ Let's Talk Romance Revies
"Overall, I felt that Fated for Sacrifice was a spicy and action-packed novel
with a little bit of something for everyone." ~ Sizzling Hot Books
“You really think a camping trip in twenty-two degree weather is going to fix everything? You just don’t get it at all, Tom.”
Reese Hamilton chucked another log onto the campfire, then huddled into her shearling coat. She was angry enough she didn’t need the roaring flames, but if she didn’t throw the log there, she’d launch it right at Tom Martin’s face. Not only did he fail to grasp why their relationship was a farce, but he failed to understand anything about her.
To her left, Tom jammed a wool blanket into his newly purchased, arctic-grade sleeping bag. “What I understand, Reese, is that you’re a selfish child.” Without looking at her, he rolled the heavy material up and snapped the elastic bands in place. “You’re the one who likes to camp. You’re the one who likes the outdoors. You suggested we do this in Alaska two years ago. Now, when I give you want you’ve wanted, it’s not good enough.” Huffing out an angry breath, he stood up straight. His glare burned as hot as the glowing red coals in the fire pit.
“Me? I’m the selfish one?” Reese’s voice rose an octave. Of all the ridiculous, self-centered, completely unfounded remarks! She opened her mouth to spit out a litany of all the times Tom had used her as a trophy, all the times he’d put his political aspirations before her desires. But the rebuttal lodged in her throat as Tom beat her to the punch.
“Yes, you. Just yesterday, my campaign manager informed me you’d written another blog post contradicting my stance on coastal developments. How do you think that looks, Reese?” He cocked his head with a condescending snort. When he spoke, his tone mocked. “Representative Martin’s girlfriend speaks out yet again. I’m done. This was a mistake.” He fisted his keys from his pocket and took a stride toward the luxury SUV parked just beyond the trees.
Reese blinked. He wasn’t…he couldn’t… Anger threatened to override her ability to form coherent speech. “So what, you’re leaving me because I have my own opinion?” Not that she minded the idea that their relationship was over—it had been history in all but word for too many months to count. No, it was the immediate prospect that Tom was leaving her here, in the woods of Maine, at night, and in twenty-two degree weather.
Tom kept on walking.
Scrambling to gather the rest of her belongings, she shoved everything inside her sleeping bag. But she couldn’t move fast enough. As she grabbed for her travel pillow, the driver’s side door slammed shut. Reese’s head snapped toward the ominous sound just as the engine roared to life.
“Tom!” she bellowed. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You can’t leave me out here. You’ve got the firewood! I’ll freeze to death.”
His elbow poked through the open window, an instant before his dark head leaned out. “You’re already an iceberg. Have Dáire take you home. I’m done, Reese.”
With that, the headlights blazed across their makeshift campsite and tires crunched on the hardpacked gravel. Before Reese could stop gawking, she stared at retreating tail lights.
Of all the rotten, low-down, unforgivable…
Anger blistered to the surface, and Reese hurled her sleeping bag aside. “Bastard!” This was beyond reprehensible.
Wonder what his precious reporters would say about his leaving me stranded.
She heaved a sigh and sat down on the cooler, her head dropping into her hands. A low groan worked its way free. Over the last five years together, they’d had their share of knock-down dragout fights. Tom could really be an ass when he wanted to be, but she’d never imagined he could stoop this low. Likely he wouldn’t have if they weren’t camping on their mutual friend, Dáire McClaine’s, property. If Dáire weren’t within walking distance to bail Tom out of an impossibly embarrassing position. He wouldn’t rat out Tom. No one would spill what a loathsome, sorry excuse for a human being, Representative Tom Martin was.
Unless she did.
But while that was beyond tempting, ruining his political career required far more energy than she wanted to put into Tom. She was just glad it was finally over. No more appropriate appearances, no more biting back her true thoughts, no more faking it because she didn’t know how to start over.
Well she might as well accept she’d end up the bad guy in the media somehow. And she might as well accept that unless she wanted to freeze to death out here in the woods, she’d have to hoof-it to Dáire’s cabin.
Pushing off the cooler, Reese scanned the trees where the SUV had been parked for a sign of Dáire’s cabin. They’d passed it less than a mile before they arrived. Dáire had even stopped to greet them with his devil-may-care grin and his all too intoxicating sky-blue eyes. Damn shame she’d accepted Tom’s dinner invitation first, five years ago. If she hadn’t, if she’d waited just a couple hours longer, things might have turned out so differently.
She hadn’t though, and she’d spent a large portion of those last five years infatuated with the friend who could never be more. Even now, with Tom completely evicted from her life, she couldn’t entertain the idea. An involvement with Dáire would be too complicated, given his friendship with Tom.
Reese blew out a breath that stirred her uneven bangs and glanced at her sleeping bag. No sense dragging it along with her. Dáire could drive her back and help her collect her things before he drove her back to her beachfront rental house.
She steeled her resolve and forced aside her anger. Straightening her spine, she huddled into her shearling coat and stalked toward the packed-gravel road. Once there, she buried her chin in the thick fleece at her collar and ducked her head against the wind, striking out on the miserably cold journey.
Time passed like molasses as she trudged down the gravel, making her way along the downhill path. The wind whistled through the trees, rustling leaves that refused to fall. It slashed across her face and cut between the buttons on her coat. What she wouldn’t give for her cozy, oceanfront townhouse and a blazing fire.
But the longer she walked, the more a sense of unease settled on her shoulders. She stopped and squinted through the light fall of snow. It was too quiet here. By now, she should be hearing the muffled roar of the freeway. She turned in a small circle scouring the trees for some sign of life.
“Damn,” she muttered as the tingling in her toes reached her conscious awareness. She must have taken a wrong turn. But…where? How far back? Or, was it just the cold playing with her mind when she hadn’t really gone that far at all?
Another five steps forward and ever-so-faintly, the sound of a blaring car horn reached her ears. Despair welled. It wasn’t close enough. Even at the campsite she could hear the highway more clearly.
Now what? She was alone in the woods, no idea in which direction she walked, and no sign of life anywhere. She couldn’t even catch a whiff of smoke from the campfire she’d abandoned on the air.
Damn it, she was well and truly lost. In the woods. At night. Perfect bait for the wildlife, perfect candidate for a human Popsicle. And she couldn’t feel her fingers anymore.
Maybe this was how things were going to end.
Her heart stumbled several beats as fear prickled the nape of her neck. Dying out here—what would her second graders think when they learned she’d frozen to death? Who would help little Adam Perkins now? Reese’s principal had already dismissed her concerns that things weren’t right in Adam’s home. How long would it take for Reese’s replacement to recognize the emptiness in Adam’s green eyes?
Reese rounded a thick gnarled tree trunk and turned sideways to the wind. She closed her eyes, breathed in deep to calm the panicked beat of her heart. Don’t be silly. You’re not going to die out here.
If she yelled, someone was bound to hear her.
She opened her mouth to do just that. But as she lifted her gaze, the wind picked up again. In front of her branches swayed and shimmied. They bent at an angle that defied logic, almost a full ninety-degrees. Reese blinked, certain the cold was playing tricks on her mind.
Maybe it was. Maybe the odd twist had been a product of her frosty imagination. The hulking, oblong shadow beyond the branch, however, was not.
Reese’s pulse skipped a beat as hope thrummed through her veins. There, nestled in the overgrowth, shutters barred against the elements, sat a cabin.
An old, abandoned cabin with a sagging roof, but shelter nonetheless. She balled her hands in her coat pockets and struck off at a jog. “Please let the door be open.”
Luck proved to be on her side. When she reached the dilapidated front porch and picked her way over broken floorboards to the front door, the knob turned easily in her frozen fingers. Definitely abandoned, she realized as the thick scent of must hit her nose. Crinkling it against the pungent tickle, Reese pushed her way inside. She fumbled along the wall until she encountered the raised nubbin of a light switch. When she flicked it, though, only a faint click registered.
No power. Okay she could deal with the dark. Thankfully, even as a child, she’d never feared a lack of light. But maybe whoever had been here last had left behind firewood. Darkness or not, she needed warmth.
She tucked her shaking hand inside her coat pocket and produced the long campfire lighter Tom had tossed at her earlier. With one click, the tiny flame flashed from the metal tip, illuminating the area before her. A small trundle-style bed sat in the far corner beside a rather boxy-type table. In the center of the room, a plain round table sported two equally uninspired chairs. At the opposite end, she identified a fridge and a stove.
Her gaze skidded to a halt directly opposite the front door, zeroing in on a hearth of stone and a small, precious stack of dust-covered cut logs. Beside the pile sat a bundle of aged newspaper. She closed the door, then crossed to the hearth and knelt by the firewood. As her knee touched the wood plank floor, she pulled off one glove with her teeth. Aged and dried as the firewood was, it shouldn’t take much for them to catch.
Despite the unsteadiness of her hands, in a few short minutes she had wood on the raised iron grating in the hearth, and she clicked the lighter on. When she touched the flame to the paper, it caught with a startling whoosh. Seconds later, red embers glowed along the curling bark.
* * *
Dáire followed the faint set of boot tracks through the light covering of snow, wishing for the first time in his centuries-old life, that he possessed his brother Belen’s gift of being able to locate people by their energy patterns, instead of his ability to influence minds. If he could, he wouldn’t be wasting time hoping the tracks he followed were Reese’s, praying that he would find her before his youngest brother, Taran, did.
Since Tom Martin had blared his horn in Dáire’s driveway, dragging him from a brief nap, Dáire had been trying to find her. There were just some things a man didn’t do, no matter the circumstances. Leaving a woman alone in the cold—especially in these woods—fell into that list of never-dos. Dáire didn’t care if Reese had confessed she’d been cheating on Tom. There was no excuse for this.
She should have been cheating on Tom anyway. Why she put up with him, Dáire couldn’t explain. Though they were what Dáire would loosely consider friends, Tom Martin was an arrogant, self-involved, manipulating asshole who only cared about his political career.
Reese on the other hand…
A knot of worry fisted around Dáire’s lungs, and he moved more quickly down the rocky incline to the heart of his property. Reese Hamilton was beautiful. Not just on the outside either. She possessed a heart the size of Texas and grace that could rival any number of the English queens.
The last thing he wanted to do tonight was find Reese in Taran’s vile clutches, her expressive brown eyes dull and lifeless. And with Taran wandering these woods in search of human sport, Reese’s chances of encountering Dáire’s unholy brother were high. Especially given the spell Dáire himself had cast around the property three days ago. With the upcoming Sabot of Ostara, the rising energy in the atmosphere made it difficult for Dáire to combat his own dark urges. He’d warded the woods to deliberately keep trespassers from stumbling onto his cabin after dark.
Reese’s chances of finding his temporary accommodations were less than nil. Which increased her odds of a run-in with Taran.
Dáire twisted the glowing ember of his cigarette off as he rounded a bend in the wood, then shoved the butt into his pocket. When he found Reese, when he took her back to her apartment, he was going to have a long talk with her about Tom. It was time she set sail for greener pastures. And if he couldn’t convince her to leave the conniving bastard, Dáire intended to threaten Tom until he let Reese go.
A flicker of light through the trees stilled Dáire’s hurried feet. He cocked his head to see around a thick pine branch. Curiosity sparked as his gaze landed on the old cabin the original property owners had inhabited. Illuminating the grime-covered windows, a warm ellow-orange glow spilled onto the dilapidated front porch.
Taran? Dáire gritted his teeth. It would figure his younger brother had found a place to take his prey. Some place that wouldn’t be found, where he could do what he desired. Damn him. He should have stayed in Europe. Dáire didn’t want him here, and he damn well didn’t need a baby-sitter despite his approaching birthday on the Sabot. No scrolls had turned up, their mother’s magic lay dormant, and their father’s vile designs were as intact as ever, despite the damage Dáire and his siblings had done to him over the last six months.
There was absolutely no need for Taran to be here or to impose his wicked ways on the hapless unsuspecting residents of the Maine mountainous retreat.
Pursing his lips, Dáire struck a deliberate path toward the cabin, prepared to kick his brother out physically, if it became necessary. There would be no deaths occurring on the family’s land. Not as long as Dáire breathed. Random death defied nature’s balance, and for over two thousand years, Dáire had upheld the ancient Celt beliefs of a balanced world.
He reached the porch and came to a stop, one hand poised to grab the doorknob. His gaze locked on the figure inside the tiny central room. Not Taran.
Sitting in front of the hearth, her long golden blonde hair gleamed in the firelight, full and soft, silken strands that were made to entertain a man’s fingers. She hunched over something in her lap, her profile just visible, given the angle of her position. Concentration laced across pale features, somehow softening the already delicate quality of her face.
Dáire’s heart came to a standstill as his breath caught. In the five or so years he’d known her, in all the times he’d accompanied Tom and Reese to one of Tom’s political events, never had she looked more enchanting.
And the way she wrapped the blanket around her shoulders, huddling into it to ward off a presumable chill, made him want to gather her into his arms and hold her close more than he’d ever craved the idea before.
He closed his eyes to a frustrated groan and reminded himself she wasn’t available for the taking. Reese belonged to Tom, no matter how horridly Tom treated her. Dáire had no business entertaining the fleeting thoughts that always flooded his mind each time he stood in the same room with her.
Why, why, had Tom abandoned her out here tonight, when it was already everything Dáire could do to keep his hands off Reese Hamilton?
Cursing Tom for the bastard that he was, Dáire lifted his hand, knocked once, then turned the doorknob.
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