The Harp and the Sea
A 16th century Reiver
meets a Higlander in 1745.
Magic makes it happen.
Love Makes it work.
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In 1605, Robbie Elliot—a Reiver and musician from the Scottish borders—nearly went to the gallows. The Witch of the Hermitage saved him with a ruse, but weeks later, she cursed him to an ethereal existence in the sea. He has seven chances to come alive, come ashore, and find true love. For over a century, Robbie’s been lost to that magic; six times love has failed. When he washes ashore on the Isle of Skye in 1745, he’s arrived at his last chance at love, his last chance at life.
Highland warrior Ian MacDonald came to Skye for loyalty and rebellion. He’s lost once at love, and stands as an outsider in his own clan. When Ian’s uncle and laird sends him to lonely Skye to hide and protect treasure meant for Bonnie Prince Charlie’s coffers, he resigns himself to a solitary life—his only companion the eternal sea. Lonely doldrums transform into romance and mystery when the tide brings beautiful Robbie Elliot and his broken harp ashore.
A curse dogs them, enemies hunt them, and war looms over their lives. Robbie and Ian will fight with love, will, and the sword. But without the help of magic and ancient gods, will it be enough to win them a future together?
Isle of Skye, June 1745
Ian woke with a start, his dirk already in his hand before his eyes were properly open. He glanced around, unable to shake the feeling that something was wrong, although if asked what or why he couldn’t explain it…
The harp was gone!
Memories of the evening before flooded his mind. He’d walked by the beach as he usually did, checking that all was well and there was nothing there that wasn’t supposed to be. Since his run-in with Campbell and his men, he’d made a point of keeping an eye on the area at least twice a day. The harp had caught his eye, the tip of the old wood caught on the white crest of a wave, not quite submerged, or belonging.
It had taken but a moment for Ian to make the decision to rescue the thing. Part of him identified with it, he suspected. It had been so long since he’d felt he belonged. Sure, this was an important task he’d been given, but it was so lonely, especially since Fergus had died. It wasn’t as though he and the old man had conversed much, but Ian had taken some comfort in the knowledge he wasn’t completely alone. When his uncle had bestowed the task upon him, it was understood he’d keep to himself and not have much to do with the locals. The Harp and the Sea
It was safer for both him and what he guarded as it didn’t take much for stories to travel and find the wrong ears.
He still regretted not having had the chance to tell his parents the truth behind his banishment. His parents might not have approved of their son’s relationship with another man, but they hadn’t turned their backs on him for it. However, it hadn’t stopped his mam from telling him it wasn’t natural. A fine young strapping lad such as himself should get himself a pretty girl and settle down.
Months spent in only his own company hadn’t stopped him wishing for what he didn’t have, and what he truly wanted. On a cold night, those dreams were both a comfort and a curse.
A firm thigh. A muscular arm. The scent of someone unmistakably masculine.
“Aye, because that’s going to happen,” he’d muttered as he waded out from shore to recover whatever it was stuck out there, neither a part of the sea nor the land.
The water was freezing, but he’d expected that. He’d shivered, but it wasn’t from the cold. One firm yank and the harp was in his arms. His breath hitched, his imagination caught in the same way the instrument had been trapped by the seaweed, a green slimy rope holding it to its watery prison.
The harp was still beautiful, despite the state of it. Once ashore, Ian allowed himself to run his callused fingers over it, marvelling at the smoothness of the wood. Amazingly, the strings were still intact. He plucked at one, and then another, wincing at the following cacophony. It needed a good tuning, but he didn’t possess the knowledge. He had no clue what song it should play, just the strong feeling it was missing something—that like him, it wasn’t complete.
His thoughts snapped forward to the present, his attention taken by the slightly open door of his stone cottage. He’d shut it the night before, he was sure of it.
Ian’s eyes narrowed. Some thieving bastard had been in his home while he slept! Fully awake now, he grabbed his sword and its sheath as he stomped out of the cottage, intent on capturing the culprit and at the very least giving him or her a piece of his mind.
At least it wasn’t Campbell or one of his men. If it had been, Ian would know it by now. Campbell wouldn’t have let him sleep but more likely held a knife to his throat and ensured his waking was a painful one.
“Not very clever for a thief, are ye?”
The tracks leading from just outside the door were clear as day, the red rays of the rising sun highlighting them as clearly as though the thief had left a sign-posted trail for Ian to follow. He didn’t need any further invitation. The harp needed to be kept safe, though if asked he wouldn’t have been able to say why. Still, he had to find it.
The footsteps led him to a clearing some distance from the cottage. A man sat huddled on the ground, clutching the harp to his breast. He seemed lost, afraid, yet for some reason very familiar.
Ian forgot to breathe for a moment, lost in the sight before him. The man was slim and blond, with long hair stretching down to almost his arse. He stared at Ian, his green eyes the colour of the deep sea. Neither of them moved.
And then the harp began to sing.
The sun finally rose, and Robbie Elliot felt its warm finger skim along his pale skin, seeking his bones to warm them. Every time this moment had repeated itself throughout his long life, for just that blink of time, his existence seemed worthwhile. To feel the sun caress and kiss his skin, to see it spark gold off the knotty locks of hair that hung before his eyes, this one feeling made his heaven. It would pass too soon, but for that instant, everything was perfect.
He looked out at the olivine sea. He loved her, gave thanks to her for the gifts she had given. She was his mother, but she gave with a cold breast.
Heavy footsteps approached; it would be the Highlander who’d been asleep in his cottage when Robbie snuck in to retrieve the harp. The man would be afraid of witchcraft, once he saw Robbie sitting before the harp, legs stretched on either side, leaning over the arc of its neck as if it were an ailing lover.
Robbie hadn’t made it to land yet from his most recent stint at sea when the ruddy Highlander had lifted the harp from the foam at the edge of shore, but he’d been aware. Even before Robbie left the surf and stepped on dry sand, he’d sensed the man who’d touched his harp and felt he’d known him a lifetime.
And the feeling had woken him quickly, completely, mind and body, had pulled him towards the beach as if he were a fish on a line. He didn’t fight it. For the first time in so many that he’d lost count, a man had found the harp! It was a man who’d been drawn to the magic, who’d touched it and touched Robbie, though he—this Highlander who’d found the harp—had no way to know what he’d done. Drawing his first harsh breath of air as he rose from the sea, Robbie had felt such hope that it stung his eyes.
Voice raspy from long disuse, he’d whispered to himself, or perhaps to the sea. “Can it be at last? Can this be the completion of the magic?”
For all he had tried, he had not been able to make the harp sing with any of the women he and the harp had met—be they ladies or housemaids, whether they wanted him or not. And he knew why. He was, despite everything, the same Robbie Elliot he’d always been, and they were women. How could that work?
Now, sneaking a glance as the finder approached him across the meadow, Robbie thought, But this is truly a man. A ruddy, huge Highlander, kilt-clad and bearing a hand-and-a-half sword across his back.
When the man found the harp, Robbie had still been roaming far out among the waves. But despite the distance, with all the senses of the sea at his disposal, he’d seen and heard with his mind’s eye—and no less clearly. The great bear of a man had hefted the sodden wood of the harp in one massive hand—a hand that Robbie could feel as if it grasped his own flesh—and carried the wounded thing to shore, whistling off-key some song of the Highlands.
And now the Highlander stepped into the glade where Robbie sat in the sun with the harp before him as if ready to coax a tune from her broken strings and warped neck. He strode across the sunlit ground, the red flush on his face and neck betraying his anger, his eyes on the harp, intent.
But when at last the tall, red-headed Scot raised his eyes to meet Robbie’s… Oh, wonder!
The harp began to sing.
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