In the third and final volume of Emily Bold’s The Curse Series, Sam returns to the present day from seventeenth-century Scotland, reunited with her love, Payton, and relieved that the curse has been lifted. But their happiness is tempered by Sam’s unsettling feeling that all is not yet right. Overburdened with the guilt she feels for unwittingly causing the curse that destroyed Payton’s life for nearly three centuries, Sam is determined to return to the past to fix it. Fearing that the love of his life will want to remain with his past self, Payton follows Sam into history, desperate to bring her back to the present—and to the new life they’ve made together.
As the past and present clash, the two lovers face the most difficult choice of their lives: allow their history to remain as it was, with all its dangers, injustices, and pain, or fight to improve it—and risk the very love that binds them together.
I felt the sweat-soaked pillow beneath my head; my nightshirt clung damply to my body, and I heard myself whimpering. And yet I couldn’t manage to break free of the dream; it pulled me down like a lead weight, back into the images plaguing my sleeping mind . . . though they didn’t feel like a dream at all.
It was the dead of night, yet the red pierced my field of vision like a flare. Red. I was sinking into it like quicksand; it seemed to want to swallow me whole. Then the warm, coppery smell hit me: blood. I was sinking into blood. My piercing scream shook the boundaries between dream and reality, which felt like they had melted into one another. I felt a hand on my back, attempting to calm me down, but it brought me no comfort.
“Well, finally, Miss Cameron is back among the living again. You shouldn’t go to sleep when you’ve got so much on your mind.”
I flinched. Kyle was sitting at the edge of my bed. Payton’s brother Kyle. Who was dead.
Rubbing my eyes, I scooted away from him. I began to tremble, and the young Scotsman gave me a sympathetic look.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
Shit, no, I was not all right! I was having a nightmare and I couldn’t wake up. Or had I started seeing ghosts? Either way, I was obviously losing my mind.
Kyle’s hand gently stroked my back. It felt like an icy breath of wind.
“Come on, girl, go back to sleep. I’ll watch over you. I’m sure you’ll feel better in the morning.”
I looked at Kyle and knew I had to be dreaming. First, because Kyle was no longer alive; second, because, if this really were his ghost, he would never act so kindly toward me. He would hate me, would be disgusted with my cowardice—or would come in search of vengeance because I’d let him ride off to his death.
But the Kyle at my bedside was smiling. He was sitting beside me, and I could feel how close he was. He was so pretty, so friendly. His eyes were full of forgiveness. It was his blood I was drowning in, and having him rescue me from it was more than I deserved. And yet he did, and I wanted to thank him, wanted to tell him how sorry I was that I hadn’t changed his fate, but—like in so many other dreams—I couldn’t move. I seemed to be trapped in that moment at the wedding in Kilerac, the one I’d let pass without warning Kyle of his fate.
He took my hand and squeezed it gently.
“Let it go, lassie,” he said, as though cutting off my thanks along with everything else I wanted to say. “It’s all right.”
I nodded, my tired eyes burning. I gazed at his face until the dream faded.
The next morning my head was pounding as though demons were having a wild orgy behind my temples. The nightmare was still clinging to me, and I cursed Payton, who still hadn’t returned home. My mood was at rock bottom, just like my relationship.
Coffee didn’t really help, and I poured the last few sips into the sink. It had gone cold, anyway, while I’d been sitting there ruminating. I asked myself in all seriousness whether that miserable Scotsman knew what he was putting me through. Was it so hard for him to imagine that being alone in a new apartment, in an unfamiliar city, with a broadsword on the wall and the ghost of Alasdair Buchanan in the back of my mind wouldn’t exactly be pleasurable for me?
But my guilty conscience piped up a moment later. I couldn’t complain about having spent one night alone when I was still carrying these crazy ideas around in my head. And “carrying around” wasn’t even the right phrase for it.
“Shit!” I mumbled as I slipped my boots on.
I’d very nearly warmed up to my idea, had almost been ready. But how was I supposed to go back and put everything right again if I couldn’t handle even a single night without Payton? Maybe I ought to be grateful to him for having left me alone. At least now I knew what things would be like for me if I decided to go through with my plan.
The thought alone gave me goosebumps, so I bundled up in a warm fleece jacket and wrapped a scarf around my neck before stepping out into the still-damp morning air. Although I hadn’t heard from Payton at all since yesterday, I was sure he’d keep our date up on Calton Hill.
I got into Payton’s car and maneuvered my way into traffic, heading not for the Monument but for Princes Street. Thinking about my reason for stopping there made me shiver again; I turned the radio on to distract myself and focused on the traffic. The path I had to travel seemed as predetermined and inescapable as the one-way street I was driving down. Was it too late to turn around? The question was still hammering in my head when I stepped into the little shop a short time later.
“Silver Highland Swords” was written above the front counter in Celtic lettering; the shining claymores and sharp broadswords made me as uneasy now as they had during my first visit here. The tragic bagpipe music ringing out from the loudspeakers only added to my discomfort. I’d seen men attack each other with weapons like these, and I knew a single blow could be fatal.
Angus Morray, the shop owner, reminded me of Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, and he demonstrated his swords to customers with the same easy grace as his Hollywood double. But today the shop was empty, and Angus was leaning casually beside the cash register.
“Fàilte, Miss America!” he said in greeting.
I smiled. The nickname might have fit some blond beauty working to achieve world peace, but surely not me.
“You’re just in time.” Angus withdrew a wooden box from beneath the counter and flipped open the lid, proudly displaying his work.
I could only shake my head, baffled at my own behavior. Had I gone completely nuts? What the hell was I actually doing here?
Then I swallowed my doubts and carefully ran a finger along the blade Angus was presenting to me.
“Pick it up, check the weight and the balance,” he instructed me as he tied back his shoulder-length hair. Seeing my hesitation, he gave me a nod of encouragement.
This was insane! I was such a klutz—putting a weapon in my hand was basically aiding and abetting me in self-mutilation. I hadn’t forgotten what had happened the last time I’d tried to defend myself using a dagger. On the contrary: All I had to do was close my eyes, and the sensation of Ross Galbraith’s blood running warm across my fingers came flooding back; the look in his dying eyes would haunt me until the end of my days. Even so, I never wanted to feel that helpless again. I needed a weapon. Especially if I kept following the path I’d set out on now.
The dagger was cold in my hand, and Angus showed me the right way to hold it. It took a few minutes for me to get used to it, but as the metal warmed against my skin, I began warming to the weapon.
“Thanks, Angus. It’s perfect,” I assured him, breathless from practicing the stabbing motions. “All it needs is the inscription. Then I’m totally happy with it.”
“I wanted to make sure it suits you before I do the inscription. But that’ll go quickly. You can pick it up tomorrow. What would you like on it, Miss America?”
He pulled out a pen and waited for my reply, but all at once my mouth was so dry that I could barely speak. I laid the dagger back into its box and shut the lid.
This isn’t a life-changing decision, I told myself, trying to calm myself down. I controlled my own destiny.
“I’d like ‘Cuimhnich air na daoine o’n d’ thanig thu.’ Is that possible?”
Angus nodded, already writing. “Sure! A lovely phrase. Remember those from whom you are descended, right?”
“Right. It’s a clan motto,” I explained. “The Camerons’ motto.”
As he waited at the foot of Stewart Monument on Calton Hill, Payton’s thoughts were as black as a moonless night. He’d acted like an idiot again, but that seemed to happen to him again and again in Sam’s presence. Even though the last thing in the world he wanted was to hurt her.
He sat there in the grass, twirling a blade of it between his fingers as he gazed down at Edinburgh. The Balmoral Hotel clock tower showed that it was nearly noon, and the midday sun bathed the rooftops of the northern metropolis in radiant gold. Against the brilliant blue sky, the castle on the horizon looked like something straight out of a painting.
Had he been mistaken, assuming Sam would come here even though they hadn’t discussed it again?
The connection he felt to her was so deep that it was like he could feel every beat of her heart echoing inside himself, but over the past few weeks he’d started to think maybe that wasn’t enough anymore.
He turned around, relieved. He hadn’t heard her approaching. Her cheeks were red from the climb, and the wind was playing with her hair. Looking nervous, Sam sat down beside him and brushed a kiss against his cheek.
“Have you been waiting long?” she asked, glancing down at the grass pressed flat around him.
“Since this morning.” Payton shrugged. “I needed time to think.” He glanced back at the clock tower. The hands continued creeping along with imperceptible slowness.
“We hadn’t agreed on any particular time,” she said in quiet self-defense.
Payton took her hands in his and pressed a soft kiss into one of her palms before looking into her eyes.
“It’s okay. After all, you didn’t keep me waiting two hundred and seventy years this time.”
He’d wanted only to make a joke, but even he could hear the note of accusation in his voice. What the hell was wrong with him? Why did he feel this fury growing inside him every day about the length of the curse? He’d finally gotten over it! Everything could be so wonderful now.
It probably had something to do with the memories. With his new memories.
“Forgive me, mo luaidh. I didn’t mean it like that.” He said it in the hope of erasing his words, but Sam’s pursed lips told him he’d hurt her again.
“It’s fine, Payton. I get it!” she retorted, pulling her hands away. “I disappointed you. Yes, I made a mistake. But let me just say one thing: I had to make a choice, Payton. A goddamn difficult one! You’re making yourself out to be the victim here, but joining in the massacre was your own choice. You’re the one who brought that curse upon yourself!”
Furiously, the love of his life wiped a tear off her face and stared past him. Payton wished things could be easier, but his fears about the future—a future that was in great danger—hung over him like a sword, and Sam didn’t even suspect it.
They sat side by side in silence, hoping for a pleasant end to the conversation, something as uncertain as a rainless day in Scotland. Finally Payton couldn’t take it any longer. He scooted closer and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, stroking her arm until he felt her beginning to relax. When she laid her head against his chest, he whispered:
“Hey, Sam, if I told you something really unbelievable, would you believe me?”
I stiffened in his arms, but I kept my eyes fixed on the roofs of the city as I tried to keep my pulse steady. Surely Payton had to know what memories his words would awaken within me. Memories of another day, another mountain, and another conversation we’d had—one that had altered our lives completely. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to hear what he had to say, but I nodded anyway.
“Depends on what it is. Just say it, and then I’ll tell you whether I believe you.”
Payton’s warm breath tickled my neck as he laughed.
“No, it doesn’t work that way,” he said, just like he had then, and I had to laugh as well.
“The question is, after all the unbelievable things we’ve been through, why on Earth wouldn’t you tell me the truth now? You have no reason to lie to me, so I assume you’re not going to. As always, proof would always be especially helpful, but I love you, so I trust you blindly.”
Payton brushed a tender kiss against my cheek and squeezed my hands. His warmth radiated through me, and I wished time would stand still, that we could just live in this moment forever. Without the pain of the past and without the uncertainty of the future.
“I love you, too, mo luaidh, but I have to tell you something.”
The light, chatty note in his voice had disappeared between one moment and the next, and I sensed that what he was about to say might change everything.