Honour Bound (Highland Magic #2) by Helen Harper

Chapter One

Old habits die hard. It wasn’t entirely my fault though; if the Sidhe from the Clan Carnegie hadn’t been quite so brash about flashing his wealth on the street I’d have left him alone. But when he stepped out of his chauffeur-driven, brick-red SUV, summarily pushing an elder Clan-less pixie out of the way and into a dirty puddle, then made an ostentatious show of adjusting his cuffs so we could all see his gleaming over-priced Rolex, I couldn’t resist. I’d only popped out for a pint of milk but this seemed far more exciting than another conversation with the human who ran the small corner shop at the end of my road.

In the Highlands of Scotland, you were either Clan or Clan-less. The Clans were run by the Sidhe but other individuals could swear fealty and enlist. In return they received a modest wage, a degree of protection from all the ills the world had to offer, and long hours working at whatever the Clan deemed necessary. Not everyone wanted to become a Sidhe slave though. Avoid the Clans and you were left to scrub out an earning on the cold, hard streets. Neither option was perfect. I might have been the only Clan-less Sidhe in the entire country but until recently I’d always been proud to call myself Clan-less. We might be the bottom of the rung but at least we were free.

I tracked the pompous Carnegie Sidhe along Oban’s main street and down towards the harbour. He strutted along like he owned the place. It didn’t help his cause that he had a skinny Bauchan, a sort of Scottish hobgoblin, trailing after him with an umbrella to protect his precious Sidhe skin from the unrelenting sleet. He paused in front of a rusty boat, jerking his head imperiously at the pale-faced sailors visible on the deck. Whatever cargo he was here to inspect, it had to be valuable for him to bother making this trip.

It might have been January but spring was still a long way off. Still, even wealthy Sidhe like him couldn’t order deliveries from across the Veil. For the last three hundred years, the Fomori demons had ruled the Scottish Lowlands from the other side of the magical barrier called the Veil. Unless you wanted to risk being torn apart limb by limb by a horde of murderous evil-doers, you couldn’t go through the Veil and you couldn’t fly over it. If you wanted something delivered from the rest of the world, you had to bring it by sea or get a plane to go the long way round.

The sailors hastily threw down the gangplank. I suspected that it wouldn’t matter how quickly they opened up access for him, he would still have that lemon-sucking expression on his face. The high-born Sidhe nobles had been in their positions for too long to expect anything other than the smoothest and most immediate service. Maybe his attitude wasn’t his fault; after all, he had been conditioned through generations to act that way.

He marched up, his foot catching on a patch of ice. I had to bite my tongue to stop from laughing aloud as his arms flailed dramatically and he tried to stop himself from pitching over into the dark, freezing waters below. The Bauchan, who’d remained behind on the dock, lunged upwards while the sailors darted down. The Sidhe was caught just in time, several pairs of arms steadying his body before helping him up the rest of the way. Shame.

I cast around. There was a Clan Haig tugboat nearby, its familiar blue tartan flying from the mast. I stepped back and eyed it. The distance to the Carnegie ship wasn’t so great; I could bypass the waiting Bauchan by leaping from one deck to the other. The Carnegie sailors would be so distracted by the noble’s visit that they probably wouldn’t even notice me. I grinned to myself.

‘Did you hear about what happened when the blue ship and the red ship collided?’ I said to the wind. ‘Both crews were marooned.’

As if in response, a stronger gust whirled round me, catching my white hair and blowing it round my head. It was usually a colour that made me stand out in a crowd but in greyer-than-grey weather like this, it was almost perfect camouflage.

Shoving my hands in my pockets and whistling, I wandered over to the Haig tugboat. It appeared deserted. With a quick look over my shoulder, I jumped up, caught hold of one of the ropes that tethered it to the dock and hoisted myself up. Keeping low, I crept along the smooth deck until I reached the starboard side. My brow furrowed. Somehow, from this angle, the distance to the Carnegie vessel looked greater.

The sailors, most of whom appeared to be mermen, were making a great show of looking busy. Keep at it, boys. I waited until most of their backs were turned then, inhaling deeply, threw myself forward, legs and arms akimbo. My fingers only just caught the edge of a porthole and my body slammed into the side of the ship a moment later. There was a heavy clunk which had my insides stiffening in alarm. I hung there for several seconds, trying to keep my grip secure. I hadn’t expected the porthole to be so slimy, which in hindsight was remarkably stupid of me, and it wasn’t easy to cling on. Eventually a few shouts carried over by the helpful wind reached my ears. The sailors’ attention was focused on the other side of the ship. I didn’t need to worry.