“Get some water! Form a bucket line! Hurry!”
Voices roared over the sounds of screams as the fire raged out of control. The bombing had started somewhere around midnight and no one had expected the village of Innes Eiran to be a target.
Connor had jumped out of bed with his new wife and run to help the other villagers get people to safety. Why the Germans had seen fit to attack their quiet village in Scotland wasn't readily apparent, but the explosions and screams made explanations irrelevant in the face the destruction.
His wife had come out in her nightgown with an overcoat covering her shoulders and helped move people away from burning buildings. He'd wanted to help her, but she'd waved him away.
"Go help the others." She'd given him a fierce smile. "They'll need your abilities to get those fires out."
She knew of his abilities to manipulate water, being a Boobrie, a loch spirit meant to protect not only the loch, but the people who lived on its waters. He'd done his best to stay separate from the people of Innes Eiran, but Colleen MacKinnon charmed him out of his solitary guardianship and made him feel for the first time in centuries.
But only she knew of his magic and connection to the loch. He'd never shown anyone but her, and he couldn't shift into his natural form in front of the whole village.
Connor shot a look at the bucket line and wondered if he could somehow make the water move faster without revealing his true nature.
"Ian! Get four or five lads and come with me. We need to get those water butts filled and closer to the fires!" He grabbed the younger man, pointing at the huge water barrels landing behind the pub. "If we fill them and drop them where people can use them, it'll get the water closer. Come on."
They rolled the barrels into the back of a wagon and hauled them to the boat launch in the loch. With five men working, they were able to fill three of the barrels before the sounds of the German bombers returned to the valley.
"Bloody hell, they're comin' back!"
Between the whine of the plane props and the whistle of the dropped bombs, panic set in and Connor had little time to do more than turn toward the village. New explosions rocked the already burning buildings and new screams filled the chaotic night.
"We gotta get the water up there." Connor leapt into the driver's seat and slapped the reins on the backs of the horses.
The wagon surged toward the burning village and they arrived in time to see the hotel collapse in on itself. People ran in all directions and the bucket line dissolved in disarray.
"Ian, get those people back in the line. I'm going to move the barrels closer. You lads come with me."
They managed to maneuver the wagon close to the burning buildings despite the horses protesting and formed new water lines to save some of the remaining structures. Connor moved the barrels himself, letting the other men organize. He directed a few to turn the wagon and reload the empty barrels when to get more when Mrs. Morrison caught his arm.
"Connor, ye must come quick. It's Colleen." The older woman's expression told him more than her words and fear sliced through his gut.
"Where is she?"
"Come, now. She hasn't much time."
Mrs. Morrison led him to the kirkyard where they'd taken the injured. Colleen lay on a blanket beside a rose bush of white blooms glowing orange in the light of the fires. Her white night gown had a dark spreading stain near her belly. He groaned as he dropped beside her, afraid to touch. A shard of wood from one of the bombed buildings had punctured her side and she bled out slowly.
"Oh Goddess, Colleen. No." Connor gathered her into his arms. "Please, sweeting, stay with me."
"Connor?" Colleen opened her brown eyes and stared up at him with a watery smile. "You came. I wasn't sure I'd have the chance to say I love you.”
“No, no, Colleen. Ye gotta stay with me. I’m nothing without you. Please.” Connor rocked her against his chest. “Yer my hope in the darkness, the light that shines in my heart. Please stay with me. We can make it through this together.”
“I wish I could, but I know it’s my time to leave, my love.” She met his gaze, an otherworldly serenity filling her eyes. “I didn’t mean it to be so short with ye. You deserve so much more.” She gasped and coughed, blood seeping out of her wound. “I know you’ll find true love.”
“You’re my true love. I’ll hold you as long as you wish, just promise me we’ll be all right.” Tears rained down his cheeks as she smiled up at him.
“You’ll be fine. I promise. I love you, Connor MacLachlan. Stay true to who you are.”
The light left Colleen’s eyes as he shook his head. “No. No, no, no! Please, Colleen, love, please.”
But she lay so silent and still, and Connor threw his head back, roaring out his grief…
Connor jerked up in bed, his heart pounding and the grief still as potent as the day it happened nearly eighty years earlier. Colleen’s pale face lying slack against his chest still ripped a hole through his heart every time he thought of it. Sweet Goddess, why did ye take her from me? She’d been the only woman he’d allowed himself to love and she remained the only woman to wound him enough to wish he was mortal.
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