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Chapter 1

Edinburgh, Scotland

She became lost in the the sound, submerged into an evocative beat that started from the depths of her soul, from the energy of her heart and expanded outward. Long before even the orchestra took up their part, she heard it; a constant tune in her head, humming in her blood. Long before she had gone to The Royal Academy of Music, before the fingers on her left hand had calloused over from the countless hours of practice, and she had struggled home with her first student cello that was taller than her, she heard the music, the beat. The origins of it started well before her heart had jump started in the womb. It was innate to all living creatures; it surrounded all and the tempo, rising in sound and diminishing in retreat hailed such clarity, she could not shake it even when in the depths of sleep. As the wind moves against the skin and enfolds one in its embrace, the melody was always around her. The beat of it coursed through her veins, engulfed her muscles and reverberated in her bones, reached to every extremity of her body, and started a deep throb in more intimate places. It governed her breath, her very existence and gripped her spirit.

And now as she sat there before the audience, her fingers moving lithely along the finger board, pulling and pushing her bow across the strings of her prized Anne Cole Cello, the orchestra took up its harmonious melody, and melded their instruments to hers'. They were hidden above her on a raised platform, behind white curtains that displayed a montage of specifically timed images and extended the reach of sound. Ambient lighting was directed down upon her form, alone in the middle of the stage, and illuminated the movement of her body as the audience was cast into shadows and darkness. But this was not about her, it was always about the music, and the way it filled you, filled the emptiness.

She had never looked for perfection, the tunes coming easily into her mind, articulated through her hands. She just wanted to play for others to hear what she heard in her soul, her heart. And yet, she wondered if they did? Did they hear how the music settled around a person like a warm blanket or chilled one to the bone. It filled the loneliness and erased the fears. It took one to the edge where they could stand on some imaginable precipice, lift up their arms, and contemplate soaring on the strains. Or plunge one into the darkest depths of despair, rolled over the sandpaper of life that erodes away the outer defenses and exposes one’s vulnerability. For Effie, it allowed her to feel, feel more than what her life was truly like. It allowed her to escape.

She sat before the crowd clad in a deep rich, dark indigo taffeta gown; the train snaking out about her like a fall of water. The sheen of the fabric reflected the lighting, casting her in a soft glow, and adding to the aurora as she moved through Beethoven's 5 Secrets. Her long, rich sable colored hair was drawn back upon the crown of her head, and fell in gentle waves about her pale shoulders. The mahogany wood of the instrument gleamed in a high polish as the sound she was creating amplified through the quiet concert hall.

The audience sat spellbound by the movement, the passion of the music she played. The velvet softness of the music settled about them like a comforting embrace, appreciation for the dulcet tones echoing around them.

Jeanine Macleod sat beside her husband Duncan in the shadows of their private section up in the upper level of Edinburgh's Kings Theatre, hidden from prying eyes. Their cousins, their warriors, their leuchd-crois, Raven, Reiser, Alvar and Wynne, sat about them as their guard. Jeanine leaned in, whispered, "Thank you for my birthday gift. I have always wanted to see Effie Scott. She is amazing, beautiful." Duncan turned, cupped her chin and kissed the bow of her lips, lingering on their fullness. She wrapped her arms about his neck, whispered more words of love in his ear as she let the music take her away. Duncan loved his wife and would do anything to see her happy. His bràithrean had pulled off the herculean effort to attend the concert, buying out the boxes to their right, and left, and placing more of their kin in prime security positions.

Wynne lifted his fingers to his lips, watching the audience, watching for anything that would be out of place, suspicious. He looked at his kin Isabel to his left, his date for the night. They had to present a degree of normalcy to the public for their plans to work. He could see she was enthralled as the emotional part of the concert took hold, and watched her brush aside a tear. He would agree, the music gripped one’s soul and held it. The emotions catapulted one on a journey that left you breathless.

Isabel was beautifully clad in a rich sapphire gown that accentuated her blond hair, and the paleness of her skin. He watched her chest rise, and fall with her emotions. She ducked her head down, pursed her wobbling lower lip to stave off crying, and that one act had him do something he wasn't supposed to do. Something against the rules of the family. On impulse, he lifted his arm about her shoulders, and pulled her closer, held her. Her perfume was intoxicating and was surprised when he kissed her temple, inhaling deeply the deep spice of her scent. His body tightened, and realized he wished he could take her home right now, make love to her slowly. She turned and looked at him with such love in her blue eyes, that his heart ached.

How lucky he would be if he could have such a woman in his life. Do. Not. Go. There, his mind admonished. His logic shouted, reeling him in. Maybe one night, but there was no future here. He smiled and withdrew his arm, but Isabel caught up his fingers, laced them with hers, and held him close. He saw movement out of the corner of his eyes, and caught a faint glimpse of a face before it disappeared into the shadows of the box across the theatre. Wynne realized peace was not meant to be theirs this night. He shifted in his chair, and gently extracted his arm. He depressed the button at his cuff and talked into the mike hidden there, putting his bràithrean on alert. Their duty that night was to protect the first family at all costs.

Wynne locked eyes with Alvar, one of their best fighters. He inclined his head subtly, made a movement with his fingers, telling him exactly where to look for the unknown threat. Alvar leaned forward, resting his arms on the ledge of the box, and let his eyes drift around the audience, finally falling on the box opposite. He narrowed his eyes, trying to make an ID. The shadows were just too deep. They would have to wait till the house lights went up. Wynne pulled out his modified SMART phone, and made like he was taking a picture, directing it towards towards the box. He sat back, sighed wishing the night was over. He texted his other men situated around the hall, and among the audience. Wynne prayed their enemy would not do anything out in public. That was all they needed. Yet, rubbing his neck, that was exactly what their kind did, created chaos out of order. He gritted his teeth, tensed, trying not to count the minutes as they ticked by until the concert ended.

Reiser enjoyed the music, letting it settle about him, but his full appreciation could not be achieved after Wynne's voice echoed in his ear. Standing behind their Athair and Màthair, Duncan and Jeannine Macleod, his eyes darted across the open expanse of the concert hall, watching for any threatening movement. He cursed, wishing that his kin Dac was here with all his gadgets. One of his hands strayed close to the Sig under his Armani. He fought his want to shift, to grab Duncan and get the hell out of there. Duncan’s wife, Jeanine turned and look over her husband's shoulder. He smiled reassuringly, trying to relax. How could they? They were out in the open, exposed, and he knew just how lethal their enemies were. God, his mind drifted back eight and half months ago to that fateful day in the hospital as they had rushed to Duncan's side after the bomb ripped apart his house in Glasgow, killing Duncan’s son Michael, several of their servants, and wounding Duncan severely. He let go of the breath he had been holding. If not for their meticulousness care in preparation for the night out, he was sure they would be ambushed. He prayed it didn't come to that. As soon as the concert ended, Byrne was to have the modified Land Rover's running, ready to spirit Duncan and Jeanine back to their compound on the outskirts of the city. He prayed after last year’s attempt on Duncan's life that they did not have a repeat performance.

Across the expanse of the concert hall, Storm Macleod sat back, hiding behind the curtains, away from prying eyes. He had seen the guards the moment he had entered the concert hall. He cursed his stupidity for coming back to the old city, back to where his kin lived and thrived. He cursed himself for such a foolish act as exposing himself in his old hometown. He had ducked his head, made for the stairs before any of them could see him. He questioned his foolishness, his plans. He was banished after all, a persona non gratis, and wondered if he would remain that way in their eyes for the rest of his life.

His eyes fixed on Duncan Macleod, his former Athair sitting beside his wife, Jeannine. He cursed the day Duncan’s father, Reid had placed such a heavy burden on his shoulders eight years ago. The images played like a bad B movie in his head the night of his betrayal against those he called family, against those he loved, and sworn fealty. All because Reid Macleod had this idiotic plan to end this centuries long feud in one sweep. Too bad the man had been killed several months later, and only one man remained that really knew the truth of his existence. If he were lost, then no one would know of his true existence. That begged the question then of his own insanity. Why had he come back to his home turf? What insanity had him contemplate such plans to reconcile with his family? He was tired, tired of the lethal game they were playing. He wanted out.

Storm shook his head, and focused on the woman playing on stage. She was a vision, and cursed his existence for the umpteen time, drinking in the woman's beauty. Then he was hit square in the gut with the angelic sounds coming from her musical ability. He forgot about the others and let her weave her story.

Tonight he was a prisoner to the music of the woman down on the stage.

As the music drifted up to him, he fidgeted as she brought memories to the surface that he had longed buried in his mind. He shifted in his chair as he narrowed in on her face. It faded and formed into the faces of those he had loved and lost. His curse rose up like a vicious snake ready to strike and keep him in line. For all the years he had been alive, he wanted this agony to end. He wanted his agony to end. He watched her face, saw the joy, the pain of bringing her music to life, and he wondered her own story. The music rose and fell with a whirlwind of complexity that robbed him of breath, mirroring the cache of memories in his mind. The good and the bad.

Was this her story or his own?

The music ended and the audience erupted in applause, sending them to their feet.

Storm stayed seated, watched the woman take a bow, and sit back down, waiting for the final song. He felt the tension in his body as the devil of his subconscious and those of Reid Macleod’s droned on in his head about his duty. His family long fractured by the hubris of his kind was forever locked in an on-going feud, and he was cast squarely in the middle. His fingers curled into fist against his thighs, realizing he would be forever an outcast from the true family he wanted. The one that sat in the boxes across the expanse of the auditorium, and probably in the seats below. His line would die with him once the truth came out, killed by either side for one man’s idiotic idea to end the on-going hatred. And that man was dead, and only one old man, with a foot in the grave, knew of his existence. Curse them, curse them all…both sides. Either way he was a man with a fat bullseye on his back, and one minuscule slip up, and he was dust.

Effie waited for the applause to diminish before she began her next musical composition. She took a deep breath, knowing that the next song was her own, having written it over the last summer. The tune had woken her up in the middle of the night, and she had worked tirelessly to get it down on paper before it disappeared altogether. She had worked with another composer to get all of the instruments down for a complete composition. This would be the first time she played it for anyone other than the orchestra and the stage hands.

She took another deep breath to steady her nerves, and cast her eyes down to her instrument. The first moments of the song would see her fingers plucking the strings gently then with ever increasing strength and quickness. Then the orchestra would ease in and take a few stanzas before she joined them. The piece would show her innocence. Her anger, her joy, her sadness and hope. But deep down she knew, sometimes hope is a fleeting thing.

Delicate, yet strong fingers began slowly to pluck the strings and let the suspension build. Her fingers quickened, the picking harder, echoing about her. She abruptly stopped, letting the strings vibrate on in the silence. The orchestra eased into their movement, and Effie's mind started to wander, drift from the strains as she started to shiver.

It was a moment of awakening, of transformation as the music illustrated her young voice being heard for the first time. As the music built to a crescendo, she joined the other cellos calling, and answering as if building an argument. The supporting cellos receded, and the deep voice of the bass remained. She used the upper range, answering back. The bass overpowered and then retreated with one angry response.

Storm saw the tear form at the corner of the Effie Scott's eye, drop and snake down her cheek. The piece was powerful and intensified as a soft, gentle piano emerged out of the anger. His breath caught at the harmony.

No one ever heard her voice or listened, Effie thought. Not till now. She brushed aside a tear, trying to stay strong. Not her mother and certainly not her stepfather. The moving piano drowned out the angry shouts, calling her away, to take flight. She slipped her bow into position, knowing her cue. Her own strains seeped under the tones of the piano and emerged again.

Jeanine's tears poured down her face for the emotions that the music created. How close she had come to losing everything this past year. All that she loved. Her heart ached for her lost son Michael. She leaned against Duncan, nuzzling against his shoulder and saw his own tears. They clung to each other, realizing the music was unraveling any form of inner strength. The music was enthralling, alive and tugged them one way and then another, mimicking their lives. They huddled together, holding fast.

Isabel reached for Wynne’s hand, held it, squeezed it, not caring if they were breaking the rules. How much the music seemed to voice the emotional roller coaster ride they had traveled over their entire lifetime, fighting to survive. Fighting to stay alive against uncertain odds. The sounds reached into their hearts, wrapped about that powerful organ and held on. She turned her eyes to his, and ached to have him completely. Damn the rules. She lifted his hand to her lips and kissed his palm, the ache becoming unbearable.

The music gentled and built beautifully in complexity. Storm watched as Effie's passion took hold in the sway of her body's movements, the long sounds of her bow, moving across the strings. She stopped, allowing the orchestra a moment, one final word and then Effie had her last part. She ended abruptly, startling everyone as if the chapter, the story was yet unfinished.

The concert hall held its breath, the anticipation of more. But she didn't answer their implied question.

Applause trickled from one hand to a thunderous roar. The house rose to their feet.

Storm sat back, finally able to breathe, his chest heaving. The composition had dug deep into his subconscious and opened up a pandora’s box of emotions. Memory after memory had assaulted him, and extracted a toll. He felt has if he had gone ten rounds and more. The piece was exceptional and to know that the young lady down on that stage had written such a beautiful composition, rocked his mind. He watched her carefully, watching her own chest move with the emotion, leaning against her instrument. He saw the pinch of her brows, looking anywhere than at the audience as she gathered up the fringes of her gown and stepped forward, holding the neck of her cello.

Effie looked at the audience, holding her precious cello against her body for comfort and security, looking at the sky boxes and then out over the people in the surrounding levels. She held her bow up, pointed to the orchestra behind her, and the audience’s applause deepened. The conductor raised his hands, and the other musicians rose and bowed. Effie turned and her sight caught a man in a private box to her left. He was standing half in the shadows, but his piercing eyes seemed to illuminate from within, sent a chill up her back. That odd sense of foreboding, as if the currents of life where changing, and steering her in that direction gripped her. She caught her self staring, and forced herself to turn back to the audience as their applause continued. Her eyes scanned the faces, all happy, some brushing aside tears. Her eyes moved over the crowd and stopped, her heart clutched. Her breath quickened in fear as she spied that one face she had hoped never to see again.

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