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Temptation of a Highland Scoundrel
By Welfonder, Sue-Ellen
ForeverCopyright © 2011 Welfonder, Sue-Ellen
All right reserved.
CASTLE HAVEN THE GLEN OF MANY LEGENDS MIDSUMMER EVE 1397
Do you believe Kendrew Mackintosh dances naked on the dreagan stones?”
Lady Isobel Cameron glanced across the well-appointed bedchamber at her good-sister and, much as she tried, couldn’t keep the excitement from her voice. Her heart knocked wildly at her daring. Especially when Lady Catriona’s reaction was to sit up straighter in her massive, four-postered bed. She also pinned Isobel with a look that held more than a hint of disapproval. Worse, there was a flicker of sympathy in the depths of her dark blue eyes.
Isobel lifted her chin, pretending not to see.
Pity was the last thing she wanted.
Her heart was set on the Mackintosh chieftain and had been for some while—as Catriona well knew.
It’d been her plan, and not Isobel’s, that the two of them and Kendrew’s sister, Lady Marjory, should each seduce and wed a man from one of the other glen clans. Only so could true peace be held.
Or so they’d agreed the previous autumn, in the bloody aftermath of the trial by combat. A battle to the death, ordered by the king to decide which of the three clans should be granted overlordship. When the fighting ended, the three warrior chieftains were still on their feet, their weapons held fast in their hands.
In his well-meant benevolence, King Robert III declared a truce.
He’d presented each chieftain with a charter for land the clans already saw as their own. And he’d left them with a not-too-subtle warning that any further unrest would result in severest punishment.
Banishment to a distant Hebridean isle was just one threat that—still—hung over the heads of every man, woman, and child of the glen.
No living soul in the Glen of Many Legends would risk such a fate.
Yet the men of the clans were quickly angered, their tempers easily roused.
Keeping peace fell to the women.
Catriona was now wed to Isobel’s brother, James, clan chief of the Camerons.
It seemed a blessed union.
Isobel was meant to be the next bride.
And on the day the three women made their pact, she’d chosen Kendrew. What she hadn’t done was tell her friends how much she secretly desired him. His wildness excited her, his adherence to ancient Norse ways calling to her own Viking blood—a legacy she was proud of and that her own clan largely ignored, much to her sorrow.
Only Isobel’s heart quickened at the thought of distant northern lands full of cold wind, ice, and endless winters. She alone held a soft spot for the fearless, seafaring people who, legend claimed, gave one of their most beautiful young noblewomen as a bride to a distant Cameron chieftain. A war prize and peace offering, she’d forever sealed the clan’s irrevocable bond with the pagan north.
Isobel felt drawn to that legacy.
So Kendrew, who often wore a bearskin thrown over his broad shoulders and favored a Viking war ax over a sword, fascinated her.
He flaunted his Nordic ancestry.
Isobel admired him.
Unfortunately, the attraction wasn’t mutual.
Isobel brushed at her sleeve, willing her annoyance to fade. Unfortunately, she failed. Her wilder side, the part of her no one suspected existed, swirled and raged inside her, demanding attention.
“Kendrew Mackintosh is a howling madman.” Catriona found her tongue at last, her tone proving she knew the source of Isobel’s agitation.
Isobel flicked at her other sleeve, too irritated to care.
“It is summer solstice.” She went ahead and spoke her mind, images of Kendrew’s big, powerfully muscled body kissed by the glow of bonfires making her breath catch and her skin tingle. “The Mackintoshes celebrate Midsummer in the old way.” She glanced at the room’s tall window arches, her pulse quickening at the polished gleam of the twilight sky. “On such a night, I can’t help but wonder if he really does leap naked onto the cairns.”
“He is surely bold enough.” Catriona smoothed the bed covers, resting her hands atop her slightly swollen belly. “Everyone knows he’s wholly untamed.”
Isobel could’ve added more. She did imagine him standing proud in the heart of his rock-hewn land, cold mist blowing around him, the gold of his Thor’s hammer and arm rings glinting brightly.
“He did fight ferociously at the trial by combat.” She bit back how much his bravery impressed her. “The earth shook when he stamped the haft of his war ax on the ground after the battle.”
“He is fearless, true enough.” Catriona shivered when a chill wind swept the room, stirring the floor rushes. “Word is he can trace his line back to the Berserkers, Odin’s bloodthirsty, half-mythic bodyguards.
“So-o-o…” She laced her fingers. “He could well be doing anything this night, including leaping naked onto his dreagan stones.”
But unlike her friend, she didn’t find the notion disturbing.
The brisk air filling the chamber brought traces of damp earth and pine, just a hint of distant woodsmoke. Soon the first stars would start to glimmer. Beyond the thick pine forest that separated their lands, Mackintosh bonfires would crackle and blaze.
Those who prayed to Odin would gather. Men would touch hammer amulets and drink from mead horns. Blood would heat, passions rising as the revelry commenced…
Isobel’s heart pounded.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing Kendrew on those stones.” She glanced again at the windows, the night’s magic calling to her, making her restless.
“The sight would ruin you for life.” Catriona sounded sure.
Isobel lifted her chin. “I think I’d be rather intrigued.”
“Humph.” Catriona leaned forward a little. “You’d feel otherwise if one of his dreagans took a bite out of you.”
“Pah.” Isobel dismissed the possibility. “They only live in legend.”
“I’ve heard tales.” Catriona persisted.
“Then you’d know they’re said to fire-blast, not bite.” Isobel regarded her levelly. “You just don’t like Kendrew.”
“That’s true.” Catriona held her gaze.
Isobel struggled against the urge to squirm, wishing her friend didn’t have such a direct stare. “I’ve wondered”—she took a deep breath, then rushed on—“if the blue marks he carves on his chest and arms really are to celebrate each enemy he kills in battle or—”
“They are.” Catriona tightened her lips. “I’m sure he also does it to look terrifying.”
Isobel ignored her friend’s comment. “Do you think he has the marks anywhere else?”
Catriona shuddered. “I’m sure I don’t want to know.”
“I do.” Isobel did want to know, badly.
She was also sure the admission had turned her cheeks scarlet. She could feel the heat blooming there, branding her shameless. High-born, gently raised females weren’t supposed to ponder the lure of bare-bottomed men. They especially weren’t wise to crave the attention of a man as wild as Kendrew Mackintosh. And they should never imagine him whirling about naked in an ancient, pagan ritual that most decent folk had abandoned years ago.
Such thoughts were wicked.
But they filled her with prickling excitement.
And once the images had taken root, she couldn’t banish them.
Nor did she want to.
The Mackintosh chieftain was a great giant of a man, burly, loud, and rough around the edges. An unapologetic scoundrel, he towered over most men and clearly enjoyed that dominance. Heavy, burnished copper hair swung about his shoulders, and when he flashed his fast, crooked smile, it was said that no female could resist his rascally charm.
He defied every danger and laughed in the face of death. He lived by his own rules. His strange blue kill marks made him look like a fearsome Norse god. And his prowess in bed was said to be even greater than his formidable skill on the field of battle.
Well-lusted, he was rumored to be insatiable.
Isobel shivered, delicately.
She could so easily see him sweeping her into his arms and whisking her up the turret stairs, ravishment and more on his mind. No man had ever even kissed her. She knew with a desiring woman’s instinct that Kendrew’s kisses would be hot, furious, and deliciously savage.
It was a notion that made her entire body flush.
She just hoped Catriona would credit the warmth from the bedchamber’s crackling log fire as the reason for her heightened color.
The earlier breath of cold had fled, the wind moving on to rustle through the pines.
It was again stifling in the room.
By all reckoning, Catriona’s travails weren’t expected until the passing of another six full moons. A winter birthing seemed probable, possibly at Yule. Yet some of the older castle women predicted she’d need longer. A few argued less. Either way, no one was taking any chances.
Catriona carried the clan heir. And there wasn’t a soul at Castle Haven not concerned with her comfort. A few, including her besotted husband, seemed worried that she’d freeze. Every few hours, or so it seemed, a kitchen lad came to toss a new fat log on the bedchamber’s hooded fireplace. Torches blazed in every wall sconce, and a score of fine wax candles graced the room’s two small tables, each dancing flame adding to the stuffiness.
There was even a small brazier placed near the bed, its coals glowing softly as pungent, herb-scented smoke rose to haze the air.
Eye-burning, overheated air that Catriona seemed weary of breathing, for instead of quipping that Isobel shouldn’t concern herself with Kendrew’s arm-and-chest markings, she tossed back the coverlets and slid down from her bed. She crossed the room to the far windows where she breathed deep of the cool, evening air.
Isobel gave her a moment, then hitched her skirts and joined her. “They say Kendrew leaps onto Slag’s Mound wearing only his Thor’s hammer.” She’d meant to say something else entirely, but she couldn’t get Kendrew from her mind. Speaking quickly, the words left her in a rush. “Slag was the worst of all dreagans, the most dangerous.
“I’ve heard he could kill ten men with a single swipe of his long, stony-scaled tail.” The thought made Isobel’s nerves flutter. “Slag’s cairn is where the Mackintoshes celebrate their Midsummer Eve revels. Storytellers say that if Slag wished, even now he could send scalding, sulfuric breath right up through the cracks between the stones, blasting anyone who’d dare come near his cairn. Kendrew watches over the festivities from atop those stones. He—”
“He is that crazed, I know.” Catriona braced her hands on the broad window ledge and turned her face to the freshening wind. “Be warned”—she shot a narrow-eyed glance at Isobel—“if you knew how I’ve felt these past months, you wouldn’t be thinking of men.”
“Kendrew isn’t just any man.” Isobel stepped closer to the window, half certain she could feel the power of the fierce Mackintosh chieftain even here, coming to her on the night wind, beckoning.
To her, he was everywhere.
And ever since she and her two friends had carefully woven their plans, there wasn’t a corner of the Glen of Many Legends where she could escape his image. No place where she wouldn’t dream of his heated gaze devouring her, or how she’d love feeling his hands glide along her body. Or where she wouldn’t yearn for the hot, turbulent desire that she was sure would sweep her if, just once, he’d seize her and crush her to him, kissing her hungrily.
This was a night for kissing.
Ignoring Catriona and her somewhat soured expression, Isobel straightened her shoulders, determining to keep her gaze on the well-loved landscape before her.
Although already evening, the sky shone with pearly luminescence, and the cool, pine-scented air felt rich with custom, legend, and magic. The hills rising beyond Castle Haven’s walls shimmered in the strange, soft light. And—if she looked closely, opening her heart—she could almost see water nymphs bathing in the tumbling cascades spilling down the sides of the highest peaks.
Birdsong filtered through the trees, sweet and musical, almost as if the tiny woodland creatures joined with the night’s wonder to tempt her away, out into the enchantment of Midsummer Eve.
The world gleamed, expectant and waiting.
Isobel’s pulse raced.
Then she made the error of glancing at her friend.
Catriona was watching her as if she could peer into her soul and see the urgency beating there, making her burn to unleash her desires.
“I wish you’d chosen someone else.” Catriona’s voice held a note that could’ve been regret or reproach. Turning back to the window, she fixed her gaze on a single star that sparkled like a jewel in the silvery sky. “When the three of us”—she meant herself, Isobel, and Kendrew’s sister, Marjory—“agreed to each wed a man from a feuding clan, the idea was to keep peace in the glen through our unions.
“That will only happen if such marriages take place.” She shifted her glance to where a second star was just winking to life. “Kendrew isn’t a man to wed. Everyone knows it. He’s in love with his war ax and—”
“It’s only been a few months since our pact—”
“Nae, it’s been over half a year.” Catriona touched a hand to Isobel’s arm. “Kendrew hasn’t even spoken to you in all that time. The one visit he made us was brief and he didn’t spare you a glance. He keeps himself locked away behind Castle Nought’s walls where he surely spends his days sharpening weapons and making pagan sacrifices to Thor. James has invited him here, often enough.
“It would be a small thing to accept my husband’s goodwill. Yet”—Catriona paused to take a breath—“he chooses to shun us all. Some even say he’s planting poison-tipped stakes in the ground around his stronghold. He’s been heard to say he wants to deter visitors from breaking his peace.”
Isobel frowned. “He wouldn’t do that.”
“Pah!” Catriona clearly believed he would. “He’d challenge the Devil and all his ring-tailed minions if it amused him to do so.”
“He has Berserker blood.” Isobel secretly thrilled to his wildness.
“All the more reason you should consider someone else.” Catriona clutched Isobel’s hands, squeezing tight. “We’ve grown close since I married your brother and came here. You’ve become the sister I never had, and”—she released Isobel and stepped back—“I couldn’t bear to see you unhappy. Kendrew will only hurt you.”
“Nae…” Isobel refused the possibility.
She did shiver. The sensation that he was near her, all around her, strengthened. She touched the charmed amber necklace at her throat, wondering if Catriona’s gift, or the magic of summer solstice, was the reason she felt so powerfully drawn to him this night.
“Kendrew would never cause me pain.” She stood straighter, flicked her braid over her shoulder. “He doesn’t frighten me and never will. Even Marjory has told us how fiercely he honors women and—”
“He’ll be honoring plenty this night.” Catriona returned to her bed, lowering herself carefully onto its edge. “Or what do you think Mackintoshes do at their dreagan stones on Midsummer Eve?
“They’ll be doing more than dancing in a circle and leaping over bonfires.” Catriona clasped her hands over her belly. “Be glad you aren’t there.”
Isobel wished she was.
“Do not think to sneak there tonight.” Catriona’s glance was sharp.
Isobel crimsoned. “I wouldn’t dare.”
“Nae?” Catriona lifted a red-gold brow.
Again, Isobel felt like squirming. But she forced herself to stand still. She also held Catriona’s deep, all-seeing gaze. “I know better than to traipse off into the night, alone and unescorted.”
“Indeed?” Catriona’s brow arched a fraction higher.
“So I said.” Isobel didn’t turn a hair.
“Then you are less like me than I’d believed.” Her friend’s expression softened, the glimmer of pity returning to her lovely blue eyes. “With half the castle abed with a bellyache from bad herring and the rest down in the hall, deep in their cups because tonight is Midsummer, I would’ve thought you’d be tempted to slip away.
“I’ve done the like more than once, as well you know.” Catriona’s tone was quiet, reminiscent. “Back in the days before I was a settled, married woman. Now”—she splayed her fingers across the swell of her abdomen—“I do see things a bit differently.”
“You’re seeing them wrong.” Isobel should’ve known Catriona would guess the thoughts flitting about in her mind this night. “I’m not going anywhere.”
She hadn’t actually planned to until Catriona’s words made the idea seem possible.
She bit her lip, half afraid Catriona would tell James, causing him to rush out after her, if she dared to sneak out on her own.
But she so wanted to.
She turned back to the window, the night’s sweetness beckoning. Midsummer magic steeped the air, the beauty of the luminous twilight combining with her desire to see Kendrew on the stones until her pulse raced as never before. Longing swelled in her chest, hot and insistent, tugging on long-buried needs deep inside her.
Across the room, Catriona sighed. “You truly do have your heart set on Mackintosh, don’t you?”
“I…” Isobel took a long breath, knowing there was no point in denial. “Any other man pales beside him.” She left the window and started pacing before the fire, a strange sense of triumph beating through her now that she’d spoken openly. “If I see him at his boldest tonight, perhaps I can learn how to attract his attention.”
Catriona snorted. “You have breasts and a comely face. Catching his eye is the least of your worries. The problem is that”—she pulled a small pillow onto her lap, her brow creasing again—“a fast tumble in the heather is all you can expect from him.”
Isobel didn’t want to believe it. “You won James’s heart—”
“James is not Kendrew Mackintosh.” Catriona dismissed her objection, the words dimming the warm glow of hope that had begun to thrum in Isobel’s breast. “I can see no good coming from you sneaking off to Castle Nought tonight. That corner of the glen is also fraught with other dangers. It’s an unholy place, filled with weird mist and darkness. Bare rock and naked, jagged cliffs make it cold and forbidding. Mackintosh territory is nothing like Castle Haven and the wooded hills and waterfalls surrounding us here.
“Nought is a terrifying, unwelcoming place.” Catriona drew the little pillow closer against her middle. “They say the wind there carries ancient echoes of dreagan roars. I do believe that is true.”
“I’m not afraid.” To her amazement, Isobel wasn’t.
Catriona frowned. “If something happens to you and James discovers I kept silent about you slipping away, he’ll never forgive me.”
“I never told you I’m going.” Isobel brushed at her skirts, offering her friend the only defense she could against James’s possible wrath. “Indeed, when I leave you, I’ll be heading to my own bedchamber.”
She didn’t say that she’d simply meant to retrieve her cloak.
The crease in Catriona’s brow deepened. But she held her peace, settling back against the bed cushions.
She did send a pointed glance at the small oaken table set before one of the room’s colorful wall tapestries. The table was right next to the door.
“You know”—she looked back to Isobel, her blue gaze piercing—“that my condition keeps me from wearing my lady’s dirk.” She flicked another quick glance at the table where her jewel-hilted dagger glittered in the light of a wall sconce. “Everyone knows sharp objects might cause harm to a wee babe in the womb.”
Isobel nodded, understanding her friend’s unspoken message.
“Thank you.” Isobel touched her amber necklace again, almost overcome by the rush of hope, giddiness, and excitement mounting inside her.
Then, before she lost her nerve, she cast another look at the shimmering sky beyond the window arches, and hurried from the bedchamber.
She snatched Catriona’s dagger on her way out the door.
She doubted she’d need it.
But she didn’t want her friend to worry. Unlike her, Catriona saw danger in Nought’s mysteries, the dark and rock-bound landscape.
Isobel saw adventure.
And—she hoped—the love of a lifetime.
About the same time, but in the dread place of rock and shadow that Isobel and her friend had just been discussing, Kendrew Mackintosh stood in the middle of Castle Nought’s cavernous great hall and stared at his sister, Marjory. Fondly known as Lady Norn for her striking Nordic beauty and Valkyrie-ish temperament, she lifted her chin, meeting his gaze with her wintriest smile. She also had the cheek to think that planting herself in front of the door would keep him from leaving the hall.
“You’ll no’ be stopping me from enjoying the night’s revels.” Kendrew folded his arms, incredulous as ever at her flashing-eyed boldness.
Then he grinned, unable to help himself.
“By Thor,” he boomed, “you should have been born a man. If you wielded a sword as sharp as your blazing eyes, no enemy would be safe.”
Marjory set her hands on her hips, her chilly mien not warming a whit. “You’ll be spared my wrath as soon as you read James Cameron’s missive.” Sending a pointed glance at the parchment scroll resting atop a nearby long table, she began tapping her foot. “It’s no great task. Break the seal and give him the courtesy of—”
“Odin’s balls, I will!” Kendrew glared at her, his grin faded. “Breaking thon seal and reading his foolery will only sour my mood. I already ken what he’s after. This new letter will hold the same twaddle as his previous ones, and I’m having none of it.”
“He only wants a few stones for the memorial cairn.” Marjory bent another icy look right back at him. The little brown and white dog sitting beside her skirts eyed him with equal animosity.
Marjory glanced at her pet, and then back at Kendrew as if the teeny beast’s opinion supported hers. “Send James the rocks and”—she curved her lips in an annoyingly superior smile—“he’ll leave you be.”
“Aye, he will.” Kendrew swelled his chest. “But no’ because I do his bidding, I say you.”
Jaw set, he shot a glance at the hall’s high, narrow-slit windows, his irritation increasing to see that the twilight was already sliding into night. The sky still shone with the fine luminosity of highest summer, but the hour was advancing.
The celebrations at the dreagan stones would be well underway.
“You did agree to send stones.” Marjory proved she could be the most vexatious female he knew. “I heard you when we were at Castle Haven to discuss the cairn just a few months past. Everyone heard you.”
Kendrew cut the air with a hand, ignoring her argument.
“I’d rather send Blood Drinker arcing into James Cameron’s skull.” He grinned again, liking the notion.
Blood Drinker, his beloved, well-used, and storied war ax, hadn’t quenched his thirst of late. Giving his finely tooled blade a nice long drink of Cameron blood would do the weapon good.
“The bastard is a bane.” He relished the shock on his sister’s face. “He’ll no’ be getting a single Nought stone for his cairn. Every rock here, even the smallest pebble, belongs where it is.
“Cuiridh mi clach ’ad charn.” Kendrew waited for her reaction. “Have you forgotten that those words mean so much more than ‘I will place a stone on your cairn?’ Has it slipped your mind”—he stepped closer, frowning down at her—“that the old wisdom has little to do with carrying a rock to a man’s final resting place and everything to do with vowing never to forget that man?”
When she flushed, Kendrew pounced. “Every stone on our land, be it on a cairn or in the bottom of a burn, recalls a long-past clansman. I’ll no’ disgrace their memories by seeing even a grain of Nought sand added to a memorial that glorifies our enemies.”
Satisfied that Marjory couldn’t argue, Kendrew folded his arms.
She recovered swiftly. “Word is Alasdair MacDonald sent enough stones to build a small house.” Straightening to her full height, she tossed back her bright, sun-gold hair and raised her chin, defiant. “He—”
Kendrew snorted. “MacDonald is a worse snake than Cameron. With his sister now married to James, the bastard had no choice but to send Blackshore rocks. I do have a choice and Cameron knows what it is.”
“He can’t. You’re ignoring his requests.”
“That’s my answer.”
“The memorial cairn is to mark the battle site,” Marjory persisted. Her dog stood, a cagey look entering his eyes as he started toward Kendrew. A wee creature she’d illogically named Hercules, the dog was clearly bent on performing a favorite irritating trick.
“Call him off, Norn.” Kendrew glared at the dog, his manly dignity keeping him from leaping out of Hercules’s leg-lifting range.
“Hercules, come here.” Marjory used her sweetest tone.
The dog bared his teeth and growled at Kendrew, but then trotted dutifully back to Marjory, where he once again took his place beside her.
“He’s annoyed by your grumblings.” Marjory excused her pet. “And I’m disappointed by your stubbornness.” She took a breath, all cold, northern ice again. Kendrew could almost feel the chill winds swirling around him. “You’re deliberately undermining the peace in this glen. You know there’s to be a friendship ceremony at Castle Haven in two months. If you refuse to send stones, the cairn can’t be completed.”
“Could be I’m for forgetting that slaughter ever happened.” Kendrew grabbed his bearskin off the bench where he’d thrown it earlier and swirled it around his shoulders. “If I think about it, I just want to be there again.” He strode right up to his sister, towering over her. “Only then I’d finish the fight, leaving no’ a miserable Cameron or MacDonald on the bloody field.”
“The king ordered peace.” Marjory didn’t back down.
Hercules growled again.
“Robert Stewart has his royal will.” Kendrew stepped around them both and threw open the hall door. “And I”—he glanced over his shoulder at her—“am off to Slag’s Mound to enjoy what peace is left to me.
“A pity you’ll no’ be coming along.” At the moment, he was secretly relieved.
In such a mood, she’d ruin the festivities.
“Hercules was ailing this morn.” She bent and scooped the wee dog into her arms, coddling him. “I’ll not be leaving him alone tonight.”
“As you wish.” Kendrew shrugged, certain Hercules looked triumphant.
He knew a trickster when he saw one.
He was a master scoundrel himself, after all.
Glad of it—and proud, truth be told—he pulled the hall door shut behind him and stepped out into the glistening, silver-shot night.
Marjory needn’t know he had other reasons for being so thrawn about the stones.
His stubbornness was Cameron’s own fault.
The last time he’d visited Castle Haven, he’d told James of seeing several armed strangers. Thick-bearded men in helms and mail, they’d lurked about on a ledge overlooking the waterfall behind the Cameron stronghold.
James claimed his lookouts would’ve spotted any trespassers. He did send men to the falls. No strangers were found. James’s tone upon reporting his guards’ findings implied that Kendrew had mistaken water spray for the glint of mailed coats.
Kendrew said no more.
But he hadn’t forgotten the slight.
Pushing his foe from his mind, he stepped deeper onto the broad landing.
Splendor greeted him, making his heart thud fast in his chest. Castle Nought’s thick, impregnable walls rose seamlessly from the cliffs at the northernmost end of the Glen of Many Legends. And here, in the stone-cut arch of the lofty gatehouse, the whole sweep of his territory could be admired. But he knew that many short-sighted fools didn’t appreciate the windy, steep-sided vista of rock and mist stretching beneath him. Those misguided souls thought of his home as a dark and benighted place, full of cold and menace.
Kendrew knew better.
True men thrived in such wildness.
Soft living created weak men. Those who cowered in gentler climes weren’t worthy of their bollocks.
Knowing he was worthy of his and more, Kendrew reached for the heavy gold Thor’s hammer at his throat and kissed the well-loved amulet.
The gods did well settling him and those who’d gone before him as the guardians of this rugged, mist-drenched corner of the Highlands. Tonight he and his people—and a few lusty, well-made lasses drawn to the raucousness from the surrounding hills and moors—would honor those gods, thanking them for their bounty.
Already, the bonfires were lit in celebration, flames leaping high against the sides of the high peaks hemming Nought land. The fires threw a pulsing, golden cast across the windswept ridges and the narrow, rock-filled vale, the contrast with the glistening silver of the night sky almost too beautiful to behold.
But Kendrew did, fierce pride coursing in his veins.
He loved Nought.
And he waited all year for Midsummer Eve.
It was a night of magic.
A time when—he was sure—even the dreagans sleeping beneath their stony cairns stirred and yearned for the days of yore.
Kendrew understood such longing.
And when he let his gaze sweep the great mounds of jumbled rocks so many glen folk still feared, he knew he’d sooner take his last breath than call any other place home. He closed his eyes and breathed deep, reveling in the heady smell of cold air and damp stone, the tantalizing trace of roasting meat and woodsmoke drifting on the wind.
Joy filled him.
It was time to forget any fools who didn’t appreciate Nought and let his own passions run free. Eager to be on his way, he bounded down the bluff’s narrow stone steps and made straight for the jumbled outcroppings dotting his land, the heart of the dreagan stones.
This Midsummer Eve would be like no other.
He felt it in his bones.
I sobel’s daring held until the Rodan Stone loomed before her.
She stared at the monolith, its sudden appearance through the mist both startling and unsettlingly ominous. She hadn’t faltered once since leaving Cameron territory, and although she’d imagined eyes watching her once or twice, the feeling had been fleeting. If anyone had seen her slip away, she’d surely have been followed. But she’d only heard the rustle of her own passage as she’d hurried through the thick pine forest she knew so well.
The succor of Haven’s woodsy-scented pines, rich, damp earth, and clean, cold-rushing streams lay far behind her. And Kendrew’s Nought was living up to its fierce reputation as a grim place choked by rock and battered by wind. Little more than a few tussocks of stunted heather and ghostly looking birches grew here.
Worst of all…
She’d almost swear the Rodan Stone was glaring at her.
Set deep into the wild sweep of rock, scrub, and jagged peaks that defined Mackintosh country, the monolith seemed to warn that the fates weren’t kind to those who dared trespass beyond this point. The brooding heart of this bleak, mist-shrouded corner of the glen stood near. And anyone venturing onward should take heed.
Isobel did pause. But she refused to let the hoary monument sway her.
Even so, her insides went a little cold as she eyed the stone.
Tall, eerily manlike, and more than a little menacing, the standing stone would’ve speared heavenward if it didn’t lean at an odd angle. But the towering stone did tilt forward, giving credence to the tales that the monolith was actually a once-living man who’d been flash-frozen in the act of fleeing from the dreagans.
Rodan, the storytellers called that man. They claimed he’d been a long-ago Mackintosh warrior. He was one of the clan’s revered dreagan masters, until the hungry beasts rebelled at the instigation of his greatest rival, another master of dreagans, who went by the name of Daire. That clan traitor—supposedly turned by greed—is said to have used darkest magic to spell the dreagans into attacking Rodan when he revealed that Daire was lightening Nought’s impressive stores of silver and gold, and even lining his purse with the sale of Mackintosh cattle and grain.
Daire’s nefarious deeds were paid in his blood.
Rodan was a clan hero.
And his stone had become a place of reverence for all Mackintoshes.
It also served as a boundary marker for dreagan stone territory, or so Isobel had always heard.
Just now, she was more concerned with what she felt. In keeping with the legends of Nought, thick mist rolled across the broken ground and the cold air held more than the sharp brittleness of a chill night. Something stirred in the swirling mist.
This time, she was certain.
She felt someone—something—staring at her as surely as the morrow.
And whatever it was, it was angry.
“Rodan…” Isobel whispered the stone’s name, hoping to placate the long-dead dreagan master if it was his ill will prickling her nape.
She looked about, studying the lichen-grown boulders and sheer cliffs. Mist wraiths slid past granite outcrops and through the scattered birches of a nearby wood. It was easy to imagine a tall, dark shape hovering there, frowning at her from the shelter of the trees.
Little fantasy was needed to see a thick-bearded spearman, his mail coat shining through the whirling mist—until the mist shifted, revealing the warrior had only been the silver-gleaming trunk of a birch. His shield, moments before blazing brighter than the sun, proved nothing more than the silvery flash of a rushing stream.
Isobel shivered, all the same.
She knew from her family history that ghosts existed.
Clan Cameron had their own Scandia, once known as the Doom of the Camerons, until they’d learned the truth of her tragic demise. A gray lady, Scandia most often appeared when tragedy struck the family, but she wasn’t the cause of those disasters, as the clan had always believed. She only sought to warn the clan of impending danger.
And perhaps—or so Isobel personally believed—Scandia simply wished to enjoy the ambiance of Castle Haven and the good cheer of men and women she’d once walked among and still viewed as her own.
Someone’s mortal passing didn’t mean the snuffing out of his soul.
Isobel was certain of that.
So she couldn’t ignore the possibility that Rodan lurked near his stone and might see her, a Cameron woman, as a threat to his people.
“Rodan…” She stood straighter, speaking louder this time. “I know you’re a clan hero.” She touched her amber necklace, taking strength in the gemstones’ smooth coolness. “I honor your bravery and—”
A whoosh of icy wind whipped past her, tearing at her cloak and then circling the stone before speeding off into the deeper shadows.
“Ack!” She brushed at her cloak and patted her hair, annoyed that the wind had loosened her braids. She’d taken care to twine blue silk ribbons through the strands and now one of the ribbons was coming undone.
“I mean no harm.” She lifted her chin, hoping her voice sounded more firm than it did to her.
She also curled her fingers around her ambers, waiting for the enchanted stones to spring to life, lending their protection as she’d been told to expect of them. Catriona had sworn the ambers quivered and heated whenever a threat loomed near.
The necklace was still.
Forcing herself to be brave, she went to the Rodan Stone and flattened her hand against the monolith’s icy, age-pitted surface. “I’ve made a pact, see you? An oath sworn on sacred white heather and with two friends to ensure this glen is never sundered again.
“I haven’t had much luck upholding my part of our plan.” She chose her words carefully, keeping her hand pressed to the stone so the gods who ruled Midsummer Eve would hear her. “I’m hoping this night’s magic will aid me. I mean no harm. I only want to see Kendrew.” It wasn’t the whole truth—she wanted his kisses, perhaps even more.
But she felt rather silly speaking to a stone.
“Once I see him, I’ll leave.” She hoped he’d see her and demand that she stay.
She’d accoutered herself to tempt him.
She wasn’t here as an enemy.
And if legends were true and the storied stone—or Rodan himself—was guarding the entry to the dreagan stones, she wished the monolith and its spirit would note how carefully she’d readied herself to come here. She’d brushed her hair so many strokes that the long raven tresses gleamed like blue-black satin. And she’d not just bathed, albeit quickly, but had smoothed her body with rich, scented oils. She’d chosen a low-cut gown of sheerest silk, its deep sapphire color dark enough for modesty, though the soft fall of its clinging folds left little to the imagination.
She meant to leave her cloak at the edge of the dreagan stones.
She shivered and closed her eyes, refusing the notion that some fierce power here might prevent her from continuing to the heart of Nought territory. She could hear the revelry. Joyous shouts and laughter filled the air, raucous singing, and the roar of bonfires. Pipes screamed and drums rolled, the familiar music blending with the more primordial beat of what could only be scores of spear ends knocking on the stony ground.
She took a deep breath, her own wildness awakening, roused by desires older than time.
The chill wind blasted her again, its urgency making her heart beat fast in her chest. She could almost feel a rush of emotion beneath the freezing gusts, a powerful force seeking to prove its fury.
She gripped the stone harder, the wind nearly knocking her off her feet.
“See here…” She delved deep inside her, summoning strength.
She’d come so far. And she wasn’t leaving just because Rodan and his stone apparently disliked her.
She meant to be triumphant.
But the cold wind mocked her, howling so that its scream blotted the din from the revels. For a moment, she imagined she again caught a movement in the birch wood, this time nearer to the edge of the trees. As before, it was the fleeting image of a tall, dark shape—the figure of a man—and with a furious glint in his eyes.
They were eyes as hard as stone.
And like the figure itself, they vanished when she blinked.
She could feel the specter’s annoyance. Displeasure that thickened the air, souring the night’s magic.
“You must see that my purposes are good.” She slid a hand down the side of the leaning stone, patting its solidness in reassurance. “I am intrigued by your clan leader. I know he is a bold and fearless chief, a fine man. And I want to win his heart.”
At once, the air shifted around the stone, lightening. The icy wind careened away, sweeping up and over the crowding peaks, vanishing into the night. All sense of heavy anger lifted, disappearing as if it’d never been.
Whatever had tried to block her path was gone.
Or—her pulse quickened—had given approval for her to journey on.
And so she did, hitching her skirts and hurrying toward the distant red glow of the bonfires—the ever-stranger piles of tumbled rock known to be the final resting places of sleeping dreagans.
She spotted Kendrew at once.
Naked indeed, he stood atop the largest stone cairn. Mist and smoke from the bonfires blew around him, shielding parts of him from view as if the gods of such revels envied his splendor. He’d braced one hand against his hip and held his long-bearded ax in the other. It was a powerfully masculine pose and one that made Isobel’s breath catch.
He truly was magnificent.
He breathed hard, his broad, well-muscled chest rising and falling as if he’d just finished the leaping, whirling dance she must’ve missed. The same wind that cloaked him in smoke and mist tossed his mane of rich auburn hair. And the blaze of the fires made his skin gleam like burnished bronze. His golden Thor’s hammer glinted at his throat and the blue kill-marks adorning his powerful arms and his chest seemed almost alive, each jagged slash challenging anyone to doubt his fierceness.
Isobel’s heart thundered.
A blush swept up her neck, staining her cheeks. Gloriously warlike, he looked ready to stand at Thor’s side, fighting with the irascible Viking god at Ragnarok, the great battle at the end of the world that every Norseman knew would someday bring the Doom of the Gods. Kendrew’s arms would be thick with gold rings of valor, his face fierce as he fought with all the Berserker rage of his race. The image came to her clearly, everything feminine in her responding to him and the heritage she prized so dearly.
Could she ever desire any other man after seeing him here tonight?
Sure she couldn’t, she stayed in shadow, content for the moment to simply watch him.
As she did, the mist and smoke shifted, letting her glimpse a wicked scar that slashed down his abdomen. The scar was a remnant of the trial by combat, a cut he’d suffered at the hands of Alasdair MacDonald near the battle’s end. She winced to think how close Kendrew had come to losing a part of him that all men prized so highly.
Women, too, she knew.
Caught in that age-old attraction, she wasn’t surprised to feel ripples of appreciation begin to spill through her. Delicious currents of shivery female need spooling low in her belly as blood rushed in her ears. Her pulse grew so loud that she could hardly hear the thunder of the Mackintosh warriors’ spear ends beating against stone.
Even the scream of the pipes seemed to fade, everything around her whirling away, including the cries of the many half-naked couples writhing in carnal ecstasy on the ground. Isobel’s flush deepened, her awareness of the frolicking pairs adding to her inner heat and discomfiture. The open lovemaking both embarrassed and aroused her. But she kept her gaze on her heart’s desire, her senses igniting until nothing else existed except Kendrew, so proud and magnificent, as he looked around, surveying the celebrations.
He hadn’t yet seen her.
And when one of the women mating beneath the dreagan cairn nearest to Isobel tipped back her head and released a throaty cry of bliss, Isobel almost turned and hastened back the way she’d come.
She might want Kendrew.
But she wanted him for her husband.
She gulped as her gaze flicked over the scene of pagan debauchery. She wasn’t sure he’d even glance at her with so many unclothed, willing women flitting about the great mounds of stones. Firelight gilded them, displaying their charms to advantage as they roamed about, seeking to entice new partners for vigorous tumbles in the heather.
The women were notably alluring. Females of skill and experience who’d come in from distant hills and moorlands to indulge in a good night’s trade at the Mackintoshes’ Midsummer revels.
It was a fest known for such delights.
Vibrant, beautiful, and lusty, they were joy women who made Isobel feel like a dim gray shadow. Her midnight tresses suddenly struck her as uninspired against so many flame-haired females, their unbound hair shining brighter than the bonfires. And although the other women were voluptuous, she doubted a single one came up to her chin. Their smaller stature made her feel clumsy and over-large. Kendrew would be a fool to waste such an enchanted night on her. Yet she’d come here with such hope.
Isobel frowned, not sure what she could do if he didn’t notice her.
And if he did, would he find her lacking?
She was a virgin.
She didn’t even know how to kiss.
“Kendrew!” A big, burly man tossed Kendrew a spear, laughing when he caught it midair and quickly took up the rhythmic stone-pounding, beating the spear end on top of Slag’s Mound.
Kendrew grinned. He gripped the spear with enthusiasm, the merriment in his eyes setting off a flurry within her. Her doubts fled, replaced by something wondrous. A sensation that made her feel soft and warm inside, thrilling in a different way from the tummy flutters caused by catching a glimpse at his nakedness.
His smile showed her his soul.
And her heart split wide at the intimacy.
She understood the longing to uphold and honor the old Viking ways. The same Nordic blood flowed in her veins and, more than anyone she knew save Kendrew, she felt deeply bound to her heritage.
Sharing that bond with Kendrew was her dream.
A goal that meant as much to her as sealing glen peace with their union.
Their appreciation of northern ways would enrich their lives. She could feel their connection, even here in the shadows at the edge of the dreagan stones. The feeling was so strong that she wanted to hurry past the other cairns and scramble up onto Slag’s Mound, capturing his attention. Once she did, she’d make him see how perfect they were for each other. But she remained where she stood, simply enjoying how his exuberance thrummed the air.
His passion beat around her, as much a part of the night as the stones and mist, the luminous silver sky. Surely twice the size of most men, he looked even larger up on the cairn. But it was his grin that made her path irrevocable, ruining her for all others.
She could love him so easily. Doing so would be as natural as breathing.
So she placed a hand on her heart and took a few steps toward the center of the dreagan vale and the high, stone-built mound.
“Odin!” Kendrew threw back his head then and roared the Norse god’s name. “We honor you with our revels!” He raised the spear high, shaking it at the heavens. “Bless us this night and throughout the coming year!”
“Odin, Odin!” Everywhere, Mackintosh warriors took up the cry.
The pounding of spears on stone rang in the cold night air, the sound deafening, primordial.
Isobel felt the festival’s magic building, the intensity of ancient, long-simmering powers. She watched Kendrew, every part of her tingling, fired with excitement.
The blowing mist and smoke swirled so thick now that she could hardly see more than his outline, big, powerful, and edged dark against the lighter gray of the haze. He kept the spear above his head as he shouted Odin’s praise, his passion making blood scream in Isobel’s ears. Her pulse roared, matching the beat of the spears, the flexing of Kendrew’s arm as he thrust the spear heavenward.
She bit her lip, her world spinning until nothing existed except the two of them and the night’s magic.
She knew she was breaking every rule she was supposed to live by.
She didn’t care.
It’d been reckless to come here.
His nearness caused wild sensations to whirl inside her. Darts of pleasure danced between her legs, awakening her as a woman. The delicious tingles chased her modesty, urging her to be bold.
“Oh, dear…” She took a few backward steps, withdrawing into the deeper gloom, away from the entwined couples rolling on the grass nearby.
Sheltered by a cairn’s shadow, she lifted her hands to her cloak pin, undoing the clasp.
I can do this…She kept the vow silent, willing courage to pour through her as she removed her mantle. It was her best, deep sapphire of lightest wool and lined with silk of the same dazzling color. She folded the cloak with care, setting it on a large stone.
Straightening, she smoothed the fine blue silk of her gown. She ran her hands down over her hips and then adjusted the perilously low cut of the garment’s bodice. Wind helped her temptation plan, cooperatively molding the gown’s fluid folds to her curves.
She might as well be naked.
How startling that the notion excited rather than embarrassed her.
No man had ever gazed upon her unclothed skin.
Heart racing, she put back her shoulders and moved deeper into the narrow vale, heading straight for Slag’s Mound. If she meant to catch Kendrew’s eye, she’d need to be quick. Three barely clad women were already gathered beneath the cairn, vying for his attention. He paid them no heed, still shouting Odin’s praise and thumping the long spear’s end against the cairn stones. Growing bolder, one of the women lifted her breasts, calling his name.
“O-o-oh, Kendrew,” the woman trilled, “these be sweeter than anything in Valhalla.”
Isobel felt a stab of resentment. She could never be so brazen, so direct. She preferred winning her man with a bit more finesse. Even so, she inhaled sharply, annoyance tightening her chest.
Bent on seduction, the other woman plucked on her bodice’s already-loosened laces. With the ease of much practice, she pulled open her gown, revealing her eye-popping bosom in all its ripe glory.
“Oh, dear.” Isobel stepped faster, scarcely aware of the wind that had just torn the last ribbon from her hair. Her braids unraveled and her hip-length tresses spilled over her shoulders and down her back, swinging free as she hurried toward the man she wasn’t of a mind to share with anyone.
She knew they were a perfect match.
Soon—she hoped—he’d believe the same.
Even so, she felt a flutter of nerves as she nipped around the mound of stones, hot on the trail of the three skirling, hip-swaying women. Slag’s Mound was immense, the largest of the dreagan cairns. Its great height cast a wedge of purple-black gloom so dense that Kendrew might not even see her if she jumped about waving her arms. Her rivals apparently felt the same, sashaying out of the murk even as Isobel stepped deeper into the cairn’s shadow.
Frowning, she hitched her skirts and hurried on, only to hear a sudden skitter of stone and feel a whoosh of air as Kendrew jumped down from the cairn, landing right in front of her.
“Sweet, bonnie lass.” He looked at her, his eyes alight with a bold recklessness that made her pulse leap. He didn’t show a hint of recognition.
In the gloom of Slag’s Mound, he didn’t know her.
Isobel crushed a twinge of disappointment. She hadn’t wanted him to recognize her. Not at first, anyway. Her plan was to captivate and then win his heart before her name could sour him.
She’d helped tend his wounds after the trial by combat. It rankled to think he’d forgotten her. Or else the cairn’s shadow and the whirling mist hid her face better than she would have thought.
She also didn’t know where to look.
The mist and smoke cloaked him well, yet standing so close to her, his nakedness was startling. She could feel his masculinity wrapping round her, dark, intimate, and almost predatory. His scent, so virile and male, made her senses reel. Delicious tingles stirred low in her belly, warming and exciting her.
As if he knew, his smile turned wicked. “Are you one of Odin’s handmaidens, come down from Valhalla to tempt me?” His tone was teasing, the words bold. “If so I am yours.”
“I—” Isobel blinked, nerves stealing her tongue.
He grinned, stepping closer. “Say you are mine.”
She nodded, stunned by her daring.
Looking pleased, he tossed aside the long spear and snatched a discarded plaid off a clump of heather. He slung the plaid across his shoulder, as if he knew the proud sweep of its folds would only enhance his powerfully muscled chest. His eyes glinted in the smoky air, his gaze raking her from the tumbled disorder of her hair to where she still held the hem of her gown hitched above her knees.
“You take my breath.” His voice was low and deep, full of appreciation. “I knew this would be a Midsummer Eve like no other.”
Isobel stood frozen. She knew hot color blazed on her cheeks, but hoped the shadows were deep enough so he wouldn’t notice.
She couldn’t speak.
Every witty and seductive quip she’d tried to memorize on the trek here vanished as if her mind were filled with bog cotton.
“Where have you been all the e’en?” His gaze was on her face now, his eyes dark with passion. She could feel his nearness, burning her like a physical touch. A smile lifted the corner of his mouth, deepening into a grin that made her heart flip. “If you’re no’ from Valhalla, are you one o’ the lasses up from Rannoch Moor?”
Isobel knew he meant the light-skirts known to flock to Nought’s Midsummer ribaldries.
It was whispered he journeyed often to Rannoch Moor.
Isobel’s entire body flushed at the thought. By the way the joy women cooed and preened, she was sure Kendrew was a welcome visitor to their beds. Everyone knew they were accomplished sirens, able to deplete a man with a flick of their knowledgeable fingers, a single sultry glance. Herself… She still couldn’t get her tongue to work properly. Worse, her heart seemed to have leaped to her throat, lodging there so that even breathing proved difficult.
“I didnae see you earlier.” His voice deepened, the rich timbre rumbling though her, melting her. “For sure, I would’ve noticed.”
“I…” She touched her ambers, taking comfort in the stones’ cool stillness. Catriona’s enchanted necklace didn’t see him as a threat.
Their approval gave her courage. “I came late. It took a while for me to get here.”
That was true.
She just didn’t say where she’d started her journey.
To her surprise he frowned, his gaze flicking to the jagged cliffs soaring above the cookfires where whole oxen were roasting on spits. “You’ll no’ have trekked through the glen on your own?”
“I know the glen well.” Isobel couldn’t keep the pride from her voice.
Kendrew’s face remained somber. “It is a fair place. But not without dangers.” Once more, his gaze went beyond the cookfires. “Peril is known to follow lasses as beautiful as you, especially on nights when spirits are high and the mead flows so freely.”
“I wanted to see you.” The truth slipped past Isobel’s lips.
“So you did, aye?” He stepped closer, so near she could feel the heat pouring off the hard muscles of his big body. “And now I see you. Your creamy breasts tempting me”—he let his gaze dip there, then lower—“and the curve of your hips.
“I would see more of you.” He touched her cheek, his arm brushing lightly against the side of her breast.
His caress sent streams of pleasure through her. The graze of his arm against her breast made the silk of her gown pull across her nipples, the friction almost unbearable. Her body warmed, her skin tingling as her senses came alive with awareness.
“Will you be on the stones again?” It was all she could think to say.
He shook his head, his eyes locked on hers. “I think not.”
Isobel bit her lip. It was clear that he also didn’t recall her voice.
He did want her. Desire rolled off him, thick and potent. Even the air between them sizzled. There was no doubt that she intrigued him. More than that, he was hungry for her. She could see that in his eyes. She thrilled to the knowledge, eager to feel his arms slide around her.
Isobel swallowed, wondering how long she could keep his attention before he remembered her. If they moved away from the cairn’s shadow, he surely would. She couldn’t let that happen yet. She also didn’t brush back her hair, allowing the wind-whipped strands to shield her face. She detested deceit, but she had to get close to Kendrew.
He repeatedly refused her brother’s invitations to Castle Haven.
This was her only chance.
Every moment that stretched between the battle and now flashed across her mind. Loyalties and honor weighed down on her even as hope beat wildly in her breast.
She couldn’t fail.
She’d entered into a sworn pact, even kissed the sacred bloom of white heather, vowing to seal glen peace by wedding an enemy chieftain. She’d chosen Kendrew. Her heart had swiftly agreed, knowing no other man would please her more. If she could tempt him now, making him want her so fiercely her name wouldn’t matter…
Her palms went damp at her daring.
He held her gaze. “I’ve no need to return to the stones. The gods have blessed me well this night.” The look in his eyes made her feel desired. “In truth, they’ve ne’er been so good to me.”
A twinge of guilt stabbed her.
Not that she was actually tricking him. The temptation of Kendrew Mackintosh was good and necessary. It was something he’d thank her for later. After she’d had a chance to entice and bewitch him, winning his heart before he thought to guess her clan allegiance.
She just wished he’d grab her and kiss her, quickly before she lost her nerve.
Instead, he did what she’d most dreaded.
He asked her name.
And as he did, a small party of mailed, thick-bearded men looked on from the shelter of a thrusting outcrop beyond the cookfires. Armed with swords, shields, and spears, they ignored the tantalizing smell of roasting meat that kept drifting past on the wind. Their noses twitched with the scent of something much more tempting.
“She’s the Cameron’s sister.” One of the spearmen, a tall brute with shaggy black hair and a broken nose, pointed his spear in Isobel’s direction. “She—”
“I told you her name back at the Rodan Stone when the bitch looked right at you.” Ralla the Victorious, so named because he’d never lost a fight, used his own spear to knock down the other man’s weapon. “She is a maid of rank and riches. And”—he flashed another look at her—“we’ll no’ be touching her this night.”
Tor, the black-haired man with the crooked nose, bent to snatch up his fallen spear. “Thon amber necklace she wears is worth more than the coin-hoard promised us for this night’s work.”
A third man spat on the ground. “I’d like to see her brother’s face if we sent him those ambers wrapped around her severed neck.”
“And what would happen then?” Ralla couldn’t believe his men’s stupidity.
The ground-spitter swelled his chest. “James Cameron would see that for all his arrogance, he’s powerless. He’d recognize that there are others whose strength is greater. Others like us and—”
“Aye, so he would.” Ralla nodded, feigning agreement.
Grinning, the ground-spitter whipped out his sword, testing its edge on his thumb. “I’ve ne’er used this on a woman. The thought makes me—”
“It shows what a fool you are.” Ralla gripped the man’s wrist, twisting his arm until the blade clattered onto the rocks. “If anyone takes their pleasure with the Cameron she-witch, it’ll be me.
“This night”—he slammed the end of his spear into the ground—“we retreat. The bitch’s presence changes our plans. The Mackintoshes are the fiercest fighters in the glen. Their chief isn’t as mead-taken as we’d hoped to find him, but we could still wipe them out if we wished. A bloodbath with the Cameron’s sister caught in the middle…”
He let the words trail off, waiting until his men lowered their spears.
“Such folly would only unite the three clans.” Ralla looked round, pleased to see understanding finally sink into his men’s thick skulls. “We’re hamstrung until we’ve broken the Mackintoshes’ fighting power. Once we have, we’ll crush the Camerons and MacDonalds like snails beneath our heels. That’s when we’ll feast on their oxen and take our ease with their women.”
His men greeted the words with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
“I be hungry for both now.” A burly man whose arms were well ringed with gold plucked a dirk from beneath his belt and used the tip to pick at his fingernails. “I wouldn’t mind feasting on—”
“You’ll taste my fist and more if you make trouble.” Ralla stepped toward the other man, not surprised when his bravura faded.
Ralla hadn’t earned his by-name for naught.
“The Mackintosh saw you a while ago.” The other man waved his dirk in Kendrew’s direction, the challenge proving he had more bollocks than Ralla believed. “He took a hard look at us, he did.”
“The bastard was blinking ash from his eyes, no more.” Ralla refused to admit that Kendrew might’ve seen him. Such a slip would be a first in his long and illustrious career of villainies.
“Say you.” The dirk-wielder thrust his knife back beneath his belt, dusted his hands.
“I do.” Ralla yanked his spear from the peaty ground. “Now we’re gone from here. We’ll wash the glen with Berserker blood on another day, I promise you.”
Turning, he walked away, taking a narrow goat path that wound along the deepest defiles of Nought’s formidable peaks. He went swiftly and with sure, long strides, knowing his men would follow.
Ban, the dirk-wielder, caught up with him first. “I know how to handle uppity females. I’d have the Cameron bitch after you’re done with her.”
“And so you shall,” Ralla agreed. “But not before the others.”
No man would want her once she’d been at Ban’s mercy.
Ralla treated his men equally, showing no favoritism. Only so could he expect men to carry spears for him. He was a fair and generous leader. When the time came, they’d all enjoy Isobel of Haven.
Then they’d send her to hell.
She’d already lost his attention.
Isobel watched Kendrew’s brows draw together as he glanced past her to where the largest cookfire blazed near the rocks at the base of Nought’s highest peaks. Well-burning torches circled the fire pit, lending to the festive air, and a whole ox roasted in the fire’s leaping flames. The wind was just turning, treating them to the tantalizing aroma of perfectly done meat. Yet Kendrew frowned as if eyeing a cauldron of warty toads seasoned with newt fingers.
His gaze flickered over the soaring cliffs, red-gold in the firelight. He took a step forward as he stared, his fists clenching at his sides. But then his face cleared and he turned back to her.
“Your name, sweet.” His smile flashed as he came closer. Holding her gaze, he touched her face again, this time gliding his knuckles along her cheek and then down her neck. “I’d know what a lass as fair as you is called.”
“I am Isobel.” Her voice was strong. In this, a point of honor, she couldn’t lie. Though she wished he hadn’t prodded her. “Isobel of—”
“Of the Ambers,” he decided, fingering her necklace, clearly thinking she was a joy woman from Rannoch Moor. “ ’Tis a fitting name.”
He released the gemstones and gave her another of his crooked smiles. “Though I vow you are worth a thousand such baubles.”
Isobel’s heart pounded. “The necklace was a gift.”
“No doubt.” His gaze dropped to her bosom, lingering there before returning to her face. “And I would reward you with a much greater treasure. Some say”—he leaned in, lowering his voice—“that all the world’s gold lies buried beneath the dreagan stones.”
Isobel lifted her chin. “I do not want your wealth.”
She wanted him.
So she looked into his eyes, directly. “Riches have little meaning to me.”
“Then you are a maid like no other.” His smile deepened. “Now I know the gods have looked after me this e’en.”
“Perhaps they desired us to meet?” Isobel couldn’t believe her boldness.
“The gods are aye wise.” Kendrew’s voice was rough, his eyes dark with hunger. “They ken what’s good for a man.”
“Aye, they do.” She took a breath, struggling not to sweep her hands against her skirts, dashing the dampness from her palms.
She couldn’t lose courage now.
Not when desire crackled in the air between them, filling her with hot, shivery anticipation. Blood racing, she glanced about, the tremulous sensation increasing when she saw they were alone.
All around them, the spear-thumping continued, the sound oddly muted as if the stone-knocking belonged to another place and time. The scream of pipes, drum beats, and raucous laughter came loudest from near the cookfires where carousers were gathering to dance.
Yet here, beneath Slag’s Mound…
Isobel glanced at Kendrew, and then back at the empty landscape. She saw only broken rock, heather, and bracken. The dark peaks that pressed so close, guarding the tight stony vale. The land’s fierceness quickened her blood. She almost felt light-headed.
Nothing but shadow and mist surrounded them. The drifting smoke, so redolent of roasting meat and laced with just a trace of sweet, heady mead. All else was still, the world holding its breath.
The isolation was thrilling.
She should be alarmed, her maidenly sensibilities on high alert, urging her to run. Instead, she ached to touch Kendrew’s muscled chest and arms, tracing her fingers along his blue kill-marks and then gliding her hands lower, learning his mysteries as he kissed her deeply.
“Perhaps the gods make mistakes.” It was a feeble attempt to regain her ladylike dignity.
She failed miserably.
“Norse gods?” Kendrew laughed and shook his head. “They make mischief. And they make merry.” His lips curved in a slow, dangerous smile. “Erring isn’t in their nature. They see and know all. It’s no good thing to ignore their wisdom.” He stepped closer, his body almost touching hers. “We daren’t offend them.”
Isobel met his gaze, aware of the implication behind his words.
He wanted her.
And he meant for them to enjoy the same wild and uninhibited carnality going on throughout the narrow vale, beyond the wall of mist and the shielding bulk of Slag’s Mound where couples whirled and danced around the bonfires. And then—she knew—they fell in a tangle of arms and legs onto the cold, stony ground, mating furiously.
That was what he wished to do with her.
He could mean nothing else.
“Oh, dear.” Isobel’s nerves surfaced, unwelcome and annoying, but there all the same.
He gripped her chin then, his gaze piercing. “You tempt me greatly, Isobel of the Ambers. I’d have you here and now, before Odin and in the shadow of Slag’s Mound.”
He slid his thumb back and forth over her lower lip, softly. The caress sent shocking waves of pleasure spilling through her, hot and sweet. He arched a brow, clearly waiting for her consent. For all his roguishness, no one denied how much he respected women. He’d go no further unless she indicated that she wanted more.
And she did.
Guilt lanced her. Gently bred women weren’t supposed to feel lust. But she’d felt such a strong physical attraction to him since the trial by combat. Even more powerfully, his boldness drew her. His Norse blood proved irresistible. They shared so much.
He was a man like no other.
And the look on his face as he touched her lip so gently was making her burst with longing.
Isobel shivered, knowing she was lost. “Yes…”
She let her voice trail off, not quite brave enough to put such wanton desires into plain words. He surely knew what she meant.
Proving it, he grinned. “Then come here.” He pulled her close, so near that she was crushed to his hard-muscled body. Sweeping a hand down her back, he splayed his fingers over the curve of her bottom, drawing her against him. She felt his arousal now, his hardness pressing sensitive places, stirring need within her. “Let me kiss you.”
“Then do.” Her voice was stronger this time, his touch melting her. He traced her jaw with his thumb and her skin warmed there, tiny shivers slipping down her neck and lower. She gazed up at him, her breath catching at the fierce desire in his eyes.
“Och, I will kiss you and more. This is a night to amuse the gods, and ourselves.” The red glow from the bonfires glinted in his rich auburn hair and made the heavy gold of the Thor’s hammer at his neck gleam brightly. He’d never looked more wild, or so appealing.
“I want you, lass.” He stroked her cheek. “Ne’er you worry.”
“I’m not worried.” She wasn’t.
She was excited. The sensations she felt gathering inside her, heady and delicious.
He looked down at her, his broad shoulders blocking out the high peaks behind him, narrowing the world to just the two of them. “That’s good, because we’re about to set fire to the heavens.”
Kendrew grinned, the laughter lines at the corners of his blue eyes deepening. “We’ll light a blaze to warm the mead halls of Valhalla.”
Isobel’s heart flipped. “Valhalla, yes…”
Then, somehow, she found herself backed against the high, stone-built cairn, his hands braced on either side of her head as his mouth descended, slanting roughly over hers. His kiss was hot, deep, and bruising. Her entire body caught flame and she twined her arms around his shoulders, thrusting her fingers into his hair. She needed and wanted him so much. Her heart beat faster, blood thrumming in her veins as she parted her lips, letting his tongue plunge deep to tangle with hers in a kiss more heated than her dreams.
Somewhere near—or distant, it was hard to tell—a great rumbling of stone shook the earth, the low, thundery sound echoing along the stark and jagged cliffs hemming the rock-strewn vale.
“Dear saints!” Isobel froze, her eyes flying wide.
Tremors rippled through the ground and even the polished silver sky seemed to quiver. Around them, the swirling smoke and mist eddied, caught in an unseen wind as the stone-thunder slowly faded.
Kendrew broke the kiss, sweeping her up in his arms and turning away from the cairn. “See there”—he looked down at her, his smile flashing—“the dreagans are taken with you, Isobel of the Ambers. That was their roar just now, praising your beauty.”
Isobel smiled. “I thought they didn’t exist?”
“Who is to say?” He shrugged away a more direct answer. “Though”—he bent to kiss her brow—“I’ll no’ have you frightened. More like, thon rumble was a bit o’ rock rolling down the brae.”
“I’d say a landslide.” Isobel glanced at the cliffs, so dark and brooding.
“Aye,” Kendrew agreed, then fell silent as he followed her gaze. Another frown touched his brow, but briefly, disappearing almost faster than she’d noticed. “Falling rock is no’ uncommon here.”
Isobel shivered. The air was cold and damp now, and…
Somehow her bodice laces had come undone. Her gown gaped wide, open to her waist. Night wind kissed her skin, raising chill bumps. Kendrew was pulling her sleeves down from her shoulders and freeing her arms, releasing them from her gown’s constraints. His plaid was still in place, the red-based tartan bright against the whirling mist. The contrast made her feel even more vulnerable.
“Oh…” She forgot all about rock-thunder.
“Odin, but you’re lovely.” Appreciation shone in Kendrew’s eyes, his gaze devouring her. “Let me look at you, see the bounty the gods have sent me.”
“You are looking.” Isobel could feel her face coloring.
“So I am.” He didn’t deny it.
He did snatch up what looked like a black-furred blanket and tossed it over his arm, the dark pelt cooled by the night’s chill.
Isobel knew why he’d grabbed the fur and the knowledge slammed through her. Anticipation made her heart pound. Her emotions unraveled, whirling until nothing mattered except his strong arms holding her and the way he kept lowering his head to kiss her hair. He rubbed his face against the side of her neck, breathing deep as if he were scenting her, perhaps savoring her taste.
Her skin prickled at the scintillating thought. Stunning expectation beat through her, shivery warmth that lit across her nerves and caused a languorous, weighty sensation deep inside her.
She almost forgot to breathe.
He smoothed back her hair, leaning down to nip at the soft hollow beneath her ear. Slow, tight heat wound through the lowest part of her belly, making her tremble. She caught her lip, certain she’d never felt anything quite so wondrous, so tantalizing.
He grinned. “I could eat you whole, be warned. I’d start at the top of your head and make my way down to your sweet, wee toes, tasting every place in between. The gods know I’m tempted.” He slung the fur over his arm and started down the side of the cairn, his strides sure as he crossed the stony ground.
Isobel darted a look at the blanket. Wicked images of them naked and entwined on the dark-glistening fur flashed across her mind.
Surprisingly, she didn’t feel a shiver of shame.
She did have to tamp down her doubts. A well-lusted man, Kendrew’s blood likely heated for any comely female. Attracting him hadn’t been hard. Pleasing him once he started kissing her again, when he’d no doubt pull her tight against the hard, masculine length of his body, and if—she darted another look at the fur—they were to lie down together, pressed skin to naked skin…
That was a different matter.
She didn’t want to disappoint him.
“My bearskin,” he spoke then, catching her glance at the pelt. “No maid has ever lain upon its fur.” His gaze raked her breasts, his expression so heated she would’ve sworn liquid flames were bathing her. “Not till you, this night.
“You make me burn for you.” He stopped before a patch of heather, sheltered by the cairn. His eyes darkened as he looked at her. Then he tossed the bearskin onto the ground and lowered his head to kiss her, still holding her clutched tight in his arms.
This kiss was just as roughly demanding as before, hot, hungry, and crushing. Full of tongue and breath, it was also shockingly intimate because he swept a hand across her breasts, rubbing and squeezing, as he plundered her mouth. He took her nipples between his thumb and fingers, rolling and pulling the tightened peaks. She arched in his arms as sensation raced through her, the pleasure almost too intense.
“That’s my lass…” He was palming her now, his big, calloused hand so sweet against her skin. He kept kissing her, his heady male scent flooding her senses, making her dizzy. His tongue was masterful, sliding and dancing with hers, coaxing her to respond.
And she did. She even rocked her hips, giving herself up to the ancient, time-honored needs welling inside her. Womanly cravings that urged her on to the heated, carnal bliss she knew only he could give her. Powerful yearnings that felt so natural, that all her inhibitions spun away, leaving only raw, aching desire.
He set her on her feet and pushed the hair back from her shoulders. “Sweet lass, what have you done to me?” Pulling her close, he kissed her face and her throat. Then he swept lower, dragging bold, urgent kisses across the top swells of her breasts, grazing her nipples with his teeth. “You turn my head as no other.”
“I am glad.” She plunged her fingers into his hair, holding him against her breasts, melting when he swirled his tongue across her nipples.
Somewhere stones rumbled again, but the sound was more distant this time, muffled by the thickening mist rolling down from the higher mountains.
Isobel shivered, a flicker of ill ease slipping down her spine.
Kendrew didn’t seem to notice.
Instead, he dropped to his knees on the bearskin and pulled her into his arms, lowering her back against the pelt. Heavy mist drifted between them and Slag’s Mound. Almost impenetrable, the fog hovered, blotting the cairn and the other strange outcroppings from view.
Now was Isobel’s chance.
She reached for him. “Please.” She spoke boldly, hoping he’d be fast and eager so he wouldn’t notice her purity before it was too late.
“Och, I’ll please you, Isobel-lass.” He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed her palm, nibbling the flesh beneath her thumb. Then he laced her fingers with his and raised her arm above her head, looking down at her in a way that set her blood to racing.
“My only wish is to pleasure you.” He leaned over her, his eyes dark as he slid his free hand down her side and lower, gripping the hem of her gown and pulling it upward, baring her legs.
“This night and”—his hand slipped between her thighs, cupping her neediest place, squeezing—“mayhap a few more nights if you’ll stay.”
Isobel stiffened, his words reminding her that he still believed she was a light-skirt from Rannoch Moor. But he was moving his fingers over her most intimate place. And the thrilling tingles rushing over her chased the worries from her mind. His touch seared her, giving her breathless, almost dizzying pleasure.
“O-o-oh…” She turned her head, closing her eyes. She reveled in the tantalizing magic of his hand lighting across the very top of her thighs, then stroking and teasing her secret places. Each questing touch proved wickedly exciting. It was exquisite bliss, and she wanted to drown in the wonder of every new sensation.
Nothing had prepared her for such headiness.
Feeling almost intoxicated, she started rocking her hips again. And she made no protest when he lifted her knees and urged them open. His caresses turned hotter, more deliberate, as he explored her intimately. Tingling heat curled low in her belly, a startling tension that quickened her breath. She felt exhilarated, aware of something urgent and desperately necessary that hovered just beyond her reach. And whatever it was, she wanted it.
“Kendrew…” She breathed his name, stunned that this between them was so much greater than she’d expected at Castle Haven, in Catriona’s bedchamber.
Tempestuous passion beyond her wildest imaginings, and so right that she knew their connection swept past their carnal attraction and straight into the deepest corners of their hearts. She felt that, knew it by the glowing happiness spreading through her, warming her soul.
The shocking pleasure between her thighs turned into an exquisite, aching hunger as his fingers drifted over her. He looked deep into her eyes as he touched her, and the dark passion smoldering in his gaze intensified the intimacy.
She arched her back, pressing against his hand. Her entire body felt hot, heavy with yearning. “Dear sweet saints—”
“No’ yet, precious.” His voice was low and deep, roughened by lust. “We’ve the whole night before us.”
Isobel’s heart skittered. Again, she felt a flutter of nerves.
She wanted so much more than this one night.
But she’d think of that later, when the moment came to tell him her clan name. Just now she was lost in sensual awakening, tumbling deep into a sweet, mind-numbing abyss. Then he circled his thumb over a spot that gave her such prickling, concentrated pleasure she’d swear the stars fell from the sky to glitter around them.
“Sweet lass…” He nipped her ear, and then claimed her lips in a deep, open-mouthed kiss. His tongue tangled with hers, desire mounting.
“I could kiss you all the night through.” He stretched out beside her now, rolling on top of her, stroking the insides of her thighs until she let her knees fall even wider apart, welcoming him.
Anticipation rippled through her, taking her breath when his manhood nudged her where his fingers had teased her only moments before. Hot, granite-hard, and as silky-smooth as her gown, that part of him slid back and forth against her, the intimacy scalding.
“Isobel of the Ambers, you are beautiful.” He pulled her skirts higher, bunching her gown about her hips, freeing her of that last shred of modesty.
She didn’t care, glorying in the heat of his big, strong body looming over her. She even reveled in the rush of cold air on her naked, most private places. And how he deepened their kiss, letting his tongue slip slowly in and out of her parted lips, the sinuous gliding a preparation for what was about to come.
She was ready.
This wasn’t a sacrifice, but something she wanted desperately.
Then he was reaching down between them, positioning his length to claim her at last.
“Kendrew…” She didn’t care if he heard the yearning in her voice. She did slide her arms around his shoulders, gripping tight, urging him on.
Her heart was splitting.
Then he entered her and that part of her split, too. Fiery, stinging heat stabbed into her vitals, her innermost place clamping tight, protesting the intrusion. He froze above her, his head thrown back, and his neck and shoulder muscles straining. A terrible, snarl-like growl rumbled low in his chest, escaping through his clenched teeth as his manhood jerked against her softness. Molten warmth touched her, damping her thighs.
Surely so, but he didn’t move. He just drew a quick breath as if in agony. Isobel knew he was partly inside her. The burning pain was too great otherwise. It hurled sharp waves across her most tender places, squeezing her chest, stealing her breath.
“Don’t stop.” She curled her hand around his neck, pulling his mouth back down to her, kissing him deeply. She put all her passion in the kiss, hoping to distract him from her annoying tightness.
The pureness she knew would turn him from her.
“It’s been a while, see you…” She twirled her tongue around his, holding the back of his head, not letting him pull away.
She tried to sound worldly. She even nipped his lower lip, hoping to seem seductive, knowledgeable in the ways of men and pleasuring them.
“Then you’re no’ ready.” He broke her kiss, lifting up on his arms to look at her. “And I—no woman has e’er driven me to spill so…” He didn’t finish.
He was frowning.
“I thought…” His face was fierce, confused, and disappointed.
“There’s nothing wrong,” Isobel lied, not daring to tell him she was a maid.
“Humph.” He didn’t look convinced. Far from it, he pushed up on his knees, reaching for her raised skirts, surely meaning to pull down the gown, covering her.
Before he could, his eyes rounded and he leaped to his feet, staring down at her as if she’d grown horns and a long, forked tail.
“Sakes!” He jammed his hands on his hips, suspicion all over him. “You weren’t ‘not ready,’ you were a virgin! And a lady, I’ll vow.” He sounded livid, his eyes blazing. “Why else wear such a dagger on your thigh?”
“Dagger?” Isobel blinked. She’d forgotten Catriona’s bejeweled lady’s dirk, strapped near the top of her right leg. And, she realized, hidden by her bunched skirts until this moment.
“It’s for defense.” She spoke true. “No lady would traipse through the glen without—”
“So it’s true.” The horror on Kendrew’s face alerted her to her mistake.
Isobel sat up, horror washing through her, too. “Times have been fraught here of late.” She tried to deflect his attention from her gaffe. “There were broken men about mere months ago, making trouble after the trial by combat. Even in Rannoch Moor, one hears—”
“You are no Rannoch wench.” He threw his plaid back over his shoulder, brushing angrily at the folds. “Thon women have no need to protect themselves from brigands. They greet every man gladly. Nor”—he was scowling now—“would they possess such a dagger as yours.
“Such a woman might earn an amber necklace, aye. A pretty bauble for a night well spent.” His voice was cold, the words harsh. “She wouldn’t own a gem-crusted lady’s dirk. A dagger of such worth could buy her a fine house in Glasgow, servants to attend her. She’d turn her treasure into good, hard coin. Only a true gentle-born female would carry such a blade strapped to her thigh.”
The look he gave her was like a fist to the heart. “Or will you be denying it?”
Isobel scrambled to her feet, shoving her arms into her sleeves. “The dagger is not mine.”
“I dinnae believe you.” Kendrew folded his arms, a different man than moments ago. His face grew as hard as the dreagan stones, his eyes as dark as the mist. “I also doubt your name is Isobel.”
“It is.” Her heart was sinking, the night’s cold suddenly icy, the bright silver sky now gray and dismal. “The dagger belongs to my good-sister, Catriona. She didn’t think I should make the journey here without—”
“Great Odin’s balls!” Kendrew’s brows shot upward. “You’re Isobel Cameron!” He reeled back as if someone twice his size had punched him. All color drained from his face, his expression setting off a flurry of panic inside her. “You’re Cameron’s sister. How could I not have recognized you?”
He shook his head, disbelief rolling off him. “And now I’ve sullied you. A great regret.”
“No.” Isobel started forward, reaching for him. “You’ve done nothing I didn’t desire.” Her voice cracked, shameful heat stinging her eyes. “I wanted to see you tonight so I slipped away—”
“You didn’t come here to be ravished.” He slammed the ball of his palm against his forehead, pacing back and forth in front of her. “Never in my life have I lain with a virgin, a daughter of good house. I’ve prided myself on my restraint, challenged other men, even banishing a few from my guard when they caused the fall of an innocent. Now…”
“Nothing has happened.” Isobel knew that wasn’t true.
The world was ending.
Pain lanced her chest, making it so hard to breathe. His rejection stunned her, plunging her into darkness. She felt chilled, hollow inside. She should have been more patient, waited until he finally heeded her brother’s invitations, came to Haven.
She swallowed, wishing the burning in her eyes wasn’t making it so difficult to see. “Nothing terrible happened,” she said again, trying to banish the awful look from his face. “You didn’t—”
“I touched you.” He whirled to face her. “That’s enough. I stole your most prized possession. I—” He broke off, looking ready to murder.
“You didn’t hurt me.” Isobel went to him, touching his arm. “Please, it is Midsummer Eve. I am fine and no harm was done. Can we not just—”
“I don’t pillage virgins.” He jerked away from her, stepping back as if she’d scalded him. “Nor do I touch ladies of any sort. Not even the ones who’d willingly share their charms. I thought you were one of the Rannoch women. And if this hadn’t been Midsummer Eve, if I hadn’t been so muddle-headed from the revels, I’d have seen right away that you’re no common light-skirt.
“I would’ve sent you home to Castle Haven faster than you can blink. And”—he crossed back over to her, towering above her—“that’s what I’ll be doing now. You’ll be on your way as soon as I gather a few stout men to escort you. I’d take you myself, but that’s no longer wise.”
“You’re making a grave error.” Isobel lifted her chin, getting angry now.
“My mistake was jumping down off Slag’s Mound.” He glared at her. “Be sure I’ll ne’er do anything so foolhardy again. For certain I’ll no’ commit such nonsense with James Cameron’s sister.”
“I am Isobel.” She held his gaze, knew her eyes were blazing. “Simply Isobel.”
“You are—” He snapped his mouth shut, his brows lowering in a ferocious scowl.
“I am a woman who admired you.” Isobel kept her back straight. “I have done so a while. And this night I also desired you, greatly.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder, striving for dignity. “I see no shame in what happened between us.”
“You speak plain.” The coldness of his tone squeezed her like a vise.
“I always do.” She lifted her brows infinitesimally. “Someday you might realize that such a quality is worth even more than a woman’s breasts, the over-ripe charms of a female who ‘greets all men gladly.’ ”
She lifted her chin and tugged on her sleeves, adjusting them. Then, because the devil was riding her, she gave him a small, chilly smile.
He looked at her, his mouth set in a hard, tight line. “Dinnae think to try such foolery again, Lady Isobel. I’ll no’ be responsible for my actions if you do.”
Isobel hardly heard him.
His words didn’t matter. It was his expression that made her heart lurch. The bitterness in his tone that let her know how much he regretted what had happened.
Quite possibly he detested her.
She was now more than halfway in love with him.
And she’d ruined everything. Her only option was to get away from him, leaving his sight and land with as much pride and grace as she could muster. And that wouldn’t be easy with her eyes so bright and her chin threatening to quiver, her bodice laces still loose and her hair tumbling to her hips in wild disorder.
She looked a fright and felt worse.
But she was also a Cameron.
A daughter of the Glen of Many Legends, and she did have steel in her blood. She possessed the strength of generations and an iron, unbending will. And even if she bled rivers inside, she’d be damned if anyone would know she’d been so terribly wounded.
So she took a deep breath and shook out her skirts, preparing for a grand exit. “There were three Rannoch Moor lovelies looking for you earlier.” She used her coolest, most ladylike tone. “If you hurry, you might catch them before another of your men takes the opportunity. I do believe”—she glanced round, then pointed to the bonfires—“they went that way.”
Not surprisingly, he looked to where she gestured.
Isobel took advantage, hitching her skirts and marching away through the mist and rock whence she’d come. She didn’t hurry and she kept her back straight, her head high, as she made her way over the broken ground. She could feel Kendrew’s furious stare boring into her. But she didn’t glance back, not giving him the satisfaction.
They’d meet again, she knew.
And the next time she’d wield a more powerful weapon than lust. She knew him better now. And she suspected that the one thing he most wanted was the very thing he professed to avoid: a lady.
She was that, as well he knew.
He already desired her.
Sooner or later, he’d accept what they’d both learned this night, however ghastly the encounter ended. They were perfect for each other. And their passion, now unleashed, would drive them back together.
It was only a matter of time.
Excerpted from Temptation of a Highland Scoundrel by Welfonder, Sue-Ellen Copyright © 2011 by Welfonder, Sue-Ellen. Excerpted by permission.
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