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Authors: Kimberly Killion

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BOOK: Taming a Highland Devil
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Magnus nearly dropped Uncle Frazier when Lady Reay came barreling down the stairwell.

“Laird Sutherland.” She pushed a half-dozen red curls away from her eyes and stared at him with wide green eyes. “I thought…” She looked up the stairwell, then back. “Well, I…”

“What is it, lass?” Magnus asked impatiently, perplexed by her behavior.

She opened her mouth then closed it, then opened it again. “I…I was on my way to the kitchen. Sylvie’s broth was a wee bit watered down, but dinnae tell her I said as much.”

“Ye dinnae need my permission to go to the kitchen, m’lady.” He stepped up, but she continued to block his path.

“Mayhap ye could join me.” She smoothed the front of her kirtle then flattened her hand over her stomach.

Was she blind? Did she not notice the man growing heavier in his arms? “I would like that, but I need to see my uncle to bed first.”

“Of course. I’ll assist ye.” She looked at Uncle Frazier and dipped a hurried curtsey. “I do not believe we’ve been introduced. I’m Effie.” She raised her skirt and started back up the stairs. “Ye must be Laird Sutherland’s uncle. Sylvie talks very highly of ye. She said ye taught the laird how to wield a sword. I suspect he was an apt pupil…”

Magnus exchanged a look with his uncle as that’s all the more he could do since Lady Reay barely paused for air. She continued to blather as they walked side by side toward his uncle’s chamber. Every few steps she checked over her shoulder, but for what, he did not know. The woman was as fidgety as a whore in the confessional.

“Is someone following ye, m’lady?”

“Nay.” She stopped wringing her hands long enough to open the door to his uncle’s chamber, then much to Magnus’ surprise, she pulled back the coverlet and waited for him to set the crippled man in his bed. She acted as if she assisted him with his uncle every night, and for the first time in a long time, Uncle Frazier didn’t hide his face in shame.

“Ye are the elder Mackay, aye?” Uncle Frazier raised his arms while she tucked the bedding around him.

“I am the wiser Mackay.” When she winked at his uncle a small ache pressed against Magnus’ chest.

It was a rarity to find a smile curving Uncle Frazier’s lips, so consumed by pride as he was, but Lady Reay managed to squeeze one out of him with little effort. He’d lost the use of his legs years past and was at Magnus’ mercy, which made the man surly at best. However, something about Lady Reay’s nonchalance softened his uncle’s resolve. Before Magnus knew it, they were discussing ways to protect their borders from Clan Ross.

“Perhaps Clan Sutherland can align with Clan Ross.” Based on Lady Reay’s suggestions, Magnus knew she didn’t share her brother’s desire for war. She wanted peace, the same as he.

“The strife between our clans goes back generations.” Uncle Frazier covered his mouth to unsuccessfully hide a yawn.

“Forgive my chatter.” Lady Reay rose from the edge of the bed. “I am keeping ye from your rest.”

“Ye are welcome to pull my ear anytime. In fact, I’d like the council to hear your ideas. Mayhap we could break our fast together on the morrow.”

“I would like that verra much.” Lady Reay clasped her hands in front of her and raised her chin. She possessed the demeanor of a queen—elegant, strong and intelligent. ’Twas a shame she was so thick in the skull, for she was a woman he would have proudly called wife.

Uncle Frazier found Magnus standing at the foot of the bed. “She’s the one, Maggie. I care not what my sister thinks.”

Unfortunately, Lady Reay didn’t want to be
the one
. Magnus sighed and cupped her elbow. “Come, m’lady. I happen to know where the larderer hides the peach sauce.” He waited for her to step into the corridor before bidding his uncle good night. “Sleep well, Uncle.”

“Your mother wishes for ye to marry Vanna?” Lady Reay asked as they descended the stairwell.

“My mother is a cold, callous woman who believes the sole duty of the laird’s wife is to provide the clan with a male heir.”

“Are ye of a different opinion?”

“I am.” He didn’t elaborate. What purpose would it serve? Lady Reay had already expressed her wishes.

Magnus escorted her to a kitchen smelling of spices and yeast, then proceeded to serve her an oatcake drizzled with peach sauce. “Lainie and Laura would have my head if they knew I was sharing their preserves.”

Lady Reay unexpectedly frowned at him as he slid into the bench beside her. “Are they your mistresses?”

“Nay.” He wished she didn’t think him such a whoremonger. “They are my five-year-old nieces.”

“Oh.” Lady Reay’s thin brows rose. “I should like to hear more about them.”

“They are completely unruly, but clever, like Eoghan was.” Guilt always accompanied thoughts of his brother.

“He died,” she guessed.

Magnus nodded, but gained comfort in knowing her sympathetic look was one of understanding.

“Ann-Elise was my smart one. She could talk before she could walk.” Lady Reay’s green eyes shone with unshed tears and caused a pinch in his chest.

“Lainie was the same.” Magnus attempted to save her from her memories and soon found himself entertaining her with stories of his kinfolk. He shared the good memories, the tales of how he and his brothers had made Mam want to throw herself off a cliff. Those were the memories that made him smile. Why had he buried them so deep?

“When Ann-Elise was naught but four winters, I found her tied to a tree.” Lady Reay chuckled beneath her breath and touched his forearm. “My son was using her as bait to trap a dragon.”

They exchanged stories about their kin until he could no longer focus on the conversation. The more comfortable she became, the closer she got, making breathing a struggle. The base notes of berries and clover had followed her back from the chandlers and made him twitch every time she leaned into him. He tripped over his words as he watched her chew, mesmerized by the glossy sheen coating her full lips.

Soon, all he could think about was kissing her.

He blew a frustrated breath and forced his eyes away, then busied himself by tidying up. His desire for her was strong, that much he admitted. And the fact she’d refused his attention made him want her all the more. However, he’d also come to respect her, and that was precisely the reason he needed to quell this attraction. He’d been wrong to think he could choose one of them without hurting the other. And the last thing he wanted to do was hurt the woman before him.

He needed to accept her decision as final and focus on the woman he would soon take to wife. “If ye will excuse me, I do believe I’ll pay a visit to my betrothed before I retire.”

Nay!
Effie jumped to her feet. She felt her eyes widen and her heart whack her ribs. There was a part of her that wanted to let him discover her sister’s betrayal, but responsibility prevented her from allowing such an event to take place. She’d failed to rear Vanna properly and felt compelled to protect her. “What if I asked ye not to?”

Laird Sutherland gave her a sidelong glance. “I would need to know why.”

She could lie. She could tell him Vanna was indisposed. “Mayhap I’ve changed my mind about vying for your affections.” The words came out before she’d thought them through.

He stepped close, curled her hair behind her ear, then cradled her head in his palm. “Nothing would please me more.”

Her skin tingled beneath his fingertips. Her pulse fluttered around a knot in her throat. He was going to kiss her, and the anticipation was nearly more than she could bear. The silver flecks in his blue irises glittered as he leaned down and caressed her lips with his mouth. He did it again, eyes closed this time, and the sweet tenderness of his kiss made her want to weep. When he swept her mouth with his tongue, she responded with a startled catch of her breath.

He pulled back. “Have ye changed your mind again?”

“Nay,” she answered quickly.

“Do ye fear me?”

“I fear the wanting of ye.” She coiled her fingers into his thick black mane and lowered his head back to hers. His lips were soft, yet firm, his tongue wild and demanding. A hint of mint hid beneath the flavor of peaches—a delicious blend that caused her mouth to water. But what made her lightheaded was the undeniable heat of him. Sparks flickered in her belly and tingles rose up her thighs. When those two sensations met, the result was a fierce ache burning in her sex.

His arms circled her, gently at first, then his muscles flexed, sharpened to hewn-cut stone. Without breaking the connection between their mouths, he sat her atop a chopping block, stepped between her spread knees and slid his mouth down her neck.

She sucked in air, her eyes blinked open, searching, while vibrations hummed throughout her entire body. Her breasts ached, her nipples hardened to rock-hard pebbles and her mons swelled between her legs. Her arousal took control of her, made her willing, wanton and afraid.

“I have never desired a woman more than I desire ye right now,” he whispered against her skin and brushed his lips along her collarbone.

“’Tis the same for me,” she admitted and tightened her knees around his hips. While she had intended to protect her sister’s transgression, Effie now wanted to give in to her desires. Mayhap she was being selfish, but she wanted him. And she wanted him now.

Laird Sutherland untied the laces of her undertunic and pressed a kiss over her heart. He lingered there, mending the wounds that had pained her for so long, filling the emptiness inside her with silent promises, with hope. Tears stung her eyes so powerful were the emotions he stirred in her. She wanted to hold on to the feeling. She wanted to hold on to him. Not for a night. Not for a sennight. For forever.

She released the pin binding his
plaide
at his shoulder and suckled the leathered skin of his neck. He tasted of salt and sweat and man, and the combination sent her head spinning.

When she kissed the scar on his throat, he seized her hands and drifted away. “Ye dinnae have to do that.”

Anger puckered her brow. She snapped her hands out of his hold and glared at him. “Ye asked me if I feared ye, and the truth is, I do. I fear trusting ye. I fear what will happen to my heart if I offer it to ye. But I’m no coward.” She poked him. “As terrifying as the prospect is to me, I let ye in. I allowed ye to touch my heart. I allowed ye to kiss
my
scars.”

He snorted and kept his eyes guarded. “Ye have no scars. Your skin is flawless.”

“Ye are wrong. My scars are here.” She pressed his hand against her heart. “Think ye because I’m a woman I’ve not suffered the repercussions of war? My enemy’s blade cut a hole in my chest and left my arms empty.” She wished she didn’t feel so alone. She wished she had someone left to care for. Memories of her family filled her mind’s eye and pushed tears over her lids. She swiped them away, not wanting to cry.

When Laird Sutherland raised his gaze back to her, she saw the promise in his eyes before he verbalized it. “I could fill that hole. I could fill your arms and heal your scars.”

Oh, she wanted that. She nigh ached for it to the very core of her being, but she also wanted to feel needed. “And I yours, if ye will let me.” She peeled apart the seams of his undertunic to expose a multitude of pink lines crisscrossing his chest. He’d been stabbed, sliced, his skin grated. She reached out and traced a jagged red line that wrapped around his ribs, hoping he’d let her in.

Tendons stood out in his neck. His hands fisted beside her knees. “I took a mace to the side at Strathfleet trying to save my uncle.”

She touched a white line running parallel to his ribs. “And this one?”

The knot in his throat bobbed. His lashes lowered. “When I was fourteen winters, I carried my father’s targe to the boundaries of our land where we thought reivers had been stealing our livestock. We were attacked by a band of Ross warriors. Da demanded I go back, but I wanted to fight.” Laird Sutherland shook his head in remembrance. “I told him I wanted to know what it felt like to have blood on my sword. Da cut me with my own blade and said, ‘Now ye know what it feels like.’ He sent me back with instructions to look after Mam and my younger brother, Eoghan, then promised me he would return.”

“Did he?”

“Nay.” Pain deepened his voice as his mind seemed to drift farther into the past. “Da and my eldest brother died which left Sionn in charge. He ruled for three years before he too died fighting against our enemies. I inherited the chieftainship after that, and with my uncle’s guidance, we thrived for years in peace until the Battle of Bloody Bay. The day we set out for the coast, I foolishly promised Eoghan’s wife I would bring him home safe.”

Laird Sutherland didn’t have to tell her his brother never came home. She knew.

“Jocelyn lost the boy she was carrying when I told her I had broken my promise.”

What Effie saw marring his skin were medallions of honor, reminders of victories and losses, but she also saw a man in pain. Vanna was too superficial to see the person behind the scars. She would never be able to heal him the way Effie could. “If I was your wife, would ye make me such promises?”

He shook his head and kissed her fingers. “I am a warrior. I must fight to protect my kin, but while I’m here, I vow to cherish ye like no other.”

BOOK: Taming a Highland Devil
5.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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