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Warrior of the highlands, p.29
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       Warrior of the Highlands, p.29

         Part #3 of Highlands series by Veronica Wolff  
Page 29

 

  “I believe you. ” He stroked her cheek. “I don't understand your story, but I believe it. ”

  Tears sprang to her eyes. “Really?” Something deep in her core unspooled. She hadn't fully realized just how terrified she'd been. Terrified that he wouldn't believe her. Terrified she'd be left on her own.

  But most of all, Haley had been terrified she'd misunderstood why she was sent back. Because she knew the reason now. She'd been sent back in time to him. For him.

  “It's you,” she managed. “You're why I'm here. ”

  “Aye. ” Emotion tore his voice to gravel. “And I'm the reason you'll stay. ”

  Stay. Could she? What of her family? Her life? To stay would be to forsake her old world forever.

  She roved her eyes over MacColla's face. His mouth, full, with lips slightly parted, ready to take her, taste her. His eyes, in which she'd witnessed such ferocity, now vulnerable, naked with affection, only for her.

  Yes, she thought. Maybe. Stay.

  For awhile.

  He kissed her then, soft and slow, and it was the tightest thing she'd ever known.

  * * *

  “Can we swim?” Their destination was the Mull of Kintyre, and though all she knew of the place was sung by Paul McCartney and Wings, Haley was beside herself, excited to see what he claimed was a modest home in a glen by the sea.

  “You're a swimmer then too?” He shook his head. “Och, you're sure to impress my father now. ” He raised his brows in mock gravity. “You'd be wise, however, not to call the man Colkitto. ”

  Laughing, she asked again, “Well, can we?”

  “Swim? Aye, you can splash about. But I dare say you'll prefer a tub of hot water to the sea. 'Tis decidedly warmer. ”

  Oh God, a bath. Her body thrilled with it, every cell shrieking to attention. Suddenly her scalp, her back, her legs, all the parts that had been itching like mad flared into a raging prickly need for a thorough scrubbing.

  “Oh. ” She shuddered with anticipation. “A real bath? Will we be there tonight?”

  “Leannan” - he laughed and tousled her hair as if bemused by her silliness - “tonight? No indeed. It will take us days to get there. I'd say it's a full twenty leagues from where we stand. Or more. And there's still the matter of finding us horses. ”

  He blew out an exhale, looking longingly at the distant lake, now only a glittering patchwork through the trees. “A boat is what we really need. ” MacColla turned to her. He tried to mask a smile. She saw the devil in his eye and chose to ignore it. “Kintyre is almost an island, aye? A long bit of land hanging from the mainland like a, well… ”

  “Like a… ?”

  “Like a… long, thin… appendage dangling from the coast. ”

  She rolled her eyes. She'd been one sister among five brothers; she caught the joke. “Okay MacColla. I get it. It looks like a… ”

  “Peninsula,” he quickly added. “It looks like… aye, it is a peninsula. ”

  “Mmm-hm. ” Nodding her head, she bit back a grin.

  “Ah. ” he interjected, wisely changing the subject, “I do have a story about this strapping peninsula. ”

  She shot him a look.

  “'Twill shorten our walk,” he assured her.

  When she didn't protest, he began, “Kintyre didn't always belong to Scotland. ” He nodded solemnly, settling into his story. “Over five hundred years ago there lived a great Viking warrior. ”

  He paused to take her elbow, helping her over a fallen log then went on, “There'd been great fighting over who'd control the west of Scotland. ”

  MacColla's brogue thickened, drawing out his words. “Our good King Malcolm told King Barelegs - that was the Viking's name. ” Raising his brows, he grinned. “And a hard name to forget, aye?”

  His face lit, completely animated now, and Haley decided he'd picked up a bit of the Irish storytelling in his time away.

  “Malcolm told the Viking that he could keep whichever islands he was able to sail around. Well, Barelegs asked his men to drag his boat over the narrowest stretch of Kintyre, so set was he on having the land. ”

  “And did he do it?”

  “Oh, aye,” he laughed from deep in his belly, “and as the story goes, he sat proud as you please on the poop of that Viking longboat whilst his men hauled him across. ”

  As her laugh faded, she stopped in her tracks. Watched MacColla's back as he walked on for a few paces.

  Such a huge man. Six foot six, she estimated. Haley watched and admired the shift of muscles beneath his shirt, the flex of his iron calves with each step. His black hair was wild, swaying, brushing along his shoulders. And there was that tremendous sword reaching toward the ground at his back.

  He was such a surprise to her.

  Haley had heard of his ferocity, had seen it in his fight with the Campbells. She knew there were dark and vicious depths that she'd yet to understand.

  The warrior in him scared her. Could she love a man capable of such brutality?

  And yet she found she also anticipated seeing that side. God help her, she even hoped she'd see it, hoped one day she'd see Alasdair MacColla in action.

  Now her MacColla.

  A man so artlessly amused in the telling of his own stories.

  And capable of such passion. With a short fuse, it lit to consume him with warrior ferocity as quickly as it had brought words of love to his mouth.

  She watched his back for those few paces.

  Then he turned to see where she was. They were both silent for a moment. He tilted his head. “Did you not like my tale, then?”

  MacColla reached his hand out to her.

  She inhaled deeply, walked forward. Haley took his hand and said, “No, MacColla, I loved your tale. ”

  Those thick black brows of his furrowed suddenly.

  “What's the matter?” she asked.

  “Your feet, leannan. ” He dropped to his knees before her.

  “You're limping. ”

  With his hand wrapped around her thigh to steady her, he lifted the opposite foot and drew in his breath sharply.

  She put a hand at his shoulder for balance. “I'm all right. ”

  “Why'd you not tell me? Och,” he growled, and checked her other foot. “You've not the feet for such walking. ”

  He stood and abruptly swooped her into his arms. “You're a wildcat, aye, but with such tender wee paws. ”

  “Really, MacColla. ” He began to walk on and she pushed at his shoulders in a half-hearted protest. “You can't carry me all the way to Kintyre. ”

  “I would. ” He guided her arms around his neck. His smile was broad as he stole a kiss from her cheek. “If you asked it. ”

  “Well. I'm not going to ask it. ” She rested her head on him, her feet scissoring in the air and she let herself enjoy the feel of it. “So what's your plan then?”

  They were approaching a clearing. “My plan. ” he said as he set her gently down to lean against a tree near the edge of the copse, “is to see you rest here. We need horses. And, Iosh, but I need food. ”

  He leaned and kissed her forehead. “Don't move, leannan.

  And please don't get yourself abducted in my absence. ”

  He headed back into the forest. Turning, he walked backwards a few steps to say. “I'll return with food and ponies, my fair lass. ”

  MacColla spun and jogged away. Her smile grew weak.

  She'd rest, and think.

  And try to figure out how exactly she proposed to keep a war hero from dying.

  Chapter Twenty

  “A lass?!” Colkitto slammed his tankard onto the table and ale sloshed over the sides, puddling onto the well -scarred slab of wood. “What's my son doing mucking about the countryside with some lass?”

  Jean cut her eyes to Scrymgeour. She knew her father could make even the most dauntless of men quaver, particularly when he was in his drink. But Scrymgeour sat by her side, as placid as ever, and she was grateful.

  He glanced her way and she spared him a quick, shy smile. At times like this, she felt chagrined by her father's behavior. She wondered what Scrymgeour thought of them. Of her especially.

  She had three brothers, four if one counted the bastard Angus, and Colkitto for a father, all of them set in their warring ways, clinging tight to a generations-long feud that she sometimes feared defined them as much as their own clan lineage.

  Did Scrymgeour sit there, biding his time, waiting for his moment to be free of the lot of them?

  She sat tall, marshalling her thoughts enough to answer her father. “He's not mucking about. ” Jean folded her hands in her lap, a calm pose to match the smoothness of her voice. “I told you. Campbell's men took the woman. My brother simply- ”

  “Simply risked his own hide for some stranger?”

  Jean hesitated. That had given her pause as well, though for different reasons. She hadn't liked the woman at first.

  Resented Haley her free and mannish ways.

  But when Alasdair had discovered Haley gone, the haste with which he'd raced after her startled Jean.

  She wondered if the woman might be the key to blunting her brother's desire for vengeance. His craving of it was insatiable, never-ending, razing all in his path. It was what had robbed Jean's husband from her.

  “Campbell threatens even now to take back this land,” her father continued. He slammed his hand down again, landing in the puddle with a dull slap.

  She saw Scrymgeour bristle at the sprinkle of ale. He discretely dabbed his cheek, and mortification colored her cheeks.

  Jean's mind strayed once more to her husband. Donald Mac Kay of Ardnacroish. He'd been a good man, she knew. A near stranger to her, but a good man nonetheless.

  And then he sacrificed his sword in battle, giving it to her brother when Alasdair's own had broken. Her husband gave his sword, and so he gave his life.

  It was only because of him that her brother still lived.

  Jean grimaced.
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