Warrior of the highlands, p.38
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       Warrior of the Highlands, p.38

         Part #3 of Highlands series by Veronica Wolff  
Page 38


  Diversion. The word made her think of that ridiculous Lord Taaffe. Taaffe had organized the festive evening, claiming his men were in want of diversions. Parliamentary forces were on the march, and still the man insisted on diversions.

  Things between him and MacColla had been strained from the moment they'd met. This lord had coin in his coffers, and she suspected he was of a mind to buy himself a little gallantry on the battlefield.

  The song drew to a close, and MacColla walked off the dance floor, slapping his fellow dancers on their backs.

  He was all she saw. Another knot of men took the dancers' places, and Haley barely noticed as they arranged themselves in a circle, each holding the tip of the next man's blade.

  Desperately trying to gather her emotions, she heard herself mutter to Rollo, “Only you Scotsmen would find a way to dance with your swords. ”

  She was startled at the man's laugh. And gratified too. She turned, and it struck he r how very dashing he was. Haley had never so much as seen the hint of a smile on Rollo's face. She wondered what had happened to his legs, and thought how very different his life might have been.

  “Aye, Haley,” Rollo agreed. “Only we Scotsmen indeed. ”

  MacColla watched Haley where she sat. So lovely she was, despite the dark thoughts he saw continually returning to crease her brow.

  He marveled. She was so fresh and bonny. The ways of women were a mystery to him. She'd appeared that evening in a clean gown, with her hair smoothed back tight. He had no notion of how women managed such things when men were unawares.

  Her gown bared her neck, and the lush swell of her breasts under lace kept drawing his eyes over and over again.

  MacColla felt the now-familiar madness threaten to take him, the wanting of her pushing all else from his mind. They'd not had much time together, but he knew already the taste and touch and smell of her better than any other thing.

  Shutting his eyes, he imagined he could feel those breasts, firm in his hands. He knew in his soul the feel of that tight flesh and muscle, hidden under blue velvet.

  They didn't have much time remaining. His hands clenched at his sides. He and the Confederate army would strike soon, before the Protestants had a chance to move first.

  Her portentous words weighed on him. He'd never let her know how much. But of choices, he had none. It was fight, and fight more, until Campbell was destroyed. If his assistance in Munster earned him more men to take back to Scotland, then all the better.

  But what would become of Haley, of him? He had to hope that her presence changed the course of history somehow. That she was wrong. That he'd fight, and live to fight another day.

  Opening his eyes, he drank her in with the thirst of a dying man.

  She sat next to Rollo, talking easily. What did they speak of? One would never know the man was crippled, seated so. Few, in fact, would even realize his condition in battle. The man managed it well. He was a grim sort, but MacColla appreciated that. As one capable of hiding his own pain, MacColla recognized the lines on Rollo's face, knew they spoke to his discomfort.

  Would she sit with Rollo all night, or come seek him out?

  He watched as Rollo laughed, turned to Haley, said something that eased the tension on her face. Anger boiled suddenly hot in his belly, his mind humming with jealousy.

  MacColla alone would bring his woman comfort. MacColla alone would have her by his side.

  Without thinking, he strode toward the pair. The open smile she greeted him with assuaged his jealousy, but it did nothing to tamp down the fierce desire it had awoken.

  “Good evening, MacColla. ” Rollo instinctively drew back from Haley.

  “Rollo,” he said in greeting, the name rough in his throat.

  He turned back to Haley, reached his hand out to her, the whole of his attention only for her. He heard Rollo excusing himself, as if from a distance.

  “Dance with me, leannan. ” Her hand felt so small and cold in his. He pulled her to standing, chafing her fingers. “You're cold. ”

  “Of course I am,” she said, sounding despondent. Looking around, she added. “What do you expect? I'm sitting in a pile of stones, waiting for you to die. ”

  He laughed then, and when he saw the outrage in her eyes, he took her face in his hands. “I'm not dead yet, my love.

  Come. ” his voice gentled. “Dance with me. It will take our minds from these dark times. ”

  He scanned the dance floor. He didn't think much of Lord

  Taaffe, but this was one small instance where the man had the right of it; Haley could use a distraction just then.

  “I don't know how to dance,” she grumbled.

  “You can fight, but you can't dance?” He tugged her toward the floor. “You'll not get away so easy as that. ”

  They stood on the periphery, watching the current set reel around the floor. The dancers held hands in pairs, shuffling side by side, then grasped hold of the other dancers to turn in a circle, the pipes skipping out a lively tune all the while.

  The song faded into another, slower one, and couples wandered from the floor to be replaced by other couples.

  MacColla looked down at his woman beside him. He decided to do what he could to clear the storm from those gray eyes.

  “Wha-?” Haley yelped, as he swung her onto the dance floor, silencing her with a quick kiss.

  A blush rose hot on her cheeks and she looked around, making sure nobody had seen.

  “So modest, are you?” he whispered in her ear. MacColla pulled her close to lead her in the dance. Wrapping one arm around her waist, he took her hand in his, savoring the press of her breasts on his chest.

  “I'd not known I had such a bashful maiden for a partner. ” He nipped at her neck. The salt of her on his tongue shot life into his cock, and he hugged her closer to hide his hardness.

  She gasped, jerking her head up to look at him.

  He gave an innocent shrug. “'Twould do no good to show all and sundry how much I want you at this very moment. ” Leaning back down to her ear, he added huskily, “Close those lips before I kiss them, leannan. ”

  Despite her protests, Haley could dance, and well too. They moved as one, circling around and between the others in their set.

  MacColla was grateful for the slower tune. It gave him an excuse to press her tightly to him. They were stomach-to-stomach, and each small move she made was an agony. Her every step chafed his tartan against his body, now piqued and raging hard under all that wool.

  The song ended too quickly, and it took him a minute to gather himself, registering the shuffle of other dancers as the set changed.

  He hugged her close for a moment more. He leaned down one last time to inhale the smell of her skin. “You are the only one on this dance floor, mo leannan”

  She looked up at him. Saw the intensity in his eyes, and it was all for her. It felt so good to hear those words, and yet she couldn't get past this turmoil that threatened to sweep her away on a tidal wave of helplessness and fear.

  Instant clarity cut through his gaze, sharp on her. “I've still not taken your mind from this, have I?”

  She shook her head mutely.

  “Come with me,” he said, putting his arm at the small of her back.

  “I know what happened the last time you said that. ” She tried to laugh.

  “Ah. A fast learner. ” He stroked his hand down to quickly cup her bottom. “But it's no secret how much I want you. ”

  The sound of his voice sent a shiver up her spine. She needed him. She would have him, keep him close for as long as she could now. Haley let him lead her to the door.

  “But the others… ” She stopped short.

  “Don't fret, lass. ” He stretched his hands out cavalierly.

  “I'm just a man come to escort you back to your room. ”

  They managed to slip away. Whether unseen or simply
unhindered, it didn't matter to Haley. All that mattered was she get as much of MacColla as she could now.

  Maybe her love for him would be what kept him alive. Maybe she was sent back in time to save him using her sheer will alone.

  Her heart hammered in her chest, watching him carefully shut and latch the door behind them.

  A funny little quiver thrummed through her. Something giddy and nervous. And she realized with wonder that, though she knew he loved her and she was sure in their love, Haley still felt awe watching him, anticipating him. She imagined she could spend the rest of her days with MacColla and never completely lose a bit of the schoolgirl crush she felt at the sight of him.

  MacColla turned, and his eyes were hooded, with desire and some other dark thing. Desperation? she wondered. Did he hide from her his own fear of the coming days?

  Emotion clenched her throat, and she vowed MacColla would live. Vowed she would do all in her power to keep him safe and alive.

  The force of her drive was so violent it overtook her, made her vision waver black along the edges. She turned away, unable to look at him, fearing one look, one gesture from him would set her trembling.

  Haley felt him at her back. She expected MacColla would make her turn to face him, but he didn't.

  He moved so tenderly, she felt the heat of his hands before she felt his touch. As he skimmed ever closer to her, she sensed the heat of his fingers trace down her back, along her arms, hovering up the side of her throat.

  MacColla finally touched her then, and though his fingers were light, like a breath on her skin, she felt burned in their wake.

  She shivered, felt her body loosening, opening to him.

  His hand was so large on her throat. So strong. And she was so vulnerable to him, to his strength.

  She realized then how much she trusted MacColla. How completely she'd given herself to him.

  His finger grazed lightly along her scar. “Gradh geal mo chridhe” he whispered, and she heard the emotion in his voice. The pain.

  He overwhelmed her. With a small whimper, she tried to turn in his arms. “Kiss me,” she gasped.

  She needed to face him, to see him and taste him, but his arm shot tight around her belly. “You'll wait. ” His voice was ragged with desire.

  His arm clung tight to her like an iron band, pulling her close, his hand grazing up, seeking and finding her breast. He pushed up, fighting against the thick corset, trying to take her in his palm to knead her.
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