Keeley returned fiercely to Alaric. “Are you trying to kill yourself? Have you no care for your well being?” She poked him in the chest and rose up on tiptoe so she could look him more squarely in the eye. “If you tear my stitches, I’ll not repair them. You’ll have to bleed to death. The wound will fester and your flesh will rot away, but don’t expect any help from my quarter. Stubborn, infuriating man.”

Alaric placed both hands on her shoulders and squeezed gently. “Keeley, lass, please. Calm down. I’m feeling quite well. My side still pains me. I know I’m not fully recovered, but if I spent one more moment behind the closed door of my chamber, I’d go mad. I needed but a bit of fresh air.”

“Well you’ve had your fresh air,” Ewan grumbled. “Now get your arse back to your chamber so that we can restore peace around here.” He pinned Mairin and Keeley both with the full force of his glare. “And the both of you will return indoors immediately. When I agreed to a tour, I didn’t mean the whole of our lands, Mairin.”

Mairin smiled serenely but didn’t look in the least intimidated by her husband.

“And you!” Keeley said, directing her outrage toward Gannon who was standing on Alaric’s other side. “Was your duty not to make sure Alaric didn’t do anything foolish?”

Gannon’s mouth popped open and his lips flapped up and down but nothing came out. He looked to Ewan for help, but the laird was too busy shaking his head.

Keeley didn’t waste a moment longer. She latched on to Alaric’s arm and began pulling him toward the steps entering the keep. Alaric chuckled but followed behind her and allowed her to guide him inside and up the stairs.

All the way up to his chambers, she lectured him about taking better care of himself. How else was she to impress upon him the seriousness of his injuries? ’Twas no small scrape he’d suffered. If the cut had gone any deeper, it would surely have gutted him. He would have bled to death long before he could have sought aid from her.

She shoved him inside his chamber and then slammed the door behind them.

“You’re mad,” she said. “Completely and utterly mad. Now we must get those boots off you. How on earth did you get them on? It must have been agony. And your tunic.”

Alaric eased onto the edge of the bed and extended his foot to her.

“You want me to take your boots off? You put them on. You can bloody well take them off.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you have what could possibly be the most outrageous, delectable, enticing, incredible mouth?”

She halted her tirade and stared dumbly at him. “I—you—what?” she sputtered.

He grinned, making a dimple appear in the side of his cheek. Lord, but the man was simply irresistible.

“Come here,” he ordered, crooking his finger at her.

Too befuddled to do anything but obey, she closed the distance between them and came to stand between his thighs.

“That’s better,” he murmured. “Now come closer.”

He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her in until his mouth was a breath from her bosom. That knowledge did peculiar things to her nipples. They hardened and stabbed relentlessly at the bodice of her dress, and they ached as if they’d been stroked by fire.

“You won’t ignore me and pretend I’m not here,” he reproached. “You won’t shut me out.”

She placed her hands on his shoulder and looked down at him with a look of consternation. “Is that why you came out of your chamber?”

“ ’Twas the only way to get you to attend me again,” he said lazily. “Think you I’d put on those boots just to get a breath of fresh air when it’s fair freezing out there? You were right, lass. Those boots damn near killed me.”

Something twisted in the region of her heart and she shook her head helplessly. “You sore try my patience, warrior. I had tasks to attend to this morn. Including getting the right of things from your brother, and then Mairin showed me around the keep. ’Tis important to meet the people I’m expected to tend to.”

“Your first priority is me. I find I don’t like it when you’re away, lass. You’ve become as important as the air I breathe. Don’t venture far next time. I find I think daft thoughts when left to my own devices.”

She sighed. “I think what you are is spoiled. Has anyone ever told you nay?”

“I’m sure they have but at the moment I cannot remember.”

“I’ll tend you, warrior. You give me no choice if you are to survive. Your impulsiveness is going to kill you.”

The triumph in Alaric’s eyes sent a giddy thrill down her spine. He pulled at her waist, running his hands up to her nape, grasping and then lowering her until his mouth was on level with hers.

“I know you told me not to kiss you, lass, but I should warn you that I’ve never been good at taking directions.”


He sensed her surrender after a short hesitation, and he took full advantage, pulling her closer until their lips touched. For a moment he remained still, simply absorbing the sensation of her delectable mouth against his. Then he pressed in, moving sensuously over her mouth, harder, deeper until they both gasped for air.

He swallowed her breath, savored it, and then returned it. It was as if he breathed her. Absorbed her into his body and she became a living part of him.

Light and delicate, her hands smoothed over his shoulders before cupping his nape. Whether she realized it or not, she gripped him and pulled him into her. She kissed him greedily, fanning the already out-of-control flames licking over his body.

He rubbed his tongue over her upper lip and then flicked inward to run along the inside seam of her mouth. Her tongue crept out cautiously to touch his and he moaned when they finally met and rolled. Playfully at first but then more urgent as if they couldn’t get enough and wanted more.

His hands slipped to her face, cupping her and holding her as his fingers delved into her hair. He had too firm a grip. He held her too tightly but he couldn’t let go.

He took her whole, devouring her mouth. His tongue thrust deep in a perfect imitation of what he wanted to do with his cock. As hot and moist as her mouth was, as heavenly as she felt, he could only imagine how her tight sheath would surround him with fire and welcome him into her depths.

He had to drag himself away. He was perilously close to spinning her around and pinning her to his mattress. He’d throw up her skirts and have her right here and right now. It was no way to treat her. She deserved a slow and gentle wooing. A lover’s kisses and sweet words. She deserved to be told how beautiful she was and how she made him feel as though he were the only man in the world. The last thing he wanted for her was a quick and brutal rutting.

His pulse pounded as he pulled his mouth from hers. “What you do to me, lass,” he whispered, each word painful through his tight throat.

It was as though he’d swallowed shards of glass. His skin felt too tight. His body was too heavy. His cock was about to burst out of his trews, and his wound ached like hell fire. And he wanted more of her with every breath he had.

This wasn’t him. What he felt bordered on obsession. Nay. Not bordered. It was true obsession. He’d nearly gone mad when she’d left his chamber and hadn’t returned. He’d gotten up from his bed, sweating and swearing with each movement. He’d paced his chamber, looked out his window, listened at the door, anxious to hear her light footsteps.

Finally it had been all he could bear. He simply had to get out of his chamber. Outside where he could breathe. Where he could feel more himself and shake off the insanity that gripped him whenever he thought of her. It had to stop.

She unmanned him. She made him feel like a boy who hadn’t proved his mettle.

“We can’t continue to do this,” she whispered back. “Please, Alaric. I don’t seem to have the ability to deny you anything.”

Her eyes burned bright with a multitude of emotions. Regret. Desire. The tiny golden glints glowed against the brown of her eyes, and her dark brows were drawn together in clear consternation.

They were the words he wanted to hear but not with the distress so evident in her voice. She looked to be near tears and it was his undoing. That she was so close to begging flayed his chest open. He hugged her to him, content to simply hold her as he cursed fate and duty and all the things that conspired to tear this woman from his arms.

“I’m sorry, Keeley. I find I haven’t the ability to deny myself the pleasure of your touch. You are an addiction. One I can’t readily be free of. I listen to your arguments and I understand them well, but then you look at me or I look at you and all reason flies out the window. I only know that if I don’t touch you, if I don’t kiss you, I’ll go mad.”

She cupped his face in her hands and gave him a look so sad that it clenched his stomach into a ball. “So sweet are your words and how heavy they fall on my ears. I take them into my heart and am filled with gladness and longing all at the same time and yet I realize how hopeless such feelings are. You will never be mine, warrior. Just as I’ll never be yours. ’Tis madness to continue to torment ourselves.”

“I can’t—I won’t—accept that we cannot be together even for a little while,” he whispered. “Isn’t any time better than none at all? Isn’t a taste of sweet better than a lifetime of bitter regret?”

“ ’Tis like a wound. ’Tis better to make a quick, clean cut and be rid of the pain rather than wait for it to become agonizing.”

He closed his eyes at the conviction in her voice. She truly believed what she spoke. It made sense to him, aye. But he didn’t agree. Any time to savor her sweetness was better than naught. He just had to convince her.

Slowly he released her. “I’ll let you go … for now. I do not want to distress you. The last thing I want is to make you sad. I much prefer you reprimanding me or ordering me about with that saucy smile of yours. So smile, Keeley. Smile for me.”

The corners of her mouth lifted, but her eyes dripped all the sadness he himself felt. ’Twas madness. Never had he failed to take what he wanted. Never had he been denied by a woman. But Keeley … Keeley was different and it was important to woo her patiently. He’d settle for backing away for now. He wanted her willing. He wanted her complete surrender.

“Now if we are finished speaking of things we shouldn’t, you need to be back in your bed,” she said crisply, all signs of her distress gone.

He stared at her beautiful face and at the stone set to her features. But the truth was in her eyes. They never lied.

“Aye, healer. ’Tis back in my bed I’ll go. I find all this activity has drained me of strength.”

He leaned cautiously back, resting his head on the soft pillow. His eyes closed as weariness assailed him. And then he felt her warm breath blow over his forehead and the sweet press of her lips against his forehead.

“Sleep then, warrior,” she whispered. “I’ll be here when you awaken.”

He smiled and allowed himself to drift away, her promise held tight to his heart.


Having Keeley in such close proximity was driving him to his wits’ end. Though she was careful to keep a respectful and modest distance between them at all times, simply being across the room from her or dining at the same table in the hall was an exercise in frustration.

His wound had taken several more days to heal, and in that time, Keeley had become an expert at erecting a barrier between them. The better he recovered, the more distant she became and the less time she spent with him in his chamber.

In the end, it was the drive to be out of his chamber where he could see more of her that spurred his recovery the most.

He was still sore. His side ached, and if he turned too quickly, he was rewarded with a bolt of pain through his midriff. But he refused to spend another moment staring up at his ceiling, seeking ways to make the hunger go away.

Even now, as he tried to sit and listen to what his brothers were discussing, his gaze kept drifting across the hall where the women of the keep sat in front of the hearth sewing baby clothing for Mairin’s child.

Outside, the snow fell and had accumulated on the ground in small drifts that would grow larger through the night. Everyone had taken shelter indoors and in their cottages. The men were drinking ale and discussing warfare and alliances and, of course, their most hated enemy, Duncan Cameron.

But Alaric heard none of it. He watched as Keeley laughed and her eyes glowed in delight as she chattered with the women in the circle.

Ewan occasionally cast glances in Mairin’s direction. It didn’t go unnoticed by Alaric, and when Mairin looked up and caught her husband’s gaze, in that moment, Alaric envied Ewan with everything he had. Their obvious love and regard for each other made the ache in Alaric’s chest grow until it was all he could do not to bolt from the table.

“Snap out of it, Alaric.” Copyright 2016 - 2024