Highland Conquest – an excerpt
The Sons of Gregor MacLeod | Book 2
She brought the tea over, and after passing him his cup, she sat in her chair, the table between them. He lifted the cup to his nose and smelled honey and chamomile. ’Twas hot, so he blew on it before taking a sip.
And the moment suddenly seemed right. Nay, not just right. Perfect.
“Tastes good,” he said.
“Aye, the honey is fresh. Finola gave it to me.”
He nodded, and they sat quietly together for a few minutes, drinking their tea. He tried to think of how to ask her to sleep with him tonight, but everything sounded too formal or trite. Besides, she’d probably been asked in every way possible by the horde of men chasing her.
“So…what do we do now?” Her voice caught at the end, like she was a wee bit nervous too.
“Well, you could to tempt me to your bed.” Maybe humor would do it.
She half snorted, half laughed, and her hand flew up to cover her face.
“What? You doona think ’tis possible?” he asked. “Aye, most likely. But you could at least try.”
“Oh, I think ’tis possible. I think many things are possible tonight. Like darning socks or whittling stakes for the new pen that was broken.”
“I’ve darned socks before.”
“Aye. Gregor made us learn how to do all sorts of things. He said we should know how to repair torn clothing, especially socks, for when we were out on long trips. Best not to leave your toe sticking out and exposed to the elements when all it takes is a needle, some yarn, and a wee bit of know-how to prevent an injury.”
“I think I’d like your Gregor. When do I get to meet him?”
“Soon. I sent letters out to him and the rest of the lads, asking them to come.”
“And they’ll just drop everything?”
“Aye, as I would for them.” A log popped and shifted in the hearth, sending out sparks. “He’ll like you. A great deal. If he was twenty years younger and not still in love with his dead wife, he’d try to convince you to marry him, I’m sure.”
“Aye, that ceremony the priest performs in front of all your friends and family and ties you to another person for life.” By the love of God, what was he doing bringing up marriage?
“God’s blood, what are you doing talking about marriage?”
He almost laughed at their dual thoughts. “I doona know. ’Twas almost as big a blunder as what I said about your hair.”
“You’re as daft as a bat tonight.”
“But sweet too. Aye?”
She raised a brow, neither confirming nor denying, and continued to sip her tea. “What happens after Machar Murray is caught?”
“If we take him alive, he’ll be hanged for his crimes—against my brother and me, against you and the rest of your clan, against all the other people he’s hurt.”
“You are now the MacPherson laird, so it’s your clan too. Not just mine. These people care for you. They trust you to do what’s best for them.”
“I’m doing that, Amber.”
“But for how long? Do you intend to leave afterward?”
He rubbed his knuckles along his jaw, suspecting this wasn’t just about the clan. She was asking if he planned to leave her. “I willna be gone forever, love. And I’ll leave someone here to make sure everyone is safe and things are progressing as they should. You’ll be taken care of.”
It was the wrong thing to say…again. He knew it the instant her shoulders tightened under her arisaid.
“Nay, thank you. I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.”
She clicked her nails on her cup and looked into the fire. He missed the intensity of her gaze on him.
“So you’ll stay until just before the first snowfall, then?” she asked.
“Sounds like you wouldnae want to be trapped here o’er winter.”
“I doona know, Amber. At this point, I just want to catch Murray.” He leaned forward in his chair so his fingers touched her knees. “And I want to be with you.”
“Until winter,” she insisted.
“I have to get back. I canna leave my own clan for too long.”
She nodded. Then picked up her cup and walked in a stilted fashion back to the kitchen.
“When you leave, I willna be able to tell you things.”
He rose and stared at her back, the tension thrumming in his veins. “Nay, but you can write to me.”
“Then I will have told you everything. What about the things you are to understand even though I tell you naught?”
He frowned in confusion. “That doesn’t make sense. How can I understand something if you doona tell me? Are you worried someone may find the letters?”
“Nay. I’m worried I’ll lose something far more important.”
He raised his hands, palms up. “Lose what? Amber, what do you mean?”
“Isla said a man could understand the things I say even if I doona use words. I said it sounded like witchcraft, but all I have to do is look at her and Alban to know it’s possible.”
“That he can read minds?”
“That something sacred can be formed between a man and a woman. Something divine.”
He crossed the room and placed his hands on her shoulders, drawing her back against him.
“I can show you divine, Amber.”
She turned her head to the side, resting her cheek on his chest, and inhaled. “I’m sure you can. I keep imaging your hands and mouth on me…”
“As do I, believe me—”
“…but I doona think it would be enough.”
His fingers squeezed tight, and he forced himself to ease up. But it was hard to let go—he felt her slipping away, possibly further away than she’d been since they met.
“So you want me to marry you, then?” he asked. “Because I doona e’er plan to marry. Be verra clear on that. And I doona want bairns, either.”
“I’m not asking for that.”
“Then what are you asking?”
“I doona know. Divine possibility.”
He released her and turned around, shoving his hands through his hair.
“I thought you were different.”
“Why? Because I curse? Or I’m not afraid to get my hands bloody? I know lots of lasses who do those things.”
“Nay, because you ne’er seem to care what people think of you.”
“’Tis not about what other people think of me. ’Tis what I think about myself.”
He walked to the hearth and leaned on it. “So is that it, then? Have you decided against me?”
“I doona know, Lachlan. I think… I think I care about you, which complicates things.”
He turned to look at her, the blood thudding slowly in his ears. “Are you saying you love me?”
“Nay. I doona know you well enough to love you, do I? But…you make me laugh, and while you annoy me, ’tis not in the same way the other men annoy me. Understand?”
“Not in the least. Should I be pleased that my level of annoyance is different from the other men that dog your heels?”
“You should be whate’er you like. ’Tis not my job to placate you.”
“I didn’t ask you to placate me. Bloody, aggravating woman!”
“Nay, you just asked me for everything else and expect to give naught in return!”
He pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. Why was this so difficult? He’d ne’er had such trouble with a woman before.
“Maybe you’re right,” he said. “You’re young. You’ll want things I canna give you.”
She tossed her head, her arms crossed over her body. “I doona want anything from you that I canna have from another man. You think this is about marriage and bairns? ’Tis not. I could walk to the castle and be married within the hour if that was what I wanted.”
“Then what do you want?”
She pressed her lips together, her jaw tight, those beautiful eyes bright.
He threw his hands in the air. “If you doona tell me, Amber, I canna know.”
“I want balance.”
His brow crinkled. “What does that even mean?”
“When you leave, will you forget me? Will you pine for me? Will you be with other women after me? If we’ve been intimate, that changes things for me. I doona want to pine. ’Tis not in my nature.” She pushed her hair back with both hands, but the shorter stands fell forward and framed her face. “Maybe I need to be with someone else first. If I weren’t a virgin—”
“What? That makes even less sense.”
“Well, you can treat it as tupping and naught else because you’ve been with other lasses. ’Tis not so with me. So maybe if I have carnal pleasure with someone else first, someone I like who doesn’t belong to my clan, I willna feel this tie to you. You said your foster brothers were arriving, aye?”
A wave of black fury crashed within him, and he stalked forward. “You are not tupping one of my brothers!”
“Who would you suggest, then?”
“Ever? You need to be practical about this, Lachlan. I will be alone all winter. I may meet someo—”
“Are you deliberately trying to rile me? Because it’s working. These are the kind of things my mother would say.”
Her eyes widened in shock. “To you?”
“Not those exact words. I meant she would try to manipulate people and their emotions. I will not be manipulated, Amber.”
“What part of me telling the truth is manipulation? You want to tup me, Lachlan, and then you want to leave. Do you expect me to be chaste until you return? Will you be chaste for me?”
He opened his mouth then closed it, and did so again before saying, “I could be.”
“So you want to commit to me? And for me to commit to you? Some might call that marriage.”
He ground his teeth, the two conflicting emotions fighting for dominance within him: possession and freedom. “Nay. Not. Marriage.”
She nodded and blew out a breath. “I agree. Maybe the next time you’re here it will be different. But for now, I think we need to find some socks to darn.”