Battle-hardened warrior Dirk MacLerie isn't who everyone thinks he is. He's Dirk MacKay, heir apparent to the MacKay chiefdom and Dunnakeil Castle on the far north coast of Scotland. When he returns home after a long absence, will his clan know him and will the duplicitous enemy who tried to murder him twelve years ago kill him in truth this time?
Lady Isobel MacKenzie is a beautiful young widow betrothed to yet another Highland chief by her brother's order. But when her future brother-in-law accosts her and threatens to kill her, she is forced to flee into a Highland snowstorm. When she runs into a rugged and imposing man she thought dead, she wonders if he will turn her over to her enemy or take her to safety.
Dirk remembers the enchanting, dark-eyed Isobel from when he was a lad, but now she is bound to another man by legal contract—an important detail she would prefer to forget. She wishes to choose her own husband and has her sights set on Dirk. But he would never steal another man's bride… would he? The tantalizing lady fires up his passions, testing his willpower and honor at every turn, even as some of his own treacherous clansmen plot his downfall.
She could almost imagine Dirk naked. But he didn't remove his clothing. He spread his bedroll on the floor before the hearth and lay down.
After covering himself with a wool blanket, he glanced back at her. "Are you going to bed?"
"Aye." She quickly crawled beneath the covers.
"If you don't mind, please refrain from smashing your knee into my stomach tonight."
Mortification seized her. Was he teasing? "I told you I'm sorry for that. Very daft of me."
A small smile lifted one corner of his lips. The expression captivated her. She wished she could see it more often. She would have to think of more ways to make him smile.
How singular it was to share a bedchamber with a man who wasn't trying to paw all over her. Although… perhaps that meant he wasn't attracted to her. Still, she couldn't help but trust him. Honor meant more to him than carnal gratification. Or maybe 'twas only because he was a gentleman with the manners of a chivalrous knight.
She sat up. "I have a confession to make."
"While I'm asleep, sometimes I walk and talk and do odd things. You must overlook me."
"Ah. That explains it then."
She lifted a brow, realizing he was referring to when she'd done him bodily harm early that morn. "Beitris tries to prevent me from making a fool of myself, but sometimes even that doesn't help."
"Don't fash yourself over it. I'm sure I will survive should you decide to attack me again."
Now she knew he was teasing, blast him. Her face heated, though she grinned. "I hope you don't have any bruises."
"Nay. 'Twould take far more than your knee to cause me damage."
"I'm glad." Lying back on the pillow, she wondered what it would feel like to run her fingers over his stomach. What would it look like? She knew it was flat and composed of hard muscle. She'd felt as much that morn. Did it now have a huge blue blotch on it in the shape of her knee?
Feeling safe and warm in the soft bed, imagining Dirk was beside her instead of ten feet away, she drifted toward sleep. She only hoped she didn't try to crawl onto the bedroll beside him in her sleep during the night.
A quarter hour later, Dirk thought he'd heard Isobel speak. He glanced toward the bed. In the firelight, he saw that she lay on her side, facing him, her eyes closed. "You are strong… virile," she murmured.
Virile? Was she talking in her sleep already? And did she have to put such heated carnal thoughts into his head? Damnation, he certainly felt virile at the moment.
He turned his back to her and covered up, hoping to not hear any more of her unguarded, enticing comments. She put insane notions into his head. It had been too long since his last encounter with a female, many weeks. And now, little was required to fire up his lusts.
Especially around her.
He closed his eyes and let his mind drift, but it only drifted to Isobel, soft and warm in bed. In his imagination, he pulled off his shirt and trews and climbed into bed beside her. He craved feeling her satiny skin sliding over his.
He would untie Isobel's smock and slip it from her delectable body, baring her lush breasts with their peaked, rosy nipples. He grew hard and feverish just imagining it. She would give him some inane compliment about his eyes or his virility and kiss him. He would devour the sweetness of her mouth and stroke his hands over every inch of her silken skin. In his fantasy, she would aggressively mount him and take him with abandon. As a widow, she would know what she wanted in bed. She might even be a deprived widow who was eager for a man's attention.
Damnation, now he was agonizingly hard with no hope for relief in sight.
"Dirk," she murmured from the bed.
Was she awake? Clenching his teeth against the ache in his groin, he glanced back. Her eyes were still closed and she hadn't moved. If she awoke and summonsed him to her bed, what would he do?
God's teeth. He couldn't do anything. She was promised to another, and bound by legal contract, whether she liked it or not. And he definitely didn't like it.
She wouldn't call him to her bed anyway. 'Twas but his own ridiculous fantasy. A fantasy he could not afford to have, given the circumstances.
Forget her. He had to have some sleep so he'd be alert tomorrow.
Forcing his mind to go blank, he slid toward sleep.
"Dirk." Isobel moaned.
At least he thought she'd moaned.
Once again fully alert, he glared over his shoulder at her. Hell, would she torment him all night by murmuring his name in that husky voice? She turned onto her back and moved about restlessly.
Cursing under his breath, he forced himself to face the hearth once again. He needed wool to stuff into his ears to block out her seductive voice calling to him.
Sometime later, Dirk awoke, realizing icy wind was whipping inside the room. What in blazes? The door was open. He leapt to his feet to find Isobel standing in the doorway, wearing only her thin linen smock.
"Isobel?" Why on earth would she open the door and allow the winter wind to blast into the cottage, especially wearing naught but her underclothing? Dirk hurried across the room, drew her back and closed the door. "What are you doing?"
Her eyes were open but she wasn't looking at him. Was she asleep?
"Go back to bed, Isobel." With his hands on her upper arms, he gently turned her toward the bed.
She resisted and reached for the door. "Going home."
He could understand that, for he wanted to go home, himself. But neither of them could do that at the moment.
Knowing she wasn't going to obey him, he lifted her into his arms. She was light as a wee thistle flower but not near as prickly. He'd helped her mount the horse a few times, but he'd never held her like this, in his arms with her curvy body leaning against him.
When he turned with her, she giggled. The playful sound wound through his body in a heated swirl of excitement. She slid her arms 'round his neck and held on tightly while he carried her back to the bed. One of her soft breasts, with its hard nipple, rubbed against his chest, only the thin fabric between them. She snuggled her face against his neck, her warm breath teasing his skin.
Arousal surged through him, but when she kissed his throat, he thought he might go up in flames. Saints! He wanted to do the same to her, trail kisses down her throat, untie her smock and… He shook his head, trying to clear it.
Standing by the bed, he remained still, though his instincts raged at him to crush her sweet body beneath his on the mattress.
He drew in a deep breath, fighting to calm his desires.
"Are you awake?" he whispered.
She hummed a sleepy sound and placed another wee kiss against his neck. Restraining a moan, he glanced down at her. In the dimness, he couldn't see if her eyes were open or closed. But she smelled heavenly, like lavender and woman.
Just put her in the bed and leave her be!
He lowered her to the mattress but she did not relinquish her hold on his neck. He knew he should simply remove her slender arms, but he couldn't seem to make himself do it. Her breath tickled his face. Her mouth, no less than an inch or two from his, tempted him, made him crave just one taste.
Surrendering to the enticement, he brushed his lips over hers… silky-smooth warmth. She released a soft moan and pressed her lips more firmly to his. It was a chaste kiss, but the raging need storming his body urged him to make it carnal, compelled him to part her lips and slide his tongue between.
Nay. She's asleep.
Lifting his head, he dragged her arms from around his neck and covered her with the blankets. She protested with a petulant moan.
Damn, she seemed near as needy as he was. But was her need for him, or would any man do?
It didn't matter.
"Go to sleep," he said in a low but firm tone, even though she already was.
She turned over and her breathing deepened.
Saints! That was one time he wished she'd done the opposite of what he said. The sensual feel of her lips was now burned onto his.
Nay. He couldn't have her. He couldn't kiss her. She belonged to another man.