Beyond The Highland Mist

Beyond The Highland Mist
Karen Marie Moning



1 APRIL 1513

SIDHEACH JAMES LYON DOUGLAS, THIRD EARL OF DALKEITH, stalked across the floor. Droplets of water trickled from his wet hair down his broad chest, and gathered into a single rivulet between the double ridges of muscle in his abdomen. Moonlight shimmered through the open window, casting a silvery glow to his bronze skin, creating the illusion that he was sculpted of molten steel.

The tub behind him had grown cold and been forgotten. The woman on the bed was also cold and forgotten. She knew it.

And she didn't like it one bit.

Too beautiful for me, Esmerelda thought. But by the saints, the man was a poison draught, another long cool swallow of his body the only cure for the toxin. She thought about the things she had done to win him, to share his bed, andGod forgive herthe things she would do to stay there.

She almost hated him for it. She knew she hated herself for it. He should be mine, she thought. She watched him stalk across the spacious room to the window which opened between fluted granite columns that met in a high arch twenty feet above her head. Esmerelda sneered at him behind his back. Foolishsuch large unprotected openings in a keepor arrogant. So what if one could lie in the massive goosedown bed and gaze through the rosy arch at a velvety sky pierced by glittering stars?

She'd caught him gazing that way tonight as he'd slammed into her, exciting that bottomless hunger in her blood with the rock-hard kind of maleness only he possessed. She'd whimpered beneath him in the greatest ecstasy she'd ever experienced and he'd been looking out the windowas if no one else was there with him.

Had he been counting the stars?

Silently reciting bawdy dittys to prevent himself from toppling over and falling asleep?

She'd lost him.

No, Esmerelda vowed, she would never lose him.



She smoothed the lavender silk sheet through her trembling fingers. "Come back to bed, Hawk."

"I'm restless tonight, sweet." He toyed with the stem of a large pale blue blossom. A half hour earlier he'd swept the dewy petals along her silken skin.

Esmerelda flinched at his open admission that he still had energy to spare. Sleepily sated, she could see that his body still thrummed from head to toe with restless vigor. What kind of woman would it takeor how manyto leave that man drowsing in fascinated satisfaction?

More woman than she, and ye gods, how that offended her.

Had her sister left him more sated? Her sister who had warmed his bed until Zeldie had found a way to take her place?

"Am I better than my sister?" The words were out before she could prevent them. She bit her lip, anxiously awaiting his answer.

Her words dragged his smoky gaze from the starry night, across the wide expanse of the bedchamber, to rest on the sultry, raven-haired Gypsy. "Esmerelda," he chided gently.

"Am I?" Her husky contralto soared to a shrewish pitch.

He sighed. "We've had this discussion before"

"And you never answer me."

"Stop comparing yourself, sweet. You know it's foolish"

"How can I not when you can compare me to a hundred, nay a thousand, even my own sister?" Shapely brows puckered in a scowl above her flashing eyes.

His laughter rolled. "And how many do you compare me to, lovely Esmerelda?"

"My sister couldn't have been as good as me. She was nearly a virgin." She spit out the word with distaste. Life was too unpredictable for virginity to be a prized possession among her people. Lust, in all its facets, was a healthy aspect of the Rom culture.

He raised a hand in warning. "Stop. Now."

But she couldn't. The poison words of accusation tumbled out fast and furious at the only man who had ever made her pagan blood sing, and his boredom between her thighs had been chiseled in granite upon his perfect face this very eve. In truth, for many evenings now.

He suffered her rage in silence, and when at last her tongue rested, he turned back to his window. The howl of a solitary wolf ruptured the night and she felt an answering cry well up within her. She knew the Hawk's silence was his farewell. Stinging with rejection and humiliation, she lay trembling in his bedthe bed she knew she would never be asked to enter again.

She would kill for him.

Which is precisely what she meant to do moments later when she rushed him with the silver dirk she'd slipped from the table by the bed. Esmerelda might