Beyond the Highland Mist Page 1

Author: Karen Marie Moning

Series: Highlander #1

Genres: Romance




THE FRAGRANCE OF JASMINE AND SANDALWOOD DRIFTED through the rowan trees. Above dew-drenched branches, a lone gull ghosted a bank of mist and soared to kiss the dawn over the white sands of Morar. The turquoise tide shimmered in shades of mermaid tails against the alabaster shore.

The elegant royal court of the Tuatha De Danaan dappled the stretch of lush greenery. Pillowed chaises in brilliant scarlet and lemon adorned the grassy knoll, scattered in a half-moon about the outdoor dais.

“They say he is even more beautiful than you,” the Queen remarked to the man sprawled indolently at the foot of her dais.

“Impossible.” His mocking laughter tinkled like cut-crystal chimes on a fae wind.

“They say his manhood at half-mast would make a stallion envious.” The Queen slanted a glance beneath half-lowered lids at her rapt courtiers.

“More likely a mouse,” sneered the man at her feet. Elegant fingers demonstrated a puny space of air, and titters sliced the mist.

“They say at full-mast he steals a woman’s mind from her body. Claims her soul.” The Queen dropped fringed lashes to shield eyes alight with the iridescent fire of mischievous intent. How easily my men are provoked!

The man rolled his eyes and disdain etched his arrogant profile. He crossed his legs at the ankles and gazed out across the sea.

But the Queen wasn’t fooled. The man at her feet was vainglorious, and not as impervious to her provocation as he feigned.

“Quit baiting him, my Queen,” King Finnbheara admonished. “You know how the fool gets when his ego is wounded.” He patted her arm soothingly. “You’ve teased him enough.”

The Queen’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. She briefly considered forgoing this vein of revenge. A calculating look at her men dashed that thought, as she recalled what she’d overheard them discussing late last evening in excruciating detail.

The things they’d said were unforgivable. The Queen was not a woman to be compared with another woman and found lacking. Her lip tightened imperceptibly. Her exquisitely delicate hand curled into a fist. She carefully selected her next words.

“But I have found him to be all that they say,” the Queen purred.

In the silence that followed, the statement lingered, unacknowledged, for the cut was too cruel to dignify. The King at her side and the man at her feet shifted restlessly. She was beginning to think she hadn’t made her point quite painfully clear enough when, in unison, they rose to her bait. “Who is this man?”

Queen Aoibheal of the Fairy disguised a satisfied smile with a delicate yawn, and drank deeply of her men’s jealousy. “They call him the Hawk.”



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, and—God forgive her—the 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. Foolish—such large unprotected openings in a keep—or 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 window—as 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.