Kiss of the Highlander Page 1

Author: Karen Marie Moning

Series: Highlander #4

Genres: Romance


“The MacKeltar is a dangerous man, Nevin.”

“What are you going on about this time, Mother?” Nevin looked out the window and watched the grass rippling in the early morning sun beyond their hut. His mother was reading fortunes, and were he foolish enough to turn around and meet Besseta’s gaze, she would interpret it as encouragement, and he would be lured into yet another conversation about some bewildering prediction. His mother’s wits, never the sharpest blade in the armory, were dulling daily, eroded by suspicious imaginings.

“My yew sticks have warned me that the laird presents a grave danger to you.”

“The laird? Drustan MacKeltar?” Startled, Nevin glanced over his shoulder. Tucked behind the table near the hearth, his mother straightened in her chair, preening beneath his attention. Now he’d done it, he thought with an inward sigh. He’d gotten himself snagged in her conversation as securely as he’d gotten his long robes entangled in a thorny bramble a time or two, and it would require finesse to detach himself now without things degenerating into an age-old argument.

Besseta Alexander had lost so much in her life that she clung too fiercely to what she had left—Nevin. He repressed a desire to fling back the door and flee into the serenity of the Highland morning, aware that she would only corner him again at the earliest opportunity.

Instead, he said gently, “Drustan MacKeltar is not a danger to me. He is a fine laird, and ’tis honored I am to have been chosen to oversee the spiritual guidance of his clan.”

Besseta shook her head, her lip trembling. A fleck of spittle foamed at the seam. “You see with a priest’s narrow view. You can’t see what I see. This is dire indeed, Nevin.”

He gave her his most reassuring smile, one that, despite his youth, had eased the troubled hearts of countless sinners. “Will you cease trying to divine my well-being with your sticks and runes? Each time I am assigned a new position, you reach for your charms.”

“What kind of a mother would I be, if I didn’t take interest in your future?” she cried.

Brushing a lock of blond hair from his face, Nevin crossed the room and kissed her wrinkled cheek, then swept his hand across the yew sticks, upsetting their mysterious design. “I am an ordained man of God, yet here you sit, reading fortunes.” He took her hand and patted it soothingly. “You must let go of the old ways. How will I achieve success with the villagers, if my own dear mother persists in pagan rituals?” he teased.

Besseta snatched her hand from his and gathered her sticks defensively. “These are far more than simple sticks. I bid you, accord them proper respect. He must be stopped.”

“What do your sticks tell you the laird will do that is so terrible?” Curiosity trumped his resolve to end this conversation as neatly as possible. He couldn’t hope to curtail the dark wanderings of her mind if he didn’t know what they were.

“He will soon take a lady, and she will do you harm. I think she will kill you.

Nevin’s mouth opened and closed like a trout stranded on the riverbank. Although he knew there was no truth to her ominous prediction, the fact that she entertained such wicked thoughts confirmed his fears that her tenuous grasp on reality was slipping. “Why would anyone kill me? I’m a priest, for heaven’s sake.”

“I can’t see the why of it. Mayhap his new lady will take a fancy to you, and evil doings will come of it.”

“Now you truly are imagining things. A fancy to me, over Drustan MacKeltar?”

Besseta glanced at him, then quickly away. “You are a fine-looking lad, Nevin,” she lied with motherly aplomb.

Nevin laughed. Of Besseta’s five sons, only he had been born slender of build, with fine bones and a quietude that served God well but king and country poorly. He knew what he looked like. He had not been fashioned—as had Drustan MacKeltar—for warring, conquering, and seducing women and had long ago accepted his physical shortcomings. God had purpose for him, and while spiritual purpose might seem insignificant to others, for Nevin Alexander it was more than enough.

“Put those sticks away, Mother, and I don’t want to hear any more of this nonsense. You needn’t fret on my behalf. God watches over—” He stopped midsentence. What he’d nearly said would encourage an entirely new, and at the same time very old and very lengthy, discussion.

Besseta’s eyes narrowed. “Ah, yes. Your God certainly watched over all of my sons, didn’t He?”

Her bitterness was palpable and made him heartsick. Of all his flock, he’d failed most surely with his own mother. “I might remind you that quite recently He was your God, when I was granted this position and you were well-pleased with my promotion,” Nevin said lightly. “And you will not harm the MacKeltar, Mother.”