Authors: Sophia Johnson
His for the Taking
Thinking to find answers, Damron stared into her eyes. Beautiful. Those eyes so dark a brown and fringed with lush, thick lashes that would surely feather his cheeks when they kissed.
Gazing at her mouth, he swallowed. Full and luscious. Ripe.
She must have sensed his growing desire to taste her there, for the tip of her tongue peeked out to dampen her lips. At that moment, she looked delicate and sweet, the perfect maiden . . .
Kensington Publishing Corp.
For my loving husband, Gil,
who every evening continues to pry me away
from the keyboard when dinner is ready.
To my daughter, Lorrie, and her husband, Carlo,
who gave me my first computer and challenged me
to stop reading and start writing!
To my daughter, Valeri, and her husband, Tony,
whose support and encouragement means so much.
And with many thanks to Delle Jacobs,
my wonderful critique partner,
for her everlasting patience.
North Wales, 1072
Curious gazes and speculative whispers followed the man’s lithesome progress. His cloak billowed like wings, so swift was he in ascending the steep path. All would later swear his feet never touched stone.
No one dared intrude on his solitude, though should anyone need him, he was always there. ’Twas the fact he had aided their grandfathers, e’en their great-grandfathers, that stopped them.
He ne’er aged.
The mystic stood atop the highest point of the cliffs overlooking the turbulent sea and waited for Cloud Dancer to descend.
His gaze followed the great eagle’s flight. Tilting his head, he listened to the shrill calls from the sky telling him what he had waited centuries to hear.
Brianna is coming.
He gloried in the approaching storm and laughed as the howling wind whipped the hair back from his face and lifted the brilliant-hued feathers on his cape. The mantle cracked and rose about his body. His arms reached heavenward, and he felt as though he were about to glide with the wind to the eagle above.
His eyes lit and his lips lifted in a smile of joy and anticipation. With but a whisper of sound, Cloud Dancer landed on his wrist. It was a testament to the man’s strength that his arm did not drop from the eagle’s weight. They needed no words, each understanding the other, as they looked to the northeast toward Scotland. The storm would reach there shortly. He had much to do before he could start his journey. Raising his arm, he sent the great eagle back to soar and dip amidst the roiling clouds.
“Damron’s beloved will return at last,” he whispered to the wind. “Ah,
mo fear beog,
my little one. Your soul is much wiser now, and his love will not frighten you. I won’t be there to greet you, but he will. ’Tis time you meet again and accept your fates.”
His hands rose to enfold the talisman that hung low on his chest. He lifted his face to the heavens and closed his eyes.
One word left his lips. Caught by the wind, it roared as loudly as the crashing thunder.
Present Day, Kyle of Tongue, Scotland
Lydia Hunter was drawn to the man in the ink drawing the first time she saw him. She had cried out to him then, calling him
“Lord Demon,” and sobbing like her heart would break.
She was five years old.
Every summer she left New York to return to the Highlands and Blackthorn Castle. She
to come. His soul called to hers. Each passing year, the pull toward him strengthened.
And now, after a mind-wrenching divorce, the need to be close to him had turned to heart-pounding urgency.
She stood in front of the faded likeness of Damron Alasdair Morgan, an eleventh-century laird of Clan Morgan, which hung on the freshly painted wall of Blackthorn’s museum.
Needing to imprint his features firmly in her heart after the year’s absence, she blinked to clear her contacts and drew closer to study the drawing. Damron’s dark, wind-blown hair reached just above his shoulders. A wisp of a lock had strayed over his forehead, and in her heart’s memory, she could see him reach an impatient hand to shove it away. Strong brows arched over cynical eyes. An arrogant nose rose above firm,
sensual lips and a chiseled jaw. Nothing softened his unyielding expression.
Her sight blurred. She blinked again. Compelling eyes stared back at her. Accusing her.
She couldn’t look away. It was as if he demanded something from her. She yearned to touch and caress the face in the drawing. Her chest hurt with the urge to wail the way she had as a child.
“Why couldn’t you love me?”
Puzzling flashes came more frequently today. Surely they couldn’t be memories. The images were of the man who could be a demon when he was angry. She felt anguish, too, that he kept hidden just out of reach. Now, more than ever, she knew he begged something from her. What could it be?
“Mommy, why is the lady crying?”
The child’s voice broke the hold Lord Damron’s likeness held on Lydia. She sniffed and ducked her head to swipe the tears away. Would he forever have this strange power over her? Even when she became ninety years old?
Her ragged sigh answered her. She forced herself to leave him and go into the museum to browse through the timeworn antique shop. She stood aside while chattering schoolchil-dren lined up at the exit with their teachers and headed out to their waiting bus.
The shop manager’s gaze lit with recognition when she spied Lydia against the wall. She hurried over, and without a word, handed her an antique brooch. Lydia stared at it. Sharp pains of distress jolted through her. They took her breath away.
Her gaze darted to the woman’s face. “Where did you find this?” Her voice sounded hoarse, distressed.
“Behind an old safe we were replacin’ last eve.” Nodding at the brooch, the woman’s forehead creased. “No one remembers seein’ it before. It’s like it hid until the perfect
moment to be discovered.” Her brows near met. “I ken it waited for you.”
The brooch tingled in Lydia’s hand. She turned it around and around. It was familiar. She studied the circle of Celtic knots with the head of a falcon on either side. Though little remained of the Latin words etched around it, she knew what it read.
“With a Strong Hand,” she whispered. She rubbed her thumb over the area. “The Morgans’ motto.” She clutched it to her heart and nodded.
The woman ducked her head, agreeing. “Seein’ how much you love Blackthorn, I wanted to offer it to you first.”
“Thank you.” Lydia’s voice quavered. She felt a sharp prick, and looked down. The pin that secured the brooch was shaped like a fist holding a dagger. A thin stream of hot blood streaked her palm. She ignored it.
Lydia wanted the brooch. She didn’t care how much it cost.
She had to have it. Reaching inside her tapestry vest, she shoved her passport aside, grasped her credit card and handed it to the woman.
The manager smiled and wove her way through the cus-tomers to the nearest register.
Lydia fought her trembling fingers as she tried to pin the brooch to her pullover sweater.
She rubbed her eyes, then sucked in her breath and stood transfixed when a thick haze drifted through the portrait room doorway and surrounded her.
The deep gray mist shifted. A man’s strong fingers reached to cover hers and fastened the brooch over her heart. His skin was warm. He opened her hand, groaned on seeing the blood there, and lowered his mouth. His tongue lapped the blood away, then soft lips kissed the spot. He lifted his head and studied her face. His breath feathered against her cheek. All the while, his intense green gaze held her prisoner. Her heart
lurched as she inhaled the scents of sandalwood and spices.
He moved closer. His presence brushed against her. She gasped, feeling his hard body, his muscles, his heat. God help her. Had she lost her mind? Did she imagine it? But then, did she also imagine the sounds? His voice, like a summer breeze, spread heat over her.
“I would have yer vow, Brianna. Promise me! Promise me ye will ne’er . . .” The urgent words spiraled around her, fading.
Tears streaked down her cheeks. Her heart ached at the anguished plea. Without hesitating, she whispered the reply she knew he sought. “I promise. I’ll never leave you. Not even through eternity.”
No sooner had she spoken than Lord Damron’s image sighed and faded away. The mist followed.
Seeing the manager heading toward her, Lydia fought for composure.
“Thank you so much for holding the brooch for me,” she stammered. Forcing a smile, she signed the receipt. After giving the woman’s shoulders a quick hug, she hurried outside. She needed fresh air. Surely it would clear her mind and settle her racing pulse.
Her shoes echoed on the stone stairway leading to the top of the tower. The most intact portion of the castle was here.
The ruins of the lord’s rooms always soothed her, and as she wandered through them, she cupped a hand over her brooch.
Deep in her soul she knew this place. She patted the stone walls that seemed to welcome her. In these old chambers, comfort enveloped her like strong arms, no matter the season.
It was very tangible today. Her imagination continued to run more rampant than usual, for she felt an irresistible need to leave the rooms and stroll along the curtain wall leading to the barbican.
Others might hide from the weather’s passion, but Lydia delighted in the wind that whipped vigorously enough to nearly pull the clothes off her body and mist so thick she could taste the wetness.
She looked out over the cliff side at the pounding surf. A sigh of appreciation for the dark, strange beauty of the day passed her lips. Her sadness disappeared. Happiness bubbled through her like newly poured champagne, and she grinned with pleasure.
A large bird, flying high above, circled and drifted lower and lower. The sharp voice of a raptor called to her.
The wind blew harder, tugging her coat open to crack in the air behind her. Laughter rolled from deep within her, bursting past her lips. Her scarf flew off, freeing her hair.
Smiling, she threw her head back and thrust her arms to the sky as if entreating the heavens to carry her to the eagle calling from above.
The wind strengthened into a gale, carrying a voice as deep as thunder that commanded:
“’Tis time you meet again and accept your fates.
The mist became a downpour. Thunder roared. Lightning flashed in the sky. Another gust of wind, stronger than before, lifted her in invisible arms. Could she fly as she had in her dreams?
She felt no fear. She heard the call of the raptor, the sound of his wings. So close now. Suddenly, the wind released her.