Authors: Karen Marie Moning
This one is for the women
who made it possible through their extraordinary encouragement, support, and patience:
Deidre Knight, Wendy McCurdy,
and Nita Taublib—thank you!
Time is the coin of your life.
It is the only coin you have,
and only you can determine how it will be spent,
Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.
Praise for Karen Marie Moning’s
KISS OF THE HIGHLANDER
“Moning’s snappy prose, quick wit, and charismatic characters will enchant.”
“Moning is quickly building a reputation for writing poignant time travels with memorable characters. This may be the first book I’ve read by her, but it certainly won’t be my last. She delivers compelling stories with passionate characters readers will find enchanting.”
—The Oakland Press
“RITA award–winning romance author Karen Marie Moning pens another contender for that coveted award. Kiss of the Highlander belongs on everyone’s list of best novels of the year.”
Romance Reviews Today
“Kiss of the Highlander IS WONDERFUL. . . . Her storytelling skills are impressive, her voice and pacing dynamic, and her plot as tight as a cask of good Scotch whisky.”
—The Contra Costa Times
“If you enjoy a brisk-paced book, an ingenious plot, good humor, and erotic love scenes, then you won’t want to miss Kiss of the Highlander.”
—Romance Fiction Forum
“Kiss of the Highlander is a showstopper.”
In a place difficult for humans to find, a man, of sorts—
it amused him to go by the name of Adam Black among mortals—approached a silk-canopied dais and knelt before his queen.
“My queen, The Compact is broken.”
Aoibheal, queen of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, was silent for a long time. When finally she turned to her consort, her voice dripped ice. “Summon the council.”
Thousands of years before the birth of Christ, there
settled in Ireland a race called the Tuatha Dé Danaan who, over time, became known as the True Race, or the Fairy.
An advanced civilization from a faraway world, the Tuatha Dé Danaan educated some of the more promising humans they encountered in Druid ways. For a time, man and fairy shared the earth in peace, but sadly, bitter dissension arose between them, and the Tuatha Dé Danaan decided to move on. Legend claims they were driven “under the hills” into “fairy mounds.” The truth is they never left our world, but hold their fantastic court in places difficult for humans to find.
After the Tuatha Dé Danaan left, the human Druids warred among themselves, splintering into factions. Thirteen of them turned to dark ways and—thanks to what the Tuatha Dé Danaan had taught them—nearly destroyed the earth.
The Tuatha Dé Danaan emerged from their hidden places and stopped the dark Druids moments before they succeeded in damaging the earth beyond repair. They stripped the Druids of their power, scattering them to the far corners of the earth. They punished the thirteen who’d turned dark by casting them into a place between dimensions, locking their immortal souls in an eternal prison.
The Tuatha Dé Danaan then selected a noble bloodline, the Keltar, to use the sacred knowledge to rebuild and nurture the land. Together, they negotiated The Compact: the treaty governing cohabitation of their races. The Keltar swore many oaths to the Tuatha Dé Danaan, first and foremost that they would never use the power of the standing stones—which give the man who knows the sacred formulas the ability to move through space and time—for personal gain or political ends. The Tuatha Dé Danaan pledged many things in return, first and foremost that they would never spill the lifeblood of a mortal. Both races have long abided by the pledges made that day.
Over the ensuing millennia, the MacKeltar journeyed to Scotland and settled in the Highlands above what is now called Inverness. Although most of their ancient history from the time of their involvement with the Tuatha Dé Danaan has melted into the mists of their distant past and been forgotten, and although there is no record of a Keltar encountering a Tuatha Dé Danaan since then, they have never strayed from their sworn purpose.
Pledged to serve the greater good of the world, no MacKeltar has ever broken his sacred oath. On the few occasions they have opened a gate to other times within the circle of stones, it has been for the noblest of reasons: to protect the earth from great peril. An ancient legend holds that if a MacKeltar breaks his oath and uses the stones to travel through time for personal purposes, the myriad souls of the darkest Druids trapped in the in-between will claim him and make him the most evil, terrifyingly powerful Druid humankind has ever known.
In the late-fifteenth century, twin brothers Drustan and Dageus MacKeltar are born. As their ancestors before them, they protect the ancient lore, nurture the land, and guard the coveted secret of the standing stones.
Honorable men, without corruption, Dageus and Drustan serve faithfully.
Until one fateful night, in a moment of blinding grief, Dageus MacKeltar violates the sacred Compact.
When his brother Drustan is killed, Dageus enters the circle of stones and goes back in time to prevent Drustan’s death. He succeeds, but between dimensions is taken by the souls of the evil Druids, who have not tasted or touched or smelled, not made love or danced or vied for power for nearly four thousand years.
Now Dageus MacKeltar is a man with one good conscience—and thirteen bad ones. Although he can hold his own for a while, his time is growing short.
The darkest Druid currently resides in the East 70s in Manhattan, and that is where our story begins.
Dageus MacKeltar walked like a man and talked like a
man, but in bed he was pure animal.
Criminal attorney Katherine O’Malley called a spade a spade, and the man was raw Sex with a capital S. Now that she’d slept with him, she was ruined for other men.
It wasn’t just what he looked like, with his sculpted body, skin poured like gold velvet over steel, chiseled features, and silky black hair. Or that lazy, utterly arrogant smile that promised a woman paradise. And delivered. One hundred percent satisfaction guaranteed.
It wasn’t even the exotic golden eyes fringed by thick black lashes beneath slanted brows.
It was what he did to her.
He was sex like she’d never had in her life, and Katherine had been having sex for seventeen years. She thought she’d seen it all. But when Dageus MacKeltar touched her, she came apart at the seams. Aloof, his every movement smoothly controlled, when he stripped off his clothing he stripped off every ounce of that rigid discipline and turned into an untamed barbarian. He fucked with the single-minded intensity of a man on death row, execution at dawn.
Just thinking about him made places low in her belly clench. Made her skin feel stretched too tight across her bones. Made her breath come short and sharp.
Now, standing in the anteroom outside the enameled French doors of his exquisite Manhattan penthouse overlooking Central Park that fit him like a second skin—starkly elegant, black, white, chrome, and hard—she felt intensely alive, every nerve wired. Drawing a deep breath, she turned the handle and pushed open the door.
It was never locked. As if he feared nothing forty-three floors above the flash and razor edges of the city. As if he’d seen the worst the Big Apple had to offer and found it all mildly amusing. As if the city might be big and bad, but he was bigger and badder.
She stepped inside, inhaling the rich scent of sandalwood and roses. Classical music spilled through the luxurious rooms—Mozart’s
—but she knew that later he might play Nine Inch Nails and stretch her naked body against the wall of windows that overlooked the Conservatory Water, driving into her until she screamed her release to the bright city lights below.
Sixty feet of coveted Fifth Avenue frontage in the East 70s—and she had no idea what he did for a living. Most of the time she wasn’t certain she wanted to know.
She pushed the doors shut behind her and allowed the buttery-soft folds of her leather coat to spill to the floor, revealing black lace-topped thigh-highs, matching panties, and a sheer push-up bra that presented her full breasts to perfection. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the darkened windows and smiled. At thirty-three, Katherine O’Malley looked good. She should look good, she thought, arching a brow, as much exercise as she’d been getting in his bed. Or on the floor. Sprawled across the leather sofa. In his black marble Jacuzzi . . .
A wave of lust made her dizzy, and she breathed deeply to slow her pounding heart. She felt insatiable around him. A time or two she’d briefly entertained the outrageous thought that he might not be human. That maybe he was some mythical sex god, perhaps Priapus beckoned by the needy inhabitants of the city that never slept. Or some creature of long-forgotten lore, a
that had the ability to heighten pleasure to extremes mortals weren’t meant to taste.
“Katie-lass.” His voice floated down from the top floor of the fifteen-room duplex, dark and rich, his Scottish accent making her think of peat smoke, ancient stones, and aged whisky.
Only Dageus MacKeltar could get away with calling Katherine O’Malley “Katie-lass.”
As he descended the curving staircase and entered the thirty-foot living room with its vaulted ceilings, marble fireplace, and panoramic view of the park, she remained motionless, drinking him in. He wore black linen trousers, and she knew there would be nothing beneath them but the most perfect male body she’d ever seen. Her gaze drifted over his wide shoulders, down his hard chest and his rippling abs, lingering on the twin ropes of muscle that cut his lower stomach and disappeared into his pants, beckoning the eye to follow.
“Good enough to eat?” His golden eyes glittered as they raked her body. “Come.” He extended his hand. “Lass, you take my breath away. Your wish is my command this eve. You have only to tell me.”
His long midnight hair, so black it seemed as blue-black as his shadow beard in the amber glow of recessed lights, spilled over one muscled shoulder, falling to his waist, and she sucked in a quick breath. She knew the feel of it sweeping her bare breasts, abrading her nipples, falling lower, across her thighs as he brought her to peak after shuddering peak.
“As if I need to say anything. You know what I want before I know myself.” She heard the edge in her voice, knew he heard it too. It unnerved her how well he understood her. Before she knew what she wanted, he was giving it to her.
It made him dangerously addictive.
He smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. She wasn’t certain she’d ever seen it reach his eyes. They never changed, merely observed and waited. Like a tiger’s golden eyes, his were watchful yet aloof, amused yet detached. Hungry eyes. Predator eyes. More than once she’d wanted to ask what those tiger-eyes saw. What judgment they passed, what the hell he seemed to be waiting for, but in the bliss of his hard body against hers she forgot time and again, until she was back at work and it was too late to ask.
She’d been sleeping with him for two months, and knew no more about him now than the day she’d met him in Starbucks, across the street from O’Leary Banks and O’Malley, where she was a partner, thanks partly to her father, the senior O’Malley, and partly to her own ruthlessness. One look at the six foot four, darkly seductive man over the rim of her café au lait and she’d known she had to have him. It might have had something to do with the way he’d locked eyes with her as he’d lazily licked whipped cream off his mocha, making her imagine that sexy tongue doing far more intimate things. It might have had something to do with the pure sexual heat he gave off. She knew it had a great deal to do with the danger that rolled off him. Some days she wondered if she’d be defending him as one of her controversial high-profile clients in the months or years to come.
That same day they’d met, they’d rolled across his white Berber carpet, from fireplace to windows, wrestling silently for the supreme position, until she’d no longer cared how he’d taken her, so long as he had.
With a reputation for a razor-sharp tongue and the mind to back it up, she’d never once turned it on him. She had no idea how he maintained his lavish lifestyle, how he afforded his obscenely expensive collections of art and ancient weapons. She didn’t know where he’d been born, or even when his birthday was.
At work, she’d mentally prepare her interrogatory, but inevitably the probing questions stalled on her tongue the moment she saw him. She, the merciless interrogator in a courtroom, tongue-tied in his bedroom. On occasion, tied in infinitely more pleasurable ways. The man was a true master of the erotic.
“Woolgatherin’, lass? Or merely deciding how you want me?” he purred.
Katherine wet her lips.
How she wanted him?
him out of her system. Kept hoping the next time she slept with him, the sex might not be so mind-blowing. The man was far too dangerous to get involved with emotionally. Just yesterday she’d lingered at Mass, praying that she would get over her addiction to him—
please, God, soon.
Yes, he heated her blood, but there was something about him that chilled her soul.
In the meantime—hopelessly fascinated as she was—she knew exactly how she would have him. A strong woman, she was aroused by the strength of a dominant man. She would end the night sprawled over his leather sofa. He would fist his hand in her long hair, drive into her from behind. He would bite the nape of her neck when she came.
She inhaled sharply, took one step forward, and he was on her, dragging her down to the thick carpet. Firm lips, sensual, with a hint of cruelty, closed over hers as he kissed her, golden eyes narrowing.
There was something about him that bordered on terrifying, she thought as he pinned her hands to the floor and rose over her, too beautiful, rife with dark secrets she suspected no woman should ever know—and it made the sex so much more exquisite, that fine edge of danger.
It was her last coherent thought for a long, long time.
Dageus MacKeltar braced his palms against the wall of windows and stared out into the night, his body separated from a plunge of forty-three stories by a pane of glass. The soft buzz of the television was nearly lost in the patter of rain against the windows. A few feet to his right, the sixty-inch screen was reflected in the glistening glass and David Boreanaz stalked broodingly, playing
, the tortured vampire with a soul. Dageus watched long enough to ascertain it was a repeat, then let his gaze drift back to the night.
The vampire always found at least partial resolution, and Dageus had begun to fear that for him, there would be none. Ever.
Besides, his problem was a little more complicated than Angel’s. Angel’s problem was a soul. Dageus’s problem was a legion of them.
Raking a hand through his hair, he studied the city below. Manhattan: A mere twenty-two square miles. Inhabited by nearly two million people. Then there was the metropolis itself, with seven million people crammed into three hundred square miles.
It was a city of grotesque proportions to a sixteenth-century Highlander, the sheer immensity inconceivable. When he’d first arrived in New York City, he’d walked around the Empire State Building for hours. One hundred and two floors, ten million bricks, the interior thirty-seven million cubic feet, one thousand two hundred and fifty feet tall, it was struck by lightning an average of five hundred times per year.
What manner of man built such monstrosities? he’d wondered. Sheer insanity was what it was, the Highlander had marveled.
And a fine place to call home.
New York City had beckoned the darkness within him. He’d made his lair in the pulsing heart of it.
A man without clan, outcast, nomad, he’d doffed the sixteenth-century man like so much worn plaid and applied his formidable Druid intellect to assimilating the twenty-first century: the new language, the customs, the incredible technology. Though there were still many things he didn’t understand—certain words and expressions utterly stumped him, and more often than not he thought in Gaelic, Latin, or Greek and had to hastily translate—he’d adapted at a remarkable rate.
A man who possessed the esoteric knowledge to open a gate through time, he’d
five centuries to make the world a vastly different place. His understanding of Druid lore, sacred geometry, cosmology, and natural laws of what the twenty-first century called physics had made the wonders of the new world easier for him to fathom.
Not that he didn’t frequently gawk. He did. Flying on a plane had fashed him greatly. The clever engineering and fabulous construction of Manhattan’s bridges had kept him occupied for days.
The people, the masses of teeming people, bewildered him. He suspected they always would. There was a part of the sixteenth-century Highlander he’d never be able to change. That part would forever miss wide-open expanses of starry sky, leagues and leagues of rolling hills, endless fields of heather, and blithesome and bonny Scots lasses.
He’d ventured to America because he’d hoped that journeying far from his beloved Scotland, from places of power such as the standing stones, might lessen the hold of the ancient evil inside him.
affected them, though it had only slowed his descent into darkness, not stopped it. Day by day he continued to change . . . felt colder, less connected, less fettered by human emotion. More detached god, less man.
Except when he tooped—och, then he was alive.
he felt. Then he was not adrift in a bottomless, dark, and violent sea with naught but a puny bit of driftwood to cling to. Making love to a woman staved off the darkness, replenished his essential humanity. Ever a man of immense appetites, he was now insatiable.
I’m no’ entirely dark yet,
he growled defiantly to the demons coiled within him. The ones who bided their time in silent certainty, their dark tide eroding him as steadily and surely as the ocean reshaped a rocky shore. He understood their tactics: True evil didn’t aggressively assault, it lay coyly hushed and still . . . and seduced.
And it was there each day, clear evidence of their gains, in the little things he did without realizing he was doing them till after they were done. Seemingly harmless things like lighting the fire in his hearth with a wave of his hand and a whispered
, or the opening of a door or blind with a soft murmur. The impatient summoning of one of their conveyances—a taxi—with a glance.
Wee things, mayhap, but he knew such things were far from harmless. Knew that each time he used magic, he turned a shade darker, lost another piece of himself.
Each day was a battle to accomplish three things: use only what magic was absolutely necessary, despite the ever-growing temptation, toop hard and fast and frequently, and continue collecting and searching the tomes wherein might lie the answer to his all-consuming question.
Was there a way to get rid of the dark ones?
If not . . . well, if not . . .
He raked a hand through his hair and blew out a deep breath. Eyes narrowed, he watched the lights flickering beyond the park, while behind him, on the couch, the lass slept the dreamless sleep of the utterly exhausted. On the morrow, dark circles would mar the delicate hollows beneath her eyes, etching her features with beguiling fragility. His bed play took a toll on a woman.
Two nights past, Katie had wet her lips and oh-so-casually remarked that he seemed to be waiting for something.