THIRTY

Isla couldn’t believe Hayden would actually think Ian was her lover. She had never dared to slap anyone before. As soon as her hand had connected with his face, the need to hit him again had been too powerful to resist.

It had released something inside her, released the anger that had built.

But Hayden had been too quick. He’d ensnared both her wrists and trapped her against the wall. The cool stone to her back, and his warm body at her front.

It took less than a heartbeat for her indignation to turn to searing desire. She didn’t want to feel anything for Hayden, especially after he had embarrassed her so, but her body refused to listen.

Hayden’s face was breaths from hers. She stared into his fathomless black depths and knew she was his, knew resisting would only cause herself more heartache. There was no getting away, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Aye, he had hurt her. Terribly. But what he made her feel, how he made her come alive whenever he was around, was beautiful and like a dream come true.

It was something Isla never thought to experience for herself, yet here it was, right in front of her. Could she — should she — walk away?

Hayden seemed to understand at that moment that something had changed. His gaze searched her face, and he leaned down as if to kiss her when suddenly he began to pull back.

Isla wanted Hayden, wanted all the distrust and anger that came with him. Without a second thought she rose up on her toes and placed her lips on his.

He jerked and stood motionless. Isla kissed him again, and this time Hayden came out of his stupor. His mouth greedily devoured hers in a kiss that left her breathless and aching for more.

His lips were firm yet gentle, demanding yet seeking. His tongue swept into her mouth and stole her breath — and her soul. His kiss was urgent, passion-filled, and seductive.

It never entered her mind not to give all of herself in return. She opened her body, opened her heart and dove into the seductive passion she knew awaited her in Hayden’s arms.

She wanted her arms around his neck, to feel the slide of his silken hair through her fingers, but he still held her wrists. Imprisoned, trapped by his solid body.

The feel of his hot, hard shaft against her stomach sent flutters of excitement through her. Her blood turned to fire and heat settled between her legs, throbbing and insistent.

His hands flattened against her palms for a moment before he threaded his fingers with hers. Connecting them, uniting them on the basest of levels.

Yet Isla couldn’t help but feel as if an invisible thread wove them together, binding them in ways only they would be able to detect.

Hayden moaned deep in his throat and leaned his body against hers. She wanted to wrap her hands around his arousal again, to feel the steely strength of his cock as she brought him pleasure. She wanted to take him into her mouth until he came, until he shouted her name.

His hands caressed down her arms to her sides then to her back where he crushed her to his chest, locking her tightly against him, as he turned them away from the wall. He bent her over his arm as his mouth traced a hot, wet trail from her jaw down her neck.

One moment they were standing, and the next Isla was on her back on the bed. She stared up at Hayden as he looked down at her. His black eyes watched her with a measure of lust and wonder. Unable to stop herself, Isla ran a thumb over his wide lips.

He turned his head into her hand and kissed her palm. Achingly tender, lovingly gentle.

The yearning she saw in his eyes made her heart leap into her throat. How could someone who hated her so much want her so desperately? She didn’t understand it, and at the moment, none of it mattered.

He made her feel adored, treasured, beautiful. Wild and awakened. Erotic and aroused.

As soon as he reached for the pin holding his kilt, Isla jumped from the bed and began to jerk off her clothes. They couldn’t come off fast enough. She heard a rip and knew she would have to mend her gown later but didn’t care.

The feel of Hayden’s large hand on her back sent chills running over her skin. He smoothed her hair out of the way and kissed her shoulder. She shivered as his fingers traced her scars.

Her heart caught in her throat. Her back was repulsive, vile. She didn’t know if she could stand to have him look at it as he was, but she couldn’t move.

“You’re beautiful.”

Her eyes clouded with tears. No one but her father had ever called her pretty. To hear it from Hayden, now, filled her with emotions raw and intense that left her exposed, afraid.

Isla turned to face him, uncaring if he saw the tears or not. He sank to the bed, and she knelt in front of him. She cupped her hands on either side of his face and let him see how much his words meant.

She had no experience with what was happening to her. She wasn’t sure if she should say something or keep it locked away to look at later in the quiet of her dreams.

Hayden took the decision from her when he kissed her again softly, gently at first, then the fire took them both. The kiss deepened, pulling them both into the flames of passion. His kiss demanded everything of her, and she eagerly, easily gave it to him.

His hands were everywhere. He teased, he caressed, he tempted. Every place he touched burned for more of him, more of what they were together.

He laid her on the bed and straddled her hips while his mane of golden locks framed a face filled with desire so fierce, so searing that it stole her breath.

His hand stroked her jaw and neck before he splayed his fingers and slid his hand down between her breasts to her stomach.

Isla trembled with a need so great she didn’t think it would ever be quenched. Hayden bent forward as his body moved to cover hers. She loved the feel of him atop her, loved the way his skin moved over hers.

Her hands roamed his shoulders and neck before her fingers plunged into his cool, clean locks. She held onto him then as he began weaving his seductive passion around her.

Hayden cupped her breasts in each hand and smiled devilishly at her before he captured a nipple in his mouth. Isla gasped as she felt him suck at the tiny nub before giving it a gentle nibble.

She tried to watch him, but she was caught on a wave of passion as dark and promising as Hayden’s midnight eyes. Desire turned her blood molten, her body yielding and eager.

His lips drew back so she could see her nipple caught in his teeth. He tugged, giving just enough pressure with his teeth that pleasure speared through her body to center at her sex, making it throb to feel him deep inside her, moving and filling her.

With Isla, Hayden found he always wanted more. Nothing was ever enough. He couldn’t kiss her enough, touch her enough, or desire her enough. He couldn’t know her body enough, pleasure her enough, or claim her enough.

He loved watching the play of emotions cross her face as he fondled her. She was so responsive to his every touch that it made it easy for him to discover what pleased her most.

Hayden wanted to spend hours feasting at her breasts, but when Isla’s hand reached between them and stroked his aching cock, he couldn’t wait another moment to be inside her.

He rose over her, his hands braced on either side of her head. He let her guide him to her opening and felt the slick moisture there, the heady heat of her waiting for him. She was more than ready for him. And he couldn’t linger another moment.

As soon as the tip of him was inside her, he thrust his hips forward, hard and fast, burying himself deep. The feel of her hot, tight walls surrounding him was the most wonderful, the most soul-awakening sensation.

He didn’t want to think about what she was anymore. He didn’t want to see his dead family anymore. All he wanted, all he craved, was the woman in his arms.

When she wrapped her legs around his waist and locked her ankles together it only spurred Hayden’s need. He tried to keep his pace slow to prolong the exquisite torture, but Isla wanted none of that.

He matched her tempo, his hard, deep thrusts filling her, stretching her time and again. He felt her body stiffening, felt the desire growing quickly and knew she was close.

His hips bucked, seeking to drive deeper into her, to give the same pleasure, the same ecstasy she gave him.

“Hayden,” she screamed and raked her nails down his back. Her back arched, her head thrown back as she peaked.

He watched in awe as her body trembled beneath him as pleasure overtook her. As her stunning ice-blue eyes opened and focused on him. In her depths he saw pleasure, aye, but he also saw something deeper, something more profound.

Before he could wonder at it, he found himself reaching his own orgasm. Her hands smoothed over his back as he plunged inside her once more and gave himself over to the climax.

His arms shook as he struggled to hold himself up while he was carried on the wave of pleasure so intense, so driving that he knew he’d never be the same again.

Hayden let himself drown in her eyes, wondering what had just happened and afraid to ask. He lowered his forehead to hers and shared a satisfied smile. Her hands, however, never stopped touching him.

It wasn’t long before it became difficult to keep his eyes open. He rolled onto his back and pulled her with him. He didn’t question his need to keep her near, just gave in to it as he had everything else that night. She cuddled in the crook of his arm, her head on his chest and her hand over his heart.

She fit perfectly against him, as if she had been made just for him.

The last thing Hayden thought before he fell asleep was how right it felt to be with Isla.

*

Isla woke with the light of dawn filtering through her window. She was on her side facing where Hayden had been. The spot was empty now. She tried not to let his absence ruin the glow of their wondrous night, but it was difficult. The only evidence of him was the hollow in the pillow where his head had been.

She was disappointed. She had thought he might stay the night, but she should have known better. Isla ran her hand over the pillow and wondered when Hayden had left.

How would he act when she saw him later? Would there be contempt now? She sat up, clutching the linens to her chest. That’s when her gaze landed on Hayden sitting in the chair studying her.

“You thought I left,” he said.

She nodded.

His mouth twisted wryly. “It would have been the easiest thing to do. I couldn’t, though.”

Her stomach fell to her feet. Whatever was to come, she knew it wouldn’t be good. “Why?”

He leaned forward so that his forearms rested on his knees. His head dropped for a moment before he raised it to look at her. “I came here last night to understand why you had asked the MacLeods to kill you. I also wanted to know why you had turned to Ian so quickly.”

“I never took Ian to my bed,” she inserted hastily.

His gaze bore into hers, searching for the truth. He must have found it because he gave a single nod of his head.

“What happens now?” she asked.

“I doona know. I’ve never been so befuddled in my life, Isla.” He slapped his hand on his thigh before he rose to his feet and paced in front of the bed. “I’ve never had difficulty making decisions before. And I doona like it.”

She knew what his dilemma was, but it was nothing she could help him with. “I am what I am, Hayden. I’m sorry for it. I should have been stronger, I know. Instead, I became a drough.”

“For your family.” He paused and turned to her. “Do you believe I think you weak?”

Isla shrugged and drew her knees to her chest. “It’s what I think of myself.”

“I would have done anything to save my family. Anything. You did what you had to do.”

His eyes glittered with intensity. She knew in that moment that he would, in fact, do whatever it took for his family. And right now, everyone at MacLeod Castle was that family.

Everyone except her.

“What’s the reason you are so confused?” She knew the answer, but she wanted him to say it.

Hayden blew out a ragged breath and looked away. “You know the reason.”

“Say it.”

“Why? You know it.”

Isla would not relent in this. He had to admit it to her, to himself. “Say. It.”

He jerked his head to her, his nostrils flaring and his face set in hard lines. “All right. You’re a drough. I loathe droughs. I vowed to my family I would kill them all, especially the one responsible for their deaths.”

Finally. She had wanted to hear him say it, but now that he had, she wished he hadn’t. He hated the very thing she was. How could they continue on in any sort of fashion? Not even the night they had shared when she was sure he had opened himself to her had done anything to change that.

The simple answer was that they couldn’t.

He blew out a harsh breath. “I had always protected my family. I was the one they looked to, and I failed them. I wasn’t there to fight off the drough.”

She wanted to tell him it wasn’t his fault, but she knew he wouldn’t listen. It was easier to blame oneself than see the truth that nothing could have prevented what happened to his family.

“I have one question for you,” she said. “If you had known I was a drough when you found me on Cairn Toul, would you have left me there?”

His muscle worked in his jaw as he clenched it. “Without a second thought.”

At least he told her the truth. It may not be what she wanted or needed to hear, but it was the truth.

“Then I got to know you. The attraction between us began the instant I found you on Cairn Toul. I tried to deny it, tried to ignore it. But I cannot deny or ignore you.”

His words were a balm to her soul. Yet she saw the torment in his black eyes, saw how he suffered from her presence. He might desire her, but he still didn’t like her. “I will be gone soon, and your life can return to the way it was.”

“Do you mean dead or gone?”

Isla had already decided that either way she would ask the MacLeods to take her head. She hadn’t lied last night. She was tired of living this life. “Does it matter?”

He looked away and she smiled ruefully. “Ah. I see. You want to make sure I’m dead so there will be one less drough around.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“You didn’t have to say it. I saw it on your face.”

He face mottled with fury as he faced her. “Doona put words in my mouth.”

“So you don’t think Scotland would be better with one less drough?”

“Isla. Enough.”

She rose from the bed, still holding the linen sheet against her. “All I’m asking for is the truth. Is that so much to ask? You’ve been honest with me until now. How is this different?”

He only stared at her in response.

“You have every right to hate droughs. They took your family from you in the most heinous way. Droughs are evil. The ceremony is meant to bind them with wickedness. Everything a drough does, everything a drough says is steeped in malice.”

“I know,” he ground out through clenched teeth.

Isla raised a brow. “So droughs need to be killed?”

“Aye,” Hayden finally admitted.

She dragged in a shallow breath. That had hurt far more than she anticipated. “Will you make sure I’m dead? The MacLeods gave me their vow, but I know they don’t really want to do the deed. Ian is the same. I know there is only one man here who would make sure it’s done.”

Hayden turned his back to her. “I couldna do it when I first discovered you were drough. What makes you think I can do it now after sharing your bed?”

“Because you know how important it is that Deirdre not be able to control me.”

“You must think me some kind of monster with no heart.”

Isla sighed and stepped closer to him. She raised her hand to place it on his back, intent on offering him comfort. At the last moment she changed her mind and dropped her arm.

“Nay, Hayden. I think you’re a man who is loyal to a fault. I think you’re the type of man who wants to save everyone. I think you’re the type of man who will honor a vow, no matter how difficult it may be.”

Hayden turned to face her. “Do you intend to have everyone’s pledge at the castle to kill you?”

“If I must. It’s the right thing to do.”

“Is it?”

“Of course.”

He snorted and shook his head. “I will give you my word to end your life, but I will do it when I think the time has come. Not when you wish it.”

“If that was the case, Hayden, I would ask that you kill me now.”

Her words startled him. His brow furrowed deeply. “You think you have no other choice?”

“I know I don’t. I’ve lived five centuries in an evil mountain surrounded by the darkest kind of cruelty. I’ve been alone for so long, and I don’t want to spend another day like that.”

“You aren’t alone. Not here.”

“I have nothing to live for.”

“And if you did have something?” he asked. “Would you fight Deirdre?”

She laughed though there was no humor in it. She turned away before he could see the tears that filled her eyes. She was more alone than ever before.

After having Hayden, after getting a glimpse of what life could be like with him, nothing could ever replace that. “What would I have to live for? Deirdre’s demise? That can be accomplished without me.”

“Live for me.”

Isla’s lungs seized, her breath refusing to leave her body. She was afraid to turn around, afraid to look into Hayden’s eyes and see him mocking her.

Did she have the strength to fight Deirdre? Could she stand against something so evil? For Hayden she would walk through Hell itself.

Silence stretch endlessly before she glanced over her shoulder to give Hayden his answer, to tell him she would live for him.

Somehow she wasn’t surprised to find Hayden had left.

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