Laird Gavin MacKinnon is a changed man—and not for the better. Ever since his young son, Ewan, disappeared two years ago, Gavin has grown callous and bitter. Scouring the countryside, his search leads him to a mysterious woman who maintains the boy is hers. He decides to take them both and ask questions later.
Deirdre MacIntyre will go with the brooding laird if it will keep her son safe. Gavin has to admit that the beautiful lass has a bond with Ewan, and things aren’t adding up. When Deirdre’s clan comes to claim her under threat of war, Gavin has a choice to make: fight for her or let her go.
She scanned the crowd, not seeing her target. He couldn’tjust blend in—he was possibly the biggest man she’d ever seen. It was an unusually warm day, and he’d rolled up his linen sleeves, the tie at his neck undone. The material had hung open, revealing muscles that rippled and bulged in his arms and chest.
Developed wielding the huge broad sword that hung down his spine, no doubt.
The muscles weren’t what frightened her the most—nor the sword. It was the grim intensity in his face and eyes that promised retribution…eyes that were the exact same color as her son’s.
That scared the life out of her.
“Where are you?” she whispered, hearing the desperation in her voice, the fear that howled like a wounded animal through her body.
“I’m right behind you, lass, and wondering why the wife of Lewis MacIntyre, son and heir of the ruthless Laird MacIntyre, almost ran me down in the middle of the market and has been unable to keep her gaze off me since. You’re a lovely lass, for sure, but you doona stare at me with lust in your eyes. ’Tis not a swiving you’re after.”
Deirdre’s stomach clenched, and she would have run—like a mouse, never the lion she wanted to be—but his hand landed on the swell of her hip. The pressure of his palm silently ordered her to turn around.
She did. And when she stumbled, his fingers tightened on her body and steadied her. He watched her with narrowed eyes, his gaze landing on the pulse that she could feel beating wildly in her neck and on her trembling lips. She knew that luminous stare—the bright, dazzling blue that verged on crystalline sea-green. But the eyes she’d been staring into for the past two years looked back at her lovingly, adoringly. Not with suspicion and barely hidden enmity.
For him, she stiffened her spine. For the sake of her son.
“Let go of me. I doona need your help.”
The man’s gaze flicked to hers, and she saw a growing interest. Speculation. He withdrew his hand and took a step back. She stared up at him, this time trying to look past those familiar eyes and see what other similarities she could find in his frightening countenance.
The same long, thick lashes fringed his piercing gaze; the same shallow dent marked his chin. His hair formed a downward peak in the middle of his forehead, the same as her son’s. Except Ewan’s hair was longer and lighter, almost a white-blond. This man had hacked his blond hair short, so it looked darker and stood up in ragged bristles.
Her eyes drifted down to his mouth. He had lips like her son’s too, but while Ewan’s were soft and childlike, his had firmed with age while still keeping their full shape.
That’s where the similarities ended. Her son’s welcoming smile was nowhere to be seen. Nay, this man looked grim and possibly cruel. It was there in the twist of his lips, the harshness of his countenance, the quickness with which he was ready to condemn her.
He expected betrayal, and she suspected he’d even welcome it, because then he could punish whoever had crossed him.
Aye. A cruel man, indeed.
“Is your husband here, Lady MacIntyre?”
“He’s here…somewhere.” Just where, she had no idea. Truth be told, she didn’t expect to see him for days yet, if not weeks. Which made his insistence that she accompany him to the festival even more surprising. “You know a great deal about me, but I am at a disadvantage. Who are you?” she blurted out.
“I’m Gavin MacKinnon, Laird of Clan MacKinnon. Did you come here looking for me, lass? Is there something you want to tell me? Some information you want to share?”
The last words sounded almost hopeful, eager, and that disturbed her as much as the color of his eyes. Hope implied faith and dreams. Cruel men did not dream—and she wanted him to be cruel. Aye, if he was a blackheart, she could turn away and never look back.
“Nay,” she said abruptly, her panic rising again. What information was he looking for? “And you’re mistaken. I wasn’tlooking at you. I was just…looking.”
The eagerness faded from his eyes, replaced by disappointment and frustration, even bitterness. It caused an unexpected pang in her heart. She didn’t like that she’d somehow hurt him and put that bleakness back into his gaze.
“Aye, you stared at me for a long while. Did you like what you saw? I’m a big man. Some women mistake that to mean the same as rough. Is that what you were hoping for, lass? A hard tupping? Did I misunderstand your interest?”
His tone was harsh, the words callous.
Shock flooded her senses. Especially as she could see he didn’t mean what he said. He was deliberately trying to hurt her. To diminish her. And it worked. As much as she tried to fight it, shame and fear invaded her body. As quick as that, she was back to being five or ten or thirteen and at the mercy of her mother and siblings.
No one but her family had ever tried to wound her deliberately. Marrying Lewis and coming to the MacIntyres, despite her young age, had turned into a blessing. Her husband was distant but not unkind, and his clan was respectful. They’deven become friendly since she’d been given Ewan. Her son’s laughter and love had opened everyone’s hearts.
“I doona wish that from you, sir. I doona wish anything from you other than to be left alone.”
“Everyone wants something, Lady MacIntyre. And eventually I’ll discover what you want too.”
He nodded once—a curt dip of his head—then moved past her into the gathering. She held her breath and closed her eyes, making herself stay still, no matter how much she wanted to turn around and watch him leave. Her throat tightened, and she felt the pressure of tears building behind her eyelids.
She would not let them fall. She’d promised herself she’d never cry again over the hurtful words of cruel men—and women too. Aye, her mother and siblings had been experts at saying hurtful things.
But this was different. This was about Ewan.
God almighty, Lewis. What have you done?