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“You're alive,” she murmured.

MacColla began nuzzling her, tracing his tongue along her legs and belly, nipping gently with his lips, teasing closer and closer to her cleft.

One hand held her hips firmly, the other glided up, findin g her breast and kneading it. He chafed his open palm over her nipple and she drew in her breath, feeling the tender skin pulling tight. He pinched her, rolled her between his fingers.

“Yes… ” she said softly.

His kisses skimmed closer and closer until his tongue darted for a moment between her legs, licked, and drew back out again.

“Please.” Haley tightened her grip on his shoulders. “More, MacColla.”

Groaning, he swooped his head back between her thighs, kissing her once, then pressing the flat of his tongue firmly against her.

His tongue laved her, sucking and flicking in a steady rhythm, until she thought the heat in her veins would catch fire.

“Mmm.” It was a harsh sound, rasping low in his throat, escaping on a quavering exhale.

His thumb swiped one last time over her nipple, and MacColla brought his hand down, using it to help support Haley's weight while he eased her legs further apart.

He pulled away from her. The cold air on the thick dampness between her legs was a shock, and she mewled her complaint. But he tilted her hips and very quickly found her again, his rigid tongue pushing in to penetrate her.

Her knees buckled then, and MacColla caught her, wedging a shoulder beneath her knee to bear her weight. His tonguestill thrusting and licking, he brought his thumb to her, steadily circling until she felt her body tightening, tensing, ready to shatter.

A sharp sound escaped her and MacColla held her tightly as she exploded in waves over him.

Easing them both down, he lay on his back and pulled Haley to kneel astride him, slowly guiding her onto him. “So wet.” he murmured, as he began to glide in and out.

His hands roved her body, teasing her breasts, caressing her thighs.

He slowed, snagged her gaze for a heartbeat. “You're too far from me, mo chrìdhe.” MacColla slid his hands to her back and pulled her closer.

“Oh leannan” he whispered huskily, kissing along her collarbones. MacColla's mouth roved down to suck each breast into a point. “So beautiful, mo leannan”

Haley was unable to speak, her body already burning again from within. Breathy moans escaped her and she folded herself completely over him, chest to chest, drawing her mouth along his powerful neck, his throat, his strong chin.

He took her face in his hands and kissed her deeply. He thrust hard and fast now, and the feel of him, so thick and moving so surely inside her, replaced all thought. There was only this sensation, only this moment, only them.

Already she felt the familiar pull in her belly, building and coiling once more, and she thought her next climax might thrust her over a precipice from which she'd never return.

He pulled his mouth from hers. “Come for me,” he whispered, his voice ragged in her ear.

She angled her face to his, her mouth grazing the sharp scrape of stubble at his jaw.

The taste of salt and sex destroyed the last of her control. “Yes,” she cried, and the heat exploded within her, fragmenting her, consuming her.

Haley felt his arms wrapped tightly around her. Felt his fingers curled tight in her hair, clawed in the flesh of her ass. Felt him tense, grow large and spasm inside her, a guttural moan sounding his own pleasure.

MacColla stroked the sweat-damped hair from her brow. Utterly spent, they lay there unmoving, tangled with one another on the lumpy pile of clothes.

“I love you, leannan.” He studied Haley's beautiful face, her cheeks bright from their coupling, and those long black lashes framing bottomless gray eyes. Flecked black and gray like a stormy sea, they watched him, expectantly, and for the first time in his life, MacColla felt truly seen.

“'Tis a simple phrase from a simple man. But there it is. I love you.”

Her passion never ceased to surprise him. The time for him to leave had come and gone, but he'd steal just a few more moments of this. Of her.

“I won't let you die again,” was all she whispered in response.

His fingers paused. Eyes narrowed, he asked, “You mean, you believe I will die.”

“No, MacColla. I watched you die.” She twined her fingers with his and pulled them from her brow. Rolling from him to lie on her side, she said, “You died and I came back for you.”

“How is it… ?” He didn't understand what she was telling him. But he trusted her implicitly, and so waited for understanding to dawn.

She tucked his hand at her heart, and for the first time MacColla noticed her fingertip. “What's this then?” he asked, seizing it.

Though it no longer bled, the pad of her finger shone a uniform and vivid red, as though a layer had been scraped off to reveal the tender meat just below the surface. An angry reddish brown halo already circled the injury.

“We must clean this, leannan.” The furious desire to protect her flexed his muscles. “How did this happen?”

“That's what I'm trying to tell you,” she said, giving him an impatient look.

Realizing he clutched her hand too tightly. MacColla eased his grip. He knew such a response was without merit – this was a small cut, and cuts healed. But the thought of her in any sort of pain was more than he could bear.

“You fought the battle,” she rasped. “You died. A brownhaired soldier shot you in the back. Rollo helped me.”

The words rattled from her, and MacColla tried to make sense of them. “Slower, lass.”

“I went back in time again, to this moment, to tell you.”

She squeezed his hand hard. “You can't fight this battle.”

“How can that be?” He studied her finger. “And what has that… to do with this?” he asked, rubbing her knuckle.

“I went to James Graham for help,” she said, more slowly.

“Graham?” His brows raised in surprise.

“Yes.”

His eyes narrowed playfully. “Is this your way to get me to betray James's true fate?”

“No.” A smile flickered on her face. “My question was finally answered. I saw for myself that Graham lives.”

“You say you went back in time… again?” Could such a thing really have happened? “Truly?”

“Yes. I met James, and Magda too. She gave me a tiny painting, of her brother, said it was a portal through time… ” Her words drifted off. “Do you believe me?”

MacColla stared hard at her. She suddenly looked so anxious, so uncharacteristically vulnerable, her despair hinging on his response.

He remembered Magda. The woman had told him about her brother, how he'd died.

And then it struck him. There was no way Haley could've known about Magda's dead brother.

“Aye, leannan” he replied softly. “When have I not believed you?”

Smiling, she clutched his hand tight and continued with renewed zeal, “Rollo took me to find a witch. But a witch found us. She said she hated Campbell and would send me back to save you.”

Haley let go his hand and studied the raw skin of her fingertip. “She scraped patterns on the portrait and that's what cut me. She chanted and rubbed my finger raw, and… well, then I was back with you.”

“I see,” he said quietly.

“Good. You see?” she confirmed brightly. “You can't fight.”

“But I must fight.”

MacColla felt her body go rigid.

Her mouth sputtered mutely for a moment. Finding her voice, she said with dangerous quiet, “What did you say?”

“Still yourself, love.” He sat up, watching as the storm in her eyes grew darker.

For once in his life, he'd rely first on reason, not passion. “You tell me there's an enemy out there who'd shoot me in my back?”

At her stiff nod, he continued, “If I don't get this man now, he'll come for me another day. It may be in Ireland, mayhap in Scotland, but he will come.”

Haley nodded again, reluctantly. “Yes, but ”- “We can work this through. But you have to tell me everything.”

MacColla helped her sit up to lean against the wall. He draped his plaid over Haley's chest and legs.

“Fret not, leannan. We shall beat this blackguard at his own game.”

Chapter Thirty-Four

MacColla savored fighting a battle he knew he'd win. And such a commanding triumph it was. Haley had told him of his victory on the Hill of Knocknanuss, but he hadn't imagined such a sweet rout.

The lass had wanted to watch, and he'd flatly refused. It was only after she resorted to threats of withholding what she called her charms, that he conceded to letting her hide in wait amidst a thick tangle of trees.

He admitted he appreciated having her musket guarding his back. It was a decent musket he'd given her this time, with a wheel lock and plenty of powder.

He'd considered the other ways in which he could change the day's outcome. He'd been sore tempted to warn that fool Taaffe not to abandon his command, but he couldn't trust that the unseasoned lord might not turn tail at the last moment, and repeat history all over again.

MacColla had decided the best course would be to live out the day as he would, trying to clear his mind of all else.

It was critical he sniff out his assassin. He assumed it would be a Campbell man. One who'd find MacColla sooner or later.

He preferred sooner.

But damned if he wasn't nettled by the wait. He'd just dismissed the messenger. Knocknanuss Hill was at his back and his soldiers were long gone, racing ahead, chasing the last of the Parliamentary soldiers.

Most men didn't know the moment of their death, yet here he stood, alone, waiting for his fate to unfold.

In an instinctive gesture, MacColla lifted his hand to touch the sword grip at his back. He'd a great affection for the weapon. Claidheamh da laihm. The name he'd told Haley what seemed a lifetime ago.

He looked to where she hid in the trees, praying the blade would deliver him this one last time.