Table of ContentsHIGHLAND CROSSFIREDEDICATIONACKNOWLEDGMENTSPROLOGUECHAPTER ONECHAPTER TWOCHAPTER THREECHAPTER FOURCHAPTER FIVECHAPTER SIXCHAPTER SEVENCHAPTER EIGHTCHAPTER NINECHAPTER TENCHAPTER ELEVENEPILOGUEAn Excerpt from THE CHIEF COMPLETE MONICA MCCARTY BOOKLISTABOUT THE AUTHOR
HIGHLAND CROSSFIREByMonica McCarty
DEDICATIONTo Sara Ramsey and Christie Ridgway who helped me finally (after almost ten years) put Annieand Niall’s story together. We should always go to retreats at castles!
ACKNOWLEDGMENTSThanks as always to Jami Alden for reading this so quickly and for being the best first reader ever.Thanks also to Kim Killion at The Killion Group, Inc. for the gorgeous cover and print formatting. Onthe production side, a huge thanks Anne Victory and Linda for their eagle-eyed proofing, and LisaRogers for the ebook formatting. I have a great village and couldn’t do it without you all—really!
HIGHLAND CROSSFIREALL RIGHTS RESERVEDHIGHLAND CROSSFIRE Buccaneer Press LLC Copyright 2019 Monica McCartyExcerpt from THE CHIEF Random House Copyright 2010 Monica McCartyCover Design Copyright The Killion Group, Inc.This is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organization, or locales are intended only to provide a senseof authenticity, and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination andare not to be construed as real.All rights reserved. No part of this novel may be reproduced without prior written permission from the publisher, except for briefquotations for purposes of review.www.MonicaMcCarty.comMonica on FacebookMonica on TwitterMonica on InstagramSign up for Monica’s Newsletter
HIGHLAND CROSSFIREAt eighteen, Annie MacGregor thought the worst thing that could happen to her was a broken heart.But she was wrong. Caught in the crossfire of warring clans, Annie’s ravaging at the hands of thehated Campbells has nearly destroyed her. But she is determined to put her life back together, and thatlife doesn’t include Niall Lamont, the man who broke her heart two years before and has nowappointed himself her unwanted avenger and sentinel.Niall made the biggest mistake of his life when he told Annie that he couldn’t marry her. By the timehe realizes his mistake, however, it’s too late. His clan is nearly destroyed by the Campbells forharboring her kinsmen, he is outlawed, and the woman he loves has been brutalized. With timerunning out, and the king’s men closing in, Niall will do whatever he must to earn Annie’s forgiveness—even if it means teaching the stubborn lass to defend herself. But Annie is a MacGregor, and ifthere is one thing the persecuted clan knows how to do, it is fight. Forgiveness, however, is anothermatter, and Niall begins to wonder if some wounds just might be too deep to heal.
January 26, 2019Dear Reader,In the ten years since the Campbell trilogy was published, I’ve had many requests for Annie and Niall’s story. I’d always intended towrite it, but given the difficult subject matter of Annie’s past, I wanted to make sure I did their story justice, and just what that story washadn’t really come to me. That changed a couple of years back when the first seedlings of a story began to take root. A writer’s retreatat a fabulous “castle” in New York last summer gave me the time I needed to (finally!) put it all together.To all the people who have written to me about Annie and Niall over the years, thank you for keeping them alive in my heart. It mayhave taken a little longer than planned, but this one is for you.Monica
PROLOGUEJune 13, 1607, Dunvegan Castle, Isle of SkyeAnnie MacGregor glanced at the man with the black expression on his face climbing the sea-gatestairs beside her and elbowed him in the ribs.Hard.“Ouch! Damn it, Annie,” her brother said with a scowl. “What in Hades was that for?”“You promised to have fun,” she replied with a black scowl of her own. Patrick, the eldest of herthree older brothers, wasn’t the only one in the family with a temper. She resisted the urge to wag herfinger at him. She wasn’t going to be called a “London fishwife” (there was no worse disparagementto a Highlander than being called English) today. Today was going to be perfect. “You said that forone week we could have fun and not worry.”For one precious week they would emerge from their lair in the Lomond Hills and forget that theywere outlaws, proscribed and persecuted simply for the sin of being MacGregors.“I said I would try to have fun,” Patrick corrected. “And it’s my job as chieftain to worry. Don’tforget what happened last year.” The prior year, Patrick, Gregor (her second eldest brother), and theircousin and chief, Alasdair MacGregor, had nearly been captured at the Highland Gathering held atCastle Campbell. Despite being outlawed, Alasdair, known as “the Arrow of Glen Lyon,” hadwanted to enter—and win—the archery contest. He would have, too, if Patrick hadn’t betrayed theiridentities by coming to the aid of the Earl of Argyll’s cousin Elizabeth who’d slipped in the mud.Annie’s brother’s actions had surprised them all. Patrick wasn’t exactly known for his Galahadtendencies—especially toward the hated Campbells. “Besides,” he added, probably knowing whereher mind was heading and wanting to cut off questions about the incident, “little girls who useblackmail to get their way aren’t in any position to be casting stones.”Annie’s scowl shifted into a scrunched-up nose. “I didn’t blackmail you. I cried.”“Exactly.”She bit back a smile as they passed through the first arched stone gate in the curtain wall. She’dbeen about five when she’d learned the destructive force of a woman’s tears—especially hers—onher fearsome brothers. Although she rarely had to bring out that particular weapon to get her way,desperate times called for desperate measures, and Niall Lamont certainly qualified. She wasn’tgoing to miss the chance to see him, and with the Gathering being held this year at Dunvegan Castleon the Isle of Skye—remote enough to be beyond the reach of the Campbells—she’d done what shehad to do to convince her very unreasonable, overprotective, and extremely stubborn brother to lether attend.If she didn’t know better, she would think Niall was avoiding her. She hadn’t seen him in almostsix months—since he and his brother Malcolm had come to Glenstrae to fetch her brother Iain fortheir latest bit of mischief.Niall and her brother Iain were always getting into mischief. It was what they did. They wereyoung Highland warriors. Wild, wicked, and troublemaking was in the blood. When they weren’traiding and otherwise raising hell across the countryside, they were drinking and flirting with the sortof women she wasn’t supposed to know about.If the thought crossed her mind that there might be more than flirting going on, she turned her mind
away from it. She wouldn’t think about that. Whatever had happened before today was in the past.Suddenly she thought of something else Patrick had said and elbowed him again even harder. Asthey’d reached the top of the stairs and were on the flat ground of the castle barmkin, she could stopto turn to face him, putting her hands on her waist and drawing herself up to her full height—even if itwas a good foot shorter than his. “And I’m not a little girl. I’m eight and ten today.”He groaned and rubbed his side. “Don’t remind me. My baby sister is all grown up, and I’m notsure how the hell that happened.” He grimaced again with exaggerated pain. “You’ve gotten strongerin your old age.”She rolled her eyes as they continued on. “I’ve always been strong—just like you and Gregor.” Hestarted to open his mouth but, seeing her glare, slammed it shut. “Don’t say it,” she said, knowingexactly what he was thinking: “Strong for a wee lass.”Strong was strong. Just because she wasn’t as inhumanly strong as he was didn’t mean she wasn’tstrong in her own right. She could carry more wood and move heavier stones than men much biggerthan she.But she wasn’t supposed to notice things like that.Nor would she point it out. She knew it upset her brothers that she had to work so hard. They werea proud, protective lot, and manual labor and rustic living conditions in whatever brae or glen theycould find in the Lomond Hills that was safe from Campbells wasn’t the life they wanted for her orthought she deserved. In another world, in another place where her clan hadn’t had their lands andcastles stolen from them, she would have lived the life of a noblewoman.Once the MacGregors had ruled Scotland. Their motto, s rìoghail mo dhream, “royal is my race,”attested to their ancient power. But over the years, the clan’s authority had waned. And after the daysof King Robert the Bruce, when the Campbells had started to rise in importance, the MacGregors hadbeen slowly stripped of their wealth and had struggled to hold on to their lands.That struggle had killed her parents. Her father had been a MacGregor chieftain—brother to theChief of MacGregor—and her mother had been sister to Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy who was oneof the most powerful men in Scotland. But her father and her Campbell uncle had fought over land,and when “Black” Duncan’s men came to their castle on Loch Earn, her father had been killed in theattack.Her mother had also been struck down that night by her own brother’s men. Unintentionally,maybe, but caught in the crossfire nonetheless. A not-uncommon fate of women in the Highlandswhere war and feuds between the clans had gone unchecked by powerless kings for hundreds ofyears.But the once-unfettered power of the clans and chiefs was waning. King James the VI of Scotland,and now the I of England, intended to put an end to the lawlessness in the Highlands, and this time itwas the MacGregors who were caught in the crossfire. Outlawed and made a scapegrace for wrongsthey didn’t commit to appease the Scottish king’s new English subjects.But none of that mattered today. Today Annie was free. Today she was finally eighteen. Today shewould see the man she’d given her heart as a woman full grown. There would be no more excuses.No more waiting. He would kiss her, and then he would ask her to marry him.Niall Lamont might be a rogue, but he loved her. Of that she had no doubt.Almost as if Patrick could read her mind, he frowned. There was a familiar warning in his voicewhen he started, “Annie ”I don’t want you to be disappointed.But she wasn’t listening. She’d just caught sight of the man striding out of the massive square
tower ahead of her. The man she’d traveled so far to see. The man who made her breath hitch, herchest ache, and her stomach drop since the first time she’d seen him, even though she’d been but tenyears old.Eight years later, Niall Lamont, the second son of the Lamont of Ascog, was still one of the mosthandsome men she’d ever beheld. He had pitch-black hair, brilliant blue eyes, and a smile that wouldmelt even the steeliest of knees. Nearly as tall as her towering brother at a few inches over six feet,his broad shoulders already supported an impressive bulk of lean muscle that in five years’ time—when he was the same age as Patrick’s six and twenty—might even surpass her brother’s powerfulwarrior’s physique.But that was where the similarities between the two men ended. Patrick had had little reason tosmile in the sixteen years since he’d witnessed their parents’ deaths and been forced to take up themantle of chieftain to a persecuted clan. But Niall on the other hand Niall did nothing but smile. Awicked, cocksure smile that lit the blue in his eyes with a silvery twinkle and made her feel as ifshe’d just stepped out into the bright sunlight every time he looked at her.Even that first time when she was ten and he’d come up behind her after she’d punched that horridTorquil MacNeil in the nose for trying to kiss her.“Now, that’s the lass for me,” Niall had said, breaking out into peals of laughter.His words had seemed prophetic. They were perfect together. And in the dozens of times they’dmet since then, she’d never had cause to doubt it. It was in the way he looked at her. The way the lightjumped into his eyes. The way their gazes would catch and hold and something pure and powerfulwould pass between them. It happened every time.Except this time.This time when he looked at her the broad smile that had been on his face held for one long instantand fell. It slid from his eyes and took the twinkle—and the feel of sunlight—along with it in a hardcrash of disappointment. He turned away so quickly to talk to the man beside him—his brotherMalcolm, she realized—that the ground under her feet seemed to shift and roll. She felt unsteady. Asif she were still standing on the planks of the birlinn she’d just gotten off of and bracing herselfagainst the violent pitch of the sea.His reaction was so unexpected—and so instantaneous—that she almost wondered whether he’dseen her.But he had.Annie’s unfailing confidence where Niall Lamont was concerned dimmed. But not for long. Notwhen she noticed her brother’s fearsome gaze in Niall’s direction.That was it! Her blasted brother was the reason for Niall’s reaction. Annie knew the two men hadhad words last time she’d seen Niall. Patrick had discovered them in the barn together. They weren’tdoing anything, but he’d ordered her to leave and said something to Niall that had sent him running offwith Iain with barely a goodbye.She’d had to corner him to get that.“I’m sorry, Annie. I can’t do this. It isn’t right.”She didn’t understand what he was talking about. “What isn’t right?”He wouldn’t look at her. He seemed pained somehow. “You’re too young; you don’tunderstand.”She’d gotten angry then. Those were her brother’s words. “I’m seven and ten.”He smiled at that, and the sun came out again. “Practically an old woman.” He laughed, butthen quickly sobered. “People might get the wrong impression of us spending time together. They
may think ” He seemed embarrassed. “They may think badly of you.”“Why? We aren’t doing anything wrong.” Much to her disappointment. “And you like spendingtime with me.”He didn’t deny it. How could he? Niall loved her every bit as much as she loved him. Everyoneknew it. He’d always made a point to seek her out. He talked to her in a way he didn’t talk toanyone else. Told her things. Confided in her. Trusted her. There was an intimacy between themthat went beyond friendship and compatibility.“Then what’s the problem?” she asked. “Why do you care what everyone thinks?”She didn’t care. The women who gossiped about her were just jealous.He looked at her, shook his head, and laughed. “You’re impossible to argue with.”“Good,” she said with a lift of her chin. “Then don’t. You can kiss me goodbye instead.”His face darkened ominously. Anyone who thought Niall only carefree and good-natured hadnever seen him get angry. He could turn terrifying in an instant. But all that male intimidation waslost on her. Niall would never hurt her. He would protect her with his life. “Annie you have tostop saying that.”“Why?”“Because you make it hard for me to do the right thing.”“It isn’t right to kiss me?”He looked down at her, and the fierce expression on his face—the longing, the desire, thenearly palpable hunger—made her think he’d finally relent. That he’d finally give in to theattraction that had been building between them for years.The air seemed to be sucked out of the space between them, and every inch of her skin washumming. She felt a crackle that sent sparks of heat racing through her blood as he leanedcloser “No, damn it,” he said, more to himself than to her, and jerked back. “Not when you are soyoung. You aren’t even eighteen, for Christ’s sake.”It took Annie a moment for her senses to clear from the almost kiss to manage a reply. “I won’tbe seventeen forever,” she told him.She could have sworn she heard him mumble “heaven help me” as he turned and walked away.Well, heaven wasn’t going to help him today. Today she would have her kiss—and the promise ofthe man she’d given her heart to many years before.***What the hell was Annie doing here? Her brother was half-crazed to risk taking her from thesafety of the Lomond Hills. Although “safety” was a relative term when it came to the MacGregors.There wasn’t anywhere that was truly safe for the hunted clan. But the wild, inhospitable countrysidenorth of Loch Katrine that stretched to the Braes of Balquhidder was about as close as it came. Therewere few men brave enough to venture into the wolves’ own den.The Campbells and their leader, the Earl of Argyll, might not agree, but Alasdair MacGregor, theMacGregor of Glenstrae, didn’t need a piece of paper to claim title to those lands. He held them bythe right of sword and wouldn’t relinquish them easily.But if Niall were honest with himself, he’d admit that safety wasn’t the only reason for thefierceness of his reaction—or the black mood that seemed to suddenly darken the sunny day. It wasthe feeling of being caught. Of knowing he couldn’t hide. Of being forced to confront something that
he would rather ignore.What was between him and Annie he wanted to keep it that way forever. He wanted to bottle itup and protect it from the stench of duty and responsibility.But they weren’t children anymore—as both her brother and his liked to remind him—and hecould no longer pretend otherwise. It had become harder and harder to resist the temptation that beingwith her brought. He knew just how close to kissing her he’d come last time, and that would havebeen a disastrous mistake—in more ways than one.Even if he wished this moment would never come, he knew it was here. And that was the realreason for Niall’s anger.Still, he couldn’t completely ignore the spike of pleasure at seeing her. There had never beenanother woman who could make him feel the way that Annie did. It wasn’t her beauty. Although hewasn’t blind; he’d noticed that the adorable ten-year-old scamp with tangled hair and freckled cheekswho had leveled a boy half a head taller than her with a punch to the nose had grown into a youngwoman of exceptional beauty.It was just that her looks had never been what had attracted him. It was the fierceness of her spirit,the brash stubbornness, the indelible pride, and the girlish mischievousness—not the stunning green ofher eyes, the golden glow of her complexion, or the dark, whisky-colored locks that flowed down herback in a tumble of silk-smooth and very untangled waves. Nor was it the strength of her long,slender limbs, the curve of her hips, or the lush roundness of her breasts—although those sure as hellhad caused him a lot of pain and long, sleepless nights the past couple of years.No, Annie was as wild and strong as the land that her clan fought so hard to hold on to. Whateverexcess confidence and arrogance he might be accused of having, she met him step-by-step. She’dcaptivated him from the first moment he’d seen her, even though he’d only been a lad of fourteen.There was no one like her.But she wasn’t for him.He knew that. He just didn’t want to have to think about it.Niall didn’t have any desire for a wife as yet—he was only one and twenty, for God’s sake—butwhen he did marry, it was his duty to make it a good one. His marriage would be a political alliancebrokered to better the clan. And the outlawed MacGregors—even if Iain MacGregor was one of hisbest friends and he respected the hell out of Patrick MacGregor—weren’t a clan that anyone wantedto be connected with right now. Especially the Lamonts. The longtime bond between the two clanshad already cast Campbell suspicion in the Lamont direction. A bond of marriage would only makethat scrutiny worse.Marrying a MacGregor wouldn’t just be a failure of Niall’s duty to his clan, it could also bedangerous.His brother Malcolm, who like their father had pointed this out more than once, hadn’t missed theexchange across the barmkin. “You have to tell her. It isn’t fair to the lass.”“Tell her what? I’ve never made her any promises.”Niall knew he sounded like an arse—a defensive arse—which was appropriate since that’s howhe felt. But Malcolm’s pitying look made it feel as if his skin was being peeled back and salt rubbedin it.“Maybe not, but sometimes verbal promises aren’t necessary. That lass has loved you for years.And despite your efforts to prove otherwise lately, I don’t think you are as unattached as you want tobe.”Niall’s jaw clamped down. He didn’t need his older brother lecturing him on having a little fun—
Malcolm did his share of sowing his wild oats—and any attachment he might feel was irrelevant.People of their station didn’t marry for “attachment.”“If it’s any consolation,” Malcolm said. “I wish it could be different.”Niall held his brother’s gaze, and seeing nothing but compassion, could only nod. “Me, too.”The words hurt to admit. It felt as if they’d had to be pried out from between his ribs with an ironcrow.The two men had crossed the yard to where the other contestants were gathered, so theconversation came to a happy end. But all too soon Niall was forced to remember it when Annie—looking exceptionally pretty in a colorful arisaidh—cornered him as he was walking back to the greathall from the archery practice area.Before he could stop her, she grabbed his hand and dragged him into the castle herb garden.Unfortunately for him, it was located in a private corner of the barmkin, and there didn’t seem to beanyone else around.Like a coward, he’d looked.Barely had she let his hand go, and he’d recovered his senses before she turned on him in a huff.“Whatever is the matter with you?”“What do you mean?”Playing dumb with Annie was never a good thing to do. Her eyes narrowed like those of apredator who had just smelled blood. The MacGregors were known as Sons of the Wolf, but rightnow he thought that should be sons and daughters.“You acted like you didn’t know me when you saw me this morning. Have I changed so much insix months that you didn’t recognize me, or are you too busy impressing all the swooning lasses todeign to bestow a wave of hello to me?”He didn’t miss either jab: the reproaching for both his long absence and the meaningless smilesand winks he’d exchanged with the women who were watching his practice for the games.“They don’t mean anything to you,” she added.He didn’t like the certainty in her voice. Had he been trying to prove a point to himself or to herby flirting a little more intently today?“I didn’t say they did. But it’s no business of yours.”He should know better than to try to embarrass her. Annie didn’t have a bone of maidenly modestyin her body. She knew who she was. She might be poor, hunted, and forced to live in the hills like avillein most of the time, but she was a MacGregor, and the proud lineage of her clan permeated everyfiber of her being. No matter how low they tried to bring her, or whether she was gowned in fine silksor in a frayed and threadbare wool plaid, she was as regal as any queen.As if to prove his point, his comment elicited nothing but the raising of one delicately archedeyebrow. “Isn’t it?”He wouldn’t answer that. “What do you want, Annie? I need to change before the evening meal.”She looked puzzled by his impatience rather than hurt. She tilted her head, and a small half smileturned her pretty pink, bow-shaped mouth.He felt an ache in a place that told him he really needed to stop thinking about the shape—andsoftness—of her mouth. Or how it would feel and taste crushed under his. Or how it would lookwrapped around He cursed inwardly. But at one and twenty, this was the usual direction of his thoughts.Preoccupied was more like it. But he was a man and he needed to act like it.“I guess you must have forgotten what day it is. I thought you might want to wish me something?”
Hell, he had forgotten! It was the Ides of June. “Damn it, Annie. I’m sorry. Happy Saint’s Day.”She grinned and moved closer to stand before him. A little too close for his peace of mind, but hewouldn’t make it awkward by taking a step back as he wanted.She looked up at him expectantly. Her tilted doe eyes half-lidded and almost coy. “I think you’veforgotten something else.” At his confused look she gave him a hint. A big hint. She leaned in enoughto let the firm tips of her breasts graze his chest. She might have dipped a torch to oil, so quickly didhis blood light on fire. He would have wondered whether the unusually brazen move was a mistakewere it not for her next huskily spoken words. “It’s my eighteenth Saint’s Day.”Niall felt the blood drain to his feet in a hard rush. Gazing down into that upturned face so close tohis own, he felt something jam in his chest.He knew exactly what she meant—what she was asking for. And if he had any doubt, the invitingparting of her lips took it all away.For years he’d wanted to do nothing more than kiss her. He’d wanted to dip his head, cover thoseenticingly pink lips with his, and give in to the passion that flamed between them. He sensed howgood—how hot—it would be.Perhaps that was what gave him the strength to refuse the nearly irresistible temptation of her notso-innocent invitation. The knowledge that once broached this road would be a much harder one notto go down in the future.But when he tried to step back, he realized the wall of the kitchen was behind him. Then her armswere laced around his neck, her body was leaning into his, and all his good sense vanished with thegentle press of her mouth to his.Ah hell.The velvety softness and sweet honey taste stole his breath. For one perilous second, he feltparalyzed, poised on the precipice of indecision. Of something big. Of something he wasn’t sure hewas ready to handle.But when she sighed, the decision was ripped from him in a responding groan of longing so deephe wasn’t sure where it had come from. All he knew was that he had to have her. He had to kiss her.He had to feel her lips move under his and feel her body pressing into him.God, how many times had he dreamed of this?Niall wrapped her in his arms, pulled her against his chest, and gave in to the rush of desire thatcapsized his good intentions and sent him drowning in a whirlpool of pleasure so intense that hewasn’t sure he would be able to pull himself out.***At the first touch of his lips on hers, Annie knew the long wait and moments of uncertainty wereworth it. This this was what she’d always known was between them. This was why none of thoseother women whom he smiled at or flirted with mattered.It was the overwhelming feeling of warmth, of security, and joy that came over her when Niallpulled her into his arms. It was the certainty of destiny fulfilled. The affirmation of fate long awaited.They belonged together, and no one would ever be able to convince her differently. He mightsmile and flirt and tease, but he was hers. Niall Lamont had always been hers. Just as she was his.When he groaned and deepened the kiss, when his mouth moved over hers possessively, when shefelt him give in to the power and harness it with the smooth delicious strokes of a man intent onpleasure, she knew Niall understood it as well.
She loved the way he tasted like the split birch twigs he absently chewed on that were vaguelysweet and wintry. She loved the way he took control. She loved the way his strong arms held her andthe granite hardness of his chest surrounding her.Perhaps it was the long wait—the anticipation—that explained what happened next. Thatexplained how a kiss could go from slow and exploratory to wild and out of control with a fewtentative swipes of a tongue. A tongue that was in her mouth and sliding against hers, sparring,circling, sliding deeper and deeper into a chasm of pleasure.She’d never felt anything like this. It was as if she’d fallen down a dark tunnel of need andpassion, and nothing else mattered.She’d touched him so many times, but it had never been like this. It had never felt so desperate andfrantic. Muscles that her hands might have accidentally grazed before she now clutched as if theywere a lifeline. He felt so wonderfully hard—and strong. She couldn’t seem to press into the granitehard shield of his chest deep enough. Close enough. Her breasts were crushed but achy and throbbingfor more.Innocently, she pressed her hips against his and felt Good gracious.He cursed and pushed her away with enough force to send her stumbling back.“We can’t do this, damn it!” he bit out, his voice ragged and teeming with something she didn’tunderstand.Why was he so angry?“Why not?” She reached for him as if it were the most natural thing in the world, but theunconscious gesture seemed to make him even angrier.He pushed her hands away as if she were a leper. “Damn it, Annie, stop it! I can’t marry you!”The cold slap of his words jerked her head back. For a long moment, her heart didn’t beat.You must have heard him wrong.But she hadn’t. His words echoed loudly in her ears.Stunned, she looked into the handsome face of the boy—the man—she thought she knew so welland felt a wave of confusion and hurt that was so strong it washed away all vestiges of what they’djust shared in one hard swoop. The body that had seconds before been hot and liquid now felt coldand bereft.Wordlessly, her eyes raked his face, searching for something. Anything that might explain whathe meant.But what she saw looked mostly like discomfort. As if he would rather be anywhere else in theworld than here with her. Which hurt all the more because she felt exactly the opposite.When the shock wore off enough, she finally managed, “Why not?”He dragged his fingers through the wavy, jaw-length dark hair that had a tendency to fall acrossone side of his face. “God, Annie, how can you ask that?” He sounded pained. As if her questionwere torturing him. “Don’t you see?”Her eyes locked on his. She could tell from the heat in his cheeks that he wanted to turn away.He was embarrassed. Why would he be embarrassed?Suddenly she sucked in her breath, the pain slici
Monica McCarty. DEDICATION To Sara Ramsey and Christie Ridgway who helped me finally (after almost ten years) put Annie and Niall's story together. We should always go to retreats at castles! ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Thanks as always to Jami Alden for reading this so quickly and for being the best first reader ever.