Authors: Nina Bangs
“Plenty of laugh-out-loud moments . . . if you're looking for fun and fantasy, you'll find it here!”
“Sizzling! Very highly recommended. . . . Witty eroticism reaches new heights . . . A remarkable blend of extremes, including charming, endearing, and exciting,The Pleasure Masterlends a new definition to the word âtease' as it titillates the reader.”
“The Pleasure Masteris an irreverent, sexy, and hilarious romp through 1542 Scotland.”
âWriters WriteNIGHT BITES
“Cosmic chaos and laughs abound in the latest wild romp from the always wonderful Bangs. Sexy and sizzling, this is paranormal fun with lots of spice.”
“Nina Bangs can be depended upon to give her readers a good laugh.”
âThe Eternal NightMASTER OF ECSTASY
“[Bangs] mixes in several different paranormal elements and equal measures of passion and humor to create her latest wonderfully creative, utterly unique romance.”
“If you're looking for a book to heat up [those] cold winter nights, I highly recommendMaster of Ecstasy.”
âRomance Reviews Today
“When it comes to combining sexy situations and humor, Bangs has it nailed. This sensuous and funny tale of time travel and vampires brims with excitement, making it a true winner!”
âRomantic TimesMORE PRAISE FOR NINA BANGS!FROM BOADWALK WITH LOVE
“Be prepared for loads of laughs in this truly hilarious and sexy book.”
âRT BOOKclubNIGHT GAMES
“A sensual time travel that at once titillates and satisfies . . . a tempestuous fantasy with scintillating details . . . very highly recommended.”
âThe Midwest Book Review
“Nina Bangs has to be the imagination queen of amusing sexual romances, for who else could come up with such a plot? . . .Night Gamesis a humorous satire poking fun at the games people play.”
âHarriet KlausnerAN ORIGINAL SIN
“Nina bangs has come up with a completely new and unique twist on the time travel theme and has delivered a story that is both humorous and captivating. No one is exactly what they appear in this clever tale.”
“If you're looking for a funny, heart-wrenching and truly lovely romance to read, try this one. You won't be disappointed.”
âAll About RomanceAN IMPORTANT LESSON
“Heed me, Kathy of Hair. A woman's need and fulfillment starthere.”He placed only his index finger against her forehead, yet she felt the connection all the way to her toes.
“Not here.” He ran his finger down the side of her jaw, her neck, then stopped as he touched the tip of her nipple.
Could've fooled me.She sucked in her breath at the sizzle of sensation that spread like honey on a hot day. Why couldn't she move away, break the connection? Why didn't shewantto?
“Nor here.” He drew his finger between her breasts, down over her stomach, then laid his palm flat against her skirt, and her thighs clenched as though no material separated his flesh from hers, as though she could hold his touch warm between her legs.
“No!” With her last ragged shred of willpower, she rolled away from him.
He let her go.
“Pleasure Master, my foot. You're just like my ex. You're nothing but a womanizer with a fancy title. I bet you never met a woman you didn't love.”
He leaned back and stared at her. He seemed truly puzzled. “'Tis not about love. lass. 'Tis about joining with another for pleasure. I teach women how to take a man's body and enjoy the taking.”
Other books by Nina Bangs:
NIGHT BITESMASTER OF ECSTASYFROM BOARDWALK WITH LOVENIGHT GAMESUNWRAPPED(Anthology)SEDUCTION BY CHOCOLATE(Anthology)AN ORIGINAL SINPARADISE(Anthology)NINABANGSThePleasureMasterContents
Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.200 Madison AvenueNew York, NY 10016
Copyright Â© 2001 by Nina Bangs
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Trade ISBN: 13: 978-1-4285-1653-3E-book ISBN: 978-1-4285-0366-3
First Dorchester Publishing, Co., Inc. edition: June 2001
The “DP” logo is the property of Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
Printed in the United States of America.
Visit us online atwww.dorchesterpub.com.
To my parents, who instilled in mea lifelong love of reading.Thanks.
Men. Cars.Great form, no function, and they both overheated at the wrong time. Who needed them?
Kathy Bartlett glanced in her rearview mirror hoping to spot her hero of the moment, Rod's Reliable Tow Service. Nothing.
Okay, so she'd lied. She needed her car, but she needed itfunctional.
“Speaking of function . . .” She glanced at the shiny hourglass-shaped toy perched on the seat beside her. “What the heck do you do?” She picked up the toy, turned it over, tapped the amber lights on top of its head, then plunked it back onto the seat.
“The strong silent type, huh? Hate to break this to you, but young America likes toys thatdosomething. Loudly. That's why you were left on theshelf, kiddo.” She stared out her sleet-blurred windshield at the passing New York traffic. Great Christmas Eve. “You know, you sort of remind me of my ex-husband, Peter Matthew Stone. Looks hot, does squat. A major PMS moment in my life. Mind if I call you Peter?”
The toy was cool with that.
“What did I do to deserve this, Peter? I'm an okay person. I make women's hair safe for America. When Alice asked me to pick up some toys for the shelter, I said sure. I didn't hire a hit man to knock off old PMS because he's suing me for mental anguish. And I never once laughed when he called a certain body part his love gun. So why is this happening tome?”
Peter hadn't a clue.
“This is all your fault, Peter.”
Peter didn't think so.
“I get out of work late, then run to a few stores looking for toys. You know what's left on Christmas Eve? Rejects. No offense.”
Peter handled it.
“Now I'm stuck on the side of the road with a sack of slightly weird toys in my trunk and one beside me. Fine. So I'm a pushover. I bought you because you were just sitting on the shelf. Admit it, though, you were feeling kind of lonely all by yourself. Hey, I understand what it's like on the shelf. Besides, no one should be alone on Christmas.”
Kathy cast another look in her mirror, then sighed with relief when she saw the tow truck edgingtoward her out of the darkness on the shoulder of the highway.
She took a deep breath and opened the door. Sleet and frigid air hit her in the face. Yech. Shoving her cell phone into her purse, she grabbed her backpack full of hair supplies, climbed out, then went to retrieve her bag of toys from the trunk. Maybe she could convince the driver to swing past the shelter. She'd hate to think of kids without toys on Christmas morning.
Darn, she'd forgotten Peter. She'd just shove him into the sack with the other toys. Pulling open the passenger door, she watched blankly as he tumbled out of the car and landed on his face. At least she guessed it was his face. Sort of hard to tell.
Amazed, she stared at him. “Gee, look what shook loose. You're now the proud owner of three sturdy legs.” Sighing, she picked him up and set him next to her. “You'll make someone a great bedside table, pal, but you won't fit in the bag with those legs sticking out.”
Staring into the darkness, she hunched her shoulders and tried to stop shivering. Damn, damn, and double damn.
“Ihatethis. I need a vacation, Peter. Somewhere warm, peaceful, with every modern convenience at my fingertips, and no stress. And I may as well throw in a man. Yeah, a man who'll do everything I want, never argue, and won'tevertell me to relax and enjoy it.”
A gust of wind blew sleet into her face.
“That's it, Peter. I want warmth, peace, conveniences,and a subservient man. How's that sound?”
Peter must've thought it sounded pretty good because his amber lights flashed, and he rose to his full height, which wasn't too spectacular.
A sudden wave of dizziness drove away all thoughts of Peter. A kaleidoscope of whirling colors made her slightly nauseated. She knew she couldn't be freezing to death because she could still feel her toes.
Please, don't let me pass out.She couldn't let Mrs. Tierney down tomorrow. The ninety-year-old woman would be waiting for her monthly cut, knock-em-dead blond coloring, and the latest issue ofCosmo. Mrs. Tierney's cheapskate nephew had stopped paying Kathy years ago, but that didn't matter. Mrs. Tierney called Kathy her hair princess. It felt good to be someone's princess.
Kathy blinked, trying to clear her vision. Kick her if she skipped any more lunches trying to squeeze in frantic clients.
The whirling colors had become a long tunnel with Peter's flashing amber lights at its end. A neardeath experience?
She sank to her knees still clutching her purse, backpack, and bag of toys. If the tow truck driver discovered her cold stiff body, she hoped he'd find Peter a good home.
And as the whirling colors took her, Peter spoke.
“Hasta la vista,baby!”Chapter One
Arnold Schwarzenegger? Big bad voice for cute little toy? Poor marketing decision. No wonder good old Peter was left warming the shelf. What parents would want their kid to have a two-foot-high tin Terminator?
“Ye must prove yer worthiness, Ian. 'Tis the only fair way. What say ye, Neil?”
Kathy winced. Talking about big bad voices . . . The tow truck driver? She knelt on the ground, still clutching her things.
“Aye. Ye're the eldest, Ian, but that doesna mean ye're the best. Neil Ross has satisfied many a lass.”
Well, cheers for Neil Ross. At least satisfied customers meant he knew which end of her car to hook up to.
Letting everything slide from her grasp, Kathyheld her head. Maybe if it would stop spinning she'd make a stab at opening her eyes.
“Ye must let us choose, Ian, if 'tis to be a true test. Do ye agree, Colin?”
What? What test? All they had to do was hook up her car and tow it to Mel's, where for the nominal fee of her firstborn child, she could get it back in running order.
“Aye. We will find one wi' a heart that canna be touched.”
Yep, that was Mel. Cash or credit card. No personal checks. Against her better judgment, she opened her eyes. She blinked.
Uh-oh. No busy highway, no sexy car. Nocity.Only stark green hills and the morning mist rising from a small stream. Morning? What had happened to the night? Andsilence.A silence so intense it terrified her.
Had she passed out? No, she'd fainted once when old PMS had decided that aromatherapy would loosen her up. He'd said the scent was discovered in an ancient Egyptian tomb. She believed him. It smelled like Essense of Mummy. Anyway, she didn't remember having any strange hallucinations then. She pulled her wool coat tightly around her, warding off the chill, an unspeakable fear tapping on her shoulder.
“I dinna know where we might find such a cold creature, Colin.”
Here. Here.She'd never felt so cold in her life, and the brisk wind numbing her ears had nothing to do with it. Still on her knees, she turned towardthe welcome human voice. “Please, you've got to . . .” She stared.
Two male behinds stared back at her.Barebehinds. APlaygirlchorus line. She resisted the urge to rub her eyes. Two guys mooning her wouldn't be that strange in New York. . . . New York? Where in New York?
“Mayhap we will find one in England, Neil. English lasses can freeze a man's . . .”
England?Suddenly, she realized what they were wearing. The wool thingees, belted at the waist, didn't quite reach their knees, and from what she could see, the question of boxers or briefs would never be a burning issue with these guys.
Kilts? She had to be dreaming. Nothing else made sense. Okay, dreams were symbolic, so she'd just figure this baby out. The empty landscape probably meant she needed some inner peace and tranquility, an escape from the frenzy her life had become. The bare buns? Easy. She thought of her ex as a butthead on a daily basis, so here he was in duplicate.
The rocks she knelt on dug into her knees through her long skirt, and she shifted uncomfortably. Funny, but she couldn't remember feeling anything physical in dreams before.
“Aye, Colin. But even though an English lass may have a cold nature, it matters not to a Ross. 'Tis hot enough she'll be in bed wi' . . .”
She shivered as the chilly wind whipped around her and lifted the kilts of the leaning men. . . . Wait a minute. There was another man sitting on theground, his back braced against a large boulder.
“Ye have reason to fear us, Ian. We will beat ye and take what we want.”
Beat?Ohmigod, a mugging. At last, something familiar. She couldn't see enough of the man on the ground to know how badly he was injured, but she knew she had to do something to save him and probably herself because any second now the muggers were bound to notice her.
Her logical self reminded her this was a dream, so she didn't have to do anything.
Her logical self could take a hike. She needed a weapon.
Reaching inside her purse, she fumbled around for something she could use. Nothing. No handy little gun, no pepper spray. Rats.
Her can of mousse? Right. That would certainly scare the pants off . . . Okay, no pants to worry about. Maybe if she wrapped both hands around the can she could bluff them into believing she had a can of Mace. She drew a deep breath. She had to go for it.
Pulling the mousse from her purse, she shook it, then climbed shakily to her feet. Her whole world seemed out of kilter, but she could only focus on one thing right now: saving the man on the ground.
She tried to clear her throat, but her voice still came out in a wavery croak. “Get lost, scumbags, before I Mace you. The cops are on their way.”
As one, the two men straightened, then swung to face her. She gulped.Large.Very large. And hairy.With dry split ends that would challenge even her expertise.
“A lass.” Translation: yum-yum.
Her heart pounded madly. The Three Little Pigs would've been laying bricks like crazy at the sound of that voice.
They moved toward her. Forget trying to hit them in the eyes. They were too tall. While she was jumping into the air trying to get one in the eyes, the other would tear her apart. She needed a lower target.
The wind whipped and swirled, lifting their kilts high enough to offer a more accessible body part. Without hesitation, she moussed each of their love guns with a defiant squirt. Hey, one patch of voluminous and shiny body hair was better than none.
Staring down in horror at the fluffy globs of mousse sticking to them, the men stumbled away from her.
Strange. Against all reason, Kathy had the feeling neither of them knew the mousse was harmless. Well, she recognized an advantage when she saw one. “Hmm. I wonder if they'll fall off now or later.”
With wild bellows, the kilted giants turned and fled.
She watched them disappear as she let the mousse slip from her fingers.
The man on the ground.But by the time she turned back to him, the mist had closed in. A flowing sea of gray created shifting shapes of fear, twininglike skeletal fingers around the dark silhouettes of trees and shrubs. Kathy could almost believe the mist was aliveâfeel it breathing, waiting.
She swallowed past throat muscles that refused to work, fighting the terror ofknowingshe was the only person on earth.
“Come to me.”
His voice.She could taste it. Hot chocolate, smooth brandy, and sex. She recognized it. All the forbidden things Mom had warned her againstâgoing out in public without panties, talking to strangers who tempted you with pictures you'd never forget, touching yourself in the darkness of your room while you imagined unimaginable acts.
Crazy thoughts. Whatever this was, it was affecting her mental balance.
“Are you okay?” Her words echoed in the cold gray void, while her mind warnedshe'dnever be okay again. She stumbled in the general direction of his voice.
Just as she was losing her battle with hysteria, she saw him.
He sat relaxed against the boulder, one leg bent at the knee, his head turned from her as if watching something only he could see.
Then, he looked at her. And as much as she wanted to forget the rest of the dream,thismoment she'd remember. Always.
“Ye must need me badly, lass.” His husky murmur warmed the damp chill of the mist, made her remember needs she'd vowed not to think of again.
His face was harsh beauty and raw sensuality. Half hidden by a wild tangle of dark wind-blown hair, his eyes held secrets, his smile pure sin.
“Yer heart is cold and alone. Ye must think of all things warm, all that would make yer heart pound, all the feelings and scents that have brought ye pleasure. Live them now to bring ye peace.”
“No.” She rubbed her eyes with a shaking hand.Come to me.The image. A hot summer night. This man and her. Their naked bodies, sweat-sheened skin, and stark white cotton sheets tangled at the foot of a brass bed. Her bed. And the scent of honeysuckle drifting in the open window, moving the sheer curtains in a lazy rhythm. She could see the heat, touch the scent, taste the passion.
“I . . . I have to get back to my car.” She'd never been so frightened in her life. Where had the image come from? The last time she'd smelled honeysuckle had been on Grandpa's farm when she'd been about sixteen. And . . . the other things. They weren't connected to her life with Peter and his love gun. And they'd felt . . . real. Too real.
Wake up.“I don't understand. Where . . . ? How . . . ? ” Her trembling legs couldn't support her as she sank to her knees in front of him. “Why honeysuckle, the brass bed?”
“Whate'er yer thoughts, they brought ye pleasure for the moment. Hold them tightly to ye.” Effortlessly, he reached out and pulled her onto his lap. “Let me warm ye.”
“Have you seen New York around here anywhere? I . . .” She was ice flung into his flame. Thehelpless melting, the absorption, the sizzle and spark, the steam as the two met. Shefelthim, through her heavy coat, through the rough wool of his clothing. Sinew, muscle. His sharp exhalation hot against the side of her neck, his heat touching her everywhere.
“This isn't a dream, is it?” The intensity of a dream like this would have brought her to sweating, shaking, heart-pounding-awareness. Then whatwashappening? “Are you familiar with out-of-body experiences?”
“Out of body?” He wiped a tear from her cheek with his finger.
Crying? When had she started crying? She sniffed. She wouldn't resort to tears. Old PMS had taught her that criers were losers.
“'Twould be passing strange to want to be out of yer body when ye're wi' a bonny lass. 'Tis the body that makes it so wondrous.”
What about the heart? What about love?“Sure. Stupid comment.” Who was she to dis the senses when they seemed to be the only things working right now?
Reaching down, she braced herself against his hip, fixed her attention on the checked pattern of the cloth. Her legs were wedged between his thighs, but she had no strength to move, could barely concentrate. . . . “All of you are wearing kilts. Just what New York needs, another street gang. Guess you don't need guns and knives. You just moon anyone you don't like. I bet grossed-out enemieskeel over by the hundreds at the fanny display put on by those two I chased away.”
She felt his deep exhalation. “'Tis the cold making you blather so.”
“Right.” She didn't even make sense to herself. Not a dream? Thenwhat?
When she finally managed to lift her gaze, she looked into eyes as gray as the mist surrounding them. A midnight tangle of hair framed a face meant for a dark god or fallen angel. And something so explosive it took her breath away passed between them.
She'd imagined it. Nothing explosive hadeverpassed between a man and her. After her failed marriage, that's the way she liked it, that's the way she meant to keep it.
“Are ye feeling a wee bit better?”
“No.” Too much. Her confused mind could make no sense of what she saw, felt. And so she focused on just one thing. His hair. She reached out with fingers as icy as the dread building in her soul, then slid her hand the length of his hair, past his shoulders to where dark strands spread across his chest.
Fascinated, she watched the rapid rise and fall of his broad chest, a rise and fall matching the beat of her heart.
With all her questions fighting for supremacy, she could only force one comment through her lips. “You have virgin hair.”
“I dinna think so. I havena had any virgin parts for a verra long time.”
She felt his deep chuckle shudder through her and raised her gaze once again to his face. The white flash of his wicked smile fixed her attention on his lips. It was a full lower lip, sensual, but somehow it did not soften the hard angles of his jaw and cheekbone.
His gaze slid the length of her body, and the caress was as real as though he'd touched her with his fingers, his mouth.
A dangerous man.Perhaps the two she'd chased away were the ones who'd needed saving.
His smile turned wolfish. “Ye wouldna enjoy a man who hadna lain wi' a lass.”
Panic clattered around in her mind, frantically trying to get her attention. It finally succeeded. She tried to push away from him, but he simply closed his thighs on her legs. She might as well have been shackled in iron.
Even as she raised her fists to pound whatever part of him became available first, she sensed the uselessness of her effort. He wrapped his arms around her and held her still.
“Dinna be so quick to run.” His breath fanned against her cheek, heating her senses, her anger. “Ye must have been fair desperate to gain my advice. I've ne'er seen Colin and Neil bested before. But ye took unfair advantage of their fear for their manhoods. 'Twasn't needed. I would have asked my brothers to speak wi' me later.” He drew his finger along the line of her clenched jaw.
“Yourbrothers?” Jerking her head from his touch, she looked frantically around for help. She'dkill for the sight of a golden arch or even a New York cabby offering her a friendly finger signal because she'd cut him off. “Those two are your brothers?”
“Aye. We were born together. Still we dinna resemble each other overmuch.”
“Born together . . . ? Oh, triplets.” Hard to believe. The other two were lumbering bears, while this man . . . this man was a dark jungle predator.
Wherewasshe? Had she taken a wrong turn in Central Park and landed in Oz?
“Even though we were born together, I came first. They dinna want to accept me as the eldest.”
“Hey, I feel for them. Who came out first is important.” Horse pooky. She hadreallyimportant things to worry about.
She drew in a deep breath to hold her panic in check. He hadn't hurt her, and already his faded red plaid was growing sort of familiar.No.She couldn't let anything in this nowhere land get familiar.
She shivered as the mist's damp fingers touched her with an unspoken promise that nothing in her life would ever be the same again.
Some women might still think they were dreaming. Not her. She recognized dreams. She'd certainly had enough nightmares after the collapse of her marriage. This wasn't a dream.
Thenwhat?Amnesia? Could she have lost her memory, wandered to a different place?
Stop shaking. You're New York tough. New Yorkers are survivors.This time when she pushedat him, he let her go. Scrambling away from the man on the ground, she reached her purse and yanked out her cell phone.
Breathlessly, she pushed 911, then waited until a male voice answered.
“Please, I need help.” Her teeth chattered. With cold or fear? Probably both. “My name is Kathy Bartlett and Iâ”
The voice interrupted.
“No, I'm not hurt. I don't know about the imminent danger part. I'mâ”
“Where am I? Somewhere inBraveheart, I think.”
The voice wasn't amused.
“Okay, okay, I'm . . .” She turned to the man, who still sat leaning against the rock. “Where am I?”
He wasn't smiling. A frown creased his forehead as he stared at her phone. “Ye're betwixt Cromarty and Dornoch Firths.”
“Firth?What the heck is a firth? Firth doesn't sound like a New York name.” He didn't sound like a New York man. She fought to control the nauseous fear trembling in the pit of her stomach and faithfully repeated what he'd said.
“What do you mean there're no streets with those names? Sure there are. I bet you could find dozens of Cromarty and Dornoch streets. I bet there're two named after Dominic Cromarty and Christine Dornoch.”
The voice had no sense of humor.
“Fine, so I'm not hurt, so I'm not inimminentdanger, but . . . Why do I have to call my local authorities?” She glared at the man on the ground, then glared at her cell phone.
“Emergencies? You think this isn't anemergency?You'd better . . .” Damn! He'd hung up. Carefully, she returned the phone to her purse, afraid she'd drop it from her shaking fingers.Save the power until you figure out the right person to call.
She was in deep doo-doo, but she'd calmly and logically reason things out. Hah! She was so scared that any minute the fright fairy would swoop down and crown her Queen of Queasy Stomachs.
She turned back to the man, then gasped when she found he now stood beside her. Sitting, he'd looked formidable. Standing, he was downright intimidating. Towering above her with shoulders broad enough to block out the sun, if there'd been a sun, and dressed in clothing that looked way too authentic for Kathy's taste, he practically oozed raw primitive power.
She wanted to step back. Step back, turn, and run for her life. But where? And she didn't doubt he'd catch her before she'd taken five steps. Clenching her shaking hands into fists, she glared at him. “Don't touch me or I'llâ”
“Or ye'll what, lass?” He smiled. “Cover my manhood wi' a potion that will deny the pleasure of a woman's body to me forever?” He walked overand picked up her can of mousse. Handling it carefully, he returned it to her.
Without comment, she put it in her purse.
“Be ye a witch?” He didn't smile when he asked.
An incredibleexplanationwas jumping up and down just outside the door to her thoughts, shouting to get her attention. She couldn't make it go away, but she didn't have to answer the door.
Just stick with the facts.Two hulking giants run screaming from mousse attack. General landscape in no way resembles Times Square on Christmas Eve. Conclusion. Primitive area inhabited by big scary primitive men. Hmm.
Think. If she was in a primitive area, then she'd better squash this witch thing. Being burned at the stake wasnoton her list of fun things to do on a Saturday night. No, she definitely couldn't be a witch. “I'm . . . I'm a princess. That's right, I'm a princess, and I'm lost.”
“A princess?” He looked puzzled.
She relaxed slightly. He didn't seem so threatening when he was puzzled. “Yes. I'm . . . the hair princess.”
“Hare?” A smile once again tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Ye rule a kingdom of rabbits?”
If she hadn't been so confused, soterrified,she might have laughed, but who could laugh with her teeth chattering and her mind racing for an explanation. Any explanation. “No, hair.” She reached up and fingered a strand of his incredible hair, then jerked her hand back at the instant connection between them. “I'm Kathy, the Princess of Hair.” Acoma? Did people hallucinate when they were in a coma? “And I need to get back to New York.”
He frowned. “I've ne'er heard of this New York.”
Oh, God, please. “The United States?”
He shook his head, and her gaze involuntarily followed the way his hair shifted like heavy silk across his shoulders. “I dinna know these places. Who is the king of yer land?”
Theexplanation,so fantastic, so impossible, was now pounding on the door, tapping at the windows. “Uh . . . Clairol. My father, King Clairol, rules our kingdom.”
He exhaled sharply, and his breath misted against her cheekâwarm, compelling. “Yer father would do well to keep his daughter safe beside him. 'Tis a dangerous land ye've come to.”
New York or wherever, men's attitudes didn't change. She took a mini-break from mental handwringing to strike a blow for women everywhere. “Women can take care of themselves.Ican take care of myself.” Right.
His gaze turned thoughtful, assessing. “Aye. I've seen proof of that. Henry would find ye amusing.”
“Henry?” She glanced around her again. Hills, grass, a small grove of trees, the smell of the sea. No, she'd never been here before.
“Surely even in yer kingdom ye've heard of King Henry.”
Theexplanationgave up on polite knocking and tapping. With a roar of frustration, it kicked down her door, then stood with hands on hips, confronting her with its horrific magnitude, itsrealness.“What . . . year is it?” Strange, but her lips felt frozen, unwilling to form the question.
“The year of our Lord, fifteen hundred forty-two.” His answer seemed distracted, his gaze suddenly fixed on something behind her.
She squeezed her eyes shut, as if that would keep her mind, her soul, from shattering into a million shards of panic.No!How? Why? No, she wouldn't accept his words. Time travel was impossible.
Please let her open her eyes and find herself back on the side of I-95, smelling the wonderful smells of homeâexhaust fumes and pollution. She'd never, never, never complain again about over-booking, clients who wanted green hair like the Grinch, or sexy cars that broke down.
She opened her eyes. Nothing had changed. Feeling suddenly disconnected from the strangeness around herâprobably a defense mechanism of her mindâshe turned to see what her companion found so interesting.
A large cat sat watching them. Mostly white, it had red on its head and tail. Auburn. Denise Lane, third Thursday of every month. Kathy had told her all women deserved to be redheads at least once in their lives.
The man moved up beside her, and they watched silently as the cat stood, then hobbled toward them.
“That cat only has three legs.” She was switching into automatic poor-kitty mode when the man put his hand on her arm. She drew in her breath at the contact.
“'Tis Malin. Ye must pretend ye dinna notice.He willna accept yer pity.” He bent down and ran his hand the length of the cat's back. The cat sat down regally at the man's side, disdaining to glance her way.
“Aye. The name means wee strong warrior. 'Tis a fitting name.”
Kathy lifted her gaze to the man's face. There was dark intensity in his stare and an unnamed emotion that seemed to ripple between them, pulling her into its undertow even as she fought it.
Nope, she wouldn't get sidetracked because she had really important issues to think about, like . . .Even though I really, really don't believe in time travel, well, if I have time traveledâand, of course, I don't believe I haveâplease, someone send me home.
“Run this King Henry and 1542 stuff past me again. Slowly.” She wet her lips nervously as he watched her with unwavering gray eyes. “Oh, and have you spoken with your shrink lately, maybe missed your medication?”
If only it were that simple. But what about the two kilted brothers she'd terrified with a can of mousse? What about their Scottish burr, and what about the primitive untouched land around her?What about if you have a screaming fit of hysterics?
It was as though she hadn't spoken. Without comment, he grabbed her hand, scooped up her bag of toys, purse, and backpack, then started dragging her away.
Bag of toys, purse, backpack.Something important. Remember. “Whoa. You can't just pull me along behind you. That's . . . kidnapping, a criminal offense. Besides, I don't go off with strange men.” She jerked ineffectually at his grasp.
Pausing, he looked back at her. “If ye're truly lost, then all men would be strange to ye.”
True. “Yeah, but some men are stranger than others.”
He finally seemed to relax. The beginning of a smile crinkled the corners of his eyes and turned up the corners of that incredible mouth. “Ye dinna understand, lass. Ye have no choice in the matter. Ye're coming wi' me.” He shrugged, and despite the plaid thrown across his shoulders, she could see the ripple of muscles. “Besides, where else would ye go?”
Stark raving mad?No, she thought she'd already taken that trip.
He must have taken her silence for assent, because he resumed dragging her away.
“Wait. You forgot Malin. Aren't you going to carry him?” She glanced at the cat, who stared malevolently back at her. Definitelynotcarry-on luggage.
“Malin is a warrior. Ye dinna carry a warrior. He would be insulted.” The man continued walking.
God forbid she insult Malin. “Peter. We can't leave Peter here.”
Peter.Now she realized what had bothered her when he'd picked up her other things. She'd beenholding the bag, backpack, and purse whenithappened. She hadn't been holding Peter. So why was Peter here? Why not her sexy red car with the balloon payment due in two months? Two months. Which reminded her, if she didn't show up in court on February 14, her slimy, cheating ex-husband would win his stupid mental anguish case.
Once again the man paused. He cast her a long-suffering look. “Peter?”
“He's one of my toys. I have to get him.” She pointed.
He narrowed his gaze on the shiny metal hourglass waiting placidly beside a large bush. “'Tis passing strange.”
Inexplicably, she felt the need to defend Peter. “You have no room to talk, buster.”
He led her back to the toy, and when he would have picked Peter up, she rushed to grab her toy first. Clutching the shiny body, she smoothed her fingers over his two amber lights. She felt a rush of affection for the metal misfit and, yes, a sense of comfort in holding him. He was one of her last contacts with a life that seemed to be fading even as she stood clasping him.
Fear drove her into speech. As long as she could talk, she might stave off the bout of tears gathering at the back of her throat. “Who . . . who are you, and how did you do that thing with the honeysuckle and the brass bed?”
“Ian Ross.” He started walking again, obviously assuming she'd follow him. “And I did naught buturge ye to find the things ye treasured so ye might weave them into yer desire.”
He assumed wrong. “That wasn't my desire.”
She sensed his smile. “Ye dinnawishit to be yer desire.”
“Okay, forget the desire thing. Who are youreally?”
For what she sensed was the last time, he paused and turned toward her. Moving close, he invaded her space, and Kathy felt like she'd wandered into a sensual magnetic field. He slid his fingers along her jaw, down the side of her neck, then, lowering his head, he brushed her lips with his.
Searing heat and a need so strong it made every inch of her body clench held her rooted to the spot even as her mind screamed for her to run.Close.So close his eyes seemed silver rather than gray, his lashes dark smudges against his beard-shadowed skin. So close she inhaled the scent of mist, hot male, and danger.
She stumbled away from him. There was something about his closeness thatâ
“If Ian Ross be not enough for ye, mayhap ye need to know what others call me.” He followed her retreat until she was backed against a large boulder.
His size, pure maleness, and her unexplained reaction to him left her breathing hard, her breaths emerging as white puffs into the cold mist.
Grasping her chin, he gently raised her head till she was forced to meet his dark gaze. “Know me,Kathy, Princess of Hair.” His smile ignited a flame that burned away her chill, that sent liquid fire through every vein.
“I am the Pleasure Master.”Chapter Two
Ian stepped back, knowing his effect on her as he knew his effect on all women. But that was not why he moved away. He enjoyed being close to womenâwatching their breathing quicken, the soft unfocused glow of their eyes, the slide of warm skin against his own.
He stepped back because he sensed danger. Ian's instincts had served him well in the past, and he would not ignore them now. For the first time in his life, a woman confused him. And confusion was a danger. She had clearly traveled far, but not in search of the Pleasure Master. Then why?
Mayhap Gordon Mackay had sent her. God's teeth, did the man never give up his quest to capture Ian? But then, Ian didn't think Gordon canny enough to send a woman such as this.
“I've answered yer question, lass, now ye must answer mine. What potion did ye use on my brothers? Ye spilled a wee bit on yerself, and ye didna seem worried, so I dinna think their man parts will fall off.”
Curiosity.Ian had more than the normal man, and his father had often warned him it would bring him grief. But Gordon Mackay or not, he must know more about Kathy of Hair.
It was curiosity that held him now, helping a woman whose strangeness should have sent him fleeing as his brothers had fled.
She shrugged. “Oh, that was mousse. It makes hair more manageable.”
He smiled. “Men also, 'twould seem.”
Was the woman mad? Most would think so, but Ian Ross didn't think like most. She had told the truth about being from another place. Her clothes, her speech, and the strange things she carried with her were like nothing he'd ever seen.
Beyond that, she was clear-eyed and sharp-tongued. Her tongue reminded him much of Mad Mary, the clan healer, who told any who vexed her that her red hens passed on the secrets of healing along with the eggs they laid each day. He knew some who believed the tale.
Kathy of Hair. 'Twas a strange name. Who was she, and where had she come from? She had a boldness about her that fascinated him, and no woman had fascinated him in a very long time.
“Pleasure Master? What's a pleasure master?”He'd started walking again and could hear her struggling to keep up with him.
He slowed his pace, not only because of the woman, but because he remembered Malin was following. WhyhadMalin followed him today? The cat was old and had not wandered far from home for many years. But Malinknewthings, had always known when Ian needed him. Why today?
“Yer speech is different from any I've heard. Where is this New York?”
“New York is a state of mind, and it's here somewhere if I can only find it. Now what's a pleasure master?”
Her answer made no sense, and her questions were like buzzing insects you could swat away but never discourage. Mayhap it would be safer if she fell behind, then faded into the mist from whence she'd appeared.
Ye lie, Ian Ross.He taught others so much, gave so much of himself and enjoyed the giving, but there was a sameness to his feelings, a joy only of the senses and mayhap satisfaction in having helped someone. Butthiswoman. This woman was different. For the few moments he'd been close to her,touchedher, he'd felt a pull, a connection that went beyond the body's heated need. The sensation puzzled him,excitedhim.
He heard her labored breathing as she drew level with him, still holding her strange toy. “Where're we going? What place is this? And I want to know what a pleasure master is.” She punched him on the arm to emphasize her demand.
Ignoring his better judgment, he slowed further, then glanced at her. Her face was flushed from trying to keep up with him, and her blond hair lay damp and curling from the mist against her cheeks. She glared up at him with eyes as wide and blue as the firth on a sunny day. But beneath her anger, he sensed the fear, the confusion, thetruthof what she'd told him.
“Even though 'tis yet summer, 'tis no day to be wandering the hills. Ye'll come to my dwelling where ye can dry off. Then mayhap we can find a way to return ye to yer land.”And I can find a way to make sense of how ye make me feel.“Ye can also tell me about the things ye carry wi' ye. What I've seen so far is passing strange.”
“Summer? This is summer? You've gotta be kidding.” She shivered. “Okay, question one answered. Now, wherearewe? And don't run that firth stuff past me again.” She cast him a considering look. “Do you have a lisp? Maybe you meantfirstnotfirth.That would explain why nine-one-one couldn't find us.”
“I dinna know what ye blather about, woman. Ye're in Scotland, as ye must well know.”
His budding frustration disappeared as he watched her grow pale, then clasp her lower lip between small white teeth in an attempt to still its quiver. She was a brave lass, and he admired bravery. “'Tis not such a bad place to be. Once ye're warm and dry, ye can tell me what I need know in order to return ye to yer land.” His attempt to console her came out gruffer than he'd intended, butthen he'd had no need to console a woman for many a year. Women came to him for other things.
“That might be a little hard. I don't have any ruby slippers to click.” She seemed to have gained control over her quivering lip and was now blinking quickly to keep back the tears. But he could see the tell-tale sheen.
Luckily, they'd reached his home. “Welcome to my dwelling, Kathy of Hair.”
“Where? Where?” She swung in a circle.
“Here.” He pulled aside the brush that hid the entrance.
“You live in acave?”
“Aye. None have come hereâ”
“Of course they have. I'm here.”
“âand lived.” He should not have said that, but he was frustrated with his uncertain response to this woman when he'd never known uncertainty withanywoman.
“Oh.” Silence. Then a mad scrambling. “Feet don't fail me now.”
Exhaling wearily, he turned and caught her arm before she'd gone three strides. “Ye're safe wi' me, lass. 'Tis no secret where I live. I was but teasing ye.”
“Sure. I knew that.” He could see her pulling her composure around her. “But why would anyone live in a cave? Shouldn't you be living in a castle with a drawbridge and a moat full of piranhas, stuff like that?”
He sensed her hesitancy as she followed him down the dark tunnel leading to his living area.
“Not that I believe . . . Hmm. Hypothermia. I wonder if I have . . .”
“A castle is cold and drafty, exposed. This place suits me well. 'Tis large, ne'er grows too cold, and stays dry. 'Tis easy to defend and also . . . private. I know of none other like it.” His curiosity had swelled to monstrous proportions. He must know the meanings of the words she used. He must knowâ
“But . . . I thought wolves and things like that lived in caves.” She'd drawn closer to him, probably for protection.
He felt the brush of her body against his back, and it was as though no clothes separated them. He drew his breath in at the thought of her lying naked on his furs. Waiting. It wasn't a comfortable thought. He'd grown used to being the one creating images for others.
Glancing over his shoulder, he grinned at her in the darkness, knowing his grin had little to do with humor. “Aye. Wolves live in caves.”And not all run on four legs.
The widening of her eyes told him she'd understood his message.
He stepped aside so she could enter his living area, visible in the dim light from a hole that opened to the surface. Then he quietly lit candles and added fuel to the small hearth, bathing the room in a warm glow.
“I . . . didn't expect this.” She ran her hand over one of the heavy tapestries lining the walls.
At least his home had diverted her for a momentfrom worrying about her plight. “Ye expected a wee hovel wi' a dirt floor and mayhap a few wild dogs fighting for scraps from my table?” He smiled.
“Of course not.” She sighed. “Yes. That or some dreary castle crouched at the edge of the Cliff of Doom.” She frowned. “Isn't that the name of a video game or something?” She swayed slightly.
“Sit by the fire.” He set her things down, then watched as she carefully placed the strange toy she carried on the rug close to the hearth.
He smiled as she scanned the room. “Ye'll find no chairs in this room, but the cushions are verra comfortable.”
Sinking onto the pile of pillows next to her toy, she glanced at his rugs. “These are Oriental. What would Oriental rugs be doing in the wilds of Scotland in . . . 1542?” She flinched as she said the date.
“My great grandfather traveled to many places and brought the best of what he saw home wi' him.”The power of the Pleasure Master.
As she skimmed her fingers across the nearest rug, her gaze turned pensive. “Not to change the subject, but how can I be in the year 1542 if my cell phone still works?” Frantically, she dug through her purse for the phone, her one connection to her real life, her sanity.
No 911 this time. Who to call? Mom and Dad were on their cruise. Besides she'd never worry them with this . . . whatever. Coco would ask too many in-depth questions she couldn't answer. Finally, she punched in the numbers for PamperedLife, her work, her salvation. Of course, it was Christmas Eve, so Dawn had probably left by now.
When Dawn finally answered, Kathy almost sobbed with relief. “Dawn, you've got to help me. I'm in 1542. Allegedly.” She frowned at Ian Ross.
“Kathy? Fifteen Forty-Two? Is this some hot new club you didn't tell me about?”
Kathy shifted her frown to the phone. “Club? I'm talking about the past, theyear1542. I'm between two damn firths.”Remain calm. Do not shout at co-worker. Shouting solves nothing.
“Got it. You're hung over. Bet there's a man, too. I knew it had to be something like that when you didn't show up for work.”
“I'mnothung over.” Kathy shouted. “Further-more . . . Work? I don't work on Christmas.”
“You do on December 26. Clara Stone was really ticked when you weren't here to do her color. Better show up tomorrow.”
“Dawn, there's this guy, Ian Ross. He lives in a caveâ”
“Fine. The least you can do is make sure someone does Mrs. Tierney's hair.” Confusion clouded her thinking. December 26? How had she lost two days?
“Hey, anything for a friend.” Dawn's voice turned uncertain. “You're okay, aren't you?”
Okay as compared to what? Okay as in she wasn't being stalked by a saber-toothed tiger? Kathy glanced at Ian. Maybe not. Anyway, it wouldn't do any good to worry Dawn about her mentalhealth, and Dawn would definitely think Kathy was crazy if she told the truth. “I'm fine, Dawn.”
“Look, I gotta run. Got a customer waiting. Let me know if you need something else.”
Kathy sighed. “Sure.”
“See you tomorrow.”
“Right. Tomorrow.” With a groan of despair, she shut off the power. When she could think again without fighting the urge to break into hysterical tears, she'd figure out whom to call for help.
She turned her attention back to Ian Ross. “Okay, what'sreallyhappening here?”
“Nothing, but if ye wish something to happen Iâ”
She didn't like the sudden gleam in his eyes. “Forget it. What I mean is, why am I here with you? Maybe I'm not here. Maybe you're just a brain-blip caused by inhaling too many hair chemical fumes.”
“Maybe not. No one else complained of taking unbooked flights to Scotland after doing Mrs. Henley's gray roots. Anyway, I need proof that this is 1542. New Yorkers don't buy the Brooklyn Bridge. We're street smart. You don't pull the wool over our eyes.” Amazing how a few clichÃ©s made her feel better. This had to be some clever scam, and she wasn't going to fall for it.What about his clothes, the land, his speech?No, she wouldn't believe it. This was some kind of gigantic hoax.But who'd want to bother?
He frowned, and she watched the lines in his forehead deepen, his lips tighten. A dangerousman, a man who'd lived life and not always found it gentle. She suppressed a shiver.
“I dinna know this Brooklyn Bridge. And what purpose would pulling wool over yer eyes serve?” In two strides, he reached the spot where she'd collapsed, then sat down facing her. For the first time, she noticed the sword he carefully set beside him. She peered more carefully. Was that a knife hilt sticking out from his sock? Sure, New Yorkers had to protect themselves, but this guy was into overkill.
She was alone in a cave with a very strange man who carried a sword and stuck knives in his socks. He relaxed against one of the cushions, then smiled. A man who, in her world, would make her heart pound and her mouth grow dry.
But she was inhisworld, and she was too confused, too scared to react to any man.So what do you call what happened when you first met him?She chose to ignore that thought.
He settled himself deeper into the cushions, then ran his gaze from the top of her head to the tips of her tingling toes. Her heart pounded and her mouth grew dry.
Desperately, she searched for a subject that would put him on the defensive, give her time to pull her scattered wits into some semblance of order. “About this pleasure master stuff? What's a pleasure master?” Darn. She couldn't stop the stupid flip-flopping of her stomach.
Food. When was the last time she'd eaten? “Maybe I passed out from hunger. Maybe you'rejust my brain's attempt to remind me I haven't had a good prime rib for a while.” That hadn't come out exactly as she'd intended. “What I mean is, if we're talking pleasure, I'd likeâ”
“There are pleasures greater than food, lass.” His voice was a husky murmur.
“Uh-huh.” She knew better than to ask what.
He didn't answer. Instead, he pulled off his belt, then the wool plaid he wore, until he was left with only a shirt that barely reached the top of his muscular thighs. Once again relaxing back against the multicolored pile of pillows, he bent one leg at the knee, then smiled at her. “The fire makes it verra warm. Dinna ye feel the heat, lass?”
She knew if she allowed her gaze to follow the path of his inner thigh to where his shirt ended she'd see . . . No, she wouldn't go there even if the rest of her body was yammering for a peek. She was above cheap thrills.
His skin glowed golden in the fire's light. Somuchbare male skin made her feel prickly and . . . Sweat formed between her breasts, then trickled across her stomach, but she clutched her coat more tightly around her. “No. Absolutely not. All comfy cozy here.”
Abandoning his relaxed position, he sat up, then edged closer to her. “Ye want to know about a pleasure master.”
She gulped. He needed a T-shirt with “Dangerâexplosives” printed across his chest to warn innocent New York women. Okay, so New York women wouldn't need a sign to get this guy's message.“Well, not really. I mean, you've probably got better things to do.”
“No.” He moved closer.
“All this pleasure master stuff can wait till tomorrow.” If she hadn't had the pillows bolstering her, she would have scuttled backwards like a frightened crab.
“No.” He moved closer still, close enough for her to feel his heat, to inhale the mingled scents of crisp misty morning and warm male flesh.
“Ye must be comfortable while I explain.”
He reached for her coat, and she sat unmoving, unable even to blink as he slipped it off her shoulders, then down her arms. She couldn't summon the will to pull her sweat-dampened silk blouse away from her body, even though she realized it outlined in detail her breasts, nipples, and heavy breathing. What was wrong with her?
“I know the secrets of what brings a woman pleasure.” He leaned closer toward her, and his ravenwing hair fell forward, a dark curtain of mystery.
Kathy believed him, and recognized that a change of subject was in order. “Personally, great hair brings me pleasure. It wouldn't take me a minute to get my scissors, snip off those dead ends, do a little shaping and . . .” She willed her hands to remain still, denying the urge to reach out and run her fingers through the tangled strands. “Well, maybe not right now.”
“Dead ends? Shaping? Ye make no sense at all, lass.” He didn't back off.
With an instinct she didn't question, she knewthat to touch would be to lose. But what else was there to lose? She'd already lost her sanity; that was the only explanation she could think of to explain her feelings.
“I show women the joy they may know from touching a man's body. . . .” Reaching out, he slid his finger across her lips. “And the unimagined pleasure they may feel when a man touches them.”
She jerked her head away. If she'd been an oyster, she would have snapped her shell shut on his finger. He was just like her ex, reaching for every pearl in the oyster bed, then happily trotting off to find more oysters. Well, this was one oyster who didn't intend to lose another pearl.
“I don't need anyone to teach me about joy, thank you very much.” There must be millions of women who lived happy, productive lives without experiencing the big O at the hands of some jerk.
Hmm. Hands. Ian Ross had a man's handsâlarge, capable. But capable of what? And his finger? She could still feel its pressure, its warmth.
“Ah, but I think ye do, lass.” He drew his bottom lip into his mouth as he studied her, and when he released it, her gaze was drawn to its damp sheen, its fullness. What would it be like to touch those lips with hers?
She had to get out of here. Find her way back to good old New York. Back to New Year's Eve in Times Square and yelling at the Knicks when they blew it in the fourth period. “Hey, joy is way over-rated. A few times a year is enough for me.” How about once in a lifetime? That'd be nice.
He frowned at her, and she noticed the small lines that fanned from the corners of his eyes. Eyes that gave away no secrets, that seemed like the hidden Adirondack mountain lakes she'd visited on childhood camping tripsâdeep, distant, and coolâeven as his words spread warmth through her.
“'Tis sad. Ye need me badly.”
He smiled, and she forgot his eyes, their secrets. She'd seen good-looking men in her life, but none could smile like Ian Ross. His smile reached inside and touched every dark, confused part of her. And that scared the heck out of her New York soul.
“Look, mister. I was married to a man who knew all there was to know about women's joy. Lord knows, he practiced a lot. So don't tell me what I need. What I need is to try my cell phone again.”
He reached down and touched her hand, effectively stopping her from grabbing for the phone.
“Are ye saying ye were wed to a pleasure master? 'Tis impossible. A pleasure master canna wed and remain a pleasure master.”
“Yeah, well Peter likes the best of both worlds. He's a marine biologist and believes if the scientific approach works with plankton, then it should work with humans. He studied everything on human sexuality, then practiced on me. When his hypothesis didn't match his test results, he concluded I was incapable of having an orgasm and therefore unable to reach sexual nirvana.”I was incapable of being a complete woman for him.
She cast Ian Ross a speculative glance. “You know, this whole conversation could be really freeing.I usually wouldn't talk about stuff like this with a total stranger, but since you don't really exist, it's okay. I mean, talking to a brain-blip is no big deal.”
He frowned at her. “'Tis a strange tongue ye speak. What is an . . . orgasm?”
Hmm. “I'll explain later. Anyway, Peter was convinced that if he and his love gun couldn't bring me sensual ecstasy, then I was hopeless.” Her fear? Maybe Peter was right. She'd thought she loved him, so why couldn't . . .
“His love gun?”
“Later.” Kathy narrowed her gaze. “The end wasn't pretty. I came home from work one day to find Peter and his love gun testing Peter's hypothesis with my friend Joan Gates in our bed. Joan's orgasm results were a smashing success.” It had hurt, God how it had hurt. “Myhypothesis is that Peter and octopuses are sibling species. And before you ask, that's marine biologist-speak forâthey're closely related species.
“'Tis the way of many men, lass.”
“Tell me about it.” Did that sound casually unconcerned? There were some feelings she couldn't even share with a brain-blip.
She brightened. “Hey, a hair stylist comes prepared. I whipped out my butane curling iron, heated that sucker up, then told good old PMS his tomcatting days were over. He and Joan were so anxious to leave, they forgot all about their clothes when they ran out the front door. I locked the door behind them, then called the local paper to come get pictures.”
“Butane curling iron?”
“Later.” Afterward, she'd thrown herself onto the couch and criedâfor the love that hadn't been love at all, and for all her shattered dreams. Then she'd dried her eyes, pulled out her wedding album, and cut her scumbag husband out of every picture. Then she'd cut him into tiny pieces and flushed him down the toilet. A symbolic gesture, but satisfying.
“If pigs could fly, my ex would be leading the hog flock south for the winter. Can you believe he's suing me for mental anguish? Can youbelieveit?”
Ian Ross was looking at her with a dazed expression on his face. “I canna believe many things.”
Kathy glared at him. “Well ditto here, mister.”
“What does the word âsue' mean?”
“Later.” She'dneverlet another womanizer into her life. If she ever decided to try again, she'd look for a virgin, a man who'd love her and wouldn't point out her shortcomings in bed, wouldn't blameherif she didn't have an orgasm. “Old PMS says I compromised his credibility with his colleagues, held him up to ridicule, and that I drove him to other women because I couldn't . . .”
“Have an orgasm.”
“Right. Anyway, the judge set the court date for February fourteenth. Valentine's Day, for heaven's sake. Is that the pits, or what? I'll be there if I have to crawl on my hands and knees.” He'd taken everything else from her; he wouldn't get her money.
“PMS? What is PMS? And dinna tell me âlater.' ”
Kathy glanced away from Ian Ross, only to meet the malevolent stare of Malin, who'd planted himselfon top of Peter. Fitting. They both had three sturdy legs.
“'Tis an answer ye owe me, lass. What is PMS? And dinna tell me 'tis yer husband's name because I ken it stands for more.”
“Umm . . . well . . .” Now would be a great moment for her to be whisked back to New York.Hint, hint.Nothing. “PMS is . . . plumbing made simple.”
His gaze was disbelieving. “That doesna make sense.”
“Nothing makes sense.” She was pitiful. Connie Dare, the stylist who worked in the cubicle next to her at Pampered Life, wouldn't be sitting here feeling sorry for herself. Connie would have already called her lawyer and filed a lawsuit against someone for something. It was the now thing to do.
“Ye havena told me what an orgasm is.”
“An orgasm is . . . like . . .” It's like what she'd never had with her ex-husband. “Uh, it's like an . . . explosion.” Great imagery. She hoped he didn't want something more specific.
Arrgh!“Explosion. Boom.” She made some vague motions in the general direction of her “boom” area.
“Aye.” A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
The rat. He knew exactly what she was talking about.Calm down. Any minute now you'll blink and be back in New York. Then you'll never see Ian Ross again.It'd be great if she could take himback with her. He was the most spectacular man she'd seen in years.
She stared into his eyes. Eyes that suddenly swirled with emotion, heat. That willed her to enter his world. That seemed to drain her own will to resist.
“Heed me, Kathy of Hair. A woman's need and fulfillment starthere.” He placed only his index finger against her forehead, yet she felt the connection all the way to her toes.
“Not here.” He ran his finger down the side of her jaw, her neck, then stopped as he touched the tip of her nipple.
Could've fooled me.She sucked in her breath at the sizzle of sensation that spread like honey on a hot day. Why couldn't she move away, break the connection? Why didn't shewantto?
“Nor here.” He drew his finger between her breasts, down over her stomach, then laid his palm flat against her skirt, and her thighs clenched as though no material separated his flesh from hers, as though she could hold his touch warm between her legs.
She breathed in gasping pants, tried to battle past sensations so strong she felt like screaming, tried to remember . . .
“No!” With her last ragged shred of willpower, she rolled away from him.
He let her go.
“Pleasure Master, my foot. You're just like my ex. You're nothing but a womanizer with a fancy title. I bet you never met a woman you didn't love.”
He leaned back and stared at her. He seemed truly puzzled. “'Tis not about love, lass. 'Tis about joining wi' another for pleasure. I teach women how to take a man's body and enjoy the taking.”
“Huh.” She scrambled to her feet, needing to distance herself from him, from whatever strange feelings he seemed able to generate. “Sounds like the same old testing-in-the-name-of-science scam my ex-husband ran past any woman who'd climb into bed with him.”
She walked over to stand beside Peter and tried to ignore Malin's low growl. “But I dropped out of the scientific community a long time ago.” She directed a determined stare at Ian Ross. “You'll never get a chance to practice on me, Pleasure Master, because I'll never let you touch me again.”
He smiled. A smile of wicked temptation and sweet promise.
“I dinna need totouchye, Kathy of Hair.”
Oh boy.Chapter Three
Ian watched her reactionâher unease with what he'd revealed about himself, with the things she'd told him about her life. Restlessly, she clasped and unclasped her hands in her lap. Her need to flee beat at him in waves of silent panic.
Once again, she reached down and pulled the strange object she'd spoken into out of her bag. “So now that we've kind of explored your job description, I guess it's time for me to get on home. I mean, it's Christmas. Everyone should be home on Christmas.” She gazed forlornly at the object in her hand.
Surprised, Ian realized his sympathy for her overrode his desire to hold the object in his hands, to hear what she heard when she spoke to it.
The women who came to him were challenges, and after he'd solved their problems, he thought nomore of them. Sympathy was a soft emotion, and the Pleasure Master could allow no soft emotions to interfere with his life.
She looked up at him, and he saw defeat in her eyes for the first time. “I . . . I don't know whom to call. What do I say? It's 1542 and I'm stuck in Scotland? Send a taxi?”
He didn't try to hold her. After her reaction to what he'd told her about himself, he didn't think she'd welcome his touch. “Ye seem verra upset wi' the year. What year would please ye?”
She ignored his question and moved over to stare at his hearth. “You know, I really think I want this to be a brain-blip. With a brain-blip I can go to a state-of-the-art facility where they'll do an MRI, locate the problem, and fix it. That way I can still be inâ”
“God's teeth, woman, ye make no sense at all. What year do ye think ye're in?” What had she done to him? Heneverlost his temper with a woman. The lass looked as though she'd break into pieces if he touched her.
Emotion flooded her eyes. Shock, desperation, fear. “I'm pretty sure this is just a brain-blip. Probably too much stress in my life. And finding out that old PMS is suing me must've set everything off. Sort of like a panic attack. That means I'm still in 2001, and you don't exist.”
He didn't know which confused him more, her belief that she came from a future time or her assertion that he didn't exist.
Mayhap his earlier suspicions had been right.
Gordon Mackay had already gone to foolish lengths to capture him for Fiona, and this might be another such effort. Gordon knew Ian's curiosity was his weakness. What better way to lure him into a trap? But could Gordon even conceive of things as strange as the toy the woman carried with her, the object she spoke to, and the “mousse”?
Ian shook his head to clear it. He could only deal with what was happening now, and not worry over-much about possible conspiracies. “What does this New York look like?”
She blinked at him. “It has buildings that reach into the sky, millions of people, and traffic jams that give me migraines.”
He didn't believe there were buildings that reached into the sky, but then lasses often enlarged things beyond the limits of truth. Had not rumors spread about the size of hisâ?
“So, I guess you've never spent any time in the Big Apple.”
Big apple? Where might they grow a fruit large enough to shelter a man? And what was a traffic jam? Mayhap she meant only to mock him.
“Ye want proof that this be 1542? Come wi' me.” Frustrated, he spoke more harshly than necessary. “Then I'll have yer true story, not the tale ye've told me.”
Her eyes widened. “You don't believe me?”
He raked his fingers through his hair. “Ye name me a brain-blip and say I dinna exist, yet ye expect me to believe ye've traveled from some future time.”
She seemed to wilt before his eyes. “Right. You have a point there.”
“Still, I will give ye the proof ye crave. Mayhap ye werena sent by the Mackays.”
She pursed her lips, and her gaze grew puzzled. “Who are the Mackays?”
He forced his attention from the ripeness of those lips. “Fiona, the sister of Gordon Mackay, desires me. She doesna want to share, but the Pleasure Master canna belong to only one woman.” He shrugged. “Gordon willna accept that. He is ever plotting to capture me for her.”
“I feel your pain. Hey, sticking with just one woman would be a real bummer. So many women, so little time.” She narrowed her eyes to blue slits of contempt.
“Dinna judge. Ye're strange to the ways of the clan.”
“But not to the ways of men with testosterone overload.” She glared at him. “And don't ask what testosterone is.”
Enough.“We'll leave as soon as I don my plaid.” Drawing the wool around him, he rose, then turned his back on her as he finished. He felt her gaze touching him, moving across his shoulders, down his back, leaving a trail of phantom fingertips that drew a shiver from him.
He strode toward the tunnel, but stopped when he reached the spot where Malin still lay atop the strange toy. He grinned. “Wi' only one front leg, Malin canna leap verra high. Yer toy suits him.”
“Great. Peter lives to please.”
Her grouchy sarcasm widened Ian's grin. Women he knew were always sweetly compliant. A touch of sour intrigued him.
Wordlessly, she followed him back down the dark tunnel and out into a now sunny day. He sensed her pause, her startled gasp.
“'Tis beautiful when the mist clears and the sun shines on the mountains and burns.” Startled, he realized he was speaking to her as he would any stranger to the Highlands, not the trickster he half believed her to be.
She took a deep breath. “I can smell the sea.”
“Aye.” The sea. He'd often stood gazing at the gray endlessness of it and wondered what lay beyond. He knew something did because of the tales passed down from his great grandfather. If he accepted those tales as true, that men could travel to strange places across a sea that seemed to have no end, could it not be true that men might travel across a sea of time? But he could see the water, he couldn't see time. And so he didn't believe.
He walked at a slow pace, allowing her to keep up with him.
“I don't mean to sound nosy, but . . . Okay, I'm nosy. It's a weakness.”
He exhaled a sigh of resignation. She wasn't going to leave him alone.
“How does this pleasure master job go? Do you work a forty-hour week, with an hour for lunch each day? What about overtime? Oh, and do you have health insurance and a retirement plan? Hmm. I guess you have to have malpractice insurancetoo. I mean, what if a client doesn't attain her desired level of joy? Do you just give her money back, or does she get credit toward her next shot at joy? Do you advertise in the yellow pages, orâ”
She tripped over a small rock and fell against him.
He drew in his breath at the searing connection. Her small gasp as she righted herself assured him she'd felt it also. And wanted it no more than he did.
Somehow, that annoyed him, and he took it out on the ridiculous things she wore on her feet. “Can yer King Clairol not put something on yer feet that will allow ye to walk a short distance wi' out falling all over a man?” He would have to get her something to . . . No. She wouldn't be here long enough for him to need to worry about her footwear.
“Falling all over a man?” He heard the anger in her voice and immediately felt better. “Look, buster, if I were going to fall all over a man, it wouldn't be you.”
He was annoyed again. Why wouldn't it be he? No man could bring her the pleasure he could. He smiled at her, a practiced smile that he long ago had learned softened women, made them open to him. “A night on my furs would cure yer shrewish nature.”
“It'll never happen. I'm one hundred percent seduce-proof, mister.”Ignore the way he made you feel when he touched you, looked at you. This isn't real, so the feelings aren't real.“The only thing a night on your furs would bring me is a sore back.”
Okay, so she wasn't being fair. No man could bring her pleasure. Her ex had huffed and puffed like The Little Engine That Could, and gotten zip for his trouble. “You haven't answered any of my questions about your work.”
She looked up at Ian Ross in time to catch his take-off-your-clothes-and-we'll-do-it-right-here smile. “I dinnaunderstandany of yer questions. The Pleasure Master isna aboutwork.'Tis a sacred duty.”
Kathy sighed. “Sacred duty. Gotcha.”
He frowned, reminding her once again that she was alone in a strange place with a man she didn't know. It paid to watch what you said, even to a brain-blip.
“Look, I'm sorry. When I get upset, I get sarcastic. I guess it's sort of a defense.” She smiled weakly.
He nodded. “What do ye care about, Kathy of Hair?”
She blinked, surprised by the question. “I . . . care about being a good person and raising women's self-esteem by giving them great hair. Why?”
“Then ye must understand whatIcare about, lass.” He paused at the top of a low hill where a sudden cold wind whipped his hair away from his shoulders in a dark cloud. “My great grandfather was carried off by pirates while still a lad and taken to the East, where he was sold to a powerful woman who kept many men for her pleasure.”
“A male harem?” Intriguing concept.
“I dinna know what ye call it. My great grandfather was her favorite, and she taught him the secrets of the Pleasure Master. At her death, my great grandfather was freed. He returned to the clan wi' a bed, two cats, and a knowledge of how to pleasure a woman like no other man.”
A hard smile touched his lips. “The duty of Pleasure Master falls to the first-born son. My brothers would deny it, but I am the first-born.”
His smile softened, warmed. “'Tis a duty I enjoy.”
“I bet you do.” Kathy drew in her breath. Wow, he was good. A five-alarmer with barely a lift of his lips. No false alarms here.
His smile faded. “My father has fallen in love and married. 'Tis forbidden. Now I am the Pleasure Master.”
“Right. Don't want any pesky love and commitment getting in the way.” She suspected her smile was bitter.
“Ye dinna understand. The Pleasure Master belongs to the clan. He canna serve the clan wi' a jealous wife getting in the way of his duty.”
“Well, pooh on her for not understanding. Jealous wives are the pits.” Ian Ross wasnotendearing himself to her.
His smile returned. “Ye must try me before ye mock.”
Try me.Even the thought sent shocking ripples of heat to an area her ex-husband had left ice cold. “Think I'll pass on the offer. So, if your father istheofficialPleasure Master, why've you been doing his duty?”
He shrugged. “A Pleasure Master must prepare for years, know all there is to knowâ”
“Got it. Practice makes perfect.”
“But now my brothers have convinced the laird that they also have a right to the title, and though my father favors me, he must agree to a trial to see who is most worthy.”
“Sure. Gotta have the most worthy.” Kathy was barely listening as she processed the information and came up with a startling conclusion. “I think I missed something here. Your father has just now married for the first time?”
“Aye.” He lifted his gaze to the darkening sky, his hair tangling around the face of a dark angel. “I am a bastard, as was my father before me.”
“And how do you feel about that?” God, she sounded like her ex-husband in his sex counselor mode.
Ian stared at her. “'Tis expected.”
“Oh.” This whole thing was growing more bizarre by the moment. “So, do you have a son toâ”
Suddenly, his attention shifted to the path behind them. Grabbing her hand, he pulled her behind several large boulders. “Someone follows us.”
No, no. She'd wanted him to keep talking. Somehow, it was important to knowâ“Following us? Who'd want to follow us?” Lost in his story, she'd forgotten for a while where she was, what had happened. Now the fear rushed back.
He put a finger to his lips, and they waited.
It didn't take long. Over the rise of the hill came Peter with Malin stretched majestically across his top. Peter's three short legs propelled him along at a surprising speed. When he finally reached the spot where they hid, he stopped and his amber lights blinked a welcome.
“'Tis magic,” Ian whispered.
“No, it must be some sort of tracking system.” Sighing, Kathy walked over to Peter. “My . . . kingdom makes toys that react to light and motion. Peter's pretty sophisticated. I'm surprised I got him so cheap.” She glanced nervously up at Ian, who'd emerged to stand beside her. “But it's not magic. No sorcery here. And I'm not a witch. Wouldn't recognize a witch if she whacked me over the head with her broomstick.”
A smile touched the corner of Ian's mouth, whimsical and totally sincere. And totally take-meto-bed dangerous. Kathy stomped down hard on all and sundry soft feelings toward him. Sacred duty, my foot. Nice life. Pass on the secret of joy, make a child, then move on. After all, Pleasure Masters don't marry. Convenient.
“Dinna fear me, lass. I wouldna care if ye had a caldron tucked beneath yer arm and a familiar attended ye.” He cast Peter a thoughtful glance. “My great grandfather told of many things that couldna be explained.”
He continued his trek down the path. Kathy followed wearily behind him, Peter chugging along cheerily by her side.
Where was Ian Ross going, and why was she going with him?Because he's the only person you know, and what else do you have to do?
Now on top of everything else, she had to put up with a tiny tin man following her.No Emerald City down this path, Peter.Maybe he was looking for a heart. Maybe she'd give him Ian Ross's. Oops, mistake. Ian Ross didn't have a heart either.
Engrossed in her thoughts of doom and gloom, she smacked into Ian's solid back with a grunt. “Hey, give me a break. Warn me when you decide to stop.” Okay, she was being bitchy, but this situation called for a little bitchiness.
“Ye have a sharp tongue on ye, woman. I meant only to show ye the proof ye've demanded.”
He'd stopped at the crest of a hill, and the wind plastered his clothing against his hard body. His wide shoulders seemed to dare the elements as the gale swept his hair in dark streamers from his face. A face that matched the grim beauty of the stark hills surrounding them and the roiling storm clouds gathering overhead.
The primitive power of man and nature frightened her, and she looked away, down the hill toâ
No.It couldn't be. But it was. A village of stone cottages that could have burst from the pages of a history book. The few men visible wore the same belted garment as Ian Ross. No cars. No wires proclaiming electricity. No sign announcing:HISTORICAL REPRODUCTION. AUTHENTIC PRIMITIVE SCOTTISH VILLAGE. YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK.
“Does yer New York look as this does, Kathy of Hair?”
Inexplicably, Ian's soft question acted as the lit match held to the powder keg of her denial, her brain-blip theory, her belief she'd wake and everything would be as it was before.
The trembling began in her soul and worked outward. Panic she'd managed to control behind a wall of logic exploded in waves of nausea. Her legs refused to support her and she sank to the rocky ground, still staring at the scene below. Tears streamed down her face, and she didn't careânot about the puffy eyes she'd have later, nor her loud embarrassing sniffles.
She sensed him. His heat, his scent. His arms wrapped around her, and he pulled her back against his chest. She heard the scrabble of his knees on the ground behind her, and her misery lifted for a minisecond while she worried about the pain of bare knees on pebbled earth.
The agony returned, and she clenched her arms tightly across her chest and rocked back and forth. She felt him move with her, then he turned her into his embrace and pressed her head to his chest as he sat back on his heels.
She burrowed her face into the rough wool and sobbed loudly, uncontrollably. Slowly, she slid down his body until her head rested on his lap. His voice murmured husky words of comfort in a language she didn't know.
And when she lay exhausted, drained of all thetears she felt she could ever shed in a lifetime, he wiped her eyes with a cloth.
Only when she felt bare skin beneath her head did she realize he'd hiked up his wool garment, then used it to dry her eyes.
With her head pillowed on his bare thighs, she felt almost comfortable, safe.
Safe? With Ian Ross?Never.She was suddenly aware of the flex of hard muscle when he shifted his weight, of what lay beneath the edge of his shirt, of the scent of male, and the realization . . .She was lying in the lap of a man who was more than 400 years old.
He offered no help, didn't try to stop her when she scrambled awkwardly to her feet. She'd shown him weakness not even old PMS had seen. Ian Ross wouldn't see it again.
She stared down the slope at the village, anywhere but at the man who now stood beside her. She tried desperately to think of something other than the truth. Blinking, she finally registered what she saw. “Aren't those your brothers? Why're they standing naked in that stream?”
His bark of laughter startled her. “Ye must truly have put the terror in them. They think 'tis an abomination before God to bathe more than twice a year. But 'tis preferable to having their manhoods drop off at an inconvenient moment.” He shrugged.
Suddenly, someone shouted and gazes turned up to where they stood. People poured from the cottages and Ian's brothers scrambled from the stream.
Kathy heard Ian's muttered curse.
“There's nothing for it. We must speak wi' them.” Grabbing her hand, he started down the hill with her in tow.
“Do you think that's wise? I mean, your brothers didn't seem to have well-developed senses of humor. Uh, can you explain to them that I don't have any witch genes anywhere in my family? Mom wouldn't even let Aunt Betsy bring her tarot cards into the house.” She could hear Peter clunking along behind her. Great. She might as well have a black cat slinking at her side.
The villagers met them halfway down the hill. The two naked giants had managed to wrap themselves in their plaids. Kathy noted that their love guns were well covered.
“'Tis the woman! The one who would steal our manhoods,” the one named Colin announced to the huddled masses behind him.
Why would any thinking woman want to do that? “Look, I'm not interested in men or their hoods. Definitely don't want any part of a man.”
“And she brings a demon wi' her,” Colin continued, unfazed.
Demon? Where? Kathy followed the horrified gazes down to . . .Peter?Uh-oh. Peter's amber lights blinked happily. He obviously didn't understand the situation.
The brother named Neil puffed out his chest and stepped forward. Cautiously. “We must destroy the woman and her wee spawn of hell.”
Wee spawn of hell?Not in her wildest imaginationwould she classify Peter as anything more than a little pain-in-the-butt. In fact, she . . . Hmm. What had come right before the spawn of hell bit? She widened her eyes.Destroy the woman. Ohmigod! I'm outta here.
Her legs were already in running mode when someone lifted her from her feet and pulled her against a rock-hard body. “Calm yerself, lass. Ye'll come to no harm,” Ian Ross assured her in a low rumble.
Easy for him to say. No one was trying to turn him into a toasted marshmallow. The whole scruffy mob looked like it was just itching to have a witch burning. Okay, so the itching part probably came from all the freeloaders living on their infrequently washed bodies.
“Ye willna harm her. This is Kathy, Princess of Hair. She has traveled far to learn the secrets of the Pleasure Master so that she might find joy in a man's touch. Her father, King Clairol, has ruled that she must marry, but she canna abide a man's lovemaking. In return, she has brought strange and wonderful things from her kingdom to pay for my service. Ye'll welcome her as a guest to the Highlands.” Ian smiled, obviously pleased with himself.
What?He'd said she waswhat?“Uh, I beg to differ withâ”
“Hold yer tongue, lass, if ye expect to live through the day.”
Put that way, she supposedâ
Colin stepped forward, a sly grin splitting his bearded face. “'Tis the woman we've waited longfor, Ian. A true challenge for the Pleasure Master. A woman who canna be wooed, and one who when angered carries deadly potions that may unman the bravest warrior.” He looked pleased by the thought. “If she willingly joins wi' ye, Neil and I willna argue yer right to be Pleasure Master. Ye owe the clan proof that ye be worthy.”
Ian's lips thinned, and his gaze narrowed to gray slits of danger. “And what proof will ye give the clan that Neil or ye aremoreworthy?”
Those in the crowd nodded their heads, acknowledging the fairness of Ian's question.
Ian's lips tipped up in a smile that never reached his eyes. “As ye have chosen for me, I will choose for ye. 'Tis fair.”
The mob mumbled its agreement. Colin and Neil looked worried.
“I must think for a while on who to choose for ye.” Ian's smile was pure evil.
Kathy had had enough. “You have to be kidding. This sounds like a script from the World Wrestling Federation. In this corner we have the Great Seducer, defending his Pleasure Master title against all comers.” She stood on tiptoe to glare at him. “Well, let me tell you, Ian Ross, you've just met Kathy the Unseduceable, so get ready to loseâ”
She got no further. Lowering his head, he kissed her. There was no softness in the kiss, no tentative first touching of lips. It was a brand, pure and simple. Ian Ross's sold sign, like the one she'd plunked in her front yard two weeks after PMS and Joan had done their thing in her bed.
She wasn't sure at what point the kiss changed. She just knew his lips softened, tempted in a way she'd never thought a kiss could tempt. The tip of his tongue traced her lips and when she parted them, slid inside.
Opening to him, she explored his mouth as he did hers, wondered at the sudden rush of need, her pounding heart and a heat that had her wishing she could stop long enough to shed her coat and every other darn thing she wore. His kiss was liquid lightning, crackling along her nerve endings and exploding in white-hot desire.
When he finally released her, she stood staring blindly at him, knowing in her heart she'd never experience a kiss like that again. And wondering how he'd done it. How had he wrung a response from her in thirty seconds that her ex, who'd read every book ever written about women's sexuality, hadn't achieved in five years of marriage?
And Ian Ross had done it with just his lips and tongue. What greatness could he rise to if he used the rest of his body? The thought was frightening,intriguing.
Suddenly, she grew aware of the silence. Glancing around, she met the avid stares of the villagers, who waited with bated breath to see whether the Pleasure Master had triumphed with just one kiss.
No way. She'd sat through every Mel Gibson and Brad Pitt movie, even a Ricky Martin concert, and lived to tell the tale. No Highlander from 1542 was going to reduce her to a whimpering puddle with just a kiss.
He was only a medieval copy of her ex, and she had more important things to think about. Like how to get back to New York by February 14 so she could destroy Peter Matthew Stone in court.
Appearance is everything.She stepped away from Ian Ross. She yawned. “That was adequate. Not great, but adequate.”That was a nuclear explosion, and I was standing at ground zero.
A loud “oooh” of admiration swept through the crowd. Colin and Neil looked gleeful.
Ian's expression of concern was belied by the amused glitter in his eyes. “'Tis a difficult task ye've set me, Colin. The lass must stay wi' me so I may give her my full attention.”
“Aye,” the crowd agreed.
Colin and Neil didn't look quite so pleased now.
Kathy wasn't pleased at all. “Hey, wait just a minuteâ”
Ian leaned close. “Do ye wish to stay wi' them, lass?”
“Umm.” She glanced at the villagers. One toothless old man grinned at her and winked. “Maybe not.”
Nodding, he turned and started walking back up the hill.
“'Tis a lucky woman ye be,” a female voice murmured.
“Aye,” another agreed.
Kathy thought it all depended on your perspective, but right now Ian Ross seemed the lesser of two evils. Turning, she hurried after him.
He was walking too fast again. Since she couldn'tget close enough to berate him, she made do with something closer. “This is all your fault, Peter.”
Peter clattered along beside her, still wearing Malin as a hat, totally oblivious to all the trouble he'd caused.
“If you hadn't followed me, I might've convinced those very strange people that I was just like them. Okay, maybe not. I've never seen so much bad hair gathered in one spot before.” She shuddered at the thought of all those sun-bleached split ends.
And that, of course, reminded her of home.Don't think of that now.Maybe tonight, in the comforting darkness where she could pretend nothing had happened, she'd take out today's horror and examine it.
She quickly shifted her thoughts back to Peter. “Now I have to live with Mr. Pleasure Master in his cave. And it's all your fault.” Good. She'd found a scapegoat.
Beside her, Rhett Butler drawled, “Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.”Chapter Four
Ian listened to the woman's restless movements in the darkness and waited. Silently. He'd learned the power of silence, whether lying in wait for an enemy when a sound could mean death, or beside a woman, touching her with quiet, allowing her desire to build. Seducing her in all the ways that needed no words, no glide of flesh against flesh. And there were many, as Kathy of Hair would soon know.
But tonight was not the time. Tonight she thought only of this New York she believed she came from.And what if what she says is true?He did not close his mind to all things different, but this seemed overmuch to believe.
No, even with her strange speech and the odd things she brought with her, he could lie beside hernow, run his fingers the length of her smooth body, touch her as he'd touched so many women, and she'd be like all other women.
She moved again, and he drew in an impatient breath. There was nothing for it. He must speak with her or neither of them would sleep this night.
Pulling his plaid around him, he rose and walked to where she lay. He sat beside her, letting her feel his presence.
His aloneness, his oneness with all things physical, opened him to the things that other men could not see. The woman's fear and confusion broke over him in waves of tortured feeling. A canny hunter would strike while the prey was weak. He thought about it, then dismissed the idea. Not tonight.
“Ye canna sleep.”
“I never sleep well in a new place. And your bed isn't exactly floating-cloud quality. Besides, it's too quiet. I'm used to traffic, people.” The darkness softened her voice, rounded the sharp edges of her complaint.
She sighed. “I'm sorry, Ian. Forget the last whine. It's not the bed, it's . . .”
He could hear the tears in her voice, knew she'd cried in the darkness, muffling the sound so she wouldn't wake him. “'Tis the darkness that feeds yer fears. When ye canna see, ye turn yer thoughts inward.”
“But how did I get here? How will I get back?Whyam I here?”
He had no answers, so instead he rose and used the still-hot remains of the hearth fire to light a candle, then returned to her side. In the flickering light, he searched for the truth.
“Hey, I've got it.” Her choked laughter held no happiness. “The Great-Hairdresser-in-the-Sky couldn't stand looking at dry split ends here for another century so She sent me.”
He sensed the silent scream behind her words.
He watched her turn onto her side, then prop herself up on one elbow. Listened to the rustle of her clothes. Caught his breath at the blue glitter of her eyes in the candlelight. Felt the first familiar stirrings.
“You know, that whole idea is funny. There was this . . . God, I'm already talking in the past tense.” The thought seemed to upset her. He could see it in the aimless patterns she traced on his fur, recognized it in her uneasy pause.
“I watchedGhostbusterson video last week. You have to understand, I'm a huge movie fan. Anyway, all through the movie they kept repeating, âWho you gonna call?' I guess that's me. No offense, but your friends have to have the worst hair in the universe.” She shrugged. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. So someone or something yanked me into your time to fix it.”
“Ye believe this?” What was a video? What was a ghostbuster?
“No.” Her voice was small, lost. “Look, I don't want to deal with my problem tonight. I don't knowhowto deal with it.”
“Aye, well since ye must stay here for a time, I could tell ye about the people, aboutâ”
“Tell me aboutyou,Ian.”
“What would ye know?”
He smiled. “Ye dinna ask much, lass.” Without thinking, he pushed back a lock of her hair that had fallen across her forehead. Her sudden flinch made him wonder. “Ye're not comfortable wi' men.”
Her glance turned defiant. “I'm fine. I just don't want anyone touching me.”
Ye will, lass, ye will.
Her gaze dropped beneath his stare. “Anyway, we're not talking about me. Let's hear about you, about your family.”
Would ye have me speak of those who come to me in the night, of their secrets, their fears? Would ye know of the blood shed in the name of the Pleasure Master?
He smiled. He would tell her what she expected and let the darkness keep its secrets.
Shrugging, he stared into the shadowed corner where Malin slept peacefully atop Peter. “'Tis a short tale. Since I was the first-born, I was taken from my mother at nine years to begin learning my duties as Pleasure Master.”'Twas pleased enough she was to rid herself of a bastard Ross.“I fight for the clan when need be.” He narrowed his gaze. “And I spend overmuch time avoiding the Mackays.”
“You know, I wasn't much of a history buff inschool, but I would've remembered this Pleasure Master stuff.”
Puzzling. She spoke as though she truly did live in a future time. “We are a small clan, and few brave the Highlands to find us. We dinna have visitors other than the Mackays, and they only to raid our cattle.”And the women who come to me. So many of them.He could close his eyes and feel their warm bodies moving beneath him, inhale the scents of exotic oil and desire. Veiled women, who when the night ended returned to London or farther with a gift none other could give, a secret they dared never share.
“We are the only clan wi' a Pleasure Master.” How hadshefound them? She could not have survived such a harsh journey carrying only her strange “toys.” The Mackays?
He watched a line form between her eyes, confusion fill her gaze. “Funny, but I wouldn't expect a primitive isolated society to bother with something like a Pleasure Master.”
He didn't understand many of her words, but he could guess their meaning. “The clan has gained fame from the Pleasure Master, and those who come from afar enrich the villagers.” Ian found it amusing that a bit of gold and fame would make him a source of pride to the clan, when without those things he would probably be damned as an abomination.
He saw her need to ask more about the fame and enriching, but other questions pulled at her.
“How does your mother feel about this PleasureMaster stuff? Doesn't she want you to fall in love, have a family of your own?”
He shrugged. “My mother is dead. I ne'er saw her again after my father took me.”
He recognized the glint of sympathy in her gaze and wondered at it. “'Tis no matter. I didna need my mother.”Any more than my mother needed me.
She offered him an uncertain smile. “Well, at least you had your father's love.”
Now he was truly puzzled. “My father hasna e'er loved me. Love isna important. He taught me what I need know to be the next Pleasure Master. âTwas his duty.”
Her expression turned frantic. “Your brothers. You're triplets, for heaven's sake. You have to be close to them.”
He grinned. “Ye dinna understand us, lass. We havena e'er agreed overmuch about anything. They wouldna grieve if I were gone.”
Her look of horror wiped the grin from his face. “Ye're too tender, Kathy of Hair. Accept that love has no part in my life. The clan must know that I canna love any that come to me, that I can only teach them what needs teaching, then return them wi' their hearts untouched, their secrets safe. 'Tis the only way the Pleasure Master can exist. He must be beyond love for any one woman.”
He gentled his voice. “But if ye desire to know joys of the body such as ye've ne'er known before, mayhap I can show ye the power of the Pleasure Master.”
She'd forgotten. He'd made that stupid bet with his brothers. He had to seduce her to be the Pleasure Master. So why this panic? He hadn't a prayer of lighting her fire. She should just let him try, get it out of his system.
No.She couldn't. And shewasn'tafraid. Fine, so he'd made her feel something earlier, but she'd been in shock then. People didn't act normally when they were in shock. “Forget it. No joys of the body tonight. Let's play a game.”
She could feel his confusion. Good. A confused Pleasure Master wouldn't have time to plan seduction.
“Play?” His voice turned warm, husky.
Okay, nothing to worry about. This was probably his sitting-with-woman-in-darkness voice. Automatic. He wasn't even thinking about touching her.
Touching her.Imagine. His fingers sliding across her flesh, circling each nipple. Then his lips on her breasts, drawing each nipple into his mouth. Hot, demanding.
She dragged in a deep breath. It was steaming in here. Who'd turned up the thermostat? She'd just turn it down. . . . Problem. No thermostat.
She glanced up, met his silver gaze across the flickering candle flame, andknew.
“Stop it.” She couldn't control the wobble in her voice. “Stop it right now.”
“Stop what, lass?” His lips tilted up in a smile that invited. Promised.
“Stop what you're trying to do to me.” Shewasn't so sure now. Whathadhe been trying to do? Maybe nothing. Maybe shock was causing her to imagine things. “Oh, never mind. I'll get a game.”
She scrambled to her feet, putting distance between herself and any possible pleasure field that might surround him. Of course, the whole idea was nonsense.What happened to you today should be nonsense, too.
Rooting around in the large plastic bag, she pulled out a checkers game. Safe. Easy for him to understand.
She wondered . . . She stuck her head into the bag. “Send me home. Someone in here send me home.”
“Ye begin to sound much like Mad Mary. She speaks to her hens. Ye speak to a sack.”
Before drawing her head from the bag, she grabbed a small yellow sunflower. She had no idea what it was supposed to do.
Closing the bag, she turned to glare at Ian. “If I can talk to someone who's been dead for more than four hundred years, I can talk to a bag.”
“Besides, I wasn't talking to the bag. I was talking to the toys.”
He shook his head. “'Tis a great need to talk ye have. Mayhap I can speak wi' Mad Mary. She might gift ye wi' one of her hens andâ”
“Not funny, Ross.” Holding the flower and the checkers box, she hurried over to Peter. “Okay, the game's up, Peter. Send me home.”
Malin growled his displeasure while Peter's amber lights flashed happily. “E.T. phone home.”
She sighed. “Right. Phone home.”
The sudden tension in Ian's voice startled her. Kathy turned to catch him staring intently at Peter. She indulged in some mental head-slapping. Ian hadn't been close enough before to hear Peter speak. “No. Definitely not sorcery. Just some wires, circuits, and a computer chip thrown in there somewhere. Someone programmed him with a bunch of movie quotes, and he spouts them at totally inappropriate moments.” She cast Peter a meaningful glare. Then she dared a glance at Ian. Nope, he hadn't understood a word she'd said.
Trudging back to her glorified cot, she sat down. “Where's H. G. Wells when you need him?”
“Who is H. G. Wells, and why would ye have need of him?”
She sighed. “He was a writer who wrote about a time machine and . . . Oh, never mind. Who sent me here, Ian?” She couldn't keep the despair from her voice.
“I dinna know, but I wouldna think one of yer toys could do so.” He pulled the checkerboard from the box and set it between them.
His voice sounded relaxed, but she still sensed his unease over Peter's speech.
“Well,somethingdid.” Absently, she put the sunflower on the cushion next to her and studied it.
Huge blue eyes blinked open. Waving its leavesmadly and wiggling its stem to an imaginary beat, the small flower announced, “I loooove you,” in a high-pitched little-girl voice.
“Great. Just great,” Kathy muttered. Scrambling to her feet, she picked the flower up and transferred it to a ledge beside the hearth. “Don't want to mention theLword around here, honey.”
The flower's eyes closed, and it fell silent as Kathy returned to her seat across from Ian. “It must have motion sensors like Peter, but Peter's technology seems a lot more complex. I still can't figure out why he was so cheap. The price tag must've . . .”
Her words trickled into silence as she glanced at Ian.
He sat transfixed, his gaze riveted on the sunflower. His hands shook as he grasped the checkers box in a crushing grip.
Uh-oh. Major mistake. From the look on Ian's face he intended to stomp the hapless flower into tiny plastic pieces. Why hadn't she thought before sheâ
“I dinna ken how ye make things move and talk that havena life.”
“Not me. I don't make them do anything. They come that way from the toy factory. All I do is push the button. Anyone can push a button.Youcan push a button.” She wanted to make that perfectly clear. No way was she going to end up the featured attraction at a Highland wienie roast. Make that a witchie roast.
She smiled brightly. “Go right on over to the bagand stick your hand in. Push a button, any button.” From the look on his face, he'd rather stick his hand into a bag of vipers. “I don't blame you for being afraid becauseâ”
“I dinna fear ye or the things ye brought wi' ye.” His gaze turned hard, and for a moment she saw the stranger he really was.
Something niggled at her subconscious, a feeling that beneath his sensuality lurked the heart of a dark predator, moving silently through the frightening world that wasn'therworld, stalking her.
She'd let him see her weakness today, but she wouldn't do that again, wouldn't turn her back on him again.
“Oh, come on, Ross. Give me a break. Your brothers were terrified, and you're trying to tell meâ”
“'Tis why my brothers willna be Pleasure Master.”
He was as strange to her as any fabled creature rising from Loch Ness's depths, and she knew her expression revealed her thoughts.
“You don't love. You don't fear. What do youfeel,Ian Ross?”
“Idinna feel, lass. I makeothersfeel.” But hedidfeel with this womanâunease with her toys that seemed much too alive, frustration with his desire to know the meanings of all her strange words, and . . . uncertainty with her. Of all his feelings, uncertainty was the most unsettling.
He must put all emotions aside, though, if he intended to remain Pleasure Master. He had to joinwith this woman, and he would use his power in any way necessary. Tonight would be the beginning.
Absently, he pushed the game aside and reached for her foot. She'd kept on all her clothes, removing only her footwear. Wise lass.
Grasping her ankle, he lifted her foot onto his lap. He felt her sudden tensing. “Ye're safe, lass.”Ye'll ne'er be safe from me, Kathy of Hair.“I mean only to warm ye. When the hearth fire burns low, a chill creeps in.”
She remained stiff, unyielding. But she didn't pull her foot away. He smiled. It mattered not. The vixen could run from the hunter, but in the end she'd find no hiding place, would want none.
Cupping her foot in his palms, he rubbed a rhythmic pattern. Slow, deep strokes. “'Tis wondrous, the feel of flesh against flesh. Close yer eyes and give yerself to the heat, the pleasure. Dinna think of today, the morrow. Think only of now, of the touching.” He purposely lowered his voice to a murmur.
He'd meant only to lull this time, but her unblinking, wide-eyed stare told him she felt the change even as he felt it. The tightening in his groin, the pressure of his growing erection.
Strange. He'd learned control of his own body even as he learned to control the bodies of others. He must work harder to guard his reactions with this woman.
Holding her gaze with his, he slid her foot tightly against his erection, gasped at the pleasure-pain ofthe pressure, and wondered why she didn't seek to free herself. Knowing he would gain no release on this night, he still increased his torture by rubbing her foot over his flesh, until his groin's throbbing pulsed in every part of his body.
Her one strangled word was enough. He released her, but she didn't jerk her foot away.
Instead, she clenched her foot, tightening the pressure until he couldn't suppress a groan of agony at his own need, at the anticipation of pleasure.
Then slowly, she slid her foot from his lap. “I . . . I think I'm warm now.”
He knew his smile was one of triumph even as he forced his breathing back to a normal rhythm. “Ye felt the power, Kathy of Hair.”
“Power?” She looked uncertain, but beneath the uncertainty he saw the beginnings of realization.
Aye, she would learn. “I freed ye, yet ye didna move away. Ye pressed yer foot more tightly against my flesh. Why?”
“I . . . I don't know.” She glanced away, but not before he saw her confusion.
“Ye do, lass.” He allowed his thoughts, his desire to move over her.
She turned back to him. “What're you getting at, Ian?”
“The joy to be had between a man and woman has many layers. Ye just experienced one. Ye held the power to do what ye would wi' my body, to give pain or pleasure. Didna ye feel the clenching in yer own body even as ye pressed against mine? Didnathis man ye left in New York allow ye power over him?”
He didn't know which question she answered, but it didn't matter. She would think about what he'd said, and that was enough.
“Sleep, lass. I'll not touch ye again.”Tonight.
“It wouldn't do you any good. I'm seduce-proof. Remember?”
“Aye.” He heard the defiance in her voice and smiled. Mayhap she'd prove a challenge, and he loved challenges. “But still, I wouldna wish to send ye running into the night like a deer from the wolf.”
“You're no wolf, Ross.” Her laugh sounded breathless. “A wolf mates for life.”
She lay down and turned her back to him, leaving him with the unsettling knowledge that she thought him less than a beast that ran on four legs.
But what she thought of him didn't matter. He must remember that. The only important thing was that he meet his brothers' challenge, that he seduce this one woman. And the pleasure he'd give her would be hers to remember when she returned to New York.
He strode to the hearth fire and stirred up the dying flame.
“I loooove you.”
He glared at the wiggling flower as he added wood to the fire. His brothers. He must pay them in kind for their challenge. He would find women for them who truly couldn't be seduced, at least by men who knew so little about a woman's pleasure.
He paced away from the fire, then back.
“I loooove you.”
But he couldn't concentrate on his brothers tonight, could only think of the woman who lay so close, could only imagine her heat surrounding him, welcoming him. He continued to pace.
“I loooove you.”
He pictured the moment she would look into his eyes andknow,what he truly was, what they would share. His step quickened at the thought.
“I loooove you.”
Clenching his fists, he swung to face the wee yellow demon. “God's teeth, will ye cease yer blathering about love!”
And surprisingly, the flower was quiet.
Breathing deeply, he turned to see if the woman had noticed his loss of control, but her loose-limbed stillness told him that she slept.
Exhaling sharply, he crouched and stared into the heart of the flame. “I give ye tonight, Kathy of Hair. Rest well. For not even a score of strange minions will save ye from me.”
“I loooove you.”Chapter Five
The sounds woke Kathy. From the muted clicks and scrapes, she guessed maintenance workers must be in her apartment hallway. They could at least wait until nine o'clock. And she must be getting the mother of all colds because it felt like an elephant was sitting on her chest. No wonder, after standing in the sleet last night waiting for . . .
The elephant purred.
She opened her eyes to meet Malin's unblinking yellow stare, and the horror of yesterday came pouring back. She groaned.
“Ye dinna sound well, lass. Do ye have a pain?”
“It's lying on me.” She turned her head enough to see Ian seated on a rug with pieces of something scattered around him.
The sheer power she felt when she looked at himagain forced her to draw a deep breath. Malin growled at the sudden rise of her chest.
Ian's hair, a dark tangle of temptation, framed his face as he leaned over his work.His hair.Before she went back to New York, and she would go back, she had to run her fingers through those strands.
She'd start with a shampoo, some conditioner, then snip off a few ends. . . .
Kathy turned on her side, and Malin plopped off her stomach onto the fur. He ratcheted his growl up a notch. “Sorry, Your Nastiness.” She braved Malin's wrath by offering him a brief head scratch, and his growl subsided to a grumbling complaint.
“Malin has decided he likes ye.”
“Could've fooled me.” And after she memorized the texture of Ian's hair, she'd go home, because she had too many things to do.
“'Tis a great honor. Ye dinna want to be one whom Malin doesna like.”
“Bad things happen?”
Forget Malin. Kathy had some major issues to address. She could deal with the toilet situation, but there was something even more important. “Coffee? Tell me you have coffee in 1542.”
No. She couldn't function as a rational human being without her two cups of coffee. Only one thing could help her cope with a world sans coffee. “Okay, I'll settle for a piece of chocolate.”
“What is chocolate?”
Kathy stared at him. Impossible. She knew her history. When old Noah had loaded his ark, he'd taken two of every animal and a bag of Hershey Kisses. How to explain the wonder of chocolate to one who'd never tasted it? “Chocolate is . . . smooth, rich, and sweet. It makes a bad day good, and a rotten date okay. It's . . . chocolate.”
“This chocolate sounds wondrous, but I havena any to give ye.”
No coffee? No chocolate? She couldn't stay here.
“What're you doing?” Okay, she'd keep a positive attitude today. This time-travel stuff had to work both ways. So all she had to do was figure out how she got here, then figure a way to go home. Not impossible for an intelligent, twenty-first century woman, right?
Before her positive attitude could spring a leak, she climbed to her feet and padded over to where Ian was still engrossed in his work. She narrowed her gaze. Those small yellow pieces looked familiar. They looked like . . .
“Suzy Sunshine. Those are Suzy Sunshine pieces. What've you done to her?”
He raised his gaze to hers, and the intensity of his silver stare almost made her forget New York and the unfortunate Suzy Sunshine.
“I took the wee flower apart to see how it worked.” He slid his gaze the length of her body, and a heated sizzle followed its path. “I have a great curiosity aboutallthings.”
Hah. She could fling innuendoes as well as thenext guy. “Well, I hope you don't expect to run around taking apart everything you don't understand? One of thosethingsmight rear up and sock you in the jaw.”
“Mayhap.” He grinned, dissolving her crusty morning attitude like warm water melting snow.
Speaking of warm water . . . “Umm, any chance of my getting some water to clean up with?”
“Aye.” He nodded toward a tunnel branching off from the main room. “Ye'll find a small pool of water there.”
Translation: water colder than Arctic ice in a tunnel darker than a New York alley. Not inviting. She shivered.
His gaze softened. “I could bring water from the pool and heat it over the fire. Ye could bathe by the hearth.”
“And where would you go?” She already knew the answer, but it was always good to get verbal confirmation.
“I would sit and watch ye. 'Tis a thing to be enjoyed,shared.” His lids drifted half closed, but that did nothing to hide his hot anticipation of all that sharing.
Fine. At least cold water would get her circulation moving and wake up the old brain so it could contribute its share toward her going-home plans. She grumbled her way back to the bed, mumbled as she slipped her socks and boots back on, then paused in her chant of discontent long enough to ask, “What do I wash with, leaves and sand?”
She didn't mistake the glitter of amusement inhis gaze, and she also didn't mistake her own reaction to his magnetic pull on all things female in her. When the Power responsible for sex and temptation handed out pheromones, She must have lost her place after getting a look at Ian Ross because She'd given him a double dose.
Ian rose in one lithe movement, strode to a small wooden chest, and lifted out several items. He brought them over to Kathy. “Ye have a poor opinion of me, lass.”
She took the items gingerly, making sure she touched no part of him. Touching Ian would not be something a thinking woman should attempt before her first cup of coffee.No coffee.She'd forgotten.
She glanced up at Ian. Of course, there would be compensations. She looked back down at the things he'd given her. “Scented soap and real cloth?”
His smile flowed over herâteasing, inviting,dangerous.“Women like to gift me wi' small remembrances of them. 'Tis kind of them.”
Kind? She didn't think so. All six feet plus of him towered above her. Raw masculinity and smooth seduction. Harsh beauty and hidden depths. Combinations most women would find irresistible. Except Kathy Bartlett. She'd have no problem resisting him. She glanced up at him again. Sure. No problem at all.
“Well, I'll just trot on down this tunnel. Be back in a flash.” Then she'd call the smartest person she knew to help her get the heck out of here.
She'd taken only a few steps when her cell phone rang.
Ian's nostrils flared like a wild stallion scenting danger. Hmm. The stallion image needed to be explored.Aftershe begged whomever was on her phone to find New York for her.
She walked to her purse and pulled out her phone. Taking a deep breath, she spoke. “Hello.” Did she sound calm, serious,sane?
“You have papers to sign, girlfriend, so we can kick your ex's sorry butt all over that courtroom. Where are you?”
Kathy closed her eyes.Yes.The smartest person she knew. Cocoâfriend and attorney. “I'm tied up. . . . Well, not literally. I'm . . . Oh, what the hell, I'm in Scotland.”
There was a moment of silence while Coco digested this. “Scotland.”
“Scotland in 1542.” Kathy watched Ian edge closer so he could listen.
“Scotland. 1542.” Long silence. “I guess that means you won't be able to make our meeting today. I could reschedule.”
“I'm not joking, Coco. Something happened yesterday. I don't have a clue what, but I ended up here. Believe me.” Forget calm. Concentrate on sane.
“Here? Here like in Scotland?”
Kathy listened as Coco rustled papers. Probably looking for the number to her local mental health clinic. “I know it sounds crazy, but I'm really in Scotland.”
“I hope this is about a man, because if it isn't, we've got real problems. Do you have a man there?”
“Yes, there's a man, butâ”
Kathy had no time to say more. The phone was taken firmly from her.
Ian gazed at the phone, then put it to his ear. “If it's a man ye desire, I can help ye. Ye must know that a man doesna want a lass who talks overmuch, so ye must curb yer need to blather.”
Uh-oh. Coco's thunder voice, discernible across entire continents without the benefit of modern technology. Kathy winced. Coco had been known to reduce tough men to tears with that voice.
“Ian Ross. And ye sound like a bonny lass.”
“Cut the crap. Are you holding Kathy against her will? If you are, I'll charge you with kidnapping, unlawful transportation across state lines, intention toâ” Ian held the phone away from his ear and blinked.
He glanced at Kathy. “What does âcut the crap' mean?”
Kathy rolled her eyes.
He put the phone back against his ear. “Yer voice would entice the strongest man if ye didna deafen him first.” Ian closed his eyes. “Ye should wear black, lass. One wi' yer boldness must have hair the color of flame. Red hair trailing down yer back and a brawny man to run his fingers through it. Ye're a woman of fire, Coco. Ye deserve a strong man.”
There was complete silence on the other end of the line for so long that Kathy feared Coco had fainted from the shock of a man talking back to her. She pulled the phone away from Ian. “Coco? Are you okay?”
“Whoisthat man?” Coco actually sounded . . . bemused. “He's right, of course. I need a strong man. How'd he know I have red hair? When you get back in town, maybe I could meet him. If that's okay with you, of course?”
“Sure. No problem.” Kathy stared blindly at the far wall where a tapestry filled with fantastic winged creatures hung.Fantastic.Who would ever believe her story? No one. “My car's sitting on I-95 near my exit if no one's stripped it or towed it away yet. And would you check on my apartment until I get back, Coco?”
“You're not going to tell me what you're really doing?” Coco sounded serious suddenly. “Strange time to take a vacation. You aren't the impulsive type. Are you sure everything's okay?”
“Wonderful.” No one in either time would ever believe her. “Do me a favor. Find out if anything important happened in Scotland in 1542.”
“Really into this Scotland thing, aren't you?”
“More than you'll ever know. Iâ” Kathy's concentration was shattered as the sound of footsteps in the tunnel signaled a visitor.
She took the phone from her ear and turned in time to see one of Ian's brothers burst into the room. Hard to tell which one with all that facial hair.
“Have ye chosen for me, Ian? 'Tisn't fair that ye have more time to woo yer lass than I have.” He strode over to stand beside Ian, then cast a startled glance at Kathy's phone. “It doesna matter which wench ye choose. There isna a lass I canna have.” He leaned close to the phone, then put out a tentative finger to touch it.
“There's another man there. I can hear him. Sounds like an arrogant macho jerk. Put him on.” Kathy winced as Coco's demand carried clearly to the two men.
Ian grinned. “I dinna know what a macho jerk is, Neil, but it doesna sound like ye've won Coco.”
Neil turned pale and swallowed hard, and Kathy could almost feel his need to run from her phone. But she had to give him credit. Seeing that Ian didn't run, Neil stood his ground. Barely.
“What demon's tool is that, Ian?” His voice was strangled.
“'Tis one of the wondrous things Kathy of Hair has brought from her land. She can speak wi' those she's left in her kingdom.”
“'Tis passing strange.” Neil reached for the phone with fingers that shook. “I would speak wi' this Coco. She has insulted Neil Ross. It isna a thing I take lightly.” He glanced at Kathy uncertainly. “Who is this Coco?”
Kathy was having a hard time keeping a straight face. Maybe she was getting used to the idea of being in this place, because it was the first time she'd felt like laughing since her expensive lemon had overheated. “Coco is my . . . dragonslayer.”
Neil looked suitably awed. “'Tis impossible for a weak woman to do such deeds.”
“I heard that, bozo.” Coco's voice dripped icy venom.
Neil's gaze narrowed as he put the phone to his ear. “'Tisn't seemly for a woman to speak so to a man. Ye must learn to respect those stronger and wiser than ye.”
Kathy backed away from the phone.Massive explosion imminent.
“And that would be . . . ? You sorry piece of dog doo-doo. I'll respect thosestronger and wiserthan me when I meet them. You're not it, buster. I'd chew you up and spit you out if I had you in court. IhateNeanderthal boneheads who think that just because they have a penis, it makes them gods.”
Neil looked shocked.
“Gotta give you credit, though. You have balls. No man has talked to me like that in years and kept them.”
Neil glanced down. Probably to check that the body parts in question were still attached. Coco had that effect on men.
“Oh, and I'm only Coco to my friends. You may call me Ms. Jones, Attorney at Law. Tell Kathy she doesn't have much more play time. It's already January fourth. I'll talk to her later, and you can go to hell.”
Everyone stood in frozen silence as the disconnect click announced Coco had hung up.
January fourth?How could it be January fourthwhenâ? Kathy felt Ian move closer. She didn't have to see him to know where he was,whathe was. Even if her mind suggested this Pleasure Master stuff was all nonsense, her body, her senses recognized him.
She glanced up in time to catch his wicked grin.
“'Tis an unfortunate first meeting, Neil, but ye'll do better next time.”
Neil narrowed his gaze. “'Twould give me more joy to talk wi' one of Mad Mary's hens than to speak wi' that woman again. 'Tis glad I am she dwells in another kingdom, or I might throttle the bold wench.”
Kathy tried to tamp down her growing uneasiness. She didn't like the glitter in Ian's gaze or his expression of false sympathy.
“'Tis sad I am to hear ye say so, Neil, because I've chosen Coco as yer challenge. 'Twill take atruePleasure Master's skill to win such a lass.”
Ian shifted closer to Kathy, close enough for his arm to slide along the silk covering her arm, close enough to feel her quiver at his touch, close enough to silently show his brother that Kathy was his.
“Ye wouldna do such a thing to me, Ian.” Neil gingerly handed the phone back to Kathy. “No man could seduce a demon voice coming from yon devil's toy. It isna a true test. I canna see or touch the lass.”
Ian narrowed his gaze. “Was it fair to choose for me a woman who proclaimed she had no interest in any man?”
The woman in question seemed to be enjoying their argument overmuch. “Well, at least you can touch me, Ian.”
Ian smiled at her. “Aye, that I can. And will.” He allowed his lids to drift half closed, imagining his hands, his mouth, on her smooth body. “Ye'll ne'er forget Ian Ross's touch.”
“Arrogant.” She moved away from him.
“Truthful.” It didn't matter how far she moved, how far she ran, he'd find her.
“I'm not going to argue over something that doesn't matter. I won't be here long enough for you to seduce me, and when I leave I'll take Coco with me.” She offered him a parting glare as she scooped up the soap, cloths, and a small object from the thing she called her purse, then headed for the tunnel leading to the pool. “Oh, and don't take my phone apart while I'm gone.”
Neil cast him a sharp glance. “She doesna sound like a lass whose father sent her here to learn the pleasures of a man's body.”
Ian shrugged. “She doesna wish to marry and doesna believe any man can bring her joy. 'Tis a difficult task Colin and ye have set me.”
Neil looked uncertain, but forged ahead. “Ye should prepare another to take yer place, Ian. What if Mackay captures ye? Or what if those from the kirk who wish ye dead succeed?”
“The Pleasure Master has been a part of the clan for nigh a hundred years. The people wouldna allow it.”But what about Kathy of Hair?The kirkcould accuse the lass of witchcraft without fear of retaliation. He must guard her well.
“Ye keep the secrets of many families, Ian. Their secrets would die wi' ye. 'Tis a tempting thought to some.”
Ian nodded. “No matter. There can be only one Pleasure Master.”
Neil's gaze turned calculating. “But ye could train another, just as Father trained ye. Ye have no son of yer own to pass the secrets to, so ye should train Colin or me to take yer place. 'Tis common sense.”
“Ye've given me much to think on, Neil.” He grinned at his brother. “Mayhap I'll do what ye wish. . . .”
Neil's eyes lit with triumph.
“After we've decided who is the true Pleasure Master.” He clapped Neil on the back. “Ye may visit often to speak wi' Coco. Tell Colin I'll speak wi' him today about his challenge.”
Neil drew in a deep breath and stared hard at his brother, then cast a meaningful glance at Peter and the phone. “The woman is verra strange, and the things she carries wi' her seem bewitched. Dinna forget I was there when ye first met. She appeared out of the mist wi' no sound. How did she reach us wi' no sound, no warning? Who really sent her, brother?” He smiled, then strode from the chamber.
Ian narrowed his gaze on Neil's departing back. Would his brother betray him if given the chance? Ian didn't know. But he trusted no one. Those whotrusted often ended up dead. Ian Ross intended to live a long, fruitful life.Fruitful.He smiled. Grabbing two candles, he headed down the tunnel Kathy had taken.
Drat it. Pen flashlights were not meant to illuminate stygian pools of water that probably housed any number of nameless nasties. No way was Kathy Bartlett climbing into that water. She'd bet its murky bottom was cluttered with the skeletal remains of foolish bathers.
Kathy dipped her hand into the water. Cool, but not as icy as she'd expected. Quickly, she knelt at the edge, took off one piece of clothing at a time, and washed as best she could. If she were still here tomorrow, she'd opt for the tub beside the fire.WithoutIan Ross as resident voyeur.
She'd just finished rebuttoning her blouse when something stopped her. She heard nothing, but she still knew. Ian was coming. She shivered. It was crazy. She was the same person who had fallen asleep during a Metallica concert, yet she couldsensewhen Ian was near.
Turning her head, she could see twin glowing lights moving down the tunnel toward her. In this place she could almost imagine a fairy-tale dragon with glowing eyes seeking her by the darkened pool.
She shook off her fanciful thoughts as he drew closer, and she could make out his dark silhouette. Narrowing her gaze, she stared at something smallmoving behind him. It was hourglass-shaped, with a cat perched atop it.Peter.
Great. Make this a three-ring circus. Couldn't a woman have any privacy in this blasted time?
“Have ye bathed yet, lass?” He strode to the side of the pool and placed his candles along the bank to illuminate it.
“Yes. Now go away.” How embarrassing. Now that she could see the pool, she realized it was only the size of a small pond. In the flickering candlelight, the pool and chamber looked innocuous.
Ian ignored her. “'Tis unfortunate I didna arrive sooner. Mayhap we could have bathed together.”
He didn't look at her, but she knew what he was thinking. “When frogs fly. Go play your bagpipe or storm a castle, but go away.”
“'Tis a cruel woman ye be.” He didn't sound very crushed. “But I must bathe before I slay my daily monster.” He shrugged, then took the soap and cloth from her. “If ye willna bathe wi' me, I must bathe alone.”
Kathy barely had time to close her gaping mouth before he'd undressed. She ought to look away. She slid her gaze across broad shoulders, muscular back, and buns to cry for gleaming golden in the candles' flames. But she couldn't. An experience like this came once in a lifetime. Good thing. Hyperventilation couldn't be healthy on a regular basis.
He strode into the water and stopped when he reached the middle of the pond. The water only reached his hips. He turned to face her.
Nowshe would look away. But there were some things you couldn't turn from. She remembered her first trip to the Bronx Zoo. The tiger. Mom had warned her not to go near the cage, but she'd been hypnotized by the animal's untamed power. She'd inched closer. Then the tiger had looked at her, and she'd known that if he wanted to eat her, nothing could stop him. Not bars, not her mother. Nothing.
She felt that way now. In the shadows cast by the candlelight, Ian stared at her, silver gaze promising that when the time came, nothing she said, nothing she did, would make a difference.
Sleek, beautiful, dangerous. He stared at her across the chasm of more than four hundred years, and it was as though she looked into the eyes of that tiger again.
She shivered with delicious fear. Delicious? She had to be crazy.
Leaning back, she watched him splash water over his body, then soap himself. He slid the cloth over his arms, shoulders, torso.
Her breathing quickened as he washed lower. Now she'd look away. Okay, so she'd wait a little longer.
She held her breath as his hand paused over the shadowed part she couldn't quite see,wantedto see. Amazing. She'd never cared very much about seeing any part of old PMS.
“Ye're a bold lass, to watch a man so.” He didn't sound upset at the thought.
“Yes, well this is sort of like a virtual reality trip.It's primitive here, so I figure it's okay to act a little primitive. I mean, I wouldn't do this back in New York.”Weak, Bartlett.“Umm, aren't you going to finish?”
His smile flashed white in the dimness. He drew the cloth slowly, lingeringly over himself. What she couldn't see, she imagined. She licked suddenly dry lips.
“Come to me, lass. Touch me. Know how much I want ye.” His voice was a low murmur, pulling her, making her want to throw her clothes off and wade into the pool.
And just when she felt she couldn't resist another moment, he laughed and broke whatever had stretched between them.
“Ye're not ready yet. But soon. Verra soon.”
“I wouldn't bet on it.” Her voice sounded weak, wimpy. How did he do that to her?
He splashed water over himself to rinse off, then waded to the shore.
Kathy tried to focus on his eyes, but his full lower lip, sensuous and kissable, kept distracting her. So she looked at his chest. His nipples were pebbled from the cold water, and she had an almost overwhelming urge to touch one with her tongue. Hmm, not a safe area. On to his stomach, which was only a short drive from his . . .
She looked quickly, then glanced away. He reallydidwant her. The thought frightened and excited her.
He moved close. “Ye'll lay wi' me, Kathy of Hair.When the time is right, when ye want me, ye canna deny me.”
“That'll be never, Ross.” No matter how crazy he made her, she had to keep up appearances, because as tempting as he was, Ian Ross was only about sex. Been there, done that.
But she wished he wouldn't stand so close. Close enough that she could feel his damp heat, smell the scent of clean male animal.Close enough to feel his erection pressing against my hip.
Before she had time to react to the contact, he moved away. “'Tis time for Malin's swim.” He walked over to a patiently waiting Peter and scooped the cat off the toy's top.
She forced herself to focus only on his upper body. Below lay personal loss of composure. “Swim? Cats hate water.”
Ian waded back into the pool carrying Malin. “The cats brought back from the East by my great grandfather have a love of swimming. Malin is of their line, but he doesna do well wi' only three legs, so I help him.”
An important truth nudged at her until she couldn't ignore it. “You claim you don't love anyone, but you love Malin.”
He was silent as he lowered Malin into the water and supported the cat as he swam.
She thought he wasn't going to answer her until he finally spoke. “Ye're right. I hadna thought of it.”
Nothing more. He evidently wasn't going to explain.After a few minutes, he lifted Malin from the water and made his way to the bank.
“Walking around naked in front of everyone doesn't bother you, does it?”Don't come near me. Please don't come near me.
His gaze was puzzled. “In front ofeveryone?I see only ye.”
“There's Malin and Peter.” Said aloud it sounded sort of dumb, but dumb seemed to be an apt description for her this morning.
His lips curved in that particular smile that made her swallow her heart. “Malin doesna care, and Peter isna alive.” He glanced at Peter and his smile widened. “Besides, Peter's eyes are on top of his head. He canna see more than the ceiling, so I dinna need to feel shame.”
“I suppose so.” She cast Peter a sideways glance. Maybe it was his ability to move and speak, but there were moments when good old Peter made her uncomfortable. Not afraid, but . . . uneasy. Of course, everything in this strange time made her uneasy.
Ian rubbed one of the cloths over Malin to dry him, then set him back on top of Peter. Picking up the other cloth, he moved toward Kathy. To her relief, he stopped several feet away.
He held out the cloth. “Dry me, lass.”
It wasn't a request. It wasn't exactly an order. It was simply something he expected.
Well, he could drip-dry all day before she'd touch him.
“Ye want to, lass.” His voice lowered to that tempting murmur. “Run yer hands over my bare body. Know me. Ye willna be harmed. I wouldna touch ye if ye didna want it.”
“Right. No harm.” Was she crazy? No,shewasn't crazy, but her hands were because they took the cloth. Her feet were because they stepped close to him. “We have a situation here.”
“Nothing. I was just explaining something to my mind.” Her mind had better deal with it. This was insurrection on a major scale. If her brain couldn't control her hands and feet, whatcouldit control?
“Turn around.” When he obeyed, she slid the cloth across the smooth expanse of his back. Marveled at the delicious indentation at the base of his spine. Considered all the interesting things a woman could do with that indentation.
She abandoned the cloth long enough to trace with her fingertip the white line of a scar that slashed across the middle of his lower back, to wince at the imagined pain. “I fell off my bike when I was ten years old. Landed on a piece of glass and needed stitches in my leg. I still remember how much it hurt.”
“I fell off a horse onto the knife of an enemy. 'Tis not something soon forgotten. It has made me overly careful about falling off horses.”
She moved the cloth lower and rubbed the fabric over each marvelous bun. Her body clenched on a need so strong that she froze. She couldn't believethe things her mind was suggesting she do with those buns. No wonder it didn't have time to keep her hands and feet in control. It was too busy thinking up erotic activities involving Ian's . . . lower extremities.
As she stood frozen, doing a bang-up imitation of a wax figure, Ian turned. Her hands were still poised over his . . . lower extremities.
She swallowed hard. Speaking of hard . . . No. Not even her wayward hands had the nerve to gothere.
Kathy raised her gaze to Ian's.
His eyes glittered a silver challenge. “Ye canna tell me, Kathy of Hair, that no man can make ye feel. If ye touch me now, I will lay ye down beside yon pool and teach ye the truth of yer own body.”
The cloth dropped from her nerveless fingers. Forcing her gaze the long gleaming length of his body, she admitted the truth.
She didn't know whether Ian Ross could help her achieve the long sought after, ever elusive orgasm, but he certainly made her want to try.
Another truth coughed politely, gaining her attention. She couldn't try with Ian Ross, because if he succeeded where her ex-husband had failed, she'd be forced to feel something for him. And he was a man for whom no woman should have feelings. The ultimate love-'em-and-leave-'em guy.
“I . . . I have to do something.” Without even trying to make her retreat seem anything other than the escape it was, she turned and hurried down thetunnel with her puny pen flashlight casting its tiny beam.
Behind her, Peter clattered along, happily chanting, “Follow the yellow brick road. Follow the yellow brick road.”Chapter Six
Ian smiled as he donned his plaid and followed the woman back to the main chamber. Fear had prompted her retreat, but she would soon realize that he was not the enemy, that the enemy lived within. Her own desire would bring her to him. 'Twas always so.
His smile widened when he emerged from the tunnel to find her trying to put pieces of the flower together.
“What did Suzy Sunshine ever do to you? I'll never get her back in one piece again.”
She cast him an accusing glare that made him laugh. His laughter surprised him. Between the Mackays, the kirk, his brothers, and his need to satisfy so many, he had found little time to laugh in recent years.
“Go ahead, laugh. See if I care. Maybe Suzy Sunshine was my only way back to my time. Now I might be stuck here forever. And if you ruined my only chance to go home, I'll make your life a living hell, Ian Ross.”
“'Tis a threat to make a strong man tremble.” He strode to her side and gently removed the pieces from her hand. “I'll make her whole again for you. Dinna fear.”I'll make ye whole again.
“Why did you want to know how Suzy worked, anyway?” She moved to her pack and pulled out several items.
He peered to see what she held. “'Tis wise to understand all that surrounds ye. Those who do live to be old men.”
“Maybe I'm wrong here, but I get the feeling that everything's a kind of battle to you. Like it's you against the world.”
She held a brush and some sort of container. Fascinated, he watched her run the brush through her hair. She had beautiful golden hair that curled in a way that tempted him to slide his fingers through it. âTwas shorter than most women's hair, but a temptation to men nonetheless.
“Did you hear me, Ross?”
“Aye.” What would she do with the container? “Ye come from a safe land. Ye wouldna understand.”
He would try her very soon. He would taste every part of her wondrous body. But he suspected that was not the meaning of her words. “I have battledthe Mackays for many years. Fiona is determined to have me.”
“She must love you very much.”
“Fiona loves no one. She wants only my body and the pleasure it can bring her.”
Her gaze slid over him, and his body tightened in response. Yes, he would enjoy this woman.
“Sounds like you and Fiona were meant for each other. No love, no commitment, just sex. But if you're really tired of being hunted, why don't you let her catch you, then be a real dud in bed? When you don't live up to your reputation, she'll just throw you out.” Kathy smiled, obviously pleased by her solution.
“Like yer husband did to ye, lass?”
Her eyes widened in shock, then narrowed to angry slits. “What makes you think any man could throw me out?”
He shrugged. “Well, mayhap not throw ye out. 'Twould take a strong man to do such, and yer kingdom must have many weak men to allow their women to speak to them as Coco and ye do.” He watched her face flush. He was enjoying himself mightily.
“You primitive savage. Barbarian . . .”
She obviously searched for harsher words to throw at him.
“Ye need not compliment me so.” Her angry response to his teasing and things she'd said before about her husband told him much. But she must trust him more before she'd tell him all.
She took a deep steadying breath. “So why nottry my plan? Get her to throw you out?”
“Fiona would geld me first.”
“Hmm. A woman of action.”
Her words were cold, but Ian watched her swallow hard. He waited with pleasure for her next solution to his problems.
“So who else do you have to worry about?”
“The clergy. The priest who rules the kirk thinks me an abomination. He would see me dead if he could. He canna act openly because 'twould anger the people, but he can send hirelings to kill me.”
A small line of concentration formed between her eyes, and he forced himself not to reach out and smooth it away with his finger. He rarely kept himself from touching a woman, but he didn't want to distract her. Her speech was much too entertaining.
“Okay, let's move on. How about your friends? Can't they protect you? I mean, you could move down to that village, live next to a friend.” He could see the confusion in her gaze. She was as innocent as a lamb. He must guard her well.
“The Pleasure Master doesna have friends. 'Tis like the clergy, lass. I canna speak of those who come to me, trust me wi' their secrets. 'Tis not allowed. If I claimed a friend, the people would suspect I told their secrets to him. The Pleasure Master must hold himself apart, live apart from others.”
“Wow. The Pleasure Master sounds like such a great job, I can understand why you and your brothers are fighting over it. I mean, who wouldn't?”
He recognized her sarcasm, but didn't understand it. “'Tisa great honor. Many know about our clan because of the Pleasure Master. 'Tis a source of pride. And those who come share their wealth wi' the village.”
She frowned. “The village? Don't they payyou?”
It was now his turn to frown. She didn't understand the Pleasure Master at all. “I wouldna take payment for teaching others.”
“Why not? You're the one doing the work. That's the basis of good old capitalism.”
She seemed truly outraged for him. “Lass, if I took payment for what I do, 'twould make me a . . .”
“Right. It would make you a . . .” She quickly glanced away. “So what're we going to do today to help me go home?”
He smiled at her obvious change of subject. “We cannadoanything 'til we've formed a plan, but I thought ye might go wi' me to visit Colin. I must tell him of my choice for his challenge.”
“Poor Colin,” she muttered as she raised the container she still held and sprayed a vile mist into the air around her head.
He'd leaped back before he could control himself. “God's teeth, woman, ye poison the air we breathe wi' yer noxious vapors.”
She shrugged, then smiled. Obviously, his reaction amused her. The vixen.
“Hey, it's a small price to pay for great hair.” She cocked her head and studied him. “Why don't you let me work on your hair a little? I mean, you havewonderful hair, but I could even the ends, do a little of this and thatâ”
“I would rather cut off my head and offer it to the Mackays.”
“I don't think that's the part they're interested in.” She cast him a scornful glance. “Well, if you want to go around looking like Braveheart Unchained, hey, who am I to interfere?”
“What is braveheart?”
“What is aâ”
He did some glaring of his own now. How could he learn if she'd never explain the strange words she used? Then he allowed himself a smile. Once she was in his bed, there would be time afterward for talk. She would explain all to him then.
Kathy eyed him suspiciously. She didn't trust the way he was smiling at herâsexy, confident. “What? What're you thinking?”
“I'm thinking of ye in my bed.” He raked his fingers the length of his still-damp hair.
“It'll never happen.” But even as she said the words, her gaze followed the path of his fingers through his hair, and she wondered what it would feel like to do the same withherfingers, what she would feel with his bare body touching hers.
“Come, lass, 'tis a long walk to the village.” He started toward the cave entrance with Kathy tagging reluctantly behind. “'Twould be easier if I had my horse, but the Mackays took him in their last raid, and I have yet to get him back.”
“Why can't I stay in the cave? I have to figure out how to get home.” She also had a few other things to figure out. Like what she could use to replace her deodorant. And toothpaste? She'd never gone one day in her whole life without brushing. Shehadto brush. Then there was coffee. Kathy wouldn't even think about the agony of caffeine withdrawal. And kick her if she ever took a flush toilet for granted again. Her one positive thought? She had at least three weeks before she'd have to worry about dealing with . . . No, she wouldn't even go there.
He paused and glanced back. “Ye need to be seen by the villagers so they dinna imagine things about ye that are not so. Ye'll also need some proper clothing and footwear.”
She questioned his logic. Mingling with the local folk would simply reinforce their belief that she was “passing strange,” and “passing strange” wasnota healthy thing to be in this time.
“I think I'll just stay home and talk to my toys. Besides, I won't be here long enough to need new clothes and shoes.” Even as she said the words, she realized they were a mantra she had to keep repeating to retain her sanity.
“Ye'll come wi' me if I have to carry ye.”
She didn't doubt for a minute that he'd do it, and his smile promised the experience wouldn't be all that unpleasant. “If you put it that way . . .”
Huffing angrily, she tagged after him. A clatter behind her reminded her that someone else wantedto go. “I don't think Peter will create exactly an I'm-plain-folk-just-like-you image.”
“Canna ye make him stay here?” He sounded exasperated, but even in exasperation he looked incredibly edible. The man was a phenomenon.
Once again, Kathy walked over to Peter and picked him up. She studied him from every angle. “Nope. No off switch.”
“Mayhap I will take him apart next. I could learn how he works.”
Peter's amber lights blinked rapidly. “You've got to ask yourself one question. âDo I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?”
Kathy almost dropped the toy. Peter must be programmed with every famous movie line known to man. But how was it that his remarks always seemed to fit the situation? Peter could be downright creepy sometimes. Putting him firmly on the ground, she turned to Ian. “Do you have something to block the entrance so he can't get out?”
“Aye.” Ian sounded distracted as he stared at Peter.
“He's a toy, Ian. Just like my other toys.”
“Suzy doesna act so strange.”
Kathy couldn't help herself, she grinned. “Listen to yourself. Yesterday morning you would've run screaming from Suzy.”
He scowled at her. Uh-oh, wrong comment.
“I wouldna run from a wee flower.” His scowl softened into a smile. “But I would have wanted to. All fear what they dinna understand, the same way ye fear laying wi' me.”
“I'm not afraid of you.”Liar.His smile made her want to explore his tempting mouth, his unspoken promises. His eyes drew her, making her blood heat, making her forget all the ugly accusations old PMS had thrown at her, making her want to crawl inside his body. And if that wasn't scary, nothing was.
“Yer denial hasna the sound of truth in it.” His voice was a low murmur of seduction. “There is naught to fear in pleasure. I will teach ye all that is wondrous, all the feelings the body can know. And when ye return to yer land and the men ye've known, ye'll search for one who can make ye feel as I've made ye feel. If ye find him, take him as yer own forever.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because Iknow,lass.” He moved close, sliding his fingers along her jaw, tracing the shape of her lower lip, lowering his head until his lips skimmed hers, a warm brush of sensuality.
His power frightened her. He was the pause at the top of the highest roller coaster. The fear of the uncontrolled plunge, and the simultaneous longing for it. Ian Ross was the danger, the power, the elemental force, and nothing in her New York life had prepared her for a man like him.
“Come wi' me, Kathy.” His voice held the flavor of smooth whiskey. Just the memory of it would warm her on a cold New York night.
“Fine. We'll go to the village, I'll blend in with the local populace, and you can deliver the bad news to your loving brother. Simple.” There wasnothing simple about it, and Kathy knew Ian hadn't been asking her to come with him to the village.
Ian's soft chuckle mocked her attempt to ignore what he'd meant, what hewas.
Peter's lights flashed as he added his own words of caution. “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
“Give me a break, Peter. Don't you have any quotes that aren't oozing melodrama?” The truth? She thought Peter's comment was right on the money.
As she followed Ian out of the cave, then watched him block the entrance, she considered the mental stability of someone who'd talk to a toy.
The long walk to the village gave her plenty of time to try to figure out why she was in sixteenth-century Scotland. In fact, she thought about it until she started to get a headache. With only a few Advil in her purse back in Ian's cave, she thought she'd better discourage unnecessary headaches.
So she thought about Ian. That gave her an ache in an entirely different part of her body. How could he do that without even touching her, without evenlookingat her?
Maybe old PMS's research into all things sexual really meant squat. Maybe reading a bunch of books and then proclaiming yourself sexy didn't matter if you didn't have sexy equipment and a sensual aura. Kathy didn't know what kind of aura Ian Ross had, but she could feel it even as she walked five feet behind him.
She admired his smooth confident stride, the lift of his long hair in the light breeze, the sense ofcontrolled violence about him. Controlled violence? Yes, it was there. Kathy considered herself a millennium woman, but she had to admit that in this place, in this time, a dangerous man excited her. He was a beautiful animal at home in his environment.But it isn't your environment, remember.
They'd reached the top of a small hill, and Ian paused to look in every direction. Kathy puffed as she finally caught up with him. She was used to being on her feet all day, but all this walking was making her legs ache.
“What're you looking for?” All she could see were more green hills, rocks, and small streams. Scenic but bleak, empty.
“I must guard against those who would attack me.”
“Okay, so I'm not familiar with your particular situation, but you seem a little paranoid to me. Don't you trust anyone?”
“I trust Malin. I trust my horse, e'en though he didna battle overmuch when the Mackays took him. I dinna trust any humans.”
“Don't you think it's a little strange that you ask women to trust you with their bodies, their secrets, and yet you don't trust anyone?”Gotcha.Let him try to wiggle out of that one.
His smile was the sun on an ocean beach. Beautiful, warm, but dangerous if you made the mistake of allowing it to lull you to sleep. “I ask women to trust my body, my knowledge, and my promise asPleasure Master to guard their secrets. 'Twould be foolish to trust further.”
She knew she shouldn't take it personally, that his mistrust was Ian Ross's character flaw, but it still rankled. “I know you don't think I come from the year 2001. What would it take for you to believe me?”
His gaze seared her, looked into her soul and found it wanting. “I'd need to trust ye, lass.” He shrugged. “'Tis a thing that willna happen.”
“Right. No trust. Foolish of me to ask.”
Seemingly satisfied with his search, he continued along the path.
Kathy groaned as she tagged along, stumbling over small rocks and grumbling about the cold.
He glanced at her and grinned. “'Tis a fine summer day. Ye're lucky 'tis not winter.”
“Hmmph.” She knew she was being bitchy. She knew this wasn't his fault. But he was convenient, and she wanted to complain. “Right now, I should be finishing up Mrs. Kierney's hair, then going to Coco's for dinner.”
“If it's hunger ye feel, we'll eat at Mad Mary's.”
She caught a glimpse of the village in the distance. “Mad Mary? Umm, that's a . . . distinctive name.”
“Mary is our healer. Many find her strange.” He cast Kathy a wicked smile. “Ye'll have much in common.”
“I don't think so.” She was in no mood to agree with anything Ian Ross said right now. She wastired, she was cranky, and she wanted to go home to her cozy apartment.
“Aye, ye will. Mary speaks wi' her hens, and ye talk to yer toys. 'Tis alike ye are.” He guided her down the rutted, muddy road leading to one of the cottages.
Kathy would have delivered a to-the-point New York reply, but she was too busy staring at the people who were staring at her, particularly the women, particularly their hair.
No one spoke to her, and everyone seemed anxious to keep a safe distance away. Ian prayed she'd say nothing foolish. The people accepted him because the Pleasure Master had been part of their lives for so long. They had no reason to accept Kathy's strangeness.
Ian exhaled sharply when they'd finally reached the safety of Colin's cottage. His brother didn't rise early unless there was pressing need, so he had no fear that Colin wouldn't be within.
Bleary-eyed, Colin opened his door and allowed them to enter. “'Tis past time ye told me my challenge, Ian. âTisn't fair that Neil and ye have already started yer quests.”
Kathy moved around the room, missing no detail. She paused at Colin's words. “Don't worry, Colin. No one's made it to first base yet.”
Colin blinked at her. “First base? What isâ”
“Forget it,” Ian suggested.
Kathy grinned at Ian. “You're learning, Ross.”
“I've decided yer challenge, Colin.”
Colin smiled smugly. “It canna be more difficultthan the one ye gave Neil. 'Tis not likely he'll triumph.”
“I'd give him a zero chance,” Kathy offered as she ran her hand over the bagpipes sitting in the corner. “Do you play the bagpipes, Colin?”
“Aye.” He turned his attention back to Ian. “What say ye, brother?”
Ian couldn't remember a time when he'd enjoyed the telling of anything more. “Yer challenge is to woo Mad Mary.”
Colin's face lost all color beneath his beard. “Ye jest. No man has e'er bedded Mad Mary.”
Ian shook his head in mock sadness. “I dinna think ye need worry overmuch about bedding her. I doubt ye'll live that long.”
Colin made a choking sound. “Ye cannaâ”
“I can, Colin. 'Tis my right. As ye've chosen for me, I've chosen for ye.” He turned to where Kathy stood staring, fascinated at Colin's now flushed face. “'Tis time to leave, Kathy.”
Colin said nothing as they left. Ian suspected his brother was incapable of speech.
“That was pretty mean, Ian.” Kathy trotted to keep up with him. He'd liked it better when she'd trailed behind. “I mean, choosing an old wrinkled crone for Colin. At least Coco's attractive. And how's Colin supposed to get anywhere with someone who's crazy?”
“Ye talk too much, Kathy of Hair.” He walked faster, hoping she'd fall behind.
“You answer too little, Ian Ross.” She trotted faster to keep up.
Relieved, he left the village and climbed the hill to where Mary's house stood alone. He didn't bother knocking on the door because he knew Mary would be tending to the small herb garden behind her cottage. Rounding the corner of the house, he saw Mary bent over one of her plants.
“I mean, how do you communicate with someone who talks to chickens? At her age, I'd suspect senility. The poor woman probably needs to be in an assisted living facility, with medical help available. . . .”
Mary straightened, then smiled when she saw Ian. “Welcome, Ian.”
Ian turned to where Kathy stood with an open mouth and unfinished sentence. “Kathy of Hair, meet Mad Mary.”Chapter Seven
Mad Mary was young, she was beautiful, and Kathy was embarrassed by all the preconceptions she'd voiced. Loudly.
Mary approached them, brushing the soil from her hands. “Ye've brought the woman to me, Ian.”
The woman.Mary's words sounded impersonal, but the gaze she fixed on Ian was anything but. Kathy felt a twinge of something she wasn't ready to identify.
“Aye. This is Kathy of Hair.” The smile he offered Mary was open, devastating.
“Welcome to my home, Kathy of Hair.”
Mary's greeting sounded sincere, her smile was warm, and her gaze was clear and sane. Kathy felt the heat rising to her face. She'd prejudged Mary just as the villagers were probably doing to her.“Thanks. Ian says you're a healer. I guess you've treated him for a few aches and pains, maybe a few battle wounds?”
Okay, so she was fishing, but if Ian wouldn't tell her much about himself, maybe others would.
“Aye, a few. Though not all wounds can be treated wi' my herbs.”
Great. What was that supposed to mean?
“I've come to warn ye, Mary.”
Ian's comment effectively ended the fascinating discussion of his wounds. Probably his intent.
“I've given Colin the task of wooing ye as his challenge. He wasna overly pleased.”
Mary frowned. “Ye're a wicked man, Ian Ross. I dinna need Colin following me around like a wee pup.”
Ian's smile made wicked look awfully inviting. “He'll need to fortify himself wi' some strong drink before beginning his quest. Ye'll be safe for a few days.”
While the conversation flowed over her, Kathy studied Mary. Pale skin, hazel eyes, and black hair falling to the middle of her back made for a striking combination. Clean, shining hair. A rarity. Ian and Mary were the only ones who seemed concerned with cleanliness around here.
“Kathy has need of clothing and footwear. Can ye help?”
Mary asked no questions, but merely nodded.
Ian smiled his special smile that promised even the depths of hell would be heaven with him, andKathy watched the change in Mary's eyes. The softening, thedesire.
Kathy couldn't imagine any woman being immune to his brand of assault. Except her, of course. She recognized what he did with that smile, so she was safe. Sort of.
“I'll leave ye to yer garden. Dinna let Colin fash ye.” Ian glanced at Kathy. “I'll wait for ye on the path.” He strode away.
Kathy waited until he was out of earshot. “I guess you've known Ian a long time.”
“Aye.” Mary looked amused as she led Kathy into her cottage. Kathy glanced around at the herbs drying, the hearth, the few pieces of furniture, and wondered what she'd do if she had to live this way for the rest of her life.The rest of her life.She shuddered.
She couldn't go there right now. “Umm. He hasn't told me much about himself.”Subtle, Bartlett. Really subtle.
Mary gazed in the direction Ian had gone. “If there were a thousand men gathered for a woman to choose from, she'd choose Ian. 'Tis his special gift to draw women to him.” Her gaze turned pensive. “'Tis also his curse.”
Well, that was a big help. “Right. A special gift.” She accepted the things Mary handed her. “Thank you for not asking questions.”
“As ye have?” She offered Kathy a wide grin.
“As I have.” She smiled back at Mary. “Oh, I was wondering whether you could help me with a few more little things.”
A few minutes later, Kathy left Mary's cottage clutching the clothes, a piece of bread, and some leaves to use with a twig in place of her toothbrush. Colgate could make a fortune here. At least her teeth wouldn't rot and fall out. Mary had assured her that it didn't get warm enough for Kathy to worry “overmuch” about underarm odor. Kathy wasn't reassured as she waved to Mary. “I hope I'll see you again.”
Mary smiled gently. “Ye will.”
Kathy scarfed down the bread as she trudged after Ian. Why was she here? She didn't have any special gifts. Sure, making women's hair look great was a life skill, but not important on a saving-civilization-from-certain-doom scale.
A mistake? At this very moment could the heavenly host be searching frantically for that pesky human they'd misplaced?
She discarded possibilities, leaving a trail of despair all the way back to Ian's cave.
“I'm sorry I didna ask Mary to feed ye. If ye need to wash the bread down, ye may have whiskey or water. I'll get ye some milk when I visit the village next. If ye desire anything more, I'll show ye some leaves that were given to me. The woman said they would make a fine brew. I havena tried them.”
Leaves? No beans? Dammit, she neededcoffeein the morning.
“God's teeth, canna a man leave his dwelling wi'out fear of knaves?”
Kathy glanced up, startled from her misery. “Knaves? Where? Where?”
“Someone is in the cave.”
He was already striding down the tunnel toward the main chamber when she finally realized the cave entrance had been open. Peter. Was Peter safe? She hurried after Ian.
Peter met her, amber lights blinking, just as she reached the living area.
Picking him up, she hugged him tightly. “Thank God you're okay.”
“A bunch of hokey religions and ancient weapons ain't no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”
Kathy set Peter down, then frowned at him. “Right. Blasters. I'll remember that. Guess you've watchedStar Warsa few times.” She was doing it again, talking to a toy.
But all thoughts of Peter vanished as she glanced around the room. Neil sat on the cushions holding her cell phone and bellowing into it. His face was cherry red. He must be talking to Coco.
Ian was busy trying to disentangle Malin from Neil's hair while the cat growled his displeasure at being deprived of his prey.
Neil abandoned the cell phone long enough to glare at Ian. “Yer cat is a wee spawn of hell. And that shiny demon the woman brought wi' her speaks in the devil's tongue.”
Kathy blinked. Looked like Neil had covered just about everything.
“Malin is a warrior. He was protecting his own against one who shouldna be here.” Ian sank onto a cushion to watch his brother.
“'Tis ye who chose this shrewish vixen as my challenge, so ye must allow me to speak wi' her.”
“Shrewish vixen?I heard that, you bombastic buffoon.” Coco's shout made Neil wince. He held the phone away from his ear.
He glanced at Ian for help. “Bombastic buffoon?”
“Men should be like Kleenexâsoft, strong, and disposable,” Peter offered.
Kathy smiled. She'd always liked that line fromClue.
“I didna ask yer advice, demon.” Neil scowled as he gingerly returned the phone to his ear.
“Ye need to learn respect for men, Coco. If ye were here, I would bare yer bottom and redden it wi' my hand.”
“Ohmigod,” Kathy muttered. She edged away from Neil. Nothing could save him now.
Surprisingly, silence followed his pronouncement, then a soft chuckle. “You'd really try to spank me?”
“Aye.” Neil's hand was clenched so tightly to the phone that his knuckles were white. “Then I'd make love to ye.”
“Hmm. Put Kathy on the phone, hotshot.”
Neil's gaze was glazed as he handed the phone to Kathy with shaking fingers.
Kathy had to know one thing. “How'd you reach Coco? I didn't give you her number.”
Neil stared at her for a dazed moment. “I onlytouched yer phone, and she was there.” He stumbled toward the cave's entrance.
Peter followed him, offering advice. “Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place.”
How could Neil have reached Coco if he hadn't punched in her number? Was someone controlling . . . ? No, she couldn't deal with that thought now. Drawing a deep breath, Kathy put the phone to her ear. “I'm sorry, Coco, butâ”
“What's he look like, Kathy?”
“Neil? He's tall, broad shoulders, great bunsâ”
“You've seen them, his buns?”
“I won't ask how. What's his face look like?”
“I'm not too sure. He has this beard andâ”
“Tell him to shave it off. I hate facial hair. Then we'll talk.” Coco was quiet for a moment. “Sure you don't want to tell me where you're holed up? I know this whole thing with your ex has stressed you out, and I understand you have a new man, but it would help to know where you are.”
“It wouldn't do any good, believe me.”
She could hear Coco's sigh. “Okay. I guess you'll tell me when you're ready. Just make sure you're back by the court date.”
“Court date. Sure. By the way, whatisthe date?”
Coco's silence was longer this time. “January tenth.”
January 10?Kathy fought back a feeling of despair. Her job would be history by now. Thank heavens Mom and Dad were still on their cruise.
Kathy watched Malin jump back atop Peter.“Oh, would you check out one more thing for me? See if you can find a breed of cat that likes to swim and tell me where it originated.”
“Let me get this straight. You're with a man who sounds like pure sin, and you want to know aboutcats?”
Kathy sighed. “Humor me, Coco.”
Kathy listened to the click as Coco hung up, feeling the disconnection to her time all the way to her soul. Therehadto be a way back.
Wearily, Kathy pulled off her coat and dropped it on top of Mary's borrowed things, then sank onto a cushion. Ian was attending to the hearth fire.
Summer. It was summer in this time and place, but it was still chilly. No chillier though than the cold numbing her heart.
Silently, Ian knelt behind her, but she couldn't summon the energy to move away from him.
Putting his hands on her shoulders, he massaged her tight muscles. She stiffened.
She felt his harsh exhalation against her exposed neck, where it sent tingles skittering down her back. She shifted, uneasy with her body's instant reaction to him.
“Ye're like the hare when it spots the wolf, lass. I mean only to ease yer body.”
She glanced warily back at him. “That's what I'm afraid of.”
“If I meant anything more, ye'd know it.” His lips brushed her neck and she drew her breath in a startled gasp.
“How would I know?” Nerve endings unused to male stimulation of any kind were happily gathering to discuss the possibility of the bigO. They were doomed to disappointment.Neverwith Ian Ross.
His hands slid down her back, kneading spots that made her moan with relief. Damn him. Everything he did felt good.
“Ye'd know because ye'd feel it.”
Big help. Didn't he know shefeltit every time he was within shouting distance?
“And because I wouldna hide my intent. I'd speak of it.”
“I don't know how smart that is. If you warn me, I can run.” Shewouldrun, fast and far. Away from the temptation of trying for sexual nirvana with a man who, even though more sensually persuasive than her ex-husband, still believed that sex and caring weren't connected. Uh-uh, wouldn't catch her with that again.
“Ye wouldn't wish to run.” He transferred his attention to her neck, squeezing gently, reminding her of his leashed power, of what he could do if he chose. She wasn't sure whether that thought frightened or excited her.
“Pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?”
He moved away, and she almost slumped with relief.
“I must put yer wee flower back together again.” He picked up Suzy pieces and bent over them, hishair shrouding his expression. “What do ye do in this place ye claim to come from?”
She watched his strong, capable fingers carefully repairing the yellow flower. And thought about those fingers. On her. “Uh, when I'm finished doing my princess stuff, I cut, style, and color women's hair.”
He glanced at her from beneath dark lashes and smiled. “Yer hair is wondrous. Ye need do nothing to it.”
Nothing except renew the wondrous blond color once a month.“Thank you. I think.” Was this the beginning of his seduction? Did he start with compliments before launching an all-out attack?
“Ye dinna take compliments well, lass.” He glanced down at Suzy again.
“That's because compliments aren't always sincere. They can be a ploy to get something from someone.”Like sex.
“Is that what yer husband did to ye?” Suzy was now taking on a recognizable shape.
“My husband exploited my weaknessesâa desire for his love and a need for security.”
Ian didn't take his attention from the nearly restored sunflower. “Those dinna sound like yer words. Ye speak more bluntly.”
She laughed. “Right. That was Coco's lawyer-speak.” Kathy relaxed as the laughter released her tension.
“What do ye do for joy, lass?” He held up the flower.
“I loooove you.”
Yep, Suzy was back.
“Ye must do something in this New York that makes yer heart sing.” He placed Suzy carefully back on her ledge, then reached into Kathy's sack and pulled out Baby Born. Tearing the packaging off, he stared thoughtfully at the doll.
Her heart sing.Shocked, she realized there was only one thing she did in her time that made her feel even remotely as alive as she felt with Ian Ross. “I skydive.”
He set the doll in his lap and stared at her. “I dinna understand.”
She smiled, remembering all those times Ms. Wilson, her fourth-grade teacher, had told her to write as though she were trying to describe something to aliens from another planet, painting a picture for them in their minds. And here she'd thought Ms. Wilson's picture-painting for aliens had been a waste of time.
Ian offered her his come-and-take-me grin. Leaning forward, he traced the outline of her lips with the tip of his finger. “I must learn yer smile since I dinna see it verra much. 'Tis wondrous.”
Kathy paused a moment to allow her senses to recover from his touch. Amazing how her breathing rate was affected by contact with any part of Ian Ross's body. “Everything is wondrous to you.”
Suddenly, his eyes widened, then he grimaced. Unceremoniously, he dumped Baby Born off his lap to reveal a large wet spot. “Not everything. God'steeth, I canna believe ye make toys that do such things.”
Kathy bit her lip, but it did no good. She laughed.
“Dinna laugh, woman. Now I must rid myself of this so it may dry.”
Uh-oh. What did ridding himself ofthisentail?
She wasn't kept in suspense long. With no wasted motion, he stripped off his plaid, leaving only his shirt, then turned his attention back to her. “Ye havena explained this sky diving yet.”
She'd have a hard time explaining her own name with all that golden skin to distract her. Temptation didn't just beckon as Ian bent one leg at the knee in what she now recognized as hiscomfortableposition. It grabbed her by the throat and shook her.
She coughed to free her throat from temptation's hold. “Skydiving? Oh, skydiving. Well, you go up in a plane. . . .” What if she reached out and ran her hand up the inside of his thigh? Would she surprise him, or would he just smile that I-knew-youcouldn't-resist smile?
“What is a plane?”
“It's a machine that flies. People ride in it, and it takes them into the sky higher than birds fly.” How high would he let her go? Would he open himself to her, allow her to glide her fingers under his shirt, touchâ
He frowned. “'Tis a hard thing to believe.”
Hard.Her breathing quickened. When she finally touched him, would he grow hard beneath her fingers, would he thrust against her hand when she clasped him? “Hard. Right. Uh, where was I?”
His gaze turned thoughtful as he watched her; then his lips tilted up in a secret smile. “Ye were flying through the air.”
“Okay. Got it. Air.” Funny, she was having trouble getting any air into her lungs. “When the plane reaches a certain height, everyone except the pilot jumps out.”
His frown returned. “It doesna seem a wise thing to do.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. I forgot something.” She slapped her forehead in a symbolic gesture meant to indicate that her brain was scrambled, and she was trying to knock all the pieces back into their correct slots. “You have a parachute strapped to you. It's like a giant umbrella that you open part way down and it slows your descent so you can drift to the ground.”Down.What would he do if she slid her hand down his length, cupped hisâ
“What is an umbrella?”
Arrgh!“Forget it.” She forced her gaze away from the place no sky dive could take her.
“Ye seem overly fond of those words. Do ye escape all that bothers ye by using them?” He lowered his leg.
She didn't feel capable of logical reasoning, so she shrugged.
“It matters not. If I visited yer kingdom I would try this skydiving.” He picked up Baby Born and set her safely on the rug between his spread legs.
“You would?” She didn't try to hide her surprise. It didn't take much gray matter to know that thiswasn't a normal response for someone from his time.
“Aye. I've always had an uncommon curiosity about all things.” He slanted her a challenging smile. “'Tis a great weakness and will bring grief to me in time. Many have told me so.”
Kathy could have told him he was uncommon in many ways, all intriguing to any woman breathing. Okay, so maybe the woman didn't even have to be breathing.
Ian picked up Baby Born and examined her. “How does this toy work?”
Poor Baby Born.
The voices reached her in the nightâsoft, secret. About the same time her bladder informed her that it didn't give a hoot whether there was indoor plumbing, she'd betterdosomething or else. It was the “or else” that made her struggle from her bed.
What to do? A short hospital stay that involved unpleasant bedpan memories made her determinednotto use the chamber pot, but she darn well wouldn't go outside in the dark by herself. Anything could be outside at nightâmarauding barbarians, land-dwelling offshoots of the Loch Ness Monster's family.
By herself.Hmm. Maybe Ian would walk her to the entrance, then stand guard while she went.
The voices reached her again. She searched for Ian in the faint glow of the fire. She didn't see him, but he had to be somewhere in the cave because she recognized his voice.
She'd never mistake his voice. Made for the night-deep, dark, filled with hidden meanings. She followed the sound.
Kathy finally traced the murmurs to a tapestry-covered doorway she hadn't noticed until now. She hesitated only a moment. The night was the Pleasure Master's time, but if she didn't interrupt him she'd explode.
What were they doing in there? Their voices sounded normal, no passionate whispers, no heavy breathing. Should she call out? Maybe she should just stick her head in and beckon to Ian.
Maybe she should do something fast because all she could think about were phrases like “water balloon” and “broken water main.”
Be honest. You want to know what the Pleasure Master does, catch him in the act, whatever that might be.Ian wasn't the only one with too much curiosity. She sighed, giving in to the temptation that would land her in hot water for sure. Water. Damn the consequences. She pushed aside the tapestry and peeked in.
She had time to register only basic things. Ian, a strange woman, an incredible bed. The woman seated in a chair by the fire turned her head from Kathy. Ian rose from his chair and strode to the door.
“Ye'd better have good reason for interrupting so.” His body filled the doorway, blocking out the light from within, hiding the woman.
Kathy stared up at his shadowed face. His eyesgleamed silver even in the dim light, and she felt his anger like a physical blow.
Maybe this hadn't been such a great idea. She'd been so worried about the creatures of the night outside the cave that she'd forgotten Ian Ross fell into the same category.
“I . . . I have to go.”
He frowned. “Ye've found a way to return to yer kingdom?”
“No, I mean I have togo.”
She wasn't sure, but she thought she saw a glimmer of amusement in his eyes.
“I wouldna stop ye.”
“Um, I really don't want to use the chamber pot, so I thought maybe you'd walk outside with me and sort of stand guard while I . . .”
“Aye. Stand guard.” He turned his head back to the woman, and an unspoken agreement must have passed between them because Ian stepped out of the room.
Wordlessly, Kathy followed him out of the cave.
A few minutes later, Kathy emerged from the undergrowth. Damn and double damn. She'd never pass the bathroom tissue section of a supermarket again without expressing her heartfelt appreciation to the unknown inventor.
She pulled a twig from her hair, then brushed leaves from various parts of her body. She'dneveradapt to this. Kathy Bartlett wasn't an adaptable kind of person. She didn't do the back-to-nature thing. Dad had learned that on their first camping trip. She wished Dad were here now to bundle herinto his car and drive her back to modern plumbing and electricity.
Okay, finished whining. Drawing a deep breath, she started back to where Ian waited.Notpatiently.
Relieved, Kathy saw the woman standing beside him. He wouldn't yell at her in front of company, would he? Her relief disappeared when the woman walked away from him toward a grove of trees. A dark silhouette separated itself from the shadows to meet the woman, and they disappeared in the night.
Great. Just great. Alone with Mr. Dark-and-Furious.
He said nothing when she reached him, only led her back to the main chamber. She stopped. “Thanks a lot. I can sleep now.”
He kept walking. “Come.”
Kathy Bartlett didn't answer to one word commands. “I don't think so. I'm really tired.” She plunked herself on her furs.
Wordlessly, he returned to where she sat, scooped her up, carried her to his room, then set her on her feet. She was too shocked even to kick and threaten him with legal action.
“Okay, now that you've shown me how big and strong you are, I'll go back to sleep.” She tried unsuccessfully to control her voice's slight quaver.
Well, that was pretty clear.
She tried pushing past him to the entrance, but it was like shoving against a wall. “What're you trying to prove, Ross?”
“Ye didna call out.”
Kathy sighed. “Okay, I didn't call out. I'm sorry.”
“Ye were curious.”
Truth time. “Yes.”
He reached for her wrist, then dragged her farther into the room. Uh-oh. Time to worry,reallyworry.
“Ye wish to know what the Pleasure Master does. 'Tis time ye learned.” Dropping her wrist, he moved past her, and she followed him with her gaze.
“Come to me, Kathy of Hair.”
Her eyes widened, her heart pounded, and she tried unsuccessfully to swallow as her gaze shifted from Ian to what stood beside him.
The Bed.Chapter Eight
“You have agoldbed?” she whispered.
“'Tis gilded. This was the only thing besides Malin's ancestors that my great grandfather brought home wi' him.” Ian slid his hand down the post, which was carved into the shape of a writhing snake.
The bed glowed molten in the candle flame, its silk hangings a shimmering crimson flow of sensuality.
“Are those paintings on it?” She still couldn't force her voice above a whisper because the bed felt like . . .
“Aye. Come closer.”
She didn't want to, but the bed drew her,hedrew her. She moved closer and peered at the many scenes painted in deep rich detail. She saw a manwho looked very much like Ian and a woman. They were . . . “Ohmigod. In every painting they're . . .”
“Enjoying each other's bodies. The woman who owned my great grandfather had this bed made to celebrate their joinings. Each time he pleased her more than the last, she had a scene painted on the bed.”
“Is this where you . . . ? ”
“Nay. I use the outer chamber, but ye were there, and I didna wish to disturb ye.”
Kathy watched, fascinated, as he ran his fingers across one of the painted scenes. She'd never known there were so many ways to . . . enjoy a man's body. “Why is there a blank space here near this post?” She pointed. No way would she touch.
“The woman died, and my great grandfather said there were none that came after her worthy of a scene.” He shrugged. “It has remained so since then.”
“He must have loved her very much.” She still couldn't speak above a hushed whisper.
Ian frowned. “'Twas not love. She gave him more pleasure than any other. She taught him the secrets of the Pleasure Master.”
“Sorry, didn't mean to mention theLword.”What are those secrets?No, she didn't want to know. Ian was as foreign to her as a man could be. A beautiful, sleek creature of the night. “Do you ever sleep in the bed?”
He shook his head, and his hair caught and held the candle-glow. “No one has slept on it since mygreat grandfather. My father and grandfather said 'twas too strange and would make those that came to them uncomfortable. I have kept it because 'tis a symbol of what I am.”
“Will you ever sleep on it?”
His lips curved in a mocking smile. “I'll bed the lass I love on it.”
In other words, never.
“Why have ye been whispering? There are none to hear us.” He slid his hand over her hair, curled a strand around his finger, then pulled. He held the strand up to the light. “Yer hair shines gold like the bed.”
Like the bed? Maybe she needed a little more ash in her color. “Have I been whispering?” She forced her voice to a normal volume, but it sounded almost disrespectful in the presence of the bed.
The bed was of the night, just like its owner. Funny, but she'd always pictured a bed made for sex as being built of dark wood and velvet.
It wasn't. This golden bed with its erotic paintings, crimson silk hangings, and posts carved into sinuous snakes was sex, sin, and all that was carnal. It scared the hell out of her.
“Well, thanks for showing me the bed. I'll go back to sleep now.” She edged toward the entrance and held her breath, praying that he'd allow her to escape. She frowned. Escape didn't have a good sound to it.
He followed her, trapping her in an aura she knew must be as red as his bed hangings.
“Ye still dinna understand what I am.”
She glanced past him at the bed. “I get the general concept. Now can I leave?”
He spoke the word softly, but he might as well have shouted it, because the force of his utterance flattened her against the wall. She held her hands stiffly at her sides, knowing that if she raised them to ward him off, she'd end up with her palms splayed across his wide chest, feeling the solidness of muscle and flesh, the strong pounding of his heart.
His lips curved upâsecretive, sexual. “Ye may touch me, Kathy.”
With a distant part of her mind, she noted his abandonment of her title. “Touch you? I don't want to touch you. Why would I want to do that?” She clenched her fists to keep her hands at her sides.
“Ye dinna lie well, lass.” His gaze never wavered from her face. “I want to touchye.I want to touch the fear in ye and change it to hunger.”
“I'm not afraid of you.” Which wasn't exactly true. Her senses were already gorging, but the excess baggage she'd toted behind her to this time would keep her on a strict diet. Fear of being hurt, of being a failure again, were strong appetite suppressers.
His smile widened as he reached past her and pulled the tapestry aside. The brush of his chest against her nipples dragged a gasp from her. “Go and sit by the fire while I tell ye more about the Pleasure Master.”
She heard only the word “Go” as she hurriedback to the main chamber, then sat down on her furs. Safe. He sat down beside her.Maybe not so safe.
“The woman ye saw came only to speak of how to please a man. She is a widow who was married to one who wanted only compliance. She will soon marry a man who expects her to know much about pleasuring him.”
“What did you tell her?”Did you give her a hands-on demonstration?
He acknowledged her unspoken question with a grin. “I told her of places to touch a man that would drive him mad wi' want of her and how to gain her own release when she held him deep inside herâ”
“Okay, heard enough, don't want to hear anymore.”Wherewould you touch a man? She supposed he didn't mean the obvious places. But she wouldn't ask, didn't want to know.
“I don't understand why she'd come to you, though. She looked as though she'd traveled a long distance. Couldn't she have found someone closer to tell her those things?”
He studied her from under half-lowered lids, and she resisted the urge to squirm. “There are those who could tell her about the touching, but the touching comes last. She has wealth and can afford to travel to one who knows what comes before.”
“And that would be . . . ?”
“In time, lass.” His smile was full of wicked promise. “I'll teach ye of what comes before and the places ye may touch a man.” He stopped smiling. “And the places a man may touchye.” He lefther. Left her to dream of his hard body, spread for her enjoyment. His hands, his mouth touching every part of her, wringing a response from her that she ached for,feared.
She opened her eyes to morning light shining through the roof opening and Baby Born sitting whole on the shelf beside the hearth.
Shifting her gaze, she saw Ian seated by the fire. He was dressed, but his hair was still damp. He must have visited his cave pool. No pool for her this morning. She wanted warm water.
“You're up early, Ian.” She rose, thankful for the gown Mary had given her. It covered her from neck to toe, and after her conversation with Ian last night, plus her vivid dreams, she felt the need to hide behind an armor of cloth. As if that would make any difference to Ian.
“Aye. I was speaking wi' Peter. He has told me that life is like a box of chocolates and that I'll ne'er know what I'll get. 'Tis a wise thought.”
“But not totally original.” She sidled over to Ian and sat down beside him. First she'd lull him with ordinary conversation. “I noticed that you didn't take Baby Born apart.”
He glanced at the doll. “When I looked at her, I knew I wouldna be able to put her back together again. I dinna take things apart if 'twill destroy them.”
A deeper understanding arced between them. “Remember that, Ian. Please remember that.”
He nodded, then returned his attention to Peter. “Yon toy is stranger than the others.”
She wasn't interested in Peter right now; she was interested in a warm bath. “I don't know. Toy technology has really skyrocketed. You'd be surprised what toys can do.”
She glanced at Peter, but the toy's lights remained dark. “I was really desperate for toys, and I needed them fast. So I stopped at this strip mall with a bunch of stores that had only a few toys left. The store where I got Peter didn't even have a sign outside. But there he was, sitting on the shelf with a price underneath him. He was the only one left, and I didn't see any salespeople around, so I left the money on the counter and ran to the next store. I wasn't even sure what he did, but I couldn't be picky.”
“Mayhap he can do more than ye know.”
His gaze shifted to her, and she felt the shock as though it were the first time. How did he do that? “I've already asked him to send me home, and I'm still here.”
“Mayhap he doesna wish to send ye home.” His gaze slid the length of her gown as though it were invisible.
She didn't want to think about not going home.
“You mentioned yesterday that I could have a warm bath if I wanted.” After getting the warm water, she'd worry about getting Ian Ross out of the cave.
He smiled and his gaze heated. Uh-oh. Shewanted hot water, not hot gazes. “If it's too much trouble, don't bother.”
“'Tis no trouble.”
He rose, and before she could even close her gaping mouth, he'd stripped, then tied his shirt around his waist. “I dinna want to get my plaid wet when I draw yer bath. 'Tis verra uncomfortable traveling wi' wet clothing.”
“Sure. Uncomfortable.” The light from the hearth highlighted wide shoulders, muscled chest, powerful thighs, and strong legs. He oozed potent sensuality, and kick her if she ever asked for warm water again.
With unblinking intensity, she watched him carry water to the tub he'd placed in front of the fire. She noted the sweat from his exertion that made his body glisten, the smooth slide of muscles as he moved, the tantalizing view of firm buttocks as he bent over the tub.
When he'd finished, he stood in front of her, his feet planted wide. She slid her gaze up the long length of his body only to discover a knowing grin.
“Did ye see all that needed seeing?”
“I wasn't paying much attention.” And to think she'd always prided herself on telling the truth, even when telling Mrs. Jenkins that no, long blond hair didnotmake her look like Britney Spears lost her a client.
He didn't seem to think the lie worthy of a reply because he gestured toward the tub. “Ye may bathe now. Then ye must dress and come wi' me to Neil's dwelling.”
“Why can't I stay here while you visit Neil?”
“I dinna want to leave ye alone. There are dangers ye know nothing about.”
Dangers? That didn't sound comforting. But she had something more pressing to take care of. She had to get him out of the cave while she bathed. “I dropped my ring outside last night. Do you think you could look for it? It belonged to my grandmother, and I'd hate to lose it.” She tried for an inspired look. “Gee, now would be a great time to search while you're waiting for me to finish my bath.”
He frowned as he put on his plaid. “Ye had no rings on last night. There is no need to make up tales. Ye need only ask me to leave while ye bathe.”
“Well, dumb me for thinking you intended to stay and watch. Wasn't that what you said yesterday?”
His smile lit the dim interior. “Aye. But yesterday I wasna in a hurry. If I watch ye today, I willna get done what needs doing. We wouldna leave the cave at all.”
Maybe it was time to remind him of a basic fact. “Forget what you think you know about women. I don't want to be seduced. Yes, I find you physically attractive, but I have a mind. And my mind tells me that making love with you would be a mistake. So no matter how you make me feel, my mind will always override my senses. Give it up, Ross.”
“If ye say so.”
She didn't for a minute think he believed her ashe placed Malin on top of Peter and headed for the cave entrance. “Ye must come wi' me, Peter. Only women may stay.”
Peter paused, his lights flashing. “My first day as a woman and I'm already getting hot flashes!” Then he tagged after Ian.
Robin Williams?Mrs. Doubtfire? Kathy grinned at Peter's parting shot.
Ian sat on a rock outside the cave and thought of the woman bathing within. She'd be easing into the water now, the ripples lapping at her breasts. He'd seen enough to know her breasts would fill his hands. He longed to feel their weight, their texture. Her pale shoulders would gleam as she drew the cloth across them and down over her breasts.
Would she touch her nipples and moan softly, imagining his mouth on them? Would she slide the cloth beneath the water, dragging it across her smooth stomach, along her inner thighs, and think of his fingers tracing the same path?
God's teeth, but âtwas a hot morning. He lifted his hair from the back of his neck, letting the cool air touch him. It wasn't much help.
He'd saved the best thought for last. Would she draw the cloth between her thighs, touching herself and imagining his fingers stroking the spot that brought her pleasure? Would she breathe his name?
“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.”
Startled, Ian glanced at Peter, then smiled. “Ye'llne'er find Ian Ross wi'out a warm memory.” He turned his gaze to the cave entrance. “'Twould please me mightily to add Kathy of Hair to my memories.” Only she would never be a warm memory. He knew when they joined it would be the crackle of a hot fire, the steam from a boiling caldron. âTwould be a memory to heat the coldest night.
He frowned. It seemed he thought overmuch of the woman and not enough of his brothers' challenge. He must keep in mind the reason for this joining.
“She'll be dressing now, Peter, putting on layers of cloth to protect her body from me. 'Twill do no good.” He rose and walked toward the rocky path leading away from the entrance. It was always wise to make certain no Mackays were near.
“Ian Ross, I want to talk to you now!”
Turning, he hurried back to the cave entrance. What manner of beast could make her shout so? He drew his knife from his sock in readiness.
He reached the cave to find Kathy standing at the entrance with hands on hips and the gleam of battle in her eyes. Glancing around, he saw no danger.
“You don't play fair, Ross. I don't know how you did it, but you were touching me when I was taking my bath.” As her initial anger cooled, he sensed uncertainty creeping in. “I closed my eyes, and Ifeltyou touch my breasts, and . . . other places.”
He knew not what to tell her. His power was such that when his response to a woman ranstrong, he could will himself into her imaginings. But he'd felt nothing that powerful for any woman since the first stirrings of his undisciplined youth.Why now?
Mayhap Malin had been right to follow him that first day. Malin had sensed danger, and any woman who affected him so was a grave threat. The Pleasure Master must feel no emotion so strongly, not even physical need. “I dinna understand ye. I did nothing but speak wi' Peter about the coldness of winter.”
“Oh.” She shifted her gaze from him. “Well, it sure felt like someone was touching me.”
“The shock of what happened to ye has made ye imagine what isna there.”And what is yer excuse, Ian Ross?
“Maybe.” Her expression brightened. “So why're we going to Neil's place?” She picked up her cloth bag and put its strap across her shoulder.
“What have ye in yer sack?”
He didn't miss her guilty start. “Oh, this and that. Nothing much.”
“Be verra careful to whom ye show âthis and that'” He wanted to order her to take the sack back to the cave, but she would argue, and he had no time to waste.
They walked down the path, with Peter clattering behind. “Aren't you going to lock Peter and Malin up?”
He shook his head. “I have decided âtwould do no good. Neil has seen Peter, as have the others.His strangeness might prove a protection should anyone accost ye.”
“Accost me?” He saw a flicker of fear in her gaze.
“Ye must stay wi' me whene'er possible. There are those who would destroy what they dinna understand. I must leave ye for a short time, but Neil will keep ye safe.”
She nodded, but remained silent for the rest of their walk.
They'd almost reached Neil's cottage when a man stepped into their path. Malin jumped from Peter and hobbled to stand beside Ian.
Kathy's first impression was that God the Father was out taking a stroll. The stranger was a walking stereotype complete with long flowing white beard and piercing gaze.
“Ach, the very spawn of the devil I hoped to meet.” He even had the deep, booming voice she imagined God having.
She frowned. Maybe his robes were a bit over-doneâgreen velvet trimmed in gold. Wouldn't basic black be more appropriate for an area with so much poverty? And maybe he was a little too . . . plump to be an exact replica of the Almighty. She'd never pictured God as needing to visit a fitness center.
Strange. He'd mentioned spawn of the devil and hadn't once looked at Peter.
“'Tis the good father out tending his flock of sinners, no doubt. It must have sore grieved ye to leave yer mistress's bed so early.”
She heard Ian's sarcasm and took a second look at the stranger. Father? A priest? What had happened to his vow of poverty? The rings on one hand would have paid her rent for five years. And mistress? He must have forgotten the Church vow of chastity.
The man smiled and destroyed his image. Sly and evil weren't godly expressions. “God rewards those who do His work and punishes blasphemers. Ye'll burn in Hell, Ian Ross.” The thought seemed to satisfy him.
Peter's amber lights flashed, immediately drawing everyone's attention. Kathy wanted to clap her hands over her ears.
“Life after death is as improbable as sex after marriage.”
The priest's eyes widened; sly and evil gave way to good old-fashioned terror. “'Tis a demon.”
Say something.“He's only a machine. The people who made him put those words into him. See, he's not the demon,theyare. I'd give you their address, but I've lost my address book.”
Peter's lights flashed happily. Evidently, he felt the need to take part in the conversation. “I always like sinners a lot better than saints.”
The good father abandoned the field to the damned as he turned and fled, his robes flapping in the breeze.
Kathy stared at Peter. “Last Man Standing. Poor programming choice. What we needed was a more God-like quote. Maybe something from those Godmovies that George Burns made. Charlton Heston would've been a nice touch.”
Ian was studying the toy with narrow-eyed suspicion.
“Ye have done what no other has e'er done. Ye made him run from ye.”
Kathy couldn't keep quiet. The priest, Peter, everything was dissolving into the kind of dream she'd have after eating a pepperoni pizza right before going to bed. “Listen to you, Ian. You're talking to a toy. Every one of his lines is from some movie, for heaven's sake. I know because I watch tons of movies, and I recognize every quote.”
Peter's lights flashed. “Incredible! One of the worst performances of my career and they never doubted it for a second.”
“See? That's fromFerris Bueller's Day Off.”
Ian turned his gaze on Kathy, and she shivered at what she saw there. “I've ne'er seen a movie, and I dinna know what Peter is, but he isna a toy.” His smile didn't reach his eyes. “Mayhap our priest has finally met one who canna be cowed by threats of eternal damnation.”
She wouldn't believe Ian because if she did then she'd have to fear Peter, and she didn't need one more thing to fear. “You didn't seem too afraid of the priest.”
Ian shrugged. “I have known him for twenty years. Our good Father Gregory has always condemned the Pleasure Master as a tool of Satan. He believes God has ordained that onlyhehave pleasure.”
“Do the people believe him?” When she got back to New York, she'd show more appreciation for Father Deleone's kindness and gentle sermons that didn't include fire and brimstone.
“The Pleasure Master has been in this glen longer than Father Gregory. He canna turn the people against me, but that hasna stopped him from trying to find one who would kill me. He doesna care who does the killing, so long as it canna be traced back to his holy self.”
Kathy had never met evil up close and personal. This wasn't a random mugging reported on a sound byte as she drove to work.
“Father Gregory wants no competition for the ear of the laird. 'Tis not about God; 'tis about power.”
Malin returned to his resting spot on top of Peter, and they continued to Neil's. But Kathy's world had been knocked a little more out of kilter.
She cast Ian a sideways glance. He was a man who survived knowing that he faced possible death or capture each day, and accepted the possibility with courage. Survived without benefit of a close friend or one who loved him. She realized Ian Ross was the strongest man she'd ever met.
And that disturbed her. She didn't want to admit Ian was different from her ex-husband. “You mentioned the laird. Will I meet him?”
“Mayhap.” He turned up the path that led to what Kathy assumed was Neil's cottage. “He has traveled to speak wi' James, but if Henry sends his army across the border, the laird will return togather us to defend the king. My father travels wi' him.”
James? Henry? She should have paid more attention to her British history.
Neil met them at the door. As he led them inside, she glanced around the bare room. A table and a few chairs. A hearth. Martha Stewart could spend a lifetime trying to make this place homey. Kathy was starting to appreciate the comfort of Ian's cave.
Ian stood by the door. “I would ask ye to keep Kathy of Hair safe while I'm gone.”
Neil cast him a sharp glance. “Ye go to take back yer horse from the Mackays?”
“Aye.” He turned to leave.
“Do ye need Colin and me to go wi' ye?”
She could see the light of battle in his eyes. Still, his offer of help didn't sound like that of a man who cared nothing about his brother.
Ian shook his head. “'Tis best I go alone. One man risks less chance of discovery. I would borrow yer horse though.”
Neil nodded, and they watched Ian leave. As she turned back to Neil, Kathy tried to ignore the heavy feeling in her stomach, the feeling that she was now truly alone. Funny, no matter how upset she'd been by her sudden launch into this time, she'd always known that Ian was there. What if he didn't come back?
“He'll be okay, won't he? He'll just get his horse and ride home, right?”
Neil didn't meet her gaze. “Aye. 'Tis nothing that Ian hasna done before.”
She tried to push back the first twinges of panic with words. “I brought my cell phone so you can talk to Coco. I need to talk to her, too.”
She dug the phone from her pack and dialed Coco's number. Coco answered on the first ring.
“Okay, where are you? You haven't called for five days and I've been worried. I tried to have your last call traced and came up with zip. Talk to me, Kathy.” Coco's concern washed over her and made her feel like crying. But there was nothing she could do, absolutely nothing.
“I'm perfectly safe, Coco.”You haven't called for five days.“It's . . . January fifteenth?”
“All day. Guess you still aren't going to tell me what's going on.”
“There's nothing to tell. I'm with a man. I'm safe. Did you find any information?” She noted that Neil had edged close. Coco's sigh carried a world of frustration. “Wait a minute while I get it.” She heard the rustle of paper. “Okay, James the Fifth died in 1542. Mary Queen of Scots was born the same year and was proclaimed queen. Henry the Eighth was king of England. Oh, and that cat you wanted to know about. It's a Turkish Van. Associated with the Lake Van area of Turkey, loves to swim, and God knows why you wanted to know all that.”
“I would speak to Coco.”
Too late, Kathy realized Neil was close enoughto hear everything being said. Great. Just great. She handed the phone to him.
“Explain what ye meant, Coco.”
Kathy knew if Neil used that tone of voice to her she'd blurt out everything she'd ever known.
“Ye say that King James is dead and that some Mary is queen? Ye dinna know what ye say. James is alive and there isna any Mary.”
“Is everyone crazy there? I took this straight off the Net.”
Kathy could see Neil's face pale above his beard. “What year is it, Coco?”
“I wish you wouldn't ask that question. It makes me nervous.”
“What year is it?” Neil's voice had risen to a roar.
“Okay, okay. It's 2001.” Kathy could hear the growing fear in Coco's voice. “Put Kathy back on.”
Neil handed the phone back to her with fingers that shook.
“Kathy, you've got to get away from that place. Everyone's crazy. Just tell me where you are, and I'll come get you.”
Kathy felt a tear slide down her face and didn't bother to wipe it away. “I'll be in touch, Coco.” She hung up with Coco's frantic questions echoing in her ears.
She turned to Neil.
“Ye canna be from the future.” He looked bewildered.
“That's what Ian said.” She sat down on the chair by the table.
He pulled the other chair over to sit beside her.“But these things she said about James and this Mary . . .”
“What if you find out they're true?”
He shook his head. “I would think both of ye witches.”
“And . . . ?” If Neil told everyone she was a witch, would even Ian be able to protect her?
Neil shrugged. “I would say nothing. Coco is my challenge, and I will win her, witch or no.”
Kathy breathed a long sigh of relief.
“Ye must tell me what sort of man Coco favors.”
“Hmm. She doesn't like facial hair, so lose the beard. And she likes a man with good hair and a clean body. I can do a little with your hair, but you're going to have to bathe every day.” Lost in thought, she barely noted his look of horror.
“Coco willna know whether I do those things.”
Kathy grinned at him. “I'll tell her. I don't lie to my friends. And after we take care of those little things, we can work on your sensitivity.”
He glared at her.
Well, maybe not. Some men just weren't cut out to be sensitive.
“Do what ye must.” He'd probably walk to his execution with that expression. “Ye dinna have any noxious potions wi' ye?”
“Not a one.”Yes.Kathy unzipped her backpack and pulled out her supplies. Finally, a chance to do what she did best. She'd start quickly while he was still enthralled with the zipper on her backpack and before he realized what she was doing.
One man would walk the Highlands with good hair and a new understanding of personal hygiene because Kathy Bartlett had passed his way.
She felt like a sixteenth-century Johnny Apple-seed.Chapter Nine
Would she be waiting for him at Neil's door, her golden hair blowing in the cold wind that had whipped up? Would her eyes that could hide nothing be clouded by worry? Would her lips be parted as she scanned the hills looking for a sign of him?
The thought of her warmed Ian. He would run his fingers through her hair, and pull her into his arms. He'd taste her soft lips, which could heat his blood as even the most potent brew could not.
They'd go home, and he'd tell her of what he'd done, of his satisfaction at outwitting the Mackays.
He could not remember ever being so eager to reach a woman before. Ian frowned. He enjoyed women's bodies, but that was the extent of his involvement with them. If he was to win the challenge, he could not allow thoughts of speaking withher by a warm fire to intrude. His thoughts must only be of seduction.
Ian couldn't suppress his disappointment to find Neil's door closed. He got off his horse, then led both Neil's and his horse around to the back of the cottage, where they could graze.
Finished, he pushed open the door . . . and froze. The man staring back at himwasn'this brother. His beard was gone, and the only reminder it had ever existed was the pale skin that hadn't been exposed to the sun since Neil was old enough to sprout hair on his chin. His hair still hung past his shoulders, but barely. It looked . . .
Ignoring the woman who was obviously responsible for the changes, he strode to his brother to take a closer look. His hair didn't look tangled and windblown. It looked shiny andclean.
Ian was both amazed and angry. He'd spent the day braving the cunning and wrath of the Mackays, and Kathy had thought only of his brother. Ian had no idea why the thought infuriated him so. It was not as though he'd returned to find them in bed.
He tried to recapture the attitude he should have as Pleasure Master, thinking only of how this would affect the challenge, but his fury would not allow him to think clearly.
He swung to confront the meddling wench. “What have ye done to Neil?”What have ye done to me?
“Ye needna bellow, Ian. I asked her to make me such as Coco would desire. 'Tis an improvement.What say ye?” He grinned at Ian, then returned his attention to a small mirror he held.
“I can't believe how great Neil looks. Who would've thought all that hair was covering up such an incredible face. When I describe him to Coco she'll”âKathy frownedâ“want to see him.”
Ian felt the stab of betrayal almost as a physical blow. “I wouldna have believed it of ye, woman. While I have risked death from the Mackays, ye've been here trying to help my brother win the challenge.”
“Death?” Her eyes widened in horror. He felt some of his anger drain. “Neil said it was nothing, that you'd just get your horse and come back.”
“And did ye think the Mackays would be waiting to give the horse to me wi' apologies for all my trouble? What did ye think they'd do if they caught me taking him?”
“I . . . don't know. I didn't think.” She gazed at him, eyes dark with regret.
“She told me things I need know to win Coco. I must remember to speak of Coco's favorite French restaurant.” Neil looked puzzled. “I dinna know why she wouldna eat good Scottish food.”
Peter's amber lights flashed. “I think most Scottish cuisine is based on a dare.”
Neil glared at Peter. “Ye should rid yerself of yon wee demon, Ian.”
Peter seemed to be the only one Ian wasn't angry at. “I like him fine. He amuses me more than most.” He glanced at Kathy. “Do ye ken what movie 'tis from?”
She nodded. “So I Married an Axe Murderer.” She sounded subdued.
Momentarily diverted, Ian murmured, “'Tis a passing strange name. I would see this movie.”
Neil's gaze turned calculating. “I would thank ye, Kathy, for helping me win Coco. When I am Pleasure Master, I will remember what ye did.” He slid his gaze to Ian to see his reaction.
“Dinna try to anger me more, Neil. I am tired and would go home.” He turned to the door and could hear Kathy gathering her things together.
By the time he led his horse to the front of the cottage, she was waiting for him with Peter and Malin. “We'll walk home. I wouldna ask the horse to carry anyone after riding him hard all day.”
She nodded, but said nothing. A part of him wanted her to apologize more, to look at him with eyes filled with remorse, to offer him anything if he would no longer be angry.
The reasonable part of him said he should forget his anger, that she had done nothing to really harm him. Reason said his feelings were hurt because she had not missed him, because she'd amused herself with his brother.
He didn't want to listen to anything reasonable though. He didn't want to think this woman could affect him so.
“Ian, someone is trying to get your attention.” He felt Kathy tug on his sleeve and looked up.
“Aye, Jamie.” He acknowledged the large redhaired man who was standing in front of the small stone cottage they were passing.
The man beckoned him inside, and Ian exhaled wearily. He couldn't ignore the man, but all he wanted to do was go home and sleep. “We'll stop for a short while. Leave Peter and Malin wi' the horse. Jamie will accept ye, but I dinna want to explain Peter.”
“Fine.” She followed him into the cottage.
He sat at Jamie's table, and Kathy sat beside him. “Has yer wife improved, Jamie?”
Jamie placed a drink in front of them, and Ian watched Kathy take a sip. For the first time that day he felt like smiling as her eyes widened and she blinked to stop their watering. She opened her mouth and drew in small panting breaths. His gaze was drawn to the rise and fall of her breasts. Mayhap he wouldn't go to sleep as soon as he reached home.
“She isna better. Since losing the babe, she willna do more than sit and stare at the fire. I dinna know what more to do.”
Ian's gaze shifted to the woman half hidden in the shadows. She sat so still that if Jamie hadn't mentioned her, he wouldn't have noticed her.
“She lost a child?” Kathy's voice was warm with sympathy.
“Aye. 'Twas our first.” Jamie folded his hands on the table and stared at work-reddened fingers. “I told her we would have more, but she wouldna listen. She grieves only for this one. The priest came, but he grew angry wi' her silence and said I should beat her if she wouldna submit. I dinna want to do such.”
“Your priest is a bastard.”
For once, Ian agreed with Kathy's blunt speech.
Ignoring Jamie's shocked expression, Kathy pulled open her backpack and rooted through its contents. “I stuck a few toys in here, thinking I might meet some kids who'd like them.”
Ian huffed a breath of impatience. Would the woman never realize she was no longer in her land, where such things were accepted without suspicion? “Mayhap ye should leave all at home next time.”
Ian's expression promised he'd have a lot to say about the things in her backpack when they reached the cave.
She grinned at him, knowing she was safe for the moment. He didn't dare say anything in front of Jamie.
Kathy pulled Baby Born from the pack and carried it over to Jamie's wife. The woman looked at her out of dead eyes.
Kathy reached out and laid the doll in the woman's arms. “This is Baby Born. She isn't real, but hold her, cry over her, then put her away and have another baby of your own.”
The woman looked down at the doll, and Kathy feared she'd reject the gift. But slowly, the woman enfolded the doll in her arms, then looked up at Kathy. A tear slid down her cheek.
Oh shoot, she was going to end up bawling along with the woman.Quickly, Kathy returned to her seat beside Ian.
She blinked rapidly and tried to concentrate on what Jamie was saying.
“'Tis the first tear she's shed since the babe died.” He was staring at Kathy as though she'd created a miracle.
Kathy shrugged and tried for nonchalance. “Sometimes just having something to hold when you're feeling bad helps.” She gazed thoughtfully at Jamie. “Have you tried holding your wife?”
Jamie looked uncomfortable. “I didna think she'd welcome my touch.”
Kathy smiled. “I'd say she needs it now more than she's ever needed it.” When her marriage and her world had collapsed, she had longed for someone just to hold her, comfort her.
“Would ye like a wee drop more to drink?” Jamie started to rise.
“Uh, no thank you.” She looked at the drink in front of her. A few more sips and she wouldn't have a stomach lining.
“We've had a long day, Jamie. 'Tis best if we get home before darkness falls.” Ian rose and put his arm across Kathy's shoulders.
She stiffened. Was this show of affection just for Jamie's sake? Would Ian be angry and disapproving again once they were alone?
Outside, Ian dropped his arm from her shoulders and retrieved his horse. When he returned, he grasped her hand in his, then continued along the path to his cave.
Night had fallen, the darkness intensifying Kathy's sensations. She could hear Peter clatteringalong behind them, but far enough away so that he couldn't hear what they said.
Listen to yourself.She was thinking of the toy as human. The thought made her uncomfortable.
“Ye wished to help Jamie's wife, but ye must be careful what ye show others.” Ian's voice was low, with none of his former anger. “The Pleasure Master has been a part of the glen for almost a hundred years, but ye've been here only a short time. Many willna accept the things ye bring wi' ye. They will believe them tools of the devil.”
She nodded, raising her face to a night sky filled with what seemed a million stars. She'd never seen a sky like this in New York. “I know you're telling the truth, but it's still hard for me to remember the differences between this time and my own.”
His hand tightened around hers. A large hand, hard, comforting. “None will harm ye while ye're wi' me.”
And she believed him.
“Ian, I noticed that Jamie was the only villager who invited you to stop at his home. Everyone else nodded, but then looked away.”
She felt Ian's smile in the darkness. “Peter would discourage many. He doesna make a comfortable guest.”
She stumbled over a rock, and Ian drew her to him, putting his arm around her waist. She felt wrapped in his solid strength, but there was something more. An awareness, a warmth that had nothing to do with body heat, quickened her breathing.She hoped he thought she was just out of breath from climbing the hill to the cave.
“Okay, I can accept that, but I still had the feeling they were uncomfortable with you.” She tried to relax, but relax wasn't part of her vocabulary where Ian Ross was concerned. “Except for Jamie. He seemed glad to see you.”
Ian shrugged. “Jamie needed to speak wi' someone. I was passing by, and 'tis not a path many travel.”
Kathy felt like Mrs. Martin's bulldog with a bone. She knew there was something he wasn't telling her, and she wanted to know. “But what about the others? They didn't seem too friendly, and don't tell me it was because of Peter.”
“What if ye thought I'd lain wi' yer sister, counseled yer mother? Would ye feel comfortable speaking wi' me? What if I'd lain wi'ye?Would ye want others to see ye speaking wi' me, wondering?”
His bluntness was like the splash of a North Atlantic wave. “Then why do they let the Pleasure Master exist?”
The smile he turned on her was no smile at all. “The Pleasure Master brings wealth and fame to the glen. And those who come to me are desperate for helpâwomen who have ne'er known joy of their bodies, women who wish to please their husbands, but need be taught how.”
“I remember enough of my history books to know that in this time, women didn't think they were supposed to enjoy their bodies, and men didn't care about women's pleasure.”
He frowned at her. “Did those who wrote yer books live wi' us to know all these things? There are always those who care about giving and receiving pleasure.”
“I guess there can be exceptions in any age.” She'd stopped in the middle of the path. “So why did Jamie accept you into his home?”
“Jamie is new to the glen. He has no family member who could have visited me.”
“Oh.” What more could she say? She understood men like her ex-husband, but she didn't understand a man like Ian Ross. Ian was as different from her ex as a tiger was from Jenny Clark's old orange tabby.
His chuckle was warm, amused. “Dinna look so horrified. I need only speak to many of the women who seek me out. I havena bedded all the lasses in Scotland.” His smile faded. “But the legend of the Pleasure Master is such that most wouldna believe it. Since no one knows who has visited me, all are suspicious.”
She glanced behind her. No Peter. He must've fallen behind. She'd stand a few more minutes and wait for him to catch up. “You'd have to work harder in my time. Women in 2001 are a lot more sexually aware. They know a lot more.”
“Knowing and feeling are not always the same, lass.” His warm breath fanned over her neck and she shivered.
She glanced behind her again. WherewasPeter? The darkness closed in on her. This wasn't a New York dark, with street lights and lighted windows.This wasdark. And somehow, Ian Ross intensified the darkness, drew it to him, wrapped her in its blackness.
“Why do you keep doing it, if it alienates you from everyone?”
His glance was puzzled. “'Tis who I am, who I've always been. I've been trained to be Pleasure Master since I was taken from my mother.” His puzzlement gave way to warmth. “I enjoy women, and 'tis no burden helping them.”
“I bet it isn't.” Kathy had no idea why his last statement bothered her so much. “But I still say you'd have a lot rougher going in my time.”
She couldn't read anything from his tone.
“Have ye ne'er had fantasies about men, Kathy?”
His question caught her by surprise, and she answered without thinking. “Bandits. I've always fantasized about being captured by bandits.” She'd never toldanyonethat.
He dropped the horse's reins and moved closer, so close she could feel the heat from his body, see the rise and fall of his chest beneath his plaid. “'Tis a fine fantasy.” His low murmur barely reached her.
“Hear them, Kathy. Moving toward ye in the darkness. See them closing in on ye from all sides.” His husky suggestions made her glance around.
What was that shadow beside the tree? And that scrabbling noise? Some small animal or Peter catching up?
“Feel the blood and evil they bring wi' them. Know what they want from ye.” He reached acrossher shoulders and slipped off her shawl. She didn't,couldn't,stop him.
“There is one who wants ye more than the others. He'll kill to make ye his, as he's killed many times before.” He leaned down, a dark threatening shadow, and touched his mouth to the base of her neck. “Ye'll not deny him if ye wish to live.”
Thiswasn'treal. And yet she saw them, dark bearded men, with torn and bloodied clothing, leering at her out of the night. She heard their jeering laughter, felt their hot lust, knew that only their leader held them back. Because he wanted her himself.
Logic had nothing to do with her panic as she tried to turn and run from him. But he grasped both her hands, drew close until his body touched hers, forcing her back, back, until a wall of rock stopped her. “Hey, this isn't fun. You're scaring me.”
Which wasn't completely true. Mixed with the fear was a growing excitementâfierce, wild.
“This isna about fun. This is about yer body and mine. I'll have ye here, and ye'll remember me always. When the darkness falls ye'll see me beyond yer window, and wonder what evil I'm about that night.”
“I'll fight you.” Her fear was disappearing, replaced by hot anticipation.
“Fight me till yer breath comes fast and hard, till yer heart pounds. 'Twill make no difference, but 'twill add spice to the taking.” His voice was savage,hungry.
She kicked at him and made contact with his leg,heard his muttered curse, and gloried in her fight against this bandit.
Her struggle to free her hands was useless as he grasped both wrists and forced her arms above her head. He pressed his body against hers, forcing her back until she could feel every ridge in the rock wall, every muscular inch ofhim.To avoid the rock digging into her, she pushed against his body.
“Ye canna escape me, lass.”
With her arms stretched high above her head, she couldn't hit him. And as she tried to kick at him again, he shoved his knee between her legs, forcing her to spread them. Through the cloth of her dress, she could feel the strength of his thrust.
Even through her panties, she felt his knee pressing against her most sensitive spot. She clenched her thighs, riding his knee to increase the pressure. As he rubbed his knee back and forth, she felt the hot heavy feeling building. “I'll kill you for this.”
“I fear ye already have.”
She barely heard his soft response because some distant part of her mind was wondering how he'd pulled her so completely into the fantasy. But it wasn't a fantasy. Hewasa bandit, and she'd fight him until . . . “You're a dead man, you thievingâ”
“I dinna think so.” He transferred both wrists to one hand and trailed a path of hot kisses down the side of her neck.
With his other hand, he deftly unlaced her dress, then roughly pulled her arms down long enough to slip the dress to her waist and pull off her bra.
She was weak with something so strong shehadn't the strength to fight. Every sense she had seemed centered in her breasts and between her thighs. She could hear the loud rasp of her breathing. Or was it his?
Bared to the waist, she felt him pull her arms high above her head again and secure her wrists in one large hand.
“Do ye feel my men watching ye, hungering for ye, knowing that your body is for me alone?”
The cold breeze played across her breasts and her nipples hardened in response. Without conscious thought, she arched her back, begging for . . .
With a groan, he lowered his head and put his mouth on one breast, sliding his tongue across her hard nipple, then gently nipping. She almost sobbed her pleasure.
“Ye'll give me much pleasure tonight, lass.” He took her nipple into his mouth and suckled as he rolled her other nipple between two fingers, then gently squeezed.
She felt a tear slide down her cheek.
“My men draw closer. They want me to lay ye on the ground, spread yer legs, and take ye. They will draw pleasure from the watching.”
“No.”No, don't stop. Please.
“Aye, 'tis the way of bandits.” He abandoned her nipples. Removing his knee from between her legs, he roughly pulled her dress up to her waist, then ripped her panties from her. “Ye'll not need these.”
She didn't have the strength to close her thighs, and she knew his men were enjoying the sight ofher bared body. She made a feeble attempt to free her arms, but he tightened his grip.
“Dinna struggle, lass. I willna free ye until I've thrust hard into yer soft body, filling ye . . .” He seemed to run out of words, and she could hear his sharp intake of breath as he slid his hand between her thighs, then rubbed one finger back and forth against the spot that already felt swollen, wet, and too sensitive to touch.
She did cry out then, and didn't care whether his men or every man in the Highlands heard her.
“Aye, let my men know what they miss.”
His hand abandoned her, and she moaned her disappointment. She felt him pull up his plaid, then gasped at the hard pressure of his erection against her stomach. “I'll take ye here, wi' yer breasts bared and yer legs spread. I'll thrust hard and deep until ye scream wi' the pleasure.”
She writhed against himâwanting, needing.
“Do ye want this, lass? Want it enough to live the fantasy to its end?” His question was low, harsh.
Yes. The word wouldn't come, she couldn't force it past her lips. She felt as though her hesitation lasted years, all the way back to the beginning of her marriage, all the way to the end of her hope.
He grew still. She could feel his breaths coming in huge gasps, felt desire shuddering through him. Slowly, as though each movement was agony, he released her. Pulling her dress down, he stepped back.
Her out-of-control senses began to right themselves.There were no bandits. She was standing in front of Ian Ross with her breasts bared and her emotions in shreds. Desire was slow to recede, and she could still feel small anticipatory spasms.
She picked up her bra, and put it back on. When Ian moved to help her, she shook her head. With unsteady fingers, she pulled up her dress, then laced it as best she could.
Shame flooded her. “Why did you . . . ? I don't understand.”
She tried to ward him off, but he reached her in one step and pulled her into his arms. Then he just held her. “Dinna be ashamed. Ye enjoyed the fantasy. There isna shame in wanting another's body.”
Finally, her shaking stopped. She looked at his face, shadowed in the night. She didn't know this man, nor the one she'd wanted deep inside her a few minutes ago.Stillwanted deep inside her. “What was that about?”
“That was about the power of the Pleasure Master. I am what ye want me to be, what will bring ye the most joy.”
She felt like one of the wild creatures of the Highlands. The scent of what had almost happened was still strong around them, the fight-or-flight instinct still warring within her.
“Why didn't you finish it? You would've won the challenge.”
“Aye, but it wouldna have been fair. I want no fantasy between us when we join. I dinna want ye able to find an excuse to fool yerself wi'.” Hiswicked smile flashed white in the darkness. “Do ye still feel ye canna have yer orgasm?”
She just looked at him. No answer was necessary. “Is that all?”
He shook his head. “Do ye still think I'd have no value in yer time, that women in 2001 know more?”
Kathy hadn't believed in the power of the Pleasure Master, but who could deny his vivid demonstration?
She turned from him. “You'd have value in any time.”But not to me.Yes, he could make her respond, but it was just another form of manipulation, and she'd had lots of experience with manipulation.
He said nothing more as he turned and continued toward the cave, leaving Kathy to follow.
Kathy started to go after him, then paused as she heard a familiar clatter behind her. Great. Her two feet of shiny movie quotes had caught up. “What-ever you're going to say, Peter, don't. I'm not in the mood.” The silence encouraged her. “Okay, so it might've been wonderful, but there's always a morning after the wonderful.”
She turned her head enough to see Peter's flashing amber lights. Uh-oh, he wasn't going to stay quiet. You'd think carrying a fat cat all the way from the village would have sapped some of the zap from his smart mouth.
“I'd rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.”
“Shelly inSteel Magnolias. Think you're smart, don't you?”
Peter's lights flashed agreement. “Bill Gates wants my brain.”Chapter Ten
Approaching the cave entrance, he scanned the surrounding area, searching for signs of intrusion. There were none. He'd hoped the Mackays would be waiting, for he felt the need to crack some heads.
He could hear Kathy behind him, but she said nothing. Did she realize how close she'd come to completing her fantasy whether she wished it or not?
Striding down the tunnel, he paused before entering the main chamber. He must live with this woman until he seduced her.Seduced,not tricked into passion using a favorite fantasy. Then he would find a way to send her home. 'Twould not be as simple, though, as he'd thought in the beginning.
“Is everything okay?” She spoke from behindhim, but not too close. She'd learned caution with him.
“Aye. I was but checking that none had been here in our absence.”
He walked into the room and lit several candles from the glowing embers of the hearth fire. She followed him and put her things near her bed, then picked up the nightgown Mary had given her. “I'll be back in a few minutes.” She disappeared down the tunnel to the pool.
“I loooove you.” Suzy Sunshine blinked her eyes, waved her leaves, and wiggled her stem in greeting.