The Dark Highlander

I am Dageus MacKeltar, a man with one good conscience
and thirteen bad ones, driven to sate my darkest desires…

From his penthouse lair high above Manhattan, Dageus looks out over a glittering city that calls to the darkness within him. A sixteenth-century Scot trapped between worlds, he is fighting a losing battle with the thirteen Druids who possess his soul, dooming him to an eternity of sexual pursuit. When Chloe Zanders, student of antiquities, is drawn into his world, she finds the insatiable alpha male an irresistible lure. Before long, she is caught up in an ancient prophecy that will sweep her back into time to medieval Scotland. Plunged into a world of timeless magic and dark seduction, she will soon face the challenge of a lifetime: fighting thirteen evil spirits for the heart of one irresistible man...

REVIEWS

"Pulsing with sexual tension, Moning delivers a tale romance fans will be talking about for a long time."
~The Oakland Press

"Move over Angel, Buffy and The Highlander; make room for Dageus MacKeltar...The Dark Highlander is dynamite, dramatic and utterly riveting...Dageus is pure Alpha male: a mix of raw sex and danger just too tempting to resist."
~RT Book Reviews/Top Pick

"Darker, sexier and more serious than Moning's previous time-travel romances...this wild, imaginative romp takes readers on an exhilarating ride through time and space."
~Publishers Weekly (starred review)

EXCERPT

Chapter One

PRESENT DAY

Dageus MacKeltar walked like a man and talked like a man, but in bed he was pure animal.

Criminal attorney Katherine O’Malley called a spade a spade, and the man was raw Sex with a capital S. Now that she’d slept with him, she was ruined for other men.

It wasn’t just what he looked like, with his sculpted body, skin poured like gold velvet over steel, chiseled features, and silky black hair. Or that lazy, utterly arrogant smile that promised a woman paradise. And delivered. One hundred percent satisfaction guaranteed.

It wasn’t even the exotic golden eyes fringed by thick black lashes beneath slanted brows.

It was what he did to her.

He was sex like she’d never had in her life, and ­Katherine had been having sex for seventeen years. She thought she’d seen it all. But when Dageus MacKeltar touched her, she came apart at the seams. Aloof, his every movement smoothly controlled, when he stripped off his clothing he stripped off every ounce of that rigid discipline and turned into an untamed barbarian. He fucked with the ­single-­minded intensity of a man on death row, execution at dawn.

Just thinking about him made places low in her belly clench. Made her skin feel stretched too tight across her bones. Made her breath come short and sharp.

Now, standing in the anteroom outside the enameled French doors of his exquisite Manhattan penthouse overlooking Central Park that fit him like a second skin—starkly elegant, black, white, chrome, and hard—she felt intensely alive, every nerve wired. Drawing a deep breath, she turned the handle and pushed open the door.

It was never locked. As if he feared nothing ­forty-­three floors above the flash and razor edges of the city. As if he’d seen the worst the Big Apple had to offer and found it all mildly amusing. As if the city might be big and bad, but he was bigger and badder.

She stepped inside, inhaling the rich scent of sandalwood and roses. Classical music spilled through the luxurious rooms—Mozart’s Requiem—but she knew that later he might play Nine Inch Nails and stretch her naked body against the wall of windows that overlooked the Conservatory Water, driving into her until she screamed her release to the bright city lights below.

Sixty feet of coveted Fifth Avenue frontage in the East 70s—and she had no idea what he did for a living. Most of the time she wasn’t certain she wanted to know.

She pushed the doors shut behind her and allowed the ­buttery-­soft folds of her leather coat to spill to the floor, revealing black ­lace-­topped ­thigh-­highs, matching panties, and a sheer ­push-­up bra that presented her full breasts to perfection. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the darkened windows and smiled. At ­thirty-­three, Katherine O’Malley looked good. She should look good, she thought, arching a brow, as much exercise as she’d been getting in his bed. Or on the floor. Sprawled across the leather sofa. In his black marble Jacuzzi...

A wave of lust made her dizzy, and she breathed deeply to slow her pounding heart. She felt insatiable around him. A time or two she’d briefly entertained the outrageous thought that he might not be human. That maybe he was some mythical sex god, perhaps Priapus beckoned by the needy inhabitants of the city that never slept. Or some creature of ­long-­forgotten lore, a Sidhe that had the ability to heighten pleasure to extremes mortals weren’t meant to taste.

“­Katie-­lass.” His voice floated down from the top floor of the ­fifteen-­room duplex, dark and rich, his Scottish accent making her think of peat smoke, ancient stones, and aged whisky.

Only Dageus MacKeltar could get away with calling Katherine O’Malley “­Katie-­lass.”

As he descended the curving staircase and entered the ­thirty-­foot living room with its vaulted ceilings, marble fireplace, and panoramic view of the park, she remained motionless, drinking him in. He wore black linen trousers, and she knew there would be nothing beneath them but the most perfect male body she’d ever seen. Her gaze drifted over his wide shoulders, down his hard chest and his rippling abs, lingering on the twin ropes of muscle that cut his lower stomach and disappeared into his pants, beckoning the eye to follow.

“Good enough to eat?” His golden eyes glittered as they raked her body. “Come.” He extended his hand. “Lass, you take my breath away. Your wish is my command this eve. You have only to tell me.”

His long midnight hair, so black it seemed as blue-black as his shadow beard in the amber glow of recessed lights, spilled over one muscled shoulder, falling to his waist, and she sucked in a quick breath. She knew the feel of it sweeping her bare breasts, abrading her nipples, falling lower, across her thighs as he brought her to peak after shuddering peak.

“As if I need to say anything. You know what I want before I know myself.” She heard the edge in her voice, knew he heard it too. It unnerved her how well he understood her. Before she knew what she wanted, he was giving it to her.

It made him dangerously addictive.

He smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. She wasn’t certain she’d ever seen it reach his eyes. They never changed, merely observed and waited. Like a tiger’s golden eyes, his were watchful yet aloof, amused yet detached. Hungry eyes. Predator eyes. More than once she’d wanted to ask what those ­tiger-­eyes saw. What judgment they passed, what the hell he seemed to be waiting for, but in the bliss of his hard body against hers she forgot time and again, until she was back at work and it was too late to ask.

She’d been sleeping with him for two months, and knew no more about him now than the day she’d met him in Starbucks, across the street from O’Leary Banks and O’Malley, where she was a partner, thanks partly to her father, the senior O’Malley, and partly to her own ruthlessness. One look at the six foot four, darkly seductive man over the rim of her café au lait and she’d known she had to have him. It might have had something to do with the way he’d locked eyes with her as he’d lazily licked whipped cream off his mocha, making her imagine that sexy tongue doing far more intimate things. It might have had something to do with the pure sexual heat he gave off. She knew it had a great deal to do with the danger that rolled off him. Some days she wondered if she’d be defending him as one of her controversial ­high-­profile clients in the months or years to come.

That same day they’d met, they’d rolled across his white Berber carpet, from fireplace to windows, wrest­ling silently for the supreme position, until she’d no longer cared how he’d taken her, so long as he had.

With a reputation for a ­razor-­sharp tongue and the mind to back it up, she’d never once turned it on him. She had no idea how he maintained his lavish lifestyle, how he afforded his obscenely expensive collections of art and ancient weapons. She didn’t know where he’d been born, or even when his birthday was.

At work, she’d mentally prepare her interrogatory, but inevitably the probing questions stalled on her tongue the moment she saw him. She, the merciless interrogator in a courtroom, ­tongue-­tied in his bedroom. On occasion, tied in infinitely more pleasurable ways. The man was a true master of the erotic.

“Woolgatherin’, lass? Or merely deciding how you want me?” he purred.

Katherine wet her lips. How she wanted him?

She wanted him out of her system. Kept hoping the next time she slept with him, the sex might not be so ­mind-­blowing. The man was far too dangerous to get involved with emotionally. Just yesterday she’d lingered at Mass, praying that she would get over her addiction to him—please, God, soon. Yes, he heated her blood, but there was something about him that chilled her soul.

In the meantime—hopelessly fascinated as she was—she knew exactly how she would have him. A strong woman, she was aroused by the strength of a dominant man. She would end the night sprawled over his leather sofa. He would fist his hand in her long hair, drive into her from behind. He would bite the nape of her neck when she came.

She inhaled sharply, took one step forward, and he was on her, dragging her down to the thick carpet. Firm lips, sensual, with a hint of cruelty, closed over hers as he kissed her, golden eyes narrowing.

There was something about him that bordered on terrifying, she thought as he pinned her hands to the floor and rose over her, too beautiful, rife with dark secrets she suspected no woman should ever know—and it made the sex so much more exquisite, that fine edge of danger.

It was her last coherent thought for a long, long time.

* * *

Dageus MacKeltar braced his palms against the wall of windows and stared out into the night, his body separated from a plunge of ­forty-­three stories by a pane of glass. The soft buzz of the television was nearly lost in the patter of rain against the windows. A few feet to his right, the ­sixty-­inch screen was reflected in the glistening glass and David Boreanaz stalked broodingly, playing Angel, the tortured vampire with a soul. Dageus watched long enough to ascertain it was a repeat, then let his gaze drift back to the night.

The vampire always found at least partial resolution, and Dageus had begun to fear that for him, there would be none. Ever.

Besides, his problem was a little more complicated than Angel’s. Angel’s problem was a soul. Dageus’s problem was a legion of them.

Raking a hand through his hair, he studied the city below. Manhattan: A mere ­twenty-­two square miles. Inhabited by nearly two million people. Then there was the metropolis itself, with seven million people crammed into three hundred square miles.

It was a city of grotesque proportions to a ­sixteenth-­century Highlander, the sheer immensity inconceivable. When he’d first arrived in New York City, he’d walked around the Empire State Building for hours. One hundred and two floors, ten million bricks, the interior ­thirty-­seven million cubic feet, one thousand two hundred and fifty feet tall, it was struck by lightning an average of five hundred times per year.

What manner of man built such monstrosities? he’d wondered. Sheer insanity was what it was, the Highlander had marveled.

And a fine place to call home.

New York City had beckoned the darkness within him. He’d made his lair in the pulsing heart of it.

A man without clan, outcast, nomad, he’d doffed the ­sixteenth-­century man like so much worn plaid and applied his formidable Druid intellect to assimilating the ­twenty-­first century: the new language, the customs, the incredible technology. Though there were still many things he didn’t understand—certain words and expressions utterly stumped him, and more often than not he thought in Gaelic, Latin, or Greek and had to hastily translate—he’d adapted at a remarkable rate.

A man who possessed the esoteric knowledge to open a gate through time, he’d expected five centuries to make the world a vastly different place. His understanding of Druid lore, sacred geometry, cosmology, and natural laws of what the ­twenty-­first century called physics had made the wonders of the new world easier for him to fathom.

Not that he didn’t frequently gawk. He did. Flying on a plane had fashed him greatly. The clever engineering and fabulous construction of Manhattan’s bridges had kept him occupied for days.

The people, the masses of teeming people, bewildered him. He suspected they always would. There was a part of the ­sixteenth-­century Highlander he’d never be able to change. That part would forever miss ­wide-­open expanses of starry sky, leagues and leagues of rolling hills, endless fields of heather, and blithesome and bonny Scots lasses.

He’d ventured to America because he’d hoped that journeying far from his beloved Scotland, from places of power such as the standing stones, might lessen the hold of the ancient evil inside him.

And it had affected them, though it had only slowed his descent into darkness, not stopped it. Day by day he continued to change...felt colder, less connected, less fettered by human emotion. More detached god, less man.

Except when he tooped—och, then he was alive. Then he felt. Then he was not adrift in a bottomless, dark, and violent sea with naught but a puny bit of driftwood to cling to. Making love to a woman staved off the darkness, replenished his essential humanity. Ever a man of immense appetites, he was now insatiable.

I’m no’ entirely dark yet, he growled defiantly to the demons coiled within him. The ones who bided their time in silent certainty, their dark tide eroding him as steadily and surely as the ocean reshaped a rocky shore. He understood their tactics: True evil didn’t aggressively assault, it lay coyly hushed and still...and seduced.

And it was there each day, clear evidence of their gains, in the little things he did without realizing he was doing them till after they were done. Seemingly harmless things like lighting the fire in his hearth with a wave of his hand and a whispered teine, or the opening of a door or blind with a soft murmur. The impatient summoning of one of their conveyances—a taxi—with a glance.

Wee things, mayhap, but he knew such things were far from harmless. Knew that each time he used magic, he turned a shade darker, lost another piece of himself.

Each day was a battle to accomplish three things: use only what magic was absolutely necessary, despite the ­ever-­growing temptation, toop hard and fast and frequently, and continue collecting and searching the tomes wherein might lie the answer to his ­all-­consuming ­question.

Was there a way to get rid of the dark ones?

If not...well, if not...

He raked a hand through his hair and blew out a deep breath. Eyes narrowed, he watched the lights flickering beyond the park, while behind him, on the couch, the lass slept the dreamless sleep of the utterly exhausted. On the morrow, dark circles would mar the delicate hollows beneath her eyes, etching her features with beguiling fragility. His bed play took a toll on a woman.

Two nights past, Katie had wet her lips and ­oh-­so-­casually remarked that he seemed to be waiting for something.

He’d smiled and rolled her onto her stomach. Kissed her sweet, warm, and willing body from head to toe. Dragged his tongue over every inch, then taken her, ridden her, and when he’d finished with her she’d been crying with pleasure.

She’d either forgotten her question or had thought better of it. Katie O’Malley was not a fool. She knew there was more to him than she really wanted to know. She wanted him for sex, nothing more. Which was well and fine, because he was incapable of more.

I wait for my brother, lass, he hadn’t said. I wait for the day Drustan wearies of my refusal to return to Scotland. For the day his wife is not so pregnant that he fears to leave her side. For the day he finally acknowledges what he already knows in his heart, though he so desperately clings to my lies: that I am dark as the night sky, with but a few starlike flickers of light left within me.

Och, aye, he was waiting for the day his twin brother would cross the ocean and come for him.

See him for the animal he was.

If he permitted that day to arrive, he knew one of them would die.

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