Home Again

Glenfinnan, Scotland, April 2000

Celina had been traveling throughout Great Britain for the past few weeks. She visited her old and very dear friend, Ceirdwyn, in Wales. They had not seen one another for several years, and before that, not since the mid-1600s when she and Duncan visited their friend together. Celina had met Ceirdwyn when Celina was yet a child, before she became immortal. They met through Celina's father, Edmund Trent, who had taken his family with him to Wales when he went to look over some property there that Ceirdwyn was offering to sell him. Even then, at a tender young age of ten, Celina's pre-immortal status was more than apparent to Ceirdwyn. She befriended the young child, and had Celina's situation turned out differently, Ceirdwyn may well have been the one to become Celina's first teacher, rather than Duncan.

Her week with Ceirdwyn was very enjoyable, but Celina felt the need to continue her travels onward. Having no specific itinerary planned, she made her way down into Scotland. Just being in the country once again brought thoughts of Duncan to her mind. She had not been there since the last time she traveled there with him, many years ago. Knowing that there was the slightest of chances he may be there even now, Celina made her way to his hometown, Glenfinnan, on the shores of Loch Shiel.

She had not seen Duncan for a few years, ever since she left him in Paris. He had said his version of goodbye to his friends, having planned to leave the city and his friends behind. Celina made him promise not to leave them all indefinitely, promising him herself that she would allow him to leave without her following him. It was the hardest thing she'd ever been forced to do...to let him walk away, not knowing when or if she'd ever see him again. The many months since then had been some of the longest she could remember.

Walking into the small village, Celina remembered another friend who lived there...Rachel MacLeod, Duncan's distant kinswoman. The women met when Rachel visited Duncan in Paris, after his Dark Quickening, and they had become friends, even though Celina sensed Rachel had also become lovers with Duncan. It was nothing new to her. How many years had she been sharing him with Amanda, and what of the years he'd been with Tessa? Sharing him with others was an old habit with Celina, but it made it easier, in a strange way, to care for the other women as much in her way as Duncan did in his. Before Rachel left Paris, she had invited Celina to visit her in Glenfinnan when Celina was there next, so that is what she decided to do.

When she walked into the small pub/rooming house, the first person Celina saw was Rachel, waiting on the few men sitting behind the bar. The woman's soft Scottish brogue, and low laughter, put a smile on Celina's face.

When she heard the door open, and moments later close, Rachel looked up. Seeing Celina standing there, she grinned hugely, and came around the bar to take Celina into her arms for a brief hug. "Celina! Come in...come in...an' welcome to ye!"

"Hello, Rachel! You look good..." Celina replied, returning her friend's embrace. Pulling away slightly, she asked, "Would you happen to have a room available? I thought I'd stay a few days, if you don't mind..."

"Aye, we have a room free, next tae the other one..." Rachel smiled softly. "We have another guest, we do..."

"Great!" Celina grinned. "I hoped I wouldn't put you out any by just dropping by, unannounced."

"Och, it's nae bother," Rachel said as she led Celina up the flight of stairs on the other side of the small room. "I told ye before I'd always hae room for ye to stay, anytime." Stopping before one of the four closed doors, Rachel turned to face Celina. "Our other guest is next door, there..." she nodded to the door at the end of the hall, next to Celina's own. "He's pretty quiet, ye'll find." Opening the door, she led Celina inside.

Placing her small duffle bag and sword case on the bed, Celina turned to face Rachel once more. "Thanks, Rachel. I appreciate this. I've wanted to come visit for a while, and since I had the time now..."

"'Tis good tae see ye, Celina. I have tae get back below, but take yer time, settle in, and come on down when yer ready for a pint or two!" Rachel smiled before pulling the door closed behind her.

Celina unpacked her bag, and not feeling tired enough to lie down for a nap, decided to go back downstairs to hoist a pint or two of ale along with her meal. Her gaze met Rachel's when she stepped into the pub, and when Rachel waved her over, Celina joined her at the bar. Three men of varying ages rose to their feet when she reached the bar, each of them motioning her to a seat next to them. Grinning at their eagerness for her company, Celina accepted their offer to join them, and sat upon one of the vacant bar stools.

Rachel made the introductions. "Celina, these three gents are our regulars." She gestured to the eldest of the trio, a short, wizened man with wild white hair and the brightest blue eyes, sitting to Celina's left. Rachel continued, "This is Angus MacDougal, and next tae him is his eldest son, Ranald. Beware o' them both, Celina...they're scamps of old." Both men blustered at Rachel's remarks, and ignoring them, Rachel continued the introductions. "This other one, on yer right, is Iain MacKenzie. He's nae much better than th' others, but will do in a pinch!"

Iain said nothing, only grinning and winking at Rachel. His age was somewhere between that of Angus and Ranald.

The next several minutes were filled with the trio shooting rapid questions at Celina, Rachel attempting to referee the conversation, and Celina just taking in the attention and the atmosphere. She was having a wonderful time.

*****

It had been a long day as Duncan walked around the countryside in search of the graves of his parents and Debra Campbell, the ill-fated love of his youth. He hadn't visited the sites since his last trip to his homeland a few years earlier. Memories of them filled his heart with not only sadness, but joy as well, for the times he had had with each of them.

He had returned to Glenfinnan in search of his roots...a part of himself he never wanted to forget… the part that had been the son of the chieftain of the Clan MacLeod. Visiting Rachel again hadn't hurt either he smiled softly to himself.

As he neared Rachel's small rooming house where he was staying, he felt the unmistakable sensation of another immortal's quickening. When he'd left earlier in the day, he'd been the only immortal in the area, to his knowledge. Now cautious, he approached the wooden door to the building, and stepped silently inside.

*****

Angus was in the midst of one of his infamous tales, one whom all the locals had heard thousands of times, yet enjoyed it more with each telling. Celina was entranced as well, committing the story to memory so she could repeat it to others later, when suddenly she felt the buzz. Thinking she had been the only immortal in the small village, she was unprepared, having left her sword upstairs in her room.

This is a public place, she reminded herself. There will be no battle here...yet. Turning around on the stool where she sat, she faced the door, and watched as the other immortal entered the pub.

A gasp caught in her throat as she saw the keeper of her heart step inside, closing the door behind him.

"Duncan!"

As soon as he entered the small, low-lit room, Duncan's gaze fell upon the beautiful blonde sitting at the bar. Totally unprepared for the other immortal to have been her, Duncan paused where he stood, allowing his eyes to have their fill of her. "Celina..."

After only a moment's hesitation, Celina rose from her seat and covered the short distance from the bar to the door where he stood. She stopped right in front of him, and looking into those chocolate brown orbs of his, lifted a slender hand to caress his left cheek. "Duncan..." she sighed softly, lovingly.

With a low moan, Duncan reached for her and took her into his arms, pulling her tightly into his embrace. It had been only a few years since he'd last held her, but at times it had seemed like forever.

Celina wrapped her arms up and over his shoulders and around his neck, pulling him as tightly to her as she could. His hair was as soft as she remembered it being as her fingers ran through the dark strands of it which, since she'd seen him last, had grown back to its normal shoulder length. Drawing his head down toward hers, she met his mouth with hers, and kissed him softly, tenderly, with all her heart.

Duncan's response was another low moan from deep within his chest, and a soft closed-mouth kiss...now was not the time or place to demonstrate to Celina how much he'd missed her, missed this, since their last time in Paris. Ending the kiss much sooner than he knew either of them wanted, Duncan pulled back slightly from her. Looking into her glistening amethyst eyes, and seeing all her love for him there, Duncan pulled her back into his arms for another hug before he pulled away entirely. Grinning bemusedly, he asked, "Celina, what are you doing here? How did you know I was here?"

"I didn't," Celina smiled as well. "I came to visit Rachel. I'm as surprised to see you as you, apparently, are to see me. How long have you been here?"

Taking one of her small hands in his own larger one, Duncan drew her with him to sit at one of the small tables to the side of the room. Once she was seated, Duncan sat across from her, their knees touching under the table. Taking her hands in his, he held them as he answered her question. "Only a few days. You?"

"I arrived just this afternoon. Rachel didn't tell me you were here..." Celina couldn't get her fill of him. She looked him over, taking him into her heart and soul, filling that space in her that had been empty since he'd made her leave him back in Paris. Just the sensation of her hands in his, his thumbs caressing the softness of hers...ahhh, it had been too long!

"Hmm..." Duncan murmured. "Well, no matter. It's good to see you, Celi. How are you?"

Her mouth turned up gently in a smile. "Much better, now..." Celina admitted. She couldn't resist leaning over the small table to kiss him again. Before she pulled back, she drew his full lower lip inside for one little nibble. She'd always adored that lower lip! Reaching out a slender hand, she ran her thumb over that succulent bit of flesh, wiping away a tiny smudge of her rose-tinted lipstick. When it was gone, she put her hand back on the table where Duncan held it once more.

* * * * *

Rachel watched the couple from across the room. Her heart ached seeing Duncan sitting there with another woman, a friend of hers no less...and it was clear to anyone with eyes that the two loved each other deeply. She had held secret hopes and desires for him in the depths of her heart, but she saw now that they would never come to pass. I canna' compete with Celina...she thought to herself, and then suddenly realized I would nae even if I could. Turning away to surreptitiously wipe the tears from her eyes, Rachel sighed then sternly chastised herself. Get a grip on yerself, Rachel MacLeod! Tis nae sense in dreaming for something ye canna' hae. Putting a smile back on her face, she turned her attention away from the lovers across the room, and toward the men across the bar from her. "Gie on wi' ye, Angus...go home before yer missus comes hunting for yer hide!"

* * * * *

It was late, and Rachel had already made the last call for drinks. The last of the patrons had passed through the door and made their way to their homes and families. Rachel had even done her final cleaning and readying for the next day, and still Duncan and Celina were sitting at the small table in the corner of the room, where they had been all evening. Sending one last wistful glance their way, she turned the lights down low and went to her own room on the other side of the house.

Only when the lights were lowered did Duncan realize how late it was. Pulling out his pocket watch, he noted the time, and murmured ruefully, "Do you think Rachel is trying to tell us something?"

Celina giggled softly, "Could be! I lost all track of time...I tend to do that when I'm with you." Caressing his cheek, she asked, with no small amount of hope in her voice, "Are you tired? Are you ready to go up?"

"It has been a long day, Celi." He paused and sighed, then continued, "I know what you're thinking..." It was no less than what he was thinking himself, and yet he felt the time was not right for the two of them to resume their physical relationship. Not tonight, at least.

"You do, do you?"

"Yes, I do...and I'm not sure I'm ready for that just yet." Seeing the look of disappointment in her eyes, Duncan raised one of her hands to his mouth and, turning it placed a kiss on her palm. "I'm not sure the time is right for us. I'm sorry."

Closing her eyes, Celina sighed, then opening them again replied with her heart glowing in them. "You don't have to say anything, Duncan. I understand."

Leaning across the table, Duncan kissed her, and when she opened her lips to his, he sent his tongue inside to lightly mate with hers. She tasted of ale and honeyed sweetness...and yet he dared not take it any further. As much as he desired her, his body aching for her, he couldn't take her back into his bed. Not now...not yet. Groaning from deep within his chest, he pulled away and back into his chair. "Celina, I..."

"Shhh..." Celina pressed fingers to his lips to stop his words. "I know. It's okay. We have time." She could see the varied emotions as they crossed over his face--the regret, the sense of relief that he didn't have to explain, and even the love he felt for her but couldn't express. She knew him implicitly, so there was no need for him to say anything at all. She knew.

Reaching for his hands, she whispered huskily, "Come on...it's late. Let's go upstairs. Tomorrow is another day."

"Aye, that it is..." he replied, in his thickened Scottish brogue of old. "Aye, my lassie, that it is..."

Hand in hand, they walked across the darkened pub, and when they reached the stairs, Duncan waved Celina to step ahead of him. As she stepped up, he placed a hand at her waist, and kept it there until they both stood before the door of her room.

She turned to face him after he had opened the door. "Good night, Duncan."

Pressing one last sweet kiss on her lips, he replied hoarsely, "Good night, Celi. Sleep well."

He watched as she entered her room then closed the door behind her with a soft click. Raising a hand, he laid it against her door for a moment then he walked silently the rest of the way down the shadowed hallway to his own room.

Little did he know that, as he'd placed his hand on her door, Celina did the same on her side, her heart crying out for him. After a long moment, she sighed raggedly, then turned away to ready herself for another night in bed, alone.

* * * * *

By six-thirty the next morning, Duncan was up and dressed in sweat pants and a lightweight sweat shirt. Not wanting to disturb anyone with the noise he would make doing his exercises, he slipped silently out of the house, and jogged a short distance down the dirt road to an open clearing. There, he did some warm-up stretches, bending and flexing his muscles before he moved into his kata.

When Celina found him half an hour later, he was already damp with perspiration, and his breathing was rapid, as he continued his forms. She had watched him in action many times over the years, often joining him as she did her own katas...but she was always in awe of him. He was poetry in motion. Without saying a word, she positioned herself a short distance from him and began her own morning workout, moving into a kata once she was properly warmed up. When she finished an hour later, she turned to look at Duncan, and found him watching her, a small towel hanging from his neck.

"Very nice, Celina. Your form looks very good."

"Thanks," she nodded, appreciative of his comment. "I had the best of teachers!" she returned the compliment. She grinned when he shrugged his shoulders, as if dismissing his efforts to teach her almost everything she'd learned over the many years of her existence.

Holding his towel by the ends, Duncan walked toward her, and when he reached her side, leaned over to kiss her gently on the lips. "Good morning...sleep well?"

"Not bad," Celina replied as she lifted a hand to wipe a stream of sweat off the side of his face. "You?"

His reply was merely a tilt of his head and a quirk of his lips. He'd not slept much...too much on his mind. Taking one of her small hands in his, Duncan began walking back toward the rooming house. "Let's see if Rachel is up...I don't know about you, but I'm famished."

Physical activity of most any kind made Duncan hungry...and Celina was all too often more than willing to help him work up an appetite. Giggling at her own thoughts, Celina merely replied, "Let's go then. We can't have you wasting away!"

*****

By the time breakfast was over, the weather had turned cloudy and cool, with rain sure to follow. Even so, Duncan wanted to spend the day out and about. Even though Celina had not asked him, he knew she wanted to visit his parent's gravesite, as well as see more of this area where he had been raised by Ian and Mary MacLeod. Duncan wanted her to see where he'd lived as a lad.

Dressing in warm sweaters, jeans, boots and weather-proof jackets, and carrying a backpack filled with food and other supplies, Duncan led Celina back down the road, past the clearing where they had exercised that morning, and along a path that led up into the hills. As they walked, Duncan told her about his life as a boy, about being the clan chieftain's son and heir, and of his relationship with his parents and other kin. He also talked about his friendship with his cousin Robert, and of his love for Debra Campbell. Celina had heard about Debra before…she knew about the love the young woman had shared with Duncan, and how she had tragically died. Even so, she listened as Duncan told the tale of his youth, and the loss of his first love. He'd never been this willing to tell her of his life before his birth into immortality, so Celina listened...and let him tell her what he would.

By the time they reached the small clearing, surrounded by trees, where his parents were buried, Duncan had fallen silent...but it was a comfortable silence. One thing about Celina he'd always liked and appreciated was her ability to know when to speak, and when not to. She could read his moods like a book, and was always willing to give him his space, and peace and quiet, when he needed it most.

Of course, at other times, her mouth got away from her, but that too was part of her charm. Celina was...well, Celina! His lips turned up in a small smile just thinking about this woman who walked beside him, her delicate hand in his. Hands gentle enough to caress his skin during lovemaking, and yet strong enough to wield her sword in a battle with a man much larger than she.

Duncan turned his thoughts back to the moment, and away from where they had been leading. If he allowed it, thoughts of her could be very distracting, and he didn't want that just yet. There would be time for those thoughts later on...especially if he allowed Celina to have her way.

Stopping before a large headstone with his parent's names etched roughly into it, Duncan kneeled. He saw Celina drop down beside him as he reached down to pull a few weeds from the base of the stone, and as he wiped dust and dirt from its face, Celina sat cross-legged, and silent. Duncan began to speak.

"Hello, Da...Mother. It's been a while, hasn't it? So many years have passed since I last saw your faces. At the time, I didn't understand why you sent me away, Da...but I do now. I just wanted to thank you for taking me in, raising me as your son, and giving me all the love and opportunities you could. I hope I've made you proud of me." Sighing raggedly, tears filling his throat, Duncan softly continued, "Mother...you loved me, taught me, and raised me to be a man worthy to be called a MacLeod. Even when the rest of the clan denied me, turned their backs on me...you didn't. To you, I was every bit your son, and a MacLeod, as if I'd been born of your loins. I was your bairn, and I will be until the day I...I..."

When his words ceased, his voice too filled with emotion to continue, Celina wrapped her arms around his shoulders and held him. She fought her own tears, willing them away while she held Duncan, knowing he needed this release from everything he had held inside him all these many years. His shoulders didn't shake with his sobs--it was a quieter mourning, but no less felt. She held him, murmuring unintelligible words of comfort, and stroked his back, shoulders, and hair until he finally sat up straighter, and pulled out of her embrace.

He turned to look at her, his lips turned up in a half-hearted smile of thanks. When Celina lifted a hand to wipe away a single tear tracking down his left cheek, Duncan whispered, "I'm sorry. I didn't know that would happen."

"I'm not. You needed to let go. Duncan," she sighed softly, then continued, "you have been with me through more hard times in my life than I can remember. You were with me when I faced my memories of Auschwitz. I can do no less for you here and now. Thank you for allowing me to be here for you."

Taking her hand, the one she'd used to dry his face, Duncan turned it to place a kiss on her palm. He closed his eyes, sighed then turned his head to cup his cheek there.

Celina took her other hand, and gently...lovingly...caressed the silken ebony locks covering the head of this man she loved above all else...even her own life. Then she began to speak once more.

"Ian...Mary...my name is Celina, and I just wanted to thank you for raising this man as your own. You raised him to be the man he has become, and I know he has far surpassed all the hopes and dreams you ever had for him. Maybe he wasn't of your flesh, but you loved him no less than had he been. I just wanted you to know that I love him...more than life itself...and I will do everything in my power to be there for him in whatever way he needs me. I will love him and be there for him as you now can't be. Thank you for...everything."

When she finished, she looked at Duncan, and allowed all the emotions filling her heart and voice to fill her expression. Then she smiled.

Taking her face in his large hands, Duncan drew her close, and kissed her. Long, sweet, tender, and filled with everything he felt for her now and in this place, he made love to her lips, the soft skin of her cheeks, the closed lids of her eyes, and back once more to her soft rosy lips. He slipped his tongue inside her mouth, tasting the honey sweetness of her own.

He had loved her for many years, even during the long periods when they went decades without seeing one another, or when they were in relationships with other lovers...but never more than he did now. His chest ached with his love and desire for her.

And then it began to rain.

* * * * *

By the time they returned to the rooming house, they were soaked to the skin. Duncan threw open the door and Celina dashed inside, her laughter bouncing off the walls. Heads turned toward the couple, and smiles covered the faces of several of them.

Except Rachel's. She watched as Duncan followed Celina inside, then once he'd slammed the door closed behind him, he joined her at the same small table at the back of the room where they'd spent the evening before. Both peeled their dripping coats off, and ran their hands through their sodden hair. When Celina reached out to help Duncan wipe excess moisture from his face and hair, jealousy ate into Rachel's heart. At that moment, she almost hated Celina for the way she made Duncan happy...happier than Rachel remembered ever seeing him the times she had been with him. And then guilt struck. Turning away so she wouldn't have to watch the laughing couple, Rachel busied herself with straightening the mugs and glasses on the wall behind the bar.

One other person ignored Duncan and Celina's entrance--a man of medium height and weight, with red-gold hair and beard, and about eight years older than Rachel's own twenty-eight. His name was Hamish Campbell, and he was in love with Rachel.

He watched as Rachel did everything but pay attention to the actions of the dark-haired man and the beautiful blonde with him. Hamish understood what jealousy felt like. He'd felt it whenever he'd seen Rachel with the man...Duncan MacLeod was his name, or so Hamish thought...in years past. He knew Rachel loved Duncan, but he loved Rachel. The situation pained him, more so for her than for himself.

* * * * *

"Would you like something to drink?" Duncan asked Celina once they'd divested themselves of their outerwear. "Some ale, maybe?"

"Tea, I think, if Rachel has any on hand. Thanks." Celina replied as she sat down at their table.

"I'll be right back..." Duncan nodded, then turned toward the bar across the room. When he reached it, he leaned against it and asked, with a smile in his voice, "Rachel, could we have a..." He paused in mid-sentence when Rachel turned to face him, and he saw tears in her eyes. "Rachel?" He walked around the bar, and when he stood in front of her, put his hands on her upper arms. "Rachel, what's wrong?"

Embarrassed that he'd seen her this way, Rachel refused to look up at him. "Nothing."

"That's not true," Duncan whispered as he raised her face up with a hand on her chin. When she still wouldn't meet his gaze, he leaned down so he could look up into her eyes. "Rachel...look at me. What's wrong?"

There's nae way I'm telling him the truth, Rachel vowed to herself. Tell him anything...lie through yer teeth...but dinna' tell him yer jealous! "I have nae had a good day today, 'tis all. Nothing tae worry on about. What do ye need?" Rachel asked, forcing a smile on her face.

"You would tell me if something was wrong, wouldn't you, Rachel? I want to help if I can," Duncan asked, concerned.

"Och, gie on wi' ye, Duncan MacLeod...dinna' worry about me. What can I get for ye?

Giving up for the moment, Duncan replied, "I'll have some Glenmorangie, and Celina would like tea, if you have some on hand."

"Coming right up," Rachel said as she turned to fill his order.

Duncan waited until he was served, then giving Rachel one last look of concern, he rejoined Celina at their table.

Hamish, who'd watched the entire exchange between Rachel and Duncan, softly asked, "Rachel, something is wrong. Talk tae me. What is it?"

She knew Hamish cared for her, but Rachel wasn't prepared to confide to him of her feelings for another man. She couldn't hurt him that way. "'Tis nothing, as I said. I'm just in a wee bit of a 'funk' today. Dinna' worry about me. I'm fine."

Surprising them both, Hamish took both her hands in his, and said huskily, "But I do worry, Rachel. I lo--"

Pulling a hand free to stop his words by placing it on his lips, Rachel whispered, "Nay, Hamish...dinna' say it."

"Why not? Ye know how I feel...why will ye nae let me say it?" He'd loved her for years, but Rachel never allowed him to say those three words he wanted more than anything to tell her. He'd tried so hard to be patient, to give her the time she needed, but it was becoming more difficult by the day to keep from taking her into his arms and showing her how he felt.

"Hamish, please...I canna'. Please, let me go..." When he relented and released her hands from his, Rachel turned and ran from the room.

Hamish watched her go, his heart aching, but powerless to stop it.

* * * * *

Celina had to ask. "Duncan, what did you do, where did you go, after I left you in Paris? I still don't understand why you chose to leave..."

"Celina...don't start. I explained it all then, and I'm not going to go into it all over again."

"Okay, okay...but I still want to know what you did after I left."

Sighing, Duncan admitted, "I wandered around for a few weeks until I decided to look for Connor. I called New York, and learned he wasn't there; checked with a few of his friends and acquaintances I know of, with no luck. Then I heard he might be in Italy. No luck there either. So I gave up, at least for the time being."

"What did you do with the barge?" Celina loved that old boat, and hated to think of Duncan disposing of it. She'd shared many good times with him there.

"Maurice is taking care of it for me. I can't seem to part with it...yet, anyway, " Duncan admitted ruefully. "I guess I'm sort of attached to the old tub." Knowing Maurice, his former neighbor from when their respective barges were docked along the Seine, he worried about what condition he'd find the barge in when he returned to it. The last time he'd left the barge in Maurice's care the man had nearly cleaned him out of his entire collection of wine, and left the place in a mess.

"Me too," Celina grinned. "Then what did you do?"

"Not much."

"Have you had to...face anyone?"

His deep brown eyes darkening in memory, Duncan admitted, "A few. It's what we do, Celina. You know that as well as I do."

Celina could only nod her head in agreement. "Me too. I had to fight Giles Lawrence."

Duncan's eyes widened with surprise. He had faced the immortal himself many years ago, and knew how good with the sword the man was. "What happened?"

"He died."

"Celina..."

She sighed then admitted, "I went back to Moonhaven after I left you. I hadn't been there for a while, so was glad to see all my babies." Celina was very much an animal lover, so her estate outside London was the home for many animals she had taken in over the years. When Duncan nodded, she continued. "I'd been there only a couple weeks. I went to visit the Kew Gardens, and while there, I felt another's quickening. It seems Giles had heard about me, and being the chauvinist he was, thought he could take me easily."

"Obviously, it didn't happen that way," Duncan noted, knowing how good at defending herself Celina was, against man or woman.

"Oh, it wasn't the easiest battle I've ever fought," Celina admitted, "but I've faced others with more skill than he had. Anyway, we took the fight elsewhere for more privacy, and when he realized I was more skilled than he anticipated, it pissed him off."

Duncan nodded. "Anger will kill you, if you let it take control of you."

"I know, and that's what he discovered too...when I took his head." After a moment's thought, Celina asked, "He wasn't a friend of yours at one time or another, was he?"

"No. Merely acquaintances. I didn't care for him much...too cocky."

"Hmm. Well, anyway...I won that one, and...oh, yes...I saw Constantine a few months ago. He sends his regards to you, by the way. He said to tell you he owes you lunch...?" Celina, as did Duncan, liked the former Roman Centurian. In some small way, he helped fill the large hole in her heart and mind left by the death of their beloved friend and mentor, Darius.

Chuckling, Duncan nodded his head in agreement. "He invited me out to lunch one day, then cancelled at the last moment. Just as well...he has lousy taste in wine."

"I know. He ordered ours when I had dinner with him. It wasn't my choice...too sweet." Celina screwed up her face in distaste, sticking out her tongue.

"Well, next time you see him, tell him I accept his offer of lunch...but I get to choose the wine!" Duncan smiled.

* * * * *

Later that evening, as the two of them were heading for the stairs to go to their rooms for the night, Celina stopped as she was about to pass by the MacLeod claymore sword hanging on the wall. She turned to face Duncan, and asked, "Is this...?"

"It was my father's," Duncan replied softly.

Reaching for it, Celina requested, "May I?" At Duncan's nod, she lifted the heavy sword from its hook on the wall, and stepping aside, shifted its weight in her hand, testing its feel. "Nice! A bit unwieldy for me, but nice nonetheless." Looking back at him questioningly, she added, "Why does it hang here? If it was your father's, why don't you keep it?"

"It belongs here."

Celina could tell by the inscrutable expression on his face Duncan didn't want to discuss it. Letting the subject drop, she returned the sword to its place on the wall, and silently turned back toward the stairs.

Following silently behind, Duncan took one of her hands in his, and led her upstairs, stopping before her bedroom door. Sighing wearily, he said, "I'm sorry, Celi."

Smiling softly, yet with a tinge of sadness in her voice, Celina replied, "No, I'm sorry. I'm too nosy for my own good sometimes. If you don't want to discuss it, I understand."

Taking her face in his hands, Duncan lifted it to his own, and kissed her. Touching her lips with his tongue, he sighed when her mouth opened to his, and then their tongues met, dueled, tasted of one another. When Celina moaned, Duncan swallowed it, and deepened the kiss even more.

When he removed his hands from her face, only to circle his arms about her waist, Celina lifted her arms to wrap them around his shoulders and neck, and tugged him as tightly to her as she could. She missed this...this closeness, this sharing of love with him. It had been too long since she had last been able to hold him in her arms and show him what he meant to her.

She pulled away only far enough to be able to whisper, "Come inside with me, love..."

Looking into her eyes, darkened with passion, Duncan battled with himself. There were too many reasons not to walk inside that room with her, and love her through the night, but he couldn't remember them. He realized he didn't want to remember them.

Reaching for the doorknob, he turned it, pushed the door open, then led her silently inside...closing the door behind them.

* * * * *

Celina lay curled up beside Duncan, her breasts flattened next to his side. His left arm was around her, her head propped up on it, and their legs were tangled underneath the sheet that barely covered them. As she ran a hand caressingly over the hair-matted muscles of his chest, Celina gazed up at him. A mellow smile curved her lips.

"Was it such a battle, then?"

His eyebrow quirked questioningly, Duncan asked, "What do you mean?"

"Making love to me. Was it so difficult...giving in to me again?" She was well aware that he had been fighting his desire for her since he walked into the pub, and saw her sitting there.

"Making love to you is never difficult, Celi. It's the easiest thing I do, next to loving you."

"Then why fight it so? Make me understand, Duncan!" she begged.

Rising up on his arm to lean over her, Duncan caressed the satiny-smooth skin of her face, and the silvery-blonde curls that framed it. "It wasn't you I fought, sweetheart...it was me."

"But why fight it at all?"

Lowering his head, Duncan rested his forehead lightly against hers, and sighed raggedly. "How do I explain it to you when I don't understand it myself?"

"Then don't even bother. Just love me, and let me love you, and let everything continue as it will. It's that simple, my love." Celina kissed him into silence when he would have refuted her, not willing to allow him to fight his battle with himself. Wrapping her arms around him, she ran her hands over the smooth musculature of his back and buttocks, her fingernails lightly scoring along his spine.

Shifting over her, spreading her legs apart with his knees, Duncan settled himself between her thighs. When she took the curves of his butt within her hands and urged him closer, his erection pressed against the wetness of her, and it was all he could do to keep from thrusting within her immediately. Wanting to make it good, wanting it to last forever, Duncan set about showing Celina how much her love and concern for him meant to him. I'm tired of fighting...tired of fighting this, he thought to himself. Taking his time, Duncan made sure every caress, every kiss, every sensation, every thrust within her told her how much he loved her, appreciated her, and needed her in his life.

Celina's soul flew, soaring higher than the rocky crags of the highland hills of Duncan's homeland. Only he could take her there, and once there, she never wanted to leave. Yet she did, only to return over and over again....

When their souls touched down once more, and they had breath enough to speak, they whispered softly to one another, words from the heart. Celina's made tears come to Duncan's eyes.

"I know that this is your homeland. This is where you became a man, where you learned whom and what you are. No matter where you go, this land will always call to you, and when you're here, you'll know that you are Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. But do you know where my home is?"

"Where?"

"Wherever you are. Whenever we've been apart, and I finally find you and you take me in your arms...I'm home again. It doesn't matter where we are--Paris, London, Seacouver, anywhere--when I'm with you, I'm home. Home in your arms, your life, your love."

Duncan couldn't speak through the lump of emotion in his throat. He knew she loved him, but never before had she made it this clear to him how much he meant to her. It was a humbling feeling.

When Celina pulled his head down to lie against her chest, her heart beating under his ear, Duncan relaxed in her arms until they both drifted asleep.

* * * * *

When Rachel woke up the next morning, she was still exhausted. She hadn't been able to sleep because of all the thoughts running through her mind...thoughts about Duncan, her feelings for him, Hamish and his feelings for her, and confusion about what she would do about it all. It hadn't helped that periodically through the night, she had heard sounds from upstairs. Her house was an old one, and certainly not soundproof. More than once throughout the long night she regretted putting Celina in the room above her own for she realized exactly what the sounds she heard were. Creaking bed, muffled voices and moans, soft laughter...audible evidence of two people making love. It could only have been Celina and Duncan.

She was not in the mood to face either of them when they came inside from their morning workout, so she kept herself busy, and when they waved to her and said 'Good morning' to her, she only waved back and mumbled her own half-hearted greetings. Attune to her mood, for it was obvious to all who saw her, everyone left her alone.

Thus it was that she had plenty of time during the course of the day to think about the situation, and how she wanted...needed...to deal with it. She had never been one to mope around, pitying herself. Nor had she ever made herself sick wishing for something, or someone, she couldn't have. That she was doing so now only made her all that much angrier with herself. Whether she wanted to face Duncan or not, Rachel knew it had to be done.

As it turned out, it was Celina she spoke with first.

Duncan was busy with an international telephone call, having heard from Connor finally. Leaving him to his privacy, Celina stepped downstairs and took a seat on one of the stools in front of the bar. It was too early in the day for the regulars to begin showing up, so the room was quiet for once. Rachel was behind the bar, getting things ready for the afternoon crowd. When Celina sat down, Rachel looked up, then after giving Celina a half-hearted smile, went back to her work.

Celina, being sensitive to other people's moods, picked up on Rachel's. "Is something wrong, Rachel? May I help?"

Waving away the offer, Rachel said, "Nay, I'm fine. Just tired. I dinna' get much sleep last night, so I'm a wee bit fagged. Dinna' worry about me."

"But I do. You're my friend, and I hate seeing you like this." Celina knew by the expression on Rachel's face when the brunette looked over at her that Rachel's mood was due to more than just lack of sleep. "Talk to me, Rachel. I want to help."

Just then, Duncan stepped into the room. Rather than look over at him, Celina kept her gaze fixed on Rachel, so it was she caught the fleeting look of desire for him on Rachel's face before the young woman turned away. It was then Celina knew...Rachel was in love with Duncan. When she thought back over the events of the past couple days since she arrived at the inn, and the hours she'd spent with Duncan in Rachel's presence, Celina felt guilty. Now she knew why Rachel hadn't been in a good mood. The green-eyed monster had struck, and Rachel was firmly under its control. Celina understood the feeling...she'd been there too many times herself not to know how it felt.

When Duncan reached the bar, he slid onto a stool next to Celina's. Smiling softly, he commented, "Connor sends his love to you."

Distracted, Celina only murmured, "Thanks," as she continued watching Rachel, trying to figure out what to say or do to try to diffuse the situation.

"Celina?" Duncan moved his head to put it within Celina's line of sight. When she looked at him, he could tell she wasn't 'with' him, her thoughts elsewhere. When she turned away to look at Rachel once more, Duncan did the same. Rachel was studiously ignoring the two of them, and Duncan wanted to know why. Putting a hand to Celina's face to turn her back toward him, Duncan asked, once he had her attention again, "Celina...what's going on? No, no, no--don't tell me it's nothing. There's something going on with Rachel, and I want to know what it is."

"I don't know what you're talking about..." Celina fibbed, trying to turn her face away from him again, but Duncan stopped her before she could succeed.

"Bullshit."

Celina looked back at him, surprised. She rarely heard the man swear, so the fact that he had just done so made her realize he wasn't accepting any excuses or denials. "Duncan, I...it's not my place to say. Maybe you ought to talk with Rachel."

"I tried yesterday. She wouldn't talk to me. That's why I need you to tell me what's wrong. I know you know...give!"

Celina was torn. Too many times in the past she had let her mouth get away from her, divulging confidences when she should have just kept her mouth shut, and left the hell alone. It didn't matter to her that Rachel hadn't come out and admitted her love for Duncan, but to Celina, that didn't matter. She knew, and it really wasn't her place to get involved in the situation between the man she loved and another woman, a friend, who loved him also.

"I'm sorry, Duncan. I can't say anything. Talk to Rachel again, make her talk to you."

Nodding, Duncan rose from the stool and walked around the bar to stand next to Rachel.

Not wanting to hang around, Celina stood and walked out the door.

* * * * *

"Rachel...got a minute?" Duncan put a hand on one of her shoulders to get her attention.

"Aye, a few. What do ye need?" Rachel sighed as she turned to look up at him.

"I need for you to come sit with me." Duncan took one of her hands in his, and began leading her to one of the tables. He had to tug slightly when she tried to pull back. "Come on...sit."

Giving in, Rachel followed him to a table, and sat after he pulled a chair out for her.

After taking his own chair, Duncan looked at her. She sat across from him, her hands in her lap, and her head hanging down. She was obviously upset about something. Reaching around the table, and taking one of her hands in his, he held it, their arms resting on the tabletop. He sighed then began, "I know that something is bothering you. Don't try to deny it. You haven't been yourself the past couple days, and I want to know why. I want to help."

Her Scottish temper flaring, Rachel snapped, "Why is everyone suddenly asking me what's going on? Do I look like I need counseling, or something? I'll tell ye what I need...I need tae be left alone!" She tried to jerk her hand out of Duncan's grasp, but he wouldn't release it. She jerked it again, demanding, "Let go o' me, or I swear ye'll draw back a stub!"

Duncan reluctantly released his grip of her hand, but couldn't control a small grin from curving his lips.

"Ye think I'm lying?" Rachel fumed. She wanted to wipe that smile off his face, but was too pissed to make the effort. Besides, she didn't want to cause a scene.

"No, I'm sorry, Rachel. I wasn't laughing at you. It's just that you're so cute when you're mad."

That comment didn't help calm her down. Growling, Rachel stood up abruptly, knocking her chair backwards where it fell to the floor. She stomped away, leaving it where it lay, and strode angrily toward the window that faced out to the road in front of the inn.

Duncan rose from his own chair slowly, went around the table, and picked up her chair, setting it back in its place. He stood, watching her as she looked out the window, and tried to figure out how to deal with this temper tantrum of hers. Walking over to stand behind her, he put his hands on her shoulders and pulled her back against him.

Weary of her fight with both herself and him, Rachel allowed her head to rest against his chest, and moaned softly as he began to massage her shoulders and neck. She closed her eyes, loving the feel of his hands on her, but knowing it could not nor would not lead anywhere. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Duncan asked, squeezing the muscles of her neck lightly one last time before turning her around to face him. He lifted her head so he could look into her eyes.

"For being such a bitch. I should'nae hae snapped at ye like that. I've been like a bear wi' a sore paw, taking it out on ye and everyone else, and I'm sorry," Rachel admitted, her words muffled against Duncan's chest after he pulled her into his arms. She ached to put her arms around his waist, to hold him close, but dared not. It would be hard enough to let him go as it was.

"Then tell me what's wrong. I want to help."

"You canna' help me wi' this, Duncan. No one can. I have tae deal wi' it on my own."

"I don't agree. Sometimes just talking it over can help," Duncan said as he pulled back from her a step. Keeping his hands on her shoulders, he added, "I want to help. Give me a chance."

Moving away from him, Rachel walked back across the room to the bar, where she stopped and leaned against it. Taking a deep breath, she demanded, "Are ye in love wi' Celina?"

His eyebrows lifting in surprise, Duncan was momentarily speechless. "What?"

Succinctly, Rachel slowly repeated, "Are-ye-in-love-wi'-Celina?"

Okay, MacLeod...get yourself out of this one! Duncan challenged himself. "I do love Celina, yes, but am I in love with her? I can't say."

"Canna'...or will nae?"

Shrugging his shoulders, Duncan didn't answer the question, only asking another. "Why do you ask?"

"Because I need tae know."

"Why?"

With the rapidness of machine gun fire, Rachel spat out, "Because-I-love-ye-and-I-need-tae-know-if-ye-love...me...too...." She ended her declaration more slowly once she realized what she had said. She blushed, her skin turning rosy with embarrassment. She turned to face away from Duncan, mortified.

Duncan was at a loss for words. After a moment of thought, he walked silently to stand behind Rachel, and with a sigh put his hands on her shoulders again. "Rachel...look at me."

"Nay."

He physically turned her around, and tilted her face upwards. "Look at me!" When she did, reluctantly, Duncan continued, "I do care for you, very much. I treasure your friendship, as well as our kinship, but...I'm sorry...I'm not in love with you. I wish..."

"What?"

"I wish I knew what to say or do to help you feel better. I can't. I'm...sorry," he apologized again.

Her heart contracting in her chest, Rachel tried covering up her pain with a cavalier attitude. "Och...dinna' worry about me. I'll be fine. I'm as hard as the rocky moors out yonder--" she gestured with her head toward the door even as her eyes began to glisten with unshed tears.

Taking her into his arms once more, Duncan pressed her head against his chest, and caressed the mahogany curls framing her face. "No, you're not." When he felt her shoulders begin to shake with her sobs, Duncan held her tighter, and murmured soft words of comfort and apology into her ear. He rested his chin on the top of her head, and sighed. Now you've done it, old man. Smooth move.

* * * * *

After closing the door to the inn behind her, Celina walked past the benches sitting in the front yard of the property, and down the road toward the other buildings in the small village. She had no destination in mind...merely needing to put some distance between herself and the discussion she hoped was taking place between Duncan and Rachel.

She had traveled less than a mile when she saw a man walking toward her. He looked familiar from that distance, but couldn't tell who he was until they got closer. When they stood face to face, Celina extended her hand to him. "Hello. I'm Celina Trent."

"And I'm Hamish Campbell," he said, shaking her hand. "I've seen ye at Rachel's..."

"That's right. I thought you looked familiar. Are you heading that way?" Celina asked. Thinking that it wouldn't be a good time for him to interrupt the needed conversation Duncan and Rachel were having, Celina added, "As you know, I'm only a visitor here. I'd like to see more of the sites around here. Would you be able to show me around?"

"I thought ye were wi' MacLeod?" Hamish queried. "I've seen ye wi' him a lot lately. Canna' he show ye around...no' that I'm nae willing tae do it myself..."

"He could, I suppose, but he's busy at the moment, and I'd really like to see the area now...if you have the time to take me?" Celina couldn't resist adding, "Besides, I'd like to speak with you about Rachel."

"Rachel? What about Rachel?" Hamish looked at her questioningly.

As he fell into step beside her, walking in the opposite direction of Rachel's inn, Celina smiled in satisfaction. This will give Duncan time to talk with Rachel...and me time to quiz Hamish about his feelings for her, Celina thought to herself. "Forgive me for my impertinence, but...you're in love with Rachel, aren't you?"

Surprised by the woman's question, Hamish blustered, "What? What do ye mean?"

"I admit I watched the two of you together yesterday. I recognize the look of love on someone's face, and you, my new friend, have that look." Celina glanced over at him as they continued walking, and waited patiently until Hamish found his voice.

"Ye're an outspoken one, aren't ye?" Hamish grinned ruefully at her. "Are ye like this wi' everyone, or did ye single me out?"

"I like you, Hamish Campbell!" Celina giggled. "I like you a lot! But to answer your question, yes, I'm like this with most everyone. Life is too short to 'pussy-foot around,' as the Americans like to say. I say what I mean, and mean what I say. Now...do I need to ask my question again?"

Hamish threw back his head and burst forth with a howl of merriment. "I like ye too, Celina. I truly do!"

"But are you going to answer my question?" She grinned, her eyes glistening with mirth.

"Aye, lassie...I'll answer yer question. I love Rachel wi' all my heart. I have for years." Hamish admitted, his heart once more in his eyes and in his voice.

"Does she know?"

"Aye, she knows, but she will nae let me say the words."

Stopping in her tracks, Celina turned to face him. His countenance was that of a huge red-gold teddy bear, and she knew then that Hamish was too softhearted to force his love and attention on Rachel if she didn't want to accept it. Boldly taking one of his large hands in hers, Celina looked him in the eyes and declared, "Well, then, you'll have to keep trying until she's willing to hear you. Like I said, life is too short..."

"I know..." Hamish acknowledged, "but..."

"But nothing!" Celina interrupted. "You go to her, take her in your arms, and make her hear you."

"Celina...she's in love wi' another." It hurt Hamish to have to say the words, but he did it.

Softly, Celina admitted, "I know. She loves Duncan."

"But...if ye know that, then why do ye tell me to go declare myself tae her?" Hamish asked, his pain evident in his voice.

Celina sighed. "Because I'm not so sure she's truly in love with him. She loves him, yes...but in love? I don't know. And as for Duncan's feelings...well, that's for him to say one way or the other. I still think you ought to go to her and tell her how you feel. Tell her until she hears you, and then continue to tell her until you know how she feels about you. Don't give up your chance with her." Under her breath she murmured, "You never know when you may lose it."

Hamish nodded. "Thank ye, Celina. How can I repay ye?"

"Make yourself and Rachel happy. Be happy together. She's my friend, and I want her to have a wonderful life...with you."

"Aye, lass...I do as well," Hamish agreed. Then, taking one of her hands, he wrapped it around his arm and held it there. "D'ye care tae stroll back wi' me, and see if our plan will work?"

In a perfect mimic of his Scottish brogue, Celina replied, "Aye, laddie...I do at that!"

* * * * *

By the time Celina and Hamish walked through the door of the inn, Duncan and Rachel were sitting at a table once more, and both were laughing over something Rachel had said. Duncan, feeling Celina's approach, was looking in her direction when she and Hamish walked in, and seeing the two together, lifted an eyebrow in question. He relaxed when Celina nodded once, signifying that she felt the situation, at least on her end, was okay. He responded with his own nod, and a smile.

"Hamish...Celina!" Rachel grinned at them. "Come in and join us."

"Are ye sure, lassie?" he asked, needing reassurance that she truly wanted him there.

"Aye, ye daft man...did ye no' hear me the first time?" she teased, her eyes glistening with humor.

Hamish grinned back at her, and did as she requested, taking a seat next to Rachel. Celina took the other one, next to Duncan.

Whispering softly to him, Celina asked Duncan, "Well? How did it go?"

"I'll fill you in later."

Celina nodded her agreement, then sat back and watched as Hamish flirted with and teased Rachel, making her laugh. It made Celina's heart feel good, seeing her friends begin a relationship together, or so she hoped. Glancing over at Duncan, she saw he too was smiling at the couple. I love matchmaking, she thought to herself.

* * * * *

Later that night, once Celina had joined Duncan in his room, they shared with each other the conversations they'd had with Hamish and Rachel. As he sat in the chair to pull off his boots, Duncan admitted, "I hated hurting her that way, but I couldn't lie. Hamish will be good for her, don't you think?"

Celina nodded, as she turned back the bedspread. "He's loved her for years, or so he told me. Maybe she'll listen to him when he keeps telling her so...and even love him in return." Once the covers were turned down, she sat and removed her own boots, followed by her socks then her jeans.

Moving across the room to stand in front of her, Duncan asked playfully, "Do you want some help with that?"

Celina teased back, her passion for him already rising. "Do you think you can handle it?"

"I think I can manage..." Duncan replied silkily, as he kneeled in front of her between her spread legs. Reaching out to her, he grasped the bottom of her sweater in his hands and slowly lifted it up and over her arms and head, then tossed it across the room. His breathing became more rapid as he gazed at her breasts, nearly overflowing from their lacy confines. He leaned forward, and taking one nipple into his mouth, teased at it with his tongue through the silk and lace.

Celina moaned huskily, tilting her head back, the cascades of her silvery tresses pooling on the bed behind her. Grasping his head in her hands, she ran her fingers through the silken strands of his hair, and drew him closer to her. "Ahh, Duncan..."

After teasing her other nipple through the fabric of her bra as he had with the first one, Duncan drew his head back and, looking into Celina's eyes and seeing her passion for him glowing there, flicked the front closure of her bra open, releasing her fullness to his lustful gaze. "God, Celina...you are so beautiful!" Taking the full globes of her breasts in his large hands, he lifted one of them to take the nipple back into his mouth, and laved it with his tongue.

The roughness of his tongue on her skin sent Celina's pulse skyrocketing. With just the touch of his hands, and his tongue tasting of her, Celina was well on her way to climaxing. As he sucked on each nipple in turn, drawing her deep within his mouth, Celina cried out to him. "More, Duncan...please, I need you..."

Leaning away from her, Duncan arose to his feet and lifted Celina just enough to draw her panties down her hips, leaving her gloriously nude.

Sitting once more on the edge of the bed, Celina lifted her hands to the waistband of Duncan's jeans, and after unbuckling and removing his belt, began to slowly pull the zipper down. The bulge behind it made the zipper harder to release, but once it was completely undone, she slipped her hands inside at each hip and drew the denim down. Duncan's husky groan as the fabric passed over his erection made Celina smile in satisfaction. Once his jeans were pooled at his feet, Celina helped him step out of them, and just as he had done with her sweater, Celina tossed them across the room. Only then, as her gaze centered on the mound of flesh aching to be set free from his briefs, did Celina reach for him, lifting him from within the folds of the fabric.

When she took him into her mouth, Duncan couldn't restrain the muttered expletive that escaped him. The warmth and silkiness of her mouth surrounding him, the suction on the tip, and the way she circled the throbbing length with her hand almost made him release into her mouth instantly, but he held himself back...wanting, needing more.

Celina moaned as she labored over him, the throbbing fullness of him filling her mouth, making her own pulses race, and her desire for him quicken. Drawing back, releasing him from her hands and mouth, Celina yanked his briefs down his hips, leaving him as nude as she. She stared at his body in wonder. He was exquisitely handsome clothed, but when he stood as he was now, gloriously nude, he was sheer perfection. "Jesus...you're beautiful...!" she whimpered.

"Men aren't beautiful, Celi..." Duncan smiled lovingly at her.

"Ohh, but you are..." Celina vowed as she took his hands in hers. "You are perfect..."

When she pulled herself back upon the bed, Duncan joined her, covering her slender, feminine form with his own firmly muscular one. When Celina opened her legs, Duncan drew himself between them, and settled himself over her, his erection pressing urgently against her moist center. "Oh, God...I need you..." Duncan groaned into her mouth as he kissed her deeply, thrusting his tongue inside and mating with her own, just as he ached to fill her womb with his length.

Sometimes when her need was too strong for Celina to phrase it any other way, she used explicit language. She did so now, pleading with him. "Fuck me, Duncan...now!"

He did, filling her weeping depths with his pulsing length, thrusting again and again until they were crying out, gasping and moaning in their passion for one another. It was too hot, too frantic, to keep up the pace. Wanting to take his time with her, to love and pleasure her as she deserved, Duncan slowed the flexing of his hips until the thrusts were slow and drawn out. Drawing out almost to the tip, then thrusting inside her once more, again and again...until Celina's pleas for release were as strong as his own need for it was. Thrusting inside her so deeply he swore he could feel her womb, Duncan climaxed, flooding her depths with his loving tribute.

Her orgasm was so strong Celina fainted momentarily. Reviving seconds later, she wept, holding Duncan as tightly to her as she could, wishing she could absorb him into her, to become one with him for all time.

Astonished by the depth of her feelings, Duncan continued to hold her, murmuring soft words of love to her, until she finally relaxed against him, falling asleep in his arms. Only then did he pull away from her just enough to draw himself from within her depths...and then held her close to him again. He fell asleep, and dreamed of her.

* * * * *

The next few days were pretty much repeats of the previous ones, with Duncan and Celina spending most of their time together, and with Rachel and Hamish on occasion. It tickled Celina to no end to see the relationship between Rachel and Hamish flourish by leaps and bounds. More than once, she had walked into the pub area of the inn, only to find the two of them…heads close together in intimate conversation, or even better, lip-locked. She would smile softly, and turn away, leaving them to their privacy.

Her hours with Duncan were no less enjoyable. He was the most attentive and loving with her than she could remember him being in ages. She wanted to think it was because he was falling as much in love with her as she had always been with him, but she had the suspicion that much of it had to do with his being 'home' again. Returning to his homeland rejuvenated his batteries, Celina surmised, and the benefit to her was his good mood and need for demonstrativeness with her. He was always touching her in one way or another...his arms around her waist, hands on her shoulders, holding her hands, and his kisses...Celina was in heaven. She knew it couldn't last, for he'd never stayed with her for more than a few years at a time, but she vowed to treasure the moments while they lasted.

* * * * *

After having spent as much time together as was possible with their schedules over the past few days, Hamish and Rachel's relationship had grown and developed into what Hamish hoped would be a long-lasting one. He loved her with his whole being, wanted to make a life with her, and had decided to take Celina's advice...to tell Rachel his feelings until he was sure she heard him.

Every day as they'd spent time together, he'd told her of his love for her. Rachel hadn't wanted to discuss it at first, but had eventually given in and allowed Hamish to say what he felt, and it wasn't long before she realized she felt the same. Once she realized her feelings for Duncan had changed, and her feelings for Hamish had grown, she faced the fact that she too wanted to make a life with Hamish.

When he walked into the inn that morning and took her hand, saying, "Let's go for a walk," she readily agreed. They strolled hand in hand down the dirt lane which ran in front of the inn, and turned toward the stand of trees to the north of the small village. They walked in silence a while, enjoying the unexpectedly lovely weather, and the peacefulness surrounding them. Hamish led her into the stand of trees, down a narrow path a short distance, and when they reached a small clearing they sat together underneath a tree. Hamish turned to face her, his love for her glimmering in his gaze.

Reaching for her hands, he lifted each one to his lips, placing kisses on the back of her hands. "I love ye, Rachel..."

Smiling softly, Rachel admitted, "And I love ye too, Hamish." Her smile broadened when she noted the surprise on his face. She had not admitted to her love until that moment. "I suppose I hae always loved ye, and just did'nae know it."

"Well then...what made ye figure it out now?"

"I'm nae sure, really. I just know that my feelings for ye hae grown over the last several days, and I dinna think...I know ...I canna live wi'out ye in my life from now on." Leaning toward him, Rachel met his lips with hers. It was a soft, gentle, incredibly tender touch of mouth to mouth, a sharing of newfound love, and the hope of love everlasting.

As they drew back slightly, Hamish sighed raggedly and leaned his forehead against hers. "Are ye sayin' what I hope yer sayin'?" he asked, hopefully.

Rachel grinned. "Aye...I do believe I am. Are ye asking?" The joy that filled Hamish's eyes made Rachel's heart contract within her breast.

"Will ye marry me, Rachel o' my heart? Will ye be my wife just as ye are my heart an' my soul?"

Taking his face in her small hands, Rachel drew him in for another kiss. "Aye..."

* * * * *

Celina's heart ached. She could read the signs, and they were clearly telling her that her idyll with Duncan in this time and place were coming to an end. She could read them in his eyes, and even though he never said so directly, he said it in the way he began to be less demonstrative with her.

She'd seen the signs too many times in the past to miss them now.

When Celina stepped outside, she saw Duncan sitting on one of the benches in the yard, in conversation with Iain MacKenzie. As she reached them, both men looked up at her. She smiled softly at them, and asked, "Duncan, may I have a moment with you?"

Iain rose to his feet, saying, "I'll leave ye to yer lady, MacLeod. Good day tae ye both."

"Later, MacKenzie," Duncan waved then turned to face Celina.

His deep brown eyes had been glistening with laughter as he spoke with his new friend, but when he turned to face Celina, they lost that sparkle she loved. Celina's chest ached with sadness. "You've already left me, haven't you?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"Don't be dense, MacLeod. You know very well what I mean. You're getting antsy to leave, aren't you?"

Duncan read her pain in the moistness of her lilac gaze. "I...think it's time, don't you? I have things to do, and--"

"--And people to see, I know..." Celina finished. "I can read you like a book, Duncan, as much as it pains me at times." She sighed, running a trembling hand through her silver gilt hair. "I have never been able to hold you to my side when you need your freedom, so I know I won't be able to now. Go, do what you have to..."

Reaching for her, Duncan wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and drew her head to lie against his chest. "I'm sorry, Celi. I never mean to hurt you, but I always manage to, don't I?" When she didn't reply, he placed a soft kiss of apology on the top of her head then rested his cheek against her silken tresses.

They sat there silently, Celina accepting his apology, and Duncan feeling like a heel for doing this to her, and neither one knowing what to do to change it.

* * * * *

The mood that evening was much improved. When Hamish and Rachel returned from their walk, it was apparent to all who saw them that the two were deeply in love. They made their announcement that evening, and the pub was filled with happy congratulations and toasts to their future and happiness.

Duncan clapped Hamish on the back, and grinned, "You're a good man, Campbell. You make her happy."

"I love her, Duncan. She's my life."

"I can see that." Duncan knew that when he left Glenfinnan he would leave Rachel in capable and loving hands. He was thrilled for them both. He was also curious. "I have meant to ask you something, Hamish."

"What is that?" Hamish sent a questioning glance Duncan's way.

"The legend of my kinsman...he loved a woman, Debra Campbell. Would she by chance be an ancestress of yours?"

Rachel had, during one of their many lengthy conversations, spoken of Duncan and her suppositions about him, to Hamish. He knew she believed that the legendary Duncan MacLeod, and this one, were somehow one and the same, though she didn't know how it could be so. Hamish had his doubts, but still...

"Aye...she was a sister of my grandfather several generations back. Why do ye ask? Dinna tell me ye knew her...!" Hamish joked.

With a tender smile, the distant memory of his love for her still mirrored within his soul's gaze, Duncan didn't have to speak for Hamish to read the truth.

The look the men shared was answer enough. Just as he had never felt the need to admit the truth of his existence to Rachel, Duncan knew that nothing need be said between Hamish and himself. He also knew that the two of them would say nothing about it to anyone.

Celina hugged Rachel warmly. "I'm so excited for you. I know the two of you will be happy together."

"Aye," Rachel smiled, the love she felt for Hamish glistening in her eyes. "He told me what ye said tae him the other day. Thank ye, Celina. I know I can be a wee bit stubborn sometimes--"

Celina giggled at the statement, but ignoring the unspoken comment Rachel continued, "but I appreciate what ye did. Wi'out yer urging, Hamish may not hae tried sae hard to convince me of his love fer me." Taking one of Celina's hands in hers, Rachel vowed, "I owe ye, Celina."

"No you don't," Celina smiled softly. "Just be happy in your life together, and that will be payment enough. I care deeply for you both. You're family now."

It was then Duncan and Hamish joined the ladies. When Hamish pulled Rachel into his arms for a long passionate kiss, Duncan and Celina smiled softly at them, happy to see the love shared between these two they both cared very much for. Their gazes met, and when Duncan took one of Celina's hands in his, she allowed him to lead her away from the couple.

"They've asked me to stand with them as a witness when they get married," Duncan said once he and Celina found a table to themselves.

"They asked me too," Celina replied. "I couldn't be happier for them."

Duncan nodded. After a moment's pause, he admitted, "I'll be leaving after the wedding."

"I know. So will I."

"Where will you go?"

Celina hadn't given it much thought. Knowing she would be faced once more with time in her life without Duncan in it, she felt...lost, unsure...somehow. "I don't know. Moonhaven, maybe."

Duncan knew then what he had to do. "Come with me."

"What?" Celina couldn't restrain the shock from filling her voice.

"Come with me," Duncan repeated. "I'm going to Italy to see Connor. I'm sure he'd love to see you..."

"But I thought you were ready to leave me." Celina looked at him, with her heart in her eyes.

"I'm not ready to leave you...only ready to leave here. What do you say?" Duncan tipped up her face, lifting her lips to meet his own full ones. He knew he had her answer when she opened her mouth to his. He swallowed the small moan she made from deep within her throat, and when he thrust his tongue inside her mouth, was gratified when she met his with her own.

He knew their time together would come to an end, as it invariably did. But he knew too that he wasn't yet ready to leave her. There were more experiences to come for him, and he intended to face some of them with her by his side.

Epilogue

Moonhaven - Celina's London estate (several years later...)

Celina was relaxing on the divan, a hand lightly caressing the head of her Golden Retriever, Brandy, who was lying next to Celina with her head on her mistress's lap. Brandy gazed up at Celina, her chocolate brown eyes glowing with that "I adore you!" look beloved pets give their masters. Brandy knew she was well loved in return.

When Mrs. Humphreys, Celina's housekeeper, entered the room, Brandy merely glanced up at the woman then closed her eyes in contentment.

Celina smiled softly. "Yes?"

"There is a telephone call for you, Miss." Handing the cordless phone to Celina, Mrs. Humphreys turned and exited the room.

Placing the handset to her ear, Celina responded, "Hello?"

"Celina! It's good tae hear yer voice again!" Rachel said, with a smile in her voice. "How are ye?"

"Good!" Celina said, then asked, "And you? How are Hamish and little Kevin? How's Jessie?" Within a few months of their wedding, Rachel had surprised both herself and Hamish by becoming pregnant. Kevin was the result. He was the joy of their life. They had also become foster parents of a pre-teen girl, Jessie, whose stepfather had been abusive of her. When the man was sent to prison, the Campbells took the child in, and she had been with them ever since. Jessie was now in her late teens.

"Kevin's nae sae little anymore. He's almost eight now!" Pride for her son was evident in Rachel's voice as she continued to brag to Celina about the boy's accomplishments. "But I did'nae call ye about that, as much as I love tae talk about him. Celina...Hamish and I need yer help."

Suddenly worried, Celina sat straighter in her seat, disturbing Brandy's comfort. "What is it, Rachel? What's wrong?"

"Well, remember what ye and Duncan told us after ye were here last, when ye met Jessie? Ye said that someday somethin' may happen, and when it did we were tae call ye. I canna locate Duncan, and I knew ye'd help if ye could..."

"Yes...anything, Rachel. What happened?" Celina knew, yet had to ask anyway.

"It's Jessie...there's been an accident..." Rachel whispered worriedly. She didn't understand what had happened. All she knew was that Duncan and Celina would know...somehow know, and be able to help.

Celina understood. Jessie had become immortal. "Send her to me...."