There was a fair maid dwellin'.
Made every youth cry, "well-away!"
Her name was Iiiis-a-bella.
The last time he'd sung that, Isabella had slammed open the door of the bathroom and fixed him with an outraged stare. His skin had prickled as her gaze had roved his body spread in her bathtub, and he'd had the absurd fear that she'd not be impressed by what she saw.
Will she still want me? he'd wondered. Will I still be the man whose body she likes to admire? To touch? He hadn't been timid with a woman since age fifteen, but Mac had worried that Isabella would sneer at him and turn away.
Her name was Iiiis-a-bella.
I'm here, love. Come to bed, my sweet, I'm cold.
"Mac? Oh, Mac."
Mac forced his eyes open, wishing the blackness would clear. He felt a silken touch on his skin, smelled the faint odor of roses. Her beautiful face hovered above his, eyes burning beneath red curls.
"Isabella," he whispered. "Love you."
"You're bleeding. Mac, what happened?"
The world went black for a moment, and when it became light again, he felt a towel or blanket or something being pressed hard into his side. It hurt like hell, but that was good, because the pain meant that he was still alive.
Awareness cut through the fog. Then fear. "No," he croaked. "Isabella. Run. Go!"
"Don't be stupid. Cam's here. And Inspector Fellows."
"They're looking for him. Mac, don't fall asleep. Keep looking at me."
"My pleasure." It hurt to smile, but his beautiful wife was by his side, her scent overriding the terrible coppery smell of blood. "I need to bare my soul, my love. Will you let me bare my soul to you?"
She leaned closer. "Hush, darling. We'll take you home, and everything will be all right."
"No, it won't. I've been lying to you. I haven't bared my soul."
Her hot tears fell on his face. "Mac, don't die. Please."
"I'll do my damnedest."
Mac heard his words come out a slurred mumble. Isabella wouldn't be able to understand him. He had to make her understand him.
"I can't lose you." Isabella stroked his hair, her touch so dear to him. "I don't want to live without you, Mac. I never was a whole person until I met you."
Whole. That's what Isabella had made him. She'd been the best part of him, and when Mac had lost her, he'd had nothing left of himself. That was what Ian had been trying to tell him.
Mac reached for her hand, relief flooding him when she took it. "Need you, love."
"Don't leave me." Isabella's voice was becoming desperate.
Mac blinked, because the word hadn't come from him. Rage flooded him again as a shadow fell over them, cast by the tall form of Payne
"Run," Mac tried to say. "Get away."
Instead, his beautiful lady rose to her feet to confront him. "You shot him. Damn you." She struck out with her fists, and Payne suddenly found himself having to fend off a hundred and twenty pounds of enraged female. Mac was torn between panic and laughter. Isabella was strong, he had cause to know.
But not strong enough. She got one shout out of her mouth before Payne clapped a hand over it and lifted her from her feet. Isabella fought, her eyes wild.
All of Mac's rage focused on one single point. He heard the cries of his ancestors ringing in his head, urging him to take his enemy, to kill him. If he'd had a claymore in his hand, Mac would have sliced off the bloody Sassenach's head with it.
As it was, he had to make do. The wild strength let him haul himself to his feet. He was cold, his vision blurred, but Mac would perform this one last act to save the woman he loved. If he died of the deed, so be it.
Snarling, he threw himself at Payne. Payne had to release Isabella, who stumbled back and wasted no time screaming at the top of her lungs.
Payne brought his pistol around and pointed it at her.
No! Mac grabbed the man's arm, striking him on the hand so that his grip went slack. Payne fought hard, seizing the pistol again even as he dropped it, shoving the barrel into Mac's ribs. Isabella shouted something, running at the pair of them as they grappled.
The pistol's barrel scraped away from Mac's body, but now it pointed at Isabella. Mac wrenched himself into her, sending Isabella to the floor as the pistol went off. A second roar followed.
Mac expected oblivion. Or excruciating pain. Maybe one first then the other.
Instead, Payne crumpled on the floor, a stunned look on his face. Blood spouted from a wound in the exact center of his forehead.
What the hell?
He saw through a haze of smoke the cold eyes of Inspector Fellows over the barrel of another Webley. Behind him was his brother Cameron, a hulking brute of a man, also with pistol in hand. Cameron's eyes reflected the rage Mac felt.
A family affair. Nice shooting, Inspector.
Isabella was on the carpet, her black skirts spread around her, eyes wide with fear. Mac rocked on his weak legs, Payne's pistol somehow still in his hand. He dropped it.
"Mac!" Isabella scrambled to her feet, her arms coming around him even as Mac crumpled.
He turned on her a look of fury. "What th' bloody hell were ye playing at, woman?" he roared. "When a man has a pistol, ye run t'other way. That could be you shot daed on the floor, not him."