Highlander’s Dark Seduction (Preview)
Rebecca MacTavish stiffened her spine, staring at her kidnapper, all sorts of images running through her head. He stood tall, almost as tall her brother – but he was stocky where Alexander was athletic. His long auburn locks twinkling with red highlights flowed down his shoulders, and his hazel eyes were bright with mirth as he mocked her. His leathery skin spoke of hours spent in the sun. He looked strong, capable and ready to carry out his threats.
What had he meant by saying, ‘Fancy a shotgun wedding?’
Surely, this brigand, who had taken her and her men hostage as they rode home, absolutely could not think that she, an independent Scotswoman, would want to marry an English brigand like himself? It was patently ridiculous and she was inclined to spit in his face.
On further contemplation, watching him stand over her, a smirk on his face, she decided it couldn’t hurt to bring him down a peg or two. She leaned back and aimed a glob of spit at his knee. It hit with the force of a stone flung from a slingshot and his face quickly lost its smugness.
Rebecca knew that she would pay for her temerity but considering all this man had done to her and her family, she was also sure it was worth it. He was a cruel, evil man and when her brother found out what he had done, he was as good as dead.
She and her brother had grown up together on the streets of Edinburgh, often sick and hungry with no one to defend them but each other. When Alexander grew tall enough to join the guard, their situation had improved slightly – at least they always had something to eat, and Alexander had found her a place to stay. Her sojourn as the companion to the commander’s mother was one she cherished as the safest time of her life. Once Alexander went to war for the crown though, Rebecca had opted to follow the drum rather than be left behind. Alexander was her only family after all, and she wanted to be as close as possible should something happen to him.
Something did happen, but it was not a bad thing. Alexander saved a lord, and was rewarded with the hand of one of his daughters in marriage. Holy matrimony for them started off very rocky. All it took was a villainous interloper, several brawls, a kidnapping, and rescue but Rebecca was convinced – when she had left Emily and Alexander at Eddingfield Hall to journey back home to Dun Alba – that they were on the right track now.
With the death of Emily’s father, Alexander was needed to sort out his affairs, as the nearest male relative. It made sense that Rebecca should return to Dun Alba, their matrimonial home as his representative, so to finish renovations and guard against re-encroachment from brigands.
These brigands to be exact.
Rebecca was spitting mad to be caught so unprepared. She had underestimated them; she could admit that. Surrounded by men from Alexander’s former regiment, Connell, Alistair, Monroe, Lachlan, and Boyd, she had dropped her guard and as a result, they were ambushed as they slept in an abandoned hut, three days from their own doorstep.
Rebecca was worried for her men. She had not seen them since she woke up alone and locked in a room that looked rather familiar. She suspected that she was a prisoner in her own home. She flicked her brunette hair over her shoulder. It had come down from the thick bun she usually held it in. During the last few months as they had renovated the manor house, she had neglected to cut it and now it hung low, brushing against her ample hips. The brigand followed the flow of it, his eyes bright and interested. She shifted uncomfortably, eyes darting hither and thither, looking for escape.
“Oh, don’t look so scared. I do not force women,” he growled, face scrunched with annoyance. Rebecca looked away from him, face coloring with embarrassment. She had not meant to show fear. She knew that if a man knew that a woman feared him, he was even more likely to take advantage…whatever his mouth said.
“If ye dinna force women,” she pushed the words out of her trembling mouth, “Then what did ye mean aboot a shotgun wedding?”
The man – Rebecca remembered that his men had called him Chris – shrugged.
“It’s a solution to a problem. Doesn’t mean I plan to force myself on you.”
Rebecca’s eyes narrowed. “Solution to what, exactly?”
The brigand stepped closer, veritably looming over her. “Your brother has caused me enough problems. This is my town; he took it away from me. So, I’m taking something he loves.”
“Ah’m nae a wee bawbee to be tossed aboot between ye,” Rebecca spat.
“Of course, you’re no plaything. You’re something your brother loves. He took one of mine, I will take one of his.”
“This is no bairn’s playground ye fool!” Rebecca was almost foaming at the mouth; she was so upset.
Chris scoffed. “Clearly you’ve never been to a playground. Now,” he bent down to look her in the eyes, “if I let you out of this room, will you be a good lassie for me and do as you’re told?”
She let her eyes speak for her as they shone diamond bright with fury, her teeth and fists clenched. Chris straightened to his feet with a sigh. “I take it that as a no.” He slapped his thigh. “Well, you asked for it. The hard way it is.”
He turned, leaving the room and locking the door behind him. Rebecca sat, her eyes on the locked door, her heart twisting with trepidation.
What have I gotten myself into now?
Her shoulders sagged with despair as she let herself cry for the first time since she woke up in this nightmare.
Christopher was seething with confusion and anger, wondering how a small matronly firebrand could have him twisted in so many knots. He had intended to go into that room and intimidate the girl into doing whatever he wanted but she had shown no fear.
She had spat on him!
What kind of girl is she? He wondered as he tried to figure out what to do next. Whatever it was, he needed to act fast before her brother found out she was in trouble. If Alexander MacTavish came back now, it would mean war. If he married the man’s sister though, Alexander would be forced to negotiate with him and he could recover something of what he had lost. Now that the man had the power of the Caldwell barony behind him, it might not be so easy to rout him out.
But if Chris had leverage, it changed the story completely.
He took a deep breath, straightening his spine resolutely. He would convince Rebecca MacTavish to marry him by fair means or foul and then he would confront Alexander about handing over his district. Chris nodded, feeling firm in his plans.
One of his men came up to him, hand on his weapon.
“What is it, Toby?” he asked as his shoulders dropped with weariness at the prospect of yet more problems.
“It’s the Scotsmen sir. One of ‘em bit Onesmus in the hand. ‘e’s bleedin.”
Chris bit back a curse. “How did he get-” he stopped shaking his head, not really wanting to know, “Never mind. Where’s Onesmus now?”
“‘e’s gittin’ seen to by Jerry. What’re we going to do with ‘em? Shall we kill ‘em?”
“Who? The Scotsmen? Have you taken leave of your senses? Of course, we’re not going to kill them. We’re not trying to start a war with MacTavish!”
“B-but he bit Onesmus!” Toby cried with indignation.
Chris snorted with disgust. “Well then let Onesmus bite him back!” he snapped walking away. He needed away from everybody so he could think. Snatching up the reins for his horse, Pegasus, he took off at a fast trot. He could feel Toby’s puzzled eyes on him. He rarely snapped at his men.
He didn’t need to.
They were a fairly obedient lot for a bunch of brigands. That might have had something to do with how they all came together. When Chris was eight, his father lost his livelihood when the local lord decided to fence the land he used to graze his sheep. No amount of protests would budge the lord and eventually, his father was forced to sell his sheep and go to work at the quarry in spite of his weak chest. In two years, he was dead of consumption and his mother was remarried to the site overseer.
Chris was left on his own to fend for himself.
These events made him understand two things; poverty and love did not go together, and the royals would always find a way to screw you. He had taken these lessons to heart and vowed never to be caught napping ever again. He set out on foot, with the vague idea of going to London to earn his living. He knew that a street rat like him had no chance of advancement or even employment anywhere without references. Still, it was not as if he had a choice. There was nothing left for him in the Forest of Dean.
He traveled for two days straight, feeling hungry and cold before he collapsed in a heap at the side of the road, panting. He coughed, feeling a pain in his chest every time he tried to take a deep breath.
I’m dying. He thought, with something like relief.
Just when he thought himself resigned, a strong calloused hand grabbed his arm and pulled him up into the air. He made an aborted sound of protest as his body flew into the air and then landed squarely on a warm, hairy piece of flesh. The wind whipped chillingly through his too-long hair, making him shiver. There was a warm hard length at his back but in front of him was only a vast expanse of nothing.
His soul froze with terror as the enormous piece of horseflesh beneath him moving sedately forward even as the steel bands belonging to the man behind him held him firmly in place. Chris opened his mouth to scream but was caught up in a coughing fit. By the time he stopped, the sedate trot had graduated into a canter, and the horse was eating up ground at a dizzying rate.
“W-w-where are y-y-you tak-taking me?”
The man behind him patted his chest reassuringly. “Don’t you worry, young lad. You’re safe now.”
Chris was not inclined to believe him, but there was very little he could do from the position he was in. All he could do was wait, observe and be ready to escape at a moment’s notice.
His captors rode for the rest of the day, only stopping for a short break as the sun was sinking over the horizon. The man he was riding with picked him up as if he weighed nothing and put him on the ground. It was the first time Chris had seen his face. It was weathered, almost leathery, his bright cerulean eyes nowhere near as aged-looking as his skin.
He bent down so he was the same height as Chris. “Now lad, you hungry?”
Chris just stared at him. He was old enough to know that there was no such thing as a free lunch. The man laughed, got to his feet and turned his back on Chris. “Name’s Killian. I’m your new master. You do as I say and we’ll get along just fine.”
Chris contemplated running but the man, Killian, was not alone. There were three other men with him, and they all looked quite fast and well-fed. In addition, they all had horses and he was on foot. He sighed, sinking to his knees, head bowed in despair. A pair of boots appeared in his line of sight and a soft loaf thrust at him. He reached out slowly and took it. He bit into it, tentatively and the man patted his head.
He moved away, chewing on his own loaf as his men fed and watered the horses. Chris swallowed his dry loaf, wishing for something to wash it down with. As if the thought had made it so, one of the men thrust a bowl of soup at him. He took it quickly, almost spilling it in his clumsiness. He drank it down as fast as possible, before they could take it away.
He almost vomited from eating too fast but determinedly resisted. He knew there would be a price to pay for being fed so he was damned well going to keep the food down.
Her mind whirled like a dervish, unable to settle on any one thing.
Where are my men?
Does Alexander know I am missing yet?
What shall I do about this proposal?
How can I escape from this place?
Her eyes went to the window and again she walked toward it; she was in a circular stone tower, the one that had housed the old keep, and the room she was in was one that they had as yet not explored. She suspected that it was some kind of storage room or attic. There were still pieces of hay on the stony floor and the window was nothing but a square hole in the stone wall. There was no glass or wood covering, and she could easily climb out. It was the twenty-foot fall between the window and the ground that was the problem.
Even so, she might have attempted to jump if the ground below were not stony and inhospitable. There was no way she would not break apart upon landing, there was no hope of anything soft to break her fall. Dying would not solve any of her problems.
She gave a sigh, mind turning to her men. The brigand had better be treating them well or there would be hell to pay. She ground her teeth in frustration and then dropped down onto the cold stone floor, sitting cross legged as she tried to breath in and out, in long calming exhales and inhales. If she was going to get out of this in one piece, she needed to be clever and resourceful; she needed to think ahead. She could not do that if she was in a constant temper.
“Okay, Rebecca, ye’re the brains of this operation, how do ye get out o’ this without any bloodshed?” she spoke aloud just to hear someone’s voice. It was eerily quiet in the keep. Although sound did travel for miles around here, she could not hear even a single voice from the manor house. She wondered what that meant.
From somewhere a little closer, she heard the sound of their cow, Bessie, lowing. It was probably milking time. Would someone be allowed to milk her or were their animals being neglected?
Rebecca added that to the list of things she needed to worry about.
Onesmus declined the chance to bite the man that had bitten him.
“Hell, if I was in his place, I’d ’a probably bit me too.” he conceded.
Chris nodded in acknowledgment. “Good. So, I have had a think about what to do with these men. The longer we keep them prisoner, the more time they have to plan an escape or that bastard of a lord will come for them. So, here’s the plan. Tomorrow the lass and I will ride for Gretna Green. The rest of you’ll blindfold her men and ride them to the Forest of Dean. You can leave them there to find their way. They’re Scotsmen, so it might take them a while.”
There were murmurings and chuckles from his men.
“You tie them up good, leave them their weapons and food in another part of the wood. That’ll give us some extra time. By the time they untie themselves and find their weapons, you’ll be long gone. They’ll be on foot, and we’ll have their mistress as hostage.”
Toby stepped forward. “Are you sure this is a good plan?” he asked.
Chris frowned. This was the second time Toby had questioned him in as many days. It was beginning to annoy him. “Yes, I am.”
“What if they come after us? Try to kill us?”
Chris smirked. “We still have a hostage,” he stated as if it should be obvious.
“Enough! I’ve given your orders. Now carry them out.” he turned away, bristling with irritation. Toby was really beginning to get on his nerves. After all this time, why would he be questioning everything Chris did? He dismissed the thought from his mind. He had to get ready for his journey to Gretna Green with a reluctant bride. That meant they could not just ride, he needed a carriage, and some kind of restraints. He might need some whiskey to doze her, just to make her a little more compliant to being manhandled about. He imagined that getting her from her locked tower to the carriage might be a nightmare otherwise.
She would fight him all the way just on principle.
Never mind the very strong objections she had voiced about eloping with him. Chris would have to come up with something really good to make her comply and he had the inkling of an idea how he could bring it all about.
He smiled, even while shaking his head. He might get what he wanted but his bride would no doubt want to take it out on his hide in kind. He shrugged as he walked toward the keep, bottle of whisky in hand. If that was what it took then…that was what it took.
He opened the door to the keep and found her huddled on the floor, looking a bit worse for wear. He got on his knees and leaned in, trying to get her to look at him but she studiously avoided his eyes. Manfully repressing an eye roll, he sighed, holding the flagon of whisky out to her.
“Go on, you’ll feel better. ” he urged softly neglecting to mention the laudanum he had adulterated the drink with.
Rebecca shook her head, still avoiding his eyes and so Chris sat down heavily beside her, pretending to take a sip of the drink. “Would you like some food instead? It’s just that you look quite exhausted right now and I thought you could use some cheering up.”
“Letting me go would cheer me right up.” Rebecca snapped, a lot more life in her voice than Chris had been expecting.
“Right. I want you happy as well, Rebecca, really nothing would make me happier. I need you with me because you are a crucial pawn in my negotiations with your brother, you understand? There is no need for any of this to be unpleasant.”
“It’s already unpleasant ye weasel!” Rebecca shouted so suddenly that it startled Chris.
“I misspoke. What I meant to say was that we do not have to exist in continuous misery. Here, please, drink with me.” he nudged the bottle against her arm and she turned to glare at him with blood-red eyes.
“I said no thank ye.”
Chris exhaled sharply, leaning his head against the wall as he sought inspiration from the ceiling. “Are you hungry?” he asked at last.
She simply shook her head without looking at him.
“Mm, I think you’re hungry. I’m going to look for something you can eat. Hang on.” he struggled to his feet leaving the bottle of whisky on the floor as he walked around her and left, taking care to lock the door behind him. He listened for a moment, not hearing any movement from inside the room and then walked away, ready to get the food.
He took his time to put together some bread, pickles, ham and cheese, hoping Rebecca would have succumbed to the temptation to drink. Putting his offerings on a tray, he made his way back to the keep where he found Rebecca still slumped in on herself…but the contents of the bottle were slightly depleted. His heart leapt with joy and he put the food down next to her.
“Would you like me to keep you company while you eat?” he asked as he loomed over her.
She shook her head quite frantically.
“Okay then. I’ll uh…leave you to it.” he hesitated a moment longer, hoping she would change her mind but she kept her head firmly embedded inside the circle of her arms. He shrugged, sighed and made to leave, still walking slowly in case she changed her mind.
He closed, and locked the door behind him, leaning against it with his eyes closed as he waited. Listening to the cow lowing and the shuffling about of the pigs, it really was quite peaceful here. He had a hope that somebody had thought to milk the cow.
Apart from the elderly steward – Amos, Chris believed his name was – there were only two permanent staff on hand. A young man and woman whose names he had yet to find out. They tried to fight at first but stood down when he informed them that their mistress’ life would be at risk should they cause trouble. It was further proof that Rebecca was revered in her brother’s household and thus was the perfect hostage. After he and his men left, they would undoubtedly get a message to The MacTavish that his sister had been kidnapped.
Meanwhile, they were useful for keeping the household operations going. Chris had ordered Amos to inform the day staff from the village that they were no longer required, at least until their master returned. That was one less headache he had to worry about. If the townspeople were resentful of losing their jobs, so much the better for Chris. He would be able to persuade them that he made a better lord than Alexander MacTavish all the easier.
Chris got to his feet with a sigh, thinking that in the meantime, it would not hurt if he allowed the house servants to see to the animals. He trudged off in search of them. They were allowed to feed themselves, use the facilities but they were to make sure to stay in sight of one of his men at all times. The penalty for disobedience was that their mistress would be hurt and they were not prepared to risk that.
Lucky for me. Chris thought with an evil grin. He really did not want to cause any more harm to Rebecca than he could help. She was a little spitfire, but a lady forby and he respected her backbone…he could also admit that he was a little enamored of her rosy cheeks and waves of brunette hair, her round hips and her fiery blue eyes. She was a passionate woman and he had no doubt that she could keep him on his toes.
Perhaps he had had more than one ulterior motive in wanting to wed her. That was nobody’s business but his own.
He stepped into the kitchen to find Amos and the two young ones huddled by the stove. “You two,” he pointed at them, “there’s a cow that needs milking.”
The young man immediately broke away from the huddle and scurried toward him, “I’ll see to it,” he volunteered. Chris nodded, eyed the other two that were glaring back at him and then stepped back out. He had given Rebecca enough time. She must have eaten the food and drunk some more whisky by now.
Likely she would at least be feeling slow and drowsy if the laudanum had done its job. He would get her on a horse and ride all night if he had to. A horse would be much faster than a carriage and the further away they were from anywhere familiar, the less tempted Rebecca would be to run away from him. He had a feeling he would not be able to drug her two nights in a row.
“Let me see…I will need rope, to tie her to the horse,” Chris felt his body react in a very inappropriate way as he said it.
To have Rebecca, tied up and at his mercy…He dismissed the thought as fast as he could.
“I’ll also need food, bedding…” he nodded as he let himself into the keep, “that will do for now.”
“Wha..?” Rebecca lifted her head from her hands, eyelashes fluttering as she tried to focus on him. His eyes went to the bottle and saw that the liquid was more than half gone and he nodded in satisfaction. He almost clapped his hands and skipped but refrained. Squatting on his haunches, he took a closer look at her eyes.
He could see fear in them, some awareness that something more than drunkenness was wrong with her, and she tried to move her limbs as if to get away from him. But she could not.
“I don’t want you to worry. This is just to make you easier to transport,” he reassured her even as her eyes widened at his words. He got to his feet, watching her for a moment longer before nodding and stepping out of the room. He locked her in because being drugged did not mean she was any less dangerous. He hurried to the house, gathering the things that he needed and saddling a horse. The faster they got on the road, the sooner it would be done.
The room was swirling around her and she could see rainbows dancing on the dust motes. It was distracting because she was trying to worry about the brigand and what he meant by drugging her in such a manner. She had eaten the food and drunk the whisky because she needed sustenance; why it had not occurred to her that the drink might be laced with stronger stuff she could not imagine. But she had thought that since she was already thoroughly imprisoned, there would be no need to compromise her further.
At least she had hoped.
Now her limbs felt so heavy she could barely lift them, and her neck could not support the weight of her head. Everything was blurry with a purple sheen around the edges and it was all she could do to even keep her eyes open.
“Ye bashhhhtaard,” she murmured carefully, angrily, fearfully and her back shivered. Then he was there, kneeling in front of her, a blanket in his hands. He tucked it securely around her and lifted her up. She was dimly impressed by his strength even as she struggled weakly unable to coordinate her extremities into any sort of coherent attack.
“L-leave mmmeee aloooonnne,” she tried to articulate as clearly as possible but he ignored her, hoisting her over his shoulders like a blanket-covered sack of potatoes and striding out of her prison.
“L-l-lettt me gooo,” she tried again but he was transferring her onto the back of a huge black stallion, her hands tied to the saddle, and then he was climbing up behind her. The wind whipped at her face as they took off at speedy canter and it helped to sober her up a bit.
Not enough though.
Not nearly enough.
They rode for an interminable time, no stops to rest or water the horse or themselves. Her heart was pounding rapidly and she did not know if it was because of fear or the effects of whatever drug he had given her. She did not try to talk again, deciding to bide her time and wait for her chance.
Sooner or later, he was going to have to stop and then she would make her escape. Unfortunately, she had no clue of their current direction, could only imagine that they were headed towards the shotgun wedding he had promised her. She could not fathom how he thought he could make her marry him but was willing to let him have his delusions if it lowered his guard and gave her a chance to escape.
Soon, the effects of the drug and fatigue from riding had her eyes closing, her body listing to the side.
She was unconscious, snoring softly. Chris arranged her so she was lying against his chest, even as he tried to ignore her intoxicating warmth. He resolved to find a place for them to rest because as soon as Rebecca was alert again, he would have to be as well. He squeezed his stallion’s flanks, urging him to go faster. There was an inn not five miles from where they were. It would make a perfectly good resting place. It would also give total strangers the perfect opportunity to witness them sharing a room thus compromising Rebecca beyond the possibility of repair.
He would be sure to use her name extensively just in case. Perhaps she and her brother might have got away with her being held hostage, but she alone with a man, sharing a room together? She could never land a proper husband after this. MacTavish would be forced to take Chris’ troth seriously or else condemn his sister to an existence on the periphery of society. Of course, he might argue that being married to Chris was not much better but there lay the rub. If MacTavish was willing to leave Dun Alba to Chris, then he in turn, was willing to turn his back on his life of crime.
Chris was of the opinion that it was a very good deal and if he could persuade MacTavish that his sister was happy with it, then it could very well work out. The only trick was to get Rebecca on board.
A light drizzle began to fall and Chris urged his horse to go faster, making sure Rebecca was securely covered with a blanket. They got to the inn an hour later and he untied her hands from the bridle and carried her into the inn.
“My bride to be and I would like a room for the night,” he informed the innkeeper. The man peered at Rebecca’s peacefully sleeping face and nodded.
“This way, I have a double room on the first floor you can use.”
If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here
If you want to be always up to date with my new releases, click and...
Follow me on BookBub