Kissed by a Scot (Preview)
It all happened so quickly that Thea hardly had a chance to react. One moment she was walking across the forest floor, the next, the ground suddenly gave way beneath her and she was falling.
She shrieked, her arms flailing in all directions as she instinctively tried to save herself. But it was no use, there was nothing to grab hold of. Landing with a heavy thud, she caught her arm painfully against a thick branch that had fallen with her.
Quickly looking about, it was evident she had fallen into a pit. No doubt, an animal trap. Some hunter had spent the time to dig a small, but deep, rectangular hole in the ground, concealing it with large branches and leaves. Branches and leaves that now sat at the bottom of the pit with Thea.
“Well, isnae this just perfect?” she growled sarcastically.
She shouldn’t really have been out in the woods. It was dangerous, and she knew her parents would be angry if they discovered she had left the house. But Thea Morgan had to gather herbs for the healer who happened to be staying with them. Lorna, the healer, would have fetched the herbs herself if only she hadn’t been so busy helping the ill in the surrounding areas that she barely had a chance to rest, let alone anything else.
Besides, Thea was frustrated at being kept inside all the time. She knew that her father and mother meant well and were only trying to keep her safe. But she frankly thought she would go quite mad if she could not get at least an hour of time to herself.
Well, ye have yer alone time now.
Thea looked down and saw that her dress must have caught on something, for it was torn from her hip to her ankle, revealing the chemise beneath. She felt pain in her arm, and when she took a closer look, she saw the gash that ran up her forearm. It was not a large wound and anyone else in her position might, at this point, attempt to tear a piece of their dress and bind it. Thea, however, did not need to worry about such things.
For Thea had the ability to heal. Not with herbs or tinctures, but with a power she possessed to mend wounds with a kiss. She, her mother, and her sisters, all possessed different powers, and were being hunted for that very reason. Which was also why she was not allowed to leave her home. At times, this caused a conflict within her, for it felt like both a blessing and a curse.
It was frightening and frustrating at the same time. She had never asked to have such a gift. Often, she had wondered what it might be like to live without it. A normal person, living a normal life. Yet, in situations such as these, she had to admit that it came in rather handy.
Bending her head to her arm, she kissed the wound and then watched as magically – literally – the wound slowly faded, leaving her skin as good as new. All her and her sisters’ powers had something to do with their senses; their sight, their hearing, their smell. Thea’s came from her taste – the touch of her lips.
She and her sisters also had a strange mark, a mark from the gods, their mother had called it, usually close to where their powers lay. Thea’s birthmark sat at the very corner of her mouth, just above her top lip. It was light red in color, and was heart shaped. At a glance, she looked as though she had been eating berries. Thea had become well-used to people asking her to wipe her mouth. It surprised them that, when she did, the mark remained.
“How am I tae get out o’ here?” she said out loud, while at the same time, looking about her again. The pit was too deep for her to clamber out. In fact, as she looked upwards, she gauged she was at least six feet down.
Like a grave.
No one was aware that she had left the house, let alone, knew where she could be. Panic suddenly washed over her.
“Nae one will ever find me. I could be trapped down here for days. I might never get out at all.”
With her panic growing, Thea hurriedly tried to scramble up the soil walls, to no avail. All she did was drag soil down onto herself. Spluttering as bits of dirt fell into her mouth, she quickly gave up on that idea.
Pacing back and forth in the small pit, Thea wracked her brains for an idea. But no matter how hard she tried; nothing came to her. What use were her powers when she was stuck down a pit?
Perhaps the gods ought tae revise their view o’ blessings, for having the power tae fly like a bird would be more helpful at this moment.
“I am tae die out here alone. And nae one will ever ken what happened tae me,” she lamented.
Thea began to call out, even though she knew it was useless. She had travelled deep into the woods, and was sure there would be no one about to hear her.
“Help! Help!” she yelled, but her only response was silence. She waited for a few seconds to see if she could hear any reply, but as she had suspected, nothing came back. And yet, she had no choice but to keep trying.
For what seemed like forever, Thea yelled and bawled as loud as her lungs would let her. Her voice was beginning to sound hoarse and she started to worry that soon enough, she would have no voice left at all.
“Och, please,” she begged. “Please, someone! Anyone.”
And then, out of thin air, a big hand suddenly thrust into the pit.
Thea nearly jumped out of her skin. “Och, me God!” she cried with fright.
“Nae quite,” a deep voice came back from above her. “Here,” he said, moving his hand toward her. “Let me help ye.”
Thea did not have a chance to refuse, for whoever he was, grabbed her wrist and pulled her straight up into the air as though she weighed nothing at all. He was a great beast of a man, as tall as a doorway and as broad as a barn, and for a second, he held her there in the air, just looking at her.
“Let me go,” Thea cried, wriggling to try and free herself. His appearance was frightening, with rough features that looked as though they had been hewn out of stone. Terror washed over her as she now wondered if she might not have been safer in the pit.
“For the love o’ God, woman. Stop yer wriggling. Yer making this worse than it already is,” he barked, fighting to keep a grip on her.
“Are ye hurt?” he asked, his huge hands grabbing her by the shoulders once he had set her back on the ground. He spun her about roughly as he looked her up and down.
“Indeed, I am nae hurt. Get off me,” Thea cried, struggling to push him away. Of course, her efforts made no difference at all, for he was three times the size of her.
He did step back by his own volition, but ripped over the protruding root of a tree. With his hand still holding onto her arm, he fell backwards, and though his hands flew open, freeing her from his grip, he had already pulled her too far forward for her to stop herself. Thea found herself falling once more, only this time forward, rather than down. With a heavy thud, she landed on the man’s body at about the same time as he hit the ground.
“Argh!” he cried in obvious agony.
Beneath her, she could feel the solidness of his body, and though he was huge in breadth, and rather frightening to look upon, now that she could see him close up, she noticed a rugged handsomeness about him. His long blonde hair splayed behind him, and his eyes were dark.
Thea also noticed several deep wounds on his body. One up at his shoulder, several on his arms, and one on his chest. The cuts on his chest and shoulder looked deep and severe.
How did he find the strength tae lift me from the pit with such terrible wounds?
In the small time they had been there, no other had come to his aid, and thus, Thea surmised that he was out in the forest alone. And yet, those were cuts from a sharp sword or dirk.
“Is this how ye treat all the men that come tae save ye?” he said, looking at her down the length of his body with a wry smile.
“Where have ye come from? What happened tae ye?” Thea demanded.
He shook his head. “That does nae matter right now. I’m only glad I came this way. Ye could have died down that hole if I had nae found ye. But then, perhaps I ought tae have left ye there, if that’s all the thanks I’m going tae get.” He was smiling at her again.
“I’m sorry,” Thea said quickly. “Thank ye. I likely owe ye me life. I thought nae one would ever find me.”
“Aye, well, the hunter who dug that hole might have found ye eventually, but God only kens how long that would’ve been.”
While Thea had been eager to get off him earlier, she now found herself wanting to stay right where she was. It was a bizarre feeling, for what woman would want to be laying across the body of a strange man? Still, something about it felt all right.
“So, tell me?” he said, nodding down to her torn dress. “Is this the usual way in which ye dress when yer wandering about the forest? If it is, I might make certain I come through this way more often.”
Thea could feel her cheeks burn bright red, but still, she could not help but laugh. “Indeed, it is nae. Me dress tore when I fell,” she replied, absently pulling at the fabric to cover herself.
“Och, dinnae be worrying about it on me account.” He grinned mischievously. But then, he winced. “Argh.”
Thea frowned with concern. “I think we have more things tae concern ourselves with.” She nodded to his injuries.
The man pushed himself up to a sitting position, leaning his back against the trunk of a tree. He glanced down at himself and then shrugged. “Och, ‘tis only a scratch.”
Thea’s eyes flew wide at his words. “I dinnae think ye ken how badly yer injured,” she said. “Ye’ve lost a lot o’ blood.”
The man heaved a sigh then, and nodded. “Aye. I can nae say I feel me best.”
His face was now ashen, and Thea realized he had used the last of his strength to help her out of the pit. If nothing else, she owed him her life.
Even as he was weakening, he looked at her with a soft gaze. He reached a hand forward, and caressed the long blonde hair that fell down her shoulders. “Yer a very beautiful lass, ye ken. Ye should nae be out in these parts alone,” he said weakly.
Thea gazed back at him, and a spark crackled between them as they looked at each other with intensity. A clenching sensation gripped at her stomach, a sensation Thea had never before felt, and yet, she still knew what it was. She could not let this man die. She felt a pull toward him.
She never used her powers with people she did not know, for it was simply too dangerous. However, she knew she was going to make an exception.
“I need ye tae stay very still,” Thea said, slowly moving herself up his body.
The man appeared drowsy now, and slurring his words, he said, “Aye, I dinnae think I’m going anywhere for a minute. I just need tae rest a while.”
Once she was close enough, she took his huge head in her tiny hands, and brought her face in close to him. Leaning forward, Thea tenderly kissed his lips, the lightest brush of hers against his. For a second, nothing seemed to happen, and Thea worried his wounds might be too deep. She had never tried to heal someone who had been so badly injured.
Suddenly, the man’s eyes flew wide open. He took a great intake of breath and gasped. “Good God!”
Thea watched as the blood in the wound on his shoulder clotted together, and the gap itself began to shrink.
She looked back at him, and watched the array of emotions in his eyes. Confusion, relief, astonishment, all flowing, one after the other. Bringing her lips back to his, she kissed him tenderly again. This time, however, the man was far more alert, and bringing his arm around her shoulders, he kissed her back. Thea ought to stop him, but she simply did not want to, and that same feeling returned in the depths of her belly.
Her heart thumped against her breast as their lips pressed tightly against each other. She had never kissed a man before, and the sensations that seemed to explode within her both surprised and excited her.
Eventually, the man opened his mouth and gasped again. “What are ye doing tae me, woman?”
Thea did not answer. She was too busy looking at the wounds on his arms and chest healing as well and as quickly as the one had on his shoulder. As the gashes closed over, the wounds slowly faded, until the skin was completely restored.
Already, his face had regained a healthy color. Likely, because his body was healing inside as well.
“How the devil did ye dae that?” he exclaimed, looking down at himself. Completely bewildered, he hurriedly patted the parts of himself that had been badly hurt. “I’m totally healed,” he declared. He stared at Thea in amazement. “How did ye dae that?” he asked again.
“’Tis better that ye dinnae ken,” Thea replied coyly.
While she ought to be thinking about how dangerous showing her ability to a stranger was, she could hardly consider it under the circumstances. The look he now expressed as he gazed tenderly at her did little to slow the rapid beat of her heart.
“The God’s must have sent me tae save ye, fer surely, ye have gifts the world needs,” he said huskily. “Or perhaps ye are a witch. If that is the case, yer the most beautiful witch I have ever seen, with yer golden hair and yer glistening green eyes.” He brought his hands to her face and stroked his knuckles across the soft skin of her cheek.
For the longest moment, the two of them simply sat there, lost in each other’s gaze, each mesmerized by the other. But the moment was suddenly broken by the sound of distant voices yelling. The man was swiftly alert, and turned his head toward the sound, before returning his gaze to her.
“As much as it pains me tae dae it, I am going tae have tae move,” he said, taking her by her slender waist, and once more, lifting her as though she weighed nothing at all. Once he had stood Thea on the ground beside him for the second time in a few minutes, the man pushed himself up. He looked even more huge as his body towered over hers. His soft expression had gone now, replaced with a furrowed brow of concern.
“They are after ye, are they nae?” Thea said. “Who are they?”
He flashed her a smile. “’Tis better that ye dinnae ken,” he replied, winking playfully. “Now, ye must run. Yer in danger here. I’ll distract them so ye can get away.”
Thea shook her head. “Nae. I’m nae leaving ye after you’ve saved me life.”
His eyes softened again, and he tilted his head. “A stubborn one, are ye? Listen. It is nae safe here. Dinnae worry. I will run too. They’ll nae catch me. I promise.”
Though she did not know anything about him, neither where he was from, or even his name, Thea knew she did not want this to be the end. She did not want to leave him, never to set eyes on him again. Ordinarily, she would not have been as forward, but something overtook her that she could not explain, and she said, “I want tae see ye again.”
That seemed to please him, for a wide grin beamed across his face. “And I would like tae see ye, too,” he replied.
The yelling voices now sounded much closer, and the man’s face showed signs of worry. “Me name is Cian,” he said. He then lifted a large hand, and, tearing a piece from his plaid, pressed it into her palm. Glancing down, Thea noticed a clan crest stitched into it. “We dinnae have much time. Take this. Ye’ll find me there. Now, I must go.”
Pulling her toward him, he bent forward and kissed her tenderly once more, before running into the trees, and in the direction of the voices.
By some sort of miracle, Thea managed to sneak to her bedchamber without anyone in the house seeing her. It was fortunate, too, for she would no longer have to explain her absence. In her current state, with her torn skirts and her flushed cheeks, she was certain her mother and father would want answers as to why she had been wandering about the country-side half-naked.
Once safely in her bedchamber, Thea searched inside the pocket of her skirts where she had shoved the plaid with the man’s crest stitched upon it. She would treasure his crest, and maybe one day, when all the danger was over, she would try to find him again. But as she delved deeper into the pockets, a panic washed over her, for she could not feel the plaid.
Pulling the pocket inside out to make certain it was not there, her heart thumped in her breast as a sense of dread filled her.
“Nae,” she cried, as she grabbed at the material of her skirt. “Nae. I cannae have done it.”
But her fear quickly became reality. She had lost the plaid on her journey back through the woods.
Falling onto her bed in dismay, Thea held back a sob. She had lost the only thing that could connect her to Cian. She did not even know his last name, nor could she remember what the crest looked like. She had not given it much attention, seeing he was giving it to her to keep.
“I will never see him again,” she cried.
She lay on the bed for a long time, staring into nothingness, and hating herself for her stupidity.
Present Day, Kilchurn Castle
One more time, Thea looked down at the letter she had written.
After her mother had been brutally murdered by order of Laird Johnson, her father had sent herself and all her sisters away to different parts of Scotland. He had told them they would be better protected if they were not together. Nor were each of them allowed to know where the others were being sent.
Thea had been sent to Kilchurn Castle. Laird Padraig Fletcher was her father’s cousin by marriage, thus, making his daughter, Bonnie Fletcher, Thea’s distant cousin as well. Aurora Fletcher, Bonnie’s mother, had died many years before, though neither Padraig nor Bonnie really talked about her, or her death much. If nothing else, Thea had been grateful that Bonnie was at least around her age, so that her being sent away had not been too lonely, for she had someone to talk to.
Bonnie was pretty with a happy disposition. She had long, red hair that hung down her back, the color of copper and was about the same height as Thea, which had been advantageous when it came to the women sharing clothes.
While they chatted and gossiped about everything under the sun, Thea had kept her secret to herself, and not told either Padraig or Bonnie about her gift. Her father had been adamant that they could not know.
“It is for their protection, Thea,” he had said firmly.
But it had been nearly three months, and Thea had heard no word from her sisters or her father. She worried about their safety, and was desperate to find them.
The letter she had written might be her only chance to find her sisters. While wandering around the nearby village with Bonnie, she had overheard whispers about a meeting nearby for those with gifts. If she could just discover where this meeting was held, perhaps someone there could tell her something, anything.
“Are ye going tae give me that letter, or are ye going tae keep looking at it longingly?” Fionn said, smiling. He was stood beside her, waiting patiently for her to hand him the letter for him to send.
It had been evident, since Thea had arrived at Kilchurn Castle, that Fionn Fletcher, the youngest member of the council, had taken a notion toward her. He was a slender man, although, rather athletic, for Thea had watched him spar with the other men. He was certainly not the warrior type, but he was not uncomely to look at, his features rather defined, framed with shoulder length, dark hair. Unfortuantely, as kind and good a friend he was, Thea did not feel the same way about him.
Eventually, she handed him the missive. “Thank ye, Fionn,” Thea said, smiling back.
He immediately snatched and made a run for the fireplace, pretending to toss it in the flames.
Thea couldn’t help but gasp, although she immediately realized he was fooling around.
“Fionn, ye really are naughty,” she exclaimed as she went to grab her letter again, laughing. In response, he put the hand with the letter behind his back and then gave a deep bow.
“Tis nae trouble, me lady,” he replied. “I’ll see tae it immediately.”
He then turned with a wink and moved down the corridor, bowing once more before he disappeared around the corner.
A second later, Bonnie arrived, running toward Thea in obvious excitement.
“Och, there ye are,” Bonnie declared, throwing her arms around Thea and hugging her tightly. “I was looking fer ye.”
Thea did not want to tell Bonnie that she had spent the last hour in her bedchamber writing a letter, for her cousin would surely want to know the contents, and to whom she was sending it. Instead, Thea smiled, and lied.
“I was taking a little time on me own tae read,” she said.
“Well, now I have found ye, we must hurry. I dinnae want tae keep Faither waiting any longer.”
Thea frowned at her remark. “What dae ye mean?”
“He has requested our presence in his study. ‘Tis the reason I have been looking fer ye. Come. We must go and see him.”
As the two walked down the corridor, an excitement grew within Thea. Perhaps Padraig had discovered news about her sister or her father. Perhaps her father had finally sent a letter, and she would now be allowed to return home. It was a little strange that he would request both Bonnie’s and her presence as well, but then, they were practically inseparable. Maybe Padraig thought Thea would like Bonnie there with her when she received such news.
“I wonder what it is he wants tae tell us,” Bonnie said as they continued through the huge corridors of the castle. She had linked her arm in Thea’s as they continued, and by her expression, she was clearly eager to know. “He never asks for us in his study. What dae ye think it is about?”
Thea laughed a little then, and shook her head. “I cannae begin tae imagine, Bonnie, but ye only have minutes tae wait. Ye are the most impatient person I ken.”
“I ken,” Bonnie giggled.
Once the laird had beckoned them into his study, he asked the young women to sit. Padraig was a heavy-set man, tall and broad, with a clean-shaven face. Thea had grown quite fond of him over the time she had spent at Kilchurn Castle, for he was straight and true. In a good mood, he was fabulous company but when he was angry, the devil himself would not want to meet him.
“I have great news,” Padraig declared, “and I wanted tae share it with ye first. Especially as it concerns ye, Bonnie.”
Thea’s heart sank at those words. Clearly, there had been no word from her father or her sisters, for surely Padraig would be addressing her instead of her cousin. Her hopes were dashed, and trying not to allow her feelings to show, she pinned an expression of passive interest on her face.
“What is it, Faither?” Bonnie declared in delighted excitement.
“As ye likely ken, Bonnie, there have been some problems for the clan. The bad weather last season destroyed many crops, and the people are struggling. ‘Tis important that ye ken, I have nae made this decision lightly. Ye are me only daughter, and I long for yer happiness. With yer maither gone, me only desire has been fer ye tae have a good life.”
Thea was now alert to Padraig’s words. While he did appear pleased about something, his tone also conveyed a wariness. As though what he was about to say was not going to please Bonnie at all. It was strange watching his expression, for it was almost as though his face was in conflict with itself. Delight and relief, coupled with concern and caution.
“Tell me, Faither. What is this decision ye speak o’?”
Thea nearly held her breath as Padraig paced back and forth across the room. His delay was not for effect. Clearly, he was struggling to get his words out, and Thea was nearly as tense as Bonnie as she waited to hear what he was about to say.
“I have arranged for ye tae be married,” Padraig said.
It took all Thea’s strength not to gasp in astonishment. Bonnie, on the other hand, did not hold back.
“Faither?” she cried, her mouth falling open, and her eyes wide in shock.
Padraig then turned to look at Bonnie. His eyebrows were furrowed, and he looked almost regretful. “I ken ye would have preferred tae find a husband o’ yer own, Bonnie. But this was an opportunity I could nae pass by. I am putting a heavy burden on yer shoulders. I ken that. But if this wedding does nae go ahead, we might nae have a clan left. Then, ye’ll be hard-pressed tae find any man who wants tae marry ye.”
Padraig raised a hand to silence her. “I’m sorry, Bonnie. But the agreement has been made. Yer betrothed has offered a sum o’ money I cannae turn down. And if there is one thing we are in desperate need o’ at this time, it is funds tae get the clan back tae its former strength. His generous contribution will be the salvation o’ the clan.”
“But I dinnae understand,” Bonnie said. “Why would a man, who has never met me, offer such a huge payment fer me hand? It doesnae make any sense. Especially if he kens the clan is already in dire straits.”
It was a good point, and Thea found herself nodding along with Bonnie’s question.
“Well,” Padraig hesitated for a second.
“He doesnae ken?” Bonnie blurted.
“He doesnae ken all o’ it,” her father admitted. “Besides, he has his own agenda. When I finally leave this mortal holding, he will inherit the lairdship, and the lands o’ the clan.”
“Is he a laird?” Bonnie pressed.
“He is the son o’ a laird’s mistress, and thus, while very wealthy, willnae inherit his father’s lairdship or lands. I dinnae ken all there is tae ken. But I ken that much,” Padraig explained.
Bonnie looked utterly forlorn. Thea vowed that as soon as they left the chamber, she would offer Bonnie her comfort. While they had not talked overly about marriage, Bonnie had always dreamt of meeting a wonderful man who would love her for who she was. Clearly, that was not going to be the case. This man was only marrying her for his own interests.
“Who is he? What is the name o’ the man who is able tae give us so much money?”
“I will admit,” Padraig replied. “I dinnae ken much about the man. I ken, once he was old enough, that he left his own lands, and has travelled around many countries, using his contacts tae build his wealth. He has now returned tae claim his fortune. His name is Cian MacIntyre.”
While Padraig continued to talk to Bonnie, Thea was suddenly swept up with the memory of the man she had met not two years before. His name was also Cian. A name, she had to admit, she had never heard before or since.
Could it possibly be the same man?
Nay. Surely, it could nae be. If the man Padraig refers tae has been travelling fer many years, it is unlikely.
And yet, even though her mind denied the possibility, her heart tugged at the chance that it was indeed, the very same person. Thea had never forgotten the man who had saved her from what could have been a dreadful fate. Nor had she forgotten how her body had reacted when her lips had caressed his wounds. In fact, she had thought of their meeting many times. She had also wondered if she would ever meet him again.
Being sent to Kilchurn Castle, she had doubted that possibility. It was so very far away from her parents’ home, and thus, the chance of their paths crossing in her lifetime was very meagre. And yet, in that very moment, as she sat there, a spark of hope ignited within her. Perhaps she was being foolish, and her reasoning mind told her so. Yet, what if it were him? What if Bonnie’s Cian, was, indeed, her Cian?
However, if Padraig had arranged for his only daughter to marry the man, and if his marrying Bonnie would save their clan, then there would be nothing Thea could do to stop it. The hope she had felt only seconds before, now turned to dread. She would lose him all over again.
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