Scot of Temptation (Preview)

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Chapter One

January 6th, 1698
The training fields of Castle Fraser

Kira Fraser was feeling the heat of the August sun as she stood back panting, sword and shield in hand, out of breath from a hard sparring session on the training fields at the rear of her family’s ancestral home, Castle Fraser.

She wore the trews and buff-jerkin of a man, and she adjusted the scarf wound around her neck that had grown damp with her perspiration during the fight. Hot though it was, she did not take it off. She always wore a scarf, whatever the weather, for it hid the ugly monstrosity beneath, the lasting memory of a painful past that she carried everywhere and which she concealed from everyone.

A few feet away stood her good friend and dedicated Fraser Clan soldier Tavish. The massive, wild-haired warrior, his broad, tan face covered with a fine network of old battle scars, was also panting hard to regain his breath, his hands on his knees. Somehow, he managed to laugh, a deep, booming sound that always warmed Kira’s heart.

“Ach, ye got me good there, Kira. I swear, even though ye’re a woman and ye’ve only been trainin’ fer five years, I’d say ye’re now one of the best fighters in the laird’s army,” he puffed out.

Kira felt her cheeks, already pink from the exertion of sparring, grow even hotter, but with pleasure and pride this time.

“Thank ye, Tavish,” she said, smiling, as her heartbeat steadied. “Comin’ from ye, that’s a big compliment. I’m grateful fer all ye’ve taught me.”

“Nay, ye’re a fast learner, lass, and ye’re quick on yer feet too. I think ye’re a natural fighter. All I’ve done is bring it out of ye with the trainin’,” Tavish said modestly, adding, “and ye’re dedicated too, always on time fer yer sessions, always ready tae train, whatever the weather. I’d nae like tae meet ye on the battlefield now, fer sure.” He sheathed his sword and slung his shield over his shoulder, wiping the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his buff-coat, the thick padded jerkin made of sheepskin that most Highland warriors wore for protection from enemy blades.

Kira put away her sword too and said, “yer good opinion means everythin’ tae me. I need tae be the best fighter I can be. Someone needs tae take revenge fer me family on those blackhearted Mackintoshes fer murderin’ our faither,” her smile faded as she spoke, the familiar burning desire for revenge flaring up inside her once more, like a guiding light that drove her.

“If ye get the chance ye mean,” Tavish said doubtfully, starting to plod back to the armory. “I just feel sorry fer the poor bastard that marries ye. He’s gonnae find himself in a lot of trouble!” he laughed again.

Kira fell in at his side, dwarfed by Tavish’s immense height. “Ach, dinnae talk daft, man. Ye ken well that I dinnae wish tae marry at all. I’ve nae need fer a husband tellin’ me what tae dae and when tae dae it. I’ll stay a warrior, thank ye, footloose and fancy free. ”

“Ye may say that all ye like, but ye ken as well as I dae that a laird’s sister like ye will find it her duty tae marry sooner or later, fer the good of the clan.”

“Nae me, Tavish,” Kira insisted, deeply resistant to the idea. “There’s nae need fer me tae wed. Euan’s the heir; let him produce the bairns tae carry on the family name. All I want in life is tae destroy Clan Mackintosh, and if I die doin’ it, I’ll be satisfied.”

Tavish sighed. “Aye, so ye keep sayin’, but dae ye nae want more from life than just revenge? Happiness, fer instance.”

“Killin’ Mackintoshes will make me happier than anything else I can think of,” Kira replied. They had reached the armory and went inside to divest themselves of their shields and helmets. Tavish took a long drink of water from the barrel supplied. Then, he said, “Well, that’ll keep ye busy then. Old Laird Sullivan Mackintosh is already dead, but there’s the four braithers and a sister still survivin’.”

Kira was uncowed by the prospect, for she had another idea. “I’ll settle fer makin’ his eldest son, the Laird Alec Mackintosh, pay the price then.” She spoke the hated name with bitterness.

“Listen, Kira, as good a warrior as ye’ve become, I’m tellin’ ye straight that thinkin’ ye can take on Alec Mackintosh and finish him in a fight is naught but folly. I’ve heard tell the man’s strong and reputed tae be one of the best warriors the Highlands have ever seen. Only his younger braither, Evander, is rumored to be better.”

They left the armory and started walking over to the castle’s dining hall for their customary post-training mug of ale.

“I dinnae care about that,” Kira said with determination. “I promise ye, whatever happens, I’m gonnae destroy Alec Mackintosh for what his family did tae mine.”

They were just pushing through the doors to the dining hall when a soldier came up to them, clearly wanting to speak to Kira.

“What is it, Dougal?” she asked, while adjusting her trews and barely paying attention.

“’Tis the laird, Kira, he’s askin’ tae see ye in his study,” Dougal told her.

“Is he now?” She frowned, wondering why her brother should summon her. “Well, tell him I’ll be there as soon as I’ve drunk this dummart under the table, will ye?” she said, giving Tavish a playful punch on the arm.

But Dougal shook his head and replied, “Nay, he wants ye there now. ’Tis urgent, apparently.”

“Urgent, eh?” Kira said, now even more curious. “All right.” She turned to Tavish. “I’ll meet ye later fer that drink,” she told him before hurrying off to the laird’s study. Maybe Euan was going to tell her that, five long years after their father’s murder, he had decided to attack the Mackintoshes at last and take their revenge. She prayed she was right, for she ached for the chance to face Alec Mackintosh in battle.

“What is it, Braither?” Kira asked when she entered the study, to find her brother at his desk. He looked up as she spoke, but he did not smile. The siblings were alike in coloring, both fair-skinned, with their father’s dark brown hair and mother’s bright blue eyes. But Euan was tall and muscular, a warrior seasoned in battle compared to Kira’s admittedly strong yet still small and slender frame.

She frowned to see he was already drinking whisky despite the early hour. It was concerning, for he had seldom done so before their father’s death. But she supposed that the last five years had changed them both irrevocably, and she was the last person to challenge him for indulging his grief.

“Come in, Kira, and sit down,” Euan said, gesturing to a seat opposite his desk. She obeyed, his serious demeanor and the fact he was drinking so early in the day sparking her anxiety. She settled herself in the chair, crossing her legs, still wearing the boots and leather trews she had worn for training.

“I’ve received a missive from the King,” he began, staring down at a parchment in his hands before fixing his eyes on her.

That got Kira’s attention. “The King? What’s he writin’ tae ye fer?”

Euan gave a deep sigh. “He wants tae end the feud between us and the Mackintoshes.”

Outraged, she all but sprang out of her chair. “What?! End the feud? Never! What business is it of his?”

“Calm yerself, will ye, and listen,” her brother told her, used to her fiery outbursts. “The King reckons there’s been too many casualties taken in the feud already. He says that if both clans dinnae move tae end it, they will perish, likely taking the others in the neighborhood down with them as well.”

Hot fury coursing through her at the very idea, Kira rose as she exclaimed, “King or nae, damn the man fer interferin’ in things that dinnae concern him. Who daes he think he is, tellin’ us tae make peace with the clan that murdered our faither, just like that? Does he nae understand they must pay, that we must have revenge fer our faither’s murder?”

“Wheesht ye noise, Sister. Ye ken I’ve never been able tae find actual evidence the Mackintoshes were responsible fer that. Otherwise, I’d have taken revenge long ago.” He paused and threw down the parchment. “And I havetae say, based on things as they are, the King’s right; continuin’ this feud is doin’ more harm than good tae both clans, and all our neighbors too. I reckon endin’ it would benefit everyone. Besides, ’tis what the King wants, and we cannae disobey the Crown.”

Kira was beside herself, her fingers toying frantically with the scarf around her neck, as they always did whenever she was worried or anxious.

“Ye cannae mean that, Euan,” she said angrily. “How daes the King think will happen? That ye’ll get together with Alec Mackintosh and his cronies, and ye’ll sign some silly contract, and then it’ll all magically go away because of some piece of paper? I dinnae think so.”

Euan looked her in the eyes then and said calmly, “Nay, nae quite.”

“Then what?” she demanded.

“The King says the alliance will be made through an arranged marriage between our two clans.”

It took a few seconds before the meaning behind his words hit home. She clutched her belly as if she had just taken a hard blow to the stomach.

She shook her head, disbelieving. “Nay, ye cannae mean it,” she croaked.

“I dae mean it. I am so sorry, Kira, with all me heart, but we cannae disobey the King. In a week’s time, ye’ll be married… tae Alec Mackintosh.”


Chapter Two

The Plough tavern, three weeks later

“She’s late. Where the hell is she?” Alec Mackintosh spat furiously. The waiting reverend backed away slightly, looking nervous as he clutched his bible. Alec, resplendent in his lairdly clan regalia, was pacing before the altar of the small kirk in the grounds of Mackintosh Castle.

“Calm yerself, Braither,” his younger brother Bran, told him in a whisper. “Ye ken how long it can take a woman tae get ready, and ’tis her wedding day after all. Nae doubt she wants tae look her best.”

Alec let out a bitter laugh. “Ach, I doubt that! She arrived yesterday, and she well kens the time of the ceremony. There’s nae good reason fer her tae be late.”

“Show a wee bit of patience, will ye? She’ll be here,” Bran assured him.

“If she makes a fool of me fer much longer, she can be sure I’ll make her life hell after we’re wed,” Alec fumed.

“Look, Alec, we all ken how difficult this is fer ye, but ’tis ten times worse fer her,” Bran whispered. “The lass thinks we murdered her faither.”

“Aye, and even though we had naethin’ tae dae with her faither’s death, she’s decided tae make a scene today, I’ll wager, tae try tae make me a laughingstock.”

“But the whole of Clan Fraser believes we were responsible, and that’s what’s important,” Bran countered. “She’s likely waitin’ tae see if her braither’s comin’ tae the weddin’. Ye ken he’s delayed by some problem at home. ’Tis a shame, but he’s unlikely tae get here in time now. She’ll have nae one at all tae support her. Ye cannae blame the lass fer bein’ nervous.”

Alec clenched his fists and snarled with frustration because he knew Bran was right. Though younger than Alec, Bran was the levelheaded one, the sensible one all the siblings went to for fatherly counsel and support. Alec glanced sideways at their sister Catreena seated in the front of the row of benches set out for the guests. She shook her head and shot him a look that said, “Dinnae dae anythin’ stupid.”

A few more minutes passed with no sign of the bride. Alec continued pacing, the whispering of the few guests, his family and a few council members because of the hastily arranged nuptials, grating on his ears. Finally, his patience snapped.

“Dinnae move, I’ll be back,” he ordered the white-faced reverend before shaking off Bran’s arm and storming out of the hall.

I’ll drag her here if I have tae!

He stalked down the hallway, making for the bride’s chambers, Bran’s words ringing in his ears. He well knew Euan Fraser was delayed because of problems in one of his villages at home. As laird, Alec understood the man had to put his duty first. It made his chest tighten to know that his bride would likely be alone, wed to a hated stranger in a strange castle, far from her home but he dismissed any sympathy he might have for her. In his experience, such emotions never did anyone any good. She would be his wife, however either of them felt about it.

As he strode across the courtyard towards the castle keep, a flash of movement in the near distance caught his eye.

“Jaysus!” he exploded, seeing a slight, feminine figure in fancy clothing, her skirts held high, racing toward the stables. His bride.

“Hey, stop, come back here!” he bellowed. She did not stop, but she glanced over her shoulder, and on seeing him running after her, quickened her pace.

He pounded off in pursuit, and she was almost at the stable doors when he caught her. She shrieked as he clamped his hands around her waist and lifted her bodily, slinging her over his shoulder as easily as a sack of potatoes.

“Where d’ye think ye’re goin’?” Alec demanded as he carried her back towards the kirk.

Kira Fraser wriggled like a fish and pounded his back with her fists, yelling,

“Get away from me, ye murderin’ bastard! Get off me, ye brute. Let me down!” To his surprise, and a prickle of amusement, she added some colorful curses worthy of a hardened soldier.

Well, that’s nae something ye hear every day from a lass’ mouth!

“I dinnae think so. Ye must be really stupid tae try and escape a union forced by the King’s hand,” Alec told her as he headed back the chapel. “What would yer braither say if he found out?”

“I hate ye, ye dog, get yer hands off of me!” Kira hissed and writhed, shouting insults and more curses.

“Ye may as well save yer breath. Ye’re getting wed tae me today, whether ye like it or nae.”

“I ken that, ye fool, I just wanted tae postpone the wedding until me braither can come!” she shouted, ceasing her struggles, clearly realizing he was stronger, and she was not going to escape. “I’m nae daft enough tae really try tae flee.”

Alec felt a twinge of pity for her, but he soon crushed it. “How did ye escape the guards?”

Surprising him again, she laughed. “They’re both unconscious.”

That shook him. “How?” he asked, unable to believe such a wee chit could have overpowered two armed men. But she just laughed again in reply, leaving him to wonder if he had underestimated her.

They got to the kirk porch, and he set her on her feet. “Dinnae try tae run again if ye ken what’s good fer ye,” he warned her as she cast him a black look. Getting her breath, she smoothed her skirts and appeared to compose herself. While she did so, Alec took his first good look at his bride-to-be.

She was small and slender in her low-necked embroidered gown, but she had curves in all the right places. Her hair, dark-brown, long, thick, and wavy was pinned back by a headdress of lucky white heather. Someone had a sense of humor, he supposed, for he knew they would need more than good luck if they were not to kill each other before the month was out.

His eyes wandered to her face. Her skin was pale and flawless, her features delicate, with a small, straight nose peppered with a few golden freckles, and a heart-shaped chin. When she looked up at him, her small, plump lips pursed angrily and he felt a strange stirring in his belly when their eyes met. Hers were as blue as a summer sky, framed by thick dark lashes and brows. They shot daggers at him, but he hardly noticed, for a sudden a jolt shook him as he realized he’d had no idea how beautiful she was. She was like a perfect little living doll.

Then, he noticed the silken scarf wound about her neck, strange garb for a wedding. “Why are ye wearin’ that?” he asked, pointing to it curiously.

“None of yer business,” she snapped, lifting her chin high. She stood before him, defiant, seemingly unaffected by their tussle, every hair in place, looking startlingly perfect. How that was possible, he had no clue, but it irritated him, for secretly, he felt quite flustered.

“Very well. Let’s get on with this farce then,” he murmured, placing her arm forcibly in his as he shouldered through the chapel doors and practically dragged her up the aisle, ignoring the stares and whispers of the guests. He could not help smirking a little at having foiled her plan to get away. Privately, he found the mortified expression marring her lovely face amusing.

He held her clamped to his side as the reverend spoke the holy words, squeezing her arm each time she hesitated to say her vows. He replied woodenly with his own.

When he made the cut across his own palm and then hers and held them together, mingling their blood, she hissed under her breath, “I’d rather drink yer blood, damn ye.” When they tied the knot, she dug her fingernails viciously into his hand, glaring at him the whole time. Though these small protests did not hurt him at all, he breathed a sigh of relief when the ceremony was over.

“I now pronounce ye man and wife,” the cleric intoned, shutting his bible. “Ye may kiss the bride.”

They turned to face the guests, and Alec bent down to press a kiss to her lips. The next moment, he recoiled in pain, staring at her in shock as he swallowed the warm blood filling his mouth.

The damn lass bit me!

“Ye’ll regret that, ye wee wildcat,” he warned under his breath, shooting daggers at her.

She smiled up at him, every inch the immaculate bride. But the others could not see her eyes gleaming with spite as she whispered back, “’Tis ye who’ll regret marryin’ me, Alec Mackintosh, fer I’m nae a wildcat but a snake, a venomous one at that. And I intend tae poison the rest of yer life if it kills me.”


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