Excerpt: Sins of the Highlander
Written with Connie Mason
The peat fire had burned out and the ash gone gray, but Rob MacLaren didn’t feel the least bit cold. Not while his hot-blooded woman writhed under him. Their breaths mingled in the frosty air of the bedchamber. Fiona tilted her hips, welcoming him deeper, and he bit the inside of his cheek to keep from emptying himself into her.
It was too soon. He never wanted it to end, this joining, this loss of himself in the woman he adored.
Rob raised himself up on his arms and gazed down at her. The candles had burned down to nubs but still flickered enough to cast her in soft light. He could see his wife clearly and loved looking at her.
“What are ye doing, daftie man? ‘Tis too cold!” Fiona raised herself up and clung to him for warmth.
“That’s what ye get when ye marry a man on Christmas Day–a cold bridal night.” He gently pushed her back down, and she sank into the feather tick.
“It doesna have to be cold.” Her skin rippled with goose\0xADflesh. “Come back under the covers, love.”
“I canna. I need to see the lass I wed,” he said. “I want to watch ye melt for me, to see your face when ye make that wee kitten noise just afore ye come.”
“Wee kitten noise, is it?” She shook with laughter. “Have a care, husband, lest I bare my claws.”She raked her nails across his chest, and the sensation made his balls clench.
He lowered himself and kissed her, devouring her lips and chasing her tongue. He withdrew for a heartbeat for the sheer joy of sliding slowly back into her slick wetness. Then he raised himself again and reached between them to stroke her over the edge.
“Oh, Rob.” Her inner walls clenched around him, and he felt the soft tremor that signaled the start of her release. “When ye do that, I don’t care a fig if it’s so cold I catch my death…my death…my death…”
Her voice echoed round the chamber and faded into the distant thatch overhead.
Rob jerked awake.
He wasn’t in his bridal bedchamber. He was lying on stone-hard ground with a stone-hard cock still primed to make love to the woman in his dream. Stars wheeled above him in a frigid sky. His band of men snored nearby.
And the fact that Fiona was dead slammed into him afresh.
He’d married her two years ago at Christmas, and she’d been gone by Epiphany. Twelve days, he’d been a husband. Only twelve.
And now a night didn’t pass without his wife visiting him as some phantom, sometimes tender, sometimes terrifying. She lived in his dreams, but always he was powerless to hold her to earth. She was so vibrant, so real by night, he suffered all the more in the waking world with the knowledge that he’d not find her there.
One of the men in the clearing let out a loud snore and mumbled in his sleep. It was hours till dawn, and even more till Rob could accomplish what he intended in the coming day. But he would not seek sleep.
He couldn’t bear to lose Fiona again so soon.
Rob narrowed his gaze at the stone kirk across the glen. The bagpipes’ celebratory tune ended with an off-key wheeze. He and his men, concealed on the edge of the forest, had watched the bridal procession and the arrival of the groom’s party. Now he heard nothing from the kirk. The only sound was the harsh cry of a jay from the branches above him.
The ceremony must have been beginning in earnest. Rob snorted, his breath like a curl of dragon smoke in the chilly air.
“‘Tis time, Hamish.”
“I wish ye’d reconsider.” His friend shook his head, his scruff of red beard making him look like an alarmed hedgehog. Hamish never let his beard grow beyond the stubble stage. A metal worker couldn’t chance much facial hair. Even his eyebrows were habitually singed off. “If ye go through with this, folk will say ye’re…that ye’re–“
“Mad? They say that already.” Rob mounted his black stallion. The beast sensed his agitation and pawed the dirt, restive and spoiling for action. “I see no other path before me. Now will ye help me or no?”
“Aye, Rob, ye’ve no need to ask, but–“
“Then get the men ready to ride. I hope to be in a wee bit of a hurry when next ye see me.” He shot his friend a mirthless grin and spurred his mount into a gallop across the glen. It was possible the next time Hamish saw him, Rob might be in no hurry at all.
He might very well be dead.
The smell of incense was so cloying, Elspeth Stewart feared she might faint dead away. But a bride must stand before the altar. She drew a shallow breath and swallowed hard. That was better. As the priest droned on, she sneaked a glance from under her lashes at the man who would be her husband.
Tall and commanding in his dress plaid, he wasn’t altogether unpleasing. His face was tanned, and the lines at the corners of his eyes suggested he’d squinted into countless northern suns. Those lines didn’t trouble her. They proved the laird was a man of action, not like the dainty fops who visited from the English court from time to time.
No, it was the deep grooves between his brows and the hard set of his mouth that gave her pause.
Dinna fret yerself,” her mother had assured her when she complained that she didn’t know her betrothed well enough to even speak to him if she met him in Queen Mary’s court. “An arranged match is a safe match. Yer father has chosen the Drummond for ye, and ye’ll do well to bide by his wishes.”
The queen had approved too. She’d angered so many of the nobles with her other policies, she didn’t dare gainsay two of them on something as inconse\0xADquential as the marriage of one of her ladies-in-waiting.
Inconsequential to everyone but me, Elspeth fumed. An exchange of breeding cattle, a grant of grazing rights, a promise of fealty between their clans; that was really all that was being solemnized now. It was certainly no marriage as she’d ever imagined it.
Or Seen it. Elspeth was gifted with a bit of the Sight, and never in all her prescient dreams had she seen this match on her horizon. This loveless ceremony was as far removed from the tales of courtly devotion in her precious little book of sonnets as the distant moon.
Yet when the priest asked Lachlan Drummond to pledge his faith to her, his voice was strong, the tone pleasing. He even sent her a quick private smile.
Elspeth jerked her gaze back to her folded hands. Her cheeks burned as if she had a fever. She wondered if her mother was right.
“Passion,” Morag Stewart had said, “is a dish that flares hot, but then goes cold as a tomb often as not. An arranged match is like a cauldron set to simmer over a low fire. A nourishing broth heated evenly warms a body from the inside out.”
Elspeth wasn’t sure how she could do the things her mother said her husband would expect of her. Bizarrely intimate things. Of course, she’d seen horses mate, and dogs too, but she never suspected people did something as…primitive as the mere beasts.
And now she’d have to do it with a man she barely knew.
Silence jerked her back from her musings. The priest had asked her a question and was waiting for a reply. She blinked stupidly at him. What had he said?
Suddenly the double doors of the nave shattered. A man on a large black horse was silhouetted in the opening for a heartbeat. Then he urged the stallion into the kirk and charged up the center aisle.
“Mad Rob!” she heard someone call out. Half the horseman’s face was painted with woad, and his cobalt eyes burned as brightly blue. With his dark hair flying and the fierce expression of a berserker on his features, he certainly looked mad.
“The MacLaren,” shouted another. Her bridegroom was silent, but a muscle worked furiously in his cheek.
Her father reached for the horse’s bridle, but the MacLaren shouted a command, and the stallion reared, pawing the air. Then it lashed out with its hind hooves, and everyone scrambled out of reach of the slashing kicks.
Elspeth watched in disbelief as the man drew a long claymore from the shoulder baldric strapped to his back and laid the flat of the blade across Lachlan Drummond’s chest. Riding a horse into the kirk was bad enough. Mad Rob had broken the sanctity of holy ground by drawing his weapon. All the other men had laid their swords and dirks outside the doors, which now hung drunkenly from the hinges. Elspeth half expected the Almighty to strike the blasphemer down with thunderbolts from the altar.
“Twitch so much as an eyelash, wee Lachlan, and I’ll take yer head,” Mad Rob said as pleasantly if he’d offered Drummond a plate of warm scones.
Then he leaned down and scooped Elspeth up with his other arm and dropped her belly-first across his kilted lap.
She was too astonished to be afraid. All the air fled from her lungs with a whoosh. Her head and arms dangled on one side of the restive stallion, and her legs kicked on the other. She couldn’t rail at the man, since she was busy fighting for breath, but she struggled to free herself from such an undignified position.
“Hold still, lass, lest my hand slips and I lop off a bit of your groom.”
Now fear sliced into her. She froze and looked at Lachlan. The madman’s blade had slid up to his chin. Her bridegroom hadn’t taken his black-eyed gaze from Mad Rob’s face.
“I’ll be going now, Drummond,” Rob said in the same reasonable tone a man might use to discuss cattle or the weather. “If ye’ve the stones for a fight, ye may collect yer bride at Caisteal Dubh. But dinna show your face till month’s end. Come for her sooner or try to follow us now, and I might have to kill her.”
Elspeth couldn’t look up at her captor’s face, but she heard a wicked smile in his voice. Kill her reverberated in her mind.
And all she’d thought she’d lose when she woke this day was her maidenhead.