Highland Dove – Elizabeth Rose

Duncan MacLean, dinna think yer kisses are goin’ to distract me from the fact that yer hands are on my arse!” Mari Stewart giggled and kissed her betrothed again, as they stayed hidden away from curious eyes, inside the mews of MacLean Castle. “Och, Mari! We’re gettin’ married in a month’s time and I’m about to leave to battle the English. Give a randy man somethin’ to remember ye by.” Mari felt her body go limp and her knees about to buckle beneath her as she basked in the embrace of the man she loved. If ever there was a time she wanted to push aside her morals and surrender her virginity, this was it. She reached up and kissed Duncan again, her body coming to life under his touch. The scents of woodsmoke and Highland heather permeated his body, teasing her senses. Her eyes drifted closed and her head fell back as his kisses trailed down her neck and stopped at the top of her cleavage. Purposely arching her back, she secretly longed for his mouth on her breasts next. As he cupped one of her mounds right over her clothes, his thumb flitted over her nipple making her breath hitch. All she had to do was say the word and they’d be making love in the hay. “Duncan,” she gasped in a seductive whisper, her chest heaving with each breath since she could barely control her passion. Lust coursed through her. The idea consumed her thoughts of throwing herself wantonly in the hay and spreading her legs in anticipation. “We should wait,” she said, holding back but inwardly cursing herself for being so timid.

“After all, we’ll be married on Hogmanay, and that will be here before ye ken it.” “Blethers, ye are drivin’ me mad, lass! I love ye, Mari Stewart. Do ye no’ understand that? This is no’ just a careless romp in the hay to suffice an achin’ need, but so much more.” “Aye, Duncan. And I love ye, too. But I think we should slow down . for now.” “Ye dinna ken what ye’re doin’ to me, lass. Here, let me show ye.” He took her hand in his, guiding it atop the front of his plaid, closing her fingers over his hard erection beneath it.

Her heart sped up in excitement as his desire for her throbbed beneath her touch. Then her eyes roamed downward and settled at the bulge below his waist. Curiosity coursed through her. She found herself longing to see and feel his manly form without the barrier of the wool between them. Aye, she wanted to make love to Duncan right now more than anything in the world. But she also knew she should wait until they were properly wed. If they coupled before taking their vows, and her father found out about it, he would have her head. But then again, she could keep this a secret. After all, like Duncan said, they were betrothed to be married soon so it wasn’t really a sin. Was it? He watched her with a hooded gaze now, already undressing her with his eyes.

She liked that. It made her feel special. “I’m about to burst and willna be able to fight the Sassenachs unless ye help me get somethin’ off my mind first,” came his hot whisper in her ear. His tongue flicked at her lobe, causing her to tingle. He leaned in closer and pressed his body up against hers. A shudder of desire shot through her. She was losing her resolve quickly. “I – I dinna ken, Duncan. We should probably wait until we’re married.” She said the words but was no longer sure she agreed with the idea.

“Losh me!” He released her and threw his hands in the air in aggravation, turning a full circle and blowing a whoosh of air from his mouth. Finally, he turned back toward her, seeming to fight for control. “We’re goin’ to be married in a month,” he told her once again. “A mere month, Mari! So tell me, does it really matter?” Nay, it really didn’t matter in her opinion. Still, she was a virgin and that was something that made her apprehensive. She’d never been with a man before and wasn’t even sure she knew the proper way to please a lover. Or mayhap she did, but just didn’t want to admit it. Her older sister, Tillie, had told her more than she needed to know on the subject. Tillie was twenty years of age and two years older than Mari, but had been married for years now and already had two children. This sometimes made Mari feel as if she were far behind in marrying and raising a family.

“What are ye afraid of, lass?” Duncan’s dark eyes stared deeply into hers, as if he were looking for answers. How could she admit to him that seeing her sister go through so much pain in birthing the babies had her shook up as well? After all, kissing led to coupling, and coupling led to birthing babies and experiencing lots of pain. Was she really ready for all this? Or was she being too cautious and downright silly? Duncan appeared dangerous in a sexy sort of way and it excited her and somehow managed to push away her fears. As her body warmed, a wetness gathered between her thighs, accompanied by a pulsating within her core that she’d never experienced before. She had to have him! “I willna hurt ye,” he promised in a mere whisper. Longing showed in his eyes. Mari struggled with her decision. “I ken ye’d never hurt me,” she told him, wetting her lips with her tongue, savoring the taste of his essence, never wanting to forget it. “I guess I’m just afraid I might no’ . please ye.

And if no’ . ye willna want to make me yer wife after all.” It wasn’t just this but, still, it was one of her concerns. Mari had a habit of worrying. Her sister always told her she was too cautious and needed to live for the day. Mayhap she was right. Still, Mari struggled with making the right decision. His deep chuckle almost unnerved her at first, until she looked up and saw the care and understanding in his eyes. He reached over his shoulders, pushing back his long, black hair into a queue. His strong nose, high chiseled cheekbones, and a smattering of dark whiskers on his jaw made him ruggedly handsome.

Her desire for him grew out of control. Mari and Duncan had been close since childhood even though he was five years her senior. Their fathers were good friends, and often visited each other’s clan with their families in tow. Mari’s heart had been broken the day Duncan’s father betrothed him to another girl and he wed her when Mari was only twelve. But Duncan’s new wife died suddenly from an illness before she could give him an heir. Mari was the one who was there to comfort him and help him through it. With her love and understanding, she’d made it possible for Duncan to push past his pain and disappointment. She and Duncan were good friends. They always had been and always would be. But now – now they were more than friends and soon to become husband and wife.

Her dream was finally about to come true. “Ye could never displease me, love,” he told her, reaching out to cradle her cheek in his big hand. It was surprising that such a rugged, hardened warrior could be so gentle. Then again, she’d always been able to see that side of Duncan, although he didn’t like to show it. “Ye ken I’d never force ye to do anythin’ ye were no’ ready to do. I’m sorry for puttin’ ye in that position, Mari.” He pushed a lock of her long, red hair behind her ear with his other hand. Mari let out a deep sigh and longingly leaned in to his caress. She felt safe and secure in Duncan’s embrace and never wanted to lose that feeling. “I love ye, Duncan,” she whispered, her body trembling with want.

“I’ll wait for ye, Mari,” he promised her in a low voice. “I’ll be faithful to ye like I’ve been for the last two years since we’ve been together as a couple. And now that we’ve proclaimed our love for each other, nothin’ can tear us apart. I’ll wait for ye, and when I return, we will have twice as much to celebrate together.” “I dinna want ye to leave,” she admitted. “I’m afraid somethin’ bad will happen and ye willna return.” Courage filled her to be so bold as to say this to him directly. But she needed to mention it because she wanted him to know that she didn’t ever want to lose the man she loved. “I have a duty to my clan and country,” he reminded her. “I have to go.

But I promise ye, I will return. So dinna fash yerself about it. The battle should be fast and easy. Our spy, Eideard, told us there are no’ more than a dozen Englishmen who have crossed the border. But they are tryin’ to start trouble and need to be stopped. My brathair, Angus, and I will take a dozen of our best men with us to do the job. We’ll be able to stop the Sassenachs in their tracks and return quickly. So, ye see, ye need no’ worry.” Telling Mari not to worry was like telling a bird not to sing. She knew she worried about even the littlest things, but it was in her nature to do so.

Ever since the day her mother died when she was just a girl, she’d learned to take nothing for granted. Her mother’s illness was supposedly nothing to worry about either, but it ended up taking her life in the end. Since that day, Mari always worried. Duncan bent over and kissed her lightly on the nose. A tear formed in her eye. Then he placed his hands on her shoulders and his gaze became intent, his face solemn. “Mari, my love,” he said and cleared his throat before he continued. “Even though I have no concerns about my safety, sometimes things dinna always go as planned.” Her body tensed. “What do ye mean by that?” If Duncan was saying this, there might be something he wasn’t telling her.

This mission could be more dangerous than he was letting on. “I mean, we dinna always like it, but sometimes there are surprises. Therefore, I feel I need to say somethin’ else to ye at this time.” “What is it, Duncan?” She heard something in his voice and words that concerned her. Duncan was always a confidant man and usually optimistic. But could he possibly be worrying about this, too? Did he have doubts that something might keep them apart and that they wouldn’t really get married? She hoped not. This thought only added to her already growing concern. “If for some reason I do get killed in battle . ” “Killed?” Her heart jumped into her throat. This is the last thing she wanted to think about right now.

Why did he have to mention this? “Duncan, please, dinna go. Stay here with me instead,” she begged, knowing it would make no difference that she asked, but she had to try to persuade him. He chuckled, waving a hand through the air, trying to make light of the situation. “I willna die, of course. I wasna sayin’ it to worry ye. I only wanted to mention this because I love ye so much.” “I dinna understand.” Mari bit the inside of her cheek and waited for him to explain. He let out a sigh before continuing. “What I’m tryin’ to say is that if for some reason I dinna return, then I want ye to marry another.

I dinna want ye to be sad or lonely for the rest of yer life, because ye deserve so much better. I wouldna want the memory of me to stop ye from someday havin’ a husband and family.” “Nay! Dinna talk this way, please.” Her eyes shot up to interlock with his. Fear coursed through her. This thought scared her more than anything, especially since he was the one bringing it up when he knew she had a tendency to stay awake nights thinking of what might happen. Mayhap this wasn’t such an easy mission after all. “I will never marry another man, Duncan. Ye are the only one for me.” “Shhh,” he said, placing his finger against her lips, trying to calm her.

“We dinna ken our destinies and neither should we pretend we do. Never say never.” She covered his hand with hers, clinging to him, never wanting to let go. “I will never marry another man besides ye, Duncan MacLean, and I mean it.” “Well then,” he said with a quick flash of a smile and a careless shrug of his shoulders. He was back to being carefree again. “I suppose if that’s the case then I’ll just have to make certain nothin’ happens to me and that I return.” He bent down and picked up a covered cage at his feet, holding it out to her. “What is it?” she asked in confusion. “It is a present for ye for after we’re married.

” “A weddin’ present? So soon?” she asked in bewilderment, feeling heat rise to her cheeks to receive a gift. She didn’t expect this. “Aye, I couldna wait to show them to ye,” he explained. He yanked off the covering to reveal a pair of doves sitting together on a perch inside the cage. They were smaller than the pigeons that his father kept in the mews, and much daintier, too. They were light gray with gold-laced feathers on their wings. Their necks were ringed in silver with black and white stripes. A soft cooing trill filled the air as the birds preened one another. It made the moment seem magical and, for a second, she pushed her worries aside. “Their names are Lancelot and Guinevere,” he told her.

“They are turtle doves and mate for life. They symbolize purity and innocence, just like ye. And also endurin’ love, like we have between us.” “Oh, Duncan, I love them!” she said, taking the cage from him to inspect the birds. “But why did ye name the one Lancelot instead of Arthur? That doesna seem very loyal.” “Everyone kens that Lancelot was Guinevere’s true love, no’ Arthur,” he told her. “And Lancelot, just like me, was always loyal to the lady he loved.” “But I think ye’re forgettin’ that Guinevere was married to Arthur.” She raised a brow and grinned. He chuckled again.

“Well, that doesna pertain to us then, does it? After all, ye are single and ye’ve just assured me that I’m the only man ye’ll ever marry. Therefore, we dinna have to concern ourselves with old legends.” He reached out and tapped her on the tip of her nose. “Nay, of course no’.” Mari smiled, drinking in the sight of her betrothed, anxious for Hogmanay to arrive since that was the day they would be wed. “Thank ye, Duncan. I love them.” “I’ve trained them just like the carrier pigeons,” he explained. “I ken how much ye will miss yer clan and faither once we’re married and ye are livin’ here. Therefore, they are trained to take messages directly to Clan Stewart.

If ye ever miss yer faither, all ye need to do is to release one of them from the cage with a missive tied to its leg. It’ll take it right to him. As soon as I return from battle, I’ll send a dove to ye at Clan Stewart so ye will ken that I am home.” “Thank ye, Duncan,” she told him, her heart breaking to know he was about to battle the English and that there was a good chance he might be killed. She bit her bottom lip and tried to keep from crying. She needed to be strong. Soon, she’d be the wife of a Highland warrior and that wasn’t going to be easy. It would require patience and understanding. She would have to make many hard decisions in trying times. Mari knew this from watching her parents through the years.

She looked back down to the doves in the cage that were mated for life. They cooed happily and stretched their necks as they looked around. Someday, that would be her and Duncan. Mates for life. “I will cherish the doves and I canna wait to see them every day when I am wed to ye and livin’ at MacLean Castle. But for now, I will return to my clan and anxiously watch for the dove to announce yer return.” He kissed her goodbye, but as she watched him turn to leave the mews, a horrible feeling shot through her that she was never going to see him again. “Duncan!” she called after him, causing him to stop and turn around. “What is it, lass?” he asked curiously. She looked down at the doves and their enduring love once more before answering.

Putting down the cage, she decided that she and Duncan were no different than those doves right now, even if they were not yet married. Today was the first day she would have to start making those hard decisions. Duncan desired her and the last thing she wanted to do was to deny him his request, especially since he was going off to battle. Pushing aside her doubts, she made her first decision as Duncan’s future wife. “I’ve changed my mind,” she told him, feeling scared and excited, but sure of herself all at the same time. “What do ye mean?” he asked in confusion, walking back to her. “Ye dinna like my present? Do ye want me to take back the doves?” “Nay, this has nothin’ to do with doves,” she said, throwing herself into his arms. He seemed surprised when she pressed her mouth against his in a very passionate kiss. “Mari? I dinna understand. What are ye doin’?” “I’ve decided I want to make love to ye now after all,” she said quickly, before she could talk herself out of it.

If something should happen to Duncan while he was gone, she would never forgive herself for turning him away when he’d offered her his love. “What?” he asked, holding her at arm’s length, looking deeply into her eyes. “Mari, I told ye that I understand yer decision. Dinna feel as if ye have to do this.” “I – I want to do it,” she said with a slight nod, her excitement and anxiety making her knees wobble. When she started to fall, he lifted her up in his strong arms, kissing her so passionately that she felt as if she were going to shatter even before he’d entered her. “Nay, no’ yet,” he said in a seductive growl, putting her back down on her feet. Mari’s heart dropped to hear this. “Nay?” she asked. “B-but I thought –” “I dinna want ye to make love to me just because I am leavin’ and ye’re afraid I might never return.

” “But what about givin’ ye somethin’ to remember me by?” He picked up her hand and kissed the back of it gently. “I respect yer wishes and I had no right puttin’ ye in such a position. I’m sorry I acted that way.” “B-but I said yes.” “I ken ye did, but now I’ve changed my mind. I willna take the chance that ye will regret this later.” Feeling like she was about to cry, and not knowing what just happened, Mari bit the inside of her cheek and remained quiet. The cooing of the doves from the cage filled the air, making her wonder if she and Duncan would truly be mates for life after all. That bad feeling was becoming worse and she couldn’t push it aside. Tears filled her eyes as Duncan let go of her hand and stepped away from her.

“I must go now, Mari,” he told her. “But even though I am gone, I never want ye to forget that I love ye – my little Highland Dove.”

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