Highlander’s Runaway Seductress – Eloise Madigan

Another agonized scream from the outside had Lady Evelina McDulah cuddling her baby girl to her heart and crouching down in a nook inside her and her husband’s chambers. She swallowed tightly and tried to stem the tears running down her face as she knew—she knew all the carnage that was happing outside was because of her. If only she had done what her parents had needed from her, marry Laird Selvach of Ascogg. The evil lowland Laird who had been raiding her parents’ lands in Northumberland, stealing everything and anything until her father had grown desperate enough to offer him anything that he wanted to stop the constant pillage: her hand in marriage had been the solution. The week before her wedding had ripped her apart and when they had loaded her trunks into the back of the carriage, tears had flown down her face like a river. It had not stopped during the journey to the lowlands, a trip that made Evelina feel as if she were walking to her death. If the dreadful rumors about Liard Selvach were right, she probably was. A brief respite had come when, in the woodland just below the castle, a wheel on her carriage had splintered forcing her to sit outside while her coachman scrambled to fix it. Perched on a rock she cried silently, knowing that her life was never going to be the same. Yet salvation had come. A party of three men had broken into the clearing, but her attention had been drawn to one seated atop a grey stallion. A striking man with broad shoulders, a wide chest, and a fiercely handsome face, topped by thick brown hair, he had met her eyes with surprising tenderness. From the surprised look on his face, he, nor his men, had expected to see them there, but that had not stopped him from coming down from his mount. He had knelt his powerful form at her feet, asking her what was wrong. Through hiccups, she had told him her story; how she had no choice but to marry the Laird to stop him from destroying her family’s legacy, only to have Laird Dolberry, or Colin, as the stranger had asked her to call him, step in.

Yer nay goin’ to that man, lass, he had told her kindly. Ye will never last a day with him… ye’re comin’ with me. Now, almost three year later, Selvach was attacking her highland home in revenge, cutting down Colin’s men as if they were chattel and bombarding Colin’s castle. Her poor baby was none the wiser about what was happening, but sat, solemn on her lap while Evelina held her tight. She pressed her child harder into her chest and tried to sing the soothing lullaby that her baby loved, but the words would not come. The door to her rooms was pushed open and panic seized her heart in a vice-grip, fearing the marauders had found her. “Mo chridhe,” Colin’s booming voice sent relief running through her. “Where are ye?” “Here,” Evelina called out, her voice trembling and faint. Her husband came in, his body fitted in leather armor as he was as much a warrior as his men were. He knelt before her, the hardness in his blue eyes softening.

In his left hand, he held a broadsword but spun the blade away from her. “Daenae ye worry, love, we’ll get through this,” he said, “ye’ll be safe.” Colin’s thumb smoothed over her cheek, wiping the tears away, but guilt rested squarely on Evelina’s heart, “I brought this trouble to you,” she mourned, “I am sorry.” Her kissed her fiercely, “Ye have nothin’ to be sorry about, love. Me men and I will deal with this, just stay here.” He then switched his attention to his child, cupping her softy rounded face, “Ye too, Poppet, ye’ll be safe.” Standing, Colin gave Evelina a last assuring look before he slipped out of the nook and left the room. “Hear that, Poppet?” she used Colin’s endearment for their child Amelie. “Your father says all will be well.” “Mama…” Amelie said sweetly.

Feeling emboldened, Evelina rocked her child and started to sing, “I saw a fair maiden, sitting and sing, she lulled a little child a sweet lording. That very lord is He that made all things, of all lords He is Lord and King of all kings.” Amelie’s eyes began to droop and just as she was about to drop to sleep, a splintering sound had her jerking up. It sounded as if someone was hacking through the door with a hatchet. Evelina did not dare move and only hunkered down, twisting enough that her body would shield Amelie from any attacker. Please don’t come in here, please don’t come and take my child. A deafening crash had her jumping, and she knew, just knew that she was going to be found. A wicked cackle had her bending, trying to make herself even smaller, but that did not stop a hand from grabbing onto her hair and yanking her up. Shrieking, Evelina held Amelie tight while the ruffian dragged into the open. “Let go of me!” “Ye should have thought about that before ye ran off with Dolberry,” the man sneered, “me Laird has nay mercy on wicked traitors like yerself.

Do ye ken how long it took him to find ye? It cost ye yer parents’ lives.” “What?” Evelina gasped, both from the pain in her head and the horror of knowing that her parents had been killed. The man shoved her into the hold of another man. “What? Ye thought ye could just disappear and nay one would pay the price? I was there when me Laird dragged yer parents out of their house and saw as he gave yer mother to his men. He forced yer father to watch them have their fun with her, before he ran his blade through both o’ em.” Evelina tucked Amelie’s head into the crook of her chin, while she was being carted into the inner courtyard. Colin was down on one knee, his left hand clutching at his bloody right arm, while his sword lay shattered on the ground. “Nay!” Colin made to get up but one of the raiders kicked his leg from under him. “Colin!” Evelina shrieked in distress. Then, a broad, rough hand circled her neck and held tight.

Wicked, and ruthless black eyes bored into hers and a heartless grin stretched the black-bearded face of Laird Selvach. “Ye little wench. Did ye think ye would get away from me? That I wouldnae find ye?” Swallowing tightly, Evelina shielded Amelie’s face with her hand, “It’s three years, why not leave me be?” “Because,” he leaned, pure evil glinted in the depths of his gaze, “I daenae let anythin’ I consider mine get away. And ye were mine….” His eyes dipped to the almost three-yearold child in her arms. “But then ye ruined yerself with that bag o’ filth over there. And now, ye will pay for it.” Before he could rip Amelie from her, Evelina stuck out, raking her nails over his eyes with one hand and when he stumbled, she took off, sprinting back into the castle, frantic for help. “Me Lady!” Beatris, Evelina’s nursemaid ran to her, with terror plastered over her face. Shoving Amelie into her arms, Evelina ordered, “Take her and run, run as fast as ye can.

” “Me Lady—” “Go!” Evelina ordered, “take the tunnels and run!” The maid ran out of the room just as Laird Selvach came into the room and grabbed her arms, sinking his fingers into her skin and scratching her with his ragged nails. A trickle of blood was on his brow and had dripped into his beard, while utter rage was on his face. “Ye will pay for that, harlot,” his tone was cold and barbaric. “I promise ye.” At least Amelie was safe. “Do your worst.” Evelina tucked her chin up with defiance. “I plan to,” Selvach yanked her back out to the courtyard where Colin was now being held up by two men, both of his arms trapped behind his body. Evelina met her husband’s gaze and read fear, sorrow and atonement; she knew he hated himself now, hated that he could not deliver on his promise to keep her and their daughter safe. “She’s safe, Colin,” Evelina called out while Selvach wrapped an arm around her shoulder and placed a knife at her throat.

“She’s safe.” And then—darkness. I 1 CAWDOR CASTLE Nairnshire, Scotland June 1701 n his dark clothes and crouched on a battlement, Damian Glogow’s sharp blue eyes traced the shadowed grounds below, waiting for the guards to finish their patrols and disappear round the corner so he could shimmy down the wall, and get away. The skilled thief had not planned to stay so long in Cawdor Castle, but the lure of more jewels and gold had been too difficult to ignore. His pockets were filled with coins, and in the sack thrown over his shoulder were a pair of silver candlestick that would bring him a tidy sum when melted. He had made it to the battlement of the eastside of the ancient house and had a clear sight of where he would run to through the forest beyond. His gloved hands clenched the wall as he prayed for the bloody guards to move along before someone discovered the missing items and an alarm was raised. The smell of rain was in the air and he wanted to get away before the storm came and doused him like a drowned rat. When the guards finally stopped chatting and went in, he swung his body over the railing and expertly dropped to a windowsill, from there he dropped to another and then, finally, landed on the ground. Hugging the shadows, Damian made it through the courtyard and darted over to the wide lands to dash under the cover of the forest.

He ran nearly a mile through the dark bush until he came across the horse that he had left tied in a part of the dense woodland that was sparsely travelled. “Morag, be a good boy and ride us out here, swiftly now,” Damian said while untying and coaxing his horse out into a wide space. He mounted the stallion and directed him out of the wood. It was past midnight, but the time did not matter to Damian. He worked solely under the cover of darkness and only went out in day to pawn his goods. I’m sure Benjamin will appreciate this. Instead of going back to his mentor in Inverness, Damien diverted to a village outside of Culloden. It was still a few hours before dawn, and he found an inn where the proprietress’ daughter sold him a warm bowl of soup and a hunk of bread. The lass, Sara, twirled a lock of her hair between her fingers and leaned over the table, giving him direct line with her heavy breasts. “If ye want to stay, there are only two beds available.

One in the barn and one with me.” “Are you offerin’ yer bed, lass?” Damian asked slowly, while breaking his bread. “A bed,” she had whispered, dark eyes glittering with almost-triumph, “and a body to go with it.” It had been a while since Damien had bedded a lass, almost six-months and going, but he felt no desire for the woman. The clamor of boots dragged his attention away from the innkeeper’s daughter to the five men who came in. Instantly, Damien shifted his bag of loot tighter against the wall the table was pushed up against. “—Old man is a fool,” one of them huffed as he grabbed a chair and sat. “What bloody sense does it have to be searchin’ two decades later for a lass who perished long ago?” “That two thousand sterlin’ will go to waste,” another man laughed. “Unless a lass with red hair an’ green eyes comes along to fool him into believin’ her. ‘Tis Scotland, where ye can drag a dozen women from every village in this country to fit her colorin’.

I’m sure, when word gets out of this, all of ‘em are goin’ to show up at the Laird’s house!” Quietly, Damien listened to their conversation about a recluse Laird whose ordeal had slowly fell away from people’s minds. He listened in to how Colin McDulah, the Laird of Dolberry’s castle, had been ambushed nearly two decades ago, how he had been injured in the fight, and how his Sassenach wife had been killed and his daughter taken. He took small bites of his food, hoping the men would spill more clues about this lost girl. “They say the lass had the most peculiar green eyes,” one said, “heard her eyes shift from green to gold like a selkie. To this point, I think they will have a better chance findin’ the damned selkie.” The men guffawed loudly while the innkeeper’s daughter served them drinks. She must have gotten her wish to be bedded as one of the men whispered something in her ear and she led him away and up the stairs. Damien was glad he had not gone with her as this two thousand silver reward was much more appealing to him. What if Ben and I find the lass? That reward sound too good to pass up. After paying for his meal, Damien hoisted his pack over his back and slipped out into the chilly night.

He mounted his tethered horse and rode off into the darkness. The wattle and daub hut that his mentor, Benjamin McLowe, lived in had a flicker of light under the door. Damien was not too concerned about disturbing the older man as Ben had grown to expect Damien at all times of the night. Knocking on the door, he waited until he heard the shuffling of feet and stepped away from the door. When it opened, Ben looked up and smiled, “Sonny boy, glad to see ye. Come in, come in.” Stepping in, Damien closed the door and latched it behind him, then gave the older man a warm embrace. “How are ye, Ben?” “Ah, fairly well, I suppose,” the older man shuffled to his cot that was placed on a stack of bricks. He rested his hand on his left knee and rubbed it with a wince, “me knee’s acting up, but that only tells me this winter’s goin’ to be a fierce one. I have some stew in the pot if ye want any.

” “Nay,” Damien shook his head while stocking the dwindling fire, “I already ate.” Sitting, he opened the sack and pulled out the silver candlesticks. “Here’s what I got from the castle. Ye’ll have to get that ironworker of yers to melt it down and sell it. I think we’ll get a good sack of coins for this. Ye willnae be goin’ hungry this winter.” “That’s very good news, Damien. Thank ye,” a sigh of relief left Ben. “Nay,” Damien’s grin turned wolflike, “I have even better news. I overheard some men talkin’ about Laird Dolberry and his missin’ daughter.

The old man seems to think his lass is still alive and he offered a sack of two thousand sterlin’ for anyone who can bring her to him.” Ben cocked his head. “His daughter ye say? When was the bairn taken from him?” “Nearly twenty years ago,” Damien said, getting to his knees. “I think it’s a long time and the lass might be dead, but me gut tells me it isnae so. And ye ken how it always goes when I trust me instinct.” Rubbing his chin, Ben nodded. “That is a mighty handsome prize for a lass who went missin’ so long ago, but how would ye even track her down?” Feeling that his mentor was starting to agree with him, Damien added, “I’d start at the same place she went missin’. Find out what she looks like and such then, try to piece the puzzle together. What do ye say?” “When word gets out, a legion of women will be flockin’ to the Laird,” Ben said sagely, “and all of them will be imposters. If ye are confident that ye can find the real lass, then I support ye all the way.

” “Glad to hear it,” Damien nodded, “now, about these candlesticks…” He vowed to find this woman and get that reward before anyone else did—because so help him, that silver was going to be his and may god have mercy on anyone who got in his way.

.

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