Whores. He hated whores above all other things. Nasty, filthy, disgusting creatures, each and every one. There were some people who were of the mistaken belief that a woman only became a whore out of sheer desperation. He knew that not to be the truth. ’Twas a lie told to justify their sinful ways. “Och! Feel sorry for me, for I have to spread my legs in order to survive!” Lies. All lies. He’d known the truth for years. These so-called innocent women liked doing what they did. They enjoyed warming a man’s bed, spreading their legs for a few bits of silver. How many times had he heard one whore or another, through thin walls, moaning and groaning with pleasure? They mocked God, laughed in his face, ignoring his dictates and the laws of the church. And for what? A bit of coin and a few moments of wicked, sinful pleasure. Aye, he knew the truth. With the fervent belief that God hated these women as much as he did, he also believed ’twas up to him to do God’s work.
No one else was going to. The first kill had been the single most thrilling moment of his life, and one he liked to re-experience on occasion in the late night hours. Alone in his little room, he would relive that magical moment from a year ago when he’d realized his own truth and mission in life. The sheer terror in her eyes had been beautiful. She knew, knew she was going to die, still she begged for mercy. Of course, he ignored her pleas; she was a whore after all. When the blade of his dirk slid across the tender flesh of her neck, it elicited a near rapturous sensation that tickled up and down his spine. And when the blood gushed from the ragged, gaping wound? The sound of her gurgled last breaths? ’Twas bliss. Sheer, unadulterated bliss. He had taken her worthless life and sent her straight to hell where she belonged.
’Twas a righteous thing he did; ’twas God’s work he was doing. Let no one say otherwise. The second and third kills were almost as pleasurable, but lacked a certain something. Still, he kept on trying to recapture that thrilling sensation of the first. After sending his sixth whore to the bowels of hell, he decided it no longer mattered if the thrill was as intense as the first. Nay, ’twas God’s work he was doing and that was all that mattered. A whore is a whore is a whore. And God help him, he’d rid the world of these filthy vermin. One whore at a time. L Chapter One ove is, at the best of times, an odd business.
One moment, you’re minding your own business and simply enjoying nothing more than a kinship with someone. It can go on like that for days, weeks, or-in Lachlan and Keevah’s case- a few short months. Then the next thing you know, one of the parties falls hopelessly, head-over-heals in love with the other. If God is kind and benevolent, He sees to it that the second party feels much the same way as the first. As it pertains to Lachlan and Keevah, they were simply two lonely people who enjoyed one another’s company. Aye, that came as quite a surprise to each of them. Brought together unexpectedly during very troubled times, they fell into a quiet and amicable companionship that neither of them could have foreseen. Keevah had come to live amongst the MacCulloughs more than five years ago. She kept herself to herself for a whole host of reasons. The primary one being she was a former prostitute from Inverness.
Once that secret came to be known to the rest of the clan, she was given the moniker the auld whore. The name stuck to her like a burr and the clans people had avoided her like the plague ever since. That was five years ago. Lachlan, however, was one of the few people who never once held her past against her. Most women, he reckoned, didn’t choose to take up that line of work. Nay, ’twas almost always fate and circumstance, the fear of starvation or freezing to death, that forced women down that particular path. He refused to pry. If she wanted to discuss the matter, she would. And if she didn’t, well, ’twas neither here nor there. He enjoyed her company and that ’twas all that mattered.
She was a good woman, her past be damned. Had it not been for his cousin and laird’s new bride, Aeschene, Lachlan doubted he and Keevah would ever have taken the time to get to know one another. Neither of them questioned their newfound friendship. They simply appreciated having someone to talk to. So, as it happened, the friendship formed quickly. But then one chilly, yet bright autumn day, Lachlan woke and realized, to his own utter astonishment, that he was quite hopelessly in love with one Keevah MacElroy. It shocked him to his marrow. He reckoned he could spend the next few years trying to figure out how it had happened. But no amount of studying the matter would change anything. He was in love.
And that, as they say, was that. ’Twas best to take a thing head on and deal with it, like any good warrior. Aye, Keevah was a breathtakingly beautiful young woman with a smile that could light up the darkest of nights. But Lachlan was attracted to her on a much deeper level. He didn’t know all her secrets, for those weren’t nearly as important as her character. The woman possessed a giving heart, a genuineness of spirit, and a streak of independence he sincerely admired. What was it his grandfather used to say? Beauty fades but a warm heart will last forever. Aye, ’twas the beauty of her soul that mattered most. The only problem he now faced was how he was going to tell her and what would she think of it all? Chapter Two ’T OCTOBER 1361, THE MACCULLOUGH KEEP was only a few days ago that Lachlan realized how deeply he loved the beautiful Keevah MacElroy. However, there hadn’t been enough time to let her in on his newfound discovery.
There was the rescue of Richard, Rory, and Colyne to be dealt with, then the subsequent attack against their mortal enemies the Chisolms – within the MacCullough keep, mind you. Then there was the business of hanging Randall Chisolm that had to be tended to. And if those weren’t adequate distractions enough, he was forced to watch while his best friend Rory married the comely Marisse MacRay; Aeschene’s maid and friend. He kept his jealousy to himself and congratulated the newly wedded couple. Just when he thought he could take a deep breath and seek out Keevah, Richard requested his presence to discuss a verra important matter. The verra important matter revolved around their newly gotten gains. It turned out that while Lachlan and other MacCullough warriors – along with a few hundred MacDougall men – had been fighting against the band of Chisolms assembled here, Black Richard MacCullough’s longtime friend and ally, Caelen McDunnah was wrenching the Chisolm keep out of the hands of those Randall warriors he had left behind to guard it. That had been the man’s second biggest mistake in the past few weeks. His first was underestimating Aeschene MacRay and her determination to rescue her husband from his evil clutches. Both poor decisions had led to his death.
And the world was a much better place without Randall Chisolm in it. ’Twas no small task, no small task indeed that Richard and Aeschene were asking of him. They wanted Lachlan to act as interim chief and laird of the Chisolm keep and all its holdings. ’Twas a temporary position, if one could call twenty years or so temporary. “Just until our first born is old enough to take over the helm,” Richard had explained. Aeschene had thought to entice him with the promise of gold. Had it been anyone else insulting him thusly, he would have gutted them. But it was Aeschene, a lovely woman with a heart the size of Scotia. ’Twas her only saving grace; that and the fact she not only willingly married his cousin, Black Richard MacCullough, she had also found him in possession of redeeming qualities others weren’t able to see. She loved the man.
He certainly hoped Richard knew just how lucky he truly was. Now he found himself atop the parapet looking out at the only place he’d ever called home. The sun was just beginning to creep up over the horizon, a splash of blood-red against the indigo blue sky. He loved this time of day; the last few lingering moments of night, with stars that still twinkled before being outshined by the morning sun. He’d be taking a handful of MacCullough warriors with him on this new journey, as well as nearly one hundred MacDougalls. Thankfully, the MacDougall laird and chief, Angus, had volunteered his fine warriors to help to ensure a smooth transition of leadership. Lachlan knew it wasn’t going to be easy gaining the fealty of the Chisolms and harder still to get them to willingly take the MacCullough name. Therefore, he and Richard were quite glad for Angus’s offer. Not once in all his years had he wished to be chief or laird of any clan. Truly, the thought never entered his mind.
Now, in the course of a day, he’d been given the rarest of opportunities to be and do just that. ’Twas an honor to even be considered for such a great and noble endeavor. Aye, it was also a significant responsibility. He’d not shirk his duty and he’d make damned certain that when it came time for Richard and Aeschene’s first born to claim their birthright, they’d not be disappointed. He could think of no one better to help him in this pursuit than Keevah. With her by his side, there was naught he couldn’t do, no mission he couldn’t accomplish, no mountain he could not climb. He’d be invincible; unstoppable. Now if only he could convince her of that. THE MORNİNG WAS NOT GOİNG as he had planned. He had hoped to avoid any prolonged goodbyes between himself his cousins.
Saying goodbye to Richard, Raibeart and Colyne had been difficult, but not nearly as difficult as with Aeschene. The poor woman had cried so much that Richard ordered her back to bed. “Ye are the brother I always wanted,” she told him through hiccups. Considering she had four brothers by blood and two by law, he found that an exceedingly odd statement. But given that she was heavy with child, he decided not to point out what he considered to be rather obvious. In truth, he was going to miss the feisty woman. He was also going to miss Raibeart and Colyne more than he cared to admit. With Aeschene’s love and guidance, the boys had given up their heathen ways. If that wasn’t a miracle, he didn’t know what was. It had taken more than an hour for those dreaded goodbyes to the only family he’d known since he was a child.
At Richard’s behest, he also stopped to tell Angus McKenna and Duncan McEwan thank you. The two men and their army of fine warriors had been instrumental in the battle against the Chisolms. Had it not been for them, Lachlan knew ‘twould be he and the rest of his family still hanging from the gallows and not Randall Chisolm. What was meant to be a quick thank ye for your help ended up being an hour-long discussion regarding Lachlan’s future and what was the best way to win the Chisolms over. Angus felt a more diplomatic approach would serve him well. Duncan, however, was of the mindset that Lachlan should simply banish or kill anyone who refused to give him their fealty. In the end, he promised to take both their opinions under advisement. Satisfied, the two men promised that should he ever need them in the future, all he need do is send word. For that he would be forever grateful. As he made his way through the courtyard, one person after another felt it necessary to offer their best wishes and fond farewells.
At this rate, it would be a week before they reached their new holding. Most of the men he was taking with him were assembled near the gate, readying horses and supplies for the journey. Believing everything was under control, he decided to leave them to their work while he went to see Keevah. Yet every time he began to make his way towards the woman’s cottage, someone would call out his name, needing his help with one thing or another. He was getting his first glimpse at what being the chief of a clan would look like. Thus far, he was unimpressed. They should have left hours ago. He’d moved past frustrated and straight into furious with the constant questions and delays.