Notorious in a Kilt – Anna Durand

The sun burned low in the sky, weary from holding itself up all day, a condition I understood all too well. My skin was coated with dried sweat, and my clothes sported dirt smudges and — What was that? I picked at a stain on my jeans that swiped across my thigh. Sheep shit, naturally. No, I would never pose for the cover of Glamour magazine. I braced my boot on the lowest board of the wooden paddock fence, my toe twanging the woven wire affixed to it. The sun painted the sky with stunning shades of salmon and gold, the colors streaking across the heavens on the tails of fiery cirrus clouds. On the far side of the paddock, in one of several fenced pastures, my sheep grazed amid the gently rolling grassland of my ranch. I held my hand over my eyes like a visor, scanning the land for any signs of trouble. The coyotes had gotten bolder this year, but so far, my perimeter fencing had kept them at bay. Last year, I’d lost three sheep. My daughter, Malina, had been devastated — and we’d cried about it together. Not for long, though. We Everhart women knew how to suck it up and keep going. Life had thrown a lot of obstacles in my path over the years, but every time I doubted whether I could keep going, I’d look at my twelve-year-old daughter and realize she was the proof I could survive no matter what. In a way, she had saved me.

I might never have built this ranch into a profitable business without the motivation of caring for my daughter. Profitable now. But for how much longer? My income had decreased for the past three years. What would I do if the wool market didn’t turn around? Ugh. I really shouldn’t think about finances at the end of a very long day. Besides, I always got a little maudlin whenever my daughter was away. Right now, she was in California visiting my mom. I turned away from the pastures to face the gravel driveway and the house on the other side of it. My gaze wandered to the driveway, following the track it carved through the grassland, half a mile to the paved highway. Movement caught my eye, and I blinked rapidly, lifting my hand to shield my eyes again.

Was that a person traipsing down the driveway toward me? Nobody walked all the way from the road. Nobody. It was a half-mile hike. The figure drew closer and closer. Surely, the stranger would stop and turn around when he got to the metal gate and the fence that enclosed the house and barn. The figure kept coming. I squinted, slipping a hand into my pocket where I kept my cell phone, and shuffled forward two steps. The figure approaching the gate looked like a man, based on his sturdy frame and the way he strode toward the gate with masculine purpose and certainty. A hat squatted on his head, its brim casting his face in shadow. No, not just a hat.

The nearer he came, the more detail I could see. He wore a felt fedora just like the one Indiana Jones wore in all those movies. The stranger’s T-shirt was blue and short-sleeved. His khaki pants hugged his hips and clung to his thighs, getting looser below the knees and flaring slightly around his hiking boots. Over one shoulder, he carried a brown duffel bag. He kept his head down, so I couldn’t make out his face even as he reached the gate. He lifted the latch, swung the gate open a few feet, and stepped through it. After replacing the latch, he marched in my direction. I started to pull out my phone, to call nine-one-one, but hesitated. Something about the man seemed oddly familiar.

“Hey!” I shouted. “Stop. This is private property.” The man halted, removed his hat, and plopped his bag down in the dirt. He ran a hand through his light-brown hair. The glow of the sunset illuminated his face in golden tones tinged with pink. I drew back, frozen in place. It couldn’t be. No, no, no, I had to be hallucinating. The heat had gotten to me, and my brain decided to harvest a memory from the distant past and bake it into a bizarre hallucination.

The man resumed his leisurely, purposeful stroll toward me. His mouth curved into a casual smile. My feet refused to budge. My vocal cords refused to function. My tummy fluttered, my pulse sped up, and a ridiculous anticipation zinged through me at the sight of the six-foot-two Highlander with broad shoulders and thick biceps sauntering toward me. My former college professor. My onetime lover. The only man I’d ever loved. Iain MacTaggart halted an arm’s length away. His smile failed to crinkle any lines around his eyes, and no one would ever have guessed he was… How old now? He must be fifty.

And of course, he looked as hot as ever. Young. Virile. His hook nose had never detracted from his appeal, rather it had always given him a dangerously seductive air. That and his easy smile. And his voice. Oh dear God, his voice. That Scottish brogue. He hadn’t even spoken yet, and my body had already come alive at the memories. “Rae Everhart,” he said as if savoring the syllables.

“It’s been a long time, but I found you.” My throat had gone dry and tight, but I managed to squeeze out one word. “Iain?” Duh. Like I wouldn’t have recognized him in an instant even after thirteen years. My brain seemed to have shut down, though, leaving me to fend for myself in the presence of the only man who’d ever made me weak with desire. Hearing his voice again after all these years, that deep and smoky timbre, my body flashed back to the last time I’d seen him. Felt him. Kissed him. And oh, so much more. Slack-jawed and immobilized, I stared into his pale-blue eyes.

The breeze knocked a wavy lock of his hair over his left eye, but he seemed not to notice. His gaze was fixated on me. “I’ve waited thirteen years for this,” he said. “Can’t wait a second longer.” He closed the distance between us, wrapped an arm around my waist, and pulled me into his hard body. “Wha —” His warm, soft lips silenced whatever the hell I’d been about to say. No clue what that had been, but it probably would’ve come out breathless and idiotic. He pressed his mouth to mine, holding his lips there without trying for more. Just lips on lips. His mouth.

My mouth. The light stubble on his face rasped against my skin, the sensation tantalizing and erotic. The fluttering in my belly melted into a heat that pooled low, and when he slid a hand into my hair, I fought the urge to sag into him and moan. Sense memories, nothing more. Ghosts of the distant past. Still, I could not break away. He peeled his lips from mine with aching slowness, deliberately letting the contact linger for as long as possible. Once our mouths had separated, he kept his arm around my waist and his hand in my hair, his fingers caressing my scalp and his palm binding me to his body. Holy shit, he’d grown more muscles since the last time I’d seen him. Hard, powerful muscles.

Why was it so dark? Had the sun vanished? Of course not. I had my eyes closed. Idiot. I forced my lids to part, blinking to clear my gaze. His blue eyes seared into mine. In that outrageously sexy voice, he murmured, “You have no idea how happy I am to see you, Rae. You’re even more beautiful than the last time I saw you.” The last time. The last night. Armageddon.

Memories assailed me, shattering the sultry spell he’d woven around me. I shoved away from him, wiped my hands on my jeans, and straightened my shirt. “What on earth do you think you’re doing? You can’t waltz up my driveway, invite yourself through the gate, and then kiss me.” “But I did, and you let me.” He plucked his hat off the ground where he must’ve dropped it when he pulled me into his arms. Dusting it off, he said, “I came a long way to see you.” “And that gives you the right to barge into my life?” He sighed, ever the patient professor. The Unflappable Iain MacTaggart, that’s what he’d been to me. To the rest of the student population at Nackington University, he’d been nicknamed The Notorious Dr. MacT, Professor of Fuckology.

Every girl had wanted to crawl into his bed, and some of the boys too. The rest of the guys hated Iain because he had the kind of mature sex appeal only a man over thirty could hope to achieve. He’d been thirty-seven, two years older than I was now. I’d been twenty-two and awestruck by the sexy Scotsman who made archaeology and Celtic history sound like the hottest thing ever. So naturally, I’d slept with him. Once. And my entire life had blown up. I locked my arms over my chest. “Go away, Iain. I’m way too busy to accommodate whatever midlife crisis you’re suffering from.

You are not welcome here.” My body disagreed, still pliant and steamed up from that kiss. The passion I’d felt for him so long ago seemed to have lain dormant inside me, just waiting for an opportunity to erupt again. Oh hell no. I had a life of my own these days, one I’d fought hard to create — for myself and for my daughter. No man, not even a sinfully hot one, would trample on my carefully crafted life. “Iain,” I said, striving for calmness, “go home. Turn around and walk back the way you came.” “Afraid I can’t.” He slapped the Indiana Jones hat back onto his head, tilted at a sexy angle.

“I’m not leaving until you’ve heard me out.” I stared at him for several seconds, fascination and annoyance warring inside me, making acid boil in my stomach. He was as pigheaded as ever, but I had no time for this. Spinning on my heels, I stalked across the driveway to the front door of the house and slammed it behind me. Maybe a teeny bit of fear had spurred my flight. Footsteps thumped on the roofed porch. Iain’s voice rumbled from the other side of the door. “I’ll wait out here until you change your mind.” And I knew, without the slightest hint of a doubt, he would do exactly that. For days, probably, if I left him out there that long.

Thirteen years. What did he expect after so much time? That I’d throw my arms around him and praise God for sending him back to me? Like hell. But he wouldn’t go away. In the ten months I’d known him back in college, I’d witnessed his stubborn streak on many occasions. Once he set his sights on a goal, he did not give up. Shit. Talking to him would be a mistake. Letting him into my house would be begging for disaster. Iain could never know the truth, not after all these years and all the pain he’d caused me. He’d lost the right to know when he abandoned me in the midst of a life-altering scandal.

What might’ve been had evaporated the day after I said “yes” when Iain MacTaggart invited me back to his apartment. Nothing mattered more to me than my daughter. I would do anything to protect her from the kind of hurt I’d endured when Iain left me without a word, without a trace, without a fucking forwarding address or phone number. Iain could never know about Malina. Our daughter. “Rae,” Iain called through the door, “I’m asking for a few minutes, that’s all.” Part of me — the remnants of that stupid, silly college girl who’d adored this man — urged me to let him in. A few minutes, nothing more. Hear him out, send him on his way. Maybe I should confront my past, so I could lay it to rest once and for all.

I swung the door open, stepping aside and waving an arm. “Get in here and say whatever it is you think you need to say. I’ll listen, but you will leave once you’re done. No arguments. When I say go, you go.” The pigheaded man tipped his hat to me. “Whatever you say.” He ambled into the house, hat in hand and duffel bag slung over his shoulder. The fading sunlight lit him from behind. He dropped his bag on the wood floor.

It thunked like it weighed fifty pounds. I shut the door, feeling like the dumbest supposedly mature woman on earth. “What I have to say,” he told me, “is simple. I never should’ve let you go without a fight, and I won’t make that mistake again. I’ve come to win you back, Rae.”

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