Scot to the Touch – Caroline Lee

‘Twas not a polite thing to say about one’s beloved sibling, but that didn’t make it any less true. Davina was pouting, and there was no use pretending otherwise. With a sigh, Katlyn put aside her own thoughts and stretched her leg out to nudge her sister’s foot. They were seated across from one another in the carriage Grandda had commissioned for this journey, and Davina ignored the prodding in order to continue staring out the window. Well, Katlyn wasn’t going to be ignored. That had happened much too often in her life already, and she wasn’t having it anymore. “Vina” she prompted. When her sister’s lips tugged down into a frown, Katlyn tried again. “ ‘Twill no’ do to meet yer bridegroom for the first time with frown-lines marring yer forehead.” That got a response, but not for the reason she would’ve assumed. Her sister swung her frown her way. “Bridegroom? Bah. I’ll no’ marry him!” Ah. So she was more irritated by the thought of marrying the Oliphant’s son than she was about her complexion? Curious. Davina could usually be counted on to worry about her appearance far too much the majority of the time.

She’d always known the MacKinnons’ hopes for a solid marriage contract rested upon her, after all. Swallowing down the bitterness she’d long ago grown accustomed to, Katlyn did her best to draw her sister into conversation. “Why are ye so set against this match?” she asked, in what she hoped was a sympathetic tone. “Ye ken Grandda is for it, and ye ken ‘twould make a strong alliance.” Oliphant Castle might be some distance from theirs, but the laird had six sons. Bastards, aye, but one of them would become the next laird. The others…well, surely he could spare one. ‘Twas Grandda’s plan to marry Davina—the suitable MacKinnon daughter —to one of those sons, and if her husband didn’t become the next Laird Oliphant, then he’d drag the lucky man back to MacKinnon land and start grooming him to be the laird of their own clan. Without a male heir of his own, Grandda was relying on Davina’s marriage to bring in a suitable future laird, someone strong, to ensure the MacKinnons’ continuance. It took Katlyn a moment to realize her sister hadn’t answered.

In fact, she’d gone back to staring out the window, but this time, her worried gaze was directed at their grandfather, who rode alongside his men. Worried? Aye, Davina was no longer scowling, but looking…guilty? “Vina?” Her sister’s head whipped around, and anger fell back into place like a mask. “What would ye have me say? There’s only one Oliphant son left, aye? Grandda waited too long to make his move and now five of them are married!” “Ye ken ‘tis no’ his fault,” Katlyn corrected softly. “His illness—” Her sister waved away the rebuke. “Aye, I ken it. And I’m glad he’s healthy again, truly. But I wish all six of the Oliphant bastards had been married by now so we wouldnae be making this journey.” Katlyn studied her sister. Davina was, most definitely, the beauty of the family, the pride of the MacKinnons. But the knowledge hadn’t made her arrogant; if anything, it had been a burden, knowing the future of the clan rested on her shoulders, since Katlyn herself was useless when it came to marriage prospects.

Still, as a dutiful granddaughter, Katlyn did what she could. Even if that was only to calm her sister’s fears. “Grandda was able to communicate with the Oliphant over the winter, remember? ‘Tis when he concocted this scheme. If it werenae for his illness, mayhap a formal arrangement between ye and one of the sons could’ve been reached.” But Davina shook her head. “Ye ken the Oliphant refused to make betrothal contracts for his sons. ‘Tis only women who can be bound by gold that way. A son can refuse to marry me.” But not one with eyes in his head. “He wouldnae refuse to marry ye, Vina,” Katlyn said quietly.

Her sister snorted and crossed her arms. “ ‘Tis what I’m afraid of,” she muttered, slouching on the padded seat. There was that flash of guilt again. Curious, Katlyn shifted forward. “What have ye no’ told me, Vina?” “The only son left?” Davina frowned down at her own knees. “He’s the rake. The one who has made love to countless women. The one who is rumored to be so good with his tongue. ‘Tis said he can make a woman scream with pleasure in under five minutes.” Scream in pleasure? Katlyn shifted, squeezing her thighs together to hide the rush of warmth those words conjured.

She was no stranger to pleasure, for certes, but her curse had ensured she was most definitely still a virgin. And would be until her death. Unless she herself did something about that. Intrigued, she cleared her throat. “Oh, aye?” She tried for nonchalance. “And…what is so bad about that?” Davina’s scowl shifted out the window once more. “I’ll no’ marry an insatiable whore, Kat. Imagine! He’ll likely jump from bed to bed, even after he’s married. A man like that isnae true, isnae loyal. He might be able to bring a woman unimaginable pleasure, but I’ll marry a man who will be true to me.

No’ him.” Unimaginable pleasure? Oh my. Katlyn could imagine all sorts of pleasure. Still… She hummed in consolation. “I can see what ye mean. If there is only one brother left, and ‘tis the disloyal one, ye can be forgiven for no’ wanting to marry him.” But maybe instead of marrying him… A wicked idea began forming in Katlyn’s mind. She knew she’d not be married—she knew no man would take her, not with her curse—but that didn’t mean she’d have to die a virgin, did it? Unimaginable pleasure. If her sister was determined not to marry this last Oliphant bastard—and when Davina set her mind to something, not even Grandda could sway her—then there’d be no harm in Katlyn meeting him, would there? Especially if he was so good with his tongue. Oh, he’d likely take one look at her, shudder, and turn away as most other men did.

But mayhap she could arrange a meeting in a darkened bedchamber where he could not see her eyes. Mayhap there’d be a bed nearby, and she could somehow convince him to show her this unimaginable pleasure. And she wouldn’t die a virgin. ‘Twas a wicked, wonderful scheme. Much would depend on the man himself; if he were as naughty as Davina had heard, and if she truly didn’t want to marry him. But once they reached Oliphant Castle and were welcomed as guests… Well, much could happen, couldn’t it? Knowing her sister was distracted by her irritated pout, Katlyn rested back against the cushions, folded her hands in her lap, and began to scheme.

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