Scottish Devil – Tammy Andresen

FİRE AND BRİMSTONE…THAT is what the locals called him. It was their way of referring to him as the devil. Let them fear him, he cared not. Stone Sinclair’s eyes slashed through the crowd daring one of them to say it here and now. He squared his shoulders and his neck made a cracking noise, causing several women to look fearfully at him. Utterly ridiculous. He knew that his scowling façade and his penchant for silence frightened some, as had his father’s, but they’d never been anything but responsible overlords. They were making these lands prosperous for all who lived here. His parents died while attempting to rescue miners from a collapsed mineshaft. If those actions didn’t speak to the kindness in their hearts, Stone didn’t know what else could. He supposed it did in its own way. It was the reason so many now stood at their funeral. Though his more cynical side told him it was their twisted desire to ogle his family and hunt for any misstep that might confirm in their minds that they were devils. He could make out the occasional word, though he kept his eyes on the large stone that marked his parents’ grave. His five brothers stood in a line by birth order on his right side.

And his sister, Delia, only five years old, held his hand on the left. It was her little fingers tugging on his that finally cast his gaze down, instead of forward. “Stone,” she whispered. “Aye, my little lamb?” His heart constricted every time he looked into those luminous blue eyes. What she had lost was so much more painful than what had been taken from him. He’d had their parents for the first twenty-four years of his life. But a little girl should grow up with her mother. “When are Mama and Papa coming home?” She’d asked the same question several times and he’d given her his best answer each and every time. “They won’t come home, I am afraid. But it doesn’t mean that they won’t keep loving ye.

” Her eyes swelled with tears and, thoughtless to the onlookers, he swung her up into his arms. He heard a gasp from someone in the crowd and he narrowed his eyes, searching for the offender? Did they expect him to eat his own sister alive? Bloody hell, they thought him the devil but how they fed off his grief. These people seemed to garner joy from hearsay and rumors about his family rather than acknowledge their accomplishments and care. He looked over the crowd again, his breath rumbling deep in his chest. All these people had attended the wake. Ate his food and drank his wine. The wine only made them bolder in their derision. This was one of the reasons he wished he didn’t have to take his father’s title. To be earl of the realm, responsible for this ungrateful lot, made his blood boil. Handing Delia to his brother, Blair, he stepped up to the graves and carefully laid both dirt and salt on each.

Standing once again, he returned to his siblings and took Delia’s hand as they left the Kirkyard. He didn’t look back at the crowd, his own disgust making his shoulders hard, his body tense. He longed for the solitude of his home, to close the doors and find solace in quiet grief. But as they walked to the gates, a carriage sat just outside. “Who goes there?” he boomed, sadness and irritation making it sharp. He heard several titters from behind him in the crowd that followed. Vultures. A well-dressed, graceful man stepped out, his posture upright. He nodded his head slightly, the silver streaking his dark hair catching the sun’s rays. “My lord.

” His father’s solicitor’s voice, always pleasant to the ear, soothed Stone now. Though Stone supposed that Allister McLaren was now his solicitor. “Good to see ye.” Stone’s tone changed instantly, softened, mellowed. This man had been a friend to his family since he’d been a child. Stone walked the rest of the way up the drive, the procession behind him continuing toward the village just beyond. “I apologize for not arriving in time for the burial. We’ve had our own circumstances to tend.” Allister’s face pinched in a way that Stone had never seen. “Circumstances?” he asked.

He knew they must be serious for Allister to have not been here. He’d long been a faithful friend. Allister’s brow drew together. “I have lost my wife, I am afraid.” Pain hunched the man’s shoulders. “I am verra sorry fer yer loss.” Stone clapped the man on the shoulder. Allister shook his head. “Thank ye, son. It’s been difficult fer both of us.

” Stone noted that Allister said us. He’d used we before. A motion at the door of the carriage caught his eye and he snapped his gaze up, as Allister reached out his hand. He first noted her fingers, the creamy skin and long, tapered digits gently grasped Allister’s. He let his eyes wander up the slender-sleeved arm to the delicate curve of her shoulder and thin column of her neck. Tendrils of blonde hair had been loosely pulled away from her face. And what a face. Delicate petal-pink lips set off by the ivory of her skin. Her pert little nose wrinkled ever so slightly as his gaze snapped to her large brown eyes. “I’d like you to meet my daughter, Eliza.

” Allister gestured toward her as she stepped from the carriage. She looked back at him and her eyes narrowed as her lips pressed in disapproval. He was used to the reaction. “A pleasure,” she replied, her tone devoid of emotion. “Eliza, this is Lord Alban.” Allister tucked his daughter’s hand into his elbow. Stone gave a nod of acknowledgement. “The pleasure is mine,” he said, even as her eyes cast away from his. When he was younger, he’d stared at his reflection in the loch trying to understand why people responded so adversely to him. He wasn’t hideous and he prided himself on being fair, responsible, even level-headed.

He rarely lost his temper. His mother had told him that he had a look of hardness. She didn’t mean it with any malice. She said his father had the same look and it made people wary, afraid. She’d held him close and told him that once people got to know him, they’d see the real man underneath. Just like she had with his father. He loved his mother dearly, but that was complete horseshit. ELİZA TOOK A STEADYİNG BREATH. How did one greet the devil? Very carefully. He looked exactly as she’d imagined.

Like Aries, the God of War, might have. He was a massive man, with giant shoulders and bulging muscles. His face was set in hard, craggy lines that spoke of power and determination. The severe scowl that turned down his lips and pulled at his brow was almost frightening. The only features that softened him at all were his penetrating blue eyes and full curve of his mouth. She looked away, not able to stare at them any longer and found that her stomach tingled with nerves. There was something unsettling about him. Most likely his devilish ways. Though her father swore he was a good man, she couldn’t help but lend some credence to the multitude of rumors that swirled about this family. Or more particularly, the new Lord Alban.

They accused him of being a cruel, hard man. That he worked his tenants to death. He allowed no grievances to be brought before him. He never allowed his colliers freedom from their servitude to him. Her blood boiled to think of such injustices. She suspected the rumor she’d heard in the village that claimed he would take the families’ firstborns to be an exaggeration but now that she’d seen the man, he certainly looked like he could be guilty of the crime. Harsh, she knew, and probably wrong but… The former Lord Alban was her father’s single largest client, and his support of her father gave them a life that was beyond comfort, a fact that her father reminded her of as they travelled to this meeting. “You will not be rude, young lady,” had been his exact words. She’d held in her huff. Her father wasn’t a soft man himself.

He often forced his will upon them all. Since she was a child, she’d only been allowed the friends he approved of, the lessons he saw fit. She’d wanted to learn archery but he’d refused, saying it wasn’t ladylike. And this trip, she hadn’t wanted to come. Eliza resented having to travel for business so soon after her mother’s death. It had been a three-day journey to come from their home in Perth to Lord Alban’s highland estate in Glencoe. But her father’s will had been iron. As if that weren’t enough, the closer they got to their destination, the more people talked of the notorious earl. He was dark, dreary, and dreadful. And while his father had made this land prosperous, they were certain the son would cast them into ruin.

“Did ye see his glower? A more dour man has never walked the earth,” one shopkeeper had said. “He’s spoiled and mean,” another had added. “I heard that he refused to let the farmers air their grievances when they were shorted money by the mills.” The older woman leaned closer. “Kept the money for himself, I’d wager.” The other woman had humphed. “I wouldn’t doubt it. I heard that he didn’t even have a proper wake. Removed the mourners from his home. Just didn’t want to feed ‘em, likely as not.

A disgrace.” Eliza had gasped into her glove. This was the man she had left mourning to attend? The rumors had only grown worse the closer they had gotten until she was near livid on behalf of the people here. “Let’s all make ourselves more comfortable inside.” Lord Alban pointed through the open gate to the large double doors beyond. “Ye must be tired after yer journey and it has been a trying day for us.” “My mum and da are never coming back,” a little girl spoke next to Lord Alban and, for the first time, Eliza looked beyond him to the others around him. She swallowed hard. The grief on their faces was far more palpable than Lord Alban’s and some of the younger boys wiped tears from their eyes still. Her heart ached for them, having just experienced a loss akin to theirs.

A few had dark skin and hair like Lord Alban, but some were fair and she wondered if they all were his siblings or relations of another kind. They clearly didn’t live in the village or they would have travelled on with the rest of the mourners. Lord Alban reached down and picked up the girl, who wrapped her arms and legs about him, resting her cheek on his shoulder. “I ken, lamb,” he said. His voice was completely different, near soothing. Her insides fluttered again and she cocked her head to the side. Surely it wasn’t fear motivating her feelings now. But what emotion would cause such a reaction to his voice if she wasn’t frightened? A lump formed in Eliza’s throat, her empathy for the child making it difficult to hold back tears. The girl looked like a little angel. Her long blonde hair cascaded down the dark rough skin of his arm.

“Who will take care of me?” the little girl asked. “I will, of course,” he soothed. Then his eyes focused back on her and her father. She nearly jumped as their dark blue piecing depths collided with hers. Fringed with dark lashes that accentuated the color, she found herself unable to look away. “Shall we?” He didn’t wait for a response before he strode past them, still holding the child. Eliza attempted not to huff her breath. How rude. She knew she should make allowances because he was fresh into mourning but it was difficult after all she’d heard. And she mustn’t forget, no matter how sweet he had just appeared, she was dealing with the devil.

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