Scoundrel’s Fortune – Sky Purington

“Brothers!” Malcolm grinned, gestured at their surroundings, and inhaled the crisp, lilacscented morning air. “Is there anywhere better than here?” “Scotland,” Teagan grunted, strapping on his sword. His dark blonde hair looked like he’d raked his hand through it one too many times, and his eyes were red-rimmed from lack of sleep or too much drink. “Everywhere we go is the verra best, aye, Malcolm?” Keenan winked at him, having clearly enjoyed a lass or two the night before as well. “Ready yerself,” Keenan threw over his shoulder as he and Teagan left the courtyard. “We leave for battle soon.” “Aye.” Malcolm headed for the well to fill his skin. While he would never say such to his brothers, he’d grown tired of fighting. The endless death. Would it ever be over? “Toi là!” came a soft but insistent, feminine voice. “You there!” He glanced in the direction from which he’d heard her but saw no one. “Toi là!” she called out again when he was almost to the well. “Might we spend another moment together?” Ah, one of the lasses he’d enjoyed the eve before must be craving a bit more fun. Usually, he avoided seeing them one last time, but why not? So he headed her way, smiling widely just before he reached the hallway leading to the castle’s kitchens.

“Ye French are tireless wee lassies, aye?” Moments later, he was yanked into the shadows, not by a tempting lass but by the very opposite. Isabella De le Croix was a stuck-up, snappy woman who he’d done his best to avoid from the moment he met her. Or so he kept telling himself. Truth told, he had ‘mistakenly’ crossed paths with her far too often. In turn, she spurned him just as regularly. That hadn’t put him off as it should have, though. Rather he found it entertaining. Challenging. He had never come across a lass so seemingly unaffected by his charms. If that weren’t enough, he was admittedly curious as to what she looked like.

“She’s absolutely stunning,” some said. “An incomparable beauty,” others swore. Yet because Isabella had remained veiled over the past week to protect her virtue and good name, her features remained a mystery. Her opinion of Malcolm, however, was anything but. Men who lusted after women as he did weren’t fit for decent society. “What is this about?” He frowned and crossed his arms over his chest, pretending to be upset when he was more than a little curious. Where usually perfectly composed, Isabella clenched her hands as though impatient. Nervous. “Why do ye want another moment with me of all people?” he asked. “Shhh.

Silencieuse.” She peered out at the courtyard. “Just stand here a moment, oui? Yes?” He narrowed his eyes, thinking about that, seeing an opportunity. “And what will ye do for me in return?” “Always such a scoundrel! Toujours une telle fripouille!” She shook her head. “Can you not just show a woman simple kindness?” There was no missing the disgust in her voice. “Or must she bed you first?” “Typically, bedding her is the kindness.” Malcolm chuckled, but it was true. He enjoyed lasses a great deal and made a rule of seeing them well-satisfied. “So what will ye do for me, lass? For I dinnae have time to stand around.” That’s all he got out before she grabbed the front of his tunic, yanked him into the sunlight, pushed her veil up over her mouth, and kissed him.

He barely had a moment to register how soft her lips felt before she stepped back, slapped him hard, and fled down the hallway. “Bloody hell,” he cursed, baffled. What was that all about? As it happened, it would be nearly two years before he found out. Two more years of bliss before the devious she-devil named Isabella De la Croix came for his soul. Chapter One Coastal Argyll, Scotland December 1346 Malcolm read the missive that had arrived from France weeks ago yet again, trying to make sense of it. “I didnae even kiss her!” He and his brother Teagan sat in front of the fire in Castle MacLauchlin’s great hall, enjoying a dram of whisky. Sprig and holly were laid about for the upcoming Hogmanay celebration. “Aye, ye did kiss her,” Teagan reminded. “I remember ye saying such after the fact.” “Nay, I said she kissed me.

” He shook his head. “Not the other way around.” Finding the whole sordid situation amusing, Teagan released a rare chuckle. “If I recall correctly, ye bragged that ye got in a last kiss with the prude before we departed.” He perked a brow at Malcolm. “Something ye claimed no man would likely be able to do again.” “Did I say all that, then?” He narrowed his eyes as if giving it thought, knowing full well he’d said precisely that. “I dinnae recall.” “Well, recall or not, enough happened to gain ye a new wife.” Teagan downed the rest of his whisky and was about to say more when Keenan’s first-in-command, Kenneth, strode in.

“A ship has been spotted south of here,” he informed. “She’s flying French colors.” More than likely, it was Isabella then. Their older brother Keenan, laird of Clan MacLauchlin, was visiting the Taylor holding, so it fell to Malcolm and Teagan to welcome her retinue. “Aye, then,” Malcolm grumbled. He had never dreaded anything more. Not really. Was his curiosity piqued? Naturally. Did he look forward to seeing Isabella without a veil? Absolutely. Would he have preferred not being forced into this? Undoubtedly.

But what could he do when she claimed he took her virtue? If that weren’t enough, she came from a wealthy family, so she satisfied the criteria of the pact he’d made with his brothers. Marry not for love but to help fill the family coffers. He sighed and shouldered into a fur cloak, winking at a lass in passing as he and Teagan headed outside. With any luck, he would be back enjoying a woman again in no time. For, surely, Isabella only meant this to be a marriage of convenience. What else could it be when she had flat-out lied? He knew nothing about being faithful to one woman. He could hardly imagine it. So she best not expect otherwise. Why would she, though, when she knew of his fondness for the opposite sex? “She is married, you know?” Isabella’s condescending voice had hissed, pulling him into the past. Back to the bustling castle and the first time they met.

“Have you no shame?” Though he couldn’t see her face, her build was delicate, and her scent like honeysuckle. Sweet and feminine. She might have been chastising him for flirting with a married woman, but he took no of ense. Betrothed lasses were lonelier than most, so he liked to think he brought them happiness. Intrigued, he’d of ered Isabella the smile that usually won over lasses. “Have I any shame?” He’d shaken his head. “Nay.” Flashing her a crooked grin, he had shifted closer and tried to see past her veil, wondering if mayhap this was her way of flirting. “Why should I?” “Fripouille,” she’d muttered, calling him a scoundrel in French. “Keep away.

” With that, she left, walking with her head a wee bit too high by the looks of it. “Suit yerself,” he had said under his breath, focusing on another lass. Yet he’d remained curious. Too curious. And just look where that got him. Marrying the chit. By the time he, Teagan, and Kenneth made it to the coast, the snowfall had let up, and visibility improved. Enough to see the French ship easily enough. Malcolm frowned and glanced at Kenneth. “It doesnae look like ‘tis heading this way.

” Kenneth met his frown and shook his head. “Nay, it appears to be continuing north, so mayhap ‘tis not her?” “’Tis precisely how the ship was described, though.” Malcolm narrowed his eyes. “I see the De le Croix family crest, so ‘tis definitely them.” Teagan frowned, perplexed. “Then, where are they going?” “Not here.” Malcolm took in the crew. They appeared normal enough, but then pirates could disguise themselves. “Mayhap, the ship is no longer theirs.” Though he wanted out of this marriage, the idea of any lass in the hands of pirates didn’t sit well.

“I intend to follow the ship.” He looked at Teagan. “I have to save her if I can.” His brother shook his head. “Ye dinnae even know where ‘tis going.” “North.” He glanced at the sky. “I’d imagine the unpredictable weather and dangerous waters they are heading into will keep them close to the shore, too.” “Och, there’s all sorts of rabble up that way.” Yet, a glimmer of anticipation lit Teagan’s eyes.

“Warring clans and more pirates.” His brother winked, clearly of the mind to join him. “But above all, and most importantly, a handsome dowry.” “Aye.” Malcolm nodded. “So, we best follow.” While he and his brother had more warfare behind them than most could handle, situations like this were welcome. A chance to release pent-up emotions. Restless energy born not just from the relatively idle time since returning home but a means to fight old demons. To take out post-war anger on opponents who deserved what they had coming.

Teagan took in the ship and sky before he sighed, shook his head, and said exactly what Malcolm knew he would. “Well, I cannae let ye go alone.” He glanced at Kenneth. “Malcolm and I will head up the coast. Send some fighting men and supplies after us. Colmac is in charge until we return.” Though Kenneth looked at them with concern, he left. “Ye dinnae need to come, brother.” Malcolm shook his head. “Keenan probably wouldnae like it.

” “Aye, not for my sake, though, but everyone else’s,” Teagan muttered. They started north, tracking the ship. “He doesnae think I’m fit to be around anyone beyond the castle when truly, all is well. I am well.” “Aye?” Malcolm said softly. While he understood Teagan’s need to get out, he tended to agree with Keenan. Teagan might seem somewhat improved since they made peace with the Taylor clan, but he was far from recovered after all the years of fighting. It had taken its toll on all three brothers but Teagan the most. So said his long bouts of silence. The haunted look that came upon him too often.

A glazed expression that bespoke someone reliving the horrors of his past. Then there were his spurts of rage. Less as time went on, but even one bout was one too many. Unlike Malcolm and Keenan, Teagan had trouble pushing past his rage. He grappled with what they had seen. The atrocities that were part of wartime. Though every so often, Malcolm’s own rage roared up, he was able to push it back down. Lasses had been a big part of that. A healing process, so to speak. Losing himself in their soft bodies.

Forgetting for a moment, he had spent nearly a decade fighting. “Aye, I’m fine,” Teagan replied, pulling him from his thoughts. “If anything, ‘twill do me good to travel a wee bit.” “More like give ye an opportunity to use yer sword again,” he muttered but was glad to have his brother along anyway. Perhaps some fighting here and there would be a good thing. Allow Teagan to let his rage out without losing control of it. Because it was there, simmering, just waiting to be freed. “Based on what we might face,” Teagan pointed out, “my blade will be welcome.” Without doubt, he was right because nothing but trouble lay north. Something they occasionally discussed along the way, but mostly fell into a companionable silence.

“I get the sense Isabella’s ship willnae be stopping anytime soon,” Teagan mentioned later that day. The sun had nearly set, and the men Kenneth sent had joined them hours ago. “Will we ride through the night or catch up on the morn?

.

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