Scoundrel’s Vengeance – Sky Purington

“STOP THE BLOODY bastard!” Keenan spurred his horse. “But keep him alive!” Not giving his brothers a chance at the lout, he got to him first and yanked him from his mount. Beyond enraged, he leapt down from his steed and strode after the man when he thought to scramble away. “I dinnae think so.” He knocked the blade from his opponent’s hand, grabbed him by the front of his tunic, and slammed him back against a tree. “Ye’ll be paying for yer havoc.” He pressed a blade to his enemy’s throat, tempted to slice it if for no other reason than to make someone suffer for what he had come home to. The state of his clan after war and wide-spread illness. “Tell us what clan sent ye, ye bloody coward!” Though the man trembled when met with Keenan’s anger, he jutted out his chin in defiance. A brave one, then. Typically, he appreciated courage, but not right now. Not when yet another miscreant tried to steal from him and his people. “He’s of the Taylor lot,” his cousin Colmac informed, joining Keenan and his brothers. “They have been giving us more trouble than usual, m’Laird.” His heart leapt into his throat.

The Taylor Clan? “More trouble than usual?” He narrowed his eyes at the young man. “State yer name.” When the lad offered no response, his jaw still locked defiantly, Keenan shoved the blade against his cock. “If I have to ask again,” he ground out, “ye’ll be down a pair of bollocks at the verra least.” He shook his head. “Ye dinnae want to test me. I am not in the mood.” The lad tried, he really did, but when faced with a knife to his groin, he caved as readily as any would. Not to say he didn’t do it with a fair bit more bite than most. “Angus,” he spat.

Light brown hair flopped over his eye. “The name’s Angus.” “Angus?” Keenan murmured, surprised when he realized who the lad must be. Had so much time passed? “Surely not wee Angus of the Taylor clan?” “Aye, though I am not so wee anymore.” In spite of his defiant attitude, Angus continued trembling. But then what most referred to as Keenan’s ‘berserker’ rage had surfaced, and he’d pressed the blade tighter without realizing it. He remembered Angus as a wee tot like it was yesterday. More so, the adoration in Angus’s sister’s bright green eyes when she looked at her brethren. For a moment, he nearly faltered but caught himself. Whilst the man he had once been would have pulled his blade away, the man he was now knew better.

Any soft-heartedness he might have had was long gone. “Ye’ve taken to horse thieving then, aye?” He shook his head, well aware that all but one of Angus’s comrades had already fled into the night. “Who sent ye? Yer da, the laird?” A laird, as he recalled, who was not above horse thieving at one time. When Angus clammed up again, Colmac spoke for him. “The Taylor chieftain was taken by the illness,” he informed. “’Tis rumored they have a lass overseeing things now. The laird’s daughter.” “The laird’s daughter?” He had thought of her many times over the years. Too many considering the pain she’d caused him in the end. That was all behind him now, though.

She had been the sort of lass he’d enjoyed in his youth, had even thought to marry, but wanted nothing to do with now. He did, however, see her as a means to an end. “Take Angus back to the castle, Colmac,” he requested. “We will rejoin ye soon.” Colmac nodded. His cousin had done well overseeing their clan in Keenan’s absence, making a truly favorable marriage alliance with Clan MacLomain. Since then, even though he had revived Clan MacLauchlin from its nearly broken state, they still had a long way to go. After they were alone, he sheathed his blade and shot his brothers a grim look. “We cannae keep on like this. ’Tis time to take more immediate action.

” Since they had returned from war less than a month ago, numerous attacks had been made on their castle and people. Thus far, they were only small affronts like the one Angus had just made, but they were wearing down what little resources they had. They needed to think bigger if they hoped to get their clan back on track. Malcolm, who had always had an uncanny ability for sniffing out opportunity, especially when it came to lasses, grinned. “Might this have something to do with the wee Taylor lass?” “Aye, somewhat.” He looked from Malcolm to his more serious, anger-prone brother, Teagan. “It has to do with us using what we have at our disposal to save our clan. To achieve our goals.” Teagan narrowed his eyes. “Which is what, brother?” “Us.

” He peered at their castle through the woodland. “Alliances we might make to bring us back to what we once were.” “Aye.” Malcolm’s eyes lit with anticipation. The chase his brother sensed coming. “We will do the same as Colmac. Because I have a wee lass or two in mind that—” “Not just any lass.” Keenan shook his head. “But hand-selected lasses that will bring our clan what it needs.” “Colmac’s marriage to Rona, forging an alliance with the MacLomains, is no small thing,” Teagan reminded.

“Aye, but ’tis not enough.” Keenan looked from Teagan to Malcolm. “We also need alliances that dinnae require love.” No more a believer in love nowadays than Keenan and Teagan, Malcolm eyed Keenan curiously. “Who were ye thinking of beyond the Taylor lass?” “Beyond the Taylor lass for starters.” Keenan ignored the memory of her angelic voice in his mind and focused on what must be done. “From one enemy to another, so to speak,” Teagan said softly, following his brother’s meaning. Keenan intended to use the Taylor lass to achieve his goals. “Ye’re going after an alliance with Clan Campbell.” “Aye.

” He looked from brother to brother, knowing he need not ask but preferred to begin this on equal footing. “And ye two will be going after riches even greater no matter what it takes, aye?” Malcolm and Teagan glanced at each other before they nodded, much-welcomed determination on their faces. The years behind them had been hard and watching their clan suffer, all that much more difficult. If they could do something to make things right, they would. Anything at all based on the look in their eyes. “Aye, then, brothers.” Keenan held out his hand. “Let us make a pact. A Highlander’s pact if ye will, to see Clan MacLauchlin brought back to what it once was. To see our people well-fed, protected, and cared for no matter what it takes.

” “No matter what lass,” Teagan swore. He grasped Keenan’s hand. “A pact it is.” “A pact indeed.” Malcolm grasped their adjoined hands, without doubt relishing the idea. “May our unknowing lasses provide us what our clan needs.” He grinned, not doubting it for a moment. “How else can it be?” That, it so happened, was but the beginning of how much he underestimated what he’d just gotten the three of them into. Chapter One Four Days Later “I HAVE HEARD things about the Taylor lass,” Colmac warned. They broke their fast in the great hall.

“She isnae the girl we remember, m’Laird.” “Aye, so ye’ve said several times now.” Keenan shook his head, unconcerned. Who of them had not changed? It was part of life during times of loss. “And I replied it doesnae matter what kind of lass she is because I have something she wants.” Once he and his brothers had a plan, they had filled Colmac in on everything. “And she has something I want.” As it turned out, they did not only hold Angus hostage, but a wee lad as well. Unfortunately, like Angus, he was unwilling to say much. Rather, he shared his kinsman’s stubborn spirit, more often than not, glaring at Keenan when he tried to speak with him.

It said much about how despicable the Taylor clan had become that they would send a mere boy to do their thieving. Not to say they were alone in such. Sadly, it happened often enough. Bairns became men long before their time these days. Nevertheless, outside of Keenan checking in on the lad daily, he was treated as a prisoner. An act that, though not barbaric in the least, continually earned him looks of disappointment from Colmac’s wife, Rona. So be it. This was what they needed to do. What he needed to do for his people. The MacLomains had offered assistance, but it was not enough.

And it certainly could not assuage his anger over what enemy clans had done to his people whilst he was away at war. Aye, they had allies, but it seemed when they were at their most vulnerable, they had more enemies than not. “Angus swears his sister willnae agree to any terms for his safe return,” Teagan said around a mouthful of bannock. “Do ye think he speaks the truth?” “’Tis hard to imagine of the gentle, bonny lass I remember.” Malcolm shook his head, a wee bit too doe-eyed all things considered. When Keenan scowled at him, his youngest brother was quick to keep things simple rather than elaborate on the past. “’Tis hard imagining her doing anything but weaving tapestries.” That was a bit much, but it was better than Malcolm dredging up things Keenan would just as soon forget. “Then ye’ve a small mind, Malcolm,” Rona bit out, finally saying her piece. Eyes the color of fiery amber swept over him and his brothers.

“What has become of the lot of ye? Ye used to be so noble. Now ye’re scoundrels all!” When Colmac went to silence her, Keenan stayed him. “’Tis all right, cousin. She but speaks her mind. Something MacLomains are well known for.” He leveled with her. “Aye, lass, we are different than ye might remember. War has most certainly changed us. But our devotion to our clan remains unchanged. As do the lengths we are willing to go to see it prosper once more.

” She frowned. “Even at the expense of an innocent woman?” Malcolm issued a dark chuckle. “She willnae be so innocent after—” “At the expense of whatever ’twill take,” Keenan vowed, cutting off his brother. “Whatever it takes to see things as they should be around here again and to have vengeance on my enemies.” “Vengeance that will do more harm than good,” Aunt Mórag’s earlier words echoed in his mind. “Ye must release this awful darkness eatin’ at ye, nephew, or ’twill consume yer soul.” Once a far more active part of this clan, since Mórag had lost her husband and son—Colmac’s younger brother—to the illness, she’d become a shell of the woman she once was. Now, though she welcomed visitors and was still a valued healer, she rarely left her chambers. Rather, she was prone to giving advice and issuing ominous warnings. A spellcaster some called her, relaying messages from the dead after seeing so much death.

All foolery, in his opinion. He had seen enough death to know when it came, and it was final. Nothing was left in its wake but decay and pain. Then endless numbness. He downed half his whisky, be damned the hour. If it kept his demons at bay, yet left his mind clear enough, so be it. “Do ye think she will come?” Teagan said softly, his haunted eyes on the hearth, his thoughts clearly far away. No doubt still on a battlefield in France or England. “Do ye think Fionna Taylor will be so easily lured?” He looked at Keenan. “Or do ye think her changed by all of this? By all the havoc that has befallen our country? Enough so to ignore yer demands?” “If she cares for kin as I do, then nay, I dinnae think she will ignore me.

” He downed the rest of his drink. “She will see through my wishes or lose her brother. Simple as that.” Teagan’s gaze stayed on his face for a moment, weighing what he saw in Keenan’s eyes before he nodded and resumed eating. Before they went off to war, Teagan had been the most light-hearted of the three. As a rule now, he was either lost in thought or brimming with silent rage he seemed incapable of releasing. It terrified most, but not Keenan and Malcolm because they understood its root. “So, do ye think our sister will come home soon?” Malcolm popped a berry in his mouth, grinning as he chomped it. “I am eager to see her again.” “There hasnae been any word.

” Keenan shook his head. “This late in the season, I imagine she will stay on with Clan MacLeod and return to us after winter.” “Aye, ’tis good.” Despite the disappointment in Malcolm’s voice, he kept smiling. “Best to stay safe with allies for now.” Not for the first time, he marveled at how easily a grin came to Malcolm’s face. “M’Laird,” his first-in-command, Kenneth, called out, entering the great hall. “We have movement at the northern border. Taylor colors to be sure.” “Have they a lass with them?” “Aye,” Kenneth said hesitantly.

“If that is what ye want to call her.” When he perked a brow in question, his man elaborated. “She doesnae quite look like one, is all.” How does a lass not look like a woman? Especially one who had been so lovely in her youth? He might have remained outwardly calm, but his heart beat with anticipation. While tempted to make her travel all the way to his castle, he was too anxious. What if she turned back before she made it all the way? What if she turned coward? He could not risk it. So, best that he meet her and assure her that he would not take her prisoner, too. Not yet. Not until she had served her purpose. After that, she was fair game.

“Ready Angus for our return, brothers.” He wrapped a fur around his shoulders and joined Kenneth. “Fionna will need just the right amount of persuasion, I imagine.” Malcolm chuckled and nodded, waving him along. “’Twill be as ye wish, Keenan.” He nodded hello to fellow clansmen and women as he strode outside. Well aware he held two Taylor prisoners, some were warier than others, seeing strife on the horizon. Mostly because they knew who the Taylors were allied with. “How many men does Fionna have with her, Kenneth?” Keenan swung onto his horse. His steed had been with him through thick and thin.

A welcome friend in the midst of so many enemies. “And how well-armed are they?” “Only a handful of men,” Kenneth reported. “Fairly well-armed.” He nodded. So not enough to broach a confrontation, but enough weaponry to let him know she would not go down without a fight. “I would never wield a blade,” she had once chastised, “let alone use it against ye.” It seemed things had changed from those softly spoken words said a lifetime ago. He had smiled, agreeing how unimaginable it would be. They were young and innocent and saw the truce between their clans as a bright new beginning. Such foolishness.

Naiveté. Now here they were twelve years later, meeting once again. Only this time, their weapons were at the ready and their innocence long gone. So said the grim-faced group they approached in the woodland, undoubtedly led by the petite figure at their center. Despite Kenneth’s comments about her, he recognized Fionna right away. Her auburn-tinted, light brown hair might be tied back and her attire that of a man, but there was no mistaking she was a woman. Nor that the beauty of her youth had only grown more remarkable with age. What had changed, seen clearly in her striking, emerald-green eyes, was her genteel nature. Gone were the soft, shy smiles. The hopeful glint in her thickly lashed gaze.

Now her plush mouth was set into a hard line and her gaze unforgiving when it locked on him. Though it was hard to look away, to not challenge her right back, he took stock of those she had with her. Their weapons might be sheathed, but most rested their hands on the hilts of their blades, ready to move in an instant. There were ten men altogether, eight of whom, based on their weathered, gritty looks, were worthy opponents. Two were all pomp. Novices at best. She, however, was not all pomp, was she? When he looked at her again, he found her gaze still trained on him. Where once her eyes were alight with happiness and hope, now they were cold, lacking emotion. But then he supposed that was to be expected. “It has been too long, Fionna,” he said in greeting.

“Welcome.” “’Tis Chieftain Taylor to ye.” Her expression remained unreadable. “Laird MacLauchlin.” It was rare, if not unheard of, for women to become chieftains, but there could be little doubt the men she traveled with were fiercely loyal to her. As he recalled, Clan Taylor was not overly large. He doubted that had changed in these trying times. So, who he saw now might very well make up the bulk of her fighting men. “Chieftain Taylor, it is,” he conceded. “I am glad ye decided to heed my summons.

” He was going to simply say ‘came,’ but he was curious…how long could she wear that detached expression? Knowing how much she loved her brother, this was not what he had expected from her. Could he rile her up? Was there still life left in her? “I dinnae see how ye gave me much choice,” she said flatly. For a flicker of a moment, he swore disgust flashed in her eyes, but it vanished as soon as it appeared. “What will ye have of me?” She arched a brow. “What will it take for Angus’s safe return?” “We will discuss it at my castle.” She shook her head. “We will discuss it now.” He could not help a dry smile. She had gumption. He would give her that.

But this was out of her hands from start to finish. There would be no bargaining. Things would be done how he saw fit. “Ye will follow me to my castle and discuss terms.” He headed back the way he had come, throwing his ultimatum over his shoulder, “Or yer brother will be dead by sundown.”

.

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