Sweet Hellion – Tarah Scott

Dishonor. Coward. Shame. Disgrace. The accusatory words pounded through Rhys’ fevered dreams, alongside the cannon thunder that shook the earth. Again, and yet again, his men fell, the agony of their screams burning his soul while the acrid stench of gunpowder burned his lungs. A chaos of assault that began when William Ross, Viscount Munro, Rhys’ superior officer, fled the battlefield, a signal to the French of an easy win. Rhys tossed, the heat of disgrace causing a feverish sweat. Coward. Dishonor to the family. His father? How had he come here? Another wave of pain rose from the darkness, threatening to drag him into the abyss. “Easy, Rhys, easy lad,” Ewan’s soothing voice pierced the nightmare. “Here, take a sip of water.” The water did nothing to assuage the accusations. “No coward will serve under my command.

” Major General Lennox? The man had been like a father to him. How could a father accuse a son of cowardice after hearing his side of the story? His own father had shouted, “You have dishonored the Northwick title. Do not show your face in Portree again. You are a disgrace.” Rhys moaned. Surely, someone had survived who saw Munro flee the battlefield. He struggled to sit up, to explain. “Easy, lad.” This time, Liam offered succor. “Rest.

There will be plenty of time to fight later.” Nay. Such accusations never went away. They had to be corrected now. Someone’s palm brushed his forehead. “Do not fight anymore. Rest.” His eyelids were made of iron. With every breath, he slipped further into darkness, until the darkness rose up and consumed him. *** Emma silently halted in the hall behind the butler, who stood inside the viscount’s study.

“Miss Bamfield to see you, sir.” “Bamfield, you say?” Lord Munro looked up from the letter sitting before him on the gilded, French scrollwork desk. “Nae. I will not see her. I have no time to waste on foolish hags.” The wizened butler bobbed up and down. “Yes, my lord.” As the old man started to turn, Emma swept past him and through the library door. “Miss Bamfield.” The butler reached for her arm.

“I asked you to wait in the foyer.” Emma evaded him and headed straight for Lord Munro’s desk. These days, she cared little for waiting and even less for decorum. Lord Munro, the Earl of Cowie’s eldest son, huffed and glanced up, his expression of annoyance unmistakable. He paused. Then, his attention left her face and his gray eyes slid down her figure. She watched lust replace his annoyance. Not so long ago, she’d been naive enough to confuse lust with genuine attraction, maybe even love…but that was before her father’s death, before she’d met the deceitful Vicar Ramsay, and before her brother’s disappearance. Now, she just wanted the misery to end. “My lord,” she forced out that respectful greeting, sat in the chair opposite his desk and smoothed her skirts.

“I am Emma. Emma Bamfield.” “My lord?” the butler queried. Lord Munro dismissed the man with an impatient glare and stood. He rounded the desk and pulled another chair up facing hers. He sat, so scandalously close, their knees almost touched, then he leaned forward. Emma pursed her lips. “Miss Bamfield, a pleasure,” Lord Munro’s voice deepened. “Indeed, it is quite the pleasure to make your acquaintance. Might I offer you refreshment? A glass of sherry, perhaps?” With as little food as she’d eaten in recent days, the sherry would go straight to her head—but then, that’s obviously what the man wanted.

“Nae, thank you.” “Then, how might I be of service?” his tone took on an oily edge as his gaze flicked to her breasts. He’d had time to notice her shabby hat and faded gown, even if he hadn’t noted her hands, roughened from her employment as a seamstress and washerwoman for the Royal Northern Infirmary. He knew she wasn’t a lady. Still, being poor didn’t give him license to ogle her. Emma met his gaze squarely. “I have come for news of my brother, my lord. I am told he served under your command at Almeida. He joined the Green Jackets.” Lord Munro’s eyes yanked to hers in wary surprise.

“What did you say…Bamfield?” Emma’s heart jumped. The caution in the man’s eye announced he knew something. “Tory. Tory Bamfield.” She suddenly found it hard to breath. “Tory from Inverness. Do you know him?” Please God, say that you do. The man’s gaze sharpened. Emma swallowed. Lord Munro cleared his throat.

“Ah, Tory Bamfield. Aye, I recall the man. Blue eyes and a redhead, just like yourself, was he not?” His gaze dropped again to her breasts and his voice slid into a purr, “Though I daresay, you’re a damn sight prettier.” Under any other circumstances, she would have slapped the man’s pretentious face and sailed out the door. Now, she couldn’t. In her months of searching for Tory, Lord Munro was the first who seemed to know him. “Have you news of him, my lord?” Emma cursed the quiver in her voice. “The ministry will only tell me that he’s missing, and I—” “He is dead, Miss Bamfield,” Lord Munro interrupted. “Betrayed by Captain Rhys Macleod. The bastard deserted his men in battle.

His cowardice got the whole lot murdered.” Dead? Emma jumped to her feet and swayed. Lord Munro stood and reached for her. “Stay—” She shoved his hand and raced out of the room, out of the man’s townhouse and into the street. Dead. She turned in a hopeless circle. Her brother, her twin, the better part of them both. Dead. Like her father. Tears blinded her.

She picked up her skirts and stumbled away, not caring where she went. Tory couldn’t be gone. She would have known. They were twins, and so very, very close. Wind whipped her skirts. What would she do with the shop? She’d preserved Tory’s inheritance in anticipation of his return. Could she even consider selling the business now—all the tools that Tory had touched—a place that once rang with their laughter and sheltered their tears? Logic dictated that she’d be better off selling everything and renting a room at Mrs. Babcock’s boarding house. But logic held no sway in the rendering of her heart, in the denial of a stranger’s claims. God.

Tory. Are you truly gone? Why hadn’t she known? Would she never hear him call her ‘wee stinkpot’ ever again? Only when she stood on the step did she realize she’d returned home. She stared at the large painted sign above the door until she finally saw the words. J. R. Bamfield and Son, Wheelwright. Grief tightened her throat. Her father had proudly painted the words ‘and Son’ the day before Tory had joined the Green Jackets. Tory had promised to return and make him proud. Tears slid down Emma’s cheeks.

From that accursed day on, their lives had gone utterly wrong. Nearly a year later, their father died of a seizure. She’d written Tory, but he hadn’t replied. The last letter she’d received from him had been three months before. She stumbled into the shop and closed the door. Silence met her. The hearth fire had burned to ash. In times past, her father and brother had whistled and laughed over their work. She’d faithfully oiled and polished their tools and kept them hung on hooks about the shop’s white, lime-washed walls. Axes, saws, hammers, and mallets.

The wire wheel loops her father had last commissioned hung over the door, whatever wheels they’d been destined for had, no doubt, been long since forgotten. There truly was no reason to pay rent here now. Yet, how could she leave? The shop was her only connection to the past, to her family…to belonging, to love. Tears burned. Now, she truly was alone, and after her foolish affair with Vicar Ramsay, she’d ruined herself for any other man. Did it matter she’d thought she’d found love, someone to comfort her in her loneliness? When Joseph had proposed, she’d shared his bed that very night. After all, had he not promised that God would count their engagement as a vow? Emma wiped her eyes and gave a bitter snort. The very fact he had insisted they keep their engagement secret screamed of something unsavory. She shouldn’t have been shocked when his wife and children arrived at the door of the vicarage two months later. Still, that shock was nothing compared to the devastation of being introduced as the maid when she’d escorted them to his study, confused by the woman’s claim.

“You are such a fool.” Emma banged her forehead lightly against the shop’s green painted door. She’d lost everything. Her father. Her virtue. Now, even the dream of her brother’s return had been snatched away because of a cowardly commanding captain. What name had Lord Munro called him? Rhys Macleod. Because of Rhys Macleod, she would never again hear her brother whistle over his work. “What now, Emma?” she asked. “What now?” She crossed the shop to the back window.

The grindstone stood abandoned in the center of the small yard. Weeds surrounded the well and stable. She’d sold the horse months ago. With her wages, she couldn’t afford such a luxury. She eyed the woodshed, still holding its valuable storage, a halffinished hand cart and stacks of oak and elm for spokes and hubs, each arranged by year. It was good wood. She’d faithfully kept it for Tory’s return. But now? She slammed her fist atop the worktable. Something bounced off and clattered to the floor. A revolver.

Tory’s revolver. The revolver he’d spent hours teaching her to use. Slowly, she bent and scooped up the weapon. Perhaps there was something to live for, after all. Perhaps she should take justice into her own hands. Chapter Two Rhys squinted in the mirror as he carefully maneuvered a razor around the scar running from his cheekbone down the length of his jaw. The purple skin faded more by the day. Eventually, time would render it silver and far less noticeable, but nothing would fade the scars on his soul. He returned the razor to its leather pouch, wiped his face, then went to the window of his small abbey room. Even the dawn held a touch of blood.

The fatigue of the sleepless night settled over his shoulders. He’d not slept through a night since Almeida. At least Blackstone Abbey provided a peaceful place to wander, and its owner and fellow soldier, Lord Ewan Frasier, a brother to night terrors, as well. Or, he had been before meeting his bonny wife, Kyla. The pinks of dawn began to fade into pale blues, signaling time to begin the day’s work. He cast a glance over the white sheep dotting the fields. The upper fence needed mending. Working with sheep soothed him, as did spending his days working the earth. He understood the creatures. On his estate, he’d often worked alongside his men on the fields or in the blacksmith and wheelwright shops.

He found the scent of earth and wool along with the ring of a hammer to be grounding. He closed his eyes and drew energy from the warmth of the sun on his face. In the months he’d been here, Blackstone Abbey had begun to feel like home. Almost. Nothing could replace his own estate…the one that vicious rumors had ripped from his grasp. Rhys released a breath. He wasn’t done. He would fight for his inheritance after he finished his obligations in Inverness. He’d spent nearly every last coin he possessed to see his men’s families looked after, as best they could be looked after with no man to care for and protect them. Samuel.

Fionn. Patrick. A dozen others whose faces haunted his nightmares. Now, only one man remained, Tory Bamfield. The one man who had extracted a promise from Rhys. He had to find the man’s wee sister, Emma. Rhys opened the wardrobe door and reached for a clean plaid. A ray of sunlight spilled through the window and fell on the scarlet cloth folded neatly on the bottom shelf. His captain’s coat. He’d removed it the day he received his letter of dishonorable discharge and hadn’t worn it since.

Rhys snatched his plaid and pushed the wardrobe door shut with an elbow. Plaid in place, he cinched a leather belt around his waist. Perhaps, after he mended the upper fence, he would ride to Inverness and find the lass. Shame stabbed. How many times had he said that in the six months he’d been at Blackstone Abbey? He was a lazy sod. Nae, that was a lie. He was afraid. He should have died that day on the battlefield, not Tory. Would Emma know the truth when she looked into his eyes? Would she see what he saw every night when he closed his eyes? Cannonballs shrieked overhead as he knelt by Tory’s side, desperately attempting to staunch the wheelwright’s blood. ”Find her,” Tory had gasped.

“Make sure she is wed. My father promised.” “Tory.” Rhys tried desperately to swallow his fear. So much blood. So much. “Ye will look after her yourself.” Tory had to live. He had to. Tory’s lips pulled back in a grimace.

“Tell the wee stinkpot I will watch o’er her from above.” Rhys drew a sharp breath and his surroundings blurred. “Blackstone,” he whispered. Blackstone. He swallowed and closed his eyes. How long before the memories faded? Would they dull? He forced his legs into motion. After leaving the dormitory, he took the abbey passages to the refectory. He spotted Ewan and his younger brother, Liam, leaning over wooden bowls at the table as they spooned steaming porridge into their mouths. Ewan looked up as Rhys neared. “The sheep in the east field escaped again.

” Liam groaned and ran his hands through his blond hair. “Ungrateful bastards. Why are they not happy grazing their own grass? What do they think they’ll find down by the pond?” “You’re not fit to farm,” Ewan told his brother in a tone of dry amusement. “‘Tis fortunate you wed an heiress.” Rhys cleared his throat and offered, “I will find them.” “Good man.” Liam grinned. Rhys grabbed several bannocks, left the refectory and cut across the courtyard, headed for the stables. The sheep search would go much faster on horseback. At the stables, he ate his bannocks as he saddled his horse.

No doubt, the wee beasties had headed south, where the grass was plentiful. Rhys saddled and headed out, into the morning sun. The sun hung low in the sky when Rhys returned home. As usual, one task had turned into three. Still, the day wasn’t over. He rolled his shoulders. Winter was months away, but they would need much wood in order to keep the abbey warm. He could chop wood for at least two hours and would likely fall dead into bed after supper. That could bode a good night. He guided his horse into the stable, dismounted, then lifted the stirrup and began unbuckling the strap.

The barrel of a revolver dug into the flesh between his shoulder blades. He froze. “Who have I offended?” “Offended?” a female voice said. What the bloody hell was a woman doing pointing a gun at him? Rhys started to turn. “Uh uh,” she warned. He bent and spun, striking her arm. The revolver roared as the weapon flew from her grasp, then bounced off the stable door. Rhys tackled her to the cobblestones and grimaced at the press of her breasts against his chest. He hadn’t touched a woman in two years and his cock immediately took notice. A pair of frightened blue eyes held his—beautiful eyes with silky, dark lashes.

Her lips were wide and full in the blush of her youth, and. a light dusting of freckles covered her nose. “I cannot do it,” she sobbed. Rhys rolled his weight onto an elbow, but held her trapped with a precautionary leg. “Who are you?” “You killed my brother,” she spat. Rhys blinked. “Pardon?” “You deserve to die.” Silent tears spilled from her eyes. She shoved him onto his back and scrambled to her feet. “You deserve to rot in hell.

” He started. Had God sent an ange vengeur to punish him? Only an avenging angel would look at him with such accusing eyes. It was a shame he hadn’t let her shoot him. He gained his feet in one smooth motion. “If you want to kill a man, dinnae get close enough for him to take your weapon.” Her brow furrowed. Something about her tugged at memory. He wasn’t one to forget a face, and who could forget the beauty of the woman who stood before him? She’d lost her hat, and flaming red hair fell in a tangle of waves down her back. “Have we met?” he asked, before realizing how stupid he sounded. Her eyes bore into him.

“You killed my brother.” While he’d killed men, he certainly hadn’t harmed his own countrymen. “Your brother is?” “Tory,” she whispered. “Tory Bamfield.” Rhys stared. Bloody hell. Emma Bamfield.

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