Taming the Scotsman – Kinley MacGregor

Today was the anniversary of the day. The day that had changed Ewan MacAllister’s life forever. In one moment, he had been the naive son of a respected and feared laird. In the next, he’d been the murderer of his own brother. His stomach knotted by grief and guilt, Ewan stared out across the loch where its dark, choppy waves shimmered like glass, and remembered his brother Kieran’s face. Remembered the day he had taken the one thing Kieran had loved more than life itself. “Damn you, Isobail,” he snarled before he downed the last of the ale in his flagon. If not for Isobail and her evil machinations, the world in which he lived would have been an entirely different place. Ewan would have married Catie ingen Anghus. And no doubt Kieran would have married Fia of the MacDouglas clan and they would have lived out their lives as close friends. Now his brother was lost to the blackened depths of this loch and Ewan was sworn to live out his life alone, paying penance for the fact that he had cost his brother his immortal soul. Ewan had brought untold pain and suffering to all the people he loved and death to the brother who had meant the world to him. It never ceased to amaze him just how easily so many lives could be destroyed by one foolish decision. One decision he would give up his own soul to change. Agony washed through him anew.

Somewhere out there in the peaceful depths of the loch rested the body of the brother he’d been closest to. The brother who had been his best friend, his confidant. Though Ewan loved his other brothers, it had been Kieran who had walked beside him through thick and thin. Kieran whom he had trusted with the deepest secrets of his heart. Until the day Isobail had come between them with her lies and schemes. She had been gifted with the face of heaven and the soul of Satan’s daughter. No one had ever mattered to her, but herself. Ewan drew a ragged sigh, his eyes stinging from his unshed tears as he recalled the moment that had shattered their youths… “I love you, Ewan.” Isobail’s dark blue eyes had brimmed with tears as her long blond hair moved in the breeze. She’d grabbed him while he was on his way to the stables and pulled him behind the keep, into his mother’s garden.

Once there, she had thrown herself into his arms and kissed him with a passion the likes of which he’d never tasted before or since. Barely more than a lad, he’d been unable to fully understand her words. How could a woman so fair, so fine, even have a passing care for a lanky lad who could scarce walk about without banging his head into something? Ewan knew he didn’t have the handsomeness or charms of his brothers. It was a fact everyone commented on. So how could Isobail want to be alone with him? He’d tried to pull away, but she’d refused. “You are promised to Kieran,” he’d said. Her viperous eyes had filled with more tears. “That is of Kieran’s doing, not mine. I tried to tell him that I do not love him, but he won’t listen.” Her hand had burned into his arm as she rubbed the muscles there and leaned her body against his invitingly.

“Please, Ewan, you must help me. I dinna want to be bound to a man I dinna love. One who listens, but never hears a word I say. It is you I need. You who have won my heart with your silent power. I want a man who can care for me, protect me. One who doesn’t bore me with words. Take me to England and I will be yours forevermore.” Young and foolish, he’d believed her while never knowing she’d said the very same words to Kieran to get him to take her away from Robby MacDouglas. Robby had been her father’s choice of husband, but Isobail had refused to see the union met.

She’d told Kieran that she loved him and that if he would help her, she would gladly be his wife. However, the only person Isobail loved was herself. In the quietness of the garden on that spring day, Ewan had lost his innocence in more ways than one. Three days later, the two of them were sneaking out of the bailey and headed to England supposedly to meet up with Isobail’s aunt, who would take them in. In truth, they had been riding to meet Isobail’s English lover. Ewan would never in his life forget the sight of the arrogant man who had been waiting for them. The sight of Isobail and her lover embracing. It was her lover’s hall they had journeyed to, not her aunt’s. Her eyes had been shining with satisfaction as she imparted her devious plan to her lover, told him how she had fooled the MacAllisters into bringing her safely to his arms. First, she’d tried to get Kieran to take her to England, but when Kieran had decided to keep her in Scotland and marry her for himself, she’d turned her sights on Ewan, knowing he would be unable to stay there if he was to have her.

I knew he’d have no choice save to bring me. How could he stay at home while Kieran was there to hate him? Enraged over their deception, Ewan had challenged and fought the English knight. But too young to have gleaned much skill and too uncoordinated to match the smaller man’s agility, Ewan had lost the battle. Defeated mentally and physically, he had been forced from the hall and sent on his way. To this day the betrayal hung in Ewan’s heart with the weight of a millstone. The entire way back to Scotland, he’d vowed to make it up to Kieran. To tell his brother they were both better off without the faithlessness of Isobail. But he’d come home to his brother’s wake. Back to a home filled with grief over the fact that Kieran, unable to live without Isobail, had killed himself. On this very day years past, his brother had come to this shore, doffed his clothes and sword, and walked out into the murky depths of the loch, where he had found an end to the pain of his broken heart.

How Ewan wished he could find his own release. “I’m so sorry, Kieran,” Ewan whispered to the waves that lapped at his booted feet. “If I could, brother, I’d gladly give you my life so that you could have yours back.” As it had so many times before, the thought of joining Kieran crossed his mind. It would be so easy to just walk out into the waves as Kieran had done and let their soothing peace end his pain, too. To sink himself to the bottom of the loch, where he could finally make amends to Kieran… Chapter 1 It took a lot of nerve to face the devil in his lair. Or in the case of Eleanor ingen Alexander, it just took a lot of desperation. Desperation that hung in her heart and throat, choking her with its urgency. If the devil refused to help her… Well, she’d walk herself to England alone then. No one would sway her from this course.

No one. Not her father, not her mother. Not even “the devil” himself. As she neared the cave at the top of the mountain, her courage faltered. Could a man really live in a cave? That was the rumor, but until now she’d assumed it to be nothing more than a myth made up by men who were too afraid of Ewan MacAllister to face him. After all, the MacAllisters were the most respected and feared men in all of Scotland. They were also said to be the richest. Surely such men, unlike her burly and irksome father, would have some form of refinement. Wouldn’t they? Yet as she looked about the barren mountain-top, she saw nothing even remotely resembling a cabin or home. Ewan MacAllister really was the barbarian of legend.

“That’s just as well,” she said, lifting the hem of her dark blue skirt to step around a cluster of rocks. She might be dreaming in her heart of a refined gentleman of courtly virtues to win her hand, but a barbarian was what she needed at the moment. A barbarian with a mighty big sword. From all she’d heard, Ewan MacAllister was just what her adventure called for. At the top of the craggy slope, she realized that the “cave” had a wooden door that was mostly concealed by brush and dirt. Apparently Ewan had no desire for visitors. Any other time, she would take the hint and respect his wishes, but right now, she couldn’t afford to. Her need for freedom was much greater than his for solitude. Nora started to knock, then paused as she looked about the small cleared area. What an interesting place he had here.

The cave looked out onto the loch far below where the sunlight glistened on the water. It was a breathtaking view. Calm. Serene. No wonder the man had chosen it. Surely a true barbarian wouldn’t be able to appreciate something as refined and beautiful as this view. It gave her hope. Moving back to the door, she knocked on it. No one answered. “Hello?” she called, knocking louder.

“Is anyone there?” Still no answer. Undaunted, she tried the door. The latch clicked, and it opened easily enough. Inside she found an even more interesting abode. The floor was covered with plush rugs and rushes. The stone walls even held a few tapestries to blot the dampness. There was a strangely designed fireplace that had a bent flume and chimney to go out the side of the mountain instead of up through the top. A table and two chairs were set before it. But the most interesting thing of all was the bed at the rear. Large and lush, it looked as if it belonged in some fine noble’s castle, not stuck out in the midst of the woods, on top of a mountain.

Ewan MacAllister was a strange man indeed. Why would he choose such a place and then bring with him the comforts of home? And it was then she heard the snarling sound of the beast himself. It was a brief, eerie kind of snort, terrifying and deep. Her heart skipped, then pounded as she realized it came from the large bed. All she could see from her position by the door was a dark lump she now assumed was a man. He was asleep? It was high afternoon, too early to be abed for the night and too late to be abed from the morning. A nap perhaps? Or was he ill? Please, not sickness. She needed him to be hale and hearty for this venture. A sick barbarian wouldn’t do at all. “Excuse me?” she asked, stepping nearer the lump.

“Lord Ewan, might I have a word with you?” Only the snore answered her. Well, bother this. Here she’d come all this way expecting to face an ogre and all she got was a sleeping cub. Where was the giant of legend who terrified everyone who spoke his name? She needed that fearsome beast. Aye, she needed him. Stiffening her spine, she approached the bed, then faltered again as she saw him clearly for the first time in the dim light of the cave. He lay on his side, spread out across the mattress as naked as the day he’d entered the world. Not once in her life had Nora ever beheld a naked man, but she was quite certain no other man looked as fine and handsome as this one. Especially not while he slept. His long, muscled limbs seemed to go on forever.

He was so large in stature and muscle that the bed barely accommodated him, and if he were stretched out to his full height, she was certain his arms and legs would be left dangling over the edges. His black hair was shaggy and ill-trimmed, and draped over a face so manly and handsome that it stole her breath to look at him. He held at least a week’s growth of beard on his face. The rugged, untamed look only made him seem even more desirable. Fierce. Barbaric. His tanned flesh was stretched tight over muscles that were rock-hard and well defined. Aye, this was a fine man to make her heart race and her body warm. Truly, he had no equal. Before she could stop herself, she realized her gaze was traveling down to the center of that delectably male body to his… Her face flamed.

Och now, she couldn’t be having any of this. She was a decent maid. Not some hoyden to be staring at a man’s piece. Although… Nora cocked her head as she studied it. It was an interesting piece. Rather large as it lay nestled in the short, dark curls. It seemed oddly harmless lying there, and she had a sudden urge to reach out and touch it. Eleanor ingen Alexander, where is your mind? In the sty obviously. Mired with earthy, lust-filled curiosity. Though she’d never seen a man naked before, she most certainly knew what naked men did to naked women and what could happen to a woman who allowed a man to do that to her.

It was certainly a maid’s downfall. Her face burning even more, she quickly grabbed the fur covers on the bed and tossed them over him. There now, all better. Well, not all better. There was still the sight of his broad, gleaming shoulders and those long, masculine legs… Nora! Oh very well, she’d look no more. At least not there. But she couldn’t quite seem to keep her gaze from drifting over him again. There wasn’t really anything wrong with looking at a man’s legs. Was there? As she contemplated the sinfulness of it, he shifted and the covers took a dangerous tilt. “We can’t be having any of that,” she said aloud, pulling the cover back over him.

As her fingers accidentally brushed his hard, rippled stomach, one large, powerful hand seized her wrist and held it immobile. Gasping, she looked up into a pair of the bluest eyes she’d ever beheld. Eyes that were rimmed in red and filled with rage as they narrowed on her with malice. “Who the bloody hell are you and what are you doing here?” His voice was deep and threatening, and when awake he was as fearsome as the rumors she’d heard. “I’m…” Her mind went blank as she became aware of the fact that her hand rested on warm skin and over a muscle so hard and taut that it made her ache with a sudden throb. Her mouth went dry as a foreign, demanding fire consumed her. He was a fine-looking man, indeed. “Woman, you’d best be answering me.” The angry accusation of his tone grated against her tolerance. Indignant at it, she jerked her hand away from his and straightened.

“And just who are you to be taking that tone with me? Have you no manners at all?” Ewan blinked in disbelief. She was taking him to task? This woman who had invaded his home and disturbed his nice ale-induced slumber? Amazed at her audacity, he again blinked his scratchy eyes to clear his blurry vision while his head throbbed a painful staccato beat. With her mouth closed, she was pleasing enough to look at. Even though she wore a long blue and white brat pulled up over her head, he could see she had thick, golden blond hair that reminded him of sunshine. Her medium-sized amber eyes were shaped like a cat’s and they turned up just a hint at the corners. Impish. That was the only word to describe her fey beauty, and yet there was a proud dignity to her that told him she was well bred and not some country lass come to wreak havoc with him. But why would such a woman be here in his cave? Alone. “Who am I?” he answered her question slowly. “I happen to be the man who owns this place and one who doesn’t take well to unannounced, unknown visitors.

Now given the fact you’ve intruded into my domain, the least you can do is enlighten me as to who you are and why you’re intruding.” That took some of the bluster out of her as she looked away from him and muttered. “Well, aye, I did do that.” She turned her gaze back to his and lifted her chin as she recovered her courage, and when she spoke, her words were full of conviction. “But I’m here for a good reason.” “It’d better be a damned good reason.” “Here now,” she said as she actually waved a chastising finger at him, “no need to curse at me. This is already awkward enough, what with your being naked and all…” He arched a brow at her words. He’d forgotten that one piece of this, but since she brought it up, he was instantly aware of the fact that nothing but a fur covered him. “…but that’s no need to be discourteous.

” He snorted at that. “I was born discourteous.” “So they say. However, discourteous or not, I have need of your services.” He arched his other brow as a bit of amusement went through him, and he taunted her before he could stop himself. “My naked services?” A high blush rose to her cheeks, making her eyes appear more green than gold. “Most certainly not. I’d much rather have you clothed, but if ’tis your custom to walk about bare, well then, I suppose to each his own.” For the first time in years he was actually amused. She was a cheeky, bold lass.

Unlike anyone he’d ever met before. Of course, he’d never before met an unknown well-born woman while he was lying naked in his bed. And somewhere deep inside was the question of whether she would be so bold where it counted most…between his fur covers. His shaft stirred instantly at the thought and grew more rigid as he swept his gaze over her body. Aye, she was ample enough to be well worth the savoring. Lush hips and breasts. Probably no more than a year or two younger than he, she would make a fine morsel to nibble. One that would probably last out the night until they were both well sated and spent. Aye, she had a nice rump. One a man could grab on to and— “My lord,” she said firmly, like a tutor addressing an errant, daydreaming child.

The tone instantly intruded on his meandering thoughts about her “attributes.” “I am here to procure your services as an escort.” He frowned at her words. “My what?” “I need a man to accompany me to England.” Nay, his mind roared as he remembered all too well what had happened the last time a woman had said those words to him.

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