To Conquer a Scot – Tamara Gill

He should have locked her up when he had the chance. His sisters were the bane of his life. Aedan MacLeod, Laird of Druiminn Castle, stormed toward the small cottage his youngest sister Gwen used while treating the sick and infirm. Not even the calming view of the ocean could tamper his temper. The fact he’d heard whispers from the servants that Gwen was “up to something” as they’d put it, had given him enough cause to chase her down today and demand an explanation and a promise that she was not. “Gwen!” he called out as he neared, hearing the muffled reply from inside. He burst through the door, startling the elderly woman who was hobbling out. Aedan waited for her to go before shutting the door and catching his sister’s gaze. “I’ve heard whispers.” “Whispers?” She smiled and his annoyance increased. “What sort of whispers?” “You’re forbidden to use magic, Gwendolyn. We’ve had this conversation before and it’s certainly not one I want to repeat.” “Och, I am in trouble when ye use my full name. Tell me what you’ve heard this time. I’m sure it’s nothing to concern yer wee mind.

” “The servants are talking about ye. Stating how ye’re all secretive again, sneaking away to this cottage at all times of day and night. Picking lots of herbs and such.” “Herbs ye say.” Gwen laughed, walking over to a nearby cupboard and getting down a bowl. “And this equates to magic?” “I know what ye are capable of, lass. Dinna think for one moment I’m not aware of what could happen to you, or this family, should it be known. You know as well as I, ye’d be dead and there’d be nothing I could do for ye.” She waved away his concerns and started to pummel lavender flowers with a mortar and pestle. She continued with her tasks, ignoring him.

“Well,” he prompted. “Brother, I’ve been using magic since I was a babe and no harm has been done. It’s the same now. Ye worry too much.” “I know you’re up to something, and I demand to know what it is. Braxton mentioned it to me yesterday after he came back from visiting ye here.” “Braxton told ye, did he? That’ll teach me to trust him.” He watched as she took her frustration out on the plants that hung from a wooden rack above her work table. He dismissed the flicker of guilt that he’d possibly caused trouble for his fellow clansman and glowered at Gwen instead. She pulled the leaves off with enough force that the rack rocked above their heads.

“He was concerned. Ye know the lad loves ye, and like me, he doesn’t like you putting yourself at risk. So tell me what I want to know. Why are ye being so secretive all of a sudden? What are ye planning?” She shook her head, her red curls bouncing over her shoulders. “Nothing at all. I assure ye. I’m behaving myself, as the laird’s sister should. Do not worry, Aedan. Everything will turn out for the best.” “Yes, but what is this ‘best’ ye speak of? That concerns me.

” She didn’t reply, merely shrugged. Aedan fisted his hands. Obstinate, pigheaded wench. “Ye better not be trying to meddle in who I choose for a wife. ’Tis none of yer business, and I willna take nicely to ye using magic to sway women to warm me bed.” She slammed down the pestle and glared back at him. “I assure ye, I would never interfere in your grand plans for a wife. I know you’ll marry someone who has an opinion, a mind, and the willingness to share their thoughts when required.” “Your sarcasm isn’t appreciated.” He walked toward the door of her cottage and placed his hands on his hips.

Better there than her neck. “Ye know what I want in a wife and I’ll find her myself. So if ye don’t mind, and if ye don’t want me to lock ye in the castle dungeons, you’ll behave and keep out of my business. I may not know what ye be planning, but I know you’re up to something and no doubt it’ll involve me. I’ve put up with a lot of ye tricks over the years, but with the clans coming for the games, it’s time ye grew up. I’ll no longer stand for it.” His sister curtsied and he ground his teeth. He might as well be talking to a stone wall. “Dinna push me on this, Gwen.” “Of course not, brother.

When have I ever not listened to ye?” He sighed and cursed as he left before he was tempted to strangle the idiocy out of her. Why couldn’t his parents have had sons? Brothers, right at this moment, seemed like a blissful thought indeed. A CHAPTER 1 Present Day, Scotland bigail Cross walked from her hotel and breathed deep the fresh, somewhat chilly Highland air. The sun was shining, finally, which was a nice change from the past week where drizzle and endless fog had shrouded Druiminn, the small Scottish town where she was staying. It had seemed a lot larger on the travel brochure. She pulled her coat up around her neck, her choice of jeans and a woolen sweater had been a sensible decision. Probably her best yet, since this vacation had been anything but fun. Never again would she jump on a plane and fly halfway across the world. Salem, Oregon, and the plain boring life she led there, suddenly seemed fun-filled and exciting. Not to mention a little less wet…and that was saying something, since Salem was anything but dry.

Abby shook away the thought that her vacation was a waste of time. She was in Scotland, for heaven’s sake. The place of myths and legends. Where the filming of fabulous historical movies were shot, sporting men in kilts…and little else. Her own ancestors hailed from this part of the world. Not that she knew of any still living in Scotland, after her great, great—so many greats she no longer knew—grandfather had emigrated to America. The weather, the expense—one she really couldn’t afford, that would take years to pay off, no longer signified, for today she was determined to enjoy the magnificence of the Highlands. Not let the darkening clouds to the south scare her back inside the hotel she’d come to know intimately. Castle Druiminn was her destination. A step back in time, a castle and home to the MacLeod Clan, where treachery, missionaries, and mayhem should’ve been the family’s motto.

She walked up the main street of the town and entered the bakery. The air in the warm store was filled with the aroma of cooking bread and spices. She bought some chocolate frosted croissants before continuing on her way to the castle. It was a bit of a walk, and Abby took her time enjoying the view of heather, and rolling hills, and craggy rock faces, as she continued toward the castle. On the opposite side of the road, the beautiful Isle of Skye glistened in the sun. The sense of belonging to this land coursed through her. Scotland was in her blood, her ancestors had survived living in the lowlands for years, had raised children, fought the English, disease, and a harsh environment she couldn’t even begin to imagine. It was a humbling thought and for once, the tinge of red that streaked through her dark hair didn’t annoy her, but filled her with pride. Scotland was magnificent. She gazed down on the information map she’d acquired the week before, noting that the castle was only a five minute walk through woodlands and ocean view lanes.

She was relatively sheltered from the elements up to the point where she walked over a rise and the sea breeze buffeted her. She blinked rapidly as her eyes watered from the icy gale. She really should’ve bought the more expensive jacket, instead of scrimping, but her poor credit card really couldn’t take too many more beatings. The path followed the line of the beach, and she came to a sign that stated the Square Walled Garden was up a little lane, but a small, quaint cottage caught her attention. The building was made of stone, a similar color to that of the buildings in town, but looked like a one-room structure with a chimney. Grass grew on the roof, making the house blend into the environment like some modern “green” home. A small garden grew in front with a whitewashed picket fence surrounding it. For its age, it seemed relatively sturdy and in reasonable condition. She stood staring at it and wondered at its history. Who’d lived here? Who had built it and why? Was it haunted? She chuckled and said hello to other tourists heading toward the castle which was her next stop.

Walking up to the door, she read the sign that explained the cottage’s past. It was part of the Druiminn Castle estate and believed to be the Apothecary’s or healer’s building. She peeked around the door and was met by darkness and the smell of dampness. “Hello? Anybody here?” Abby stood at the threshold for a moment, but hearing no reply, she pushed the door open and entered. Inside was a plain square room, with an unlit fireplace and a window beside the door. The floor was covered in flagstones, years of dirt and dust making up its mortar. Abby walked around and wondered what the building had seen over the years. How it must have been set up to help those in need. How many babies had been birthed here, children healed, and people stitched up? Looking out the window, she sighed. Rain fell, the dark clouds to the south had arrived earlier than she’d hoped.

Well, at least in the cottage she was dry, if not warm. She sat on the window ledge. There was nothing else for her to do but wait out the storm and hope it passed quickly. It was an overly ambitious thought. The weather had been miserable ever since her arrival. Why would it change now? Her hand slipped against something cold, and she looked down to find a small vial. It was bottle-like shaped with a neck and looked to be made of clay. Abby picked it up, studied it a moment before placing it back down. Nausea spiked in her stomach and she clutched her abdomen, trying to calm her breathing. She gasped and stood, dizziness threatening.

The room spun, voices, faces—she couldn’t comprehend. What is happening to me? Fear froze her to the spot. She tried to fight her way to the door, but the room turned at an increasing rate, making it impossible to leave. Something bad was happening. Something she couldn’t control. She screamed and then hit the floor with an oomph before blackness enfolded her.

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