Scot of Lust (Preview)

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One month earlier, Dunmaglass

The air was warm on Elayne’s skin, the breeze only a momentary relief as she rode with her guards through the forest. It was high summer and late in the morning, so the sun had shone relentlessly on them as they travelled down the path from Macgillivray Castle to her aunt’s cottage.

We should have left sooner. It’s so hot today!

The cottage was only half a day’s ride away, but Elayne felt as though she had been travelling for an eternity, the air uncharacteristically still, even for a July morning. It was better than travelling any other day of the past week, though, which they had all spent in the castle, keeping dry from the endless rain.

“We should have brought ye a carriage, me lady,” said one of her guards, Craig. He had been Elayne’s guard ever since she could remember, and was one of the people who raised her, along with her wet nurses and governess. All these years later, his skin had wrinkled and his brown hair was almost completely grey, but he still resembled the young man Elayne had once known.

Most of all, he still fussed over her as if she were a child.

“I’m fine, Craig,” Elayne assured him. “I can handle a half day’s ride.”

“I suppose it’s a good thing ye’re dressed simply,” her other guard, Lachlan, said. Unlike Craig, Lachlan was a young man, broad and tall, tasked with her protection for the first time. “Though ye resemble a maid in these garments.”

“There are many brigands in these parts,” said Elayne. “It’s wiser tae dress simply than tae attract attention.”

Craig had been the one to suggest it in the first place, so that it would not be immediately obvious that she was a noble-born girl. She hoped that if a brigand saw her like this, he wouldn’t be able to tell she was Elayne Macgillivray, daughter of Laird Lewis Macgillivray.

Of course, the plan would only work if the brigands didn’t recognize her especially if they didn’t question why a maid would travel with two guards. Though Craig and Lachlan were similarly dressed, both in simple clothes so as to look like companions, there was an air about them that anyone who had been around guards for enough time would recognize.

It was something that kept nagging Elayne, for she had the growing suspicion that someone was watching them. While they were still close to the castle, she hadn’t suspected anything, but as they rode deeper and deeper into the forest, she could swear there were eyes on her, watching her every move. Neither Craig nor Lachlan seemed concerned at all, though, and Elayne didn’t want to ask them to stop for no reason. They weren’t too far from the cottage now; sooner rather than later, her paranoia would be silenced.

She was simply glad to be out of the castle while Laird McCoy was visiting. The mere thought of him, of his hands somehow always finding their way on her body no matter how much she tried to keep her distance, nauseated her. It didn’t matter that he was handsome. It was true that his features were far from revolting, but his character more than made up for it. He was the cruelest man she knew, more so even than her father, and the ten years that separated them were very obvious when they stood side by side. Next to him, Elayne still resembled a child.

As they rode through the forest, they soon reached the part of the journey where they could hear the trickling of water from the nearby river. Elayne had always hated hearing it, but there was no other road leading to her aunt’s cottage. If she followed the river all the way back up the valley, she would reach the lake where she had almost drowned as a child, if her mother hadn’t saved her, drowning herself—the lake that made her father hate her, unable to forgive her for her mother’s death. Elayne couldn’t forgive herself either.

As painful as the memory of that day was, she didn’t try to cover the sound of the water by talking—she never did. She deserved to remember, to have those memories re-emerge every time she passed by the river, though it could hardly make up for what she had done.

There was something else that pulled her out of her thoughts, though: a sudden sound, loud and clear, which had all three of them looking over their shoulders to locate its source. Suddenly, four men appeared out of the thick greenery of the forest, two behind them and two in front of them, short, gleaming daggers ready in their hands.

“Brigands!” Craig shouted as he jumped off his horse. Neither he nor Lachlan carried a sword, but they both had multiple blades hidden on them, and Elayne knew those men, though they outnumbered them, would be no match for her and her guards.

Her own dirk was strapped to her leg and she grabbed it, ready to jump off her horse and fight. Before she could, though, one of the men approached her, spooking her horse so much that it bucked and tried to kick at him. The horse missed, and Elayne tightened her hold on it, trying desperately to hold on, but when it bucked again, it threw her off its back and fled down the path.

Elayne landed on the ground with a thud and a groan, rolling just as she made impact to avoid the worst of the injury. She could only hope her mare would stop somewhere nearby and that she would be able to retrieve her once it was all over.

I must recover fast. I cannae stay like this.

It would be a death sentence, staying on the ground. One of those brigands would soon find her and kill her. Still, breathing seemed impossible, the air knocked out of her lungs after she had hit the ground, her ribs and her arms aching with the aftermath of her fall. She could hardly draw in any air, let alone stand.

In the chaos, a pair of hands grabbed her and dragged her into the bushes that lined the road. Elayne screamed, but one of those hands quickly muffled her protests, keeping her quiet. In the distance, she saw Craig and Lachlan surrounded by the four men, fighting a losing fight.

This is it… this is how we all die.

“Are ye alright?” asked a soft, quiet voice. “Did ye get hurt?”

For a moment, Elayne froze, not expecting the man to sound concerned. Why would he care if she had been hurt? Perhaps he needed her to be unharmed in order to negotiate with her father, but the concern in his tone didn’t match the kind of concern he would have for his bounty.

It didn’t matter, though. What mattered was that he had released her, and Elayne could finally push herself to her feet and swing her fist, barely missing him when he managed to duck just in time.

That didn’t matter either. She had her blade. Even if she had to fight all of them herself, she would.

Raising her blade, she took a step closer to the young man, but he only backtracked, raising his hands in surrender. Surely, it couldn’t be that easy; he was only trying to lull her into a false sense of security before he attacked.

For the first time, Elayne gave herself a few seconds to take in his features: hair so blond it seemed almost white, a strong jaw, a slightly crooked nose. And then there were those eyes, icy blue, a jagged scar running over them both, from temple to temple.

He was a big man, tall and broad, his frame much bigger than Elayne’s. In some ways, it was an advantage for her. Everyone assumed her to be fragile, short and lithe as she was, so they underestimated her. She may not have had as much brute strength as this man, but she knew her way around a knife and she was faster than any bulky soldier.

“Calm down, lass,” the man said, still backtracking and trying to put some space between them. “I willnae hurt ye, I promise. I’m nae one o’ them.”

Elayne didn’t believe him straight away. It would be foolish to do so. But the more she looked at him, the more she realized everything about this man was different, from his clothes to the heavy sword he carried around his waist. Slowly, she lowered her blade and at the same time, the man lowered his hands.

“Stay here,” he told her quietly and, as he walked past her, he pressed his finger against his lips, asking her to be quiet. Elayne watched him draw his sword out of its sheath and slowly sneak out of the bushes, suddenly attacking the brigands and taking them by surprise.

By then, both Craig and Lachlan lay still on the ground and Elayne had to swallow down the bile that threatened to rise up her throat. Could they be dead? There was no blood that she could see, but that meant nothing. Perhaps it was only because their bodies and the greenery obscured her view.

She couldn’t allow herself to believe they were dead, not even for a moment. She couldn’t have two more deaths on her hands.

Instead, Elayne watched the mysterious man as he fought off the brigands. He had an advantage with the sword, but he also knew how to use it, his movements elegant and practiced. It was almost like a dance, his feet light as he jumped and slid around the four brigands, his arms strong as he brought down his sword. It was then that Elayne was certain he was no brigand. He was nothing like those men who had attacked her and her guards. This man had been trained to fight.

It didn’t take him long to kill the four men single-handedly. By the end of it, he was covered in their blood, some of his own trickling into the mix where the brigands had managed to wound him. The men had collapsed around him and he stood in the middle of them, drawing in slow, ragged breaths for a few moments. She should have been scared of him, terrified even… But she wasn’t, not at all. When he had composed himself, he walked over to Craig and Lachlan, and Elayne rushed out of the bushes, her dirk in her hand once more.

“Dinnae touch them,” she growled, and the man flinched, not expecting such a reaction.

“I only wished tae see if they’re alive,” he said. He watched Elayne carefully as he slowly made his way towards Craig and pressed his fingers against his neck, where he could feel his pulse, and the relief that washed over his features was palpable.

Elayne didn’t know, though, if it came from finding him alive or dead. Just in case, she stood there, ready to strike.

The man walked over to Lachlan and did the same, before approaching Elayne once more. “They’re alive. They should wake soon.”

It was Elayne’s turn to be relieved, her shoulders finally dropping as she allowed herself to relax a little. If this stranger wanted to hurt her, he would have already done so, she figured, so letting her guard down didn’t seem like a bad idea.

The man was close to her before she knew it, his fingers poking and prodding at her head and her arms as Elayne stood there, at a loss for words. He seemed to have no problem touching a woman he didn’t know, but then again, he probably thought Elayne was a maid, not a noble girl who wasn’t used to anyone’s touch.

“Ye’re nae injured, are ye?” he asked her. “Does anythin’ hurt?”

“Nay,” said Elayne. The only thing that hurt was her chest, her heart beating so fast she feared she would collapse, sending all the blood in her body to her face. “I’m alright. Thank ye… they could have killed us if ye hadnae come.”

“I’m always glad tae help a damsel,” said the man, grinning from ear to ear. The gesture deformed his scar even more, but Elayne was surprised to find out she didn’t mind it at all. There was something alluring about it and it did nothing to detract from his beauty. “Though I cannae say ye were so much in distress. Ye fight well.”

Though Elayne could fight, she could hardly take a compliment, and she lowered her gaze as her cheeks burned, trying to hide the blush. When she spoke again, she chose a safer topic.

“Ye’re nae from these parts, are ye?” she asked. She would know if he was. “What’s yer name?”

“Dunn,” said the man. “An’ nay… I was passin’ through when I saw ye were all in danger.”

“Dunn,” Elayne repeated, trying out the name. It suited him, she thought. “What clan dae ye belong tae?”

Dunn only smiled at her question and then busied himself with his sword, cleaning it and tucking it safely back in its sheath. She wasn’t going to get an answer, it seemed.

“Shall I accompany ye tae yer destination?” Dunn asked after a short stretch of silence. He looked over his shoulder at Craig and Lachlan and Elayne followed his gaze to see them stirring. “Yer guards are already awake.”

“They’re… they’re nae me guards,” Elayne said. “Only me travellin’ companions.”

Dunn gave her a slightly amused look. Still, he didn’t try to correct her, and that convinced Elayne he could see right through their disguises. “Yer companions, then. They’re wakin’.”

Glancing between Dunn and her guards, Elayne shook her head. “We’ll be fine. Thank ye. It’s only half an hour’s ride from here.”

“Very well,” said Dunn. He had pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and was dabbing at the blood on his face. When he tucked it back in, he leaned closer and pressed his lips against Elayne’s into a soft kiss before she could do anything to resist.

A gasp escaped her, her eyes slipping shut. It was the barest brush of lips, but it was more than Elayne had ever experienced before, so even that simple, tender gesture stole her breath away.

When she opened her eyes again, Dunn was gone, and Craig and Lachlan were pushing themselves off the ground, brushing the dirt off their clothes.

Looking over at Elayne, Craig asked, “What happened?”

Elayne looked at him, then at the bodies on the ground. Then, she looked at the space Dunn had occupied only moments before, now entirely empty.

“I dinnae ken.”

Chapter One

Present, The Seven Stars Inn

The smell of ale and wine permeated the air around Elayne. The inn was small, the only one in the village, so she had no other options if she wanted to be inside during the storm.

I should have listened tae me aunt an’ stayed with her at her cottage.

It would have surely been preferable to this, even if it would have delayed her return home, but when she had left her aunt’s home, she had had good reason.

Once again, she read the letter she held in her hands, the paper crumpled from the number of times she had folded and unfolded it, clutching it tightly between her fingers. It had arrived at her aunt’s cottage right before Elayne had left, a warning from her best friend Isobel that her father had planned her marriage to Laird McCoy in her absence.

I cannae believe he would dae such a thing.

Only, the more she thought about it, the more plausible it became. Her father wanted to rid himself of her and gain as much land as he could, and what better way to do that than marry her off to Laird McCoy? That way, both men would get what they wanted—her father would have his lands and he would never have to see Elayne again, and Laird McCoy could finally force her into his bed without anyone else objecting to it.

But even fer me faither, this is too much.

Elayne slammed her hands onto the sticky table, the cup of ale in front of her almost tipping over before she steadied it. She took a few long gulps, though she had already had too much to drink. At the beginning of the night, she had come down from her room to have one cup but now she had already drained three and was well on her way through the fourth. She couldn’t think of any other way to drown her sorrows or steel herself for the conversation she was going to have with her father.

She would refuse to marry McCoy. She would do anything in her power to prevent this wedding from happening or she would die trying.

But what can I dae? Me faither will never allow me tae say nay.

Maybe death really was her only other choice and compared to marrying Laird McCoy, it seemed like the better option.

There was no one for Elayne to even turn to. Under any other circumstances, she would have asked Craig for help or at least advice, but he and Lachlan hadn’t made it to the inn yet. Perhaps the storm had delayed them as they were returning to the cottage to bring her back home or perhaps they had made it there and decided to spend the night, like Elayne had, under a roof before resuming their travel the following morning.

Elayne would leave with or without them. She knew the woods well and she could take care of herself, so going back home shouldn’t be an issue. The matter of her wedding couldn’t wait.

As she drained her fourth cup of ale, she glimpsed a large figure from the corner of her eye. The man sat down on the chair next to her and Elayne braced herself for an argument or maybe even a fight. She was in no mood to act like the nice noble girl she had been brought up to be that night. If he refused to leave her alone, he would find himself in a lot of trouble.

“Find yer own table,” Elayne said, hearing herself as she slurred her words. For the first time that night, she realized she was a little tipsy, but she was certain her nausea wasn’t from the alcohol. It was from the thought that upon returning to the castle, she would see Laird McCoy and he would once again put his hands on her, thinking he was more entitled than ever to her body.

“Is this how ye speak tae the man who saved yer life?”

It was a strangely familiar voice and Elayne turned to look at the man next to her, only to find it was none other than Dunn. Her mouth fell open as she stared at him, suddenly appearing next to her in the same way he had disappeared a month prior. In the dim light of the inn, he looked even more mysterious, like a phantom instead of a person. His features, those blue eyes and his pale hair, made him seem otherworldly.

“Dunn,” she gasped, still unable to believe he was there. “What are ye doin’ here?”

“Here at yer table or here in the area?”

“Both,” said Elayne. “Either.”

“Ye seemed very sad, so I wanted tae see if ye wished tae have company,” said Dunn. It didn’t surprise Elayne that he remained quiet regarding the reason of his presence in the area. “I never expected tae see ye again.”

“Neither did I.” Elayne certainly needed more ale now. In the half-light of the room, she gazed at him more openly than she would have had she been sober, letting her eyes trail over his features before they settled on the scar across his eyes.

“Daes it frighten ye?”

Elayne was too busy staring at Dunn to understand what he meant, and she made a questioning sound, frowning at him.

Dunn laughed softly. “The scar,” he said. “Daes it frighten ye?”

“Ach… nay,” said Elayne. “Why would it frighten me?”

“It has frightened many.”

A scar was hardly enough to frighten Elayne, especially when it was attached to such a handsome man. Ever since that day in the forest, she had been unable to stop thinking about him, about that kiss he had given her, replaying it in her mind again and again.

“How did it happen?” she asked, just to keep him talking.

“In a vicious fight,” Dunn said. “I was almost blinded.”

It would have been a shame, Elayne thought, if something had happened to those beautiful eyes. She could get lost in them, staring at them forever, but even in her drunken state she could tell it would be odd if she continued to stare like that. Clearing her throat, she sat up a little straighter, trying to fight off the dizziness that came with the movement.

“So, here ye are… an’ ye willnae even tell me the reason,” she said after a short silence that stretched between them. “I promise ye, I willnae tell anyone. I have nae one tae tell.”

For a moment, Dunn seemed conflicted. He looked over his shoulders at the people around them, the inn so crowded that no one was paying them any mind. Still, he was reluctant, keeping quiet.

“What could be such a big secret?” asked Elayne. “Ye cannae simply tell me naething now!”

Dunn huffed out a laugh, shrugging a shoulder. “Very well,” he said, leaning closer to speak quietly to Elayne. “I am here as a scout. There are rumors there will be a war led by Clan Macgillivray. I’m here tae gather information but, I dinnae ken. I’ve been here fer months an’ nae one seems tae ken anythin’ about a war. The villagers are as clueless as ever.”

A war? What war could there be?

Elayne had heard nothing about a war. These were times of peace and her father had strong alliances with other clans. Why would he risk going to war? What else could he possibly want?

“Perhaps the rumors are false,” was all she could say.

“Perhaps,” said Dunn. “But I doubt it. There are many outside these parts who are talkin’ about it. If I could somehow enter the castle, then maybe I would find out what is happenin’, but I have nae hope o’ achievin’ that. I will never be able tae enter the castle walls.”

Perhaps her betrothal to Laird McCoy had something to do with this. Elayne wasn’t willing to dismiss this as nothing but rumors just yet. Knowing her father, it wouldn’t surprise her to find out that he had, after all, been planning to start a war in search of more power and more land. Those were the only two things that kept him going since her mother’s death, the only two things he craved in life.

“Well, I certainly, havenae heard anythin’ in the castle,” Elayne said with a small shrug. “But perhaps yer right. I wouldnae ken.”

“Ye live in the castle?” Dunn asked. “Are ye a maid there?”

Elayne frowned, wondering why he would ask that, but then she realized that the only two times they had met, she had been dressed in those clothes, the ones she had worn specifically for her trip. What else would he assume other than her being a maid? She certainly looked the part—she had made sure of it. But he hadn’t seemed convinced about her denial, when he had mentioned her travelling with guards the previous time, they had met.

“Somethin’ like that,” she said, not wanting to reveal the truth. She trusted Dunn, as he had saved her life, but that didn’t mean she was about to reveal her true identity to him. Danger still lurked everywhere around Elayne and she was unwilling to take any risks.

Just as she was about to speak again, a serving wench came by their table, refilling their cups. She lingered there a little too long, smiling coyly at Dunn, and he smiled back at her, raising his cup in a toast. As she left, she kept looking over her shoulder at him, much to Elayne’s amusement.

“Ye’re popular with the lasses, then?” she asked, raising a curious eyebrow. In response, Dunn only laughed, saying nothing on the matter, but it was obvious when Elayne began to look. A lot of women in the inn had their sights on him, watching him through the crowd.

For a while, Elayne busied herself with her cup, spinning it in her hands. Even though a silence fell between them, Dunn seemed in no hurry to leave, so she took a few sips, enjoying the lull in the conversation. It was comfortable, oddly enough. They didn’t need to fill the silence.

Still, there was a nagging thought in Elayne’s mind and in the end, she couldn’t help but ask, “How dae ye think a lass can escape an unwanted marriage?”

The question took Dunn by surprise. He turned to face Elayne fully, though he didn’t seem at all confused by it. “I see, is that why ye’re so sad, then?”

Elayne nodded wordlessly. How could she be anything but devastated when she knew she would be forced into a marriage with such a terrible man? Growing up, she had thought her wedding would be a joyous moment, that her father would find her the perfect match, but that was before her mother’s death. It was before he changed, before grief had turned him into a monster.

“Well, I suppose the only way tae escape it is tae marry someone else, dinnae ye think?” Dunn said after a few moments of deep thought. “Yer family is arrangin’ the marriage fer ye?”

“Aye,” said Elayne, but Dunn’s suggestion had already distracted her. How could she marry someone else? Where would she even find a man to marry her on such short notice?

But then an idea bloomed into her head. She looked at Dunn, taking in his handsome features, the kind smile, the warmth in his eyes that one wouldn’t expect from such an icy color. So far, he had been nothing but helpful to her, going as far as to save her life from those brigands. When he had seen her in the inn and realized she was upset, he had gone over to talk to her.

And, of course, he was a man. A handsome one, even.

“Dunn,” Elayne said, leaning a little closer to close the distance between them. “Are ye betrothed tae someone?”

“Nay,” Dunn said with a small frown, this time confused by her question.

This is excellent. He is precisely what I need.

“Perfect! Then ye could pretend tae be wedded tae me!”

Laughing, Dunn shook his head as if this was a joke. But then he saw how serious and how excited Elayne was and his smile slowly dropped.

“Ye cannae mean it.”

“O’ course I mean it,” said Elayne. “This is the perfect solution. I can escape this marriage an’ ye can come tae the castle. This is what ye needed, is it nae?”

Dunn sputtered for a few moments, at a loss for words. When he spoke, his voice was higher than his usual baritone. “Ye’re insane! I cannae pretend tae be yer husband! Ye dinnae even ken anythin’ about me. I could be insane. I could try tae murder ye.”

“If ye wished tae murder me, ye would have already done it,” Elayne pointed out. “Or ye would have let the brigands kill me. Either way, ye didnae. Ye saved me life, ye didnae try tae take advantage o’ me nor did ye rob me. Ye have proven tae me that ye’re a good man.”

“I absolutely willnae dae this,” Dunn insisted, already leaning away from Elayne. Before he could get too far, though, she grabbed his arm and stopped him, looking him straight in the eye.

“The castle,” she reminded him. “Ye said ye need the information.”

With a sigh, Dunn looked around as if he expected someone to rescue him from this conversation. The more he considered it, though, the more he relaxed in Elayne’s grip, until he was fully sitting back in his seat.

“Why would ye wish tae help me?” he asked.

“We’d be helpin’ each other,” Elayne reminded him. “I am nae doin’ this without gettin’ somethin’ in return. An’ it’s best fer everyone if there isnae a war. The clan is weak… a war would be madness.”

If anything, Elayne needed him more than Dunn needed her, but he didn’t have to know that. If the clan truly went to war, Elayne was certain they would lose. The previous wars had left them weakened, many of their soldiers gone in battle.

Still, despite the promise of help, Dunn was reluctant to agree. “Are ye tryin’ tae trick me?”

Elayne shook her head. “Nay. I promise ye. I will dae anythin’ ye ask. The only thing I willnae dae is allow ye tae touch me. Ye must understand that I have nae desire tae wed an’ this will only be a fake marriage, so if ye think I will fall intae bed with ye, ye should tell me now so I can find someone else.”

Dunn laughed, loud and delighted, as if Elayne’s warning amused him. “Ye didnae complain when I kissed ye.”

It was Elayne’s turn to sputter, throwing her hands up in exasperation. How presumptuous of him to think she had enjoyed that kiss! She had, of course, enjoyed it, but that was beside the point as far as she was concerned.

“I only allowed it because ye saved me life,” she said indignantly. “I willnae allow it again.”

Dunn gave her a lopsided grin, one Elayne was certain was popular with women, but she was determined not to be swayed by his charms. This was nothing but a business transaction. As Dunn considered it silently, Elayne tapped her fingers impatiently on the table, the tapping rhythm of them drowned out by the voices in the inn.

“Alright,” Dunn said eventually with a decisive nod, before he reached for Elayne’s arm to pull her closer—too close for her liking. “Ye have a deal. But I promise ye, by the end o’ this, ye’ll be beggin’ fer a kiss.”


Not at all Likely Extremely Likely

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