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Chosen by a Highland Beast – Bonus Prologue Scene

A month earlier, The Rowan Tree Inn, Gartness

The day had been a long one and Macauley was chilled to the bone from spending it on his horse and then in the small village of Gartness, attending to clan matters along with Kian and Deirdre. Sitting now next to the fire with a whisky in his hand, he could finally stretch his limbs and let out a deep sigh, deflating as all the air left his lungs.

“Tired?” Deirdre teased. Unlike Macauley, she seemed in perfectly good spirits, entirely unaffected by the cold or the long day.

The perks o’ youth.

He had only reached his twenty-eighth year, so he couldn’t claim to be an old man, but sometimes he felt like one, especially when Deirdre was around to play the role of the annoying little sister. But he could be annoying, too, so he straightened up, his exhaustion forgotten in favor of teasing back.

“Why dinnae ye ask yer husband if he’s tired?” he said, looking pointedly at Kian, who had all but collapsed in his chair and was halfway to asleep already, an acorn he had picked up somewhere outside being rolled lazily around his fingers. If anything, Kian was more of an old man than he was, despite the two of them being the same age. “Look at him… he can barely keep his eyes open.”

“He’s been workin’ all day,” Deirdre said, reaching over to pat Kian’s arm. He smiled at her, that small quirk of lips barely visible under the silver mask he always wore. Macauley couldn’t help but make fun of him. It was too tempting to resist.

“He’s truly at yer mercy now, isnae he?” Macauley asked. “Look at ye, Kian… ye were once a formidable man an’ now ye’re like a wee pup. Did yer mistress train ye intae submission?”

Kian rolled his eyes at Macauley, the gesture barely visible through the mask in the half-light of the room, its walls bathed in a soft orange light from the candles and the fire. Around them, villagers and other travelers alike enjoyed a dram of their own, filling the room with quiet, idle conversation. It was comfortable in there, the low buzz of their chats making for a pleasant background noise that filled the silence whenever there was a pause in their conversation.

The acorn landed on Macauley’s face, hitting him square on the forehead. Kian always had great aim. “Ye wouldnae understand. Ye have never treated a lass well in yer life.”

“That is entirely false,” Macauley said, tossing the acorn back only for Kian to grab it in the air before it could even hit his shoulder. Macauley’s aim, unfortunately, was not nearly as good. “I treat all lasses very well. I give them a good time an’ they always ken they cannae have anythin’ else. They dinnae expect me tae love them.”

“But dinnae ye wish ye had someone?” Deirdre asked, always the romantic. She had been hounding him to find a good woman and settle down, though Macauley hoped he could soon wear her down enough for her to understand that he never would.

He was perfectly happy remaining a bachelor for the rest of his life. He had no need for a wife. He had no title, nothing to pass on to an heir. When he wanted the company of a woman, it was easy for him to find it. Many maids working in Castle Drummond liked him and even if they found a husband or decided they didn’t want him anymore, he could go to any village and find another girl. What was the point of marrying someone when all she would do was chain him?

He looked at Kian and Deirdre, noting how they always seemed to touch and hover around each other. He looked at the genuine joy in their eyes at being near each other, as though simply sharing the same space was enough for them.

For all he teased them, Deirdre hadn’t chained Kian. If there was any chaining happening, then he could only say that they had chained each other, but they seemed too happy for him to think of them as prisoners in their own marriage. They were the exception, perhaps.

“I have plenty o’ someones,” Macauley said with a smirk, just to avoid the question. “I have nae desire tae wed.”

“None at all?” Kian asked.

“I wouldnae even think o’ it,” Macauley said.

It was as though his words had given Kian a new sense of vigor. He sat up straight and leaned closer over the table, eyes narrowing and lips pulling up in mirth.

“A bet, then,” he proposed. “If ye ever wed a lass, ye will have tae allow me tae chain ye on yer weddin’ day.”

Macauley couldn’t help but laugh, but Deirdre looked at them in alarm, she too leaning forward and slamming her hands on the table.

“This is madness,” she said. “Ye cannae go tae yer weddin’ in chains!”

“It’s alright, Deirdre,” Macauley assured her. “There will be nae weddin’.”

“Well, I willnae allow it,” Deirdre insisted. “Ye never ken what happens in the future an’ I willnae force the poor lass who may wed ye one day tae witness such a thing. Or the priest, fer that matter. It would be a disgrace.”

“The feast, then,” Kian said, never one to displease his wife, but also never one to back down. “If ye wed, ye’ll have tae spend the entire feast in chains.”

“Deal,” said Macauley before Deirdre could react, giving Kian his hand to shake.

“It is agreed, then,” Kian said. “An’ I will enjoy yer weddin’ day very much.”

“It will never come,” Macauley insisted, as he stood, shaking his cup at Kian and Deirdre to indicate he was getting another refill.

When he reached the counter, where a serving wench was pouring drinks, he put on his most charming grin for the young woman. She was pretty, with blonde hair and blue eyes that crinkled in amusement when she saw him, heat bubbling up just beneath the surface of her gaze. Macauley could always tell when a woman wanted him—more often than not, women wanted him.

“Good evenin’, lass,” he said as he passed her the cup. “Will ye pour me another?”

The girl took the cup and poured him another drink, handing it back with a smile.

“Has anyone ever told ye how bonnie ye are?” he asked, only to have the girl laugh at him. It was all part of his plan, though. It was better to make a woman laugh, after all, even if it was with a silly line like this.

“Och aye,” she said. “Many times.”

“Well… has anyone ever told ye that ye should be worshipped?”

It was that which had the woman’s attention in an instant, her gaze darkening as she leaned closer to him. Macauley couldn’t even tell if she knew she was doing it or if she was pulled to him by instinct alone.

“Ye should be,” he continued, voice dropping low. “I can show ye, after ye’re done here.”

There was no hesitation before the woman spoke. “In two hours. Meet me at the back.”

With a grin, Macauley took his cup and raised in a toast, before he turned around. Just behind him, an old woman was drinking alone, finishing the last drops of her cup, and on a whim, Macauley ordered another for her.

“Here,” he told her, placing the cup in front of her on the table.

The woman looked up at him. She had long, grey hair that flowed down her waist, and though her face was creased with wrinkles, her eyes were bright, full of life. Macauley couldn’t help but wonder what this woman was doing all alone there in the middle of the night, but he didn’t think it proper to ask.

“Ach, laddie… I cannae accept a drink like this,” she said in a thin, croaky voice. “I have naething tae give ye in return.”

“I ask fer naething,” said Macauley with a small shrug. “Only fer ye tae enjoy yer night.”

The woman stared at him for a moment longer before she pushed the chair across from her back from the table with her foot.

“Sit,” she said. “I shall tell ye yer fortune.”

“Me fortune?” Macauley asked, amused. He didn’t think the woman could perform any real divination, but he also didn’t want to offend her. For a moment, he glanced back to his table, but Kian and Deirdre were lost in their own little word, talking to each other quietly, and he figured he could give them some time alone after spending the entire day with them.

With a sigh, he sat across from the woman, taking a sip from his drink. The moments stretched between them, and the woman did nothing but stare at him, though her gaze was piercing as though she could see right through him.

Eventually, she spoke.

“There is somethin’ big in the horizon fer ye, laddie,” she said. “Somethin’ that will change yer life. But it will nae be as it seems. Love hides in the oddest o’ places an’ nae everythin’ ye consider bad is a sin, as nae everythin’ ye consider good is a virtue.”

Macauley couldn’t recall a time in his life when he had been more confused. He blinked at the woman once, then twice, and she laughed at him, a high, reedy sound.

“It is an art, ye see,” she said. “I can see intae yer future, but nae everythin’ is clear.”

“I dinnae think any of it is clear,” Macauley said, though not unkindly. The woman only smiled at him, shrugging a little.

“It will be, with time.”

“Well… thank ye fer yer advice,” he said as he stood, and the woman tilted her head in one last greeting before he left and went back to the table. By then, he had gotten Kian’s and Deirdre’s attention and the two of them frowned at him in confusion as he joined them once more.

“Who is that woman?” Kian asked.

“I dinnae ken,” said Macauley. “I saw her sittin’ alone an’ so I bought her a drink, an’ she told me me fortune in return.”

“Was it a good fortune?” asked Deirdre.

“I’m nae certain,” said Macauley. “But how bad could it be? She didnae mention me dyin’.”

“Did she mention ye wearin’ any shackles with a bride next tae ye?” Kian asked, evidently finding himself very amusing. Macauley wasn’t as convinced and only kicked his chair under the table, jostling him.

“She didnae,” he said. “So dinnae expect any weddings in me future.”

“Nae even with that lassie over there?” Macauley asked, tilting his head to where the serving wench was still pouring drinks.

Macauley laughed. Of course, Kian had noticed, he thought.

“Nae a weddin’, but perhaps a weddin’ night,” he joked only for Deirdre to snatch the acorn out of Kian’s hand and throw it at him again. She, too, hit him square on the forehead.

Next to her, Kian laughed. It was a full sound, one that echoed around the room, and one that Macauley heard often those days. It had started ever since he had found Deirdre. It seemed that, along with her, he had also found himself.

Begrudgingly, Macauley had to admit that marriage agreed with Kian. He was happier now, not the shadow of himself he had once been. He and Deirdre brought the best out in each other and Macauley couldn’t imagine them ever being apart again.

But if seeing this love between them couldn’t convince him to find a wife of his own, then nothing could. Kian would lose his bet and Macauley would forever have the satisfaction of proving him wrong.

 

  • Interesting intro to our industrious lad. I can’t wait to see if Macauley “gets shackled”!

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