Craving a Highland Sinner (Preview)
Alana’s heart was pounding so hard it was about to burst through her chest. She stared at herself in the mirror, attempting to untie the tangled ends of her long blonde hair, but her mind was elsewhere. She hoped Isla had just gotten caught up in the kitchen with the other maids because she was a quarter-hour late.
“Och,” she muttered under her breath when one strand got entangled between her fingers, and the sudden pain took her out of her thoughts. It reminded her of each time her sister Catriona did her hair for her, and she was always plucking it so hard that Alana’s eyes filled with tears.
She smiled at the memory and caressed the ribbon on her hand—a present that Catriona had given her a while before she died. The moments she shared with her sister and Isla were the happiest of her life, yet those times were long gone.
The days were not kind to her anymore, and the nights often frightened her. She had become a prisoner, confined to the castle of her new husband, the vile Laird MacAdam, and her twin sister was now buried in the ground miles away.
Life was definitely not how Alana imagined it as a wee lass.
“Things are different,” she muttered to herself again as she held onto her dresser to keep her on her feet. The memories always immersed her into a sorrowful mood, and her heart was now aching to escape her cage and breathe freely even if just for a moment.
Staring back at her from the mirror was the shadow of her old self. She had a habit of putting on beautiful dresses usually reserved for special occasions just to lift her spirits. Unfortunately, it rarely worked. Her eyes were no longer as brightly blue, and her childish fantasies had long faded. And a dress would never be able to replace that.
Her fate worsened with each passing day after she was married off to the large and powerful Clan MacAdam for an alliance. The only ray of hope was the fact she took her maid Isla before entering a loveless marriage with her horrible husband.
It had often made her wonder what Lachlan’s life had been like. What made him so disgraceful and immoral? After the first night they shared a bedchamber, she gave up trying to save his long lost soul. His terrible behavior made her loathe the man’s touch. After finally acknowledging that all their attempts to have a bairn were futile, he stopped requesting her in his chambers, and Alana began to breathe more peacefully.
Lachlan is wicked. She knew. But this is not something I cannae survive.
The woman looking back at her was one and twenty years old, but her eyes looked like she had been alive for many more. Alana took one of her golden locks and tucked it behind her ear. She only wore her hair loose because it reminded her of Catriona and her mischievous smile. She smiled as memories flashed through her mind. Her sister had always been far more daring than she was and would have gotten into even more trouble if she had taken Alana’s place.
Catriona frequently did whatever she wanted while readily accepting the consequences. Alana couldn’t have imagined such bravery, but the past year had strengthened her, and knew her soul could withstand anything.
Where is Isla?
For the second time that day, her mind pondered and took her out of her memories, and a hint of a smile sat in the corner of her full mouth. She loved Isla dearly. Since her sister’s death, she had been one of the few people who had treated Alana as a human being rather than an incomplete person.
And she guarded Alana’s secret like it was her own. Still, she despised the danger she was putting her friend in by sneaking out to the brook near the castle. But the thrill she felt was the only thing that kept her alive.
She estimated how much time she would have to wait by staring out the window before she could accomplish her mischief. She kept a mental countdown going until she was certain Lachlan wouldn’t come looking for her.
Keeping within the castle grounds, Alana had instinctively developed an acute sense for reading the time of the day from the sun and its shadows. And from the brightness of the rays, she could tell that her husband would soon enough walk out of the castle from beneath her window and head out to wherever he found amusement.
Alana expected Isla to have arrived earlier, but she knew there was probably a good reason for her delay. Perhaps Lachlan was still in his chambers. She knew not if her husband had slept alone the night before or with one of his many lovers. Regardless, she did not care who warmed his bed as long as it wasn’t her.
The sound of footsteps from the corridor outside her chamber drew her attention.
Isla, she thought with joy as she hurried to the door. Pulling it open, her eyes darted across the corridor, hoping to catch sight of her maid.
However, instead of seeing Isla walking down the corridor, she saw her husband’s wide back. Alana tried to sneak back into her room before he could notice her. She had stayed in her chambers all day to avoid him, and she hoped her work would not be undone.
“Alana?” she heard one second before closing the door.
Her heart skipped and her lips parted, but she could not make out the right words. Finally, she answered to his angry voice with a cold and distant tone on her side.
“Milord!” she uttered with a forged smile, knots forming in her stomach. Alana knew disobedience would not be her salvation that day, only a chance to postpone her fate at his hands. After all, she did live inside his castle. But she knew she’d never be able to control her temper because she wasn’t the type to keep her head bowed.
“Ye seem tae be in a mood today. Is there a reason?” his foul mouth asked her.
He didn’t strike her, despite his angry expression. His irritated gaze darted up and down her body before settling on her attire.
The dress. Alana realized too late she was wearing one of her most astonishing dresses. Wherever his eyes looked, she felt her skin burning, and no matter how hard she tried to distract her mind, she still felt Lachlan’s gaze everywhere.
“Where are ye runnin’ off tae?” he asked her.
Alana noticed they were alone when she looked around. There was no one around to quell his temper, and knew she had no choice but to comply. He never measured his strength with her, so she might end up with a swollen arm.
“I wasnae going anywhere,” she said, but his frown did not ease any less. “I just wanted to cheer up me spirits. Is that alright?”
Lachlan only nodded while staring at her lower lip, which made Alana quiver.
“I was searching for me maid,” she told him and turned around a bit, cutting his insolent gaze. “I want her help with one dress that is a bit ripped on the hem,” she hurriedly added when a frown formed. Like a flash of lightning, his frown dissolved into a smile.
“The dress looks braw on ye,” he complimented, slowly closing the distance between them.
Alana tensed. Previous experiences had taught her body not to trust his proximity to her or his smiles. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t escape him. When his hand caressed her arm, she flinched in disgust. Her reaction had no effect on him, and that terrified her.
Lachlan knew she didn’t love him, and the way he treated her didn’t help matters. However, he attempted to crush the wall between them on occasion, which always resulted in a big fight followed by his violence. He had previously broken her pinky finger, which had not grown properly and was now bent to the left.
“Ye ken why I dinnae allow ye tae wander about the village, nay?” he asked her, his eyes following the trail of his finger as it ran up and down her arm.
Clan Ross. She knew what he would say even before he said it. And she also knew it was a lie. He would never have let her leave—threat from another clan or not.
“I have enemies,” he said, personalizing his desire for battle. “If they lay eyes on ye, they will harm ye. It is the reason why I ask ye tae remain within the castle. It is for yer own protection, Alana.”
She nodded because she couldn’t bring herself to speak to him again for fear of inciting his wrath. And, as usual, she was right in predicting his temper.
His hand tightened around her leaner arm and squeezed. Despite the sharp pain, she did not scream. She couldn’t scream because she knew no one would come to her aid, and doing so would only aggravate him. However, his grip intensified until her jaws couldn’t hold any longer.
Stop, please. She wanted to speak, but her words were cut off with her groans of pain.
“Stop, Lachlan,” she gasped, but his eyes only grew wider with excitement, enjoying the pain he caused her.
He will nae stop until he has broken me arm. The pain became so excruciating, she had to squeeze her eyes shut. She yanked her arm free from his grasp with all of her strength, but she was no match for the power he wielded over her.
His reaction to her struggle was to place another hand on her other arm, and squeezed them both, forcing her to look him in the eyes. She noticed her husband’s sadistic expression, but resisted his gaze.
“Ye listen when I speak tae ye. If ye wish to step out of yer room, I want yer hair tied in a bun like the wife of the Laird MacAdam. Dae ye understand me? When ye wear yer strand falling freely, ye send a wrong message to the lads.
“Is this clear?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“But ye ken I love it when my hair is free,” she breathed weakly. Her pains caused her heart to slow and her breathing to become shallow. She couldn’t focus on his words because there was too much noise in her head.
“I didnae hear ye,” he demanded another response, giving her time to repair what she said. “Repeat yersel’.”
“Why?” Alana thought out loud, catching herself too late.
She felt his grip on her bones, threatening to break her arms.
“Ye ask me why?”
“Nay,” Alana shook her head with tears in her eyes, not being able to endure the pain anymore.
“Nay, nay,” he refused to accept her denial. “Tell me why. Answer me!”
Seeing that she was without a choice lest she might lose her arms, she answered, speaking words that she would not have dared say to him otherwise.
“Because ye dinnae treat me as yer wife. And ye ken what me hair means to me,” she answered in a whimper. Tears welled in her eyes as the words slipped out of her mouth. “Ye treat me less than yer other women.”
Alana thought she saw a hint of acknowledgement of her boldness in his eyes, but the fury was stronger. “Good afternoon,” a voice called from the end of the corridor. “Laird MacAdam. Lady MacAdam,” Ewan, Lachlan’s right-hand man greeted as he approached. In a second, Lachlan’s grips on her arms loosened. Ewan was his advisor and the only one that could have been considered friends with the Laird MacAdam.
“A good afternoon tae ye as well, Ewan,” Lachlan said with a smile that appeared to have always been on his face.
While his interruption had saved Alana’s arms, his appearance still bothered her. He was a tall man with dark short hair and almost black eyes. He exuded threat and fear, with a scar on the side of his face that the maids suspected he had inflicted on himself as a child. And he was always giving Alana inappropriate looks.
“Is the lady well?” he asked with a smile on his lean face.
Alana managed a smile and leaned into her door, waiting on the chance to escape back into it and end this awful scene. Her hands rubbed against her bruised biceps, and her limbs shivered.
“She is well,” Lachlan answered on her behalf before turning to the friendly intruder.
“May I have a moment with ye in yer study? I have information about Clan Ross,” Ewan asked.
Alana’s heart leapt with joy when she heard the clan’s name. Lachlan’s obsession was Clan Ross, and the only thing more important to him than her torment. So he followed his advisor after one last long look at his wife.
Alana raised her head to watch them leave, and her gaze met Ewan’s.
I shouldnae have looked.
Though Ewan had saved her a couple of times from her husband, it always felt like he had found them because he had been looking for her and not Lachlan. His eyes always lingered on her, making her uncomfortable.
Alana ran back into her room and locked the door behind her as soon as they left the corridor. Her legs gave out, and she collapsed at the foot of the door. Finally, she let out a few tears as the pain overwhelmed her, but she quickly wiped them away.
“Ye cannae cry,” she reminded herself. Her marriage was much more important than her own feelings. The safety of her clan depended on it, as they needed the protection that their alliance with Clan MacAdam provided them, and she could not to complain. Complaining evoked pity in others, and Alana despised pity more than anything else.
But how can I live with that me whole life? She asked herself the question that always plagued her. How much more can I take before I go completely mad?
Alana suddenly heard a knock behind her, and she screamed instinctively.
“I am sorry, milady,” she heard the calm voice of Isla behind the door.
She is here; she is alright! Alana dashed to the mirror and wiped her tears away with the hem of her dress. Her sleeves carefully concealed the bruises on her arms. She took a deep breath before exhaling loudly as she straightened her back. She had to be careful not to bother Isla with her own worries. Her friend had already done enough to help her escape the castle and experience some stolen freedom before being imprisoned again.
Her reflection gave her confidence in her pretense. She went to her window and pretended to look out for a second before Isla walked in.
“Good afternoon, Isla,” Alana sang as casually as she could manage. Her arms ached as she held them in a pose, but she endured it for the fear that Isla might see through the worry in her eyes.
“Good afternoon, milady. I got caught up in the kitchen with the cook. I apologize for making ye wait,” Isla said as she walked in.
“Dinnae worry about it. Did anyone see ye as ye came?” Alana asked.
“Nay, of course not,” Isla assured her with a wicked smile. She had a keen sense of her surroundings. It had only taken her a few days to figure out where all the rooms in the castle were and the names of the servants.
Alana laughed, but the dryness in her throat caused her to croak, making Isla, who had brought her a shawl, suspicious and concerned. She quickly caught the look in her maid’s eyes before it festered.
“I’m alright, Isla. I just miss me freedom,” Alana said sternly.
Isla’s eyes were rebellious, despite the fact that it was not in her nature — she was concerned. Alana could see it, but she was overwhelmed and didn’t want to put Isla in danger. She knew Lachlan would not kill her, but she couldn’t say the same for her maid should he took offense with her.
“Dinnae worry. Ye help me more than anyone I ken,” Alana reassured her maid, and she nodded, despite the fact that she did not fully agree with her mistress’ hesitation.
“I am sorry I cannae dae more, milady,” Isla said with regret.
It shouldnae be yer worry. I am sorry I make it so.
Alana extended her hand, and Isla placed hers in it. They squeezed each other before Alana pulled away, and her maid noticed the slight grimace on her face as she tugged.
“Did he hurt ye, milady?” she asked solemnly.
“Nay,” Alana lied immediately. “He didnae hurt me.”
Pulling the scarf over her face, she stepped out of the chambers, following the routes she had memorized to escape the castle’s walls.
Alana felt a rare joy again as she burst out into the sunlight of the Scottish hills and fields. It was the joy of loneliness, a sensation she had grown to appreciate throughout her marriage. And the calm brook was her safe haven, the only place she could feel free.
Home, Kai thought with a smile on his face. He was always soothed by the Highland air. As he rode atop his stead, he wondered how he had survived all this time away from his home.
Two farmers he knew as a child walked down the path he was taking. Kai waved to them, hoping they’d remember him, but they did not.
It has been four years, he thought bitterly as he watched the men go on their way without giving him a second look.
Despite the fact that it had rained the night before, the sun was terrifyingly bright the next day, and Kai had been riding for hours under it.
As he approached the village, he continued down the path, which was marked by forests. The air around it carried the stories of various households, of bread and of burning metal, wet sand, and spices.
From afar, he could see the castle he once called home. It was perfectly situated on a hill for all to marvel. His father was proud of the structure, which also served as a memorial to the clan lands. Kai learned to share those sentiments as he grew older, but after his father died and his mother soon followed, he found the lands to be a bitter reminder of his broken family.
Staring up at the castle, his memories came flooding back to him again. They were memories that he had buried when he left, revealing one of the reasons he had not wanted to return: his brother.
Kai’s older brother, Lachlan MacAdam, the then-young Laird, became Clan Chief as soon as their father died. Lachlan, despite his lack of concern for his own family, was a good laird, according to what Kai had heard while he was away.
He could only hope that with his title in place and a new bride to look after, he had become a better person too.
Why did I come home? he asked himself again, holding tightly onto the reins of his horse, even though he knew the answer:
Helen Findlay, his betrothed. It was time for them to marry.
Kai had returned home because he needed to see his estranged brother. This allowed him to spend more time away from Helen before word reached her that he had indeed returned. And then he’d meet his fate and marry her.
She had been one of the reasons that he had left the clan lands in the first place. However, it was time for him to meet his own responsibilities. It was not that he wanted to escape them but to postpone the wedding as long as possible. And Kai knew that Helen’s family would press him for marriage, as this was his last promise to his dying father, and she was well aware of it.
Helen Findlay, he mused as he rode. She had been his childhood friend, an offspring friendship born of the bosom friendship of their fathers. The two lairds had always encouraged the companionship of their children from a very young age, even before Helen had grown into her own character.
As she grew older, she, like many other young women her age, fell in love with Kai and chased the rest away.
Kai, on the other hand, never fancied girls when he was younger. He played with them as he would with his brother. But Helen’s selfishness had become evident to him quickly. Nonetheless, he had accepted his fate. She was to marry one of his father’s sons, and she had chosen him.
He remembered the day as if it had happened yesterday. Lachlan had been standing outside the room, unable to look at their dying father, while Kai had remained by his side all along. The old man had been dissatisfied with death but had maintained a brave face for his son, and Kai could only hope he would prove as brave.
“I ken ye would be the one to sit by me when me time came. Yer brother—”
“He loves ye, faither,” Kai had interrupted, but the old man’s look showed disbelief. “He just dinnae ken how to show his support. Dinnae judge him.”
“I love the two of ye, but ye share different destinies…” Kai had listened to the words that his father had told him for years. “Yer brother needs ye,” he reminded him, in an attempt to fix a relationship that was barely existent. Lachlan was so closed off it was pointless to even try.
“If me brother needs me help, I shall offer it tae him,” Kai had vowed back then, and even if it was a vague promise, it was one that he knew he could keep. He had never lied to his father, and he had no intention of doing so on his deathbed.
“I need ye to promise me, Kai,” his father had started. Kai had feared the words that would come out of his mouth but nodded anyway.
“Promise me that ye will wed Helen,” he had said, obviously expecting the frown on his younger son’s face even before it had formed.
“Ye must think of the family now that me time has come. Me friendship with her faither protected this family. She chose ye. I ken that ye dinnae want to wed her, but people can change. Maybe with time, she will turn into the lass ye desire. If not, ye will at least know ye fulfilled yer duty as an heir of our strong clan.”
His gaze was drawn to his father’s withering face when the man squeezed his hand. A face and a pair of eyes that had been filled with pain—pain that was far greater than the words he had spoken.
“Promise me, Kai.”
“I promise I will wed Helen,” he had appeased his dying father, but his eyes remained perplexed by Kai’s evasive promise.
That was about four years ago, and Helen Findlay would be two and twenty in only five months. Kai had wandered around, spending his days as he pleased until he had to marry her.
Even after all that time, he knew something his father did not. Helen Findlay would not change. Every time they had met, she had grown more selfish and self-absorbed. The only constants had been her attraction to him and his refusal to marry her, but with the passage of time, Kai had come to terms with his fate. He hadn’t met anyone while on his journey, so perhaps his path was really about fulfilling his father’s death wish.
Mayhas love isnae me destiny.
A sudden rustle on the left drew his attention away from his memories. He immediately turned in that direction and saw a grey rabbit hop out of the bushes. The small animal looked at him, assessing his intentions toward it.
Kai tried to move his hand, but his fingers became entangled in the reins of his horse. He’d been so engrossed in his thoughts that he hadn’t realized how tightly he was gripping them. The rabbit hopped across the path and into the bushes, turning away.
Hunting. Kai thought of an amusement that he could immerse himself into if the town was beginning to eat at him again. Riding through the hills always helped to ease his mind. When he kicked at the horse to get it moving again, it neighed in protest, but calmed down when Kai stroked its mane. The tall Highlander listened intently for the faint sound that had brought him to a halt.
“The brook!” he realized.
He drew his horse closer and tied it to a tree before walking into the bush to find the brook. The closer he got to the water, the more familiar he became with the bushes. There were new plants and shoots, but the trees remained to guide those who had been gone for a long time.
As he heard the gentle sound of the water and the chirping of birds in the trees around it, Kai felt the need to swim and wash away all the thoughts that plagued him. He knew that immersing himself into the brook was going to ease his mind and make everything feel a bit lighter, especially his upcoming meeting with his brother and his betrothal to Helen.
Kai saw clear water in front of him and closed his eyes as he inhaled the cool air surrounding it. Growing up in the clan lands, the brook had always been one of his favorite places. He had always known when it’d be devoid of people and he could have it all to himself and whoever friends he had chosen to accompany him at the time.
Suddenly, he heard a ripple in the air and turned to look. It was a woman, a naked woman to be precise. Kai was taken aback when he saw the beautiful lass emerge from the water in such a slow and majestic manner that he couldn’t take his gaze away.
The brook had submerged the lower half of her body, revealing only her elegant back that stopped at her small waist. The Highlander knew he should have moved away, covered his eyes, but couldn’t stop himself from looking at her.
She must be beautiful, he imagined even though he had not set his gaze upon her. His mind was so focused on the source of his curiosity that he thought no further to what might happen if she turned her face to him.
Her dark blonde hair was glued to her back, concealing the majority of it. But she didn’t return his gaze. She soaked her arms in water that she scooped up with her small palms.
I shouldnae be here, Kai knew, wishing only to see the woman’s face so he could find her again when it was more appropriate.
To get rid of some of the water, the woman in the brook pressed her hair down onto her scalp. Then she drew the locks away from her back so she could pat the length to squeeze out the drops as well.
Kai’s groin tightened at the sight of her small pale back. At that moment, he knew he had to leave, but he couldn’t think of a reason compelling enough to move him. It was illegal for him to be there, watching a woman who was not his wife bathe. Kai mustered the courage to turn and walk away unnoticed, muttering scolding words quietly.
Ye will be married to another in five months.
Kai took his first step and heard a snap. He had snapped a twig.
“How can ye be such a fool, Kai?” he muttered to himself, and froze immediately.
He turned to see if the woman in the brook had heard him, though he was certain she was already staring at him. When he shifted his body, their gazes locked. Kai couldn’t take his eyes off her, captivated by her beauty. He opened his mouth to speak but was rendered speechless.
Her eyes stood out against her pale face and small pink lips. Time slowed—nothing else existed but the astounding lass inside the brook. Her hair glowed in the dappled sunlight, hair and hands over her breasts, her eyes captivating. He couldn’t tell if they were blue or deep grey from where he was.
But time accelerated once her scream pierced the air.
If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here
If you want to be always up to date with my new releases, click and...
Follow me on BookBub