Every Highland Sin (Preview)
“Please… please don’t kill me,” the Frenchman said.
She rolled her eyes, a leonine grin touching her lips. She took off her red and black tricorn cap and mopped her brow with her sleeve. The man was on his knees, his wrists and ankles shackled. He looked terrified as she stood over him.
“Why do you think I’d kill you?” she purred in his native tongue.
“Y – you are La Renarde de la Mer,” he stammered. “You do not take prisoners. This is known.”
She laughed as she shook her head and put her tricorn back on. The stories that went around about her and her crew were amusing. Her legend grew despite the fact that they had not actually done most of what they were known for. Oh, they’d had to commit many acts of violence before – that was part of the life. But they’d not done most of what they were accused of. It worked in her favor, so she was willing to let the stories spread and take on lives of their own. Ships she took were less likely to fight back when they believed they were facing a crew of bloodthirsty monsters wanting to do murder.
“If this is known, then why would you ask me not to kill you?” she asked.
Her crew laughed, one of them cuffing the French captain on the back of his head. A flash of anger touched his features but was quickly washed away by the tide of fear that gripped him. She held her sword up, the sun glinting off the thin, curved blade. The Frenchman’s eyes were wide, glued to the steel in her hand. With a small laugh, she slipped her blade back into its sheath on her hip.
Aileas, also known as the notorious Sea Fox – or La Renarde de la Mer, in French – turned her head and looked at the burning hulk of the French ship floating on the starboard side of her own ship, a fifty-foot tri-masted carrack called The Red Selkie. A thick column of black smoke rose to the heavens, and on the horizon, three small dots suddenly appeared. Ships. French navy. No doubt coming to aid the ship that floated along, engulfed in flames.
She turned to the captain and flashed him a vicious smile. “Just because I do not take prisoners does not mean I kill them either,” she said. “I’m a pirate. A businesswoman. Not a monster.”
The man’s eyes widened, blossoming with hope as her crew chuckled. She gave a nod to Dougal, her first mate, and a man from her native Scotland. He grinned wide.
“Over the side with this one, lads,” he bellowed.
As they unbounded the man, Aileas stepped to the rail of her ship and watched the sails on the horizon. They were definitely coming this way. She heard the Frenchman screaming behind her, followed by the splash of his body hitting the water. Her crew howled with laughter, hurling insults and pieces of garbage at the man. A small smile touched Aileas’s lips.
She turned around and walked to the steps that led her up to the rear deck and the ship’s wheel. Conscious of the three other ships on their way, she stood at the railing and started barking orders to her crew. They had pillaged the Frenchman’s ship, taking everything of value – and as a merchant, he’d had much of value – before putting it to the torch.
They usually didn’t destroy the ships they took. After all, having merchants sailing the seas was good for her. But the Frenchman’s crew had stupidly fought back and had bloodied one of her men. The ensuing fight had been fast and furiously messy. Most of the merchant’s crew had been killed, and those wise enough to surrender were now floating in the water with their captain.
The wind filled the red and black sails with a loud snap, and Aileas tilted her head back, savoring the feel of the wind in her hair and the sun on her skin. She loved being on the water. She loved the life she had built for herself out here, as far as she knew, the only female pirate captain on any sea, anywhere.
After she had fled from her home, Logan had taught her the ways of the sea. Though Logan was a legitimate merchant, he’d been a pirate when he was younger. One of the most notorious to ever sail the ocean blue to hear some tell it. When he started to get older and found a woman he wanted to settle with, he went straight. He even had a family.
He had been true to his word. He treated her like one of his own and raised her up. He taught her how to fight. He taught her how to run a ship, and more importantly, how to run a crew. He set her up so she could be a legitimate merchant – or a pirate. Aileas found the pirate life vastly more fun. So when Logan decided to hang it up and spend his remaining years with his family, he handed control of his ship – formerly the Iron Dragon – to her. Some of his crew, also getting on in years, had decided to leave the ship, opting to spend their lives – and the gold they’d taken over the years – on land.
The first thing Aileas had done was rename the ship, then had new sails made more befitting her style. After that, she’d found a crew. Some of the men aboard the Selkie were men she’d grown up with who opted to stay after Logan’s retirement. They knew and respected her already. But the newer crew members she took aboard, she’d had to break in since a female captain wasn’t something they were accustomed to. Some of them had to be taught a little respect.
But for the last few years, things had been smooth. Her crew had become her family. Her ship. Her hope. They were prosperous and feared. Aileas liked that. Although her life wasn’t what she had expected, her birthright stolen from her in a hail of blood and flame, she found that she couldn’t complain. She had a good life.
As the Selkie glided forward, Aileas stepped to the side railing and doffed her tricorn cap, and gave a bow to the men floating in the water.
“When those ships arrive to haul your miserable carcasses out of the water,” she called to them in French. “Please tell them La Renarde de la Mer sends her regards!”
* * *
They made berth in the harbor of Dernier Espoir – Last Hope – the city on the French shoreline they had called home since the days when Logan first took the pirate’s colors. It was a rough and tumble town filled with thieves and murderers, but it was also a place where the French authorities dare not step, which made it ideal for people like Aileas and her crew.
It had been home to Aileas since she was a girl, and so she was afforded a level of respect born of familiarity and the fact that Logan was essentially her da around there. Not many men challenged her, and when they did, she had always been more than happy to put them down. Her skill with a blade, though – and her willingness to use it – had earned her even more respect, acclaim… and fear.
The crew pulled their oars in and let the longboat glide to the dock that jutted out from the shore. The men jumped up and tied it off and helped her up the ladder. Once they were all standing on the dock, she gave them all a smile.
“Ye’ve done good work, lads,” she said. “Go and enjoy some of thae spoils, eh?”
The men cheered and clapped her on the shoulder as they headed for the taverns and brothels in town – of which, there were plenty of both. Aileas made her way to the inn where she laid her head down when they were ashore, the King’s Bollocks. Though the name was crude, the Bollocks had the softest beds in town, not to mention the best wine and food.
She stepped through the door and took a seat in the corner of the common room near the hearth. There was a chill in the air outside, and Aileas just wanted to relax by a fire and have a mug of wine. Aileas unbuckled her belt, took her sword off her hip, set it down on the table, and then settled into her seat. She caught the eyes of a few of the men seated in the common room. Strangers. No doubt wondering what a little slip of a girl like her was doing carrying a blade.
“Is there a problem here, eh?” she called.
The men quickly turned back to their drinks, and a stony silence descended over the common room. Slowly, the muted buzz of conversation picked up, but it was subdued, and everybody seemed to be making a pointed effort to avoid her gaze – and thus, avoid her wrath.
“Well, you’re in a foul mood tonight, aren’t you?”
Aileas smiled at the sound of her voice and turned her head to find Giselle gliding over to her table. She set the mug of warm, mulled wine down in front of her, and a pitcher of it down in the center of the table, and took a seat across from her. Aileas took hold of the mug, cupping it in both hands to leach the warmth from it, letting out a sigh of relief.
“I am glad to see you home safely,” Giselle said.
“I’m glad to be home safely,” Aileas replied.
“Was it dangerous?”
Aileas shrugged. “It had its moments.”
Even though she’d been speaking French for most of her life now, it still felt wrong in Aileas’ mouth. It was uncomfortable. Like a cloak that didn’t quite fit properly. It was true that she had spent most of her years in France, but she knew she would never be considered French herself. Still, there were a lot of worse places to be while away the time.
Giselle smiled at her, clearly wanting Aileas to regale her with tales of her adventures on the sea. She was the inn owner’s daughter, and they had become fast friends shortly after Aileas had taken up residence in the Bollocks. She knew Giselle harbored fantasies of becoming a pirate and sailing the open ocean, and she looked at Aileas as something of a hero and a role model, something Aileas had no desire to be.
Still, the two of them were thick as thieves. They had become great friends over the years, and in a world where Aileas trusted few people, the short, slim, curvy brunette was one of the very few. So she obliged the girl and told her of their voyage… the fights, and the dangers they had faced. She ended it with the story of her leaving the French captain in the water.
When she was done speaking, she took a long swallow of the mulled wine, which had cooled considerably as she’d been telling her tale. It was still good, though. Giselle’s face was bright, her smile wide, and she was quietly clapping her hands, thrilled with Aileas’ tale.
They talked a while longer before exhaustion finally started catching up to Aileas. As she got to her feet, Giselle’s eyes widened.
“Oh no, I almost forgot,” the girl said.
Giselle held up a finger, then dashed behind the counter. She came back a few moments later, holding a sealed piece of parchment. Aileas took it and looked at the seal for a moment, not recognizing the sigil embedded in the red wax.
“Who left this?” Aileas asked.
Giselle shrugged. “I do not know. It was left here for you a couple of days ago,” she said. “The man who left it said to make sure it got into your hands the moment you returned. Said it was important.”
“But you did not recognize him?”
She shook her head. “His French was terrible. I had to get Alexandre to translate for me,” she said. “And he had a funny accent. It sounds like yours when you are not speaking French.”
That piece of information sent a bolt of lightning straight through Aileas’ body. A Scotsman here in France, leaving messages for her. She knew it could only be one person, since aside from Logan – whom Giselle would have known – there was only one person who knew where to find her.
“Dand,” she whispered.
Giselle looked at her curiously as she broke the seal on the letter. The missive was six words. Just six words. But those six words turned her entire world upside down.
It is time. Come home. ~ Dand
“Home,” she whispered to herself. “I’m goin’ home.”
The sky was overcast, and there was a chill as thick and heavy as the salt in the air. Luke stood on the far end of the dock, looking out to the sea. He loved the ocean. It held such beauty and mystery for him.
Luke knew he got his love of the sea from his father, who’d been a fisherman. Luke had only seen twelve summers, though when a storm blew through while his father was at sea, and the mighty ocean had claimed him. Still, despite the tragedy that had marked his life, he held a strong love for the water.
He looked around the harbor, silently naming the different vessels berthed there to himself. Luke thought that he’d like to board one of those ships and head out one day, riding the ocean, bound for distant lands. Most of them were familiar to him, merchants who regularly made berth in the harbor of Sowkirk.
One ship he had not seen before, though, caught his eye. It was a large, tri-masted carrack that was moored on the outside ring, standing alone. He could see the silhouettes of a few of the ship’s crewmen bustling about on the deck from where he was standing. What caught his eye were the sails. Though furled, he could see they were red and black. It was distinctive.
He stood at the end of the dock for a little while longer, just breathing the salty scent of the ocean and watching the unfamiliar carrack. Then with a smile, he turned and made his way to the harbor master’s office and leaned against the doorway, folding his arms over his chest, and looked in at the man.
Clovis Brun was perhaps the angriest man Luke had ever known. He was older, with a head full of stark white hair, a dark, craggy face, stooped shoulders, an ample belly, and a sharper tongue than any blade Luke currently had on his body. Clovis’s green eyes sparkled with intelligence and keen wit. He was never opposed to making somebody look plum foolish when the mood struck him.
“Aye? What dae ye want then, boy?” the old man snapped. “And wipe that bleedin’ smile off yer face. Tis nothin’ tae be smilin’ about ‘round here.”
Luke smiled wider. Despite his surliness, he liked old Clovis.
“I came tae ask about thae carrack with the red and black sails,” he said. “I’ve never seen it here before.”
“What business is it of yers then, eh?”
“Must we have this conversation every time I stop in, Clovis?” Luke replied. “Ye ken tis thae task me lord Fin has set to me. He wants me to keep abreast of thae ships and the crew who come intae Sowkirk.”
Clovis scoffed. “Yer lord wants ye out of his hair,” he cackled. “Tis why he sends ye down here. Ye dae ken that, eh?”
It was a thought Luke had more than a few times. He desperately wanted to be part of Fin’s personal guard – the Black Wolves, as they were called. He wanted to be a warrior. He wanted the respect and esteem that came with being one of a noble’s personal guard. Perhaps more than a life on the sea, he wanted to be known as a great warrior and friend to his lord.
But he had not yet been given a chance. Although he spent his mornings training in the warrior’s field, the rest of his days were spent at the harbor in Sowkirk, watching the ships sail in and out, ostensibly keeping an eye out for enemies. But it had not taken him long to figure out that it was a way for Baron Bagbie to get Luke out of his hair.
“Mebbe if ye dinnae pester him so much, he might nae send ye away,” Clovis continued, cackling the whole time.
“I daenae pester him,” Luke snapped.
“Lad, I been here longer than ye been alive,” he stated. “Believe me when I say that only lads who get tasked with dock duty are thae ones who pester thae baron.”
Luke frowned, feeling his mood darken. Deep down, he knew Clovis spoke the truth. And that didn’t improve his current disposition any. But Luke had always believed in putting himself out there. Believed that to achieve his goals, he had to make others remember his name. But listening to Clovis confirm the thoughts that floated through the back of his own mind made him see that perhaps, he should have found another way to make Baron Bagbie recall his name.
The good thing was, he still had time to correct his course. He was young, and he was hungry. He would do what was necessary to stand out from the other young men who vied for spots within the baron’s elite guard. That meant he needed to redouble his training. He would need to make a name for himself on the training court, not by constantly peppering the baron with questions.
The decision made, and his course set, Luke nodded to himself. He would make the baron stand up and take notice of him. He was already skilled with a blade in his hand, and he made a silent vow that before long, he would be the best in all of Cherrythorn Manor. There would be no way the baron could deny him for long.
“Are ye goin’ tae tell me about the carrack or not?” Luke pressed.
“Tis called thae Red Selkie; what else dae ye want to ken?”
“Where’s it from? Where is thae crew?”
“I daenae ken where thae crew is. A tavern or a brothel, I’d suspect. Seems tae be thae first thing sailors dae,” he grumped. “Nor can I say I ken where they’re from. I did hear ‘em speakin’ in French, though. Oh, and they’re led by a lass.”
Luke pondered it a moment, the name seeming to be strangely out of place. A French vessel named after a Scottish legend? He thought it over for a moment and wondered if he was making more of things than they actually warranted. Still, it struck him as odd and out of place. But perhaps, not as odd and out of place as a female captain. That was an oddity worth exploring.
“A female captain? Yer sure?”
“Aye,’ he said. “That sorta thing tends tae stand out.”
“And they spoke French?”
“Did I stutter, lad? Bleedin’ hell, I can see why thae baron sends ye away from him,” Clovis spat. “Now, unless ye got any more stupid questions, I got work I need tae be doin’, so run along now.”
Luke lingered in the doorway for a moment, glaring at the man. The one thing he disliked more than anything was being condescended to the way Clovis had just done. He did not like being spoken to as if he was a child. Technically, he was a soldier. He was one of the baron’s fighting men who would be called upon in a time of war. His aim was higher, and just because he had not attained his goal just yet, did not mean others had the right to sneer at him.
“Ye may not think much of me now, old man,” Luke growled. “But I look forward tae thae day I make ye eat yer bleedin’ words.”
Clovis looked at him for a long moment, and rather than a scowl, or a sharp word, Luke saw something different in his face. It was almost something akin to respect, though not quite there.
“I look forward tae thae day tae, lad,” he said, sincerity in his voice. But then a wicked grin curled the corners of his lips upward. “Until then, get yer bleedin’ arse outta me office.”
A smile crossed Luke’s face, and he laughed as he left the harbor master’s office. As he walked along the docks, though, his thoughts continued to return to the carrack. Clovis had heard them speaking French, which was interesting. It piqued his curiosity more than a little. He did not see many French merchants harboring at Sowkirk.
The town only had half a dozen taverns or so. If they had indeed gone to a tavern as Clovis had suggested, they should not be hard to find. He wanted to learn what they were up to and whether they posed any threat to his baron. He thought if they did, Baron Bagbie would be well pleased to be forewarned.
Luke set off into the town, looking for this mysterious crew who was led by a woman.
* * * * *
It took him three taverns before he found who he was looking for. The red and black tricorn hat that matched the carrack’s sails sitting on the table gave her away. As unobtrusively as he could, Luke walked in and took a seat near the table where she sat and cast a furtive glance at her. One of the tavern girls brought him over a clay mug filled with mead, and he took a deep drink of it, trying to look natural.
With hair the color of deep rust that was pulled back into a braid that hung over her shoulder, soft hazel eyes, a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, and skin darkened by the sun, Luke thought the captain was striking. She was small and petite, though she had curves that he enjoyed looking at. In black woolen breeches, black boots that went up to the knee, a red tunic, and a black leather jerkin over that, she was a sight. She looked delicate, almost like a little girl dressed up in a fighting man’s gear. And yet, despite that appearance, Luke could see the hardness in her. The toughness she carried herself with.
Beneath her tunic, he could see the sway and ripple of corded muscles. There was a scar, just a thin white line, that ran from her chin and along her jawline. As he looked closer, he could see her knuckles and hands also bore a thin white web of scars he’d commonly seen on the hands of warriors. She had obviously seen her share of fighting and action.
The woman was young but had a practiced, casual air about her. And yet, at the same time, there was a tension in her frame as well. Her body seemed to crackle with the promise of violence. The woman had a whispered threat of it in her easy but deft movements. It was the same way he’d seen hardened warriors move. The way the baron’s Black Wolves moved.
Luke had no trouble believing the woman’s small, almost delicate frame, and that soft, comely face had led many a man to underestimate her. He also had no trouble believing those who did, were no longer of this world. It was in her eyes. Even from where he sat, he could see the hardness in them. They were eyes that had obviously seen much in what Luke guessed was not a very long life thus far.
“Is there somethin’ I can help ye with?”
It took a moment for Luke to realize the woman was looking at him square in the eyes and speaking to him. He gave himself a small shake and cleared his throat.
“Sorry?” he asked.
“I ask if there was somethin’ I can help ye with,” she snapped. “Ye’ve been eyeballin’ me since ye sat down.”
“I have not.”
She rolled her eyes, a small grin flickering across her full, red lips. “Aye. Ye have.”
“Me apologies then. I dinnae mean tae stare. I was just thinkin’ to meself.”
“Thinkin’ about me then?” she purred.
“No, of course nae.”
“Why not? Daenae ye find me attractive?”
“Well… no,” he stammered. She stared at him, one eyebrow raising as her lips curled upward in a smile. “I mean… yes. Of course. But that’s not what…”
She’s got me stammerin’ like a bleedin’ idiot. Get ahold of yerself already.
“I was nae lookin’ at ye, all right?” he finally managed. “I was just thinkin’. And nae about ye.”
“Ye’ve quite thae effect on thae lads,” a deep, rumbling voice sounded.
“Ye’ve no idea,” she replied, her voice low and smoky.
For the first time, Luke noticed the large, burly man sitting at the table with her. He was older than her, but not old enough to be her father. And yet, there were some resemblances between them, so Luke thought they could be kin.
As for the man, he was built like a tree – tall, wide, and stout. He wore doeskin breeches, boots, and a dark tunic belted at the waist. The man’s hair was dark, his eyes even darker, and his skin was tawny. A large, bushy beard covered most of his face, and he seemed to radiate menace from every pore. Luke was good in a fight and skilled with a blade, but he knew even he’d think twice about tangling with the man before him.
The walking tree turned his head to Luke. “Now why daenae ye be a good lad and mind yer own bleedin’ business?”
Luke frowned and felt the blood in his veins begin to boil, feeling like he was being called out. He cut a glance around the common room of the tavern and saw people turning their way, interest upon their faces. He felt his back stiffen, and as more eyes fell upon him, he felt the pressure to answer the large man’s challenge growing. Getting heavier and pressing down on him.
Of course, people want tae see some bloodshed—bleedin’ vultures.
Luke looked him in the eye, held his gaze firmly. “I was mindin’ me own bleedin’ business ‘til she said somethin’ tae me, friend.”
“I’m nae yer friend, lad,” he growled, his voice low and menacing.
“Fine. I daenae care,” Luck snapped. “I’m just tryin’ tae enjoy a drink and this fine hearth.”
“What’s your name?” the woman asked.
“Luke Addair,” he replied. “And yers?”
“Alice,” she said. “Alice Garnier.”
The burly man with her shot her a look but turned his gaze back to Luke again.
“Me name’s none of yer bleedin’ business,” he grumbled.
Luke shrugged. Frankly, he didn’t care what the man’s name was. He wasn’t what had captured Luke’s attention. That was Alice Garnier. He found that he was growing more curious about her.
“Tis unusual for a woman tae captain a ship,” Luke said.
She gave him a smile, which left him feeling somewhat unsettled. For some reason, this woman had a visceral impact on him. She put a flutter through his heart and stomach he couldn’t understand.
“Mebbe it shouldnae be,” she replied.
Luke shrugged and gave her a small smile. “Mebbe not.”
“I’d heard ye’ve got a French crew,” he said. “Seems unusual.”
“Lots of things seem tae be unusual tae ye,” she replied. “But tae answer yer question, good men tae crew a ship can be found anywhere… even in France. And tae enlighten ye further, I’ve got Scots and even an Irishman among me crew.”
Luke nodded, feeling the weight of her companion’s eyes on her. He didn’t think the big man was part of her crew, though. He couldn’t put his finger on why exactly, but Luke didn’t think he had the look of a sailor about him. Unlike her. She seemed made of ocean water and sea salt. She had the look of a woman who could be as soft and gentle as the sea on a calm, clear day, and at the time, as violent and brutal as an ocean storm. Luke found her more than a little intriguing.
“So what brings ye tae Sowkirk then?”
She shrugged languidly. “Just doin’ some business.”
“We daenae get many merchants from France ‘round here.”
“Then thae market should be fresh and unspoiled for me goods, eh?”
He grinned at that. “Aye. I suppose so,” he said. “And what kind of goods are ye bringin’ tae market then?”
“Ye sure dae got a lot of questions, daenae ye?” the man grumbled.
“Me ma always said havin’ a curious mind was a good thing,” Luke shot back.
“Tis a good way tae get yer gut opened up, and yer innards spilled out on thae floor here.”
The big man had his hand on the hilt of a dagger on his belt, his eyes narrowed, and jaw set. He looked at Luke with pure malice in his eyes. Luke was getting tired of the man and his not-so-veiled threats. He put his hand on the hilt of his sword, his gaze fixed firmly to the big man’s. The air in the tavern suddenly crackled with tension, and all eyes turned to them, a breathless anticipation building.
The big man got to his feet, staring at Luke with baleful eyes. Alice sat back in her seat, an expression of amusement upon her face, a grin flickering across her lips. Luke could tell she was weighing him. Taking his measure. In that hazel-eyed gaze, he saw that she was trying to see what sort of a man he was.
And at that moment, Luke knew what sort of man he wanted to be. He wanted to be a man who did not back down from a challenge. A man who was not afraid to fight – and die – for what he believed was right. And he wanted those things mostly for himself, but partly because he knew, deep down in his bones, that was the sort of man Alice wanted.
“Mebbe we need tae step outside, so I daenae sully thae tavern floor with her blood,” the man growled.
Luke got to his feet and swept the cloak back from his shoulders, laying his hand casually on the pommel of his sword. It had been his father’s blade, the last piece of his da he had. It was a long, curved blade with a crossguard fashioned to resemble the tentacles of a sea beast, the pommel its head; two chips of ruby had been embedded to resemble the eyes.
The sword was light and graceful. Elegant. And Luke drew power and strength from it. His father had been a master swordsman. He could have been one of the old lord’s elite personal guards. But he had chosen a life upon the sea instead. While Luke wouldn’t follow his father in that regard, he trained relentlessly to be his equal with a blade in his hand.
“Aye. Mebbe we should,” Luke said, his voice cold.
The man’s lips curled upward in a grin. He turned to Alice and tipped her a wink, then erupted into laughter.
“I like this lad,” he said. “He’s got stones, he does. Stones thae size of boulders, I’d say.”
Alice smiled, and all around him, the common room burst into laughter, all of the tension that had saturated the air before, vanishing like a puff of smoke on a breeze. Luke stood there, blinking, swept away by waves of confusion. The big man walked over, and Luke tensed, but with a smile on his face, he clapped him on the shoulder, a wide smile on his face. It helped ease some of his tension, but he still watched the man warily.
“Ye’ve got stones, lad. I respect that,” the big man said. “I was just jestin’ with ye, lad. Ye can take yer hand off yer blade now.”
Luke slowly lowered his hand, still trying to figure out what was happening. He looked over to Alice, whose smile was enigmatic and captivating, and she beckoned to him. Clearing his throat and trying to wipe the dumbstruck look from his face, he picked up his mug of ale and walked over to her table, pulling a chair over, and sat down. The big man stood next to him, and Alice looked up at him.
“I’ll come see ye later, Dand,” she said. “We can finish our discussion then.”
The man raised an eyebrow at her, and Luke saw a sly grin on his face. He chuckled, his deep voice rumbling like thunder rolling in off the ocean.
“Aye. We’ll dae that,” he said and set one of his large, meaty hands on Luke’s shoulder. “Watch over this one. She’s me cousin, so daenae let anythin’ happen to her, eh?”
Inwardly, Luke felt a rush of relief upon hearing that Alice was his cousin, rather than his woman. It meant he had a chance after all. But he also felt like Alice was not simple prey to catch. In just the short time he’d known her, he knew she was different than any other woman Luke had ever known, and he found her intriguing and compelling in a hundred different ways.
“Aye,” Luke replied. “On me honor.”
“I think it more likely I’ll be thae one watchin’ over him,” Alice said.
The large man – Dand, he’d heard Alice call him – nodded. “Aye. Probably so,” he said. “I just dinnae want tae hurt his feelin’s.”
Alice laughed out loud, and not even Luke could keep the smile from curling his lips upward. Luke thought Dand seemed to be a man capable of great violence, and one who was good in a fight – depending on which side of the blade you were on. But he also thought he seemed like a man quick to laugh and jest. A man who seemed to enjoy himself and life. Luke liked that. It was confusing, but he liked it.
“I’ll see ye after,” Dand said.
Luke watched the man walk away, still not entirely certain what was happening. When he turned to Alice, he found her watching him over the rim of her cup as she took a deep quaff of her ale.
“So,” she said as she set the cup back down. “Tell me yer story, Luke Addair.”
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