The Deceived Highland Bride (Preview)
Laggan, Scotland, August 1648, Clan MacPherson Lands
Alice McTavish was no well-bred lady, and that was the way Cameron Hay preferred it. With vigor and glee, she wrapped her thighs around his waist, and he held her tight against the wall of the back room of his tavern, thrusting hard. When they first started, she’d looked into his eyes, then pulled him in for a kiss, but as his efforts grew more frenzied she leaned her head back, crying out his name at each advance of his hips.
She grew so loud that he clamped a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound. As Alice came quickly, trembling around him, she bit on his fingers trying her best to hold onto him. A few more deep thrusts and he was finished too, pulling out quickly and spilling into his hand. Every time with her was fast and pleasurable. She landed on her feet, and he reached out a hand to steady her as she pushed her rumpled skirts down in place around her.
Brushing a strand of blonde hair from her sweat-covered brow, Alice beamed at him, revealing a row of strong white teeth. She was a bonnie lass to be sure. There were many men keen for her attentions, knowing her willingness to offer them.
“Cameron, lad, it is always so good with ye,” she said fighting to draw sufficient breath. She gave him a cheeky grin while he wiped away the evidence of their coupling, tying his trews securely again.
“Aye,” he agreed, uncomfortable with the aftermath of such things, and not knowing what more to say.
He only wanted quick fun, as did many of the women he slept with, just flesh on flesh like animals enjoying what God had given them—and then they were off. There was usually no conversation or at least not much, and they each got what they wanted until the next time.
When he was fixed up, Alice stood up on her tiptoes and pulled him close. She wrapped her hands around the back of his neck and pressed a wet kiss on his cheek, which sent a shiver down his spine—only, it was not out of pleasure this time, but a strong need to just run toward the door and disappear.
“Let me stay a while, Cameron. Let me stay this time.”
“Nae a chance, Alice, and ye ken it.” He gently pulled out of her grasp and stepped back, but not before bending down to press a kiss on her cheek, not wanting to insult her. “I dinnae want another encounter with yer husband like the last time.” He pointed to his still-swollen darkening eye. “Best tae keep things secret here, where nae one kens about yer whereabouts.”
“But why’d ye risk it? Asking me tae come here taenight after what happened the last time?” she countered.
He pulled on his jacket and watched as Alice’s expression change to slightly sullen. No, this would not do at all. That was why he had liaisons with married women; they had homes and lives to return to and did not think to cling to him as a true partner or lover. He had his reasons for asking her, and he was sure as hell not going to tell her.
“I think ye ken, Alice. Same reasons as ye. I couldnae stop meself from enjoying yer sweetness once more,” he pressed his swollen lips, still red from her bites, to hers for a mere second. “Now, go on. I will see ye again soon. I have work tae get back tae.”
She sighed and nodded, “Fine then, Cameron. Suit yerself. Until the next time.” Alice left out the back way, still adjusting her skirts, and slammed the door a little harder than usual.
There we go again… Cameron rolled his blue eyes, pushing up his jacket sleeves over strong forearms, and left through a door leading to his tavern, Ghàidheal, or Highlander. He wore no colors, even though his tavern stood at the border between Grant and MacPherson land. He preferred to stay out of the politics of land and battles, and even though his best friends were guards and soldiers, for him it made no difference.
Fighting for one’s life, even though Cameron was an exceptional swordsman who won battles with ease, was far less appealing to him than a life of pleasure and merriment. And with his towering muscular frame and winning smile, those two things came easily.
He stood behind the long wooden counter and returned to his work as if he’d been there the whole time, taking a wet cloth and running it down the length of the wood. His long blond hair was tied in a knot at the base of his neck. Easier that way with all the vigorous work he’d been doing of late.
The two friends working with him, Seamus and Julia, were busy taking care of the many customers so there was spilled ale for Cameron to wipe away. The tavern was full, and it always made him swell with pride when he saw everyone having a merry time.
‘Tis mine. All this, at last.
As he looked out at his successful venture, his hand brushed across the golden brooch pinned to his loose white shirt, unbuttoned at the throat. It was a rounded oval with gold filagree around the outside. If he looked closely, he could see the faint outline of an engraved Scottish thistle across the middle.
He was never without it, and he touched it to remind himself where he’d come from, even if the past was still shrouded in mystery. It had been found on him when he was but a babe left on the doorstep of the healer’s hut. Taken in by the kind old woman, he’d never known the story of his past. All he had was this one golden brooch, and it was the only clue he had to finding out the truth one day. But that day would not be today.
“Och, there he is!” a familiar voice called, and he looked over to see three of his friends sitting around a low, circular table by the large stone hearth.
He grinned, glad to have a little distraction that night after Alice’s little scene. Tossing the cloth aside, he strode up to them, bringing a chair next to the men and leaned his arms on the strong wood of the tabletop.
“Well, lads, it seems ye three are havin’ a right party. Good timin’ too. I expected ye a bit later, though.”
“We couldnae wait tae have our last drink with ye, Cameron, ‘afore we’re off tae battle.” Rory McKinnon, his hair as red as carrots, winked at him. “Besides, ye’ve got a bet tae win.” He pulled out a bag of coins from his coat pocket and plopped it on the table, pushing it across to Cameron.
Cameron chuckled, tapping at the bag and loving the feel of good hard coin under his fingertips. It meant he would not go hungry. “What’s this for, then?” he asked with a cheeky lift of the brow.
“Och, ye ken!” Alistair, Rory’s twin brother chuckled. “We saw Alice McTavish comin’ in through the back to yer rooms, lad. I cannae believe ye slept with her again, after what happened naught but two days ago! Thought ye werenae desperate for another hit tae yer eye. But I suppose ye couldnae resist the bet and earning some good coin.” Alistair and Rory laughed heartily before drinking from their tankards of ale.
Cameron, smiling, turned to face his best friend, Blair MacDougall, who sat directly across from him with his arms crossed and his dark brown eyes frosty. People often thought Blair and Cameron were twins, both with the same blond hair and bright smiles. But Blair was a few inches shorter than Cameron, his hair cropped closer to his head, serving him well as a laird’s guard.
But even though many a lass could not decide which handsome lad to flirt with between the two of them, right then none of them would have chosen Blair, who looked so frustrated with his best friend that he was stabbing daggers with his gaze.
“Yer ale looks like it’s untouched, Blair,” Cameron said, a tinge of uncertainty in his tone.
Blair was the only person in the world whose good opinion he sought or even cared about. If he was upset with him, then Cameron knew it was for a good reason. Right now, he did not wish to really know what it was about, yet he could hazard a guess.
“So it is,” Blair returned with a nod, turning away from him.
Frowning, Cameron turned to his other friends. “Aye, I didnae want the trouble, but ye ken me. I dinnae make a bet I am nae sure tae win. I asked her tae meet me and there she was, nae needing a second invitation.”
He picked up the bag of coins, tossed it up in his hand and then stuffed it into his pocket. “Now, let me get me own ale and join ye lads.” He stood and asked for Julia behind the bar to fill in for him. “How are things here taenight, lass?” he asked her.
Julia smiled, her golden curls bouncing as she moved. She was nearly sixteen, and he knew he’d have to start watching the men in the tavern to make sure they kept their hands to themselves. She and her twin brother Seamus had been working at his tavern for two years since he’d found them on their own, practically starving to death. There was less than ten years between them, but when he’d seen them outside on the edge of the woods, their bodies thin and drawn, clothes tattered and Julia bruised and beaten, he’d felt like a righteous father. He had been given a chance when the old healer had taken him in, and he’d seen the chance to help Julia and Seamus in turn. They’d become his good friends, his confidantes, even though his fatherly protective instinct toward them still stood strong in his heart.
“Just fine, Cameron. Ye dinnae have tae worry about me, ye ken,” she said, pushing a full, frothy tankard into his strong hands.
“That’s good, Julia. But ye ken I always will.” He winked at her and then sat down with his friends again, a mug finally in his hands.
“I think the worst part about goin’ tae this blasted battle at Preston is leavin’ ye two, and nae bein’ able tae make any more bets,” Alistair said, scrunching up his nose.
“Aye, true enough,” Rory echoed. “Blair could’ve come with us tae the battle, but he chose tae remain guard at MacPherson Castle this time. Bloody good fighter he is, and what a waste.”
Blair remained silent still.
Cameron leaned back in his chair on two legs and eyed his friend. “Go on, what is it, then?” he asked Blair. “Ye are nae kent tae keep yer ale in its tankard, especially when it’s fresh.”
Rory and Alistair chuckled, and Rory said, “Och, he’s been a bit sour since we saw the lass go intae yer room. Ye ken him and his madness…”
“Och, is that it?” Cameron asked not leaving Blair’s gaze for even a second.
His best friend leaned forward, his hands wrapping around his tankard. “I think we should give up this foolish betting. ‘Tis nae the way of good men, betting on whether or nae a lad will sleep with a lass. ‘Tis nae right, Cameron.”
Cameron crossed his arms and rolled his eyes. He’d heard all this before. Bloody nonsense it was. He had no interest in a wife or a family. He wanted only pleasure and to run his tavern as he saw fit. And tae find out who me parents were. But that was a different issue entirely.
He stared at his friend. “Come now, Blair. Ye have been tryin’ tae convince me of this for years, but ye willnae dae it, nae matter how many times we discuss it. I have nae need of a wife, only lovers, and the lovers I take are only interested in just that.”
He guiltily thought of Alice, who had begun to look at him in a different way that night, hoping for more. He lifted a brow at Blair, waiting for a reply.
“But ye could just settle down with a good woman, a lass ye would love, and everythin’ would come right in yer life. I ken it, Cameron. Ye would have everythin’ ye ever wanted,” Blair replied, the frostiness gone from his eyes.
“Good lord, what is this shite he speaks of?” Rory asked, laughing loudly.
“But look at ye, Blair. Ye are constantly telling me about how I should dae it, when ye have nae even done it yerself. Why dae ye nae find yerself a good woman, since ye have always wanted a life like that?” Cameron challenged.
“I will. One day.” Blair looked around between them. “Too many wars tae be fought, but I stayed back this time. Ye all think me mad, but I want tae find her. Tae find the lass who will fill me heart and mind, make me want tae be a good husband.”
“Bloody hell,” Alistair said, polishing off his ale and waving down Julia for another.
“So, does that mean ye will finally come and work here at the tavern with me? As partners? Then ye will have the time and lack of danger tae get that family ye want with a sweet and meek lass to look after ye,” Cameron said, shaking his head. “I have nae idea why ye never agreed before, as I have asked ye more than once.”
“Nae. It is nae yet time,” Blair said stubbornly. “Working at the castle is good money. And I need more money if I am tae be a proper provider for me family.”
“Fine then. Suit yerself.” Cameron threw up his arms and took a drink. “I say we talk of other things, since we cannae agree on the subject.”
“Aye!” Rory said, lifting his tankard in the air while Julia brought Alistair a fresh one.
It took a few seconds, but Blair followed suit, and the four of them touched tankards as Alistair began to tell a tale. But after about two minutes, it was cut short when Cameron heard Julia calling to him from the side of the bar. He stood and excused himself before running up to his young friend.
Grabbing her shoulders, his heart flipped in his chest. “Are ye hurt? What’s wrong, lass?”
To his surprise, she shook her head, worry possessing her eyes, “Cameron, there is trouble out in the alley. Two men are attacking two young ladies. Will ye help, please? Seamus has gone, but I ken he’ll be killed if he tries anything, the idiot!”
Cameron took her hand, stroked it, and they exited the tavern through the back door into the alley.
An hour earlier.
“Be quick!” Ada MacPherson told her sister Ella as she came into the room already wearing her black cloak, hood up over her head. “What are ye daeing?”
“Calm down,” Ella whispered, pulling on her own cloak and tying the strings so it covered the golden brooch pinned near to her heart. Ella loved it so much she could never bear to take it off. Many years before as a young girl she’d taken a shine to it, having seen it in her Aunt Anne’s room. Her aunt had been kind enough to let her have it, and after her tragic death, Ella wore it in memory of her who had become like a mother in the absence of her own. The brooch was smooth except for the gold filagree and the engraving of a Scottish thistle.
“I am almost ready. Besides, we should nae talk so much; someone will hear us!” Ada narrowed her brown eyes at her sister in frustration.
Ella smirked, tapping a finger to her smiling lips before she pulled the hood over her plaited red hair. Together, they moved quietly out of the room and down the hall of MacPherson Castle, a home and also their prison for far too long. At least she had not been alone; she had Ada, both her sister and best friend, and the two of them nearly alike in appearance with the same bright long red hair. Yet while Ada’s eyes were a dark brown, Ella’s were the color of a loch on a sunny day.
Her heart fluttering, Ella reached over to grab her sister’s hand. When she turned, Ada gave her an encouraging nod, assuring her that they were doing what they must do. Since they could not find freedom and were not granted much by their father, Laird Graeme MacPherson, then they would seize it. And tonight was the night.
They had planned and waited long enough to taste a bit of the outside world for once. As they stepped closer to the doors at the end of their passageway, Ella found she was much hungrier for freedom than she’d realized. Pulling her hood back, she stood tall, and pushing Ada a bit to the side, she opened the double doors so that Ada was hidden behind the one of them. As expected, she spied their personal guards standing just outside the door.
“Angus, Darren, would ye help me? I was goin’ tae dae it meself, but then I realized I wouldnae be able tae carry it.”
“What is it, Me Lady? We would be happy tae help,” Darren said, bowing his head a little, his hands folded in front of him, sword at his side.
The guards looked like twins, with matching brown mops of curls on their heads and a serious expression on their faces. They were attractive enough, but they were her father’s age. Her father, terrified of what might happen to them, thought having young men watch his daughters was far too dangerous.
“Ada is nae well.” The lie she practiced came easily to her lips. “Could ye fetch a pail of water or two and leave them here just inside the door? I need tae help her wash, and I dinnae wish the servants tae come, in case they fall ill, too.”
“Aye, of course. We will go right away.” Angus bowed, and together he and Darren turned to go.
As planned, Ella shut the doors behind them and waited, her breathing loud in the silent space as she and Ada stared at each other. Though they were close, they could not have been more different, for Ada enjoyed the excitement of adventures and reckless plans, while Ella did not. She was more rigid, more responsible, and found herself in need to organize everything before taking part in any sort of “adventure.” It had taken time for her to work up the courage to go through with this tonight’s foolhardy plan.
“Now!” Ada said, and Ella quickly opened the door again, and they slipped out into the main upper hall, silently closing it behind them. This would be the first time they’d ventured out on their own in so many years she’d lost count. Grabbing Ada’s hand, Ella pulled her down the passageway until they reached an alcove with a secret door. Opening it, they rushed down the stone steps and into the darkness of the tunnel.
The one thing their father, Laird MacPherson, never planned on was that imprisoning his daughters meant that their whole world consisted of the castle. That they knew its every crack, every turn, every stone. There were more secret passageways throughout the old structure that Ella was certain even her faither didn’t know about them all. Hand in hand, they hurried down the familiar tunnel in the dark until they felt the draft of sweet night air on their cheeks.
“So close!” Ella breathed.
“I cannae believe it. Dinnae lose yer courage now, sister,” Ada warned.
It had taken years for them to gain the courage to escape. And when one of them gained it, the other would falter, and they would be right back where they started. Mostly it was Ella whose courage waned. But now she could taste what she desired in the air.
If only for a night. If only for a few hours. They would go to the village tavern and see what the world had to offer. It would be one night of freedom, and no one would ever have to know they escaped.
She slowed her gait until her hands brushed against the rough oak of the door. “Here we are,” Ella whispered. She worked at the metal bolt on the door, and together they pushed it, heaving a little until it strained open. A rush of air hit their faces, their skin pinking in the cool of the night, and they grinned at each other.
“Hurry. We must put a small stone in the door to keep it open. We cannae open it from the outside otherwise,” Ella said, having made thoughtful and careful plans over the past weeks, walking by the door many times.
“Aye.” Ada reached down to pick up the stone she’d collected for that purpose, pushing it between the door and the jamb. It was thin enough not to be recognized at first look, and when the heavy door laid against it, she stood. To be safe, she pulled against the door, relieved when it easily moved outward.
“Ready?” she asked, turning to Ella.
“Aye. I have never been more so.”
They put up their hoods, and hurried away into the night, hoping their dark cloaks would shield them from the watchmen and the torchlights. At least the woods were close enough to the castle so they only had a small stretch of green to cross before they were well-hidden amongst the dark trees. She paused only once to turn back for a moment to look at the castle and to take a deep breath.
“Finally, Ada. It is our time.”
Ella giggled as they held hands, running swiftly down the path toward the village, and finally seeing the lights and the outline of buildings as they got close.
“The tavern, remember? That has tae be our first stop. Marcia kens how full of men it is,” Ella said, her eyes flashing, and Ada laughed.
“My older, responsible sister is talking tae me of men? I cannae believe it.”
“Aye. It is time we spoke tae someone else besides Faither, the servants and guards.” Ella ground her teeth together.
“Aye, and I wish tae fall in love and talk tae as many men as possible taenight.”
Ella paused. “Dinnae be too wild, Ada. We dinnae ken the men we go tae see.” Ella’s excitement was mixed with fear, but Ada had far more wildness about her.
The reason Ella had feared to leave before was because she wasn’t sure what Ada might do if set free. But it was time for them both to enjoy themselves a little, even if it was only for a few hours.
She’d tried years ago to persuade her father that the kidnapping of their youth had not been successful, that it had simply been an unusual accident, and that they could move on. But alas, he kept them locked up as if they were caged birds he wanted to keep from growing up and experiencing life.
It made her furious, and each day the anger worsened, but now she would forget about that. She wanted to enjoy this time with her sister. It might be the last breath of freedom she would have before she was eventually married, if her father ever let her do even that.
The tavern drew near, the closest building to the castle, and she could see the wooden sign hanging above the door, a lantern hanging next to it.
“Ghàidheal,” Ella breathed, tears in her eyes. “I feel as if this is another land we’ve traveled to. That nae one will ever be able tae find us again.”
She closed her eyes, and Ada squeezed her arm. “Aye, and we’ve only traveled naught but a few minutes.”
They could still see the castle in the distance in all its torchlit guarded glory, yet she looked back at the tavern to make sure it was real. Winding her arm through Ada’s, she nodded.
“Are ye ready? Shall we go?”
They were just about to take a step forward when they turned at the sound of crunching twigs from behind them.
“Nae, stay with us a while, lassies,” one of two men walking behind them said.
Both of them were dark-haired with scruffy beards and dark clothes. She could tell they were drunk by the way they stumbled, but when they got close to Ada and Ella, they smiled. Ella’s heart raced, and she gripped Ada’s hand.
Never before had she spoken to a strange man. But looking into their dark eyes and watching their yellow, leering smiles, she felt something was wrong. Her heart told her so as it pumped wildly against her ribs.
“Come, Ada. Nae, thank ye, gentleman, we will be on our way now.” She turned away, clutching Ada’s hand, and the two of them dashed toward the tavern, but the men were too fast. She felt herself pulled back by her cloak until she was flat against the man’s chest. She struggled against him, her lungs filling with screams, as a thick, calloused hand covered her mouth.
With stale breath, the man whispered in her air. “Dinnae scream, or I shall have tae hurt ye bad. But if ye cooperate, all will be well and over in a few.”
He chuckled, and she grimaced, knowing but not truly knowing what he meant. He moved her along down a narrow alley, unable to see but hear Ada’s struggle behind her with the other man. He leaned down to gather up her heavy skirts, pushing her against the wall, his breath rank and rough.
“Och, just a young one, so it is. Perfect.” His grip on her mouth loosened but only a little.
“Stop it, ye dobber,” said the other man who held Ada. “Dinnae touch her, Kenn. All the laird wanted was tae bring them tae him alive.”
“Aye, so he did.” Ella squirmed when Kenn groped her bosom with such strength she heard the material of her cloak tear apart, but this only made him hold her tighter. “I am nae goin’ tae kill her. But he didnae say that we couldnae have a little fun.”
The other man cursed, and Ella wished he’d try again to convince Kenn to stop, but he didn’t. She looked at him with pleading eyes, and it was then she noticed the colors the men wore. Under the lamplight, she could tell the shades were those of Clan Grant, and her heart fell. Could this be another attempt at kidnapping? Again?
The laird of that clan had attempted years ago to take them, but she’d never learned why. Only that her father had been so terrified of it happening again that he’d trapped his only two children in the castle, never letting them out. But this was more than a kidnapping, as she felt the man’s cold hands on her thigh trying to push her gown away.
His rough fingers found the warmth of her leg, and his firm squeeze made her feel nausea building in her throat.
She bucked against him, trying to fight his arm away, and she could hear Ada’s muffled scream. Was this what her father had hoped to protect her from? Being raped by a stranger in a dark alley?
“Oy!” a voice called, and she turned quickly to see a lad with rough brown hair, pointing at the two men. He was young, though, maybe sixteen, and her heart faltered as the brief hope she’d had of escape fizzled out.
“Get away from those lasses!” the boy cried, fury written on his face.
Och, he’s going tae get himself killed!
For the time being, the men’s movements had been halted. Ella could feel tears welling up in her eyes as she prayed for help, hoping that these men would be damned for what they were about to do. The man holding her tightened his calloused fingers around her neck.
Her eyes blurred as she felt the heavy pressure to her throat. No air. No air was getting into her lungs. She bucked and kicked.
“What are ye goin’ tae dae about it, lad? Ye are just a boy,” the man laughed.
“But nae me,” a deeper voice thundered, and Ella saw a tall shape looming over her kidnappers.
Instantly, she was freed with a curse, and she spluttered and coughed, backing against the wall, fighting to breathe.
“Ella!” Ada cried, running to stand next to her, having also been suddenly released.
They watched as their rescuer started with the first man. As the first fists flew, Kenn groaned, and he quickly fell to the ground after one hit to the jaw.
“Have sense, lad!” the other man called, lifting his hands in the air, but the tall, fearsome savior of theirs did not stop. He hit the other one as if he couldn’t care less that the man held up his blade while madness was written in his eyes.
Ella watched in awe the two men groan in pain as they were pummeled into the ground once more. In a flash, she could see the fierce highlander pull out a dagger and hold it to her assailant’s neck.
“If I ever see yer face around here, it’ll be yer blood on me blade. I dinnae care whose men ye are. Now get the hell away!”
The attackers scrambled to their feet, cursing even as blood spouted from their lips.
They ran off, and Ella averted her eyes, never wanting to look upon them again. She put a hand to her chest and felt for the broach. Her cloak had been yanked away in the attack, but the brooch was still pinned close to her heart, and she closed her eyes, thanking God they were safe. Her clothes had been ripped, and she wrapped her arms about herself to cover her breasts, which were threatening to show. She shivered.
A young blonde woman emerged from the tavern, holding out two cloaks, and the large man took one up. “Here ye are, lass,” he said, his voice quiet and comforting. He took the large cloak and put it over her shoulders. She quickly covered up her torn bodice. Then, with a breath, she gained the courage to look up at their savior for the first time and met his eyes.
When she saw those two orbs of blue, the first words that came to mind were, avenging angel.
Cameron held out a hand, “Are ye all right, lasses?” he asked, his eyes moving between them.
Only the first one he looked at, the one with long red hair that had been tied back, nodded. She was still breathless, her lips parted, and she clung tightly to the cloak he’d just given her. He helped the other lass put on her cloak as well, and she looked equally afraid, her brow furrowed with shock.
“Aye, sir. Thank ye,” the first woman swallowed, finding he could not look away from her.
Cameron cleared his throat, trying to ignore the very big distraction that had fallen into his arms, especially when she had just been through such a terrible ordeal. Yet he couldn’t help but glance at the full bosom showing through her ripped bodice.
I’m an animal, for God’s sake; she was almost taken against her will.
“Come, come inside,” he said, trying to push lustful thoughts to the back of his mind, including the maidenly anatomy revealed before him, and the redhead’s distressed moans in his ears.
He gripped her elbow while Seamus hurried to help the other, who was obviously younger. Inside, the crowd continued as merrily as before, completely unaware of what happened outside. He was glad for that. He didn’t like the idea of the women getting further attention directed at them. And with a face like that, the first one was sure to glean attention wherever she went.
“Sit here, lasses.” Cameron and Seamus helped the young women inside to tall chairs which stood along the wooden bar, sticky with spilled ale.
The crowd seemed to have doubled in size since he’d been gone. He allowed himself to relax, knowing the throng of patrons would give the two women a bit of privacy and anonymity without being stared at as they entered the room. He was grateful for that, knowing that the lasses—especially the beautiful one he’d rescued—undoubtedly drew attention, both unwanted and wanted, wherever they went.
“What are your names?” he asked.
“Ella,” the blue-eyed one said, still trembling. “And this is me sister, Ada.”
“Well,” Cameron smiled his most reassuring smile. “Welcome to my tavern. Give me just a moment, and I will bring ye both food and drink.”
He left them and found Rory, Alistair, and Blair waiting, watching him with puzzled looks.
“What was it, then?” Rory asked.
“A couple of bastards trying tae rape two lasses. They’re shaking from the scare, but I am certain a bit of food and drink will help,” he explained, flexing his aching hands after the pounding they’d taken.
He’d hit men’s jaws before, but never before had he had to jump to attention so quickly. He’d often considered how Julia had been harmed before coming to live with him, and he wished he could have pummeled that man’s jaw as well.
Blair pulled his ale towards him. “What did ye dae?”
“Hit them, threatened them. They had Grant’s colors—his guards most probably. Have nae idea how or why they suddenly decided to choose these two lasses to hurt.”
Blair looked grim. “Grant is nae a good man, so it is nae surprise that his men are nae either. They’ll take any lass that crosses their path.”
Rory chuckled. “And what of Laird MacPherson? Exactly because of events like this the man is worried about every little thing, keepin’ his daughters so locked away for years. I might do the same if I have a lass someday. Damn, I’d kill those bastards.”
Cameron had heard that the MacPherson laird was a fearful sort, and he’d pitied the girls, but tonight was a perfect example of what the laird feared: the world was a dangerous place for lovely ladies alone.
“I dinnae want me tavern littered with dead bodies, or else I would have considered killin’ them meself.” He rubbed a hand over his face and behind his neck, glancing back at Ella speaking to her sister. But the din of the crowd quickly covered them again, and he turned back to his friends.
“Jesus, but the one is bonnie, I wish ye could see her,” he told them. “It would be a danger for her tae ever set foot outside her home.”
“Och, let me check, then; maybe she’ll need some comfort,” Alistair chuckled and tried to get up his chair only to be pushed down roughly by Cameron.
“Dinnae ye dare bother them; they’ve had enough unwanted attention taenigh, ye arse. She’s too bonnie for ye anyway.”
“Do ye mean tae make a new bet, lad?” Alistair chuckled.
“Bloody hell, the lass has just been attacked!” Blair finally spared them a word, leaning forward.
Cameron didn’t answer, but grinned at Alistair. “Aye, she will be me next catch, I think.” He stood tall, brimming with confidence. He’d rescued her; she was his.
He had become very used to the way he affected women, and now that he’d saved her, he was sure she would fall to his charms soon enough, easier than ever. He was her savior, after all. Blair shook his head, huffing out a sigh while Rory and Alistair just laughed.
“I’ll see ye lads a bit later. Got tae treat the lasses tae some food and drink now. Calm their nerves, ye ken.”
Cameron turned away, his friends still chuckling, and he moved behind the bar. “Good lad, Seamus,” he said to his young friend, tousling his hair. “But we’ll wait until ye are a bit bigger ‘afore ye go out alone on a rescue, ye understand?”
“Aye, Cameron.” He gave a guilty abashed grin. “I am sorry I couldnae dae much. I was afraid too.” Seamus twisted his fingers anxiously like he did every time he was fretting about something. “Will ye teach me how tae fight, Cameron?”
“Aye, of course. I have already taught ye much about fightin’, but the fear needs tae be overcome.” He lowered his voice, and with a smile whispered, “But those lasses are grateful tae ye,” he nodded his head to them, and Seamus blushed, making Cameron laugh. “Bring food for the two of them, would ye, please?”
He left Seamus and moved to stand by Ada and Ella, leaning his elbows on the wood. His hair was mussed from the fight, and a length of it hung over one shoulder. He folded his hands and looked between the two girls. “What will ye take tae drink, lasses?”
“Anything ye recommend,” the one called Ada said, giving him a bright eager look. She seemed to have recovered more easily than her sister.
He chuckled, glad they were settling already. But not quite on the right woman, however. Ella continued to watch him with wariness. It was amusing. No woman, especially not one who had just been rescued by him, had ever looked at him with suspicion. It made her all the more intriguing.
“We dinnae need anything tae drink, sir. In fact, it is best if we return home as soon as we can.”
“With lads like that about? Nae, stay a while. Yer food is comin’, like I said. It will warm ye, take away yer tremors.” He turned around and poured them both a glass of whiskey, serving it with another smile. “Here ye are; best in the Highlands, so they say.”
Ada brought it to her lips, but Ella reached out to stop her a second before the liquid caressed her lips. “Ada! Dinnae drink that. We dinnae ken the man; we have barely just been saved from an attack! Nor dae we even ken the man’s name! And he has a swollen black eye already, as if he fights often.”
Ada put the glass down, pinning her sister with a glare. “Why must ye always chafe, Ella?”
“Aye, Ella, why must ye dae that?” Cameron echoed, a teasing glint in his eyes, amused that she’d noticed the swollen black eye despite her fresh ordeal.
My, but she was a beauty. Her eyes, blue as a loch on a cold day, were now staring right back at him fearlessly. Her lips were full and pink, and freckles smattered over her perfect pale skin. She had fixed her tangled hair, its smooth ginger tresses now tied high and away, its length brushing against her shoulders, not unlike his.
She straightened, staring him down. “Ye could easily have put anything in that glass. Ye might try tae poison us, take us away and dae what those men were planning.” She narrowed her eyes at him, and he laughed, putting a hand to his chest as he felt the rumble of mirth roll through him.
“Then why should I care if other men touch ye if I was going tae dae a thing like that? Why would I save ye and then hurt ye meself? That doesnae make any sense, lass.”
She crossed her arms, and her gown shifted a little. The cloak that had covered the torn bodice slid away from her shoulder, and he started when instead of her firm bosom he saw a brooch. It was golden, just as his was, with the same filagree, the same engraving sparkling back at him.
Where on God’s green earth did that come from?
There were many more questions he wished to ask, but he could not fire them at her now. When he looked up at her, she was still angry, piercing him with an icy blue stare.
“It doesnae matter. Men clearly dinnae think, or else they wouldnae be so dangerous.”
“Dangerous?” he grinned, pouring himself a glass of whiskey too and gulping it down pointedly. “Ye can see it is safe enough. Besides, lass,” he said, leaning closer across the bar until he heard her breath catch, “I dinnae need a sedative tae get a woman intae bed. Usually, they come of their own accord begging me tae bring them pleasure. Simple enough. Och, and me name is Cameron, by the way. Cameron Hay.”
Ella gasped. He saw a flash of movement, and seconds later his face dripped with whiskey.
“Best in the Highlands,” she said sweetly before grabbing her sister and rushing from tavern as fast as they could go.
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