Fraser 03 - Highland Homecoming

BOOK: Fraser 03 - Highland Homecoming
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Table of Contents

HIGHLAND HOMECOMING

Acknowledgements

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

HIGHLAND HOMECOMING

B.J. SCOTT

SOUL MATE PUBLISHING

New York

HIGHLAND HOMECOMING

Copyright©2013

B.J. SCOTT

Cover Design by Rae Monet, Inc.

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the priority written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.

Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24

Macedon, New York, 14502

ISBN-13: 978-1-61935—
284-1

www.SoulMatePublishing.com
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

I dedicate this book to my husband, Steve.

Without his continued encouragement and support,
I would never have realized my dream to become an author.

To my grandmothers, Barbara (Scott) Hopkins
and Gertrude (Scott) Parsons.

Born in a time when women struggled for recognition
and were still considered property under the law,
they were bright, intelligent, compassionate,
faced adversity with courage,

and were true heroines in the eyes of their families.

Both were a source of inspiration

I have carried with me throughout my life.

I someday hope to honor them by visiting
their birthplaces in Kirkintillock, Scotland
and St Helens, England.

Acknowledgements

There are always so many people to thank, so I will start with my critique partner, best-selling author Callie Hutton. Thank you for your friendship, keen eye, and constant encouragement, all of which kept me on track while this story was created. I would also like to thank Dorothy Wiley for her wonderful input and her part in making this book the best it can be.

I want to thank my husband, Steve, my mother, family, friends, and fellow authors for their continued support.

I want to thank Senior Editor, Deborah Gilbert, and the staff of Soul Mate Publishing for their faith in me as an author and their hard work and dedication to making my books shine.

To the readers who purchased my first two books, Highland Legacy and Highland Quest. It is because of you the third book in the series had to be written.

Chapter 1

Northern Coast of Scotland. Summer 1308.

Hooves pounded against rocks, surf, and sand as Alasdair Fraser pushed his mount beyond reasonable limits. Few things rivaled the thrill and exhilarating rush of mastering the powerful destrier between his thighs, controlling the magnificent beast with reins and will. The wind whipped through unbound hair and the tangy scent of the salty sea air filled Alasdair’s nostrils.

He’d ridden hard all afternoon, hoping to reach the stronghold of his longtime friend, Jayden Sinclair. But the sun had slipped below the horizon, the twilight sky ablaze with orange, red, and purple hues. Darkness would soon be upon him and he’d be forced to make camp for the night. He licked his parched lips and his stomach rumbled. Many hours had passed since he’d last eaten, but a hot meal and a tankard of ale would have to wait. Water, oatcakes, and a bit of dried venison would suffice until he reached his destination.

He dug in his heels, and the steed surged forward. The more distance they covered before nightfall, the shorter the journey would be on the morrow. But as they rounded a bend in the shoreline, Odin faltered, reared up on his hind legs, then began to dance nervously from side-to-side. The battle-hardened warhorse didn’t spook easily so Alasdair took heed of the animal’s uneasiness.

With one hand resting on the hilt of his sword, the other fisting the reins, he carefully surveyed the immediate area. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary, yet the niggling of trepidation gnawing at his gut led him to believe there was something amiss. He nudged the horse’s flank and the pair advanced with caution.

They’d only traveled a short distance up the beach when the sight of something a few yards ahead at the water’s edge brought them to an abrupt halt. With his heart hammering in his chest, Alasdair cupped his hand over his brow and narrowed his eyes, trying to get a better look. The image came into focus and he could make out the unmistakable outline of a person sprawled out on the shore.

“What is it, Odin? Or, should I say, who is it?”

While this could be someone in need, it might also be a trap, an enemy or bandit lying in wait. Without hesitation, Alasdair slid from the saddle, pulled a claymore from the baldric slung on his back, and raced down the beach on foot. Stopping a few feet away, he sucked in a sharp breath.

“Mo chreach!”

He sheathed his weapon and took a step closer. A young woman, wearing nothing more than a thin nightrail, lay motionless in the sand, the waves of the incoming tide lapping at her bare feet.

“Mayhap a Selkie has washed up from the ocean’s depths,” he muttered and nudged her foot with the toe of his boot.

As a lad he’d heard many a tale of the legendary creatures, romantic tragedies about cunning seals that shed their skin then transformed into humans. They supposedly took the shape of beautiful women, waiting for unsuspecting suitors to whisk them away and marry them. Fishermen were rumored to go in search of these magical creatures and when they happened upon one, stole their pelt so they could not change back. They took the lass home to be wives and mothers, but if a selkie found their fur and returned to the sea, they left behind desolate, broken men.

Alasdair gave his head a rough shake. Only a fool believed in such fables and he was neither a religious or superstitious man. He made his own luck and governed his own fate. Whether he believed in myths mattered not.

As he moved closer, his pulse doubled and his groin stirred. A man would have to be blind to remain unaffected by the way the wet garment clung to her slender figure, narrow waist, and firm round buttocks. Waist-length, flaxen hair, the color of summer wheat, hung in a tangle of seaweed and sodden ringlets down the center of her back. With her head turned to the side, he noticed thick dark lashes resting on pale cheeks, and her lips held the blue-grey tint of death.

He squatted beside her. How did she come to be on the beach alone? Did someone attack her and, if so, was the scoundrel still lurking nearby?

Alasdair peered over his shoulder in all directions, but saw no one. Other than his own, no footprints marred the sand, leaving him to conclude that the waves had carried her to this spot.

Did she fall from a passing ship or lose her footing on a rocky crag and topple into the sea? A myriad of questions flooded his mind as he lifted her cold, limp wrist.

No pulse.

He pressed two fingertips to her throat. When he felt a faint heartbeat, he rocked back on his heels and blew out a sigh of relief.

Uncertain as to the extent of her injuries, he carefully rolled her to her back. He gazed down at her delicate features and breathtaking beauty.

Her drenched gown was almost transparent, leaving little to his imagination. Through the sheer fabric, perfectly sculpted breasts, tipped with pert, rosy buds summoned him for a taste. Long, shapely legs went on forever, and a nest of tawny curls guarded her most intimate place.

“Enough!” He gave his head another shake. She required assistance. He was not interested in getting involved with this woman, with any woman. Lifting a lass’ skirt spelled nothing but trouble. Unlike his two younger brothers, he’d not be lured or swayed by a comely face and end up betrothed. He was a warrior dedicated to the Scottish cause and he had no use for a woman in his life.

He cursed beneath his breath. Why had the Almighty seen fit to bring him to this spot? Surely someone else was better suited to tend to her needs. Fate had indeed played a cruel trick and saddled him with an unwanted burden sure to complicate his life. But he could never walk away. No matter how unwelcome the task, he could not turn his back on someone in peril. Suffering from exposure to the elements, she needed his help, not lust-filled thoughts of a randy lad or the ranting of an insensitive oaf.

He brushed the sand from her face and scanned her body for visible signs of injury. While there didn’t appear to be any broken limbs, he could not be certain unless he examined her more closely. But with the quickly rising tide and daylight fading, there was no time to tarry. Her shallow breathing, icy skin, and ashen complexion gave him cause for concern. In the past, he’d seen men topple from a horse or fall from atop a roof and appear unharmed, only to succumb to unseen injury a short time later. If this were the case, he feared there was nothing he could do but make her as comfortable as possible and wait for God to take her.

He swept a wisp of hair from her brow, revealing a dark, purple bruise above her left eye. When he called to her and gently tapped her cheek with the flat of his hand, she didn’t respond.

By some divine miracle she hadn’t drown. However, if he didn’t get her off the beach and out of her wet clothes soon, she’d surely perish. He had no idea how long she’d been in the frigid water, but every minute wasted brought her closer to death.

Alasdair slid his arm beneath her slender shoulders and lifted her to a sitting position. The sudden movement caused her to cough and sputter. Seawater drained from the corner of her mouth and ran down her chin. He cradled her against his chest and wiped her lips with the hem of his tunic. “Easy, lass, I’ll see you safe.”

Finding somewhere warm was imperative and the Sinclair’s castle was at least half a day’s ride. Besides, in her weakened state, she might not survive the journey.

He glanced around the familiar surroundings, pondering his options when the hunting croft belonging to Jayden’s father suddenly sprang to mind. He’d spent many days romping along this same stretch of shore with his friend while their fathers hunted and fished. But the trips ended when his da and older brother were killed in the massacre at Berwick on Tweed.

His throat tightened, a thick ball of emotion cutting off his ability to swallow. Despite the fact that nearly a dozen summers had passed since their deaths, thoughts of his parents and his two brothers, all slaughtered at the hands of the English, still swamped him with grief. Thank God Connor and Bryce had survived.

He shook the memories away and glanced down at the waif in his arms. She’d begun to shiver. Tenderness welled within him, as did the urgency to find her refuge.

The last time he’d been to Castle Sinclair was before the war desecrated his family, but if he recalled correctly, the hut was located only a few hundred yards up the beach. He hoped it still stood.

He scooped her up and moved across the sand with stealth. Odin followed, plodding along in his usual faithful manner. She continued to tremble and her teeth chattered, the pathetic sound increasing his pity for the lass, overriding his frustration with this unwanted burden. He had to move quickly.

Relieved to see the wattle and daub croft nestled amid a stand of oak, he shifted her flaccid form in his arms and quickened his pace. Within minutes they arrived at the small wooden porch. After taking the steps two at a time, Alasdair reached for the latch.

As he suspected, the hut was not locked. There was not much point. If someone wanted to get in, they merely had to pry open the shutters or break down the door.

The rusty hinges creaked as the oaken slab swung open. He ducked beneath the low-hung doorframe and entered. The one-roomed croft was shrouded in darkness, but as his eyes adjusted, he used the slivers of moonlight shining through the window to guide his way, Alasdair carefully moved toward a raised pallet on the opposite side of the room. He laid her upon it and covered her with a pelt he’d found at the foot of the straw-filled mattress.

Starting a fire was his first task. He rooted around on the floor in the corner, grappling in the shadows until he found the tinderbox filled with peat and several dry logs. After arranging the items in a pile on the hearth, he struck a flint he carried in his sporran against stone, creating a spark that set them ablaze. Candles were next. He lifted a thin piece of burning wood from the hearth and held it in the air like a torch. When he spied several tallow tapers hanging from the rafters, he snatched two, lit them, then placed one on a small table in the corner of the room. The other he’d planned to leave at her bedside.

A soft whimper caught his attention and he turned to see her thrashing about in a fit of delirium. Alasdair hurried to her side and set the candle on the table beside the pallet.

“Ut! Tapadh leat. Nay . . . chan eil mi,” she muttered in Gaelic.

He leaned closer, but in her confusion he could only decipher a few of the words she spoke. Don’t, she pleaded and then said she would not do it. Do what? He scratched his head. Obviously distraught, a distinct tremor of fear laced her words. But unless she woke up, he might never know what had happened to her.

She moaned and mumbled something he did not understand, but quieted when he ran his hand across her brow, as if finding some comfort in his touch. He stroked her cheek and she turned her head to the side. Her skin felt clammy beneath his fingertips and when she began to shiver again, one thing became very clear. He had to remove her wet clothes or his effort to warm her would all be for naught.

Alasdair stiffened his spine, threw back the covering, and sucked in a deep breath. He’d never undressed a lass without her consent. He’d bedded his share of women in the past, but they’d always been tavern wenches who’d had too much ale or women who were of questionable virtue and frequently lifted their skirt for coin. No respectable woman had ever taken a fancy to him, not the way they did his two younger brothers.

Connor and Bryce had been blessed with their mother’s attractive features, sported finely honed, muscular bodies, and lush, dark locks. With his six-foot-six burly physique, what he considered to be average looks, and ruddy brown hair, Alasdair took after his father’s side of the clan. He had not been graced with his brothers’ good manners, ease in conversations, or quick wits. Especially Bryce, whose reputation for his ways with the ladies was known for miles. Rumor had it, fathers locked up their daughters when he rode into town, lest he steal their heart along with their innocence.

Alasdair heaved a deep sigh. When he was a lad, the other bairns called him a giant, an ogre, mocking him because of his height and large build. As a man he’d used his bulk to his advantage. No one dared stand in his way or challenged him. Not if he valued his life and limbs.

While a robust frame served him well on a battlefield or in an alehouse scuffle, women were frightened by his larger than average size and gruff demeanor. But mayhap that was for the best. He didn’t want a woman in his life and preferred to keep them at arm’s length. They could not reject him or pass judgment if he rejected them first. Besides, he’d never been comfortable around lassies and had no idea what to say when in their company. He usually uttered something foolish, offensive, or in many cases nothing at all.

She whimpered again, bringing his thoughts back to the task at hand. He reached for the laces on her nightrail, but hesitated as his hand brushed against the soft, pale skin of her throat.

Alasdair swallowed hard, steeling himself against the lustful thoughts swamping his mind, and quickly removed her sodden garment. Determined not to leave her exposed any longer than necessary, he dried her quickly, covered her nakedness with a layer of pelts and plaid, then tucked the coverings beneath her chin. Convinced he’d done all he could for the moment, he turned, then left the croft.

He came back a few minutes later with three large stones and buried the rocks amidst the hot embers in the hearth. Once heated, he’d position them beneath the bedding for added warmth.

Something hot to drink would help to bring her body temperature back to normal, but in her unconscious state, getting her to imbibe would prove difficult. Regardless, he emptied the water from his wineskin into a small iron pot and hung it over the fire to boil. When she woke up, he’d be ready.

He returned to the pallet, only to find her condition had worsened. Damp tendrils of hair draped the mattress. Her breathing was shallow, her lips and cheeks still devoid of color. He touched her hand, shocked that despite the heavy layer of covers her skin remained as cold as ice. He retrieved the heated stones and placed them under the pelt at the foot of the pallet, but it would take a while to get the desired effect.

There was only one way he could think of to warm her body quickly. He grabbed the hem of his tunic, yanked it over his head, and tossed it into the corner. His boots and trews followed. He drew back the layer of blankets and asked the Almighty to give him strength. This was not going to be easy.

BOOK: Fraser 03 - Highland Homecoming
7.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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