Authors: Karyn Gerrard
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
My Highlander Cover Model
Copyright © 2013 by Karyn Gerrard
Cover art by Fantasia Frog Designs
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work, in whole or in part, in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
Published by Decadent Publishing Company, LLC
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To my Scottish ancestors,
Amhairc fhéin cridhe
. To my own Highlander descendant hero, Briagha,
sibh glé briagha, mo eudail
Thanks to Decadent Publishing for accepting my Highlander fantasy.
Outside Helmsdale, Northern Scotland 1814
Cailin Thorburn was not a violent man. Or so he told himself. Yet here he stood on the rolling, mountainous land of his forefathers, readying for a battle he loathed to fight. The morning was overcast. Gray, threatening clouds rolled by at breakneck speed. Thick, humid, low-lying mist moved through the glen. He inhaled deeply. The mixture of heather and damp earth filled his senses.
He stood with his family, who wore the Macbeth tartan, the highland clan of his mother. Today they would battle the Gunn and their eviction, due to the Highland Clearances, of the few families still remaining in this northeastern corner of Scotland. Many people had already left for Canada or Northern England. He’d be damned if he would be run off, and his family felt the same. Since when were sheep worth more than the lives of men? Always, really. Men, of themselves, could provide neither cloth for warmth nor food for the table, as sheep could. Yes, in some ways they were worth more than men, some men, anyway. Hard to fathom, but the Highlands had been systematically cleansed the past three decades so sheep could graze where villages once stood.
This latest threat was another in a long line of much strife. Life for the Thorburn had its tragedies. Two of his six brothers succumbed to cholera. His oldest married sister died in childbirth. These tragedies had cast a pall over the family’s past eight months.
Still, they soldiered on. They had been in this isolated corner of Scotland since the time of the Vikings. In fact, his last name was Norse in origin. The Viking blood accounted for his dark blond locks and powerful build, or so his da told him.
Cailin gripped his sword tight. His father had given him the heirloom the previous night. It had served the men of his family well, and kept several alive. A good blade was worth more than any sheep, or most men, for that matter. The thought made him smile grimly as he ran his finger along the blade. Fancy scrolls and etchings surrounded his family’s motto on the pommel:
We Live in Hope
. Which they did, through the passing of centuries. He could feel his blood rise the way it did when the pipers played the tunes to glory. The ancient sword gave him strength, and the old words gave him courage. He would need both in the coming hours. His finger moved to the hilt, where a small emerald was embedded.
“The jewel is enchanted,” his father had explained. “Whoever in this family wields this sword in battle will be protected no matter the cost and will be rewarded for bravery.”
A fine tale, to be sure. Cailin did not have much faith in the magical ways of the Highlands. His faith was found in the reach of his arm and the steel he held.
The glen was eerily quiet. Not even morning birds twittered a song of greeting. As Cailin glanced up, he saw a magnificent stag standing outside the woods, its head held proudly. The sight stirred his heart. Such courage and beauty. The stag’s head turned suddenly and his ears twitched. Before Cailin could glance in the direction the stag gazed, the animal disappeared into the thicket. He heard the noise that had caused the movement. The clamor was the thundering sound of horses’ hooves heading their way. Cailin stood before his clan and raised the sword skyward.
“The enemy approaches, lads. Stand straight and tall! They will no’ move us from our lands, no’ while our hearts beat in our chests!” he cried.
The clan warriors roared their approval and raised their swords in brotherhood. Cailin turned to face the onslaught of the Gunn horses and clansmen. He gripped the pommel tight and closed his eyes.
Protect the clan. Whatever power or magic exists in this world and watches us all, help us to prevail
Out of the heavy mist, the riders appeared, holding their claymores high. Cailin’s sword met steel with a crashing clang. He unseated a rider and without hesitating, thrust into the chest of the man and twisted until blood burbled from his mouth. Cailin pulled his blade from the dead man’s chest and turned to face his enemy.
The battle had begun.
New York City, present day
Skye Bancroft couldn’t stand egocentric, arrogant, asshole models.
As assistant art director at Night Moon Publishers, she’d one or two to deal with. Thankfully, most photos came past her desk from photographers and models with their own portfolios, so face-to-face contact was minimal. Setting up a shoot wasn’t something Night Moon did often. They weren’t part of the “Big Six” publishers, but the owner, Gayl Fitzgerald, wanted to have a portfolio of stock images that belonged exclusively to them. Hence Skye’s overseeing a shoot with the conceited model, Roderick Thorburn. That afternoon, they were readying to do highlander shots. She stepped into the room and thrust the takeout coffee cup into Roderick’s hands.
“There, double latte with skim, no sugar. Happy now?”
Roderick took a sip and his sensual lips curled in disgust. “Could be hotter.”
Skye rolled her eyes. Why couldn’t they get Burney Sheridan? Not only gorgeous, but a genuinely nice guy. Last she’d heard, he’d retired from modeling and was staying in Ireland on an extended vacation with a lucky woman he’d just become engaged to. No, she was stuck with “Rod the Clod.”
“I don’t know why you’re making me wear a wig. Can’t the color be Photoshopped or something?” Roderick whined, pointing to the mass of hair on its Styrofoam stand. “And the wool is itchy on this kilt thing.” He adjusted his junk, much to Skye’s revulsion.
“Gayl wants the wigs. Stop complaining. Aren’t you wearing anything under the kilt?”
Roderick smiled. The corner of his mouth had a decidedly sly curve. “No, I read these highlander dudes went commando. So I did, too. You want to help me adjust my meat and two veg?”
God, she couldn’t stand him. Roderick Thorburn was a cover model for a good reason: dazzling and stunning were two words to describe his physical presence. Tall and broad-shouldered, he possessed a perfect, lean musculature not only on the front of his torso, but his back as well. Skye watched as he lifted the wig off the stand to look it over. The poetic fluidly of his muscles rippled with the slight movement. He shrugged and tossed the wig to the table. Standing there wearing nothing but a kilt, he was a historical hero come to life. Too bad he had to open his mouth and talk and ruin the illusion.
“You can’t help yourself, can you? Do women really fall for this routine of yours?”
Roderick took a few steps toward her, and she backed up until the wall halted her movement. Still clasping his coffee cup, he slammed his free hand above her head, leaned down, and whispered, “The ladies love me and my ‘rod of love.’ You would, too, if you’d just lighten up. Keep the photographer out of the room and I’ll whip it out—”
Rod of love
? Her stomach roiled. The Egg McMuffin she’d scarfed down on the way to work was in danger of being regurgitated. Skye was about to retort when Roderick leaned against her body. A roll of sizzling heat ran through her, as much as she tried to fight it. Okay, so she was attracted to him physically—she wasn’t dead. Along with the stunning body was a rugged, handsome face and thick, caramel-colored hair any woman would kill for.
Roderick moved his hips and she felt his “rod.” Pig! After fighting back her loathing, she took a moment to appreciate the man
possess something impressive under that kilt. Skye glanced up. She expected a look of leering lust; instead, his features had softened. Ascertaining his emotions was difficult. Maybe, he admired her, was attracted to her, or even desired her….
His lips brushed by her cheek. “I’ll bet you’re wet for me—”
Okay, that tears it
. Skye lifted her knee and applied enough pressure to his privates to have him cry out and step away, all without spilling a drop of his latte. Hurray for him.
“Do that again and I’ll report you for sexual harassment, jerkweed,” she snarled.
Roderick held up his hand in surrender. “Chill. Just having a little fun.”
He set the cup on the table and walked away. Skye shook with fury. After all the trouble of getting him the latte, now he wasn’t even going to drink it?
Peter, the photographer, picked that moment to saunter into the studio. Skye strode away to the corner to collect herself because damn him, she was shaken, angry—
wet. Served her right for thinking for a second he might be human and possess some semblance of normal feelings. Taking a deep breath and exhaling, she turned to face Peter, who was changing his camera lens.
“Peter, I found a sword at an antique store last week. I think it’ll be perfect for this shoot. I brought it to work. Let me go get it.”
Peter nodded absently as she walked quickly from the room.
Skye stepped into the staff locker room. Damn Rod the Clod, she
affected by his closeness. What warm-blooded creature wouldn’t be? She’d heard the salacious stories about him, as the romance world was nothing if not a hotbed of juicy gossip. She’d heard of his exploits at a recent convention where he’d been caught with a romance writer, a best-selling author who wasn’t exactly young, or skinny. Rod was supposedly screwing the woman against the wall in a storage room. The author had apparently “won him” in a secret auction. He’d denied the allegation, stating they were only making out, no sex involved, and no secret auction. The convention people would not have a scandal. Rod had been banned for five years from that particular conference, whether he’d been guilty or not.
Spinning the combination lock, Skye opened the door of her locker and reached for the sword. Pulling it out of its scabbard, she marveled again at the great deal she’d received on it. Maybe the old guy had hoodwinked her on the age of the antique. He’d claimed the weapon was from the sixteenth century. The sword was certainly heavy enough. The green jewel in the hilt was worth the price alone. Next week, she should get the thing appraised. The sword must’ve seen a lot of action. The etchings were worn and numerous nicks were visible in the blade. She slid it back into the casing, shut the door, and spun the lock.