Susana and the Scot
Untamed Highlanders, Book 2
by Sabrina York
St. Martin’s Press
Ebook ISBN: B00Z65S84O
Print ISBN: 9781250069702
[ Historical Regency Romance, MF ]
A scorching, raucous Regency romp featuring a stubborn untamed Highlander and his fiery lass.
Reay Parish, Caithness Shire, Scotland
“You probably shouldna ha’ kissed her.”
Andrew Lochlannach tightened his hands on the reins and frowned at Hamish. Bluidy hell. Did he need to bring it up again? He shot a look over his shoulder. They were riding ahead of their company on the dusty track, so none of the others could hear, but that didn’t stop the sudden roil of mortification. “That is not why he sent us here.”
Hamish threw back his head and laughed. The sun glinted off his red beard. “Really? Your brother catches you in the arms of his wife’s sister—her baby sister, over whom she is ferociously protective—and now here we are. Exiled.”
Something riffled in Andrew’s gut. “We havena been exiled.”
“Have we not?” Hamish threw out his hands. “Here we are, in the wilderness—”
“Reay is not a wilderness.” It was, however, nearly so, tucked away on the western border of Caithness County. Though as isolated as it was, it was one of the more prosperous baronies, even more so than Dunnet.
Andrew tried to ignore the trickle of trepidation, the curiosity that had been teasing him since he’d set out on this journey. He’d known a girl from Reay, once upon a time, loved her. Lost her. And now he would see the land from which she hailed. The knowledge tugged at his heart, but he thrust that familiar ache away.
“Far from hearth and home, charged with protecting the denizens of Ciaran Reay from . . . cattle thieves.” This last bit Hamish offered with a sniff, as though it were beneath his prowess. Then again, it was.
But their mission was much more than that. At least, it was to Andrew. His brother, Alexander, Laird of Dunnet, had trusted him with his charge. He was counting on Andrew to prevail. That faith meant the world to him.
The lands his brother had gained through his marriage had been beleaguered with an influx of miscreants and vagabonds, stealing cattle and robbing the castle stores. Several outlying crofts had been burned to the ground. In addition to the thievery of wandering bands of men made homeless by the Clearances of land to the east, there were indications that the local lairds had their eye on the parish and, with the Baron of Reay’s illness—and a recent attempt on his life—they obviously had plans to claim it for their own.
They would not. This land belonged to Alexander now, and Andrew would do everything within his power to protect it. It was the reason Hannah had married Alexander, after all. To assure the security of her people.
“I canna blame him, though. For banishing you.”
“I havena been banished!”
“Imagine finding your wife’s sister swooning in the arms of a rakehell.”
“She wasna swooning.” Lana was hardly a swooner. In fact, she hadn’t seemed all that interested in Andrew’s kiss, which was, all things considered, a surprise. And a trifle lowering.
“And not just any man. A master seducer.”
Well, yes. This, he could not deny.
“And to make matters worse, his own brother. His suave and handsome brother known for kissing every woman he sees—”
“Not every woman.”
“Enough of them.” Hamish chuckled. His gaze narrowed on Andrew. “And how many kisses did that make?”
Andrew shifted in the saddle. Shrugged.
“Ninety-nine.” A mutter.
Hamish’s nose wrinkled. “Och. That many?”
“I dinna realize you were so close to winning our bet.”
Andrew grimaced. Aye. Only one away. How he regretted that bet. It had been a stupid bet, made under the influence of far too much whisky. Most of his bets with Hamish were. Stupid, and made under the influence of too much whisky. He hoped one day he’d learn his lesson, but he doubted he would.
It had been this way with Hamish since they were boys. One quest after another to outdo the other in all things.
If he was being honest, Andrew had to admit, he’d accepted this particular wager because he’d hoped . . .
Ah, well. It had been a foolish hope.
He’d kissed ninety-nine women and not one of those kisses had ignited so much as a flicker. Not a fragile hint of the feeling he’d been searching for. In all likelihood, he would never find it again.
“I shall have to be more diligent,” Hamish said, and then he fell silent, but only for a moment. There was laughter in his voice when he added, “It’s a pity you made that vow.”
Bluidy hell. He should never have told Hamish about that vow. He should have known the blighter would never let him hear the end of it.
Again, too much whisky.
Perhaps he should have vowed to avoid spirits instead of women.
Beyond his brother’s vehemence when he’d discovered Lana in Andrew’s arms, in that moment Andrew had had an agonizing epiphany. No matter how many women he kissed, he never would find that feeling again. Mairi was dead and gone, and with her, a part of him had died, too.
And now, because of a momentary desire for a kiss and a stupid bet, he’d been exiled—probably. He’d certainly lost his brother’s trust, or at least a crumb of it. He swore to himself, he would never, ever allow himself a casual flirtation again. They were far too dangerous.
However, whether it was exile or not, Andrew was determined to prove himself to his brother on this mission and maybe, if he was lucky, pay back a little of the debt he owed. Alexander had sacrificed so much for Andrew—very nearly his life. If he found peace with Hannah, if he found passion and acceptance and love, it was only fitting.
The burn of envy at the thought was beneath him.
“Then again,” Hamish continued, oblivious to Andrew’s inner turmoil. He often was. “If you are out of the race, that means more women for me to kiss.”
Andrew forced a grin, though it probably came out as more of a grimace. He really did wish Hamish would stop talking about that bet. He was done with all that.
“Of course, I only need three. Three more women and I will finally beat you.”
“You’ve beaten me before.” They were well matched, he and Hamish, in all things. More often than not, their bouts on the lists ended in a draw. They both rode, shot, and drank with equal skill. And until that kiss with Lana, and his subsequent oath, they had both excelled at seduction, too.
“Ah, but I would verra much like to beat you in this challenge.” Hamish winked. “I imagine there are many bonny lasses in Reay, if Hannah and Lana are any measure.” Hamish’s eyes glimmered. He’d taken a particular shine to Lana, the youngest Dounreay sister, who had accompanied Hannah to her wedding. In fact, all the men in the company—including Andrew—had been attracted to her ethereal beauty. But they’d all been warned off. Even Andrew.
Perhaps, especially Andrew.
His brother’s admonishment still irked him.
True, he had a reputation for seducing women, but he wasn’t a beast. He could control himself. He wasn’t so base that he would fall on the first attractive woman he saw. He hardly needed Alexander to remind him that Lana was his sister-in-law. His relation. Aside from that, Andrew had already reached his gloomy realization. Already made his vow.
There would be no more women in his life, in his bed.
“Ach, well,” Hamish sighed gustily, shattering his darkling thoughts. Hamish did that. It was probably why they were still friends. Everyone needed someone who could banish darkling thoughts. “I do hope there are some bonny lasses, bet or no. I doona fancy spending the next few months living like a monk.”
Andrew tried not to snort, and he failed. Hamish hadn’t lived as a monk a day in his life. “Fine. But do keep in mind our true reasons for being here.” They were here to secure the lands and provide a military presence that would deter further mischief. They were not here chase skirts.
“I shall have to ask Rory for . . . suggestions.” Rory, one of the men who had escorted Hannah to Dunnet, rode with their company of soldiers, returning home. “Surely he will know which of the Reay lasses are, shall we say, more amenable.”
“Shall we at least meet with Magnus Dounreay first, to determine what needs to be done to shore up the defenses, before you launch your seductions?”
Hamish fluttered his lashes. “I would never allow the pursuit of a woman to interfere with my duties.” A blatant lie, but Andrew fobbed it off. They rode in silence for a moment and then Hamish said, “You know, even though you’ve conceded the wager—”
“Nonsense. If you’ve vowed to avoid women, you canna very well kiss them. And therefore, you have surrendered to my prowess.”
“My point is, even though you’ve conceded the wager, I still expect you to pay up when I win.” His eyes danced.
Bluidy hell. He would have to pay. The thought annoyed him.
Perhaps he should have waited to make his vow. He was only one woman away, after all.
Andrew firmed his resolve. Wager or not, it was advisable for him to stop kissing women. It had not turned out well for him.
The memory of one girl—one with bright shining green eyes and hair like a waterfall of fire—danced through his mind, but he pressed it away. He thought of Mairi often, daily, hourly perhaps. And each time, he forced the yearning for her back down into the dark well of his soul.
She was lost to him forever and no matter how many women he kissed, it wouldn’t bring her back to him.
He stared ahead at the long lonely road. Restlessness pricked him. There was a hill to their right, a verdant rise of green. Quicker than following the dusty track around its base. The urge to break free nudged him.
“I’ll race you to the top of that hill,” he said. Without waiting for Hamish’s response, he kicked Breacher’s sides and his mount leaped forward. He tried to ignore the sneaking suspicion that he was really trying to run from his past.
Naturally, Hamish followed.
Naturally, Andrew reached the crest first. Breacher was unbeatable in any race. As he waited for Hamish to catch up, he gazed down at the parish of Reay, which would be his new home for the time being. He didn’t know how long he would have to stay, but he already missed Lochlannach Castle, his brother, his bed.
Despite his disgruntlement, he had to allow that Reay was lovely from this vantage point. The crofts and the fields spread out in a patchwork of green. The sea sparkled, a deep sapphire, in the distance. The rose-colored turrets of Dounreay Castle were just visible beyond the woods. In the lea below, a farmer led a shaggy cow along the rutted track with a rope.
It was all very peaceful. Very bucolic.
Hard to believe the parish had been besieged by brigands.
Hamish rode up to his side and gusted a sigh. “Ach. Beaten again.”
Andrew cocked his head to the side. “You should be used to it by now,” he teased.
Hamish growled at him, but there was very little heat in it.
The two shared a chuckle as they surveyed the land they were sworn to protect.
Even as they watched, a cloaked figure astride an impressive stallion charged from the woods and closed in on the farmer. When the fellow leaped down from his mount, it became clear how small he was—probably a boy—so it was a surprise when he tossed back his cloak and pulled up a bow, pointing it at the farmer.
The two exchanged words and, while he was too far away to hear what was said, Andrew could read the belligerence in the boy’s stance. The farmer backed away from the cow, and then, upon the other’s command, lay down on the grass with his hands above his head.
Bluidy hell. Were they witnessing a theft? Here and now? Within moments of their arrival on Reay lands?
The ride from Dunnet had been long and uneventful. Andrew ached for some excitement. Exhilaration flooded him.
Ach, aye. How triumphant would it be to arrive at the castle, victorious, with a captured thief in tow? Trussed up like a pig and tossed over his saddle?
Andrew grinned to Hamish. “I’ll take this one,” he said, and then he set heels to Breacher’s sides and pounded down the hill toward the robbery in progress.
Turf flew beneath Breacher’s hooves as Andrew pulled up to the scene. It pleased him to see the robber’s nostrils flare in awe at his approach. The boy’s mount was impressive, to be sure, but Breacher was far more so.
And he himself was impressive, he imagined. A large and looming warrior, bursting as he had onto the scene. No doubt the boy was quite intimidated.
Andrew flung himself from the saddle and unsheathed his sword; the scrape of metal rang through the field with an ominous shiver. He took a moment and added his trademark twirl, flipping his sword up and over his head before pointing it at the brigand.
It was clear the farmer was duly cowed. He eeped and covered his head, peeping out between his fingers. The boy . . . not so much. He propped his fists on his hips and glared as Andrew finished his routine. And then he snapped, “What the hell are you doing here?”
Ach aye. A boy. A lad. His voice hadn’t even dropped yet. Andrew decided to take it easy on him. “Never ye mind,” he said in a silky tone, before assuming his battle stance. It was a fearsome stance, indeed. “Drop yer weapon.”
The boy’s eyes narrowed, spitting emerald fire. Slowly, he turned his bow from the farmer to Andrew. “Drop your weapon.”
Andrew blinked. He’d never been defied quite so blatantly. Certainly not by a boy half his size. Men trembled before the might of his sword. Women swooned. He was rather daunting, if he did say so himself.
And he did.
Maybe he wouldn’t take it easy on the lad after all. Maybe this boy needed to be taught a lesson. He stepped closer, brandishing his sword. “I said, drop your weapon,” he boomed.
In response, the boy lifted his bow, pulled back on the string and let fly.
Andrew nearly flinched, but by the grace of God did not. The arrow whizzed by his head—far too close—and while it didn’t nick him, it sliced off a lock of his hair. He watched it fall in a gentle drift, that silver swath, to land on the green grass of the lea.
Something rose within him, not fury so much as determination.
Well, perhaps a touch of fury. He rather preferred his hair attached to his head.
Even as the boy whipped another arrow from the quiver, Andrew charged, swinging his sword and cleaving the bow in two. It shattered in the boy’s hands.
The lad snarled and reached for his dirk.
Andrew didn’t give him time to find it. He encircled the boy with the strong bands of his arms. It occurred to him that in addition to being far too young for this kind of pursuit, the boy had no muscle whatsoever. In fact, he was almost soft.
Aye. The lad needed guidance. A firm hand.
A spanking, perhaps.
He was far too undisciplined.
Indeed, the lad went wild; he thrashed and fought against Andrew’s hold, even though there was no possible way he could break free. His screeches of outrage were earsplitting and the invectives spilling forth far too foul, so Andrew clapped his hand over the boy’s mouth.
“Go on,” he grunted at the farmer, nodding his head down the track.
The farmer scrambled to his feet and dashed off, so traumatized by this to-do, he forgot to take his cow.
“So you think to steal cattle from Reay?” Andrew hissed into the thief’s ear.
The boy turned and stared at him over his shoulder. They were face-to-face. Close. Their gazes locked and something snaked through him. Andrew wasn’t sure what it was, and there was no time to interpret it . . . because all of a sudden, pain sliced through him as the villain’s sharp teeth bit into his palm. At the same time, the boy gored him with a pointy elbow. Andrew, perforce, released him.
The boy spun around and his hood fell. A shock of burnished red hair tumbled out in a shimmering fall.
Andrew froze as a chilling realization washed through him.
The thief wasn’t a boy. It was a woman.
And holy hell . . . what a woman.
That red hair, flittering in the breeze? That soft body writhing against his? The burn of her glare? And aye. That feeling? The one that had flickered by too quickly for him to capture it?
It had been a long time since he’d felt it, far too long, but he should have known. He should have known she was a woman. The moment he spotted her. The second he touched her.
Certainly when she’d shorn off a lock of his hair.
A man would never have done something so vindictive. A man would have simply skewered him.
But vindictive or not, she was magnificent.
It occurred to him, it was a damn shame he’d just sworn off casual flirtations, because this armful of curves was—
She hauled off and smacked him.
It barely registered because she was such a tiny thing, and because he was so befuddled. But he noticed at least.
“You idiot!” she howled. “You buffoon. You brute! Look what you’ve done!” She stormed over to the shards of her bow and gathered them up.
There was no reason for him to grin, faced with her wrath as he was, but he did.
It irritated her more. She smacked him with the bow as well. Or what was left of it. “This was my favorite!”
“Your favorite bow?”
She gored him with a furious glare. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
She crossed her arms. “Not precisely.”
“Protecting Reay cattle from thieves.”
Her expression soured. “Really?”
“You’re not doing a very good job at it.”
“I caught you.”
She leaned in, her expression fierce. “What on earth made you think I was a cattle thief?”
“You came barreling out of the woods, alone, brandishing a weapon on an unarmed farmer—”
“He wasna unarmed. And he wasna a farmer. That man has been stealing our cattle for weeks—”
Andrew gulped and set his teeth. “It was only natural to assume you were stealing the cow.”
“How can I steal my own cow?”
“Of course it’s my cow, you dolt.”
“The cow belongs to Magnus Dounreay.”
She growled at him. Growled. “I am his daughter.”
Andrew froze. Fook. This was Hannah’s sister? But then, now that she mentioned it, there was a haunting familiarity about her. Hannah had the same frown. He was certain of it. He’d seen it often enough.
“We’ve been tracking the thief for days.” She glanced over at the spot where the farmer had been. “And look what you’ve done. After all that work finding the blighter, you let him go.”
“He left the cow,” Andrew offered.
It didn’t help.
She poked him with a sharp finger. He felt it, even through his leather breastplate. “You, sir, are a nuisance. Keep away from me.”
Keep away from her? Not a chance. In fact, all of a sudden his assignment in Reay looked all the more intriguing. Andrew tipped his head to the side and grinned at her. “I canna do that,” he said.
“And why not?”
He waved at the troop of men just joining Hamish on the crest of the hill. “Because we’ve been sent here by the Laird of Dunnet to oversee the defenses of Reay.” His grin broadened as her dismay blossomed. “In fact, I’ll be here for quite some time.”
Susana Dounreay’s heart lurched.
It had been bad enough to see him pounding down the hill like an avenging angel, racing toward her—all her bad dreams and nightmares combined. The one man she never wanted to see again.
It had been bad enough that he’d smashed her favorite bow.
Bad enough that he’d touched her, wrapping her in his arms and pressing her against his hard hot body, releasing memories and regrets and hungers so long caged.
On top of all that, he didn’t remember her.
After everything, after all they’d shared, after all he’d done to her . . . he didn’t remember her.
She should be happy. She should be delighted. Thrilled beyond words. She had no idea why the thought nearly crushed her.
But even that wasn’t the worst of it. Because then Andrew—the man she never wanted to see again—had blithely announced that he was here to stay.
Acid churned in her belly as the prospects and probabilities flickered through her mind. Panic seared her.
He couldn’t stay. She couldn’t allow it. She couldn’t bear to see him, talk to him, suffer his presence every day.
She crossed her arms and studied him, searching for a weakness perhaps. To her annoyance, she did not find one.
He was much taller than he had been when they’d last met. And broader. And his muscles were . . . Her gaze strayed to the flex of his chest. Och, aye. He’d not had such spectacular definition as a boy.
He’d always had the most beautiful hair. White-blond and flowing and long. All the girls in the parish in Perth had swooned over it. Susana suppressed the urge to grab her dirk and slice it all off. His eyes were still as blue, though they seemed shadowed. His face was sculpted perfection, from the long blade of his nose to his broad forehead . . . to those damn dancing dimples she wanted to slap.
Rage swept through her. Rage and frustration and . . . something else she would not name.
How on earth was he even more handsome?
Clearly the years had been friendly to him—which for some reason infuriated her more.
Ach, she didn’t want him here.
“You might as well turn around and go back home.” She thought she’d invested the suggestion with the appropriate tone of authority, but apparently she had not. He grinned at her. Those dimples, the ones she remembered so well, rippled. Her gut rippled along with them.
“I willna. My brother is counting on me to secure these lands—”
A cold hand clutched at her chest. “Your brother?” A horrifying suspicion arose.
“Dunnet. Alexander Lochlannach is my brother.”
Ah. Bluidy hell. He was a Lochlannach.
No matter what she said or did, no matter if he left or stayed, they were tied together, forever, by the bonds their siblings had forged. It was a pity that, with all the heartache he’d given her six years ago, he hadn’t bothered to mention his family name. Had she known, she would never have encouraged Hannah to marry into the family. In fact, she would have advised her to run.
He leaned on his sword and proffered an arrogant smile. “I’m Andrew,” he said, and her stomach clenched. Ach. She knew. She knew his name far too well. She’d cursed it often enough. “And you must be Susana?” he said in a silky voice. “Hannah told me you were lovely, but I had no idea how lovely you were.”
Was he even cockier now than he’d been as a boy?
Was that humanly possible?
She glared at him. “Why are you here?” she hissed.
He misunderstood the true meaning of her question and answered it at face value. “Because, Susana, you need our help. The raids on your lands have been increasing, and the neighboring lairds are getting more aggressive.”
Susana nearly growled. For one thing, the way he rolled the s’s in her name sent a ripple of displeasure over her skin.
For another, she was damn tired of men and their posturing. From Stafford, the neighboring laird to the east who had been launching raids on their land, to Scrabster, the laird to the west, with similar outrages.
But the most galling by far, was this man. This cocky, smirking, arrogant peacock. A man who was far too handsome for his own good. A man who’d always had things his way. A man who took what he wanted and then, when he was done, tossed it aside for the next best thing.
He took her silence as an invitation to continue, although it most certainly was not. “No doubt Stafford and Scrabster see your father’s illness as a weakness, an opportunity—”
“My father isna weak,” she retorted. She didn’t have much patience on a good day and this was proving, already, to be a very bad day. Aye, Papa was ill. He’d been ill for a while and was recovering from an attempt on his life—most likely orchestrated by Stafford’s minions. But he wasn’t a weak man.
“When they see that Dunnet has taken charge of the land and has the strength to hold it, they will have no choice but to back down . . . unless they want an all-out war.”
It aggravated her that he was right. With the ramparts bristling with Dunnet’s men, Stafford would think twice about staging another incursion on Reay lands. And the good lord knew she desperately needed the help. Since Hannah and Lana had left, all of their duties had fallen in Susana’s lap, along with her own. What she wouldn’t give for the luxury of handing this weight over to someone. Someone competent. Trustworthy.
But not him.
Susana didn’t want Andrew Lochlannach here. In her home. Under her roof. Near her daughter.
Her gut clenched at the thought.
He had to go. There were no two ways about it. He had to turn tail and hie back to Dunnet. The sooner the better.
But if he did, indeed, come to Dounreay, and if he did, indeed, try to take over her duties of protecting her home, she was going to make his life a living hell.
This she vowed.
She would send him packing or die trying.