Authors: Ranae Rose
A Total-E-Bound Publication
ISBN # 978-0-85715-872-7
©Copyright Ranae Rose 2012
Cover Art by Posh Gosh ©Copyright January 2012
Edited by Rebecca Hill
This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, Total-E-Bound Publishing.
Applications should be addressed in the first instance, in writing, to Total-E-Bound Publishing. Unauthorised or restricted acts in relation to this publication may result in civil proceedings and/or criminal prosecution.
The author and illustrator have asserted their respective rights under the Copyright Designs and Patents Acts 1988 (as amended) to be identified as the author of this book and illustrator of the artwork.
Published in 2012 by Total-E-Bound Publishing, Think Tank, Ruston Way, Lincoln, LN6 7FL, United Kingdom.
This book contains sexually explicit content which is only suitable for mature readers. This story has a
This story contains 127 pages, additionally there is also a
at the end of the book containing 11 pages.
Highland heir Alexander Gordon is the answer to the disgraced Isla Forbes’ prayers—but should she redeem herself by killing him to avenge her brother, or let him rescue her by becoming his wife?
A Gordon man ruined Isla Forbes’ life. Blamed for her brother’s death and desperate for escape from her father’s abuse, she journeys to a saint’s spring to plead for help. A fierce storm that sweeps across the highlands drives her into the arms of the striking Alexander Gordon, heir of Benstrath and half-brother to her own brother’s murderer. It’s obvious he’s the answer to her prayers…but should she redeem herself by killing him to avenge her brother, or let him save her by loving him?
The air smelt of rain and lightning. Isla drew her cloak further over her head, holding it fast against the wind with a fist beneath her chin. Fat raindrops pelted her face anyway, driven almost sideways by a particularly fierce gust, plastering a few stray strands of her fiery red hair against her fair cheek. Water flew into her moss-green eyes, causing her to blink against the sting. She cursed under her breath as her horse plodded on, its ears laid flat against its skull. She hadn’t expected foul weather. There had been no sign of an impending storm earlier that morning when she’d ridden from home. Sign or no, her skirts clung to her legs, soaked, as she rode onwards across the rain-swept highlands without hope of shelter. Should she turn around and begin the journey home?
No. She was too close, and it might be weeks or even months before she had another chance to abandon her home and chores for half a day. Her father had gone to his brother’s farm to help him with the breaking of a particularly feisty colt, intending to stay at least two days. In preparation, she had doubled her efforts around their modest home and fields over the past couple of days to ensure this trip wouldn’t cause her to fall noticeably behind on her work. Her hands were raw from it—even holding the leather reins stung her fingers. She could only hope no one would come calling and find their cottage empty, or recognise her riding across the countryside and mention it to her father. He would demand an explanation for her dalliance, and what would she tell him? Certainly not the truth. She shoved the thought from her mind and focused instead on the road ahead, which had turned rapidly from a dirt path winding through the heather to a sticky ribbon of mud. She eyed the field to her left and the forest to her right in turn. She hadn’t come far enough yet to want to enter the woods. The heather, however, would make for better footing than the thick mud. She tightened a rein and pressed a leg against her mount’s side, urging him off the road.
The horse—a stout little bay gelding she called Briar—turned his head slightly to the left and lurched suddenly, plummeting beneath Isla. She bobbed in the saddle, caught unawares by his stumble. Briar struggled to right himself, heaving beneath her as an ominously sticky, wet sound came from below. She swung out of the saddle and landed in the mud, in which she found his front left hoof entrenched. It was hard to tell exactly where his leg ended and the earth began, because his coat was naturally the colour of mud, but it was obvious he’d sunk in well past his fetlock. He snorted and pulled, pawing the mud with his free foot. She placed a hand against his damp neck and attempted to calm him, fearing the sound of snapping bone would soon join the noise of sloshing mud and pelting rain to create a symphony of doom.
“Shh…” She stroked Briar’s neck with one hand while she felt her way steadily down his leg with the other.
Briar snorted and gave one last pull just as Isla’s fingertips brushed his soiled knee. His foot came lose with a loud
and he slid a little in the mud, caught off balance. Something gleamed silver in the churned earth—a horseshoe. Isla groaned, placed a palm flat against Briar’s grime-splattered chest and pushed, urging him backwards, away from the treacherous pool of churned, wet earth that had robbed him of his shoe. He complied, his hooves splashing in the layer of rainwater that glazed the surface of the saturated ground. She pulled him into the heather, patting his neck and eyeing the lost horseshoe with regret. What would her father say? She’d better grab the shoe and tuck it into her saddlebag so she could take it home, toss it into the paddock and pretend it had been lost there.
“Hold still, now, Briar.” She relinquished her hold on his reins and stepped back out onto the road.
He stared at her complacently with large, dark eyes, any sense of adventure or mischievousness cowed by the driving rain.
Isla experienced one fleeting moment of shelter from the downpour as she bent to pluck the horseshoe from the road, her hood falling forward to hide her face as she eyed the muddied, upturned earth. And then the rain was back, cold and biting against her cheek as she rose and tucked the shoe into a fold in her cloak. A distant flash of movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention as she slogged forward to reach for Briar’s hanging reins. She turned and squinted against the downpour, barely able to make out a figure approaching on horseback.
Her heart leapt and her mouth went suddenly dry. Who could the rider be? Even from this distance, she could see the rider was so large it had to be a man. He couldn’t be her father—not coming this way, anyway, unless… Unless he’d returned early, found her missing and set out to search for her. She began to shift into a panic as the possibility, unlikely as it was, occurred to her and took root in her mind like a fast-growing weed. She clutched the reins tightly and leaned against Briar’s shoulder, peering from beneath her hood at the approaching horse and rider. When he came close enough for her to recognise, she realised she didn’t know who he was. The momentary relief that followed this revelation was quickly overpowered by a second wave of desperate speculation. Who was he, and why—oh, why—did he have to be riding here and now? His blue and green hunting tartan was woven in a pattern popular in the region, so he probably hailed from nearby. Isla knew she’d ridden far enough from home towards Gordon lands for there to be a strong possibility the stranger was indeed a Gordon man.
She wrung the leather reins, sending jolts of pain from her raw fingertips to her tired wrist. If her father was the worst man she could have met on the road, a Gordon was a close second. Her free hand twitched at her side as she remembered the knife she’d tucked into her boot, a bladed talisman against the danger that was approaching on horseback. She longed to reach for it, to feel its comforting weight against her palm.
The man in the hunting tartan became clearer and clearer as he neared Isla and Briar, revealing himself to be young and raven-haired, which made his vivid blue eyes that much more striking. His shirt clung to his well-muscled shoulders and chest, gone nearly translucent with moisture. Isla’s eyes widened a little as her gaze turned unbidden to his torso, where the lines of his muscles were clearly visible beneath the soaked fabric. One of his nipples showed from beneath it as a dark bud, the other obscured by the sash of his tartan. He might as well not have been wearing a shirt at all. She willed herself to turn her stare back to his face as heat began to creep across her cheeks. The rain had pulled several strands of dark hair free of the tail he’d tied it back into and plastered them against his jaw, which was slightly dark with stubble. He had a pair of full lips that were just beginning to turn up at the corners in a polite smile. She frowned at the sight, noting the dirk that hung at his waist, the handle and sheath gleaming with rainwater. He looked as if he’d been caught just as off guard by the rain as she had. That did not lessen her disdain. Neither did the sight of him sitting tall in the saddle despite the fact he was soaking to the skin and totally unprotected from the fierce rain. Well, not much, anyway. She glared from beneath the scant shelter of her hood as he reined his large, sorrel mount to a halt by the side of the road where she stood, still clutching Briar’s reins.
“Horse caught a stone in his hoof?” His voice was a pleasant burr, his tone surprisingly friendly.
“Nae,” Isla replied stiffly, “lost a shoe in the mud.”
“Is he lame?” the stranger asked, eyeing the way Briar was favouring his unshod foot with apparent concern.
She shrugged. “I amnae certain. I was only just about to look him over when ye interrupted.” She eyed him coldly. She was sure she’d never seen him before—he had the sort of appearance one wasn’t likely to forget, even over the course of a lifetime.
The blue eyed man looked mildly taken aback. Isla couldn’t bring herself to regret her rudeness. The man was riding towards Gordon estates, and if he was a Gordon she needed to get rid of him as quickly as possible. Panic flared in her belly but she pushed it down. Whatever she did, she needed to keep her cool. Gordon men could sense weakness as a hound scents blood, and she wasn’t about to become a victim. Not this time.
“I didnae ken that I was interruptin’ anythin’. I only saw a lass stranded alone by the side of the road in a fierce storm and thought she might need help.”
“There’s no help as you can give me.”
He eyed her curiously. “Surely ye—”
“That is to say,” she interrupted, “that I’d be damned before I took help from a stinking Gordon, if that’s what ye are.” She watched his face as she spoke, especially his bright blue eyes, and was disappointed not to see anger there. Could it be that he wasn’t a Gordon after all? Her cheeks flushed at the thought. Well, if that was the case, then perhaps he was a fellow Forbes—though that seemed unlikely—and would understand her behaviour. Their clans had been deadlocked in a blood feud for years, after all. Any Forbes would have been raised to understand that the Gordons were wicked bastards.
“Ye’ll be a Forbes lass, then?” he asked.
She nodded her confirmation. There had been a hint of animosity in his voice when he’d said ‘Forbes’, and it certainly hadn’t been lost on her. Her heart sank as she abandoned all hope of having met an unknown kinsman. “And ye’ll be a Gordon bastard?”
“Aye,” he said solemnly, neither flinching at the insult nor questioning the propriety of a woman speaking it. Isla was nearly overcome by a sudden, absurd urge to laugh at his seriousness and had to struggle briefly to keep a straight face before her anger resurfaced. Meanwhile, she settled instead for adjusting her hood so that it covered as much of her face as possible.
“Aye,” she echoed, “we’ll ye’d best be on your way, then.” She pointedly turned her back on the Gordon and stared into Briar’s sopping mane. The flush that had warmed her cheeks still lingered, and its heat flared alarmingly when the stranger’s voice sounded behind her. It was deep and slightly rough, though he’d tamed its pitch and tone into a close semblance of politeness. She buried an eyetooth in the soft flesh of her lower lip, tasting blood and hoping the colour had drained from her cheeks along with the heat. This was no time to be blushing over a handsome face, or even a voice that made her—absurdly, she thought—want to find out whether its owner’s fingertips would feel as rough against her skin as his tones sounded. She shouldn’t even be thinking of the handsome bastard as a man. He was a Gordon—a dog.
“I dinnae see anyone else for miles,” he said, “neither Gordon nor Forbes. So if ye’d like, I could take a wee look at your horse’s foot, and no one would be any the wiser.”
Isla said nothing.
“Some say as I’ve a magic touch with horses,” he added.
She turned to mutter an angry reply just as lightning flashed overhead, bathing the landscape in metallic light that made the heather look as if it had been cast in silver. Thunder followed almost immediately, so loud that it was nearly deafening. The acrid scent of lightning teased her nostrils, stronger than ever. From the sound of it, one of the trees in the nearby forest had been struck. Briar snorted and reared, whinnying as Isla pulled on his reins. He crashed back down to the ground, and she shrieked as one of his hooves landed on her left foot. She jerked the reins desperately in an attempt to back him off her, but he buried his muzzle in her chest, sending tendrils of her hair flying as he snorted in terror, pushing her off balance. A flash of dark tartan flared above her as she fell, and a much larger hand jerked the reins from her fist, a hint of roughness brushing the back of her fingers. Then the pressure lifted from her foot and her back collided with the ground, expelling the air from her lungs in a great burst.
“Get back, ye daft beast!” the Gordon cried, urging Briar to reverse, moving him away from the fallen Isla. His own horse stood obediently still a couple of yards away, unfazed by the thunder and lightning.
Suddenly, the Gordon was leaning over Isla, crouched by her side. “Are ye hurt?” he asked. There was real concern in his voice. Isla cursed him in her mind and struggled futilely to curse him out loud. Her mouth moved soundlessly and her lungs just didn’t seem to work. She must not have lost any blood though, for she felt it blooming plentifully in her cheeks as she met those blue Gordon eyes, damnable though they were.
,” she wheezed when she finally managed to gulp enough air to speak. It wasn’t true. Her foot felt full of broken glass where Briar had stepped on it, and her vision doubled temporarily as her head throbbed, causing her to see two Gordons staring down at her with two sets of bright blue eyes. “Now get away from me, ye—”
Suddenly, the Gordon leant down and pressed his mouth over Isla’s, silencing her. His lips were pleasantly warm and surprisingly soft, and as her eyes bulged with indignation, she managed to draw in enough air to shout.
“Da—” she got half a syllable out before he kissed her again, forcing the taste of his rain-slick mouth into hers. This time, his blood pulsed hard through his lips, a rhythmic thrumming against her own. Something damp and faintly sweet tasting entered her mouth.
The realisation made her quiver, whether from sheer indignation or forbidden excitement, she wasn’t completely sure. When he pulled away, she seethed silently for a moment, struggling to find words sufficient to express her rage. She parted her tingling lips, noting with wonder how swollen they suddenly seemed to be, and prepared to assault him with her most vicious words. Surely, doing so would make up for the fact that when he’d stopped kissing her she’d been on the verge of opening her mouth wider, of letting her own tongue rise to meet his.