Authors: Adele Clee
Lured to the Night
A Brotherhood Novella
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. All characters are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No part of this book may be copied or reproduced in any manner without the author’s permission.
Copyright © 2016 Adele Clee
All rights reserved.
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Books by Adele Clee
To Save a Sinner
A Curse of the Heart
What Every Lord Wants
Anything for Love Series
What You Desire
What You Propose
What You Deserve
The Brotherhood Series
Lost to the Night
Slave to the Night
Abandoned to the Night
Castle Craig, Perthshire, Scotland, 1822
“They think I’m a witch?” Isla Maclean jumped up from her chair near the fire and gaped at the man she had known all her life. “I dare say the villagers would have a shock if they knew I had the fangs of a wolf and drank blood for supper.”
Douglas growled and clenched his jaw. He hated her speaking so candidly about her affliction. “I swear I’ll kill that foreign beggar if he so much as looks at ye again.”
Her bottom lip quivered at the thought of Nikolai returning. Her father’s trusted friend was no match for a monster. “It’s been almost three years, Douglas. Let us pray he has tumbled from his horse and broken his wicked neck.”
The corners of Douglas’ mouth curled up. “Aye, now isn’t that a sweet thought.”
“It is what I hope for each day when I’ve no choice but to hide in the shadows.” The image of her father’s harrowed expression flashed into her mind. Witnessing his daughter’s abominable cravings had been too much for his weak heart to bear. She would never forgive Nikolai for that. “But there are more pressing matters to concern ourselves with now.”
Douglas shook his head so vigorously a strand of long grey hair fell from his queue. “They’ll nae listen this time. There’s talk you’ve brought a curse down on the village. That you’re the one responsible for the death of their livestock.”
Isla snorted. “What, am I stealing animal organs to use in my evil potions?” She had said it in jest, but the solemn look on Douglas’ face suggested there was an element of truth in her words. “It was a joke, Douglas. Please tell me they have a little more faith in me than that.”
There were many rumours about why no one saw her during the daylight hours. Nikolai’s curse had forced her to become an outcast in her own village.
“They’re simple folk, with nary an ounce of sense between them.” Douglas frowned. “But I fear someone is feeding their weird notions. Someone is filling their weak heads with nonsense.”
Only one person had a strong enough grievance to cause her any trouble. Only one person was respected enough to give credence to the tales.
“Malmuirie said Lachlan has come home.” It took a tremendous effort to let his name fall from her lips. “I’ll warrant he’s not got a pretty word to say about me.”
Douglas glanced up at the ceiling and sighed. “Aye, but Lachlan is a man of honour. He would nae embroil himself in village tittle-tattle. If yer maid says otherwise, I’ll see her crawl the length of Artney Glen.”
“Malmuirie said he is not the same since he left.” Isla had been promised to Lachlan since birth. The laird’s only son had made no secret of the fact he regarded her marriage to Nikolai as betrayal. “She said he has a heart of stone. She said he no longer has any respect for women.”
Malmuirie had painted a vivid picture of a scoundrel and debaucher. Apparently, there were ladies in Edinburgh who had no care for their virtue. There were widows who wanted a strong, virile man to warm their bed, nothing more. The image of soft hands trailing over Lachlan’s broad chest caused jealousy to slither through her body.
“No respect for women? Well as I dinnae wear a dress I cannae say.” Douglas smiled. “Does such a thought bother ye, lass? Do ye still hold a torch for Lachlan?”
Isla made an odd puffing sound. “While our fathers may have had different ideas, I’ve only ever thought of him as a friend.”
Douglas folded his arms across his chest. “As a friend ye say? So you’ve never locked lips with him on the banks of the burn?”
Isla’s cheeks flamed. She thrust her hands on her hips and straightened her spine. “Did Malmuirie tell you that?”
“No, lass. But yer father would nae have his only daughter roaming about the countryside without someone keeping an eye on her.”
The memory of the summer afternoon flooded her mind. The sun had been high, the rays bright. The water from the stream had played its own trickling melody. She had stared into Lachlan’s piercing blue eyes and put her trembling hand to his cheek. As their innocent mouths touched softly, she knew then that there would never be another man for her and her heart had raced at the prospect of becoming his wife.
“Then you would have seen the man took liberties.” Lies were easier to live with than the truth. “You would have witnessed my indifference to his amorous advances.”
Douglas smirked. “Aye, if ye say so. Though I—”
The sound of Malmuirie’s irate voice echoed from the hallway beyond the solid oak door. Douglas moved to stand at Isla’s side as she contemplated walking over to investigate. When the door suddenly flew open, she put her hand to her chest, gulped and tried to catch her breath.
“Forgive me.” Malmuirie scurried into the Great Hall accompanied by Lachlan Carrick. “I’ve told him you don’t receive visitors.”
“Visitors?” Lachlan snorted, his confident strides conveying a certain arrogance. “Surely your mistress will welcome an old friend.”
Isla blinked rapidly to clear her vision. The man before her looked vastly different from the one she had said goodbye to some three years earlier. He had lost the naive, boyish charm. Now his blue eyes were cold, his hard jaw less forgiving. The dark brown hair brushing his brow was not as wild and untamed as she remembered. He’d discarded his kilt for a pair of breeks, had covered his muscular arms with a blue coat cut in a fashionable English style.
Douglas stepped forward; the men shook hands, patted each other on the upper arm.
“What brings ye to Castle Craig at this late hour?” Douglas’ friendly tone held no hint of suspicion, but with all the strange talk in the village, Isla suspected it was not a coincidence.
Lachlan’s contemptuous gaze drifted over her. “I would have come at a respectable hour, but I hear your mistress prefers doing business in the dark.”
“Do they not have manners in Edinburgh, Lachlan?” She would not be intimidated by his veiled insults. “Do they not see fit to offer a greeting when they barge into people’s homes?”
He stepped forward and inclined his head. “Miss Maclean. I bid you good evening.”
Isla narrowed her gaze. “I have not been Miss Maclean for three years. Or had you forgotten?” In truth, most people still called her by her birth name. There were some, particularly Douglas, who still questioned the validity of her marriage to Nikolai.
The muscle in Lachlan’s cheek twitched. “No. I have not forgotten.”
“Well, perhaps you have forgotten that there’s no longer a law preventing you from wearing the clothes of your clansmen.” She waved her hand at his stuffy attire. “Or is this what appeals to the ladies in Edinburgh.”
A low growl emanated from the back of his throat. “You were not so concerned about the habits of your countrymen when you married a foreigner.”
They stared at each other for a moment. She imagined that whatever expression he wore, his eyes would still hold a look of disdain.
“Come now. Let us all sit and catch our breath.” Douglas waved to the chairs hugging the stone hearth.
Lachlan cleared his throat. “I prefer to stand.”
“Then say what you’ve come to say.” Isla’s temper flared. She contemplated flashing her sharp teeth, to let him know she commanded a power he could not even begin to comprehend.
Lachlan shook his head and inhaled deeply. “I have come with a proposition. One I believe will be to our mutual advantage.”
During wistful daydreams she had pictured a similar conversation, though she imagined his tone would be warmer, his passionate gaze burning with intensity. In reality, she suspected a proposal of an intimate nature would be the furthest thing from his mind. The thought fuelled her ire. Perhaps she should tease him, chip away at the arrogance that oozed from his pores.
“I hear you’re a man familiar with propositions. I hear that in Edinburgh you’ve gained experience with proposals that are mutually advantageous.”
She had once seen lust and desire flash in his bright blue eyes. She knew how magnificent such a specimen of strength and brawn must appear to ladies looking for pleasure.
His expression darkened. “I hear you’re a witch set to kill every animal in the village to make your brews and potions.” He raised a brow. “If gossip were fact, there’d be many a man hanging from the bough of a tree. Besides, I doubt Douglas wishes to hear your jealous banter.”
Och, the man could provoke the Devil.
“Did you learn your conceit in Edinburgh, too? What need do I have to be jealous?” The erratic nature of her emotions made her forget they were in company. “You were the one who ran away. You were the one who let bitterness stand in the way of our friendship.”
It was wrong of her to blame Lachlan. The fault was hers and hers alone. She had not wanted to marry Nikolai, but he had a forceful way of speaking that made the most abhorrent acts seem appealing. She had been completely at his mercy. She had been powerless to say no to him.
Lachlan clenched his jaw. “You know why I left.”
Aye, to be far away from her. She had wanted him to stay and fight for her. She had wanted him to kill the devil, Nikolai, with his bare hands.
“Aye, perhaps you’re a coward.” Isla regretted saying the words as soon as they’d left her lips. If she were a man, she would not be standing.
Douglas sucked in a breath. “Have a care, lass.”
Lachlan snorted. “It seems I’m not the only man you’ve chased away.” His tone dripped with resentment. “I hear your husband fled into the night and has not been back for three years. Perhaps he’s gone to Edinburgh where the ladies hearts are kind and tender, where he’ll not find a lifetime’s worth of bother.”
Douglas shook his head and tutted. “Keep yer head, lad, and remember why ye came.”
Isla felt the tips of her fangs burst from their sheath as an intense rage burned in her chest. Her hand flew to her mouth in a bid to disguise it. It was not the pain of Nikolai’s rejection that induced such a virulent reaction. It was the pain of knowing she had lost Lachlan’s love.
She turned her back, couldn’t face the man she had once hoped to call her husband. “Get out, Lachlan. Get out of my home.”
Douglas stepped up to her shoulder. “Will ye nae just listen to his proposition, lass?”