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A Highland Hearts Novella
By Heather McCollum, Theresa Marie Cole
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Heather McCollum
All rights reserved.
Scottish Highlands – 1 May 1536
Will Wyatt, dashing pirate, rescuer of stolen children, next in line to captain the ship Queen Siren, sat dismally on the jolting seat of the open wagon as it rolled through another glade of spring flowers and tall grass. He watched Dory, his adopted sister, ride horseback before the Highlander, her new husband, Ewan Brody. The two of them whispering, laughing, and kissing rather turned his stomach.
"Enough, you two!" he groused. "There are children back here who don't need to see that." Three of them. Dory made a face at him and continued to laugh at something Ewan said against her ear.
"I think they are sweet," the twelve-year-old girl named Margery said and scooted a little closer on the wagon seat. It was obvious the child had had a crush on Will ever since she'd boarded the ship with Dory when they escaped from London.
A snort came from the boy, Stephen. He leaned forward to look between them, leaving the four-year-old girl, Charissa, sleeping in the back of the wagon. "I agree with Will," Stephen said and spit over the side. He'd been surly ever since the slave-trading ship he'd been living on was blown to pieces by Dory's magical lightning bolts.
Bloody hell, if only I had her skill, Will thought. He'd gather a storm cloud right over the sickeningly kissy couple and drench them.
"They've been acting sweet on each other since we left port," Stephen added.
"That's what people in love do," Margery said and looked down her little nose at him as if he were a toddler instead of a boy about her own age.
Will stared out at the never-ending green hills and mountains. He'd never heard so many blasted chirping birds in his whole life. "Bloody racket," he murmured and watched the brown sparrows fly between the trees. Granted, he'd been at sea for the better part of his twenty-four years, but even at port most were gulls and scavenging ravens. These little swoopers twittered along like they were the happiest damn birds on earth.
Dory pointed one out, seemingly mesmerized by its song. She looked honestly blissful. Aye, she'd be happy here in the Highlands. He frowned and ignored the pang of loss.
Dory had been raised as his sister, and although at one time he'd tried to kiss her, she'd made it painfully clear that she thought of him only as a brother. But losing any family member was hard, and the crew of the Queen Siren was definitely a family, with Captain Bartholomew Wyatt acting as their chief and father. Aye, part of Will's grumpiness was that he already missed her. He huffed. But she's damned happy.
He'd rather have said his farewell back at the port along the Scottish coast, but Captain Bart had ordered him to lay low for a few months since there was a substantial bounty on Will's head. He'd been seen aiding Dory's escape from London. The two of them and Ewan were all considered enemies of the English crown. So Will would keep quiet with them up here at Druim. With King Henry VIII busy accusing his second queen of adultery and courting Jane Seymour, he wouldn't care enough about them to send troops to search. On the other hand, if Will stayed with the Queen Siren, he'd have to remain hidden onboard at every port for a long while. Nay, it was best to take a little break from the sea.
He inhaled fully and begrudgingly enjoyed the fragrant breeze. So sweet, free of the human waste and brine smell that infused every port. But still it was hard to relax in such a foreign landscape. Who knew what lurked in the forest? He'd even heard that wolves roamed free in the Highlands. Sharks circling the hull, he'd dealt with before, but wolves on the very ground he road over ... He'd have to ask Ewan the best part of the beast to hit to fell it.
The tall pines and old growth trees thinned, making it easier to slip between them until a wide, sunny stretch could be seen beyond.
"Just ahead," Ewan yelled back and pulled Dory into him. He pushed his horse into a run. Dory gave a little scream that tumbled into laughter as they tore through the trees out onto another moor.
Margery strained to see between the thick trunks. "I see it! The castle Druim!" She was nearly bouncing off the seat.
"Druim," the little one in the back echoed sleepily.
"We're almost there," Stephen told her.
Will concentrated on guiding the two shaggy horses they'd bought from a farmer at the coast and broke out onto the moor. Life at sea hadn't taught him a thing about controlling the beasts.
The sun slanted down between fast-moving clouds that bordered on gray. Ewan and Dory raced on their horse across the huge meadow, weaving in and out of yellow gorse bushes. A village spread out at the far end of the clearing with a towering castle and three mountains behind it.
"God's balls," Will swore beneath his breath at the pristine majesty of it all, making Margery giggle. She still bounced in her seat as her head swiveled all around. They plodded out into the open, the horses picking their way around the low boulders and stepping over clumps of peat. Everything was huge: immense sky, heaven-reaching peaks, and a wide, open field like a sea of spring flowers. The castle, made of gray stone, looked formidable, built to weather the elements and the warring tribes of Scots. Yet the sprawling, little village before it and the people moving about off to the side made the scene look like some fairie kingdom of old.
"It's a fair! Look!" Margery pointed as she stood, balancing in the seat. She squealed. "I've never been to a fair when I wasn't having to pick pockets."
Will squinted against the bright sun that pierced down as the clouds blew off. Children chased each other across the field, and a tall mast stuck in the ground. Girls held ribbons and performed a dance around it.
"It's a maypole!" Margery yelled. Will thought she'd jump off the wagon right there and start running to it.
"What's a maypole?" Stephen asked.
Will gripped Margery's hand and tugged her back down to the seat. "No falling off. We'll get there soon enough." As if sensing a finish line, the two horses trotted faster, jouncing the seats of the wagon so hard he nearly crack his teeth.
Margery turned in her seat. "A maypole is put up on May Day, and ladies and girls decorate it with ribbons and flowers. It's to welcome summer and pray for a bountiful year. It must be May first."
"Sounds about right," Will said as they continued on. Far off to the right, several men stood around while one hit what looked like a small ball with a thin, curved stick, sending it flying over the field. To the left stood four bales of hay stuck with arrows. An obviously pregnant woman let loose an arrow that pierced the target right in the center. A hulking Scot, who looked very familiar, swooped her up and turned in a circle while she laughed. The others nearby cheered.
Ewan and Dory had reached the celebrating couple and dismounted. Ewan kissed the woman and clapped the man on the back. Aye, it was Caden Macbain, chief of the Macbain clan and Ewan's almost brother. The woman must be his expectant wife, Meg, who was related by blood and magic to Dory. Will watched the two talk and then the large-bellied woman pulled Dory into a hug.
Will chuckled as Dory stiffened before she put her arms around Meg in return. Aye, coming here would be an adjustment for his almost sister. These people, this land, none of it was familiar.
Most of the villagers seemed to be moving in Dory's direction with Ewan getting knocked around in celebration. "Hmph, I guess Ewan does have people who like him," he said.
"Of course he does," Margery replied and frowned at him. "Master Brody is amazing."
Will smiled at the defensive tone. "Aye, you and my sister definitely think so, though I've seen a lot of amazing things, little one." He decided to leave it at that, as most of the things he'd seen were nothing for a child to hear about. He pulled the wagon to a stop near the group.
"Margery, Charissa, Stephen," Dory called, "come down to meet Lady Meg. You, too, Will."
Will stood up, stretching to his full height, and let his gaze roam over the milling crowd. They looked cleaner than most, which didn't mean much, as most of the people he saw lived rather poorly in ports at Tortuga and Port Royal. And there were quite a number of sweet-looking ladies, but just as many frowning papas. All the men wore the Scot's kilt. He jumped down from the wagon and walked up to shake Caden's hand. This warrior was as strong as Ewan but with a grimmer countenance.
Caden nodded to him and glanced at the pregnant, smiling lady beside him. "My wife."
Will nodded to her. "Nice to meet you, m'lady."
"Meg. Please, just Meg. And welcome to our little Mayday festival." She looked at Ewan. "What a perfect time for you to arrive. There's food and games." She looked at the children. "I'm sorry, are you all too tired?"
"Nay!" Margery yelled and then lowered her voice. "I think a festival would be wonderful."
A rumble of a laugh came from Caden. "Well then, feel free to wonder. Just stay within the clearing. Ye don't want to get lost in the forests." He jerked his head behind him to indicate three looming mountains.
Will noticed Stephen studying them and moved over to the boy. "Not a drop of sea anywhere," Stephen grumbled.
Will smiled. "Odd, isn't it?" The boy nodded. Charissa tugged Stephen's hand. "Watch her, lad," Will said as the little girl pulled him toward the polished tree tied with ribbons. Stephen frowned, but Will knew he'd watch out for the little girl as he always had. Hopefully her bubbly happiness would help the boy over his poor outlook.
Will walked amongst the running children toward a table that had been set up with ale, bread, and cheese seasoned with green onions. He reached his arms overhead to relieve the stiffness from the two-day wagon ride. A chorus of giggles caught his attention. Three tasty-looking maids whispered nearby as they watched him. He let a slow grin melt along his lips. "Hello," he said.
One of them babbled quickly in the Scot's language, and they ran off. Hmm ... Did no one speak English here besides Caden and his wife?
"Na pògan!" called over the din. Will turned to see two young women standing behind another table. One was blonde. The one with dark, long waves of hair spoke a laughing line of Gaelic out into the crowd of men before her. Her tresses were black as a moonless night, the sun catching in the length like streaking stars. Slender arms waved in the air, hawking whatever it was she was selling. Men chuckled and elbowed each other, and she clapped her hands on her cheeks as if she couldn't believe what they were saying, though she grinned heartily. She held up a parchment and a quill filled with ink. No sweetmeats or cakes sat before her. Whatever she was selling, Will was buying.
He joined the small crowd of men. She spoke more in Gaelic, her merry glance scanning the crowd. Her gaze stopped when she met his. Her eyes were a bluish shade of green. Long lashes fell on creamy skin as she blinked, and then her gaze dropped down his length as if she were assessing him. Assessing him? God's teeth! He shouldered his way up through the crowd where one man had taken up the quill and marked his name on the parchment. The man then pointed at the raven-haired beauty, and she pulled her attention away from Will to smile on the lad.
Bending forward, she puckered her lips. The crowd erupted in merriment and comments, most of which he couldn't understand.
"Make it good, Fergus!" one called out. Will recognized him as Donald, one of the men who'd helped to rescue Dory and Ewan from London. "No kissing, Ann!" Donald shouted, and the girl with lighter hair frowned at him while the crowd booed.
The man named Fergus bent in and kissed Green Eyes right on the lips for a good count of five, though there didn't seem to be much heat in it. The group cheered, and another man jumped up to sign his name on the sheet.
She straightened and smiled, right at Will. "A kiss for a day of work," she said in accented English. He liked the way her lips smiled on the S, drawing out the last part of kiss like a soft hiss. "To help remake a house for the orphans." She let her gaze fall out over the crowd as the man who'd signed last kissed the other girl, and the waiting men cheered. "A good cause," she said in English and then switched to Gaelic.
Her eyes strayed back over to Will. "All strong lads wanted. Just one day's work for a sweet kiss."
"Since I can't kiss my sister," Donald yelled, "I'll take a sweet kiss from ye, Jonet." He stepped up and inked the parchment. "I'd planned to help ye with the orphanage anyway." He winked at her and leaned in for a kiss. She pulled back after the crowd counted to five. Donald grabbed the quill and signed his name again, his cheeks flushing. "I'll take another of those."
"No hogging Jonet," Ann said next to her and took her friend's place to produce a turned cheek for her brother to kiss, much to the amusement of the watchers. Will grinned at Donald's exaggerated smooch on his sister's cheek and then one on her forehead. "That will be two more days of work, Donald," she called when he backed up. "A total of three." He threw his hands up in defeat and moved away.
The line to sign the parchment was ten deep, and Will got into the back of it. Donald shook his hand and introduced him to several sturdy-looking men with impressive scars. They seemed likeable enough and spoke fairly understandable English. He stepped forward as the line moved, his gaze straying back to the girl name Jonet. His breath caught as he connected with those eyes, again looking right at him. She whispered something to her friend without breaking the connection, and the blonde followed her gaze. Will let a slow grin roll onto his face, one that made the wenches in port practically melt at his feet. A subtle blush came to Jonet's cheeks, and she looked down to answer the smile of the next lad in front of her.
Will frowned, suddenly wanting to punch the fool lad who kissed her soundly. Three remained in line before him. He watched Jonet as she took a sip off her mug and chewed a bit of mint. A man rattled off a cutting phrase in Gaelic, and the last lad kissing her turned bright red.
The devil, he needed to learn this language. He already knew French and Latin and a few words from some of the islands in the Caribbean, but he'd never even thought to learn the Scot's Gaelic.
Jonet kept her gaze away from him until he stepped up. Instead of grabbing the quill, he fished around in the leather bag he had strapped across his chest. He lobbed the pure gold sovereign into the air with a flick of his thumb. It cracked starkly against the wooden table and spun on its end, whirling.
"What can I get for this?" he asked softly, his voice a low rumble meant to coax a rush of heat through a woman. The gold coin wobbled and finally flattened.
She pinkened but held her saucy grin. "Just trading for kisses."
He was already close, close enough to smell the early spring flowers in the wreath on her glossy hair. "Then I'm trading for a kiss," he said low. He'd kissed a hundred women, knew just how to touch, how to stroke. She'd likely swoon from his talent.
Will closed the distance over the narrow table. He slid his hand through the heavy mass of ebony to gently hold her nape as his lips met hers. Mint and warmth and sweet, sweet woman. With a nudge, he slanted her face so that they slid against each other, deepening the kiss. She made a small mewing sound in the back of her throat and opened her lips a crack. It was all he needed.
Will's strategic assault escalated as he tentatively tasted her mouth with his tongue. Would she flee? Instead, the woman opened more, inviting him in, touching him, returning the erotic kiss. Sultry heat coursed through him like flowing fire. The world disappeared as a whirlpool of sensation flooded him. He hauled her closer until she molded against his chest, and still they kissed. Her curves pressed against his hard torso. He could feel her warmth through the thin linen of his partly unlaced shirt.
The hoots from behind him were lost in the sound of his own blood rushing in his ears. He was only half-aware of the lighter-haired girl tugging on Jonet, and slowly, as if gliding up through warm, summer water off an island coast, Will surfaced and broke the kiss.
Excerpted from Untamed Hearts by Heather McCollum, Theresa Marie Cole. Copyright © 2014 Heather McCollum. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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