The dawning of desire
1806, Scotland. Wild, reckless Callum MacCreath is in no hurry to become someone’s husband. But when his responsible, steady older brother Ian announces his engagement to their childhood friend Rebecca, Callum makes a startling discovery: he wants the lovely young lass for himself. But it’s too late, and when Ian banishes him for his duplicity, Callum is only too happy to leave Scotland forever.
…is delicious and dangerous
1816: Marrying Ian was the practical, logical thing for Becca to do. But once Callum sailed away to America, she missed his rakish charm and lust for life. Now Becca is a widow when a much-changed Callum returns to his Scottish homeland. Will he remember their spirited, fiery connection or does he blame her for his brother’s unexpected death? This time neither of them can deny their scorching attraction. But will their hearts be burned in the blazing heat of scandal?
“It’s time to fall in love with Suzanne Enoch.” Lisa Kleypas
“Steamy and bubbling with humor, a scrumptious tale to begin her No Ordinary Hero series.” Booklist (starred review) on Hero in the Highlands
About the Author
A native and current resident of Southern California, Suzanne Enoch loves movies almost as much as she loves books, with a special place in her heart for anything Star Wars. She has written more than thirty Regency novels and historical romances, which are regularly found on the New York Times bestseller list, including Hero on the Highlands and My One True Highlander. When she is not busily working on her next book, Suzanne likes to contemplate interesting phenomena, like how the three guppies in her aquarium became 161 guppies in five months.
Read an Excerpt
The bushes on the far side of the ravine rustled again. Sinking lower into his crouch, Callum MacCreath slowly unslung the rifle from his shoulder. A light breeze touched his face, moving his scent behind him, away from the steep, crumbling bank. Readying the rifle, he put his fingers to his mouth and gave a low, two-toned whistle.
A heartbeat later a huge, bristle-backed gray boar ripped out of the tangle of vines and deadfall, squealing as it plunged down the steep wall and into the shallow creek at the bottom. The large, jet-black figure behind it stayed right on the boar's heels, growling and nipping at the pig's backside.
The boar scrambled up the near side of the ravine, screeching as it caught sight of Callum, its mouth agape and impressive tusks dripping water and saliva as it charged. Ignoring the earsplitting noise, Callum lifted the rifle, narrowed one eye, and squeezed the trigger. The boar pitched forward onto its tusks and rolled to a stop in a cloud of dirt. Then it began sliding back down the slope behind it. A second later it splashed into the shallow creek.
The black wolf, though, skidded to a halt on the near bank and followed the pig's descent with unblinking yellow eyes. Then it turned, licked its jowls, and gazed at Callum as he stood upright.
"Ye could go fetch it for me," he commented, propping the rifle against the bear-clawed trunk of the nearest blue ash.
When in response to that the wolf only sank onto her haunches, he brushed the tips of his fingers across the coarse jet fur running down her spine, then hopped down to the creek bed himself. Crouching again, he pulled the knife from his boot and swiftly dressed the boar before he rinsed his hands and the blade in the slow-moving trickle of water. Even without its guts the beast likely weighed close to a hundred fifty pounds, but then the big bastard had been eating things that didn't belong to it.
With a grunt he hefted the animal across his shoulders and straightened, using a small dogwood to haul himself back up the side of the ravine. Retrieving his rifle, he set off north through the forested tangle until he reached the ridge beyond and its slightly easier terrain.
Twenty minutes later the wolf appeared at his side. From the red of her muzzle she'd detoured to enjoy the boar innards he'd left behind. The top of her head just reached his hip, her long legs with the large padded paws easily matching his pace over the uneven ground, black death on four feet.
"I reckon ye ken I like a challenge, Waya," he noted, angling toward the rising sun as the trees began to thin around them, "but next time ye might look for a boar that doesnae weigh near twice what ye do."
With a low whumph Waya sped into a smooth trot, entering the large clearing ahead of him. A dozen wood-and-stone buildings stood scattered in a loose circle surrounded by a twenty-foot-tall split-rail wall. Inside, amid the clatter and thump of industry, a half-dozen workers left a pile of boards and approached him.
"That's the boar what's been tearing into the silo?" one of them asked, giving the wolf a wide berth.
"Waya thought so," Callum returned, handing the animal over to a pair of lads from the cookhouse, who half dragged the beast indoors. "One of them, anyway. We tracked him for three miles, but he didnae go visiting any of his smaller pig friends. He's dinner now, regardless."
"Aye, Mr. MacCreath, and thank the devil for that. At least the smaller ones dunnae eat as much."
"Callum," Rory Boyd called, trotting up to him. "Young Geoffrey Winter came up here before dawn with word from his da' that the damned Thomas boys are making offers for the rye crop all up and down the river."
Callum shrugged. "We pay better, Rory. Always have, always will."
"Aye, but we dunnae suggest what a dangerous territory Kentucky is or mention how easy it is for folks' cabins to catch fire," the shorter man returned. "That's some good incentive there."
"I'll nae have that." With a scowl, Callum whistled Waya to his side, and she trotted back down the outside stairs leading from the second-floor rooms they shared. "Send MacDougall and the twins down with a reminder to the Thomas lads that they're the third set of Irish lunatics to try to take my business, and that if they dunnae move downriver by June they'll find me a bit annoyed."
Boyd grinned. "That should do. The last time ye were a bit annoyed with a lad, he ended with a broken jaw and passage back to Bristol."
"He should've known better than to try passing his whisky off as mine. How's Arnold dealing with the new lads?"
"Och, ye ken how gentle Arnold is. Even with that broken wing of his he's still working them down to scarecrows. That was after he had to swear to them that ye're nae some witch or a demon, of course."
That was nothing new. Aside from his hard-earned reputation for directness, he supposed it was that like most male MacCreaths he boasted a green left eye and a blue right eye. Ian had the same oddity, as had their father. Not so long ago several of his ancestors had been burned as both witches and demons because of precisely that peculiarity. These days, though, lasses seemed to find his two-colored eyes attractive, thank Lucifer. He much preferred a roll in the bedsheets to a stake-burning. As far as his men were concerned, if they thought him a bit of a demon, and if that ensured their loyalty, he'd no objection. "If a man's scared to work for me, he's nae a man I want working for me."
"They're still here." Boyd cleared his throat. "Young Winter also brought up the mail from town. Ye've another letter."
He would have preferred to continue debating whether or not he was a devil. At least the letters came less frequently these days. "Put it with the others," he said dismissively, heading for the large, canopy-covered slab of flat earth they'd set aside for barrel making.
"I ken ye dunnae wish to read them, Callum," Boyd said, lowering his voice as he hurried his shorter stride to catch up, "but burning them's a bit permanent, aye?"
"Aye. That being the point. Have the new mules and wagons made it up here yet?"
"Deveraux says by the end of the week. But about the let —"
"That's what comes of trusting a Frenchman," Callum interrupted. He could practically feel the disapproval coming off his foreman, and with a scowl he slowed. "The letter's from Scotland, aye?"
"Aye. Aye, it is."
"Is it from Crosby and Hallifax?" he asked, naming the firm that managed his business on the far side of the Atlantic.
"Nae. It's from a Mr. B —"
"If it's nae business, my business, I've nae use for it," Callum broke in again, annoyed that he'd actually rushed his response to keep from hearing the name. But anyone in the whisky business knew to contact the Kentucky Hills distillery through Crosby and Hallifax. And anyone from Scotland who wished to contact him, personally, could go to the devil. "Burn it, Rory."
The foreman sighed. "As ye wish, Mr. MacCreath."
"I'll lend a hand with Arnold," Callum decided. "We'll need another dozen barrels by Wednesday." Anything to keep his thoughts away from the letters that had begun arriving about four years ago and what they contained, as if he had any desire to know that Ian MacCreath and Rebecca Sanderson-MacCreath had a basket of bairns and their ludicrous business with Dunncraigh had netted them all the money in the Highlands. That wasn't his life, and they weren't his family. They'd made that damned clear, and if they deigned to offer him some sort of forgiveness, well, he fucking well didn't want it. And if they'd written to send him more insults, he didn't want those, either.
"Aye," Rory said, obviously not reading his thoughts. "I can smell how nicely she's coming along."
Ah, the whisky. Callum could smell it, too. Corn and rye, boiled down for three days before it was combined with wheat and buckwheat mash in just the right proportion — the scent reminded him of Scotland at the oddest of times, even more so than the mix of fading Highlands and Lowlands accents of most of his men. The air at the moment smelled more like a bakery than a distillery, but after three or five or seven years, depending on the size of the barrels and the maturity of the brew, it would be some of the finest whisky in the world.
He glanced toward the large barnlike building at the center of the clearing. Hell, some of the barrels had been lying there in the dark for nearly eight years now, and he would leave them for another three or four. For the rest, though, smaller barrels meant less time to mature, which meant faster turnaround times, faster profits, and faster growth for the place he'd named Kentucky Hills. His place.
While initially he'd begun the venture mainly because it required sweat and muscle, with the bonus that it allowed him to move as far from civilization as he could get, he did appreciate the irony of it, as well. Whisky and its pursuit had ruined his life that night, so it seemed only fitting that he use it now to make himself a living. A very good living. The reputation Kentucky Hills had earned along the way for a fine, smooth brew with a unique taste had been unexpected but welcome byproducts, as was the reputation he'd earned for being a man with whom others did not trifle.
As for the Highlands, he'd relegated it to a faraway place where he'd once lived for a time. The sooner it faded completely from his memory, the better. All he needed to remember about the damned Highlands was that folk there liked their whisky.
Shaking himself, he stooped beneath a roof of canvas to enter what they'd deemed the barrel room. A wiry, white-haired imp of unknown age stalked among the uncured casks spaced out on the dirt, muttering to himself as he made certain they stood round and open at the bottoms like Indian teepees. Firewood lay stacked on the ground at the center of each unfinished barrel, while two younger men fitted iron ribs around another group that were already being fired.
"Arnold," he said, handing his rifle off to Boyd, "I hear we'll have more whisky than barrels to hold it, come Wednesday."
The imp's face went scarlet, his good arm flapping. If the other hadn't been in a sling, he likely would have lifted into the air to join the flock of ducks heading north toward the south fork of Red River. "Ye gave me but two new lads, MacCreath, both scrawny as scarecrows. Ye cannae expect miracles when ye give me shite."
"If ye'll stop yer bellyaching," Callum replied, shedding his bloodstained hunting coat, "I figure I'll lend ye my two hands."
Waya snorted at one of the fires, then padded off in the direction of the cookhouse — no doubt in hope of handouts. Callum, though, rolled up his shirtsleeves and began dragging the remainder of the barrel frames into place for firing and sealing.
Arnold stepped back, lifting an eyebrow. "Ye ken most of us need some assistance to do that," he observed.
"He's a damned demon," one of the striplings muttered, though Callum pretended not to hear.
The barrelmaker didn't pretend any such thing. "A devil? Nae. What yer employer is, lads, is a bloody grizzly bear. Dunnae expect me to coddle ye."
Chuckling, Callum heaved over another half-finished barrel. "Dunnae be so hard on 'em, Arnold. We cannae all be as big as mountains or as handsome as the devil."
The cooper guffawed, slapping a knee with his good hand. "Ye hear that, lads? I can give ye work to make ye stronger, but ye'll have to curse yer mamas for yer looks."
Still grinning, Callum gathered up an armload of cedar logs. A few years ago he wouldn't have been able to heave the barrels alone. But a few inches of height, together with some well-honed muscles and the anger which drove him to use them, had turned him from a stupid drunken pup into a man other men favored with a healthy respect. And that suited him exceedingly well.
"Mr. MacKenzie," the other lad said, grunting as the two of them hammered another iron rib into place, "if we finish these barrels today, will ye finally tell me who can read me the letter from my ma? I reckon she had Father Michael write it out for her, because the father's the only man in Carach-duan who can read or write, but —"
"That's enough, lad," Arnold snapped, sending Callum a grim look. "I'll read it to ye myself tonight, if ye'll stop yammering about it." The old man straightened. "He doesnae ken the rules here yet, MacCreath."
Callum narrowed an eye as he looked at the two lads all over again. Neither of them looked even as old as he'd been when he'd fled Scotland. At least one of them had attachments back home, which meant the boy had come here searching for a better life rather than simply escaping from something unpleasant. He preferred when men came looking for a new start, a clean break from whatever former misery their lives had been.
Even so, he hadn't made it a rule that no one was allowed to speak about family or friends back in the Highlands. He'd merely requested — on several occasions — that they do their reminiscing and letter-reading out of his presence. "It's more a guideline," he said, as he returned to stacking wood for charring the inside of the barrels. "But aye, ye've work to do. Without these barrels, by Wednesday we'll risk fouling the balance of the whisky before it even has time to settle."
The chatty lad — Rob or Raymond, as he recalled — bobbed his head. "I ken, Mr. MacCreath. It willnae happen again."
Once they'd finished overturning the half-finished casks, Arnold began stuffing pine needles and old newspapers into the bases of the wood piles, then lit them one by one. With two remaining though, he paused, looking down at the worn, torn newspaper page in his good hand. He looked at it for a good minute, in fact, his expression as frozen as the rest of him.
"Arnold MacKenzie," Callum commented, grabbing a handful of tinder to prime the next fire over, "if ye're nae dead, ye might consider blinking."
The old cooper did blink, looking up to stare at Callum with an expression of ... dread? "Lads," he said, "go get someaught to eat."
"We cannae leave the barrels untended," Rob or Raymond countered.
"I've been seeing to charring casks since before ye da' was a twinkle in yer seanair's eye," Arnold retorted. "Now git with ye!" The entire time he spoke, his gaze remained on his employer.
An uneasy shiver went down Callum's spine. Arnold MacKenzie had all the grace and subtlety of a newborn moose, and something clearly troubled him. Newspapers, news, never brought an ounce of good. That was why he hadn't read one in ten years. He glanced at the lads running off to the kitchen, wishing for a moment he could join them.
It had been a very long time since he'd run from anything, however. "What's got yer tongue tied, then?" Callum asked brusquely. "We've work to do."
"I, uh ... I happened to glance doon here, and I might've — I think I did, that is — spy the word 'Geiry.'"
"And I should never have told ye or Rory a thing about it," Callum retorted. "Throw it in the fire. We've casks to ready." If his ... If Ian MacCreath and his lovely wife had ten strapping bairns and had donated funds for a statue or a library or something, he didn't want to know about it.
Arnold rocked from one foot to the other, but kept the paper clenched in his one good ash-stained hand. "I cannae toss it away, lad," he finally said. "It's but a few words left here. I can read it to ye or ye can read it for yerself, but ye need to know what it says."
The cold settled deeper, pinching at his lungs. "Tell me, then," he snapped. "And make it quick. I'm beginning to find ye annoying."
The old man looked down at the paper again. "Aye," he said, lowering his voice still further, and cleared his throat. "This paper's from New York, dated last December, though I cannae make oot the precise date. It's —"
"I dunnae care where or when it's from," Callum interrupted. "What does the fucking thing say?"
"It's a headline. Part of one, anyway. '— rd Geiry, Drowned in Loch Brenan, Mourned b ...,'" the cooper read, sounding out the letters of the partial words as he went. "And there're two words below I can make oot —'accident' and either 'weather' or 'heather.'" He took a breath. "Lad, I'm sorr —"
"Stop," Callum interrupted. Sound roared around him, filling his abruptly hollow chest. Men talking, thering and snap of chopping wood, birds, the wind in the trees up the hillside. He wanted to cover his ears, but his limbs had frozen. And through it all, one thought pierced him, cold as winter, and sharp as a knife.
Excerpted from "A Devil in Scotland"
Copyright © 2018 Suzanne Enoch.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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