Home » , , , , , , » Highland Moon #1 (Scottish Werewolf Shifter Romance) by Mac Flynn

Highland Moon #1 (Scottish Werewolf Shifter Romance) by Mac Flynn

He was a monster. My upbringing had taught me that such creatures should not suffer to live, and yet I loved him and lusted for him.

“Muira? Muira, where are you?” I heard a voice call.
Highland Moon #1 (Scottish Werewolf Shifter Romance)
Highland Moon #1 (Scottish Werewolf Shifter Romance) by Mac Flynn
I sighed and set down on the ground the small flower that was in my hand. There were hundreds like it around me for I sat in the midst of a thick patch of heather. The plants were a colorful sea of fragrance that wrapped around me and comforted me like a soft blanket. “Muira!” came the voice. “Coming, Mother!” I called back. I stood and hurried down the steep hill to the small stone house at the edge of the village. A meager garden stood behind the stone walls, and there was a strong thatch roof atop its sturdy frame. A curl of gray smoke rose from the chimney and into the gray sky over the large village where I had been born and raised. There were dozens of similar cottages placed on terraces with a few larger ones nestled among them and along the road. A single road meandered between them, but there were countless paths to the outhouses, wells, and the far-flung fields of the hilly valley in which we all resided. The village as a whole sat atop a large plateau over the green fields of the valley. The mountains above us were rocky and barren but for a few patches of grass, but the fields below were thick with the promise of a good harvest of wheat. Even as I stood there I beheld the small figures of people as they swept across the fields to gather the food before the autumn rains and frost ruined the year’s crop. Beyond the fields towered more tall mountains, and the opposite side of the valley still held its spots of wilderness. Thick forests of ancient trees climbed the gentle slopes and abutted the fields. The only break in the trees came from a spring that meandered down the mountain and cut through the thick forest on its way to the opposite end of the valley. The only residences of any great consequence were the large church, and the grand stone castle a half mile from the village and up the steep, grassy slope. The church had a tall, peeked roof of thatch, and a simple bell rang and summoned us to mass. Each family attended and sat upon the thick, uncomfortable wooden benches, and the good father read us our fill of brimstone and fire. My family attended frequently, as did the others in the village, and our souls were thought to be safe from the devil’s influence. How wrong I was, and how closely was the sudden change to involve the castle and its inhabitants. The Laird of the castle, Laird Kynan Campbell, owned the village, the stone houses, and all the green, rocky fields. Shepherds tended his many flocks and farmers grew and harvested his crops. We paid him a tax to live on his land and be under his protection. The lands of the Laird Campbell sat on one of the larger roads from England to my home of Scotland. The inn and taverns provided for travelers, and Laird Campbell demanded his bit of tribute from the merchants who plied their trade along the road. The trade made him wealthy, and the other Lairds outside the valley came and worshiped at his table. I paused on the hill and looked down on the wide, rutted road that traveled through the village some two dozen yards from my family’s home. A gilded carriage rolled its way through the village and onward past the castle to one of the far-flung provinces of Scotland. The weather was generally inhospitable, but even on sunny days the castle cast its shadow over the village. My father would say that the lairds of the castle would never let us forget who was master. “Muira! Hurry or your food will be cold!” my mother shouted. She stood at the edge of the garden which stood at the bottom of the path on which I lingered. My mother was scarcely thirty-five, but years of toil had left her hands wizened and her skin darkened by the sun. Though she was weathered, a hundred years couldn’t dim the bright smile on her face nor the beautiful shine of her long tress of brown hair. It was her one source of pride, besides her garden and my brother and I. We were her only children and reminders of a husband and father dead these two years. He had protected the village from a raid by a rival clan, and died for his bravery. The laird had given us some small compensation, but we were now in dire straights. In her hands was a grass basket to pluck the garden’s remaining food before the autumn frost swept his chilly hands over the food and left it rot. I hurried down the path and moved so fast that I was hardly able to stop when I reached my mother. I stumbled into her arms and turned my head to smile up at her. “Good morning, Mother,” I greeted her. She sighed and shook her head. “Whatever am I going to do with such a wild lamb as you?” she teased. I straightened and clasped her hands. “This lamb shall never be tamed.” “What an awful thing to say. You must marry some time,” she scolded me. I hardly dared imagine a husband willing to invest his wealth and life in me. There was ample meat on me when the garden was wrong, but that did not fetch me a husband. My frame was not the slight which was then in vogue. Though my face was pretty, my hips were a little too wide and my waist not quite as thin as many men preferred. I laughed and spun us in a half circle so my back faced the cottage. “But not this day. This day I start my fortune.” This was the day when I would begin my work as a servant in the laird’s kitchen, as my mother had done before me. The woman who commanded the kitchen was an old friend of my mother, and had promised to take me on and teach me her trade. The kitchen was great for many lairds and ladies occupied the great laird’s time and supper table. My mother’s face fell and she squeezed my hands. “But I will miss you. And your brother with me,” she reminded me. There was a price for the position. I was required to reside at the castle. Visits to my mother and brother would be infrequent, but my coming would be a double boon when I brought my pay and presence to them. I pecked a kiss on her cheek. “Absence makes the heart grow stronger, and I will be sure to visit so often you will wonder if I have truly left.” “You have not, and will not if you don’t eat your breakfast and be off with you,” she scolded me. “Yes, Mother,” I obeyed. I hurried around the house and inside through the only door. Our cottage was small, but two rooms, but we were proud of the whole of it. My great-grandfather had built the cottage himself for his bride, and it held memories of many generations on my father’s side. My mother was raised in another home nearby. Life was harsh, and we found ourselves without any relatives save our small group of three. My brother, Aindreas, sat at the small wooden table with a bowl of porridge set in front of him. He was a lad of ten born eight years after me, and a loving nuisance to me that decade of years. “You’ll be late,” he warned me as I sat before my own steaming bowl of porridge. The gruel was all we could afford when my mother managed but a small service of cooking and washing for the inn and other neighbors of more wealth than ourselves. “You sound like Mother,” I teased him as I partook of the healthy but plain food. “Is that so wicked?” my mother wondered as she followed me into the cottage with her basket full of food. “I don’t think so, Mother,” Aindreas spoke up. “Traitor. . .” I murmured. He stuck his tongue at me and I returned the favor. “Enough of that,” Mother scolded us as she took our empty bowels. “Muira, it’s time to go, and don’t forget your cloak.” My cloak was of the coarsest make, but Mother had sewn a lining of wool between two slips of skin to ensure a warmth that the finest cloth could not give. The castle outside the kitchens was drafty, and a cold was a risk of illness or worse. I was glad for the warmth as I slipped on the cloak, for the castle was a half mile from the village, but only as the crow flew. It was a good mile up the road. My mother stepped up to me and wrapped the hood tighter around my head. “Mind Aili and you can’t go wrong,” she advised me. Aili was the cook of the castle, and Mother’s old friend. “And don’t go prying into anybody’s business but your own. God rewards those who refrain from gossip and intrigue.” “I will, Mother,” I promised. She paused and looked me over. There were tears in her eyes, and she choked on her words. “My little girl. How proud your father would be.” I smiled and kissed her cheek. “If he isn’t now, I will be sure to make him proud.” She wiped her eyes and nodded her head. “All right then, off with you now before I change my mind.” My mother and brother followed me to the door. I walked onto the road and paused to turn to them. They waved, and I waved back. A small puff of smoke swept from the chimney as though my home spoke its own farewell. Then I turned my back on my past and headed for my future. As I said before, the road led through the village. Many of the men were in the fields harvesting the last of the laird’s vast store of wealth, but the women were at work outside their homes preparing food and dress for winter. “Good morning, Muira!” one of them, a Bean Clatcher, called to me. Her husband was fortunate to be a stone mason, and he was given constant work at the old castle. “Going to the castle?” “Aye!” I replied. “Say hello to my old man for me, will you?” she requested. “I will!” I promised. “So the day’s finally come?” another woman from a nearby cottage called. She was Bean Kerr, and her husband managed some land under the watch of the laird’s steward, Chamberlain. “Aye,” I answered. “Then a good day for you, and beware the laird’s son,” Bean Clatcher warned me. I smiled and bowed my head. “I will.” Bean Kerr glared at the other matron. “What are you doing putting silly notions into her head with that old tale? She’ll get her ears boxed off if’n she gets to telling tales around the laird.” Bean Clatcher waved her hand at Bean Kerr. “She’s a might smarter than that, and knows I’m only fooling with that old story. We all know he’s dead and buried.” The tale of which they spoke concerned Laird Campbell’s only son and heir, Tristan Campbell. He had been a constant sight through the village for most of his life, stately upon his fine horse and incredibly handsome, but no one had set eyes on him for a good seven years. At that time the laird had taken to visiting his lands less frequently, and when he did sally forth his carriage was always bedecked in black mourning cloth. “And I tell you there’s more than stories to those tales. The laird was always a cruel man,” Bean Kerr argued. “I must be going,” I reminded them. “And God be with you, Muira!” Bean Clatcher prayed. “And God watch you!” Bean Kerr chimed in. I waved to them and went on my way little dreaming how the strange start of my journey would echo throughout my day. 2 I left the small houses and walked through the commercial portion of the village with its shops of food and blacksmiths. The road also ran past the inn. The majority of travelers were men, and some had more leisure time than was good for them. They sat outside the doors to the large, wooden inn and leered at me as they passed. By their suits I guessed they were the livery for the lairds who stayed at the inn. “Would you expect to see such beauty in a swamp as this?” I heard one of them say. “Not I,” another replied. “Little mouse, are you lost?” one asked me. I moved to the other side of the road and looked straight ahead. To acknowledge them was more than they deserved, and would only worsen matters. One of them took it as a slight. “Too proud to talk to us?” a tall, lanky man growled. He strode across the wide, muddy road towards me. I tried to avoid his clutches, but he grabbed my wrist and pulled me against him. “Let me go!” I ordered him. He turned to his companions with a laugh. “Does anyone want a kiss from the little mouse?” “Aye!” “I’ll take one!” “Me first!” “I think the lady is wanted elsewhere,” a voice spoke up. The man turned around and roughly pulled me with him. We looked down the road in the direction of my home. A tall gentleman of thirty-five stood in the middle of the road. He wore a traveler’s cloak much like mine, but worn brown with mud and creased with the hot sun of many long summer days. His black boots were soiled, but of fine calf skin, and his long brown hair was pulled back in a tail that trailed far down his back. He had dark eyes that hardly blinked. “Mind your own business,” the man who held me snapped. “I have made it my business to take this young woman from you,” the stranger returned. The man snarled and shoved me into the waiting arms of his horrible comrades. He cracked his knuckles and stalked over to the stranger. The cloaked man did nothing but stand in his spot on the muddy road and smile. The livery servant reached him and swung his fist. The cloaked stranger dodged the blow and returned it with a swing of his own. His fist hit the livery servant full on the cheek. The man spun towards us and showed his eyes were rolled back in his head. He fell face-first into the mud and lay still. The cloaked man raised his eyes to the others who held me. “Who else of your number wishes to test their mettle against me?” After such a demonstration the other livery servants were not quite as bold as their fallen friend. They abandoned the man and scurried back inside the inn. I glared at their retreating backs as the cloaked man walked up to me. “What cowards. . .” I mumbled. “Yes, they were a poor sort to pick on such a lovely moon flower,” the cloaked man commented. I turned to him and noticed he studied me deeply with his dark eyes. “But you are well?” he wondered. “Aye, thanks to you,” I agreed. I bowed my head and curtsied. “I owe you a great deal.” He smiled and shook his head. “No deed that shouldn’t have been performed.” He turned and gazed at the fallen man. “But we should put some distance between ourselves and our new acquaintances.” He looked to me. “You’re headed for the castle.” The sentence was not a question, but a statement. I furrowed my brow, but nodded. “Aye, but how did you know that?” “Your steps were very determined before this rude interruption. Only a servant fit for Campbell Castle would hold themselves with such dignity,” he commented. “I haven’t the honor to call myself a servant of the castle until I arrive there this day,” I informed him. He raised his eyebrows. “Then you haven’t met-” He shook himself and his smile widened. “Well, well, but the plot grows thicker indeed.” The queer man stepped back, swept one side of his cloak in front of him and bowed to me. “Allow me to guide you there myself to ensure your safe arrival.” I shook my head. “I can’t expect such kindness from you. You’ve helped me so much already.” And something of his strange demeanor startled me. I felt he kept things from me, and though I was a stranger to him I was unsettled by the chance that I was perhaps a part of those secrets. He straightened and offered me his arm. “Nonsense. What would your mother say if I allowed you to journey alone after such a trial?” I took a step back and clutched the front of my cloak. “How do you perceive so well? Witchcraft?” He laughed and shook his head. “Nothing so fanciful. I merely noted your simple but lovingly created cloak. The stitch shows great care, and I guessed you had a mother. Only a parent, and most especially a kind mother, would perform such a duty for their child.” He held out his arm closer to me and stared into my eyes. His voice was soft and pleading. “Please. Let me accompany you.” I furrowed my brow, but stepped close to him and took his arm. He smiled and patted the top of my hand. “Brave girl, and for that I will call you Andra.” “But my name is-” “You are Andra to me,” he insisted. The stranger walked forward and led me down the roads and onward to the castle. The center of the village was nestled at the bottom of the hill beneath the castle, but the steep incline meant none encroached on the tall stone fortifications. Only the straight, wide road dared climb the hill to the gate with its wooden gates tall and wide enough through which a carriage could be driven. I studied the man’s features as we walked arm-in-arm. He was slightly pale and though he smiled greatly the humor never seemed to slip into his dark eyes. He was a most peculiar man, but I knew I had much to learn about the world, and he had saved me from a dangerous fellow. “If you will call me Andra, what shall I call you?” I asked him. “Bruce will do,” he replied. “I do not know your face. You’re not of the village?” I guessed. He shook his head. “No, but I have passed through before. The laird has hosted me several times.” I bowed my head. “I understand.” He laughed. “You take me for a laird. An astute observation, but I don’t wish for you to treat me as one. I am a traveler. Nothing more or less than that.” He studied me. “But tell me about yourself. You have lived in this village your many years?” “I have,” I confirmed. “And now you go to make your fortune?” he guessed. “My mother is need of income,” I explained. “Then you are both brave and kind, Andra,” he complimented me. “My name is-” “Andra to me, and to me it shall always be,” he told me. “By-the-by, it has been many years since I last passed. Is the young laird still well?” “He passed away seven years hence,” I informed him. A dark shadow passed over his face and his smile faltered. “Dead?” “That is what they say.” He raised an eyebrow. “They do not know?” “There was no funeral. We expect he died away from home,” I explained. His smile returned. “I see. That changes everything. But our interesting conversation is at an end. We have arrived.” We stood at the bottom of the road that led up to the old wooden gates of the castle some half mile hither. He released my arm and stepped back. I turned to him and gestured to the castle. “Will you not at least find some solace in a warm kitchen?” I offered him. Bruce looked up at the castle and a strange smile slipped onto his lips. “No. I don’t believe I’d be welcomed there anymore.” I was curious , but remembered Mother’s warning of my business and others. “Then I’ll thank you again, and wish you a good journey, sir.” He bowed to me. “A good day, Andra, and may the light of the moon shine brightly on you.” “May God grant you a long life,” I returned. Bruce chuckled. “He has, but good day.” He turned and strode down the road. I was left with a great curiosity, and so watched him until he disappeared among the cottages. “What a strange man. . .” I whispered. But my curiosity would not feed me, and so I returned my attention to the castle. I walked up the slope and soon arrived at the border of my future. The stone keep of the ancient Campbell clan was a mountain of boulders hewed to fit one on top of the other. Tall, narrow windows were cut into the boulders and looked out on the great moorlands owned by the laird. The top of the high walls were wide battlements where archers could make their stand against a great force. The entirety of the castle would have swallowed half the village, and so great was the expanse that the castle could house such a number of servants and lairds with their entourage that they were a village unto themselves. The entrance was two large wooden gates that opened the way to an expansive courtyard. Animals were kept in a stable on the left, and on the right at the far back was a pair of doors that led into the living and eating quarters of the laird and his guests. To my immediate right past the gates was a small, low stone barracks where the guards of the castle and a small contingency of soldiers were kept for the safekeeping of the village. Two men with swords stood at attention on either side of the open gates. They looked askance at me. “What brings you here?” one of them snapped. “I am to be a servant in the kitchen,” I announced. He jerked his head towards a small door beyond the stables. “The kitchen is through there.” I bowed my head. “Much obliged.” The man sneered and they both returned to their duty of watching the road. I hoped other welcomes would not be so cold as my first. 3 I walked past them and came to the door. It was unlocked and led to the kitchen and rear passages into the main portions of the castle. The kitchen was sturdy with a stone floor and walls. Brick ovens were set into the left-hand wall and a stove occupied the opposite wall. In the center was a large wooden table. Utensils and pans hung from the open-beamed ceiling, and the scent of herbs and spices flowed from the dried foodstuff that hung between the pans. A few small windows near where the wall met the ceiling vented the hot steam into the courtyard. The kitchen bustled with work as a handful of women busied themselves over the large stove and at the table kneading dough. One of the women was a large sort with sharp eyes and a voice that shook the walls. “Not done with the bread yet?” she barked at one of the women who kneaded the dough. “Almost,” was the reply. “‘Almost’ will not feed my laird’s guest Laird Graham,” she bit back. “He and his own will arrive within the hour and we have little to show for his late breakfast.” Her quick eyes fell on me and narrowed. “What’s wanted?” I curtsied. “I am Muira, daughter of Fenella, and I have come to serve my laird.” The woman’s hand flew to her mouth and her eyes grew wide. “Why, so it is!” She rushed forward and enveloped me in a hug that left me breathless. Aili pulled me away and looked me over with a wide smile. “I should have known you anywhere! You look so much like your mother! What a beauty you are!” I blushed and bowed my head. “Thank you.” “And what of your skills? Have you the hands of your mother?” she wondered. “They are not so experienced, but I shall try,” I promised. She gave a nod. “Good. You will be put to work now. We are in need of stronger kneaders than God has granted me.” I removed my cloak and Aili turned me to the small group of women. Many of them were my mother’s age, but a few young faces shone through. “This is Muira. She’s to be the new serving girl for our laird.” The women curtsied and mumbled greetings. I returned the sentiment. Then Aili led me to the large kneading table. She gave me a ball of dough and I was set to work. There was a great deal to be done with preparing food for a laird and any important followers he may bring. Ducks had to be roasted, bread cooked, and soup made. The women talked as they worked. “I hear tell that the Laird Graham is to bring his daughter,” one of them, a woman by the name of Mary, spoke up. “What for? The laird’s son is dead,” another pointed out. “Is he?” Mary wondered. “I don’t recall seeing a coffin, and the laird would surely have set up a fine tomb in the crypt for his only son.” “Perhaps he isn’t dead,” a third chimed in. Mary nodded. “That’s what I think. There are enough queer tales from the north wing to chill anyone’s blood.” “Queer tales?” the second wondered. “Aye, of shadows in the passages and strange sounds from the top-most chambers,” Mary explained. “Don’t go starting that talk again, Bean Finn, nor you, Mary,” Aili scolded her as she punctuated their tales with stern orders. “There’s no one in the north wing, and you know it. Now quicker to the stove with you all, and don’t cheapen the soup with water. The laird doesn’t mind such ways when he’s without company, but not with.” A great shout came from the courtyard. The women dropped their bread and pots, and rushed to the windows and to the door which Aili opened. A handsome carriage with gilded doors rushed into the courtyard with an entourage of horsemen at the front and back. The gates were shut behind them. They had only been opened in anticipation of Laird Graham’s arrival. The laird himself alighted from the carriage. He was a portly fellow of forty with red cheeks and food stains on the front of his broad breast. His eyes were small and set closely together. Behind him emerged a fair lady of my age. She was very pale and thin, and had a cross look on her face. Her dress was of the smoothest velvet and her cloak of the softest wool, all dyed red. The doors to the main wing of the castle swung open and Laird Campbell himself stepped out. He was a man of forty-five, a great age, and walked with a limp received from battle in the protection of his lands land before I was born. His long beard was speckled with gray and his hands were gnarled from many years of battle with a sword. He wore a thick, flowing robe over his shoulders, and woolen clothes dyed purple beneath that. Laird Graham noticed his host and opened his arms. “Good day to you, my laird!” Laird Campbell shook hands with his portly guest. “Good day to you, Laird Graham. This is your daughter?” Graham stepped to the side and smiled at his lovely child. “Aye, and never a finer picture of womanhood you’ll find north of the Severn! Annabel, be honored to meet our host, my Laird Campbell.” Annabel smiled and curtsied low to the ground. “Good day, my laird.” Laird Campbell offered her his hand. “Good day to you, my lady, and welcome to my castle. Now let us inside for a repast. I imagine the trip has made you hungry.” “Starving!” Graham agreed. “Then we shall see what can be done,” Laird Campbell replied as he led them inside the castle. Aili shut the door and pushed us back to our chores. “You heard the laird! Prepare the trays!” We filled the trays with as much food as their sides would hold. I and another girl were given those with food, and another girl was given one with drink and so forth. We made for a long line of dishes, food and drink as Aili marched us from the kitchen. The kitchen lay off the dining hall which was the centerpiece of the whole castle. Meals were taken at the grand wooden table that stretched twenty feet from end to end. At the far left wall was a great fireplace with a hearth that heated not only that great room but the others above it. The open-beam ceiling lay twenty feet above us. Their beams were blackened with countless fires and had witnessed centuries of feasts. On the opposite wall from the kitchen was a door that led to the entrance hall from which came our laird and his guests. “Wonderful timing!” Graham complimented as they took their seats at the head of the table. We set the table and placed the food and drink before them. “They know my ways,” was Campbell’s response. He was a man of few words and had a brooding look on his brow, but he was gentlemanly in his manners. “What a grand castle,” the daughter commented. Graham chuckled. “I forget this is your first time here, my daughter. You must learn the castle before the wedding.” My sinful curiosity was aroused by such a remark, and I was not the only one affected. Unfortunately, our work was done and Aili jerked her head towards the kitchen. We marched towards the door, but Aili grabbed my arm and pulled me aside. She handed me a pitcher and turned me back to the table. “You stay and serve the lairds,” she whispered to me. “And whatever you do don’t spill on them!” Aili gave me a push and I found myself behind the Lord Graham’s tall chair. “It remains to be seen if the lady will take me,” Laird Campbell continued their conversation. The lady cast her eyes downward. “If that is what my laird wishes.” Lord Graham let out a great guffaw and slapped his hand on the table. “A perfect answer for a perfect woman! She will make you a good wife, my laird!” “I am a difficult man to please,” Campbell warned him. “Nonsense! We will drink to the successful union of our two houses.” He took his large mug and placed it on his right side. “Filled to the brim, if you will, girl,” he demanded of me. I leaned forward and poured the mead into the large mug. Graham turned to me and looked me over. His eyes brightened and his smile widened. “Well, well, it seems you have a new serving girl, my laird,” Graham commented. I was glad to fill the mug and move away from his prying eyes to the others. “So it seems,” the laird replied, “but to the matter at hand.” “Ah, yes! The wedding! The dowry will not be as great as we planned. Poor harvest, you know, what with the English raids and such,” Graham commented. Laird Campbell frowned. “What is it to be then?” Graham waved away his worries. “Merely a few head less and some bushels of barley fewer, but nothing of great consequence.” I poured a glass for my lady Annabel. She looked up at me and sneered. I bowed my head and held my tongue at such unearned disdain. We knew each other not and yet I had the feeling she disliked everything about me. My hair, my clothes, my chubby figure, and most especially my station. I stepped back and listened to their conversation, for I had nothing else to do. “We had agreed on that number,” Lord Campbell insisted. “I know, my laird, but the English will not be convinced to stop their raids any more than our people will stop theirs,” Graham protested. “I will take no excuses,” Laird Campbell warned him. Graham straightened and I saw a gleam of sweat glisten atop his forehead, though the room was a touch chilly. “Perhaps I might find enough bushels and meat to meet the dowry, but I will be hard put to do so.” Campbell’s dark eyes flickered down to Graham’s ample stomach. “I have faith that you can.” He clapped his hands. The women from the kitchen hurried out and removed the food. Aili gave me a gentle push towards the kitchen. “My laird, we have hardly had repast,” Graham protested. “This is a reminder that you are still my vassal, Graham,” Campbell tutored him. We servants hurried our steps faster and swept into the kitchen. Aili closed the door behind the last of us and shooed us to the tables. “Now off with the food and wash those plates now. There’ll be more soon enough for the wedding,” she warned us. Mary shook her head. “An ill omen, this is. . .” she muttered. “Why’s that?” one of the girls spoke up. Mary glared at her. “Don’t you know there’s to be no talk of dowry in the presence of the bride. Tis a curse on the wedding. It shall not come to pass.” “You’ve heard too many tales,” Aili argued. “The deal’s as good as sealed, and I’ll not here another word about it.” “Mark my words, there’ll be no marriage between them,” she insisted. “That’s enough now,” Aili ordered her. Mary sulked over to the dishes and plates. We scrubbed and scalded the fine ware and stoked the fire that had the duck roasting. A woman with a bundle of fresh white linen slipped into the kitchen and over to Aili. She was over a great age, possibly sixty, and bore herself with the pride that was unbecoming even an old servant. They spoke a moment before Aili turned to me. “Muira, you’re wanted,” she told me. I walked over and glanced between the two women. Aili gestured to the other woman. “This is Bean Lyel. She’s charged with the rooms. The chamber maids are shorthanded and are in need of you.” “I’m not to remain in the kitchen?” I asked her. “You’re to go where you’re needed, and you’re needed upstairs,” she instructed me. She nodded at Bean Lyel. “Bean Lyel here will show you what to do.” Bean Lyel stiffly bowed her head. “A pleasure to meet you, miss.” “I am at your service,” I replied as I bit my tongue. As one newly arrived I had no right to refuse work. “This way,” Bean Lyel commanded me. 4 Bean Lyel led me from the kitchen and across the great dining hall into the entrance. To our right was the front doors that led to the courtyard, and to our left was a wide stone staircase that led to the higher floors. The top of the stairs ended in a landing that ran along the wall in front of us and disappeared into the depths of the castle. Another hall traveled straight in front of the stairs and into the west wing. The passage along the balcony faced the north. Bean Lyel handed me the linen and turned to the stairs. “Follow me.” My stoic guide directed me up the stairs and to the west wing. I paused and glanced down the balcony to the north. Memories of the tales of the young laird came to mind, and I had the sinful desire to search the north wing to find what truths lay in the stories. “Girl,” Bean Lyel scolded me from ten yards down the western hall. “Coming,” I replied as I hurriedly followed. I caught up to Bean Lyel, but she didn’t press on. She stood against one of the walls, and her eyes flickered between the northern hall and me. “You’re not to go into the north wing without my husband or myself accompanying you. Do you understand?” she questioned me. I lowered my eyes and bowed my head. “I do.” “Good. Now don’t let me catch you wasting time again,” she warned me. “Yes, Bean Lyel,” I replied. Bean Lyel guided me down the passage into the depths of the large castle. There were large wooden doors on either side of us that led into the rooms. At the end of the hall was a large window that garnered a rear view of the castle and the hill on which it had been built. The silence between us was deafening. Only the sounds of our footsteps on the smoothed stones subdued the unease inside me. “Have you served the Campbell family long?” I asked Bean Lyel. She stiffly shook her head. “Nay.” “Did you serve the late Lady Campbell?” I guessed. Bean Lyel’s face grew strained and the corners of her lips turned down. “No. I came after her death, and to serve another purpose.” We came to an open door on our right, and Bean Lyel turned to face me. She gestured to the room. It was a large chamber with a hearth and a tall four-post bed. Two windows stood tall and thin on the opposite wall from the entrance and on either side of the bed. They each had plain glass panes in them to keep out the worst of the cold of the moors. The small hearth with its crackling fire lay to the left. “I’ll be needing you to fix up the bed. Can you do that?” she questioned me. “The covers need turned out and new sheets?” I wondered. “Aye, and the air needs some cleaning, so dust all that you see and open the windows,” she ordered me. “Can you do all that?” “Aye. It’s no worse than spring cleaning with Mother,” I told her. “Good. I will be back to inspect your work in a short while,” Bean Lyel warned me. She strode past me and I was left alone in that wing of the castle. I slipped into the room and readied the space for one of the laird’s two guests. The space was dusty, but not ill-kept. The laird had a great many visits from his vassals that required a great deal of space and expense. I wondered that he didn’t return the favor by visiting them, for I never heard of him leaving the castle these last ten years since the Lady Campbell passed on. I shook the sheets and coughed as a storm of dust rose up. The bed, and now the room, was in dire need of an airing. I hurried over to the right window and threw it open. I had to give pause to the view. The castle was built in fits and starts. The north wing was the oldest, and the west wing was the newest. The west wing jutted out of the rear of the castle and the window at which I stood faced the north wing and the mountain. Far beneath me lay a large terraced garden. A spring ran down the mountain and through the center of the stone pathways. The water sank beneath the castle and to the well accessed in the stables, and provided those of us within its walls a reliable source of fresh water. Benches were placed along the walks with their backs turned to the wide, tall beds of flowers. Though the autumn was full upon us the plants were still green and the flowers still held some faded colors to them. The view was wonderful, but my eyes were kept on the north wing. I could see the line of windows along that wing, and I noticed a queer thing. Though Aili had told us all there was no one in the north wing I noticed some of the glass panes in the windows at the end of the wing were open. “Are you done?” a voice snapped. I spun around to find Bean Lyel behind me. Her eyes were narrowed and her lips were pressed so tightly together that they were pale from the force. “A-almost,” I replied. “Then you’re as good as not started, now get away from that window and get to work,” she snapped. I quickened away from the window and to the bed. Bean Lyel took my place at the window and looked out. I glanced over my shoulder and noticed she, too, had her eyes turned to the north wing. She pulled back and shut the window with her. In a thrice I had the bed done and was handed a dust rag by Bean Lyel. That chore was followed by many others as we swept the floor, stoked the fire, and made the room very comfortable. When all was done the autumn sunlight was dim in the sky. Bean Lyel lit a candle and handed me one before we left the room to the passage. “Tell Aili I will need your services the day after the morrow,” she instructed me. I cringed, but bowed my head. “Yes, Bean Lyel.” “Good. Now off with you, and keep away from the north wing.” I hurried down the passage. Bean Lyel was as queer a sort as Bruce, but while his nature was teasing hers was not. I returned to the kitchen and Aili met me with candle in hand. “God be praised, but I was about to look for you,” Aili told me as she set a hand on my back. “Didn’t Bean Lyel tell you you’re not to be in the passages at this hour?” “No, only that she would like my services on the day after the morrow,” I replied. “Well, she will have them, but she treasures them little if she doesn’t warn you to such rules as we have here,” Aili commented. “Now let’s be off to bed. Tomorrow will be a long day for the both of us.” A small passage off the kitchen led to a row of tiny rooms, one of which was to be mine. There was scarcely room enough to lay down for two people to lay on the mess of straw, but two people it was required to hold. I was to share with Mary. She was none to pleased with the prospect. “Why am I to share my room?” she whined to Aili. “Because you’re the only one who isn’t,” Aili pointed out. “But you aren’t,” Mary argued. Aili’s eyes narrowed. “That’s my perk and one you haven’t earned, now stop your grumbling and let her inside.” Mary frowned, but stepped aside. I bowed my head and slipped inside. “And that’s a reminder to the rest of you,” Aili called to the others. “There’s no leaving the rooms after lights are out except for fire or if the laird calls us. Do you understand?” We servants grumbled our understanding. “Good, now let’s to bed, all of us.” Our candles were extinguished and we all gratefully settled down for a long rest. The days were long for the servants, and my first day had been tiring. I had no sooner laid my head down on the straw then I was asleep. But I was not to stay that way. At a late hour a noise started me awake. I lifted my head and looked around the small space. Mary lay opposite me on her own bed. “Mary?” I whispered. I heard only the faint wisps of a snore from her. It wasn’t she who made the noise. There! I heard it again! There was a faint sound of footsteps and the chink of a plate. I slipped off my bed of straw and peeked out the door. A weak light shone in the kitchen, and a small shadow flickered on the wall to the left. My heart quickened as I thought of thieves, or worse. Such a danger as exposing a thief was worth the risk of a stern reprimand from Aili. I crawled out the door and to the kitchen where I peeked around the corner. A light retreated from the kitchen and into the dining hall. I struggled to my feet and stumbled after the figure. The door to the hall was slightly ajar, and I peeked through in time to see a short figure slip into the entrance hall. I opened the door and my feet patted quietly along the cold stones to the door. My hand stretched in front of me to push open the door, but the entrance swung open. A tall dark shape of a man stood in the doorway. I gasped and stumbled back, but their hand whipped out and wrapped around my wrist. Their hold was as cold as ice, but the firm, quiet voice was far worse. The tone made me shudder. “Who are you?” Laird Campbell’s voice snapped at me. “I-I am Muira, your new kitchen servant,” I told him. The laird pulled me against the rough furs that were wrapped around his thin frame and his eyes looked me over. His terrible breath washed over me, and his words were short and curt. “I see. What brought you out here after curfew?” “I-I thought I heard an intruder,” I admitted. His eyes narrowed. “And did you see who it was?” I shook my head. “No, my laird, only a shadow and a candle.” The laird’s bright, cold eyes studied me for a long while. My heart beat so quickly I feared it would stop. His hand on my wrist was painful to bear, and his furs were not well-cleaned. Finally, he pulled his face away from mine, but did not release me. “If I find you out here then you will feel the end of my lash. Do you understand?” he snapped at me. I nodded. “Aye, my laird.” “Good.” He tossed me away from him and in the direction of the kitchen. “Now return to your room.” I bowed my head. “As you wish, my laird.” “As I demand,” he corrected me. I bowed my head again and hurried away. Never was hay so welcome beneath me as when I lay down in the small room. Mary lay still beside me as I curled into a ball and rubbed my wrist. It still throbbed from his hard hold. My mind scolded me for my foolish adventure, but my curiosity promised another chance at catching the strange figure. 5 “Get up, all of you!” Aili’s loud, gruff voice ordered us. “There’s work to be done!” I sat up, but my roommate groaned and rolled over. “Just another few minutes,” she pleaded. Our door swung open and Aili stood in the doorway with her apron over her front and a stern look on her face. “I won’t have any sass from you or anyone else, Mary, now up! We’ve guests to feed!” Mary and I joined the others in the kitchen where Aili had already lit the ovens. The day’s chores were begun as we baked a delicate feast of bread, oatmeal, and prepared the spiced mead. I glanced out the windows that faced the courtyard and noted the thick frost that lay over the ground. A chill stuck to the window frames and drifted through the stone walls into my face. I sighed. The flowers through which I had tromped the day before were dead. Aili came up behind me and laid her hand on my shoulder. “Are you well, Muira?” she asked me. I shook myself from my thoughts and smiled at her. “Quite well, thank you.” She pursed her lips and studied me. “I can understand you missing your mother, but you’ll get used to things here.” “I’m sure I will,” I promised. Everyone’s attention turned to the door that led to the dining hall. The entrance swung open to reveal Lady Annabel and her father, and in front of them was Chamberlain. He stepped inside and swept his hand over the room. “This is the kitchen,” he told them. “I have eyes as well as any man,” Lady Annabel quipped as she swept into the kitchen. She sneered at those of us who stood in the room covered in flour and soot from the fires. “How. . .quaint.” Chamberlain’s lips pursed together, but he gestured to the hallway to our rooms. “The door behind you leads to their sleeping quarters and-” Annabel waved her hand at the steward. “I quite understand how servants are to be housed. Father has many of his own,” she informed Chamberlain. “But not so many, my dear,” Laird Graham reminded her. “And not a kitchen so large.” He turned to Chamberlain and gestured to the ovens. “How many birds are able to fit in these fine ovens?” Chamberlain shook his head. “I am afraid I don’t know, but Miss Aili will give us an answer.” Aili stepped forward and bowed to the lady and laird. “Six if they are small and four if it was a good year for them,” she informed them. Lady Annabel turned her nose up and sniffed. “Laird MacNaughton has larger ovens.” “But not so many, and the castle, my dear,” Graham persisted. “If you will follow me I might show you the stables,” Chamberlain offered. “Yes, a fine idea. Laird Campbell keeps fine horses. You might ride them one day, my dear,” Graham offered to his daughter. “Perhaps,” was her bored response. Chamberlain led the pair out the kitchen door and into the courtyard. We all breathed a sigh of relief after their leaving. “What a pair!” Mary exclaimed. “What a fine and pointy nose!” another chimed in. “Hush!” Aili scolded them. Mary folded her arms over her chest and smirked at the head cook. “You think the same thing as we do, Aili. The pair of them are very high for their breeches.” “Aye, I admit I do, but I have enough brains to know when to save those words for when I know if they’re to come back through the kitchen or not,” Aili pointed out. “Now let’s get to work. The Laird Graham will be hungry after their walking about.” We finished the cooking and set the food on the table before they set down. There was no need to impress upon them for a second time the wealth held by Laird Campbell. Aili led us back into the kitchen, those of us not to serve the lairds and lady, and rubbed her hands clean on her apron. “All right. That’ll be enough for you all,” she told us as she nodded at the door. “You’re free for a while yet, but mind you don’t leave the castle grounds. There’s dishes to be cleaned soon enough.” Mary stood beside me. She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “Go out there? Are you daft?” “You’re to go out there or stay in here, but there’s no going through the hall. The lady isn’t keen on seeing us, and I won’t have the laird’s wrath on our heads for her complaints,” Aili reminded her. The mention of Annabel brought forth a twittering among the women and their opinions of her ways. I slipped away for my cloak and came back for the door. Aili caught me at the rear entrance and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Now remember what I said, Muira,” she reminded me. “Don’t go out of the castle. I can’t be playing favorites with you.’ I smiled and pulled my hood over my head. “I won’t go far. I only want a better look of the castle from the courtyard,” I assured her. She stepped back, smiled and nodded at the door. “Well then, off with you and mind you don’t catch cold.” “I won’t,” I promised. I stepped out into the gloom of frost and walked to the center of the courtyard. Guards stood at attention at either side of the gate, and a few stood huddled together close to the barracks some two dozen yards from me. I stopped and looked up at the grand castle above me. The ancient stones were encased in a thin sheet of white frost that gave the keep a ghostly appearance. My eyes followed the second floor from the entrance hall to the end of the north wing. I stood on the wrong end to view the mysterious open windows, but still I dared hope to see something of who resided within those specific stone walls. I was given disappointment. The windows that glared down at me had no secrets to show or reveal. The curtains remained shut, and my curiosity remained dissatisfied. A cool breeze blew past me and the chill nipped at my bare face. I shuddered and hurried inside where a warm fire and chores awaited me. The remainder of the day passed without incident. My fellow servants and I cleaned the dishes, scrubbed the floors of the dining hall, and cooked the grand food for our laird and his guests. I was grateful not to be given the chore of serving the guests as I shuddered at the thought of another close meeting with Laird Graham and his evil eyes. The night swept over our tired bodies and we lay down for sleep, but again I was destined for something more than rest. A noise awoke me at a late hour, and this time I was prepared. I hurried to the door and peeked out. The candlelight streamed down our narrow hall and the sounds of foraging echoed through the passage. I crawled into the hall and to the corner that opened to the kitchen. The candle sat on the main table, and a figure stood hunched over the table. In front of the thief was a large platter of meat from the day’s meals. The person turned and I covered my mouth to stifle my gasp. It was a man of forty with a wrinkled face. He shuffled rather than walked, and his back was slightly curved as though with great labor. His clothing showed him to be a servant, for they were old but clean. He didn’t appear to notice me for he took his treasure of food and shuffled out the door to the dining hall. My curiosity, hindered all the long day by my mother’s warning, was now too powerful. I followed the man on his nocturnal wanderings. 6 I followed the strange little man through the dining hall and up the stairs in the grand hall. He mumbled to himself every now and then, and the sound echoed around us like spooks discussing the night’s hauntings. “Leod’s master is in need. Aye, he grows hungry. Hungry and tired. . .” he mumbled. I crept behind him mindful to stay in the shadows. The man turned right at the top of the stairs and shuffled into the north wing. I reached the top and paused. He was surely no thief, but I couldn’t fathom why he was to go into a wing where no one resided. His candle grew dim from the distance. My reckless curiosity demanded I continue to follow, so I did. The north wing had fewer doors along either side, and the window at the end was covered by a plank of wood. The little man walked to the very tip of the wing and turned to a door on his left. The same room that had its windows opened. The man knocked and opened the door into the hall. Light streamed into the passage, and I hurriedly pressed myself against the wall to hide my presence. The man shuffled into the room and closed the door behind him. I swallowed my fear and crept down the hall. No sound permeated the thick door of the room beyond. I pressed my ear against the thick wood, but still heard nothing. Then the door moved. I hurried behind the door and huddled against the wall. The old man shuffled out, unladen with his burden of food and candle. He closed the door and returned the way he came. I had the choice to follow, but I desired to know whom he fed. I crept up to the door and opened it a mere crack. The room was a large chamber, larger than those in the west wing, with a hearth piled high with burning logs. In front of the fire sat a chair with its back turned to the door and a small table at its side. The untouched platter sat atop the table. Shadows dance across the stone floor and walls, and revealed a large four-poster bed and dresser. I saw and heard nothing, but noticed something odd on the four-poster bed. The light glistened and revealed strange markings in the wood. My sinful curiosity provoked me into entering the room. I stepped across the room and touched the posts. There were long claw marks in the thick wood. The sheets, too, were all a mess and torn to shreds. The pillows, formerly stuffed with goose feathers, were tossed onto the floor on either side of the bed. “My father must be growing senile,” a voice commented. I gasped and spun around in time to see a shadow of a person rise from the chair and turn to me. The figure had red eyes that glistened in the light of the fire. “He has sent me dinner when there is no full moon.” “I-I am very sorry. I did not mean to intrude,” I stuttered. I felt my way down the bed and slipped towards the door. “I will leave immediately.” The man strode to the door and slammed it shut. I now had my first full glimpse of his countenance, and I found him to be devilishly handsome. He had shimmering black hair that was pulled behind him in a long tail. His face was narrow, but not pointed, and his high brow suited his bushy eyebrows. He wore a fine shirt of white satin, and the buttons of his white shirt glittered with diamonds. His pants were black, but he wore no shoes nor stockings. I thought he must have been cold walking the bare floors of the large, drafty room. “I dislike repeating myself,” he spoke up. I started from my observation and curtsied. Here was a laird, or one who was near to a laird to have such lavish clothing. “Pardon me, sir, but I didn’t hear the question.” “I asked you if you were sent here by my father,” he repeated. I blinked at him. “I would answer that, sir, if I knew who you were.” The young man raised an eyebrow and studied me for a moment. “I am the son of Laird Campbell, Tristan Campbell.” I shrank from my foolishness and hung my head. “Then no, my laird, I was not sent by your father, nor by anyone else.” His voice was soft, curious. There was no biting reprimand in his words. “Then how did come to be here?” “I was curious, my laird. I heard there was no one in this wing, but saw an old man venture in this direction. I thought perhaps he was a thief hiding in the abandoned rooms,” I explained. He raised an eyebrow. “Is that what they tell everyone? Leod tells me little of the talk in the castle, and less outside of it,” he commented. “Yes, my laird,” I answered. He smiled and gestured to the seat at the fire. “Won’t you join me for some talk? I am rather lonely here.” “I shouldn’t, my laird. I’m not supposed to be out of my room at this hour,” I told him. “I will vouch for you if you find yourself in trouble,” he promised. I looked between his face and the seat. Indecision stifled my actions. “Please,” he begged. “If you think me worth the company,” I replied. He chuckled. “You yourself saw my sole companion. Leod is loyal, but his faculties are a little stunted. I wish for fresh blood.” I smiled and curtsied. “Then I will be glad to speak with you, my laird.” “Good, then tell me of the village and the road. I have no view of them from my room,” he commented as he set his hand on my lower back. I blushed as he guided me over to the fire and into the seat. The young laird himself stood beside the hearth so his countenance was partially thrown into shadows. “The village is well, and the road brings your father great wealth,” I told him. He waved his hand. “I don’t care for the wealth. What of news? What of humanity?” He paused and I felt his eyes on me. “What of yourself?” “I am but a servant, my laird,” I replied. “You are my guest, and I ask of your health and the health of your family,” he insisted. “If you so desire it, my laird,” I wondered. He nodded and I took a deep breath to ease my nerves. “I was born and raised in the village, and have my mother and brother as kin.” “No one else? No father?” he asked me. I shook my head. “He died two years ago fighting a band of the Menzies clan,” I told him. “I see. You took servitude to support them?” he guessed. I sighed, but gave a nod. “Aye, and I have lost it with my foolishness this night.” “You have not lost it so long as I am my father’s son,” he insisted. I looked up and studied his handsome features. “My laird, would you think it impertinent for me to ask you some questions?” He chuckled. “I would think it odd if you didn’t.” “What keeps you here? The village and servants think you dead, and your father acts as though he has no heir,” I commented. “Ah, that question,” he mused. “I’m sorry if I caused offensive,” I quickly replied. I stood, but he stepped from the shadows and blocked my path. “Please stay,” he pleaded. I looked away from him. “I really must be-” The laird took my hands in his and I felt the strange heat of desire well up inside myself. I looked into his bright eyes and felt myself slip into a strange trance. There was such power in his hands, and such warmth in his eyes. I couldn’t resist the sensual feeling that wrapped around my body and soul. God forgive me, but I felt as though I were in Heaven. My laird leaned forward and pressed his lips against mine. His lips were warm and thrilled me with such bodily feelings of sexual need that I broke apart and gasped for air. He pressed sweet, gentle kisses down down my neck. I sighed and tilted my head back. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close to him. He lifted his head and looked me in the eyes. His voice was low and husky. I shuddered at the need that punctuated his words. “Are you sure?” he whispered. I nodded. Words couldn’t describe the longing I felt inside me. My innocence quivered at the thought of losing myself to wanton desire, but a deeper part of me begged to know what he offered me. This was the first time in my life I was wanted by a man and felt that I could return that need. He smiled and captured my lips in a passionate kiss that devoured the last of my hesitation. I groaned and pressed myself closer to him. His hands ran across the strings that tied my dress to my body. His deft fingers untied my knots and my skirt fell to the floor. He opened my vest and blouse, and revealed my heaving, sensitive breasts. He pulled us to arm’s length and his eyes swept over my nakedness. I blushed and tried to cover myself, but he grasped my wrists and held my hands at bay. His eyes burned with a feral light that made me shudder and look away. He pressed our bodies against each other again and nipped at my neck with his teeth. His hands slid to my waist, and he pulled off my under garments. His fingers dipped into the coarse black hair between my legs and brushed against the sensitive bump in my wet folds. A spasm of pleasure rippled through my body. I’d never known sexual pleasure before. The desire of my own flesh was an unknown world to me. I had missed so much. I gasped and clutched his arms. He chuckled and lifted his head to catch my eyes. “A virgin. How perfect,” he mused. “I-is that bad?” I asked him. I feared he would reject me for my inexperience. He shook his head. “No, on the contrary. You will be mine, now and forever.” He swept me into his arms and carried me over to the bed. He set me down atop the wild covers. I watched in fascination as he removed first his shirt and then his pants. His body was pale but well-muscled. My eyes wandered to his naked waist and widened when they beheld his need. His pulsing manhood was erect and swollen. The area between my legs swelled with heat. I panted for breath and my breasts heaved up and down. He lay down beside me and tossed away my shirt. I, too, now lay naked on the sheets. He covered me with his warm body and pressed the tip of himself against my hot, wet opening. “This may hurt, but the pleasure will be worth the pain,” he assured me. “So. . .tight,” he murmured. I gasped when he pushed deeper into me. His swollen manhood slid against my sensitive nub and sent ripples of pleasure through me. My body shuddered and convulsed around him. He grunted and pulled out only to thrust back inside me. His long, careful penetration exhilarated me. My hands clutched the sheets and I arched my back so my breasts pressed against his chest. I longed for us to become one, to know each other in the most intimate way possible. He penetrated me again and again. Each thrust was a little faster than the one before. Every slide of him against me sent shivers of pleasure through me. I clutched myself to him and he pressed me to the sheets. My instincts took hold so that my hips mimicked his thrusts. The room filled with the sounds of our heaving and grinding. Our wet, naked bodies slid against each other. The sweet friction grew stronger inside me. I gasped for breath as he grunted and growled. He was like an animal, and my pleasure was his prey. He sought to bring out of me such delicious, sinful desire. I reveled in the feel of such lust, such passion. My insecurity, my shyness was swept aside by this powerful need to pleasure and be pleasured. “My laird. Oh, my laird,” I chanted as one would chant to their god, for he was that to me. My god of love, of passion, of this burning desire inside me. “Louder,” he growled. His voice was husky, thick and deep, like that of him inside me. I tilted back my head and did as my laird bade me. “My laird!” I cried out. I abandoned all goodness and sanctity that had been taught me. There was only us, and in our carnal desire there was no need of religion. “My God! My Heaven! Take me! Make me yours!” “Yes,” he snarled. He thrust harder into me. I clutched onto him as our love-making changed to a wild rut. We were as animals, wild beasts that reveled in the act of procreation. His grunts grew deeper. They were more like the growls of a dog or wolf. The colors in his eyes changed to a passionate gold like the untamed autumn in the valley. He wrapped his arms around me and panted in my ear. “Mine. All mine,” he growled. I shuddered at such a deep, wild, possessive tone. My body ached for this man, this wild beast, to tame me and give me the wondrous breath of life that was orgasm. I was his mate and he my dominant, my laird, my everything. “Please!” I begged. I hardly knew what my delirious mind thought as words not my own poured from my mouth. “Please take me! Make me as you are!” My laird lay over me as some demon possessed. His eyes were yellow and his teeth were long. His tamed hair was now an unruly mess that fell over his shoulders like a mane. He curled his lips back in a grin that showed off his rows of sharp fangs. “You will be.” He leaned down and bit my shoulder. I gasped and clutched onto him as he thrust faster into me. My body fell into the ruins of delirious passion, and my soul with it. I shook and shivered as all the world faded into black. For a moment there was only we two, but that, too, faded until I knew no more. A note from Mac Thanks for downloading my book! Your support means a lot to me, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to entertain you with my stories. If you’d like to continue reading the series, or wonder what else I might have up my writer’s sleeve, feel free to check out my website, or contact me at mac@macflynn.com. Want to get an email when the next book is released? Sign up here for the Wolf Den, the online newsletter with a bite! Continue the adventure Now that you’ve finished the book, feel free to check out my website for the rest of the exciting series. Here’s also a little sneak-peek at the next book: * * * Highland Moon #2: I awoke as though in a dream. I imagined I lay in my father’s strong arms, and he carried me through a dark forest like those that stood at the far end of the farthest hay fields. “A lady shouldn’t need to walk,” he teased me. “But I am not a lady. . .” I murmured. He smiled down at me and his face changed. No longer was he my father, but the young Laird Campbell. The world around us, too, changed. The forest melted away and was changed to the dark halls of Castle Campbell. “You will be,” he promised me. My eyes widened, and the dream vanished. I lifted my head and looked around me in bewilderment. Gone was the laird’s strong arms, and in their place was the cold, hard floor of the passage outside my room. I lay atop the rough dirt and cool stones beside the open door. Mary still was asleep on her bed of straw. I looked to the kitchen. The light from the old man’s candle was gone. There was only darkness and the quiet of the early morning. Someone stirred in their room, and a sudden fear struck my heart at the chance of being found outside my room. I crawled on my hands and knees into my room and lay still atop my bed. I peeked through my lidded eyes and glimpsed Aili pass by with candle in hand. She paused at our door and frowned as she studied the opening. Aili quietly pushed the door shut, and the candlelight beneath the door disappeared down the hall. In a few moments I heard the sound of the fire damper open and a curse from Aili. “Blasted cold mornings. . .” she muttered. Her footsteps returned to the passage, and in a moment there came a ringing of metal upon metal. “Come along, you soft women! Time to get up!” The other women shuffled from heir small rooms and I behind them. They rubbed their tired eyes and glared at Aili. “Can we not wait for the sun?” one of our number mumbled. “Not when there’s guests to be taken care of!” Aili snapped. She caught my eyes and jerked her head over her shoulder. “You’ll be wanted in the hall with the other chamber maids.” I bowed my head and hurried past her through the door. The dining hall was dark and quiet, much like it had been in my strange night vision, or had it been real? I had some proof for the latter, but the impossibility was to the former. My thoughts still wondered about the previous night when I reached the grand hall. Bean Lyel stood at the bottom of the staircase with two other young women of my age beside her. There were brooms and empty buckets beside them. Bean Lyel turned to me and frowned. “What kept you?” she snapped. I bowed my head and curtsied. “Forgive me. I did not know the hour to come.” “Five-thirty sharp, and I expect no excuses that you know not the time for the dark hours,” she told me. “Aye, Bean Lyel,” I replied. “Good. Now you’re all to clean the hall this day until I call you to clean the chambers, and whatever you’re to do, don’t make enough noise to disturb the guests,” she ordered us. “Aye, Bean Lyel,” we answered. “Now off with you, and no dawdling,” she finished. She walked up the stairs and we all took a broom in our hands. I followed the lead of the others as they swept the corners and main pathway, and soon a pile of dirt grew between us. One of the women, a lass of eighteen winters, swept up next to me and smiled. She had long brown hair tied behind her and her clothes were as weather-worn as mine. “What is your name?” she whispered. “Muira,” I replied. “I’m Davina,” she told me. Her eyes wandered over my form. “I haven’t seen you before around the castle. Are you new to the area?” I shook my head. “No. I live at the edge of the village.” She laughed. “Near the moors? That does explain your name.” “My mother loves the moors, and my father wished to please her,” I explained. “Oh, don’t mistake my meaning. Muira is a very pretty name,” she insisted. “But how did a moor-child get a spot in the castle of the Nightmare King?” “Hush, Davina,” the other woman hissed. “Nightmare King?” I repeated. “You agree with me well enough in our room, Eva,” Davina snapped at her friend. “But not out here,” Eva pointed out. “Who is the Nightmare King?” I persisted. Davina frowned and jerked her head towards the stairs. “Laird Campbell and his evil doings. I don’t know if the rumors reach outside the castle, but we know well enough his agreements with sorcerers and witches.” “I have heard nothing of this in the village,” I told her. She scoffed. “Then it’s his gold that keeps the ones who know silent, for I know he deals with them. I’ve seen them myself coming and going in the middle of the night.” Eva stopped her sweeping and gripped her broom tight. Her eyes flitted around the room and she cringed. “Davina. . .” she whispered. “Oh hush, Eva. There’s no one here to hear-” We all three of us jumped when a door shut above us. Soft, slow footsteps walked the north wing passage. “To work!” Davina hissed. We resumed our chore, but my curiosity forced me to pause as the footsteps sounded above us. I tilted my head up and my mouth opened as I beheld the same twisted form of a man from the previous night. Even in the weak morning light there was no mistaking the hunched form of Leod. He shuffled along the balcony and stopped where the passages met. Bean Lyel walked out of the west wing passage and let out a startled gasp. She clutched her chest and glared at the man. “What is it, husband?” she snapped at him. I started at this revelation. Bean Lyel was wife to this misshapen man. “The master wants news. . .” I heard him mumble. Bean Lyel’s narrow eyes swept down to the stairs to us. I averted my eyes and resumed my sweeping. “Come with me,” Bean Lyel hissed. Their footsteps retreated down the west wing passage, and in a moment Davina stopped her sweeping and nodded up at the balcony. “You see what I mean now? Such strange servants he keeps, and what he keeps in the north wing I can’t fathom,” she commented. “Perhaps the young laird,” I suggested. Davina furrowed her brow. “His son? He’s been dead for-” Her eyes widened and her mouth was agape. “By all the saints, what if he seeks to return his son from the dead?” “Now you speak nothing but nonsense, and only mean to scare us,” Eva argued. “Does anyone know where the young laird is buried?” I asked the pair. “Much of the family is in the vault in the castle garden, but I have heard rumors of a crypt inside the castle buried deep in the pits of the earth,” Davina told me. “Davina!” Eva scolded her. “What’s this?” Bean Lyel’s voice snapped above us. She strode down the stairs and glared at us each in turn. “Have you nothing better to do then quibble like children? Is the sweeping done.” “Nearly so, Bean Lyel,” Davina assured her. “Then finish and follow me. Our laird has ordered his guests arise early to join him in morning services, and the beds must be turned out and the rooms cleaned before they return,” she ordered us. We finished our sweeping and hurried upstairs behind Bean Lyel. She led us down the west wing passage and to the rooms that had been opened the day before. They were closed now, but the one that faced north opened and Lady Annabel stepped into the hall. She wore a dress of shimmering emerald green and her hair was combed to a shine. Behind her was a servant girl of fourteen who’s head was perpetually bowed. Lady Annabel sneered at us and looked to Bean Lyel. “Bean Lyel, I expect my chamber maids to not be seen.” Bean Lyel pursed her lips, but bowed her head. “Forgive us, your ladyship. It shall not happen again.” “See that it doesn’t,” the lady affirmed. She pushed past us with her woman a few feet behind her. Bean Lyel snapped her hardened eyes to us. “Let that be a warning to you all. If you wish to retain your positions you must keep yourselves out of view of her ladyship,” she warned us. “Aye, Bean Lyel,” we answered. “Now let us begin. Davina and Muira, to her ladyship’s room, and Evanna and I to his lairdship’s room,” she ordered us. We separated into the two groups, and Davina and I slipped into the Lady Annabel’s room. The place was as a pigsty with wonderful clothes strewn about the room and the floor a mess with water, sheets, and soot from an ill-tended fire in the hearth. Davina studied the room and frowned. “It seems she is lady only in birth and not in habits.” She picked up an elegant dress of fine make and shook her head. “I can’t fathom why Bean Lyel would be worried they would return soon from morning mass. Lady Annabel has much to confess to the priest.” “But we have much to clean,” I countered. She dropped the dress and sighed. “Aye, and we’d best be to it.”


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