Authors: Lois Greiman
Tags: #Highland Romance, #Historical, #Highland HIstorical, #Scotland, #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance, #Scottish History
Copyright © 1997 by Lois Greiman
To Janet Wright, who taught me the intrinsic value of wild flowers and tin roofs, who wasn't too busy for horseback picnics and wild bouts of giggling. Thanks for being there for me, Jan. If every child had a big sister like you, the world would be a kinder place.
In the year of our Lord, 1509
“I say we storm Firthport and bring me son home." Dugald MacAulay's eyes blazed as he addressed the room at large.
"Do ye ken where he is kept then?" Roman Forbes remained seated, quiet as the wolf for which he was named.
"Nay! I ken na, but I am na so daft that I canna find me own firstborn. And if the Forbeses are too scairt ta go with me, me and mine will go alone."
"Yer other sons." Leith Forbes nodded as he rose to his feet. He was a big man, even more powerful than the day he had become the lord of his clan. "They are a brave pair."
"Aye." Roderic was seated across the trestle table from Roman. The fire in the great hall glowed bright, making his gold hair shimmer so that he looked the antithesis of his dark-haired brother, Leith. "They wouldna be scairt ta go with ye past the border. Nay." He too shook his head. "They wouldna be scairt ta die for their kin. And who can say? Mayhap they wouldna both be kilt. One might survive with but a few wounds. Fiona," he said, turning to the red-haired woman near the fire.
"Prepare yer herbs. Brave men go ta die because their brother has been smitten by love."
"Love!" Dugald stormed, his face going red. "David does na love an English wench. Tis rather that his wick led him where his head knew better than ta go. Dunna think that I am so daft as ta misunderstand what ye try ta do. Ye would dissuade me from me course, bend me purposes, convince me ta use words when weapons are needed. Ye Forbeses, ye form great alliances, but what good an alliance if ye are ta mild ta fight when a fight is due?"
"Is a fight due, Dugald?" Leith asked, facing his wife's cousin. "Firthport is a far distance and well fortified. Will ye challenge the entire city?"
"Nay!"said MacAulay, gripping the hilt of his sword. "I challenge only Harrington and those that would ally themselves with him. Indeed, I will skewer him ta the wall for the lies he has spewed against me family name."
"Your son did not steal the ring he is said to have taken." Fiona rose slowly from her place near the hearth. She held a babe against her shoulder. Motioning to the child's mother, she passed him over with a hushed word of advice. "We know he does not steal," she said as she approached the men. "But can we know for certain that he does not love?"
"'Tis possible that he has lost his heart ta an Englishwoman," Leith agreed, turning a gentle glance toward his bride of eighteen years. "Such things have been known ta happen. And how would yer David feel if ye kilt the father of the woman who holds his heart?"
"Ahh Gawd," Dugald groaned, scrubbing his face with frustrated vigor. "I canna fight the lot of ye. And I suppose ye are right. 'Tis lucky I be that me David is yet intact and whole, knowing Harrington as I do."
"Ye know him well?" Roman spoke again, assessing information, thinking, planning. His foster parents had not called him home simply for the sake of loneliness. He had been schooled to be a barrister. Diplomacy was his forte. This was just one of many Highland problems he had been asked to resolve. But Fiona and Leith were a formidable pair without his expertise. Few could withstand either their logic or their wisdom.
"Long ago, when Harrington's first wife still lived, he was a friend of sorts ta me auld laird. I was na more than a lad then, but I know him well enough ta say Harrington be a black-hearted devil who would slaughter his own children ta gain his ends. In truth, some say he has done just that," Dugald vowed.
"A necklace is a small price to pay for the life of one's child," Fiona said, settling her warm gaze on Roman. She had called him son long before she had borne her own, long before he had been called the Wolf.
Dugald sighed. "Aye," he said, hefting a small leather pouch. "'Tis but baubles in a bag, I suppose. Still..." He emptied the drawstring purse into his hand. Gems as bright as hope sparkled against his palm. "'Twas the necklace auld MacAulay gave ta his bride. It should have been yers long ago, Lady Fiona."
"It belonged with you at MacAulay Hold," Fiona said. "But had it been mine own, I would gladly give it back to you now."
"Yer generosity has na been overrated, lady," Dugald said. "Still, I am loath ta grant Harrington's demands and give it up for the return of me son, who should have never wandered ta Firthport at the outset."
" 'Tis a bonny piece," admitted Roderic. "Who will take it ta England?"
" 'Tis me own duty and ..." Dugald began, but Leith raised his hand to stop him.
"Visions of Harrington skewered ta the wall might disturb me sleep."
Dugald opened his mouth as if to speak, but paused and finally chuckled. "Yer saying I should na go."
Leith shrugged. "I am saying there are men with cooler heads in this situation."
Dugald turned his gaze from Laird Leith to Roman. "Did ye, perchance, have someone in mind, Forbes?"
"I know ye think I can do na wrong, brother," Roderic said, drawing everyone's gaze to him. "But I fear I am na the man for this ..."
Leith cut him off with a snort. "As if I would ask ye ta leave yer Flame when she is due ta bear yer third bairn. 'Twas all I could manage ta coerce ye ta leave her side for a day."
Roderic chuckled. "If I am na ta be the man of men-" He glanced at Roman as if perplexed. "-then who might it be? Hawk could go, of course, but he will not return from France for some weeks yet. Colin has traveled ta the north. Arthur—but nay, he's still mending. Graham, merely a lad. Andrew..." He shook his head. "It looks as if we'll have ta send one of the women. Roman, saddle a horse, it seems yer mother will be riding ..."
"Methinks yer wit is thinning with age," Roman said, spearing his uncle with a scowl. But that dire expression only made Roderic laugh.
"Yer the man for the task, Roman, and ye well know it," he said. "But ye should learn ta smile, lest the English think all we Scots be so dour."
"The Wolf does na smile," said Dugald, "but he is wise, and mayhap he sees little ta cheer him regarding the capture of me son."
"And mayhap he has yet ta meet the woman who will show him this world is na so sober a place," Roderic countered, eyeing Roman closely.
"Am I forgetting, or did yer own gentle lady take a knife ta ye a fortnight afore yer wedding?" Roman asked.
Roderic chuckled, rubbing his chest as if an old wound nagged him. "When ye've seen some age, lad, ye'll learn that the scars but make the memories the sweeter."
Leith laughed, drawing Fiona into his embrace. Roman watched them. They were his parents by choice if not by birth. He would not fail them.
"Would ye like me ta go in yer stead, Laird MacAulay?" Roman asked, his tone solemn.
Dugald blew out a quiet breath and speared Roman with his gaze. "Laird Leith advises against going meself, and I suppose he is right. Me temper would only find me trouble. But ye ..." He paused. "If the Wolf of the Highlands canna bring me son back alive, there is none that can."
“Betty luv, give me somethin' warm ta remember ya by." The sailor was dressed in typical seafarer's garb. He was young. He held the maid's wrist with a strong hand, though his words were a bit slurred.
The barmaid stood motionless, still holding a pitcher of mulled wine.
Roman Forbes remained immobile, too, silently assessing the drama before him. Watching the girl's face, he thought she might pull away, but instead, she shrugged and stepped closer to the sailor.
"So ya be wantin' somethin' warm?" she asked. Her voice was husky and deep, her neckline just as low, and the sway of her generous hips equally as suggestive.
The sailor's legs fell open as she slid easily between them to seat herself on his lap.
"I'd dearly love to give you somethin' to remember me by," she said. Leaning forward slightly, she granted the room at large a liberal view of her charms. Full, pale breasts threatened to spill over the top of her tightly laced bodice. The sailor swallowed and failed to move his gaze from the soft mounds before him.
"But, I'm a very busy woman, 'andsome," said the maid as she let her knee slip closer to the apex of her captor's legs.
"I'll..." The sailor's voice sounded reedy in the sudden silence. "I'll make it worth your while," he said, and managed to pull forth a coin from a pouch at his side. It winked slyly in the light of the tallow candles.
"Ahh," crooned the girl, glancing at the coin. "So ya brought incentive, did ya, luv?" she asked, leaning closer still, and placing a hand on his chest.
"Aye," he answered, "and my money and my..." He glanced at his attentive companions and managed a grin, though it was shaky. "My
"I'm certain they are," said the maid, slipping her hand slowly down his chest. "And will I get that shiny coin just for a bit of... warmth?" Her fingers brushed his midsection, where laces secured his hose to his open doublet.
The sailor sucked air through his teeth like a man prepared for ecstasy or agony. Even from Roman's position some yards away, he could see the lad pale at the bold touch of the maid's hand. "You'll have the coin ... and more," he vowed.
"Then how can I refuse?" She leaned closer still, until her breasts were mere inches from the sailor's face. The lad's eyes popped. The grin was frozen on his lips. Not a man in the Red Fox drew a breath. Then, grasping the top of the sailor's hose, the maid gave them a tug and tilted the contents of the pitcher onto his nether parts.
There was a moment of stunned silence before the sailor launched himself into the air with a yelp. But Betty had already danced away, the promised coin between her fingers.
The pub exploded with laughter.
"Was that warm enough for ya, Jimmy?" yelled one man.
"That's more heat than I've gotten from 'er," yelled another.
"Would ye sit on
lap for a coin, Betty luv?"
The sailor slowed his wild hopping long enough to stare at her, his mouth and eyes still round with surprise.
The inn quieted.
The maid smiled, holding the coin aloft. "'Tis the going rate for a little warmth," she quipped.
Not a body stirred. In the silence, Roman slipped a hand to the needle-sharp dagger stashed in the garter near his knee. He didn't need trouble. Not now. But a man's wounded pride was as good an excuse for trouble as any.
Nevertheless, the sailor finally grimaced and shrugged, his expression sheepish. "The view was well worth the coin," he said, and seated himself again, though a bit gingerly.
Approval emanated from the crowd. There were cheers, a couple of slaps to the lad's shoulders, and more than a few whistles of appreciation for the free entertainment just provided.
Roman relaxed marginally and slipped his blade back into place. So the lass had outsmarted the sailor and escaped repercussions. It was good, for he had no wish to defend the maid and start a brawl against these Englishmen.
His task was simple enough. He had but to deliver the necklace to Lord Harrington and see David MacAulay returned safely home. With luck, his mission would be complete long before his friend Hawk returned from France and was sent to England to assist him.
Mayhap there would even be time to stop back here for a mug of ale and one more glance at the bonny Betty. Roman's gaze followed her as she turned toward the taproom door, only a few feet from his table. Her hips swayed dramatically as she moved through the crowd. They were generous hips, set below a tightly cinched waist and wide, spilling breasts. Strange, he usually preferred a trimmer form. But she attracted him. Perhaps it was her saucy demeanor. Or perhaps it was her...
"Tits!" said the man from the far side of the table. "God's bones, I'd give half a year's allowance to get my hands on her tits."
Dalbert Harrington—the viscount's only son. Roman had received instructions to meet him here and had disliked him from the moment they had met less than an hour before. It wouldn't take much for his feelings to turn to hatred. But such emotion would hardly aid his cause, he knew, so he nodded as if in agreement and took a sip of whiskey.
"Mayhap 'twould be best if I delivered the goods ta yer father tanight," he said.
Dalbert was silent for a moment. Then he laughed, throwing back his fair head to howl at the smoke-darkened beams of the ceiling. "Christ, man," he said, straightening. "You've just viewed the best tits outside of London and all you can talk about is
I hadn't heard you Scots were such a stiff lot! Or should I say such a
lot?" He laughed at his own double entendre then guzzled down a good portion of his drink before chuckling again. "You should visit me in London, sometime. The whores there would loosen you up."