Authors: Starla Kaye
Annabel squirmed for all she was worth. “Let me up! Right now! You have
right to do this!”
Brodie’s large hand went right on swatting hard against her bottom. Even through the layer of her braies she felt the burning sting getting worse and worse.
“Nay! Ye’ve earned this spanking.” He tucked her closer to his firm stomach where he sat on a boulder with her draped over his lap. His hand rose and fell faster, harder. “Ye’re being foolish and I willna put up with it any longer.”
She wriggled and then hissed at yet another solid Swat! She’d been picking heather and some wildflowers when he’d come upon her. He’d ordered her back to camp. Of course, she’d refused. His patience had disappeared in that instant. He’d spotted a nearby boulder large enough to sit on and dragged her with him to it. He’d given her a chance to change her mind and do as he’d told her. When she’d stubbornly shaken her head and then made the mistake of calling him some colorful names for being so pigheaded about this, he’d announced he was going to spank the very devil out of her. Which he currently was doing.
“I’m perfectly capable of…” Her protest faded away as he sent another rain of bottom-blazing smacks down. The man’s hand was hard as iron.
She arched backward from the pain, kicked her legs. Finally she cried out and hated that probably every man in camp had heard her. How would she ever face them again? “I’ll never forgive you for this! Ooooohhh. Oooowwww!”
“Lie still! Havena ye ever been spanked ‘ere?”
“Of course I have,” she yelped. Her father’s strap was in one of the boxes in the wagon’s bed. It hadn’t been used often in the last year or so, but she was very familiar with its sting. Even her mother had taken her over her knee from time to time over the years to give her a hand spanking.
“Then ye should know enough to take what ye’ve earned.” The smacks seemed to go on and on. It hurt, a lot!
She hit his leg with her fist. “I did
“Aye, ye did. This foolish insistence aboot no’ going with us. Thinking ye can just travel these lands all on yer own. Worrying me.” He smacked her extra hard at that admission. “I’ll no’ have it!”
Suddenly even through her misery she remembered all that he was dealing with, the loss of his memory, his family. She’d lost the last of her family, too. But at least she could get comfort from her memories of them. He didn’t have that. And now he worried about her. As irritated with him as she was about this spanking, she hurt for him. Would it really be such a problem to go with them for now? Mayhap she could find someone in his village to join her in her travels.
“All right,” she said on another hiss and craned her head back to look at him. “I’ll go with you.”
His hand froze in mid-air. “Ye’re no’ lying to me, are ye?” He looked doubtful.
“Nay. I’ll go with you. For now.”
He released her and she immediately wriggled off his lap. Her hands flew back to cover her throbbing bottom. The stubborn, bossy man watched her with no hint of apology. “It’s going to be hard to sit today,” she grumbled. But it was something else she was experienced with: having to sit on the wagon seat while being jostled about on a tender bottom from a sound spanking.
“Ye’ll survive.” He stood, tugged his chainmail hauberk down, and nudged her back to camp.
She continued rubbing her bottom and glanced back at him. “I’m unhappy about this, you know. About being turned over your knee and spanked like a child. I’m
To her surprise, he gave her a hint of a smile and it nearly took her breath away. “Nay, lass, ye’re far from a child.”
The huskiness in his tone made her feel warmth in another place besides her burned bottom. Tingles as well. Feelings she’d begun having this last year when she was near a handsome man. They were something new to her, something she didn’t know how to deal with. But she was pretty sure that she didn’t want to have such feelings for
She walked even faster to put distance between them. Maybe she’d made a bad decision to go with the handsome, gruff Scot and his men.
“Ye’ve a verra nice ass.” He caught up with her and gave her bottom a light swat just before they came upon the camp.
She glowered at him. “Stop that!”
“I’ve a feeling, Anna lass, this willna be the only time I’ll take ye over my knee.”
He escorted her to the wagon where Tavis had already hitched up the pair of horses. Then he lifted her up and planted her on the unforgiving wooden seat.
She gasped at the contact to her tender bottom and shifted awkwardly. It annoyed her that far too many men seemed to be looking in their direction. And far too many of them appeared to be trying to hide smiles.
* * *
“He’s not going to like this bit of news,” said one of the pair of mercenaries hidden in the trees at the top of the hill. “That Henderson died. That the girl’s still alive and now without anyone to hide her.”
“We could have gotten rid of her,” the other man said in disgust. “It was just bad luck that The Devil and his men came across her.”
“I guess we’d better get a message to him. Find out what he wants us to do now.” The taller man walked back to his horse and mounted, shaking his head in annoyance.
The balding man gave a final scowl at the large party heading out into the valley. “He isn’t paying us enough to take on The Devil.”
By the third day when she finally caught sight of Loch Ness, Annabel considered defying the irritable Scottish laird and heading her wagon in the dead opposite direction. With each day they’d gotten closer to his home, his disposition had gotten worse. How did anyone put up with the man? No wonder he’d earned the name “The Great Scottish Devil”! She knew it had been earned on the battlefields, but she thought he could have easily won the name without going anywhere near a battle.
She watched him tenaciously leading the group of fifty plus men and her toward the sprawling Urquhart Castle in the distance. They’d been traveling since before dawn and now the sun was high in the sky. She was hot, tired, and more than ready to stop for a short while. His men were starting to sag in their saddles. Yet the stubborn man didn’t seem to notice anyone’s discomfort. Well, enough was enough.
To the surprise of the dozen men following behind her, Annabel pulled on the reins to slow her team of weary horses. She turned the wagon toward the loch. Her pair of horses immediately drew in the scent of water and headed toward it. If Tavis hadn’t jerked awake from where he sat next to her and helped to pull on the reins, the team might have dragged them and the wagon right into the loch.
“What are ye doing, lass?” Sir Douglas called out in confusion. He had apparently heard the wagon move out of position in the line and trotted back in its direction. A frown creased his forehead.
The men following her reined in as well.
As Annabel eased from the high seat, she noted their relieved expressions and gave them a gentle smile. “My team is tired and thirsty. I’m tired and thirsty. I decided it was time for a rest.”
“Our laird isna going to like this,” Tavis stated and looked warily at the line of riders that were now slowly stopping.
“What does he like?” she said peevishly and then sighed. She went around to unhitch her team of horses and he hurried to help her. “He is
laird, not mine. I’ve had enough of his attitude for the morning. I’m stopping.”
The sound of men dismounting and moaning as they stretched tired muscles drifted over her. They were grateful for the excuse to put feet to ground for a few minutes, even if they couldn’t readily admit it. And she knew, as did they, that they wouldn’t face recriminations from their laird. Their current duty was to watch after her. She’d stopped, which meant they had to as well.
One of her horses grew impatient with her fumbling to free him and shifted his great weight forward. He managed to knock her down to the grass at his hooves. She gave a startled gasp.
The nervous team danced forward until she lay between them, looking up in horror, not even breathing.
Within the space of the next second, every one of the men “guarding” her, plus Tavis and Douglas, had surrounded the horses to take control of them and the wagon. Still, the beast shifted uneasily at the sudden mass of men.
As she tried to scramble away, her tunic’s sleeve caught on a stick half hidden in the grass and half under one of the horse’s hooves, trapping her. She struggled to get free. Her movement made the horse even more anxious. One of his heavy legs raised, all set to come down on her chest. Her eyes widened in dismay and she tugged harder on her sleeve.
A couple of the men had noticed her predicament and started toward her. And then they were shoved aside as she heard a familiar, annoyed growl. Before she could do more than glance up, Brodie reached down and jerked her to safety.
Those same determined hands pulled her to her feet and spun her around. Silence, except for heavily breathing horses eager to get to the water, fell over the area. But the fierce expression on Brodie’s face spoke loudly.
His furious bellow quickly followed. “What were ye doing, ye crazy womon?” He still held her upper arms, squeezing so tightly she’d have bruises later. His eyes looked somewhat wild.
“I couldn’t get the last of the—”
To everyone’s surprise—certainly hers, he cut off her explanation and threw his arms around her. For but a second she felt squashed. Even through his chainmail hauberk and her tunic she felt his heart pounding against her. When he apparently realized what he was doing, he released his hold and moved quickly back. The red of embarrassment peeked beneath his beard-stubbled face.
“Do no’ ever again do such a foolish thing!” He turned back toward his massive horse that he’d abandoned only a few feet away. “Ye’ve slowed us down with this nonsense.”
The silence around them became even more strained.
Annabel noticed his men, including Douglas, looked uneasy. Their laird’s worsening attitude, his constant bellowing, his impatience was alienating him from them more with each passing day. If she didn’t know the frustration he lived with, she’d have ridden off in another direction by now. But his inner pain called to her soft heart. Although at the moment, she felt more annoyance than any kind of sympathy.
She gave a calming smile at the men nearby and then marched right after him. He was reaching for his reins to mount when she stepped right behind him. “It wasn’t as if I planned for that to happen. Nor did my horse plan to knock me down and then trample me. ‘Twas an accident.”
He faced her, glowering down, though she noted the worry in the depths of those moss green eyes. “I dinna call fer us to stop here.”
Rolling her eyes, she reached for her shrinking patience with him. “My horses are thirsty and need a few minutes of rest.” She started to say his men needed a rest, too, but instead said, “I needed a bit of rest.”
Irritation simmered within him, but he slid his gaze over her. Finally, his shoulders slumped and he gave a curt nod. “Verra well.” He looked toward the men waiting uncertainly around her wagon. “Water yer horses and see to yer personal needs. But we ride agin in ten minutes.”
The men who had been riding ahead with him had returned in concern. He gave them the same abrupt order. Without another word to her, he led his own horse toward the loch.
She stood there for a few seconds, watching him walk away, wanting to go to him and shake him good. Instead she blew out a breath and then set a path for a small stand of trees and thick bushes well away from the rest of the men to take care of her personal needs. She also needed a bit of time to calm down. Normally her disposition was sunny; normally it took much to irritate her. But her father’s untimely death had not only been hard to deal with, but also she’d gotten stuck under the unwanted guardianship of The Devil. At least for the time being. As soon as she could manage it, though, she would leave Urquhart and the far too handsome, far too brooding man behind her.
Feeling better now, she stepped out of the bushes and studied the loch and the surrounding gently rolling, grass-covered hills. Here and there she saw the patches of gorse, the spiny evergreen shrubs with yellow flowers so common in this part of Scotland. She would pick some before she traveled out of the area again and add it to her food supplies. She could use it to make tea, possibly sell it for wine making. Her ma had taught her what plants to watch for on their travels. Her da had continued teaching her what to look for as they journeyed between villages.
Her da. She’d tried not to think about him these last couple of days, tried to keep her pain buried. But suddenly tears streamed down her face. Her legs gave out and she crumpled to the grass. The awful pain of loss ravaged her. She shook with silent sobs and covered her face with trembling hands.
For the second time in less than a half hour, strong arms moved around her. She hadn’t even heard his approach. Yet Brodie knelt beside her and gently offered her comfort. He stroked a big hand over the back of her head and simply let her cry.
It took her a few minutes before she found the strength to stop her tears, to contain her misery, and to ease away from him. Her voice was husky as she mumbled, “I’m sorry.”
“’Tis I who should be sorry,” Brodie said, giving her one of his rare gentle looks. “Ye’ve been suffering in silence. Ye’ve needed to weep yer womon’s tears and grieve. Ye’ve been verra brave, Anna.”
Anna? She blinked away the rest of her tears. He’d said the nickname only her father had occasionally called her, and Brodie had said it with such tenderness. She nearly cried all over again because it was so unlike this big, fierce warrior. Now he looked so uncomfortable, as if he didn’t know how to deal with his moment of gentleness.
Once again her heart ached for him. He put up such a tough front, not wanting anyone to see how much he suffered. Yet all around him knew. Fortunately he didn’t appear to be aware that they did. She knew he would not like anyone’s sympathy.