Authors: Starla Kaye
She gave him a smile and stood, with his help. “Thank you for your patience with me, Lord Urquhart.”
A grimace crossed his face before he turned her back toward where the men were gathered waiting for them. “I have driven everyone hard to get back here, I know this. There is jist much fer me to deal with, and soon. Matters I put off to go to Middleham and seek out my…Maggie.”
They walked awkwardly together and she fought the desire to reach back and take his hand, to offer him some kind of comfort. “At least your sister is well and settled.” One night as they’d shared sup around a campfire, he had briefly told her about Maggie and Nicholas, and some of what his sister had gone through. “Now you can deal with your other matters.”
He stopped for a second, stood stiffly, and then boldly admitted, “I have put off going to claim an English bride betrothed to me by King Edward. I should have done so upon my return to Urquhart after the Crusade.”
An English bride? She should not be surprised by the news. Edward had been working hard to match his English lords with Scottish brides and betrothing Scottish lairds with English ladies. She was fortunate that she fell far below Edward’s concerns and even farther below any social ranking he wished to protect.
She was free to marry whoever might ask her, should she desire the match. Until lately, though, she hadn’t really longed for marriage, a man to love her, a home to call her own. Until lately… Until meeting Brodie. A man she should never be drawn to, but was. A man she could never have, but wanted.
She swallowed down the pain of sorrow and hopelessness. She definitely needed to find someone she could accept to travel with her in the tinker trade and put much distance between her and Brodie.
Interrupting her painful musings, he said, “But I dinna even ken myself. I dinna ken my home, or my people. I thought it wrong to bring a wife into my muddled mess. I hoped by now…”
He blew out a breath of frustration and looked toward the castle in the distance. “I still ken none of it ‘Tis time I accept I will niver have my memories back.”
She desperately wanted to touch him, take some of his pain away, but she couldn’t touch him. “It could still happen.”
The sadness in his eyes tore at her. The resignation in his tone hurt even more. “’Tis doubtful after all these months. ‘Tis time I continued with my life…with my new life. I will send fer Lady Stonewall, rather than go to fetch her.”
* * *
Two days and much frustration later, Brodie went in search of Annabel. He’d meant to talk to her earlier, right after he’d caught her talking in secret with Tavis not long after they’d broken their fast together in the great hall. But Douglas had come to him with some matters he needed to discuss. In the mean time, Brodie’s irritation had only grown.
He spotted her walking away from talking to yet another of his men, most of who had seemed to become far too friendly with the pretty little lass. She’d been trying to sneak around and find someone to travel with her as a tinker. None had agreed as yet, as far as he could tell. But he was starting to fear that mayhap the whole lot of them would grow tired of their grumbling laird and go with her. He didn’t need this problem, certainly not a mass mutiny. He’d told her only yesterday to stop this nonsense, to leave his men alone. Well, now he would reinforce his feelings on the matter. With the flat of his hand.
“Annabel Henderson,” he called out as she headed for the paddocks. “I want to talk to ye.”
She barely glanced over her shoulder at him. “I’m going to check on my horses. Mayhap later.”
Brodie walked by a couple of soldiers coming from the keep, noted their amused looks, and scowled at them. They hurried toward the other men practicing in the far bailey. Annoyed at her trying to avoid him, much as she’d been doing ever since their arrival at Urquhart, he hurried after her.
Her eyes widened in surprise. “Don’t you have duties to attend to?” She moved farther away from him.
“Aye, I do. I’ve something to deal with first, though.” He grabbed her forearm. “Something involving ye.”
She attempted to pull free, but he held tight. He dragged her with him to the far corner of the stable. She tried to dig in her slippered feet as they went, but he was determined. She snapped at him to “Stop!” but he refused to listen. When he found a short stack of wood, he sat down and before she could even think of protesting. He drew her facedown over his lap. The sight of her wriggling bottom covered by the first dress he’d seen her in distracted him.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she hissed, trying to push her way up.
The sharp Smack! of his hand settled her down for a second. “I’m going to burn yer butt, lass. Ye’re jist lucky I’m only spanking ye, not leathering ye with a strop.”
“Stop this!” She slapped at his leg. “You cannot spank me. I’ve done nothing—”
He sent his hand crashing down again and she yelped. “Ye’ve been sneaking around behind my back, talking to my men, trying to steal one away.” He smacked her again several times.
“I haven’t been sneaking around.” She tried to push up off his lap again.
“Aye, ye have.” He swatted her several more times, hard. “I’ll no’ have ye flirting with my men, tempting them to go off with ye.” Just the thought of her flirting with any of them filled him with fury.
“I haven’t flirted with anyone!” She craned her head back to frown at him. “I need to leave here. I’m expected at villages all throughout the Highlands before winter. I can’t stay here.”
“Ye’re no’ taking any of my men. And ye’re no’ going off on yer own.” He picked up the hem of her gown and shoved the fabric over her back. The sight of her bare bottom had him sucking in a breath. “We’ve talked about this already.” Then he flattened his palm against her creamy buttocks.
“Owww!” She squirmed even harder. “You can’t do this! It’s wrong. It’s indecent.”
Brodie didn’t care about decency at the moment, although seeing her bare bottom over his lap was playing havoc with his cock. It swelled as it pressed against her side. It ached to drive into the warmth of her sweet body. Frustrated even more, he spanked her steadily, solidly.
She wriggled about, kicked up her legs, and hissed in pain. But she didn’t cry out. Finally, when he saw how red he’d made her bottom and the tops of her thighs, he stopped. He was tempted to smooth his hands over the heated buttocks, to soothe away some of what he’d done. He didn’t. Couldn’t. Instead he pulled down her gown and set her on her feet.
Annabel’s hands immediately swept back to rub her bottom. She glared at him through tear-filled eyes. “Why do you insist upon making me stay here? I’m not one of your responsibilities.”
She wasn’t and he knew that, yet he worried about her. He stood. “Yer da would no’ have wanted ye off traveling aboot the country on yer own. Ye’ll stay here until I find ye a suitable husband to go with ye.”
She blinked at him in astonishment. He was surprised himself. But now that he’d said it, he would stand behind his decision. She would only leave here after he found a man he’d trust with her.
Still rubbing her sore bottom, she snapped, “It is not up to you to find me a husband. And you know nothing of what my father would have wanted.”
He tilted his head, studied her for a second. Something was there at the edge of his memories. Something about her? Something about her father? When he couldn’t pull in that memory, he growled in frustration, “Do no’ fight me on this, lass. I will protect ye anyhow I can.”
He stormed away before he did something really foolish, like pulling her into his arms. Ever since he’d held her near the loch while she’d cried in grief over the loss of her father, he’d longed to do so again. She’d felt so good against him, so soft, so warm. But he couldn’t touch her in that way ever again. He was betrothed. He needed to send for Lady Stonewall before this situation became even more complicated.
Annabel watched him walk away, rubbed her bottom, and felt even more determined to leave as soon as she could. He was far too comfortable with pulling her over his knee for a spanking. Yes, she might have had this one coming because they had talked about the subject. She’d agreed not to speak to his men about needing help, but she hadn’t found any of the village men agreeable to what she needed. She was getting desperate. Especially now that he’d not just spanked her—which was bad enough—but he’d bared her bottom. It had certainly hurt. But the touch of his hand on her bare skin had also sent shivers through her, had built warmth as much inside her as it had outside. Not good. Not at all.
She stared after him. He was so big, so handsome, and so broody. She’d never liked moody, sad men before. Brodie Durward, though, drew her as no other man ever had. She wanted to take away his pain, wanted to soothe him…wanted to feel him moving against her. She sighed, okay, she wanted to feel him moving inside her, even if she’d only overheard the occasional young woman talking about such naughty things and had no experience herself.
Rubbing her bottom a final time, she shoved the thoughts aside. They were not meant to be together. He was betrothed and she needed to remember that. Maybe all she needed was a husband, just as he’d said. Maybe she should let him find her one. She’d give him a month, unless she found another solution to her problem. But one way or another she was leaving here soon.
* * *
“Find her. Kill her.” Alastair Sutherland stared across the tavern at the two men he’d hired to follow the Hendersons. They’d come to where he’d agreed to meet them this day by arrangement a fortnight ago. When they’d told him about Dougal Henderson dying, he’d at first felt great relief. After all these years his problem had gone away. But then they’d told him the daughter—The Problem—lived. And she’d gone off with Brodie Durward, of all people.
The balding man, Darach, shook his head. “She’s under the protection of The Devil. You’re not paying us enough to tangle with the likes of him.”
Alastair threw his mug of ale across the dark tavern, unconcerned with the startled looks from the few other patrons. He planted his hands on the scarred wooden table in front of his worthless mercenaries and narrowed his eyes. “If the two of you are too cowardly to go to the village of Drumnadrochit near there, then find someone who will. Or find someone who will fake allegiance to the great Lord Urquhart and go into his very castle grounds. I do not care what you do, but do something!”
The taller man who’d done little talking until now, Colin, met Alastair’s gaze. “I might know of a man who would pledge allegiance as a knight of Urquhart.”
“See to it, then. I want to hear of her death within a fortnight.” Alastair lowered his voice even more menacingly. “Do I make myself very clear?”
At their nods of agreement, he turned and left the tavern. If the fools couldn’t handle the problem, he’d go after her himself.
* * *
He couldn’t sleep. Brodie’s head had started throbbing not long after he’d dealt with Annabel in the paddock. Something kept nagging at him, kept trying to break through the wall holding back his memories. He hated feeling so helpless, so weak. Everyone around him had nearly reached the end of their patience with him and he knew that. He owed them all a great deal for sticking by him. Someday he would find a way to make it up to them.
Even though it was still dark outside, probably barely even the middle of the night, he climbed from his bed. He paced naked around his bedchamber, feeling like a trapped animal. Finally he couldn’t stay there any longer and wrapped his kilt hurriedly around his body. He tugged on his low boots and strode from the room.
The hallway was dimly lit by the few torches. He would go down and find some ale. Maybe if he got drunk enough, he could numb the thoughts that tortured him. The fears of never being a whole man again.
He’d nearly reached the stairs leading down from the second floor of the keep when he heard quiet sobbing. He froze, going on alert. Then the sobs turned into harder cries, like wounds from the soul. Annabel’s cries. He should go on about his business, leave her alone. Yet he couldn’t do it.
Reluctantly, he turned to the first bedchamber and tapped lightly on the door. She didn’t answer, just kept crying.
He tapped again and this time she mumbled tearfully, “Go…go away.”
Instead he opened the door. He found her standing in front of one of the narrow windows, wearing a chemise that seemed transparent as the moonlight enveloped her small form. Her whole body shook from the depth of her misery and her heartbreaking sobs.
“Go…go away,” she protested in a tiny voice.
Brodie didn’t have the strength to do it. He left the door open and walked over to her. Without a word, he spread his arms and, without a word, she stepped into them. He felt her slender arms slide around him. She laid her head against his bare chest and her tears trailed down her cheeks and down his chest. He inhaled her woman’s scent.
It was difficult, but he held her for a long time, lightly stroking her back, offering what comfort he could. Finally, her sobbing ceased. She remained snuggled against him and his body longed for intimacy, ached to drive inside her. He drew on strength he didn’t know he had and continued to just hold her.
“I miss him so much,” she said in a whisper filled with such pain. ““Tis so hard to go on. Alone.”
She didn’t seem to notice that his cock had hardened into a pole and pressed against her. Thank God. He did his best to ignore it. “Ye are no’ alone, Anna. I will look after ye.”
Her small body shuddered. “You have troubles of your own, Brodie. I cannot add to them.”
The problems he had were indeed overwhelming, seemed to grow more with each passing day. He gently patted her back. “I will help ye, lass. Somehow.”
They stood there, wrapped around each other, for more long minutes. Finally she broke the tension-filled silence. “I want you, Brodie.” She said the words so quietly he thought he might have imagined them. And then she carefully rubbed against his aching cock. “You want me, too.”
He sucked in a breath, tried not to rub back against her, but he couldn’t help himself. “Aye, I do,” his voice was thick with need.