Wed
Sep 13 2017 12:07pm

Kerrigan Byrne Excerpt: The Scot Beds His Wife

Kerrigan Byrne

The Scot Beds His Wife by Kerrigan Byrne

They’re rebels, scoundrels, and blackguards—dark, dashing men on the wrong side of the law. But for the women who love them, a hint of danger only makes the heart beat faster.

Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne, is a notorious Highlander and an unrelenting Lothario who uses his slightly menacing charm to get what he wants—including too many women married to other men. But now, Gavin wants to put his shady past behind him...more or less. When a fiery lass who is the heiress to the land he wishes to possess drops into his lap, he sees a perfectly delicious opportunity...

A marriage most convenient.

Samantha Masters has come back to Scotland, in a pair of trousers, and with a whole world of dangerous secrets from her time spent in the Wild West trailing behind her. Her only hope of protection is to marry—and to do so quickly. Gavin is only too willing to provide that service for someone he finds so disturbingly irresistible. But even as danger approaches, what begins as a scandalous proposition slowly turns into an all-consuming passion. And Gavin discovers that he will do whatever is necessary to keep the woman he has claimed as his own...

Get a sneak peek at Kerrigan Byrne's The Scot Beds His Wife (available October 3, 2017) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.

A Note from Kerrigan: In order to hide from her enemies, Samantha Masters swapped identities with Scottish heiress, Alison Ross. In exchange, she has only one job, to keep Alison's estate—Erradale—and it's lucrative cattle out of the relentless hands of the Mackenzie clan. Gavin St. James, a Mackenzie heir, wants Erradale with a passion, but he wasn't ready for Samantha—now living as Alison—to be so capable, so stubborn, or so irresistibly tempting.

CHAPTER FOUR

If Alison Ross planned to stand in his way, then Gavin decided he’d do whatever it took to get her on her back. Beneath him.

In his infamously extensive experience with women, he’d found that denial of desire, more often than not, increased the pleasure of the final effect.

Not, however, in this fucking case.

Acquiring Erradale wasn’t merely his pleasure, nor was it a flippant desire, it was a necessity.

Which was why he didn’t consider himself above orchestrating what should have been a simple gambit on a persistent interloper. He and his footman had planned Miss Ross’s arrival and immediate departure over a shared snifter of brandy, drunkenly naming their maneuver “the swoon and scoop.”

Had everything gone according to plan, the spoiled socialite would have arrived at the tiny station on what must seem to her the edge of the civilized world—a place she’d previously insisted she had no desire to visit—and she’d instantly be robbed. The little scamp would grab a bit of her hand, along with the bag or valise or whatever she used for her feminine incidentals, and tug hard enough to topple her into Gavin’s strong, waiting arms.

Thus terrorized, the poor lass would decide the Highlands were too desolate and too dangerous for a young, lonely city dweller such as herself, and she’d be a great deal more susceptible to her handsome white knight’s tremendously generous offer.

He’d rescue her from a millstone property, and she’d be the grateful damsel.

Well, he was certainly paying the price for one gigantic assumption.

The lass was no damsel.

He’d prepared himself for a hard sell, one that might require a few extra knee-weakening smiles, perhaps so much as a seduction, but he’d never in a million years expected the disaster that landed his arms.

The disaster named Alison Ross. Light as a feather, she was, and devastating as a tornado. All long limbs and electric eyes.

The moment his arms surrounded her, his body had responded in a way completely antithetical to his purpose. And suddenly, all his hands could do was find ways to keep themselves attached to her.

He was supposed to be seducing her with all the practiced calculation he’d garnered over decades. So … why in the name of all the bloody Scottish saints had he been the one with the unsteady knees?

Because he wanted her—no, Erradale—he wanted Erradale. So fucking much.

That had to be it.

Once, whilst traveling in the Orient, Gavin had supped with a monk who’d told him that desire was at the root of all suffering.

Gavin had scoffed at the idea at the time.

Now, with his every desire within reach, yet thwarted by a smart-mouthed American chit, he was beginning to believe the monk had the right of it.

After the infuriating encounter at Strathcarron Station, it had taken him only two minutes of exasperated calculation to concoct a stratagem as to how, exactly, he’d approach his erstwhile neighbor to the north.

The two days in which he’d deemed it essential to wait passed with all the alacrity of eternity.

But certainly not because he wanted to see her again.

Miss Ross, tiny as she was tempestuous, would be hungry by now, he surmised as he allowed Demetrius, his shire steed, to pick his own lazy way along the Alt Bàn-ghorm, the river separating Inverthorne lands from Erradale. The shallow tributary’s name literally translated to Light Blue River, thus deemed for the uniquely colored stones beneath the crystal stream.

Gavin found himself appreciating the shade in a way he’d not done before, as it conjured to mind the singular hue of Alison Ross’s clear, impertinent gaze.

An unbidden smile touched his lips as he pictured the brash American heiress losing a great deal of her self-assurance once she’d crested Gresham Peak, as he did now, and truly beheld her legacy.

He’d have given his eyeteeth to carry the treasured memory of her distress.

Erradale Estate was little more than an aged, one-story manor home amid a gathering of crofter’s cottages and a lone, dilapidated stable. The buildings were scattered like chaotic white marbles on a lush carpet of wintry, amber-green grass. Aside from Gresham Peak, only very gentle hills interrupted the wide swaths of open moors stretching west and north until black stone cliffs abruptly crumbled into the sea. Ominous clouds, pregnant with a looming storm, huddled together over the distant Hebrides, and made their leisurely way toward the mainland on a biting breeze.

To a spoiled American raised in the garish and gold-rich city of San Francisco, California, it must have seemed like the loneliest, chilliest corner of perdition.

To Gavin, it was paradise.

It was home.

However, the only places to find markets or supplies were at the Rua Reidh fishing village to the north, or Gairloch to the south. No fishmongers or butchers lined this abandoned stretch of coast, and there was no staff to send on supply errands. Alison would have found the fireplaces cold and the woodstores and larders long empty.

She’d not been to Gairloch to collect supplies—he’d have heard about it—and he highly doubted she could navigate Rua Reidh, as the people of that village held fast to their ancient Pictish ways and were still famous for summarily refusing to speak English.

Even Callum—widely considered a local despite his Irish father—rarely ventured there.

As far as Gavin knew, two old ranch hands named Calybrid and Locryn occupied one of the dilapidated cottages. Then there was Callum, who tended to lurk by the Dubh Gorm Caves, where the cliffs gave way to a very narrow beach carved by the crystalline river.

These notably reclusive men made up the sum of society for miles in any direction. They hunted, trapped, or fished their food, and it wasn’t bloody likely the lass was equipped for any such deed.

Wee Alison Ross didn’t have an extra store of healthy weight anywhere on her scrawny frame. She’d waste away if she missed so much as a meal. Lord, he remembered thinking he’d not seen a lass so thin since he’d been to London. So delicate. Nay, maybe not delicate, but he’d spent more time than he’d like to admit wondering how such a large force of will could be contained by such a weak frame.

He’d had the ridiculous urge to measure the circumference of her arm against his wrist. One angry Highland sea gale and she’d be tossed into the ocean like a leaf torn free of its branch.

Were all her limbs so long and delicate as her arms and swanlike neck? As she’d stood against him, casting aspersions in front of God and all Highland travelers, he’d realized his one hand could completely span that elegant throat.

Meeting her at the train station dressed in his finery and accompanied by those who could facilitate their trade had been considered a courtesy on his part.

One extended at great expense.

Apparently, what the lass lacked in brawn she more than made up for in pluck. That, added to the ax her family had to grind with his, made for a shocking failure of negotiation.

Gavin had long since given up cursing his father. The man had been dead nigh as long as hers. Besides, he’d learned long ago that if he took his hatred out to examine it, it wanted to smother every façade Gavin had worked so hard to construct.

And that just wouldn’t do.

Not when he was so close to getting what he wanted.

As he descended into Erradale, Gavin murmured a line from Shakespeare that had stayed with him since the dark winter days he’d spent hiding from his father in the library. “’Tis best to weight the enemy more mighty than he seems.”

Or she, as was this particular case.

He’d underestimated Alison Ross. Though she’d been draped very well, he’d noted her dress had been premade and altered, rather than sewn for her distinctive measurements. Tall, she was. And slim, but not without the distinctive curves branding her a woman.

He might be a Scot, but he was no philistine.

Perhaps she hadn’t the wealth he’d been led to believe. He’d have to look into that. Fiscal desperation could be a weapon added to his arsenal.

Also, he’d not been too astonished by her uncouth vitriol to notice the dark smudges painted by exhaustion beneath her startlingly large eyes. Or the pallor of her skin beneath golden freckles. When she’d not been angrily squaring off with him, her shoulders tended to curl forward, as though burdened beneath a Sisyphean weight.

That had to be why she’d seemed inured to his charm. Hadn’t it? Every woman from eight to eighty, even the happily married ones, took a very obvious moment to simply appreciate his pulchritude in one way or another. They’d cast him furtive glances beneath coy lashes when they didn’t think he’d notice. Or they’d stare outright, their appreciative gazes roving from his lush hair and sculpted features, to every one of his thick bones upon which the famous Mackenzie brawn bunched and bulged in ways that sent their fans to fluttering.

Alison Ross … She only ever looked him in the eyes. Like he was more than his uncommonly well-made parts.

Like she considered him as a man, not merely a conquest or lover.

Had he been mistaken when he’d interpreted a spark of appreciation beneath her scorn?

When the uncouth lady had all but stumbled away from him, Gavin calculated that he’d have to use a completely different advance to achieve his aspiration.

As a slight and fragile woman, her tattered condition certainly wouldn’t improve upon her arrival at Erradale. He’d warned her that she’d be afforded no staff, servants, or creature comforts to speak of in her father’s abandoned home.

According to Callum, to whom he’d spoken yesterday, she’d barely left the manor for nigh on two days, and had made no move to acquire aid.

She had to be starving and desperate, subsisting on whatever tins she might find in a cupboard, or the dubious survival skills of two harmless but essentially useless old goats.

Which is where he came in.

Instead of the illustrious Earl of Thorne, handsome, charming, and intimidating in both stature and symmetry, he’d approach Miss Ross as simply Gavin. Handsome, charming, and solicitous neighbor, paying a call to deliver both contrition and sustenance.

He’d eschewed a waistcoat or cravat, deciding instead to dress informally in only trousers, riding boots, his shirtsleeves—purposely left open a few rebellious buttons—and a vest beneath his long wool coat.

He’d brought Trixie along as an emissary, his adorable and endlessly friendly—if a bit daft—sheepdog, and a basket of perishables that would keep the starving woman fed.

But not for long enough to stay.

“Och, poor lass,” he’d say upon finding her listless, cold, and beleaguered.

The scent of Cook’s fresh bread and flaky sausage boxties would tantalize her into allowing him in—as he couldn’t very well rely on any well-bred manners where she was concerned—and once he’d crossed the threshold …

She didn’t stand a chance.

He almost felt sorry for her. Almost.

Like most Highlanders, Gavin had tended to admire and bed lasses with feminine curves and soft, secret places. Alison Ross seemed all bones and bawd. Though he couldn’t deny a passing curiosity about kissing a tall woman he wouldn’t have to bend in half to reach.

And, if he recalled correctly, her lips might have been soft, if she’d not been pursing them with distaste at him.

Nay, she was not his typical mistress, but neither could he say that any part of her was unattractive.

So, he could fuck her if he had to.

He’d do what it took to get the papers signed.

He’d be whatever she needed, savior, father, brother, friend, or, hopefully, lover.

Nothing would get in the way of what he wanted.

Not that revealing her intriguing daintiness would be much of a chore. Gavin had bedded every different sort of woman he could think of in his six and thirty years. A few of them had been slender, or tall, or brash. But none had been her particular blend of all three. Somehow, that particular blend had kept him up the past few nights, riddled with curious heat.

Better to work that out of his system with a good tup before he charmed her into doing what he wanted and sent her on her merry way.

As he ventured closer to Erradale, Gavin surreptitiously checked the fences and corrals he’d mended over the summer in anticipation of their belonging to him. Once he gathered the cattle against the harsh winter, they’d need a place to be kept. Inverthorne, his land on the south of the peninsula, was covered in a lush forest interrupted by celestial meadows. To call Erradale’s single copse of trees to the immediate north of the estate grounds a forest would be kind. The rest was prime grazing land as far as the scope of a lens could capture.

Gavin scanned the planes of lush greenery, carefully schooling the hunger from his gaze. Perhaps out of practiced habit. Or perhaps because, even when alone, he dare not allow his desire to show, lest someone see it, and know how to punish him.

All was quiet in Erradale, though smoke did drift from the south chimney of the manor, which meant Calybrid or Locryn must have put down their pipes long enough to light her a fire.

No matter, he thought. Firelight was ultimately flattering, and daylight had begun to fade. All the better to seduce her by.

At the sight of movement from the northern tree line, Gavin kicked Demetrius into a canter as more than a dozen rangy, red, long-haired beasts spilled onto the Erradale grounds.

Trixie went mad at the sight, streaking across the lawns in a ball of black and brown frenzy. She vaulted through two corral fences, and barked up to what must have been, to the dog, a congregation of very strange creatures.

Gavin tried to call her back, but she’d never really been smart enough to train.

A confusion of whistles and yells filtered through the trunks of the ancient oaks as startled, hesitant cattle began to balk at the noisy dog, and turn back toward the trees.

Not all of the irate voices were male.

What the devil?

“Hey!” The screamed censure whipped from inside the tree line. “Quit that racket, mongrel!”

If the voice hadn’t identified her, the American accent certainly would have.

Alison?

Stymied, Gavin spurred his horse faster. He’d never heard a woman’s voice so loud and demanding before.

Not outside his bedroom, in any case.

“I said, shut it!” The earsplitting volume intensified as two of the cattle broke from the rest, veering to the west toward the sea cliff. “I’m warning you.”

The ruckus seemed to spur Trixie on, and she made chase after the two wayward cattle, driving them faster in the direction of the cliffs.

The gunshot startled every living creature in Erradale.

Birds broke from the trees with panicked, percussive wing beats. The mangy Highland cattle started, and then trotted forward with renewed vigor, deciding the wee sheepdog was less of a danger than whatever had created such an explosive sound.

Gavin’s own heart stopped beating and his lungs froze.

Had she just … shot his dog?

Trixie gave one astonished yip, then jumped around and barreled back toward him.

A gray horse plunged from the trees. Astride it, a lanky man with a tam-o’-shanter cap covering his mostly bald pate rode for the errant beasts. Calybrid cut them off from their certain demise and steered them back toward the herd.

Gavin cursed every god he could name as shorter, stockier Locryn also emerged from beneath the grasping elms, and joined Calybrid, whooping and hollering as he drove the cattle east toward the makeshift corral.

His fucking corral. The one he’d fucking built with his own fucking hands.

The number of cattle had to be in the twenties now, Gavin marveled as he thundered closer.

Nay. The word repeated through his thoughts in rapid-fire bursts of denial. She couldna possibly have—

All life-giving breath deserted his lungs in a painful whoosh as Alison broke from the tree line.

Astride an impressive dark thoroughbred, she loped behind the jostling herd, pacing back and forth and creating the strangest ruckus he’d ever heard, presumably to keep the stupid beasts moving forward.

Gavin’s brain processed the vision before him with stupefied sluggishness. One detail filled his recently evacuated lungs with thick, sea-salted air as he sucked in an uncharacteristic gasp.

She rode astride. And clad in incredibly strange, incredibly tight blue trousers.

His own trousers tightened, as with each distinctive detail he processed, Gavin marked a lamentable redirection of blood from his head.

By the time his gaze traversed her surprisingly shapely calves, to the intriguing way she seemed to be maintaining her mount with her knees, and along the astonishing length of her slim thigh, his mouth was devoid of moisture.

Jesus kilt-lifting Christ. She might not have made the most pleasant of first impressions upon him, but astride a horse?

She was, in a word, magnificent.

Never in his life could Gavin say he’d witnessed such grace. Alison Ross moved like woman and beast were one. Bent low over her horse, her long dark braid matching the mane she’d clutched in her fingers, she veered from the herd and gave chase after Trixie, who sprinted straight for him, her master.

Och, right. She’d just shot at his dog. If he’d not been so entranced, he’d be furious. Calybrid also cantered toward them, as though he’d only just noticed Alison hadn’t quite holstered her gun.

Bewildered, Gavin slowed as she approached. This was certainly not the wilted lass he’d expected to find. This was … someone else entirely.

Eyes blazing like a Baltic tempest, she let her mount dance beneath her as she drew up in front of him, upsetting Demetrius.

Calybrid approached them, placing his steed between Gavin’s and Alison’s like an intercepting arbiter.

“Whit like, Lord Thorne?” he hailed. “What brings ye to Erradale? Are ye after Callum? He’s in the trees somewhere, helping gather a pregnant heifer.”

Gavin struggled to maintain his nonchalant expression. How in the name of King bloody James had this prickly lass managed to recruit Callum Monahan of all people to do ranch labor?

“Nay,” he replied with a friendly smile. “I’m here to check on my new neighbor.”

From a not-too-distant rise, Callum appeared astride his own black steed, and ambled toward them, tapping at a cow’s rump with a long swish of a willow’s tail.

“She has us well in hand.” Calybrid’s smile revealed several missing teeth as he tapped the wee ball of fluff atop his cap. “Woke us up well and early with fish, potatoes, and leeks torn from the ground over there, and told us she’d give us each a ha’penny for every head of her cattle we help her to scavenge.”

“Did she now?” Gavin lifted a brow that he was pretty certain conveyed that he was impressed rather than surprised. At least, he hoped he did.

She regarded him stonily, allowing the prancing of her horse to convey her tumultuous opinion of him.

The mist had gathered in her lashes, and they clung together in dark spikes. The chill painted her cheeks with color beneath the dim frosting of freckles. Her mouth, tightened into a furious line, quivered slightly, though from chill or temper, it was impossible to tell.

With tendrils of her dark hair escaping the braid and wildly floating about her fierce expression, she could have been the Celtic Queen Bouddica facing General Suetonius.

Gavin had never tried harder in his life not to be impressed.

The sight of her limbs, all but exposed, created a strange, tingling burn behind his eyes that spread to his skull, his neck, trickled down his spine, and landed in his cock.

A drop of sweat beaded from her hairline and trickled down her jaw and neck, running into the open collar of the button-down shirt she’d tucked into those incomprehensively tight trousers.

Gavin swallowed as moisture flooded his mouth.

Adjusting himself in the saddle, he decided her pistol was the safest point of focus, and the smartest, come to think of it.

Finally, she opened that distracting mouth to, no doubt, deliver a scathing censure. But Gavin knew it was prudent to not only have the last word, but to gain the first whenever possible.

“I’d take it as a kindness, Miss Ross, if ye didna shoot at my dog.” He forced all the possible teasing levity he could into his smile, so as to crowd out the ire.

He’d had to learn how to smile, so many years ago. He’d never quite been able to manage it until he realized he could use it as a weapon.

As currency.

Then smiles had come easy, followed by charm, and finally the powers of temptation.

Her blueberry eyes narrowed. “I’d take it as a kindness if you and your mutt would get the fuck off my land.”

The profanity should have shocked him. The disrespect should have angered him. But all he could think was that this had to be the first time he’d ever heard that word from a woman he was not, himself, about to mount. Also, the word seemed to have the same effect on his cock out here on the wintry moors as it did in the bedchamber.

He covered his heart, as though she’d wounded him gravely. “And to think I’d come here with peace offerings to keep ye fed and warm. I suppose I should just count myself lucky that yer shot missed. Are ye hungry, bonny?”

“I neither want nor need a damn thing from you.” Her cool expression turned decidedly arctic, her eyes like chips of ice. “I rarely miss. I didn’t shoot at your dog, I shot over her. While we’re on the subject, you should be glad this isn’t America … I could shoot you for trespassing.”

“Ye can do that here, too,” Calybrid supplied helpfully, the wrinkles branching from his eyes crinkling further with mischief.

She grinned and nodded to him. “Good to know, Cal.”

Cal? Gavin made a face.

Alison pulled back the hammer of her pistol, and aimed it dead center of Gavin’s chest. “I’ve always wondered, do you lordlings bleed as blue as you think?”

Fighting equal measures of arousal and antipathy, he summoned his most charming smirk. “I yield, lass, I yield.” He chuckled. “Since we’re to be neighbors, I come bearing a white flag of … surrender.” He let that insinuation sink in, and noted that her eyes flickered over him for the briefest of moments. She’d caught the seductive double entendre.

And was not immune to it.

Excellent.

“Maybe I can be recruited to help ye gather yer herd.” My herd, he added silently. “And after we’ll share a drink and repast by a fire.”

“What do you know about herding cattle?” she scoffed.

Now that he thought about it … not much. But if she could do it, how hard could it be?

“It would behoove us to get to know each other better, bonny.”

“You’ll call me Miss Ross, or nothing at all,” she spat. “And make no mistake; I know all I need to know about you, Lord Thorne.” The scorn she injected into the word was unmistakable.

Gavin had to fight to keep from squirming. He did have a certain … reputation where women were concerned that certainly wouldn’t help ingratiate him to her. Though how she could have gleaned that information out here in the wilderness was beyond him. It wasn’t like Calybrid and Locryn kept up on gossip, and Callum would never repeat an ill word against him.

“Do ye?” he challenged.

“Sure do. You’re a famously unscrupulous man. A notorious womanizer. A rake who thinks nothing of seducing other men’s wives.”

Gavin surmised this woman was no fool, and to deny it would be folly. Instead, he chose to own his reputation, adopting a look of mischievous contrition. “Well, someone has to, do they not? I doona know many men who seduce their own wives.”

A momentary bleakness crossed her features, a reaction he catalogued and stored for later analysis.

She continued as though he hadn’t spoken. “A jealous second son who’s forced to work at his elder brother’s distillery in order to keep his castle from crumbling around his ears.”

Gavin had to actually stop himself from flinching, as her barb hit a little too close to the mark. He remained studiously impassive. “Ye forgot to mention all the virgins I’ve debauched,” he supplied helpfully.

“Don’t think I don’t know exactly why you want my land,” she forged on, unamused. “But you’re not going to get it. So you can fuck away off any time.”

Her unflinching use of vulgarity struck a chord of endless hilarity in their audience. Gavin had to fight the tremor of amusement that toyed with his own mouth once he recovered from the initial shock.

“Why do ye believe that is, lass?”

“You’re a Mackenzie. They’ve wanted to take this land from the Ross family for generations.”

“What if I told ye I’m no Mackenzie.”

She snorted. “I know better. Everyone knows better.”

“I mean, my father was one,” he admitted. “The Mackenzie Laird, as ye say, and so is my brother, Liam. But I’m in the process of officially emancipating myself from the Mackenzie clan, if that means anything to ye.”

She cast him a wary, bewildered look, her pistol finally wavering beneath the weight of her obvious curiosity. “Why would you do that?”

“The reasons are numerous, and they remain my own, but know that the death of yer father is among them.”

“Oh.” She concealed a flicker of doubt with a blink, but it was the sign of weakness Gavin had been waiting for. And he pounced.

“And so ye see, Miss Ross, selling me Erradale wouldna be giving it over to a foe, but to the enemy of yer enemy … and doesna that make us friends?”

He knew he’d made an error in judgment even before she pointed the pistol in his direction and pulled the trigger.

Calybrid, the old coot, lost control of his mare and she leaped away from them, bolting and bucking a little before he subdued her.

Again, the gunshot shocked everyone. Even Callum, who galloped toward them.

Gavin froze for an unerringly tense moment, searching his body for pain, for a trickle of blood. Remembering to breathe when he encountered neither.

The woman was daft. Mad. A trigger-happy harpy without a lick of sense.

That time I missed.” She pulled back the hammer. “It won’t happen twice. Now get. The fuck. Off. My. Land.”

Gavin had never heard the voice of a woman carry such hard, caustic gravity. “Careful, lass,” he said over the sound of a pulse thundering with the fury that chased away the initial astonishment. “I’m not an enemy ye want to make.”

“I’ve had enemies before.” Her pistol remained locked level with his heart. “And you know what I’ve learned, Lord Thorne?”

He was beginning to hate the way she said his name.

“That it’s those closest to you that you have to beware of,” she continued. “Along with those looking to be your friend when they have no cause but their own.”

Gavin’s eyes met hers and they held. Never once did she look away. Her breath was steady and her gaze clear as Loch Lomond and just as cold.

For once in his life, he had no comeback. No witty retort.

Because the lass was right. He’d learned that selfsame lesson in the most terrible ways possible.

Who’d taught it to her? he wondered. The same person who’d conjured the pain beneath the chill in her glare.

Callum sidled up to them, strategically placing himself in front of her pistol. Beneath his beard, it was hard to tell if he smiled or frowned, but his eerie eyes crinkled a bit at the corners. “’Tis wicked work digging a grave in the Highlands after the night frosts have already set in,” he said mildly, his voice heavy with a disarming Irish lilt.

“Good point,” Alison agreed without inflection. “We’ll just toss him into the sea, then.”

This time, Gavin recognized his oldest friend’s amusement, and his own eyes narrowed.

Callum pretended to weigh the idea. “While your logic is sound, you forget the man is an earl. He’ll be missed.”

“You sure about that?” She cocked a brow.

“Well, by his mother, anyway. She lives with him in yon Inverthorne Castle where my father is stable master.” Callum rolled his broad shoulders hidden beneath an ancient cloak made of sealskin.

She wrinkled her nose and lowered the brow. “You still live with your ma?”

She resides with me,” Gavin snarled. “In my castle.” Why was he explaining himself to this scrawny, loony, altogether vicious wench? He couldn’t remember the last time anyone had angered him like this since …

Well, since his brother.

“Why don’t you let me conduct him back to Inverthorne?” Callum suggested.

“Let ye?” Gavin repeated, aghast.

The Mac Tíre shrugged again. “I’ve been meaning to pay a call to my father.”

Nodding, Alison returned her pistol to its holster. “I catch you on my land again, Thorne, even your mother won’t recognize your corpse.”

She rode away before Gavin’s usually glib, biting wit could summon a retort.

“Ill-tempered wench,” he spat, though he knew the retreating woman couldn’t hear him. Turning, he rode abreast of the Mac Tíre, his mind spinning with new calculations. Never before had he met someone like Alison Ross.

“She’s all right.” His friend waved him off.

Et tu, Callum?” he admonished.

The enigmatic hermit shrugged. “She made me breakfast,” he said by way of explanation. Gavin studied his friend for a moment, noting the way his golden gaze avoided him. There was something the Mac Tíre wasn’t telling him, and he was certain it had to do with the disagreeable Alison Ross.

“One way or another, Erradale will be mine,” he vowed, spurring Demetrius into a gallop. Now was not the time to act rashly, which is what Miss Ross seemed to goad him to do. He needed to think, to scheme, to bide his time because, though bonny Alison Ross had learned to keep both friends and enemies at bay, she’d likely not lived long enough to learn an even more valuable lesson.

To never underestimate the long-suffering fury of a patient man.

***
Copyright © 2017 by Kerrigan Byrne.
***
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Kerrigan Byrne has done many things to pay the bills, from law enforcement to belly dance instructor. Now she's finally able to have the career she'd decided upon at thirteen when she announced to her very skeptical family that she was going to “grow up to be a romance novelist.” Whether she's writing about Celtic Druids, Victorian bad boys, or brash Irish FBI Agents, Kerrigan uses her borderline-obsessive passion for history, her extensive Celtic ancestry, and her love of Shakespeare in almost every story.

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Merry
3. Merry
I'm pretty sure they don't have ranch hands or corrals in Scotland, though the excessive swearing sounds about right!
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