Terri Brisbin, страница 1
Laird Connor MacLerie is ruthless, a fact his wife, Jocelyn, knows all too well—particularly when it comes to arranging marriages for members of his clan. Though they found happiness and passion themselves, Jocelyn had been bought as a bride for Connor herself and doesn’t want to see another woman betrothed without consent. She hatches a matchmaking plot of her own—but it will only succeed if she can tame her Highland husband!
Taming the Highland Rogue
Historical Undone BPA
Broch Dubh Keep
Lairig Dubh, in the west of Scotland
Summer, AD 1370
“There is a thief afoot in Lairig Dubh.”
Connor MacLerie, laird of the clan and Earl of Douran, checked his strongbox again. The lock held even when he tugged on it, proving he had secured it, but he knew it had been moved from the smudges in the dust around it. Connor turned to his most trusted men, Duncan, the man who watched over the extensive financial concerns of the Clan MacLerie, and Rurik, who was responsible for the safety of the clan, in war and in peace. Both men reacted as he thought they would.
“Here? Under our noses?” Rurik asked as he stepped closer to peer over Connor’s shoulder at the box that held all the important documents and records of the Clan MacLerie. Rurik was one of few who was tall enough to make Connor feel short. “Nay, no one enters the keep without my approval.”
“Is anything missing?” Duncan asked, crossing his arms over his chest. Always pragmatic, Duncan raised his chin and studied the lock. “I just reviewed several agreements last week.”
“Nay, not that I can tell, Duncan. Once more they have only just ruffled through them and left everything. Intact.” He’d even asked Jocelyn if any keys had gone missing from her ring, but she’d said not.
Duncan shook his head. “That makes no sense at all. Why bother breaking into the box and taking the chance they’ll be caught if they did not want something from it?”
“Or they did not find what they were looking for?” Rurik asked. “How many times has this happened?” Connor motioned for them to follow him back into the main room of his, and Jocelyn’s, chambers before answering them.
“I noticed it first a few months and thought I’d done it. But four times now it has happened, the last one only days ago.”
“And considering the wedding feast on the morrow that will bring many visitors to the village and keep, that is suspicious timing,” Rurik added, his brow furrowed and his gaze dark.
“Be on guard, Rurik. This chamber is not to be entered by anyone. I will move these…” The door burst open and Jocelyn stood there, eyes wide and out of breath.
Though married now for nearly two decades, she yet took his breath away. Nary a gray hair marred the darker shades of her auburn locks and her green eyes still gleamed with life. Bearing his bairns had softened her body, but his readied now even as it did whenever he saw her. Though he feared a day when he did not react so, it had not happened yet and she’d asked if he would be randy into his old age! God willing, aye, he would…for her.
“Jocelyn?” he asked. She looked startled at finding them there and pasted a smile on her face that did not reach her eyes. “Is aught wrong?”
“Nay, Connor,” she stammered out. “Good day, Duncan. Rurik,” she acknowledged the others with a nod at each. In spite of her words, Connor knew something was amiss. She avoided his gaze, remaining at the door and speaking to the others.
“Your uncle was looking for you earlier. Did he find you?” she asked. She had yet to meet his gaze.
“Nay, but we are on our way to see him now.” Duncan and Rurik understood that their discussion was at an end and strode over to the doorway. As they left the chamber, he watched her enter and look around. “Is there something else?” he asked hopefully, his body urging him on to more pleasurable endeavors.
“Nay, only that,” Jocelyn replied stepping out of the chamber now.
Something was clearly wrong.
His wife had never misunderstood his invitation before and had only declined on a rare occasion. This day, she either missed it or was avoiding it. Connor took her hand before she could leave and entwined their fingers, pulling her toward him. Their mouths touched, his tongue easing between her lips to taste her. After only a moment of hesitation, she fell into it, kissing him back and turning her body as he wrapped his arms around her to bring her close.
Her mouth grew hot, her kisses filled with passion and her body melted to his. His own lust flared, as it always did for her. He slid his hands up, tangling them in her hair and holding her mouth to his and possessing it. She tasted of spices and sweets, as though she’d just eaten one of the special treats the cook had prepared for the wedding of his foster son and his sister’s daughter on the morrow.
But nothing was more appealing to him than the taste of her skin as he moved his mouth away from hers and down onto her neck, kissing and licking his way to that place near her ear that would make her shiver and sigh. The sound of it heated his blood and he reached down to caress her breast.
And he would have gathered its fullness under his palm and rubbed his thumb across her nipple to urge that sound from her once more if it had not been for the—
“Connor!” Rurik called as he climbed the stairs below them.
Caught up in the rush of heat in his blood and love in his heart for her as he was, Connor almost allowed their passionate embrace to be witnessed by Rurik…and Duncan…and Hamish and several other men who all seemed to need his attention now. Jocelyn tugged her gown in place, ran her fingers through her hair and licked her lips, adjusting herself before turning to face this unwelcom onslaught. The last gesture, the glide of the tip of her tongue across lips swollen from his kisses, made his cock harden even more.
He would kill them all if no good reason brought them to his chambers at this moment! War had best be at the gates to justify this interruption. Before he could take her hand and bid her to remain, Jocelyn slipped away, passing the men as they arrived.
* * *
A stupid mistake brought near disaster, Jocelyn thought as she made her escape. Passing the men on the stairs, she nodded and smiled and did not speak to them or slow in her direction down to the main hall. Tomorrow’s wedding was the first in what she hoped would be many successes to come and she should not endanger this one, or future ones, by rushing too quickly to gather information about other possibilities. She reached the chamber she called her own and entered it, closing the door and facing one of her fellow conspirators.
“Did you find them?” Margriet, Rurik’s wife, asked, twisting the end of her long, blond braid in her fingers.
“Nay,” Jocelyn answered. Sitting in her chair before the hearth and slumping down into its comfortable cushions, she shook her head. “Connor was there.” Her heart yet raced from his brief but hungry attention.
“He caught you?” Margriet asked, approaching and sitt
“I walked in on him, so I did not have the opportunity at all.” Her husband kept all important papers and contracts in his strongbox in their chamber. The same papers she needed to search before the wedding on the morrow.
“Mayhap after supper? He will be busy with his visitors.”
As the laird’s wife and as Countess of Douran, her presence would be required at his side until he retired. Knowing his love of celebrating and talking with visitors from all parts of Scotland, Jocelyn knew they would return to their chambers late.
“I will think of a way,” she promised.
Connor MacLerie was a hard man; ruthless, some would say. Known as the Beast of the Highlands for too many years, he had changed during their marriage, but not enough for anyone to consider him a man who would give in to the softer feelings when managing the affairs of the clan. Decisions and alliances were made for the good of the clan and not to fulfill the whims and wishes of those under his care…and direction.
Not even hers.
Jocelyn sighed. Sometimes, he did listen to her counsel, but she wished he’d pay more heed to her suggestions. Marriage agreements were her biggest concern.
Since law and custom gave him the right and privilege and responsibility to arrange marriages for those under his protection, Connor saw little need to consult any but the father of the young man or woman involved. That was simply the way things were done. But having been bought as a bride for the MacLerie, she understood the difficulties of the situation for the woman so matched. Then, when she had raised objections to some of the matches he did make and he ignored what she considered clear, logical reasons for not approving the marriages under discussion, Jocelyn understood that speaking directly to him and making her arguments would never work.
Hence her matchmaking scheme.
But without access to the contracts and documents Connor stored in his strongboxes, she would not be prepared for the wedding on the morrow. She had not had the opportunity to examine the marriage agreement that would join Connor’s niece to the young heir to the neighboring clan. Or to see if other arrangements for other marriages had been included.
To learn if her husband had already pledged their daughter’s hand to someone. Jocelyn shivered and caught Margriet’s worried gaze.
Though Margriet’s daughters would not inherit titles or properties, they would be marriage prizes because of their father’s connection to the Earl of Orkney and the wealth bestowed on them from his family. As a mother and another bartered woman who had luckily found love with her husband, Margriet shared Jocelyn’s concerns about their daughters’ future. So, she had agreed to help Jocelyn in this endeavor.
As had Duncan’s wife, Marian, who had a daughter of marriageable age. And with her own Lilidh approaching her fifteenth year, the concerns were even more grave—it would be time to betroth her soon and Jocelyn worried over her eldest daughter’s fate.
The steward sent for her, asking for help with some of the preparations for the wedding feast and so Jocelyn found the day speeding by her with no chance to think on how she could get into the clan’s records. But, as the day passed and the evening approached, the sick feeling in her stomach increased.
She had never, in their nearly two decades of marriage, lied or misled Connor, and her actions now, though for the good of others, did not sit well in her heart. Should she tell him? Would he hear her out or simply blame her actions on her too-soft heart? Worse, would he believe that she did not trust in his decisions?
By the time she saw to everything and climbed the stairs to their chamber, she wondered if she was truly doing the best thing.
The noise woke him.
The scraping of something along the stone floor dragged him awake and Connor reached for the sword always by the bedside. Reaching out to draw Jocelyn closer, protecting her if necessary, he felt an empty bed. Pushing out of the bed, he gripped the sword before him and moved silently toward the sound. He heard her breathing before he saw her walking toward him from the shadow of the alcove.
“Jocelyn? What are you doing?” he asked, sliding the sword back in its scabbard. He took a candle over and lit it from the embers of the hearth, holding it up to brighten the chamber.
“I could not sleep,” she said, gathering a bed robe closer around her. “I thought to walk but there are too many visitors within the keep.” She looked back toward the darkened corner. “Then I decided to sit over there where I would not disturb your sleep.”
Something was not right.
He walked closer and saw the chair she’d dragged across the floor, waking him…and the strongbox not three feet from there. An unlit candle sat next to the box.
“Is aught wrong, Jocelyn?” he asked, watching her face in the flickering shadows thrown by the candle. He stepped closer and took her hand. “Is there something that is worrying you?”
Jocelyn looked as though she would answer, but then she shook her head, denying what he suspected.
“Is it the bairns?” he asked, waiting for some sign in her eyes of the matter at issue. Though she liked to believe she could bluff, he could read everything in her expressive eyes and on her face.
Their children were long since infants but ’twas their habit to call them such when speaking of them together. He thought Jocelyn tried to stave off the time when they would leave her side and have their own families. If it were so, he would not argue, for he knew she had the softest of hearts when it came to her—their—children. He even delayed speaking to her of his plans to send their youngest son, Adhamh, to foster with the Robertsons, their allies and Marian’s family, in Dunalastair for fear of causing her heartache.
“All is well, Connor,” she said, smiling at him. “Truly.”
She approached him, glancing down and making him realize he stood naked before her. He stepped back, but she followed, her hand outstretched now, reaching toward his chest. “I worry that all the arrangements will go well.” She did touch him then, sliding her fingers across his own nipples and making him hiss at such a caress.
“I worry about Ailsa and Angus and if their wedding day will be uneventful.”
“Do you mean unlike our own?” he asked, trying to lighten the seriousness in her voice now. Connor thought she must be concerned over all the preparations and how they would reflect on his honor as laird and earl. Jocelyn always put him first, ever since their marriage, and it would seem she did so now.
“Ours ended well,” she assured him, still teasing his skin with the tips of her fingers and acting as though she did not do it. His cock responded even as his skin tingled beneath her touch.
“If you consider your falling asleep and then calling me by another man’s name when I did bed you ending well, then…”
He laughed then, for she looked insulted at his words until the true memories of those first nights came back to her.
She had called him by another man’s name when he’d claimed her for the first time—the name of the young man she’d loved and from whom he’d bartered her away. But they had found happiness together and he never doubted her faithfulness a day in their marriage. But was that happiness gone now? Was that the reason behind her melancholy demeanor?
He focused on her eyes once more and sought the real reason for her strange behavior earlier…or he tried to, for when her hand slid down, down over his stomach and into the crisp curls that surrounded his erectio
All rational thought escaped into the night as she wrapped her fingers around his flesh and caressed it to hardness. He almost remembered his concerns, when she licked her lips and dipped her head down to add to the arousing actions of her hand. He tangled his fingers in her hair, guiding her and encouraging as she tasted and licked and then took his length in her mouth.
She did this to him—turned him from a man who controlled himself and hundreds of others’ lives into a ravening beast who could think only of claiming her as his own. But did Jocelyn do this apurpose to distract him from his questions? Another minute and he lost even that thought.
His blood heated and pounded through his veins as she drove him to madness. Connor breathed slowly, forcing his hands to his sides until he could not. He grasped her shoulders and lifted her until he could take possession of her mouth. This time, unlike earlier, she launched herself into his embrace, lifting her legs until they hugged his hips, rubbing the moist place between them against his maleness. It took only a few steps and a turn and then he laid her on their bed and plunged into the warmth of her core until he could go no farther and neither could take a breath.
No matter how many times he experienced this, no matter how many times he claimed her and melded their bodies together as one, he would always be amazed and awed at the power of their joining. He released her mouth and she closed her eyes, leaning her head back and gasping at every thrust he made. She moved with him, her body reacting to his in a familiar rhythm born of their many times together. Her body trembled as she began to reach her peak, her muscles spasming around him, forcing him to his own release.
He clenched his jaw as his seed spilled, thrilling to the feel of being so deep within her that their breaths mingled and were as one. His flesh remained hardened within her softness and he watched as her face blossomed with the satisfaction they shared. Arching his hips once more, she had him firmly there and smiled at him. Connor did not doubt that he could begin anew, but the dark smudges beneath her eyes reminded him of her arduous schedule these last days and this next one as well. Keeping her awake for pleasure’s sake appealed to him, but so did having a well-rested wife ready to face the challenges coming toward them on the morrow.