An alluring lass …
Emmaline Grey spends her days with her beloved dog, dreaming of the sea—until a brawling Highlander shatters her quiet life. Though her blindness prevents her from seeing his face, his voice is a warm blend of velvet and silk, and his rakehell ways unmistakable. Risking the wrath of a rival clan as she nurses him back to health, Emma soon realizes the real danger is the magnetic pull she feels to this half-naked Scot recovering in her bed.
A reckless rogue …
With his rugged handsomeness and wicked charm, Malcolm Grant wants nothing more out of life than whiskey, women, and the occasional war. The only lass he’s ever trusted left him with more scars than a battlefield. Yet now at the mercy of this sweet stranger, Malcolm can barely resist the gentle hands that make him feverish with desire—until Emma, the one he will never have, is the only woman he wants.
Release date: September 29, 2015
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Print pages: 400
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The Taming of Malcolm Grant
EARLY EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
I thought travelin’ with ye would be different, a bit of an adventure mayhap. But since we entered Hebburn, ’tis been nothin’ but ridin’ and rain. Where is this brothel ye told me aboot?”
Beneath his hood, Malcolm Grant smiled at his brooding brother riding ahead of him. He didn’t bother to look up since, in the downpour, he couldn’t see an inch in front of his face anyway.
“We’ll be there soon enough, Cailean,” he called out, “and then ye’ll thank me fer makin’ haste and ridin’ in the rain.”
Malcolm had been to Fortune’s Smile before. He’d practically lived there for several months after the proprietor’s wife had been killed. He hadn’t been back in four years. But now he was here for Cailean. His old friend Harry Grey owned and ran it so Malcolm knew he could expect the best room, the best girl, and the best whisky. Once in a while there was nothing better or more soothing to a man who lived in a hard world than a full belly, a soft bed, and a warm body to share it with. His brother was twenty and one and still a virgin. It was high time he lay with a lass who knew her way around a man’s body. Fortune’s Smile was the perfect place to go for such pleasures.
“’Tis just up ahead,” he said as he guided, knowing how to get there in the pitch black or pouring rain. He caught up with Cailean and they followed the inviting warmth of fire-lit windows to the front of the two-story brothel. “I know how yer passions turn toward cookin’,” he said to his brother, “but stay oot of Harry Grey’s kitchen if the need to cook strikes ye. His wife died in it and he’s verra’ sensitive aboot it.”
“Not to worry,” Cailean drawled quietly.
“Let me do the talkin’,” Malcolm continued, dismounting and handing his reins over to a stable boy. “Save fer Harry, the men are no’ friendly here. They’ll look fer the first excuse to fight.”
“So?” Cailean challenged, straightening his shoulders against the pelting rain. “Practice with our kin, nae matter how gruelin’ ’twas, has prepared me to stay alive against folks who might someday try to kill me.” He slowed and waited for Malcolm to reach him. “Let them look fer a fight and I will give them one.”
Malcolm shrugged, quite used to Cailean’s bravado, seeing the same in almost every male—and many females—of the Grant/MacGregor ilk. He was, of course, of the same mind. He didn’t mind fighting, but he’d like a damn drink first.
He pushed the door open and stepped inside. Familiar scents assailed his nostrils and he closed his eyes for a moment to savor them. The aromas of rose and wine, jasmine and whisky, sex and sweat. The only smell he loved more was early morning in Camlochlin.
Temporarily content, he swept his hood back from his head, releasing a tumble of deep chestnut hair splashed throughout with bolts of gold. He moved his gaze over the patrons, seated at dimly lit tables in the cozy dining hall, and then over a few of the lasses who worked there. He didn’t recognize any of them. It didn’t matter if he knew them or not. They stopped and waved at him, looking a bit breathless. He personally didn’t consider himself handsome, not with his bent nose and mostly disillusioned expression that tainted his grin. But he had dimples, and according to the lasses at Camlochlin, lasses liked dimples, deep ones.
He smiled at them, one by one, wondering who would be best for Cailean’s first time. Though Malcolm was infamous for being a heartless rogue, he hadn’t come for himself. In fact, he had no intention of taking any one of them to bed. What he wanted was a warm fire, warm whisky, and a warm bed for sleep.
“Close the damned door before I get up and put your head through it!” a patron shouted, spoiling Malcolm’s good mood.
Malcolm turned to give the fool a deadly look. Truly? Could a soul not rest for a wee bit before he wet his tongue? What the hell else was new?
Very well then.
“Close yer mouth,” Cailean called back, taking his time with the door, “before I walk over there and put m’ fist in it.”
“I doubt you’re worthy of such a boast, boy.” Rising from his chair, the fool continued, as fools often do.
Malcolm assessed him quickly. Medium height, densely built, slow reflexes. Cailean could handle him.
“But which one of you is going to pay for letting in the rain to soak my clothes?”
Malcolm thought about it while he untied the laces of his cloak from around his neck. “I’ll give ye two pence fer yer boots. The rest should have been put to the flame last month.” With a flick of his wrist he freed the wool from his broad shoulders and snapped it like a whip, showering the patron with cool droplets.
A true fight would do the youngest Grant good, Malcolm thought, stepping aside and watching the patron go barreling into Cailean. He didn’t bother to see how his brother fared against the troublemaker, but turned his restored grin on a long-limbed, extremely lean man limping toward him from the inner parlor. He approached with a cup in one hand and a bonny woman in the other.
“I wasn’t sure I’d see ye pass this way again, Malcolm!” Harry Grey let go of the lass and grabbed him in a tight embrace.
“Where would I be, Harry?” Malcolm accepted the cup and tossed his arm around his good friend. “And dinna’ say wed or dead. Ye know I’d never fall to either one. Why the hell are ye limpin’, old friend?”
“I was stabbed in the leg and didn’t care for it soon enough.”
Malcolm shook his head, staring at him. “What have I told ye aboot hirin’ men to protect ye? Ye dinna’ know how to fight.”
“I do have a guard, but he’s serving another duty presently.”
They both watched Cailean make a quick end of his opponent and toss him out the door.
“M’ brother,” Malcolm said proudly.
“Of course.” Harry sighed, sounding worried. “You remember Bess?”
Malcolm sure as hell did remember her. Last time he was here, he’d stayed for several months and Bess had grown quite fond of him. She was one of the last women he’d been with. A wild cat who jabbed her claws into him and had a hard time letting go.
Harry thanked Cailean for disposing of the man and not leaving him there bleeding on the floor. “I heard yer sister was kidnapped by pirates last year,” he told Malcolm as he led him to a table.
“She wasna’ kidnapped,” Malcolm corrected him, patting his brother’s back as Cailean sat.
Harry stopped and turned to him. “She went of her own free will?”
“Aye,” Malcolm told him, as if there were absolutely nothing wrong with it. To him, there wasn’t. “She’s the adventurous kind.”
Malcolm smiled indulgently when Bess settled into his lap and proceeded to tell them about her adventure from Ayr to Hebburn last spring. Malcolm didn’t think pointing out the difference between her journey and his sister’s would do her any good.
They sat together for the next hour, drinking and laughing while Malcolm recalled how he and Harry had met.
“Harry saved m’ life,” Malcolm told Cailean, “when the Buchanans of Perth were still our enemies, before our cousin Darach wed the Buchanan chief’s sister, Janet. A group of them had come upon me on the road and had taken me by surprise. They beat me unconscious and dragged m’ body to the brothel, where they celebrated their victory with wine and loose women. Harry discovered me tied to a horse in the stable later that night. He hid me in one of the rooms upstairs and left me alone to recover and live another day. Though Harry is English,” Malcolm praised, “he didna’ throw me oot of the establishment on m’ Highland arse.”
“That’s because”—Harry raised his cup to him—“you kept the men who killed my wife from killing me, as well. Though, sometimes I don’t know whether to bless you or curse you.”
Malcolm nodded, not understanding why any man would rather be dead with his wife than alive without her.
“You’re hard.” Bess looked up at Malcolm with dewy blue eyes as vast and empty as the skies. “Like steel,” she purred against his neck while she spread her hand over his arm and then down his chest. “I’ll wager you’re still just as hard all over.”
He groaned from somewhere deep in his throat. Bess knew her profession of how to please a man to bursting. But he left her pining after him once. He sure as hell wouldn’t do it again.
“Ask Harry for me,” she whispered across his ear, “and I’ll find out for myself just how hard you can get.”
She bit his lobe and settled her narrow hips deeper into his lap.
He wanted what she offered, likely he wanted it more with her than any lass since he stopped sleeping with them. She was good at what she did.
But he was weary of empty embraces.
He shook his head. “I’m payin’ fer yer night with m’ brother.”
She cast him a lecherous smile. “I’ll have you both.”
He laughed. Hell, she was perfect for Cailean’s first. If anyone could suck the demons out of a man, it was Bess.
But Cailean didn’t seem interested in Bess at all. Instead, his eyes were fixed on a bonny lass with russet curls and humble breasts. Harry explained that the gel was bought and paid for for the night by Andrew Winther, brother of the Baron of Newcastle. If Cailean wanted her, he would have to wait until tomorrow. Cailean didn’t want to wait, but he accepted things the way they were, as he was known to do, and set his sights on someone else—until his fiery-haired interest was flung into a chair by Winther.
Malcolm watched Cailean rush to the lass’s side and then turn in time to punch the oncoming culprit clean across the room. Malcolm couldn’t have been any prouder.
When Andrew Winther’s companions ran toward Cailean next, Malcolm hurried to his brother’s side. He swung. It landed a brutal punch to the closest assailant’s face. The man swayed, trying to gain his wits. A second punch cracked a bone and knocked the man out.
Malcolm glanced at his brother and found him releasing another man’s unconscious body to the neatly swept floor. Malcolm smiled and turned his attention on the third victim, who was coming at him with a dagger raised high.
Malcolm picked up a poker from the large hearth and swung it across the man’s belly, breaking two ribs and leaving him squirming on the floor.
The whole thing was over rather quickly, with the four Winthers dumped unconscious outside where the rain washed the blood from their wounds.
A handful less Englishmen in their presence was a good thing. With the place less rowdy, Malcolm and Cailean returned to their table, Cailean with Alison, his russet-haired prize, and toasted the sound of cracking bones.
Harry sat slumped in his chair, his complexion drained of blood. “The Winthers?” he panted at Malcolm. “Why them? You don’t know what you’ve done.”
Malcolm hadn’t expected Harry to fight with them, he was the proprietor after all, but he did expect Harry to have hired a few strong arms around the brothel to keep the shyt out, the way he used to.
“Harry,” Malcolm soothed. “Dinna’ fear—”
Harry shook his head. “You don’t know the Baron of Newcastle. Oliver Winther is a merciless son of a whore, arresting and hanging or beheading anyone who comes against him. He has the support of his entire family, whose number, it’s rumored, is in the thousands. He has a passion for killing that’s only exceeded by his lust for women. I don’t want him to ever come here—for any reason.”
Hell, Harry looked about to shyt his breeches. Malcolm hated that his friend lived in such fear, but this was Harry’s home, not Malcolm’s. What did it matter what Malcolm thought of the bunch of gangly English who collapsed to the ground after three punches? Why, his sister could have taken them on two at a time. He did all to reassure Harry that the Winthers were nothing to fear. He and Cailean would stay on as long as Harry needed his protection.
“Drink with us, Harry.” He pushed another round at Harry and laughed when his friend accepted. “Bess!” he called out to the bonny blonde who’d scurried off during the fight. Where the hell had she gone? He shrugged and smiled at the rest of the girls who worked there.
Here’s what he missed—being surrounded by women. What he needed to put away all other thoughts and concerns. What the hell was he doing being celibate? It wasn’t his passion in the bedroom that needed taming.
It was the monster biting at his heels, reminding him of what he’d never have.
“Pardon my intrusion.”
Malcolm looked up at a lass he hadn’t seen before. Then again, would he have remembered her? There was nothing remarkable about her appearance. A slight, wee thing in a gown that was neither colorful nor cut to show off her curves, like the girls’ gowns around her. She was rather pale, with large, dark eyes, and even darker circles beneath them, and long, yellow waves. She stood facing Harry, her delicate hand resting in the crook of a brawny arm.
So, Malcolm thought, glancing at the owner of the arm. Here was the seemingly only guard in the brothel and he was too busy rutting to see to his duty.
“I was wondering if I might bring Gascon inside for the night.”
Her voice swept across Malcolm’s ears like a symphony of tinkling stars. It was light and flimsy, like a veil settling over him, capturing his attention within a web of sensual French inflection.
He liked French lasses.
Why hadn’t Harry brought her to him?
“’Tis still raining—”
“Now, Emmaline.” Harry sighed, sounding sincerely regretful.
She lowered her head, displaying the full cut of her mouth and the small slope of her pert nose. Her almost silent sigh of resignation pricked at Malcolm for some annoying reason he didn’t know.
“Haven’t we discussed this long enough? Dogs don’t belong inside, getting everything muddy and wet.”
Malcolm laughed, bringing Emmaline’s attention to him. “Then ye would hate my home, Harry. We have five wolfhounds, or whatever in blazes they are, roamin’ the halls right along with everyone else.”
“You’re correct,” his friend agreed. “I would hate it.”
Malcolm thought he caught the lass’s slight smile beyond the tilt of her head. He wanted to see it full on.
Who was the escort? Malcolm thought, sizing him up. The brute had no interest in her but to keep her attached to his arm. If he did care for her, he would be trying to comfort her from her obvious distress.
“’Tis a heavy downpour oot there.” Malcolm gave it a try, looking toward the door. He might be the worst rogue in Scotland, England, France, but he had a heart. And he liked dogs. He knew firsthand that they perished just like anything else when exposed to the elements. He looked at his brother, remembering Sage, Cailean’s faithful hound.
Turning back to Harry, he said more seriously, “Come now. I’ll pay fer a room fer the mongrel and a lass to clean him up. I’ll count it as a favor,” he added when Harry looked about to refuse him, as well.
“As would I,” Cailean said, sounding far less friendly.
“Put your coin away,” Harry relented, and held up his palms. “Go, Emmaline. Fetch your dog from the rain.”
Harry smiled and blushed a tinge of claret when she pulled her hand free of her escort and placed it on his arm. “Thank you.”
She turned in a half circle, spinning her long waves over her shoulders and over the smile she aimed just a wee bit to Malcolm’s left. Her joy was radiant and infectious. “Thank you, my lord.” Without waiting for his reply, she turned again and hurried toward the door.
Malcolm watched her, his smile fading from his lips when she banged into the table in front of her.
“Emmaline!” Harry said harshly. “Wait for Gunter! And what the hell have I told you about not coming down whilst I have guests?”
Gunter with the brawny arms hurried after her and returned her hand to his elbow once again. Harry shook his head, turning back to Malcolm.
“She’ll want the beast inside every night now.”
“She’s blind.” It became even more apparent while Malcolm watched her wait for Gunter, who had run out into the rain. She didn’t move. She didn’t watch the door, but inclined her ear toward it instead.
“Completely,” Harry confirmed.
Hence, her need for Gunter, Malcolm thought as her escort returned, soaking wet and not alone.
Gascon, a tall hound of some sort, with flowing brown and tan fur, quite a bit more handsome than the hounds of Camlochlin, galloped into the foyer and sprayed water everywhere. When he saw Emmaline he immediately sat on his haunches, reaching her waist and still dripping all over the floor. The dog’s reward for his good behavior was a hug from his mistress.
“Someone’s going to have to clean that up!” Harry called out.
The lass nodded, then grasped Gascon by the scruff of his neck and, abandoning Gunter altogether, let the dog lead her away. A dog that helped her see.
Fascinating, Malcolm thought. He wanted to know where Harry found her. “Who is she?”
“My sister,” Harry told him, reaching for another cup of wine.
“Yer sister?” Malcolm laughed and shook his head when Bess returned and held a cup to his lips. “Ye never mentioned her before.”
“I thought she died ten years ago. She found me last month.”
“That’s good fortune, friend,” Malcolm said.
“’Tis,” Harry agreed. “That’s why I must ask you to forget her. I know you and love you like a brother. You saved my life.”
“As ye saved mine,” Malcolm reminded him.
Harry smiled. “Once.”
“Once is all it takes to die, Harry.”
“Like I said,” Harry went on, “I love you like a brother. I know that you’ve no interest in love. Your reputation with women precedes you. The last time you were here—”
Malcolm forced his best smile but held up his palm to stop where Harry was going. He didn’t need reminding.
“You’re a rake,” his friend continued, granting him less detail. “Quite a notorious one. Stay away from my sister so she doesn’t get her heart broken.”
Malcolm didn’t argue. Harry was correct about him—as far as who he was four years ago. Malcolm didn’t bother correcting him. Harry wouldn’t believe him.
Malcolm pulled him under his arm and patted his back to reassure his friend of his sincerity. “Ye’ve nothin’ to fret aboot, Harry. I did this fer the dog. No’ fer her.”
Emmaline Grey rushed up the stairs so that when she came to the next landing, she could drop to her knees and hug her dearest friend in private—or at least in private until Gunter reached them. She’d get Gascon cleaned and dried, but that could wait until after she greeted him.
“Oh, dear Gascon, ’tis good to have you inside again, where you belong.” He licked her face and the tears fell from her eyes. “Come, I shall feed you a feast tonight.”
She led him down the hall to her room, since he didn’t know the way yet. Thanks to Gunter, she didn’t bang into anything on the way. But now with Gascon around, she wouldn’t need her escort.
She hadn’t always been blind. She was struck with a fever that snatched away her sight in her tenth year—the same fever that had killed both her parents and her uncle a fortnight earlier, while they visited her uncle’s home in France. The fever that had kept her from ever seeing her home in England again. The fever that ultimately drove Harry to leave France and abandon her at the first sign that she was infected. She hadn’t blamed her brother for leaving her then, and she still didn’t. Harry had been ten and five at the time and afraid of dying.
Emma had been afraid too, and she came much closer to it. An old hag who lived in the woods, a rumored witch who knew how to heal people’s ailments, had found her in her bed, deathly ill with the fever. Dying, in fact. Clementine and her faithful hound, Gascon, never left her side and nursed her back to good health. But Emma woke from her delirium into muted light and darkening shadows.
Her world was fading.
Color had gone first, so she fought the hardest to remember the way a ten-year-old would: red, like an apple; green, like treetops in summer; blue, like the beautiful ocean hot under the orange sun. She tried to remember, but after the years, memories faded. Except for one. She remembered seeing the sea when she was on her way with her family to her uncle’s home. Those images of sunlight on the water, indistinct as they had become, had often drifted across her thoughts and kept her going while she grew up in the darkness. She’d never see the ocean again, and for her, that was what saddened her most about losing her vision. She wanted to see the water once more.
Clementine never allowed her to wallow in her loss. Instead, she taught Emma to see using the rest of her senses.
Colors had returned to her first, even more vibrant than the ones before. She still thought with her memory of the sky in reference to blue, because she knew it was correct. But blue had become so much more. It was cold like a stream running through a mountain or a brook babbling through a wintry forest.
She had a happy life growing up in Clementine’s small cottage made of stone and winding ivy, surrounded by trees and nature. She was sure her life would have been very different if not for the fever, but she didn’t want the life she could have had. She loved learning how to live by a wise old French woman who’d never harmed a fly.
With the help of Gascon, she’d learned to traipse and weave through trees. Under nature, and Clementine’s tutelage, she learned what the woods had to offer as food and as medicine. Familiar with every leaf, every petal, every tree, where to find any herb and how to recognize them from touch, scent, and taste. After a decade, she could heal most infirmities as well as her teacher could. But she didn’t want to. People didn’t deserve it, not after what they’d done to Clementine. So she left her home in the cottage in France before they strung her up next. Finally, she was going home.
But her home was gone, sold by her brother four years ago so he could buy this brothel. She didn’t hate him for it. She couldn’t. He was all she had left.
It hadn’t taken her long to find Harry, since his brothel was famous. When she arrived at Fortune’s Smile with Gascon, her brother was suffering with a festering wound in his thigh. She had no choice but to heal him, hoping that Harry would never accuse her of being a witch. She agreed to help his girls too if any of them became ill in exchange for room and board while she and Harry got to know each other.
They still didn’t.
She’d realized that coming back to England to find her brother wasn’t such a good idea when he cast Gascon out of his establishment. She begged Harry to let her have her dog. He’d agreed, but Gascon had to remain outside. She thought of leaving many nights while she sat by her bedroom window, taking in the scents of jasmine and the sounds of her dog sleeping below her window. Where would she go? She could return to France but she had no coin.
She lifted her hand and ran her fingers over Gascon’s muzzle. So happy to have him inside.
She didn’t want to think about her past, or what drove her to leave Clementine’s cottage in search of Harry. Not now. She wouldn’t ruin a grand night with such a memory. She had Gascon back. That’s all that mattered. And she had that man—Had she heard his name?—to thank.
Emma didn’t know about men, nothing compared to the girls she lived with. But she knew she was forever indebted to this one. She told Gascon about him while she scrubbed him in a large basin carried into her room by three of her brother’s servants.
“He’s quite tall, and he smells like the rain.”
Gascon shook his large frame and splattered her with sudsy water.
“Goodness!” she exclaimed. “You could give a girl warning!”
The dog whined torturously, mollifying her temporary annoyance with him.
“He’s the reason you’re inside, Gascon. If you see him tomorrow let him pet your head as thanks. Of course, he’ll most likely be gone in the morning but I will remember the sound of his voice for a long time to come. It drifted across my ears like the melodic burr of the northern Scots, those they call Highlanders. There was one of them here a pair of weeks ago, but his pitch was different, not weighty and light at the same time like the man downstairs.” She sighed happily to herself and continued drying Gascon’s coarse coat. When she was done, she hurried off to the kitchen with Gunter to fix her friend a feast, as promised. She didn’t care if her escort swore the entire way down to tell her brother that she’d disobeyed his command to remain away from the patrons. Let him tell whatever he wanted. She would have gone alone if she had to.
Gunter led her down the back stairs to the kitchen and left her to her task.
Holding out her arms, she felt everything around her, the sticky surface of the chopping block, an axe, onions. She kept going, feeling her way around the familiar kitchen to a shelf with different sized wooden bowls piled upon it. Emma chose the biggest bowl for Gascon. She gathered carrots and searched for meat, following her nose and using her ears to hone in on the buzzing of a fly. She found some salmon, not too fresh, but not spoiled, a small, defeathered hen, and a slab of deer meat, from which she cut a small piece.
Ready to return to her room, she left the kitchen in search of Gunter. She knew her way to the stairs and up them, but Gascon’s bowl was heavy. The thundering collapse of a wooden table just to the left of her head halted the blood in her veins, and her feet. Her ears filled with the sounds of breaking bones and splintering wood. A fight! She whirled around.
Men shouted around her. Was that Brianne’s scream or Mary’s? From above stairs, locked in. . .
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