Highland Fire

By: Elizabeth Thornton

There was a moment of silence; then he said in an altered tone, “I can almost believe that you mean it. But no. You must be one of Madame Rosa’s girls, else why would you be playing hide-and-seek with me? Take off your cloak. I want to see what I’ve paid for.”

When she lashed out at him, he laughed and captured her easily in his arms. With one flick of his wrist, he sent her basket flying. “I’ve caught you, fair and square,” he said. “Now it’s time to pay your forfeit.”

He seized the hood of her cloak, preventing her from averting her head. His kiss was subtle, so subtle that Caitlin parted her lips without volition. The gentleness, where she had anticipated raw, masculine aggression, eased her panic. When the kiss was over, she had every confidence that she could persuade him to release her. Lord Randal was a rake, but to her knowledge, no one had ever accused him of rape. She held herself stiffly, waiting for him to be done with her.

When his lips left hers, she drew in a shuddering gulp of air. Her mind hadn’t been idle. She’d decided to tell him that she knew nothing of Madame Rosa and her girls. She was simply a country lass whom he had surprised when she was on her way to a tryst with her lover. Her thoughts backtracked. Madame Rosa and her girls? She didn’t like the sound of that.

Murmuring, “Sweet, so sweet,” he took her lips again, cutting off her feeble protests. His hands slipped to her shoulders, then splayed out across her back, pressing her close to him. When they descended to cup her buttocks and lift her against his bulging groin, she let out a small, infuriated yelp.

“You’re good. I’ll give you that,” he murmured, nipping at her earlobe. “I could almost believe this is real and not something bought and paid for. Forgive me, sweeting—that was crass. I’m not complaining. It’s just…” His voice trailed to an unintelligible whisper as his kiss became more erotic, more demanding, and much too skillful for Caitlin’s comfort.

In some small corner of her mind, she dispassionately allowed that the Randal was a master of seduction. The thought was not one she could hold. Distracted by the plethora of physical sensations which threatened to overwhelm her, she was going to faint. Her head was spinning; her knees were giving way; she was so hot, she might have been coming down with a fever. She couldn’t help moving restlessly against him.

Summoning her wavering control, she raised one hand to push weakly against his shoulder. Capturing it, he brought it to his lips, kissing it passionately on the open palm.

“Tell me your name. I want to know your name.”

She had to think before she answered him. “Why?”

He laughed softly. “Because, I want to warn the others off. As long as you are here, you belong to me and no other. You’re different. I can’t explain it. And since my friends have generously agreed that I am to pay the shot, I’m allowing myself first pick.”

Everything was beginning to come together in her mind with horrifying clarity—Madame Rosa and her girls; the game of hide-and-seek; something bought and paid for. Even his reference to Little Red Riding Hood was becoming excruciatingly clear—a scarlet woman or her name wasn’t Caitlin Randal.

The irony of her situation was almost laughable. If this were happening in broad daylight, Lord Randal would never mistake her for a scarlet woman. He wouldn’t give her a second look. There was nothing about her to attract the notice of a man of his voluptuous tastes—and much that would repel him. She was a confirmed spinster with no pretension to style or beauty. For a fleeting moment, she wished it were otherwise before she dismissed that thought as unworthy of her.

She balled her hand into a fist, but before she could strike out at him, the night erupted with the sounds of revelry. Half-clothed squealing nymphs, pursued by an equal number of bellowing, drunken satyrs bearing lanterns and torches in their hands, came charging into the copse in wild abandon.

“Oh, for God’s sake!” Lord Randal, hands on hips, turned to face the unruly mob.

Caitlin, peeking from around his shoulder, let her jaw drop. Not nymphs and satyrs, she corrected herself, but young bucks and loose women bent on pleasure. Her ears burned from the ribald remarks that flew back and forth. Though she tried to look away, her eyes refused to obey the commands of her brain. Scantily clad girls, giggling coyly, were manhandled and unceremoniously thrown over broad shoulders as though they were the spoils of war. Some of the men, having run down their prey, went galloping off into the undergrowth like stampeding cattle.

Caitlin couldn’t keep the fear from her voice. “Shouldn’t you try to stop them?”

The Randal made a small snort of derision and glanced at her oddly before turning back to face the milling throng.

“Rand? Oho! You sly dog. Who have you there?” One of the male revelers staggered over and leered suggestively down at Caitlin. The nymph in his arms smiled in a languid way and stretched out one arm to curve it around Lord Randal’s neck. Her invitation was graciously accepted. Caitlin had an impression that the kiss was open mouthed and carnal, and not at all like the kisses the Randal had bestowed on her. When the kiss lingered and the girl moaned, Caitlin’s cheeks flamed scarlet. She would have dashed away if she had not been sure that doing so would only incite the males—she would not call them gentlemen—to give chase. By this time, she was positively cowering behind Lord Randal’s broad back.