One Hot Scot A Holiday Story

By: Suzanne Enoch
CHAPTER ONE

Julia Prentiss sat in the road as the tail of her mare vanished around a large pile of boulders. In other circumstances she likely would have thought the sight pretty—a black horse galloping, riderless, into the cloud-filled orange and purple sunset. It was precisely the sort of thing she’d imagined when she’d suggested that a summer visit to Scotland for her aunt’s wedding would make for a perfect Christmas pre then, lass?”Y“Yes.”hsent. She fingered the ripped hem of her blue gown and scowled. This wasn’t even remotely what she’d had in mind.

Nothing in the past five days, in fact, seemed like any sort of holiday gift she ever would have asked for. Not in a thousand years. So she supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised at being flung to the ground now. It all went perfectly along with the horrid nightmare this so-called gift had become.

Once she had her breath back, she wiggled her fingers and her toes. Her backside would definitely be bruised tomorrow, but nothing seemed to be broken—which was also the first bit of good luck she’d managed in the past five days. It was also likely the last bit of luck she would see. She certainly couldn’t risk waiting by the side of the road hoping for a friendly face. It was far more likely the next person she saw would be decidedly unfriendly.

That thought sent a chill down her spine, and she carefully gathered her feet beneath her and stood. The long, narrow lake that had attracted her attention lay close by on her right, and though she should likely be spending her energy recovering that blasted horse, thirst had already turned her mouth to dust. With a quick look behind her at the empty rolling hills of rock and heather, Julia made her way to the water’s edge, squatted down, and scooped up mouthfuls of blessedly cold water with both hands.

Whatever she thought of Hugh Fersen, Lord Bellamy, he’d chosen well when he’d dragged her off here. She’d been riding for two hours or so, and other than Bellamy Park and the scattering of cotters’ shacks around it, she hadn’t seen so much as a chimney. And now she couldn’t see her horse either. In another twenty minutes, she wouldn’t be able to see anything at all because it would be completely dark. Another thought occurred to her. Wolves had supposedly been killed off in the Highlands, but she wasn’t as certain about bears. Or wildcats. And to think, she might have asked for a visit to Paris. Or a new gown.

“Damnation,” she muttered. Would one bit of luck be too much to expect?

A splash of water out in the lake answered her. If she’d been hungry enough to consider raw fish, she would have been interested, but though breakfast had been hours and hours ago, she and her hunger hadn’t yet reached the point of desperation. At the edge of the water she’d hoped reeds would offer her some sort of shelter from the view of the road, but evidently here either the weather wasn’t temperate enough or the wind was too strong to allow any plants to grow above ankle height. A canyon would hide her, or a nice deep valley, but she didn’t want to hide as much as she wanted to be gone from here entirely. Cowering under a tree wouldn’t serve any purpose.

From somewhere in the distance a low sound rumbled across the craggy hills, and she shivered. Whether it was a gunshot or thunder, it reminded her how very exposed she was. Whatever her wishes, she would have to find somewhere to shelter and hope the night and the rain hid her trail. Julia straightened. As she turned, something caught her eye, and she bent down. A large swathe of checkered material had been folded and set across a low boulder. She snapped the cloth open to see black and white and gray squares with a thick red threading shot through them, almost like blood.

Bellamy’s clan colors were blue and green and black; anything different was welcome. Had she finally gotten free of Fersen land? The low rumble repeated, and she wrapped the cloth around her shoulders. If rain came, she would have something beyond her once pretty blue ball gown to keep her warm at least.“Yes.”enso bw

Water splashed out in the lake again, and she looked back. And froze.

A figure rose from the lake water. A male figure, she noted, belatedly stepping backward as he moved directly toward her. Black hair, straight beneath the weight of the streaming water, brushed bare, broad shoulders. His well-muscled chest and abdomen came into view as the water fell away, and she took a heartbeat to wonder whether he wore anything at all before the up-sloping bank answered the question for her.

Oh, my. A thick cock rooted in dark, curling hair hung between muscular thighs. She’d seen statues, of course, and the occasional naked toddler, but this was no toddler. And no statue. Taken altogether, he was … stunning.

She shook herself. He was also a stranger, and she was very much alone. “Stand back,” she ordered, backing up another step.

He eyed her, wet black hair falling across one startlingly green eye as he tilted his head. “Ye seem to be wearing my kilt,” he rumbled in a thick Highlands brogue.

Julia fingered the heavy material around her shoulders. “Oh. Oh!” Shrugging out of it, she flung the mass at him.

The large fellow caught the tartan as it slapped against his chest. Keeping his gaze squarely on her as if he thought she might vanish into thin air, he wrapped the long material twice about his waist and tucked the end away. “That’ll do,” he said a moment later. “Now. Ye’re a Sasannach lass, are ye not? What are ye doing on my land?”

His land? Was he a Fersen, then, even with the different tartan colors? Or had she indeed found someone who might aid her? All the alliances and territories were terribly confusing, and now she wished she’d spent more time learning about them. Back before her Christmas gift had gone so horribly awry, she’d thought the idea of clans rather romantic. Oh, she should have begun running the moment this man’s head emerged from the water. But if he didn’t know who she was or why she was there, perhaps she did still have a chance to escape. “I was riding with friends,” she ventured. “We were separated, and my horse spooked.”

The green gaze trailed from her snarled red-brown hair half escaped from its pins to her equally disheveled blue gown. “Ye went riding in that?” he asked, producing a pair of boots from the other side of the boulder and stomping into them. “Unlikely.” Abruptly he turned his back on her and began walking along a faint path in the heather.

“Wait!” Julia looked from the empty, dimming road behind her to the rapidly-retreating half-naked man in front of her. The mare could be in York by now, for all she knew. Or worse, it might have returned to the stable from where Julia had procured her this afternoon. What mattered was that if Bellamy’s men came across the horse, they would know she was on foot. And close by. Drat.

“Well, come along then,” the large man said, not offering a backward glance. “I’ve nae got all night. And it’ll be raining by suppertime.”

When one was drowning, any bit of flotsam would do, she supposed. Gathering her skirts, she hurried after him. After ten minutes or so of walking to what looked like nowhere, a narrow valley opened up before her, the trail deepening into a surprisingly well-cut series of switchbacks leading down to the bottom. It was fairly easy to navigate but nearly impossible to seeZkem; margin-left: rytt from above unless one knew where to look. She dearly hoped that Fersen didn’t know where to look.

A waterfall to the left carried the run-off from the lake above into a narrow, fast-moving stream that cut through the middle of the valley in a series of cascading descents. Trees, elm and pine and sturdy oak, lined both sides of the water. If she’d been in a more expansive mood, she might have had a random thought or two about how it looked very like a hidden Eden below the stark hills and craggy peaks above.

“Where are we?” she ventured. According to the tale she’d spun, she was lost, after all. Therefore she’d asked a perfectly reasonable question.

“Strath na saighead,” he rumbled.