Kidnapped and held prisoner by menacing Scottish brigand, the notorious McCloud, Violet Wyeth does her best to persevere…and resist his rakish charms. But when she realizes The McCloud is really Ewan St. Andrews, the boy who once saved her life, the boy who once kissed her and made her heart flutter, she is lost.
Ewan has every intention of marrying Lady Kaitlin MacAllister. He desperately needs the entrée into the ton this bride can provide. But when his bride is delivered—bound and gagged—it’s not Kaitlin. It’s Violet Wyeth—the girl who betrayed him and ruined his life when he was a boy. He keeps her, determined to punish her for her sins. But when he discovers the truth about what really happened so long ago, and seething passion rises between them, he can no longer hold on to his rusty grudge. By the time he realizes how much he loves Violet—that he always has—he’s lost her.
All he can do is follow her. Follow her into the bowels of hell—and partake in the torment of the glittering London Season, where the harpies are far more dangerous than a Scottish brigand.
An Excerpt From: BRIGAND
Holy Heaven. She would never take a bath for granted again.
Violet stumbled on the stairs and the water in the heavy bucket sloshed, dousing her with hot water. She sucked in a breath as pain seared. She set the bucket down on the landing and pulled her skirts up. Her skin was red. She ruffled the tatters of her petticoats, waiting for the sting to subside.
The door to the Laird’s solar swung open. She stepped back so it wouldn’t hit her and it slammed into the wall. The McCloud glowered down at her. His gaze stalled on her bare legs. It was riveted—until she dropped her skirts—then he snapped, “What the hell is taking so long?” His glanced back at her damp skirts and his frown darkened. He picked up the last bucket and carried it to the tub, dumping it in himself. “For god’s sake. How long does it take to bring a few measly buckets up from this kitchen?”
A few measly buckets? It had taken twelve trips, each with a bucket that weighed near as much as she. Violet glared at him. “Is that enough?” She probably didn’t need to clip the words quite so much, but she had already worked for hours. She was tired and sweaty and her skin ached and Morna was waiting for her to come help prepare dinner.
He swished his hand in the water. “Yes. I suppose that will do.”
Not a thank you. Not a smile. Nothing.
She whirled and started for the door.
“Where do you think you’re going?” His voice rumbled through the room, a deep tenor. Her steps slowed.
“Back to the kitchen.” She frowned at him over her shoulder. “I have work to do.”
“You have work to do here.”
“I beg your pardon?” What did he want her to do now, wash his bottom?
“You’re going to bathe me.”
Her heart stilled at his words, his intent, and especially the look in his eyes. “Wh-what?”
“Come now Violet. The laird of the manor can’t be expected to scrub his own back, can he now? Be a good girl, close the door and come over here.”
She gaped at him. Gaped. He expected her to remain in a room with a naked man? He expected her to touch him?
“Close your mouth. You look like a trout.”
“But…I c-can’t. I can’t b-bathe you.”
“Of course you can. And you will.” His eyes glinted with something other than humor. The unspoken threat hummed in the stony chamber. “You may want to turn around while I undress, unless you want an early education.” He began to unbutton his shirt.
With an undignified “eep” Violet whirled and showed him her back until she heard the splash and his gusty sigh.
“All right, girl. Get to work. Scrub my back.” He gestured to a chunk of soap and sponge on a small table. She picked them up, approached the tub and knelt behind him, trying not to stare at the bunching muscles, the broad expanse of tanned skin. She couldn’t help but notice it was covered with scars. Long and short, criss-crossing over one another. As though he’d been brutally beaten and lashed time after time after—“Did you close the door?”
Her bubbling sympathy evaporated in a rush. She stuck her tongue out at him, but only because he couldn’t see. Then, with a heavy sigh, she levered herself up off the floor and closed the door. Well, slammed it, perhaps.
His chuckle annoyed her more.
He leaned forward and peeped at her over his shoulder. “Come along now. My back isn’t going to scrub itself.”
She took her place behind him again, being very careful not to look at his broad, be-furred chest as she approached. She wet the soap and sponge and created a lather. Being very careful not to touch him, she began to scour his back. He winced. “Not so hard.”
His plaintive tone probably shouldn’t have sent a shard of evil satisfaction through her, but it did. This man had been a boor to her from the moment he’d found her on the floor in Callum MacAllister’s cottage. She dug deeper.
He lurched forward. “Ouch!”
“Hold still,” she muttered, making a wide swath across the ridged skin. “You’re filthy. I need to scrub.”
“I am not filthy.”
“You are. Stop wriggling.”
Amazingly, he did, even though she knew her efforts bordered on abuse. But my, it felt good.
When she started on his neck and ears, he caught her wrist. “All right. I think that’s enough.”
“I’m not done.”
“Oh, you’re not done.” He tugged her around to the side of the tub so she faced him. She focused on his crooked nose, schooled her gaze not to drift lower. “Now it’s time for you to scrub my front.”
She really disliked the look in his eye. There was mischief—and something much darker—coiling in there. “Fine.” She dropped to her knees and wet the sponge again, but rather than dunking it, merely skimmed the surface of the water.
Fortunately the bath was murky, so she couldn’t see anything. But she knew what was down there and she didn’t want to find it by accident. She trained her attention on his chest, and her heart lurched.
A long, nasty scar scored him. Like a puckered lightning bolt, it made its jagged way from his left nipple down to his belly. Her pulse skittered. Her breath snagged in her throat. She’d only ever seen a scar like that once before.
A scar exactly like that.
Her gaze snapped back to his face. She looked at him. Really looked at him, perhaps for the first time. Her mouth went dry. The gray eyes laced by thick black lashes. The broad smiling mouth. The curve of his jaw.
It couldn’t be. Could it?
“W-where did you get that scar?”
He glanced down and stilled. Annoyance flickered across his features. “Every man has scars.”
“Not-not like that.” She sat back on her haunches. She didn’t realize she was squeezing the sponge until water seeped through her skirts.
“All right. A knife fight.”
“Knives don’t cut like that.” It was uneven and rippled, like the flesh and been shorn off in places and sliced in others.
“Well, it was a goddamn knife fight. I was in a vicious battle with a man in an alley. I gutted him.” His lip curled into a sneer. “Does it frighten you, my lady?”
“No.” But that was a lie. It did frighten her. Because Ewan, her friend, the boy who had saved her, had gotten an eerily similar wound rescuing her from a watery grave. And surely this wasn’t Ewan. It couldn’t be.
Ewan was gentle and sweet. He had liked her, maybe loved her. He had kissed her. And this man… This man had taken her prisoner and mauled her and put her to work.
And she hated him.
He couldn’t be Ewan. He couldn’t. It would break her heart.
He narrowed his eyes and barked, “Goddamn it, girl, finish washing me. The water’s getting cold.”
But she couldn’t. She needed to know. She had to know.
“It wasn’t a knife. It was ice.” A whisper, but he heard it. He froze, his gaze locked to hers. “You jumped in and found me in the water. Lifted me out. But you couldn’t get out yourself.”
“I don’t know what you’re babbling about.”
But he did. She could see it in his eyes. There, for a flash of a moment, she saw that boy in his eyes.
She licked suddenly dry lips. “Ewan? Is it you?”
He rose from the tub in an unholy rush. She didn’t have time to look away. The vision of his naked body, hard and lean, scarred and perfect, burned on her brain. He grabbed a cloth and covered his loins.
“This bath is over. Get out.”
She stood. Tried desperately not to tremble. “It is you. It is.”
“Get out. Go!”
“What happened to you, Ewan?”
A dark cloud lowered on his already stormy brow. “What happened to me? You mean, how did I become the beast that I am?” The vitriol in his voice made her shake, but she didn’t back down.
“No, Ewan. Where did you go? No one would tell me and I always wondered…”
Every muscle in his body tensed, vibrated. Violet knew, because she could see them all, a magnificent panoply.
She should have been afraid. She should have been horrified. She should have skittered from the room like a frightened little rabbit. But she wasn’t afraid. She didn’t run.
She knew—knew—her Ewan would never hurt her.
Indeed, as he stared into her questing eyes, his fury passed. He scrubbed a palm over his broad face. “Go,” he croaked. His tone was laced with an emotion she couldn’t decipher. Desolation, perhaps. Grief. “Just go.”
This time, she did.
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