A giant stepped in front of her. Dressed in black riding boots, black breeches and riding coat, he was so tall and his shoulders so broad the already dark horizon darkened further.
His voice was deep and calm, the voice of a man used to be obeyed. The crowd hushed at once.
He bent down in front of her.
‘Well, well, who do we have here?’
Even though she could hardly see his face, she felt his eyes bore into hers, and it was enough to make her mind go blank.
‘Where are the others, your servants, your maids?’
‘I… I don’t have any.’
‘Really? That’s a surprise. All right then, come up.’ He held both his hands out.
She hesitated a moment before placing her hands in his. He pulled her up and she flew straight into his arms, landing with a bump against his broad, hard chest. He was so tall she had to tilt her face all the way back to look at him. Her heart skipped a beat, then started bumping fast and loud.
His eyes were grey and framed by dark eyelashes, his nose straight and strong, his cheekbones high and sharp. Thick black stubble covered his cheeks and chin, and his hair flew around his face, the colour of a raven’s wing. There was something dangerous about him, something reminiscent of a brutal warrior from days long gone by.
She wriggled to free herself but he didn't let go and his mouth curved into a mocking smile.
‘Well, Fàilte, my sweetheart. ‘I’ll say this for McRae. If there’s one thing the rascal can do, it’s pick his fancy women.’
His hand slid from her waist and he patted her bottom.
Her reaction was instinctive. She swung her arm and lifted her hand to slap him. She didn’t have the chance. Without batting an eyelid he caught her wrist.
‘Steady on, sweetheart. You have a nasty little temper.’
‘And you have no right to insult me in this way, you vile brute,’ she hissed. ‘I am not Lord McRae’s fancy woman, as you so elegantly put it, I’m his wife!’
She had expected at least a shocked response or a groveling apology but he merely smiled.
‘It’s all right, gràidheag, you don’t have to pretend.’
‘Pretend you’re married to the man. I don’t care if you’re McRae’s mistress or his laundry maid, if you scrub his back or his dirty shirts.’
‘I am telling the truth, you stubborn macaque,’ she shouted in frustration. ‘I married Lord McRae in
four weeks ago.’ Algiers
‘Please don't scream quite so loud. I heard you the first time. I just don’t believe you.’
‘First you introduce yourself as Rose Saintclair, now you’re spinning me a tale about being married McRae. Make up your mind, sweetie.’
He glanced at her hand. ‘I don’t see any wedding band on your finger.’
‘That’s because Cameron wanted to keep the wedding a secret. Never mind, I don’t have to explain anything to you. Now let go of me.’
She wriggled to break free, but he was still holding her wrist, leaving her no choice but to kick him hard in the shin with the tip of her boot – the very pointy tip of the fashionable new boots she had made in
‘Ouch. Steady on, sweetheart.’
‘Let go of me, you deranged baboon! And stop calling me sweetheart.’
She kicked him again, harder. He muttered something in a strange, guttural language she didn’t understand and let go of her so suddenly she staggered backward and fell on her bottom on the hard, wet cobbles.
Her breath caught in her throat, her heart beat hard, erratic. Tears blurred her vision as people sneered and clapped around her. She knew McRaes and McGunns were enemies, but she had nothing to do with their feud, so why did everybody here seem to hate her so much? And why was the big hairy brute intent on humiliating her and not believing a word she said?
He stepped closer and offered his hand.
‘Come on, now, sweetheart. Let’s start again. I think we got off on the wrong foot.’
He sounded contrite but she wasn’t ready to forgive to forgive him. Ignoring his hand, she scrambled to her feet, and straightened her back. Attack was the best defence, her brother often said, and Lucas knew what he was talking about. He was the best scout in the whole of the
Barbary States – or as the French now called
her country. Algeria
‘Take me to your master immediately,’ she started in a voice as cold and steady she could manage, ‘so I can ask him to have you whipped for your insolence.’
There was a collective gasp from the people around them. Not looking in the least impressed, the man crossed his arms on his broad chest and arched his eyebrows.
She took another deep breath.
‘That’s what I do to disrespectful servants on my estate, and I can assure you they stop smirking after five lashes.’ That was an outrageous lie, of course, but no one here was to know.
'If what you said earlier is true, then I see McRae chose his bride well.’ The man’s eyes were now hard as steel. ‘You and he are indeed a match made in heaven, or in hell. I’m sure you’ll be very happy together.’ He paused. ‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, sweetheart, but I don’t approve of whipping people, or beasts, for that matter.’
‘And I don’t care a fig if you approve or not. It is for your master to decide your punishment, and from what I’ve heard of Lord McGunn, he is neither a patient nor compassionate man.’
He arched his eyebrows. ‘I didn’t know I had such a bad reputation.’
Rose’s heart stopped. He wasn’t… he couldn’t be…
‘I realise I failed to introduce myself. I am Bruce McGunn.’ He bowed his head in a military salute.
‘You are?’ The words came out as a squeak.
His lips stretched into a tight smile that didn’t warm his eyes.
‘At your service, my lady. Now the introductions are over, shall we make our way to the Lodge?’
Rose's and Bruce's story
continues in BLUE BONNETS, which is now available for pre-order.