Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Flash 41: Got Them Good

Flash 41

Thanks to our Guest Diva is Lily Sawyer, who gives us the following:  "This is a bitch of an unsatisfactory situation,"  Or  "I wish I knew how to quit you." or  "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

My alternate prompts are:

8 ball, trailer and use the name of any state in the US or

pizzicato, pie and motor oil or

"Your words are too big for your mouth"

Got Them Good

He didn’t know when he’d lost it. Whether it was the scene with the postcard with the words ‘deceased’ written in red as if to emphasis the tremendous loss of one so precious or when Willie Nelson’s song “He was a Friend of Mine,” started to play.   The sound of sniffing from the man next to him drew his attention.  He couldn’t stop a small smile from appearing on his face as he watched Ben try to hide the fact that Brokeback Mountain made them both cry.  If not for a lot of reasons, Ennis and Jack’s story could very well have been theirs.


“What?”  Ben wiped his eyes with a tissue and blew his nose. 

“You okay?”

“Sure. Just my allergies acting up.”  His excuse was lame, but he was sticking to it.

“It’s okay, this movie got to me too.” Tom shut off the TV and watched his partner trying to compose himself.   “Come here.”  Tom put his arm around Ben’s shoulders and pulled him against his chest.  “It’s okay.”

“That’s what Jack said.”   Ben nestled into the strong arms that held him. 

“He also said “This is a bitch of an unsatisfactory situation.”

“He also said “I wish I knew how to quit you.”   Ben’s eyes filled with tears again and he wiped them on Tom’s shirt.  “It’s just not fair, Tom. Ennis and Jack deserved to have a happy life, like we do.  I’d never quit you, never.”

“I know, baby, I wouldn’t either. I’m so happy we found each other.”

“They could never be together, I just wish Ennis would’ve said he was sorry about turning Jack away after his divorce.  Jack was so happy, singing “King of the Road”… and then Ennis squashed it all.”

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Tom rubbed Ben’s back; the circular motions eased the tension in his man’s shoulder.

Ben’s arms wrapped around his waist. “I love you Tom, and I’m so happy to have you in my life.”

“I am, too, baby.”

It started off slow, hands caressing faces; nose nuzzles and kisses, plenty of kisses that turned into lovemaking.

They fell asleep, naked in each other arms, smiles of contentment on both their faces.

 Fellow Flashers

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Snog-The Finest Thing

Here is my Sunday Snog,  there are more than just some kissing going on here

check it out (and if you want to see more Dreamspinner Press is having a holiday sale on their books
buy link

After a leisurely dinner and sharing that decadent dessert Paul spoke about, Aidan pushed his chair away from the table and let out a contented sigh.  “Ah, now, that hit the spot.”

“Nothing like chocolate to cure all ails.”  Paul smiled at his happy companion.

“Is that your official prescription, doctor?” 

“Yes, but it’s not something many doctors will admit to prescribing for their patients.”

“Oh, and am I your patient now?”   Aidan smiled suggestively.

“I think I might be able to add you as a patient.  Maybe I should take you back to the office and give you a thorough checkup.” 

Before they knew it they were both back at Aidan’s room at the inn.  “You’re lucky I had an empty timeslot, I’m usually pretty booked up,” Paul said in his professional doctor voice.

“Well, I have some pain in my neck and my back.”

“You do realize I’m an orthopedist, not a chiropractor.”

Aidan unbuttoned his shirt and slowly slid it down off his shoulders. 

“Of course, I could change specialties.”  Paul sat down in a chair opposite the bed and watched the strip show, licking his lips when he saw Aidan remove his jeans to reveal the growing bulge in his underwear.

“That looks pretty painful.  I better take a closer look at it.  Please sit on the bed.” 

Aidan sat on the edge of the mattress.  “Are you going to use a stethoscope?  I don’t like them they’re always so cold.”

“No, what I’m going to do is going to warm you up and make you feel good.”  Paul grabbed the bottom of the sweater he was wearing and pulled it up over his head before he sat behind Aidan.

“Yeah?”  Aidan started to melt the minute he felt Paul’s warm fingers start to knead the tight muscles in his neck and shoulders.

“Yeah,” Paul whispered into his ear.  “I’m going to make it so good for you,” he said in a husky tone.

Aidan felt himself being gently pushed onto the bed so he was lying on his stomach.   Paul went into the bathroom and retrieved some massage oils that the inn had provided.   He poured some oil into his hand and rubbed it all over Aidan’s neck and back, feeling all the tension in Aidan’s body from the confrontation with his father disappear like it never happened. 

“Yeah, right there.   Yeah, ahhhhhh, mmmm,” Aidan sighed in contentment.   Paul continued his massage down his back and slowly slid Aidan’s underwear off.   His fingers dug into his buttocks, then down his thighs and finally to his feet.   

Sometime during the massage, Paul had removed all of his own clothes as well.   He changed his route, and started kissing his way up Aidan’s body. 

“Oh shit,” Aidan murmured when he felt Paul kiss his butt cheeks and then felt a tongue lick his balls.    Paul reached between Aidan’s legs, wrapping his hand around Aidan’s cock, his tongue pushing into his tight hole.

Paul reached over to the nightstand and pulled the draw, grabbing a condom and lube.   He pulled Aidan onto his back and showed him what he had in his hands.  “Okay?” he asked permission.

“It’s been a long time.” 

“We don’t have to, if you’re not ready.” 

Aidan reached out and grabbed Paul by the shoulders and kissed him.  “I am very ready.”  He helped roll the condom onto Paul’s cock and applied the lube.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Silver Flash #40: Love in the Windy City

 When last we saw of Ben and Tom they were on a train heading for Chicago.   Tom was attending a firefighter's function there.   Ben couldn't bear to be left alone in Lancaster PA so he hopped on the train and we join them now in Chicago (note I have never been to Chicago, yet, hope to get there sometime.  So I am doing a little research for this story. Hope it's accurate)

Flash 40  
This week’s prompts:

Guest Prompt Diva Brenna Lyons makes her second appearance on our stage with this gem:  “Did you ever notice that the things people hate about you are the same things you hate about them?”

I offer these alternate prompts:

Use these three words: White Castle, cyanide, evolution  


"A thing of beauty is a joy forever"


have a character use a foreign accent, one that isn't his own

and finally, our special Thanksgiving prompts:

turkey, stuff, wing and pilgrim


immigrants, Led Zeppelin and thanks

 Love in the Windy City

Chicago was amazing; Ben hadn’t been to a big city since a trip to Philly many years ago.  

“You’re going to get your face stuck to that glass if you’re not careful.”

Ben turned away from the window;Tom’s smiling face made his heart soar.  ‘I’m just so excited.”

“Yeah, you’re like a kid in a candy store.”  Tom’s arms wrapped around his lover from behind as they both enjoyed the view from the eighteenth floor of their hotel.  

“Are we going to get to sight see or are you going to be stuck at the conference all weekend?”  Ben made a pout appear on his lips, a match to his begging eyes.

Tom released Ben from his embrace to look at the schedule he had in a folder on his IPad.   “It says I have to go to a panel on safety and public awareness this afternoon at four. It’s only eight.  Let’s go have breakfast and then go take a walk around.”

The hotel had an all-you-can-eat-breakfast buffet until eleven. Tom and Ben chowed down on omelets, pancakes, and bacon.   Juice and coffee rounded out their meal and then they were out the door, into the bright sunlight. 

Since Tom had been to Chicago a few times, he acted as tour guide.   The hotel was right near Millennium Park; there was so much to do within walking distance.  They went to Wrigley Square and saw the Millennium monument.    “It looks like a Greek temple, doesn’t it?”  Ben snapped some shots. 

Next they wandered across the BP Pedestrian Bridge.  It was a girder-like structure that connected Millennium Park with Daley Bicentennial Plaza.   

“Let’s go to the Sears Tower, Tom.  I always wanted to go.”

“You mean the Willis Tower.”


“The Sears Tower. They changed the name in 2009.  Sears’ naming rights expired and a British insurance company bought it. Hence the Willis building was born.”

“Wow, you’re a wealth of information aren’t you, Einstein?”  Ben grabbed a kiss from Tom.   They didn’t worry about how it might ‘look’ to passersby. If they had a problem with it,  too bad.   They’d discussed how they were going to act in public at the beginning of their relationship; they’d known far too many gay couples that hid in the shadows.  Well, Ben and Tom decided they weren’t going to hide. They weren’t going to make out like bunnies in the street, but they weren’t going to be afraid to hold hands either.

“Do you want to go out on the ledge?”

“The ledge?” 

Tom pointed to the four box-shaped windows they could just see from the street, way up towards the top of the building.  “It’s an observation area on the one hundred third floor.  Come on, let’s go.”  Before Ben could say anything, he was dragged into the building and whisked up in the elevator to the Skydeck.  

“Isn’t this great?”  Tom looked out at the Chicago River. Ben was squeezing his hand so hard, he thought he’d lose circulation.   “Ben?”

“I forgot to tell you heights are not my favorite thing.”

“No, you didn’t tell me. We could leave…”   Tom started to move away from the view.

“No, this is something I’ve been wanting to work on. It’s not that bad.  I just get a little dizzy.”

“I’m here for you, baby.”  Tom wrapped his arms around him and held his man as they stood next to the windows and he waited for Ben to let him know what he wanted to do.

“It is breathtaking,” He was shaking a bit, but when he was cocooned in Tom’s arms he felt so much better.

Ben had had enough excitement and they decided to go back to their hotel and rest before Tom had to go to his meeting.   On the way back, they stood in Cloud Gate, right next to the ‘Bean’ sculpture, in Millennium Park. 

“It looks kind of weird. You can see yourself in it.”  Ben stood admiring the way his image reflected back on the metal sculpture.

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever,”  Tom said as he studied Ben’s image. Turning to look at the man next to him, he smiled his big gorgeous smile.

“I love you Tom.”

“Love you too, Ben.  Let’s go back to our room, I’m kind of tired.”

“Too tired to…” Ben wiggled his eyebrows at his lover.


They made it back to the room in record time.  Resting came some time later after their first round of lovemaking, one of many on that weekend.   It was their way of celebrating Thanksgiving a bit early.  

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 
Here is a list of this week's flashers:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Congratulations to

Shadow Kohler for winning a copy of  "Catch of the Day."   He is swimming his way to you now.


and thanks to all who entered my contest

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Let's get this party started

Link to the party

Before I tell you about Jaran, my merman,  I thought I'd tell you a little about myself.  (at the end is a little surprise)

Being a writer is not something I ever dreamed about, it sort of just fell into my lap.  The most writing I'd ever done was in school for book reports or essays, the stuff most kids dread.   I think what started it all for me was watching Star Trek,  I became a major fan and got involved in my very first fandom.  I'm sure most of you have heard of fanzines and that show started it all.  I couldn't get enough of fan fiction.  I got involved in other fandoms but the one that really made an impact on me, and started me with writing original romance stories, was Brokeback Mountain.  After watching that movie I became hooked.  I wanted to fix what I couldn't stand.   After writing stories in that fandom I noticed my fellow Brokies were writing original stories and getting them published. I decided to try my hand.  I never knew I'd be writing gay romance stories but I just love it.   This is how Lily Sawyer was born.

Now about "Catch of the Day"     

Kellan Murphy is a successful car dealer in Chicago, but he isn't happy with his life. He finds his job boring and wants a change. After the sudden death of his lover he decides to move someplace warm. He sees an ad for the Florida Keys in a magazine and packs everything and moves to the Keys.

Kellan starts his new life as a fisherman and tour guide. He has his own home and boat, but the one thing missing is someone to share his life with. On a rare day off he decides to go fishing and what he finds at the end of his fishing line changes his life forever.


They slowly drove by the expensive house and kept driving down the coast
highway. Kellan kept quiet and Jaran sensed something had changed since he
showed him his old house.

"Something wrong Kellan?"

"Nothing." Kellan smiled at him. "Are you hungry? We can go back to my place or
we can try this new restaurant by the marina." He abruptly changed the subject.

"Okay." Jaran felt some tension between them.

They went to a place called "The Hideaway Café." Kellan led the way and it
didn't take long before they were shown to a table for two out back.

"Are you sure you should be eating that?" Kellan looked at the plate filled with
fish, scallops and a lobster tail that sat in front of Jaran.

"What do you mean?" Jaran said between bites.

"I mean, isn't that like eating your own people?" Kellan said over his surf and
turf plate he'd ordered.

Jaran chuckled. "Kellan, I'm a merman. I didn't turn into a fish. I have to come
up for air to breath."

"How do you sleep if you have to come up for air?" Kellan took a drink of his
"We wrap ourselves at the surface among the kelp beds. In Palmyra we have
special sleeping cells that have air chambers in them."

"So, how long?"

"How long what?" Jaran asked him.

"How long are you planning on staying? I mean, it seems you don't have anything
keeping you here. No home or job."

"I don't know," Jaran admitted to him. "I didn't think I had anything to come
back to land for. I thought I had everything I could ask for out there." He
pointed out to sea.

"It's not like you do now either."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Jaran said, irritated.

"Nothing." Kellan pushed away the plate of food; he'd lost his appetite.

"Don't say nothing. Tell me what's on your mind."

"Fine, you want to know what's on my mind. I was thinking about that fancy house
you had and what I have. I can't compete with that," he said sadly.

"Compete? What are you competing for, Kellan?" Jaran asked softly.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is that I like you and I was kind of hoping
you'd stick around. But I guess that is wishful thinking because I just don't
cut it."

Jaran was shocked. He didn't realize that Kellan's feelings were starting to run
that deep. After all, they'd only just met. Question was, did Jaran's feelings
match Kellan's?

for everyone who comments I'll be giving away a free copy of "Catch of the Day"  The contest ends on the last day of the party Nov 22nd.   Please leave a comment and your e mail addy (contact info)

have fun!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving party this weekend

                                                          Link to the party

I want to invite you all to the Thanksgiving Party over at the TRS site.  It's an even SO big that they couldn't fit it in just one or two days so they fit it into FOUR.  It runs from Sat Nov 19th to Tues Nov 22nd.    So just click on the party link above and join in.    They'll be plenty to see and read and contests and a whole bunch of stuff.

So come on over and bring your appetite, well your reading appetite.    I'll be bringing some goodies the party too. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Four Doors Down

Hello to my friends and followers.   I thought I'd treat you by giving you a preview of something I am currently working on for the Nanowrimo challenge.   For those who do not know what this is, it's a writing challenge that is held once a year.  For the month of November writers try to reach a 50,000 word goal.   I don't think I'll get there at this point but I'm going to see how far I can get by Nov 30th. 

The story is called "Four Doors Down"  I'd love to hear what you all think.  Please leave a comment. Thanks


Alex Perez is a talented artist, lives in a nice quiet community in bucolic Lancaster Pennsylvania.   He lives a simple life and has everything he needs except someone to share his life with.   The house four doors down has stood vacant for a long time until a moving van shows up and someone moves in.     But welcoming the new neighbor proves elusive for Alex and he wonders if the mysterious man in black is hiding something.

Sneak Peek
If there was one thing Alex Perez loved it was art. He started drawing the minute he could hold a pencil.  It didn’t surprise his friends and family when he became an artist, albeit a starving one. To keep a roof over his head he became an art teacher.

Alex was not a city person, he couldn’t breath there.  So here he was sitting in front of an art easel on the front porch of his house in the middle of Lancaster Pennsylvania.  The mountains stood majestically before him the fall foliage dressing them up in brilliant colors of orange and red as far as the eye could see. The morning sunlight was shining on them perfectly and he was determined to do the scene justice with his paintbrush.

The peaceful quiet was quickly disturbed by the arrival of a moving van.  Alex wondered if the vacant house that was four doors down was ever going to be sold.  It had belonged to a retired school teacher named Mallory Clark, he was a friendly old guy, he’d come over to watch Alex paint.  He’d even bought some of his artwork.  Alex missed the old guy when he passed away eight months ago.  His family had put the house on the market and it looked like he was going to have a new neighbor.  

He rushed inside to get a cup of coffee, curiosity getting the better of him.  It wasn’t like a lot happened in this sleepy town, so watching a new neighbor move in was a spectator sport; at least it worked for him.

“Hi Bob,” he said hello to his roommate; Bob barely gave Alex a passing glance as he continued to groom himself.   He was quite comfortable sitting on the top tier of the cat scratching post that Alex had bought recently; he’d finally gotten fed up with Bob clawing at the furniture in the living room.  

“Looks like we’re going to have a new neighbor, Bob.”  Alex scratched the back of the black and white cat’s ears.  He always wanted a cat but his mother never liked them so first thing he did after he moved into this place was visit the local shelter and picked out this guy, although it was more like he picked him.

One thing about cats was you didn’t own them, they owned you.  And quite frankly Alex wouldn’t have it any other way.   Bob turned out to be an excellent companion, he listened to him without complaining, didn’t mess up the house, kept himself clean and as long as he made sure he bought the right brand of cat food, after Bob stuck his nose up to several kinds of dried kibble, he was a happy camper. Of course Alex still had to clean up the litter box, but all in all he loved his buddy.

Alex returned to his vantage point on the front porch. Settling onto the comfortable white wicker chair he watched the movers parading boxes and assorted furniture from the truck and into the house.

He chuckled when the movers had a hard time maneuvering the large couch through the front door. The same thing happened to him when he’d moved in a few years ago.  Somehow just like a magician, the movers got the stubborn piece of furniture into the house.

Alex wondered who the new neighbor who was joining the hodge-podge of inhabitants in this sleepy town was going to be.

He hoped they were nice people, no one who was too noisy or had rude out of control kids.   It’s not that Alex didn’t like kids, but he never saw himself as a father, he enjoyed the independence of being able to come and go as he pleased, never being tied down by anything or anyone.

It could be why he was single, which was another consideration that crossed his mind.  He hoped the new neighbors weren’t homophobic, because Alex was gay and a member of the nearest LGBT group and damn proud of it.

The afternoon was winding down, the sun heading low over the western sky, before the new neighbor made an appearance.

A black Audi SUV drove up and parked in front of the house.   Alex had managed to finish his painting in the ensuing hours and now leaned on the railing of his covered porch; he could feel the anticipation welling up inside him.  He was on pins and needles waiting forever, it seemed.  The car door opened up and a figure dressed in black stepped out.  Alex’s heart stopped when the man got out and closed the car door, only to Alex’s eyes he wasn’t just a man, he looked more like a work of art that one of the masters might have painted or sculpted, the tall dark haired Adonis was certainly someone Alex would be itching to get to be his muse.

He watched the stranger stroll down the walk and disappear over the threshold. 

Yes this was one neighbor Alex would personally give a warm welcome to.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Silver Flash Weds

Hello visitors,

It's Silver Flash day.   I, unfortunately, am not flashing this week.  I got busy with other things and didn't have the time.

I did want to post this week's prompts and the links to those who are flashing this week

Here are the prompts for 11-16-11:

June is busting out all over

and the alternate prompts are:

Use these three words:  dagger, relaxation, hair net


two princes kneel before me


darker than the Bat Cave at midnight

The links to those who are flashing this week:  
Sui Lynn   (m/m)
see you next week. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Snog-The Finest Thing


“Nice room,” Paul commented as he looked around the room.  He walked over to the window and parted the curtains.  “The view is gorgeous.”  Paul turned to look at Aidan and was met by a pair of lips on his own.

“I-I’m sorry.  I don’t know what came over me. It’s just been so long since I’ve been with someone I…”  Aidan was silenced when Paul’s lips locked onto his and they fell back together onto the bed.

Paul started unbuttoning Aidan’s shirt.  “Am I moving too fast?” he asked anxiously.

“No, I like the direction you’re going,” were the last words spoken for a long time.  Their bodies moved around on the bed to accommodate the removal of each other’s clothing.  A pile began to grow on the floor beside the bed until they were both lying naked on the sheets.

It all began with more passionate kissing, their hands taking paths of discovery, learning the pleasure points of the other’s body.  Aidan discovered Paul loved his nipples to be played with and Paul discovered that Aidan loved his ears and throat licked.  Their bodies lined up like matching bookends and their wet cocks slid side by side.  Paul’s hand wrapped around both straining members and stroked up and down, eliciting a moan from Aidan.

“Oh, yeah, yeah, right there.  Just like that,” Aidan gasped finding it hard to breath.

Moaning and groaning gave way to both men reaching the height of climax.  Aidan wrapped his arms around Paul’s equally sweaty body as they cuddled together, enjoying the afterglow.

“Were you? Did I?” Paul asked as he gazed nervously at Aidan.

“Yeah,” Aidan said, smiling at the other man. “That was great.”

Paul rested his head under Aidan’s chin, feeling him place a kiss the top of his head.  He sighed as he felt himself slowly falling asleep.  Aidan lay a few more minutes, looking at the sleeping man in his arms.  It had been too long since he’d been intimate with anyone.  He wondered for a moment what this all meant, but found that he couldn’t keep his eyes open as he fell asleep, too.
Available from Dreamspinner Press

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Welcome Guest Blogger B.J. Scott

Welcome to my guest, author B.J. Scott.  Her very first book is released today. Congratulations!
Feedback welcome. 

Let's get to know her better and check out a sneak peek of her book "Highland Legacy" 

1-    How long have you been writing?

While I have dabbled in writing since I was a child, I started writing in earnest in 2000. I joined an online writing group, determined to realize my dream of becoming an author. In 2003, I met my husband and put my writing aside for a while. Three years ago, I dusted off the old manuscripts, now in desperate need of revisions and started several new projects.

2-What is your favorite genre to write?

My favorite would have to be historical romance. I have always been fascinated by history in general, anything Celtic, Native American or pertaining to the Civil War. I also write contemporary, paranormal and romantic suspense.

3-What are you working on now?

I am currently working on another Scottish historical entitled Bedded by the Enemy. I am also working on a paranormal/ time travel, historical romance. I have not decided what genre it will finally fall into. It all depends how the story unfolds.

4-When you start a new story do you begin with a character or plot?

Each story is different. While I like to have a basic plot idea in mind, I often let the story develop as the characters develop.  I am a combination of a pantser and a plotter. ;)

5- Tell us about your latest/upcoming release. What inspired it?

As previously mentioned, I love historical romance and anything to do with the Celtic culture. Having a Scottish, Irish and English ancestry, I guess I come by it naturally. When I wrote Highland Legacy, I wanted to tell the love story of two people caught up in this turbulent time in Scottish history. Historical facts are woven into the story to enhance the authenticity and to set the scene, but at no time does it lose sight of the romantic intent. 

Available from Soul Mate Publishing 
Buy Link

Highland Legacy is an 87,125 word historical romance set in medieval Scotland.
Faced with an abhorrent betrothal, Cailin Macmillan flees her father’s castle and quickly learns that a woman traveling alone in Medieval Scotland is an easy target for ruthless English soldiers. When Highland patriot Connor Fraser comes to her aid, his steadfast dedication to king and country is challenged by his overwhelming desire to protect Cailin—even if he must marry her to do so.

Accused of murdering one of her attackers and determined to rely on her own resourcefulness, Cailin dresses as a lad, intent on seeking refuge at the camp of Robert the Bruce. Can she elude an enemy from her past—a vindictive English lord bent on her utter demise—or will she fall prey to his carnal intent and be executed for a crime she did not commit?

Chapter 1

Dunkeld Scotland, 1306.

Duncan Macmillan’s nostrils flared, and his piercing blue eyes narrowed with anger. Judging by the rigidity of his stance, the bulge of his neck veins, and scowl of utter contempt, Cailin had pushed her father beyond his limits. Again.
They’d quarreled often, and each time, he cursed her wild spirit, and temerity, swore fairies stole his real child at birth and left a changeling in her place. An unyielding man, he ruled Clan Macmillan with an iron fist, and made no exceptions. Cailin experienced the force of his wrath on more than one occasion, and bore the physical and emotional scars.
He paced his chamber like a restless animal ready to pounce on its prey. “Laird MacMurray arrives on the morrow and expects to find a cheerful, willing bride. You’ll not embarrass me with your obstinacy!”
“Banish me, beat me, or throw me into the pit if you wish, but I will not marry a man I dinna love. Especially a vile, contemptible swine who is almost three times my age.” As the rebellious words left her lips, memories of past punishments flooded her mind, but she refused to concede to her father’s demands, regardless of the consequences.
“This alliance is important to the clan, and I’ve given my word.” He balled his fist and took a step in her direction.
 Cailin crossed her arms over her chest and glared up at him in defiance. “The alliance does not interest you as much as the cattle, land, and chest of gold he has offered for my hand.” She took a slow, deep breath for courage, and continued. “My happiness is of no importance to you. Not as long as you can pad your coffers, and increase your holdings. I am nothing more to you than a pawn, property for sale to the highest bidder.” 
His face flushed red as he stomped toward her with a hand raised in preparation to strike. “Insolent, ungrateful lass, I’ll teach you to speak to me with such disrespect. When I’m finished, you’ll rue the day you were born.”
 “I have, for eighteen summers,” she snapped back in retaliation. The stinging backhand she received brought her to her knees.
“Husband, please.” Before he could deliver another blow, his wife, Catherine, stepped between them, and placed her hand on Duncan’s raised arm. “She’s your daughter, and you must show more compassion and understanding. I am sure once she has time to get accustomed to the idea, she will do your bidding. Won’t you?” She glanced over her shoulder, and gave Cailin a pleading look.
Duncan glared down at his wife. “She’s been a wee devil since birth, and it is about time she learned her place. Step out of my way, or you’ll learn your place as well.” He grasped Catherine by the shoulders, and briskly moved her aside.
Cailin slowly climbed to her feet, wiped the trickle of blood from her lower lip with the back of her hand. “Dinna fash yourself, Catherine, it is a private matter to be settled between my father and me. Not one so easily resolved. Mayhap you should go and rest.”
 Only two years her senior, Catherine carried in her belly what Cailin prayed would be the son her father had always wanted. If he finally had a male heir, she’d be freed from the burden of blame, guilt, and obligation that had plagued her entire life.
 Duncan’s body shook as he pointed his finger in his daughter’s direction. “Do you see what I mean? Even when someone tries to help her, she shows no appreciation. Not a day goes by I have not wished she had—”
 “Go ahead, Father. Admit you wish me dead instead of my twin brother and that you blame me for my mother’s death.” Toe to toe, she stood in front of him. She swallowed hard past the lump in her throat and fought back tears. “No matter how what I accomplish, my efforts will never be good enough. If I could bring my mother back from the dead, I would gladly trade my life for hers. I wish I had been born a lad, and not a lass, but—” 
“Aye, instead of a son, I’ve been cursed with a headstrong daughter who is the bane of my existence. I am surprised any man would ask to marry the likes of you. But on the morrow, you will wed Laird MacMurray.”
His cruel words cut straight to the core, but she’d not give him the satisfaction of knowing he’d wounded her again. “He marries because he needs a mother for his nine unruly bairns, and someone to bear him more. They say he killed his last wife when he found out she could no longer breed.” The thought of bedding Graham MacMurray made her skin crawl. “Mayhap he lusts after the land and wealth I shall inherit should anything happen to you. As your heir, I will be a wealthy woman in the event of your death.”
 Would she ever know if a man wanted to marry her for love, or would she always wonder if greed motivated her suitors? Then again, if all men were like her father, prayed for sons, cared only for wealth and power, she’d rather take the vows and spend the rest of her life at a convent. She’d not be like her mother and marry out of obligation or duty to her clan. Nor would she risk bringing a daughter into this world, only to have her shunned by her father and bartered for with less regard than a hog or a steer. No, she’d not take Laird MacMurray as her husband. Mayhap, she’d never marry.
“Excuse me, my lord.” The door opened and a servant stepped into Duncan’s chamber.
 Duncan spun around and scowled at the young man. “Ian, what is the meaning of this interruption?”
“For—forgive me, my lord, but a messenger comes from the Clan MacMurray. He bears a gift for lady Cailin.” With his head bowed and his eyes fixed on the floor, Ian moved in her direction and held out a small wooden box. “His laird has been unavoidably detained, and will not arrive for a week or more.”
“Nay!” Cailin threw her hands up in protest, shook her head, and backed away. “Tell him I dinna want his gift.”
Duncan snatched the box and opened the hinged lid. From a bed of lamb’s wool, he plucked a ruby and emerald encrusted brooch with the MacMurray Clan crest. After he’d carefully examined the pin, he thrust his hand forward. “You’ll not insult your betrothed by refusing his fine gift. This must be worth a fortune.”
 “I dinna care if he is insulted. There will be no wedding. When I marry, it will be to a man I love.” She turned to face Ian. “Send the brooch back, and have the messenger inform his laird I’ll not be bought.”
Duncan pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. “Love has nothing to do with marriage. The sooner you put aside these foolish notions the better.” He took a step closer, his hands fisted at his sides. “You will do as I say.”
“What should I tell the messenger?” Ian shrugged and glanced from Cailin to Duncan.
“Tell him my daughter thanks his laird for the fine gift and anxiously awaits his arrival. And while you’re below, tell Cook to send a tray to my solar. I’ll not be down to break my fast this morning.”
Using her father’s momentary distraction as an opportunity to put an end to their futile discussion, Cailin inched toward the door, turned on her heels, and fled his chambers.
“Damnation lass! We’re not finished with this matter. You’ll do as you’re told, or I’ll—” Duncan called after her, but she slammed the large oak door, muffling the rest of his tirade.
 She raced down the long hallway. Surprised, and relieved, that he did not give chase, she paused at the top of the stairs. The daughter of one of Scotland’s most powerful lairds, she knew a day would come when he’d demand she marry, but she’d never believed he’d chose a man she found appalling in every way. Despite her lot in life, she’d always fantasized of a marriage based on passion, and mutual respect. She prayed nightly for a man who would adore her and rescue her from a life of servitude and duty.
Devastatingly handsome, in a rugged sort of way, he’d have the finely honed body of a Norse god, the strength and bravado of a warrior, yet the kindness and gentle heart of a bard. “Be he rich or poor, warrior or poet, I will marry a man I love, or I’ll not wed at all. With that oath on her lips, she bolted down the stone steps.
Despite the whispers and wayward glances of the servants, Cailin didn’t stop running until she’d reached the bailey. Her only option was to run away. The thought of leaving her home and all she held dear, of venturing out into the world alone, frightened her, but she had no choice. Her father would never yield on this matter, and neither would she.
The messenger’s arrival provided the perfect opportunity to escape her father’s ire, but to get beyond the castle walls unchallenged could prove more difficult. If Duncan got wind of her intent, he’d lock her in her chamber until the dreadful day her betrothed arrived, but she had to try.
 With Scotland in a state of constant turmoil and the high risk of running into thieves, scoundrels, or worse, English soldiers, she seldom left the castle without her nurse and an armed escort. Guilt tugged at her heart when she thought about Eildth, the only mother she’d ever known. She hated the idea of leaving her behind, and she would miss her nursemaid terribly. But marriage to Laird MacMurray would be a fate far worse than death. Once she’d settled in her new home, she’d send word and let her nurse know she was safe.
The sound of metal clanging against metal and men shouting brought her back to the task at hand. Most of her father’s men were busy training in the lists, leaving only a few to safeguard the parapets. The servants and crofters milling about the bailey tended to their business and paid her no mind. Her heart pounded like a battering ram against her chest, but she remained focused on her destination. With her head held high, she sauntered across the inner courtyard as if she didn’t have a care in the world—a feat much easier said than done. As she neared the postern gate, freedom, she realized her worst fear. A guard rounded the corner of the castle, heading in her direction.
“Good day, m’lady.”
“It is a lovely day, Miles.” Can he hear my heart pounding? Can he sense I am up to something? She fisted her hands in her skirt to keep them from trembling and stepped aside so he could pass.
With a curt nod, he continued on his way and, to her great relief, did not look back. As soon as he was out of sight, she slipped through the gate.
There was no time to waste. She might be free, but to tarry so close to the castle would not be prudent. The question was where to go and how to get there. She had no time to plan beyond the present moment. The future was fraught with danger and uncertainty.
 Her lady’s maid lived in a small croft at the edge of the village. In public, the girl showed the proper respect to her mistress. But behind closed doors, and despite the difference in their social status, they shared their hopes, and dreams. They were friends—creating yet another bone of contention between her and her father. In his opinion, the daughter of the laird did not fraternize with the servants. But Cailin never let that stop her, and she cherished the time they spent together. Surely if she explained why she had to leave Dunkeld, Myrna would help her gather the supplies she needed for the arduous journey ahead. She thought about asking her friend to accompany her, but she would not do anything that might put her in danger.
Myrna would not be home until dusk, so Cailin opted to wait in her secret place, a small, secluded cove, where the River Tay joined the loch. As she made her way along the familiar forest trails, allowing the earthy scent of pine, spring blossoms, moss, and leaves to fill her senses. A raven called in the distance, and the comforting sound of water rushing over rocks grew louder with each step. She quickened her pace.
Certain she was alone, Cailin stepped free of the forest’s protective cover, and paused, committing the scenery to memory. She smiled when she spied a red doe and her fawn grazing on tender shoots of grass. A hawk circled overhead before it swooped down to pluck a mouse from the field. Fragrant heather, and assorted wildflowers, covered the moors as far as the eye could see. She’d miss the beauty and tranquility the riverbank offered.
 Cailin removed her slippers, then dipped her toes into the water. She shivered, and drew her foot away. The spring air might be mild, but the river still held winter’s chill. Squatting down, she used her hand to scoop up the sparkling liquid, and took a drink. She closed her eyes, savoring the cool, fresh taste passing over her tongue. Her stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten in over twelve hours, and wished she had helped herself to some cheese and bread before going to see her father. A few feet from where she stood, a bush bursting with ripe berries beckoned. They would suffice until she could meet with Myrna, and ask her to gather some supplies from the castle stores. She plucked a handful of crimson morsels, and popped one into her mouth.
“Well, what have we here?”
The gruff English accent sent a shiver of trepidation slithering down her spine. Her eyes darted in all directions as she searched for the source of the comment, and a subsequent means of escape. She turned to run, but bumped into an English Officer, his mouth drawn into a sinister grin.
Could this day get any worse?
The vile man grabbed the crotch of his trews, pumped his hips in a lewd manner, and laughed. “You appear to have lost your way, my pretty little wench. Perhaps I can be of assistance.” He tipped the clay jug he carried to his lips, and after taking long, slow drink, he tossed it aside, then closed the gap between them. “Come here and give me a kiss.”
Show no fear.
She squared her shoulders, and tried to appear calm, and in control—a far cry from the panic squeezing her chest and causing her stomach to churn. “You are drunk, and out of line. My father is the Macmillan, and he will see you—”
“Enough talk. My ballocks are aching, and I know the cure. I haven’t had a Scottish whore in at least a week.” He lunged forward, caught her around the waist, and pulled her against his chest. “What say you, and I have a little bit of fun? When I’ve had my fill of you, my friend Thomas can have a turn.” He shot a glance in the direction of the woods.
When a second scoundrel step into the clearing, she was certain all color had drained from her face. She might have a chance against one man, albeit a slim one, but two men narrowed her odds of escape to nil. Yet she refused to surrender her innocence without a fight.
“You’re forgetting the wench you had a few days ago, when we raided the crofter’s cabin near Glasgow.” Thomas stood a few feet away with his hands on his hips. “Pity you had to slit her throat before I got a chance to have her.”
“The ugly wench was old enough to be my mum. Besides, she would not stop screaming. This one is more to my liking.” Her captor tightened his grip, and slid his hand along the swell of her breast. “Once I’m finished with her, I promise to let you have a go.”
“Why do you always get to go first?”
“Because I outrank you,” the first man replied as he dipped his head and nipped her neck. When she clawed at his face and tried to break free, he grabbed her wrist, twisting her arm behind her back.
“She’s a wild one, Harry. You’ve got your hands full.” Thomas laughed. “Maybe having you take some of the fight out of her isn’t such a bad idea.”
“Defy me again, and I’ll slit your throat. It makes no difference to me if you are dead or alive when I breed you.”  Harry shoved her to the ground, trapped her wrists above her head with one hand, and hiked up her skirt with the other. “Lovely,” he groaned as he slid his hand up her inner thigh, then cupped her most intimate place. “I’m going to enjoy every inch of you.” Wasting no time, he tugged at the laces of his trews and quickly covered her with his body.
She gasped for air. She couldn’t breathe or move. He had to outweigh her by at least one hundred pounds. The proof of his arousal dug into her hip while his groping hands roamed her breasts. The sound of fabric tearing was followed by a rush of cold air on her shoulder.
“Let me go—”
His mouth crashed down on hers, smothering her protest. She gagged when he tried to pry her lips apart with his tongue, and cringed at his harsh, brutal kiss. He took without asking, and ravaged without mercy. His touch made her cringe, and the smell of ale, tobacco, unwashed flesh, and rotting teeth sickened her stomach. Her only desire was to escape from the vile man, and to scrub her body clean of his stench. In an effort to fight back, she bit down on his lower lip. When he reared back, crying out in pain, she brought up her knee and caught him square in the groin. But the blow didn’t have the force she’d hoped for, only serving to rile him more.
“Bitch! I’ll teach you to flaunt yourself like a wicked siren, and then deny me.”
A balled fist connected with her jaw, followed by another. She saw stars, and nausea twisted her belly.
“You’ll not be teaching anyone a lesson, if I have anything to say about the matter.”
Someone grabbed her assailant by the shoulders and dragged him to his feet. No longer pinned to the ground by his crushing weight, Cailin scrambled to her feet, and started running toward the forest. She heard the men shouting and the sound of their swords connecting, but didn’t pause to look back.
 She raced along the path, ignoring the small branches as they swiped her cheeks, and ducked beneath the larger ones. Rocks and forest debris bit into the tender flesh of her bare feet, but she did not slow her pace. Cailin choked back a painful sob, summoned her last dregs of courage, and forged ahead. Deprived of oxygen, her lungs burned as if on fire. Her muscles cramped and her legs grew heavier with every step, but as long as there was a breath left in her body, as long as there was a chance of escape, she refused to give up.
The crunch of leaves beneath a thunderous footfall alerted her to the fact that the English soldiers who had tried to rape her were only a few paces behind, and closing in fast.
Don’t think. Run!
When she believed she could go no farther, the sight of the watchtower, and belfry of the village kirk brought a glimmer of hope. The familiar smell of cook fires burning lifted her spirits, the rhythmic din of the smithy’s hammer like music to her ears. If she could go a few more yards and climb a small embankment, she’d be safe. But her foot caught in a tangle of roots, and before she could steady herself, she lay sprawled in the dirt, the air forced from her lungs when her chest hit the ground.
The deafening roar of her pounding heart drowned out all other sounds. She clawed at a tree stump, tried to stand, but she’d run out of time. A large hand clamped down on her shoulder, holding her in place. Another hand covered her mouth and stifled her cry for help. She struck out wildly, trying to fight back, but her fists collided with a solid wall of unyielding muscle.
“Dinna fight me, lass, I mean you no harm. I’ll remove my hand, and let you up if you promise not to scream. Do you give me your word?” When she stopped struggling and nodded, his hand slid from her mouth, allowing her to draw in a gulp of air. In one swift move, he flipped her to her back and squatted beside her. “You scurry like a rabbit, and running you to ground was a most difficult task.” 
Her eyes widened, searching those of the man hovering above her. At least six-foot-two, his honed-to-perfection body, a solid wall of muscle beneath a taut saffron shirt, was an obvious testament to years of training, discipline, and hard work. With a straight aristocratic nose, high prominent cheekbones, full lips, and a strong square chin—covered with a day’s worth of dark stubble—his features left her awestruck. Brown eyes, as dark as night, fierce, yet filled with mystery and passion, held her gaze. A thick mane, the color of a raven’s wing, hung loose about his shoulders.
She gave her head a shake. This stranger could be her savior—the man who’d intervened on the riverbank, and had helped to facilitate her escape—or he could be another bastard, waiting his turn to ravage her body. The attack had happened so fast, and she didn’t get a good look at the man who had come to her aid. The rich Scottish burr in his voice indicated he was not an Englishman like her attackers, but she didn’t plan to find out if he was with them.
The sun filtered through the trees and caught a glint of steel. Her attention drawn to the dirk hanging at his side, she swallowed hard past the lump in her throat, uncertain if she could slay a man in cold blood. Did she have the strength, and courage, to plunge the blade into his heart? She’d have one chance, and if she failed, he’d no doubt use the same weapon to slit her throat.
The choice was clear. If she didn’t try, she’d be at his mercy. Her fingers wrapped around the leather-bound hilt, and before he guessed her intent, she slid the dagger from its sheath. Bent on survival, she asked God’s forgiveness, and struck out with all the force she could muster.