Secrets to Seducing a Scot - By Michelle Marcos
RAVENS CRAIG HOUSE, SCOTLAND
TWENTY YEARS BEFORE.
It was a beautiful knife. Blade sharp enough to cut metal. Handle hewn from the stag his brother had hunted. Sheath made from thick bull hide.
Malcolm held it up to the light. Sunshine from the window slid down the edge of its eight-inch blade, as if the knife could slice the very light.
And in just a few moments, his father was going to die by the weapon.
But Malcolm was unaware that such bad things could happen. He was angry that his father had taken his two older brothers hunting and not him. He was upset that he was left to mind the home as “man of the house” while they were out doing the really manly things. Malcolm had insisted that he wasn’t too young for boar hunting—he was past thirteen and covered in hair where it counted—but his father hadn’t permitted it.
The front door slammed, heralding his father’s arrival. Malcolm peered over the wooden balustrade, the sheathed knife still clutched in his hand. Below stairs, his mother wiped her hands on her apron as she stepped into the hall. A relieved smile warmed her face as she greeted the hunting party. His father gave her a hummed kiss and a lingering hug, while his older brothers staggered under the weight of the pole between their right shoulders from which hung the slaughtered pig.
“’Tis a fine big one, John,” said his mother. “We’ll be feasting all winter on that one.”
“Aye,” his father replied, when his sons were out of earshot. “And not the only big thing I’ve brought for ye.”
“John!” she giggled as she slipped out of his grasp. “No’ the now.”
His little brother and twin sisters squealed in childish curiosity when they saw the fresh kill. Sullenly, Malcolm trudged down the stairs. It should have been him bringing the boar in on his shoulders. It should have been him winning the admiration of his brothers and sisters. But as his family circled the large animal on the table, he felt bereft of honor.
His father took a draft of ale from his tankard. “Malcolm! Come see what we’ve brought.”
The large animal lay lifeless on the butchering table, its eyes half closed as if it were just falling asleep. It was massive, too, at least eleven stone. A masterful kill.
Malcolm nodded silently.
John set down the tankard and took Malcolm’s face in his hands.
“I know ye wish it had been ye to bring in the hunt, son,” he said with characteristic understanding. “But boar hunting is too dangerous for a man who’s yet to grow.”
“I’m big enough, Da,” he retorted, a little more petulantly than he intended.
“Aye, ye are,” John said, reaching across and tousling his son’s black hair. “But tall is no’ the same as grown. Have no fear … we’ll get some weight on yer arms over the winter. Next season, I’ll take ye with us. And ye can be the one to wrestle the boar to the ground.”
Malcolm smiled at the thrilling prospect. “Promise?”
John smiled. “Aye. That I do.”
The door exploded inward, shocking a startled scream from his mother and the little ones. A frigid draft filled the house as twenty armed men pounded into the hall.
John threw Malcolm behind him as his mother gathered the young ones around her. Malcolm looked at each of the intruders in turn. They reeked of blood and liquor, and they brandished their weapons at every single one of his family members, murder printed on their faces.
“Who the devil are ye?” demanded his father.
A tall man with a ginger beard spoke. “Aye, the de’il indeed. Did you no’ expect a visit from yer own clan? Or did ye think yer cowardice would go unnoticed?”
John picked up his hunting dagger from the table. “Get out!”
The bearded man laughed hollowly. “Ye see that, lads? Now he’s found his balls!” He turned back to Malcolm’s father. “Where were they when the clan was musterin’ for battle yesterday, eh? Where were ye?” The tip of the man’s sword pushed against John’s chest.
His father never backed down. “I’ll no’ say again. All of ye, get out of my house! If ye’ve a quarrel with me, we’ll discuss it outside.”
The bearded man’s sword swung over to the dead animal. “Ye’ll fight a boar but ye’ll no’ fight a man. Ye’re nothing but a cringing coward.”
The word made young Malcolm’s blood boil. “My father is no’ a coward!”
“Keep quiet!” shouted his own father back to him.
“Tell me, boy, what would ye call a man who does