“Lady Janet Fraser bids ye to her solar.”
Alana Sinclair sat back on her heels and shaded her eyes with her forearm. The surly messenger sneered down at her, not difficult as she was on her knees in the dirt. Some at Lovat Castle were jealous she was treated almost as family, though she often did the work of a servant. This man was obviously one of them. She didn't recognize him, so perhaps he was new.
“Thank you.” She went back to transplanting the seedling he'd interrupted.
“Dinna tarry. And make sure ye are clean!”
“Of course,” she replied, biting back the words she'd much rather say. She no longer blurted what she thought. She told herself it was maturity when in truth it was necessary for survival. She patted the plant with satisfaction. The messenger deliberately set his toe on the seedling she'd just transplanted, squashing it.
“You oaf! These are herbs for your laird's kitchen!” She shoved at his boot.
“Ye should stay above stairs. If 'tis true ye are an earl's daughter.”
Another contemptuous look swept over her. She struggled to her feet. Her bare feet, which made him sneer all the more.
“My father is George Sinclair, Fourth Earl of Caithness!”
“And mine is the cousin of the king.”
She pushed her shoulders back and gave the look her father bestowed on all who displeased him. “Mayhaps,” she replied. “However, my mother was married to my father at the time of my birth.”
Her accusation of bastardy had him hissing at her and stomping away. No doubt she'd made another enemy thanks to her cursed Sinclair temper. While her father was the most powerful man in Scotland's northeast, if this man was a cousin of the king, natural son or not, he could do for more damage to her than the other way around.
As she lived here only out of the kindness of Laird and Lady Fraser, almost anyone could do her damage. Her mother had died shortly after her birth. She'd been mostly ignored by her father, which she preferred to his cold arrogance. The few times he'd noticed her, when she'd done something he disapproved of, he'd ordered brutal punishments. The last one, banishment, had brought her to Lovat Castle. She would do anything for the laird and lady who had given her refuge when she'd had nothing but pain to call her own.
Now approaching five-and-twenty, she earned her place through her skills with a needle, in the garden, and with the children. Few here knew she'd once been an outgoing, impulsive, laughing child. She'd bitten her tongue so often she was surprised there was anything left. She'd had no choice so was always pleasant, dutiful, and quiet, unless bothered by obnoxious messengers.
Alana cleaned her hands and feet, tidied her hair, and changed her skirt. Her heart began to pound as she neared the back stairs, so like a dark, near-airless tomb.
William is far away. You are safe.
She hurried around the narrow steps to the fourth floor. Light streamed into the corridor from the solar's open door. She released the breath she'd held and stepped into the room. Sun burst through the south-facing oriel window, now open to the spring air. A fireplace on the northwest provided heat during the long, dark winter. No matter the weather it was a favorite room for the women to ply their needles.
Lady Janet stood by the giant tapestry Alana had designed and created as a tribute to the Fraser clan. After eight years of work she had only one corner to complete.
“Your tapestry shows well in the light,” said Lady Janet. “The Fraser strawberries look good enough to eat.” She turned. Her profile in the harsh light showed deep lines of worry.
“You seem concerned, my lady. I trust Laird Fraser is well?”
She glanced at the missive in her hand. “Aye, he is well. The news is for you, child.”
“Alexander has heard from the Earl of Caithness.”
Alana's heart froze, then pounded hard. A wave of dizziness hit. She reached for the wall to steady herself. After that night that changed her life William had informed her father she was no virgin. It meant she was unfit to marry and therefore of no use. The Earl in a rage had banished her to Lovat Castle and cut off all ties.
She forced the butterflies of dread to settle. Perhaps it was good news. John, her oldest brother and therefore the Master of Caithness, was kinder than her father. If John was now Earl due to her father's death she might be allowed to return home, perhaps to live quietly in a dower house.
If her father was alive and contacting her, it would not be to her benefit.
“Would the Earl be my father or my brother?” She held her breath.
“Your father still lives, Alana. He has ordered you brought to him. We canna refuse.”
Alana jammed her eyes, and lips, closed. Her time of peace was over. She'd hoped to pass all her days here, a quietly watching as others lived their lives to the fullest. It was not to be. For some reason the Earl wanted her. Or more accurately, wanted something from her. Her only value to him was as a bargaining chip. Her dowry would bring enough wealth for a clan to accept her for a younger son, even though all knew she was a ruined, willful woman with a temper. At her advanced age, she might even be barren.
If her father demanded her return, she no longer had to hide her true self. She would not be rude, but would take control of her own life while she could.
“Why, pray tell, would the Earl suddenly remember he has another daughter?” She spoke sarcastically, then paused as if thinking. “But of course! He's decided to marry me off for something he wants.”
Alana couldn't breathe. Couldn't think. Couldn't move. All she could do was lie still while Cormac drove her crazy with his tongue. She'd been so overwhelmed with James that she hadn't been able to separate out her senses. She hadn't known it was possible to feel like this. To desperately want him to touch her in ways that must be sinful, but felt oh, so wonderful!
He placed her hands on her breasts, silently telling her to take over. She did, massaging them and squeezing them as she had with James. Tension coiled inside her. His strokes quickened, and his finger finally touched the button she'd discovered while riding her horse that day.
“This is yer pussy,” he said, cupping the slick folds between her thighs. “And this wee button is yer clit.”
He pressed a finger on it and wiggled. She gasped, clenching hard. He slid his finger past her pussy and down. He stopped at a place she'd not touched except when necessary. His finger was wet and easily slid over her tender flesh. She'd never realized her anus was so sensitive.
“Do ye like me doin' like this with my wee finger?” He pressed and twisted while sucking on her clit. She clenched her buttocks, gasping. A deep chuckle emerged from between her spread thighs. “Aye, I thought ye might like that.”
“Put your mouth to better use than talking!”
She heard a deeper chuckle before he set his mouth on her once more. The tension she'd just learned about thanks to James, wound higher and higher with every flick of his tongue. He twisted his finger and she exploded.
Even when she got her breath back her muscles were as limp as wet thread. Cormac had to help her put on her shirt. He pulled her back into his stomach, his legs sturdy behind hers, separated only by his shirt, and hers. She felt safe and warm. He muttered something, then half-sat up. When he lay down again something thick pushed under her bent thighs. A hard cock lay between his flesh and hers, a mere thickness of linen separating them.
“That feels good,” she murmured.
“It should, lass. 'Tis my cock sliding as close to your pussy as it can get this night.”
She'd peaked yet neither James nor Cormac had. They had to put their cock inside her and release their seed if she wanted a bairn. Doing so without even handfasting was against everything she'd been taught. Yet she'd been accused of the same, condemned without being allowed to speak her truth. Why not do now what she'd already been banished for? She'd spent too many years doing what others expected. Tonight she would take control of herself, and her future. She reached for his cock. It was hard, yet the surface was soft, like silk.
“Alana,” he said, croaking the word. “My sweet, if ye touch me like that I'll nay be able to hold meself back.”
“I dinna wish you to hold back. I wish you to put this inside me.”
His groan sounded like he was in agony. “Lass, 'tis for yer husband.”
“Aye. So do it, and be my husband.”
His shoulders shook with quiet laugher. “Trust wee Alana Sinclair to turn the world on its head and ask a man to marry her.”
“I'm not asking just any man, I'm asking Cormac MacDougal.”
“My father cares not what happens to me as long as I produce grandchildren for him. I like you and James, and I trust you both. MacDougals are well-known for making sons. I like your touch, and want more. Will you not marry me and save me from a terrible fate?”
He was silent for so long she had to fight panic. She should not have said it that way. She wasn't marrying him just because of William. Yet she would not be lying here now, Cormac's arms around her, if her father hadn't threatened her with a forced marriage.
“Cormac, I didn't mean—”
She jammed her jaw shut, not wishing to say something that would deny her this chance at life. His hand tightened on her breast. He caught her nipple between two fingers and squeezed. A jolt of lightning reminded her of the peak she just experienced. Was that his answer? Her heart pounded, praying he would stay.
“And will James also share your bed?” he whispered against her neck.
“If he chooses.” She hesitated, still unsure. “Do you think he'll mind?”
A soft snort of air blew past her neck. “What, that I'm yer husband, and nay him?”
“Aye,” she whispered. “Though you are older.”
“Aye, and I'm bigger. In all ways.” He shifted his hips, making his cock slide against her. Her pussy clenched in need. “What if James handfasts ye in the morn, and we marry when we find a priest?”
Alana exhaled, slumping in relief. A second later her body thrummed in response to the promise of his touch. A laugh bubbled up. Here she'd gone ten years without a man wanting her and now she had three. No, two MacDougal men and a mangy cur.
She shifted her thighs farther apart and reached for Cormac's cock. It was big but Lady Janet had explained that a woman's place swelled to receive her husband. The first time, though, it could bring pain. She could tolerate pain knowing the joy which would happen after.
“Will ye marry me, Alana Sinclair?” Cormac murmured in her ear. “Will ye share yer bed with me and James, and let us care for ye, and protect ye and any bairns we may have?”
“Aye,” she whispered back.
“Then release my cock for I'll be putting it someplace better than yer wee hand.”