A Scot to Love and Protect
Once Upon a Scot – Book 3
Her arrow hit his shoulder. Her beauty caught his eye. But then there was the kiss…
Commander Valan MacDougall and his men are sent to end an extended attack on Caerlaverock Castle, stronghold of Clan Maxwell. The warriors fully expect the reportedly aged widow of the keep to swoon with relief when they arrive. The English have plagued the fortress and surrounding village for weeks. The warriors from Argyll mean to end the siege in a day or less. In fact, they’re placing bets on just how long it will take. After all, they are the invincible Gallóglaigh, and the English are…the English.
However, they discover the Lady Elspet Maxwell is not aged at all. She is a widow, but far from old. And the woman fights as fiercely as any man. The only thing surpassing her warring prowess is her incredible beauty. A beauty capable of bringing men to their knees. Valan regrets his order that Maxwell women are not to be touched by the mercenaries. Of course, he’s broken orders before and intends to do so again with the Lady Elspet—if she will allow.
Enemies outside the castle walls. Unknown enemies within. Meddling matchmakers too powerful to ignore. And the matter of Elspet making amends for shooting Valan not once, but twice. The atonement he requires from her? Just a kiss. What harm could come from one little kiss?
INTERNATIONAL BUY LINK: books2read.com
Coming soon please check back.
For this story, I chose Caelaverock Castle in Dumfries, Scotland as the Maxwell stronghold under siege by the English in 1277.
Historically speaking, while this castle was the Maxwell family stronghold from the 13th century to the 17th century, it was more than likely built sometime between 1280 and 1300. The English did eventually seize it, but not until 1300. During that attack, the Maxwells fought valiantly and repelled the English many times, but in the end, they had no choice but to surrender. Imagine how the English army felt when they discovered that a mere sixty men inside that triangular castle had held them off so long. Quite a feat for the Maxwells and often celebrated in reenactments at the castle which is now under the care of Historic Environment Scotland, a non-department public body of the Scottish Government.
For the sake of this romantic tale, you will see I have taken some fictional liberties with the castle’s timeline, the Maxwells, and the lessons they learn. Please bear that in mind as you read it. And remember, all these characters are purely fictional and products of my imagination! Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.
If you would like a peek at Caelaverock (as well as hear the proper pronunciation), check out this YouTube video made by the tour guide of the castle: https://youtu.be/vTpVABe7yis
Also, if you look it up on Google maps, then drop the little yellow man on the castle’s location, you can “virtually” walk through it. I fell down that rabbit hole several times! It is so interesting to move through the actual courtyard and zoom in on every detail.
And if you are a member of the Maxwell clan, remember—no family is all good or all bad. People are just—people. I married a proud Maxwell descendent. One of the good ones. ;)
All my best to you,
“There, Constable. Just beyond that farthest line of cottages. I dinna believe the lights in those trees belong to the villagers.”
Valan MacDougall agreed with William, his second in command, even though every dwelling in the small settlement looked deserted. Why would the inhabitants be out wandering in the forest at his hour? Several torch stands blazed here and there between the buildings. An eerie emptiness haunted the place. The craftsman and crofters of the clan appeared to have retreated to the safety of the castle. The Maxwells must have lit the stands to help them watch over the village from the safety of the fortress’s battlements.
“The English are lax in their siege,” Valan observed quietly. “They shouldha burnt Caelaverock’s castletoun afore now.” From their position at the edge of the small, wooded rise to the west of the castle, he strained to see if his menhad reached the back of the fortress. From there, wagons with stores to replenish the castle’s supplies could safely cross the moat via the narrow bridge leading to the postern gate.
The rest of his men awaited orders on how he wished to dispose of the cowards attacking a castle defended by a pair of helpless women, their servants, and a handful of guards left behind when Laird Maxwell joined the battle in Wales.
A mizzling rain along with the densely wooded landscape bordering the clearing hindered Valan’s view of his detachment’s progress with the supplies. Handpicked from the Lord of Argyll’s vast army of mercenaries, he knew his men would see the duty completed. But this was his first campaign as constable, leader of the massive, warring men descended from the long ago mixing of Viking and Highlander blood. The mighty Gallóglaigh. He would not tolerate the smallest failure attached to his name. He gave the signal. “Let us extinguish the English’s plans as well their torches, aye?”
Silent as spirits of the night, the warriors streamed down the hillock. They scattered into the village, melting into the shadows. The blazing torch stands throughout the village created ample enough places to hide.
All the while, Valan kept his gaze locked on the enemy’s fiery brands trickling out from the trees. The flickering torches bobbed ever closer. Sword in one hand, double-sided axe in the other, he charged past the dovecote, then came up short when a familiar whizzing sound passed by his ear. Arrows from the rooftops? Clan Maxwell’s archers must think them the feckin’ enemy.
“Shields!” he bellowed.
His weaponry knave snatched the axe from his hand and thrust an iron banded disk of oak in its place before Valan had time to draw another breath and shout the next order.
“Only the English die! Dinna harm any of Clan Maxwell.” He spun and faced the dovecote, banging his sword against his shield. “We be the MacDougalls! Save yer arrows for the English.”
Another arrow glanced off the iron rim of his shield and hit his helm with a metallic ping. A sweeping glance at the skirmish assured him his men were almost out of range of the Maxwell archers. The English’s torches and their bearers would soon be extinguished without his aid. Shield held high; he stalked closer to the dovecote, determined to make that particular Maxwell understand. “Cease fire, I say! We come to fight at yer side. We are the Lord of Argyll’s Gallòglaigh.”
“Get down!” The woman’s shrieked warning came too late. Her arrow lodged in his shoulder, its tip finding a weak point between his broad, metal chest plate and the seam of his chainmail sleeve.
“Hell’s fire!” Valan ripped the missile free of his flesh and threw it to the ground. Thankfully, the thing had not gone deep because of the angle of its flight. He contemplated retrieving it for use as a switch to redden the careless woman’s arse.
“Hold fast!” she called to him as she climbed down from her perch. “I am coming to help ye.” Before he could respond, she paused in her descent and bellowed loud and clear, “MarbhadhnaSasannaich a-mhàin. Tha na h-Albannaich sin caraid.”
Kill only the English. These Scots are a friend. Valan snorted as he watched the arrows from the rooftops shift their arc toward the few remaining English. At least now, the Maxwells understood them to be allies. He rolled his injured shoulder, glaring at the silhouette of the brazen lass headed his way. She appeared to be dressed in the armor of a man. The wound she had inflicted irritated him more than caused him any pain. She would do well to take herself elsewhere. He turned to join his men.
“I said hold fast!” She charged to him with a fury that reminded him of his brothers’ wives and latched hold of his arm. When he planted his feet and refused to move, she muttered a stream of Gaelic curse words under her breath. “Come with me now,” she said. “The others can finish the fight. Let us hie to the castle so I might mend the error of my arrow’s hasty release.”
“Hie to the castle yerself, woman. I fight with my men.” He’d taken naught but two full strides when she grabbed hold of his arm again and yanked.
“The fight is won, sir. Set yer pride aside so yer eyes might see the truth of it.” While the dancing shadows hid her features, there was no mistaking the righteous fire and indignation in the regal timbre of her voice.
She was right. The fight was won. But he'd be damned if he admitted it to her. If not for his strict order to his men to leave the women of Caerlaverock alone, he would seek her out later once things calmed. Such a fierce minx would guarantee a most pleasurable coupling. That would definitely mend the error of her arrow’s hasty release. The lost opportunity made him regret giving that order.
“Hie yerself to the keep and see to yer mistress,” he said, adopting a tone sure to shame the headstrong woman and remove her temptation from his presence.
Her soft, bubbling laugh possessed the duality of a double-edged blade. Not only did it stir his temper but awakened his cock as well.
“I amuse ye?” He rolled the haft of his sword in his palm, ready to lay the flat of it across the impudent maid’s arse.
“Aye, ye do.” With the grace and loftiness of a queen, she offered her hand. “Allow me to introduce m’self, sir. I am Lady Elspet Maxwell. Mistress of this keep.”
“Aye.” Her mirth made the simple word sound like a song.
Valan clenched his teeth so tight his jaws ached. Thank the gods for the shadows of the flickering torchlight. He took her hand and bent over it but refused to surrender and touch his mouth to her skin. “Forgive me, Lady Elspet, but I feel sure ye understand my confusion.”
Her tone remained entirely too amused for his liking. “Aye. The lady of the keep should be safely behind the walls. Not in harm’s way. Running unguarded in the village.”
“Do I not recall ye saying ye fought with yer men? Not from the safety of a perch?”
No snub came to him to counter her feckin’ wit. “Aye.”
With an infuriatingly graceful tip of her head, she turned and strode away. “I must see to my clan, sir.” After a few steps, just as she came even with a torch stand, she turned back, revealing a smiling visage so beautiful; he swallowed hard. His cock became even harder. “Yer name, sir, since ye speak as the one in command?”
“Constable Valan MacDougall.” Not to be outdone, he graced her with a regal bow of his head. “Here to ensure that Caerlaverock remains yers, m’lady.”
Her smile faded as she accepted his oath with the merest nod. “A most heartfelt welcome to ye, Constable. Yer skills are definitely needed to see that remains so.”
“We shall oust the English, m’lady. I swear it.” The sudden shift in her taunting mood to that of sadness troubled him. Made him want to fight off her demons until they left her in peace.
“It is not only the English who wish to seize Caerlaverock.” She tossed an irritated glance at their surroundings, then flipped a hand as though shooing the thought away. “But that is grist for another day’s milling.”